A Spot of Adventure: The Golden Age Revisited – Part 2


In early 1946, Harry Donenfeld’s Detective Comics Inc, and Charley Gaines’ All-American Publications Inc had been in dispute for several months, though negotiations on a $500,000 payout for Gaines were well-advanced, and soon business manager Jack Liebowitz would be negotiating the merger of both companies, plus the little-regarded American Comics Group Inc, another possession of Donenfeld, into National Comics Inc.
These were not the only changes in mind. The War was over, the GIs were coming home, that audience for cheap, gaudy and above all brief entertainment was disappearing, forever. Forget the paper rationing, forget the diminution of the package from 64 pages to 48, times were a-changing, and comics might have to change with them.
Detective’s oldest title was More Fun Comics. A decision was taken, to revamp the title completely, have it live up to its title, convert it to a comic comic. Funny animals, to a large but not exclusive extent.
But More Fun had a successful line-up of superheroes. It had just become home to Superboy, the adventures of Superman as a boy. And there was Aquaman, and The Green Arrow, who was incredibly popular and the lead feature for most of the time since he’d been introduced, nor to mention that flying speedster, Johnny Quick. What was to be done about them?

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The chosen option was to decant them, lock, stock and barrel, into Detective’s second oldest title, Adventure Comics. Room was made by cancelling both Sandman and Starman, whose series had been running at an artistic loss for ages and could hardly be regretted. The War hero, Mike Gibbs, Guerilla, could be bounced too whilst the odd little oddball series, Genius Jones, could go the other way. He’d be more at home in an all-funny comic anyway. The Shining Knight? He was a superhero so he could be kept on.
And thus, with issue 103, Adventure transformed. What’s more, it was bumped back to monthly publication. If the run from New Comics to New Adventure Comics and beyond had been Phase 1, and the introduction of the original version of Sandman had ushered in Phase 2, now we were in for Phase 3. After the depths to which all the old series had sunk, how could it not be an improvement?
Well, for a start there was the line-up. The Shining Knight was far from being at the forefront, and Johnny Quick, though energetic and saddled with a comic sidekick in Tubby Watts, was enjoyable enough, but the Big Three now were Superboy and Mort Weisinger’s two uninspired knock-offs.
The first Superboy tale demonstrates where Siegel and Shuster were at, or perhaps where they were allowed to be at. This Superboy may be the Boy of Steel but he’s far from the teenager we’re familiar with. The story is set on Clark Kent’s 10th birthday, but it’s also Betty Marrs’ birthday and her need is greater than his. But Superboy has to come to the rescue when the unfortunate misidentification of Betty’s father with a bank robbery suspect has all the good, upstanding, God-fearing, salt-of-the-earth midwestern parents keeping their kids away from her party until Superboy streaks to the rescue and refreezes the melted ice cream.
This Superboy is a boy, a good-hearted little boy with very limited horizons. Siegel wanted his series to be all about showing off and playing pranks with powers but was not allowed to indulge himself that way. Instead, little Clark will use his powers to help his schoolmates. It’s a sweet idea, but somewhat short on thrills. It won’t last, naturally, but whilst it does…

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Aquaman, with yellow gauntlets and no royal Atlantean blood was a pallid rip-off of Timely’s Sub-Mariner. It’s going to be a long time before he says or does anything remotely interesting, and by long I mean, not even in the decade after this one.
At this remove it’s difficult to appreciate, and even harder to understand, just how popular The Green Arrow was in his early years. I’m disadvantaged in that when I first encountered him he was a penny-plain, making up the numbers JLAer (remember, he was the only existing DC superhero excluded from the JLA’s founding line-up), a genuine C-list character on his best day, so I remember him that way, and all the way up to Neal Adams’ first costume re-design. But at the beginning, The Green Arrow was big. He was More Fun’s cover feature, disturbed only by the recent need to alternate with Dover and Clover (either read about them in my More Fun piece or, preferably, read it but ignore them), and he also had a second slot in World’s Finest, running concurrently.
Yet all he was was a Batman clone, substituting Arrows for Bats as his motif. He’s not even a trick arrow merchant at this point. But he was popular enough to hold down the back of book slot that so many series reserved for their strongest character, making sure the little kids read all the way through.
The Superboy series is very much pitched at the child’s level of its character’s age, with little do-good stories. Ma and Pa Kent hardly appear at all, the town isn’t even named as Smallville and Clark is far from the shrinking klutz he plays later on. Indeed, he’s a confident little boy, at home with his peers and treated as a valued friend by all of them. Yet it can bring us stories like issue 113’s touching little tale, involving neither crime nor villain, just the response of a community to the terrible misfortunes of a man who, for 32 years, has played a secret Santa to the town’s kids, and who needs the good offices of a Santa himself. It managed to be sweet without being sentimental: just a small-town America story that rang true.

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The Green Arrow is just bland. Any lingering doubts about him being a Batman knock-off are surely dispelled by him having a clown enemy called Bulls-Eye. As far as Oliver Queen is concerned, there’s a near total absence. Neither Oliver nor Roy Harper have any personality, and we practically only see them out of costume when they’re just about to change into it. And the era of the trick arrow hasn’t started yet: there’s the occasional use of the boomerang arrow and little else. You really couldn’t imagine this guy becoming the Ollie Queen we’ve know since 1969.
Aquaman is similarly drab, but what do you expect from two characters created by Mort Weisinger to be knock-offs. Again, though the blond stiff is described as the Monarch of the Sea, we’ve over a decade to wait for the introduction of Atlantis, and this Aquaman just fights sea-style menaces, most often the pirate Black Jack, who first appears in issue 108. There’s a nasty little story in issue 111 featuring seals and swordfish and electric eels with names and a bunch of stereotype Japanese committing hari-kiri that would have been distinctly unpleasant even if the War was still going.
Between them, Aquaman and The Green Arrow don’t have enough personality to fill a thimble. For some reason he missed out in issue 118.
A new recurring character in Superboy, actually the first regular antagonist, debuted in issue 121. No, it’s not Lana Lang, though I might wish she’d appear soon, but rather the now-forgotten Orville Orville, indulged son of the richest man in town, who uses his father’s wealth to buy instant collections to win every category in a Hobby contest, at the expense of the ordinary, ‘working’ children who’ve built up their collections by hard work, diligence and effort. As he will on each occasion, Superboy intervenes to support his classmates.
It’s a surprisingly blue collar, almost Socialist theme, with echoes of the Protestant work ethic that harks back to some of Superman’s original themes, before the fantastic took over.
In comparison, Johnny Quick is head and shoulders above the rest. The very idea of speed automatically makes the series more vigorous, even if some of the science is more than dodgy. There is, however, a formula to the series in that increasingly they’re all about Johnny having to save the day by doing something relatively ordinary that would normally taken a large workforce days to complete, except that Johnny does it alone and at worst overnight. Add to that some Kubert-influenced art from Mort Meskin and Johnny Quick makes continued reading worthwhile.

Adv JohnnyAs for the Shining Knight, his adventures are, like those of Aquaman and The Green Arrow, are also basically bland but in a different, almost wholesome way. Weisinger’s knock-offs come over as almost aggressively bland, the characters striving to demonstrate their importance, even as their stories are flat and banal. The Shining Knight is just ordinary, but the continuing emphasis on chivalry adds a certain atmosphere that lifts it by just enough of a degree.
But I was bemused by issue 124 when, out of the blue, Sir Justin is partnered with Sir Butch, aka Butch from Beeler’s Alley in Flatbush. The kid is a modern, slang-talking young teen, a tough kid, who’s been back to Camelot with the Knight and been knighted by King Arthur. I’ll swear I’ve read that story somewhere, but this is the kid’s debut. I hope future issues will explain.
But whereas the Knight had appeared continuously since his debut, that run ended after issue 125. He would not finally depart for comic book limbo until issue 166, but from hereon he would be in and out of the title according to no particular rhythm or schedule. For instance, he’s in issue 127 but doesn’t appear again until issue 131, beginning a two-issue run.
Very slowly, the Superboy stories have been evolving out of their ten-year-old helps his pals style. Very slowly, Clark has been ageing, and the proof of this was in issue 131, when he first shows appreciation of a girl. No, it’s not Lana Lang but a brunette cutie named Betty, though in the world of DC Comics she might as well have been named Shallow, first turning him down for their school’s star athlete, then turning to Clark when she needs help with her homework.
The Shining Knight adventure in the next issue re-introduced Sir Butch by telling the out-of-order story of how he meets Sir Justin, goes back to Camelot with him and ends up being knighted by King Arthur: pretty poor editing – credited at this time, as all National’s titles were, to Whitney Ellsworth – to have the stories come out so widely spaced and in this order.
By the time of his next run, three issues from no.137, it seemed as if the feature had undergone a permanent change, that it was now set in Camelot and the out-of-time traveller was Sir Butch. Instead of fighting modern crooks with the weapons of the past (and a flying horse), Sir Justin brought the science of the future (and a flying horse) to the time of magic.

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The Superboy story in issue 140 was well in keeping with the general silliness creeping into the feature as Superboy accompanies an absent-minded Professor on the first rocket trip to the Moon, but it’s notable that, en route, the Boy of Steel has to fend off a destructive shower of meteorites that an excited caption identifies as remnants of Krypton. They have no effect on him. Mort Weisinger would have turned puce with anger at the missed opportunity. Superboy’s solo series – only the sixth ever from National or its predecessors – was in its infancy, so I’m guessing we can thank that series for this story to carry the first mention in Adventure of Smallville.
The overall truth, however, is still what I said in the first version of this post, that Adventure is simply too dull to be worthwhile. We have not yet reached the Fifties, the big three features offer nothing but blandness. Their stories are frequently not even stories bur rather catalogues of super-stunts featuring implausible exercises of their particular powers in combinations lacking in logic or even comprehensible sequence, and stopping without a climax when the page limit is reached.
Perhaps not surprisingly it’s the lesser features that offer some glimpse of enjoyment, though Johnny Quick very often succumbs to the same catalogue failing, but at least his art still has some spark of enthusiasm to it.
The chivalrous hero was back in 142, after two missing issues, and enjoying the best art of his career, though not yet from the young Frank Frazetta, but rather Ruben Moreira. To be honest, the is-he-or-isn’t-he? of whether there’ll be a Shining Knight story is the most interesting thing in this phase of the title, no disrespect to the still-entertaining Johnny Q.
Finally, Clark Kent’s parents appeared, in issue 145, taking him on a trip to Metropolis. It’s not much of an appearance: neither are named and Jonathan looks nothing like the standard portrait that became so familiar in the rapidly-nearing Fifties.
The Shining Knight had now appeared in four consecutive issues but not a fifth. Aquaman had a story in issue 147 where he found himself rescuing a man named Dan Dunbar over and over that wasn’t even a story but I note because Dan(ny) Dunbar was the identity of TNT’s sidekick, Dan the Dyna-mite, probably coincidence rather than conscious recycling.
There was an oddity in issue 149 with a six-page tale of the life of author Jack London interrupting the cycle that had by then run just under four years. Then Adventure hit issue 150 with a cover date of March 1950 and no fanfare or special features despite this being the company’s first title to reach that landmark. I couldn’t help but be amused to discover Johnny Quick’s villain – a man who hypnotised people into believing that he could walk through walls – being named The Spectre. Nah, buddy. And Frank Frazetta made his debut on The Shining Knight: nice art, and the first to make a flying horse’s wings look realistic.
Occasionally I wonder about certain things. The Trades Description Act, the one that sought to set up penalties for manufacturers and advertisers who told blatant porkies to get customers to buy their crappy stuff (and not only the crappy stuff: there was a memorable series of TV commercials featuring Bernard Miles admiring a pint of Guiness and burring that ‘it looks good, it tastes good, and by golly, it does you good’ which couldn’t be continued), wasn’t passed until 1968. I’ve no idea when the first of America’s Truth-in-Advertising Laws were passed, but I assume it wasn’t any time during the Forties. Or they would have been used against the words that appeared on every cover of Adventure: Another Exciting Story of Superman when he was Superboy. Another? I’m still waiting for the first.
Of course, the moment I noticed that, on issue 151’s cover, they dropped it!
I’ve never been a fan of Frazetta’s art, his posters and paperback covers, but on the Shining Knight he is absolutely fabulous, the best art ever to appear in the comic, and dragon’s head and shoulders above all the Knight’s other artists standing on each other’s shoulders on tiptoe.
To my surprise, the usual boring Aquaman story was missing from issue 159.
We’re still no nearer getting any thrilling Superboy stories but there was a nice, gentle tale in issue 160, showing both Clark Kent and Superboy turning a girl who thought of herself as dull and plain into a real-life Cinderella in the face of her cruel cousins. Sometimes, such stories err on the side of sentimentality but this balanced things out nicely, even down Clark losing the girl to more polished suitors without regret. And she had red hair. Hey, when do we finally get Lana Lang?
Next issue, in fact, no 161, large as life and twice as natural and already fully-formed in her snoopy-girl precursor to Lois Lane aspect. It’s genuinely nice to see her.
The consensus has always been that the Golden Age of Comics ended with the Justice Society of America’s final appearance in All-Star Comics 57. That came out the same month as Adventure 161, but in the original post I chose to go on to issue 166, despite not having it on the disc I was using. I chose that as my cut-off point because it featured The Shining Knight’s final appearance, and I shall do so again now.
The penultimate story was a curiosity, not a reprint but a re-presentation, a none-too old story completely redrawn by Frazetta, much more attractively. And he was there to the end, still utterly rock-solid and real.
So that’s the truer story of Adventure Comics in the Golden Age, as read issue by issue. What followed we already know and I’m not going over that again. So now I have the full story on all those Justice Society members whose solo series’ I wanted to read. And is that the eventual end of my Golden Age reads, after so many false endings? Actually, there is one more I plan to explore…

A Spot of Adventure: The Golden Age Revisited – Part 1


When I turned my attention to Adventure Comics a while back, I was disappointed that the DVD I acquired was so scanty as to that part of the series’ run that I most wanted to read, the Golden Age run of superheroes, The Sandman, The Hour-Man and Starman, whose adventures dominated the series between issues 40 and 102, when Adventure became a vehicle for Superboy.
I assumed the shortage of issues, or even complete ones throughout this period, was down to the DVD-maker not having access to the originals. After all, these are comics dating back eighty years or thereabouts, and several issues of the other early titles that I reviewed are represented only by blurry microfiches. Well, as in so many other things, I was wrong. And I now have a double-DVD collection of all Adventure‘s issues, all 500 of them.

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That means going all the way back, to the very beginning, in full, the pre-superhero age, to New Comics and New Adventure Comics, as well as the Golden Age run I couldn’t previously enjoy in full.
Needless to say, this calls for a revised and, you should excuse the expression, updated version of that first essay. Completeness is all, people, completeness is all.
I intend to focus on the true Golden Age period, but first a word about New Comics 1, which is of significance because of how far it reaches back, and what it shows of the very earliest comics, eighty pages, no reprints, of comics both comic and adventurous, interspersed with prose stories and articles, plus a puzzle page. You could call it a gallimaufrey of ideas or you could be less flattering and call it a collection of any old notion, flung willy-nilly at the wall with a view to seeing what stuck. Single pagers. Two pagers. Nothing more extensive than four pagers, some of which were two two-pagers back to back. No characters that you would ever have heard of unless you had actually read New Comics and were possessed of an extremely retentive memory. No characters that ever would be memorable, least of all for their art, which is scruffy, blobby, imprecise, thin, scanty and lacking even the least sense of panel-to-panel progression. Only three names that you knew: publisher and editor Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, assistant editor Vincent Sullivan, the man who would buy Superman, and a vigorous but as yet undistinguished boy cartoonist by the name of Sheldon Mayer.

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A second issue of New Comics proved to be the same all over again, so I jumped to no. 11, the last under that title, Over seventy-five percent of the features had changed, there were many more pages in full colour and an overall more confident and distinctive cartooning, very much of the era. There were also two more familiar names, on a series titled ‘Federal Men’, those of Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster.
A name change to New Adventure Comics saw the title through the next twenty issues. The new title was the only difference between issues 11 and 12 but Siegel and Shuster did take their series into the far future, to introduce a scientist-detective of the name Jor-L…
By issue 21, the title logo was in a very familiar shape, with only the stripped ‘New’ to distinguish it. Several series were still running, though there were no further upgrades in art. Wheeler-Nicholson used young writers and artists because they were cheap, but that meant they were inexperienced, too inexperienced and frequently untalented to make it in the more reputable and sophisticated world of the newspaper strip.

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The last issue before the series finally became Adventure Comics was no. 32. Wheeler-Nicholson had been ousted. The comics was now published by Detective Comics Inc. There was an in-house ad for Action Comics no. 5 on the inside front cover, one of the last ever not to feature Siegel and Shuster’s most famous creation. Some series’ rolled on, new ones had started, Dale Daring came to an end, notable only for being the most blatant Milton Caniff rip-off, with Dale as Burma and her handsome male companion Pat Ryan. Most features now ran more pages. The comic stuff was strictly limited.
So at last to the famous title. A couple of series, one comic, one another Terry and the Pirates rip (has there ever, incidentally been a better title for a breezy action strip?), produced by a guy called Bob Kane, still working with Bill Finger on his big idea.
But let’s round off this preliminary sweep up by jumping to issue 39, the last before the real jumping-on point. And let’s list those series: Barry Neill; Tiny; Cotton Carver; Federal Men; Jack Woods; Steve Malone; Captain Desmo: Tom Brent; Skip Schuyler; Rusty and his Pals; Anchors Aweigh. Compare that list with the one I made for issue 40, which eliminates a couple of these but replaces them with other series that had already been regulars and it’s next to impossible to determine what forgotten relic of the pre-Golden Age era had the honour of being the one that gave way to The Sandman.
That first story is still the same. From the cover onwards, the pulp detective figure in business suit, cape and gasmask, exactly as we know him… except that the suit is orange, not green, and the fedora green, not orange. The story, which I knew from reprints, is credited to Larry Dean but it’s actually by Gardner Fox and Bert Christman. Apart from a surprisingly slow and atmospheric sequence where Wesley Dodd (not Dodds) mooches round his house and leaves a doll in his bed before cracking open the secret tunnel to The Sandman’s lab, it’s not that a good story, naïve, simple, uninterestingly drawn. It wastes a lot of space but in return offers atmosphere.
There was no immediate change to the colour scheme and the second story fell far short of the first. The Sandman didn’t even retain the cover at first. But there was some fascinating, weird stuff now long forgotten, like Wes calling on two old Navy buddies to help him save old comrades from a vendetta, with all three as Sandmen, with the gasmask, as if resurrecting an old identity. The Sandman rarely wears his business suit, or uses his sweet-smelling gas. Instead, he’s more of a freelance Pat Ryan. The series is having a hard time pulling itself out of the morass of the bog-standard stuff at first.
But issue 44 established the familiar business suit and colour scheme, as well as introducing that master of disguise, The Face, who Matt Wagner would so memorably recreate many years later. And issue 47 introduced a woman named Dian Ware, aka the ‘Lady in Evening Clothes’, an expert safecracker who discovered Wesley Dodds’ other identity, and who turned out to actually be the kidnapped-as-a-baby daughter of, who else, DA Larry Belmont. Yes, enter The Sandman’s faithful girlfriend, and nice to see her.

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So far, The Sandman had ploughed a lonely furrow but he’d clearly established himself as Adventure‘s future for swinging in the next issue, including both cover and lead position, was Tick-Tock Tyler, aka The Hour-Man, created by Bernard Bailey. And just two episodes in, Dian Belmont was already providing a source of both adventure and romance to her Sandman, as well as persuading him to unmask before her father. The pulp business about The Sandman being wanted as a criminal was receding, but not in one smooth curve.
The silly thing about The Hour-Man was that he was actually known, initially, as Tick-Tock Tyler the Hour-Man. They really hadn’t got the bit about secret identities fully worked out, had they? And still the likes of Barry Neill, Cotton Carver, Federal Men, Anchors Aweigh and Rusty and his Pals clung on, though in the case of the last two, only until issue 52.
Truth to tell, and the fact that nearly all these issues are being shot from blurred fiches, neither series is much good. The Sandman is all running, jumping and leaping, substituting action for coherence whilst Hour-Man is just crude, even after issue 53 introduces Minute-Man Martin and the Minute-Men of America, namely a nation of ham-radio operating junior sidekicks. But it’s the latter who’s getting the covers now, month in month out.
There was a neat switch in issue 56’s Sandman story in which gangsters suspect Wes Dodds of being The Sandman and kidnap him, but he proves he can’t be when the Sandman turns up complete with gasmask and green suit, but that’s Dian Belmont instead! For the era, presenting the hero’s girlfriend as resourceful enough to do that, and succeed, was pretty forward-thinking, though it did arouse dire memories of Roy Thomas using the same device to kill Dian off, pre-Crisis, in All-Star Squadron.
A new series made it’s debut in issue 58, Paul Kirk, Manhunter, though this is not the famous Paul Kirk, in the red and blue costume, the creation of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, but a specialist in tracking people and a complete coincidence. Though the art was crude, as everybody’s was, the story was surprisingly clever.

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There was a new figure, and surprisingly good art, on the cover of issue 61, with the debut of Starman, created (officially) by Gardner Fox and drawn by Jack Burnley, one of the few Golden Age artists who were not scruffy, ill-proportioned, unimaginative and anatomically weak, and who indeed could compare with later and more sophisticated generations of artists on their own level.
And here’s a story: Starman was intended to be the next big thing, the new Superman or Batman. I’ve read that he was actually put together by a conference of editors at Detective Comics Inc. which suggests he was then fed to Fox, already a respected writer, to flesh out, and Fox did an excellent job on the first tale, which exuded a sense of gothic menace that nothing to date had done.
Starman was going to be big. Out went the long-running Barry O’Neill, to make room for his strip. Hourman was bumped off the cover to make way for him. Sandman was excised as the feature character in the ‘Big 6’ magazines in-house ad. And to ensure the new star got all the publicity in the world on the way to ascending to his own magazine, in the footsteps of Superman and Batman, he was to go straight into the Justice Society of America, in All-Star Comics. Which is where the timetable gets a little bit complicated.
Starman made his All-Star debut in issue 8, replacing Hourman. For decades, literally, we fans all thought Hourman got the push after only five appearances because his solo series had been cancelled, and All-Star was all about hurrying characters towards solo comics, but though the Man of the Hour would be the first JSA member to undergo cancellation, that would not take place for another eighteen months.
Then it came out about Starman being advanced in the manner he was. But Adventure was allowed only two representatives in All-Star and, even though he’d had by far the more covers since he was introduced, Hourman was identified as the less popular of the existing pair, which is why he was out.
But the timing’s off. Based on the inhouse ads, Adventure 61 was prior to All-Star 5. So why did it take three issue – six months, given that All-Star was only bi-monthly – to swap the characters out?
The answer, I am guessing, lay in the requirement of All-Star editor Sheldon Mayer that there always be three complete issues to hand, to insure against deadline issues. Which would explain the delay if Starman had to wait to have an original story written and drawn featuring him.
So now that was Starman, Paul Kirk, Hourman and The Sandman, plus the ongoing Mark Lancing of Mikishawm, Federal Men, Steve Conrad Adventurer and Cotton Carver holding the torch for the pre-Golden Age stuff. Federal Men was still being written by Jerry Siegel.
It’s silly, and even trite, but Ted (Starman) Knight’s cover for his secret activities is to pretend to be a bored hypochondriac, which arouses the despair and disgust of his girlfriend Doris Lee (niece of Starman’s FBI contact, Chief Woodley Allen). Doris, who is ‘Miss Lee’ to Ted in the first story because, well, they’re not formally engaged, a fact which overtakes the series between episodes, has a brilliant line in caustic comments about her malingering fiance, who has been checked out by every doctor in town but still complains that he’s ‘not a well man’. Between her and Dian Belmont, this is a fun comic.
There was an old Sandman story I’d once read in reprint, featuring the gasmask and gasgun, and I was watching out for it, knowing that the redesign had to be due soon and it finally appeared in issue 65.
Next of the old guard to surrender was Mark Lansing. He was replaced in issue 66 by The Shining Knight, Sir Justin of Camelot, a young knight invested with golden armour, a magic sword and a flying horse after he rescued Merlin from Nimue’s tree-trap only to pre-empt Captain America by being frozen in the ice until 1941. Nice to read the original at last, but gosh, the art was not just terrible but tiny.
Next issue, the Starman story was another I knew of old, a reprint in the Seventies, introducing arch-enemy The Mist. And the issue after that was the last of the pulp Sandman and, sadly, feisty Dian Belmont, refusing to be left behind, insisting on butting in on his cases and doing good stuff. The yellow and purple skintight costume, paired at first with a long purple cape, came in in issue 69, but Simon and Kirby weren’t yet ready to take over. Also gone was the gas gun, which was hardly being used anyway and in came Sandy the Golden Boy, a kid without a background who’d sewed himself a costume, in yellow and red, like the one the Sandman had never worn before, pretending to be the Sandman, acting like a thoughtless kid, making puns that wouldn’t come into vogue for twenty years and ready to go off with someone whose face he hasn’t even seen at the drop of a cape: he’s just made for measure, isn’t he?

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Issue 70 was one of the few complete issues on the original DVD, so it was familiar to me, and it’s a very rare instance on this DVD of something shot from a comic, not a microfiche. Once again, I must mention the startling leap in Bernard Bailey’s artwork on Hourman, now formally bounced from the JSA and the drawing of his mask as a tight-fitting cowl and eye-mask, though the dwarf on a flying carpet who looks like a visitor from outer space, though he’s not, is still a joke.
Ten issues on, Ted Knight’s self-portrayal as a hypochondriac weakling is still being laid on with a fourteen foot trowel. That’s not so bad in itself, but it begs the question why his fiancee, Doris Lee, an attractive, forthright, intelligent young woman, puts up with him for more than one story, given that most people faced with such a weak wuss, convinced he’s got every malady under the sun whilst actually being physically hale, would have concluded that the only thing wrong with him was the absence of a spine and given him the very elegant pointed-toe sandal in the unmentionables.
Either that or concluded that he’s a hopeless addict forever racing off for his fix.
Continuing on the Starman theme, I heralded The Mist’s debut by describing him as Starman’s arch-enemy because that’s how he has been billed since he was revived for the first Starman/Black Canary team-up in Brave & Bold in 1965, but issue 71 saw the third appearance of the would-be world conquering scientist, The Light, already, and he’s been completely forgotten since the Golden Age.
Meanwhile, now Hourman was on leave of absence from the JSA, Bailey could go further in revising him, changing the Miraclo pills for what looked like a Miraclo lightbulb, without spotting the fatal flaw of not being able to stop to take a new lightbath as easily as a pill when his sixty minutes were up (there was none of this stuff about having to wait to take a second pill back then). Even more stupidly, Rex Tyler had had a mini-Hourman costume made up for Jimmy Martin, Captain of his boy assistants, the Minutemen of America, to go adventuring with him without any Miraclo-based powers. Hoo boy.
And in the Sandman series, Sandy the Golden Boy is finally given a second name. Yes, we know, he’s Sandy Hawkins, isn’t he? Always was, always will be, right? Wrong. Sandy McGann. It’s these little things, these details, that I love so much to discover, not necessarily the stories themselves. Incidentally, Federal Men had finally gone from Adventure‘s pages.
The brief interregnum ended after only three issues as the famed team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby arrived at Detective Comics after being cheated by Martin Goodman of Timely Comics out of the royalties due them for their creation, Captain America, and took over Sandman in issue 72, throwing out the unwieldy capes on the spot and introducing the dream-theme that, one day, would go towards stimulating the imagination of an as-yet unborn British boy called Neil. And the name McGann only lasted one issue…
And with Simon and Kirby came the Paul Kirk Manhunter we knew, snatching issue 73’s cover away from Starman, and in doing so ending the illusion that here was the next star in the firmament (she was already three or four issues into Sensation Comics). But this Manhunter wasn’t yet Paul Kirk, but at first his name was Rick Nelson. It’s the same story, the big-game hunter turning his talents to hunting men, just not yet by the famous name.

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Hourman’s series is collapsing into idiocy before our eyes. The Miraclo ray fades out in every story now, the latest episode ditches Jimmy Martin for fellow Minute-Man Thorndyke, the one with the pullover up to his nose like one of the Bash Street Kids, but takes off his ever-present check cap to reveal a cartoon haircut, and who Hourman starts calling Jimmy… Just what is editing supposed to be about? How soon does this crap get cancelled?
By now, Steve Conrad is the only hold-out from the old guard. Eve Bannerman, Rex Tyler’s love interest has been missing in action for months. Eve Barclay, the Shining Knight’s love interest has already forgotten and it’s only taken two issues for Rick Nelson to become Paul Kirk: thanks be that Roy Thomas never got this far.
Sandman returned to the cover with issue 75, this time as the ‘permanent’ feature. Starman would not take it back again. Suddenly, Thorndyke knows Rex Tyler is Hourman.
The Mist finally reappeared in issue 77, the issue in which Steve Conrad finally lost his spot. His replacement was Genius Jones, the boy with every answer (if you’ve got a dime), a strip that I still cannot decide if it’s genius or utter crap. It was better than Steve Conrad, certainly. At last I could read every feature in Adventure. Genius Jones was drawn by Stan Kaye but his writer, initially, was the great Alfred Bester, who got a rare credit on issue 78, though I wouldn’t want my name attached to a story about a ‘Slap Happy Jappy’.
Ever since he’d been introduced, Starman had been the lead feature in the comic, and Sandman the last. Now in issue 80, for the first time since Hourman had been introduced, Sandman regained his old slot up front, the Man of Night went back one and the Man of the Hour brought up the rear.
With issue 81, art duties on Starman passed to Mort Morton Jr and Jerry Roussos. Given that it features a blind boy getting shot in the head and discovering he can now see, the new firm are clearly not an improvement. Meanwhile, Bernard Bailey’s art on Hourman seemed to be changing (for the worst) every issue, though not for much longer. Simon and Kirby were being billed on the cover for Sandman but had already passed Manhunter off to someone else. Genius Jones was Genius Jones, and I still haven’t made my mind up.
Art standards were falling all round, except for Stan Kaye on Genius Jones. Were all the decent artists being taken off to the War?
The art on Hourman in issue 83 was the worst yet, so bad that Bernard Bailey didn’t sign it until the last panel. To give him credit, I don’t think he did draw it. But either way, this nadir was the nadir, the Man of the Hour’s last appearance until Justice League of America 21 in 1963, and Thorndyke’s last appearance ever. He was not missed.
His place was taken by a throwback to the early days, Mike Gibbs, reporter and practical joker, working with the Resistance in France as ‘Guerilla’, an underground operative allied to independent female French resistance Agent, Captain (Marie) Hwart (what kind of French name is that?)
There seemed to be a general malaise about all the title’s series. True, the War was in full spate, paper-rationing had cut frequency back to bi-monthly, stories were being stripped down to basic details, adventure and nothing else, but I’ve read other series of the duration and it’s not seemed so blatant. Why Adventure and not, say, All-American? Or Star-Spangled?
I very much miss Jack Burnley. Starman doesn’t just suffer from weak art but dumb writing. We were a long way from the days of Woodley Allen, Doris Lee and Ted Knight’s hypochondria, leaving the stories perfunctory in the extreme and full of incidents like Starman escaping notice by standing against a poster and ‘blending into’ a background composed of completely different colours from his costume.
And for some reason, Manhunter’s logo was designed out of logs. That’s right, short logs, arranged as letters.
Issue 91 was a bit better than the contemporary standard, and went without our war-chum Guerilla, although that must have been just a short file, because he was back the next issue, which saw Simon and Kirby come off Sandman, and some horrendous imitation try to keep up with them. They were credited with the story in issue 94, but it was only possible if they drew it with their feet. And Manhunter’s run came to an end at the same point, not to be seen again until 1973, when Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson remembered him so vividly.
As issue 100 rolled around, the art on all four series got exponentially worse, even on Genius Jones, which had always been drawn in a loose, rubbery cartoon style. Now it was just crude and ugly, so much so that if it still had any credits, which had all been dropped since the last Simon/Kirby Sandman, I would have been looking for my own name.
I’d seen issue 100 before, and I’m still impressed by the Guerilla story, for its powerful anti-racism message, which was all the stronger for being set in a War context. It was bold and simple: any man who tries to turn races against one another is a traitor. I wish we could eradicate those who hate.
First time round I was able to cover the entire Golden Age in a single post, but that was because the number of issues I had were so few. Now, with a full set, I will need to break it into two parts, and the first part ends with issue 102.
Adventure Comics‘s first phase ended with issue 40, when The Sandman was introduced, starting the gradual takeover of the series by an all-superhero line-up. Now, editorial fiat elsewhere at Detective Comics Inc. brought the second phase to an end, and with it the Golden Age careers of Sandman and Starman, and also Mike Gibbs, Guerilla, who would never be revived by Julius Schwartz. There were big changes coming, and what those changes were will be the subject of Part 2.

Retroactive Fandom: The Starman Dynasty


Nearly twenty years ago, for no better reason than it amused me, and without thought of publication for there was nowhere to publish it then, I wrote the following piece about Starman, as things stood about 2001. It’s sat on my laptop(s) ever since, taking up pixels. I recently rediscovered it, and, realising I’d never posted it anywhere, decided to repair that omission. I have neither updated nor ‘improved’ it in any way, the latter of which may be fairly easy to tell, but it has been very mildly revised, but not in any way as to make me look any cleverer than I was then.

When, in 1956, editor Julius Schwartz agreed to revive The Flash, on condition he was allowed to start afresh with the character, it marked a subtle but signal change in the nature of superhero comics. Since that date, primarily at DC but throughout the superhero industry, characters have become virtual franchises, secret identities coming and going, with only the name eternal.
The development was inevitable, in retrospect. If the mask is the face, what then the importance of the face behind the mask? Soon, even those characters who lack a mask, who are nothing but themselves, and their own name, become only the progenitor of a tradition.
When, in 1996, John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake introduced the new Mr Terrific in the pages of The Spectre, they completed a cycle that, surprisingly, had taken fully 40 years. Michael Holt’s appropriation of the long-gone identity of the late Terry Sloane marked the point at which an entire shadow Justice Society of America, composed entirely of the heirs in the mask of its members, could have been compiled.
If some of those successors were no longer able to play their roles at that time, it is of little matter: each JSA member had had his or her second.
Of those fifteen acknowledged JSA members from the Golden Age, none has had more successors than Starman: the Astral Avenger may have come late to the game, lasting almost 20 years after Showcase 4 before spawning an attempt to flesh out the name, but he has been busy ever since, especially in the last half dozen years.
Writer James Robinson and artist Tony Harris produced a new Starman series which commenced in 1994, in the wake of Zero Hour. It not only drew the four existing Starmen into one single, comprehensible mythos, but added no less than four others to the lineage. Indeed, it’s not too far to go to suggest that Robinson added two more names, future bearers of the line. Though it’s not usual to count future-versions as part of the canon, unless and until the current holder leaves his post, on this occasion it’s appropriate to say that Starman has reached double figures in identities.
Or is it?

Starman 1

The beauty of Robinson’s run has been the elegance with which a mythos has been created. So, paying parallel attention to narrative chronology and the official history as woven together by Robinson, let us examine the Starman dynasty.
The first Starman was Ted Knight, who made his debut in Adventure in 1940, and who was created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Jack Burnley. Starman appeared in Adventure until 1946 when his series was dropped. He became a member of the Justice Society of America in unknown circumstances prior to All Star 8, and left, again in unknown circumstances, following All Star 23.
Ted Knight was a socialite, scientist and amateur astronomer, who discovered a source of energy emanating from the stars. Working with Professor Davies, Ted built a device to trap, contain and direct the energy, which he named the Gravity Rod. Using the Gravity Rod, Ted could fly, and could project force fields and force beams, comprised of light and heat. He used these powers to fight evil as Starman.
Needless to say, the bare bones of this origin have been fleshed out down the years. It has been established that Ted built the Gravity Rod on his own, having allowed the claim that Professor Davies was the inventor to disseminate in order to draw attention away from Ted Knight. He had no reason, as such, for becoming a costumed mystery-man, no deaths to avenge etc: he simply did it because it was right.
In the Forties, Ted used to pose as a bored hypochondriac, to accentuate the difference between himself and Starman, in case his absence was remarked upon when the latter was around. His long-term girl-friend, Doris Lee, was the niece of famous G-Man Woodley Allen, who was able to contact Starman with a flare pistol. Starman was given no home base but, in Robinson’s series, it has been clearly established that he lived and fought in Opal City, where his father had been a successful industrialist.
Starman joined the JSA as replacement for Hourman, who had taken ‘leave of absence’. For decades it was assumed that the changeover reflected the cancellation of the latter’s series in Adventure when he was actually forced out by the demand to give Starman – who was expected to be as popular as Superman and Batman – as much exposure as possible. No contemporaneous explanation for the change was given, and it was left to Roy Thomas in All Star Squadron Annual 3 (1984), to provide an account.
In that story, Starman was shown as brash, self-confident, convinced he deserved to be a JSA member, but unable to contact them. Whilst patrolling, he sees, and trails, Hourman, and is thus on hand to pull the latter’s chestnuts out of the fire when his powers fail in battle. Starman accompanies Hourman on the rest of the mission, and is thus showered with Ian Karkull’s chronal radiation, which has the effect of slowing his ageing processes. When Hourman seeks leave of absence to work on the problems with his Miraclo pill, he nominates Starman as his replacement.
Starman was a JSA member for 16 issues, departing abruptly after issue 23, along with the Spectre. This change was enforced by the decision of All-American Publications to sever relations with Detective Comics, Inc., and go it alone. Starman, a Detective Comics character, had thus to be dropped: at least two stories had already been completed featuring him, and Green Lantern was drawn in over Starman (except that in two panels of All Star 26, by an oversight, Green Lantern is shown wielding Starman’s Gravity Rod instead of his own Power Ring!)
No internal explanation was given, and this was again left to Thomas, in the 1985 America versus the Justice Society mini-series to have Starman claim that he retired at that time because of a promise made to his (unidentified) wife, who feared for his life: his return to action in later years was said to have been after her death.
The first Starman returned to action in 1964, in the second JLA/JSA team-up, in Justice League of America 29/30, before going on the following year to share two issues of Brave & Bold, teaming up with Black Canary: their first meeting had, apparently, been in the JLA team-up, she having started her career after Starman’s retirement from comics.
Little was done with Starman after his return in the Sixties. He had up-graded his Gravity Rod, and re-named it the Cosmic Rod: it was now, in effect, a more scientific version of Green Lantern’s Power Ring. There was no sign of Doris Lee, and no personal development for Ted Knight until James Robinson first wrote about him in the mini-series The Golden Age in 1993.
By then, no less than three other Starmen had been tried out by DC. Before carrying on with Ted Knight’s story, let’s briefly review each of these three.

Starman 3

The second Starman had the briefest of careers, appearing and disappearing in a single issue: First Issue Special 12 in 1975. This title was a latter day Showcase equivalent, presenting one-off concepts which (despite the implications of the title) were never seriously intended as on-going series, but instead a series of No. 1 issues.
This Starman was Mikaal Tomas, a blue-skinned alien who fired power blasts from a crystal on a chain around his neck. He was part of an alien force massing on the dark side of the Moon, intent on invasion and conquest but, touched by a conscience alien to his race, Mikaal chose to use his powers to defend Earth, and turned renegade.
The third Starman followed in 1980, the creation of writer Paul Levitz and artist Steve Ditko. Like Ted Knight, he appeared in Adventure, debuting in 467 as one of two new series created when the title slimmed down from Dollar size to the ordinary 32 pages.
Prince Gavyn, an indolent young man, was one of two heirs to a Galactic Empire whose custom was to put surplus heirs to death. Gavyn assumed he would take the throne and commute the sentence on his sister: she was chosen and refused to tamper with tradition. Gavyn was thrown from a spacecraft, but somehow survived and was vested with cosmic powers, which he projected by means of a wooden staff.
Eventually, Gavyn saved his sister’s life and took over the Empire, but in Crisis on Infinite Earths, when his planet faced the wave of anti-matter, he went out to battle it and perished.
The fourth Starman was created in 1988 by writer Roger Stern and artist Tom Lyle in his own series, the first to bear the title Starman. He was Arizonan Will Payton, a long-haired young man who was struck by a bolt of energy accidentally projected from a satellite which had been built to attract that energy. Peyton derived tremendous energy powers, enabling him to fly, project power blasts and also change his features.
His series was, frankly, pretty ropey, and though it sold well enough to last four years, it was never a particularly good seller. In issues 26 and 27, Stern addressed the fact that Peyton had, effectively, stolen the Starman name without having any right to it, by introducing David Knight, son of Ted.
David Knight had supposedly been in Europe and was planning to launch his career as Starman, in succession to his father (who had now died, apparently, of natural causes, which was at odds with the fact that Starman was, as we will see, supposedly alive in limbo with the exiled JSA), when he learned of Peyton’s use of the name. Encouraged by his personal trainer Murph, David challenged Peyton to a duel for the right to the name. Peyton didn’t want to fight: he hadn’t chosen the name Starman, it had been given him by the Press (again), and he hadn’t known there’d been a previous Starman – or even a JSA! But the fight was engineered by Murph, who was really Ted Knight’s old enemy the Mist in disguise, out to steal both Starman’s power in order to become Nimbus, a sort of thinking cloud.
Both Starmen, but principally Payton, defeated the Mist, and David withdrew his claim, on the twin grounds that Payton clearly deserved it more and that his one and only Star Sceptre – as Stern unnecessarily and inexplicably renamed the Cosmic Rod – had been destroyed.
Peyton’s series was cancelled in 1992 and the fourth Starman sacrificed his life to take down Eclipso, God of Rage, in that year’s crossover series, Eclipso: The Darkness Within.
Before turning to Robinson’s long efforts to draw every aspect of Starman into a seamless whole, let us bring Ted Knight’s pre Zero Hour appearances up to date.
The Crisis on Infinite Earths crushed the former Multiverse into a single Universe, in which the JSA had been the heroes of another generation, not another world. In its immediate wake, DC made the first of several efforts to dispose of the JSA for good: in the course of a badly-written and even more badly-drawn adventure, they were drawn into a limbo dimension where, magically rejuvenated, they took on the roles of the Teutonic Gods in staving off Gotterdammerung, forever.
It is this that occupied the first Starman’s time whilst the Will Payton Starman was active: the advice David Knight had that his father was dead could well have been official disinformation about his true fate, which was not properly known to the outside world, but that’s not how it was presented.
A 1990 mini-series set in the previously unexplored era of 1950 showed the JSA facing up against Vandal Savage: Ted Knight, Director of a New Mexico Observatory, is injured and seemingly crippled in the first issue, after which he forced to work for Savage: in the final issue of eight, he returns to action as Starman, to defeat the villain, after which he proposes a return to active duty and the JSA, though this never comes about.
This was followed by a 10 issue series in 1992, ended by possibly premature cancellation. The JSA, released from limbo by a swap with the Crisis leftover Harbinger, retain some but not all of their mystical rejuvenation, and return to action. Ted Knight sits it out, returning to his Observatory, until the last two issues, when his scientific Cosmic Rod is required to defeat the magics of Kulak.

Starman 4

Starman next appeared in 1993’s The Golden Age, a four issue prestige format series written by James Robinson and drawn by Paul Smith. Originally intended as a revision of DC’s post-War continuity, the series was shifted to an Elseworlds project – an intermittent series where familiar heroes are set in a different context – though Robinson chose to stay very close to the ‘real’ world. The effect was that anything ‘established’ in The Golden Age would not have an effect in the mainstream continuity.
The story covered the period from 1946 to January 1950. The War is over and the troops are coming home. Costumed mystery-men, kept out of the War by first Roosevelt’s Presidential Decree, then Truman’s reservations about them, are eclipsed, many of them going into retirement. One previously second rate hero, Tex Thompson, aka Mr America, the Americommando, is lionised: he had gone underground in the SS, and killed Hitler in his bunker in the final days of the War in Europe.
Thompson parlays his popularity into a political career, entering the Senate as a virulent Red-baiter. He heads a project to create a new superhero, one going unmasked, unlike the others, who he attacks, one who will be an American figurehead: Dynaman.
Eventually, the heroes discover Thompson to be the Ultra-Humanite, an evil scientist and old Superman foe, whose technique is to transplant his brain into different bodies. Dynaman is also a transplant – he has Hitler’s brain. In a climactic battle in Washington at the very dawn of the Fifties, Thompson and Dynaman are killed, but several heroes die.
Starman comes into the story in the first and final issues. In the first, he is in a sanatorium. Before the war, Ted Knight had corresponded with Einstein on various theories: some of Einstein’s calculations had gone into creating the Gravity Rod, some of Ted’s into creating the Atom Bomb. Unable to bear the weight of guilt for his part in that, Ted suffered a nervous breakdown. By day he is old before his time, apologetic, weeping, broken: at night, under starlight, he feverishly computes and calculates.
By the final part, he has recovered his reason, and is brought to the final battle as a would-be saviour, physically out of condition but wielding the first, quarter-staff sized Cosmic Rod: it is broken easily, and Starman knocked out, but the shard of the Cosmic Rod is used to kill Dynaman at the end.
In a final sweep-up, Ted is shown to have fully recovered, to have married a plain girl with a great sense of humour.
Lastly came Zero Hour itself, DC’s final serious attempt to dispose of its septuagenarian heroes. Extant kills two members of the JSA and ages the rest, removing all their immunities to the passage of time. Starman remains hale and healthy, but lacks the reactions, physical or mental, to intervene. Recognising the end of his career, at the Hospital waiting for word on two more friends (one dead, one recovering), he greets his two sons. He hands his Cosmic Rod to the elder, David: the younger, Jack, wants nothing to do with it.
Thus we reach James Robinson’s Starman series.

Starman 5

The second Starman series ran for 81 issues (0-80), written by James Robinson and drawn by Tony Harris (approx. 40 issues) and Peter Snejberg (approx. 30 issues). It began immediately after Zero Hour, with the fifth Starman, David Knight, about to go on patrol less than a week into his career, being mocked by his younger brother Jack. David Knight is shot and killed that night, as the prelude to a crimewave sponsored by Ted Knight’s arch-enemy, the Mist: Jack Knight, despite his disdain for the Starman tradition, finds himself forced to take up the Cosmic Rod, first to avenge his brother’s death and then on a full-time basis as the sixth Starman.
The remainder of the series dealt with Jack’s career: his growth, reluctant but sure, into the role, his understanding of the Starman tradition and, finally, his retirement when he becomes responsible for his own son, and his forthcoming daughter.
Early in the series, we learn of another Starman, a mystery figure generally referred to as the Starman of 1951, who appeared in Opal, wearing an orange and yellow costume, fighting crime during one of Ted’s absences through break-down, and who was last seen on New Year’s Day 1952. This Starman is therefore the second Starman, moving everyone else but Ted up a place, and making Jack the seventh.
No-one knows anything about the second Starman, although Ted, in issue 62, admits to knowing more than he’s let on, thanks to Jack: Jack’s final adventure, in issues 77-79, takes him back to 1951 to learn the mystery Starman’s identity: he discovers that there were actually two 1951 Starmen, bumping the line up even further! Thus Jack is the eighth.
In addition, Robinson introduces two new figures to the lineage. The first is the Starman to come, Danny Blaine. Blaine is established as Jack’s successor, not immediately, but very soon after Jack ceases to be Starman: he will go on to be one of the legendary holders of the name, spoken of with similar reverence to Ted.
He is, in fact, Thom Kallor of the 30th Century, aka Star Boy of the Legion of Super Heroes. Jack, displaced in time, meets Thom in the future in issues 49-50. The Shade, an immortal villain who plays a connecting role in much of Robinson’s series, reveals to Thom that, after Jack has ended his duties, Thom will go back in time to become Starman, adopting the name Danny Blaine to hide his true identity from his younger future self until the time came for him to learn it. Thom is afraid of his future: he knows Danny Blaine’s career, including when and how he will die.
When the series ends, Blaine has still not materialised, but he appears in issues 79-80 when he arrives to retrieve Jack from 1951 and return him to his present day: it is Blaine’s last duty after a long, hard life. When he returns to his own time, it will be the day before his death.
This future Starman was Robinson’s present to the DC universe, to be taken up as and when someone wished to do their own Starman series: because of his association with a long-standing DC character, and his intrusion into this time period, he should be regarded as the ninth Starman.
Or should that be tenth? In issue 80, Jack left his role, for good, handing over his Cosmic Rod to, of all people, teenager Courtney Whitmore, the new Star-Spangled Kid. Courtney, created by Geoff Johns and Lee Moder, had had her own short-lived series between 1999-2000 (15 issues) and was a member of the new JSA. She had the Cosmic Converter Belt of the original Star-Spangled Kid, Sylvester Pemberton Jr, who had been transplanted from the Forties to modern times. The Belt had been created by Ted Knight as a another way of using his Cosmic power, and indeed at one point Pemberton had briefly considered adopting the name Starman, before recognising the need for it to stay in the Knight family. Instead, he had become Skyman, and subsequently been killed.
Courtney had been joined by Jack in her debut adventure, and was nominated for JSA membership by him when his own commitments prevented him from being more than a reservist. During the Sins of Youth crossover, all the adult JSAer’s became children and Courtney an adult, using the Cosmic Rod as Starwoman until the crisis was over.
With the clearest possible intimation that Courtney will become Starwoman when she reaches adulthood, Jack bequeathed her the Rod. On this ground, we would perhaps recognise Courtney’s future role as being the ninth Starman, so to speak.
Thus we at last begin…

Starman 6

In 1938 or 1939, Ted Knight, son of Henry Knight, of Knight Industries, Opal City, discovers a source of cosmic energy emanating from the stars, and sets to work trying to contain and use it. In late 1939, after the outbreak of war in Europe, he applies for a military grant to pursue his work, but despite advice and support from New York Industrialist Wes Dodds (his future JSA colleague, Sandman), is unsuccessful.
The following year, he succeeds in building the first Gravity Rod. Excited by the number of costumed mystery men springing up all across America, he designs a striking red and green costume and takes to the night skies of Opal as Starman. He will be Opal City’s protector for the next 45 years, with intervals.
During the Forties, Ted conceals his secret identity by posing as a bored hypochondriac. Despite this, he forms a long-term relationship with Doris Lee. As Starman, Ted establishes a close working relationship with Opal City’s Police, in particular Inspector (later Commissioner) “Red” Bailey, and Patrolman Billy O’Dare.
In 1941, Starman joins the JSA, replacing Hourman, presumably in similar circumstances to those previously established. It is assumed he gains longevity courtesy of Karkull’s radiation, as before.
Starman serves as an active member of the JSA until 1944. As a scientific rationalist, he is one of the few people to deny that his colleagues Dr Fate and the Spectre use magic: Ted believes that they manipulate a form of energy as yet undiscovered by science, but subject to discoverable principles. In 1944, he encounters Etrigan the Demon when battling Nazi saboteurs: Ted’s inability to account for the demon makes the first crack in his belief system.
The following year, Starman witnesses the power of the Atom Bomb for the first time. Unable to bear the weight of knowing that he has contributed, in some small part, to creating this immense, barely controllable form of energy, Ted suffers a nervous breakdown in 1946. He leaves the JSA and is in and out of sanatoria for the next five years. In between times, he continues to serve in Opal.
It is not known whether the encounter with Vandal Savage in 1950 now takes place. The battle against Thompson and Dynaman in Washington is not an official part of Starman’s history, but early in Robinson’s series, Ted alludes briefly to the January 1950 battle, suggesting that some version of it took place.
Early in 1951, Ted’s long-term girlfriend Doris Lee uncovers his secret identity. Shortly thereafter, she is murdered by an unknown assailant. Ted suffers a further breakdown, this time exacerbated by a hatred of Starman and his costume.
Dr Charles McNider removes to Opal and creates the identity of the second Starman. McNider is better known as Ted Knight’s JSA colleague Dr Mid-Nite: his own home city having been calmed, McNider transfers his attentions to Opal to fill-in for his fallen comrade. Out of respect for Knight’s condition, he adopts a radically different orange and yellow costume, and enlists the assistance of minor superheroes to create technology that hides the fact he is blind, which would give his identity away to Ted.
McNider operates as “the Starman of 1951” for between nine and ten months of that year. In or about October, he meets a stranger dressed in Starman’s costume: this is David Knight, displaced in time from 1994. David is unaware of his death, or that he has been transferred to 1951 by the late Kent (Dr Fate) Nelson (who is able to take advantage of Jon Valor’s curse, which has prevented the soul of anyone dying in Opal City from going to its rest).
Shortly thereafter, McNider leaves, to return to his home city to deal with issues arising there. (These issues are not identified but are believed to arise from Dr Mid-Nite having been identified as having brought down, and killed, the Spider, a supposed superhero in Keystone City exposed as a crimelord: the Shade was responsible for the Spider’s demise, having acted to protect his friendly foe, the Flash, and deal with a member of a family pursuing a vendetta against him: to conceal his involvement from the remainder of the super-villain community he left clues suggesting Mid-Nite’s responsibility).
David Knight takes over as Starman, becoming the third Starman.
Between Christmas and New Year, Jack Knight, having recently determined to retire as Starman, is sent back in time by the late Kent Nelson, for purposes unknown. He encounters David, learning his and McNider’s secret, and assists David and Hourman against a plot by The Mist. Jack tells David of his future death. Both conceal their parentage from Ted: however, Ted sees a clue overlooked by the boys, which requires him to resume his Starman costume, to prevent the Mist escaping. The Mist is revealed as responsible for Doris Lee’s death.
On New Year’s Day, 1952, Jack persuades Ted to go to a party, unaware that this is where Ted meets Adele Doris Drew – David and Jack’s mother – who would otherwise have left Opal City for good. David disappears, his time up, the Starman of 1951 disappearing as mysteriously as he appeared. Jack leaves Ted a lengthy secreted note explaining everything: by inference from comments made by Ted a short time before his death, we are led to believe Ted did discover the note.
Jack is returned to his present by the Starman to come, Danny Blaine, aka Thom Kallor. Blaine is much older than when Jack met him as Kallor: he is performing his last act in returning Jack to 2001: when he returns to his own time, it will be to the day before his death.
Ted resumes his career as Starman, but does not return to the JSA: in 1951 they face a Congressional Committee manipulated behind the scenes by Vandal Savage, who uses the Red Menace to cast suspicion upon costumed and masked heroes. Affronted by the demand that they unmask to allow themselves to be investigated, the Justice Society retires and disappears into private life.
With very few exceptions, costumed heroes disappear. Some, like the Jester, who assists Starman in Opal City on one occasion, simply retire having grown too old. Many are forced into retirement by Congress fuelled public opinion.
Ted Knight continues to act. In Opal, he has the support of the Police and the public, and can ride out most storms in public opinion.
In the 1960’s, he teams up with Black Canary, one of the later heroes. The association becomes personal and the heroes have a brief affair, which ends because both love their spouses. The decision is very timely in Ted’s case: the following day Adele announces she is pregnant with David.
Four years later, Jack is born, taking more after his mother. Adele falls ill however, early in Jack’s life and, after a spell in a nursing home, dies when he is still a young child. Ted is left to bring both boys up alone whilst continuing his career. At some point, his identity becomes generally known in Opal.

Starman 7

In or about 1974, Mikaal Tomas arrives on the dark side of the Moon as part of an alien invasion fleet from Talok IV. Mikaal is selected to wield an energy crystal, which is tuned to his nervous system. Affected by the pacifist instincts of his girl-friend, he turns against his people and descends to Earth to defend the planet against attack. After a few forays, the attacks cease. Later, Mikaal learns that a threat to the home planet, which was destroyed, forced the fleet to scatter.
Deprived of any purpose, Mikaal begins to battle crime, meeting both the JSA’s Green Lantern and the Martian Manhunter. Some people call him Starman: he is the fourth. He drifts, satisfying himself with discos, casual sex and drugs, until he barely knows his own purpose. Half attracted by another Starman, he arrives in Opal City in 1976. There he confronts the last survivor of his race: in mental battle he kills his attacker, only to find that the crystal is now seared into his flesh.
After the battle, he is kidnapped and drugged. He spends the next twenty years or so in captivity, a freak exhibit passed between eccentric collectors, until he is taken by Bliss, an incubus posing as a circus owner, feeding off pain and terror. Mikaal, his memory lost, is exhibited as the Cosmic Geek.
At some unknown point in the Seventies, Prince Gavyn becomes the fifth Starman, enjoying an identical career as previously shown. Becoming Emperor, he marries his childhood sweetheart, Merria, and proves to be a wise and beloved ruler.
Approximately ten years before the current day, the new age of heroes begins with the appearance of Superman. The period from 1951 and the effective end of the first superheroic generation has never been adequately defined: indeed, with every year it gets longer! There have been suggestions of other groups of heroes at different times, but officially, the canonical current day DC Universe has occurred in the last ten years.
A new generation of heroes arises, some – Flash, Green Lantern, Black Canary – adopting the names of heroes of the past. A new team, the Justice League of America, the first of several incarnations, emerges. The JSA emerges formally from its long retirement, although some of its members have been active for longer or shorter periods in the interval.
Faced with a threat that requires a weapon devised by a member of the Seven Soldiers of Justice, the JLA and JSA team up to rescue its members, cast into time and lost in the late Forties. Sylvester Pemberton Jr, the Star Spangled Kid, still a teenager, resumes his heroic career. At approximately the same time, Ted breaks his leg in battle against The British Bat: whilst recuperating, he loans his Cosmic Rod to the Kid, who later works with him to apply the technology to a Cosmic Converter Belt.
Ted is dissatisfied with both his sons: David, away at College, has little contact with home, Jack, still at home, is a surly and unfriendly rebel. Whilst Sylvester’s belt is being repaired, the new Icicle attacks Opal and he borrows the Cosmic Rod to defeat him. Ted asks him to keep the Rod, and take the name Starman but though Sylvester is tempted, he recognises the potential within Jack and refuses. He becomes Skyman, thanks to a chance remark by Jack. Sylvester dies in action without Ted seeing him again.
About five years ago, the Earth is attacked from the Anti-Matter dimension by a powerful being called the Anti-Monitor, an event that is known as ‘The Crisis’. In its wake, the JSA, including Starman, are called upon to enter Limbo to prevent an attack by mystical beings. They are mystically rejuvenated. Meanwhile, on Earth, only Dr Fate is aware of the true fate of the JSA: the member’s families are given no news and are led to believe the heroes are dead. Jack remains convinced his father is still alive.
As the Crisis reaches its peak, the wall of antimatter approaches Throneworld. Gavyn prepares to face it, rejecting Merria’s attempts to persuade him to flee with her. He is afraid of death, but his duty is to his people, who cannot flee. He faces the anti-matter and is destroyed by it: scant seconds later, thanks to the efforts of the heroes on distant Earth, the anti-matter disperses. Gavyn is hailed as a hero by his people, who believe his sacrifice to have been the cause when, if he had delayed even a half minute longer with Merria, he would have survived.
Shortly after the Crisis, Arizonan Will Payton is struck by a bolt of energy that transforms him into a cosmically powered hero. The press give him the name of Starman, making him the sixth. Payton operates mainly in the South West for two or three years. He fights mainly costumed villains, and does well, but is very little regarded.
David Knight, returning from Europe accompanied by personal trainer Andy ‘Murph’ Murphy, prepares to take Ted’s place as Starman. He is enraged to discover Payton already has the name and challenges him to a duel over the right to be Starman. But David is under the hypnotic influence of Murph, who is secretly the Mist: the clash generates energy that the Mist attempts to use for himself, but the two Starmen defeat him. David is clearly inadequate against Payton and concedes. Seemingly resigned, he secretly seethes.
Three years ago, the JSA return from Limbo. They retain some, but not all of the vigour of their rejuvenation, and some return to action. Ted returns to duty in Opal, but doesn’t take account of the wider picture until the JSA are called together during the “Zero Hour” crisis. They confront Extant, who defeats them easily, stripping their rejuvenations from them. Recognising that he is now too old to act as Starman, Ted resigns his role to David, who becomes the seventh Starman.
David is active as Starman for less than a week before he is shot and killed. Unknown to anyone at that time, his soul is caught by an ages old curse made by Jon Valor, when Opal was still Port O’Souls: the curse traps all souls dying in Opal, until proof of Valor’s innocence be found. This enables the late Kent Nelson to use his magics to grant David two favours: the first sends him back to Opal in 1951, where he meets McNider and enjoys his own brief spell of duty as the third Starman, the second enables him to contact Jack, or later Mikaal once a year.
David’s death, and an attack that injures Ted, forces the unwilling, disdainful Jack to take up the Cosmic Rod, although his is the quarter staff length Rod developed by Ted in 1950: he feels an affinity for that. Having ended the crimewave and avenged David’s death by killing his murderer – Kyle, son of the Mist – Jack agrees to become Starman on condition Ted begins developing his cosmic energy for general and public uses.
Though Jack becomes the eighth Starman, he plans not to actually do anything unless it’s forced on him. Ted, however, knows that the life forces itself on you.

Starman 8

Jack discovers Mikaal in a circus and frees him, bringing him home to Ted to study. At the same time, he bumps into an aggressive woman, Sadie Falk, who later becomes his girlfriend.
The Mist’s daughter Nash, initially stammering and hesitant, becomes harsh and purposeful, blaming Jack for her brother’s death. She sponsors a crime wave during which Jack and Mikaal are captured. Mikaal rescues himself by what seems to be a final, cathartic use of his powers: they restore his pre-1976 memories. Jack is raped whilst drugged: Nash becomes pregnant and uses the knowledge of the baby boy against Jack.
Jack grows steadily more confident and used to being, and thinking of himself as Starman. Each year, in an unexplained fashion, he meets David. (It should be noted that two timescales are at work here: Robinson treats each year Starman is published as being a year of time in the story, although that is an impossibility in the overall timescale supposed to apply to the DC Universe).
He gradually forms an uneasy alliance with the Shade, a former villain. The Shade, whose real name is Richard Swift, was born in England in the early Nineteenth Century, and gained dark powers and immortality in about 1841. He has been amoral, and a supervillain, but he has lived in Opal since the late Nineteenth Century, loves the City and is scrupulous not to commit crimes there.
The Shade was a close friend of the late Opal Sheriff Brian ‘Scalphunter’ Savage, who promised on his death to return. The Shade initially considers Jack as a reincarnate Savage, but later identifies Savage with Matt O’Dare, third son of the late Billy, and like his father and his four siblings, an Opal cop. Matt is a dirty cop, until his recognition of his past life as Savage: the Shade assists him in recreating his life.
Eventually, Sadie reveals herself to be Jane Sadie Payton, sister of Will, who she believes still to be alive. She originally got close to Jack to ask him to search for Payton, but surprised herself by falling in love with him, and Jack with her. Jack agrees and, with Mikaal, sets off into space.
En route, the Starmen are transported 1,000 years into the future, to the Thirtieth Century, where they meet Thom Kallor, Star Boy of the Legion. They assist him to penetrate and disperse a cloud of blackness which is the Shade’s shadow, out of control as a result of something done in the late Twentieth Century. The Shade explains that this meeting was fated to be the moment at which he reveals to Thom that, after Jack ceases to be Starman, Thom will go back in time and become Jack’s successor, calling himself Danny Blaine to conceal his identity until it is time for Thom to find out.
Thom is unnerved: he has studied Danny Blaine’s life, knows how – and when – it ends. Jack promises to do everything he can, on his return, to change fate, by curing the Shade: this may free Thom from his inevitable future…
Eventually, Jack and Mikaal trace Payton’s energy signal to Prince Gavyn’s planet. They find Gavyn’s former friend Jediah Rikane acting as Regent, married to Merria but, in practice, ruling the Empire and determined not to relinquish his rule. Payton was found in space and has been kept imprisoned as his energy signature is identical to that of Gavyn.
Gavyn’s old ally M’ntorr avers Gavyn and Payton are one, that Gavyn’s energy, dispersed in the Crisis, reformed and was drawn to Earth because of its resemblance to Ted Knight’s cosmic force. It descended on Peyton, killing him, but adopting his face, form and memories. Payton resists the idea, believing that the memories of Gavyn that insistently break through have been planted in him by M’ntorr, but after Rikane is overthrown, he meets Merria and decides to stay, to explore possibilities.
Jack returns to Earth. He pays his respects at Wes Dodds’ funeral and joins the new JSA, which forms to ensure the proper rebirth of the new Dr Fate, but his concern at missing persons in Opal lead him to go on the reserve list and nominate the new Star Spangled Kid, Courtney Whitmore, in his place.
Opal is racked by a series of explosions as part of the endgame in a long battle between the Shade and his enemy Culp, which employs Jon Valor’s curse. When the dust clears, Valor and the other imprisoned souls have been released, Matt O’Dare lies dying, his traitorous brother Barry is dead, and so too is Nash, killed by her father: her son, who she has named Kyle, has come to his father Jack. The battle climaxes when Ted, dying of phosphorus poisoning, uses a super Rod to lift a bomb-impregnated building, and the aged Mist into orbit, where it will explode without harming Opal: Ted and his archenemy die in the blast.
Matt dies the following day. On his death bed he has a vision of the future, both near and distant. He will return as someone named Tom: Jack identifies him as rather Thom: Thom Kallor, Star Boy of the far future, Danny Blaine of the near.
Jack learns that Sadie has left him, and left Opal: she is pregnant with his daughter and, whilst she can share a superhero’s life, she won’t involve a baby. Now that his Dad is dead, Jack feels his time is over, and he prepares to retire and follow Sadie to Seattle.

Starwoman

He has certain final adventures whilst he is settling his affairs: another outing with the JSA in the Sins of Youth crisis, during which Jack is reduced to bratty boyhood, and Courtney becomes an adult Starwoman, wielding the Cosmic Rod.
He meets David one last time, with Ted now, and learns of Kent Nelson’s magics that have permitted these after-death meetings. He is sent home via 1951, where he uncovers David’s moment of glory as the Starman of 1951, and McNider’s before him, and ensures his and David’s birth. Danny Blaine brings him home from the future and departs to the end of his career.
Jack’s final task is to dispose of the Cosmic Rod: knowing that her future will be glorious, he gives it to Courtney before leaving Opal.
Currently, there is no Starman. Mikaal will remain in Opal for some years, though not adopting the name again, before returning to his home galaxy as a Hero. Danny Blaine will appear, sooner rather than later, but that will be for another writer to depict, in his own way. And Starwoman will have her turn, in time.

The Killing Ghost – The Spectre in Adventure Comics


Having now read practically the whole of The Spectre’s pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths history, thanks to my More Fun Comics DVD, I want to go back to what was undoubtedly the most controversial part of his career, the infamous ten-issue run by Michael Fleisher and Jim Aparo in Adventure Comics 431-440, 1974-5, before the feature was cancelled on the instructions of DC Publisher Carmine Infantino. That the cancellation was abrupt was evidenced by the fact that it left three bought-and-paid-for scripts that had not been drawn. But times change and the run was reprinted as a four issue mini-series, The Wrath of the Spectre, in 1988, with the outstanding scripts drawn by Aparo and published as the final issue.
Re-reading the original ten issues, which hold a certain significance for me, having been one of the first series I followed so avidly when I was drawn back into comics in 1974, I wanted to take a closer look at the series and how it developed, and that’s going to be issue by issue.

The Wrath of…The Spectre (Adventure 431)

Fleisher’s first story sets the tone for the run, but also the template. Four crooks, led by the vicious Fritz, ambush a security van carrying banknotes. The guards are forced out by tear gas and surrender, but Fritz executes them anyway. The Police intervene, wounding one of the gang, Pete. Rather than try to rescue him, Fritz shoots him dead. The three villains separate. The case is pulled by Lieutenant Jim Corrigan, who gets a lead to one man, Charlie. Charlie tries to shoot Corrigan but the bullets go right through him and he fades away. Spooked, Charlie goes on the run, stopping to warn the third, Hank, observed by The Spectre. The Spectre appears, giant-sized,, to Charlie, who swerves off a mountain road to his death. He appears to Hank, who pulls a machine gun on him, only for the Spectre to melt first the machine gun then Hank, like wax. Finally he joins Fritz’s plane to South America. Fritz, the only one who can see him, holds a gun to a stewardess’ head. There is a black out, and when the lights reappear, Fritz is a skeleton. The story ends with Corrigan’s Captain complaining the crooks haven’t been caught and Corrigan assuring him that they can’t get out of New York City.
The first thing you should notice about that synopsis is that it took twice as long to relate the villains’ fate than their villainy. That alone demonstrates where the importance of the story lies. The robbery and the killings are the McGuffin to give The Spectre a reason to execute, and how he goes about it is the whole point. Here, it’s pretty mild. One man drives off a cliff, one is melted, the third turned into a skeleton. When he’s later challenged over the brutality of these deaths, Fleisher will blandly claim that these methods all come from the old stories. The skeleton is correct, and so is the melting, whilst the car crash is a nothing.
And Fleisher riffs off an old Jerry Siegel trope at the end. Corrigan would bring in the crooks but his Captain would always chew him out for not capturing The Spectre.
Incidentally, Russell Carley is credited with ‘Art Continuity’. Fleisher had no previous experience in writing comic books and, whilst he learned, Carley would convert his stories into comic strip format.


The Anguish of… The Spectre (Adventure 432)

Three masked assassins – in real life two hairdressers and a fashion model – break into the estate of millionaire Adrian Sterling to plant a bomb in his swimming pool that’s timed to kill him during his morning swim. His distraught daughter Gwen, who hasn’t changed out of her bikini, is interviewed by Corrigan and suggests issues with her father’s business partner, Maxwell Flood, before, little more than an hour after witnessing her father blown to pieces, she comes on to Corrigan, who politely rebuffs her. Corrigan visits Flood as Sterling’s ghost, causing Flood to contact the killers. The Spectre follows him to the hairdressers, where Eric strangles Flood with a hair-dryer cord. The Spectre animates one of his teasing scissors to giant-size and cuts him in half with it. Peter flees to contact Vera, who’s in the middle of a show. Corrigan approaches him on the street, but so too does Gwen, who’s driving around looking for him. Peter seizes Gwen but Corrigan turns into the Spectre, who turns Peter into sand before telling Gwen to forget him. He then ages the young, beautiful Vera until she dies of old age. Gwen, having forgotten she has a car, walks the streets alone, at night, in New York, wearing a mini-skirt.
Now, I was going to try to keep the synopses straight, factual recounting. So far as the story goes, it is exactly the same as the first ones. Vicious killers kill victims, Spectre kills them, this time in slightly more bizarre and brutal manner, two of these methods being blackly ironic.
The big difference between the two is the introduction of Gwen Sterling. Gwen’s the modern day version of Clarice Winston, the heiress with the hots, except that Gwen knows that Corrigan is a ghost and knows he is The Spectre.
The other big difference is that Clarice was genuinely in love with Corrigan and he with her. Theirs was a tender relationship. But any reading of Gwen’s interest in Corrigan has, if it’s being honest, got to reflect that the girl is acting like a total slut. Her Dad’s been killed in front of her eyes, which you might normally expect to cause serious trauma, but when the Police arrive she hasn’t changed out of her bikini. Sure, she’s put a robe on but she hasn’t even wrapped it around her, so that Corrigan can see she’s got big tits, broad hips and long legs. Seriously, she can’t wait to get past giving a lead to Dad’s potential murderer so as to get the important stuff: is Corrigan married? Does he have a girlfriend? She’s practically yanking her bikini pants down already.
Corrigan goes off to locate and dispatch the killers. It’s noticeable that he doesn’t take action against Eric until he’s killed again but the point of the story is for bad guys to die, and it is only Flood who is being murdered. It’s an axiom of the series that black is black and white is white, and that once a criminal is always a criminal, with execution the only outcome.
But we still aren’t done with Gwen. Her father’s not been dead a day and she’s cruising the streets looking for Corrigan, presumably in the hope of a quick one on the back seat. Seriously, what was Gwen’s relationship with her father that, before 24 hours have passed, she’s trying to get a total stranger to fuck her brains out?
That final page, of a disconsolate, orgasm-deprived Gwen wandering the streets, is terribly sloppy writing. Has she forgotten she was in her (expensive sports) car? Fleisher has or else he’s hoping readers won’t notice. Or is he trying to suggest that Gwen is making herself into a target for muggers and rapists to attract Jim/Spec’s attention. After all, he did tell her that if he weren’t a ghost he’d like to have… well, what do we think?
Attention to Fleisher’s run has rightly been drawn to the violence, but there’s a completely twisted psycho-sexuality to this set-up that’s repulsive. But we will see more of Miss Sterling.


The Swami and… The Spectre (Adventure 433)

Even the story titles are formulaic.
Swami Seelal is running a crooked séance racket to bilk the gullible out of large sums of money. When Mrs Vanderbilt explains she will have to drop out because her husband will no longer fund the Swami, Seelal’s assistant, Smiley, arranges a fatal accident for him. Lt Corrigan is suspicious the moment he hears the deceased had stopped paying a crooked Swami and approaches Seelal, who dismisses him. Speaking of gullible, Gwen Sterling turns up, telling the Swami all about the man she loves who is a ghost and can he help restore him to being human, so they can have an active and vigorous sex-life? She even tells him Corrigan’s name. Seelal uses Gwen to set up a trap for Corrigan, to be bombed to death by Smiley, who goes on to plan to knife Gwen to death. The Spectre has Smiley dragged into a grave by ghosts and visits Swami’s next séance, emerging from his crystal ball to turn him into crystal and tip him over to shatter. He then doesn’t tell Gwen what a stupid idea it was, though he should, the woman is as stupid as she could be.
It’s the same again: nasty crime, nastier punishment. Once again, we need to look at Gwen, and boy is she stupid! Her brains are certainly in her knickers. What part of ‘I’m dead’ is she not getting? And what part of I have a secret identity does she not understand?
The problem lies not in Miss Sterling but in Michael Fleisher, and to a lesser extent in Joe Orlando. Fleisher is showing misogynist tendencies in making Gwen such an airhead, but that might be passable if it weren’t joined to this twisted sexuality.
I shall have more to say about that in regard to the next issue.


The Nightmare Dummies and… The Spectre (Adventure 434)

Art credited to Frank Thorne and Jim Aparo, the former providing layouts.
Fleisher manages to produce a twist on his formula by making the menace this time into store mannequins, coming to life and brutally slaughtering first truck drivers delivering them (and destroying themselves at the same time), and secondly customers in a department store. This attracts the attention of The Spectre, who melts them. Corrigan then traces the mannequins back to their suppliers, who mainly mass-produce them but who keep on staff an old guy called Zeke Borosovitch, who makes them by hand, very slowly, whilst treating them as real people and defending their right to run amuck and kill people as justified by how they’re treated (as mannequins). Enter Gwen, still chasing Corrigan, who sends her away angrily, sick of explaining to her. Zeke offers her comforts and a way of getting Corrigan for her and she’s exactly stupid enough to believe him. Instead, he makes a perfect Gwen mannequin to go to Corrigan’s apartment and plunge an axe between his shoulderblades. Of course it goes all the way through into his dressing table mirror, whereupon he animates it to chop her into seven pieces. Only then does he discover it’s not Gwen but a mannequin. He then goes to Zeke’s nest and when the old bugger threatens to cut her throat, the Spectre turns him into a mannequin himself, to be burned.
Oh God, where do you start? The series takes a rush into the fantastic by introducing the mannequins, without any suggestion of how ol’ Zeke – who couldn’t act any more suspiciously without employing cheerleaders to dance round him chanting ‘Guilty! Guity! Guilty!’ – actually invests them with life. And for what purpose? To kill people randomly in a manner that draws attention to their maker. Fleisher was already claiming to be copying the Spectre’s sadistic executions from Golden Age comics which in respect of this issue, and the next, is a flat-out lie, but he’s certainly stolen their complete lack of concern for making sense.
And oh Gwen, Gwen, Gwen. I get that you’re desperate, especially after your beloved Jim has hit you round the head with the sharp stick of reality, but thinking a crazy old coot could help you? Gwen’s fate is to get stripped to her very tiny bra and panties and tied to a chair, leading inevitably to her looking like an idiot in front of the ghost she loves.
But that’s not the disturbing part of this story. Firstly, there’s the bit where the Spectre cuts Gwen – his would-be girlfriend, someone he knows to be honest (if a pain in the arse) – into seven pieces in a single panel and only realises it’s not actually Gwen until after she’s ‘dead’. And if that bit of misogynistic sadism isn’t enough, on the very same page we not only have Gwen tied to a chair in her skimpies with Zeke gloating over her with lines like how fetching she looks struggling against her bonds, how her mannequin is ‘luscious’ and later calling her a ‘luscious little chickie’ even as he’s holding a knife to her throat.
Ok, someone’s got a thing for bondage, which is fine between consenting adults but this was a 1974 comic approved by the Comics Code Authority, whose decision to let this through is just as perverse as the Radio 1 controllers putting Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ on the playlist despite its overt references to transvesticism and homosexual fellatio, because they didn’t understand it.
According to the trial transcripts published by The Comics Journal when his libel suit against them and Harlan Ellison failed, Fleisher constantly tried to work female bondage into his comics: I don’t know, I never read them. But you’ve got to implicate Joe Orlando in this little sickness: the editor is the ultimate arbiter of what saw print.


The Man who Stalked The Spectre (Adventure 435)

At least we got rid of the ellipses.
By now, reader reaction was filtering through to Orlando, and a section of the audience were complaining at how one-note the series was. This was the audience that, if they were familiar with The Spectre at all, remembered Julius Schwartz’s incarnation of good. Unlike the audience that took all the wrong lessons from Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns (though I’m far from certain about Miller’s intentions with that), they didn’t like a hero who was even more violent than the villains. To represent their opinions, completely ineffectually, Fleisher and Orlando introduced a responsible alternate viewpoint.
This is freelance magazine writer Earl Crawford, who’s been researching all the bizarre deaths that have been happening around New York this past eight months. The latest one is a member of the Grandenetti gang, merciless armed robber, who hid from the cops in a refrigeration plant and was found frozen to death in a block of ice. Crawford takes his suspicions of an occult force to his editor, who thinks him crazy but gets him embedded in the Grandenetti task force under Lt. Corrigan. A second member is trapped in a toy store. The Spectre animates a lead Viking figure to full size to smash an axe into the guy’s head: Crawford finds a lead figurine of a guy with an axe in his head. He follows the last member, holed up in a sawmill, to warn him to surrender rather than die, but the guy’s about to use him for target practice when The Spectre arrives, turns the killer into a wooden statue and feeds him through the bandsaw.
To be fair to Fleisher, he does have Crawford articulate the liberal case pretty fairly. Crawford never loses sight of the fact that the Grandenetti’s are killers, nor does he seek to make any excuses for them: no caricatural ‘bleeding-heart’ stances here. But he makes the case for a fair trial to determine guilt, for due process rather than vigilantism. And when he witnesses the fate meted out by the Spectre, his emotional response is to challenge the necessity for such sadism: ‘couldn’t you at least leave something for his family to bury?’ he screams, before heading off to get a much-needed scotch.
No, Crawford makes his point quickly and in the strongest possible manner. He’s going to keep on making that point, though without significant variation. Fleisher has had him say everything at once, and The Spectre ignored him completely. Crawford can talk but the Spectre acts.
There’s an irritating scene in this issue that bugged me back in 1974. Orlando had also responded to fan’s criticism of the lack of continuity between this and the previous Spectre series by asserting that these were the adventures of the previously unheard-of Earth-1 Spectre. Then he lets Corrigan sarcastically call Crawford Clark Kent, twice, the second time prompting a clearly mentally challenged Police to ask if he’s really Superman?
Oh yes, the perennial clever in-joke, so smart and so instantly destructive to the reality of the story.


The Gasman and… The Spectre (Adventure 436)

A motor show is disrupted by gas-masked men who kill the crowd with phosgene gas. They are working for a former Nazi General seeking to re-establish Hitler’s goals. The General demands $1B which the city agree to pay. Lt Corrigan takes the money to the directed place trailed by Earl Crawford, whose editor has refused to publish the story Crawford has filed about last issue’s events. The Spectre turns the terrorist who tries to kill him into a stone pillar, spikes two of the terrorists with a pair of compass pointers expanded in size and turns the General’s boat into a giant squid that eats him. Crawford sees nothing of this.
A perfunctory synopsis for a perfunctory story. Apart from Crawford’s story about issue 435 being spiked, there is literally nothing to write home about, and that’s about all you can say about it.


The Human Bombs and… The Spectre (Adventure 437)

This story is pencilled by Ernie Chua and inked by Jim Aparo.
When Gwen Sterling becomes the seventh and last in a series of people kidnapped without any demands being issued, Lt Corrigan is detached from Homicide to pursue the case. The victims have been gathered by a nameless mad scientist researching Hypno-sciences. He hypnotises his thugs to walk into his fish-tank of barracudas to be eaten. He hypnotises the victims into acting as suicide bombers to go out and rob. After the first blows himself up when tackled, everybody else is allowed to proceed unchallenged. When it’s Gwen’s turn, Corrigan allows her to take his car and follows her as The Spectre to the scientist’s lair. He melts the bombs and wipes everyone’s memories, easily survives a 2,000,000 volts electric shock, doesn’t fall into an alligator pit and, inexplicably, a hypnotised mad scientist falls into it himself.
Where do I begin with this one? As a story, it’s got far more going for it than the previous one but the number of holes and cliches in a mere thirteen pages…
Let’s start with Gwen. Since she’s either gagged or hypnotised for all the story we’re spared any of the gushing whining towards her beloved Jim. On the other hand, she’s supposedly one of seven specific victims chosen by our unnamed mad cliché, but we are given no clue as to why she or anyone else are selected. Only one other, a Mr Vanderbilt, is named: he’s the suicide. He’s obviously known and, as the name suggests, rich, but no-one seems to recognise Gwen when it’s her turn and the only other victim who so much as gets a thought-bubble is an employee afraid his boss will fire him for being late. For that matter, these kidnappings are headline news but no-one is surprised about the unfortunate Vanderbilt wandering around free.
So Jim Corrigan, Homicide Lieutenant, gets himself transferred to deal with this kidnapping but he keeps reporting back to his ordinary boss in Homicide, who’s riding him hard over the fact that Corrigan’s discovered nothing.
In fact, Corrigan gets nothing until it’s Gwen’s turn. Apparently it’s taken this long for a special Police hot-line to be set up to report robberies in motion which enables Jim to get there before it’s over. Gwen’s just proposing to leave on foot, is she? After all, she has to steal Corrigan’s car to get away? How was Mad Cliche going to keep her from being followed, at walking pace, back to his lair? I mean, we know she’s fit (not in that sense), she swims but if she were an Olympic runner, capable of outdistancing Police cars whilst carrying the contents of an entire jewellery store, Fleisher should have told us.
So, once The Spectre finds the lair, it’s all over bar the sadism. Firstly, he dismisses this suicide bomber threat by simply dissolving the bombs, which is a minor thing for his powers but it makes the resolution too perfunctory. Then he wipes the six remaining victims’ memories, no doubt to spare them the pain of knowing what they’ve done, but none of them killed or even injured anyone. More to the point, he’s sending them out to resume their normal lives in a world that knows everything they actually did and which includes journalists and Police who may want to question them about their involvement: someone didn’t think this bit through by more than a millimetre.
Lastly, there’s the disposal of the Mad Cliche. A scientist, and a clever one if a wee bit on the immoral side. Who keeps an alligator pit in his lair. An alligator pit. Worse than that, after watching The Spectre treat 2M volts like skipping ropes, he expects The Spectre to a) fall into the pit and b) be eaten by the alligators.
Maybe in 1940. But not in 1974 nor for a long time before that.
Last point: Fleisher tries to flim-flam the readers at the end by teasing them over whether it’s a spark of conscience in the breast of the Mad Cliche or something else that sends a man as clearly hypnotised as anyone else in this excuse for a story into the alligator pit (an alligator pit, yeGods!). It’s pitiful.
It’s also an object lesson in demonstrating that the only thing that mattered in this series was violent death and sadistic retribution.


The Spectre haunts the House of Fear (Adventure 438)

Another Chua/Aparo art job.
Herman Miller, postman, is going about his business when he is chloroformed and kidnapped to the Museum of Natural History where another Mad Cliche, this one an unnamed taxidermist, is secretly creating an exhibition of American life. Unfortunately, Miller comes round too soon, grabs a taxidermist’s knife, and has to be shot dead, ruining him. When his body is found, Lt. Corrigan pulls the case. Miller is still clutching the knife. Corrigan doesn’t recognise it until he hears a radio report of a theft in progress from a taxidermist suppliers. He calls off the Police, frightens one guy to death and changes his look to impersonate him, which gets him back to the Museum where he animates two stuffed gorillas to kill the Mad Cliche and the other one.
Another perfunctory story that barely fills its ten pages. There’s another plot hole in how the dead postman’s body is dumped in a garbage tip but no-one has bothered to remove the specialist knife he’s grabbed: lazy, lazy writing. It’s a second Mad Cliche without a name in two stories, but what I picked up on was The Spectre’s closing speech: ‘No death could be as hideous as the crimes they committed… not even a death wrought by… The Spectre!”
I mean, that is terrible writing in and of itself, but what I read in it, then and now, was weariness, a confession by Fleisher that he was stumped, couldn’t come up with anything spectacularly disgusting for once. As for the sequence itself, the narrative in the third last panel refers to two stuffed gorillas, but in the second last panel Chua draws three, and there are four in the last panel whilst the villains have clearly only been beaten to death, which is very much not much cop for The Spectre.
It’s a pretty clear demonstration of what we’ve already seen thus far, that Fleisher and Orlando’s approach is inherently limited. The Spectre’s series took advantage of a relaxation of the Comics Code Authority’s regulations on the depiction of violence, but there was still a ceiling and since outrage has to grow to remain outrage, it doesn’t take long to hit that ceiling again.


The Voice that doomed… The Spectre (Adventure 439).

This was the first of a two part story that, by an apt coincidence, ended the original publication run, and for which Aparo returned. It was also the first not to credit Carley for ‘Script Continuity’.
Gwen Sterling is making a deposit in a Bank when it is raided by the Symbiosis Liberation Army, to take Gwen hostage as well. Corrigan follows as The Spectre and kills them by having their three-headed hydra symbol come to life and squash them. Once again, Gwen pleads with Jim that she loves him and wants to marry him, to which Corrigan reacts with black humour: to him it is a sick joke and it’s reached the point where seeing each other at all is hurting both of them. He demands a clean break, to which Gwen reluctantly agrees. That night, racked with frustration, hurting over the ‘life’ that he’s denied, Corrigan asks to be released from his burden. Unheard by him, the Voice confirms he will be human in the morning. All Corrigan is aware of is feeling different. He doesn’t learn he’s human again until he goes in in his usual style to catch a mobster’s pet killer and gets shot by three bullets. He spends a week in hospital before his survival is assured. First thing he does on release is go round to Gwen’s when she’s about to have her morning swim (bikini-time again), ‘asking’ her to marry him next Tuesday and snogging her massively (and I bet that’s not all he did, either). But mobster ‘Ducky’ McLaren consults his toy duck, who says Corrigan won’t get to his wedding…
It’s the first half of a story and, as such, is all set-up. We know what’s going to happen, because it’s the same thing that happened thirty-five years earlier, when Jim Corrigan was engaged to marry Clarice Winston, and Fleisher isn’t going for subtle in his foreshadowng. But did we ever expect anything different?
The only point I’d make about this story is the one I made when I first read this in 1975 and from which I’ve never varied: in this series, even God was an evil bastard.
Though it’s nowhere made explicit, and the reality of it has, I believe, been denied at least once, there’s no doubt that the Voice was meant to be God. John Ostrander’s Spectre series made it explicit that The Spectre is God’s instrument of Vengeance. Even without this there’s simply no plausible other identity for the Voice. Here, he’s listening to Corrigan’s plea and deciding to grant it. A merciful moment indeed. Now Corrigan can have the life we wanted, marriage, a wife, kids, sex.
But you’ll notice that the Voice doesn’t tell him his wish is abut to be granted. No, Corrigan has to find out about it the hard way, the extremely hard way, through pain and shock, and a brush with a more real death than his last one. Why the hell didn’t God tell his faithful servant he was planning to bless him in this almost very short-lived manner? Because the sadistic approach made for a better visual, but a nastier story, and The Spectre in Adventure is about nasty.
Besides, it’s not like Jim Corrigan is going to be Jim Corrigan for long…


The Second Death of the… Spectre (Adventure 440)

Hang about, aren’t those ellipses in the wrong place?
Lt. Corrigan gets a tip from a street vendor that ‘Ducky’ McLaren’s gang want to surrender but only to him. He goes to a very lonely meeting place expecting a trap and it is one: Corrigan is shot to death and his body left at Gwen Sterling’s door for her to find. After the funeral, Corrigan’s body is summoned from his grave to the Voice. Corrigan’s pleas for the peace of his grave are rejected and he is told in no uncertain terms that it is his destiny to be The Spectre. He returns to Earth and his grave where a late-passing gravedigger hears him knocking inside his coffin and releases him. Presumably he was in a coma and his vital signs so low the doctors thought he was dead, theorises the gravedigger, as they do, to which Corrigan agrees. He turns into The Spectre to find ‘Ducky’s mob. He turns ‘Ducky’s duck into a real, giant sized duck so it can eat him and, when the rest of the gang flee in a car, he hurls it into outer space. Finally, he visits the weeping Gwen to report he’s back to being a ghost again and, needless to say, the wedding – and the relationship – is off.
Well. As a result of Infantino’s eagerness to cancel the series as soon as he had the least excuse, this story proved to be the perfect finale for the Fleisher/Aparo run, but there were still three stories written and paid for, so that was never the intention.
Frankly, see my comments on the last issue. But let’s lay it out again. The Voice has shown sympathy towards Jim Corrigan’s anguish and allowed him to revert to being human again. And done this in full knowledge that within a month at most Corrigan’s going to get killed again, that Gwen Sterling’s heart is going to be shattered, and there’ll not even be peace because Jim Corrigan is destined to be The Spectre forever after, whether he likes it or not.
So what, may I enquire, was the point of turning him human again to go through that? I repeat, in this series, even God is a sadistic bastard.
I mean, we all knew it was inevitable, so could the story have been told in a more appropriate manner? Easily: by presenting it as a vision, shown by the Voice to Corrigan, of what will happen if he takes up his gift? Or if the Voice, instead of acting like a bastard to the newly-dead-again Jim, had told him that this has been a lesson, to show you the futility of escaping your destiny, and rewinding time to the night Jim issued his plea. I may not be a Christian, but I resent this kind of cheap representation of God as being no better than the alternative almost as much as the believers do.
And it would have avoided making Gwen Sterling collateral damage too.
Three scripts that followed on from this reset, eh? I wonder what was in them…


The Arson Fiend and… The Spectre (Wrath of The Spectre 4)

Inked by Mike DeCarlo.
A rundown tenement building is on fire. Lt Corigan and the Fire Chief suspect it to be the work of arsonist Freddy ‘The Torch’ Fisher. Corrigan turns into The Spectre to save a woman and child inside by providing a magic staircase for them to descend. Earl Crawfords account of the fire is disbelieved by his editor, determining the reporter on proving the existence of The Spectre. By asking one of the dead, The Spectre confirms Fisher’s guilt, whilst Crawford’s research identifies the building owner behind the spate of fires. Both arrive at the next building expected to be torched, where The Spectre reverses bullets from Fisher’s gun back into him, then burns him to death. Crawford produces a full story complete with pictures, but his editor suspects these to be fakes, produced to evidence Crawford’s growing obsession: maybe he’s killed Fisher himself and set this up? Crawford is arrested and tried. He tells the complete truth, about The Spectre. As a consequence, he is found not guilty, but by reason of insanity, and is confined to an asylum, indefinitely.
Well, had the series continued in Adventure, this would have constituted a change of direction. Firstly, The Spectre saves lives in an open demonstration of magic, in public. Then he only kills one person, in a very ordinary manner based on his track record. And finally he disappears from the story just over halfway through it, leaving the emphasis on Earl Crawford, who’s considered mad because of his statements in court about The Spectre. This really is an oddball of a tale and a departure from the formula.
What was it? Were Fleisher and Orlando feeling the heat from above and trying to change direction to counter it only to be beaten to the punch? Both men, and Aparo, have their say about the cancellation in the editorial material in Wrath of The Spectre 4 and that notion isn’t discussed. Aparo had been expecting it because of the violence, Fleisher is adamant it was solely down to sales (cue Mandy Rice-Davies) and Orlando more or less supported the controversy aspect: the series wasn’t doing better than other horror books so ‘why annoy anybody?’. Interesting.

The Maniac and… The Spectre (Wrath of The Spectre 4).

Inked by Mike DeCarlo.
In the asylum, Earl Crawford is starting to get stir-crazy. He’s visited by a mysterious, nameless, grey-haired woman he’s never seen before (so they let just anybody visit inmates in an asylum for the criminally insane, do they?) She tries to lift his spirits by telling him she knows he told the truth and that The Spectre does exist, and that others outside believe him and are working for his release. When he begs her for something to help him escape, she gives him a penknife. The woman is a disguised Gwen Sterling, sent by Corrigan. Crawford uses the penknife to remove the bars across his window (oh really?) and escapes by knotting his blankets into a rope (seriously?). Meanwhile, The Spectre impersonates Freddie ‘The Torch’, turning up at a Police Station to deny being dead and suggesting Crawford be released, before fingering his boss Harrison DeMarko. The Spectre visits DeMarko and turns him into a cactus. The Police tackle the escaped Crawford but only to tell him he’s free. They let him just walk home whilst he awaits his insanity papers being overturned but Crawford knows Fisher is dead and wants answers to what’s going on, and who that woman was.
Oh my God. Did a professional comic book writer turn this in? And did a professional comic book editor really pay for this instead of, as Mort Weisinger infamously once said, taking the script to the can and wiping his ass with it?
Earl Crawford has been sent to an Asylum for the Criminally Insane because he told the truth about The Spectre, placing an obligation on Spec to resolve the situation. It’s noticeable that he doesn’t intervene during the trial but instead lets Crawford’s reputation be fully besmirched, first as a potential murderer but mainly as a nutcase, and leaves him to get committed before dong anything.
Sending a disguised Gwen in to do no more than tell him not to despair is a pointless complication that raises far too many questions. I can’t repeat too often, this is an Asylum for the Criminally Insane, not Dr Smooth’s Sanatorium for Rich People Who Aren’t Taking Enough Water With It: they’re not going to let total strangers who haven’t given their name in just like that, and what the hell is she doing anyway apart from getting involved in a storyline that Spec resolves without need of anything from her?
So she gives him a penknife. I mean, things that might conceivably assist an inmate from escaping haven’t been confiscated in advance? And a penknife as an instrument of escape from a high security unit? By all means: grilles fixed outside a window can be unscrewed by a penknife blade everybody knows that. Sheesh.
Then there’s The Spectre’s cunning plan to free Crawford, consisting of one appearance as Fisher to a single cop, with some dodgy dialogue and an offhand reference to a) his own guilt and b) shopping his boss for no discernible reason. ‘Fisher’ then disappears in implausible circumstances, never to be seen again. And this is the ‘evidence’ that overturns Crawford’s insanity conviction? Let me remind the late Mr Fleisher that Mr Crawford was not convicted of murder so the reappearance of the body is wholly irrelevant, he was committed as insane because of his allegations about this avenging ghost and nothing The Spectre has done has changed those ‘insane’ comments one iota.
And they let a guy who’s escaped from an Asylum for the Criminally Insane just walk home without a Court Order?
This was a seriously bad story. And it didn’t even have mega-sadistic violence to justify it: turning a guy into a cactus, in a business office that the Police are shortly to visit in pursuit of DeMarko, which won’t arouse anybody’s suspicions? Do you think that will impress us, buddy?

The Voodoo Hag of Doom! (Wrath of The Spectre 4)

Inked by Pablo Marcos.
Earl Crawford has gone back to work at his magazine as if nothing ever happened. His assignments have kept him too busy to pursue either The Spectre or the mysterious grey-haired woman so he abruptly resigns (he’s supposed to be a freelancer, how can he resign?) to cover The Spectre in his own way (food? rent?), though he immediately comes back to cover one last ‘weird’ assignment. This involves Sterling Textiles Inc., where one arrogant chauvinist Board Member has tried to get Gwen Sterling to sell her inheritance from her late father because she obviously knows nothing about anything, being a girl (very Seventies argument, though as Gwen has spent all her time being an airhead motivated by her lust, it may actually hold some truth for once). This argument is overtaken by the arrival of a mysterious, wrinkled, giggling Voodoo Queen apparently trying to get Sterling Textiles to stop making immoral and revealing dresses and threatening to kill the Board Members one by one by Voodoo if they don’t stop. To prove her power, she dunks a voodoo doll of one Board Member into a fish tank, causing him to die on the spot. This takes place in front of four reputable witnesses yet everyone, including Corrigan, is surprised to find the man has drowned. The Hag kills a second Member before it’s revealed she’s acting for a third out to gain sole control. He pays her off, intent on doing the other two himself. The Spectre visits the Hag and turns her into a spider. Crawford, meanwhile, has broken into Sterling Mansion to try to beat the killer to it. Accidentally, he finds a grey wig hidden in plain sight, plus the mystery woman’s clothing. He then witnesses Board Member Mr Slater prepare to murder Gwen only for The Spectre to snap his mind and send him back to his childhood. Crawford now has further food for thought…
And that was where it really did end, with Gwen implicated alongside The Spectre and Crawford on the trail, but by the standard of these last three stories, one that wasn’t worth pursuing.
It’s immediately noticeable that these lost stories abandon the published run’s standalone stance, not to mention the quite obvious dialling-back on The Spectre’s sadism. The change is welcome for the kind of change it is, but it’s accompanied by the abandonment of editorial standards in ensuring that the story is reasonably believable behind the supernatural aspects. It’s because The Spectre is such a fantastic figure that the world against which he is seen has to be humanly plausible.
Instead, it’s a stupid convenience for Fleisher to ride roughshod over. Take Crawford: the man is and always has been a freelance writer, albeit one who might as well be on staff for the one magazine he writes for. I’m well aware that in itself isn’t out of the question, but to then have him resign from a post he doesn’t have? And to do so without thought of an income?
Then there’s the Voodoo killings. This was the first time The Spectre had come up against another supernatural figure since his own late-Sixties title. It’s a change of direction, though we don’t know if it were a one-off or the start of a new trend. Either way, it’s magic being openly performed and advertised as such, and whilst you can forgive ordinary people not believing it as such, Corrigan’s complete surprise at learning Henderson was drowned is unbelievable.
As for the rest, it’s all clearly foreshadowing for stories that would never be written. Crawford breaks into Gwen Sterling’s home – the first time we’ve seen her there when she’s not been in the pool – and links her to the mystery woman. She disguised herself once and several weeks later she still has the wig left out, a wig that makes a young, beautiful woman with a voluptuous figure look old and unattractive. And she’s kept the dowdy clothes in her wardrobe? Next to the miniskirts and tight dresses? It’s not like she has to be thrifty and save them for when she is old enough to need them. I mean, she’s not just a millionairess, she co-owns a company that makes clothing. This kind of lazy writing bugs me intensely. Think harder, you clowns!
Finally, it was noticeable to me that, by the end of this story Sterling Textiles had only two board Members left, the young, beautiful, inexperienced girl and the chauvinist pig who wanted her to sell up. He’d been the obvious red herring for the murderer, and now he would have been… well, what we don’t know.
They asked Fleisher in 1988 about whether he was up for writing more Spectre stories, and he modestly disclaimed being able to do it. By then, Fleisher’s ill-advised libel suit against The Comics Journal and Harlan Ellison, which involved his Spectre series, had seen him crash and burn and driven him out of the American comic book industry. After a short spell writing for 2000AD, Fleisher left comic books for good, his own as much as anyone else’s. There would be no more.
This was how Michael Fleisher wrote The Spectre, at an alien time in our history. Like the cosmic Good version of the Sixties, this Spectre reflected his times. A closer look at the actual stories, instead of the legends, reveals that, indeed, they had nothing to them but the ‘imaginative’ deaths: repetitious and one-note and, when Fleisher turned his hand to writing a more serialised form, putting the characters personal lives more to the fore, his inadequacies as a writer became far too obvious.
I’ve never read any of Fleisher’s Jonah Hex, on which the highpoint of his reputation rests. I’m unlikely ever to do so now, but I hope that series did enable him to be a better, more wide-ranging writer than he proved here, and that it is a worthy legacy for a man who allowed far too much of a darkness inside him to show in his writing.

*Retroactive Fandom* The Riddle of The Spectre


A few words of context

In 1986, when things were otherwise then they are now, and I was active in UK Comics Fandom, I wrote an article about The Spectre that was published in Arkensword, a high quality fanzine published by Paul Duncan of Coventry that was one of only two then-fanzines to enjoy a circulation of over 1,000 copies.
The piece was written in the immediate wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, as a prelude to a new version of the Spectre, written by Steve Gerber, that promised to modernise the character, and to introduce an alter ego relationship relevant to the 1980s.
No such version ever appeared, nor any hints as to Gerber’s plan. According to Wikipedia, Gerber missed the deadline for issue 1, to be drawn by Gene Colan, in order to watch the last day of filming on the Howard the Duck film, and DC cancelled the project: not worth that last day, eh? The prospect of Gerber’s series led me to publish an article on The Spectre to date, on the various, contrasting incarnations of the character that had been thrown together without the least regard for continuity between the various versions. It was fun, and I made fun of the twists and turns that were, frankly, irreconcilable.
Ironically, a few years later, I came up with one small idea that made the whole pre-Crisis history come together. Though I’d been out of fandom for some time by then, I wrote my idea up as a sequel. Arkensword was dead, as were most of the fanzines I’d read or written for. I can’t remember if it was ever published and, if so, in what magazine. I don’t even have a copy myself.
Recently, I thought of these paired articles and decided I would reprint one and rewrite the other here, to give them a decent home. That was until I re-read ‘The Riddle of The Spectre; or, Continuity? What Continuity?’. If you really want to know what I wrote in 1986, you can go hunt out a copy of Arkensword 16 for yourself, because I’m not willingly going to let anything that awful be published on my blog. I need to rewrite both. Besides, I’ve thirty years of new information I didn’t have back then to include.

The Riddle of The Spectre

The Spectre is dead: Long live The Spectre.
In the tradition of Julius Schwartz, at the beginning of the Silver Age, Steve Gerber has been commissioned to create a Spectre for the Eighties. Back then, things like that happened without any thought for previous versions, which is why so much time and effort went into Crisis on Infinite Earths. No longer will that happen, Marv Wolfman assures us: Gerber’s Spectre will be the only Spectre there has ever been.
Thus passes Jim Corrigan, died 1940, deceased 1985. He leaves behind a history so convoluted, so inconsistent, so thoughtlessly plotted as to defy the very notion of continuity itself. It has been rumoured that Roy Thomas planned to straighten all this out in a Graphic Novel, but if The Spectre of old is now dead – which was the point all along – is there any point?
But it’s a shame to leave it like that. There are happy memories for some of us invested in one part or another of The Spectre’s career, and a lot of fun to be had picking over the bones of Jim Corrigan’s afterlife.
The Spectre debuted in More Fun Comics 52, February 1940, published by Detective Comics. He was created by Jerry Siegel, with artist Bernard Bailey, Siegel’s most substantial creation outside of Superman. The Kryptonian was about the vast enhancement of the body’s attributes: strength, speed, invulnerability etc. The Spectre was possibly the only idea that could extend beyond that: incomparable, illimitable power, bounded only by the imagination. Though at that time, the imagination was pretty bounded by writer’s crude notions.
Jim Corrigan seemed to have it all made: a successful Police Detective, engaged to marry heiress Clarice Winston, bringing in half of Gats Benson’s mob. In retaliation, Benson kidnapped Corrigan and Clarice, sending Jim off to swim in a barrel of concrete. Jim died. His spirit ascended but, at the borders of Heaven, was sent back by a Voice (presumably that of God), to combat evil.
Corrigan returned as a ghost, to resurrect Clarice, who had been shot, round up the rest of the mob and frighten Benson to death with a glance. He then jilted Clarice without explanation. How could he tell her he was no longer alive, did not breathe, could not… hold her.
As The Spectre, Corrigan appeared to be dressed in white and dark green, but don’t be fooled: hood, cape, trunks, gloves and moccasin sandals were costume, the white areas were The Spectre’s body.
As a character, The Spectre’s series was full of potential rarely realised. There was a freewheeling aspect to it typical of a time when anything went because no-one knew what might work. There were even flashes of genuine imagination, every now and then, but there were too many lame monster and magic stories, the thudding dullness of Corrigan’s Captain being convinced the Spectre was behind every crime and berating Corrigan for not bringing him in, and too much stiff and stilted art from Bailey. At first, the avenging ghost used to leave almost as many bodies in his wake as did the villains, but this didn’t last as long as a later writer suggested, as Detective Comics realised they had a money-making industry on their hands and started smoothing off rough edges.

The Spectre – Golden Aga

When Charley Gaines, at All-American Publications, Detective’s sister company, ordered up All-Star Comics to promote both company’s characters, The Spectre was chosen to represent More Fun, alongside Doctor Fate. Perhaps, as a Detective Comics character in an All-American comic, there was a subconscious bias against Corrigan, but despite his popularity, he never got considered for the JSA chairmanship, the route to a solo title.
Nor did he shine overmuch, despite being potentially more powerful than all the rest of the team put together. Gardner Fox wrote him competently, but lacked the intensity that Siegel could bring to the solo series, and even had him gassed into unconsciousness in issue 13 (drawing a retcon from Roy Thomas courtesy of The Monitor in 1985). And unlike other members, changes in The Spectre’s series were not taken up in All-Star.
To my surprise, instead of being parcelled off in Corrigan’s origin story (which required two issues to complete), Clarice Winston hung around a very long time, still in love with Jim (and he still in love with her) in a very touching manner that provided an oft-needed touch of stability.
But in More Fun 74, the series was changed permanently in a bad way by the introduction of Percival Popp, the Super-Cop, a short, klutzy and over-eager Private ‘Tec who wanted to team up with Jim Corrigan. At a stroke, The Spectre became second fiddle to his comic relief, a fate that other heroes didn’t suffer until much later in the decade.
An issue later, Popp’s investigations threatened to expose the barrel of cement in which Corrigan’s earthly remains lay in the river, so The Spectre got permission from the Voice to restore Corrigan to life. Which wiped out his excuse for not marrying Clarice, except that Popp took up so much of his and Spec’s time, she was pushed out.
And in issue 90, Corrigan went off to War, leaving The Spectre behind and suddenly invisible for the rest of the run until issue 101, after which More Fun was abruptly repurposed as a comic comic. And at more or less the same time, The Spectre was forced out of All-Star by the split between All-American and Detective Comics. Thus ended the Golden Age of Jim Corrigan.
Twenty years passed. Superheroes went out of and came back into fashion. In 1966, Julius Schwartz had stopped introducing new versions of old characters and was testing the revival of JSA characters in Showcase and Brave and Bold: Dr Fate and Hourman, Starman and Black Canary, all written by Fox and drawn by Murphy Anderson. For Showcase 60, Schwartz planned to pair Dr Mid-Nite and The Spectre, but in the end went for the Ghostly Guardian alone.
I bought ‘The War that shook the Universe’ one Saturday afternoon, walking from my Gran’s in Droylsden to the newsagents at Fiveways, poring over the spinner rack, and selecting this after a good half hour’s consideration. It was a good choice. Fox wrote what was the first retcon at DC, explaining why The Spectre – an all-powerful, immortal being – should have ‘retired’ for twenty years. Ingeniously, Fox conjured up Asmodus, an evil, demonic equivalent whose arrival on Earth had cancelled out both his and The Spectre’s energies, trapping them in their respective hosts.
The Spectre was released by the death of Asmodus’s host and had to fight the demon’s plot to trap him permanently within Corrigan. But Asmodus was only the herald of the greater menace, Shaithan, who arrived the next issue and who very clearly stood for the Devil himself. To defeat both adversaries, The Spectre required illimitless power, power of and from good (which, in 1966, included American soldiers fighting in Vietnam). He was, in short an incarnate form of Good.
Response was mixed: I loved both issues but many readers didn’t, rejecting the very idea of supernatural characters and menaces in the Silver Age of scientifically minded heroes. Schwartz, who was expecting to start a solo series, was surprised at the unfavourable commercial response. Fox’s approach wasn’t entirely successful, adopting a dry, mytho-religious tone that tried to reduce The Spectre’s supernatural abilities to semi-scientific energies.
Still, Schwartz didn’t give up. A third Showcase appearance in issue 64, half a year later, winding back on all-powerful entities to a ‘mere’ ghost was added to The Spectre’s appearance in the 1966 Justice League/Justice Society team-up. This was undertaken without any supernatural elements whatsoever, The Spectre being treated as ‘merely’ a character with immense power and a pycho-matter body.
The story called for Earths-1 and -2 being pulled into hyperspace on a collision course, and The Spectre physically holding the two planets apart until, in order to save everything, he agrees to the Earth-1 Atom shrinking him to one inch and then expanding him again, a process that causes any subject so treated (except Ray Palmer) to blow up.
It all sounds a bit callous (not to mention risky for the two planets) but worry not. Being all-powerful, The Spectre merely willed the atoms of his body to regroup themselves from all over the Universe.
These two stories lifted The Spectre over the hurdle and he gained his own comic in 1967, starting with one last, and unsatisfactory, Fox/Anderson story, then falling to lesser hands, amongst whom Neal Adams had to be classed. Weird and wonderful were The Spectre’s adventures, but most of all they were not very good. It was a different failure of imagination: in making The Spectre seriously all-powerful and Good with a capital G, it begged the question of who or what could pose him a threat.
In an attempt to combat the sales drop-off, DC tried to side-slip towards the still-successful Mystery market. Steve Skeates was brought in to do this, in keeping with the prevalent trend towards Relevance. As a punishment for casually killing crooks when he had much too much power to need to do so, The Spectre was sentenced to read from the Book of Judgement, short, pallid, sub-EC stories. Once again a supporting character in his own series, The Spectre only lasted one more issue before suffering his second cancellation.
Thus far, for all its changes of emphasis and direction, The Spectre’s story has been reasonably straightforward. But that was before Denny O’Neill. This is where it starts to get tricky.
In the late Sixties, O’Neill was DC’s hottest writer and Julius Schwartz’s go-to guy for updating series that had run out of steam. On the evidence of Justice League of America 82 – 83, it’s hard to see why. This was the out-and-out worst JLA/JSA team-up ever written, a nonsense farrago whose climax set Earths-1 and -2 onto a collision course again, requiring The Spectre to once more interpose his body between them, except that this time the resultant gravities tear him apart and he dies.
Come again? He’d already done that once and survived. Furthermore, O’Neill gave the impression of never having read a Spectre story before when, in order for him to enter the fray, Dr Fate has to summon him from imprisonment in a crypt (what crypt?), although the effectiveness of this crypt has to be questioned when set against Dick Dillin having drawn Spec as attending the Justice Society meeting in the first part. That one we’ll have to put down to pure sloppiness (did Julius Schwartz really edit this?)

The Spectre – Silver Age

So The Spectre was once again dead, for four years that is. Former EC artist Joe Orlando had joined DC as an editor, but was struggling with Adventure Comics, ever since it’s long-term feature, Supergirl, had been pinched for her own title. Six issues of floundering, including the debut of the mysterious Black Orchid, then a mistress of disguise with neither identity nor origin, led to a revival of The Spectre.
This was the infamous run written by Michael Fleisher, then a fixture at DC’s offices, researching his six-part ‘History of Superheroes’ (of which only two parts ever appeared). Orlando, who had recently been mugged in the street in front of his wife, was bubbling under with rage and susceptible to Fleisher’s proposal to go back to the character’s origin as an avenging ghost. With spectacular art from the then-little known Jim Aparo, a new series was launched in issue 431.
This version of The Spectre was controversial from the start for its gruesomeness. It went back to the idea of Jim Corrigan being a ghost that transformed into The Spectre and The Spectre not as an embodiment of Good fighting spiritual adversaries but as the pursuer, and executioner, of evil men, who would be despatched in various colourful, bloodless but graphic means: a hairdresser cut in two by scissors grown to massive size, a fake fortune teller turned into crystal, tipped over and shattered, and a man turned to wood and sliced up in a band-saw, etc.
I confess that I loved it in 1974, mainly for Aparo’s art, but even then I was aware that the stories were repetitious. Evil, heartless bastard villains prey upon and/or kill innocent citizens, The Spectre kills them brutally. The only real imagination lay in the latest graphic disposal.
The series rejected all versions before it. In the letters page, Orlando dismissed the crypt as Denny O’Neill’s problem, claiming his was the Earth-1 Spectre (whilst permitting an exchange with the reporter introduced to query The Spectre’s actions in which he’s sarcastically referred to as Clark Kent, leading a rookie cop to ask if he’s really Superman). Fleisher defended himself with the faux-naif claim that all these devices came from the original series. No, they didn’t, it was a lie. Jerry Siegel never wrote a scene in which his hero animated a hand-axe to cut his girlfriend into seven separate body parts in one panel (the scene got past the Comics Code Authority since it wasn’t actually Gwen Stirling being chopped up but rather a mannequin of her: then again, The Spectre didn’t know that until after he’d eviscerated her…) and that was before you thought of comparing the art of Bernard Bailey to that of Jim Aparo.
There was even a revoltingly predictable story in which Corrigan pleaded for relief from his task and was rewarded by the Voice by being restored to a human being. Except that the Voice didn’t tell him this had happened, so Corrigan only found out when he was shot. In this series, even God was a sick bastard. Jim took to the opportunity to visit the despairing Gwen (and impliedly shag her senseless, but then it was the first time he’d gotten any in thirty-four years). Then he got murdered by a mobster and returned to being a ghost. Sigh.
That story appeared in Adventure 440 and became the perfect, if unintended, finale of the run. DC had been taking heat from fans from the start, and, as soon as sales showed a slight downturn, publisher Carmine Infantino ordered the series cancelled, leaving three stories written and paid for but not drawn (these would be drawn by Aparo in 1988 for the mini-series Wrath of The Spectre, reprinting Fleisher’s run in issues 1-3 and presenting these ‘new’ stories in the fourth).
Immediately after this charming run, The Spectre re-surfaced on Earth-2 for the 1975 JLA/JSA team-up. There was no trace of the raving ghost: instead Spec stayed invisible and intangible throughout, merely intervening with the Voice to have six JSAers restored to life after they’d been killed by the JLA (don’t ask).
Were there now two Spectres after all? Jim Corrigan turned up in a single panel of the revived All-Star 70, without a sign of his ghostly companion, but the next two, almost simultaneous appearances to The Spectre himself were both clearly on Earth-1. The avenging ghost of Fleisher turned up in a three-part Dr Thirteen story in Ghosts, to enable the great sceptic to refuse to believe in him, whilst a version evidently much closer to Fox’s messianic agent appeared in DC Presents… to prevent Superman from entering Heaven, and to teach him a lesson about hubris.
In 1984, whilst writing Swamp Thing, Alan Moore introduced yet another, and utterly magnificent conception for The Spectre, as the Guardian of the Road to Hell, only for Roy Thomas to negate this idea by having The Spectre turn up back on Earth-2, in America vs the Justice Society, a courtroom drama featuring the framing of the JSA for treason as an excuse to summarise their every adventure.
Thomas posited that there was and only ever had been one Spectre, and that he’d moved to Earth-1 for unspecified reasons. Yeah, right. This Spectre was a mess of previous versions. He was no longer invisible, intangible and benevolent on Earth-2, and instead he threatened to destroy the planet for the crime of trying the JSA (they turned down his offer to move them to Earth-1, so he quit Earth-2, forever, sobeit.)
Marv Wolfman used The Spectre in Crisis, to directly challenge the Anti-Monitor at the Dawn of Time, causing the shattering of existence, and putting Spec in a handy coma for the rest of the series. Roy Thomas used him at the start of The Last Days of the Justice Society, having him destroyed and wiped out of existence, all the way back to his start. But it was Alan Moore who gave The Spectre the closest thing to a fitting finale, even in defeat: his arrogance at his powers and his desire to use them to the glory of God leads to him allowing the bird carrying the pearl of distilled horror to pass, to summon the Ultimate Darkness, the Shadow cast out by Light. The Spectre believes he will defeat the Darkness, but he is beaten, unhooded, broken, even his powers inadequate.
The Last Days of the Justice Society came out a week later, with a passing reference to the struggle against the Darkness as ‘a mighty affair’, excusable if Thomas didn’t know Moore’s story in advance but nevertheless demeaning. Given Thomas’s attitudes to anyone else writing the JSA, the slight may well have been deliberate.
Such was the story of The Spectre, a confusion of different portrayals and states, impossible to reconcile into any cohesive history. It doesn’t matter now, because The Spectre is Dead. Long Live The Spectre.

The Riddle of The Spectre Revisited

(After some thought, I decided it was impossible to reconstruct the thoughts and associations of thirty years ago, so this part of the post will effectively be a new article, attempting to rediscover the tenor of my thoughts. Since I’m trying to reflect the ideas I had circa 1990, I’m going to ignore all later versions of The Spectre and his story.)
It started with a single moment of inspiration, from which I realised that all the contradictions and wildly fluctuating treatments of the Spectre’s pre-Crisis history could be resolved into a harmonious whole. The crucial point came in 1970, when Denny O’Neill decided to end the eighth JLA/JSA team-up by killing off The Spectre. I can see his reasoning behind that: O’Neill was much more comfortable with street-level heroes and the Sixties approach to The Spectre as cosmic incarnation of Good made it even harder to fit him into a story that he could resolve in an eye-blink than Superman.
So O’Neill imprisons Spec in a crypt from which only a séance can free him, just in time for him to intervene between Earths-1 and 2 on collision course, bouncing the two planets back where they belong but unable to prevent the gravitational forces from tearing him apart, thus killing – or rather destroying – The Spectre. But…
What if? What if, in that final moment, feeling himself torn apart, unable to recreate himself as he had in 1966, because he’d had notice of The Atom’s plans to blow him apart and time to imbue his molecules with a kind of spectral magnetism whereas now he only just has time to intervene at all, what if in that last moment as he thinks he’s falling into endless rest, Spectre’s survival instinct kicks in and he makes one final attempt to cohere, grabbing at an Earth to form upon? But he gets Earth-1…
How does that affect everything? Firstly, let’s work backwards.
Jim Corrigan became The Spectre in 1940, under order by the Voice to eradicate crime. At first, his methods are often brutal and he kills criminals with grim purpose. This was not the Voice’s intention so if we shift history slightly, The Spectre is instructed to raise Corrigan’s body from the dead and bond to it. Corrigan’s humanity tempers The Spectre’s darkness, and ameliorates his ruthlessness.
But now that Corrigan is alive again, he’s anxious to play his part in the War his country is fighting. He joins the Army, but the separation has an unintended effect: without Corrigan as a host, The Spectre cannot materialise. He can effect criminals but is invisible: he joins forces with private Detective Popp because he has no alternative: the police still don’t trust him.
This lasts until 1945 when The Spectre disappears completely for twenty years, forced into imprisonment inside Jim Corrigan by the arrival on Earth-2 of Asmodus, a demon of similar status to Spec, intent on spreading evil. The two beings cancel each other out until 1965, when the death of Asmodus’ host alters the balance. He can escape Earth, The Spectre is freed. The twenty years he has spent imprisoned, unable to use his magical energies, has built them up to an incredible level: it has also kept Jim Corrigan younger and fitter than he should be.
But this energy is not infinite. Gradually, and more so, as he faces menaces of incredible force, such as Shaithan, and the first threat of the two Earths colliding, these diminish, enough that, after a prolonged period of being absent from Corrigan, he reverts to his earliest form, that of the killing ghost.

The Spectre – Bronze Age

Corrigan’s outrage causes a permanent separation between the pair, and in order to discipline the Spectre, and ensure he doesn’t revert fully to his earlier savagery, the Voice confines him to a crypt (a-hah!) where he must read from the Book of Judgement until he understands humanity better. Only to be released by séance performed by a magical practitioner of great ability, such as Doctor Fate.
Whilst in the crypt, Spectre’s energies have again increased through lack of expenditure, giving him the power to separate the Earths from collision. But at a terrible cost…
Let’s move forward. The stress of surviving, and the enforced separation from Corrigan, leaves The Spectre weaker than ever before. He cannot return to Earth-2. It’s all he can do to ‘be’ Jim Corrigan, NYPD Detective. Slowly, his energies start to build up again, but without an anchor in the form of a human host, he reverts to his original form as the killing ghost. This time, out of step with Earth-1, he is even more inhumane the deaths he deals out more bizarre and horrific.
Back on Earth-2, Jim Corrigan is seen again only once, in a single panel of the revived All-Star Comics. Without his spirit to sustain him, the energies bequeathed him by The Spectre’s presence dissipate: I believe he doesn’t live much longer.
Finally, having borne his duty for too long, The Spectre appeals to the Voice for rest, and restoration of his human status. Besides, Gwen Stacey’s hurling of herself at him is getting too persistent to ignore. The Voice which is common to both Earths and to others, responds by granting his wish, knowing that without supernatural protection, Jim Corrigan will soon be killed again. But this is necessary to bind The Spectre fully to the Earth-1 universe. Now he is whole again.
Having died and been reborn again, The Spectre has the energies to try to return to Earth-2. He succeeds, partially, but he cannot materialise. He cannot approach the ageing Corrigan on this Earth, he is invisible but more than that, he is intangible. Understanding his estrangement from his former home, all The Spectre can do is plead with the Voice to restore the lives of six former JSA team-mates, inadvertently killed by the JLA.
The Spectre returns to Earth-1. Frustrated that he can no longer contact his old friends, The Spectre’s anger overwhelms him briefly, in opposition to the ultimate sceptic, Dr Thirteen, the Ghost-Breaker but after that he accepts his role and begins to grow in wisdom and authority. It is The Spectre who is sent to halt Superman when he threatens to break the bounds of heaven, and it is his decision to stop the Man of Steel without violence that earns him a vast increase of power.
But he hasn’t, yet, totally abandoned his life on Earth-2. With his increased energies, he fights through the barrier, only to discover his old comrades threatened with charges of Treason. Using all his energies to make himself visible, and placing himself under massive stress, enough to warp his judgement, he threatens to destroy Earth-2, and rescue the JSA. He could never have done it: not even at the height of his powers, back in the Sixties, could he have achieved that, but the bluff might serve to rescue the situation.
The JSA’s response is negative, however. They will not join with him. Spurned, The Spectre accepts the final breach and returns to Earth-1 permanently. As punishment for his recklessness, he is set to guard the access to Hell and prevent illicit incursion there.
From there, as the Multiverse is under attack by the Anti-Monitor, The Spectre travels back in time, with the heroes, to the Dawn of Time, where he is the only one with the power to stand up to the this adversary. Even he cannot defeat him, but the battle destroys everything from the Dawn of Time on, putting The Spectre in a state of shock until the Universe has reformed itself and the Anti-Monitor finally defeated.
Determined to redeem himself, The Spectre makes the mistake of assuming no greater foe can exist. He permits the passage of the Pearl of Ultimate Blackness beyond the Universe of light, sure he can overcome the Darkness, to the glory of the Voice, but to his horror, he finds himself but a child in its hands, beaten utterly, and broken. His energies have travelled back in time to the Spear of Destiny, opening the door for Hitler to undo the new history, but in his attempt to intervene he is wounded, fatally, by the Spear, and only has time to alert his old JSA comrades before he dissipates entirely…
The Spectre is Dead, Long Live The Spectre

Epilogue

Whatever Steve Gerber intended for The Spectre is lost to history: no hints, notes or rumours ever emerged from the cancellation of the project due to his deadline issues. The Spectres of Doug Moench and John Ostrander, not to mention Hal Jordan and Crispus Allen are irrelevant to this piece.
The second part of this retrospective was a self-indulgence in 1990 and is even more of one in 2020. Given that the history I’d reviewed so bemusedly for Arkensword had been swept into non-existence so far as the DC Universe was concerned, the entire piece was nothing more than an exercise in cleverness: see, look at me, I solved the riddle. That it was nothing but an exercise in advanced Roy Thomasness – but far less convoluted and congested I hoped was self-evident then as now.
I’m presenting the two pieces together in this package just for the hell of it, to see my thoughts in print. It’s not the only piece I have planned on The Spectre now I have access to the whole of his pre-Crisis history. Keep an eye open for an in-depth survey of Michael Fleisher’s little run…

A Spot of Adventure: The Bronze Age – Part 2


For 324 issues, Adventure Comics had been part of the Superman stable of titles. 200 issues of Superboy. 80 issues of the Legion of Super-Heroes. 44 issues of Supergirl. Now, editor Joe Orlando had two months to find a new star for DC’s fifth oldest title with any recourse to the Man of Steel’s offshoots. What would he do?
There would be ample time to think for, from issue 425, Adventure went bi-monthly, requiring only six issues per year, a sign that circulation was in decline, as it was elsewhere at DC, and in places you wouldn’t expect, like the Justice League of America. Orlando’s response was defiant: the new Adventure would become a mini-Showcase, home to all sorts of stories and ideas, ever changing, always springing surprises.
There were four stories in the first issue, no 425, only one of them continued, the others – one only two pages long – complete in themselves. They were miniature shockers, with twist endings and no comebacks. The exception, Captain Fear, was written by veteran Robert Kanigher and drawn by newcomer Akex Nino, first and most abstract of the wave of Filipino artists about to flood DC’s pages because they were insanely cheap, as well as stylish, quick and talented. Captain Fear was a native indian pirate Captain, where you could make images out.
The Vigilante was added in issue 426, along with The Adventurers Club, an anthology series drawn by the already brilliant Jim Aparo, who was already working for Orlando on The Phantom Stranger.

And then everyone was ditched for a three-issue run by the mysterious Black Orchid, created by Sheldon Mayer and Tony De Zuniga, backed up by Dr Thirteen, the Ghost Breaker, also drawn by De Zuniga. The Doc only stayed one issue, however, before being re-replaced by Captain Fear, now being written by Steve Skeates, who was in turn replaced by The Adventurer’s Club in issue 430.
As for the Black Orchid, the character was attractively drawn but the stories were functionally identical. A bad man is given the opportunity to repay his thefts by the Black Orchid, who turns out to be disguised as someone close to him. She can fly, is bulletproof and no-one believes it when they see her. Meanwhile, she has no name, no identity and no personality, just an enigma. Three issues were enough, and she was replaced by Adventure‘s most notorious ten issue run of all time.

This run, in issues 331-340, came about by the coincidence of three things: young writer Michael Fleisher, researching a projected six-volume History of Comic Books of which only two appeared, proposing a revival of the Golden Age character, The Spectre, just after Joe Orlando had been robbed in a street-mugging in front of his wife. Orlando, angry and resentful of his humiliation, was ready to approve a version of the character that went back to his roots as a vengeful ghost, bringing retribution to evil, and to take advantage of the recent relaxation of the Comics Code to permit a greater licence in what could be depicted..
I loved it at the time. The run was bloodthirsty, it’s most obvious single flaw masked in my eyes by superb, dramatic, atmospheric art from Jim Aparo. The most obvious flaw was that the stories were basically identical: unrelievedly evil characters with no personality or even a second note, commit brutal crimes: the Spectre kills them in even more brutal and inventive ways. That’s all.
I was just feeling my way back into comics again after a three year hiatus, still overawed by the changes there had been during my absence, stunned by artwork from the likes of Aparo. But for him, I wouldn’t have lasted anything like as long: the lack of variation would have turned me off. A few years later, a higher sense of morality would have had me more repelled than thrilled by Aparo’s depiction of death-by-supernatural-circumstance. Yes, you could argue that the Spectre’s vengeance bore no resemblance to ‘ordinary’ killing, and Fleisher reacted to criticism by arguing that his Spectre wasn’t doing anything the original hadn’t, and he’d been written by Jerry Seigel.
Leaving aside the comprehensive difference between Bernard Bailey’s art and Jim Aparo’s, I somehow doubt this: as early as the fourth episode, The Spectre animates an axe to chop Jim Corrigan’s would-be girl-friend Gwen Sterling into eight separate pieces in a single panel, just because she, under mind-control, has tried to kill him. We the audience know this ‘Gwen’ is an animated mannequin but the Spectre doesn’t. Not until after ‘Gwen’ is being labelled Parts 1 to 8.
The run was popular but also highly vilified for its violence. There’s no definitive explanation for its cancellation with issue 440, but piecing things together from various sources, the probable explanation is that Infantino, coming under intense criticism at conventions and fan-events, took the opportunity of the first small downfall in sales to kill the feature, so abruptly that three bought and paid for scripts were never drawn, just written off, not to appear for thirteen years.
The Spectre period featured several different back-ups, including the final Captain Feat two-parter, but the most significant was a loose serial starring Aquaman, back in Adventure after a gap of 150-odd issues, with art from the up-and-coming Mike Grell, an artist who gathered raves everywhere he went but always looks stiff and unnatural to me. More thrilling was an unused Seven Soldiers of Justice story from the Forties, newly-drawn and serialised in issue 438-443.
The Seven Soldiers serial may have outlived the Spectre but it was Aquaman who replaced him, for a dozen issues, a rather better, or at least more varied use of Aparo’s art, allied to scripting by another former fan easing his way into the industry, one Paul Levitz.

It goes without saying that Aquaman in this run was better by far than the repetitious, meaningless stories of the Fifties. The opening eight issues built up as a serial that saw Aquaman deposed as King of Atlantis, at first by the mysterious Karshon, supporting the King of the Sea’s regular enemies of his Sixties series, but ultimately by his trusted Counsellor Vulko. It was well-made but I couldn’t really get into it, not then or now.
In the wider context, the arrival of Jeanette Kahn to replace Carmine Infantino as Publisher saw Joe Orlando promoted to Managing Editor and Paul Levitz become ‘Story Editor’ on Adventure, at the age of 20. Meanwhile, the three-issue back-ups moved on from The Creeper to the Martian Manhunter, his first appearance in years and a dumb one as he just assumes his murdered fellow Martian has been killed by a Justice League member, on the grounds that it was obvious. And Denny O’Neill wrote this.
Worse still, this ‘three-parter’ turned out to have four parts, the last being published in a completely different title, World’s Finest.
And Aquaman’s run ended abruptly in issue 452 with news that his own title was being revived and that he would transfer back there. Unfortunately, this came one issue too late for Adventure to escape the stigma of hosting one of DC’s most hateful and sickening stories. Aquaman’s ongoing battle with Black Manta reaches an end that few have ever condoned, as his son, Arthur Jr., Aquababy, held hostage by the villain, was killed, drowning in air.
Yes, that’s right, a little kid, not more than two years old, murdered. Where’s the Spectre when you want him? That Black Manta was allowed to live and remain a viable character to this day is an obscenity. David Michelinie wrote this, Jim Aparo drew it and Paul Levitz took editorial responsibility.
So, guess who got wheeled out to lead Adventure for the next phase? Why, it was Superboy!
It was the same story as Aquaman:better than the Fifties but still not good. Superboy got a solo because the Legion were pushing him out of his title, a familiar pattern, but he was saddled with Bob Rozakis and John Calnan as his creators, a combination that spelt commonplace. Aqualad got his first solo series as the back-up but that was no better, going around threatening to beat up pacifists to discover the secret of his past.
The cycle was supposed to be three 11-pagers plus back-up, and one novel-length story, but this was comic book’s nadir, when novel-length meant only 17 pages in a comic, and nobody settled into writing or drawing the series. But Superboy’s tenure only lasted five issues this time before he was moved over to Superman Family. Adventure was going down the pan. It had no regular lead feature, and the name, Adventure had simply outlived its recognition factor after forty-plus years, lacking definition for its audience, who looked for characters first.
This latest wholesale change reflected the decision to add Adventure to DC’s line of Dollar Comics, 68 page comics costing $1, but featuring all-original material. The initial line-up, in issue 459, featured The Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Deadman, the Elongated Man and The New Gods, not to mention a very long editorial from Levitz about the values and virtues of the new comic, restoring the glories of anthology comics.
From this distance, the editorial reeks of desperation, as well it might since the infamous DC Explosion/Implosion was right in the headlights. The New Gods feature was already a foretaste of what was coming: this was nothing to do with Jack Kirby but instead was the completion of Return of the New Gods, an extension series written by Gerry Conway that, despite a few good lines here or there, is justly forgotten now.
Most interesting was the information that when this feature concluded, after two final chapters, it would be replaced by The Man from Neverwhere. But Adventure was about to be buffeted once more by the winds of change.
The intention was to have Flash, GL, Wonder Woman and Deadman as regulars, with shifting back-ups, but by the second issue, Green Lantern was on his way out, displaced by none other than Aquaman (again) because his solo title had been cancelled (again). The New Gods ended with Conway killing off Darkseid, but only for the first time: it would become something of a habit with him.
So to The Man from Neverwhere. But we all know that never appeared. Because the DC Implosion saw half the DC line cancelled in an afternoon, among them the revived All-Star Comics. It had been due to feature the Death of (the Earth-2) Batman in its next issue so, just like Return of the New Gods, Adventure became a home to finish things off.
Levitz moved on as editor, to the Batman titles, as he probably had to do, being the Justice Society writer, and was replaced by Ross Andru, who would soon be shaking up The Flash’s life in his title. This coincided with the final loss of Jim Aparo, after so many issues and features, the last of these being Deadman, which continued under Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.
One thing that immediately becomes obvious in reading this phase is a story-telling technique prevalent in 1979 but thankfully long abandoned. This is an attempt to generate immediacy and action by starting in the middle, in a desperate situation, sometimes only on the splash page, sometimes covering a page or two, before rewinding to the beginning to see how the whole thing was set up. This achronology is clumsy and incredibly irritating to read forty years on.
But the Dollar Comic idea didn’t last. None of DC’s attempts to sell bigger comics for more money ever lasted and with issue 466 it was done again. The Justice Society left on a high, the explanation for their retirement during the Fifties tied into McCarthyism, and they were going to be leaving anyway. But there was not a word of warning anywhere in the title of what would happen in issue 467.

Yes, everybody was out. Adventure was restored to its bog-standard 32 page size, and to monthly status at the same time, with Len Wein installed as editor and a brand new line-up of a revived Plastic Man, complete with Woozy Winks, demonstrating yet again just how hard it was to capture Jack Cole’s lightning in a bottle, and a brand-new Starman series, featuring a brand—new Starman, by Levitz and the legendary Steve Ditko.
The latter intrigued me. I never read it at the time, though I’m familiar with this version, Prince Gavyn, from the superb James Robinson Starman series around the turn of the century, so it was nice to see the building blocks being built.
Starman was actually quite decent space opera that I would probably have enjoyed a lot in 1979/80, whilst the Plastic Man revival did its best but, lacking the light touch of Plas’s creator, got bogged down in excess silliness rather quickly.
Still, DC had not given up on Jeanette Kahn’s dream of bigger, better comics, and with issue 475, Adventurer extended its borders (and price) again, jumping to 50 cents and junking eight advertising pages to bring the creative content up to 25 again. That required a third character and who do you think it was? Tall, blond, favours orange scales? Yes, it was bloody Aquaman again.
But only for three issues. Without warning, issue 478 had every series scattering to the horizon for their continuations, Aquaman back to World’s Finest, Plastic Man to Super-Friends, Starman to ‘a conclusion – sometime’. And not a word of explanation in the lettercol or elsewhere.
By now, it must be long obvious that Adventure was a dying title, struggling and gasping and desperate. There wasn’t even a lettercol in issue 479, which was taken over by Dial ‘H’ for Hero for the remainder of the series’ life, nor credits. The series was being written by Marv Wolfman and very clearly being drawn by Carmine Infantino.

Back in the Sixties, I vaguely remember reading one of the original Dial ‘H’ for Hero stories starring Robbie Reed, in which the idea was that if Robbie dialled letters that were equivalent to H-E-R-O on a mysterious telephone dial (no telephone attached) he would turn into new superheroes for an hour at a time.
The revival had two High School teenagers, Chris King and Vicki Grant, who discover two dials, one as a wristwatch, the other a necklace, and also turn into superheroes. Lots of superheroes. Streams of one-note superheroes with all the developmental space of a puddle. This is because practically ever character has been suggested by a reader in their teens (except the Silver Fog, created by Harlan Ellison, aged 46). In short, it’s a wildly jarring, screaming mish-mash of stock Infantino shots, and my how stylistically angular he’d got, and it’s horrendous to read. Oh, and just in case anyone comes up with a good character, DC owns them all. Just in case.
The sheer vapidity of the comic – three seven page stories per issue, is this Mort Weisinger making a comeback? No, it’s Jack C Harris as editor, which explains a lot – was DC’s attempt to grab a younger audience at the very time it’s older audience was taking hold of the industry, via the Direct Market. It was a killer. Adventure lost its last, tenuous grip on its audience, throwing away one that had shown some loyalty in pursuit of another that it hoped to create out of nowhere.
With issue 490, cover-dated February 1982, Adventure Comics died quietly, in its forty-eighth year, just ten issues short of its 500th publication. Apart from a mention of where Dial ‘H’ for Hero could next be found, there was no announcement of the cancellation. By turning it into a digest-sized publication, mostly reprint, the title was got to 500 eventually. There have been revivals since, but one of the oldest titles in the business had run out of reinventions, doomed by its failure to produce a character it could be associated with who could save its life.
Action could live off Superman and Detective off Batman. But Adventure could only ever eat its own tail: if it produced a charismatic, exciting, popular lead character, it would lose its star to a solo title in its own name. Ultimately, it was doomed. And it went.

A Spot of Adventure: The Bronze Age – Part 1


Enter Supergirl

She’d been around for ten years, initially as Superman’s secret cousin, hidden away in Midvale Orphanage until he was certain she knew what she was doing which, given how he was used to treating Lois and Lana, was not a recipe for total disaster, oh no gollum. After four years, and an adoption by Fred and Edna Danvers, her cousin revealed her to the world, instantly becoming the world’s favourite blonde teenager. She’d gone on to Stanhope College, still wearing her brunette wig, still loyally backing up Cousin Kal in Action Comics. And in June 1969, Supergirl transferred from Action to Adventure Comics, bouncing out the Legion of Super-Heroes to claim her first real solo slot. The Legion – all 26 of them – had to exist in the back-up slot in Action. She would lead Adventure for the next forty-four issues, into the Bronze Age.
Whereas there is a pretty firm consensus as to the beginning and end of the Golden Age and the beginning of the Silver Age, there’s no such unanimity about the transition from Silver to Bronze. I’ve chosen for the purposes of this series of posts to make the transition from the Legion to Supergirl as the marker: you are welcome to suggest any alternate time.
But by 1969, people who had started out as fans had started to have scripts and art accepted at DC. Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich had preceded them at Marvel. But some of the medium’s respected writers of the next couple of decades were starting out, taking over from those veterans whose attempt to secure a future for themselves led to their gradual ejection from DC.
I didn’t think much of the first story, which saw Supergirl going undercover at a ‘Sleuth School’ that was training shapely females (don’t look at me, that was the scripter’s word) to carry out robberies under hypnosis. It was just a bit too herky-jerky, with a poorly timed conclusion that revealed that Batgirl was also undercover with the same goal, not to mention a trip to the Batcave when Batman and Robin were ‘out’, without tripping a single alarm. But it was Supergirl’s first book-length story ever.
When placed against the next couple of issues, it quickly started looking like a classic. But there was an intriguing story as the lead in issue 384. Her room-mates’ use of the Campus Matchmaker computer inspires Supergirl to use her cousin’s supercomputer at the Fortress to pick out an off-world hero for her. Minus thirty points for such a condescending introduction, but plus fifty or so for having Volar’s planet be a Chauvinist heaven, in which all the women are brainwashed from birth to see themselves as fit only to be servants to men. Supergirl is determined to show how stupid that is, and Volar is on her side until one day he turns on her and drives her off the planet because the serum that gives him his powers can no longer be reproduced. Supergirl is happy to accept Volar for whatever he is after he stops being strong, handsome and dreamy, until she learns the truth of what Volar is and leaves humiliated and heart-broken. Because Volar is like her – a girl. Yes, there’s a weird mixture of sexual politics in here, and a lesbian undertone buried much deeper than it used to be in old Wonder Woman comics.
On the other hand, emboldened by Supergirl, Volar decides to carry on superheroing, as a girl, and start to change ‘his’ planet the long, slow way.

Coose costume

Yet I should be aware that this is the tail-end of the era when Supergirl’s series was a way for girls to enjoy superhero comics, with romances, dates and heartbreaks. Yes, it is patronising, to our eyes fifty years on, and the stories are tedious when they’re not being silly. But this is because they were intended for an audience of which I never formed part, and I should bear that in mind.
But that was until issue 396, for with that issue, Mort Weisinger stood down as editor of Adventure Comics. The role was given to Mike Sekowsky, former Justice League of America artist and one of the new editors that Editorial Director Carmine Infantino was bringing in from the pool of artists. Sekowsky had already taken over Wonder Woman and promptly removed her powers, turning her into a Diana Rigg-like human agent: what might he have planned for the Maid of Steel?
In one word: Change. To begin with, Sekowsky took over pencilling Supergirl and, from the look of it, writing the feature itself. His first story began with a bored Linda Danvers going shopping (?) for new fashions, with one of the groovy dress-shops she hit being the one where the non-super Diana Prince now worked. Next up, a new magical threat on campus shreds Supergirl’s staid old costume. With Ms Prince’s assistance she came up with a change of style that was hip, groovy and utterly horrible: a tabard-like miicro and thigh length red boots ought to look seriously hot but far from it (the new costume was chosen from reader’s suggestions over the past few months, and judging by the alternatives depicted on the cover, this one actually was the best, my life!).
The back-up story fared better by introducing a new regular creep in Nasty. This nick-name was short for Nastalthia, a name I’ve only ever heard elsewhere in Milton Caniff’s Terry and The Pirates (if you’re going to steal, steal from the gods). Nasty was out to discover Supergirl’s secret identity for her Uncle: Uncle Lex Luthor, that is.

The bathing-suit one

The next issue introduced a new logo for the ‘New Supergirl’ but only one Sekowsky story, the lead being a particularly naff reprint from Supergirl’s High School days. And there was another reprint the next month, but as this was an unpublished Golden Age Black Canary tale with prime Infantino art, it was the highlight of the issue.
And so to Adventure 400. Only two other DC Comics had reached the number by 1970, only four titles had run longer. Sekowsky celebrated by delving into the past for the return of Supergirl’s old foe, the Black Flame, a comeback that fell flat for one latterday reader who has to ask Black Who?
It might be a new era for Supergirl, with Sekowsky confounding the old expectations to the point where expectations left town, but that didn’t avert the double nadir of issue 401, in which the Supergirl lead turned out to be a dream, and a new back-up, Tracey Thompson, debuted. Who or what was Tracey Thompson? She was an inquisitive girl with a less-inquisitive friend. Have series been built on lesser information than that? Probably, but I wouldn’t want to read them.
Anyway, Tracey and Betsy lasted exactly two episodes before being abandoned whilst Sekowsky started to churn things up even faster. In issue 404, Supergirl was fed a pill that turned her powers on and off and two issues later she graduated from Stanhope College, inadvertently revealed her secret identity to Nasty, moved to San Francisco to join a TV news team and found Nasty joining her there, intent on exposing her. Also, her new costume got burned up: guess it wasn’t as popular as the letter columns suggested.

With guest star reprints

Issue 407 introduced a newer, and even uglier costume, whose military style top and red pants made it look even bulkier and more awkward than the first. It also reminded me that I’d once owned this comic.
I’d definitely stopped buying all comics, American or British, after September 1970 and wouldn’t resume until January 1974. This issue would have reached Britain sometime around June/July 1971. But once I started again, and accelerated by discovering my first comics shop in Manchester, with back-issues, I kept stabbing at filling in the gap. I had a few Supergirl Adventures, a product of collecting the later and short-lived Supergirl title. This was the oldest I recognise.
By the time of the back-up story in issue 408, Supergirl’s red pants had turned to blue, and I was already sick of Nastalthia’s constant needling of Linda Danvers about being Supergirl.
The next month saw the adoption of a new 48 page size format, and a then-massive leap from 15 to 25 cents. This was an adventurous policy by DC, trying to avert an increase to 20c for the same old package by leaping past it to give more for the money, the more in this instance being selected Legion reprints. It was supposed to be a joint venture, agreed with Marvel but, after just one month at this size, Martin Goodman pulled his last great shark-move and pulled back to 32 pages at 20c, undercutting DC and further cutting into their market.
As for the original material, I was surprised to find a back-up story that not only cut Sekowsky out with script by E. Nelson Bridwell and art by Art Saaf but provided Supergirl with yet another new costume, and this time an attractive one, being basically a backless blue bathing suit with a fair amount of the sides cut away, plus cape and red boots. Decidedly sexist and decidedly hot.
The swimsuit outfit only lasted one half-length back-up because it was replaced in the following issue by the costume Supergirl would wear for the next decade plus, the loose long-sleeved blouse with the miniature Super-logo on the left breast, the red frilly tennis-knickers and the lace-up moccasins. And there was a change in editorial leadership as Sekowsky was replaced by former EC Artist Joe Orlando, who would take Adventure into some strange places, as we shall see in the next instalment.
But, oy! The stories that Orlando started with. Plain, dull, even stupid stories by John Albano and Bob Oksner, with clean, neat art but not heart and silly premises. Sekowsky had at least tried to do something new. Only the new costume worked.
I’m sorry to go on about the costume thing but issue 412 featured a rogue Supergirl impersonator wearing the tabard-and-thigh-boots outfit whilst the real Supergirl wore an all-blue all body sleek costume that looks like the one Melissa Benoit wore into Crisis on Infinite Earths but the story was an horrendous mish-mash, dragging Supergirl into space for a careering fight with no logical development to it. Adventure had literally lost the plot.
The Legion reprints went out the window in favour of an eclectic mix of characters – Animal Man, Zatanna, Hawkman, Robotman – whilst the sleek, form-fitting blue costume stayed for an issue before the blouse and tennis knickers one was back in issue 414, another of my former back-issue acquisitions, which I remembered well, especially for its cover.
Ridiculously, yet another costume, an off, impractical, sleeveless square-necked blue top with red mini-skirt was used in the front of issue 415 before the long-term look came back in the back. That however was the end of the Constantly-Changing-Costumes, but not of the uninspiring stories. Frankly, only the changing back-ups, mixing new work and unexpected reprints, was worth attention, as these certainly went in for oddities.

The permanent version

But DC’s run at 48 pages was always going to be limited and this came to an end with issue 420, and announcements as to a cutback to 32 pages and 20 cents. The last Supergirl story was an oddball tale set in space, a whirlwind effort of love, War and death that nowhere anchored itself to reality. It used Dylan Thomas for its evocative title, “And Death Shall Have No Dominion”, a line the story bent itself to accommodate. I searched it out as a back-issue on reading a letter-of-comment giving it extravagant praise and was once mightily impressed. Now, I’m just wondering how such a ragged thing ever got published.
I was familiar too with the next story, a farrago involving black magic that tied itself to a spurious significance by turning the evil witch into Supergirl’s easily-eliminated death-wish, but I remember it mainly for the truly astonishing art, by the impossible but somehow gloriously effective team of Mike Sekowsky and Bob Oksner, a combination no more compatible than than Pablo Picasso inked by Norman Rockwell. But it worked.
Then it all finally ran out of time and place. Adventure 424 was a mainly down to Earth adventure about a Syndicate stool-pigeon that took an incongruous turn into outer space but this was the last time these flying by the seat of the pants stories would appear in Adventure. Some memorable art from Tony de Zuniga ended with Linda Danvers throwing a fit of pique, walking out of her job, her life in San Francisco, her rivalry with Nastalthia and her unrequited love for her boss Geoff, the guy who, three months earlier, had gotten her past her death wish and become closer to her than any man before: not that close, obviously.
Supergirl cleared the decks to go into her own title (which would only last thirteen issues) and Adventure was given a two-month hiatus, presumably because nobody had any idea what to do next.
What they did do next will be the subject of the last part of this series.

Don’t boither remembering her this way

A Spot of Adventure: The Silver Age – Part 2


In issue 296 of Adventure Comics, editor Mort Weisinger tore a strip of a reader who’d demanded the Tales of the Bizarro World back-up be dropped. According to Weisinger, the Bizarro’s had lifted Adventure‘s circulation higher than it had been before, and spawned 5,000 postcards per month of Bizarro ideas.
Four months later, he dropped Tales of the Bizarro World and replaced it with the Legion of Super-heroes. It was the Silver Age: what else can I say?
So the Legion era of Adventure had begun, with new Legionnaires appearing every month, characters, costumes, powers but not necessarily personalities we would become immensely familiar with as the Sixties began to take form. And, to my tremendous surprise, there was a death as early as issue 304.
This was the famous death of Lightning Lad that I learned about in the Sixties when I first tried the Legion. It was the culmination of an odd tale that had Saturn Girl use her power to secure her election as Legion leader and immediately turn into a tyrant who grounded every Legionnaire in the process of stealing their powers. Yet this turned out to be an act of sacrifice: made aware that a Legionnaire would die battling a villain, Saturn Girl sought to protect her team-mates by becoming the only active Legionnaire. But Lightning Lad discovered her plot and beat her to the punch, sacrificing himself for her.
It was the beginning of a long romance, for when I learned of his death, he had already been resurrected. But that it had come so early in the series stuns me – unless Weisinger was thinking that with over a dozen of them already, who’d miss the odd one here or there?

The Girl Legionnaires Revolt!

The Legion of Substitute-Heroes, second only to the Legion of Super-Pets when it comes to dumb Legions, made its debut in issue 306. Back when Robert Loren Fleming and Keith Giffen were perpetrating Ambush Bug on us all, they combined for a gloriously funny Substitute-Heroes Special I used to own: to my glee, I now learned just how closely they based their goof-up on the original! I wish I still had it.
There was no forgetting Lightning Lad’s brave sacrifice at any turn, not least in issue 308, where ‘he’ returned to life, only to be exposed – not that literally – as his own very much alive twin-sister and replacement, Lightning Lass, whose hairdo was an atrocity: Thirtieth Century? You gotta be kidding me.
By issue 309, the Legion were so popular, they had taken the lead-spot in the comic, though Superboy continued to get the cover, which was a bit ludicrous in issue 310 when Superboy’s story was about him exchanging minds with Krypto and the Legion’s about they’re all being killed…
I shall pass over the Superbaby story in issue 311, which hit depths of silliness to make the Marianas Trench look like a puddle to get onto the following story, which was the supposedly always-planned story of how Lightning Lad was restored to life (at least that’s how Weisinger promoted it in the lettercol, just like he described Bizarro as a fixture four months before dropping it).
I’d heard about this story almost as soon as I discovered the Legion but this was the first chance I had to read it. The Legion are searching the Universe for ways to bring Lightning Lad back to life but all methods fail. Except that Mon-El knows a surefire method whose only drawback is that it will kill whoever does it. Saturn Girl, the telepath, can tell he’s holding something back, though Mon-El’s only keeping schtum because he intends to sneak off and sacrifice himself. Once the truth comes out, the legionnaires vie to be the noble one. Except that Saturn Girl intends to cheat by ensuring she gets struck by the lightning that will do it. And she does, and she dies… except that it’s Chameleon Boy’s protoplasmic, telepathic pet, Proty, who has decoyed her away and substituted himself in her place.
I knew all of this long ago, but reading the story at last, even with John Forte’s stiff, unemotional art, was actually surprisingly moving, which it had to be to overcome the Lana Lang spoiled brat humiliated by Superboy for-her-own-good story that backed it up. Pairing these two stories in one issue was plain bad editting.
Though Adventure was still a Superboy title, the Legion’s series was now taking first place every month. This didn’t matter to the Boy of Steel, who had had his own solo comic since 1949, and it was quickly becoming apparent that his future-colleagues would be taking over Adventure for themselves. Indeed, their story in issue 313 disposed with Superboy early on in order to feature Supergirl, who actually appeared twice in that she was revealed as being Satan Girl, who unleashed a lethal plague upon the girl Legionnaires.

Star Boy kills!

With so many Legionnaires, there was barely time to show everyone off, so a three page guide as to who, what power and what origin was included in issue 316, which extended the roster to 23, by including Jimmy Olsen’s occasional Elastic Boy persona and, lumped together as one, the Legion of Super-Pets (look, I won’t talk about the Super-Pets unless I’m actually forced to, ok?)
Finally, in issue 317, exactly seventy issues after their one-off debut, it became official: ‘Adventure Comics featuring Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes’ became the logo. The story introduced Dream Girl, temporarily, as a beautiful new member causing all the boys to fancy her, the girls to get green-eyed, and seven Legionnaires deactivated, all to needlessly divert one of her premonitions of their forthcoming death which was actually of android versions of them. Confused? Dreamy also fixed it that Lightning Lass lost her now-unneeded powers only to be re-gifted with the power to make things light (Star Boy, who makes them heavy, apparently hasn’t got a reverse gear).
The issue also reduced a ‘Hall of Fame Classic’ feature, otherwise known as reprints, which did no more than demonstrate that Superboy stories hadn’t change in over a decade, and to cap it off, the lettercol featured a letter from a Dora Knight, asking why Saturn Girl can be Legion leader when the boys are so much stronger than her? I’d give a lot to know if Miss Knight became a feminist and worked out the answer.
Right from his first appearance, Bouncing Boy had been a bit of a joke Legionnaire, rarely used, and that was clearly the general opinion at DC because in issue 321, he was abruptly, and undramatically, de-powered and demoted to permanent reservist. Of course, I know that won’t last forever.
I knew that at some point I’d catch up with my own first Legion story, though I didn’t expect it to be as early as issue 323, when Proty II sets a clever puzzle to determine the Legion’s new leaders – who turns out to be their old one, that smart blonde cookie, Saturn Girl. I even recognised the Hall of Fame Classic back up featuring Krypto. Every panel locked into place out of my memory.

Jim Shooter’s first script

But for every decent, and sometimes clever, story there were still a couple of dumb ones, usually based on some or all of the Legionnaires being dickheads, though that’s not possibly the ideal word for the story in issue 326 when the six girl Legionnaires get a mad on against the boy Legionnaires and set out to trap and kill them. There could have been a worse explanation for this too but I’m in no hurry to find one.
Interestingly, each girl Legionnaire got in a smooch with their chosen target first (and Triplicate Girl managed three, the little hussy), except for Saturn Girl, who couldn’t get Superboy to sample (wot an idiot!).
One of the problems with trying to read American comics in the Sixties was the erratic distribution. No two consecutive issues could be guaranteed. Then again, my budget for comics was strictly limited. Which one of these was responsible for my only reading the second half of the Legion’s first two-parter, in issues 330-331, I don’t know, though I remember the story as clear as a bell, as well as the Hall of Fame back-up which featured Lana being genuinely concerned for Clark without trying to penetrate his secret identity. Yes, they could write them.
Although I remembered a couple of stories earlier in the run, it was not until issue 340 that I fully caught up with my early enthusiasm for the Legion. This was the first half of the two-parter that introduced Computo, Brainiac 5’s evil super-computer, which changed Triplicate Girl into Duo Damsel by killing one of her three bodies (without any apparent trauma either) and which warped the Legion into the Batman ’66 Camp Era by introducing wise-cracking. Ah, the memories!
Indeed, there’s something special about this era of the run for me. The stories are (probably) no better nor worse than those before and those to come, but these are the stories from my time, full of back bedrooms at Brigham Street and Burnage Lane, re-reading runs on quiet summer holiday afternoons and evenings, each panel engraved on the eyeballs of memory. Star Boy’s expulsion. The Super-Stalag of Space. Jim Shooter’s unadvertised debut as a 13 year old writer by introducing four new members simultaneously, which was also the point that full-scale Legion stories supplanted the Superboy reprints.

A tie that bound for decades

One more thing to add about the Legion at this time is that it had something DC wasn’t supposed to have: continuity. Not necessarily in the form of subplots that became stories, but in situations that actually changed the status quo, like Lightning Lad losing an arm, Bouncing Boy his powers or Star Boy his membership. All these themes were brought together and restored in one go in issue 351.
And suddenly it all stopped. The Sun-Eater, the Fatal Five, Ferro-Lad’s sacrifice. The Adult Legion. I remember the cover to the first part of that but I read none of them. And none that followed, nor even saw the covers. This puzzles me now. This was only 1967 and I did not start losing interest in comics for another year. The only significant change was our move from East to South Manchester: was distribution really that random that by moving half a dozen miles away you could lose sight of an actual title? Or did I suddenly lose interest in the Legion?
Or did my childhood interest in comics, the Justice Society aside, start to fade earlier than I recall? I always thought it was 1968 because that was when I started on the football magazines, and besides, my parents had barred me from buying American comics at the full price of 1/-, a bar I got around, which a trickiness that well-befitted my future career as a Solicitor, by buying a preferred title in the newsagents coming out of school, selling it for 3d to a willing accomplice and then buying it back from him for 3d, so that I could truthfully say I’d bought it cheap off someone at school.
That was Burnage Grammar School, or High School from my Second Year on. I only went up into the Second Year in 1967: could I, who was naïve and immature for my age, have been that sneaky that early?
But the Legion stories that follow, two-parters all of them, are complete mysteries to me. Shooter, still only a teenager, was writing them, skilfully enough despite Weisinger, with some variable art, not all of it coming from the reliable Curt Swan. But the Legion’s days were numbered.
I have little to say about these late adventures. This was a strange, transitional period for DC, whose older writers, backbones of the company, were losing the plot, sometimes literally. Marvel was a threat kept in check only by DC owning their distributors and limiting them to no more than eight titles. The writers were demanding benefits as employees whilst being treated as freelancers for DC’s benefit. Things were slipping.
Some of the Legion’s stories were mildly memorable. The introduction of Shadow Lass, who’d already been seen dead in the Adult Legion’s hall of fallen heroes, as Shadow Queen, joining the Legion because she fancies Brainiac 5 (she’s not seen Mon-El yet), and that being the crucial point in issue 368, when a female governor of a world amplifies the girl Legionnaires’ powers and has them throw the boys out preparatory to installing a matriarchal government on earth, only for Supergirl to break her conditioning out of jealousy over ‘her’ Brainiac 5. Sheesh.

Introducing the Fatal Five

And the story in issues 369-370 not only introduced the Dark Lord Mordru but smashed Superboy’s Smallville continuity, with Jonathan and Martha Kent losing twenty years each and drawn unrecognisably whilst Lana Lang and the two girl Legionnaires who come to Smallville in Superboy’s ‘time’ all wear 1968 mini-skirts. Though apparently the Kents had taken a youth serum in Superboy and nobody noticed…
Issue 373 introduced Don and Dawn Allen, the Tornado Twins, ‘direct descendants’ of The Flash, though not as direct as they’d end up being years later.
And then, after issue 380, and a story whose only memorable moment was that it saw Chuck (Bouncing Boy) Taine showing his first feelings for Luornu (Duo Damsel) Durgo, the Legion were gone, without warning or explanation. They’d had an 81 issue run and whilst their replacement would have a stable run, for a while, emiwould have have so stable a lead feature again.
So the Silver Age was over, at least so far as this series was concerned, cover date May 1969, actual publication probably March. Join me for the Bronze Age, next.

A Spot of Adventure: The Silver Age – Part 1


It’s February 1958, though the cover date says April, standard comic book practice then and for decades to come to try to fool newstands, drugstores and Mom-and-Pop stores to leave the comic out on display for longer and longer, before tearing the strip with the title off the cover and returning it for credit. The new Flash had appeared in two issues of Showcase, both big sellers, but the management at National Periodical Publications (you didn’t shout the word ‘Comics’ too loudly in the Fifties) would require two more, this year, before trusting him to a series of his own. The Silver Age was struggling to be born but Adventure Comics and its editor, Whitney Ellsworth, was about to make their greatest contribution to the new era. He, writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino were about to introduce the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Appropriately for the time, it’s a bit of a jerky story. Three kids from the future, Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, the latter two of which looking nothing like the incarnations we would become familiar with in the future, and all of which boast artificial super-powers that, at this stage, are not the inherent abilities stemming from their respective home planets, ‘tease’ (i.e., horrify) Superboy by knowing his dual identity, invite him 1,000 years into the future to join their superhero club, put his through competency tests in which they deliberately sabotage him, and all for fun. Remind me again, why did he join this bunch of creeps?
We only get to meet these three Legionnaires, although the group includes at least four other identified members, one of which is green-skinned and could possibly have been Brainiac 5. We also learn that, ten centuries on, feminism hasn’t arrived, since Saturn Girl is ‘only a girl’ (curl lip in contempt). Of such acorns do oak trees grow, however implausible, but if superheroes are on the way back, the idea’s a doozy.
There are still our hapless D-listers, The Green Arrow and Aquaman, to go through, and it was back to Superboy solo next month, But the Silver Age had visited and left its calling card on the table. The In-Between Age was doomed..
As this is a new run, I actually started reading the back-up stories, or enough of them to finally pick up on the patterns. Green Arrow’s stories are always about the arrows, and how the crime-fighting archers have to keep using different ones, whilst Aquaman is about him acting out of character for some secret purpose that gets revealed on page 5. And it was interesting to see that, when Adventure hit issue 250, one of a very small number of titles to do so, absolutely nothing was done to mark it.
Or did it? For that and the next six issues, Green Arrow gained a new artist, the King, Jack Kirby. No, it’s not particularly memorable art, or that distinctly Kirby, and apparently it was being inked by his wife, Roz, but it’s Kirby. And in issue 252, not only did Superboy encounter Red Kryptonite for the first time (but not its more antic aspects), but Green Arrow’s story was continued into a second part!
A major change arrived in that second issue. It was not Superboy teaming up with a time-travelling Robin the Boy Wonder but rather the introduction of the Silver Age staple, the letters page.
I was also pleased to see the occasional resumption of house ads, particularly the full-pagers devoted to new characters in Showcase, such as Space Ranger and Adam Strange, under the rubric ‘Adventures on Other Worlds’. But on the debit side, Aquaman’s series was now adorned with his own sidekick, his pet octopus, Topo. Don’t anyone tell Jason Mamoa about this.

Don’t believe it…

But we are really getting into some deep and, frankly, scary psychological terrirtory, especially with the Superboy story in issue 255, which sees some Martian Red Kryptonite split Superboy in two, one of them the Boy of Steel and the other a merely human Clark Kent. Clark goes criminally batty and Superboy ends up killing him in an explosion. That’s right, killing him, or rather himself, without qualm or regret. That’s seriously disturbing shit.
Kirby’s last Green Arrow, featuring the most identifiably Kirby art of his run, was a re-telling of his origin in it’s pre-Speedy form. In fact, the letters page, and several requests for who, what and why, seems to have inspired a sweep of origin recaps across the Superman titles generally, not to mention another ludicrous team-up in issue 258, this time with Superboy trying to inspire new-kid-in-town Oliver Queen to take an interest in archery… In time, practically half of DC’s characters would pass through Smallville during Superboy’s youth.
When I mentioned that Whitney Ellsworth was editing Adventure, I was surprised to see his name in the indicia, as I’d always assumed Mort Weisinger’s legendary possessiveness about Superman would not allow anyone else to be in charge. Weisinger replaces Ellsworth as of issue 259, reminding me that when Ellsworth was editor of All-Star, it was Julius Schwartz doing the work. I think Ellsworth was editor in the same way Stan Lee et al were editor-in-chief at Marvel: the overall boss but not the hands-on man. I think Weisinger’s hand was on the real controls all along. Now, it just became official.
One of those origin stories appeared in issue 260, as Aquaman’s origin was retold for the first time in eighteen years, or rather retconned, for now Arthur Curry was named for the first time, and he was revealed as being Atlantean, though not yet as the rightful king of that undersea world. Next issue, the Boy of Steel met a teenage Lois Lane at camp, sharing a cabin with Lana Lang and deploring the latter’s constant efforts to discover Superboy’s identity: Lois would never do that. All-in-all, it was a chance for the Boy of Steel to anticipate his adult self’s trait of acting like a dick to two women who love him.
By now, it was clear that the Legion hadn’t caught the imagination of Superboy’s readers first off. In fact, it took twenty issues for the teenagers of tomorrow to reappear, in issue 267, and they were still dicks, humiliating the Boy of Steel, driving him off Earth, imprisoning him. It was the same trio but this time all in the uniforms with which we would be familiar in the Sixties, except that Saturn Girl was brunette, not blonde.
Two issues later, Aquaman met Aqualad, an Atlantean expelled from Atlantis for being afraid of fish, cured his fear and ending up with the kid imprinting himself on the King of the Sea and adopting him as a surrogate father with no legal proceedings whatsoever.

For issue 270, the first of 1960, there was a sudden change as Green Arrow’s series was replaced by Congorilla, big game hunter Congo Bill who, by rubbing a magic ring, could transfer his mind into the body of a golden gorilla for an hour. Remember too that 1960 was the year the Justice League of America debuted, consisting of seven of DC’s eight adult superheroes. The only one to miss out was… Green Arrow. Is there a connection?
Next issue, Superboy met the young Lex Luthor, farm boy in Smallville, Superboy hero-worshipper and would-be scientific genius, and we see that Luthor becomes a Superman-hater after Superboy causes all his hair to fall out. Don’t laugh so much, there are sound psychological underpinnings to this rationale, I merely looks goofy. And increasingly the letters page is becoming a source of inspiration, with the kids raising questions that prompt stories being written to explain the answers. Weisinger certainly knew his audience.
After Robin, Lois and Luthor, it was inevitable that Superboy would meet a young Bruce Wayne when his parents, the great philanthropists and benefactors of Gotham City, decided to move to Smallville; well, wouldn’t you? Who wants to live in a plush mansion when you could live in a hick town? Bruce gets the hots for Lana who agrees to let him take her to the Prom if he finds out Superboy’s identity, which he does, being smart, only Superboy shows him film of the future where he’s Batman and they’re best friends, so he doesn’t. Funny how the Boy of Steel omits the bit about why young Bruce becomes Batman…
Both back-up series had a change of title is issue 277, to introduce their kid partners: Aquaman and Aqualad, Congorilla and Janu, with National announcing that, in response to many such requests, they were giving the first pair a two-issue run in Showcase to see if they could carry their own title.
Issue 280 saw the Mermaid Lori Lemaris become the latest Superman character to pre-empt her first meeting with Supes by turning up in Smallville years early. As usual, the story was 90% silly, the exceptions being the provision of an entirely sensible explanation for Lori’s Atlanteans having fishtails whilst Aquaman’s have two legs, and the instinctive effort of the jealous Lana to save the life of the ‘girl’ she fears as a rival. It was also announced that, from the next issue, the first of 1961, Congorilla and Aquaman would alternate as back-up, their combined pages giving the opportunity for thirteen page adventures.
This time, it took only fifteen issues for the Legion of Superheroes to return, in issue 282, with a new member, Star Boy (albeit one with super-strength, electrical vision and supercool breath, instead of mass controlling powers), as well as a cameo from the previously unseen Chameleon Boy. Unfortunately, the story was an excuse for Lana to cook up one of her least reputable plots to discover Superboy’s identity. Not even the sight of Lana in a most un-1961 short skirt and her frank admission that she loved the Boy of Steel kept him from acting like just as much as a dick to her. Just fly her off and snog her, you fool!
Congorilla’s brief run came to an end in issue 283, with the announcement that he was being replaced by the more Superman-oriented Tales of the Bizarro World. It was supposed to be just him but, come the day, Aquaman was sent swimming too. But three issues later I was hoping for one or both of them to return, as the Bizarro stories were stupid beyond belief. And they’re getting all the covers, too! The time between Legion stories was rapidly diminishing, with Sun Boy, the “Seventh Legionnaire” being introduced in issue 290.
And the big three of Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl were back after only three issues, this time introducing, wait for it, the Legion of Super-Pets. Yes, that’s right: Super-Pets. These were Krypto, plus Beppo the Super-Monkey, Streaky the Super-Cat and even the as-yet unnamed Comet the Super-Horse, pet and occasional lover of Supergirl (don’t go there, just don’t) who hadn’t even been introduced in Supergirl’s series yet (hey, every young girl is into horses, right?)

There was a letter of protest about the Bizarros in issue 296 which brought forth a stinging rebuke from Weisinger, about how Adventure‘s sales figures had rocketed to their highest ever since the feature began, and that every month they got 5,000 postcards with suggestions from ‘Bizarro business’. Yeah, but that still doesn’t mean the series isn’t crap.
Finally, the suggestion came up of a regular Legion series, alternating with the Bizarros. So, with issue 300, the day finally came when the Legion, 53 issues after their debut, took a permanent role in Adventure.
And I’ll be back in two weeks for the next instalment.

A Spot of Adventure: The In-Between Age


Most people agree upon the periods of the Golden Age and the Silver Age of Comics, though there’s room for argument as to the Ages that have followed. The Golden Age, from Action 1 to All-Star 57, covers the years 1938 to 1950, whilst the Silver Age starts with Showcase 4 in 1956. That leaves a gap that has never been tagged onto any Age, metallic or otherwise.
For the second instalment of my review of Adventure Comics, I’m calling the period in question the In-Between Age, and I plan to go up to 1958, for two reasons. One is that, although the Barry Allen Flash debuted in 1956, he only made four appearances in three years before finally being unleashed on his own series, in 1959. I’d call that the true beginning of the Silver Age, but before that, in 1958, National would introduce a new idea in the pages of Adventure that was as Silver Age as you could wish. This essay covers the years leading up to then.
We begin with issue 167. The Shining Knight was fallen casualty to the times, leaving Adventure with a line-up, front to back, of Superboy, Aquaman, Johnny Quick and The Green Arrow (still with the definite article). Superboy has the perky, red-headed teenage beauty Lana Lang trying to uncover his secret identity, just as his adult contemporary has Lois Lane, and Lana gets the idea into her pretty head that an ancient helmet brought home by her archaeologist parents gives her Superboy-esque powers. Instead of just taking her for a long, slow ride at the next hayride and enjoying some enthusiastic smooching, Superboy has to pretend the helmet works to keep her from getting the right idea about why a robber’s bullet just bounced off him. Silly boy.
Lana was a seeming fixture for a few issues but then dropped out, which was a shame because she brought an element of personality to Superboy’s strip. It was still a mostly domestic strip, calling for no great effort on the kid’s powers but without the pretty redhead it was empty.
Indeed, going into 1952, the comic as a whole was dull. Aquaman, who was clearly the favourite of the DVD maker who manages to come up with the Sea King’s story even when nothing else of an issue is available, tends to fight pirates, Green Arrow and Speedy can’t even come up with new trick arrows anymore, and only Johnny Quick comes up with an interesting read, mainly because it still hearkens to its Golden Age look instead of the bloodless DC art of the era.
I’ll mention the story in issue 181, which featured Joannie Swift, Queen of Speed. Joannie is a typist who accidentally gains the same powers as Johnnie when a list of equations she reads out duplicates his Magic Formula. Joannie turns out to be brave, resourceful, athletic, intelligent, in short bloody good at being a super-speedster. Johnnie only wants her to go away, at first to save her from injury because, being a girl, she’s bound to be a weakling, but, as soon as he realises she knows her stuff, a rather too revelatory reason comes out: Johnnie doesn’t want to turn out second best to her.
Of course, that fate will never happen because, inevitably, Joannie’s afraid of mice, which causes her to forget the Formula. So, instead of a skilful, brave, worthy foe of crime, using her potential to the fill, Ms Swift is condemned to go back to the steno pool, because she’s a girl. Sometimes this stuff can make you want to barf.

Johnny Quick

Meanwhile, a whole year of the DVD goes by with only two complete issues but with every Aquaman story. These are formulaic, uninspired affairs, six pages of nothing: no wonder DC struggled in the early Fifties. Piracy still turned up, but also silly ideas like Aquaman running an undersea hospital or an undersea fire service.
When full service resumes, for a while, in issue 201, there’s another delightful Lana Lang story, with Superboy thinking he’s blown his secret identity to her Dad, and so relieved to find he’s wrong, he welcomes Lana’s determined pursuit of his secret: just kiss her, you chump, she’d be a great girlfriend.
The American comic book package started off at 64 pages. Thanks to paper restrictions during the Second World war, it was reduced to 56 pages, and then to 48, all at 10c, irrespective of size. But with issue 205, Adventure Comics was reduced to the 32 page size that’s been standard ever since. Johnny Quick missed out, though he returned the following issue at the expense of Green Arrow. But his final appearance was in issue 207, sadly not on the DVD. Henceforth, Adventure had only three features, and if I say that Superboy is the pick of them, you’ll appreciate how dull it is.
There was a landmark story in issue 210, with the initially temporary appearance of Krypto, the Superdog, nearly giving Clark Kent’s other identity away again to guess who? This was the only story for that issue, whereas next time we only had the Aquaman so I can’t say whether it was that or its absent predecessor where Aquaman switched from yellow gauntlets to the green ones we know so well. Either way, he was back to yellow for issue 212, that is, when he was coloured at all in a bizarre approach that saw him monocoloured pale blue in the majority of panels. Nobody seemed to be able to make up their mind as green and yellow alternated. Meanwhile, Krypto returned in issue 214 to prove that stories of the Superdog were likely to be pretty stupid.

A typical Aquaman plot

The Superboy story in issue 216 had the Lad of Steel meeting Superman without time travel, but its twist was that the adult version was really archaeologist Professor Olsen. Rescuing him endeared Superboy to Olsen’s young son, Jimmy… And speaking of costume changes, Green Arrow started wearing a red cap as opposed to his usual green one in the occasional story.
Frustratingly, Superboy’s real parents, Jor-El and Lara turned up in issue 217, having escaped Krypton after all, preparing to take their son to their new off-world home. It’s a trick alright, from Superboy’s callous ignoring of the Kents to the con on death row who pieces together his identity as Clark Kent, even down to how the Els are only seen flying when Superboy is holding their arms, but this was a very rare two-part story and we only have Aquaman for issue 218.
One of the interesting aspects of reading Adventure during this period (it’s more fun than the two back-ups) are the in-house ads for DC titles of the In-Between Age. Lists and covers of all manner of titles unwanted and forgotten, a publishing era lost permanently. But the cusp of change is approaching. Issue 22 carries an ad for yet another new title, starring Fireman Farrell. He never set the world alight, and we know that the ad is full of lies when it describes the new comic as a response to all those reader letters requesting different subjects, requiring a new kind of comic to fit them all in. We know that the real reason was to try to control the losses, both in money and reputation, from the way nothing new was catching on. Fireman Farrell was the first subject, the star of Showcase 1. In six months time…
In fact, the Showcase ads are fascinating. No-one ever cares about the first three, overshadowed utterly by no 4. The second issue featured Kings of the Wild, three outdoor adventures. These adverts are a history lesson in themselves.
So they stop printing inhouse ads at all, and I don’t get to see 3, or 4, come to that. Has nobody any sense of responsibility to future generations?
Meanwhile, the Aquaman and Green Arrow strips are growing dumber. Aquaman no longer has to pursue pirates, not when his time can be taken up with nonsensical ‘stories’ about how he schools his finny friends to obey his instructions or how he apparently turns into an egomaniac except it’s all a secret scheme, whilst the Battling Bowmen go trading places with other archers or else emulate their own trading cards. Truly this was an age of inanity.
Superboy’s own series continued to be both silly and sententious, but the occasional nice moment came along. Taking advantage of the fact that a leaking special gas would give everybody amnesia for an hour, the Boy of Steel decided to reveal he was really Clark Kent to test if a secret identity was more of a burden than a benefit which, this being DC Comics in 1957 it self-evidently was a benefit. But there was a touching moment when Lana, the teenage pest so set on proving Clark and Superboy were one and the same, began to cry at the proof – because Clark was a dear friend and she would never see him again.
I had a surprise in issue 239, which saw Krypto’s return, for I had read this story before, a very long time ago. Not in Adventure but in a British Superboy hardback annual, reprinting this in black and white. The first in well over a hundred Superboy stories that I had previously seen.
And harking back to Lana’s genuine distress at the thought of losing her dear friend Clark, how does the Boy of Steel repay her in issue 240? By becoming as big a Superdick as his adult self and humiliating her in front of all of Smallville to conceal his secret identity. What did I say about this stuff making you want to barf?
Obviously Lana got over it by the next issue, in which Green Arrow and Speedy were joined by Queen Arrow, aka Diana Dare (any relation to Dan?), who temporarily hypnotised herself into acting out her deepest desire, namely to be told by her heroes that what they do is too dangerous for a girl. Once he joined the Justice League, did Ollie ever try that line on Wonder Woman?

Some superheroes, huh?

Issue 243 is the last complete comic for this section, the next three issues represented by one story only, two of them the simultaneously tedious and ridiculous Aquaman. The last of these is cover-dated March 1958, making its actual publication most likely January of that year. Two issues of Showcase thus far have featured The new Flash. Two more would appear this year. The Silver Age was cranking up for the off. The next issue of Adventure would see a change that I’ll explore in the third essay in this series.