Justice For All

It’s a two-fer this time around. Firstly a quick look at DC-17 , the first Justice League Super-Spectacular, from around the time of my tenth birthday. Inexplicably, and maddeningly, this is one I didn’t bring up from Glasgow with me. It’s also one that I probably bought at a comic mart, sometime in the late 80s. Editor Bridwell had trailed this one for months, because of the scarcity of Justice Society reprints.

Drones of the Queen Bee: an example of the sci-fantasy quest formula used a shade monotonously by Fox and Sekowksy in the early JLA. Zazzala is a glamorous and yet somehow icky villainess, obsessed with immortality, like many DC baddies. This original iteration made a reappearance in the charming Super Friends series a year or two ago.

Injustice Society of the World: considering I’d waited some fifteen years or so to see them, I was unimpressed when I finally read the debut of the Wizard’s evil mirror-image society. The Gambler and the Thinker are particularly low-key antagonists in Bob Kanigher’s epic and the plot to replace key figures with literal men of straw is silly.  Fortunately, the second Injustice Society are a bit more exciting. Amusingly, The Wizard is eventually apprehended by fictional versions of the Junior Justice Society fanclub- a bit like Dr. Doom being corralled by the Friends of Ol’ Marvel.

The Magnesium Formula: an utterly forgettable Craig Flessel antique. This story features the gasmask/ slouch hat Wes Dodds. I prefer the Simon/Kirby Sandman as seen last time.

Card Crimes of the Royal Flush Gang: I have a soft spot for this band of crooks. They’ve been used very effectively in the Johnny DC line (especially in Batman Beyond) and were fleshed out memorably by Gerry Conway in a JLA 3-parter in the early 80s. Unfortunately, here they appear in a heavily edited slice of mid-Sixties camp. Prophetically, Edd Kookie Byrnes stand-in Snapper Carr dons a joker costume, prefiguring the villain who later tricks him into betrayng the League.

I  bought the second issue of Secret Origins earlier this year on ebay, having only seen the vibrant yellow cover once before, when the late Pete Root sold back issues in the back of Forbidden Planet Glasgow.

There are two Gil Kane stories in this issue and I had read both before: the GL tale in a b/w Australia reprint in the late 70s. Apart from a brief spell under Wolfman and later then with Englehart, I have rarely read any Green Lantern comics and was baffled by the cosmic cop’s prominence in recent years. Similarly, I’ve groused before at how boring the Atom’s adventures were- aside from the Time Pool stories- even though they were graced with Kane dynamics.

So it’s the Supergirl debut that I favour in this issue. The sunny, helpful personality of the Girl of Steel makes her appear bland when contrasted with her spikey, Marvelized E-2 counterpart Power Girl. However, I wish Conway had added her, hot pants and all, to the Satellite League because the only memorable thing she got to do in 25 years was die in the Crisis, dressed as Olivia Newton John.

Next time: I Sustain the Wings

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Sidekicks, Kid Gangs and Golden Boys

This was another Super-Spec bought in Bairds in Strathaven. I’m guessing that the cover date was still synched up to the month and not three months in advance . This is because I recollect reading this comic in the car while my dad tossed pigeons on the Sandford road, beside the Avon Water. He wouldn’t be doing that in December.

The Boy who was Stronger than Superboy: the real value of the Smallville Sensation was the opportunity to tell stories for boys; this is an effective tale of rivalry and self-sacrifice. I was reminded of the story of Gary  (Ultra Boy) Crane, who had a happier time of it than gangster stooge Ted Grahame.

The Boy Commandos: my favourite story in the whole package. Simon and Kirby’s epic sweeps with cinematic flair from Nostradamus’ France to an English public school. There’s an exciting commando raid and a dastardly Fifth Columnist. Dead End Kid Brooklyn is de obvious star, youse mugs!  It never dawned on me that the boys featured, with Batman, in Detective and were one of DC’s biggest wartime hits. Why is this strip not a “major motion picture”?!

The Boy of the Year Contest: a dull, forgettable entry from 1957. We coulda had a solo Robin story, youse mugs!

The Menace of Aqualad: a touching little Ramona Fradon tale about Aquaman’s paranoia towards his frog-faced sidekick. I don’t know when Garth grew the curly black mop I remember best.

Twice Burned: I’ve still never read the Ditko version but saw the previous installment of this Hawk and Dove story in a Gnarrk issue of Teen Titans. Hmmm…must pick that up again on ebay. This is another dynamic Gil Kane story; I associate his pencils with athletic heroes. Crying.  Hawk has one of my all-time favourite super-hero costumes. If Mike Friedrich was the Roy Thomas of  DC’s late Silver Age, Steve Skeates was Gerry Conway.

The Trial of Superboy: a clever but very talky hoax story from the late 50s.

A Drama in Dreams: Simon and Kirby’s Dynamic Duo star in a series of gaily coloured punch-ups in an Art Deco world. Joe Simon, who passed away this month is often overshadowed by the King but this team-up is head and shoulders above similar fare, such as the Star-Spangled Kid, or TNT (still to come)

Dr. Cyclops- the Villain with The Doomsday Stare: Jim Mooney’s airy, kinetic 1967 story feels a lot like early Marvel. The monocular vilain wouldn’t be amiss in the Flash but some of the one-shot heroes are just silly-a wooden robot?!

I suspect Marv Wolfman and Len Wein’s Nova was inspired by this story’s Super-Nova. I think the concept was stronger in the early 80s when Wolfman used readers submissions. There’s a suggestion for free, New 52…

Superbaby’s Search for a Pet: Otto Binder and George Papp deliver a sweet little tale about the super-toddler and some alien critters. The baby talk gimmick is a bit laboured but only the stoniest heart would be unmoved by “Krypto, me love you! Don’t go away!”

A Look Through the Super-Spectacles: ENB says he has a policy of not reprinting stories that are less than five years old but admits he broke it for Hawk & Dove. He also heralds the return of Joe Simon who would create Prez (and the, cough, Outsiders)  and rework the Sandman with Kirby. Kirby’s Demon and Kamandi are plugged too.

Meet the Super-Stars: a text feature on origins. I had never read Robby Reed’s before. Now it strikes me as very, very similar to Thor.

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners and are reproduced here for purposes of comment and nostalgia.

Secret Origins

The popularity of the 100-page Super-Spectaculars encouraged DC to produce more reprint titles at the beginning of the Bronze Age.  I’ll be posting reviews of my favourite of the period- Wanted– on my other blog. The second series I want to look at here though was also a revamped version of a giant-sized title.

Secret Origins may well be best known for its 80s incarnation when Roy Thomas tried to retell the origins of the Golden Age heroes in sequence, alternating with the post-Crisis versions. When Mark Waid took over the title in the late 80s, it became more diverse and inventive. The Bronze Age version, however, recalled these 60s giants:

I’d glimpsed the second collection in one of my cousin Jim’s Sixties comics (maybe Adventure, Strange Adventures or House of Mystery) but I didn’t read it until it was reprinted in the late 90s.

This first issue was the one and only edition I owned.  DC comics sometimes seemed staid and dull and the familiarity of the material on show here bored me. The same month, at Marvel,  Barry Smith’s final Conan comic debuts, as does Lin Carter’s Thongor; Ploog is drawing Frankenstein; and Jim Starlin pencilled a trio of covers. However, this was the dawn of the Marvel UK Age of Comics and colour Marvels were becoming increasingly scarce.

The cover image of the dread Batman has become  one of my favourites and the slightly washed-out and faded vignettes lend the characters a mythical power. The issue opens with a one-page origin of Superman from  1938’s Action Comics#1. It’s a primitive and wordy page too, like an entry from an encyclopedia. Interestingly, there’s no mention of Ma and Pa Kent and Superman is depicted as the product of a highly advanced and evolved species.

The Batman strip is a two-pager and more recognisably like the comics of the Silver and Bronze Age.  Bridwell comments on the huge metal airship that dominates the splash. You can slo see clearly where Marshall Rogers got his inspiration for the Darknight Detective’s scalloped cloak.

The origin of the Flash, of course, signals the beginning of the Silver Age, since it’s really the first Earth-1 story. The art team of Infantino and Kubert creates a look very different from the airy Futurism of Central City. It’s a grittier, darker strip and it feels closer in spirit to the Forties, posibly because the Turtle Man was a Golden Age villain.

The most interesting aspect of Secret Origins is the inclusion of Kubert’s moody Golden Age Hawkman short, featuring the Ghost. As a kid, I was annoyed by this strip since I’d seen the Silver Age version first and felt cheated.

Nowadays, I’m pleased to see the Gentleman Ghost, particularly on Batman: The Brave and the Bold.  It seems strange not to run this story in Wanted (see future posts in “Some Fantastic Place” for the sequel); in any case, no further villains were featured for the remainder of the Seventies series.

Given the incipient energy crisis and paper shortage and the fact that Marvel had been repackaging its Sixties material for about seven years, it seems a shrewd move for DC to reprint some of its back catalogue. The only drawback is that ENB’s own preferences dominate the selection.

Next : the second Superboy Super-Spec!

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners and are used herein for purposes of comment and nostalgia.

Biggest Bargain in Comics!

This morning’s post deals with another DC 1oo-page Super Spectacular that I bought online as an adult. The theme of the issue is Modes of Transport; previous issues were themed by gender or age but this is a cute idea that would appeal to mechanically-minded kids.

                I prefer the mid-70s Batman logo but this one has some style.

There had been something of a hiatus- some six months- since the Flying Heroes Super-Spec and several reprint books had been launched by DC. But the 100-page format was revived due to public demand.

Nick Cardy’s cover  depicts the heroes standing in front of a strip of multi-coloured movie frames. The prominence of Wildcat is interesting: although he was quite a C-list character in  1973 (having featured in only two JLA-JSA team-ups and one issue  of Brave & Bold), his 60s appearance in The Spectre by Neal Adams and two subsequent team-ups with Batman seem to have made Ted Grant a fan-favourite. So, he swapped places on the cover with Blackhawk.

Batman: This 1939 curiosity is a two-parter by Gardner Fox, pitting the “weird menace to all crime” against The Monk, who possesses the “powers of a Satan”. It introduces the Batarang and the Batgyro and is a feverish Gothic with a giant ape, a snake pit, and a hectic quest in Hungary: “Land of History and Werewolves” and “the Lost Mountains of Cathala by the turbulent River Dess”. It’s notorious as the story where Batman uses a gun to shoot Dala and the Monk with silver bullets (although it makes sense to me to pit a Bat-Man against vampires.)  You can imagine the Teen Titans raptly listening to Robin recounting the daffy plot at a Hallowe’en slumber party.

“Battle of the Tiny Titans”: This is the best-looking strip in the collection: a collaboration by Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson, it’s both dynamic and elegant. Classy Art Deco logo aside, Ray Palmer is one of the dullest of DC’s science heroes but this Gardner Fox story has a Burroughsian antagonist, Kulan Dar, and features the debut of the Atom’s costume. There’s also an ad for Secret Origins but more on that later…

“The Treasure of Ghanpat”: This is the second Golden Age Blackhawk story I’d read and it’s highly enjoyable. It’s picturesque and pulpy with an exotic Sultanate, a helicopter crash and a giant lizard! It also finishes with the Blackhawk Song: “Fighting far, Fighting near. Ridding all good men of fear. We’re Blackhawks!” I find it fits the theme to the Fleischer Bros Superman cartoons.

Wonder Woman: This early WW tale introduces the Magic Lasso and Baroness Paula Von Gunther, whom I’d first seen in the Adventure Double Double Comic ( See  http://somefantasticplace-dougie.blogspot.com/2011/09/caveat-emptor.html) The  haughty Gestapo agent is an effective contrast to the Amazon. But yet again, I’m turned off by the silliness of the Kangas, the bondage scenes and the primitive art.

Doll Man:  “The Heroic Half-Portion of Living Dynamite” just didn’t appeal to me. His bare-legged acrobat outfit is almost as flamboyant and camp as that of Black Condor. This was the second Doll Man reprint I’d read and it introduces Elmo, the Dynamic Dog., who looks pretty demonic on the back cover. Unfortunately, I found this tale pedestrian and unappealing.

Wildcat:  This rather thin, cartoony strip is the first appearance of the “eerie” Catocycle; we’re told the motor doesn’t “roar”, only making “a soft purr”.  The story also introduces “comedy” sidekick Stretch Skinner, the hayseed “deetecatif ” who reminds me of Peter Purves’ Morton Dill.

In ’73, Wildcat almost seems like a proto-Wolverine. I can’t imagine the JSA without him now although his female counterpart in the 80s was, surprisingly, less successful. However, if Ted Grant had been the third JSAer to move to Earth-2, perhaps Hugh Jackman would be playing him now.

“The Batmobile of 1950”: When I picture the Batmobile, it’s the one Adam West drove but I have a fondness for the retro-futuristic Fifties version. I even bought a Corgi-style replica from M&S four or five years ago. Again, this is a superior Batman story by Dick Sprang with the collapse of a mined bridge; crooks called Snake and Zoot; and the “miracle car” itself with the “grace and smooth-flowing power of a panther”.

A Look Through The Super Spectacles: Editor Bridwell plugs the (short-lived) reprint series of the LSH and The Doom Patrol (which I loved). I never saw any issues of the Challs or the Metal Men in ’73 and I would have avoided the Western Johnny Thunder (I had tried Marvel’s cowpoke series but never warmed to them). There are further plugs for Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser (another series I’ve never sampled), The Shadow and Shazam. ENB also bemoans the shortage of Quality Comics to reprint. Blackhawk aside, I don’t feel that was a great loss.

This Issue’s Cover Features: The text feature also plugs Secret Origins. As a reprint mag, I think I ought to alternate it with the Super-Specs in this blog, starting next time! ENB explains that Blackhawk Chop-Chop was later drawn “more realistically” and refers to GA nurse Diana Prince, later the mother of Super Friend Marvin (categorically not the version infamously eaten by Wonderdog in TT#62!). Bridwell also rather candidly says he’s never seen the origin of Doll Man.

This one wasn’t a favourite but although the stories weren’t up to much in the main, there was some gorgeous art.

Coming Attractions: Visit Some Fantastic Place for reviews of “Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Villains”.

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners and are used for the purposes of nostalgia and comment.

The World’s Greatest Flying Heroes!

This post concerns my third 100- page super-Spectacular, bought for me in the summer of 1972 in Baird’s pet store and newsagent  in Strathaven’s  Kirk Street. The owner looked like Jimmy Jewel and when you squatted by the spinner rack, to find DCs among the spicy True Detectives, his toy dogs would appear, squeaking and snuffling at your feet.  I don’t have my late 70s diaries-which were patchy at best- to hand but round about the time of the DC Implosion, the shop either changed hands or stopped stocking DCs- but for about six years, through school, I was a regular customer.

The cover is a well-known Neal Adams piece and the figures are athletic and charged with energy (although it still bugs me that Red Tornado is missing his cloak!) It ‘s  also a rare instance, pre-Crisis, of a cover where Kirby’s New Gods appear beside the Silver Age Earth-1 and Earth-2  stalwarts.

Powerstone: This Luthor story is most memorable not for its pulpy lost city with its death traps, but for the social commentary. I’ve never forgotten the assembly of  impostors, frauds, fascists,  obsessives and gangsters whom Luthor attempts to ransom. This is the inspiration for the gorgeous 1983 Ordway/Humanite/Infinity Inc. multi-parter in All-Star-Squadron.

When Titans Clash: In the sequel, the robed and fanged (!) evil scientist goes to the electric chair. Rejuvenated with super-powers, Luthor goes on a rampage and renders Superman powerless. It reads like a Saturday morning serial and you have the sense of the vibrancy and impact of Superman’s early years. Read it to see what Grant Morrison’s trying to do in Action Comics. It was also the first time I’d seen Golden Age Luthor whose Orientalism made him very different to the convict with which I was familiar.

Doctor Fate: The early Dr. Strange stories are obviously modelled on this pulpy iteration of Fate. He’s a mysterious figure inhabiting a colourful, occult Art Deco world of poison bats, zombies and Lovecraftian chants :” NyethThryalla!”. This Weird Tale loses some impact when the Master Adept of the Burning Death is revealed to be…Mango The Mighty! The tiny, cartoony panels are quite static but they are packed with detail.

Hawkman: This story is the debut of the Golden Age Hawkgirl, a character who was never as successful as her Sixties counterpart from Thanagar. Perhaps this is because it’s a dull plot about blackmail which doesn’t  make use of the spectacular wings of the Pinioned Pair. Yet again, figures are completely inked into  silhouette. I don’t know whether this was a Golden Age tradition or a Bronze Age one, but it makes the inker look lazy.

The Black Condor: Elegantly drawn in an Eisener-esque style, this  wartime espionage story is a little pedestrian and the  half-naked Condor has generic powers and a hilariously camp costume; I pity his poor fiancee Wendy. One of the big disappointments of this issue for me was the lack of any “new” villains. My DC reading really took off in the age of Relevancy and I gravitated to any comic that featured the Silver or Golden Age villains. I longed to see evocatively-monikered rogues like Vandal Savage or the Duke of Deception.

The Spectre: This is the sequel to the Zor story in the first Super-Spec and the  banner by Bernard Baily is wonderfuly eerie. The elegantly-attired demon (seen in Grant Morrison’s 2005 Zatanna series) tricks a mad scientist into freeing him; frames Jim Corrigan for murder; and rescues a condemned killer in order to have Corrigan’s sweetheart kidnapped. The Spectre subsequently imprisons Zor in a coffin made from mystic Ectobane wood (from ” the distant country of Lugania” ) and changes the henchman into a tree. This primitive but spooky tale is  more potent than the Dr. Fate strip and prefigures the infamous Spectre series in Adventure.

The Menace of the Invisible Raiders: A moody tale of fifth columnists and prehistoric demon bats, this Starman story was probably the second one I ever read. Now I can see that the Astral Avenger is basically an amalgam of Buck Rogers, Batman and Green Lantern.  However, this is an exciting Golden Age story and notable for the introduction of the wraith-like  Mist.

The Ray: Again, like Black Condor, this is a classily-pencilled story by Kirby’s favourite artist Lou Fine, with a beefcake hero and a grotesque villain: the clarinet-playing wrecker Stradivous, who resembles the Fiddler and the later Pied Piper. Neither Quality hero really made much impact on me but this appearance and the “Crisis on Earth-X” the following year seem to have cemented the Ray in the imagination of a generation: a new version debuts this month.

Superman’s Greatest Feats: An Al Pastino story dating from four months before Fantastic Four number one and one that anticipates quantum theory!  The story reiterates the principle that, Steven Moffat aside,  time cannot be rewritten. Lori the mermaid entreats Supes to prevent Atlantis from sinking. He then goes on to stop Lincoln’s assassination and rescues his parents (choke!) from Krypton but it turns out that he’s travelled to a parallel universe. It’s beautifully pencilled and also establishes a limit to Kal-El’s powers that irked me when it was ignored in Superman: The Movie.

Metropolis Mailbag:  One letter recalls Brainiac’s alternative origin from the animated New Adventures of Superman (That’s how I “hear” Brainiac’s voice: like Majel Barrett’s computer on the Enterprise!) Another, from Texas, scolds ENB for Chronos’ resemblance to  Richard Nixon: “The president is a fine man. Shame on you”. Oh dear, Sissie Ramirez…

Key to the cover: The key refers to the inconsistent origin in this issue’s Hawkman story ( which sounds exactly like Black Condor’s- so ridiculous and derivative of Tarzan, Bridwell seems embarassed to mention it: reared by condors in, er, Mongolia!)

Come back for the next Super-Spec: heroes and their methods of travel!

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The Teen of Steel

This morning’s post focuses on the first Superboy 100 page issue. This one features “The World’s Greatest Young Heroes”, who are watching Supey lifting weights.

The vibrant red of Nick Cardy’s cover would “pop” on the newsstand and I love that blocky 70s logo. The composition looks awkwardly  imbalanced to me, however. Everyone featured on the cover appears inside, which is a first for this series- apart from Mal Duncan, the Teen Titan whose power appeared to be “not being a token at all”. There’s also something very effeminate about Chameleon Boy’s pose between, ahem, Kal-El’s legs. I wonder if it’s a redrawn figure? Let’s take a look behind the cover…

Clark Kent’s Super-Father: The story that opens this collection predates the debut of the Fantastic Four by one month. It’s about “jovial Jonathan Kent” apparently gaining super-powers and ordering Superboy to lead a “normal boy’s life”. Clark is an obedient son if a bit slow on the uptake: eleven pages later, he realises it’s an impostor- Kryptonian criminal Jax-Ur. (This is from the days long before Terence Stamp made General Zod the default Baddie from  Krypton.) The revelation that the Phantom Zoner gave himself away by acidentally signing his real name on  a receipt for five crates of oranges made me guffaw out loud. Charming if convoluted.

The Jigsaw Puzzle Murder: This is the only Star Spangled Kid story- outside of the Seven Soldiers of Victory in JLA Super-Specs- I’ve ever read and it’s not a winner. The gimmick is, of course, that the adult  member of this patriotic pair (ugly Irish -American stereotype Stripesy with his fussy haircut) is the sidekick. The story starts with pace and intrigue but it’s a primitive pencilling job and slathered again with unappealing inky shadows. The coded fighting manoeuvres the duo used were imitated by the Eighth Doctor and Sam Jones in mid-90s BBC Books, IIRC.

The Astounding Separated Man: The second-ever Teen Titans tale, drawn by classy, naturalistic Bruno Premiani of Doom Patrol fame. The small town setting and the surreal monster- movie menace recall DP stories but there’s the added twist of Haney’s kooky hepcat dialogue. The best-looking strip in this collection, it’s also notable as the introduction of the Donna Troy version of Wonder Girl (although nobody knows that’s who she’ll be, yet).  WG is a delightful,  breezy addition to the rather stodgy trio of boys

The Kid Eternity Hoax: Another classy, naturalistic strip but this one is oddly unsettling. The Kid has a crush on heiress Lally and summons his historical allies to prevent her being swindled and then kidnapped. Did the writer not realise he or she was penning the adventures of a boy ghost? A romance between the “poor little rich girl” and the torpedoed and bullet-riddled lad seems morbid to me! Look what happened to Myla and Invisible Kid!

Editor Bridwell obviously liked Kid Eternity and featured him in Secret Origins 4, the following year. However, the character owes a huge debt to 1941’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Again, it might have been improving and educational but how many kids would have heard of Lord Byron or Belle Boyd, Confederate spy?

The Eight Impossible Missions: A LSH story that predates Mission: Impossible (although the first issue of Adventure I ever owned was Jim Shooter’s Taurus Gang story “Mission Diabolical” in late ’68). This is another stiff John Forte clunker, about a tedious puzzle competition for leadership presided over by yellow excresence, Proty II. At one point, the blob disguises itself as “Bizarro-Proty” for absolutely no reason I can see. This silly tale features cameos by Pete Ross and Jimmy Olsen (as Elastic Lad)- the only time I can recall seeing these two honorary members together in a strip. The only other noteworthy moment is the introduction of Spider Girl and her expanding ginger hair. Rejected Sussa Paka would go on to join the Legion of Super Villains.  I doubt if I would have become a LSH fan in the 70s with stories and art of this calibre.

Little Boy Blue: I knew next to nothing about this series but its longevity in Sensation Comics  was doubtlessly due to its simple wish-fulfillment premise: three boys, Tommy, Tubby and Toughy (surely a relative of the Newsboy Legion’s Scrapper, Patrick MacGuire) decide to fight crime as Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys.

It’s also metatextual in that Tubby is reading Wildcat’s origin in that very same issue of Sensation Comics and Tommy is inspired to make a costume from “this old lodge suit of my father’s!” District Attorney Rogers is the Mason in the Blue, apparently (A gag for West Of Scotland readers only). I was surprised how charmed I was by this strip.

The Rip Van Winkle of Smallville: A combination of hoax and romance from the Fifties, in which Kal-El  tries to shield a coma victim from realising he’s lost twenty years of his life. It’s not a very exciting story but the young Superman is a thoughtful and compassionate hero. Considering most of these stories were written in either the era of the Dead End Kids or the Juvenile Delinquent, they portray children and teenagers in a very positive light- even the Legionnaires are inquisitive and inventive in their “Impossible Missions”. No 90s bloodsplatter- stubble-and- trenchcoat anomie here; the only ponytail is on Wonder Girl.

The letter page has an elegant and sweet masthead (maybe by Curt Swan?) with Krypto fetching mail. It also appears that Swifty the Superdog’s second appearance had been scheduled for this issue but the negatives were lost; Destructo probably ate them.

Two letters are raves for the Plastic Man DC Special. ENB refers to future Plas reprints in Jimmy Olsen- did that ever happen?  I dropped Olsen when Kirby left. He also dismisses the Sixties Plas series with ” We pulled a boner that time”.

The inside back cover, again, features a key to the teen heroes, including loyal Pete Ross. The next issue, featuring Flying Heroes, was the next 100-pager (and the third) that I actually bought in the Seventies…

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The Sultan of Speed

This post continues an issue-by-issue review of DC Comics 100-page Super-Spectaculars with The Flash from April 1972. I only discovered and bought this issue this summer, so, yet again, I’m not recollecting it from a childhood perspective. However, it’s a more entertaining package than the previous pair.

The Gantlet of Super-Villains: This was the second time I’d been disappointed by an assemblage of Flash’s Rogues Gallery (the first being “The Man Who Doomed The Flash” in this summer’s Flash 100-page Spectacular, where they appear in one panel each) This is a really classy-looking story but the assault by a sextet of villains turns out to be a scheme by Grodd. The subplot about lovesick gorillas is very silly and undermines the drama. I am also ridiculously irritated by the idiosyncratic use of “gantlet”, when the word is spelled “gauntlet”- twice!- on the reprinted cover. This issue doesn’t feature a key of super-heroes, despite all the characters on the cover (including  tiny versions of Abra Kadabra and Mr. Element, who don’t even appear inside).

Quicksilver vs. The Wasp: This was the first time I’d ever read a story of the Quality Comics speedster who’d come to be known as Max Mercury. There are no credits on the story but it’s exceedingly well-drawn and the eponymous villain is in the classic Golden Age mould, both creepy and a little comical.

The Face Behind the Mask: This is a rather sweet short about Kid Flash’s friendship with a pop idol called Silver Mask, whose gimmick is, er, wearing a mask. Silver Mask is also a reformed teen hoodlum who is being blackmailed by an gang member -turned- crook.  Little Wally West might come across as a bit of a goody-goody but there’s a touching moment when he reflects on how his sense of duty impinges on his opportunities to just be a kid.

The Modern Paul Bunyan: A slender folk tale from the early 50s, I’m afraid this boring, bucolic story did nothing for me. I can’t even focus on the panels.

The Tale of the Three Tokens: This was another Golden Age inventory story but one ruined, yet again,  by the application of too many obscuring,inky shadows. It features The Thinker- but I much prefer the Gil Kane iteration from the Sixties.  It’s also the first time that I saw a resemblance between the bushy-browed Jay- Flash and Carmine Infantino.

The Flaming Doom: And this was the first time I’d read the origin story of the Metal Men. In their battle against a flying, radioactive giant manta-ray, the robots are charming, loyal and self-sacrificing. The Andru/Esposito art team is so associated with Spider-Man in my unconscious that this feels more like a Marvel strip. My favourite issues of Brave & Bold team the dread Batman with these quirky robots. I’m surprised they never had a cartoon show.

The Weather Wizard Blows Up A Storm: The eighth Flash-foe to appear in this giant issue, the Weather Wizard also has a luxuriant quiff. Infantino’s pencils are gorgeous and witty in this short and there’s a memorable scene where the villain escapes on a rainbow. In a charming instance of audience identification. the real hero of the story is a nerdy boy scientist.

For me, The Flash is like Iron Man and not just in terms of his colour scheme: I’ve read lots-lots!– of comics with both heroes  (although Flash featured more and better arch-villains) but they never really spoke to me. Flash has the upper hand somewhat since the artwork was superior and he wasn’t, you know, an arms dealer. Of all the speedsters, I actually prefer Wally-Flash when he’s played as Johnny Storm in the Animated Justice League.

Next: The Boy of Steel

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The Mystery Men of December

In this post, I’m commenting on  DC and Marvel Super-Heroes who made their first appearance in the month of December and illustrating them with images of either the first time I “met” them or stories that are significant to me. I’ll deal with Doll Man in a future Super-Spectacular post.  Also, I’ve never read any stories featuring Captain America’s sidekick, the original Golden Girl.

The most reknowned debut this month is that of Wonder Woman.  I can just about bear her as a member of the JLA;  largely, I find her  kitschy and anachronistic. But then, my introduction to the character was  Kanigher and Andru stories of Egg Fu and Giganta the Gorilla Girl. The only time I followed her comic on a regular basis was in the very  early 80s, for the Levitz/Staton Huntress back up.  The totemic kinkiness of the character’s Golden Age heyday just renders her silly and unappealing. The only creators who have been able to blend all the iterations of WW successfully are Paul Dini and Alex Ross in the Treasury-Sized  “Spirit of Truth”.

Not only does Kid Flash have one of the most elegant and striking costumes of the Silver Age, he was the first kid sidekick to inherit his mentor’s costumed identity in-continuity. As readers, we could follow Wally West from childhood to adulthood. In the New Teen Titans, West was a love-lorn, moping mummy’s boy; for many years after, the Post-Crisis Flash was an obnoxious jerk. In the Noughties, Wally became a family man but although that transition seemed to signal the character’s erasure, there’s still a KF in the Young Justice animated series.

Ramona Fradon was responsible for the design and the whacky feel of the earliest adventures of the Element Man. However, it’s Jim Aparo’s Fabulous Freak whom I think of first. As with the Doom Patrol, Metamorpho feels like DC’s attempt to capture Marvel’s hipster audience. Adventurer “Rexy-Boy” Mason is Ben Grimm as -Rat- Pack -swinger and, like Grimm, he is transformed into a grotesque being with super-powers. Unlike The Thing , Metamorpho’s origin has trappings of H.Rider Haggard and his transformation is far more cartoon-like and absurd. His pliable form recalls both the whimsical Plastic Man and the Metal Men, so it’s hard to sympathise with Rex as we might with Ben.

Metamorpho shares more than a passing resemblance to Ultra the Multi-Alien. I never saw him in Mystery in Space as a child; I’ve only read one Johnny DC story featuring the character, who made his debut a year after Rex Mason.

Similarly, I’ve only read one Dolphin story: a dreary  thing about aliens and cloning in the final issue of Secret Origins in 1990. She was a late Sixties entry in the dying days of Showcase series: a spell when nothing they tried seemed to catch on.

Captain Marvel is Marvel’s space-born super-hero and dates roughly from the same era as Dolphin. I first encountered him in a UK reprint “album” ( the Drake/Heck story above) but his unremarkable powers and unappealing  Buck Rogers space-suit were hardly exciting or memorable. Revamped at the end of the Sixties as a knowing homage to Shazam, the Kree captain was transmogrified by the dynamic work of Gil Kane.  However, the star of the strange story of social engineering above seemed to be protest singer Rick Jones.

In the early Seventies, Jim Starlin turned Mar-Vell into a cult character, a psychedelic  fusion of the New Gods and Dr. Strange. After Starlin, however,  the captain floundered in rehashed Kozmic storylines. But the decision to kill him off in Marvel’s first “graphic novel” lent Mar-Vell ( essentially a derivative C-list super-hero) some mythical significance. It’s astonishing, therefore, that he’s never been permanently revived.

Yellowjacket was another “new” Marvel hero from the same late Sixties/early Seventies period that marked the beginning of my personal  “Golden Age” as a schoolkid.  It’s also the identity that’s emblematic of Henry Pym’s decline from Avengers mainstay to unstable failure.  The first Yellowjacket story pitches the character as brash, arrogant; perhaps even a potential killer. Subsequently, Hank was literally overshadowed for years by the slightly- edgier Clint Barton version of Goliath.  YJ had a brief renaissance in the early 70s in the Steve Gerber issues of the Defenders but by the late 70s, Jim Shooter had begun the unravelling of Hank Pym’s mind . No matter how anyone tries to redeem Pym (like Englehart’s concerted effort to turn him into Dr. Who or Dan Slott elevating Hank to Scientist Supreme) he always reverts to a needy obsessive or at worst, (thanks, Mark Millar)  a snivelling, bi-polar wife-beater.

Firstar, of course, debuted in the Amazing Friends tv show so I suppose she’s the Marvel equivalent of Zan and Jayna. She should have been a break-out character over a decade ago, in the Busiek/Perez Avengers, but that book spent such a long time restoring some of the  mainstays of the team to their Seventies default positions that the newer characters were lost in the crowd.  With a succession of overly-complex costumes and with a  backstory where tragedy had been trowelled on rather thickly, this bright and shining young superhero deserved better.

Edited to include: Timber Wolf, one of my favourite Legionnaires and one of the most maligned. Variously depicted as a moron, a lycanthrope, and a Gambit-knockoff, Brin Londo of Zoon is currently imitating Wolverine again, although his feral look predates the Canucklehead:

Originally, however, he was a super-acrobat who believed himself to be an android. Later, he was depicted as an Adult Legionnaire with three kids and a raffish moustache.

I first saw him in “Kill a Friend to Save a World” which gave no indication what his powers were and didn’t even depict him in costume. Another time, I’ll clue you in to how I got clued up on the Wolf.

Next: A further look through the Super-Specs.

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