How did I miss posting in September? I guess I’ve been busy! How about a new poll?
I forgot the Sandman!
How did I miss posting in September? I guess I’ve been busy! How about a new poll?
I forgot the Sandman!
I think Alan Scott’s origin story is fairly well-known to GL fans. In July 1940, young engineer Alan Scott is on a train, traveling with his friend Jimmy towards a trestle bridge that the engineering firm employing both has built. They won the bid over a rival company owened by a man named Dekker, and Jimmy is concerned that Dekker will do something drastic. Alan doesn’t think so, but is soon proven wrong when the trestle bridge explodes and the train is derailed, killing all aboard… except for Alan, who can’t understand why he’s still alive. He is drawn to the light of a green lantern, and as he approaches it, it begins to speak to him and relate its long history.
The lantern originated as a meteorite that landed in ancient China, and the voice from the meteorite promised that it would bring three things: death, life and power. A local lampmaker fashions a lamp from the meteor, and when the superstitious locals kill the lampmaker, the lamp kills all of them, fulfilling the first promise. Centuries pass until the lamp falls into the hands of a man in an asylum, who refashions it into a more modern lantern. It restores his mind, giving him life. And Alan is the third individual, the one to be given power. The lamp advises him to use part of the metal to make a ring, and that he has to charge up once every 24 hours for the ring to remain powered up, and that Willpower is what will fuel him. Without will, he has no power. Alan takes all this in, and seeing all the dead bodies around him in the wreckage, including his friend Jimmy, is enraged and promises to kill Dekker. He makes the ring as advised, has time to cool down, and wonders how he could ever have thought murder was the solution. There has to be another way.
So Alan, still in the same clothes he was wearing when the train crashed, discovers that he can fly and heads for Dekkers. He is able to phase through the wall (something he refers to as “passing through the fourth dimension”) where he finds Dekker and his cronies celebrating the train crash. They recognize him, try shooting and stabbing him and decide that he’s the ghost of Alan Scott since he won’t die. A wooden club on the back of the neck knocks him to the floor, leading Alan to decide that he must be immune to metals, but not organic objects. One of the things the lantern says is that its light is green, “like green growing things” (and this is probably where James Robinson got his ideas for the source of New 52 Alan Scott’s powers), so it’s possible there was meant to be a link between the source of the power and Alan’s vulnerabilities. The story isn’t explicit though, so it’s hard to say.
Alan gets up and this is too much for the thugs, who run for it. Alan takes Dekker and flies him around, threatening to drop him if he doesn’t confess. Dekker does and writes out a full confession, only to die of a heart attack from the shock of the night’s events.
Alan muses that it feels like destiny has taken a hand in his life, and that he is meant to go on to do big things with the power he’s been given. He decides to design a costume so that “once it’s seen, it won’t be forgotten!”. And if you’re familiar with the Golden Age Green Lantern costume, he certainly succeeded in creating something garish and colorful.
Leading Comics #2
The story begins with Pat Dugan driving Sylvester Pemberton and his father to the bank. Mr. Pemberton wants his son to learn some practical things about the world of finance, but Sylvester feigns disinterest, much to his father’s disgust. Dugan apologizes for having to drop them off some distance from the front door due to road construction.
It turns out that the construction is a ploy by a gang of criminals who burst a water main and use the tremendous pressure of the water to break into the side of the bank and rob it. Sylvester feigns cowardice, but he uses the chaos to meet up with Dugan, who has identified the five criminals as Falseface, Captain Bigg, Hopper, the Brain and Rattler. The two decide to gather the Seven Soldiers of Victory to track down the five criminals.
Meanwhile, the criminals discuss among themselves how brilliant their leader the Black Star is. He’s sent them a filmstrip via the reluctant driver of their getaway van with further instructions for crimes in various locations around the country. The group breaks up and heads out to pull off the various heists. Meanwhile, the Seven Soldiers question the driver of their getaway vehicle and learn where the crimes are supposed to take place, and each one picks a villain to capture.
Chapter Two – The Shining Knight
Sir Justin heads for New Orleans to pursue Falseface, who has used the occasion of Mardi Gras to have his men in costume commit robberies. They’re all camouflaged, as it were. The Knight foils their plans at first, but then they trap him and coat him and Winged Victory with a substance that will turn them both into statues. The Shining Knight manages to escape and free his horse, and then finally subdues Falseface and his gang, while the Black Star steals a seemingly innocuous item in the background, laughing that Falseface has played his part well.
Chapter Three – The Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy
Captain Bigg is the target of the American Avengers out at sea. Bigg has been playing the part of a pirate (I’m not making this up) dressed as Santa Claus. He boards ships with his crew, but gives them money and jewels rather than taking it. It’s all a plan to get everyone’s guard down so he can pull the really big heist and make far more than he ever gave away. The Star Spangled Kid and Stripesy ultimately foil his plans after a long swim in the ocean from his ship, and after nearly dying when Bigg leaves them tied to a floating marker buoy with a bell.
Chapter Four – Green Arrow and Speedy
GA and Speedy are after the Hopper, a criminal with a large nose and a tendency to hop around on a pogo stick. The Hopper and his thugs are trying to trap Coburn, an eccentric millionare, and they’re posing as carnival barkers to do it. When a rich guy named Coburn appears at their booth, they think they’ve found their man, and they award him a prize from the booth. The prize is set to release gas and kill the man at a certain time, at which point the Hopper enters his room and robs him, only to learn that it’s the wrong man. It turns out that Coburn is a bit crazy, and while he is a millionaire, he lives like a homeless man at the fair. The Green Arrow and Speedy try to gain his trust, but he’s so paranoid that he thinks everyone is out to get him and his wealth. In the end, the heroes stop Hopper from robbing the guy, but he’s still ungrateful, and the Black Star collects yet another seemingly harmless object while no one is looking.
Chapter Five – The Crimson Avenger
The Avenger and Wing pursue the Brain to Twin Cities and end up investigating a convention of twins at the Double Hotel. They check in and get settled, only to notice gas coming from the air conditioning. Heading down to investigate, they get in a fight with some hired thugs tampering with the AC. They win, but fail to stop the thugs from leaving. Wing discovers an unusual item left behind which turns out after some investigation to be a rare medical instrument.
To make a long story short, the Brain is extorting a dying man, who needs the blood from one of the twins, Bobby Leeds, in order to survive. The dying man turns out to be the Brain’s twin brother, and the gas in the hotel was designed to reveal the correct twin needed for the blood transfusion. The Avenger and Wing capture the brain, and Bobby volunteers to help the dying man. Meanwhile the Black Star takes the fourth item…
Chapter Six – Vigilante
The Vigilante and Billy Gunn head west in search of the Rattler, who they determine is in disguise in an old folks home… that lets the residents act like children again. Weird. They check on the new residents, and determine that one of them is Rattler in disguise. After an ambush by the Rattler’s men, and after escaping from a poisonous snake, Viglante and Billy Gunn finally manage to unmask the villain, and they finally see the Black Star in the act of committing a crime as he grabs the final item.
The Black Star, in reality the supposedly reluctant chauffeur from the first chapter, has collected all the components he needs to assemble his growth ray. He first uses it to make himself larger and stronger, and then when he sees that the Seven Soldiers have tracked him down, he uses it to enlarge otherwise harmless animals such as a rabbit or an ant to attack them. The Soldiers are able to stop the animals and enter the Black Star’s house. In the ensuing fight, he falls in front of his active enlargement ray and grows so large that he can’t breathe and is essentially crushed by his own weight, falling through the floor to his death.
I’m working on a review of Leading Comics #2, the second adventure of the Seven Soldiers of Victory. In the meantime, I’ve begun reading the bumper newspaper strip collection “Batman: The Dailes 1943-46” for some Golden Age Batman goodness.
The black and white artwork suits the characters well, even if they are the “most famous citizens” of Gotham who walk into police headquarters (and anywhere else, for that matter) in full costume. I prefer the vigilante who avoids police for the most part, but that aside, the stories so far are good, and the reproduction quality is excellent.
The story begins when both Jay Garrick and Dr. Maria Flura have an interview scheduled at the same time with newspaper publisher Dale Thomas. They bump into each other at the door, and there’s a bit of a spark between the two, which I’m sure Joan Williams would not be happy about. But that’s quickly brushed aside as Thomas insists that he has no time for either of them since he has another appointment to keep, one made 20 years earlier. However, the individual he’s supposed to meet, former reporter Jim Ronson, turns up dead in the pressroom, and then mysteriously fades away.
From there Thomas gives the story of how Ronson found a hidden city in the jungles of the Amazon twenty years earlier and promised to meet with Thomas to tell him all the details. By this point, Jay has left and returned as the Flash, and he, Dr. Flura and Thomas all decide to head to South America. The Flash borrows a rowboat, and then he swims all the way to South America at super speed, pushing the boat with Flura and Thomas inside. I guess an airplane trip would just be too slow! They are attacked by what appear to be white men in odd uniforms, who all look identical and who turn to dust when defeated like the body of Ronson did. They spot Ronson, alive, and follow him, only to fall down into a pit and into the Secret City that gives the story its name. They meet the genuine Ronson, who had learned the secret of mentally projecting duplicates of himself in order to lead them to the city. That power is held by the dictator of the city, and after the Flash has saved himself and the others from being burned alive, the dictator attacks him with it. He first tries duplicates of himself, then of the Flash, but Jay defeats them all and forces the man to surrender.
In the end, Ronson stays behind to study the city, now that he’s no longer a prisoner, while Jay takes Thomas and Dr. Flura home, where Thomas promises to publish the story.
Overall: this was Carmine Infantino’s first ever work with the Flash. He’s better known for drawing Barry Allen, but he drew a few Jay Garrick stories in the late 1940s as well. The story itself is like something from Indiana Jones or Edgar Rice Burroughs, with hidden ancient cities hidden deep in the jungle. It avoids stereotypical natives by instead giving us men of indeterminate ethnicity and strange mental powers. And lastly, Dr. Flura will go on to appear in at least two more stories. One of them is a sequel to the Secret City, and one introduces the Golden Age version of the Star Sapphire, so this is the beginning of some ongoing continuity in the form of a recurring character.
Thanks to Kitchen Sink Press and later IDW, we have the full run of Superman’s color Sunday newspaper strips from the decade of the 1940s, and about a third of the daily strips so far. Prior to a few years ago, I hadn’t paid much attention to the newspaper comics, being more interested in the actual comic books themselves. But that was a mistake, particularly since the newspaper strips contain not only the most expansive early version of Superman’s origin, but also end up going off in their own direction as a separate continuity to the comics.
The newspaper strips give us the earliest account of Jor-L (not Jor-El) and his attempts to persuade the government of Krypton that the planet is doomed. Neither the origin in Action Comics #1 or Superman #1 go into any detail about this. The newspaper strip also spends a day or two detailing the dangerous travel to Earth by baby Kal-L and his rocket. There’s an account of how Clark Kent obtains his job at the Daily Star that differs from the comic book version. And Lois is a redhead in the Sunday strips rather than having black hair as she does in the comics.
There is some early crossover with stories printed in both comics and newspapers, but the newspaper strips soon go off in their own direction. Getting back to the Sunday strips, one of the things that we’re now able to do is see how the approach to the character changed just over the course of the 1940s. Ten short years give us three distinct periods of Superman’s fictional life.
The early 40s – Here is where we see the social crusader and crime fighter that Siegel and Shuster originally created. When we think of “Golden Age Superman”, this is the version most people are familiar with: the guy who can’t fly at first and who isn’t completely invulnerable.
World War 2 – The newspaper strips delve into the war in a way that the comic books really didn’t. There’s a nearly two year long series of stories with the umbrella title “Superman’s Service to Servicemen” where he takes letters from troops serving in WW2 and answers their requests.
The late 40s – The storytelling really lightens up and there’s a mix of goofy plots along with a few more traditional crime and human interest stories, as well as a few returns to the servicemen plots. In the intro to the reprint volume, Mark Waid speculates that post-war America was ready to relax and laugh and leave the heavy drama behind for awhile. That approach is reflected in the newspaper storylines.
One of the benefits of the Sunday strips is that it doesn’t take long at all to get through ten years of comics and really see how the character changed and evolved in that first decade.
I’ve been reading the Flash 75th Anniversary book, which contains four solo Jay Garrick Flash stories from the 1940s. Nice!
The Planet of Sport – Bread and circuses for the alien masses. Jay Garrick and Joan Williams are escorting a pair of (unnamed) Olympic champions around the Keystone City zoo, when the four of them are teleported to an alien planet named Strobos. Jaxo, the leader, is trying to keep himself in power by finding people to fight his champions in the arena. He was only after the two athletes, so both Jay and Joan were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But that’s not a problem, because Jay puts on his Flash outfit and saves both men. The wrestler was fighting an ape-like creature, while the fencer was fighting a four-armed alien swordsman (did George Lucas steal the idea of General Grevious and his four arms from this?). Jaxo is able to see the Flash move using special glasses, and there’s a nice panel demonstrating Flash’s speed with about 12 images of him all around the alien. While not too innovative as a depiction of speed these days, that’s not something we saw much of from artist E. E. Hibbard in the early days. Speaking of which, he was drawing the Flash in 1940, and was still doing so in 1947, so that’s a pretty good run for an artist on the same character, then or now.
Flash ends up in a race with Jaxo, who sets numerous traps along the course, as well as racing mounted while Jay is on foot. The prize is Joan’s life. Flash overcomes the traps, but falls into the final one even as he wins the race, and Jaxo promises to leave him on display while the others die in the arena. Jay pulls a very Barry Allen-like move to escape a glass cell and defeats Jaxo and release the prisoners. The Strobos aliens agree to send them all home.
Overall: It’s amusing that the two Olympians don’t even get names. They only exist as a plot device to get the Flash to the alien planet so he can be put through his paces. It’s a fun little action adventure story of the kind so common in the 40s. And it’s a nice touch to give Jaxo some solid motivation for his villainy.
The Rival Flash! – Jay Garrick’s last solo outing as the Flash introduces the first “reverse” Flash in the form of the Rival, a super-fast villain who wears a darker version of the Flash costume and a mask. The story begins by retelling how Jay got his speed in the first place, back when he was a college student, and then reveals that Joan mentioned that to one of her college friends. This becomes an issue when criminals show up moving as fast as the Flash and kidnap Professor Clariss, a former teacher at Jay and Joan’s old college, who has been living in Europe but had just arrived for a visit in America.
When Flash goes after the crooks, they’re able to capture him since they’re as fast as he is and outnumber him. He’s taken to the Rival, who mocks him and then is able to take away his speed by having reverse engineered the original formula. Jay figures out that the Rival must have a supply of the hard water somewhere in order to have duplicated his speed, and he’s able to find it and restore himself. He takes on the crooks again while they’re in the midst of robbing a bank, where he learns that the Rival was only able to gain temporary super speed and had to readminister the formula from time to time, due to his imperfect understanding of the process. With only two suspects, it’s no surprise when the Rival turns out to be Dr. Clariss. He’s questioned about the identity of the Flash, and he supposes that someone had beaten him to the hard water that granted speed by sneaking into the lab after Garrick was taken to the hospital. Jay breathes a sigh of relief that his secret id is still safe.
Clariss would make a return appearance in the pages of JSA while Geoff Johns was writing that book. According to that story, he had regained his speed months later and ended up in a battle with Jay and trapped in the Speed Force, which really messed with his sanity. He also turns up in an alternate reality storyline during Wally West’s Flash series as the abusive husband to Joan Williams, who married him after Jay was killed in WW2. Clariss is considerably older than both Jay and Joan in his original appearance, so I don’t know how that would work, but regardless… Captain Cold kills him in that alternate reality.
Overall: with so much of the 1940s Flash unavailable to read, I can’t say for certain that this is the first time he ever faced opponents as fast as himself. But it’s definitely the first “evil Flash” storyline, many years before Eobard Thawne would first appear. As a “whodunnit” it’s not much of a mystery, though there’s no real reason to suspect Clariss over Joan’s old classmater until the final reveal. And revisiting Jay’s origin in his final issue makes a nice bookend to his series, bringing it back to where it began, though that is inadvertent. There are five unpublished Flash stories that have survived which would have appeared in future issues had the series continued.
My original thought with this blog was to work my way through All-Star Comics in chronological order, and to branch off to other characters and stories as the mood hit me. That way I could see the roster as it changed, note milestones in the series development, and just generally comment on stories in order.
But why? Why not jump around? The early 40s seem fairly familiar with many more reprints to choose from, but the latter part of the Golden Age isn’t as well represented. And so I was interested in jumping ahead. In fact, all the way to the end and the last adventure of the Justice Society of America from 1951’s All-Star #57, “The Mystery of the Vanishing Detectives”.
The Justice Society invite four famous detectives to solve a crime which they have created in order to test the abilities of these detectives. They are Harry Wan the Honolulu Police Chief, Mustapha Hakim the Turkish detective, Jacques Durand of the Paris Surete, and Detective Drew Dawes of Scotland Yard. The JSA have built a set and stage a crime, then challenge the detectives to solve it. In the middle of the attempt, the lights go out, and when they return, the four have vanished without a trace. The Flash informs everyone that the wires were cut with a knife, and then they find a silver skeleton key. About that time, four telegrams for the four detectives arrive marked “urgent”, and the JSA decide to send four members to handle the cases while the other three remain to search for the missing detectives.
Doctor Mid-Nite heads to London where he works with Scotland Yard to solve a bank robbery, where another skeleton key has been found. The robbers escaped by means of a long-disused and forgotten air raid shelter. He catches up with the robbers and outfights them, only for one to escape to the foggy streets above. Due to his unique vision, he follows them through the fog to a train, where he uses his blackout bombs and subdues them all. This leaves one question… who is the key?
The Flash heads to Paris to solve a bizarre mystery where stone gargoyles are being stolen from atop the Notre Dame Cathedral. The Flash uses his old trick of moving so fast that he becomes invisible, and he catches the thieves red-handed. They have a secret passageway leading to the top of the cathedral that they’ve been using. Jay is a little careless and knocks himself senseless, allowing the theives time to escape, but he follows, tracking the thieves down thanks to a note from the Key that they carelessly left in the passageway. The trail leads to a seedy club, where Jay locates the criminals pulling a fortune in gold out of the gargoyle. The crooks knew there was gold in one of them, and kept searching until the found the right one, but the Flash ends their plot, also wondering who the Key is.
Wonder Woman heads to Turkey where a swindle is taking place. The Emir of Kasdan gets his weight in gold every year from his subjects, but it turns out that an impostor has substituted himself for the genuine Emir and is in the process of stealing the gold. Wonder Woman follows the limousine tracks to the Black Sea, where the thieves are escaping by boat to a waiting submarine. She lassos the sub, then hoists it out of the water, capturing the thieves and recovering the stolen gold.
And finally, Green Lantern heads to the port where an ocean liner is about to set sail for an around the world cruise, only a millionaire industrialist on board has had a short-shorter bill worth tons of money stolen from him. Green Lantern investigates and sets a trap for the thief to bring him out into the open, where after a brief struggle, he captures and imprisons him. He also learns about the Key, but the thief claims to have never seen him, only to have been given orders remotely.
When the four arrive back in Civic City, Black Canary fills them in. Hawkman and the Atom found a hidden passage leading away from the Civic City Arena. They were attacked by the Turtleneck Gang, the “toughest hoodlums in the city”, but it turns out that the thugs were hired to delay them while the Key made his getaway. The JSA follows the trail, and Flash deduces that one of the detectives is the Key in disguise. That turns out to be true as they find the missing detectives, free them from the Key’s hypnosis, and attempt to capture the fleeing Key, who jumps to his death rather than submit to capture.
And that’s the end. The Golden Age of DC Comics closes out with this issue of All-Star Comics. Five years later would see the debut of Barry Allen as a new Flash, and these characters would eventually return, though they’d never again be A-listers.
“I’m only one man! Why don’t you start your war against me? I’m an American! Come on, you cowardly rats – try something!”
Wesley Dodds is on his way to prevent a newspaper from being bombed by the grey-shirts for telling the truth about dictator nations. Forcing his way past the secretary, Sandman meets with the editor and is shocked to learn that some of the grey-shirts are Americans who have fallen for propoganda. Wesley ditches the Sandman disguise and heads for the grey-shirt camp, where he forces his way in and then beats up a crowd of young recruits. When the leader shows up, Dodds clocks him too, causing the recruits to have second thoughts about their choice.
The attack causes the leader to speed up his plans for bombing the newspaper. The Sandman stops the truck and steals the bombs, detonating them harmlessly in a ravine. He then captures the recruits and marches them into town. When it is suggested that they join the army rather than face prison time, the youths are all for it, and so is the Sandman, who heads to Toledo, Ohio.
Johnny Thunder – text story
“A Fortune Teller’s Fortune” sees Johnny Thunder having trouble with his girlfriend Daisy again. She wants to have her fortune told, Johnny tries to predict it instead, and she gets all angry. Of course it’s all a scam and her pearls are stolen. Johnny knows the fortune teller did it, but the man has dangerous mental powers, and Johnny only escapes death thanks to his Thunderbolt.
“I understand he’s the Hawkman… a fine example of American manhood, too.”
Hawkman heads to California to keep spies out of the aviation factories there. Along the way he encounters a test flight for a massive new bomber and prevents it from being captured by enemy agents when the pilots are gassed. Meanwhile, Shiera is tired of being left out of Justice Society meetings, so she decides to take a vacation and head for California. Seeing Hawkman, she gets his attention by – I’m not kidding – throwing herself out of the plane and calling for help. She did have a parachute but it didn’t open, so luckily he sees her and catches her.
They both go to work guarding the plant. Armed spies attack, but Hawkman fights them off and learns the location of their leader. He takes off for Ohio to confront Fritz Klaver, leaving Shiera behind.
The Atom gets the college assignment he wanted, where he sees a group of men trying to spread propoganda for the dictator nations and trying to recruit. They beat up anyone who stands up to them. So naturally the Atom has to step in and pay them back in kind. The thugs don’t give up, and try their luck on tiny Al Pratt, who whips their butts and has them singing “God Bless America”.
The grey-shirt agents want revenge, but Al’s roommate tells him where to find their club. He heads there and employs his usual fisticuffs to take out every last one of them. Hearing some orders coming over their radio, he too learns about Fritz Klaver and where he can be found. Hurrying there, he finds himself staring down the barrel of machine guns held by some grey shirts…
Johnny Thunder is man again because he wasn’t asked to help out, and once again he inadvertently calls up his thunderbolt and ends up right beside the Atom, and just about to be gunned down, when the entire Justice Society shows up. As you can imagine, these Nazi spies have no chance at all against the combined powers of the entire group. When Fritz Klaver himself appears and attempts to destroy the house and everything in it, Doctor Fate stops him with his magical powers.
The team gets ready to transport the spies and their records to FBI headquarters in Washington DC, but it’s Johnny Thunder who does the job, sending the entire house there. The FBI chief praises the team for a job well done.