Superman’s Greatest Team-Ups


By Mike W. Barr, Cary Bates, E. Nelson Bridwell, Gary Cohn, Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Paul Levitz, Dan Mishkin, Denny O’Neil, Martin Pasko, Len Wein, Murphy Anderson, Rich Buckler, Dick Dillin, Don Heck, Alex Saviuk, Jim Starlin, Joe Staton, Curt Swan, Rick Veitch & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0486-9 (HB/Digital edition)

From the moment a kid first sees his second superhero, the only thing they wants is to see how the new gaudy gladiator stacks up against the first one. From the earliest days of the comics 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 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 in a united front…

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing or battling (usually both) with less well-selling company characters – was far from new when DC awarded their then-biggest gun. DCCP was launched in the publicity-drenched weeks preceding the release of Superman: The Movie: a regular arena to have adventures with other stars of their firmament, just as the Gotham Guardian had been doing since the mid-1960s in The Brave and the Bold.

In truth, the Action Ace had already enjoyed the serial sharing experience once before, when World’s Finest Comics briefly ejected the Caped Crusader and Superman battled beside a coterie of heroes including Flash, Robin, Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Green Arrow, Dr. Fate and others (issues #198-214; November 1970 to October/November 1972) before the original status quo was re-established.

This is something of a companion volume to the previously published Adventures of Superman: José Luis García-López volume 1, in that it also publishes team-ups from DC Comics Presents, but these are stories he didn’t illustrate. Instead. a host of talented individuals devised fun, thrilling and even amusing adventures represented here by material from DCCP #5, 9-10, 12, 14, 19, 28, 30, 35, 38-39, 45, 50, 58, 63, 67, 71 and 97, spanning January 1979 to September 1986. The stories are augmented by covers by Ross Andru, Dick Giordano, Dick Dillin, Jim Starlin, Rich Buckler, Steve Mitchell, George Pérez, Frank Giacoia, Gil Kane, Ernie Colón, José Luis García-López, Eduardo Barreto, Rick Veitch & Bob Smith.

We begin with Sea King Aquaman who is embroiled in ‘The War of the Undersea Cities’ (by Len Wein, Paul Levitz & Murphy Anderson) when his subjects re-open ancient hostilities with the mer-folk of undersea neighbour Tritonis, home of Superman’s old college girlfriend Lori Lemaris. Fortunately, cooler heads prevail when Ocean Master is revealed to be meddling in their sub-sea politics…

Next, Marty Pasko, Joe Staton & Jack Abel expose the ‘Invasion of the Ice People!’ (#9, May 1979) wherein Wonder Woman assists in repelling an attack by malign disembodied intellects before a 2-part tale commences with ‘The Miracle Man of Easy Company’ (Cary Bates, Staton & Abel, #10, June)…

When a super-bomb blasts Superman back to World War II it results in a momentous meeting with indomitable everyman soldier Sgt. Rock and a battle that changes the course of the war.

Cover-dated August 1979, DCCP #12 offered a duel between the Action Ace and New God Mister Miracle in ‘Winner Take Metropolis’ – by Steve Englehart, Buckler & Giordano before Levitz finishes a time-travel epic not actually included here. That ambitious continued epic saw the Legion of Super-Heroes stop Superman saving a little boy from alien abduction to preserve the integrity of the time-line. It didn’t help that the lad was Jon Ross, son of Clark Kent’s oldest friend and most trusted confidante…

Deranged by loss, Pete Ross here risks the destruction of all reality by enlisting the aid of Superboy to battle his older self in ‘Judge, Jury… and No Justice!’ (Levitz, Dillin & Giordano from October 1979 cover-dated DCCP #14, whilst March 1980 saw Batgirl help solve eerie mystery ‘Who Haunts This House?’ (by Dennis O’Neil, Staton & Frank Chiaramonte) before we catapult to #28 and the concluding chapter of a cosmic epic which involved Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz, and the debut of intergalactic brute Mongul.

Here the aftermath of the affair sees Supergirl join her Kryptonian cousin in scouring the cosmos for the vanished tyrant and ancient doom weapon ‘Warworld!’ (Wein, Jim 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 literally out of existence…

Issue #30 (February 1981) saw Black Canary plagued by nightmares starring her deceased husband, but upon closer investigation Superman proved that diabolical Dr. Destiny was behind ‘A Dream of Demons!’, whilst some semblance of sanity returned in #35 (July) as Superman and Man-Bat hunted for ‘The Metamorphosis Machine!’ (Pasko, Swan & Vince 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…

DC Comics Presents #38 (October) united Man of Steel and Fastest Man Alive 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, Staton & Smith) to a Toymakers Convention where third-rate super-villains Fliptop and Dollface were trying to rob freshly reformed, barely recovering maniac Toyman…

Firestorm the Nuclear Man stole the show in #45 (May 1982) as Gerry Conway, Buckler & Smith teamed him and Superman against terrorist Kriss-Kross – who took over the nation’s electronic military defences to implement ‘The Chaos Network’.

The anniversary DC Comics Presents #50 (October) features ‘When You Wish Upon a Planetoid!’ by Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, Swan & Kurt Schaffenberger, which saw a cosmic calamity split Superman and Clark Kent into separate entities…

Courtesy of Mike W. Barr, Swan & Dave Hunt, Robin and Elongated Man joined the Action Ace in #58 (June 1983) to foil devious tech-savvy bandits employing ‘The Deadly Touch of the Intangibles’ after which overnight sensation Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld and the Man of Steel battled debase extradimensional tyrant Black Opal in #63 (November 1983).

Scripted by Mishkin & Cohn, ‘Worlds to Conquer!’ was illustrated by Alex Saviuk, Colón, Smith & Gary Martin, capitalising on the contemporary fad for fantasy, with an Earth-raised magical alien princess helping save humanity from roaming space-warps, super-criminals and her personal pantheon of mystic miscreants…

Cover-dated March 1984, DCCP #67 proffered traditional seasonal fare from Wein, E. Nelson Bridwell and veteran Superman dream team Swan & Anderson. ‘Twas the Fright Before Christmas!’ finds maniacal original Toyman Winslow Schott seeking to sabotage festivities and a debilitated Man of Tomorrow teaming with a hairy bearded guy in a red suit…

Hunt substituted for Anderson in #71’s ‘The Mark of Bizarro!’ (July 1984) as Superman joins his zany doppelganger to save square planet Htrae and embattled Earth from a bizarro version of power-parasite Amazo. Ultimately, it comes down to Bizarro employing his wits to win!…

We close with the final story in DC Comics Presents’ run.

In 1986 DC celebrated its 50th year with the groundbreaking Crisis on Infinite Earths: radically overhauling its convoluted multiversal continuity and starting afresh. In the aftermath of making many planes into one singular universe, all Superman titles were cancelled or suspended pending a back-to-basics reboot courtesy of John Byrne. The process allowed opportunity for a number of very special farewells to the old mythology…

One of the most intriguing and challenging came in the last issue (#97, September 1986) wherein Steve Gerber, Rick Veitch & Smith offered a creepy adieu to many of Superman’s greatest foes in ‘Phantom Zone: the Final Chapter’…

Tracing Jor-El’s discovery of the Phantom Zone through to the imminent end of the multiverse, this dark yarn built on Gerber’s potent miniseries The Phantom Zone, revealing the dread region of nothingness was in fact the sentient echo of a dead universe which had always regarded the creatures deposited within it as irritants and agonising intruders.

Now, as cosmic carnage reigned, Aethyr, served by Kryptonian mage Thul-Kar, caused the destruction of Bizarro World Htrae and deification/corruption of Fifth Dimensional pest Mr. Mxyzptlk, as well as the subsequent crashing of Krypton’s Argo City on Metropolis.

As a result, General Zod and his fellow immaterial inmates were liberated to wreak havoc upon Earth – but only until the now-crystalline pocket dimension merged with and absorbed the felons before implausibly abandoning Superman to face his uncertain future as the very Last Son of Krypton…

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

These short, pithy adventures were and remain a perfect shop window for DC’s fascinating catalogue of characters and creators. DC Comics Presents delivered a breadth and variety of self-contained and satisfying entertainments ranging from the merely excellent to utterly indispensable. This book is a perfect introduction to the DC Universe for every kid of any age and another delightful slice of captivating Costumed Dramas from simpler, more inviting times…
© 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 2021 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The All-New Batman – the Brave and the Bold volume 3: Small Miracles


By Sholly Fisch, Rick Burchett, Dan Davis, Robert Pope, Scott McRae, Stewart McKenny & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3852-0 (TPB/Digital edition)

The Brave and the Bold premiered in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format reflecting the era’s filmic fascination with flamboyantly fanciful historical dramas. Devised and written by Bob Kanigher, #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, feudal mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was alternated with Robin Hood, but the adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like Showcase.

Used to premiere concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Hawkman and Strange Sports Stories as well as the epochal Justice League of America, the comic soldiered on until issue #50 when it found another innovative new direction which once again caught the public’s imagination.

That issue paired two super heroes – Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up and was followed by more of the same: Aquaman with Hawkman in #51, WWII “Battle Stars” Sgt. Rock, Mme. Marie, Captain Cloud & The Haunted Tank in #52 and The Atom & Flash in #53.

The next instant union – Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash – evolved into The Teen Titans and after Metal Men/The Atom and Flash/Martian Manhunter appeared, a new hero debuted in #57-58: Metamorpho, the Element Man.

From then it was back to the proven popular power pairings with #59. Although no one realised it at the time, that particular conjunction – Batman with Green Lantern – would be particularly significant….

A return engagement for the Teen Titans, issues spotlighting Earth-Two stalwarts Starman and Black Canary and Earth-One’s Wonder Woman and Supergirl soon gave way to an indication of things to come when Batman returned to duel hero/villain Eclipso in #64: an early acknowledgement of the brewing TV-induced mania mere months away.

Within two issues (following Flash/Doom Patrol and Metamorpho/Metal Men), B&B #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and a lion’s share of team-ups. With the late exception of #72-73 (Spectre/Flash and Aquaman/Atom), it was thereafter where the Gotham Gangbuster invited the rest of DC’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

Even after the title finally folded, its mighty heritage inspired returns as assorted miniseries and as a second dramatic on-going run in the 2000s.

Meanwhile elsewhere over a few decades, Batman: The Animated Series – masterminded by Bruce Timm & Paul Dini in the 1990s – revolutionised the Dark Knight and subsequently led to some of the absolute best comic book adventures in his 80-year publishing history. It also led to a spin-off print title…

With constant comics tie-ins to a succession of TV animation series, Batman has remained immensely popular and a sublime introducer of kids to the magic of sequential narrative and the printed page. One fun-filled incarnation was Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which gloriously celebrated the team-up in both its all-ages small-screen and comicbook spin-off.

Shamelessly and superbly plundering decades of continuity arcana and the comic book inspirations and legacy of power-pairings in a profusion of alliances between the Dark Knight and DC’s lesser creations, the show was supplemented by a cool kids’ periodical full of fun, verve and swashbuckling dash, cunningly crafted to appeal as much to the parents and grandparents as those fresh-faced little TV-fed tykes…

This stellar collection re-presents issues #15 and 17 of original spinoff series Batman: The Brave and the Bold and #13-16 The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold in an immensely entertaining all-ages ensemble suitable for newcomers, fans and aficionados of various vintages. Although absolutely unnecessary to the reader’s enjoyment, a passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience, but not as much as will knowledge of the bizarre minutiae and lore of DC down the years…

Scripted throughout by Sholly Fisch, and following the TV show format, each tale opens with a brief prequel adventure before telling a longer tale.

We start with a run from the second series. TA-NB:TB&TB #13 was cover-dated January 2012 with Rick Burchett & Dan Davis illustrating ‘…Batman Dies at Dawn!’, as Nightwing leaves his Teen Titan ally Speedy to answer a call from the eerie Phantom Stranger. The enigmatic envoy of the unknown has assembled an army of Robins from the past, present and alternate histories (such as Frank Miller’s Carrie Kelley from The Dark Night Returns) to save a fatally wounded Batman, and their fractious trail leads ultimately to the grandfather of Damien (Robin) Wayne: Ra’s Al Ghul…

Issue #14 (February 2012) sees the Gotham Gangbuster and Blue Beetle wipe out colour coordinated crooks Crazy Quilt, Doctor Spectro and Rainbow Raider before Batman shares a moving and appropriately wonder-packed seasonal fable with Ragman in ‘Small Miracles’. Jewish Rory Regan is very much a minor-league hero working in the poorest part of Gotham, and sees nothing to celebrate until he eventually finds his own miracle after exposing a land-grabbing corporation trying to shut down the local synagogue…

Mister Miracle steals the spotlight in #15’s ‘No Exit’ (illustrated by Stewart McKenny & Davis) as he and Batman are caught in the most inescapable trap of all, but still find their way back to freedom, after which things get really silly and soppy as #16 (April 2012, Burchett & Davis) sees Batman’s battle against the Mad Mod interrupted by 5th dimensional imp and premier stalker/fan Bat-Mite.

Sadly, Batgirl also shows up and for the pesky pixie it’s ‘Love at First Mite’. Cue a whacky wander down the daftest miles of DC’s memory lane and a truly hilarious brief and so-very-doomed romantic encounter…

Wrapping up the comic craziness is a brace of tales from the first series. Batman: The Brave and the Bold #15 (May 2010) saw Fisch, Robert Pope & Scott McRae piling on the weird as Batman joined seminal swinging sixties stalwarts Super-Hip and Brother Power, The Geek in their own eccentric era to stop Mad Mod taking over the Mother of Parliaments (that’s Britain, OK? London, Eng-er-land?) before teaching third Flash Wally West a thing or two about patience and diligence in main feature ‘Minute Mystery’. It all began when someone stole something from the Flash Museum and the superheroes made a contest of finding out what, who, how, and why…

We draw to a close with #17 (July 2010) of that series, with Fisch, Pope & McRae proving ‘A Batman’s Work is Never Done’: tracing one week of standard crimebusting capers with cameo appearances from Metamorpho, Mr. Element, Mongul, the Green Lantern Corps,  Toyman, Merry, Girl of Thousand Gimmicks, Jonah Hex, Bat Lash, Hawkman, the Gentleman Ghost, Etrigan the Demon, the Inferior Five, The Creeper, The Scarecrow and Doomsday.

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV-addicted kids, these mini-sagas are also wonderful, traditional comics romps no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers. This is a fabulously full-on thrill-fest confirming the seamless link between animated features and comic books. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end; really unmissable entertainment…
© 2010, 2012, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Crisis on Infinite Earths


By Marv Wolfman & George Pérez, with Jerry Ordway, Dick Giordano, Mike DeCarlo & various (DC Comics) 
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5841-2 (HB/Digital edition) 978-1-56389-750-4 (TPB) 

Once more I’m compelled to dash out another swiftly modified reprinted review to mark the passing of one of our industry and art form’s most prolific and irreplaceable master creators. George Pérez died on May 6th from the complications of pancreatic cancer. He was 67 years old.  

His triumphs as penciller, writer and an always in-demand inker made him a force to be reckoned with and earned a vast number of awards in a career spanning almost fifty years. Pérez worked for dozens of publishers large and small; self-published his own creations, redeemed and restored many moribund characters and features (like the (New) Teen Titans), Nightwing and Wonder Woman) and co-created many breakthrough characters such as The White Tiger (first Puerto Rican superhero), The Maestro, Deathstroke the Terminator, Terra, The Monitor and Anti-Monitor.  

He will be most warmly remembered for his incredible facility in portraying big teams and cataclysmic events. Pérez probably drew every DC and Marvel superhero of his era, with major runs on The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, The Justice League of America, Legion of Super-Heroes and numerous iterations of Teen Titans as well as stints on The Inhumans, X-Men, JSA, All-Star Squadron, Thunderbolts and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. He will be immortalised for the comic book series covered below. A fuller appreciation will follow as soon as I can sort it… 

In 1985 the Editorial Powers-That-Be at DC Comics were about to celebrate fifty years of publishing, and enjoying a creative upswing that had been a long time coming. A crucial part of the festivities, and purported attempt to simplify five decades of often conflicting stories, was a truly epic year-long saga that would impact every single DC title and reconstruct the entire landscape and history of the DC Universe, with an appearance – however brief – by every character the company had ever published. Easy-peasy, Huh? 

Additionally, this new start would seek to end an apparent confusion of multiple Earths with similarly named and themed heroes. This – it had been decided – was deterring (sic) new readers. Happily, since then (primarily thanks to movie rom-coms like Sliding Doors) we’ve all become well aware of string theory and parallel universes and can revel in the most basic TV show or kids cartoon proffering the concept of multiples incidences of me and you… 

Way back then, the result of those good intentions was a groundbreaking 12-part miniseries that spearheaded a vast crossover event: eventually culminating in a hefty graphic novel collection (plus latterly three companion volumes reprinting all the crossovers). 

The experiment was a huge success, both critically and commercially, and enabled the company to reinvigorate many of their most cherished properties: many of which had been in dire need or some regeneration and renewal. Many fans would argue that DC have been trying to change it back ever since… 

Plotted long in advance of launch, threads and portents appeared for months in DC’s regular titles, mostly regarding a mysterious arms-and-information broker known as The Monitor. With his beautiful assistant Lyla Michaels/Harbinger he had been gauging each and every being on Earths beyond counting with a view to saving all of Reality. At this juncture, that consisted of uncountable variations of universes existing “side-by-side”, each exhibiting differences varying from minor to monumental.  

Building on long-established continuity collaborators Marv Wolfman and George Pérez – aided and abetted by Dick Giordano, Mike DeCarlo and Jerry Ordway – began by tweaking things fans knew before taking them on a journey nobody anticipated… It transpired that at the very beginning of time an influence from the future caused Reality to fracture. Rogue Guardian of the Universe Krona obsessively sought to unravel the secret of creation and his probing cause a perfect singular universe to shatter into innumerable self-perpetuating cracked reflections of itself… 

Now, a wave of antimatter scythes through the Cosmic All, eradicating these separate universes. Before each Armageddon, a tormented immortal named Pariah materialises on an inhabited but doomed world of each Existence. As the story opens, he arrives on an Earth, as its closest dimensional neighbours are experiencing monumental geo-physical disruptions. It’s the end of the World, but The Monitor has a plan. It involves death on a mammoth scale, sacrifice beyond measure, a gathering of the best and worst beings of the surviving Earths and the remaking of time itself to deflect cosmic catastrophe and defeat the being that caused it… 

Action is tinged with tragedy as many major heroic figures – from the nondescript and forgotten to high, mighty and grand – perish valiantly, falling in apparently futile struggle to preserve some measure of life from the doomed multiverse. 

Full of plot twists and intrigue, this cosmic comicbook spectacle set the benchmark for all future crossover events, not just DC’s, and is still a qualitative high point seldom reached and never yet surpassed. As well as being a superb blockbuster in its own right and accessible to even the greenest neophyte reader, it is the foundation of all DC’s in-continuity stories since 1985, the basis of a TV phenomenon and absolutely vital reading.  

More than any other work in a truly stellar career, Crisis on Infinite Earths is the magnum opus George Pérez will be remembered for: It might not be fair, but it’s inescapably true… 
© 1985, 1986, 2001, 2008, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. 

Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams volume 1 


By Neal Adams with Bob Haney, Leo Dorfman, Cary Bates & various (DDC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0041-1 (HC): 978-1-4012-3537-6 (2003 PB) 978-1-4012-7782-6 (2018 TPB edition)   

I’m doing this far too frequently, these days, but here’s a swiftly modified reprinted review to mark the sudden passing of one of our industry and art form’s last true titans. Neal Adams died on the 28th of April. As well as a creator and innovator who changed the entire direction of comics and sequential narrative, he was a tireless activist and advocate whose efforts secured rights for workers and creators long victimised by an unfair, stacked, system. A fuller appreciation and more comprehensive review will follow as soon as I can sort it… 

Neal Adams was born on Governors Island, New York City, on June 15th 1941. His family were career military and he grew up on bases across the world. In the late 1950s he studied at the High School of Industrial Art in Manhattan, graduating in 1959. 

As the turbulent, revolutionary 1960s began, Adams was a young illustrator who had worked in advertising and ghosted some newspaper strips whilst trying to break into comics. As he pursued a career in advertising and “real art”, he did a few comics pages for Joe Simon at Archie Comics (The Fly and that red-headed kid too) before subsequently becoming one of the youngest artists to co-create and illustrate a major licensed newspaper strip – Ben Casey (based on a popular TV medical drama series). His first attempts to find work at DC were not successful… 

That comic book fascination never faded however, and as the decade progressed, Adams drifted back to National/DC doing a few covers as inker or penciller. After “breaking in” via anthological war comics he eventually found himself at the vanguard of a revolution in pictorial storytelling… 

He made such a mark that DC chose celebrate his contributions by reprinting every piece of work Adams ever did for them in a series of commemorative collections. We’re still waiting for a definitive collection of his horror comics stories and covers, but will probably never see his sterling efforts on licensed titles such as Hot Wheels, The Adventures of Bob Hope and The Adventures of Jerry Lewis. That’s a real shame too: the display a wry facility for gag staging and small drama… 

Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams was the first of 3 tomes available in  variety of formats and editions featuring the “Darknight Detective” – as he was dubbed back then – and featuring every cover, story and issue in original publication order. 

Here then, ‘From Me to You: An Introduction’ gives you the history of his early triumphs in the writer/artist’s own words, after which covers from Detective Comics #370 (December 1967, inking Carmine Infantino) and the all-Adams Brave and the Bold #75 (January 1968), Detective #372 (February), B&B #76 (February/March), Batman #200 and World’s Finest Comics #174 (both March) serve as tasters for the first full-length narrative… 

The iconoclastic penciller first started seriously making waves with a couple of enthralling Cape & Cowl capers beginning with World’s Finest Comics #175 (April 1968): ‘The Superman-Batman Revenge Squads!’ Scripted by Leo Dorfman and inked by long-term collaborator Dick Giordano, the story detailed how an annual – and friendly – battle of wits between the crimebusters is infiltrated by alien and Earthly criminal groups intent on killing their foes whilst they are off-guard… 

WFC #176 (June) featured a beguiling enigma in ‘The Superman-Batman Split!’ – written by fellow newcomer Cary Bates. Ostensibly just another alien mystery yarn, this twisty little gem conceals a surprise ending for all, plus guest stars Robin, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl and Batgirl, with Adams’ hyper-dynamic realism lending an aura of solid credibility to even the most fanciful situations. 

It also ushered in an era of gritty veracity to replace previously anodyne and frequently frivolous Costumed Dramas… 

More Dynamite Covers follow: Batman #203 (July/August) leads to Brave and the Bold #79 (August/September); heralding Adams’ assumption of interior art chores and launching a groundbreaking run that rewrote the rulebook for strip illustration… 

‘The Track of the Hook’ – written by Bob Haney and inked Giordano – paired the Gotham Guardian with justice-obsessed ghost Deadman: formerly trapeze artist Boston Brand who was hunting his own killer, and whose earthy, human tragedy elevated the series’ costume theatrics into deeper, more mature realms of drama and action. At this period Adams was writing and illustrating Brand’s solo stories in Strange Adventures…  

The B&B stories matured overnight, instantly became every discerning fan’s favourite read.  

Covers for World’s Finest Comics #178-180 (September through November) segue sweetly into Brave and the Bold #80 (October/November 1968) where ‘And Hellgrammite is his Name’ finds Batman and The Creeper clashing with a monstrous, insect-themed super-hitman, again courtesy of Haney, Adams & Giordano, whilst #81 saw The Flash aid Batman against an unbeatable thug in ‘But Bork Can Hurt You!’ (inked by Giordano & Vince Colletta) before Aquaman became ‘The Sleepwalker from the Sea’ in an eerie tale of mind-control and sibling rivalry. 

Interwoven through those thrillers are the covers for World’s Finest #182 (February 1969, inking Curt Swan’s pencils), #183 (March, inking over Infantino), Batman #210 and Detective #385 (both March and all Adams). 

B&B # 83 took a radical turn (and is the only story herein without a cover since that one was limned by Irv Novick) as The Teen Titans try to save Bruce Wayne’s latest foster-son from his own inner demons in ‘Punish Not my Evil Son!’ (Haney & Giordano) but the next team-up was one that got many fans in a real tizzy in 1969. 

First though comes the fabulous frontage for World’s Finest #185 (June 1969) after which ‘The Angel, the Rock and the Cowl’ recounts a World War II exploit where Batman and Sgt. Rock of Easy Company hunt Nazi gold together, only closing that case 25 years later. 

Try to ignore kvetching about relative ages and which Earth we’re on: you should really focus on the fact that this is a startlingly gripping tale of great intensity, beautifully realised, and one which has been criminally discounted for decades as “non-canonical”. 

Detective Comics #389 (July), and World’s Finest #186 (August and pencilled by Infantino) precede Brave and the Bold #85. Here, behind a stunning cover, is arguably the best of an incredible run of action adventures… 

‘The Senator’s Been Shot!’ unites Batman and Green Arrow in a superb multi-layered thriller of politics, corruption and cast-iron integrity, with Bruce Wayne being appointed as a stand-in for a law-maker whilst the Emerald Archer receives a radical make-over that turned him into a fiery liberal gadfly and champion of the relevancy generation: a remake that still informs his character today, both in funnybooks and on TV screens… 

Wrapping up this initial artistic extravaganza come covers for Detective Comics #391 and 392 (September & October 196), completing a delirious run of comics masterpieces no ardent art lover or fanatical Fights ‘n’ Tights aficionado can do without and confirming the unique and indisputable contribution Adams made to comics.s.
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 2003, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. 

DC’s Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Villains


By Jerry Siegel, Bill Finger, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, William Woolfolk, Ed Herron, John Broome, Gardner F. Fox, Alfred Bester, Don Cameron, Joe Samachson, Mort Weisinger, Ken Fitch, David Vern Reed, Sheldon Moldoff, Jack Burnley, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Lee Elias, Mort Meskin, Joe Kubert, Howard Sherman, Pete Riss, Paul Reinman, Alex Kotzky, Bernard Baily, Jon Sikela, Harry G. Peter, Murphy Anderson, Nick Cardy & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0173-8 (HB)

We talk of Gold and Silver Ages in comics and latterly for the sake of expediency have added other mineral markers like a Bronze Age, but no ever talks about the period between 1964 and 1977 as a specific and crucial time in funnybook history. But it was…

During that period, economic pressure compelled DC and Marvel to increasingly plunder their own archives and fill expensive pages in their primary product to maintain hard-won spaces on newsstands and magazine spinners. Some readers moaned about reprints. Some didn’t notice and most didn’t care. But for all those little proto-geeks like me, it was being given the keys to the greatest kingdom of all.

Once you grasped that the differently drawn stuff with clunkier buildings and cars – and more men in hats – was from the past, and not something happening “now”, it simply added to the scope and scale of what you were reading: hinting of a grand unknown past you were now party to. Moreover, the sheer quality of most twice-printed tales was astounding.

I wasn’t around for Lou Fine or Basil Wolverton or Jack Burnley the first time, but reprints made me a devotee. You young whippersnappers with your interwebs and archive collections don’t know how lucky you are.

Marvel especially made a service out of a necessity: keeping their older material in print via big packages like Marvel Collectors’ Items Classics and Marvel Tales to ensure reader awareness of their unfolding universe. Those and DC’s 80-Page Giant specials were true gateway series for comics junkies who wanted a peek at the past… particularly the mysterious and alluring “Golden Age” where all the really incredible stuff must have happened…

In 1968 DC started taking reprints seriously by creating a specific title. DC Special began a succession of themed and carefully curated issues at a time when superheroes had entered another decline. In its first run – from fall 1968 to November/December 1971 – it featured issues dedicated to the careers of Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert, horror stories, teen comedy, western, crime, and two issues featuring Strange Sports Stories, as well as an “all-girl” superhero volume, the Viking Prince and Plastic Man. Issues #8 (Summer1970) and #14 (September/October 1972) were both entitled Wanted! The World’s Most Dangerous Villains: an unrepentant, unashamed celebration of costumed good guys thrashing costumed bad guys…

This spiffy hardback and digital collection sadly excludes those try-out experiments but does collect all the subsequent contents of the spin-off title that followed – #1-9 spanning July/August 1972 to September 1973 – and adds a tenth issue just for thrills and giggles.

It kicks off with a gloriously outré debut as #1 reintroduced ‘The Signalman of Crime’ who used signs and symbols to baffle lawmen. He came – and went – in Batman #112 (December 1957) courtesy of Bill Finger, Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris and is followed by a classy Green Arrow yarn from Ed Herron & Lee Elias. ‘The Crimes of the Clock King’ were first found and foiled in World’s Finest Comics (#111 July 1960). Rounding out the first sally is ‘Menace of the Giant Puppet’ by John Broome, Gil Kane & Joe Giella (Green Lantern volume 2 #1, August 1960) wherein the Emerald Gladiator faced the superscience-wielding Puppeteer.

Gold was struck in #2 as Batman #25 (October/November 1944) yielded Don Cameron, Jack Burnley & Jerry Robinson’s‘Knights of Knavery’: an epic clash which saw crime rivals The Penguin and Joker – temporarily – join forces against the Dynamic Duo, after which John Broome, Infantino & Giella detail how ‘The Trickster Strikes Back’. The air-walking felon plunders Central City until the Scarlet Speedster finally outwits him, as first seen in The Flash #121 (June 1961).

Wanted #3 provided exclusively Golden Age greatness, beginning with The Vigilante yarn from Action Comics #69 (February 1944). Devised by Joe Samachson, Mort Meskin & Joe Kubert, ‘The Little Men Who Were There!’ pitted the Prairie Troubadour against diabolical Napoleon of Crime The Dummy, after which warrior wizard Doctor Fate frustrated an invasion by ‘The Fish-Men of Nyarl-Amen’ (More Fun Comics #65 March 1941, by Gardner F. Fox & Howard Sherman) and Hawkman crushed ‘The Human Fly Bandits’ thanks to creators Broome & Kubert as seen in Flash Comics #100 (October 1948).

Original Green Lantern Alan Scott headlined in #4, replaying his epic first clash with Solomon Grundy from All-American Comics #61 (October 1944) as related by Alfred Bester & Paul Reinman in ‘Fighters Never Quit!’, whilst the follow-up featured Kid Eternity – who died before his time and was rewarded by Higher Powers with the power to summon figures from history, myth and literature to fight for justice. ‘Master Man’ came from Kid Eternity #15 (May 1949) wherein writer William Woolfolk and illustrator Pete Riss created the hero’s ultimate nemesis and set them duelling by proxy via resuurected heroes and villains…

Contemporary Green Gladiator Hal Jordan returned in #5, battling Doctor Light in Gardner F. Fox, Kane & Sid Greene’s ‘Wizard of the Light-Wave Weapons!’ (Green Lantern volume 2 #33, December 1964), before the original Tiny Titan faced ‘The Man in the Iron Mask!’ in an epic clash by Woolfolk & Alex Kotzky from Doll Man Quarterly #15 (Winter 1948).

Starman opened #6, in a grudge match against arch foe The Mist. Fox & Burnley’s ‘Finders Keepers!’ – from Adventure Comics #77, August 1942 – saw the see-through fiend use found treasure to mesmerise his victims, and is followed by a saga of Sargon the Sorcerer, battling Blue Lama as ‘The Man Who Met Himself’ (Sensation Comics #71, November 1947 by Broome & Reinman). The drama ends on a spectacular high in the Kubert-illustrated Wildcat thriller ‘The Wasp’s Nest!’ from (Sensation Comics #66, June 1947).

Wanted #7 exhumed more Gold, beginning with speedster Johnny Quick’s duel with satanic scientist Dr. Clever who gleans the secret of hyper-velocity in ‘The Adventure of the Human Streak’ (More Fun Comics #76 February 1942 and illustrated by Mort Weisinger & Mort Meskin) after which the 1940’s Hawkman battles spectral nemesis The Gentleman Ghost in Robert Kanigher & Kubert’s ‘The Crimes That Couldn’t Have Happened!’ (Flash Comics #90, December 1947) before Ken Fitch & Bernard Baily reveal how Hourman crushes ‘Dr. Glisten’s Submarine Pirates’ as originally seen inAdventure Comics #72, March 1942.

The Silver Age Flash faces ‘The Big Freeze!’ in Broome, Infantino & Murphy Anderson’s furious fight against Captain Cold (The Flash #114 August 1960) before Fox & Sherman pit a depowered Doctor Fate against transformative terror ‘Mr. Who’ in a stirring saga from More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941).

The original run concluded with #9, which opened with Jerry Siegel & Jon Sikela’s epic and absurdist Superman clash against the diabolical Prankster who claimed to be ‘Crime’s Comedy King!’ in Action Comics #57 (February 1943) after which the adventure peaked in a classic Jack Kirby & Joe Simon Sandman thriller. First found in World’s Finest Comics #6 (Summer 1942) ‘The Adventure of the Magic Forest!’ saw the Master of Dreams and Sandy the Golden Boy crush murderous, nefarious hijacker Nightshade…

The fun continues with a virtual 10th issue compiled in recent times and prompted by a letter from Wanted #9 requesting an all-female outing. It took long enough but the wish is finally granted in ‘A Modern Take: Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Villains #10!’ which begins with a Catwoman classic.

‘The Sleeping Beauties of Gotham City!’ debuted in Batman #84 (June 1954), scripted by David Vern Reed and limned by Sheldon Moldoff & Stan Kaye, wherein notorious Selina Kyle subverts a beauty contest, not for vanity but for glittering profit, after which Flash Comics #86 (August 1947) provides the first adventure of ‘The Black Canary’ in a swansong for bumbling hero Johnny Thunder by Kanigher, Infantino & Giella.

Wrapping up this sublime “Wants” list is a late clash between the Amazing Amazon and war god Mars by Kanigher & Harry G. Peter. ‘The Girl Who saved Paradise Island!’ comes from Wonder Woman #36, July/August 1949 and features interplanetary conflict and the truly terrifying warriors of Infanta, so be warned…

With covers by Murphy Anderson and Nick Cardy, this tome celebrates the primal simplicity of Superhero comics: no angst, no grey areas and no continued epics, just a whole bunch of done-in-one delights for fans of history and simplicity.
© 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1954, 1960, 1961, 1964, 1972, 1973, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold volume 1


By Sholly Fisch, Rick Burchett, Dan Davis & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3272-6 (TPB)

The Brave and the Bold premiered in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format reflecting the era’s filmic fascination with flamboyantly fanciful historical dramas. Devised and written by Bob Kanigher, issue #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was alternated with Robin Hood, but the adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like Showcase.

Used to premiere concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Hawkman and Strange Sports Stories as well as the epochal Justice League of America, the comic soldiered on until issue #50 when it found another innovative new direction which once again caught the public’s imagination.

That issue paired two superheroes – Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up, and was followed by more of the same: Aquaman and Hawkman in #51, WWII “Battle Stars” Sgt. Rock, Captain Cloud, Mme. Marie & the Haunted Tank in #52 and The Atom & Flash in #53.

The next instant union – Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash – evolved into Teen Titans and after Metal Men/the Atom and Flash/Martian Manhunter appeared, a new hero debuted in #57-58: Metamorpho, the Element Man.

From then it was back to the increasingly popular superhero pairings with #59. Although no one realised it at the time, that particular conjunction – Batman with Green Lantern – would be particularly significant….

A return engagement for the Teen Titans, issues spotlighting Earth-Two stalwarts Starman and Black Canary and Earth-One’s Wonder Woman and Supergirl soon gave way to an indication of things to come when Batman returned to duel hero/villain Eclipso in #64: an early acknowledgement of the brewing TV-induced mania mere months away.

Within two issues (following Flash/Doom Patrol and Metamorpho/Metal Men), B&B #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and a lion’s share of team-ups. With the late exception of #72 and 73 (Spectre/Flash and Aquaman/Atom), the title was henceforth a place where the Gotham Gangbuster invited the rest of DC’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

Decades later, Batman: The Animated Series – masterminded by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini in the 1990s – revolutionised the Dark Knight and subsequently led to some of the absolute best comic book adventures in his 80-year publishing history. It also led to a spin-off print title…

With constant funnybook iterations and tie-ins to a succession of TV animation series, Batman has remained immensely popular and a sublime introducer of kids to the magical world of the printed page. One fun-filled incarnation was Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which gloriously celebrated the team up in both its all-ages small-screen and comicbook spin-off.

Shamelessly and superbly plundering decades of continuity arcana in a profusion of alliances between the Dark Knight and DC’s lesser creations, the show was supplemented by a cool kid’s periodical full of fun, verve and swashbuckling dash, cunningly crafted to appeal as much to the parents and grandparents as those fresh-faced neophyte kids…

This stellar trade paperback and digital collection re-presents issues #1-6 of the second series – The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold – in an immensely entertaining all-ages ensemble suitable for newcomers, fans and aficionados of all ages. It was originally released between January and June 2011. Although absolutely unnecessary to the reader’s enjoyment, a passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience as will knowledge of the bizarre minutiae of 1960s and 1970s DC lore…

Crafted by Sholly Fisch, Rich Burchett & Dan Davis and following the format of the TV show, each tale opens with a brief vignette/prequel adventure before telling a longer tale. TA-NB:TB&TB (last time I’m typing that!) #1 sees the Caped Crimebuster battle Joker robots  beside Black Canary before main feature ‘Bottle of the Planets’ reunites him the “World’s Finest” partner in a devious mystery set in the last outpost of Krypton: the Bottled City of Kandor…

Having successfully solved the case of vanishing super-weapons, Batman teams with talking tiger Mr. Tawky-Tawny, magical (Captain) Marvel Shazam and his gods-powered family to save Christmas in ‘That Holiday Feeling’. That involves finding, fighting and foiling the emotion-bending Psycho-Pirate whilst #3 sees Flash (two, actually) and the Dark Knight hunting Mirror Master and the Mad Hatter through a mirror dimension inhabited by all the characters from Lewis Carroll’s books. Curiouser and curiouser …

Wonder Woman headlines in #4 as irate godling Eros seeks to teach her a lesson by using his arrows to instigate a wedding in ‘The Bride and the Bold’. The ceremony between Bat and Amazon sparks a lot of interest and – thanks to jealous Talia Al Ghul – a wave of super-villain attacks and the biggest wedding party brawl of all time before order and sense are restored…

‘Man-Hunted’ find Batman and Emerald jerk Guy Gardner fractiously allied to defeat a legion of the killer robots, but diverted to other realms to save a glorious enclave of nigh-forgotten 1960s alien beasts and sidekicks like Cryll and Zook(look them up, I double-dog dare ya…) from manic main man Lobo…

Ending this excellent excursion through DC’s daftest corridors is a beguiling contest between the Dark Knight Detective and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz who tests his abilities against classic observation and deduction in ‘Now You see Me…’; sadly the salutary learning experience goes slightly awry when the calamitous Clayface is accidentally exposed…

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV-addicted kids, these mini-sagas are wonderful, traditional comics thrillers no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, splendidly rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers. This is a fabulous rollercoaster ride confirming the now-seamless link between animated features and comic books. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end; really unmissable entertainment…

What more do you need to know?
© 2010, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents the Flash volume 4


By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Frank Robbins, Carmine Infantino, Ross Andru & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3679-3 (TPB)

In the anniversary year of Comics’ Silver Age, it’s a true shame that so much superb material remains out of reach of nostalgia-afflicted fans or any young neophyte looking for a vintage treat.

At least the tales gathered in this old tome – spanning the close of the Silver Age and start of the Bronze Age – are available, but only in ludicrously expensive hardback Omnibus editions, rather than paperback or digital collections. Boo to you publishers, and here’s a cheap and cheerful recommendation to track down an old monochrome masterpiece stuffed with crazy fun and thrills…

Barry Allen was the second speedster to carry the name of The Flash, and his debut was the Big Bang which finally triggered the gleaming era we’re celebrating here. He arrived after a succession of abortive original attempts such as Captain Flash, The Avenger, Strongman (in 1954-1955) and remnant revivals (Stuntman in 1954 and Marvel’s “Big Three”, The Human Torch, Sub-Mariner & Captain America during 1953-1955).

Although none of those restored the failed fortunes 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: alien crusader The 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 Flash was an irresistible spark, and after his landmark first appearance in Showcase #4 (October 1956) the series became a benchmark by which every successive launch or reboot across the industry was measured.

Police Scientist (CSI today) Barry Allen was transformed by an accidental lightning strike and chemical bath into a human thunderbolt of unparalleled velocity and ingenuity. Yet with characteristic indolence the new Fastest Man Alive took 3 more try-out issues and almost as many years to win his own title. 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 faddish, slavishly trend-beset world, however, and following a manic boom for superhero tales prompted by the Batman TV show, 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…

At the time this fourth collection of his own hard-won title begins, the Vizier of Velocity was still an undisputed icon of the apparently unstoppable Superhero meme and mighty pillar of the costumed establishment, but dark days and changing fashions were about to threaten his long run at the top…

Reprinting transitional issues #162-184 (June 1966-December 1968), this compilation shows how Flash had set into a cosy pattern of two short tales per issue, leavened with semi-regular book-length thrillers; always written by regular scripters John Broome or Gardner F. Fox and illustrated by Carmine Infantino (with inker Joe Giella). That comfortable format was about to radically change.

Flash #162 featured Fox-penned sci-fi shocker ‘Who Haunts the Corridor of Chills?’, in which an apparently bewitched fairground attraction opens the doors into an invasion-mystery millions of years old whilst stretching the Scarlet Speedster’s powers and imagination to the limit…

The next issue offered a brace of tales by globe-trotting author Broome, opening with ‘The Flash Stakes his Life – On – You!’, taking an old philosophical adage to its illogical but highly entertaining extreme as criminal scientist Ben Haddonuses his gadgets to make the residents of Central City forget their champion ever existed. That has the incredible effect of making the Flash fade away, if not for the utter devotion of one hero-worshipping little girl…

By contrast, ‘The Day Magic Exposed Flash’s Secret Identity!’ features a sharp duel with a dastardly villain as approbation-hungry evil illusionist Abra Kadabra breaks future jail and trades bodies with the 64th century cop sent to bring back to face justice, leaving the Speedster with an impossible choice to make…

Issue #164 offered another pair of fast fables. ‘Flash – Vandal of Central City!’ (Broome), sees the hero losing control of his speed and destroying property every time he runs. Little does he know old enemy Pied Piper was back in town… Kid Flash then solo-stars in Fox’s ‘The Boy Who Lost Touch with the World!’ as Wally West’s nerdy new friend suddenly becomes periodically, uncontrollably intangible…

With Flash #165’s ‘One Bridegroom too Many!’ Broome, Infantino & Giella made a huge advance in character development as Barry finally weds long-time fiancée Iris West. This shocking saga sees the hero’s sinister antithesis Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash attempt to replace him at the altar in a fast-paced, utterly beguiling yarn which also posed a seemingly insoluble quandary for the new groom…

Should the nervous newlywed reveal his secret identity to Iris – who has no idea she’s marrying a superhero – or say nothing, maintaining the biggest lie between them and pray she never, ever finds out? Every married man already knows the answer* but for us secretive little kids reading this the first time around, that question was an impossible, imponderable quandary…

Building soap opera tension by fudging the issue like a national government, #166 carried on as usual with Broome’s delicious comedy ‘The Last Stand of the Three-Time Losers!’ wherein a cheesy bunch of no-hoper thieves accidentally discover an unlikely exploitable weakness in Flash’s powers and psyche, before the Monarch of Motion becomes a ‘Tempting Target of the Temperature Twins!’ after spraining his ankle just as Heat Wave and Captain Cold renew their frenemy rivalry…

With #167, Sid Greene became series’ inker, kicking off his run with a light-hearted but accidentally controversial Fox/Infantino tale that utterly incensed the devoted readership. ‘The Real Origin of The Flash! introduced Heavenly Helpmate – and Woody Allen look-alike – Mopee who had long ago been ordered to create the accident which transformed a deserving human into the Fastest Man Alive.

Typically, Mopee had cocked-up and was now back on Earth to rectify his mistake. It takes all Flash’s skill, ingenuity and patience to regain his powers. The story is a delightfully offbeat hoot, but continuity-conscious fans dubbed it apocryphal and heretical ever since…

Less contentious was Fox’s back-up yarn ‘The Hypnotic Super-Speedster!’ allowing Kid Flash an opportunity to bust up a gang of thieves, prank a theatrical mesmerist and give a chubby school chum the athletic thrill of a lifetime.

Broome then produced for #168 a puzzling full-length thriller in which the Guardians of the Universe sought out the Flash and declared ‘One of our Green Lanterns is Missing!’ Even as the Scarlet Speedster hunts for his missing best buddy, he is constantly distracted by a gang of third-rate thugs who have somehow acquired futuristic super weapons…

Flash #169 was an all-reprint 80-Page Giant represented here by its stunning cover and an illuminating ‘How I Draw the Flash’ feature by Infantino, followed by a full-length Fox thriller in #170. ‘The See-Nothing Spells of Abra Kadabra!’sees the Vizier of Velocity hexed by the cunning conjuror and unable to detect the villain’s actions or presence. Sadly for the sinister spellbinder, Flash has help from visiting Earth-2 predecessor Jay Garrick and Justice Society of America pals Doctors Fate and Mid-Nite…

‘Here Lies The Flash – Dead and Unburied’ (Fox, Infantino & Greene) pits the restored speedster against Justice League foe Doctor Light, attempting to pick off his assembled enemies one at a time, whilst #172 offers a brace of Broome blockbusters beginning with ‘Grodd Puts the Squeeze on Flash!’, in which the super-simian blackmails his nippy nemesis into (briefly) busting him out of a Gorilla City cell. Following up, ‘The Machine-Made Robbery!’ saw the return of that most absent-minded of Professors Ira West. Luckily, son-in-law Barry is around to foil a perfidious plot by cunning criminals. The genius’ new super-computer is public knowledge, and the crooks – intent on designing a perfect crime – want to hire the device,

Issue #173 featured a titanic team-up as Barry, Wally West and Jay Garrick were separately shanghaied to another galaxy as putative prey of alien hunter Golden Man in ‘Doomward Flight of the Flashes!’ However, Broome’s stunning script slowly reveals layers of intrigue as the Andromedan super-safari masks a far more arcane need for the three speedy pawns…

In 1967, Infantino became Art Director and Publisher of National/DC and, although he still designed the covers, Flash #174 was his final full-pencilling job. He departed in stunning style with Broome’s ‘Stupendous Triumph of the Six Super-Villains!’ wherein Mirror Master Sam Scudder discovers a fantastic looking-glass world where the Scarlet Speedster is a hardened criminal constantly defeated by a disgusting do-gooder reflecting champion.

Stealing the heroic Mirror Master’s secret super-weapon, Scudder calls in fellow Rogues Pied Piper, Heat Wave, Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang and The Top to share their foe’s final downfall, but they aren’t ready for the last-minute interference of the other, evil, Barry Allen…

When Infantino left, most fans were convinced the Flash was ruined. His replacements were highly controversial and suffered most unfairly in unjust comparisons – and I count myself among their biggest detractors at the time – but in intervening years I’ve learned to appreciate the superb quality of their work.

However, back in a comics era with no invasive, pervasive support media, Flash #175 (December 1967) was huge shock. With absolutely no warning, ‘The Race to the End of the Universe!’ proclaimed E. Nelson Bridwell as author and introduced Wonder Woman art-team Ross Andru & Mike Esposito as illustrators.

Moreover, the story was another big departure. DC Editors in the 1960s had generally avoided such questions as which hero was strongest/fastest/best for fear of upsetting some portion of their tenuous and almost-certainly temporary fan-base, but as the superhero boom slowed and upstart Marvel Comics began to make genuine inroads into their market, the notion of a definitive race between the almighty Man of Steel and the “Fastest Man Alive” had become an inevitable, increasingly enticing and sales-worthy proposition.

After a deliberately inconclusive first race around the world – for charity – (‘Superman’s Race with the Flash’ in Superman #199 (August 1967)), the stakes were astronomically raised in the inevitable rematch in Flash #175.

The tale itself sees the friendly rivals compelled to speed across the cosmos because ruthless alien gamblers Rokk and Sorban threaten to eradicate Central City and Metropolis unless the pair categorically settle who is fastest. Bridwell adds an ingenious sting in the tale and logically highlights two classic Flash Rogues, whilst Andru & Esposito deliver a sterling illustration job in this yarn – but once again the actual winning is deliberately fudged.

Broome produced a few more stories before moving on and #176 features two of his best. ‘Death Stalks the Flash!’tapped into the upsurge in spooky shenanigans when Iris contracts a deadly fever and her hyper-fast hubby runs right into her delirious dreams to destroy the nightmarish Grim Reaper, after which ‘Professor West – Lost Strayed or Stolen?’delightfully inverts all the old absent-minded gags. Barry’s Father-in-Law successfully undergoes a memory-enhancing process but still manages to get inadvertently involved with murderous felons…

Fox then scripted one of the daftest yet most memorable of Flash thrillers in #177 as The Trickster invents a brain-enlarging ray that turns his arch-foe into ‘The Swell-Headed Super-Hero!’, after which #178’s cover follows – another all-reprint 80-Page Giant…

Written by newcomer Cary Bates and Gardner Fox, Flash #179 (May 1968) was another landmark. The prologue ‘Test your Flash I.Q.’ and main event ‘The Flash – Fact or Fiction?’ extends the multiple Earths concept to its logical conclusion by trapping the Monarch of Motion in “our” Reality, where the Sultan of Speed is just a comic character! Simultaneously offering an alien monster mystery, this rollercoaster riot was a superb introduction for Bates, who eventually became regular writer and the longest serving creator of the legend of Barry Allen.

First though, jobbing cartoonist Frank Robbins added Flash to his credits, scripting an almost painfully tongue-in-cheek oriental spoof accessing everything from Kurosawa to You Only Live Twice to his own Johnny Hazard newspaper strip.

In #180, Barry and Iris visit friends in Japan and are soon embroiled in a deadly scheme by fugitive war criminal Baron Katana to turn the clock back and restore feudal control over Nippon using ‘The Flying Samurai’. The sinister plot unravels after only the most strenuous efforts of the newlyweds in all-action conclusion ‘The Attack of the Samuroids!’

Broome’s last hurrahs was in #182, with the return of Abra Kadabra whose futuristic legerdemain and envy of genuine stage magicians compel him to turn the speedster into ‘The Thief Who Stole all the Money in Central City!’ whilst ‘The Flash’s Super-Speed Phobia!’ sees an unlikely accident inflict a devastating – if temporary – psychological disability on the fleet thief-taker.

The tone of the stories was changing. Aliens and super science took a back-seat to more human-scaled dramas. Robbins scripted the last two tales here, beginning with a devilishly deceptive case of bluff and double-bluff as Barry Allen becomes ‘The Flash’s Dead Ringer!’ in a convoluted attempt to convince crime-boss the Frog that the police scientist isn’t also the Fastest Man Alive, before proving that he too was adept at high-concept fabulism in #184, when a freak time-travel accident traps Flash millennia in the future after accidentally becoming the apparent ‘Executioner of Central City!’

These tales first appeared at a moment when superhero comics almost disappeared for the second time in a generation, and perfectly show the Scarlet Speedster’s ability to adapt to changing fashions in ways many of his four-colour contemporaries simply could not. Crucial as they are to the development of modern comics, however, it is the fact that they are brilliant, awe-inspiring, beautifully realised thrillers which still amuse, amaze and enthral new readers and old lags alike. This compendium is another must-read item for anybody in love with the world of graphic narrative.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

* In case you’re not married, or not a man, the answer is: Fake your own death and move to Bolivia. And if you find a partner there, always tell them everything before they ask or find out.

Extra credit answer – also try not to be a dick.

Showcase Presents Showcase


By Many and various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-364-1 (TPB)

If you’re a book reviewer, Christmas often comes incredibly early. We received lots and lots of lovely new tomes in the last week and I’ve still not caught up yet, so in the meantime, I’m fobbing you all off with a reworked recommendation I was saving for our actual Christmas promotion season. It’s still a wonderful read criminally in need of re-release and a digital edition, but readily available – for now…

The review is incredibly long. If you want to skip it and just buy the book – because it’s truly brilliant – then please do. I won’t mind and you won’t regret it at all…

In almost every conceivable way, DC’s original “try-out title” Showcase created and dictated the form of the Silver Age of American comic books and is responsible for the multi-billion-dollar industry and art form we all enjoy today.

For many of us old lags, the Silver Age is the ideal era and a still-calling Promised Land of fun and thrills. Varnished by nostalgia (because it’s the era when most of us caught this crazy childhood bug), the clean-cut, unsophisticated optimism of the late 1950s and early 1960s produced captivating heroes and compelling villains who were still far less terrifying than the Cold War baddies then troubling the grown-ups. The sheer talent and unbridled professionalism of the creators working in that too-briefly revitalised comics world resulted in triumph after triumph and even inspired competitors to step up and excel: all of which brightened our young lives and still glow today with quality and achievement.

The principle was a sound one and graphically depicted in the very first issue: the Editors at National/DC 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 reactions – for which read Sales…

Firmly ensconced in the age of genre thrillers and human adventurers, this magnificent, monolithic monochrome tome covers the first 21 issues from that historic series, spanning March/April 1956 to July/August 1959, and starts the ball rolling with the first and last appearances of Fireman Farrell in a proposed series dubbed Fire Fighters.

Following the aforementioned short ‘The Story Behind Showcase’ by Jack Schiff & Win Mortimer, the human-scaled dramas begin in ‘The School for Smoke-Eaters’ by Schiff and the superb John Prentice (Rip Kirby), introducing trainee fireman Mike Farrell during the last days of his training and desperate to simultaneously live up to and escape his father’s fabulous record as a legendary “smoke-eater”.

The remaining stories, both scripted by Arnold Drake, deal with the job’s daily dilemmas: firstly in ‘Fire under the Big Top’ wherein an unscrupulous showman ignored Farrell’s Fire Inspection findings with tragic consequences, and in‘Fourth Alarm’ mixing an industrial dispute over fireman’s pay, a crooked factory owner and a waterfront blaze captured on live TV in a blisteringly authentic tale of human heroism.

Showcase #2 featured Kings of the Wild: tales of animal valour imaginatively related in three tales scripted by Robert Kanigher – who had thrived after the demise of superheroes with a range of fantastical genre adventures covering western, war, espionage and straight adventure. Stunningly illustrated by Joe Kubert, ‘Rider of the Winds’ tells of a Native American lad’s relationship with his totem spirit Eagle; ‘Outcast Heroes’ (Ross Andru & Mike Esposito) relates how an orphan boy’s loneliness ends after befriending a runaway mutt who eventually saves the town’s kids from a flood before ‘Runaway Bear’ – drawn by Russ Heath – uses broad comedy to describe how an escaped circus bruin battles all the horrors of the wilderness to get return to his comfortable, safe life under the Big Top.

Issue #3 debuted Kanigher & Heath’s The Frogmen in an extended single tale following candidates for a US Underwater Demolitions Team as they move from students to successful undersea warriors. Beginning with ‘The Making of a Frogman’ as the smallest diver – mocked and chided as a ‘Sardine’ by his fellows (especially ‘Shark’ and ‘Whale’) – perseveres and forges bonds until the trio are dumped into blazing Pacific action in ‘Flying Frogmen’, learning the worth of teamwork and sacrifice by destroying a Japanese Sub base in ‘Silent War’…

The feature returned as a semi-regular strip in All-American Men of War #44 (April #1957) amongst other Kanigher-edited war comics: making Frogmen the first but certainly not the last graduate of the try-out system. The next debut was to be the most successful but the cautious publishers took a long, long time to make it so…

No matter which way you look at it, the Silver Age officially arrived began with The Flash. It’s an unjust but true fact that being first is not enough; it also helps to be best and people have to notice. The Shield beat Captain America to the news-stands by over a year yet the former is all but forgotten today.

The industry had never really stopped trying to revive superheroes when Showcase #4 was released in late summer of 1956, with such precursors as The Avenger (February-September 1955); Captain Flash (November 1954-July 1955); Marvel’s Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and aforementioned Sentinel of Liberty (December 1953-October 1955) and even DC’s own Captain Comet (December 1953-October 1955) and Manhunter from Mars (November 1955 until the close of the 1960’s and almost the end of superheroes again!) still turning up in second-hand-stores and “Five-and-Dime” bargain bins. What made the new Fastest Man Alive stand out and stick was … well, everything!

Once DC’s powers-that-be decided to try superheroes once more, they moved pretty fast themselves. Editor Julie Schwartz asked office partner and Golden-Age Flash scripter Kanigher to recreate a speedster for the Space Age, aided and abetted by Carmine Infantino & Joe Kubert, who had also worked on the previous incarnation.

The new Flash was Barry Allen, a forensic scientist simultaneously struck by lightning and bathed in the exploding chemicals of his lab. Supercharged by the accident, Barry took his superhero identity from a comic book featuring his predecessor (scientist Jay Garrick, who was exposed to the mutagenic fumes of “Hard Water”). Designing a sleek, streamlined bodysuit (courtesy of Infantino – a major talent rapidly approaching his artistic and creative pinnacle), Barry Allen became the point man for the spectacular revival of a genre and the entire industry.

‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ (Kanigher) and ‘The Man Who Broke the Time Barrier’ (written by the superb John Broome) are polished, coolly sophisticated stories introducing the comfortingly suburban superhero and establishing the broad parameters of his universe. Whether defeating bizarre criminal masterminds such as The Turtle or returning criminal exile Mazdan to his own century, the new Flash was a protagonist of keen insight and sharp wits as well as overwhelming power. Nonetheless the concept was so controversial that despite phenomenal sales, rather than his own series the Fastest Man Alive was given a Showcase encore almost a year later…

Showcase #5 featured the last comics concept in years that didn’t actually develop into an ongoing series, but that’s certainly due to changing fashions of the times and not the quality of the work. The three crime yarns comprising cops-&-robbers anthology Manhunters, begin with ‘The Greatest Villain of all Time’ by Jack Miller & Mort Meskin, revealing how Hollywood screenwriter-turned-police detective Lt. Fowler is dogged by a madman playing for real all the fantastic bad guys the mystery author had once created, whilst ‘The Two Faces of Mr. X’ (Miller, Curt Swan & Sy Barry) finds a male model drafted by the FBI to replace a prominent mob-boss. Unfortunately, it’s the day before the gangster is scheduled for face-changing plastic surgery…

‘The Human Eel’ (Miller & Bill Ely) then pits a cop unable to endure heights against an international high-tech rogue who thinks he hold all the winning cards…

The next try-out was on far firmer fashion grounds and was the first feature to win two issues in a row.

The Challengers of the Unknown were a bridging concept. As the superhero genre was ever so cautiously alpha-tested in 1956 here was a super-team – the first new group-entry of this still-to-be codified era – but with no uncanny abilities or masks, the most basic and utilitarian of costumes, and the most dubious of motives: Suicide by Mystery…

If you wanted to play editorially safe you could argue that were simply another para-military band of adventurers like the long running Blackhawks… but they weren’t.

A huge early hit – winning their own title before The Flash (March 1959) and just two months after Lois Lane (March 1958, although she had been a star in comics since 1938 and even had TV, radio and movie recognition on her side) – the Challs struck a chord resonating for more than a decade before they finally died… only to rise again and yet again. The idea of them was stirring enough, but their initial execution made their success all but inevitable.

Jack Kirby was – and remains – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are quite rightly millions of words written about what the man has done and meant, and you should read those if you are at all interested in our medium. When the comic industry suffered a collapse in the mid 1950’s, Kirby briefly returned to DC, crafting genre mystery tales and revitalising the Green Arrow back-up strip whilst creating newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force. He also re-packaged for Showcase an original super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and long-time collaborator Joe Simon had closed their innovative but unfortunate Mainline Comics.

The Challengers of the Unknown were four extraordinary mortals; heroic adventurers and explorers brought together for a radio show who walked away unscathed from a terrible plane crash. Already obviously what we now call “adrenaline junkies”, they decided that since they were all living on borrowed time, they would dedicate what remained of their lives to testing themselves and fate. They would risk their lives for Knowledge and, of course, Justice.

Showcase #6, dated January/February 1957 – which meant it came out in time for Christmas 1956 – introduced pilot Ace Morgan, wrestler Rocky Davis, acrobat Red Ryan and scholarly marine explorer “Prof” Haley in a no-nonsense romp by Kirby, scripter Dave Wood, inkers Marvin Stein and Jack’s wife Roz, before devoting the rest of the issue to a spectacular epic with the doom-chasers hired by duplicitous magician Morelian to open an ancient casque holding otherworldly secrets and powers in ‘The Secrets of the Sorcerer’s Box!’

This story roars along with all the tension and wonder of the B-movie thrillers it emulates, and Kirby’s awesome drawing resonates with power and dynamism as the heroes tackle ancient horrors such as ‘Dragon Seed!’, ‘The Freezing Sun!’ and ‘The Whirling Weaver!’

The fantasy magic continued in the sequel: a science fiction crisis caused when an alliance of Nazi technologies with American criminality unleashes a robotic monster. Scripted by Kirby, ‘Ultivac is Loose!’ (Showcase #7, March/April 1957) introduces quietly capable boffin Dr. June Robbins, who becomes the fifth Challenger at a time when most comic females had returned to a subsidiary status in that so-conservative era.

As her computers predict ‘A Challenger Must Die!’, the lads nevertheless continue to hunt a telepathic, sentient super-robot who inadvertently terrorises ‘The Fearful Millions’ but soon find their sympathies with the tragic artificial intelligence after ‘The Fateful Prediction!’ is fulfilled…

Showcase #8 (June 1957) again featured the Flash, leading with another Kanigher tale – ‘The Secret of the Empty Box’. This perplexing but pedestrian mystery sees Frank Giacoia debut as inker, but the real landmark is Broome’s thriller ‘The Coldest Man on Earth’. With this yarn the author confirmed and consolidated the new phenomenon by introducing the first of a Rogues Gallery of outlandish super-villains. Unlike Golden Age stalwarts, new super-heroes would face predominantly costumed foes rather than thugs and spies. Henceforth, Bad Guys would be as visually arresting and memorable as the champions of justice. Captain Cold would return time and again as pre-eminent Flash Foe and Broome would go on to create every single member of Flash’s classic pantheon of super-villains.

Also included is filler reprint ‘The Race of Wheel and Keel’ by Gardner Fox, Gil Kane & Harry Lazarus, from All-Star Comics #53 (June/July 1950): a true story of how in 1858 a shipping magnate and stagecoach tycoon competed to prove which method of transportation was fastest…

When Lois Lane – arguably the oldest supporting character/star in the Superman mythology if not DC universe – finally received her own shot at a solo title, it was very much on the terms of the times.

I must shamefacedly admit to a deep, nostalgic affection for her bright, breezy, fantastically fun adventures, but as a free-thinking, (nominally) adult liberal of the 21st century I’m astounded now at the jolly, patronising, patriarchally misogynistic attitudes underpinning so many of the stories.

Yes, I’m fully aware that the series was intended for young readers at a time when “dizzy dames” like Lucille Ball or Doris Day played to a popular American stereotype of Woman as jealous minx, silly goose, diffident wife and brood-hungry nester, but asking kids to seriously accept that intelligent, courageous, ambitious, ethical and highly capable females would drop everything they’d worked hard for to lie, cheat, inveigle, manipulate and entrap a man just so that they could cook pot-roast and change super-diapers is just plain crazy and tantamount to child abuse.

I’m just saying…

Showcase #9 (cover-dated July/August 1957) featured Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane in three tales by Jerry Coleman, Ruben Moreira & Al Plastino; opening with seminal yarn ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past’ wherein Lois first meets red-headed hussy Lana Lang. The childhood sweetheart of Superboy seems to be a pushy conniving go-getter out to win Lois’ intended at all costs. Naturally Miss Lane invites Miss Lang to stay at her apartment and the grand rivalry is off and running…

‘The New Lois Lane’ aggravatingly saw Lois turn over a new leaf and stop attempting to uncover his secret identity just when Superman actually needs her to do so, and the premier concludes with concussion-induced day-dream ‘Mrs. Superman’ with Lois imagining a life of domestic super-bliss…

The next issue (September/October 1957) offered three more of the same, all illustrated by Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye, beginning with ‘The Jilting of Superman’ – scripted by Otto Binder – wherein the Man of Tomorrow almost falls for an ancient ploy as Lois pretends to marry another man to make the Kryptonian clod realise what she means to him…

‘The Sightless Lois Lane’ by Coleman reveals how a nuclear accident temporarily blinds the journalist, before her unexpected recovery almost exposes Clark Kent’s secret when he callously changes to Superman in front of the blind girl. Binder delightfully closes the issue with ‘The Forbidden Box from Krypton’: a cache of devices dug up by a Smallville archaeologist originally packed by Jor-El to aid the infant superbaby on Earth. Of course, when Lois opens the chest all she sees is a way to become as powerful as the Man of Steel before becoming addicted to being a super-champion in her own right…

Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane launched into her own title scant months later, clearly exactly what the readers wanted…

Showcase #11 (November/December 1957) saw the Challengers return to combat an alien invasion on ‘The Day the Earth Blew Up’, with unique realist Bruno Premiani inking a taut doomsday chiller that keeps readers on the edge of their seats even today. Whilst searching for missing Antarctic explorers the Challs discover an under-ice base where double-brained aliens prepare to explosively alter the mass and gravity of Earth. Although intellectually superior, ‘The Tyrans’are no match for the indomitable human heroes and with their Plan A scotched, resort to brute force and ‘The Thing That Came out of the Sea’, even as Prof scuttles their aquatic ace in the hole with ‘One Minute to Doom’…

By the time of their final Showcase cases (#12, January/February 1958) they had already secured their own title. Here, though, ‘The Menace of the Ancient Vials’ is defused by the usual blend of daredevil heroics and ingenuity (with the wonderful inking of George Klein, not Wally Wood as credited here) as international spy and criminal Karnak steals a clutch of ancient chemical weapons which create giants and ‘The Fire Being!’, summon ‘The Demon from the Depths’and materialise ‘The Deadly Duplicates!’ before the pre-fantastic four put their enemy down.

Flash zipped back in Showcase #13 (March/April 1958) in a brace of tales pencilled by Infantino and inked by Joe Giella. Written by Kanigher, ‘Around the World in 80 Minutes’ follows the Scarlet Speedster as he tackles atomic blackmail in Paris, foils kidnappers and rebuilds a pyramid in Egypt; dismantles an avalanche in Tibet and scuttles a pirate submarine in the Pacific, before Broome’s ‘Master of the Elements’ introduces outlandish chemical criminal Al Desmond who ravages Central City as Mr. Element until the Flash outwits him.

One last try-out issue – inked by Giacoia – cemented the Flash’s future: Showcase #14 (May/June 1958) opens with Kanigher’s eerie ‘Giants of the Time-World!’ as the Fastest Man Alive smashes dimensional barriers to rescue his girlfriend Iris West from uncanny cosmic colossi and stamp out an alien invasion plan, after which Al Desmond returns with an altered M.O. and new identity. Doctor Alchemy’s discovery of the mystic Philosopher’s Stone makes him ‘The Man who Changed the Earth!’: a stunning yarn and worthy effort to bow out on, but it was still nearly a year until the first issue of The Flash finally hit the stands.

To reiterate: Showcase was a try-out comic 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 and Flash, so Editorial Director Irwin Donenfeld now urged his two Showcase editors to create science fiction heroes to capitalise on the twin zeitgeists of the Space Race and the popular fascination with movie monsters and aliens. Jack Schiff came up with a “masked” crimefighter of the future – who featured in issues #15 and 16 – whilst Julie Schwartz concentrated on the now in the saga of a contemporary Earth explorer catapulted into the most uncharted territory yet imagined.

Showcase #15 (September/October 1958) commenced without fanfare – or origin – the ongoing adventures of Space Ranger – beginning in ‘The Great Plutonium Plot’ (plotted by Gardner Fox, scripted by pulp veteran Edmond Hamilton and illustrated by Bob Brown).

Their hero was in actuality Rick Starr, son of a wealthy interplanetary businessman who – thanks to incredible gadgets and the assistance of shape-shifting alien pal Cryll and capable Girl Friday Myra Mason – spent his free time battling evil and injustice. When Jarko the Jovian space pirate targets only ships carrying the trans-uranic element, Rick suspects a hidden motive. Donning his guise of the Space Ranger, he lays a cunning trap, exposing a hidden mastermind and a deadly ancient device endangering the entire solar system…

From his base in a hollow asteroid, Space Ranger ranges the universe and ‘The Robot Planet’ brings him and his team to Sirius after discovering a diabolical device designed to rip Sol’s planets out of their orbits. At the end of his voyage, Starr discovers a sublime civilisation reduced to cave-dwelling and a mighty computer intelligence intent on controlling the entire universe unless he can stop it…

Issue #16 opened with ‘The Secret of the Space Monster’ (plot by John Forte, scripted by Hamilton, illustrated by Brown) with Rick, Myra and Cryll investigating an impossible void creature and uncovering a band of alien revolutionaries testing novel super-weapons. ‘The Riddle of the Lost Race’ (Fox, Hamilton & Brown) then takes the team on a whistle-stop tour of the Solar system in pursuit of a vicious criminal and hidden treasures of a long-vanished civilisation.

A few months later Space Ranger was transported to science fiction anthology Tales of the Unexpected, beginning with issue #40 (August 1959) to hold the lead and cover spot for a 6-year run…

One of the most compelling and revered stars of those halcyon days was an ordinary Earthman who regularly travelled to another world for spectacular adventures, armed with nothing more than a ray-gun, a jetpack and his own ingenuity. His name was Adam Strange, and like so many of that era’s triumphs, he was the brainchild of Julius Schwartz and his close team of creative stars.

Showcase #17 (November/December 1958) proclaimed Adventures on Other Worlds, courtesy of Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs, telling of an archaeologist who, whilst fleeing from enraged natives in Peru, jumps a 25-foot chasm only to be hit by a stray teleport beam from a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. Rematerialising on another planet filled with giant plants and monsters, he is rescued by a beautiful woman named Alanna who teaches him her language via a cunning contrivance. ‘Secret of the Eternal City!’ reveals Rann is a world recovering from atomic war, and the beam Adam intercepted was in fact a simple flare, one of many sent in an attempt to communicate with other races.

In the four years (Speed of Light, right? As You Know, Bob – Alpha Centauri is about 4.3 light-years from Sol) the Zeta-Flare travelled through space, cosmic radiation converted it into a teleportation beam. Until the radiation drains from his body Strange is a most willing prisoner on a fantastic world of mystery, adventure and romance…

And an incredibly unlucky one apparently, as no sooner has Adam started acclimatising than an alien race The Eternalsinvades, seeking a mineral that grants them immortality. Strange’s courage and sharp wits enable him to defeat the invaders only to have the Zeta radiation finally fade, drawing him home before his adoring Alanna can administer a hero’s reward. Thus was established the principles of this beguiling series. Adam would intercept a Zeta-beam hoping for some time with his alien sweetheart, only to be confronted with a planet-menacing crisis.

The very next of these, ‘The Planet and the Pendulum’ sees him obtain the crimson-and-white spacesuit and weaponry that became his distinctive trademark in a tale of alien invaders attacking a lost colony of Rannians. They reside on planetary neighbour Anthorann – a fact that also introduces the major subplot of Rann’s still-warring city-states, all desperate to progress and all at different stages of recovery and development….

The next issue featured the self-explanatory ‘Invaders from the Atom Universe’ – with sub-atomic marauders displacing the native races until Adam unravels their nefarious plans – and ‘The Dozen Dooms of Adam Strange’, wherein our hero outfoxes the dictator of Dys who plans to invade Alanna’s home-city Rannagar.

With this last story, Sachs was replaced by Joe Giella as inker, although the former did ink Showcase #19’s stunning Gil Kane cover, (March/April 1959) which saw the unwieldy Adventures on Other Worlds title replaced with eponymous logo Adam Strange.

‘Challenge of the Star-Hunter’ and ‘Mystery of the Mental Menace’ are classic puzzle tales wherein the Earthman must outwit a shape-changing alien and an all-powerful energy-being. After so doing, Adam Strange took over the lead spot and cover of anthology comic Mystery in Space with the August issue.

Clearly on a creative high and riding a building wave, Showcase #20 (May/June 1959) introduced Rip Hunter… Time Master and his dauntless crew as ‘Prisoners of 100 Million BC’ (by Jack Miller & Ruben Moreira) in a novel-length introductory escapade seeing the daredevil physicist, his engineer friend Jeff Smith, girlfriend Bonnie Baxter and her little brother Corky travel to the Mesozoic era, unaware they are carrying two criminal stowaways.

Once there, the thugs hi-jack the Time Sphere, holding it hostage until the explorers help them stock up with rare and precious minerals. Reduced to the status of castaways, Rip and his team become ‘The Modern-Day Cavemen’, but when an erupting volcano provokes ‘The Great Beast Stampede’, our dauntless chrononauts 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 this volume concludes with an epic follow-up. Illustrated by Sekowsky & Joe Giella, ‘The Secret of the Lost Continent’ (Showcase #21, July/August, 1959,) has the Time Masters jump progressively further back in time in search of Atlantis. Starting with a dramatic meeting with Alexander the Great in 331 BCE, the explorers follow the trail back centuries to ‘The Forbidden Island’ of Aeaea in 700 BCE and uncover the secret of the witch Circe before finally reaching 14,000 BCE and ‘The Doomed Continent’ only to find the legendary pinnacle of early human achievement to be a colony of stranded extraterrestrial refugees…

Rip Hunter would appear twice more in Showcase before winning his own comic. The succeeding months would see the Silver Age truly kick into High Gear with classic launches coming thick and fast…

These stories from a uniquely influential comic book determined the course of the entire American strip culture and for that alone they should be cherished, but the fact they are still some of the most timeless, accessible and entertaining graphic adventures ever produced is a gift that should be celebrated by every fan and casual reader.

Buy this for yourself, get it for your friends and get a spare just because you can…
© 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Flash: The Silver Age Volume One


By John Broome, Robert Kanigher, Carmine Infantino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6110-8 (TPB)

The actual Silver Age of US comics is formally and forever tied to Showcase #4 and the rebirth of the Flash. The epochal issue was released in the late summer of 1956 and from it stems all today’s print, animation, games, collector cards, cos-play, TV and movie wonderment. Let’s all shout a hearty Happy 65th Anniversary to the entire modern comics phenomenon…

No matter which way you look at it, the Silver Age of American comic books began with The Flash, but it’s an unjust yet true fact that being first is not enough: it also helps to be best and people have to notice. MLJ’s The Shield beat Captain America to the news-stands by over a year yet the former is all but forgotten today.

America’s comic book industry had never really stopped trying to revive the superhero genre when Showcase #4 was released in 1956. Readers had already been blessed – but were left generally unruffled by – such tentative precursors as The Avenger (February-September 1955); Captain Flash (November 1954-July 1955) and a full revival of Marvel’s 1940s “Big Three” – the Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and aforementioned Captain America from December 1953 to October 1955. Both DC’s own Captain Comet (December 1953-October 1955) and Manhunter from Mars (November 1955 until the end of the 1960’s and almost the end of superheroes again!) had come and been barely noticed. What made the new Fastest Man Alive stand out and stick was … well, everything!

Once DC’s powers-that-be decided to seriously try superheroes once more, they moved pretty fast themselves. Editor Julie Schwartz asked office partner, fellow editor and Golden-Age Flash scripter Robert Kanigher to recreate a speedster for the Space Age: aided and abetted by Carmine Infantino & Joe Kubert, who had also worked on the previous incarnation.

The new Flash was Barry Allen, a forensic scientist simultaneously struck by lightning and bathed in exploding chemicals from his lab. Supercharged by the accident, Barry took his superhero identity from a comic book featuring his notional predecessor (a scientist named Jay Garrick who was exposed to the mutagenic fumes of “Hard Water”).

Designing a sleek, streamlined bodysuit (courtesy of Infantino – a major talent rapidly approaching his artistic and creative peak), Barry Allen became point man for the spectacular revival of a genre and an entire industry.

This splendid trade paperback and digital compilation superbly compliments Infantino’s talents and the tone of the period. These stories have been gathered many times but still offers punch, clarity and the ineffably comforting yet thrilling tone of those now-distant times. Conversely, you might be as old as me and it was only the day before yesterday…

This is what a big book of comics ought to feel like in your eager, sweaty hands.

Collecting all four try-out issues (Showcase #4, 8, 13 and 14) – and the first dozen issues of his own title (The Flash volume 1 #105-116, spanning October 1956 to November 1960) the high-speed thrills begin with Showcase #4’s ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt!’

Scripted by Kanigher, it sees Barry endure his electrical metamorphosis and promptly go on to subdue bizarre criminal mastermind and “Slowest Man Alive” Turtle Man, after which ‘The Man Who Broke the Time Barrier!’ – scripted by the brilliant John Broome – finds the newly-minted Scarlet Speedster batting a criminal from the future before returning penal exile Mazdan to his own century, proving the new Flash was a protagonist of keen insight and sharp wits as well as overwhelming power.

These are all slickly polished, coolly sophisticated short stories introducing the comfortingly ordinary, suburbanite superhero and firmly establishing the broad parameters of his universe. Showcase #8 (June 1957) opens with another Kanigher tale. ‘The Secret of the Empty Box’ is a perplexing if pedestrian mystery, with veteran Frank Giacoia returning as inker, but the real landmark is Broome’s thriller ‘The Coldest Man on Earth’.

With this yarn the author confirmed and consolidated the new costumed character reality by introducing the first of a Rogues Gallery of outlandish super-villains. Unlike the Golden Age, modern superheroes would face predominantly costumed foes rather than thugs and spies. Bad guys would henceforth be as memorable as the champions of justice.

Captain Cold would return time and again and Broome would go on to create every single member of Flash’s pantheon of classic super-foes.

Joe Giella inked both adventures in Showcase #13 (April 1958). Kanigher’s ‘Around the World in 80 Minutes’ displayed Flash’s versatility as he tackles atomic terrorists, battles Arabian bandits, counters an avalanche on Mount Everest and scuttles submarine pirates in the specified time slot. Broome’s ‘Master of the Elements’ then premiers outlandish Mr. Element, who utilises the periodic table as his formidable, innovative arsenal…

Showcase #14 (June 1958) opens with Kanigher’s eerie ‘Giants of the Time-World!’: a masterful fantasy thriller and a worthy effort to bow out on as Flash and girlfriend Iris West encounter extra-dimensional invaders with the strangest life-cycle imaginable.

The issue closed with a return engagement for Mr. Element, sporting a new M.O. and identity: Doctor Alchemy. ‘The Man Who Changed the Earth!’ is a classic crime-caper with serious psychological underpinnings as Flash struggles to overcome the villain’s latest weapon: mystic transmutational talisman the Philosopher’s Stone…

When the Scarlet Speedster graduated to his own title, Broome became lead writer, supplemented by Gardner Fox. Kanigher would return briefly in the mid-1960s and later write a number of tales during DC’s ‘Relevancy’ period. Taking its own sweet time, The Flash #105 launched with a February-March 1959 cover-date (so it was out for Christmas 1958) and opened with Broome, Infantino & Giella’s sci-fi chiller ‘Conqueror From 8 Million B.C.!’ before introducing yet another money-mad super-villain in ‘The Master of Mirrors!’

Issue #106 premiered one of the most charismatic and memorable baddies in comics history. Gorilla Grodd and his hidden race of telepathic super-simians instantly captured fan attention in ‘Menace of the Super-Gorilla!’ and even after Flash soundly thrashed the hairy hooligan, Grodd promptly returned in the next two issues.

Presumably this early confidence was fuelled by DC’s inexplicable but commercially sound pro-Gorilla editorial stance (in those far-ago days for some reason any comic with a substantial simian in it spectacularly outsold those that didn’t) but these tales are also packed with tension, action and challenging fantasy concepts. By way of encore here is ‘The Pied Piper of Peril!’: a mesmerising musical criminal mastermind, stealing for fun and attention rather than profit…

Issue #107 led with the ‘Return of the Super-Gorilla!’ by regular team Broome, Infantino & Giella: a multi-layered fantasy taking our hero from the African (invisible) city of the Super-Gorillas to the subterranean citadel of antediluvian Ornitho-Men, before closing with ‘The Amazing Race Against Time’, featuring an amnesiac who could outrun the Fastest Man Alive in a desperate collaborative dash to save all of creation from obliteration. With every issue the stakes got higher whilst the dramatic quality and narrative ingenuity got better!

Frank Giacoia inked #108’s high-tech death-trap thriller ‘The Speed of Doom!’ with trans-dimensional raiders stealing fulgurites (look it up, if you want) but Giella was back for ‘The Super-Gorilla’s Secret Identity!’ wherein Grodd devises a scheme to outwit evolution itself by turning himself into a human…

The next issue saw ‘The Return of the Mirror-Master’ with the first in a series of bizarre physical transformations that would increasingly become a signature device for Flash stories, whilst the contemporary Space Race provided an evocative maguffin for a fantastic undersea adventure in the ‘Secret of the Sunken Satellite’. Here Flash encountered an unsuspected sub-sea race on the edge of extinction whilst enquiring after the impossible survival of an astronaut trapped at the bottom of the sea.

The Flash #110 was a major landmark, not so much for the debut of another worthy addition to the burgeoning Rogues Gallery in ‘The Challenge of the Weather Wizard’ (inked by Schwartz’s incredibly versatile artistic top-gun Murphy Anderson) but rather for the introduction of Wally West, who in a bizarre and suspicious replay of the lightning strike that created the Vizier of Velocity became a junior version of the Fastest Man Alive.

Inked by Giella, ‘Meet Kid Flash!’ introduced the first teenaged sidekick of the Silver Age (cover dated December 1959-January 1960 and just pipping Aqualad who premiered in Adventure Comics #269 with a February off-sale date).

Not only would Kid Flash begin his own series of back-up tales from the very next issue (a sure sign of the confidence the creators had in the character) but he would eventually inherit the mantle of the Flash himself – one of the few occasions in comics where such torch-passing actually stuck.

Anderson inked #111’s ‘The Invasion of the Cloud Creatures’ which successfully overcomes its frankly daft premise to deliver a taut, tense sci-fi thriller nicely counterpointing the first solo outing for Kid Flash in ‘The Challenge of the Crimson Crows!’

This folksy parable has small-town kid Wally use his new powers to rescue a gang of kids on the slippery slope to juvenile delinquency. Perhaps a tad paternalistic and heavy-handed by today’s standards, in the opening months of 1960 this was a strip about a boy heroically dealing with a kid’s real dilemmas. This occasional series would concentrate on such human-scaled problems, leaving super-menaces and world-saving for team-ups with his mentor.

Flash #112 – ‘The Mystery of the Elongated Man’ – introduced an intriguing super-stretchable newcomer to the DC universe, who might have been hero or villain in a beguiling tantaliser, after which Wally tackled juvenile Go-Karters and corrupt school contractors in the surprisingly gripping ‘Danger on Wheels!’

Mercurial maniac The Trickster launched his crime career in #113’s lead tale ‘Danger in the Air!’ and the second-generation speedster took a break so that his senior partner could defeat ‘The Man Who Claimed the Earth!’: a full-on cosmic epic wherein ancient alien Po-Siden attempts to bring the lost colony of Earth back into the galaxy-spanning Empire of Zus.

Captain Cold and Murphy Anderson returned for ‘The Big Freeze’, where the smitten villain turns Central City into a glacier just to impress Barry’s girlfriend Iris. Meanwhile, her nephew Wally saves a boy unjustly accused of cheating from a life of crime when the despondent student falls under the influence of the ‘King of the Beatniks!’

Flash #115 offered another bizarre transformation, courtesy of Gorilla Grodd in ‘The Day Flash Weighed 1000 Pounds!’, and when aliens attempt to conquer Earth, the slimmed-down champion needs ‘The Elongated Man’s Secret Weapon’ as well as the guest-star himself to save the day. Once again Anderson’s inking gave over-taxed Joe Giella a breather whilst taking art-lovers’ breath away in this beautiful, fast-paced thriller.

This gloriously satisfying volume concludes with Flash #116 as ‘The Man Who Stole Central City’ sees a seemingly fool-proof way to kill the valiant hero, which takes both time-tinkering and serious outwitting to avoid, whilst Kid Flash returns in ‘The Race to Thunder Hill’: a father-son tale of rally driving, but with car-stealing bandits and a young love interest for Wally to complicate the proceedings.

These earliest tales were historically vital to the development of our industry but, quite frankly, so what? The first exploits of The Flash should be judged solely on merit, and on those terms they are punchy, awe-inspiring, beautifully illustrated and captivating thrillers that amuse, amaze and enthral both new readers and old devotees. This lovely collection is a must-read item for anybody in love with our art-form and especially for anyone just now encountering the hero for the first time through his TV incarnation.
© 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

World’s Finest: Guardians of Earth


By Denny O’Neil, Mike Friedrich, Steve Skeates, Len Wein, Elliot S! Maggin, Dick Dillin, Joe Giella & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0178-3 (HB)

For decades Superman and Batman were quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest team”. The affable stalwarts were best buddies as well as mutually respectful colleagues, and their pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could happily cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships. This most inevitable of Paladin Pairings first occurred on the Superman radio show in the early 1940s, whilst in comics the pair had only briefly met whilst on a Justice Society of America adventure in All-Star Comics #36 (August-September 1947) – and perhaps even there they missed each other in the gaudy hubbub…

Of course, they had shared covers on World’s Finest Comics from the outset, but never crossed paths inside; sticking firmly to their specified solo adventures within. In fact, they never shared an official comic book case. However, once that Rubicon was crossed in Superman #76 (May 1952), the partnership solidified thanks to spiralling costs and dwindling page-counts. As 52-page titles dwindled to the 32, WFC permanently sealed the new deal and the industry never looked back…

The Cape and Cowl Crusaders were partners and allies from #71 onwards (July 1954), working together until the title was cancelled in the build-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986. All that is, except for a brief period when the Man of Steel was paired with other stars of DC’s firmament.

This mighty compelling compendium re-presents those cataclysmic collaborations from the turbulent 1970’s (World’s Finest Comics #198-214, spanning November 1970 to October- November 1972), as radical shifts in America’s tastes and cultural landscape fostered a hunger for more mature, socially relevant stories. That drive even affected the Dark Knight and Action Ace – so much so, in fact, that their partnership was temporarily suspended: paused so Superman could guest-star with other DC icons.

After three years, another bold experiment reunited them as parents of The Super-Sons before the regular relationship was revitalised and renewed. With the World’s Finest Heroes fully restored, their bizarrely apt pre-eminence endured another lengthy run until the title’s demise.

Without preamble the action kicks off here by returning to a thorny topic which had bedevilled fans for years…

The comic book experience is littered with eternal, unanswerable questions. The most common and most passionately asked always begin “who would win if…” or “who’s strongest/smartest/fastest…”

Here, crafted by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella, ‘Race to Save the Universe!’ and the concluding ‘Race to Save Time’ (WFC #198-199; November and December 1970) upped the stakes on two previous competitions as the high-speed heroes are conscripted by the Guardians of the Universe to circumnavigate the entire cosmos at their greatest velocities to reverse the rampage of the mysterious Anachronids: faster-than-light creatures whose pell-mell course throughout the galaxies is actually unwinding time itself and unravelling the fabric of creation. Little does anybody suspect that Superman’s oldest enemies were behind the entire appalling scheme…

Anniversary issue #200 was crafted by regular Robin, the Teen Wonder scripter Mike Friedrich, with Dillin & Giella doing the drawing – as they did for this entire book. ‘Prisoners of the Immortal World!’ (February 1971) focusses on college-student brothers on opposite sides of the Vietnam War debate abducted along with youth icon Robin and “Mr. Establishment” Superman to a distant planet where undying vampiric aliens wage eternal war on each other.

Green Lantern pops in for #201, contesting ‘A Prize of Peril!’ (O’Neil, Dillin & Giella) which would grant either Emerald Gladiator or Man of Steel sole jurisdiction of Earth’s skies. Sadly, all is not as it seems…

Batman returned for a limited engagement in #202 as the O’Neil-penned ‘Vengeance of the Tomb-Thing!’ sees archaeologists unearth something horrific in Egypt, just before Superman seemingly goes mad and attacks his greatest friends and allies. A superb ecological scare-story, this tale changed the Man of Tomorrow’s life for decades to come…

Current Aquaman writer Steve Skeates waded in for #203 as ‘Who’s Minding the Earth?’ pits Metropolis Marvel and King of Atlantis against parthenogenetic mutant dolphins attempting to terraform the polluted world into something more welcoming to their kind…

More ecological terror underpins O’Neil’s bleak warning in #204 as ‘Journey to the End of Hope!’ finds powerless former Wonder Woman Diana Prince and Superman summoned to a barren lifeless Earth. Here a dying computer warns that a butterfly effect will inevitably lead to this future unless they prevent a certain person dying in a college campus riot. Only time will tell if they succeed as the clash does indeed cost a life despite all their efforts…

Racism, sexism and the oppression of reactionary conservative values then get a well-deserved pasting in #205’s ‘The Computer that Captured a Town!’

Here Skeates deviously layers a Teen Titans tale with a wealth of eye-opening commentary after the team are locked into a mid-Victorian parochial paradise enforced by a dead man and alien tech, until the Man of Tomorrow wades in to set things straight…

WFC #206 (October-November 1971) was an all-reprint giant, represented here by its rousing Dick Giordano cover, after which #207 again reunites the true World’s Finest team as Batman returns to solve a murder mystery in the making and save the Man of Tomorrow in ‘A Matter of Light and Death!’, after which Earth-2 sorcerer hero Doctor Fate aids the Action Ace in thwarting the extraterrestrial ‘Peril of the Planet-Smashers!’ – both courtesy of Len Wein, Dillin & Giella.

Supernatural menaces were increasingly popular as a global horror boom reshaped readers’ tastes, informing (#209) Friedrich’s ‘Meet the Tempter – and Die!’ wherein Hawkman and Superman are seduced into evil by an eternal demon, whilst Elliot S! Maggin’s ‘World of Faceless Slaves!’ in #210 catapults the Caped Kryptonian and Green Arrow into a primordial magic kingdom to liberate the vassals of diabolical sorcerer supreme Effron…

The Darknight Detective returns again in #211, as O’Neil, Dillin & Giella devise a global manhunt for a ‘Fugitive from the Stars!’ Their target is a political refugee whose arrest is demanded by warriors who are a physical match for Superman, but happily, not Batman’s intellectual equals…

‘…And So My World Begins!’ in #212 is O’Neil’s thematic sequel to Justice League of America #71, which saw Mars devasted by race war and its survivors flee to the stars in search of a new homeworld. Here, Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz seeks Superman’s aid to rescue the last survivors from life-leeching mechanoids, unaware that a traitor has sold them all out to predatory aliens…

Maggin drills deep into super science for #213 as ‘Peril in a Very Small Place!’ finds the greater universe endangered by a microscopic and insatiable Genesis molecule, demanding a fantastic voyage into the Microverse inside a phone line for the Atom and Superman before this compilation concludes with wild west weirdness from by Skeates, O’Neil, Dillin & Giella. Here Golden Age troubleshooter The Vigilante delivers the silver bullet necessary to save Superman when ‘A Beast Stalks the Badlands!’

With covers by Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Nick Cardy and Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson, this book is a gloriously uncomplicated treasure trove of adventures which still have the power and punch to enthral even today’s jaded seen it-all audiences.

The contents of this titanic team-up tome are a veritable feast of witty, pretty thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have. Utterly entrancing adventure for fans of all ages!
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