The World War Two Super-Hero Story That I Would Tell If I Could Use Any Characters I Wanted

If I could "recruit" whatever characters from whichever comics company I wished and tell any kind of story I wished, I’d like to tell a story of an alternate Justice Society and follow that from about six months before Pearl Harbor to just after the end of the Second World War, with an epilogue set maybe around 1965, with some of the surviving characters reuniting to discuss what happened to the others. Not all the characters would survive the war, and others would go through various permanent changes.

 

The chief heels would be Captain Nazi and the Red Skull, who would hate each other only slightly less than they hated the heroes, and they would work alongside various Axis characters.  Unbeknownst to them, the real manipulator behind the Axis, and indeed, behind the whole war itself, would be the immortal caveman, Vandal Savage, who doesn’t actually give a crap about ruling the world, he just likes playing games with countries. There might even be a story where our heroes meet characters from the far-off year of 2022.

 

I would want the tone of the story to be as realistic as possible and avoid giving 1940’s characters 2020’s attitudes wherever possible. Also, as you will note when you look at my character list below, I went for a more diverse team than the actual 1940’s JSA ever was. I do this not simply because a team of all white guys (With Wonder Woman as secretary!) wouldn’t “wash” today, but also because I feel that a more diverse team allows a much wider range of possible interesting stories told from a wider range of viewpoints. I also think that if I was going to write this properly, I’d have to do a ton of research into the period in question.

 

Not all the characters listed below would be in the story all the time.  There would be a “core” group who would be around most of the time, and others that would rotate in and out as the story’s plot and location required.  I also list below the changes I would make to the characters and how I might use them.

 

The Justice Society

  1. The Atom (Al Pratt) : Presented largely as in the original comics.

 

  1. Bat-Man (Wang Baixi) : I wanted a Chinese member and I thought that Bat-Man would be easiest to transition to a “Golden Age” milieu. Maybe not a “core” member, but there for parts of the story set in China.

 

  1. Captain America (Samantha T. Wilson) : The Earth-65 version of the character. The team’s leader. I think there’d be lots of story potential there dealing with an African-American woman being in charge in that time period.

 

  1. Doctor Fate (Kent Nelson) : Presented largely as in the  original comics.

 

  1. Doctor Mid-Nite (Charles McNider) : Presented largely as in the original comics.

 

  1. The Flash (Jay Garrick) : Presented largely as in the original comics.

 

  1. Golden Girl (Gwenny Lou Sabuki) : I wanted a Japanese-American character in the story, because certainly at some point, the issue of the detention camps would have to be addressed.. I would “age” her to adulthood. I’m not big on having kid characters in war-time situations.

 

  1. The Green Lantern (Alan Scott) : I would keep the modern characterization of Alan as a gay man, but try to keep it true to how things were at the time. I wouldn’t make his orientation the focal point of the character from the word “go”, but have it slowly become obvious over time.

 

  1. Hawkman (Carter Hall) : Presented largely as in the original comics.

 

  1. Hourman (Rex Tyler) : Presented largely as in the original comics.

 

  1. The Human Bomb (Roy Lincoln) : Presented largely as in the original comics.

 

  1. The Human Torch (Jim Hammond) : Presented largely as in the original comics.

 

  1. The Insect Queen (Mary Jane Watson) : This was an Amalgam character that only appeared once, as I recall.  I like the idea of MJ as an aspiring young actress in the 1940’s who received a bio-ring after helping an insectoid alien, and who decided to become a super-hero to further her career only to find something more important to fight for.

 

  1. Lily Hammer : She was a heroine from the WildGuard comic who had a vaguely “Nordic” accent, as I recall.  I don’t know that her background was ever spelled out, but given her name, I assumed that she must be meant to be Norwegian.  I would use her as a Resistance fighter in occupied Norway.

 

  1. The Maid (Joanna Dark) : A character from Top 10: The Forty-Niners who seemed to be a reincarnation of Joan of Arc. I would use her as a Resistance fighter in occupied France.

 

  1. Mister Terrific (Michael Holt) : Another character that I think would translate well to a “Golden Age” setting. I might even have him wear Terry Sloane’s costume. He would be the team’s technical expert.

 

  1. The Penguin (Oswald C. Cobblepot) : I wanted to have an “I may be a criminal, but I’m an American criminal” type character in the story, and I thought that the Penguin would be an interesting choice.

 

  1. The Question (Renee Montoya) : A other character that I think would translate well to  a “Golden Age” setting. I think it would be interesting to have Alan and Renee become pals after stumbling onto the realization of each other’s orientations and have the others start to wonder if they’re a couple because they seem close.

 

  1. The Red Guardian (Tania Belinskaya) : I would definitely want a Soviet character in the story, and I think that she would fit the bill well.

 

  1. The Red Harpy (Betty Ross) : I like what I’ve seen of this character, it’s the first time that Betty Ross has been interesting to me. Obviously, gamma radiation wouldn’t really work in a World War Two setting, so I would re-write her origin as follows: Betty’s father, General Ross, is killed by Axis agents while on an overseas trip.  Shortly after receiving news of his death, she receives a package he’d sent to her containing a statue of a harpy that he’d meant as a gift for her.  While looking at the statue, she wishes aloud that she had the power to punish the people who killed her father, stating that she’d give up anything for it. To her astonishment, the statue begins to glow, and a disembodied voice says, “SO BE IT!”, and a wave of energy knocks her out momentarily.  When she comes to, the statue is gone, and she has been transformed into the Red Harpy.  She now has the power she’d wished for, but at the cost of her human form.

 

  1. The Red Tornado (Abigail Hunkel) : I’ve said elsewhere that I’m not a big fan of “comedy sidekicks”.  That said, I don’t mind characters with a “comedic” edge, as long they’re good at what they do. It must be obvious to the reader why the others keep this person around.

 

  1. The Sandman (Wesley Dodds) : Presented largely as in the original comics.

 

  1. Shadowcat (Kate Pryde) : I’d want to give her more of a “Golden Age” origin, something like: While traveling the world, adventurer Kate Pryde obtained a mystic amulet that gives her the power to become immaterial and pass through solid objects. She uses this power to fight crime as “Shadowcat”.

 

  1. The Shining Knight (Sir Justin of Camelot) : I’d have Sir Justin as the team’s British hero. I’ve never read the story where an Arthurian knight awoke in the present day and ended up in the USA, so I don’t know how that happened.

 

  1. Spider-Man (Pavitr Prabakhar) : Another character whose origin fits well into a “Golden Age” setting. I’d definitely want an Indian character for when the story got to that part of the war.

 

  1. Stargirl (Courtney Whitmore) : Another one that I’d “age” up to adulthood. I’d update her origin to be that she uses the star rod and cosmic converter belt invented by her uncle, scientist Ted Knight.

 

  1. Superman (Clark “Kal-L” Kent) : I’d present as kind of a “young” version of the Earth-Two Superman. I’d want him to be the team’s “powerhouse”, but I’d keep him from being as “over-powered” as he later became.

 

  1. Uncle Sam : I’d have him be the one who brought the original members together, but otherwise I’d use him sparingly, kind of the way that the Old Soldier is used in Astro City, only showing up in moments of great crisis.

 

  1. Wolverine (James Howlett) : The team’s Canadian representative.  His “Golden Age” origin would be that he received his healing factor from an experimental serum and was given a special exoskeleton (including gloves with retractable claws) by the Canadian government.

 

  1. Wonder Woman (Princess Ororo of Themiscyra) : Another one of my favorite Amalgam characters, and another one that is easily adapted to a “Golden Age” setting.

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I suppose you've already considered 1940s characters not from Marvel or DC. But maybe MLJ's Bob Phantom as a government-assigned, non-powered PR flack? Comedian or Hooded Justice from Watchmen would be interesting. Then there are all those Project: Superpowers characters.

To be honest, I don't know much about characters not from DC or Marvel.I mostly stuck with ones that I know reasonably well.  In the case of the present-day heroes that I added, I stuck with ones hat I thought might be interesting to see in a World Ward Two setting.

Bob Phantom I've heard of, but don't know much about, the same with Project: Superpowers.  

The kdea of a governbment-assigned PR flack is an interesting one that didn't occur to  me.

I suppose that you could say that the choices I made were affected by the limitations of my knowledge..I think that the only non-DC/Marvel one that I got in there was Lily Hammer.

As for the Watchmen characters, the one I came closest to adding the Hollis Mason verison of the Nite Owl.

I'd actually be interested to see the story that you would write, Skipper, because withiout any undue flattery, I'm sure that you grok comics better than I do.

Captain Comics said:

I suppose you've already considered 1940s characters not from Marvel or DC. But maybe MLJ's Bob Phantom as a government-assigned, non-powered PR flack? Comedian or Hooded Justice from Watchmen would be interesting. Then there are all those Project: Superpowers characters.

Well, it's your baby, and I don't want to get pregnant just to steal the limelight. (Wait, that is a terrible metaphor.) You have an idea what you want to do, and I'd love to see where you went with it.

But if I were to do a World War II story ... well, would it shock you to know I've daydreamed about it? And if I did, I would sort out some things that always bothered me, like superhero suits. Superman, sure. Batman, part of the schtick. But what does a tight-fitting, day-glo set of leotards do, for example, The Atom? Out here in the world, it was part of the superhero archetype that was rarely questioned, but in story, where would he get such a suit? Why would he wear one? All it did was make him a better target. And somewhat embarrassing for the macho attitudes of the times. (It's OK to wear a uniform, if it's on the football field, but off the gridiron, you dress like a man, buddy.)

There are other things, like the JSA not being able to fight overseas because of the Spear of Destiny. Really? REALLY? If getting that Spear meant The Spectre could end the war in a day, you can bet your bottom dollar the Allies would throw everything they had into getting it, instead of shrugging their collective shoulders and grinding out the war the old-fashioned way. And, if it's that powerful, why didn't the Axis find a way to weaponize it?

To fix these things and others, I would come at World War II superheroes sort of like JSA: The Liberty Files. That is to say, my premise is that everything in the comics on my bookshelf was largely made up, with the writers extrapolating from what little was known about the Mystery Men to sell comic books. Some of them would have been invented out of whole cloth to fit story needs, or because a publisher was threatened with a lawsuit. (How else to explain characters dropping out of the Justice Society?) The actual heroes, their outfits and their adventures would be a lot more down-to-earth and home-made.

That's actually where I got the PR flack idea. My version of the Red Bee would be a PR flack with a forgettable name who was assigned to the super-people by the government. This guy used to work for a newspaper called the Red Bee, see, and Gardner Fox or someone took this guy who was always hanging around the super-people, and just extrapolated a superhero career based on what little he knew: "The Red Bee." For the comics!

Meanwhile, I'd have a huge pool to draw from, and I'd use anybody and everybody I found useful. My only restrictions (and they're self-imposed) is that the length of a character's career should match how long he was in the comics, and I'd have to connect the character to his comic adventures in some logical fashion -- extrapolating backwards from what the comics showed us.

So, for example, I'd have to explain why a given character does what he does and how he does it, but also show how the public found out just enough about him to get it wrong. I don't see any way around having some sort of Justice Society and/or Justice Battalion, but a group like that would have to use characters that make sense -- quasi-public -- and a way for the public to be aware of their existence, but not aware enough to know how they actually operate or what they look like.

And if, for example, Minute Man stopped being published in 1943, and I'm using him, I'd have to have a reason for him to stop in 1943. Fortunately, during wartime, there's an easy fallback.

Anyway, besides the bajillion Timely and DC characters, there's a ton of others, from Nedor, Fawcett, Quality, MLJ and others. The Canadians were also publishing superheroes, and one of them was an Inuit goddess! The world is big enough to find places for pulp heroes, too, although they'd be aging up a bit in WWII. Also, there are the retcon heroes, like the Young All-Stars and Watchmen.

If you ever want to do one of your famous lists on World War II superheroes, I'd be glad to help.

The costume thing always kind of bugged me - it's why I always liked Wesley Dodds' original costume, it's one that I could believe someone would come up with. Peter Parker's costume always seemed too cool for me.  Hard for me to believe that a teenager with no training in fashion design could come up with something like that.  There's also the issue of how many super-heroines dress like hookers catering to really specific fetishes, especially in the Golden Age.  I remember a cosplayer who was dressed like a manga battle maid character saying something like, "It's a fun costume to wear, but I can't imagine actually fighting in it."

Your story sounds interesting, it's not something that I would have thought of. I agree that most of the chracters that were simply tough guys in circus costumes - even super-competent ones like Batman - would get killed off pretty quickly in the "real" world. (That's not to mention the whole issue of kid sidekicks!) 

The one area where I would strongly disagree with you is the idea where a charaacter has to be discarded when their published adventures stopped, but that's just  a personal preference.  

Don't get me started on the idea of a list... :)



Captain Comics said:

Well, it's your baby, and I don't want to get pregnant just to steal the limelight. (Wait, that is a terrible metaphor.) You have an idea what you want to do, and I'd love to see where you went with it.

But if I were to do a World War II story ... well, would it shock you to know I've daydreamed about it? And if I did, I would sort out some things that always bothered me, like superhero suits. Superman, sure. Batman, part of the schtick. But what does a tight-fitting, day-glo set of leotards do, for example, The Atom? Out here in the world, it was part of the superhero archetype that was rarely questioned, but in story, where would he get such a suit? Why would he wear one? All it did was make him a better target. And somewhat embarrassing for the macho attitudes of the times. (It's OK to wear a uniform, if it's on the football field, but off the gridiron, you dress like a man, buddy.)

There are other things, like the JSA not being able to fight overseas because of the Spear of Destiny. Really? REALLY? If getting that Spear meant The Spectre could end the war in a day, you can bet your bottom dollar the Allies would throw everything they had into getting it, instead of shrugging their collective shoulders and grinding out the war the old-fashioned way. And, if it's that powerful, why didn't the Axis find a way to weaponize it?

To fix these things and others, I would come at World War II superheroes sort of like JSA: The Liberty Files. That is to say, my premise is that everything in the comics on my bookshelf was largely made up, with the writers extrapolating from what little was known about the Mystery Men to sell comic books. Some of them would have been invented out of whole cloth to fit story needs, or because a publisher was threatened with a lawsuit. (How else to explain characters dropping out of the Justice Society?) The actual heroes, their outfits and their adventures would be a lot more down-to-earth and home-made.

That's actually where I got the PR flack idea. My version of the Red Bee would be a PR flack with a forgettable name who was assigned to the super-people by the government. This guy used to work for a newspaper called the Red Bee, see, and Gardner Fox or someone took this guy who was always hanging around the super-people, and just extrapolated a superhero career based on what little he knew: "The Red Bee." For the comics!

Meanwhile, I'd have a huge pool to draw from, and I'd use anybody and everybody I found useful. My only restrictions (and they're self-imposed) is that the length of a character's career should match how long he was in the comics, and I'd have to connect the character to his comic adventures in some logical fashion -- extrapolating backwards from what the comics showed us.

So, for example, I'd have to explain why a given character does what he does and how he does it, but also show how the public found out just enough about him to get it wrong. I don't see any way around having some sort of Justice Society and/or Justice Battalion, but a group like that would have to use characters that make sense -- quasi-public -- and a way for the public to be aware of their existence, but not aware enough to know how they actually operate or what they look like.

And if, for example, Minute Man stopped being published in 1943, and I'm using him, I'd have to have a reason for him to stop in 1943. Fortunately, during wartime, there's an easy fallback.

Anyway, besides the bajillion Timely and DC characters, there's a ton of others, from Nedor, Fawcett, MLJ and others. The Canadians were also publishing superheroes, and one of them was an Inuit goddess! The world is big enough to find places for pulp heroes, too, although they'd be aging up a bit in WWII. Also, there are the retcon heroes, like the Young All-Stars and Watchmen.

If you ever want to do one of your famous lists on World War II superheroes, I'd be glad to help.

The Baron said:

The costume thing always kind of bugged me - it's why I always liked Wesley Dodds' original costume, it's one that I could believe someone would come up with.

Me, too. I didn't understand until I was older why characters like Crimson Avenger and Sandman went from a "The Shadow" look to a "Captain America" look. But multiple books I've read have made the point that the "common wisdom" around 1943 was that the pulp look was out and the superhero look was in, and changes were made. In hindsight, the Golden Age would have been cooler with a mix, but every publisher was looking out for themselves and they all aped what was working.

The Baron said:

Peter Parker's costume always seemed too cool for me.  Hard for me to believe that a teenager with no training in fashion design could come up with something like that. 

When I started reading Amazing Spider-Man in the early '60s I was aware that Peter Parker made his own costume, but I had to compartmentalize that, because I didn't know any male my age who could sew, nor my father or any of his cohort. When I thought about it, I rationalized that Uncle Ben, like most men his age, had served in WWII, and many of them learned to sew a little bit, to patch up their socks and whatnot. And maybe Uncle Ben ... passed that on to little Peter? Even though he would already been getting bullied as "gay" because he was slight and wore glasses? 

Like I said, I had to compartmentalize it.

Then Ditko drew Parker threading a needle and I HAD to think about how he had sewed his own costume, and that he was constantly repairing it, and my suspension of disbelief snapped. So I stopped thinking about it at all.

The Baron said:

There's also the issue of how many super-heroines dress like hookers catering to really specific fetishes, especially in the Golden Age.  I remember a cosplayer who was dressed like a manga battle maid character saying something like, "It's a fun costume to wear, but I can't imagine actually fighting in it."

I enjoyed how Alan Moore handled that in Watchmen, establishing that Miss Jupiter was basically an actress, showing off her "assets" in pre-arranged public displays. She was a pin-up girl, and that's about all. That makes more sense to me than just about all female costumes from 1940 to present.

The Baron said:

Your story sounds interesting, it's not something that I would have thought of. I agree that most of the characters that were simply tough guys in circus costumes - even super-competent ones like Batman - would get killed off pretty quickly in the "real" world. (That's not to mention the whole issue of kid sidekicks!) 

Which is why I point to JLA: The Justice Files. That miniseries featured "realistic" versions of various "tough guys in circus costumes." Not "realistic" in the sense of "taking all the fun out of it," but in treating these characters as very competent espionage agents in military fighting gear. It worked for me.

As for sidekicks, I'm all on board with you there. Robin might have been the "sensational character find of 1940," but he's been the poster child for child endangerment since probably 1970. DC missed the opportunity to change the Robin concept to something more morally palatable, or drop it altogether, when Dick Grayson became Nightwing. But they didn't. Instead they just had Batman adopt another orphan kid, and then another, making Batman the poster child for mental illness. The Justice League should have put their foot down long ago.

But note that Ed Brubaker re-wrote Bucky to make him A) an adult during the war, and B) the real Army Ranger of the team. While Cap was posing for newsreels in the front of the Nazi camp, Bucky was slipping in the back, murdering Nazis as he went, to plant bombs. That not only absolved Cap of child endangerment, it explained Bucky's existence in a plausible way.

And that's how I'd use all sidekicks and kid gangs in my WWII story. They'd all be adults; they'd all have a purpose. And they'd just be kids in comics for propaganda purposes.

The Baron said:

The one area where I would strongly disagree with you is the idea where a character has to be discarded when their published adventures stopped, but that's just  a personal preference.

I'm limiting myself because I'm an anal-retentive editor. I can't imagine a story without coming up with a (limiting) framework. Your idea is more imaginative, which I applaud.

The Baron said:

Don't get me started on the idea of a list... :)

Too late. You're started, mate!

Regarding female superhero uniforms of the Golden Age, one of my favorites (and more plausible was the Black Cat from Harvey. She was a stuntwoman, which made her physical feats plausible, and her costume was a mask and a leotard. She could easily move around in it, the straps were unlikely to fall off(I've always assumed Wonder Woman's breastplate stayed in place because of magic), and her heels aren't very tall. 

Captain Comics said:

As for sidekicks, I'm all on board with you there. Robin might have been the "sensational character find of 1940," but he's been the poster child for child endangerment since probably 1970. DC missed the opportunity to change the Robin concept to something more morally palatable, or drop it altogether, when Dick Grayson became Nightwing. But they didn't. Instead they just had Batman adopt another orphan kid, and then another, making Batman the poster child for mental illness. The Justice League should have put their foot down long ago.

But note that Ed Brubaker re-wrote Bucky to make him A) an adult during the war, and B) the real Army Ranger of the team. While Cap was posing for newsreels in the front of the Nazi camp, Bucky was slipping in the back, murdering Nazis as he went, to plant bombs. That not only absolved Cap of child endangerment, it explained Bucky's existence in a plausible way.

THAT was a retcon that worked.

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