All Star Companion Volume Four
Edited by Roy Thomas
Whereas one would think that wrapping up the last volume in the voluminous All Star Companion series would be a bittersweet occasion, everything about this book, from the jaw-dropping Jerry Ordway cover to Roy Thomas’ c’est la vie foreword to the quirky article choices, gives it a valedictory feel. And why shouldn’t it? Thomas himself admits that he’s as surprised as anyone that this one-off project became a mammoth quadrilogy in its own right. The editorial selections for this compendium also have the distinct feel of comic fans kicking up their heels. Thomas reprints Jim Harmon’s earnestly-titled paean to the Justice Society, “A Bunch of Swell Guys” from 1961, indulges speculations on whether the Marvel Family was a rip-off of the JSA, and lets Bill Schelly’s tale of a bunch of comic nerds showing up in full JSA regalia at the 1962 World Science Fiction Convention pass muster. Hell, he even picks up the pen himself for a lighthearted exposé of all the coded messages passed on to super-secret members of the Junior Justice Society in the pages of All-Star (and related comics) during the Forties, showing off his extensive collection of JSA membership ephemera in the process. What the hell, right? Let’s go out with a bang!
It ain’t all hijinks in the Twomorrows offices. Even though the well is clearly close to running dry as far as topics for these _Companion_s, Thomas and company don’t fuck around; they are still able to present some intriguing hypotheses and essential resources for the discerning Golden Age enthusiast. There are well-written studies of the other big hero teams, from the well-known Seven Soldiers of Victory and the All-Winners Squad to the utterly obscure International Crime Patrol (in what was a pretty fascinating and exhaustive rundown on that time-lost team). The “funny animal” titles that succeeded the JSA even get an essay!
The lengthy index to the Thomas-helmed Infinity Inc and Secret Origins titles is a treat. Not only does it present the essential info on the creators and characters that made up the issue, but Thomas’ notes and observations are like reading DVD commentary for a comic. Too many neato asides to list. For instance, when Thomas reintroduced the Gay Ghost into modern DC continuity – a kind of swashbuckling, rollicking apparition – he had to be renamed the Grim Ghost because of the change in context to his name in the ensuing thirty-some years. Or even his glee at pulling obscure villains out of the dusty corners of his collection to make into legit menaces, like Sportsmaster, Knoder (the Last Criminal), and Huntress.
And, as always with Twomorrows publications, the wealth of primary source material is just fucking astounding: original art, lost panels and scripts, character sketches, hilarious ad material, reproduced pages, and panel shots aplenty just burst out of every page of this collection – a visual feast. And an essential element to any Golden Age history, when so many originals are still out of the reach of the casual fan. Recommended for pop culture scholars of all stripes.