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Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here!

by Roy Thomas

From Alter Ego Vol. 3 #8

Our premier installment, in V3#6, related how in 1980 I left my writer/editor position at Marvel Comics after fifteen years to become a contractual writer for DC Comics, with one of my first projects there being All-Star Squadron.

Actually, V3#6's offering was only the first half of the article I wrote. It had to be truncated to make room for other features, so this issue's chapter is in truth the latter half of that chapter. At any rate, onward:

I. If Three's A Crowd, Then What The Hell Is This?

I suppose the sprawling concept of a group composed of any and all DC super-heroes appealed to me because, with the JSAers having been handled by various writers over the past nigh two decades, this was my chance to start something both old and new under the sun.

Just as there had never been a real Timely/Marvel super-hero group during the World War II era until I'd dreamt up The Invaders retroactively in 1975, so there had never been a DC story or series in which so many heroes took part.

It's fairly easy, of course, to see why there hadn't been!

The number of potential heroes in such an assemblage was simply too large to be manageable, in the usual sense of the word.

In the Real World, such a super-umbrella organization as I invented for All-Star Squadron would make perfect sense. Soldiers in an army, after all, are often numbered in the millions, and no one complains except the enemy. But in a comic book, readers might well get so confused by the welter of names and costumes and super-powers that they'd find no one to identify with.

Besides, what artist would want to draw such a huge group (with the possible exception of George Pérez, who wants to draw everybody)?

There were good and sound reasons why super-hero groups to date had never contained more than eight or nine members, and usually seven or fewer.

To me, however, the above problems were merely challenges. I wanted to try something different-a comic where the concept and the group were more important than the heroes appearing in any individual story. As I've often said, I thought of All-Star Squadron from the outset as a tapestry, weaving together disparate threads of an epic story-some of which had been published before I'd been born.

I'm a bit fuzzy on details, but I believe I outlined most of the above to editorial director Joe Orlando on that first DC-related trip back to New York City. And I was basically told, "Fine, go to it."

To the best of my recollection, I was originally told that Len Wein (who'd been my associate editor at Marvel, and had succeeded me in '74 as editor of the color comics) would be my editor on the sword-and-sorcery mag which became Arak, Son of Thunder, while Dick Giordano would edit All-Star Squadron.

Whether this remembrance is accurate or not, by the time things got rolling the assignments got switched around. Dick would edit my DC answer to Conan the Barbarian, and Len would oversee my WWII super-hero comic. Which probably made more sense.

Ye Writer/Editor does some All-Star Squadron "research" aboard a World War II submarine circa 1980-81. Roy's friend Alan was producing a TV commercial to be shot on the sub, which was temporarily anchored some distance out in Los Angeles Harbor. So for an hour or two they rummaged about on the vessel, the only people on board. The TV commercial? 'Twas for a submarine sandwich, what else?
Photo by & ©2001 Alan Waite.

II. Captain Of My Fate

Much as I would have liked to be also the editor of the DC comics I was to write (I'd had some success in that area at Marvel over the past decade and a half, after all), I didn't waste my breath arguing the point in 1980.

You see, over dinner with Jenette Kahn one night in 1975, soon after she'd become DC's publisher, she had made her views clear to me: She didn't like the "writer/editor" situation then common over at Marvel, because, she said, nobody could do a good job both writing and editing a comic.

"Oh, I totally agree!" I'd replied cheerfully. "That must be why Stan Lee, Al Feldstein, Harvey Kurtzman, Simon and Kirby, Charlie Biro, Will Eisner, and so many other writer/editors produced such lousy comics."

I had been too modest (yeah, sure) to point out that I had been both writer and editor of many of my comics stories she said she admired... and had been virtually a de facto writer/editor on many of the others, as she well knew.

Jenette and I had never discussed the topic again. It was a case of two different philosophies, and neither of us was ever going to persuade the other to his/her point of view.

In 1980 she had offered me a three-year contract to write for DC-and I had accepted, because if I weren't going to be allowed to be a writer/editor any longer at Marvel, due to policies and ambitions of the new regime, I might as well cast my lot with DC and see what happened. I had just turned forty, and still had a lot of productive years ahead of me. I might be a writer/editor again yet, for all I knew.

And anyway, the important thing to me was never whether my name, or Stan Lee's, or whoever's, was listed as "editor." What I wanted, always, was simply the authority to guide the contents of comics I wrote, so I could tell the stories I wanted to tell and make certain that the artist-with as much leeway for creativity as I could give him/her-did a good job on the illustrations.

And in that respect, DC had done well enough by me.

It couldn't be put formally into a contract, I had been told, but I was assured before I signed on that the storylines and direction of the new sword-and-sorcery and Golden-Age-related comics would be basically under my control, and that the editors would be there to help me, not to tell me what to do. Having considerable respect for both Len Wein and Dick Giordano, I made no complaint.

Now, whether Joe or Jenette or coordinating editor Paul Levitz ever got around to filling in Len and/or Dick on this supposed unwritten limitation of their editorial prerogatives, I couldn't say. Matter of fact, I hope to discuss precisely that point with them next issue. It wouldn't exactly be the first time there was "a failure to communicate" in the comic book field, would it?

While inking Rich Buckler on All-Star Squadron, Jerry Ordway penciled and inked this previously-unpublished Shining Knight illo.
Art courtesy of and ©2001 Jerry Ordway; Shining Knight ©2001 DC Comics.

III. Who's In, Who's Out?

And so I set to work developing All-Star Squadron.

I had explained to Joe that I wanted to get the JSA (including the four honorary members) and even the Seven Soldiers temporarily out of the picture at the outset of the series, so that the nucleus of the new group could be a handful of super-heroes who hadn't appeared together before.

However, since "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," I wanted two JSAers-Hawkman and The Atom-to be prominent in the Squadron.

Hawkman, after all, had been the Justice Society's chairman for most of its original run, and was the only hero who appeared in all 55 Golden Age JSA stories. He was also my favorite member.

The Atom was right behind him, having missed only two meetings; besides, having been small as a kid, I'd always identified with the Mighty Mite, as I did with Quality's Doll Man. Atom would be a lightweight in the Squadron, since his super-powers weren't scheduled to kick in till 1948; Hawkman could at least fly, as long as he wore his belt of Ninth Metal.

Besides, I wanted a permanent "JSA presence" in the Squadron, and the two of them would give it. And, just because I always thought of him in conjunction with Hawkman and Atom, I added Dr. Mid-Nite to the first story arc, too. Green Lantern, Flash, Spectre, Dr. Fate, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, et al. would gravitate in and out of the comic, later, once the group was firmly established.

Actually, DC would have preferred that I downplay Hawkman, Atom, GL, Flash, Wonder Woman, and any other JSAers who had Earth-One counterparts... not to mention Aquaman and Green Arrow. ("Dopplegangers," they began calling them during the 1980s.) I was willing to go along with this dictate, at least until I could figure a way to get around it, but still I pushed for Hawk and Atom. And DC's powers-that-be went along with me.

So, who else should be in the Squadron?

Well, I wanted (and probably needed) at least one female member, especially if Wonder Woman were to be de-emphasized. Only thing is, DC didn't have a late-1941 super-heroine to replace her! (At this time Dinah Drake, the future Black Canary, would have been maybe 14-15-though I always considered bringing her in later as a teenager, with some bird-related name like Hummingbird, and somehow just never got around to it in nearly seventy issues.)

However, from my comics-reading youth post-1945, I was aware of one gold-tressed lass who, with only the barest bit of chronological fudging, would definitely fill the bill:

Liberty Belle!

This colorful heroine in jodhpurs had debuted in Boy Commandos #1 (Winter 1943), on sale in autumn of 1942. That's nearly a year after the time period in which All-Star Squadron would be set, but I had a way around it:

In May of 1940, according to her origin story, Libby Lawrence, an Olympic-level athlete, had swum the English Channel to escape the Nazi encirclement of British and French forces at Dunkirk, France. She had quickly become a female Edward R. Murrow, one of the best-known voices on the radio as well as a newspaper columnist. So it wouldn't be hard to postulate that her first appearance as Liberty Belle had occurred shortly before December 7, 1941, instead of months later.

(Actually, what might be more difficult would be making readers believe she could get by without a mask. All that ever protected the true identity of this doubly famous lady was a Veronica Lake-style peekaboo hairdo-and the apparent near-sightedness of the entire US population.)

Okay, so Liberty Belle would take care of the obligatory distaff member. Next?

Well, since I had shoehorned The Atom (and even Doc) into the Squadron, I didn't want to spotlight any more non-super-powered heroes in early issues. And so, of the litany of DC heroes listed last time, The Guardian, Manhunter, Mr. America, Tarantula, Wildcat, Mr. Terrific, Green Arrow-even Air Wave-were put on hold.

I considered using TNT, but the name was corny even for comic books. Besides, his power depended on him and Dan the Dyna-Mite slamming their hands together in a sort of explosive high-five, and I didn't want to include a kid in the core group. (I had never cared much for having Bucky and Toro in The Invaders at Marvel, a few years earlier.) So TNT went onto the back burner.

Robotman, a scientist's brain encased in a tough metal body, was a natural. I'd find a way to work in all the gadgets built into his body, which had become a fixture of the strip in later days, turning him into a virtual cast-iron Plastic Man.

Johnny Quick, of course, would be a stand-in for The Flash. He was nearly as good a character, had a streamlined costume which might appeal more than Flash's to a 1980s audience, and had generally enjoyed better artwork during the '40s, when the likes of Meskin and Kubert and Dan Barry had drawn his exploits.

But-Aquaman? Besides being a "doppleganger" character, with a basically identical Earth-One counterpart, the sea king had always proved a problem in Justice League of America, since he had to be in the water to be effective. So I decided to hold him off till later. (How much later, I couldn't have guessed at the time!)

Charter JSAer Hour-Man (now Hourman) was tempting, since his own series in Adventure Comics had run through 1943, even though he'd been given a "leave of absence" from the JSA in 1941; he'd been replaced by Starman, whom DC considered (incorrectly, as it turned out) a hot new property. But, for reasons I can't recall-maybe because he was appearing in many of the JLA-JSA teamups published each year by DC-I decided to hold Hour-Man for a later storyline. I already knew it would deal at least in part with an addiction to the drug Miraclo, which gave him his hour of super-powers.

Next I contemplated The Shining Knight. If I could have two or three JSAers in the core Squadron, why not at least one of the Seven Soldiers-the only one with anything resembling super-powers! Well, actually, it was his horse that had wings, not him. But Sir Justin had been a knight of the Round Table, which gave him super-hero status in my eyes. And I had, after all, conceived the modern-day Black Knight at Marvel in 1967 largely in homage to The Shining Knight. So he was in.

"Give me Liberty Belle-or give me death!" was Roy's cry in 1980-81. This Chuck Winter-drawn splash is from her second adventure, in Boy Commandos #2 (Spring 1943).
© 2000 DC Comics.

IV. Worlds Enough And Time

At this time I made one of my more questionable decisions, one about which I have mentally vacillated from 1981 till today.

I decided to rope in Plastic Man.

Jack Cole's "Indian rubber man," of course, was one of the most popular heroes appearing in "Busy" Arnold's Quality Comics line from 1941-55, most of whom were later purchased by DC. As covered in "Crises on Finite Earths," last issue, in 1973 scripter Len Wein had created an "Earth-X" on which the Quality heroes lived-a world in which the Axis powers had won World War II-and he had established that Plas and the Blackhawks had been killed by the Nazis.

The argument raged within me whether to assume the Quality heroes had originated on Earth-X or on Earth-Two. Because I had a "big tent" theory of super-heroes, I thought it better to assume the DC and Quality heroes had originally inhabited the same world.

One reason I wanted to include the Quality heroes, besides my love of Plas, Blackhawk, and Doll Man in particular, was that then The Phantom Lady could become a second female in the Squadron. As it turned out, however, though she did appear in a couple of early issues, I eventually opted against making Phantom Lady a regular in the All-Star Squadron.

In retrospect, a part of me wishes I'd left all the Quality heroes on Earth-X-to which I'd eventually restore them anyway in issue #50, just in time for that world to be shattered in the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

In 1981, however, hard as it is for me to believe now, I actually wanted more heroes on Earth-Two, not less.

Nor will it surprise many longtime comics readers to learn that I tried to ring in the Fawcett heroes, as well.

Yes, I wanted the original Captain Marvel to be in the All-Star Squadron-which meant Mary and Junior wouldn't be far behind, fresh from yet another of DC's multiverse worlds, Earth-S. If I'd had my way, I'd have been handling several All-Stars with roughly the same powers as Superman-not to mention Bulletman, Spy Smasher, and the other Fawcett guys, few of whom besides Ibis the Invincible had any super-powers.

I was informed by Joe and Paul, however, that it cost DC money every time a Fawcett character appeared in a DC comic. At that time DC hadn't yet bought the Fawcett heroes; they merely leased them, and paid a pro-rated fee based on how many pages of a given issue sported their likenesses. The company position was that they just weren't worth it to All-Star Squadron.

I was naturally disappointed not to be able to include Captain Marvel and his family and friends; but again, with the virtue of hindsight, I suspect it was for the best.

Besides, I was assured that, at some future time, I'd be able to guest-star the Marvel Family. And I did.

So, by now, the core group of the Squadron was going to be: Hawkman, The Atom, Johnny Quick, Robotman, Liberty Belle, Plastic Man, and Shining Knight-with Dr. Mid-Nite along for the ride in the first few issues.

Hmmm. I was up to eight already-one more than the JSA of my post-1945 childhood had hosted-and I hadn't even got around yet to working in Phantom Lady!

More: I was already contemplating the introduction of Danette Reilly-named after my bride-to-be, now Dann Thomas-so that the redhaired vulcanologist could become yet another a super-heroine, Firebrand, utilizing the name and modified costume of a lesser Quality hero.

This could easily get out of hand.

At this point, a few additional human beings in the Real World inevitably began to get involved in All-Star Squadron. First among these, of course, was Len Wein, editor designate of this WWII mishmash. A penciler and inker had to be chosen, as well.

That would turn out to be Rich Buckler and Jerry Ordway-and if the Good Lord takes a liking to us, next issue we'll have some behind-the-scenes commentary from both of them-and from Len.

After all, All-Star Squadron may have been my "baby"-but I was sure gonna need a lot of support from an "extended family"!

See? Like I said last time around: All these pages, and we haven't even got to All-Star Squadron #1 yet.

Hell, we're still a ways from the 16-page insert in Justice League of America #193 that preceded it!

But hey, I figure this is probably the only time in my life that I'll ever make a stab at telling the full, unfettered story of All-Star Squadron-so if I don't make the account as complete as I can this time around, when will I?

I knew you'd understand.


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