Showcase Presents Sea Devils volume 1


By Robert Kanigher, Bob Haney, France E. Herron, Hank P. Chapman, Russ Heath, Irv Novick, Joe Kubert, Gene Colan, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Jack Abel, Bruno Premiani, Sheldon Moldoff & Howard Purcell (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3522-2

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy and outrageous imagination in his signature war comics, as well as for the wealth of horror stories, romance yarns, “straight” adventure, westerns and superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman (plus other genres far too numerous to cover here) at which he also excelled.

He sold his first stories and poetry in 1932, wrote for the theatre, film and radio, and joined the Fox Features “shop” at the beginning of the comicbook phenomenon where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for established features like Blue Beetle and the original Captain Marvel.

In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He wrote the Golden Age Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary and many sexily memorable villainesses such as Harlequin and Rose and the Thorn. This last temptress he redesigned during the relevancy era of the early 1970s into a schizophrenic crime-busting super-heroine who haunted the back of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane – which Kanigher also scripted at the time.

When mystery-men faded at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved easily into other genres such as spy-thrillers, westerns and war stories. In 1952 he became chief writer and editor of the company’s small combat line: All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Army at War.

He created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his packed portfolio when Quality Comics sold their dwindling line of titles to National/DC in 1956.

In 1955 Kanigher devised historical adventure anthology The Brave and the Bold and its stalwart early stars Silent Knight, Golden Gladiator and Viking Prince whilst still scripting Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog and a host of others.

In 1956, for Julius Schwartz he scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age which introduced Barry Allen as the new Flash to the hero-hungry kids of the world.

Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and frequently used his uncanny if formulaic action arenas as a testing ground for future series concepts. Among the many epochal war features he created were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, The War that Time Forgot, The Haunted Tank and The Losers, but he always kept an eye on contemporary trends too.

When supernatural comics took over the industry in the late 1960s he was a mainstay at House of Mystery, House of Secrets and Phantom Stranger and in 1975 created gritty human interest feature Lady Cop. Fifteen years earlier he had caught a similar wave (Oh Ha Ha…) by cashing in on the popularity of TV show Sea Hunt.

His entry into the sudden sub-genre deluge of scuba-diver comics featured the magic contemporary formula of a heroic foursome (Smart Guy, Tough Guy, Young Guy and A Girl) who would have all manner of (undersea) adventures from logical to implausible, topical to fantastical. He dubbed his team The Sea Devils

Re-presenting the turbulent, terrific try-out stories from Showcase #27-29 (July/August to November/December 1960) and Sea Devils #1-16, cover-dated September/October 1961-March/April 1964, this mammoth monochrome tome blends bizarre fantasy, sinister spy stories, shocking science fiction and two-fisted aquatic action with larger-than-life yet strictly human heroes who carved their own unique niche in comics history…

In almost every conceivable way the “try-out title” Showcase created the Silver Age of American comicbooks and is responsible for the multi-million dollar industry and nascent art form we all enjoy today.

Showcase was a try-out comic: a printed periodical Petri dish designed to launch new series and concepts with minimal commitment of publishing resources. If a new character sold well initially a regular series would follow. The process had been proved with Frogmen, Lois Lane, Challengers of the Unknown, Flash and many more

The principle was a sound one which paid huge dividends. The Editors at National were apparently bombarded with readers’ suggestions for new titles and concepts and the only possible way to feasibly prove which would be popular was to offer test runs and assess fan – and most crucially sales – reactions.

Showcase #27 followed a particularly historic and fruitful run of successful debuts which included Space Ranger, Adam Strange, Rip Hunter…Time Master and Green Lantern. It seemed that the premier publication could do no wrong. Moreover, it wasn’t Kanigher and artist Russ Heath’s first dip in this particular pool.

Showcase #3 had launched The Frogmen in an extended single tale following candidates for a US Underwater Demolitions Team in WWII as they perilously graduated from students to fully-fledged underwater warriors. The feature, if not the characters, became a semi-regular strip in All-American Men of War #44 (April #1957) and other Kanigher-edited war comics: making Frogmen the first but certainly not the last graduate of the try-out system. Now the time was right for a civilian iteration to make some waves…

The drama here begins in ‘The Golden Monster’ (by Kanigher & Heath) as lonely skin-diver Dane Dorrance reminisces about his WWII frogman father – and his trusty buddies – before being saved from a sneaky shark by a mysterious golden haired scuba-girl.

Judy Walton is an aspiring actress who, seeking to raise her Hollywood profile, has entered the same underwater treasure hunt Dane is engaged in, but as they join forces they have no idea of the dangers awaiting them…

Locating the sunken galleon they’ve been hunting both are trapped when seismic shifts and a gigantic octopus bury them inside the derelict. Happily third contestant Biff Bailey is on hand and his tremendous strength tips the scales and allows the trio to escape.

Now things take a typical Kanigher twist as the action switches from tense realistic drama to riotous fantasy with the explosive awakening of a colossal reptilian sea-monster who chases the divers until Judy’s little brother Nicky races in to distract the beast…

Temporarily safe, the relative strangers unite to destroy the thing – with the help of a handy floating mine left over from the war – before deciding to form a professional freelance diving team. They take their name from the proposed movie Judy wanted to audition for and become forever “The Sea Devils”…

In Showcase #28 Dane’s dad again offers his boy ‘The Prize Flippers’ he won for his exploits in the war, but Dane feels his entire team should be allowed to compete for them. Of course each diver successively outdoes the rest but in the end a spectacular stunt with a rampaging whale leaves the trophy in the hands of a most unlikely competitor…

A second story then sees the new team set up shop as “underwater trouble-shooters” only to stumble into a mystery as pretty Mona Moray begs them to find her missing father. Professor Moray was lost when his rocket crashed into the ocean, but as the divers diligently search the crash site they are ambushed by underwater aborigines and join the scientist in an uncanny ‘Undersea Prison’

Only when their captors reveal themselves as invading aliens do the team finally pull together, escape the trap and bring the house down on the insidious aquatic horrors…

Showcase #29 also offered two briny tales beginning with ‘The Last Dive of the Sea Devils’ wherein a recently-imprisoned dictator from Venus escapes to Earth and battles the astounded team to a standstill from his giant war-seahorse.

The blockbusting battle costs them their beloved vessel The Sea Witch but the crew make use of a handy leftover torpedo to end the interplanetary tyrant. Sea-born giants also abound in ‘Undersea Scavenger Hunt’ wherein the cash-strapped trouble-shooters compete in a flashy contest to win a new boat.

Incredible creatures and fantastic treasure traps are no real problem but the actions of rival divers The Black Mantas almost cost our heroes their lives…

Everything worked out though and nine months later Sea Devils #1 hit the stands with Kanigher & Heath leading the way. In ‘The Sea Devils vs. the Octopus Man’ our watery quartet are now the stars of a monster movie but when the lead beastie comes to lethal life and attacks them, all thoughts of fame and wealth sink without trace…

The second tale was scripted by the superbly inventive Bob Haney who riffed on Moby Dick’s plot in the tale of how Vikings hunted a mythical orca with a magic harpoon before latter-day fanatical whaler Captain Shark mercilessly sought the ‘Secret of the Emerald Whale’ with the desperate Sea Devils dragged along for the ride…

Haney wrote both yarns in the next issue, beginning with ‘A Bottleful of Sea Devils’ as mad scientist Mr. Neptune uses a shrinking device to steal a US Navy weapon prototype. With the aquatic investigators hard on his flippered heels, the felon is soon caught whilst ‘Star of the Sea’ introduced brilliant performing seal Pappy who repeatedly saved the team before finding freedom and true love in the wilds waters of the Atlantic…

Kanigher returned for #3’s ‘Underwater Crime Wave’ as the Devils clashed with a cunning modern Roman Emperor who derives his incredible wealth from smuggling and traps the team in his undersea arena after which Judy finds herself the only one immune to the allure of ‘The Ghost of the Deep’. Subsea siren Circe was utterly intent on making the boys her latest playthings and her human rival is compelled to pull out all the stops to save her friends…

Sea Devils # 4 led with ‘The Sea of Sorcery’ as the team investigate but fail to debunk any of the incredible myths of a supposedly haunted region of ocean, after which Haney detailed how the squad travelled into the heart of South America to liberate a tribe of lost pre-Columbian Condor Indians from a tyrannical witch doctor whilst solving ‘The Secret of Volcano Lake!’

‘The Creature Who Stole the 7 Seas’ (Kanigher) opened issue #5 as a particularly dry period for the trouble-shooters ends after a crashing UFO disgorges a sea giant intent on transferring Earth’s oceans to his own arid world. Oddly for the times, here mutual cooperation and a smart counter-plan save the day for two panicked planets.

Veteran writer Hank P. Chapman joined the ever-expanding team with a smart yarn of submerged Mayan treasure and deadly traps to imperil the team as they solve the ‘Secret of the Plumed Serpent’ before Kanigher returned with a book-length thriller in #6 which found the Devils seemingly ensorcelled by ancient parchments which depicted them battling incredible menaces in centuries past.

Biff battles undersea knights for Queen Cleopatra, Judy saves Ulysses from the Sirens, Nicky rescues a teenaged mermaid from a monstrous fish-man and Dane clashes with ‘The Flame-Headed Watchman!’, but is wise enough to realise that the true threat comes from the mysterious stranger who has brought them such dire documents…

The switch to longer epics was a wise and productive move, followed up in #7 with ‘The Human Tidal Wave!’ as the heroes spectacularly battle an alien made of roaring water to stop a proposed invasion, whilst in #8 they strive to help a fish transformed into a grieving merman from the ‘Curse of Neptune’s Giant!’ The malignant horror’s mutative touch temporarily makes monsters of them all too, but in the end Sea Devil daring trumps eldritch cruelty…

More monster madness followed in #9’s‘The Secret of the Coral Creature!’ as the team became paragliding US Naval medics to rescue an astronaut. That was mere prelude to an oceanic atomic bomb test which blasted them to a sea beneath the sea which had imprisoned an ancient alien for eons of crushing solitude, and who had no intention of ever letting the air-breathers go…

A concatenation of crazy circumstances creates the madness of #10’s ‘4 Mysteries of the Sea!’ as godly King Neptune decrees that on this day every wild story of the sea will come true just as the Sea Devils are competing in a “Deep Six Tall Tales” contest.

Soon the incredulous squad are battling pirates in an underwater ghost town, rescued from captivity by a giant octopus thanks to a friendly seal (Good old Pappy!), facing off against aliens of the Martian Canals Liars Club and saving Neptune himself from a depth charge attack…

The hugely underrated Irv Novick took over as primary illustrator with #11 as the Sea Devils agreed to test human underwater endurance limits in an ocean-floor habitat. Soon however Dane was near breaking point seeing a succession of monsters from the ‘Sea of Nightmares!’

Kanigher relinquished the writing to fellow golden age alumni France E. Herron who kicked off in rip-roaring form with a classy sci fi romp wherein Nicky’s growing feelings of inadequacy are quashed after he saves his comrades – and the world – from the ‘Threat of the Magnetic Menace!’

Always experimental and rightfully disrespectful of the fourth wall, editors Kanigher and George Kashdan turned issue #13 over to the fans for ‘The Secrets of 3 Sunken Ships’ as successive chapters of Herron’s script were illustrated by Joe Kubert, Gene Colan and Ross Andru & Mike Esposito for the audience to decide who was the best.

The artists all appear in the tale conducting interviews and “researching” the Deep Sea Daredevils as they tackle a reincarnated sea captain, travel to an ancient sea battle between Greece and Persia and meet the alien who kidnapped the crew of the Marie Celeste

The gag continued in Sea Devils #14 as illustrator Irv Novick came along for the ride when the amazing aquanauts try to end the catastrophic ‘War of the Underwater Giants’ which saw aging deities Neptune and Hercules battle for supremacy in Earth’s oceans.

Jack Abel was the artistic guest star in second story ‘Challenge of the Fish Champions!’ wherein the heroes enter a cash prize competition to buy scuba equipment for a junior diving club.

Unfortunately, crazy devious scientist Karpas also wants the loot and fields a team of his own technologically augmented minions. Before long the human skin-divers are facing off against a sea lion, a manta ray, a squid and a merman. After all, nobody said contestants had to be human…

Novick got into the act again illustrating #15 as author Herron revealed Judy and Nicky’s relationship to the ‘Secret of the Sunken Sub!’ When inventor Professor Walton vanishes whilst testing his latest submersible, it’s only a matter of time before his children drag the rest of the Sea Devils to the bottom of every ocean to find him and his lost crew.

The uncanny trail takes them through shoals of monsters, astounding flora and into the lair of an incredible sea spider before the mission is successfully accomplished…

Things regained some semblance of narrative normality with the final issue in this compilation as Hank Chapman contributed a brace of high adventure yarns beginning with ‘The Strange Reign of Queen Judy and King Biff’ superbly rendered by the wonderful Bruno Premiani & Sheldon Moldoff. When a massive wave capsizes the Sea Witch only Dane and Nicky seemingly survive, but the determined explorers persevere and eventually find their friends held as bewitched captives on the island of an immortal wizard. All they have to do is kidnap their ferociously resisting friends, escape an army of angry guards and penetrate the island’s mystic defences a second time to restore everything to normal. No problem…

This eccentric and exciting voyage of discovery concludes with ‘Sentinel of the Golden Head’ – illustrated by the always impressive Howard Purcell & Moldoff – as the restored aquatic quartet stumble onto the lost island of Blisspotamia in time to witness a beautiful maiden trying to sacrifice herself to the sea gods.

By interfering they incur the wrath of a legion of mythological horrors and have no choice but to defy the gods to free the terrified islanders from ignorance and tyranny…

These massive black-&-white compendiums are superb value and provide a vital service by bringing older, less flashy (but still astonishingly expensive in their original issues) tales to a readership which might otherwise be denied them. However this is probably the only series which I can honestly say suffers in the slightest from the lack of colour.

Whilst the line-art story illustrations are actually improved by the loss of hue, the original covers – by Heath and Irv Novick as supervised and inked by production ace Jack Adler – used all the clever technical print effects and smart ingenuity of the period to add a superb extra layer of depth to the underwater scenes which tragically cannot be appreciated in simple line and tone reproduction. Just go to any online cover browser site and you’ll see what I mean…

Nevertheless the amazing art and astounding stories are as good as they ever were and Showcase Presents Sea Devils is simply stuffed with incredible ideas, strange situations and non-stop action. These underwater wonders are a superb slice of the engaging fantasy thrillers which were once the backbone of American comicbooks. Perhaps a little whacky in places, they are remarkably similar to many tongue-in-cheek, anarchic Saturday morning kids animation shows and will certainly provide jaded fiction fans with hours of unmatchable entertainment.…
© 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents the Trial of the Flash


By Cary Bates, Carmine Infantino, Frank McLaughlin, Dennis Jensen & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3182-8

Barry Allen was the second comicbook comet to carry the name of Flash, and his debut was the Big Bang which finally triggered the Silver Age of American comicbooks after a series of abortive remnant revivals (Stuntman in 1954 and Marvel’s “Big Three”, Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Captain America from 1953 to 1955). There were also a few all-original attempts such as Captain Flash, The Avenger and Strongman from 1954-1955.

Although none of those – or other less high-profile efforts – had restored or renewed the popularity of masked mystery-men, they had presumably piqued readers’ consciousness, even at conservative National/DC. Thus the revived human rocket wasn’t quite the innovation he seemed: after all, alien crusader Martian Manhunter had already cracked open the company floodgates with his low-key launch in Detective Comics #225, November 1955.

However in terms of creative quality, originality and sheer style The Flash was an irresistible spark and after his landmark first appearance in Showcase #4 (October 1956) the series – eventually – became a benchmark by which every successive launch or reboot across the industry was measured.

Police Scientist – we’d call him a CSI today – Allen was transformed by a simultaneous lightning strike and chemical bath into a human thunderbolt of unparalleled velocity and ingenuity. Yet with characteristic indolence the new Fastest Man Alive took three more try-out issues and almost as many years to win his own title. However when he finally stood on his own wing-tipped feet in The Flash #105 (February-March 1959), he never looked back…

The comics business back then was a faddy, slavishly trend-beset affair, however, and following a manic boom for superhero tales prompted by the Batman TV show the fickle global consciousness moved on to a fixation with supernatural themes and merely mortal tales, triggering a huge revival of spooky films, shows, books and periodicals. With horror on the rise again, many superhero titles faced cancellation and even the most revered and popular were threatened. It was time to adapt or die: a process repeated every few years until the mid-1980s when DC’s powers-that-be decided to rationalise and downsize the sprawling multi-dimensional multiverse the Flash had innocently sparked into existence decades previously…

Barry had been through the wringer before: in 1979 (Flash #275 to be precise) his beloved wife Iris was brutally murdered and thereafter the Scarlet Speedster became a darker, grittier, truly careworn hero. Gradually over four years the lonely bachelor recovered and even found love again but a harshly evolving comics industry, changing fashions and jaded fan tastes were about to end his long run at the top…

The Vizier of Velocity was still a favoured, undisputed icon of the apparently unstoppable Superhero meme and a mighty pillar of the costumed establishment, but in times of precarious sales and with very little in the way of presence in other media like films, TV or merchandise, that just made him a bright red target for a company desperate to attract a larger readership.

It soon became an open secret that he was to be one of the major casualties of the reality-rending Crisis on Infinite Earths. The epic maxi-series was conceived as an attention-grabbing spectacle on every level and to truly succeed it needed a few sacrifices which would make the public really sit up and take notice…

With such knowledge commonplace, long-time scripter Cary Bates went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the Crimson Comet and the comic title which inspired a super-heroic revolution went out in a totally absorbing blaze of glory…

This momentously massive stand-alone monochrome collection gathers the pertinent chapters of an astonishingly extended and supremely gripping serial which charted the triumphs and tragedies of the Monarch of Motion’s last months and savoured the final moments of the paramount hero and symbol of the Silver Age.

Contained herein are Flash #323-327, 329-336 and 340-350, spanning July 1983 to October 1985, written throughout by Bates and pencilled by originating artist Carmine Infantino, opening on the day Barry is supposed to marry his new sweetheart Fiona Webb.

As the nervous groom dresses for the ceremony, however, an Oan Guardian of the Universe appears with appalling news. Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash has escaped from the timeless hell the vengeful Vizier of Velocity banished him to for murdering Iris…

Inked by Rodin Rodriguez, ‘Run Flash – Run for your Wife!’ sees the distraught hero pursuing and battling his ultimate enemy on the run all over he world as the clock ticks down, culminating in #324’s ‘The Slayer and the Slain’ (Dennis Jensen inks) with the police issuing a missing persons alert for the vanished Barry Allen.

Crushed Fiona finally gives up on her man and is leaving the church just as Zoom dashes in with Flash hard on his winged heels. The maniac has boasted that he will repeat himself by slaughtering his archenemy’s second love, but with femto-seconds to spare Barry goes into overdrive and grabs his foe by the neck…

When the dust settles the wedding guests see Flash trying to comfort the bride-to-be but Police Captain Darryl Frye and Detective Frank Curtis are distracted by something the speedster has not noticed: Zoom’s lifeless corpse…

The media circus begins in #325 as ‘Dead Reckoning’ sees the guilt-racked speedster go into heroic overdrive all around the world but somehow never quite outrunning the Press or his own remorse.

As friends and allies wonder where they stand, the vile miscreants of The Flash Rogues’ Gallery come together to steal Zoom’s cadaver. Captains Cold and Boomerang, Pied Piper, Weather Wizard and The Trickster actually despised the Reverse-Flash and need to desecrate his corpse for the utter embarrassment he has brought upon their association: letting himself get killed by the scarlet Boy Scout…

Their heartbroken foe meanwhile has stopped running, and Barry visits Fiona where she lies in hospital. The shock of Barry’s abandonment has traumatised and perhaps even deranged her, but worse is in store. After leaving her room in his Flash persona, the hero is reluctantly arrested by Captain Frye on a charge of Manslaughter…

‘Shame in Scarlet’ (inked by Gary Martin) opens on the arrest and arraignment but the madhouse of raving pressmen and downhearted cops is just what the recently captured Weather Wizard needs to mask a bold getaway scheme.

Ever dutiful, Flash eludes custody long enough to stop the rogue before surrendering himself again…

Fiona’s doctors refuse to believe the still-missing Barry Allen came to see her and diagnose a delusional breakdown, whilst out on the streets Frank Curtis is further distracted by teenaged Angelo Torres; a kid barely surviving in a tough gang-controlled area of Central City

Released on his own recognizance, Flash sneaks into his own apartment but as the realisation of his destroyed life finally sinks in, he loses control and trashes the place in an explosive outburst. By the time his terrified neighbours break in he has gone and the suspicion that someone has targeted the missing Police Scientist seems confirmed…

Roaming the streets the Crimson Comet sees Angelo fleeing from a mugging but is appalled to realise he has tackled the wrong guy. Torres was chasing the real thief…

Still reeling at how far he has fallen, the shell-shocked speedster is barely aware that he is bleeding badly (from self-inflicted wounds incurred when destroying his home), and allows a cop to take him to hospital. The good deed does not go unpunished. When he arrives, Fiona is there and suddenly flares into a state of total hysteria…

The horrors pile on in ‘Burnout’ (#327, inked by Jensen) as Flash reconciles with Angelo, unaware that the kid has been targeted by the malign Super-Gorilla Grodd as part of a convoluted vengeance scheme.

Flash is too preoccupied by his next personal crisis as the Justice League of America holds a special session to judge his actions and conduct. A nail-bitingly close vote of his crestfallen best friends will determine whether he can remain a member of the august group…

Flash #328 is a partial reprint exploring the Flash/Professor Zoom vendetta and not included here, so the saga resumes with ‘What is the Sinister Secret of Simian and Son?’ (#329, with new regular inker Frank McLaughlin picking up the pens the brushes). Grodd uses Angelo and other kids to perpetrate series of bold raids even as, in front of the maddened media cameras, unscrupulous, publicity-hungry celebrity criminal defense attorney Nicholas D. Redik attempts to insert himself into the “Case of the Century”, claiming to be Flash’s lawyer and only chance of acquittal…

The oblivious, troubled human thunderbolt has other ideas. He has already contacted “Barry’s” old friend Peter Farley to act on his behalf, blithely unaware that back home Grodd has taken over Angelo and Fiona has succumbed to a total mental breakdown…

The final confrontation with the über-ape begins in ‘Beware the Land of Grodd!’ (scripted by Joey Cavalieri over Bates’ plot) as Redik manipulates the media to force Flash to switch lawyers and Captain Frye pushes the ongoing search for the missing Barry to new heights. With all these distractions the Vizier of Velocity is easily ambushed by Grodd before Angelo, at the moment of truth in #331’s ‘Dead Heat!’, has a change of heart and mind. With a supreme effort of will the remorseful lad breaks the super-ape’s conditioning, allowing the speedster to triumph.

Returning the renegade to futuristic Gorilla City, Flash leaves the mental monster in the custody of his old comrade Solovar, returning to America just in time to hear Farley being murdered during a phone conference…

Bates rejoins Infantino & McLaughlin as ‘Defend the Flash… and Die?’ sees the Scarlet Speedster hurtle across the country to save his lawyer from a colossal explosion, but even he is not fast enough to prevent the victim incurring massive injuries.

As speculation runs riot in the media that someone is targeting Flash’s defenders, old enemy Rainbow Raider take advantage of the chaos to instigate a string of robberies, but even at his lowest ebb the hero is too much for the multicoloured malefactor…

Redik is now publicly offering to take the case for free, but Farley’s absentee business partner has already taken up her ailing associate’s celebrity caseload…

In issue #333, as inexplicably hostile attorney Cecile Horton confers with her newly inherited client, ‘Down with the Flash!’ reveals how certain elements of Central City have seemingly turned on their former champion. Fiona too is still drawing trouble, as a petty thug and his crazy brother break into the asylum treating her, looking for a little one-stop emergency therapy. Sadly for them the Monarch of Motion is still keeping an eye on his tragic fiancée…

N.D. Redik then attempts to bribe and/or bully Horton off the case, but despite clearly despising her crimson client, Cecile is determined to honour Peter’s wishes and save the speedster.

The mastermind stirring up anti-Flash sentiment is revealed in ‘Flash-Freak-Out!’ Just as the pre-trial manoeuvrings begin, the formerly supportive Mayor suddenly becomes the disgraced hero’s biggest detractor.

Pied Piper’s mind-altering influence even manages to make the hero apparently go berserk on live TV in ‘How to Trash a Flash!’, leaving even his most devoted fans wondering if their beloved champion has in fact gone crazy…

…And whilst Flash is trying to save the Mayor, at her secluded retreat Cecile Horton is caught in an explosive blast like the one that took out her partner…

‘Murder on the Rocks’ in #336 finds Flash arriving too late for once, but the ecstatic speedster is astounded to discover his lawyer has saved herself through sheer quick thinking – although another woman has been killed. The tabloid reporter had been bugging the supposed “safe house” and accidentally fallen foul of a couple of killers-for-hire…

The trail of death leads the forensically trained Flash inexorably to a man whose arrogant determination to be a star in the tragedy costs him everything…

Rather annoyingly the next three chapters are absent here. They would have shown how Flash finally finished the Piper and incurred the wrath of the Rogues who subsequently turned a hulking simpleton into a programmed super killer dubbed Big Sir before unleashing him on the Scarlet Speedster…

We rejoin the story with Flash #340 to ‘Reach Out and Waste Someone!’ as the hurtling hero turns the tables on Cold, Boomerang, Weather Wizard, Trickster and Mirror Master by befriending Big Sir. The danger averted, the Flash then surrenders himself to the courts.

After many months #341 sees proceedings finally open in ‘Trial and Tribulation!’ only for the weary defendant to discover that go-getting District Attorney Anton Slater has dropped the charges. The wily attention-seeker has abandoned his manslaughter case in favour of a charge of Second Degree Murder…

With the still at-large Rogues rampaging through the city, the opening arguments quickly start to make the stunned Flash appear like a cunning killer and, whilst he reels in court, Captain Cold and Co again brainwash the now docile Big Sir. When the shattered speedster leaves after his first bruising day the Brobdingnagian brute ambushes him, wrecking his face with a massive mace…

Maimed, dazed and reeling Flash flees in unconscious panic leaving Sir to assault the gathered media in ‘Smash-Up!’ Barely thinking, the wounded warrior heads for Gorilla City where the super simians’ miraculous medical technology saves his life. Recovered and ready to return, Flash is certain he has made the right decision by asking Solovar to use their advanced science to enact a certain alteration for him…

Upon his return the Vizier of Velocity again deprograms Big Sir and the odd couple make sure the Rogues can’t hurt anyone any more…

Flash #343 kicks the drama into even higher gear in ‘Revenge and Revelations!’ as the secret of why Cecile hates her crimson-clad client is exposed and merciless mobster monster Goldface attacks, even as in the far future another Flash foe escapes an unbeatable prison and heads for the present, intent on adding to the doomed hero’s historic woes…

‘Betrayal!’ in #344 is a partial reprint (by Bates & John Broome, Infantino, McLaughlin & Joe Giella) which combines the first appearance and an early exploit of Kid Flash with that devoted protégé’s devastating expert testimony under oath on the witness stand.

The reluctant lad’s damaging evidence is then compounded when Cecile makes an explosive mistake which exposes ‘The Secret Face of the Flash!’ to the courtroom and the world…

Confusion reigns in #346 as the shocking revelation is upstaged by reports that the actual victim might not be dead. A merciless yellow-and-red blur has been spotted all over Central City attacking civilians and destroying police records in ‘Dead Man’s Bluff!’

The Reverse-Flash has escaped certain death many times before but as he mercilessly attacks the other Rogues – with even the Jurors narrowly escaping certain doom – there is a sure and certain feeling that something is not right…

The trial concludes in #347’s ‘Back from the Dead!’ but even with the thoroughly thrashed Rogues and Police Captain Fry attesting the victim is still alive, more than one malign presence in the courtroom is affecting the jurors and ‘The Final Verdict!’ comes back “guilty”…

However the story is not over and #349 unleashes a cascade of staggering revelations revealing clandestine agents acting both for and against the harried Human Hurricane in ‘…And the Truth Shall Set him Free!’ before the extended extravaganza of #350 begins by declaring ‘Flash Flees’ and thereafter shows the Scarlet Speedster defeating his ultimate nemesis, clearing his name and even living happily ever after… until that fore-destined final moment in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Staggering in scope, gripping in execution and astoundingly suspenseful, these last days of a legend make for stunning reading: a perfect example of the kind of plot-driven Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction we just don’t see enough of these days.

If you feel a need for a traditionally thrilling kind of speed reading, this is a chronicle you must not miss.

© 1983, 1984, 1985, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Superman Family volume 4


By Otto Binder, Robert Bernstein, Jerry Siegel, Edmond Hamilton, Leo Dorfman, Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Al Plastino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3837-7

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 cleverly catered for. Glamorous daredevil girl reporter Lois Lane premiered right beside Clark Kent and was a constant companion and foil from the outset.

Although unnamed, a plucky red-headed, be-freckled kid started working alongside Lois and Clark from issue #6 (November 1938) onwards.

His first name was disclosed in Superman #13 (November-December 1941) having already been revealed as Jimmy Olsen to radio listeners as when he had become a major player in The Adventures of Superman show from its debut on April 15th 1940. As somebody the same age as the target audience, on hand for the hero to explain stuff to (all for the listener’s benefit) he was the closest thing to a sidekick the Action Ace ever needed…

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

First to get a promotion to solo-star status was the Daily Planet’s impetuously capable if naïve “cub reporter”. His gloriously charming, light-hearted, semi-solo escapades began in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 (September-October 1954), the first spin-off star in the Caped Kryptonian’s ever-expanding entourage.

It took three years for the cautious Editors to tentatively extend the franchise again. In 1957, just as the Silver Age of Comics was getting underway, try-out title Showcase – which had already launched The Flash (#4) and Challengers of the Unknown (#6) -followed up with a pair of issues entitled Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane (#9-10) before swiftly awarding the “plucky News-hen” a series of her own. Technically it was her second, since for a brief while in the mid-1940s she had held a regular solo-spot in Superman.

In previous reviews I’ve banged on at length about the strange, patronising, parochial – and to at least some of us potentially offensive – portrayals of kids and most especially women during this period, and although at least fairer and more affirmative instances were beginning to appear, the warnings still bear repeating.

At that timeLois 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. The comic was clearly intended to appeal to the family demographic that made I Love Lucy a national phenomenon, and 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 sublimely illustrated by the wonderfully whimsical Kurt Schaffenberger.

For the Superman family and cast the tone of the times dictated 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 Olsen was a brave and impulsive unseasoned fool – with a heart of gold – and plucky News-hen Lois Lane was brash, nosy, impetuous and unscrupulous in her obsession to marry Superman although she too was – deep down – another possessor of an Auric aorta.

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

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen wasn’t quite as contentious, but still far too often stories meant to amuse portrayed the bright, plucky kid in a variety of socially demeaning – if not downright cruel – situations and humiliating physical transformations. Even so the winning blend of slapstick adventure, action, fantasy and science fiction (in the gentle but insidiously charming manner scripter Otto Binder had perfected a decade previously at Fawcett Comics on the magnificent Captain Marvel) made the series one of the most popular of the era.

Again, originally most yarns were played for laughs in a father-knows-best manner and tone which can again appal me today, even though I still count them amongst some of my very favourite comics.

Confusing, ain’t it?

This fourth intriguingly intermingled, chronologically complete compendium collects the affable, all-ages tales from Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #17-26, (May 1960-July 1961) and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #45-53 (June 1960-June 1961): a period of infinite wackiness and outrageous absurdity, but one which also saw the inevitable dawning of a far more serious milieu for the Man of Tomorrow and his human family.

This particular black-&-white ethical conundrum commences with the Man of Steel’s perpetual lady-in-waiting as Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #17 (May 1960) introduced ‘The Girl that Almost Married Clark Kent’ – by Robert Bernstein & Schaffenberger – revealing how Lois covertly helped heiress Doris Drake win her reporter partner’s affections, unaware that the conniving rich girl had proof of the Caped Kryptonian’s secret identity…

‘Lana Lang, Superwoman’ (Jerry Siegel, Curt Swan & Stan Kaye) then saw jealousy run wild as Superman gave first one then the other girl in his life superpowers in a secret scheme to foil Brainiac – with no thought as to how either woman would feel once the crisis was over…

The issue ended with ‘How Lois Lane Got Her Job’ by Binder & Schaffenberger, which disclosed how, even before she had even met him, Superman was inadvertently helping the neophyte journalist score scoops…

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #45, (June 1960 and illustrated throughout by Swan & John Forte) kicked off with ‘Tom Baker, Power Lad’ by Binder; a clever tale in which an apparently ordinary boy temporarily gained super powers – although the shocking truth involved then-top secret weapon Supergirl and the Bottle City of Kandor

Meddling with resident crackpot genius Professor Phineas Potter’s experimental time machine hurled Jimmy back to the Wild West where he became accidental killer ‘The Gunsmoke Kid’ (by a sadly uncredited scripter) whilst in ‘The Animal Master of Metropolis’ (by Bernstein) Jimmy became a local hero and target of crooked gamblers after he started playing with a magic wand that gave him absolute mastery of the world’s fauna.

From July 1960, Lois Lane #18 opened with ‘The Star Reporter of Metropolis’ (possibly Binder & definitely Schaffenberger) wherein a mousy protégé stole Lois’s thunder for the best possible reasons, whilst ‘The Sleeping Doom’ (Bernstein & Schaffenberger) offered a superb thriller as aliens invaded Earth by taking over people after they fell asleep. The valiant lass staved off slumber for days until Superman could return to send the invaders packing, after which ‘Lois Lane Weds Astounding Man’ by Binder & Al Plastino, found the flabbergasted journalist wooed by an alien wonder warrior with a very strange secret…

That same month in Jimmy Olsen #46 – another all-Swan & Forte art-extravaganza – Siegel’s ‘Jimmy Olsen, Orphan’ revealed how an accident gave the cub reporter amnesia and he ended up in the same institution where Linda Lee was hiding whilst learning how to be a Supergirl, after which ‘The Irresistible Jimmy Olsen’ (Bernstein) hilariously lampooned Hollywood as a succession of starlets tried to romance the baffled but willing lad.

Of course the eager actresses were all operating on the mistaken assumption that our boy was Tinseltown’s latest genius Movie Producer…

The issue then concluded with another outing for Jimmy’s occasional alter ego in ‘Elastic Lad’s Greatest Feats’ with scripter Binder perfectly blending drama and comedy to deliver a punishing moral to the ever-impulsive kid…

Lois Lane #19 (August 1960 and fully illustrated by Schaffenberger) opened with ‘The Day Lois Lane Forgot Superman’ (Bernstein) with devoted sister Lucy convincing her perennially heartbroken elder sibling to try hypnosis to get over her destructive obsession.

Of course once it worked, it gave Lois time to pester Clark Kent so much he had no time to save the world…

When an accident seemingly catapulted Lois into the past she quickly became enamoured of Samson, a hero with a secret identity and ‘The Superman of the Past’ in a quirky yarn by scripter Binder, after which Jerry Siegel debuted a new occasional series.

‘Mr. and Mrs. Clark (Superman) Kent!’ was the first tale of a poignant comedy feature depicting the laughter and tears that might result if Lois secretly married the Man of Steel. Although seemingly having achieved her heart’s desire, she is officially only married to dull, safe Clark and must keep her relationship with the Man of Tomorrow quiet. She can’t brag or show pride and has to swallow the rage she feels whenever another woman throws herself at the still eligible bachelor Superman…

For an artefact of an era uncomfortably dismissive of women, there’s actually a lot of genuine heart and understanding in this tale and a minimum of snide sniping about “silly, empty-headed girls”…

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #47, (September 1960) found Jimmy in over his head as he impersonated an escaped convict and was trapped as gangland big shot Winky McCoy,‘The King of Crime’ in a cracking suspense tale by Bernstein, after which the impatiently under-age lad was transformed into a husky thirty-something by another Prof. Potter potion in ‘Jimmy Grows Up!’

Once Binder sagely proved that maturity isn’t everything, Siegelwrapped up the issue with a thrilling romp as the alien producers of horror movies starring Superman and Jimmy returned seeking sequels. Their robot cub reporter didn’t like the prospect of being junked at shooting’s end, however, and tried to replace the flesh and blood original in ‘The Monsters from Earth!’

Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #20 (October 1960) opened with the whimsical ‘Superman’s Flight from Lois Lane’ (Siegel & Schaffenberger), wherein the Man of Tomorrow fled into his own past to see if a different life-path would have resulted in a civilian existence unencumbered by a nosy snooping female.

Disc Jockey Clark soon realised his inquisitive assistant Liza Landis made Miss Lane look positively disinterested and happily ended the experiment, after which ‘The Luckiest Girl in Metropolis’ (Bernstein & Plastino) saw Lois targeted by a Machiavellian mobster seeking to destroy her credibility as a witness before ‘Lois Lane’s Super-Daughter’ by Siegel & Schaffenberger returned to the Imaginary Mr. & Mrs. scenario where their attempts to adopt Linda (Supergirl) Lee led to heartbreak and disaster…

Over in Jimmy Olsen #48 that same month, anonymously scripted ‘The Story of Camp Superman!’ presented a heart-warming mystery as the cub worked as counsellor to a bunch of youngsters – one of whom knew entirely too much about Superman – before ‘The Disguises of Danger’ again saw undercover Jimmy use his acting abilities to get close to a cunning crook. ‘The Mystery of the Tiny Supermen’ (by Binder) then saw the diminutive Superman Emergency Squad from Kandor repeatedly harass Jimmy in a clandestine scheme to stop the lad accidentally exposing the Man of Steel’s civilian identity…

The all-Schaffenberger November 1960 Lois Lane (#21) featured a double-length epic by author unknown (perhaps Edmond Hamilton?) which saw the Anti-Superman Gang utilise explosive toys to endanger the news-hen in ‘The Lois Lane Doll’: an act which forced the Action Ace to hide her in his Fortress of Solitude.

When even that proved insufficient she found refuge – and unlikely romance – whilst ‘Trapped in Kandor!’ Siegel then scripted a classic comic yarn as sworn rivals gained incredible abilities from a magic lake and decided to duke it out like men in ‘The Battle Between Super-Lois and Super-Lana!’

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #49, December 1960 opened with ‘Jimmy’s Gorilla Identity!’ wherein the luckless lad met DC stalwart Congo Bill and got his personality trapped in the hunter’s occasional alter ego, the giant golden ape dubbed Congorilla, whilst Professor Potter was blamed for, but entirely innocent of, turning the cub reporter into ‘The Fat Boy of Metropolis!’ in a daft but clever crime caper and Siegel played with contemporary trends as Jimmy impersonated a rock ‘n’ roll star to impress Lucy Lane in ‘Alias, Chip O’Doole!’

Another all-Schaffenberger affair, Lois Lane #22 (January 1961), began with a Red Kryptonite experiment that afflicted the Man of Steel with a compulsion to repeatedly pop the question to an increasingly dubious and suspicious Lois on ‘The Day When Superman Proposed!’ (Binder & Schaffenberger), after which ‘Lois Lane’s X-Ray Vision!’ (Bernstein) saw a pair of irradiated sunglasses create a tidal wave of problems for the Metropolis Marvel, whilst in ‘Sweetheart of Robin Hood!’ another time-shift dream found Lois courted by a very familiar-seeming Defender of Truth, Justice and the Nottinghamshire Way…

Over in Jimmy Olsen #50, ‘The Lord of Olsen Castle’ by Siegel, Swan & Sheldon Moldoff saw Jimmy as the potential heir of a Swedish castle and title. All he had to do was accomplish a slew of fantastic feats and defeat an ogre, utterly unaware that Superman and a host of other Kryptonians were secretly pitching in…

‘The Weirdest Asteroid in Space’ by Binder, Swan & Moldoff offered a spectacular monster mystery before a Potter experiment transferred all the Man of Steel’s might into his teenage pal resulting in ‘The Super-Life of Jimmy Olsen!’ by an unknown author and artist Al Plastino.

Lois Lane#23 (February 1961) opened with Binder & Schaffenberger’s riotous romp ‘The 10 Feats of Elastic Lass!’ as the impetuous reporter borrowed some of Jimmy’s stretching serum to track down mad bomber The Wrecker, whilst ‘The Curse of Lena Thorul!’ (Siegel) exposed a bewitching beauty’s incredible connection to Lex Luthor before another Imaginary visit to a possible future found ‘The Wife of Superman!’ (Siegel again) worn to a frazzle by two super-toddlers and yearning for her old job at the Daily Planet…

Jimmy Olsen #51, March 1961 revealed ‘Jimmy Olsen’s 1000th Scoop!’ by Bernstein, Swan & Forte, with the prospective milestone repeatedly delayed by Superman for the best possible reasons, after which a sultry alien took a very unlikely shine to the lad. Sadly ‘The Girl with Green Hair’ (Binder, Swan & Forte), was the result of a scheme by a well-meaning third party to get Lucy to be nicer to Jimmy and it all went painfully, horribly wrong…

The issue ended with ‘The Dream Detective!’ (Swan & Stan Kaye) as the cub reporter inexplicably developed psychometric abilities and unravelled mysteries in his sleep, whilst in Lois Lane #24 (April 1961) anonymously scripted ‘The Super-Surprise!’ saw Lois undercover as a platinum blonde scuppering a deadly plot against the Man of Tomorrow, superbly illustrated by Schaffenberger, as was Bernstein’s ‘The Perfect Husband’ wherein a TV dating show led Lois into a doomed affair with a he-man hunk who was almost the spitting image of Clark Kent.

…Almost…

The issue ended on ‘Lois Lane… Traitor!’ by Bernstein & John Forte, with Lois in the frame for the murder of the King of Pahla until the incredible, unbelievable true culprit came forward…

Also available that April, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #52 featured ‘The Specter of the Haunted House’ by Leo Dorfman, Swan & Kaye wherein a gang of cunning thieves used supernatural sceptic Olsen as a patsy for a bold robbery scheme, whilst ‘The Perils of Jimmy Olsen!’ – illustrated by Swan & Forte – saw the laid-up cub reporter use a robot double to perform feats of escalating daring and stupidity before ‘Jimmy Olsen, Wolfman!’ (Siegel, Swan & Kaye) offered a welcome sequel to the original hit tale wherein Superman’s Pal was again afflicted by lycanthropy thanks to the pranks of other-dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk

In Lois Lane#25 (May 1961) the Imaginary series reached an impressively bittersweet high point in ‘Lois Lane and Superman, Newlyweds!’ (Siegel & Schaffenberger) as she convinced hubby to announce their relationship to the world and had to live with the shocking consequences…

The brilliant reporter side was then highlighted in Bernstein’s diabolical thriller ‘Lois Lane’s Darkest Secret!’ with the daring reporter risking her life to draw out and capture a mesmeric master criminal before ‘The Three Lives of Lois Lane!’ (possibly Dorfman with Forte illustrating) found the journalist surviving a car crash only to be subsumed into the personalities of dead historical figures Florence Nightingale, Betsy Ross and Queen Isabella of Spain whilst Superman could only stay near and try to limit the damage…

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #53, June 1961 opened with ‘The Boy in the Bottle!’ (Siegel, Swan & Kaye) as the cub suffered future shock whilst trapped in Kandor, after which sheer medical mischance resulted in the now-legendary saga of ‘The Giant Turtle Man!’ and an oddly casualty-free rampage (courtesy of Siegel, Swan & Forte) before ‘The Black Magician!’ (unknown writer, Swan & Forte) had Jimmy banished to the court of King Arthur by spiteful Mr. Mxyzptlk

The contents of Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane#26 (July 1961) closes this time-sensitive titanic tome, with three more Schaffenberger classics, beginning with Siegel’s ‘The Day Superman Married Lana Lang!’

In this imaginary tragedy the Action Ace finally made his decision and settled down with his childhood sweetheart but lived to regret it, whilst ‘Lois Lane’s Childhood!’ (Siegel) revealed how the lives of Kal-El on doomed Krypton and baby Lois on Earth were intertwined by fate and providence before Bernstein’s ‘The Mad Woman of Metropolis’ concludes the comics cavalcade on a stunning high as Lois foiled a diabolical plot by criminals to murder Clark and drive her insane.

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, sometimes offensive tales perfectly capture the changing tone and tastes which reshaped comics from the smug, 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 all the well-intentioned quibbles from my high horse here in the 21st century, I think these stories still have a huge amount to offer funnybook fun-seekers and I strongly urge you to check them out for yourselves. You won’t be sorry…

© 1960, 1961, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Enemy Ace


By Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Dennis O’Neil, John Severin, Howard Chaykin, Frank Thorne, Ed Davis, Russ Heath, Neal Adams & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1721-1

The first recorded aerial dogfight between powered aircraft occurred sometime during the Battle of Cer sometime between August 15th and 24th 1914 in the skies over Serbia.

Enemy Ace first appeared as a back-up in DC’s flagship war comic Our Army at War: home of the instantly legendary Sergeant Rock. The tales, loosely based on “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen, were a magnificent and thought-provoking examination of and tribute to the profession of soldiering whilst simultaneously condemning the madness of war, produced by the dream team of Robert Kanigher & Joe Kubert during a period when the ongoing Vietnam conflict was beginning to tear American society apart.

An immediate if seminal hit, the series told bitter tales of valour and honour from the point of view of German WWI fighter pilot Hans Von Hammer: a hidebound but noble warrior fighting for his country in a conflict that was swiftly excising all trace of such outmoded concepts from the business of government sanctioned mass-killing.

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature war comics, as well as in horror stories, westerns and superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman plus other genres too numerous to cover here. A restlessly creative writer, he frequently used his uncanny but formulaic adventure arenas as a testing ground for future series concepts.

Among the many epochal war features he created were Sgt. Rock, The War that Time Forgot, The Haunted Tank, The Losers and the controversial star of this stupendously compelling war-journal.

He sold his first stories and poetry in 1932, wrote for the theatre, film and radio, and joined the Fox Features shop where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for Blue Beetle and the original Captain Marvel.

In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He wrote Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary and many sexily memorable villainesses such as Harlequin and Rose and the Thorn. This last turbulent temptress he redesigned during the relevancy era of the early 1970s into a schizophrenic crime-busting vigilante who haunted the back of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, which Kanigher also scripted.

When the taste for mystery-men had faded at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved seamlessly into adventure yarns, westerns and war: becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles.

As well as scripting for All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Army at War, he created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 before adding G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956. This was whilst still working on Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Viking Prince and a host of others.

In 1956 he scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age which introduced Barry Allen as the new Flash to the hero-hungry kids of the world. Drawn by Carmine Infantino, the risky experiment included multi-talented veteran Joe Kubert as inker for the crucially important debut issue…

Kubert was born in 1926 in rural Southeast Poland (which became Ukraine and might be Outer Russia by the time you read this). At age two his parents took him to America and he grew up in Brooklyn.

His folks encouraged Joe to draw from an early age and the precocious kid began a glittering career at the start of the Golden Age, before he was even a teenager. Working and learning at the Chesler comics packaging “Shop”, MLJ, Holyoke and assorted other outfits, he began his close association with National/DC in 1943, whilst still dividing his time and energies between Fiction House, Avon, Harvey and All-American Comics, where he particularly distinguished himself on The Flash and Hawkman.

In the early 1950s he and old school chum Norman Maurer were the creative force behind publishers St. Johns: creating evergreen caveman Tor and launching the 3D comics craze with Three Dimension Comics.

Joe never stopped freelancing, appearing in EC’s Two-Fisted Tales, Avon’s Strange Worlds, Lev Gleason Publications & Atlas Comics until in 1955 when, with the industry imploding, he took a permanent position at DC, only slightly diluted whilst he illustrated the contentious and controversial newspaper strip Tales of the Green Beretsfrom 1965 to 1968.

This terrific monochrome tome re-presents the blockbusting exploits of Von Hammer from Our Army at War #151, 153, 155, Showcase #57-58, Star Spangled War Stories #138 -145, 147-150, 152, 158, 181-183, 200, Men of War #1-3, 8-10, 12-14, 19-20, The Unknown Soldier #251-253, 260-261, 265-267 plus an intriguing tribute from Detective Comics #404: a period spanning February 1965 to August 1982.

The canon encompasses a period during which superheroes were supplanted by horror stories before bouncing right back again, whereas the genre of combat chronicles soldiered on regardless and largely unbothered by vagaries of reader fashion.

To be brutally frank, the stories are infinite variations on the same theme and, despite being illustrated by many of the greatest artists of two generations, might feel a little samey. If so, just stop every now and then to cogitate a little. This isn’t a book to blaze through; its one to savour in sensible portions…

It all kicked off in the back of Our Army at War #151 ((cover-dated February 1965), which introduced the ‘Enemy Ace’ in a short, sharp shocker set in 1918 wherein celebrated aerial warrior Rittmeister Von Hammer was hospitalised after downing a succession of Allied aircraft.

The coldly stoic hero was simultaneously admired by comrades and nurses whilst being shunned and feared by them: they all inevitably came to characterise Germany’s greatest hero as cold and a “human killing machine”…

Von Hammer took recuperative solace in hunting the wilds of the Schwartzwald, where he met a solitary black wolf who seemed to understand and share his lonely life of death and honour…

When his wounds were fully healed the dark knight returned to prowl once more “the Killer Skies”…

That fifteen page yarn perfectly defined everything that could be said about the character but the public could not get enough, so Von Hammer returned in #153 as ‘Flaming Bait!’ Dialled back to 1917 now (scripter Kanigher was never slavishly tied to tight or formal continuity), the cautionary tale featured the superstitious Rittmeister’s attempts to offset a wave of deaths which occurred each time a photographer took a pilot’s picture…

Our Army at War #155 (June 1965) featured ‘Fokker Fury!’, which saw the fanatically fair and scrupulous air ace accidentally shoot down an unarmed British fighter. After some excoriating self-castigation, Von Hammer was compelled to reclaim his honour in a valiant display of mad bravado…

Mere months later, he was the star of a brace of full-length thrillers in prestigious tryout vehicle Showcase.Issue #57 (July/August 1965) offered ‘Killer of the Skies!’ which recapitulated all that had gone before whilst introducing  a potential equal in the form of Canadian ace “The Hunter”.

A new wrinkle had also been added to the mix as Von Hammer now perpetually agonised and bemoaned his inability to save the human conveyor belt of naive, foolish replacement pilots to his Jagdstaffel from killing themselves through enthusiasm, bravado and youthful stupidity…

The following issue (#58, September/October) explored ‘The Hunters – and the Hunted!’, detailing how, after a blazing succession of kills, Von Hammer took a recreational trip to his beloved Black Forest and renewed acquaintances with his lupine companion. Here he had a brief encounter with a beautiful lady whose passion for the celebrity hero died as she soon as apprehended his cold, apparently emotionless executioner’s nature…

With all forms of human warmth clearly denied him, the Hammer of Hell reluctantly returned to the aerial killing fields…

Things went quiet after that as Enemy Ace clearly didn’t sell highly enough to garner its own continuing feature. Time passed and anti-war sentiment increasingly gripped the nation. In 1968 bimonthly war-mag Star Spangled War Stories – a title with a reputation for and history of offbeat material (Mlle. Marie, The War that Time Forgot) – revived Von Hammer for a spectacular run of mesmerising tales which conclusively proved, time after time, that any War was Hell…

It began in #138 (April/May) with the visually intoxicating epic ‘The Slayers and the Slain!’, which introduced a French counterpart to the Teutonic Terror in the forbidding form of the masked and hooded, eerily anonymous Hangman.

This sombre sky-warrior flew a sinister coal-black Spad and threw the German pilots into a paralysing psychological funk, but a conclusive duel with Von Hammer was postponed until the German could recover from yet another bout of wounds won in the Killer Skies…

With room to explore their timeless theme of a good man forced into wicked actions, SSWS #139 flashed back to the boyhood of the Air Ace in ‘Death Whispers… Death Screams!’ Here the austere life of a noble Junker was revealed; the manly pursuits of a Junker in training drummed into young Hans by his severe but loving father.

That grizzled old warrior, from a proud family of patriotic heroes, inculcated in the last of his line an overarching dedication to duty and honour above all other considerations, beliefs which carried him in his present endeavours though the shock of being humiliatingly shot down by the Hangman.

When they met again in the skies it was the Frenchman who crashed to earth, but he too survived to fly another day…

Also included here is a superb Kubert pictorial fact feature Battle Album: Fokker DR-1 and Spad S.13 to add to the already technically overwhelming ambiance…

In #140 the next clash of equals hideously exposed ‘The Face of the Hangman’, resulting in both men crashing on the French side of the lines and becoming respectful intimates as Hammer recuperated in his rival’s chateau before the call of country and duty resulted in one final, fateful airborne showdown…

Star Spangled War Stories #141 was inked by Frank Giacoia & Joe Giella, taking a hard look at the men who flew with Von Hammer. ‘The Bull’ was an ambitious new flier in the Jagdstaffel who endangered and even killed his own comrades in a pitiless quest for fame and glory. Eventually the Rittmeister had to take decisive and fatalistic action…

‘Vengeance is a Harpy!’ then saw the impossible return of the Hangman to sow death and terror amongst the German pilots, forcing Von Hammer into a battle he did not want with a person he had come to admire, if not love…

In ‘The Devil’s General’, after more time spent with the wolf in the woods, the brooding Rittmeister returned to duty, harrying ground troops and spectacularly eradicating opposing fliers. His composure was soon blighted by elderly General Von Kleit, who forced his son Werner into the Squadron, expecting Von Hammer to keep the boy safe in the pitiless skies.

When the callow youth was shot down and captured, The Hammer of Hell moved Heaven and Earth to bring him back alive…

For #144 Kubert inked hot new penciller Neal Adams on ‘Death Takes No Holiday!’ wherein another death-dealing macabre French Ace – dressed as a skeleton – terrorised and slaughtered the Jagdstaffel’s pilots, forcing the German Ace into insane action to inspire his men and cure a young flier of fear-induced madness…

With Kubert back on solo art duties, SSWS #145 saw Von Hammer plagued by nightmares of his greatest opponent, as he attempted to school a trio of veteran pilots for the inevitable day when one would replace him. However the actual ‘Return of the Hangman’ shattered those plans forever…

Another baroque opponent surfaced in #147 as an obsessive English lunatic who believed himself St. George put on a suit of armour and shot down far too many of the Rittmeister’s pilots as part of his scheme to give the infallible Hammer of Hell ‘A Grave in the Sky!’ However that particular vendetta concluded on the ground with ancient swords drawn…

Kanigher was never above using wrenching melodrama and sheer sentimentality to his advantage. The moving saga in #148 describes how a little puppy becomes a mascot for solitary, isolated Von Hammer, but the cute little tyke’s inescapable horrific ending is just another hammer-blow of heartbreak in ‘Luck is a Puppy named Schatzi!’

Despite immense critical acclaim, the series was dwindling in popularity. Star Spangled War Stories 149 (February/March 1970) saw Viking Prince join the eclectic comic’s line up with Enemy Ace reduced to fifteen pages. ‘Reach for the Heavens’ – inked by Sid Greene – found Von Hammer meeting again with hated flying school rival Heinrich Müller, a complex sadistic killer who redeemed himself after committing war crimes in a tale tinged with supernatural overtones…

The run truly ended with #150 and ‘3 Graves to Home!’, as the Enemy Ace was shot down over rural France and had to fight his way back to his own lines. He encountered a succession of civilians all putting a human face on the war he usually fought so far above them, but his time in the sun was almost over…

With Star Spangled War Stories #151(June/July 1970), a new feature replaced Enemy Ace as star feature, running until the magazine changed its name with the 204th (February 1977) issue to reflect the newcomer’s popularity. As The Unknown Soldier, it continued for a further 64 episodes until it too died with #268 (October 1982).

Star Spangled War Stories #152 however offered one more uncompromising mission from which only the Hammer of Hell returned. ‘Rain Above… Mud Below!’, illustrated by Russ Heath, was supplemented by another informative Kubert Battle Album starring the Lafayette Escadrille

Although gone, the iconic German warrior was far from forgotten. SSWS #158 featured a stunning Kubert ‘Special Pin-up: Enemy Ace – the Hammer of Hell’ whilst issue #181-183 held a compelling 3 part back-up serial by Kanigher & Frank Thorne which pitted the noble intellectual against maverick American Ace Steve Savage – “The Balloon Buster” in ‘Hell’s Angels Part One: The Hammer of Hell!’, ‘Hell’s Angels Part Two: The Maverick Ace!’ and the savage but inconclusive finale ‘Hell’s Angels Part Three: To End in Flames!’(June/July to November/December 1974)…

Von Hammer resurfaced in the anniversary Star Spangled War Stories #200 (June/July 1976) in ‘Shooting Star’ written and drawn by Joe Kubert, as a German innovation in rocket-propelled aircraft catastrophically proved to be an invention whose time had not yet come…

A new anthology comicbook debuted inAugust 1977. Men of War starred Gravedigger, a black American GI in WWII, but had alternating back-ups. Enemy Ace copped the first slot in issues #1-3 (by Kanigher, Ed Davis & Juan Ortiz) as ‘Death is a Wild Beast!’ saw Von Hammer down a devil-themed British pilot who accomplished a miraculous ‘Return from Hell!’ before exhibiting ‘The Three Faces of Death’ in the final instalment.

As ever, the real meat of the macabre missions was the toll on the minds and bodies of the merely mortal fliers that died whilst Von Hammer lived on…

Another triptych featured in #8-10. ‘Silent Sky… Screaming Death!!’ – illustrated by Larry Hama & Bob Smith – began a trenchant tale of a family at war before Howard Chaykin took over the art as a duel in the sky resulted in attack by vengeful siblings and the return of Von Hammer’s father in ‘Brother Killers!’

It all ended badly in a fateful ‘Duel at Dawn!’

Men of War #12-14 offered more of the same as ‘Banner of Blood!’ saw the troubled Rittmeister strive to retrieve the Von Hammer family flag from a cunning French air ace who was an ancestral foe of ‘The Last Baron!’ The centuries-long vendetta with the Comtes de Burgundy finally ended in one last honourable ‘Duel!’

Issues #19-20 (August and September 1979) finished another run with one more tale of idiotic honour and wasted young lives as Von Hammer made ‘A Promise to the Dying’ and sought to return a contentious souvenir to its rightful owner in ‘Death Must Wait!’

In the May 1981 Unknown Soldier – #251 – Enemy Ace began an occasional series of adventures illustrated by the phenomenal John Severin.

First was ‘Hell in the Heavens Part One: I, the Executioner’ wherein Von Hammer’s whirlwind romance with Fraulein Ingrid Thiesse hit a bump after he told of the British boy pilot who died in his arms. Having sworn to find his valiant foe’s sister and return an heirloom, Hans soon found himself under attack in #252’s ‘Hell in the Heavens Part Two: the Midnight Spy’,before shocking answers were forthcoming in the concluding ‘Hell in the Heavens Part Three: Midnight and Murder’…

A far more imaginative yarn unfolded in #260 (February 1982) with ‘I Am My Own Executioner Part One: Stolen Face – Stolen Ace!’ when the German High Command brought in a doppelganger to replace the national hero Von Hammer as he recovered from wounds.

Unfortunately the impostor was not only a sadistic butcher but crazy as a loon and the real deal had to defy his doctors and military superiors before shooting the maniac out of the skies – for the sake of the country and his own besmirched good name – in #261’s ‘I Am My Own Executioner Part Two: Death of a Double!’

The last flight of the war-weary warrior came in Unknown Soldier #265-267 (July to September 1982) as the British Government put a huge price on Von Hammer’s head in ‘A Very Private Hell Part One: the Bounty Hunters!’

The resultant furore led to a return engagement for Yankee white trash Steve Savage in ‘A Very Private Hell Part Two: the Substitute Ace’ and the death of a brave but foolhardy fake ace before the drama ended – again inconclusively – in ‘A Very Private Hell Part Three: Debt of Blood’

Although the grim conflicts of the chivalrous cavalry of the clouds conclude here, this epic tome holds one last treat in reserve: a rather outré but definitively classy tribute to the Hammer of Hell which originally appeared Detective Comics #404 (October 1970).

‘Ghost of the Killer Skies!’ by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams & Dick Giordano 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, but in the killer skies over Central Spain the mighty Batman uncovered almost incontrovertible evidence of a malign human intelligence behind the deaths.

…Almost incontrovertible…

These often bizarre but always moving and utterly unforgettable stories reveal a true high point in the annals of combat comics: crafted by masters of the art form and who never failed to ram home the point that war is not a profession for anybody who enjoys it, and that only the lucky, the mad and the already-doomed have any chance of getting out at all…
© 1965, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 2008 DC Comics All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Super Friends volume 1


By E. Nelson Bridwell, Denny O’Neil, Ric Estrada, Joe Orlando, Ramona Fradon, Kurt Schaffenberger, Bob Smith & Vince Colletta (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4757-7

Once upon a time comics were primarily created with kids in mind and, whilst I’d never advocate exclusively going back to those days, the modern industry is greatly lacking for not properly addressing the needs and tastes of younger fans these days.

A superb case in point of all-ages comics done right can be seen in Showcase Presents Super Friends volume 1 which gathers the licensed comicbook tales which spun off from a popular Saturday Morning TV Cartoon show: one that, thanks to the canny craftsmanship and loving invention of lead scripter E. Nelson Bridwell, became an integral and unmissable component of the greater DC Universe.

It was also one of the most universally thrilling and satisfying superhero titles of the period for older fans: featuring the kind of smart and witty, straightforward adventures people my age grew up with, produced during a period when the entire industry was increasingly losing itself in colossal continued storylines and angsty, soap opera melodrama.

Sometimes all you really want is a smart plot well illustrated; sinister villains well-smacked, a solid resolution and early bed…

The TV show Super Friends ran (under various iterations) from 1973 to 1986; starring Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and a brace of studio-originated kids as student crimebusters, supplemented by occasional guest stars from the DCU on a case by case basis.

The series then made the transition to print as part of the publisher’s 1976 foray into “boutiqued” comics which saw titles with a television connection cross-marketed as “DC TV Comics”.

Child-friendly Golden Age comicbook revival Shazam!- the Original Captain Marvel had been adapted into a successful live action television series and its Saturday Morning silver screen stablemate The Secrets of Isis consequently reversed the process by becoming a comicbook.

With the additions of hit comedy show Welcome Back Kotter and animated blockbuster Super Friends into four-colour format, DC had a neat little outreach imprimatur tailor-made to draw viewers into the magic word of funnybooks.

At least that was the plan: with the exception of Super Friends none of the titles lasted more than ten issues beyond their launch…

This bombastic black-&-white extravaganza collects Super Friends #1-24 (spanning November 1976 to September 1979) and opens with a crafty two-part caper by Bridwell, Ric Estrada, Vince Colletta & Joe Orlando.

‘The Fury of the Super Foes’ found heroes-in-training Wendy and Marvin – and their incredible astute mutt Wonderdog – studying at the palatial Hall of Justice, even as elsewhere a confederation of villains prove that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery if not outright intellectual theft…

The Penguin, Cheetah, Flying Fish, Poison Ivy and Toyman, having auditioned a host of young criminals, are creating a squad of sidekicks and protégés to follow in their felonious footsteps and Chick, Kitten, Sardine, Honeysuckle and Toyboy are all ready and willing to carry out their first caper.

When the giant “Troubalert” screen informs the heroes of a three-pronged attack on S.T.A.R. Labs’ latest inventions, the champions split up to tackle the crises but are thoroughly trounced until Wendy and Marvin break curfew to help them.

As a result of the clash, Chick and Kitten are brought back to the Hall of Justice, but their talk of repentance is a rascally ruse and they secretly sabotage vital equipment…

Unluckily for them Wonderdog has seen everything and quickly finds a way to inform the still-oblivious good guys in issue #2 but too late to prevent the Super Friends being briefly ‘Trapped by the Super Foes’

The incomparable Ramona Fradon – aided and abetted by inker Bob Smith – took over the pencilling with #3 as ‘The Cosmic Hit Man?’ saw fifty intergalactic super-villains murdered by infernal Dr. Ihdrom, who then combined their harvested essences to create an apparently unbeatable hyper-horror who utterly overwhelmed Earth’s heroic defenders. However he soon fell victim to his own arrogance and Wendy and Marvin’s logical deductions…

‘Riddles and Rockets!’ found the Super Friends overmatched by new ne’er-do-well Skyrocket whilst simultaneously trying to cope with a rash of crimes contrived by King of Conundra The Riddler.

It wasn’t too long before a pattern emerged and a criminal connection was confirmed…

Author Bridwell was justly famed as DC’s keeper of the continuity, possessing an astoundingly encyclopaedic knowledge of DC’s publishing minutiae. ‘Telethon Treachery!’ gave him plenty of scope to display it with a host of near-forgotten guest-stars joining our heroes as they hosted a televised charity event whilst money-mad menace Greenback lurked in the wings, awaiting the perfect moment to grab the loot and kidnap the wealthiest donators…

The Atom played a crucial role in stopping the dastardly depredations of an animal trainer who used beasts as bandits in ‘The Menace of the Menagerie Man!’ before a huge cast change was unveiled in #7 (October 1977) with ‘The Warning of the Wondertwins’

TV is very different from comics. When the new season of Super Friends aired, Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog were gone, replaced without warning or explanation by alien shapeshifters Zan and Jayna and their elastic-tailed space monkey Gleek.

With more room – and consideration for the fans – Bridwell turned the sudden cast change into a bombastic battle to save Earth from total annihilation whilst properly introducing the adult heroes’ newest students in memorable style…

At the Hall of Justice Wendy and Marvin spot a spaceship hurtling to Earth on the Troubalert monitor and dash off to intercept it. Aboard are two siblings from distant planet Exor: a girl who can change into animals and a boy who can become any form of water from steam to ice. They have come with an urgent warning…

Superman’s alien enemy Grax has determined to eradicate humanity and devised a dozen different super-bombs and attendant weird-science traps to ensure his victory. The weapons are scattered all over Earth and even the entire Justice League cannot stretch its resources to cover every angle and threat…

To Wendy and Marvin the answer is obvious: call upon the help and knowledge of hyper-powered local heroes…

Soon Superman and Israel’s champion The Seraph are dismantling a black hole bomb whilst Elongated Man and titan-tressed Godiva are performing similar duties on a life-eradicator in England and Flash and mighty-leaping Impala are dismantling uncatchable ordnance in South Africa…

Hawkman and Hawkwoman then join Native American avenger Owlwoman to crush darkness-breeding monsters in Oklahoma whilst from the Hall of Justice Wendy, Marvin and the Wondertwins monitor the crisis with a modicum of mounting hope…

The cataclysmic epic continues in #8 with ‘The Mind Killers!’ as Atom and Rising Son tackle a deadly device designed to decimate Japan even as in Ireland Green Lantern and Jack O’Lantern battle multi-hued monstrosities before switching off their target of technological terror.

In New Zealand time-scanning Tuatara tips off Red Tornado to the position of a bomb cached in the distant past and Venezuela’s doom is diverted through a team-up between Batman and Robin and reptile-themed champion Bushmaster whilst Taiwan benefits from a melding of sonic superpowers possessed by Black Canary and the astounding Thunderlord

The saga soars to a classic climax with ‘Three Ways to Kill a World!’ in which the final phases of Grax’s scheme finally fail thanks to Green Arrow and Tasmanian Devil in Australia, Aquaman and Little Mermaid in the seas off Denmark and Wonder Woman and The Olympian in Greece.

Or at least they would have if the Hellenic heroes had found the right foe. Sadly their triumph against Wrong-Place, Right-Time terrorist Colonel Conquest almost upset everything. Thankfully the quick thinking students send an army of defenders to Antarctica where Norwegian novice Icemaiden dismantles the final booby-trap bomb.

However, whilst the adult champions are thus engaged, Grax invades the Hall of Justice seeking revenge on the pesky whistleblowing Exorian kids, but is completely unprepared for and overwhelmed by Wendy, Marvin and Wonderdog who categorically prove they are ready to graduate to the big leagues…

With Zan and Jayna enrolled as the latest heroes-in-training, Super Friends #10 details their adoption by Batman’s old associate – and eccentric time travel theoretician – Professor Carter Nichols just before a legion of alien horrors arrives on Earth to teach the kids that appearances can be lethally deceiving in ‘The Monster Menace!’ after which Kingslayer’ pits the heroes against criminal mastermind Overlord who has contracted the world’s greatest hitman to murder more than one hundred leaders at one sitting…

Another deep dive into DC’s past then resurrected Golden Age titans T.N.T and Dan, the Dyna-Mite in ‘The Atomic Twosome!’

The 1940s mystery men had been under government wraps ever since their radioactive powers began to melt down, but when an underground catastrophe ruptured their individual lead-lined vaults, the Super Friends were called in to prevent a potential nuclear nightmare…

The subterranean reason for the near tragedy was tracked to a monstrous mole creature, and led to the introduction of eternal mystic Doctor Mist who revealed the secret history of civilisation and begged help to halt ‘The Mindless Immortal!’ before its random burrowing shattered mankind’s cities…

Super Friends #14 opened with ‘Elementary!’; introducing four ordinary mortals forever changed when they were possessed by ancient sprits and tasked with plundering the world by Overlord. When the heroes scotched the scheme, Undine, Salamander, Sylph and Gnome retained their powers and determined to become a crime-fighting team dubbed The Elementals

The issue also contained a short back-up tale illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger & Bob Smith. ‘The Origin of the Wondertwins’ at last revealed how the Exorian genetic throwbacks – despised outcasts on their own world – fled from a circus of freaks and uncovered Grax’s plot before taking that fateful rocketship to Earth…

Big surprises were in store in ‘The Overlord Goes Under!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the Elementals began their battle against evil by joining the Super Friends in crushing the crimelord. All the heroes were blithely unaware that they were merely clearing the way for a far more cunningly subtle mastermind to take Overlord’s place…

‘The People Who Stole the Sky!’ in #16 was a grand, old fashioned alien invasion yarn, perfectly foiled by the team and the increasingly adept Wondertwins whilst ‘Trapped in Two Times!’ found Zan and Jayna used by the insidious Time Trapper (nee Time Master) to lure the adult heroes into deadly peril on Krypton in the days before it detonated and future water world Neryla in the hours before it was swallowed by its critically expanding red sun.

After rescuing the kids – thanks in no small part to Superman’s legendary lost love Lyla Ler-rol – the Super Friends used Tuatara’s chronal insight and Professor Nichol’s obscure methodologies to go after the Trapper in the riotous yet educational ‘Manhunt in Time!’ (illustrated by Schaffenberger & Smith), by way of Atlantis before it sank, medieval Spain and Michigan in 1860AD, to thwart a triple-strength scheme to derail history and end Earth civilisation…

Issue #19 saw the return of Menagerie Man in ‘The Mystery of the Missing Monkey!’ (Fradon & Smith) as the beast-breaker boosted Gleek, intent on turning his elastic-tailed talents into the perfect pickpocketing tool, after which Denny O’Neil – writing as Sergius O’Shaugnessy – teamed with Schaffenberger & Smith for a more jocular turn.

Chaos and comedy ensued when the team tackled vegetable monsters unleashed when self-obsessed shlock-movie director Frownin’ Fritz Frazzle got hold of Merlin’s actually magical Magic Lantern and tried to make a masterpiece on the cheap in ‘Revenge of the Leafy Monsters!’

Bridwell, Fradon & Smith were back in #21 where ‘Battle Against the Super Fiends!’ found the heroes travelling to Exor to combat a brace of super-criminals who could duplicate all their power-sets, after which ‘It’s Never Too Late!’ (#22, O’Neil, Fradon & Smith) revealed how temporal bandit Chronos subjected the Super Friends to a time-delay treatment which made them perennially too late to stop him – until Batman and the Wondertwins out-thought him…

The Mirror Master divided and banished teachers and students in #23 but was unable to prevent an ‘SOS from Nowhere!’ (Bridwell, Fradon & Smith) to the fleet-footed Flash. This episode also spent some time fleshing out the Wondertwin’s earthly secret identities as Gotham Central highschoolers John and Joanna Fleming

This splendid selection of super thrills then concludes with ‘Past, Present and Danger!’ by O’Neil, Fradon & Smith wherein Zan and Jayna’s faces are found engraved on a recently unearthed Egyptian pyramid. Upon investigation inside the edifice, the heroes awaken two ancient exiles who resemble the kids, but are in fact criminals who have been fleeing Exorian justice for thousands of years.

How lucky then that the kids are perfect doubles the crooks can send back with the robot cops surrounding the pyramid – once they’ve got rid of the Earthling heroes…

Brilliantly entertaining, masterfully crafted and always utterly engaging, these stories are comics gold that will delight children and adults in equal proportion. Truly generational in appeal, they are probably the closest thing to an American answer to the magic of Tintin or Asterix and no family home should be without this tome.
© 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 2014 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents DC Comics Presents Superman Team-up volume 2


By Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Martin Pasko, Roy Thomas, Paul Levitz, Jim Starlin, Curt Swan, José Luis García-López, Rick Buckler, Irv Novick, Kurt Schaffenberger, Joe Staton & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4048-6

From the moment a kid first sees his second superhero the only thing he/she wants is to see how the new gaudy gladiator stacks up against the first. From the earliest days of the funnybook industry (and, according to DC Comics Presents editor Julie Schwartz, it was the same with the pulps and dime novels that preceded it) we’ve wanted our entertainment idols to meet, associate, battle together – and, if you follow the Timely/Marvel model, that means against each other – far more than we want to see them trounce their archenemies together…

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing or fighting (usually both) with less well-selling company characters – was far from new when DC awarded their then biggest gun (it was the publicity-drenched weeks before the release of Superman: the Movie, and Tim Burton’s Batman was over a decade away) a regular arena to have adventures with other stars of their firmament, just as Batman had been doing since the middle of the 1960s in The Brave and the Bold.

Actually the Man of Steel had already embraced the regular sharing experience at the beginning of the decade when World’s Finest Comics briefly ejected the Caped Crusader and Superman battled beside a coterie of heroes including Flash, Robin, Martian Manhunter, Teen Titans, Dr. Fate and others (WF #198-214, November 1970 to October/November 1972) before the immortal status quo was re-established.

This second stout and superbly economical monochrome collection re-presents DC Comics Presents #27-50 and the first Annual (spanning November 1980 to October 1982) of the star-studded monthly, and opens the show with a trilogy of interlinked thrillers.

Unlike The Brave and the Bold, which boasted a regular artist for most of its Batman-starring team-up run, a veritable merry-go-round of creative talent contributed to DCCP and #27 proved the value of such tactics when Len Wein, Jim Starlin, Dick Giordano & Frank McLaughlin collaboratively changed the shape of Superman mythology by introducing alien marauder Mongul in ‘The Key that Unlocked Chaos!’

The deposed despot of a far away planet kidnapped Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Steve Lombard to force Superman to attack former JLA member J’onn J’onzz. This was because the Martian Manhunter had successfully driven off the rapacious fiend when he attacked New Mars in search of an artefact that would grant the possessor control of the universe’s most terrible weapon…

Now Mongul wanted the Man of Steel to get it for him and, although the resulting planet-shaking clash between old allies did result in the salvation of his friends, Superman subsequently failed to keep the crystal key out of the villain’s gigantic hands…

The tale continued in #28 as Supergirl joined her Kryptonian cousin in scouring the cosmos for the vanished tyrant and ancient doom weapon ‘Warworld!’ (Wein, Starlin & Romeo Tanghal).

Unfortunately, once they found it, Mongul unleashed all its resources to destroy his annoying adversaries and in the resultant cataclysm the mobile gun-planet was demolished. The resultant detonation blasted Kara Zor-El out of existence…

The triptych concluded a month later as The Spectre intervened to stop the heartsick Man of Tomorrow following his cousin ‘Where No Superman Has Gone Before!’ Happily after the customary clash of egos and flexing of muscles the nigh-omnipotent Ghostly Guardian set things right and restored the lost girl to the land of the living…

Courtesy of Gerry Conway, Curt Swan & Vince Colletta, DC Comics Presents #30 saw Black Canary plagued by nightmares starring her deceased husband, but upon closer investigation Superman showed that the diabolical Dr. Destiny was behind ‘A Dream of Demons!’, whilst in ‘The Deadliest Show on Earth!’ (Conway, José Luis García-López & Giordano) Man of Steel and original Robin, the Teen Wonder Dick Grayson conclusively crushed a perfidious psychic vampire predating the performers at the troubled Sterling Circus…

Wonder Woman spurned amorous godling Eros in #32’s ‘The Super-Prisoners of Love’ (Conway, Kurt Schaffenberger & Colletta) leading to the frustrated brat using his arrows to make her and Superman fall passionately in lust. It took the intervention of goddess Aphrodite and a quest into the realms of myth to set their head and hearts aright again…

Conway, Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler & Giordano then began a 2-part epic in DCCP #33 as ‘Man and Supermarvel!’ found the Action Ace and Captain Marvel helplessly swapping powers, costumes and Earths, thanks to the mirthless machinations of Fifth dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk and malevolent alien worm Mr. Mind.

Despite the intervention of Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Junior in the next issue the villains’ sinister manipulations allowed antediluvian revenant King Kull to become ‘The Beast-Man that Shouted “Hate” at the Heart of the U.N.!’ (Thomas, Buckler & Giordano). The consequent battle across myriad dimensions only went the heroes’ way after they stumbled upon the garish homeworld of Lepine Avenger Hoppy the Captain Marvel Bunny

Some semblance of sanity returned in #35 as Superman and Man-Bat hunted for ‘The Metamorphosis Machine!’ (Martin Pasko, Swan & Colletta) which might save Chiropterist Kirk Langstrom’s baby daughter from death. All they had to do was beat murderous maniac Atomic Skull and his minions to the device…

Paul Levitz & Starlin then revealed ‘Whatever Happened to Starman?’ as Mongul turned his nefarious attention to Gavyn, ruler of a distant alien empire and a stellar powered crusader. After snatching the monarch’s beloved Merria, Mongul tried to take over the masked hero’s interplanetary empire but was thwarted again by the timely arrival of the Man of Steel and the vengeful fury of the Starman…

Hawkgirl got a rare chance at some solo action in #37 as ‘The Stars Like Moths…’ (Thomas & Starlin) saw the Thanagarian cop-turned-archaeologist uncover an ancient Kryptonian vault, solve a baffling mystery that had vexed the House of El for generations and save its last son from the dimensional doom which killed Superman’s great-grandfather…

DC Comics Presents #38 united the Man of Steel and The Flash as an extra-dimensional tyrant attempted to foment a high velocity war between Earth’s fastest heroes in ‘Stop the World – I Want to Get Off Go Home!’ (Pasko & Don Heck), after which #39 catapulted Superman into the weirdest case of his career as he and Plastic Man trailed ‘The Thing That Goes Woof in the Night!’ (Pasko, Joe Staton & Bob Smith) to a Toymakers Convention where third-rate super-villains Fliptop and Dollface were trying to rob freshly reformed, barely recovering maniac Toyman

In DCCP #40 Metamorpho the Element Man seemed to be the logical culprit for uncanny disasters occurring on ‘The Day the Elements Went Wild!’ (Conway, Irv Novick & McLaughlin), but when Superman tried to bring him in the real menace proved to be the least likely person possible…

In #41, ‘The Terrible Tinseltown Treasure-Trap Treachery!’ (Pasko, García-López & McLaughlin) proved that the Man of Tomorrow’s powers were no match for the lethal Hollywood hi-jinks perpetrated by The Joker and Prankster as they callously duelled for the props and effects of a dead comedy legend…

Immortal espionage ace and unsung war hero The Unknown Soldier haunted the shadows of issue #42, subtly guiding Superman towards saving Earth from imminent nuclear Armageddon in ‘The Specter of War!’ by Levitz, Novick & McLaughlin, whilst The Legion of Super-Heroes joined the Metropolis Marvel ‘In Final Battle’ against remorseless Mongul and his captive Sun-Eater in an all-action exploit by Levitz, Swan & Dave Hunt from DCCP #43.

Bob Rozakis, E. Nelson Bridwell, Novick & McLaughlin added to the ongoing mystery of New England town Fairfax, when Clark Kent was assigned to discover why so many heroes, villains and monsters appeared there. What Superman found was teenagers Chris King and Vicki Grant (who used mysterious artefacts to Dial “H” for Hero and transform into most of the Fairfax freak and champion community) under attack by ‘The Man Who Created Villains!’

Firestorm the Nuclear Man stole the show in #45 as Conway, Buckler & Smith teamed him and the Man of Steel against terrorist Kriss-Kross who took over the nation’s electronic military defences to implement ‘The Chaos Network’, after which international heroes united as The Global Guardians at the command of enigmatic Doctor Mist to defeat a coalition of magic foes and prevent the resurrection of ‘The Wizard Who Wouldn’t Stay Dead!’ (Bridwell, Alex Saviuk & Pablo Marcos).

A franchising bonanza occurred in DC Comics Presents #47 as Superman met the toy/cartoon sensations of Masters of the Universe: travelling to another dimension and aiding He-Man and his comrades against wicked Skeletor in the exceedingly kid-friendly yarn ‘From Eternia – with Death!’ by Paul Kupperberg, Swan & Mike DeCarlo.

Aquaman resurfaced in #48 seeking the Man of Tomorrow’s aid against a mysterious plague of sub-sea mutations, only to discover an alien wielding ‘Eight Arms of Conquest!’ (Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, Novick & McLaughlin), after which ‘Superman and Shazam!’ (Thomas, Kupperberg, Buckler & John Calnan) saw the immortal wizard enlist the Action Ace’s assistance to create a Captain Marvel for Earth -1.

When it didn’t work out the original had to step in from his own world to stop the depredations of devil-hearted Black Adam

DC Comics Presents Annual #1 then reintroduced the world where good and evil are transposed as ‘Crisis on Three Earths!’ by Marv Wolfman, Buckler & Hunt saw the Supermen of Earth-1 and Earth-2 again thrash their respective nemeses Lex and/or Alexei Luthor only to have the villains flee to another universe…

In Case You Were Wondering: soon after the Silver Age brought back an army of costumed heroes, ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123 September 1961) introduced alternate Earths to the continuity which resulted in the multiversal structure of the DCU, Crisis on Infinite Earths and all succeeding cosmos-shaking crossover sagas since.

During a benefit gig Flash (police scientist Barry Allen) accidentally slipped into another dimension where he discovered the 1940s comicbook hero upon whom he’d based his own superhero identity actually existed.

Every adventure he’d avidly absorbed as an eager child was grim reality to Jay Garrick and his mystery-men comrades on the controversially named Earth-2. Locating his idol, Barry convinced the elder to come out of retirement just as three vintage villains Shade, Thinker and the Fiddler made their own wicked comeback…

The story generated an avalanche of popular and critical approval (big sales figures, too) so after a few more trans-dimensional test runs the ultimate team-up was delivered to slavering fans. ‘Crisis on Earth-One’ (Justice League of America #21, August 1963) and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (in #22) became one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most important tales in American comics.

When ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ introduced the concept of Infinite Earths and multiple heroes to the public, pressure had begun almost instantly to bring back the actual heroes of the “Golden Age”. Editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, though, fearing too many heroes would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet put readers off. If they could see us now…

Most importantly there was no reason to stop at two Earths.

Justice League of America #29-30 featured Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ which reprised the team-up of Justice League and Justice Society of America, when the super-beings of yet another alternate Earth discovered the secret of multiversal travel.

Unfortunately Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring were super-criminals on a world without heroes and they saw the costumed champions of the JLA and JSA as living practise dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon.

With this cracking two-part thriller the annual summer team-up became solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless joys for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been…

Back at the DCCP annual, the vanished Luthors reappeared on Earth-3 and began trans-dimensional attacks on their arch enemies: even tentatively affiliating with Ultraman of the Crime Syndicate of Amerika, whilst treacherously planning to destroy all three Earths…

This potential cosmic catastrophe prompted the brilliant and noble Alex Luthor of Earth-3 to abandon his laboratory, turn himself into his world’s very first superhero and join the hard-pressed Supermen in saving humanity three times over…

This power-packed black and white compilation concludes with the anniversary DC Comics Presents Annual #50 wherein ‘When You Wish Upon a Planetoid!’ (Mishkin, Cohn, Swan & Schaffenberger) saw a cosmic calamity split Superman and Clark Kent into separate entities…

Designed as introductions to lesser known DC stars, these tales are wonderfully accessible to newcomers and readers unfamiliar with the minutia of burdensome continuity and provide an ideal jumping on point for anybody who just wants a few moments of easy comicbook fun and thrills.

These short, pithy adventures are a perfect shop window for DC’s fascinating catalogue of characters and creators; delivering a breadth and variety of self-contained, exciting and satisfying entertainments ranging from the merely excellent all the way to utterly indispensable, making this book the perfect introduction to the DC Universe for every kid of any age and another delightful slice of ideal Costumed Dramas from simpler, more inviting times…
© 1980, 1981, 1982, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

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.