Saturday, June 20, 2015

Review- ALL STAR COMICS ARCHIVES VOL. 1


ALL STAR COMICS ARCHIVES VOL. 1 (DC, Second Printing, 2000; Hardcover)

Collects All Star Comics #3-6 (cover dates Winter, 1940- August/ September, 1941)

Writers: Gardner Fox with Charles Reisenstein and other, unidentified writers.
Artists: Everett E. Hibbard, Sheldon Moldoff, Bernard Baily, Creig Flessel, Howard Sherman, Ben Flinton, Martin Nodell, Howard Purcell, Hal Sharp, Cliff Young, Irwin Hasen, Stan Aschmeier, and other possibly unidentified art assistants.

The Justice Society Of America was the first superhero team in the history of comics. That alone makes this book historically significant and worth a read. In Don Thompson's Foreword he claims that this is the first time that superheroes ever met one another in comic books. This is false. Over at Timely's Marvel Mystery Comics the Human Torch met (and battled) the Sub-Mariner in #8 (cover date June, 1940, on the stands months before that). Thompson was a respected member of the original organized fandom in the early 1960s, back when comic book collecting was not considered a serious hobby and long before these characters entered mainstream and I respect him, but he is wrong. Crossovers as such existed in some of the earliest newspaper strips at the turn of the 20th century, going as far back as The Katzenjammer Kids.

Way to go, Flash, think of ways to put honest firemen out of work.

That aside, this is a fascinating read. For starters, the characters all meet up and then go their separate ways to uncover whatever case they are working on. The kids these days call them “comic jams”, where one creator hands it off to the next. Each character's creator and primary artist handles their respective strips, and then there is a resolution at the end where they all meet up and solve the case. This formula is repeated in all four issues collected here. What makes this interesting is that instead of the anthology format used in all comics of the day you have one 58 page long story.

Comparing unions to Nazis. It's interesting to see the anti-labor movement sentiment of the time with the anti-labor movement of today. 

I like how the JSA has a clubhouse where they meet. The simplicity of the times was evident throughout these comics. While the fashions and architecture of the time were contemporary to readers when these issues were originally published they only add to the escapist pleasure of the stories for me. I also enjoy the slang peppered in casual conversation. When modern writers try to write period piece comic like this they always come off as fake because they lack the reference points that the writers who were active during this era had.

I am a tolerant progressive. It is impossible for me to enjoy superheroes if they are white because there is nothing remarkable about white people, and there is nothing racist about that statement. I have read that comment from many comic fans on various websites. I weep for the future.

The roster of the team would give modern fans a conniption fit, as they are all A) male B) white and C) straight. If anything pisses off “open minded” modern comic fans it's if fictitious characters are straight white males. The founding members are The Flash, Hawkman, The Spectre, Doctor Fate, The Sandman, Green Lantern, The Atom, and Hour-Man.

Hey kids! Pop a pill and get super powers...just watch out for the crash an hour later. Coming down is a drag.

I enjoyed The Spectre, The Sandman, and the Hawkman parts of the stories the most. Flash is more enjoyable here than he was in other books that I read. The original Green Lantern was later ret-conned as being gay, and there is nothing presented here that points to him being gay. I am sure that people who see something in nothing will find some evidence to support their insane claim that he was always a gay character even though he wasn't. When I read comic books I don't have any desire to know the sexual orientation of any of the characters. It doesn't add anything to them, as it is a characteristic which modern fans mistake to be characterization.
 
Not seeing it...

There is some great talent on this book. Sheldon Moldoff's Hawkman is stunning, even if he totally swiped tons from Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon strip. Gardner Fox manages to juggle all of the balls between the various creators of each character, and for the most part it works. #7 is the weakest issue in the book.


I have several more of the books in this lane aging to perfection in my backlog with no real timetable on reading them. I guess that I'll get to them when I get to them. It's not like another year or three is going to matter with comics that already over 70 years old.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 3.75 out of 5.

The OCD zone- I like DC Archives. Back when SUVs were getting to be the size of tanks automakers started touting the “garageability” of Ford Explorers. Here in the Omnibus age, where books exceed 1,000 pages and have even hit the 1,500 page mark, I enjoy the “readability” of a 270-odd page book.
Linework and Color restoration: While the color palette is faithfully maintained, the linework is pretty washed out. This was remastered in 1991 using Greg Theakston's Theakstonizing method, where old comics are chemically treated and the color is removed. From there some of the lines were redrawn by hand, and it is obvious how many lines were washed out with this technique. Credit where credit is due, this was the state of the art technique of the day and Theakston was the pioneer in comic book restoration.

Scan of the original comic.

...and the version from the Archive. Notice how blotchy the linework is in places and how washed out it is in others. 

I was impressed by how close the colors were. The blends were done prior to Photoshop, so they were done by hand and therefore lack the cheesy lazy airbrush gradients found in many later DC Archives.

Think of this as a state of the art VHS remaster from 1991. Play that same VHS on a modern television and you will see graininess and the inferior techniques in comparison to what can be found in Blu-Rays. It is unfair to criticize the VHS remastering using this criteria, and it is unfair to outright condemn the work done on this book using 2015 eyes. This was a very good restoration job for it's day. It's a damn shame that DC never ever ever revisits and remasters their material. This material could look so much better. DC could use the Marvel strategy and rerelease this in an Omnibus, using the new format upgrade to defer the restoration cost. DC would simply slap the old files into a new book, like they are going to do in the forthcoming Golden Age Batman Omnibus. Sad.
Paper stock: Wonderful creamy off-white matte coated stock. Perfect.
Binding: Smyth sewn binding, lays perfectly flat.
Dustjacket and Hardback cover notes: Laminated dustjacket. Casewrap has grainy faux leather feel with foil dye stamping. 

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