All Star Comics Archives volume 0


By Gardner Fox, Jerry Siegel, Ken Fitch, Bill Finger, John B. Wentworth, Sheldon Moldoff, Sheldon Mayer, Albert & Joseph Sulman, Creig Flessel, Jon L. Blummer, Martin Nodell, E.E. Hibbard, Chad Grothkopf, Stan Aschmeier, Bernard Baily, Howard Purcell, William Smith & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0791-X

I will never stop saying it: the creation of the Justice Society of America in 1941 utterly changed the shape of the budding comicbook industry. However before that team of All-Stars could unite they had to become popular enough to qualify, and this slim yet superb hardcover sampler gathers a selection of individual exploits featuring many of the soon-to-be beloved champions who would populate the original big team and guarantee their immortality long after the Golden Age of American Comics ended.

Following the runaway successes of Superman and Batman, both National Comics and its wholly separate-but-equal publishing partner All-American Comics were looking for the next big thing in funnybooks whilst frantically concentrating on getting anthology packages into the hands of the hungry readership. Thus All Star Comics: conceived as a joint venture to give the characters already in their stables an extra push towards winning an elusive but lucrative solo title.

As scrupulously detailed in Roy Thomas’s history-packed Foreword, characters from Flash Comics, Adventure Comics, More Fun Comics and All-American Comics were bundled into the new quarterly and ‘A Message from the Editors’ asked readers to vote on the most popular, even offering copies of forthcoming issues as prizes/bribes for participating…

The merits of the project would never be proved: rather than a runaway favourite graduating to their own starring vehicle, something different evolved. With the third issue, prolific scripter Gardner Fox apparently had the smart idea of linking the solo stories through a framing sequence as the heroes got together for dinner and a chat about their most recent cases.

With the simple idea that Mystery Men hung around together, history was made and from #4 the heroes would regularly unite to battle a shared foe…

This slim sublime hardcover tome collects the stories from the first two All Star Comics (cover-dated Summer and Fall 1940) and opens with a tale of a fantastic winged warrior…

Although perhaps one of DC’s most resilient and certainly their most visually iconic character, iterations of Hawkman have always struggled to find enough of an audience to sustain a solo title.

From his beginnings as one of the B-features in Flash Comics, Carter Hall has shone through assorted engaging, exciting but always short-lived reconfigurations. Over decades from ancient hero to re-imagined alien space-cop and post-Crisis on Infinite Earths freedom fighter, or the seemingly desperate but highly readable mashing together of all previous iterations into the reincarnating immortal berserker-warrior of today, the Pinioned Paladin has performed exemplary service without ever really making it to the big time.

Created by Gardner Fox & Dennis Neville, he premiered in Flash Comics #1 (January 1940) and stayed there, growing in quality and prestige until the title died, with the most celebrated artists to have drawn the Winged Wonder being Sheldon Moldoff and Joe Kubert, whilst a young Robert Kanigher was justly proud of his later run as writer.

Together with his partner Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman, the gladiatorial mystery-man countered uncanny and fantastic arcane threats, battled modern crime and opposed tyranny with weapons of the past for over a decade before vanishing with the bulk of costumed heroes as the 1950s began.

His last appearance was in All Star Comics #57 (1951) as leader of the Justice Society of America, before the husband-and-wife hellions were revived and re-imagined nine years later as Katar Hol and Shayera Thal of planet Thanagar by Julie Schwartz’s crack creative team Gardner Fox, Joe Kubert & Murphy Anderson…

Their long career, numerous revamps and perpetual retcons ended during the 1994 Zero Hour crisis, but they’ve reincarnated and returned a couple of times since then too…

Here Fox & Sheldon Moldoff offered the eldritch saga of ‘Sorcerer Trygg’ wherein the still-bachelor hero travelled to the mountains of Wales to crush a callous capitalist making zombies to work the mines he had stolen from his nephew and niece…

The Sandman premiered in either Adventure Comics #40 July 1939 (two months after Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27) or two weeks earlier in New York World’s Fair Comics 1939, depending on which distribution records you choose to believe. He was originated by and illustrated by multi-talented all-rounder Bert Christman – with the assistance of young scripting star Gardner Fox.

Head utterly obscured by a gas-mask and slouch hat; caped, business-suited millionaire adventurer Wesley Dodds was cut from the radio drama/pulp fiction mystery-man mould that had made The Shadow, Green Hornet, Black Bat and so many more household names and monster hits of early mass-entertainment and periodical publication.

Wielding a sleeping-gas gun and haunting the night to hunt killers, crooks and spies, he was eventually joined and accompanied by plucky paramour Dian Belmont, before gradually losing the readers’ interest.

His fortunes were revitalised when Joe Simon & Jack Kirby took over the feature, but here in his salad days Fox & Chad Grothkopf spectacularly pitted him against ‘The Twin Thieves’ baffling and bamboozling the hapless cops with their murderous jewel capers…

Gary Concord, the Ultra-Man premiered in All-American Comics #8 November 1939, the son of a 20th century scientist who had awoken from a suspended animation sleep in 2174AD with incredible physical abilities.

His son inherited his attributes and became the guardian of a troubled future and official “High Moderator of the United States of North America”.

Created by Jon L. Blummer – working as “Don Shelby” – the Buck Rogers-inspired serial ran until issue #19 and is represented here with the then-topical treat ‘The European War of 2240’ wherein a conflict orchestrated in a foreign zone allowed a scurrilous third party nation to attempt seizing control of neutral America’s Uranium mines. Naturally the bombastic Ultra-Man quickly scotched the scheme and restored peace and prosperity to the world…

Devised, created and written by Gardner Fox and first drawn by Harry Lampert, Jay Garrick debuted as the very first Monarch of Motion in Flash Comics #1 and quickly – how else? – became a veritable sensation. He was the first AA character to win a solo title, mere months after All-Star Comics #3 hit the newsstands.

The Fastest Man Alive wowed readers in anthologies Flash Comics, Comics Cavalcade and All Star as well as All-Flash Quarterly for just over a decade before changing tastes benched him and most other Mystery Man heroes in the early1950s.

His invention as a strictly single-power superhero created a new trend in the burgeoning action-adventure funnybook marketplace, and his particular riff was replicated many times at various companies where myriad Fast Furies sprang up.

Then after over half a decade of mostly interchangeable cops, cowboys and cosmic invaders, the concept of human rockets and superheroes in general was spectacularly revived in 1956 by Julie Schwartz in Showcase #4 when police scientist Barry Allen became the second hero to run with the concept. It’s been non-stop ever since …

Here Garrick speedily solves ‘The Murder of Widow Jones’ (by Fox and signature illustrator Everett E. Hibbard) in the time it took the cops to simply report that a crime has been committed…

The Spectre is one of the oldest characters in DC’s vast stable of characters, created by Jerry Siegel & Bernard Baily in 1940 and debuting with a 2-part origin epic in More Fun Comics #52-53.

For a few years the Ghostly Guardian reigned supreme in the title with flamboyant and eerily eccentric supernatural thrillers, but gradually he slipped from popularity as firstly Dr. Fate and successively Johnny Quick, Aquaman, Green Arrow and finally Superboy turned up to steal the show. By the time of his last appearance the Spectre had been reduced to a foil for his own comedic sidekick Percival Popp, the Super-Cop

The Ghostly Guardian was Jim Corrigan, a hard-bitten police detective who was about to marry rich heiress Clarice Winston when they were abducted by mobster Gat Benson. Stuffed into a barrel of cement and pitched off a pier, Corrigan died and went to his eternal reward. Almost…

Rather than finding Paradise and peace, Corrigan’s spirit was accosted by a glowing light and disembodied voice which, over his strident protests, ordered him to return to Earth to fight crime and evil until all vestiges of them were gone…

Just like Siegel’s other iconic creation, the Dark Man suffered from a basic design flaw: he was just too darn powerful. Unlike the vigorously vital and earthy early Superman, however, the arcane agent of justice was already dead, so he couldn’t be logically or dramatically be imperilled.

Of course in those far-off early days that wasn’t nearly as important as sheer spectacle: grabbing the reader’s utter attention and keeping it stoked to a fantastic fever pitch. This the Grim Ghost could do with ease and always-increasing intensity.

In ‘The Tenement Fires’ Siegel & Baily pulled out all the stops for a sinister struggle against merciless arsonists and the Ethereal Avenger recruited the recently murdered victims to help dispense final judgement…

Although we think of the Golden Age as a superhero wonderland, the true guiding principle was variety. Almost every comicbook alsooffered a range of genre features from slapstick comedy to prose thrillers to he-man adventure on its four-colour pages, and More Fun Comics had its fair share of straight adventurers like freelance troubleshooter Biff Bronson, who debuted in #43 (May 1939) with sidekick Dan Druff for a near 30-issue run thrashing thugs, crushing crooks and exposing espionage. He last appeared in #67.

Here the special agent exposes scurvy spy ‘The Great Remembo’ in a smart thriller deftly detailed by brothers Albert & Joseph Sulman.

At this time all comicbooks also featured a prose story, and in All Star #1 Publisher Max Gaines’ niece Evelyn contributed a fanciful science fiction romp entitled ‘Exile to Jupiter’ that wasn’t up to much but was graced with illustrations by the wonderful Sheldon Mayer.

The comics sagas resumed with The Hour-Man stepping in to combat ‘The Forest Fires’ in a moody drama by Ken Fitch & Bernard Baily. He had started strongly in Adventure Comics #48 (March 1940) but slowly ran down until he faded away in #83, February 1943.

Tick-Tock Tyler, the Hour-Man” began by offering his unique services through classified ads to any person in need. Chemist Rex Tyler had invented a drug he called Miraclo which super-energised him for 60 minutes at a time and here he helped beleaguered loggers enduring sabotage and murder…

The first issue closed with long-lived and much loved light-hearted military strip Red, White and Blue by Jerry Siegel & William Smith.

Marine Sergeant Red Dugan, Whitey Smith of the US Army and naval Rating Blooey Blue were good friends who frequently worked for military intelligence service G-2 whilst saving trouble magnet Doris West from her own dangerously inquisitive nature…

The series began with All-American Comics #1 April 1939 and ran there and in sundry other titles such as World’s Finest Comics until 1946, with the trio turning up all over the world solving the USA’s problems.

Here they found themselves despatched to Alaska to find a missing G-2 agent, only to discover Doris already there exposing a slow infiltration by sneaky Asiatics of an ostensibly neutral nation in ‘The Volcano Invasion’

All Star Comics #2 immediately follows with Hawkman (by Fox & Moldoff) fighting an Aztec cult in America and the jungles of Mexico, desperately seeking to rescue the latest kidnapped ‘Sacrifice for Yum-Chac’

Green Lantern then debuted in ‘The Robot Men’ by Bill Finger & Martin Nodell. Technically the Emerald Gladiator was first seen All-American Comics #16 (July 1940 and practically simultaneously with this All Star appearance), devised by up-and-coming cartoonist Nodell and fully fleshed out by Finger in the same way he had contributed to the success of Batman.

Green Lantern was a sensation, becoming AA’s second smash hit six months after The Flash and preceding by 18 months the unprecedented success of the Amazing Amazon Wonder Woman.

Engineer Alan Scott survived the sabotage and destruction of a passenger-packed train due only to the intervention of a battered old railway lantern. Bathed in its eerie verdant glow, he was regaled by a mysterious green voice with the legend of how a meteor fell in ancient China and spoke to the people: predicting Death, Life and Power.

Instructing Scott to fashion a ring from its metal and draw a charge of power from the lantern every 24 hours, the ancient artefact urged the engineer to use his formidable willpower to end all evil – a mission Scott eagerly embraced…

The ring made him immune to all minerals and metals, and enabled him to fly and pass through solid matter amongst many other miracles, but was powerless against certain organic materials such as wood or rubber which could penetrate his jade defences and cause him mortal harm…

He won his own solo-starring title within a year of his premiere and feature-starred in many anthologies such as Comics Cavalcade for just over a decade, before he too faded away in the early1950s, having first suffered the humiliating fate of being edged out of his own comicbook by his pet, Streak the Wonder Dog

In this issue however he was at his mightiest and most impressive, battling a nationwide invasion of men turned into shambling monster slaves by an enemy spy…

Siegel & Baily then exposed The Spectre to ‘The Curse of Kulak’ wherein an antediluvian sorcerer returned to punish mankind for desecrating his tomb by inundating the world with a plague of murderous hatred…

The Sandman’s second stint featured a spooky science thriller by Fox & Creig Flessel as the Man of Mystery tracked down a killer using a deadly radioactive weapon – ‘The Glowing Globe’ – to terrorise and rob.

Siegel & William Smith’s ‘Invisible Ink Gas’ pitted Red, White and Blue against spies with a diabolical scheme for stealing Army documents whilst Johnny Thunderbolt’s All Star debut added even more light-hearted shenanigans to the mix when the imbecilic genie wielder became guardian of ‘The Darling Apartment’ (by John B. Wentworth & Stan Aschmeier).

Johnny Thunder – as he eventually became – was an honest, well-meaning, courageous soul who was also a grade “A” idiot. However, what he lacked in smarts he made up for with sheer luck, unfailing pluck and unconscious control of an irresistible magic force. The feature was always played for action-packed laughs but there was no getting away from it: Johnny was a simpleton in control of an ultimate weapon…

Decades before, the infant seventh son of a seventh son was abducted by priests from the mystic island of Badhnisia to be raised as the long-foretold controller of a fantastic magical weapon, all by voicing the eldritch command “Cei-U” – which sounds to western ears awfully like “say, you”…

Each month Johnny would look for gainful employment, stumble into a crime or crisis and his voluble temperament would result in an inexplicable unnatural phenomenon that would solve the problem but leave him no better off. It was a winning theme that lasted until 1947 – by which time the Force had resolved into a wisecracking thunderbolt-shaped genie – and Johnny was slowly ousted from his own strip by sultry new crimebuster Black Canary

For now though, back in America and seeking his fortune, he spent lots of time trying to impress his girlfriend Daisy Darling’s dad. In this exploit the irate property magnate was experiencing difficulties with a new building he was erecting and Johnny decided to tackle head on the mobsters holding up production…

After another Evelyn Gaines text vignette, ‘The Invisible Star’, Hour-Man battled murderous charlatan ‘Dr. Morte, Spiritualist’ by Fitch & Baily before the inimitable Flash closed out the stunning show in fine form by foiling thugs who had kidnapped an entire publishing company, becoming in the process ‘The One-Man Newspaper’ in a fast, furious and funny thriller from Fox & Hibbard.

Wit the entire Justice Society canon collected in eleven dedicated Archive Editions, this particularly impressive afterthought completes the resurrection of the rare and eccentric material which revolutionised comicbooks.

These early adventures might not be to every modern fan’s taste but they certainly stand as an impressive and joyous introduction to the fantastic worlds and exploits of the World’s First Superheroes.

If you have a love of the way things were and a hankering for simpler times remarkable for less complicated adventures, this is another glorious collection you’ll cherish forever…

© 1940, 2006 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

JSA All Star Archives volume 1


By John Wentworth, Ken Fitch, Bill O’Connor, Sheldon Mayer, Charles Reizenstein, Bill Finger, Stan Aschmeier, Bernard Baily, Ben Flinton & Leonard Sansone, Howard Purcell, Hal Sharp and Irwin Hasen (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1472-2

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – indisputably the Action Comics debut of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s history was the combination of individual sales-points into a group.

Thus what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was proven: consumers couldn’t get enough of garishly-hued mystery men and combining a multitude of characters inevitably increases readership. Plus, of course, a mob of superheroes is just so much cooler than one…or one-and-a-half if there’s a sidekick involved…

It cannot be understated: the creation of the Justice Society of America in 1941 utterly changed the shape of the budding industry. However before that team of all-stars could unite they had to become popular enough to qualify and this superb hardcover sampler gathers the debut adventures of a septet of beloved champions who never quite made it into the first rank but nonetheless scored enough to join the big team and maintain their own solo spots for much of the Golden Age of American Comics.

Whilst the most favoured of the 1940s stalwarts have all won their own DC Archive collections in the past, this particular tome bundles a bunch of lesser lights – or at least those who never found as much favour with modern fans and revivalists – and features the first five appearances of seven of the JSA’s secondary mystery men: all solid supporting acts in their own anthology homes who were potentially so much more…

Gathered here are short, sharp and stirring tales from Flash Comics #1-5, Adventure Comics #48-52, All-American Comics #19-29 and Sensation Comics #1-5 collectively spanning January 1940 to May 1942 and all preceded by Golden Age aficionado and advocate Roy Thomas’ sparkling, informative and appreciative Foreword.

The vintage vim and vigour begins with a character equally adored and reviled in modern times. Johnny Thunderbolt as he was originally dubbed was an honest, well-meaning, courageous soul who was also a grade “A” idiot. However, what he lacked in smarts he made up for with sheer luck, unfailing pluck and the unconscious (at least at first) control of an irresistible magic force.

The series was played for action-packed laughs but there was no getting away from it: Johnny was quite frankly, a simpleton in control of an ultimate weapon – an electric genie…

John Wentworth & Stan Aschmeier introduced the happy sap in ‘The Kidnapping of Johnny Thunder’ from the first monthly Flash Comics (#1, January 1940) in a fantastic origin which detailed how decades before, the infant seventh son of a seventh son was abducted by priests from the mystic island of Badhnisia to be raised as the long-foretold controller of a fantastic magical weapon, all by voicing the eldritch command “Cei-U” – which sounds to western ears awfully like “say, you”…

Ancient enemies on the neighbouring isle of Agolea started a war before the ceremonies and indoctrination could be completed however and at age seven the lad, through that incomprehensible luck, was returned to his parents to be raised in the relative normality of the Bronx.

Everything was fine until Johnny’s 17th birthday when the ancient rite finally came to fruition and amid bizarre weather conditions the Badhnisians intensified their search for their living weapon…

By the time they tracked him down he was working in a department store and had recently picked up the habit of expleting the phrase “say you” which generally resulted in something very strange happening. One example being a bunch of strange Asiatics attacking him and being blown away by a mysterious pink tornado…

The pattern was set. Each month Johnny would look for gainful employment, stumble into a crime or crisis and his voluble temperament would result in an inexplicable unnatural phenomenon that would solve the problem but leave him no better off. It was a winning theme that lasted until 1947 – by which time the Force had resolved into a wisecracking thunderbolt-shaped genie – and Johnny was slowly ousted from his own strip by sexy new crimebuster Black Canary

Flash Comics #2 featured ‘Johnny Becomes a Boxer’. After stepping in to save a girl from bullies, Daisy Darling became his girlfriend and he became the Heavyweight Champion, leading to his implausibly winning the fixed contest ‘Johnny versus Gunpowder Glantz’ in #3. Only now Daisy refused to marry a brute who lived by hitting others…

The solution came in ‘Johnny Law’ when kidnappers tried to abduct Daisy’s dad. Following his sound thrashing of the thugs Johnny then joined the FBI at his babe’s urging…

This tantalising taste of times past concludes with ‘G-Man Johnny’ (#5 May 1940) as the kid’s first case involves him in a bank raid which resulted in his own father being taken hostage…

Although he eventually joined the JSA, and despite the affable, good-hearted bumbling which carried him through the war, the peace-time changing fashions found no room for a hapless hero anymore and when he encountered a sultry masked female Robin Hood who stole from crooks, the writing was on the wall. Nevertheless the fortuitously imbecilic Johnny Thunder is fondly regarded by many modern fans and still has lots to say and a decidedly different way of saying it…

Hourman by Ken Fitch & Bernard Baily was a far more serious proposition and actually had his shot at stardom, beginning by supplanting The Sandman as cover feature on Adventure Comics #48 (March 1940). Here his exploits run through issue #52 (July) establishing the unique and gripping methodology which made him such a favourite of later, more sophisticated fans…

In an era where origins were never as important as action, mood and spectacle, ‘Presenting Tick-Tock Tyler, the Hour-Man’ begins with a strange classified ad offering aid and assistance to any person in need. Chemist Rex Tyler had invented “Miraclo” a drug which super-energised him for 60 minutes at a time and his first case saw him help a wife whose man was being dragged back into criminal endeavours by poverty and bad friends…

‘The Disappearance of Dr. Drew’ found him locating a missing scientist kidnapped by thugs whilst ‘The Dark Horse’ saw the Man of the Hour crush a crooked and murderous bookie who had swiped both horse and owner before a key race.

Mad science and a crazy doctor employing ‘The Wax-Double Killers’ then added a spooky component of scary thrills and super-villain cachet for the timely hero to handle, whilst ‘The Counterfeit Hour-Man’ – which concludes the offerings here – saw our hero again battling Dr. Snegg in a scurrilous scheme to frame the hooded hero.

Hourman always looked great and his adventures developed into a tight and compulsive feature, but he never really caught on and faded out at the beginning of 1943 (#83). Perhaps all the current the buzz over the forthcoming TV series can revive his fortunes and finally make him a star in his own right…

Our next second string star is Calvin College student Al Pratt, a diminutive but determined lad who got fed up with being bullied by jocks and became a pint-sized, two-fisted mystery man ready for anything.

The Mighty Atom was created by writer Bill O’Connor and rendered by Ben Flinton & Leonard Sansone, beginning in All-American Comics #19. He was one of the longest lasting of the Golden Age greats, transferring from All-American to Flash Comics in February 1947 and sporadically appearing until the last issue (Flash #104, February 1949). He was last seen in the final JSA tale in All Star Comics#57 in 1951.

The tales here span #19-23 (October 1940-February 1941) and begin by ‘Introducing the Mighty Atom’ as the bullied scholar hooks up with down-and-out trainer Joe Morgan whose radical methods soon have the kid in the very peak of physical condition and well able to take care of himself.

However, when Al’s intended girlfriend Mary is kidnapped the lad eschews fame and potential sporting fortune to bust her loose and decides on a new extra-curricular activity…

He fashioned a costume for his second exploit, going into ‘Action at the College Ball’ to foil a hold-up and then tackled ‘The Monsters from the Mine’ who were enslaved by a scientific mania intent on conquest. The college environment offered many plot opportunities and in ‘Truckers War’ the Atom crushed a gang of hijackers who had bankrupted a fellow student and football star’s father. This snippet of atomic episodes concludes here with ‘Joe’s Appointment’ as the trainer was framed for spying by enemy agents and need a little atomic aid…

Although we think of the Golden Age as a superhero wonderland, the true watchword was variety and flagship anthology All-American Comics offered everything from slapstick comedy to aviation adventure on its four-colour pages.

One of the very best humour strips featured the semi-autobiographical exploits of Scribbly Jibbet, a boy who wanted to draw. Created by genuine comics wonder boy Sheldon Mayer, Scribbly: Midget Cartoonist debuted in the first issue (April 1939) and soon built a sterling rep for himself beside star reprint features like Mutt and Jeff and all-new adventure serial Hop Harrigan, Ace of the Airways.

However the fashions of the time soon demanded a humorous look at mystery men and in #20 (November 1940) Mayer’s long-term comedy feature evolved into a delicious spoof of the trend as Scribbly’s formidable landlady Ma Hunkel decided to do something about crime in her neighbourhood by dressing up as a husky male hero.

‘The Coming of the Red Tornado’ saw her don cape, woollen long-johns and a saucepan for a mask/helmet to crush gangster/kidnapper Tubb Torponi. The mobster had made the mistake of snatching her terrible nipper Sisty and Scribbly’s little brother Dinky (they would later become her masked sidekicks) and Ma was determined to see justice done…

An ongoing serial rather than specific episodes, the dramedy concluded in ‘The Red Tornado to the Rescue’ with the irate, inept cops then deciding to pursue the mysterious new vigilante but the ‘Search for the Red Tornado’ only made them look more stupid.

With the scene set for outrageous parody ‘The Red Tornado Goes Ape’ pitted the parochial masked manhunter against a zoo full of critters before this superb selection ends with ‘Neither Man nor Mouse’ (All-American Comics #24) as the hero apparently retires and crime returns… until Dinky and Sisty become the Cyclone Kids

A far more serious and sustainable contender debuted in the next issue, joining a growing host of grim masked avengers.

‘Dr. Mid-Nite: How He Began’ by Charles Reizenstein & Aschmeier (All-American Comics #25, April 1941) revealed how surgeon Charles McNider was blinded by criminals but subsequently discovered he could see perfectly in the dark. The maimed physician became an outspoken criminologist but also devised blackout bombs and other night paraphernalia to wage secret war on gangsters from the darkness, aided only by his new pet owl Hooty

After catching his own assailant he then smashed river pirates protected by corrupt politicians in ‘The Waterfront Mystery’ and then rescued innocent men blackmailed into serving criminals’ sentences in jail in ‘Prisoners by Choice’ (#27 and guest illustrated by Howard Purcell).

With Aschmeier’s return Mid-Nite crushed aerial wreckers using ‘The Mysterious Beacon’ to down bullion planes and then smashed ‘The Menace of King Cobra’, a secret society leader lording it over copper mine workers…

The Master of Darkness also lasted until the end of the era and appeared in that last JSA story and, since his Sixties return has been one of the most resilient characters in DC’s pantheon of Golden Age revivals, but the next nearly-star was an almost forgotten man for decades…

When Sensation Comics launched in January 1942 all eyes were rightly glued to the uniquely eye-catching Wonder Woman who hogged all the covers and unleashed a wealth of unconventional adventures every month. However like all anthologies of the time her exploits were carefully balanced by a selection of other features.

Sensation #1-5 (January to May 1942) also featured a pugnacious fighter who was the quintessence of manly prowess and a quiet, sedate fellow problem solver who was literally a master of all trades.

Crafted by Charles Reizenstein & Hal Sharp ‘Who is Mr. Terrific?’ introduced Terry Sloane, a physical and mental prodigy who so excelled at everything he touched that by the time of the opening tale he was so bored that he was planning his own suicide.

Happily, on the bridge he found Wanda Wilson, a girl with the same idea and by saving her found a purpose: crushing the kinds of criminals who had driven her to such despair…

Actively seeking out villainy of every sort he performed ‘The One-Man Benefit Show’ after thugs sabotaged all the performers, travelled to the republic of Santa Flora to expose ‘The Phony Presidente’ and helped a rookie cop pinch an “untouchable” gang boss in ‘Dapper Joe’s Comeuppance’.

His final appearance here finds him at his very best carefully rooting out political corruption and exposing ‘The Two Faces of Caspar Crunch’

Closing out this stunning hardback extravaganza is another quintet from Sensation Comics #1-5, this time by Bill Finger & Irwin Hasen: already established stars for their work on Batman and Green Lantern.

‘This is the Story of Wildcat’ is the debut appearance of one the era’s most impressive “lost treasures” and a genuine comicbook classic: a classy tale of boxer Ted Grant who was framed for the murder of his best friend the Champ and, inspired by a kid’s worship for Green Lantern, clears his name by donning a feline mask and costume and ferociously stalking the real killers.

Finger & Hasen captured everything which made for perfect rollercoaster adventure in their explosive sports-informed yarns. The mystery and drama continued unabated in the sequel ‘Who is Wildcat?’ as Ted retired his masked identity to contest for the vacant boxing title, but could not let innocents suffer as crime and corruption increased in the city…

In ‘The Case of the Phantom Killers’ Wildcat tracks down mobsters seemingly striking from beyond the grave, and his adventures altered forever with the introduction of hard-hitting hillbilly hayseed ‘Stretch Skinner, Dee-teca-tif!’ who came to the big city to be a private eye and instead became Ted Grant’s foil, manager and crime-busting partner…

The comic craziness concludes here with a rousing case of mistaken identity and old-fashioned framing as Wildcat has to save his tall new pal from a killer gambler in ‘Chips Carder’s Big Fix’

These eccentric early adventures might not be to every modern fan’s taste but they certainly stand as an impressive and joyous introduction to the fantastic worlds and exploits of the World’s (not so) Greatest Superheroes. If you have an interest in the way things were and a hankering for simpler times marked by less complicated or angsty adventure this may well be a book you’ll cherish forever…
© 1940, 1941, 1942, 2007 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Rip Hunter… Time Master


By Jack Miller, Bill Ely, Ruben Moreira, Mike Sekowsky & Joe Giella, Joe Kubert, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Nick Cardy, Alex Toth, various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3521-5

The concept of curious chrononauts is as old as the science fiction genre itself, and every aspect of literature has displayed fascination with leaving the Now for the Then and Thence. As the 1950s closed and the superhero genre slowly re-established itself in comicbooks, National/DC – who had for half a decade been a prime purveyor of bold, he-man fantasy action – successfully scored one last plainclothes hit with the infinite potential of temporal exploration.

With costumed cavorters reappearing everywhere the company combined time-travel vistas with their tried-and-true Adventuresome Quartet format (most effectively utilised for Jack Kirby’s groundbreaking Challengers of the Unknown) and, on a creative high and riding a building wave, introduced a dauntless team of comfortingly ordinary folks as Rip Hunter… Time Master debuted in Showcase #20, cover-dated May/June 1959.

Studious yet manly inventor Hunter had just finished building flying globes which could crack the time barrier and, like any sensible man, wanted his best friend Jeff Smith and girlfriend Bonnie Baxter to share in his fun-filled jaunts. Bonnie’s little brother Corky also came along for most rides…

Series creator Jack Miller was a serious history buff who filled the stories with the very latest in historical facts and theories, but that never got in the way of strong, rousing storytelling from the outset, and the series’ one potential flaw – the lack of a consistent art-team – became a huge bonus in the early days as a procession of top-flight illustrators took turns rendering the strangest and most evocative moments in comics history… to date…

It all began with ‘Prisoners of 100 Million BC’ (Miller & Ruben Moreira): a novel-length introductory exploit which saw the daredevil physicist, engineer Jeff, adoring Bonnie and little Corky travel back to the Mesozoic era, utterly unaware that they were carrying two criminal stowaways.

Once there the thugs hi-jacked the Time Sphere and held it hostage until the explorers helped them stock up with rare and precious minerals. Reduced to the status of mere castaways, Rip and Co. became ‘The Modern-Day Cavemen’ until an erupting volcano caused ‘The Great Beast Stampede’ enabling the time travellers to finally turn the tables on their abductors…

Miller was always careful to use the best research available but never afraid to blend historical fact with bold fantasy for Hunter’s escapades, and the epic follow-up ‘The Secret of the Lost Continent’ (Showcase #21, July/August, 1959 and illustrated by Mike Sekowsky & Joe Giella) saw the Time Masters jump progressively further back in time in search of fabled Atlantis.

A dramatic meeting with Alexander the Great in 331BC led the temporal voyagers on a trail of clues back centuries to ‘The Forbidden Island’ of Aeaea in 700BC to uncover the truth about legendary witch Circe before finally reaching 14,000BC and ‘The Doomed Continent’. Only on arrival did they see that the legendary pinnacle of early human achievement was actually a colony of stranded extraterrestrial refugees…

Rip Hunter appeared twice more in Showcase before winning his own comic, and those succeeding months would see the Silver Age of superheroes kick into frantic High Gear with classic launches coming thick and fast.

Even so, the Time Masters continued slowly building their own faithful audience, happy to explore the traditionally fantastic. Nearly a year later after the initial run they returned in Showcase #25 (March/April 1960 and spectacularly illustrated by Joe Kubert) as ‘Captives of the Medieval Sorcerer’ after Rip’s old college professor requested passage for a scholarly colleague to the kingdom of Ritannia a thousand years past.

Unfortunately the studious Dr. Senn was a charlatan in search of mystic power and his machinations almost led the time team to doom in ‘The Valley of the Monsters’ before Rip discovered the hoax and ended ‘The Sorcerer’s Siege’

Kubert stuck around to reveal ‘The Aliens from 2000B.C.’ (Showcase #26, May/June 1960) as Rip and the gang travelled to ancient Egypt to verify recently unearthed pottery shards only to clash with extraterrestrial criminals planning on playing gods with the natives. After a daring ‘Escape from the Doomed Village’ the lads linked up with space cops to crush the baddies and their incredible pet monsters in time to win ‘The War of the Gods’

Ironically, time moved rather slowly for new titles in those days and Rip Hunter… Time Master finally launched another year later sporting a March/April 1961 cover-date. With Ross Andru & Mike Esposito in the drawing seats Miller hit the ground running and ‘The Thousand-year-Old Curse’ captivatingly traced an ancestral doom afflicting the Craig family which brought Rip firstly to New England in pioneer times before further backtracking to Switzerland in 1360A.D. to uncover ‘The Secret of the Volcano Creature’. One final jaunt to feudal Europe revealed the truth after a climactic clash with ‘The Wizard of the 10th Century’

Two months later #2 began with a sightseeing trip to Greece spoiled when a giant monster escaped from a hidden cave. Ever-curious, Rip followed the evidence and took the team back to meet ‘The Alien Beasts of 500B.C.’ becoming embroiled in an undocumented civil war.

Deposed dictator Demades had gained control of cosmic animals originally captured by stranded alien Big-Game hunter Nytok and intended using them to reassert his rule over Greece until the Time Masters intervened and caused ‘The Battle of the Alien Beasts’. That debacle almost led to ‘Rip Hunter’s Last Stand’ but of course the ingenious future-man had a trick or two up his sleeve…

In #3 an old coin with Corky’s face on it took the chrononauts to Scandinavia in 800A.D. and right into a royal power struggle for ‘The Throne of Doom’. As Corky was a perfect doppelganger for incumbent young King Rollo, all manner of deadly confusions occurred, especially once the boy was targeted by wicked usurper ‘Svend‘The Duke with Creature Powers’. Luckily modern know-how exposed the truth about the beasts under the villain’s control before ‘The Battle of the Warriors’ eventually saw Right and Justice restored…

Nick Cardy took over the art duties with #4 as a time-lost avian Vornian arrived in the modern world and the Timesters offered to return him to his home amongst ‘The Bird-Men of 2000B.C.’ Of course the adventurers became involved in a war between legendary King Hammurabi and Vornian rebels where ‘The Ancient Air Raid’ of the insurgents inevitably led to a clash with ‘The Avenging God of Gilgamesh’… or did it?

In #5 ‘The Secret of the Saxon Traitor’ saw the team trying to rewrite established history and clear the name of a long-reviled traitor, but the books never mentioned invading spacemen or ‘The Creatures of Doom Valley’ and the spectacular finale of ‘The Ancients vs. The Aliens’ proved that sometimes history gets it right all along…

The sensational Alex Toth then came aboard for two issues beginning with ‘The Secret of the Ancient Seer’ in #5, as a convocation of contemporary scientists asked Rip to investigate an 8th century Baghdad prophet who predicted Columbus’ discovery of America and, more worryingly, imminent doom from a fireball that would strike Earth in one week’s time. On arriving in Asia, the team discovered the prophecy actually originated in ‘The Doomed City’ of Herculaneum just before the eruption of Vesuvius…

With no solution in the past Rip returned to the present and devised his own astounding solution to ‘The Menace of the Meteorite’

This astonishing yarn was followed in RHTM #7 by ‘The Lost Wanderers in Time’, as the futurist foursome embarked on a desperate chase through unrecorded history in search of a cure for a disease devastating South American Indians: a spasmodic voyage which eventually took them back a million years to clash with ‘The Last Dinosaur’ before a remedy for ‘The Green Death’ was found in the least likely place…

With #8 veteran illustrator Bill Ely came aboard as regular artist, limning almost every story until the series ended. His first venture was ‘The Thieves Who Stole a Genie’, which found the explorers following gangsters who had stolen their spare Time Sphere to secure Aladdin’s magic lamp. The trail led to 14th century Baghdad where ‘The Battle of the Genies’ was only interrupted by an invasion. Of course canny Rip had the perfect answer for ‘The Attack of the Ommayads’

When an archaeologist dug up a rocket-ship he asked the team to travel back and track down ‘The Alien King of 1,000 B.C.’: a breathtaking romp which subsequently found Corky and Rip almost expiring after ‘The Adventure on Planet Zark’, whilst Bonnie and Jeff remained Earthbound and down until a ‘One-Man Alien Army’ saved them and the ancient world from conquest and death.

In issue #10 ‘The Execution of Rip Hunter’ began after a research trip to the 3rd century A.D. led to Bonnie’s abduction. Whilst Roman soldiers tackled the boys, a hypnotic spell transformed her into ‘Bonnie – Queen of Palmyra’ and controller of an impossibly powerful beast her abductors needed to fend off Roman invasion in ‘All Hail the Conquering Creature’

A classic science fiction gem surfaced in #11 where ‘The Secret of Mount Olympus’ was exposed after the team visited 2nd century B.C. Greece. After meeting a witch Jeff was changed into a griffin and supreme god Zeus demanded Rip perform a small task to save him, resulting in a ‘Dead End on Calypso Island’ before the true nature of the pantheon was revealed and ‘The Invasion of Mount Olympus’ resulted in the team’s escape and the gods’ departure.

Long-time Legion of Super-Heroes fans might recognise this tale as the basis for a major plot stream concerning the Durlan member Chameleon Boy

For #12 a threat to modern Earth was revealed after a burning meteor erupted from beneath Stonehenge. ‘The 2,200-Year-Old Doom’ first led the heroes back to the building of the monument before at long last travelling into their own future to learn how the fallen star would destroy mankind.

Then, after popping back to when the meteor first hit and seeing the destruction of ‘The Impossible Beasts of One Million B.C.’ Rip finally devised ‘Earth’s Last Chance’ to save Today and all our Tomorrows…

In #13 ‘The Menace of the Mongol Magician’ found Rip working with a renowned scientist on a magic Chinese tapestry, but their trip to the time of Kublai Khan was only a devious scam to warp history. Once there the villainous “Professor” planned to supply the Khan’s enemies with modern weapons in return for magical secrets. However, after making off with ‘The Hijacked Time Sphere’ he was promptly betrayed by his ally. Luckily, Rip and Jeff had their own answer to ‘The Mongol Ambush’ and everything turned out as it should…

‘The Captive Time-Travellers’ in #14 resulted from Rip and a group of scientists examining an invulnerable artefact purported to have been devised by Leonardo Da Vinci. A subsequent conversation with the great man himself revealed that the container held the world’s most destructive explosive…

When one of the 20th century technicians stole the bomb and a Time Sphere ‘The Future Fugitive’ headed for 2550A.D. to sell the weapon to a dictator, so Rip and Co. followed only to become ‘The Prisoners of Time’. And that’s when the bomb’s actual builders turned up…

The cleverly captivating fantasy frolics conclude for now with issue #15 and ‘The Earthlings of 5,000,000 B.C.’ wherein a rampaging alien monster in modern-day America proved to be an Earthling of astonishingly ancient vintage.

When Rip and the gang travelled back to search out the answer to the mystery they found an entire unsuspected civilisation and became ‘The Experimental Creatures’ of that society’s scientists. They only barely escaped the cosmic calamity of ‘The Day the Earth Died’ but returned safely with the knowledge of what happened to the last tragic survivor’s species…

These stories from a uniquely variegated moment in funnybook history were the last vestiges of a different kind of comic tale and never really affected the greater push towards a cohesive, integrated DC Universe. They are, though, splendidly accessible and thoroughly enjoyable adventure tales which should be cherished by every frenzied fan and casual reader.
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Tales of The Unexpected volume 1


By Jack Miller, Bernard Baily, Bill Ely, Jack Kirby, Mort Meskin, Sheldon Moldoff, Ruben Moriera, George Papp, John Prentice, Leonard Starr & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3520-8

American comicbooks started rather slowly until the invention of superheroes unleashed a torrent of creative imitation and established a new entertainment genre. Implacably vested in World War Two, the Overman swept all before him (occasional her or it) until the troops came home and the more traditional themes and heroes resurfaced and eventually supplanted the Fights ‘n’ Tights crowd.

Whilst a new generation of kids began buying and collecting, many of the first fans also retained their four-colour habit but increasingly sought older themes in the reading matter. The war years had irrevocably altered the psychological landscape of the readership, and as a more world-weary, cynical young public came to see that all the fighting and dying hadn’t really changed anything, their chosen forms of entertainment (film and prose as well as comics) increasingly reflected this.

As well as Western, War and Crime comics, celebrity tie-ins, madcap escapist comedy and anthropomorphic funny animal features were immediately resurgent, but gradually another of those cyclical revivals of spiritualism and a public fascination with the arcane led to a wave of impressive, evocative and shockingly addictive horror comics.

There had been grisly, gory and supernatural stars before, including a pantheon of ghosts, monsters and wizards draped in mystery-man garb and trappings (the Spectre, Mr. Justice, Sgt. Spook, Frankenstein, The Heap, Sargon the Sorcerer, Zatara, Zambini the Miracle Man, Kardak the Mystic, Dr. Fate and dozens of others), but these had been victims of circumstance: the Unknown as a power source for super-heroics. Now the focus shifted to ordinary mortals thrown into a world beyond their ken with the intention of unsettling, not vicariously empowering the reader.

Almost every publisher jumped on the increasingly popular bandwagon, with B & I (which became the magical one-man-band Richard E. Hughes’ American Comics Group) launching the first regularly published horror comic in the Autumn of 1948.

Technically speaking, Adventures Into the Unknown was pipped at the post by Avon who had released an impressive single issue entitled Eerie in January 1947 before reviving the title by launching a regular series in 1951. All the meanwhile, however, parents’ favourite Classics Illustrated had long been milking the literary end of the genre with adaptations of the Headless Horseman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (both 1943), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1944) and Frankenstein (1945) among others.

As long as we’re keeping score, this was also the period in which Joe Simon & Jack Kirby identified another “mature market” gap and invented the Romance comic (Young Romance #1, September 1947) but they too saw the sales potential for spooky material, resulting in the seminal Black Magic (1950) and boldly obscure psychological drama anthology Strange World of Your Dreams (1952).

The company that would become DC Comics bowed to the inevitable and launched a comparatively straight-laced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles with the December 1951/January 1952 launch of The House of Mystery. Its success led to a raft of such creature-filled fantasy compendiums in the years that followed such as Sensation Mystery, My Greatest Adventure, House of Secrets and, in 1956, Tales of the Unexpected

A hysterical censorship scandal which led to witch-hunting hearings (check out Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, April- June 1954 on your search engine of choice) was derailed by the industry adopting a castrating straitjacket of draconian self-regulatory rules. Horror titles produced under the aegis and emblem of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised and anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore, even though the market’s appetite for suspense and the uncanny was still high…

Stories were dialled back into marvellously illustrated, rationalistic, fantasy-adventure vehicles which dominated until the 1960s when super-heroes (which had begun to creep back after Julius Schwartz reintroduced the Flash in Showcase #4, 1956) finally overtook them.

This mammoth monochrome compilation offers a stunning voyage to the fantastic outer limits of 1950s imagination, collecting the first 20 issues of the charmingly enthralling anthology – produced under the watchful eyes of the Comics Code Authority – cover dates February/March 1956 to December 1957 and starts with a quartet of intriguing, beautifully rendered pocket thrillers.

Sadly for me and you records are spotty and many of the authors remain unsung (although possible candidates include Dave Wood, Bill Finger, Ed Herron, Joe Samachson, George Kashdan, Jack Miller and Otto Binder and I’ll just guess whenever I’m more than half-certain) but the pictorial pioneers at least can be deservedly celebrated…

Behind a captivating cover by Bill Ely, Tales of the Unexpected #1 begins the uncanny excursions with ‘The Out-of-The-World Club’, drawn by the astoundingly precise John Prentice, which detailed the unearthly secret of a night-spot offering truly original groovy sounds, whilst ‘The Dream Lamp’, limned by Leonard Starr, took a bucolic glance at a device which seemed able to perform impossible feats.

Jack Miller, Howard Purcell & Charles Paris then ironically revealed ‘The Secret of Cell Sixteen’ which fooled yet one more prisoner in the Bastille, after which the debut issue ended with a bleak alien invasion fable in ‘The Cartoon that Came to Life’ by Otto Binder & Bill Ely.

Issue #2 offered the uncredited conundrum of ‘The Magic Hats of M’sieu La Farge’ (art by Ruben Moreira) which saw ordinary folk impelled to perform extraordinary feats when wearing the titfers of famous dead folk, whilst ‘The Fastest Man Alive’ (drawn by Bill Draut & Mort Meskin) disclosed how an obsessive rivalry brought destruction upon a man forever relegated to second best behind his exceptional best friend…

‘The Record of Doom’ (Ely art) apparently drove listeners to suicide until a canny cop uncovered the truth, but ‘The Gorilla who Saved the World’ (Starr) was as incredible and alien as you’d expect in a tale of sharp sci-fi suspense…

Issue #3 opened with Purcell’s ‘The Highway to Tomorrow’ wherein a motorway through Native American sacred lands almost resulted in a new uprising, after which Meskin’s ‘The Man Nobody Could See’ revisited the old plot of an invisible criminal. ‘I Lost My Past’ (illustrated by Mort Drucker) recounted an implausibly complex scheme to cure an amnesiac before ‘The Man with 100 Wigs’, by Miller & Prentice, featured a genuinely compelling mystery about a petty thief who stole a sorcerer’s chest filled with hairpieces imparting uncanny power to the wearer…

The mix of cop stories, aliens and the arcane acts clearly struck a chord as, with Tales of the Unexpected #4, the comic was promoted to monthly.

‘Seven Steps to the Unknown’ (Ely) continued the eclectic winning formula through a perilous puzzle regarding a group of complete strangers inexplicably linked and targeted for murder, whilst ‘The Day I Broke All Records’, illustrated by Sheldon Moldoff, followed a top athlete who gained something “extra” after finding an elixir once favoured by unbeatable Roman gladiator Apulius

Then a murderer was brought to justice after becoming obsessed with ‘The Flowers of Sorcery’ (Starr) whilst ‘The House Where Dreams Come True’ (Prentice) offered a far kinder tale of human generosity that will melt the heart of the most jaded reader.

In #5 ‘The Man Who Laughed at Locks’ (Moreira) disclosed the inevitable fate of a cheat when rival inventors clashed, ‘I Was Bewitched for a Day’ (Ely) revealed how easily domestic reality can be overturned and Moldoff portrayed the bewilderment of an Art Investigator faced with ‘The Living Paintings’ before Miller & Prentice again triumphed with the tale of an actor literally possessed by his role in ‘The Second Life of Geoffrey Hawkes’

TotU #6 opened with ‘The Telecast from the Future’ (drawn by George Papp) as a technician foolishly convinced himself that his gear hadn’t really opened a peephole into tomorrow, whilst Ely’s ‘Dial M for Magic’ focussed on a prestidigitator’s club that auditioned an amazing applicant who didn’t just do “tricks”…

‘The Forbidden Flowers’ (Moldoff) then exposed a killer who thought himself safe, after which Moreira’s ‘The Girl in the Bottle’ led an unsuspecting oceanographer into fantastic peril and another incredible criminal scam.

Golden Age great Bernard Baily joined the rotating art crew with #7 as ‘The Pen that Never Lied’ visited a number of people, dispensing justice through unvarnished truth, after which ‘Beware, I Can Read your Mind!’ (Moldoff) saw a truth telepath discover the overwhelming cost of his gift.

When a miner found a talking talisman, it promised anything except ‘The Forbidden Wish’ (George Roussos). Tragically it was the only thing the weak-minded man wanted…

This issue ended with the art debut of the astounding Nick Cardy who lovingly detailed the fate of a murderous thug who refused to listen to the sage advice of ‘The Face in the Clock!’

Tales of the Unexpected #8 opened with fantastic fantasy as ‘The Man Who Stole a Genie’ (Meskin) slowly succumbed to greed and mania, whilst ‘The Secret of the Elephant’s Tusk’ (Ely art) followed the trail of death that resulted after a poacher killed a sacred pachyderm. Roussos’ ‘The Four Seeds of Destiny’ chillingly revealed the doom that came to a TV reporter who stole relics from a Pharaoh’s tomb before ‘The Camera that Could Rob’ (Starr) proved that, even for a thief with an unbeatable gimmick, mistreating a cat never ends well…

In issue #9 ‘The Amazing Cube’ (possibly scripted by George Kashdan and definitely limned by Baily) saw an unscrupulous gambler fall foul of his own handmade dice, whilst a killer conman got his comeuppance courtesy of ‘The Carbon Copy Man’ (Papp). ‘The Day Nobody Died’ by Roussos is a classic of moody mystery wherein a doctor pursues a dark stranger and regrets catching him, after which a little lad saves the world from alien invasion and know-it-all adults in ‘The Man Who Ate Fire’ (illustrated by Starr).

The tone of the time was gradually turning and sorcerous supernature was slowly succumbing to the Space Age lure of weird science as TotU #10 proved with ‘The Strangest Show on Earth’ (art by Jim Mooney) wherein a bankrupt showman stumbled over a Martian circus. Sadly the bizarre performers had their own agenda to adhere to…

‘The Phantom Mariner’ (Moldoff) followed an obsessed sea captain to his inescapable fate, after which a scientist faced a deadly dilemma after creating ‘The Duplicate Man’ (Ely) and Meskin revealed how an antique collector’s compulsion endangered his life in ‘I Was Slave to the Wizard’s Lamp’

A criminal inventor paid the ultimate price for his venality in ‘Who Am I?’ by Baily which opened Tales of the Unexpected #11, whilst ‘I Was a Man from the Future’ (Cardy) saw an American mountaineer stumble through a time-warp into adventure and romance in15th century France and ‘The Ghost of Hollywood’ (Ely) confounded the special effects designer determined to debunk it.

Starr then closed out the issue with ‘The Man Who Hated Green’, as an artist embarked on an extraordinary campaign of terror…

Issue #12 began with Cardy’s tale of a quartet of escaped convicts who terrorised three little old ladies and were cursed by ‘The Four Threads of Doom’, after which ‘The Witch’s Statues’ (Meskin) proved to be more scurrilous scam than sinister sorcery.

Following a downturn in the industry, Jack Kirby briefly returned to National/DC at this time: producing mystery tales and drawing Green Arrow all whilst preparing his newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force.

He also re-packaged for Showcase an original team concept kicking around in his head since he and Joe Simon had closed the innovative but unfortunate Mainline Comics. Blending explosive adventure with the precepts of mystery comics, Challengers of the Unknown became the pattern for the entire Silver Age superhero resurgence…

After years of working for others, Simon & Kirby had established their own publishing company, producing comics for a more sophisticated audience, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by the aforementioned anti-comic pogrom of US Senator Estes Kefauver and psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham.

Simon quit the business for advertising, but Kirby soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to a number of safer, if less experimental, companies.

Here his run of short fantastic suspense tales commences with ‘The All-Seeing Eye’ wherein a journalist responsible for many impossible scoops realises that the ancient artefact he employs is more dangerous than beneficial…

The issue ends with Ely’s rousing thriller ‘The Indestructible Man’ wherein a stuntman with innate invulnerability decided to get rich quick no matter who gets hurt…

In #13 an amnesiac traced his lost past by seeking out ‘Weapons of Destiny’ (perhaps Binder with Ely art), whilst ‘The Thing from the Skies’ (Meskin) initially proved a boon but ultimately the downfall for a murdering conman. A ghostly ‘Second Warning’ (Papp) saved a tourist when he visited the battlefields of WWII, after which ‘I Was a Prisoner of the Supernatural’ (France E. Herron & Cardy) revealed how an actor escaped a deal with the devil before Herron & Kirby stole the show with a gripping crime-caper in ‘The Face Behind the Mask’

Tales of the Unexpected #14 started with Meskin’s ‘The Forbidden Game’ as an embezzler played fast and loose with a wagering wizard, followed by ‘Cry, Clown, Cry’ (Baily) which saw a baffled son ignore his father’s injunction not to follow the family tradition to be a gag-man.

Papp pictured the fate of a swindler who wanted folk to believe he was ‘The Man Who Owned King Arthur’s Sword’ and Moldoff finished up proceedings as a crook was haunted by ‘The Green Gorilla’ created by his misdeeds.

Kirby led off in #15, his ‘Three Wishes to Doom’ proving that even with a genie’s lamp crime does not pay, after which ‘The Sinister Cannon’ (Baily) employed by an insidious alien infiltrator proved far more than it appeared. ‘The Rainbow Man’ (Roussos) was a scientific bandit who overestimated the efficacy of his camouflage discovery and ‘The City of Three Dooms’ by Meskin wrapped up things with a mesmerising time-travel romp starring Nazi submariners on a voyage to infinity…

There’s an inexplicable frisson in ‘The Magic Hammer’ by Kirby which opens #16 as the King of Comics relates how a prospector finds a mallet capable of creating storms and goes into the rainmaking business… until the original owner turns up…

That superb vignette is augmented by ‘I Was a Spy for Them’ (Meskin) as a canny physicist turned the tables on the star men who captured him, a crooked archaeologist gained unbeatable power from an ancient ring and became ‘The Exile from Earth’ (Dave Wood & Moldoff), and Moreira illustrated ‘The Interplanetary Line-Up’, wherein an actual Man from Mars gatecrashed a science fiction writer’s fancy dress party…

In #17 ‘Who is Mr. Ashtar?’ (Kirby) chillingly followed a hotel detective who knew there was something off about the new guest in Room 605, whilst ‘Beware the Thinking Cap’ (Ely) described the rise and fall of a crook who found the device which inspired all the geniuses of history. Baily illustrates how a lifer in jail used a unique method of escape in ‘The Bullet Man’, and the issue ends on ‘The Impossible Voyage’ (Mooney) as a couple of alien pranksters took earth suckers for a ride on what only looked like a fairground attraction…

Mooney takes the lead spot in #18 as ‘The Man Without a World’ rejected Earth only to learn that a life in space is no life at all, whilst ‘The Riddle of the Glass Bubble’ (Meskin) threatened to end all life until a little kid offered an unlikely solution. Cardy opened ‘The Amazing Swap Shop’, where humans could trade “junk” for impossibly useful gadgets before Kirby showed how a clever human saved us all by outwitting ‘The Man Who Collected Planets’.

By now thoroughly gripped in UFO fever, Tales of the Unexpected #19 began with ‘The Man from Two Worlds’ (Cardy) wherein evil Neptunians attempted to abduct an Earth scientist by guile, whereas ‘D-Day on Planet Vulcan’ (Mooney) saw embattled ETs beg our help to end a world-crushing crisis, after which a meteor turned a hapless technician into ‘The Human Lie Detector’ (Ely) and a dotty old eccentric surprised everybody by ending ‘The Menace of the Fireball’ (with art by Bob Brown).

This first terrific tome concludes with issue #20 where ‘The Earth Gladiator’ (Cardy) struggled to save his life and prove Earth worthy of continued existence, an engineer scuppered ‘The Remarkable Mr. Multiplier’ (Ely) before his invention wrecked civilisation and ‘I Was Marooned on Planet Earth’, by Baily, illustrated that every alien incursion was malign or dangerous.

Moreira then brings the cosmic catalogue to a close with ‘You Stole Our Planet’ wherein gigantic space creatures arrived with a strong claim of prior ownership…

Although certainly dated and definitely formulaic, these complex yet uncomplicated suspenseful adventures are drenched in charm, gilded in ingenuity and still sparkle with innocent wit and wonder. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste nowadays, these fantastic exploits are nevertheless an all-ages buffet of fun, thrills and action no fan should miss.

© 1956, 1957, 1958, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents World’s Finest Comics volume 4


By Cary Bates, Bob Haney, Robert Kanigher, Denny O’Neil, Mike Friedrich, Curt Swan, Ross Andru, Dick Dillin, Mike Esposito & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3736-3

For decades Superman and Batman were quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest team”. The affable champions were best buddies as well as mutually respectful colleagues, and their pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could happily cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships.

This fourth mighty monochrome compendium re-presents the cataclysmic collaborations from the dog days of the 1960’s into the turbulent decade beyond (World’s Finest Comics #174-202, spanning March 1968 to May 1971), as radical shifts in America’s tastes and cultural landscape created such a hunger for more mature and socially relevant stories that even the Cape and Cowl Crusaders were affected – so much so in fact, that the partnership was temporarily suspended: sidelined so that Superman could guest-star with other icons of the DC universe.

However, after a couple of years, the relationship was revitalised and renewed with the World’s Finest Heroes fully restored to their bizarrely apt pre-eminence for another lengthy run until the title was cancelled in the build-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986.

The increasingly grim escapades begin with ‘Secret of the Double Death-Wish!’ by Cary Bates, Pete Costanza & Jack Abel from #174 (cover-dated March 1968, so actually the last issue of 1967) wherein mysterious voyeurs seemingly kidnap the indomitable heroes and psychologically crush their spirits such that they beg for death.

Smart and devious, this conundrum was definitely old-school but the New Year saw subtle changes as, post-Batman TV show, the industry experienced superheroes waning in favour of war, western and especially supernatural themes and genres.

Thus 1968 saw radical editorial shifts to National/DC and edgier stories of the costumed Boy Scouts began to appear. Iconoclastic penciller Neal Adams first started turning heads and making waves with his stunning covers and a couple of spectacularly gripping Cape & Cowl capers in WFC beginning with ‘The Superman-Batman Revenge Squads!’, scripted by Leo Dorfman and inked by Dick from World’s Finest Comics #175.

The story detailed how the annual contest of wits between the crimebusters was infiltrated by alien and Terran criminal alliances intent on killing their foes whilst they were off guard.

Issue #176 then featured a beguiling thriller in ‘The Superman-Batman Split!’ by Bates, Adams & Giordano. Ostensibly just another alien mystery yarn, this twisty little gem has a surprise ending for all and guest stars Robin, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl and Batgirl, with the artists’ hyper-dynamic realism lending an aura of solid credibility to even the most fanciful situations, and ushering in an era of gritty veracity to replace the previously anodyne and frequently frivolous Costumed Dramas.

Jim Shooter, Curt Swan & Mike Esposito also edged (but just slightly) towards constructive realism with #177’s ‘Duel of the Crime Kings!’ as Lex Luthor again joined forces with the Joker. This go-round the dastardly duo used time-busting technology to recruit Benedict Arnold, Baron Hieronymus Carl Friedrich von Munchausen and Leonardo Da Vinci to plan crimes for them, only to then fall foul of the temporally displaced persons’ own unique agendas…

WFC #178 began a 2-part Imaginary Tale with ‘The Has-Been Superman!’ (Bates, Swan & Abel) which saw the Man of Steel lose his Kryptonian powers and subsequently struggle to continue his career as a Batman-style masked crimebuster dubbed Nova. More determined than competent, he soon fell under the influence of criminal mastermind Mr. Socrates and wound up brainwashed and programmed to assassinate the Gotham Guardian…

The moody suspense saga was interrupted by #179 – a regularly scheduled, all-reprint 80-Page Giant featuring early tales of the team’s formative years and represented in this collection by its striking Adams cover – before the alternate epic concluded in #180 with the gripping ‘Superman’s Perfect Crime!’ by Bates and new regular art team Ross Andru & Esposito…

During the late 1950s when the company’s editors cautiously expanded the characters’ continuities, they learned that each new tale was an event which added to a nigh-sacred canon, and that what was printed was deeply important to the readers – but no “ideas man” would let all that aggregated “history” stifle a good plot situation or sales generating cover.

Thus “Imaginary Stories” were conceived as a way of exploring non-continuity plots and scenarios, devised at a time when editors knew that entertainment trumped consistency and fervently believed that every comic read was somebody’s first and – unless they were very careful – potentially their last…

Bates,  Andru & Esposito also crafted #181’s ‘The Hunter and the Hunted’ wherein an impossibly powerful being from far away in space and time relentlessly pursued and then whisked away the heroes to a world where they were revered as the fathers of the race, whilst in the next issue ‘The Mad Manhunter!’ depicted a suspenseful shocker which found Batman routinely rampaging like a madman due to a curse. Naturally, what seemed was far from what actually was

Another massive con-trick underscored #183’s Dorfman-scripted drama as apes from the future accused the Man of Steel of committing ‘Superman’s Crime of the Ages!’ and Batman and Robin had to arrest their greatest ally…

In WFC #184 Bates, Swan & Abel concocted another bombastic Imaginary Tale which revealed ‘Robin’s Revenge!’, tracing the troubled sidekick’s progress after Batman was murdered and with Superman powerless to assuage the Boy Wonder’s growing obsession with revenge…

Robert Kanigher joined his old collaborators Andru & Esposito from #185 onwards, detailing the bizarre story of the ‘The Galactic Gamblers!’ who press-ganged Superman, Batman, Robin and Jimmy to their distant world to act as living stakes and game-pieces in their gladiatorial games of chance, before taking the heroes on a time-tossed 2-part supernatural thriller.

In #186 stories regarding Batman’s Colonial ancestor “Mad Anthony Wayne” prompted the heroes to travel back to the War of Independence where the Dark Knight was accused of deviltry as ‘The Bat Witch!’ and sentenced to death. Of course, it’s actually the Action Ace who was possessed and became ‘The Demon Superman!’ before all logic and sanity were restored by exorcism and judicious force of arms…

After the cover to World’s Finest #188 – another reprint Giant – Bates returned in #189 with a still shocking 2-parter beginning in ‘The Man with Superman’s Heart!’ as the Caped Kryptonian crashed to Earth from space and was pronounced Dead On Arrival.

As per his wishes many of his organs were harvested (this was 1969 and still speculative fiction then) and bequeathed to worthy recipients.

When Batman refused to accept any, Superman’s Eyes, Ears, Lungs, Heart and Hands (yes, I know – just go with it) were simply stored – until Luthor stole them and auctioned them to gangland’s highest bidders…

In the concluding episode, ‘The Final Revenge of Luthor!’ saw a combine of crooks running wild with the transplants bestowing mighty powers Batman and Robin could not combat, but the whole mess had a logical – if astonishingly callous – explanation, and the real Man of Steel soon appeared to save the day…

Bates, Andru & Esposito then explored ‘Execution on Krypton!’ in WFC #191, as impossible events on Earth led Superman (and Batman) back to Krypton before he was born to discover how his sainted parents Jor-El and Lara became radicalised college lecturers, and why they were teaching their students all the subversive tricks revolutionaries needed to know…

Bob Haney then joined Andru & Esposito from #192 for a dark, Cold War suspense thriller as Superman was captured by the Communist rulers of Lubania and held in ‘The Prison of No Escape!’ When Batman tried to bust him out, he too was arrested and charged with spying by sadistic Colonel Koslov, who utilised all his brainwashing techniques to achieve ‘The Breaking of Superman and Batman!’ in the next issue. However, the vile totalitarian’s torturous treatment disguised an insidious master-plan which the World’s Finest almost failed to foil…

The popular public response to Mario Puzo’s phenomenal novel The Godfather most likely influenced Haney, Andru & Esposito’s next convoluted 2-parter. Issue #194 took Superman and Batman undercover ‘Inside the Mafia Gang!’ to dismantle the organisation of “Big Uncle” Alonzo Scarns from within.

Sadly a head wound muddled the Gotham Gangbuster’s memory and Batman began believing he was actually the Capo di Capo Tutti, condemning Robin and Jimmy to ‘Dig Now, Die Later!’ Helplessly watching, Superman was almost relieved when the real Scarns showed up…

An era ended with #196 as ‘The Kryptonite Express!’ (Haney, Swan & George Roussos) detailed how a massive meteor shower bombarded America with tons of the deadly green mineral. After most decent citizens gathered up the Green K, a special train was laid on to collect it all and ship it to a place where it could be safely disposed of, and Superman was ordered to stay well away whilst Batman took charge of the FBI operation.

They had no idea that master racketeer and railway fanatic K.C. Jones had plans for the shipment and a guy on the inside…

After #197 – another all-reprint Superman/Batman Giant – a new era began as the Fastest Man Alive teamed up with the Man of Tomorrow.

DC Editors in the 1960s generally avoided questions like who’s best/strongest/fastest for fear of upsetting some portion of their tenuous and perhaps temporary fan-base, but as the superhero tide turned and the upstart Marvel Comics began making serious inroads into their market, the notion of a definitive race between the almighty Man of Steel and the Scarlet Speedster became an increasingly enticing and sales-worthy proposition.

They had raced twice before (Superman #199 and Flash #175 – August and December 1967) with the result deliberately fudged each time, but when they met for a third round a definitive conclusion was promised – but please remember it’s not about the winning, but only the taking part…

When World’s Finest became a team-up vehicle for Superman, the Flash again found himself in speedy if contrived competition. ‘Race to Save the Universe!’ and its conclusion ‘Race to Save Time!’ (#198-199, November and December 1970, by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella) upped the stakes as the high-speed heroes were conscripted by the Guardians of the Universe to circumnavigate the cosmos at their greatest velocities to undo the rampage of the mysterious Anachronids, faster-than-light creatures whose pell-mell course throughout creation was actually unwinding time itself.

Little did anybody suspect that Superman’s oldest enemies were behind the entire appalling scheme…

In the anniversary issue #200, Mike Friedrich, Dillin & Giella focussed on brawling brothers on opposite sides of the teen college scene who were abducted with unruly youth icon Robin and “Mr. Establishment” Superman to a distant planet where undying vampiric aliens waged eternal war on each other in ‘Prisoners of the Immortal World!’ Green Lantern then popped in for #201 contesting ‘A Prize of Peril!’ (O’Neil, Dillin & Giella) which would give either Emerald Gladiator or Man of Steel sole jurisdiction of Earth’s skies, and Batman returned for a limited engagement in #202.

The final tale in this compilation, ‘Vengeance of the Tomb-Thing!’ by O’Neil, Dillin & Giella, saw archaeologists unearth something horrific in Egypt as Superman seemingly went mad and attacked his greatest friends and allies. A superb ecological scare-story, this tale changed the Man of Tomorrow’s life forever…

These are gloriously smart, increasingly mature comicbook adventures whose dazzling, timeless style has informed the evolution of two media megastars, and they still have the power and punch to enthral even today’s jaded seen it-all audiences.

The contents of this titanic team-up tome are a veritable feast of witty, gritty, pretty thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have. Utterly entrancing adventure for fans of all ages!
© 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Superman Family volume 3


By Otto Binder, Robert Bernstein, Jerry Siegel, Bill Finger, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Wayne Boring, Al Plastino, Dick Sprang & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-812-6

When the groundbreaking Man of Steel debuted in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) he was instantly the centre of attention, but even then the need for a solid supporting cast was apparent and wisely tailored for. Glamorous daredevil girl reporter Lois Lane premiered beside Clark Kent and was a constant companion and foil from the outset.

Although unnamed, a plucky red-headed, be-freckled kid started working for Clark and Lois from Action Comics #6 (November 1938) onwards. His first name was disclosed in Superman #13 (November-December 1941), having already been revealed as Jimmy Olsen when he had become a major player in The Adventures of Superman radio show from its debut on April 15th 1940.

As somebody the same age as the target audience for the hero to explain stuff to (all for the listeners’ benefit), he was the closest thing to a sidekick the Action Ace ever needed…

When a similarly titled television show launched in the autumn of 1952 it was another immediate sensation and National Periodicals began cautiously expanding their revitalised franchise with new characters and titles.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, being different in America was a Bad Thing. Conformity was sacrosanct, even in comicbooks, and everybody and thing was meant to keep to its assigned and intended role: for the Superman family and cast, that meant a highly strictured code of conduct and parameters.

Daily Planet Editor Perry White was a stern, shouty elder statesman with a heart of gold, Cub Reporter Jimmy was a brave and impulsive, unseasoned fool – with a heart of gold – and plucky News-hen Lois was brash, nosy, impetuous and unscrupulous in her obsession to marry Superman although she too was – deep down – another possessor of an Auric aorta.

Moreover, although burly Clark Kent was a Man in a Man’s World, his hidden alter ego meant that he must never act like one…

Yet somehow even with these mandates in place the talented writers and artists assigned to produce their wholesomely uncanny exploits managed to craft tales both beguiling and breathtakingly memorable – and usually as funny as they were exciting.

First to fill a solo title were the gloriously charming, light-hearted escapades of that rash, capable but callow photographer and “cub reporter”.  Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 launched in 1954 with a September-October cover date, the first spin-off star of the Caped Kryptonian’s rapidly expanding multi-media entourage.

As the decade progressed the oh-so-cautious Editors tentatively extended the franchise in 1957 just as the Silver Age of Comics was getting underway and it seemed that there might be a fresh and sustainable appetite for costumed heroes and their unique brand of spectacular shenanigans.

Try-out title Showcase, which had already launched The Flash (#4) and Challengers of the Unknown (#6), followed up with a brace of issues entitled Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane in #9 and 10 before swiftly awarding the “plucky News-hen” a series of her own – in actuality her second, since for a brief while in the mid-1940s she had held a regular solo-spot in Superman.

At this time Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane was one of precious few titles with a female lead and, in the context of today, one that gives many 21st century fans a few uncontrollable qualms of conscience. Within the confines of her series the valiant capable working woman careered crazily from man-hungry, unscrupulous bitch through ditzy simpleton to indomitable and brilliant heroine – often all in the same issue – as the exigencies of entertaining children under the strictures of the Comics Code all too often played up the period’s astonishingly misogynistic attitudes.

The comic was clearly intended to appeal to the family demographic that made I Love Lucy a national phenomenon and Doris Day a ditzy latter day saint, so many stories were played for laughs in that same patriarchal, parochial manner; a “gosh, aren’t women funny?” tone that appals me today – but not as much as the fact that I still love them to bits.

It helps that they’re mostly illustrated by the wonderfully whimsical Kurt Schaffenberger.

Jimmy fared little better: a bright, brave but naïve kid making his own way in the world, he was often the butt of cruel jokes and impossible circumstances; undervalued and humiliatingly tasked in a variety of slapstick adventures and strange transformations.

This third cunningly conjoined chronologically complete compendium collects the affable, all-ages tales from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #35-44, March 1959-April 1960 and Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #8-16, April 1959-April 1960, and commences with the Man of Steel’s Go-To Guy in three tales drawn as (almost) always by the wonderful Curt Swan.

Jimmy’s comic was popular for more than two decades, blending action, adventure, broad, wacky comedy, fantasy and science fiction in the gently addictive, self-deprecating manner scripter Otto Binder had perfected a decade previously at Fawcett Comics on the magnificent original Captain Marvel.

As the feature progressed, one of the most popular plot-themes (and most fondly remembered and referenced today by most Baby-Boomer fans) was the unlucky lad’s appalling talent for being warped, mutated and physically manipulated by fate, aliens and even his friends…

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #35 (March 1959) opens with ‘The Menace of Superman’s Fan Mail!’, by Binder & Swan with inks by Stan Kaye, wherein the cub reporter undertook to answer the mountain of missives for the Man of Steel and inadvertently supplied a crook with an almost foolproof method of murdering the Metropolis Marvel.

The remaining tales are inked by Ray Burnley and begins with a rather disingenuous yarn which saw the lad repeatedly get into trouble wearing a futuristic suit of mechanised super-armour which only made him look like ‘The Robot Jimmy Olsen!’, whilst in ‘Superman’s Enemy!’ the devoted kid overnight turned into a despicable, hero-hating wretch. However as a veritable plague of altered behaviour afflicted ClarkKent’s friends, the baffled Action Ace began to discern a pattern…

Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #8 (April 1959) opened with ‘The Superwoman of Metropolis’, by Alvin Schwartz & Kurt Schaffenberger, heavy-handedly turning the tables on our heroine when she developed incredible abilities and took on a costumed identity, and was instantly plagued by a suspicious Clark determined to expose her secret.

‘The Ugly Superman!’ dealt with a costumed wrestler who fell for Lois, giving the Caped Kryptonian another chance for some pretty unpleasant Super-teasing. . It was written by the veteran Robert Bernstein, who unlike me can use the tenor of the times as his excuse, and pleasingly ameliorated by Schaffenberger delivering another hilarious dose of OTT comedic drama illustration.

Following is a far less disturbing fantasy romp: ‘Queen for a Day!’ (Bernstein, Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye) found Lois and Clark shipwrecked on an island of Amazons with the plucky lady mistaken for their long-prophesied royal saviour…

Jimmy Olsen #36 began with Binder, Swan & Burnley’s ‘Super-Senor’s Pal!’, which found the boy South of the Border in the banana republic of Peccador helping a local rebel fight the dictators by masquerading as a Latino Man of Steel.

Stan Kaye inked the momentous debut of ‘Lois Lane’s Sister!’, which introduced perky air-hostess Lucy as romantic foil and regularly unattainable inamorata for the kid, in a smart, funny tale of hapless puppy love whilst the final tale (Burnley inks) described the cub reporter’s accidental time-trip to Krypton and ‘How Jimmy Olsen First met Superman!’

Although we all think of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster’s iconic creation as the epitome of comicbook creation, the truth is that very soon after his launch Superman became a multimedia star and far more people have seen or heard the Man of Steel than have ever read him – and yes, that does include the globally syndicated newspaper strip which ran from 1939 to 1966.

By the time his 20th anniversary rolled around he had been a regular on radio, starred in a series of astounding animated cartoons and two movies, and just ended his first smash live-action television serial. In his future were three more (Superboy, Lois & Clark and Smallville), a stage musical, a franchise of stellar movies and an almost seamless succession of TV cartoons beginning with The New Adventures of Superman in 1966 and continuing ever since. Even Krypto got in on the small-screen act…

It’s no wonder then that the tales from this Silver Age period should be so draped in the gaudily wholesome trappings of Tinseltown – even more so than most of celebrity-obsessed America. It didn’t hurt that editor Whitney Ellsworth was a part-time screenwriter, script editor and producer as well as National/DC’s Hollywood point man.

The Man of Tomorrow’s TV presence influenced much of Lois Lane #9: a celebrity-soaked issue scripted by Bernstein which began with artists Dick Sprang & John Forte detailing how performer Pat Boone (who coincidentally had his own licensed DC comic at that time) almost exposed Earth’s greatest secret with ‘Superman’s Mystery Song!’

The Silver Screen connection continued in the Schaffenberger-illustrated ‘The Most Hated Girl in Metropolis’ wherein Lois was framed for exposing that self-same super-secret as a ruse to get her to Hollywood for her own unsuspected This is Your Life special. The issue ended with return to fantasy/comedy as Schaffenberger introduced a lost valley of leftover dinosaurs and puny caveman Blog‘Lois Lane’s Stone-Age Suitor’

In JO #37 Bill Finger, Swan & John Forte revealed the incredible truth about multi-powered Mysterio in the case of ‘Superman’s Super-Rival’, whilst Binder, Swan & Kaye exposed the difficulties of frivolous Lucy Lane having ‘The Jimmy Olsen Signal Watch!’: a timepiece/communicator which kept the boy on a constant electronic leash…

This issue ended with a cunning caper which saw resident crackpot genius Professor Phineas Potter concoct a serum which allowed Jimmy to reprise his many malleable antics and tangled troublemaking as ‘The Elastic Lad of Metropolis’ (Binder, Swan & George Klein) – almost exposing Superman’s secret identity into the bargain.

Records from the period are sadly incomplete but Bernstein probably wrote each tale in Lois Lane #10, beginning with Schaffenberger-limned classic ‘The Cry-Baby of Metropolis’, wherein Lois – terrified of losing her looks – exposed herself to a youth ray and temporarily turned into a baby, much to the good-natured amusement of Superman and arch rival Lana Lang

Schaffenberger also illustrated ‘Lois Lane’s Romeo’ as the constantly spurned reporter finally gave up on her extraterrestrial beau and was romanced by a slick, romantic European. Of course he was also a conniving, crooked conman…

She stormed back in formidable crime-busting form for ‘Lois Lane’s Super-Séance!’ (Boring & Kaye), apparently graced with psychic sight, but actually pulling the wool over the eyes of superstitious crooks.

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #38 also tapped the TV connection as the lad became ‘The MC of the Midnight Scare Theatre’ (Bernstein, Swan & Forte), uncovering an incredible mystery as his hoary, hokey act apparently scared four viewers to death…

Although by the same creators, the broad humour of ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Wedding’ to Lucy had a far less ingenious explanation, but ‘Olsen’s Super-Supper!’ (Bernstein, Swan & John Giunta) ended things on a high as the impecunious kid entered an eating contest and allowed shady operators to try an experimental appetite-increasing ray on him. Of course the mad scientists had an ulterior, criminal motive…

A plane crash and head wound transformed Lois into a fur-bikinied wild woman in #11 of her own magazine but, even after being rescued by Superman, ‘The Leopard Girl of the Jungle!’ (Bill Finger & Schaffenberger) still had one last task to valiantly undertake, after which the anonymously authored ‘The Tricks of Lois Lane!’ found the restored reporter up to her old schemes to expose Clark as Superman, whilst ‘Lois Lane’s Super-Perfume!’ (possibly Bernstein?) seemed able to turn any man into a love-slave – until the Man of Steel exposed the criminal scammers behind it…

Binder, Swan & Forte crafted all of Jimmy Olsen #39 which began with the lad stuck on another world where he quickly became ‘The Super-Lad of Space!’, after which, back in Metropolis, his ill-considered antics lost and won and lost him a fortune in ‘The Million Dollar Mistakes!’ before ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Super-Signals!’ saw him misplace his Superman-summoning watch and forced to spectacularly improvise every time he got into trouble…

Bernstein handled LL #12 beginning with two Schaffenberger specials: ‘The Mermaid of Metropolis’ in which an accident doomed Lois to life underwater beside Sea King Aquaman, until Superman found a cure for her piscoid condition, whilst in ‘The Girl Atlas!’ Lana sneakily turned herself into a super-powerhouse to corral the Man of Steel and learned what sneaky meant when her rival struck back…

Al Plastino illustrated ‘Lois Lane Loves Clark Kent!’ wherein Lois, believing she had incontrovertible proof of Superman’s secret, started a campaign to entrap the unknowing journalist in wedlock…

Swan & Forte illustrated all of JO #40, beginning with ‘The Invisible Life of Jimmy Olsen’ (scripted by Binder) as the hapless lad was enmired in all manner of mischief after a gift from his best pal unexpectedly rendered him unseen but not trouble-free, after which ‘Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl’s Pal!’ saw the reporter temporarily struck blind just as a crook with a grudge tried to kill him.

With Superman out of touch, the hero’s secret weapon Supergirl (a hidden trainee no one except cousin Kal-El knew of) rushed to the rescue, only to have the feisty lad disbelieve and dispute her very existence.

Bernstein then exposed ‘Jimmy Olsen, Juvenile Delinquent!’ as the kid went undercover to break up a prototypical street gang and discovered Perry White’s own son was a member…

Bernstein & Schaffenberger led in the 13th issue of the news-hen’s series, hilariously ‘Introducing… Lois Lane’s Parents!’

Superman had offered the lady reporter a lift home to the farm of Sam and Ella Lane for a family reunion, but thanks to a concatenation of circumstances, local gossip and super-politeness, the Man of Steel quickly found himself press-ganged into a wedding.

Fair Warning: this tale also contains Lois’ first nude scene when proud father Sam got out the baby album…

By the same creative team, and in a brilliant pastiche of My Fair Lady, ‘Alias Lois Lane!’ found the indomitable inquirer undercover as floozie Sadie Blodgett to snap candid shots of a movie star and hired by thugs to impersonate Superman’s girlfriend in an assassination plot bound to fail…

Then, Finger, Boring & Kaye disclosed ‘The Shocking Secret of Lois Lane!’ following a tragically implausible incident which forced the reporter to cover her disfigured head in a lead-lined steel box. Thankfully the Action Ace was around to deduce what was really going on…

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #41 opened with Bernstein, Swan & Forte’s ‘The Human Octopus!’, which highlighted the lad’s negligent idiocy when he impetuously ate alien fruit and apparently grew six more arms. The true effect of the space spud was far more devious…

Binder and Kaye joined Swan for ‘The Robot Reporter!’, as Jimmy used an automaton provided by Superman to do his job whilst he recuperated from a damaged ankle and managed to get into trouble from the comfort of his apartment. Thanks to some stupid showing off the kid was then mistaken for a master fencer and catapulted into a Ruritanian adventure as ‘Jimmy Olsen, the Boy Swordsman!’ (by Binder, Swan & Forte).

Lois Lane #14 led with ‘Three Nights in the Fortress of Solitude!’ (Binder & Schaffenberger) as the conniving journalist contrived to isolate herself with Superman long enough to prove how much he needed a woman in his life, only to suffer one disaster after another whilst the Bernstein scripted ‘Lois Lane’s Soldier Sweetheart!’ alternatively showed her warm and generous side as she helped a lonely GI attain his greatest desire.

Jerry Siegel then returned to the character he created using the still-secret Supergirl to catastrophically play cupid in ‘Lois Lane’s Secret Romance!’

Jimmy Olsen #42 started with the uncredited story of ‘The Big Superman Movie!’ (art by Swan & Forte), wherein the star-struck kid consulted on a major motion picture but would far rather have played himself, much to Lucy’s amusement. Nevertheless the sharp apprentice journalist had the last word – and laugh…

Bernstein scripted ‘Perry White, Cub Reporter!’ which saw the Editor and junior trade places, with power only apparently going straight to Olsen’s head, after which ‘Jimmy the Genie!’ saw the something similar occur when boy reporter and magical sprite exchanged roles in a clever thriller by illustrated by Swan & Giunta.

Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #15 featured a landmark mystery tale in ‘The Super-Family of Steel!’ (Binder & Schaffenberger) which seemingly saw Lois attain her every dream. She and her Kryptonian Crimebuster first became ‘Super-Husband and Wife’, with ‘The Bride Gets Super-Powers’ as a consequence, and they even had a brace of super-kids before the astounding ‘Secret of the Super-Family’ was revealed to a shocked audience…

In Superman’s Pal… #43 TV show 77 Sunset Strip got a name-check as ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Four Fads!’ (Swan & Kaye) found the kid attempting to create a teen trend to impress Lucy, whilst as ‘Phantom Fingers Olsen!’ (Boring & Kaye) he infiltrated a gang of murderous thieves, and was later adopted by ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Private Monster!’ (Siegel, Swan & Forte).

After causing no end of embarrassment in Metropolis, the bizarre beast took Jim to his home dimension where even greater shocks awaited…

The final Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane in this collection is #16 from April 1960 and opens with ‘Lois Lane’s Signal-Watch’ with Schaffenberger art over (possibly) a Siegel script, as the Man of Steel learned to regret ever giving a woman who clearly had no idea what “emergency” meant a device which would summon him at any moment of day or night…

That slice of scurrilous 1950s propaganda is inexplicably balanced by a brilliant murder thriller which showed off all Lois’ resilience and fortitude as she infiltrated and solved ‘The Mystery of Skull Island’, (Bernstein) whilst Siegel authored another cruel dark tragedy wherein Superman tried to cure Lois’ nosy impulses by tricking his own girlfriend into believing she had a death stare in ‘The Kryptonite Girl!’. (Of course, as all married couples know, such a power develops naturally not long after the honeymoon…)

I love these stories, but sometime words just fail me…

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #44 ends this third monochrome monolith, starting with ‘The Wolf-Man of Metropolis!’ (Binder, Swan & Kaye), which blended horror, mystery and heart-warming charm in a mini-classic which saw the boy cursed to hairy moon madness and desperately seeking a willing maiden to cure him with a kiss…

That’s followed by Siegel, Swan & Forte’s ‘Jimmy’s Leprechaun Pal!’, a magical imp who made life hell for the cub until human ingenuity outwitted magical pranksterism, after which Bernstein, Swan & Kaye crafted possibly the strangest and most disturbing yarn in this compilation as the boy went undercover as a sexy showgirl to get close to gangster Big Monte in ‘Miss Jimmy Olsen!’

As well as containing some of the most delightful episodes of the pre angst-drenched, cosmically catastrophic DC, these fun, thrilling, deeply peculiar and yes, often potentially offensive stories also perfectly capture the changing tone and tastes which reshaped comics from the safe 1950s to the seditious, rebellious 1970s, all the while keeping to the prime directive of the industry – “keep them entertained and keep them wanting more”.

Despite my good-natured cavils from my high horse here in the 21st century, I think these stories have a huge amount to offer funnybook fun-seekers. I strongly urge you to check them out.
© 1959, 1960, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Justice League of America volume 5


By Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Cary Bates, Elliot S! Maggin, Marty Pasko, Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin, Frank McLaughlin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-195-9

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – for which read the Action Comics debut of Superman in 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s history was the combination of individual sales-points into a group. Thus what seems blindingly obvious to us with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was proven: a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces. Plus, of course, a mob of superheroes is just so much cooler than one (…or even one-and-a-half if there’s a sidekick in situ…).

The Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comicbooks and when Julius Schwartz revived the superhero genre in the late 1950s, it was inevitable that there would be a new banding together of the latest reconfigured mystery men.

That moment came with The Brave and the Bold #28, a classical adventure title that had recently transformed into a try-out magazine like Showcase. Just before Christmas 1959 the ads began running. “Just Imagine! The mightiest heroes of our time… have banded together as the Justice League of America to stamp out the forces of evil wherever and whenever they appear!

The rest was history: the JLA captivated the youth of a nation, further reinvigorated an industry and even inspired a small family publishing concern to create the Fantastic Four, inspiring a whole new way of telling comics stories.

Following a meteoric rise, TV spin-offs brought trendy international awareness of costumed crusaders which in turn led to catastrophic overexposure. By 1968 the superhero boom looked to be dying just as its predecessor had at the end of the 1940s.

Sales were down generally and production costs beginning to spiral. More importantly “free” entertainments, such as television, were now found in even the poorest household. If you were a kid in the sixties, think just how many brilliant cartoon shows were created during that decade, when comics artists such as Alex Toth and Doug Wildey moved into West Coast animation studios.

Moreover, many comicbook heroes were now appearing on that ubiquitous small screen. As well as wholly original characters, the Marvel heroes, Superman, Aquaman, Batman, and even the JLA were there every Saturday in your own living room – even after that global bubble had burst…

It was also a time of great political and social upheaval. Change was everywhere and unrest even reached the corridors of DC. When a number of creators agitated for increased work benefits the request was not looked upon kindly. Many left the company – not always voluntarily – for other outfits. Some quit the business altogether.

Of course the greatest threat was the insatiable appetite for supernatural themes which decimated the industry’s pantheons of gaudily-clad mystery men…

This fifth monochrome Justice League Showcase volume compellingly reflects the signs of the times as the next generation of writers fostered a “new wave” and saw the title’s lowest ebb. Publication slowed to six issues a year before the tide slowly turned and the World’s Greatest Superheroes began climbing again to the top of the gradually recovering, tried-and-tested Fights ‘n’ Tights arena…

Collecting Justice League of America #107-132 from the era when superheroes were in the direst doldrums and looked like disappearing forever, this tome covers the period September/October 1973 to June 1976, during which the market changed forever from mass market to niche-industry and comicbooks stopped being casual, cheap or disposable entertainment.

By the end of this book the stories reflected the harsh facts, and publishers had accepted the conceptual and commercial transition from a broad-appeal medium slavishly following outside trends and fashions to increasingly become a targeted service making only what their most dedicated fans wanted…

The dramas begin here with Justice League of America #107 and ‘Crisis on Earth-X’ by Len Wein, Dick Dillin & Dick Giordano, the first chapter of another landmark crossover with their Earth-2 counterparts and antecedents in the JSA.

Following the popular revival of a forgotten team during their previous get-together (The Seven Soldiers of Victory as seen in Showcase Presents Justice League of America volume 4), this time the annual team-up reintroduced another band of Golden Age warriors – from corporate acquisition Quality Comics and newly rechristened The Freedom Fighters

It began when a recreational trip across the dimensional barrier was accidentally sabotaged by android stowaway Red Tornado, depositing Batman, Green Arrow and Elongated Man from Earth-1 and Superman, Sandman and Doctor Fate from Earth-2 into another alternate universe – one where the Nazis had won World War II.

Trapped and outnumbered, the seven displaced heroes were rescued by the last liberty-loving champions of a world dominated by fascist super-science and a secret dictator. Joining forces with embattled champions Uncle Sam, The Ray, Doll Man, Phantom Lady, Black Condor and the Human Bomb the newcomers ended the Nazi threat forever in the sinister sequel ‘Thirteen Against the Earth!’

With everybody returned to their home planes #109 then brought back a cultish guest star as ‘The Doom of the Divided Man!’ revived the dormant career of 1960’s hero/villain Eclipso, who harboured another cunning plan to conquer the world. However the real focus of this tale was the unexpected resignation of Hawkman following his recall to home planet Thanagar

Wein, Dillin & Giordano then got to deliver a delightful and potent seasonal present in #110 as Superman, Batman, Green Arrow, Black Canary and Red Tornado had to adapt to abrasive substitute Green Lantern John Stewart (a controversial “angry black man” conceived at a time when non-Caucasian heroes could be counted on the fingers of one hand) mid-mission, when the League gathered to hunt down ‘The Man Who Murdered Santa Claus!’

Murderous psychopath The Key had set up the heroes for ambush with the callous assassination of an actor hired to cheer orphaned kids, but his horrific deeper scheme was only foiled thanks to the supernatural intervention of an almost forgotten League member…

JLA #111 introduced a seminal villain who became, decades later, a pivotal player in The Final Crisis. Here however the enigmatic Libra merely used his incredible abilities to revive the dormant Injustice Gang of the World.

Although his stated goal was to imbue Chronos, Mirror Master, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Shadow Thief and Tattooed Man with energies stolen from Aquaman, Superman, Batman, Flash, Elongated Man and the fully recovered GL Hal Jordan, the ‘Balance of Power!’ he was really seeking meant keeping all the purloined might for his own unimaginable use…

Those stolen super-powers featured in #112’s follow-up ‘War with the One-Man Justice League!’ as the entire team gathered to help restore their diminished comrades. The high risk solution was to resurrect power-stealing android Amazo to collect the stolen energies and abilities – but nobody considered what the mechanoid might do after it absorbed Batman’s vast intellect and suspicious mind…

Justice League of America #113 (September/October 1974) proved how desperate were the times for the spandex set as the epic annual collaboration with the JSA was restricted to a single issue. Nevertheless ‘The Creature in the Velvet Cage!’ proved to be one of the very best team-up tales as a JLA visiting party to Earth-2 (Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and Elongated Man) shared the shame and horror of The Sandman, when his greatest secret was catastrophically revealed.

Years ago the Master of Dreams had accidentally transformed his sidekick Sandy, the Golden Boy into a ravening silicoid monster and been compelled to sedate and imprison his best friend.

Now after three decades the beast was awake and free, seemingly intent on destroying the world. At least that’s what Hourman and the Golden Age Flash and Wonder Woman believed when they joined their old comrade on his tragic manhunt…

Wein, with the plotting assistance of Mark Hanerfeld, ended his run as scripter with a smart and decidedly effective little thriller in #114 – ‘The Return of Anakronus!’ During a League-sponsored telethon an enigmatic time-bending villain took disgraced old team mascot Snapper Carr and his family hostage. Although definitely dangerous, the crazed felon’s ranting didn’t make much sense: after all, why would a man who had repeatedly defeated the JLA stoop to demanding a mere cash ransom…?

The tone turned cosmic in #115 as Denny O’Neil provided a fill-in script which brought back retired hero J’onn J’onzz, Manhunter from Mars who begged his former comrades to save the dying remnants of his people from ‘The Last Angry God!’ who had imprisoned them on a far-distant world.

Cary Bates then contributed ‘The Kid Who Won Hawkman’s Wings!’ in #116 as sightings of Hawkman in Midway City led Elongated Man, Green Arrow, Aquaman, Flash and Batman into a deadly duel against the Matter Master. Closer inspection revealed the Pinioned Paladin to be a baffled kid named Charley Parker who had no idea why he changed into a Golden Eagle, whilst the actual mastermind behind the plot was a shock to everybody concerned…

After just over a year’s absence the true winged Wonder returned in JLA #117. ‘I Have No Wings and I Must Fly!’ – scripted by Elliot S! Maggin and with Giordano’s protégé Frank McLaughlin assuming the role of regular inker over Dick Dillin’s sleek and effective pencils – saw alien cop Katar Hol resurface to warn Earth of a deadly extraterrestrial menace dubbed The Equalizer.

This ineffable menace was driven to achieve pure balance in the universe, and to achieve this he somehow homogenised entire civilisations, making life forms exactly identical to each other.

His Equalizer plague weapon was overwhelmingly contagious and – after reducing the population of Thanagar to imbecilic, four foot tall clones of each other, including Hol’s beloved wife Shayera – the unfathomable voyager had turned his single eye upon Earth…

With his homeworld quarantined and after defeating the appalling threat beside the JLA, Hawkman had no other refuge than our planet and promptly joined Aquaman, Black Canary, Flash Red Tornado and Superman in resisting the ‘Takeover of the Earth-Masters!’ (#118 by Maggin, Dillin & McLaughlin). This saw a misguided attempt by trans-dimensional beings who sought to save our world from super beings by despatching eerie hyper-evolving Adaptoid organisms.

With even the Man of Steel unable to face the ghastly invaders, Hawkman devised a risky strategy involving his Equalization-infected wife, which fortunately turned out in Humanity’s favour in #119’s ‘Winner Takes the Earth!’

Another old friend reappeared in #120 as ‘The Parallel Perils of Adam Strange!’ (written by Bates) saw the Earth-born champion of Planet Rann forced to re-fight his greatest battles after despotic Kanjar Ro murdered his fiancée Alanna.

Even though Ro had cruelly stacked the deck, Strange – and his newly arrived Justice League allies – triumphed and even pulled a rabbit out of the hat to restore the Rannian heroine in time for her own magical wedding in the blistering conclusion ‘The Hero Who Jinxed the Justice League!’

In issue #122 Marty Pasko delved into the team’s private lives and revealed why the JLA shared their civilian secrets with each other in ‘The Great Identity Crisis!’ as old enemy Dr. Light used photonic super-science and the too-good-to-be-true mineral Amnesium (guess what it causes?) to mess with the heroes’ minds and lure them into what should have been inescapable death-traps…

Another year gone, it was then time for the annual JLA/JSA yarn and Bates, Maggin, Dillin & McLaughlin stepped far off the reservation with ‘Where on Earth Am I?’ and ‘Avenging Ghosts of the Justice Society!’ from issues #123 and 124.

In Flash #179 (‘The Flash – Fact of Fiction?, May 1968) Bates and Gardner Fox first took the multiple Earths concept to its illogical conclusion by trapping the Monarch of Motion in “our” Reality of Earth-Prime, where the Sultan of Speed was just a comic-book character.

Here Bates and co-scripter Maggin returned to the idea as a story conference in Editor Julie Schwartz’s office led to the oafish goons playing with the Flash’s hastily-constructed Cosmic Treadmill, sending one of them hurtling between dimensions.

Transformed and empowered by the journey, Cary Bates became the most dangerous villain alive, leading Earth-2 criminals The Wizard, Shade, Sportsmaster, Huntress, Icicle and The Gambler in a lethal assault on JSA heroes Robin, Hourman, Wildcat, Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder and Dr. Mid-Nite.

Maggin, meanwhile, had followed his friend but ended up on Earth-1. Undaunted, he recruited Batman, Black Canary, Aquaman, Hawkman, Green Arrow and Flash to save three imperilled universes but it took the Divine Might of the supernal Spectre to truly set every thing back to its assigned place and time…

Gerry Conway began his long association with the Justice League in #125 with a clever 2-parter concerning the dumping of toxic energy from an outer dimension onto Earth. ‘The Men Who Sold Destruction!’ craftily employed schizophrenic villain Two-Face as their wily broker to expend the deadly forces, but the super-minds of Dronndar completely underestimated the double-dealing Harvey Dent’s capacity for betrayal. Almost as bad was that the opportunistic Weaponers of Qward and the JLA were as easily fooled by the Machiavellian maniac in #126’s Byzantine conclusion ‘The Evil Connection!’

JLA #127 confirmed that ‘The Command is “Chaos”!’ when new menace The Anarchist discovered a means of tapping Green Lantern’s power battery and desperate Hal Jordan begged his fellow champions to stop him recharging his ring at any cost, after which Pasko popped back to author a sharp, smart reintroduction for the Earth-1 Amazing Amazon in #128’s ‘Death-Visions of the Justice League!’

For a period “our” Wonder Woman had lost her powers and fought crime as a martial artist (see Diana Prince: Wonder Woman volumes 1-4), but once her supernatural gifts returned she underwent a self-imposed set of trials before rejoining the team.

Sadly her readmission coincided with the team disbanding following a cataclysmic, psychologically punishing assault by alien fear-eater Nekron, and even the Princess of Power seemed unable to galvanise the Leaguers before ‘The Earth Dies Screaming!’ in #129.

The next issue explored the revelatory early days of the team’s orbiting satellite headquarters as ‘Skyjack at 22,300 Miles!’ (scripted by Pasko) disclosed how an intergalactic interloper attempted to turn the space base into a spawning ground and put the nonplussed heroes through a gamut of ghastly trials before order and equilibrium were unconventionally restored.

This mammoth tome ends with a clever mystery double-bill from Conway, Dillin & McLaughlin. Issue #131 featured ‘The Beasts Who Thought Like Men!’ wherein a new credit card currency for America somehow enhanced the minds of animals and insects, simultaneously decreasing human brainpower to such a low point that bugs could enslave deadly villains like Sonar and Queen Bee

The tale took a strange turn in #132 as Superman vanished and Supergirl stepped in to help against animals organised enough to conquer the country. Even then there was still one more tangled twist in the tale of ‘The Beasts Who Fought Like Men!…’

The Justice League of America has become a keystone of American comics and these tales are still among the most thought-provoking, controversial and purely entertaining episodes in their half-century history.

With captivating covers provided by Nick Cardy, Mike Grell, Giordano, Ernie Chan (née Chua) & José Luis García-López, this captivating transition tome shows the unalloyed appeal of the Fights ‘n’ Tights Crowd at their most innovative and inspiring.

Just Imagine…
© 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock volume 2


By Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Bob Haney, Ross Andru & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1984-0

Sgt Rock and the “combat-happy Joes” of Easy Company are one of the great and enduring creations of the American comic-book industry. The gritty meta-realism of Robert Kanigher’s ordinary guys in life-or-death situations captured the imaginations of generations of readers, young and old. So pervasive is this icon of comicbook combat that’s it’s hard to grasp that Rock is not an immortal industry prototype like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman – with us since the earliest moments of the industry – but is in fact a late addition to and child of the Silver Age of Comics: debuting as just another tale in war anthology G.I. Combat (#68, January 1959, by Kanigher & Joe Kubert).

The archetypal sergeant was an anonymous boxer who wasn’t particularly skilled but simply refused to be beaten, absorbing any and all the punishment dealt out to him.

When ‘The Rock!’ enlisted in the US Army, however, that same Horatian quality attained mythic proportions as he held back an overwhelming Nazi attack by sheer grit and determination, remaining bloody but unbowed on a field littered with dead and broken men.

The tale inspired an instant sequel or two before, in Our Army at War #83 (June 1959), the story really began…

This second titanic tour of duty collects in stark and stunning monochrome the groundbreaking tales which made Sgt. Rock a comics legend. These grim and gritty, epically poetic war stories are taken from the then still-anthological Our Army at War #118-148, bracketing May 1962 to November 1964, a period when American comics were undergoing a renaissance in style, theme and quality.

Scripted throughout by Editor Kanigher, the terse episodes herein begin with ‘The Tank vs. the Tin Soldier!’ illustrated by the brilliant Russ Heath as movie idol Randy Booth mustered in to Easy Company and spent all his snobbish energy trying to get out again. By the time he learned how to be a real soldier, his moment in the limelight had turned from cinematic melodrama to Greek tragedy…

The artist most closely associated with Rock, Joe Kubert illustrated #119’s memorable fable ‘A Bazooka for Babyface!’ wherein a kid who’d lied about his age made it to the Front, but didn’t fool the indomitable topkick. Of course, by the time the fighting died down enough to send him back, the Babyface was a seasoned combat veteran…

Kubert superbly limned the majority of stories in this volume, such as #120’s ‘Battle Tags for Easy Co.!’, which used brief vignettes to illustrate how squad stalwarts Ice Cream Soldier, Wild Man and Bulldozer earned their nicknames, before showing the latest Green Apple recruit why the Sarge was called Rock, after which ‘New Boy in Easy!’ in #121 introduced a chess-obsessed replacement who took a lot of convincing that war was no hobby and men weren’t just pawns…

This narrative device of incorporating brief past-action episodes into a baptism of fire scenario played over and over again in Sgt. Rock and never got old.

OAAW #122 featured ‘Battle of the Pyjama Commandoes!’ comprising more portmanteau tales as a number of Easy Joes recuperated in a field hospital, until the Germans broke through and the wounded had to pick up their weapons again…

High-energy stylist Jerry Grandenetti illustrated ‘Battle Brass Ring!’ in #123 as a pushy new replacement antagonised the entire unit until he learned to his cost the value of teamwork and the price of command, after which Kubert returned for ‘Target – Sgt. Rock!’

When the indomitable warrior was captured and brainwashed by a Nazi tank commander into leading an attack on Easy, Bulldozer had to balance Rock’s life against his beloved sergeant’s unflinching standing orders…

More moral dilemmas punished the valiant warriors in #125 (illustrated by Heath) as the unit was cut off from the main Allied force and ordered to ‘Hold – At All Costs!’, whilst ‘The End of Easy Company!’ (#126 and illustrated by Kubert) pitted the unstoppable dogfaces against impassable fortifications and a veritable mountain of Germans who severely underestimated the sheer stubbornness of tired, angry Americans…

With Kubert settling in for the long haul as regular artist on the strip, issue #127 offered an epic 25-page blitz of stories-within-a-story as a quartet of combat-happy Joes related personal tales of their unbeatable boss in ‘4 Faces of Sgt. Rock’.

OAAW #128 featured ‘The Battle of the Sergeants!’ as Rock met his Nazi counterpart in the deserts of Africa, after which #129 revealed that ‘Heroes Need Cowards!’ by exploring Rock’s earliest days in the Army, and ‘No Hill for Easy!’ in #130 saw the battered band of brothers go above and beyond to placate a shell-shocked Major and finish the suicide mission of a deranged last man standing…

In #131 ‘One Pair of Dogtags … For Sale’ saw Easy meet a woman warrior every inch their equal who literally spilled her own blood to keep Rock alive, whilst in ‘Young Soldiers Never Cry!’ the sergeant became a combat babysitter after rescuing a toddler on the battlefield of Normandy.

‘Yesterday’s Hero!’ in #133 saw a decorated veteran join Easy to a rapturous welcome, but flounder, unable to escape the shocking circumstances that made him an unwilling example of both heroism and cowardice, whilst in ‘The T.N.T. Book’ another replacement insisted on playing the odds in war as he had on the track… until he learned the true stakes of battle…

Our Army at War #135 pitted Rock against a German non-com who was in almost every way his ‘Battlefield Double!’, whilst in #136 a desperately frightened new kid arrived begging the indomitable topkick to ‘Make Me a Hero!’, and #137 saw a cavalry holdover from WWI finally achieve his long-delayed charge to glory in ‘Too Many Sergeants!’

When a close skirmish separated Rock from his greenest new replacement in #138, the weary warrior went through combat hell to find ‘Easy’s Lost Sparrow!’, before the next mission resulted in capture for four of the unit’s best and a ‘A Firing Squad for Easy!’ at a German Submarine dock. Happily the team of Frogmen they’d been protecting returned the favour…

OAAW #140 was another full-length thriller – with cameos from fellow comicbook combatant Captain Johnny Cloud and French Resistance fighter Mademoiselle Marie – which revealed the wry story of how Rock kept winning deserved but wholly unwelcome battlefield promotions. His dilemma as a ‘Brass Sergeant!’ was only resolved after reuniting a misunderstood son with his “spit-and-polish” General father under exceptional circumstances…

An timid old school friend turned up in #141, still needing Rock’s protection until “Shaker” finally pulled the ‘Dead Man’s Trigger!’, whilst in the next issue Kanigher pushed the envelope with the tale of a boy who held the sergeant to ransom and became ‘Easy’s New Topkick!’ in order to finish his dead Maquis comrades’ last mission. This stirring saga inspired the creation of Unit 3 – a French Resistance squad of battle-hardened children who appeared sporadically in later issues.

In #143 the US soldiers were back in the desert where embattled dogfaces honoured fallen comrade Farmer Boy by planting ‘Easy’s T.N.T. Crop!’ and harvested a victory built on sand, after which ‘The Sparrow and the Tiger!’ saw Rock at last succumb to battle fatigue and the constant loss of his “kids” until a scared replacement showed him the true value of persistence and grace under fire…

Our Army at War #145 offered the back-story on the squad’s Native American rifleman in ‘A Feather for Little Sure-Shot!’, whilst in #146 imagination ran wild as ‘The Fighting Guns of Easy!’ compared stories about the men who fired them.

This second savage selection of combat actions concludes with a rare 2-part yarn, beginning in #147 as ‘Generals Don’t Die! Book One’ found the hands-on topkick the envy of all his commanding officers. However, after helping desk-jockey General Bentley die in glorious battle, Rock was saddled with fulfilling a promise to a dying man and forced to impersonate Bentley.

Things got even trickier when the impostor had to lead the troops in breaking a stalled advance, a classic conundrum spectacularly resolved in the blockbuster conclusion ‘Generals Don’t Die! Book Two: Generals are Sergeants with Stars!’ as Rock kept the dead man’s secret and maintained Bentley family honour until he could pass on those unearned Brass Stars to the next Bentley generation…

Robert Kanigher at his worst was a declarative, heavy-handed and formulaic writer, but when writing his best stuff – as here – his work was imaginative, evocative, iconoclastic and heart-rending. He was a unique reporter and observer of the warrior’s way and the unchanging condition of the dedicated and so very human ordinary foot-slogging G.I.

With superb combat covers from Kubert, Grandenetti, and Heath fronting each episode, this battle-book is a visually perfect compendium and a certain delight for any jaded comics fan looking for something more than flash and dazzle.

A perfect example of true Shock and Awe; these are stories every comics fan and combat collector should see.
© 1963, 1964, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents the Spectre volume 1


By Gardner F. Fox, Bob Haney, Michael L. Fleisher, Paul Kupperberg, Murphy Anderson, Neal Adams, Jim Aparo & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3417-1

The Spectre is one of the oldest characters in DC’s vast stable, created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily in 1940 and debuting via a 2-part origin epic in More Fun Comics #52 and 53. Moreover, just like Siegel’s other iconic creation, he soon began to suffer from a basic design flaw: he’s just too darn powerful.

Unlike Superman however, this champion of justice was already dead, so he can’t really be logically or dramatically imperilled. Of course in those far off early days that wasn’t nearly as important as sheer spectacle: forcibly grabbing the reader’s utter attention and keeping it stoked to a fantastic fever pitch.

Starting as a virtually omnipotent ghost, the Grim Ghost evolved, over various returns, refits and reboots into a tormented mortal soul bonded inescapably to the actual embodiment of the biblical Wrath of God.

The story is a genuinely gruesome one: police detective Jim Corrigan was callously executed by gangsters before being called back to the land of the living. Ordered to fight crime and evil by a glowing light and disembodied voice, he was indisputably the most formidable hero of the Golden Age.

He has been revamped and revived many times, and in the 1990s was revealed to be God’s Spirit of Vengeance wedded to a human conscience. When Corrigan was finally laid to rest, Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan and latterly murdered Gotham City cop Crispus Allen replaced him as the mitigating conscience of the force of Divine Retribution…

However the true start of that radically revised and revitalised career began in the superhero-saturated mid-1960s when, hot on the heels of feverish fan-interest in the alternate world of the Justice Society of America and Earth-2 (where all the WWII heroes retroactively resided), DC began trying out solo revivals of 1940’s characters, as opposed to their wildly successful Silver Age reconfigurations such as Flash, Green Lantern, Atom and Hawkman

This sublime and colossal Showcase selection collects and documents the Man of Darkness’ return in the Swinging Sixties, his landmark reinterpretation in the horror-soaked, brutalised 1970s and even finds room for some later appearances before the character was fully de-powered and retrofitted for the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe.

As such this mammoth monochrome tome (624 peril-packed pages!) contains Showcase #60, 61 and 64, The Spectre #1-10, team-up tales from The Brave and the Bold #72, 75, 116, 180 & 199 and DC Comics Presents #29, the lead strips from Adventure Comics #431-440 and one last hurrah from horror-anthology Ghosts #97-99, encompassing the end of 1965 to the middle of 1983.

As previously mentioned, DC tried out a number of Earth-2 iterations (Starman/Black Canary – with Wildcat – in The Brave and the Bold #61-62 whilst Showcase #55 & 56 spotlighted Doctor Fate & Hourman with a cameo from the original Green Lantern), but Schwartz and Fox only finally achieved their ambition to launch a Golden Age hero into his own title with the revival of the Ghostly Guardian in Showcase - but it was hard going and perhaps benefited from a growing general public interest in supernatural stories…

After three full length appearances and many guest-shots, The Spectre won his own solo series at the end of 1967, just as the super-hero craze went into a steep decline, but maybe Showcase #60 (January/February 1966) anticipated the rise of supernatural comics by re-introducing Corrigan and his phantom passenger in ‘War That Shook the Universe’ by Earth-2 team supreme Gardner F. Fox & Murphy Anderson.

This spectacular saga revealed that the Heroic Haunt had vanished two decades previously, leaving the fundamentally human Corrigan to pursue his war against evil on merely mortal terms until a chance encounter with a psychic investigator freed the ghost buried within him.

A diligent search revealed that, twenty years previously, a supernal astral invader had broken into the Earth plane and possessed a mortal, but was so inimical to our laws of reality that both it and the Grim Ghost were locked into their meat shells – until now…

Thus began a truly spectre-acular (don’t groan – that’s what they called it back then) clash with the devilish Azmodus that spanned all creation and blew the minds of us gobsmacked kids…

Issue #61 (March/April) upped the ante when the even more satanic Shathan the Eternal subsequently insinuated himself into our realm from ‘Beyond the Sinister Barrier’, stealing mortal men’s shadows until he was powerful enough to conquer the physical universe. This time The Spectre treated us to an exploration of the universe’s creation before narrowly defeating the source of all evil…

The Sentinel Spirit returned in Showcase #64 (September/October 1966) for a marginally more mundane but no less thrilling adventure when ‘The Ghost of Ace Chance’ took up residence in Jim’s body. By this time it was established that ghosts needed a mortal anchor to recharge their ectoplasmic “batteries”, and the unscrupulous crooked gambler was determined to inhabit the best frame available…

The try-out run concluded, the editors sat back and waited for sales figures to dictate the next move. When they proved inconclusive Schwartz orchestrated a concerted publicity campaign to further promote Earth-2’s Ethereal Adventurer.

The Brave and the Bold #72 (June/July 1967) saw the Spectre clash with Earth-1’s Scarlet Speedster in ‘Phantom Flash, Cosmic Traitor’ by Bob Haney, Carmine Infantino & Charles “Chuck” Cuidera. This sinister saga saw the mortal meteor transformed into a sinister spirit-force and power-focus for unquiet American aviator Luther Jarvis who returned from death in 1918 to wreak vengeance on the survivors of his squadron – until the Spectre intervened…

Due to the vagaries of comicbook scheduling, Brave and the Bold #75 (December 1967/January 1968) appeared at around the same time as The Spectre #1, although the latter had a cover-date of November/December 1967.

In the Batman team-up title – scripted by Haney and drawn by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito – the Ghostly Guardian joined the Dark Knight to free Gotham City’s Chinatown from ‘The Grasp of Shahn-Zi!’: an ancient oriental sorcerer determined to prolong his reign of terror at the expense of an entire community and through the sacrifice of an innocent child, after which the Astral Avenger finally, simultaneously, debuted in his own title…

The Spectre #1 featured ‘The Sinister Lives of Captain Skull’ by Fox & Anderson, and divulged how the botched assassination of American Ambassador Joseph Clanton and an experimental surgical procedure allowed one of the diplomat’s earlier incarnations to take over his body and, armed with mysterious eldritch energies, run amok on Earth.

Those “megacyclic energy” abilities enabled the revenant to harm and potentially destroy the Ghostly Guardian and compelled the Spectre to pursue the piratical Skull through a line of previous lives until he could find their source and purge the peril from all time and space…

With issue #2 (January/February 1968) artistic iconoclast Neal Adams came aboard for the Fox-scripted mystery ‘Die Spectre – Again’ wherein crooked magician Dirk Rawley accidentally manifested his etheric self and severely tested both Corrigan and his phantom partner as they sought to end the double-menace’s string of crimes, mundane and magical. At this time the first inklings of a distinct separation and individual identities began. The two halves of the formerly sole soul of Corrigan were beginning to disagree and even squabble…

New scripter Mike Friedrich joined Adams for #3’s ‘Menace of the Mystic Mastermind’ wherein pugilistic paragon Wildcat faced the inevitable prospect of age and infirmity even as an inconceivable force from another universe possessed petty thug Sad Jack Dold and turned him into a nigh-unstoppable force of cosmic chaos…

‘Stop that Kid… Before He Wrecks the World’ was written & illustrated by Adams and saw a similar trans-universal malignity deliberately empower a young boy as a prelude to its ultimate conquest, whilst #5’s ‘The Spectre Means Death?’ (all Adams again) appeared to show the Ghostly Guardian transformed into a pariah and deadly menace to society, until Jim’s investigations uncovered the emotion-controlling Psycho Pirate at the root of the Spectre’s problems…

Despite all the incredible talent and effort lavished upon it, The Spectre simply wasn’t finding a big enough audience. Adams departed for straight superhero glory elsewhere and a hint of changing tastes came as veteran illustrator of horror comics Jerry Grandenetti came aboard.

Issue #6 (September/October 1968) saw his eccentric, manic cartooning adding raw wildness to the returning Fox’s moody thriller ‘Pilgrims of Peril!’ and Murphy Anderson also re-enlisted to apply a solid ink grounding to the story of a sinister invasion by a quartet of phantom Puritans who invaded the slums of Gateway City, driving out the poor and hopeless as they sought lost arcane treasures. These would allow demon lord Nawor of Giempo access to Earth unless The Spectre could win his unlife or death duel with the trans-dimensional horror…

As the back of issue #7 was dedicated to a solo strip starring Hourman (not included in this collection), The Spectre saga here – by Fox, Grandenetti & Anderson – was a half-length tale which followed the drastic steps necessary to convince the soul of bank-robber Frankie Barron to move on. Since he was killed during a heist, the astral form of aversion therapy used to cure ‘The Ghost That Haunted Money!’ proved to be not only ectoplasmically effective but outrageously entertaining…

Issue #8 (January/February 1969) was scripted by Steve Skeates and began a last-ditch and obviously desperate attempt to turn The Spectre into something the new wave of anthology horror readers would buy.

As a twisted, time-lost apprentice wizard struggled to return to Earth after murdering his master and stealing cosmic might from the void, on the mundane plane an exhausted Ghostly Guardian neglected his duties and was taken to task by his celestial creator.

As a reminder of his error, Penitent Phantasm was burdened by a fluctuating weakness – which would change without warning – to keep him honest and earnest. What a moment for the desperate disciple Narkran to return then, determined to secure his elevated god-like existence by securing ‘The Parchment of Power Perilous!’

The Spectre #9 completed the transition and opened with an untitled short from Friedrich (illustrated by Grandenetti & Bill Draut) which saw the Man of Darkness again overstep his bounds by executing a criminal. This prompted Corrigan to refuse the weary wraith the shelter of his reinvigorating form and, when the Grim Ghost then assaulted his own host form, the Heavenly Voice punished the spirit by chaining him to the dreadful Journal of Judgment: demanding he atone by investigating the lives inscribed therein in a trial designed to teach him again the value of mercy…

The now anthologised issue continued with ‘Abraca-Doom’ (Dennis J. O’Neil & Bernie Wrightson) as The Spectre attempted to stop a greedy carnival conjurer from signing a contract with the Devil, whilst ‘Shadow Show’ by Mark Hanerfeld & Jack Sparling detailed the fate of a cheap mugger who thought he could outrun the consequences of a capital crime…

The next issue gave up the ghost and The Spectre folded with #10 (May/June 1969), but not before a quartet of tantalising tales by writer or writers unknown showed what might have been…

‘Footsteps of Disaster’ with art from Grandenetti & George Roussos, followed a man from cradle to early grave and revealed the true wages of sin, whilst ‘Hit and Run’ (probably drawn by Ralph Reese) proved again that the Spirit of Judgment was not infallible and even human scum could be redeemed…

‘How Much Can a Guy Take?’ (Sparling) offered salvation to a shoeshine boy pushed almost too far by an arrogant mobster, and the series closed with a cunning murder mystery involving what appeared to be a killer ventriloquists doll in the Grandenetti & George Roussos illustrated ‘Will the Real Killer Please Rise?’

With that the Astral Avenger returned to comicbook limbo for nearly half a decade until changing tastes and another liberalising of the Comics Code saw him return as the lead feature in Adventure Comics #431 (January/February 1974) in a shocking run of macabre, ultra-violent tales from Michael L. Fleisher & Jim Aparo.

‘The Wrath of… The Spectre’ offered a far more stark and unforgiving take on the Spirit Sentinel and reflected the increasingly violent tone of the times as a gang of murderous thieves slaughtered the crew of a security truck and were tracked down by a harsh, uncompromising police lieutenant named Corrigan.

When the bandits were exposed, the cop unleashed a horrific green and white apparition from his body which inflicted ghastly punishments that horrendously fitted their crimes…

With art continuity (and no, I’m not sure what that means either), from Russell Carley, the draconian fables continued in #432 as in ‘The Anguish of… The Spectre’ assassins murdered millionaire Adrian Sterling and Corrigan met the victim’s daughter Gwen. Although the now-infallible Wrathful Wraith soon exposed and excised the culprits, the dead detective had to reveal his true nature to the grieving daughter. Moreover, Corrigan began to feel the stirring of impossible, unattainable yearnings…

Adventure #433 exposed ‘The Swami and… The Spectre’ as Gwen sought spiritual guidance from a ruthless charlatan who promptly paid the appalling price when he finally met a real ghost, whilst in #434 ‘The Nightmare Dummies and… The Spectre’ (with additional pencils by the great Frank Thorne) saw a plague of department store mannequins run wild in a killing spree at the behest of a crazed artisan who believed in magic – but couldn’t imagine the cost of his dabbling…

Issue #435 introduced journalist Earl Crawford who tracked the ghastly fallout of the vengeful spirit’s anti-crime campaign and became ‘The Man Who Stalked The Spectre!’ Of course once he saw the ghost in grisly action Crawford realised the impossibility of publishing this scoop…

Adventure #436 saw Crawford still trying to sell his story as ‘The Gasmen and… The Spectre’ set the Spectral Slaughterman on the trail of a gang who killed everybody at a car show as a demonstration of intent before blackmailing the city. Their gorily inescapable fate only put Crawford closer to exposing Corrigan, after which in #437 ‘The Human Bombs and… The Spectre’ (with pencils from Ernie Chan & Aparo inks) found a kidnapper abducting prominent persons – including Gwen – to further a merciless mad  scheme of amassing untold wealth… until the Astral Avenger ended their depredations forever…

In #438 ‘The Spectre Haunts the Museum of Fear’ (Chan & Aparo again) saw a crazed taxidermist turning people into unique dioramas until the Grim Ghost intervened, but the end was in sight again for the Savage Shade and #439’s ‘The Voice that Doomed… The Spectre’ (all Aparo) turned the wheel of death full circle, as the Heavenly Presence who created him allowed Corrigan to fully live again so that he could marry Gwen.

Sadly it was only to have the joyous hero succumb to ‘The Second Death of The… Spectre’ (#440, July/August 1975) and tragically resume his endless mission…

This milestone serial set a stunning new tone and style for the Ghostly Guardian which has informed each iteration ever since…

From midway through that run, Brave and the Bold #116 provided another continuity-crunching supernatural team-up with Batman in a far less graphically violent struggle against the ‘Grasp of the Killer Cult’ (Haney & Aparo). When Kali-worshipping Thugs from India seemingly targeted survivors of a WWII American Army Engineer unit, Detective Corrigan and the Dark Knight clashed on both the method and motives of the mysterious murderers…

DC Comics Presents #29 (January 1981, by Len Wein, Jim Starlin & Romeo Tanghal) revealed what happened after Supergirl was knocked unconscious after a cataclysmic battle and sent hurtling through dimensions measureless to man. When her cousin tried to follow, the Ghostly Guardian was dispatched to stop the Metropolis Marvel from transgressing ‘Where No Superman Has Gone Before’

By the early 1980s the horror boom had exhausted itself and DC’s anthology comics were disappearing. As part of the effort to keep them alive, Ghosts featured a 3-part serial starring “Ghost-Breaker” and inveterate sceptic Dr. Terry 13 who at last encountered ‘The Spectre’ in issue #97 (February 1981, by Paul Kupperberg, Michael R. Adams & Tex Blaisdell), where terrorists invaded a high society séance and were summarily dispatched by the inhuman poetic justice of the Astral Avenger…

Now determined to destroy the monstrous revenant vigilante, Dr. 13 returned in #98 as ‘The Haunted House and The Spectre’ found the Ghost-Breaker interviewing Earl Crawford and subsequently discovering the long sought killer of his own father. Before 13 could act, however, the Spectre appeared and stole his justifiable retribution from the aggrieved psychic investigator…

The drama closed in Ghosts #99 as ‘Death… and The Spectre’ (Kupperberg, Michael R. Adams & Tony DeZuniga) found the scientist and the spirit locked in one final furious confrontation.

This staggering compendium of supernatural thrillers concludes with two more team-up classics from Brave and the Bold beginning with ‘The Scepter of the Dragon God’ by Fleisher & Aparo (from #180, November 1980).

Although Chinese wizard Wa’an-Zen stole enough mystic artefacts to conquer the world and destroy the Spectre, he foolishly underestimated the skill and bravery of the merely mortal Batman, whilst #199 (June 1983) ‘The Body-napping of Jim Corrigan’, by Mike W. Barr, Ross Andru & Rick Hoberg, found the ethereal avenger baffled by the abduction and disappearance of his mortal host.

Even though he could not trace his own body, the Spectre did know where the World’s Greatest Detective hung out…

Ranging from fabulously fantastical to darkly – violently – enthralling, these comic masterpieces perfectly encapsulate the way superheroes changed over a brief twenty year span, but remain throughout some of the most beguiling and exciting tales of DC’s near-80 years of existence. If you love comicbooks you’d be crazy to ignore this one…
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1974, 1975, 1981, 1983, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Showcase Presents Batman volume 5


By Frank Robbins, Dennis O’Neil, Mike Friedrich, Irv Novick, Bob Brown, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Joe Giella & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-853-8

After three seasons (perhaps two and a half would be closer) the overwhelmingly successful Batman TV show ended in March, 1968. It had clocked up 120 episodes and a movie since the US premiere on January 12, 1966 and triggered a global furore of “Batmania” and indeed hysteria for all things zany and mystery-mannish.

As the series foundered and crashed the global fascination with “camp” superheroes – and yes, the term had everything to do with lifestyle choices but absolutely nothing to do with sexual orientation, no matter what you and Mel Brooks might think about Men in Tights – burst as quickly as it had boomed, and the Caped Crusader was left with a hard core of dedicated fans and followers who now wanted their hero back.

For character editor Julius Schwartz – who had tried to keep the most ludicrous excesses of the show out whilst still cashing in on his global popularity – the reasoning seemed simple: strip out the tired gimmicks and gaudy paraphernalia and get him back to solving baffling mysteries and facing genuine perils as soon and as thrillingly as possible.

This also meant slowly phasing out the boy sidekick…

Many readers were now acknowledged as discerning, independent teens and the kid was no longer relevant to them or the changing times. Although the soon-to-be college-bound freshman Teen Wonder would still pop back for the occasional guest-shot yarn, this fifth astoundingly economical monochrome monument to comics ingenuity and narrative brilliance would see him finally spread his wings and fly the nest for an alternating back-up slot in Detective, shared with relative newcomer Batgirl in stirring hip and mod solo sallies.

Collecting the newly independent Batman’s cases from September 1969 to February 1971 (issues #216-228 of his own title as well as the front halves of Detective Comics #391-407), the 30 stories gathered here – some of the Batman issues were giant reprint editions so only their covers are reproduced within these pages – were written and illustrated by an evolving team of fresh-thinking creators as editor Schwartz lost many of his elite stable to age, attrition and corporate pressure.

However the “new blood” was fresh only to the Gotham Guardian, not the industry, and their sterling efforts deftly moulded the character into a hero capable of actually working within the new “big things” in comics: suspense, horror and the supernatural…

During this pivotal period the long slow road to our scarily Dark Knight gradually revealed a harder-edged, grimly serious caped crusader, even whilst carefully expanding the milieu and scope of Batman’s universe – especially his fearsome foes, who slowly ceased to be harmless buffoons and inexorably metamorphosed into the macabre Grand Guignol murder fiends of the early 1940s…

The transformational process continued here with the Frank Robbins-scripted Detective #391, as ‘The Gal Most Likely to Be – Batman’s Widow!’ (illustrated by Bob Brown & Joe Giella) saw the fleeting return of abortive modern love interest Ginny Jenkins who had become the passing fancy of mobbed-up publisher and extortionist Arnie Arnold.

By crushing the crooked editor’s scam to fleece Gotham’s society eateries, Batman paved the way for Ginny to settle down with the true man of her dreams…

Robbins (illustrious creator of newspaper strip Johnny Hazard) always had a deft grip on both light adventure and darker crime capers as seen in issue #392’s ‘I Died… A Thousand Deaths!’ wherein the Gotham Gangbuster’s plan to take down mobster Scap Scarpel went dangerously awry after trusting a less than honest “confidential informant”. In Batman #216 (November 1968), Robbins gave faithful butler Alfred a surname (after thirty years of service) by introducing the old retainer’s niece Daphne Pennyworth in ‘Angel – or Devil?’ (art from Irv Novick & Dick Giordano).

The aspiring actress had become ensnared in the coils of a band of very crooked travelling players and nearly became their patsy for murder…

In an era where teen angst and the counter-culture played an increasingly strident part in the public consciousness, Robin’s role as spokesperson for a generation was becoming increasingly important, with disputes and splits from his senior partner constantly recurring.

A long overdue separation came in Detective #393’s ‘The Combo Caper!’ (Robbins, Brown & Giella) as Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson took a young delinquent with them on their last vacation together, embroiling Batman and Robin in a sinister string of high end gem heists…

The partnership ended in Batman #217 and ‘One Bullet Too Many!’ (Robbins, Novick & Giordano) as Dick shipped out for Hudson University and Batman undertook a radical rethink of his mission and goals.

Dapper Gentleman’s Gentleman Alfred became a far more hands-on part of the mythology – like Margery Allingham’s Magersfontein Lugg from the Albert Campion mysteries rather than Wodehouse’s smugly unflappable Jeeves – from this point on: shutting up the stately Manor and moving the Batcave into the basement of the Wayne Foundation in the heart of the city where all the crime and injustice actually lurked…

The first case – a brilliant old-fashioned whodunit – of the streamlined setup involved the unsolved murder of a paediatrician, but the real innovation was the creation of a new Wayne Foundation outreach project: the Victims Incorporated Program which saw both superheroism and philanthropy combine to provide justice for those who couldn’t afford to buy it…

The scheme immediately hit a deadly snag in Detective #394’s ‘A Victim’s Victim!’ (Robbins, Brown & Giella) when a crippled racing car driver came looking for vengeance; claiming Wayne had personally sabotaged his career. It took all of the Dark Detective’s skills to uncover the deadly truth…

Batman #218 was an all-reprint Giant Annual represented here only by the glorious Murphy Anderson cover, whereas the next tale marked a landmark step forward in the history of the Caped Crusader.

Neal Adams had been producing a stunning succession of mesmerising covers on both Batman and Detective Comics, as well as illustrating a phenomenal run of team-up tales in World’s Finest Comics and The Brave and the Bold, so his inevitable switch to the premier league was hotly anticipated. However Dennis O’Neil’s script for Detective Comics #395’s ‘The Secret of the Waiting Graves’ (January 1970 and inked by Giordano) also instituted a far more mature and sinister – almost gothic – take on the hero as he confronted the psychotic nigh-immortal lovers named Muerto whose passion for each other was fuelled by deadly drugs and sustained by a century of murder…

Adams’ captivating dynamic hyperrealism was just the final cog in the reconstruction of the epic Batman edifice but it was also an irresistibly attractive one.

Issue #219 led with a cracking political thriller in (Robbins, Novick & Giordano’s) ‘Death Casts the Deciding Vote’ wherein Bruce took his V.I.P. scheme to Washington DC and stumbled into a plot to assassinate an-anti-crime Senator, but the astounding Christmas vignette ‘The Silent Night of the Batman’ (by Mike Friedrich, Adams & Giordano) completely stole the show – and became a revered classic – with its eerily gentle, moving modern interpretation of the Season of Miracles…

Adams couldn’t do it all and he didn’t have to. Detective #396 saw artists Brown & Giella up their game in Robbins’ clever contemporary yarn ‘The Brain-Pickers!’

Teen financial wizard Rory Bell cornered the stock market from the back of his freewheeling motorbike, only to be kidnapped by a greedy gang with an eye to a big killing – corporate and otherwise – until the Caped Crimebuster got on their trail whilst Novick & Giordano similarly adapted their styles for Batman #220.

‘This Murder has been… Pre-Recorded!’, scripted by Robbins, saw Bruce finally meet journalist Marla Manning (whose writing inspired the V.I.P. initiative) when an exposé of corrupt practises made her the target of a murder-for-hire veteran.

O’Neil, Adams & Giordano reunited for Detective #397 and another otherworldly mystery when obsessive millionaire art collector Orson Payne resorted to theft and worse in his quest for an unobtainable love in ‘Paint a Picture of Peril!’, whilst #398 saw Robbins, Brown & Giella pose ‘The Poison Pen Puzzle!’ when muckraking gossip columnist Maxine Melanie’s latest book inspired her murder and an overabundance of perpetrators queuing up to take the credit…

‘A Bat-Death for Batman!’ by Robbins, Novick & Giordano led in issue #221 as the Dark Knight headed for Germany to track down Nazi war criminals and their bio-agent which turned domestic animals and livestock into rabid killers, whilst the Friedrich-scripted ‘A Hot Time in Gotham Town Tonight!’ saw the Masked Manhunter eradicate the threat of a mystic idol capable of turning the city into smouldering ashes.

Detective #399, by O’Neil, Brown & Giella, introduced anti-Batman campaigner and political hack Arthur Reeves and revealed how ‘Death Comes to a Small, Locked Room!’ in a clever mystery centred on the apparent assassination of a martial arts teacher, whilst Batman #222 featured two tales illustrated by Novick & Giordano.

‘Dead… Till Proven Alive!’, written by Robbins, featured a guest shot by Robin as British band The Oliver Twists hit Gotham, mired in speculation that one of that Fabulous Foursome had been killed and secretly replaced (a contemporary conspiracy theory had it that Beatle Paul McCartney had been similarly dealt with), after which Friedrich contributed another superb human interest yarn as an exhausted hero pushed himself beyond his limits to help a deaf mugging victim in ‘The Case of No Consequence!’

The big anniversary Detective Comics #400 introduced a dark counterpoint to the Gotham Gangbuster as driven scientist Kirk Langstrom created a serum to make himself superior to Batman and paid a heavy price in ‘Challenge of the Man-Bat!’ by Robbins, Adams & Giordano.

Batman #223 was another Annual, this time sporting a captivating Curt Swan/Murphy Anderson cover, after which Detective #401 spotlighted Robbins, Brown & Giella’s ‘Target for Tonight!’ as insane playboy hunter Carleton Yager stalked Gotham’s most dangerous game, armed only with his wits, weapons and knowledge of the Dark Knight’s true identity…

Batman #224 opened an era of eerie psychodramas and manic murder as the hero travelled to New Orleans to solve the mystery murder of a Jazz legend and battled the monstrous Moloch in ‘Carnival of the Cursed’ by O’Neil, Novick & Giordano, after which Detective #402 saw the Dark Knight capture the out-of-control thing that was once Kirk Langstrom and ponder if he had the right to kill or cure the beast in ‘Man or Bat?’ by Robbins, Adams & Giordano.

Batman #225 (O’Neil, Novick & Giordano) saw the murder of divisive talk show host Jonah Jory with witnesses swearing the city’s greatest hero was the killer in ‘Wanted for Murder-One, the Batman’, after which Detective #403 featured the gothic thriller ‘You Die by Mourning!’ (Robbins, Brown & Frank Giacoia, with a splash page by Carmine Infantino), in which the V.I.P. project turned up grieving widow Angie Randall who needed justice for her murdered husband.

This cunning conundrum revolves around the fact that dear dead Laird wasn’t dead yet – but would be tomorrow…

Detective Comics #404 then offered the magnificent ‘Ghost of the Killer Skies!’ (O’Neil, Adams & Giordano) which found the Masked Manhunter attempting to solve a series of impossible murders on the set of a film about German WWI fighter ace Hans von Hammer.

All evidence seemed to prove that the killer could only be a vengeful phantom, whereas in Batman #226 skewed science produced a new mad menace in ‘The Man with Ten Eyes!’ by Robbins, Novick & Giordano.

A cruel misunderstanding during a robbery pitted security guard Reardon against Batman just as the real thieves detonated a huge explosion. Blinded, traumatised and shell-shocked, Reardon was then subjected to an experimental procedure which allowed him to see through his fingertips but the Vietnam vet blamed the Caped Crimebuster for his freakish fate and determined to extract his vengeance in kind…

Detective #405 was the inauspicious start to a whole new world of intrigue and adventure as ‘The First of the Assassins!’ (O’Neil, Brown & Giacoia) found the Gotham Guardian seconded to Interpol to solve the murders of fifteen shipping magnates. Whilst struggling to keep the sixteenth healthy against a fusillade of esoteric threats from oriental fiend Tejja, the Dark Night first learned of a vast global League of killers…

Another groundbreaking narrative strand debuted in Batman #227 in ‘The Demon of Gothos Mansion’ (O’Neil, Novick & Giordano) as Daphne Pennyworth returned, begging help to escape her latest employment as a governess in a remote household. When Batman investigated he discovered a cult of madmen, demonic possession and what less-rational men might consider a captive ghost…

The epic, slow-boiling battle against the League of Assassins continued in Detective Comics #406 as in ‘Your Servant of Death – Dr.Darrk!’ (by O’Neil, Brown & Giacoia) another tycoon almost dies and Batman at last clashes with the deadly mastermind behind the global campaign of terror… or does he?

This staggering compendium of comics wonderment concludes with Detective #407; the final chapter in a triptych of tales introducing tragic Kirk Langstrom. In ‘Marriage: Impossible!’ (Robbins, Adams, Giordano), the ambitious scientist’s fall from grace is completed when he infects his fiancée Francine Lee with his mutated curse and forces the Dark Knight into an horrific choice…

One last treat here is the cover to Giant Batman #228: another spectacular visual feast from Swan & Anderson which ends this marvellous meander through memory lane in perfect style.

With the game-changing classics in this volume, Batman finally shed his alien-bashing Boy Scout silliness and returned to his original defining concept as a grim relentless avenger of injustice. The next few years would see the hero rise to unparalleled heights of quality so stay tuned: the very best is just around the corner… that dark, dark corner…
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 2011 DC Comics. All rights reserved.