Friday, March 11, 2011

Heroes Against Hitler

DC Special #29 (August/September 1977)
"The Untold Origin of the Justice Society"
Paul Levitz-Joe Staton/Bob Layton

Doug: We've remarked around these parts quite often of our affinity for giant-size issues. Shoot, last summer we dedicated a month of Mondays to 'em (pssst... we're thinking about doing it again this June). So, you can imagine my 11-year old brain's excitement when I spied this baby at the Convenient Food Mart one summer day. Man, I'd been loving the JSA reboot happening in All-Star Comics and was thirsting for anything to supplement that monthly. Well, here it was, right before my eyes.
And a period piece at that! Oh, and the Neal Adams cover ain't too shabby, either.

Doug: First off, that's an awesome pin-up on the splash page. Yeah, I know that today's comics have that sort of hero-posturing all the time.
But 34 years ago? Pages like this were a treasure! Think how cool it was in the Marvel annuals to find 3-4 pages of pin-ups. Just great stuff!

Doug: The story begins in Washington, DC, as an envoy from the British government has come to the States to request that America enter the war. With Hitler on the verge of invading the British islands, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is implored to assist his ally. Having just been re-elected on a platform of isolationism (yet secretly wanting to engage the Nazis), FDR declines the request. However, he does offer the potential of some newcomers on the stage of justice.

Doug: Cut to Gotham City, where a Bat Signal has gone up. Responding, the Dark Knight is introduced to the Flash and Green Lantern in the office of Commissioner Gordon. The three young (I loved that scribe Paul Levitz stressed that aspect of characterization --
these are guys in probably their early 20's, still wet behind the ears) heroes are then briefed by the same British agent who'd sought aid at the White House. They are flown to Scotland to interrupt Nazi control of a castle, the base they are using to plan the invasion of the UK. Easily dispatching the Nazis on hand, our heroes are surprised when confronted by a giant robot of German design. With no previous teamwork to draw on, the heroes fall almost immediately.

Doug: A brief interlude to Salem, Massachusetts reveals that Dr. Fate has seen the goings-on. Needing reinforcements, he finds Hourman and the two of them make their way to Germany, because, as we see shortly, Hitler has assembled his minions and followers for the purpose of displaying his new trophies. Unmasking the Batman, Hitler is startled to find another cowl instantly appear! That ruse is used to announce the presence of Fate and Hourman, who free their new friends. Hitler, armed with the alleged Spear of Destiny,
calls on its mystical forces to open the heavens, unleashing the mythical Nordic Valkyries!

Doug: So the increasingly hopeless scenario is this:
Batman, Fate, Hourman, Flash, and GL are getting the stuffing knocked out of them by the Valkyries, Hitler has given the invasion command, the British navy is waiting on word from Scotland that Batman and his mates took out the Nazis, and those same Nazis are now sailing an immense fleet across the English Channel. Sensing that this is heading south in a hurry, Fate uses his magics to send out tendrils -- tentacle-like forces that will grab four heroes with hope that they will turn things around: Sandman, Hawkman, the Atom, and a mystery man yet to be revealed.

Doug: Suddenly a million men, 1000 planes, and 100 battleships descend on the British Isles. While the Germans initially hold the upper hand, it's the British who hold the element of surprise as three colorful warriors take their side. Making their way through the initial wave of Nazis, the Americans see the beach... and the massive navy assembled offshore.
It's then that the object of Fate's fourth tendril is revealed -- the Spectre has come to assist!

Doug: Quick comment on the art -- Joe Staton is really, really solid on this story. I know that for some he's an acquired taste, as he can be ever so slightly on the cartoony side. However, just a gander at the page samples here and I think you'll see that his figure work is outstanding, and he moves the story along at a nice pace. He's for the most part a keeper from the Bronze Age.

Doug: Back in Berlin, Green Lantern has sealed his new friends in a force-sphere to protect them from the onslaught of the Valkyries, and so they can plan. Fate offers to re-enter the fray, and does so with a vengeance! He drives the Valkyries back, much to the dismay of Hitler. Desperate to not lose control of the battle, Hitler orders that the long-range experimental bomber be charted for America -- specifically for the White House!

Doug: Cut back to the English Channel, where the Spectre has grown to gigantic proportions and is cutting through the German navy. Compared to Sir Francis Drake's victory over the Spanish Armada, the Spectre is indeed a force to be reckoned with. The fleet destroyed, the Spectre, Hawkman, the Atom, and Sandman are joined by their counterparts who had fought in Germany: Fate, the Batman, Flash, GL, and Hourman. Now these nine men acquaint themselves with each other,
and trade information about what has happened thus far. It is the beginning of something special. Suddenly, though, the Valkyries reappear, an escort for Hitler's bomber!

Doug: A battle rages over the Atlantic, with the heroes stalemated against the Valkyries. Hours pass, and soon Washington, DC comes into view! With one last push, the heroes realize that they cannot turn the tide. But suddenly, Green Lantern shouts that aid has come, up from the press building... Superman is here! Man, when I was a kid I got goosebumps when I turned that page and saw the Big Red S cut that Nazi plane in two! What a great pay-off! You know, I often wonder about artists lay-outs. Kirby was always a master of getting a reveal following an ad page, for example. Joe Staton achieves that feeling here. And as if destroying the bomber wasn't enough, Superman pulls one last amazing feat in catching the payload dropped when the ship split in half.
The day is saved! Or is it?

Doug: Despite the loss of the bomber, the Valkyries intend to finish the job. They swoop low over the White House as anti-aircraft fire tries to drive them away. Green Lantern is taken out, and with his trip to la-la land goes the platform he was using to carry the Atom, Sandman, and Hourman. Four heroes out. The Atom, however, struggles to regain consciousness and heads into the mansion. And just in time, as a woman warrior penetrated the last line of defense to take aim on FDR. At the moment the bolt was fired, the Atom leapt in front of the President, saving his life.

Doug: The last Valkyrie failing in her mission was called home, leaving the ten heroes to regroup, and to debrief in the presence of the President. FDR suggested that they remain together as a team. Hawkman suggested they form a super-battalion; Superman offered that since they were part of no army, but would instead serve the cause of justice anywhere, they should be called the Justice Society of America!

Doug: This was a really fun story. I'm a sucker for the good retcons -- this didn't really disturb anything; no, it's sort of like an "untold tale" of the JSA. Going through this again I had that sense of nostalgic silliness that I'd had as a kid. Sure, the Superman splash wasn't as cool as it was when I was 11, but just knowing that the heroes would be heroes and the bad guys would be foiled again -- it's that sort of innocence in four-color storytelling that I miss so much out of today's books. Call it quaint; I call it 30 minutes of pure escapist fun!


Anonymous said...

One of my all time favorites....thanks for sharing.


Edo Bosnar said...

I remember this one; great fun - and I loved those giant size issues, too: annuals, specials, dollar comics, you name it!
Also, I'm with you on Staton's art - he really shines here (ably assisted by Layton, of course). But then, my judgment may be clouded because I'm such an unabashed fan of Staton's.

Jonathan Stover said...

Joe Staton/Bob Layton was an art team I wish we'd seen a lot more of -- indeed, I think this JSA story may be the best inking Staton ever got.

Karen said...

I loved this one too! As a kid I was fascinated with WWII (still am). I'm not sure if I still have it in my collection, but I may have to rummage around in my boxes under the stairs and see if I can find it. Good one, Doug!


Inkstained Wretch said...

One of the fun things about the Bronze Age were these occasional "untold" tales of Golden Age. It was always a treat to see those characters in their WWII element but with contemporary art and writing. Levitz and Staton did an excellent job here.

Thanks for reminding me of this one, Doug. I'll have to dig it out of my collection.

Doug said...

Hey, a lot of love for this one! I wasn't sure how it would be received -- glad everyone seems to be having a good time with it!

My partner and I were discussing fave books the other day -- I told her that perhaps my all-time bestest big book is Thor Annual #5. Maybe I can twist her arm into reading/reviewing that one with me soon!!

Two Open Forums coming your way over the weekend -- hope to hear from a whole lot of our readers!

Be well,


dbutler16 said...

I have a reprint of this in The Best of DC #21. This is a fun story. I'm a sucker for "untold tales" as long as they don't contradict established continuuity. I agree with Doug on the Superman picture. It probably would look cool to a kid, but looking at it now, the pose doesn't match what he's doing. It's as if someone just took a classic Superman pose from a poster or soemthing, and drew a plane breaking in half around it.

Dougie said...

I remember buying this issue in a little animal feed and newsagent's shop one school lunchtime. I must have been about fourteen.
I loved the Staton/Layton team on All-Star and spent a lot of time copying the figures on the splash page.
Am I right in thinking there was an ad for the New Doom Patrol Showcase issue? I wanted that so badly but didn't get a hold of it until about five or six years later.

Doug said...

That Doom Patrol ad is indeed in this comic, Dougie.


Jonathan Stover said...

The Superman vs. Wonder Woman tabloid-sized comic would be around the same time as this, when it comes to (previously) untold tales of the (pre-Crisis) Golden Age.

Anonymous said...

Awesome splash page. I never saw this before, thanks.


Doug said...

Jonathan --

That Superman/Wonder Woman treasury is on the to-do list. Trouble around here is, we've reviewed almost 200 comics and there's still a lot on the "to do" list!

But it's fun!


Dougie said...

Thanks for the reply.
I'd like to see a feature on Showcase 100, if that's possible. Another Staton giant, pre-empting Crisis by six or seven years and featuring GL, Adam Strange, Space Ranger, Cryll and the Spectre saving the Earth!

Rip Jagger said...

This just might be my all-time favorite DC comic book.

Rip Off

Jonathan Stover said...

Doug --

And you could make things more difficult for yourselves by comparing it to Roy Thomas's post-Crisis rewrite of the Superman/WW story in Young All-Stars, the five-part "Atom and Evil" arc.


Edo Bosnar said...

I second Dougie's suggestion for a Showcase 100 post/review. That's a must-have for any fan of Staton's art, and it's actually a pretty fun story, too (it's also one of those rare beloved issues from my long-lost original collection which I took the trouble to re-acquire).

The Lassiter said...

Thank you for reviewing this issue. I loved this one shot and read it over and over until it fell apart. In my more sane adult years I acquired another pristine copy .
At 8 years I was fascinated by DCs multiple earths and especially Earth 2 and the JSA. I wasn't confused by multiple earths and doppelgangers. (COIE was IMO unnecessary.)
I always wanted more WW2 JSA. Eventually Roy Thomas's All Star Squadron filled that gap.

jefsview said...

Loved this one as a kid, too. And I always remembered it. It might have been my first exposure to Stanton's art as well. Superheroes and WWII just mesh so well.

Ric said...

Dougie's post about the Showcase issue that "got away" reminds me of books that "got away"... books you'd seen ads for, or saw on the stands that you never bought (for whatever reason) and you thereafter always regretted not getting it.

For me, I would say Giant-Size Super-Teams #1 (Thing vs. Hulk) falls into that category. I finally got to read it many years later!

I also remember seeing ads in back issues for DC's Giant books, especially the Giant Secret Origins book featuring the Justice League,and the Giant Flash issue featuring 3 Flashes against the golden giants... I really wished I'd been old enough to buy and read them... a thrill I got to eventually experience!


Garett said...

Great comic, great review! I just read through this one again in the JSA reprint book from 2006. The Levitz/Staton/Layton team is so enjoyable. This story is the last one in the first reprint book, but the second book
has more stories by this creative team, including the death of Earth-2 Batman in Adventure Comics. This JSA team had a nice contrast of old (Dr. Fate, Green Lantern, Flash, Wildcat) and young heroes (Huntress, Power Girl, Robin). Also the female characters are well written, with quite a contrast between fiery outspoken Power Girl and the more quiet but intense Huntress. Anyone liking the Levitz/Staton/Layton team should also check out the Huntress reprint book

As Doug said in the review, Staton's art can be a bit on the cartoony side, but he makes up for it with a bouncy heroic energy, exciting layouts and poses, and individual faces and expressions for each character. By the way, Staton is drawing the Dick Tracy cartoon strip these days, and in 2013 won the Harvey Award for best syndicated strip.

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