Who's Amazing-Man?

Who's This? A modern addition to the All-Star Squadron.
The facts: Introduced in All-Star Squadron #23, Will Everett (named after Golden Age artist Bill Everett, I should think) was meant to give the All-Star cast more diversity. Unsurprisingly, there were no African-American superheroes in the actual Golden Age. Olympic athlete (a contemporary of Jesse Owens) Amazing-Man was gifted with the power to turn into any material he touches by the Ultra-Humanite (albeit accidentally) and initially acted as one of his goons to keep Detroit safe from the would-be world conqueror's clutches. He joined the All-Star Squadron as soon as he saw Ultra would never keep his word, and served with the team through the entire run, on through Young All-Stars.
How you could have heard of him: His grandsons may be more familiar to younger readers, and both went under the name Amazing-Man. The first was a member of the Justice League post-Zero Hour and was killed  by the Mist in Starman #38. The second was a member of the JSA in the late 2000s.
Example story: All-Star Squadron #38-40 (October-December 1984) by Roy Thomas, Rick Hoberg, Richard Howell, and Bill Collins
This three-parter starts the same month Justice League Detroit premiered in Justice League of American Annual #2, and it can't be a coincidence. After all, the JLA Bunker adopted in that story was built by Commander Steel, a member of the Squadron, and in this issue, yep, we're going to Detroit! While the East Coast lives in fear of nocturnal U-boat attacks, the Midwest has its own problems, namely the KKK and Nazi agents working together to inflame racial tensions, it's all rather close for comfort here in 2020, but then the fiction takes over, or I should say the Klan-like Phantom Empire does, and burns a black man at the stake. But not just any man, the Amazing-Man!
Shouldn't have used metal chains, ratzis. The All-Stars are off to Motor City (sounds like a DC town all right), but Commander Steel instead goes on his own subplot in Europe, so I guess the link to the JLA isn't as strong as I thought. As they take off, here's the bit about the All-Star Special (the Squadron's equivalent of a Quinjet) that I couldn't talk about last week:
Truly, a craft made by committee. The Spectre?!

So in the second issue, the team finds they're not particularly welcome in Detroit, which is, historically, a powder keg at this point. A race riot is set to explode in June 1943, though the story takes place in February 1942 (could use more - or ANY - snow, Roy). With the KKK and offshoots like the Black Legion operating in the area for decades, Roosevelt's 1941 executive order prohibiting racial discrimination in the national defense industry no doubt made things worse. A housing project for those defense workers became controversial and Feb 1942 is exactly when the situation exploded with whites protesting as black families tried to move in (this is recounted in #38-39, because Roy Thomas always shows his research). What our history doesn't say is that white supremacists secured themselves the help of a racist super-hero called the Real American, but Earth-2 is a slightly different place. The All-Stars talk to Will Everett's family, apparently he and his dad are going to be at the big move into the new neighborhood to make sure no one gets hurt, so Johnny Quick poses as, well, himself, a cameraman and journalist, to get close to the situation.
I'm getting strong "this could have been written today" vibes right now. Liberty Belle gets called an East Coast Liberal and everything. Then, a moving van gets attacked and the racist mob is all set to empty it, but who's in the back but our own Amazing-Man. You don't throw a brick at this guy, cuz...
The All-Stars try to keep the peace (but are a bit keen on not taking sides), while Amazing-Man goes toe to toe with the Real American, who's stronger than anticipated.
For some reason, the All-Stars are on the wrong side of this argument, and that reason may be that they're white folks in the 1940s. Sure, you want to stop the riot and the fighting, but don't get in Amazing-Man's way when Real American is an obvious villain. Comics in this era were still doing the "angry black man" trope, and everything is set up so that Will has to take that role, unfortunately. Real American deserves his anger, but putting him at odds with the team is over-egging the pudding. The distraction means Amazing-Man can be smacked in the back of the head and carted off by police deeply unsympathetic to the African-Americans involved in the situation (historically, 109 people were arrested and held for trial, only 3 of which were white). And no, of course the Real American doesn't get arrested. So it's a big fail for the All-Star Squadron.

Meanwhile, Green Lantern and Hawkman fail to make FDR realize this is an important issue so they finally show up in Detroit in time to stop another housing clash. But these white boys ALSO defend Real American even if he's hitting people with a steel whip. Are they blinded by the patriotic costume or something? As it turns out, his voice has mind manipulation properties, ah well, that explains it and also undermines what really went down. GL is immune, but a stern talking to isn't what's indicated here. What we really need is Amazing-Man. He gets it. None of that "Not all Americans" bull Liberty Belle is spouting. Except Will Everett is in jail, and restrained in such a way as to only turn into cloth, which is not helpful. And Real American is spouting lies about him having killed a white man just so he can string him up. Robotman appears to be immune too thanks to his electric ears, so it's time for him to lend a metal hand.
Yeah, he puts his ears on Amazing-Man and I guess they fuse there? While Robotman uses loudspeakers to counter the American's power, Amazing-Man comes out swinging. Yet, he doesn't want to win this as some "metal monster", but as a man, on equal footing. He understands the power of the visual.
As it turns out, he needn't have bothered because the Real American was a robot, and he self-destructs at the end of the fight. Huh. Johnny Quick captures the Emperor, just after the Phantom Empire's leader puts in a call to the Monitor to complain about the shoddy robot he sold him... This has got to be the most random link to Crisis on record. What was the agenda here?!

In the wake of these events, Will Everett well and truly joins the All-Star Squadron as a full, active member, believing he can do the most good as a symbol of equality and successful integration, even if he has to leave his family and fiancée behind until the end of the war.
In a way, the story, and by extension Amazing-Man's function in the book/team, is rather on the nose, but this has aged rather well if not in terms of style, certainly in the topic it addresses. Though it walks back some of the All-Stars' attitudes by saying it was mind control, it still feels kind of brave for showing the white characters' inability to see their own privilege. They are outraged, of course, but don't really do anything about it until late in the game. Amazing-Man's presence in these stories play differently if we take it as a 1940s story, a 1980s story, or one read today, and that's rather interesting.

Who's Next? A one-man Justice League.

4 comments:

Tony Laplume said...

I liked the '90s incarnation. Was pretty pissed when he was killed off in Starman.

Siskoid said...

Like we have African-American superheroes to waste.

RB said...

I like thes character

RB said...

I like this character

 

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