Author Archives: Dean Compton
Six Weeks of Punishment (Week 4) — The Punisher in Marvel Super Action #1
It’s time for a special guest blog, as friend-of-the-Longbox and Punisher super-fan Dean Compton flashes us back to the bad old days of Marvel black & white comics magazine exploitation tales! Take it away, Dean! — LBG
Once more, Paul was kind enough to allow an 90’s loving interloper to waltz into your lava lamp and blacklight poster adorned lounge and set up shop! Seriously, it’s always a pleasure to get a chance to present some 70’s goodness here at Longbox Graveyard, and as well everyone knows, nothing from the 70’s brings me more goodness than The Punisher.
Over at The Unspoken Decade, the World Wide Web’s only habitat for 90’s comics, we’re building up to Season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil (featuring The Punisher!) with SIX WEEKS OF PUNISHMENT as we look at Frank Castle’s past. One could never deny that Castle’s past is rooted in the 70’s, and so Week Four brings us here to the Longbox Graveyard, where it’s perpetually 1978, and the attitude toward a certain skull-chested vigilante was much more guarded.
By the 90’s, the idea that a man would murder criminals wantonly with a huge arsenal was much more accepted, but the 70’s, despite violence in the streets and violence in culture (I reference this in my first Punisher article here at LBG, Punishment is Black and White), just isn’t ready to embrace a cold-blooded killer like Frank Castle. This would relegate both the stories in which Punisher was the featured character to the 70’s Black & White magazine scene, where they could cut loose a bit more. Cutting loose is exactly what they did, starting with this sick cover.
Even in the black and white magazines, though, The Punisher was highly controversial and the fans of the 70’s just weren’t sure that The Punisher was the sort of character they desired to see due to his excessive violence and penchant for murder. I don’t disagree with them. Frank Castle is a reprehensible person who engages in mass murder. The character fascinates me, but if we don’t have some apprehension about Punisher’s tactics in his war on crime, then we don’t have any moral standing in which to critique the criminals we know we despise. Writer Archie Goodwin and some letter writers discuss this in the issue, and it gives the story and the character richer context.
I miss letters columns so much. I understand why we don’t have them any more, but seeing these well-thought-out and well-written letters makes me miss the prose we’d get in comic books after the story. There’s plenty of places to exchange ideas now, and one certainly gets the exchange faster via message boards, Facebook groups, and the like, but I miss feeling like I got something extra with the comic book, which is how letters columns always made me feel. Alas, we’ll just have to make due, won’t we?
Writer Archie Goodwin, Penciller Tony DeZuniga, and Inker Rico Rival bring us an important tale in Frank Castle’s history, for this is when Frank Castle found and killed the men who killed his family.
When people find out how much I love The Punisher (mostly due to the fact that I pretty much only wear Punisher and Kansas City Royals stuff), they always talk about his origin and if he killed the men who killed his family. Most of them seem quizzical about why Frank Castle would continue to kill criminals after dispatching the men who brought his family down. I think that’s because we see a lot of action movies with that trope. After he gets his vengeance, people expect him to move on to a quiet life as a soundtrack plays and the credits roll. Sadly, Frank Castle can’t have that, which is one of the things that separates him from other characters that we see who go after retribution for the death of their families. Either Castle can’t get over it, or as has become a popular assertion, Castle has always had something in him that made him need to kill. Whichever is true, the criminal underworld pays either way. In my last article here on Punisher, I mentioned that Marvel in the 70’s was able to extract the permanent essence from something designed to be temporary, and I think by having Frank Castle continue to punish the guilty long after having terminated those who killed his family enabled them to find said essence, although it would take them awhile to perfect it.
I’m also the first to admit that The Punisher is a reprehensible human being who does reprehensible things. There’s certainly a modicum of a code of honor within him, as he does save innocent lives, but for the most part, Punisher hungers to murder. He justifies this as being needed as to prevent anything like what happened to his family from happening again, but that’s just not good enough to let mass murder slide. Punisher fascinates me, for reasons I stated in my other Punisher article here at LBG, but there’s great reason to also revile the man.
Once you hear his story, however, somehow, you find pity for Frank Castle within that revulsion. Within Castle, however, there is no pity…
Joey Charisma is a great name for a mobster, but how thankless and awful must it be to be Punisher’s informant. You definitely know that your fellow mobsters will kill you the second they find out you’ve been singing, while at the same time, you also just know Punisher is going to murder you the very second you stop being useful to him. I’d say that’s between a rock and a hard place, but that simply wouldn’t do it justice.
This scene is how we start, but it actually has little to do with the tale we will see, which starts off with Frank Castle recording an entry in his War Journal while also inviting in what appears to be a lady of the night into an apartment that he apparently nabbed via 70’s AirBNB, as he only rented it for the week.
Audrey implores Punisher to tell her all about his past while she freshens up, which seems odd. If I have learned anything from having to watch countless hours of Two and a Half Men at my job, it’s that hookers show up freshened up and ready to go. This gives us time for Punisher to tell us a little backstory and a sweet splash page that gives us a title!
After shooting up the numbers drop, we see what becomes a very standard element of Punisher’s narrative, in that he takes the cash from the drug runners, mobsters, and murderers that he kills and uses it in his war on crime, and Punisher even does so with a quip anyone could appreciate.
All of Punisher’s activities aren’t going unnoticed, of course. The Mob is personally affected by this, so the Bruno Costa are making their own preparations in regard to this, as well one would expect.
Obviously, another element of the war on crime is taking notice, and of course, I am speaking of New York’s finest. At this point in Castle’s “career” he hasn’t garnered the worldwide infamy in the eyes of law enforcement that he will eventually gain. Right now, though, a couple of detectives (and presumably a few MPs) are seeing what Castle is doing, and even more frighteningly…what Castle may be capable of…
One of my favorite relationships to dwell upon when it comes to The Punisher is the relationship he has with the police. I would imagine that many cops would just look the other way, especially in the Marvel Universe, where it seems like there is a machine like in the game Gauntlet, only instead of producing ghosts, this one produces an unending supply of mooks for guys like The Punisher to shoot. However, it seems like the cops of the 616 would have to deal with these guys more often than Punisher, so they’d welcome his presence.
You’d also have cops that really attempted to stop Punisher (much like in the recent Greg Rucka series that was really, really good) because he’s a blight on their profession. Here, we see Laviano more or less bemused by the entire thing, (and this gets explored further in Punisher: Year One, which I will be looking at on The Unspoken Decade for SIX WEEKS OF PUNISHMENT!) which is what I suspect the reaction of most cops would be. They may not actively help Frank Castle, but they also certainly don’t stand against him, and hey, if he makes their jobs a little easier, then he can just keep up his good work.
The more eagle-eyed of you probably noticed the lower right panel of what seems to be a country club. This is a country club that likes to attract high rollers and gamblers, which attract enforcers should these guys not pay. Two of those enforcers happen to be tied up in the Bruno Costa-and they happen to be two of the men who killed Frank’s family. One has an ulcer, which is appropriate; he’ll be worried the rest of his life. Punisher kills both of these guys, leaving one alive just long enough to tell the Bruno Costa Syndicate that he’s coming for the rest of the family.
Believe it or not, this doesn’t make the head of the Syndicate, Frank Costa, very happy, and he takes it out on his brother. If you recall, his brother was one of the guys who killed Punisher’s family. In fact, he’s lucky Frank Costa doesn’t kill him right here.
After hitting his brother in a manner that almost assuredly disfigured his brother for life, Frank Costa sends him and the other mooks on the hit squad down to a Florida retreat. This retreat is almost impenetrable, which means it is perfect for the Mob to send a few mooks to lay low until the heat dies down. What they don’t know yet, is that the heat will never die down from one Frank Castle.
The Mob retreat was built in a fort in a dying Florida town. The locals once had a oil boom, but that was apparently some time ago. The only thing happening here now is that the Mob has refitted an old fort to be their stronghold. Punisher makes his way down to the town, but he isn’t alone.
The Mechanic has the unfortunate distinction of being the first comrade in Frank Castle’s war on crime, but he also has the ignominious fate of being the first of many of Punisher’s friends to not get out of Castle’s war on crime alive. He literally died in Punisher’s first appearance, Amazing Spider-Man #129. The action here takes place before that issue of Spidey, and so we see The Mechanic’s motivation for helping Castle, as he says one of the most poignant things you’ll not just hear in a Punisher comic, but possibly ever.
“But I do have a war”… The Mechanic points a sad truth, which is that we here trumpet our dedication to the fighting men and women of the United States armed forces. Politicians climb over one another to tout their support of the troops. We fly the flags and the ribbons. We buy the shirts and the Desert Storm trading cards . When the men and women come home, though, they are often cast aside. Many of them find help, sometimes through the official channels and sometimes not, but sadly, many slip through the cracks. For all the support that is often voiced, there always seems to be too little of actual substance in the form of programs and funding for said programs to help veterans ease their way back into civilian society. You read interviews with them about feeling listless and purposeless. Some drift into homelessness and drug abuse. There’s certainly no panacea for this problem, but we should do better. So much better. You have to give kudos to Archie Goodwin for pointing out this issue very naturally in his text.
For Punisher, he has found a purpose, and for the rest of The Mechanic’s life, he has a purpose as well. The war on crime beckons, and these two have an impenetrable fort to break into. The mooks within react in different ways.
Skinner and Bruno are of the mindset that nothing is wrong, while the last panel there proves that Kolsky is right. Punisher is dead set on killing them, which means they are already dead. The only real question is how amusing it will be to see Punisher kill them.
The answer is very amusing.
Earlier, Castle noted that this town had once had a boom due an oil discovery. While this boom lasted a father finite period of time, it did leave behind much of its trappings, like say a giant oil well. Now if one were to, say, blow up this oil well, one would have a helluva trap set, right?
The oil well explosion is a delightful distraction, and it also lets us see Marvel putting “goddamned” into a comic book, which was a big deal then, even in a B&W magazine. Now it would be fairly run of the mill. Also, as a side note, it’s much cooler to say “goddamned” than “goddamn.” At least in print.
The reaction inside is to be terrified. I mean, a giant oil well just exploded outside. There isn’t much of a different way to act, now is there? Terror, though, can cause men and women to react in different ways. For instance, take the dichotomous approaches of Bruno Costa and Skinner.
As you see, Costa wants to stay and fight, while Skinner desires to leave. I can’t say that I blame him, what with him having been in a tenement fire as a child. Fire seems like an awful way to go. Of course, leaving won’t do him any favors either, as he pulls the old Greek Tragedy bit of attempting to run away from his destiny while running smack dab into it.
Punisher has now eliminated all but two men from the group of mooks that murdered his family. One is Bruno, who seems to have the idea of holing up and waiting for Punisher. The other is Kolsky. The entire book, Kolsky is presented as the only guy in this cadre that really has any shot at killing The Punisher, and since this book has a logo for “The Punisher: America’s #1 Crime Destroyer” and not “Kolsky: The Mob’s #1 Family Killer” on the cover, one has to figure that even with his dum-dum bullets and fatalistic pessimism, Kolsky’s chances are slim.
While he does manage to get the drop on Frank Castle, Kolsky isn’t prepared for that sea-water aquarium the mob had installed. Castle manages to use the fact that Kolsky’s gun has a silencer on it to lure Kolsky into the ultimate trap; he kills him with a damn shark.
That just leaves Bruno Costa for Frank to kill, and there has to be some sweet revenge here, right? This isn’t just the guy who iced Frank’s family, but it’s also the guy who had the super deep connections to ensure that he and his cohorts wouldn’t have to pay for massacring Frank’s family.
Alas, by the time he catches up to Bruno, he’s already dead, having been murdered by someone wielding an ice pick. Bruno’s own brother ordered the hit. The mob was still grasping at the idea that if the men who destroyed Frank Castle’s life were gone, then perhaps, he would stop eradicating them. Fat chance, guys. Who did Bruno in, you ask? Why, none other than the prostitute visiting Frank Castle in this very issue!
The last panel really sums up Punisher. There’s the drive. There’s the determination. There’s the nihilism. One sort of has to wonder whether or not Frank Castle would have given up his war on criminals had he been able to have the satisfaction of revenge rather than a mob prostitute assassin being the one to ultimately dispose of Bruno Costa.
Something tells me no. There’s just something in Frank Castle that changed him from something even remotely resembling a human being into a force of nature that only “lives” in order to dispense as much punishment against the guilty as is humanly possible before he burns himself out. The need to punish is much more than Frank Castle ever was. Perhaps this part of him would have seeped out around the edges even if his family had not been brutally slain right in front of him.
But just as I strongly believe that Punisher has something in him that forces him to solider on even after those who killed his family are dead, I also believe that there was something about his family that was holding this in check. Had Maria and the children not been terminated, Castle lives a quiet and perhaps even boring life.
Much to the chagrin of the criminal underworld, that life will never come to pass. Of course, that’s also much to the chagrin of Frank Castle …
Thanks, Dean, for another terrific Punisher article … I think this is his best yet! For more of Dean’s work, be sure to drop by The Unspoken Decade, or give him a listen over at Voc Nation! — LBG
NEXT MONTH: #158 The Treehouse
Gamma Goes Grey: The Rampaging Hulk!
Once again, Paul has allowed me, your old pal, Dean Compton, to venture into the Bronze Age with you guys! It’s funny, but I have noticed that whenever I get out of my 90’s comics bubble, (which all of you can read more about at The Unspoken Decade) and come here to chronicle some Bronze Age favorites, I only deal in the very bright (as my prior articles on SHAZAM! and All-Star Squadron prove) or the very seedy (Punisher, this article) elements of the age. Just like Billy Joel, I don’t know why I go to extremes, but unlike Billy Joel, I allow characters like Hulk to take me to extremes. Also unlike Billy Joel, I cannot play the piano.
Another thing Billy Joel and I do not have in common is the fact that he was a living, breathing being when The Rampaging Hulk debuted in 1977, while the world would have to wait with bated breath for two more years for me to emerge. That’s just another reason for me to be jealous of Billy Joel. I mean, he had a great career, he married Christie Brinkley, and he also had the chance to buy something as cool as The Rampaging Hulk right off the shelf.
There’s no proof that Billy Joel frequented 7-11 after 7-11 while on tour, pushing back magazine after magazine until they were dog-eared so that he might find these Hulk comic books, but there really isn’t any proof that he didn’t either, and I prefer to think that we live in a world where the Piano Man demanded his tour bus stop at newsstands as he tried to find these. I also prefer to think that his tour bus is shaped like a giant piano, so my thoughts are most likely not worth much. Besides, isn’t that a funny image to have in your head now?
The images in The Rampaging Hulk usually are not so funny. They tend to be somewhat visceral, as black and white does Bruce Banner’s green alter ego very well! Of course, it does not hurt that we get some great art by several masters. The first few issues are done by Walt Simonson in what i think may be his most underrated work ever, which is nothing short of a war crime in my book.
Before I show you any of that though, let’s discuss the magazine…I hear you whining, Ok, one picture from Simonson, but then it is right back to the background behind The Rampaging Hulk!
Now that your appetite for Walt Simonson has been momentarily sated, let’s chat a bit about the background of this magazine. It started in January of 1977, which is a good year and a half before Hulk debuted on TV. With issue #10 of the magazine’s run, the magazine will become full color and start to focus more on adventures like the ones TV Hulk would have, and it would also start to have lots of interviews with the cast and crew of the show. After those changes, I find myself disenchanted with the magazine. I know this is probably blasphemous, but I have never cared for the Lou Ferrigno/Bill Bixby Hulk TV show. Even as a youngster, I thought them to be cheesy and silly. Later, when I saw the made-for-TV movies with Daredevil and Thor, I liked them more due to my penchant for crossovers, but I still hated the changes that were made to Thor and Daredevil.
That having been said, I wonder why this was launched when it was. Was there an outcry for more Hulk material in 1976 and 1977? Was this just added in anticipation of the TV show? If it was added for the TV show, they did it in a rather odd way, as the first none issues deal with filling in gaps in Hulk’s history.
That’s right. This title is set YEARS earlier than when it is released. In fact, it is designed to fill in gaps between the end of Hulk’s original series (which only lasted six issues, believe it or not) and when he started appearing regularly in Tales to Astonish,so in many ways, this is one of the first “retcon” type of title. Of course, it apparently caused more harm than good, and so later it was determined that these stories were all fake, told by one of the characters located therein. I find it sad that they could not work any of these into continuity (for whatever that is worth) because these issues are very fun and very solid. Doug Moench writes most of them (Jim Starlin writes a GREAT issue) and while I do not think it stacks against his Master of Kung Fu or Moon Knight work, I still like it a lot, and it is probably unfair to make the comparison. It is sort of like comparing albums by The Beatles. I mean, Rubber Soul isn’t as good as Revolver, but they are both amazing albums by amazing creators.
One big complaint that I have about the magazine is that it did not really take advantage of its medium. When I did my Punisher article here at LBG, I noted that the black and white magazines put out by Warren, Marvel, Skywald, and others during the 70’s had a dangerous vibe to them. Many of them were a little more violent and offered a little more sexuality than color comic books (regulated by the code) could. I was not interested in the Cinemax adventures of The Hulk, but I would have liked to have seen this medium used more effectively, even if the storylines were a little more mature with some social commentary and whatnot. This magazine cost a buck in 1977, which means that the people who could afford it not only wanted more for their money, but they also were almost certainly an audience of an older age, one who would have expected some meatier stuff than what they got. Jim Starlin’s issue has some excellent death/outer space imagery (IMAGINE THAT) that fits into the grindhouse/nigh-seedy feel of 1970’s black and white magazines, but the rest of the series sort of falls flat.
That doesn’t make it a bad read though, and in fact, I highly recommend it just for the art of Walk Simonson, George Perez, Jim Starlin, Kieth Giffen, and more! In fact, there’s so much incredible imagery that it is going to be beyond difficult to keep this article to a manageable level; some of you probably already find it too wordy, so here’s some more Simonson!!!
I also want to give props to Alfredo Alcala for his great inking job; he makes Simonson come alive in a way I think many others could not. Alcala is a favorite of many pros I know, and this really makes one see why.
The basic story is that Hulk is thwarting a secret invasion of Krylorians. He does this working alongside his pal and the mascot of the Marvel Universe, Rick Jones. Of course, we all are probably aware of how intertwined Bruce Banner and Rick Jones are due to Rick basically being the catalyst for the chain of events that formed Hulk, but in case you didn’t know, Walt Simonson and Doug Moench break it down in a really cool manner.
We see very little of the traditional Hulk supporting cast. After issue #1, there’s no Better Ross, Thunderbolt Ross, or Glenn Talbot. Due to flying saucers being spotted over London, Hulk and Rick Jones head for Italy. What I especially enjoy though, is how jingoistic Thunderbolt Ross is. I mean, there’s certainly no surprise that a general in the U.S. Army is very blindly patriotic, but few would convey it in as humorous a fashion as good ‘ol Thunderbolt.
I have no idea what a milksop is, but I am working that into my everyday insult collection. Instead of hurling expletives at the drivers in Atlanta, I will shoot a milksop or two at them. My road rage is becoming more refined, and I feel like that makes me a better person. It doesn’t, but at least it makes me feel like it.
That’s really the last we see of the usual gang of Hulk Hangers-On! (Hello Stan Lee alliteration) Instead, Hulk and Rock head for Europe, where they meet the Krylorian who is on our side, Bereet!
That name may sound familiar, because she was the alien Starlord forgot he had aboard in the incredible Guardians of the Galaxy movie. She is a neat character, and due to her gentle nature, status as a techno-artist, and neat tricks like a spatial distorter and a banshee mask that doubles as a supersonic ship!
Once this trio joins forces, they gallant all across Europe, thwarting Krylorian plan after Krlylorian plan. Their adventures also lead them to meet The
Uncanny Original X-Men! I do not know if Walt Simonson ever got to do the original X-Men elsewhere (other than a stint on X-Factor, which only sort of counts in my eyes), but he does them justice here. His Danger Room sequence packs in more excitement than many other artists rendition of the X-Men in action against actual foes!
The Danger Room sometimes seems like a false danger, in that they are holograms and the like. I know that these holograms can be deadly, but there’s something much more viscerally satisfying about watching these young mutants dodge spiked balls and knives on poles. The danger comes to life, as it does when Simonson draws the Hulk completely unleashed!
Moments like the X-Men’s arrival propel this title, but I think the best overall issue is the one Jim Starlin wrote and drew. Jim Starlin has so much talent; I wonder if he could lend me some. We often discuss Starlin and his greatness, and I think nearly everyone would agree that he is indeed one of the all-time greats, but I think we often overlook his ability to do good Hulk stories. One of my favorite Hulk moments of all time happened in Infinity Gauntlet, where he and Wolvering are chatting on the roof of Avengers Mansion. The dialogue is perfect, and the if the characterization where anymore spot on, Gordon Ramsay would be here to tell you all about it,
Jim Starlin also draws a tremendous Hulk, as evidenced by his bittersweet standalone story in The Rampaging Hulk.
That’s some of my favorite Starlin work, and if that double-page splash doesn’t convince you of Starlin’s greatness, then I guess you only have about 439783498734983 other great things he did to convince you. Something about the black and white of this magazine makes Starlin’s work sinister at the edges; that’s perfect for this book and the story he tells here, which takes Hulk away from the main tale of beating up Krylorians left and right. Starlin does not ignore the main story though, as he bookends his tale of outer space and magic with how Hulk got there and how Hulk got home in one of those bittersweet tales that Jim Starlin is really good at doing.
The other two big highlights of the series are Hulk meeting people from the rest of the Marvel Universe before he “actually” would have met them. His meeting with Namor, the Sub-Mariner is a 2-parter, and it is one of the highlights of the book to me. Namor is a favorite of mine, and I love the line of nobility and savagery that he manages to walk! Or is that swim? OR EVEN FLY? The possibilities remain endless!!!
A Hulk vs. Namor fight almost always delivers. Namor’s arrogance and prodigious strength of his own almost never allow him to admit defeat in the face of a foe, even one as superior in strength as the Incredible Hulk, while Hulk, well, HUlk just wants to smash, of course.
I am unsure when Namor got all He-Man/Conan, but that is what he decided is necessary to beat Hulk on this cover.
One thing is for sure, though; I have no problem believing that indeed, is the axe of Namor. Look at how ornate it is. Also, did they build a replica of the domed cities of Atlantis on his shield? That seems pointless, seeing as how while it may look beautiful, that part of the shield is just gonna get crushed, unless you are fighting Hulk, in which case it will get SMASHED.
I especially like the post fight sequence where Namor sees off the Hulk and the Hulk’s pals.
Also, Namor obviously lays down his smooth game on Bereet, as they become smitten with each other. I am glad Namor is not real, lest he would steal every single lady living on the surface…and some of the married ones too! Just ask poor Reed Richards! (By the way, I think there is no contest. As much as I love Namor, Sue and Reed belong together. Butt out Atlantean!!!!)
Also, isn’t it funny how Namor is talking up how green Hulk is? I mean, we all know he is green and all, but it tickles my funny bone to see Namor refer to him as green when the comic book is black and white. It shouldn’t, but hey, it’s a little pleasure, and if life isn’t about little pleasures, what do we have? Maybe a Hulk vs. Avengers story?
The last two issues before the magazine went color featured Hulk taking on/teaming up with the original Avengers…BEFORE THEY WERE AVENGERS! I find it a smidge surreal to see, but it gets pulled off fairly well, and if you say you aren’t intrigued by this cover featuring the funeral of crystal-encased Hulk, you’re guilty of perjury in the court of comic books, son!
Sal Buscema does a great job on this issue, as we wrap up the retcon portion of The Rampaging Hulk (which would be renamed “HULK” with the following issue) with a bang. The story starts in #8, and it is a really good example of the Marvel “when heroes meet” formula, in that when heroes meet in the Marvel Universe, they fight.
One of those fights that I think we all love, is Hulk vs. Thor. Thor, the noble warrior, the scion of Asgard, and the sort of arrogant prick, takes on Hulk, who is savage, unrelenting, and uncaring. I think that on the surface, we are all required to cheer for Thor, but deep down, many of us hope Thor gets put in his damn place. It’s sort of like watching a car chase on Cops. I mean, we know that the people speeding away did something wrong and are causing problems, but man, those cops act so full of themselves and righteous that I’ll be damned if we don’t start cheering for the bad guys to get away about 3 minutes into the chase.
Unless you are me, then you are cheering for the bad guys the whole time (unless they murdered someone or are putting too many other drivers/people in danger). But I am of the 90’s folks, when things were extreme and we loved “Stone Cold” Steve Austin for being the bad guy! To the kids reading, I have two things to say: Mine is not the example to follow, and also, go read an actual comic book!
For the rest of you, here’s Thor and Hulk punching on one another.
So we get to see “The Avengers” team up and stave off a threat to the planet before they even existed! I find great comfort in the fact that Hulk treats them about the same before, during, and after his tenure as an Avenger. I like the world to be a simple place…at least sometimes.
The editor of the book provided an epitaph of sorts for The Rampaging Hulk era of this magazine:
It is very true that some of the greatest artists stepped in to try their hand at Hulk. I have already mentioned several of them, but I would be remiss if I did not show you some of what George Perez did. Perez is, in my opinion, the best artist in comic book history not named Jack Kirby. Controversial? Perhaps, but no one makes the page live for me like him.
He never did a regular feature on The Rampaging Hulk, but he did do a pin-up gallery featuring the history of a few of Hulk’s associates and enemies:
One thing I found fascinating about this gallery (and there are a couple more Perez Pin-Ups in the book) is that one can see the vast impact different inkers can have on the same penciller. That’s something that can be hard to notice for the artistically disinclined such as myself. Here though, it’s as blatant as a bank robbery in broad daylight where the perpetrator is dressed like the Hamburglar and is carrying big sacks with “$” on them. The Stranger looks mighty different than the Silver Surfer. Kieth Giffen gets to do his own gallery in issue #4, and he channels his best Jack Kirby!
I love Giffen’s work and how he has the ability to take on so many different styles. Look at this next to his stuff from the 90’s, like Trencher, and one would be astonished to find out it was the same guy working on both.
The only other thing to really mention is the back-ups, but I won’t spend too much time on them. For those picking up the magazine, like say, Billy Joel, they’d get treated to some sweet back-ups featuring Bloodstone, Man-Thing, and Shanna, the She-Devil, among others.
The back-ups are one of the most enticing elements to the black and white magazine boom of the 70’s. I have heard many folks talk to me about Bloodstone. I am not a huge fan, but just even just skimming through it made me realize that I will be back into these soon to learn more about this guy. The Man-Thing stuff interested me a great deal, as Steve Gerber can really write that sort of character just so much better than anyone else. Of course, it still could never live up to this pin-up:
All in all, I’d say the series is solid. I’d say it is must-read for Hulk fans, and a I would say the Simonson and Starlin issues (#1-4) are must read for any fans. The rest is good, but one would not be missing out on something spectacular if one were not to grab them. The series is a fun read, and the arch does definitively conclude in issue #9, so if you have the completionist bug and get #1, you will find it enticing enough to grab all 9. I also think that these have been re-printed in an Essentials volume, which would be one of the rare Essentials that would not lose anything by now being in black and white.
I want to thank Paul again for letting me write about these Bronze Age gems! I highly encourage you to check out all the cool stuff here if you haven’t, and when you are out of cool stuff here, come check out The Unspoken Decade! JNCO Jeans are coming back, so why not check out some 90’s comic book action as well? You’ll find it at The Unspoken Decade! Let Paul and I know what you think below, and I am looking forward to my next article here at The Longbox Graveyard! Hell, I am looking forward to Paul’s too!
All This And World War Too!
It is always a happy day when guest columnist Dean Compton graces the pages of Longbox Graveyard! This time, Dean reveals his deep affection for a series he and I both admire — Roy Thomas’ All-Star Squadron. I previously wrote about Thomas’ reverence for the past through his creation of this book; now, Dean takes a deep dive into what made this series so special for him. Welcome back, Dean!
When I was a very young man, nothing was as exciting to me as this set of 1965 World Book encyclopedias that we had in the house. One of, if not the first, things I ever read was the machine gun article in the World Book. I read anything and everything in each one of them, but my favorite article had to be the one on World War II. I loved everything about it. I loved the sections on how the 1930’s led up to the war, the rise of totalitarianism, the rationing of goods in the US, but the thing I loved most was the section with the maps detailing the expansion and then retraction of the German and Japanese empires. Speaking of, how awesome and wrong is the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” as a name for their empire? I mean, obviously this empire was awful for everyone it conquered and oppressed, but that is a bad ass name. The fact that the name completely belies the negative impact of the Fascist Japanese Empire somehow makes it sound even cooler.
I promise, though, this isn’t an article about how great the Japanese Empire was. I’m an ardent antifascist, and therein lay my utter fascination with the Second World War. Many wars are useless and only fought to line the pockets of the elite. World War II certainly is not bereft of profit incentives, but this was truly a war against the fascist countries of that era that needed to be fought, lest their reach envelop the planet.
So when I walked into the flea market when I was in 2nd grade and saw All-Star Squadron comics in longbox after glorious longbox, I was immediately enchanted by the notion that these masked men were the heroes of World War II. I tried to get a few, but I was not allowed to have comics that day for some reason, and those heroes were forgotten until 1992 …
is Sandman trying to put that monster to sleep? How will that work? Also, why is Flash running away?
I fell in love with the Justice Society of America the instant I learned of them. When I first laid eyes on them, I was confused and excited. Not unlike the first time I first time I kissed a girl, but there was decidedly less Justice Society involved with that.
I knew who Green Lantern and Flash were, and I could tell that these guys were similar, but they couldn’t be Green Lantern and Flash could they?
Indeed, they could be. I was astonished and excited as the entire history of the DC Universe lay before me. I wanted to know more and more, and I soaked up information via all sorts of paradigms. I used cards, I asked my friends, and I bugged our local morning DJ, Ben Johnson, who I had somehow struck up a friendship with, about it. He had revealed he was a huge comic book fan, and he was always willing to answer a question or two when he had the time.
(He really went out of his way to help sate my curiosity, and I think that those of us entranced by the allure of the comic book could learn a great deal from Ben, as that is how you make fans. Too often, we become annoyed at those who know less than us instead of taking questions as a sign of interest. Let’s try and make, not break, fans.)
Now that that public service announcement is over, I reckon we can get back to All-Star Squadron. Ben told me of the JSA and the All-Star Squadron after I saw the above comic and because of memories of the WWII comics I had seen at the flea market. He explained how the DC Universe had once been a multiverse, and in this multiverse the heroes of the Justice Society of America lived on Earth-2. They had their glory days in WWII, and they had aged, while the heroes of Earth-1 were the heroes that I knew.
So since they came first, why did the Justice Society and the Earth-2 gang simply allow themselves to be Earth-2? Why wasn’t there a huge rumble over this? Maybe someone knows, but I do know that we have crossovers now for much less of a reason. Who would not have wanted to see an all-out fight between the JSA and the JLA? Some jerky hater, that’s who. I would never accept just being second best, so I am unsure why the GOLDEN AGE SUPERMAN did.
One day after talking with Ben extensively about the JSA, I sauntered into the flea market, and I was greeted by a 25-CENT BOX of All-Star Squadron! Chock full! Is there any set of syllables more heavenly to comic book fans than 25-CENT BOX? What if you found this fantastic Rich Buckler cover in one? Would you be even more jealous of me than you already are?
the Idea that The Atom is deciding Superman’s fate in a team is hilarious. “Gee, I dunno if he cuts it” said the short guy in really good shape about a veritable God.
The answer would indeed astound me, as while the JSA plays a prominent role, they aren’t necessarily the stars of All-Star Squadron. Roy Thomas, the greatest writer of Golden Age characters who didn’t write them in the Golden Age, took this chance to shine a light on a few of the lesser known superheroes of the Second World War, and I thank him for it. This series is good, and his love and reverence for the characters always shines through, even in the waning issues of the series where it was basically eviscerated by Crisis on Infinite Earths, when post-Crisis continuity altered the DC Universe drastically. Now Thomas would no longer be allowed to play with Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, and more. This changed almost the entire framework upon which the All-Star Squadron was built, and so it quietly faded away, with the last few issues being origin stories of the group.
But Bloody Hell, I am getting ahead of myself! You don’t even know who is in the group that disbanded yet! Well, wait no longer!
TAKE THAT, NEWSPAPER!!!
Look at that lineup! Johnny Quick! Robotman! Firebrand! Shining Knight! Liberty Belle! Hawkgirl! And The Atom returns for this mission here! The Squadron would serve on the home front for the war, because the JSA disbanded and enlisted. Of course, JSA guys are always hanging around, getting special permission from FDR, who along with Churchill, makes copious appearances in the book, to assist when their special abilities as superheroes (or Mystery Men, as they were called at this time) are needed more than their skills as soldiers in the armed forces. Other folks would filter in and out of the All-Star Squadron, and over time, it seemed that any character even loosely associated with the DC Universe circa WWII would meander their way into the book. It would take me awhile to find that out, though, because …
There was a large gap in issues available at the flea market. I was almost always trying to piece together the collection the same way someone tries to piece together a document they accidentally shredded: painstakingly, tediously, and annoyingly. I’d get a # 7 here, a #46 here, but it was always difficult to put together runs. I do recall lots of issues jumping out at me, though, like one featuring Robotman on trial. Not much more exciting than the meeting of a Robot with a human brain and the US JUSTICE SYSTEM!
guilty of being a robot? A monster? The law sure was different in the 40’s.
My favorite surprise though had to be the introduction of Infinity Inc., a superhero team comprised of the progeny of the Justice Society of America! They went back in time to help the JSA and the All-Star Squadron after they had been completely overwhelmed by the machinations of the Ultra-Humanite (a very underrated super-villain if you ask me, and since you are reading this you sort of did), who was assisted by his (some unwilling) henchmen, Deathbolt, Cyclotron, and Amazing Man! If you don’t believe me, scope this ragtag team tossed together to save the day after heavyweights like the Golden Age Superman were taken down!
how long did they have to practice to get that in unison?
The work on this is amazing. If you think of this as a baseball lineup, it may not be murderer’s row, but it has to be one of the more formidable lineups. Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler (Deathlok creator), Jerry Ordway, and Todd McFarlane all had great runs, and watching Jerry Ordway grow in particular is very fun to me. The talent gets a bit sparser later in the run, but it never gets lackluster. The work is always solid, and you never know what is going to happen.
This was almost a primer for neophyte comics fans like I was. There was always a sense of history and (good) continuity in All-Star Squadron. Thomas was excellent at simultaneously showing and telling the history of the JSA/Squadron, and he also excelled at demonstrating why said history was important. Of course, he also managed to drop in little forgotten nuggets here and yon among the way, like when he taught a 14-year-old young man who the Seven Soldiers of Victory were …
if your team doesn’t have a cowboy, how can it possibly be as cool as the Seven Soldiers of Victory? I’m looking at you, every other superhero team except The Avengers.
The Seven Soldiers of Victory touched my heart, and to this day, Green Arrow, the leader of the team, remains my second favorite superhero. If you haven’t seen it, you should watch the episode “Patriot Act” from Justice League Unlimited. It features the Seven Soldiers, and it does a great job displaying just what makes them so courageous.
Roy Thomas also looked at the racial inequality of the era, sometimes with more success than others. He did a great job introducing us to the African-American Amazing Man, who I instantly loved, and who was a decent influence on me. I grew up in a small Arkansas town that was 97% white, so I had very little interaction with folks of African-American descent. Luckily, though, I was surrounded by racists who made up things about black people so I could have NO IDEA what reality was like. Thanks! On a genuinely lucky level though, I was able to see some culture that refuted such notions. One place was here, and another place was the great Milestone imprint. I am sure I would have seen past that bigotry sooner rather than later, but comics helped me see past it that much sooner.
Roy Thomas also used real world events in the All-Star Squadron in relation to race. For instance, they did a whole storyline about the Detroit Race Riots that occurred during WWII, which is an event glossed over in our history.
wow, that whip isn’t overkill or anything
And as you see, here is where the mistakes lie. The attempt to not be racist almost has more racist overtones as we see a guy in a KKK mask whipping a black man. I get what we are going for here, but it is a little off-putting. However, a little off-putting is nothing compared to how Japanese villains were treated.
the villains look like castoffs from the 80’s cartoon, Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos
Sumo the Samurai? COME ON MAN! That was unacceptable then and now. Roy just put two things together that happen to be Japanese terms. Why not, “Fuji the Ninja”? or, “Rice the Shogun”? This was just awful. Also awful was a subplot where Firebrand becomes racist against Japanese people because her brother (the original Firebrand) was seriously hurt at Pearl Harbor. She then carries resentment toward Japan until talking to her brother, who tells her that he was saved at Pearl Harbor … by a Japanese-American! I wish hackneyed would describe that properly. Conversely though, Roy Thomas does a good job with Tsunami, whose parents and family are being shipped off to internment camps. It was a different time, and even though I don’t feel like he always made contact on racial issues, I appreciate Roy Thomas here at least stepping to the plate.
I also appreciate the appearance of Captain Marvel, the one true Captain Marvel, (little jab there Paul!). If you haven’t seen my piece on him right here at Longbox Graveyard, take a look here. I am a huge Captain Marvel fan, and I first got to see a possessed Captain Marvel going toe to toe with the Golden Age Superman right here in the pages of All-Star Squadron. I think it is the only time in my life I have ever rooted for anyone even tangentially associated with Nazis; that’s how much I wanted the World’s Mightiest Mortal to defeat Superman.
I look at that zeppelin in the background and I seriously wish we still flew in those
I think most All-Star Squadron and JSA fans think the best moment of the series, though, was the massive roll call that took place in issue #31. Nearly every WWII Mystery Man was there. I recall getting my hands on this issue and just swooning. There was so much history on these pages and just so much fun. I wanted to go back to WWII and somehow be a part of this gathering that never actually existed. These pages also reflect Roy Thomas’s love for this era and these characters. I don’t think he leaves any out except for in-story reasons, including both the Quality Comics and DC Comics versions of Manhunter, two different characters who were created by two different companies in 40’s at the same time, and he also manages to start easing the idea of the multiverse affecting Earth-2 in long lasting ways here, as several of the folks at this meeting would leave Earth-2 to go to Earth-X to fight on a world where the Nazis won the Second World War! They also tangled with Baron Blitzkrieg there, who is one of the most awesome looking villains of all time.
I wish I knew what side of WWII that guy was on
No article on All-Star Squadron would be complete without a look at what many folks believe to be the finest issue in All-Star Squadron history! All-Star Squadron #20 featured the villain Brainwave. Using his vast mental might, he enslaved the JSA and was killing them mentally. He made them believe that they were pitted against scenarios where they failed, and if he got them all to believe …they’d die. Of course, one member of the JSA just had too much willpower to give up …
The cover is haunting, yes, but so is what occurs inside. They all face their fears and fail, but none fail so horrifically as Green Lantern. He becomes so enraged that he massacres the entire Japanese population.
Green Lantern has caused a holocaust, and nearly allows himself to succumb, but the other JSAers and members of the All-Star squadron are able to reach out to him and encourage him not to give up. And once Green Lantern finds his willpower, it’s like Uma Thurman when she was stuck in the coffin in Kill Bill Vol. 2 — there will be no stopping him, regardless of what must break!
But now as promised, the greatest moment in All-Star Squadron history …
no snarky joke here … too in awe …
The series went downhill from here. The artists, while not bad, just were never in the league of Buckler, Ordway, or McFarlane. That’s no knock on them; very few artists are that good. And no matter who was drawing the book, this book could not have survived the paradigm shift that was Crisis on Infinite Earths. Without being able to be secluded with its own variants of the DC powerhouses, All-Star Squadron faded out after the Crisis. It did give some of the best moments of the Crisis that did not occur in the main series, such as this cover, which is my favorite of the entire run.
Robotman’s look of horror at the idea of Superman fighting the Monster Society of Evil alone makes him look like a creepy Drama Mask robot
There are probably better covers, but this is my favorite. This is also one of the last times we’d see the Golden Age Superman until 2005 when that aberration known as Infinite Crisis did its best to destroy everything everyone ever loved about comics; of course, in comparison to Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis looks like Fantastic Four #1-100.
Paul and I talked about All-Star Squadron before, and he mentioned that it had a real Silver Age vibe. After re-reading all of this, I must agree. Roy Thomas, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, kept a Silver Age book going all the way into the mid 1980’s with this one. While the Silver Age itself was long gone by the time even the first issue of All-Star Squadron saw print, I think one could make a fairly strong argument that it was the last Silver Age book that existed. While the Silver Age was long dead, All-Star Squadron continued, like the light we see here on Earth from stars that have gone out years prior. Thanks to Roy Thomas, the star that was Earth-2 provided light for us all to enjoy just a little longer.
thanks for not going gently into that good night gentlemen
Thanks for reading! Join me for my LIVE radio shows on www.vocnation.com. Compton After Dark is a show focusing on wrestling, politics, comics, and more every Sunday night from 11:30-130 EDT. I’m also on at Midnight on Thursdays with Her Dork World, His Dork World, where Emily Scott and I tackle gender dynamics in dork culture. Don’t forget to scope out my 90’s comics blog at www.theunspokendecade.com. I am sure that I will be around here with more Bronze Age stuff too. I’m planning to take a look at The Rampaging Hulk for Longbox Graveyard soon! Try and contain your excitement!
NEXT MONTH: #136 Six Signature Superhero Sound Effects!