Armagideon Time

My introduction to DC’s roster of Golden Age superheroes came — as I suspect it did for many comics readers of my generation — though the Justice League/Justice Society team-ups which were an annual event in the pre-Crisis days.

Those tantalizing glimpses into a parallel world of middle-aged, troche Axis-smashing heroes and the quaintly energetic funnybooks they had inhabited were expanded through the 100 Page Special and Treasury Editions reprints picked up on the cheap from flea market quarter bins.

While the analogues and semi-analogues of modern heroes were mildly interesting, it was the weird (and often-one note) ancillary Golden Age characters which truly facinated me — from JAS clutch hitters like Hourman and Dr. Fate down to (then) obscurities like T.N.T. or the original Vigilante. It’s an interest which I apparently shared with Roy Thomas, who assembled a group of Golden Age also-rans to serve as the core of All-Star Squadron‘s period ensemble cast.

The monthly title sprung out of the “New DC” marketing gimmick of the early 1980s, and was Thomas’s attempt to do with DC’s inventory of Golden Age characters what he’d tried (until the the editorial flack got to frustrating) to with Marvel’s Invaders series. The results were a strange yet entertaining mix of Thomas’s purple prose, historical factoids, and continuity spackling by a man who clearly put a lot of thought into such matters of retroactive coherence.

It was an odd series, rife with the sort of Bronze Age storytelling affectations which make the youngsters of today roll their eyes with embarrassment, but Young Andrew absolutely adored it. All-Star Squadron was right up there alongside New Mutants as one of the first titles I followed on a monthly basis.

If I had to pick a single issue which exemplifed my affection for the series, I’d have to go with All-Star Squadron #31 (March 1984)…

…which was the kick-off to an extended arc involving Hourman’s disappearance and the discovery of Earth-X, the alternate world where the Axis was winning and the retconned home base of the Golden Age heroes DC acquired from the defunct Quality Comics in the mid-1950s.

As much as I enjoyed that bombastic fol-de-rol, it wasn’t the real reason this issue occupied such prominent place in my heart. The set-up for the Earth-X arc took place as asides intercut with the first (almost) comprehensive roll call of the Squadron’s full roster…

…rendered by Rick Hoberg and Mike Machlan across a pair of two-page spreads. (Click the images to all-star size them.)

Keep in mind that this was before Who’s Who or Starman or the creations of handy online directories, when keeping track of fallow obscurities of ages past was the provenance of fanzine articles and the trivia-obsessed folks who wrote them. Looking at it still fills me with the glee of a kid to whom “continuity” was a magical conceptas yet unburdended by decades of recursive, revisionist abuse.

It’s a shame DC didn’t release a poster of the full tableau. That sucker would be occupying a permanent place on my living room wall.

5 Responses to “Comics That Meant Something: Part 5 – Roll call”

  1. Al Bruno III

    Loved this post. I was a big fan of the All Star Squadron series and of ‘Also Rans’ superheroes as well.

    I also loved the old school Defenders comic series as well…

  2. Jeff

    As one who loved the Justice Leagues that came before 1984, this is wonderful. Thanks, man.

  3. Snark Shark

    “and was Thomas’s attempt to do with DC’s inventory of Golden Age characters what he’d tried (until the the editorial flack got to frustrating) to with Marvel’s Invaders series. ”

    PLEASE TELL US MORE! I like the Invaders!

    and those double-page-spreads are, indeed, COOL. Someone should tell rob leifeld, “THAT’S HOW YO DO A DOUBLE PAGE SPEAD!”.

  4. candidgamera

    Many of the things I read when I was learning to read, were comic books. Specifically, All-Star Squadron. It’s one of my all-time favorite titles, and I was pleased to have collected the full run of it a few years ago. And it’s less-appealing follow-on, Young All-Stars. (Might be some Nobody’s Favorites fodder in there..)

    Now I need to track down a run of Infinity Inc.

  5. Whalehead King

    This would make a beautiful print. I would stop in front of it every time I went by.

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