Sunday, August 29, 2010

Jimmy Olsen #94

Jeez, Supes, did you have to rub his face in it by picking a new buddy with red hair and the initials "JO". Of course, these covers hit on common teenage themes of rejection and alienation. Who hasn't had a friend who suddenly becomes enamored of the new guy in town?

The opening story features Jimmy as "Insect Olsen". With Superman away in space, a new criminal named the Bug has begun a crime wave. Lana Lang is worried that he will try to steal her insect ring, and so she gives it to Jimmy for safekeeping. But just then:

Hmmm, Spider-Boy? As it happens, in the letters column of this issue, there's a missive claiming a resemblance between Jimmy and Peter Parker:

Those are pretty flimsy comparisons, and you'd have a hard time convincing me that Jimmy Olsen ever tried to avoid trouble.

At any rate, he saves the window washer, who turns out to actually be a private detective who's got a tape of the Bug discussing his upcoming crimes. Conveniently for plot purposes, the tape is slightly damaged so that Jimmy only gets partial details and has to fill in the blanks. But his deductions always turn out wrong:


But in the finale, Olsen, transformed into a ladybug, foils the gang and captures the Bug himself. Not! Instead, he is saved by the God(ess) in the Machine:

Comments: A more perfect example of the problems with the Jimmy Olsen title would be hard to imagine. Yes, it's somewhat amusing to see Jimmy's problems defeating the Bug. But in the end, he has to do it himself, or else he's not much of a hero. The art, by George Papp is serviceable but nothing special.

The second story is the cover one, and it's drawn by Pete Costanza. I like Costanza's art, but it has a cartoonish, old-timey feeling that didn't suit DC's house style in the 1960s. In the story, Jimmy Olsen is being given a big build-up for a new TV show featuring his adventures. As you can see here, even the target audience recognized the problems pointed out above about his characterization:

And we quickly see that stardom has gone to his head, as he refuses to sign autographs for his adoring public. When Life Magazine comes to inteview him at his new penthouse digs, he claims to be bored with his Superman trophies.

Alright, so I'm already guessing that this is some sort of plot by Superman and Jimmy to trap the Collector. This is one of the problems with Weisinger's puzzle covers; they almost always boil down to a plan to catch a crook or fool some aliens.

Jimmy gives Lucy Lane the cold shoulder here:

Of course, the continental dish's name is a combination of Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot, two of the hottest women on the silver screen at the time. Jimmy also snubs his fan club members, resulting in a bit of a bonfire:

Even the girls in his fan club wear bow ties? When rival reporters begin needling Jimmy about his only being famous because he's Superman's pal, he decides to show of his own abilities. First he tries a tight-rope act between two skyscrapers. But the rope breaks and he's only saved by the guy in the cape. And the same thing happens when Jimmy decides to go over Niagara Falls in a plastic bubble. When he jumps out of a plane followed by a parachute, a sudden storm blows it away and he's only saved by, you guessed it.

Jimmy's getting a little tired of the Man of Steel always horning in, and so he announces that he's no longer Superman's pal. There follows the contest to determine a new buddy, and Josh Oberlin is the winner. Meanwhile, Jimmy gets fired from the Daily Planet for always showing up late, and his TV show is canceled due to poor ratings. Desperate for cash, he shows up at the Collector's fortress to sell of his Superman trophies for a million dollars. The criminal is careful to check Jimmy for any microphones or listening devices.

Included are some items that would be very valuable to a crook, like this one:

But when the Collector opens up his lead-lined vault to reveal items he's stolen, Superman bursts in. How did he know the vault was open, with no "bugs" on Olsen or in the trophies?

There follows a needless explanation of how Superman and Jimmy collaborated on all his failed stunts, and a mention that Josh Oberlin will forever after be Jimmy Olsen's backup as Superman's pal. If he ever appeared again, the GCD doesn't have a record of it.

Comments: Overly predictable, but entertaining. Jimmy Olsen would remain a strong-selling title for the next few years, but the silly stories and immature nature of the title character probably ensured the steadily declining sales that the book showed for the next several years, as the Baby Boom turned into the Baby Bust and publishers tried to sell their wares to an older audience.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Trivia Quiz #40: Grab Bag

1. Who taught Roy Harper how to use a bow and arrow?

2. Name the three major differences between the Silver Age Mr Mxyzptlk and his Golden Age counterpart.

3. What souvenir did Batman bring back with him from the planet Zur-En-Arrh?

4. Who was Barry Allen's childhood sweetheart?

5. What famous actor was Hal Jordan's appearance patterned after?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Modern Silver: The New Frontier, Part 3

It's been awhile since I talked about the first two books in this series, so you may want to refresh your memory.

The third book opens with four men about to crash in a plane. They are, of course, the Challengers of the Unknown. Meanwhile, Hal Jordan has just accepted his job at Ferris Aircraft. The Suicide Squad battles a giant Pterodactyl, which kills Rick (the leader) before it dies as well. At his funeral, one of the women remarks that she never saw anything like that before in her life, but a WWII vet mentions seeing something like it on an island in the South Pacific. This is the first foreshadowing of the finale of the story.

Hal Jordan discovers that life at Ferris is nowhere near as exciting as he thought it would be, as he is subjected to a seemingly endless series of what seem to be useless tests. Then, just as he's about to quit Carol reveals:

They're planning a trip to Mars, with Hal as one of the crew. At the same time, Batman prods John Jones to obtain a book that was entered into the evidence locker when the two of them broke up a cult a year and a half earlier. When Jones does, he discovers that it tells a story of a Viking Prince who was cast adrift by his crew and landed on a mysterious island, where giant creatures (dinosaurs) lived. He barely managed to escape. At the end of the book is a description of a terrible force which dwarfs the planets of the solar system. Jones is shocked to realize that the force is already here.

Comments: The story is starting to take shape; we see how Cooke has taken the dinosaurs and monsters of the Silver Age and explained that they all had some common origin.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Around the Comicsphere

Comic historian Mike Madrid covers the history of female superheroes in a terrific interview at Collector's Weekly.

Batwoman was well-intentioned but Batman spent so much time telling her how incompetent she was and how fighting crime was not a woman’s job that they never developed much of a romance. She was portrayed as an inferior character that couldn’t be trusted. Batman trusted Robin, a 13-year-old boy, more than this grown woman.

Indeed, one of the main themes of Detective #249, where Robin teams up with Batwoman, is that the Boy Wonder is a much better sleuth than she.

Speaking of the fair sex, Jared at Blog Into Mystery has a post on one of the two stories in the Silver Age featuring a revolt of the girl members of the Legion of Superheroes. I touched briefly on the earlier story with the same plot here.

H at the Comic Treadmill covers four of the Silver Age Hawkman tryout issues in Brave & Bold. Excellent reading, and I heartily agree with this point:

Their three-issue tryout over, the Hawks vanished for a year of Earth-Prime time when they returned for a second three-issue stint in Brave & Bold. The first two issues had a mini-arc going with the goal of establishing a reason the Hawks would stay on Earth. The problem with it that it was the foundation of the series and Fox failed to sell it. The idea that Thanagarian police could learn from Earth methods required a smooth talking pitch by Fox and he failed to deliver. What did primitive Earth have to offer advanced Thanagarians? Apparently as shown in B&B 42’s, The Menace of the Dragonfly Raiders, Earth turned ropes into lariats, which turned out to be more effective than Stun Guns in subduing crooks mounted on dragon flies.

Indeed, assuming the Absorbascon worked as advertised, wouldn't Hawkman have learned all he needed to know about Earthling police methods without even bothering to set foot on the planet? And as H hints, he really wasn't studying police methods so much as he was studying ancient weapons.

Cartoon Snap reviews a collection of Felix the Cat comic book stories from the 1950s. As a second-grader in the early 1960s, I loved the Felix the Cat cartoons, although I recognize now that they were pretty crudely made. But the comics were very interesting and completely wild.

Bill Jourdain covers the latest release from DC's Golden Age, featuring the earliest adventures of Superboy. I am thrilled to hear that DC is finally reprinting significant material from that series, one of my favorites as you can probably guess from the way I've been covering it lately.

The Magic Whistle has a post on a rather bizarre 1960s book of one-panel gags called "My Son, the Daughter". Definitely not something that would have met with the approval of the CCA!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Atom #8

I have mentioned the Dr Light series in passing as one of the two really extended tales that DC had during the 1960s; the other one was Zatanna's search for her father.

Dr Light had originally fought the entire Justice League of America and nearly won in JLA #12. Following that, he decided to set his sights a little lower and take on the individual members one at a time. As it happens, his first target was the Atom, who had not even been a member of the JLA at the time of Dr Light's initial assault on that team.

Dr Light starts by escaping from jail. See, they left a light bulb in his cell, and using that he's able to draw a door on the cell wall, and open to to escape into another dimension. Fortunately, Ray Palmer happens to be at the prison with his girlfriend Jean, who's just gotten a prisoner named William Wilson released (this is explained in the second story in this issue). Ray examines the light bulb and is able to duplicate the Lord of Luminescence's trick and enter the other dimension as the Atom. But:

There follows a brief battle, but Dr Light seems to have planned well, and thus it's not long before the Atom finds himself in the predicament shown on the cover. Dr Light explains:

He has ensured that the Atom will not be able to shrink his way out of the bulb by dripping solder on his controls. But the Atom melts the solder with the filament in the bulb:

He soon subdues Dr Light, ending the story for now.

Comments: Even though the story is only 15 pages long, it seems padded. I did like how the Atom got out of the death trap, but the powers of Dr Light seemed a tad too much like magic and not enough like science.

In the second story, a guard is accused of attempting to steal a miniature painting (the Queen of Swords by Bonifacio Bembo) from the Ivy Town Art Gallery, when the painting is discovered in his lunch bucket. He is found guilty, the first client of Jean Loring's to go to prison. But later at the grand opening, when the miniature is on display with two more of Bembo's painting, a gas seeps out from the case holding the Queen of Diamonds, rendering all the patrons unconscious. Fortunately, the Atom is himself hiding in a case holding the King of Clubs, so he's not affected by the gas. However, when he attacks the thief who appears he gets a shocking surprise:

However, the Atom has succeeded in deducing the villain's identity:

The story ends with a long, and unnecessary explanation:

Comments: Solid basic story although as noted the explanation is unnecessary and convoluted.

Incidentally, did you notice the pillbox hat Jean Loring sports in this issue? That was a style popularized by Jacqueline Kennedy; this issue came out about five months before JFK's assassination. Gil Kane was obviously paying attention to women's fashion.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Blogroll Roundup

Jacque Nodell has an interesting post on the way DC started marketing their female superheroes in their romance magazines. I heartily agree with this comment:
Like I mentioned earlier, one of the exciting parts of learning about a topic in-depth is all the nuanced pieces of information that seem to pop up as time goes on.

Yep. I started this blog partly because I felt I knew a lot about the subject. But as time has gone one, I've been learning a great deal about Silver Age Comics, probably more than twice the knowledge I had when I started.

Mykal Banta reprints a whole "War that Time Forgot" story from Star Spangled War Stories, circa 1963. White King Kong versus the dinosaurs versus a PT boat! How can you go wrong?

Illegal aliens taking jobs from Americans? Aaron points out that it has a long tradition in the comics world.

Hooray for Wally Wood has a post on Wood's last two pages of comic book art. Terrific stuff from one of the masters of the genre.

Superman Fan looks at what happened when teenager Clark Kent got fed up with concealing his real identity and decided to let the world know that he was Superboy.
That night, Clark is off to the big school dance, where he ditches Lana to dance with five other girls at the same time (through super-speed). Lana sobs, “I guess Clark will never forgive me for not showing more interest in him before he revealed himself to be Superboy!”

Meanwhile, Commander Benson has a long post where he disses Lois Lane.
She claimed to be in love with Superman, yet what did she spend at least half of her waking hours doing? Attempting to ferret out his secret identity---his most private, most closely guarded secret.

Fair enough, but whom do some of his commenters suggest as an alternate mate for him? Lana Lang! Now Lana did calm down as an adult, but in her teens Lana spent far more time on trying to learn Superboy's secret identity than Lois ever did.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Super Swipe #6: Subtly Done

As I mentioned in my last post, some swipes are blatant, with only a few minor changes. And others are so subtle that it hardly seems fair to call them swipes; rather they are simply inspired by a previous story.

So it is with today's example. Commander Benson talked recently about the updated story, Action #288's The Man Who Exposed Superman. This is a terrific story, as CB ably demonstrates with his post. Indeed, it is only because that was such an excellent tale that I recognized its inspiration in a little story from Superman #90, called Superman's Secret Past.

First, let's go over the elements of similarity. In Action #288, Perry White decides Clark Kent is the logical choice to cover a TV show honoring Superman, that will be set in Smallville. In the earlier story:

In the later story, there's a side-plot about Lana Lang suspecting Clark Kent of being Superboy, while in Superman #90 that's relegated to a single panel. In both stories, there's a trinket from Kal's babyhood that threatens to give things away:

Both stories revolve around the old Kent home, although there are some significant differences. In the Action story, we learn that Clark has kept ownership of the house for sentimental reasons, and it is boarded up. In the Superman tale, the house has been sold to a Professor Snelling, who's living in Smallville while researching a biography of Superman.

In both stories, a bunch of souvenirs are hidden in the old house; in the earlier tale they are located in a lead-lined closet that even Supes is unaware of, while in the later story, they're hidden in the tunnel Superboy used to leave the house without being observed.

Both stories feature a tribute to the Kents. In Action #288, this is implied by the entire story rather than stated, while in Superman #90, it's explicit:

Aside from those similarities, however, the stories are dramatically different. In the earlier tale, the professor voluntarily abandons an opportunity to discover Superman's secret identity, while in Action #288 the climax comes as a crook uses desperate means to force Clark Kent to admit his double life.

Comments: I concur with Commander Benson that Action #288's story is a classic, while the Superman #90 tale is sweet, but not quite top-shelf material.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Message from Jor-El

One of the more interesting tragedies of Superman's existence during the Golden Age was the fact that he really didn't know his birth parents at all compared to the Kents. But that changed amazingly in the Silver Age, as Jor-El became a virtual guest character in the magazines edited by Mort Weisinger.

And when he couldn't appear in person, he had an amazing habit of sending objects to his son over the years, well after his own death. For example, Krypto, Superboy's dog:

But that was far from the only time that Superboy received a communication from his father. In Adventure #232, an entire city block of Krypton lands (improbably) within walking distance of Smallville. Even more unlikely, it includes Kal-El's childhood home, where he discovers a plea from his father:

He easily handles the first two tasks, but is unable to locate the books that his father wanted him to read. So upset is he, that:

It turns out that the Kryptonians were so advanced that they had their books in movie form. One of them turns out suspiciously to be like Moby Dick, while the others sound even more sleep-inducing.

Apparently these missives from the past were popular with the readers, and so in Adventure #240, we got another one:

Of course as we know, the end of Krypton came unexpectedly early, and so it had taken the super-teacher all that time to locate Kal.

The letters from home continued into Superman's adulthood. In Superman #113, he discovers tapes from his father:

The tapes revealed that Jor-El had been the first Superman.

In Action #314, Aquaman discovers another set of tapes from Jor-El to his son, at the bottom of the ocean:

I talked about that story here.

Those are the ones I know; anybody aware of any others?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Magnus Robot Fighter #7

Continuing my look at this terrific 1960s series, I've skipped ahead to #7. The story begins with several robots returning from a space mission. They go berserk, and more frightening, every robot that comes in contact with them also becomes crazy. It's a robot plague! Fortunately, Magnus is there to save the people:

The robots self-destruct after about five minutes as a berserker, but it looks possible that they will end up contaminating all the robots on the planet. Magnus feels this would not be such a bad thing:

The council decides to evacuate all the robots from the civilian sector, since the plague should die out quickly due to the five minute self-destruct feature. But have all the civilians complied?

Magnus, Leeja and her father go to the Goph level to convince them to give up their robots briefly. But a voice is raised against them:

Xyrkol had already appeared in several issues and was rapidly developing into Magnus' chief enemy. He stuns Magnus with a raygun, and teleports away with the hero:

The woman is no Goph, nor a beggar, as the senator at first suspects. It turns out that she and her son were two of the humans used by H8 in the first issue to make up his computer bank of minds, so she owes Magnus a debt of gratitude. She explains that the 1000 minds have strange powers when brought together.

Meanwhile, Magnus has been transported to another planet, run by robots with a gigantic electronic brain:

We learn that the robot brain had created the plague which is infecting Earth's robots. Magnus attempts to break free, but it turns out that he has been fitted with a collar that chokes him whenever he attempts to resist. Xyrkol brings him to a room where he is tested by robot fighters. The brain soon realizes his ability to destroy robots comes from his strength applied against their weakest part, and sends in a robot with no weaknesses. But Magnus realizes that the brain must have some sort of eyes in the room, and he uses the ray-gun of the new robot to destroy them, and his collar. Now freed, he decides:

Solid characterization there. It turns out that the brain has the antidote for the plague, and turns the entirety of its awesome force against Magnus:

Meanwhile, the old woman has gathered together the 1000 minds that powered H8's computer. They use Leeja's love for Magnus to help them focus on finding him in the universe:

Once Magnus is located, the 1000 minds use their power to short-circuit the robot brain. Magnus is able to force Xyrkol to use his teleportation belt to bring them both back to Earth, where:

Comments: This series goes from strength to strength. I've enjoyed thoroughly every issue thus far, and the superb characterization in this one makes it the best yet.