Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Batman Effect

In January of 1966, the Batman TV show debuted and it seemed like the whole country went Bat-mad.  Perhaps in an effort to make clear the other comics that were coming to us from the fine folks who brought us the Caped Crusader, DC came up with the Go-Go-Chex idea; all of their comics starting in January 1966 or so had a checkerboard pattern at the top.  Here's the first Batman issue:
As you can see, it prominently features the Riddler, the villain Batman and Robin faced in the first episode of the TV show.

Anyway, since we have pretty good circulation data on a bunch of DC mags for 1965 and 1966, I thought I'd take a look at what the Batman effect was like on the rest of the line.

In a word, grim. This was definitely not the case of a rising tide lifting all boats.  Although it is undeniable that Batman brought lots of new comic fans to DC, they mostly only bought Batman titles, as did a lot of existing comics buyers, to the obvious detriment of almost the rest of the DC line.

Superman, which had forever been DC's best-selling title, not only dropped out of first place, but it sold a startling 100,000 fewer copies per issue than it had the year before.  And that was only the beginning; his related titles also took big hits in circulation--Superboy down 64,000, Lois Lane down 25,000, Jimmy Olsen down 32,000, Action and Adventure down about 35,000 each.  No surprise, the only Superman-related title that did better was World's Finest (up 47,000), the one he shared with Batman. 

Nor were other comics spared.  Green Lantern and the Atom both shed about 25,000 buyers per issue. GI Combat dropped a stunning 65,000.  All of the comics mentioned were still selling over 200,000 copies per issue, and the Superman titles were almost all selling over a half-million.

Keep in mind too that in general comics circulation had increased quite nicely after the sudden drop caused by the increase in price from 10 cents to 12 cents.  For example, Superman, which sold 740,000 copies an issue in 1962, was up to almost 824,000 copies by 1965, a rise of over 11%.  Generally we would expect given the times for all these comics to show modest increases in circulation due to the bulge of the Baby Boomers coming into their comic-buying prime

But there is no denying that the declines must have been painful to DC editors not named Julius Schwartz. Batman and Detective Comics sales under his editorship soared (as did sales of the Brave and the Bold, which began to feature Batman in most issues).  But Schwartz made sure to feature Batman prominently on the Justice League of America covers, sometimes ridiculously so:

Okay, there's Batman flying in outer space punching some alien who supposedly can destroy him instantly.  And there's the usual floating heads to tell us that this is a JLA-JSA team-up.

Batman again dominates the foreground and this time there's even Robin.

Justice League of America was one of the very few DC superhero titles that actually gained circulation from 1965-1966, with a pickup of 18,000 copies per issue.

Flash was another character who gained some circulation (about 27,000).  This obvious bit of cross-selling may have helped:

For the superhero titles DC reported sales for in both years, it is quite obvious that DC's overall circulation was up quite substantially.  For those titles (including all the Batman titles) they showed a increase of about 3 million issues per annum. But Batman and Detective sold about 5.6 million more copies, which means the rest of DC's superhero line got crushed.

Metal Men had a very odd pattern of sales from 1965-1967, which leads me to believe that there was an error somewhere.  They sold 334,000 copies per issue in 1965.  They reportedly sold 396,000 copies per issue in 1966. While this seems unlikely, here's the statement from MM#24:

I wonder if they just didn't reverse the two columns by accident, as a decline to 316,000 seems much more likely than a 62,000 increase, especially when you consider that in 1967, Metal Men's circulation dropped all the way down to 239,700.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Making My Way Through Metamorpho

And I confess, enjoying the time much more than I would have expected.  I wasn't a big Ramona Fradon fan from her work on Aquaman, but she really shines in this series, showing creativity and style.  Check out this panel from Metamorpho #1:



The other half of the creative team was Bob Haney. Now Haney obviously had talent, but I gotta say, he phoned it in on the Brave & Bold team-up tales, which are among the most wince-worthy stories of the late 1960s.  But here he had his own characters, not a random assignment to characters he otherwise had no connection to, so he put more effort into it and the results show.

I was startled to see this very early Easter Egg in Metamorpho #7 (July-August 1966):

Cave Carson had eight tryout issues in the early 1960s. Haney wrote the last three of them, which were the best of the lot.

Rex (Metamorpho) Mason's girlfriend, Sapphire, was a bubble-headed blonde with a rich scientist father. Simon Stagg sent Rex on missions for him, one of which resulted in him being transformed into a freak, capable of using all the elements found in the human bond in some pretty wild ways.  Ironically this gave Stagg greater control over Rex, because now he could claim that whatever he wanted Rex to find was needed for a cure.

Ironically, Sapphire had no problem with Metamorpho's appearance, which gave quite a bit of anguish to the third member of their romantic triangle:

Java was a million-year-old pre-human whom Rex had found petrified in a swamp in Java, and whom Simon had brought back to life.  He was clearly intended to provide the humor (and some of the menace) in the series, and for the most part it works.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

The Future Man of the Future

He's "so different" from the original Superman of Krypton?  He's got a slightly different appearance, but he still has all of Superman's powers, wears the same uniform, does the same kind of superheroic feats, and still works as a reporter.  Yeah, they give him a futuristic sounding name, and his weakness is not to Kryptonite, but to ordinary seawater.

The story begins with Superman being made a lawman for the Federation of Planets.

Now there are some obvious problems with that statement.  First since this story was set 1000 years in the future (when it was published), that implies something like 40-50 generations later.  Presumably our Superman would have many descendants, not just one.  And some of them would no doubt be Superwomen, not Supermen.

This Superman's first task is to stop a rogue planet from destroying the solar system.  Of course, this is just a slight variation on our Superman's continuing battle save the world from asteroids and meteors.  This Superman also has his Fortress of Solitude, although his is so different; it's located out in space.  Some crooks try to get into it to steal some weapons, but Superman catches them.  We get more of the creepy DC scientofascism here:

Doesn't that "click...whirr" inspire confidence in the infallible nature of the computer?  What's the slowdown, you ask?  Well, they have a ray that slows people down to about 1/10th the speed of normal humans, which renders them harmless.  And also defenseless.

The story ends somewhat abruptly with Klar getting an assignment from his robot editor.  Muto, the future Superman's greatest enemy, has been spotted robbing a Neptunian bank.  Klar realizes he must track the alien down.

The tale of the future Superman continued about six months later in Action #338-339.  Muto reveals to three of his henchmen why he wants to kill Superman.  See, his parents were on a trip in space when Superman (actually the father of the 2965 Supes) accidentally ripped open a dimensional warp while saving Earth from yet another comet.  Their rocket went into the dimensional warp where Muto was born and:

He forces Superman to dive into some water to save three children from drowning. Supes discovers too late that they are not real children at all, but androids:

Fortunately Superman is able to reprogram the android kids with his heat vision so they drag him to safety.

That pretty much sets the tone for most of the rest of the final chapter of the story.  Muto tries various tricks to get Superman surrounded by sea water. Oh, and at one point Muto aims a growth ray on everybody in Metropolis, which causes havoc:

Eventually Superman manages to trick Muto into attacking him near a lightning rod.  The lightning opens up another dimensional warp, which sucks Muto into it.

Comments: The decision to make the future Superman's weakness sea water seems kinda silly.  Basically crooks could just carry water pistols around with them to handle him.  Indeed, in a later World's Finest issue, the future Joker is shown on the cover downing Superman with a squirt from the trick flower in his lapel.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Tracking The Intro of Continuing Characters in DC's Former One-Shot Mags

For most of their history up until about 1959, DC's war and science fiction magazines had not featured continuing characters.  Instead the stories had been one-shots, with characters never returning.  Apparently a decision was reached by management to require continuing features, and very quickly they were put in place:

March 1959: All American Men of War #67 introduced Gunner and Sarge.  The team continued in the next issue, before moving over to Our Fighting Forces, beginning with #45, the May 1959 issue.

April 1959: Sgt Rock made his first appearance in Our Army at War #81 (as Sgt Rocky).

May 1959.  Tank Killer makes his first appearance in All American Men of War #69.

May 1959. The Space Museum opens its doors for the first time in Strange Adventures #104.  It would eventually settle into a rotation with Star Hawkins and the Atomic Knights, with each feature appearing every third issue, until Julius Schwartz turned the editorship reins over to Jack Schiff in 1964. 

August 1959: Mademoiselle Marie, a French resistance fighter, debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #84.

August 1959.  Mystery in Space, which had occasionally had regular features but not for awhile at the time, began running the Adam Strange series, starting with #53.

August 1959.  Space Ranger became the regular feature in Tales of the Unexpected #40.

August 1959.  House of Secrets #23 introduced Mark Merlin, a supernatural detective/debunker.

March 1960. Star Hawkins begins in Strange Adventures #114.

April-May, 1960.  Star Spangled War Stories  publishes the first of many zany War that Time Forgot stories, a series which featured US soldiers battling dinosaurs and other oddball creatures (including a memorable white King Kong).

June 1960.  The Atomic Knights make their first appearance in Strange Adventures #117.

Nov-Dec 1960.  Johnny Cloud, Navajo ace pilot of World War II debuts.

May 1961.  GI Combat #87 hosts the first story featuring the Haunted Tank.

It should be noted that several titles held out even longer; My Greatest Adventure and House of Mystery did not have recurring features until May 1963 (Doom Patrol, #80) and June 1964 (Martian Manhunter, #143).  And of course DC's romance titles resisted continuing characters until Heart Throbs and Secret Hearts began running their soap opera series around 1966.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

It Could Only Happen in the Silver Age

Gotta love this panel from World's Finest 113:

That's using your head, Supes!

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

My New Comics Reading Device

Report to follow soon:

Report: I bought myself a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 10.1 inch from Amazon. My comments here will focus on the comics-reading experience on the tablet. The good: Just about everything. The colors are bright and sharp. The screen is back-lit, so you don't even need a light to read by; handy if you're reading in bed and your significant other wants to sleep.

The size of the page is not too far off of an original comic book especially when you account for the gutters. When you get to a two-page spread you can just turn the device sideways and the picture rotates.

The bad: The only negatives I noticed are operating system and software-related. Android ignores folders; it would be easier to navigate between issues if they showed up. On the software side, for some reason Gallery displays the last (alphabetical) picture in every folder; if it showed the first it would be much easier to figure out which comic it was.

Update: I downloaded from the Google store a free program called Perfect Viewer which solves the above two problems; it shows the folders and the files in correct order.  Not bad!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Anti-Superman Gang

One of the continuing sagas in the Silver Age Superman was the Anti-Superman Gang.  Actually that's probably overstating things a bit; in reality they were just a convenient plot point for Weisinger and his writers.

The Anti-Superman Gang first appeared (as far as I can tell) in Jimmy Olsen #39, and in that story they're something of a sidelight to the main plot.  See, Jimmy is so obsessed with making sure that he doesn't lose his signal watch that he hides it someplace while sleepwalking, can't find it the next day, and wears a spare wristwatch.  Of course, he ends up having to signal Superman that day several times, and each time he has to come up with a creative means of doing so.  At least twice the Anti-Superman Gang tries to steal the (wrong) watch, and in the climax, Jimmy spots the leader of the group, Ace Manton, improbably hiding out at a drive-in movie theater.  Oh, and Jimmy finds his wristwatch hidden around his ankle.

The gang apparently didn;t give up after that, as they popped up in Lois Lane #13 a few months later.  Lois is wearing a blonde wig in an effort to get a photo of a movie star and his new bride, when two members of the gang spot her.  Hey, aside from that blonde hair, she's a dead ringer for Lois Lane and we can use her to get Superman.

Their next appearance was in Action #261.  Two visitors to the Fortress of Solitude (which has been transported to Metropolis as an attraction to raise funds for charity) are members of the gang planning to blow up Superman's HQ.  The plot is foiled in a typically convoluted fashion.  See, the Kandorians had been trying to radio Superman to warn him (they were in deadly danger themselves).  But a jewel in the fortress was interfering with the radio signals.  Fortunately, the crooks had brought one part of the bomb in a lead-lined container (so Superman couldn't see what was really inside) and when one of the crooks discarded the container it conveniently covered the jewel so the radio waves could get to Superman.

They try their luck against the Fortress of Solitude again in Lois Lane #21.  The plot again is absurdly convoluted.  An inventor comes up with a Lois Lane doll (possibly inspired by the Barbie phenomenon) that sells like hotcakes.  For the 10,000th doll, the inventor plans to make a life-sized Lois doll which will contain a nuclear bomb.  See, the inventor is a member of the Anti-Superman Gang, and he correctly reasons that Lois will give the doll to Superman for his memento collection at the Fortress.  I'd explain what goes wrong, but it's even more convoluted.  We do get to learn the gang's motto:

The gang returns in Action #276.  A wealthy philanthropist is dying and he summons Clark Kent to his deathbed.  He's a great admirer of Superman and believes that Clark is secretly the Man of Steel.  After checking the man's pulse (feeble), Clark figures what the heck and divulges that he is indeed Superman, doing a couple of super-feats to establish it convincingly.  A few moments later, the old man passes away.  But... it turns out that the wealthy philanthropist is secretly the head of the Anti-Superman gang, and had been inhaled a drug that briefly caused him to appear to be dying,  However, the doctor who had given him the drug warned that it might cause hallucinations, and becoming aware of the hoax, Superman sets up an elaborate plan to convince the gang boss that Clark's revelation was in fact a side effect of the drug.

There were quite a few more appearances of the Anti-Superman Gang--Superman #145 and #152, Jimmy Olsen #75, etc.  In Lois Lane #60 we learned the gang had a standing bounty out on Supes and his friends:

Jimmy only worth half as much as Lois?  But that's actually an increase over the amount offered a couple months earlier in Jimmy Olsen #85:

In Jimmy Olsen #87, we learned that the Anti-Superman Gang included some of his more famous foes:

But aside from that story, the A-S G is made up of ordinary crooks.