This morning’s post features the first and earliest DC tabloid in my collection: Limited Collectors’ Edition 39 Secret Origins Super-Villains ( note: no “0f”. Tsk.) This selection of reprints recalls the Wanted Specials and the short-lived series of the early Seventies.
This is a recent acquisition from ebay, last year. Although Marvel’s Treasuries were on sale in West Central Scotland in the Bronze Age- even Howard the Duck and Cap’s Bicentennial Battles– I never saw the DC tabloids in any shops. Maybe because Marvel UK weeklies had a more prominent market presence? This was the era of The Titans and Stan’n’ Herb in London, after all.
This tabloid from Oct-Nov 1975 was contemporary with the final Kirby books for National Periodical Publications- Kamandi, Omac, Justice Inc. and Sandman- and with the short-lived “adventure” line: Stalker, Claw, Beowulf, etc. At Marvel, meanwhile, The Champions and the Inhumans were launched as solo titles.
It feels like a fallow period for both companies: Marvels’ last great Head Shoppe Kozmic saga of the 70s, Starlin’s Warlock is underway; the only other ground-breaking series is the Bond movie pastiche of Moench and Gulacy’s cinematic Master of Kung Fu. DC’s great Kirby initiative is sputtering to a sad conclusion and it seems the success of the US Savage Sword of Conan has led to a belated and futile attempt to jump on the Sword and Sorcery bandwagon. Since the end of the Relevancy Era, aside from a glut of ghost stories, DC’s USP has been nostalgia and reprints from the Golden Age of comics.
And so, Secret Origins Super -Villains. The comic has a more child-friendly feel than a Marvel Treasury in part due to the flimsiness of the stapling (where Marvel’s books have a spine). Also, the Table-Top Diorama would require cutting up the back cover. Holy Mom’s Basement, Batman! But what of the contents?
The Man Behind the Red Hood: of course, these days Red Hood (Jason Todd) is a major player in the Bat-mythos; this is the first appearance of the character. Bat-tales from the 50s are always dependable reads and this is no exception as the Caped Crusader teaches a college criminology course. His students, including a gangster’s repentant son and a Hawaiian police trainee, have to solve a ten-year-old Bat-case. We’re so accustomed to the Joker as an unstoppable avatar of death that it’s strange to see him overcome by youthful impersonator, “Farmerboy” Benson. With its detection, colourful cast and giant Mayan statue, this is the most satisfying story in the collection.
How Luthor Met Superboy: a surprisingly modern fable about a celebrity stalker: adulation turns to hatred as brilliant young Luthor becomes obsessed with the mistaken idea that Superboy is jealous of him. Echoes of this complex are present in the FF’s Doom-Reed relationship. Lex’s sophisticated motives are depicted in a clean if rather staid style by Al Plastino. The rather priggish Superboy observes: ” It’s unfortunate Luthor’s father, a travelling salesman, is rarely home. His son needs a father’s guidance.”
The Coldest Man on Earth: I had previously read this story in a 1980s issue of Egmont’s b/w reprint title, The Superheroes ( not to be confused with the Marvel UK Surfer/X-Men weekly of the same name). At this stage, Cold’s motivation hasn’t been established; what makes him different from Mr. Freeze or the Icicle is his skirt-chasing masher personality. This is a sedate, polite science -crook short from the 50s. Infantino’s art is still quite naturalistic at this stage.
The story is interrupted by a centre spread of a Rogue’s Gallery (sic) of Super-Villains including the Marvel family’s foes; the Flash’s Rogues; a couple of Superman’s pests and the Batman’s arch-enemies. The text page key reminds me of the lamented Super-Specs.
The Origin of Sivana: a whimsical Captain Marvel tale that travels from Chinatown to the jungles of Central America. It’s almost a parody of the pulps with Sivana’s wildly racist impersonation of “wizened Celestial” Dr. Footu Yu (complete with “velly funny Chinee” font) Then there are the ubermenschen Beautia and Magnificus and the giant, frog-warriors of Venus. It reads as very tongue-in-cheek but it’s really just a curiosity.
The Origin of Terra-Man: a second entry for Superman. An evil Clint Eastwood from space, Toby Manning made his début in Superman 249 in 1972. I got the original one Thursday in a shop in Calderwood, East Kilbride. (I think it was a Thursday because I’m convinced that’s when Lost in Space season 3 was repeated.) This is a beautiful Dick Dillin/Neal Adams collaboration but even in 1975, Terra-man was a C-list villain.
The inside back cover features mini-bios of the Cheetah and Sinestro, either of whom seems more deserving than Terra-Man but I suppose it was a page-count issue. The Shadow Thief and Chronos represent second-stringers Hawkman and Atom.
All in all, this is a rather juvenile package compared to, say, the Avengers or Dr. Strange Treasuries. I wasn’t crazy about this issue and could take or leave it, aside from the Joker story.
Coming soon: more Oriental wisdom with the Savage Fists of Kung Fu.
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