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!
Interesting (and Relevant) Ad: