I declare a personal interest here. Like the Red Tornado, officially there should be no place in this series for Mr. Terrific. Granted, he appeared in an entire issue of All-Star, not a mere page, but it was emphasised that he was just passing through, helping out, nothing to see here.
But Mr. Terrific was in the very first Justice Society line-up I ever read, and he was regarded there as ‘terrific’ enough to impersonate Batman. He was treated as an equal. And he became a personal favourite: I’m damn well not going to leave him out!
Mr. Terrific was created by Charles Reizenstein and artist Hal Sharp for the first issue of All-American’s third anthology title, Sensation Comics, and he would go on to appear in every issue (except 37) until ending his run with issue 63.
Terry Sloane was a boy prodigy, an award-winning architect at age 10, a college graduate at 13, an all-round genius and an Olympic athlete. And by his early twenties, Sloane was bored of a life that lacked challenges, and about to commit suicide by jumping from a bridge.
He was diverted from this course by having to intervene to save a young woman menaced by thugs. Wanda Wilson turned out to be more concerned about her younger brother, whom she was bringing up, and the risk of his drifting into a gang. Sloane decided to use his many talents to provide a better role model for young men, a figure who would teach them to respect Fair Play.
As Mr. Terrific, Sloane wore a red top incorporating a pull-over head cowl and eyemask, a green jacket with the words ‘Fair Play’ on a shield across his stomach, black tights and brown boots. He posed as an effete snob to divert attention away from himself, but Wanda Wilson easily saw through Mr. Terrific’s secret and became Sloane’s secretary and aide (and later girlfriend), to help his cause.
Terrific’s sole appearance with the JSA came about as a consequence of the All-American dispute: with More Fun and Adventure off-limits, Mayer decided, logically, to extend All-Star’s ‘catchment area’ to Sensation. The comic’s two leading characters behind Wonder Woman, Wildcat and Mr. Terrific, were to become JSA members, but Charlie Gaines had different ideas and, late in the process, insisted that the more popular Flash and Green Lantern be brought back.
So the two new boys had their dialogue rewritten to portray them as guests. And, given the nature of the story, which placed the emphasis on pacifist Richard Amber and not the heroes accompanying him on his journey through Germany’s history, Terrific didn’t even get the chance to show off his paces, landing no more than a couple of haymakers before the story moved on.
And that was that, as far as the JSA was concerned.
Incidentally, in 2007, DC decided to supplement their All-Star Archive series (twelve hardback volumes reprinting the entire run of All-Star 1-57) with JSA All-Stars Archive Volume 1 (no Volume 2 has appeared, though there was a ten year gap between All-Star Archives 2 and 3). This featured the first five adventures of each of the seven members never to grace the cover of the comic that featured their series.
These are the only Mr. Terrific stories from the Forties that I’ve read and, biased as I am, I found them, and the portrayal of Sloane and Terrific, far better than I’d expected (though anything looks good when compared to the Atom). I’d love to read more.
Terrific’s Silver Age return was in that 1965 team-up, when he was a full member at last. There was nothing in the story to reveal how slim his history with the JSA was: as far as I, a new reader, was concerned, he was on a par with The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom and Doctor Fate – and given the impersonations, he was put on a level with Batman, which was heavy hitting.
But after that prestigious début, Mr. Terrific appeared in only four further team-ups, and nowhere else.
In 1967, he was fully part of the action. The following year, he made only a cameo appearance, among the ‘rest’ of the JSA who were apparently killed by the new Red Tornado operating one of T.O.Morrow’s ‘futurenergy’ guns. In 1972, in a three-parter that featured virtually everybody ever associated with the Justice League and Justice Society, Terrific was one of three heroes to arrive late and go on their own, peripheral mission. And in 1977, he was killed.
I put it as bluntly as that, because that’s as blunt as it was. The story was written by Gerry Conway as a ‘locked-room’ mystery set in the Justice League’s satellite HQ. Conway wanted a body, Mr. Terrific was a nobody that he didn’t give a toss about, and Conway killed him off without a cursory thought, not then or after. And to make matters worse, he let the killer escape and Terrific’s death went unavenged for almost twenty years.
To some extent, Conway was right. Mr. Terrific was an obscure, meaningless character. But even obscure, meaningless characters have their fans (and I am here to attest to that), and Terrific was a member of the very first superhero team. That alone conferred on him a status. If he had to be killed off, that alone demanded a story with some meaning, some closure. Instead, Conway wrote a shabby, demeaning, disgraceful, perfunctory affair from start to finish.
The event itself was clumsily foreshadowed (telegraphed) in the JSA story in Adventure 464, when Doctor Fate has to be dragged away from a spell he is constructing to save someone’s life: and out of nowhere, Mr. Terrific turns up, ready to join the meeting with the Justice League. Once there, he’s moody and silent, until he reveals that, in his job as Professor in English at Gateway University (?!?!?!), Sloane’s just seen his old (freshly-created) enemy, Roger Romaine, aka the Spirit King. Sloane couldn’t stop him then, but has been trailing Romaine ever since, even to this meeting.
The reaction of his colleagues? You could have left him to me (Jay Garrick, fellow-Spirit King foe), and, are you sure you didn’t imagine all of this? (Power Girl). Yes, that’s right, accusations of incompetence and senility, to Terrific’s face, at which he understandably bridles. But not for long because, next thing, a hole is blown in the Satellite, and his body is found in the wreckage. Strangled.
The two teams seal the satellite and the two best detectives, Batman of Earth-1 and The Huntress of Earth-2, lead an investigation that identifies The Flash – Jay Garrick – as the culprit. But no, actually it’s the Spirit King (shock, horror, didn’t see that coming) who’s got in by possessing Garrick and using him to lead Terrific aside. But, in order not to taint Garrick any further than has already been done, the Spirit King emerged from Flash’s body to strangle Terrific himself. If you have given any cursory thought to what the unpossessed Flash was doing all the time his old comrade was being murdered, you have given the issue more thought than Conway.
Who promptly has the Spirit King escape via the Transmatter Cube back to Earth-2 – the one exit none of the heroes had thought of, silly creatures. At least things end on a joke, because the heroes have actually triumphed, by proving that none of them did it. I mean, one of their mates is dead and the geezer wot dun it’s got away with it but, hey, we’re clean, ok?
Even without my personal attachment to Mr. Terrific, it’s pretty shabby stuff, the more mystifying in that, whilst Terrific was not the first Justice Society member to die, after the Earth-2 Batman, a mere six months earlier, he was still among the first to fall – and his death left an absence, unlike that of Batman.
Sadly, it took twenty years, and two complete Universe reboots (Crisis and Zero Hour) before anyone got around to avenging Mr. Terrific. The story was told in Ostrander and Mandrake’s The Spectre 54.
The Spectre, moving inexorably towards Corrigan’s renunciation of his long burden, intervenes to prevent a man from throwing himself off a bridge to his death. Michael Holt, an African-American, is an all-round genius and a former Olympic athlete, but he had recently lost his wife and young daughter in a random car crash, and found it too much to bear. The Spectre intervened to tell him the story of Terry Sloane, and at long last, of his the JSA pursued and defeated the Spirit King, with the intervention of Sloane’s spirit itself, with enough time to be given the respect due to him as a JSA member: as an equal.
Holt was no fool: he knew why the Spectre was telling him all this. And in search of purpose, like Terry Sloane before him, Holt became Mr. Terrific 2, intent on giving street kids a focus away from gangs, just like Sloane at the very beginning.
This purpose did not last long. The new Mr. Terrific appeared again in his street-clothes and shades ‘costume’ at Jim Corrigan’s ‘funeral’ in the last issue of the Spectre, but this was the last of the street level Terrific.
Holt would next appear in JSA 5, a cameo in what was virtually a solo story for Sand. He was dressed in an all new costume, of light blue and black, wearing a black T-mask bonded to his face by nanotechnology, and accompanied by a minimum of three T-spheres – remote controlled, multi-functional orbs, orbiting him. He was working security for Tyler Chemicals in issue 5 and, six months later, he joined the JSA, offstage, being brought in as a secret agent by Chairman Sand. Terrific proved to be so popular that, when a vote came on the Chairmanship, following some willy-waving between Sand and the newly-revived Hawkman, the membership elected Terrific, and he wasn’t even running!
As JSA Chairman, Holt proved a very capable leader. He was regularly referred to as the ‘Third Smartest man in the World’ (the top two have never been named but they’re probably Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor). He was a master of everything: Holt would describe himself as having ‘an aptitude for having aptitudes’. Indeed, his only weakness, and it was presented as a weakness, was his inability to believe in God or the afterlife: yes, Mr. Terrific 2 was an atheist. And everybody kept badgering him about it. But this is America: comics can stretch themselves to gay heroes, but non-God-fearin’ ones?
By Infinite Crisis, Mr Terrific 2’s status had risen so high that he took over the secret agency Checkmate as its Black King, a position he maintained alongside his ongoing Justice Society membership, and come the New 52, he was one of only two Justice Society members to carry over into a Universe in which there had never been a Justice Society.
Oddly enough, from the time that Michael Holt first appeared, the Terry Sloane Mr. Terrific has suddenly been accorded all the respect and stature his fan(s) could wish, even though he’s been dead thirty years plus by now.
The process started in the Justice Society Returns Fifth Week Event that preceded the new JSA series. The overall story ran for three weeks, devised as a giant issue of All-Star. The Justice Society as a whole joined together in All-Star 1 and 2 (nice touch), published in weeks 1 and 3 , whilst in week 2, the team split up into seven pairs to fight individual aspects of the problem (a mad God trying to destroy the Earth in March 1945, if you’re asking).
Mr. Terrific’s role is interesting to observe. In All-Star 1, he’s brought in, alongside Wildcat, as a JSA Reservist, though his only contribution is the stereotypical (and rather bone-headed) cry of “Fair and Square”. By issue 2, he’s the hero who, single-handedly, puts the mad God’s terrifying-machine-to-destroy-the-world out of commission.
What happened between was Mark Waid writing a team-up between Mr. Terrific and The Flash (Jay Garrick). It’s set in Dresden, as the two heroes set about saving people from bombing, whilst pursuing and defeating their enemy. This gives Garrick the chance to assess Sloane and what drives him, and to picture him as a very talented man, driven by a deep sense of fairness, and a desire that everyone should have the best possible chances. Together with Sloane’s all-round break-through genius, and two time-travelling meetings with Michael Holt in JSA, Mr. Terrific’s reputation now stood higher than it had ever been. Far too late, mind you: after all, he was dead.
Post New 52, Mr Terrific 2 gained a solo series for the first time ever, although it only lasted eight issues, and was one of the first wave of New 52 series to be cancelled. Since then, Michael Holt has found himself crossed over to the new Earth-2, where he’s to play a part in the new Justice Society. Meanwhile, Terry Sloan (no ‘E’) has been introduced, but this time he’s a bad guy, a former supervillain. I hardly think I need disclose my opinion on that.