All-Star Squadron #1 (September, 1981)
“The World on Fire!”
Writer/Co-Creator – Roy Thomas
Penciller/Co-Creator – Rich Buckler
Inker/Embellisher – Jeremiah Ordway
Letterer – John Costanza
Colorist – Carl Gafford
Editor – Len Wein
Cover Price: $0.50
Not much to say going into this one… I definitely want to express my condolences to the late Rich Buckler, whose art fills this issue… and, c’mon… just look at that cover, they don’t come much more iconic than that! Wonderfully talented artist, taken too soon.
We open with Hawkman flying through Manhattan heading toward the Justice Society of America’s nondescript headquarters. He enters into the darkened meeting room though a mysteriously open window, and finds himself not among his teammates, but ensnared by a certain stretchy individual. After the misunderstanding, Plastic Man tells Hawkman that he is there on official F.B.I. business on orders from President Roosevelt. We learn that F.D.R. has been trying to get a hold of the Justice Society all night. The pair overhear a radio broadcast about several members of the Society (and their associates) having been beaten and captured by the baddies.
We see that Green Lantern, Flash and Wonder Woman have been captured by Solomon Grundy… Superman, Batman and Robin have been caught by Professor Zodiak… if you can imagine it, the Sorcerer Wotan has beaten both Dr. Fate and the Spectre… and finally, Sandman, Starman, and Johnny Thunder were taken by a floating Spanish Galleon. Hawkman shares a story (which apparently took place during the All-Star Squadron Prevue pullout from Justice League of America #193) where he, the Atom and Dr. Mid-Nite were attacked by a man who said the name “Degaton”. Anyhoo, the pair decide they’re D.C.-bound to talk to the President.
Along the way, they find themselves attacked by… King Bee? What in all hells…? Okay, here’s a fella who goes by “Bee”, even though he looks more like a fly… and he’s got flying drones he has sicced on the heroes. The fight doesn’t go terribly long, and ends with the King literally… exploding! Elsewhere at that very moment, F.D.R. advisor Harry Hopkins explains to his men that finding the JSA is of the utmost importance… otherwise, December 7, 1941 might just go down as “the most tragic day in America’s history”.
We shift to the skies north of Hawaii where an armored figure soars on winged horse. We learn this is the Shining Knight and his steed Winged Victory. We get the quick and dirty on his background… he’s sort of like a medieval Captain America, frozen in ice since the Middle Ages. Once thawed, hooked up with a group of heroes that we know as the Seven Soldiers of Victory. He notices a campsite near a volcano and decides to land and check it out.
He wanders into the camp, where he meets a young volcanolgist named Dannette Reilly. She is here to investigate the nearby volcano that looks to be ready to erupt… on this tiny island, which only days earlier… didn’t even exist! Shining Knight decides to lend a helping hand… er, blade, and chops their way into the volcano, where they run right into… Solomon Grundy and
Captain Underpants Professor Zodiak! Shining Knight and Dannette are beaten down fairly quickly.
When he comes to, the Knight finds himself bound in odd manacles. It’s here that he (and we) are introduced to the man of the hour… Per Degaton. He calls himself the Master of Worlds and Time… you’d figure anyone who refers to themselves as that would have a less horrible haircut… but, whattayagonnado? Anyhoo, he introduces his crew and informs us that he has come from the far-flung future of… 1947!
We shift scenes to… Pearl Harbor, where we meet the volcanist’s brother Rod Reilly and his fellow Navy man Slugger Dunn. Rod was at one time the masked hero, Firebrand. Anyhoo, they chat for a bit… but only a bit, because this is when the Japanese decided to strike. They both flee back to the U.S.S. Arizona, however, Slugger trips and falls. Despite his buddy’s insistence to the contrary, Rod stops to help him… this costs both men their lives.
At the same time in Washington D.C.’s Griffith Stadium, the Washington Redskins are on their way to beating the Philadelphia Eagles 20-14. Such great attention to detail… this game was actually happening during the Pearl Harbor attack! In the stands the Atom and Dr. Mid-Nite are cheering on the home team. The latter overhears some officials being called to an office… and decides they ought to follow. A strange man in a hat and trenchcoat follows them as well. Inside the office, they learn of the Pearl Harbor attack… which makes the Atom, er, throw himself into a door to try and leave. Dude, calm down. The trenchcoated fella unmasks, revealing himself to be… Robotman (not that one).
Atom and Mid-Nite decide Robotman might be an asset, and agree to let him accompany them to the White House. On their way, we see a pair of media types chasing the scoop… this is photographer Johnny Chambers and radio war-correspondent, Libby Lawrence. When they see the heroes flying above, they both disappear and reemerge (separately, and unbeknownst to the other) as Johnny Quick and Liberty Belle.
The gaggle of heroes assemble on the steps of the White House… where they argue. These folks can be really territorial. Finally, they all realize that there might just be strength in numbers… and they enter to meet with President Roosevelt, who tells them he would like for them to assemble an all-star squadron consisting of all the nation’s costumed crime-fighters.
They (obviously) agree… and set out to the west coast, in case of further Japanese attacks and to try and locate their captive cohorts. In an interesting (to me) bit, Liberty Belle has to make a phone call to Philly… so they can ring the actual Liberty Bell and charge her powers. I had no idea that was even a thing… how neat is that?
The issue ends with a submarine’s periscope rising in San Francisco Bay. It’s our poorly quaffed pal, Degaton… and his captives, Shining Knight and Ms. Reilly.
Wow, such an ambitious concept, right? Mixing real-world situations and Golden-Age concepts to tell a pretty riveting tale. DC’s early-80’s Roy-Thomas-iverse has been one of my blind spots due to just how big of a commitment I always thought it would be… and lemme tell ya… this series/corner of the DC Universe still feels like it requires a big commitment of time and energy.
I mean, damn… this issue was dense. I thought it was great, and I love all of the nods to real world events, with such great attention to detail too… but, this is definitely not “light reading”. This isn’t something I’d be able to read a stack of before going to bed… there’s just too much here! That’s not a bad thing by any means, but I gotta say, I’m pretty well spent after reading and recapping the 22 pages I just read. There was just so much important information given here… I felt it would be a disservice to leave just about any of it out of the synopsis!
I think my sole complaint would be that this launched out of a prevue-pullout. I get why they do this and know it’s a very “DC” thing to do, but c’mon… the book has a #1 on it, it really should be the beginning. I don’t want to get a few pages in and realize I need to dig an issue of Justice League of America out of a different long box if I want the full story.
I really wanna mention the cover… I know I commented on it during the preamble, but damn… such a great cover. It tells you everything you want to know… and fills you with so much curiosity. I mean, imagine seeing a cover like this today (where it’s not a Skrull or baby-fied homage or something)… tell me you wouldn’t pick it up! I know I would. While sorta on the subject, the art throughout is very good. Perfect clean comic book art… even down to Per Degaton’s terrible split-loaf haircut.
Overall, I would definitely recommend checking this out, however… with a bit of a caveat. Like I said above, this isn’t “light” reading. There is a lot of information here… and a lot of characters introduced and reintroduced. And, for full context… you might wanna have your Google machine at the ready… so you can learn about Harry Hopkins and what football games were played on December 7, 1941. This is a wonderful package, and is obviously a labor of love for Roy Thomas. If you have the time to sit down and actually “receive” a superhero story… this book is for you. It is available digitally, and (if you don’t mind black and white art) it has been collected in a (currently out-of-print) SHOWCASE Presents volume.
(Not the) Letters Page:
|Ain’t no Magpie I ever met.