Saturday, February 27, 2010

Little Lulu #129

Little Lulu was the creation of Marjorie Henderson Buell (generally abbreviated to Marge). She appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in single panel comics for over a decade. Later she got her own newspaper strip and eventually made it into the comics for Dell, which specialized in licensed characters.

Dell hired John Stanley to produce the comics as both writer and artist. (Correction: As pointed out in the comments by Jonathan L. Miller, Stanley did the scripts and layouts only after the first few issues.) The result was one of the consistently funniest and entertaining books on the market. Along with Dennis the Menace and Richie Rich, Little Lulu was among the most successful comic book series featuring children ever; it was far more successful in that market than Charles Schultz's Peanuts.

Part of the charm of the series lies in the two main characters. Little Lulu is (generally) the leader of the girls in her hometown, while Tubby, her sometimes friend and sometimes antagonist, bosses the boys.

The opening story concerns the boys' clubhouse, which proudly declares "No Girls Allowed". Tubby and his pals have finally saved up enough money to put a lock on the door. However, the window poses a problem and:

Meanwhile, the girls are busy:

The boys pelt the girls with their snowballs, and later play an even worse trick:

The girls chase the boys, but the lads lock themselves in the clubhouse. However this doesn't work out that well:

And with the window boarded up, the boys have a lot of hard work ahead of them to escape.

The second story is about Lulu getting a present. Somehow she convinces herself that the present is going to be a giant playhouse that she and her girlfriends can have a tea party in. When it turns out that the actual gift is a piano, she's initially disappointed, but she's resourceful with the crate the piano came in:

The next three stories get into some of the continuing features in Little Lulu. In "Wet Mumday", the boys have one Monday a month where they refuse to talk to any of the girls, or even acknowledge their existence. This drives Lulu and her French friend Fifi crazy, to the point where they adopt desperate measures:

But while the old man may be turned on the boys are made of sterner stuff:

So the girls climb up a drainpipe and get into the house through the second floor, but they accidentally fall into the bathtub:

However, the boys have broken their vows not to talk to the girls, so they're all going to have to be sworn back into the club at some later date. Note: the Mumday thing featured in several Little Lulu stories.

The fourth story features an even more common theme. Lulu is pestered by little Alvin, who wants some money to buy a bottle of perfume for his mother. So Lulu tells him a story explaining why he shouldn't buy the cheap perfume. These stories were always quite elaborate, and at least in the 1950s often featured "a poor little girl" (played by Lulu) and an ugly crone called Witch Hazel. In the story, the poor little girl wants to buy her mother a bottle of perfume, but she can't find a way to earn money. Finally she meets Witch Hazel, who offers to pay the 79 cents she needs if Lulu will just wash all her windows:

When the witch asks Lulu why she needs the money, the poor little girl talks about the perfume sale going on that day only. So the witch heads out to buy some perfume for herself, but refuses to do the same for Lulu until the job is done, although she does leave the money for the job behind. Since the sale only lasts that day, Lulu grabs the money and heads downtown, but she runs into another witch, named Little Itch, who offers to make free perfume for her:

But Little Itch absconds with the money, and thus Lulu has no choice but to go back to Witch Hazel's house and finish washing the windows. Fortunately Witch Hazel returns, smells the bad perfume created by Little Itch, and, thinking it's the bottle she just bought, gives Lulu the good perfume. Alvin has learned his lesson:

The final story features Tubby and the Little Men from Mars. These were also continuing characters, and quite a common type in late 1950s pop culture, as I have discussed elsewhere. Tubby discovers a large dog, who rescued his little buddies from the Red Planet. But his mom won't let him keep the animal, and so he tries to sell it. At first he has no success, but then the Little Men convince Wilbur Van Snobbe (the rich kid) that the dog can talk:

But when it turns out that the dog can't talk, Van Snobbe drops it back at Tubby's doorstep. The Martians have a solution, however; they miniaturize the dog and adopt him as their pet. Tubby's mom comes in just as they fly away:

Probably another reference to Laika, the dog that the Russians put in space in 1957.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Around the Horn

Collectors Weekly has a terrific interview with Greg Theakston regarding Golden Age Comics in general. I found this quirky aside fascinating:

You also had Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr., who was Elvis’ favorite comic book hero. You know the emblem with Elvis’ motto, “Taking Care of Business” with the lightning bolt? Captain Marvel Jr. had a lightning bolt on his chest, plus a little Elvis-like curl of hair in the middle of his forehead. Elvis wore the jumpsuits with the high collar; Captain Marvel Jr. had a high collar. So while Jr. may not be as widely known as Captain Marvel himself, he had a profound effect on Elvis Presley.

Well worth the read. More fascinating discussion of DC's Golden Age era at Bill Jourdain's site in a podcast with the Comic Geek Speak guys.

Out of This World posts the entire Jackie Johnson story from Our Army At War #160. You may recall that I reviewed that issue back in January.

While we're on the topic of Our Army At War, Mykal posted the entirety of Our Army At War #120, featuring a pair of excellent stories including the origins of the Ice Cream Soldier, Wild Man, and Bulldozer. But it is the other story in that issue, a one-off tale featuring the Saucy Lady that really won my heart.

All's fair in Love and War, right? Jacque Nodell recently hosted a comics chatcast on the topic of Romance Comics, while Aaron from Silver Age Gold hosted one on his favorite comics. They are scheduled again on March 15 (Aaron) and March 16 (Jacque) at 8:00 PM eastern time, and this time I promise to remember to attend Aaron's.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Adventure #280

This story is symptomatic of one of the major problems with Superboy in the Silver Age. Characters that had been introduced in the Superman books often ended up appearing in Superboy, even though that appearance contradicted the Superman tales. Lex Luthor, who for years had bedeviled the Man of Tomorrow, turned out to have been the best friend (however briefly) of the Boy of Steel. Lois Lane and Mr Mxyptlk also appeared in the Superboy chronicles, so it was perhaps inevitable that Lori Lemaris would also pop up in Smallville eventually. Never mind that we had been assured in her first Superman story that she was a girlfriend of his during his college years at Metropolis U.

The story itself is a classically zany Silver Age tale. Superboy decides to help out a local "aquarium" (really an aquatic zoo) owner by bringing him terrific attractions like electric eels, sharks and a giant whale. Lori and her friends observe this from under the sea, and Lori lies a bit shamelessly:

It turns out that Lori is bored with Atlantis. BTW, those who think that there wasn't an explanation for the Lori Lemaris Atlanteans and the Aquaman contingent are wrong:

Lori decides to get Superboy to "rescue" her from a floating mine. When he does, she again indulges herself in a whopper:

But she trips herself up with a bit of "proof":

Of course, this was something of a cliche in the Silver Age; since BC means "Before Christ", nobody would have dated a coin 450 BC; that was the year applied after the birth of Jesus became considered a dividing point.

Lori explains that she wants to live outside the water, as a normal girl, and believes that Superboy will be able to accomplish this. He sets up the experiment, but Lana comes along:

The experiment will take 24 hours, during which time Superboy is away on a space mission. Lori is so confident the procedure will work, that she gets out of the water and drains it off. Bad move:

Say what? Smallville only a mile from the ocean? I guess we can rule out Kansas as the location of Superboy's hometown. Fortunately, Lana remembers that there's a pool inside the cave, and it turns out that the experiment was not to let her live on the land, but:

Still, how do we get to where Superboy and Lori have no memory of ever meeting before their college days? Lori's father goes to work:

Yep, he hypnotizes Superboy, Lori, and Lana into having no memory of the incident.

Comments: It's pretty obvious why this story has never been reprinted (as far as I know). The details are weird, the hypnotism bit makes little sense (except to get Weisinger out of the problem of explaining why the story contradicted Lori's first Superman appearance), and Lori's compulsive lying puts her in a bad light. On the other hand, there is a rare good bit of characterization for Lana Lang, as she saves Lori's life despite fearing that Superboy will prefer the mermaid.

The Congo Bill/Congorilla tale is a fairly pedestrian tale. Congo Bill is hit on the head, and when he changes into Congorilla, he does some oddball things, changing into characters from a nursery rhyme:

Rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief,
Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief.

The story was dusted off and reused a few years later in a Superman story in Action Comics.

The Aquaman story features Aquaman and Aqualad helping out with the TV show, Sea Chase. This is a reference to a popular syndicated TV show of the times called Sea Hunt, starring Lloyd Bridges and two of his sons, Jeff and Beau Bridges.

Update: Commenter Osgood Peabody points out that the story has just recently been reprinted in this volume:

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fantastic Four Fridays: Crossover Central

One of the keys to Marvel's success in the Silver Age was the relentless use of crossover stories to introduce the readers of one Marvel mag to characters in other titles. This story marks the very beginning of that trend.

Ben and Alicia are leaving a performance at the symphony, when Ben's appearance attracts the attention of some soldiers, who suspect he's the Hulk:

After the confusion is resolved, Ben learns that Thunderbolt Ross (the Hulk's nemesis) is requesting the aid of the FF to capture old Greenskin. There's a cute little sight gag:

After the boys brag about how they'd defeat the Hulk, we get another taste of Sue's inferiority complex:

The Hulk is suspected of destroying a secret project in the Southwest. But Bruce Banner believes that the actual culprit is the Wrecker. It turns out that the secret project was an early version of "Star Wars"; a plan to safeguard cities from nuclear attack:

Banner's assistant, Karl Kort, drops his wallet, which conveniently contains a membership card in a "subversive communist front organization". Thus the Wrecker's identity is revealed to Rick Jones. Before he can tell the others, Kort kidnaps him. He leaves a note for Banner telling him to get rid of the FF or he'll never see Rick alive again. So Bruce decides to turn himself into the Hulk again. Remember, this is during the era where Stan and Jack were still experimenting with the Hulk's transformations; at one point it was voluntary, at another it was brought on by nightfall. It was only later that they hit on the idea that stress caused Banner to change.

A little later all three groups are in an underground cave. The first meeting of the FF and the Hulk:

Note as well that the Hulk's vocabulary is a little more extensive than the "Hulk smash!" character of the later 1960s.

There are several pages of the FF mixing it up with the Hulk, when suddenly a beam weapon incapacitates the behemoth. The Thing, angry that his battle was cut short, discovers the culprit: a giant robot controlled by the Wrecker. He makes short work of the robot and the team confronts Karl Kort, who has one last card to play:

But as you can probably guess from that panel, Sue proves useful for more than just morale-boosting. The Hulk gets away.

Comments: Obviously a hugely significant issue in terms of a preview of things to come in the Marvel line. One oddity; the crossover came too late to save the Hulk's own magazine, which saw its final issue come out that same month (March 1963). Incidentally, there was another FF crossover in Amazing Spiderman #1, which also had a 3/63 cover date.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hawkman #13

I can tell this story tersely enough with just a few panels:

Comments: Overall an amusing story, obviously padded quite a bit to make a book-length tale. Murphy Anderson's art sizzles however, and Gardner Fox does redeem himself a bit with the ending. Hawkgirl had turned off a mind control machine that Queen Alvit had planned to use to force him to marry her, but Hawkman has a different explanation:

Very, very sweet!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Best Romances of the Silver Age?

Note the question mark at the end there. I'm asking for your help. As I see it, there are not really a lot of contenders, so here's a rundown:

Superman and Lois Lane: A rather tepid romance at best, and it was not, as Mort Weisinger put it, consummated during the Silver Age (although that changed eventually).

Batman and ???: 'Nuff said.

Barry Allen and Iris West. One of several marriages within the Silver Age of a long-dating couple. Lots of good interaction, although Iris could be a beeyatch when she wanted to as well.

Aquaman and Mera. One of the definitely consummated marriages in the Silver Age; they did, after all, have a son.

Green Lantern/Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris. It ended badly, and this was always an oddball romantic triangle with Hal competing against his secret identity as I have discussed previously.

Ray Palmer and Jean Loring. A solid contender; don't let the ridiculous Identity Crisis storyline distract you. A major reason why Ray fought crime as the Atom was to help Jean establish her practice so she'd marry him.

Hawkman and Hawkgirl: Unique situation as the Halls were married when we first met them. Worked well together both in their costumed identities and as civilians.

Ralph Dibney and Sue Dibney: Another early married couple, one of the charms of the Detective Comics series was the interaaction between the pair.

Reed Richards and Sue Storm. Another rare case of consummated love, as they bore a son as well in the Silver Age.

Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. Ill-fated and frequently tested, their love was surprisingly strong during the late 1960s.

Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne. Like the Dibney's they were not really major characters at the time, but they did marry.

Bruce Banner and Betty Ross. They came close to getting married in the Silver Age, but I never really felt a strong bond between the two.

Any others? The Marvel characters pretty much turned over all their girlfriends before the decade was over: Karen Page, Jane Foster, Pepper Potts, etc. Archie and Veronica/Betty and Richie Rich/Gloria are cute, but not really romance in my book.

Update: Some very good suggestions in the comments:

Adam Strange and Alanna. An excellent romance with lots of interaction, the involuntary separations and even an accepted proposal of marriage. A very strong contender.

Ben Grimm and Alicia. If we look at a romance as union of yin and yang, this would have to rate strongly. Alicia completes Ben, and softens his hard edges (although figuratively, not literally).

Green Arrow and Black Canary. I'd rate this as more of a Bronze Age Romance. Same with the Vision and the Scarlet Witch.

Catwoman and Batman. Terrific pick but more Golden Age than Silver; the Catwoman only made two real appearances in Batman during the Silver Age.

BTW, on the consummated part, I do think that marriage and children are an important manifestation of love, but I was also being a little puckish; see this post for more.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Super-Swipes #2

This one took me a bit by surprise. About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post about Action #331 (December 1965), where the story concerned Lois Lane writing an article for the Daily Planet about how Clark Kent was really Superman. It was intended as a gag, but the pressman who ran off a few copies took ill, and his assistant accidentally ran off the full press run with the headlines. At first it appears that the Planet will suffer, and Lois will be fired, but then Clark suggests that if he pretends to really be the Man of Steel for a few days and then the Planet reveals the gag, readers will forgive them. Inevitably this causes big complications, but in the end it all comes off well.

It turns out that this story is virtually note-for-note swiped from Superman #20 (Jan-Feb 1943). Note:



Oh, there are a few changes here and there; "Ironjaw" the villain becomes "Iron Ike" and some of the more humorous slapstick moments of the original like these are gone:

But overall this is one of the more blatant Super-Swipes that I can recall.

The Superman #20 story is contained in this archive edition:

Monday, February 08, 2010

Some Nice Moments

I thought I'd put up a post highlighting some of the nicer moments in the comics. In Superman #96 (March 1955), there was a story about the Girl Who Didn't Believe in Superman. The Daily Planet is holding their annual "Lovely Child" contest, and Alice Norton is the winner of $1,000 and an around the world tour with Superman. But there's a catch:

We learn that she became blind after a car accident. And it turns out little Miss Norton is quite the skeptic:

Superman is determined to prove that he does exist, but Alice has a rational explanation for every super power he demonstrates:

But then he discovers that Alice's blindness may be caused by a tiny sliver of glass behind her optic nerve. Paging Dr Superman:

And sure enough, the surgery is successful. Alice gets her sight-seeing tour:

And it gets even better. Superman spots some vagabond spying on the Norton residence, but it turns out to be Alice's father. He's been consumed with guilt ever since the accident. Mrs Norton tells him that the car's brakes were faulty and that it wasn't his fault. The family is reunited and in the end:

In Superman #97 (May 1955), we learned the story of Superboy's last day in Smallville. He did a lot of civic improvement for the town and the people turned out for a farewell:

Very sweet.

Update: As requested by longtime blog-buddy Bill Jourdain, I'm including reprint information on these two stories.

The Girl Who Didn't Believe in Superman has been reprinted several times, including Superman #242 (1971), the Best of DC #25 (1979), and in this volume:

Superboy's Last Day in Smallville was reprinted in 100-Page Super Spectacular #DC-18 (1973) and in a Pizza Hut Collector's Edition (1977) of Superman #97, as well as the Superman in the Fifties:

Update II: An anonymous commenter points out that the Superman in the Fifties book notes that the story of the blind girl saved by Superman also appeared on the Adventures of Superman TV show. I found mention of the episode here. It appeared on TV about a year before the comic book version.