It has been quite some time since I have written anything for this blog. I find that between reading the comics I buy, managing and cataloging my collection, and enjoying my other hobbies I find it difficult to devote time to writing. This time out I thought I would do something a little different and do a short piece, just to get back into the groove of things. This time I’ll be looking at All-Star Comics #61 from July 1976.
Writer / Editor – Gerry Conway
Illustrations – Keith Giffen & Wally Wood
Colorist – Carl Gafford
Cover Artist – Ernie Chan
When I came across this in the cheapo bins I was super excited. I’m a huge fan of the Justice Society having grown up with the All-Star Squadron. For me, they are one of the greatest teams in all of comics. There is a great diversity of characters on the team that can really lead to some interesting interactions. In good writer’s hands, characters like the brash and strong-willed Wildcat and the Mystical Dr. Fate can have some wild adventures. Throw in a blind scientist like Dr. Midnight or Superman’s cousin Powergirl and well then, you’ve really got something.
Ever since Mark Waid’s “A Midsummer’s Nightmare” and Grant Morrison’s JLA brought DCs heavy hitters back together on one team I have felt as if we are living in the era of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Waid’s, Morrison’s, and many others take on the Justice League have given us great stories over the last 22 years but I often find myself looking for more from DC and those yearnings usually take the form of the characters from the JSA. Give me Dr. Fate, The Star-Spangled Kid, and Starman and I’m a happy guy.
Hellfire and Holocaust
The story in this issue picks up from the previous issue with Green Lantern and Dr. Fate fighting the villain Vulcan. We get a nice recap on the opening splash where we are told that Vulcan was formerly NASA astronaut Christopher Pike who was turned into Vulcan during a recent mission where he was orbiting the sun. (Christopher Pike? Vulcan? I guess Gerry Conway is a big Star Trek fan). There is quite a bit of destruction as Green Lantern and Fate engage with Vulcan. Green Lantern tries to protect the city while Fate takes on the villain directly. The building that they are fighting on collapses and Fate is buried in the rubble while Vulcan blasts away to safety.
Elsewhere the other members of the JSA are standing around bickering while their headquarters burns. The damage is a result of their battle with Vulcan from the previous issue. The Flash’s wife, Joan, shows up and tells him that she worries about him going back into action since he’s retired and asks him to come home. He does. Power Girl, Wildcat, and the Star-Spangled Kid argue about Kid’s use of the cosmic rod. At this point, I have no idea where Starman is.
Eventually, Green Lantern summons the JSA’ers to have them rejoin the fight against Vulcan. As the firemen douse the flames that have engulfed their former HQ the team is getting ready to leave when Powergirl flies off on her own without telling everyone else what’s up. Come to find out she heard over the police scanners about a UFO crashing in another part of the city. When she arrives at the site she is greeted by an alien that looks like a large frog in green battle armor.
When Wildcat and Doctor Midnight finally meet up with Green Lantern they find him trying to remove the rubble of the destroyed building that Dr. Fate is buried under. The problem is that there is so much wood in the debris that GL is having trouble completing the rescue due to his rings weakness with wood. With the help of Doctor Midnight’s goggles, the heroes are able to locate Dr. Fate and quickly dig him out.
Power Girl and the frog alien continue to trade blows when the alien starts to send her psychic messages. He’s trying to tell her that he is there for Vulcan. Speaking of Vulcan, we rejoin him while he is fighting with the Star-Spangled Kid and Hawkman. Power Girl shows up with her alien buddy and tries to explain to Hawkman and the Star-Spangled Kid that the alien is there is help Vulcan. It turns out the frog-like alien is the one who rescued Christopher Pike and transformed him into Vulcan in order to save him from crashing in the sun while he was orbiting the star.
There was a problem with how the alien saved Pike and he accidentally left this doll set to evil. He has come to Earth to correct that mistake. Vulcan reacts poorly to this news and kills the alien. Just as he is about to turn on the members of the JSA Powergirl tells the Star-Spangled kid that the problem with Vulcan is that he is super sensitive to sunlight. The same exact type of energy that powers the cosmic rod flag boy is carrying. Star-Spangled Kid fires a blast from the cosmic rod at Vulcan destroying him.
I enjoyed the heck out of this comic and it really pushed a lot of buttons for me. First of all, I really dig anything that is related to the United States Bicentennial and right there on the cover, DC is saluting the country’s 200 birthday. According to Mike’s Amazing World of Comics, this issue was released in April of 1976 with a cover date of August. This is also the 17th issue in the series of July and August comics to be featured with the Bicentennial banner. At the time DC was running a promotion where readers could send in 25 different cover headings and they would receive a Superman belt buckle. At this time comics were still widely thought of disposable instead of as collectibles so getting kids to cut up their comics was not quite as crazy as it sounds.
Mike’s Amazing Comics also credits Keith Giffin as the artist and Wally Wood as the inker on this issue. I always think of it as being a bonus prize when I pull a comic out of the dollar bins that Wally Wood worked on. According to Keith Giffin’s Wikipedia page, his first published work was released in January of 1976, so this comic was most likely one of the earliest things he worked on. Wood’s inking really makes the art tight and clean and I’d be very surprised if he didn’t help out the young artist with some of the rough parts.
Another aspect of this issue that I really enjoyed was the dynamic between the members of the JSA. The younger members, Power Girl and the Star-Spangled Kid, seem to want to exercise their abilities more while the older guard, Wildcat and the Doctor Midnight, are trying to keep them in check. This conflict made me want to read more issues to see how they get along going forward.
Finally, the story is not just the typical heroes beating up on the villain. Green Lantern and the rest of the team are genuinely concerned about the city and the people around them. When they are fighting Vulcan at the beginning of the story Green Lantern is shown several times saving the crowds around them from debris from the buildings getting destroyed. Heck, the team’s headquarters is burning down due to the fight with Vulcan in issue 60. It was really great to see the heroes dealing with the consequences of their actions.
Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved these characters. This is the first issue from the 1970s era of All-Star comics that I’ve ever read and it did not disappoint. I’ll close this piece out with the ad for the Superman belt buckle promo. If you’ve got 25 issues from this list maybe you could send the covers to Dan Didio and see if he’s got any of those belt buckles laying around.