Thursday, April 01, 2021

Zinda Blake, Mermaid Blackhawk

 Kevin Ahearn shared this with me and now I'm sharing it with you.  It's a continuation of his wildly entertaining interpretation of the Lady Blackhawk saga, this time focusing on the time that Zinda Blake was turned into a mermaid.  Yeah, I didn't know about it either, but it happened:

But whereas the original was your basic Jack Schiff absurdity, Kevin turns it into a witty and intelligent movie against the backdrop of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Meryl Streep plays Zinda, Robert Redford is Blackhawk and Killer Shark is Bill Murray.  Now I don't know about you, but I'd pay good money to see that flick.

Kevin does amazing work with these.  I'm continually awed at the number of images he packs into his PDFs, and all of them come with that nostalgia catnip of "I remember that guy/gal/cartoon character!"  Just plain fun to read, and there are a LOT more; we haven't even gotten into Kid Blackhawk yet.  Highly recommended!

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Blackhawk, Lady Blackhawk and the Femmes Fatale

 I wrote a long time ago about the saga of Lady Blackhawk, one of the female characters that DC introduced in the late 1950s to try to get more girls to read their magazines. Zinda Blake was an aviatrix who aspired to become the first distaff member of the Blackhawk family. Unfortunately for her, Blackhawk himself was dead set against it, and at least in her initial appearance she proved to be not quite ready for primetime when she did the eekamouse routine.

However, she returned often and proved herself worthy.  Then in Blackhawk #200 she lost her memory and became the villainess, Queen Killer Shark, pairing up with the team's worst enemy for the next two years or so, before eventually recovering (shortly before the Blackhawk series ended).

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Lady Blackhawk, and so when a writer named Kevin Ahearn asked me to read his Lady Blackhawk comic, I was intrigued and clicked on the link. And read through the entire thing in one go.  I don't want to get caught up in summarizing it, but it's really cool. Kevin has put together an awesome collection of images, connected them with his writing, thrown in pop culture and history and technical references in a collage that ends  up being a history of the Blackhawks, as well as a "her" story about Zinda and her quest to join the team.  I had a blast reading it and hope that you folks will as well.  Please feel free to leave comments for Kevin here.

As it happened, I had been working on a post about Blackhawk and women, so the timing was right as well.  My own personal collection of Blackhawk issues was all 1960s issues, so apart from a few reprints I really hadn't read much of the Quality stories. And since Quality published right up to the end of 1956, there are technically quite a few issues that I consider to be in the Silver Age.

So I set out to read those issues, and I discovered something quite startling, which sheds a new light on why Blackhawk may have been suspicious of Lady Blackhawk. All I can say is that you'd be suspicious too if you'd had the experience with women that he had, especially with women who professed to admire the team.

Consider Blackhawk #87. A lovely young flier crashes on Blackhawk Island:

Blackhawk at this point was not the female skeptic that he would later become, and this gal goes a long way to showing why he moved rapidly in that direction:

That same issue:

 You mean my uncle?  Yes, but I'm not a Nazi submarine commander myself.  Oh, wait, I totally am.


In Blackhawk #90, the team rescues a gal from the Reds:

Beautiful woman? Check. Professes to admire the Blackhawks? Check. Turns out to be evil?

Check.  Name ends in "a"? Check.

In Blackhawk #93 we meet Sirena:

Although she at least never pretends to be anything other than a commie rat.


And in #94, the Black Widow trapped the Blackhawks in her web:


One must admire how advanced the Soviets were in their treatment of women, who were constantly being given positions of power.  In Blackhawk #95 the gals took over completely. First there was the commie pirate Madame Fury:

And then the more fittingly named Terra:

and closing with Lahla of the desert:

Blackhawk #96 featured Madam Furia:

And another beauty who tried to kill Andre:

#97 had two more lady killers, Vampira:

And Hitla, a gal who claimed to be Adolf's daughter:

She pretends to be leading a revival of the Nazis, but secretly she is aiding a communist invasion. Her plot is foiled by Hendrikson, who gets in a pretty good dig:

That's even before we talk about Communa and Zera and Dr Leza and Vendetta.  Keep in mind this is all in the course of about a year and a half.

 And things did not entirely change when Blackhawk switched over to DC.  In #109 they met Maria, the daughter of communist revolutionary. She initially betrays them, but rebels when she learns they are to be executed and repents her evil past.

But perhaps the clincher came in Blackhawk #110. Once again, the Blackhawks met a pretty gal who pretended to be a big fan:

Yes, we admire you Blackhawks so much, would mind walking over this trapdoor here?

So after all that, is it really surprising that Blackhawk was a little cynical about Zinda?

Monday, June 08, 2020

Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Formidable Collection

A young man writes in Action #297 (February 1963):

560 different Superman family comics may not sound like a lot these days, but back then this was very impressive.  First, I estimate that there were about 960 comics featuring Superman/Superboy or his friends, so it's almost 60% of the total.  Second, this was before there were comics shops, before there were the yellow-colored ads offering back issues for sale.  I'm sure that Ward had to scrounge everywhere to find that many comics featuring the Man of Steel.

I checked ahead in the next few issues and didn't see anybody writing in to claim they had topped his total.

Friday, March 06, 2020

I Finally Figured It Out!

Years ago, I wrote a post noting all the female characters that were introduced in DC comics starting in the late 1950s, and wondering why it all happened so suddenly:

1956: Batwoman makes her first appearance in Detective #233 (July).
1957: June Robbins makes her first appearance with the Challengers of the Unknown in Showcase #7 (March-April) Lois Lane makes her solo debut in Showcase #9 (July-August) Queen Arrow makes her only appearance in Adventure #241 (October).
1958: Lois Lane gets her own title (March). Supergirl tryout in Superman #123 (August).
1959: First Lady Blackhawk appearance in Blackhawk #133 (February). Supergirl (Kara) launched in Action Comics #252 (May). First Mademoiselle Marie in Star Spangled War Stories #84 (August). First Aquagirl (Lisa Morel) appearance in Adventure #266 (November).
1960: First Miss Arrowette (Bonnie King) in World's Finest #113 (November).
1961: Batgirl (Betty Kane) debuts in Batman #139 (April).
 I was focused on what was happening in the culture that would cause this sudden interest in female characters and I missed what was right in front of me all the time:

 1958: Lois Lane gets her own title (March).

We don't have circulation numbers for any comics before 1960, but I suspect Lois Lane sold like hotcakes right from her first Showcase appearance.  By 1960 her mag was the #11 selling title in all of comics, moving 458,000 copies per issue. So of course the DC editors realized that there was a market to be tapped, and they rushed to try to fill it.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Blame Everything Bad on Superman

Although Mort Weissinger did a terrific job of editing the Superman titles during the late 1950s-1971 or so (while simultaneously being a notorious jerk to his underlings), he had one enormous blind spot that became more apparent as he approached the end of his tenure.  He was always willing to put up with awful characterization for Superman if it was in service to an entertaining plot.

Consider this story, which ran in Action #368-369:

Superman returns from paying his respects to his parents on a faux-Krypton world he created complete with Jor-El and Lara (in reality androids), to discover the situation shown on the cover. Yep, Earth has become a paradise, with no war, no crime, no disasters.  People don't even get sick anymore.  You might think that Supes would be happy, but instead he focuses on the fact that he will no longer be a subject of adulation:

Yep, no more giant gold cups.  Even his job as a reporter offers no excitement, as Perry assigns him to cover a chess tournament. Eventually he goes to his fortress and commands his robots to attack him but:

 Initially he resists exile, but the Sentinel talks him into leaving. Of course, he carefully scouts out worlds with red suns to find one where he will fit in.  Or not:

And later, he makes a social blunder:

You can probably guess what the king's decision is.  Fortunately for Supes,  he happened to pick a world where the sun was only half-red and half-yellow. When the yellow half returns, he flies rapidly away and back to Earth.

Now the predictable story here would have Superman discovering something about the Sentinels which makes him realize that they are too controlling, or that they have nefarious plans for Earth now that they have gotten rid of its greatest defender, Superman destroys the Sentinels, preventing their evil plot.

This story isn't predictable.  Oh, yes, Superman goes back to Earth and destroys the Sentinels, but they really were just trying to make Earth a paradise:

On his way back to Metropolis he spots a plane crashing, but is too late to save it. Everybody on board dies and Superman realizes that he's to blame, and in fact he will be to blame for everything bad that happens.

And that is the way the story ends. So the next time you feel a cold coming on, or some jerk breaks into your car, or war breaks out somewhere, you know where to point the finger.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Batman Effect

In January of 1966, the Batman TV show debuted and it seemed like the whole country went Bat-mad.  Perhaps in an effort to make clear the other comics that were coming to us from the fine folks who brought us the Caped Crusader, DC came up with the Go-Go-Chex idea; all of their comics starting in January 1966 or so had a checkerboard pattern at the top.  Here's the first Batman issue:
As you can see, it prominently features the Riddler, the villain Batman and Robin faced in the first episode of the TV show.

Anyway, since we have pretty good circulation data on a bunch of DC mags for 1965 and 1966, I thought I'd take a look at what the Batman effect was like on the rest of the line.

In a word, grim. This was definitely not the case of a rising tide lifting all boats.  Although it is undeniable that Batman brought lots of new comic fans to DC, they mostly only bought Batman titles, as did a lot of existing comics buyers, to the obvious detriment of almost the rest of the DC line.

Superman, which had forever been DC's best-selling title, not only dropped out of first place, but it sold a startling 100,000 fewer copies per issue than it had the year before.  And that was only the beginning; his related titles also took big hits in circulation--Superboy down 64,000, Lois Lane down 25,000, Jimmy Olsen down 32,000, Action and Adventure down about 35,000 each.  No surprise, the only Superman-related title that did better was World's Finest (up 47,000), the one he shared with Batman. 

Nor were other comics spared.  Green Lantern and the Atom both shed about 25,000 buyers per issue. GI Combat dropped a stunning 65,000.  All of the comics mentioned were still selling over 200,000 copies per issue, and the Superman titles were almost all selling over a half-million.

Keep in mind too that in general comics circulation had increased quite nicely after the sudden drop caused by the increase in price from 10 cents to 12 cents.  For example, Superman, which sold 740,000 copies an issue in 1962, was up to almost 824,000 copies by 1965, a rise of over 11%.  Generally we would expect given the times for all these comics to show modest increases in circulation due to the bulge of the Baby Boomers coming into their comic-buying prime

But there is no denying that the declines must have been painful to DC editors not named Julius Schwartz. Batman and Detective Comics sales under his editorship soared (as did sales of the Brave and the Bold, which began to feature Batman in most issues).  But Schwartz made sure to feature Batman prominently on the Justice League of America covers, sometimes ridiculously so:

Okay, there's Batman flying in outer space punching some alien who supposedly can destroy him instantly.  And there's the usual floating heads to tell us that this is a JLA-JSA team-up.

Batman again dominates the foreground and this time there's even Robin.

Justice League of America was one of the very few DC superhero titles that actually gained circulation from 1965-1966, with a pickup of 18,000 copies per issue.

Flash was another character who gained some circulation (about 27,000).  This obvious bit of cross-selling may have helped:

For the superhero titles DC reported sales for in both years, it is quite obvious that DC's overall circulation was up quite substantially.  For those titles (including all the Batman titles) they showed a increase of about 3 million issues per annum. But Batman and Detective sold about 5.6 million more copies, which means the rest of DC's superhero line got crushed.

Metal Men had a very odd pattern of sales from 1965-1967, which leads me to believe that there was an error somewhere.  They sold 334,000 copies per issue in 1965.  They reportedly sold 396,000 copies per issue in 1966. While this seems unlikely, here's the statement from MM#24:

I wonder if they just didn't reverse the two columns by accident, as a decline to 316,000 seems much more likely than a 62,000 increase, especially when you consider that in 1967, Metal Men's circulation dropped all the way down to 239,700.