Saturday, October 29, 2011

Silver Age Trivia Video

Mark Waid versus some fans from a 2005 convention:

What strikes me is how many of these have been answered here.

Bob Hope's landlady?

Villain who escaped from Doiby Dickle's taxi?

Lois Lane's parents?

If in Battle I Fail? (Quizmaster misstates the title as If in Battle I Fall).

Little old gooey monster me wants Wonder Girl mine to be?  Can't find it now, but I know I highlighted this cover a long time ago.

There are six parts of the video quiz in total, you can see the rest of the show by clicking here.

Incidentally, at least one of the answers in one of the parts was completely wrong; when asked who the Green Lanterns were freeing in JLA #21, the quizmaster (Craig Shutt, thanks to commenter Jonathan L. Miller) said no, it was not the two Flashes, it was the two Atoms:
And the question about the villain the JSA helped the two Flashes to defeat which lead to the reforming of the Society is mistaken; in fact the two Flashes only freed the JSA members at the very end, when Vandal Savage had already been effectively beaten.

Still and all, a terrific bit of entertainment, and as I have made errors in my own quizzes, I'm in no position to criticize.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Curious Case of the Time Trapper

Faithful readers of the Legion of Superheroes must have been confused at this sequence, which appeared in Adventure #317:
Why confused? Well, it turns out that this was the first mention of the Time Trapper in a Legion story. At the very end of that story (which mostly did not concern TT) came a semi-explanation:
In the next issue, we got our first glimpse of the villain:
Note in particular his physical appearance there. Over the next year or so, we'd see more futile efforts by the Legion to break through:
The Time Trapper turned out to be working behind the scenes in that story, trying to find out the secret of the Legion's super weapon, the concentrator:
But it turns out that he does not have the real secret of the concentrator and flees into the future again. Amazingly, the Time Trapper story would not be resolved until Adventure #338, almost two years after he was first mentioned:
In that story, the Time Trapper has recruited an evil female, Glorith of Baalour, to help him doom the Legion. We get a strong indication of the plot here:
However, when she tries the trick on several members of the Legion, they do not regress in age past babyhood:
Frustrated in his plot to turn the Legion into blobs of protoplasm, he joins Glorith, after first letting Superboy and Brainiac 5 through the Iron Curtain of Time. He leaves them trapped in the future and sets about training the baby Legionnaires to rob for him:
Then he brings them to a planet where elements in the atmosphere will resume their devolution. But this causes problems, too:
But one of the babies has spotted the Time Trapper's ring, which is responsible for keeping Superboy and Brainiac 5 in the future. He switches it off, allowing them to join the group. The Trapper makes a proposal:
Brainiac 5 agrees, but there is a trick:
End of story? Well, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that it quite literally is the end of the Time Trapper in the Silver Age; he did not appear again outside of a hallucination sequence in Adventure 363. Which, if you think about it, is very odd. Here's this villain whose confrontation with the Legion had been built up over the course of two years, and yet they dispose of him in a single 16-page story? It doesn't make a whole lot of sense. So I began digging for clues and speculating a bit. The first clue is that initial mention of the Time Trapper in Adventure #317. It appears obvious that there was supposed to be a Time Trapper story which appeared before that, but which was bumped for some reason. And if we look at the cover to Adventure #317, we get a pretty good second clue:
Speculation: Perhaps the Time Trapper story which appeared in Adventure #338 was intended to appear just before #317, but editor Mort Weisinger belatedly realized that this would give him two consecutive stories featuring Legionnaires turning into babies? This fits, especially when you consider that Adventure #338 was written by Jerry Siegel, while #317 was written by Edmund Hamilton. Weisinger could have instructed Hamilton (or artist John Forte) to include a couple panels mentioning the Time Trapper.

There are certainly still some problems with this speculation. For example, the story does not end with the Time Trapper in the future, creating the Iron Curtain of Time. But this objection is easily overcome; Weisinger simply had the ending of the story rewritten because now it took place after the events in #317, instead of before. Note as well that the story in Adventure #338 did not explain what secret the Time Trapper was supposedly concealing from the Legion in the future.

So my best guess is that the Time Trapper story that was supposed to be published before Adventure #317 was in fact the story that ended up being published in Adventure #338, with some changes. Incidentally, the Time Trapper himself may have been based on the Time Master, a similar character that appeared in Wonder Woman #101:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Around the Horn

Check out Blogged and Boarded, a blog that is going through the complete Marvel 1960s catalog in order of publication.  Entertaining and informative.

Steve Does Comics has done a couple of recent polls on the greatest enemies of Spiderman and the Fantastic Four.  The first place finishers are not surprising, but there is a good argument to be made for one of the runners-up in Spidey; "himself".

Jacque Nodell covers some fashion mistakes in romance comics so bad, it looks like they're Halloween costumes.

Mark Ginocchio reminisces on the desire, nay the lust, he felt for ASM #32.  As I mentioned in the commentsover there, a friend of mine traded me all his Spiderman back issues except for ASM #33, and so, irrationally, I decided that wasn't such a special issue.  I subsequently recovered my senses.

Was Batman in his late 40s in the 1960s?  Over at Nothing but Batman I cover Bob Haney's (and Neal Adams') Brave and Bold #84, which features Bruce Wayne parachuting into occupied France just before D-Day.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What's that the Challengers are Drinking?

From Challengers of the Unknown #58 (Oct-Nov 1967). I'm surprised that the Comics Code Authority let that one slip through.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Early Easter Egg

Just noticed this one in Sgt Fury #32 (July 1966):
Doc Daneeka was a character in Joseph Heller's famous novel, Catch-22.  In a memorable bit in that book, Doc Daneeka "dies" when the plane he is supposedly in crashes into a mountain.  Actually, Doc had simply signed his name in the log book for that flight to satisfy some regulation, but not gotten on the plane.  Regardless, the military (and many of the characters in the book) treat him as if he no longer existed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sgt Fury #31

Of all the series that Marvel published during the 1960s, Sgt Fury is probably the one that I have read the least. Well, except maybe for Patsy and Hedy. So when I found a small batch of issues on Ebay in reader grade, I snapped them up. This story starts out with the Howlers prepping for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Izzy earns a demerit for being too casual about his task:
The main plotline picks up when Captain Sawyer (aka Happy Sam) appears, just in time to head off to London for an important meeting. While there, the brass tells him the key date:
While there, Sawyer notes an aide who appears to be just a bit too interested:
There is something in the nature of fiction that tells us that these types of concerns are never "just your imagination". Although the aide does not hear the target dates for the invasion, he does find out that Sawyer has been informed. He quickly departs and radios the information to der Fatherland:
Now, in reality, the date of the invasion was not as important as the location. The Germans knew as well as the Allied generals that D-Day had several practical requirements: calm seas, high tides, and a full moon for illumination. The latter two virtually guaranteed the invasion would come on June 5 or June 6, or the invasion would have had to have been put off for a full month. As it happened, the weather was bad on the night of June 4, forcing the postponement of the mission to June 6, when the Allied meteorologist (correctly) projected better weather. On the other hand, the locations of the assaults were a closely-guarded secret and would have been worth quite a bit to the Germans. One of the logical spots was the Pas de Calais, the closest spot between England and France. As it happened, the Allies chose the Normandy beaches instead, but it was vital to keep this confidential so the Germans would be forced to defend both areas. The Germans kidnap Happy Sam (presumably named, like Happy Hogan, for his morose demeanor), but not without quite a fight:
The Germans attempt to torture the information out of Sawyer, but he refuses to divulge anything more than name, rank and serial number. So they try to trick the Allies into believing he has spilled the beans:
As you can see, the Howlers have picked up a British commando (apparently nicknamed Pinky, ouch), who talks straight out of central casting, with a lot of "cheerio" and "blighter" and "pip-pip, old bean" along with the obligatory brolly. No surprise, the Germans also toss around terms like "verdammt," "dummkopf" and "schweinhund". To be fair, Hollywood wasn't much more subtle in their stereotypes in WWII movies in the 1960s either. Anyway, the Howlers take the message to the brass, who apparently believe as Fury does, that Happy Sam would never tell. The general gives the commandos a chance to rescue their C.O., but warns them that the bombers will be shortly behind, as the information Sawyer has is too crucial to risk. Meanwhile:
But Fury and his men land virtually on top of Gestapo HQ and shortly:
The rest of the story virtually writes itself; they free Captain Sawyer, get away in a tank just before the bombers obliterate the Gestapo building, and are shortly headed for the English Channel. I enjoyed the plot, and I especially like the characterization for Happy Sam, who refuses to give up the date of the invasion. The tale was an early Roy Thomas outing, illustrated by Dick Ayers and J.Tartaglione.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why I Love American Comics Group

It occurred to me recently while I was reading My Romantic Adventures #115 (Nov-Dec 1960). I've talked a lot about ACG in the past. They were a relatively minor but regular publisher of comics in the Silver and Golden Ages; all told they put out about 1150 comics over the course of about 22 years, or roughly 50 comics a year, four comics a month. Most of their comics were written by their editor, Richard Hughes, under a variety of pseudonyms. Why do I love ACG? It's so simple that I can't believe I never put my finger on it before now. It's because Hughes was a master at creating interesting characters. And when you consider that most of ACG's stories were one-shots, that becomes even more remarkable. Here's the splash page that brought it all home to me:
Now that is a unique character: a female weightlifter who dreams of settling down in smalltown America. That makes for an interesting premise, but Hughes doesn't stop there. He creates a story that fits that character. Our Miss Hercules, Marcia Simms, gets enough money from the sideshow act to buy herself a farm in Carvertown. And it's not long before she attracts the attention of a handsome neighbor:
But as you can probably guess, he is not the right man for her particular character. She's not weak and helpless. Soon after, she introduces herself to another neighbor:
She finds out that Blake had gone to prison for a hit-and-run accident that he claims he didn't commit; in fact, he blames her beau, Otis, for framing him. And to get even, he steals a kiss:
She tells Otis what happens, and while he seems to shrug it off, later that night she hears the sound of raised voices at Blake's farm. Otis and a couple of his buddies intend to beat up Blake. And at last we see why Hughes made her a weightlifter:
Working together, they prove that Otis had indeed framed Blake for the hit-and-run accident, and fall in love.

In that story, Hughes has his protagonist use her singular characterization at the end. But in other stories, it is not uncommon to have the character have to overcome a major trait.  Another romance story from ACG  concerned a gal who's something of a klutz:

In that story, a key moment arrives when the man she loves is trapped on a girder and she must overcome her awkwardness: That, my friends, is superb characterization.

Hughes particularly liked to present us with downtrodden characters who suddenly succeed against all odds.  Americans love the story of an underdog who makes it big. The paragon of this character is obviously Herbie, the "big nothing" to his father who turned out to be one of the most powerful men on Earth.  But there are many other examples in the ACG canon. For example:

The shy, unassuming guy invents a potion that turns him into a strongman:
He becomes famous, and suddenly attractive to women:
But eventually Sally realizes that she liked the old Melvin better, and Melvin remembers that he did it all to impress her:

Want to read about interesting characters?  Check out the ACG line.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Secret Origin of the Atom (Ray Palmer)

This came up in a chatroom yesterday, and since I haven't talked about it before, I thought it was the perfect topic for a post. Of all the DC Silver Age reboots, only the Atom was significantly different than his Golden Age counterpart. Barry Allen and Jay Garrick had essentially the same power of blinding speed. Hal Jordan and Alan Scott were interchangeable; they had green rings of incredible power but smite either of them with a club of yellow wood and they'd be helpless. There was no real difference between the two Hawkmen or the dueling Aquamen.

But Ray Palmer's Atom was nothing like the Al Pratt version. The Golden Age Atom had no real super-powers; he was just a very strong short guy who never got shorter or bigger. The Silver Age version, of course, had the ability to shrink himself down to a very tiny size and then become much larger again; he could also control his weight so that one moment he was as light as a feather, and the next had the full force of 180 pounds behind him. So it is worth wondering why Julius Schwartz and Gardner Fox decided to give Ray Palmer significantly different abilities from Al Pratt.

For starters, I suspect that Palmer was intended to be a much more important character than his Golden Age counterpart. The GA Atom was never a cover feature; while he did appear on the covers of All-Star with his fellow Justice Society members, he never headlined All-American Comics, where his solo adventures appeared. The Silver Age Atom would have to hold down his own title.

But I suspect that other tiny heroes in the movies and on TV also influenced the decision. In 1957 (about four years before Ray Palmer's first appearance in Showcase #34), Richard Matheson's story, the Incredible Shrinking Man was brought to the silver screen. It's a terrific and suspenseful story of a man who suddenly finds himself becoming shorter and shorter with time. In the end, he discovers how threatening life is for a miniature man, as he's attacked in succession by the family cat and a spider in the basement. Here are some key moments in the film:


But there was also a 1959 TV series, obviously inspired by the Incredible Shrinking Man, that appears a more direct inspiration for the Ray Palmer Atom. World of Giants is the story of a six-inch high FBI agent:
Although the Atom could change his size to virtually anything under his normal height, the most common size that Ray Palmer assumed was six inches high, exactly the same height as Mel Hunter. For example:
So it seems pretty apparent that the Silver Age Atom was inspired by this long-forgotten TV series. A hat tip to my comicchat buddy Jon for mentioning the TV show, which I confess I'd never seen before last night.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Trivia Quiz #44: Answers

There were clues in each quote as to the speaker.

1. "I've found it!  The legendary city of Caramanga!"

Adam Strange was an archaeologist.

2. "Well, here goes experiment #145!"

Ray Palmer, aka the Atom, was having problems with his experiments in shrinking things; every time he did it the object would explode.

3. "Lead never hurt a wooden leg!"

Captain Storm had a wooden leg.

4. "It is the first time I have found it necessary to give the signal!"

Reed Richards, aka Mr Fantastic, used a signal to summon the rest of the Fantastic Four:

5. "Huh?  What?  Go 'way! I wanna sleep!  Lemme be!"

The Sub-Mariner (Silver Age version)  was a bum living in a shelter when the Human Torch discovered him.

Scipio got 1 and 3 correct.  Jim got 1, 2 and 3.  Joplin John correctly identified the source of the quote for #4.  Lou Mougin ran the table, getting all five speakers.  Boosterrific got #5.  Ed picked up #3.  Mr Miller got 1, 3, 4 and 5, while Michael Rebain correctly answered #1 and #3.

Boosterrific makes a good point about the continuity between the Golden Age Sub-Mariner and the Silver Age version:
But that's not really the first published words of the character, is it? I mean, Johnny Storm was reading a comic book about the Sub-Mariner on the preceding page where it is implied that the Sub-Mariner character is the same as existed in the Golden Age. So wouldn't his "first words" be in 1939's MOTION PICTURES FUNNIES? (Granted, this is a blog about the Silver Age, and those are inarguably Namor's first Silver Age words, but still, you did say "the first words of the character." I'm not intentionally trolling, honest.)
 Mort Weisinger would respond with some pun.  I'll just acknowledge the "boo-boo".

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Trivia Quiz #44: Famous First Words

Pretty obvious format here: I give you the first words of the character, you have to name him or her.  Note: I am excluding cover and splash page statements here:

1. "I've found it!  The legendary city of Caramanga!"

2. "Well, here goes experiment #145!"

3. "Lead never hurt a wooden leg!"

4. "It is the first time I have found it necessary to give the signal!"

5. "Huh?  What?  Go 'way!  I wanna sleep! Lemme be!"

(Update: Corrected the quote on #5 per commenter Boosterrific)

Monday, October 03, 2011

Modern Silver: Alan Moore's 1963 Part I

In 1993, Alan Moore collaborated with several artists at Image Comics on a project that alternately was an homage to and a spoof of the Marvel Comics of the 1960s. The intent was to contrast how comics were back in the Silver Age with the comics scene of the 1990s. The series as it stands is pretty terrific, although in the end it was done in by the 1990s lunacy, as a planned 80-Page Giant which would have had the 1963 characters confronting their then-current counterparts was never completed. Owing to ownership hassles involving the separate characters featured in the series, it has never been reprinted and probably never will be. But enough of that modern crap, I will try to treat this comic as a genuine 1960s artifact.

Mystery Incorporated is obviously intended as a Fantastic Four tribute, and it largely succeeds. The opening features a man breaking into their headquarters, opposed by three of the members:
No particular surprise, the fourth member is the intruder himself, just testing their defense systems. I love the opening, because, as with similar sequences in the early issues of the Fantastic Four, it serves as a painless introduction to the various powers of the individual members. We can quickly identify their FF counterparts: Crystal Man is clearly intended as a Mr Fantastic knockoff, Kid Dynamo is the Human Torch, Neon Queen is the Invisible Girl and the oddly named Planet (whose face resembles more the Moon) is the Thing.

For the most part the members of Mystery, Inc. behave the way their counterparts in the FF did, although there are a few differences. For instance, Kid Dynamo is the younger brother of Planet, and is apparently competing with Crystal Man for Neon Queen's affections. We get a quick origin (they gained their powers on a space flight when they encountered alien technology on an asteroid), followed by a scene where they read their fan mail. As in the real FF, there's a letter questioning why they need a girl with such useless powers on the team.

Then we get the real story. Neon Queen encounters a real intruder:
But although he seemed a trifle ill just before she attacked him, he gets healthier, and continues to walk backwards, then suddenly vanishes in a flash of light. The whole team investigates:
Of course, that's a little nod to the endless gadgetry in the FF HQ, most specifically the Negative Zone. Kid Dynamo flies off toward the computer room to see if the intruder did any damage there, while the rest of the team continues to inspect the area, looking for bombs and other devices that might have been left behind. Planet wonders if the intruder could have been Apocalypse:
A clear reference to Stan's ubiquitous and alliterative footnotes. Suddenly the defenses of the MI's headquarters act up against them and we get another look at their powers in action. Meanwhile, Kid Dynamo discovers that the intruder is still in the computer area. They duke it out for a bit, but the mystery man eventually captures him in a box:
Meanwhile Crystal Man has doped out what really happened. The intruder was a visitor from the future:
So instead of coming from the computer room, he had gone to to the computer room, as of course Kid Dynamo has already discovered. They race off to rescue him, but he and the intruder are both gone, so the issue ends with the other three dashing headlong into the Maybe Machine.

Comments: Moore captures the essence of the Silver Age FF in this story nearly perfectly, and Rick Veitch's pencils and Dave Gibbon's inks have the look and feel of mid-1960s Kirby goodness. The comic even includes a Bullpen Bulletins knockoff with this hilarious spoof of Stan's name-dropping:
There are two pages of letters, discussing (imaginary) previous issues, and even some faux-1960s ads:
Overall I give the story high marks; if it were an actual Silver Age comic it would surely rate in the top 100 comics of that era. Well worth the read if you can find it.