One of the most memorable and value-for-money formats in Comics’ Bronze Age was the 100-page Super Spectacular. Recently, I began reading my copies in chronological order of publication.I’m going to share my thoughts on that experience in this blog.
The very first one I owned, in the summer of 1971, cost 12 and a half new pence. My dad had gallantly offered a distressed work colleague (and lone parent) a lift to her parents’ home in Perthshire – in the early 70s, car ownership was still something of a luxury in rural areas of Scotland. This lady’s son, Ian, had been a pre-school playmate of mine but they had subsequently moved out of our village. For kids, a couple of years seems like a decade so we had little in common. We had a long car journey to Crieff and this comic was bought to occupy me. I remember Ian wasn’t really interested in it.
The assemblage on the cover invested this comic with its potency. It would probably have been the fourth time I had seen the Justice Society of America and only the second story I’d read featuring them; the first was the Aquarius issue where Larry Lance was killed. The idea of an entire team of super-heroes with a history of unknown adventures on a parallel Earth was absolutely electrifying.
To my jaundiced adult eye, some figures look a little awkward, many adopting that hands-on-hips pose. Teen Wonder Robin looks quite child-like; Wildcat is bull-necked and stooped; Red Tornado has a smirk that would better befit Robotman; and the Martian Manhunter looks a little fey. I’m intrigued that Adams’ own redesign for Green Arrow is obscured by Aquaman (and the logo). However, the spotlit cover image, while static, is highly dramatic. The Original Captain Marvel doesn’t make it- he’s still to be revived by DC at this point.The inside back cover features a key to the heroes depicted- this would be a continuing feature in many of the early Super-Specs.
The chopped-up text feature inside is comic book crack for the nascent fan: an alphabetical checklist of the first appearance of every hero in the DC roster (at that point- the Quality characters like Black Condor and The Ray are still to become part of the stable). This list was also my introduction to Kirby’s Orion, Mr. Miracle and the Forever People: strange, psychedelic tourists from Marvel’s House of Ideas.
The reprint of the first Crisis to team the JLA and JSA against The Crime Champions remains a favourite. As a child, I was instantly struck by Dr. Alchemy; only slightly less so by the JSAers, particularly Dr. Fate. I always enjoy Fox and Sekowsky’s vignettes of pairs and trios of JLAers teaming up in various interesting locales.
The rather primitive Spectre story reads like a kid’s recount of a Karloff shocker and the previously-unpublished Wildcat strip feels like a pugnacious version of a Batman/Catwoman caper. The Johnny Quick strip is a surprisingly serious comment on prison reform, however; and the Vigilante tale from 1950 is a desert crime caper with, as I mentioned last time, a couple of memorable, gimmicky crooks.
The Kubert Hawkman story, the best-looking strip in the collection, is a moody parade of mythical creatures, like a Ray Harryhausen movie. It was also my first glimpse of the original Sixties Hawkman mask and I prefer it to the later “Honour Wings” version.
The next Super-Spectacular features gorgeous Swanderson covers and reprints an epic Superman saga: “The Team of Luthor and Brainiac”. This story is so important to the Caped Kryptonian’s mythos, as masterminded by Mort Weisinger, that Alan Moore paid it homage in the mid-80s. It’s sweeping in its scope, crossing time and space and encompassing the Bottle City of Kandor and the Thirtieth Century of the Legion of Super-Heroes. It also features Luthor’s Hall of Heroes (“The greatest marauders of the ages!”), living ships, Tri-Beasts, Computer Tyrants and The Superman Emergency Squad. Personally, I like the idea that Superman’s arch-foes oppose him on a cerebral level but their inability to trust each other undoes them.
Kid Eternity was an elegant fantasy strip from the mid-40s pencilled by the legendary Mac Raboy. I don’t know if the Kid was designed to cash in on the fame of Captain Marvel Jr. but since he has to summon figures out of mythology to do his dirty work, he lacks identification appeal. How many kids in ’46 would even have known who Javert was?
The Silver-Age Atom inhabited a stylised, hipster world under Gil Kane’s pencils. Unfortunately, the plots tended to be tedious. In this issue, arch-foe Chronos debuted (he was a member of The Crime Champions in the previous Super-Spec). Chronos has once of the most garish costumes ever designed but the combat is dynamic.
Super-Chief, despite the corny and patronising name, is a mythical Native American hero beautifully drawn by Carmine Infantino. It’s a shame no iteration of Marvel’s Thunderbird was invested with some of the majesty and nobility of Saganowahna.
Air Wave was a radio-themed crimebuster in the Forties, with a parrot that quotes proverbs. Larry Jordan’s MO makes him a slightly better-dressed and more flamboyant version of Dr. Mid-Nite. This story was quite forgettable. But, in time, he was folded into the Green Lantern mythos; there was no explanation, however, where his raffish moustache vanished to when fighting crime.
This time, there’s a slick Murphy Anderson Silver Age Hawkman story. Unfortunately, the motorcyclist villain is deadly dull. This collection is rounded out with an early-Fifties superman story that introduced me to the Prankster. I’ve subsequently had a soft spot for this portly, pesky Joker rip-off.
There are house ads (unlike the previous issue) for the Magic of Kirby: the Jimmy Olsen Loch Trevor story and The Glory Boat issue of New Gods. It’s ironic that amidst reprints of Silver Age elegance and the whimsy of the Forties, these visceral, techno-thrillers were struggling to find an audience .
If you enjoyed this entry, you may want to visit my other blog, where I’m celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of The Five Faces of Dr. Who and some Lee/Kirby/Ditko classics. (http://somefantasticplace-dougie.blogspot.com/)
Next: The Best Batman story of 1952?
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