Comics I Shouldn't Own, Part 4:
Planet of the Capes GN
I've been wary of AT Comics since Larry Young took over the company from his wife's father in the late 1990s. Thanks to my father's collection, which he started as a lad back before Nixon stomped Kennedy for the first of three times, I've read nearly every AT comic ever published. Even my grandfather read AT comics, but times being what they were, paper was needed for the war effort and not many of those comics survived the 1940s. I read these comics as a child, as did my father and his father, and me and pops have spent many evenings together reading the musty old four-color adventures of The Planet's Best Heroes.
But Young — or, alternately, "Uncle Lar," as he obviously fancies himself a new Jim Shooter, the jubilant, friendly shill we knew and loved in decades past — swiftly ran AT Comics into the ground, turning it into his own vanity press for such drivel as "Astronauts in Trouble" and paranoid liberal claptrap from his friends like "Channel Zero." Sacrificed on this altar were the heroes featured in this "graphic novel" (fancy-pants words for "thick comic book"): Justice Hall, Strongman Schaff, Kastra, and granddaddy of 'em all — no pun intended! — Grand.
Now, Young knows these heroes. I've seen pictures of him as a boy, dearly clasping a tattered and much-loved copy of Junior Grand #145. This has proven itself nothing more than a cynical tactic to fool fans into thinking he's one of us, and being myself a lifetime member in good standing of the Ravens of Justice fan club made his destruction of this company and its characters all the harder to watch.
He knows these characters, all right. He knows them just enough to cause trouble.
Justice Hall is, no doubt, the perfect choice; forgetting that Justice Brinks ever existed is the best thing anyone can do, in or out of the AT universe. I grew up with Justice Hall, and so did my father; the grief we felt at his replacement by the younger, hipper Brinks is unfathomable, and it pleased us both greatly to see Hall in this book. I still have my Junior Federalist Card I got upon entering middle school, as I'm sure most kids do. Getting to choose our favorite comics hero made it all the more fun, and I had known since preschool mine would be emblazoned with Justice Hall, just like my father's. (Grandpa had the Golden Age Grand on his, but we won't hold that against him!)
Much as I love Justice Hall and all the Ravens before him, it's great to see Kastra, princess of an alien race, and Strongman Schaff again! Schaff had been in Action Team Comics in the 1960s for the briefest while, but was kicked off that team and spun off into his own book. Always a bit of a mystery, we knew he had ties to The Fez, as shown in this comic, but it was always kept mysterious, and only the barest clues were given as to his true origin. UNTIL NOW! In the only piece of brilliance in this book, Young connects Schaff and Kastra definitively, showing that it was The Fez who joined with Kastra's own father! (This whole scene is in glorious color, not the dull, splotchy black and white that AT switched to with Young's takeover. Hopefully this is a sign of better, more colorful things to come!) Kastra having been a fairly minor character left room for this fleshing out and connecting of origins, and I hope future writers — anyone but Young! John Byrne, maybe...? — play it up a little.
But Grand... the First Hero and template for all heroes who followed, was left the same Grand we saw at the closing of the AT universe. Arrogant, mealy-mouthed, disgraceful, all attributes picked up in a terrible, disrespectful storyline from the mid-1990s that's best left not talked about. I'm sure you all heard about it, and I'm sure Young was the only one pleased by it. I read it. I didn't like it, but I read it, and kept reading in hopes things would turn around. Before that could happen, though, Young took over and AT stopped regular production of its superhero comics. At one point early in the story Grand is shown turning his back on a young fan seeking an autograph, something the Grand of my youth, and the youths of my father and grandfather, would never do. And later in the book, left trapped in a parallel universe, he allows a young man to fall to his death. The disaster on the dam is exciting, I admit, and I can't wait to see Kastra and Schaff swim to safety and follow up on the revelation of their shared origins.
The fight between Justice Hall and Grand, however, is troubling, both violent — gory, even — and seemingly final. Grand, I'm sure, will come back; he always does. Justice Hall might have a harder time of it, but... well, this is a parallel world, isn't it? Who knows how many more there might be, and who might be found on those worlds?
I don't think everyone's as dead as the back cover blurb would have us believe!
BONUS AT UNIVERSE TRIVIA: The Justice Hall Broadway musical was in the planning stages for many years, but plans fell through when Nathan Lane got too chunky to convincingly play the hero on stage!