Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Everything I Learned Was From Getting A Lot Of ASS

The titles that led me to become the huge DC Comics fan I am today?

Who's Who In The DC Universe, Crisis On Infinite Earths and the comic that started it all for me, All-Star Squadron. As a young kid, there was nothing better than the sudden rush of information and the sense of discovery that every issue seemed to bring.

Who knew there was such a thing as The Golden Age?

In the grand scheme of what we know as The DC Universe, as it stands today, ASS (a better acronym you'll never find) was its corner foundation.

Recently, caught in a wave of nostalgia, I bought the first year's worth and...

How the hell did I ever become a DC Comics fan.

This stuff was pretty impenetrable, an American comics history lesson taught by the guy who wrote Conan The Barbarian.

Lots of character introduction and story-wise, just a bit all-over-the-place.

"Hey, Roosevelt needs us."

"Let's go get Robotman."


"Hey, Robotman! Wanna fight Nazis?'

"Sure! I hate Nazis. Let's go to Philadelphia and find Liberty Belle, she hates Nazis, too!"

And that just may be the problem I have reading The All-Stars as an adult is the over-explanation of everything.

Writer Roy Thomas takes a lot of care in explaining the various threads and connections to the WWII period in which these DC Comics mainstays were created. While its fascinating, it slows the storytelling down to a crawl, leading me as an adult to wonder what I saw in these comics.

As I read further, I felt my resistance dropping, simply coming to appreciate exactly what it was I was seeing:

Someone's simple love of comics. And something even greater. (More on that in a moment.)

The realizations that:

Yes, there was a Robotman before there was a Doom Patrol Robotman. Plastic Man as a cornerstone of comics' Golden Age. The wanting to address Aquaman's long, continuous comics history, yellow gloves and all. The belief that even The Red Bee should have a place at the heroes table.

With characters occupying a space in one of history's most infamous of times and origins comprising varying degrees of nebulousness, Thomas was charged with making sense of something that had been ignored for quite a while at DC Comics:

Continuity.

All-Star Squadron was the book that taught me about inter-connectivity and the role it can play in fiction and most importantly, history.

At that point in my life, I had no idea of the scope of the second World War. Living under a Cold War generated mentality, I never knew the unthinkable had happened and that America was once allied with... *gasp*... Russia! I had no idea what The Spear of Destiny was much less its importance in Western/Judeo-Christian history.

These are things I learned about while reading the shared adventures of men and women who wear tight clothes and fire heat blasts from their eyeballs.

When you really think about it, you really have to ask yourself, "How the hell could I NOT have become a DC Comics fan."

8 comments:

Jason Langlois said...

The love Thomas had for what he was doing in ASS comes through, I think, on every page. Which made the agony coming through in the pages of Young All-stars all the harder to read.

Devon Sanders said...

That was the book he had to do in a post-Crisis DC Universe, right?

Happily, I had no access to it because I didn't have a direct market retailer near me.

Sounds like that worked in my favor for once.

Nate said...

Man that was good stuff. Like you, it brough the Who's Who into stories for me and shaped my understanding of the grand fabric of the DCU.

Marvel has their floating 15 year window and that's fine. But I love the way DC builds a universe of past and future herodom woven together.

Anthony Strand said...

Love it, love it, love it. Such a great comic book. Every single issue up through the mid-50s is great. It went off the rails after Crisis ended (those Secret Origin issues are painful), but the Crisis tie-in issues were terrific. They had those JSA backups where each member visits a different planet in the solar system, but in a different universe (where those planets were inhabitable, unlike the Earth-2 universe, I guess). Thus explaining some old All-Star story as a retroactive Crisis tie in.

The whole series was bursting with crazy, ridiculous ideas like that. It’s just Roy Thomas set loose on Earth-2, WWII, and eventually the Multiverse. He edited the book himself, and while that should make it a mess, it just adds to the insane charm. And the text pieces are great.

Also, the term “retcon” was coined in an All-Star Squadron letter column.

Graig Kent said...

Oh man, what I loved about A-S*S was the absolute plethora of superheroes. There was nothing I loved more as a kid than seeing as many different heroes (and villains as possible at one time).

About 2 years ago I too re-acquired the first 10 issues along with the first dozen Infinity Inc and a handful of other Thomas-written comics and found them to be brutally over-written (guess that's what happens when you edit your own work) to the point of being unreadable.

As a kid that much exposition is exactly what you need to get into a comic, especially when you randomly just pick one issue of a series up off the shelf. But as an adult, ouch, it's like getting repeatedly beaten over the head with a foam bat. It doesn't really hurt but you can't help from flinching.

kingbeauregard said...

Oh, have you checked out "Arak: Son of Thunder"? Another Roy Thomas thing written concurrently with early A-SS, about a Native American boy who is picked up from his canoe by some Vikings on a westward expedition, and quickly takes to tromping through Eurasia in about the year 810 AD. Similar obsessive love of history and the myths that have sprung up around it, though I'm a little scared to revisit it because I imagine some of the dialogue is lethal.

"Yes, we are Byzantine soldiers. You may have heard the word 'Byzantine' before: it implies deceitful and conniving, although that is a prejudice among the Franks and is probably not a fully accurate assessment."

Robert Ullman said...

Hey Devon, never knew you were an ASS man...those first fifty or so issues were and still are some of my favorite comics...led me to learn a lot about WWII as a young lad, too. They really oughta collect those suckers in a SHOWCASE or something.

Devon Sanders said...

@ Rob

That stuff was da bomb!

You nailed it, ASS would be the perfect candidate for a Showcase collection.