Wednesday, December 21, 2011

DC Comics Trends Througout the Silver Age

Superheroes represented about 45% of DC's output during the Silver Age, while war comics made up somewhere around 13% of the total. But those overall numbers mask significant changes in their publication over time, and so I thought it might be interesting to do a year-by-year look at each category or genre of comics to see how things changed over time.

Some notes on categories; the ones chosen are simply my best guess as to where each comic fits best. For example, I put Challengers of the Unknown in Adventure, while Metal Men got lumped in with the Superheroes. I classified House of Mystery and House of Secrets as "horror" although of course they weren't very horrifying. HoM is considered Superhero from 143-173, during the Martian Manhunter/Robby Reed era. One comic is absolutely misclassified; I put Blackhawk in the war category rather than adventure. My bad, but I'm really looking more at changes over time, and Blackhawk didn't change much until the very end. I carefully classified the issues of Showcase and Brave and Bold individually.

Here's what DC's output looked like in 1955:

Category #
Adventure 19
Comedy 22
Crime/Detective 18
Funny Animal 68
Horror 12
Romance 20
Science Fiction 18
Superhero 81
Teen 18
War 42
Western 35

As you can see, Funny Animal was right up there with Superhero comics; that would not last long.  For 1956 and thereafter, I'll add a column showing the change in each category since the prior year:

1956 Adventure 19 0
1956 Comedy 29 7
1956 Crime/Detective 18 0
1956 Funny Animal 56 -12
1956 Horror 21 9
1956 Romance 24 4
1956 Science Fiction 18 0
1956 Superhero 86 5
1956 Teen 18 0
1956 War 45 3
1956 Western 45 10
Funny Animal started to decline, while Western picked up nicely.

1957 Adventure 24 5
1957 Comedy 36 7
1957 Crime/Detective 18 0
1957 Funny Animal 50 -6
1957 Horror 30 9
1957 Romance 32 8
1957 Science Fiction 18 0
1957 Superhero 88 2
1957 Teen 18 0
1957 War 72 27
1957 Western 26 -19
In 1957, DC inherited a couple of titles from Quality Comics, including Blackhawk and GI Combat, as well as Heart Throbs for the Romance line.  Funny Animal continued to decline, and Western gave back all it had gained the prior year, and more.

1958 Adventure 27 3
1958 Comedy 35 -1
1958 Crime/Detective 18 0
1958 Funny Animal 40 -10
1958 Horror 32 2
1958 Romance 36 4
1958 Science Fiction 20 2
1958 Superhero 94 6
1958 Teen 8 -10
1958 War 72 0
1958 Western 25 -1
Continuing declines in Funny Animal and a sharp decrease in Teen titles as Leave it to Binky and Buzzy were cancelled.  You will note that Superhero still had only gained 13 issues a year or about one a month; the dizzying climb upwards for that genre was just about to start.

1959 Adventure 28 1
1959 Comedy 32 -3
1959 Crime/Detective 3 -15
1959 Funny Animal 27 -13
1959 Horror 36 4
1959 Romance 33 -3
1959 Science Fiction 20 0
1959 Superhero 104 10
1959 Teen 6 -2
1959 War 72 0
1959 Western 21 -4
DC's Crime and Detective titles were mostly licensed properties like Mr District Attorney and Big Town, both of which had gone off the air by then; the New Adventures of Charlie Chan was cancelled early that year, emptying the category for the duration of the Silver Age.

1960 Adventure 22 -6
1960 Comedy 24 -8
1960 Funny Animal 17 -10
1960 Horror 36 0
1960 Romance 38 5
1960 Science Fiction 20 0
1960 Superhero 113 9
1960 Teen 9 3
1960 War 48 -24
1960 Western 18 -3
War dropped pretty significanty, and the overall number of comics declined quite a bit.  DC was experiencing some financial pressure in 1960, which would eventually result in the price increase to 12 cents at the end of the next year.  IIRC, the decrease in the War genre was not caused by any cancellations, but by DC switching most of their war titles to bi-monthly from monthly.

1961 Adventure 28 6
1961 Comedy 18 -6
1961 Funny Animal 8 -9
1961 Horror 36 0
1961 Romance 38 0
1961 Science Fiction 20 0
1961 Superhero 125 12
1961 Teen 6 -3
1961 War 48 0
1961 Western 10 -8
By this point, Funny Animal and Western, two of DC's top four lines in 1955, were limping along with essentially one title apiece, (Fox and Crow and Tomahawk), which would remain the case for most of the 1960s.

1962 Adventure 32 4
1962 Comedy 18 0
1962 Funny Animal 7 -1
1962 Horror 24 -12
1962 Romance 39 1
1962 Science Fiction 20 0
1962 Superhero 141 16
1962 Teen 6 0
1962 War 50 2
1962 Western 6 -4
Superhero makes another big jump; the decline in horror titles was again due to DC changing some titles from monthly publication to bi-monthly.  Teen comics were now reduced to the Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.

1963 Adventure 24 -8
1963 Comedy 18 0
1963 Funny Animal 6 -1
1963 Horror 22 -2
1963 Romance 44 5
1963 Science Fiction 27 7
1963 Superhero 147 6
1963 Teen 6 0
1963 War 51 1
1963 Western 6 0
Pretty modest changes in 1963.  Sci-fi ticked up a bit due to temporary changes including the Strange Sports Stories series in Brave and Bold and Tommy Tomorrow tryouts in Showcase.

1964 Adventure 18 -6
1964 Comedy 18 0
1964 Funny Animal 6 0
1964 Horror 15 -7
1964 Romance 50 6
1964 Science Fiction 20 -7
1964 Superhero 172 25
1964 Teen 4 -2
1964 War 56 5
1964 Western 6 0
Strong gains again for DC's superhero line, which had more than doubled since 1955.  Romance continued its steady upward momentum, while War comics reached their highest mark since 1959.  The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis was cancelled (well after the TV show), which left DC without a Teen title for the first time since the 1940s.

1965 Adventure 18 0
1965 Comedy 18 0
1965 Funny Animal 6 0
1965 Horror 12 -3
1965 Romance 50 0
1965 Science Fiction 20 0
1965 Superhero 182 10
1965 Teen 0 -4
1965 War 57 1
1965 Western 6 0
Not much change there other than the continuing domination by the Superheroes. And with Batmania around the corner, that was not going to change.

1966 Adventure 12 -6
1966 Comedy 18 0
1966 Funny Animal 6 0
1966 Horror 11 -1
1966 Romance 50 0
1966 Science Fiction 18 -2
1966 Superhero 195 13
1966 Teen 4 4
1966 War 56 -1
1966 Western 6 0
By now over 50% of DC's publications were Superhero, and I am sure that if we take circulation into account it was well over 70%.  Teen comics returned with Scooter.

1967 Adventure 9 -3
1967 Comedy 26 8
1967 Funny Animal 6 0
1967 Horror 6 -5
1967 Romance 50 0
1967 Science Fiction 9 -9
1967 Superhero 197 2
1967 Teen 8 4
1967 War 44 -12
1967 Western 6 0
Financial pressures were again rearing their ugly head, with a lot of titles headed towards the chopping block.  Comedy was the (temporary) gainer as DC tried titles like the Inferior Five and the Maniacs (in Showcase).  Superhero titles showed only a modest gain.

1968 Adventure 22 13
1968 Comedy 23 -3
1968 Funny Animal 1 -5
1968 Horror 10 4
1968 Romance 51 1
1968 Science Fiction 0 -9
1968 Superhero 200 3
1968 Teen 11 3
1968 War 36 -8
1968 Western 10 4
Sci-Fi dropped off DC's radar in 1968, as Strange Adventures began featuring Deadman.  Superhero titles increased for the thirteenth consecutive year, but again only by a smidgeon.  Adventure showed temporary gains due to short-lived titles like Anthro, Secret Six, Bomba the Jungle Boy and Captain Action.

1969 Adventure 14 -8
1969 Comedy 19 -4
1969 Funny Animal 0 -1
1969 Horror 25 15
1969 Romance 50 -1
1969 Science Fiction 7 7
1969 Superhero 168 -32
1969 Teen 36 25
1969 War 31 -5
1969 Western 15 5
Financial pressures writ large there; the Superhero line finally collapsed, with DC switching resources to Horror and Teen.  The Horror titles would work, while the Teen fad failed.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Joe Simon Dies

It's been a rough month for the Golden Age, with the co-creator (with Jack Kirby) of Captain America, the Newsboy Legion and the Boy Commandos passing.
He was born Hymie Simon in Rochester, N.Y., in 1913, and as a youngster he was drawn to journalism. Instead, he ended up in the scruffy, deadline-driven comic book business that popped up in New York City in the 1930s. His first collaboration with Kirby came in 1940 with a hero called Blue Bolt, but they struck gold with Captain America — who was punching Adolf Hitler on newsstands months before Pearl Harbor. It turned out to be a quick hit for Timely Comics, which would later become Marvel Comics. Simon, who was both a writer and artist, came up with the concept of the red, white and blue character, but it was Kirby — by most appraisals the most important comics artist ever — who created the dynamic artwork in the early issues.
I covered Simon's oddball series for the late Silver Age DC, Brother Power the Geek back in the early days of this blog.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Digging for the Gold Watch

Okay, so last night I was reading Forbidden Worlds #81, which includes a very interesting story:
The story has a very simple premise, most of which you can guess from the summary above. Amos is perpetually late (hello, Barry Allen!), but then he buys a gold pocketwatch to make sure he's on time. And suddenly something happens:
The entire world comes to a stop. And so did I, because I immediately recognized this story. It's The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything, a famous novel by John MacDonald, the creator of Travis McGee, and a writer who's probably sold more novels than all but 20 people on the planet.

So I thought, well, it might make an interesting post to talk about how Richard Hughes, who wrote almost all of ACG's stories, copied MacDonald's novel, so I looked up TGTGWAE on Wikipedia. The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything (1962) is a science fiction novel written by John D. MacDonald, considered "a classic screwball mystery". And I frowned, because I already sensed that Forbidden Worlds #81 was earlier than that, and sure enough, it turned out to be the August, 1959 issue.

My god, had one of the most famous writers ever cribbed a story from a comic book? And not just a story, but one according to WP which had 24 printings and been made into not one, but two TV movies? Well, it goes quite a bit deeper than that. The Wikipedia entry notes:
A similar plot line - a man stopping time - already appeared in 1955 in Roger Lee Vernon's story "The Stop Watch", included in the collection "The Space Frontiers". Vernon treated the theme far more seriously, with his protagonist using the device to commit crimes with impunity and win the Third World War all by himself, and finally suffering a terrible perdition.
So I googled Roger Lee Vernon Stop Watch and guess what came up? A blog by the man himself where he had apparently posted the complete contents of The Space Frontiers. As you can see if you scroll down to the table of contents there is no story called The Stop Watch, but there is one called The Time Tablets, about a pharmaceutical chemist who invents a drug which stops time. It's a very, very cool story, and I highly recommend scrolling down and reading it.

 But, at least compared to the Wikipedia entry it is not directly comparable to either All the Time in the World or The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything. Same premise (stoppage of time), but lacking the watch angle. And the whole bit about him stopping WWIII was completely lacking in The Time Tablets.

End of story? Not quite. You see, in my Googling, I learned of another story called All the Time in the World, by Arthur C. Clarke, one of the most famous science fiction authors of all time. Among other stories, he wrote the novels that were turned into the movies of 2001 A Space Oddysey and Fantastic Voyage. And that would be an easy place to close, but I Googled Clarke and All the Time in the World and found out that his story had been turned into an episode of a very early sci-fi TV series called Tales of Tomorrow. Not only that but you could watch that very episode online here.

I really, really recommend you watch that episode; it's 1952 TV, it was apparently performed live (with set changes during commercial breaks) and it's terrific. As you can see, Clarke seems to be the father of all the "stopped time" stories. At least from what I can see, the originator of the watch to stop the clock is Hughes in Forbidden Worlds #81.

What I find more interesting for the purposes of this post is that Hughes' protagonist, Amos Dalrymple, unlike the characters in Clarke, Vernon, or MacDonald, decides to pass on the obvious pecuniary advantages of stopping time, because he is honest:
Instead he tries to make it to his date on time, but when he does he sees a problem:
Worse still, he learns that he cannot save her while time is stopped, because everything is frozen in time. He must do the only thing possible:
He shoves her out of the way of the bus. Thus he does not make a lot of money (although he is given a job by a bank president who had previously declined him a job due to him being late for the interview) but he does get what the characters in the two previous stories do not: the Girl. It's interesting to speculate more on the inspirations for MacDonald's best-seller. From what I can see, Hughes added the crucial element of the watch, which gets mentioned at the end of the ACG story:
But it is very obvious from the title that he was inspired by Clarke's short story. As for Vernon, I simply note two strange elements from his story. 1. At one point the protagonist's girlfriend says that she makes $20,000 a year more than he does. 2. The protagonist mentions that depositing more than $10,000 into a bank account draws the attention of the feds, who suspect drug dealing. Both of those points, despite numerous other markers, make me suspect that the Vernon story was updated for modern audiences from its initial 1950s publication.

Update: J.L. Bell in the comments points to this short story by L. Frank Baum from the early 1900s as an even earlier example of the stopped time plot. Thanks! Update II: Here's an earlier example of a watch used to stop time, from Strange Adventures #50 (November 1954):
Thanks to an anonymous commenter!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tomahawk #81

Add Miss Liberty to my list of unexpected DC female heroines of 1959-62.  I believe she qualifies as DC's earliest masked character with a few arguable exceptions, and none of those made second appearances, while Miss Liberty returned several times in the next few years.

The opening story has Tomahawk chasing down a renegade and his band of Indian followers who have robbed a small settlement.  The quarry splits up into three different parties to make tracking them down harder.  The first band is headed for the forest, where they will be impossible to catch, but Tomahawk has an idea:

He frees the logs and they roll down the hill, blocking the pass so he can capture the first third of the group.  When they have been captured, they reveal that an old medicine man had predicted the means of trapping them:
Mysterious predictions like this one are a staple of DC plots; the entertainment comes from seeing how they come true.  As usual, there are three predictions the seer made, but the first party refuses to reveal the other two. 

A little later they encounter the second group.  Caught out in the open they are forced to improvise until the enemy runs out of ammunition:
And thus we learn what the second prediction had been.  Tomahawk and Dan locate the old medicine man to find out his third forecast:

And sure enough, when they encounter the last group of the renegade's men, the prediction comes true:
Comments: Solid entertainment.  GCD doesn't list the writer, but the art is by longtime Tomahawk stalwart, Fred Ray.

The second story is Tomahawk's Frontier Valet. The basic premise of the story is laid out here:
As you can probably tell from that panel, the gag here is the basic "fish out of water" premise that is very common in TV and movies; The Beverly Hillbillies is a good example.  It's not hard to guess that Tomahawk and Dan will find having a valet a very mixed blessing, although one assumes that on at least one occasion he will prove useful. 

Word comes of Lord Boswell's whereabouts:
Note the stark simplicity and beauty of that panel.  Fred Ray's name doesn't come up often on the list of great artists of the Silver Age, but that's mostly because he wasn't drawing superheroes.

As they set out in search of Lord Boswell, Tomahawk and Dan are captured by the hostile tribe.  And, as I predicted:
Terrific characterization there.  However, he falls from his horse and accidentally destroys a sacred war-club.  The hostiles decide that they must take the trio back to their chief to determine their fate.  When they meet the chief, they discover Lord Boswell is there as well.  He's apparently lost his memory as he does not recognize them.  The chief decrees that they are to die at sunrise.

But Tomahawk escapes, kayos Lord Boswell and disguises himself to look like the English gentleman.  This enables him to move freely about the camp and prepare some surprises for the hostile tribe:
They escape with Lord Boswell, who has recovered his memory thanks to that sock on the jaw from Tomahawk.

Comments: A little gem of a story, where everything meshes perfectly.

The finale is the cover story.  As shown on the cover, Tomahawk and Dan have been captured by a force of Indians and Redcoats, when Miss Liberty makes her first dramatic appearance:
She frees the buckskin-clad heroes and then diverts the attention of the chasers so that Tomahawk and Dan can make their way into the nearby town of Newton.  We learn what has attracted the attention of the British:
We also meet a pretty nurse who's about to journey to the next town with some medicines.  Afterwards, she lingers outside the apothecary shop:
And indeed, the British have prepared a trap for them.  Fortunately, Miss Liberty and some friends of hers have arranged a surprise:
We learn more about her here, including the need for a secret identity:
The British issue a proclamation that any village harboring Tomahawk and Dan will be razed and its inhabitants driven from the territory.  In due course they learn that the heroes are in Wilk's Landing and thus:
But it was all a plan to get the munitions out of the town and to Washington's army:
Comments: Wow, once again terrific characterization; the sacrifice of the townspeople is quite moving.

Overall the Silver Age Tomahawk is not that fondly remembered, due to some of the sillier elements of apes, monsters and weird transformations so common to the time infecting the series.  But this issue is superb, with three great stories and excellent art throughout by Ray.  In fact, I have no hesitation in dubbing this one of the Silver Age's:

Thursday, December 08, 2011

RIP, Jerry Robinson

One of the giants of the Golden Age and the creator of the Joker has passed.

I have a number of posts on Robinson's terrific artwork at Nothing But Batman.  Although Dick Sprang was to me the definitive Batman artist, I actually thought Robinson's lithe, gymnast-like body for the Caped Crusader seemed more realistic.  A great artist, and by all accounts an even better human being.

Update:  More tributes to Jerry Robinson, by Bill Jourdain and Chuck Wells.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Flash's Final Fling--Twice

Here's a real oddity from DC's Silver Age. In March, 1966, Flash #159 bore this cover:
That's something of an unusual cover for DC; we'd expect to see it more from Marvel (as indeed we did several times in Spiderman). But more unusual still was seeing this cover on the next regular issue of the Flash, #161 (#160 was an 80-Page Giant):
Notice, down at the bottom, that Julius Schwartz was advertising another, completely different story, also based on the cover from #159. As the splash page notes:
A couple of comments before I proceed with the review. First, it's worth noting that neither story was written by the Flash's main writer, John Broome. The first version was scripted by Gardner Fox, while the second was contributed by Bob Kanigher. Second, the stories amount to breaking the fourth wall, as announcing that you're publishing a second story based on the cover is admitting that these are fictional stories.

The Fox story starts with Kid Flash and Barry Allen visiting the offices of Dr McNider (aka Dr Midnight), an Earth-Two physician. The doc is pleased to see the Earth-One heroes, but he wonders why Barry's not in his uniform. It turns out that the Flash is no more, because he feels underappreciated:
Dr McNider puts him under and probes to find out the real answer:
It turns out that a future criminal with the improbable name of Frand Mattar had sent a bomb back in time to Central City in 1966, which would explode if a high-speed wave hit it; Mattar had a trigger that would cause this to happen and was blackmailing the authorities to force them to allow him to loot at will. Of course, there was another thing that could cause the bomb to go off; if the Flash traveled at super-speed. Thus the "chronal officer" had hypnotized Barry to make him believe that nobody in Central City appreciated his efforts, so that he would resign.

Armed with this knowledge, Flash and his junior partner travel to the future, defeat Frand Mattar, and return to 1966 just in time to prevent the bomb explosion from destroying the city. Flash gets banner headlines and the key to the city, showing that he is still Central City's hero.

Comments: Some tricky time paradox problems with this story. Wouldn't the future world know that the Flash had saved the city? And why would Frand Mattar send a bomb into the past in the first place (other than to provide Fox with a rationale for the cover)? Wouldn't a bomb about to affect a city in 3780 be more compelling to the people of that era?

However, the Fox effort is a masterpiece compared to the second story. Kanigher compares Flash's relationship with his uniform to that of a soldier and his gun.
Whaaaaat? And even more oddly, Kanigher has the uniform answer:
The scene shifts to the day of Barry and Iris' wedding. Iris has planned things so that even her perennially late boyfriend will arrive on time; she has told him the nuptials take place an hour before the actual scheduled time. But as Barry is walking to the church he spots a super-speed turtle (no, I am not kidding):
He finds himself in a super-speed dimension, where ironically that turtle is considered quite slow. But when he travels back to our dimension, he discovers:
Iris breaks off with Barry, and in the days that follow, he begins to feel like his costume has ruined his life. So he discards it:
He visits Iris in the secluded cabin where they had planned their honeymoon, but when he arrives she is being menaced by a giant bear. He tries to save her without using his super-speed, but is kayoed by the grizzly. Fortunately, it turns out that the bear is a retired circus performer. However, Iris is not thrilled at Barry's effort, and indeed, compares him unfavorably to the Flash. Barry returns to Central City, where his uniform, discovered by a passing hitchhiker, is on display at the Flash Museum:
Moved, Barry puts on the uniform again, just as Iris enters the room, followed shortly by some crooks.  As the Flash, he quickly corrals the villains.  But now Iris will know his secret identity, right?  Well, no:
Cue happy ending, with Barry back as the Flash and Iris back in love with him.

 Comments: Sweet jeebus, this is a wacky story!  Kanigher's anthropomorphizing inanimate objects works in the war stories, but it is wildly out of place here.  One thing that I do find interesting is that Kanigher gives Barry a better reason for quitting (and one that is more in line with what Lee would do with Spiderman a year later in ASM #50).

Thursday, December 01, 2011

You Can't Judge a Book By Looking At the Cover?

I decided to test that old saw by looking at the covers of several books I haven't read in many years and don't remember the story. Of course, I do have an advantage in that I know Weisinger's tricks.
Looking at the cover: My guess here is that Superman XXX didn't really commit those crimes; they were misinterpretations of actual events that were harmless.

Inside the book: Close. Superman did not commit those crimes. The other man on the cover is a descendant of Luthor, who oddly enough runs a Superman museum in the future. While he's not evil like his ancestor, he's upset at the Lad of Steel for helping out a competitor and thus is showing him an illusion created with that helmet he's wearing.
Looking at the cover: I'd guess it's some sort of trick to fool the aliens.

Inside the book: Nope, it's an effect of Red Kryptonite.
Looking at the cover: Must be Red K again.

Inside the book: Dingdingding, although Weisinger did throw a curve at me. It's an imaginary tale about what might have happened if Superboy had been exposed to Red Kryptonite on the day he announced his presence to the world.
Looking at the cover: It's clearly some sort of fakeout. We know that nobody could invent anything that would harm Superboy other than Green K. I'm going to guess in this instance that it's a plan to fool some crook.

Inside the book: Bzzt! It's the adult Luthor, who has brought back Superman's Fortress of Solitude in time to Superboy's era, complete with weapons from Kandor that can harm Kal-El.

BTW, note the bit about the Agony and the Ecstasy.  It's clearly intended as a reference to a 1965 movie of the same title.
Looking at the cover: Mort gives this one away. Since Superboy and Clark are one and the same person, they must have been split somehow, and Red Kryptonite seems the logical culprit.

Inside the book: Dingdingding, but with still another curve. In the story, Superboy is turned into a monkey by Red K, and later grows enormously in size. Beppo, the super-monkey is affected by the same Red K, and turns into a human. While human-sized (he later grows giant, just as Superboy had) the scene on the cover happens.

Overall I was 3 for 5.