Home > Weekend Asides > Weekend Aside: The All-Star Squadron

Weekend Aside: The All-Star Squadron

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

As we’ve talked about before, team books were big business in the early 1980s. DC had a great-selling book set in the present day in Teen Titans, and a great-selling book set in the future in the form of the Legion of Super-Heroes. However, they didn’t have something that took place in the past – at least, not until former Marvel EIC Roy Thomas arrived at DC in the aftermath of a dispute with Marvel management.

At the time, DC’s universe was divided into a set of parallel worlds, with the “main” universe being designated Earth-1 and each additional number relating to a gimmick of some sort, or containing characters from companies that DC had ac2quired through the years whose histories obviously wouldn’t gel with that established for the main DC characters. Earth-2’s idea was that all of the heroes in the modern books had aged naturally from when they first appeared prior to WWII, and that’s where the Justice Society originally appeared. However, most Earth-2 books at the time of Thomas’ move were more concerned with telling stories of the children of the heroes; Thomas’ idea was to explore Earth-2’s past, with superheroes operating during World War II. This was basically Thomas’ dream project, and he went to town on the book.

Of course, the stories weren’t pure JSA stories; while Thomas made it a point to keep Hawkman around in virtually every issue, the stories mainly revolved around a set of DC characters that hadn’t received much of the spotlight (and, it should be noted, whom no one really cared enough about to object if Thomas messed with their histories). The first storyline stretched through the first three issues and dealt with FDR (who was a recurring character in the series) forming a new team of heroes to search for the missing JSA. Thomas’ penchant for mixing in real-world historical events shone through very clearly here, as the entire first story was set against the backdrop of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

I missed the heyday of the series, but through a series of happy coincidences I managed to piece together the first ten or so issues through a sadly-departed feature of comics, namely the discount store dollar bag. The above two issues were Thomas’ first where he started to focus on what became his core team, with Hawkman joining the more obscure characters Liberty Belle, Johnny Quick, Robotman, Shining Knight, Firebrand and, eventually, Commander Steel and Tarantula. The occasional JSA members wouls show up from time to time, but the series was really about that group.

Thomas’ artist was Jerry Ordway, who, like Thomas, was a longtime fan of the WWII-era heroes, and he provided the artistic punch that pulled Thomas’ stuff up to a higher level.

The WWII setting allowed for a lot of stories that had more resonance than they would during a modern era. Obviously, the debut of new villain (and eventual hero) Amazing Man wouldn’t be that big a deal… except that he was a black character in a WWII-era book.

This is the first issue I actually owned, and aside from confusing the heck out of me (it features Superman, Batman and Robin along with the regular cast, plus a cameo by the Sandman), it was notable for the debut of Tarantula’s new costume, which I always thought was one of the sharpest in comic books in spite of being predominantly black and brown. Tarantula, aka author Johnathan Law, would wind up as a supporting player in one of my favourite DC series, Chuck Dixon’s Nightwing.

Thomas eventually got to include some of the other DC hero teams of the era, in this case the Seven Soldiers of Victory. I mention them and not, say, the Freedom Fighters, because, well… they’re going to show up in JLU.

Fine, here’s the Freedom Fighters as well.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and in this case All-Star Squadron was the DC book that was hurt the most by Crisis on Infinite Earths. While most of the regular cast was immune from wholesale changes, characters like Superman, Batman and especially Hawkman’s histories weren’t really tied to the WWII-era anymore. making any of their appearances in the book to be of questionable validity (ironically, Thomas gets credited for introducing the term “retcon” to the lexicon in an All-Star lettercol a couple of years prior to COIE). While Thomas managed to re-align the book under a relaunched title, Young All-Stars, he never got back to the highs of those first few issues. Thomas then looped back around and told stories of the children of the All-Stars and JSA in Infinity, Inc..

[one last quick note: if you’re reading JSA and have no idea what story they’re referring to, odds are good that it will be some Infinity Inc. storyline. For such an obscure series, it gets called out a lot.]

All-Star Squadron isn’t really collected, but it’s not had to track down if you’re interested.

Categories: Weekend Asides
  1. November 27, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    All-Star Squadron was one of the great team comics of all time. Not only were the stories very entertaining but the cover art was fantastic.

  1. February 6, 2010 at 7:36 pm

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