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