Saturday, October 30, 2010

Trivia Quiz #41: Answers

What do they have in common?

1. Stone Boy, the Blob and Metamorpho?
All turned down the opportunity to join one of the superhero teams. Respectively, they passed on the Legion, the X-Men and the Justice League.

2. Batman, Aquaman and Green Arrow?
As usual, my readers came up with one that I hadn't thought of: All were backup features in World's Finest at one point. The intended answer was that all three had caves that they used as their headquarters.

3. Tommy Tomorrow, Congo Bill and the Legion of Super-Heroes?
Ditto with this one. Yes, they were all backups in Action Comics. But they were also bumped to make room for Supergirl. Tommy Tomorrow was bumped with Action #252's introduction of the Lass of Steel, while Congo Bill got the heave-ho in order to expand her feature effective with Action #262. The Legion left Adventure Comics to the Maid of Might in #381.

4. Jimmy Olsen, Robin and Alfred?
They all knew Batman was actually Bruce Wayne. I talked about the big reveal to Jimmy Olsen here.

5. The Joker, the Blue Bowman and the Clock?
All of them had fought Batman originally in different identities. The Joker was the Man in the Red Mask, the Blue Bowman was the Signalman, and the Clock was an ordinary criminal named Kyle.

Jim came, he saw and he conquered all five questions. Michael Rebain got the first four right. Ed got #2 and #3 correct.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Word Count

I did a pair of posts a year or two ago on the number of punches thrown in Batman versus Spiderman, on the basis that Marvel Comics were often perceived as more violent in the Silver Age. What I found surprised me; Batman actually had a slightly higher punch count per page than Spidey.

Another common belief is that Marvel Comics were wordier than DC Comics. Certainly Stan Lee seemed to have been vaccinated with a fountain pen. So I picked an issue of Spiderman at random (ASM #56 as it happens) and actually counted the words. There were 3,288 words on 20 pages, or an average of 164 words per page.

Then I picked the nearest Batman issue chronologically to ASM #56. That turned out to be Batman #197. Ironically, the issues have a common theme: the teaming of the hero with one of his longest-running villains. In Spidey's case, he has amnesia and is conned by Doctor Octopus into helping him steal a critical part for a nullifier that has the power to shut down anything mechanical. In the Batman story, Catwoman joins forces with him in an effort to win his love.

But the word count isn't significantly different in Batman: 3,455 words on 23 pages or about 150 words per page. I noticed a few other things:

1. Word counts went way down during fight scenes. In ASM #56, Spidey and Doc Ock have a battle from pages 14-16; those three pages have the fewest words in the entire comic (with the exception of the splash page). Who needs words when you've got real conflict going on? Ditto with Batman. Here's page 7 of that story:

Excepting the splash page for ASM #56, that page had the fewest words in the two issues.

2. For some reason, Spiderman was wordier in the front end of the comic (1,727 words in the first ten pages) than in the back (1,561 words in the last ten), while Batman had the exact opposite trend with 1,570 words on the first twelve pages and 1,885 words on the last eleven.

3. The most verbose pages had to do with scene transitions. Page 15 of the Batman issue has Batgirl explaining her inability to defeat some crooks (it turns out that the Catwoman had disoriented her), followed by a sequence where Selina Kyle is autographing her new book to adoring crowds. That page had 287 words. Spiderman #56's page 7 starts with Harry and Gwen paying a visit to Aunt May to check on Peter's whereabouts and then cuts to some military men (including JJJ's son) discussing the new threat of Spiderman and Doctor Octopus.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Some Random Thoughts

Did you ever notice that the superheroes that Julius Schwartz resurrected in the Silver Age were the All-American heroes? DC actually was two separate companies for awhile in the 1940s: National, which published Batman and Superman (among others), and All-American, which published the Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Atom and Hawkman (among others). It was not until the Spectre returned in 1966 that Julie brought back a National superhero.

I've talked in the past about the reverence that DC showed for scientists in the Silver Age, with Jor-El as the high priest. Barry Allen and Ray Palmer were also known to wear lab coats on the job. But what about Marvel? Reed Richards, Hank Pym, Bruce Banner and Tony Stark all had slide rules strapped to their belts, and Peter Parker originally went to Empire State U on a science scholarship.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trivia Quiz #41: What Do They Have In Common?

1. Stone Boy, the Blob and Metamorpho?

2. Batman, Aquaman and Green Arrow?

3. Tommy Tomorrow, Congo Bill and the Legion of Super-Heroes?

4. Jimmy Olsen, Robin and Alfred?

5. The Joker, the Blue Bowman and the Clock?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Romantic Adventures #138

I've said it before and I'll say it again; ACG is the great unknown comic book publisher of the Silver and Golden Age. It's unknown because they (mostly) didn't put out any superhero books. But some fine art, and terrific stories featuring quirky characters put Richard Hughes' mags on the top shelf for me.

This is the final issue of My Romantic Adventures, which lasted a total of fifteen years, from 1949-1964. The opening story is It's Never too Late to Love, and illustrates perfectly why I love the ACG line so much. Meg Foster had grown up plain, unlike her older sister, Dulcy. Dulcy married and moved overseas, where she had a daughter. Meanwhile, Meg started working in a department store as a sales clerk. But she had ideas:

She is soon promoted to head of the department. But when she returns home that evening, she gets bad news. Dulcy and her husband have died in a car crash, and their daughter, Clarice, is coming to live with her. Meg sacrifices herself to make sure that her niece gets everything:

Fortunately the promotions just keep coming for Meg, so she's able to agree when Clarice wants to go to an expensive prep school. But there's still one thing missing in her life, and Meg realizes what it is:

It turns out that Stanley is impressed with Meg's work and her softer side as well, and they begin dating, and become engaged. Clarice comes home for a vacation and Meg realizes that she's developed into a lovely woman. But you can probably see the fly heading towards the ointment here:

Sure enough, Meg comes home from getting fitted for a wedding dress to find:

Clarice insists that she loves Stanley and that they plan to get married, so Meg buries her own dreams and starts to help plan things. But:

And the wedding dress has to be the most expensive and the flowers and the gifts for the bridesmaids, etc. Meg soon realizes that her niece is likely to bankrupt her with the lavish plans. And is she really in love with Stanley, or does she just want him for his money? So she lays a trap:

She plays the recording for her niece, pretending it's coming over the radio. The "news" is that Stanley has been fired from his job over losses in the stock market and is now penniless. Sure enough, Clarice announces haughtily that she's dumping him, until she realizes that the recording was just a trick. But when Meg announces that she's going to fight for Stanley, she claims that he never really loved her and that he thinks of her as an old maid. Just then:

So Meg and Stanley are on again, and Clarice isn't heading back to that exclusive boarding school:

Comments: Wow! What a total beeeyatch Clarice is; Meg should have given her the old heave-ho years ago, although you could argue that she was partly to blame by spoiling her niece as a youngster. Overall a very entertaining story, and the ending is very satisfying due to the terrific characterization of Meg.

The second story is a brief advice bit:

Nothing objectionable in there, and note that it even suggests that the woman stand up for herself; not bad by 1964 standards.

The next story is the cover feature, and it's a weird one. A man and a woman fight over a taxi (a classic plot-starter), but agree to share the ride when the cabbie points out they're both going to Grand Central Station. The cabbie decides to push things forward a bit:

But when he plays some music on the radio, they both reminisce about a romance in their past where they were jilted. Ah, they have something in common! The next stage for the cabbie is to show them that he has a TV they can watch, featuring the story of a man coming home to his wife:

What the heck? That's the end of the story; they never do explain how the couple ended up on the television, or the whole bit with the cab apparently flying around erratically. I can only assume that we're intended to see the cabbie as some sort of magical being who could make anything happen.

The last story is about women who are just begging to be jilted by their boyfriends, taken from the files of a marriage consultant. The first girl is too much of a manager:

The second one is a spendthrift:

The third is a liar, while the fourth continues to flirt with other men after her engagement. The moral of the story?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Not Birds of a Feather

The cultural and historical significance of this issue is pretty obvious. Back in 1968, the battle over the Vietnam War was raging in America. Dick Giordano had just arrived at DC, bringing with him some of the talent he'd had at Charlton, including two guys named Steve: Ditko and Skeates. With Ditko handling the art chores and Skeates the dialogue, the concept of the Hawk and the Dove was born.

Hank and Don Hall are about as different as two brothers can be. Don is a man of peace, while his brother believes that might makes right. The story starts with them on opposite sides of a demonstration at the local college:

Meanwhile, their father, a local judge, is sentencing a hoodlum to jail. The crook vows revenge and it is not long in coming:

The three survive the attempted murder, but the judge is injured enough to require hospitalization. The next day, Hank spots the bomb thrower. Don wants to call a cop, but his brother insists on following the man. They trail him to an old warehouse, but get trapped inside a locked room, where they overhear the plans to kill their father in his sickbed. They try to open the door, or a window, but their efforts come to naught. In desperation Don wishes that they had super-powers and:

As superhero origins go it's not terribly credible, but you know how that is; credible is being bitten by a radioactive spider. It's certainly a desirable origin; all you had to do was wish for it hard enough and if you were one of the chosen ones, you'd be turned into a powerful being. They confront the villains at the hospital:

Well, you can probably guess the problem with being the "Dove" of this duo; you're not going to get much respect from crooks by telling them that they should give up. Indeed, Don is quickly defenestrated:

Fortunately a convenient flagpole saves him and he returns to the hospital room in time to save his dad. But he has his hands full:

But they are stunned to hear their father's reaction to their super-deeds:

Hank still wants to fight criminals with their new abilities, but Don wants no part of fighting and is dismayed by his dad's words.

Their solo series lasted for only six issues, but they managed to jump over to Teen Titans for a year or so.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Hulk 102-107

Rather than go into detail about the plots of these issues, I'd prefer to take a broad-brush approach. Hulk #102 was the first issue of the Hulk's own title, following the splitting of Tales to Astonish into separate mags for Greenskin and the Sub-Mariner. As you can see from the cover, it contains a retelling of the Hulk's origin, rather oddly and in rhyme by an Asgard Oracle:

In that first issue, the Hulk helps defeat an invasion of Asgard by forces led by the Enchantress and the Executioner, then is returned to Earth by Odin. In #103, he faces the Space Parasite (which seems pretty much like a knock-off of the Parasite, a Superman villain of a year or so earlier). He's a former king of an alien world who subjected himself to an experimental treatment in order to defeat an invasion force, but who found himself transformed into a being that needs constant battle in order to stay alive. Needless to say, the Hulk provides plenty of that; indeed, the Space Parasite is defeated.

In #104, some crooks bring back the Rhino, an old Spiderman villain. Like all super-criminals, he is new and improved:

His assignment is to kidnap Bruce Banner, who is currently being held by the authorities and subdued by drugs to prevent him transforming into the Hulk. But of course the process of kidnapping him elevates his blood pressure and he battles the Rhino, apparently killing the villain (hah!).

In #105 and #106, the Hulk fights the Missing Link, a caveman who had come to light in Red China following a nuclear explosion. At the end of #105, Rick Jones, using a ray gun constructed by Reed Richards from plans created by Bruce Banner, turns the Hulk back into BB, just as the Missing Link is getting free of a bunch of debris that the Hulkster had dumped on him. Is this the end?

Well, no, it's just a cliffhanger, for when the Missing Link attacks Banner in the next issue, he turns back into the Green Giant. Meanwhile, a Russian counterpart to Nick Fury named Alexi Brevlov kidnaps the two behemoths onto his flying ship (which looks very much like SHIELD's helicarrier). But as he tries to transport them back to the USSR, they break free. The Missing Link dies and Brevlov is ordered to kill the Hulk (although he does not want to do so, as the Hulk had saved him in the crash of the flying ship).

In the final issue of this run, the Hulk finds himself transported to a remote section of Communist China. The Mandarin wants to control him; you can imagine how that works out.

The series sees several changes in the creative team during this run. The first few issues are scripted by Gary Friedrich, then Bill Everett and Roy Thomas for one issue, then Archie Goodwin and Roy, then back to Gary Friedrich. Initially it's Marie Severin on the pencils with Tuska inks. Then in #106, Herb Trimpe's long association with the Hulk begins. He's inked in that first issue by Tuska, but that pairing didn't seem to be working well:

A little too cartoon-like for Marvel, I'd say. The following issue featured Syd Shores on inks, a much better combination, although that didn't last either, as Johnny Severin took over with #108.

Friedrich's scripts emphasized that the Hulk was a man of peace, hounded by society until he lashed out:

It seems a bit of a stretch but then peace was a big part of the zeitgeist of 1968, when these issues appeared.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lois Lane #18

In the first story, Lois finds herself playing second banana to The Star Reporter of Metropolis. Mary Kenyon, a young college graduate, applies for a job at the Daily Planet. Perry's unimpressed with her clippings and tied up with plans for a major motion picture on the newspaper, so he turns the youngster down.

But Lois demonstrates her occasional admirable side:

Well, you can probably guess how that turns out; in short order Mary Kenyon, aided quite a bit by Superman, has a frequent byline on the front page of the Planet:

And when she coaxes a deaf man down from a ledge using sign language, it looks like Lois is headed for the features section. Then she gets a tip on the location of the most wanted man in the country. You've got to admire her courage, while questioning her common sense:

But Superman shows up in the nick of time to save her. And it turns out that Mary Kenyon's actually:

Yep, it was all a scheme so that Dolly could enact her role as Lois in the Daily Planet movie believably. Incidentally, the cast for the movie included Clark Gable as Perry, Rock Hudson as Clark, and Dwayne (Dobie Gillis) Hickman as Jimmy Olsen.

The second story is The Sleeping Doom. Superman makes his all-too-frequent mistake of giving a friend something from outer space:

Perry drops the jewel a little later and it breaks into three pieces. No problem, now Jimmy and Lois can each have their own fragment. That night, as they are sleeping, Perry and Jimmy are taken over by aliens within the jewel. Lois only escapes because she has to pull an all-nighter in order to finish an article for the paper. The next morning, Perry suggests that she reward herself with a nap, but she overhears him and Jimmy conferring:

So she decides to stay awake until Superman returns from a mission to outer space. Unfortunately, that won't be for ten more days, so she's forced to drink lots of coffee and other desperate measures:

Fortunately Superman returns just as she's about to fall asleep, and foils the alien plot.

The third story is the cover feature. An alien ship lands on Earth and Lois climbs aboard and meets Astounding Man. He's worshiped her from afar for years, in a rather creepy fashion:

We see some of the wonders of his home world:

As it happens, the New York Times reported just the other day on a prototype of just such a vehicle that Google is working on. Eventually Lois agrees to wed Astounding Man, even though he warns her that he has a secret. When she insists she loves him for the inner man, not his outward appearance, he does the big reveal:

Yep, Astounding Man was just an android being controlled by Oogamooga. Since she has given her word, she goes through with the wedding, but it turns out that the Lois who gets married is also an android. Cute ending:

Overall comments: This issue illustrates perfectly many of the continuing themes of the Silver Age Superman: the occasional selflessness of Lois, Superman's frequent mistakes involving objects from space, and the wonders of future technology. Very entertaining!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Superman #112

The opening story is Superman's Neighbors. The plot concept is obviously cribbed from the famed Alfred Hitchcock movie, Rear Window. In that film, Jimmy Stewart plays a professional photographer with a broken leg, who passes his recuperation time by observing the other tenants of his apartment building, eventually realizing that one of his neighbors (Raymond Burr) has killed his wife.

In the Superman story, we learn that Clark Kent lives at 344 Clinton Street in Metropolis, and that one of his pastimes is to help out his neighbors with their problems. For example, he helps Joe Rollins, an artist, come up with an idea for a cover of a science-fiction magazine, and saves the dog of Ethel Cane from being run over by a truck. And when it comes to lame Tommy Snead, he helps the boy achieve his dream of being able to jump higher and run faster than the other kids, at least temporarily:

When a young woman spurns an offer of marriage from a man because she's in love with Superman, Clark arranges a date for her with the Man of Steel. She finds out quickly that she doesn't have his undivided attention:

But one of his neighbors turns out to be an amateur detective. Is he onto the fact that Clark is Superman? Nope, instead he suspects him of being a criminal, but Superman explains that Kent is helping him, which explains his mysterious comings and goings. And at the end of the story:

Comments: Superb characterization for Superman in an interesting, human-centered tale.

The second story features Luthor. Superman discovers that his uniform is causing weird changes around him, like turning metal into wood. It's because of a ray that Luthor's shining on him. But eventually he figures out what's going on and imprisons the crook. It's a short story (6 pages) even by Silver Age standards, and doesn't have much drama.

The finale is the cover story. Lois and Clark are amazed at a nightclub act featuring three strongmen who bill themselves as Hercules, Atlas and Samson. They demonstrate super-strength that Clark, using his X-Ray vision, can see is not phony. Lois spots their manager collecting the nights' gate receipts and follows him back to a laboratory, where she sees him give super-strength to a monkey using a ray machine. While the manager's away, she doses herself to great effect:

But Superman discovers that the effect is only temporary, and thus he has to save Atlas and company, as well as Lois, when their strength deserts them at a critical moment. It turns out the men had paid the manager $10,000 apiece for the treatments, in the belief they would be permanent. Superman catches the man before he can escape with their money.

Comments: One of the many stories in the Silver Age where Lois gains super-powers herself; I should try to catalog all of them.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Before They Were Marvels

Reader Jeff Daugherty of Princeton, Kentucky, notes that many of the famed Silver Age characters from the House of Ideas debuted on the covers of Atlas Comics (Marvel's forerunner):

Jeff writes that he's been collecting comics since the mid-1960s. Great post!