Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Today in Comics History: Remember Pearl Harbor

Seventy-five years ago today, the attack on Pearl Harbor by Imperial Japanese forces precipitated the entrance of the US into World War II. It also directly led to the making of Michael Bay's film of the same name, which I think we can all agree was a pretty terrible thing. It's certainly not as good a movie as Roy Thomas and Rich Buckler's All-Star Squadron is a comic, and the movie's only clear advantage is that Faith Hill song.

In this post I'm gonna give Roy all the accolades for kicking off his Earth-2/WWII comic series with a solid three-(and a half)-part story that doesn't downplay or trivialize the terror of the Pearl Harbor attack, mostly because the events and evil schemes within are a supervillain's tangent to take advantage of, but not cause, the real-life events.

Like several of the popular DC comics series of the early '80s, All-Star Squadron kicks off as a 16-page preview story within the pages of another comic book, in this case, the original JLA. You actually really did get more for your buck fifty cents! The New DC: there was no stopping them then!

Panels from "Special All-Star Squadron Preview" in Justice League of America (1960 series) #193 (August 1981), script by Roy Thomas, breakdowns by Rich Buckler, finishes by Jerry Ordway, colors by Carl Gafford, letters by John Costanza

JLA's preview ends as December 7, 1941 begins, President Franklin D. Roosevelt confers with his then-Veep Henry A. Wallace trusted aide and advisor, Harry Hopkins (thanks to Ward Hill Terry for the correction!) about the need for Earth-2's Justice Society of America "forming some sort of All-Star Squadron" to aid the US in the inevitable world war. Pretty savvy thinking, and I'm not certain if the All-Star Squadron was his finest idea, or giving Captain America that round shield was. Either way, on any Earth, he's the smartest man in a wheelchair this side of Charles Xavier, Niles Caulder, or Stephen Hawking.

Panels from All-Star Squadron #1 (September 1981), script by Roy Thomas, pencils by Rich Buckler, inks by Jerry Ordway, colors by Carl Gafford, letters by John Costanza

Eventually gathering at the White House are a few of the JSA plus other Golden Age DC heroes. But FDR's not ready to send them into direct battle against the Japanese forces. There's a more immediate, homefront danger...

...and that danger is spelled Per Degaton! Dah dah dah! (sinister sting) The time-traveling, world conqueror wanna-be who's so evil he doesn't even have a code name! If he did it would probably be something like Time-O or Mister Iniquitous, so it's a good thing he just stuck with the name Ma Degaton gave him.

Who can stop Per Degaton's heinous plan? Who will stand against him? These guys, that's who! These guys! And Plastic Man.

Splash page from All-Star Squadron #2 (October 1981), script by Roy Thomas, pencils by Rich Buckler, inks by Jerry Ordway, colors by Carl Gafford, letters by John Costanza

Degaton's evil plan for blood, devastation, death, war and horror of course involves — wait for it — time travel. He has come back to 1941 from 1947, so he's armed with the futuristic power of the Slinky! He's also brought back supervillains experienced in the art of defeating the Justice Society by hitting them with a wood plank (Green Lantern) or tying them up (Wonder Woman) or just hitting them really, really hard (Atom, Wildcat, Sandman, Hawkman...pretty much all of them).

His plot is to divert the attention of American forces westward instead of toward Europe, thus enabling that rat Hitler (who is he kidding?) to attack from the east! Step two: ???. Step three: PROFIT!

Per woulda come back earlier to influence the war, but there was a (handwave) timestorm (yep, that's it, that'll work) blocking time travelers off from landing in the years from September 1939 through December 1941. And now you know why so few time travelers attended the grand premiere of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's blockbuster Gone with the Wind!

The Justice Society All-Star Squadron to the rescue! Not seen: other Golden Age heroes like Liberty Belle, Firebrand, Mighty Mouse, Abbott and Costello, Senator Beauregard Claghorn, and Bugs Bunny!

Splash page from All-Star Squadron #3 (November 1981), script by Roy Thomas, pencils by Rich Buckler, inks by Jerry Ordway, colors by Carl Gafford, letters by John Costanza

Glass jaws are punched, volcano island bases explode, and justice is eventually served. Which only goes to show: guys in 1941 are better than 1947. Also: Per Degaton obviously has one of those Brother PTouch Labelmakers. They come in ever so handy for marking detonator buttons that have to be pressed to be activated!

And in the end, as December 8th dawns on a grim new world but the all-new all-different All-Star Squadron joins with the JSA on the Golden Gate Bridge to listen to a speech by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (portrayed here by J. Edgar Hoover) and vow to keep fighting the good fight for as long as the war lasts or until the Crisis on Infinite Earths deletes their existences from history, whichever comes first.

Despite their patriotic last-panel cheer, not a single one of the JSA or the ASS earned one slim dime from Sammy Kaye's 1942 hit song. That's not justice!

There's a lot of characters to keep track of and a lot of DC/Quality comics lore to learn (not to mention your fundamental world history). But Roy made it easy for you to get up to speed: here's a text page from the second issue of All-Star Squadron that explains the basic premise between the continuity implant behind the series, and general introductions to the cast. Handy!

In all complete seriousness, I salute the real military and civilians who fought in the Battle of Pearl Harbor and World War II. My own dad was an electrician's mate on a ship in the Pacific Fleet during the War, and I've been forever proud of him. We now look upon Japan and Germany as friends and allies, which is the right way to progress through history. But I've got to admit that this, posted today on Twitter by former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, is an insulting and cowardly statement that compliments and praises the attacking force on Pearl Harbor. Seriously: I'm very angry that this is considered an acceptable public statement, especially by a man who got a deferment from serving during the Vietnam War. It's a personal put-down directly at every man and woman who died at Pearl Harbor and who fought during World War II. I say it's rotten spinach, Mister Gingrich, and the hell with you.

As long as there's public statements like that which draw attention away from what we have lost and what we fought for, I'll never scoff at Roy Thomas for being merely silly in scenes like this:

There was certainly racial hatred packed into a lot of the comics of World War II that we can now rightly call deplorable portrayals. We can read comics like those and learn our American history, both hopeful and unfortunate, from their contemporary views. All the more kudos to Roy Thomas, therefore, for presenting us with modern comics of World War II that entertain and educate without resorting to to racism, that rewrite history only in the name of fun and fantasy. May Roy's patriotic heroes always inspire us; may we learn from and not follow the regrettable aspects of our past, only seventy-five years ago.


Anonymous said...

Hi Bully- Great job as always!Just one detail. In your third paragraph you write that FDR "confers with his the-Veep Henry A. Wallace..." Nope. He's conferring with his must trusted aide and advisor, Harry Hopkins. I'm not trying to be a pedantic pain, but this is important to me. I had not heard of Hopkins until I read this comic, which would have been the end of my Junior year in High School. The name and the personage stuck with me. Ten years later, in graduate school, I chose Hopkins as the subject of a research project in a history class. Because of All-Star Squadron. Thanks to Roy Thomas, I learned about a great and selfless American, whose entire career was spent doing all he could to help those who needed help. (During the war years, Hopkins had no official position, he stayed overnight at the White House one night and never left! FDR found him invaluable. He was the one FDR sent to England to initially meet with Churchill, and to the USSR to meet Stalin.) I later used that research project as a base for my "thesis" project to complete my degree. No disrespect to you or Henry Wallace! Harry Hopkins is my boy!

Bully said...

Fantastic, I appreciate the correction, Ward Hill Terry! I will correct that in my post and also add Harry Hopkins to the list of characters on the Grand Comicbook Database!

For historical service above and beyond the call of duty (not to be confused with the really violent video game), I hereby award you a No-Bull Prize, American History Division! We here at Comics Oughta Be Fun! salute you!

-- MrJM said...

Great post, Bully!

-- MrJM

Blam said...

That's so cool to hear, Ward Hill Terry. Great post, Bully! All-Star Squadron pushed all the right buttons for young Blam, obsessed with the Golden Age, parallel universes, and continuity. One line full of typos you might want to correct, though: "he;s also brought back supervaillains experienced in the art of defeating the Justice League" should be "He's also also brought back supervillains experienced in the art of defeating the Justice Society". I can only imagine how difficult it is to type with little stuffed hooves, especially when overcome by excitement and emotion for such a post as this. 8^)

Blam said...

Yikes! I doubled the "also" in my own correction.

Bully said...

Thanks for the typo-spotting, Blam! Please upgrade your No-Bull Prize, Proofreading Division, to Platinum Class! (Seriously, I appreciate it!)