Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Monday, March 28, 2011

It's Hard to Believe, But...

I mentioned in my post on Henry Boltinoff that the exceptions to the DC mags that carried his gags included the comics edited by Julius Schwartz. Schwartz preferred educational fillers like this one:

Does anybody really believe that a steel ball would bounce higher than a rubber ball of the same size? Maybe if you dropped them both on a rubber surface, but not on a sidewalk as shown in that panel.

These features appeared regularly in Green Lantern. Flash, of course, had Amazing Speeds:

When Schwartz took over the editor's desk on Batman he emphasized detective-oriented fillers like this one:

While the Atom, no surprise, featured tiny factoids:

Friday, March 25, 2011

Are You Ready for Freddy?

Karl at the House of Cobwebs wrote a couple of posts about this series and so I decided to check it out for myself. Freddy is obviously intended as a knock-off of the Archie series, but with some oddball differences. For starters, Archie is reasonably admirable and upright; Freddy has, shall we say, a more ambiguous moral code.

In the first story in this issue, Freddy encounters his buddy Stuff, with a gallon of some foul-smelling perfume, which gives him an idea:

I'm not saying that Archie would be above such a prank, but at least he'd wait until Reggie did something to provoke him. As it happens, Rip gives the bottle to Peggy, Freddy's adored object, but something goes wrong:

So Freddy decides to give her an even bigger bottle of the stuff, but by that time her sense of smell returns (she had a cold) and so she's annoyed at both of them. He sells the rest of the bottle to Rip on the basis that Peggy liked it. Rip finds out it works as a great insecticide, and Freddy buys it back at twice the price. But when he offers to use it to protect Mrs Van Bank Vault's roses:

So Freddy tosses it in the dump, but a passing hobo notes that it melts (sic) tin cans and decides to use it as a trash eradicator, presumably becoming rich.

Archie had L'il Jinx, Freddy has the Little Wise Guy for a quick "gag":

There are two of these fillers in the comic, and they both follow the same formula; LWG has a problem, solves it, and (improbably) makes money.

The second Freddy story again highlights his lack of morals. There's an art contest, with the winner getting a trip to New York City as the prize. One problem: Freddy's got no talent and the teacher in charge of judging the paintings insists on realism. So Freddy gets a bright idea:

The teacher is so taken with Freddy's work that he awards it first place. One problem:

Freddy takes back the frame, explaining:

But the teacher is not so easily deterred:

Comments: Yuck! As you know, I judge comics from the Silver Age on the curve, with allowances that this was throwaway kid's entertainment. I'm more interested in solid characterization rather than depth of plot or intricacy of artwork. But this story is terrible on characterization. Not only is Freddy a cheater and a serial liar, but he gets away with it in the end! I can't help but wonder why we are supposed to be rooting for Freddy (besides the fact that his name is on the cover).

The next story features Simple Saima (a young woman). She's tired of her boyfriend Dummy Dooley and wants to meet Rock Boulder, the cowboy TV star, who's staying at a nearby resort. She's rather forward in her approach:

But Saima means "hoss" riding and she doesn't take no for an answer, resulting in Rock being shoved onto the most ornery horse in the stables. He has a wild ride and in the end confesses:

He explains that he has stunt doubles who do the riding for him. Disgusted, Saima goes back to Dummy Dooley. He may be stupid but at least he doesn't need a double.

Comments: The cowboy star who doesn't really ride is something of a cliche these days, and I suspect it was back then as well.

Remember the "free prizes" mentioned on the cover? Here they are:

Yep, for only 120 corners from Charlton comics, you could get a free tee shirt. Such a deal! Note that if you bought just one comic and sent 60 cents, you could get the same shirt, so they're essentially valuing those extra 119 comics at 60 cents, or about 1/2 a penny each. Judging from the quality of this issue that seems a little generous. ;)

The final story is another Freddy story. His angry neighbor, Mr Tantrum, doesn't believe in UFOs:

So Freddy dangles a flying saucer he got for 120 Charlton corners (just kidding; the actual text says five box tops from a cereal brand) in front of Mr Tantrum's window. But his neighbor (who's apparently a little nearsighted) assumes it's a bug and sprays it with insecticide. Freddy inhales a bit of the fumes and falls of the roof:

So while Mr Tantrum may be rational about some things, he's still got his "woo" side.

Overall, the comic is oddly entertaining, in a perverse sort of way. It's not "so bad it's good," and it's certainly not good. The artwork by Jon D'Agostino is above average for Charlton's somewhat low standards if nothing special, and the stories are reasonably coherent.

Monday, March 21, 2011

I Can't Imagine Why An Adolescent Boy Would Want... Oh, Snap!

Considering the generally G-rated fare of Silver Age comics, there were certainly enough of these types of advertisement that seemed aimed at more prurient adolescent fantasies than being a superhero. Most of the ads included an attractive woman, just in case your own imagination didn't trigger all the possible uses Spy-Pen or similar devices had for you.

The "scientific optical principle" that the X-ray specs really worked under apparently was simply that a small feather inside the glasses made you think you were seeing something you weren't.

You've gotta love the zombie-like way she's got her hands out in front of her.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mystery In Space #81: Another Viewpoint

About a year ago I reviewed Mystery in Space #81. Reader M. Hamilton has some more thoughts on that issue:

That's what "Avatar" and "Alice in Wonderland" were about--going into new realms. new worlds. (Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios President)

That describes the appeal for me of "The Cloud-Creature That Menaced Two Worlds."

Although I enjoyed the recent article on that issue, I was surprised that it didn't include any of the panels which make that issue such an unforgettable visual experience.

When it comes to entering "new realms, new worlds", take a look at the first panel of page 17:

The detail of the background with its narrow color palette of pink, orange and lavender creates a visual impact that, over four decades later, I simply cannot forget. When the story was reprinted in Strange Adventures #241 exactly ten years later, the background was colored differently in light pastel tints which provided a better contrast to Adam's red costume and in no way diminished the beauty of the panel:

If DC ever had an old-fashioned coloring contest, that is the panel which they should use.

Other great panels include:

- Page 12 (the last four panels) which portray Adam falling into an erupting volcanic crater with its searing heat and seething smoke :

- Page 13 (the last two panels) where you can almost hear the hissing of Adam's ray-gun turning water into vapor:

Could anyone ever draw natural phenomena like Infantino? And his work somehow never that had a cluttered look no matter how much detail had been packed into the page or panel:

Concerning the cover of MIS #81, it's totally ridiculous except for the background color. The top edge is an intense lavender which becomes diffused and becomes a light lilac color as it gets lower on the cover. It suggests a desert dawn/dusk and to see a mint cover with its sheen enhancing this color effect is a sight to behold:

That color effect reminds me of the cover of MIS #59 which has an intense green along the top edge, but which get lighter as the eye goes down:

Considering that we are living in times when visual imagery is competing with plot in movies (e.g., Avatar). re-examining the artistic glories of "The Cloud-Creature That Menaced Two Worlds" makes one realize just how far ahead of his time Infantino was.

Comments by Pat: All excellent points! Definitely one of my flaws as a comics blogger at times is the insufficient attention paid to the artwork. M. Hamilton clearly lingered over the drawings on this one. That first page of the third chapter really is something to behold.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How Old Is Superman?

Here's an oddity that consistently pops up in the Superman family of magazines. I'd guess that whatever age we thought Superman was when we were kids, nowadays we'd put him in his mid-late 20s at the youngest. It doesn't really make a whole lot of sense for him to be much younger than that. For starters, we are always told that Clark is one of the top reporters for the Daily Planet, a major metropolitan newspaper. It is often mentioned that he has won numerous prizes for his reporting, and it is clear that he was graduated from Metropolis University, which means that he could not have started his career much before age 22.

However, there are problems. In the advertisements for Lois Lane #1, they gave her age:

Okay, so let's assume that maybe Clark/Superman is a little older than Lois. This makes some sense; it explains why he seems less interested in her than she is in him. It also might explain her frequently zany antics and risk-taking behavior.

But even this solution has its drawbacks. For starters, it was established in the early Superman stories that Lois was a reporter at the Planet before Clark arrived there. And indeed, there are several Silver Age stories that confirm this. For example, in Superman #133, there's a story that tells how Clark got his job at the Planet, including this scene:

So maybe Clark earned his chops at some smaller newspaper, before going to work in the big city? That's arguable, but the problem is that there are many stories which establish that Lois and he are the same age (or at least very close). For example, in Superboy #90, there's a story about how Lana was able to look into the future and observe the "romance" between Superman and Lois Lane. So she visits nearby Pittsdale (Lois' hometown) and attempts to sabotage prevent her from becoming a reporter:

But if Lana (who is the same age as Clark) is a high-schooler at the same time as Lois is, then Clark cannot be more than a couple of years older than Lois. And there are other stories which establish that they are actually the same age. For example, consider this famed story, from Adventure #128:

In addition, there is another story where Clark is shown as reasonably the same age as this young woman:

And yet, Clark is shown as meeting up with her in Metropolis years later, after he and Lois are reporters, and she is not yet 21!

So the conclusion seems obvious. Superman is 21 or 22 years old in the stories we read as kids. But even this causes problems (beyond the question of how he got a prestigious job at such a young age). Consider this letter to the editor from Superboy #68 (October 1958):

Indeed, many of the early letters columns in Superboy complained of such supposed anachronisms. But think about it for a second. World War II had been over for 13 years by then. If Superboy was in high school in the Superboy stories, then he must be at least 13 years old in those tales. Plus 13 years would make him 26+ in the Superman stories. Or looking at it the other way, if he was 22 in the Superman stories, then that would indicate that the Superboy tales were taking place around 1949 or 1950, when the television antennas would not be an anachronism.

But apparently chastened by this reader and others like him, Weisinger was more careful to make sure that Superboy didn't encounter anything too modern. Consider this scene from Adventure #253:

That dates the lecture to no later than mid-1945, or about 13 years before the 1958 publication date. But in the story, Robin the Boy Wonder has come back in time to visit Superboy (as discussed here). Robin appears to be about the same age as Clark Kent in the story. But Robin is often shown driving the Batmobile in Batman stories of the time, which means he must be 15 or 16 at the youngest, which again would place the contemporary Superman at no less than 28 years old.

The conclusion? Superman is somewhere between 21 and 28 years old, depending on the needs of the particular story.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Before there was fantasy baseball, there was Strat-O-Matic. Their ads were a fixture in the Silver Age. And, as it happens, their product was one of the very few that I ever bought based on the comics ads.

The game was relatively simple, and nine innings could be played in a half hour or so, making it a perfect little time-waster. You had cards for each individual player.

You rolled three dice, a small blue one which determined whether you read from the batters card (1-3) or the pitcher's card (4-6). The two white dice were combined and you read down on the applicable card to see the result.

Here are a batter's and pitcher's card from the 1969 set:

As you can see, a 3-7 there would be a single (read from Cleon Jones' card), while a 4-8 would be a popup to the first baseman (read from Tom Seaver's card). Some additional refinement came from results like 3-4, where you see the notation HOMERUN 1-12, DOUBLE 13-20. There was a deck of cards numbered 1-20 included with the game and you had to pull one when you got a result like that. Some of the results also relied on the defensive ratings of the players in the field. For even more realism, the backs of the cards could be used to play a game with platoon advantages, where left-handed hitters would hit better against righty pitchers and vice-versa.

I bought the 1978 season, and when the set of cards arrived my friend Bob and I sat down to replay the 163rd game of the American League, the playoff game between the Yankees and the Red Sox. The game was famed for Bucky Dent's improbable three-run homer into the left field screen as the Bronx Bombers went on to the World Series. But in the replay, it was Dwight Evans who went yard in the bottom of the ninth to bring the Bosox the AL East title.

It was a very cool game, and as it happens, the Strat-O-Matic company is still in business, celebrating its 50th anniversary. Obviously in the digital age, sales of the cards are down, but they have a computerized version of the game.

While we're on the topic of baseball simulations, I have two more memories to share. Back around 1964, my dad bought a similar game where you used spinners and had pieces of paper with the player's names and possible outcomes that you actually fit over the spinner. Anybody remember that game? I loved it. Update: Here it is:

Another baseball simulation I enjoyed was Micro League Baseball for the Commodore 64. It was another game where you solely controlled the management decisions--whether to steal, pull the infield in, issue an intentional walk, etc.,) and the players performed according to their statistics. The game included a lot of the famous teams of baseball history, including the Murderer's Row Yankees of 1927 and the Big Red Machine of 1976. But the team I enjoyed managing was the Washington Senators of 1955, a pathetic outfit that finished last in the American League that year. The thing was that you could actually put together a pretty decent lineup with that team. They had Mickey Vernon, a .300 hitter at first base, Eddie Yost who walked nearly 100 times that season, Roy Sievers to slug the ball out of the park, and a young Harmon Killebrew, who played a couple games at shortstop that year and so was able to replace the hopeless Jose Valdivielso. Mickey McDermott had a reasonable ERA and could actually hit, which meant that I selected non-DH games.

So no kidding, about ten years ago I'm listening to sports talk radio and one of the announcers was talking about Micro League Baseball and how he loved to play the 1955 Washington Senators. I just about drove off the road laughing.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

First Comic Dealer Advertisement?

I found this ad in FF #52 (July 1966):

Looking backwards from there, I don't see any comic dealers advertising in FF #48-51, so I'm going to guess that was the beginning. Note the $50 offered; that was probably for issues like Action #1 and Marvel Mystery #1 and Detective #27.

In Blackhawk #202 (November 1964), editor George Kashdan offered to set up a trading corner on the letters page:

And in Blackhawk #206, we saw the beginnings of this new section:

This became a very popular feature in Blackhawk, showing the demand for back issues that dealers soon rushed to fill.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Amazing Spiderman #2: Get a Job

Peter finds a solution to his aunt's financial problems in this issue, which also introduces the first of the major villains in Spiderman's rogue's gallery: The Vulture. As you can see from the cover above, he falls into the category of villains who facially resemble the animal after which they're named. Some others Silver Age examples include the Shark, a Green Lantern antagonist and the Clock, a Green Arrow baddie.

As the story begins, we see the Vulture making off with a fortune in bonds. J. Jonah Jameson wants photos of him:

I believe that's the only time that NOW magazine is ever mentioned in the Silver Age Spiderman; in all other stories Jameson is a newspaper man, not a magazine publisher. Maybe Stan thought that a magazine would be more willing to pay big bucks for color photos?

At any rate, Peter borrows Uncle Ben's old miniature camera and decides to get a photo of the Vulture in action. Sure enough, he gets lucky the first time out:

But the Vulture overhears him and doubles back, knocking Peter out with a vicious kick. He puts him in a rooftop water tank, thinking that Spiderman will drown, but:

Peter develops the film and does some work upgrading his equipment:

I would argue that Marvel's Silver Age characters were not as well-designed as DC's initially. Their real strength came from the way they developed over time. They became better characters than DC due to the constant tinkering.

In the next segment, the Vulture has announced that he's going to rob a jewelry shipment. The police have sharpshooters on the rooftops and a helicopter overhead. How can he pull it off?

I thought that was really cool the first time I read it as a kid and it's still impressive.

Using his spider-sense, Peter is able to locate the Vulture, who again tries the loop around gimmick. But this time Spidey's ready:

This is another one of those "I only meant for you to die," moments that Stan seemed to enjoy scripting.

Somehow Spiderman has disabled the Vulture's wings. Peter uses his web fluid to swing to safety, while the Vulture manages to slow his plummet to a nearby rooftop by spiraling downward. He lets the cops do the actual arrest, just snapping a few more pix. As for how he stopped the crook, he explains here:

As Dr Who would say, just reverse the polarity!

The second story is definitely an oddball in the Spiderman saga, as it is the only story involving aliens. However, this fits very well with the Marvel pattern, as most of the Silver Age heroes found themselves up against other world menaces in their second issue: the FF, Iron Man and the Avengers, for example.

Peter gets an assignment to work with one of the sharpest electronics minds around, Dr Cobbwell. But his first task doesn't require a lot of brainpower:

Of course vacuum tubes in radios were about to go out with the advent of transistors. Peter senses some weird electronic emanations coming from the basement of the radio repair shop, and later he realizes that the same emanations are coming from the repaired radio at Dr Cobbwell's. So he decides to pay another visit to the Tinkerer in his costumed identity.

Eventually the aliens capture him but he escapes and foils their plans for invasion, so they leave.

Update: The aliens concept doesn't seem well-suited to Spiderman, just as it was inappropriate to Batman. Although both faced major-league criminals and super-villains, they also dealt with the low-level hoods. This is not all that surprising as both lost relatives to common street thugs.