by Brian Linnen
On a recent trip into Comix Connection, I picked up an interesting book by Roy Thomas called "The All-Star Companion." If you have been reading comics as long as I have been, you'll recognize the name "Roy Thomas" instantly. Anyway - this book takes a look at All-Star Comics, a title which ran from 1938 to 1951, basically throughout what is considered the "Golden Age" of comics. All-Star Comics featured the Justice Society of America, comicdom's first superhero team, and the obvious forefather to the Justice League of America.
The JSA featured the original Flash, the original Green Lantern, the original Hawkman, the Original Atom, and many more characters (including Wonder Woman, who as a girl, served only as the JSA's official secretary. Different times.... Eventually they let her join full-time.)
The reason I put "original" before all the heroes names above is because during the Silver Age of comics, an editor named Julius Swartz led DC Comics as they recreated these heroes with new secret identities, new costumes, and new backgrounds. This period began in the mid-1950s. You can probably picture the Flash in your head, and when you do, it is the Silver Age version you are most likely thinking of.
For whatever reason, I have always enjoyed these Golden Age versions more than their Silver Age counterparts, and I have been able to read many of the old All-Star Comics courtesy of DC Comic's wonderful Archives line. Many readers of today's comics would be bored by the simplistic storylines, but these adventure tales of an era I will never really know, hold tremendous appeal for me. This is the same reason I enjoy listening to old radio shows featuring the likes of the Shadow and the Lone Ranger or watching old Flash Gordon movie serials.
Also, many comic fans of today criticize the artwork in these old books, but there were many true geniuses working during that time. Seriously. For almost every bad artist a critic can point out to me, I can point out someone producing honest to goodness ARTwork.
* Jack Kirby
* Sheldon Moldoff
* Alex Toth
* Mart Nodell
* Joe Kubert
* Joe Simon
And there are more - these are just names that I could list off the top of my head. I'd rather look at a page drawn by any of these guys than a page drawn by many of today's "hot artists".
There is something about these guys that just seems so fantastic to me. They were creating the entire industry as they went along. Today, creators have 70 years of history to look back at and draw from, but these guys only had each other. I read accounts of groups of creators working non-stop over a weekend in a cramped studio to get books done in time, and to me, it's such an inspiring, romantic image.
I was fortunate to have dinner with Mart Nodell a few years ago at the Harvey Awards, and I heard some of his stories about working on Green Lantern in the late 1930's . I don't think that he looks back on these times as fondly or as idealistically as I'm apt to think of them, but I just can't help it. For whatever reason, I won't let reality intrude upon my vision of the Golden Age - probably because of how much the characters mean to me. I think of their creators as giants and can't compute the idea that they were doing it for the paycheck. I guess I'm being foolish, but I can't help it. Anyway, I know that looking back, they are proud of their work. I saw that talking with Mr. Nodell, and I saw it when I had the chance to talk to Mr. Moldoff and his wife. I could see how happy Mrs. Moldoff was for her husband, and how proud, as we gathered around him looking at original artwork and hearing him talk about the old days. The same was true of Mrs. Nodell, as well.
OK - I'm not going to bore you anymore. Just wanted to write a few lines about this book I got, and I went a little overboard. Can't help it, and who does it hurt? I would recommend this book to anyone who is currently enjoying DC's "JSA" and would like to know more about where these characters came from. It's good, fun stuff, my friends!