In this post, I want to discuss the next Super-Spectacular in my collection. I didn’t actually read this one in the 70s- rather it was bought, possibly at a mart or in a comic shop some twenty years later. Again, the banner reads “World’s Greatest Super-Heroes” and the cover features one of my favourite images of Gotham’s Dark Knight by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano.
This is, of course, the dread Batman at the Bronze Age height of his powers: lithe, athletic but spectral. The other figures are all a little stiff. Sargon is rather regal- at this time, I’m sure he’d been played as a more amoral character. Robin still looks quite child-like for a college boy. Oddly, Plastic Man isn’t doing anything ductile so he looks unsettlingly fetishistic in his red, lace-up bathing costume. Negative Man and Robotman do look rather freakish, however.
On the back cover, there’s an assemblage of the entire late-60s Legion of Super-Heroes (even Kid Psycho and his oversized cranium!). Adams mysteriously chooses not to feature the most visually interesting members- Colossal Boy,Chameleon Boy, Shadow Lass- or the most glamorous- Dream Girl or Princess Projectra. But at least Ultra Boy, whose striking costume has survived virtually every reboot, is prominent. Surprisingly, Timber Wolf is pictured doing something vaguely acrobatic- that was his USP until he basically became Wolverine in the 80s. Adams’ depiction of the Super-Pets is highly naturalistic; there’s something hilarious about Krypto and Beppo investigating the amorphous Proty, who looks like a yellow excrescence.
“The Masterminds of Crime” reminds me of a Steed/Mrs. Peel Avengers episode. Batman poses as a crook to infiltrate the Crime Academy. This story anticipates themes of Marvel’s Taskmaster story in The (other) Avengers by nearly 25 years.
The Doom Patrol origin is also very naturalistic- although, like many strips in this issue, rendered murky by splotches of obscuring black ink. This feels very much like an attempt at a Marvel strip, with its outcast heroes in their drab uniforms. Famously, the DP are frequently compared to the X-Men but here, I think they’re obviously modelled on the FF- a rocket ship, a genius, a flying humanoid, an orange juggernaut and a girl; pitted against their leader’s arch-enemy and rival. It’s also interesting that the “surrender or die” motif from their debut would be re-used in their final 60s adventure.
Plastic Man had apparently been popular in a reprint DC Special, after his Sixties series had folded. The Jack Cole story in this issue is kinetic, highly detailed work- but I have to be heretical and say I liked Plas best in Adventure Comics : inventive and satirical tales from the last days of Disco.
Joe Kubert’s cartoony Sargon is an enjoyable trifle- a circus story starring the sorceror’s comic relief sidekick, Max. The Golden Age Atom story also has a circus setting and is another inventory tale. But it is remarkable only in that it’s the sole 40s appearance of Al Pratt in his “Cyclotron” duds in my collection. “The Aqua-Thief of the Seven Seas” is a trivial mystery for Aquaman.
I already owned the original printing of “The Legion of Super-Outlaws” which introduced the young Heroes of Lallor. Rigid and lifeless pencilling by John Forte slows this story of deceit and misunderstanding to a crawl. I wonder how dramatic the Super-Outlaws might have been under Curt Swan; visually appealing creations like Beast Boy and Evolvo Lad should have had a chance to shine. At least lesser lights like Star Boy and Invisible Kid are featured in this adventure.
Shrinking Violet’s beau Duplicate Boy would return in three further Legion tales through the Sixties and Seventies, including the Adult Legion story before a brief revival (sans giant cowlick) in the Levitz/Giffen era.
“Mr. Roulette’s Greatest Gamble” from 1953 rounds out the issue. It anticipates the horrible devices of the Saw series as Vicki Vale investigates the booby-trapped house of games of the eponymous jaded thrill-seeker. We tend to expect Fifties stories to be wacky interplanetary jaunts with Batwoman; but both stories in this issue are intriguing crime thrillers.
The inside back cover again features a “Key to the Super Heroes”. There’s a minor contradiction of later Legion Lore when Chemical King, a native of Phlon, is described as hailing from the planet Valdow.
While there’s some classy artwork to peruse in this Super-Spec, it just doesn’t grab me the way the previous issues did. The stories don’t have the mythic impact of a Crisis or a Kandor tale and the Golden Agers don’t offer anything more than their modern counterparts.
Next: Here Come the Girls
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