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.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Oh, I'm a Lumberjack and I'm Okay...

For some reason, the writers, artists and editors of Superman found this image of the Man of Steel cutting down trees compelling:

There are quite a few more examples and I will add them as I find them. Here's an early one from Adventure #184:

The earliest one I've found so far is this one from Adventure #110, although it's somewhat different from the others in that Superman hurls a spinning circular saw at the trees:

Either way, it's apparent that Kal-El would not find himself welcome at a meeting of the Earth Liberation Front.

Update: Bryon in the comments points us to this dueling lumberjacks panel from Superman #199:

Update II: Another example from Superboy #106, pointed out in the comments by Dave:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Super-Swipe #8: The New Parents

Here's another one that's pretty easy to spot:

In both stories, a trouble-maker has advised juvenile court that Superboy is without parents. In both cases, Superboy tells the judge that he does have parents but he cannot reveal them without jeopardizing their safety. The judge is all set to send the Lad of Steel to a state home for boys, but fortunately for the town, there is a way out:

In both cases, the adopting couple intend to use Superboy to get rich, although not in the same way. In Adventure #176, Mr Smirt wants his new son to advertise a sale at his store (which competes with Pa Kent's). In Adventure #281, the Hurds intend to turn their residence into Superboy Land:

Superboy gets his newly adoptive parents to regret choosing him in similar ways:


And in both stories, the judge comes to a sensible decision when Superboy points out that there is no proof he's a minor:

I find it interesting that in the reprise, it's a committee of local citizens who claim Superboy is an adult. Perhaps this is because of Weisinger's insistence that Superboy never tells a lie?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Letter from Yoe

I happened to be browsing through Adventures into the Unknown #174 (the last issue of that terrific title) today and found a letter from Craig Yoe:

I tend to agree with Craig; the earlier issues of Adventures Into the Unknown were a little too reliant on the supposed shock value of vampires and werewolves. It's interesting to see that (editor and chief writer) Richard Hughes admits to publishing a few stinkers.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Kookie #1

The beatniks were a source of endless amusement to the mainstream media in the late 1950s and early 1960s, much in the way that their descendents, the hippies and the Goths, would be later. The stereotype of the beatnik is pretty much apparent on the cover: berets, long (for the times) hair, unkempt beards, patched clothes and imaginative footwear. Bob Denver played a beatnik on Dobie Gillis (before he became Gilligan). Snapper Carr got his nickname because he snapped his fingers, much like beatniks did in lieu of clapping their hands.

So it was not particularly surprising that the comic found its way onto the newstands in early 1962. Kookie herself is not a beatnik, she's a sweet young woman who works in a coffee shop apparently frequented by the beat crowd. She has dreams of making it big on Broadway, but like all aspiring actresses, she's dirt poor and has a roommate, the rather plain-looking Clara.

In the opening story, Clara can't sleep because of all the bongo-playing (another beatnik stereotype):

She wakes up late for work and hurries out the door. But her neighbor wants her to try on his latest creation:

But she can't get the ring off her finger, so she hurries to work with the jeweler following. When she gets to Mamma Pappa's (the coffee shop), the proprietor of the same name solves the problem:

By the way, despite the cover image, it does not appear that the male beatniks are immune to Kookie's charms:

A wealthy couple comes in, slumming it:

Later, Kookie delivers a cup of coffee to a sculptor, who uses it to soften the stone he works on:

He decides to let Kookie deliver the final blow. No particular surprise, the statue falls apart.

The second story is a little more amusing. Kookie has been offered a role in an off-Broadway play!

It turns out the houseboat is sinking, but that doesn't matter, as the play is about a young couple struggling to keep their heads above water. But the boat has sunk, and so they won't be able to stage the play until the tide goes out.

There follows a second feature called Bongo and Bop, about two beatniks who decide to go into a park to see what this fresh air stuff is all about. Once they get a whiff of the stuff, a change comes over them:

But when they step out of the park, the exhaust fumes from a bus overwhelm them and:

The final Kookie tale has her worried about walking home from the coffee shop, because Mamma Poppa's landlord has been harassing her. Mamma comes up with a solution: she can climb up a fire escape and take the rooftops home. But:

Now that makes no sense at all. Overall, I found the issue moderately amusing, with the Bongo and Bop story standing out as the best in the issue. Kookie made it to a second issue, but then disappeared for good.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Marvel Swipe #1

Marvel didn't do as much recycling of old stories and plots as DC did, for several reasons:

1. Marvel had a much shorter back history than DC did when it came to superheroes, and it was in the process of reprinting a much greater portion of that history than DC did.

2. Marvel stories were more difficult to recycle as the supporting cast of characters was constantly changing.

But they did do one major swipe in the course of only a few years and it involves this magazine:

Marvel made several efforts at establishing a magazine like Creepy or Eerie, which would be oversized, sell for a premium over comics, and feature black and white interiors. They finally succeeded, of course, with the Savage Sword of Conan, but before that there were the short-lived efforts of Savage Tales (1971) and The Spectacular Spiderman (1968). It appears likely that neither magazine sold well enough to justify continuing, probably because the kids who bought ASM and Conan just weren't used to flipping through the magazine racks, which were often separate from the comics.

Marvel dusted off the story from Spectacular Spiderman #1 in ASM 116-118, early 1973. Large portions of the story were used with virtually no changes, as you can see here:

Aside from the update on recent events in the latter, those two splashes are word for word, as are the next eight pages or so. But, as I noted, Marvel's supporting cast changed often, and some surgery was required in order to make the story work.

For instance, consider this scene:

Fine in 1968, but in 1973, Captain Stacy had been dead for over two years. This creates a major problem, as a significant subplot of the earlier story is that the Captain is one of the few people not swept up in the enthusiasm for Raleigh's candidacy, which sets the stage for one of the story's major subplots. As a result, the skeptic role must be switched over to Joe Robertson, although that still creates an uncomfortable moment. In the original, the dialogue here makes sense:

Here's the update:

Would Jameson talk to Robbie, his editor, about "my" newspaper? Wouldn't he be more likely to refer to it as "the" newspaper, or if he was being magnanimous, "our" newspaper? Note as well that the reference to Peyton Place (which was canceled in 1969) was deleted, and the comparison to Goldwater now uses Humphrey instead (which isn't as funny, because Goldwater lost in a landslide, while Humphrey was only narrowly defeated). This reveals another problem with Marvel recycling; Stan's constant use of then-current pop culture references.

There's one other major change to the story. In the original we learn pretty quickly that Raleigh's faking it:

But in the revised version that scene is rewritten:

Overall, that particular change makes a lot of sense, as it adds some drama to the story. However, it is still pretty obvious from the start that Raleigh is not all he's cracked up to be. There's something about the nature of fiction that tells us that the lone skeptic is always right. And Raleigh's biggest supporter is J. Jonah Jameson, the worst judge of character around.

In both stories, the Raleigh campaign is being attacked by a gigantic thug. In the original, the thug is controlled by Raleigh himself, while in the reprise, it's a shadowy figure known as the Disruptor, who turns out to be Raleigh in disguise. In both stories, in classic Marvel fashion, the thug turns on his master in the end, killing him. In both stories, Jameson stays clueless to the end:

In the sequel, Spiderman hides the Disruptor's costume, letting Raleigh be considered a hero, because:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Adventures of the Fly #9

The first new superhero created by Jack Kirby in the 1960s wasn't one of the members of the Fantastic Four. It wasn't a character created for DC or Marvel. It was the Fly, an Archie Comics superhero. Unfortunately, Kirby's association with the magazine ended after the first issue, and this story is illustrated by John Giunta.

It's not hard to figure out the inspiration for the Fly. In 1958, Vincent Price starred in a movie called the Fly, where a scientist experimenting with teleportation, accidentally gets his body scrambled up with that of a fly which had entered the device with him. In this series, the Fly appears to have the various powers of flying insects, which he activates by rubbing a ring.

The opening story is pretty banal. Thomas Troy (secretly the Fly) is on a business trip to Havana, with his pretty secretary, Donna Morse. Havana? Yep, the comic has a cover date of November 1960, which is shortly after the US embargo on Cuba after the revolution. The comic was obviously written and drawn prior to that, but well after Castro took power. However, there is no mention in the book that Cuba is anything other than a fun-loving Latin American country. Of course, that implies some things we modern audiences would look askance at:

The Fly has left Donna at a swanky nightclub with its owner, a handsome American businessman named Kent, who is selling the business (good timing!), while he goes in search of some criminals who fled to the island nation. Donna wishes she was with the Fly instead. But when some criminals kidnap Kent, she follows after, at great peril to herself:

Apparently, some fun-loving Latin Americans, in the carnival atmosphere, tip over the gangsters' car, saving her. When she finally tails them to their hideout, she's shocked to discover that Kent is actually their boss. The Fly arrives in time to save her. He mentions that he actually was responsible for overturning the car earlier.

The second story features a team-up with the Shield. A yogi has been thrilling crowds with his illusions:

Yes, apparently a "phony performance" is illegal in the Fly's hometown. Tom Troy volunteers to defend him from the charges, but the yogi is not content to let justice take its course:

One deplores the laxity of the local jail, which allows criminals to retain their masks and burn giant pots of incense. The yogi gets away with the help of some demons from the spirit world, and goes on a criminal rampage. This scene with the Shield gives us an idea of how he succeeds:

But it isn't until someone wearing a gas mask is unaffected that the Fly and Shield catch on that the yogi is using a hallucinogenic gas and suggestions to convince people that they are seeing monsters and demons.

The third story is the cover tale. Obviously the Cat Girl is based on the Catwoman, who at that time hadn't been seen for some six years at DC and wouldn't appear for at least another six outside of reprints (and the Batman TV show). She first appears at the zoo, where she frees all the big cats. The Fly uses his various powers to entrap them:

Later, he encounters her with a panther and a tiger, which she sics on him. But after subduing the animals, the Fly must save her:

Curious as to who she is and how she controls the big cats, he lets her take him to a cave which serves as a lair. There he discovers her secret. The story ends like many a Batman-Catwoman tale:

Comments: Entertaining stories and competent artwork. The Fly continued through issue #30 and then the series was renamed "Fly Man", which lasted for another nine outings.