Thursday, December 09, 2010

Superheroes #4


As the 1960s wore on, the superhero craze showed no signs of abating. DC, the only comic publishing company that had never ceased publishing superhero comics, nearly doubled their output of the men in capes and cowls from about 25% of their books in the 1950s to about 45% in the 1960s. Marvel, which had no superhero titles from about 1955-1961, suddenly was swarming with amazingly-powered characters.

And then came Batmania, and it seemed like nothing sold except superhero titles. So Dell, which had only made a few half-hearted attempts at the genre, leapt in with this rather lame effort. Even the comic's title seems generic: Superheroes. "A Fantastic Transformation into Reality?" And the Fab 4 were the Beatles.

We quickly learn that four "teeners" are able to control a quartet of super-powered androids. One guy can receive radio waves; a very useful ability. Of course, you could just bring along a portable radio instead. Another guy has built-in radar, which proves handy considering that the story is about a bomber plane from SAC (Strategic Air Command) being hijacked by hypnotic command. Polymer Polly can fly and create strands of polymer from her body, while Crispy can shoot cold rays from his fingers.

The androids use their combined skills to find the bomber and render harmless the atomic bomb it had dropped:

In part II (pay no attention to that "The End" caption above), we learn that some hip couple were behind the hypnotism that took control of the SAC bomber. Since their plot has been ruined, they decide to get even with the Fab 4. And they quote a lot of 1960s music lines in the process:


This part also explains the "fantastic transformation into reality" bit. You see, the kids send their minds into the androids. The androids come to the old abandoned opera house where the kids hang out. The hip couple send a bomb there. And the bomb implodes:

As a result, the kids now have the powers that they formerly had to use the androids in order to possess. It's ginch-tastic!

A week later, the teeners have had some time to test and expand their powers. The radio-wave guy (called El by his buddies) has figured out where the hypnotic wave came from. And so the laser/radar guy:

When they get to the theatre, the Mod (our villain) and his gal are giving a concert:

Yeah, I could criticize that song for not rhyming, but it's not like the other publishers of the time did teen exploitation any better--the Kryptonian Krawl, anyone? Anyway, the kids (including the heroes) are all hypnotized to attack the Peace Ministers' Conference. Fortunately, the hypno-wave doesn't work if one is shoved (which seldom happens at a riot):

The Fab 4 quell the mob, and eventually catch the Mod and his girlfriend.

Comments: Painful. About the only thing positive in this effort is the artwork (credited in the book to Sal Trapani, but actually penciled by Bill Fraccio and inked by Trapani per Martin O'Hearn in the comments). The script glosses over all sorts of plot-holes, then maddeningly screeches to a halt so the kids don't walk out of Polly's house dressed in their uniforms. Never mind that earlier it's Tom's house. The story tries too hard by half to be relevant to kids of the time--why Tom even produces a comics fanzine--but fails miserably. It is plain to see why this was the last outing for the Fab 4.

6 comments:

Martin O'Hearn said...

On Super Heroes, Trapani's ghost penciller is Bill Fraccio; inked by Tony Tallarico, Fraccio pencilled Frankenstein, Dracula, and Werewolf for Dell.

Anonymous said...

Rereading these makes me realize how little taste I had as a child.
-Fraser

Commander Benson said...

You aren't understating it, Pat, when you talk about the glut of lame and ill-conceived super-heroes that erupted in the wake of Batmania. It seemed like any company that had a fellow who could two-finger type and another who knew that the pointy end of the pencil went down took a shot at publishing a comic. Hoping, of course, to strike super-hero gold.

I remember it well, and I confess that, in my youthful exuberance, I picked up my share of these fly-by-night comics. Including Superheroes # 1. I still have it, in one of my long boxes that haven't been opened in decades.

I only had that one issue, so I never knew that, in # 4, the kids absorbed the androids' respective super-powers into their own bodies. It occurs to me that Dell sabotaged its own series.

Not that Superheroes had much of a shot at succeeding in the long run, but at least it had a germ of a good idea. A fresh one, anyway, in the concept that the teens had to transfer their minds into android bodies to do their super-heroing.

And what does Dell do? It eliminates that one bit of originality. Instead, it turns the "Fab 4" youthful leads into a low-rent version of the Teen Titans. (And given the way The Teen Titans was written in those days, a low-rent version was quite low, indeed. An ant's-eye view.)

Michael Jones said...

I particularly like that "How drool" was used instead of "How droll."

Pat said...

Martin, thanks for the information, I will update the post.

Fraser, I loved the Silver Age Batman, so it's hard for me to criticize anybody's taste. ;)

CB, I think I have #3 around somewhere; definitely one of those I was never tempted to re-read.

Martin O'Hearn said...

Pat, I wasn't as clear as I wanted to be -- Tallarico inked Fraccio on the three monster superhero titles, but Trapani did ink the Fab Four Super Heroes.