Friday, May 28, 2010

Fantastic Four Fridays: Puppet Subby

There are so many things wrong with that cover, starting with the fact that I really don't need to see the Sub-Mariner's butt so prominently featured. Note that Sue, who's a little closer to us than Subby, looks about three feet tall.

As the story begins, the FF is returning from their trip to the moon, as shown in FF #13. They're mobbed by the public and the media, giving Stan and Jack their usual opportunity to show us their powers on the fly:

After they get back to the Baxter Building, Reed catches Sue mooning over the Sub-Mariner.

And it turns out that she's not the only one thinking about Prince Namor. The Puppet Master, who apparently died at the end of FF #8 is still alive and is planning to use Subby as his weapon against the FF. Namor summons Sue to meet him via a "Mentofish" which can communicate via telepathy with any person on Earth.

Here's a little clue, Sue. If you're sneaking around on your fiance to see somebody, odds are you really do care for that somebody.

When she meets him at the docks, he gains control of her with a hypnofish, and sends her to his undersea lair. Of course, it's really the Puppet Master pulling the strings:

A classic "evil genius" moment if ever there was one.

An apparition of the Sub-Mariner appears in FF HQ to inform them of Sue's capture. Reed, Ben and Johnny head off in search of Prince Namor, with the convenient-for-plot-purposes addition of Alicia. Subby captures them with the aid of yet another improbable form of sea life:

Mentofish, hypnofish, and chloroclams; Namor's got them all! And another to help him handle the Torch:

Meanwhile, Sue is being menaced by a giant octopus, which gives Reed the clue that Namor is being controlled by another. Ben attacks the beast and hurls it off into the depths, where it encounters... you guessed it:

But he discovers that the octopus is mindless, and thus immune to his control. It apparently kills him, releasing Namor from his mental control.

Comments: A sub-par issue. I never cared much for the Puppet Master, and the Sub-Mariner's convenient sea creatures get less and less believable as the story goes on.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mystery In Space #81

This book has a lot to offer, with a three-chapter story by Gardner Fox, lots of flashback material and scintillating art by Infantino and Anderson. It's understandably overshadowed by some of the other issues around this period; Planet that Came to a Standstill from #75 and Planets in Peril from #90 are on anybody's short list for the best comics of the Silver Age. But this is an entertaining, if ultimately flawed issue.

The story starts with Adam Strange encountering a New York City policeman, who recognizes him from earlier meetings:

This of course raises the question of how did a NYPD officer see Adam disappear not once, but twice, given the fact that the Zeta Beam only hits in the southern hemisphere?

So I looked at the two stories in question. In the first, Adam is grabbed by some sort of time beam into the future, and then hit by the Zeta Beam. And in the second, Sardath has invented a new beam that can pick up Adam without running the risk of hitting something else. Unfortunately, this only works for that one issue, as Sardath explains:

But in #81, as Adam is trying to explain himself to Officer Boyle, he suddenly spots Alanna walking in New York. After satisfying the cop by parking his car legally, Adam catchs up to her and she explains that Sardath had improved the Zeta Beam so it could take her across to Earth. At the bottom of the page, there's this:

That is a beautiful bit of art by Infantino and Anderson; it's moody and creates the desire in the reader to learn just who it is that awaits the Zeta Beam in Adam's place.

It turns out to be a former dictator of Rann who had been asleep for 1000 years, who introduces himself to Alanna (?) here:

He apparently disintegrates her. We get a long background bit about how Ranagar and Zared had battled it out in a nuclear war that neither won. Now Zar (note the pronunciation is probably equal to "czar") is back with a super-weapon:

That's an iconic Infantino pose; I'd bet I can come up with a dozen or more panels just like that. We learn that Xar has the ability to absorb all the memories of any person. He transfers her memories to an earthling girl who happens to match Alanna's physical appearance best, and arranges for her to be on the scene in New York to capture Adam's attention. Thus Adam doesn't bother meeting the Zeta Beam, making it possible for Xar to ride to Rann instead.

We get some interesting bits of the Alanna/Adam romance, marred a bit by the fact that it's not really Alanna:

But it does highlight a significant difference between their romance and that of so many other characters in the Silver Age. Adam and Alanna had no secrets from each other. They were ready, almost anxious to get married. Indeed, one of the cliches of the series was the ending where Adam and Alanna start to kiss, and the Zeta Beam wears off, sending him back to Earth.

But then, as they're attending the opening of the Adam Strange wing of the Metropolitan Museum, suddenly everyone on Earth but Adam is frozen stiff. This strikes me as a callback to Planet That Came to a Standstill, where the same thing happened, only on Rann, not Earth.

By checking at the Pentagon, Adam learns that the first people to be frozen stiff were on Tasmania. He goes there and discovers an odd-looking weapon. But as he flies back through the Pacific, he encounters the evil-looking cloud creature shown on the cover. There follows a several-page battle between the two which seems likely to end in Adam's death until:

But when Adam returns to New York, "Alanna" has recovered her own memories. He quickly catches the next Zeta Beam, where he learns of Alva Xar's trickery. But this time the fight is very unequal:

How can Adam defeat Xar? Apparently by giving up:

Overall I enjoyed the story, although it seemed a bit padded. It never really was explained how the cloud creature came to be (it was apparently created by the cyber-ray), or why it froze everything on the planet it appeared on. And of course, Adam willed the creature to disappear, not to go back into the raygun.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Adventure #299

This is an imaginary story. The first two pages tell the familiar origin of Superman, taking us to the point where the Kents drop him off at the orphanage while they try to adopt him. However, before they can:

So the government gets hold of him and the military sees him as a potential weapon but:

Of course he breaks free. But when he seeks out the Kents, he makes a few mistakes:

So they don't want him either. Eventually he encounters an aspiring tyrant:

So they do the classic "We'll pretend to love him so that he'll help us take over the world," routine, but inevitably he discovers their real feelings towards him. Eventually he leaves Earth and becomes the greatest hero on another world. But he's always wondered what would have happened if he grew up with the Kents, so he heads back to find out, but runs into a curious golden meteor:

So when he lands on Earth, he's lost his superpowers. The Kents still adopt him and:

Comments: An offbeat, oddball tale, that still illustrates some of the recurring themes in the DC Silver Age. The curious workings of fate conspire to make Clark need glasses and to become the weakling that he always pretended to be in the "real" stories. And second, this turns out to be the first appearance of gold Kryptonite:

This is the last issue for the Tales of the Bizarro World; effective with #300 the backup feature (soon promoted to the lead) was the Legion of Super-Heroes. The title should bring back some memories to Boomers:

This is a reference to the old TV show, Car 54 Where Are You, which had one of the great song intros of all time:

There's a holdup in the Bronx,
Brooklyn's broken out in fights,
There's a traffic jam in Harlem
That's backed up to Jackson Heights
There's a scout troop short a child,
Kruschev's due at Idlewild...
Car 54, where are you?

In the story, Bizarro #1 and his son vacation on Earth as police officers, where they are under the command of Captain Bloke (the real commanding officer in Car 54 was Captain Block). They perform terribly, as indicated by this scene where they supposedly frisk a prisoner:

But since they are invulnerable and super-strong he finds himself unable to get rid of them. But when he's struck on the head and becomes convinced they are good officers, he gives them a golden badge, which of course:

Comments: Nothing special, but the cultural mention of Car 54 does give this story an added something.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tentative Writer ID?

Over at Commander Benson's Deck Log, there's a fine post on a terrific Superman story from Action #288. When I checked with the Grand Comics database, there was no writer information, but I strongly suspect it's Edmond Hamilton, based on similar endings to other stories.

Here's the finale to that story:

Somewhat similar sentiments were expressed at the end of the Tiger Man story from Batman #93, which the GCD attributes to Hamilton:

This respect for the past is something of a rarity in comics. It also popped up in the Batman story in Detective #220, which the GCD tentatively credits to Bill Finger, but which I assume also came from Hamilton:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Super-Swipe #3

In Adventure #290, Sun Boy made a guest appearance in the Superboy story. But it was a major sub-plot of that story that was recycled from an earlier Superboy story in Adventure Comics. Here's page 2 from Adventure #290:

And here's the second page from Adventure #191 (99 issues or a little over eight years earlier):

As you can see, the artwork is different, but the dialog is virtually copied word for word. In both stories, the other Clark Kent attempts to steal a bottle of milk from the milkman, who recognizes him and wrongly assumes that he's just saving him a trip to the Kent's house. In both stories, Ma Kent lets him into the house and tells him to get ready for school. On the way to school, in both stories Lana Lang tests Clark to see if he's Superboy and learns that he's not invulnerable. And in both stories, the new Clark learns Superboy's real identity, and is reformed.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Superman #214

Nobody would call this one a classic story; in fact it's pretty goofy. But it was very influential in getting me interested in chasing down back issues, and so I thought it would be a good one to mention.

The story opens with Superman 3000 feet underground, mining for "dilonthium crystals" needed by the Metropolis Geological Institute. While there, he encounters a spectral figure:

Later, another ghost menaces Lois:

And still later:

Eventually Superman realizes that someone must be responsible for these ghostly apparitions, and so he demands that person show himself. And sure enough:

See, Nador wanted to join this exclusive interplanetary club, but he's too nerdy-looking, so they set him an impossible task: Bring Superman to his knees. But Nador does even better:

So the story itself is rather insipid, but what jazzed me back in late 1968 when I read it were the flashbacks to earlier issues. Superman had this impressive array of foes I had never heard about? It helped greatly that I was able to obtain the Zha-Vam trilogy a couple of months later, and around the same time, DC reprinted the Metallo story.

The backup tale is a reprint, explaining how Clark Kent got his job at the Daily Planet; most of the Weisinger-edited mags had gone to this "half-original, half-reprint" format as an apparent cost-saving maneuver; the first 15 cent issue was just around the corner (#218).

Friday, May 07, 2010

Stan's Soapbox

As I have discussed in the past, one of the more durable features to start in the Silver Age was the Bullpen Bulletins page, where Stan would let us know who just had a baby, who just bought a new sports car, and along the way would put in plugs for all of Marvel's magazines.

In June of 1967, a new feature appeared on the page:

As you can see, it was just more plugola. The next month, Stan turned the soapbox over to Mark Evanier, who had a suggestion:

This of course was adopted by Marvel, and every letters page for years had this section at the bottom:

The shape of Soapboxes to come was presaged in Stan's missive for October 1967:

Obviously Stan was pro-civil rights and with regard to increased crime, we can assume he was against it. But Vietnam? I have read almost all the Marvel Silver Age, and while Stan was stridently anti-communist in the early 1960s (especially in the Iron Man series), by the mid-1960s the commie villains had mostly disappeared. We didn't really know where stood Stan on the war in Southeast Asia. Hoo-boy would that change!

The following month, Stan wrote about how he lived and breathed with his characters; their problems were his problems. Then came a post about the Marvel-DC (referred to as Brand Ecch) rivalry, where Stan said that he didn't see himself as catering to the same audience. Marvel's readers were bright, imaginative, informal and sophisticated (and they were all above-average). DC's product was pablum for the kiddies before they graduated to his titles.

The next month there was a plug for the new Captain Marvel series he was launching, followed by an explanation of the Comics Code Authority. Then came a notice about the updated mastheads of Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish, etc.

In April of 1968, Stan announced that he was dropping the "Brand Echh" references to DC. The following month Stan issued a teaser for the next month's soapbox, in which he announced the forthcoming publication of the Spectacular Spiderman, an over-sized comic book on higher quality paper selling for 35 cents. Unfortunately, the experiment apparently didn't sell, as only two issues were printed.

October's issue featured an update on the bullpen's take on the political issues of the day:

Stan kicked it down the road, but only until the next issue:

And, as promised, the next issue featured Stan's thoughts on bigotry:

Then followed a defense of comic books as entertainment. Stan really wasn't tackling the tough subjects yet. The next month Stan took back a recently instituted policy of not replying to the letters published in Marvel Comics. He had previously requested shorter letters (no more than one page), explaining that he actually read each missive. Then came a short bit about how he came up with story ideas, followed by a plea for people to stop using labels and a bit of moral relativism about how even the Marvel bad guys had good qualities.

The next month, Stan apologized for not giving the Inhumans their own book yet. Then came a bit about how the words of the apostles of love (Buddha, Jesus Christ and... Moses?) resonated centuries later, while the proponents of hate had their words die with them. Then came an explanation for why Stan didn't alert his readers to upcoming appearances on TV and radio by himself and other members of the bullpen. It was simply that they didn't have enough advance notice.

In August of 1969, Marvel raised the price of their mags to 15 cents and Stan explained:

The following month, Stan explained that in the event a Thor crossover with Nick Fury, Agent of Shield came in the latter's mag, that we shouldn't be concerned that in Thor's own mag he'd been off in Asgard or somewhere else. The stories weren't taking place at the exact same time.

In October of 1969, Stan announced the ending of continued stories; each issue was going to be self-contained. Of course, that didn't last long at all.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Double Hockey Sticks

One of the odder aspects of the Silver Age Superman was the fascination Mort Weisinger and his writers developed with the initials LL. From the very first appearance of Superman, the love interest had always been Lois Lane. And in the Superboy adventures, his snoopy next-door neighbor was Lana Lang. But in the Silver Age, the LL's really started to take over. For example, we learned of Clark Kent's college sweetheart, Lori Lemaris:

Action #252 saw the debut of Supergirl. While Kara Zor-El doesn't have two Ls in her name, her secret identity was established as Linda Lee. In Action #272, we learned that there is a double of Supergirl on another planet, whose secret identity is Lea Lindy.

In Lois Lane #20 (October 1960), Clark decides to get rid of Lois the pest by flying back in time to the date he came to the Daily Planet office, and going instead to take a job as a deejay at a radio station. His secretary there is a gal named Liza Landis, who turns out to be an even worse snoop than Lois. Be sure to read that post to the end to see that Superman retained his irrational prejudice against the horizontally challenged. Hat tip: Michael Rebain.

In Superman #141 (November 1960), Superman accidentally flies back to Krypton before it exploded, meets his parents, and falls in love with a movie actress:

As far as I know this is the first time that the LL coincidence was noted in a story.

In Action #289, Supergirl tries to set up her cousin with a female superhero from another world:

But it turned out that the yellow rays of our sun were poisonous to her, and so she had to return to her home planet. Hat tip: Michael Rebain.

In Superman #157, he receives a machine from an alien world that can predict the future. One of the predictions is that he will be saved that day by an LL. Bizarro "gives" him a chunk of Kryptonite which starts to kill him. Which LL will save him, he wonders:

But as it turns out, a young baseball player by the name of Steve Snappin saves him. Was the machine wrong?

In Superman #165, he loses his memory and becomes Jim White, a cowboy on a ranch owned by the father of this gal:

Oddly, however, she's another SS, instead of an LL, although there are some Ls in her name: Sally Selwyn.

Adventure #333 (June 1965) includes a segment where Superboy meets the distant ancestors of the Atlanteans including a pretty brunette:

Jim pointed this one out to me in an email:

I didn't mention Lucy Lane or Lex Luthor. Jim also points out this gal:

In Action #321 (February 1965), Superman is trapped on a red sun world where he's the weakest man, and Lahla falls for him. But (amusingly) once they make it back to Earth she has no interest in him, as he's now the mightiest man around.

And this "gal":

Of course it's really Jimmy Olsen, from issue #67 (March 1963) of his self-titled mag.

Any more LLs that should be added to this list? I've always been a bit surprised that Light Lass didn't attract Superboy's attention.

Update: An early one, from Action #215 (April, 1956):

Lyra Lee (in 2956) turns out to be a secret identity pest for the Superman of that era, just like Lois a millennium earlier. And another mermaid from Action #244: