Tag Archives: James Robinson

The Original Man in Black – James Robinson’s reinvention of “The Shade”

“A villain? Oh yes, it’s a badge I wear with some degree of pride. But not this hour. I must say it’s nice to play Errol Flynn for a change, instead of Basil Rathbone.” – The Shade

In honor of the MLB All-Star Game the Unspoken Decade has decided to take a look at a few of our favorite “All-Star” characters from our favorite decade. Being the contrarian that I am I have chosen to examine the Shade, reintroduced by James Robinson and Tony Harris during their historic run on Starman.

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I am not sure if this image is canon after the events of “Flashpoint” but really that is their loss.

Starman is one of the great success stories of comics during the nineties. Not only did it reinvigorate a property that had grown stale, it properly introduced the world to its creators, and, most importantly, did so from one month to the next.

Unlike many well remembered comics from that time Starman was not a limited series or a one-shot event. It was a “Top of the Pile” book that came out month after month and it got people to go to comic stores. It built community and told a long form story in a way few other titles have done up until, or since, then.

I am a fan of Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s Hitman. I would, at times, place this similar work of nineties’ long form storytelling ahead of Starman but I believe that I may be in the minority. Starman is a beloved series and if you have never had the chance to read it, or if you began but never finished, do yourself a favor and see it through. It is not the most readily available series but it is worth tracking down.

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Now that is an origin story. All silhouettes and reserved acceptance.

I enjoy, and appreciate Starman but rarely because of Jack Knight, the star and heir apparent to the legacy of Starman. He was never why I choose to reread the series long after it had concluded. For me it was all about the Shade.

Originally introduced by writer Gardner Fox, during the forties, to bedevil the Jay Garrick version of the Flash, the Shade (or Richard “Dickie” Swift as he was eventually revealed to be named) is an unlikely cult favorite. He is a British dandy from the 1830s with roots in the work of Charles Dickens as opposed to the pulp adventure or sci-fi stories of most supercharacters.

His abilities range from the generic “darkness manipulation” to the disturbing implication that he accesses a realm at the root of all evil, somewhere the Old Gods or Many-Angled Ones call home. When he is conjuring shadow-demons and blades I prefer to believe that he is accessing the same Darkforce Dimension that others have been accessing since before there was a name for it. From the Shroud and Darkstar, to Obsidian and Nightshade, and even Jackie Estacado.

If that is the case then why is Shade immortal? Why does he no longer age? Why does he appear to be haunting the background of the shared DCU as if he were no more than one of his own, ever present shadows? If you know anything about Fox, a devout fan of HP Lovecraft, the answer may be lurking somewhere deep beneath the surface.

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Her own shadow, above his bowed head, as she is committed to the pit by her own hand.

Before Shade, Fox introduced the very concept of the superteam with the Justice Society and was asked to revive the concept years later as the League. Have you ever wondered why the Justice League fought weird, mystical characters at the time that they were introduced? Tell me that Starro does not appear as if it should come from the same place as Cthulhu.

As a fan of “weird fiction” I assume that it informed most of Fox’s work, not just where the influences are explicit. You may not find much stygian darkness in the Golden Age stories as Shade is mostly a Green Lantern knockoff at that time. When fans were reintroduced to the character after the events of Zero Hour the disturbing implications seem to surface.

Darkness comes from him though he never seems to be distressed. He is not dark or mopey but always looking for the next adventure even if one is as mundane and revealing as a long walk on an autumn night. His powers take the form of living, murderous shadows or even cephalopod tentacles but this never means that he is a dreary man.

Shade could be keeping the darkness at bay with all of the blood he has shed, feeding it if you will, but I choose to believe that he simply accepts what he is and that having darkness powers does not mean that you need to be dark.

Shade haunts the stories of Starman. He provides context for the events going on in the Knight family’s beloved Opal City (a character as much as a setting) and introduces Jack to the unending weirdness of the DCU. Shade is a man of style who makes a point of commenting on how people dress and he aids in grounding the story to its time, including when he narrates a story set in the far past.

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Just think of how many Dibneys could have been saved if Brad Meltzer had read this before writing “Identity Crisis.”

Sometimes a criminal or a murderer, sure, but “Dickie” is never boring or without comment. He is unflappable and refers to “The Shade” as his stage name. You almost feel as if the going-ons of superherodom are just the distraction he needs from being something he fears.

He mentions having honed his abilities over his century and a half with them and acknowledges the readiness at which he disconnects from people. This last bit is a favorite of mine because when Shade does connect with someone it is not easily won by either party.

His friendship with former DC mainstay, the Scalphunter, is often referred to and at least once I found myself wondering if a simple hero had swayed Shade from being a greater menace to the world just by happening upon a situation where he could be nice to him.

In 1997 Robinson wrote a four issue Shade miniseries. Each issue featured a different artist though I am partial to the first issue’s work by Gene Ha. Issue two has JH Williams III but I am afraid that I am not familiar with the final two artists enough to speak to their work. It certainly seems as if Robinson also favored the earlier issues as there is noticeably fewer run-on captions featuring narration by the Shade though that could be because of the nature of the tale.

The Shade keeps journals. This is a fact crucial to his role in Starman and it is explored here as he tells the readers about the Ludlow Family, who has a longstanding, one-sided blood feud with him that he dearly wishes they did not.

Minor point, but if James Robinson happens to read this (Hi, Jimmy! I loved League of Extraordinary Gentlemen the movie.) please rerelease these issues without the fancy script font for the Shade’s scribblings. That gets tiring quickly.

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Not from the original series but literally the only full body shot I could find “in costume.”

We are presented with bits of Dickie’s origin though for more on that I highly recommend the 2011 Shade series, written by Robinson and featuring a variety of exceptionally talented artists during the course of its 12 issue run, including Cully Hammer, Darwyn Cooke, Frazer Irving, and a final issue by Ha.

For the most part we are shown how much of a contradiction the Shade is. This is, I would wager, much the same as with any real person. We do things we want and cannot always explain why. We may be afforded the time, and incentive, to attempt to understand them later on but often we fail to recognize that. Dickie is comfortable with his murders (which are primarily in self-defense or of bad men) but there is no finer connoisseur of food in wine in superhero fiction than he.

Few panels are wasted on explaining what Shade can do. He is the narrator and main character but the plot is put into motion by others. Shade is the threat, the boogeyman, and the excuse for superpower to enter into stories of familial betrayal and corruption.

For all of his stygian prowess Dickie is a surprisingly upbeat man with a desire to enjoy the life he leads at a pace of his choosing. His interactions with the Flash and Starman (of both eras) are presented as what he does because he chooses to do so. He is above the desires of petty villainy and is actually shown to be doing quite well for himself.

Could he be an arch-mage, foe of luminaries such as the Sentinels of Magic (another nineties’ concept no one ever did anything with), commanding an army of shadow demons in an attempt to revert the world to darkness for the glory of his own personhood? Sure, but you can only tell that story once and other have done a better job at it.

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This line needs to be uttered by Jon Pryce in a movie version before it is too late.

Shade prides himself on the quality of his coffee and technically had Oscar Wilde as a sidekick. He is the immortal who keeps the DCU in perspective, both for himself and others (hence all of the journaling) as opposed to measuring his worth by the influence he can have in directing the course of events throughout the world.

He is not Ra’s al Ghul, Vandal Savage, or any of the other long-lived, crazy people superheroes usually fight. Maybe this is because he was a content person before gaining great, poorly defined, superpowers and that did little to change what he wanted out of life. Maybe the trick to avoiding superpeople battles in the future is to only give powers and abilities to those who are already not hurting for their place in the world.

Dickie does not seem to concern himself with the future. When asked if the feud with the Ludlows is at an end he all but shrugs. He is not a detective, he is the mischief maker. He writes down his observations, his travels, and his adventures as he attempts to reconcile them. He takes thing slow and he enjoys all that he can.

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Lines such as this make me appreciate this character more than whoever it was that starred in “Man of Steel.”

He does not dwell because he does not have to. As far as he can tell he will be around forever. His immortality, more than any other attribute (including his penchant for dark clothes and smoked sunglasses), is what he relies on. What other character can boast an arch-rival as interesting and complex as the seemingly never-ending string of descendants from a perverted British family that predates the American Civil War?

Not only do the Ludlows lend themselves to the telling of a variety of different types of stories (most of which are at least hinted at during this series) but they prove to be the one aspect of the Shade’s life that he cannot take in stride.

They reappear from beneath the veneer of supposed friends and lovers, more often than not harming the Shade’s few friends instead of himself. For the man who only wants to enjoy life, seek thrills, and not be bothered with the moroseness that he should, by all rights, be enveloped by, it is something incredibly mundane (at least by comparison) that often hurts him the most: People raised to hate something they know nothing about.

Dickie outlasts Robinson within the DCU and has continued to appear. Maybe not having created him in the first place meant that he could not be put into the same “do not touch” box as Jack Knight and the other extended family cast members. Or maybe it is that no one has tried.

Either way, the Shade continues to haunt the periphery of the world that the superheroes operate in. He has yet to suffer a direct setback because of his powers. By that I mean that unlike other heroes, it has yet to be proven that his powers are killing him or the world he lives him. In all likelihood he will outlive the current crop of heroes and be around to remind the next exactly which struggles they should learn from and which they should put behind them.

What story is there for a man who takes almost no active part in the world? The beauty of the Shade is that the world he finds himself in becomes the story. Timelines, and bloodlines, can be played with and Dickie himself is quick to hint at untold tales and adventures that he played a part in but can only barely recall now. Or so he claims.

The Shade does not want your crossovers or your ridiculossness but business is business when it must be done.
The Shade does not want your crossovers or your ridiculossness but business is business when it must be done.

The Shade allows for worlds to be built and his callous nature means that more often than not he is at the center of attention of someone looking for retribution. He is not against involving himself and does so sometimes only to his own detriment. He also has a friend named Bobo.

I have no idea what the current state of the DCU is. Continuity, for whatever that word is worth, is apparently different after Convergence but I remember a time when a monthly book was allowed to shape an ongoing story more than what was happening in the books published alongside it. Starman was a semi-obscure character, out-of-publication for decades, who became one of the most well-regarded superhero comics of all time.

The Shade should never have been anything other than a rogue, trotted out to fight the Justice Society occasionally, but instead I rank him as one of my favorite characters. His name alone is one of the few that will get me to pick up a title, though hopefully that means Robinson is along for the ride because they certainly seem to bring out the best in each other.

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The Golden Age #4-Bravery When Battling The Enemy Within…

Ah, the end.

There’s something so bittersweet about the end.  We’ve been keeping up with The Golden Age here at The Unspoken Decade, and this tremendous tale is drawing to an end.  Despite its dour nature, despite how dark everything has been for our heroes, one cannot help but feel like the sun is about to come out and shine brightly upon this age.

Unfortunately, as we all know, it’s always darkest before the dawn, and for some of the Justice Society, it’s going to get so dark that the sun will never shine again.  For others, this will be a new beginning. For the readers, we will get both, as it’s going to be the end of something Golden and the start of something Silver.

All new births must hurt, though, as we are all well aware, and the birthing of the Silver Age would be no different, as the Golden Age’s death throes echo in me to this day.  The final issue of The Golden Age is a sort of perfect amalgam of pain and beauty, chaos and stability, and hope and despair.  One thing is for sure as we start off this issue: things don’t look good for the JSA right now.

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That’s correct, as we told you last time, American hero, Tex Thompson, Senator and WW2 Hero, is really the Ultra-Humanite.  The comic has thus far shied away from telling you who is in Daniel Dunbar’s body, and we will save that reveal for you as well, but you know that if they are only hinting then whoever it is must be rather dastardly…

The problem is that no one will listen to the JSA.  I see this happen all of the time in our real world.  Despite evidence that shows that this behavior is counterproductive, folks are always very willing to simply kowtow to leaders and pundits.  Folks seem ever so eager to believe the biggest and smallest of lies, provided that they are uttered from “official” sources.  Those that question or peruse “unofficial” sources are marginalized as quickly as is possible.  It’s fascinating to see the JSA in such dire straits, as they are usually portrayed and perceived as the elder statesmen of the DC Universe.  In fact, in one of my prior articles here at the Unspoken Decade, I mention that even Superman revered these guys.  To see them on the opposite side is fascinating!

The first few issues of this fantastic mini-series dealt with the character of the JSA and their Golden Age pals.  This issue is no different,  as the few heroes in possession of this secret are testing their own character in order to forge some sort of plan that would give them a of chance against Ultra-Humanite and Daniel Dunbar…

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The HUAC continues to dog Alan Scott as well, and as the government and country that he has held so dearly continues its hideous assault against him and his character, his character deepens, thrives, and becomes as strong as steel.  No committee, whether it was the committees we established here in the USA to witch hunt the different people we dared not attempt to understand, nor a communist pogrom would have had the ability to pierce the spectacular moral fortitude Alan Scott possesses.

All that matters to Alan Scott is what is right and just.  All that matters to Alan Scott is that he stand up for it.  All that matters to Alan Scott should be all that matters to us…

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In my regular life, many people have seen me stand up many times against oppressive forces.  Obviously, I never stared down a committee like HUAC, but many times, I have stood up to entities that looked to hold me, my family, my co-workers, or my society down.

In my case though, any dirt on my adversaries that I got, I was more than happy to use.  The moral fiber of Alan Scott is truly tough, as I think very few would face the committee as head-on as he plans too.

Of course, the challenges and obstacles we all face are never the same.  Just as Alan Scott stands poised and ready to face HUAC with a most noble streak, Libby Lawrence has her own cross to bear, but in her case, it is trying to find the courage to break free of something bad.

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Vices and people with vices can easily get a hold on any of us.  In Libby’s case, she allowed herself to become complacent and to submerge her dreams as her boyfriend, Jonathan Law (Tarantula) has drowned his and tried to beat hers out of her.  She’s finding the courage to not just break apart from Law, but to also say yes to herself.  Too many of us never find that courage.  In his defense, Law is sorry and is finding courage of his own, but it seems to be too little, too late…

In the meantime, the heroes gather, as they always do.  From the moment I found myself hopelessly in love with the garishly colored superheroes, I have been a sucker for the moments when all the heroes gather together and stand around in their costumes, moments before uniting to combat a threat to the world, the galaxy, the universe, or reality itself.  These are the times when we naturally see the heroes as people rather than just a bunch of loud costumes with a bunch of powers.  These are the times, much like us, when pals get together, and just like us, those times for the heroes seem to be fleeting and rare, and the gatherings only occur during the best and the worst of times.

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Of course, one of the most special things about superheroes, and the mystery men of the Second World War is that they represent hope for the future.  The future is always happening, even when folks aren’t aware of it yet.  Here, we see the unbridled ambition of youth, that devil-may-care spirit, and that eagerness that youth has to prove itself so that it can belong, and we see it in the form of an as yet to be named Superhero that none of the other folks have heard of yet.  That matters little to him; what matters is that he has a place to belong, even if many of the others don’t quite realize it yet.

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I think at one point we were all that young man.  We were all so angry, so eager, so dejected, so determined, and since I was young in the 90’s, so EXTREME.  What we all now know, and what this young man will soon learn, is that maybe we should not be in such a hurry to grow up.  Growing up means hard choices, facing tragedies, and never really knowing or understanding why your life goes the way that it does.  Many of the heroes assembled here are going to be wondering what happened shortly, as a force of nature is about to upend their entire status quo, as it does for many of us adults.

In the meantime, the heroes with the skinny on what is actually going down with the Ultra-Humanite are beginning to put their plan into motion.  One of them, however, calls an audible.  One of them had decided she just hasn’t done enough to thwart this plan.  One of them is going to jumpstart the plan on her own.  One of them won’t survive her gambit, although she certainly inspires many of her fellow heroes to take up arms against their oppressor.

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American culture is jazz and baseball, although I think we have to add in pro wrestling and superheroes as well.  These things are inherently ours.  We brought them to the world.  I know folks would like to believe in a lot more of what she said, but, well, as an anarchist, I think it is a pipe dream.  The state is the state, whether it is called The USA, the USSR, the UAE, or Uganda.  We will see that even as our heroes expose the corruption of Thompson and how he is actually the Ultra-Humanite, that things will go along in a similar fashion, as the Joe McCarthy of this Earth rises to fill the vacuum Thompson leaves.  He will engage in the same red-baiting that Thompson did, just as McCarthy did on our Earth.  No nation, regardless of the ideals it purports to espouse, is immune from the power mongers and the need for the elites to maintain the status quo at the expense of the non-elite.

Robotman, as you see, has no qualms with this.  I love Robotman (especially the often-forgotten Golden Age Robotman), and it is a shame to see him make such a dastardly heel turn, although it makes perfect sense.  Robotman would be cold and efficient due to the dichotomy between his organic brain and his steel body, and one of the heroes most likely to buy into the law and order nonsense of those like Thompson or McCarthy.  So it is he who smashes Miss America in a vain attempt to silence her truth.  She dies; the truth lives on.

The government’s witch hunt against Alan Scott and others like him is continuing even as the Ultra-Humanite is being revealed.  Scott is defiant, and he, like me, has nothing but contempt for government apparatuses that are utilized to hold down those who would dare to be different and question the integrity of the powers-that-be.  I wonder if this cycle will ever stop.  Alan Scott and I both certainly hope so.

As he faces down those small-minded men, the mystery men go to war with Dunbar, and to say they did not fare well would be such an understatement…

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I have heard that the bright colored superheroes are like our gods and mythology, and there are few moments that reinforces that notion better than this one.  Here we see the gods rise up as they attempt to crush their challenges, but like many of the powers that would face a god, Dunbar is in possession of a nearly limitless power all his own.  We see Hawkman, Black Condor, and The Ray attempt to subdue Dunbar, and their story isn’t over.

Some gods stay grounded, looking in vain for advantages against overwhelming odds.  Some gods look for inspiration in  the Earth, the sky, or themselves, but some look for inspiration in the cold realm of vengeance…

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Robotman vs. Tigress seems a one-sided affair, but how could one not admire the vehemence with which Paula Brooks attacks the steel monstrosity in the name of vengeance for her friend?   Despite how Robotman just murdered her pal with nary a second thought, Tigress is displaying nerves of steel that despite being made of metal, Robotman could only wish he had.

The Ultra-Humanite, running low on cards in this high-stakes, high-powered game of poker, pulls a pair of kings. Just like all the demagogues of the ages, the Ultra-Humanite uses misdirection and manipulation to create rifts between friends and heroes.  Johnny Thunder and The Atom, recruits in the Ultra-Humanite’s wave of the future, have fallen victim to him and his lies.  Of course, who could blame them?  As the outcasts of the JSA, they felt like they found a place to belong under Ulta-Humanite, and so they fight.

They fight their own family, as families do on occasion.  Some would say families only stop fighting when they have someone else to fight, but here, even though the JSA has plenty on its hands now, The Atom and Johnny Thunder fight.  Thunder even commits an act so despicable that I find it shocking; his pet Thunderbolt finds it even more so…

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The family makes up and unites against a common foe, but certain parts of the family remain apart from the rest, engaging in the tasks that make others in the tribe cringe.  Vengeance once again shows up, as Paul Kirk finds Ultra-Humanite, and he is going to get revenge for his friend, Tex Thompson!

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Still the Tigress and Captain Triumph struggle against Robotman, searching for a way to honor their fallen friend, Miss America.  Captain Triumph also struggles against the ghost of his brother, and whether he wins or loses said struggle, is really up to the reader.  One thing is for sure, he wins the struggle with Robotman…

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Captain Triumph will no longer be bothered by his brother.  Other heroes attack Dunbar in waves, one at a time, or from afar.  None of it seems to matter, as the death toll climbs and climbs.  At least Captain Triumph and his brother won’t be lonely as Dunbar sends so many to greet them…

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Wouldn’t that be awful?  To see one’s moral opposite showing more courage than one’s self?  Especially if one was supposed to be a hero, and had looked down on his opposite with such disdain.  Surely, Alan Scott has no choice but to join the battle, because if he was willing to come out of retirement to stop Sportsmaster, now he has to come out to avenge his death…and to prove he has the courage he has been showing in standing up to HUAC, this time in another arena.

And it is a good thing he does arrive, as the heroes keep falling, including Johnny Quick.  Green Lantern hits Dunbar with a right fist that not only removes a few of Dunbar’s teeth, but it also instills something the JSA has lost a lot of very quickly…hope.

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Even Alan Scott falls, however, and the heroes last hope against Dunbar appears to be Starman, mental illness be damned. We see Johnny Quick rushing off to grab him above, and this echoes one of the best things about superheroes to me, which is that no matter how down things look, there’s always one last chance.  This is why so many sports appeal to me as well.  Your team’s down a touchdown with 0:03 on the clock?  Maybe they can hit that Hail Mary pass to the end zone.  Down one run in the 9th?  Maybe your team will score two.

The JSA is down a lot more than touchdown, however, and unfortunately, it will take more than the bipolar genius of Ted Knight to win this day…

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Just when it seems that all is lost, the forgotten weapon of this story, the young man who wanted to be a hero at the start of this tale, joins the fray, and while he may not be the one who delivers the killing blow, his demeanor in the face of what appeared to be absolute defeat lives on in the minds of his world.  For if only each and every one of us were to stand up to those whose tyranny we are told is inevitable.

And let’s not discount Liberty Belle and her role in the victory.  Her ingenuity and resourcefulness save the day, and isn’t that how it usually goes?  Youth, in combination with the defiance that goes along with it and the ingenuity of a lady with very few powers in comparison to many of the heavy hitters who had tackled Dunbar prior, saves the day.  More importantly, it saves the future…but you will have to get the book to see that and to see how Paul Kirk dealt with the Ultra-Humanite.

The Golden Age is unfairly overlooked.  I truly wish that these characters and their reality were as embraced as other critical darlings of the era, such as Kingdom Come or Marvels.  I wish that with all of the hullabaloo at DC right now in regards to their “Multiversity” that Grant Morrison or someone of that ilk would look back to The Unspoken Decade for a universe that is ever so real and hurtful in so many ways, with so many delightful characters to incorporate into “Greater DC.”

Or they could at least bring Dynaman back.

You’re doing yourself a tremendous disservice  if you do not go buy this right now. This is truly a masterpiece. If this had come out in 1985 or 2005, it would be revered.  Since it came out in the 90’s, it is tossed aside and possibly even reviled.  That’s more than a damn shame, as James Robinson and Paul Smith truly capture the horror, wonder, and charm that is superheroes.  Perhaps, that’s the same horror, wonder, and charm that is America…

The Golden Age #3-Of Martyrs, Men, & Matrimony

 

 

 

Hello Legions of the Unspoken!  Welcome back to the only place to get that 90’s fix that I know you all crave beyond belief!  Everyone’s favorite podcast host and 90’s comics fan, Dean Compton here, and I am ever so excited to continue our foray into the most unjustly forgotten masterpiece of the 1990’s, The Golden Age!

Things are getting rougher and rougher for our cherished Justice Society of America & their compatriots.  But there’s an old saying that it is always darkest before the dawn, and maybe, just maybe, if they keep their heads up and their spirits strong, the heroes of The Golden Age will make it out of this somehow.  If they are going to though, they’ll need a miracle…or at least…a Manhunter…

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I cannot say enough about the impact of Paul Kirk (Manhunter)’s dreams on me when I read this as a young man.  The dreams are vivid, horrendous, bloody, violent, surreal, and utterly captivating.  The dreams mean something, though, and we will find out this very issue exactly what it is that they mean…and what they mean for Manhunter.

This issue is also the issue where the JSA and their pals find their spirit and their mettle despite the major setbacks they have recently had.   But before they can overcome any of them, they have to find out the nature of the setbacks…and they have to overcome a few more.  It’s 1949, folks, and the game is certainly not over for our heroes…in fact, it is just getting heated up.  Just ask Tex Thompson or Daniel Dunbar.  Just ask Libby Lawrence, the former Liberty Belle, who is getting back into another game just in time before her beau, Jonathan Law (Tarantula) completely destructs right before her eyes…

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Daniel Dunbar and Tex Thompson are both more and less than they seem.  Dunbar’s constant hype for the election and of Thompson’s virtues are making the mystery men uncomfortable by now, not to mention the readers, as we have seen the seedy side of Dunbar.

I do have to wonder what it must be like for a super powered being to take drugs.  Does Dunbar have to smoke 6237823 times as much crack as a normal person would to get high?  Is that powder he snorts and injects the world’s most powerful speedball?  What level of medical marijuana would he have to smoke to get even the semi-munchies?  I am fascinated by this; that’s probably why Hourman’s mission to perfect his Miraclo also fascinates me.  After all, Hourman runs the risk of being an addict himself as his Miraclo tolerance grows.  Of course, Rex Tyler, Hourman, always manages to find the time he needs to be perfect…

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His fall was broken by the ceiling of an American family who will be reimbursed, but what of the fall of an American who is protecting, well, America?  What of the fall of a man who was sticking up for the mystery men and their “lack of service” during the Second World War?

And why does our society punish those who are different, even after great service?  Why do folks like Donald Trump or the Rockefellers get lauded while heroes like Tesla and Eugene Debs are ignored and discarded to the dissident historical tomes?  Why does our country take and take what it needs from me like Thomas Paine, only to abandon them and their ideals as soon as possible?  Why does it seem that the only times that the petty men in power will take up for these dissidents, the ones who actually make our society move forward, are when and if it helps them somehow?

I suppose these questions may never have answers, but at least someone did what they could while also striking at Tex Thompson, who has demanded that all the Mystery Men come forward and unmask, and I am sure everyone is aware by now, Tex is not all he seems…

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Even the man sticking up for the Mystery Men is doing so for his own reasons, and on some level, “ain’t that America?”, as John Cougar Mellencamp told us in the 1980’s?  Our nation has such an individualist streak, particularly when it comes to those petty men and women we allow to rule us.  Even when doing the right thing by taking up for the superheroes (who, as we know from issue #1 of The Golden Age, were barred from entering the Second World War because of Parsifal), it has to be done from a purely self-pragmatist point of view.  When folks try to tell you of the good old days when people cared for each other, try and recall that many of our social paradigms have been the same for some time.  Try and recall that when you are told otherwise.  And also, if you cling to your convictions not to fall…or get pushed.

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Or maybe your convictions are less than stellar, and perhaps you are mad with power, drugs, and the belief in strange Gods and stranger orders.  Maybe you are drunk on power and high on drugs.  Maybe you are Daniel Dunbar.

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Whatever was left of Daniel Dunbar is gone, given over to madness, power, drugs, and something else…

Of course, even our heroes still have their personal problems, some of them deeply entrenched within the mind.  Of course, without his problems, would Starman ever have brought the world the greatness he has?  Would this world of The Golden Age be even worse off?  Or is Starman right and he has unleashed something abhorrent upon everyone?  Is his madness a form a of conviction?

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Ted Knight’s descent into madness and ascent out of it is a story for the stars themselves to tell, as he will be needed before this is all said and done.  Ted reminds me so painfully of myself, vacillating between the peaks of mania and the depths of depression.  Maybe he reminds us all a little of ourselves.

I wish Alan Scott, Golden Age Green Lantern, reminded me more of myself.  I fancy myself a loyal man, but his loyalty in the face of one of the most vile anti-freedom machines produced by our government is truly inspiring.  Many people would crumble against such an onslaught.  Of course, many do not have his willpower…

Yet despite the assault of the House on Un-American Activities, despite the crumbling of his broadcasting empire, and despite the pressure of all of this, Alan Scott stands tall and noble.  I mean, not so noble he won’t get angry or tell someone exactly how he feels.  That combination, to me, is the defining characteristic of most of the Justice Society of America, but maybe especially Alan Scott.  Nobility paired with honesty…

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Ah, even the most noble of heroes can long for the past, when times were “simpler.”  The truth, folks, is that the times when we were young were not simpler; we were.

Some of our heroes are not struggling with the nobility we see in Alan Scott, or even the courage of Ted Knight in the face of his mental disease.  Some of them, like Jonathan Law, have completely given into to vice…and violence.

Of course, for every action, there is a reaction, and Liberty Belle isn’t a pushover for anyone, even one who used to be her lover…

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While this foray into domestic violence could have gone seriously wrong, James Robinson gets it right.  What I especially like is how Libby needed no one to save her.  Johnny Quick did not come running in from Paris in 5.3 seconds to rescue her from this vile assault; she saved herself.  Conversely, though, not NEEDING Johnny Quick did not prevent her from MISSING Johnny Quick.

Many folks never admit how much they need one another, and one of them, Paula Blake, is just getting ready to find out how much she needs Captain Triumph, and also, how much she is needed.  Captain Triumph, however, desires anything but to be Captain Triumph.  He’d trade all his powers and wealth for just a moment of peace.

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On the other hand, Paul Kirk has realized how much he needs people.  He has leaned more and more on Bob Daley, and Bob has helped him.  The difficulties Manhunter has faced continue, and while he is beyond where he was when our tale started, he is still facing the surreal horrorscape that can, on occasion, be our dreams.  That horrorscape is all he dreams…

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Manhunter, despite his fears, despite his obstacles (both real and in his head), and despite the danger, is answering the call to be a hero.  He refuses to allow his fear to get the better of him, and as Gandhi told us, the real enemy is fear.

That’s sort of the message I get from this issue; despite all the reasons that things could go wrong, we must continue to face our enemies.  We can and must never allow ourselves to defeat ourselves prior to the battle.  If we are to be worthy as human beings…not even superhuman beings, we have to answer the call.

Joan Dale, though, isn’t sure if there is a call to answer, as things are getting hard on her.  I would imagine being Tex Thompson’s girlfriend in and of itself would be awful, but her description makes it seem downright harrowing.  Even Joan, though, had nary an idea just how harrowing her experience was.

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Sleeping with the enemy has never been as disturbing as the notion that Joan Dale, Miss America, for Christ’s sake…has been having sex with the Ultra-Humanite.  And what could this mean for America?  How did this happen?  What does he have in mind as far as his ascent in the world of American politics?

Some of those answers will have to wait, but for now, we can tell you how the Ultra-Humanite accomplished the brain swap, thanks to Paul Kirk, Manhunter, and the most-well known chairman of the Justice Society of America…Hawkman!

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Before I move on with the revelations of Manhunter, I have to comment just how cool Paul Smith has made Carter Hall look here.  I have always loved the connection between ancient Egypt and Hawkman.  There’s something inherently magical about it to me, and also, it somehow just makes sense.  I wish they had not messed up Hawkman’s continuity so badly at DC, but that’s a story for another column.  In the meantime, gaze at the Winged Pharaoh for a bit, then see what Manhunter has been running from..and why…

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The Ultra-Humanite has a lot of flaws, to say the very least, among them being a sociopathic murderer, but at least he subscribes to the notion that “if there’s no body, the guy ain’t dead”.  I have seen so many super-villains do so many idiotic things, even villains supposedly super geniuses like the Ultra-Humanite, that I am sort of proud of him for getting it right.

But our heroes are in deep now, Legions of the Unspoken.  The Ultra-Humanite’s plan is almost complete, and it somehow involves that drug addict superman, Daniel Dunbar.  Hawkman asks the most valid question, which is what’s next, and the only proper answer is what we learned from the Blues Brothers; they have to get the band back together.  Someone must answer the call.  When you get the call, will you pick up?

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Business is about to pick up, folks…