By the light of a Green Flame: All-American Comics


All-American Comics was the flagship publication of the newly-formed All-American Publications, the company founded by M.C (Charley) Gaines in partnership with Detective Comics’ Harry Donenfeld, who put up the capital in return for a 50% silent partnership and a role as Business Manager for Detective’s Business Manager, Jack Leibowitz.
Though Detective was making its waves on the back of its two masked men characters, Superman and Batman, and though Gaines had sought the money to set up his own company because of the success of Donenfeld’s titles, the new series did not at first feature any superheroes. That would not come until issue 16, and when it did the new hero would be All-American‘s mainstay for the rest of its run.
The first issue, from April 1939, is very much a thing from a bygone age. All-American led with Red, White and Blue, three American boys who’d grown up as friends, entered different branches of the services in the war and, thanks to their chivalrous impulses towards a beautiful woman in a tight situation, found themselves transferred as a special unit to G2, America’s secret service. There were Mutt and Jeff reprints, Sunday pages from Bud Fisher’s classic newspaper strip, and the same from Percy Crosby’s highly acclaimed but largely forgotten Skippy. Gene Byrnes’ Reg’lar Fellers was another newspaper strip, one I’d never heard of before, and not hard to understand why.

Hop Harrigan, by Jon L. Blummer (credited as Jon Elby), a future phenomenon as America’s air pilot hero of the airwaves also debuted. Editor Sheldon Mayer contributed his quasi-autobiographical Scribbly, Adventures of a Boy Cartoonist, of which more would come. Adventures in the Unknown, the Mystery Men of Mars, by Carl Claudy, started off like the crassest and stupidest of SF. Edwin Alger’s Ben Webster started like a continuation of an ongoing series, which it was, a pretty bog standard juvenile adventure newspaper strip.
Harry Lampert, of The Flash fame, produced Spot Savage, about a news reporter and there were more from Gene Byrnes and Bud Fisher, half-pagers featuring Daisybelle and Cicero’s Cat, respectively, which appeared as ‘header’ series on the newspaper Sunday pages. Tippie, by Edwina, was a silent strip about a dog. Fontaine Fox’s Toonerville Folks was yet another reprinted Sunday strip, as was George Storm’s Bobby Thatcher, though that strip had been defunct two years when All-American 1 came out. Lastly, there was Wiley of West Point, by Lieut. Richard Rick.
It’s hardly an impressive line-up. Superman had been in existence since April 1938, and Batman was brand new. All-American offered very little new material and was overloaded with newspaper strip reprints of varying quality, making it almost a premature throwback to the very first comic books of the early part of the decade. Mutt and Jeff is legendary, but it’s humour is tilted to the age, Skippy is more of a cult than anything else, and Scribbly has potential it certainly doesn’t use in issue 1.

This is an eighty year old comic book with an amateurish logo. And it looks it.
Weirdly enough, Red Dugan developed ‘mental telepathy’ in issue 2, which was an altogether cheaper issue, with limited colouring of the kind you used to get in the Victor and the Hornet in Britain in the Sixties. And in issue 3, Scribbly Jibbet met Huey Hunkel and, what’s more important, his Ma, Ma Hunkel. And there was a very familiar opening line to Huey’s Great American Novel (5 pages with every other word crossed out because Huey kept thinking of a better one). It was a dark and stormy night. You just know someone’s going to use that!
The first addition to the line-up was an adaptation of the renowned play starring Fredric March, The American Way, a patriotic play about German immigrants learning to be American. The title also added Popsicle Pete, the Typical American Boy (have you noticed something of a theme developing around here?), though that was based on a real contest winner from the Popsicle Company.
So far, with the exception of Scribbly, so not much, but the first quasi-superhero hit the front cover on issue 8, introducing Gary Concord, the Ultra-Man. Concord, who took over the lead slot from Red, White and Blue, is the High Moderator of America in 2239 but to begin with he had to play second fiddle to the life story of his father, a 20th century worker for peace carried into the future in suspended animation. Spot Savage dropped out, unnoticed. And to keep pace with what was going on around, issue 9 carried a full page advert for All American Publications’ new title, Flash Comics. The true superhero was arriving at the company.
It only took until issue 10 before Red, White and Blue were back in pole position, and Gary Concord moved further within. The perpetually stiff Wiley of West Point disappeared without warning after issue 12, in mid-cliffhanger, which also saw the last Toonerville Folks, but the unspeakably worthless Adventures into the Unknown was kept.
All of this, however, was but a generally unmemorable prelude to issue 16. All-American gained a new, and much more professional logo, a new cover character and a new leading feature, the one the comic is known for: enter the Green Lantern.
It’s a well-known story: young railroad engineer Alan Scott (who was originally going to be called Alan Ladd – as is in Al Ladd-in’s lamp – before the famous actor appeared) should have died when a bomb sabotaged the new line he’d built. Instead the mysterious green railroad lantern saved him and granted him power over metals, from the Green Flame of Life. Green Lantern was the creation of artist Martin Nodell (going by Mart Dellon), fleshed out by writer Bill Finger, to whom Nodell was far more generous than Bob Kane had been. GL’s far from green costume only appeared in one panel, but it was the start, of something very much bigger.

The classic history has Scott moving to the city (not named as Gotham until issue 91) and becoming a radio announcer so as to be ahead of breaking news of crimes, but he doesn’t even join Apex Broadcasting until issue 20, and then as a radio engineer, a status he retains for ages. In later issues, Scott would work for Station WCMG (once) before settling at WXYZ, and he would bounce around various roles like Special Events Director, Radio Announcer (see!), Program Director and Presenter.
As an employee of Apex Broadcasting, Scott would work for, alongside and in charge of Irene Miller, his Producer, Broadcaster and eventually secretary until, one day, the young lady with a crush on Green Lantern just drifted away, completely forgotten.
Green Lantern’s immediate success quickly emboldened Mayer to commission another costumed hero, The Atom, in issue 19. Written and drawn interchangeably, I believe, by Ben Flinton and Bill O’Connor, this was 5’1” tall college student Al Pratt, looked down upon for his height, who was trained by boxing trainer Joe Morgan to become a fighter, but instead used his scrapping abilities to become a hero, to rescue his fellow student and would be date, Mary James. Whichever man drew at any time, they were both lousy, as in barely better than I can draw.
Gary Concord’s run came to an end in issue 19, only for Adventures into the Unknown to return after an all-too-short breather. Sadly, Percy Crosby’s Skippy and its header also left the scene, though Bud Fisher and Gene Byrnes hung around. For a short time: Reg’Lar Fellers was the next to depart, leaving its header strip, Daisybelle, behind.
Suddenly, they were everywhere. In issue 20, the Green Lantern’s fame spread as far as Scribbly’s series, prompting Ma Hunkel to put on red longjohns and a saucepan with eyeholes cut out to rescue Dinky Jibbet and Sisty Hunkel as The Red Tornado, the first parody superhero and, beating Wonder Woman by a clear year, the first superheroine. A couple of issues later, the feature was re-titled Scribbly and The Red Tornado. By issue 24, Sisty and Dinky had joined in the fun as the Cyclone Kids. And the Red Tornado’s name kept getting bigger, and Scribbly’s kept getting smaller…

All-American was now accelerating towards its remembered shape. Ben Webster’s stout-hearted adventures came to an end in issue 24, to accommodate the debut of blinded surgeon-turned-superhero, Charles ‘Dr Mid-Nite’ McNider, created by Charles Reizenstein and Stan Aschmeier. He was followed two issues later by Sargon the Sorceror, the work of John B Wentworth and Howard Purcell. This latter made All-American a fully-fledged superhero comic, like Flash Comics. Of the newspaper strips, only Bud Fisher’s work remained, and weirdly some of these were reprints from earlier in the run.
I’ve refrained so far from substantive comment, but I do have a two pennorth to put in about Red, White and Blue. Though it’s supposedly about the three friends, Marine Sergeant Red Dugan, Army Sergeant Whitey Smith and Sailor Blooey Blue, most stories see them operating as a quartet, at first under the orders of, then usually with established G2 agent Doris West. Doris is a beautiful woman, of course, and winds up, in the background, becoming Red’s girlfriend.
There’s a visual dichotomy from the start in that she and Red are drawn realistically, but that Whitey and Blooey are cartoon figures, one big and blonde, the other small and dark. Whitey’s the brawn, Blooey the comic relief: well, both of them are, but he’s the overt one, the put-upon one, the Johnny Thunder.
It’s very noticeable that, as time goes on, Red forgets that Doris is the experienced one who arranged for him to join G2. Increasingly, he starts getting macho on her, leave it to the men, stay at home with your knitting, sneering at her ideas. Thankfully, the series doesn’t: Doris is always right but Red never learns. This really is a boy’s comic, because the some thing goes on in Hop Harrigan, whenever Gerry, aka Geraldine, crops up, no matter how competent she shows herself to be, and Gary Concord was equally snotty about women.
It’s annoying because it shows itself widely across several series. It’s not like Flash Comics, where The Flash and Hawkman have girlfriends who insisting on getting involved in their game, where the misogynist elements are only a reflection of the times, and the attitude of the men is mainly one of humouring. There was a genuine anger, almost a foot-stamping aggression, in Red, White and Blue and the other series at this point.

Doiby

Green Lantern was the title’s flagship character, its cover star and first feature, almost throughout the entire run, though his hold on that role would be shaken as All-American neared the end of its life. By rights, this should have been a top-notch Forties series, but with issue 27, Nodell and Finger permanently crippled the series by introducing a full-time comic relief character in scrappy little taxi-driver Doiby Dickles.
Doiby, who took his name from his trademark derby (or bowler) hat as pronounced in his Brooklyn accent, was a constant drag on the idea of taking Green Lantern seriously. There was some decent amusement to be had from his outlandish speech patterns at the first, but that was forgotten before too long. In issue 35, Doiby was allowed to see Green Lantern without his mask and, being Apex Broadcasting’s official cabbie by then, recognise him as Alan Scott.
On a lighter note, Bill Finger demonstrated a penchant for knocking off crooks in the course of climactic fights, by knocking them off gantries into vats of acid. Everywhere criminals went, they kept vats of acid under gantries. No wonder the Health and Safety Laws had to be toughened up. Even The Atom got in on the act in issue 29, but to be fair he only dropped Nazi saboteurs into molten steel, whilst Red, White and Blue burned their spies to death.
There was a nadir to come, that thankfully passed. Bill Finger left the series at issue 41, with the stories now credited to Mart Nodell (under his real name) and Irwin Hasen. Sadly, the new regime got the idea of putting Doiby Dickles into a Green Lantern costume (greugh! Bad sight!) and calling him Devastatin’ Doiby (come back Bill Finger!)

I said I can draw better than this

Hop Harrigan had early on developed a supporting cast of veteran flier Prop Wash (not a nickname), and big, red-headed mechanic Ikky Tinker, which confused me as I knew the latter as Tank Tinker from the prose stories appearing in All-Star Comics. Now, issue 32 revealed his full name to be His Grace Tutankhamen Anastasius Angustora Ichabod Tinker: you know why he immediately became Tank, but just what was so wrong with Ikky (apart from the obvious)?
Flinton and O’Connor stayed with The Atom until they were drafted, and never returned to comics. Replacements, in the form of Joe Gallagher (art) and Ted Udall (scripts) had to be found. Matters improved, marginally at any rate: at least the Atom’s cape looked like a cape, and not a hand towel. And Al Pratt finally managed to get a date with Mary James! Who started switching, inconsistently, from brunette to blonde and back again.
The War arrived with a vengeance in issue 42. Hop Harrigan had already gone into Air training and we got a piece of utter nonsense masquerading as a Dr Mid-Nite story involving the Germans and a rather more serious, and better story for Sargon the Sorceror, foiling the Japanese.
Continuity was not due to be a thing in comics for nearly twenty years but there were changes galore in Green Lantern over issues 41 to 45. On the other hand, The Red Tornado was consistent: consistently funny, silly and, in issue 45, gloriously metafictional, with Ma Hunkel and the kids getting fed up of the same old malarkey every month and getting Mayer himself to come down and argue with them! Mayer would play about with the strip again, re-imagining its characters in historical times and as funny animals, but always wonderfully.
Enthusiasm for the War led to Hop Harrigan replacing GL on the cover of issue 47, with The Atom sitting out to make room for the Story of Joshua, the Bible tale. Charley Gaines had a thing for educational comics and had started a half-yearly title, Picture Stories from the Bible. The Joshua story probably came from that, but if it was at all representative of Gaines’ new project, then it was a bust in comics terms: undramatic, weak, perfunctory cartooning that was probably much too respectful of its source to be of the least value as entertainment or education.
Just as wartime paper-rationing affected All-Star and the Justice Society, All-American came in for its share of pain from issue 51, reducing from 68 to 60 pages. The drop was quite easily accommodated by taking the comic’s junior feature with it: farewell Sargon the Sorceror.

Two issues later, Alan Scott’s Oath, the one he’s used in every post-Golden Age appearance, was replaced with a new one used in every remaining story in the series, a familiar but incongruous verse beginning “In Brightest Day, in Blackest Night…” It looked so strange coming from the ‘wrong’ GL. It’s recognised that this Oath was composed by future SF legend Alfred Bester, though his name wasn’t credited, not on this or any other Green Lantern story.
Hop Harrigan’s series, now supported by a five days a week radio programme, had always been a more or less realistic air ace adventure, especially when Hop was going through Air Force training. Suddenly, it added a silent pageboy-bobbed young lad called Hippity, who carried a machete and acted daft, and the strip spiralled into idiocy. The annoying thing was that I was sure I recognised Hippity from something else, but I have no idea what. Hippety would eventually disappear in favour of more serious, if still at times fanciful stories, but the little bugger would keep coming back and crashing future episodes every time.
Interestingly enough, Dr Mid-Nite’s adversary in issue 57 went by the name of The Shade. He was no relation to the Flash’s villain of that name in Flash Comics (who was no relation to any version of the character who appeared in that legendary issue, The Flash 121, in 1961).
The further All-American went into 1944, the more noticeable it was that the stories were getting sillier, as if the writers had run out of conviction in what they were doing and could only maintain series by starting to make fun of them. Admittedly, more and more of the better creators had been drafted into the Army now. Paul Reinman was drawing Green Lantern, Sheldon Mayer was getting increasingly metafictional within The Red Tornado, nobody knew from issue to issue what colour Mary James’ hair would be, and that was before she started hiring would-be crooks to unmask the Atom. Red White and Blue got dafter and worse drawn, until everybody, Red Dugan included, looked like cartoons. Suddenly, the three fighting men, and Doris West, were split up into solo stories, told as letters amongst them, which rendered the whole series pointless. It was as if the entire comic was undergoing a nervous breakdown.

Paper rationing had reduced All-American to 52 pages, and bi-monthly publication alternating with Flash Comics. More changes had to be made. The first of these was the cancellation of Scribbly and The Red Tornado after issue 59. Such a shame. It had been All-American’s most consistently entertaining series from day one.
Better was on its way for Green Lantern, at least for the debut, in issue 61, of Solomon Grundy, though it was a shame that this should be one of the relatively few issues on the DVD available only in fiche form. Unfortunately, this was a one-off, with the decline into asininity resuming immediately. The same issue was the last of The Atom’s continuous adventures to be published in All-American. His place was taken by Picture Stories from American History, which was being shared in Sensation Comics and Comics Cavalcade, but he would be back after a nine issue hiatus, for three further stories, the first being as childishly drawn as anything Flinton and O’Connor had ever perpetrated, before going for good.
The intention was cancellation, and replacement in the Justice Society, but this fell foul of a fluke circumstance, and the Mighty Mite would re-emerge in Flash Comics.
The Green Lantern story in issue 64 featured a horse that liked to sit on eggs. The only other place I’ve heard that referred was Alan Plater’s TV serial and novel, Oliver’s Travels. Was this some sort of contemporary gag, an in-joke for 1945? I found a Google link, but the page refused to open, so I remain ignorant.
Wars, however, do not last forever. In issue 66, Red White and Blue were reuniting separated German families whilst Hop Harrigan was still fighting in the Far East. On the other hand, a month later Whitey was still writing fighting letters from Berlin and Hop and Tank were heading home to Hippity (I’d rather have stayed bombing the Japanese).
We’re now at the era of the All-American/Detective Comics split, ended after six months by the merger of the two companies and the dissolution of All-American Publications. Issue 70 saw the old DC logo return to the cover. The increasingly dismal Red White and Blue strip was put out of its misery in issue 72, in favour of The Black Pirate (and his son Justin), transferring over from his old berth in Sensation Comics.
The Atom’s second departure was in favour of The Flash’s Three Dimwits, Winky, Blinky and Noddy in a solo story. The Black Pirate lasted two stories but was soon back on a permanent basis, The Flash turned up in the second Three Dimwits story. And Alan Scott was broadcasting for Station WXYZ in issue 76.
The quality of All-American had now become so poor that a fiche that was next to unreadable was a relief, since it was the best excuse not to read an issue. Was there ever going to be a decent issue again? Only Dr Mid-Nite attempted to offer straight stories any more. Green Lantern’s stock had fallen so far that he was displaced from the cover for two consecutive issues, first by Hop Harrigan, then by Mutt & Jeff, with the latter also displacing his position as lead feature. They were a reprinted newspaper strip, remember? They were the lead.

Sargon the Sorceror

Mutt and Jeff took the cover again, and the lead, in issue 83. Green Lantern dropped Paul Reinman from the art and Doiby from the meat of the story for once and came up with a perfectly decent, neatly drawn tale, and The Black Pirate dropped back in, albeit to meet blue-skinned aliens: sigh, why can’t they get things right? But the same issue had a surprisingly good Hop Harrigan story, the first in months worth reading, as Hop received letters from the past from his mother, and went searching for her in Colombia. There he found that she was long dead, but that he had a sister, who returned with him to America.
The Forties were not a great time for supervillains, unless you were Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. With the exception of that solitary Solomon Grundy tale, Green Lantern had gone without in All-American (his regular villain, The Fool, only ever appeared in GL’s solo title).
Suddenly, the series had a rash of supervillains. ‘Crusher’ Crock, aka The Sportsmaster, the World’s dirtiest sports player, debuted in issue 85, only to die at the end of it: did the editors have no idea? Similarly, The Icicle was killed off in his first story, in issue 90. Don’t worry, both returned from their apparent deaths, The Icicle in issue 92 and The Sportsmaster as The Sportsmaster in issue 98.
More notable, and sensible, was the debut in issue 89 of Green Lantern’s ‘friendly’ enemy, the red-headed Harlequin. Alan Scott was back at the radio station for the first time in ages, as Program Director, with a new secretary, a Miss Maynne (Molly), who rather likes the crimefighter and, after years of being starved of beaus because of her athletic prowess, decided to become a villainess in order to attract Green Lantern’s attention. It was a silly notion, especially as a redhead who looked like that would be fighting them off in droves in real life.
The Harlequin, who made no secret of being in love with Green Lantern and wanting to marry him (this was still years before the Comics Code but even villains couldn’t have sex without a Marriage Licence). She and Molly Maynne made five appearances, including three consecutive ones, in seven issues of All-American only to disappear completely but for two back of the head cameos by Molly thereafter.
One of those stories did not show Green Lantern up in a particularly good light, when he decided to ask Molly out on a date to play on The Harlequin’s jealousy. What effect this might have on the ‘innocent’ Miss Maynne was not in his thinking, the asshole.
The Harlequin’s debut was accompanied by the first appearance by Cotton-Top Katie, a cartoon feature about a young girl with fluffy white hair, and her idiotic classmate the Perfesser. Cotton-Top ran for ten issues and was All-American’s penultimate new feature.
The Harlequin’s streak was brought to an end in issue 96 which introduced Streak the Wonder Dog. Actually, the story was more Streak, assisted by Green Lantern than the other way round, though having Alex Toth on the art made up for a lot. But it was a sign that the Golden Age was entering into its dog days. Where Flash Comics displayed a late burst of strength, its senior was collapsing in upon itself with a whimper.
After 99 issues, and a return bout with girl pirate ‘Jolly’ Roger, Hop Harrigan’s strip came to an abrupt end. It’s replacement was a western series, Johnny Thunder, no relation to the former JSA member with a magic lightning bolt. It was a foreshadowing, a foreshadowing of a future rushing towards All-American’s readership faster than they would have expected.
The comic reached issue 100 under a cover date of August 1948, suggesting it went on sale two months beforehand. Johnny Thunder, a strange mix of sharpshooter and costumed hero rubbed coal dust in his hair to disguise his ‘real’ identity of blond schoolteacher Johnny Tane, the Sheriff’s son. He also took over the cover, denying Green Lantern the landmark that he deserved. The series looked good, because it too was drawn by Alex Toth.
But Johnny was the future. All-American Comics 102 was a fiche copy: Johnny Thunder, Dr Mid-Nite, The Black Pirate, Green Lantern and, for the first and only time, no Mutt & Jeff, and it was over. When issue 103 appeared, a month later, it was as All-American Western Comics. Time was up for Green Lantern and Dr Mid-Nite, except for two more years in the Justice Society and All-Star Comics. The Golden Age was all but done. Westerns, Crime comics, Comic comics, but not superheroes in the way they’d been.

JSA Legacies: No. 13 – Mr. Terrific


Mr. Terrific 1, from the cover of Justice League of America 37

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 debut

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.

Mr. Terrific 2

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.

This book does not exist. Sigh.

JSA Legacies: No. 11 – Doctor Mid-Nite


Doctor Mid-Nite 1

Dr Mid-Nite was created by writer Charles Reizenstein and artist Stan Aschmeier (Stan Asch or Stan Josephs) and made his début in All-American Comics 25. The Doctor was a Doctor in real-life, prominent surgeon Charles McNider, who was called in to operate on a witness against mobsters, who had been shot. However, a gang member threw a grenade into the operating theatre, which killed the witness and blinded McNider.
Unable to continue his profession, McNider decided to become a crusading anti-crime columnist, with the assistance of his secretary, Myra Mason. However, whilst sat alone one night, brooding, McNider was disturbed by something entering his rooms and causing havoc. Instinctively ripping off his bandages, McNider discovered that he was actually able to see in conditions of blackness, much like the owl that had accidentally flown in his window. He decided to keep his newfound ability to himself and, after producing a pair of dark lenses that enabled him to see in the light, McNider chose to go out and fight crime, under the pseudonym of Doctor Mid-Nite. He named the owl Hooty and adopted it as his mascot.
The spelling of the good Doctor’s name has been queried but there is no settled explanation of it. The best suggestion is that Mid-Nite’s creation came in the wake of the widely-known radio serial featuring Captain Midnight, hence the different spelling to avoid accusations of copying.
Doc’s costume consisted of a black headcowl, incorporating the black lens goggles, green cape, black long-sleeved top under a red jerkin fastened by half-moon crescents, and brown gauntlets and boots. Although Marvel’s Daredevil became famous, twenty years later, as a prominent superhero who was blind, Doctor Mid-Nite was the first superhero to feature a physical disability.
When Green Lantern left the Justice Society on being granted his own title, Doctor Mid-Nite replaced him, in All-Star 8. Doc appeared in the issue as a guest star, seeking the JSA’s assistance to track down the missing Professor Able. Meanwhile, the JSA are all faced with suspects who have suddenly gone mad under interrogation: each turn out to be victims of a new drug, developed by criminal genius Elba (do not pre-empt the drama by reading Elba’s name backwards). Johnny Thunder gets into trouble and summons the rest of the JSA, but Elba locks himself into a lightless room, causing the JSA to have to call upon Doctor Mid-Nite, who goes in alone and defeats the villain, exposing him as being, shock, horror, Professor Able. The Doctor is offered membership for his efforts.
Mid-Nite remained with the JSA until their final adventure in All-Star 57, putting him third in the overall list of appearances, and his solo series lasted until 1948, when All-American was converted to a Western title after issue 102. Apart from his ability to see in the dark, the Doc carried with him a number of ‘blackout bombs’, little devices that, when thrown down, generated clouds of impenetrable black smoke, in which the criminals couldn’t see, but the Doctor could.
He returned to action in the second JLA/JSA team-up, in 1964, and two years later produced an upgraded weapon, in the form of the Cyrotuber, a multi-barrel gun which used adaptations of modern operation techniques – sonics, cryogenics, lasers – for offensive purposes.
Though Mid-Nite was, improbably, considered for a team-up with the all-powerful Spectre, outside of his JSA appearances, his only other exposure was in occasional guest slots in The Flash, where he became Flash 2’s other-dimensional doctor for things that Barry Allen couldn’t take to anyone in Central City.
Indeed, increasingly McNider’s career focussed on his medical abilities rather than his superpower (which, as he aged, began to slowly fail him). He was included in the first half of the Seventies All-Star revival, but gently eased out during the run, and did not reappear until the early Eighties when he moved to Los Angeles to become, in effect, the private physician to Infinity, Inc.
In that respect McNider took on an intern, in African-American Beth Chapel. With the Crisis looming, and his proposal to retain Earth-2 finally rejected, Doctor Mid-Nite was one of the JSA heroes that Roy Thomas rapidly chose to re-create. Simultaneously with Rick Tyler’s first use of Hourman’s Miraclo, Beth Chapel was caught in an oxygen blast that blinded her, only to find she too was perfectly sighted in the dark. Chapel chose to become the second Doctor Midnight (note spelling).

Doctor Midnight 2

As Doctor Midnight, Chapel wore a radically different (and completely crappy) costume made for her by her mother. Chapel applied to join Infinity, Inc, but was not accepted until very close to the end of that series. She and Rick Tyler also started a relationship, much against Rex Tyler’s approval.
But Chapel did not last long in the part. After Crisis, she and the new, female, Wildcat were part of a team sent to the Caribbean to bring down Eclipso. It was a total disaster and everyone was killed, which demonstrated the only point of the exercise: cheap outrage and the disposal of another bunch of unwanted characters. The Creeper was subsequently resurrected, mesdames Midnight and Wildcat were never seen again.
The onus came back onto Charles McNider who, at the time, was in limbo with the Justice Society and, although an active member of the 1950 JSA, he was excluded from their mini-series. Mid-Nite did play an active role in the open-ended series: at first concentrating on his role as a physician at a free clinic in New Orleans, with another African-American female intern (who thankfully did not follow Beth Chapel into a horrible costume). But the death of an old favourite Jazz musician had McNider bringing the revived JSA into what became a battle against their old foe the Ultra-Humanite, and Mid-Nite stayed with the team for the rest of the short run.
The highlight of his performance was getting Jesse Chambers to try an old (and acknowledgedly sexist) trick to distract a guard by pulling down the zip of her running top!
McNider’s final appearance, like many others, came in Zero Hour. Like Hourman, he attacked the Extant and, in the same manner, had his ageing accelerated. Sandman, another victim, was saved in hospital, but Doctor Mid-Nite died on the operating table.
Though McNider was dead, his presence was the subject of much fan debate on-line, on the subject of whether Charles McNider may have been gay.
The debate was furious at times, not only from those who wished to defend their favourite old character but, frankly, from the bigoted who would not countenance the idea that a superhero might be gay, or why anyone would ever want a superhero to be gay? Their most ‘objective’ argument was that Doctor Mid-Nite couldn’t have been gay because being homosexual was against the law.
Those proposing this radical departure pointed to a number of elements in the original stories. Unlike every other JSA member, McNider had never demonstrated any actual interest in the opposite sex, not even the fair Myra Mason, who was his constant and devoted companion for the best part of a decade. Indeed, McNider had often been snide and dismissive towards Myra, a kind of anti-female contempt that the proponents suggested were coded messages that those who were meant to understand could read – a necessity for the repressed homosexual community.
Interestingly, James Robinson’s Starman series would reinterpret the JSA adventure where the boys’ places are taken by their girl-friends. Robinson’s version excluded female Atoms and Doctor Mid-Nite’s, and as an amusing nod, has Mid-Nite reacting in horror to Wonder Woman’s mere suggestion.
However, since the turn of the century, retrospective stories have been assiduous to establish that, actually, McNider worshipped Myra Mason but kept his feelings for her secret so as not to endanger her, not that that prevented her from being murdered in the end by one of Doctor Mid-Nite’s (retrospectively created) enemies. (Such stories also tend to portray McNider as something of an effete snob, by the way).
My take on this is that, whilst I don’t believe that Mid-Nite’s stories contained any coded messages, had DC wished to make a stance by bringing one of the longer-lasting characters out as gay – which would have been a tremendous gesture – McNider was ideally positioned for this to be done without the least violation of anything already established about him. I also think that someone felt very uncomfortable about the idea, which is why they moved to stifle that possibility. Which eventually came true with the reorientation of Alan Scott in Earth-2.
Independent writer/artist Matt Wagner – noted for his creations Mage and Grendel, and of course Sandman Mystery Theatre – had long been interested in Doctor Mid-Nite and, in 1999, he created a three-issue Prestige mini-series, reviving the character in his new form, as a much darker figure.

Doctor Mid-Nite 3

Doctor Mid-Nite 3 was Norwegian-born Doctor Pieter Cross, a radical physician who had established a free clinic in Portsmouth, in Washington State, where there was a severe drug-smuggling problem. Cross used street characters he’d saved in an anti-drugs organisation but, having fallen foul of the drugs bosses, he was kidnapped, injected with an experimental drug they were peddling, made drunk and sent away in a high-powered sports car. Before he could regain control, Cross crashed, killing another driver. Cross had his physician’s licence removed. He also lost his sight.
Whilst brooding on his situation, Cross discovered that the drugs in his system had left him able to see in the dark. Aware of the past existence of Doctor Mid-Nite, Cross decided to exploit his ‘gift’ by taking up the vacant identity. There was no connection to McNider in Wagner’s original story, but subsequent writers have obsessively added details such as Cross having interned under McNider, and then having been delivered by him in emergency conditions. It often appears that the world of superheroes has to be rendered incestuous in its connections: anything less is simply insufficiently ‘real’.
The new Doctor Mid-Nite has not appeared in any other solo stories since Wagner’s series, but was added to the revived Justice Society in (nice touch) JSA 8. He wears a near identical costume to McNider, the principal difference being that the red jerkin has a groin-guard extension. He’s been a regular ever since, in both JSA and Justice Society of America, where he has formed a partnership with the new Mr. Terrific as the two smartest guys in the team. However, like McNider before him, Cross is more physician than superhero, and his participation in the action is strictly limited. It is he who performs the autopsy on Sue Dibny’s body in Identity Crisis and whose identification of the cause of death leads to the unmasking of the unexpected killer.
Doctor Mid-Nite 3 was a character of potential, almost none of which was realised. According to Batman, the drugs affected his sight in far-reaching ways that Cross had not yet begun to suspect, though this was never expanded upon. Indeed, at one point Cross had his sight magically restored, only to discover that the loss of his other vision was crippling, and he was actually glad to have his blindness restored.
Since then, the New 52 has intervened and all the above is meaningless. No Doctor Mid-Nite has appeared as yet. Given the general lack of any real idea of what to do with one over the last fifty years, it may be wise to hold back on creating another.