It all started in 1937. Two years before the world would change forever, a guy named Everett M. Arnold - “Busy” to his friends - was looking at all the comics his printing company was shipping out week after week and figured that he could bring in some extra money if he created the comics as well as printed them. Busy created Comic Favorites, Inc. and started doing exactly what Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson did in 1934 when he created National Allied Publications - Busy got the reprint rights to some newspaper strips and put them together in comic book form.
And just like with the Major, it worked. Busy was making cash. In 1939, Busy decided to start printing new material, just like National Allied had been doing for a bit, and so he changed the name of the company to Quality Comics and got to work. Almost as soon as Busy had hired a team to create some new stories for him, the comic book world exploded - Action Comics #1 hit the shelves, and Superman changed the universe.
Busy’s new team worked hard to create superheroes for Quality Comics. Will Eisner and Jerry Iger came up with Uncle Sam, Black Condor, Doll Man, and more. Other characters, like the Ray and Quicksilver (better known to Flash nerds as Max Mercury!) also sprang up. Jack Cole came up with the idea that today is Quality’s best-known character, Plastic Man.
Quality Comics hit just as the comic book Golden Age started, and Busy and the gang took full advantage. More to it, he branched out, bringing comic books to the Sunday papers, most notably Will Eisner’s iconic series The Spirit.
Still, you can guess how the story goes - the Golden Age of comics ended, and the boom market busted. By the mid-1950s, Quality Comics was in trouble. Busy, knowing that the company wouldn’t survive, did the smart thing - he sold off the assets. The company whose success Busy had copied ended up buying most of Quality’s superheroes, as well as their book about a group of World War Two fighter pilots. National Allied shelved the heroes, but kept the fighter pilots - The Blackhawks - going.
Aside from a very brief Plastic Man series in the '60s, the rest of the Quality Comics characters laid dormant for nearly three decades.
In 1961 writer Gardner Fox decided to have the new Flash - Barry Allen - meet the old Flash - Jay Garrick. Suddenly, comic readers learned that there were two Earths, and each one had their own superheroes. While Earth-One had the Justice League of America, Earth-Two had the Justice Society of America, the first superhero team ever created. Two years later, Fox would have the JLA and the JSA come together in the two part epic “Crisis on Earth-One!” and “Crisis on Earth-Two!”. This story kicked off something that DC Comics still does quite often - the Crisis events. It was the 8th Crisis (well, the 15th if you count the ones that weren’t called “Crisis” but had all the pieces of the annual Crisis events) where writer Len Wein dug in deep and came up with the worst Earth in the Multiverse…
As the JLA and JSA try out a new device that will allow them to better travel the Multiverse, something goes wrong and members from both teams end up on an Earth that would make FDR cry his eyes out. On this world, the Japanese invaded California and the Nazis invented the atomic bomb, which they happily used over and over again. This was Earth-X, the world where the Nazis had won World War Two.
Still, there were heroes on this world, a team who called themselves the Freedom Fighters. These superpowered soldiers of hope were led by none other than Uncle Sam. Wein had taken the Quality Comics characters and gave them their own nightmare Earth to contend with.
Obviously, the JLA and JSA weren’t about to just leave an Earth controlled by Nazis - these alt-right assholes had even added Hitler to Mount Rushmore! - so they teamed up with the Freedom Fighters and overthrew the Reich, only to learn that Hitler and his goons had already been overthrown… BY MACHINES!
Yup… this shit was super crazy. The way it went down was that Nazi scientists created a mind control device that would allow them to dull the population, keeping them cool with being controlled by the Aryan jagoffs. What the scientists weren’t ready for was that the supercomputer they created to handle all the mind control stuff would decide to just run things itself. The computer - set up in a satellite not unlike the one the Justice League had - created android versions of Hitler and his boys. Those android versions killed the human versions and took their place. Nazis didn’t run the world, evil machines did.
With the combined forces of the JLA, the JSA, and the Freedom Fighters, the mind control machines were destroyed and the people of Earth-X regained their free will.
Everett M. Arnold passed away in 1974, a year after the characters he helped shepherd into the world had made their comeback. There’s no word on if he ever read their return, or what he thought of it.
Len Wein, the man who brought the Quality Comics characters back from obscurity, sadly passed away in September of this year. It would take pages to list all of Wein’s accomplishments, but I think a few of them should be touched on. Along with salvaging Uncle Sam, the Ray, Black Condor, Doll Man, Phantom Lady, and Human Bomb, Len also saved the X-Men from cancellation when he brought in a new team of mutants in the classic comic Giant-Size X-Men #1. Most notably, Len Wein co-created the Human Target, Lucius Fox, and Swamp Thing for DC, as well as Nightcrawler, Colossus and Wolverine for Marvel. Through these characters, Wein’s legacy will outlive us all.
In today’s climate, seeing true blue heroes take down Nazis isn’t just a welcome fantasy, it may well be needed. There will be kids who watch this four hour “Crisis on Earth-X” event, and they will see that moment when Green Arrow and Supergirl say “I hate Nazis”. They’ll hear Heatwave say it later too. They’ll see Flash take out a whole lot of Nazis. They’ll see the heroes, even the ones without powers like Alex Danvers, stand up against a group of people who believe that there is a master race. And maybe some of those kids who watch the shows today will walk away and remember, even decades from now, that Nazis are real dickheads. If there’s a more heroic thing a TV show can do, I can’t think of it.