Pagan Place

The other evening, I was coming back from the public library book sale and a church bell was tolling on the other side of town. The withered, blackened leaves were whipped in vortices by the wind and the ruined cathedral brooded over the park. It was a delightfully haunting, autumnal moment in the vicinity of the Lantern of the North. There was once, in fact, a pagan tradition in Moray where boys took turns leaping over each other  through the bonfire smoke.

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As Hallowe’en approaches and remaining with the Silver Age Flash, let’s revisit a seasonal DC special, cover -dated January 1977 but published in time for All Hallow’s Eve in the Bicentennial year.

It’s curious to think that, given the sci-fi roots and interplanetary adventures of DC’s Silver Age, one of the company’s most successful ventures was into the Weird: the stable of supernatural titles such as House of Mystery, Ghosts, The Unexpected et al.  Despite the longevity of these titles, many surviving for a decade, DC’s occult heroes didn’t headline in their own titles although Deadman and the Spectre are well-remembered.

DC Super Stars  was a portmanteau title which collected all manner of stories: from a JLA/Solomon Grundy epic of the Forties to a reprint of my beloved Adult Legion two-parter. I was more familiar with DC Super Stars of Space, which reprinted the sedate, junior sci-fi of Adam Strange, Space Ranger and Captain Comet.

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This  magic  issue leads off with a collected version of a Zatanna serial from the pages of Adventure Comics in the spring of 1972. In those distant days, Supergirl was the headline act but for a while, she shared the comic with the likes of Black Canary, the Enchantress and the Maid of Magic.

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This serial is scripted by Len Wein, something of a Zatanna fan in that his comics introduced me to the Princess of Prestidigitation, in  JLA and World’s Finest. I wonder if Zee’s agent, Jeff Sloane, isn’t intended as something of a self-portrait of Wein. The strip is moodily drawn by Gray Morrow and sees the (ahem) Saucy Sorceress and Sloane exiled to a sword and sorcery world by her father Zatara. The alliterative sobriquet that Schwartz and Fox were fond of is pushed to the absolute limit with that one.

Escaping from barbarians and a serpent-headed ogre called Gorgonus ( and I’ve wondered for decades what he looked like) the pair return to Manhattan. There, Zatanna frees her pop from the enchantment of the elemental Allura ( last seen in the Xmas 1973  JLA 100-page Super-Spec). Morrow’s art looks like a blend of Dr. Strange’ s Colan and Dan Adkins. I would have liked to see more of the Zatara mansion, Shadowcrest.

Rather fittingly, at least for followers of Conway’s JLA in the Bronze Age, the back-up tale features the Flash: Zatanna had a brief flirtation with Barry Allen in the  very early 80s.

“Case of the Real-Gone Flash” from 1962 introduces applause-hungry Abra Kadabra, a would-be stage magician of the 64th century. Abra uses a hypno-jewel to steal a time vehicle. In our era, he banishes Flash to a distant asteroid while coercing appreciative audiences. In the end, Flash returns to Earth and routs the magician but doesn’t discover his futuristic origins.

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Abra is a pathetic and comical villain but with a clear motivation that kids will understand- he’s a show-off. With his time travel and hypnotic gimmicks, Kadabra might even be an inspiration for young Jim Shooter’s Universo, the monocled world-beater who contested with the Legion several times.

This is rather slender adventure but the concept of a magical villain tackling the ultra-scientific Flash is an intriguing one, since Kadabra’s spells are technologically based and not true sorcery, at least in this story.

There are text pages on Houdini and three conjuring tricks one could do at home.  Again, the tone is an innocent and playful one compared to  Marvel’s supernatural books, such as Tomb of Dracula.

Coming soon: Batman in the Fifties and Sixties. Wild!

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Speed of Light

Today’s post examines another giant collection of exploits of the Silver-Age Flash:  a revival of the 100-page Super Spectacular format but this time from the summer of 2011.

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The Man Who Broke The Time Barrier: this is the second Flash story ever, from Showcase 4 in 1956- the wellspring of the Silver Age. Flash has to return a “time exile” to his own era. The criminal Mazan, who was diverted from his banishment to a desolate 50th-century Earth, recalls Knodar, the 1947 Green Lantern foe. (Knodar made his debut alongside Alan Scott’s enemies the Fool and the Sportsmaster.) The art is gritty and realistic.

Giants of the Time-World: a rather silly story by Robert Kanigher from Showcase 14, in 1958. Flash prevents the invasion of 4th-dimensional aliens, who grow to giant-size. The story has the same dream-logic as many of Kanigher’s Wonder Woman plots and, like a 50s Diana Prince, Iris West snaps a flying saucer from her plane. Charmingly, she appears in black-and-white on Barry’s wrist-tv.

The Conquerors of Time: a hugely fanciful adventure from Dlash’s revived comic in December 1961. As a result of his trip to the “Land of Golden Giants”, Flash builds his Cosmic Treadmill. The alien Dokris want to destroy Earth’s atomic energy technology in order to invade. Flash routs the aliens in the 23rd Century while Kid Flash (still in his mini-Flash outfit) meets a race of bizarre “Ornitho-Men” on primeval Earth.

Who Doomed The Flash?: this adventure from August 1962 is highly stylised artistically and was reprinted previously in DC Special 8, 1970- the first collection of Wanted, the World’s Most Dangerous Villains.  Flash escapes an explosive death-trap with the aid of a temporary dental filling. A darkly humorous Mirror Master masquerades for a panel or two as Capt. Cold, Trickster, Capt. Boomerang and the Top.

Menace of the Reverse-Flash: this Sept 63 adventure introduces Professor Zoom.  With his receding red hair and comb-over, the “Professor” is an ambitious career criminal who retrieves Flash’s uniform from a time capsule. The Sultan of Speed meanwhile visits the 25th Century to defuse an atomic device within the capsule. Zoom goes on to loot alien sculptures in a cityscape that recalls Adam Strange’s Rann.

Zoom is an update of the Rival, a Golden Age Flash foe from 1949.  He’s also the last classic Rogue to appear in these reviews- I don’t yet have any Flash Giants starring Pied Piper, the Weather Wizard or the later addition, Heat Wave. 

Previously, I’ve alluded to similarities between Spider-Man and the Flash: the references to science and invention; the themed super-crooks; the supporting cast and the distinctive artistic input. Another resemblance is the darkening of the  villains- just as the Green Goblin will forever be associated with the death of Gwen Stacy, so Professor Zoom was the murderer of Iris Allen and ultimately revealed as Barry’s descendent and evil twin. Comics, eh?  The death of the original Zoom, due to a broken neck, precipitated the epic Trial of the Flash in the 80s.  

This collection was tied into the Flashpoint event that engendered the New 52. I found some of the stories a little thin but they were a reminder of the Flash’s sci-fi origins. Next time, we’ll look at some supernatural shenanigans for the Scarlet Speedster.

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Fast Friends

Today’s post returns again to  Silver Age reprints of The Flash. The moody cover of issue 178 from May 1968 is by Andru and Esposito: I have written before about the similarities between Flash and Spider-Man and there’s another. Flash is literally a giant, looming over his super-hero pals: a fitting image for this collection of “terrific team-ups”.

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Land of Golden Giants: a May 1961 story and, I believe, the first full-length Flash story of the Silver Age. In this John Broome “Lost World” adventure, Flash and Kid Flash join a scientific expedition searching for evidence of Continental Drift. A volcanic eruption sens the party back in time, where they encounter cavemen, prehistoric monsters and  the eponymous giants.  There is perhaps a charming Infantino self-portrait in the form of the caveman artist depicting the beasts of the prehistoric world before the continents separated.

There is also a charming subplot with the budding romance between Wally West and Gail Manners, the scientist’s daughter. Aside from the story’s scientifically educational topic, there’s also a brief reference to the Nephilim aka the giants mentioned in the Book of Genesis.

Double Danger on Earth: the June 62 sequel to “Flash of Two Worlds”.  Author Fox’s nostalgia for the Golden Age is prevalent here, as the story features Jay and Joan Garrick and the E-2 Flash reminiscing about the JSA’s final case in All-Star Comics, “Mystery of the Vanishing Detectives” from 1951.

Earth-2’s existence is revealed by reporter Iris Allen as Jay visits E-1 to excavate a meteor. This space rock will nullify deadly radiation resulting from a comet crashing into E-2’s sun. The plot is complicated by a team-up of Capt. Cold and the Trickster. Infantino’s art is airy and stylish and as usual, the villains are colourful and playful. The story is a bit more workaday than the metatextual “Flash of Two Worlds” and less inventive; nor does it have the guest-star power of “Vengeance of the Immortal Villain” from 1963.

Captives of the Cosmic Ray: from September 1962, this is the second team-up of Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, the first having taken place in Green Lantern’s thirteen issue in June of that year.

Hal’s glamorous Californian lifestyle is explored in the early scenes of male bonding and atheletic competition. The two super-heroes are then lured to a mystery planet and the remainder of the story features their revolt against the alien Myrmitons: “masters of cosmic radiation” who have invaded Earth in their absence.

I find GL Hal stories a bit dull and despite Infantino’s skill, this is no exception. In a few short months, cosmic radiation would herald the dawn of the Fantastic Four and the aspirational, polite world of DC’s Silver Age would be rendered stuffy and outmoded.

However, the theme of this issue and its charm lies in Barry Allen’s gift for friendship ( as we saw in the debut of the Top). It’s an interesting counterpoint to Wally West: the third Flash  spent much of the 80s obsessed with empath Raven  and plagued by low self-esteem,  ill health and  fading powers. Then, after the Crisis, Wally was re-imagined  as a self-indulgent, sexist boor. There’s no sign of that character in the loyal and admiring boy from the Silver Age

Amusingly, this issue features a letter from a Peter Sanderson, whom I take to be the comic historian who worked on DC’s Who’s Who, Marvel Saga and the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.  Ironically, teenage Sanderson complains about Golden Age reprints , grudgingly accepting they please some fans but  expressing a preference for the modern Flash.  He isn’t the only letter column contributor to feel that way, which seems strange given how popular Golden Age reprints became about four years later.

In the next few posts, we’ll have a Hallowe’en theme, while still revisiting the Flash and we’ll also explore the Batcave with more Fifties adventures of Bruce and Dick, discovering the roots of the 1966 tv show.

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Speed Equals Distance Over Time

Today’s post revisits another Flash 80 page Giant of the Sixties. This one hails from May 1967 but I associate it more closely with 1979 or 1980 (I’m not certain which is right). That was approximately when my brother’s schoolfriend, who was leaving our village, gifted us a couple of issues of Adventure Comics.

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They comprised the first Starfinger story and the second half of the Adult Legion two-parter, which I prized highly. I know each panel of the clash with the LSV so well, and that extends to the adverts.

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Beware the Atomic Grenade: The gaudy Top, who is a “spin” (ahem) on Capt. Boomerang debuts in this story from the summer of 1961, with his eponymous super-weapon. Of far more interest is Barry’s underplayed friendship with French fashion designer, Anton Previn. It’s definitely not played as a gay relationship since this is a comic for smart high school kids: it is, however, an extremely subtle and strikingly modern advert for tolerance and equality

The Mirror Master’s Magic Bullet: Mirror Master turns Flash into his own personal genie, sending him on fantastic errands. This 1961 tale is a playful duel, full of charming gimmicks. It would be light as air and quite forgettable were it not for Infantino’s idiosyncratic Master of Mirrors: he has a distinctive leer, even under the mask.

The Man Who Claimed the Earth: a sweet, fanciful story from 1960. Alien conquerer Po-Siden hails from the “galactic universe of Olimpus in the Fourth Qauadrangle of space”. Holy Terry Nation, Batman! The Earth is a lost colony which the aliens finally accept has earned its independence in a witty reference to American history.

Return of the Super-Gorilla: Grodd launches an attack on the hidden city of advanced gorillas from a world of bird-people within the Earth’s crust. This 1959 fantasy casually creates a whole new ecology for the series.

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One of the only Sixties issues of the Flash that I read as a child featured Grodd breaking the fourth wall in a very 60s DC fashion. Modern Grodd is a man-eater and slavering horror; here, there’s something charming about a great ape with ambitions of world conquest.

Plight of the Puppet-Flash: Abra Kadabra, the magician from the future, arranges his own pardon and embarks on a campaign to ridicule the Flash. Flash retaliates with an anti-crime crusade but is transformed into a living puppet. The tapering, monochrome figure of Kadabra is both striking and almost comical,

How I Draw the Flash is charming but still won’t have you drawing like Infantino.

I enjoyed this issue although I would’ve welcomed a Jay-Flash story from the Forties, I prefer infantino’s art of the late 70s and early 80s- Spider-Woman; Supergirl; Dial H– but he is my ur-Batman artist also. I’ll be looking at Silver Age 80 page outings for the Caped Crusader in future posts.

Coming soon: The Saucy Sorceress

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Mysteries of the Human Thunderbolt

In a previous post, I talked about the 1970s DC series Wanted which featured super-villains of the Golden and Silver Ages. If there had been a 100-page  Super-Spectacular for that title, I think most fans would have welcomed a Justice Society adventure. Although it would be reprinted in the 80s, I would’ve liked to see “The Day That Dropped out of Time”, which introduced Per Degaton, the time-travelling would-be dictator.

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I might established a super-team theme and include an exploit of the Challengers of the Unknown and one for the Doom Patrol (one of the earliest images I ever saw of the DP and one which made an impact)

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JSA-foe Degaton was created by John Broome, whose revival of the Flash not only revitalised the moribund super-hero  genre, it also generated a bevy of memorable and original super-villains.

I have only rarely followed the Flash: in the early 80s, when Infantino returned to the comic and Perez provided a Firestorm back-up; and in the late 90s, when Grant Morrison and Mark Mllar wrote the title.

In many ways, Flash was DC’s Spider-Man: a scientific crime-buster with a vivid rogues gallery. The major difference was the absence of Ditko and Stan’s neurotic tone; Barry Allen is an aspirational, middle class American male, at ease in the Kennedy era.

I’ve picked up a trio of Flash 80-page Giants from the Sixties over the last couple of months and thought I might review them here. The first and oldest- Flash 160 from April 1966- proved to be quite entertaining:

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 The Amazing Race Against Time: a rather humdrum 1959 telling of an incredible sci-fi premise. An amnesiac speedster turns out to be an alien android on a mission to seal a dimensional breach. The artificial Kyri is referred to as a “hominoid”: a Broome coinage I’ve never seen before.

Due of Danger: Lee Elias, whom I first knew from Marvel’s Human Fly, provides a handsome 1948 adventure. Jay-Flash, a likeable if sometimes bewildered tough guy, encounters the Fiddler. Not only is this murderous villain an evil twin, he actually feeds his musical mentor to crocodiles in his origin flashback! Like the Riddler, who debuts some nine months later, the Fiddler disappears into the drink at the end. This is one of the most satisfying introductions for a Golden age foe that I’ve read.

Danger in the Air: the 1960 debut of the Trickster, a gaudy villain in the mould of Superman’s Prankster, Infantino clearly enjoys drawing the improbable, air-walking harlequin and Broome gives him a circus back-story.  James Jesse ( note the witty alias) is also like a Jet-Age Mxyzptlk.

King of the Beatniks: a humorous satire from 1960 as schoolboy Kid Flash assists Jimmy King, a schoolmate whose cousin is the leader of a gang of crooked beats. The hipsters look scruffy and ridiculous,

Space-Boomerang Trap: from Nov. 1961 and the dawn of the Fantastic Four. Flash joins forces with Elongated Man and Capt. Boomerang to thwart an extra-dimensional invasion. The absure characters are fun: Barry’s friendship with Ralph and his willingness to trust “Digger” are likeable traits. The alien “Fatigue Guns” are a clever, pacifist weapon. Boomerang seems to have been inspired by Broome himself; Infantino provides several characterful close-ups.

The Adventure of the Antelope Boy: hailing, aptly, from Adventure Comics in 1947, this is a muddily drawn exploit of the King of Speed by Mort Meskin. It ranges from Africa to what I assume is NYC. The Antelope Boy is captured by racketeers but there’s a happy ending for “Feets”, a Bomba/Korak clone. He is recalled some thirty years later in Impala, the Zulu speedster introduced in Super Friends.

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This is a slightly less dull story for JQ, whose presence in All-Star Squadron is really his claim to fame- that, and inspiring Quicksilver’s motion in late 60s/early 70s Avengers.

Coming soon: 80 pages of Flash-y exploits in 1967

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Wuxtry!

Yesterday, an animation by Zack Snyder and Bruce Timm, celebrating Superman’s 75th birthday, went viral.  Predictably, I like it until it reaches the 90s and the turgid Doomsday arc. The animation chooses to skip Lois and Clark which was an entertaining take on the character and zips past Smallville, which had a very healthy lifespan. Let’s not forget, it also brought the JSA and the LSH to the small screen. Naturally, the animation concludes with the New 52 and hulking Henry Cavill.

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It seems appropriate then that I should finally post my review of Superman 284: a 100-page issue from February 1975. I have very few Super-Spectacular issues left to add to my collection. I’ll eschew the war and mystery books although one day, I might try Tarzan ( I haven’t read Marvel’s version either). That leaves a Flash, a Batman and an earlier Superman- although this one doesn’t bode well.

284 is a Daily Planet-themed issue, which is a clever conceit. The dark blue, sobre cover doesn’t exactly leap off the spinner rack, however.

Headline news –Secret Guardian of Smallville: a classy, nostalgic Bates/Swan story where Pete Ross and Lana  help CK investigate a Superboy robot still protecting their home town. The denouement reminds me of the Thomas/Adams Sentinels fate. One wonders why Supergirl wasn’t established in Smallville.

Sports-The Interplanetary Olympics: Lana  accomanies Supes in this 1963 tale. The planetoid hosting the event is a haven for criminals who need super-energy to escape into the future, Supes appears to be doing poorly but the trials are fixed. This flight of fancy is a bit humdrum but features lovely Swan art.

Comics-King of the Comic Books:  “Look out Ebeneezer, here comes GEEZER”-a curosity from 1943 that lampoons comics with a metatextual gag strip. The creatorof the cretinous super-hero Geezer is a nebbish who falls prey to Bundists. “I’ve often wondered how it would feel to be a comic character” muses Supes.HAW!

Society Pages-A Modern Alice in Wonderland: a 1946 fable in which an heiress, dreaming of an acting career, learns her lesson after an encounter with gangland versions of Carroll’s characters. Hard going and primitive.  

Gate-crashers in the Fortress of Solitude: a 2-page spread featuring clip art of Lois, Jimmy, Brainiac and Batman, er gatesocrashing the Fortress of Solitude.

Finance-Superman Owes a Billion: Another Swan story featuring Weisinger’s stable of characters ( Bizarro, Prof. Potter, Lori Lemaris and surprise guest-star Aquaman). It explains very earnestly why Superman isn’t a tax evader and why the US is indebted to him. One month later, in Novemner 1961, the grotesque Fantastic Four will make their debut…

obituaries- The Death of Clark Kent: In order to preserve his secret ID after CK’s life is apparently claimed in an accident, Supes adopts new careers: a waiter, then a vacuum cleaner salesman. This is a rather laboured humorous dilemma, again from 1946.

All in all, despite the clever theme, this is silly, harmless fare. Some classical art but nothing that would make me come back next month.

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 Why would I settle for such lackustre material when Marvel’s Kozmic head-trip Warlock explodes from the mind of Starlin, that same month?

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What about the  apocalyptic sci-fi/ horror or sexy pulp Noir of newcomers Atlas?

DC’s response was, predictably, to ape Marvel’s sword and sorcery and Pulp revival titles just as Atlas had, Next time, we’ll look back at a more innovative DC in the Silver Age, when the airy futurism of Carmine Infantino revitalised the super-hero strip.

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World’s Foulest

DC comics New 52 universe- some might call it an unlovely and violent revival of the worst of comicdom’s Nineties excesses- is in the midst of its first crossover event. “Forever Evil” focuses on the super-villains of the New 52 . The concept reminds me of one of my favourite bi-monthly titles of the early Bronze Age: Wanted, the World’s Most dangerous Villains.

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Having gravitated to DC’s colour output as Marvel UK annexed the House of Ideas monthlies in the early 70s, I was very interested in the colourful and quirky villains of the Golden and Silver Ages.This was, after all, the era of the Fourth World and Relevance. I was particularly interested in the wartime rogues of Earth-2.

Wanted ceased publication with issue 9 but back in 2012, I speculated on the contents of a brace of further issues on my blog, Some Fantastic Place ( currently on hiatus due to ongoing IT issues, but see http://somefantasticplace-dougie.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/dreams-of-evil-doers.html ). To my surprise, I have learned I wasn’t alone in dreaming up issues of Wanted  (see http://marvelmasterworksfansite.yuku.com/topic/20325/Wanted-The-Worlds-Most-Dangerous-Villains).

So, let’s play the game again and meet more of that Legion of Doom!

Wanted 10: something I wanted to redress was the  absence of DC’s superheroines from the series. Blue Lama (a slinky villainess from Sargon the Sorceror’s strip) and the Golden Age Hawkgirl had both appeared. However, the main players on the distaff side hadn’t.

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For issue 10, I followed a lettercol suggestion made to editor Bridwell and chose an early duel between Wonder Woman and the Cheetah, “The Secret Submarine”. The Silver Age tale was more challenging: I knew I wanted Supergirl but her clashes with Lesla-Lar and Black Flame had previously been reprinted. I had also hoped for a Legion of Super-Heroes tale but many of their best villains featured in two-parters. Then I hit upon Jimmy Olsen 63. “The League of Fantastic Supermen” actually features Kara and the adult Legion of Super-Villains, being the debut of Sun Emperor and Chameleon Chief. I would’ve loved to have seen them some six or seven years early.

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 Wanted 11: another oversight, in my opinion was the absence of Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash. Since the Rose and Thorn back-up was running in Lois Lane at the time, I thought it would be fun to reprint the debut of the original villainess.

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This issue would have the theme of transformation and also of thunderbolts: I felt the Marvel Family deserved more reprints and this issue suited Sabbac, a demonic foe of Captain Marvel Jr.

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Wanted 12: the first anniversary issue stars the Golden and Silver Age Green Lanterns. The Silver Age GL’s Ruritanian foe, Sonar with his sound-weapon would make a nice contrast with Knodar, The Last Criminal on Earth.

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The unlucky Wanted 13 would feature imps and tricksters: “The Cross -Country Chess Crimes” and “Simple Simon met the Hawkman” from Flash 53, 1944- or “The Return of Simple Simon” from issue 65.

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Wanted 14: since the super-heroine issue would be a roaring success in these days of Women’s Lib, my sequel stars Mary Marvel and Batwoman. the former was a hugely popular character and the latter deserved membership in Fox’s JLA from day one. We lead off with Mary Marvel meets Georgia Sivana. The second tale is from the Silver Age and features recent fan-favourite, Catman: a villain I didn’t discover until 1977, when Bob  Rozakis featured him  in the oddball Freedom Fighters . Kathy Kane only has a cameo but I’d have her prominently featured on a Cardy cover.

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Wanted 15: a Batman and Robin issue. Leading off would be “Joker’s Millions” from 1952 and the back-up would be “The Clock Strikes”, a solo Robin strip from Star-Spangled Comics that would be the inspiration for the tv show’s Clock King .

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Wanted 16: the final issue of my imaginary run is an All-Luthor issue. First, “The Scrambled Superman” is a prototype Phantom Zone story. “Luthor and Clark Kent: Cell Mates” from Adventure Comics would be reprinted in a future Superman Family but is an ironic little drama for the Boy of Steel, when Jonathan Kent chooses not to grant Lex parole.  

I was disappointed not to find a suitable spot for Black Jack, Aquaman’s frequent foeman of the Golden Age. As I noted on Place, I would also have loved to have seen the first clash between The Mad Hatter and Batman; the Brainiac-Clayface team-up from WF – or perhaps the Joker/Clayface feud, with a cameo for the original Bat-Girl; the origin of Dr. Psycho and the first battle between the JSA and the Wizard. Which DC villain is your favourite felon?

Coming soon: Flash in the Silver Age and Batman in the Fifties

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