Welcome to Vanishing Point, a monthly column about the more outré continuity problems in the DC Universe, and my personal *non-canon* attempts to make sense out of them. This month's column is:
The Justice Society of America were the paramount team of mystery men to come out of the Golden Age to many comic fans. But someone else came first .
Dateline, October 30, 1938. Crusading newspaperman Lee Travis, late of the Spanish Revolution, attends a Halloween benefit. In the "highwayman" costume his secretary had purchased, he cuts quite a swath, concealing his identity from all and sundry. However, this is the night of the infamous "War of the Worlds" broadcast, and while the local panic is momentary, the radio play does inspire a handful of thugs to crash the party.
Lee, with the assistance of his new chauffeur, Wing, puts the kibosh on their plans, with the loss of only one life..Claudia Barker, a woman he'd met that very morning, who had impressed him with her strength of character. With her dying breath she gave him a prized lighter, whispering it's inscription. "Qui Vindicet Ibit." the avenger will come.
Since only two people (his secretary and chauffeur) know it was him in the costume, he decides to continue the fight against crime, and the Crimson Avenger (occasionally, merely the Crimson) is born.
And the Golden Age of heroes begins.
Soon after his first case, Travis acquires a gas gun originally designed by an Argentinean. He uses it for the next two years, eventually developing a special red gas to better fit his name. At the New York World's Fair, he meets up with old college friend Wesley Dodds, giving him a gas gun of his own, the first step of Dodds's own heroic career.
Other heroes soon appear, including the time-lost Shining Knight (see previous Fanzing article in the Archives), the modern day cowboy Greg Saunders, who became the first Vigilante, his partner/sidekick "Old-Timer" Billy Gunn, aka the Times Square Cowboy., and young patriot Sylvester Pemberton, who (after a particularly patriotic radio address) teamed up with mechanic Patrick Dugan to become the Star-Spangled Kid and Stripsey, the sole example in history of a hero pair where the *adult* is the sidekick.
A villain calling himself the Hand soon changed their lives forever. He hired five "Fingers" ( the Dummy, Professor Merlin, the Needle, Big Caesar, and the Red Dragon) to torment New York. Travis teams up with these newcomers to rout the villains..
They decided to make their teamup official, forming the Seven Soldiers of Victory. Occasionally, they used the name Law's Legionnaires instead, perhaps due to the various roster changes; Gunn left Vigilante (and the Soldiers) early on and was replaced by Victor Daniel Leung, (Stuff the Chinatown Kid), and for a short time, the Knight had a sidekick named Sir Butch (I'm not kidding)
With the rise of other tights-clad mystery men, the Crimson decided his Green Hornet look was no longer appropriate, so he changed to red tights and hood, with a black Domino mask. Wing soon followed suit, in a yellow ensemble.
Throughout the war, the Soldiers continued their battles against the villains of the day, both as a team and in solo action. When FDR joined all extant superteams into the All Star Squadron, the Soldiers served with honor (well, except for that unfortunate Wotan incident). Sir Justin left for a short time to act as Churchill's bodyguard, but returned to the fold.
In one of their last cases, Stuff, the Vigilante's sidekick, was gravely injured, but recovered. He married for a short time, but even the birth of his son did not allow the marriage to last. Soon after the end of the war, they went their separate ways for the most part. He assisted his old friend Vigilante on a case in Las Vegas in the mid-40's..at the cost of his own life at the hands of Bugsy Siegel.
There is a reference to an unofficial "Eighth Soldier.", who may be a returned Billy Gunn, now following a solo career as a hero. Alternatively, this may be Sir Butch, Sir Justin's sidekick, who was never an official Soldier, but had a solo career as the Squire, later the Knight (with his son as the second Squire) and was a member of the Dome (precursor to the Global Guardians).
A few years later, the Soldiers reunited to defeat the alien conqueror called the Nebula Man. Wing sacrificed himself to detonate the Nebula Rod, destroying the Nebula Man, and scattering the other Soldiers throughout time.
Years passed..the Seven Soldiers (OK, so only five survived) were forgotten until about eight years ago, when their first adversary, the Hand (now calling himself the Iron Hand), used leftover Nebula Man technology to threaten the Earth. The surviving members of the JSA, along with the fledgling JLA, learned from an extradimensional Oracle (not Barbara Gordon) that only the Nebula Rod could defeat him..but only the SSV knew how to create it!!
With the aid of Doctor Fate, the Soldiers were rescued from their far flung times..the Kid from the Pleistocene, the Vigilante from pre-Colonial America (where he finally meets real Indians!), Stripsey from bondage in Egypt, the Shining Knight from the time of Genghis Khan (who gets a special visit from the Sandman), and the Crimson Avenger from Aztec times.
Now catapulted 30 or more years into the future, the Soldiers cope in various ways. The Vigilante retires from the business, opening up a restaurant in Texas with the aid of Victor Leung Jr., the son of his former sidekick, whom he affectionately (if nostalgically) calls "Stuff Jr." The restaurant business is very good to him, as, in only a few years, he goes to pot completely. J
The Star Spangled Kid asks for, and receives, JSA membership, preferring to stay with people of his generation despite his now being many decades younger than them. His partner Stripesy marries a widow with a young son (Michael), and opens a small garage in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Crimson Avenger retires, and travels the world. In Kuala Lampur he discovers his fatal illness, and immediately checks himself into a stateside hospital. One evening, bemoaning the fact that his actions as the Crimson will go unremembered, he spots a boat in the harbor flashing an SOS, and goes to its rescue as the Crimson Avenger (stopping only momentarily to save a small child from a fall from a window..you have to love these GA types).
He routs the boatjackers, but the boat's cargo, highly explosive chemicals, are threatened by a fire on deck. In one last heroic act, he pilots the boat away from the city, perishing in the explosion..remembered only by a grateful mother as El Vengadore Rojo.
Two years later, the remaining Soldiers (except for Dugan) discover his death, and hold a memorial service.
Perhaps hurt by his abandonment by Stripesy, Sylvester Pemberton comes under the tutelage of Ted Knight, the Starman, even going as far to fill in for him after an injury. Studying the cosmic rod, he improves upon it, creating the Cosmic Converter (a belt). After the memorial service, and his reunion with Stripesy, not to mention the inheritance of a Hollywood movie lot, he decides the time has come to strike out on his own, and with the assistance of the offspring of several JSA members, forms Infinity Inc. As he gains in maturity as its leader, he abandons his somewhat juvenile codename, becoming Skyman.
Sir Justin, the Shining Knight, disappears.
Shortly after the Crisis, Skyman dies at the hands of Solomon Grundy and Mr. Bones, although it is the Manhunter agent called the Harlequin who is most responsible. His belt is returned to a sorrowed Ted Knight, who only recently has come to forgive Grundy for his actions.
But it's important to remember how it all started, with a man who fought the good fight, a man who once feared his actions would be forgotten. I like to think that somewhere, Lee Travis smiles when he sees that the JLA, the paramount team of superheroes today, honor him as the first of their kind, swearing their oaths of membership on the very crimson cloak his secretary purchased 60 years ago, in October, 1938.