Thursday, December 31, 2009

Go Check Out

A new blog focusing on the Charlton and the Mighty MLJ Heroes. I have touched briefly on the Charlton heroes the Question and the Blue Beetle, but I have not covered the MLJ heroes like the Fly, the Web and the Jaguar, all of whom were active in the Silver Age. There are very interesting posts over there highlighting some similarities between the two sets of characters. I laughed out loud when I saw how the Web convinced IronFist that there was no fun in being an "ultra-villain" anymore. Now that's unique!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Superboy #123

As I have mentioned in the past, if DC had two top stars prior to the arrival of the Batman TV series in 1966, they were Superman and Superboy. Superboy held down two series in that era; his self-titled magazine and Adventure Comics, much as Superman and Batman had their own series and Action Comics and Detective Comics respectively.

But really there was no comparison between Superboy and Batman. Superboy regularly outsold Batman by about 150,000-200,000 copies per issue, as did Adventure over Detective. Of course, the way things developed Batman became a huge star, and Superboy (at least, Kal El) mostly faded away in the comics, possibly because DC's ownership of the character is tenuous at best.

This particular issue was (briefly) the oldest comic in my collection. As I have mentioned I first really started collecting comics in 1968, although I had a few issues left over from the start of Batmania in 1966.

The opening story is An Untold Tale of Superboy, called There Is No Superboy. The tale takes place in that brief period of time after Superboy's existence was known to the people of Smallville, but not the world at large. He travels to the nearby (but old western) town of Gulchdale, where the local sheriff needs some assistance. As it turns out, some outlaws from other states have taken up residence there, but the sheriff is frustrated in his attempts to run them in because:

The humor in the piece comes because the local residents have never heard of Superboy, so they do as crooks would in the Golden Age with Superman:

As it turns out, Superboy is cooperating with the sheriff to get a total of 25 prisoners in jail, because the governor of the state has promised a new jail if he can get that number. And although the crooks had not broken the law against attempted murder (because Superboy was invulnerable), they had violated many other ordinances:

Comments: Entertaining tale playing on the unknown Superboy, which arguably makes it a very early story in the Superman chronicles. Of course, Superboy is played as a teenager, which conflicts with many Silver and Golden Age Superboy tales where he was show as an early adolescent at the oldest.

The second story features Ronnie Vayle, in When Krypto Was Sold. We learn that Vayle's money doesn't buy him friendship:

But it buys just about everything else, from his imported cloth jacket to his 25-jewel watch. So Clark and Krypto decide to teach him a lesson. Clark shows off his amazing pet:

Which Ronnie, needing the best in everything, offers to pay $100 for. Krypto starts giving him lessons:

Which cures him of his habit of driving too fast. And when he brags about how brave his dog is, Krypto pulls him in front of some chained elephants:

Krypto uses a sound amplifier to let Ronnie know what other people think of him: spoiled and conceited. And he resolves to change his ways:

And, thanks to the sound amplifier, he hears some crooks breaking into Smallville High to steal the school athletic fund. He tries to stop them but they knock him out, and Superboy and Krypto foil the robbery, but let Ronnie take the credit:

And in the end he gives "Spot" back to Clark, showing that he has indeed learned his lesson.

Comments: A nice little morality play; there were quite a few stories about rich brats being brought down a peg in the Superboy canon. I particularly liked that Krypto got to be the agent of change in this story.

The final story in the issue is the cover feature, and it's definitely a wild tale. It starts back in Egypt, with the weakling son of the local magician, and his gal pal, Neferti, daughter of the Pharaoh. Ahton, the mage, consults the goddess of magic, who reveals a secret in her magic shield:

She tells him how to mix up a potion that will give him the powers of Superboy, and before you know it, Ahton's son is flying around in a Superboy costume (with the S remade as a snake). And Neferti starts acting like Lana Lang:

She consults with a rival magician as to how to get Ahton's son to fall in love with her. He gives her a magical scarab, which will doom the lad:

They both die. Ahton inscribes a warning to the Superboy of the future on their tomb, but is unable to complete his message.

Fast forward to the present day, where Clark and Lana are working on an archaeological dig for Professor Lang. They uncover the tomb shown on the cover:

Superboy finds himself subconsciously endangering Lana, and every time he saves her he gets a pain in his heart.

Lana translates the hieroglyphics and realizes she's in danger. Meanwhile, Superboy consults the shield and finds out the real truth:

Comments: Entertaining, but wacky as heck. The death of Seth and Neferti comes as something of a surprise, especially as there is no indication in the text that the rival magician paid for his part in their passing. Of course, Neferti was probably named after Queen Nefertiti of Egypt, who (by some theories) was the mother of King Tut. The art on all the first two stories was done by longtime Superboy artist George Papp, with Curt Swan on the finale. The writers were (respectively) E. Nelson Bridwell, Edmond Hamilton and Leo Dorfman.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Trivia Quiz #38: Questions

This one was done Jeopardy-style with me giving the answers and the respondents supposed to come up with the questions.

1. The Hulk, Captain America and Captain Marvel.

What three characters had Rick Jones as a sidekick in the 1960s?

2. Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman.

The trick to this one is remembering that there was only one Captain Marvel during the Silver Age, and he was the "man of the Kree", not the Big Red Cheese. The question is, "What two superheroes of the Silver Age wore bracelets?

3. Superman, Thor and the Vision.

What three heroes could survive in outer space without a helmet or spacesuit?

4. Quicksilver, Johnny Quick and Dr Fate (among others).

What three heroes could fly? This was a significant difference between Quicksilver and the Flash, as Pietro discovered that by kicking his feet back and forth rapidly, he was capable of flight.

5. 25 trillion miles.

What is the distance from Earth to Rann?

Michael Sensei got #1 right. Lito S also answered #1. Jim Houston got #1, #2 and #5. Michael Rebain also picked up #5, as did Jim. Aaron Bias got #1 right. Blaze answered #1 and #5.

I'm tempted to congratulate myself for stumping you folks on #3 and #4, but looking back I think those two answers were a little too vague.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Saturday Linkage

Bill Jourdain has another entertaining podcast up, this one discussing the Plot Against Christmas, a Golden Age Captain Marvel tale. If you've never listened to any of Bill's podcasts, I actually envy you, because you have hours and hours of listening pleasure ahead of you.

Bill also puts out a call for support for the Vintage DC Comics Calendar. I reviewed that calendar a few months ago, and loved it. There's one hanging in my breakfast nook right now.

Review the calendar over there to help out the folks at Asgaard Press.

Another new blog for the blogroll! Black 'N' White and Red All Over is posting complete stories, this time mostly from the terrific Warren Magazines like Creepy and Eerie. Check out this Christmas tale from 1973.

Sherm Cohen has been posting some terrific old ads from comic books, showing all the wondrous things that products advertised in comics could do. Columbia Bikes could outrun Roman soldiers and lions! And if you have US Bike Tires on the bicycle, you could capture a dangerous lunatic.

Karl at the House of Cobwebs has a very weird British "romance" comic to discuss. I thoroughly enjoyed his dissection of Mirabelle. Here's a panel to whet your interest:

"Continuity" in the Golden Age? Yep, as I show over at Nothing But Batman, a lot of the flashback sequences in old Batman stories really were showing scenes from earlier stories.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Trivia Quiz #38: Grab Bag

This one's Jeopardy! Style; I'll give the answers and you must come up with the question:

1. The Hulk, Captain America and Captain Marvel.

2. Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman.

3. Superman, Thor and the Vision.

4. Quicksilver, Johnny Quick and Dr Fate (among others).

5. 25 trillion miles.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Captain Flash #3

Most casual comics fans know that almost all superhero comics began to die out in the late 1940s. Then the movie skips forward to 1956, when Julius Schwartz, Bob Kanigher, John Broome and Carmine Infantino collaborated on Showcase #4, bringing back a Golden Age hero with a new name, and a new uniform.

But in fact, there were several attempts to launch (or relaunch) superheroes in the mid-1950s. Marvel (then known as Atlas) had three tryout issues of Young Men Comics featuring the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner and Captain America in 1953-1954. Charlton dusted off the Blue Beetle in 1950 and 1955. And Sterling Comics, a short-lived publisher, attempted a new hero called Captain Flash in 1954-1955.

Captain Flash was actually Professor Keith Spencer. When he clapped his hands together, he would set off a small atomic explosion in his body, giving him super-speed, strength and invulnerability.

As others have noted, the series has a Silver Age feel about it, perhaps because it was drawn by Mike Sekowsky, who went on to illustrate the Justice League of America among other features. Captain Flash had the inevitable youthful sidekick, named Ricky, who does not appear to have superpowers himself, and who (of course) is not his own son.

The opening story concerns "Muscles" a strong-man type who appears to have superpowers of his own:

Captain Flash interferes with the robbery of a train, but is kayoed by Muscles (apparently his powers weaken over time and he needed an "atomic charge". Worried that the public will lose confidence in him, Captain Flash offers to box Muscles for a $1,000,000 purse. Here's the action:

Comments: A pretty dull story, and the climactic fight sequence (shown in its entirety above) is too quick and lacks drama.

The second story is the cover one. Professor Spencer goes to Africa to find out why the uranium being sent back to Atom City is substandard. While there, Ricky is poisoned when he drinks something intended for the local chieftain. There's only one cure and it's located beyond the ice mountains (in tropical Africa?). Using the sonic force of his hand clap, he destroys the ice mountains. Unfortunately a couple of dinosaurs were located behind it. We learn that Captain Flash's moral code is a little more flexible than Superman's:

He gets the cure and defeats the bad guy who was trying to poison the local chieftain, who was also responsible for the lower grade uranium.

Next up is the real highlight of the issue: Tomboy!

Terry, a local girl is disappointed that Bill Jackson doesn't seem interested in her any longer. Tomboy has supplanted her in his heart as we see here:

To add a little "ick" factor, Tomboy is actually Bill's sister (although he doesn't know that). Terry, observing how taken Bill is with Tomboy, decides to dress up as her the next day when the police (including their father, who's a lieutenant) are planning to honor the crimebuster. Of course, how she knows the real Tomboy won't show up is never explained, but as it happens Janie Jackson is dragged along by her father to the ceremony, and can't get away to change into her secret identity, so it works out for the best. But after the award is given out, a limo comes to take Tomboy away, but it's filled with gangsters looking to get revenge on her:

Fortunately Janie's managed to get away in the confusion and takes after the crooks on her motorcycle. She shows she's pretty good with her fists here:

She makes short work of the mob, and frees Terry. Now Terry and Bill both have something in common: Their admiration for Tomboy.

Comments: Although it's way too short a story, I certainly enjoyed the concept of a teenaged girl fighting crime. The only earlier example I can think of offhand is Merry, the Girl of a Thousand Gimmicks.

The final story is another Captain Flash tale. It's a convoluted plot involving an attempt to steal an atomic submarine that involves men in shark suits. Somebody forgot to tell Sekowsky that people can't speak underwater:

Comments: Dull and predictable. Overall I can see why Captain Flash did not become a big hit; the stories lack any real suspense. I did enjoy the Tomboy tale, however, mostly because of the novelty of the feature and the interesting art by Edvard Moritz (according to the GCD).

Because this issue is out of copyright, it can be downloaded from the Golden Age Comics UK site. I should mention too that the spark for this post came from a poll over at the Silver Age Gold blog about whether Captain Flash was the first Silver Age hero. Amusingly, the options were Yes, No, and Who's Captain Flash, which garnered all the votes.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Silly Panel Sunday

A couple I came across recently:

A burning desire for a super-playmate, eh?

Batman offers his experience:

Yes, it's not the Silver Age, but it's pretty amusing just the same.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Fantastic Four Fridays: Puppet Master and Alicia

I just realized that one of the reasons many of these early FF adventures seem so padded is because Stan was making sure that he explained the abilities of each of the members. This was also why we kept getting that stock scene in the early X-Men issues with them in the Battle Room; it served as an introduction as well as entertainment.

So it is with the somewhat typical introduction in this issue. Thing is upset that Johnny and Sue won't let him into Reed's laboratory. This allows Thing to remind us that he's a really strong guy and that Johnny can flame on at will:

A little later we see Sue use her invisibility and Reed his stretching ability. Johnny flies out and saves a man from being forced (by the Puppet Master) to jump off a bridge.

We learn that the Puppet Master has radioactive clay, which he can use to control anyone he wants. He creates a puppet of the Thing, and forces him to come to his apartment. Sue follows, but is detected by the blind step-daughter, Alicia. We see that Alicia's (who has been disguised as Sue Storm) sense of touch is a little zany here:

They go back to FF headquarters, where Johnny lets them in. A battle ensues with Alicia standing to the side, but at a crucial moment Ben crashes into a vial of chemicals and:

The transformation apparently breaks the Puppet Master's hold on him. But the irony becomes apparent a moment later when Alicia at first reacts less positively to the new Ben Grimm than she did to the Thing. Then he changes back.

The Puppet Master frees the inmates from the local prison by controlling a trustee who has access to the warden's office (no explanation as to why he didn't just control the warden). Meanwhile, Sue escapes long enough to sent a flare up to the FF, who battle the Puppet Master's robot and save Sue, while the villain gets away on a flying robot horse (apparently his puppet skills are limitless).

The FF manage to stop the jailbreak in its tracks. Meanwhile, the Puppet Master returns to his apartment and gloats a bit in front of his daughter:

Like any dictator in the 20th century would want to be pulled around on a rickshaw. Anyway, Alicia is determined that he not take over the world, they fight a bit and:

Comments: The Puppet Master isn't a bad villain, and his daughter became a notable part of the Silver Age Fantastic Four. In fact she became the first recurring friend to the FF in general, and the Thing in particular.

As kids I think we all wanted the gruff guy to turn out to have a heart of gold, and that's certainly what we got with the Thing. One oddity that I would point out: At this point all the members of the FF became basically involved in stable relationships. Reed and Sue, Ben and Alicia, and Johnny and Dorrie/(later Crystal). Really the only hint of a soap opera they had going was the bit between Subby and Sue, which may explain why that remained a theme for at least the near future.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Superman and Batman: Synchronized Stories?

This is something I hadn't noticed before and given that it involves DC's two most famous characters, it seems worthy of a post. For starters, consider this famed story:

It appeared in the June-July 1948 issue of Batman. Now why was that particular date chosen? It's just a little over nine years after Batman's first appearance in Detective #27, so it's not like it's some big anniversary.

Well, not for Batman, anyway. As it happens, the comic was dated on the tenth anniversary of Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman. And, as you might expect, the anniversary was also celebrated over at the Man of Steel's own mag as well:

So roughly within a month of each other both Batman and Superman had their origins retold in extended forms. But that's not all the story, by any means.

In Batman #127, Professor Carter Nichols came up with an improbable new invention, which projected what a person's life might have been like had he or she not had some particular event happen. Bruce tries it out and a fantasy story ensues where his parents were not killed by Joe Chill. As it happens, they did not survive much longer, dying in a car accident a few years later, and Bruce actually becomes an indolent playboy for awhile, before an incident turns him into the Batman. I discussed this terrific story a little over a year ago.

That issue was cover dated October 1959. That very same month saw the appearance of Superman #132. Batman and Robin want to give Superman a special present for helping them out of a recent jam. They come up with this unique idea:

As it happens, Jor-El and Lara do not survive for long, either. Their rocket crashes on a small asteroid and:

Yep, that's young Kal-El in a Superman suit; apparently the Space Patrol of Krypton would have had the same emblem had the planet survived. The asteroid explodes, killing Jor-El and Lara (and Kal's younger brother Zal-El). It's that weird DC fate working its way again. And in the end, Kal-El becomes the Superman of Krypton with the help of a ray invented by a friend:

Well, once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, and the third time it's a trend. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a trend, as I have located the third example. It's not a perfect example, because the dates are a few months apart, but otherwise the pattern holds quite strongly. In Detective Comics #235, the famed story The First Batman appeared. This is one of the most-reprinted Batman stories ever, appearing in Batman Annual #4, Batman #255 and The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told. The story shows Batman's father, Thomas Wayne, fighting crooks in much the same way that his son later would, even wearing a strikingly similar costume to Batman's:

The story includes an intriguing additional detail to Batman's origin. It is revealed that one of the mobsters that Thomas Wayne defeated had vowed revenge on him. And sure enough:

As implied, it turns out that Moxon had hired Joe Chill to kill Bruce's parents. But there's a catch; Moxon now has amnesia and doesn't remember the incident. But when Batman confronts him using his father's old costume it triggers the memory. Moxon tries to escape but is hit by a truck and dies.

Now for the Superman tale, we turn to Superman #113, the May 1957 issue (about 7 months after the Batman story).

As you can see, the story involves Superman's father, Jor-El, being a Superman before Kal-El ever took on the role. Superman discovers tapes of his father describing a key event in his life. While viewing other planets, including Earth, Jor-El's favorite alien world, Jor discovers that the queen of the planet Vergo is planning to destroy Krypton. He travels to the alien world and discovers that he has super powers there, which enables him to duplicate his son's later feats and defeat the plan to destroy his home world. But, as with the Batman story in Detective #233, this tale includes a significant addition to the Superman origin:

Yep, this is the moment when Jor-El first learns his planet is doomed. Queen Latora had planned to catapult Krypton into her sun, which was dying. And as it the Batman story, the ending requires Superman to provide the finale. As it happens, Queen Latora's sun has not yet succumbed, and Superman is able to gather up lots of uranium and send it into that star, saving her world.

Incidentally, the Superman #113 story has only been reprinted once, in a Pizza Hut replica edition. Jor-El's costume had not yet become the familiar green outfit with the yellow star in the center.

Note in particular that these are not swipes, which generally require an intervening passage of time. They rather appear to be intentionally synchronized stories. I'll be looking for more examples; if you know of any please mention them in the comments.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hot Links

The Big Blog of Kids' Comics is new to my blogroll, and is, as advertised, a big blog of kids' comics featuring complete stories, with a current seasonal focus on Christmas stories. Worth the trip!

I don't know how to describe Yesterday's Papers, but it's a fascinating blog to read. It's mostly a blog about old-time comic strips, with a focus on the artists. Absolutely fascinating reading, and you'll get exposed to a lot of terrific strips from the past.

Aaron Bias has a terrific post on the difference between the Golden and Silver Age and all the comics that have come since. Key point:

The first crop of comic book creators had never read a comic book when they started.

Definitely a thoughtful argument.

Over at Nothing But Batman, I've put up a longish post on the Batman time travel stories with Professor Carter Nichols. Hope you like it!

Superman Fan has an entertaining review of Superman #198, which featured an interesting story about "the real Clark Kent". In the tale, Superman had only come to Earth a few years earlier, and had taken over the identity of Clark, imprisoning the genuine article in a cage. This recalls to mind the original origin of Wonder Woman's Diana Prince identity, where Wondy actually paid off a gal to let her be Diana.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fantastic Four Fridays: Planet X

Looks a little similar to the theme of the Skrulls issue (#2), doesn't it? But in fact the story is quite a bit different. We learn that Planet X is doomed, as an asteroid is about to hit it. Kurrgo, the ruler of that doomed world, sends a ship to Earth to bring back the Fantastic Four.

Meanwhile, the FF is about to make a trip to Washington for some honor or other. We get the inevitable griping from Ben and Johnny:

And when they arrive, the politicians and the people turn against them violently, influenced by a hate ray beamed by the robot that piloted Kurrgo's ship. The FF head back to their headquarters, where they encounter the robot.

Of course, a reasonable person might notice that all this is so much padding on the story. Why did the FF have to go to Washington? Why didn't the robot just come to their office, beam the hate ray, and then demand that the FF join him (as he now does)?

They go to Planet X, where Reed wonders why they don't just get on another space ship. Kurrgo explains:

We also learn that Kurrgo is not a benevolent ruler:

Reed comes up with the solution: A gas which shrinks everybody on the planet to a much smaller size. Thus, they can all fit on the ship, travel to and colonize another world and be restored to their normal size by an enlarging gas. Satisfied, Kurrgo lets the FF escape on the second rocket. But (as you might expect) Kurrgo lets his imagination get the best of him:

Weighed down by the heavy gas capsule, Kurrgo is unable to make it to the space ship before it takes off, and dies with Planet X. Reed lets the rest of the FF in on a little secret:

Obviously that's an error; what he means to say is that there was no enlarging gas.

Comments: This one seems like a throwback to the Atlas era, with aliens with strange names (which always include at least one repeated letter) menacing the protagonist. The story is extremely padded, which is why the synopsis is relatively short. I do like the irony at the end of Kurrgo being doomed by his own megalomania. But the FF was still pretty much hit or miss at this point, and I give this one a miss.