BHOC: DC SPECIAL #29

The arrival of this issue of DC SPECIAL was the second part of a one-two origin punch that began with the origin of the Justice League about a month earlier in JLA 144. I loved these two comics, their sense of history, their primal secrets revealed for the first time. It doesn’t hurt that both of them are great stories, well told. The Neal Adams cover sets the mood and the tone here.

The Origin of the Justice Society was the work of the regular ALL-STAR COMICS creative team of Paul Levitz and Joe Staton. Levitz would have a long career with the publisher, ultimately becoming DC’s President and Publisher, but that this point he was a tyro writer and editor who was just starting to get his feet under him creatively. Artist Joe Staton likewise was at the early part of his career, one that would go on to include a long stretch on GREEN LANTERN, his favorite character. His work was always a shade cartoonish, but in an appealing way. Here, inker Bob Layton helps to shift his work a bit more towards the super hero mainstream for this important story.

It had to be a challenging story to work out, both for the size of its core cast (ten super heroes) to say nothing of the spread of their abilities. Whatever brought the Justice Society together for the first time, it needed to be a menace that would be functional for both grounded Mystery-Men heroes such as the Atom and the Sandman and also the cosmic world-beaters like Dr Fate and the Spectre. Researching the period, Levitz relates in a text feature that he came upon references to an abandoned invasion of England by Nazi Germany at around the right time frame for this story, and all of the pieces fell into place for him.

The story opens with a prologue set in Washington DC, and a meeting between President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and an envoy from the British spy mastermind, “Intrepid”, a real historical figure. FDR is given evidence that the Nazi war machine plans an invasion of the United Kingdom that winter. And while FDR’s hands are tied–his countrymen still believe in a largely isolationist stance on America’s involvement in what would become World War II, he does suggest to the envoy that perhaps this new breed of mystery-men crimefighters might be the answer to his needs.

So it is that, a few days later, Batman answers the Bat-Signal from Commissioner Gordon only to find two other costumed crusaders already in his office–the Flash and Green Lantern. The envoy has asked Gordon to summon them all, and after he recounts his information, the trio is swiftly on board a transport, carrying them to far-off Scotland. There, they attack a Nazi spy stronghold attempting to get more information about the upcoming invasion. (There’s a goof at this point, where Green Lantern uses his powerless-against-wood Power Ring to battering ram their way through some wooden gates–oops!) The trio is whipping the hell out of the Nazi spies until they unleash their ultimate weapon, a crude robot that turns the tables on our heroes.

Fortunately for our heroes, as they are transported back to Berlin for trial, their plight is discovered by Doctor Fate, scanning the world with his crystal ball. Fate stops only to scoop up a very surprised Hourman before heading into enemy territory to rescue the other heroes, turning up just in time to prevent Adolf Hitler himself from unmasking the Batman. Unfortunately, while the appearance of Dr Fate would seem to have brought this story to a premature conclusion, such was not to be. For Adolf Hitler has the Spear of Destiny in his hands–a mystic artifact previously showcased in an issue of WEIRD WAR TALES that once pierced the side of Jesus Christ himself. Using the Spear, Hitler summons up a horde of Teutonic Valkyries, the sword-maidens of myth, to carry his attack to victory.

Even Fate is hard-pressed to hold his own against the Valkyrie hordes. More urgently, the signal has been given to begin the invasion of far-off England. In desperation, Dr Fate casts a spell designed to bring other heroes into the fight. And so, back in America, the Sandman, the Atom and Hawkman find themselves snatched up by mystic tendrils and carried to the beaches of Dover,where the invasion is under way. The Hawk, Atom and Sandman give a good accounting of themselves, but it’s clear that they’re no match for the Nazi war machine and all of the troops massed for the invasion. Fortunately, though, Fate sent four summonses–and it is the all-powerful Spectre who answers the last one, arriving like the cavalry to help rout the foe.

Back in Berlin, the beleaguered heroes get their second wind, and with Dr Fate leading the charge, begin to push the Valkyries back. Hitler cant believe what is happening here. In anger, he orders his bomber squadrons to take off, setting a course for Washington DC, to bomb the America capitol in retaliation for the attack of the mystery men heroes. It’s fortunately an experimental long-range bomber, one capable of making a flight from Germany to the United States without refueling, or once again this would be a much shorter story. The Valkyrie take up positions around the bomber, intending to shepherd it to its ultimate target.

Back in Dover, the invasion of England has hit a permanent snag in the undead person of the Spectre, who makes short and fatal work of the invading forces.At this point, the nine heroes involved in this adventure so far gather on the beaches and make introductions, taking the first steps towards the camaraderie they will exhibit in years to come. But there’s still work to do: even with England secure, the experimental bomber is still on its way to Washington DC, guarded by a Valkyrie honor guard.

The assembled Justice Society battles on for literally hours, but they are unable to halt the flight of the Valkyries and their deadly charge from continuing towards the USA. Eventually, the coastline appears over the horizon and all seems lost, the heroes’ spirits sag. And then, in the best stand-up-and-cheer moment in the book, Green Lantern spies a figure leaping up from the press building–it’s Superman, who destroys the bomber and catches its huge payload single-handedly.

But even with the bomber destroyed, the Valkyrie will not relent, intending to carry out the mission given to them by Hitler–the assassination of FDR. Green Lantern is knocked unconscious, and without his Power Ring to keep them aloft, the Sandman, the Atom and Hourman plummet to the Earth. Despite being rocked by the fall, a clinging-to-consciousness Atom manages to pull himself to the Oval Office just in time to take the shot aimed at Roosevelt himself, a true act of heroism.

 From there, it’s all clean-up, as the Valkyrie, their mission a failure, disappear. The Atom is wounded, but not fatally. A grateful FDR suggests to the assembled heroes that they remain together a s a sort of Super-Battalion–but Superman rejects the notion of them becoming a military unit, saying that they’ll only fight in the cause of justice. And so, the Justice Society of America is born. It’s a hell of a story.

A two=page text piece in the back not only described the germination of the story I had just read, but it went through the entire roster of the Justice Society through all of the issues of the golden age ALL-STAR COMICS as a bonus. Using this text feature as eh basis of my research, I created my own illustrated guidebook to the Justice Society, showcasing drawings of all of the different members and a rundown of what stories they were active in. I can remember no doubt boring my Uncle Jerry to tears during a visit to the home he and my Aunt shared with my Grandparents as we pored over the work I had done. Sadly, that hand-made Justice Society roster book that I made has disappeared over the intervening years.

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