All-Star Squadron Annual #3 – (No Title) – Roy Thomas/Rick Hoberg, Rich Buckler, Wayne Boring, Richard Howell, Carmine Infantino, Don Newton, Martin Nodell, George Perez, Keith Giffen/Jerry Ordway, Mike Machlan, Frank Giacoia, Bill Collins, Joe Giella
This is a flashback story that takes place early in the JSA’s career. Basically, it’s Roy’s way of explaining certain details about those early 1940s stories: why Green Lantern suddenly quit the JSA; why Hourman took a long leave of absence; why Dr. Fate changed helmets; and most importantly, why the various JSA members seem to have aged so well (or so slowly) since the War. As you can see from the art credits, this is one of those all-star jam issues, where each chapter is done by different artists. The framing story is pretty simple … Tarantula and Wonder Woman pound some Nazis and find a strongbox in the burnt-out building in Long Island the Nazis fled to. They open the box and find newspaper clippings about the early days of the JSA (which is late June 1941, just a couple years before this issue takes place). The clippings tell about a JSA case that neither Tarantula or Wonder Woman have heard of, so they use Wonder Woman’s magic sphere to watch history unfold. In June of 1941, the JSA were involved in a fund-raiser to raise money for children affected by the War in Europe (which the U.S. hadn’t yet joined). After raising the money, Dr. Fate got a weird vibe that something was happening in Washington, so he and Green Lantern headed there, arriving just in time to stop some weird shadow creatures from killing President Roosevelt. The shadows turn out to be a couple of punk criminals, turned to shadow by Ian Karkull (who was himself turned to shadow while fighting Dr. Fate). Karkull immolates the punks from afar, but GL manages to salvage a piece of paper with nine more locations on it, as well as the names of nine super-villains. You know what that means … time to split the team into little groups and send them all over the country! Superman goes to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he runs into Lois Lane and saves her (with a little help from Johnny Thunder and his T-Bolt) from Lightning Master. Meanwhile, Hawkman and Hawkgirl stop Alexander the Great from killing someone, in Michigan, Spectre defeats his old enemy Zor, and in New England, Atom and Sandman pound the Tarantula (the villain, not the superhero from the framing story) before he can blow up a mansion. None of the bad guys know why Karkull wants these particular people dead, and there seems to be no connection between them. Flash’s mission takes him to Fort Lewis in Washington, where he runs into his girlfriend (Joan Williams, who knows Flash’s secret identity) and her father, Major Williams. Flash prevents Sieur Satan from killing an Army Colonel at the base and Joan forces him to take her along when he goes to rendezvous with the JSA. (Joan threatens to tell Flash’s fellow superheroes “some of the other ways you’re quick on the trigger”.) In Hollywood, Batman and Robin confront Catwoman, who decides not to kill her target (an actor) because she refuses to become a murderer. Green Lantern ends up in a small town fighting Wotan, whose target is a kid. GL beats Wotan, but the kid is accidentally killed by a falling tree branch, which GL can’t stop since his ring doesn’t work on wood. In Georgia, Hourman almost kills himself taking a double dose of Miraclo to fight Dr. Doog, but gets an assist from Starman. Dr. Fate ends up out in the Caribbean, where he saves a couple of people on a banana boat from being swept away by an unnatural storm. Fate’s magic spirits the people to safety and dissipates the storm, after which he follows the magical emanations to Ian Karkull’s hideout in a house on Long Island, New York. But Karkull is expecting Fate and traps him, using his shadow substance to infect Fate’s body. As Karkull gloats about his murder plans wreaking havoc on America’s future, Dr. Fate calls on the power of Nabu for help and the Helmet of Nabu supplants Kent Nelson’s persona, making him one with the Lord of Chaos. Fate’s spell brings his fellow JSAers to the hideout (along with Starman, Johnny Thunder, Lois Lane, and Joan Williams) and they blast Karkull, who grows to giant size and then explodes, showering everyone with eldritch energy. So, now you see how everything ties together: the JSAers’ slowed aging is because of Karkull’s energy; Hourman leaves the team (and is replaced by Starman) to work on ridding Miraclo of its bad side-effects; Green Lantern quits because of his guilt over not saving the kid; and Dr. Fate leaves to get a new helmet, since he’s worried about the influence Nabu is having on him. Back in 1943, Tarantula and Wonder Woman figure they must’ve found some back-up notes that Karkull hid in the strongbox. Even after reading the files, they aren’t sure why Karkull targeted those nine people and Tarantula figures Karkull was just nuts, but we get a close up of the clippings and the names actually are pretty significant … Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. Yeah, Karkull had somehow seen into the future and was targeting the next eight U.S. Presidents. I guess the kid who was killed was supposed to be President after Reagan, but he’s never named. (It’s definitely not Bush Sr., since he’d have been about 17 in 1941.)
This is basically an illustrated prose novella by SF writer Arthur Byron Cover, with some input from Conway. It definitely reads like a novel, with lengthy descriptive passages and overblown statements about the characters’ feelings. It’s not all that great (at least not for me), with lines like “ … he was actually nothing more than a crippled grasshopper on the parking lot of life”. We also get the obligatory Harlan Ellison reference (Cover was first published in Dangerous Visions) and even a Dune reference for good measure. The story itself is pretty standard, about a weird alien (The Mage) who crash-lands in New York and uses his superior psychic abilities to affect human minds. The Mage wants to build a new spaceship to conquer Earth, so he enslaves a bunch of homeless people, forcing them to collect scrap parts and assemble them into a ship, kinda like E.T. Did with his communicator. Naturally, Firestorm tries to stop the Mage, but Firestorm keeps hallucinating that his old enemies are back, seeing the likes of Black Bison, Multiplex, Hyena, Killer Frost, and Typhoon in place of other people. Luckily, the Professor Stein part of Firestorm’s brain isn’t fooled, so he’s able to talk himself out of believing the illusions. After a few inconclusive clashes, Firestorm gets trapped aboard the Mage’s new ship, but disintegrates it and uses his molecular powers to fashion a new ship around the Mage, shooting the alien deep into space to menace some other star system. There’s also a running sub-plot about Ronnie screwing up during a basketball game and looking stupid in front of everyone. When he gets the chance to redeem himself, he has trouble because he’s still hallucinating his enemies. Turns out the Mage didn’t cause the hallucinations, it was the team’s water boy (Maurice), a sickly kid with a club foot who everyone but Ronnie treats like crap. Apparently, Maurice is undergoing some kind of mutation and his brain is giving off alpha waves that are messing with Ronnie’s head. Professor Stein turns his alpha wave detector into an alpha wave suppressor, which stops Ronnie’s hallucinations and he ends up being the hero of the game, even though he didn’t score any points. Firestorm calls Superman to help Maurice, who is a huge superhero fan (especially of Firestorm) and is happy to take Superman’s advice about getting help with his problem from STAR Labs. So yeah, this was a minor story that was padded out to fill an Annual … and it shows.