Sunday, January 03, 2010

Guest Post: More Jack Schiff "Recycling"

Here's an solid post from commenter Jim building on some themes we have discussed here in the past:

In an interesting post (December 16, 2009), Pat pointed out how several Silver Age Superman stories appear to have been deliberately "synchronized" with Batman stories published around the same time, and he invited readers to send in other examples. His post inspired me to look more closely at something I'd noticed a few years ago, but hadn't bothered to investigate further. Here's what I found.

Submitted for your consideration: the cover of Blackhawk #151, dated August 1960 and edited by Jack Schiff.

Here we see Lady Blackhawk, with super-powers, "flying through the air -- and smashing [a] boulder" (as Blackhawk rather superfluously points out to the reader).

Now let's move ahead a few months and look at the cover of another comic edited by Jack Schiff -- Tales of the Unexpected #56 (December 1960).

I don't need to belabor the similarities between the two covers.

Now what might have given Schiff the idea of running two covers featuring female supporting characters -- pretty blondes in short skirts -- demonstrating super-powers to the consternation of their male counterparts?

For an answer, let's go back a year or so and take a look at the iconic cover of Action #252 (May 1959) -- the issue that introduced Supergirl:

It was obviously important for Silver Age editors to come up with eye-catching covers. There were a lot of comic books being published, and they were competing for the limited pocket change of their (mostly) juvenile readers. I'm sure Julius Schwartz wasn't the only editor who assumed that if a particular issue sold well, it was on account of the cover.

I'm guessing that Action #252 sold well -- at least well enough to justify keeping Supergirl as a regular "second feature." And I'm speculating that its strong sales inspired Schiff to put super-powered blondes on the covers of two of his titles at the earliest opportunity.

At this point, I began wondering about another book edited by Schiff -- Challengers of the Unknown. June Robbins was an "honorary Challenger" who regularly joined Ace, Rocky, Red, and Prof on their adventures. I didn't recall any story in which June gained super-powers, but I thumbed through my longbox and came up with this issue -- dated August/September 1960:

June's a brunette, but as a "lady giant" she has superhuman strength -- and she's using it to save her male partners from danger. (And we have another one of those charmingly redundant word-balloons that were such a common feature of Silver Age covers.)

As Pat said: "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, and the third time it's a trend." I believe I spotted a trend -- and an example of the working of a comic editor's mind during the Silver Age.

Comments from Pat: This ties in with several of my past posts. I talked about Jack Schiff's habit of recycling covers and story elements between Blackhawk and Batman on two separate occasions. And I also talked about the sudden influx of women into the comic book superhero world of the late 1950s here.

Great job, Jim!


David said...

Good catch.

If you interpret the trend as "male hero emasculated when newly-super girlfriend has to save his sorry butt," then the cover to Action #274 is even more appropriate:

David said...

Sorry, muffed the link:

Action #264