All-Star Dialogue

In earlier posts, I’ve discussed my enjoyment of comics featuring the Justice Society of America. This was the first superhero team to appear in comics. The team made its debut in issue #3 of All-Star Comics in November 1940. I knew the book was created as a way to showcase those heroes who were not Batman and Superman, yet appeared in other titles published by DC Comics and its brother company All-American Comics. In the first Justice Society story, the society exists largely as a framing device. The heroes meet and each of them tells about a recent thrilling adventure. It’s less a team comic and more a way to introduce stories about each of the featured heroes. In the next issue, each hero still had standalone stories, but each story contributed to solving a bigger mystery.

So, what about All-Star Comics issues 1 and 2? These aren’t available digitally, so I had never read them. However, a few days ago, I discovered my local comic shop had a copy of DC’s Archive edition that collects the first two issues. It was even on sale. So, I ran over and picked up a copy.

As one might expect, the first two issues of All-Star Comics were simple anthology comics. They collected individual stories of heroes like the Golden Age Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkman, and the Spectre. Each hero had their own story and they didn’t meet. As with many Golden Age comics, the stories were simple, but they were fun. The stories were written and drawn by such people as Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel, Sheldon Moldoff, and Gardner Fox, people who had a hand in the early days of Superman and Batman and would also help to usher in characters like the Silver Age Green Lantern and Flash.

As it turns out, I rushed out to buy this book while working on a big writing project. I can’t say much about that project at this point, but I can tell you it’s set in 1942, right after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It’s a time period I’m familiar with from the stories of my parents who were teenagers then. Truth be told, I bought the book as a little bit of fun distraction from work. One of the challenges of working at home during a pandemic is that you almost never leave the office!

That said, as I was reading the book, I came to realize it’s set just a little before the events of the story I’m working on. I should pay attention to people’s attitudes and how they speak. If you’re writing historical fiction, it can really help to read stuff written at the time your story is set. Watching movies of the period can help as well.

One of my favorite moments in this book was when they put in an editor’s note to explain what the FBI was. Although the FBI had already existed for several years, it had been a tiny department in Washington DC. It had just recently been expanded under President Roosevelt when the comic was new. More than once, when someone encountered something unusual, they described it as “queer.” It fits the dictionary definition perfectly well, but our modern ears tend to give the word a different meaning. Even Ultraman of the year 2240 is concerned about people being out of work and how a war in Europe will affect life at home. Of course, there’s also more than a little casual racism and sexism in some stories.

I won’t use everything I found in these stories, but the attitudes do reflect those of the period and help me to shape the way my characters speak. It reminds me of attitudes even progressive and forward-thinking people would have had to cope with. Words that are unusual to our modern ears should be used with care, but one or two sprinkled here or there can help transport a reader to a given era. You could do far worse when writing historical fiction to read a few comics of the period, if they existed. You might even have a little fun along the way.

October 1 Reflections

October 1 can be a challenging day for me. On this date in 1980, my dad passed away. I was only 13 years old. This year, October 1 comes with an added twist. In just six weeks, I’ll be the same age my dad was when he passed away. That noted, and given the caveat we never really know how long we have, I don’t have a lot of fear that my time is nigh. My doctor says I’m in good health and I don’t smoke like he did. Also, my brothers are more than ten years older than me and they’re still around.

This is the last photo I have with my dad. My mom is sitting between us. Soon after this photo was taken, my dad had his first heart attack. Part of his recovery was to walk a mile each day and I would take those walks with him. In many ways, I think I got to know my dad better in that time than I had in the years before that.

As I approach the age my dad was when he died, I find myself thinking about his hopes, dreams, and fears at that age. I look at his successes and the occasional regret he shared. I find myself starting to evaluate my life, asking how satisfied I am with what I’ve done, asking what I still want to do.

My life has been quite a bit different than his. After graduating high school, he joined the Marine Corps at the tail end of World War II. Fortunately, he didn’t have to go overseas. After he left the Corps, he went to work for Santa Fe Railroad. He moved up through the ranks until he became a General Locomotive Foreman at the shops in San Bernardino, California, where the photo above is taken. Beyond that, he was also a leader in the Boy Scouts. He gave me an appreciation of this great nation and showed much of it to me in the short time we had together. He was a leader in our church and he gave me a strong appreciation of the spiritual side of life. He was an artist who loved to paint.

The day before my dad died, he’d gone in to see the doctor and asked if he would write a letter recommending early retirement. Instead, the doctor cleared him to go back to work. My dad was proud of what he’d done, but I think he wanted a change. Unfortunately, he didn’t feel he could make that change without the financial security that would have come with taking early retirement.

I sometimes wonder if my dad would have been proud of the work I do in astronomy, or my writing. I suspect he would have been. He’d certainly find the astronomical machinery, electronics, and optics I work with fascinating and I think he would have enjoyed my Clockwork Legion books. He might have looked askance at some of my horror, but then again I have memories of watching The Omen with him when it appeared on Showtime. It scared me, but he pointed out the silly parts, commenting on them Mystery Science Theater-style and I was less afraid. In a way, it’s a skill that let me analyze horror and actually write it.

Bittersweet as these memories are, they also come on the official release day of the anthology DeadSteam edited by Bryce Raffle. I’m proud to share a table of contents with such talented writers as D.J. Tyrer, Karen J. Carlisle, Alice E. Keyes, and James Dorr. In the tradition of the Penny Dreadfuls, this anthology takes us back to horrors of the Victorian age. Whether it be the fog-shrouded streets of London or a dark cave in the desert southwest, who knows what will appear from the shadows. I hope you’ll join us. You can pick up a copy of DeadSteam at:  https://www.amazon.com/DeadSteam-Bryce-Raffle/dp/0995276749/