Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Heroes Case File #163: The All-Star Squadron

The superhero fad of the Golden Age of comics meant a lot of publishers created a lot of heroes that had varying levels of popularity.  I’ve covered more than a few in this space, and will no doubt continue to cover them as time goes on.

But in 1981, DC Comics consolidated a lot of them into the All-Star Squadron.

What was the All-Star Squadron?  Essentially, writer and Golden Age fan Roy Thomas took the idea of the Justice Society, a group from Earth-2 that represented the best known of DC’s Golden Age heroes, and expanded them for stories set around the time of World War II.  Pretty much every character DC had the rights to from that era was ostensibly a member of the team.  Sure, the best known members of the JSA were there, but so were the likes of the Red Bee and Amazing-Man.  Some of these characters were decades old by that time.  Others were new.  The team had two purposes.

One of those purposes was to make lesser-known characters better known.  Thomas could have used the Earth-2 versions of Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash, but instead used lesser known or brand new characters like Iron Munro, the Fury, and Johnny Quick.  Johnny Quick had been around in the 40s.  Iron Munro and the Fury were another story.  Sometimes these new characters, like the Fury, had known connections to established heroes.  Other times they were just brand new.

The second purpose was because there may have been restrictions on which characters Thomas could use, so if he couldn’t have a recognizable one, go with a lesser known or brand new stand-in and he could probably tell the same story.

What was the story behind the All-Star Squadron?  Simple:  just before World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt asked all the superheroes that were running around to join together to protect the nation during the war from foes both normal and superhuman.  That meant all the old superhero teams (many of which were retroactively created when DC acquired other company’s characters) as well as various solo heroes were on call for any mission as needed.  Thomas took advantage of this, even adding second generation heroes like Power Girl and the original Huntress.  These younger heroes would often have adventures in more modern times.

I really want to use this space this week to say something about Roy Thomas.  While I am not really a fan of his work, he did a lot to keep forgotten creations alive.  Just about any character, no matter how poorly handled in the past, probably has the potential to be cool with the right people in charge of writing his or her adventures.  Thomas’ style often struck me as giving all the characters the same voice, the same sort of flashback reflections to remind the reader of what came before, and other factors I didn’t much care for, but he kept a lot of forgotten and forgettable characters in the public imagination in a way that allowed old creations to get new fans while safely sticking all the adventures on Earth-2.

The original Crisis would eventually put an end to Earth-2, and the All-Star Squadron title would fold in 1987.  Series like this are a good way to show off the creativity from old comics that might otherwise be forgotten.  I usually use this space to show off Misplaced Heroes, but sometimes there’s a comic book series that does that for me.

3 thoughts on “Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Heroes Case File #163: The All-Star Squadron

  1. All-Star Squadron was excellent. Thomas used 1940s American vernacular (“Keep ‘em
    flying!”), seamlessly incorporated the fashion and other aesthetics of the time into his stories, and the stories were generally really good, especially the first appearance of the Brain Wave and Green Lantern’s illusory destruction of Tokyo (the stories flopped up when Crisis on Infinite Earths screwed up what Thomas was doing). Thomas invented the word “retcon” (retroactive continuity) to describe what he did on the comic – essentially, answer the questions he must have asked himself when he was reading comics in the 1940s, like “Why doesn’t Superman end the war?” (Thomas is 88 years old now, which I personally find baffling – where did the time go?)

    1. Well, I couldn’t say why I am not a fan of his actual work, but I can truly appreciate everything he did. He was the sort of man who paved the way for the likes of a Kurt Busiek or a Mark Waid, who play around with forgotten corners of old stories all the time, or even the animated work of Bruce Timm. Maybe we don’t need explanations for all of these things, but having someone actually find cool ways of telling them can be a lot of fun.

    2. Roy Thomas was born in November 1940 and so is currently 77 years old rather than 88. He was only 24 when he started writing for Marvel Comics in 1965.

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