By various (Atlas Publishing/K.G. Murray)
Before DC Comics and other American publishers began exporting directly into the UK in 1959 our exposure to their unique brand of fantasy fun came from licensed reprints. British publishers/printers like Len Miller, Alan Class and bought materialÂ from the USA – and occasionally, Canada – to fill 68-page monochrome anthologies – many of which recycled the same stories for decades.
Less common were (strangely) coloured pamphlets produced by Australian outfit K.G. Murray and exported here in a rather sporadic manner. The company also produced sturdy and substantial Christmas Annuals which had a huge impact on my earliest years (I strongly suspect my adoration of black-&-white artwork stems from seeing supreme stylists like Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson uncluttered by flat colour).
This particular tome of was of the last licensed UK DC comics compilations before the Batman TV show turned the entire planet Camp-Crazed and Bat-Manic, and therefore offers a delightfully eclectic mix of material far more in keeping with the traditionally perceived interests of British boys than the suited-&-booted masked madness that was soon to follow in the Caped Crusaderâ€™s scalloped wake.
Of course this collection was still produced in the cheap and quirky mix of monochrome, dual-hued and weirdly full-coloured pages which made the Christmas books such a bizarrely beloved treat.
The sublime suspense and joyous adventuring begins with a rare treat as â€˜The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team!â€™ (by Jerry Coleman & George Papp from Adventure Comics #275, August 1960) offers an alternate view of the Dark Knight.
Teenaged Bruce Wayne was sneaking out on his still-living parents to fight crime as the Flying Fox and the Boy of Steel undertook to give some pre-heroic training after seeing their future partnership in a time scanner.
The task was made simple after the Waynes moved to Smallville but soon an odd rivalry developedâ€¦
British books always preferred to alternate action with short gag strips and the Murray publications depended heavily on the amazing DC output of cartoonist Henry Boltinoff. Here a jungle jape starring explorer â€˜Shortyâ€™ and a court appearance for â€˜Casey the Copâ€™ herald the start of the duo-colour section (blue and red) before â€˜Superboyâ€™s First Day at Schoolâ€™ (Otto Binder & Papp from Superboy #75, September 1959) reveals how another attempt by Lana Lang to prove Clark Kent was the Boy of Steel prompts the lads Super-Recall and reveals how, on their first day in primary school, he inadvertently displayed his powers to her several timesâ€¦
A big hit during the 1950s, Rex the Wonder Dog featured a supremely capable German Shepherd – and his owners – experience a wide variety of incredible escapades. Here â€˜The Valley of the Thunder King!â€™ by John Broome, Gil Kane & Bernard Sachs from The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #14 March-April 1954, finds the dog and soldier Major Danny Dennis discover a lost tribe of Aztecs in Mexico just as a volcano eruptsâ€¦
â€˜How Luthor Met Superboy!â€™ (by Jerry Siegel & Al Plastino from Adventure Comics #271, April 1960) revealed how young scientist Lex and Superboy became friends, and how the genius became deranged after a laboratory fire extinguished by the Teen Titan caused him to lose his hair. Enraged beyond limit, the boy inventor turned his talents to crimeâ€¦
Boltinoffâ€™s ET gag strip â€˜On the Planet Ogâ€™ temporarily terminates the two-tone tales and leads into a black-&-white section wherein Rexâ€™s support feature Detective Chimp takes over.
Bobo was the pet, partner and deputy of Sheriff Chase of Oscaloosa County, Florida: a chimpanzee who foiled crimes and here experienced â€˜Death Walks the High Wire!â€™ (Broome, Irwin Hasen & Joe Giella from The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #8 March-April 1953), solving the murder of a circus trapeze artist.
The amazing hound then became â€˜Rex, Dinosaur Destroyer!â€™ (Robert Kanigher, Kane & Sy Barry, from The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #11-September-October 1953) after an atomic test blast opened a subterranean rift packed with survivors from another ageâ€¦
â€˜Little Peteâ€™ and another â€˜Casey the Copâ€™ by Boltinoff augur a return to red and blue tones and an epic 2-part Superboy tale as â€˜The Mystery of Mighty Boy! and â€˜Superboyâ€™s Lost Friend!â€™ (Binder & Papp; Superboy #85, December 1960) see the Boy of Steel travel to distant planet Zumoor and a teen hero whose life closely mirrors his own. They quickly become firm friends, but Superboy soon finds good reason to abandon Mighty Boy foreverâ€¦
Comedy courtesy of Boltinoffâ€™s â€˜Professor Eurekaâ€™ leads into â€˜Superboyâ€™s Nightmare Dream Houseâ€™ (Superboy #70, January 1959 by Alvin Schwartz & John Sikela) which finds the Teen of Tomorrow teaching a swindler a life-changing lesson before â€˜Peter Puptentâ€™ and â€˜Casey the Copâ€™, after which Detective Chimp uncovers â€˜Monkey Business on the Briny Deep!â€™ (Broome, Hasen & Giella, The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #10 July-August 1953) whilst Rex and Danny Dennis Jr. head out west to climb a mountain for charity and brave the perils of â€˜The Eagle Hunter!â€™ (Kanigher, Kane & Barry from The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #14 March-April 1954).
This thrilling collection returns to full-colour for one last Boltinoff â€˜Doctor Rocketâ€™ funny before â€˜The Super Star of Hollywoodâ€™ (Siegel & Papp Adventure Comics #272, May 1960) reveals how super-dog Krypto becomes spoiled and big-headed after starring in a Hollywood movie – until Superboy applies a little clandestine reality checkâ€¦
Â© National Periodical Publications, Inc. Published by arrangement with the K.G. Murray Publishing Company, Pty. Ltd., Sydney.
These Christmas Chronicles are lavish and laudatory celebrations of good times and great storytelling but at least theyâ€™re not lost or forgotten, and should you care to try them out the internet and a credit card are all youâ€™ll need.
Merry Christmas, a fruitful New Year and Happy Reading from Everybody at Now Read This!