Vicki Waiting

This post continues our celebration of Batman’s 75th anniversary with a spotlight on the Gotham Gals.

Busybody Aunt Harriet was introduced in the New Look Era of Batman to address a ridiculous idea : that the Wayne household was a model of gay living designed to “seduce the innocent”, to cop a cliche.  That’s a “joke” that carries on into the 21st century.  Gareth Roberts stooped to giving Rose Tyler a gag about it in the first-ever Ninth Doctor strip, The Love Invasion.

Aunt Harriet only appeared in the comics, off and on, for about four years but she had a very significant presence on tv. Ironically though, many of the other female figures in the tv show could be read with a queer  subtext. None more so than this bevy of grotesque, domineering Bat-villainesses…

The first trio are Zelda the Great, escape artist and stage magician; Ma Parker, criminal matriarch modelled on Ma-ma-ma Barker; Marsha, Queen of Diamonds, who used love potions and teamed up with the Penguin. I wouldn’t care if they never troubled the Bat-verse again.

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More intresting are Black Widow( no relation) a butch bank robber and uniquely a senior citizen criminal; The Siren, mind-controlling chanteuse aka Lorelei Circe- uniquely a tv Bat-foe with super powers; Olga, Queen of the Cossacks, rightful heir to the Bessarovian throne and consort to Egghead. ( Played by Anne Baxter aka Zelda)

The final three are far less memorable-Nora Clavicle, militant womens rights activist; Dr. Cassandra Spellcraft, alchemist and occultist;  Minerva, a villainous spa-owner. However, I expect some of these females to retrun in the pages of Batman ’66. We’ll check on that in the summer…

Now, what might a Bronze Age sequel to Batman 208′s catalogue of the women in the Darknight Detective’s life look like?

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Ruby Ryder: femme fatale and business rival to Bruce Wayne, long-forgotten Ruby bewitched Plastic Man and starred in four Bob Haney tales. I like the idea of a  female industrialist (complete with monogrammed belt)  competing with Wayne- wonder if she’s any relation to Jack Ryder, the Creeper?

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Talia al Ghul: the Daughter of the Demon, Talia is a homage to Fah Lo Suee, the daughter of Fu Manchu. An amoral but lovestruck beauty in her earliest appearances, Talia became the mother- and ultimately, the slayer- of Bruce Wayne’s son Damian. She was the mastermind behind Leviathan in Batman Inc and killed by Kathy Kane. Grant Morrison’s ruthless super-terrorist resembles the screen version played by Marion Cottilard.

Lady Shiva: this assassin and martial artist debuted in 1975′s Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter. However, she was folded into the Bat-Verse in the 90s.

Leslie Thompkins: lady doctor who acted as parent figure for orphaned Bruce Wayne. Later a  protector of street girls and addicts, who fell out with Batman in the worst way.

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Duela Dent: introduced in Robin’s Batman Family series, the wacky Joker’s Daughter had a bizarre MO of impersonating villains’ children. Never actually battling Batsy (to my knowledge) Duela joined the original Teen Titans as a new Harlequin but was hadndwaved away by Marv Wolfman at Donna Troy’s wedding.

Other versions have come and gone but Duela’s legacy carries on in the form of Harley Quinn- of whom, more next time.

Silver St. Cloud: sultry Silver, socialite and events planner discovered Batman’s secret identity in the legendary Englehart/Rogers run of Detective.

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The Huntress: The daughter of the E-2 Batman and Catwoman, Paul Levitz’s “deadliest crimefighter ever imagined” made her debut as a lithe and shadowy powerhouse in the JSA.

She graduated to her own strip, first  in Batman Family and then as an enduring and entertaining back-up in Wonder Woman. She had a close friendship with the pneumatic Power Girl and a memorable confrontation with the Joker.

Frustratingly, the well-rounded and fascinating Helena was a victim of the Crisis but was renewed as a Mafia princess in the late 80s. Her hard-edged vigilante ethos got that version kicked out of Morrison’s JLA.

The E-2 version was revived in the New 52 , this time with Power Girl in a buddy book, but still wearing the Mafia version’s huge, unsubtle crucifix.

Julia Remarque: Bruce had a dalliance quite close to home with Julia: Alfred the butler’s daughter with wartime resistance fighter Mlle. Marie.

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Nocturna: burglar and balloonist with bleached skin, Natalia Knight was also the adoptive parent of Jason Todd, the wayward second Robin. The pseudo-vampire was a glamorous, Gothic foe.

Next time, we’ll look at the First Ladies of Gotham from the Crisis on Infinite Earths to the present day.

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The Arms of Orion

Today’s Bat-Post revisits a rather unusual giant: Batman 208 from Feb 1969. It’s unusual because, firstly, it features a framing device and is a patchwork of complete reprints and extracts from longer stories. Secondly, the framing sequence is drawn by Gil Kane.

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 I’ve read one Kane Bat-tale from the 60s: Hunt for a Robin-Killer reprinted in 1974′s Batman 257.  Kane drew other Bat-covers but I associate his work at DC with GL, Atom and Captain Action- and in the early seventies, with the sensational Captain Marvel, Adam Warlock and Conan for Marvel. His Dynamic Duo are very dynamic indeed and his Batman/ Bruce Wayne is to be found railing at storm-filled skies.

The issue is narrated to the reader by Mrs. Alice Chilton, leafing through her scrapbook which, oddly enough, lists Batman/Bruce’s female acquaintances.

We begin with actress Julie Madison, vicitimised by the original Clayface, Basil Karlo, in a Dark Shadows-ish sequence.  Julie was portrayed on screen by Elle McPherson in Batman and Robin.

This is followed by The Secret Life of the Catwoman (1961), the story of Selina Kyle’s amnesia and reformation; I’d previously seen it in the second Secret Origins/Supervillains tabloid.

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With a little contrivance, scripter Bridwell fits in one of my favourites from the 1971 Superadventure annual,The Crimes of the Catwoman (1954)- an older tale which portrays Selina’s return to crime.

Linda Page, the socialite-turned-nurse who featured in the 1943 Dr. Daka movie serial is followed by Vicki Vale’s Secret (1952). The snoopy redhead photographer (and smoker!), portrayed on screen byKim Basinger, tries to trick B&R into revealing their identities.

One of my favourite Bat-women, the circus daredevil heiress  Batwoman has a fragment given over to her 1956 debut. This is followed by The Menace of the Firefly (1959). Here, Kathy Kane falls in love with the alter ego of the criminal Firefly, leading to a battle on a prop Mayan temple. This is probably my favourite story in this collection.

Kathy was killed off in the late 70s but Grant Morrison revealed a new, complex and noirish backstory and depicted her as very much alive in Batman Inc. where she was headmistress of a girls school. I wish she had been the second female member of the Fox/Sekowsky JLA to be a confidante for Wonder Woman.

Novelist Kaye Daye of the Gotham Mystery Analysts – a dull group of amateur detectives- appears in some panels from 1967′s Problem of the Proxy Paintings . TV star Aunt Harriet Cooper debuts in the conclusion of 1964′s Gotham Gang Line-Up, the story which (temporarily) dispatched Alfred.

Of course, Dick’s Aunt Harriet was no love interest. Bruce Wayne had a tentative romance however with feisty police academy graduate Patricia Powell in 1964′s Dilemma of the Detective’s Daughter; meanwhile Batman fell for Marcia Monroe, the Queen Bee: masked operative of CYCLOPS in Batman vs. Eclipso (1966). Marcia is not to be confused with Zazzala, the JLA villainess.

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Another Bad Girl made her entrance in  Beware of Poison Ivy (1966). In those days, she was little more than a costumed seductress with no super powers, not unlike this pop art trio glimpsed in a gallery.

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Her sway over Batsy was shown in the sequel, A Touch of Poison Ivy (1966). As seen above, Ivy was played on film by Uma Thurman.

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The debutante with most staying power in the 60s was of course Titian-tressed Babs Gordon in The Million-Dollar Debut of Batgirl (1967). Like the Eclipso and Ivy tales, this was a surprisingly recent reprint, given the 40s and 50s vintage of previous giants.

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As a librarian, a politician and a wheelchair user, Babs has been an inspirational figure for decades. Having also been a tv star in the Sixties, Batgirl has eclipsed her predecessor, pesky Betty Kane, despite the latter’s reworking as Flamebird in the 80s. Betty strangely makes no appearance in this giant-or indeed, any other I own.

The final pages of the giant reveal that Mrs. Chilton, housekeeper to Uncle Philip Wayne, was present at Bruce’s graveside vow (in one of those characteristic stormy, tearful Kane images). This is hugely ironic because she was the mother of the Waynes slayer, Joe Chill *choke*!

 45 years later, we could fill a couple of posts with the bevy of beauties in Bruce’s current Little Black Book. Holy inspiration! So…

Coming soon:  Bronze Age Gotham Gals

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Secrets of The Batcave

Today’s post revisits another Batman Giant: no. 203 from August 1968. Groovy cover by Neal Adams.

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At this time, Patrick Troughton began his final season as Doctor Who, just as I started going to Primary School. The following month, my favourite Power Comic, Fantastic would fold into Smash. In the US, the Silver Surfer, Stan Lee’s soliloquizing Space Jesus, debuted in his own giant-size comic. Meanwhile, DC was trying new takes on old concepts with Anthro, Bat Lash and the spooky House of Mystery.

Here are a couple of Bat-contemporaries:

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I bought this JLA issue in London’s Comics Showcase  near Covent Garden, 1982

The 1000 Secrets of the Batcave (1948): ruthless killer Wolf Brando takes refuge in the Batcave and holds off the Dynamic Duo with their trophy weapons. He drowns in a whirlpool when his “shrieking laughter” disturbs the bats. A macabre cave-based thriller from the late 40s. (1)

The Birth of Batplane II(1950): an exciting aero-duel and human interest story! Three Batplanes are flown by crooks and “Flying Tiger” Haggerty, a war veteran down on his luck, becomes first a stooge then the hero. (2)

* see below

The Secrets of Batman’s Utility Belt (1952): lost by a clumsy Caped Crusader, the belt passes from hand to hand- from a brainy kid to a crook called Drum ( inspired by Dick Tracy’s Flattop?) This is quite an entertaining quest as the belt could reveal Batsy’s identity.(3)

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The 100 Batarangs of Batman(1957) Batman wield Batarang-X- a giant version- in the hunt for a criminal named Jay Garris (no relation). We learn the Batarang was invented by an Australian expert, Lee Collins. (5)

The Secrets of the Batmobile (1956): a Vicki Vale story in which Bats is hunting a crooked driver called The Racer. Vicki’s Batmobile photo could reveal The Caped Crusader’s secret identity. What, again?  (6)

The Flying Batcave (1952): Bats is tricked into swearing not to set foot in Gotham. He foils the schemes of crooks nicknamed Diamond and Big Time by unveiling a giant helicopter-a flying Batcave (4)

*Secrets of the Batcave: a double -page spread followed by a schematic of the Dynamic Duo’s utility belts. I’d previously seen an earlier diagram in the 1968 Superadventure Annual- one of my earliest hardback collections of 60s reprints.

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This was a bit of a dull issue, I’m afraid; no super-villains, no aliens, but lots of gadgets and technical details for budding scientists and engineers. The next giant features something less appealing to the young hobbyist- stories about *ugh* girls!

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Batman’s “Black Hats”

After a long weekend in Glasgow to see the International Art festival and a couple of plays at Oran Mor, I’m back in Moray. Today’s post continues to celebrate 75 years of Batman with a giant from February 1968. (Stories ranked numerically in terms of enjoyment)

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There hadn’t been an 80-pager since August 1967 which seems a long hiatus. It comes at a time when DC shed its Go-Go checks- the Camp Craze and the Spy Craze are both dying and the work of Neal Adams begins to proliferate. Here are a trio of  contemporaries:

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Shadow Lass meets the LSH for the first time

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My introduction to the Visi- sorry, Spectre

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My second encounter with the Junkheap Heroes- my favourite being Stan, the Golden Centurion.

This giant is billed as an all-villain issue which begins with the ur-Batman villain:

The Origin of the Batman: Joe Chill is killed by trigger-happy thugs in this dark story of revenge.This 1958 story evokes  the Golden Age more than the 1949 adventure that closes the collection. (5)

The Jungle Cat-Queen: The Princess of Plunder stars in a 1954 version of  “The Most Dangerous Game”. If you’ve never seen The Hounds of Zaroff (the 1932 movie based on that story), I recommend you do: it’s like Robert E. Howard brough to the screen.

B&R are trapped on a tropical island when Catwoman’s jet plane uses retractable steel claws to bring down the Batplane. There ensues an exciting manhunt that takes in a ruined temple, a waterfall and a killer gorilla. (1)

The Web of the Spinner: Batwoman guest stars for the first time in an 80-page giant since World’ Finest 161 in 1966 (“The Super-Batwoman”). It’s a minor role however, where Kathy Kane investigates a fake swami. If you can imagine it, the rotating Spinner is like a less-impressive version of The Human Top, Giant-Man’s archfoe. From 1960 (6)

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I first read this story in Batman Family 8 (in late 1976), which featured the Joker’s Daughter and her imposture as Catgirl.

The Man of 1,000 Umbrellas: Pengy has to pretend to be an honest citizen when he is visited by his domineering, elderly Aunt Miranda. A silly but cute syndicated story from 1946. (4)

The Crimes of Batman: The Joker kidnaps Robin to disgrace  Bats by forcing him to turn crooked. A more interesting idea for this 1952 tale than serial killing, to be sure. Of course,  the Caped Crsuader cleverly outwits the Joker at every turn. Joker wears a clown costume in one scene which is commemorated in the first “Composite Superman” story. I’ve always wondered why, being far more accustomed to the traditional purple morning suit ensemble. (3)

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The Menace of False Face: the contents page states ” You’ve seen him on …tv” and like The Clock (King), this 1958 crook was more striking on tv. The master disguise artist is unmasked as a ” nervous, frightened criminal”. Nowhere near as creepy as Malachi Throne, however. (7)

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The Bandit of the Bells: obese grotesque Ed Peale rebels against the tyranny of bells and commits crimes based on his morbid hatred as…The Gong! Quirky fun with a crook more memorable than False Face. (2)

Coming soon: secrets of the Utility Belt

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Batman Bizarre

This morning’s post continues  our celebration of Batman’s 75th anniversary with Batman 193, an 80-page giant cover-dated August 1967.

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This was a recent purchase on ebay. Here are some contemporary comics from that month, which I actually read around that time (this is the same month that Jim Shooter’s epic “Legion Chain Gang”appeared):

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For a long time, the oldest Flash comic I owned

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My introduction to DC”s parody book

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Another parody, this time of Shazam/Captain Marvel- although I didn’t realise for a few years.

Ride Bat-Hombre Ride: Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc. made reference to this adventure. Mantegua, a version of Argentina, is plagued by creepy, sadistic criminal El Papagayo. The country requests Batman trains up a Bat-Hombre to combat him. But the new hero turns out to be a criminal imposter. Campy fun south of the border. (1)

The Armoured Batman: Snoopy Vicki Vale discovers that the Dynamic Duo have dressed as knights in order to retrieve stolen radioactive material.  Wacky.(6)

His Majesty, King Batman: King Eric of Norania swaps identities with Bats but the impetuous royal enjoys super-heroing a little too much. An amusing twist on the Bat-Impersonator trope. (2)

Batman and the Vikings: A charming fable in which the Dynamic Duo time travel via hypnosis. Investigating the mystery of Bruce Wayne’s cowardly Viking double, B&R voyage to Vinland (America).(3)

Mayor Bruce Wayne: An imposter tries to “out” Wayne as Batman when Bruce is elected mayor of Gotham City.(4)

The Flying Batman: A lost valley of South American birdmen is ruled by a criminal clan. Batman undergoes an operation to gain wings and the story ends on a “could it all have been a dream?” note. Poor and silly.(7)

Syndicated Story: An extended, earnest public service announcement about forest rangers. Psychogically interesting, it incorporates not one but two pyromaniacs(!) but the woodland setting doesn’t really suit B&R.(5)

This issue is difficult to distinguish from the previous giant, especially in visual terms. Even in the dying days of the Pop Art- tv Batman craze, other Bat-books still reflected the impact of the Caped Crusader:

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I didn’t own a copy of this until the late 80s.

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Never read or owned this one but…wow.

There’s also an advert for Showcase, starring the Maniaks: a comedy pop group and a DC strip I’ve never read; one that guest-starred Woody Allen when he was best-known as a stand-up comedian.

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Coming soon: the All-Villain 80-page Giant

 

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Bat, This Is where I Came In!

There’s uncertainty over the exact date of Batman’s 75th birthday. Some say April, others February. In any case, in this series of posts  we’re revisiting 80 page Batman Giants from the sixties.

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Batman 187 is dated December 1966/January 1967 and it was published in the period when I first read Batman comics. It was immediately preceded by “The Joker’s Original Robberies”- one of my earliest Bat-memories- and carries ads for these adventures:

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I first read this Op Art exploit in a Double Double comic in the late 60s

I have a very vague recollection that I was given a copy of this giant as a child but I didn’t remember any of the images at all. I’ve ranked the stories numerically in the order I most enjoyed them.

Batman’s First Case: interestingly, this 1959 story is a remake of The Clock Strikes, a 1947 Robin  story from Star-Spangled Comics. That was the second appearance of Robin’s arch-enemy of the 40s.

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Here, Batman’s first “collar” returns as a gaudily costumed and rather ridiculous crook, possibly the inspiration for the Clock King on tv.

 Until the Crisis, we could have chalked this one up as the first case of the Earth1 Batman; that would have left the SSC story as an exploit of the e-2 Robin, which would have pleased Roy Thomas. (1)

Phantom Eye of Gotham City: a convoluted tale of identity and surveillance. A crook impersonating a big game hunter impersonates Batman. Improbable -even by 50s standards-and hard to follow. (7)

Last Days of Batman: On an accidental trip to the future, Robin discovers Batman is apparently fated to die at the hands of a masked crook called El Bolo. (3)

Peril at Playland Isle: a whodunnit in which a benevolent millionaire is murdered on his amusement park island. Peril ensues on the rollecoaster and ferris wheel. (6)

The Batman of Tomorrow: Brane Taylor, the Batman of the year 3055 subsitutes for an injured Caped Crusader. He nearly gives himself away being too gallant to Vicki Vale. We also get a glimpse of his futuristic Bat-Belfry. Sc-fi fun. (4)

Ballad of Batman: a sweet little tale in which a hilbilly singer, Sam Strong, gets into hot water when his ballads about the Caped Crusader exploits begin to tip off crooks.(2)

Syndicate Story- Joker, Crime Clown; in this reprinted arc of newspaper strips, Joker escapes from prison in much the same way as he did on tv’s “The Joker is Wild” episode  in January 1966.  Here, however it’s in a football game rather than baseball. The story concerns his rivalry with a slinky lady crook called The Sparrow: an interesting and novel idea. (5)

This is not the most memorable of giants as we’ll see in the next Bat-post but it is undemanding entertainment.

Coming soon:  Batman’s Bizarre Action Roles

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Let Freedom Ring

On Sunday, I went to the retro local cinema, the Moray Playhouse to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I had been disappointed by Thor: The Dark World which felt like an Asgardian retread of the tedious Man of Steel. Winter Soldier however is a stronger film, although some of its mysteries are still to be unravelled.

Steve Rogers becomes aware of a conspiracy within SHIELD which threatens the life of Nick Fury. With his allies- the Black Widow, Agent 13 and Sam Wilson, the Falcon- Cap discovers his old ally Bucky is alive and the pawn of a decades-old Hydra plot, masterminded by senator Alexander Pierce ( a patrician and frightening Robert Redford).The other returnee from WWII is an incarnation of Nazi genetic experimenter Arnim Zola- more Amstrad Zola here. I was surprised that Pierce wasn’t unmasked as the greatest Nazi villain in Cap’s canon but I think we see a German villain from Steranko’s SHIELD after the credits.

Steve Rogers Super-Soldier

 Rogers was portrayed as an superlative hand-to-hand combatant but I preferred the use of the Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier costume in the movie rather than the Ultimates-inspired one, which made Cap looked like a startled luchador. 

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I was particularly pleased to see the debut of the Falcon, albeit in his Ultimate Comics guise; I hope this version guests in the Avengers sequel to add variety to the ethnicities. Speaking of Avengers, that customary post-credits scene also points, excitingly, to the introduction of two more of Cap’s Kooky Quartet… 

Aside from Dr. Strange, who was briefly namechecked in the movie, other Marvel Universe stars I’d like to see onscreen include Spider-Woman, the Black Panther and Union Jack, the latter pair perhaps in future Cap movies. 

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Like Iron Man, Cap was never a great favourite of mine as a child and I actually read far fewer of his stories: the oldest was the Tumbler short in Tales of Suspense; then the first part of the Exiles story and battles with the Trapster and Batroc ( a gritty version of “Zee Lepair” appears in the opening action sequence in Soldier.)

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I was more interested in the comic when the Falcon became Cap’s partner but I was annoyed that he began to feel inferior to Rogers’ short-lived super-strength. The Wakandan wings actually made the hunting Falcon less unique in my eyes. (Don’t start me on “seeing through the eyes of birds”!)

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By the time the comic was being shipped regularly in the mid-70s, King Kirby had returned and I was around for the wrap-up of the Madbomb saga and the introduction of Zola.  Last April, I wondered  if Jack ever considered a 70s version of Bucky, in the vein of Krunch from the Dingbats? (See “Let Valour Write in Skies of Strife”)

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I also wonder if the long-forgotten Super-Agents of SHIELD- seen with Marvel Man/Quasar here- might appear in the next installment of the Cap franchise?

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The Falcon has always been something of a C-lister. He was “ghetto” years before Luke Cage appeared but has been overshadowed both by Cap and by other black heroes at Marvel. I hope he returns to the screen in the next couple of years.

Coming soon: more Batman Giants from the mid-Sixties

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