A strong creator can make you rethink everything you thought about a character – and even an art medium.
Until “All Star Comics” Nos. 64 and 65 hit the drug stores in late 1976, I had never given much thought to artwork.
Now that must sound insane considering we’re talking about comic books, a form dependent on art expression. But I was – and am – a reader who places a premium on the story, the plot, the characters. A comic today can have the most dynamic, muscular art today, but if the story is dumb, I will feel as if I wasted my money.
As a young reader, I wasn’t less forgiving, I was downright oblivious.
The artwork was just there. It served its purpose, to move the story along. Neal Adams, Carmen Infantino, John Romita, meh, whatever. Made no difference to me. I didn’t follow artists. I followed writers. (At an early age, I became obsessed with Marvel’s Steve Englehart, but that’s a post for another day.)
“All Star Comics” No. 64 (cover date February 1977) was an eye-opener, a lesson and the start of a lifelong appreciation.
In “Yesterday Begins Today,” written by Paul Levitz, the Shining Knight enlists the Justice Society’s aid in battling Roman soldiers attacking Camelot in 6th century Britain. The time-travel trip turns out to be a trap; the Roman soldiers are robots created by Vandal Savage to capture the Golden Age Superman, to drain his life-force so Vandal can remain immortal.
The story, which concludes in “All-Star Comics” No. 65 (cover date April 1977),“The Master Plan of Vandal Savage,” has not held up well over the years. The Shining Knight is last seen charging into battle with the JSA in No. 64 and is then never mentioned again. Maybe Sir Justin got lost on the way back to the castle?
Savage manages to subdue the entire team – Superman, Power Girl, Hawkman, the Star-Spangled Kid and the Flash – but leaves the unconscious Flash behind. Odd, since Vandal holds Jay Garrick partly responsible for his ebbing life-force. Vandal’s weird omission plays no part in the story. Vandal’s mysterious escape at the conclusion is less dramatic set-up and more a whimper to close the story. Young Levitz could have used a strong editor on this one.
But the art.
Oh, let’s talk about the art. Wally Wood crafted those gorgeous, glorious covers and the interior art. His work is distinct and unique and downright timeless. It could work as easily in the original “All Star Comics” run in the ’40s as well as today. Even I knew I was taking in something extraordinary.
His depiction of the Golden Age Superman is so striking, it turned this reader into a lifelong fan – of the hero and the artist. Wood’s vast list of credits stretch everywhere from EC Comics to Marvel, where he established Daredevil’s trademark look.
“All-Star Comics” No. 65 was Wood’s last issue on the series, alas. Beset by health problems, he committed suicide just a few years later, in 1981. He was 54. He left a legacy of great works that continue to awe and inspire.
This issue also marks the end of the Super Squad as a rebranding gimmick. The following issue would burst with a full-blown logo for the Justice Society on the “All Star” covers.
You can find these issues in the DC Comics app, and in “Justice Society Volume One” and “Showcase Presents: All-Star Comics.” This is a worthy two-parter to revisit, especially with Vandal Savage making his entrance into the DC Comics television universe this week on a special crossover on CW’s “The Flash” and “Arrow” that also introduces Hawkman and Hawkgirl. With Red Tornado whirring about on CBS’ “Supergirl” this week, the Justice Society is more relevant, more valuable as a commercial and artistic property than ever – if only DC Comics would see that.