Saturday, September 19, 2015

All-Star Comics - Shadow Of The Bat!

America Versus The Justice Society of America recently reprinted by DC, is arguably the most indulgent comic ever written. Let me begin by stating that Roy Thomas is my favorite comic book writer, but increasingly over the decades his work has become less about telling whopping great yarns and more about cataloging the minute details of the comics he himself enjoyed in years previous. AvTJS is just such a story to the max, a ponderous tale which might be the most static adventure I've ever encountered in a comic book. I love the Justice Society, I like Roy, I love the Jerry Ordway covers, and I even don't mind the intererior artwork by a cavalcade of talents like Rafael Kayanan, Mike Hernandez, Howard Bender, and inker Alfredo Alacala.

In the first issue we learn that Batman, before he died, had written a scandalous diary which accused many of the original Justice Society members of being Nazi sympathizers, and that their adventures had been a ruse to actually support the efforts of Hitler and his forces. This obvious network of lies is seen by Clark (Superman) Kent who recklessly allows it to be published and before you can say "McCarthy" the heroes are arrested and taken to Washington, D.C.

What we are subjected to at this point is testimony as the colorful cast recount again and again their litany of adventures explaining how all of it fit together and contradicted the accusations made by the deceased Batman. Defending the heroes is Helena Wayne (Huntress) the daughter of Bruce Wayne and assisting the congressional committee conducting the investigation is Dick Grayson (Robin) who spends issue after issue tormented that his mentor could be under such scrutiny.

It all gets and stays tedious as we get many stories told several times (the rule that each issue of a comic is someone's first is generally good, but in this instance slows down a story which is already glacial in its pace).
Even the advent of star witness The Wizard to supports Batman's accusations doesn't add much spice.

The enemy behind the scheme is ultimately revealed to be Per Degaton (it's not much of a surprise really) and this is one more of his overly-complex time-traveling schemes to gain control of the entire planet. It's not too much to say he fails.

This story fails because it's not really a story, but a series of footnotes passed off as narrative. As such there is almost no forward momentum as we get recollections from first this hero then that one, one after the other with overwrought explanations as to why different devices are not used to cut to the chase. The story is a tedious excuse for Roy (God love him) to correlate the complicated continuity of the original Justice Society stories (as wacky as they could be) with the more modern tales of the Silver Age and Bronze Age including his own material in All-Star Squadron. Roy is nothing if not relentless when it comes to clarifying miniscule details which seem to bother no one but him.

Sadly the artwork in this series is damaged because we get three main artists (Kayanan, Hernandez, and Bender) in four issues with interpolations by Ordway and others throughout. The series does sport some exceedingly handsome Jerry Ordway covers and that's a bonus.

In his defense you do get the sense that with the transformations imminent with Crisis on Infinite Earths which had retroactively engineered to wipe out much of the story continuity of the Golden Age, Roy was under the gun to get this story told before it become utterly obsolete. But still it's pretty clunky given all that. I'd love to recommend this one, but it's only for completists like me who might have forgotten how lame the original was.

Years later at Twomorrows Roy Thomas finally got to created the kind of index for the Justice Society he craved in this limited. He did it forthrightly and without the pretense that there was supposed to be any drama involved. More on that next time.

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  1. My recollection was that it was just a yawn-inducing cavalcade of nostalgia for Roy's childhood and I never bothered to come back for the final part.I'm about to read the collected version tomorrow.

    1. I had warmer memories than you, but you're pretty close to the truth of it sadly. Too much exposition man, way too much exposition.

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