Tales from the Calendar: All-Star Comics 2 (Part 1)

Each month I'll be writing about the comic behind the cover featured that month in the 2018 Vintage DC Comics Calendar from Asgard Press.  This month, it's All-Star Comics #2, a cover drawn by Howard Purcell.  There are so many stories and creators involved that I'm splitting this into two posts.  See below for Part 1, then go to Part 2 for the rest of my exploration.

Purcell was an artist who drew many titles for the various imprints that together formed DC, including the cover of Green Lantern #1.  He also co-created Sargon the Sorcerer, which is probably his longest lasting creation.  Other Purcell creations include the Gay Ghost, a pseudo-Spectre who was always cheery, at least until he was turned into the Grim Ghost in the 1970s, when gay took on a decidedly different popular meaning.  For Timely Comics, he invented the Young Avenger, a character that didn't have much staying power, but did have a name that would have significant import at Marvel (Timely's descendant) in the 21st century.

The cover features the Spectre, Green Lantern, and the Flash.  Roy Thomas used to talk about the importance of having Hawkman on covers because of his ubiquity on All-Star Comics covers.  However, during the first six issues of All-Star, these three were the only, or most prominently, featured characters on three of them.  And that's even with Green Lantern not appearing in issue 1 (see below).  In the early days of the title, the publishers seemed to think these three were the biggest draws.  Considering both GL and the Flash would soon get their own titles, they weren't wrong.

All-Star Comics #2 is cover-dated September, 1940.  It physically hit the stands August 23, 1940.  It was published in the middle of the Battle of Britain, in fact during the first week German bombs began to drop within London proper.  Against this backdrop, August 23 saw King George VI remove all titles and decorations from any German or Italian.  Meanwhile in America, Shirley Temple's final film with 20th Century Fox premiered; Young People bombed at the box office, making her a washed up movie actress at the ripe old age of 12.

All-Star Comics 2 was an intermediate stage for an evolving comic.  The overall concept of All-Star was to have it populated with stories by stars from All-American's and National's non-Superman and Batman titles to give them more exposure and attract readers to other books from the publishers.  A Flash fan might not be reading Adventure Comics, but may be enticed to start buying it after seeing the adventures of Sandman in the pages of All-Star, right next to their favorite hero.

Sure, it ruined the collectible value of many copies, but
it did save us from a JSA starring Biff Bronson.
The first issue featured Sandman and Hourman from Adventure Comics, Red, White, and Blue and Gary Concord, the Ultra-Man from All-American Comics, Hawkman and (of course) the Flash from Flash Comics, and and Biff Bronson and the Spectre from More Fun Comics.  That first issue featured a coupon that readers could cut out and send in to win a free copy of issue 2 (this concept of coupons to cut out was relatively common back then -- and in fact used again in All-Star #2 -- and is a major reason, besides age, why pristine comics of that time still exist).  On the coupon, the readers could suggest features to drop from All-Star and write in features to add. The second issue swapped in Green Lantern and Johnny Thunder from All-American Comics in place of Gary Concord and Biff Bronson.  In the next issue, Dr. Fate would enter the title in place of Red, White, and Blue, while the Atom was also a late addition, with Johnny Thunder shifting to a text piece.

That next issue, All-Star #3, would be a hallmark for comic books, as it introduced the Justice Society of America, the first superhero team.  All-Star #3 was still just a collection of individual hero adventures presented with a framing sequence of the inaugural JSA members recounting their most recent adventures to each other.  All-Star #4 would present the team's first adventure together, taking the form of individual adventures all fitting within a larger narrative scheme.  All-Star's telling of JSA adventures would evolve slowly over the next few years, with the template of individual hero adventures each drawn by their own artist, though the framing sequences would continue to expand in scope with each issue.  Eventually, in All-Star Comics #38, that format would be abandoned for a chapter-based organization, with JSAers interacting and directly teaming up on adventures quite a bit more, bringing the Justice Society in line with modern team book storytelling sensibilities.

Just look at those action shots.  Moldoff was incredible.
First up in the issue was Hawkman, in a tale written by Gardner Fox and illustrated by Sheldon Moldoff.  Hawkman investigates a murder scene to find a girl drowned inside the house, a piece of paper with the mysterious name Yum-Chac written on it, and a glass knife.  Investigating these clues, he finds that Yum-Chac is the Aztec god of rain, so he decides to see his friend Chet Norris, the foremost expert on the Aztecs.  Coincidentally, at that moment, Aztec descendants are kidnapping Dr. Norris's sister, Irene, to take back to Mexico for a sacrifice to Yum-Chac in their sacred pool.  The Aztecs take Irene to Chichen Itza, presumably to throw everyone off their scent since Chichen Itza was a Mayan city, not Aztec.  Hawkman follows them there and befriends the local sheriff, and together they save Irene and defeat the Aztecs, their leader jumping to her own death to avoid capture.

Imagine the outcry for a wall if cults of
ancient Mexican gods attacked every 
few years.
Hawkman would later for for the Mexican history daily double in All-Star Squadron #5-6, when he and his teammates save Shiera Sanders, the Golden Age Hawkgirl, from a team of Mayan descendants and Nazis.  That story would also feature a glass knife, but in that case, it would be the sacrificial dagger that killed Egyptian prince Khufu and his beloved Shiera, starting the reincarnation chain that would eventually result in Hawkman and Hawkgirl.  If both the Egyptians and Aztecs are to be believed, glass knives are the choice in human sacrifice.

Gardner Fox worked on almost every DC Golden Age and Silver Age character during his career, particularly due to his work with the Justice Society and Justice League.  He co-created the Golden Age Flash (see Part 2), Hawkman (both Golden Age and Silver Age), Doctor Fate, and Sandman (see below).  He also introduced many of Batman's gadgets, like the utility belt, Batarang, Batgyro, and Ace the Bat-Hound.

Sheldon Moldoff is perhaps my favorite Golden Age artists.  Moldoff, who signed his work "Shelly", gave his Hawkman stories a unique look, basing his style off Alex Raymond's art on Flash Gordon.  It's ideally suited for high concept action and adventure, and his Hawkman stories seem almost traced from frames of a classic adventure film.  While working on Batman, he co-created a number of classic villains, like Poison Ivy, the Matt Hagen Clayface, Mr. Freeze, and Bat-Mite.  He also created the Jon Valor, the Black Pirate.

Keep that thing away from me!
Next up was Green Lantern, written by Bill Finger and drawn by GL's creator, Martin Nodell (under Nodell's pseudonym, Mart Dellon).  The country is in shock when, across several cities, the homeless disappear, only to reappear as unstoppable (except by police bullets) zombies hell-bent on destroying everything.  Thankfully, Alan Scott is a Renaissance man who not only is a train engineer and a radio engineer (and future media mogul), but also managed to fit two years of medical school into his college days and learn enough to be able to isolate zombie drugs from the corpses of vagrants.  He sets a trap for the villains creating these zombies and finds the dirty deeds are being perpetrated by a Baron von Zorn, who hopes to weaken America by sapping its deep homeless reserves and killing the country's morale.  The rest of the story involves GL being captured in a net, lucking into no one noticing that they're injecting his sleeve and not his arm when attempting to turn him into a zombie, and curing the zombies with a needle large enough to baste a turkey or kill Wash on Mr. Universe's moon.

Still, nothing matches Toupee Alan Scott for controversy.
Green Lantern would prove popular enough to warrant leaving the JSA and starting his own series beginning in 1941 and lasting 38 issues.  Like his JSA counterparts, he'd reappear in the 1960s and team up with his Silver Age counterpart on occasion.  He's been a mainstay of the JSA ever since, including stints as a de-aged hero named Sentinel, a controversial re-envisioning in the New 52 as an openly gay man (which shouldn't have been the controversial part, apart from those shipping Alan and his pre-New 52 wife Molly) whose powers stem from his relationship with the Green, the world's morphogenetic field that connects all botanical life (because nothing screams "lantern" like trees).

Martin Nodell is best remembered for creating Green Lantern, but he also worked for Timely for a time, drawing the adventures of their Golden Age heroes before moving on to their horror titles.  He claimed he used the Mart Dellon name to hide the fact that he was working in comics, which he thought was not a respected field.

Bill Finger is well-known among comics fans as the writer who helped Bob Kane create Batman and who invented much of the familiar Batman mythos, including many of the classic Batman villains, Robin, and (with the aforementioned Sheldon Moldoff) Ace the Bat-Hound.  Though he wrote the first Green Lantern adventures, Finger is not credited as a co-creator, as Nodell had most of the character already together before pitching it to MC Gaines and getting assigned Finger as his writer.

The Anti-Monitor was no Kulak!  High Priest of Brztal!
The Spectre starred in the third story by his creators Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily, which finally introduced a villain that had some small staying power.  The Spectre's earthly guise of "hard-fisted" detective (seriously, who is soft-fisted?) Jim Corrigan is called in to investigate the theft of an ancient inscription that was on a parchment discovered in a tomb from a lost civilization.  Interviewing the crazed security guard who witnessed the robbery, Corrigan learns it was the work of the blue, three-eyed Kulak!  High Priest of Brztal!  It turns out that the tomb is actually Kulak's and the inscription is a curse on any civilization (that's right, not a person but an entire civilization) that messes with his tomb.  Kulak is powerful enough to paralyze Spectre before causing all of mankind to go crazy hating each other, inflicting a plague of locusts, and creating worldwide floods.  Spectre is just barely able to avoid utter destruction and defeat Kulak.

From disintegrating the Spectre to this.
Kulak would reappear in All-Star Squadron in an epic three-issue story in which he subverts Spectre to his evil will.  Things would go downhill from there, ultimately resulting in Kulak being beaten to a pulp by the combined might of the JSA and the JLA after interrupting their Thanksgiving dinner in JSA #54 (2013).  Spectre had his own ups and downs, as the 1940s would eventually see him becoming a sidekick to a comedic character in his own feature in More Fun.  But he would make a major comeback in the Silver Age, having a memorable arm wrestling match with the Anti-Monitor, and having another, critically acclaimed solo book in the 1980s.

You may know Jerry Siegel from his creation of heroes like Slam Bradley and Doctor Occult.  He would later write for Marvel and Archie Comics as well.  When not otherwise busy, he and his friend Joe Shuster created both Superman and Superboy.

Bernard Baily, like Siegel, was a prolific creator in the Golden Age.  Besides Spectre, he co-invented Hourman (who we'll meet later in this issue) and Tex Thompson, later known as the heroes Mr. America and Americommando.  He would go on to mentor several Silver Age greats like Gil Kane and Carmine Infantino.

This is, to my knowledge, the only time a villain's unmasking
was achieved through hammer and chisel.
Fourth up was the Sandman, in a tale by Gardner Fox and Creig Flessel.  Wes Dodds is hosting Sir Basil Lorimer, a famous medical researcher when the two hear about deaths at the vaults of the Scientist Bank and Trust Company (now that's the bank for me!) and decide to investigate.  Dodds quickly deduces that some sphere containing radium was present, then changes into his Sandman guise to do chemistry on a piece of evidence that hasn't been shown yet.  Soon he's investigating Sir Lorimer's murder, only to find it's difficult to defeat a villain wielding a ball of radium.  He does however prevail, managing to make the villain shoot himself in the head, which is convenient, since the villain had discovered the Sandman's secret identity.

Every character named Sandman
got cool covers at Vertigo.
Sandman would see a major remodel in 1941 by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris, including a new yellow and purple costume and a sidekick, Sandy the Golden Boy.  That version of Sandman would soon be put through his paces by the legendary team of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, who came over from Timely.  Sandman would make a few appearances in the Silver Age, but would largely be forced into the background, and indeed the 1970s saw a new, unrelated Sandman character developed by Jack Kirby.  Wesley Dodds would eventually get his due in a critically acclaimed series, Sandman Mystery Theater, by Matt Wagner.  He would continue to appear periodically, finally being killed off attempting to thwart the machinations of Mordru.  His former sidekick Sandy would take his place in the Justice Society, eventually becoming one of their leaders.

Creig Flessel is not the most widely known Golden Age artist, but his work appeared in many familiar places.  Besides doing the art for many of Sandman's early adventures (though he did not create the character), Flessel also drew The Shadow for that character's pulp magazine.  He created multiple characters for DC, but the most famous by far was Sir Justin, the Shining Knight.  When not working in comics, he was also cartooning for magazines like Boys' Life and Playboy.

That's it for Part 1.  Continue on to Part 2.

JL Franke is a fan of both hard science fiction and hard fantasy.  He has been collecting comics for over 40 years and has been an on-and-off active member of online fandom for 25.  Those interested can find other writings at his personal blog, NerdlyManor.com.  When not geeking out, you may find him at a baseball park or cheering on his favorite college and pro football teams.  In his spare time, he is chief scientist for a research and development laboratory somewhere in the Washington, DC greater metropolitan area.
Tales from the Calendar: All-Star Comics 2 (Part 1) Tales from the Calendar: All-Star Comics 2 (Part 1) Reviewed by JL Franke on Thursday, February 01, 2018 Rating: 5
Powered by Blogger.