Monday, September 27, 2010

Meanwhile, Elsewhere...

The guys at Comic Geek Speak have continued their look at the history of DC comics with a show on the 1960-1972 period that my readers will probably find highly entertaining; I know I enjoyed it.

Speaking of podcasts, a new one is coming called Alt3red Egos. Their stated goal is to bridge the gap between obsession and observation, and they will have three versions of every podcast to appeal to all levels of comics fans from newbies to geeks.

The Big Blog of Kids' Comics posts a couple of stories from Funny Stuff #72, a bit before the time period covered here. DC's funny animal line is largely forgotten today, and even in the Silver Age about the only remnant left was the terrific Fox and Crow series.

Superman Fan posts a review of Superman #175, a comic I covered here awhile ago.

Commander Benson has a series coming on the tryouts for the Legion of Super Heroes, a topic I have also delved into at some length.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lorna, The Jungle Girl #11

This comic arguably fits in better with the Golden Age, although its cover date is January 1955. "Women in the jungle" comics were extraordinarily popular during the 1940s and 1950s; it's not hard to guess that the appeal was the scantily-clad appearance of the females in question.

As the first story begins, Lorna spots the fierce Abaku tribe out to capture the peaceful Quaqui people and sacrifice them to their evil gods. As she rushes off to warn the Quaqui, she accidentally comes between a mother ape and her baby:

Mikki distracts the mother and Lorna and the monkey escape. As they head towards the Quaqui, Lorna muses that the mother was ready to die for her baby, just as she herself must be prepared to give her life for the Quaqui. She arrives as the battle begins and realizing that the peaceful villagers are no match for the Abaku warriors, she makes a bargain:

As she is about to be carried off to the sacrificial temple, she makes one request:

Things look bad for Lorna:

But Mikki unties her bonds and Greg, refusing to accept Lorna's argument that she made a bargain, comes up with an alternative sacrifice for the gods:

In the end, we learn that Greg, for all his admirable qualities, is just a little sexist:

Comments: Wow! Terrific characterization for Lorna, who really was quite prepared to sacrifice herself. Note as well her compassion for the mother ape. Granted, the Quaqui by analogy are the equivalent of her babies, but they are drawn by Werner Roth in a non-racist manner.

In the second story a "typhoon" (really a cyclone or tornado) is carrying off all the strongest men and animals in the jungle. Lorna discovers who is behind it here:

It carries her off to a hidden valley where she is attacked by a giant lizard and other things:

Eventually, she and Mikki end up atop a mesa with Greg, the strongest warriors and a few savage beasts. But then Chiga comes to see what happened to them, and Lorna commands him to transport them all back to the jungle. Later, Lorna tells Greg that Chiga agreed because he feels she's the strongest person in the jungle:

Comments: Silly story but I love the art by Roth again and the ending is amusing.

The third story is a backup featuring the "Jungle Adventures of Greg Knight". Greg is forced to kill a mother lioness when she attacks him in defense of her cubs. Now that the cubs are defenseless, Greg adopts them, knowing that the lioness' mate will come after him. That night, the lion attacks Greg's native assistant and carries him off. Greg follows and the cubs (who have gotten free of their cage) trail him. As the lion and Greg battle it out, he spots the cubs about to go over a cliff:

The lion, impressed by Greg's saving of his young, leaves him alone and carries off the cubs.

Comments: Entertaining story with art by Al Hartley, who would later become known for his Christian comics work.

The finale is Moon Madness. A pair of hoodlums try to take over Greg's animal refuge, but when the full moon comes up, all the animals go mad, and nearly kill the crooks. Lorna saves the criminals from certain death and eventually the moon goes behind a mountain, calming the jungle. What happened?

Comments: Note in particular that Lorna is not shy about expressing her affection for Greg. This completes the role reversal which has her as the most powerful creature in the jungle, and Greg as, well, kind of a wimp.

Overall I found the issue very entertaining, with terrific art and solid stories.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Justice League of America #2

As the story begins, Green Lantern is attending a magicians' convention. Why? Well, on the story level we'll assume it's because he's a fan of legerdemain, but from the writer's (Gardner Fox) standpoint, it's so that he can witness an important event. A girl is summoned apparently from nowhere, but when the magician reveals the secret, it turns out that the trap door she was supposed to come up through was locked. So how did she arrive?

Note in particular that the light switch doesn't work. Indeed, none of man's scientific gadgets work, from planes to trains to automobiles. What can have happened? Well, once the JLA has gathered, Green Lantern makes the obvious deduction; magic works, but science doesn't. We see the extent of the fabulous JLA library:

Meanwhile, in the magic dimension, we learn what caused the sudden change:

The concept of two different Earths, with strong similarities but important differences, was of course the idea behind the multiverse of Earths 1, 2, 3, etc. Note in particular that this story predates Flash of Two Worlds by about 8 months.

Merlin, the magician, quickly learns who's behind the sudden change:

As those three are the only people on their world to understand the application of science, they quickly loot the planet of its treasures. After a test of magic, the JLA summons Merlin to their HQ. He explains the background of the story, and the JLA members split into teams to take on the three villains:

This was the basic template that Fox used for the JLA adventures: Identify the menace, break the team into parts, and then have the team get back together again for the denouement. It was also the template for the old JSA stories in All-Star, although there (because the Golden Age books had more pages), Fox had let them star in their own solo adventures.

The team-up concept is promising, but Fox doesn't really deliver. Green Lantern fights a manticore, while the Martian Manhunter battles a Griffin. They only really join forces to capture Saturna and to prevent him from destroying a part of the magic spell that will return our Earth to the science dimension.

Wonder Woman and the Flash do cooperate more in their capture of the Troll King, but Batman, Superman and Aquaman split up, and as it happens, the Sea King is the one who finally captures Simon Magus. So all that remains is for Merlin to cast the spell to return our Earth to the science dimension, right?

Well, no, there is the problem shown on the cover to handle. But it turns out that the monster the JLA are trying to prevent escaping into the magical Earth is none other than:

Comments: A pretty standard Gardner Fox plot, with art by Mike Sekowsky.

The JLA Mailbox includes a letter from Jerry Bails, Jr (I assume written by his father and possibly posted by Roy Thomas):

Bails pere, of course, was a major figure in the then-nascent fandom movement, and had been a longtime reader of the JSA stories in All Star Comics. From correspondence between him and Roy, we know that many of the early letters to the editor in JLA were written by him under various pseudonyms.

Correction: As noted by Jonathan L. Miller in the comments, Jerry Bails, Jr, was himself the actual fan. I knew that Bails lived in Michigan for most of his adult life, but he was apparently originally from Kansas City.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Amazing Adult Fantasy #7

No, not that kind of fantasy. As you can see, Stan was already attempting to shed the image of comic books as trash entertainment for kids; it was an attempt that would fail for most of the rest of the 1960s, but would prove successful years later.

As you can see, the cover advertises five stories, and therefore the tales are quite compact. The opener is a pretty standard sci-fi plot about the man who discovers an alien ship has landed and that the alien is loose among us. As is typical in such stories, the man has trouble convincing people:

But when he shows a professor the alien log book, the academic is convinced:

But that's not the case, as the final page reveals:

Comments: A superb twist ending.

The second story concerns a wealthy man who's worried that Earth will end in a nuclear war, so he builds an underground bomb shelter. Sure enough, his sensitive instruments detect heavy blasts above ground. Eventually, he ventures out to
Comments: I don't know how popular these bomb shelters actually were in the late 1950s and early 1960s; I grew up during that era and I've never seen one. They certainly were commonly encountered in popular fiction and on TV, and one thing was very constant. The people who owned them were invariably portrayed as narrow and small-minded idiots.

The third story concerns a young woman in Salem during the witch trials. She is suspected of practicing the dark arts. But her boyfriend Ben believes in her innocence and manages to convince the judges that she is not guilty. As they ride to be married, their horse is startled and the girl is injured. If she does not get treatment quickly she will be crippled for life. Fortunately Ben can get help:

Comments: Short (three pages), and now that we are expecting the twist ending, a bit predictable.

Story four is a time travel paradox tale. A crook kills a security guard while fleeing from a robbery and finds himself on the front page of the newspaper. But he notices a story about a professor inventing a time travel device. As in the DC stories of the time, the machine is encased in a glass bubble. He goes back in time. It's the perfect escape. But a man back there seems to recognize him, so he kills the man, and suddenly finds himself back in 1961. It turns out he killed the professor, back before the time machine was invented:

Comments: Cute story, although it really makes no sense that the professor would recognize him.

In the finale, a spaceship lands on Earth. Are the aliens friendly or evil? Men try communicating with them, but are unable to make sense of their customs or language, and it looks like things will end badly. But a boy in the crowd wants to exchange toys:

Comments: Popular fiction regarding aliens seemed to vary between the horrible alien invaders, and the horrible humans who suspected our alien friends-to-be; compare and contrast the first story in this issue and the last one.

Overall the comic is quite entertaining and of course the Steve Ditko art is scrumptious. Incidentally, this comic would have appeared on the newsstands at about the same time as Fantastic Four #1, and of course a later issue of Amazing Adult Fantasy (rechristened Amazing Fantasy) would be the launching pad for Spiderman.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Let's Agree Never to Mention This Again

As I'm sure most of you are aware, Julius Schwartz was the editor for the revived All-American Comics during the Silver Age. The Flash, Green Lantern, the Atom, and Hawkman all returned under his watchful eye, as did the Justice Society (rechristened, of course, as the Justice League) of America. Schwartz edited all those magazines from their Silver Age debuts (plus the New Look Batman and Detective) until late 1967. However, when the Spectre got his own (brief) series, Schwartz was relieved of responsibility for Hawkman effective with issue #22 (Oct-Nov 1967). The new editor was George Kashdan.

As was usual back then, a restuffing of the editorial chair also meant an entirely new direction for the series, including new artists (Dick Dillin replacing Murphy Anderson), and a new writer (Bob Haney filling in for Gardner Fox). In the opening story, it is revealed that Carter Hall is actually an alien from Thanagar:

Say it loud, say it proud, Carter. At first he is arrested, but when Hawkman defeats the villain of the issue, a grateful city hall has him released. What's that? You want to know how Hawkman could beat a villain while his real identity was in prison? Well, actually Carter was a Thanagarian android that Hawkman had sub for him.

Now, you might expect there to be one of those complicated excuses where it is then established to the public's knowledge that Carter was in fact an Earthman, and was only pretending to be an alien to further some goal. But no:

And you might expect lots of interesting plot complications in future issues as Carter had to deal with reactions to his alien nature. No to that as well. In fact, as far as I can tell it was never mentioned again, except for this note in the letters column of Hawkman #24:

By #26, Kashdan was out as editor, and Murray Boltinoff was in. Hawkman's solo series was canceled after #27, although he was combined with the Atom to form the Atom and Hawkman series for another year, where he was reunited with editor Julius Schwartz. However, I can find no other mention of Carter Hall being an alien.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Teen Titans #15

That this story was taking place in groove-tastic 1968 is pretty obvious when you take a gander at the splash page:

The Titans are trying to track down a teenage runaway named Ken Matthews. They check with a mystic named Eddie the Guru, who runs a place called the "Drop-Back-In Place". Via a scene change, we learn that Ken is working for a distinctly unhip guy named Tram the Trucker, delivering packages of stolen goods. A few moments later, Ken is caught by the police right in front of the Titans. Robin lets us know the coolness quotient of cop-lovers:

Just then, some bikers "blast the scene", picking fights with the hippies:

The Titans make short work of kayoing Captain Rumble and his buddies, but in the meantime, Ken has split and the Titans take on the task of finding out who's responsible for using runaways to deliver stolen goods. But since they don't fit in with the local freaks, they take on new identities and guises:

Good grief! I remember when I was a kid, the first time my mom used the word "cool" in a sentence. Even back then I knew that adults trying to be "with it" were about the least cool thing around.

There follow several sequences where Tram the Trucker's thugs are trying to track down poor Ken and his girlfriend, but the latter are always saved at the last minute by one of the Titans. Adding to the complications are the bikers, who get into the mix periodically. The story culminates at a huge "happening" where all three groups battle it out. Even the hippies get with the violence scene when provoked:

And in the end:

On the letters page, we learn that Dick Giordano is the new editor of Teen Titans, taking over for George Kashdan. Giordano promises a new direction, and this issue delivered it in spades. There are certainly some cringe-worthy moments, but that's the way it went even when Marvel went out of its way to be hip. It's odd, but these comics seem more dated than the button-down early-1960s' style books. The art by Nick Cardy (correction: Elias/Cardy as pointed out in the comments by Martin O'Hearn) is very pleasing and Bob Haney delivers a better than usual (if slightly padded) script.

Update: Blog into Mystery also covered this issue a couple months ago.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Mimic

This fits in with an old post of mine on the prevalence of copycat villains during the Silver Age. Cal Rankin was a young man who possessed the rather unusual ability of mimicking the abilities of any person he happened to be around. This was not a mutant ability of his own, rather it came from an accident in his dad's laboratory:

Cal grew up as a jerk, as we can see when he first encounters two of the X-Men out on a date:

And a bit later, he (improbably) also meets up with Jean Grey:

During this second encounter he realizes that she is a member of the X-Men, and follows her back to the school. At first he pretends to want to join the team, but then he fights them and makes off with Jean in a car. They follow after him and he leads them to a sealed-off cave, where his dad had been working on an experimental device to augment the Mimic's power, before his death. But it turns out that dad had actually been working on a way to get rid of his son's powers, and in the end:

He would return in X-Men #27. Jean Grey is off at college when an explosion catches her attention:

The smoke restores his powers and the explosion brings back his memories, but at first he appears really interested in joining up with the X-Men. Professor X has many sterling qualities, but being a judge of character is not one of them:

And indeed when the team encounters the Super-Adaptoid (another doppelganger, this time with the powers of the Avengers), Calvin offers to join the android:

But at the last minute, the Mimic rebels against the Super-Adaptoid and when the latter tries to steal his copycat powers, it causes an "electrical backlash" that shorts out the android (and costs the Mimic his abilities). That was essentially the end for the character in the Silver Age; he did pop up in an issue of the Hulk in 1973 and perished in that tale according to the GCD.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

What Century Is That?

I don't ordinarily highlight simple and obvious mistakes, but this one is rather amusing and unusual. Consider the cover of Jimmy Olsen #31:

Okay, so Jimmy's going to wake up in the year 2058, or about midway through the 21st century, right? Err, no, not according to the splash page:

Okay, so he's going to sleep for five hundred years and wake up in the 25th century or presumably somewhere around 2458. Got that? Nope, not according to the story itself:

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Trivia Quiz #40: Answers

1. Who taught Roy Harper how to use a bow and arrow?
Brave Bow, an Indian chief, taught Roy Harper how to be an archer:

2. Name the three major differences between the Silver Age Mr Mxyzptlk and his Golden Age counterpart.
There are more than three major differences: the spelling of his name (the GA version was named Mxyztplk), the costume, the GA version had a different look and hairstyle, the GA version only vanished for a month when forced to pronounce or spell his name backwards, while the Silver Age vanished for ninety days, and the GA version had a job as a court jester.

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

Batman brought back the Bat-radia:

4. Who was Barry Allen's childhood sweetheart?
Daphne Dean, as I discussed last year.

5. What famous actor was Hal Jordan's appearance patterned after?
Hal Jordan was intended to look like Paul Newman, as Julius Schwartz revealed in the letters page of Green Lantern #3.

Kudos to Scott Nesmith, who aced the test and to Ed, who got #1, #2 and #5 and was on the right track with #3.