Saturday, September 5, 2015

All-Star Comics - Super Squad!

Mike Grell
I've always loved Earth-2 stories. The notion that evidently permeated the editorial offices of DC was that the Earth-2 concept was too complicated for comic book fans and the powers that were apparently worried we mere readers would be confused by two Flashes, two Green Lanterns, two Atoms, and even two Supermen. We weren't. We loved it.


Every summer it was a treat to visit Earth-2 and any other "Earths" the writers dreamed up, to find out what was happening to Jay Garrick and his friends who were part of the Justice Society of America. What made the Earth-2 folks different was that things could happen to them. As comic book fans we accept that the icons we adore will fundamentally never change. Superman will always be Superman, likewise Batman and the other mainstay superheroes who are not just characters but trademarks and designs for toys and such.


So it was left to the dopplegangers of Earth-2 to give us real character development, with older heroes who were looking to either easing out of the superhero gig, trying to recapture old glories, or in some instances even training up replacements as sidekicks who themselves became mainstays. And that was the premise for the Justice Society of America revival in All-Star Comics in 1976.


Part of Gerry Conway's "Conway's Corner", a pocket of the DCU set aside for the writer freshly plucked from the Marvel bullpen, the book offered up to me the first regular series dedicated to heroes I only got to see during summer vacation. We got all that and much more. Conway handled the early scripts before giving way to Paul Levitz, and the early artwork was a feast for the eyes with the great Wally Wood handling the inking and later all of the artwork before giving way to Charlton veterans Joe Staton and Bob Layton.

All-Star Comics #57 introduces us to the Justice Society of course but then picks up threads revealed in the summer adventures in Justice League of America when we find ourselves following the misadventures of Star-Spangled Kid, a young man freshly rescued from a time-trap some years before. Now using Starman's Cosmic Rod he's trying to prove himself. We also meet Robin, no loner the "Boy Wonder", but a man and diplomat who battles a threat in Capetown, South Africa. And most importantly I guess we are introduced to Power Girl, the cousin of the Earth-2 Superman and until this very issue a secret to one and all. She's powerful, brash, and thanks to the artwork of Ric Estrada and Wally Wood very very sexy. Conway has stated that the intent here was to have something from the past (Robin), something from the present (Star-Spangled Kid revived) and something brand new (Power Girl) to freshen the JSofA concept.

Ernie Chan
In the next issue the team now dubbed "Super Squad" (I guess "Justice Society of America" was still deemed too soft a title for the times as it had been when the Justice League of America was launched many years before.) finishes its battle with vintage villains Brain-Wave and Degaton. The noteworthy thing seems to be that the veteran members, older and in some cases stuffy, seem to have a problem with the brash style of the new kids.

Ernie Chan signed as "Ernie Chua"
In the next issue Robin disappears and largely is gone for most of the series. It's a pity, since I really liked this adult version,a proper replacement for his mentor. But both Star-Spangled Kid and Power Girl join the ranks of the Justice Society and even assist with duty at the brownstone which serves as their headquarters. While there the team comes under assault by a new, powerful and mysterious villain named Vulcan.

Ernie Chan signed as "Ernie Chua"
The heroes of course eventually fend off the new baddie who gives them a very hard time. The story in this one is by Conway but the art for these two issue was by newcomer Keith Giffen who had his unusual layouts and rough edges smoothed with vintage perfection by Wood.

Ernie Chan signed as "Ernie Chua"
Next up the team takes on Zanadu, a sorcerer from ancient Lemuria who escapes from his amber prison and seems invincible, making a prisoner out of Power Girl and taunting the JSofA before Superman returns from retirement to help end the menace.

Rich Buckler and Wally Wood
Doctor Fate dies but gets better and is able to send Zanadu packing just as the Injustice Society shows up to make things difficult in this two-part story as the Conway, Giffen and Wood team welcome new writer Paul Levitz who takes over from Conway. On other fronts the Fiddler and Solomon Grundy appear and wage battle agaisnt the team, a preview of battles to come.

Wally Wood
The next two issues of All-Star Comics were a real tour de force. Using a Paul Levitz script Wally Wood's studio knocked out to scrumptious looking comics which evoked classic comics from many eras. Superman stays with the team as they are called by the Shining Knight to assist King Arthur in time-lost Camelot. But it turns out to be a scam when Roman invaders are revealed to be robots, and King Arthur himself is uncovered as long time JSofA foe Vandal Savage.

Wally Wood

The Immortal Villain Vandal Savage kidnaps Superman and Power Girl in an elaborate scheme to use their powers to restore his own immortality. He takes them to a world 20,000 light years distant under twin Kryptonite suns but the intervention of the JSofA foils his devious scheme in the nick of time.

Rich Buckler and Jack Abel

The team returns to Earth-2, leaving the Shining Knight in Camelot and immediately missing Superman who follows through on his resignation, when they enter their brownstone to discover that Hourman has been taken over by the Injustice League and a ferocious battle breaks out. The new regular art team of Joe Staton and Bob Layton, fresh from their days at Charlton Comics take over with this issue giving beautiful life to Paul Levitz's script.

Al Milgrom and Jack Abel
But then the heroes discover that the Injustice Society has allies, in fact seem to be in the employ of weird underground beings from what they dub "Middle Earth". These creatures want to end the mining which is pillaging their underground territory. Power Girl, Star-Spangled Kid and Wildcat battle furiously and welcome the of Justice Society members when the battle is won.


More to come tomorrow when we finally learn how the Justice Society of America came to be. 

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4 comments:

  1. I have always wondered just WHO the Earth One/Earth Two/Earth 3/Earth X, etc....confused. I was eight years old when I bought my first JLA adventure. It was the annual JLA/JSA team-up and not only did I figure it out pretty fast, I thought it was really cool. I loved the annual adventures that the two teams had, and when they started bringing in the other Earths, it was even better.

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    1. Pretty much my first JLofA comic was the first part of the Red Tornado debut which featured all Earth-2 characters and only the JLofA in the last panel. I immediately got it that the stars of the book lived on another world much like ours yet different from the one of the JSofA. It's an easy concept and once grasped the other Earths follow quickly enough. The complaint of confusion always seemed weak to me, an excuse to do away with characters the editors imagined were "too old" to enchant young readers. But then DC editors at the time thought their readership was made up of dumb kids. They were wrong and so deserved to be lorded over by Marvel for decades as a consequence.

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  2. Adventure Comics had been my fave DC mag up 'til Warlord came along, then All-Star joined Warlord at the top of my DC list...until the JSA wound up in Adventure after the DC Implosion, then Adventure re-joined Warlord. In other words, this JSA run was fab-amundo! (And I agree, Graham,--the Multiple Earths idea is MUCH easier to follow and understand than anything DC has done since 1985!)

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    1. Modern "continuity" eludes me for the very simple reason I don't care anymore. The constant rebooting that DC has done perhaps does make new readers better able to follow it for a few years, but one of the most attractive parts of the universes created by many at DC and Marvel is the sweep of history which invigorates them. Ignore that at your peril.

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