Grandfather’s Heroes: the JSA in the early Nineties


The Justice Society of America disappeared for the first time at the end of 1950, when All-Star Comics was transformed into All-Star Western. Wonder Woman carried on in her own title, as she had already done for the past eighteen months or so, but the other members of the team simply vanished, never to be seen again.
Comic book characters did that in those days. Once a series was dropped, that was it for good. A character ran their course, they were abandoned. Nobody would ever want to see them again.
Things were very different when the Justice Society disappeared for the second time. This happened in 1986, in The Last Days of the Justice Society Special, written by Roy Thomas. This time they were also to disappear forever, not as a natural consequence of the way the comic book industry worked, but because, as just one of many details to be altered by, in or through Crisis on Infinite Earths, they were to be gotten rid of.
The DC Multiverse was dead. A new, simplified Universe had replaced it, a Universe in which things like parallel worlds and different versions of heroes with the same name were to be eliminated. On both counts, the Justice Society had to go. Not even Roy Thomas could save them. The best he could do was the one halfway decent thing in a send-off that was cheap, nasty, dull and ugly on all levels. He gave the JSA a comic book death.
Not death, but eternity in Limbo, merged for some godforsaken reason, and in inept manner, with the Teutonic Gods fighting Gotterdammerung. It would have been called Valhalla if Marvel hadn’t sewn up the Norse Gods through Thor. If the wind changed, if the Powers That Be relented, the JSA could be brought back.
And brought back they were, indirectly due to a scheduling problem.
In 1990, DC had licenced the use of another bunch of superheroes, this time from Archie Comics: the Fly, the Comet, the Web etc. These were to form the basis of the !mpact Comics line, a kind of entry-level superhero line sharing is own universe, providing lighter, simpler stories for younger readers before they ‘graduated’ to the mainstream DC titles. The line was to be jointly edited by Mike Gold and Brian Augustyn, who had gathered together a group of freelance artists to draw all the comics. But things took longer than anticipated, which should have been anticipated because they always take longer than anticipated. The line wasn’t ready to go ahead. The artists didn’t have anything to draw. If they didn’t have anything to draw they earned no income. Something had to be done before they all broke up and drifted away onto other commissions. Gold and Augustyn agreed that what was needed was a stop gap, a make-work project to which all the artists could contribute. They agreed to go home and come up with something. The next day, both arrived, inspired by the perfect idea. It was the same one. The Justice Society of America.
The outcome was an eight issue limited series that debuted in 1991. It had to observe certain limitations. Firstly, it was not allowed to bring the JSA back. Therefore it had to be set in a period of their past. It would have a single writer in Len Strazewski and provide two issues worth of work for each of four artists. The decision was taken to set the story in 1950, being a period of the JSA’s history that had had little or no latterday attention, which was free to be exploited. And, to reflect the Justice Society’s own history, the whole series was designed along a pre-determined format.
It would feature four of the JSA’s current members – The Flash, Black Canary, Green Lantern and Hawkman – plus a retired member in his civilian capacity, Ted Knight, once Starman. Each of the quartet would get a solo issue, drawn one by one into the same menace. This would be followed by two duo issues, Green Lantern and Black Canary teamed up, followed by The Flash and Hawkman. The final two issues would see the team working together, with Starman coming out of retirement to save the day in the last issue.
It all sounds horribly schematic, but in fact it worked wonderfully well, a contrived but deliberate structure for what was, after all, an unimportant comic. It wasn’t going to change anything. It would not disturb the past nor influence the future. Instead, it would be that rarest of all things in 1991, a good, rousing superhero story told for pleasure, whose only intent was for people to enjoy it. And boy, did we ever!
It was an imaginative story that fit both the John Broome stories of that end of All-Star‘s run and felt natural to the times. Essentially, Vandal Savage sought to rule the world by removing electricity and power from it and returning it to Egyptian times. This he did by drawing down ‘living constellations’ via the New Mexico Observatory headed by the retired Ted Knight, defeating and injuring Knight in the process. The JSA get involved one by one, two by two and eventually en masse, their example inspiring Knight to get past his crushed state and save the day with the first use of his Cosmic, as opposed to Gravity Rod.
There was an ominous twist to the end with Starman, back in costume, ready to rejoin the JSA, just as announcements were being made about the US Government forming a Committee to investigate Un-American Affairs – the retrospective explanation for the Society’s original retirement.
What made the series so enjoyable, for me and many others, was the refreshingly different dynamic shown by the team. Though the roots went back a long time, to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and the early Marvel era, the post-Crisis period had seen every team dynamic merge and become indistinguishable. Everybody bickered. They had differences. They snapped and sniped at each other. At least one team member hated all the others.
It might have been realistic, true to human nature, but it was deadly dull, and it made distinguishing between teams without looking at the costumes very difficult. Not so the Justice Society of America. It was something of a throwback, but a very pleasing one, to see them acting as a team without having to be exhorted to do so in the face of danger. The JSA were that bit older, more mature, experienced. They were professional, they trusted each other, they liked each other. Strazewski had a feel for the friendship they enjoyed. The Flash was bright, optimistic, cheerful. Hawkman brooding and intense. Green Lantern used to the command of power. And Black Canary, the only woman, the only member without powers, was treated as an equal without having to fight for acceptance, whilst the subject of mild flirting that was always respectable, never demeaning, but which didn’t get in the way of her wanting to be independent.
It was good fun, it was relaxing. You could see what the little offhand comments hinted at, that these people were friends as well as team-mates. It was so different.
This mini-series – the first ever in which the team appeared under their own name – was a make-work project, intended to be nothing more than that. Everybody who worked on it had great fun. The audience that bought it enjoyed it to the full. We’d missed the JSA. And a buzz was created. The sales were decent enough, the clamour for more was promising. There was a market for the Justice Society. But in the present day they didn’t exist. They were in Limbo, and not just in Limbo but fighting an eternal fight that, if ever lost, or abandoned, would lead to the end of the world.
But these are comic books. Roy Thomas had left this situation so that the team could come back if/when attitudes changed. And the prospect of a commercially successful series was certainly an attitude changer. But not to everyone.

Armageddon inferno 4

I’ll explain that cryptic remark in due course but, for now, let’s look at the broader picture. The mini-series had appeared in 1991, in parallel with but unconnected to DC’s crossover series Armageddon 2001. I shalln’t explain that in detail, save to say that for that series a new character was created, Waverider, formerly Matthew Ryder, who came back sixty years in time to prevent a superhero turning bad and becoming an Earth-wide dictator in Ryder’s era. His passage back through time transformed him into an energy creature, able to read people’s futures.
The series had intended Captain Atom to be the villainous Monarch but the news broke very early so, in order to preserve the ‘surprise’ ending, DC had to twist things round to make Hawk the villain, and since Captain Atom was always going to disappear at that point, he ended up attacking Monarch and causing the two to vanish completely.
This ending spawned a hasty sequel, a four issue mini-series, Armageddon: The Alien Agenda, which needn’t concern us here. But here was the vehicle. Here was Waverider. Thus a second, much less directly related sequel mini-series was spawned: Armageddon: Inferno.
I say spawned deliberately. The series was one of the worst comics I have ever read, poorly written, lacking in originality or purpose, a rambling, repetitive mish-mash of characters from different eras rammed together as mini-teams with no thought as to logic or intelligibility. As for the art, it was horrendous, scrappy, badly-drawn, would-be bombastic. The whole series looked like it had been drawn overnight. And given the genuine talents who contributed to this, which included Denny O’Neill, John Ostrander, Arthur Adams, Dick Giordano and Walt Simonson, it is all the more surprising that something so thirteenth rate should be produced.
As a superhero story, involving a threat to the entirety of the Universe, it stunk. There was no point to it, nothing to say that anyone connected to the series had a desperate urge to tell this story. And given the inept story-telling and abysmal art, there was nothing to suggest that anyone took any pride in the work they turned out.
But the series had a point and it was the only thing about the series that was any good, which was that it got the Justice Society out of Limbo, without destroying the world in the process. It left some stupid, pointless, created-as-cannon-fodder opponents to carry on the fight with Surtur in their place in a situation that has been wiped from collective memory, and thankfully so. The word to use was ‘cheap’, and it was in every respect.


So the JSA were back, in the present day, and available to start their own, open-ended series, once more under their own name. Strazewski was to continue writing it, with Mike Parobeck, one of the contributors to the mini-series, as permanent artist, inked mostly by Mike Machlan. It was greeted with enthusiasm and eagerness, though not in all quarters. It lasted ten issues, the cancellation being announced as early as issue 7.
There are two stories here, one on the page, the other off it. That told on the page is the simpler to relate.
I’m bound to say that the second series wasn’t as good, enjoyable though it was. Parobeck was a very popular artist with a clean, open look, but far too cartoony for my liking. His work was perfect for the Batman Adventures comics based on the Animated Series, and his death just short of his 31st birthday, through mishandling of his insulin regime a tragedy, but for the JSA his style was too simple, detracting from the reality of a series that was in continuity with the DC universe.
Strazewski’s writing was as entertaining as ever, but in writing an ongoing series, he never got to achieve the focus of the mini-series, moving from arc to arc. In addition to that, this was a very different Justice Society, no longer in their professional prime but now much older. Chronologically, the team were in their early seventies though, with the residue of their magical rejuvenation in Limbo, allied to their excellent condition, they were more sixty-but-fit-as-fifty.
And Strazewski recognised and played upon the JSA’s differing reactions to their status as elder figures, heroes of a bygone era suddenly plunked down in a new age, concerned as to who and what they should be, both as Jay Garrick, Alan Scott, Al Pratt and Ted Grant and as The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom and Wildcat.
I liked it. By this time I’d been into superhero comics for nearly thirty years and whilst I still enjoyed the display-of-powers side of it, I no longer wanted it to dominate what I read, and I wanted more. I wanted my series to be about people, not just what they did, and Justice Society of America gave me that in a form I wasn’t reading anywhere else.
Like anyone else, Strazewski dealt with the JSA’s past: the re-appearance of the Ultra-Humanite, what had happened to Bahdnesia, and the reappearance of Kulak, who had not been seen since All-Star Comics 2, pre-Justice Society. And he kept his eye on the present too, bringing Wally West in to guest-star, introducing Kiku, the last Bahdnesian and a potential successor to Johnny Thunder since she too could command the Thunderbolt (and made better sense at it!)
Most of all, he introduced a lasting character in Jesse Quick, Johnny Quick’s daughter, who shared the powers of both her father and her mother, Liberty Belle. Jesse has lasted into the Rebirth era, though not without multiple changes.
But all was not well, and it is here that the much less easy to tell story of what was going on behind the pages becomes significant and we have two incompatible conclusions to choose amongst.
To begin with, let’s remind ourselves of another aspect of the context of the comics scene of 1992, which is Image Comics. Image was formed as an umbrella publishing venture for the separate studios and operations of its six founding partners, Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Erik Larsen, Rob Lieman, Mark Silversti and Jim Valentino, with Whilce Portacio joining shortly after. These artists had primarily broken away from Marvel Comics to create a more favourable and creator-dominated company. That’s a whole story in itself and one I’m not qualified to tell, but Image had an immediate effect on the industry, claiming a substantial market share and at least once forcing DC back into third place.
Each of the Image founders created their own titles, in their own, then-extremely-popular dynamic. They were the new and modern guys, defining the era. A saying grew up, that Image gave you your heroes and Marvel your father’s heroes. And that made DC, with the Justice Society of America, the purveyors of your grandfather’s heroes.
Here is where the accounts diverge. Why was Justice Society of America cancelled? The first, and always more probable explanation is that sales were not sufficient, and that was more or less what was given in the final issue: it was put as being able to use the creators on something better worth their time, which is a lot less unequivocal than it might be. Some people have insisted that the book was selling badly, but others have contended that, whilst not selling massively, the book was still well above the cancellation cut-off line.
Len Strazewski has always been adamant about the reason for the cancellation, from the outset. He claims it was political. Which is where Grandfather’s Heroes comes into it.
In 1992, Mike Carlin was a powerful figure at DC Comics. Since leaving Marvel in 1986 (supposedly fired by Jim Shooter for sticking to opinions the Editor-in-Chief didn’t agree with), Carlin had been Group Editor of the Superman titles. He had organised these into a virtual weekly comic, four titles coming out in successive weeks, each with a different writer/artist team, working on an ongoing storyline that ran through each title. This obviously required strong editorial control, and that was Carlin’s method. He was no less sure of himself and that what he thought was right than Shooter.
And according to Strazewski, Carlin hated the JSA. Carlin thought them completely wrong for DC, Grandfather’s heroes, giving the company an image that it did not want to have and should not promote. Carlin was allegedly opposed to the series, the Justice Society, being published at all, even if it was making a profit for DC.
According to Strazewski, that is why the series was cancelled. Carlin was engaged in supervising the legendary ‘Death of Superman’ sequence, creating awesome sales, attracting world-wide attention (I remember the Guardian reporting on it the week the actual Death comic was published, with charming naivete assuming that it really was Superman’s Death, and last ever appearance). Carlin had a hell of a lot of influence, and Strazewski accused him of using it to get his title cancelled. Not for sales, not for lack of quality, but because Mike Carlin didn’t think DC should be publishing it.
Which story is true? Is the reality a mixture of both versions? I don’t know. I present the competing versions. As a matter of personal prejudice, I incline to Strazewski’s accusations. There is no evidence for them, but they are consistent within the period, and, let’s face it, conspiracy theories are always more exciting than plain old ‘it didn’t sell’.
But I’d like to bring in a coda from outside this time period, to throw a light, however circumstantial, upon the argument. In 1985, one of the intentions and effects of Crisis on Infinite Earths was to eliminate the Justice Society of America. Two years after all this took place, DC made their first second attempt at a continuity-clearing series, Zero Hour: Crisis in Time. Once again, the Universe was destroyed and then re-started, allowing for reboots. Once again, the Justice Society was to be eliminated. Only this time it was more determined: more vicious, more brutal, more final.
The JSA were decimated. All their immunities to the effects of ageing were stripped away. The Atom, Hourman and Doctor Mid-nite died. The Sandman and Wildcat suffered heart attacks. Kent and Inza Nelson were separated from Dr Fate. Hawkman ceased to be a separate entity. Everybody was aged to the point where they could no longer function as superheroes. There was no doubt about it, this time DC were going to get rid of the JSA, once and for all, and no arguments. We’re not going to be publishing Grandfather’s heroes any more.
Ironically, it was one of the new series that was spun out of Zero Hour that overturned that determination. James Robinson wrote a new Starman series, blending legacy into his very popular run. Under Archie Goodwin’s editorship, the series was free to use not just Ted Knight but every other Starman there’d been, attracting interest to the point where DC rescinded its own ruling and brought back the Justice Society of America, as a multi-generational team. But that’s a story for another occasion.

Was Strazewski right? Does the determination to render the Justice Society unusable after Zero Hour support his contention? It certainly doesn’t divert us away from it. I’d like to know the truth but I doubt I ever will. The Strazewski version, if admitted to, would be highly embarrassing so if the sales argument was a convenient lie, the Company are highly unlikely to go back on it now, especially with Mike Carlin still at DC, according to Wikipedia.


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

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

Adv 1

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

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

Adv 32

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

Adv 40

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

Adv 48

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

Adv 61

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

Adv 73

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

Infantino’s Follies 1: First Issue Special

1st collage

Back when I was writing about Showcase, I made the mistake of calling the mid-Seventies short series First Issue Special, which appeared round about the same time I was paying attention to comics again, a modern-day equivalent to DC’s longstanding try-out magazine.
I have now discovered that I was exactly wrong about that. First Issue Special was the brainchild of DC Editorial Director turned Publisher, former star artist Carmine Infantino, who conceived of it as exactly what it said in the title: an ongoing series of first issues, without the intent to run these as potential series.
At first sight, Infantino’s concept seems to have a spurious logic to it. This is the Age of the Collector, and there is nothing more Collectors like than a brand spanking no. 1 issue, to sell at a vastly inflated mark-up to readers excited by the series and eager to fill the most important gap in their longboxes.
But more than ten seconds thought is enough to identify the fatal flaws in the concept. Firstly, that a character created to appear only once and never again is highly unlikely – especially at the rates paid to writers and artists in the mid-Seventies – to have any of the depth or potential to attract readers with the required degree of passion. Secondly, that collectors only want to buy rare and precious no. 1s if there are actually nos. 2,3,4 etc. for them to get hooked upon. And thirdly, if a character proved to be improbably attractive to the readers, by the time you counted the returns and found you’d got an actual hit on your hands, six months or so had gone past, taking with it any momentum the character might possibly have carried with them.
Among the many bizarre and inexplicable decisions made by Infantino in that awful early to mid-Seventies period, First Issue Special must stand out as one of the most kack-handed of them all. The series consisted of thirteen issues, some of which being of quite high-quality, and one of which introducing a character who, a couple of decades later, came to play a substantial role in the DC Universe.
Now I, in my insatiable curiosity, have obtained a run of the series, and you are going to have to listen to what I’ve found out.
Almost inevitably, the first feature was Atlas, by Jack Kirby: who else but comics’ premier creation-machine? Atlas was set in the past, and based on the Atlas of myth, who would one day bear the weight of the world on his shoulders. Kirby’s version, very much in keeping with the supermythical, larger-than-larger-than-life approach he’d adopted for the New Gods and would follow with the Eternals, was a young man of prodigious strength, seeking, and in this incomplete story finding, the man who had killed his father and taken his mother into slavery.
Like others in the series, what we got was half a story and the pretence of a willingness to continue it if the readers desired. Atlas was revived as a foe for Superman by James Robinson in 2008.
It was five years since the great ballyhoo about Kirby leaving Marvel for DC, a contract negotiated by Infantino which, in the great old tradition of Siegel and Schuster, DC reneged upon in every possible aspect just as soon as they’d got him in the door. His five years were nearly up: despite his Fourth World titles, centring upon Darkseid, he’d never fitted into DC, primarily because DC had no intention of bending one iota to accommodate him and all the things he could have done. His contract would not be renewed, and he would return to Marvel in 1976 because he had nowhere to go. The Fourth World series had all been cancelled, The Demon hadn’t taken off, Kamandi, which he’d never intended to continue after two or three establishing issues, was cranking along. Things like Atlas helped fulfil his page quotas. There are times when you really, really wish people weren’t so fucking short-sighted.
Appropriately, the subjects of issue 2 were created by Kirby’s old partner, Joe Simon. This was The Green Team, sub-titled Boy Millionaires. It was a good thing it was only designed for one issue because it didn’t even merit that much exposure, though Simon clearly saw it as a viable series, God knows why. It was actually scheduled as a series and two issues prepared but the world was spared when it became one of the many unpublished comics sunk by the DC Implosion (which wasn’t all that bad after all, it seems).
The Green Team was yet another Simon/Kirby four piece kid gang, but one that showed that the well of inspiration was dry and stinking. The Green Team were four boy magnates whose membership qualification was having $1,000,000. They consisted of Commodore Murphy, shipping magnate, JP Huston, oil baron and Cecil Sunbeam, aka ‘Starmaker’, Hollywood film director. Oh, and Abdul Smith, black shoeshine boy, who got in when his bank made a computer error and added $5 of savings millions of times.
The boys were eager to fund exciting and innovative things. If this was such a good concept, why did Simon have to use up space by having five splash pages?
On the basis that no idea is so bad DC won’t try to revive it, especially during the New 52, the Green Team were retconned after Flashpoint. I doubt the effort was worth it.
Next up, for issue 3, was an idea that had nothing new about it at all, a one-off revival of Metamorpho: but it was a 1st Issue. It came about because Metamorpho’s creators, writer Bob Haney and artist Ramona Fradon, met for the first time at the 1974 San Diego Comics Convention. Reminiscing about the Element Man, both agreed they’d never had so much fun as when working on that title and wanted to repeat it: it filled an issue as far as Infantino was concerned.
I never read Metamorpho in the Sixties, and haven’t got round to catching up on it yet. So don’t ask me how it compares, but this one was a hoot. Haney and Fradon are having a whale of a time and if this was their general standard back then, I’m looking forward to reading that series. This was bouncy, fast, action-oriented but still with time for more characterisation than a year of Haney’s Brave and Bold’s.
Issue 4 was a Robert Kanigher creation, Lady Cop. Kanigher can be very professional or completely maniacal but as he wasn’t on a superhero, there was a reasonable chance of the former. Yes, and no. There was nothing egregiously stupid about the issue, and he was professional enough to set up an ongoing theme if the idea had ever been taken up.
Liza Warner is a blond secretary who cowers under her bed in fear whilst a serial killer, identifiable only by his cowboy boots, strangles her flatmates. After being praised for her precise recollection, Liza joins the Police force, though why she has to undergo training is the usual mystery because naturally she’s the perfect cop on her first day. Her boy friend doesn’t want her to be a working girl and will she ever forget the man who killed her flatmates, or find him and punish him? The art by John Rosenberger was unspeakably stiff and dull.
Liza was brought back post-Final Crisis to appear in two issues of the Ryan Choi run as The Atom, as the Ivy Town Chief of Police.

1st Dingbats

Jack Kirby supplied two more ideas, to wildly contrasting effect, for issues 5 and 6. The first of these was Manhunter. In the Forties, he and Joe Simon had created a character called Manhunter, big game hunter Paul Kirk, hunting the world’s most dangerous game, man, in a red costume with a blue full-face mask. This Paul Kirk had been transformed superbly only the previous year by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson.
Now Kirby adapted the same Manhunter costume to his present day style to create a warrior for justice, a Lion of the Shan, an organisation that always got its man. But the last Manhunter is growing old and needs a replacement, who is found in Public Defender Mark Shaw, whose name ought to be familiar. Shaw went into training to be worthy of the Manhunter’s electro-baton, not just his costume.
Kirby’s effort was again only half a story, however, with Manhunter setting out to bring down the big boss, The Hog. It hung in the air, never to be completed, because by the time Mark Shaw and Manhunter returned, the Hog was forgotten and Shaw was Manhunter. He was revived by Steve Engelhart for his first, year-long run on Justice League of America, initially as Manhunter and then as The Privateer. And Engelhart tied the Manhunters to the Guardians of the Universe, as the first Police Force, android pursuers pre-dating the Green Lantern Corps, corrupted by their own self-righteous sense of mission.
Kirby’s incomplete Manhunter tale is perhaps one of the smallest acorns planted by him to give rise to an oak of a concept, which DC has exploited many times since, but in comparison to issue 6’s Dingbats of Danger Street, it’s the Fourth World.
Simon and Kirby used to own the boy’s gang comics. The Dingbats were evidence not so much that the well had run dry as that it had been filled-in and concreted over with something the height of the World Trade Towers. Just the names – Good Looks, Non-Fat, Krunch and Bananas – and the villain The Gasser. At least this was a complete story, for a given value of complete.
Another existing character was revived for a one-shot next, Steve Ditko’s classic, The Creeper, with pencils by Ditko again, although the story came from Michael Fleisher.
As Ditko no longer inked himself, he was paired with Mike Royer, Jack Kirby’s latter-day inker, though Royer’s slavish devotion to the pencils did Ditko no favours. Ditko’s story-telling was as concentrated as ever but Fleisher couldn’t come up with anything more inspiring than one of Batman’s old Fifties villains, The Firefly, who was surely poor for that era to begin with. A first solo appearance in six years did spark a few guest shots but The Creeper has never been able to rise above cult interest.
Issue 8 provided something different, a feature that actually became a series. This was Mike Grell’s Warlord, Travis Morgan, who had been intended for a series all along and whose debut in First Issue Special was just to save anyone from coming up with a character for another month. This was one of only two First Issue Specials I bought in that 1975-6 period, and a lot of it is vaguely familiar, though I still find Mike Grell’s art to be awfully plastic and his poses unnaturalistic.
Warlord was plugged to start its own series two months later and it and Travis Morgan would be longstanding successes, as well as the basis of a long career for Grell. It’s based on the Hollow Earth theory as utilised by Edgar Rice Burroughs for Pellucidar. Here, Air Force pilot Travis Morgan, fleeing from Russian pursuit, unknowingly flies through the hole at the North Pole into barbarian adventures in the land of Skartaris.
A lot of people liked it, tremendously. After about seven issues of the series, I decided it was not for me, due to a lack of direction and muddledness about the stories.

1st Dr Fate

Issue 9 was the only other comic of the series that I bought, and it is still one of my favourite issues of the Seventies. It featured Doctor Fate, long a favourite from the JSA, drawn in bravura fashion by Walt Simonson and featuring a reconceptualisation of the character that formed the basis of his portrayal for decades to come, by Martin Pasko. It was also the Doc’s first full-length adventure.
It’s still a real dynamite story, with fun-filled and fast-paced art from Simonson, but it’s significance is as the foundation of the modern-day Fate. Pasko entwined the Doctor’s abilities with the Egyptian gods and magic, fitting for Kent Nelson’s origins, and also introduced the notion that Kent Nelson and Doctor Fate were separate entities, with the later possessing the former’s body when he donned the helmet. Pasko also followed through on the logic of Inza Nelson, loving Kent, having difficulties with the unconnected Doc and what he did to her husband.
So much achieved in just one seventeen page story. A much treasured comic.
Next up, in issue 10, were the Outsiders. No, not Batman’s renegade team nor any forerunner of them, but an horrendous and inept bodge that purported to send a message of tolerance and respect for anyone who looked different, but which was buried under deliberately rancid and exaggerated art. This was another Joe Simon idea and it’s hard to know how to describe it without defamatory words. The Outsiders were a team of literal, and deliberate freaks, designed to be as repulsive as possible, and the story wasn’t a story but a circular confusion whose last page led you back to its first page so that it disappeared up its own… tail. Pass on, rapidly.
In contrast, Codename: the Assassin failed for a much more ordinary reason, terminal dullness. A Gerry Conway creation, with co-scripting by Steve Skeates, The Assassin was intended as an ongoing series, and had been billed as such in a house ad concerning titles coming from Conway’s little editorial stable. It’s a rip-off of Conway’s Punisher, with added telekinetic powers, and like Kirby’s Manhunter it’s half a story, ending on a cliffhanger with The Assassin about to fight two equally cliched supervillains.
Artwise, the style is horribly confused. Infantino designed the Assassin’s costume but it’s far from his better work. For economies’ sake, the art was given to Nestor Redondo in the Philippines, because he had never done superhero work before but, because he had never done superhero work before, it was handed to Al Milgrom to ink, and his heavy-handed style obliterates any trace of Redondo and makes the whole thing just look downright ugly.
In many ways, the penultimate issue, featuring a new Starman, again by Gerry Conway, sums up First Issue Special. Yet again it’s a cliffhanger, and yet again there was never any intention of resolving it. It’s Conway’s comments that I’ve relied upon in characterising this series as I did: he has been quoted as quoting Infantino soliciting ideas for next month’s First Issue Special, and complaining about how any even borderline-decent character could be created in such circumstances: barely any notice and as cannon-fodder.
Conway clearly didn’t put much effort into Starman. Allegedly, he was impressed by some mid-Sixties appearances of the Ted Knight version without, at the time, connecting him to the Golden Age version for which he had little but disdain. But then sloppiness and lazy plotting has been a hallmark of Conway’s superhero work since way back. This Starman is, naturally, the Mikaal Tomas version picked up and made into a much more viable character by James Robinson, to Conway’s latterday amusement, and general inability to understand why anyone should want to bother with a throwaway idea like that. That rather epitomises Conway for me.
And he was there again for the last of the series, Return of the New Gods. It was the first time anyone had tackled Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters since their various series had been cancelled and neither Conway nor artists Mike Vosburg were up to it. Conway introduced a new, conventional superhero costume for Orion and converted the series into a standard slam-bang attack by Orion, out to kill Darkseid. He over-egged the pudding by chucking in practically everyone, whether they did anything or not, and ended it with a stalemate. At least the story was complete.
Conway hoped for a series, which he got a year later, once Jeanette Kahn had taken over as Publisher. Afterwards, he regretted that the finale he produced – killing off Darkseid – was inadequate (didn’t stop him doing it again and again) without recognising that his determination to press the New Gods into a superhero mould was inadequate to start with.
But there it was. Issue 14 was to have featured the first full-length Green Arrow/Black Canary story but that, and any others ready to appear – of which I doubt there were any – would be distributed around their own series and back-ups: I cannot recall seeing the GA/BC story then or after, so who knows?
So that was First Issue Special. It had some bright spots and, on the age old principle that there is no such thing as a bad character (except for the Outsiders. And the Dingbats), some of the characters created as Infantino’s folly went on to better things in other people’s hands. Me, I forgive it all for Marty Pasko and Walt Simonson’s Doctor Fate which, in my opinion, justified the whole blinking lot of it!

1st starman

Retroactive Fandom: The Starman Dynasty

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

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

Starman 1

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

Starman 3

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

Starman 4

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

Starman 5

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

Starman 6

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

Starman 7

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

Starman 8

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


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

Breaching the Vibrational Barrier: 1984

Justice League of America 231, “Family Crisis”/Justice League of America 232 “Family Crisis – Part 2”. Written by Kurt Busiek, art by Alan Kupperberg, edited by Alan Gold.

An unknown narrator is viewing Earth-1 from another dimension. Someone called The Champion, who is from this Earth, is resisting him, drawing upon images of the Justice League. The narrator reviews the whereabouts of those who are elsewhere, Green Lantern, The Phantom Stranger, The Atom. He draws from them the image of the Satellite but sees the other members leaving it hurriedly to face some battle. Four other figures arrive: Superman, Wonder Woman, Supergirl and The Flash: the last two are not even members.
This quartet has been summoned by The Flash. The jury in his trial for the murder of the Reverse-Flash is assembling, he can’t become Barry Allen, he just needs someone sympathetic to talk to. But their talk is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of three people, strangers, civilians, who need their help.
Their arrival prompts the narrator to attack the JLA but before he can do so, the newcomers teleport the heroes off the satellite, directly to Earth-2, where the Justice Society of America are in battle with a bunch of winged monkeys. They are the narrator’s battle force, diverted here by The Champion. Whilst a policeman explains parallel worlds to a boy spectator and the narrator explains who is who, the battle rages.
Finally the monkeys are pulled to to be replaced by the head of the narrator, a bearded man who demands Earth-2’s absolute surrender. He is known to the three strangers, who argue about whether he’s flipped or not, until they’re interrupted by Superman demanding an explanation. The strangers are brother and sister Ian and Victoria Champion with their red-headed aunt, Meredith. They are the family of theoretical physicist Dr Joshua Champion, who disappeared into thin air three months ago. Earlier today, he appeared to them ethereally, talking wildly of power he’d discovered, that he was sharing with his blood-line, but simultaneously advising them they have to fight back.
Ian’s convinced their Dad is crazy, Victoria believes in him implicitly and Meredith is on the sidelines. But individually or collectively, they seem to be able to trace him with their feelings, though they were diverted to the JLA satellite, then here.
The teams split up, Superman, The Flash, Starman and Dr Mid-Nite to go with Victoria and Meredith in pursuit of Dr Champion, whilst the cynical and alienated Ian stays on Earth-2, wanting nothing more to do with it, whilst Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Dr Fate and the Earth-2 Green Lantern hang back to foil the narrator’s next attack. Which Ian, being flip, identifies as being the Pentagon.
Meanwhile, Superman’s team reaches the only city on the planet they reach, a dome-covered city of seven billion noisy inhabitants. They enter its command post, home to a computer like being known as the Commander, the narrator thus far, who stops them with hallucinations of each person’s dream. Except, of course for Dr Mid-Nite, who is blind, and who saves the day. The heroes discover the unconscious Dr Champion strapped to an operating table and free him, only to find themselves facing the inhabitants of this Earth. With Vicky and Meredith’s powers, they teleport away.
The Commander gloats. On Earth-2 the combined magics of Dr Fate, Green Lantern’s Power Ring and Wonder Woman’s lasso have contained the monstrous attackers. But by transporting away, the other heroes, and the Champion family, have placed themselves under his hypnotic control.
End of Part One

Dr Fate disposes of their eldritch opposition in the nearest pentacle – under the Pentagon – much to the amusement of Supergirl, whilst Ian Champion starts to have doubts about his opposition to the ‘family-unity’ opinions of his kin. Meanwhile, on Earth-1, the Monitor synopsizes the first part for his assistant, Lyla.
Superman’s team returns and immediately attacks, again save for Dr Mid-Nite. The internal struggle of the other three heroes are killing them, accelerated by the resistance of Supergirl and Co, until Dr Mid-Nite throws three Blackout Bombs, one for each. Superman airlifts them out but only into Wonder Woman’s magic lasso, allowing her to order them into complete inertia, to concentrate upon their inner struggle.
But in the meantime, the Commander has taken full control of Dr Champion. Vicky uses her powers to try and retrieve her Dad, but they’re not enough, nor with Meredith added. Only when Ian stops acting like a snotty brat and joins in does it become a fair fight, but even when the five unoccupied heroes add their mental strength it’s going the wrong way until the balance is tipped by the three remaining, recovered heroes.
The Commander is ejected back to his own dimension, never to return… until he takes order the eldritch stuff Dr Fate hid under the Pentagon. This time it’s Dr Champion who has the battle plan, to use his family’s ability to move across dimensions to create a rift through which the superheroes can force him. But the Commander’s resistance is still too great until he is distracted by a return look-see from the Monitor.
Rather than be imprisoned in one reality, the Commander blows himself up. The explosion sends everyone careering helplessly through the Multiverse until they finally slow down near the Crime Syndicate’s Limbo prison, from where Superman steers them home to Earth-1, the four JSAers moving on under their own steam.
And, as school isn’t back until September, the Champions decide to go on a tour of all the dimensions…

The twenty-second and penultimate JLA/JSA team-up took place in the midst of great change, change that diminished the whole event. The two-parter is a fill-in, occupying a two-month bridge between the last Justice League story and the first of the new phase demanded by writer Gerry Conway, the soon-to-be-derided Justice League Detroit.
Conway was unhappy that, in the new DC-has-continuity era, so many of his plots were having to be altered to accommodate what was going on in ‘his’ characters’ own series. Green Lantern is sent into space by the Guardians for one year: not available. The Atom’s turned into a permanent six inch barbarian in the South American jungles: not available. The Flash is out on trial for murder: not available.
So Conway demanded, and got, a Justice League team consisting of characters over which he had complete control. The conditions for this were set up in his last old League story, an invasion from Mars that brought back J’Onn J’Onzz, and picked up on in the forthcoming issue 233 with a new Justice League.
But a JSA team-up was due, and something had to be done. So a junior writer and a semi-cartoonist artist were brought in to create a story that could not have the remotest relation to anything else, without using any of the characters Conway had picked out for his Martian Invasion story. I thought then, and think now, that if you had to farm out the annual team-up to fill-in creators, then it wasn’t worth doing any more. I didn’t know then that was was exactly what DC intended, once the Monitor stopped his endless round of cameos and got serious with Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Given the limited options at hand, Busiek did well to find as many as two actual JLA members, and had to resort to making up the numbers to a quorum by dropping in The Flash – under suspension since his admitted killing of The Reverse-Flash – and Supergirl, not then nor ever a member on account of both Superman and her own ultra-feminist ideals. With only four to play with on the Earth-1 side, Busiek could then only use for JSA members, amongst whom was the near-ubiquitous Dr Fate.
Busiek and Kupperberg’s work is an odd mixture of the simplistic and the overfussy. The would-be conqueror from another dimension was an unbearably trite concept, and both the Commander himself and Dr Russell Champion were standard cut characters, neither of whom were helped by Kupperberg’s cartoonist tendencies. On the other hand, the various stages of the plot were not well served by writer and artist’s tendencies to go into unneeded details. And the idea that Superman, with his x-ray vision, could be conned into flying into Wonder Woman’s magic lasso was a flub of major proportions.
In the end, a lot of the story stood and fell on the Champion family. Vicky, who looked to be aged about 12, was a stock character from a Lone Pine book, the daughter who believes absolutely in her wonderful father. Her brother Ian, who looked to be about 18 in his leather jacket but who was still at school, was the designated spoilt brat, resisting agreeing with his family at any point until he does, and how he could judge distances with his hair permanently brushed over his right eye is anybody’s guess.
Meredith, the Aunt, was given no room to become a person. She was drawn as a nice-looking but far from spectacular redhead whose age was indicated mostly by her knee-length skirt and knee-length boots, and given how old Dr Champion looked, with his luxuriant grey hair and grey beard, even if you made her somewhere around thirty, she had to be at least twenty years younger than her brother. The one panel in which she was given an individual moment suggested she was unmarried, her ambitions small, friends, children, a lover she can rely on.
The odd things was that, both then and now I liked her, and not just for the red hair. She felt more real than most comic book characters, even in the very sketchy outline that was all she was allowed to become.
So, rather than a story in the grand old tradition, this was a story on the outside of tradition. Knowing what comes, it is very much a penultimate effort, of no significance. To the best of my knowledge, none of the Champion family ever appeared again. Then again, when you go off exploring the Multiverse just when it’s going tio cease being a Multiverse at all, perhaps there’s a logical explanation right there.
Nevertheless, with a bit of spit and baling wire, this team-up could have been re-written for the post-Multiverse, single Universe era.

Breaching the Vibrational Barrier: 1983

Justice League of America 219, “Crisis in the Thunderbolt Dimension (Part 1)”/Justice League of America 220 “The Doppelganger Effect”. Written by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway (219) and Roy Thomas (220), art by Chuck Patton (pencils), Romeo Tanghal (inks), edited by Len Wein.

A terrorist attack is foiled by the two Flashes, who have met up early in anticipation of this year’s get together. But as they approach the Justice League teleporter, they are attacked by Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt, silent and malevolent, who defeats them both, but injures the Earth-1 Flash so badly, his counterpart has to rush him to the Space Satellite for treatment.
On the Satellite, the party is in full swing. Power Girl, the Huntress, Starman and Hourman are already there, with Green Lantern, Zatanna, the Elongated Man and Firestorm, the last of whom is having a lousy time because Power Girl is ignoring him. When the Thunderbolt invades the Satellite, Firestorm gets cocky over impressing Kara, but becomes the first to fall as the ‘Bolt blasts the Earth-1 heroes.
For some reason, the Earth-2 characters are left unharmed. This includes JLAers Black Canary and Red Tornado, who were originally from Earth-2 of course. The rest of the Justice League seem to have been similarly attacked, and the Transmatter Device, the JSAers’ way back, has been destroyed.
Suddenly, three crisis centres appear, each attacked by supervillains from Earth-1 and Earth-2, the six members of the Crime Champions in 1963, though not identified as such. The JSAers split into teams to tackle them, but Starman takes Black Canary in pursuit of the ‘Bolt, into the Thunderbolt Dimension, where he waits for Johnny Thunder to call him.
On arrival, they are attacked and defeated by the ‘Bolt, under the command of Johnny Thunder, but this is the Earth-1 Thunder, from the 1965 team-up, now wearing a green costume with yellow lightning flashes. He is alone in this Dimension except for two dead bodies, preserved in a crystal case. They are Larry Lance and Black Canary.
End of Part One

The JSAers are about to divide the three missions between them when they are joined by Sargon the Sorceror, another Earth-2 born character who has moved to Earth-1: he joins Power Girl on her mission.
In the Thunderbolt Dimension, the boastful Thunder reveals he has Johnny captive but that Larry and the Canary were here when he arrived. Between them, the living Canary and the ‘Bolt relate the history of Dinah’s relationship with Johnny, and the circumstances of her replacing him in the Justice Society. This leads to the revelation that Larry and Dinah had a baby girl, who they named Dinah, and that baby Dinah was cursed by the Wizard with a sonic power, a ‘Canary Cry’, that so young a child could not control.
For everyone’s protection, baby Dinah was taken away, placed in the Thunderbolt Dimension to sleep and grow harmlessly. Then, off his own bat, the ‘Bolt caused everybody’s to remember the baby as having died.
Meanwhile, Flash and Hourman tackle Chronos and The Fiddler, Red Tornado and Huntress face off against The Icicle and Dr Alchemy, and Power Girl and Sargon battle The Wizard and Felix Faust. Despite squabbling amongst each other about who’s to be the leader, the villains defeat their opposition pairings.
However, Johnny has finally worked his gag free, and even as the ‘Bolt struggles to resist an order to kill Starman and Black Canary, Johnny sneaks up on Thunder and socks him. After that, the ‘Bolt cures the stricken Leaguers, who turn up at the villains’ sites to defeat them and free the JSAers.
That still leaves the mystery of the dead Black Canary, but Superman and The Spectre turn up to give Dinah the final revelation. As Superman was bearing Dinah Sr. away, she developed severe pains, a delayed reaction to the radiation that killed Larry. Wishing only to see her daughter’s grave in her final moment, Dinah Sr. found Dinah Jr. still alive and grown into the spitting image of her.
Wishing Dinah Jr. to have a life, Dinah Sr. had her memories transferred into her daughter (except for her memory of her daughter, and the full extent of her love for Larry), just before dying. And so Dinah Jr. finally knows her true history, and why she so quickly fell for Green Arrow.

It’s years since I broke off this series, unable to progress until the Graphic Novel Crisis on Multiple Earths Vol. 7 was published, but it never was. Only now, thanks to the purchase of a comprehensive JLA DVD-rom do I have the means to complete this series.
The twentieth anniversary team-up was the work of Roy Thomas, with regular JLA scripter and close friend Gerry Conway as co-writer on the first half, and using an idea proposed by New Teen Titans writer Marv Wolfman. The result is almost stereotypical Thomas work, being full of nostalgic elements and leading to a major continuity implant, or retcon as they had by then become to be known. You know that had to be Thomas’s main, if not only concern in the story.
Wolfman had addressed himself to the anomalous position of Black Canary, who had transferred from the Justice Society to the Justice League in 1969. At that time, the JSA were still heroes who had been active in the Forties and who had come out of a dozen years retirement in 1963. A year later, Denny O’Neill introduced the twenty year discrepancy theory, but in 1976, Paul Levitz firmly and permanently anchored the JSA to the Forties.
Black Canary was the last JSA member, first appearing in 1948, but even the most generous interpretation of her age would make her about 53 in 1983: a clearly untenable situation when set against her Peter Pan colleagues in the League, and especially her boyfriend, Green Arrow.
Wolfman’s idea was to make Black Canary into two people, mother (JSA) and daughter (JLA), by revealing that the Black Canary who arrived on Earth-1 possessed of her ‘Canary Cry’ was in fact the hitherto unrevealed daughter of the original Canary, cursed with said sonic powers as a baby and confined to limbo in the Thunderbolt’s Dimension ever since, forgotten by all. The dying elder Dinah wants her daughter to have the chance to live so has her memories implanted in the experience-less younger Dinah.
It’s a clever-convoluted solution with a simple understructure to it, and Wolfman could have made a decent story of it, but Thomas ruins it with over-elaboration. The rest of the story, including the return of the Earth-1 Johnny Thunder from the 1965 team-up, and the Crime Champions sextet from the 1963 original, is just overkill, designed to create a MacGuffin for the Black Canary revelation.
What is, in outline, a straightforward action story, capable of being fast-paced and lively, is instead stodgy and dull because of the sheer number of old comics Thomas references throughout this two-parter. There’s eleven of them, and nearly twice as many in the exposition-heavy second part, each one of them a stumbling block to the course of events.
And unbelievably, Thomas doesn’t even reference the Crime Champions as first being gathered in the 1963 team-up, which is the only continuity element that is strictly relevant. Nor does he telegraph the Starman/Black Canary partnership as having appeared in two issues of Brave & Bold.
With Crisis on Infinite Earths in development, this story would not last long. The mother-daughter aspect would be retained once Dinah and Dinah represented different generations rather than different worlds, but in a much more rational and natural fashion.
Otherwise, it’s noticeable that Thomas goes for a much nastier overall approach from the villains. Where once the Crime Champions were all doing each other a good turn, now they’re trying to outdo each other and being aggressive with it, whilst the Earth-1 Thunder may be smarter but he’s nastier with it (and his green with yellow flashes costume is idiotic), having now managed to overcome the Thunderbolt’s tabu against killing. Beastly stuff.
Frankly, the story clunks at every turn, mainly due to Thomas’s desire to tie everything into an old comic, but also because he simply cannot write simple any more, insisting on filling up every panel with unnecessary verbiage, bogging things down.
There may have been two more team-ups to come, but this is the last one to feature the ‘real’ Justice League, and it’s a poor one to go out on.
Needless to say, and thankfully so, this is not a story that could have been told in the post-Crisis Universe.

The Infinite Jukebox: Roxy Music’s ‘Virginia Plain’

Sometimes I feel like I was the only teenage boy in Britain in 1972 whose life and horizons weren’t transformed out of all recognition by David Bowie performing ‘Starman’ on Top of the Pops. I mean, I watched it, I saw it and I probably thought it was all a bit weird, but for some reason I seemed to lack the imagination to see this as something, well, transgressive.
Maybe it was because I usually tended to watch Top of the Pops on my own, or with just my little sister for company, if she could be bothered, because my mother would be sat in the Breakfast room having a cup of tea and a cigarette and talking to Uncle Arthur on his weekly visit to see that we were all alright, so I had no-one to react against it and define it for me as transgressive.
But, dammit, at times it feels a bit like being the only person in England who didn’t actually watch the 1966 World Cup Final. Why was it always me who missed out?
It didn’t help that I found ‘Starman’ to be such a dull song, with that acoustic hobblediness of its opening verse, meaning that by the time the chorus came along, with a bit of a tune to it, the song had gone on a bit too long for me; hopefully, the next song would be better.
So it was not ‘Starman’ that opened my ears in the great epiphany of 1972. My moment of strangeness and wonder came later that year, and it was called ‘Virginia Plain’ and it was by a band called Roxy Music.
‘Virginia Plain’ was full of strange sounds, both electronic and natural (the tweetering sound that capered and danced through it was an oboe, with which I was completely unfamiliar) and the orthodox bits, of which there didn’t seem to be any, were being played in a way I hadn’t heard before.
Take the intro. Was that an intro (even if you didn’t hear it more than once in any ten plays as Radio 1 DJs queued to talk all through it)? It didn’t feel like an intro, it didn’t bring you into the song, it had no suspicion of whatever melody we were about to get. It was just a deep, grumbling three-note pattern, more rhythmic than melodic in its change, over a low-mixed one-chord hammered piano. What was going on?
What was going on was a sudden swoosh of flair and melody, carried by a punchy beat and this weird, semi-crooning, semi-vibrato voice, shooting up and down the scale with virtually incomprehensible lyrics: incomprehensible over a battery-powered transistor radio, that is.
And it kept stopping to let the voice wind itself up into a corner.
This was a song that was in a hurry to get nowhere in particular, a woosh of sound, a frantic accumulation of lines I couldn’t make out, except for the ones where the band dropped out and left the singer to enunciate over a single instrument.
Which it did at the end when the title finally came out: what’s her name, Virginia Plain.
I was eager to see who this strange lot were on Top of the Pops and yes, they looked as weird as the song sounded, even after nearly two full years of glam rock, especially the guy in the feathery boa-like thing.
Funnily enough, much as I liked ‘Virginia Plain’ and its follow-up, the next year, ‘Pyjamarama’, I never developed a deep interest in Roxy Music per se. One of my mates was heavily into them and lent me the Seventies albums once, and there was stuff on them that I liked, but nothing like ‘Virginia Plain’, which opened my doors of perception without ever actually dragging me inside.
But it still took me much further than ‘Starman’. Different again.

A Spot of Adventure: The Bronze Age – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Spot of Adventure: The Golden Age

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.

No, seriously…

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.

Superboy as drawn then

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.

Yellow gauntlets

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.

The Green Arrow: never on Adventure’s cover

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.

A Snowflake of Continuity

It’s been snowing most of the morning, to add to a good base layer established overnight. Thick, soft whispering, idling flakes, drfting down without wind, showing chicken feathers (thank you for that image, Stephanie). I’ve yet to go out in it, but I’ve already drifted in my mind to past displays.

It’s the snows of childhood, of a depth a texture that always takes me back to Nottingham, and 1978/9, the Winter of Discontent. I remember a similar scene, when I lived at Woodborough Court, on Woodborough Road, halfway up what was practically Nottingham’s only hill, leading to Mapperley Plains. Looking out the window at the peaceful silence and calling it the snows of childhood then (and I a tender 23 years old, and young for my years).

When I was a child it snowed every year, and it snowed properly, storybook white and thick, even in the back-street terraces of East Manchester. And despite the industry all around, it never got dirty or slushy, and Dad would push me around on my toboggan, in search of a slope to slide down, like the Swallows and Amazons in Winter Holiday, or the Famous Five in whichever book they had snow. When I was a child it snowed, and we loved it, because we were unaware of the hazards, the difficulties it could cause.

That Saturday on Woodborough Road took me back. It snowed on: I remember the exact sound of the flakes whispering on my umbrella as I tramped down to the newsagents for my newspaper. But though it soon got dirty enough in the streets of the City Centre, the snow stayed snowed for weeks. I went home for Xmas, but had to struggle back by train on New Year’s Day, met with surprise at the office the next day by my boss who didn’t expect me: travel was so bad round the country, he assumed I’d still be stuck in Manchester.

United were playing away to Forest in mid-January, and my mate Glyn had got me a ticket in the United end, with the travelling Red Army. I was concerned about after the match, visions of the Police escorting the United fans to the station and forcing us all onto trains, ignoring my pleas that I lived in Nottingham! But it snowed again, and the match was called off – at Thursday lunchtime, over 48 hours before kick-off. (And when it was finally played, at Easter, I was on holiday in Manchester for the week!).

I remember one midweek day of serious blizzards, snow furiously sweeping, high winds driving it everywhere. The bosses took the decision, and it wasannounced over the tannoy at 12.30pm that the office would shut at 3.30pm, but that any member of staff who believed they needed extra time to travel home could leave when they thought best. One woman was out of there immediately, though she did live in a rural area outside the city. Sharon and I, who lived almost opposite each other, had no excuse to depart any earlier. When we got out, with the snow still pouring down, we decided not to chance the bus, not going up Woodborough Road, and we tramped home up the hill. The wind blew the snow steadily in our faces, and I chivalrously did the Wenceslas bit, walking a couple of paces in front of her, shielding her from the worst of the weather.

It’s peaceful and calm outside now, and tempting to while away a day off inside. I’m certainly not going to struggle to the launderette with a bin-liner of dirty clothes, not in conditions like these, but I have to go out, to the main road: repeat prescription to collect, food shopping to tip up. The scrunch of snow compressing underfoot will immediately take me back to that long ago winter.

Snow has a continuity of memory: we skip from snow times to snow times, free from the intervening years and months. 1976 will always be remembered as the Year of the Great Drought, but it had other extremes of weather as well, as it wore on, or at least in the North West: impossibly thick fog in November, forcing the abandonment of the meal I had planned to celebrate my 21st birthday, and thick snow the next month. Glyn and I were at Law College near Chester, driving in every day for six months, and I vividly recall giving a classmate a lift home to an isolated college, slowly forcing his car down snow-choked tracks, with the risk of being rendered immovable.

My firm’s Xmas Dinner in 1982, the last Xmas I was with that lot: running the ladies from my branch office hither and thither on flat, white, sometimes glassy snow, the car’s wheels spinning in place, but we made it to everywhere that we needed to get and I ended up running sweet Roshan home miles out of my way (straightfacedly lying that it was on my route), and getting the Xmas kiss I’d been hoping for (two in fact). Poor Roshan, ended by cancer less than three years later, such a loss.

Then there was the Friday lunchtime I nipped into Manchester for half an hour and took over two and a half hours to get back. I worked in Prestwich, Partner in name only, miserably loathing my job and counting off the days of my contract like any prisoner in Strangeways ticking down their sentence. The City Centre was fifteen minutes away by car, and several times a week, various combinations of us would race off for half an hour well away from the office.

On Fridays, I’d head for the comics shop, Space Odyssey’s branch in the old Corn Exchange, for my week’s titles. I set off in cold, overcast conditions, alone for once, picked up Starman 5, the only title out that week, and returned to the car, astonished to find that in the quarter hour I’d been in the basement shop, the snow had begun to come down hard. Cars were already queuing onto Bury New Road. Within minutes, we were at a virtual standstill.

I let the engine run. I read my comic, several times. We’d inch forward with paralysing slowness. There were no side-streets to turn into, no alternate approaches to try, and this was before I had a mobile phone to alert the office where I was. Though I’m pretty sure they’d guessed.

It was unbelievable how rapidly this had happened. When I did get the chance to turn off, try to circle round, I found it fruitless. Roads were thick-packed, traffic not even fast enough to be crawling. It took me over ninety minutes to find a call box and ring in, and another half hour plus on top to get close enough to Sedgley Park to park and walk. Had I not had my briefcase in the office, with things I wanted, and this Friday, I’d have just gone home instead. And once I did make it, I collected my things, turned round and left, straight into conditions that were easing sufficiently that I got home in less than twice as long as I normally would.

The Lake District looks brilliant in snow, not that I’ve seen it so that often, and I’ve walked in it even less. One holiday, at an Easter of a late snow year, tramping to the top of Lord’s Seat from the Aiken Beck plantations, then coming within a hundred foot of the summit of Pavey Ark, via the North Rake, before demonstrating good sense and turning back. Snow and fellwalking and me don’t realy mix.

Snow times share the same continuity. I’m going to be sure to carry plenty to keep me occupied on busses that may be as slow moving as the Starman 5 day (and good grief, that was twenty years ago now!). Once more into the scrunch, dear friends, once more into childhood and the memories that wallow.