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!

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners.

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One comment on “The World’s Greatest Flying Heroes!

  1. Kid says:

    I remember buying this in about 1972/’73 on a dark, rainy afternoon from my local newsagent’s. Again, the cover is pretty boring in its depiction of the heroes, who, with the exception of Superman, mostly seem to adopt pretty much the same position in flight. Jack Kirby would have drawn it in a much more dynamic way, I’m sure. I must dig out my copy and re-read it.

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