Monday, September 29, 2008

Trivia Quiz #11 Answers

1. Adrian Toomes and Blackie Drago were the first and second Vultures in Spiderman.

2. Abel Tarrant was the Tattooed Man, a villain in the Green Lantern series.

3. Leonard Snart was Captain Cold, a major member of the Flash's Rogue's Gallery.

4. Zebediah Killgrave was the Purple Man, who battled Daredevil and had the interesting power of convincing people of anything he wanted them to believe. He should have been a great salesman.

5. Flint Marko became the Sandman, a major character in the Marvel Universe and a charter member of the Frightful Four.

Michael Rebain got 3,4 and 5, while Mark Waldfogle and Mike P. were able to name all the villains.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Single Issue Review: Mystery In Space #90

Mystery in Space was one of the best science fiction magazines of the 1950s and 1960s, featuring lots of entertaining "one-shot" stories, as well as some pretty nifty features such as Captain Comet, and the Star Rovers.

But the big hero of Mystery in Space (MIS) was Adam Strange. An archaeologist by training, he first appeared in Showcase #17 (Nov-Dec 1958) and after a three-issue test run there, was assigned to the cover feature for MIS, starting with #53 (January 1959). While trying to escape some natives in South America, he finds himself suddenly transported to the planet Rann, millions of light-years away from from Earth. It turns out that a scientist named Sardath had sent a "Zeta" beam of energy that had the effect of transporting Adam across space.

Adam meets Sardath's lovely daughter Alanna, and it soon becomes evident that they are falling in love. He also helps save Rann from various perils that seem to pop up whenever he arrives on the planet. Because the Zeta beam wears off eventually, Adam only stays on Rann for two weeks at a time, but armed with information from Sardath as to the locations of future Zeta beams, he is able to return to Rann periodically.

The series was terrific, with entertaining stories and gorgeous artwork by Carmine Infantino and (mostly) Murphy Anderson. Several Adam Strange stories are considered among the finest of the 1960s, including MIS #75's book-length story featuring a crossover with the Justice League of America, Planet That Came to a Standstill, which won the Alley Award for the best book-length story of 1962.

In Mystery in Space #87, Hawkman was added as a feature character. The Adam Strange story in that comic overlapped a bit with the Hawkman story, and Adam even appeared with Carter and Shiera in one panel. Hawkman had been having trouble graduating to his own magazine despite six tryout issues in the Brave and the Bold, so DC switched the artist chores to Murphy Anderson, resulting in a beautiful four-issue run that launched the Winged Wonder into his own title.

In Mystery in Space #90, Hawkman and Adam Strange collaborated to save the Planets in Peril. Shortly after arriving on Rann, Adam is startled to learn that a new planet has entered its solar system. It is rotating around Rann's sun. Even more startling is when Adam sees the new planet:

It turns out that Earth is orbiting at a slightly faster speed than Rann, and thus the two planets will eventually collide. Alanna, Adam and Sardath hop into a spaceship and head towards Terra to find out what's going on, but they return to Rann when they hear that strange objects have suddenly appeared on the surface of that planet. We learn the identity of the villain and the strange objects in these two beautiful panels:

Orin Dargg looks like a classic Infantino villain, with the receding hairline and the smug grin being frequent themes in his characters. And note the action sequence of Alanna and Adam arriving at the location of the Sphinx and other monuments. Doesn't it look like Adam's rear would get a roasting from those jets?

The second chapter features Hawkman and Hawkgirl. They observe as a Zeta beam starts to steal Lake Superior, just as it has the monuments. Heading to Rann in their spaceship, they discover that Dargg is blackmailing Ranagar (the capital city) by holding Lake Superior over their heads and threatening to drop the water and destroy the town.

As usual with Murphy Anderson, the details on the individual panels are exquisite:

In the final chapter, the villain is defeated and Earth sent back to its normal orbit. Adam pops the question:

Overall, the story was excellent, and the artwork outstanding. This is one of the finest comics produced by DC during the 1960s and thoroughly worth reading.

Unfortunately it marked the high tide for the Adam Strange series. Two issues later Mystery in Space was transferred from Julius Schwartz's editorship to Jack Schiff, as part of the shakeup that led to the "New Look" Batman. Under Schiff, the cover feature was handed over to Space Ranger, and the Adam Strange stories began to take on the Monster of the Month Club look that had plagued Batman during Schiff's tenure. Infantino went with Schwartz to help out on Batman, and Murphy Anderson also had a new magazine:

Friday Trivia Quiz #11: Villains

Your task this week is simple; figure out the villains from their real names:

1. Adrian Toomes and Blackie Drago

2. Abel Tarrant

3. Leonard Snart

4. Zebediah Killgrave

5. Flint Marko

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Trivia Quiz #10 Answers

1. The Trigger Twins, Walt and Wayne Trigger. Walt is the heroic local sheriff, while Wayne is apparently a meek and mild shopkeeper. But unknown to others, Wayne is secretly the hero and Walt simply a goof-prone lawman who relies on his brother to dress up as him and capture the bad guys. In an amusing twist on the Lois/Clark/Superman theme, Linda, Wayne's assistant, notices how often her boss disappears from view whenever there's trouble, but she attributes it not to him sneaking off to dress up as the sheriff, but as real cowardice.

2. Pow-Wow Smith, Indian lawman. A Sioux deputy sheriff who appeared for several years as a backup in Detective Comics and was often cover-featured on Western Comics:

3. The Nighthawk:

The Nighthawk was a "fix-it" man, who while roaming from town to town repairing items also solved crimes in a secret identity as a masked man with a hawk emblem on his chest.

4. The Wyoming Kid was a wandering cowboy who fought cattle rustlers and other western crooks.

5. Strong Bow was a 1400s Native American who traveled around North America, righting wrongs and fighting foes.

Kudos to Michael Sensei, who got them all!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Friday Trivia Quiz #10: Way Out West

For whatever reason, western movies were extremely popular in the 1950s, and comic publishers were not far behind. DC had Tomahawk, Western Comics, All-Star Western and All-American Western as well as magazines featuring Jimmy Wakely, Dale Evans and Hopalong Cassidy. Among them, only Tomahawk would last to the end of the 1960s (and that just barely).

Your mission is to identify these five DC western heroes:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thursday Links

Diversions of the Groovy Kind has a terrific post on the problems caused by licensed characters, and how it means some stories may never be reprinted. I highly recommend this blog to those who love the comics of the 1970s; the Groovy Agent's got a wonderful and entertaining writing style, and really knows his stuff.

Superman Fan reviews an interesting Superman tale from the Silver Age that I have to admit not having read myself previously, but it sounds worth reading and chortling over as Aldous does here:

The local cops, their gunfire having no effect, attack the big man with a flame thrower! (We need some cops like this in my neighbourhood.)

The Simon & Kirby Museum takes on several late-1940s crime comics produced by the S&K team. If Kirby is your King, you really need to be reading the S&K museum.

Christine at the Other Murdock Papers has a very amusing post about a brief scene in the subway with Daredevil. It is often these minor bits that stay with us years later, and do a better job of characterization than ten fights with the Kingpin.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Superior Silver: Splash Pages

This just might be the single greatest splash page of the Silver Age of comics from X-Men #7 (September 1964). The X-Men reflected in the lens of the camera, the flash featuring Magneto, and the smiles of the four X-Men, and the rather grim expression of Cylcops, all add up to making this page just about perfect. Of course, there is one rather obvious flaw, but aside from that, it's King Kirby at his finest.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The God In the Wheelchair

One of the things that writers are constantly warned about is to avoid the "God in the Machine" or Deus ex machina ending. Apparently some of the Greek playwrights would script their characters into an impossible situation. To get out of the consequences, the writers would have a god come down from the heavens in a machine and set things right.

This is, of course, a very unsatisfying ending for the audience which expects the characters to get out of their problems through dint of hard work and inspiration and not by divine providence.

The X-Men in their early issues had a god in a machine; a wheelchair machine to be specific. Professor X was just too doggone powerful, and when they got into a big battle with a major mutant he could just wave his magic wand and make everything all right:

And in the following issue, X-Men #3:

So of course by the following issue, the X-Men were getting a little too used to having the Prof pull their bacon from the fire:

At the end of that story, Professor X is injured by a bomb blast:

But it turns out to be all part of a larger plan:

I suspect this was plotted all along by Stan. I will have to read further in the series to see if Professor X used his brain-wiping abilities again.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Trivia Quiz #9 Answers

1. What was Scott Summers' seldom-used nickname? (Not Cyclops)

Scott Summers' nickname was "Slim" and if you vaporized your food every time you took off your glasses to eat, you'd be slim too.

2. What historical effort were the parents of Professor X involved in?

Professor X seems to be implying that his parents' work on the Manhattan Project resulted in his mutation, but this seems unlikely. According to Wikipedia, the Manhattan Project grew out of an earlier effort that began in 1939. This would mean that Professor X is, at most, 24 years old in September 1963. But he looks much older.

3. Which member of the X-Men had the same name (but different abilities) as a Golden Age Marvel character?

The Angel was a Golden Age Marvel character with no superpowers.

4. Name the FBI agent who appeared in several early X-Men stories.

Agent Duncan.

5. Who was the first person to decline admission to the X-Men?

CJGeers got them all right. Lito S. got all but #5. Michael Rebain got the first three, and Kryp44 chimed in with the correct answer to #5.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday Trivia Quiz #9: The X-Men

1. What was Scott Summers' seldom-used nickname? (Not Cyclops)

2. What historical effort were the parents of Professor X involved in?

3. Which member of the X-Men had the same name (but different abilities) as a Golden Age Marvel character?

4. Name the FBI agent who appeared in several early X-Men stories.

5. Who was the first person to decline admission to the X-Men?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Suddenly Something Snapped In His Head...

In the Golden Age, most of the villains required no particular reason for doing what they did. Why did the Joker use crimes involving humor? Because he was the Joker. Why the Penguin commit bird crimes, or the Catwoman crimes involving a cat? Because that's who they were.

Oh, sure, we learned a lot more about the characters as time went by. We discovered that the Joker had dived into a vat of chemicals, giving him his bizarre appearance and driving him nuts. And the Catwoman had amnesia, caused by a plane crash.

But in the Silver Age it no longer was possible to ignore an "origin" for costumed villains. Yet because of the very tight nature of the stories back then, the origin by definition had to be very brief.

And so the origins started to look very similar, particularly for Batman villains. The basic template was that the villain is mocked for something, and as a result, he goes a little cuckoo and starts using that something for crime.

Danny the Dummy:

The Wheel:

Mr Hydro:

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Trivia Quiz #8 Answers

#1 is the Signalman. The Signalman is one of the fairly rare Batman villains who had more than one appearance during the early 1960s, and one of the extremely rare villains who had two identities during the Silver Age of Comics. Phil Cobb, a small-time crook found it hard to raise a gang of supporters, so he assumed the costumed identity of the Signalman and used signs and signals in his crimes. After two appearances in that guise, he became the Blue Bowman, the Green Arrow of crime.

#2 is the Kiteman, a hood who uses kites (and hang-gliders) to commit his crimes. His initial appearance in Batman #133 is also the final Dick Sprang story in Batman (aside from reprints).

#3 is the Dummy. Danny the Dummy had a good shtick; he was a ventriloquist who looked like a dummy, so he would perch on the lap of a real dummy. Note: The Dummy is clearly modeled after Charlie McCarthy, one of the most famous dummies of all time:

#4 is the Wheel, who appeared in Batman #135. Frank "Wheels" Foster decides to use wheels to commit crimes.

#5 is the Brand. Notice the cowboy outfit and the Circle B on his chest? He uses brands to provide clues to his next crimes.

Good job by commenter George C, who correctly identified the first three villains. Joe Bloke also recognized those same villains.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Friday Trivia Quiz #8: Obscure Batman Villains

Sorry for the delay on this one; I won't publish the answers until Tuesday to give folks more time. The task is straightforward: Identify the five Batman villains shown below:

This should be fairly tough, as the villains are fairly obscure, with the exception of #1.

Monday, September 01, 2008

I Keep Telling Myself

That someday I'll be as good as Robby Reed at Dial B for Blog. But it probably ain't going to happen. Go over and check out his one-day only set of twelve posts on the letterer Gaspar Saladino. Who? Well, that's what I said when Robby did his amazing series on Ira Schnapp.

The letterers seldom get any credit; heck Stan used to use his credits page to poke fun at their contributions. Robby shows why that is wrong.

Trivia Quiz #7 Answers

#1 is from Superman #162, featuring The Amazing Story of Superman Red and Superman Blue. (Note the blue costumes of the kids).

#2 is from Jimmy Olsen #69, featuring Nightwing (Superman) and Flamebird (Jimmy Olsen):

#3 is from Lois Lane #42.

This is one of those unbelievably wacky Lois Lane stories. She has a photo of Superman changing from his normal identity (as yet undeveloped, so she doesn't know it's Clark). Superman implores her to give him the film, but (influenced by a concussion she has sustained) she blackmails him into agreeing to marry her the next day. But Lois sprays herself and Superman with a rejuvenation spray that makes them temporarily underage. Cute idea for a story, but it gets even better. Lois is undeterred, and tries to get a blind Justice of the Peace she knows to marry them. But Superboy cures his blindness. Meanwhile they've regressed further in age, back to pre-teenagers. But:

"This is highly irregular, but..." is the favored plot-hole covering of writers everywhere. But Superboy causes some heavy waves with his breath, making Lois seasick, and she demands to be taken to shore. By this time they have become youngsters of maybe five years old, but she hires a lawyer and the marriage license is issued, and by the time they're ready to walk down the aisle, they can't walk:

Fortunately the tots are unable to say, "I Do," so the story ends before we get to the point where the priest says "I now pronounce you zygote and zygote."

#4 is from Action #303. You can only see a small part of Superman in this picture; his tail (he had been turned into a monster by Red Kryptonite).

#5 is from Action #305, Why Superman Needs A Secret Identity, a cute bit of myth-polishing.

Kudos to Joe Bloke who got #2 and #3 and clearly knew #1 even if he wrote Superman #152 instead of #162. And big props to anonymous, who correctly identified all five covers by story name or issue number. Very impressive!

If you'd like to request a trivia quiz on a favorite character or topic, please feel free to leave a comment.