A Tribute to the of

Did you see where some lucky stiff discovered a near-mint copy of Detective Comics #27 in an attic in Pennsylvania? Talk about your dream come true.  If only it had been me.

Well, it isn't nearly as iconic, but I do have a rare opportunity to review a Golden-Age classic, just a handful of years removed from Batman's debut.  Thanks, as usual, to the webmaster, I was given access to a  copy of an original issue of All-American Comics' All-Star Comics title.  52 pages in full color for 10˘.

All-American, as you doubtless know, was the sister company to DC Comics and was the stomping grounds for such immortal Golden-Age characters as The Flash, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, Green Lantern and the Atom.  Later on, in the Silver Age, the characters showed up again when the Justice Society of America was resurrected and teamed up with the Justice League of America, solidifying the concept of Earth-One and Earth-Two.  But…you knew all that, and since All-Star was the home magazine of the JSA, let's visit one of their classic adventures in All-Star #26 from the Fall of 1945.  The story is titled, "Vampires of the Void!" despite the fact that the cover says, "The Mystery of the Metal Menace!"  Our writer is Gardner Fox and there's a formidable roster of artists to include Joe Gallagher with Martin Naydel doing the cover, Gallagher with Naydel on some interior pages, Joe Kubert drawing 6 pages, and "Aschmeier" both with and without Naydel doing some of the interior pages.

The splash page is identical to the cover with the exception that the placement of the heroes is exactly reversed, like a mirror image, while the looming robot, white in color, is in the same spot.

We join the Justice Society at their monthly meeting where Hawkman is acting as chair.  He laments that Herbert Crawford, a scientist of some repute didn't make the meeting.  Crawford, who is also a physicist, astronomer and metallurgist, has sounded the alarm that a spaceship is going to invade the Earth and it will contain beings of living metal, about 4 inches in height that will eat anything they come in contact with.  Soon the radio in their meeting room utters a news flash that disasters are happening across the land, so in classic style, the JSA split up to investigate.

The first adventure is that of Hawkman, drawn by Joe Kubert (even in the 40's, Joe managed to get his name credit on there) and he is taking on the visitors from Jupiter.  A block of text lists the metal Silver with it's chemical symbol, specific gravity, melting point and atomic weight.

We then see the metal beings shaken loose from their ship when they hit the atmosphere, landing near a silver mine and proceeding to gorge on the precious metal.  Between the nourishment of the silver and earth's sun, they begin to grow to man-size and beyond and in the process changing their physical characteristics in another way, to that of the shiny metal.  Soon Hawkman arrives and tries to engage them with his mace, to no avail.  He watches as they take the money from the mine payroll and he notes that they've gained the attributes of the silver they've consumed, including the ability to charge their bodies with electricity from a nearby dynamo.  When the police arrive, Hawkman finds himself in the unenviable position of having to stop them physically when they won't listen to his warnings.  He then gets their attention with a few punches and tells them that they'd have been electrocuted by the weird beings.  The Winged Wonder then goes to the nearby general store for a dollar's worth of pennies, and, using them as a weapon, hurl the coppers at the metal beings, short-circuiting and fusing the atomic structure of their bodies.  As he flies off he vows to find out why they robbed the payroll.

Next up is the Atom, taking on the same beings in another location who have consumed iron rails from the train tracks.  The Mighty Mite notes that their bodies have turned nearly black from their diet and his "atomic" strength is of little use.  He receives a phone call from Hawkman, (makes you wonder how he knew where to call, eh?) describing his experience, and warning the Atom about to be alert about his band of creatures robbing.  Sure enough, the iron-eaters begin to loot a jewelry store.  With the help of local law enforcement, the Atom quickly throws together some equipment and hoses down the metal intruders with high pressure oxygen that rusts them solid.

Shift scenes now to the Green Lantern's engagement with the aliens who in this instance have availed themselves of magnesium.  Alan (Green Lantern) Scott also gets the message from Hawkman about his nemeses via his power ring and is soon battling them at the Ute Magnesium Factory where they are consuming the metal and robbing the company safe of payroll cash.  GL tackles the interlopers with physical strength and agility, remarking that he dare not use his ring ray on them.  He later explains that due to the highly inflammable nature of magnesium, he couldn't risk burning the factory down.  Once they've moved out into the open, however, all bets are off and the powerful, willpower-driven emerald beam virtually incinerates them.

I need to pause here for a moment to share some fascinating information from my edition of The All Star Companion.  The segment on this issue brings to light an interesting tidbit.  This chapter and the upcoming chapter featuring the Flash were redrawn to change the Spectre to the Flash and Starman into Green Lantern.  In the case of the latter, the work was done a little sloppily and in two panels you can see Green Lantern in flight, but still gripping Starman's gravity rod!  The reason?  It's a little complicated, but to make it as simple as possible, Max Gaines, who was running All-American Comics and Harry Donenfeld, who was running DC and had a partnership, had a sudden falling out when Donenfeld abruptly gave part of his stake in DC to his accountant Jack Liebowitz.  Gaines and Liebowitz mixed like oil and water and so the characters of the respective companies suddenly reverted back to their point of origin.  In this particular case, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Green Lantern stayed with All-American, while Starman and the Spectre reverted to DC, thus requiring an already-drawn couple of chapters to be re-drawn with "authorized" characters (and the removal of the DC Comics logo from the cover, folowing the precedent set by All-Star Comics #24 and #25).  Who knew that politics abounded even in comic publishing houses?  On to Dr. Mid-Nite:

…who encounters his battery of menaces in conjunction with underwater copper phone wires.  In fact, they're enjoying their feast so much they take it to land and munch on the wires right off the phone poles, crippling communications in the process and turning a reddish hue.  Acting consistently, they also raid a local bank vault.  Mid-Nite tries a few ineffective tactics and then hits upon a solution.  Gaining the aid of some of the local workment, he lays a trap for the aliens and when they take the bait, thinly copper plated fixtures made of lead, they perish of lead poisoning.

Segue now to The Flash, whose quarry are consuming gold in the metropolis museum and robbing it of precious original paintings.  The Fastest Man Alive tries to stop them, but has no more luck than his teammates and speeds back to Hawkman to learn more.  Returning, he sees they have changed at an atomic level due to their golden diet and takes full advantage of gold's malleability, twisting them into useless pretzel shapes and triumphing over them.

Another change of scenery takes us to "the frozen north" where Johnny Thunder is investigating the spacecraft itself.  Reaching it via dogsled, he discovers that like its passengers, the ship is also metal and capable of eating inanimate objects and growing as a result.  Soon Johnny is running for his life and invoking the Bahdnisian hex words "Cei-U" to bring the Thunderbolt to his aid.  The text states that he has power over the thunderbolt for one hour.  Lacking any particular inspiration, Johnny instructs the Thunderbolt to bring the JSA to help, which it swiftly does.  The members conclude that the best way to tackle this menace is by introducing vats of acid to neutralize it.  Green Lantern does so and all that remains is a smoldering skeleton.

When the Justice Society reconvene at their HQ, they have a surprise visitor in the form of Herbert Crawford, who abruptly changes color, his visage now a series of different colored stripes.  His attitude has similarly changed as he goes on the attack, berating the JSA for defeating the robots "who meant no harm."  The JSA do a quick huddle and surmise that Crawford has taken on several attributes of the different metals, just like the robots, so they devise their plan of attack based on how they deposed the metal menaces, hitting him with electricity, a copper ashtray and even a Johnny Thunder induced hot foot that ignites the magnesium.

When Crawford comes around after the violent effects of the magnesium ignition he fills in the blanks for the Society members.  He explains that the jeers and derision he received from the scientific community made him lose his temper and nearly his mind.  He further elaborates that the robots were simply starving creatures and only stole because he told them to.  "I signaled them, while they were speeding through space, where to find huge metal deposits for their starved stomachs…in gratitude they signaled back how to achieve metal characteristics…and powers…even to steal for me…very sorry…"  They vow to rehabilitate him after he pays his debt to society and set him up in a laboratory so that he can use his talents to benefit mankind.

And that closes the case and the latest adventure of the Justice Society of America.

I don't know if the technique hadn't come about yet or what, but I noticed something while reading this story.  Not once was there a thought balloon.  Our respective heroes were caught more than once talking to themselves for the benefit of the reader and of course there were standard text boxes, but the technique of the thought balloon wasn't employed. I decided to call my friend Gaspar Saladino to see if he knew when the thought ballon came into regular usage.  As you probably know, the letterer was responsible for the sound effects and the text boxes and balloons along with inking in the dialogue.  He wasn't certain, but told me that when his career began in 1952 it was commonly used.  I also looked at my copy of Superman #183, it features a reprint of a 1942 Superman story originally published in Superman #19, titled "Superman, Matinee Idol!" (for the reprint the title was changed to "Superman, Cartoon Hero!") and while the technique was slightly different, they used thought balloons in that story.  I guess perhaps it depended on the title in the 40's.

The back cover of this issue has an interesting bonus, if you will.  A full-page, full-color advertisement for Tootsie Rolls via a 10-panel adventure of Captain Tootsie, courtesy of C. C. Beck and Peter Costanza.  You may recognize C.C. Beck as the original artist for Captain Marvel back in the day. 

It's interesting to see where the building blocks of future Justice League of America stories came from.  Of course the great Gardner Fox was the writer for both series, so it makes sense that a similar pattern would emerge.  These old All-Star tales laid a very important foundation for the Silver Age and I've gained a greater appreciation for them and those who contributed to their creation.

In his autobiography, Carmine Infantino shares a terrific story about his first encounter with All –American Comics and Irwin Hasen:

"That first meeting with Shelly [Mayer], Frank [Giacoia] and I were sitting with our portfolios in our hands, and he's sitting in his chair, with his desk between us, talking to us and looking at our artwork.  Suddenly, we hear the door opening behind us, and we hear, "En garde!"  We didn't know what the hell was going on!  We looked around and there was little Irwin Hasen.  He's got a T-square in his hand, wielding it like a sword, and with his dramatic entrance, Shelly leaps up on his desk brandishing his own T-square, and they start dueling, over desks and across the room.  Welcome to Shelly's world! 

Frank and I sat there, literally stunned.  These two started dueling away, then I think Shelly tagged Irwin on the butt or something, and the thing was over.  They kissed and Irwin left just as suddenly as he came in, without a word!  Shelly just went back to looking at our work as if nothing had happened.  It was the weirdest experience!  The place was a madhouse!"

Irwin Hasen, of course, was the creator (along with Bill Finger) of Wildcat and he did a series of covers for the All Star Comics title, Wonder Woman, some work on the original Green Lantern, not to mention his very long run on the comic strip Dondi, which, this very month, is being reprinted in book form courtesy of Classic Comics Press. 

I had the great opportunity to speak with Irwin Hasen and here are a few thoughts that he shared: Prof:  Which characters did you create over the years?

Irwin Hasen:  The Wildcat and also a comic strip called Dondi.

Prof:  You and Bill Finger did that one didn't you?

IH:  That's right.

Prof:  How did you come up with that one?

IH:  I was in the fight business.  I used to be a cartoonist for the fight business, which you wouldn't know since you were a child.

Prof:  (Laughter.)  Yes, sir.

IH:  This was in the early 40's, late 30's and I was a cartoonist, a freelance cartoonist for a magazine in the fight business; a trade paper and I illustrated the drawings.

Prof:  So it was just a natural thing to do a boxer.

IH:  That's right.  That's how they decided to put me on Wildcat that I created with Bill Finger.

Prof:  When a writer and artist create a character like that how much collaboration is there?

IH:  Not too much.  They'd just send me the scripts.

Prof:  So you did the design and took it from there.

IH:  Yeah.

Prof:  What was Bill like to work with?

IH:  A great guy.  Very, very ill-fated man, personally.  Ill-fated.

Prof:  Oh, yeah, every story I've heard just breaks your heart. 

IH:  He was a loser, yep.  And when I use the word 'loser,' I do it affectionately.

Prof:  Yes, as in someone who was just on the wrong end of things.

IH:  That's right.  Always late with his work.  Never had money. 

Prof:  I've heard before he was always tardy with scripts.  What's your take as far as why he was usually late?

IH:  It was something that some people have, and he was ill-fated, right from the beginning of his career.  And that's the sad thing because he was so talented.  He created Batman.  He wrote Batman, rather.

Prof:  Yes, and Green Lantern.

IH:  Yeah, he wrote all those wonderful comic books.

Prof:  And continued to right up to the end as I understand it.

IH:  That's right.  It's a very sad story, but let's not dwell about sad things.

Prof:  Tell me a little bit about when you started at All-American, please.

IH:  Well, I started by just showing samples to the editors and they liked my work and I got to do work for them and when I was in the Army in 1942, I used to come in on the weekends and sit in my uniform at the offices and I would do the covers for Green Lantern, The Flash.  Most of the work I did was covers.

Prof:  Did you like that?

IH:  Yeah.  I couldn't compete with my fellow cartoonists.  Brilliant cartoonists.  Joe Kubert and a few others, but I could do a cover and I gave great covers.

Prof:  Do you know how many you did?

IH:  About 150.  80 Wonder Woman covers.  I would say 100 covers.  I do recreations of all those covers I did for clients.

Prof:  I bet there's quite a demand for that.

IH:  Yes.  They call or they write to me and they know exactly which cover they want and I let them know what I'm going to charge them, etc., etc.

Prof:  It's nice that you're getting that kind of recognition.

IH:  Thank you.

Prof:  When you received an assignment, what were the deadlines like?

IH:  I never had problems.  I had a week to 10 days to complete an assignment.

Prof:  Were you doing strictly pencils?

IH:  I did the whole thing.

Prof:  The lettering, too?

IH:  No.  Somebody else did that.

Prof:  Okay, I never was quite sure when lettering became a specialty.

IH:  It was always a specialty.

Prof:  Comic strips back in the day seemed to carry more legitimacy than comic books.  Why do you think that was?

IH:  Comic strips?  There was magnificence about them.  They were something that was so completely apart from the comic books.  The comic books were kind of looked down on, but yet they were some of the greatest art work, by great artists who worked in comic books.  Comic strips were sort of the elegant part of our business.

Prof:  I understand you worked with some of the greats back then, can you tell me a little about a few people?  How about Irv Novick?

IH:  He was a close friend.  We worked together and we socialized.  Alex Toth was my best friend.  I met him when he was sixteen and I was twenty-four or twenty-five.  He liked my work and I could never understand why.  I really mean it, I'm not being modest.  But for some reason or another he was attracted to my work.  He had a sad ending.

Prof:  Really?

IH:  He had a sad life.  He had personal problems with his wives and also he got heavy.  He put on a lot of weight and he smoked like a chimney.  Unfortunately in the later part of his life his personality changed and soured.  It soured on the world, which is not too difficult to do in these days.  He had a sad ending of his life.

Prof:  That's a shame.  Especially after the great body of work he left behind.

IH:  He was the master.  Roy Crane and Alex Toth were my heroes.

Prof:  Everyone I've spoken to, whether it was Gaspar Saladino or…

IH:  Oh, Gaspar?  You spoke to him?

Prof:  Yeah and what a wonderful guy.

IH:  He was my letterer on Dondi.

Prof:  Oh, I didn't realize that.

IH:  First one.  He and I were very, very close.

Prof:  How about Julie Schwartz, did you work with him much?

IH:  Yeah, he was my editor.  He was a grand old guy.  A pain in the ass.  He was a very strange guy.  He was involved with himself so much.  But he was a damn good editor.

Prof:  That's what I hear.  He was one of the best.

IH:  Yeah.  I didn't mean to get personal about him.  He and I were close in a strange way.  We had a love…there was never hate.  We just had a strange relationship.

Prof:  I hear he was kind of demanding.

IH:  Demanding is the word.  But on his own terms.

Prof:  Carmine was telling me the only person he didn't edit extensively was John Broome.

IH:  Yeah, he was a great guy.  There was a difference between he and Julie and they were very close.  Very close.  He was a gentle, 6 foot 4 guy.

Prof:  Did you know Shelly Moldoff very well?

IH:  Very much.  I saw him last year.  He's a low key guy.  Did a lot of good work.  All these guys were from the old days.  Sheldon Moldoff.  They were all part of the stable.

Prof:  Did you guys work there in the bullpen or did you work at home?

IH:  No, we worked at home.

Prof:  I know you've done some teaching at Joe Kubert's art school.

IH:  I just retired this year.  Thirty-one years.

Prof:  Wow.  Was that an enjoyable task?

IH:  Yeah.  I needed it at the time.  It was fine.  I enjoyed it.  This year I just decided that's it.  I even retired before I got ill. 

Prof:  What was Joe like to work with?

IH:  Joe Kubert?  I never worked with him, but he's a helluva guy.

My humble thanks to Irwin for his time and kindness.  He's very possibly the youngest 89-year old I've had the pleasure to speak with, and he's definitely an important part of the Golden Age, without which there would be no Silver Age.

Thanks as always for your patronage, readers and I'm pleased to report that I have yet another interview lined up for next time, so don't forget to tap your way back in the requisite two weeks.  I've enjoyed hearing from some of you and always welcome further correspondence, so feel free to express yourself at:professor_the@hotmail.com.

Until next time...

Long live the Silver Age!

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