Friday, April 29, 2011

Fatman, the Human Flying Saucer #1

Of all the weird titles launched at the end of the Silver Age, this has to be one of the strangest. Milson Publishing (aka Lightning Comics) appeared in 1967, published three issues of this comic and two issues of Super Green Beret, then vanished into the mists. The book did have some sterling credentials behind it, as the creative team was Otto Binder and CC Beck, the men responsible for Captain Marvel in the Golden Age.

Fatman is something of a composite of Captain Marvel, and the other overweight hero of the 1960s, Herbie. Does this ring some bells?

But we quickly learn that Van Crawford has powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Via a flashback, we learn that he was bird-watching one day, when he spotted a flying saucer about to crash. He demonstrates that some of his powers were innate to his avoirdupois form:

As the saucer lands on the tree he knocked down, it changes into an alien. It turns out that it was just testing him to see if he was a suitable candidate for super powers. Sure enough, he passed, and the alien gives him a potion that allows him to turn into a flying saucer at will. He later learns that he can change back just by speaking his own name, much like Captain Marvel could change back to Billy Batson by saying "Shazam!"

In the first issue, he battles some crooks who use jets for their getaways. This makes the "change into a flying saucer" routine useful. Like many superheroes, he gains powers as needed by the script:

And when he encounters a sea monster:

In the third story in the comic, Fatman picks up an ally in the war against crime: a beanpole teen named Lucius Pindle who wants to be stronger. He tries exercise, but he can't even lift a barbell. He tries mixing up a formula in his chemistry set, but it just leaves him with a bad aftertaste. Finally he tries a spell from a book of magic and presto:

At first, he has great fun with his powers as Tin Man, but when a lightning bolt hits him he runs amok. So Fatman assumes he's a villain, and they have a classic Marvel-style battle until Tin Man speaks his own name, causing him to change back into Lucius Pindle again. (Shades of Captain Marvel!)

In the final story, Tin Man battles the sea monster in what appears to be just a friendly match, refereed by Fatman. And for a moment, the monster agrees to join their team, but then:

And that's basically the end of the comic, except for a promise that the next issue will bring some major villains:

Comments: Amusing and lighthearted intro to the series. Why didn't it succeed? I suspect there are several reasons. First, the title is off-putting. The publisher probably thought that noting that the book was produced by the creators of Captain Marvel would overcome this, and it may have gotten some of the older fans interested enough to buy it. But for kids like me, Captain Marvel generally drew a shrug. He had last been published in 1954, and none of his adventures had been reprinted. Most of us only knew him from a line in the Beatles' song, Bungalow Bill. Second, the price point of 25 cents was a little steep for a new character. And third, I suspect they just missed the market by putting this out i early 1967, when all the other publishers had jumped on the superhero bandwagon by 1965.

Update: Booksteve comes by in the comments and notes that the Bungalow Bill song wasn't released until 1968, so I probably would not have heard of Captain Marvel by the time this comic came out. He adds:

I remember I knew who CAPTAIN MARVEL was but I don't know how. I remember very distinctly though that I had heard of him and the "Shazam" thing I know I'd never seen any of the comics.

Perhaps I can answer that. There was one very well-known TV character who used the word "Shazam!" a lot back in the 1960s.


Booksteve said...

I remember I knew who CAPTAIN MARVEL was but I don't know how. I remember very distinctly though that I had heard of him and the "Shazam" thing I know I'd never seen any of the comics.

The Beatles song you mentioned didn't come out until 1968 so that couldn't have been it.

Allan said...

Yeah, as a fan of the wild 'n' wacky 1960s fare, I've got all the Fatman and Super Green Beret comics. Very weird indeed. But the strangest comic character of this vintage has to be the truly bizarre Fruitman :

The first I ever knew of Captain Marvel was the Shazam series from DC. The tv show was never run over here in the UK, so even the "DC TV Comic" logo confused the heck out of me!

Diane said...

I am Homerically unfamiliar with the artists of the Silver Age - or any age, for that matter, being creatively-challenged as I am - but there's something about the art in those excerpts that reminds me very much of the Archie series. Any chance there's something there?

Booksteve said...

Diane, I see what you're saying but no, artist C.C. Beck never worked for Archie Comics. His squeaky clean style would have fit with Archie but he spent the bulk of his comics career drawing the original Captain Marvel in the forties, fifties and seventies.

Steven Thompson

Anonymous said...

Gomer Pyle was presumably in his very late teens or early twenties in the early 1960's (as he was both young enough and old enough to enlist in the US Marine Corps), so he would be the right age to have read Captain Marvel Adventures and Whiz Comics in the late '40's-early '50's.

Anonymous said...

The sea monster at first seemed a recycling of Captain Marvel's old foe King Kull (the last survivor of a prehistoric species, seeking to wipe out the human race). The ending, though, was reminiscent of a Mary Marvel story, "The Triton and the Tunnel," where the antagonist turns out to be a henpecked husband.