Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cover Quest

In Action #355, Mort Weisinger published this interesting list of cover collections:

Except, maddeningly, although he insisted that the writers include the title and issue numbers, he did not publish that information except for a few, such as Detective #40, 66 and 144. So I thought it might make an interesting contest to try to come up with lists for each of these categories, as shown in the column:

1. Five males over 10 years old (33)
2. Superheroes on foreign soil (28)
3. Unusual belts (30)
4. Means of transportation (33)
5. Numbers not issue numbers (25)
6. Stars (28)
7. Empty hands clenched (25)
8. Shadows (33)
9. Gloves, not worn by heroes who normally wear them (36)
10. Chains and shackles (28)
11. Stone (33)
12. Statues (25)
13. Clouds, gas, dust or smoke (26)
14. People with eyes closed (48)
15. Emblems with letters (32) Note: Only one per character.
16. Questions (31)
17. Bare legs (35)
18. Hero and secret identity (30)
19. No hero or heroine (27)
20. No villain (27)
21. Blond hair not feature character (25)
22. Yellow titles (25)
23. Headquarters (32)

I took a few out because they seemed too easy; almost every issue of Detective from about 1960-1963 featured Robin in profile as Mark Engblom documented a couple years ago.

Some ground rules: DC titles, as per Weisinger's requirement. Since Action #355 was the July 1967 issue, no comics after that date. And since you can use sources like the GCD for your covers, no comics published before 1955.

For the heck of it, here is my stab at #14, chains and shackles.
1. Superman #102
2. Superman #115
3. Superman #191
4. Action #235
5. Action #263
6. Action #286
7. Action #295
8. Action #318
9. Action #319
10. Superboy #109
11. Superboy #110
12. Superboy #120
13. Adventure #348
14. Batman #110
15. Batman #111
16. Batman #163
17. Wonder Woman #73
18. Wonder Woman #106
19. Jimmy Olsen #94
20. Lois Lane #73
21. Justice League of America #22
22. Blackhawk #118
23. Blackhawk #179
24. Blackhawk #184
25. Blackhawk #197
26. Hawkman #6
27. Hawkman #8
28. Hawkman #16

What struck me in compiling that list is how often the chains were used for some other purpose than restraining someone (other than Superman, who did indeed tend to get shackled a lot, usually with green K manacles). For example, Batman #111 featured the Caped Crusaders swinging with chains as ropes would not hold them in their new armored uniforms. And while Wonder Woman in the Golden Age often seemed like a B&D mag, in #73, she's pulling a ship by its anchor, which is attached to a chain. Hawkman's three covers with chains are similarly non-binding:

Some other cover types that were probably common in the DC Silver Age: Apes, duplicates of the heroes (many, many, Wonder Woman covers featured this theme), fat and/or excessively tall characters.

Good hunting!

Update: Commenter Jonathan L. Miller points out that one of the cover collectors, Paul Karasik, retained his affection for comics and has published several books:

I have not read any of them, but I have read many of the Fletcher Hanks stories in Fantastic Comics (the subject of the "I Shall Destroy" and "You Shall Die" books). Mark Engblom reviewed the former book here. I can certainly attest that the Stardust stories are every bit as demented as Mark indicates in his review. They are wildly entertaining and completely insane.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mort Drucker Bio

Found this inside Bob Hope #87:

Of course, the bit about his daughter becoming the first female comic book artist would be news to Ramona Fradon and Marie Severin.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Supergirl's Skirt

Superman Fan posts about a girl's Superman outfit that was advertised in DC comics in the mid-1950s, along with the boy's outfit. As you'd expect, the girl's version featured a skirt.

At this point, we’re still four years out from Kara Zor-El’s debut (in Action Comics #252), and three years away from the “Super-Girl” Jimmy Olsen creates with a magic totem in what would seem to have been a dry run for the character (in Superman #123). Kara’s outfit featured a blue skirt while her precursor had a red one. (In Action Comics #156, temporary Superwoman Lois Lane had it both ways; red on the cover, blue inside the book).

Actually Kara had it both ways, too. In her first appearance, a preview at the end of the Superman story in Action #251, she had on the red skirt:

And although it was blue in her full-fledged debut in the next issue, they often goofed for the next year or two, as in this cover from Action #262:

Personally I thought the red skirt was better. And I'm sure if anybody wrote to Mort Weisinger about this "boo-boo", his response was probably that like all women, Supergirl had more than one outfit.

Update: Another example of the red skirt:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

GI Combat #125

GI Combat was one of the titles that DC inherited from Quality Publications in the late 1950s. As with their other war titles, DC created a continuing feature for the book. In this case, it was the Haunted Tank. During World War II, the US forces used a tank known as the M3 Stuart, named after the Confederate General, J.E.B. Stuart. In this series, the Civil War cavalryman haunts the tank named after him and which is commanded by a Jeb Stuart Smith (later stories dropped the last name).

The series mostly had the ghost giving cryptic and apparently crazy advice to his namesake, which later would be revealed as prescient. Smith's men were a little disturbed by his habit of talking to a ghost, but generally reasoned that he seemed to be a fine commander despite his eccentricity.

Their assignment for this issue is fairly straight-forward:

Intially, they fight a Messerschmidt that has been temporarily grounded, but is about to take off. They shoot it but:

Later, they defeat two German tanks, but one of their fellow American tanks is destroyed. As they head into Crecy, the General gives Smith some encouragement:

The fighting is fierce inside the town and the other two tanks for the American side are destroyed. But Smith and his men account for a few themselves:

They even run into Sgt Rock of Easy Company briefly. In the end, they hold out till dark and:

Comments: Entertaining story and gorgeous art by Russ Heath. I was particularly struck by the expressions on the faces of the men during the battle:

The backup story is about a submarine that is forced to fight on the surface due to problems. Eventually it is able to submerge, but even then things don't go perfectly:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The PSAs

DC ran PSAs (Public Service Announcements or Ads) in their magazines for many years. I'm not sure exactly when they started but it appears that they ended around July 1967; I was unable to locate any in Silver Age comics dated August 1967 or later (although I remember that DC had a similar series of ads in the 1970s called "Justice for All Includes Children"). But up until then, they appeared in almost every comic book DC published, with only occasional exceptions.

They were mostly pushed the "Be A Good Citizen" message, although some were geared at self-improvement, or safety, or family life. Here's a pretty good example:

I did some research on these over the last few days. The PSAs were very organized, to the point where you could probably identify the month of publication of a comic missing the outer wraps just by checking what PSA appeared in it. The monthly and eight times a year magazines all had the same PSA based on the cover date, while the bi-monthly mags all had PSAs based on the month prior to the cover date (i.e., Oct-Nov 1963 magazines would have a November cover date and the October 1963 PSAs, while Nov-Dec 1963s would have a December cover and the November 1963 ad). There was, however, one big exception: None of the romance comics published by DC carried the ads. My guess is that DC felt the readership of their love mags would be turned off by the ads, which were mostly aimed at young boys.

Some of the PSAs featured DC characters, such as Superman and Batman. DC's teen characters Buzzy and Binky popped up in quite a few ads, and as the series based on those characters had often ended years before it was often puzzling to readers. Just who was this kid Allergy? And why was Wolfie such a nasty little weasel?

Paulette Breen, the winner of a beauty pageant held annually at Palisades Amusement Park (a longtime DC advertiser) appeared in this one:

That appeared in October 1964, shortly after the Surgeon General's Warning first started appearing on cigarette packs. Hence the bit about adults not knowing any better.

The Health Myths Debunked ad convinced me to get a tetanus shot after I stepped on a nail one time. Some of the ads appeared more than once. According to several sources, the ads were written by longtime DC editor Jack Schiff and drawn by Bob Kane's ghost on Batman, Sheldon Moldoff.

Only one PSA that I was able to locate had text-only; this was the Big Dance, which appeared in many DC magazines in September 1956. It's about two teenage girls, who are bummed out that their parents have set a curfew for them to be home. To their surprise, they learn that their boyfriends (apparently a year or two older) also have a time limit.

I was able to assemble a list of almost all the PSAs published by DC from 1955 onwards using this list as a starting point, although a few proved elusive:

Jan 1955
Feb 1955 Binky's Special Christmas Quiz: Christmas in Many Lands
Mar 1955 Your United Nations at Work
Apr 1955 Peter Porkchops Don't Be Afraid to Speak Up
May 1955 Binky Gives Tips on Camping
Jun 1955 Buzzy There May Be a Career In Health For You
Jul 1955 Binky Gives Tips on Camping
Aug 1955 Buzzy Never Underestimate a New Idea
Sep 1955
Oct 1955 Buzzy Asks What Are You Getting Out of School
Nov 1955 Buzzy Do You Know Your Neighbors
Dec 1955 How a Nation Is Born Your United Nations at Work
Jan 1956 Binky in the Best Present of All
Feb 1956 Buzzy Asks Do You Know How to be a Good Babysitter
Mar 1956 Binky Healthy Teeth for You and Your Pet
Apr 1956 Binky Says It's Fun to Belong
May 1956 Get Your Ticket to the Treasury of Books
Jun 1956 Binky Presents Pioneers of 1776
Jul 1956 Do It Yourself Safety Rules
Aug 1956 Peter Porkchops Solves the Case of the Careless Camper
Sept 1956 The Big Dance
Oct 1956 Binky Shows How to Spend a Summer Week
Nov 1956 Binky's Special Election Exhibit
Dec 1956 Gifts to the United Nations
Jan 1957 Buzzy's Famous Books Quiz
Feb 1957 Winter Sports Champions of the World
Mar 1957 Buzzy's Special Brotherhood Week Quiz
Apr 1957 Buzzy Learns about Careers in Nursing
May 1957 A Date With Effie
Jun 1957 Worldwide Adventures in Science
Jul 1957 Binky Shows How to Make New Friends
Aug 1957 Earn While You Learn!
Sep 1957 Danger Prejudice at Work
Oct 1957 How Not to Enjoy a Vacation
Nov 1957 Teddy Roosevelt Guardian of Nature
Dec 1957 The Trick is to Treat All the World's Children
Jan 1958 Wanted: A Teen-Age Code
Feb 1958 The Flushing Remonstrance
Mar 1958 Do You Know What's Behind a Law?
Apr 1958 Peter Porkchops in the Secret of the Happy Pig
May 1958 Buzzy Scoffs at that Deep, Dark Secret
Jun 1958 Nature's Prize Pupil
Jul 1958 Are You a Litterbug?
Aug 1958 Wanted: A Pal
Sep 1958 Know Your Pet
Oct 1958 Binky: Lost--A Free Education
Nov 1958 Look to the Stars
Dec 1958 Sharing--the United Nations Way
Jan 1959 Formula for Success
Feb 1959 The Magic Card
Mar 1959 The Family Favorite
Apr 1959 What's Your BQ (Brotherhood Quotient)
May 1959 Do You Make Life Hard for Yourself
Jun 1959 Fred Finds a Way
Jul 1959 Buzzy Says Be Sure of Your Facts
Aug 1959 Peter Porkchops Gives Tips on Summer Fun
Sep 1959 Water: A Friend or Deadly Enemy
Oct 1959 It's Fun to Learn
Nov 1959 New Stars for Old Glory
Dec 1959 The Atom Servant of Man
Jan 1960 Binky in the Best Present of All
Feb 1960 Superboy Says It's Fun to Help Others
Mar 1960 Buzzy's Famous Books Quiz
Apr 1960 Aloha Hawaii
May 1960 What's Wrong with These Pictures?
Jun 1960 Be Your Own Boss
Jul 1960 Buzzy Says Free Speech Free for All
Aug 1960 Superman Lend a Friendly Hand
Sep 1960 Bike Safety=Bike Fun
Oct 1960 How Are Your Shopping Manners
Nov 1960 Keep Learning the Key to Success
Dec 1960 Children of Tomorrow
Jan 1961 Get a Grip on Your Gripes
Feb 1961 Our American Heritage
Mar 1961 Don't Sell Nature Short
Apr 1961 A Salute to Our American Indians
May 1961 How's Your Eye-Q?
Jun 1961 Parents Have Rights Too
Jul 1961 Gifts from Your Elders
Aug 1961 It’s Fun to Serve
Sep 1961 The Right to Be Different
Oct 1961 A Message from Otto the Robot
Nov 1961 Wanted: Safe Bus Riders
Dec 1961 People Are People
Jan 1962 Peter Porkchops in the Secret of the Happy Pig
Feb 1962 Let Science Serve You
Mar 1962 From Many Lands
Apr 1962 Do You Know Your Neighbors?
May 1962 Time Out for Talk
Jun 1962 Your Pass to New Worlds
Jul 1962 Superman Says Be A Good Citizen
Aug 1962 Not Wanted: High School Dropouts
Sep 1962 Buzzy's Rules of Water Safety
Oct 1962 Nature's Prize Pupil
Nov 1962 Health Myths Debunked
Dec 1962 Superman Talks about Pennies for Unicef
Jan 1963 Touchdown for Picasso
Feb 1963 Health Myths Debunked
Mar 1963 Safety First: All Year
Apr 1963 Salute to Our Fellow Citizens of Puerto Rico
May 1963 Countdown on Excellence
Jun 1963 Not Wanted: High School Dropouts
Jul 1963 A Tree Grow on Second Street
Aug 1963 How Not to Enjoy a Vacation
Sep 1963 Binky Shows How to Spend a Summer Week
Oct 1963 Play It Safe
Nov 1963 Your United Nations at Work
Dec 1963 Your Free Trip Around the World
Jan 1964 You Get What You Vote For
Feb 1964 Christmas in Many Lands
Mar 1964 Give and Take
Apr 1964 The Golden Rule
May 1964 Names Do Hurt
Jun 1964 Are You a Good Neighbor?
Jul 1964 Learn From Your Hobbies
Aug 1964 Rx Against Accidents
Sep 1964
Oct 1964 Smoking is for Squares
Nov 1964 Honesty is the Best Policy
Dec 1964 Children of Tomorrow
Jan 1965 Salute to Courage
Feb 1965 Superboy Says Don't Give Fire a Place to Start
Mar 1965 Friends Across the Seas
Apr 1965 Are You a Silent Witness?
May 1965 What's Wrong with These Pictures?
Jun 1965 Happy Hobby Time
Jul 1965 Binky Shows How to Make New Friends
Aug 1965 Summer At Home Can Be Fun
Sep 1965 Nature's Bill of Rights
Oct 1965 Are You a Litterbug?
Nov 1965 The Hip Way To Learn
Dec 1965 Builders of the Future
Jan 1966 The Magic Card
Feb 1966 The Invisible Handicap
Mar 1966 Do You Make Life Hard for Yourself
Apr 1966 What's Your BQ (Brotherhood Quotient)
May 1966 Health Myths Debunked
Jun 1966 Your Free Trip Around the World
Jul 1966 Natural Beauty--Everybody's Right
Aug 1966 The Policeman is Your Friend
Sep 1966 Get Hip to Old Folks
Oct 1966
Nov 1966 Lost: A Free Education
Dec 1966 Superman Talks about Pennies for Unicef
Jan 1967 Champs Against Odds
Feb 1967 Peace on Earth
Mar 1967 Countdown on Excellence
Apr 1967
May 1967 BEM Shows Up
Jun 1967 Mystery of the Million-Dollar Briefcase
Jul 1967 Make Your Summer Count

Favorites? I think everybody loved BEM:

I also liked How Not to Enjoy a Vacation, with the family pet describing the misadventures his owners had on a summer trip, and Honesty is the Best Policy, about three boys who find a wallet in a phone booth.

As far as I know, none of the other comics publishers did anything similar during the Silver Age.

Update: More discussion of the PSAs here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Around the Comicsphere

Commander Benson has a terrific trivia challenge for Silver Age fans. Off the top of my head I can get four answers out of ten (1,6,9 and 10) and have a pretty good guess at 4 and 5. I'd know where to look to find the answers to 2,4 and 8. Only #3 has me currently baffled; might want to bone up on my World's Finest issues. Great job; as the Commander notes, coming up with challenging questions is a chore in the age of Google.

Booksteve has a post covering all the Craig Yoe books for this year, which is quite a prodigious output. Great for last-minute holiday shopping for your comic fan friends and relatives!

Blog into Mystery covers the time that Supergirl got Jimmy Olsen fired in a version of Standard DC plot #6b: Someone looks into future, learns that someone else will die, and does amazingly convoluted things to try to prevent it. I can think of four other examples of this plot, including the famous story where Lightning Lad first died.

Over at Nothing But Batman I have a pretty long look at the romance between Batwoman and Batman during the Silver Age.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

More Homages

My blog buddy Allan at Gorilla Daze has a post up on a cover that is an obvious homage to this famed cover, from Flash #123:

One of his commenters asked if that Superman cover was the first homage to the Flash of Two Worlds cover. I responded that this one was earlier and pretty obvious:

Some obvious similarities there; the central figure, the two people speeding towards him with an object between them so they can't see each other.

The GCD points out that the Flash #123 cover is an homage itself:

It has the same key elements, but one major thing is different; there's no particular reason for the two German soldiers not to know about each other, whereas in the other two covers, there is obviously quite a surprise awaiting the two men who are on a collision course.

It's interesting to note that the scene shown on the cover of Flash #123 has little to do with the plot. Indeed, it seems shoehorned in the story just to justify that image. Barry and Jay are actually aware of each other in that sequence, even though it doesn't appear that way. In Flash #147, on the other hand, it comes as a big surprise to both the Flash and Professor Zoom to bump into each other.

A couple more swipes that I noticed recently:

Obviously inspired by this Mystery in Space cover:

While the next issue of Mystery in Space had this cover:

Which clearly begat this one:

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Superheroes #4

As the 1960s wore on, the superhero craze showed no signs of abating. DC, the only comic publishing company that had never ceased publishing superhero comics, nearly doubled their output of the men in capes and cowls from about 25% of their books in the 1950s to about 45% in the 1960s. Marvel, which had no superhero titles from about 1955-1961, suddenly was swarming with amazingly-powered characters.

And then came Batmania, and it seemed like nothing sold except superhero titles. So Dell, which had only made a few half-hearted attempts at the genre, leapt in with this rather lame effort. Even the comic's title seems generic: Superheroes. "A Fantastic Transformation into Reality?" And the Fab 4 were the Beatles.

We quickly learn that four "teeners" are able to control a quartet of super-powered androids. One guy can receive radio waves; a very useful ability. Of course, you could just bring along a portable radio instead. Another guy has built-in radar, which proves handy considering that the story is about a bomber plane from SAC (Strategic Air Command) being hijacked by hypnotic command. Polymer Polly can fly and create strands of polymer from her body, while Crispy can shoot cold rays from his fingers.

The androids use their combined skills to find the bomber and render harmless the atomic bomb it had dropped:

In part II (pay no attention to that "The End" caption above), we learn that some hip couple were behind the hypnotism that took control of the SAC bomber. Since their plot has been ruined, they decide to get even with the Fab 4. And they quote a lot of 1960s music lines in the process:

This part also explains the "fantastic transformation into reality" bit. You see, the kids send their minds into the androids. The androids come to the old abandoned opera house where the kids hang out. The hip couple send a bomb there. And the bomb implodes:

As a result, the kids now have the powers that they formerly had to use the androids in order to possess. It's ginch-tastic!

A week later, the teeners have had some time to test and expand their powers. The radio-wave guy (called El by his buddies) has figured out where the hypnotic wave came from. And so the laser/radar guy:

When they get to the theatre, the Mod (our villain) and his gal are giving a concert:

Yeah, I could criticize that song for not rhyming, but it's not like the other publishers of the time did teen exploitation any better--the Kryptonian Krawl, anyone? Anyway, the kids (including the heroes) are all hypnotized to attack the Peace Ministers' Conference. Fortunately, the hypno-wave doesn't work if one is shoved (which seldom happens at a riot):

The Fab 4 quell the mob, and eventually catch the Mod and his girlfriend.

Comments: Painful. About the only thing positive in this effort is the artwork (credited in the book to Sal Trapani, but actually penciled by Bill Fraccio and inked by Trapani per Martin O'Hearn in the comments). The script glosses over all sorts of plot-holes, then maddeningly screeches to a halt so the kids don't walk out of Polly's house dressed in their uniforms. Never mind that earlier it's Tom's house. The story tries too hard by half to be relevant to kids of the time--why Tom even produces a comics fanzine--but fails miserably. It is plain to see why this was the last outing for the Fab 4.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Was There A Plan "C" for Clark?

I linked a week ago to Again With the Comics' post on the Helmet of Hate story in Jimmy Olsen. As you will recall from reading that post, at the end of the story it was revealed that the entire plot was based on Plan "J", a pre-arranged scheme where Jimmy Olsen was to do certain things to help out Superman.

As it happens, I was re-reading Lois Lane #29 today, and the cover story in that issue reveals Plan "L":

It's a ridiculously convoluted plot, obviously partly so to provide us with that entertaining cover scenario. Here's Lois explaining what Plan "L" told her:

Okay, but what if he's in trouble from Green K near Niagara Falls, or in Egypt? Was there a plan for that? At any rate, Lois sets about kissing every superhero she can get her lips on, which on this day in Metropolis just happens to be Green Arrow, Aquaman and Batman. After they're covered with her lipstick, they wipe it off onto a hankie which Batman flies up to the Fortress. Superman then coats his own face with the lipstick, because it has a form of Red Kryptonite on it that provides temporary immunity to Green Kryptonite. Oh, and she had to do it in that zany fashion because the villains were spying on her:

Note to self: When planning to keep tabs on Lois Lane, make the crystal eye a little less obvious.

Plan "P", for Perry White appeared in Action #295, discussed in detail at the Silver Age Sage.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

1957: Batman Predicts the Quiz Show Scandal

In the mid-1950s, TV viewers were riveted to their screens by the Quiz Shows of the time. However, in 1958 it was discovered that some of the shows (notably Twenty-One) were rigged, with the producers providing the contestants the answers and coaching them on how to make the show more dramatic. The story was immortalized in the 1994 film on the scandals, Quiz Show.

But in Batman #108 (June 1957), readers of Batman comics learned the truth before the rest of the public, in The Big Batman Quiz. In the story, contestant Frank Davis is about to go for the big money:

Batman is a special judge to determine whether the answers to the questions are right or wrong. Davis aces the $75,000 question: How did Batman apprehend the criminal Fenton brothers? Answer: By soaring into their mountain hideout on a kite. But the big question is a shocker:

And even more startling, Davis has apparently deduced the answer, as he writes Bruce Wayne's name on a card and shows it only to Batman. However, before Davis can exit the isolation booth, he keels over and dies. And when they pull him out, the pad on which he wrote Batman's secret identity is blank; it appears that someone tore the top sheet off.

Suspicion immediately falls on Garth, a criminal who was scheduled to appear on another program on that network, and who escaped during the show:

However, as they try to catch the thief, Batman realizes that "Garth" knows too much about the TV business for a common crook and they discover that the real crook has been bound and gagged in a prop room. The killer is obviously someone associated with television, and Batman quickly figures out who it is:

Harmon (the game show's host) had coated the light bulb in the isolation booth with a chemical that turned into a poisonous vapor when heated. Ironically, the vapor also erased the handwriting on the pad, thus saving Batman's real identity.

Based on the timeline of the real quiz show scandal, it appears that the writer had the basics right before the scam broke. The contestants were indeed furnished with the answers, but not in order to split the prizes. The story broke completely in 1958:

The gravy train derailed in August and September of 1958 when disgruntled former contestants went public with accusations that the results were rigged and the contestants coached. First, a standby contestant on Dotto produced a page from a winner's crib sheet. Then, the still bitter Herbert Stempel, Van Doren's former nemesis on Twenty One, told how he had taken a dive in their climatic encounter.

Wikipedia notes that some elements of the story had come out in 1957:
When Enright subsequently told him the promise couldn't be kept because he had sold his shows to NBC itself, Stempel went to the authorities to explain how the show was fixed and his own role in the rigging. As he later testified to Congress, he also agreed to talk to a reporter from the New York Post in February 1957, but the paper feared a libel suit if they went public with Stempel's original accusations at the time they spoke.

However, when we consider the timeframes for publishing comics, it seems unlikely that the scandal could have been public knowledge at the time the Batman story was written. According to the Master List for DC maintained at DC Indexes, Batman #108 hit the newsstands on April 16, 1957. Given the several months' delay between creation of a comic and its actual publication, it appears likely that the story must have been written prior to Stempel's talk with the New York Post. Note as well that the scandal did not become public at that time as the Post did not run with it.

The GCD does not have a credit for the script on this story. I have a vague memory that one of the famous comic book writers appeared on one of the quiz shows of the 1950s. Anybody? Bueller?

Update: Commenter Lee points to this appearance by Leo Dorfman, which is indeed the one I remembered:

Some very funny commentary by the host there.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Showcase #73: The Creeper Becomes DC's Question

The Hawk and the Dove were only one of the two new projects that Steve Ditko brought to DC in 1968; the other was Beware the Creeper. But in a lot of ways, the Creeper is simply Ditko's Charlton hero, The Question. Consider:

Both Jack Ryder and Vic Sage are both TV talk show hosts who don't care if they offend one of their sponsors:

Both gain their powers from a "professor":

Both are capable of changing identities in a flash:

And both are subjected to the attentions of a gal they cannot stand:

Of the two, I'd say the Question is more interesting, as his character is even more uncompromising than the Creeper, and more of an exemplar of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. Ditko was allowed to script his Charlton tales, while at DC his scripters included Don Segall (in the Showcase debut) and Denny O'Neill (in the ongoing series).

The plot in this issue is one of the most common in the Silver Age: Professor has invented something that the communists want. The underworld has kidnapped the prof and are about to deliver him to the reds, but... well, they're going to have a costume party as well at the house where he's being hidden. Because the leader of the mob is also a pillar of the community, the anti-violence crusader and Ryder's sponsor are also at the party:

So Ryder cobbles together the Creeper's costum--a green wig, yellow body paint and a sheepskin rug along with the Sub-Mariner's trunks, and crashes the party. But as he tries to search the house, some guards spot him, and he has to make a dash for it. He's wounded, but discovers a secret room behind a sliding panel where Professor Yatz is hidden. The professor decides to use the Creeper as his guinea pig for a serum that heals people quickly and gives them extra strength. He also implants in Ryder's arm a device that:

Hence Ryder's ability to make the quick costume change. The professor is killed when the guards burst through the sliding panel, and so the Creeper's secret is safe. The Creeper beats up the hoodlums and the cops catch the prof's killer. But all's not well:

The Creeper had only a short run at DC (six issues), although he made several guest appearances in the 1970s and has been a background character (as TV host Jack Ryder) for decades since. He had another short series in the mid-1990s. In 2003, Vertigo put out a mini-series with a female version of the Creeper set in 1930s France.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brain Boy #2

I was not aware of these comics in the 1960s and only recently purchased a couple of issues on ebay, unfortunately, not including the first issue (Four Color #1330), so we'll have to go to Don Markstein's Toonopedia for the origin:
Brain Boy was Matt Price, whose father was killed two months before he was born, in a spectacular car accident that also demolished a high-voltage power line, sending enough electricity through his pregnant mother's body to kill a dozen people. Miraculously, she and Matt both survived, and Matt grew up to be the world's most powerful telepath. He learned early on that kids who can do spooky things get beat up a lot, so he hid his power — but right after he graduated from high school, he was approached by Chris Ambers, also a strong telepath, who recruited him for an agency of the U.S. government so secret, it hid under the name "Organization of Active Anthropologists" so nobody would suspect it was engaged in international skulduggery.

The story in this issue is not particularly unusual: Dictator plans to take over the world by provoking a nuclear war between the US and Russia. However, there are some individual elements that are quite interesting and the concept of a Brain Boy fits in well with the early 1960s, so I thought I would discuss those more than the plot itself.

The early 1960s was a celebration of youth. John F. Kennedy was (and still is) the youngest president ever elected. It was also a time when intellect began to be respected more. The Whiz Kids of Robert McNamara, having reformed and modernized Ford Motor company, moved on to the Department of Defense.

Of course the Whiz Kids weren't really kids; McNamara had been 30 when he joined Ford and 44 by the time he became president of the company. But then, neither was Brain Boy a boy; his adventures start after his graduation from high school.

His powers are not described in full in the story, but it is obvious that they include telepathy, mind control, and the ability to fly:

He also possessed the ability to make himself virtually invisible, a la the Shadow:

Super powers and an origin mark him as pretty much a superhero, although he did not wear a costume. Dell had up till that point mostly specialized in licensed characters such as Donald Duck, but as Don Markstein notes, they had recently spun off much of that business to their Gold Key imprint and thus were apparently willing to experiment more in search of sales. Correction: As noted in the comments by my old buddy King Faraday, Gold Key was an imprint of Western Publishing, which had previously provided content to Dell.

Although Brain Boy did not operate in disguise, he did conceal his true abilities, causing him occasional problems with his girlfriend:

A very standard dilemma for a superhero character and his female companion, although as you can see, Maria (the girl in question) is far from a typical girlfriend for a 1960s superhero character. An interracial romance was definitely cutting edge by the standards of the time.

Brain Boy also lacked the code against killing that was common for the Silver Age:

And as Brain Boy leaves, he says "So die all tyrants." Not quite the literal meaning of "Sic semper tyrannus," (the words John Wilkes Booth shouted after shooting Abraham Lincoln), but close enough that it hardly seems coincidental.

Update: See here for several Brain Boy issues, including the first one (Four Color #1330).