I have a number of Secret Files and Origins comics from the late 1990s and early 2000s, most of them related to the various Titans teams that were around. They can be hit or miss because they are a dump for stories that wrap up loose ends in continuity or something that’s clearly a try-out or inventory piece. Plus, while there are profile pages, those are always slightly disappointing and wind up feeling like a poor man’s Who’s Who.
This “Golden Age” is pretty much exactly that. It features characters that were appearing in the JSA title that had been going on for a little more than a year at that point and serves to give us a peek into the lives of various classic superheroes as well as profiles of JSA characters. Some of the stories are clever vignettes–in “The Sentinel”, Dr. Occult tries to recruit Zatara; in “Show and Tell,” we get Dr. Sivana as a kid brainwashing his entire class with his science project, and “Scenes from the Class Struggle at the JSA Mansion” basically does a JSA version of that episode of Friends where half the gang can afford things and half can’t. They, along with the profiles of the JSA (where Peter Grau and Christian Alamy do their best Jerry Ordway impersonation), the Injustice Society of the World, Johnny Thunder, and The Crimson Avenger, make for a solid book.
What makes this worth the 50 cents I paid for it and maybe even worth the $4.95 cover price is the longest of the feature stories, “The Dawn of the Golden Age.” John Ostrander does his best homage to Roy Thomas by crafting a Secret Origins-esque story that explains how Superman could have inspired the heroes of the Golden Age even if he hadn’t appeared yet (remember, this is post-Crisis). The Crimson Avenger is the main hero here and his story is told through the lens of Clark Kent, who has been assigned to talk to the remaining Golden Age heroes and find out why they became heroes. The Crimson Avenger is the most enigmatic, partially because he died years ago and partially because he was avenging “the death of a man who hasn’t been born yet.”
Jay Garrick, Alan Scott, and the others give Clark the background of the rise of mystery men in the Depression and then we get an origin for the Crimson Avenger as told by an ailing Johnny Thunder–he was a World War I soldier who saw the horrors of the war and then began to wander the world, finally ending up in Nanda Parbat, which is where he saw a vision of the future, one that included Superman’s heroics and his eventual death at the hands of Doomsday. When he returns from Nanda Parbat, the Avenger finds that ten years have passed and he decides to fight crime to avenge Superman.
I don’t know what Roy Thomas would feel about the way that John Ostrander did this particular retcon, but I will say that it’s pretty clever, and this particular story is bolstered by some fantastic art by Cliff Chiang, whose work on Wonder Woman and Paper Girls is top notch. It definitely elevates the issue, even if I’m not sure it was ultimately worth its cover price.
Keep, Sell, Donate, or Trash?