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Johnny Thunder


Despite being arguably the most powerful character in the DC Universe, Johnny Thunder’s strip was much more of a comedy series than a super-hero one. His origin story is elaborate to the point of absurdity, as he is kidnapped as an infant and brought to the Pacific island of Badhnesia, where he is given a magic belt to wear for seven years, after an arcane ceremony in a native temple.  Still a child, he sails away from the island and is picked up by a passing freighter, whose captain just happens to bring him onto a streetcar being operated by Johnny’s father, who recognizes his long-missing son.  The end result of all of this is that when Johnny says the magic words “cei-u” (which sounds like “say you” in English), a magic Thunderbolt appears, and makes any wish Johnny has come true.

The series tends towards slapstick, and there are as many tales with no villains as with them.  Often, Johnny misadventures simply play out without having to solve a crime.  Johnny’s honesty and earnestness keep the reader on his side, while his gullibility, and lack of sense, make his use of the Thunderbolt far less omnipowerful than it could be.  I should also mention that for much of the first year the series itself is called Johnny Thunderbolt, though the character is never called this.

The earliest stories are the most fun, as Johnny has no idea that he even has this power.  Throughout his run he is constantly in search of work, hoping to impress Daisy Darling, and one day marry her.  Johnny lives at home on Long Island with his parents.

At first the Thunderbolt is not even seen.  Johnny makes wishes, often unwise, and they just come true, like saying “well, blow me down” and having the person then do that.

While unaware of his powers, Johnny gets and loses a job in a department store, becomes a professional boxer, and then a G-Man.  It only only after he gets fired from that in Flash Comics 7, after helping a foreign spy escape, that we begin to really see and hear the Thunderbolt.  Even still, its progression from a bolt of pink lightning to an anthropomorphic being with a distinct face, three little bolts as “hair”, a human looking upper body and lightning tail takes a very long time.  Each issue the Thunderbolt gets a little more human-ish looking, reaching its final form in Flash Comics 21.

By All-Star 2 Johnny realizes that the things he says come true, but still has no idea that he has to utter “cei-u” first.  He attempts to protect Daisy’s father from mobsters out to destroy the building he is constructing, succeeding only by fluke.  He realizes he can order the Thunderbolt to do specific things, rather than have it act on whims, in Flash Comics 11, and then spends a few issues as a fireman before getting fired from that job for the chaos he (actually the Thunderbolt) causes.

In World’s Finest 2, which pre-dates the attack on Pearl Harbour, Johnny joins the army, but again the Thunderbolt creates such mayhem that he gets kicked out.

Flash Comics 21 introduces Peachy Pet, a hideous looking obnoxious orphan child that Johnny adopts.  Peachy really takes the series into slapstick territory, pretty much taking the lead in the next few stories.  In issue after issue she causes massive damage, which Johnny consistently gets blamed for. On the plus side, she is a wonderful skewed version of the orphan sidekick boys that had become a must for super-heroes, but even still, she overpowers the stories.  Considering that the all-powerful Thunderbolt didn’t even do that, it’s really saying something.  This is also the issue in which Johnny knows that his magic words are “cei-u.”  There was no moment shown when he figured it out, but really, it had been almost two years, even a boy as dense as Johnny would clue in by now.

In these stories Johnny often forgets that he has the Thunderbolt, until Peachy reminds him towards the end of the tale.  Issues 23- 26 see him get into massive debt to Mrs. Ethelmere Van Der Vander, who has the ability to approve or decline his adoption of Peachy, but this entire plotline simply gets dropped with no resolution.

Johnny and Peachy head to Brazil for issues 26 and 27, and Peachy now has a dog, Snuffles, whose thoughts can be read.  This really seemed unnecessary, Johnny was getting lost amid all the comedic additions to his series, but the dog was apparently left behind in Brazil, as we don’t see it again.

In issue 32, following the attack on Pearl Harbour, Johnny joins the navy.  I had hoped that would reduce Peachy’s role in the series, but she stows away on his ship, and after being discovered becomes the crew’s mascot.  There is definitely more action and less slapstick in the navy stories, which last until Johnny gets an honourable discharge in issue 53.  Peachy usually gets the credit, though Thunderbolt does the work, as they capture Nazi subs and spies.  Johnny is simply treated like dirt by the rest of the crew, and by Peachy, and even by the Thunderbolt.

In issue 42 the Thunderbolt returns to Badhnesia, finding it under Japanese occupation, and brings Johnny along to help oust them.  The Thunderbolt will occasionally obey Peachy as well, particularly if Johnny is not around, or unconscious.

The final two stories of the period are billed “Johnny Thunder and Peachy Pet,” but this is inaccurate, as Peachy gets to go solo in the adventures.  Needless to say, these take the series back to its slapstick days.

 

Johnny Thunder continues in the Late Golden Age

 

Johnny Thunder:  Flash Comics 1 – 55

New York World’s Fair 1940

All-Star 2  (Fall 40)

World’s Best 1  (Spring 41)

World’s Finest 2 – 3  (Summer – Fall 41)

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Flash


The Flash debuted as the cover feature in the first issues of Flash Comics,  but he was only one of five new characters in that book.  His popularity lead to him getting his own comic, but as Flash Comics already existed, he wound up with the awkwardly titled All-Flash as his solo book.

Jay Garrick was a college student working on a hard water experiment.  He was not the most diligent student, he took a smoke break and unwittingly knocked some of the chemical apparatus over.  The fumes overpowered him, and he passed out, waking in a hospital bed.  Jay discovered that he had gained a speeded-up nervous system as a result of the accident, and in the first issue saves his girlfriend Joan and her father, a retired army major, from Sieur Satan and the Faultless Four.

Jay wore a red shirt with a lightning bolt on it, blue pants, and winged shoes and a winged helmet, making him look like a modern version of Mercury (or the FTD florist).

The series was written by Gardner Fox, and the stories are fairly serious and straightforward, but the art by E.E. Hibbard was critical to the success of the series, adding an almost slapstick feel to it.  There are so many panels of characters with stunned and disbelieving expressions as Flash runs around chaotically.

Aside from running quickly, the Flash can spin so fast he becomes effectively invisible.  Somehow this does not create a breeze, as he stands right next to people while spinning, and they have no idea he is there.  His speed is never clocked precisely, but in issue 9 he runs 2000 miles in 3 hours.  In issue 24 he gets captured and chained up, but rubs his chains together with such speed that the metal melts.

Joan Williams appears in every story, his girlfriend and confidant, aware of his identity from the beginning.  Neither she nor Jay really get developed much though.  We never see her father again after the first issue, and never learn anything about Jay’s life before the accident.  Jay graduates from university, and gets a job at Chemical Research Incorporated, but we never see him at work, or anyone else from the laboratory.  Joan gets a job as Defense Coordination Secretary in Flash 25, investigating gangland influence in the munitions industry, but only for that one story.

In All-Flash 5 he gets sidekicks, in a way.  Winky, Blinky and Noddy are three somewhat shady wanna-be inventors, who accidentally create things that work: a personality-switching ray in All-Flash 6’s “The Ray That Changed Men’s Souls,” and an invisibility vitamin in All-Flash 12’s “Tumble In to Trouble.”  Blinky hypnotizes himself into gaining super-strength in All-Flash 13’s “The Muscleman, the Djinn, and the Flash.”  Most of their appearances, as you may have guessed, were in the pages of All-Flash.  Unlike the Superman and Batman solo books, All-Flash tended to run full-length stories, rather than having four shorter ones, and Winky, Blinky and Noddy helped expand the stories out to their desired length.

The gambler Deuces Wilde would also become a minor supporting character in the Flash series, again appearing in All-Flash, issues 10 and 14.  Deuces Wilde is the only positive portrayal of a gambler I have come across in 1940s stories so far.

The Justice Society of America make an appearance in the first issue of All-Flash, rewarding him with his own book, as Johnny Thunder excitedly points out that he will be taking the Flash’s spot on the team.  The rule at this time was that Justice Society members had to move to honourary membership when they got their own series, but Green Lantern, Hawkman, Dr. Fate, the Sandman, the Spectre, the Atom and Hourman all rejoice at the Flash’s success.

Four of the Flash’s major villains also debut in this era.

The Monocle appears in All-Flash 1, a criminal with upper-class pretensions, he has his men steal jewels that he uses in his “garden of gems.”  He does have the wit to use a strobe light against the Flash, making it easier for his goons to see the hero, though it doesn’t help much overall.  The Monocle does not return until the 1980s.

The Shade debuts in Flash Comics 33’s “The Man Who Commanded the Night.”  He wears all black, with a top hat and black glasses, though in this story he has long white hair.  He had created a machine that spreads darkness throughout the city, a blackness that absorbs all light, but arms his men with special guns that shoot a reflective dust so they can see.

Rag Doll is a circus contortionist who turns to crime in Flash Comics 36, “The Tale of the Treasure Hunt.”  As with the Shade, there is no hint of the character development that would come later, these are just simple, straightforward bad guys.

The Thinker makes two appearances in the era, and even has his true name, Clifford DeVoe, revealed at the end of his first story, All-Flash 12’s “Tumble in to Trouble.”  In this story he has spent ten years working out crimes in elaborate detail, accounting for all possible scenarios, at least until the Flash shows up and messes up his schemes.

He returns in All-Flash 14’s “The Man Who Unleashed the Past,” which is easily my favourite story from this era.  It opens with Winky, Blinky and Noddy at the offices of DC Comics, discovering that All-Flash 14 has not been finished, and taking over the writing and drawing of the series.  The Thinker cons them into believing they have created a machine that pulls creatures from the past into the present, but that’s inconsequential compared to characters escaping situation by breaking panel boundaries, Winky,Blinky and Noddy asking Gardner Fox and  E.E. Hibbard for help in catching the Thinker, and editor Sheldon Mayer freaking out over where the story is going.  Doiby Dickles almost helps them fight the bad guys until Green Lantern pops in points out that they are in the wrong comic.

Those who know the Barry Allen Flash may see some foreshadowing here of the use of editor Julius Schwartz in stories from the 60s and 70s, and there are a number of elements that would return in much later stories – alternate dimensional versions of the Flash and his friends and foes, as well as time travel, but none of it is dealt with very seriously.  Jay Garrick always has a big smile and a cheerful insouciance when fighting crime.

The Flash continues in the Late Golden Age

 

A few of the Flash’s major foes appeared in this early part of his run.  The Monocle, The Shade, Rag Doll

 

Flash:  Flash Comics 1 – 55  (Jan 40 – July 44)

All-Star Comics 1 – 2  (Summer – Fall 40)

All-Flash 1 – 15  (Summer 41 – Summer 44)

Comic Cavalcade  1 – 7  (Winter 42 – Summer 44)

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