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Retro Review: All-Star Comics

Written by Kyle Benning on Thursday, October 03 2013 and posted in Reviews

Retro Review: All-Star Comics

Kyle Benning looks at the All-Star Comics revival in the newest Retro Reviews

In this week’s Retro Review, I’m going to be taking a look at DC’s Golden Age characters that make up the first super team, the Justice Society of America! This team was featured in the pages of the anthology series All-Star Comics, which first began being published in the summer of 1940 and written by long time DC writer, Gardner Fox. All Star Comics #1 featured characters such as Hawkman (Carter Hall), Sandman (Wesley Dodds), Flash (Jay Garrick), Spectre (Jim Corrigan), and Hourman (Rex Tyler). These characters would later band together and form the Justice Society of America in issue #3 of All-Star, published in the winter of 1940/1941. In All Star Comics #8 (January 1942), the characters Dr. Mid-Nite (Charles McNider) and Starman (Ted Knight) joined the ranks of the JSA, and the issue also marked Wonder Woman’s comic debut (she would eventually go on to join the team as their secretary in issue #11).

All-Star Comics flourished throughout the 1940’s as an incredibly popular series both here in the United States, as well as with America soldiers fighting half the world away in World War II. However, times change, and as war heroes returned home and America moved into the latter half of the 20th Century, America’s interest in superhero comics began to wane, as genres like western, horror, and romance stories began to flourish in comics. So after a booming decade of superhero comics dominating the medium, All-Star Comics and the JSA saw their end with issue #57 in 1951. The series was renamed with issue #58, and continued on under the banner All-Star Western. The comic series completely dropped the JSA and fully embraced the popular western genre.

Then came the rise of the Silver Age, which is generally agreed upon as being the debut of Barry Allen in Showcase #4. Superhero comics were back in demand, and DC cranked out new versions of the Flash and Green Lantern. Eventually the new Flash Barry Allen, would meet his Golden Age Predecessor Jay Garrick in the pages of Flash #123 in 1961. At this point, DC designated the home of the current superheroes as Earth One and the JSA and other Golden Age heroes would make their return as the inhabitants of Earth Two. This designation would continue up until Crisis on Infinite Earths eliminated the multiverse in 1985/1986. It had been a decade since the JSA or its members had been in the spotlight, but that changed thanks to the Flash of Two World story written by Gardner Fox in Flash #123. This story proved to be incredibly popular, and so in 1963, in the pages of Justice League of America #21 & #22, Gardner Fox resurrected the superhero team he had written so often in the 1940s, the Justice Society of America! This two issue crossover proved to be so popular that the JSA and JLA would go on to have an annual two issue summer crossover every year. Jump forward another 13 years, and now, finally after a 25 year hiatus, the Justice Society finally returned to their own title, with the resurrection of All-Star Comics. DC continued its previous numbering system, with issue #58 hitting shelves in February of 1976. This run would last 17 issues, and is the subject of this week’s review.

All-Star Comics #58, didn’t just bring back the old familiar members of the JSA, it also debuted the new character Power Girl (the Earth Two equivalent of Supergirl) and added the time displaced Star Spangled Kid to the team, who wielded the injured Starman’s Cosmic Rod and replaced him on the team. And so the line-up of the revived JSA consisted of Green Lantern (Alan Scott), Flash, Dr. Mid-Nite, Dr. Fate (Kent Nelson), Hawkman, Hourman, former heavy weight boxing champion Ted Grant as the Wildcat, Power Girl (Kara Zor-L) and Star Spangled Kid (Sylvester Pemberton). The Earth Two Superman and Robin (now the US Ambassador to South Africa) would also make frequent appearances. The series was written by the great Gerry Conway, who was also writing Justice League of America at this time. For those of you unfamiliar with Gerry’s work, he had long time stints on JLA, Spider-Man, Thor, Wonder Woman, and has created numerous fan favorite characters, such as Firestorm and the Punisher.

Conway wrote the series through issue #62, at which point writing duties for the series were taken over by the legendary Paul Levitz. The art is provided by a cast of amazing artists, with some gorgeous covers by superstar artists such as Mike Grell, Ernie Chan, Rich Buckler, Al Milgrom, Joe Staton and Wally Wood. The beautiful interior pencils featured the talent of Ric Estrada, Keith Giffen, Wally Wood, and Joe Staton, with inks by the legendary Wood and Bob Layton. The art is absolutely beautiful, and represents some of the greatest art of the time period. I think this is definitely some of the best art of Keith Giffen’s career, years before he reverted to his scratchy rough style that he would adopt in the 1980s. The series would last 17 issues, ending in 1978, but the JSA would not be without their own series for long, as they would return in the 1981 series the All-Star Squadron, you can bet I’ll be reviewing this series later.

In the pages of All-Star Comics, the Justice Society of America would run through a gauntlet of trials, as they travelled through time, visited alien worlds, and battled evil at the Earth’s core. This run is an action packed, textbook example of everything that makes Super Hero comics so great. There is so much in this run to love. The JSA dukes it out with classic villains such as Vandal Savage, Icicle, Brain-Wave, the Wizard, Solomon Grundy, the Thinker, the Fiddler, and other members of the Injustice Society, as well as tackling evil mutants from subterranean Earth and the eons old evil Zanadu!

There just something timeless and classic about the Justice Society of America that never gets old. How can you not love a team of super heroes that used to stomp Nazis, and now band together to save the world from evil mad men. It seems like the JSA as portrayed in the pages of All-Star Comics, was DC’s attempt at “Marvel-Style” heroes of the time. The members aren’t near as powerful as their Earth One counterparts, and much of the drama and trouble in the story come from the problems the characters suffer in their own personal lives. Green Lantern is off trying to save the world, and in the process, loses his business to bankruptcy. Hawkman in his absence from home while fighting crime finds his wife kidnapped by the ancient evil of Zanadu. Hourman struggles with his personal feelings of under appreciation when he comes out of retirement. This series really is a great balance between the craziness of super hero comics and the very real problems of the human characters. I can’t recommend this series enough.

This series is collected in a couple of different trade paperback collections, the first being full colored reprints in Justice Society Volume 1 & 2. Volume 1 collects All-Star Comics #58-67, as well as DC Special #29, tiled “The Untold Origin of the JSA.” This is a great story, which tells how the JSA first joined together to stop the scourge of Nazism in Europe in 1940. Volume 2 collects All-Star Comics #68-74 as well as Adventure Comics #461-466. All Star Comics #58-74 are also collected in black and white format in a single volume of Showcase Presents All-Star Comics.

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