Or – “The Genesis Of My Love Of Huge Teams Of Obscure Heroes..”

I’m sure it’s no surprise that I love super-team stories, the bigger the better.  I am, after all, a long-time devotee of the Legion of Super-Heroes, after all.  But my affection for big teams didn’t originate with the LSH.  Indeed, I really didn’t get into that team until the roughly 1990 or so.  Half a decade earlier, Golden Age virtuoso Roy Thomas made the Legion’s usual 18 to 24 members look like nothing, and in so doing really helped to start me down a path that would eventually lead me to Major Spoilers…

ALL-STAR SQUADRON #31
Scripter: Roy Thomas
Penciler: Rick Hoberg
Inker: Mike Machlan
Colorist: Gene D’Angelo
Letterer: John Costanza; David Cody Weiss
Editor: Roy Thomas
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 75 cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $5.00

Previously in All-Star Squadron:  The second World War went a bit differently in the DC Universe, as Adolf Hitler had to deal with the likes of Superman and Green Lantern as well as the armies of the Allies.  In this reality, though, Hitler possessed the Spear of Destiny, keeping the most powerful superhumans out of Europe for the majority of the war.  However, it’s not as though there weren’t sufficient problems on the home front for the heroes to handle, and Superman was hardly alone by 1942.  In the wake of Pearl Harbor, the heroes of the United States all banded together under the orders of President Franklin Roosevelt as an “All-Star Squadron” (they apparently didn’t have acronyms yet) of super-types.  This is the story of the first time the full roster of the All-Stars met as a single unit, and yes, it turns out to be a pretty bad idea.  We open on the dark streets of Central City New York…

The first time I read this issue, I wondered how The Spirit ended up in a DC Comic book.  (Years later, in the wake of First Wave, that’s kind of ironic, in the Alanis Morissette sense of the word.)  But, as the story quickly explains, this isn’t Denny Colt, but instead Dave Clark, the man known as Midnight.  And he’s not just running for his health, he’s trying desperately to get ahead of a squadron of Nazis with machine guns, carrying a mysterious cargo towards the headquarters of the All-Star Squadron.  A few hundred feet up, Hawkman and Hawkgirl are likewise on their way to the Squadron meeting, when they suddenly find two more flying types coming up on them fast.  The Hawks prepare for a battle, but instead get their first eyeful of a couple of their costumed colleagues: The Ray and The Black Condor.

Roy Thomas is a writer who doesn’t always get respect for his work, but little moments like that are truly delightful, and make the All-Star Squadron a wonderful read (at least until the original Crisis devastated both his cast and the raison d’être of Earth-2 itself.

Oh, I might have forgotten that part:  This story takes place on Earth-2, the designation given for the world where Superman and Batman fought alongside the JSA in the trenches of Dubya Dubya Two.  Roy’s original concept for this book was an attempt to unify all of DC’s Golden Age heroes, as well as those absorbed from Quality Comics (and later, Charlton Comics, as well.)  As the Hawks, Ray and the Condor arrive at headquarters, Thomas does what he does best:  cameo appearances that quickly encapsulate for you what a character is about.

Rick Hoberg’s art is fascinating throughout the issue, delivering an old-school Joe Shuster Superman leaping around (as seen in panel three), a Jerry Robinson-style Batman, and cameos by virtually all the characters in the world.  The four-page roll call sequence is simply breathtaking, using tiny moments of dialogue along with amazingly-rendered body language to show us the meeting of more than FORTY* mystery men in one room.

 (Right-Click And Open In A New Tab For Huge Awesomeness…)
 

Special notice must be given to Vigilante’s old-school cowboy lean, The Star-Spangled Kid & Stripesy’s 40’s hipster slang, Flash’s casual resting pose, the Superman/Plastic Man interaction…  This is how you inject character into even the shortest appearance, and the best bit of the issue comes with the interactions between the two Manhunters (both Quality Comics and DC Comics had a Manhunter character active during the 40’s.)  The blue-suited Manhunter (top row, between the Human Bomb and The Vigilante) is giving the blue-faced Manhunter (bottom right) a glare of pure hatred, while his counterpart pointedly ignores him, game face on.  Once the business of the roll call is handled, the team views a message from their founder/Commander-In-Chief…

…a message interrupted by the arrival of Uncle Sam!  Aside from reviving guys like Sam (one of the Golden Age’s greatest creations) I think that the most lasting contribution that All-Star Squadron has given us is the term “retcon,” short for retroactive continuity.  Roy Thomas was an avid reader of the Golden Age comics in his childhood, and as an adult writer, he took great pains to validate and explain every aspect (no matter how silly or unbelievable) of those tales of his youth.  Indeed, the first thirty issues of All-Star were often an exercise in explaining who did what, when, and why later tales did make sense, after all.  Case in point, the fact that, when DC purchased the Quality characters in the 1970’s, they placed them on an alternate world, called Earth-X.  How, then, to explain the presence of Quality heroes (Black Condor, Firebrand, The Human Bomb, The Jester, Manhunter II, Midnight, Phantom Lady, Plastic Man, The Ray, The Red Bee, and late-comer Uncle Sam all originated there) in previous issues of All-Star Squadron?  Well, we already have a perfectly workable alternate Earth out there, right?

Interestingly, the previously recruited heroes, with the exception of Hourman himself, are also Quality-derived heroes, and this storyline also explains Hourman’s strange disappearance from the Justice Society titles during the 1940’s.  (In real life, the character simply fell out of favor, but things are never that simple IN the comics.)  The All-Stars, already divided on the matter of fighting the Axis or protecting the homefront, are now faced with another dilemma:  Should they accompany Uncle Sam and take on the prospect of fighting ANOTHER World War?

The debate is tabled by the arrival of Midnight, having chased his way all the way across the city to the Perisphere in Flushing Meadow, where the Squadron’s first meeting has been taking place.  What is in Midnight’s mysterious parcel?

It’s the DOLL MAN!  Those familiar with the lineup of the Freedom Fighters (DC’s 1970’s name for the revived version of Quality’s most popular heroes) should see that Dolly is the last member of that team, which should give you some idea where this story is expecting to end up.  Indeed, later issues will finally fix the Earth-2/Earth-X conundrum, just in time for the Crisis to render the whole thing moot.  From my perspective, though, you have to love Roy’s approach to this series, the desire to further delve into and explain existing stories of comics history rather than hand-wave away things that you now find embarassing or silly.  Thomas remains the master of “How did that even work?”, and this issue works as a well-told story as well as an attempt to reconcile two chains of historical events.  All-Star Squadron #31 was one of the books that showed me a whole lost world of hero history (there’s an interesting turn of phrase, somebody should use that), and looks pretty cool doing it, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★☆

*This issue’s heroes, in rough order of appearance:
 
Midnight, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Black Condor; The Ray; Liberty Belle, Robotman, Commander Steel, The Human Bomb, The Red Bee, The Crimson Avenger, Batman, Vigilante, Sandman, Wildcat, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Tarantula, Johnny Quick, The Spectre, The Guardian, Superman, Green Lantern, Phantom Lady, Green Arrow, Firebrand, Doctor Mid-Nite, Dr. Fate, Robin, Speedy, TNT, Dyna-Mite, Sandy The Golden Boy, The Star-Spangled Kid, Stripesy, The Atom, Manhunter I, Starman, Manhunter II, The Jester, Sargon The Sorcerer, Zatara, The Whip, The Air-Wave, Johnny Thunder, Plastic Man, Mr. America, Wing, Mr. Terrific, Uncle Sam, and Doll Man, with flashbacks featuring The Red Torpedo, Magno the Magnetic Man, Miss America, Neon The Unknown, The Invisible Hood and Hourman, as well as cameos by the Shining Knight, Aquaman, Amazing-Man, and The Blackhawks.

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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14 Comments

  1. Allen
    March 18, 2012 at 11:55 pm — Reply

    Gimme more! Gimme more!

  2. Ian
    March 19, 2012 at 3:01 am — Reply

    Everything a good comic should be

  3. March 19, 2012 at 8:24 am — Reply

    I loved All Star Squadron, and it’s how I became familiar with heaps of Golden Age heroes. Really good stuff Pre-Crisis, but A.S.S took a helluva beating in that crossover.

  4. TaZ
    March 19, 2012 at 10:19 am — Reply

    I had this comic. It was one of those in storage ruined by the flood waters of Hurricane Fran. Damnit…

  5. Matt S.
    March 19, 2012 at 11:21 am — Reply

    A*SS was one of my FAVORITE comic booke titles (I was all of 12 years old when this particular issue hit the stands) and I read it RELIGIOUSLY each and every month. I loved the concept the multiverse & the alternate worlds and never understood what was supposed to be so hard to understand about it. I’ve been waiting for a revived All-Star Squadron series set on the proper Earth-2 for 25 years. I thought “Earth 2” might give me something akin to that series (albiet closer to the original Infinity Inc. series), but that’s clearly not going to be the case. Why much DC persist if fixing things that aren’t broken?

  6. Mike5399
    March 19, 2012 at 11:53 am — Reply

    The All Star Squadron (ASQ for sort – not ASS!) is probably one of THE greatest series ever – and Roy Thomas is simply the best!
    If you compare this stuff with the lowest-level denominator “decompressed” (ie all pictures for the slow) comics of today – it is VASTLY superior.
    This is REAL storytelling, and written by someone who CARES abouthe caharacters and HONOUSs their history!
    The EXACT opposite of nu52 DC!
    I love the Godlen Age characters and the JSA – always have – but DON’T look for anyhting remsebling them to appear in the new “Earth 2” and “World’s Finest” titles…….. being de-aged; different costumes (what’s wrong with an iconic look that has lasted 70 years – why change!!); altered histories, origins and out of context with thei 1940’s era – are NOT the stuff of classic characters!
    opeople have suggested it will “be cool tro see Jay and Alan etc in their fighting prime rather than aged mentors etc — well it probably would – but this nuE2 title won’t do that – IT WILL BE DIFFERENT CHARACTERS – just the names will be the same to protect DC’s copyright!!

    The only way we can show our displeasure and anger about this is to NOT BUY THESE BOOKS!

    And – TELL DC that you want the classic hereos back!!!

    SigIh!

  7. brainypirate
    March 20, 2012 at 1:15 pm — Reply

    Loved this series. Love the Legion. And now I understand why I don’t care for the “Big 7” concept for the JLA — I prefer the sprawling membership and rotating roll-calls of the satellite era!

  8. jamusthebartender
    March 20, 2012 at 9:07 pm — Reply

    I read this comic over and over twenty years ago. I think I still have it. I would LOVE to see that two page spread re-done as an art print, minus the word balloons. Occasionally, Roy’s dialogue could be a little…..strange, but when you had better than fifty heroes in a story, you could forgive him for it.
    On another note, I saw some of the Hero Histories you did with the Legion and one or two Golden Age heroes. Give any thought to doing the same with the ASQ? I’d love to see it. :)

    • March 22, 2012 at 6:19 pm — Reply

      Occasionally, Roy’s dialogue could be a little…..strange, but when you had better than fifty heroes in a story, you could forgive him for it.

      Yeah, Roy was one of those guys like Englehart, who wrote great character dialogue that no human being would ever actually say out loud.

  9. J_Michael_T
    March 22, 2012 at 8:08 am — Reply

    Matthew,

    Was there more than one iteration of the All-Star Squadron? This article reminded me that I have always wanted to go back and collect the books I am missing (I think I stopped collecting these around issue 15 or so) and it seems much changed between then and this issue.

    I did always love the big-cast books, and will always consider the ASQ, JSA, and Legion my favorite books.

    • March 22, 2012 at 6:22 pm — Reply

      Was there more than one iteration of the All-Star Squadron?

      There were different eras within the Squadron, starting with the core team (LIberty Belle, Johnny Quick, Robotman, Commander Steel and a couple others) before expanding out into containing all the heroes of the Golden Age. There was, as well, a second series (Young All-Stars) that focused on the characters who replaced the retconned-away heroes who were duplicated on Earth-2 after the Crisis On Infinite Earths. The second Squadron was a cool book that explored the past of the new amalgamated post-Crisis DCU, but it got mired down in its own continuity soon enough (and, honestly, lost me with some pretty questionable artists.)

      • J_Michael_T
        March 24, 2012 at 5:37 pm — Reply

        Cool. Thanks for the info. Time to start looking for these …

  10. Brian W
    April 30, 2012 at 7:30 pm — Reply

    Hey there – I came across this while looking for other All-Star Squadron-related bits on the web, and have to concur about what a great series it was. I always felt DC never quite fully appreciated what they had here, as the support for the book was surprisingly lacking, compared to the in-your-face, full-court-press approach they gave to the New Teen Titans book at the time – granted, as a period piece featuring characters that we could see in the present as being older, there was never really the threat of death or injury which can make an adventure story that much more appealing (yes, I know, they would never actually kill a franchise-character, but, for me at least, it’s the *possibility* combined with the sense of “how the heck is s/he gonna get out of this one??” that makes for a good page-turner; with, essentially, prologue action, it takes that edge off a bit, though if written well, the stories can be just as entertaining on a different level, which was usually the case with this series).

    One thing that always bugged me was the lack of merchandise to support this series – there were several posters for the Titans, even a couple for the Legion, JLA, etc., but nothing for the Squadron. The closest we ever got was the 2 double splash pages of the roll call meeting that you’ve included in your post here, but even there, they don’t quite fit together properly. So, after years of self-teaching computer Photoshop-ish programs, a little while back I decided to rectify this old oversight on DC’s part (for my benefit if nothing else) and decided to see if I could make the pages fit together better. Now, I’m really not much of an artist, but for the most part I wasn’t trying to draw, merely “touch-up” the existing images (which, once scanned, were not in the greatest visual condition given the nearly-30 years since the original print was published, and is woefully lacking for today’s HD world), and then figure out a way to link them together visually. I eventually had to use a little bit from a different source (and artist), and I think it came out pretty well, all things considered. Here’s the link to it:

    LINK REMOVED BY ADMINS

    I hope it’s of interest to you. And if you know any artists who’d like to tackle an actual Squadron poster, I have a few layout ideas that I think would cover the series overall.

  11. kentuckyjayheadstone
    December 22, 2012 at 1:06 pm — Reply

    heck i just blogged about this entire issue – guess i am not the only one obsessed ! i wish i could find the panel where the manhunters go head to head —

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