Earth Under the Martians

This afternoon’s post is devoted to JLA 115, cover-dated February 1975.  No Johnny Peril filler this issue. It’s three “full-length novels!”

The Last Angry God: J’Onn J’Onzz enlists the aid of the JLA to fight against a threat to the Martian colony world (last glimpsed in issue 100). This is a fanged, albino giant called Korge, God of Rage. He! Speaks! Like! This! How! Annoying! The tiny Atom devises a plan to defeat the giant. How! Ironic!

This issue marks the one-off return of Denny O’Neil: architect of the Satellite Era and the man behind the Green Arrow and Black Canary romance. He was also the writer who wrote J’Onn J’Onzz out of the JLA, so I suppose it’s fitting that he brings him back to guest star here.  Aside from harking back to the Silver Age, as usual, I assume the story is intended to lead into JJ’s back-up series in World’s Finest. To my knowledge, he doesn’t return to the JLA  until the Englehart Era,  as a video recording and with a slightly more alien aspect.  In any case, neither O’ Neil nor editor Schwartz seem to have had any interest in restoring the Manhunter to his previous role as the JLA’s counterfeit black member.

Evil Star Over Hollywood: This is an enjoyable JSA story from December, 1948.  A masked racketeer, with a natty line in star-shaped cufflinks,  launches an attack on the movie industry. The Stalwart Seven have to stop him ruining a picture called “Thief In The Night”. The JSA pair up – except for Green Lantern ( that big gayer, Alan Scott!), who is obviously the,er,  star of the story. Atom is no longer in that ludicrous luchador outfit and the Black Canary has replaced Johnny Thunder. Bravo. The story’s climax sees the JSAers tied up in the studio’s private cinema, in front of a knife-throwing machine!

One of my cousin Jim’s comics, that I fell heir to in the early 70s

Writer John Broome would recycle the villain’s name for a Green Lantern foe in the Sixties. There are numerous movie star cameos: I spotted Bogart, Bacall, Jimmy Stewart, Crosby and Hope, Cary Grant and Peter Lorre. The setting of Stellar Studios became the fictional home of the JSA’s kids,  Infinity Inc. in the mid-80s.

JLA Mail Room: Three plaudits for Wein’s “War With The One-Man Justice League” and one panning. The stories are contrived and Giordano’s inks don’t suit Dillin’s pencils.

Indestructible Creatures of Nightmare Island:  A reprint from November, 1965, the fifth year of Gardner Fox’s tenure as the  League’s author. Andrew Helm , a well-intentioned scientist raised in the utopian Tibetan enclave of Ta Ming- think Reed Richards crossed with Dr. Strange-  uses his knowledge to create an artificial conscience for the human race. This leads to humorous scenes of the Penguin and Captain Cold turning themselves in. However, Helm becomes trapped on the astral plane and the JLA have to intervene to disable his machine.

The hallucinations created to thwart the JLA are dealt with rather perfunctorily. Helm’s backstory dominates the tale (So interesting is it, that it must have influenced the origin of Iron Fist!) so maybe this should have been a two-parter.

JLA Mail Room Extra: Three plaudits and one panning for “Creature in the Velvet Cage” ( aka “Nuklo -the Invader That Time Forgot”, I tells ya!). I sense a pattern here.

One of the discoveries I’ve made, reading these Super-Specs, is that I find Denny O’Neil’s scripts  corny and tongue-in-cheek. His mid-70s work doesn’t usually match up to his award-winning reputation.  Wein is the better writer, even if his stories tend to be “kisses to the past”.

With Wein’s departure for Marvel and the role of editor-in-chief,  JLA entered a period of rotating scripters including Bates, Maggin, Martin Pasko and Gerry Conway. There was no sense of direction, just a series of homages to the  Silver Age and the sour taste of  70s swinger ennui. Compared to Englehart’s contemporary Avengers, where the Vision and Mantis explore their histories and discover themselves ( very “Me Decade”!), JLA stories aren’t about anything, apart from , very vaguely, the importance of teamwork.

Coming soon:  The Mystery Men of August. Some gifted youngsters, a cyborg, a florist, an Asgardian, Merlin’s demon and your friendly neigbourhood Spider-Man!

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners.

Turn on your Magic Beam

A Chordettes reference there to welcome you to a blushing bonus post on the ‘optikon.

At the end of May, when looking at JLA 113, I suggested that the Sandman saga might have been written to close the career of the Grainy Gladiator and make way for a new Sandman.  That theory might not hold water.  (I still stand by the story’s resemblance to the Nuklo tale in the first Giant-Size Avengers. I just wonder if it were deliberate?)

The lead-in to the reprint of “I Hate the Sandman” in World’s Finest 226 caught my eye, as I mentioned in the last post :” We give up! You’ve besieged us with so many letters about the New Sandman that we’re going to give you a special treat–one of his early adventures. He wore a different costume but he’s still the same great character”. Actually, he wasn’t. It doesn’t look like  Boltinoff -or perhaps Levitz -checked with Steve Sherman.

The new Sandman was a children’s character who made his debut in a one-off reunion of Captain America‘s creators, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, in the era of Kamandi and The Demon.  He monitors the Dream Dimension from his Dream Dome and has two comedy sidekicks, Vic and Bob- sorry, Brute and Glob. Although the Sandman uses a sleep- sand gimmick like the 40s hero, he’s plainly meant to be the folkore Sandman.

The Ready Rangers ad on the back cover is contemporary with April 1974 comics, so I think the Sandman one-shot came out around January ’74,  just over six months before the JLA issue and nine months before WF. It’s a feverish, high-energy fantasy that borders on the ludicrous and the caricature “Jap” villain is outrageous to modern sensibilities. My favourite line is ” The General’s head is priceless!”

Sales were considered good enough for the launch of an ongoing bi-monthly series in 1975.  I got the second issue while on holiday in Port William in the Machars of Galloway in the summer of 1976.  (You may remember I went back there last year for the first time in 35 years.)  Initially we stayed in the Monreith Arms Hotel and then in a guest house. Although, as a Fourth World fan,  I was attracted by the Kirby/Royer cover, the contents were  drawn by the late Ernie Chan and written by Michael Fleisher, author of the wrathful Spectre, would-be rapist barbarian Ironjaw and the cannibal “heroes” Morlock and The Brute for Atlas.

It’s a May ’75 issue but in those days, I didn’t notice details like a comic being a year old. Not realising that was the intention, I felt it was juvenile, although that wouldn’t bother me a year or two later when I bought Super Friends regularly. Here are two more comics I read on that holiday, probably bought in Castle Douglas, one from ’75 and the second from early ’76 :

Ballast just off the boat, I presume.

At sixty, Joe Simon might have been out of touch with popular culture , from the evidence of his 70s creations at DC. This is certainly an accusation levelled at  Prez, co-created with Jerry Grandenetti, a distinctive and stylish talent, whom I knew from The Spectre. I bought the entire run of Prez for my friend Jason , when he was the youngest-ever president of Drumoyne Bowling Club seven years ago.

I’ve never read The Green Team: Boy Millionaires but Simon’s First Issue Special: The Outsiders from January 1976 was one of  the most disappointing comics-related experiences I ever had as a kid.

If the  Krofft brothers made a tv puppet show based on EC horror comics, it might look like the bizarre cast of the Outsiders.

I read two further issues of The Sandman in the 70s: they were as fanciful and bombastic as the first. I  was also around for his brief  revival in the final issues of Infinity Inc. Simon died last December, aged 98. I hope he was aware of Cap’s renewal at the movies; his two Sandmen are a highly entertaining and imaginative legacy.

Coming soon: Evil Star over Hollywood

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

Strong as Iron, Homely as Sin

We’ve very nearly reached the end of my collection of 10o-page DC comics of the Seventies. This morning’s post features World’s Finest Comics no. 226, cover-dated December 1974. This is another recent ebay purchase, from the end of June.The red cover is striking- always a winning colour for a Super-Spec.

The Freak Who Never Fails: a Haney/Dillin story in which Supes and Bats are sent on a mission to rescue a bio-physicist from a South American dictator called the Swine-sorry, El Jefe. The World’s Finest are scooped by Metamorpho, however. There are some gruesome scenes of plague victims and Haney seems to have a thing about fallible heroes. He refers to his own version of the Zodiac Killer, “Who Killed Capricorn?”, where the villain escaped. The story is a weird blend of  tv spy caper and surreal comedy.

Metamorpho is one of the oddest heroes in the DC seventies stable: a Ben Grimm-like monster with zany Plastic Man-powers,  a flip, hep-cat demeanour and a cartoony cast of grotesques.  He also has his own, first-person song about his origin!

He has a brash, cocky, tough-guy “voice”, not unlike Deadman. The  sheer chutzpah of the character makes him an entertaining foil to the WF team.

The Tricks of Metamorpho’s Trade: a two-page feature recapping the origin of the Element Man and explaining his powers. Fradon panels from Rexy’s B&B début are reprinted.

I Hate The Sandman: I always enjoy Simon and Kirby reprints and this is a humorous tale of a narcoleptic who becomes a murder suspect. It begins with an irate Silas Pettigrew breaking the fourth wall. The lead-in about the new Sandman is intriguing but I’ll save that for another post.

From the World’s Finest Fans: Metamorpho is praised as  “just the thing the reading world is clamoring for”. The editorial voice dismisses rumours of poor sales in the Sixties- “his career was shortlived for reasons too lengthy to be offered here”. Enigmatic! (Rexy did get a revival in First Issue Special in ’75. The reading world wasn’t clamouring for him after all.)

Fan costume designs for the sons of Superman and Batman- maybe all fan designs – are curtly turned down.

Alongside requests for more Deadman,  Alex Fedyk asks for an all-female Spectacular ( presumably having missed the Supergirl issue of March, ’72.)   The response is : “we did just that twice in the late 1960s with unfortunate results”. What? I have DC Special 3 from 1969. Was there another one?

Editor Boltinoff, here and on LSH, had a practice of printing only snippets of letters. Despite this, most of a page is given over to a bio and caricature of inker Tex Blaisdell.

Eclipso’s Amazing Ally: an Alex Toth-illustrated  adventure scripted by Haney from November ’63.  Eclipso hatches a complex plot utilising a robot to make it look like he’s split from Bruce Gordon. Or something. Eclipso is unusual in that the protagonist is a villain but he’s really a sci-fi twist on Jekyll and Hyde.

An ad encourages college students to ask university bookstore managers to carry comics, especially the Golden Age Tabloid reprints. This surprises me because  I’d have thought the college audience who snapped up Silver Surfer and Dr. Strange (according to Stan) would have graduated by now.

The Crime Collector: a  dull 1953 short about the original Robotman, where he foils a crook called Randolph Strange. Very nicely drawn by Joe Certa ( I think), which goes some way to explaining how Robotman flourished for eleven years.

What Makes a Corpse Cry?:   The third Deadman episode from December 1967. Another moody noir  by Neal Adams  in which Deadman tries to rescue a night club singer and her bartender boyfriend from a counterfeiting gang. It’s very televisual and the precursor to Marvel’s auteur titles like Tomb of Dracula. Also, the best strip in the mag, with Sandman a close second.

The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel:  This 1955 short is from Detective Comic and introduces John Jones, the Martian police detective; I really like this angle. I first read the Martian Manhunter’s origin story in this Adventure Double Double comic.

Co-creator Joe Certa drew MM for thirteen years. He’s hugely underrated- he draws very individual faces for his cast.

The Case of the Magic Baseball: is an innocuous short in which an ex-con baseball pitcher is blackmailed into losing a game.  The powers of John Jones displayed here, aside from changing his form,  are invisibility, mind-over-matter and “molecular hypnosis”. A banner announces that the Manhunter From Mars will appear regularly in WF.

This is an entertaining collection. I wonder if the theme was hooded or bald heroes? Let’s close by looking at UK Marvel comics from December 1974:

Notice the price rise!

Incredibly, Jon Pertwee ‘s final season of Dr. Who is broadcast, featuring the début of the much-missed Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith.

Coming soon: Send me a Dream

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners


This afternoon’s post concerns Justice League of America no. 114 from December 1974. This issue was another mail order purchase for me, some time in the early autumn of 1980. I associate this issue (and SLOSH 208) with “Army Dreamers” by Kate Bush ;  I can remember talking about them with my friend Graham Sim at Hamilton Grammar School.

The Return of Anakronus: A high-tech Roman Legionary holds Snapper Carr and his family hostage in order to extort ten million dollars from a JLA telethon ( in case you’re wondering, think Comic Relief). Anakronus claims he was an ally of the Lord of Time in JLA 10. This is obviously a delusion but Snapper phones for help. Atom turns up with Wein’s pet characters, Elongated Man and Red Tornado to save the day.

Reddy’s costume is an eyesore; he will be written out in just over a year’s time. The telethon gimmick story gives Wein the opportunity to throw in some humorous patter for Green Arrow. There’s a melancholy note, however, given Snapper’s betrayal of the League  back in 1969. The story ends with a dedication to Gardner Fox.

Just a Story : this evocative, charcterful short is a distillation of every Cagney movie ever made. I still find the blinding of the phony beggar a chilling scene. I knew Howard Purcell from a sword and sorcery one-shot from 1967 ( actually,  its reprint in the UK Super Heroes weekly.)

Imagery from that story crops up on  one of these Marvelmania posters from 1971.

I’m curious regarding ENB’s choice of “Just a Story”.  The origin of Dr. Fate from 1940’s More Fun Comics no. 55, for example,  is six pages long and would probably have been of more  interest to  JLA readers…

JLA Heroes of the Past: A text and paste-up feature on former Leaguers and allies Snapper Carr, J’Onn J’Onzz, Wonder Woman, Metamorpho and Zatanna.  It’s strange to think of most of these characters as “old-timers” but to the 1974 audience, that’s what they were!

Other DC luminaries mentioned are : E-1 Robin, Adam Strange, Batgirl, Phantom Stranger, Hawkgirl, Deadman and Sargon the Sorceror. Readers are asked if they’d like to see more of these heroes. Yes, please! Babs, Boston and the Stranger would be ideal guest stars while the horror/mystery and martial art fads remained popular. In reality, only Silver Age stalwarts Martian Manhunter and Adam Strange would appear in the next year’s issues.

Crisis on Earth-3/ The Most Dangerous Earth of All:  This is a slightly abridged reprint of the second summer team-up with the Justice Society from 1964.  It’s also the reason I bought the comic. It’s an action-packed classic from Fox (whom I’ve maligned this month) and Mike Sekowsky.

A criminal version of the JLA  feel themselves getting rusty and decide to take on our boys for practice. The Crime Syndicate – Johnny Quick, Superwoman ( a rogue Amazon), Owlman, Power Ring and Ultraman (who gains his powers from Kryptonite) come from a mirror-Earth where things are reversed: American Columbus discovered Europe, etc.

The Crime Syndicate use trickery to defeat the JLA, dragging them to Earth-3 with a magic word- “Volthoom”, the Lovecraftian name of the Buddhist monk who gave Power Ring his, er , power ring. The JSA are called in to assist. This story sees the 60s  revival of  Dr. Mid-Nite and Starman, who now has a cosmic rod, a souped-up gravity rod. Hawkman is on hand- his Thanagarian counterpart wouldn’t join the JLA until the next story.  Black Canary and the imposing Dr. Fate are obviously the stars of the team, however.

The JLA defeat the Syndicate in round two and the crooks are banished to the limbo between the Earths. There they remain until Gerry Conway and Mike Vosburg  pit them against Captain Comet  in Secret Society of Super-Villains– which is where I “met” them in the spring of ’78 .

They returned in 1982’s summer team -up of the JLA, JSA and All-Star Squadron: a “Crisis on Earth-Prime” (the second chapter of which is entitled “The Mystery Men of October” – catchy title!). The CSA were among the first victims of the Crisis on Infinite Earths.  In 2000, a  Crime Syndicate of Amerika hailing  from an anti-matter universe  made their debut in a graphic novel. It does beg the question: when did Grant Morrison last have an original idea?



This issue would certainly figure in my all-time top five of Super-Specs, purely for sentimental reasons. Wein’s last story of the Seventies is a downbeat and mundane thing and rather backward-looking. The nostalgic sci-fi of the League feels like an antique, compared to Marvel in ’74. But consider the JLA in the autumn of 1980; Dick Dillin’s final issue with Conway mining Kirby Koncepts from the previous decade:

Plus ca change, 1974.

Coming soon: The Man with a Million Molecules

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners


Eighteen With A Bullet

This morning’s post features my favourite DC comic for most of the Seventies, Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes, no. 205 , dated December 1974. My copy has a Thorpe and Porter stamp (15p!), so it was distributed somewhere in the UK.

I have no recollection where I bought this one- probably a comic mart in the mid- 80s. It was the second (and last ) 10o-pager for the Legion. The cover is  a cheerful orange,  at odds with the firing squad in the Cardy illustration! Nick Cardy is DC’s answer to Gil Kane when it comes to Bronze Age covers.  The frontispiece is adapted from Neal Adams’ 1969 cover of  Adventure 378: a morbid tale of impending death and my third issue.

The Legion of Super-Executioners:  For the first time since the summer of 1968, Superboy takes Lana Lang to attend a LSH meeting for her birthday.  I’ve counted the candles on the cake and I think Lana’s eighteen. Ultra Boy has contracted an insanity virus and Supey flies off for a cure; Jo and Lana then face a Legion firing squad!  Oh, what a birthday surprise! Luckily, Lana is wearing her bio-ring and Insect Queen returns. ( A Lesley Gore reference seems appropriate in a Legion post).

Supey, Jo and Lana thwart the Master, a spindly alien dwarf with a “mind-melder” who has a plan to subdue the LSH in order to breed a super-army. The icky plan of the immortal villain ( a kind of futuristic Noah’s Ark) is a bit of an anti-climax, given the air of paranoia and betrayal Cary Bates evokes. Presumably  Legion singletons like Element Lad, Sun Boy and Chemical King will either share the females or be killed? And what about bodiless Wildfire?

There’s a lot of action in the story from the more physical Legionnaire. This is the first time Grell draws Karate Kid to resemble Bruce Lee. Mon-El seems based on a real model (can’t tell who) and Ultra Boy’s sideburns are luxuriant.

Meet “Iron Mike” Grell:  a profile of the new artist which mentions his interests in shooting and survival techniques; these  themes will be explored in his work on  Green Arrow, The Warlord and Jon Sable.

The One-Man Team:  a dull Superboy short from1961, where Supey gives a display of school sports and catches five armed crooks. Smallville could give Gotham a run for its money.  I’ve been very positive about Superboy stories before and this one is about the values we can get from team games. But it’s very mundane.

Super-Talk: rave reviews for Mike Grell’s first full issue . Two letters lament the loss of the original Invisible Kid; this was, of course, a deviation from the Adult Legion story. One reader suggests IK’s ghost could appear.  Chemical King’s powers are explained  for the first of two occasions in this issue. I think Schoolboy Shooter overestimated his readers (and certainly his editors) understanding of chemistry.

The Outcast Super-Heroes: the first part of a wacky two-part adventure from Adventure (Nov-Dec 1966) by Swan and E. Nelson Bridwell. This is a “novel” with a lot of charm. A cloud of Green Kryptonite envelops 30th-century Earth, requiring an  honourable discharge for both Superboy and Supergirl. Why they don’t just agree to return two years later, when the cloud is scheduled to dissipate, is unclear. Rather cruelly, they are given  mementos of their time with the team but not permitted to keep them. Then Shrinking Violet does a bit of DIY brain surgery, inspired by Fantastic Voyage.

On departing for their own time, the cousins recommend their own replacements, armoured and anonymous heroes Sir Prize and Miss Terious. Oh dear. Even masked Ferro Lad is suspicious of the secretive pair. We are then introduced to Prince Evillo, “evil genius” and ruler of the dark planet Tartarus.

Evillo (a descendant of Challs-foe Villo?)  leads a Devil’s Dozen which has four lieutenants: The Hag, a crone riding a rocket-broomstick; The Wild Huntsman, a centaur dressed like William Tell with an elastic lasso and a “storm horn”; Sugyn, allegedly a  Welsh folk tale hero. (The only reference I’ve found is to Loki’s wife Sigyn. This character seems like Volstagg anyway); and the godlike Apollo.

Next, Apollo tames the sentry-beasts of the Interplanetary Bank with his lyre and bewitches all the female tellers, in order to loot the place: “Ha, ha! Every man from my world has this power over chicks!”. The Legion arrives.  Colossal Boy wrestles with a  Jigsaw Beast; Sir Prize downs a Loudspeaker Beast and Cham takes on the Asteroid Serpent. He also breaks the fourth wall to make a joke about Spider-Man! A sense of unease about Marvel’s success informs the story and the campy tone seems an awkward attempt to capture Stan’s “voice” . Of course, as usual, it fails.

Saturn Girl recognises Apollo as space-jacker Tal Obrin but even the Legion’s toughest chick falls under his spell. It seems Apollo’s mission has been to abduct a Legionnaire and he absconds with Lightning Lad. The story ends on a paranoid note as both Ultra Boy and Saturn Girl suspect Sir Prize and Miss Terious of being the Kryptonian cousins gone rogue…

The storyline of the secret identities of the  “Lead-clad Lad” and the ” Metal-plated Miss” was done once before with Unknown Boy in 1965 and would repeat itself again in the Sensor Girl saga of the 80s. As we saw yesterday, Supergirl (and Superboy for that matter) will come and go from the Legion.

Lore of the Legion: three pages of powers and origins of the Legionnaires, including obscure reserve members Kid Psycho and Rond Vidar. The first two pages are drawn by Dave Cockrum. Surprisingly, Karate Kid has reverted to his judo gi, rather than the high-collared outfit he’s best known for. This feature doesn’t have the enormous nostalgic significance for me of the first instalment.

The Forgotten Legion: The giant-sized Legion issues of ’77 and ’78 made the Adventure Era sound epic and referred to the other heroes of the 30th Century in their engrossing text features.  I first bought the original edition of this story by mail order from a guy in Ireland who’d advertised in  Exchange and Mart. It arrived some time in the winter of 1980, I think, alongside Adventure 375, which introduced The Wanderers. I know every panel inside-out. It’s just as fanciful as the first episode.

For the very first time Legion bankroller R. J. Brande is mentioned as the Legion set off to rescue him from Xola Aq, the Hag. It’s bizarre seeing stuffy Legion leader Invisible Kid punch Ultra Boy on the jaw for insubordination. Another Marvel influence?  Evillo fails to corrupt Lightning Lad with his essence of evil because Garth has been thinking about the Legionnaires’ good deeds!

The Hag conjures up paintings, foretelling the future for the heroes. Ferro Lad’s portrait shows him consumed by flame, prefiguring the upcoming Sun-Eater story! Cosmic Boy’s portrait is “too dreadful” according to Miss Terious but she has a plan to beat the Hag. It involves a lock of hair from a magician and the print of an enchanted shoe. Cue a Legion mission to Zrfff and a haircut for Master Mxyzpylk. Things get even more loony as Evillo banishes Sugyn the Mighty Drinker (who has captured Bouncing Boy) with a blast from his horns.

The Substitutes fight the Super-Pets (!)  back in 1966 and get the hoof-imprint  of the Steed of Steel, Comet. The resultant magic potion turns the Hag into Naltorian heroine, the White Witch, a slinky redhead. Miss Terious and Sir Prize are revealed as Dream Girl and Star Boy (who appear to have joined the LSH in order to restore Nura’s sister). Since Naltorians ( e.g. brothers Kenz Nuhor and Yark Althu) don’t have the same surname, is Xola Aq intended to be the civilian name of the White Witch?  When she joins the Legion in the 80s as a fairy-like heroine, she’s called “Mysa”.

It’s like panto : all the members plagued by the Legion Jinx (see a future post!) are restored by a doctor (another victim of Evillo) and the villains are rounded up. The Devil’s Dozen never return, although Evillo and Sugyn turned up in the 5YL Era. ENB recycled the Wild Huntsman as a barbaric  German hero in Super Friends.

New Sub Color Kid changes the Kryptonite cloud-cover to blue (?)  and the Kryptonians rejoin.  It’s such a goofy story, given the mostly-dramatic storylines of 1967-69,  but it features virtually every Legion character of the day, which would be  a ten-year-old fan’s dream.

I would probably rate this issue higher if I’d read it as a child-or if it had featured a different two-parter. Maybe the Mordru story  or the Adult Legion saga. More about them in future posts!

Coming soon: Crisis on Earth-3 ( or is that Earth-2?)

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

The Strange Love of Brainiac Five

A groovy ‘optikon bonus post this afternoon. It’s Superboy starring the Legion of Super Heroes no.204 from October, 1974. It features two strips.

The Legionnaire Nobody Remembered: a time travel mystery of the kind beloved by scripter Cary Bates. A Legion biographer from four and a half thousand years in the future accidentally changes history. Posing as Anti-Lad, he has to convince  the LSH to give Superboy a second initiation test.  To my knowledge. Anti-Lad never appeared again perhaps because his ability to neutralise attacks is similar to Legion traitor, Nemesis Kid.

Brainiac 5’s Secret Weakness: This story uses the logo from the four-issue reprint series of 1973 and features an example of 30th century hipster-speak, ” Cool Up” (meaning “calm down”). Brainiac 5 and Supergirl quit the Legion to be a couple. When their Legion cruiser passes through a radiation belt in space, Supergirl shields Brainy- but it turns out that she is an android duplicate. The lovesick Brainy has unconsciously constructed his dream girl : “You programmed my circuits to love you…love you…whrrr”.

After this creepy Pygmalion moment, Kara tells Querl she really is  quitting the Legion. She “can’t cope” with being a part-time Legionnaire, like Superboy and confesses  “I’m not even sure I want to be a Supergirl any more!”  This sounds like the ultimate “It’s not you, it’s me”  speech and it just goes to show how well-brought-up she is. Anyone else would be screaming ”  YOU BUILT A ROBOSEX DOLL OF ME IN YOUR SLEEP?! DON’T EVEN LOOK AT ME, YOU SICK FREAK!!”

This is the same Brainiac 5 who said: ” …Princess Projectra! The data shows a 98 per cent probability that she will break down in a time of crisis and jeopardise the other members’ lives!”  Can you say pot and kettle?  Hank Pym would be livid. Anyway, the whole Brainy Goes Insane storyline instigated by Jim Starlin really begins here. Even worse, after the Crisis in Infinite Earths, Brainy always knew his Kryptonian Krush was going to die in battle. So, it gets more even more like Hitchcock’s Vertigo!

This is the third issue drawn by neophyte penciller Mike Grell ,after Dave Cockrum’s run of  14 stories. His artwork can look a little…plastic. The figures are oddly attenuated and often there are no backgrounds.  However, I loved Grell’s Legion as a kid. His vision of the 75th century is a near-featureless landscape where clusters of multi-coloured, triangular living-platforms hover above. Anti-Lad and his father both have a bald, bifcurated cranium that recalls the telepathic Talosians of Star Trek. (In fact, I think there are as many ST touches in his work than in Cockrum’s: the Zotron belt of radiation for example. The “electronic lover” android is surely out of the Robert Bloch episode with Lurch.)

Grell also makes the Sixties Legionnaires look classy and exciting. His Colossal Boy is handsome and smart in his Buck Rogers uniform, while Supergirl is glamorous and her cape is used as a dramatic design element. Even  Brainy’s sleep-wear is regal, like something from Barsoom.  And nobody draws the Legionnaires just lounging or sprawling about like teenagers quite like Grell.

“You drop ONE teen president…”

Supergirl’s speech about her personal life  presumably refers to the on-off powers she’d been afflicted with in the early Seventies. This was a very low-key and rather feeble swan song for the Ninth Legionnaire, whose own comic folded that month too.  Pity.  After her resignation, Kara didn’t appear again for nearly a decade- until the Levitz/Giffen era and The Great Darkness Saga.

The reason I’m posting about this comic at all is to emphasise how history repeats itself with the Legion in the next Super-Spec. In fact, it repeats to such an extent that it’s become a meme within the ideaspace of the  series . That’s what’s causing the periodic reboots of the continuity- a semi-sentient memory of plot devices. Howzat, Grant Morrison?!

My copy of this comic originally belonged to a Tom King of Iona Street in Edinburgh’s Leith. I know this because Tom filled in the coupon to buy the Tabloid Edition of Whiz Comics #1 ( but thankfully didn’t cut it out!)  It may be, then, that  I got this comic in Silicon Moon, a comics shop on Leith Walk in the mid-Eighties; I don’t recall. Anyway, I hope Tom, formerly of number 78, is well.

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

Tell Them Willy Hank Is Here

This morning’s post is the last in celebration of The Dark Knight Rises. It also marks the last 100-page Super-Spectacular that I bought off the spinner rack in the Seventies.  All subsequent entries were purchased after the Super-Spec Era had ended. Batman 259 probably came from Baird’s store in Strathaven but I’m not one hundred per cent certain.

Night of The Shadow: this is the sequel to the first meeting of The Batman and The Shadow in issue 253 and is dedicated to Bill Finger,  creator of  all the major Bat-villains, who died in January ’74  ( aged only ten years older than I am now!)

Just in case there’s the remote possibility that you don’t know, the first-ever Batman story was lifted from an adventure of The Shadow, a crime-fighting vigilante with hypnotic abilities. This weird avenger of the night adopted the guise of a wealthy playboy by day and was the star of pulp magazines, film and radio.

This strip shows that a very young Bruce Wayne’s life was saved by the Shadow, 25 years earlier ( in 1949).  The criminal in the story is the bizarrely named Willy Hank Stamper, “Boy Genius of Crime”. This perhaps explains his dialogue, which is Hank McCoy on an off-day: ” I seek revenge, not your paltry goods”

The story stretches the Shadow’s career into the post-war years. It also dates Seventies Batman terribly. Yet it wouldn’t have worked with the Earth-2 Batman because the crime would have had to take place before the First World War. It seems O’Neil was mainly interested in the cross- promotional opportunity rather than internal logic. That said, Novick’s Batman looks fantastic. The young Batman who thanks his inspiration is a nice touch by O’Neil, quite at odds with the driven, obsessive Dark Knight of today.

I bought both premier issues of the 80s series but never read this one

The Shadow’s first DC series ended in September ’75, after a twelve-issue run. That was quite impressive for a licensed title in the Bronze Age. I don’t know  whether it was a result of the paper shortage or a gradual retreat from “weird mystery”  back to campy superheroics  ( Marvel’s Man-Thing and Frankenstein Monster had bitten the dust that autumn). In any case, the Shadow’s involvement in the Batman’s history soon went away. It wasn’t referenced at all in one of the first mini-series,  Untold Legend of the Batman (1980)

The theme of the remaining reprints is Batman-impersonators. The inclusion  of themed material  is a pleasing connection to the Giant Batman issues of the early 70s.

The Great Batman Swindle: my favourite story in the collection dates from the summer of 1955. A gang of crooks try to hoodwink millionaire yachtsman Ned Judson into joining their phony Brotherhood of Batmen. This is, of course, a reference to the Phantom‘s gimmick. Judson is such a noble, dedicated chap, you can’t help rooting for him.

The Strange Costumes of Batman: This story was parodied in the final, April issue of Batman Brave and Bold.  The ominous “Emergency Bat-Costume”  allows Robin to impersonate Batman. A pacy short from  1950.

A New Look For Robin: that old favourite, costumes designed by readers. There are whole websites devoted to this activity these days, like Project Rooftop. In an attempt to evoke a  modern “teen-age” image, Carol Strickland draws Dick with a moustache – an image-change mooted in the extra letters page of the Catwoman 100-pager. “Strick” also designed the costume worn in the 70s by Light Lass.

Another Legion fan, Jim (now James)  Ricklef submits a design very like the Neal Adams costume adopted by the Earth-2 Robin. I suspect the home planet of Amazonian 90s Legionnaire Laurel Gand was named after Ricklef.

Heroes By Proxy: a 1945 comedy in which hopeless private detectives, Hawke and Wrenn, try to imitate B&R to make money. They remind me of Hocus and Pocus in Superman. The narration of the story is identical to the Adam West tv series: ” But wait! We know this house- the home of Bruce Wayne, society playboy”.  It’s interesting that the strip is confident enough to parody itself.

Two Batmen Too Many: Another substandard mid-Sixties Bat-story, written this time by Bill Finger. Bats engineers a bizarre scheme to capture “Numbers” Garvey with a giant and a miniature Batman supposedly  brought to life by a shaman’s powers.  The impersonators here are Elongated Man and the Atom but the story is dreary and the art by Moldoff and Giella stiff and juvenile. Compare this to Marvel in December, 1965 where the FF meet the Inhumans for the first time and Spider-Man’s Master Planner storyline is kicking off. DC must have looked so old hat.

The Failure of Bruce Wayne: Great-Uncle Silas Wayne is dying but he dismisses Bruce as a rich idle, given the adventurous legacy of  the family. To win his approval, Bruce then publicly masquerades as Batman to bust a gang and reveals his secret to the dying relative.  If you’re asking why he  didn’t just do that in the first place, it’s from 1958. Stray relatives like Silas, Aunt Agatha or detective Bruce N. Wayne don’t appear in Christopher Nolan films either.

Another entertaining issue of Batman, it would be in the Super-Spec Top Ten but not Top Five. Unlike the next-but-one entry…

Coming soon: The Legion of Super-Executioners

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The Most Dangerous Game

This afternoon’s post continues our celebration of The Dark Knight and features another recent ebay purchase. Detective Comics 443 , with its  yellow, orange  and violet cover, is as garish as the heroes contained within.

The frontispiece is a dramatic Walt Simonson portrait of  the dread Batman and Manhunter, who had been the back-up feature since issue 437. There is another striking two-page poster inside the comic.

Gotterdammerung: is the conclusion to Manhunter’s attempts to thwart the villainous Council who cloned him to create an army of killers.  This pulpish high adventure series has (in the two previous  segments I’ve read) explored some of the same territory as this book:

Batman is very much the guest star in this strip, as he attempts to avenge his “best friend”, private eye Dan Kingdom. Nope, me neither. Manhunter warns Bats off his planned raid on Council HQ. “You’re not a killer! And THIS–is a killing mission!”  Bats ignores the advice but Manhunter is as good as his word as he launches a suicide attack on Dr. Mykros.

It’s very surprising to see a character as modern,colourful and individual as Manhunter killed off so soon. Two years later, he could have been -would have been- the Wolverine of the JLA. But creator Archie Goodwin was leaving for Warren, I believe, so DC let him and Simonson end the saga of Manhunter. Apart from clone-appearances in Secret Society of Super-Villains and The Power Company, the Paul Kirk Manhunter has never returned.  Shang-Chi managed 125 issues and several  Giant-Sizes to boot.  Maybe not DC’s best decision.

With the Batman Family providing the material in Batman Super-Specs, the reprints here feature other super-heroes, tangential to the Gotham Guardian.

The Spectre: aside from Bernard Bailey’s eerie and exciting masthead , this is a nonsensical and juvenile 1941  adventure for the Spirit Sleuth. Stage magician Dr. Mephisto turns out to be the jewellery robber, the Blue Flame. Who’da thunk? At one point, Spec forces a confession out of Jimmy “Knife” Groggins after they’re both swallowed by a “mighty monster of space”. It’s all a far cry from Fleisher and Aparo’s “The Gasmen and the Spectre” advertised at the end of the strip.

The End of Sports:  This is the only solo story I’ve ever read of Big Gay Alan Scott’s athletic antagonist, the Sportsmaster.  It’s the 1948 sequel to his first appearance and he’s quite the terrorist here. GL defeats him in a series of sporting contests sans power ring. Now I know why he wore the black mask in his appearances: Crock is an ugly customer with a sleazy pencil moustache.  Incidentally,  Artemis, Green Arrow’s protegee in tv’s Young Justice is (still) the daughter of the Sportsmaster!

The Coming of the Creeper: this is the first time I ever read any of Ditko’s Sixties work for DC. I was surprised to find that Keith Giffen’s re-telling of this story in the 80s seems  reasonably faithful to the original.  A decidedly oddball character in the DC Universe, I prefer his origin in the Batman Animated Series, where the Creeper undergoes the same chemical bath as the Joker. It’s strange to see such a lengthy Ditko story in a DC book. Since it consists largely of the Creeper throwing punches, it feels very Marvel.

The Secret of Hunter’s Inn:  A 1943  B&R story featuring “those rotund rascals” Tweedledum and Tweedledee.  Like the Sportsmaster story, this could have been featured in Wanted, if it hadn’t been cancelled. The corpulent duo might seem comical but they try to kill B&R with carbon monoxide poisoning and Alfred (still a fat guy himself) has to save them. The plot, about two identical hotels, is contrived and the Tweed brothers aren’t that memorable.

A creakingly antique Spectre tale lets down an interesting collection featuring Golden Age villains I scarcely know. Of the remaining Super-Specs, there are five issues of  Detective I’d like to add to my collection.

The swan song of this Manhunter reminds me I hadn’t spoken about his Golden Age inspiration. Last Saturday, for the first time since 1976, I watched The Hounds of Zaroff aka The Most Dangerous Game. It’s the 1932 adaptation of the 1924 short story by Richard Connell. The plot concerns a crazed Russian aristo who hunts humans on his tropical island.  The film stars  Joel McCrea, Fay Wray and Leslie Banks as the manhunting Count.  It’s a very effective thriller for its age and one “steeped in death”, to borrow  from Russell T. Davies.  I first saw it in the second season of BBC2 Saturday night double bills with  Hammer’s Hound of the Baskervilles.

The story and the film have inspired comics in the past but these characters especially: Kraven and Otto Orion.

Coming soon: Tell them Willy Hank is here

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I Am Not a Number

This morning’s post is the first of a trio of Batman entries. I’ll be writing about DKR on Some Fantastic Place as soon as I finish processing it:  a pal’s just tweeted  me  about a villain I didn’t spot! In the meantime, here’s a recent ebay purchase, originally published in October 1974. The baby- blue cover is a little too gentle for the menacing images:

Threat of the Two-Headed Coin: O’Neil, Novick and Giordano produce a sequel to “Half an Evil” from 1971, which was the first Silver Age appearance of Two-Face.  If I recall correctly, in that appearance he had lost the green tinge to his scarred side. ( I must get replacement copies of that one and the Adams/Joker story soon!). Harvey’s green again here though.

This is a less moody, more fanciful story in which a an embittered conservative inveigles Harvey in his nuclear blackmail scheme. Batman ponders his kinship with Two-Face. Interestingly, these are some of the tropes of The Dark Knight Rises. While the pop-psychology is quite unusual for Bronze Age Batman, there are several WTF moments: the suicide of the military blackmailer and the “thermal flare in my left Bat-ear”?  Robin abandons Batman  to go back to University class during a nuclear countdown in Washington?! O’Neil’s weakness for cutesy names manifests in “Samuel Smith-Smythe” and arsonist “Hotsy Totter”.

There is an tense, almost wordless climax, however, and a chilling cameo by the Joker so this “Batman does Goldfinger” story almost works.

The Three Racketeers: a 1942 story begins with a fantastic Dick Sprang splash page as the Batman looks down on the Bat-plane’s tank battle. We meet three crooks, playing cards. One made phoney police broadcasts, one invented a “laziness drug” and the third led a gang of tank bandits. We discover that Batman has, of course, put them all in jail. An amusing yarn with an effective narrative gimmick

7 Wonder Crimes of Gotham City: another verbose. stiffly drawn short from  Fox and Moldoff. This 1967 snoozer is about crimes based on the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Twenty-Ton Robbery:  A reprint from the winter of 1944-1945, this is the second appearance of the Cavalier, a society playboy-turned-crook who wields an electrically charged sword. Despite his dashing exterior, the “Romatic Rogue”  places Robin in a death-trap. He also attempts to steal a whale! It’s quite a slow-paced story; I can’t find any reference to a Silver or Bronze Age reprint of  “The Cavalier of Crime”. It would have been an ideal  feature in Wanted.

In his JLA run, Brad Meltzer revealed the Cavalier was in a gay relationship with mid-70s crook Captain Stingaree. Black Lightning was playing on this to get information. Charming. I was surprised to realise that was six years ago.

The Guardian of 100 Cities: this 1955 short  is set on a Hollywood storage lot and concerns the redemption of a retired movie actor -turned- night watchman. The structure reminded me  of the Bat-Signal story we looked at recently.

The Man with 1000 Eyes: Count Florian, spymaster from the kingdom of Boglovia turns his talents to crime; his agents wear a third eye decal. An atmospheric pulp thriller from the winter of 1949.

Rally ‘Round Robin: The extra letters page hosts the debate for and against reuniting the B and R team.  Stephen Kachinsky nixes the idea that Robin should grow a moustache.

This is an entertaining collection, despite the half-baked (ahem) opener. Meanwhile, let’s return again to see what Marvel UK was  doing in long-ago summers. The market was shrinking: POTA, one of the most popular titles, had absorbed Dracula Lives in June ’76. As we’ve seen previously, The Avengers merged with MWOM the following month. This created a very diverse comic, featuring kung-fu, barbarians and Bronze Age superheroes. The trend would continue the following summer :

In 1977, Super Spider-Man had absorbed Captain Britain (just after the Silver Jubilee storyline).  MWOM, having merged with POTA in March, was hosting Dracula by its 250th issue. This may be because Brides of Dracula, Kiss of the Vampire and Dracula’s Daughter were all on Saturday night telly that July. I find it hard to reconcile these comics with the current Top of the Pops repeats in BBC4, featuring the likes of Brotherhood of Man and Carol Bayer Sager.

In July 78,  the Top Thirty included You’re The One That I Want (of course) , Man With The Child In His Eyes and Joe Walsh’s Life’s Been Good.  Rampage went monthly- although it really came into its own the following winter when it began to reprint the Cockrum X-Men.

Next: The Weed of Crime Bears Bitter Fruit

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The Need For Speed

For a change of pace, before we embark on a trio of entries on Batman 100-page Super-Spectaculars,  this post returns to The Flash.  My original copy of this comic was bought in East Kilbride village in the autumn of 1974, from the newsagent on Stuart Street.

Bronze Age East Kilbride

Given that the last 100-page Flash was dominated by a dreary Golden Age novel, will this issue be a lap of honour or an egg and spoon race?

The Rag Doll Runs Wild:  Irv Novick, penciller of Batman, draws an airy, bright story of  Flash-friendship. Jay Garrick is depressed that he’s  too old to be a super-hero. He keeps failing to capture contortionist crook, Rag Doll. (This is about two decades before James Robinson reworks RD as a murderous cult leader).

Barry helps Jay-Flash regain his confidence while uncovering the real brains behind RD’s crime spree: The Thinker. This was the first time I’d ever seen the Silver Age interpretation of this villain . I was only familiar with Gil Kane’s version ( who only turned up one more time to my knowledge, in The Huntress strip in Wonder Woman):

Half a Green Lantern is Better than None:  Here, Gil Kane breaks the fourth wall to address the reader as does the villain of this 1964 story, the cliché -spouting crook Black Hand.  Despite his fantastic power-light weapon, BH’s real motivation is to outstrip the achievements of his famous brothers. This is a beautifully-drawn strip but the grandiloquent villain has no pizazz.

Flash-Grams: plenty of praise for O’Neil/Adam/Giordano Green Lantern strip. Modern-day readers might be surprised that the Emerald Gladiator was a back-up Flash-feature in those days.  One LoCer a Greg Potter, asks for “fiendish omnipotent menaces” for GL and having read about Black Hand, you can see why.   Potter, by the way, would go on to create Jemm, Son of Saturn for DC.  Another requests Sargon,who had been portrayed something of an anti-hero in the early 70s.

Secret of the Handicapped Boys: A  sweet if  unsubtle parable about equality from 1962  in which Kid Flash’s identity is rumbled by a trio of  deaf, dumb and blind kids. Not very action-packed but well-meaning.

The Man Who Wore Ten Hats: Two stories from 1947. Johnny Quick has to juggle ten jobs while battling corruption in a torpid New England town. I haven’t enjoyed many adventures of the Monarch of Motion but this one is gently amusing.

The Secret City: Jay- Flash visits an advanced civilization hidden in the Amazon. Unfortunately, they plan to use their image -projection abilities to conquer the Earth! A fast-pace pulp adventure; I particularly like the flirtation between Flash and the glamorous Dr. Flura.

The Girl From the Super-Fast Dimension: Also from June ’64. Extra-dimensional tourist Doralla ( with Princess Leia’s hairstyle) arrives on Earth but her natural super-speed causes explosions. A pleasant sci-fi short from Fox and Infantino.

This is an inoffensive and charming read. As a kid, I enjoyed the Flash Trivia Quiz and the Puzzle Page most, apart from the Rag Doll tale. They gave me glimpses of villains like Professor Zoom, Mr. Element and Heat Wave. I had begun reading DC in the middle of the Relevancy period so the gimmick-villains of the Golden and Silver Age were relatively unknown to me. Bear in mind also, of course, that very, very few US Marvels were available in South Lanarkshire.

The success of the Marvel UK weeklies encouraged expansion in the autumn of ’74 however and these two titles were launched at the end of October:

Our household budget allegedly wouldn’t stretch to the UK Dracula Lives. (Sure, mum! Even though we were ten months away from summer horror double bills on BBC2, I don’t think the holder of the purse-strings would sanction the undead, Walls or no.)

 Still available in Spain. Allegedly!

The POTA tv series from CBS wasn’t even shown in the STV area for some unknown reason ( were the Apes too idolatrous?) but this title became my favourite once the back-up strips appeared. More about that another time.

Coming soon: More 70s Darknight Detective action.

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners.