Friday, December 14, 2012

Action #328

This was an issue that I didn't have back in the 1960s, but picked up on ebay.  You can see the entire premise for the story on that cover, and given that premise, the story practically writes itself.  Of course Superman doesn't really blow up Metropolis, and to add some drama, it's not hard to guess that there will be some scenes of Superman almost clapping his hands together:

But finally he does:
But, no surprise, it turns out to be a hoax on the mobsters, because Superman had cottoned to their scheme when they tested the explosives.  They timed the test for when an underground nuclear test (remember those?) was planned out West, but like the idiots they are, they didn't adjust for the time zone difference and so their blast went off too early.

BTW, that's one of two things that definitely establish that Metropolis is somewhere in the Eastern US; here's the other:
TV and radio station call letters start with a W east of the Mississippi, and a K west, with one interesting exception.  KDKA, the first radio station in the US is based in Pittsburgh, PA.

Superman catches the mobsters and threatens to clap his hands in front of them if they don't sign a confession.  Fortunately they don't seem to have heard of his code against killing.

Comments: It's an interesting premise, although as noted the story is very predictable.

The Supergirl story is an oddball one.  It starts out with some aliens landing and contacting the authorities to tell them:
They reveal that she's been faking her superpowers and when Superman is summoned to be a character reference:
And she's got a third eye in the back of her head:
Faced with all this evidence, the authorities let the aliens take her back to their home dimension.  But once there, the aliens reveal that they had set up the whole thing as a hoax:
Well, if she won't fight, she'll be marooned in that alien dimension forever.  They intend to restore her superpowers, but for some reason they don't work here, and so she is forced to rely on her wits to defeat the beasts, which she does.  Given this result, she is taken to meet the king:
He had been turned into the beast by a wicked sorcerer.  But Supergirl discovers that he is kind and gentle and seems to be falling for him, despite his ugly appearance. Apparently she has forgotten all about the "contest of peril" which had killed the other heroines.  Anyway, the king's assistants tell her that there is a legend that what was lost will be regained if a maid from another planet kisses the king. Conquering her revulsion for his appearance she does so, but instead of restoring his looks, it returns her superpowers.

Angered, the "kind and gentle" king orders his assistants thrown in the dungeon.  They decide to kill him rather than face imprisonment, but Supergirl saves him with her rediscovered powers.  And later:
But as far as I can tell, that never happened.

Incidentally, the whole "beauty and the beast" subplot had previously been used in Action #243, which (no surprise) had been published almost exactly 7 years before this issue:
Update: Diane points out in the comments that WBAP in Dallas/Fort Worth is another exception to the rule; Wikipedia indicates that there may be others.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis #3

Dobie was DC's only remaining teen star in the early 1960s; A Date With Judy was about to give up the ghost shortly after this particular issue hit the newsstands and Binky and Buzzy had both been cancelled a few years before. The story starts out with Dobie trying to haul out a load of food from the small store owned by his parents. At first, his dad doesn't want him to take too much, but then:
This was apparently a running gag on the show, with Pop always fantasizing about the death of his son, who's eating up all the profits from the store. As an aside, when I was a teenager, my dad would ask me if I wanted five hamburgers for dinner, or six. And no kidding, on my first driver's license I was 6'1" and tipped the scale at 139 pounds. I just could not put on weight. Wouldn't I love to have that problem again!

Dobie and Maynard head out to the beach club, where a beauty contest is planned. The organizer of the contest is the manager of a Hollywood starlet, and he immediately sizes Dobie up correctly:
The manager offers Dobie $50 if he will just pick his client as the beauty contest winner.  This is something of a stock comedy plot, as there are quite a few situations that the hero can be placed in.  An obvious one is the boyfriend of one of the contestants asserting that his gal had better win.  And there's also the chance that the hero's girlfriend herself enters the pageant:
Well, why wouldn't he pick his darling Thalia as the winner?  Maynard can think of 50 good reasons.  And so Maynard comes up with a brilliant scheme to get Dobie out of his predicament:
And Dobie tries, but it turns out that Thalia knows all the rules:
To make matters worse, Dobie can't give back the $50 he took from the manager, because he's lost his wallet.  Desperate, he offers to work for his dad, who's stunned at the sudden ambition of his usually lazy son:

But then the manager comes into the store and says it's okay, his starlet client doesn't need to win the beauty contest after all.  Now Dobie is free to pick Thalia, and win her everlasting gratitude.  But:
Fortunately, a gorgeous redhead arrives with his wallet, which she found at the beach club. And thus the story ends on a happy note:
Comments: Overall it's a pretty entertaining story and the art by Oksner fits the tone well. BTW, you probably already know that Dobie Gillis was where Bob Denver became famous, but two of the other stars of the show did rather well for themselves: Tuesday Weld and Warren Beatty.

Update: NES Boy reminds us that several issues of Dobie Gillis were recycled in the late 1960s as "Windy and Willie", which was covered by Dial B for Blog last year. Robbie expressed surprise that the comic was successful enough in its Showcase launch to justify four issues as a separate title, but looking at the timing I suspect the main factor was one I have talked about before.

In early 1969, DC had still not raised its prices from 12 cents to 15 cents, and so they were looking to produce magazines as cheaply as possible. What could be cheaper than comics that just required a little change to the hairdos and some minor text editing? It's certainly a lot less expensive than commissioning 23 new pages of artwork and a script. The first two issues were produced with the old cover price; the latter two came out after the bump to 15 cents. This is similar to what Mort Weisinger had done in the early 1960s when he recycled old Superboy stories in Adventure Comics.

Update II: Had to do some digging for this one, but a thought occurred to me.  One of the other drawbacks to licensed products is that DC didn't have the copyright to the characters.  For example, the Adventures of Bob Hope contains a copyright statement in the indicia showing that the copyright belonged to Mr Hope.  The Dobie Gillis issues bore this copyright:
20th Century Fox and Selby-Lake Inc.  But the Windy and Willie issues were copyrighted by NPP:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

May I See Your License, Please?

Licensed comics were pretty common in the Silver Age.  It's not hard to see the appeal to the publishers; you can argue that every episode of the TV show you're covering is an advertisement for the comic as well. As a reader, though, I never particularly liked them. There's a quote from Reading Comics by Douglas Wolk that summarizes rather well the problem:

Comics adaptations of movies are pointless cash-ins at best--movies that don't move with inaccurate drawings of the actors and scenery.
Wolk talks about movies, but the same applies to TV shows, but even more so because we could see that the drawings didn't really capture the characters all that well on a weekly basis.

DC had a lot of licensed properties at the beginning of the Silver Age:
But the negative of comics based on TV shows (in addition to that mentioned above) is that the shows themselves get cancelled eventually, and so the tie-in becomes quite a bit less valuable (unless, of course, the show does well in syndication).  Still, there's always a new show:

Comics based on movie stars proved longer lasting, particularly funny men: 

The advantage here is obvious: these guys had much more staying power than your average TV show; Lewis' career in film was over 20 years long and Hope managed to stay atop theater marquees for even longer.

Some other DC licensed titles in the Silver Age included Sgt Bilko, Sgt Bilko's Private Doberman, Mr District Attorney and Jackie Gleason's the Honeymooners.  They even licensed the right to publish a comic based on the first James Bond movie, Dr No:
Although oddly the book was actually originally published by Classics Illustrated in England and DC's sales were disappointing, probably because the comic was released several months before the movie hit the big screen in the USA.

For whatever reason, Marvel had almost no licensed properties during the Silver Age; I believe the lone exception is the Conan the Barbarian title which first appeared in 1970.

Of course, the kings of licensed properties in the Silver Age were Dell and Gold Key.  The Four-Color line of comics, which I talked about awhile ago, consisted almost entirely of TV, movie and animation show tryouts.  Here are the covers to fifteen issues of Four Color from late 1961 to early 1962:

Several animation favorites (Yogi Bear, Rocky & Bullwinkle, King Leonardo, Chilly Willy), some TV shows (Hennesey, Bonanza, Laramie, Leave it to Beaver and the Untouchables) and Walt Disney (Hans Brinker & the Silver Skates, Grandma Duck and Babes in Toyland).  Dondi was a long-running comic strip about a war orphan adopted by soldiers.

Dell and Gold Key had a very long and profitable relationship with Walt Disney.  Western Publishing licensed the Disney properties for comics and other publication, put together the comics, and then had Dell distribute them until 1962, when the two companies had a falling-out.  Dell published hundreds of Disney comics during the 1940s and 1950s, including the famed Donald Duck series, which is one of the few examples of a licensed character being more successful and popular in the comics than he had been in his original medium.

After the split with Dell, Western published its own comics under the Gold Key imprint and continued its practice of licensing TV and movie properties, as well as developing a few of its own characters, like the excellent Magnus, Robot Fighter series I have covered extensively in the past.  Some of the licensed projects have been pretty good; I covered Gold Key's adaptation of Secret Agent three years ago.  On the other hand, there's this:
Run, Buddy, Run was a short-lived comedy about a guy on the run from the mob.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Redrawn Faces in MSH #14?

It is well-known that when Jack Kirby came over to DC in the early 1970s and started working on Jimmy Olsen as well as other titles, that Superman and Jimmy Olsen's faces were redrawn by DC staff artists like Al Plastino and Murphy Anderson. But it appears that this practice actually started at Marvel.

I've already talked about the bizarre one-off Amazing Spiderman story that appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes #14. At least according to a note Stan appended to that story, Johnny Romita was ill and so Ross Andru was pressed into service to fill in for the Jazzy one for a single issue. But Romita apparently recovered and met the deadline, so the story was shelved.

There were a couple of oddities about this story. First, although Andre's longtime inking partner, Mike Esposito, was already inking ASM under the nom de plume of Mickey Demeo, he was not given this assignment; instead the tale was inked by Bill Everett. And second, it looks very much like Romita redrew the faces of Gwen and Mary Jane here:
A friend of mine named Jeff pointed this out to me in an email. As I noted in response to him, what clinches it for me is that while MJ and Gwen both look reasonably normal, Harry doesn't look like himself at all; he looks more like the Sandman. This also gives us a clue that the story must have been drawn well before the publication date of May 1968, as Romita had changed Gwen's hairstyle by then to make it longer. She looks more like she did in 1967:
By 1968 her hair was much longer and straighter:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lois Lane's "Fictional" Adventures

From Lois Lane Annual #1, comes this list of "famous" old Lois Lane tales:
Why the scare quotes? Well, it turns out that a few of these stories never existed. Action Comics #20 is the January 1940 issue, and the (untitled) Superman story in that issue has Superman dealing with a headstrong actress; Lois doesn't even appear in there.  The May 1944 issue of Superman is #28, and it doesn't include any story with Lois on Krypton; at that point Superman didn't even know the name of his home planet.

Lois did not commit any crimes, perfect or flawed in the November 1945 issue of Superman, although she did meet a modern Annie Oakley in May 1951 (Superman #70).  She was featured in Mrs Superman (Superman #76) and wanted in Action #195, and had six lives in Action #198 and X-ray vision in Action #202.  The stories listed in the Showcase tryouts and Lois's own magazine are real, so overall, there were three stories (the first three) that never existed, out of the fifteen.

And, oddly enough, that turns out to be pretty good as the next Lois Lane Annual had seven phony baloney stories:

The others ["Lois Lane's College Sweetheart" (Action Comics, March 1939); "Lois Lane on Krypton" (Superman, May, 1944); "Lois Lane's Super-Dream" (Superman, August, 1945); "Lois Lane in Smallville" (Superboy, July, 1945); "The Girl of Gold" (Action Comics, June, 1952); "When Lois Met Green Arrow" (Adventure Comics, December, 1952); and "The Luck of Lois, Lana and Lori!" (Showcase No. 8)] were invented for this list for reasons that will almost certainly remain unknown.
Well, my guess is that Weisinger just didn't care if he got that list right; back then the assumption was that nobody would ever check this stuff.  There are some pretty obvious problems with the above list: Superboy didn't have his own magazine until 1949, and Showcase #8 was a Flash issue, not a Lois Lane tryout.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Walt Simonson's First Published Work?

From Magnus, Robot Fighter #10, May 1965, about 8 years before his first official work for DC (Weird War Tales) and about the same amount of time before his famed work on Manhunter, one of my favorite series of all time.

Monday, November 05, 2012

In Search of... Aliens

A reader named Darell writes:

When I was young, before I started collecting comics (I collected and traded them between 1960 and 1966) I used to read my uncle's. This would have been in the very early sixties, 1961 to 63 probably (he was about 16).
I remember him having many comics that had a serial for a few pages in the back of (main) comic book I’m not sure who the publisher was, could have been Charlton, DC, I don’t remember, although it was before Marvel and Gold Key.
In any case, in the serial I’m hoping to chase down, the main character(s) for what i can remember were in contact with another race of advanced men who had tall heads, sort of like an Egyptian pharaohs’ crown and I think their bodies were colored, like light blue or green or? I can’t remember too much. I remember these people were found behind a wall or partition, almost like another dimension and our main characters were interacting with them somehow when they came in contact with them. Sorry it’s not much, but does it ring any bells?
My uncle only had comics like war comics, Magnus Robot Fighter, DC, Charlton, was there an AC?
Comments by Pat: I suggested The Aliens from Magnus, Robot Fighter, but after reading my post on them, Darell responded that while he remembered that series, it was not the one he had in mind.  Any ideas, fellow Silver Age fans?  I don't think it could be Marvel, because it doesn't fit the serial requirement.  Despite what Darell says, I would not rule out Gold Key; they started publishing in 1962, so they would not be entirely outside of the 1961-63 timeframe he mentions.  I don't think it could be ACG; they didn't have any serials that I can remember in any of their science-fiction books.  Charlton, or Dell, maybe?

Sunday, November 04, 2012

A Really Big Shoe

Superman gets emphatic at the UN:
This refers to a famous supposed incident when Nikita Kruschev, then ruler of the Soviet Union, supposedly banged his shoe on the desk in anger during a debate at the United Nations. This was, as several sources note, an iconic and comic moment, one that was commonly satirized during the 1960s. But according to the NY Times, it may have never (quite) happened:
Did he or didn't he? A KGB general remembered that Khrushchev banged the shoe rhythmically, "like a metronome." A UN staffer claimed Khrushchev didn't remove his shoe ("he couldn't have," she recalled, because the size of his stomach prevented him from reaching under the table), but it fell off when a journalist stepped on his heel. The staffer said she passed the shoe wrapped in a napkin to Khrushchev, after which he did indeed bang it. Viktor Sukhodrev, Khrushchev's brilliant interpreter, remembers that his boss pounded the UN desk so hard with his fists that his watch stopped, at which point, irritated by the fact that some "capitalist lackey" had in effect broken a good watch, Khrushchev took off his shoe and began banging. When I talked about Khrushchev to veterans of his era in Washington, one eyewitness confirmed the banging. But another eyewitness confirmed the nonbanging. A third, who said he'd been standing several feet behind the premier, insisted that the heel of the hand that held the shoe slammed the desk but that shoe never actually touched it.
So we may never know if Kruschev actually banged his shoe or not. Superman? Hey, it's there in living color.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Aliens

This post was suggested by an emailer named Darell.

I have talked previously about the terrific Gold Key series, Magnus, Robot Fighter.  In the back of each of the Magnus comics was a four-page serial called The Aliens.  The series started with the contact with Earthmen:

After an initial mistaken impression that the aliens were firing at them, they decide to head for home.  But then they realize that they can't do that without risking that the aliens will follow and discover Earth.  The aliens grasp the problem as well:
This is the basic plot of one of the most famous science fiction stories of all time, First Contact, by Murray Leinster.  The dilemma was resolved by having the two species swap ships after wiping out all information that could identify their home planets.  However, that wouldn't make for much of a serial, so in The Aliens, the solution is:
This creates two parallel stories, with one following the captain of the Earth ship (Johnner) and his half-alien, half-human crew heading back to Earth, while the other ship returns to the alien's homeworld.

Over the next several issues, we see the aliens and the Earthmen developing a bond and trust for each other as they help the other species out of difficulties:

While this provides good characterization, it does have one drawback: there is not much conflict.  Oh, sure, there's the obligatory story where one of the Earthmen has an irrational prejudice towards the aliens, that is unsurprisingly resolved when an alien saves his life.  So it seemed to me that the serial started to bog down a bit, until they arrive back at Earth, where the aliens are surprised to discover:
The colonists from Venus had been taken over by another alien intelligence and were infiltrating the Earth.  This provides the conflict the series needed:
Note the slur.  There's something else being talked about here, under the surface.  Over the next several issues, the Earthmen and the aliens battle the Venusians and attempt to discover their plans.  The scripting and artwork on the series was done by Russ Manning, who was also doing the same chores on the Magnus feature.  Check out this gorgeous page:
Overall the series is entertaining and well worth reading.  It has been reprinted several times, most recently by Acclaim as Captain Johner and the Aliens.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Robot Did What?

I don't know why, because I've always been an avid reader, but for some reason, while reading comic books of the early 1960s or before, I tend to ignore the text features that appeared in many of them.  But today I happened to be reading Magnus, Robot Fighter #2, and I saw that the text story was entitled "The World of Robots... Today!"

It describes the many robots at work around at the time (1963) including thermostats, parking meters, etc., and points out that they may not be recognized as such because they don't resemble the hulking iron giants of science fiction movies and TV.  So far, so good.  But check out this closing passage:


Update: Do I have the best readers and commenters ever?  Richard Bensam  points out this article in Slate on the way the story evolved (a misfired gun which wounded nobody becomes "his robot shot him"), and David Kilmer contributes this page from an Ogden, Utah newspaper which shows how sensationalized the story became.  I particularly love the photo of Alpha with the dancing girls.  Of course, the iron club and the "fact" that the inventor was killed are more recent additions to the myth.

Diane points to a story by the Binder brothers (Otto and Earl) which also has a similar plot:
Soon afterwards, a heavy object falls on Dr. Link by accident and kills him. His housekeeper instantly assumes that the robot has murdered Dr. Link, and calls in armed men to hunt it down and destroy it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Clark Kent Calls It Quits?

In current comics, of course.

Clark Kent quits the Daily Planet in Superman #13 — and he doesn’t go quietly. He resigns in front of the whole staff, reports Brian Truitt, “and rails on how journalism has given way to entertainment.” (The Daily Planet is now part of the multimedia corporation Galaxy Broadcasting.)
 Well, jeez, Clark, if you were concerned about journalism, you shouldn't have given your consent to some of Perry White's hair-brained circulation gimmicks.

Note as well that the story on Clark Kent both at Romenesko and USA Today indicate that the takeover of the Daily Planet by Galaxy Broadcasting is some new plot development.

The Daily Planet has also been moving more toward the real world, too, with the newspaper becoming part of the multimedia corporation Galaxy Broadcasting.
Actually Galaxy Broadcasting has owned the Planet since the first issue of Superman (#233) under Julius Schwartz's editorship, way back in January 1971:
So long ago that not only did he smoke a cigarette inside an office building, but he smoked it from a cigarette holder! Which, by the way, strikes me as nearly as big a clue that he's a villain as if he were wearing a monocle.

Update: Further discussion by hobbyfan here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

My Greatest Adventure #81

This is the second MGA issue featuring the Doom Patrol. As you can see, the "freaks and outcasts" theme that Arnold Drake was copying from Marvel is still underway:
They also carry on the bickering in the Marvel style.  Incidentally, Stan certainly didn't invent the concept of heroes arguing amongst themselves; in fact that predates the comic books entirely.  I'm not sure if it goes back earlier, but Doc Savage's two lieutenants, Ham and Monk fought constantly.  Note as well that Cliff is referred to as "Automaton"; that didn't last long as he was redubbed Robotman shortly afterwards.

While rescuing a trapped submarine, the Doom Patrol learns of the major plot point in this issue:
Rita destroys the monster as shown on the cover.  But curiously, Cliff didn't see the monster. This seems like just an oddity at the time, but when they battle a snow-giant we learn that it is significant:
To Neg-Man and Rita's irritation, Cliff fails to help them defeat the monster. What is wrong with him that he cannot see what is so obvious?  Cliff blames the Chief for somehow messing up his brain when he transferred it to the robot body.  The next clue comes via big-screen TV:

A guy with a monocle and a Van Dyke beard named Dr Janus.  I'm guessing he's the villain of the piece.  He claims that living beings (intended to be the first wave of the invasion) were discovered in a meteor several years ago, which everybody remembers except Cliff:
The newspapers confirm the existence of the living beings.  But despite this, the Chief suddenly has a brainstorm.  What if, instead of being the only crazy person, Cliff is the only sane one.  Suppose something about his robot body is preventing him from having the hallucinations that are afflicting the rest of the populace?

And sure enough, when we check in with Dr Janus, we find that is the correct explanation:
The plot point of an escaped Nazi war criminal was a very common one in popular culture during the 1960s.  In fact, I covered a Lois Lane story with that exact theme less than a year ago.  And, no coincidence, that villain also wore a monocle.

The Doom Patrol heads to the town with the Meteor Crater, which is now a ghost town as the local mine had petered out.  But in the abandoned newspaper office:

Yep, Janus somehow managed to plant fake file copies in all the newspapers in the world.  But the poster gives the Chief an idea.  What if he drew a fake beard on an old picture he has in a photo album?  Sure enough, it reveals that Janus is actually the escaped Nazi.

Meanwhile, the media have arrived along with Janus, who promises they will see another invader.  Sure enough, a giant dragon appears.  But this time Cliff walks up to where the hallucination supposedly is confidently.  Realizing his mistake, Janus changes the hallucination to show Cliff being killed by the dragon.  Forgetting that it's all an illusion, Rita goes giant-size and attacks the dragon.  Of course:
But he manages to escape from her grasp and uses a high-voltage wire to interfere with Janus' broadcast, breaking the spell.  Neg-Man captures the Nazi, and Automaton destroys the hallucination machine.

The backup story is fairly entertaining, about some explorers who eat the fruit of a tree which regresses their evolution so that they become the "missing link".  Rather than delve through the plot entirely, I thought I'd just show some panels by Alexander Toth:

Toth's artwork is highly prized by collectors, something I'll have to remember if I ever put this issue up on ebay.  Personally, I prefer his detailed Golden Age work to the more loose Silver Age style.