Monday, November 28, 2011

Lois Lane, Foreign Correspondent

As you recall, in my last post, Lois was subjected to an inhumane experiment by Editor Perry White. He got Lois' friends, her sister, and even the warden at the state prison, to go along with a hoax where everybody pretended they'd never heard of a Lois Lane. But it was all for a good reason, we were assured. Perry was testing her to ensure that she had the ingenuity to handle the tricks and intrigues of foreign agents. The ending of the story promised that in the next issue we would see Lois abroad, handling difficult assignments with aplomb.

But in Lois Lane #37-39, no such story appeared. In the letters column of #39 someone remarked on the missing adventure:
And the tale finally arrived in LL #40:
Okay, so what's Lois' dangerous and thrilling assignment, for which she required such careful vetting?
!!!! No kidding, she was assigned to do a feature article on a wax museum? And actually, that's not some cover story; that's really her whole reason for visiting the tiny European country of Brozna.

Granted, the story develops rather oddly from there, with Lois apparently marrying a very eligible local Duke, although she cannot remember the ceremony as she was involved in a monorail crash while setting out on their honeymoon which gave her a mild case of amnesia. She decides that she doesn't really want to be married to the Duke, but when he threatens to kill himself:
While back in Metropolis, Lois receives wedding gifts from all her old friends, but:
That's even worse than re-gifting! But the roaring fire causes something inside her husband's luggage to melt; it's a bunch of masks that he wears to deceive people. It turns out he was Brozna's Nazi collaborator during World War II, that he used his supposed status as Lois' husband to escape to America, and that they never actually were married. Instead he had drugged her and faked the monorail accident, convincing her that she simply forgot their wedding due to her injuries.

So even though Lois was supposedly tested so that she would be able to withstand the best tricks enemy agents could throw at her, she still was duped by the Duke! Fortunately Superman is around to save her, and she gets a big scoop.

Comments: How bad must this story have been the first time around?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Lois Lane #36

The opening story is The Day Lois Lane Vanished. It's a very standard DC plot, where the protagonist suddenly finds that nobody remembers him or her:
Offhand I can think of at least two stories where Batman faced the same puzzle; Am I Really Batman from Batman #112 and The Batman Nobody Remembered, from World's Finest #136. There are basically two answers to the puzzle; either it's a hoax for some reason, or the protagonist has somehow ended up in another dimension. In the first Batman story it was a plot to keep Batman awake for 24 hours because a villain had poisoned him with a drug that would kill him if he fell asleep anytime in the next day, and in the second Batman story it was another dimension. In the Lois Lane story:
The story is also remarkable for the efforts Lois goes through to prove to herself that she really existed; after her co-workers and sister deny her reality, she even visits Lex Luthor in prison, but he also claims to have no memory of her. As you can probably guess from that above panel, the story reaches a climax in tragedy, as Lois apparently throws herself off a cliff, convinced she is insane. Well, no. See, she realized that Lex Luthor was in solitary confinement, and therefore the warden would never have allowed her to see him. So she pulls a gag on everybody by making them think she's died. That Lois, such a kidder! And in the end:
But that is a tale for another time. For the second story, we get:
No particular surprise; everybody gets that wrong. Dr Jekyll was the good guy; it was Mr Hyde who was the villain in the classic Robert Louis Stevenson tale. Lois is addressing the first meeting of the Lois Lane fan club, lecturing them on the various effects that Red Kryptonite has had on Superman, when suddenly:
The LL fan club holds their meetings in a room next to a cyclotron? Anyway the particular specimen of Red K that Lois was showing off to her admirers was one that had turned Superman into a Jekyll-Hyde creature, and Jimmy wonders if it will have that effect on Lois due to the neutron beam. Good guess:
Later, she cuts off Lucy's hair:
And when she turns on the TV to see Lana Lang talking about her Superboy memorabilia, she becomes fanatically jealous:
But Lana refuses to press charges and Perry offers to take responsibility for Lois. When she changes again, to save himself from her he offers her a chunk of Green K. She goes to an auditorium to kill Superman (as shown on the splash), but once there:
See, it wasn't really Green K, but a chunk of "Good Samaritan" Red K, which turned Lois back into her normal self. And that wasn't really Superman, but a puppet manipulated by a couple of Lois' talented fan club members. The finale is the cover story, and it's an imaginary tale. Superman comes up with a way to give Lois permanent superpowers and finally marries her. They have twins (many of the imaginary tales feature this outcome, for some reason). Lana is of course devastated, but she wears the mask:
She volunteers to test an experimental time machine, which sends her into the future. She meets up with Superman in the future, who falls immediately in love with her, although she resists him at first, thinking he's still the man she knew. He explains:
Hmmm, given that we saw Lois and Superman had a son, wouldn't their grandson be Superman III? Assuming of course that there weren't three generations of only girls in the family.
They fall in love and get married... and that's the end of the story. Rather dull and unsurprising given the cover.

Overall the issue was entertaining, particularly the opening story.  I will have to check up on the following issue to find out about Lois' adventures as a foreign correspondent.

Monday, November 21, 2011

My Greatest Adventure #73

My Greatest Adventure was a DC series that mostly featured first-person tales of derring-do. The opening tale is the cover feature, and it's a definite corker. Mitchell, the "sahib" on the cover, has tried and failed three times to climb Nanda Devi, the tallest mountain entirely in India, and the 23rd tallest in the world. When he turns back from the third attempt, he meets an aged monk:
As a young man, the monk had been entrusted with a prayer wheel that he was supposed to deliver to the lamasery. But on spotting the summit so close, he decided to try to become the first to reach it. Leaving the wheel behind, he nearly reached the peak, but was driven back by fierce weather. Lamed by frostbite, he was unable to reclimb the mountain to retrieve the prayer wheel, but he had discovered a way around the tricky ledge that had foiled Mitchell. He tells the latter the route, on the condition that the climber bring back the wheel on his descent.
They reach the summit, but Mitchell reneges on his promise and during the descent the mountain strikes back (as shown on the cover). Finally he decides to return for the prayer wheel:
Comments: A terrific story by Bob Haney and superb art by Lee Elias. Mitchell may be based loosely on Hugh Ruttledge, who indeed failed in his three attempts to summit Nanda Devi. Incidentally, the letters page includes some comments about Haney's qualifications to write this story:
The second story is about a man surveying a cavern. He discovers a pool which has a strange effect on him:
He heads back to the nearest town, where he finds himself compelled to steal a carboy of heavy water. Once again the pool works its strange magic, and he returns to town to steal some radium. This time he discovers that an alien has controlled him:
He steals the gyroscope and the alien is able to leave Earth behind. Comments: The story is nothing special, but the art is by Gene Colan. The finale is drawn by Mort Meskin. We Fought the Lost Kamikaze Battalion is a pretty standard story about some folks visiting a Pacific island and encountering some Japanese soldiers who do not accept that the war is over; I have discussed these stories before. However, this one does have a definite twist ending:
And thus:
Comments: Love that ending; it comes completely out of the blue.

One oddity to note: This title was at the time (late 1962) edited by Murray Boltinoff. I am not sure if this was the first book he officially edited but I do know that the vast majority of DC non-romance titles at the time were edited by Jack Schiff, Robert Kanigher, Mort Weissinger and Julius Schwartz.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Iron Giant

Mark Engblom recommended this movie a couple years back but I never got around to watching it.  Then the other day I found out a friend of mine had the DVD and I borrowed it.

If you've never seen the movie, I highly recommend it.  A young boy named Hogarth befriends an alien robot who has crash landed on Earth.  The robot has no memory, and so the boy teaches him English and at one point gives him a comic book to read:

This becomes a key plot point in the movie, as the giant begins to model himself after Superman.  At any rate, the cover looks real enough that I decided to poke around.  Since the story is set in 1957, I figured it had to be from sometime around then.  Sure enough, it's Action #188, from January 1954:

Aside from a few liberties taken with the coloring, it's a reasonably accurate reproduction, even including the mention of Tommy Tomorrow at the top.

Incidentally, this is the second movie I've seen recently that included comics as a major theme; Catch Me If You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks prominently featured a number of issues of the Flash.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mad Man

Between the ages of about 9 and 13, virtually every kid in the country went MAD, and I was certainly no exception. Unlike the comics, I didn't hang onto my collection, but fortunately the folks at EC put out a massive CD set about 10 years ago, with something like 500 issues of the seminal American humor magazine. Here are some of the bits I remember reading back then.

For some reason, the song parodies always worked with me:
I remembered that one virtually word for word except that in the first stanza I recalled it being "then you know you've got..."

The Spy Vs. Spy series was always hilarious, and I suppose most of us remember that the morse code under the splash reads "By Prohias". But how many remember that there was a short-lived third spy, the grey woman?
I suspect she was eliminated because she always won, upsetting the general balance between the black and white spies. Of course, after awhile, even the dullest reader must have figured out that whoever won the splash battle clearly lost the panel bout, and the guy who seems to be winning in the first three panels always dies in the last one. BTW, there was a pretty entertaining computer game for the Commodore 64 back in the 1980s featuring Spy Vs. Spy.

Everybody remembers the terrific movie and TV parodies, often illustrated by the incomparable Mort Drucker:
There were lots of funny bits involving photographs. For some unknown reason, this one just popped out at me:
For the life of me, I can't imagine why I remember that.

The covers were mostly forgettable; even though I bought lots of issues in the 1964-1967 timeframe, this is the only one I specifically remember:
And it's not because I got the joke; it's because I saw it at a friend's house and somebody had poked holes in poor Alfred's eyes.

Of course, MAD did lots of stuff we didn't understand; a lot of the political humor went right over my head. But that was okay; we were used to not getting the joke all the time, and MAD prepared us for National Lampoon in the 1970s, where, for the most part, we did.

MAD had so much more; those terrific little gags in the margins that I'd need a magnifying glass to see nowadays. Or Dave Berg's endless "The Lighter Side of..." series. Or MAD's maddest artist, Don Martin. Or those amusing fold-ins on the inside back cover.

I'm sure that most of you know that MAD actually started as a regular-sized comic book. One thing that I was not aware of until recently was just how many imitators there were. Everybody remembers Cracked, but there were easily a dozen others.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Trivia Quiz #45: Answers

1. In what year did Ray Palmer graduate from college? In the Atom #10, we learned that Ray was a 1954 grad of Ivy University. That would have made him about 32 in 1964, or a geezer of 79 today.

2. What do Lois Lane's lips taste like? Clark Kent discovered at a Christmas party in Action #306 that her lips tasted like peaches:
3. What holiday do people on Thanagar celebrate on the same day Americans celebrate the Fourth of July? Folks on Thanagar celebrate Impossible Day, on which they are supposed to do three impossible things. BTW, for a really cool treat, check out Pappy's Golden Age Blogazine post on this story; he has the original Gardner Fox manuscript for the tale, complete with Julius Schwartz's editorial changes, plus scans of the actual story so you can see how it went from script to finished product.

4. What was Jay Garrick's address? When Barry Allen discovered that he'd vibrated onto an Earth-like planet where Central City was known as Keystone City, he looked up Jay Garrick in the phone book:
And discovered that he lived at 5252 78th Street.

5. What was Perry White's favorite TV program? Perry White loved to relax at home and check out Allan Funt and Candid Camera:

These were intended to be really tough, but Jim got four out of the five correct. I stumped a couple folks who usually do quite well. Nobody got the question about Lois' flavor of lipstick.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Trivia Quiz #45: DC Grab-Bag Toughies

1. In what year did Ray Palmer graduate from college?

2. What do Lois Lane's lips taste like?

3. What holiday do people on Thanagar celebrate on the same day Americans celebrate the Fourth of July?

4. What was Jay Garrick's address?

5. What was Perry White's favorite TV program?

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Fatal Attraction

It's kind of a minor thing, but did you ever notice that a lot of Stan Lee's male characters tended to fall for bad women? Let's see, we can start off with Hawkeye:
He starts out wanting to be a hero, and before you know it he's betraying his country:
Foggy Nelson met an old high school crush:
But it turns out she was just playing him for a sucker:
Balder the Brave was under no delusions about Karnilla, Queen of the Norns:
And yet he still falls prey to her charms:
Jasper Sitwell was apparently fooled by Whitney Frost, secretly the head of the Maggia:
Or was he?
But when it came down to the nitty gritty:

1. Note that it is never the leading male character who falls for the bad girl. Stan senses that this is bad characterization for his heroes, even though it never really hurt Batman in the case of Catwoman, for example.

2. It tends to be the main supporting actor. Hawkeye doesn't fit that pattern, but Foggy and Balder certainly qualify and by that point Happy Hogan had largely disappeared from Iron Man, so Jasper Sitwell was the number two.

3. Most of the evil women "reformed", although you can make an argument that some of them never really were quite as bad as they appeared. It turned out that the Black Widow's parents were being held hostage in the Soviet Union and eventually she rebelled against her communist masters and became a heroine. Debbie Harris did reform and began dating Foggy again, eventually becoming his wife. I am unsure about Karnilla; at one point she did help Asgard due to her fondness for Balder, and Balder eventually admitted his love for her. Whitney Frost's tale is more complex; in that original Iron Man saga we learned that she was genuinely conflicted in her role as the head of the Maggia, having taken it over from her father, Count Nefaria.

4. Stan used these relationships to open up new plotlines or to add new dimension to his characters. Hawkeye was allowed to become a temporary villain while leaving open the possibility that he would reform and become a hero, as in fact he did with the Avengers. Debbie was paired off with Foggy to clear the decks (twice) for Matt and Karen Page to become an item, although in neither case did it last for the latter couple. Balder and Sitwell had both been pretty much portrayed as Boy Scouts (quite literally in Jasper's case); this was a way of humanizing them.

5. Aside from Batman, I can't think of a comparable situation in the Silver Age DC, and even his relationship with Catwoman was more of a Golden Age and late Bronze Age affair.

6. Marvel only reversed the roles once; you can make an argument for Sue Storm and the Sub-Mariner setting the template for what came later. DC did have Wonder Woman and Supergirl fall for a few rats at the end of the Silver Age, although in both cases that was more due to short-term plot demands than long-term characterization.

Update: Johnny Bacardi points out that Archie Goodwin actually did the scripting for the Iron Man series by the time of the Sitwell/Frost affair.

Update II: Debbie Harris was apparently introduced during the one issue that Wally Wood scripted of Daredevil, per Fraser Sherman.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Silly Panel Saturday

If Perry White ever tried this stunt today, he'd be facing a sexual harassment lawsuit:

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Tracers: The Ape Cover Limit

I have read in several different places that Julius Schwartz had a file in his desk which proved that DC comics featuring apes on the cover sold better in general than comics without simians.  I believe that Schwartz even mentioned this in his autobiography, Man of Two Worlds.  It has also been claimed that to avoid overexposure, the number of ape covers was strictly limited by DC management to one per month.

This latter claim has never made a lot of sense to me.  If your objective as an editor or a publisher is to sell as many comic books as you can (and I suspect that is, or ought to be the goal), then why would you refrain from doing something that has been proven to work in the past?  And DC generally published 30 comics a month, would two gorilla covers really saturate the market?

So I decided to take a look at the matter.  I started with 1960 and used the DC Indexes Time Machine to look at all the covers for a given month quickly.  Note that the default option is for comics on sale in a given month, not cover dates.  It seemed reasonable to use that option, since the concern was not to have to many ape covers on the newsstands at once.

First observation: If DC was worried about saturating the market with similar covers, it sure doesn't show.  In 1960, as many others have noted, DC had an almost endless variety of covers featuring aliens, monsters and dinosaurs.  It was not until looking at comics on sale in April that I located an ape cover:

Okay, so it's a gorilla; I suspect that Schwartz meant ape as a very generic term.  The next month featured one of DC's most famous apes:
After an absence of apes in June, July included an alien ape:

DC then resisted the siren call of the apes until December:
Strange Adventures thus becomes the first series to hit two apes in one year.

And then came 1961.  I am astounded to report that I can find no comics that went on sale from DC in that year which included apes, gorillas, or monkeys on the cover.  There appears to be only one sensible conclusion; at this point, Schwartz had not yet developed his evidence about simians on the cover boosting the sales.

In January 1962, Grodd made his first cover appearance:
This is further evidence that Schwartz had not yet discovered the link between sales and gorillas, as Grodd had appeared four times already inside the comics.

The following month saw the debut of Bizarro Titano:

After three months's hiatus, a simian was prominently featured on the cover of Batman Annual #3:

And once again, there was a gap all the way to March 1963.  You might think it would be hard for Tomahawk, a revolutionary-era hero to encounter an ape.  You would be wrong:
In June of that year, we got one of the classic ape covers:

Let me tell you, if an gorilla is sliding into third base, it's a pretty brave fielder standing there waiting for the throw.

Grodd popped up on the first Flash Annual in August:
And the Great White Ape appeared in October's Star Spangled War #111 that same month, the first time we've seen two in the same calendar period.

But that's it for 1963.  Monsieur Mallah appeared on the cover of Doom Patrol #86 in January 1964:

Tomahawk's giant ape returned in May:
But then there was another gap until November when Jerry Lewis #86 featured a King-Kong type cover.  In December there were two ape covers: Hawkman #6 and Fox and Crow #90.

By this point I was getting pretty skeptical.  Out of 60 months and about 1800 comics, only 16 covers had featured an ape or a gorilla.  And 1965 was not much different, with only two ape covers.

Ah, but then came 1966, and suddenly the African invasion.  In January, came Strange Adventures #186:
In February there were two covers:
And Monsieur Mallah appeared on the cover of Brave & Bold #65.

After a couple months gap, an ape popped up on Sea Devils #30 in May, and Bob Hope #100 in June.  Nothing for July, but August saw Hawkman #16, September had King Colosso yet again in Tomahawk (this time shooting a bow and arrow no less), October had Jimmy Olsen marrying a female gorilla, and November's Showcase #66 had Bwana Beast duking it out with an ape.  All told, there were nine different covers with the simian theme in 1966.

And if you think about it, it makes sense that the editors at DC were pulling out all the stops that year.  Although the company as a whole did well with Batmania, the gains were very uneven.  Batman sales skyrocketed, but the Superman-related titles all dipped as did many other books.

In 1967, there were seven more ape-featured covers, with only two coming in one month: September had Jerry Lewis 103 and Plastic Man #7.

Overall impressions:

1. The number of ape covers do not seem excessive.  However, there certainly was a jump in 1966-67; those two years saw as many of those covers as had been seen in the six years previous.

2. There is little evidence for a hard and fast rule against two ape covers in one month.  There were three months where apes did appear on two covers.  I suspect that the real edict was not to overdo it.

In 1968, the number of simian covers did drop, at least until this series launched: