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The time Alan Scott killed Japan. All of it. – All-Star Squadron #20

August 23, 2011

The Roy Thomas-penned adventures of the Justice Society of America are a treasure of the 1980s. He brought a reverence for the characters to the table, one that helped forge the somewhat disparate quality of the old-timey Golden Age material into a powerful, modernized narrative. This issue is one of the better examples of that scripting dexterity, as Thomas combines some “where the other characters are” snippets, the early days of America’s World War II involvement (1942) and the harrowing tale of an angry god.

You think Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Fukushima were/are bad? Japan never came up against a pissed off Alan Scott.

The impetus for this issue’s (art by Jerry Ordway) imaginary disaster is a diminutive Mr. Magooey villain named Brain Wave, who’s taken the bulk of the Justice Society and manipulated their minds so that they all think they’ve been offed by the Japanese military (and this also helps explain away events from the old All-Star Comics #11). They’re left helpless and entrophied (is that a word?):

While all this is going on, we get a taste of authentic Golden Age goodness. Here’s Superman battling a fully-follicled Luthor, from issue #17 of that hero’s eponymous book:

Meanwhile, the younger half of the Dynamic Duo has been tied to a post by the Joker and gassed, followed by a narrow escape from death (all from Batman #17):

Ah, the days when the Joker wouldn’t beat the Boy Wonder to a pulp with a crowbar before leaving him to die.

Back to the core stuff. Brain Wave had summoned the trapped heroes with a Morse code challenge (hence the reason for showing what the other leading lights are up to), and the Green Lantern responds belatedly. Before he can free his friends, he too is trapped in this virtual shared dream. When he finds his pals and allies dead, he does not react well:

Scott’s a man of his word. The Japanese military is the first to fall before his verdant fury:

He doesn’t stop there:

Then comes the guilt:

The strength of his anger and will has overwhelmed Brain Wave and his machinery, freeing the other members of the Society from his clutches. But there’s some “rule” that if he dies, then all the other formerly brain-zapped heroes will die as well (a weak point in the story, but I’m willing to let it slide). This is a problem, because his dreaming consciousness comes close to offing himself with that murderous ring. He’s pulled back from the brink by his cohorts in the nick of time:

He may have backed away from the abyss, but it’s still staring back at him. Only the Golden Age Wonder Woman, with her hair and her bloomers, can comfort him:

Good stuff.

This reminds me of that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the one where Picard lived a whole other life inside his head before he returned to his normal self. The Inner Light. That sort of thing sticks with you. Come to think of it, I’m also reminded of another episode, where a godly being lives with the guilt of having, in one single moment of rage, wiped out an entire race of beings (The Survivors).

It’s true: All roads lead to Star Trek.

These Thomas All-Star Squadron issues are a joy to read (a joy solidified by Ordway’s sold art). Whenever I go through them, I’m struck by how well he wove in and out of established continuity to create something fresh and eminently readable. It only makes me cringe even more whenever another half-ass reboot is flung out into the public. According to Wikipedia, the concept of “retroactive continuity” was coined in the letters page of this very issue (and even the letters pages, with Thomas explaining his thought processes, are a good read). Fitting. Retcons can be cans of worms, but Thomas mastered the art in Squadron.

And keep in mind, the Alan Scott Green Lantern has it within him to kill entire nations. Knowledge for life. It turns out Hal Jordan/Parallax was only following in his predecessor’s dreamy footsteps.

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