I’ve just heard the news about the loss of Denny O’Neill from the downthetubes comics web-site. Though there were things in his philosophy that I disagreed with, particularly with his approach to critically review other’s works, and though some of his most famous stories – notably the Green Lantern/Green Arrow run with Neal Adams – haven’t stood up to time nobody can deny that he was a massive presence in comics, as writer, as editor and, most important of all, mentor and inspiration.
Never was a Denny O’Neil story less than professionally written, to a high technical standard, and whether or not Green Lantern/Green Arrow looks that good now, or Frank Miller’s Dark Knight (which O’Neill edited), is still the landmark it was, what matters is what they were for and what they did for their times. They changed how things were done and how people thought, they made a difference.
Denny O’Neill made a difference, far too often to be thought of as anything but a legend. Another light has gone out of the sky: how many more befote it is too dark to see?
And so, with issue 74, still under the editorship of George Kashdan, The Brave and The Bold came to its fourth, final and longest phase, the Bat-book era. Not content with Detective and Batman and Justice League of America and World’s Finest, DC turned over their team-up book to the Caped Crusader as the permanent one-half of the team.
The first victims, a term I use advisedly after reading the story, were the Metal Man. Bob Haney wrote a story that plumbed the depths beneath amateurism as Batman has to learn to expunge his prejudice against robots as Gotham City suffers a plague of robbing ones whilst spouting dialogue that makes you wonder whether it’s Haney or Bruce Wayne who’s the ten year old. It’s a very bad start.
The Spectre team-up in the next issue was considerably better but was an early manifestation of a problem that would dog B&B for ages and that was continuity. Technically, DC didn’t have it in 1967, but it had consistency. Haney held continuity in contempt, the traditional hobgoblin of small minds, insisting on writing his stories in whatever context suited them best. The Flash had gone to Earth-2 to team-up with The Spectre but this story was about the Earth-1 Batman (the yellow chest emblem) and Jim Corrigan was visiting Gotham to study its Police methods, as a fellow cop of the same Earth.
More things like this will follow. Don’t give yourself headaches trying to make them fit because they don’t.
Plastic Man was passable, the Atom acceptable, but Wonder Woman with Batgirl was a wasteful banality. It’s stone-cold bleedin’ obvious that the superheroine pair are only pretending to be madly in love with Batman to con villain Copperhead into thinking he’s distracted, but the story suddenly turns nuts and nonsense when they decide, mid-story, that they really are. It’s pathetic, and that’s without alliteration.
But issue 79 saw the appearance of Deadman, and with it a change of art as the Andru/Esposito team gave way to the only man that DC would allow to draw Deadman at the time, Neal Adams. And Deadman inspired Haney to write his best story thus far, with only one dumb moment that, out of respect, I won’t detail.
Disappointingly, the next issue, featuring the Creeper, is missing from the DVD. But Adams wasn’t here just for Deadman but for a regular gig, and very popular he was. What the reader didn’t know was that the new, dynamic, hyperrealistic Batman was being produced in conflict between writer and artist. Adams had clear, definitive ideas about how Batman should be produced, including the belief that his natural metier was night, not day, and he was changing the times and settings of Haney’s scripts, much to the veteran writer’s annoyance.
Flash, Aquaman, the Teen Titans – the latter a back issue I remember getting – were all decent enough stories but a war-time team-up with Sgt. Rock and Easy Company was stretching things again with Batman and Bruce Wayne looking identical in both the 1944 of the tale and the 1969 of its appearance. Also inside, editor Murray Boltinoff put paid to a reader’s suggestion of reviving some of the discontinued heroes with a short sharp statement that they were commercial failures and there was no chance.
But the landmark was issue 85, guest-starring Green Arrow. This was the famous story, “The Senator’s been Shot!”, that buried the boring, characterless archer of so many years and introduced the new look GA, with the goatee and moustache and the green leather costume that suddenly looked so sharp, Neal Adams’ design, with emphasis now firmly upon sharpshooting instead of trick arrows. It was a tremendous moment.
Deeadman was back next time, followed by the new, depowered Wonder Woman, complete with I Ching, in a story written and pencilled by Diana’s current scribe, Mike Sekowsky. It was considerably better than her last outing, but then an illustrated telephone directory would also have been an improvement.
Haney was back next issue, but not Adams, whose already noted deadline issues combined with how he’d antagonised the writer (especially given that Boltinoff only cared about getting a comic out on time and its quality a long way after) saw him officially relegated to a ‘pool’ of artists but in fact only to return once. Novick and Esposito drew an issue I bought back then, in the fading days of my interest in comics, shortly before I grew out of them forever. I suspect I can recall exactly where and when I bought this, on 13 August 1970.
The co-star was Wildcat, which brought back the issue of which Earth this was happening upon, the one Haney ignored, although it was actually Ted Grant who co-starred, with Wildcat appearing in a total of five panels only, across two pages. The recently-revived Phantom Stranger dragged Dr Thirteen along to issue 89 in a modest story but the Adam Strange story that followed was another exercise in looseness and implausibility making very little use of the peripatetic archaeologist.
Nick Cardy dropped in along with Black Canary – still new girl on Earth-1 – for issue 91, with Dinah Lance, under an assumed name, falling for its Larry Lance, just because he looked like her dead husband. It was another of those demeaning women-in-love-and-brain-drops-out-through-her… -ears stories since Larry was set up to be the villain from early on. And Cardy remained for the following issue which was even more demeaning, if you were British, being set in foggy London town with a ‘Bat-Squad’ of three Brits who talked like nobody under the sun has ever talked. London 1970 looked like a compendium of Jack the Ripper rip-offs. Ghastly, old chap.
Adams was back for a final flourish, bringing with him a long-promised Denny O’Neil script nominally joining Batman to the now mild-horror oriented House of Mystery, in reality an Ireland set supernatural affair, but Cardy was back next with the Teen Titans and a hip, relevance story that wore its heart on its sleeve with its ignorance tied over it. And the mystery of Batman’s surprise co-star the following issue was undermined by a) the clues dropped and b) my remembering it was Plastic Man from before. But another modern day team-up with Sergeant Rock, third personing himself and with bright orange hair was a plain old mess.
Issue 97 was the first of the run of 25c comics, as DC tried to get out ahead of inflation. Wildcat was back, and the back-up was a reprint of Deadman’s origin story. The Phantom Stranger returned the following issue, drawn by his current artist, the late, great Jim Aparo, one of the few DC artists allowed to do both pencil and inks. It was Aparo’s first B&B job, but before long he would be the regular artist for a very long run.
And after a Bob Brown/Nick Cardy job on The Flash in issue 99, Aparo took over with a special for issue 100, featuring those hard-travellin’ heroes, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary, not to mention Robin. Unfortunately, Haney had to mess things up in his usual manner by having Green Arrow kill a thug with an arrow to the heart and without the slightest qualm. Then he had Robin constantly talking Black Canary down for being female, and then by proving the Teen Wonder’s point by having the Canary go to a hairdresser’s mid-case, to get her hair dried after being caught in the rain: it’s a bloody wig, Haney, you arsehole.
Many of these issues now are familiar to me. Though it’s still only 1972, and it was not until January 1974 that I started reading comics again, I did get into B&B through Aparo’s art after seeing him on The Spectre, and back-issues were plentiful and cheap. Metamorpho’s return, three years after his title’s cancellation I had but not the Teen Titans in a part-Neal Adams drawn story, taking over from Aparo after the latter fell ill.
From hereon, I’m not going to comprehensively list every guest star, just those who, for one reason or another are notable, such as Oliver Queen in issue 106, for being listed on the cover as still The Green Arrow and, some three or more years after losing his fortune which caused a fundamental change in his character, suddenly still/once again a billionaire. It’s not just Haney but also Boltinoff who didn’t give a shit for consistency.
Although the title now has a good, reliable artist, and Haney is starting to outgrow that get-down-with-the-kids hip talk of the late Sixties, I’m actually finding these stories a lot weaker, and often dull to read. Part of it is that Haney is making the stories fit ill with the guests. Nobody is quite ‘there’, because Haney is deliberately averse to an accurate depiction of the guest’s reality: it restricts his story to do so
And it’s astonishing how ‘wrong’ Batman feels to the modern eye. Because the Batman of nearly fifty years ago is almost as alien a creation as the infamous Fifties Batman of Jack Schiff. He’s clumsy, he’s amateurish, he’s constantly getting shot or knocked out, he pals around with Commissioner Gordon most of the time, he works hand in hand with the Police and orders them around, as if he’s one of them of senior rank, and he actually is a duly deputized officer. Worst of all, he has no intensity. Batman is not driven. He is nothing at all like the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths/Dark Knight Batman. And it makes the stories very weak indeed.
With issue 112, Brave & Bold joined the ranks of DC’s growing 100-page titles: twenty new pages, here featuring Mr Miracle and eighty reprint, all stories from earlier phases of the title that I’ve gone through in earlier instalments. But the following issue, reprints of The Green Arrow and the Challengers of the Unknown made it clear the title wouldn’t just confine itself to its back pages.
Even with the extra pages and some well-chosen reprints, I’m finding the comic a trial to read. These are the stories I returned to, that impressed me so much as a University student, albeit one only aged 18, that I found them such an improvement over those I still kept from the Sixties. It’s a back-handed testament to the impact Frank Miller and The Dark Knight Returns had upon Batman that this erratic, constantly injured and fallible character is now an alien being, linked only by the costume.
And I’ve also got to admit a distaste for editor Murray Boltinoff. It’s not just his determined rejection of consistency but his attitude to the readers. Boltinoff’s letter pages don’t print letters. They might contain two very short letters and then a host of part sentences and a very stiff attitude to readers who challenge this unique approach. According to Boltinoff, readers only write letters for their own ego-boost, and he’s not going to feed that, damn straight he isn’t. The impertinence of them! For a comic whose direction is set by the popularity of Batman’s guest stars, Boltinoff would really rather not have the readers get above themselves by doing any more than plop down their 60c. Miserable bugger.
The highlight of issue 117 for me was a reprint of the original first Secret Six story, by E. Nelson Bridwell and Frank Springer. I found it fresh, lively, individual, especially coming from Bridwell, whose other writing was usually, with respect, bland. This felt different, full of potential. It was, however, still the only original Secret Six story I’d ever read. Another reprint was planned for issue 119, but by then, B&B was no longer 100 pages long.
Indeed, it was back at 32 pages the next issue (Wildcat and the Joker), after exactly a year of supersizing, and boosted for the first time in its existence to eight times a year. Nothing else changed, though. Except that issue 120 was double-sized for 50c and carried that promised Secret Six issue 2 reprint, also very intriguing. What made the Secret Six unique at DC was being the only team whose members didn’t like or trust each other – more so even than the Doom Patrol – which was very Marvelesque.
Meanwhile, issue 121 reverted to standard 25c size.
Of course, the true peril of reading mid-Seventies comics that you used to read in your late teens is remembering stories you wish you’d never had cause to forget in the first place. A passable Swamp Thing led to another story mishandling Plastic Man, but these were nothing when set against yet another Sgt. Rock team-up into which Haney wrote himself, Aparo and Boltinoff as a team working frantically to complete the story according to script before the terrorist villains forced Aparo to draw Batman and Rock being killed, because if he drew it it happened. I can see that look of disbelief from here, you know. It’s like The Flash and Mopee: it did happen but it was first for the bonfire when the continuity got rebooted.
Despite Boltinoff’s contemptuous words about Golden Age characters being off-limits because they were failures, Wildcat was a regular guest, returning in issue 127. The team-ups are really with Ted Grant, Wildcat only getting a look-in, and every time, Ted’s life has been rearranged to be whatever’s convenient for Haney’s plot. This time round, he’s running a health spa in the Caribbean Sea and has killed a boxer in the ring on his second comeback. How? When? Forget it. Next time round he’ll be something and somewhere completely different.
In late 1976, with effect from issue 132, co-starring the no-longer current Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter, Boltinoff was out. DC were restructuring under new Publisher, Jeanette Kahn, with Joe Orlando in as Managing Editor, with responsibility for the line, and Denny O’Neil as Story Editor, taking direct responsibility for B&B.
But nothing really changed. John Calnan and Bob McLeod stepped in to draw issue 137’s team-up with The Demon, in a sequel to the Spectre team-up in issue 75, and with issue 139, Paul Levitz stepped into the editor’s chair. At the same time, the series went back to bi-monthly.
Issue 143 was the one that came out in the DC Explosion, a big boom to 25 pages and 50c. Cary Burkett shared writing credits on Batman’s team-up with The Creeper, a second part to the previous issue’s Aquaman adventure, with Len Wein’s Human Target the back-up. And it was one of the very few to enjoy a second issue in that format. But good intentions were far from enough and the next issue was back to 17 pages for 40c, though with the compensation of elevation to monthly status for the first time ever.
With the landmark issue 150 coming up, assignments were jumbled up. Aparo was rested for 146’s first team-up with a new character in years, the war hero The Unknown Soldier, Haney in favour of Burkett for 147 and Aparo only inking Joe Staton in issue 148. The big issue itself was billed as ‘Batman and ?’ and the guest – who had never appeared with Batman in B&B before – was kept a secret until the end. Unfortunately, if you know who it was, it was easy to work out who it was: Superman
The Batman team-up era had now lasted for 77 issues. Bob Haney had written 117 issues overall, and Jim Aparo drawn 49. Few of that last fifty or so were worth reading twice. Haney’s stories were permanently unanchored in time and space, and it was a long time since he had gone beyond the formulaic.
The new monthly schedule meant fill-ins were necessary. Burkett and Don Newton contributed issue 153’s unprecedented appearance by the Red Tornado but it was Haney and Aparo who were responsible for the nadir of issue 155, with Batman and Green Lantern pursuing an interplanetary villain and Batman determined to have him tried on Earth out of sheer pigheadedness. It was a story that should have been a sacking offence, and that goes for editor Levitz too.
Burkett and Newton filled in again in issue 156, a rather intelligent little story using Dr Fate which didn’t lose too much space to the problem of getting him off Earth-2 and into the action, but when Gerry Conway wrote the Wonder Woman team-up in issue 158, it was the end of Haney’s long tenure as B&B’s regular scripter. Denny O’Neill with R’as al Ghul and Cary Burkett with Supergirl followed on.
Though a horde of Brave & Bold regulars would have disagreed with me, I was glad to see an end to Haney’s hokey stories. New viewpoints, indeed a range of them, were very welcome, and a few different artists didn’t go amiss. Paul Levitz was certainly more willing to try new guests, unlike the fervently conservative Boltinoff, and was a lot more responsive to reader’s ideas. There was also a run of guest artists as Aparo completed another assignment.
The ‘DC Implosion’ was now nearly two years back and the company had recovered its balance sufficiently to try again for the better package. With issue 166, B&B went to 25 story-pages and a 10c increase, cutting out eight pages of ads and substituting a new back-up, Nemesis, by Cary Burkett and Dan Spiegle. A moody, atmospheric series featuring Thomas Tresser balancing the scales of Justice after his brother assassinated a prominent Security officer.
Aparo was back from issue 168, and drew a full-length story teaming Batman with Nemesis in issue 170, which closed off the first arc of the latter’s story but left him just an everyday not-specially-motivated crimefighter in future. However, Burkett reacted by making Nemesis into a serial to keep things complex.
Paul Levitz’s editorial term came to an end with issue 176, handing over to Dick Giordano. As editor of the three Batman titles (imagine that, an era with only three Batman comics every month!) Levitz had aimed to inject a different feel into each one but Giordano swore to make them all the same.
There was no immediate difference to Brave & Bold, but Alan Brennert wrote a nice team-up with Hawk and Dove for issue 181 that put in place an ending for the original Sixties series that probably wouldn’t have suited Steve Ditko or Steve Skeates but worked for its time. And he came up with a superb one the following issue, sending Batman to Earth-2, where his older counterpart had died, to team up with not just the adult Robin but the original Batwoman. That was a tangled spread of emotions.
No such similar effect was achieved by Mike W. Barr’s Xmas story in issue 184, inviting The Huntress over to Earth-1 for the festivities. Charlie Boatner did find the right buttons to press in 187’s Metal Man team-up, reminding everyone of Nameless, Tin’s girlfriend from their Sixties series, and bringing her story to a conclusion with a fine and worthy flourish. On the other hand, did Doc Magnus really invent Metal Women?
As B&B went into its final year, Mike Barr did an excellent job on an Adam Strange team-up for issue 190, bringing in Carmine Infantino for one last, sentimental union with Adam and Alanna. Cohn and Mishkin produced a complex story teaming Batman with The Joker – genuinely – and with Len Wein taking over the editorial reins after Giardino’s promotion to Managing Editor, his first job sent Superman out with Superboy, both these stories displaying Jim Aparo art. Aparo was no longer the artist-in-residence, but he was once again the principal artist for the series.
Cary Burkett wrote the Superboy story, dealing quite intelligently with the time paradox aspect, and he was on hand again for issue 193, which teamed up Batman with his creation, Nemesis. I have a lot of time for the Nemesis series, a well-handled, street level story. Sadly, in a manner reminiscent of the long-ago team-up with Manhunter, this was to end Burkett’s series in the same fashion as Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson, by Nemesis sacrificing himself to defeat the overwhelming opposition he’d fought all along. It was a shame that the art was given to Aparo rather than Nemesis’s artist, Dan Spiegle, and also that there was no room for Valerie Foxworth as there had been for Christine St Clair at the finish, but the final page saw Batman entering Marjorie Marshall’s home and adding the weight that finally balanced out the Scales of Justice for the death of Ben Marshall.
It made the swap-villains team-up with the Flash look the weak thing it was, despite Infantino art. No back-up meant extra pages for the main story, though only 23 now, which benefited the I… Vampire team-up in issue 195, which for a moment looked liked writing that series off without completion.
Suddenly, excellent stories were exploding. Robert Kanigher brought his short-lived Ragman, for whom I always had time in his original form, into an excellent story for issue 196, but Alan Brennert was on hand next issue, combining with Joe Staton, for one of my all-time favourites, teaming the Earth-2 Batman with his Catwoman in the story of how they came to admit their love for another and to marry. A gem in every page: Brennert wrote few comic book stories but those he wrote were superb, because he never needed to burn out his ideas on routine issues.
Brennert’s story overshadowed a poor and misguided Karate Kid team-up, and was too much for an otherwise decent Spectre team-up in issue 199, flirting with the old Fleisher touch but ending up by taking a new, cleaner route.
But time was up. The era in which a series devoted to nothing but team-ups between a static character and a random other was ending. Brave & Bold, by its very nature, could have only very limited continuity within its own pages. It had outrun its time. Mike W Barr had become the nearest to a regular writer in the title, and he proposed a change. Barr wanted to separate Batman from the Justice League, where he was still an anomaly, and make him leader of another team, of outsiders.
DC approved of the idea and, to make room for it within the Batman universe, cancelled B&B with its 200th issue. The swan-song was almost obvious in its unpredictability, teaming Batman with Batman. That is, a story crossing two time-periods and two Earths, drawn, rather wonderfully, by Dave Gibbons. Barr’s story featured a gloriously Golden Age style Batman and Robin tussle with their villain Brimstone, who’s defeated but ends up in a coma. When he awakens in 1983, it’s to learn that Batman is dead so, somehow, he psychically imposes his mind on his Earth-1 counterpart to resume a battle that Batman is bemused with, but still wins.
There was also a sixteen page preview of the new Batman and the Outsiders series which was, respectfully, crap.
But The Brave and the Bold, one of the few DC titles to reach 200 issues, was gone, it’s fourth and final phase terminated, with few landmarks of any note, but those which were of note being of very high quality indeed. I can’t say I enjoyed every minute of my time spent on this series, but I wouldn’t have missed the good stuff for the world.
The cover date was October/November 1963, the editors were Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan and the theme of The Brave and the Bold was now team-ups: the features you asked for. I take that with a pinch of salt, for I cannot see the comic book readers of late 1963, the remaining days of President John Kennedy’s life, wanting above all to see a team-up between The Green Arrow and The Martian Manhunter.
But these are honourable men, and who are we to doubt them?
From here and for a very long time, the series will be written by Bob Haney, a good, solid, professional writer but not one who, how shall we put it, paid undue attention to continuity. DC may not have had continuity as we know it in 1963, but Haney still cared less about what they had. For instance, the Martian Manhunter was accidentally trapped on Earth after being teleported by Dr Erdel’s Robot Brain, which then shorted out, stranding him here. However, Haney has him using the Robot Brain to teleport to Mars for advice and assistance about the Martian villains he and Green Arrow are facing.
It would be like this all along. Mind you, this was almost a highlight of a stupid, cliched and just plain rotten story that was no sort of introduction to the new(er) Brave & Bold.
Aquaman and Hawkman was another non-natural pairing in issue 51, with the story clunking to try to make the air-sea combination work, but issue 52 was a glorious piece of work. Instead of the advertised Flash/Atom team-up, Robert Kanigher dropped in to edit and write a 3 Battle Stars story, with magnificent Joe Kubert art bringing together four of DC’s War comic stars, Johnny Cloud, the Haunted Tank, Sergeant Rock and, a surprise guest, Mlle. Marie. It put the two previous issues to shame, and easily. Kanigher was always on his best form with the War stories.
The Atom/Flash team-up duly arrived next issue and, apart from splendid Alex Toth art, was the usual sloppy mess. Part of Haney’s problem is his refusal to provide adequate explanations: things happen to complicate the heroes’ battle and then are dispensed with in a throwaway line. For instance, Flash loses his speed at one point and is captured, but regains it when he’s freed by the Atom, ‘because the planet has given it him back’.
The title had only spawned one successful series in its formal ‘try-out’ phase, so issue 54’s team-up of ‘junior’ heroes was ironic. This brought together Kid Flash, Aqualad and Robin in a story that started the Teen Titans, though as yet nameless. It would take the addition of Wonder Girl and a couple more appearances to seal the deal.
Not that the story was much good, especially from the point of view of the dialogue, especially the teens’ hip slang, the beginning of a long road of embarrassingly awful writing.
Kashdan did a solo job in issue 56, bringing together another bizarre pairing in the Metal Men and The Atom, before devoting the next two issues to try-outs again, in the form of Metamorpho, created by Haney and artist Ramona Fraden, whose bright, cartoony style is perfect for the oddball Element Man. This would extend the series’ success rate when Metamorpho got his own, albeit short-lived series. Everything’s there from the very beginning: the Metamorpho of the current The Terrifics is the Metamorpho of B&B 57-58.
Issue 59 provided a foretaste of the future in teaming up two of DC’s biggest heroes for the first time, Batman and Green Lantern. I was delighted to read this effort, having remembered it’s excellent title – ‘The Tick-Tock Traps of the Time-Commander’ – from the Sixties: I love the chance to find what lies behind some of these covers that impressed me in the house ads of the time.
The Teen Titans – named and a foursome – returned in issue 60 for a teen-supporting adventure in which the colourist got Kid Flash’s uniform badly wrong (hint, it’s not all yellow), but issue 61 is the one that’s most special to me, the first Brave & Bold I bought on one of those Saturday afternoons in Droylsden, working industriously through the newsagent’s spinner rack, anxious to make the best choice with the shilling I’d been given.
After The Atom, Julius Schwartz had announced that he would not be doing any more new versions of Justice Society members. Instead, he turned to actual revivals, starting with a two-issue run in Showcase for Doctor Fate and Hourman. Now he took over B&B for two issues teaming up Starman and Black Canary, all with scripts by Gardner Fox and art from Murphy Anderson. I loved this first one, and still have it (autographed by Schwartz) over fifty years later.
It was billed as the first team-up between the two characters (who had never been contemporaries in the JSA), which it is only if you discount their joint appearance in the 1964 JLA/JSA team-up. Starman’s Gravity Rod has now been upgraded to a Cosmic Rod, Dinah Drake has married Larry Lance, Starman’s arch-enemy The Mist, who didn’t feature in any of the stories on the Adventure Comics DVD, is back with an ingenious plan: it was pure heaven for me back in 1966, and I still love it now.
The second story doesn’t hold anything like the meaning for me as I didn’t read it until much later (though I did see it in that same spinner rack, when I obviously found something else more compelling). The heroes turned out against two now-married villains, Green Lantern’s Sportsmaster and Wildcat’s Huntress, with the Big Cat making his first post-Golden Age appearance in a fun cameo.
Sadly, nothing came of either pair’s revival in terms of series: though JSA team-ups would carry on for nearly two more decades, the Golden Age revival was already showing signs of running out of steam.
Kashdan and Haney were back in issue 63, teaming Supergirl and Wonder Woman in a story so chauvinistic, condescending, demeaning and flat-out vile that I’m not even going to admit it exists: permanent karmic burden for both of them and the artist.
After that, anything would have been an improvement. What we got was hero vs villain, Batman and Eclipso in a confusing and in parts ridiculous story based on Batman falling for a red-headed heiress, first romantically then as a con, made much worse by the sudden arrival of corny dialogue that could have come straight out of the forthcoming TV series. It was horrendous.
On the other hand, the Flash’s team-up with the Doom Patrol – really as a fill-in for Negative Man – was well done and contained some intelligent points about the team’s dynamics, though a bit fewer uses of the word ‘freaks’ would have been welcome.
Another bizarre but oddly appealing team-up was Metamorpho and the Metal Men in issue 66, followed by another ‘big-guys’ story, with Batman (for the third time) and The Flash. This was, in many ways, an archetypal Haney B&B story, with a life-shattering menace being raised and disposed of in a lazy manner. Batman requires Flash’s help to combat a gang of speedsters in Gotham, but Flash’s speed is killing him, burning his body out from within. The ‘threat’ is negated by the fact this isn’t taking place in Flash’s series, where we might take it seriously. And it’s resolved by a miraculous and implausible ‘cure’ from the villains’ own power source (irony that’s what it is, irony). No way is anything remotely serious going to happen in Brave & Bold.
And it was a sign of the forthcoming times that Batman was back again one issue later, this time alongside Metamorpho, in another piece of nonsense that sees the Caped Crusader converted into Bat-Hulk (don’t ask). The TV series was big, the movie was just coming out, Batman who, two years earlier, was facing cancellation, was on a roll. People wanted to read him.
All told, there were going to be five consecutive issues of Batman teaming up with someone else, such as Green Lantern again, against another, less memorable Time Commander plot, Hawkman in a ridiculous tale about a Collector trying to collect their secret identities, and The Green Arrow in a story about Indian tribes that just about managed to avoid being patronising.
The waters having been tested, and found to be pleasurably warm, The Brave and The Bold reverted to its role in providing random team-ups for two final issues. The first connected the Earth-1 Flash to The Spectre on Earth-2 (Barry’s just visiting, but not his fellow-Flash but rather his ‘old buddy’ – one JSA team-up – the Spectre: besides, everyone on Earth-2 recognises Barry-Flash). The last brought Aquaman and The Atom together in a non-team-up in which each hero got half the story.
And with issue 73, the third phase of B&B came to an end. It’s fourth phase has already been heavily foreshadowed, and this phase would last until the comic’s end, in the distance in issue 200. I’ll cover that loooong phase in the last part of this series.
Getting my hands on a DVD-Rom of More Fun Comics, a National Allied Publications/Detective Comics inc./National Periodical Publications Golden Age title published from 1934 to 1947, completes my collection of what I think of as the Big Four, that is, the four comics who contributed characters to All-Star Comics and the Justice Society of America.
That’s my angle of interest, but it must be acknowledged that More Fun has a historical significance of its own. As New Fun it was the first ever comic book to feature all-new material, and in issue 6 it offered the first published work by Cleveland teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, two instalments of Henri Duval, Swordsman of France, before creating Doctor Occult in issue 8. By then, the title had become More Fun, as of issue 7 and, finally, More Fun Comics with issue 9.
My DVD-Rom is more in the mould of Flash and All-American than Adventure, but like the two All-American publications books, the title did not survive the Fories, being cancelled with issue 127, by when the reason for my interest had long since gone by the board. It starts with issue 8, so let’s look at that to begin with.
Cover-dated February 1936 and published by More Fun Inc., headquartered in Missouri, issue 8 is a revelation. It’s the last of the original, larger-scale format, 44 pages with card covers. Comic books began as reprints of newspaper strips and despite the all-original boast, the comic is still trying to stick with that formula. With the exception of a prose serial, everything appears for one page only, laid out like a Sunday strip: four tiers, mostly square panels containing illustrations more suited to books that comics, no animation or attempt at movement, a mixture of B&W, limited colour and full-colour, funny strips and adventure ones, multiple genres. When I said this was all-original, that only meant that none of this stuff had been printed before: there isn’t an original idea in the entire issue, and nothing is remotely readable.
The next issue shrank to comic book size and expanded to 64 pages, with some series jumping to two pages, and some new features appearing. If you’re expecting to hear about these, you’ll have to find another blogger: I’m an analyst not an annalist.
It’s more-or-less a given that Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson used original art because he couldn’t afford the Syndicate fees for strips, and the young writers and artists he used were much cheaper. I’ve heard them described as rough, naïve, inexperienced and, reading between the lines, too untalented to make it on newspaper strips. Now I know they weren’t exaggerating.
None of this is of more than historical interest to me, except for an almost unbelievable letter of praise from a girl reader living in Newton Heath, Manchester, and there’s a lot of it to get through before we reach the meat of the run for me.
The change I had my eyes open for finally showed up in issue 31, May 1938. Gone was Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. Vincent Sullivan was now Editor, not assistant Editor. More Fun was now owned by Detective Comics Inc. And inside the front cover there was a full-page ad for a new title: Action Comics no. 1.
There was no immediate change. New features replaced old but More Fun stayed the same. Dr Occult was dropped but Seigel and Schuster’s Radio Car, a Police series, continued its irregular course. Old features drifted on, unchanging. But with every month that passed, DC, as I suppose we should now call them, were becoming more aware of what a hit they’d bought from Siegel and Schuster, and Bob Kane, enlivened by ideas from Bill Finger, was shaping his own costumed character. Unseen and unheard, there was a tide rising and it was going to overflow soon.
For now, e.g., issue 41, the mix was still the same, various miscellaneous adventure series, a couple of gag strips. More pages were in full colour, through these continued to be distributed haphazardly throughout the comic, favouring the front of the book. The biggest difference was that every strip got at least two pages and several as any as four, making for only a dozen different series.
Issue 43, cover-dated May 1939, was released alongside Detective 27, with plugs for the new action-adventure strip starting that month, the Batman. And Charlie Gaines had established All-American Publications and All-American Comics. And by issue 49, there wasn’t a single gag strip in the book.
But patience eventually pays off. The long life of the original More Fun Comics, little changed from the title put together by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, ended in issue 51, cover-dated January 1940. in honour of that, let me list its contents. These were; Wing Brady, a Foreign Legion adventurer; Biff Bronson, an adventurer; King Carter, a globe-trotting cowboy adventurer: The Buccaneer, a sea-going adventurer; Kit Strong, a private detective adventurer, Lieut. Bob Neal of the Sub. 662, a Naval adventurer; The Flying Fox, an aviator adventurer; Detective Sergeant Carey, a Police detective adventurer; Sergeant O’Malley of the Red Coat Patrol, a Canadian Mountie adventurer; Bulldog Martin, an adventurer, and a single comic page starring Butch the Pup.
But the Buccaneer was ending. Its creator, Bernard Bailey would be drawing a new strip the following month, written by Jerry Siegel.
He’s there on the cover, with his green cape and hood, gloves and trunks, arms folded as he looks sternly down over a gang of crooks, The Spectre coming to turn More Fun around. Inside, he’s the lead feature, the first of a two-part telling of his origin as Jim Corrigan, hard-boiled Police Detective. The story’s familiar, as it should be given how often it’s been reprinted, but by the end of the episode, the ghost of Jim Corrigan is still wearing a tuxedo.
There’s one thing about the story that doesn’t sit all that well with me. Corrigan has blown out a party in honour of his heiress fiancee Clarice Winston to knock off some of ‘Gat’ Benson’s mob. Clarice is understandably angry with him for that. Corrigan’s hardly apologetic: indeed, he roundly tells her there’s only going to be one boss in this marriage, and that’s him. Clarice calls him a tyrant and a bully, but she still loves him.
Ok, it’s 1939, when marital relationships were looked on in a totally different light, and it’s hardly out of step, but it still jars modern sensibilities, or at least my modern sensibilities. But knowing more now of Jerry Siegel’s marriage and his personal history than I once did, I can’t help but sense a personal issue being worked on here. Jerry the mother’s boy, the nerd-before-there-were-nerds, who married against his Mother’s wishes, wouldn’t be the first writer to make his personal problems ‘work’ in his fiction.
The rest of the issue is unchanged, though I couldn’t help noticing that Bulldog Martin suddenly got a bottle of invisibility pills at the same time.
The other half of the story completes the tale with Corrigan’s revenge on Benson and his mob: dealing death with a glance, withering one into a skeleton, driving the rest out of their senses, you can already see where Michael Fleisher got his ideas from. Corrigan also revives Clarice from near death, breaks off their engagement rather woodenly, moves out of the apartment he shares with his best friend, all the time acting so strangely, and then sews himself a costume to wear as The Spectre. All these limitless super-powers and he gets out a sewing machine. It’s not the most favourable of signs.
Somewhat surprisingly, Corrigan gets the chance to relinquish his powers and receive eternal rest in his third episode, summoned to the edge of Heaven and getting an either-or offer from the Voice. Since he’s summoned in the split instant that a crooked Swami has fired a bullet at Clarice, who is proving impressively hard to shake off, Corrigan has no choice but to go for Option B: to be earth-bound, fighting crime until all traces of it are exterminated.
Only four episodes in and I have to say there’s a strange intensity about these early Spectre stories that just doesn’t come over in the solo chapters in All-Star Comics, which is self-evidently because those are written by Gardner Fox. Siegel brings a twisted perspective to Corrigan/The Spectre’s determined rejection of all human connection and an angry nihilism to the superficially charming Zor’s role as The Spectre’s evil equivalent.
I’m also intrigued that, whilst Corrigan and The Spectre are one being, the latter is already and constantly ’emerging’ from the former’s body, foreshadowing a significant development later in the series.
The Spectre had obviously made a hit because in issue 55 he was joined by his partner in the supernatural, Doctor Fate. It’s a most odd first story as there is no origin, and whilst I knew this is held back some time, reprints had always centred upon Fate’s first meeting with debutante Inza Cramer. Here though, we start with Fate’s evil enemy, Wotan, targetting Inza to draw Fate’s attention, with the good Doctor – not described as possessing magic but rather the great secret of transforming Matter into Energy and Energy into Matter (what a gloriously meaningless attribute that is!) – not appearing until halfway.
So that was now two costumed heroes, both magical. Dr Fate took the cover for the first time in issue 56, continuing his battle with Wotan but overcoming him permanently (?), whilst the Spectre merely fought a gang of crooks. Elsewhere, More Fun was settling into a consistent run of adventure series, most of them veterans of the comic, though there was a new character, aviator Captain Desmo, who kept his face permanently concealed by flying helmet and goggles just as much as if he were a superhero.
And a new series, about Africa-based adventurer Congo Bill, facing up to a Phantom-esque villain called the Skull, started in issue 56. It’s a pretty basic adventure strip but it would last a surprisingly long time, hopping from title to until 1959, when, as we’ve already seen, it arrived in Adventure Comics, where Congo Bill was transformed into Congorilla.
The Doctor Fate strip also runs with a frenetic intensity. Gardner Fox just freewheels through each adventure, hurtling from one action to another, with very little evidence of a composed plot and a high-risk magical apocalypse threatened on every page. It’s gloriously goofy and gloriously weird. Both these strips burn in a way none of the other Justice Society members ever do. Though the basis of Fate’s power is still unsettled, now being an atomic force within him.
But the Gothic/Lovecraftian atmosphere of Fate’s series was fairly quickly decided to be a bit too intense for the readers, and this had to be dialled down. The first step, in issue 66, was to have the Doctor remove his helm and reveal a blond-haired handsome face: a human being, in fact, in response to Inza’s wish for someone she might love instead of a mysterious sorceror. Kent Nelson’s somewhat grisly origin, involving involuntary patricide, followed in the next issue.
At the same time, Congo Bill bowed out his short run in the comic.
Since their respective debuts, The Spectre had been the lead feature in More Fun and Doctor Fate closing things out. Now, in issue 68, the roles were reversed.
Despite Fate and the Spectre, More Fun had never wholly accepted superheroing.
Now the time was coming when this would change rapidly. Johnny Quick, a rip-off of The Flash in issue 71, Aquaman, a rip-off of the Sub-Mariner and The Green Arrow, a rip-off of Batman both in issue 73, all created by Mort Weisinger. In between times, Dr Fate got the toning down I knew was coming, getting rid of the supernatural and the eerie in favour of a half-faced helm that exposed his nose and mouth, and aiding his sudden vulnerability to attacks on his lungs. Only Radio Squad and Clip Carson survived the transition.
And Fate was not the only supernatural character to get toned down as issue 74 introduced The Spectre to Percival Popp, the Super-Cop. I have long read about, but never read, this comic relief character who was to dog Corrigan and his ghost for the rest of the series. Popp turned out to not be a cop but rather a private detective, determined to work side-by-side with Jim Corrigan. He was a short, skinny guy with a big nose, glasses and a shock of dark red hair. He could have been worse but he was bad enough: a comic relief character in January 1942?
The rest of the title was not at all impressive. Johnny Quick was crude. Aquaman and Green Arrow were as bland as their spells in the Fifties in Adventure, just cruder in style to begin with. And Doctor Fate had exchanged gothic/sinister tones for obsessive, pun-based wisecracking of a kind that makes Spider-Man look sophisticated.
The first history of The Spectre I ever read, as long ago as 1966, made mention of the time when the Avenging Ghost was permitted to resurrect Jim Corrigan’s body to life. I’d always been under the impression that this had preceded the arrival of Percival Popp, but in fact it followed it, by one issue.
Issue 75 saw Clarice Winston trying to re-enter Corrigan’s life. His cruel rejection of her in his origin is always held up as a key factor in that story but it leaves the impression that that was that for the lovelorn heiress. But Clarice remained as much in love with him as ever, and hopeful of getting married, and Jim still found her hard to resist. Now Popp, in his second apearance, took a hand in trying to put the two back together.
But Clarice was becoming the victim of an artist who was draining her life, and who was having a sculpture thrown into the river, exactly where Benson’s men had thrown Corrigan’s cement barrel. To prevent his body being found, and blowing his identity, The Spectre sought and received permission to restore Corrigan to life.
And the first thing Corrigan did was seek out Clarice.
It was a touching reward for her faith and patience. Now his excuse for not marrying her was, you’ll pardon the phrase, dead in the water. Did he get engaged to her? No, you’d think he was engaged to Percival Popp, in both his existences, since the little man became co-star of the series two issues later.
The success of the Green Arrow took me completely by surprise. By issue 76, he’d claimed the lead story and, an issue later, took over the cover. Clip Carson was dropped as from the same issue.
It might be germane to ask, if Green Arrow had become the most popular character in More Fun, as he self-evidently had, why was he not drafted into the Justice Society of America? There are two answers to that: America had entered the War, paper was rationed, no new titles were to be launched for the duration, and had they topped any reader’s polls, neither The Spectre nor Doctor Fate had anywhere to go to make room.
More pertinently, Green Arrow – and Speedy – already had a team to call home, Detective Comics’ Seven Soldiers of Justice, aka the Law’s Legionnaires, denizens of the recently created Leading Comics. More Fun was now firmly a superhero comic. Clip Carson had gone, leaving only the long-running Radio Squad to disrupt the line-up. The Green Arrow’s stories were no better or worse than the ones in Adventure in the Fifties, the main distinction being that the Emerald Archer only fires real arrows, with points not gimmicks. Aquaman deals with mainly realistic sea adventures, without the constant ‘finny friends’ business, but he’s the entirely human son of a famous submarine scientist who’s taught him scientific ways of living under the water. Johnny Quick, now enjoying some solid art from ‘Mort Morton’, is the best of the bunch.
As for the old stagers, the de-powered Doctor Fate is not a patch on the full-helmed version. There are no magical or super-scientific foes, just ordinary crooks. The series is energetic enough and Inza is doing a sterling job of showing that you really don’t need to hide your identity from your girlfriend, but it’s still pallid stuff compared to the beginning. And The Spectre has now resigned himself to a full-time role alongside the ridiculous Popp. At least we no longer have to suffer the incessant and tiresome demands of the Cliffland Chief of Police that Jim Corrigan capture The Spectre because The Spectre is behind everything. Obviously. Not that much of a relief, sadly.
The War came to More Fun in issue 84, on the cover at least and, in passing, in Green Arrow’s strip. The next issue was billed as a big change in Doctor Fate’s life as the Doctor became a Doctor, retraining as a physician. This made me think: once again, the histories I’ve read of characters have not been as accurate as they might. Kent Nelson has always been portrayed as an archaeologist, like his father Sven, who changed profession to Doctor to be more useful during the War years. When he was revived in 1965, he was back in the digging business. Incidentally, having jettisoned the lower half of his helm, Fate dispensed with his golden cape as well.
In fact, throughout Fate’s series to date, once Kent Nelson was revealed, there was not one word about his profession. And how could he go on digs when he spent all his time in that walled tower in Salem?
Incidentally, the story revealing Nelson’s new profession saw Fate meet a plastic surgeon blackmailed into creating new faces for crooks over a brother in a prison camp in Germany, exactly the same set up as the Green Arrow story in the same issue.
Though he didn’t displace the Green Arrow from the leading position, Johnny Quick did get onto the cover for issues 86 and 87. As for issue 88, The Spectre story had him, and Jim Corrigan, as just a ghost again. There had only been one additional story after issue 75 to specifically reference Corrigan as human again (and dating Clarice), but this was a definitive continuity-reversal.
There was one final story to reference Corrigan and The Spectre as separate, and this was the one in which they separated. Corrigan the human could finally pass the physical, and went into officer-training, to fight the Japanese, leaving the Spectre behind to keep helping out Percival Popp. But separation from his host had the unexpected effect of leaving the ghost invisible. In possession of all his other powers alright, just not visible. So the once-mighty Spectre, who could kill at a glance, was now the stooge. Thankfully, not for much longer.
The same issue did include a development I was glad to see, the re-entry of Inza Kramer, fiancee to that dashing young Interne, Doctor Nelson. Aww, so sweet. Clarice Winston must have been green. But that would prove to be Inza’s final appearance in the series.
A minor detail that intrigued me by this point was a succession of adverts for Prize Comics, and then Prize and Headline Comics. No such titles were ever published by Detective or All-American, and these turned out to be titles published by Crestwood Publications, who had the bright and possibly unique idea of advertising in their bigger rivals line!
With paper rationing starting to bite, in the form of an order to reduce usage by 10%, More Fun, which had been monthly since it established itself, was demoted to bi-monthly status for the duration. All this was to was was to delay the changes lying directly ahead.
In the meantime, a slip on the cover of issue 93 plugged The Green Arrow and Speedy, whilst the Aquaman story was, for once, worth reading. The Monarch of the Sea guards a delayed freighter bringing supplies to Murmansk. The twist is that it has an all-female crew and, whilst Aquaman and the Germans patronisingly underestimate the ladies, they perform with calm confidence and aptitude, needing no condescension. Oh, and the Captain turns into a red-headed babe in a backless evening dress when they arrive!
Little things: Johnny Quick’s stories had adopted a comfortable formula by which the Mile-a-Moment hero has to help someone by doing a job that would take a dozen men a month to complete, but do it in less than twenty-four hours. At the back end of his run and using only the most minimal talents, Doctor Fate was only now being referred to regularly as ‘the Man of Magic’. And issue 94 saw the debut of Dover and Clover, twin private detectives who made Percy Popp look competent.
Nevertheless, they quickly proved to be so popular that they shared the cover of issue 98 with Green Arrow and Speedy, who were quoted as claiming this was “Our Mag”. Not for much longer it wouldn’t be but this issue saw the final appearance of Doctor Fate, in a sadly stupid and unbelievable little escapade that was below even the standards his series had sunk to. Cover date July-August 1944: in All-Star Comics 21, cover-dated Summer 1944, the Doc and Sandman were active in their last Justice Society adventure.
Fate was not replaced, unless you count a one-page comic historical feature a replacement. Two issues later, More Fun reached its historical 100th issue, without fanfare, celebration or effort of note, though Johnny Quick got the cover and the lead slot and Green Arrow was bounced back to fourth slot. More Fun used to be The Spectre’s comic. It was so for the last time in issue 101 (January-February 1945). And the Ghostly Guardian, or else the Dark Knight as he was so frequently called over four decades before Frank Miller’s first Batman story, made his last appearance in All-Star in issue 23, Winter 1944. Like Doctor Fate, the disappearances were virtually simultaneous, and the last story undistinguished. Both had been undistinguished for a long time.
The Spectre’s replacement was introduced in a five-page prelude in issue 101. Superman had long been human until he reached manhood. Now he had a career to be revealed as Superboy, though not the Superboy Jerry Siegel had envisaged, nor a Superboy Siegel had any part in, More Fun‘s line-up would now consist of Superboy, Aquaman, Green Arrow and Johnny Quick, plus the stupid Dover and Clover. Sound familiar? It ought to, for reasons we’ll shortly learn.
Anyway, Superboy’s full-scale debut didn’t merit him the cover, which went to the twin detectives, nor even the lead slot, which was Green Arrow again. It was a younger Superboy than we would get used to, somewhere around age eight, and a Clark Kent who didn’t wear glasses and acted like a normal kid. There was some way to go yet.
And there was no rush to exploit the new character, though he was mentioned on issue 103’s cover, as Green Arrow and Speedy once again call out Dover and Clover for trying to take over ‘their book’, only for the clueless crime-crackers to turn up again to point out Superboy’s in it. And they showed him on the cover of the next issue, with the crime-fighting archers.
Superboy might have started without Jerry Siegel, but his name was on it, alongside Joe Schuster, next time around. There were none of the familiar characters, no Ma and Pa Kent, no pretty redhead next door. They wouldn’t come until later, and in a different title.
Because, after issue 107, cover-date January-February 1946, More Fun underwent a wholesale change of direction, to emulate its name by becoming a comic comic. The regulars, Superboy, Johnny Quick, Green Arrow and Aquaman, were shipped out en masse, to, as we have already seen, Adventure Comics, where they would stay for over a decade.
With issue 108, Dover and Clover took over the cover, and the lead slot, greeting Genius Jones, who had travelled in the opposite direction and dropped into place behind them. The rest of the comic was new, or rather old – old hat, that is. A parade of silly characters and silly situations, without any of the ingenuity or humour of the newspaper strips of the era, or any of the rich cartooning abilities of their artists. But the next month, for the comic had been returned to monthly status now the war was over, just in time for its great change, Genius Jones – a creation of Alfred Bester, my life – had both cover and lead slot and the detectives were back at the back.
In fact, they were settling in to alternate cover billing.
Now it’s fair to say that, with the exception of Sheldon Mayer’s Scribbly and the Red Tornado, I get nothing from the Golden Age humour strips. Even Johnny Thunder was nigh on intolerable at times, when Peachy Pet took the lead. So from More Fun‘s change of direction to the end of the run, there is little to interest me. Nevertheless, I read each issue (semi-) diligently to check for anything requiring comment.
For the record, the line-up after the alternating leads consisted of Curly’s Cafe, Windy, The Gas House Gang, Rusty, Cabby Casey and Cunnel Custard, but if you want any more details than that, buy your own DVD!
That was until issue 121, which introduced Jimminy and his Magic Book, a fairytale adventure that got not merely cover status but two well-drawn stories inside. Genius Jones and Dover & Clover continued, as did Rusty, Windy and the Gas House Gang but everybody else was dropped.
There wasn’t much left. Howard Post’s art on Jimminy (whose other name was Crockett) may well have been the best ever to appear in More Fun, with a foreshadowing of Walt Kelly’s Pogo, but More Fun was heading for cancellation. Superman crossed the cover of issue 125, Cabbie Casey replaced Rusty in issue 126, and with issue 127, cover dated November-December 1947, with no less than five Jimminy stories and one final Dover & Clover, it was gone.
So ended DC’s oldest title and Genius Jones andDJimminy went with it. Depending on dates, Dover and Clover may have had as much as ten more appearances in them across other titles, but they ended up in deserved limbo too. And, in the absence of a DVD of either or both of Leading Comics and Star-Spangled Comics, that completes my adventures in the Golden Age.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
This third post about a Golden Age comic featuring characters who were members of the Justice Society of America will sadly be different to those I wrote about Flash Comics and All-American Comics. It’s nothing to do with Adventure Comics being published by Detective Comics Inc., rather than All-American Publications, and therefore falling under Harry Donenfeld’s purview instead of Charley Gaines. Rather it’s a fundamental difference in both the comic and the DVD.
This time, I’m not working from a complete run: Adventure was not cancelled nor turned into a Western title. Instead, it continued uninterrupted through the Fifties and well beyond, to 1983 before its first cancellation after 490 issues. The period I’m seriously interested in is the Golden Age era of characters like The Sandman, Hourman and Starman, beginning with issue 40 and continuing to issue 102, after which there was a radical change of content, with Adventure becoming a vehicle for Superboy, at first as a solo star and from 1959 as part of the Legion of Superheroes.
The DVD starts with issue 40 and its run over those sixty two issues is far from complete, neither in numbers nor complete issues. I confess to little interest in the post 1946 Superboy era. But I’ll run my eye over it and comment.
As a prelude to the first issue on the DVD, and cribbing shamelessly from Wikipedia, I’ll quickly summarise the pre-history. The comic started as New Comics in 1938, a humour comic. It was re-named New Adventure Comics with issue 12, before adopting Adventure from issue 32 onwards. It evolved into an adventure series, including stories about futuristic scientist-detective Jor-L, a year before Superman debuted, and arrived at a superhero series with the introduction of The Sandman in issue 40.
Which is where I come in.
The Sandman went straight onto the cover of Adventure 40, the pulp detective figure in business suit, cape and gasmask, exactly as we know him now… except that the suit is orange, not green, and the fedora green, not orange. The story, which I’ve seen before in reprint, 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 a good story, naïve simple, uninterestingly drawn. It’s just a start.
The rest of the issue is undistinguished. Tiny is a one-page cartoon about a tough-talking, tough-acting bulldog, Barry O’Neill an ongoing serial about some kind of crime buster and Federal Men an FBI story about G-Man Steve Carson that’s interesting only for being by Siegel and Shuster. These are all in full colour, but Jack Woods, a cowboy serial, offered two pages of monocolour, all red shades, like Victor and Hornet used to, before dropping to B&W, and Captain Deesmo, an aviator series, was B&W throughout. Don Coyote, a cartoon two-pager set in some vague and implausible Sixteenth Century Britain that looks like Camelot, was full colour, and dreadfully silly, but it was back to B&W for Bulldog Martin, a broad-shouldered amateur troubleshooter, and Socko Strong, a boxer. Back to colour for Skip Schuyler, Government Agent, and the rather more Terry and the Pirates-esque Rusty and his Pals, which was credited to Bob Kane. Last up was Anchors Aweigh!, starring Don and Red, two Navy adventurers.
In short, the line-up, as might be expected, was a bunch of adventurers in various genres, with art and stories crudely ripped off from newspaper strips. Nothing stands out as more than enthusiastic, or crudely energetic and, The Sandman aside, nothing is interesting except to see the likes of Siegel and Shuster and Kane on series that didn’t make them famous. Adventure 40 was cover dated July 1939, making it contemporaneous with Action 14, and two months after Batman’s debut in Detective 27. The next complete issue available is Adventure 70: long before then, I’m pretty sure neither Federal Men nor Rusty continued.
Next available issue, no. 48 is represented only by the six-page debut of Hour-Man, and not even from Adventure but its reprint in a 1974 Giant-Size Justice League of America comic I once had. Issue 51 is represented only by the ten-page Sandman adventure, by which time art is by Craig Fleishman and it’s all running, jumping and leaping. And issue 57 offers only an eight-page Hour-Man adventure, featuring his buddies the Minute-Men of America and introducing his recurring enemy, Dr Togg.
From Adventure 61 onwards, the DVD offers a solid run of consecutive issues, but these are no more complete. This issue was Starman’s debut, catapulted onto the cover to displace The Sandman, and of course expected to be Detective Comics’ next break-out star, to stand alongside Superman and Batman. Jack Burnley’s art distinguished the feature, being by one of the best Golden Age artists there was. The run consists of no more than the Starman series, not of itself a hardship, until issue 70.
Unfortunately, apart from all these Sandman and Hour-Man adventures we’re missing, the debut of The Shining Knight in issue 67 also goes by offstage.
From various reprints down the years, I was already familiar with a couple of the stories in this initial eight-issue run, so this was my first chance to really see Starman in solo action. The highlight is Jack Burnley’s art, intelligent, well-rounded and anatomically superior to everyone else around him. It’s too simplistic overall to be termed photorealism but it goes closer to that than any other comics artist of the era in its avoidance of exaggeration. The stories? I can be quite as enthusiastic about them. As short adventures, they’re usually competent at worst, and Starman’s wise-cracking is a foretaste of the likes of Spider-Man.
On the other hand, Ted Knight’s self-portrayal as a hypochondriac weakling is 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.
In contrast, issue 70 is a complete comic, with The Shining Knight appearing next after Starman. It’s my first solo story with the Knight, and interesting for that, but it’s a slapdash effort with a bits and pieces story, and I found it weird that Justin, museum assistant, talks natural American English when he’s in street clobber but slips back into ‘Forsooth’ language the moment he gets his armour on, and comments on it!
Though he’d been bounced out of the Justice Society by Starman, Tick-Tock Tyler is still around as The Hour Man, minus the hyphen. Bernard Bailey’s art is a bit more sophisticated when it comes to faces, and he’s drawing Hour Man’s hood as a tight-fitting cowl and eye-mask, which I’ve certainly never seen before, but the story’s a joke, with the villain a dwarf on a flying carpet who looks like a visitor from outer space, though he’s not. Maybe I’m not missing much?
The Adventurer theme of issue 40 hasn’t been abandoned completely, as the next strip is Steve Conrad, Adventurer, an ocean diver hired to find buried treasure who’s up against modern pirates. This was the last episode of a story, if not the story, I don’t know. It’s all very early Terry and The Pirates wannabe (as an irrelevant aside, has there ever been a more exciting title for an adventure strip?)
After a brief prose story with a twist ending, next up was… ok, I was wrong… Federal Men, though judged on its art, it certainly wasn’t Joe Schuster any more. And judged by the way the story didn’t throb with frenetic energy, it wasn’t Jerry Siegel either. It certainly wasn’t good.
I was surprised to see Paul Kirk – Manhunter as the next strip, especially as it’s nothing like the series as I have always known it. I discovered Manhunter as that classic back-up story by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson in Detective way back in 1974 – I had the privilege of reading it month-by-month – and later in a handful of Simon-Kirby reprints of the costumed hero original, but this Paul Kirk is by Ed Moore who, if he’s the artist, was the worst so far in this issue. Who and what Kirk is is never explained but he never gets out of street clothes and comes over as more of a private detective than anything else, certainly not a big-game Hunter.
Bringing up the back of the book is, thankfully, still the Sandman, but this is that brief period between the adoption of the yellow and purple costume, plus Sandy the Golden Boy, both accoutred with capes, and the arrival of Simon and Kirby. The dream theme is absent, the art crude and ill-proportioned – this guy can’t get legs right – and the story nondescript, lacking the manic energy of the business-suited Sandman stories.
It was interesting to see a complete issue, but the next eight issues on the DVD, not all consecutive, were back to single stories, Starman once more.
Interestingly, Manhunter replaced Starman for the cover of issue 73 (though we only get to see Starman’s story) and this is the costumed Manhunter, and what’s more it’s Simon and Kirby at their excellent best. And they cover feature again next issue before Sandman and Sandy take back the cover on a full-time basis, from which I take it that the determined push to build Starman into a Superman/Batman level star was already showing itself to be doomed.
Issue 78 switched things up with a Manhunter story, though it was taken from a reprint edition, not Adventure itself. This was vintage Simon/Kirby, all-out action, distorted figures, a truly ugly villain and a pretty girl. I’m not sure I’d want to read too many Manhunter stories all at once, but it was good fun.
It was back to Starman for issue 81, the last of the single story issues, and a change of artists with the story, a reprint from the Seventies, credited 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.
There’s a gap next to issue 87, but that represented a sea change, as from hereon, with only a couple of exceptions, we get complete issues. Sandman kicked off the issue with a story I’d already seen in reprint, but next up was the oddball and little-considered Genius Jones, by Stan Kaye. It’s a crackpot cartoon about a boy genius who knows everything and gives answers at a dime a time. This was my first known exposure to the original and it had me goggling, unable to tell if it were genius or madness.
The Shining Knight was still running, though his art was disappointingly poor. Starman was back as fourth feature, with only three pages to his name. Manhunter got a full share but with terrible art that was trying desperately to ape Jack Kirby with none of the weight of line or detail.
A terribly unfunny one-page cartoon, Jack Potts, gave way to Mike Gibbs, Guerilla, an all-purpose freedom fighter in Nazi-occupied Europe and the one last story to represent the pre-superhero Adventure. Apart from the independent female French resistance Agent, Captain Hwarti (what kind of French name is that?), turning up in Holland, the episode was little better than mediocre and of course it featured a dyke being breached, why would you think it wouldn’t?
Four issues later, paper rationing was cutting a bit deeper. Adventure was down to a bi-monthly status, plus a cut in pages, the cut being Mike Gibbs. The next issue available was no. 100, cover dated October/November 1945, making its actual publication date somewhere round the end of the War in the Pacific. Guerilla was back, in a story with a powerful anti-racism message all the stronger for being set in a War context, but Manhunter was gone now. I wish there were more issues to track these changes more accurately.
At least issue 101 was available, with a dreadful Sandman cover. The previous issue looked like Jack Kirby but wasn’t credited as such, but this story was just plug-ugly, an attempt to copy Kirby by someone with no capability whatsoever. Starman’s story suffered from weak art and 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 noticing by standing against a poster and ‘blending into’ a background composed of completely different colours from his costume.
And then, with a jump to issue 109, everything had changed, and I mean everything. In fact, it had happened with issue 103: Sandman and Starman cancelled, Genius Jones shipped out to Detective’s More Fun Comics and a complete line-up switched from that title to take over Adventure. It’s still the Golden Age, for a few years yet, but this is not the stuff I wanted the DVD for.
Because Adventure had become the home of Superboy, from now until 1969. Coming with the Boy of Steel were Aquaman (technically, the Earth-2 version, as would later be defined, with the yellow gauntlets), Johnny Quick, the formula-reciting super-speedster (also featuring in Action Comics) and the Green Arrow (who was also appearing in World’s Finest). The Shining Knight was the only surviving feature. Johnny’s adventure had a bit of vigour to it, but the new watchword was bland.
Frankly, Superboy doesn’t interest me at all, especially knowing how Jerry Siegel wanted to write the character, as a prank-player. The first few stories feature Clark and his schoolfriends, in little do-good stories, and young Kent is nothing like the klutz we expect. But I have to credit the Xmas story in issue 113 (cover-dated February!) as a 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.
Twenty issues or so onwards, not all of them available, enables me to give a bit of a reasoned assessment of Adventure in this form. Superboy’s series is definitely not what I expected from my exposure to the character in the early Sixties. There’s no Ma and Pa Kent, no Smallville and precious little villains. Instead, Superboy uses his powers to help his friends, sometimes in the face of rich boy cheating from Orville Orville, or just genuinely to help against misfortune. There’s not even any melodramatic disasters going on. It’s decidedly low-key and, except as a change of pace, undramatic.
The Green Arrow is just bland. He’s definitely The Green Arrow at this point, and as far as Oliver Queen is concerned, there’s a near total absence. Neither Oliver nor Roy 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 a decade to wait for the introduction of Atlantis, and this Aquaman just fights sea-style menaces, most often the pirate Black Jack. Between them, Aquaman and The Green Arrow don’t have enough personality to fill a thimble. Oh for the relative depth of the All-American characters.
Johnny Quick, however, is head and shoulders above the rest, though his slot at the back of the comic suggests he wasn’t as popular as he deserved to be. The very idea of speed automatically makes the series more vigorous, even if some of the science is more than dodgy, and the stories are jam-packed with incidents. And to that some Kubert-influenced art from Mort Meskin and Johnny Quick makes continued reading worthwhile.
Though the Shining Knight would go on until issue 166, he disappeared from Adventure after issue132 due to a profusion of ad pages, which even started appearing in the middle of stories as opposed to between the various features. I hate to say it, but a lot of those ad pages featured art better than Sir Justin was getting! The chivalrous hero was back in 137, after two missing issues, with his occasional sidekick, the Bronx boy, Sir Butch of Beeler’s Alley. And by issue 143, he was 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. For instance, in issue 149, he’s bumped for a five-page tale of the life of author Jack London. Adventure hit issue 150 with a cover date of March 1950 and no fanfare or special features, although 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.
The Shining Knight’s last adventure in Adventure would be in issue 166 but that’s yet another issue that isn’t included on the DVD. Since I bought it for the Golden Age issues, for those up to and including 102, and since issue 164, the nearest to that point, is cover-dated May 1951, three months after All Star 57, the generally acknowledged end of the Golden Age, I’m treating this as the terminus point for this post. It’s same as ever, no Shining Knight to go out on, Superboy, Johnny Quick, Aquaman, The Green Arrow.
There’s the best part of 330 other issues on the rest of the DVD, extending to the final issue of the run in the early Eighties. When I get round to those, it’ll be a whole other story.
Though I’ve watched the series since it first appeared, in 2012, my interest in Arrow has been steadily waning over a couple of poor seasons. Privately, I promised myself that I would quit after season 5, which would bring the flashbacks full circle, up to the start of season 1.
This promise persisted even though, generally, season 5 was a better series than the previous two. Unfortunately, the cliffhanger ending to the series, suggesting that every single member of the supporting/recurring cast could/should have been killed, meant that I had to at least watch the premier of season 6, to see who survived.
The answer being, disappointingly but unsurprisingly, practically all of them. One recurring character dead, one cast member – Oliver Queen’s little sister, Thea – in a coma but still in the cast credits.
So I decided I would apply the classic TV.com Four-Episode Test: four episodes in which to convince me it was worth my time to watch on.
I nearly didn’t make it. As early as episode 3, I forgot to even bother with it until Sunday week ago, and even then didn’t watch it until the Monday night after work. Then, during the week, I caught sight of a bit of troubling information about the series. A guest star. And a guest star whose presence was balance-tipping.
So I watched last week’s episode over the weekend. He wasn’t there in the opening credits as a Guest Star. If I hadn’t seen that reference, I would have been totally unprepared for his appearance. As this season’s Big Bad, Cayden James.
Step forward, Michael Emerson. aka Ben Linus from Lost and ‘Harold Finch’ from Person of Interest, two of my favourite series and two of my favourite characters of the last decade.
As Cayden James, he’s sort of crossed the two characters over: Ben’s underlying atmosphere of menace belying his appearance as a small, unprepossessing man in late middle age, and ‘Harold”s near invisibility.
But the thing is, he’s here, and he’s going to keep appearing. So four episodes has given me a reason to keep watching, when I would have preferred to end my relationship with the show.
As crossovers go in general, this episode was pretty much of a bust, the last five minutes excepted, when the Dominators and their plans to invade Earth and give it some serious welly with ‘the weapon’ became more than a MacGuffin for the real intent of Arrow‘s 100th episode.
On the other hand, as episodes of Arrow go, this was bloody brilliant and better than anything we’ve seen in the last two series, if not more.
So: where we left off last night, Team Arrow (aka Ollie, Dig, Thea, Sarah and Ray) vanished. Back in Star City, Felicity and Cisco, with the respective aids of Rene/Wild Dog, Curtis/Mr Terrific and Rory/Ragman, tracked down where they were being held captive. This required a brief altercation with some real throwaway enhanced woman, for which Flash and Supergirl turned up to turn her over. Our missing quintet were found to be on the Dominator spaceship, which they exited in some kind of mini-ship, pursued by a whole swarm of mini-ships intent on death and destruction, until rescued by the Waverider and Nate Heywood (who’s been left out so far).
All of which was the mainly thin gristle around the meat of episode 100, which featured Ollie’s own version of Flashpoint, the life he could have had, which perhaps he should have had, if one thing hadn’t happened. That signifying point was The Queen’s Gambit cruise.
Ollie didn’t die. His Dad didn’t die. Deathstroke had no reason to kill his mother. Sarah never joined the League of Assassins. Without one Black Canary there was never a need for a second, so Laurel didn’t die, in fact tomorrow is her wedding day. To Ollie. His Dad wants him to take over Queen Consolidated as CEO, without which the board will accept Ray Palmer’s buy-out. Detective Lance isn’t an alcoholic. Thea doesn’t know who her real father is. Tommy Merlin’s alive, and of all things he’s a doctor in Chicago (on Chicago Hope?). There is an arrow-wielding vigilante, nicknamed the Hood, and assisted by Ray’s fiancee, Felicity, but it’s Diggle.
It’s wrong, all wrong, every bad thing undone. I’ve seen it before in comics, it”s not original, it’s the idea that underpins The Last Temptation of Christ and I don’t expect it was new then. The hero’s real enemy is not defeat, or death, it is happiness. It’s been the underpinning of Arrow since episode 1 and it’s been the dire ruination of the series for these last two miserable seasons, and here it is, overthrown. What it could have been, what has been sacrificed.
It’s unreal, and at every turn things are thrown up, things that trigger all five victim’s memories, although mostly Ollie’s. The story is always the same and the end is always the same: the hero rejects peace, rejects fulfillment, the dirty and desperate reality is restored. But it’s so hard. Thea refuses at first, the little girl who has her parents back, her mother and her father, who can’t bear to repeat the loss. Who among us doesn’t respond to that? You know what I would give to havve my father come back, to have had that life instead. But she comes out to fight with the rest, for no reason given, overcomes her obstacles, awakens with the rest.
It’s The Flash 300, Cary Bates’ greatest story. It’s that episode of Red Dwarf where they discover it’s been a virtual reality game all along. It’s every story that’s ever ended ‘and they she woke up, and it had all been a dream’, except that the dream is the thing you want to carry on forever.
It’s a fine and memorable episode, but in terms of the crossover, they’re dumping one hell of a lot on Legends of Tomorrow‘s shoulders for the final part, and assuming all for get renewed for another season each (and there’s a very good case for denying Arrow the chance to get any more turgid), and they decide to do another crossover, they need to do something a lot better next time.
The Flash part of the Great DC Crossover was the true start, with the arrival on Earth of the Dominators, invading aliens, necessitating bringing together every known superhero to face them. Given that this Earth-menacing menace was so big, it needed the combined cast of four shows to tackle it, it seemed clunky that the on going continuity of the three combined series should still go rattling on, but hey, it all just added to the density of affairs.
We started with Team Flash still testing the newly-powered Wally West, who’s shaping up to be faster even than Barry, but who everyone wants to keep away from actually getting out there to fight the good fight. This is interrupted by the arrival of a meteorite in downtown Central City, which turns out to not be a meteorite but rather a spaceship, out of which clomped the Dominators, in some of the worst CGI the show’s come up with to date. Just as soon as Lyla Michaels confirms these are aliens who’ve been around before in the Fifties, Barry decides to set up a task force.
This means pulling Green Arrow and Spartan out of the way of the Vigilante’s machine guns, plus Speedy jumping out of retirement because, hey, its aliens and that’s cool, plus a time beacon to summon the Legends – Ray has out of nowhere rebuilt his Atom suit – and Barry dragging a reluctant Cisco off to collect an alien of their own in Kara per yesterday.
Incidentally, I know we’re not exactly sticking to the classic DC Multiverse but it was a little demeaning I thought to have Kara’s Universe down as Earth-38. Something in single figures, at least.
So, its everybody hurriedly practicing how to be an en masse team, Wally keep getting pushed out of the way, everybody crashing and burning against a Supergirl who wasn’t even sweating and time to advance a couple of Legends of Tomorrow plot-points. First, there’s this mysterious message from Barry itself that Jax and Professor Stein have been concealing from everyone else the past few weeks, which turns out to be for forty years in the future, confessing to the Flashpoint thing and warning everyone to beware because Barry could have fucked over all their futures.
Needless to say, Ollie counseled keeping it schtum, since Barry was Mission Leader (even though Ollie was giving the proxy orders), which didn’t even last ten minutes of screen-time before Cisco found the mp4 player, thus furthering his own Flashpoint-fuelled resentment of his erstwhile friend.
So, when everybody shot off to rescue the President from the cardboard cut-out CGI aliens, nobody wanted Barry around, and Ollie stayed with him out of sympathy.
(I haven’t forgotten the other Legends bit, the one about Martin Stein having headaches and visions about a dark pageboyed young woman who he loves, rather than Isabella Hofman, aka his blonde and still lovely wife, Clarissa. He gets Caitlin to accompany him to his home, where Pageboy jumps out at him, hugs him, says she loves him, puts the wind up him good and proper until she calls him ‘Dad’. Phew! Cue near sprint away).
Back at the crossover Team Everybody But the Leaders walks into a trap that has them mind-dominated by the Dominators (heh, heh) and coming to get Barry and Ollie, but not before our franchise-holders have done a bit of deep background bonding. Barry shows Ollie the hidden room from season 1, and the Crisis headline newspaper from 2024, whilst Ollie goes back to his season 1 to speak of how his Dad sacrificed himself so Ollie could live.
Then they face off against the rest of the teams, until Barry gets Kara mad enough to chase him and smash through the Dominators’ machine, restoring everyone to their right minds.
Or are they? For some reason everyone chooses to stand outside STAR Labs, in the pouring rain, to discuss their next move, which is going to ask Argus what to do. Suddenly, beams of light transport away everybody but Barry…
To be serious, given that bringing together so many characters into a single story posed serious logistic problems of itself, it did surprise me that The Flash devoted so much time to internal continuity, and more so that it crossed all three related series. We can only assume that that’s going to be the pattern for both Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. It makes for densely-packed, if relatively thin TV, and it makes the crossover story, which after all is only an alien invasion that appears to have vaporised the President, fairly unimportant. We shall see where things go tomorrow.
Incidentally, I did thoroughly enjoy the cramming together into one super-superimposed tangled of every show’s logo – The Flash on top, of course – and look forward to tomorrow’s version.