Posted - April 25, 2013 | Updated August 5, 2015
We begin with Hawkman flying over the city.
The year is 1940, right before the outbreak of World War II.
A big part of the charm of All-Star Squadron lies in this historical setting. We learn from Hawkman that he is on his way to the Justice Society of America headquarters. Furthermore, we learn that the Society meets only "once every couple of months" on a rented meeting room at that. What a difference from the JLA's satellite headquarters or the FFs Baxter Building, or even Titans Tower. A refreshing difference.
Hawkman encounters Plastic Man and both head on over to the penthouse apartment of Wesley Dodds a.k.a. The Sandman. Here's an interesting comment on what a tv meant in 1940 by Plastic Man.
Look at how small the screen is.
Rich Buckler provides the clean linework.
The first historical figure we see in the book is Harry Hopkins.
Harry Hopkins was an adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was an architect of the relief programs that were launched as a reaction to the Great Depression. During World War II Hopkins was a troubleshooter, and was instrumental to the Lend Lease program that leveraged America's industrial might for the cause of the Allies. Here, Hopkins is desperately trying to contact the JSA - unfortunately, America's premiere team has been captured (which is a great excuse for why they weren't around to defend Pearl Harbor).
Enter the Shining Knight over the skies of Hawaii, were he narrates his ties to the Seven Soldiers of Victory. References to DCs rich past really gives a lot of 'meat' to All-Star Squadron.
Shining Knight says 'By my Halidom' a lot. In case your wondering, Halidom means holy place or sanctuary. Shining Knight meets Danielle Reilly who will eventually be known as Firebrand. Apparently the Knight is far from typical, his armor is impenetrable by bullets, he has an unbreakable sword and enough strength to shatter a rock wall with his sword - and of course, there's Victory, his winged steed. It's good that he's so tough because he suddenly comes up against Solomon Grundy.
Solomon Grundy has superhuman strength and stamina to go with his gigantic frame. Although alive, he has all the needs of a dead man, or rather, the lack of needs. Grundy does not need food, water or sleep. Additionally he has a healing factor and resurrects when killed. The Shining Knight is in trouble.
Soon enough, our cast of villains are introduced.
First is Professor Zodiak, also known as the Alchemist. The Alchemist possesses the four Miracles of Alchemy : The Philosopher's Stone, the Elixir of Youth, the Universal Solvent (which he uses to disarm Danielle Reilly) and the Perpetual Motion Machine. Grundy we already met. Sitting with the 'D' on his chest is Per Degaton who can travel through time. Next to him is Sky Pirate, a criminal who has command of an airship. Wotan is the one with green skin, he is a powerful sorcerer, powerful enough to challenge Dr. Fate.
Moving from superhero story to history, the book takes us to witness the start of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
This is the Aichi D3A, nicknamed 'Val' by the Americans, it is the dive bomber used by the Japanese in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Not all of the JSA have been captured. Unaware of their friends' fate, Atom and Dr. Mid-Nite are watching a football game.
Slingin' Sammy Baugh was a pro football player who played with the Washington Redskins from 1937 to 1952. He is a football Hall of Fame inductee.
J. Edgar Hoover, founder of the FBI, relays the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Robotman introduces himself to both Dr. Mid-Nite and the Atom, the metal hero also mentions that he isn't wearing armor; he is,in fact, a real robot with a human brain.
Carel Capek was a science fiction writer that introduced the term 'robot' in his play entitled R.U.R.. Just think about it, he introduced the term 'robot'. Wow.
Two things about these twin panels.
First, the steel door breakdown was totally unnecessary as our three heroes were not in a locked room nor were they trapped in any way. Thomas put this in for the sole purpose of demonstrating Robotman's strength. Second, the next panel demonstrates that Robotman is not only strong; those mechanical legs of his make him fast too, which makes perfect sense since that's a mechanical engine inside that metal shell. Robotman even mentions he possesses 'several hundred' horsepower.
In keeping with an introductory issue, the roll call continues. Here's Liberty Belle.
Power : Belt buckle that that ties in with the real Liberty Bell. When that historical bell gets rung, Liberty Bell gets an 'adrenal rush' - I love powers that leave lots of room for the dirty-minded.
Here's Johnny Quick.
Nothing unique, just another DC speedster but I love how he gets those powers. Wait a minute, he is unique - unlike the other speedsters, he can fly.
That's right, he recites a mathematical formula and he goes from Johnny Chambers to Johnny Quick. Absolutely fun don't you think?
Now back to history.
Everybody knows who the American President was during World War II rignt? Right.
FDR tells our heroes that the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor.
Atom's response gives us an idea of America's extended territories circa World War II : Guam, Wake Island, the Philippines.
Here FDR forms the Squadron.
Here's a shot of the initial lineup of the hastily formed All Star Squadron (A.S.S.). Battlecry suggestion : Kiss my ASS!
Readers of Comics Recommended know how fond I am of well-drawn landscape panels. Here's a great panel of San Francisco by Rich Buckler.
Night has just fallen and look how quiet things are. The city glinting in the distance, the waters very placid. Just a great panel.
The Battle of San Francisco never happened, of course. The U.S. mainland was never attacked. So in a series that weaves in and out between history and superhero fiction, we are firmly in superhero territory with this supposed battle. But who's to say we shouldn't enjoy it? It all started when Per Degaton launched watertight Japanese Zeroes into San Francisco from a submarine the size of an aircraft carrier. Whoo-eeee, aren't comics fun?! Here's a shot of that submarine.
Great splash page showing the newly formed All-Star Squadron.
I just love the campy corniness of All-Star Squadron. I've seen heroes fly using Quinjets and Fantasticars but this method of transportation is just cartoony.
Plastic Man changes into a board the others get on top and Robotman carries the lot running at fifty miles per hour. Outrageous 40s comic style fun.
Our heroes stumble into a good old-fashioned bank robbery were this Plastic Man action panel really jumps at me.
Here's another great panel of the Atom punching a hood while Dr. Midnite's blackout bombs messes with their aim.
As the Squadron make their way to the West Coast, secret identities are revealed and origins told. The beauty of this is Roy Thomas and Rich Buckler does each identity and origin in just one panel. Check out this Atom panel.
Per Degaton launches into a story that brings up a flashback all the way from All-Star Comics no. 10 circa 1941.
A reminder that All-Star Squadron is a JSA book and can mine DCs oldest trove of stories. The flashback is about the JSA. Here's a wonderful page showing the JSA in action.
As Per Degaton unravels his story, it just occurred to me who his Marvel counterpart is - Kang the Conqueror. Ok, no, I take that back.
The Zero fighters are being led by Sky Pirate.
Here's another wonderfully drawn panel showing the Zero-Sen fighters approaching the West Coast
And now the entrance of one of the most wonderfully costumed females in all of comics - Phantom Lady.
Here's something I forgot to mention about the Shining Knight's sword : It absorbs magic.
A large part of the first half of the story is spent on Per Degaton launching into a two-part monologue. The first part is a recap of the events of events just past with a few details added. Then Per Degaton describes how he gathered his fellow villains from the future, the events he describes seem to be from the 40s run of DC comics.
The All-Star Squadron leaps into action inside Degaton's sub.
In order to get them there, Plastic Man drills through the sub's metal hull, and, before that, he floated the entire team to the sub's location in the form of a flying boat. Plastic Man shows up as very cartoony compared to the others so its easy to overlook the implausibility of his feats. From here, the team goes up against Solomon Grundy, Per Degaton and Degaton's hypnotized - and fully armed - minions. At which point the All-Star Squadron bump into a serious deficiency : Lack of firepower. Atom will eventually get super-strength, but at the time of this adventure he doesn't have that yet. Phantom Lady, Dr. Midnite, Liberty Belle, they all just have regular strength; I doubt if Belle's 'adrenal' power can be counted as superhuman. Plastic Man, who exerted such a mighty effort getting the team here is the most powerful team member but he's too exhausted to help out. Nevertheless, this Atom punch looks good.
But looks can be deceiving, Per Degaton gets up from the hit almost immediately. I have no idea what they're going to do to stop the unliving strength of Grundy. Phantom girl does what she can though.
With a big smile on her face too.
Back near the California coast, Hawkman demonstrates what a medieval flail with a giant morningstar can do to a World War II fighter plane.
Here Johnny Quick dismantles a plane in midair.
I love what writer Roy Thomas did to solve the predicament of what a land bound Robotman could do against airborne foes. Here Robotman combines his strength with some cannonballs.
Bob Feller is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Known as "The Heater from Van Meter", Feller pitched for the Cleveland Indians from 1936 to 1956.
So this team has Robotman, Hawkman and Johnny Quick while the sub attack team we just saw barely had super-powered members - its a lopsided mix. They should've put Robotman on the sub to counter Solomon Grundy.
Wonderful panel layout showing Wotan and Dr. Zodiak looking up at a fleeing Danielle Rielly.
The more I see Wotan in action, the less convincing he is as a mere henchman of Per Degaton. Wotan seems to rival the time traveller in both smarts and potency of power.
This issue sees the JSA free at last.
Meanwhile, back in the sub, things are going as expected : No one can stop Solomon Grundy
Soon enough the cavalry arrives and we have a matched pair as Robotman takes on Solomn Grundy!
It is becoming increasingly clear that the designation 'All-Star Squadron' applies to all costumed heroes in the United States. Therefore, even the fabled Justice Society of America is a subset group of the All-Star Squadron.
Remember that iconic Astro City cover with all the heroes featured flying diagonally to the right? That's the image that came to my mind when I saw this splash page.
It is the day after Pearl Harbor and the team is headed to the Pacific. Here's Superman, thinking things over while flying
Three years. The setting for these adventures occurs only three years since his first appearance in Action Comics No. 1 in 1939.
Rich Buckler had a great opportunity to present the devastation of Pearl Harbor with jaw-dropping art. He tried to do it but he just couldn't do it effectively.
Here's another surprise.
The Earth 2 Superman is not as invincible as his Earth 1 counterpart - I actually like that. But here Superman gets critiqued by Wonder Woman - via thought balloons.
It's like the entire team is readjusting - downwards - there initial assessment about Superman's power.
The men of Pearl Harbor greet Superman
Wouldn't it be more likely for them to say : "Where the hell were you yesterday Superman when we were being attacked?".
Politically correct All-Star Squadron uses the word 'Nip' rather than J-A-P. I mean, if 'Nip' is politically correct - I'm not sure. Roy Thomas doesn't shy from doing the next logical thing : Using their powers to end the war in 1941. At this point Thomas uses 2 talismans as deus x machina. The first is the Spear of Destiny, possessed by Hitler. The other is the Holy Grail, in the hands of Tojo. Both talismans will allow the axis to control the All-Star Squadron if they ever strayed near both Japan and Germany. This is the excuse that answers any queries about why didn't the All-Stars just wrap things up in two or three days. Soon enough Dr. Fate and Green Lantern fall prey to the Grail's power and turn on their own team, but Liberty Belle uses the one thing that Alan Scott cannot defend against - wood.
Instead of the 'artifact approach' what could also have worked was to give the Axis powers formidable super-hero groups of their own.
Here's a great shot of Johnny Quick taking out some Japanese soldiers.
The hero of the issue is no less than JSA chairman - Hawkman!
The next story begins with a point of irrationality : The JSA have decided to enlist in the U.S. military. Isn't that a bit like the Navy Seals all becoming buck privates? Seeing as how closely All-Star Squadron shadows the 40s era All-Star Comics this must have been done to encourage comic readers of the time to enlist as well.
Hawkman, Dr. Mid-Nite and the Atom head over to Mexico, starting this issue's adventures.
But before that we have a history break as a formal declaration of war is made.
From world history to comics history All-Star Squadron shows a German attack on the American north foiled by the Green Lantern. A story told in full in Green Lantern no. 4 circa 1942.
This is the Feathered Serpent.
I like this villain mainly because Roy Thomas gave him distinct, forceful dialogue. That, plus his costume and the use of ancient Mexican settings really add a welcome exotic flavor to this issue. An example of such set pieces can be seen in this panel.
See the guy wearing the jaguar skin? Historically, that is how elite warriors of the Aztecs dressed.
Wonderful cityscape of New York showing both Johnny Quick and Robotman running in the middle ground.
Maybe its just me but look at this panel. Isn't this Robert Mitchum talking to Sean Connery?
Great panel with wonderfully rendered vintage police car. Rich Buckler is in really good form in this issue.
Running on water is a classic DC speedster signature move.
Fantastic effort by Robotman as he tries to hold the Statue of Liberty together
While Johnny Quick takes care of the bad guy.
This issue introduces Firebrand!
Another great panel of Johnny Quick smothering flames in Danette Reilly's room.
Our heroes are confronted by everybody's favorite villains, the Nazis, they have a hostage so I thought 'Damn, they're going to be taken', but I did not reckon on Liberty Belle's initiative or her speed - she really does deserve a place in the All-Stars.
Firebrand demonstrates that not only can she dish out flames, she can absorb them too a la Johnny Storm.
Just look at this panel.
Jerry Ordway takes over from Rick Buckler for the art chores. Roy Thomas remains on the writing helm.
So the Feathered Serpent does the classic (and informative) villain thing of talking too much then out comes this narrative box.
I love the Indiana Jones mention. Incidentally, this story was published February 1982.
Mayan human sacrifice panel; grissly, but beautifully wrought.
Hawkman demonstrates his carrying capacity.
Great panels, the rise of an Aztec pyramid in the middle of Mexico.
The story is really pretty shocking since several massacres occur among the people of Mexico during this issue.
In a bid to stop one of the massacres Johnny Quick creates an instant wall.
It is not the first time the Atom has expressed regret at not having any super power, like on this panel.
He's been very vocal about it to his teammates. I tend to admire that, he's honest and forthcoming about how he feels, this is good, he could just as easily have kept it to himself. No need to feel sorry for him though, he will eventually be gifted with super-strength.
Here's a rare panel: Dr. Mid-Nite fighting inside one of his blackout bomb explosions.
Usually artists just depict a black cloud with a bad guy flying out.
Great rendition of the Mexican National Palace
Here's another figure from history
Manuel Avila Camacho - Mexican President during World War II.
Here's the best action panel I've seen so far.
There Mexican adventure at an end, the Squadron pose for a pinup shot
Very creative way of listing the credits - the creators are in the small print of the newspaper.
The villain of this issue is Baron Blitzkrieg. The story arc focuses in the Baron's assassination attempt on both Churchill and Roosevelt during Churchill's secret visit to the U.S.. Historically, this visit never really occurred - Churchill first visited the U.S. in 1895 then again after the war, in 1952. At least that's what the history books say.
Blitzkrieg means 'lightning war' in German and characterizes the Nazi's fast attack strategy during World War II. The Baron has superhuman strength, agility and stamina. He can fly and possessed heat vision; all of this because the Baron has full control of his body's energy. Protection is provided by his armor.
Atom may not have any powers, but he still looks good in this panel showing him coming in through a window to meet the President.
Adrian Gonzalez and Gerry Ordway did the art. Look at this excellent drawing of FDR.
With the JSA disbanded so that the members can enlist, this is the current composition of the All-Star Squadron
Ever notice how Robotman's metal face is shaped in a permanent smile?
Did I say that Robotman had super strength and durability? Add extra sharp eyesight to that.
I like the Atom, but between him and the other non-powered All-Star, Liberty Belle, Belle is, well, less whiny and more physically daring. Here she dives under the cold Atlantic to 'lasso' a submarine.
Churchill makes his entrance
Wonderful panel of the All-Star Squadron fighting a U-Boat crew.
Here, Baron Blizkrieg and his assistant are about to make an escape with a kidnapped Winston Churchill. All very interesting but look at the detail on the car!
Liberty Belle aside, this is Robotman's issue. He spots the U-boat, hauls it to shore with his super-strength and then he does a little scouting trip that reveals Baron Blitzkrieg's diabolical plan.
Wonderful landscape of a christmas tree in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The issue starts with action and once again Liberty Belle manages to do the job.
The All-Stars get a new member in the person of Commander Steel!
The comic goes a bit into the origin of Commander Steel, revealing that he has a steel tubing skeleton and some of his organs are artificial; more than that, he has micro motors that give him superhuman strength. It just occured to me that I'm reading a comic with plenty of super-powered folks but no mutants. Kind of refreshing, although I will miss the X-men in time.
We have a flashback section drawn by the legendary Don Heck. In it we find Commander Steel, also known as Hank Heywood, confronted with a fateful decision : to choose between his love or his duty to the nation.
Commander Steel chose the latter. I totally agree. Your duty to the nation can't nag you about how you don't bring in enough money at the end of the month.
Great portrait shot of Churchill by Gonzalez and Ordway.
Wonderful detail on this Messerschmidt bf109.
It is through Commander Steel's backstory that we come upon that most atrocious of all World War II images : a Nazi concentration camp. And no, I won't show that panel - I'll only show beautiful panels.
Commander Steel mentions that his micromotors can take him up to 50mph; a speed on par with Robotman. Here he is showing some of that speed, albeit devoid of his costume.
Here's a panel from the concentration camp.
". . .eyes like sullen fire raging in ravaged, shadowed sockets". Roy Thomas writes up a storm.
We have the origin of Baron Blitzkrieg, not unlike that of Steel; both gained their powers under a surgeon's knife.
Exquisitely illustrated White House exterior and interior
Since they were introduced at around the same time and are so nearly alike, I was half expecting a battle between Commander Steel and Baron Blitzkrieg. But we are getting a different battle today - it's Robotman vs. a brainwashed, out-of-control Commander Steel! Cyborg vs. robot so to speak.
The series began with a wonderful splash page of Hawkman over a cityscape. Here we have a kin to that beautiful panel.
Hawkman comes across some B-17s.
The B-17 Flying Fortress was a strategic bomber employed by the United States in both daylight and night time raids. It was legendary for its ability to take on massive punishment and return from a mission.
This story is titled 'If An Eye Offend Thee' and here's the eye right now - apparently an alien spacecraft.
Look at the detail on that B-17.
Starman launches into action!
I'm really appreciating Roy Thomas' script. Mainly through dialogue, he's given each All-Star Squadrom member a distinct character. Johnny Quick is flirty, mercurial, cocksure and impetous. The Shining Knight is aloof and formal. Liberty Belle is no nonsense, driven and very brave. Firebrand is sentimental and adventurous. Robotman has a burden but he endures it manfully and is very businesslike and effective. The Atom has a burden too but he's whiny about it, even as he pushes himself on. Commander Steel has great willpower to see things done even if his heart says otherwise. Roy Thomas has really put the flesh and blood into these fictional characters.
Here's another American World War II plane. The P-40.
The P-40 had many names during World War II. It was called Warhawk, Tomahawk or Kitty Hawk. It was an air superiority fighter, bomber escort and fighter bomber. It was the third most produced plane by the U.S.