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

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