Thursday, April 29, 2010

The First Letter Published in Lois Lane


Hank Weisinger? I'm guessing it's Mort's son, because Mort himself was from Great Neck, as mentioned here:

For many years before and five years after that globe was constructed, Mort Weisinger drove from Great Neck towards that incredible city of towers and terrors, his mind filled not with the grandeur of the metropolis before him, but with the problems of plot... how could he get an almost invulnerable character into and out of dangerous situations this month?

Update: Two terrific comments on this post. CMN points out that Phyllis Coates only appeared in the first 26 episodes, not 52 as stated by Weisinger Pere. And an anonymous commenter points out that Weisinger's son, Hendrie (Hank), wrote a comment on a blog post here where he states:

Also, many of the letters in the mailbags he made up, many times signing my friend's names. He would often do this to plant ideas and to develop the superman mythology.

Incidentally, that blog post goes into some detail about Weisinger's difficult nature (he apparently browbeat his writers and artists), and while I don't disagree about that, I do disagree with this:
But Weisinger had very little talent -- less, say, than a writer coming up with a funny dream sequence for The Dick Van Dyke Show. The Weisinger neuroses poke thru the stories like broken bones thru skin. God, are they painful. There's no aesthetic payoff, just the fascination of the awful. But, okay, I'll settle for that.

You can detect some detachment from the time, as the writers for the Dick Van Dyke Show were far from untalented; they won Emmy Awards in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1966, and were nominated in 1965.

So too I think it is with the writer's assessment of Weisinger's talent. It can be difficult to see as an adult in 2010. Yes, if you've read Watchmen or DKR, those 1960s Superman tales seem banal and juvenile by comparison. But that's the point, we hadn't read Watchmen back in the 1960s, and we were juvenile.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Other Supermen Era At Action Comics

I happened to be flipping through some old Action issues today and noticed this trend. In Action #254-255 we have the first appearance of the adult Bizarro Superman. In Action #256, we see the Superman of the future. In Action #257, Clark Kent becomes a "second" Superman:

In #258, Superman encounters Cosmic Man:

Who turns out to be a robot. In Action #259, the other Superman is Superboy:

After a few issues off (#260-262), the Bizarros return for another two-parter in #263-264. It's Hyper-Man's turn in Action #265:

Then in #267-268, there's a two parter featuring a Superman of the past:

After that, the stories mostly get back to normal, but it's striking that there were so many tales with a similar theme over the course of about a year and a half.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Green Lantern on Magic Mushrooms?

Just in case you thought Speedy on Smack was the first drug mention in a Green Lantern comic, check out this letter from Green Lantern #18 (January 1963):

Monday, April 26, 2010

Take Me Out to the Ballgame...

This panel comes from Green Lantern #12 (April 1962). Of course, about 6 months earlier, Roger Maris (Ramis jumbled) had broken the record for homers in a season with 61, topping Babe Ruth's 1927 total of 60. Green Lantern's editor at the time was Julius Schwartz, who had grown up in the Bronx and was a die-hard fan of the NY Yankees.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Single Issue Review: Detective #331

For its first 330 issues, Detective Comics had always published multiple stories, but this issue provides a book-length tale combining the two features that the mag was publishing at the time: Batman and the Elongated Man. It's the fifth issue into the New Look, and the interior (and cover) artwork is by Carmine Infantino, while the story is by Gardner Fox.

As the story begins, Bruce Wayne is visiting a wax museum dedicated to American history, that was funded by the Alfred Foundation (see ending for a discussion of the Alfred Foundation). But when he poses for a picture at the Matthew Brady exhibit something odd happens:

Yet another reminder that Julius Schwartz didn't get rid of all the science fiction elements of the Jack Schiff years. Bruce has temporary amnesia, and around the same time as he's stumbling around the city in a daze:

As you can probably guess, it's a phony Bruce Wayne, who's well-prepared and cons the bank VP into letting him withdraw $500,000 from his account.

Later that night, Robin is forced to battle some jewel robbers on his own. But fortunately for him, Batman recovers his memory and helps out. Now they have to figure out what happened during his amnesia. Robin tells him about the withdrawal from the bank (apparently the bank officer was a little casual about Bruce's privacy).

Meanwhile, Ralph and Sue Dibny have arrived in Gotham and visited the wax museum themselves. Ralph gets curious when he notices a few pictures that his wife took:

Realizing that the man's face had changed dramatically, Ralph smells a mystery. As it happens, about the same time Bruce and Dick have visited the bank, where it turns out that the man in the photograph has been robbed in a similar fashion to Bruce. When they learn that before being robbed he had visited the Matthew Brady exhibit at the wax museum, they change into their fighting togs and head there, meeting up with the Elongated Man inside. The three are attacked by invisible enemies, as shown on the cover. When Batman makes it to the Brady exhibit:

We learn a bit about the "science" involved here from the crook, Boss Baron:

Fortunately, the Elongated Man sticks his face in front of the camera to protect Batman's secret identity. This works, but at the cost of Ralph losing his memory temporarily. Batman and Robin start wiping up the crooks with a little sluggish help from the Ductile Detective:

And in the end, Batman shares a secret with the Elongated Man:

But it's okay, because Ralph will lose his memory of Batman's secret identity when the face-change wears off.

Comments: An interesting and fast-paced story. I confess, however, that the plot device of the face-changing machine (electrofaciograph) seems rather far-fetched.

Postscript: The Alfred Foundation was a charity that Bruce Wayne set up in the aftermath of Alfred's (apparent) death in Detective #328. After he was brought back to life (discussed here), Bruce changed the name of the charity to the Wayne Foundation.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ending With Iris

Over at Silver Age Gold, there's a post on what a bee-yatch Iris West (later Iris Allen) could be. As I mentioned in the comments, that's true on one level. But if you look at it from the writer's viewpoint, she's a perfect comedic foil for Barry. She thinks he's the slowest man on Earth, while we know (from the cover) that he's secretly the fastest man alive. I noted that this gave the writer a nice little ending for his story.

How common was this ending? I was surprised when I looked.

In Flash #105 the first story is Conqueror from 8 Million BC; here's the ending panel:

The second story is the Master of Mirrors. It too features an Iris finale:

The typical setting is Barry and Iris having dinner at a restaurant, so I won't keep posting those.
In Flash #106, the ending to the first features Barry and Iris at the zoo; the ending to the second has them at Iris' apartment. Flash #107? The opening story ends with Barry alone at home, but the second story ends with the Flash visiting Iris at her office. In Flash #108, the opening story ends with Iris and Barry eating a picnic lunch in the park, while the backup tale has them at a restaurant. In Flash #109, the ending of the opening story shows Iris angrily checking her watch, as Barry is late for another date. The closing to the second story does not feature Iris at all.

In Flash #110, Barry screws up and the Flash arrives for a date with Iris:

The second story is the first Kid Flash tale, but it too has an Iris ending.

The ending to Flash #111's opening tale has Barry getting a rival for Iris' affections:

More on Dr. Summers later. The second story in this issue is a solo Kid Flash tale, so Iris is not featured at all.

Flash #112 has the introduction of the Elongated Man, and ends with the Ductile Detective and the fastest man alive at a banquet, shaking hands as only superheroes can do:

But in fact the panel before shows her introducing the two heroes to the attendees at the banquet. The second story again doesn't count as it stars Kid Flash.

Flash #113 has two stories, both ending with Iris. Here's the first:

And in the second, Barry reclaims his woman from the wiles of Dr Summers:

In Flash #114 Captain Cold gets the, err, hots for Iris, but the first story ends with her and Barry, and the second is another Kid Flash tale.

So putting it all together, in the first 10 issues of Flash, there were 20 stories. Three of those were Kid Flash solo tales and therefore I'll deduct those from the total leaving 17. Fifteen of those stories, or 88% of the total, ended with Iris. And it's not like it stopped, from 115-120 Iris only missed the denouement of one Flash solo story.

So it appears obvious that Julius Schwartz and John Broome approached Iris as essentially a character who told us the story was over. That's not to say that she didn't have some significant scenes early in comics, but in a lot of cases that was to establish the basis for the final conversation between Barry and Iris.

How does that compare with some of the other DC girlfriends? I'll try to take a look at it in the near future.

Update: I meant to mention as well that closing a story with a domestic scene like those is a very common practice. For example, every episode of Welcome Back, Kotter, would end with Kotter telling his wife a joke about one of his uncles, just as every episode of Hill Street Blues would conclude with Daniel J. Travanti and Veronica Hamel sharing a quiet moment together.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Death of Lightning Lad

One of the more interesting sagas in the DC Silver Age was the death of Lightning Lad. Although these death and resurrection stories have been overdone since, back in the 1960s this was definitely something quite new and exciting.

The death takes place in Adventure #304. As the story begins, Saturn Girl observes a small capsule arriving near Legion HQ. She picks it up and reads it, then destroys it so that the others cannot learn the message. Next, she uses her power of super thought-casting to compel the other members to elect her leader of the Legion. Oddly, she then becomes a tyrant:

It turns out that the medallions siphon off the powers from the Legionnaires undergoing the tests, which Saturn Girl unreasonably declares they have failed. She demands that each of them refrain from using their powers for at least a month. Then, the Legion receives an urgent bulletin:

But Lightning Lad, learning of the message Saturn Girl received at the beginning of the story, disobeys her orders and heads into space with her, where:

Back at HQ, we learn that Mon-El, still in the Phantom Zone (he would emerge in the next issue), had seen the message, which revealed that a Legion member would die in the battle with Zaryan. Hence Saturn Girl's tyrannical behavior was intended to ensure that only she would die in the battle. We see Lightning Lad's last words:

And his funeral:

And in the next few issues, there was usually some mention of Lightning Lad's bravery:

As well as hints that he might be revived:

Of course, those who had been paying close attention knew that Weisinger had to bring back Lightning Lad, because in a story published about a year earlier, we learned that LL and Saturn Girl had married.

Finally, in Adventure #312, the story was resolved:

In Adventure #304, Mon-El had mentioned that he might be able to find a way to restore Lightning Lad to life on his home planet of Daxam. When he returns, he claims that his trip was in vain, but Saturn Girl senses with her telepathic powers that he's lying. Eventually she learns the secret; while there is a way to revive Lightning Lad (through lightning as shown on the cover), inevitably it kills the person who brings him back to life. So one of the Legionnaires must die. They decide the only fair way is for all of them to take the risk. Saturn Girl apparently gets the short straw:

But it turns out to be Proty:

And a few issues later:

Of course, Lightning Lad's trials and tribulations were far from over in the Silver Age.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Elsewhere in the Comics Sphere

Jacque Nodell gave a paper at a convention on pop culture, about the romantic era (roughly 1968-72) of Lois Lane, Supergirl, and Wonder Woman. Her paper is extremely well-written and worth the read. The main thing I didn't enjoy about that era was that the female protagonists tended to fall in love with rotters, as I discussed in a post on the Diana Prince, secret agent era.

Commander Benson's Deck Log is a terrific blog mostly covering the same era I do, with long detailed posts, and excellent insight into the Silver Age. He has an amusing piece on Mon-El's vulnerability to lead "radiation". I also like this post on the "relevance" era at the Teen Titans.

Gold Key Comics has also been added to the blogroll; I'm a little embarrassed about not having it there before, as I've had Mykal's Star-Studded War Comics listed for a couple of months. How did I miss this one? It's a solid blog with complete stories; check out this posting of Magnus, Robot Fighter #7. Mmmmm, that Russ Manning art is a real treat!

The Legion Omnicon has the complete story of Arm-Fall-Off Boy, perhaps the lad with the most useless super-power of all time.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Two More Fortresses Found!

Mark Engblom did a terrific series back in 2008 on Superman's Fortress of Solitude, concluding with a look at 12 different Fortresses he'd had (in comics and in film), including two that didn't belong to Superman. One belonged to Bizarro, and the other to Krypto. I found a few months later that Supergirl briefly had her own Fortress, but she destroyed it after it was accidentally discovered by an unscrupulous archaeologist.

Here are two more that I've come across recently. Superboy's "Secret Cache 3" is somewhat similar to the Outer Space Fortress over there, but note that that's described as being disguised as a meteor, while this is inside a crater on a barren world:

In World's Finest #156, Bizarro visits Earth and creates the Fortress of Crowds as an answer to Superman:

Update: I should have given Blog Into Mystery a hat-tip on the Secret Cache 3 part of the post; while reading his blog, I noticed a post about the cover to Superboy #109 which encouraged me to read the issue.

Friday, April 09, 2010

The "Don't Worry, There Are No Enemies Here" Covers

These covers became a cliché of the war comics genre, starting in the late 1960s and extending well into the 1970s. Here's a classic example, from Our Army At War #195 (July 1968):

Here we see the classic elements of the DWTANEH cover:

1. Hidden enemies in the foreground.
2. Central "hole" in the cover through which we can see the approaching Americans.
3. Clear statement or belief that the enemies are not there.

Here are a few more examples:

As you can see, the covers pack some dramatic punch. The reader can see something that the approaching GIs can't, that there is about to be a sudden reversal of fortune. A number of these covers feature children, as in the GI Combat issue above, or this one:

The children may give an added sense to the soldiers that everything is okay, that they are not about to be ambushed. You can see the same thing with these covers:

These covers also often feature blinded American soldiers:

This adds a bit to the dramatic tension, as we know that even if the soldiers become aware of the enemy's presence, they will be hard-pressed to do battle.
Similar themes crop up in these covers:

I was unable to find a significant number of these covers prior to about 1968. The Our Army At War #159 cover with the nurse helping Sgt. Rock is from October of 1965, but even that one is arguably atypical, in that Rock is clearly alert and on guard. Similarly, I don't think this February 1960 cover counts:

Here's the exit question. Was the popularity of these covers inversely related to the popularity of the US military among comic-buying kids and teens? As the Vietnam War dragged on, there is little doubt that the image of our armed forces declined, especially after an event like My Lai. Did this give the readers of the time an added perverse enjoyment of covers featuring American soldiers heading into an ambush? Or am I reading too much into this?