We can think of many teams out there in the superhero world. The Justice League. The Avengers. The Legion of Superheroes.
But one team started them all. We’re here to discuss them in this episode – The Justice Society of America.
Below are my notes for the show:
Like many books of that era, All-Star Comics was an anthology book. It would collect the more popular stories from OTHER anthology books published by All-American Publications and National Comics – two companies that would merge to become National Comics Publications (and much later become modern day DC Comics) in 1944. The first All-Star Comics issue featured solo stories containing Flash, Hawkman, Spectre and more pulled from All-American Comics and More Fun Comics for instance.
Part of this was done after calling to readers to help decide which characters they liked the most. Similar to a book like Worlds Finest (a “best-of collection of other character stories) at the time that had team-ups like Superman and Batman, they wanted something similar to succeed with All-Star Comics where it featured other popular characters – even if they were less popular than the Big Blue Boyscout and the Dark Knight – since they may not be able to hold a solo book of their own (which Superman and Batman each had just started doing). So as the impressions would come in from readers (and the creator’s own suspicions of what heroes would be perceived great), they would tune the characters throughout the first couple issues until they found the right “team” they wanted for the All-Star Comics lineup.
Released on November 22nd, 1940, All-Star Comics #3 saw the beginning of something new. Instead of stories featuring only one superhero (or sidekick), All-Star Comics #3 started stories involving a team of superheroes, more specifically the Justice Society of America in a “Greatest Hits” type approach. While it would originally start out as something smaller in scope with heroes coming together to tell their solo stories to their teammates over the 68 page book, that would later be dropped (same with the anthology book approach) in 1947 and the team would have full issue stories where they teamed up.
Writer Gardner Fox is not only attributed to the creation of some of the characters used in the Justice Society of America (Flash, Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Sandman), All-Star Comics #3 would also have him creating the first super-team. Editor of All-American comics Sheldon Mayer came up with the idea, and determined that Fox (the creator of 4 of the heroes that would be used) would be the best person to write the story.
Without this, we don’t have the Avengers. We don’t have the Justice League. No Teen Titans or X-Men. Crossovers had existed prior to this (Batman/Superman, Human Torch/Namor), but the impact of All-Star Comics #3 is huge and still felt to this day because it set the stage for something not quite thought of prior – a singular and shared world of a large scale and doing so with a team book. This wasn’t the last we would hear from Fox…but that’s for a future podcast.
The issue begins with Johnny Thunderbolt being disappointed in being left out of some meeting that the Justice Society is holding. Accidentally channeling the Thunderbolt (giving him wish granting powers for an hour), he is swept away to where the meeting is being held. It’s there through awkwardly transitioning panels that he meets Dr. Fate, Sandman, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Spectre, The Atom, and Hourman. He accidentally uses his powers to make Flash cold, turn his head small, and makes the dinner disappear and re-appear.
- Superman, Batman, and Robin were all invited to join the JSA as well per Atoms comment. However, those characters were busy during the time of the meeting, so they were considered founding members of the Justice Society.
Johnny gives the great idea that each hero should tell a story to the other members about their exploits, starting out with The Flash.
The Flash’s tale involves a sunken treasure. They learn about a man by the name of Rogers (from his daughter) looking for a sunken ship but some other men have been giving him trouble. Before checking out the city, The Flash decides to stop by and see if everything is going okay. He travels from New York to Panama in 16 minutes and takes a dive to find the boat. He locates it but is attacked by a tiger shark who he quickly spins out of control leaving the shark to think to himself “Mamma! Help mamma!” Flash then stops at the boat of the men giving Rogers trouble (called the Nancy K) and sabotages the gear they have on hand. Then he visits Rogers and informs him where the sunken boat is. Sadly, the boat won’t run, but Flash decides to act as the propeller and get the boat moving to the chagrin of the men looking to get the treasure first. As Rogers works to get the treasure, Flash waits for the Nancy K to arrive then steals their diving equipment, but Burly Billy will have none of that. He threatens to fill the Flash with lead but Flash splits back to Rogers who located the treasure and gives him the diving equipment he stole from the Nancy K. The Nancy K crew come back around with some guns, but Flash dives in the water and turns their boat around and moves it into the Arctic. Flash then helps Rogers bring up the gold. He meets up with Joan and Rogers daughter and tells them the good news.
Next up is Hawkman. As Carter Hall, he learns about some weird happenings on an island from Shiera Sanders. As he escorts her home, she is attacked by a man hiding in some bushes, but Carter takes him out. He threatens Shiera to not head to the island of Krakatao and learn about Mazda, controller of fire ghosts. Knowing Shiera would still visit the island, Carter changes into Hawkman and travels to Krakatao as well. Once there, he notices something happening with the volcano. He sees men enveloped with fire – the fire ghosts, so he goes to warn Shiera. The next day, the two of them go to investigate the volcano only to be attacked by the fire ghosts. They overwhelm Hawkman and take the two of them to their leader Mazda. Mazda reveals his plan to use his Force Generator to turn the volcanic steam into power. Enough power to destroy the world. He orders his ghosts to toss Hawkman and Shiera into the volcano, but Hawkman escapes his bindings and saves them both. Hawkman destroys the machine and goes after Mazda after taking out some fire ghosts. As Mazda leaps towards Hawkman, Hawkman uses the momentum to fall backwards and sling Mazda over him right into the volcano. Funnily enough, the man who tried to kill Shiera at her home is there but on the brink of death. So he tells the story of Mazda, a scientist who invented the force generator to become a world power. The fire ghosts were nothing more than men with special suits Mazda invented that prevented fire penetration. The man dies. Shiera and Hawkman go home.
Spectre tries to top Hawkman’s story next. He tells of a tale that occurs on the full moon. A few men are murdered by a shadowy character during a full moon. As Jim Corrigan, Spectre, tries to figure out what is going on, a bronze statue attacks him. Before hitting the wall, he dematerializes through it, and returns as the Spectre. As the monster is out to claim another life, Spectre stops him. The monster addresses the Spectre as Oom, the being from the dark side of the moon. He has returned, hungry for death. He proposes a contest with the Spectre. Whomever returns the red moon stone of Yzgartyl to Earth wins and does what they want. The other must leave Earth. As they zoomed towards the object, Oom cheats and forces the Spectre offcourse with a dimension current. Fortunately, the Spectre grabs a passing meteor which gives him the lead again. Oom calls out to a henchman for assistance, and as Spectre is within viewing distance of the red stone, he is attacked by a giant dragon. Spectre is able to defeat it but Oom has captured the stone. Off they speed back to Earth, but Spectre is able to make Oom drop the stone by making it red hot. Spectre wins the contest, but Oom refuses to leave as they stand atop the Earth. Using his strength, along with trees, benches, lamposts, etc, Spectre forces the statue back where he was originally and wills Oom out of the statue and into the red stone. He tosses it out in space, putting an end to the full moon murders.
Hourman up to bat. This one involves Rex Tyler needing to dress up as Hourman to attend a costume ball at the request of his boss who wants Rex to take his niece, Regina. The ball will be held at a location showcasing the Durant Diamond Collection. Once there, the two of them notice that other Hourmen start showing up at the ball too. They make Rex suspicious when one of them says “You know what the boss said about bringing women. Ditch her before we start to work”. Rex splits long enough to take some Miraclo, then rejoins the party. Rex pieces it together that the other Hourmen are planning on stealing the diamonds and putting the blame on Hourman himself. About that time, the crooks make their move taking out the two policemen guarding the diamonds. The real Hourman leaps in to stop them, but is overpowered by the numbers and knocked out. When he comes to, Mr. Durant (owner of the diamonds), mistakes him for one of the crooks and tells the cops to get him. Hourman escapes out the window and hides in Durant’s study where he locates some papers and a map of the house. He is able to escape the house by disguising as a knocked out policeman and catches the thieves leaving on a boat towards Melba Island. Obviously he follows suit. As he investigates the thieves, they catch sight of him and fire a shot which grazes his temple and knocks him out. The henchmen put him in a room and as they come to check on him, he is able to take them out one by one. Durant shows up, and is quickly taken out within two panels, and the police show up. Hourman explains that the diamonds were fake, and the intent was for Durant to use the stolen “diamonds” as a means to collect insurance money from their theft.
Sandman is up next. Or else he would be if the Red Tornado/Ma Hunkel doesn’t show up for a quick page of funnies. Everyone thanks him for showing up, though unexpected through a window, and invite him to tell a quick story. Johnny asks if he can take the cape, but Red Tornado gets a bit nervous and quickly departs. Apparently while climbing through the window, the pants got caught and came completely off as The Flash shows everyone
Sandman begins his story. It begins with him as Wesley Dodds driving around with Dian Belmont when they discover a very large man (they say 20 ft tall). The man falls dead and Wesley locates a hypodermic needle in his pocket. This leads him to investigate. The next day a newspaper boy spreads the news of “huge bag of human flesh found with mans bones inside it”. It’s not the same man, so Wesley dons his Sandman outfit to look into it more. Having heard about a doctor that experimented on the pituitary gland, he goes to Midtown Hospital and grabs the information after breaking into someone’s office. He is able to put the police to sleep and dart out the window. They went back to where the tall man was found and found some mud that Sandman recognizes coming from the west shore. As they do, they run across a giant rat and a giant cat, both of which fall dead. Sandman leaves Dian at the car while he goes to the nearby house. As he approaches, someone tries to shoot him which raises Sandman’s alarm even more. He busts into the cellar and finds a laboratory with a man tied to a table. The man wants to be freed (wasn’t strapped down though…?) and tells Sandman what the doctor is doing. He is injecting a special formula into the pituitary glands of different people/animals then letting them roam confused. Unfortunately, the skin expands but the bones don’t which explains the “bags of flesh with bones”. The doctor comes up from behind, but misses Sandman with a shot. Sandman knocks him out and calls the police before returning to Dian.
Johnny gives Dr. Fate the floor after thanking Sandman for the future nightmares. It starts out as Inza, Dr. Fate’s companion, visits a shop and is given a box by a mysterious woman. Upon opening the box at home, a bit of dust releases and she faints leading to a vision of an Egyptian priestess who tells her to go to Dr. Fate and warn him of danger at the coastal moors. Dr. Fate flies them both there and remarks that her perfume reminds him of “the sense stealing chevergris used by olden priests”. Upon arriving, they are ambushed by dead phantoms. They are able to escape and Dr. Fate takes Inza back to her home to look into what brought her to him in the first place. Dr Fate determines a sorcerer is out to kill him to stop him from looking into ancient mysteries. Dr. Fate puts Inza to sleep for her protection as he visits the antique shop Inza found the box at. A creature from the depths of the Nile creeps along the floor in which Dr. Fate is able to disappear. As he leaves, only he notices a radiance that he attributes to black magic and heads that way. Upon getting there, he finds the sorcerer who attacks Dr. Fate with unicorns and witches. Dr. Fate tricks him by pretending to slip and make his guard look down and is able to get the upper hand. Upon defeat, the evil sorcerer says how he tricked Inza into seeing an antique shop (deserted store) and gave her the visions of the priestess. Dr. Fate doesn’t want to deal with this gain, so he dissolves him using magic. Dr. Fate goes back to Inza and tells her it’s over.
Dr. Fate nudges Johnny to tell a story, so he breaks the fourth wall and says the editors came up with a story for him that will be told on the following two pages. It’s no comic strip and are just paragraphs of story here.
Johnny’s story is visiting a woman named Daisy Darling who wants nothing to do with him. She has asked him to leave her alone, and here we are. She is currently with another man – Edgar Edwell when Johnny shows up. Johnny, clearly jealous, pushes past Daisy to get a look at Edgar. During this encounter, he accidentally says the words “Cei-U” again, giving him wish granting powers for an hour. Edgar puts a rose in his lapel and is complimented by Daisy, but Johnny wishes it was poison ivy. As Edgar sniffs it, it turns to poison ivy and he immediately gets red in the nose and itchy. Daisy is humiliated and kicks both men out of the house. Edgar chases Johnny away and Johnny hides out in a hotel. He needs practice with Daisy. He sees a mannequin and has the idea to practice on that, and in doing so, insults the men who refuse to give him the mannequin and he inadvertently turns them into bags of wind and they drift away. She hears something coming from the mannequin and discovers that the men were kidnapping an heiress named Theresa Drew. Theresa takes Johnny to meet her father who gives Johnny the job of bodyguard for $100 a week. Johnny escorted Theresa everywhere and ran into Daisy with Edgar who quickly brushed them off. Time skips forward and Johnny and Theresa are surprised from behind from a few men with guns. They lead them both to a hotel on the fifth floor, and discover it was Edgar who arranged it. Awkwardly working in a “Cei-U” for plot purposes, Johnny is able to get the men to toss their guns out the window. Johnny calls Edgar a snake, turning him into a snake, which frightens everyone including Johnny. The henchmen and Johnny all run downstairs to the policemen. Johnny brings the police back up to the heiress who is now sporting a black eye and a torn dress thanks to Daisy. She had seen them captured and followed them. Then she noticed the guns dropped out the window, so she knew what room. She called the police then went up to save Johnny – her boyfriend.
Atom is next, and despite Sandman earlier saying he’s the one without superhuman powers, Atom makes the same claim here and says he’s the ONLY one without them. Huh….
While on a class geology expedition, Al Pratt runs across someone who looks like the Brooklyn Murder Trust. He changes into the Atom after hearing their plans and follows them to the trucks carrying gold they plan on hijacking. They succeed in doing so, whereas the Atom tries to jump on the truck and fails miserably falling down a hill. If it wasn’t for his “strong constitution”, he would have died. Upon arriving at the government held gold cache, the Brooklyn Murder Trust surprise the men there and take all of the gold. Meanwhile, the unconscious Atom is found by the woman he’s interested in (Mary James) who plans to unmask him when he comes to. He learns the reason she doesn’t like Al Pratt is because he seems weak. As they talk, he sees the men coming and tells Mary James to go get help. He leaps onto the truck, successfully this time, and knocks out the men in the back while the men up front are completely unaware. As they arrive back at the boss, The Atom leaps out and takes them all on before splitting as the police arrive.
At the end of the story, a mail boy arrives (at the confusion of Johnny Thunder as to how he got in?) and delivers a message to the Justice Society. The FBI Chief in Washington needs someone from the Justice Society to visit him to discuss something important. Everyone elects the Flash to take a quick trip to find out what’s going on while the rest finish up their meeting.
Last up is Alan Scott, the Green Lantern. Something weird is going on as many crime sprees are taking place leading to someone claiming the city needs a new police commissioner. People are working behind the scenes to work their own political advantage including tipping off the police to seeing the current police commissioner (Mason) getting a payoff. While Mason is held for a trial, Lacy is replaced as police commissioner and crimes immediately cease. Alan Scott finally comes into the picture to figure out what is going on after hearing about Mason. He changes into Green Lantern and visits a man named Pryer who writes for the paper and is a radio commentator. He gives him something to spread into the public about Mason being set up and has proof, which tips off the bad guys that Pryer needs to disappear before then. However, when they show up, Green Lantern is there to clean their clocks. Using his ring, he hypnotizes one of the men to tell him where the boss is. Upon arrival, Green Lantern is hit in the head by a man named Ape and is knocked out. When coming to, Green Lantern reveals he knows what is going on and the man behind it all is none other than commissioner Lacy (DUN DUN DUUUN!). Green Lantern escapes his bindings and lays out Ape with one punch (although Ape has “a jaw like cement” and heads back towards Pryer whom Lacy left to take care of. Lacy interrupts the message Pryer was going to share and says he is under arrest. Green Lantern pops in and using his ring, is able to get Lacy to admit to everything he has done including framing Mason live on air. As Lacy is about to shoot everyone, Green Lantern uses his ring again to prevent the gun from firing. Green Lantern promptly leaves. I’m surprised Lacy isn’t arrested or anything though…
After that tale, The Flash returns and gives the announcement that the FBI Chief wants the entire Justice Society to attend (why wasn’t that in the original letter?). They all agree that they will meet up the following week. THE END – after a quick word from the editors about how the book will be bi monthly instead of quarterly.
- While All-Star Comics #3 is the first published appearance of the JSA, the team has their history slightly revised in DC Special #29 (1977). It is in that issue, the story of “The Untold Origin of the Justice Society” says they came together earlier (earlier in November 1940?) during a battle with Valkyries summoned by the Spear of Destiny. Ultimately, Superman is the one who gives them the name of the Justice Society of America. This continuity is supported by “America vs The Justice Society #1” that confirms the JSA had their first meeting on November 22nd, 1940.
- While the book would mainly be solo stories of each hero for several years, issue 4 has them following up on where they left off in All Star Comics #3. All-Star Comics #4 was the first “real” team-up of the Justice Society.
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Intro and Outro Music: “RetroFuture Clean” by Kevin MacLeod
RetroFuture Clean Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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