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More (All-)Stars Than There Are In Heaven

by Roy Thomas

From Alter Ego Vol. 3 #6

This re-creation of the "1941 JSA" splash of JLA #193's All-Star Squadron insert is slightly different from the printed one. The 1981 version had The Shining Knight behind The Atom-though Sir Justin was never a JSAer-and forgot Starman. Roy Thomas commissioned Rich Buckler (penciler) and Jerry Ordway (inker) to do a corrected rendition, which was later printed as a pinup. Repro'd from photocopy of original art, from collection of R.T.
©2000 DC Comics.

NOTE: All-Star Squadron, the comic book series I created and developed in 1981 for DC, ran for 67 issues, an insert in Justice League of America #193, plus three annuals, from 1981-87; it was followed by 31 issues and one annual of its post-Crisis on Infinite Earths sequel series, The Young All-Stars, from 1987-89. And that's not counting some three dozen related stories in Justice League and in the Secret Origins series I originated in 1985.

In answer to numerous requests over the past couple of years-not that I needed much prodding-this and future issues of A/E will feature an ongoing behind-the-scenes history of Squadron and its antecedents and tie-ins, from the late 1930s on up. I'll be dealing with events mostly in chronological order-despite last issue's leap-frog to the "Nuclear" connection between Squadron #16 and a 1950 Wonder Woman.

Matter of fact, as you'll see below, it'll take an issue or two just to get to All-Star Squadron #1! But then, even thirty years ago it took some months to bring the concept to fruition. Hope you'll stick around for the ride. But hey, even Charles Dickens' David Copperfield spent several chapters getting himself born!

Oh, one more thing: Along the way we'll be featuring plenty of good-looking, sometimes previously unseen art, courtesy of Rich Buckler, Jerry Ordway, and some of the most generous fans you'd find in any art form.-R.T.

I. Backstory
In 1980 I reluctantly decided the time had finally come to cut the ties that bound me to Marvel Comics, where I'd been laboring (for the most part happily) for fifteen years.

I quickly found that, in some ways, moving to DC was less a leave-taking than a homecoming.

After all, I had first moved to New York in 1965 to become editorial assistant on National/DC's seven Superman titles. There had been no thought in my mind before July 1965 about ever working for Marvel; I figured Stan Lee wanted to write the entire line forever-and besides, my main correspondents while I lived in Missouri had been with DC's Julie Schwartz, Gardner Fox, and (now-Superman-scripter) Otto Binder. It had only been my lack of rapport-to put it politely-with Superman editor Mort Weisinger which had led me open to Stan's timely offer of employment, two weeks after I arrived in the Big Apple.

Still, I look on my exclusive "Marvel period" as a fortuitous circumstance. I was probably able to advance further and faster at Marvel, a company on the rise, than I might have at the older company. All the same, Steve Skeates and Denny O'Neil, two writers who'd worked first for Marvel, had done very well at DC, and I like to think I would have, too.

Matter of fact, even while a writer and associate editor for Marvel, from time to time I had let the "fan" side of me take the upper hand over the "pro." I'd managed to have some slight back-door influence on DC, unknown to most folks there (and, thankfully, to my respected mentor Stan).

My ally in most of this cross-company subterfuge was Gerry Conway, who over the late-'60s through the mid-'70s had gone from DC to Marvel and back again a couple of times. After leaving Marvel for the second time in 1976 to become a DC writer/editor, Gerry had enthusiastically convinced DC to let him launch a couple of projects I had suggested to him (along with several which were entirely his own idea, natch).

One of the notions I initiated was the first real confrontation between Superman and Captain Marvel, which Gerry did quite well in a giant tabloid drawn by Rich Buckler and Dick Giordano.

The other was the second coming, in 1977, of All-Star Comics.

Although an All-Star #58-plus was initially my suggestion, after I made it I had virtually nothing to do with the project; Gerry carried the ball quite capably alone. (But, when he asked me to, I did cross company lines long enough to write a letter to be printed in #58.) Naturally, Gerry didn't handle the revived comic exactly the way I would have-nor is there any reason he should have. I swiftly came to terms with the notion of a still-young Star-Spangled Kid, an adult Robin, and a newly created Kryptonian named Power Girl all running around on Earth-Two, the parallel world to which Schwartz and Fox had consigned the original Justice Society of America.

Oh, I winced a little at the name "Super-Squad," even in its logo form as the "All Star Super Squad"; but it was none of my business. The mag got off to a bang-up start, with Wally Wood inking Rik Estrada, and a young Keith Giffen soon taking up the slack.

My main regret was that, when Gerry later offered me a chance to ghost an issue or two of All-Star, I felt I had to decline. Not primarily because it would have been a violation of my Marvel contract (though it would), but because I was determined that, if and when I ever wrote a JSA story, it would have my name on it, not someone else's. Gerry understood. Those issues are probably the ones dialogued by Paul Levitz, who soon made the 1970s All-Star his own over its remaining life.

But the time, or something, was clearly out of joint. And, after 17 bimonthly issues of All-Star, a first-ever JSA origin in a DC Special, and half a dozen stories in the oversize Adventure Comics-

-the second JSA series died when Adventure was canceled, as of #466 (Nov.-Dec. 1979).

With my sands running out at Marvel, in some ways the timing of this cancellation could not have been much less propitious for me.

In other ways, it couldn't have been much better.

II. Three For The Road
Sometime in 1980, my wife Dann and I were flown to New York to meet with the ruling DC triumvirate of Jenette Kahn (publisher), Joe Orlando (editorial director), and Paul Levitz (coordinating editor). By then I'd signed a three-year contract with DC, to begin the day my Marvel contract ended, and we simply had to decide what three monthly comics I would write for DC.

It had been agreed, since virtually the day I'd phoned Paul to tell him I wouldn't be signing the new contract Marvel had offered me, that I would be involved in some way with The Justice Society of America. In fact, written into my DC contract was what amounted to a "right of first refusal" at scripting stories featuring all DC's Golden Age heroes. Even though not officially an editor, I was basically placed in charge of "Earth-Two," that charming parallel world whereon dwelt the DC stalwarts I'd grown up reading about in the last half of the 1940s.

This made a certain amount of sense. After all, "Earth-Two" had worked well-very well-when editor Julie Schwartz had been its combination Prime Mover and home-plate umpire. It was only when other editors, less in tune with that alternate universe, began to poach in it that you wound up with weirdnesses like a teenage Bruce Wayne playing tennis with his father. Julie had moved on to other venues, and I seemed, both to DC's triumvirate and to myself (and, I hoped, to the venerable Julie, as well), his natural successor.

Jenette and the boys sure knew how to make a guy (and his wife) feel welcome on our first DC-related trip east. We checked into our hotel room in Manhattan to find it festooned with multi-hewed _balloons.

Sometimes there's nothing more meaningful than a meaningless gesture.

When I met with them the next day, "the triple pillar of the world" quickly downsized. Jenette, whom I'd known before moving west in '76, excused herself after a few minutes, and (if memory serves) other duties called Paul away, as well. This left me in Joe Orlando's capable hands.

DC wanted me to write a minimum of three comics each month, in three categories:
Since Conan the Barbarian had been a success for Marvel over the past decade with my humble self at the helm, I was to develop a sword-and-sorcery title for DC. After flirting briefly with adaptation-related notions, I yielded to the wisdom of Dann's suggestion to make up a new hero, since at DC I could own a 10% stake in same. Dann and I developed an idea of hers, about an American Indian "discovering" Europe during the Dark Ages. Arak, Son of Thunder would have a respectable 50-issue run.

Next I was to do a solo-hero series. I hoped to write one starring a JSAer (e.g., Dr. Fate); but Jenette, Joe, and Paul wanted me to script one of their "big two"-even though they knew I had no interest in being one of several people scripting "Superman" or "Batman" stories; I preferred characters for whom I was the sole regular writer. Wonder Woman would've fit the bill; but Gerry was currently scribing that mag, and I wasn't about to muscle in. I wound up being put on Batman, from which I disentangled myself at the earliest opportunity.

And then there was the Justice Society.

As Joe put it that day, "I understand you'd like to do something with some of our old characters."

To put it mildly.

The only question was what to do with the JSA-indeed, with all the wonderful heroes that had made DC the MGM of the Golden Age of Comics-a company, to use Louis B. Mayer's felicitous phrase, with "more stars than there are in heaven."

A few years earlier, I'd have pushed for reviving All-Star Comics, with JSA tales set in the present. But that had been done only three years earlier. The revival had eventually failed, due more to the "DC Implosion" than to flaws in the comic itself. Still, Adventure #466 was little more than a twelvemonth in the past... so a pure JSA revival was not something likely to make DC's corporate heart beat faster.

Or, at that particular time, even my heart.

After all, in two or three issues each year, the JSA guest-starred in Justice League. These teamups had been going great guns ever since '63-another reason why a new Justice Society title wouldn't be much of a novelty. The readers already had the JSA in the present, even if not as much or as often as they had from 1977-79.

I wanted to present them-and, not so incidentally, myself-with something a wee bit different.

I wanted to do-the All-Star Squadron.

FDR meets the as-yet-unnamed All-Star Squadron on Dec. 7, 1941-the top 1/3 of issue #1, Page 24. Repro'd from the original Rich Buckler-Jerry Ordway art, from collection of R.T.
©2000 DC Comics.

III. FDR and Me
The name, though I didn't think about it at the time, was surely derived (at least unconsciously) from Gerry's "All Star Super-Squad," unwieldy as I'd always found that longer name.

On the other hand, if the Super-Squad hadn't existed, the All-Star Squadron might still have been invented. Because "squadron" is a military (aviation) term-and I had definitely decided that, if DC would let me, I wanted to set my JSA-related comic during the heady days of the Second World War.

Why? Lots of reasons.

One is inherent in what I said above: I preferred not to have my new comic entangled with the JLA-JSA teamups.

Besides, though I was too young to read in the days before a mushroom cloud became the tombstone of Axis dreams of conquest, it seemed to me that in many ways the Golden Age of Comics had been at its height during World War II.

Whereas at Marvel in the mid-'70s I'd had The Invaders commence some weeks after Pearl Harbor, I wanted to start All-Star Squadron on the night before the sneak attack, and provide the answer to what would have to be a real mystery to anyone who ever tried to take 1940s comic books seriously: Why the hell didn't America's super-heroes defend our base at Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941-or at least unleash a terrible vengeance on Japan a few hours or days later?

The War years had been a time of greatness as much as of infamy-of heroism as much as horror-and I wanted to turn the JSA loose in those green/Golden pastures.

No-not just the JSA.

All the fine young heroes of DC Comics.

By the time I arrived in New York, I had thought long and hard about what Franklin Delano Roosevelt might have done if, with his nation embroiled in its greatest crisis since its Civil War, he had found himself President of an America in which dozens of men and even a couple of women had-well, let's just say "very special abilities."

Roosevelt was a warlord, just as Winston Churchill was in England.

And, as I'd known when I developed Invaders, if Winnie had had super-heroes to send against the Nazis in his island nation's darkest hour, he'd damn well have done it. True, he was haunted by visions of British corpses piling up as they had in the trench warfare of World War I-but it was the thought of multitudes dying uselessly that horrified him, not death per se. If a super-strong or super-fast or flying man had been virtually certain to take hundreds, perhaps thousands of the enemy with him to the grave, Churchill would have sent him out into battle with a tear in his eye, a cigar between his lips, and two fingers raised in a "V-for-Victory" salute.

Roosevelt, too, despite having campaigned in 1936 on an "I hate war" platform, was a man who liked power. Liked it? Hell, he relished it. Relished having it, relished using it. In war as much as in peace.

And one way he might well have used it would have been to bring all of America's new breed of "mystery-men" (then rarely called "super-heroes") together in one huge umbrella organization.

That's what he did in other fields. Laborers, captains of industry, farmers, writers-he asked members of each of these grouping to all join together in all-encompassing organizations, the better to serve America in her hour of need. And who, in those stressful times, was going to refuse a request from the President of the United States?

The Justice Society, with a mere thirteen members (and the attendance records of Superman, Batman, Flash, and Green Lantern were pretty abysmal), simply wasn't big enough.

Neither was (were?) The Seven Soldiers of Victory, even though they really numbered eight, counting The Crimson Avenger's aide Wing.

But hey, what about all those other guys, going their own selfish, disorganized ways while their country needed them?

What about Hour-Man, who'd quit the JSA months before (or maybe he was kicked out for some reason-stories varied) but was still kicking the occasional criminal butt?

How about Johnny Quick? Wasn't he potentially as valuable an asset as The Flash?

Couldn't Aquaman play a role in FDR's virtual "undeclared naval war" with Nazi Germany in the Atlantic, in support of Great Britain?

Wasn't there a guy called TNT who caused explosions just by clapping his hands together or some such thing?

Didn't Air Wave at least run around on telephone wires and use radio to fight crime? That took some sort of talent.

And this Robotman-why was he wasting his time battling gangsters when his country needed him? (Assuming there was still something human enough about that metal misfit to acknowledge allegiance to the concept of a country.)

Moreover, who knew what magicians like Zatara and Sargon the Sorcerer could do in the name of freedom, if only they'd put their minds to it?

There were a few other prospects around, too-men without real super-powers, but who still could do some damage to America's enemies. Men like Mr. America, The Guardian, Manhunter, Tarantula... plus future JSAers Wildcat and Mr. Terrific.

And that didn't even count the heroes of the Quality Comics Group or of Fawcett Comics, if they existed in this Roosevelt's cosmos. If so, they upped the number of prospective member-heroes by dozens, including the likes of Plastic Man and the entire Marvel Family!

The Axis wouldn't stand a chance!

Next: Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here!

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