A long time ago, when my brother and I were young our church had a Christmas fair. It was usually a good time; one of the parishioners dressed up as Santa Claus, there were gingerbread cookies, and games. Since there were games, there were prizes. One year, one of the prizes that my brother or I received was a comic book. Not just any comic book, but a early issue of All-Star Squadron.
I do not remember exactly which issue it was, but I do remember loving it. I know that my brother and I read it multiple times. The earliest comics I can remember reading are the Whitman Disney comics and Shogun Warriors. This was probably one of the earliest superhero comics that we ever read and it opened a whole new world to us. My brother reminds me that this was the first comic we collected. This was back before we had a local comic shop, we were still buying everything off the spinner racks or at the local stationary store.
All-Star Squadron has special place in the pantheon of comics that I love. This and Who’s Who in the DC Universe easily make the top ten of all time favorite comic series for me. All-Star Squadron was something my brother and I shared. We had a mutual love for the characters and the stories. We would take turns reading the issues. We both loved Dr. Fate, Amazing Man, Hawkman, Johnny Quick, and Liberty Belle and their adventures battling Per Degaton, Baron Blitzkrieg, and Tsunami. We got to meet the Seven Soldiers of Victory, the Freedom Fighters, and loads of other Golden age heroes.
Even after All-Star Squadron ended we continued to follow the characters as much as we could. My brother collected Infinity Inc, and there was also The Young All-Stars, JSA, Starman, JSA Classified, Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E, and even Earth-2 in the new 52 to name just a few. To this day I would pick the JSA / All-Star Squadron over the Justice League.
(I don’t have a copy of Justice League of America 193 so here’s a cover from a great JSA comic I do have)
All-Star Squadron premiered as an insert story in Justice League of America #193, one of many DC previews done this way, see Captain Carrot and the Amazing Zoo Crew and the New Teen Titans. These previews were released in DC’s most popular books and were a great way to introduce new comics to their readers.
On the final page of the first issue of All-Star Squadron is an open letter from Roy Thomas to the readers in which he explains how the comic came to be. DC Comics was looking to get the JSA characters back into publication. Their previous comic, All-Star Comics was cancelled in 1979.
Thomas describes his love for these characters from when he was a kid reading their adventures. He goes on to say that he didn’t just want to revive the JSA in a new comic, he wanted to do more. The JSA were not the only superhero game in town during the golden age. They were not the only ones to fight Nazi’s during World War II, there was also Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel and Plastic Man. Many other heroes debuted in this era and Thomas wanted to use them.
He wanted to bring in the Quality characters, like Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters. Quality comics was a competing comic publisher in the golden age that had a great stable of characters (Blackhawk, The Spirit) and creators (Jack Cole, Will Eisner). When Quality went out of business in 1956 their characters and trademarks were acquired by National Periodical Publications (now DC). DC has used many of the Quality properties over the years with quite a few of them showing up in All-Star Squadron.
DC continuity at this time was still very important and very complicated. In order for the book not to become a mob scene, as Thomas describes, they would downplay the use of Earth 2 characters who had Earth 1 counterparts (Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman) and would instead use lesser known characters or new ones like Robotman, Johnny Quick, and Liberty Belle.
Roy Thomas is well known for writing dense, historical stories and the All-Star Squadron would be no exception. In the letter he details how footnotes would be as brief as possible as to not overwhelm the page and that while obviously superheroes did not bail our grandparents out of the war it would try to be historically accurate whenever possible. Finally, he asks the readers to write in and let them know what they think of the comic. He ask the reader to tell them what they like and don’t like, if they want more woman characters or minority characters.
Reading this letter it is quite clear how important this comic was to Thomas and that it was a real labor of love. Now let’s take a look at the first issue.
All-Star Squadron #1 – The World on Fire
Writer – Roy Thomas (co-creator)
Penciller – Rich Buckler (co-creator)
Inkter, Embellisher – Jeremiah (Jerry) Ordway
Letterer – John Costanza
Colorist – Carl Gafford
Editor – Len Wein
The story begins by informing the reader that they are on Earth-2, almost two years after the Justice Society of America was formed. Hawkman, with his awesome double beaked helmet, thinks that something is wrong. He enters the JSA headquarters and is quickly grabbed around the ankle. He strikes his assailant with a swift left hook. After turning on the lights he finds that he has decked Plastic-Man. Plastic-Man explains that he’s there on official FBI business looking for the JSA.
A radio broadcast explains that most of the members of the JSA have been attacked and captured by mysterious villains. When Plastic Man asks why Hawkman wasn’t captured he replies that Doctor Midnight, The Atom and he were indeed attacked by a villain called The Monster, but when they defeated him the monster disappeared and changed back into a normal man and spoke a single word, Degaton. Yes, that’s some good ol’ fashioned foreshadowing.
Hawkman and Plastic-Man decide to head to DC and meet up with Doc Midnight and the Atom. On their way they are attacked by flying men, led by the King Bee. As Hawkman and Plastic man take out each flying man they disappear similar to the way The Monster did. When Hawkman punches out the King bee, he explodes, knocking Hawkman unconscious. Plastic Man saves him and we segue to a couple of men in suits, inside the White House, discussing the disappearance of the JSA.
We segue again to The Shining Knight riding his flying horse Winged Victory. The reader gets a brief origin recap of the Shining Knight and his membership in the Law’s Legionnaires (precursor to the seven soldiers of victory). He is somewhere over the Pacific when he comes across a smoldering volcano that he decides to investigate. When he lands on the volcanic island he meets Danette Reilly, a geologist studying the location. She explains that she is investigating the weird tremors of the volcano. The Knight decides to assist and strikes the side of the volcano revealing a man made tunnel.
Upon entering the tunnel Shining Knight and Danette are attached by Solomon Grundy, born on Monday, and Professor Zodiak. Grundy and the Professor make short work of our heroes and bind them. Another villain, Wotan, joins the others and helps bring the heroes before the main antagonist of the story Per Degaton. Per Degaton starts to explain his plans for World Domination as the scene shifts to a couple of navy men, at the U.S. Pearl Harbor naval base.
During the course of the conversation between the two sailors we learn that one of the men, Rod Reilly (hmm, that’s the same last name as our geologist heroine), is the alter ego of the masked hero, Firebrand. He has recently joined the navy in order to defend the country. We also learn that it is the morning of December 7th, 1941, and Pearl Harbor is under attack from Japanese Zeros. As the naval base is attacked Rod Reilly is gunned down.
Meanwhile back in Washington Doctor Midnight and the Atom are at a Washington pro football game. Midnight tells Atom that in the past few minutes an army general, Navy admiral and other top military brass have been paged over the PA and that they ought to check it out. They join a three way call with the military leaders, J. Edgar Hoover, and a radio man in Hawaii where they all learn that the Japanese are attacking their base.
In what is a very odd situation, the fastest way out of the stadium appears to be through a steel door that no one can open. No one that is except the stranger in the room, who reveals himself to be none other than Robotman. He breaks down the door, that is never explained as to why it is locked, and carries the Doctor and Atom as fast as he can to the White House to see the President. They are spotted by reporters Johnny Chambers and Libby Lawrence who follow them.
As Chambers and Lawrence arrive Hawkman and Plastic Man are landing on the other side of the White House fence. Robotman and the other heroes leap over the fence. Belle and Chambers try to get in but are denied entrance. They both dash of to hiding spots and pull a quick change revealing themselves to be the masked heroes Liberty Belle and Johnny Quick. Since they are not known members of the JSA they are again denied access to the White House. Quick isn’t having it and he picks up Belle and races past the guards to catch up to the Atom and the others.
After a couple of introductions Plastic Man vouches for the pair and they all head into the oval office to speak to the one and only President Roosevelt. The President explains that he’s asked the JSA to mobilize as many of the nation’s costumed heroes as they can to form a new group, a “sort of All-Star Squadron” reporting directly to him. He wants them to be ready in the coming days to deal with the struggle against the Nazi’s.
Their first order of business now though is to get to the west coast and prevent any further attacks. Before the group rushes off Liberty Belle makes a quick phone call to Philadelphia and asks her friend Tom Revere to ring the liberty bell. As this happens her belt buckle vibrates and she says she is fully charged. They all then head off ready to defend the nation.
The final page of the comic shows Per Degaton and his prisoners, the Shining Knight and Danette Reilly aboard a large submarine in San Francisco bay getting ready to launch and attack. Next issue “The Battle of San Francisco”.
All-Star Squadron #1 is a fantastic launch to the new series. The writing and art are excellent. There is a lot of great action, but there is also some wonderful story telling. There are a couple of memorable ads for Bubble Yum, Life-Savers, Hostess Fruit Pies, and the Icee Bear Club. All in all it is a wonderful comic that is a lot of fun.
I’ll close with a quick story about meeting Jerry Ordway last year at the Baltimore Comic Con. I got in line when it was pretty short, there were only three people ahead of me. The line did not move very quickly though. Each of the people in front of me had small stacks of comics to get signed but that was not made it slow, it was the time the he took with each fan. He actually signed the comics pretty quickly, but he took the time to talk to everyone. He was really glad that they were there and he genuinely engaged with everyone, answering questions and telling stories. When I finally got my chance I told him him the story from the beginning of this post and what All-Star Squadron meant to me. Since I only had one comic I asked if he would personalize it and sign it “To Jeremiah”. He was happy to oblige and even signed it Jeremiah Ordway, instead of Jerry. He was a real gentleman and I was very glad to meet him and have him sign such an important comic to me.