All-Star Squadron vs. Per Degaton - "The Tyrant Out of Time"

Writer: Roy Thomas. Pencils: Rich Buckler. Inks: Jerry Ordway.

All-Star Squadron #1-3, plus a sixteen page prevue/prologue in Justice League of America #193 (1981)

All-Star Squadron was created by Roy Thomas and Rich Buckler, and was a nostalgia tinged series set back in World War II featuring DC's Golden Age heroes (which, at the time, existed on a parallel world of earth II and so included, albeit in minor roles, the earth 2 Superman and Batman). Thomas had already been this route before, having earlier created a similar series at Marvel -- The Invaders.

Anyway, the series kicked off with an epic three-parter (and a sixteen page prologue) that crams so much in it almost seems to threaten to burst at the seams. Thomas introduces his core characters, including a few high profile JSA members as well as some more obscure 1940s characters, comes up with a grandiose adventure in which, against the already tumultuous backdrop of world war II, an apolitical time travelling villain, Per Degaton, is planning to manipulated events and has recruited many key Golden Age villains (Solomon Grundy, Wotan), all while rooting the story in its historical era as, arguably, only Thomas could do, as the events coincide with the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

And the result is a grandly effective, rollicking ride that manages to be both gee whiz fun, with just a touch of grim seriousness given the times, plenty of Thomas' snappy banter, with just enough sincere characterization to make the heroes people. Can it be corny? -- sure, at times (the Atom and Dr. Mid-Nite attending a baseball costume!) Can the dialogue run a bit heavy to exposition -- occasionally, as Thomas tries to cram a lot in, including character backgrounds. But more often than not, it works.

Thomas juggles so many characters, and enough disparate threads, that nowadays comics would probably take twice as many pages to tell half this amount of story.

The story begins (in the sixteen page prevue which isn't essential as it is succinctly recapped in the first issue) with members of the Justice Society being attacked and kidnapped by various colourful foes. The only ones to escape are Hawkman, Dr. Mid-Nite, and The Atom, who set to work trying to find their vanished comrades, even as the brewing war has them summoned by President Roosevelt to help form a new super group, The All-Star Squadron. The initial members include, in addition to the three JSAers, Johnny Quick, Liberty Bell, Robot Man, the Shining Knight and Plastic Man (though it was a pretty amorphous group over its run, including basically any and all Golden Age heroes Thomas decided to toss in) -- and, fortunately, their first mission, inadvertently leads them to the kidnapper of the JSA, Per Degaton, and his mind bending, time twisting plans.

The art by Rich Buckler and Jerry Ordway is also quite exceptional, with Buckler, a solid but variable artist, delivering some of his best work, and with Ordway's inks lending a real texture and dimension to the faces and figures.

In recent years DC occasionally rolls out "event" mini-series featuring their Golden Age heroes, often by A-list talent -- James Robinson's The Golden Age, Kevin J. Anderson's JSA Strange Adventures, the multi-creator Justice Society Returns -- and I would argue they all pale -- pale, I say -- before this 90-some pages tale. The characters are more vivid and lively, the plotting more complex and intriguing, and the period detail more authentic and evocative. As a series, All-Star Squadron wasn't flawless, but this opening adventure stands out as a truly memorable, satisfying epic.