Monday, January 3, 2011

30 Days Of Comics: Day 27: An Issue #1 You Bought The Month It Came Out

Golden Age #1

Before this project got derailed, I had mapped out the topics I was going to do and which issues went with each post.  I had chosen a couple of "negative" topics but after writing the last post, I decided to try and skew these last few in a more positive light.

I had skipped this topic initially as I was struggling with which number one to spotlight.  I thought about Marvel: 1602 or Kingdom Come but the former series had an unsatisfying conclusion and the latter has been slightly sullied through repeated revisions and revisits.  I missed Y: Last Man and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by a month each and had to pick up the first issues 30 days later.  The first Wolverine mini-series, Alpha Flight, Superman: Man of Steel, and Crisis on Infinite Earths all almost made the cut.  Fairly iconic covers and stories that I still enjoy.

Instead I decided to go slightly more obscure.

SPOILERS GALORE!!!!

When this came out in 1993, there were not many stories dealing with DC's "Golden Age" characters, those that came about in the 1930s and 1940s.  I had heard that this series was coming (with no great fanfare) and asked it to be added to my pull list.

Written by James Robinson with art by the GREAT Paul Smith, the series opens just after World War II has ended and the heroes of the time are adjusting to peacetime life.  One hero, Tex Thompson, known as Mr. America (he first debuted in Action Comics #1, the same issue that brought us Sticky Mitt Stimson, Chuck Dawson, Zatara, Scoop Scanlon Five Star Reporter and Superman!), returns from the war as a hero, having eliminated all of Germany's super-beings.  He enters politics, is elected a senator, and has eyes on the presidency.

Thompson uses his clout to form a new group of heroes to protect America from the Soviet menace.  These heroes include Johnny Thunder, Atom (both of whom still long to be heroes), Robotman and Dan The Dyna-Mite Kid.  The Dyna-Mite Kid was once a sidekick to a hero called TNT (who has since died).  He is "lost" since the death of his mentor and is subjected to a variety of experiments (overseen by Senator Thompson) that lead him to become the incredibly powerful Dynaman.

As the series unfolds, we see other heroes struggling in the post-War era.  Some have married and divorced.  Others are brought before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.  Most have retired.

We meet Paul Kirk, who was a costumed adventurer known as Manhunter, return from Europe suffering from memory loss.

There is a sense of tension through the build up of the series.  SOMETHING is wrong, but we do not know exactly what.

Kirk eventually enlists the help of Hawkman to discover the source of his amnesia.  While under a trance, Kirk remembers he was working behind enemy lines with Thompson. As it turns out, Paul Kirk, not Thompson, was the one who eliminated Germany’s super-beings. Kirk also sees once more the horrifying sight that had led to his nightmares and amnesia.


On a mission to assassinate one of Hitler’s scientists, Kirk infiltrates a Bavarian castle, where he discovers that his target is none other than the brain-swapping fiend the Ultra-Humanite, as evidenced by the brainless body of his last host, actress Dolores Winters, lying lifeless on a lab table.


Even worse is the realization of where the Ultra-Humanite’s brain was now residing: the body of Tex Thompson. Kirk barely escapes with his life.

At the same time, Thompson's lover, the former hero Miss America, has become concerned by his increasingly erratic behavior.  She steals his diary and learns the same terrible secret.

In the story’s final chapter, a war council of the mystery-men who know Thompson’s secret is convened and a plan is made: during the upcoming ceremony at which all of America’s superheroes are supposed to go to Washington to swear their loyalty, they will expose the truth about Thompson before the superhero community and the eyes of the world.


And there is one last reveal waiting at the ceremony....

...that the deranged Robotman prevents Miss America from revealing, that I can't spoil after all.  

The only action in the entire series really takes place in the fourth book.  It is a HUGE super-being fight.  In the effort to bring down Thompson and Dynaman, dozens of heroes die.  And every death holds meaning, is done SO well.

The whole series is well written and superbly drawn.  Paul Smith does a great job of making the heroes look human and distinct.  You can tell who is who as the threads are woven together and seeming disparate characters begin to interact.

If you haven't read this series and are even tangentially interested in comics, do yourself a favor and find a copy of the collected edition (Copies on eBay, with shipping, can be had for less than $5!!).  Get your library to buy it for you!

If you need to know how it ends, check out the Wikipedia entry.

1 comment:

  1. I picked up the trade of this after Robinson's work on Starman and the newly reformed JSA (great mix of golden age and current heroes). Loved it! I wish his version of Paul Kirk could be in current DC running around.

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