Monday, August 1, 2016

The Kids Are All Right - All-Star Comics 59

All-Star Comics #59 (March/April 1976)
"Brainwave Blows Up!"
Gerry Conway/Paul Levitz-Ric Estrada/Wally Wood

Doug: It's high time we returned to this series, as for many of us its appearance signaled an entry point to the JSA and DC's legacy heroes. For the first year or two of the All-Star revival I was hooked; this magazine was on my "to buy" list, when I could find it. We've only been here once before, in my review of the inaugural issue (that introduced Power Girl to Earth-2 continuity, and four years ago!); however, we had a great response to a query about the Justice Society of America near the end of June. That made me think that this book has some traction with our readers -- so here we are!

Doug: Before sitting down to pen today's post, I felt it prudent to read my thoughts on All-Star Comics #58 (linked above). In that review I voiced my general prejudice against 1970s comics from the Distinguished Competition, saying that it was written for a 10-year old, "like a Bronze Age DC". And while I reached the conclusion that it's existence as such ended up being OK by me, I must report that I was again awash in that sentiment as I read today's fare, four years later. Truly, the entire time I was reading this comic I attempted to remember how I might have encountered the plot and pay-off as a 9 1/2 year old near the New Year of 1976. But enough of me -- let's give you some information so that you might formulate your own opinions.

100-Word Review: BrainWave fantasizes about destroying the JSA, as a rumpled old man stands by his side, convinced the two of them can rule the world. Elsewhere, Flash, Wildcat, and Power Girl leave the JSA HQ to follow her lead to BrainWave. But continuing the previous issue’s disasters, three teams of JSAers confront volcanoes, earthquakes, and gas leaks. In each case a member of the Super Squad (the young newcomers) saves the day. In the end, BrainWave and his ally, Degaton, are defeated in space, averting a plot to pull the Earth from its gravitational orbit. Power Girl wins it for the JSA!

There's no need to flesh that out -- it's really the basic plot of the story. But, for some nitty gritty, let's head to our spectrum of praise:

The Good: I'll lead this section by continuing a positive comment from the previous issue's review and that's the inks of Wally Wood. Ric Estrada is certainly competent, but WOW if Wood doesn't polish the pencils in this ish. At times you, like me, might find the figures to be a little stiff. But Wood's lush inks really add some pop to the panels. I'd also mention that the coloring in this trade (Justice Society, volume 1) is wonderful. The paper is basically newsprint, although of a higher quality than what we read from in the Bronze Age. But the colors are really vibrant.

I liked the three youngsters who are invading the space of the "old guard" JSAers. As I've remarked many times, when I was a kid I related to kid characters. Bucky & Toro, the Teen Titans, the Legion, etc. -- all of those (and others) were among my favorites. So that Power Girl, the Star-Spangled Kid, and the almost-adult Robin were shaking things up (soon to be joined by a young 20-something Huntress) was fine by me.

The Bad: Unfortunately, my praises of this story seem short. It was not a horrible book, not a waste of my time. But I can't say that my life has been enhanced by having completed the reading. Maybe my feelings are actually a praise after all... if one gets out of something what they had assumed ahead of time to be a particular level of satisfaction, then that should be a success, right? 

I find Wildcat to be annoying. I have always found characters who are written as possessing below-average intelligence to be troubling. Oh, it's not that I have a profound issue with my brothers and sisters who might be in that boat. Rather, it's the stereotypical "voice" such characters are given. Wildcat has it. Sometimes Ben Grimm has it (particularly in cartoons and motion pictures). Wolverine's voice in the 1990s X-Men cartoon trended that way. For whatever reason, that "punch drunk palooka" personality grates on me (and yes -- I know that Wildcat's alter ego, Ted Grant, is a boxer). Maybe it's just me.

I did not own this book as a child. In fact, preparing for this post was the first time I'd read it. But whereas I could get by the whole BrainWave thing in the first issue, the introduction of Degaton (who I know of) would have gone right by me as a kid. Now, I read this and am like, "Oh, wow! That must have been cool for those who were into the JSA!" But as a 9- or 10-year old 40 years ago there would have been zero payoff with the Degaton reveal. Zero. So while Gerry Conway might have felt he'd done us all a good service, I was not the intended audience then for such a gift.

Lastly, and maybe I'm just showing my ignorance, but I thought when BrainWave transformed from his new body to his usual appearance he looked an awful lot like the Captain Marvel villain Sivana.

The Ugly: I've not much to say here, other than the scene depicted on the cover of this magazine is literally one panel on the inside. Here -- see above? Not sure how great that is from a marketing standpoint, but then at least it happened. How many times were we flat-out deceived by comics covers through the years?

In closing, I would highly recommend the Justice Society trades (volumes 1 and 2), as well as the Huntress: Dark Knight Daughter tpb. While every story contained within the covers of these books isn't of the home run variety, there are certainly plenty of smiles to be had. Nostalgia is a powerful things, and you'll have an abundance of it if you get your mitts on these books.


Dougie said...

The fact that Degaton looks nothing like his 1940s self also detracts from any impact his return might have had. I didn't get into this series until Levitz replaced Conway. I was wild about it once the Huntress joined.

Redartz said...

Nice review, Doug. A pleasure to revisit All-Star, one of the few DC books I followed at the time.

Estrada's pencils were decent enough, but you'really right. Those Wood inks really spark up the art. Wood's a perfect example of an inker who improves whatever he inks. Those Avengers issues he did over Don Heck, for example; he seems to add both detail and polish.

Martinex1 said...

I didn't read much of this book back in the day as it rarely showed up on the local spinner rack but I did have issue 69 when Huntress joined and I really liked that issue and enjoyed the variations on the heroes.

Regarding Wildcat - sometimes I really enjoy his personality and other times I find it underwritten. I think your example of the Thing is very appropriate - a great character but also one that can be driven to broad cliches. When that is done it is almost painful to read.

I like the art on this series - what I have seen. I do think the funky eye popping goggles on the villain may fall into the ugly category though.

Allen said...

If I remember correctly, future issues of this comic alluded to the idea that Wildcat's speech pattern was progressively getting worse due to a brain injury that ultimately required brain surgery.

Anonymous said...

Nice review Doug! Yeah this is one of those DC series that I wish I had more of back in the day, I just have a few, the one where they tackle Xandu and some others. Power Girl and Star Spangled Kid really seemed to be valuable additions rather than disposable sidekicks.

Of course, despite whatever plot shortcomings, the saving grace is always Wally Wood's art! Great Stuff.

- Mike 'where can I get a power rod?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Anonymous said...

I jumped on board with issue #66. My intro to E-2 and the JSA. What attracted me was the Flash and Hawkman were a little off. Loved Joe Staton s art on the JSA.

Edo Bosnar said...

Thanks, as usual, for the review, Doug. Like I said in the comments to the review of the previous issue, that was my intro to JSA and Earth 2, and I never had this concluding issue. And like Anon above, I had some of the later issues when Levitz and Staton were doing the stories (as well as the shorter features in Adventure Comics).

By the way, for those interested in sampling a JSA story penned by Levitz and with complete art by Wood, check out today's post at Diversions of the Groovy Kind.

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