The Prisoner: episode 2 – The Chimes of Big Ben – discursion


The Chimes of Big Ben, written by Vincent Tilsley, was the second episode of The Prisoner to be broadcast but the fifth episode to be produced, part of the bloc of four episodes filmed largely, but not exclusively, on location in Portmeirion. It guest-starred Australian actor Leo McKern as the new Number Two. McKern and McGoohan did not get on well, and McKern was critical of his host on set, but the on-screen chemistry between them is palpable: their scenes together are battles not only of will but of charm, and a mutual respect between Number Two and Number Six, as opponents worth each other’s time, underlines every line.
As a result of this performance, McKern was asked to stay on for the next episode, in contrast a studio-bound performance that is a two-handed battle of wits, to the death, then planned to be the cliff-hanger that would end series 1: Once Upon a Time. We’ll get to that episode in due course.
As we’ll see when we move through the series, episodes of The Prisoner fall into three broad categories: Escape, Revolt, Resistance. The Chimes of Big Ben is very much an Escape episode, one of the two most complex and wide-reaching the series will feature. During its course, Number Six physically leaves the Village, makes contact with his former superiors in London and actually gets back to London – only to find he has been the victim of an elaborate hoax, under the control of the Village even at his most independent of action, and that he has never escaped at all. Worst still, but for the chance intervention of a water-logged watch, Number Six is made to realise that he would have been beaten.
At the beginning of the episode, the audience learns, as if in passing, that the Village want more than just the information in Number Six’s head, they want him intact, turned as an agent for them. And that the unexplained reason for his resignation – a piece of information of no (presumed) strategic or security significance – is seen as they key to effecting this. If Number Six can be made to disclose just one thing, his resistance will be snapped.
One of the series’ key themes is the Prisoner’s absolute strength of will, his utter, uncompromising determination to resist. The Chimes of Big Ben both tests and reinforces this determination.
Nadia is introduced to the Village as a trap. Number Two’s seemingly casual efforts to ensure Number Six sees her arrive and, via the security cameras, her awakening and discovery of her own transportation, are deliberately meant to echo the Prisoner’s own arrival. Naturally he sees through it, and so does the audience. Never trust anyone.
But then the game develops little underhand tendrils. Nadia is equally paranoid about Number Six as he is of her. She rejects him as a trap, but even as she does she lets slip an aside that hints at knowledge Number Six wants. This is reinforced by her attempt to escape by swimming, after which Number Two plays deliberately on the former agent’s chivalry by showcasing Nadia as a confused, self-destructive damsel-in-distress.
Sardonically, Number Six agrees to cooperate, but only in the most superficial, unimportant manner, by taking part in the art exhibition (which, naturally, he exploits to build a boat by which to sail out, under the guise of an abstract triptych, the significance of which can then be ‘explained’ in a skit on modern art).
In the meantime, Nadia confirms the point that the Prisoner suspects, that he needs to know, that she knows the location of the Village. And that she is in contact with a Resistance Group conveniently close at hand, who can effect a return to his own side once Nadia leads him to them. The Village, we learn, is in Lithuania, about thirty miles from the Polish border.
Or is it?
The escape begins after Number Six wins the exhibition and its prize (he was always going to, whatever he did), converts his abstract into a boat and sails off with Nadia for ‘Poland’. In the morning, close to their destination, he and Nadia are pursued by Rover and have to swim for it, but the Resistance is waiting with a ready-made and scheduled plan to get them to London. As his watch has stopped, due to the immersion (a swift reminder that this is 1967 we’re talking about), Number Six takes the fisherman’s watch, which will prove to be so crucial to the denouement. He’s still not trusting anyone, he finds out the schedule for the trip, which he and Nadia will undergo in a packing case (without a toilet), and the watch will help him check that each legs feels right and lasts the right amount of time.
However, it appears that the Prisoner isn’t quite as untrusting as he should be at this time, as he doesn’t for a second question the fact that the Resistance are waiting for his and Nadia’s arrival with packing case, lorries, ships and aeroplanes lined up ready to take him to the home of British Intelligence in London. Given that Nadia has been sequestered in the Village for approximately six weeks (the loudspeaker announcement on the day of her arrival states that the exhibition is to take place in six weeks time), when and, more importantly, how has she got a message through to be ready for them that very morning?
It’s one of the biggest plot-holes in the entire series, and the question is not just fudged, it’s completely ignored. Not even a line from Nadia that, just before she was taken, she had alerted the group that she might need help and to be ready at a moment’s notice. Which is the best I can come up with and that’s stretching things implausibly.
Leaving this yawning hole behind, the story moves to the escapees destination, a well-appointed office in London, full of street sounds, traffic and Big Ben’s bells. Two old colleagues await Number Six, Fotheringay and Colonel J. Fotheringay is played by Richard Wattis, a neat little ploy to buy into the series’ implicit ties to Danger Man: Wattis was a recurring character in that series, as Fotheringay, a smug, self-impressed Foreign Office official who was frequently John Drake’s contact.
The Colonel, played by Kevin Sharkey (who is credited as Colonel J but referred to only as The Colonel, a title that would be vested in two other characters as the series progressed), is Number Six’s old boss. He’s waspishly genial, welcoming but suspicious, quick to point out that the Prisoner has nothing to offer as surety: he was a very highly-placed Agent with access to top level information, who abruptly resigned, giving no reason, who disappeared for several months, only to  suddenly send a message that he was returning from behind the Iron Curtain. The Colonel’s suspicions are valid indeed!
And Number Six is about to tender that very vital piece of information when chance and a 1960’s non-waterproof watch combine to activate his suspicions: it has been a very elaborate piece of bluff all along.
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and eternal paranoia. Do not trust anyone.
What do we learn from The Chimes of Big Ben? It’s the first, and surprisingly the only episode to toy with the idea of The Village being under the control of an Iron Curtain country, something that would have been almost a given in Danger Man, or any other espionage-oriented Sixties thriller series: Danger Man‘s justly famous Series 2 episode ‘Colony Three’ is a classic example.
In this light, the two British agents become Double Agents, and Nadia – who retains her faint Eastern European accent after she ceases to play ‘Nadia’ – is briefly positioned as a senior official in whatever organisation is in charge, giving a good report on her return. Just as with Cobb moving on to his ‘new masters’, the hint is pretty strong that the Village is enemy territory.
But it’s not in Lithuania: don’t believe that for a minute. And still don’t take it for granted: nothing Number Two says or does out of earshot of Number Six rules out the possibility that the Village may yet be in British hands: the escape to ‘London’ has not gone unassisted in that quarter.
Like Arrival, there’s an Alternate Chimes of Big Ben available in the box set, though this cut has been known for far longer than the Alternate Arrival. The only difference in the story is a very brief scene of Number Six taking sightings using a primitive version of the ancient Greek instrument, the triquetrum. He’s trying to work out where the Village is. Presumably the scene was dropped mainly on the basis that the Village would never have allowed him to attempt this, but also because the idea that the Prisoner was homing in on the rough whereabouts of the Village would afford too much substantiation to the Lithuania claim.
More interestingly, the Alternate Chimes is the only place where we can see Wilfred Joseph’s original theme music (pre-McGoohan’s whistle and Ron Grainger’s arrangement of the well-known tune) in context, and see the original end to the closing credits. Joseph’s music doesn’t start until the Prisoner is leaving the underground garage, having committed his resignation and is quite atmospheric, although unbelievably fussy.
Of most interest are those credit closing moments. When the Ordinary is fully-built, instead of cutting to the stock scene of Rover scudding across the waves, instead the Ordinary fades away,leaving only its wheels. These start to spin, before melting into images of the Moon and the Earth set against a star-field Then the stars go out, Earth expands to fill the screen, and silently explodes, revealed a red field on which, in big letters, is the word POP.
That was intended to end the credits each week, but was abandoned, probably as being too confusing, mysterious and psychedelic. But it would have been a mystery, not to be explained until the end of series 1, when the letters would have been revealed to be not POP but P.O.P., and to stand for…
Well, let’s get to Once Upon a Time in its own time.


Green Arrow – No such thing as a bad character: Part 1 – The Nonentity Years

Green Arrow circa 1958 by Jack Kirby

The success of the new American TV show Arrow provides me with an excuse for another excursion into what what makes the mainstream comic book industry irremediably different from printed fiction, in a way that book readers will find hard to grasp.
Arrow, which is making a good job of combining flashy, CGI-enhanced action, a Lost-like backstory carefully doled out and a surprising psychological depth in its approach to its superhero lead, is based on the DC Comics character Green Arrow, aka Oliver Queen. It’s a very modern, and in some ways innovative approach to a character who’s been around for seventy years now.
But the thing about Green Arrow was that for thirty years he was a nobody, a nothing, a C-list costumed character with the undeserved distinction of being one of only six such to have been in continuous publication since the Forties. Thirty years of being an implausible (for comics!), unoriginal, characterless figure.
And in the forty years that followed, Green Arrow has grown to become one of DC’s foremost characters, popular, reliable and commercial (at one time his title’s sales were running second only to Superman). Green Arrow is the living embodiment of the saying, “There’s no such thing as a bad character.”
What readers of books often don’t realise, or fully understand even when they do, is the extent to which mainstream comics characters are open to anyone to write. Take Superman: as should be better known, the Man of Steel was created by writer Jerry Seigel and artist Joe Schuster. How many people, do you think, have written Superman stories?
I don’t know the answer, though I’m sure that more than one comic book fanatic could give you an exact number (or as exact as records will allow), but the answer is: hundreds. Seriously: hundreds. Remember I’ve been reading these things for about fifty years myself, and that it only takes two writers a year to get us into three figures, and I can assure you that fifty years ago there were more than two Superman writers being tyrannised over their scripts by editor Mort Weisenger.
Start to think about that a little. Consider James Bond, if you will. Skyfall is the twenty-third movie in roughly the same period since I started reading comics, and Daniel Craig the Sixth Bond. Writers such as Kingsley Amis, John Gardner and Sebastian Faulks have, between them, exceeded the number of Bond novels published by Ian Fleming, though you don’t ever hear of anyone actually reading them. But even if you count the writers of each film in this category, we are still not near fifty people who have written adventures of 007.
And don’t forget that none of those writers have ever had to steer their work to accommodate any of the others: contrast that to the period when Superman titles were appearing every week of the year, as a continuing story, to which each writer was contributing only every fourth episode.
So let’s return to that mantra of, “There’s no such thing as a bad character,” and start to apply it to Green Arrow.
The Emerald Archer was created in 1941 for More Fun Comics 73 by none other than future legendary editor of Superman, Mort Weisinger, with artist George Papp. Weisinger also created Aquaman in the same issue, a factor that has to be taken into account when considering the little known fact that, after the near Holy Trinity of Superman, Batman (with Robin) and Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and Aquaman are the only other heroes to have been continuously published since the 1940s.
Aquaman was a fairly pale knock-off of Timely’s Sub-Mariner, and Green Arrow showed little more originality. Think of Batman, of boy side-kicks, Batmobiles, Batarangs, Batplanes, Batcaves, not to mention the millions of dollars with which to buy them. Change Bat for Arrow, and Green Arrow had exactly the same things as Batman, except the memorable origin.
You see, Oliver Queen fell off a pleasure yacht and found himself stranded on a desert island. To survive, he taught himself archery. He also discovered a young boy, Roy Harper, and taught him to shoot arrows. Finally, they were rescued after some crooks tried to use the island as a hideout. Once the Less-Dynamic Duo got back to Star City, Oliver dressed them up in bowman’s tunics – he in green with red boots, Harper in red with yellow boots – provided them with an improbably variety of trick arrows and, ta da! Green Arrow and Speedy were born!
For the next twenty-three years, until the ironically titled “Land of No Return” in World’s Finest 140, Green Arrow had a regular back-up series under Weisinger’s editorship, at different times in More Fun, World’s Finest and Adventure. The first was the old fashioned kind of anthology comic with multiple series, the second starred Superman and Batman, and the last began as an anthology before, in 1958, becoming the home of Superman’s newly-discovered teenage cousin, Supergirl.
GA, and Speedy, were also members of the Seven Soldiers of Justice, also known as the Law’s Legionnaires, the only superhero team to follow the Justice Society of America’s example in the whole of the Golden Age. The Seven Soldiers had full-length adventures in Leading Comics 1 – 14.
With the exception of the Seven Soldiers stories, and a brief period when he was being drawn by Jack Kirby, Green Arrow was, as I’ve said, a nonentity, distinguished only by whatever trick-arrow the writers had come up with this month to keep pages 1 and 8 of the story from being opposite each other. Green Arrow also suffered the indignity of being excluded from the original line-up of the Justice League of America, which, since Aquaman made the grade, was a real slap in the face.
Nevertheless, Oliver Queen was honoured by being the first new member to be inducted into the JLA, in their seventh adventure, issue 4 of their own title. And he was in every adventure until issue 22, at which point the League underwent a change of approach. Instead of every member appearing every time, the new policy was to have 5-6 members in each story, with the others absent. This made stories less cluttered, but it also began to show an editorial order of preference that, at least in part, reflected the relative popularity of the various members.
This was soon recognised on the letters page, with a perceptive reader identifying that the JLA was now made up of a ‘Big 5’ of Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman, and a ‘Small 6’ of Aquaman, The Atom, the Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and mascot ‘Snapper’ Carr (trust me, you don’t want to know).
By this time, GA had lost his regular series. Away from the Justice League, appearances by the Emerald Archer were rare, and mostly as a background character. At any time, he could have just simply disappeared, and at that time it would not have been into that comic book limbo where all outmoded ideas go to wait for a writer with an idea (or maybe no better idea!).
Indeed, the JLA fans who were involved enough to write would have happily despatched him. One issue contained a letter suggesting that the League had too many members and suggesting that three should resign, as unnecessary and unwanted: Green Arrow, as a knock-off of Batman, was one.
Another correspondent went further: he suggested that Green Arrow should be killed. Not only was the character not wanted and not needed, but a story in which he died would be both an exciting and dramatic event in its own right, but also the springboard for a series of stories in which the JLA pursued his assassins and brought them to justice. The writer of that particular letter might not have gone on to become a comic book writer, but his idea certainly has taken on a life of its own.
Poor Green Arrow. In an era when DC were industriously bringing back the long-cancelled heroes of their Golden Age, the fans were urging them to get rid of one such who had survived almost thirty years. The response on DC’s part? A particularly ludicrous issue of JLA in which GA does indeed tender his resignation, refusing all explanations, prompting each and every JLA member (even Wonder Woman, unsuccessfully, for particularly obvious reasons) to disguise himself as GA to penetrate the plot.
But that was almost the last moment at which GA could be dismissed as a no-hoper.

Behind the Scenes with The Justice Society of America – Part 5: The ‘Lost’ Adventures


But Phil Casorta started more than he imagined in 1965 when he uncovered the fact that All-Star 30 had been published at least a year after it had been drawn. Jerry Bails, one of the leading fans of the time, investigated the claim further, and wrote to Gardner Fox himself for assistance in unravelling the mystery.
Fox, who trained as a lawyer, checked his meticulous records, and tried to match Bails’ list of published stories with his details. Not only did he confirm that several stories had been printed out of the order in which he had written them, he unearthed the fact that he had apparently written four JSA stories that could not be matched up with issues of All-Star.
In order of preparation, these four stories were “Emperors of Japan”, “The Will of William Wilson”, “Men of Magnifica” (all of which were grouped together as being between issues 27 & 28), and “Perils of the Paper Death”, which he suggested had been perhaps a year later.
Fox had already confirmed that he had written 36 JSA stories, which fans had taken to mean All-Star 3 – 38, so this news changed everyone’s beliefs about the provenance of issues 35 – 38. But it was the prospect of four more JSA tales that no-one had ever seen that enthralled everyone. The game was afoot, the hunt for more information was on.
Of these four ‘missing’ scripts, two can be accounted for with some certainty. Fox confirmed that “Emperors of Japan” was written in July 1945, and was a companion piece to issue 24’s “This is Our Enemy”: an anti-Japanese propaganda story that would justify whatever post-War treatment the Americans handed out to the defeated enemy. But in early August 1945, unsuspected by the general public, came Hiroshima, and then Nagasaki, and after that Unconditional Surrender. “Emperors” became obsolete: probably not a single page of art had been drawn.
This was far from the case with “The Will of William Wilson”, which was drawn, presumably in full. This we know because, over the years, over half of its pages have surfaced in various fans’ collections, and have been reprinted in the several volumes of the Roy Thomas edited All-Star Companion (Vols 1-4). I say presumably complete because, whilst art has been recovered from  the opening and closing JSA chapters, and from four of the six solo chapters, nothing has ever come to light from the Hawkman or Johnny Thunder chapters.
So why was this story not published if it was drawn? Production notes on the first page indicate it was once planned for All-Star 31, before it was killed, but the notes also indicate that the story consisted of 48 pages: Since the reduction of the comic book to 48 pages, JSA stories lasted either 38 or 39 pages. “The Will of William Wilson” was too long to fit.
So the question becomes why an over-sized story was ever commissioned? Fox’s records suggest it belongs to the same period as All-Star 25-28. This certainly fits the artists at work, and the villain of the piece is the Psycho-Pirate, seeking revenge for his defeat by the JSA in All-Star 23. On the other hand, unlike his début appearance and his later, ‘official’ second story, the Psycho-Pirate completely ignores his Modus Operandi of manipulating emotions.
This has led to suggestions that “Wilson” is a much older story, created in that brief window of the 56 page comic book, and subsequently tinkered around with far more than even the tales around it. In this theory, the Psycho-Pirate’s presence as villain becomes an all but random insertion of a known character in place of Fox’s original fiend. Thissuggestion is very much a minority opinion, for all its merits: most fans prefer to rely on the accuracy of Fox’s records as to the story’s timing, and to avoid multiplying the necessary suppositions.
To get around the story’s excessive length, it’s theorised that “Wilson” may originally have beeen intended for a one-off special, an over-sized comic of a kind that All-American had occasionally published, in which the JSA adventure would have been the lead story. But there is no evidence or recollection that either supports or contradict this theory, and it is highly unlikely it will ever be known.
There is no such clarity about the other two tales, but a theory has been put forward that neither story was ‘lost’ after all, but saw print, in a revised form, in issues of All-Star. In the case of “Perils of the Paper Death”, the theory is purely that: speculation without a trace of evidence.
The theory comes from Jerry Bails and sprung from an exchange with Roy Thomas in which the latter, pointing out that “Peril”’s title could mean anything when it came to a story, speculated wildly that, amongst other things, it could refer to cartoons coming to life.
That inspired Bails to see a parallel with the story “The Paintings that walked the Earth” in All-Star 28, in which the JSA battled indestructible creatures emerging at night from oil-paintings. The paintings had been made with rare paints from Atlantis, and were psychotropic (a word not used in 1944 but meaning an inanimate object responsive to human emotion). If painted with hatred, as in the case of a man jealous of his successful friends, the painting’s subjects would come alive bent on murder. The possibility that “Perils” was about living cartoons was too much of a coincidence: Bails theorised that “Perils” was the original story, which was then heavily revised when the idea that oil-paints, and colour, was better.
So far as it goes, it’s certainly plausible, but it’s wholly dependant upon a guess as to what “Perils” was about. Fox had no recollections in the 1960s, and had passed away before Bails came up with his theory, which might possibly have sparked a memory, if it were correct. Against the idea is the fact Fox placed “Perils” some considerable time after All-Star 28. And, whilst Bails and Thomas have far greater knowledge of the comic book industry than I, from what I’ve learned, I find it hard to accept that Fox would be paid a full fee for an accepted script, and then be paid a second full fee for producing a revision of it, no matter how heavy that revision was.
The theory is far more convincing when applied to “Men of Magnifica”, a story that will also feature  prominently in the next part of this series.
What might it have been about? The title conjures visions of great civilisations, perhaps a lost culture. In Bails’ theory, it would identify alumni of a certain College.
The discovery of the four ‘lost’ stories threw into question the authorship of  All-Star 35 – 38. It was established that John Broome, who would take over All-Star permanently in issue 39, wrote the first of these stories, and writer-editor Robert Kanigher the last two. The provenance of All-Star 36, “Five Drowned Men”, is unknown.
It’s a stand-out story, not so much for the tale itself, but for the fact that it features Superman and Batman, standing in for Johnny Thunder and The Atom, for the only time in All-Star, not to mention that it is the only issue to feature a three page Prologue. We’ll look at it in a little more detail in the next issue, but for now the big question is who was its author.
Julius Schwarz, who got his start in comics as assistant editor on All-Star in 1944, was adamant that he had had Kanigher re-write the Flash chapter (into which Kanigher wrote a skiing sequence, it being his passion). But once Bails started to consider “Five Drowned Men”, it seemed glaringly obvious that it was a Gardner Fox plot: a well-motivated villain, seeking revenge on successful old friends who had done him wrong (the very structure Fox had used for “The Paintings that walked the Earth”, and one earlier JSA adventure) and the exposition heavy explanation in the final chapter were hallmarks of Fox’s style.
Add to this Schwarz’s remarks about a Kanigher re-writing, the literary pretension of a Prologue (characteristic of Kanigher) and the appearance of the Big Two in a period where Kanigher appeared to have been pushing for All-Star‘s standards to be raised, and the theory that Kanigher had re-written an unused Fox script – namely “Magnifica” – was overwhelming.
Not to Kanigher, who denied it, furiously even, to the end of his life, claiming never to have rewritten anyone else’s story – a claim which, given his three decades as an editor, seems completely implausible. But it fits, and fits too well for Kanigher’s protests to throw enough doubt upon it.
At least until a more plausible account, or even some evidence, is put forward.
So that accounts for the four ‘lost’ stories: one overtaken by events and never used, one drawn but killed off for being too long to fit into All-Star, and two adapted into stories that did see print, sooner or later, if you accept that solution in respect of “Perils”. At this remove, with the vast majority of those present at the time now lost to us (though the cartoonists of the Forties have proved to be remarkably long-lived), it’s unlikely that further evidence will appear. But not impossible.
In comics, nothing is impossible.

Part 6 – The Kanigher Year

Great Walks: Crinkle Crags, Bowfell, Esk Pike

Crinkle Oxendale

Oxendale, with Crinkle Crags and Bowfell behind

The walker with a car has the unbeatable advantage in the Lake District of being able to get to exactly the right, and closest spot from which to begin any walks he or she undertakes (subject to the obligation to park sensibly and responsibly, and certainly not illegally). On the other hand, the walker with a car suffers from an not unimportant disadvantage: that all walks must end where they began, which can often demand an unwelcome artificiality to the chosen route, or even an inferior route, to bend the footsteps back to the motor.
This Great Walk is a perfect example. If you propose to tackle Crinkle Crags, Bowfell and Esk Pike in a single day, which will give you an absolutely magnificent experience, the most sensible course would be to base yourself at the head of Middle Eskdale, parking in the car park set up at the foot of Hard Knott Pass, and make an easily planned and winningly ‘pure’ circuit from there.
If, however, you choose to start from Great Langdale whilst based from a motor vehicle of your choosing (or economic standing), you have to face up to the fact that the last of these fells lies outside the valley, and represents the furthest point on the walk. If you were not so bound, if, perchance, you had the considerable advantage of a driver who has no interest in the high fells but is willing to drive to a place of your nomination and amuse themselves there until you arrive, sweaty and content, hours later, you can descend from Esk Pike to Esk Hause and make for Borrowdale by a choice of superb descents or, if you happen to be verging on the superhuman, along the northernmost continuation of the Scafell massif, over Allen Crags and Glaramara.
But you can still do this walk without feeling that you are committing yourself to a long and dreary return journey, though this aspect should be reserved for those who are experienced walkers, for reasons that will be explained later.
From Langdale, the start and finish should be the car park of the Old Hotel, Dungeon Ghyll (and preferably at the back). The head of the valley is immediately before you, with the Band thrusting down and outward from the dominant vision of Bowfell, at an angle that exposes the wide expanses of Mickleden whilst simultaneously concealing the alternative branch of Oxendale, but it is by the latter that the walk commences.
The initial approach is on tarmac: return to the road and go forward up the valley for a short distance, until the road executes a ninety degree left turn (much in the manner that certain political parties need to be doing). Leave it at the gate opposite onto a farm road leading to Stile End, sitting at the very foot of the Band. The track leads out of the farm yard onto the toe of the Band, but escape the broad path leading upwards to the right, go straight on and quickly descend into Oxendale itself, a short, narrow valley with very high walls closing in, making it a complete contrast to Mickleden.
It’s impossible to go far in Oxendale without starting to climb. Cross the footbridge and follow the path on the southern bank and this is demonstrated as it begins to rise across the lowest flanks of Pike O’Blisco. Bluffs thrust out ahead and the path angles to pass behind these, into the upper reaches of Browney Gill, where it continues as a narrow trod, high above the beck. This section is a typical, if miniature glacial valley. It shouldn’t be too long before walkers can be seen crossing around the head of the valley, from left to right: they will be preceding you on the long approach to the start of the summit ridge of Crinkle Crags.

Crinkle Approach

The long approach to the Crinkles

The path emerges at the edge of an area of wide, level ground, with Red Tarn visible half left, near enough to visit if the mood takes, although walkers bound on the full ridge as far as Esk Pike and beyond should beware of extraneous diversions. There is a long, and in some minds tedious trudge ahead, across a wide, sloping moorland. The walking is easy, but long, and the improving views behind, towards Windermere, and south westward, towards the slowly opening Duddon Valley, are ample justification for halts.
Another, more apposite diversion might be to take a thin track left, not far after leaving Browney Gill behind, crossing rough ground to the miniature peaks of Cold Pike. But even more than Red Tarn, this should be undertaken only by the supremely fit (and confident).
Instead, the walker in tune with the day should be experiencing a rising tide of anticipation, heightening all the more after the first rocks of the First Crinkle come into view ahead. This is the road to high adventure, to the most sublime ridge-walk in all the Lakes.
The First Crinkle is the most extensive. The path leaps up onto naked rock, and twists and turns upwards until it emerges above the world. This Crinkle is detached from the main ridge, a wide col below before things start getting continuously hairy. The Second Crinkle looms high above a gentle foreground, and presents you with your first opportunity to assess the Bad Step.

Crinkle Bad Step

The Bad Step

This lies part way up a direct gully rising to the right of the Second Crinkle’s highest point. It’s the obvious route to the summit, but it’s choked by two fallen chockstones, wedged together about a third of the way up. Escape is possible by climbing the wall to the right, but this is genuine, albeit short climbing. Those of us who are not confident about clinging on to relatively sheer rock without plentiful hand- and footholds everywhere to be seen will baulk at this route, but they should nevertheless obey the tradition of following the gully as far as the Bad Step and studying it, as if planning to conquer it ‘next time’. As long as this is done, it is permissible to find an easy route by contouring around the shattered base of the rocks to the left of the gully, as seen on the approach, until the land above eases sufficiently to pick a mild scramble upwards, to come upon the summit of Crinkle Crags from behind.
The main summit is but the beginning. The path follows the spine of the ridge onwards, snaking behind the backs of the Third, Fourth and Fifth Crinkles, each of which lie between 10′ and 50′ above the path: these are not diversions, but part of the ridge and must all be visited for their subtly altered views into the green pastures of Great Langdale. Beyond the Fifth Crinkle, the path crosses the long top of Gunson Knott before beginning to lose some height. Each step along this ridge demands attention and concentration: this is not a park stroll, for the bones of the mountain are on plain view here, the more so for the millions of steps that have kicked into and scarred the way.
Bowfell lies in promise ahead, but it is not until the descent from Gunson Knott to the col at Three Tarns that it can be seen without obstruction. The serried ranks of Bowfell Links are directly ahead, an angry scar of a path climbing to their right, onto the broader part of Bowfell’s summit, making it plain that, however unpleasant the forthcoming sea of stones may appear, there is no other practical path to progress this walk.

Crinkle Bowfell

Bowfell from Gunson Knott

Choices can be made at this point. If weather conditions or strength are failing, bear right onto the unmistakable path down the band, which will return you to Stile End: Bowfell is a dangerous place in cloud and rain, and you won’t necessarily get away with it as I did. There is also an alternative to the scree-scar directly ahead, but this is a more roundabout, and testing ascent, and should not be considered if the original plan to continue to Esk Pike is to be adhered to. Just accept your fate, commit yourself to the stones and climb upwards with fortitude, until the path bears left to round the end of the Links, the gradient, and the rubbish underfoot, eases, and it is possible to make a civilised, but possibly queuing approach to the summit rocks, set away to the left of the path crossing the top.
When the view has been drunk in to sufficiency, return to the path and follow this across the top. A short digression, right, to the top of the Great Slab, visible from the path, is recommended, but otherwise, continue on, leaving Langdale behind, until the ground begins to fall away and descend on rough but negotiable ground to Ore Gap. This is a final chance to cut short the full route, if it is so desired, by descending on the right as far as the route from Angle Tarn to Esk Hause. Stronger walkers will reach this point an hour or more later.
Rather than retreat, ascend out of Ore Gap on an equally well-established path bound for Esk Pike. The way is of a similar degree of steepness and stiffness as the descent from Bowfell, and should be regarded as the last substantial test on the walk. There are no difficulties in route finding, though the path crosses the fell to the Eskdale side of the summit, which requires a brief diversion to attain.

Crinkle Esk Pike

Esk Pike from the descent from Esk Hause

From here it is easy to see your proximity to Esk Hause, and the foot of the Scafells. It would be sensible to turn back at this point, drop down to Ore Gap and gain the homeward path from there, because every step along the ridge takes you further away from Langdale and the car, but on a gloriously sunny afternoon, with Esk Hause so near, it will be a very disciplined walker indeed who can resist carrying on to the cairn at the top of the tilted plateau. And it can be done with little extra drain on energy which must, by now be starting to get depleted. Go forward, enjoy the walk to its utmost, including a couple of sections where the path follows shelves of rock, and come to the top of Esk Hause.
But don’t dawdle. The miles back are long and, if not overly taxing, should not be taken lightly. Descend to the wall-shelter on the lower, transverse path, enjoy the silhouette of the two Gables in the west, and turn east for Langdale. The descent to Angle Tarn crosses the fellside in a series of levels and drops. The path from Ore Gap is passed after the Tarn comes into sight, dark in its rocky bowl under the shadow of Bowfell, but light and cool once you wearily cross its outflow.

Crinkle Rossett

Descending towards Rossett Pike

What lies ahead is the most painful trial of the day. After reaching the final fell, after turning for home and after descending for so long, there is one final, cruel ascent of 300′, to escape Angle Tarn and come to the top of Rossett Gill. Those whose legs can stand even more ascent at this point can divert to the left on a narrow path that leads to the summit of Rossett Fell, but unless this is a once-in-a-lifetime visit, an unrepeatable peak-bagging opportunity, it is respectfully suggested that the fell is too far out of the class of the walking today as to be not worth the effort.
When I was last here, the uppermost section of Rossett Gill remained the torn and tattered remnant of the route that had made it a place to be avoided. No doubt that has now been corrected by the National Trust, and a well-laid highway is now underfoot. In case this should not be the case, descend cautiously, keeping the eyes peeled for a path angling away to the right, and when it appears, get on it straight away. This route follows the two easeful zigzags of the former Rossett Gill route, and have been so successfully restored that the fellside has long since recovered from the ugly scars of the impatient hordes who charged up any old way. If an easy life is sought, descend these without incident, cross the bridge at the foot of Stake Gill and followed the long, flat route through Mickleden, free from gradients, under a sun descending towards late afternoon, or even early evening.
If, however, you are an experienced walker, a better alternative is available, for which it will be necessary to have a copy of Wainwright’s Southern Fells (First Edition), open to Rossett Pike p3. This depicts the former pony-route of ancient times, which meandered in gentle gradients across the eastern flanks of the Gill, joining the main route only for the final section of the upper zigzag. According to Chris Jesty’s Second Edition, no traces of the path can now be found on the ground, which is an awful thing. However, for an experienced fellwalker, it should remain possible to follow the old route, and give yourself a more fitting finale to this already excellent day.
Those who set out to repeat this route should leave the upper zigzag where it doubles back on itself. Continue across the pathless fellside maintaining the same angle of descent as the relaid path. This is the key to tracing the pony route: a straight line will bring you within sight of a grassy tongue, dropping to the left. A tiny pool behind a natural weir stands above the tongue and, if your route has been sufficiently exact, it will take you across the weir, at which point start to curve down to the left. The old path, which was very intermittent when I walked it, headed down the centre of the tongue in patchy zigzags: emulate this until the gills at either side are starting to converge and get deeper, threatening to be difficult to cross if you go much further. before this, escape to the right onto the other side of the gill, and continue downwards. This should not be possible for too much longer, due to the increasingly steep banks of the gill, so break across the fellside and around, through scrubby gorse, to gain an easier route of descent as far as the intake wall, where it appears that the path persists.
A judgement must be made as to when to cross it and descend into the soft area of moraines below. Be warned that the ground is soft, and a certain amount of careful stepping will be needed to reach the Beck, let alone find a possible crossing place.
Once this is done, however, the Mickleden highway will not be far away and now it is only a matter of time and distance before the path narrows, crossing behind the Old Hotel. Gaps lead down into the car aprk where, if correctly judged, the car will be only a handful of paces away.
It will have been a day to place in the memories.

Behind the Scenes with The Justice Society of America – Part 4: The ‘All-American’ Break

The boy (or girl!) who bought All-Star 24 would immediately have noticed that things were different.
On the cover, the JSA sat stiffly in a gallery, as if at a theatre, but there was no sign of Starman or The Spectre. Instead there were two unfamiliar faces, unfamiliar, that is, unless the reader was already following Sensation Comics, and thus would recognise these as Heavyweight Boxing Champion Ted Grant, aka Wildcat, and financier, Olympic athlete and all-round genius, Terry Sloane, aka Mr. Terrific.
The more observant would also have noticed that the familiar Superman DC logo on the cover had been replaced with an identically designed All-American AA logo, which would also adorn issues 25 and 26.
Inside, the reader would find The Flash and Green Lantern turning up at a JSA meeting, with Wonder Woman gushing that they’re about to hear an adventure so thrilling that they won’t be able to resist signing up as fighting members again. As for Wildcat and Mr. Terrific, they were part of the story to follow, but Wildcat was oddly insistent that they were only there as guests, helping the JSA.
And the story itself was a bit of an oddity, returning to the War for the first time in nine issues, with a vengeance, as the JSA conduct Conscientious Objector Richard Amber through the history of Germany, emphasising that it has always been a violent, aggressive, war-like nation that needs its superiority complex and militarism stomping out of it once and for all. In short, an all-out propaganda story, commissioned and written to justify whatever measures the Allies would impose once Germany was beaten.
At the end, Wonder Woman’s prediction comes true, and The Flash and Green Lantern are back in action for issues 25 and 26.
A really astute reader might have noticed that some of the dialogue had been rewritten, by a different letterer, or letterers, and that the figures of The Flash and Green Lantern had been drawn by different artists than the ones who had drawn the rest of the panels (although the astute reader who spotted this did not come along for almost twenty years).
And there was more to come. With All-Star 27, the Superman DC logo returned, and so did Wildcat, this time on the Roll Call as a member, to the exclusion of The Atom. Except that the following issue The Atom was back and Wildcat gone again, this time never to return.
And issue 30 not only featured more paste-over Flash and Green Lantern figures, but also included art by at least one artist who had stopped drawing for All-Star a year ago. What on Earth 2 was going on?
I’ve already said that All-American was owned jointly by Charlie Gaines and Harry Donenfeld, and that Donenfeld had imposed his accountant, Jack Liebowitz, onto All-American as, amongst other things, his spy-in-the-cab. Gaines and Liebowitz loathed each other, and the latter was dictatorial in his dealings at All-American. Despite his being only an employee, it was Liebowitz who summoned Gaines to his office for meetings, which frequently degenerated into screaming matches. The situation was barely tolerable for Gaines and then, in early 1945, just about the time All-Star 23 was being published, in a fit of generosity, Donenfeld gave half his share in All-American to Liebowitz.
Gaines was not prepared to accept Liebowitz as a partner. He broke off all ties with Detective, taking All-American independent. No more cross-advertising comics, no more Superman logo. This situation lasted for six months, before negotiations ended with Gaines selling his share of All-American to Donenfeld and Liebowitz for half a million dollars. Gaines went off to form Educational (later Entertaining) Comics which, as EC, would be another story entirely. Liebowitz started to orchestrate the merger of Detective and All-American into one grandiosely titled publishing empire as National Periodical Publications.
But it’s the effect this has on All-Star with which we are concerned. The split meant more than just changing logos and advertising pages, for the JSA included Starman and The Spectre, Detective characters. Quite apart from not wishing to publicize a rival’s heroes, the duo were no longer available on legal grounds. And Sheldon Mayer had three complete JSA stories, intended for All-Star 24 – 26, written and drawn with the contentious duo included.
The immediate solution also dealt with another of Mayer’s concerns, the script he’d commissioned from Gardner Fox for All-Star 27, the anti-German propaganda story. It was early 1945, and the tides of the war in Europe were flowing firmly in the Allies’ direction. By All-Star 27, which would not be published for another year, there was a serious risk that the story would be obsolete. With this in mind, Mayer had the story rewritten to exclude the now forbidden characters. And, to replace them, in accordance with All-Star‘s mission statement, Mayer turned to All-American’s other anthology title, Sensation, and added its next two most popular figures.
Gaines, however, had a different idea. If All-American was no longer to be sheltered by Detective, he wanted his flagship title to feature his most popular characters, which meant The Flash and Green Lantern. But it was too late by then to redraw the story, so Gaines settled for having a couple of pages at the start and end redrawn, promising the kids their favourite heroes as of next issue, and, despite the damage it did to the underlying logic of the story (the tale is being told in celebration of Amber becoming a decorated War Hero, when it is of him being convinced simply to enlist), so it was.
Mayer now had to work out what to do with issues 25 & 26. Replacing Starman with Green Lantern was simple: the Power Ring and the Gravity Rod produced much the same effects, and both heroes conveniently held their weapons in their left hands, so that could be done by having Green Lantern figures pasted over Starman onto the original art. That the Gravity Rod still appeared in two panels is probably down to paste-overs falling off before the artwork reached the printer.
Substituting The Flash – who ran at high speed along the ground – for The Spectre – a ghost who flew – was an entirely different matter, especially as the only artist available in these war-conditions, was Martin Naydel, a broad cartoonist who was great on funny animals but who was one of the worst artists to be chosen to draw human beings. If absolutely necessary, he was to redraw panels to accommodate a running, not flying man, but there are still some bizarre compositions left to goggle over.
But membership issues were not yet over. The Atom, who had never been a particularly high-flier, had been dropped from All-American, and, in the last glimmer of All-Star‘s original role as a promotional device, it was decided to drop him from the JSA, in favour of the more popular of Sensation‘s other fixtures, Wildcat. The Big Cat’s tenure as a JSA member was intended to start with All-Star 29, but that story had been written at the request of a national charitable society, who asked National for something to dispel ignorance and prejudice about disabled children. The society were anxious to see the story as soon as possible, so it was advanced to issue 27. It was the second time Wildcat had appeared in a story pushed ahead of schedule, and once again there were problems as a consequence.
The story’s early publication left two complete stories, originally scheduled for All-Star 27 & 28, featuring The Atom. In fact there were three, when somehow, somewhere, somebody realised that the original issue 24 had never been published. It was one thing to sanction the extra expense of re-drawing and re-lettering to salvage an otherwise unpublishable story, but quite another to spend more money on completely usable jobs. That ruled out Wildcat paste-overs on top of The Atom. And it was evidently decided that, perhaps because there had already been many confusing changes of line-up, without explanation, in the last half-dozen issues, that it was asking too much to expect the reader to put up with The Atom and Wildcat yo-yoing issue to issue. So The Atom was retained, and was given a berth in Flash Comics (possibly there were a few unused 5 pagers lying around), where he regained enough of a following to justify his continuing JSA place.
As for Mr. Terrific (who, I confess, is a personal favourite of mine), there were no second chances. Though the Defender of Fair Play had clearly been intended for full membership, given that his and Wildcat’s pictures appeared on Junior Justice Society Membership Certificates for the next year.
And finally there was that long overdue story produced for All-Star 24, and only discovered a year and a half later. Not only did it feature The Atom, but it also included Starman and The Spectre. Now that Detective and All-American were merged, there was no longer any legal barrier to using the story as it was. But in the intervening months, both characters had lost their series. There was little point promoting heroes who were no longer in print, not to mention the further confusions over the JSA’s now eccentric line-up, so once again Starman was converted to Green Lantern, and Martin Naydel did what he could to The Flash/Spectre chapter.
As I said at the beginning of this instalment, an astute reader could have told that at least two different artists had been working in the same panel, but when JSA fan Phil Casorta finally came to that conclusion, and opened the door to unravelling the events discussed here, it was almost twenty years later. And when he did, it led to uncovering another set of mysteries about the behind the scenes story of the JSA.

Part 5 – The ‘Lost’ JSA stories

Homicide: Life on the Street

Isn’t it funny how murder can make you feel better?

It’s been a difficult couple of days and it’s not likely to improve just yet. I’ve been finding it difficult to concentrate, or to find things worth concentrating upon which, given the number of things I’m involved in writing at present, for this blog, and otherwise, is frustrating. So I decided to pull out my box-sets of the superb 1991-97 American police drama series Homicide: Life on the Street and rewatch the first episode. As always, it’s been utterly absorbing and, in its unique and black fashion, absolutely hilarious.

An awful lot of praise has been, deservedly, heaped on The Wire, but if you were a fan of that absorbing, horrifically realistic series, you should really check-out Homicide, a forerunner in a very true sense. Like The Wire, it is set in Baltimore, centred upon the Homicide Division and its impossible task in sweeping up after the City’s horrendous murder rate and, like The Wire, it stems from David Simon and his 1988 non-fiction book, Homicide – A Year on the Killing Streets, recounting in intense detail the year that young crime reporter Simon spent ’embedded’ in the Baltimore Police Homicide Division.

Originally, film producer and Baltimore native Barry Levinson optioned the book as a film but, given its level of detail, its intensity and its absurdity, he chose instead to present it for television, so that its subtleties could be explored. Despite initial promotion by NBC, the series perennially struggled for an audience, by refusing to be safe, sofa-friendly, crime-of-the-week cop TV, and trying to hew far more closely to the reality of Policing in a major American city, and judging by the praise it got from cops across the nation, Homicide succeeded spectacularly.

Of course, compared to The Wire, it’s a tv series, without the swearing, without the degree of brutality, but still with the same ultra-violet sense of cynical humour, and with an astonishingly brilliant cast and razor-sharp writers.

Opening episode “Gone for Goode” performs the task of introducing you to a cast of nine without strain or artificiality, introducing the viewer to this world by the expedient of Detective Tim Bayliss’s (Kyle Secor) first day on the Squad. We see Detectives Lewis (Clark Johnson) and Crosetti (Jon Polito) investigating a late night shooting that unexpectedly expands into a multiple Black Widow homicide case, all the time bitching about their job and about life, Detectives Howard (Melissa Leo) and Felton (Daniel Baldwin) picking up a dead body in a basement where the killer virtually leaps into their arms, Detective Munch (Richard Belzer) being badgered into pursuing an overlooked death whilst denying throughout that he wants the approval of his partner, Detective Stan “the Big Man” Bolander (Ned Beatty), and above them all Lieutenant Al Giardello (Yaphet Kotto), the only undercooked character in this episode.

We also meet, for the first time, the loner, the individualist Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher), the man who hasn’t got a partner, doesn’t need a partner, definitely doesn’t want a partner, and especially not the rookie, Bayliss. Pembleton’s is the most overt performance, but paradoxically he allows the naive Bayliss to shine. There’s the first of the series’ several interrogation scenes in which Pembleton slickly talks a frightened, slow-witted, guilty suspect into confessing to murder by sailing smoothly over his constitutional rights, during which Secor sits silently in the background, with only his eyes telling of his bafflement, outrage and astonishment.

And there’s that ending, as Bayliss decides himself ready to take on a case of his own, heading out in the rain to an alley crowded by people, soaked to the skin, looking down at the body of a dead ten year old black girl. Little did we know then that Homicide would last seven series, and little did we expect that moment in the alley to be as relevant to the series in its final episode. Cop shows didn’t do that, not even the great Hill Street Blues. But Homicide: Life on the Street, destined to fight for its life and its integrity until the end, would go many places that TV hadn’t been before.

It’s been a pleasure, and an object lesson in how you can laugh at something so serious, on a Saturday night that isn’t going well.

Behind the Scenes with The Justice Society of America – Part 3: The War Years

JSA Golden Age

Alex Ross’s take on the cover of All-Star 3

And then the War came to America, or at least that part of America that appeared in All-Star Comics. Thanks to Mayer’s practice of keeping three issues in hand, it was about six months later than for the real America, which would intrude in other ways on the comics before long, with patriotic paper restrictions causing All-Star to revert to quarterly publication for the duration.
And the JSA embraced the War gloriously, by disbanding in the opening chapter of issue 11. Being true, red-blooded American patriots, the members wanted to enlist in the Army and fight the Japs. (I apologise for the use of such a term, which is offensive to us in this much later era, but must be accepted as an accurate reflection of the mood of the times and the comics it produced).
All but three of the eight active members went into the Army: the exceptions were Dr Mid-Nite who, being blind, went into the Medical Corps, the Spectre who, being dead, couldn’t pass the physical and Johnny Thunder, who went into the Navy instead, though the Navy soon had cause to regret it.
Naturally, the boys breezed through Basic Training and were posted to different units in the Pacific Theatre, where they outshone their fellow recruits and, equally naturally, found themselves in situations where their costumed alter egos had to appear to win the day. Unfortunately, real life was radically different from this story of success after success, and by issues end the JSA had been recalled to a meeting with the General Chiefs of Staff. There they were asked to reform and operate on the Home Front, as the Justice Battalion, under which name they would continue for the next three, war-oriented issues.
But with only seven members in military action, one way or another, there was a gap. So Hawkman’s chapter features his girlfriend Sheira (Hawkgirl) Saunders flying to the West Coast to join him and finding herself rooming with Army Nurse Diana (Wonder Woman) Prince. And Wonder Woman filled in for the Spectre. Indeed, another write-in poll was printed in All-Star 11, asking the readers to vote on admitting Wonder Woman – a girl! – into the JSA.
Wonder Woman was not, however, destined to be a formal JSA member. She had had a more immediate effect than any character before, and All-American were hurrying to give her a solo title, which disqualified her from membership. But she had also won the readers’ vote so, at the end of All-Star 12, which featured the Justice battalion going up against the legendary Japanese Black Dragon Society (whose machinations had manipulated Japan into the War), the Amazon turns up at the end to be inducted… as Team Secretary.
We laugh now, especially as in sheer superpower, Wonder Woman out-ranked all but one of her new colleagues, but it was again the product of the times.
And Wonder Woman was into the action immediately, filling in for a Dr Fate who was on urgent business, in a fantastic (in every sense) adventure in which Hitler, afraid of the JSA, has them gassed, kidnapped and fired into space in a series of rockets that spread them out among every other planet in the Solar System, including the newly-discovered Pluto. Yes, even the ghostly Spectre, who doesn’t actually breathe, was overcome by sleeping gas (since Dr Fate was the one who was vulnerable to an attack on his lungs, some have suggested that it was originally he who featured in the story, but was swapped out for the more popular Avenging Ghost).
The War theme continued for a fourth issue as the Justice Battalion set out on another mission of mercy, this time bringing food to starving patriots in the European nations currently under the Nazi heel. As the food is in the form of dehydrated pellets that, at the touch of water, turn into steaming hot roast turkey dinners with all the trimmings, the story has its decidedly comical side, though not to any of the real life starving patriots. Still, the naivete was the product of a good heart.
But it was the last war-themed story for some time. It appeared that the kids did not really want to be continually reminded of the War, and perhaps of the reality their fathers might be facing in far-off countries, especially in view of the ease with which the JSA always triumphed. So, except in Johnny Thunder still running around in Navy Whites, the Justice Battalion aspect faded away and the Justice Society of America returned to the more properly fantastic business of fighting crime.
This came in the form of that aforementioned first super villain, the Brain Wave, whose brain is so powerful that it can create mental images that have weight and force outside their creator’s capacious cranium. It’s a truly bizarre story: Wonder Woman takes a central role, receiving, as secretary, letters of apology from each member who, whilst too busy to break off from the urgent case they’re pursuing, have found time to write and post a missive in accordance with the JSA’s bureaucratic requirement to note a reason for absence from a properly scheduled meeting. What’s more, Wonder Woman, who can immediately see that all the members are chasing after the same villain unknowingly, decides that the way to counter this threat is to dress up all the hero’s girlfriends – including the ones who don’t know their boyfriend’s secret identity – in carefully adapted versions of the hero’s costume and, without superpowers or experience, and in a taxi, set out to the villain’s lair. Where, for some unaccountable reason they are immediately captured, and have to be rescued by the boys. I make no further comment.
Whether it had any relationship to her bizarre approach to decision making, Wonder Woman found herself restricted solely to secretarial roles until All-Star 38. What this meant in practice was that she would be named in the roll-call, make a token appearance, frequently as little as a single panel, and never appear again for the rest of each issue.
By now, the war was taking its toll upon All-Star. It had already been cut back to four issues a year. Able-bodied writers and artists had been drafted to the War, and those who remained behind to continue making comics were the less-talented, making the stories look and sound stupider. And the continuing paper restrictions would very soon see the size of the comic book reduced for the first time, from 64 pages to 56.
Worse still, this was rapidly followed by a further cut, to 48 pages.
For a series like All-Star, carrying eight active characters, this was a serious problem, especially as Mayer had three full issues to hand, now suddenly too long to fit in a 56 page comic.
For two issues, Mayer made the stories printable by cutting pages out of each character’s solo chapter, but whilst this would suffice at 56 pages, once the further reduction to 48 pages came in, this was untenable. It was therefore decided to reduce the JSA from 8 to 6 active members, plus ever-present secretary Wonder Woman. The unlucky heroes were Sandman and Dr Fate (who, given that his solo series was shortly to be cancelled, would have been out before long anyway).
They were still there in the first and last chapters of All-Star 20, but a little touching-up of dialogue sent them direct from one to the other, protecting the victim of the story, whilst the other six fought the enemy: their two chapters were abandoned. But, inexplicably, they were back in the action, for a final time, in the following issue, with The Atom and The Spectre chosen to sit things out.
There is no satisfying explanation for this editorial uncertainty, especially as there is evidence to show that Sandman’s solo chapter was originally prepared for another character – probably The Atom – with Sandman figures drawn by a different artist pasted into the published art. Maybe, as theorised by one industry figure, Detective demanded that their characters be restored. If so, their insistence only lasted one issue. But perhaps that ties into the next part of this series.
All-Star 21 is a stand-out issue for being one of the better, and cleverer JSA adventures of the era. True, the logic underpinning the story is very shaky, but the adventure is a fascinating, superbly realised event. A scientist friend of the JSA develops two formulas, one a marvellous cure-all, the other a fatal poison, but doesn’t know which. His handyman, Joe Fitch, who has a criminal past, takes one of the potions, turning himself into a human guinea-pig whose death will be no loss to anyone. Naturally, he takes the poison. In his dying hours, to ease Joe’s mind, the JSA go into different eras of his past, seeking to intervene and prevent the crimes he committed. Each, in their separate way, succeeds, though in such a way that Joe, believing his own guilt, stumbles on to the next stage of his life. But at the end, his conscience has been cleaned, his guilt relieved and his old  sweetheart turns up to marry him on his deathbed, as Joe dies clean.
It’s an effective and truly moving story, and writer Fox fills each era with a potted introduction that imparts genuine knowledge of the times in which each hero finds himself.
But whatever led to All-American giving Fate and Sandman last chances, they were gone for good next issue, in which the Spirit of Conscience – looking uncannily like Disney’s Blue Fairy – takes the JSA back into time again, this time to teach them lessons about prejudice. Next up was an entertaining issue about a criminal called the Psycho-Pirate, who based his crimes upon emotions. Like The Brain Wave, he would return at a later date, and like the Brain Wave he was an unimpressive figure, a Linotype printer, short, skinny, bald on top and with a massive walrus moustache. But he still caused trouble for Hawkman, the Atom, the Spectre, Starman, Dr Mid-Nite and Johnny Thunder. And probably caused Wonder Woman a hangnail from typing up the reports.
The next issue, everything changed.

Part 4 – The All-American break

The Prisoner: episode 2 – The Chimes of Big Ben – synopsis

Thunder crashes. A slightly edited version of the opening sequence from Arrival – without the scene at the car park barrier and less driving through London – follows, until the title card, The Chimes of Big Ben, appears over Number 6’s first view of the Village. There follows a series of questions between McGoohan and this week’s guest star Leo McKern as Number 2, over a variety of standard village shots. This sequence will appear on most of the remaining episodes.
It is morning in the Village. The ubiquitous loudspeaker awakens Number 6 with proclamations about the weather and an up-and-coming art show with a competition for all the Village to enter. It goes over to soothing music, played far too loudly for comfort.
The new Number 2, a boisterous, energetic, well-rounded man, views Number 6 getting up and making breakfast. He comments that the Prisoner can make even putting his dressing gown on into an act of defiance. His assistant suggests that Number 6 can be broken, but that is not what Number 2 wants: he wants the whole man, on his side. All it will take is one answer: why did you resign? He also checks that the helicopter is on its way.
Later that morning, whilst Number 6 is sitting outside, overlooking the beach, Number 2 falls in with him, suggesting that number 6 make more effort to settle in. They spar, verbally. Number 2 clearly relishes the challenge of his opponent. The helicopter lands and an attractive young woman, asleep on a stretcher, is unloaded.
Number 2 invites Number 6 back to his office, where he entertains him with surveillance of the woman waking up in her new home. She is Number 8, his new neighbour, replacing the previous Number 8, who has vanished. There is no body for a funeral
The new arrival awakes, thinking she is in her own home, until she sees outside her window. Like Number 6 before her, she is summoned to tea at the Green Dome. Emerging from her cottage, disoriented, she meets Number 6 who directs her to the Green Dome. He is expecting this to be a trap for him and, when she returns, quite late, he invites her in for a drink. Number 8 refuses her number and gives her name as Nadia, before becoming suspicious of him, accusing him of being Number 2’s assistant. But Number 6 now has suspicions.
These are confirmed the following day when Nadia, a former Olympics swimmer, starts to swim out to sea. Number 2 has again stopped to talk, but he is aware of Nadia’s increasing distance from shore and orders an Orange Alert: she is brought back by Rover and rushed off in an ambulance.
The next day, Number 2 asks Number 6 to the hospital, where Nadia is being continually questioned over her acts: what was she thinking of? Was she intending to kill herself? Number 6 is there ostensibly bevcause he knows her better than anyone else in the Village.
The strain is affecting Nadia. She is in a room with an electrified floor, a lethal current flashing on and off every four seconds. The door can be reached in three seconds, if she in confident in herself. Using handfuls of water from a bowl, Nadia times the electric flashes, but when she makes for the door, she breaks down screaming, waiting to be killed. Number 2 hurriedly countermands the current, before commenting that they will have to undertake further tests.
Angrily, Number 6 orders him to stop, then, as a sop, agrees to cooperate. But only in one respect: he will enter the art exhibition. Amused at his presumption, Number 2 agrees, and Nadia is released back to her cottage.
That night, Number 6 conducts a seeming romance: under the relaxing lullaby of the Village radio, he quizzes Nadia as to his suspicions that she is here because she knows the whereabouts of the Village. After time to think, Nadia confirms this: the Village is on the Lithuanian coast, thirty miles from the Polish border. There is a resistance group there with whom she has a contact.
Number 6 spends several weeks making his art exhibit. Number 2 drops by: Number 6 has made a primitive axe and chisel, has cut down a tree and is chipping out a shape from it. The ‘weapons’ are illegal, but Number 2 winks an indulgent eye, allowing Number 6 to continue.
Come the exhibition, Number 6’s piece stands out. It is a abstract tryptich of supposedly religious symbology, and is the eventual winner. It is also the only entry not to be about number 2. Indeed, Number 6 immediately uses his 2,000 credit prize to buy a tapestry of Number 2 woven by Number 38, an elderly woman.
That night, Number 6 and Nadia break curfew to smuggle his sculpture to the beach, where it fits together to make a two-person boat, with mast, and a sail consisting of the tapestry. By the morning, they are on the edge of the Village’s radar, and Rover is sent to retrieve them. Number 6 and Nadia abandon their boat and swim ashore, under a cover of protective fire from the Polish group, repelling Rover.
Arrangements are already in place to ship them to Number 6’s former bosses in London, via Gdansk and Copenhagen. Number 6 demands details of the route and, as his watch has stopped because of its immersion, he borrows a watch from the Polish fisherman to monitor their journey and ensure it takes the right amount of time.
Travelling in a wooden crate, they progress via lorry, ship and aeroplane. Nadia, who has been  calling him Big Ben since their plan was first formed, asks ingenuous questions about London, Number 6’s life there, and whether he is married.
They are delivered to a plush and familiar London Office, filled with the sound of traffic and the chimes of Big Ben. Number 6’s colleague Fotheringay greets him, and takes Nadia away, whilst his superior, Colonel J (this is the name given in the credits: in the episode he is only referred to as the Colonel), wants to speak to him.
The Colonel is openly sceptical of Number 6’s story of the Village. He points out that Number 6 abruptly resigned from a position of high security, refusing to give a reason and promptly disappeared until, several months later, a message is received from behind the Iron Curtain that he is on his way home. Has he been turned? Until Number 6 is fully debriefed, starting with the true reasons for his resignation, he will not be trusted, nor will Nadia be safeguarded.
Wearily accepting the inevitability of all this, Number 6 starts to say that, for a long time… But Big Ben has struck the hour, he has automatically checked his watch, and both say eight o’clock. But his watch was taken from a Polish fisherman: why did the fisherman have a watch set to London time when he’s one hour ahead?
The Colonel attempts to bluster but Number 6 has stopped listening. He explores the office until he finds a wire coming out of a cabinet. When he yanks this out, the London sounds stop abruptly. Inside the cabinet is a tape-recorder. When the plug is restored, so too are the London street sounds.
Number 2 gives the Colonel a look of contempt. He leaves the office, walks slowly down a corridor and opens a door. He finds himself standing at the side of the Village Town Hall. On the front steps, Number 2, Fotheringay and Nadia stand together. She sees him first, and they stop talking. As he walks past them, Number 6 brings thumb and forefinmger together into a circle over his eye and says “Be Seeing You.”
Back at his house, before the door opens with a low, sibilant hum, he flicks the sign again for the surveillance camera’s benefit. He goes inside and the door shuts behind him
Doors clang upon McGoohan’s image as it rushes to fill the screen. The closing credits start.

Behind the Scenes with The Justice Society of America – Part 2: Fulfilling the Mission


The JSA in 1968, drawn by Murphy Anderson

All-Star 4 was the first full Justice Society of America adventure, and it established the formula by which, with a few variations, the teams stories would be conducted for several years: until All-Star 38 in 1947, in fact.
The JSA convene in Washington, at the headquarters of the FBI, whose famous Chief (neither named nor, conspicuously, pictured in the story – someone had their brains on right) instructs them that America is troubled by German Bundists – Fifth Columnists – who are acting on behalf of the Dictator Nations in trying to lead America away from Democracy and Freedom. The JSA are asked to intervene in eight specific areas. So each member takes off on a solo mission that is part of the whole, each member defeats their localised outbreak of subversion, each member discovers that the Bundists they have captured report to one Fritz Klaver, of Toledo, Ohio (based on a real-life German leader). And each member arrives at Klaver’s hideout at the same time, at the start of the final chapter, in which the villain is quickly overwhelmed by the JSA’s collective might.
So it was. Every issue, be it quarterly or bi-monthly, the JSA would find itself up against some menace, peril or criminal whose machinations would arrange itself into eight parts, conveniently matching exactly the number of JSA members (when paper restrictions forced a reduction in the team to six members, crime and evil became correspondingly less divided).
But All-Star hadn’t been created solely to make money by itself. It was conceived as a marketing exercise. All-Star 4 asked readers to write in and nominate their choice of which JSA member deserved their own  solo title. The following issue, The Flash was confirmed as winner, and the beneficiary of his own series: since there already was a Flash Comics, the next postal vote was over a suitable title, which was won by All-Flash Quarterly (the qualification would be dropped when the comic was promoted to bi-monthly status). As The Flash was the JSA Chairman, and his successor as Chairman lasted only a single issue before following him into his own title, it suggests that All-American had a pretty good idea to begin with of the relative popularity of their characters.
Thus, in All-Star 6, in a curious pre-echo of metafiction, the Flash steps down to become an Honorary Member, a status now retrospectively conferred on Superman and Batman. No explanation is given, other than that the Scarlet Speedster had been awarded his own title. This meant a new member was required who, according to the rules, had to come from Flash Comics: Johnny Thunder, who by this time had at least worked out what magic words summoned his Thunderbolt (though he still usually called the ‘Bolt up by accident) put himself forward, and the JSA were still juvenile enough to put him through a very college-style initiation ceremony before accepting him.
Which meant that, at an early stage, the JSA equipped itself with a comic relief that it really didn’t need, which was a neat foreshadowing of the fate of many of its characters later in the Forties.
They also found themselves sufficiently popular to be elevated to bi-monthly publication with issue 6. And there was another write-in vote for the next member to be elevated to honorary status via his own title.
The new Chairman was revealed in issue 7 to be Green Lantern. Simultaneously it was also proclaimed that Green Lantern had won the latest write-in vote and would be getting his own title, AND that Hour-man had requested and been granted leave of absence, to be replaced by his Adventure Comics compeer, Starman.
Before looking at this rapid-fire change in more detail, it’s worth considering the actual story told in All-Star 7. Contrary to the universal experience of later periods, the comic book heroes of the Forties did not spend all their time fighting costumed villains (the JSA’s first recurring foe, the Brain Wave, would not appear until All-Star 15, and he would be a bald, skinny scientist in a green smock). Though America was not yet part of the Second World War, and editor Mayer’s practice of working three in hand (i.e., having three full issues written, drawn, lettered and coloured at any time: no deadline terrors for him!) meant that All-Star would not even acknowledge America’s entry into the war until issue 11, issue 7 returned to the subject indirectly referenced in issue 4, the European War: the first of several issues over the coming months, prepared when America was still neutral.
Given that, almost without exception, the writers, artists, editors and publishers at National/Detective and All-American, indeed most other comic book companies, were Jewish, a preoccupation with a War that involved the persecution of their people is hardly surprising. It made for stories that, at this distance, give a fascinating insight into America’s preoccupation with a War that was not supposed to touch their shores.
All-Star 7 began with the new Chairman recounting his visit to war-torn Europe, witnessing its devastation, and proposing that the JSA should set out to raise $1,000,000 for the relief of orphans (significantly, only in the democratic countries). After an intervening issue was devoted to introducing two new members, issue 9 would take the team South of the Border, putting down dictator penetration into the friendly, democratic South American republics that respect how America has always been willing to keep its distance and allow them to live as they choose, without intervention or coercion (this sentiment is expressed directly by the JSA’s Mexican contact, at which point the irony piles up in such lumps that a lorry is required to haul it away).
And in issue 10, the JSA take a trip into the future to recover the eight essential parts of a fool-proof Bomb Defence Formula that will protect American cities against aerial attack (and maybe plant a dangerous and thankfully unworkable idea into the head of Ronald Reagan forty years later).
But let’s go back to issue 8 and the simultaneous introduction of two new members. Green Lantern’s stand down was, of course, due to the scheduled publication of  Green Lantern 1: he was replaced as Chairman by Hawkman, who would go on to hold the post permanently, and in the end be the only member to appear in every issue of All-Star. However, for decades fans assumed that Hour-man’s ‘leave of absence’ was due to his series failing and being cancelled. But whilst Hour-man was one of the earliest superheroes to be cancelled, this did not take place until over eighteen months earlier: there was a completely different, and ultimately ironic reason for this change in personnel.
Starman was the creation of Artist Jack Burnley, one of the best comic book artists of the Forties, and a committee of National’s editors. Astronomer, socialite and pretend hypochondriac Ted Knight discovered a source of cosmic energy emanating from the stars and built a golden sceptre-sized device known as a Gravity Rod, enabling him to fly, and project force-beams and shields of heat and light. In short, it was Green Lantern’s magic Power Ring with a scientific basis instead. National thought Starman was the goods, a winner on a par with Superman and Batman, and they wanted him promoted immediately, en route to that inevitable solo title. If Starman was to be bundled into the JSA, one of the other Adventure features had to step down. As Sandman was the more popular character, the Man of the Hour drew the short straw.
But two new members won their spurs in All-Star 8, and the other, from All-American, was Dr Mid-Nite. In real life he was surgeon and anti-crime crusader Charles McNider, who’d been blinded by a bomb thrown when McNider was treating a witness against the Mob: McNider then discovered that he had perfect vision in the dark, which he relied upon as Dr Mid-Nite.
There’s an unexpected irony in their joint first appearance that foreshadows the respective longevities of the characters. Though Starman starts the issue as an admitted member, he says and contributes virtually nothing outside his solo chapter, whilst Dr Mid-nite, who is nothing but a guest until the final page, plays a full and active role in the story and can’t stop talking. Mid-Nite would remain a member until the JSA’s final case in All-Star 57, whilst Starman would vanish from the series after All-Star 23.

So All-Star was fulfilling its purpose quite admirably, not to mention the bonus of cross-promoting its four ‘feeder’ titles. Undoubtedly there were Flash-fans who followed their favourite from Flash to All-Star, discovered Green Lantern, and followed him back to All-American. Multiply that by all the other combinations possible among the eleven members who appeared in this first run, and that’s a lot of cross-promotion.

But, though veterans recall discussions about a Hawkman solo title, there would be no more spin-offs, and changes of line-up would take place for more underground reasons. All-Star recognised there was a War out there: very soon America would be in it, and the whole course of the series would be changed.
Meanwhile, there’s one final thing to mention about All-Star 8. It contained a bonus 10 page story, débuting a new character, trailing All-American’s next anthology title, Sensation Comics, out the following month. This new character, created by psychologist William Moulton Marsden and artist Harry Peters, was to be the success National/Detective expected of Starman, and gain a solo series faster than anyone before her. Enter Wonder Woman.

Part 3 – the War Years – All-Star 11 – 23

The Prisoner: Opening Credits


A clap of thunder, over a shot of high, massing clouds.
A shot of a long, straight, borderless road, looking like an airport runway, stretching out to the perspective point. A speck, in the distance, races towards the camera at fantastic speed, the music reaching a crescendo and pulsing into a strong theme, punctuated by thunderclaps as the car passes beneath the camera.
Close-ups, from different angles, of McGoohan sat behind the wheel. The car is a Lotus 7 in British racing green. McGoohan’s face is set, the face of someone who has reached a difficult decision, on which he’s about to act, about which he has mixed feelings.
The Lotus dodges through London traffic, slipping quickly past the Houses of Parliament before the car turns off right.
An overhead shot, of the car turning into the entrance to an underground car park, white, broadheaded arrows painted onto the concrete.
McGoohan arrives at an entrance barrier and takes a ticket. Before the barrier has time to rise, he drives on, under it.
He pulls up in a corner of the car park, leaps out of the car and heads towards a pair of Way Out doors.
The theme pauses, marking anxious time. McGoohan stalks along a metal-walled corridor. It is lit at intervals by overhead lights, leaving pools of shadow between. Close-ups of McGoohan’s stride, moving into and out of the light, a diagonal overhead shot of his face, the expression strained.
The interior of a pair of metal doors, thrown open from outside. McGoohan stands poised, his arms holding the doors wide, before striding forward.
Over his shoulder, looking into a well-appointed Civil Servant’s office. A small, balding man, in pin-striped trousers, sits behind a large desk covered with papers, looking down.
McGoohan prowls backwards and forwards, speaking volubly as the man seems to ignore him. His anger flares: he reaches into his jacket for a large white envelope, slams it down on the desktop. If we look quickly enough we can see it has ‘Private and Confidential  By Hand’ written on it, before McGoohan slams his fist down on the desktop. Everything jumps, including a bone china cup and saucer, the saucer splitting in two.
Back in the car, over McGoohan’s shoulder as he drives up the exit ramp into the daylight.
At the top of the ramp, at ground level, a black car emerging from the left courteously slows down to allow the Lotus to turn out of the ramp and right across our screens.
We follow the car through more London traffic. It overtakes an undertaker’s hearse and speeds away, but the hearse remains visible in the background. There are close-ups of McGoohan’s face, smiling ruefully. He’s done whatever’s necessary, and is glad of it, but it’s not been an easy decision.
Close-up on a B&W photo of McGoohan, as a typewriter key types a series of x’s diagonally from top left to bottom right. More traffic. The same photo and typewriter key, etching x’s from top right to bottom left.
A long hall of filing cabinets. Something slides along a rail on the left hand wall. A cabinet drawer slides open. The camera focusses on the picture, now with a great X across it. It falls into the drawer, which slides back in. The camera follows it, closing in on the drawer label: RESIGNED
A quiet side street. The Lotus pulls up outside the last house on the left. Credits come up: “Patrick McGoohan is”: “The Prisoner”. We cut to McGoohan, leaping out of the car. In the background, a black blur resolves into focus as an undertaker’s hearse.
McGoohan bounds up the steps and lets himself in. Over his shoulder, as he goes through the door, the hearse pulls forward, pulling up gently behind the Lotus.
McGoohan enters a comfortable living room. He takes a suitcase across to a table before a corner window, returns to another table in front of the camera point, picking up his passport, before returning to the suitcase, into which he places photos of holiday destinations.
A tall, thin, cadaverous man gets out of the hearse. He is in full rig: long black coat, top hat. He climbs the steps to the front door.
McGoohan is bent over the photos. Close-up on the keyhole into his room, as a cloud of white gas hisses loudly through it. The hissing continues as we cut back to look face on to McGoohan. The cloud starts to gather. Suddenly McGoohan stiffens, having heard the gas, and starting to feel its effect. His eyes panic, realising he’s been caught, angry with himself at letting his guard down.
We focus on his paralysed eyes. Visions of the towerblocks he can see through his window slide crazily across his face, before his eyes close.
He falls back, consumed by the gas, his hands clawing at and dragging down the blind, as he collapses onto a coach against the wall. The music stops.
After a moment of blackness, the picture returns, accompanied by cool, placid music, a single wind instrument. McGoohan is lying on the same couch, exactly as he fell. His eyes open but he doesn’t move, glancing around. His brow furrows: he swings himself into an upright position, wincing slightly, as if he has a residual headache from the gassing. He stands, still puzzled. Why the attack if nothing has been done to him?
He reaches for the blinds, drawing these up to let sunlight in. We cut to outside the window, looking in at him as the blind rises, his eyes following its trailing edge until he freezes in shock.
Cut to what McGoohan sees through his window: an Italianate stone village, built around an elongated square containing fountains and a pond, a gallery beyond, domed buildings on the low hillside around it. The episode title card appears, in a distinctive font, used exclusively throughout the Village, and now known as Prisoner Font.
From episode 2 onwards, a slightly edited version of these credits is followed by a series of questions and answers – a catechism – over selected scenes showing the exterior of the Village, its interior offices, McGoohan running across the sands and being charged by Rover and, finally, a moonlight gesture of defiance and (impotent) rage.
McGoohan:    Where am I?
No. 2:        In the Village.
McGoohan:    What side are you on?
No. 2:        That would be telling.
McGoohan:    What do you want?
No. 2:        We want information. (repeated slightly louder) Information. (repeated even louder) Information!
McGoohan:    You won’t get it!
No. 2:        By hook or by crook (pause), we will.
McGoohan:    Who are you?
No. 2:        (face appears on screen) The new Number Two.
McGoohan:    (rapped out stonily) Who is Number 1?
No. 2:        You (slight pause) are Number 6.
McGoohan:    (in rising anger), I am not a number, I am a free man!
No. 2:        (harsh, derisive laughter).
The episode begins.