Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Anti-Superman Gang

One of the continuing sagas in the Silver Age Superman was the Anti-Superman Gang.  Actually that's probably overstating things a bit; in reality they were just a convenient plot point for Weisinger and his writers.

The Anti-Superman Gang first appeared (as far as I can tell) in Jimmy Olsen #39, and in that story they're something of a sidelight to the main plot.  See, Jimmy is so obsessed with making sure that he doesn't lose his signal watch that he hides it someplace while sleepwalking, can't find it the next day, and wears a spare wristwatch.  Of course, he ends up having to signal Superman that day several times, and each time he has to come up with a creative means of doing so.  At least twice the Anti-Superman Gang tries to steal the (wrong) watch, and in the climax, Jimmy spots the leader of the group, Ace Manton, improbably hiding out at a drive-in movie theater.  Oh, and Jimmy finds his wristwatch hidden around his ankle.

The gang apparently didn;t give up after that, as they popped up in Lois Lane #13 a few months later.  Lois is wearing a blonde wig in an effort to get a photo of a movie star and his new bride, when two members of the gang spot her.  Hey, aside from that blonde hair, she's a dead ringer for Lois Lane and we can use her to get Superman.

Their next appearance was in Action #261.  Two visitors to the Fortress of Solitude (which has been transported to Metropolis as an attraction to raise funds for charity) are members of the gang planning to blow up Superman's HQ.  The plot is foiled in a typically convoluted fashion.  See, the Kandorians had been trying to radio Superman to warn him (they were in deadly danger themselves).  But a jewel in the fortress was interfering with the radio signals.  Fortunately, the crooks had brought one part of the bomb in a lead-lined container (so Superman couldn't see what was really inside) and when one of the crooks discarded the container it conveniently covered the jewel so the radio waves could get to Superman.

They try their luck against the Fortress of Solitude again in Lois Lane #21.  The plot again is absurdly convoluted.  An inventor comes up with a Lois Lane doll (possibly inspired by the Barbie phenomenon) that sells like hotcakes.  For the 10,000th doll, the inventor plans to make a life-sized Lois doll which will contain a nuclear bomb.  See, the inventor is a member of the Anti-Superman Gang, and he correctly reasons that Lois will give the doll to Superman for his memento collection at the Fortress.  I'd explain what goes wrong, but it's even more convoluted.  We do get to learn the gang's motto:

The gang returns in Action #276.  A wealthy philanthropist is dying and he summons Clark Kent to his deathbed.  He's a great admirer of Superman and believes that Clark is secretly the Man of Steel.  After checking the man's pulse (feeble), Clark figures what the heck and divulges that he is indeed Superman, doing a couple of super-feats to establish it convincingly.  A few moments later, the old man passes away.  But... it turns out that the wealthy philanthropist is secretly the head of the Anti-Superman gang, and had been inhaled a drug that briefly caused him to appear to be dying,  However, the doctor who had given him the drug warned that it might cause hallucinations, and becoming aware of the hoax, Superman sets up an elaborate plan to convince the gang boss that Clark's revelation was in fact a side effect of the drug.

There were quite a few more appearances of the Anti-Superman Gang--Superman #145 and #152, Jimmy Olsen #75, etc.  In Lois Lane #60 we learned the gang had a standing bounty out on Supes and his friends:

Jimmy only worth half as much as Lois?  But that's actually an increase over the amount offered a couple months earlier in Jimmy Olsen #85:

In Jimmy Olsen #87, we learned that the Anti-Superman Gang included some of his more famous foes:

But aside from that story, the A-S G is made up of ordinary crooks.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

I Can't Believe I Missed This

It was not in my collection back in the 1960s, and although I am a Batman fanatic, I somehow missed reading this story even when I got the issue:

But it ends up being an amazing issue for me.  For starters, there is a Riddler clue:

That one might not be obvious to you, but it is to me, because it refers to my birthday: March 4th (March Forth!)  But it does not end up being a Riddler story, or a Getaway Genius story as implied by the cover.  In fact it is the final Outsider story:

I talked about the Outsider series years ago; I honestly thought I had read them all.  I am a little chagrined to find out that there was another tale.

Monday, September 08, 2014

The First Brainiac (Or the Sixth?)

In Jimmy Olsen #28, Jimmy gets caught in a whirlwind that Superman created to stop a hurricane from hitting Metropolis, and is transported to the Metropolis of 5921.  He is startled to learn that he is reviled as the man who killed Superman, way back in 1958 (when the story was published).  He is arrested, but hopes to get off as there are surely no witnesses who can attest to his identity. 

DOH! This is the April 1958 issue, which came out three months before the first green-skinned, pink-shirted Brainiac story in Action #242.  So is this the first Brainiac?  Or since it takes place almost 40 centuries in the future, well after the Legion of Super Heroes Brainiac 5's era, is it the sixth?  This time travel business can sure make things confusing!

We learn at the end of the story that Jimmy's murder of the Man of Steel was actually faked; it was all a ruse that Superman had come up with to trick a gang.  Later, Superman hurls a time capsule into the future to clear Jimmy's good name.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

And Yet Another Swipe

I talked a few years ago about a very goofy story in Lois Lane #36, where everybody at the Daily Planet pretended that they never heard of Lois Lane, with the apparent result that she committed suicide by hurling herself off a cliff.  It turned out (of course) that she didn't really off herself, and that it was all just a test to see if she could handle the wily tricks she'd have to face as a foreign correspondent for the Daily Planet.  It took a couple issues, but eventually we got the follow-up.

Well, tonight I was reading some old comics and found out that this was actually a swipe from an earlier Jimmy Olsen tale:
In the Jimmy Olsen story, just as in the Lois Lane tale, the protagonist has just returned from a little vacay:

Jimmy insists on checking the back issues of the Planet, as does Lois, but there is no record of their award-winning scoops.  They both head back to their apartments, but are startled to find other tenants in occupancy (in Lois' case it's especially cruel as her sister declines to recognize her).

Eventually we learn it was all a trick by Perry to test them as mentioned above for their suitability as foreign correspondents:

They realize that they're being tricked for different reasons.  Jimmy had called for the "Chief" when Lois didn't recognize him and as he's the only one who calls Perry by that nickname, he realizes that since Perry emerged from his office he knew Jimmy despite his denials.  Lois goes to see Lex Luthor in prison, but since Lex is in solitary she figures out that the warden would never let her see him.

But perhaps most surprising of all is that both stories turn out to be lead-ins to future tales.  I discussed the rather ridiculous Lois Lane, Foreign Correspondent story, but Jimmy had his own follow up:

Jimmy's story is a little better.  He and Clark travel to Hoxana, to find out if the new king is going to be a tyrant or a good guy.  Jimmy quickly finds out that it's the former:

But the king overhears the clicking and only Clark's swift grabbing of the camera saves Jimmy from the firing squad, although Clark himself is imprisoned.  From there the story develops rather predictably; Jimmy has a secret key that can open the prison door, so he tries to get himself arrested, but every time he ends up actually helping out King Otto.  Eventually he succeeds, but the key subplot apparently gets forgotten and Jimmy and Clark are facing the firing squad.  But Clark blows the bullets away, and then takes care of things as Superman.

This swipe is a little quicker than some of the other ones Weisinger did--Lois Lane #36 was published in October 1962, a little less than five years after Jimmy Olsen #25 (December 1957).  But it is certainly noteworthy because of the lead-in nature of both stories to later tales.

Friday, July 25, 2014

I'm Sure You've Heard This Before....

Usual comic book serendipity thing.  I was poking through some back issue bins at the local comic shop and I came across some issues of a comic called Myth Adventures, liked the cover art and picked a few up.

So I'm reading these stories and really getting into them and I thought, hmmm, let's look up the artist, Phil Foglio, on Wikipedia.  So I did and saw he had a series in collaboration with his wife on-line, called Girl Genius, and started reading....

And four hours later I decided I should link it.  Holy crap, this series is so much fun.  It's not like I can claim to have discovered it; I suspect most of you have been reading it for years.  But if you haven't, you definitely have to go check it out.  The art has the perfect humorous style, and the story... well I've been reading it for four straight hours and am absolutely transfixed.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Angel & Ape #2

Of all the quirky titles that DC published near the end of the Silver Age, this must surely be the oddest.  Well, aside from Brother Power the Geek.  This happens to be the only issue I own; I don't think I've even read another.

The talent is certainly first-rate: Sergio Aragones on the script and art by Bob Oksner and Wally Wood.  Oksner is probably the least-known today of that trio, but in the 1960s he was DC's go-to guy on humor.

Apparently the premise of the series is that Angel O'Day and Sam Simeon are partners in a private investigation office, although in this issue there is no evidence of a client; they more or less function as law enforcement.  Sam has another job on the side; he's a "cartoonist" for Brain Pix Comics, where his boss is the wacky and devious Stan Bragg (obviously intended as a parody of Stan Lee).

The plot is pretty simple: Someone has convinced the Bikini family (a group of circus performers with larceny in their hearts) to combine their forces:

They kidnap Angel and thus Sam must rescue her.  But first he has to deal with the self-promoting Stan Bragg:

An early reference to the fact that Stan didn't do much of the real "writing" at Marvel?  Sam quits and decides to try his luck at DZ Comics:

But Stan comes up with an ingenious plot to win Sam back:
Stan's assistant convinces Sam to stay at Brain Pix in order to atone for the "death" of Stan.

Some of the humor in the series comes from the fact that very few people seem to realize that Sam is an ape:

Angel leads the circus crooks to Brain Pix's building, where she and the cops make short work of them:

The noise outside is enough to wake the dead:
Overall the issue is amusing, if not quite laugh out loud funny, and the artwork is terrific.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Swiped and Then Swiped Again

Mort Weisinger's enthusiasm for swiping story ideas from earlier issues of Superboy does not seem as high as it was for Adventure Comics, but here's a pretty impressive example of a double swipe.  For starters, here is the cover to Superboy #52 (October 1956):

And Superboy #85 (December 1960):

As you can see, in both cases, Superboy is startled to discover another super-powered boy on an alien planet. He changes into civilian clothes and confronts the lad:

The other boy comes from a startling place:

Clark realizes how the other boy got his powers:

So it looks like Superboy is finally going to have a super-powered buddy.  But as they start off together, something happens:

Superboy eventually realizes that it's his presence that is causing the other superlad to lose his powers, and thus he must leave, resulting in a sad ending:

Weisinger recycled that ending in Superboy #87 (March 1961), in a Krypto story.  Krypto rescues a beautiful female dog:

You've gotta love that he calls her Toots. She doesn't have super-powers, but it turns out that Krypto knows where she can get some:

And so she drinks from the pool and becomes super. Unfortunately:

Krypto soon realizes that he is no longer super when near Kolli, and so we get the same ending as in the two Superboy tales:

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Mort Weisinger's Idea of Funny

What the? From Superboy #72 (April 1959):

Why would he put that postscript in there?  He had to know that there were plenty of Superboy readers who were still at the age where they believed in Santa.  It's hard to come up with a reason other than the obvious; that Weisinger was a first class jerk.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

A Wink from Clark

Reading through the Silver Age Superboy, I noticed how many stories ended with this:

The winks tend to happen at the end of secret identity stories; I'm sure there are plenty of examples in Superman as well.

This is somewhat akin to the "Ending with Iris" bit in the Flash, and the "Bah!" responses from the Joker; a way of letting us know the story is over.

Update: Kirk House points out in the comments that the practice of ending the story with a wink from Clark may have originated with the Superman cartoons of the early 1940s from the Fleischer studios.  Here's the first one in that series, which does indeed end that way:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Some Lesser Swipes

As I mentioned the other day, I have been working my way through the mid-1950s Superboy issues looking for more swipes by Weisinger and company.  I came across two more, although these were not quite as blatant.  First:

Despite the rather obvious swipe of the cover concept, the stories themselves have only a superficial similarity.  In the Superboy story, Clark was unaware that his teacher had instructed the class to wear Superboy costumes for Superboy day in Smallville, because he had been absent from the classroom when the order was made.  In the Supergirl story, a TV producer had given everybody at Stanhope copies of her uniform (including Linda), but hers was damaged when she used it on a mission in her other identity.  The latter story turns out to be an effort by the TV guy to expose Supergirl's secret identity.  In the former, Clark sweats it out that the reason he was chosen to be dressed in plainclothes was that someone had guessed his secret, but it turns out instead that hidden inside his jacket was a letter signed by everybody in town thanking Superboy.

It's comparable to these two stories with identical titles:

Same concept, different execution. In the first story (from Superboy #50) a gang of crooks have come to Smallville to hide out with their loot, although one of the underlings is worried about the rumors that a young lad has super powers has recently been making things tough for the local criminals.  The boss, as shown, finds the concept of a Superboy to be ridiculous, although he soon learns otherwise.  In the later story, Superboy goes to a nearby old West town where the local hoods haven't heard of him.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Secret Origin of Pete Ross

I've been working my way through the mid-1950s issues of Superboy, looking for more stories that were later swiped by Weisinger, and the first one I found is rather significant.

Did you know that Pete Ross' original name was Billy Todd?  He popped up in Superboy #47 (March 1956).  When we meet him, Billy is helping Clark deal with some bullying:

Just as Pete did in Superboy #86 (January 1961):

He offers to be Clark's pal, but the Boy of Steel is too worried about protecting his secret identity.  Fortunately, Ma and Pa Kent intervene, inviting the new chum to dinner.  After the meal, Clark shows off his hobby:

As he would later to Pete.

Billy later shows off his own hobby, which is creating miniature replicas of famous structures, such as the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, and the Golden Gate Bridge.  Pete has different pastimes: acting and detective work.

Now that they are friends, Clark finds himself (as Superboy) often saving Billy from perilous situations:
As he also did with Pete:

Which leads inevitably to some awkward moments:

Clark is disturbed to learn that his new pal is checking Superboy's measurements:

Which leads him inevitably to the conclusion that his supposed buddy is plotting to betray him.  But fortunately there is an innocent explanation:

Pete Ross went on to become a recurring character in the DC Silver Age, albeit a minor one. As I have discussed earlier, he became the only person other than Ma and Pa Kent to know Superboy's secret identity.  Billy Todd?  As best as I can tell, this was his only appearance.

Update: Kirk House pointed out in the comments that in Action #457, Pete Ross's son apparently lost his will to live.  Only one thing could save him; if Superman divulged his secret identity to the young lad.  The story is pretty good; ironically the many times that people have suspected Clark Kent as Supes works against the disclosure, as Jon Ross cites those incidents for his skepticism.  Fortunately he has figured out another way to prove it that Clark had not protected himself against:

There are a couple of interesting ironies about this story.  First, Pete could have told his son that Clark was Superman, or at least confirmed it, except that Supes himself was unaware that his boyhood chum knew the truth.  Second is that the many times Clark had been suspected of being the Man of Steel and managed to deceive people into reconsidering actually worked against him.  This echoes a Golden Age Batman story where Bruce Wayne lost his position as the guardian of Dick Grayson, in large part because he had convinced the public that he was a dissolute playboy.

The concept of someone making a deathbed request to learn a superhero's secret ID had been used several times already, including at least two Batman tales and one in Jimmy Olsen: