Friday, May 03, 2019

Blame Everything Bad on Superman

Although Mort Weissinger did a terrific job of editing the Superman titles during the late 1950s-1971 or so (while simultaneously being a notorious jerk to his underlings), he had one enormous blind spot that became more apparent as he approached the end of his tenure.  He was always willing to put up with awful characterization for Superman if it was in service to an entertaining plot.

Consider this story, which ran in Action #368-369:

Superman returns from paying his respects to his parents on a faux-Krypton world he created complete with Jor-El and Lara (in reality androids), to discover the situation shown on the cover. Yep, Earth has become a paradise, with no war, no crime, no disasters.  People don't even get sick anymore.  You might think that Supes would be happy, but instead he focuses on the fact that he will no longer be a subject of adulation:

Yep, no more giant gold cups.  Even his job as a reporter offers no excitement, as Perry assigns him to cover a chess tournament. Eventually he goes to his fortress and commands his robots to attack him but:

 Initially he resists exile, but the Sentinel talks him into leaving. Of course, he carefully scouts out worlds with red suns to find one where he will fit in.  Or not:

And later, he makes a social blunder:

You can probably guess what the king's decision is.  Fortunately for Supes,  he happened to pick a world where the sun was only half-red and half-yellow. When the yellow half returns, he flies rapidly away and back to Earth.

Now the predictable story here would have Superman discovering something about the Sentinels which makes him realize that they are too controlling, or that they have nefarious plans for Earth now that they have gotten rid of its greatest defender, Superman destroys the Sentinels, preventing their evil plot.

This story isn't predictable.  Oh, yes, Superman goes back to Earth and destroys the Sentinels, but they really were just trying to make Earth a paradise:

On his way back to Metropolis he spots a plane crashing, but is too late to save it. Everybody on board dies and Superman realizes that he's to blame, and in fact he will be to blame for everything bad that happens.

And that is the way the story ends. So the next time you feel a cold coming on, or some jerk breaks into your car, or war breaks out somewhere, you know where to point the finger.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Batman Effect

In January of 1966, the Batman TV show debuted and it seemed like the whole country went Bat-mad.  Perhaps in an effort to make clear the other comics that were coming to us from the fine folks who brought us the Caped Crusader, DC came up with the Go-Go-Chex idea; all of their comics starting in January 1966 or so had a checkerboard pattern at the top.  Here's the first Batman issue:
As you can see, it prominently features the Riddler, the villain Batman and Robin faced in the first episode of the TV show.

Anyway, since we have pretty good circulation data on a bunch of DC mags for 1965 and 1966, I thought I'd take a look at what the Batman effect was like on the rest of the line.

In a word, grim. This was definitely not the case of a rising tide lifting all boats.  Although it is undeniable that Batman brought lots of new comic fans to DC, they mostly only bought Batman titles, as did a lot of existing comics buyers, to the obvious detriment of almost the rest of the DC line.

Superman, which had forever been DC's best-selling title, not only dropped out of first place, but it sold a startling 100,000 fewer copies per issue than it had the year before.  And that was only the beginning; his related titles also took big hits in circulation--Superboy down 64,000, Lois Lane down 25,000, Jimmy Olsen down 32,000, Action and Adventure down about 35,000 each.  No surprise, the only Superman-related title that did better was World's Finest (up 47,000), the one he shared with Batman. 

Nor were other comics spared.  Green Lantern and the Atom both shed about 25,000 buyers per issue. GI Combat dropped a stunning 65,000.  All of the comics mentioned were still selling over 200,000 copies per issue, and the Superman titles were almost all selling over a half-million.

Keep in mind too that in general comics circulation had increased quite nicely after the sudden drop caused by the increase in price from 10 cents to 12 cents.  For example, Superman, which sold 740,000 copies an issue in 1962, was up to almost 824,000 copies by 1965, a rise of over 11%.  Generally we would expect given the times for all these comics to show modest increases in circulation due to the bulge of the Baby Boomers coming into their comic-buying prime

But there is no denying that the declines must have been painful to DC editors not named Julius Schwartz. Batman and Detective Comics sales under his editorship soared (as did sales of the Brave and the Bold, which began to feature Batman in most issues).  But Schwartz made sure to feature Batman prominently on the Justice League of America covers, sometimes ridiculously so:

Okay, there's Batman flying in outer space punching some alien who supposedly can destroy him instantly.  And there's the usual floating heads to tell us that this is a JLA-JSA team-up.

Batman again dominates the foreground and this time there's even Robin.

Justice League of America was one of the very few DC superhero titles that actually gained circulation from 1965-1966, with a pickup of 18,000 copies per issue.

Flash was another character who gained some circulation (about 27,000).  This obvious bit of cross-selling may have helped:

For the superhero titles DC reported sales for in both years, it is quite obvious that DC's overall circulation was up quite substantially.  For those titles (including all the Batman titles) they showed a increase of about 3 million issues per annum. But Batman and Detective sold about 5.6 million more copies, which means the rest of DC's superhero line got crushed.

Metal Men had a very odd pattern of sales from 1965-1967, which leads me to believe that there was an error somewhere.  They sold 334,000 copies per issue in 1965.  They reportedly sold 396,000 copies per issue in 1966. While this seems unlikely, here's the statement from MM#24:

I wonder if they just didn't reverse the two columns by accident, as a decline to 316,000 seems much more likely than a 62,000 increase, especially when you consider that in 1967, Metal Men's circulation dropped all the way down to 239,700.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Making My Way Through Metamorpho

And I confess, enjoying the time much more than I would have expected.  I wasn't a big Ramona Fradon fan from her work on Aquaman, but she really shines in this series, showing creativity and style.  Check out this panel from Metamorpho #1:

The other half of the creative team was Bob Haney. Now Haney obviously had talent, but I gotta say, he phoned it in on the Brave & Bold team-up tales, which are among the most wince-worthy stories of the late 1960s.  But here he had his own characters, not a random assignment to characters he otherwise had no connection to, so he put more effort into it and the results show.

I was startled to see this very early Easter Egg in Metamorpho #7 (July-August 1966):

Cave Carson had eight tryout issues in the early 1960s. Haney wrote the last three of them, which were the best of the lot.

Rex (Metamorpho) Mason's girlfriend, Sapphire, was a bubble-headed blonde with a rich scientist father. Simon Stagg sent Rex on missions for him, one of which resulted in him being transformed into a freak, capable of using all the elements found in the human bond in some pretty wild ways.  Ironically this gave Stagg greater control over Rex, because now he could claim that whatever he wanted Rex to find was needed for a cure.

Ironically, Sapphire had no problem with Metamorpho's appearance, which gave quite a bit of anguish to the third member of their romantic triangle:

Java was a million-year-old pre-human whom Rex had found petrified in a swamp in Java, and whom Simon had brought back to life.  He was clearly intended to provide the humor (and some of the menace) in the series, and for the most part it works.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

The Future Man of the Future

He's "so different" from the original Superman of Krypton?  He's got a slightly different appearance, but he still has all of Superman's powers, wears the same uniform, does the same kind of superheroic feats, and still works as a reporter.  Yeah, they give him a futuristic sounding name, and his weakness is not to Kryptonite, but to ordinary seawater.

The story begins with Superman being made a lawman for the Federation of Planets.

Now there are some obvious problems with that statement.  First since this story was set 1000 years in the future (when it was published), that implies something like 40-50 generations later.  Presumably our Superman would have many descendants, not just one.  And some of them would no doubt be Superwomen, not Supermen.

This Superman's first task is to stop a rogue planet from destroying the solar system.  Of course, this is just a slight variation on our Superman's continuing battle save the world from asteroids and meteors.  This Superman also has his Fortress of Solitude, although his is so different; it's located out in space.  Some crooks try to get into it to steal some weapons, but Superman catches them.  We get more of the creepy DC scientofascism here:

Doesn't that "click...whirr" inspire confidence in the infallible nature of the computer?  What's the slowdown, you ask?  Well, they have a ray that slows people down to about 1/10th the speed of normal humans, which renders them harmless.  And also defenseless.

The story ends somewhat abruptly with Klar getting an assignment from his robot editor.  Muto, the future Superman's greatest enemy, has been spotted robbing a Neptunian bank.  Klar realizes he must track the alien down.

The tale of the future Superman continued about six months later in Action #338-339.  Muto reveals to three of his henchmen why he wants to kill Superman.  See, his parents were on a trip in space when Superman (actually the father of the 2965 Supes) accidentally ripped open a dimensional warp while saving Earth from yet another comet.  Their rocket went into the dimensional warp where Muto was born and:

He forces Superman to dive into some water to save three children from drowning. Supes discovers too late that they are not real children at all, but androids:

Fortunately Superman is able to reprogram the android kids with his heat vision so they drag him to safety.

That pretty much sets the tone for most of the rest of the final chapter of the story.  Muto tries various tricks to get Superman surrounded by sea water. Oh, and at one point Muto aims a growth ray on everybody in Metropolis, which causes havoc:

Eventually Superman manages to trick Muto into attacking him near a lightning rod.  The lightning opens up another dimensional warp, which sucks Muto into it.

Comments: The decision to make the future Superman's weakness sea water seems kinda silly.  Basically crooks could just carry water pistols around with them to handle him.  Indeed, in a later World's Finest issue, the future Joker is shown on the cover downing Superman with a squirt from the trick flower in his lapel.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Tracking The Intro of Continuing Characters in DC's Former One-Shot Mags

For most of their history up until about 1959, DC's war and science fiction magazines had not featured continuing characters.  Instead the stories had been one-shots, with characters never returning.  Apparently a decision was reached by management to require continuing features, and very quickly they were put in place:

March 1959: All American Men of War #67 introduced Gunner and Sarge.  The team continued in the next issue, before moving over to Our Fighting Forces, beginning with #45, the May 1959 issue.

April 1959: Sgt Rock made his first appearance in Our Army at War #81 (as Sgt Rocky).

May 1959.  Tank Killer makes his first appearance in All American Men of War #69.

May 1959. The Space Museum opens its doors for the first time in Strange Adventures #104.  It would eventually settle into a rotation with Star Hawkins and the Atomic Knights, with each feature appearing every third issue, until Julius Schwartz turned the editorship reins over to Jack Schiff in 1964. 

August 1959: Mademoiselle Marie, a French resistance fighter, debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #84.

August 1959.  Mystery in Space, which had occasionally had regular features but not for awhile at the time, began running the Adam Strange series, starting with #53.

August 1959.  Space Ranger became the regular feature in Tales of the Unexpected #40.

August 1959.  House of Secrets #23 introduced Mark Merlin, a supernatural detective/debunker.

March 1960. Star Hawkins begins in Strange Adventures #114.

April-May, 1960.  Star Spangled War Stories  publishes the first of many zany War that Time Forgot stories, a series which featured US soldiers battling dinosaurs and other oddball creatures (including a memorable white King Kong).

June 1960.  The Atomic Knights make their first appearance in Strange Adventures #117.

Nov-Dec 1960.  Johnny Cloud, Navajo ace pilot of World War II debuts.

May 1961.  GI Combat #87 hosts the first story featuring the Haunted Tank.

It should be noted that several titles held out even longer; My Greatest Adventure and House of Mystery did not have recurring features until May 1963 (Doom Patrol, #80) and June 1964 (Martian Manhunter, #143).  And of course DC's romance titles resisted continuing characters until Heart Throbs and Secret Hearts began running their soap opera series around 1966.