The Mystery Men of October

A little early, here’s our list of Marvel heroes who first appeared in the tenth month of the year:

The Original Human Torch: this blazing android was one of the Timely superstars of the Golden Age. A transfusion of his synthetic “blood” gave super-powers to his Invaders ally Spitfire. Revived in FF Annual 3 for a battle with Johnny Storm, the Torch was then deactivated by the Mad Thinker. For most of the Bronze Age, it appeared that Ultron had modified the Torch to create the Vision.

However, John Byrne revived the Torch in Avengers West Coast and for a short time, he served as a member of the team. He has been killed and resurrected a few times since then, most recently acting as one of the Secret Avengers. To be honest, I think the character is redundant outside his original milieu.

Wonder Man: another Avenger inextricably linked to the Vision, Simon Williams was a pawn of the Masters of Evil. Apparently dying in battle, his brain-patterns formed the basis of the Vision’s personality. Although Simon’s subsequent revival from his death-like coma unsettled the Vision, they eventually developed a fraternal bond. This was soured considerably when Simon, battling his own emotional insecurities, also fell in love with the Scarlet Witch. The Vision’s traumatic disassembly and malfunctions only made this triangle more dysfunctional.

Wonder Man has died and been resurrected several times. His generic strongman abilities have also mutated into energy powers. Most recently, he became an ideological and physical opponent of the Avengers. Simon is a C-list hero and plot device whose function is to shake up the emotions of the team.  Fortunately, he had a believable friendship with the Beast.

Nighthawk: introduced as a villainous pastiche of Batman, Kyle Richmond reformed and became the linchpin of the Defenders. He also had one of the best costumes of the Bronze Age.  One of the most introspective- not to say neurotic- heroes since Henry Pym, Kyle had an equally difficult career, including paralysis, demonic visions and death.   His Squadron Supreme counterpart, meanwhile, was an amoral hero who spiralled into  megalomania. An indefatigable  C-lister with a hugely sympathetic story,  Nighthawk’s  jet-pack powers of flight are the reason why the Falcon should never have won his wings.

Morbius: a Living Vampire created by a scientific experiment gone wrong, Michael Morbius was originally a popular, high-profile Spider-Man villain. He was also Marvel’s first tentative step into the horror genre after the relaxation of the Comics Code. A modification of the tormented anti-hero of the Silver Age ( Namor, Hulk, Dr. Doom), Morbius went on to star in a colour, sci-fi tinged series and painfully pretentious b/w  adventures in Vampire Tales.

In the Nineties, a Goth version of Morbius was relaunched as part of the Midnight Sons line. The Ultimate version of Morbius, meanwhile,  is the son of Dracula- and a vampire hunter.  This is, of course, a terrible idea.

Satana: Marvel’s answer to Vampirella , the sexy, skimpily-clad horror hostess from Warren Magazines. Satana was the half-sister (unsurprisingly) of the Son of Satan. She initially appeared as a more provocative version of the Golden Age Black Widow, in Vampire Tales. An exile from Hell, she was a succubus- a creature who fed on human male souls. She was given an exotic, fetishistic European makeover but was killed off in Marvel Team-Up in the late 70s, at the end of the horror cycle.

An upstart called  Mephista appeared in Doctor Strange comics about a decade later but the real deal has been active again since the Noughties.

Son of Satan:  Damon Hellstrom, exorcist and Quicksilver-lookalike is, of course, Satana’s brother. The grindcore Dr. Strange,  Damon is also a  blend of  the Human Torch and the Hulk…and the  offspring of the Devil!

SoS blazed out of the Ghost Rider comic into his own Head Shoppe series, tinged with the 70s unease and anomie of The Exorcist (and the earlier Rosemary’s Baby ). Steve Gerber took Damon on an occult voyage of discovery and later, JM Matteis wrote him a doomed romance with Patsy Walker. Damon was eventually given a super-hero makeover in the mid-80s as Hellstorm. But it didn’t take.

After a more horrific iteration in the Nineties, the former Prince of Lies has been a part of the  supporting cast of the New Avengers, where he’s been less the tormented rage-monster and more the sleazy smart-ass. It’s weird to think the House of Mouse owns one of the most transgressive super-heroes of the Seventies.

Wolverine: the Canadian mutant introduced in the Hulk was an abrasive, unwelcome member of the All-New X-Men. He stole the limelight from Nightcrawler with the advent of fellow-countryman John Byrne. The subsequent miniseries by Frank Miller made the diminutive  X-Man a Marvel superstar in the 80s. In the early Nineties, the lethal but principled Wolverine supplanted Spider-Man’s position as Marvel’s signature character, achieving megastar status.

An uncannily (ahem)  faithful  portrayal on screen by Hugh Jackman in four movies (and one cameo) and a multiple membership in Marvel’s premier super-teams ensures Wolverine’s continuing unshakeable popularity. Personally, I preferred Thunderbird.

Marvel Presents Bloodstone Oct 75

Bloodstone: a monster hunter and adventurer with a career that predates the Fantastic Four. Retroactively speaking, that is.  Introduced in 1975, Ulysses Bloodstone is an immortal with an origin reminiscent of DC’s Vandal Savage and Immortal Man: a caveman imbued with an unnaturally extended lifespan.  In addition to membership in Nick Fury’s 1950s Avengers, Bloodstone led a team of Monster Hunters including Namora and Black Panther‘s mother. His own daughter, Elsa, is Marvel’s version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Captain Britain: Marvel’s attempt to create a homegrown hero for the UK market was overshadowed somewhat by Roy Thomas’ continuity implant Union Jack. I am surprised that, given his simple and striking design, a third-generation Falsworth wasn’t launched in 1976.

Instead Claremont and Trimpe delivered a mash-up of Spider-Man and Daredevil with Arthurian overtones. But stone the crows and dash it all, despite his derivative nature, he was ours, gor’blimey! I followed him faithfully through all his mediocre battles with Lord Hawk, Slaymaster and the Highwayman into obscurity. Then in the early 80s with a blend of Byrne/Claremont angst, Jeff Hawke, Moorcockania and a dash of Orwell, Captain Britain made an astonishing comeback.

As I’ve said before on previous blogs, I now prefer the original Lion of London (complete with quarterstaff) to Moore and Davis’ interdimensional guardsman. The current iteration reminds me too much of that other 80s deconstruction, Miracleman.

X-Factor mk. II: in the wake of the phenomenally successful Jim Lee version of the X-Men, twenty years ago Peter David and Larry Stroman replaced the five original X-Men with a quirky grouping of X-allies. Havok and Polaris were joined on a government -salaried team by the New Mutants’ Wolfsbane, Madrox and Guido aka “Strong Guy”: a grotesque, distorted mutant created by Bill Sienkiewicz. For a while, this odd assemblage was critically successful thanks to David’s playful, self-referential tone. In the mid-to-late Noughties, X-Factor returned as a mutant detective agency.

Coming soon: The Thor Treasury and DC Mystery Men of the Golden and Silver Ages.

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again, Mama!

The first order ever placed for my comics was for the Topper at Simpsons’ general store in my home village of Chapelton. It changed to accommodate the “Junior TV Times” Look-In  in the early 70s. Subsequently, most of Marvel UK’s burgeoning output  was added when the Cringan family took over the shop: MWOM, Spider-Man, the Avengers, POTA, the Titans and Captain Britain.

Strathaven: 2000 AD. Craig’s is the cream building, background left.

However, I also had an order at Craig’s newsagent in Strathaven, beginning with Cor! and Whizzer and Chips. That one branched out into the weekly Savage Sword of Conan and the Super Heroes; Doctor Who Weekly ; Star Wars Weekly; Rampage and Complete Fantastic Four. (I would in fact have DWM on order until about 1987). My brother ostensibly had the order for Planet of the Apes, Star Wars and Rampage.

The manageress of Craig’s cannily suggested I might like this Treasury in the autumn of 1974:

That marketing ploy was my first encounter with these collector’s items and I still have my copy to this day, yellow and dog-eared. I had read half the contents already in MWOM but the Galactus Trilogy was  fresh to me.

On the cover, Sue is unflatteringly muscular; inside, Stan the Man recalls his “What If ” approach to plotting. In a couple of years, Roy the Boy will use this technique as a springboard for one of the enduring Marvel concepts of the decade.

Captives of the Deadly Duo: Coming to this again in middle age, I was knocked out by its energy and scope. It’s the first appearance of a master stroke: the teaming of super-menace Sub-Mariner with the diabolical Dr. Doom. This pair of malcontent monarchs are an excellent match. We also get a taste of the early FF’s squabbling and conflict. Kirby’s pencils make Namor the most dynamic and fascinating character in the story, although Doom is a sinister manipulator. Kirby also draws a witty and exotic undersea villa for Sub-Mariner complete with sponge footstool and starfish coffee table. Subby displays some far-out powers and Doomsy traps the FF in the ionosphere. Dig it!

The Impossible Man: the début of the whimsical green pest, a shape changing comic relief character in the vein of Mr. Mxyzptlk. In a couple of years time, Impy would return as regular supporting cast member. He was also a surprising favourite of melodramatic mutant maven Chris Claremont.

A Visit with the Fantastic Four: a charming short where the FF break the fourth wall to reveal some of their back story and retell their origin. I think it’s the first time we learn that their adventures are printed in comics ( whereas DC’s Earth-2 heroes appear as Earth-1 comic book characters).

FF Family Portrait:  a 2-page spread by John Buscema depicts the foursome with Franklin, Alicia, Agatha Harkness, Medusa and Thundra. This Treasury was published about half-way through the Inhuman’s Bronze Age stint as Sue’s replacement.

The Coming of Galactus: the first chapter of the trilogy is truncated: all the material about the fall of Maximus and  the sealing -off of Attilan is cut. However, the Surfer’s first dazzling appearance and the atmospheric phenomena are only a prelude to a Kirby Kollage and the entrance of the bizarre armoured giant Galactus.

If This Be Doomsday:  we learn that Galactus intends to feast on the energy sources of the Earth- from the oceans to the molten core. There’s an early example of the Lee/Kirby disconnect: in the previous episode we are told the Surfer fell off the Baxter Building because he chose to but he seems pretty dazed when he literally drops in on Alicia. This encounter awakens some compassion in the Sentinel of the Spaceways. The FF are trounced by the Punisher, a diminutive cybernetic watchdog. Johnny is dispatched by the Watcher to the home planet of Galactus: an infinity symbol-shaped space station that dwarfs a solar system! Far freakin’ out.

The Startling Saga of the Silver Surfer: Johnny returns with the Ultimate Nullifier, a doomsday weapon. Galactus retreats but exiles the Surfer to Earth after cosmic battle. Later city-wide  duels in the New Gods will echo these scenes. The material that sees Johnny enrol in college and meet Wyatt Wingfoot is cut.

Of course, the Silver Surfer graphic novel, Lee and Kirby’s final collaboration for Marvel in 1978, re-imagines the entire conflict without the participation of the FF.

Inside the Baxter Building: a b/w  schematic of the FF’s hq reprinted from from FF Annual 3.

This is a highly enjoyable collection, even nearly forty years later. The scope and imagery of the Galactus Trilogy is momentous although the pace is breakneck, compared to the early stories.

My next Treasury purchase was a Christmas edition- but we’ll deal with that during the festive season itself.

Coming soon: The Mystery Men of October

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

Face it Tiger, You Just Hit the Jackpot

This morning’s post is the first in my much-heralded series on the Treasuries and Tabloids published by DC and Marvel in the Bronze Age.

The format was launched by DC first; I well remember the house ads for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer , Shazam and Kubert’s Tarzan in 1973. Of course, I couldn’t buy them because I never saw them on sale in Lanarkshire but in any case, they looked a bit juvenile to a Scottish ten-year-old. Until, that is, the dramatic Neal Adams Batman ad appeared in JLA 110.

The adverts in the newly-glossy British Marvel weeklies of 1974 trumpeted Marvel’s first Treasury Edition. A genuine summer special and only 40p!  Although Spider-Man was the first Marvel star I saw on tv ( the original “Is he strong? Listen bub…” cartoons on Glen Michael’s Cavalcade)  I actually preferred the FF, X-Men and Thor. So, I wasn’t greatly interested anyway, despite the lure of stories never before reprinted in the UK,

In fact, I first read this “colo(u)r-splashed collection of Spidey Classics” in the late Nineties when my friend Alex Harvey gave me the copy that his father (the “Sensational” Alex Harvey) bought for him in the 70s. Let’s look at the contents…

A Message from Spidey’s Godfather: Stan Lee provides an introduction where he raps about Spidey’s symbolic value and the element of social commentary in the comics. It’s the typical cod-literary analysis and hyperbole familiar from Stan’s Soapboxes and I love it:  Marvel in the late Silver Age won its earnest college audience with this academic-hipster  tone.

Daily Bugle Extra: a two-page feature on the writers and artists associated with the comic. A facsimile newspaper with cartoons by Marie Severin ( I presume),  it feels like an escapee from  Mad or some other adult humour magazine from the US. I imagine Stan would be delighted with that comparison.

The Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin: I’ve never been enthralled by Gobby and this whimsical Ditko tale involves a silly,  convoluted scheme worthy of the Cybermen. Spidey is lured into making a phoney movie where he’s pitted against the Goblin and the Enforcers. Movie mogul B.J. Cosmos provides the humour in the story as Stan gently satirises the profligacy and guile of Hollywood.

The Hulk makes a left-field guest appearance for a  battle in a cave; I imagine the whole scenario was dreamed up as a warm-up for Ditko and to promote ol’ Greenskin. The Hulk was still a few months away from being relaunched in Tales to Astonish after his original book flopped.

Secrets Behind Spider-Man: A four-page Lee-Ditko feature, it’s a truncated version of a piece from the first Spider-Man annual. In fact, I first read it in the Marvel annual that preceded MWOM. Bookish kids would love this.

Spider-Man Tackles the Torch: A rare Kirby Spidey-story, the back-up tale from the “Tribute to Teen-Agers”  issue (Spidey #8).  It highlights one of the early, boyish spats  between Spidey and the Torch  In 1996, Mike Allred pencilled a nostalgic sequel to this story in the Untold Tales of Spider-Man Annual.

The Birth of a Superhero: a rather dull,  early Romita tale where JJJ’s son becomes an unstable powerhouse after an encounter with alien spores.  John Jameson will, of course, later become the  Man-Wolf . The story is notable only for the iconic  last-page introduction of Mary Jane Watson.

Rocked by the Shocker: One page by John Buscema where Spidey trounces the quilted villain with the vibro-blasts.

The Reprehensible Riddle of the Sorcerer:  A bit of an oddity, this was a story by Wonder Woman‘s Ross Andru, first published in the showcase book Marvel Super-Heroes. It may have been intended for the short-lived b/w Spectacular Spider-Man magazine.  Andru’s grotesque, angular style would become the signature look for Spidey in the mid-70s. Bizarrely, Harry and Peter appear to have a shower cabinet in the bedroom of their apartment: a bit low-rent for an industrialist’s son!

While it’s an action-packed entry, the plot is reminiscent of the 1967 Brit movie The Sorcerers, starring Boris Karloff. The villain,whom Spidey never meets,  is also called The Sorcerer. The story’s heavy, the ” spine-chilling” Synthetic Man, is a typical goofy Marvel android.

And Death Shall Come: The death of Captain Stacy, precipitated by Doc Ock, whom I always thought of as Spidey’s chief villain. The plot inspired this summer’s Amazing Spider-Man movie.  Gil Kane’s art is dizzying and kinetic; no one draws anguished heroes like Kane.

Larry Lieber pin-up poster:  Stan’s brother provides a rather static, workaday image of an Atlas-like Spidey holding up the  Thing, Hulk, Thor, Hercules and Namor.

It’s not a particularly inspiring selection of stories but it was always about the art anyway and from that perspective, this is a dazzling collection. The next post in this series will focus on the first Treasury I actually bought in the Bronze Age.

Coming soon: The Mystery Men of October- a Canucklehead, a Living Vampire and the Lion of London.

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

The Mystery Men of September part 3!

Today’s post revisits  DC heroes who made their debut in bygone Septembers:

Here’s my first glimpse of the Shade by mail order in early 1980

The Shade: louche immortal anti-hero and the break-out star of James Robinson’s Starman ( of whom, more shortly). Created as a Golden Age Flash villain, the ambiguous and effete Shade borrows Marv Wolfman’s “Dracula’s diary” gimmick to chronicle his adventures with all manner of DC obscurities through the ages. Mannered but interesting comics.

Nightshade: in my dotage, I rather like the retro stylings of Ditko’s “space princeress”. Nightshade assisted Captain Atom in Charlton comics and when DC acquired the Action Heroes, she was a member of long standing in the Suicide Squad (DC invented the Dark Avengers, you see.)

With the same kind of vague shadowy powers as the Shade and with an origin similar to Amethyst, Nightshade was revamped in 1999 for the LAW miniseries.

I still prefer the original version to Streaky Zebra Woman. More recently, Eve Eden was a member of the Shadowpact.

Dingbats of Danger Street:  Jack Kirby’s Seventies version of his classic kid gangs from First issue Special. Pure unadulterated 70s Kirby is not for the uninitiated. I like to think that the King might have created a wild new Bucky in the vein of Krunch for his Bicentennial Cap.

Jemm, Son of Saturn: pacifist alien innocent from a slave race created by J’Onn J’Onzz’s Martians. After his Colan miniseries, Jemm was Luthor’s secret weapon in JLA by Grant Morrison.  That’s the only appearance I own of Jemm.

Tellus and Quislet: Levitz and Lightle introduced these two non-human Legionnaires in the mid-80s but they were both almost completely inactive for the next two decades. Tellus (aka Ganglios) is a big telepathic fish and Quislet is a spark of energy in a tiny spaceship. With obscure powers to animate matter, Quislet is a difficult Legionnaire to use and although “it” has a memorably quirky speech pattern, “it”s been phased out of the LSH again. Tellus is one of the Legion Lost currently. The LSH definitely benefits from one or two really alien members but maybe these aren’t the ones.

New Guardians: although the multi-ethnic and sexually diverse makeup of this group was ground-breaking, Steve Englehart’s 80s take on his Celestial theme was a car crash of a comic. This bizarre and unlikeable group were formed in the Millennium crossover event and were meant to Mankind’s next evolutionary stage. Hugely camp Dr. Strange parody Extrano is probably the most memorable character, as DC’s first flamboyantly gay hero.

Team Titans: in a dystopian future where Donna Troy’s son is playing at being a Star Trek-style god, Nightwing leads a band of new teen Titans against him. DC’s answer to X-Force was perhaps the nadir of the Titans era. Marv Wolfman’s ideas were tired and derivative:  a vampire, an electrical being, a winged naif and a conflicted shape-changer. Wolfman even stooped to the cheap mystery of “Is Terra back from the dead”?  At first an attempt to put the Teen back into Titans under the pencil of a Neal Adams clone, the group  soon mimicked a perennial X-Men trope and travelled back to our present.  Just woeful.

Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt: I imagine that the main reason this Charlton Action Hero revival caught my imagination is Mike Collins’ proposal to make him the centrepiece of a a Justice League UK. A perfect physical and mental specimen, Thunderbolt has an origin story that, like Iron Fist, is probably inspired by Golden Ager Amazing Man. Cannon made his series début at a time ( the early 90s) where vanilla super-heroics were unfashionable. Perhaps if they’d given him a mullet or some pouches…

Fate: ludicrous “extreme” 90s spin-off from Dr. Fate. Note obligatory stabby weapons, mullet, glowing eye and useless attempts at body armour. Sadly, not intended as parody. Thankfully killed off in JSA.

Manhunter:  “Extreme” 90s version of Kirby/Simon hero. Note obligatory Deadpool-style mask, glowing fist, giant shoulderpads and multiple streaming tassels c.f. Fate.

Starman Jack Knight: surprisingly-successful Generation X version of Golden Age hero. The premise of a slacker son negotiating the Golden Age (plus sundry other neglected corners of the DCU) and its protagonists was a clever one. However, I was a decade older than the hero and found tattoos and daddy issues needy and tiresome. James Robinson’s florid hipster dialogue and preoccupation with antique characters merely make him a Roy Thomas for the Nineties. While Robinson successfully retired his hero, I have no doubt Jack Knight will revisit the new 52 eventually.

Damian Wayne/Robin: the force-grown offspring of Talia and Batman, Damian was born in a non-canonical graphic novel but was folded into the DC Universe by Grant Morrison. Precocious, obnoxious and lethal, this blackly comic version of the Boy Wonder is, in one alternate future, a darker, perhaps supernatural Batman. Why is he not in the Justice League?

All-New Atom: Grant Morrison, Gail Simone and John Byrne revamped the Tiny Titan in the person of Ryan Choi for some whacky mad science adventures. Although this version of the Atom was featured in tv’s Batman: Brave and Bold. Choi was murdered  by the Didiots to launch the execrable Titans: Villains for Hire. Killing off one of their few Asian heroes: great call, diverse DC.

Coming soon: Treasuries and Tabloids!

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners.

The Mystery Men of September part 2!

This morning’s post features some Marvel heroes who made their début in September as well as the two best- known and most celebrated super-teams from the House of Ideas…

Ant-Man: I never cared for Hank Pym’s first Commie-smashing identity. I did however have a passing interest in the Scott Lang version of the Bronze Age.  An ex-jailbird with a young daughter,  Lang was an associate of the Avengers and the FF. When he finally gained full membership in the Avengers, he clashed with Jack of Hearts and died in Avengers Disassembled. Daughter Cassie became the heroine Stature  ( or in the MC2 reality, Stinger). A third “Irredeemable Ant-Man” was portrayed as a sleazy comedy character. My bet is  that’s the one who’ll be a movie star.

Pym of course went on to adopt the identities of Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket and the Wasp. I liked his mid-80s stint as Dr. Pym (where he imitated Tom Baker, right  down to his own K-9: the robot vehicle “Rover”) Most of these crises and the attendant indignity can be found in…

The Avengers: Marvel’s answer to the Justice League of America. Except it isn’t. The Avengers took the in-fighting  of the early FF to a new level of confrontation. The book was always at its best when the members were either lusting after each other or at each other’s throats.  Also, the team departed from the JLA model with its rotating roster. Beginning with Cap’s Kooky Quartet, the public announcement as the “Old Order Changeth”  is as much a part of the Avengers as the Legion’s membership try-outs.

Aside from Thor and Hawkeye, that’s everyone who’s an essential Avenger, in these two images

During the Bendis years, the team has become a blend of marquee names and the writer’s own favourites, like Luke Cage and Spider-Woman. It’s also replaced the X-Men- of whom, more shortly- as the cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. New Avengers begat Secret Avengers, Avengers Academy and Dark Avengers. Post-Bendis, the team will expand to nearly twenty members which I feel is a misstep: seven is the magic number.

Several Mystery Men were created within the book and otherwise might go overlooked in this series:

Liefeld’s  Hellcat and Swordsman; I’m so sorry .

Swordsman: swashbuckling mercenary and mentor to Hawkeye. A pathetic figure who died saving Mantis from Kang. Rob Liefeld created a second, bowl-cut version  who was critically injured in Heroes Reborn.

Black Knight: chivalric scientist and time-traveller. In the 90s, one leg of a love triangle with Sersi and Crystal.

The Vision: What if Mr. Spock fell in love?  The brooding android was the de facto star of the book in the Seventies.

Mantis: enigmatic kung fu fighter who became  the Celestial  Madonna. Steve Englehart’s River Song.

Hellcat: not perky Patsy Walker but Liefeld’s clone of Feral from X-Force. Appeared in Heroes Reborn, the original version of the New 52.

Rage : Larry Hama’s angry black luchador  was supposed to be the next Wolverine. He was also a teenager in disguise so he was booted off the team into New Warriors obscurity.

Triathlon: Kurt Busiek’s reworking of the 3-D Man seems massively unpopular perhaps because he belonged to a personal development cult.

Silverclaw: Jarvis sponsors a child and she turns out to be a shape-changing demi-goddess!  Englehart actually did better work with this character than her creator, Busiek. For some reason, her power seems too absurd for the Avengers.

Ronin: Conceived as a disguise for Daredevil, this mystery man turned out to be Echo, the deaf martial artist. The mystery was spoilered in a Dorling Kindersely book of all places. Hawkeye  also played Ronin for a while.

To me, My X-Men!  Post-Avengers, Bendis is bringing back the Most Uncanny Teens of All. While Claremont, Cockrum and Byrne made comic history and defined the 80s with the torrid sci-fi soap of the All-New X-Men, it’s Stan and Jack’s creations who remain the Comeback Kids.

As a rehash of the FF formula, the X-Men are pallid carbon copies and were the first real failure of The Man and the King,  limping to cancellation at the end of the Silver Age. But their outsider status and their school sanctuary have seen the merry mutants revived at least three times: in  X-Factor, X-Men The Hidden Years and X-Men First Class. The atomic Ivy Leaguers are among my earliest, fondest memories of Power Comics,  especially their battles with the circus freaks in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

The Falcon: Captain America’s partner from Harlem,  the fightin’ Falcon pioneered  the black urban experience at the House of Ideas.

Romita’s version of the mask is more  savage and the new colour scheme pops.

I prefer him simply as a costumed acrobat with a trained bird;  the Vibranium wings make the hero- and the high-flying Angel and Nighthawk- less unique.  I think the Falcon is overlooked as Marvel’s first African-American hero; while he had a higher profile than his DC counterparts ( Mal, John Stewart or Johnny-come-lately Black Lightning) he was obscured by Black Panther and Luke Cage.

Man-Wolf: after the success of Morbius the Living Vampire (see next month!), Marvel gave Spider-Man a werewolf foe. Astronaut John Jameson was infected by a moon-rock parasite that transformed him into a wolf-man. (At this point, Werewolf by Night still operated in his own, isolated corner of the MU). I’ve never read any of Jameson’s mid-70s adventures in Creatures on the Loose but I was aware of the Sword-and-Sorcery direction the character later undertook.  My first encounter with this lunar lycanthrope was in this issue of Spider-Man, picked up on my first visit to Amsterdam.

Brother Voodoo: another Blaxploitation character and one who owes his existence to Live and Let Die. After a moody, atmospheric start by Colan and Wein,  BV was treated with fond mockery for years by cartoonist Fred Hembeck. An obscure late-90s miniseries The Supernaturals introduced an alternate BV, a music producer, and gave him some dignity and flash.  Brother Voodoo replaced Dr. Strange as Sorcerer Supreme; in his Dr. Voodoo identity, BV was killed off by BB (Brian Bendis) in early 2011.

I first “met” the character through b/w reprints in stray issues of Marvel UK’s Dracula Lives: the one title to which we never had a subscription. Essentially, BV is  a colourful C-Lister, akin to DC’s Deadman or the Spectre.

Black Goliath: a late addition to Marvel’s range of Blaxploitation heroes, BG had been introduced in the Sixties as Hank Pym’s lab assistant. He took on a superhero identity in a 1975 Luke Cage: Power Man 2-parter then was launched in his own short-lived series. Relocated to the West Coast, Bill Foster was also briefly associated with the Champions. Later, he worked at Project: Pegasus as Giant-Man.

After a cancer scare, Foster retired for a short time before a third, equally short-lived revival in the late 80s. He was killed off, infamously, in the Civil War crossover event. A degree of embarrassment over the character’s 70s origins and the perennially fashionable  miseries of Hank Pym meant BG was doomed to remain something of a joke.

More hype, anyone?

Nova: As with Black Goliath, I was able to get in on the ground floor of Marv Wolfman’s nostalgic Silver Age tribute in 1976. However, Bucket-Head didn’t make it out of the seventies.

Ugh- Extreme  Mullet Nova from 1994. Foil-wrapped for Grunge.

Larsen 1999: short-lived

Kid (Friendly) Nova

Wolfman would go on to have far greater success with young, star-spanning heroes in the early 80s run of New Teen Titans. Nevertheless, Marvel’s Human Rocket has had numerous revivals (like his DC counterpart Firestorm) probably thanks to his appealing design. The Novice Hero trope will always appeal and as long as DC’s Green Lantern Corps are popular, Marvel’s overly-faithful homage is sure to reappear.

Coming soon: Zero Hour

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners.

The Mystery Men of September

You know the drill by now. Monthly débuts of  superheroes.

Johnny Quick:  we’ve seen the “other”  Golden Age super-speedster in a couple of reprints in the Super-Specs; generally colourful but dull stories. In All-Star Squadron, he played the same brash role that Hawkeye occupied in the Avengers. His daughter Jesse has been more interesting than her dad as both Liberty Belle and Jesse Quick.

Atom II: stylishly pencilled by Gil Kane, the Tiny Titan was the second new admission to join the JLA (after Green Arrow). Apart from the  Time Pool stories, the Atom ‘s adventures often tended to be dull tales  of espionage with an unsuccessfully campy tone. A back-up strip for most of the 70s,  The Atom was revamped in the 80s in an  interplanetary romance vein. In the 90s, Ray Palmer reverted to a teenager for Dan Jurgens’ Teen Titans revival.  Ray’s wife Jean is infamous for the murder of Sue Dibny and a spell as the new incarnation of Eclipso.

Prince Ra-Man: Mark Merlin, the occult investigator of the early 60s was reincarnated as a pseudo-Egyptian knock-off of Dr. Strange in House of Secrets . Apart from Hawkeye-as-Goliath, that was the first time I saw one character become another. Occasionally pitted against stablemate Eclipso, Ra-Man was killed off in the Crisis , although Grant Morrison gave him a cameo in his Zatanna/Seven Soldiers miniseries.

Animal Man: another Sixties  obscurity,  Buddy Baker was liberated from the ranks of The Forgotten Heroes and third place support act in Adventure Comics by Grant Morrison’s late 80s series. Aside from giving us a cheeky and very funny Glaswegian Mirror Master, Animal Man morphed from animal rights tract to a surreal voyage into metatextuality, while gaining a redundant membership of Justice League Europe. I gather the title is one of the most successful and mature comics in the New 52 but I’ve had my fill of suburban domestic horror  with Buddy at present.

Mod Wonder Woman: I actually prefer the Diana Rigg- inspired, karate-chopping boutique owner to the star-spangled bondage queen of the Forties. I’m not at all clear why she was dropped from the JLA to be replaced by an equally-powerless Black Canary all those years ago. Admittedly, it’s hard to see Diana as anything other than Mrs. Vanessa Kensington nowadays but I think the concept was a lot more relevant and empowering than all that nonsense about Kangas and loving submission.

Omac:  Kirby’s One Man Army Corps was a dystopian creation of the mid-70s, satirising capitalism and the Cold War. Thematically, Omac explored similar ideas to the much-derided Captain America a couple of years later. In the 90s, John Byrne produced a sadistic and downbeat time-travel reboot of the series. More recently, Keith Giffen depicted a Hulk-like Omac in a “balls-out” Kirby “pastiche” for “the New 52!!!”

Starfire III: I bought my one-and-only issue of the eponymous Eurasian’s sci-fantasy series in East Kilbride. Visually inspired by European comics, DC’s answer to Red Sonja had a short-lived career, being far too late for the Sword and Sorcery fad of 70s comics  and far too early for its revival in the cinema. The second Starfire was a Mike Sekowsky Supergirl villain, while the first was the young Russian superhero who was later renamed Red Star.

New Doom Patrol:  I often bemoan the Marvelization of DC but this was a late-70s favourite of mine in Secondary School. The redesign of Robotman to echo John Byrne’s Rog indicated a fairly blatant imitation of the All-New X-Men. The international Doom Patrol had only one weak link in boring ghetto-blaster Tempest. Negative Woman had an interesting visual and Cold War appeal while Celsius had leadership skills and a backstory to rival Storm. Nevertheless, the original DP were all revived in time and their 70s replacements entirely forgotten.

Arak: Roy Thomas’ early 80s DC version of Conan, this was a pseudo-historical  fantasy series set in the era of Charlemagne with a Native American hero raised by Vikings. I read three mail-order issues of this title before dropping it  but now I’d love to see it get the Showcase treatment. Arak had two descendants in the DC universe: the elemental member of the mutant family Helix and the Young All-Stars own Flying Fox.

Next: DC’s Mystery Men of September in the  90s and Noughties.

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Adult Education

Oh, the hits I’ll have now! And I was only thinking of a Hall and Oates song too!

Anyway, welcome to the gala 100th  ‘Optikon post. For the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at Giant DC comics from the 60s and 70s. This afternoon we’re focusing on DC Super Stars #3 from May 1976.

Like the previous entry, I bought this comic from Pete Root when City Centre Comics was still tucked away at the back of Forbidden Planet, in the early Noughties, I’m guessing. It’s a reprint of Adventure Comics 354 and 355 from 1967: young Jim Shooter’s “Adult Legion”  two-parter.

Along with the death of Thunderbird in X-Men #95,  the first half of this story was a comic I longed for so badly, I actually dreamed about it. I had first read about the grown-up Legion in the lettercol of Adventure 378 (my third issue) and of course I’d seen them mentioned on the cover of the Superboy Giant.  For a few years, I somehow thought this was the  cover:

In the late 70s, I scoured the Exchange and Mart for back issue mail order catalogues that might contain this Holy Grail.The real thing  finally turned up in 1982, without fanfare,   in the longboxes of a  RPG shop in Candleriggs that may have been called Second Foundation. I was an eighteen-year-old  First Year student but I  didn’t have enough money that day and cajoled the owner into keeping it aside for me.  It was a tense wait until the next day when I could collect it, take it home to Chapelton and absorb it entirely.

In fact, I’d already read the second half of the story in this comic, back in 1978:

It belonged to a kid named Robert McInally who had a few mid-Sixties comics. He was pally with my brother and when he moved out of our village, he left us some of those mags- a second copy of Hawkman’s Parasite Planet Peril ( one of my first DCs), two issues of Doom Patrol and the introduction of Starfinger.

The first half of 354 is the really fun part.  A pipe-smoking Brainiac 5 brings Supes up to speed with the grown-up Legion. Many members have left to marry and raise kids; others- some of whom we’ve never seen- have died in action.   Those names are tantalising.

The roster includes the original trio plus the sole survivor of Trom- Element Man. Also, Polar Man has finally been awarded membership with the amalgamation of the Subs. The former Lone Wolf has joined as Timber Wolf, rocking a pencil-thin ‘stache. Some of the men have receding hairlines (Rokk, Chuck and Thom) and are a bit jowly; they’re also still wearing the costumes they had as teens! Mon -El is a lone space explorer, making it safe for colonists; we glimpse a monument to an unknown Power Boy; and there’s no indication what befell Legion Leader Invisible Kid or Shooter’s own new creations Karate Kid or Princess Projectra.

One criticism that 14-year-old Jim Shooter comes in for from modern readers is that that while the retired female members are wives and mothers,  the men have all got careers ( Reservist Ultra Man is a police chief; Star Man is of course an astronomer;  Matter-Eater Man is president of his home planet and Colossal Man, with his luxuriant beard, is security chief for the UP council- “The Cosmic Directorate”). But the kid was only reflecting the adult world as he knew it.

The second half of the issue pits the team against a mystery marauder, who is carrying out a campaign of destruction against them. Superman has spent three weeks with the Legion but it’s he who figures out the hooded villain’s identity. It’s Ferro Lad’s previously-unknown twin, Douglas Nolan.

But Ferro Man is a merely a hypnotised pawn of Saturn Queen and the LSV who have added two new members: Beauty Blaze and Echo (who would, weirdly, turn up as a 5yL Legionnaire in the early 90s). Kidnapping Brainy, the LSV take on the Legionnaires one on one, They are thwarted however by the deus ex machina arrival of two armoured figures- no, not Sir Prize and Miss Terious, but 30th century versions of Mr. Mxyzptlk and Lex Luthor, who has given himself the powers of Star Boy and Light Lass.

Although Luthor and Mxy never appeared  again as Legionnaires. I don’t doubt Shooter intended to use them. One by one, Shadow Lass, Chemical King and Quantum Queen- a sore-thumb member of the Tolkinesque Wanderers- all made appearances in the late 60s; in his second Legion run, Shooter drafted Tenzil into politics;  even the beatific Reflecto finally showed up, a mere fourteen years later.

Subsequent letter columns addressed the absence of some Legion veterans: unseen Adult Legion members included  Sun Man, Chameleon Man and Colour King, the last and perhaps the most useless of the original  Subs. Ferro Man’s membership was foreshadowed in the Superboy Giant #147. A line of Brainy’s dialogue in Superman 213 indicates the White Witch might be a member and an editorial note referred to a teenage auxiliary for the adult team.  The reprinted cover of 354 in the Super Stars Giant re-colours Shadow Woman’s memorial statue to retroactively give it Talokian blue skin but at the same time kills any speculation as to why she might be white.

After the Weisinger Era ended and Boltinoff became LSH editor, the Adult Legion future seems to have been quickly negated, what with the introduction of Wildfire and the Cockrum costumes. The argument ran through the late 70s that the story painted writers into a corner and killed any drama.  As an adult himself, Shooter claimed Bridwell had outlined the fates of the surviving Legionnaires for him, especially when it came to marriages. Ultimately, Levitz and Giffen revealed the Adult Legion to be merely one of many alternate realities in the mind of a tormented Douglas Nolan. The final nail was the survival of a skin-dyed Shady on the Science Asteroid. Maybe one day Quantum Queen would survive the  break-out at the Cosmos Prison, too…

Even the Girl from UNCLE loves the Adult Legion

For my part, I was a little disappointed some of my favourites weren’t on the adult roster and I wasn’t keen on Luthor. But it was a charming if naive tale and the LSH was poorer for the editorial mandate that undid it.

So, that’s one of my favourite comics of all time, reprinted in a swingin’ Seventies style. The cover concept was given a Giffen makeover in the early 80s:

Coming Attractions: the Mystery Men of September and Tabloids & Treasuries.

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The Colossus of Crime

This morning’s post – the 99th!- focuses on Super-Team Family # 4 from  May 1976.

I bought this issue from the late Pete Root’ s City Centre Comics ( at the back of Glasgow’s Forbidden Planet) at some point in the late 90s/early 2000s. The shop is now based in Ruthven Lane, opposite Byres Road underground station. It’s well worth a browse for 60s and 70s comics. But I do miss the days when back issues and modern comics were on sale in the same shop.

Anyway, Super-Team Family Giant was, for most of its run, a mix of reprints and new material. This issue’s headliner is that rarest of beasts: a complete JSA adventure, The Revenge of Solomon Grundy. The cover is a visceral Forties pastiche by Conan‘s Ernie Chan.

The swampland hybrid of zombie and Frankenstein’s monster crosses the United States on a mission to crush his enemy Green Lantern. The JSA attempt to end his rampage, thinking initially that they are avenging GL’s death at Grundy’s hands.

Unlike JLA adventures, where the members team up in pairs or trios, the JSA encounter Grundy in a series of individual chapters. Green Lantern ,of course, never fell victim to Grundy in the first chapter; instead he was recruited by his unpopular comedy sidekick Doiby Dickles (or Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, as he’s now known). GL does take a battering from the Ghastly Giant in the State Park but Doc Mid-Nite is on hand to save him with his medical skills.

Each of the chapters has a little mini-drama unrelated to the Grundy rampage. The best of these is Kubert’s five-page Hawkman vignette about feuding father -and -son newspapermen.The Atom’s chapter centres on a washed-up gang boss. Dr. Mid-Nite’s chapter features some kids playing marbles while Johnny Thunder’s segment is an unfunny skit where he’s played by two gang molls.

Unfairly, Wonder Woman never gets to take on the Dreadful Destroyer. She could have used her mental radio gimmick to track him down but Alan Scott does that instead with his engineering talents.

Johnny Thunder, who seems like a real simpleton here and yet more “comedy relief”, gives GL the idea to imprison Grundy on the moon. The creature eventually returns in the 1960s for a Brave and Bold battle with Hourman and Dr. Fate.

I wonder if the story inspired the early clashes between the Avengers and the Hulk?  The Grundy/GL and Hawkman sections are the best part of the tale. The rest of the material is weak and a bit silly but without it, James Robinson would have no plot for his current Earth-2 series.

The Menace of the Moon Man: a Dick Sprang World’s Finest story from December 1958. The Moon Man resembles Dr.Mid-Nite but his gimmick recalls Eclipso.  Pilot Rogers undertakes a manned space flight but exposure to a Kryptonite-flavoured comet gives him magnetic abilities and a split personality. Rogers agonizes over his criminal persona but is abducted by crooks when on the verge of turning himself in.

This is a cracking late 50s story, utilising sci-fi elements in an unusually realistic way (for a WF tale!). The tormented Moon Man is almost a prototype Marvel hero, combining elements of the FF and the Hulk.

In May ’76, I was coming to the end of my first year at Strathaven Academy. 12-year-old  me was pretty happy then: I had a sizeable group of friends in school and we stuck together for about six years ; my dad was still managing the TSB in the town and my mum was working in the typing pool at the EK police office. I didn’t buy many DC comics at that point. Marvel’s Headshop Kozmic output was far more beguiling:

Omega the Unknown was an unsettling mix of sci-fi and social realism. I didn’t glom onto it like I did Gerber’s Defenders though. That Kirby Invaders cover is beautifully inked ( if only Miss America had her brunette hair and glasses!)

Even the British weeklies were still throwing new concepts at their UK audience:

Those Tom Sutton “Future History Chronicles” stories were breathtaking.

Next: the 100th ‘Optkon post!

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Must Pretend Timidity!

This afternoon’s post revisits two issues of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes from 1975.

I associate SLSH 207 with Ayr Bus Station’s  waiting room- an interior clad, like many 70s public spaces, in brown wood panelling. My first issue of Adventure Comics was bought here in the late 60s, as were copies of Astonishing Tales, Thor and on the day in question, the return of Hawkman to the JLA:

Maybe Yellowjacket would have been happier in the JLA?

Let’s say for the sake of it that it was a Sunday during the Easter holidays and if it wasn’t too grey a day, we might have stopped for an ice cream cone at Renaldo’s.

Aside from the angular  figures of Mike Grell (check out the slightly-off Dutch Tilt of the cover!) , I was enthralled by this issue as an eleven-year-old because it featured two Legion villains I’d read about in lettercols.

The Rookie Who Betrayed the Legion features Universo. Bald, bearded and be-flared, the master hypnotist never actually speaks in this story -apart from when Chameleon Boy is impersonating him. The plot revolves around a rookie Science Police officer who owes his life to the extravagantly-named Argus Oranx III ( maybe officer Dvron reminded Universo of his own son, scientist Rond Vidar? )

This story is well-known since artist Grell claimed he intended to represent black Americans through the rookie. But he was vetoed because the character’s motives seem underhand, initially. However, Grell refers to the character as “Soljer” in interviews- the title of the resurrected  warrior in Jim Shooter’s Soljer’s Private War. (SLSH 210)   “Comic Book Legends Revealed” and other sites suggest that Grell misremembered and conflated Soljer with Dvron.

Aside from the final panel, I can’t really see the alleged  “blackness” of the character. However, I can with Soljer and my suspicion that fans have employed logic to wrongly correct Grell’s error. He may very well have had liberal values when it came to race but he didn’t have any ethical struggle when dressing female characters like Night Girl and Laurel Kent in skimpy stripper outfits.

I wouldn’t see Universo again until the Giant-sized era of 1977-78 when he made two appearances- one in a reprint ( but what a reprint!) and one as an illusory figure in Jeckie’s subconscious mind.

The back-up is Lightning Lad’s Day of Dread:  a comment posted on “Comic Book Legends” revealed suggest this strip replaced a “pornographic” Duo Damsel story. I wonder if this is another just another seedy urban myth; arising from the salacious “threesome” imagery adult fans bring to the marriage of Chuck and Luornu?

In any case, I “met” Lightning Lord here. Reading the story again, I realised it gets some essential facts wrong. Garth and Mekt aren’t twins but Garth and Ayla are. Mekt wasn’t born with white hair- it was a result of combat with Garth in ’71. It also seems unlikely that Garth and Ayla could have concealed the deaths of their parents from telepathic Saturn Girl.

The next issue blurb is electrifying: ” The ultimate battle is already brewing- the Legion of Super-Heroes vs. the Legion of Super-Villains! yes, finally it’s an all -out war that’s been simmering for years, which is triggered off in the very next issue! The Beginning…” Well, that sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

Of course, I don’t see the next issue for five years.

The letters page, Super-Talk,  features an extensive Dept. of New Heroes and Heroines, which we formerly knew and loved as Bits of Legionnaire Business. Quantum Queen is mentioned  ( Still waiting, over 35 years later…);  Power Boy ( as a black hero- a new black hero is being developed, we’re told: that will be Tyroc, a year later); Iron Devil, Bluejay Screamer and Invisible Kid as a futuristic Spectre ( I like that idea!); and the strangest and boldest suggestions: empathic healers Nears and Moldok; ,and Shandra W’thirru an energy-draining werewolf.  What a fantastic concept! The creativity and devotion of  Legion fans is inspiring.

As I said, it wasn’t until I discovered mail order comics in the Exchange and Mart that I got a hold of a copy of SLSH #208. This was in the late autumn of 1980. I was in my final year at Hamilton Grammar School; I disliked it somewhat less intensely than the previous year but  a succession of head colds was a good excuse to take plenty of time off.  I recall reading this one to death in my parents’ ” good room”,  where I was sleeping so my brother wouldn’t catch my germs.Radio hits of the time included Kate Bush’s morbid waltz Army Dreamers, Diana Ross’s glossy, funky My Old Piano and Ottawan’s Eurotrashy D.I.S.C.O.

Vengeance of the Super-Villains:  the splash page shows the LSV gleefully watching a model LSH headquarters blow up: a rehearsal for their scheme to kill Henry Kissinger- er, Larx Kenrik. It was unusual for DC to caricature real public figures but Grell would do it again with Bruce Lee in #210.

The story proper begins with the parents of Ultra Boy and Superboy betraying their sons. The dialogue for Martha and Jonathan is darkly comic and creepy. Grell excels at selling the villainy of the “Villainaires” ( who sound like a doo-wop vocal group). They slouch or brood in their secret hq; as young and attractive as the Legionnaires, their costumes  have darker, more sinister colour schemes ( apart from Sun Emperor and the gaudy Chameleon Chief). As a 17-year-old, however, I thought Radiation Roy was the most ludicrous name for a villain I had ever heard.

Unfortunately, the LSV are dispatched in one page although this is made up for somewhat by a  feature on the Legion of Substitute Heroes. Nonetheless, it’s hardly the “all-out war” we were expecting. Oddly, the LSV wouldn’t return for nearly a decade. Chemical King also makes a cameo appearance- he will only appear in one more story as an active member before his death. Next to Dream Girl, he’s the most neglected member in the Grell Era.

Lana Lang’s Superboy Identity Detection Kit: Whew! Any more words you’d like to include in the title, Jerry Siegel? An old-fashioned and frivolous short from 1961. When Lana endangers Superboy’s secret identity, her dad punishes her, removing her magazines and lps AND banning pie. It’s bad  enough to be denied your Ricky Nelson and Bobby Vee records but pie?!

Chameleon Boy is recruited to help thwart Lana’s snooping. He refers to the delightful  idea of  writing the whole thing up in an article  for the Super- Heroes Club Newspaper. Levitz, who writes for it now? I bet it’s Chemical Kid and that it’s really snarky.

The Evil Hand of the Luck Lords: After a flight through the unlucky Gorilla Nebula and Proty’s transformation into a Durlan jinx-stone, the Legion’s unlucky streak goes into overdrive. However, it turns out to be a hoax perpetrated by some alien crooks. It was clever to link the tragedies in the 1965-66 stories together. But what was expelled Legionnaire and Sub Star Boy even doing at HQ?  Even the Super-Pets get in on the act in this Hamilton/Swan saga.

Rather less cleverly, the “real”Luck Lords appeared in the late 80s:  monocular cosmic entities with a rather Marvel-ous  hand in Lightning Lad’s destiny.

Super-Talk: Editor Boltinoff pleads “Come on fellers, it’s been sometime since Cockrum was the Legion’s caretaker, so can’t we put his name in mothballs and forget about him?” Ow. Next month’s Giant-Sized X-Men #1 wasn’t easily forgiven, apparently.

This giant is one of my favourite issues from Mike Grell’s tenure. Although the stories aren’t terrifically well-written, they’re reminders of my late adolescence, a time when back issues were hard-won prizes.

Next: Born on a Monday: my 99th post!

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Men Don’t Make Passes…

The early years of  Comics’ Bronze Age was an exciting and formative time for me as an occasional reader of DC comics.  I was a Marvel fan primarily but I’d followed Kirby’s violent and scary Fourth World  tetralogy and was sampling the revamped Superman stable. This morning’s post feature no DC Giant comics, per se, but looks at the period when World’s Finest, like other DC books in 197-1972, expanded its page count to carry Golden Age reprints.

A feature cleverly named “Bureau of Missing Heroes/Villains” presented characters from the Forties who hadn’t been reintroduced in the Schwartz/Fox titles of the Sixties, like Tarantula or Tweededum and Dee. Also, the traditional World’s Finest team of Superman, Batman and Robin had been ousted and WF was a Superman team-up book, like DC Comics Presents in the late 70s and early 80s.

One of my favourite, star-spanning Neal Adams covers

This issue was, yet again, bought for me as an eight-year-old during my stay in Stonehouse Hospital. It was only for  a week in late May, 1972, but my mum and dad thoughtfully brought me a couple of comics from the hospital cafeteria every day.

Peril of the Planet-Smashers teams Superman with the god-like Dr. Fate against a trio of alien lamas who want to destroy the Earth in their quest for enlightenment. I’ve been critical of  Len Wein’s penchant for Silver Age nostalgia but he crafts “plain vanilla” comics superbly. He’s the only real equal to Roy Thomas in DC’s Seventies stable.

Wein not only throws in a cameo for Zatanna– the second time I’d “met” the Maid of Magic- he’s also thoroughly researched Fate, mentioning1940s enemy Mayoor and depicting the Wonder Wizard’s civilian occupation as a surgeon. I think this is the only time I’ve seen Kent Nelson in that role but it’s one that was authentically “Golden Age”. The enigmatic Dr. Fate has a real impact in this Dillin/Giella production, as he would in Wein’s JLA/JSA stories. If it wouldn’t have damaged the Bronze Age Justice Society irreparably, Dr. Fate would have made a legendary Leaguer.

The Inside Story of Robotman: my introduction to the Golden Age Mechanized Marvel. This is a murky, atmospheric short; other Robotman stories are bright, colourful adventures with dull plots. But I still prefer the manic Cliff Steele of the Doom Patrol.

The Spectacular Crimes: the only story I’ve ever read about the Ghost Patrol: three  spectral pilots with shape-changing powers. Think Deadman crossed with Elongated Man. This is a slight, breezy adventure by Infantino.

The WF team are reunited (sans Teen Wonder) for issue 211:

Another striking (if misleading) Adams cover. V much like the figures bookending the logo.

Fugitive From the Stars: a typical preachy, heavy-handed effort by the overrated Denny O’Neil. Militaristic aliens come to Earth to retrieve a beautiful female criminal who is really a peace protester.  Batman goes to Kandor to retrieve her while Superman engages the warlike aliens.

The story opens with a lyric from  Bob Dylan’s 1965 song “Desolation Row” -it feels both a self-conscious gesture and at the same time, really unhip, given it’s seven years old already. The tough guy dialogue is also grating: ” While you were serenading yourself with lip music, I tunneled beneath you!”  However, the World’s Finest team work well together, even if The Batman has the lion’s share of the limelight.

Supergirl has a brief cameo where she’s either a tiny figure or her back is turned to the “camera”; given the scarcity of her appearances in Dillin’s JLA, I wonder if he simply disliked drawing her? The art has a hyper-realistic feel that lifts the reheated Star Trek plot.

The Harlequin: this reprint is one of my favourites, introducing the Golden Age  Green Lantern‘s “loving enemy”, the Harlequin.  Like Timely’s Miss America, the Harlequin wears glasses but her “mocking, gleaming spectacles” give her hypnotic powers. Armed also with a battering-ram mandolin, secretary Molly Maynne attempts to win the interest of the superhero she feels is her “match”.

Molly is a victim of male prejudice and thwarted romantically because of her athleticism. Aside from her passionate, reckless personality, we can also assume she has the technical skills to create her gimmicks.  Her costumed identity is initially a radio drama character. She then comes to life in a cinematic sequence when the Harlequin figure on Molly’s calendar crashes through a window.  Despite a dramatic climax with an explosion in a department store, Molly Maynne lives to fight another day. She has a heroic streak, ultimately aiding the JSA against the Justice Society but will only snare her man many decades in the future.

In the 70s, the Harlequin was an alternate identity for Bob Rozakis’ campy Joker’s Daughter and then a murderous villainess in late 80s Infinity Inc. Incidentally, after all the brouhaha about Earth-2‘s gay Alan Scott, it’s worth noting that Roy Thomas had toyed with introducing a gay male Harlequin (possibly also the stand-up comedian character mentioned in Amazing  Heroes?)

But with her ability to control men, her weakness for punning and her habit of ending up behind bars, Molly Maynne reminds me of another tricky red-head:  Doctor Who’s old lady, Professor River Song!

The 52- page era of DC ended because sales had declined,  by comparison with Marvel and the experiment rebounded, leaving the House of Ideas as top dog for years. As we’ve seen, however, the Golden Age reprints became the selling point of the Super-Spectacular line.  Our next post will check out the collapse of the Super-Spec era as we revisit 1975, stopping off in 1980…

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