Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Single Issue Review: Strange Tales #120

Strange Tales was another one of Marvel's anthology magazines. It had originally been a horror comic, but after the debut of the Fantastic Four, the cover slot and main feature had been turned over to the Human Torch effective with Strange Tales #101.

Crossovers were frequent in the Marvel Silver Age, and the Human Torch's feature was no exception. It was perhaps inevitable that the Torch and the Iceman, both teens and representing the opposite ends of the temperature spectrum, would end up meeting. As it happens, Johnny Storm is on a date with his gal Doris on a pleasure boat around Manhattan, while Bobby takes the same ride solo. He tries to pick up Doris, but she's not interested:

As it turns out, and as shown on the cover, the ship is attacked by Captain Barracuda, and the Iceman and the Torch go into action:

Comments: An amusing little story with solid sequential art by Kirby, although I confess that Dick Ayers' inks leave me cold.

The backup feature is Dr. Strange, who had debuted only ten issues earlier in this magazine. This series had still not hit its stride and this story is a silly little adventure about a haunted house that a reporter has agreed to stay inside overnight. Predictably, he emerges much the worse for his experience:

Comments: As indicated, this is a pedestrian tale, lent some luster by Steve Ditko's dark, brooding artwork:

This series was about to lift off into the stratosphere, but there is little sign of it here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Question About Complete Comics or Stories

I have noticed that quite a few blogs are now posting scans of either complete comics or complete stories online. I'll be right up front and say that I think it's great. But... can it last? Will the comics companies accept this as a natural progression? A friend of mine reposted an issue of Fantastic Four to the Usenet newsgroup a few months ago, and received a cease and desist letter from Marvel's lawyers.

What say you?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Single Issue Review: Mystery In Space #75

Mystery in Space was one of DC's long-running science fiction magazines. It was a generally outstanding title for much of its run, initially featuring mostly one-shot stories. Effective with MIS #53, the cover feature became Adam Strange, whom I have talked about previously.

Up until this issue, it had never been clear that Adam Strange existed in the same "universe" as the DC superheroes. But as you can see, Kanjar Ro (the alien shown on the cover) intends to go after the Justice League of America in this story.

Ro had appeared in the third issue of JLA's own magazine, and the beginning of this story sums up the ending of that one. Superman created a planet in space out of meteors, and deposited Kanjar and three other villains. Using his power ring, Green Lantern surrounded the planet with a force field to prevent the gang from escaping. But through dogged determination, the villains willed a tiny hole in the force field, through which Ro was able to escape:

Well, you can probably guess his answer to their pleas: Go suck eggs! After that the story follows the usual pattern of a new menace appearing on Rann, although there is one interesting difference. Adam had apparently gone to the far-off planet in the previous issue on a teleport machine and not a zeta-beam, so for a change he was not doomed to return to Earth and could remain with Alanna indefinitely.

The menace they encounter are barbarians from Rann who have an oddball crystal, which, when struck, paralyzes Adam and Alanna. They manage to reverse the effect, and Adam figures out that if they plug their ears, they will be unable to hear the vibrations from the crystal and thus immune to the effect. They confront the barbarians again and pretend to be overcome, so they can learn what's behind the sudden attacks:

Yep, it's Kanjar Ro, working to make himself more super than the Justice League. He eventually discovers that Alanna and Adam were not under his control, and imprisons them in a gravity field. But they manage to escape, and Adam hurriedly uses Kanjar's ship to return to Earth, where he hops on the next zeta beam.

Alerted by the presence of the ship, a small contingent of the JLA head to the prison planet that Superman had created, where they learn from the remaining villains that Ro had gone to Rann. Meanwhile Adam, after returning to Rann on the zeta beam, manages to ring the villain's giant gong, thus freezing everybody on the planet, including himself. But when the zeta beam wears off, he returns to Earth where he regains freedom of movement. He goes to Kanjar Ro's ship, where he discovers the remaining JLA members. Together they head off in the ship for Rann.

But when they arrive they discover that Kanjar Ro was too powerful to be affected by the gong, and was just waiting for the rest of the JLA members to arrive so he could defeat them all. He seems to be making good work of it, too. Several people express a little pity for Adam, who has no superpowers, but he uses his mind to come up with the way to defeat the villain:

Unfortunately, the illness he feels is a symptom of a problem: He learns that he cannot remain on Rann for more than a year because it would kill him. So he is forced to return to Earth once more and wait for the zeta beam.

Comments: This is generally acknowledged as one of the finest DC stories of the Silver Age. It won fandom's Alley Award for the best story of 1962, presumably both for the clever plot and the appeal of crossovers back in that era when they were rare. Excellent script by Gardner Fox and terrific art by Infantino and Anderson.

One interesting oddity: Although the story highlights that Kanjar Ro's goal is to become more powerful than Superman, in fact Supes is one of the few JLA members who is not defeated by the villain in the final chapter. Batman explains that the Man of Steel is busy on a mission in Kandor. I suspect, although I don't know, that Weisinger would not give his consent to a story where Superman is defeated by a villain whom Adam Strange then proceeds to best.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Single Issue Review: Tales to Astonish #80

Tales to Astonish was one of Marvel's anthology magazines, with two features, much like Tales of Suspense. Initially, of course, it had been a (tame) "horror" magazine, but in issue #27 it carried a story called The Man in the Ant-Hill, featuring Dr. Hank Pym. Dr Pym would go on to become Ant-Man, and later Giant Man (later called Goliath and Yellowjacket, although that was in the Avengers). Effective with TTA #60, the Incredible Hulk was added as the second feature, and with #70 the Sub-Mariner replaced Giant-Man.

Because of the short (10-12 pages) amount of space given to each character, the stories tend to go on for even more issues than even the regular Marvel mags. The Subby story picks up from the prior issue, with old wingfoot facing a creature from out of the Schiff-era Batman:

The creature is being controlled by Warlord Krang (with an assist from the Puppet Master), Namor's rival for the throne and Lady Dorma. The electric eels do not succeed in destroying the behemoth, but they do shock Krang into losing control of the beast, so that the Sub-Mariner is able to defeat it. But before Dorma can learn this, Krang insists that she agree to marry him if she wants to save Namor. So the story ends with Krang departing with Dorma.

Comments: Mediocre monster, but excellent art by Colan. Pretty standard Marvel plot by Stan.

The Hulk story follows, oddly enough drawn by Bill Everett (the creator of Namor back in the Golden Age). Tyrannus (who last appeared in the Hulk #5) transports ol' Greenskin to his underground lair. Since we last saw Tyrannus, he's aged quite a bit, but there's a fountain of youth that he can gain control of if he can wrest it from the Mole Man.

Tyrannus convinces the Hulk to help him in his battle. But the Hulk is tired and wants to rest a bit before fighting (huh?). So Tyrannus uses a threat:

But the Mole Man attacks first, and although the Hulk defeats easily his army, old Moley has a surprise weapon:

But the Hulk defeats the robot by crashing it into the Fountain of Youth, short-circuiting its delicate circuits. As the issue ends, Bruce Banner emerges from the water (complete with his glasses).

Comments: Excellent story, featuring the return of one of the Hulk's earliest villains and the very first Marvel villain of all. Add in the gorgeous artwork by Everett (from layouts by Kirby), and you have a terrific 10 pages.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Christmas Stories, Part 4

Batman #27 (Feb-Mar 1945) featured one of my all-time favorite Christmas stories in the comics, A Christmas Peril. While doing their Christmas shopping, Bruce and Dick are startled by the very high price for Christmas trees, $7.98 for trees they don't think are worth a dollar. They find a seller who's got better trees for $2.00, but some hoodlums have other ideas:

Batman and Robin break up the hoodlums and learn they are working for a mob boss, who's working for Scranton Loring, the richest boy in the world (Richie Rich before his time!). Loring has inherited the fortune of his uncle, Caleb, who's better known as "Old Scrooge". (Uncle Scrooge, you mean? This story was published two years before Christmas on Bear Mountain, which introduced Scrooge McDuck, one of the classic comic book characters). However, now that his guardian has passed away, Scranton discovers that his Uncle Timothy, a much more jolly fellow, is his new guardian.

Batman and Robin show up and decide to teach young Scrooge a lesson. They kidnap him and take him on a tour of the lives he's damaged. At first his reaction is to whip out the checkbook:

But later:

Eventually Scranton Loring realizes that his own greed and that of his hired flunkies caused incredible pain, and so he is willing to sacrifice himself:

And in the end:

Trivia Quiz #19 Answers

1. Who was the first Marvel villain of the 1960s to wear a cape?

The Mole Man, the very first Marvel villain of the 1960s, wore a snazzy red cape with his green uniform.

2. Who was the first Marvel hero of the 1960s to wear a cape?

The Mighty Thor was the first caped hero of the Marvel Age.

3. What was the name of the scientist who brought the Martian Manhunter to Earth?

Dr Erdel (initially no first name was given) brought J'onn J'onzz to Earth with his "robot brain".

4. Name both a DC and a Marvel villain who was colored purple.

DC's purple villain was the Parasite (Superman foe) and Marvel's was Killgrave, the Purple Man (Daredevil antagonist).

5. What were the real names of the three people known as the Star Rovers?

The Star Rovers were also known as Homer Gint, Carol Sorenson and Rick Purvis.

Dan M got them all, as did jehingr. Lito S managed four, while Michael Rebain got three and a half, arguably four since the Joker does indeed wear a purple suit. cmn picked up the Thor question and probably deserves some credit as well for Magneto and Luthor (who did wear purple on several occasions, including his stint as the Defender.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Single Issue Review: Conan the Barbarian #2

This comic appears at the very tail end of the Silver Age with a cover date of December 1970. It marked clearly the move to the more "adult" fare that was to come in the Bronze Age, and is nothing like most of the Silver Age comics I have been discussing.

Conan was the creation of writer Robert E. Howard in the early 1930s, a barbarian from the distant past. Howard wrote many Conan short stories and several novels before committing suicide at a relatively young age, and in the 1960s L. Sprague DeCamp, a science fiction writer, had picked up the character and written a few more novels.

A character whose adventures were currently being published in book form clearly presented an opportunity for Marvel. On top of this Marvel added the talented young writer, Roy Thomas, and a gifted comic artist, Barry Smith. The result was a very successful launch, with Conan becoming a monthly magazine effective with its fourth issue.

This story establishes one of the themes that will be repeated throughout the Conan series, that of the treacherous femme fatale, who leads Conan into a trap:

A similar situation occurred to Conan in Savage Tales #1, although there his innocence of ill intent was much more ambiguous.

Conan is enslaved by a race of ape-men, who have previously captured quite a few slaves. But the barbarian is not cut out for a life of servitude:

Kiord, the leader of the slaves, is not exactly plotting the overthrow of the ape-men. He confides to Conan that he has a dream that one day the slaves will rule, but there will be no bloodshed. Conan doesn't agree and continues to make problems, to the point where he is placed in the arena to fight an snow-lion. But when he slays the beast, the king of the ape-men orders him to be killed.

Finally Kiord has had enough:

He and Conan team up to defeat the beasts, but Kiord is slain in battle, leading to this ending:

Comments: Superb story by Thomas, excellent art by Smith. The story was reportedly nominated for an Academy of Comic Book Arts Award, although the winner that year was the Green Lantern/Green Arrow story No Evil Shall Escape My Sight.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Single Issue Review: Superman #159

This was an issue I did not have in my collection as a kid, so my review of the story is not colored by my childhood memories. It's an Imaginary Story, which means that it takes place outside the normal continuity of Superman stories. In this tale, Krypton is saved from exploding by Jor-El (yay!), but Earth is destroyed when the sun goes supernova (gulp!).

Fortunately Lois Lane's father is a scientist, and he sends her to Krypton, after giving her a potion that turns her into a super-powered woman. She lands there, and is adopted by a couple, who name her Kandi Kan (Candy Cane?). They live near young Kal-El and another boy named Len Landor. Kandi assumes another identity as Supermaid (she even does windows!) and true to LL form, Len turns out to be a secret identity pest:

As time goes on we see more mirror images of Superboy's life in Kandi's. She discovers that fragments of her home planet, called Earthite, are poisonous to her, but that she can block them with silver. Her parents die of Virus X, and so she decides to leave Kryptonville for Kryptonopolis.

The story skips ahead a few years, where we learn that Kal-El has become a doctor, while Kandi Kan is a nurse. And the people they work with seem a bit familiar:

Another doctor in the hospital is named Lu Thoria, and we discover that she's got a crush on Kal, but he only has eyes for Supermaid. And when Supermaid defeats Brainiac in his attempt to steal Kandor, she tries to steal his space ship, but is foiled by Kal and Supermaid. Perhaps inevitably:

However, Lu Thoria escapes and she knows that Supermaid is vulnerable to Earthite. Meanwhile Kal has been working on a ray that will give him superpowers, but will shorten greatly his lifespan. He resolves to take the treatment anyway so as to protect Supermaid. But it ends up not doing much in the story, and Jor-El actually saves Supermaid by coating her with silver before she faces Lu Thoria. After subduing her, they discover that she was turned evil accidentally, by a ray. Jor-El has come up with a cure and a hair restorative as well. But in the end, a new form of Earthite has the oddball effect of transferring Supermaid's powers to Kal-El, and the story closes with this bit of humor:

Comments: One of the oddest aspects to the DC universe in the Silver Age is this sense of destiny, which has popped up in other stories. I mentioned before the Batman story where it turned out that Bruce Wayne would have become Batman even if his parents had never died. There's also a story (in Superman #132) where Kal-El would have turned out to be Superman (albeit on Krypton) if Krypton had never exploded.

On the one hand these stories have a very interesting symmetry to them. On the other, as was pointed out in the comments to that Batman post by Thelonius Nick, it tends to undercut much of what was special about the origins of both Batman and Superman.

In this particular story, there are several plot threads that do not get developed adequately. Early on it appears that Len Landor will be a competitor for Supermaid's affections, but that never happens. In addition, Kal's intended sacrifice to save Supermaid amounts to nothing; indeed, it appears mostly so that they could have a scene of her saving Kal-El from falling from a great height, as yet another role reversal. And the ending is far too abrupt and belies Kal's supposed love for Supermaid; are we to believe he only cared for her because she was super?

The artwork is the usual excellent (if slightly sterile) job by Curt Swan.

Friday Trivia Quiz #19: Odds and Ends

1. Who was the first Marvel villain of the 1960s to wear a cape?

2. Who was the first Marvel hero of the 1960s to wear a cape?

3. What was the name of the scientist who brought the Martian Manhunter to Earth?

4. Name both a DC and a Marvel villain who was colored purple.

5. What were the real names of the three people known as the Star Rovers?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Around the Comicssphere

I Believe in Batmite has a review of one of my favorite all-time Batman stories, City Without Guns, in which Batman and Robin visit London.

Bill Jourdain has a podcast up on one of the most famous Christmas stories ever in the comics, Christmas on Bear Mountain, which featured the first appearance of Scrooge McDuck. As I mentioned in the comments on my post on Walt Disney's Comics & Stories, I had always enjoyed the Donald Duck comics as a kid but never really got entranced until I read the story, the Second Richest Duck, which featured the first meeting between Scrooge and his rival, Flintheart Glomgold. If you have not listened to Bill's podcasts, you're missing out on a real treat.

Since we're on the ducks theme, check out the Fortress Keeper's post on a long-lost Carl Barks Donald Duck story called (appropriately enough) Silent Night. Then check out the Silent Night, Deadly Night 1970s Batman Christmas story.

The Other Murdock Papers (a Daredevil Blog) has a picture of Christine (the blogger) with something called a "Daredevil Billy-Club Treat", that, ummm, resembles something a tad different. But honest, it's intended to look like Daredevil's Billy Club, not ummm, well, cough, cough.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Single Issue Review: Walt Disney's Comics & Stories #210

I have not talked much about the funny animal comics thus far on the blog, so today I'd like to take a look at one of the longest-running and best comics featuring funny animals, Walt Disney's Comics & Stories. Disney, then as now, was a huge brand name for kids, signifying high quality and generally wholesome fare. The comics were marketed by Dell, which is still a major magazine publisher, although they got out of the comics business a long time ago.

The WDC&S issues came out monthly and featured a mostly unvarying lineup: A new Donald Duck story leading off the mag, some filler gag strips from the 1930s, a couple of backup features and a Mickie Mouse serial adventure.

The inside front cover has a reprinted gag from a Sunday Donald Duck story. Donald encounters a weeping child who is apparently lost. Donald escorts him around the block, past an ice cream parlor (where the kid gets a cone), a popcorn vendor (where the kid gets a box), and a candy story (where the kid gets a lollipop). And in the end, the kid tells Donald that his home is right there, where they started.

This is pretty typical of the Donald Duck shorts, where Donald almost always ends up getting fleeced by somebody.

The main story is a Carl Barks' DD adventure. Barks is one of the acknowledged geniuses of comics, a gifted writer and cartoonist who made Donald and his Uncle Scrooge into classics. In this story, Donald's young nephews are commenting on the success of all their friend's fathers, as compared to their lowly uncle:

Heheh. But it turns out that he's already lost that job, and has started as a baker. Here he's got a real chance to last for a week, as the owner is out of town for that long. So the boys--errr, ducklings decide to help him out, which proves difficult. At first, Donald scrimps on ingredients, and his biscuits turn out like hockey pucks. Then he overdoes the ingredients and the results are nearly as disastrous:

In the finale, Donald cooks a pie for some performers to burst out of and sing a song. Unfortunately, he uses melted cheese instead of shortening, and the singers end up stuck in the pie crust, and so the end of the story has him and his nephews running for their lives from an angry mob.

The second story features Scamp. Scamp was a minor character in the Lady and the Tramp, a Walt Disney cartoon first released in 1955. He was the one of the Lady's puppies who took after his dad, the Tramp, as something of a mischievous dog. For whatever reason the concept took off and led to a daily comic strip and a Dell Comic of his own, in addition to this backup feature in WDC&S.

In the story in this issue, Scamp does not appreciate his master, and decides to search for adventure on his own. Of course, he discovers that life in the wild is not as romantic as it might sound and finds a new appreciation for the life of a pet.

The next story is Chip N Dale. The two chipmunks try to help a mother skunk, whose daughters have run off to see the world. Of course, young skunks discover that life in the wild is not as romantic as it might sound... wait a minute, isn't that the same lesson Scamp learned?

The text story concerns Uncle Scrooge and Huey, Dewey & Louie. The boys scheme to get Uncle Scrooge to buy their handmade valentines, but he refuses because nobody ever sends him one. So they get Donald and Goofy and Daisy and a bunch of other people to send him a valentine. Uncle Scrooge hires the boys to respond in kind and tells them to help themselves to anything in his desk they need, so they stuff each valentine with $100 bill, much to Scrooge's dismay when he learns.

A couple shorts strips fill a page, and then we get to the Mickey Mouse serial. This is apparently the last of a three-part story, where Mickey and Goofy have encountered some bank robbers while investigating the strange things that have been happening to animals in Lonely Valley. The bank robbers have been causing the strange things to happen; their boss has invented an odd ray that gives him control over dumb animals.

The bank robberies are intended to pay for further experiments to perfect it to the point where it works on "people". Of course there were no actual humans in Mickey's world, but there were human-like animals and dumb animals, so I presume he means the former. Eventually Mickey and Goofy get away and the bank robbers are captured, so the only thing that will bother the local animals is Goofy's cowboy getup.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Comics Code: Pros and Cons

Mark Engblom brings up the Comics Code, a very complex subject. The code comes up in the context of a letter to the editor in a Marvel Comic around 1974, and Roy Thomas' response that the CCA had arisen out of a legitimate problem.

More stunning stuff here. See, in all my years of collecting comics, it's been the accepted orthodoxy that everything about the Comics Code was toxic and repressive, and that the comics of the early 50's were exempt from moral scrutiny and social responsibility. Yet the editor acknowledges the excess and irresponsibility that lead to the Code's creation...a view I've long shared.

Comic books were originally not thought of as particularly aimed at kids; in fact if you look at some of the earliest efforts they commonly imitated the comics sections of the newspaper in that with a variety of stories and styles they intended to provide something for everyone.

But whereas the comics sections of papers could succeed with this diversity because they came with the daily paper and thus were "free", comics had to appeal to one person--the buyer who actually shelled out money for the issue, and that one person wanted specialized entertainment; hence Detective Comics and Planet Comics and Action Comics, etc.

So the comics became more specialized. The (sometimes graphic and gross) violence was there from the beginning. Check out this centerfold from Star Comics #5 (1937):

The sex... well, that changed quite a bit over the years. In general the Fiction House comics seemed designed to emphasize sex appeal, but it was mostly gals in bikinis in the jungle. Titillating back then but pretty tame by today's standards:

I agree that things got out of hand during the horror era, with genuinely gruesome stuff on the newsstands, although again I wonder who was reading it; probably mostly teens who could handle (and enjoyed harmlessly) the gross-out factor. But this was the part that could easily be demagogued with the claim, "This is what the kiddies are reading!"

The outside world intervened. In the early 1950s the problem of juvenile delinquency and gangs became a hot topic, and everybody was concerned as to why these problems had arisen and what could be done to reduce them in the future. My personal theory on this is pretty simple. Because of World War II, America had large numbers of young boys whose fathers were either absent for several years in their youth, or absent permanently (those who died in the war). This caused the problems later on down the road, just as absentee fathers in the 1970s can be blamed for gangs returning with a vengeance in the 1980s.

But at the time that may not have been obvious, and as a result, there was a rush to look at other recent changes. And there is no denying that comics (especially the EC line) had been pushing the boundaries on horror and violence (and selling phenomenally well). Enter Dr. Wertham and the CCA, stage right. Exit EC, Fiction House and Lev Gleason, stage left.

By the way, the aspect of Dr Wertham that is commonly forgotten is that he marketed himself as an expert witness for the defense in the murder trials of juvenile killers in an attempt to get them off on the "only a lad whose mind was ruined by comic books" defense. That's right, you can argue he was a "root-causes" liberal as easily as you can argue he was a bluenose conservative.

If the CCA had simply been a symbol parents could trust and demand that their younger children not buy anything without that label, I would have no trouble saying it was a good thing. That it became a de facto bar to the distribution and sale of comics that had entertained teenagers and adults, like the EC line, makes it harder. The comparison to today's video games and their ratings could not be more obvious.

And I do note that when Marvel (remember, this came up in a Marvel letter column) experimented with more adult fare with Savage Tales #1 (in 1971), what were the adult aspects? Nudity, sexuality and violence. Marvel definitely pushed the envelope on the nudity; check out the Black Widow stories in Amazing Adventures, which regularly featured her showering or changing into her costume and giving us provocative glimpses of her anatomy that were not noticeably crucial to the plot.

Now all that said, I acknowledge that the effective abandonment of the code around 1971 (which makes it odd that it would be discussed so earnestly in 1974) was the beginning of some of the problems that I see today with comics: the sexist imagery of women and the abandonment of any moral center. Nowadays, "heroes" can be alcoholics, two-timers and wife-beaters; that would have never happened with the code in force.

Trivia Quiz #18 Answers

The "Detective Comics" logo and the "POW!" "KRAK!" and "WHAPP!" were intended as clues that you should look at 'Tec issues around the time of the Batman show (1966-68)

1. The Monarch of Menace. He only appeared in Detective #350 during the Silver Age, although he did come back for an encore in 1981.

2. Dr Tzin-Tzin. Obviously a Fu Manchu knockoff, Dr Tzin-Tzin made his lone SA appearance in Detective #354. He returned several times in the 1970s.

3. The Outsider (aka Alfred). He was a shadowy figure in the background of several stories in the mid-1960s and finally appeared (and disappeared) in Detective #356.

4. Mr Esper first popped up in Detective #352's Batman's Crime Hunt A-Go-Go. He found a way to broadcast messages to Batman telling him where a crime was about to take place (so that he could commit a crime where Batman had been). Mr Esper returned in Batman Batman #201 and #209 and later became a Teen Titans villain rechristened as Captain Calamity.

5. This was the trick question, because the boy in the panel is Mark Desmond, who later becomes the Blockbuster after a growth serum makes him big and berserk.

Kudos to Robert McKinney who got all five correct and to Michael Sensei and Michael Rebain who each got three answers.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Single Issue Review: Detective #337

Julius Schwartz, Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino get and deserve a lot of credit for the wonderful comics they produced in the Silver Age. Many stories that these three creative geniuses collaborated on are among the finest of that era, including Flash of Two Worlds, Planet that Came to a Standstill and Planets in Peril.

And so an absolute clunker like this story sticks out among their work like a green barn in Kansas. This is easily one of the most ridiculous Batman stories of the Silver Age, an era that did not lack for contenders.

The story starts out 50,000 years ago, as Klag, a caveman, spots Brugg stealing food from Klag's tribe. They battle and Klag seems about to kill Brugg at the edge of a cliff, when Klag falls into the bottomless pit. We learn that Klag was frozen in a block of ice and hidden in a cave and that minerals dripped on him for 500 centuries until a recent earthquake jarred him loose:

Flexible ice? But that's only the beginning of what we're asked to believe:

A caveman in a block of ice that can fly? When he shows up in Gotham City, Batman treats the news like it happens every other week:

"We'll be there right away?" How about, "Are you sure you haven't been drinking, Commissioner Gordon?"

They encounter and battle the caveman, who calls Batman "Brugg". At first they're even worried he said "Bruce". Klag kayos Batman and removes his cowl, but then realizes it's not Brugg and takes off "over big water", while Robin quickly covers Batman's face again. Some of the ice-coating melted and Batman and Robin retrieve and analyze it, and deduce that it's the source of his powers.

They follow him to Spain, where he is attacking a matador that looks a lot like Bruce Wayne. While Robin battles him, Batman sprays Klag with a plastic sealant which prevents him from moving (but not apparently from breathing), and the story closes with this:

Comments: Good Lord. I didn't think anything could top Bat-Baby for sheer absurdity, but this has to be considered nearly as wacky.

The Elongated Man story, The 20 Grand Payoff, is delightful. Sue Dibney is waiting at the airport for her husband when she sees him getting on a plane with a look-alike. She barges onto the plane after him:

But he denies that she's Sue and they takeoff leaving her behind with a mystery to solve. Meanwhile the fake Sue and Ralph alight at the next airport and:

It turns out that three mob hitmen are planning to kill the Dibneys, but Ralph and the fake Sue (who turns out to be a policewoman) foil the plot. And in the end, the real Sue gets revenge on her hubby (as hinted in the title):

Wow. Let's remember that this story was 1965, back when $20,000 bought a nice house in the suburbs.

Comments: Cute little twist on the usual Elongated Man story, with gorgeous Infantino and Greene artwork.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Single Issue Review: Amazing Spiderman #71

This was the first issue of Spiderman that I bought on the newsstand. I initially started out with modest collections of Archie in 1965 and Batman in 1966, but I was not focused on back issues, just buying what I could. But in the fall of 1968, I remember getting a haircut and reading a comic--most likely World's Finest #179, an 80-page giant that featured lots of Dick Sprang artwork, and I suddenly got comics fever. So I started buying them at the local candy store. But they only had one spinner rack and stuck mainly to DC and Harvey, so I didn't get exposed to the Marvel magic till around February of the next year.

The town north of mine was Ramsey, New Jersey, and it had a terrific newsstand named Herb & Charlie's near the railroad station, with lots and lots of comics, magazines and newspapers. They had everything, from DC to Marvel to Charlton to Archie to Harvey, and they had it in quantity so there was no question of an issue selling out early. After I discovered it, Herb & Charlie's became my #1 source for comics.

So I bought this issue and started my long-term interest in Spiderman. A few months later I met a guy with lots and lots of back issues of DC that I wanted to get, and he wanted Marvel. So we swapped out, except for Spiderman. I was not going to let those get away.

Nobody can accuse Stan of hiding what Peter Parker was all about; the splash page on this comic:

Wow, the hero expressing self-doubt? That's way different from anything that DC's heroes were doing, and of course it relates well to young teens (as I was back then). We learn that Spidey had taken on the Kingpin over some ancient tablet, and saved it. Meanwhile, Quicksilver has arrived in New York.

Here, Marvel benefited from DC's Flash; because I had been exposed to the DC character, I was willing to accept Marvel's obvious rip. And this panel is a big reason why:

So Quicksilver has something to prove and Spidey's in trouble. As you might expect, it's not long before they were battling:

And in the end, Spidey wins by showing us one way that Quicksilver was different from the Flash:

Comments: This is the Marvel magic at its best. DC comics mostly had a static feel to them at the time; no matter what happened during one particular story, the characters returned to square one at the end. You did not have to read the stories in chronological order and (for the most part) you could miss five straight DC issues and not feel like you were lost if you picked up that sixth issue. With Marvel, you had to read every issue, and the stories were packed with references to earlier tales; in this story alone we hear of events that happened in prior issues of Spiderman, as well as Avengers #53, and Avengers #62.

And the Romita/Mooney art is a real treat as well. In the mid-1960s DC definitely had a stronger stable of artists than Marvel, but that was changing rapidly with Romita, Colan, Buscema, Steranko, Smith and others all landing in the bullpen within a few years of each other.