True Detective

I have about a dozen more Treasuries and Tabloids to revisit on the ‘optikon in 2013 . This morning’s post, however, returns to DC’s Super-Spectacular series with a pre-Xmas ebay purchase:  Detective Comics 441 from July 1974.  For those with orderly minds, this entry fits immediately before the Amazo/JLA issue.


Judgement Day: a moody tale from Goodwin and Chaykin. The dread Batman has to rescue Robin the Teen Wonder from  the desolate  Seapsray Inn. This resort was  formerly a front for  heroin smuggling; now it has been turned into a deathtrap by the Judge, a hooded inquisitor who blames Batman for his daughter’s blindness.

It stretches credulity that Robin, with all his experience, should be so easily abducted and the blind girl’s death off-panel is an anticlimax.  Chaykin’s Film Noir art is highly atmospheric however- the Batman logo is a dripping grafitto on an alley wall. The story also introduces Harvey Bullock, the corpulent rogue cop who became a comedic character in the 90s animated series. Interestingly, this year’s Batman Earth-One graphic novel transformed Bullock into a handsome reality tv star.

Plastic Man: This is the fourth Golden Age Plas story I’ve read and the most entertaining  It’s a 1946 strip in which the flexible funster tries to solve the murder of columnist Snoopy Hawks. Jack Cole’s witty, cartoony style is very appealing .

The Case of the Prophetic Pictures:  A spooky serial murderer tale of Batman and Robin from 1940. Bruce Wayne, the effete playboy, becomes embroiled in a spate of killings linked to portraits by a fashionable artist. The killer wears a skull mask and a beret! This is a Finger/Kane/Robinson pulp classic.

Holocaust, God of Destruction: a pretty Kurt Schaffenberger story from 1948  in which Fawcett’s Master of White Magic must capture a three-headed god. I was reminded of the JLA story “Fiend with Five Faces” from the summer of 1978.

Helmet_of_Fate_Ibis_the_Invincible 07

Horus 1963

Ibis is basically Sargon the Sorceror in a red turban and blue cloak. Seven years ago, however, he received a makeover for a new incarnation and now he looks like Horus from Alan Moore’s 1963 project. One of these days, I need to blog about this largely-overlooked Sixties-Marvel pastiche…

The Two Faces of Doom!: this 1964 Eclipso tale, lettered and drawn by Alex Toth, is gorgeous. Eclipso has been such a world-shaking menace in the Nineties and Noughties, it’s striking to see him in a self-contained story. Here, the Divided Man pretends to be a hero in order to steal magnetic powers from a meteoric energy worm. Bob Haney- ’nuff said!

Alias the Spider: this is the first and only time I’ve seen this 1942  Quality Comics  strip. It’s attractively drawn by Paul Gustavson.  The Spider is a bare-legged archer with a chauffeur sidekick, investigating a bizarre killer: a “milquetoast” character with one brawny, overdeveloped arm. James Robinson retroactively made the Spider a  crook and a murderer posing as a hero in the first Shade miniseries of the late 90s.


The Carbon Copy Crimes:  a 1946 sequel to the “Prophetic Pictures” adventure. The murders are re-enacted by a psychologist as an experiment to break Batman. The insistence that the original case literally took place six years earlier is problematic however.  Even if Robin were, say, twelve years old in ” Prophetic Pictures” , he’d now be eighteen, which seems improbable. It’s a curiosity of a story but a faintly disappointing one.

Cathedral Perilous: this is another chapter in the Simonson/Goodwin Manhunter serial. A family of US tourists are visting a cathdral in Istanbul where Manhunter and Christine are battling the Council’s clone warriors. A kid-in a cowboy outfit- witnesses the conflict while his parents remain oblivious. There isn’t enough Manhunter for my liking since he takes second place to this running gag.

Despite an odd selection of reprints ( what are an Egyptian sorceror and a schizo super-villain doing in Detective Comics?)  this is an entertaining comic with striking art of both the vintage and modern varieties.

Coming soon: 2013! King Kirby!! Superman vs. Spider-Man!!!

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

Tinsel and Lights

Last time,  we looked at the third and final Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag from 1976. But what if there had existed one last Christmas Treasury Edition, to celebrate the festive season in 1977? It might have looked something like this:

Back Issue 44 33

You’ll have to imagine the snowflakes, the Christmas lights and Ol’ Greenskin’s Santa hat for yourself but this is the line-up I’d assemble for this fictional Treasury. As for the stories themselves:

Spidey stegron

This is a bit of a cheat because this Wein/Andru Spider-Man collaboration had actually been published the previous Christmas and I think it unlikely that it would be reprinted eight or nine months later! However, sometimes, you have to cheat in this game. Stegron the Dinosaur Man is of course the leapin’ Lizard turned up to eleven; plus, he has one of those quintessential Bronze Age names ( cf. Firestorm, the Nuclear Man; Steel, the Indestructible Man; Drom, the Backwards Man

Iron Fist Valley

Iron Fist lost his book in 1977, despite groundbreaking work by the team of Claremont and Byrne. I’ve included the almost-self-contained iron Fist #2 because it elaborates on the origin of the Living Weapon. This rather downbeat tale not only introduced a half-sister for Danny, the enigmatic Miranda; it also revealed the sci-fi origins of the mystic city of K’un-L’un.

Bear God Sonja

Red Sonja was probably Marvel’s most popular solo heroine in 1977.  I chose this done-in-one largely for its seasonal downpour and because I’m not as familiar with it as the other Jones/ Thorne stories.  Marvel’s sword and sorcery line was largely undone, at least in the colour comics, by the space opera of Star Wars. The b/w  Savage Sword of Conan of course, carried on regardless  for over another decade.  Meanwhile, DC’s Warlord thrived. Comics!

Ms Marvel Vision

Next, another female star and one who had made her début in 1977. It’s hard to find a solo story from Ms. Marvel‘s original run ( which is the reason I nixed the Claremont/Cockrum  X-Men vs. Sentinels trilogy). I chose this one because I  feel it represents the end of  the Vision’s  reign as a fan-favourite. His whole arc during 1975-76 had been “What if Mr. Spock got married?”  With the departure of Steve Englehart, we never really got to see that arc play out and Vizh would soon be eclipsed by Wolverine as the major non-Lee/Kirby/Ditko draw at Marvel.

incredible hulk #189 mole man

My final selection is a one-off Wein/Trimpe story which I picked largely because the helpless Siberian girl is wearing a Santa-style outfit! However, the Mole Man is the oldest villain in the Marvel Universe and his Gollum-like qualities of pity and repulsion make him an effective contrast to Ol’ Jade-Jaws.

So: what do you think? Would this Treasury have had pride of place in your Yuletude collection or  would you have spent your shekels on Dc’s Rudolph instead?

Next time, we’ll be looking at a Xmas addition to my Super-Spectacular collection: Detective Comics 441!

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners.

The Old Ones Are the Best

This morning’s post features Marvel’s 1976 Giant Superhero Holiday Grab Bag, the third and final Christmas collection. Yet again, this wasn’t a comic I bought back then: my copy was given to me by my friend Alex Harvey about a decade ago.

1976 Grab bag

I think there are two striking things about this Treasury. Firstly, the Gil Kane/Joe Sinott front cover is a better design than that of previous years. It also seems less kiddie-oriented than 1975.  Secondly, you can see why Gerry Conway was such a hot property, having flitted from DC to Marvel and back, shaking up both companies in the process. His writing is probably at its strongest in the examples reprinted here.

‘Tis the Season: Roger Stern and George Tuska provide a charming Yuletide framing sequence for the stories reprinted here. This is the first time this device has been used in a Treasury. It opens with a charity snowball fight between the FF and the Avengers where Spider-Man plays a prank on the Thing, ushering in…

As Those Who Will Not See: a Conway/Kane tale from the early days of Marvel Team-Up, this one presents the Secret Origin of Alicia Masters. Conway takes B-list FF foe the Puppet Master and creates a thoroughly believable character driven by guilt and fear, telling the story of  murderous jealousy that caused the girl’s blindness.

There’s a jarring note of animosity between Petey and Ben Grimm, his co-star here but Conway deftly mirrors their partnership with that of the Puppet Master and the Mad Thinker with its “bland betrayals and symbols of self-contempt”. It’s quite a sophisticated Bronze Age tale although not ostensibly festive.

Avengers 151 roster

The Avengers line-up in the framing sequence is the classic Englehart / Conway team: Cap, Iron Man and the two married couples , plus the Beast. The Wasp is wearing a fur-trimmed costume to the snowball fight, previously seen in…

Even An Android Can Cry: the most dynamic story in the Treasury is the Secret Origin of the Vision. It opens and closes with two legendary images: the Black Panther, prowling on a rooftop and, of course, the tearful synthezoid. There’s a certain irony since the Vision will immediately supplant T’Challa as the Assemblers’ resident brooding man of mystery.

Buscema draws everyone who was ever an Avenger ( except the Swordsman!) while also portraying the body language  of the  quintessential Hawkeye: a hero both loyal and yet a bit smug. Through the device of Reed Richards-stand in , Hank Pym, Thomas deftly connects Ultron with Wonder Man.  Roy the Boy creates a trope of interlinking origins that will  be employed most enthusiastically by Englehart in the 70s.

The Scarlet Witch comments to her android husband that, as a child, she believed  shooting stars were falling angels. Cue…

He Who Strikes the Silver Surfer: a Marie Severin Hulk story in which Stan’s favourite star-spanning messiah encounters Ol’ Greenskin for the first time. Ironically, the Surfer is about to permanently cure Bruce Banner with his Power Cosmic when the Hulk misinterprets his actions for a sneak attack. For me, this is the weakest story in the collection and while prettily drawn, a little staid and predictable .  I think the Vision usurped the Surfer’s role as outcast/philosopher and ran with it in the 70s without the awkward “Space Jesus” notes of Stan’s scripting.

The lonesome Hulk, celebrating Xmas with the Defenders, receives a gift of slippers from Nighthawk. It seems the neurotic rich kid has no imagination, in addition to being a tightwad. Meanwhile Nelson and Murdock are toasting their new storefront law practice, recalling…

Once Upon a Time- The Ox: a stylish and moody Conway/Colan tale of Daredevil. The Black Widow has been framed for murder thanks to the machinations of Mr. Kline ( a time-travelling android assassin. Don’t ask.) Matt and Karen Page  break their engagement due to the Sightless Swashbuckler’s burgeoning relationship with Madame Natasha. The action comes courtesy of the Ox, the old Ditko thug who was a victim of a personality-swap experiment years previously.

The Ox is a tedious C-list villain who undergoes a bizarre transformation in this story- effectively becoming a purple Hulk thanks to that venerable Marvel McGuffin, radiation. Conway wrings some pathos out of the Ox but he’s far better with the soap opera/romance elements of the story. It also ends with a snowfall which leads into…


a vignette with the Champions, although Angel isn’t sporting his 70s bare-chested/headband outfit. This Treasury reminds me that, while DC was struggling in the Bicentennial year with kitschy kids tv titles and Marvel rip-offs, the House of Ideas was mass-producing team books.  The Invaders, Inhumans and the X-Men are not represented here but the ensemble cast was very much the flavour of the month.

I liked this collection more than 1975. Although it doesn’t have the allure of the first Christmas Treasury- and nor does it have any Kirby or Ditko art- it’s a great primer for the greats of the Bronze and Silver Ages.

Next time, I’ll be speculating on what the contents of a 1977 Grab Bag might have been. Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners.

A Scrap of Gold or Silver

After the awful, shocking events in the US yesterday,  it seems a little asinine to post about fantasy violence. But the spirit of the season is peace, after all.

1975 Grab bag

Today’s post concerns 1975’s Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag. Again, this was a comic that I bought on ebay and added to my collection in the last couple of years. The whimsical front cover implies ( perhaps misleadingly)  that the contents are entirely suitable for a tot resembling the US Dennis the Menace. The back cover was reprinted for seasonal copies of Marvel UK’s black-and white weeklies.

1975 Grab bag back cover

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: I had read almost all the material in this treasury before but this Nick Fury story was the only one I’d read in the original US edition. It had been part of my cousin Jim’s collection which was passed down to me, circa1971

Gary Friedrich and Frank Springer produce a swingin’ super-spy story for the late Sixties with references to Sinatra and daiquiris. Fury dispatches some muggers (who flee with a jarring cry of “Let’s shag!” Really?  Did hipsters say that, when they meant “run away”?) The SHIELD boss is about to spend Xmas Eve in the arms of old flame Laura when he gets a call that the Hate-Monger ( presumably not Adolf Hitler, killed in the FF) is threatening the world with germ warfare from his satellite. Essentially, this is the plot of Moonraker but with a twist. Fury, it is implied, is saved from death in space by Santa! Probably my favourite story here -it looks classy, it’s a bit sexy and very widescreen, although a double-page spread of the Hate-Monger in his lair is halved.

Spidey Goes Mad!: a gorgeous Lee/Ditko collaboration.  Spidey ends up on the psychiatrist’s couch when the illusionist Mysterio poses as a European headshrinker. The villain has an incredibly elaborate plan but one that hinges on his unlikely knowledge that the web-spinner is neurotic to begin with. It struck me that the Romita version of Puny Parker was here in essence – Petey is quite the pretty boy already. There are plenty of soap opera moments but it seems strange, when you have a villain with an appearance as outré as Mysterio, to show him in civilian disguise. This episode is not a great favourite of mine but the plot would work as a Spidey movie. There is no Xmas connection at all.

Jingle Bombs!: An Englehart/ Tuska production, this is a Yuletide story but a bizarre and ludicrous one: Hero for Hire Luke Cage plays out a bonkers version of A Christmas Carol. He encounters a terrorist who disguises himself as a Victorian Fusilier; a paraplegic Viet Nam vet; and a laser-wielding security officer from the exotic future of 1984. Held hostage by the schizo villain, Cage learns he has an atomic bomb. The plot is eventually foiled when a burglar falls down the chimney. The entire ridiculous premise is also peppered with Cage’s oddball ghetto-slang and the steel-skinned Blaxplotation star is a cheery, grinning figure throughout. Although Englehart’s plot is no more silly than the Spidey story, its achingly ” relevant” ambition makes it toe-curling.

Heaven is a Very Small Place:  a beautifully-drawn Thomas/Trimpe/Severin short story. The Hulk interacts with the eerie mirage of a classic American small town. The community is so idyllic that the Emerald One declares ” Hulk will protect it–stand guard over it.”  He also encounters a ghostly child in a wheelchair, which is a saccharine moment that suggests the whole episode is a delusion. Like an episode of the Twilight Zone, this vignette wrings pathos from Ol’ Greenskin but it’s hardly very Xmas-sy

Eternity! Eternity! an hallucinatory fantasy from Thomas and Colan, this story features Dr. Strange in his late Sixties super-hero phase, when he resembled the Golden Age Vision. I always liked the bald, blue-skinned Sorcerer Supreme and here, he spends New Year’s Eve in Times Square with the stunning Clea. The entity known as Nightmare unleashes dinosaurs and Vikings on NYC  ( a typical Thomas gimmick) and the big reveal is that Eternity, the embodiment of the universe, is his prisoner. Frustratingly, it’s only one part of a three-part story but it is a moody piece of Marvel’s late Sixties psychedelia. Despite its brevity, probably my second-favourite story in the Treasury.

Some memorable art but on the other hand, forgettable stories. Maybe it’s just the context – coming to it  nearly forty year later- but I don’t think it has quite the appeal of the first Grab-Bag.  Prophetically, it also looks like a gathering of Brian Bendis’ New Avengers.

Next:  Marvel’s Yuletide Gift of the Bicentennial Year

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

Let Nothing You Dismay

Today’s post features  the  Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag, the second Marvel Treasury I ever bought. Billed as a Marvel Treasury Special, I got this one in Glasgow in 1974.

Grab bag 1974

It was rare for  Xmas comic purchases to be in synch with the festive season but I can recall Christmas tree lights in evening windows. The newsagent was somewhere  in Tollcross or Shettleston, where on rare occasions, my dad would buy feed for his racing pigeons. I got the Treasury at the same time as this beauty:


A morbid tale of the death of the rather bland but long-serving Invisible Kid, this was also the first full-length Mike Grell LSH story and I was hooked by his sexy, attenuated figure work.

I had read half the contents of the Treasury before but as the first of an annual series and the only one I actually associate with the holiday season, it has a special resonance.

Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas:  the first issue of Marvel Team-Up, which was Marvel’s answer to Brave and the Bold. The first couple of years featured team-ups for Spidey and the Human Torch and here, Petey and Johnny pursue the granular villain Sandman.  This member of  the Frightful Four had also been a semi-regular opponent in Thomas’ Hulk stories. Here, Roy the Boy reveals Flint Marko’s real name during a Xmas visit to his invalid mother.

Was Thomas going through divorce at this time? His Johnny Storm is  spurned and moody. Ross Andru’s characters  however are quirky but appealing.  This is also the first appearance of Misty Knight, the bionic ex-cop from Iron Fist- although she is unnamed in this story. It’s interesting that this 1972 story was so quickly reprinted; I assume MTU was in great demand.

In Mortal Combat with Sub-Mariner: a gorgeous 1965 Stan Lee/Wally Wood tale. It opens in the fairytale aquatic world of Atlantis, which is then cleverly contrasted with Namor’s brushes with the NYC legal system.  Matt Murdock is hired to represent the Sub-Mariner in court, which, of course, leads to an epic battle between Daredevil and Namor.  A surprisingly complex and well-written adventure , this is  also the first appearance of DD’s iconic red costume.

…And to All a Good Night: a 1970 Black Widow story from her solo series in Amazing Adventures. It’s a moody Thomas/Colan vignette in which Natasha discovers the  criminal activities of the Astrologer . A suicidal teenage drifter sacrifices himself to save her. This downbeat tale seems designed to establish the Widow’s Curse: the theme that the men in Madame Natasha’s life are somehow destroyed by her. This is a melodramatic angle that has largely been forgotten. This  strip is more mature in tone than the other stories in the Treasury, as suggested by the stunning Widow’s shower scene.

The Hulk vs. The Thing: I confess I was originally underwhelmed by this 1964 Lee/Kirby two-parter when I first read it in Mighty World of Marvel. Nowadays, of course, I’m delighted to see Jack pencilling the original Avengers line-up. I really want to see Joss Whedon put Hank and Jan on the Big Screen.

Infamously, Stan’s memory had faltered for this story and there are many references to Bob Banner as the Hulk goes on the rampage when he learns Cap has taken his place with the Assemblers.  The pace increases as Reed succumbs dramatically to a virus and Ben takes on the Hulk solo . As an eleven year old, I remember being in fits of laughter when Ben refers to ol’ Greenskin as “Little Mary Sunshine”. You couldn’t picture such irreverence from the JLA!

FF26 - Cover

The Avengers Take Over: the second half of the story does indeed see the Avengers dominate the story. Not only does it promote the Assemblers’ own book, it shows them to be a more interesting, conflicted unit than the JLA; they literally fall over each other trying to thwart the Hulk’s abduction of Rick Jones. There are echoes of King Kong as the story climaxes in the skeletal girders of a skyscraper. The FF are courageous but are ultimately overshadowed in their own book by their guest-stars. On the other hand, the cohesion of the burgeoning Marvel Universe is at its most effective.

A satisfying read (although only a quarter of the material has a festive theme) .

Next: Marvel’s 1975 Yuletide Gift to you

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners



The All-New, All-Different Mystery Men of December !

It’s that time again.


Gil Kane was a great fit for these ugly gods.

The Inhumans: an insular race of super-beings, this Lee/Kirby version of the Addams Family was actually an experiment by the alien Kree. The most high-profile members are of course Medusa and her little sister Crystal, who served memorably as the FF’s first replacement member. The silent Black Bolt is a majestic but unknowable character. The remaining cousins, Triton, Karnak and Gorgon are visually interesting but have no discernible personality traits.  Triton did have some cameo roles alongside the Sub-Mariner and the Avengers in the 60s but Maximus is probably more familiar. The Caligula-like brother of Black Bolt was driven mad when, in a Shakespearian twist,  his schemes led to their parents’ death.


Ultimate Madonn- er, Crystal

I was crazy about the Inhumans as a kid but they’ve never been able to support a regular series for very long.Kirby returned to the same themes with more success and more grandeur in The Eternals.


Shanna the She-Devil: part of Marvel’s short-lived 70s attempt to grow a female readership, Shanna is a descendant of jungle queens like Nyoka, Sheena and Tarzan’s Jane. Despite attempts to spice up tired imperialist fantasy with SHIELD antics and a skimpy bikini, the She-Devil never caught on like her Sword and Sorcery sister, Red Sonja. Shanna was married off in the end to another minor Marvel star: jungle hero Ka-Zar, Marvel’s fusion of David Innes and Tarzan. And jungle comics haven’t sold since Kubert in the early 70s.

avengers marvel uk shang-chi debut

Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu: acid-inspired  film fans Englehart, Starlin and Milgrom combined their love for David Carradine’s Kwai Chang Caine with Marvel’s rights to Fu Manchu. The result was the longest-running martial arts comic of the Bronze Age. Ultraviolent young philosopher Shang-Chi was propelled  in short order by another pair of cineastes, Moench and McGregor, into a series of moody and  cinematic Bond pastiches.

The character’s popularity has persisted to the present day. Having teamed up with the X-Men , Moon Knight, Ultimate Spider-Man and many more, Shang-Chi is joining the Avengers. Marvel has no rights to Fu Manchu now, so would it kill them to retcon his father and sister as the Yellow Claw and Suwan?


A purchase met with derision and mockery in secondary school. I bet that kid took his kids to Disneyworld

Howard the Duck:  as a 14-year-old, I adapted a couple of Steve Gerber’s  jaundiced, satirical comics into radio plays that I taped reel-to-reel with my bemused school-mates. Some years later, the duck starred in one of the most infamous films in history. HTD was able to interact with Spider-Man, the Defenders  and the Son of Satan in Gerber’s own paranoiac corner of the Marvel Universe. And he was the “straight” among the Bronze Age auteurs! Howard still cameos from time to time, chiefly for novelty value.

Spitfire Invaders

Spitfire: plucky upper-crust English gel Jacqueline Falsworth was the daughter of Union Jack and the first female member of the Invaders. An example of Roy Thomas’ trope of wartime continuity implants, Spitfire was a favourite of mine as a young teen. De-aged in the 90s, Spitfire has featured in New Invaders and Captain Britain and remains in action as a C-list UK heroine.


Torpedo: Marv Wolfman’s insurance man- turned- superhero, this working stiff joined Rom to protect a small town from the Dire Wraiths.  He failed. His female successor Turbo was a member of the New Warriors. Essentially a 70s version of the Rocketeer.

Deathstroke Titans

Deathstroke, the Terminator: the only DC solo star in this listing, mercenary and assassin Slade Wilson was cast as an anti-hero in the Exxxtreeme!! Nineties.  Slade headlined his own book,  even fighting alongside Superman in the Panic in the Sky storyline, in spite of  his inappropriate relationship with teen psycho Terra. DC’s answer to the Punisher has reverted to his true villainous colours in more recent years:  manipulating his daughter Rose, Batgirl Cain and Titan Risk, and murdering the Ryan Choi Atom.

New Mutants w Cypher Warlock

New Mutants: the so-called X-babies arose from Jim Shooter’s insistence on a return to the school concept for Marvel’s mutants. This early-80s batch of adolescent “muties” is the most enduring : lanky, lovelorn Sam; cocky Roberto; cripplingly shy and religious Rahne; fearless Dani and tainted sorceress Illyana.

The book began with a shot of photorealism from Bob McLeod and rather quaint school rivalry stories. It then warped and spasmed under the experimental vision of Bill Sienkiewicz.  His weirdly-distorted machine child Warlock, Xavier’s autistic son Legion and the grotesque, obese Karma were nightmarish invaders into Claremont’s proto-Harry Potter world.

new mutants  Fat Karma

The first casualty had been the trendy but dull Xi’an, who was replaced by the horrendously powerful- but utterly misplaced -Burroughsian teen Magma. Subsequent additions like Cypher and Bird-Brain appeared in painfully twee post-Claremont stories. The title morphed into Rob Liefeld’s ludicrous but phenomenally successful  militaristic pamphlet,  X-Force.

But the X-Babies have always come back and now alumni Sunspot and Cannonball are joining the Avengers. They grow up so fast.


Binary: Dave Cockrum revived the former Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers as a cosmic-powered space heroine in his final issue of X-Men. I wondered at the time if she was meant to be a replacement for Phoenix.  The vague nature and vast scope of her powers made her an ineffectual team player although she was an unofficial member of the swashbuckling Starjammers. Eventually, the Ms. Marvel identity was restored anyway. Cosmic doesn’t sell, as the saying goes.


Captain Marvel/Photon/Pulsar: in my opinion, Marvel’s last classic heroine of the Bronze Age. Monica Rambeau was a casualty of the times. An independent female of colour, within  five years or so, she rose through the ranks to become leader of the Avengers. Then Simonson depowered her and she hit comics’ glass ceiling.  She lost her codename to a teen version of Mar-Vell then tried out a couple more ( Photon being the only one that appeals but it still doesn’t say Diamond Top Twenty, does it?)

Despite her iconic and elegant design I think the reason she’s been sidelined lies with her quanta powers which, like those of Binary, are elusive to grasp. In recent years, the character has been parodic and her spot in the Avengers squandered on Storm.


New Warriors: Marvel’s very belated  response to the New Teen Titans, the Warriors were a mixed bag of obscure adolescent heroes. In spite of their popularity, prominence and solid, old-fashioned storytelling,  I found them almost entirely lacking in charm. Possibly, this was because I entered my twenties when Wolfman and Perez found success with the Titans. By contrast, I was entering my thirties when the Warriors were at their height.


A second version of the New Warriors appeared at the end of the 90s with a short-lived redesign for Nova and a couple of generic new members, Aegis and Bolt.  A third iteration was killed off to ignite the Civil War debacle. The youth super-team concept  seems redundant in a MU with X-men or New Mutants but 90s nostalgia seems likely to generate a new New Warriors comic before long.

Every once in a while, I have to feature a villain of long standing and this time, it’s a fowl felon from 1941:

Penguin Batman_190

I believe this is the first Batman comic I ever read

The Penguin: a ridiculous figure to modern tastes perhaps yet a highly visible villain the Golden Age. Oswald Cobblepot is a subversive figure whose veneer of Old Money respectability barely conceals a dangerous criminal mind.


For me, the greatest Penguin was, of course, tv’s  Burgess Meredith.

The Legionnaires of December

Cockrum Matter-Eater Lad

Matter-Eater Lad: as a child, I never realised Tenzil Kem was meant to be a comedy character. No one treated Duo Damsel as a figure of fun. Anyway, the boy from Bismoll appeared only rarely in the first dozen or so stories I read. Later, he was written out completely because comics ain’t, well, too comical. In the 5YL era of the early 90s. the Giffen/Bierbaum team made Tenzil a surprise star through his eccentricity and humour.  Sadly, in the New 52, M-E Lad is inactive. Paul Levitz has always eschewed the wackier, more fun elements of the LSH but I hope with Giffen’s imminent return we might see more of Tenz.


Kid Psycho: poor Gnill Opral was born a mutant thanks to an alien encounter for his astronaut parents. As was often the case in the early 60s, the Legionnaires appeared as elitist, country-club snobs who refused him membership. Wrapping his enlarged cranium in a turban, KP recruited Superboy’s aid in the 20th Century. It transpired the Kid’s force-field power shortened his life by one year every time he used it. He was awarded the booby prize: Legion secret weapon status. I have no recollection of him ever participating in any  subsequent story other than the Crisis. Where he died. Bummer.

Coming soon: Treasuries of Christmas Past

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners.

Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy

More Secret Origins Super Villains

This morning’s post features More Secret Origins Super Villains, from the summer of 1976.  In the July of that year, Tyroc’s second Legion adventure saw print and the JSA were fighting deranged, mutated astronaut Vulcan. I have precisely one DC comic from that Bicentennial month : an unmemorable post-Kirby issue of Kamandi with an Ernie Chan cover.

Meanwhile, Marvel published a bowdlerised, colour version of a Jim Starlin Conan story to counter the Dreaded Deadline Doom -and the premiere issue of Kirby’s Eternals. Mighty World of Marvel reached its 200th edition and the début of Wolverine was reprinted for the first time in the UK. But it was a month where US comics were very scarce. My only other purchase was the second-last McGregor-Russell Killraven.

So, this awkwardly-titled tabloid was bought last year on ebay. Like the previous collection, the format is 50s Batman, 50s Flash short,  a Kal-El tale and a Golden Age story. The cover is more dynamic with the villains rushing toward the reader but of the ten pictured, only four appear inside.

The Secret Life of the Catwoman: the best story in the collection is a melodrama in which the Princess of Plunder goes straight after recovering from amnesia. Daughter of a pet shop owner,  former air stewardess Selina Kyle lost her memory in a plane crash. Batman restores it with scenes from previous Catwoman stories. She becomes an undercover police agent to help nab masked crime lord Mr. X ( who resembles the Sportsmaster). He turns out to be “furtive little crook” Mousey. The story even features a giant cash register and is the usual dependable material from Batman’s Furious Fifties.

Obviously, Catwoman was too great a villainess to reform permanently- this was still years before her tv fame. This story does set a precedent for Selina’s role in the new Justice League of America but I feel she’s taking Vixen’s place there. The appeal of the Queen of Crime to Batman -and to us- is her Bad Girl status. Incidentally, DC Nation’s Shanghai Batman re-imagines Catwoman as a Manga character:

Shanghai catwoman

The Master of Mirrors: in his first appearance, Flash’s reflective rogue is known by the sobriquet in the title, rather than “Mirror Master”. The simplistic story is virtually identical to the origin of Captain Cold, featuring a giant mosquito image and a bullfight with an illusory Minotaur. Infantino’s art, inked by Giella is oddly stiff and unappealing.

Super Villain Wanted Posters: two pages of mini-bios, using the old Wanted logo. I would have loved this as a kid.Alongside high-profile villains like Penguin, Brainiac and Two-Face, there are also second or third-tier threats such as Vandal Savage, Matter Master, the Shark, Giganta, the Queen Bee and Sonar.

The Ghost of Jor-El: I first read this story in b/w in the pages of the monthly Super DC reprint comic of the very early 70s. It’s a whimsical tale of the boyhood feud of Mr. Mxyzptlk and Superboy.  The pop-eyed prankster looks like a vent act dummy in this story.  He also suffers from colour blindness: his scheme to “wreck Superboy’s career” with a vision of his Kryptonian pa is foiled because the ghost is dressed in red, instead of green. Most kids would probably know an attention-seeking pest  like this at school.

In the late 70s, when I first read a reference to the Adult Legion’s own Mxyzptlk, I immediately pictured this adolescent version ( I was wrong).

Wonder Woman and the Cheetah: the debut of the “treacherous relentless huntress” is a Jekyll and Hyde tale seething with psychosexual tension. Priscilla Rich, “loveliest, sweetest debutante of last season” is consumed by jealousy for WW and attempts to kill her during a wartime aid benefit.  The “ordeal of a thousand links” is a Houdini-style trap coincidentally using a leather mask from a French prison. Oh, Dr. Marston, you sick puppy.

Priscilla  then goes on to kiss her attempted victim but alone in her room her ” pent-up passions burst forth” Allegedly, “psychologists use mirrors to discover people’s real selves” and in her reflection, Priscilla meets her “secret self”- “the incarnation of jealousy and hate.”

This torrid parade of deviant behaviour even includes an accusation directed at WW: “She pinched a handful of the gal’s clothes- she must be turning kleptomaniac!” I was reminded of the origins of the Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman. Despite its fetishistic elements, this is probably one of the few Golden Age Wonder Woman stories I rate. The Cheetah is a more logical and interesting villain that WW’s cavalcade of gods and cross-dressers.

Doctor Light, Every Hero’s Enemy: an inside back cover feature using clip art, mostly from the Silver Age. Unfortunately, I can’t see the Lord of Luminescence without being reminded of Meltzer’s morbid, sensationalist Identity Crisis.

There’s a “table-top diorama” on the back cover for those crazy kids who cut up their comics- like I did, up until I was about 13.  This is one of the features that give the DC Tabloids their sense of being more juvenile than the Marvel Treasuries. I enjoyed this issue more than the previous Super Villains collection, however, because half the stories were new to me.

Coming soon : The Mystery Men of December

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