Author: who the hell knows (not me)
In which "All-Star" is the best joke of all.
Look, it's the Justice Society of America! Essentially an early version of the Justice League; the difference being that the JSA is largely comprised of second-rate heroes. The current role call, as of issue 7, is:
The Green Lantern
The Sandman (classic "mad gasser" version, not Gaiman's Endless)
I've never even heard of The Hourman, and know little to nothing about the rest, although obviously Green Lantern became more important in later years. Johnny Thunder is, I think, a Flash rip-off? Anyway, actually understanding these characters would mean starting an entirely different blog called "DC Completion" and that, my friends, would be a project destined to be unfinished. Batman alone will take 20 years, assuming I try and live at the same time (and assuming I actually, you know, post now and again). This is not to say I won't someday read these things, or some of them; but actually talking about them at length is out of the question.
Anyway, you may be reading that roll call list and wondering, then, why the hell is a story about the JSA in this blog at all? Because I've been tricked by 70-year-old marketing, that's why: the DC A-listers, aka, Superman, The Flash, and Batman, are all "honorary members" of the Society. In this issue, Green Lantern is elected to the same position, leaving the JSA a little light on Energy Fists, but that's neither here nor there. What do honorary members actually do, besides pose for pictures on the letterhead?
"I'm Batman, and I approve this message."
As it turns out (and befitting the nature of their abilities), they operate as deus ex machina.
The plot of the story (63 pages of which have no Batman, and I am so not covering them in detail) starts with the JSA around a giant conference table, waiting for Green Lantern because, and I quote, "Since the Flash has become an honorary member, the Green Lantern has been elected Chairman of the Justice Society." Endquote. This indicates three things:
1. Chairmen of the Justice Society are like drummers in Spinal Tap, only with more explosions. Presumably the task of guiding the efforts of a large group of absurdly costumed overpowered children is so Herculean that it doesn't take long before you go from leading to cheerleading.
2. The addition of bureaucracy has turned 7 independent crime-fighters into 7 people waiting to be told what to do.
3. Why doesn't Hawkman get a chair?
"Guys, what if he never shows up? HOW WILL WE KNOW WHO TO PUNCH?!"
Green Lantern luckily arrives, explaining that he was in "war-torn Europe and Asia," depressing himself with the plight of newly-made orphans. Come on, Green Lantern. You can come up with a better excuse than that for oversleeping. Maybe you were up all night with nightmares about the color yellow.
GL's conclusion is, of course, to use his literally infinite power to kill Hitler and stop the war. No, wait. That's crazy talk. His actual plan is the JSA to split up and use their superpowers to earn lots of money, which they can then give directly to children (minus overhead--they're actually just renting the conference table). Money solves everything! Right?
"Oh no," their horrified little mouths seem to be saying, "my 401k!"
They decide arbitrarily that they must earn 1 million dollars, and turn it over to the appropriate charities. A unanimous vote settles the issue. Green Lantern counters this proposal with math (see, this is why he's the leader), explaining patiently that $1,000,000 does not divide evenly between 8 heroes ("If we could each raise $100,000, that still makes only $800,000!") Johnny Thunder saves the day by promising to shame all the rest of them by bringing in 300 grand all by his lonesome. Then the gang splits up.
Green Lantern falls ass-backwards into money; in the course of saving a good buddy of his, he also happens to save a kidnapping victim, the twin brother of a wealthy magnate, who gratefully offers to donate 100 thousand to the cause.
The Spectre (who seems to be a normal guy, but sometimes a ghost, plus he has some non-specific "occult" psychic powers) earns the money a little bit at a time, first winning a boxing match for five thousand, then parlaying some psychically-gathered insider info into a profitable stock trade, followed by a long-shot horse race bet (what, did he read the horse's mind or something?). He takes some time out of his busy day to expose a Communist at some military factory, and then, 9 grand short of his goal, uses his mental abilities to find somebody's buried treasure. A scoundrel tries to steal the treasure by shooting the Spectre, but the bullet goes right through him. The Spectre, uh, murders him in return. He literally just points to the guy and the guy explodes in a puff of light and smoke. Okay...
Next up is The Atom, who goes to his college library to look up a book called "10 Ways to Make Money." What we're seeing here is a cavalcade of "supermen" so sheltered and isolated from normal life by their peculiar traits, backstories, and occupation that when given an ordinary task they simply don't know where to begin. The Spectre at least works semi-intelligently; but so far the rest of them are like particle physicists trying to fix a car. They get as far as "it's not going for some reason" and then luckily the plot drops a mechanic into their laps. For the Atom, it's a group of alumni donors to the college complaining that a group of racketeers are fixing all the local college sports. The Atom declares that he'll stop these hooligans--for a fee, of course.
His plan is simple, but hinges on a ludicrous premise. Al Pratt, whose superhero identity is the Atom, is also apparently college boxing champ "the Demon", who fights in a mask. "The Demon" is approached by a member of the racket, and agrees to take a dive in his next fight. Instead, he wins the match, and when the angry racketeers burst into his home, he confronts them, in the Atom costume. They're about to murder Al Pratt in his sleep--actually a dummy--and the Atom convinces them that Pratt isn't the Demon, he is.
Yeah, these are dumb thugs. But think about it. They have entered a room containing a person whose identity is unknown (hell, he's not even an actual person). A second person whose identity is ALSO secret tells them that he's the one they're looking for. What part of that is trustworthy? All I'm saying is, you've already got a gun on him, why not ask for some ID?
At any rate, the Atom punches them into submission (does this guy have no powers at all? why in God's name is he called the Atom, then, and not Captain Fist or something?) and then threatens them into signing a confession (cause yeah, that's legal). The two alumni give him his hundred grand (in fact, they offer him more, and bizarrely he turns them down, as if war orphans won't benefit from more money).
Dr. Fate ("master of mysteries") immediately discards the idea that magic could help him get money, so we already know he's a few Wands short of a Tarot deck. At a loss for ideas, he asks his wife, who shows him an advertisement for an essay contest--whoever writes the best article on "crime: how to commit it and prevent it" wins 25 grand. Turns out the contest is a ruse set up by a gang of criminals who are also short on ideas. To make a short story shorter, Dr. Fate realizes what's up, recalls that his essay's first example was "drill through the wall of a bank in order to get to the vault," and heads to the bank to deposit some pain and suffering. (All-Star Comics is disappointingly humorless. Batman would have made tons of bank puns.) Finally, the bank manager, ignorant of Dr. Dumbass's role in instigating all of this, offers a reward of $50,000. Sez Fate, "I don't like to sound greedy but I need more than that." That's heroism for yah.
Hawkman, meanwhile, has a completely boring adventure in which he beats up a group of thugs (led by a dude whose character development is "monocle") threatening a newspaper (to quash its calls for American intervention in WWII), in exchange for a big pile of money from the grateful paper. The real fantasy element here is not a man with wings but a newspaper with money. Zing!
Sandman, meanwhile, is the only hero so far who remembers that the government will, in fact, pay you for catching high-profile criminals. (Well, okay, his girlfriend tells him. He remembered to ask her, though! Doesn't that count for something?) Sandman runs around town, collecting three wanted criminals, wearing his trademark fedora and gasmask, and using his gas gun to knock them out and bring them to the authorities. I've learned nothing about his character, except this: he would make the creepiest rapist ever.
The Hour Man, who demonstrates no powers whatsoever in this issue, puts his mission on hold to deliver chemicals via plane to Mexico "for his boss." So he actually has a job? Can't he just donate his own money? Does he only fight crime on nights and weekends? I'm so confused! Luckily it has no impact on the plot, which is a confusing mess. Like any visitor to Mexico, Hour Man finds himself kidnapped; a bandit inexplicably called "The General" ties him up for interfering with their trying to dig up an Aztec treasure possibly stolen by a man named Killer Blaine who is possibly a gangster and who may or may not be Mexican? It's way too dull for close study; suffice to say Hour Man punches his way to the treasure, and then instead of giving the priceless gold artifacts to a museum for study and safekeeping, he hands it over to the nearby expedition, in exchange for a check. This appears ill-advised:
Those are the eyes of a man whose check will bounce, because he will spend 100% of the treasure on Mexican cocaine.
Meanwhile, remember Johnny Thunder, the green-suited kid who vowed to bring in three times the dough? Yeah, so, everybody else looks competent next to him. These are the things he tries, in order from dumb to stupid:
1. Walk into a bank and politely ask for a massive loan.
2. When the bank is robbed, offer to protect the robbers for three hundred thousand.
3. When the robbers laugh in his face (quite reasonably; they're already dues-paying members of a protective criminal association), he talks to his Bahdnisian Thunderbolt.
(Apparently that's a pink humanoid, made of lightning or something?--I dunno, he's drawn all scraggly. Anyway he shows up, like the alien from the Flintstones, whenever Johnny utters the phrase "Cei-U", which usually comes out like "Say, you guys won't get away with this!" Comically, Johnny has no idea that this is the trigger phrase, and assumes that the Thunderbolt guy shows up at random. This sounds like an idea for a comic that will stop being clever after one issue. It's actually something that, I think, only works here--in the context of a larger work, you don't need to take Johnny seriously. And he really does make every other hero look better by comparison. Even the ones not in this comic.)
4. On the advice of his Thunder-guy, he tries selling peanuts. PEANUTS. This is a superhero comic!
5. When that fails to immediately earn him a hundred thousand dollars, and upon noticing it is about to rain, he buys a hundred umbrellas and tries to sell them. But everybody has umbrellas already (last week was "National Umbrella Week"), and after a few hours of trying to sell nuts or umbrellas at what I can only assume is an absurdly large mark-up, Johnny goes home to sleep.
6. Johnny assumes first that he still needs to sell things, and second that his problem is, he needs to diversify his inventory. In his zeal to take advantage of all possible mini-zeitgeists on his little street corner, he buys up ice cream (it snows), coffee (now they want cigars), and before he's sold a damn thing (after having spent hundreds of dollars on inventory), a beat cop asks to see his street-selling license. He's too broke to pay the fine, since all his capital's tied up in inventory, and now he can't even sell it.
Luckily for him, Sandman and the Atom have decided to do what the JSA should have done in the first place and in general--pressured criminals to donate to the orphan fund. In essence, instead of policing crime, they should be taxing it, using the tax funds to offset the social costs of crime, and only beating up the really bad guys who step out of line. Our heroes happen to threaten the same bank robbers Johnny met earlier--so they decide to come take him up on his offer.
7. He decides to help them, under the impression that it surely couldn't be the real Sandman and Atom. And he's probably right. For one thing, they're off having other adventures; for another, they're not smart enough to come up with the idea. As it turns out, he exposes them as generic goons in Sandman/Atom costumes, with the help of his Thunderbolt, who can apparently appear whenever he wants within an hour of being called the last time? And who punches, but does not electrocute. How strange.
At any rate, the goons pay him a whole ten bucks, the stingy bastards, and the court system takes that to pay his ticket. Utterly broke, and ashamed, he returns to the JSA, and hides under the conference table while everybody else makes noise about how successful and smart they were. They find him and shame him, rightfully. (And I quote, "And you call yourself a man!" Ouch.)
Defensive, Johnny accidentally says his magic words again, and his Thunderbolt summons the three honorary members of the JSA. Look! It's Superman, Batman, and the Flash! And they're all clutching bundles of cash!
Okay, I recognize two of those guys. But who's bucket-head?
Johnny is so stunned by this sudden fortune (pun intended) that he can barely ask how the hell they did it so fast, and the comic can barely answer. Superman says "I went right to work, and that's all there was to it," Batman says he and Robin "got busy" (no, not like that), and the Flash promises to tell all when Johnny's "a big boy", proving once and for all that people who wear winged buckets on their heads shouldn't be douchebags, lest their glass house collapse from the weight of the irony.
The subtext is loud and clear, though, and absolutely hilarious--if the JSA proper looks competent next to hapless Johnny, they look like a bunch of weak-ass morons next to a few actual heroes. Batman didn't dick around finding treasure or helping criminals; he probably just withdrew some funds from his multi-national corporation. The Flash has an actual superpower, unlike most of the team, and clearly just ran through a bank or something, which is why he's just clutching two sweaty handfuls of cash. Superman has the same power, but other ones besides, which is why his contribution is nicely packaged in a handy "$" bag.
These guys accomplished instantly and easily what it took the rest of you at least a day's worth of retarded mishaps to do. No wonder they don't want to be full members of your little club.
Oh, and by the way, they also took the time to melt Hitler with their laser eyes. You're welcome, losers.