Friday, March 31, 2006

The Night of March 31st!--Updated

Superman #145 contained an interesting surprise for its regular readers; an oddball little adventure:

As you can probably see (click to expand pictures), the story featured lots of intentional goofs; for example, in the last panel above, Clark thinks about his "telepathic powers", which we know don't exist. This panel gives an idea of the goofiness going on:

The explanation wasn't forthcoming until the very end of the story, which featured Luthor and Brainiac saving Superman from a villainous Lana Lang. After the action was over, you were supposed to turn the final page over for the solution to the riddle:

The results were announced in Superman #149:

One hopes that Linda Strickland went on to become a great editor of Time Magazine or something similar. 456! And note one of the winners was at MIT--who says comics aren't educational?

Let's see how many errors we can find in the eight panels of the story I posted above:

First Panel:

1. Lori Lemaris has legs.
2. Superman is wearing a normal shoe on his right foot.
3. Superman is wearing a sock or something on his right foot.

Second Panel:

4. Wouldn't Clark include the year in the date at the top?
5. Clark doesn't need his glasses when he's at home alone.

Third Panel:

6. Superman doesn't have telepathic powers.
7. Even if Clark did wear his glasses at home, he wouldn't wear them in bed.

Fourth Panel:

8. The description says the storeroom is empty but there are two men inside (possibly Weissinger and Swan?).
9. Superman changes in front of the two men.
10. They show no surprise at Clark changing into Superman
11. Clark is not wearing his glasses.

Fifth Panel:

12. Superman wearing glasses.
13. Superman not wearing cape.
14. Hollow red krytponite meteor
15. Which is not affecting Superman

Sixth Panel:

16. Mr Mxyzptlk not wearing his hat.
17. Mr Mxyzptlk wearing Clark's glasses.
18. Superman wearing Mr Mxyzptlk's hat.

Seventh Panel:

19. Mr Mxyzptlk would never voluntarily say his name backwards.
20. Superman is wearing Clark's glasses.
21. Lois falls far from Mr Mxyzptlk.

Eighth Panel:

22. Would Superman feel the need to investigate if Lana took a job selling ice cream?
23. Jolly Ice Cream Company should probably be "Good Humor".
24. Superman wearing Clark's glasses.
25. Superman logo backwards.

See the problem? We're about a quarter of the way through the story and we've got less than 1/18th of the errors that Linda Strickland found. You can argue for a couple more, but basically there should be about 10 errors per panel, which I'm having a tough time finding.

DC did a couple more contests during the Silver Age, including "The Great DC Contest" in Superman #169 and "Puzzle of the Wild World" from Action #388. The latter was another run at the "how many errors can you find" story, while the former in an oddity did not have the letters D or C anywhere in the text of the story, except for one place, which you were supposed to find. It turned out to be one of those "Continued on fourth page following" notices.

While we're on the topic of contests, Dial B for Blog has one involving my personal hero, BEM!

Update--Commenter StevenR points out that the MIT student who finished in the top 5 turned out to have an abiding love of comics. Frederick Norwood, we salute you!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Dev-Em Made Me Do It!

The first superhero comic I can remember reading (Adventure #320) featured Dev-Em. I am reasonably sure that it was not actually the first superhero comic I read, but it was the first one that I can remember. It's my recollection that I read it in the basement of my cousin Larry's house.

Dev-Em was a teenage boy who lived with his parents next door to Jor-El and Lara. First appearing in Adventure #287, he was a juvenile delinquent, as we can see here:

He likes to steal inventions from other people. Sensing that perhaps Jor-El is onto something with predictions of doom for Kryton, Dev-Em secretly steals scientific equipment to turn the lead-shielded bomb shelter in his backyard into an escape pod, at one point getting caught by Kal-El and vowing revenge on the tyke. When the planet finally explodes, he survives in suspended animation along with his parents until they reach Earth. Discovering that Superboy is the planet's greatest hero, he decides to get even.

The story continues in Adventure #287. After luring Superboy back to his pod, Dev-Em surprises the Boy of Steel with a Phantom Zone projector (aka Punishment Ray). He disguises himself as Superboy and commits nasty acts both great and small, earning his enemy a despised reputation in Smallville and beyond. Then he allows Superboy to return, knowing that he's ruined the lad's life. Dev-Em flies off with his parents "to a bright future".

Superboy tries to explain to the townspeople about his double, but they don't want to hear about it, and he prepares to leave earth forever. But then Chief Potter discovers that an award Superboy had received contained a small amount of red Kryptonite which he claimed had caused Superboy's wild behavior. Since red Kryptonite never affects him the same way twice, the people know he won't go wild again and they forgive him. Afterwards Chief Potter admits privately to Superboy that there was no red K, that he just faked it because he believed Superboy's story. In the end, Superboy vows to pursue Dev-Em into the future someday.

Oddly this did not happen for quite some time. In fact it wasn't until Adventure #320 that Dev-Em returned, this time 1000 years in the future during the era of the Legion of Super Heroes. Superboy and Mon-El catch him trying to break into the Legion HQ. When they threaten to turn him into the ICC (apparently a CIA successor), Dev-Em laughs:

Dev-Em's assignment is to locate and capture Molock, the leader of a criminal spy organization called the Cosmic Spy League. But since Superboy now knows of the operation, the ICC decides to put him in Dev-Em's place. Is Dev-Em jealous? Superboy notes an odd look on his former enemy's face.

It turns out that when Superboy (disguised as Dev-Em) meets Molock, the crook has a surprise for him:

Fortunately it was not really Gold K in the box, but Proty II (See comment below), who had changed himself to look like the power-stealing metal and gotten rid of it. As a result of this deception, Superboy is easily able to defeat Molock and bust the spy ring. It turns out that Dev-Em had worried about the Gold K, and Proty II had read his mind and realized the potential danger.

There is an amusing bit at the end where Dev-Em is offered membership in the Legion, but turns it down in favor of continuing his career as a spy. Mon-El is shocked, so shocked that his memory is faulty. He thinks: "Sizzling comets! This is the first time in the Legion's history that anyone ever turned down a chance to join it!"

Of course, that is not true; in Adventure #315, Stone Boy of the Legion of Substitute Heroes had been offered a chance to move up to the big club, but decided to stay with his former mates.

Dev-Em had a major "appearance" in Superboy #128. Superboy has a series of dreams where Krypton survived, so Kal-El grows up next door to Dev-Em. Somehow Dev-Em doesn't age, so when Kal becomes a teen, Dev is only a couple years older. In the next dream, Dev turns Kal to evil with the help of a special gem, and Kal is eventually sent to the juvenile wing of the Phantom Zone. In the following dream, Jor-El decides to send Dev-Em to Earth as Krypton's sole survivor. But Superboy finally realizes what is happening; an evil dog that Dev-Em had on Krypton is imitating Krypto and using its telepathic powers to influence Superboy's dreams. So Dev-Em does not really appear or resume his life of crime in this issue.

He did not appear again in the Silver Age. DC had reformed a few characters before this, including the Catwoman/Selina Kyle and Mr Element (Al Desmond), but those conversions were tenuous. Dev-Em's transformation appeared to be complete and thus to a certain extent he ceased to be an interesting foil for Superboy.

Comment on Proty. It seems obvious that Proty I and Proty II should have been full-fledged members of the Legion of Super-Heroes. The two had performed heroically, with one laying down his life for Lightning Lad and the second saving Superboy's powers. The only reason for them not being in the Legion was that Proty I had behaved like a pet in terms of showing affection for Chameleon Boy. But both Protys showed high levels of intelligence and the ability to communicate that intelligence. Indeed, in Adventure #323 Proty II devises a puzzle to determine the next leader of the Legion. I suspect that Proty suffered from rank speciesism, that the Legion could not contemplate a member who wasn't basically humanoid.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Team of Freaks and Outcasts

Led by a man in a wheelchair. Sound familiar? Well, yes, it describes the X-Men. But it also describes a group who debuted months before the mutants: the Doom Patrol.

Sounds a bit like Marvel ripped off DC for the X-Men, but then again they were just returning the favor, since DC had clearly ripped off Marvel when creating the individual members of the Doom Patrol. Compare the DP to the Fantastic Four:

Elastigirl: Mr Fantastic
Negative Man: Human Torch
Robotman (Also referred to as Automaton): Thing

Elastigirl, despite the name, does not really stretch so much as she can vary her size from huge to tiny. Negative Man is charged with energy which means he can leave his body and fly around much like the Torch. And Robot Man is very comparable to the Thing in that he's constantly griping about his exterior appearance. Of course, there is no comp for the Invisible Girl; I suspect DC did not find her interesting enough to copy.

In addition, the members of the Doom Patrol frequently bicker among themselves. This was clearly inspired by the FF's continual taunts between the Torch and the Thing. No other DC team of the time had that pattern. Indeed one could virtually guarantee that if two DC heroes argued in an issue it meant either a) they were deceiving somebody; b) one was an imposter, or c) they were under some weird influence like magic or red kryptonite.

The Doom Patrol debuted in My Greatest Adventure #80, the June 1963 issue. MGA was a long-running title that previously had features stories written in the first person, with titles like Free Me from the Bewitched Bell or The Creature We Dared Not Kill In the early 1960s it had turned into the monster of the month club, much like the other DC mags edited by Jack Schiff at the time.

By #80, Murray Boltinoff had taken over the reins, and obviously felt a shake-up was needed on the title. Much as the FF had been inspired by the success of the Justice League of America, so too was the Doom Patrol inspired by the success of the FF.

The story began with three people summoned before a mysterious stranger in a wheelchair. The Chief (as he is known) explains that he has trained himself to be an expert in virtually every field of knowledge (shades of Doc Savage!) and that he goes on adventures of the mind. But there are adventures he cannot undertake because of his physical limitations. He wants the three to undertake those adventures for him.

We meet Rita, the actress who inhaled volcanic fumes while filming a movie which gave her the power to change her size dramatically (and uncontrollably at first). We meet Larry, who was subjected to radiation while testing an experimental plane which caused Negative Man to appear. We learn of Negative Man's, err, negatives--while active Larry's human body is weak, and if he doesn't return in 60 seconds Larry will die. And we meet Cliff, who destroyed his body in a racing car accident, but was saved only by transplanting his brain into a robot--a transplant performed by the stranger in the wheelchair. Cliff hates his new body because he was a former world class athlete and now nobody will compete against him because he's not human.

The second part of the story shows the crew in action. A bomb has been left at the docks; can the Doom Patrol find and deactivate it in time? Negative Man searches for a bomb with a device made by the Chief. Once it's there, Elastigirl shrinks down and defuses it. Robotman shows his value by holding the bomb against himself to shield the Chief. Errr.

And in the third part of the story we see them up against a real villain. General Immortus was described as "as old as time". When the Doom Patrol battles him, he claims to have weapons that will nullify each of their powers. Sure enough, as Robotman attacks, a polarization ray shuts him down. Similarly General Immortus has a radio interference gun that allows him to trap Negative Man outside Larry's body. But there is one thing he hasn't counted on:

Rita is able to shut off the polarization ray, freeing Cliff, who can then save Larry by crushing the radio interference gun. It's a neatly designed ending to an interesting debut. DP would be featured in the next five issues of MGA, with the title changing to Doom Patrol effective with issue #86.

In something of an oddity, MGA #82 features both Rita and the Chief smoking cigarettes, which is required in order to introduce a camera that has been concealed in Rita's lighter.

Several DC characters had smoked over the years; Bruce Wayne's early appearances often showed him with a pipe. But I can't recall another female character who smoked. Is Rita a trailblazer (and a trailender)? Of course, the story about the Chief being from another planet is just a trick.

Doom Patrol made it to #121, but it was cancelled after that Sept-Oct 1968 issue. Their knockoffs, the X-Men, would last another year and a half before also slipping into hibernation.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Hulk #1-3

As I have remarked before, there was a vast difference in the origins of DC heroes and Marvel Heroes. The Marvels, perhaps reflecting early 1960s paranoia, frequently owed their amazing powers to radiation--The Fantastic Four and Spiderman, for example.

The second major Marvel hero was the Hulk. Yes, I know the Ant-Man technically debuted before him, but that's trivia. The Hulk stepped right into his own magazine, while Ant-Man appeared in just one issue of Tales to Astonish before disappearing until a few months after the Hulk's debut.

The story begins in Hulk #1. Dr Bruce Banner is supervising a gamma ray weapon's testing. His assistant, Igor (Lee never was one for subtlety), is jealous that Banner has guarded the details of the weapon. As the device is about to be tested for the first time, the scientist is horrified to spot a teenager driving his jalopy onto the range. He races out to rescue the boy, but his assistant, seeing his opportunity, makes sure the ray is fired before Banner can get out of the way.

At first there seems to be no significant ill effects, but then suddenly Banner feels a weird change coming over him:

He escapes from the army facilty. He and the teenager (Rick Jones) catch Igor trying to steal the secret of the gamma ray weapon. But then we discover what has turned Banner into Hulk and vice versa:

This explanation would not last long, for it would have made the Hulk's transformations far too predictable.

The Hulk was obviously inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In the first issue he and Rick are kidnapped by a hideous mutant named the Gargoyle, but when Banner offers to help him live a normal life, he lets them escape.

The second issue is a rather pedestrian alien invasion story. Marvel seemed to do this with a lot of their heroes in the second issue--the FF faced the Skrulls, Spiderman battled the Terrible Tinkerer (who turned out to be an alien) and The Avengers battled the Space Phantom. The aliens in this Hulk story turn out to be the Toad Men, whom Banner is able to defeat with his gamma ray weapon.

The interesting part of this adventure is that Rick Jones and Banner come up with a way to apparently lock up the Hulk at night. He's buried behind a 10-foot wall of concrete until the sun comes up in the morning.

In the third issue, there are three separate stories. In the first, General Thunderbolt Ross, who's always hated the Hulk (and Banner) tricks Rick Jones into decoying the Green Giant into a rocket ship. The General then sends the rocket into space, getting rid of the Hulk forever. He turns into Banner briefly, but then is bombarded by radiation. Apparently this transforms him so that his switches from Hulk to Banner are no longer governed by dawn and dusk. The second story is simply a brief retelling of the Hulk's origin.

The third story is more interesting; it features the first appearance of the Ringmaster and his Crime Circus; they would later appear in two issues of Amazing Spiderman and one issue of Journey into Mystery/Thor. The Ringmaster has the ability to hyptnotize people with his tophat; but Rick is quick enough to send a mental message to the Hulk for help, who busts up the crime scheme.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bat Lash

Will he save the West? Or ruin it?

That was the tag line for DC's rather interesting Bat Lash series from the late 1960s. First off, I don't have a clue as to why DC named a series Bat Lash in the summer of 1968. Batmania had died down, the show was canceled and so there did not seem any obvious reason for the name of the character.

Bat Lash is interesting because he's really the first DC anti-hero. He reminds me of Maverick, in that he's as likely to cheat at cards as he is to defend a lady from being kidnapped:

(Art by the amazing Nick Cardy, story by Sergio Aragones and Denny O'Neill)

The comic appears to be aimed at a slightly older demographic than most of DC's other titles given this gag:

Amusingly, Bat Lash professes to hate violence (and wears a flower in his hat), although he engages in it with appalling frequency. One notable thing about Bat Lash: There seems to be a lot of killing going on. He kills three or four men at least in the first issue of his own magazine. This is fairly atypical in a Silver Age comic.

I'll try to read a couple other issues and see if there's anything substantial I've missed with the character.

Update: I read Showcase #76, the only tryout issue for Bat Lash. Same general theme, with the guy who wants to be a poet and a lover forced to fight for his life. Oddly the Bat Lash #1 story doesn't quite mesh with this issue. The debut ends with Bat Lash locking up his new girlfriend for trying to poison him, while Bat Lash #1 starts with him in jail and her busting him out. Maybe different women, same look?

Bat Lash #6 might be considered the origin tale of Bat Lash. He was the son of a farming couple with a young sister and a girlfriend next door. His family is excited when a traveling preacher discovers oil on a desolate section of their land. The preacher suggests that they sell the farmland for the money needed to develop the oil wells. Of course, it all turns out to be a scam, there was no oil. When Bat goes into town he discovers that the preacher and the sheriff were in on the deal. He confronts them and shoots the sheriff in a gun battle.

After evading a posse, he heads back to his family's farm, where he discovers that his parents and his girlfriend's parents have been killed by Rickett, the man behind all the land purchases. His sister and his girlfriend were fortunately out picking berries, but his brother is missing. After seeing the girls to a convent, he starts avenging his parents' murders. Eventually he tracks down the final man, the preacher who started it all. Then he heads back to the convent, only to learn that his sister and his girlfriend have decided they want to become nuns. They are afraid of him, because he's become so violent and so hard.

Overall I enjoyed the three books I read in this series. The art is by Cardy and the stories are entertaining and lighthearted (except for that origin issue, which is pretty grim). Bat Lash was a much better character than I had remembered.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Supergirl, Sadist

Here's an amusing post along the lines of "Superman is a Dick", but using Kara Zor-El instead.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ace, The Bathound

Of all the characters in the Batman Family, it is safe to say that the two which draw the most scorn from the fans are Bat-Mite and Ace, the Bathound. I am not going to deny that some of that scorn is well-deserved. Both characters had their grating moments, and neither was really missed when they disappeared from the Batman family in 1964.

But... Ace was really much more of an important character in Batman than even I realized until I started to check out his adventures. Remember, this was at the time that Lassie was a major TV star. DC had a comic book during the 1950s called The Adventures of Rex, the Wonder Dog; it lasted for 46 issues and over 7 years.

Ace, the Bathound appeared in 15 different stories. He appeared on the covers of Batman #92, #97, #103, #123, #133, 143, 158, as well as Detective #254. It's pretty safe to say that Bathound appeared on more Batman covers than any other character than Batman, Robin, Batwoman and the Joker during the entire Silver Age; he'd probably appeared on more covers than stalwarts like Commissioner Gordon and Alfred had in their entire histories to that point. No, he's not as important a character as either of those men, but there's strong evidence that DC thought he could sell comics better than they could.

Ace first appears in Batman #92, June 1955. An aside: Superboy/Superman's dog Krypto had debuted in the March 1955 issue of Adventure, so both of DC's main characters added dogs to their families within a few months of each other. In the story, Ace is needed to track down his owner, an engraver named John Wilker who has been kidnapped by forgers who plan to use him to create bonds. At one point, Ace rescues Batman and Robin from captivity, and at the end of the case they express hope that he will help them out again sometime.

Batman #97 features The Return of the Bathound. Discovering that a criminal mob is using a highly trained dog to commit crimes, Batman borrows Bathound from its master in order to assist on the case. In this story and the following one, Ace's mask is colored blue and black, much like Batman's cowl, but usually it's just plain black.

In Batman #103, Ace becomes a movie star. He and Batman and Robin are recruited for a Hollywood movie in return for a large donation to charity. What they don't know is that the prop man is secretly an escaped convict looking to get revenge on Batman. Fortunately Ace recognizes the man's scent and they capture him.

Ace helps track down a missing high explosive in Detective #254's One Ounce of Doom. In typical Bathound fashion, he saves Batman as shown on the cover:

In Batman #123, Batman is a fugitive from justice, being pursued by Robin and Ace. Of course, in typical Silver Age fashion, it's all to fool some crooks into accepting Batman as one of them. Ace helps by preventing one crook from getting a shot off at Batman.

In Batman #125, DC finally got rid of Ace's former owner altogether; at this time John Wilker had probably appeared in more Batman stories than anybody other than Commissioner Gordon, Robin, Alfred, Professor Nichols, and the villains and girlfriends/love interests.

Ace's new role in Batman's life is reflected in some changes:

He leads Batwoman to Batman and Robin, saving them. Later, while chasing the villain of the story, he's confronted by a challenge:

In Batman #133, Ace is featured on the cover, but his role is mostly a cameo. Batmite falls in love with Batwoman and decides to help out her career. Unfortunately, as always Batmite finds it unsatisfying when his hero seems likely to win too easily, and so to make things fun, he shrinks them and the crooks down so that normal-sized props seem enormous (an interesting twist on the traditional Batman stories where Batman's normal sized and the props are huge). However, he didn't shrink Ace, who proves the difference in the fight.

In Batman #143, Bathound saves an alien, and it then saves Batman and Robin.

Ace gets a good workout in Batman #152's Formula for Doom. First he is specifically called for over police radio, the first (and perhaps only) time I can recall this happening:

Of course, the old Batsignal wouldn't have done much good as far as telling Batman that Ace was needed too. Ace saves Robin from being separated from his legs:

And prevents disaster here:

Ace had a starring role in Batman #158's Ace--The Super Bathound. Batmite turns Ace into Krypto for a story, but somehow coal gas interacts with Ace's power and makes him susceptible to control by crooks, so his super powers must be given up.

Ace had a cameo appearance in Batman #162.

(Note: I'd like to acknowledge the use of The Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes Vol 1, Batman, by Michael Fleisher, as a source of information on appearances and background of Ace, the Bathound. This is the premier source of information about Batman prior to about 1966, and a terrific read if you can find it.)

Previous Posts on Batman & Robin:
Robin's Romance with Batgirl
Worst Batman Story of the Silver Age
A Salute to Batman Annual #1
The Disappearance of the Catwoman
Gay Batman?
Favorite Covers of the Golden Age: Batman #23
The Horrifying Batman Era in Covers: Detective
Batman 1957
Batman and Guns
Batman 1956
Batman 1955
Classic DC Sagas of the 1960s
The New Look Batman

Monday, March 20, 2006

Dr Strange Begins

He first appeared in Strange Tales #110. To say that Marvel did not overly boast about it at the time would be putting it mildly. As you can see, the first appearance of Dr Strange didn't even rate a mention compared to the thrilling Human Torch story:

Suffice to say that this book is not worth over $1,000 in NM condition because it features the team-up of the Wizard and Paste-Pot Pete.

The Dr Strange story was relegated to six pages in the back of the magazine, but it was obviously intended to be a continuing character.

In the story, a man is haunted by nightmares. He hires Dr Strange, who "dabbles in black magic" to enter his dreams. Dr Strange soon learns that the man is troubled because he has robbed many of his business partners. Dr Strange must battle Nightmare, his ancient enemy:

In the meantime, the man who hired Dr Strange realizes that the master of black magic knows about his crimes, and so decides to kill the doc. Fortunately, Dr Strange's master, the Ancient One, sees the peril and takes control of the amulet to save his favorite student:

At the same time, Dr Strange manages to escape his foe Nightmare.

It's a compact story with just enough background to intrigue us. Ditko was the perfect artist for the character; his use of shading and the surreal backgrounds add just the right touch of mystery.

Update: Booksteve has some speculation as to Ditko's possible inspiration for Dr Strange. Be sure to read all the way to the end of that post for a hilarious anecdote about the Daredevil TV movie.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

What's Worse Than a Monster in a WWII Story?

Pretending there's one and then not delivering.

From GI Combat #130 comes this splash:

Okay, so it looks like the story's going to feature a monster with purple scales and studs on his knuckles. Except that nothing remotely like that happens. It's a straightforward war tale, with lots of fighting and enemies, but no purple monster.

Superboy's Transgendered Experience

Here's a classic tale from Superboy #78, January 1960. Ma Kent tells Superboy that her intuition tells her that this is going to be a day of big changes for him. He laughs, believing a woman's intuition is a lot of nonsense. In the next sequence, he spots an alien spaceship. The woman piloting the ship is so startled to see a boy flying that she temporarily loses control. Superboy saves her, but indulges himself in a little careless sexism.

Although Superboy saved her, she's angry at him for his thoughts, so she bathes him in a ray from her ring that indeed produces quite a change:

Initially, of course, Superboy is dismayed at the change. Then an interesting thing happens:

Of course, that mental warning received ahead of time is Super-Sister's woman's intution. For the rest of the story, Super-Sister helps women in trouble. At the very end, Superboy wakes up and discovers that he's been hallucinating the whole experience under the spell of Shar-La's ring.

Previous Superboy-related posts:

But Eddie Rolfe Stopped Supporting Them
Luthor's Evolution
I'm a (Time) Travelin' Man
Supergirl--Action #267
Early Legion of Superheroes
Problems with the Silver Age Superboy

Ideas for Future Posts

I've got a bunch I'll run through eventually, but I'm always up for suggestions. Some stuff that I'll likely post before long:

1. Barry Allen's decision to reveal his secret identity to his wife, as played out in Flash 165-?

2. The Lady Blackhawk as Queen Killer Shark series. Blackhawk's girlfriend turns evil.

3. Dr Strange--the Ditko years.

4. Spiderman #28-38.

5. The Time Trapper series in Legion of Super Heroes.

Feel free to suggest topics in the comments. I prefer something that stretches out over a few issues to single-story reviews. I'm also looking for off-beat topics, like posts on letter columns, fillers, bulletins, ads, etc.

Also, this doesn't have to be solely about superheroes; I like lots of different varieties of comics. At times I'm constrained by the limitations of what has been scanned (or my own collection), but fortunately, a lot has been scanned.

A note on posting frequency: I'll try to get a post up every day, but at times that's not possible, what with having to read several comics, then composing the post. Please consider visiting the blogs on the right sidebar when you don't find new content here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Green Arrow's New Look

Green Arrow had been around forever in DC comics. Although most comics fans know that Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were the only superheroes to make it from the Golden into the Silver Age in their own magazines, how many remember the other two heroes that were published continuously from 1940-1960? The answer is Green Arrow, and the fellow who debuted in the same More Fun #73 as he did, Aquaman.

Green Arrow's entertainment value consisted chiefly in his amazing assortment of arrows. If he had to stop a crook's car, he had an oil-slick arrow. If he needed help, he had a flare arrow. And getting a constant workout was the reliable boxing glove arrow.

Green Arrow and Speedy appeared on more covers of More Fun than the Spectre or Dr. Fate, showing up on all but a few from #77-103. They were essentially Batman and Robin clones, down to the wealthy playboy and youthful ward identities. Like B&R they had gadgetry with names like the Arrowcar and the Arrowplane. One thing the former had over the Batmobile was a catapult seat that could get the Emerald Archer and Speedy to the top of buildings fast.

GA appeared in the Seven Soldiers of Victory series, a sort of poor man's JSA, in Leading Comics, and had long runs in Adventure and World's Finest after being dropped from More Fun when that magazine converted to comedy stories. DC appeared to give the feature some more legs when they allowed Green Arrow to join the Justice League of America, but he quickly became a neglected character. GA was dropped from Adventure in 1959 after 14 years; he was used alternately with Aquaman in World's Finest in 1963-64 after having appeared in over 20 years in that mag.

And so it seemed quite likely that GA was going to go the way of Johnny Quick, or any number of other DC characters who had their moment in the sun but then faded into obscurity.

Many people probably assume that GA's renaissance came in Green Lantern #76. But in fact it began a while earlier in Brave & Bold #85. The story is entitled The Senator's Been Shot!, and given that it appeared about a year after RFK was shot in Los Angeles, it seems (and seemed) a bit like a tacky attempt to be "relevant".

Written by Bob Haney and drawn by the incomparable Neal Adams, the tale beings with the title action. Bruce Wayne is horrified by the sight of his friend being shot down before his eyes at a campaign event. The senator, Paul Cathcart, is pushing a big crime bill that Bruce has backed and is in intensive care. The governor wants to appoint Bruce as Cathcart's replacement, but of course this causes problems. How can Batman track down the killer if he's tied up as a senator in his other identity?

Ironically, at the same time Oliver Queen/Green Arrow is experiencing the same conflict between his two personas. As OQ, he has a bid in on a huge construction contract, but as GA he's able to prevent an assassination attempt. Which identity is more important.

Then, in a bit too perfect coincidence, both Batman and Green Arrow confide their secret identities to the senator's son, himself a successful psychiatrist. We don't get much of a reaction on the first revelation, but the second, which comes only an hour or so later, obviously rocks the shrink.

The next sequence sees Minotaur, the man behind the shooting (and Oliver Queen's rival on the huge contract) kidnapping the psychiatrist. Bruce decides to take the job as senator, while GA pursues Minotaur. As you might expect, Minotaur leads GA on a quest to a maze on an island in the Mediterranean. Batman arrives but now they both are on a tight time budget--Bruce because he needs to make the crucial vote in the Senate and Ollie because of the large contract.

Fortunately, GA comes through with a gimmick arrow, perhaps the last he ever fired?

As must happen in all such dramas, Bruce arrives back at the Senate just in the nick of time:

Although the new Green Arrow became known as a firebrand of Leftist sentiment, it must be noted that there is not a hint of that in this story. Although Ollie now sports a Van Dyke, he's still obviously an enormously wealthy capitalist. The project he's working on is supposed to save the state from bankruptcy, but there's no sense that he's building it for charity. There is a note prior to the letters section:

I do remember that the new GA appeared in the JLA/JSA crossovers that introduced Black Canary to Earth-1. But I'll have to do some digging around to find out if they really explained his new circumstances in a JLA issue or if it was just hinted at in the first Green Lantern/Green Arrow crossover.

Update: Thanks to Tom Galloway in the comments who pointed out that the basic details of Oliver Queen's financial downfall are contained in Justice League of America #75,w which starts with Ollie being confronted by a financial rival with the claim that he made some money on some municipal bonds (shocking news no doubt to Oliver's investors). At any rate, this news destroys The Queen Funds and our man goes belly up (by the end of the story). Of course, this being 1969, he didn't have much of a parachute.

Previous Green Arrow Posts:

Worst. Swipe. Ever.

Here's a Rarity

You don't see "It's Gametime" very often. This is a DC comic listed in Overstreet with four issues in 1955-56. A friend of mine came up with #4, and I noticed this little puzzle:

Uh, what exactly is that bird doing?

PS, before you go nuts trying to figure out which pictures are identical, they don't count the background color.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Spiderman 20-27

This is a great set of stories, with at least four consecutive classic issues (#24-27), and only one significant clunker (#21).

The sequence starts with ASM #20's The Coming of the Scorpion. J. Jonah Jameson decides to create a superhero to defeat Spiderman. He knows a scientist (Dr Farley Stillwell) who can cause artificial mutations in animals. He pays Stillwell $10,000 to mutate a human being. Max Gargan, a small-time private detective is chosen to be turned into the Scorpion. Unfortunately for JJJ, Gargan becomes so powerful that after beating Spiderman in a fight, he decides to go criminal. Realizing that JJJ is the only person to know his real identity, he decides to kill the newspaperman. Fortunately Spiderman does better in this battle and saves his worst enemy.

ASM #21 features When Flies the Beetle. This is a pedestrian story featuring the Torch and his old foe, the Beetle. In the tale, the Beetle decides to take revenge on Johnny Storm by kidnapping his girlfriend Dorrie Evans. Meanwhile, Peter has accidentally met Dorrie and ends up having a battle with the Beetle. The Beetle gets away with Dorrie. When the Torch shows up at her place, he finds webbing and assumes Spiderman is responsible for kidnapping her. They have a battle during which Spiderman inexplicably doesn't simply tell the Torch that Dorrie was kidnapped by the Beetle, although eventually they come upon that pair, and team up now to defeat the villain. Peter also fails to recognize Dorrie despite the fact that he had met her while Spiderman in ASM #8, in an oddball short drawn by Jack Kirby.

ASM #22 features a return engagement against the Crime Circus, who had previously appeared in ASM #16. However, they have deposed the Ringmaster, their former leader, and have turned things over to the Clown. While hosting an exhibit of wretched modern art, JJJ is robbed by the Clown and his cronies and nearly killed. Spiderman tracks them down and defeats them despite the wiles of Princess Python.

In ASM #23, the Green Goblin returns. He is determined to take over the gang of Lucky Lobo, and apparently feeds information to Frederick Foswell. Foswell had appeared in ASM #10, as an apparently meek reporter for JJJ, but who in reality was The Big Man, a crime boss himself, whom Spidey had defeated. Spiderman is suspicious of Foswell, whom JJJ has rehired after his prison term elapsed.

The classic run begins with ASM #24. JJJ publishes a series in which the public are encouraged to share why they hate Spiderman. In an effort to get their names in the paper, the people come up with a variety of reasons for despising the wallcrawler. A psychiatrist shows up at JJJ's office and tells him that Spidey will no doubt go insane. Upon reading this dire prediction in the Bugle, Peter gets worried that it might be true. While trying to visit JJJ to check on the story, he hallucinates, seeing the images of his old enemies coming after him. He decides to visit the doc, but freaks out at this sight:

After running out at first, Spidey is brought back by the shrink to this room, which is now magically normal side up. The psychiatrist explains to him that his problem is his secret identity, that if he just went public with his name his psyche would be relieved and he wouldn't have the hallucinations anymore. But then JJJ bursts in; Foswell has discovered that the psychiatrist is a fraud. JJJ confronts the shrink in front of Spidey, who chases down the phony. It's Spiderman's old foe, Mysterio, whom we first encountered in ASM #13, once again using stealth and deception to try to defeat our hero.

Captured by J. Jonah Jameson from ASM #25 is one of my all-time favorite comic stories. Jameson's editorials have gotten the attention of Smythe, an inventor who's convinced he's come up with a robot that can track down and capture Spiderman. Peter, feeling puckish, urges Jameson to try the device despite the newsman's initial skepticism. JJJ quickly sees that it's quite a powerful device, as does Peter. However, it appears to be malfunctioning as it attacks Parker briefly.

He knows that within a day or so the inventor will unleash his machine under the control of Jameson. Sure enough as the schoolday is ending, he spots the robot approaching, guided by Peter's spider nature. He dashes out a side door, chased by Flash Thompson, who had planned to beat him up. After a long battle, the robot traps Spiderman, and it looks like its all over as JJJ and Smythe travel to the site to unmask Peter. However, he's able to escape by prying off the chestplate of the robot and messing with the controls. As a gag, he leaves behind his costume to convince JJJ that his moment is at hand.

The reason I like this story so much is that since there is no supervillain introduced or returning, there is more space for the regular characters--Flash, Betty Brant, JJJ and Liz Allan all have significantly expanded roles in this story. We even get our first glimpse of Mary Jane Watson, although her face is unfortunately hidden:

We wouldn't see how MJ looked for another year and a half.

The two-part story in ASM #26-27 is another classic. The Green Goblin, having helped the Crime-Master become a big shot in the underworld, is disappointed to find his protege is now refusing to share the power. Who is the Crime-Master, and who is the Goblin? Spidey suspects strongly that one of them is secretly Foswell, the former crime boss and current reporter for JJJ. Of course, if he were using his head he'd know that Foswell was in prison during the Goblin's first two appearances.

The Crime-Master and the Goblin battle for control of the gangs. The Goblin seemingly takes the advantage when he shows up at a war council with Spiderman kayoed. But Spidey recovers and manages to fight his way to freedom. In the end, the Crime-Master is killed by the police. He turns out to be Lucky Lewis, a crime boss that Spidey has never heard mentioned. Foswell has a dual identity, but it's as Patch, a small-potatoes hood who's a stoolie.

One amusing bit is that because he had given up his costume to tweak JJJ, Peter has to buy a Spiderman costume from a store. It turns out to be low quality, so that constantly during his battle he has to stop and adjust his attire.

In this series of stories, Peter shows that the change he underwent at the end of ASM #18 was for real. He becomes much more confident and self-assured, to the point where Betty Brant even remarks on it. His romantic life seems a bit up in the air, with Liz Allan apparently settling for Flash Thompson, although still more interested in Peter. Betty and Peter seem to be on the skids, perhaps because he's turned out not to be the cowardly bookworm that he appeared they first met.

We had seen Betty on a date with Ned Leeds, a young reporter for the Bugle, in ASM #18, and Betty had introduced him to Peter in #19. In #20 she continues to see Ned, but in #21 he's seemingly out of the way in Europe for six months. However, she and Peter never really reconcile during this period, especially since he notices that she's getting letters from Ned.

Previous Spiderman Posts:

Spiderman--First Major Arc
An Unfortunate Error
Who's Liz Allen's Dad?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Fury Against Racism and Bigotry

I never know where I will get the inspiration for a post. In Amazing Spiderman #23, there was a letter to Marvel commending them on Sgt Fury #6 as a fine example of standing up against racism. Given that this was a fairly early (March 1964) story to tackle the subject I thought I'd take a look at it.

It's a surprisingly underplayed story. The Howlin' Commandos lose one of their members to injury and must take on a new recruit, named George Stonewell. Stonewell seems somewhat reserved around some of the men, particularly the Italian and the Jew. And when he meets the black bugler, it becomes obvious that he's prejudiced:

However, in a semi-suicidal mission, Stonewell is forced to rely on Izzy Cohen. In the end Cohen pulls him out alive but wounded. He needs a transfusion, and of course only Gabe Jones has the proper bloodtype. We are led to believe that Stonewell is unchanged, but in the end he leaves a note to Izzy and Gabe with his new address. The story closes with an admirable sentiment:

Marvel was miles ahead of DC in terms of diversity. Although it took a long time before black characters with substantial roles other than Gabe appeared, they did make an effort to include blacks in crowd scenes. If there were three cops in a scene, quite frequently one of them was a black man.

Previous Post on Nick Fury

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Fantastic Four: The Inhumans

The first member of the Inhumans to appear was Madame Medusa (later mostly referred to simply as Medusa). In FF #36, three villains team up. Paste-Pot Pete and the Wizard, two Human Torch villains from his series in Strange Tales, align themselves with a former Spiderman nemesis, the Sandman. The Wizard suggests calling themselves the Frightful Four, but obviously they are one female member short of matching up with the Fantastic Four. He knows of a woman they can recruit, who has the amazing power of using her long, red hair as a weapon:

Sue and Reed wonder where she came from here:

But although the Evil FF are featured quite prominently over the next several issues, appearing in FF #38, 41, 42 and 43, we do not find out any more about the background of Madame Medusa until #44. At the end of FF #43, the three male members of the Frightful Four are captured and turned over to the police. But Johnny inexplicably lets MM escape here:

The next issue occurs following the marriage of Reed and Sue (which took place in FF Annual #3). Madame Medusa is being chased by a new character named Gorgon, who has immense power in his hoofed feet. Gorgon gives us a bit of an explanation here:

At the end of the story, Gorgon has apparently captured Medusa and vanished. The story picks up again in FF #45. Johnny, upset that his girlfriend, Dorrie Evans, has a date with another man, finds himself walking aimlessly through a deserted neighborhood of the city:

The girl turns out to be a member of the Inhumans. Believing Johnny to be one of them due to his superpowers, she confides in him:

But she quickly learns that Johnny is not among her race when they encounter Gorgon and Medusa. The Torch is briefly imprisoned, but he escapes and calls for his buddies.

The battle spills over into FF #46, where Black Bolt tangles with the Thing. At first we are unaware of BB's power. He's clearly a good fighter, as he's able to battle Ben to a standstill. Reed deduces that the tuning fork on Black Bolt's forehead converts energy into strength and speed. Oddly enough, the only member of the Inhumans who doesn't burst into fighting the Fantastic Four is Madame Medusa.

The next part of the background of the Inhumans is revealed here:

The Seeker? Hmmm, the Who had a song about this time (1966) called The Seeker:

They call me the Seeker,
I been searching low and high.
I won't get to get what I'm after
Till the day I die!

Anyway, we meet the Seeker here:

The FF eventually catch up to him, and he explains their history. They were an advanced race on Earth, with the ability to manipulate genes at will. As a result, they set up a super-powered society. However, the humans multiplied faster and battled against the Inhumans upon sight. So the Inhumans hid themselves away in the Great Refuge.

Black Bolt should rule the Inhumans, but his brother Maximus the Magnificent has usurped the throne. An aside: Ever notice that in the DC universe, other societies frequently are run by some sort of Science Council-e.g., Krypton, the future Earth of the Legion of Super Heroes, while in the Marvel universe they tend more towards dictatorships (benevolent or otherwise), like Asgard, the Inhumans, the Skrulls and Latveria?

Medusa is betrothed to Maximus, although she really loves Black Bolt. We also learn that Black Bolt is a mute due to some "accident". But Black Bolt seizes back the crown from his brother. Meanwhile, the FF has found the great refuge, hidden high in the Andes of South America. Maximus uses his Atmo Gun in an attempt to destroy the FF and all humanity, but it fails. This convinces Medusa that the Inhumans are not a separate race, but are related to humans. However, before we can absorb that, Maximus pulls the ultimate gambit. He seals off the Great Refuge from the rest of the world with a "Negative Zone". The FF, despite Johnny's attempt to remain with Crystal, escapes before the Zone can become hardened.

This takes us midway through Fantastic Four #48, but the story shifts abruptly to the Silver Surfer and Galactus' first appearance, followed by the introduction of the Black Panther in FF #52 and 53. There are abortive attempts to free the Inhumans in several issues that follows, but it is not until FF #59 that Black Bolt himself finally shatters the barrier.

Previous Posts on the Fantastic Four:

Another Embarrassing Mistake
The Fantastic Four

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Another Embarrassing Mistake

Why would Ben ask the blind Alicia who somebody is, "over there"?

Previous Posts on the Fantastic Four:
The Fantastic Four

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Robin's Romance With Batgirl

The first Batgirl was the niece of Kathy Kane, who had become Batwoman in Detective #233. When Betty Kane comes to visit for a vacation, the young girl quickly realizes that her aunt is secretly Batwoman. She decides to emulate Kathy and quickly designs a uniform:

Kathy is of course worried for the youngster, and after consulting with Batman, decides to require that Betty receive significant training before she can start crime-fighting, with the idea that this will discourage the young lady. Inevitably, Betty decides that she's ready on her own and attempts to capture the criminal gang Batman, Robin and Batwoman are hunting at the time. She gets caught instead, but is able to signal her location, which results in the gang getting caught. In the end, she displays some rather obvious affection for Robin despite his obvious embarrassment:

Over the next couple of years, this relationship was always a part of the Batgirl appearances. The next time Batgirl popped up in a story was in Batman #141, and she started pushing forward the romance a bit, still despite Robin's obvious timidity:

Batwoman knows a good thing when she sees it.

Batgirl returns in Batman #144, and this time she's determined to let Robin know how she feels:

Batgirl is upset that there's another woman in Robin's life. Batmite appears and offers to help her win the Boy Wonder's heart. Through a series of incidents, we see that Robin really does care for her, and that the other "woman" is the statue in the background of the panels above: Lady Justice. He explains:

After that it was a full year before Batgirl appeared again, in Batman #153. But DC made up for the lapse by making this Batman's first ever book-length story, and one that featured prominently the continuing romance between Robin and Batgirl:

As usual, Batgirl makes the move, but this time Robin seems noticeably less resistant, especially considering this sequence later in the story:

And we can see that Robin is quite pleased to see Betty in this sequence:

Even Auntie Batwoman feels that Betty pours it on a little thick here:

The story ends with Robin expressing his appeciation for Batgirl here:

I'd love to say that DC developed this romance throughout the decade, but in fact Batgirl was basically through. She popped up in Batman #163 but this was one of Alfred's fantasy adventures of Batman II and Robin II. In Batman #164 DC inaugurated the "New Look" Batman, in which most of the characters who had become the Batman Family were killed off either literally (in the case of Alfred) or politically (like former Soviet heroes who disappeared from official photos).

Betty was disappeared, as was her aunt Kathy. This whole terrific little romance that DC had built up over time simply blew away like autumn leaves. It was a sweet little sequence that deserves to be remembered among the general mediocrity of the Silver Age Batman.

Previous Posts on Batman & Robin:
Worst Batman Story of the Silver Age
A Salute to Batman Annual #1
The Disappearance of the Catwoman
Gay Batman?
Favorite Covers of the Golden Age: Batman #23
The Horrifying Batman Era in Covers: Detective
Batman 1957
Batman and Guns
Batman 1956
Batman 1955
Classic DC Sagas of the 1960s
The New Look Batman