BONUS BOOK – All-Star Squadron (1981)

BONUS BOOK – All-Star Squadron (August, 1981)
Writer – Roy Thomas
Pencils – Rich Buckler
Embellisher – Jerimiah Ordway
Letters – John Costanza
Colors – Carl Gafford
Editor – Len Wein

A few days ago I mentioned that I discovered I was missing a few of the Insert Preview issues… which really kinda threw me for a loop!  I could’a sworn I had all of ’em… but, alas… I was missing two!  This one, and Brave and the Bold #200 (featuring the first look at Batman and the Outsiders).  I mentioned that we might need a Vartox-Week size miracle to find ’em in time… and, as luck would have it, the Mustachioed Adonis decided to smile upon us!  I managed to come across ’em both for a couple bucks a piece that very same day!

I do wanna thank reader and pal, Grant Kitchen for his comments that day.

Today, while I’ve still got it in front of me, we’re going to take a look at the daunting and dense introduction of the All-Star Squadron from Justice League of America #193 (August, 1981).  Have your notepads ready… there’s a lot to get through here!

It’s December 6, 1941 and a pair of shadowy individuals (who, spoiler alert: we eventually learn are President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his adviser Harry Hopkins) are attempting to get a hold of the Justice Society of America… but nobody is there to answer their phone!  Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, where it’s still daytime, a footrace between Wonder Woman, Flash (Jay Garrick), and Green Lantern (Alan Scott) is underway with all proceeds going to the March of Dimes.  Johnny Chambers and his photographer, Tubby Watts are there covering the event.

Wonder Woman narrowly beats Jay in the race… poor Alan never had a chance.  Flash blames his loss on under-estimating his Amazon opponent… but, it’s all in good fun.  Wildcat (filling in for Ted Grant, natch) presents Wondy with a trophy for her victory, probably cutting into the loot for the March of Dimes.

Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern decide to head off for anpicnic in Echo Park to get to know each other a little better.  They find they have a lot in common, in so far as being costumed heroes and what-not.  After establishing that this picnic will not be romantic (after all, they’re all spoken for)… the evening is interrupted by: Solomon Grundy!  None of the heroes seem to recognize the baddie… though, he knows exactly who they are.

A battle rages, with Grundy taking out the heroes with relative ease.  Just when it looks as though Solomon is going in for the kill, a voice booms in his head commanding he deliver the heroes somewhere… or else, there’ll be a “penalty”.  Meanwhile, FDR still tries to get a hold of the Justice Society.

Hopkins suggests maybe they try the “Law’s Legionnaires” aka the Seven Soldiers of Victory.  The Prez doesn’t think that’s such a great idea… and, frankly, he’s got a point there.

We shift scenes over to a penthouse apartment in New York City.  It’s the home of Wesley Dodds… the Sandman.  He’s got company, in the form of Ted Knight (Starman) and… ugh… Johnny Thunder.  They’re watching a news report being presented by Libby Lawrence, who we know as Liberty Belle.  Suddenly, they notice a Pirate Ship sailing through the… skies of New York!

The heroes get into costume… and/or say “Cei-U”, and head out to see what this ship is all about.  They board, and find themselves surrounded by… well, pirates.  Johnny Thunder gets kayoed pretty much right out of the gate… leaving Sandman and Starman to put up their dukes against the mindless pirate-looking “robot-men”.

It’s ultimately revealed that their big-bad is… the Sky Pirate (first appearance: Green Lantern #27 – August, 1947)!  He proceeds to blast the remaining mystery-men with a gas gun, knocking them out but good.

Next stop, Salem, Massachusetts… and the home of Dr. Fate.  He receives a warning via the Orb of Nabu, which informs him that his old nemesis, Wotan (first appearance: More Fun Comics #55 – May, 1940) has returned.  They fight… by flying directly into one another, knocking them both out.  Only, it’s revealed that “Wotan” was actually the Spectre… the real Wotan, stood nearby, concocted this ruse to snatch a couple more JSAers.

We shift over to a little-charted island in the South Pacific, where Ensign Rod Reilly, aka Firebrand is trying to cool the jets of his hot-headed sister, Danette.  She’s got some business to attend to there, in the form of some pretty high-risk volcanic research.  He wishes her well.

Next, we head to Gotham City… it was bound to happen sooner or later, right?  There, the World’s Finest Heroes are present and accounted for at the opening of a brand-new USO Club.  Just then, a plane comes crashing through one of the walls of the joint… a plane piloted by Professor Zobar Zodiak (first appearance: All-Star Comics #42 – August, 1948)!  Never heard of this geek myself… but, he looks like he might be trouble.

So much trouble in fact, that he squirts a few drops of a special “elixir” into the air… which reverts Batman and Robin to infants!  Why, that’s just adorable!

Then, turning his attention to Superman, Zodiak dangles his Philosopher’s Stone in the Man of Steel’s face.  You’d think this would be laughably dumb… but, you’d be wrong.  Ya see, his coated the Stone with some powder from a certain green meteorite!

Meanwhile, FDR makes another call… this time to an “FBI liaison”, who I’m pretty sure will be revealed as being Plastic Man.  He asks Plas to “scoot over” to the Justice Society HQ and see if anything’s awry.

Also in Washington, DC… Hawkman, Atom, and Dr. Mid-Nite are hanging out, admiring the Lincoln Memorial… when suddenly, they’re attacked by The Monster…?  The who-now?  This is another little-known (to me) Golden Ager (first appearance: All-Star Comics #20 – March, 1944).

Unlike the other fight scenes we’ve seen so far, this one the heroes actually win!  Atom socks the Monster, reverting him into a harmless old-man.  Before succumbing to unconsciousness, the oldie reveals that the person responsible for all of the attacks is… old bread-head himself, Per Degaton.  A man in a hat and trenchcoat watches this all transpire from the shadows.

We wrap up with the clock striking midnight… beginning a date which, I’m not sure if you’ve heard, will live in infamy… December 7, 1941.  We learn that President Roosevelt was trying to have the Justice Society at the ready… just in case of a Japanese attack.  He feels it would have been best if he were able to put together an “All-Star Squadron” of mystery men and heroes to keep America safe during these uncertain times.  The President retires for the evening, hopeful that America will “come through this”.

Well… that was one heckuva story, wasn’t it?

Before getting too deep into it… allow me to share a personal anecdote.  I’m not sure I shared this here before, but this very blog almost became an All-Star Squadron themed place for a bit.  It was very early in my “career”, where I thought I would perform a bit of multi-tasking.  If you’ve ever listened to any of my audio-exploits, you’ve undoubtedly heard me lament the fact that, when you’re consistently “creating content”, you have precious little time to engage in any “for fun” reading.

It feels as though everything you read has to go somewhere… be it this blog, or a podcast, or on some other site.  It’s really nothing worth actually complaining about… but, it can be a struggle.  It’s hard for me to justify devoting a lot of time to “learning” about a franchise or property, if I’m not going to parlay that knowledge into an “endeavor”… know what I mean?

Anyhoo… I wanted to actually learn about the All-Star Squadron.  It was one of those things that became something of an intentional “blind-spot” for me.  Something I found far too daunting to read and write about.  Then, with this blog… I figured it might be a fun project to devote a few months to this title… so I could both read and write about it.  There would be a dual-purpose, ya know?

And so, I set to doing just that… wayyy back in the day, I took a look at All-Star Squadron #60… just to test the waters.  I wanted to get as much as possible “right” with this one, and lemme tell ya, it took probably five hours to put that piece together.  I’d put together Google Docs upon Google Docs full of dates/issues/references/40’s era pop-culture to try and keep everything straight!  As for #60, It’s not even that long of a post… but, it still took wayyy too long to write.

Anyhoo, I published the thing… and, ya know, nobody cared.  That’s not unusual for me… and so, I wrote it off as “just another day”.  That evening, however, I saw images from my piece floating around social media… posted by someone quite a bit higher on the comics-commentary “food chain” (which is by no means a short list).  They shared my (awkward-as-always) photos… tagged a bunch of their friends with a “Hey everybody, who remembers THIS???”… but, for whatever reason, neglected to link to my site.

This really turned me off from the “community”, and very nearly caused me to pull the plug on this place.  Here’s a person who visited my site (because those pictures were Chris-originals – ain’t nobody else claiming credit to those), and clearly wanted to talk about the issue… just not with me.  I dunno… the experience really shined a light on how territorial this li’l group can be… really soured me in a lot of ways.  A real learning experience… and further proof that, in some ways, me and my little corner of the internet are little more than “vestigial limbs” of the greater community.

So yeah, that little “aside” went on far longer than I thought it would!  Sorry ’bout that!  A-hem.

So, All-Star Squadron… this 16-page preview pretty much embodies all of the reasons I was nervous about learning more about this property.  It’s wildly dense… and there’s a feeling that real research was conducted in order to put it together.  Real-world research as well as DC Comics history research.  It’s just so seamless… with plenty of callbacks and allusions.  I couldn’t even begin to imagine what an undertaking this would’ve been to write!

I mean, almost everything that happens here is important… or a reflection of something that came before.  Let’s look, for instance, at the March of Dimes footrace between Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Flash.  While, on the surface, it seems like just a fun scene to let play out… it’s actually a callback to the cover of Comic Cavalcade #1 (December, 1942)!

I mean, how cool is that?  This Roy Thomas “corner” of the DC Universe, with all it’s references (both real and fictional) never fails to blow my mind.  It’s as though I notice something new every time I check it out.

I really dig how Per Degaton’s use of time-travel made it so villains from the near-future could be delivered back to 1941 to fight the heroes.  If you noticed, the heroes did not know who any of the villains were… but the baddies were quite familiar with the good guys.  This is because many of the villains hadn’t yet appeared when this story was supposed to be happening.  Per Degaton snatched them from later on in the decade.  Very cool touch that I would’ve missed altogether had I not been in research mode.

The art here is pretty fantastic… it really feels as though we’re looking at something special.  From the heroes, to the real-world personalities… just awesome stuff.  I’m on record as not being a fan of “crossing the streams” of comics-fiction with real-world political figures, but FDR’s inclusion here just feels right.  Maybe it’s just a “current year” thing for me… but, I dunno… FDR (and Winston Churchill, among others, who will play sizable roles in subsequent issues)… they almost feel “larger than life” as it is… ya know?  In my head, they carry such weight and importance that they’re almost as “mythic” as the heroes!  I dunno… maybe I’m just being silly.

Overall… this is a wonderful series, that… if you devote the time and energy to… I bet you’ll really get something out of it.  I’ve had a lot of fun with this run… and while, very little of it actually made it “into print”, I’m still happy I put the effort in!  I did cover All-Star Squadron #1 here on the blog a couple years back (where my sole complaint was the fact that the real first story occurred in “some prevue pull-out”), if you wanna see where this headed.

UPDATE: February 16, 2020:
A piece from Amazing Heroes #1 (June, 1981) regarding Roy Thomas’ arrival at DC Comics… and plans to revive the World War II Superheroes!

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9 thoughts on “BONUS BOOK – All-Star Squadron (1981)

  • Chris U

    It is such a great thing to read a Roy Thomas story set in the 1940's. You can just read it as an entertaining action packed story, or if you know comic book history you can experience the story on a whole other level. A true comic book master.

    • Absolutely! You never feel "out of the loop", but the more you *do* know, the better you can appreciate all of Thomas' craftsmanship and passion for the medium and history!

  • Grant Kitchen

    I live this series. It's obvious Roy Thomas has a passion for the golden age era and characters. He really did his research with this series like you said. But he did make one error with this series. He has Flash (Jay Garrick) and Johnny Quick meet on numerous occasions even though a few years earlier in The Flash Spectacular 1978 (a.k.a DC Special Series #21) these two meet "for the first time." As far as I know this discrepancy is never explained not does anybody else ever bother to point it out.

    • This is a wonderful series! Couldn't imagine anyone buy Roy Thomas in the Writer's Chair for this one! The Johnny Quick/Flash error is interesting! That's definitely a discrepancy that would've gone over my head!

  • Walt Kneeland

    As always, great piece!

    And I hear ya on feeling off in a corner or such. Back when I was regularly covering new issues, I'd sometimes find my content (text more than pics) used in "aggregate" or "reblog" posts elsewhere that didn't link back. I think a couple times my name was kept with 'em, though, which was how I'd discovered it in the first place.

    Back in the '90s, one of my early attempts at a "web site" and "reviews" (summaries, moreso) and other content related to the Ultraverse (and especially Rune) had a number of pics that I later found on a couple other sites…recognized because of a quirk of the scanner I'd used, the crappy software, and the exact cropping.

    As to the All-Star Squadron…I've got some issues, I think, but I'm pretty sure I've intentionally passed them over in bargain-bin dives, knowing there's plenty out there and not knowing where to begin and never having bothered to dig in much to try to find out.

    You're definitely getting my interest up in tracking down issues with these bonus books…though the Teen Titans one/DC Comics Presents makes it appear highly daunting.

    • Heyyy Walt! I too would pass up All-Stars in the cheap-o bins back in the day. Probably around the turn of the century I came across like 25 issues… which proved to be far too difficult for me to pass up! From there, I just stowed 'em away… just happy to own them, and not really caring what they were all about.

      I gotta say, that DCCP #26 was one I *never* thought I'd own… when I finally found it, I decided on this (brief) direction for the blog… after Action Comics Weekly/Daily, of course.

      Another somewhat daunting "Bonus Book" was the Batman and the Outsiders one… I'll be covering that one tomorrow, complete with the story of my tracking it down!

  • Dave-El

    Roy Thomas making comic book continuity order out of chaos is always a wonder. You could tell Roy was the proverbial kid in a candy store with All Star Squadron.

    The art on this preview is fantastic but I am wondering about why Jerry Ordway is listed as Jerimiah Ordway. "I'll have those pages finished after this morning's barn raising." I read somewhere that this was not a good experience for Jerry, that he was being asked to do more than he felt was his fair share of the heavy lifting on the art, being called on to redraw a lot of Buckler's art.

    • I've often wondered (aloud) just what Roy Thomas' "writing room" looked like when he was working on this series. I can just picture it loaded with old Golden Age comics… encyclopedias… old newspapers… just an absolute archive of information to draw from!

      On Ordway, it never fails to get me to chuckle a bit when I see him credited as Jeremiah. He's often credited that way in my earliest works! I hope this wasn't too bad an experience for him, because he and the gang put together some amazing stuff here. I remember being so happy for him when he was tapped to draw some of the pre-Flashpoint Justice Society of America title where Power Girl went back to Earth-2! Felt like a true homecoming/full-circle moment for him!


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