All-Star Comics #3 (Winter 1940):

1)I expect that if you've only read one Golden Age adventure of the JSA, this is the one.  It's not bad, but this first issue is more like an anthology than a team book, per se.

 

2)Line-Up: The Atom (Al Pratt), Doctor Fate (Kent Nelson), the Flash (Jay Garrick), the Green Lantern (Alan Scott), the Hawkman (Carter Hall), the  Hour Man (Rex Tyler), the Sandman (Wesley Dodds) and the Spectre (Jim Corrigan), with gate-crasher Johnny Thunder and the Red Tornado (Ma Hunkle), to whom Hourman says "Why, we meant to inviite you but we heard you were busy!" All white guys, of cours,e but only to be expected in those less progressive days. Nowadays, things are much different, since when the Justice League was recently revamped, the founding members were just mostly white guys. That aside, I have no real beef with the membership except the inclusion of Johnny Thunder, a character I've always loathed. If they had to have a "comedy" character on the team, I would've much preferred the Red Tornado.

 

3)The JSA gathers for a dinner. Johnny Thunder crashes the party and offers the suggestion that they each narrate an adventure to pass the time. During the dinner, the Flash is summoned to Washington, DC, to meet with Madam Fatal the head of the FBI.

 

4)No origin is given for the team - they all just sort of seem to know each other, already. Johnny Thunder is aware of the meeting, but the Sandman later says that the meeting is a secret. Although knocking out everyone in the lobby actually seems like it be more likely to draw attention than discourage it.

 

5)Doctor Fate: ""The Spectre and I do not touch food." Just as well, Doc, I wouldn't want to see you try to eat with that helmet on.

 

6)Superman, Batman and Robin and the Tornado are described as being "busy".  I find I don't miss Supes and Bats from the team.

 

7)The art is generally OK - nothing exceptionally good or exceptionally bad.

 

8)The Flash tells how he battled some pirates. A light-hearted story, particularly his encounter with a shark. Comics are far too serious these days to have a scene like that in it.

 

9)Hawkman tells of his battle with some fire people. Moldoff draws his wings REALLY HUGE.

 

10)The Spectre tells of his battle with Oom the Mighty, the goofiest demon ever.

 

11)Hourman tells of his battle with jewel thieves who all dress as Hourman.  Amusing because in the end, everyone thinks Rex Tyler was posing as Hourman when he actually was Hourman!

 

12)We have a brief interval where the Red Tornado drops by long enough for it to be revealed that she tore her pants. The Flash is aware of her as a comics character.

 

13)The Sandman tells of his battle of a mad doctor who creates giants in a particularly creepy tale.  I notice alot of these guys, their girlfirends know their secret ID's, with out it being the end of the world.

 

14)Doctor Fate introduces himself thusly:  " I am not human...I never was a child...I had no youth. The elder gods created me just as I am now, and placed me here on Earth to fight evil sorcery!"  I'm pretty sure this is the only place I remember the character's provenance being set out in this manner. anyhow, Fate tells of his battle with an evil sorceror.  Probably the most distinctive art style on this one.

 

15)Johnny Thunder, having suggested story-telling, says he's too shy to do it, "So the editors have written a story about something that happened to me."  So, he knows he's a comic book character, too. Anyhow, his adventure is a text pice about some silly damn thing he did.

 

16)The Atom battles a gang of gold thieves.  Whenever I see the Golden Age Atom's original costume I wonder why the crooks don't all just laugh themselves to death.

 

17)Green Lantern tells of his battle with some racketeers.

 

18)Cliffhanger: The Flash returns with the message that the head of the FBI wants to meet with them all!

 

Overall: This first issue holds up pretty well, all things considered. I still find it a fun read.

 

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Dave Elyea said:

I found the whole "emotional spectrum" Color Corps (what's the plural of "corps"?  Corpses can't be right?)  half-baked, or at least something that needed at least one more decent going over by an actual editor before it rolled out--I mean, "Will Power" is an emotion?  The Fear & Hope Corps "inspire" those emotions, but the others seem to embody them?  If the Red Corps vomit crimson plasma, shouldn't the Yellow Corps urinate their power?  And the Love Corps--that's messed up across the board--not only are they empowered by the Predator, but they seem to only embody a kind of creepy, unrequited, stalkerish love, and not anything remotely healthy or normal.  I suppose that goes with Star Sapphire's original concept of loving GL so much that she had to publicly defeat and humiliate him, but at least she had the excuse of having her real emotions warped by the Zamarons' mind-control.


Ha! I guess they would be wetting themselves all the time, at that. Right colour too.

And Death isn't an emotion either. Yes, it was all rather half-baked and then the storylines made this Spectrum central to the existence of all sentient beings in the entire Universe. Kind of like the Endless redux, which in turn were the New Gods 2.0, after a fashion. Which makes it strange to now read '...and then they all died/sodded off/whatever.'

So much for being absolutely defining entities in this universe.

Captain Comics said:



Figserello said:

 

Johns did see fit to represent the Pink Lantern powered by love as a scary, barely clad female called The Predator, so the pattern isn't unique to JSA.

 

 

As to The Predator, it is really off-putting to have something with that name/concept as the motive power for love. That's, as you say, intellectually suspect. But then, if I remember correctly, The Predator started out as a supervillain and was scooped up to be the Sapphire Entity when that concept came around. So it really wasn't planned to have the Love Entity be The Predator, so much as it was serendipitous. I'm not sure that makes it much better, but it is another reminder that if this is really what Johns and Goyer are telling us about their own attitudes, it's entirely subconscious. Or, possibly, they're just trying to shock and/or surprise us as much as they can, by deliberately going against expectation. ("Everyone thinks a Love Entity would be very nice. Let's make it very bad!")

Well, part of my point is that it doesn't matter what they intended (the old intentional fallacy).  We can't know what they were thinking or what they meant to say.  All we can talk about is what these comics actually say.  And so much of it is indeed 'intellectually suspect'.

Comics at their purist are a 'dramatic' form, in that what the characters say and do largely only reveals their character, rather than the writer's opinions.  Taking each scene individually, that's fine, and I ocasionally see this argument used on the internet to defend icky scenes*.  The trouble arrives when very consistent repeated patterns start to emerge.  It's harder to argue that the patterns aren't indicative of a particular worldview being expressed and promulgated.

There are some weird and outre stuff in Johns work when we start ot look deeper into it, and I have to say, I love the weird and outre in my comics.  Prophet and Bulletproof Coffin both do it very well, to name but two recent favourites.

I have trouble though, when the weird and the outre is in the service of really ingrained, unhealthy and unhelphful assumptions that permeate society, and that need to be examined and interrogated head-on for some progress to be made, rather than merely thoughtlessly promulgated at every turn.  That's my central beef with Johns' work.

*Only occasionally.  Largely the people who take the trouble to go on the internet to defend icky scenes seem to be motivated by the belief that icky stuff is fine and healthy, rather than that it's just a view or action by this character. 

Along those lines....

Issues 52-53 kind of illustrate what I'm talking about.

Regarding the thorny topic of race relations... Of course the surface message of JSA as a whole is suitably liberal and laudable. Mr Terrific is an old white hero remodelled into a highly capable, highly intelligent*, high acheiving (and rich) African American man. We can all get behind such a stereo-type-busting depiction.

But from the darker corners of society's subconscious along comes  another repurposed Golden Age hero, the Crimson Avenger.

Look at her. She's simply a dreadlocked, gun wielding, blood-stained avatar of black urban gun-crime. She is motivated by vengence, and can't see who she's shooting, so is a walking spectre of so many of those meaningless gun crimes that are associated with African-American communities, where often the casualties are just caught in the crossfire or are victims of mistaken identity.  The problem of 'African-American gun-crime' seems ubiquitous, but rarely makes it onto the front page.

To anyone who doesn't really give the problem much thought or investigation, she is just the embodiment of their half-thought-through fears and apprehensions about the problem. She is a weird hazy amalgam of both the victim and the shooter. Such development as her story gets is just to confirm that she doesn't really know what she's doing, nor can help what she does.

Johns is happy to dredge up this troubling barely-examined imagery from the American sub-conscious and parade it in front of us, but he doesn't have anything helpful to say about it, nor it seems, any moral intent in bringing it to us.  The Crimson Avenger's damnation is hardly addressed when she exits the story.  On the subconscious level, she only reinforces the old stereotypes, without addressing or questioning them in any way.

Put like that, the Crimson Avenger's reason for hunting Wildcat is even more troubling than it actually is.  (And Wildcat's admissions in this story are definitely very troubling even without the Crimson Avenger's involvement.) His is a story about a respected, state-sanctioned, old white 'crime-fighter' using the machinery of the state to frame and kill someone for a crime they didn't commit - something Wildcat definitely doesn't have to answer for beyond this little adventure with the Crimson Avenger.  Doesn't that scenario intersect in an interesting way with a character who so acutely embodies mainstream society's idea of black urban gun-crime?

Part of Johns' genius is that he is so in tune with the privilaged 'insiders' view of how society works.  If he had more sympathy or understanding of how members of America's more marginalised groups would view such a juxtaposition in his story, he wouldn't have gone there.  He's blithely unaware that 'crime-fighters' framing innocent people and sending them to jail or the chair is a very real concern for Americans who've experienced society differently to him.  (Or, to invoke the intentional fallacy again, if he is aware, this comic story doesn't show it.)

My take on this Crimson Avenger was more as a reflection of the ramifications of gun violence. She is not the avatar of vengeance but its prisoner. She does not want to kill her targets but she cannot help herself. Using the example of urban gangs (and what's the JSA but a glorified gang), one killing leads to another killing out of retribution which must be answered for over and over again. The Crimson Avenger is trapped in her own loop. Killing a murderer does not end her mission. She simply acquires another target over and over again. Nothing is solved and the violence continues. She can't stop it and she can't stop herself.

Wildcat framing an innocent man surprised me, too but who knows how many "guilty" people went to jail just because they fought someone wearing a mask?

Philip said:

My take on this Crimson Avenger was more as a reflection of the ramifications of gun violence. She is not the avatar of vengeance but its prisoner. She does not want to kill her targets but she cannot help herself. Using the example of urban gangs (and what's the JSA but a glorified gang), one killing leads to another killing out of retribution which must be answered for over and over again. The Crimson Avenger is trapped in her own loop. Killing a murderer does not end her mission. She simply acquires another target over and over again. Nothing is solved and the violence continues. She can't stop it and she can't stop herself.

Very well said, Philip!

My take on this Crimson Avenger was more as a reflection of the ramifications of gun violence. She is not the avatar of vengeance but its prisoner. She does not want to kill her targets but she cannot help herself. Using the example of urban gangs (and what's the JSA but a glorified gang), one killing leads to another killing out of retribution which must be answered for over and over again. The Crimson Avenger is trapped in her own loop. Killing a murderer does not end her mission. She simply acquires another target over and over again. Nothing is solved and the violence continues. She can't stop it and she can't stop herself.

Your reading is no doubt an accurate depiciton of what Johns was getting at - (a good reading as ever, Philip)  Still, even by your definitions, Johns unwittingly illustrates how those in some 'glorified', (state-sponsored) 'gangs' are somehow immune to the whole 'cycle of violence' thing, whereas those in what you called "urban gangs" ie 'gangstas', usually depicted with certain racial stereotyping, very much have to pay the price.  The message that Johns leaves us with is that this is all as it should be...  No one's too troubled by Wildcat's admissions, nor by the fact that the Crimson Avenger is out there somewhere still suffering and still killing people who will leave behind grieving relatives.

Wildcat framing an innocent man surprised me, too but who knows how many "guilty" people went to jail just because they fought someone wearing a mask?

Spot-on as well!  I mentioned earlier that we have to be careful about a too literal reading of these comics.  Yes, superheroes represent some drive within us to go out there and do some good and ease the hurting, but vigilantism is a thorny issue.  With Wildcat, Johns once again rams these fragile metaphorical creations up against literal reality and pushes them to breaking point.  At the same time, he is sanctioning breaking the law so long as it is done by members of state insititutions who think they know better.  And of course, characters under Johns' pen can be as right and noble in that action as long as he wants them to be.  Out here, people who disregard the law and proper procedures in order to put away those they think are guilty, often make mistakes.  They ruin lives and sour relations between institutions and those they are supposed to 'guard'.  The only process we have for getting anywhere near a consensus as to what is the right thing to do regarding punishment is the law, properly followed, as fallible as it is.   So that is where WIldcat's actions (and Johns' script, to be more accurate) become problematic.  Instead of making these heroes represent some attempt to make the world a better place, Johns comics here are instead using these heroes to sanction vigilantism, the use of deadly violence and the disregard for the the law as the way to make the world a better place.

Shurely shome mishtake?

There are gangs of all nationalities and races here in America. They are, in my opinion, one of the real blights of this nation. They run the drug trade and a lot of the sex trade and don't care about who pays the price for their crimes. A white gang is just as dangerous as a black gang, a Latino gang or an Asian gang. Granted that "urban gangs" are mostly portrayed as the latter three but there are Italian, German and yes even Irish gangs The problem is that they all want to kill the others and innocent people are trapped between them.

Funny though, you never hear about a British gang over here. Probably because no one cares about soccer here! ;-)

Much truth there, Philip.

My point was how closely so much of what is in JSA #52-3 adheres to the first reactions, common stereotypes and gut feelings regarding this topic.

This story could have examined the problem of urban gangs and gun crime as associated with African-American communities.  Johns is happy to use striking imagery that viscerally evokes that very highly charged topic, and use that charge to some effect, even if you say he's talking about vengence more generally.  Ostrander wrote a couple of good Spectre stories that started with these racial stereotypes, but then did something with them in terms of questioning and examining what was going on.  This story ultimately uses the tropes and stereotypes in an uncritical Fox News sort of way, in the end to weirdly support the status quo.

Funny though, you never hear about a British gang over here. Probably because no one cares about soccer here! ;-)

Are you suggesting there's a post-colonial dimension to social exclusion?  Because that would make you some kind of relativist lefty pinko liberal.

Here are some comments from an interview Geoff Johns gave to collider.com earlier this year:

"My Dad is Lebanese.  Detroit has the biggest Lebanese community outside of Lebanon. ..... I'm half-Lebanese, but a lot of my family, on my dad's side, is full Arabic and they've had to deal with a lot of things, in the way of 9/11.  Just getting on a plane is a pain in the ass."

Far from being a privileged insider, I would guess that he knows very well, first-hand in fact, how society works for a marginalized group. 

I'll also point out that in the story told in JSA 52 and 53, the "innocent" man framed by Wildcat for killing his fiancée, killed three other people - his brother (who was the one who killed the fiancée), his sister-in-law, and his eight year old nephew.  Wildcat framed him for the murder of his fiancée when the D.A. had no evidence for the killing of the family.  That whole point is being left out of this discussion.

And I would argue that Johns is saying something larger than just the basic story told here.  On the first page of JSA 53, the Crimson Avenger talks about how she became what she is, and for her justice is vengeance.  It's a belief that Wildcat likely shared when he framed the guy who committed the triple murder and got away with it, for another murder.  But that belief, as Philip said, traps CA in a cycle of vengeance she cannot escape.  Far from being a noble or heroic character, she's a tragic one.

 


Figserello said:

Part of Johns' genius is that he is so in tune with the privilaged 'insiders' view of how society works.  If he had more sympathy or understanding of how members of America's more marginalised groups would view such a juxtaposition in his story, he wouldn't have gone there.  He's blithely unaware that 'crime-fighters' framing innocent people and sending them to jail or the chair is a very real concern for Americans who've experienced society differently to him.  (Or, to invoke the intentional fallacy again, if he is aware, this comic story doesn't show it.)

The female Crimson Avenger was not a member of a gang.  Are we supposed to think so because of the dreadlocks?  Isn't that a bit of stereotyping itself?

After all, Jakeem Thunder had dreadlocks too, and he was a member in good standing of the JSA.

I never thought of the black Crimson Avenger as representing anything "black" any more than I did Mr. Terrific representing anything "black." I saw her much as Philip did, and her race meant nothing to me. Sometimes context is in the eye of the beholder.

If anything, I thought of Crimson Avenger as an update of Techno*Comix's Lady Justice, complete with blindfold.

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