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!

All images presumed copyright of their respective owners

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