EP0074: All Star Comics Archives, Volume 7

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The Justice Society battles Psycho Pirate, Solomon Grundy, and deals with having Johnny Thunder as a member of the team.

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Transcript below:

Graham: The Justice Society battles Solomon Grundy, Psycho Pirate and a mysterious visitor from the future. Find out all about it as we take a look at All-Star Comics Archives Vol. 7, straight ahead.

[Intro Music]

Announcer: Welcome to the Classy Comics podcast where we search for the best comics in the universe. From Boise Idaho, here is your host Adam Graham.

Graham: Some of the earliest collections published by D.C. were the hardcover D.C. archives. These books cost $50 each at the time of their original pressing and they started producing them in the 90s. This particular book was released in 2001 and All-Star Comics Archives Vol. 7 collects issues 29 to 33 of All-Star Comics and features the Justice Society of America, the world’s first superhero team. This volume features their post-war adventures and the good news is that if you want to read the stories, you don’t have to hunt down a copy of this book. You can purchase individual issues of All-Star Comics out of the comixology or Amazon Kindle comic store for $1.99 an issue and so for five issues that adds up to be $10 and if you wait for a half off or buy one get one free sale, it’s even a less than that. The big advantage of this particular book is the introductions from Roy Thomas. Roy Thomas was a great comics writer in his own right and he was also noted for a lot of nostalgic comics, comics that were set in the Golden Age or fleshed out Golden Age continuity. For example, at Marvel, he wrote The Invaders and at D.C., he wrote the All Star Squadron and he just loves the Golden Age of comics, has such a wonderful appreciation and knowledge and so reading books that have his introductions on it, that is really the big benefit. So, that’s the one thing you miss if you read them digitally.

Alright, so let’s go ahead and we will get to talking about the Justice Society and the issues. In this book the roster is set. Now, the comics are approximately forty pages an issue, which is down from the Golden Age and in accordance with that there was a shrinking of the team. At times there were as many as 9 members of the Justice Society but this was shrunk down to six plus a secretary. More on that in a moment.
The team was made up of The Flash, in this case Jay Garrick, Green Lantern, who is Alan Scott and not part of any intergalactic Green Lantern Corps, Hawkman, then there’s Doctor Midnite. He is a hero who was blinded but discovered that he was able to see in complete darkness and also figured out a way to make goggles so that he could see when it was light out. Some have considered him a predecessor to Daredevil. Then there’s the Atom, Al Pratt. The Golden Age Atom didn’t have any striking power. He was just a short guy who was also really tough and could really hit very hard, though later he would gain some super strength.
Then there was Johnny Thunder, who at times I found to be annoying but sometimes, and I think mostly in this volume, I found to be amusing. He is a bit of a dope. He’s a private investigator, not a whole lot of talent or fighting ability, a very comical fellow until he says the magic words “say you”, or an appropriate variation thereof and The Thunder Bolt, this magical pink creature appears and is able to do Johnny’s bidding and often resolve problems. Wonder Woman is the secretary of the Justice Society at this point. This is a really odd situation that feels really, really sexist as well as a bit stupid. You send the Atom and Johnny Thunder out on missions but Wonder Woman sits back at the headquarters. So, it’s a question of what’s going on.
Wonder Woman had met with and teamed up with the Justice Society back in All-Star comics number 13 and became an honorary member and then she was made the secretary of the group in issue 14 and as secretary she sat back at home base while the guys went out on the mission. One reason for this stated in a piece on the website, syfy.com by Matthew Jackson, states that this was because Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, wanted to maintain control of the character and was furious at the idea of anybody else writing for her. However, he had three other comics he was writing Wonder Woman for as she was appearing in Wonder Woman Sensation Comics and also Comics Cavalcade. Now, Mr. Jackson didn’t actually cite his sources so I can’t verify whether it’s true but it does make sense in that Marston wanted to have control over the character and how she was portrayed but be that as it may, we’re still in the era where Wonder Woman is in the book but not actually allowed to do anything interesting.

OK, so now all that out of the way will go ahead and talk about the five issues in here. Now, in each of these adventures, the way that it works is that at the start of the comic, the Justice Society gets a mission and then everyone goes off and works on parts of the mission separately and then they come back together at the end to face the villain. I’m not going to cover every single mission but just kind of talk about the overall arc and feel of the whole comic book issue.

First up is The Man Who Knew Too Much and this features Landor. Landor is from the future and he is bored with peace and the sort of utopian world that he lives in. So, he comes to the 1940s and is surprised to find that you need money for things, which he doesn’t hand and so he decides to go off and start committing crimes in order to get money and he gets together a gang to help him. In some ways, the character bears a resemblance to the character on the 1990s Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman T.V. series, Tempest Fugitive, a bored man from a utopian future who came back in time commit crimes and he battles the Justice Society and ultimately comes out the loser and so it happens that Green Lantern is able to use his power ring to bend time and send Landor back and when he gets back to his own time, he becomes so lazy and unambitious, he hires someone to press the button for his mea. Now, if they don’t have money in the future, I don’t know what he’s paying the guy with but that’s what happens in issue 29.

Issue 30 is Dreams of Madness. This starts out with the doctor inviting members of the J.S.A. to come in to be studied so that he can record their dreams while they sleep and so they go to sleep but it turns out that this seemingly kindly-bearded researcher is actually wearing a fake beard and is Brainwave, a villain that the Justice Society faced back in issues 15 and 17 and he’s planning to use dreams to drive the man and the dreams actually do work. He’s able to convince the Atom that he’s just a sponge, convinces The Flash that he’s a laughingstock, Hawkman that he’s a thermometer and the Green Lantern that he’s a newly discovered solar system. However, the one man who is immune to this is Johnny Thunder and Johnny Thunder is actually driven sane by the dream because everything with Johnny is a little bit messed up. So, Johnny is able to foil the plot with the help of the Thunderbolt and I really like this one and I thought the way that it used Johnny was actually pretty clever, while also being pretty funny.
Issue 31 finds the workshop of Willy Wonder and what it is is that an evil, red sun, energy creature thingy comes to a toy maker in his dream. So, the toy maker provides weapons to criminals and this one wasn’t really bad but to me it was just kind of OK. The concept of the villain doesn’t work particularly well. It calls to mind one of the Justice Society/Justice League crossovers where the villain is so impersonal and so kind of hard to even really wrap your mind around that it just doesn’t really work well for me as a story but I thought the internal stories were fine just as an overall plot and it’s just kind of OK.

Issue 32 marks the return of Psycho Pirate, who escapes from prison with a mobster and together they start planning some brilliant schemes. However, his partner in crime decides to arrange for Johnny Thunder to end up with clues to their latest emotion-based crimes. The Psycho Pirate doesn’t have any special powers. He’s just really adept at manipulating emotions. I should also add he doesn’t have the costume that’s traditionally associated with the character but the story works OK and I think that the point of the story, part of it, is to teach kids, particularly who are reading the book, the dangers of, you know, letting your emotions get out of control and how certain emotions can lead you in a bad way such as anger. Though I think their view of humility was a little messed up. It seemed like their version of humility was kind of just low self-esteem, which is not really the same thing at all but I also like the humility story because Johnny really was humble and it actually helped him do a really good job in foiling the Psycho Pirate’s scheme and this leads Psycho Pirate to declare, “I’ve lost my grip. Can’t be much good if even Johnny Thunder can defeat me. I’m a failure”. Again, that’s more low self-esteem than humility but at any rate, I thought this was a pretty enjoyable turn.

The best story in the book is the last story and according to Roy Thomas’ introduction, he thinks this is when the Justice Society stories really got good and they hit their peak. He says between this issue and issue 41 he said is as good as it gets for the Justice Society and this is the return of Solomon Grundy. Grundy was a frequent foe of the Green Lantern and the book has a really interesting opening which has the Green Lantern arriving early before the meeting of the Justice Society and then there being a knock at the door, him going to answer it and the next thing we see is the Justice Society arriving later and finding the place messed up and reports that Solomon Grundy is out on the loose as this really dangerous raging monster. The story is really good. You get to the end and you get surprised about where Green Lantern actually was and where you are right before you get to the Justice Society coming together is in a very perilous spot for one of our heroes. It’s just a very good story that holds up incredibly well for a story written in the 1940’s. So, I really liked Issue 33 and if it is a sign of what’s to come then I’m going to really enjoy reading volumes 8 and 9 of the All Star Comics archives.

Overall, this was an enjoyable book. I will give this one a rating of classy. The Justice Society comics in this book are really standouts for this late Golden Age period. They hold up far better than most other Golden Age material and are still just a lot of fun to read.

All right well that’s all for now. If you do have a comment, email to me classycomicsguy@gmail.com. Be sure and rate the podcast on iTunes and check us out at classycomicsguy.com. From Boise Idaho, this is your host Adam Graham signing off.

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