Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Hallowe'en from Dracula

Here's one I had completely forgotten I had in one of my long boxes. When Batmania hit in 1966, many publishers were unprepared for the sudden appeal of Super Heroes. I've talked a bit in the past about some of these efforts, such as Jigsaw (by Harvey), Nemesis (by ACG) and Pureheart the Powerful (by Archie). Dell Comics, while no longer the major player in the comics biz that they had been in the 1950s, obviously felt the need as well, and thus we had the brief and rather strange incarnation of Dracula as a superhero. Well, he is the original "Bat-Man".

We learn that Count Dracula is the last of his line, and "determined to clear his family name of the superstition that sets men's hearts to beating faster". He is working on a bat-derived serum to help cure brain damage. Believing he has succeeded, he has a drink in celebration, not knowing that the bat he set free had knocked over his serum, causing it to drip into his cup. He discovers:

Traveling under the name of Al U. Card (Dracula spelled backwards), he sets sail for America. But the ship he's on encounters some rough weather, and the radar isn't working. Fortunately, Dracula himself has radar as one of his powers (a bit of a mistake there, as bats actually use sonar to guide them) and, after kayoing the helmsman and taking his place:

He guides the ship to safety, but is curious as to what caused the sudden storm.

Another error there; bats have terrible eyesight, which is the reason they use sonar. Changing into his bat-form, he flies up to the dirigibles, and discovers that they are responsible for the weather modification. He's captured, but manages to convince the villain, named Admiral Maltemps, that he wants to join up:

Pretty classic villain there down to the bald head and monocle. Have you ever seen anybody with a monocle in real life? Neither have I. His plot is to devastate North America with his weather changes, causing drought in one area, floods in another and blizzards elsewhere. Nasty stuff. Dracula plans to stop him, but:

So that's the first rule of evil? I wonder what some of the others are: "Never kill the hero quickly?" The Admiral drops him to Earth, unaware that he can change into a bat and fly away. First he goes to the nearest missile base, but the general is unimpressed with his story. So he heads to Washington. And, atypically for a hero, he doesn't let anything distract him from the immediate task:

But even at the Pentagon he is unable to convince the brass of the actual situation, so he has to head back to the dirigible. We'll assume that couple on top of the car has drowned by now. Dracula takes over control of the ship, and maneuvers it above the other blimps. He unleashes the snow on them, which causes them to crash, then tackles the Admiral:

The Admiral and his men are taken into custody. Dracula heads back to the ship so he can enter the country legally, and even finds a potential girlfriend:

Comments: A silly story, but the entertainment value is pretty good and the artwork is acceptable if uninspired. One thing Dell did have over Marvel and DC; the story is a full 32 pages long; there are no ads whatsoever inside the book other than the inside back cover and back cover.

Hat Tip to Silver Age Gold, who posted a few covers from Dell's monster superhero era, for inspiring me to dig out this comic.

Blogroll Stuff

I trimmed quite a few blogs today; mostly for non-posting, but a few for non-linking. I'm happy to link other comics-related blogs, but I do ask two things: Link to me and let me know you want a link other than the generic "Great blog, I have bookmarked," crap that I see all the time from spammers. I am happy to link to actual comics bloggers, but not to Filipino Brides For Sale, etc.

I apologize again for not enabling the followers thing; I would prefer to have it on, but Blogger wants to redo my entire site in order to enable it, and I suspect I would lose the comments on all my old posts. I try to link to everybody that comments, but even there I find that often they have not bothered to link me. So I let it go for 6 months and they still haven't bothered linking. Sorry that's page rank bleed, Google it. This blog has a big page rank and I'm not giving that away to people who can't toss me a reciprocal link.

If you're still on my blogroll, don't sweat this. You're posting and you've linked back. That's all I ask. If you're suddenly not seeing my incoming link, ask yourself why and fix it then let me know. I try to be generous with my outgoing links while maintaining the focus on the Silver Age.

Update: Go check out Silver Age Gold, the first new blog on my blogroll resulting from this post. Aaron's got a good sense of humor and sincerely loves comics from the same era as I do. I love his explanation for why he blogs about the Silver Age; it mirrors my thoughts exactly!

Update II: The former Fortress Keeper has started a new blog, called The Time Bullet. It's definitely worth checking regularly. I love his post on Batman's memorable first punch. "A fitting end for his kind!"

Friday, October 30, 2009

Fantastic Four Fridays: Skrull the Cowqueror

Our story begins with the Thing swimming menacingly towards an offshore oil rig. Say what? The Thing looks like he weights about 600 pounds and I'm going to guess that he wouldn't be able to keep his head above water. This might be very mysterious, except that we've already seen from the cover that aliens from outer space are probably behind it. In short order, we observe as Sue Storm steals a $10 million gem, the Torch ruins a fabulous statue, and Reed:

Why is the FF doing these terrible things? Oh, that's right:

The real FF is hiding out at a lodge in the woods. But the Army arrests them:

I'm guessing that Stan and Jack never heard of the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the use of the military for internal police work. They imprison the FF in specially designed cells, but none of them are held captive for long. And they come up with a brilliant idea. If Johnny, as the Human Torch, destroys a rocket, the fake FF will assume he's one of them. And although it seems like a fairly ridiculous idea, it works:

Apparently the fake FF had some way they were going to destroy the missile with just the phony Reed and Sue, and it never occurred to them to wonder why the Torch showed up. So they take him back to their HQ, where the phony Torch is waiting. Fortunately Johnny has time to send out a signal flare, and the real FF has no trouble wiping out their fake counterparts. But there's still an invasion fleet of Skrulls just waiting for the defeat of the FF to conquer Earth. So the real FF pose as the Skrulls and head up to the mother ship, where they attempt to convince the commander that death and destruction await them:

Heheh, now that is pretty cool, a little plug for Marvel's monster mags of the time. They succeed in scaring away the invasion fleet, while insisting they must return to Earth to erase all evidence of their presence. But when they get back:

Well, at least this time it's the cops. They manage to convince the police to take them back to Reed's apartment, where the Skrulls are waiting:

Well, it might have been spawned on Earth back in the Hyborean Age. The FF round up those Skrulls again. They repent their ways and Reed decides to have them make one final change to their appearance, after which he hypnotizes them into forgetting their past:

One thing doesn't make sense here--well, okay, more than one thing--what happened to the fourth Skrull? I looked in the letters columns of the next few issues and didn't see any other mention of it. At one point in the story, Reed says that the fourth Skrull was on the mother ship, but that doesn't compute either, as on page 17 we hear that the FF defeated four Skrulls at Reed's apartment, and the entire FF goes up to the ship; wouldn't the commander notice that's five beings returning when only four went down?

Another note: In a subplot, the FF goes through the cosmic rays again on the return to Earth, and it results in the Thing reverting briefly into Ben Grimm again.

If you'd like to buy, there are several options:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Around the Horn

Jacque at Sequential Romance scores an interview with Irene Vartanoff, one of the most prolific DC letter writers of the Silver Age, who went on to have a career in writing including comics and romance graphic (and non-graphic) novels. Irene's own homepage is here.

As a 1960s DC comic fan, I occasionally fantasized about writing great letters like Irene, but as it was I did not develop my writing skills until my college years. At some point, I should do some features on the great letter writers of that era, many of whom went on to have careers in the field. It's all part of the milieu, although I freely acknowledge that I've started my post on Alter Ego and Jerry Bails and Roy Thomas about five times and always felt like I couldn't do the topic justice.

H at The Comic Treadmill continues his long-running series on the Giant Props in Batman stories, with some wonderful Golden Age material. How can you go wrong with something like this:

Joker tries to roll the Giant Penny (not THE Giant Prop Penny, but a completely different one) to smash the door to the cashier’s office. But Batman was disguised as the Santa on the Giant Christmas Holly pie and rolls the Giant Pumpkin to deflect the Giant Penny.

I am sorry to see that the Absorbascon has joined the list of blogs calling it quits in 2009; Scipio always had interesting things to say.

Ol' Groove remembers the Demon Hunter, one of the short-lived comics from Atlas-Seaboard in the 1970s. I actually have that issue, and always felt it was one of the best values in the history of comics per actual drawing. The second page of that issue has an incredible 27 panels.

Hube at Comics of Rhodey has a nice tribute to the late George Tuska. One of the sad things about doing a nostalgia blog like this is that there's an awful lot of the creators we talk about who are passing away.

Karl at The House of Cobwebs talks about the time he scored a nice batch of Charlton Horror from the 1970s. Some very nice and horrific covers on that trove, Karl!

Christine at the Other Murdock Papers has a long, and amusing discussion of Daredevil #30-32 featuring the "Blind Daredevil". Wait a minute, wasn't DD always blind? Yeah, but not in the way he was in those issues. Recommended!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Magnus, Robot Fighter #3

It is perhaps not surprising that alien robots would be the next enemies for Magnus. The stage is set with the opening panel:

Hmmm, hadn't noticed it before, but Magnus is wearing, well, kind of a dress, isn't he? Of course, the computer "tape" is a bit of a failure of imagination; I do remember tape like that back in the early 1970s, so maybe I shouldn't criticize Magnus' attire, since it is stretching the envelope a bit.

Magnus and others go into action against the aliens, but it is clear they are outgunned. Fortunately the aliens do not attack, yet. But they do eventually:

I'd have to check, but I doubt even Marvel was doing full page interior panels very often at the time (August 1963). Beautiful art by Manning. Magnus realizes that he must go nuclear:


Things are looking grim, and Magnus decides to find Xyrkol. He reasons that the giant robot will eventually contact its master, and traces the signal:

He blasts off for Planet X, where he confronts Xyrkol, who warns that he can instruct his giant robot to kill everyone on Earth. We get the inevitable offer to join forces:

But when Magnus overcomes Xyrkol and instructs his companions robots to destroy the controls, Xyrkol reveals that he's planned ahead so that this will result in the automated destruction of his own base, and the giant robot going wild. Sure enough:

Magnus has fighter jets attack the robot so that he can slip into the eye-slit unnoticed, and pretty quickly we hear the robot death sound:

Comments: The art saves this otherwise pedestrian story. I'm hoping that we get some more characterization for Magnus, particularly an origin story. At this point, we haven't seen Magnus' mentor, Robot 1A, since the opening scenes of Magnus #1. I still like the series a lot; I'm just looking for a little more depth.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Single Issue Review: Detective #389

By this time, all the camp elements were gone, and Batman was returning to his roots as a creature of the night. The story begins with Batman and Robin greeting a new parolee: Jonathan Crane, aka the Scarecrow. Batman is hoping that Crane will reform and has even given him a job (as Bruce Wayne), but Robin is a little jaded:

As far as I know, that's the first time that the dual crime-fighting nature of Batman/Bruce Wayne is mentioned, with Bruce as the carrot and Batman as the stick.

Driving back to Gotham City, Batman and Robin muse that the old days, when Batman's very appearance would "strike fear" into the hearts of criminals, have passed. But when they encounter a gang it's just like the good old days:

And the next evening Batman has a similar effect on some jewel thieves:

The Scarecrow calls Batman and dares him to attend a meeting in a warehouse to find out why he terrifies villains. Batman turns up, and when he does, the trap shown on the cover (a ring of mirrors around him) is sprung. Suddenly Batman is frightened of himself. Crane had managed to inject him with a fear-inducing drug. Of course, this doesn't make much sense, as the drug affected nobody but criminals before. Batman had interacted with Robin, several cops, and Commissioner Gordon in between without frightening them.

The Scarecrow warns him that he can only take six exposures to the sight of himself before going insane. But Batman tricks him into thinking he's used up the six, when in actuality he's only seen himself five times, and so he's able to defeat the Scarecrow and his henchmen.

Comments: Way too short a story, although it's entertaining, especially the part where Batman and Robin are reminiscing. Art by Bob Brown, story by Frank Robbins.

The Batgirl story is part II of a two-parter. We learn quickly that Batgirl had attended an airline hostess' costume party in place of a stewardess, but it turns out that the flight attendant had ripped off some crooks after smuggling diamonds into the country. Amusingly, the crooks are dressed up as various members of the Justice League, giving us the opportunity to see Babs in action against DC's stars of the Silver Age:

Since the stewardess had given Babs the excuse that she was attending a party for her grandfather, Babs locates the old man's house. It turns out that he's not exactly a kindly old codger:

Comments: The story (by Robbins) is nothing special, but the art by Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson is terrific.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fantastic Four Fridays

Having worked my way through the 1960s Iron Man, I will now turn my attention to the Fantastic Four issues. Back when I was collecting comics in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I had a friend who was big on the Marvel books, while I collected DC, so whenever we'd discover a cache of the other guy's faves we'd trade. As a result, my collection of Marvels other than Spiderman (the one Marvel series I insisted on keeping) is pretty poor. However, he did let me borrow his FF issues, so I managed to keep reasonably up to date.

Fortunately, Marvel recently came out with the complete set of FF issues (plus Silver Surfer) on DVD. These are absolutely gorgeous color scans of the original issues, not black and white like the Essentials series, and not slathered on color like the Masterworks. You can almost smell the musty paper as you read these. Highly recommended as the cheapest way to complete your collection!

FF #1 debuted with a cover date of November 1961. Note that the characters had not quite been finalized:

Reed, in particular, would undergo quite a change facially, with a much younger appearance before long. And Ben's alter-ego would also evolve quite a bit:

This, to me, is one of the keys to Marvel's extraordinary success in the 1960s. DC's Silver Age characters arrived fully conceived, and seldom changed, while Stan and Jack and the rest of the bullpen were never afraid to tinker with the characters, especially based on feedback from the readers. A full listing of all the changes Marvel made during this era would be extremely long, but aside from the above, they added uniforms to the FF, did away with Peter Parker's glasses, changed Iron Man's color from grey to gold to red and gold, changed Ant-Man to Giant Man, changed the look of the Iceman, etc.

We learn that the FF originated as a group effort to reach outer space before the communists:

And for perhaps the only time in the Silver Age, Ben was right and Reed was wrong on a scientific matter. As they rocket through the cosmic rays, they are changed dramatically. Sue is able to turn invisible, while Reed stretches crazily and Ben turns into the thing. And Johnny:

Of course, this is a swipe from the original Timely superhero the Human Torch, right down to the name, which Johnny adopts. They resolve to use their powers to benefit mankind. Their first assignment is to investigate the mysterious disappearance of atomic power plants all over the globe:

Reed discovers that there's an island exactly in the middle of all the disappearances, known as Monster Isle. Sure enough, it turns out that the island is aptly named:

Suddenly the ground collapses underneath Reed and Johnny, who fall into a deep cavern. Their eyes are blinded by a dazzling light:

I've always loved that panel introducing Moley; his appearance is bizarre and it contrasts with the rather bland, "And as for me, I am the Moleman!" He explains his origin:

This is pretty good stuff; the Moleman's given a strong motivation for what he does. He managed to control the creatures below the Earth, and now he's planning an invasion of the surface. But the FF make their way to the surface, and Johnny seals the exit, leaving the Moleman below.

Comments: A solid introduction to the series. One oddity is that the story is broken up into several chapters; with a splash page at the beginning of each which is a strong indication that Kirby was doing much of the work putting the story together. DC often used these chapters in their stories, and Kirby had put them into Challengers of the Unknown, the series he designed for DC in the late 1950s.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Green Lantern #59: Guy Gardner

This story starts with Green Lantern visiting Oa, the planet of the Guardians, for a seminar in advanced Green Lanternship. Hal learns that the Guardians have a machine that can read the minds of dead people. They offer to show him the last thoughts of Abin Sur, the alien Green Lantern who crashed on Earth and offered Hal Jordan the chance to take his place. Abin Sur had two requirements for a suitable replacement. The candidate must be honest and he must be utterly without fear.

To Hal's surprise (and ours) it turns out there were two possibilities: Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner. But as Jordan was on the West Coast, while Gardner was back east, Abin Sur chose Hal. We get the familiar origin sequence:

Hal is intrigued. What would have happened if Guy Gardner had been chosen as Green Lantern? Well, funny you should ask, because the Guardians just happen to have a "What If" machine:

Of course the same type of machine features in two of my favorite Silver Age stories, The Second Life of Batman from Batman #127, and Superman's Other Life, from Superman #132.

Gardner's home base is "East City" continuing DC's coy tradition of fictional town names. Guy's occupation is quite a bit different from Hal's:

They both sure like to punch! We found he would have battled pretty much the same crime gallery: Sonar, the Shark, Black Hand, Dr. Polaris, and Sinestro are shown. But when the Gardner GL returns to Earth following his initial meeting with the Guardians, he takes a slightly different route, and this is where history starts to diverge. He encounters two robots battling, one orange and the other blue, and learns from them that they come from a planet where the Yellow Plague killed off all the adults, and where the children do not age normally, so they have divided into two warring factions.

When Guy first visits the planet he is controlled by the mental powers of the blue faction, but during a battle with the "Orangers" he breaks free and manages to shield his mind from control. After that, it's a pretty simple matter for the gym teacher to get the kids to behave properly, especially since his ring ensures they will start to mature.


Guy Gardner must summon another worthy individual, who just happens to be Hal Jordan. Again, this perfectly echoes the Batman and Superman tales, both of which ended with Bruce wearing a cowl and Kal in a cape.

There is a very nice bit at the end. Hal asks for permission to form a friendship with Earth's other Green Lantern and they hit it off after meeting at Guy's health club:

Comments: Cute idea, but it did not get developed in the Silver Age after this; Guy Gardner popped up in a Green Lantern/Green Arrow issue and then basically disappeared until the mid-1970s. But he would become a major character in his own right, with his personality more like the cover of this issue than the ending.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More Gay Batman

Dreemo, a villain from World's Finest #17 makes the accusation:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

When I'm the Evil Genius

I will not abhor too easy a victory:

For many other "When I'm the Evil Genius" posts click the link.