Showcase Presents The Elongated Man


By Gardner Fox, John Broome, Carmine Infantino, Murphy Anderson, Irv Novick, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Mike Sekowsky, Sid Greene & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1042-2 (TPB)

Once upon a time, American comics editors believed readers would become jaded if characters were over-used or over-exposed and so to combat that potential danger – and for sundry other commercial and economic reasons – they developed back-up features in most of their titles. By the mid-1960s the policy was largely abandoned as resurgent superheroes sprang up everywhere and readers just couldn’t get enough…but there were still one or two memorable holdouts.

In late 1963 Julius Schwartz took editorial control of Batman and Detective Comics and finally found a place for a character who had been lying mostly fallow ever since his debut as a walk-on in the April/May 1960 Flash.

The Elongated Man was Ralph Dibny, a circus-performer who discovered an additive in soft drink Gingold which seemed to give certain people increased muscular flexibility. Intrigued, he refined the chemical until he had developed a serum which gave him the ability to stretch, bend and compress his body to an incredible degree. Then Ralph had to decide how to use his new powers…

A quirky chap with his own small but passionate band of devotes, in recent years the perennial B-lister has become a fixture of the latest Flash TV series, but his many exploits are still largely uncollected in either print or digital formats. The only archival asset is this charming, witty and very pretty compilation which gathers his debut and guest appearances from Flash issues #112, 115, 119, 124, 130, 134, and 138 (spanning April/May 1960 to August 1963) and the Stretchable Sleuth’s entire scintillating run from Detective Comics #327-371 (May 1964-January 1968).

Designed as a modern take on the classic and immensely popular Golden Age champion Plastic Man, Dibny debuted in Flash #112’s ‘The Mystery of the Elongated Man!’ as a mysterious, masked yet attention-seeking elastic do-gooder, of whom the Scarlet Speedster was nonetheless highly suspicious, in a cunningly crafted crime caper by John Broome, Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella.

Dibny returned in #115 (September 1960, inked by Murphy Anderson) when aliens attempted to conquer the Earth and the Vizier of Velocity needed ‘The Elongated Man’s Secret Weapon!’ as well as the guest-star himself to save the day.

In Flash #119 (March 1961), Flash rescued the vanished hero from ‘The Elongated Man’s Undersea Trap!’ which introduced the vivacious Sue Dibny (as a newlywed “Mrs Elongated Man”) in a stirring tale of sub-sea alien slavers by regular creative team Broome, Infantino & Giella.

The threat was again extraterrestrial with #124′s alien invasion thriller ‘Space-Boomerang Trap!’ (November 1961) which featured an uneasy alliance between the Scarlet Speedster, Elongated Man and sinister rogue Captain Boomerang who naturally couldn’t be trusted as far as you could throw him…

Ralph collaborated with Flash’s junior partner in #130 (August 1962) only just defeating the wily Weather Wizard when ‘Kid Flash Meets the Elongated Man!’ but then sprang back into action with – and against – the senior partner in Flash #134 (February 1963). Seemingly allied with Captain Cold in ‘The Man Who Mastered Absolute Zero!’ Dibny excelled in a flamboyant thriller that almost ended his budding heroic career…

Gardner Fox scripted ‘The Pied Piper’s Double Doom!’ in Flash #138 (August 1963), a mesmerising team-up which saw both Elongated Man and the Monarch of Motion enslaved by the sinister Sultan of Sound, before ingenuity and justice ultimately prevailed.

When the back-up spot opened in Detective Comics (a position held by the Martian Manhunter since 1955 and only vacated because J’onn J’onzz had been promoted to lead position in House of Mystery) Schwartz had Ralph Dibny slightly reconfigured as a flamboyant, fame-hungry, brilliantly canny globe-trotting private eye solving mysteries for the sheer fun of it.

Aided by his equally smart but thoroughly grounded wife, the short tales were patterned on classic Thin Man filmic adventures of Nick and Norah Charles, blending clever, impossible crimes with slick sleuthing, garnished with the outré heroic permutations and frantic physical antics first perfected in Jack Cole’s Plastic Man.

These complex yet uncomplicated sorties, drenched in fanciful charm and sly dry wit, began in Detective #327 (May 1964) with ‘Ten Miles to Nowhere!’ (by Fox & Infantino, who inked himself for all the early episodes). Here Ralph, who publicly unmasked to become a (regrettably minor) celebrity, discovered that someone had been stealing his car every night and bringing it back as if nothing had happened. Of course, it had to be a clever criminal plot of some sort…

A month later he solves the ‘Curious Case of the Barn-door Bandit!’ and debuts his direly distressing trademark of manically twitching his expanded nose whenever he detects “the scent of mystery in the air” after which he heads for cowboy country to unravel the ‘Puzzle of the Purple Pony!’ and play cupid for a young couple hunting a gold mine in #329.

Ralph and Sue were on an extended honeymoon tour, making him the only costumed hero without a city to protect. When they reach California, Ralph is embroiled in a ‘Desert Double-Cross!’ when hostage-taking thieves raid the home of a wealthy recluse, after which Detective #331 offered a rare full-length story in ‘Museum of Mixed-Up Men!’ (by Fox, Infantino & Joe Giella) as Batman, Robin and the Elongated Man unite against a super-scientific felon able to steal memories and reshape victims’ faces.

Returned to a solo support role in #332, the Ductile Detective discovers Sue has been replaced by an alien in ‘The Elongated Man’s Other-World Wife!’ (with Sid Greene joining as new permanent inker). Of course, nothing is as it seems…

‘The Robbery That Never Happened!’ occurred when a jewellery store customer suspiciously claims he had been given too much change, whilst ‘Battle of the Elongated Weapons!’ in #334 concentrates on a crook who adapts Ralph’s Gingold serum to affect objects, after which bombastic battle it was back to mystery-solving when EM is invited by Fairview City to round up a brazen bunch of uncatchable bandits in ‘Break Up of the Bottleneck Gang!’

While visiting Central City again, Ralph is lured to the Mirror Master’s old lair and only barely survives ‘The House of “Flashy” Traps!’ before risking certain death in the ‘Case of the 20 Grand Pay-off!’ by replacing Sue with a look-alike – for the best possible reasons – but without her knowledge or permission…

Narrowly surviving his wife’s wrath by turning the American tour into a World cruise, Ralph then tackles the ‘Case of the Curious Compass!’ in Amsterdam, foiling a gang of diamond smugglers, before returning to America and ferreting out funny-money pushers in ‘The Counterfeit Crime-Buster!’

Globe-trotting creator John Broome returned to script ‘Mystery of the Millionaire Cowboy!’ in Detective #340 (June 1965) as Ralph and Sue stumble onto a seemingly haunted theatre and find crooks at the heart of the matter, whilst ‘The Elongated Man’s Change-of-Face!’ (Fox, Infantino & Greene) sees a desperate newsman publish fake exploits to draw the fame-fuelled hero into investigating a town under siege, and ‘The Bandits and the Baroness!’ (Broome) has the perpetually vacationing couple check in at a resort where every other guest is a Ralph Dibny, in a classy insurance scam story heavy with intrigue and tension.

A second full-length team-up with Batman filled Detective Comics #343 (September 1965, by Broome, Infantino & Giella), in ‘The Secret War of the Phantom General!’; a tense action-thriller pitting the hard-pressed heroes against a hidden army of gangsters and Nazi war criminals, determined to take over Gotham City.

Having broken Ralph’s biggest case, the happy couple head for the Continent and encounter ‘Peril in Paris!’ (Broome, Infantino & Greene) when Sue goes shopping as an ignorant monolingual American and returns a few hours later a fluent French-speaker…

‘Robberies in Reverse!’ (Fox) boasts a baffling situation as shopkeepers begin paying customers, leading Ralph to a severely skewed scientist’s accidental discovery, whilst #346’s ‘Peephole to the Future!’ (Broome) finds Elongated Man inexplicably developing the power of clairvoyance. It sadly clears up long before he can use it to tackle ‘The Man Who Hated Money!’ (Fox); a bandit who destroys every penny he steals.

‘My Wife, the Witch!’ was Greene’s last ink job for a nearly a year: a Fox thriller wherein Sue apparently gains magical powers whilst ‘The 13 O’clock Robbery!’, with Infantino again inking his own work, sees Ralph walk into a bizarre mystery and deadly booby-trapped mansion, before Hal Jordan’s best friend seeks out the Stretchable Sleuth to solve the riddle of ‘Green Lantern’s Blackout!’ – an entrancing, action-packed team-up with a future Justice League colleague, after which ‘The Case of the Costume-made Crook!’ find Ralph ambushed by a felon using his old uniform as an implausible burglary tool.

Broome devised ‘The Counter of Monte Carlo!’ as the peripatetic Dibnys fall into a colossal espionage conspiracy at the casino and afterward become pawns of a fortune teller in ‘The Puzzling Prophecies of the Tea Leaves!’ (Fox), before Broome dazzles and delights one more time with ‘The Double-Dealing Jewel Thieves!’ wherein a museum owner finds that his imitation jewel exhibit is indeed filled with fakes…

As Fox assumed full scripting duties, Mystic Minx Zatanna guest-starred in #355’s ‘The Tantalising Troubles of the Tripod Thieves!’, as stolen magical artefacts lead Ralph into conflict with a band of violent thugs, whilst ‘Truth Behind the False Faces!’ sees Infantino bow out on a high note as Elongated Man helps a beat cop to his first big bust and solves the conundrum of a criminal wax museum.

Detective #357 (November 1966) featured ‘Tragedy of the Too-Lucky Thief!’ (by Fox, Murphy Anderson & Greene) as the Dibnys discover a gambler who hates to win but cannot lose, whilst Greene handled all the art on ‘The Faker-Takers of the Baker’s Dozen!’ wherein Sue’s latest artistic project leads to the theft of an ancient masterpiece.

Anderson soloed with Fox’s ‘Riddle of the Sleepytime Taxi!’, a compelling and glamorous tale of theft and espionage, and when Ralph and Sue hit Swinging England in Detective #360 (February 1967, Fox & Anderson) with ‘London Caper of the Rockers and Mods!’, they meet the reigning monarch and prevent warring kid-gangs from desecrating our most famous tourist traps, before heading home to ‘The Curious Clue of the Circus Crook!’ (Greene). Here Ralph visits his old Big-Top boss and stops a rash of robberies which had followed the show around the country.

Infantino found time in his increasingly busy schedule for a few more episodes, (both inked by Greene) beginning with ‘The Horse that Hunted Hoods’, a police steed with uncanny crime solving abilities, and continuing in a ‘Way-out Day in Wishbone City!’ wherein normally solid citizens – and even Sue – go temporarily insane and start a riot, after which unsung master Irv Novick stepped in to delineate the mystery of ‘The Ship That Sank Twice!’

‘The Crooks who Captured Themselves!’ (#365, by Greene) recounts how Ralph loses control of his powers before Broome & Infantino reunited one last time for ‘Robber Round-up in Kiddy City!’ as, for a change, Sue sniffs out a theme-park mystery for Ralph to solve.

Infantino finally bowed out with the superb ‘Enigma of the Elongated Evildoer!’ (written by Fox and inked by Greene) as the Debonair Detectives tackle a thief in a ski lodge who seems to possess all Ralph’s elastic abilities…

The Atom guest-starred in #368, helping battle clock-criminal Chronos in ‘The Treacherous Time-Trap!’ by Fox, Gil Kane, Greene, and iconoclastic newcomer Neal Adams illustrated the poignant puzzler ‘Legend of the Lover’s Lantern!’, after which Kane & Greene limned the intriguing all-action ‘Case of the Colorless Cash!’.

The end of the year signalled the end of an era as Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Greene finished off the Elongated Man’s expansive run with the delightfully dizzy lost-loot yarn ‘The Bellringer and the Baffling Bongs’ (#371, January 1968).

With the next issue Detective Comics became an all Bat-family title and Ralph and Sue Dibny temporarily faded from view until revived as bit players in Flash and finally recruited into the Justice League of America as semi-regulars. Their charismatic relationship and unique, genteel style have, sadly, not survived: casualties of changing comics tastes and the replacement of sophistication with angsty shouting and testosterone-fuelled sturm und drang…

Witty, bright, clever and genuinely exciting, these smart stories from a lost age are all beautiful to look at and a joy to read for any sharp kid and all joy-starved adults. This book is a shining tribute to the very best of DC’s Silver Age and a volume no fan of fun and adventure should be without. It should not, however, be the only place you can stretch out and enjoy such classic fare…
© 1960, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Sea Devils volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These classy yarns still haven’t made it into modern full-colour editions but they are magnificent examples of comics storytelling and if you have to read these lost treasures in mere monochrome, at least that’s better than nothing…

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

In almost every conceivable way, “try-out title” Showcase created the Silver Age of American comicbooks and is responsible for the multi-million-dollar industry and nascent art form we all enjoy today. The comicbook was a printed periodical Petri dish designed to launch new series and concepts with minimal commitment of publishing resources. If a new character sold well initially a regular series would follow. The process had been proved with Frogmen, Lois Lane, Challengers of the Unknown and many, many more.

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

Showcase #27 followed a particularly historic and fruitful run of successful non-superhero debuts which included Space Ranger, Adam Strange, and Rip Hunter…Time Master. At a time when costumed characters seemed to be ascendant but memories of genre implosions remained fresh, it seemed that the premier publication could do no wrong. Moreover, it wasn’t Kanigher and artist Russ Heath’s first dip in this particular pool.

Showcase #3 had launched war feature The Frogmen in an extended single tale following candidates for a US Underwater Demolitions Team in WWII as they perilously graduated from students to fully-fledged underwater warriors.

The feature, if not the actual characters, became a semi-regular strip in All-American Men of War #44 (April #1957) and other Kanigher-edited war comics: making Frogmen the first but certainly not the last graduate of the try-out system. Now, with tales of underwater action appearing in comics, books film and TV, the time was right for a civilian iteration to make some waves…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kanigher returned for #3’s ‘Underwater Crime Wave’ as the Devils clashed with a cunning modern Roman Emperor who derives incredible wealth from smuggling and traps the team in his undersea arena.

Judy then finds herself the only one immune to the allure of ‘The Ghost of the Deep’ as subsea siren Circe makes the boys her latest playthings and her human rival is compelled to pull out all the stops to save her friends…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things regained some semblance of narrative normality with the final issue in this compilation as Chapman contributed a brace of high adventure yarns beginning with ‘The Strange Reign of Queen Judy and King Biff’, superbly rendered by the wonderful Bruno Premiani & Sheldon Moldoff.

When a massive wave capsizes the Sea Witch, only Dane and Nicky seemingly survive, but the determined explorers persevere and eventually find their friends held as bewitched captives on the island of an immortal wizard. All they have to do is kidnap their ferociously resisting comrades, escape an army of angry guards and penetrate the island’s mystic defences a second time to restore everything to normal. No problem…

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

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

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

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

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

Showcase Presents Young Love


By Robert Kanigher, Julius Schwartz, John Romita, Bernard Sachs, John Rosenberger, Werner Roth, Bill Draut, Mike Sekowsky, Win Mortimer, John Giunta, Tony Abruzzo, Arthur Peddy, Dick Giordano, Jay Scott Pike Gene Colan & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3438-6

As the escapist popularity of flamboyant superheroes waned after World War II, newer genres such as Romance and Horror came to the fore and older forms regained their audiences. Some, like Westerns and Funny Animal comics, had hardly changed at all but crime and detective tales were utterly radicalised by the temperament of the times.

Stark, uncompromising, cynically ironic novels and socially aware, mature-themed movies that would become categorised as Film Noir offered post-war society a bleakly antiheroic worldview that often hit too close to home and set fearful, repressive, middleclass parent groups and political ideologues howling for blood.

Naturally, these new sensibilities seeped into comics, transforming two-fisted gumshoe and Thud-&-Blunder cop strips of yore into darkly beguiling, even frightening tales of seductive dames, big pay-offs and glamorous thugs. Sensing imminent Armageddon, America’s moral junkyard dogs bayed even louder as they saw their precious children’s minds under seditious attack…

Concurrent to the demise of masked mystery-men, industry giants Joe Simon & Jack Kirby famously invented the love genre for comicbooks with mature, beguiling, explosively contemporary social dramas equally focussed on the changing cultural scene and adult themed relationships. They began with semi-comedic prototype My Date in early 1947 before plunging into the torrid real deal with Young Romance #1 in September of that year.

Not since the invention of Superman had a single comicbook generated such a frantic rush of imitation and flagrant cashing-in. It was a monumental hit and the team quickly expanded: releasing spin-offs such as Young Love (February 1949), Young Brides and In Love.

Simon & Kirby presaged and ushered in the first American age of mature comics – not only with their creation of the Romance genre, but with challenging modern tales of real people in extraordinary situations – before seeing it all disappear again in less than eight years.

Their small stable of magazines produced for the loose association of companies known as Prize/Crestwood/Pines blossomed and wilted as the industry contracted throughout the 1950s.

All through that turbulent period, comicbooks suffered impossibly biased oversight and hostile scrutiny from hidebound and panicked old guard institutions such as church groups, media outlets and ambitious politicians. A number of tales and titles garnered especial notoriety from those social doom-smiths, and hopeful celebration and anticipation amongst tragic, forward-thinking if psychologically scarred comics-collecting victims was quashed when the industry introduced a ferocious Comics Code that castrated the creative form just when it most needed boldness and imagination.

We lost and comics endured more than a decade and a half of savagely doctrinaire, self-imposed censorship.

Those tales from a simpler time, exposing a society in meltdown and suffering cultural PTSD, are mild by modern standards of behaviour, but the quality of art and writing make those pivotal years a creative highpoint long overdue for a thorough reassessment.

The first Young Love ran for 73 issues (1949-1956) before folding and re-launching in a far more anodyne, Comics-Code-approved form as All For Love in Spring 1957.

Unable to find an iota of its previous and hoped-for audience it disappeared after 17 issues in March 1959 before resurrecting as Young Love again a year later with #18. It then ran steadily but unremarkably until June 1963 when the experiment and the company died with #38.

Crestwood sold up its few remaining landmark, groundbreaking titles and properties – Young Romance, Young Love and Black Magic being the most notable – to National/DC and faded from the business…

The new bosses released their first edition in the autumn of 1963 as part of their own small, shy and unassuming romance ring: carrying on with it and a coterie of similar titles targeting teenaged girls (for which, read aspirational and imaginative 8 to 12-year olds) over the next fifteen years.

The savage decline in overall comicbook sales during the 1970s finally killed the genre off. Young Love was one of the last; dying with #126, cover-dated July 1977.

This quirky mammoth monochrome compilation gathers the first 18 DC issues (#39-56 spanning September/October 1963 through July/August 1966) but, although beautiful to look upon, it is sadly plagued with twin tragedies.

The first is that the stories quickly become fearfully formulaic – although flashes of narrative brilliance do crop up with comforting regularity – whilst the second is an appallingly inaccurate listing of creator credits.

Many fans have commented and suggested corrections online, and I’m adding my own surmises and deductions about artists whenever I’m reasonably sure, but other than the unmistakable, declamatorily florid flavour of Robert Kanigher, none of us in fandom are that certain just who was responsible for the scripting of these amatory sagas. However, research continues and sites like the Grand Comicbook Database and Lambiek are continually fixing history for us…

Here, likely contenders include Barbara Friedlander, Dorothy Woolfolk, George Kashdan, Jack Miller, Phyllis Reed, E. Nelson Bridwell and Morris Waldinger but I’m afraid we may never really know.

C’est l’amour…

On these anthological pages, the heartbreak and tears begin with the introduction of a soap-opera serial undoubtedly inspired by the romantic antics of television physicians such as Dr. Kildare (1961-1966) and Ben Casey (1962-1966). Written in an uncomfortably macho “me Doctor Tarzan, you Nurse Jane” style by Kanigher and illustrated with staggering beauty by John Romita, ‘The Private Diary of Mary Robin R.N.’ follows the painful journey and regular heartache of a nurse dedicated to her patients whilst fighting her inbuilt need to “settle down” with the man of her dreams, whoever he is… It’s usually a big-headed, know-it-all medic who has no time to waste on “settling down”…

The serial opened with ‘No Cure for Love’, a 2-part novelette in which a newly-qualified Registered Nurse starts her career at County General Hospital in the OR; instantly arousing the ire of surly surgeon Will Ames whose apparent nastiness is only a mask for his moody man-concern over his poor benighted patients – but never their billables…

However, even as he romances Mary and she dares to dream, the good doctor soon proves that medicine will always be his first and only Love…

I’m not sure of the inker but the pencils on stand-alone back-up ‘You’ve Always Been Nice!’ look like Werner Roth in a novel yarn of modern Texans in love that pretty much sets the tone for the title: Modern Miss gets enamoured of the wrong guy or flashy newcomer until the quiet one who waited for her finally gets motivated…

‘The Eve of His Wedding’ – by Bernard Sachs – goes with the other favourite option: a smug, flashy girl who loses out to the quiet heroine waiting patiently for true love to lead her man back to her…

In #40 Kanigher & Romita ask ‘Which Way, My Heart?’ of Mary Robin and she answers by letting Dr. Ames walk all over her before transferring to Pediatrics. She still found time to fall in love with a thankfully adult patient – but only until he got better…

Filling out the issue are ‘Someone to Remember’ (illustrated by Bill Draut) which sees sensible Judy utterly transform herself into a sophisticated floozy for a boy who actually prefers the old her, and ‘The Power of Love’ (incorrectly attributed to Don Heck but perhaps Morris Waldinger or John Rosenberger heavily inked by Sachs?) in which Linda competes with her own sister over new boy Bill

Although retaining the cover spot, the medical drama was relegated to the end of the comic from #41 on and complete stories led, starting on ‘End With A Kiss’ by Mike Sekowsky & Sachs, wherein calculating Anna almost marries wrong guy Steve until good old Neil puts his foot down, whilst for a girl who dates two men at the same time, ‘Heartbreak Came Twice!’: a tale that was almost a tragedy…

Mary Robin then cries – she cried a lot – ‘No Tomorrow for My Heart!’ as Will Ames continues to call when he feels like it and she somehow finds herself competing with best friend Tess for both him and a hunky patient in their care. She even briefly quits her job for this man of her dreams…

The superb John Rosenberger inking himself – mistakenly credited throughout as Jay Scott Pike – opens #42 with ‘Boys are Fools!’ wherein young Phyllis is temporarily eclipsed by her cynical, worldly older sister Jayne… until a decent man shows them the error of their ways. Vile Marty then uses unwitting Linda as a pawn in a battle of romantic rivals for ‘A Deal with Love!’ (Rosenberger or maybe Win Mortimer & Sachs?). I don’t have any corroborating proof, but a custom of the era was for artists to trade pages or anonymously collaborate on some stories; making visual identification a real expert’s game…

With a ‘Fearful Heart!’, Mary Robin closes up the issue by accidentally stealing the love of a blinded patient nursed by her plain associate. When the hunk’s sight returned, he just naturally assumes the pretty one was his devoted carer…

Young Love #43 opened with the excellent ‘Remember Yesterday’ (looking like Gil Kane layouts over Sachs) in which Gloria relives her jilting by fiancé Grant before embarking on a journey of self-discovery and finding her way back to love… Then the Sekowsky/Sachs influenced ‘A Day Like Any Other’ and ‘Before it’s Too Late’ disclose the difficulties of being a working woman and the temptations of being left at home all alone…

After that, Kanigher & Romita end the affairs by showing the childhood days of Mary Robin and just why she turned to nursing when her childhood sweetheart becomes her latest patient in ‘Shadow of Love!’

Issue #44 declares ‘It’s You I Love!’ (Kane or Frank Giacoia with Sachs?) as wilful Chris foolishly sets her cap for the college’s biggest hunk, whilst in ‘Unattainable’ Lorna learns that she just isn’t that special to playboy Gary before Mary Robin endures ‘Double Heartbreak!’ when her own sister Naomi sweeps in and swoops off with on-again, off-again Dr. Ames…

Sekowsky & Sachs opened #45 with ‘As Long as a Lifetime!’ wherein poor April finds herself torn between and tearing apart best friends Tommy and Jamie, whilst ‘Laugh Today, Weep Tomorrow!’ (which looks like Jay Scott Pike & Jack Abel) has tragic Janet see her best friend Margot’s seductive allure steal away another man she might have loved…

‘One Kiss for Always’ then shows Mary Robin as the patient after a bus crash costs her the use of her legs.

During her battle back to health, and loss of the only man she might have been happy with, the melodrama finally achieves the heights it always aspired to in a tale of genuine depth and passion.

The captivating Rosenberger leads in #46 as Maria and Mark conspire together to win back their respective intendeds and discover exactly ‘Where Love Belongs’, after which Mortimer reveals ‘It’s All Over Now’ for Merrill who only gets Cliff because Addie went away to finishing school.

But then she came back…

This surprisingly mature and sophisticated fable is followed by ‘Veil of Silence!’ in which Nurse Robin takes her duties to extraordinary lengths: allowing a patient to take her latest boyfriend in order to aid her full recovery…

In #47 ‘Merry Christmas’ (Rosenberger) shows astonishing seasonal spirit as Thea cautiously welcomes back sister Laurie – and gives her a second chance to steal her husband – after which secretary Vicky eavesdrops on her boss and boyfriend: almost finishing her marriage before it begins in ‘Every Beat of his Heart!’(Mortimer).

Mary Robin’s ‘Cry for Love’ starts in another pointless fling with the gadabout Ames and ends with her almost stealing another nurse’s man in a disappointingly shallow but action-packed effort, after which – in #48 – ‘Call it a Day’ (Mortimer) finds an entire clan of women united to secure a man for little Alice, before Rosenberger limns ‘Trust Him!’ wherein bitter sister Marta’s harsh advice to love-sick sibling Jill is happily ignored. Kanigher & Romita then explore Mary Robin’s ‘Two-Sided Heart!’ after Ames again refuses to consider moving beyond their casually intimate relationship.

Of course, that shouldn’t excuse what she then does with the gorgeous amnesia patient who has a grieving girlfriend…

Young Love #49 opened with Rosenberger’s ‘Give Me Something to Remember You By!’ with Marge praying that her latest summer romance turns into a something more. Waiting is a torment but ‘Your Man is Mine!’ (Roth) shows what’s worse when sisters clash and Clea again tries taking what Pat has – a fiancé…

‘Someone… Hear my Heart!’ then unselfconsciously dips into the world of TV as Mary Robin dumps Dr. Ames for an actor and a new career on a medical show. It doesn’t end well and she’s soon back where she belongs with the man who can’t or won’t appreciate her…

Roth opened #50 with ‘Second Hand Love’ as Debbie dreads that the return of vivacious Vicky will lead to her taking back the man she left behind, whilst ‘Come into My Arms!’ (Ogden Whitney or Ric Estrada perhaps?) sees Mary Grant visit Paris in search of one man only to fall for another…

Mary Robin then finds herself pulled in many directions as she falls for another doctor and one more hunky patient before yet again rededicating herself to professional care over ‘The Love I Never Held!’

She jumps back to the front in #51 and discovers ‘All Men are Children!’ (still Kanigher & Romita) when an unruly shut-in vindictively uses her to make another nurse jealous, after which Rosenberger delivers a stunning turn with ‘Afraid of Love!’ Here, after years of obsessive yearning, Lois finally goes for it with the man of her dreams.

Romita then took a turn at an anthology solo story with ‘No Easy Lessons in Love’ as Gwen and Peter travel the world and make many mistakes before finally finding each other again.

The nurse finally got her man – and her marching orders – in #52’s ‘Don’t Let it Stop!’, but dashing intern Dan Swift only makes his move on Mary after being hypnotised! Hopefully, she lived happily ever after because, despite being advertised for the next issue, she didn’t appear again…

The abrupt departure was followed by vintage reprint ‘Wonder Women of History: Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch’ (by Julius Schwartz & John Giunta from Wonder Woman #55, September/October 1952), detailing the life of a crusading social campaigner before Roth – possibly inked by Sheldon Moldoff – details how a flighty girl stops chasing husky lifeguards and finds a faithful adoring ‘Young Man for Me!’

‘The Day I Looked Like This!’ (by Dick Giordano, not Gene Colan) celebrates the day tomboy Judi finally starts gussying up like a proper girl and unhappily discovers she is the spitting image of a hot starlet…

Issue #53 opens with ‘A Heart Full of Pride!’ (Sachs) as naïve Mib proves to herself that, just like in school, determination and perseverance pay off in romance, before Mortimer details how standoffish Cynthia learns how she needs to play the field to win her man in ‘I Wanted My Share of Love’.

Romita describes the designs of Kathy who discovers the pitfalls of her frivolous lifestyle in ‘Everybody Likes Me… but Nobody Loves Me!’ before Draut illustrates the lead feature in #54 as ‘False Love!’ exposes a case of painfully mistaken intentions when a gang of kids all go out with the wrong partners… until bold Nan finally speaks her mind.

‘Love Against Time’ by Tony Abruzzo & Sachs shows schoolteacher Lisa that patience isn’t everything, after which ‘Too Much in Love!’(Romita) hints at a truly abusive relationship until Mandy’s rival tells her just why beloved Van acts that way…

‘An Empty Heart!’ (Arthur Peddy & Sachs or possibly Mortimer again) opens #55, revealing how insecure Mindy needs to date other boys just to be sure she can wait for beloved Sam to come back from the army, whilst Sachs’ ‘Heart-Shy’ Della takes took her own sweet time realising self-effacing Lon is the boy for her, after which the original and genuine Jay Scott Pike limns the tale of Janie who at last defies her snobbish, controlling mother and picks ‘Someone of My Own to Love’.

The romance dance concludes here with #56 and ‘A Visit to a Lost Love’ (actually Gene Colan): a bittersweet winter’s tale of paradise lost and regained, after which perpetually fighting Richy and Cindy realise ‘Believe it or Not… It’s Love’ (Abruzzo & Sachs), and ‘I’ll Make Him Love Me!’ (Sachs) show how scary Liz stalks Perry until she falls for her destined soul-mate Bud

As I’ve described, the listed credits are full of errors and whilst I’ve corrected those I know to be wrong I’ve also made a few guesses which might be just as wild and egregious (I’m still not unconvinced that many tales were simply rendered by a committee of artists working in desperate jam-sessions), so I can only apologise to all those it concerns, as well as fans who thrive on these details for the less-than-satisfactory job of celebrating the dedicated creators who worked on these all-but-forgotten items.

As for the tales themselves: they’re dated, outlandish and frequently borderline offensive in their treatment of women.

So were the times in which they were created, but that’s not an excuse.

However, there are many moments of true narrative brilliance to equal the astonishing quality of the artwork on show here, and by the end of this titanic torrid tome the tone of the turbulent times was definitely beginning to change as the Swinging part of the Sixties began and hippies, free love, flower power and female emancipation began scaring the pants off the old guard and reactionary traditionalists…

Not for wimps or sissies but certainly an unmissable temptation for all lovers of great comic art…
© 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Strange Adventures volume 2


By John Broome, Otto Binder, Gardner Fox, Edmond Hamilton, France E. Herron, Dave Wood, Ed Jurist, Joe Millard, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Sid Greene, Jerry Grandenetti, Howard Sherman, Frank Giacoia, Manny Stallman & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3846-9

Do you know what I miss? Compilations of classics anthological genre adventures.

Marvel finally wised up and recently began releasing gloriously evocative collections of their pre-superhero horror, sci fi and even war yarns but since DC stopped producing their cheap and cheerful compendia of similar material, something fabulous has been missing from our lives. Now with so many kinds of eBooks editions, it’s a crying shame that these whimsical, moody early fantasy romps are unavailable to readers of all ages and vintage. Let’s see why with this splendid and still enticing monochrome paperback tome

As the 1940s closed, masked mystery-men dwindled in popularity and the American comicbook industry found new heroes. Classic pulp fiction genre titles flourished; anthologies dedicated to crime, war, westerns, humour and horror were augmented by newer fads like funny animal, romance and most especially science fiction. In 1950, National Periodicals/DC finally escaped that last genre’s glorious thud-&-blunder/ray guns/bikini babes in giant fishbowl helmets magazine roots (as perfectly epitomised in the uniquely wonderful Golden Age icon Planet Comics) with Julius Schwartz’s introduction of Strange Adventures.

Packed with short adventures from jobbing SF writers and a plethora of new heroes such as Chris KL99, Captain Comet, Atomic Knights and others, the magnificent monthly compendium (supplemented a year later with sister-title Mystery in Space) introduced wide-eyed youngsters to a fantastical yet intrinsically rationalist universe and all its possible/probable wonders …

On a thematic note: a general but by no means concrete rule of thumb was that Strange Adventures generally took place on Earth or were at least Earth-adjacent whilst as the name suggests Mystery in Space offered readers the run of the rest of the universe…

Reprinting Strange Adventures #74-93 (November 1956 to June 1958), this second compelling collection features stories from the dawn of the Silver Age, offering fantastic fantasy plots and spectacular scenarios as an industry-wide resurgence of confidence and creativity gathered momentum and superheroes began to successfully reappear.

These stellar sagas would continually inform and shape DC’s slowly growing heroic adventure revival, whilst proving over and again that Weird Science and cosmic disaster were no match for the infallibility of human intellect and ingenuity. During this period many of the plots, gimmicks, MacGuffins, cover designs and even interior art were recycled for the more technologically-based, emergent costumed champions creeping back into public favour…

This mind-blowing, physics-challenging monochrome colossus opens with four classic vignettes, beginning with a terse thriller by John Broome & Carmine Infantino wherein a writer gains the power to see beyond the normal range and is the only human who can combat ‘The Invisible Invader from Dimension X!’, after which ‘The Metal Spy from Space!’ (Gardner Fox, Sid Greene & John Giunta) is similarly exposed and defeated by fictive pulp fictioneer “Edmond Hamilford”…

Fox, Greene & Bernard Sachs then reveal the vested interest of an investigator who obsessively seeks out ‘Earth’s Secret Visitors!’ before Edmond Hamilton, Gil Kane & Joe Giella detail how a notoriously hapless DIY dabbler finds himself in possession of the ‘Build-it-Yourself Spaceship!’

During this period editors were baffled by but still exploited a bizarre truism: every issue of any title which featured gorillas on the cover always showed increased sales. Little wonder then that so many DC comics had hairy headliners…

Strange Adventures #75 led with ‘Secret of the Man-Ape!’ by Otto Binder, Infantino & Giella, wherein a scientist intent on evolving apes into men accidentally acquires a test subject who just happens to be the vanguard of an invading alien anthropoid army, whilst ‘The 2nd Deluge of Earth!’ (Ed Jurist, Greene & Giella) sees a blind scientist save the world from Martians intent on taking over our water-rich world…

A meddlesome technologist happily makes amends and saves an imperilled alien civilisation after curiously poking his nose into the ‘Mystery of the Box from Space!’ (Binder, Kane & Sachs) before ‘This is Timearama!’ (Hamilton, Greene & Sachs) wittily and scathingly relates what happens when an honest researcher trusts businessmen with the secrets of his televisual time probe…

In issue #76 Broome, Infantino & Sachs explored the mission of a galactic saviour handicapped by fate as he strives to save humanity in ‘The Tallest Man on Earth!’, after which ‘The Flying Saucers that Saved the World!’ (Binder, Greene & Giella) reveals how a professional UFO debunker uses all he’s learned about hoaxes to counter an actual invasion by sinister subterraneans.

Although a short story anthology title, over the run of years Strange Adventures featured a number of memorable returning characters and concepts such as Star Hawkins or Space Museum. Darwin Jones of the Department of Scientific Investigation debuted in the very first issue, solving fringe or outright weird science dilemmas for the Federal Government.

A genius-level scientific detective, he made thirteen appearances over as many years and here resurfaces to foil the insidious schemes of ‘The Robot from Atlantis!’ (Binder, Kane & Giella), which feigns benevolent friendship whilst actually trying to eradicate mankind. The issue then concludes with the struggle of a geologist to get rid of ‘The Hungry Meteorite!’ (Dave Wood, Greene & Sachs) which threatens to absorb all the metal on Earth…

Another Darwin Jones thriller – by Broome, Infantino & Sachs – opened issue #77 when a Death Row convict is given superhuman intellectual abilities by desperate trans-dimension beings facing extinction. However, “Lobo” Torrence is prepared to let two worlds die to save himself, forcing the Science Detective to gamble everything on a last-ditch plan…

Hamilton, Greene & Giella then detail how ‘The Incredible Eyes of Arthur Gail!’ – damaged by a chemical accident and unable to detect non-organic materials – uncover a cruel criminal plot; Binder, Kane & Sachs expose the tragic secret of ‘The Paul Revere of Time!’ whose anonymous warnings prevent colossal loss of life and ‘The Mental Star-Rover!’ (Binder, Greene & Giella) reveals an uncanny connection between an Earth author and a piratical alien marauder…

Broome, Greene & Sachs opened Strange Adventures #78 with a spirited mash-up of Arthurian legend and The Prisoner of Zenda as mechanic Bruce Walker pinch-hits for an alien emperor in ‘The Secret of the Tom-Thumb Spacemen!’ after which Fox, Kane & Giella chillingly explore how existence depends on meteors when aliens attempt to steal ‘The Life Battery!’ which sustains our bio-sphere…

Binder & Infantino pose a classic quandary of ingenuity and survival after a prospector is stranded on a primitive island with a dead alien and a matter-transmuting device he believes is ‘The Magic Horn of Space!’ Immediately following, a test pilot is abducted into another dimension to become a guinea pig for inhuman predators as ‘The Prisoner of Space X!’ (France E. Herron, Greene & Sachs).

Issue #79 offered chilly seasonal fare with ‘Invaders from the Ice World!’ by Fox, Infantino & Sachs. When energy beings from Pluto possess snowmen in advance of an invasion it takes all of Darwin Jones’ deductive abilities to fathom their only weakness, after which ‘Around the Universe in 1 Billion Years!’ (Herron, Greene & Giella) follows a band of explorers who return to Terra after an eternity in space to discover a new race has supplanted them.

‘A Switch in Time!’ (Fox, Kane & Giella) then examines the fate of a conman who thinks himself the lucky recipient of the greatest deal in history before Hamilton, Jerry Grandenetti & Giella expose the incredible secret of ‘The Living Automobile!’ which kidnaps its driver…

Binder handled most of the writing in #80, beginning with a smart take on intellectual property as the Kane & Giella illustrated ‘Mind Robbers of Venus!’ depicts alien crooks stashing their loot in the brain of electronics engineer Ian Caldwell before Greene & Giella take over for ‘The Worlds That Switched Places!’ wherein an astronaut makes a terrible mistake that almost dooms two different dimensions.

Fox & Infantino demonstrated the duplicitous saga of Plutonian Jul Van and ‘The Anti-Invasion Machine!’ which almost destroyed Earth before Binder returns with artist Howard Sherman to seal the fate of an avaricious inventor who believes himself ‘The Man who Cheated Time!’

Strange Adventures #81 featured a subatomic would-be tyrant kidnapping convict brothers to be his tools in an ambitious plot, but the deranged alien has no idea of the ‘Secret of the Shrinking Twins!’ (Broome, Infantino & Sachs) and consequently pays a heavy price, after which Binder, Greene & Giella pit an Earth naturalist against a potential world conqueror in ‘The Spaceman of 1,000 Disguises!’

‘The Friendly Enemies of Space!’ (Herron, Kane & Sachs) details a series of natural disasters which ruin Earth’s first contact with benevolent extra-solar life before Fox, Grandenetti & Frank Giacoia examined the fallout of a lost artefact from a higher dimension when ‘The Magic Box from Nowhere!’ drops into the hands of ordinary, greedy humans…

In #82, Herron, Infantino & Sachs’s bellicose and awesome ‘Giants of the Cosmic Ray!’ meet their match in a humble earth scientist, whilst a gobsmacked youth is astounded to discover his adoptive parents were aliens when he becomes ‘The Man Who Inherited Mars!’ (Binder, Greene & Giella)…

A lack of communication would have led to disaster had science fiction writer Owen Bently not deduced the incredible ‘Secret of the Silent Spaceman!’ (Binder, Giacoia & Giella) after which a researcher saves Earth from invaders by turning their technology against them on ‘The Day Science Went Wild!’ (Binder, Greene & Giella).

Strange Adventures #83 sees a simple college Professor revealed as an amnesiac chrononaut who has to rediscover and complete his ‘Assignment in Eternity!’ before time runs out (Binder, Greene & Giella again), whilst actor Mark Gordon finds himself hunting fans-turned-spree criminals as the ‘Private Eye of Venus!’ (Fox & Infantino) when his hit TV show inadvertently becomes the sensation of the telepathic inhabitants of our sister planet…

Herron, Greene & Giella detail a misunderstanding which reduces gigantic Good Samaritan ‘The Volcanic Man!’ to the status of an invading monster after which an accident leads to brain injury for an ordinary mortal. As crafted by Herron, Kane & Sachs, his wounds are repaired by passing aliens, but the victim develops uncanny precognitive abilities in ‘The Future Mind of Roger Davis!’

Ray Jenkins is a wealthy man who brings unearned fame and prestige in SA #84, but the glory-hound meets his fate when he encounters the ‘Prisoners of the Atom Universe!’ (Broome, Infantino & Sachs) whilst a harried scientist prevents ‘The Radioactive Invasion of Earth!’ (Fox, Greene & Sachs) when he realises Martians also can’t abide his kids’ Rock ‘n’ Roll music…

Darwin Jones returns to solve the ‘Riddle of the Walking Robots!’ (Herron, Infantino & Giella) which ceaselessly roam Earth sowing alien seeds, after which schoolboy Tommy Ward’s “Electronic Brain” kit becomes ‘The Toy that Saved the World!’ (Binder, Greene & Giella)… once he stops scrupulously following the instructions…

John Broome scripted the first half of issue #85, leading with artists Greene & Sachs’ ‘The Amazing Human Race!’, wherein a scientist uncovers a plot by Praying Mantises to conquer humanity before a colour-blind student finds affirmation when his disability saves an alien civilisation from destruction in ‘The Colorless World of Peter Brandt!’ (Infantino & Giella).

Binder closed the issue with a brace of tales: ‘The Riddle of Spaceman X!’ (Greene & Giella) with human scientists trying to deduce the form of an alien from examining his “abandoned” ship whilst ‘Thieves of Thought!’ (Infantino & Sy Barry) follows a speleologist who unearths a city of robots telepathically appropriating human inventions for the purposes of conquest…

In SA #86, ‘The Dog That Saved the Earth!’ (Broome, Infantino & Sachs) discloses how alien energy transforms an ordinary mutt into a telepathic genius in time to prevent a cosmic catastrophe after which Binder, Infantino & Giella reveal how an ordinary chemist ends an ‘Interplanetary Space-Feud!’ threatening to devastate the world.

Gardner Fox then finished off the issue with two intriguing enigmas. Spelunker Bill Jackson stumbles onto an alien ship and discovers only he can stop ‘The One-Hour Invasion of Earth!’ (art by Giacoia), whilst Greene & Giella reveal how schoolboy John Haldane is saved by a mysterious stranger in payment for a similar service performed two decades hence during ‘The Weather War of 1977!’

Strange Adventures #87 begins with Herron, Infantino & Giella’s ingenious ‘New Faces for Old!’, wherein the ultimate plastic surgery craze is nothing but a crafty scheme by aliens to ferret out freedom fighters hiding amidst teeming humanity whilst ‘Mystery Language from Space!’ (Fox, Greene & Sachs) shows how a warning of planetary doom is nearly wasted as nobody can read the messages…

Fox, Infantino & Giella then detail how a freshly graduated Air Force pilot is abruptly seconded to the red planet to combat the ‘Meteor Menace of Mars!’ before Binder, Greene & Giella describe how an ingenious writer is tapped by aliens in dire distress to be ‘The Interplanetary Problem-Solver!’

Simian allure informed issue #88 as Herron, Infantino & Giella depicted Darwin Jones thwarting ‘The Gorilla War against Earth!’ and uncovering another alien invasion scheme whilst ‘The Warning Out of Time!’ (Binder, Greene & Sachs) reveals how a lost Da Vinci masterpiece conceals prophetic warnings of future disasters.

A mysterious and diligent ‘Bodyguard from Space!’ (Fox, Infantino & Sachs) attaches himself to cameraman Jim Carson because the human’s brain contains knowledge to save a dying civilisation, after which Binder, Greene & Giella pose a classic survival conundrum as Earth scientists struggled to discern ‘The Secret of the Sleeping Spaceman!’

When Saturnians raided our world in issue #89, one scientist advises neither capitulation nor resistance but instead suggests offering ‘Earth for Sale’ (Herron, Infantino & Sachs) to save humanity, after which a professor vanishes from view to find himself a ‘Prisoner of the Rainbow!’ (Binder, Greene & Giella).

A pilot on a mercy mission takes an accidental ‘Detour in Time!’ and saves future humanity in a chiller by Fox, Grandenetti & Giella before Binder, Greene & Giella’s ‘Mystery of the Unknown Invention!’ sees a nosy neighbour’s prying accidentally saving a world… but not his own…

Issue #90 opens with ‘The Day I Became a Martian!’ (Binder, Infantino & Sachs), revealing how prospective invaders periodically transform a sci fi writer to see if Earth can sustain them after which Fox, Greene & Giunta recount how a bookshop owner endures regular clandestine visits from an extraterrestrial seeking ‘The 100,000 Year Old Weapon!’

Binder also scripted the final brace of astounding yarns as an ‘Amazing Gift from Space!’ (illustrated by Infantino & Sachs) sees human suspicion nearly spurn an incredible opportunity and doom two civilisations, whilst the Greene & Giella limned ‘Mystery of Meteor Crater!’ offers a thrilling battle between Jovian invaders and ordinary Earthmen for the most powerful element in creation…

In #91 ‘The Midget Earthman of Jupiter!’ (Broome, Greene & Sachs) portrays how an Olympic decathlete assists Brobdingnagian aliens in a struggle for democratic freedom whilst Binder, Greene & Giunta’s ‘Warning to Earth!’ features an oceanographer afflicted with a mental block attempting to circumvent his psychic gag and alert the surface-world to impending undersea invasion…

Fox, Manny Stallman & Giella then detail a shipwrecked extraterrestrial swindler’s scheme to trick Earth into building his ride home after discovering ‘The Amazing Tree of Knowledge!’, before ‘Prisoner of the Space Satellite!’ (Binder, Infantino & Sachs) reveals how an isolated astronomer solves a mathematical mystery and saves the last survivor of Atlantis from death in space…

SA #92 offered a more literal tale from Joe Millard, Infantino & Sachs as ‘The Amazing Ray of Knowledge!’ boosts the intellect of children just as a sidereal phenomenon threatens to destroy the solar system. Sadly, the effect was only temporary and when the kids revert to normal their solution is beyond the ken of their parents…

When an alien impostor dies in an accident the authorities uncover a plot to end humanity. ‘Earth – Planetary Bomb!’ by Fox & Giunta sees Jeff Morgan impersonate his own doppelganger to infiltrate the doom-ring and save the world, after which Fox, Stallman & Giella reveal how a magazine artist encounters ‘Models from Saturn’ and becomes embroiled in an interplanetary revolution.

‘The Ice-Age Message!’ by Binder & Greene then sees a TV weatherman deliver a forecast of meteorological Armageddon after clashing with aliens seeking to steal Earth’s carbon dioxide…

Strange Adventures #93 wraps up the nostalgic future-watching, beginning with extra-length thriller ‘Heart of the Solar System!’ (Millard, Infantino & Giella) wherein a space-traffic patrolman strives to protect the artificial organ which regulates the laws of physics in our sector of space from stellar marauders, after which Fox, Stallman & Sachs expose temporal meddlers whose experiments drop the first volume of a cosmic dictionary in the lap of a contemporary quiz show contestant.

Sadly as ‘The Wizard of A!’, Joe Bentley’s brief moment of fame almost eradicates the time continuum…

The final tale in this titanic tome is one last Darwin Jones romp as Fox & Giunta’s ‘Space Rescue by Proxy!’ describes the Science Sleuth’s dealings with a telepathic alien sent to warn Earth of impending doom. Tragically, the saviour himself falls into deadly danger and has to be rescued by Jones’ ingenuity…

Couched in the grand tradition of legendary pulp sci-fi editor John Campbell, with human ingenuity and decency generally solving the assorted crises of cosmic interaction, these yarns and sagas are a timeless highpoint of all-ages comics entertainment.

If you dream in steel and plastic and are still wondering why you don’t yet own a personal jet-pack or live on food-pills, this volume might go some way to assuaging that unquenchable fire for the stars…
© 1956, 1957, 1958, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.…

Showcase Presents the Haunted Tank volume 2


By Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath, Irv Novick, Joe Kubert, Sam Glanzman, Ross Andru, Doug Wildey & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0789-8

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature war comics. He also exceled in horror stories, westerns and superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman and many others too numerous to cover here.

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

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

When mystery-men faded out at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved into westerns and war stories, becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles: All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Army at War.

He created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio after Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956, all the while working on Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Sea Devils, Viking Prince and a host of others.

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

Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and frequently used his uncanny but formulaic adventure arenas as a testing ground for future series concepts. Among the many epochal war features he created were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, The War that Time Forgot and The Losers as well as the irresistibly compelling “combat ghost stories” collected here in this second stupendously expansive war-journal.

This terrific monochrome tome re-presents more blockbusting exploits of boyhood friends Jeb Stuart Smith, Arch Asher, Slim Stryker and Rick Rawlins (from G.I. Combat #120-156, October/November 1966 to October/November 1972) from a period during which superheroes rose to astonishing global dominance before almost vanishing into comicbook Valhalla once more.

Apparently immune to such tenuous trendiness, the battle-hardened veterans of the M-3 Stuart Light Tank – named for the legendary Confederate Army General who was a genius of cavalry combat, and haunted by his restless spirit – soldiered on, battling threats mortal and frequently metaphysical on many fronts during World War II. The series became – after Sgt. Rock – DC’s most successful and long-lived combat feature.

The tales were generally narrated by Jeb as he manned the Commander’s spotter-position (head and torso sticking out of the top hatch and completely exposed to enemy fire whilst driver Slim, gunner Rick and loader Arch remained relatively safe inside), constantly conversing with his spectral namesake who offered philosophy, advice and prescient, if often obscurely veiled, warnings …

Throughout the early days Jeb’s comrades continually argued about what to do with him. Nobody believed in the ghost and they all doubted their commander’s sanity, but since he began seeing the General, Stuart Smith had become a tactical genius and his “gifts” were keeping them all alive against incredible odds…

This volume opens with G.I. Combat #120 ‘Pull a Tiger’s Tail!’ – illustrated by Irv Novick – detailing how, after accompanying both Sgt. Rock and Navajo fighter-pilot Johnny Cloud on sorties, Jeb defies orders to capture a giant Tiger tank his own way…

Another spiritually-sponsored warrior, Cloud regularly communed with a mounted Indian Brave dubbed Big-Brother-in-the Sky, galloping across the heavens during his own high-flying missions.

The inspirational Russ Heath illustrated #121’s ‘Battle of Two Wars!’ wherein, after rescuing a shell-shocked pigeon, the tankers are inexplicably drawn back to WWI to save Sgt Rock’s father. He then returns the favour once the Stuart returns to its proper time, whilst in ‘Who Dies Next?’ (#122, with art by Novick), the General issues a dire proclamation that one of their own will not last the day out – a forecast that comes true in a most shocking manner…

Heath returned to the art with #123’s ‘The Target of Terror!’ as guest star Mlle. Marie returned with news of a secret weapon to be destroyed at all costs. Sadly, the French Resistance leader has partial amnesia and doesn’t remember exactly what or where…

In follow-up ‘Scratch that Tank!’ the crew’s shiny new replacement vehicle is a cause of acute embarrassment until it finally gains a few praiseworthy combat scars…

G.I. Combat #125 decrees ‘Stay Alive… Until Dark!’ as Jeb’s sorely reduced battle-group attempts to hold too much ground with too few tanks, culminating in a Horatian last stand in the shattered, cloistered streets of a tiny French town, after which the crew endure deadly desert warfare in a desperate search for Panzers hidden by a cunning ‘Tank Umbrella!’

Novick illustrated the gritty ‘Mission – Sudden Death!!’ in #127 as Mlle. Marie leads the tank-jockeys far from their combat comfort zone on an infantry raid to rescue her captured father, after which Heath returned to limn ‘The Ghost of the Haunted Tank!’

This superbly evocative thriller reveals the crew finally cracking during a brutal massed Panzer assault and restraining their clearly delusional commander for his own good. However, when solid, no-nonsense Slim takes the observer’s spot he too starts seeing the spectral sentinel and is forced to act on the apparition’s strategic advice…

Issue #129 is pure Kanigher poesy as ‘Hold that Town for a Dead Man!’ depicts the tankers rolling past an American soldier expired at his post, and swearing to eradicate the foes who felled him…

When the blistering cat-and-mouse duel seems to go against the crew they are saved by an impossible burst of gunfire fired by a cold, stiff hand…

In the afterlife all great military commanders sponsor mortal combatants. General Stuart is stuck looking after a pack of “Damned Yankees”, but the other side also has phantom patrons. G.I. Combat #130 sees the return of savage shade Attila the Hun, who directly attacks his revenant rival in a deadly ‘Battle of the Generals!’ Jeb can only watch helplessly whilst trying to save his tank from mundane but just as murderous German panzer, artillery and air attacks, until…

Their next mission took the crew and a band of savage child-warriors into the heart of Paris to rescue Mlle. Marie from the Gestapo in #131’s ‘The Devil for Dinner!’ The short-lived and extremely controversial Kid Guerrillas of Unit 3 had debuted in the Sgt. Rock tale from Our Army at War #194, June 1968.

Mike Sekowsky & Joe Giella stepped in to illustrate the follow-up wherein the Belle of La Resistance leads Jeb and the boy-soldiers – bizarrely disguised as a circus troupe – against merciless SS leader ‘The Executioner!’

The artists stayed on for #133’s ‘Operation: Death Trap’ as the Haunted Tank and crew are parachuted into North Africa to liberate enslaved natives working in a German diamond mine, before – following a ‘Special Battle Pin-up’ of the tankers by Joe Kubert – Ross Andru & Mike Esposito signed up for a stint, beginning with ‘Desert Holocaust’ wherein the tankers deal out vengeance for the three MacBane brothers; sibling tank-commanders slaughtered by the Afrika Korps.

Continuity was never a big concern for Kanigher and stories would often occur in no logical or chronological order. In #135 the lads are suddenly back in France, battling paratroopers and air-lifted Panzers with only aged WWI survivors to aid them in ‘Death is the Joker’, whilst ‘Kill Now – Pay Later!’ pits Tank against U-Boat and Jeb against its driven doom-obsessed Kommander in an improbable duel, before Heath returned in #137 to illustrate the African adventure ‘We Can’t See!’ Here the Americans are all temporarily blinded but nevertheless succeed in destroying a poison gas cache thanks to aid of a little Arab boy.

Kanigher often used his stories as a testing ground for new series ideas. G.I. Combat #138 introduced one of his most successful in ‘The Losers!’, when the Armoured Cavalry unit encounter a sailor, two marines and old friend Johnny Cloud, all utterly demoralised after losing the men under their respective commands.

Inspired by Jeb and a desire for revenge, the crushed survivors regain a measure of respect and fighting spirit after surviving a certain suicide-mission and destroying a Nazi Radar tower…

The new team were formed by amalgamating three old war series together. Gunner and Sarge (latterly supplemented by Pooch, the Fighting Devil Dog) were Pacific-based Marines debuting in All-American Men of War #67, March 1959 and running for fifty issues in Our Fighting Forces (#45-94, May 1959-August 1965).

Captain Johnny Cloud was a native American fighter pilot who shot down his first bogie in All-American Men of War #82. The “Navaho Ace” flew solo until issue #115, (1966) whilst Captain Storm was a disabled PT Boat skipper who fought on despite having a wooden left leg in his own eponymous 18-issue series from 1964 to 1967. All three series were originally created by comics warlord Kanigher and The Losers swiftly returned as an elite unit of suicide-soldiers starring in Our Fighting Forces.

G.I. Combat #139 again saw the Haunted Tank parachuted into an Arabian nightmare when the crew interrupt a funeral and save the widow from being forced onto the pyre with her deceased husband. ‘Corner of Hell’ finds Jeb wedding and losing his bride to Nazi sympathizers and an ancient prophecy…

Issue #140 featured a reprint not included here – although the new Kubert introduction page is – before the graphic narratives resume with ‘Let me Live… Let me Die!’ wherein Kanigher & Heath confront the topics of race and discrimination in a powerful tale describing the plight of African-American soldiers who were used as porters, gravediggers and ammunition carriers, but forbidden from bearing or actually using arms.

When Jeb arrives at a recently decimated ammo dump, the sole survivor of the Segregated Negro unit demands to accompany the crew and be allowed to fight and die like a man. Rushing to reinforce Sgt. Rock’s Easy Company and despite the thinly veiled disdain of Slim, Arch and Rick, when Jeb is wounded the valiant tag-along finally gets his chance…

G.I. Combat #142 finds Jeb obsessed with the moment of his own death in ‘Checkpoint – Death!’ but when the General isn’t forthcoming soon forgets it as an unseasonal snowstorm turns the world into a frozen hell…

‘The Iron Horseman!’ sees a frustrated WWI tanker finally get a chance to be a hero when Panzers attack a convent and Jeb’s crew are ambushed. There follows an informational spread ‘Battle Album: General Stuart Light Tank M31A’ – by Kubert – before #144 reveals a retrofitted Heath-illustrated origin for the Haunted Tanker in ‘Every Man a Fort!’

Now with Jeb a Northern Yankee, the tale reveals how he has to win with his fists the respect of pure-bred Southerners Rick, Slim and Arch before they let him call himself Jeb Stuart, and cements that bond during their first foray under fire in North Africa…

The desert milieu continued in #145’s ‘Sun, Sand & Death!’ when a sandstorm forces the tank off-course and leads them to an abandoned B-25 bomber, giving the dying pilot a chance to redeem his lost honour, whilst #146 sees the M-3 and its crew endure debilitating hazards battling the Afrika Korps but still persevering when the General advises Jeb to ‘Move the World!’

For some Americans the wounds of the Civil War still festered, as Jeb discovers when he encounters the hostile commander of a ‘Rebel Tank’ in #147. Of course, the Germans are happy to remind the feudsters who is currently doing all the shooting, after which in #148 ‘The Gold-Plated General!’ (a thinly disguised analogue of George S. “Blood and Guts” Patton) demands a spit-and-polish war, but even under combat conditions leads by painful example…

American services discrimination was again confronted in G.I. Combat#149 when a Jewish soldier joins the division in ‘Leave the Fighting to Us!’ Many of the good guys have to eat their words when the tank group liberates a Nazi concentration camp…

A major visual change came in #150 with ‘The Death of the Haunted Tank!’ This saw the M-3 destroyed in combat and the crew jury-rigging a jigsaw replacement from the remnants of other scrapped and abandoned but, unsurprisingly, bigger, more powerful vehicles.

Proving again that men and not the machine are the heart of the partnership, the General sticks around and when the new Haunted Tankers passes through an alpine village they eerily relive a mediaeval battle against barbarian invaders in #151’s ‘A Strong Right Arm!’ before bringing a Nazi infiltrator aboard who turns their homemade rolling fortress into a deadly ‘Decoy Tank’ to lure Allied forces into an ambush…

Comics and animation legend Doug Wildey replaced Heath for #153 as sentimental fool Jeb adopts a lost piglet, orphan puppy and lame duckling before completing his tank’s transformation into ‘The Armored Ark!’ by packing in a homeless and displaced family. This all happens while tracking down and eradicating a hidden Nazi rocket silo, after which the series took on a far grittier and raw feel with the addition of a new regular artist.

With G.I. Combat #154 (June/July 1972), unsung master and battle-scarred veteran Sam Glanzman began his decades-long association with the feature, pencilling and inking the blistering improbable ‘Battle Prize!’ wherein Haunted Tank and crew are captured and paraded before Hitler in Berlin before busting loose and heading East.

Soon after being hijacked by Polish Resistance fighters, the Yanks are stranded in ice-bound, siege-locked Russia…

Shamefully, Sam Glanzman is one of the least highly-regarded creators in American comics, despite having one of the longest careers and certainly one of the most unique styles. His work, in genres from war to mystery, westerns, science fiction, sword & sorcery, horror, fantasy and even graphic autobiography is passionate, powerful, subtly engaging and irresistibly compelling.

With a solid, uniquely rough-hewn style he has worked since the 1940s on a variety of titles for many companies, mostly on anthology material for fantasy, mystery, war and adventure titles, but also on serial characters such Attu, Sgt. Rock, Jonah Hex, Hercules and Jungle Tales of Tarzan for Charlton, Kona and Voyage to the Deep for Dell/Gold Key: magnificent action sagas that fired the imagination and stirred the blood, selling copies and winning a legion of fans amongst his fellow artists if not from the small but over-vocal fan-press.

His most significant works are undoubtedly semi-autobiographical graphic novels A Sailor’s Story and Wind, Dreams and Dragons, although his Vietnam set ‘The Lonely War of Willie Schultz’ and the subtly beguiling U.S.S. Stevens are arguably as important and unmissable.

Glanzman, born in 1924, was still active today producing online strips until his death in July 2017.

G.I. Combat #155 undertook ‘The Long Journey’ as the Haunted Tank experienced the worst horrors of war whilst trekking across the embattled Eastern Front. Aided by Russian partisans, women, children and dotards, they fought off the fascists with every drop of their blood and sweat whilst making their way to a port and the normal war…

This second sterling tome ends with the crew back in Africa where the desert and the Wehrmacht vie for the privilege of destroying the beleaguered tankers as their frantic search for fuel and water drags them ‘Beyond Hell’

An added attraction for art fans and battle buffs are the breathtaking covers by Heath and Kubert…

These spectacular tales took the Haunted Tank through tumultuous times when America fervently questioned the very nature and necessity of war. Vietnam was progressively blighting the nation’s sensibilities, and in response DC’s war comics addressed the issue and also confronted the problems of race and gender roles in a most impressive and sensitive manner.

As always, they combine spooky chills with combat thrills and a fierce examination of both war and warriors but always offer a powerful human message that has never dated and may well rank this work amongst the very best war stories ever produced. Hopefully someday soon you’ll be able to experience them in respectable modern archival editions too.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 2008, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Metamorpho, the Element Man


By Bob Haney, Gardner Fox, Ramona Fradon, Joe Orlando, Sal Trapani, Charles Paris & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0762-5

By the time Metamorpho, the Element Man was introduced to the costumed hero-obsessed world the first vestiges of a certifiable boom were just becoming apparent. As such the light-hearted, almost absurdist take struck a Right-time, Right-place chord, blending far out adventure with tongue-in-cheek comedy.

The bold, brash Man of a Thousand Elements debuted in The Brave and the Bold #57 (December 1964/January 1965) and, after a follow-up try-out in the next issue, catapulted right into his own title for an eclectic and oddly engaging 17-issue run. Sadly, this canny monochrome compendium – collecting all those eccentric adventures plus team-up tales from B&B #66 and 68 and Justice League of America #42) – is currently the only archival collection available. Until someone rectifies that situation, at least you can revel in some truly enchanting black-&-white illustration…

Unlike most of these splendid Showcase editions, the team-up stories here are not re-presented in original publication order but closeted together at the back, so if stringent continuity is important to you, the always informative old-school credit-pages will enable you to navigate the wonderment in the correct sequence…

Sans dreary preamble the action commences with ‘The Origin of Metamorpho’ written by Bob Haney (who created the character and wrote everything here except the JLA story). The captivating art is by Ramona Fradon & Charles Paris and introduces glamorous he-man Soldier of Fortune Rex Mason, currently working as a globe-trotting artefact procurer and agent for ruthlessly acquisitive scientific genius/business tycoon Simon Stagg.

Mason is obnoxious and insolent but his biggest fault as far as his boss is concerned is that the mercenary dares to love and be loved by the millionaire’s only daughter Sapphire

Determined to rid himself of the impudent Mason, Stagg dispatches his potential son-in-law to retrieve a fantastic artefact dubbed the Orb of Ra from the lost pyramid of Ahk-Ton in Egypt. The tomb raider is accompanied only by Java, a previously fossilised Neanderthal corpse Rex had discovered in a swamp and which (whom?) Stagg had subsequently restored to full life. Mason plans to take his final fabulous fee and whisk Sapphire away from her controlling father forever, but fate and his companion have other ideas…

Utterly faithful to the scientific wizard who was his saviour, Java sabotages the mission and leaves Mason to die in the tomb, victim of an ancient, glowing meteor. The man-brute rushes back to his master, carrying the Orb and fully expecting Stagg to honour his promise and give him Sapphire in marriage…

Trapped, knowing his time has come; Mason swallows a suicide pill as the scorching rays of the star-stone burn through him…

Instead of death relieving his torment Rex is mutated into a ghastly chemical freak capable of shape-shifting and transforming into any of the elements or compounds that comprised the human body: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, calcium, iron, cobalt and so many others…

Hungry for vengeance, Mason follows and confronts his betrayers only to be overcome by the alien energies of the Orb of Ra. An uneasy détente is declared as Mason accepts Stagg’s desperate offer to cure him …“if possible”.

The plutocrat is further horrified when Rex reveals his condition to Sapphire and finds she still loves him. Totally unaware of Stagg’s true depths of duplicity, Mason starts working for the tycoon as metahuman problem-solver Metamorpho, the Element Man.

Brave and the Bold #58 (February-March 1965) reveals more of Stagg’s closeted skeletons when old partner Maxwell Tremayne kidnaps the Element Man and later abducts Sapphire to his ‘The Junkyard of Doom!’ Apparently, the deranged armaments manufacturer was once intimately acquainted with the girl’s mother and never quite got over it…

The try-out comics were an unqualified success and Metamorpho promptly debuted in his own title, cover-dated July-August 1965, just as the wildly tongue-in-cheek “High Camp” craze was catching on in all areas of popular culture; blending ironic vaudevillian kitsch with classic movie premises as theatrical mad scientists and scurrilous spies began to appear everywhere.

‘Attack of the Atomic Avenger’ sees nuclear nut-job Kurt Vornak trying to crush Stagg Industries, only to be turned into a deadly, planet-busting radioactive super-atom, after which ‘Terror from the Telstar’ pits the charismatic cast against Nicholas Balkan, a ruthless criminal boss set on sabotaging America’s Space Program.

Mad multi-millionaire T.T. Trumbull then uses his own daughter Zelda to get to Simon Stagg through his heart, accidentally proving to everyone who knew him that the old goat actually has one. This was part of the maniac’s attempt to seize control of America in ‘Who Stole the U.S.A.?’, but the ambitious would-be despot backed up the scheme with an incredible robot specifically designed to destroy Metamorpho.

Happily, Rex Mason’s guts and ingenuity proved more effective than the Element Man’s astonishing powers…

America saved, the dysfunctional family head South of the Border, becoming embroiled in ‘The Awesome Escapades of the Abominable Playboy’ as Stagg tries to marry Sapphire off to Latino Lothario Cha Cha Chavez. The wilful girl is simply trying to make Mason jealous and had no idea of her dad’s true plans; Stagg senior has no conception of Chavez’s real intentions or connections to the local tin-pot dictator…

With this issue the gloriously stylish Ramona Fradon left the series, to be replaced by two artists who strove to emulate her unique, gently madcap manner of drawing with varying degrees of success. Luckily veteran inker Charles Paris stayed on to smooth out the rough edges…

First up was E.C. veteran Joe Orlando whose 2-issue tenure began with outrageous doppelganger drama ‘Will the Real Metamorpho Please Stand Up?’ wherein eccentric architect Edifice K. Bulwark tries to convince Mason to lend his abilities to his chemical skyscraper project. When Metamorpho declines Bulwark and Stagg attempt to create their own Element Man… with predictably disastrous consequences.

‘Never Bet Against an Element Man!’ (#6 May-June 1966) took the team to the French Riviera as gambling grandee Achille Le Heele snookers Stagg and wins “ownership” of Metamorpho. The Creepy Conchon’s ultimate goal necessitated stealing the world’s seven greatest wonders (such as the Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower) and, somehow, only the Element Man can make that happen…

Sal Trapani took over pencilling with #7’s ‘Terror from Fahrenheit 5,000!’ as the acronymic super-spy fad hits hard. Metamorpho is enlisted by the C.I.A. to stop suicidal maniac Otto Von Stuttgart destroying the entire planet by dropping a nuke into the Earth’s core, before costumed villain Doc Dread is countered by an undercover Metamorpho becoming ‘Element Man, Public Enemy!’ in a diabolical caper of doom and double-cross…

Metamorpho #9 shifted into the realm of classic fantasy when suave and sinister despot El Mantanzas maroons the cast in ‘The Valley That Time Forgot!’: battling cavemen and antediluvian alien automatons, after which a new catalysing element is added in ‘The Sinister Snares of Stingaree!’

This yarn introduces Urania Blackwell – a secret agent somehow transformed into an Element Girl and sharing all Metamorpho’s incredible abilities. Not only is she dedicated to eradicating evil such as criminal cabal Cyclops, but Urania is also the perfect paramour for Rex Mason…

He even cancels his wedding to Sapphire to go gang-busting with her…

With a new frisson of sexual chemistry sizzling beneath the surface, ‘They Came from Beyond?’ finds the conflicted Element Man confronting an apparent alien invasion whilst ‘The Trap of the Test-Tube Terrors!’ provides another attempt to cure Rex of his unwanted powers. This allows mad scientist Franz Zorb access to Stagg Industry labs long enough to build an army of chemical horrors…

The plot thickens with Zorb’s theft of a Nucleonic Moleculizer, prompting a continuation in #14 wherein Urania is abducted only to triumphantly experience ‘The Return from Limbo’

Events and stories grew increasingly outlandish and outrageous as the TV superhero craze intensified and ‘Enter the Thunderer!’ (#14, September/October 1967) depicted Rex pulled between Sapphire and Urania as marauding extraterrestrial Neutrog terrorises the planet in preparation for the awesome arrival of his mighty mutant master.

The next instalment heralded an ‘Hour of Armageddon!’ as the uniquely menacing Thunderer takes control of Earth until boy genius Billy Barton assists the Elemental defenders in defeating the mutant horror.

Trapani inked himself for Metamorpho #16; an homage to H. Rider Haggard’s She novels wherein ‘Jezeba, Queen of Fury!’ changes the Element Man’s life forever.

When Sapphire marries playboy Wally Bannister, the heartbroken Element Man undertakes a mission to find the lost city of Ma-Phoor. Here he encounters an undying beauty who wants to conquer the world and just happens to be Sapphire’s exact double.

Moreover, the immortal empress of a lost civilisation had once loved an Element Man of her own: a Roman soldier named Algon transformed into a chemical warrior two millennia previously.

Believing herself reunited with her lost love, Jezeba finally launches her long-delayed attack on the outside world with disastrous, tragic consequences…

The strangely appetising series came to a shuddering and unsatisfactory halt with the next issue as the superhero bubble burst and costumed comic characters suffered their second recession in fifteen years. Metamorpho was one of the first casualties, cancelled just as (or perhaps because) the series was emerging from its quirky comedic shell with the March-April 1968 issue.

Illustrated by Jack Sparling, ‘Last Mile for an Element Man!’ sees Mason tried and executed for the murder of Wally Bannister, resurrected by Urania Blackwell and set on the trail of true killer Algon. Along the way, Mason and Element Girl uncover a vast, incredible conspiracy and rededicate themselves to defending humanity at all costs.

The tale ends on a never-resolved cliffhanger: when Metamorpho was revived a few years later no mention was ever made of these last game-changing issues…

The elemental entertainment doesn’t end here though as this tome somewhat expiates the frustrating denouement with three terrific team-up tales beginning with The Brave and the Bold #66 (June/July 1966) and ‘Wreck the Renegade Robots’ where a mad scientist usurps control of the Metal Men just as their creator Will Magnus is preoccupied turning Metamorpho back into an ordinary mortal…

Two issues later (B& B #68 October/November 1966) the still Chemically Active Crime-buster battles Bat-Baddies Penguin, Joker and Riddler as well as a fearsomely mutated Caped Crusader in the thoroughly bizarre ‘Alias the Bat-Hulk!’ – both tales coming courtesy of Haney, Mike Sekowsky & Mike Esposito.

Sekowsky also drew the last story in this volume. Justice League of America #42 (February 1966) sees the hero joyfully join the World’s Greatest Superheroes to defeat a cosmic menace deemed The Unimaginable. The grateful champions instantly offer him membership but are astounded when – and why – ‘Metamorpho Says… No!’: a classic adventure written by Gardner Fox and inked by Bernard Sachs.

The wonderment finally concludes with a sterling pin-up of the Element Man and his core cast by Fradon & Paris.

Individually enticing, always exciting but oddly frustrating in total, this book will delight readers who aren’t too wedded to cloying continuity but simply seek a few moments of casual, fantastic escapism.
© 1965-1967, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents the Haunted Tank Volume 1


By Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath, Irv Novick, Jerry Grandenetti, Joe Kubert, Jack Abel & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0789-2

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature war comics, horror stories and superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Flash, Batman and others genres too numerous to mention here.

He also scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age introducing Barry Allen as the new Flash to the hero-hungry kids of the world in 1956.

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

In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. Whilst writing Flash and Hawkman, he created Black Canary and, decades later, debuted another memorable female lead in Lady Cop, as well as many memorable villainesses such as Harlequin and Rose and the Thorn.

This last torrid noir temptress he redesigned during the relevancy era of the early 1970s into a schizophrenic crime-busting super-heroine who haunted the back of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, which Kanigher also scripted.

When mystery-men faded out at the end of the 1940s, the ever-resourceful writer/editor shifted over to westerns and war stories, becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles: All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Army at War.

He created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his burgeoning battle-portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956, all the while providing scripts for Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Sea Devils, Viking Prince and a host of others.

Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and frequently used his uncanny but formulaic adventure arenas as a testing ground for future series concepts. Among the many epochal war features he created were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, The War that Time Forgot and The Losers as well as the irresistibly compelling “combat ghost stories” collected in this stunning and economical monochrome war-journal.

This terrific first monochrome tome re-presents the early blockbusting exploits of boyhood friends Jeb Stuart Smith, Arch Asher, Slim Stryker and Rick Rawlins as depicted in G.I. Combat #87-119 (April/May 1961- August/September 1966) and also includes guest-star missions from The Brave and the Bold #52 (February/March 1964) and Our Army at War #155 (June 1965).

The eerie action begins with ‘Introducing – the Haunted Tank’, illustrated by the sublime Russ Heath. In this introductory tale the now-adult pals are all assigned to the same M-3 Stuart Light Tank, named for the legendary Confederate Army General who was a strategic wizard of cavalry combat. During a patrol the underdog neophytes somehow destroy an enemy Panzer even though they are all knocked unconscious in the process…

Narrated by Jeb as he mans the Commander’s spotter-position (head and torso sticking out of the top hatch and completely exposed to enemy fire whilst driver Slim, gunner Rick and loader Arch remain inside) the tanker recounts how a ghostly voice seems to offer advice and prescient, if veiled, warnings. These statements and their midget war machine soon draw the jibes of fellow soldiers who drive bigger, tougher war machines…

Eventually the little tank proves its worth and Jeb wonders if he imagined it all due to shock and his injuries, but in #88 ‘Haunted Tank vs. the Ghost Tank’, Jeb is actually seeing and conversing with his phantom namesake as he and the boys solve the utterly rational mystery of an enemy battle-wagon which seems to disappear at will.

‘Tank with Wings’ in G.I. Combat #89 was illustrated by Irv Novick and describes how old General Stuart’s impossible prophecy comes chillingly true after the M-3 shoots down a fighter plane whilst hanging from a parachute, after which Heath returned to limn a brutal and staggering clash against German ‘Tank Raiders’ who steal the Americans’ haunted home on treads.

Throughout the early days Jeb’s comrades continually argued about what to do with him. Nobody believed in the ghost and they all doubted his sanity, but ever since he began to see the spirit soldier Stuart Smith had somehow become a tactical genius. His “gifts” were keeping them all alive against incredible, impossible odds.

In #91’s ‘The Tank and the Turtle’ a chance encounter with a plucky terrapin leads to brutal clashes with strafing aircraft, hidden anti-tank guns and a booby-trapped village whilst ‘The Tank of Doom’ (illustrated by Jerry Grandenetti) sees the snowbound tank-jockeys witnessing true heroism and learning that flesh, not steel, wins wars…

In #93 Heath depicted a ‘No-Return Mission’ which depleted American tank forces until the Ghostly General took a spectral hand to guide his mortal protégé through a veritable barrage of traps and ambushes, after which ‘The Haunted Tank vs. the Killer Tank’ seeks to widen the General’s role as the phantom protector agonises over intel he is forbidden to share with his Earthly namesake during a combined Allied push to locate a Nazi terror-weapon.

This time it’s the young sergeant who has to provide his own answers…

The rest of the crew are near breaking point and ready to hand Jeb over to the medics in #95’s ‘The Ghost of the Haunted Tank’, but when Slim assumes command he too begins to see and hear the General amidst the blistering heat of battle…

In ‘The Lonesome Tank’ Jeb is back in the hot-seat and scoffing at other tank commanders’ reliance on lucky talismans, until the General seemingly abandons him and he is pushed to the brink of desperation, after which G.I. Combat #97’s ‘The Decoy Tank’ proves that a brave man makes his own luck after a Nazi infiltrator takes the entire crew hostage.

‘Trap of Dragon’s Teeth’ allows the Ghostly Guardian to teach Jeb a useful lesson in trusting one’s own senses over weapons and machinery in combat, and issue #99 greets the legendary Joe Kubert who opens a stint on the series in the book-length thriller ‘Battle of the Thirsty Tanks’, with the Stuart labouring under desert conditions which reduce both German and American forces to thirsty wrecks as they struggled to capture a tantalising oasis.

The crew reveal that their fathers had all been tank jockeys in WWI who had disappeared in action when ‘Return of the Ghost Tank’ in #100 finds the lads back in Europe. Shock follows shock as they realise their sires had all been part of the same crew and credibility is further stretched when the M-3 begins to retrace and re-enact the last mission of their missing fathers…

Any doubts about whether the General is real or imagined are finally laid to rest in #101’s ‘The Haunted Tank vs. Attila’s Battle Tiger’ (illustrated by Jack Abel), as the evil spirit of the barbarian becomes patron to a German Panzer and opens a campaign to destroy both the living and dead Jeb Stuarts, after which Kubert returned for ‘Battle Window’; a moving tale of old soldiers wherein a broken-down nonagenarian French warrior is given one final chance to serve his country as the American tank blithely trundles into a perfect ambush…

A particularly arcane prognostication in #103 drives Jeb crazy until ‘Rabbit Punch for a Tiger’ shows him how improvisation can work like magic in a host of hostile situations, whilst ‘Blind Man’s Radar’ helps the crew complete a dead man’s mission after picking up the sightless sole survivor of an Allied attack…

In the mid-1960s before the Batman TV show led to rampant “Bat-mania”, The Brave and the Bold was a comicbook featuring team-ups of assorted DC stars.

Issue #52 (February/March 1964) grouped Tankman Stuart with Sgt. Rock and Lt. Cloud as the 3 Battle Stars in ‘Suicide Mission! Save Him or Kill Him!’ (Kanigher & Kubert). In this superb thriller the armoured cavalry, infantry and Air Force heroes join forces to escort and safeguard a vital Allied agent who had been sealed into a cruel and all-encompassing iron suit.

Fast-paced, action-packed and utterly outrageous, the perilous chase across occupied France produced one of the best battle blockbusters of the era.

Back in G.I. Combat #105 the ‘Time-Bomb Tank!’ starts seconds after the B&B yarn as the Haunted Tank receives intel that Sgt. Rock’s Easy Company are under attack. As they dash to the rescue, however, circumstances soon cause the M-3 to become a mobile Marie Celeste…

The ‘Two-Sided War’ finds Jeb promoted to Lieutenant and suffering apparent hallucinations where he and his crew are trapped in the Civil War, after which #107’s ‘The Ghost Pipers!’ details how the tankers aid the last survivor of a Scottish battalion in an attack that actually spans two wars, before the armoured cavalrymen again team up with Rock in ‘The Wounded Won’t Wait’. As Rick, Arch and Slim are injured, the Easy Co. topkick rides shotgun on the brutal return trip back to base…

Issue #109’s ‘Battle of the Tank Graveyard’ downplays the supernatural overtones in a more straightforward clash deep within a deadly mountain pass whilst ‘Choose Your War’ has the Confederate General chafing at his role assisting “Union” cavalry… until circumstances again seem to place the modern soldiers in a historical setting and the two Jeb Stuarts work out their differences.

For #111’s ‘Death Trap’ the uncanny crew again work with Easy Company – in the desert this time since continuity was never a big concern for Kanigher – but when the M-3 is captured by the enemy, Jeb and the boys endure a bloody taste of infantry fighting before taking it back.

‘No Stripes for Me’ is actually a Sgt. Rock adventure from Our Army at War #155 (June 1965) with the Haunted Tank in close support as a battle-hungry General’s son continually refuses the commendations and promotions his valiant actions deserve, no matter what the cost to men or morale around him…

Rock and Jeb stayed together for G.I. Combat #112’s struggle against the Luftwaffe ‘Ghost Ace!’ who is Attila the Hun’s latest mortal avatar: a blistering supernatural shocker that once more forces the Phantom General to take a spectral hand in the battle against evil, after which ‘Tank Fight in Death Town!’ sees the war following the M-3 crew back into a much-needed leave.

Luckily Rock and Easy Co. are around to provide vigorous fire-support…

After nearly four years in the saddle, scripter Kanigher decided to revamp the backstory of the crew and issue #114 (October/November 1965) featured the Russ Heath illustrated ‘Battle Origin of the Haunted Tank’ with the General revealing that he had been assigned to watch over the M-3’s boys by Alexander the Great.

In the afterlife all great military commanders sponsor mortal combatants but Stuart had refused to pick anybody and was stuck looking after “Damned Yankees”. Happily, the courage and mettle of the boys under fire had changed many of his opinions after watching their first battle in the deserts of North Africa…

Heath also drew the team-up in #115 wherein Jeb is reunited with Navajo fighter-pilot Johnny Cloud as ‘Medal for Mayhem’ pits both spiritually-sponsored warriors against overwhelming odds and forced to trade places in the air and on the ground. (Cloud regularly encountered a cirrus-mounted Indian Brave dubbed Big-Brother-in-the Sky galloping across the heavens during his fighter missions…)

Novick then illustrated a sequel when Cloud and Stuart help proud Greek soldier Leonidas fulfil his final mission in the stirring ‘Battle Cry of a Dead Man!’

‘Tank in the Icebox’ in #117 is another Heath martial masterpiece wherein a baffling mystery is solved and a weapon that turns the desert into a frozen hell is destroyed before Novick assumes the controls for the last two tales in this volume, beginning with ‘My Buddy… My Enemy’ wherein a bigoted Slim learns tragically too late that not all Japanese soldiers are monsters and #119 again asks difficult questions when Jeb and the crew must escort an American deserter to his execution, with German forces attempting to kill them all before they got there in ‘Target for a Firing Squad!’

An added attraction for art fans and battle buffs are the breathtaking covers by Heath, Kubert and Grandenetti, many of them further enhanced through the stunning tonal values added by DC’s brilliant chief of production Jack Adler.

These spectacular tales cover the Haunted Tank through the blazing gung-ho early years to a time when America began to question the very nature and necessity of war (Vietnam was just beginning to really hurt the home front in 1966) and combat comics started addressing the issues in a most impressive and sensitive manner.

The stories here combine spooky chills with combat thrills but always offer a powerful human message that has never dated and may well rank amongst the very best war stories ever produced. This is a series long overdue for a modern archival and digital renaissance.
© 1961-1966, 2006 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents The Witching Hour volume 1


By Alex Toth, Bob Haney, George Kashdan, Ed Herron, Jack Miller, Carl Wessler, Dennis O’Neil, Steve Skeates, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, Jack Oleck, Mike Friedrich, Alan Riefe, Dave Kaler, Phil Seuling, Jack Phillips, Murray Boltinoff, Sergio Aragonés, Nick Cardy, Carmine Infantino, Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Mike Sekowsky, George Tuska, Wally Wood, Dick Giordano, Joe Orlando, Bob Brown, Gray Morrow, Murphy Anderson, Pat Boyette, Bill Draut, Howard Sherman, Howard Post, Jerry Grandenetti, John Celardo, Art Saaf, Jack Sparling, Michael Wm. Kaluta, José Delbo, Lee Elias, Sid Greene, Jeff Jones, Tony DeZuñiga, Bernie Wrightson, Jim Aparo, John Calnan & many & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-196-6

American comicbooks started slowly until the creation of superheroes unleashed a torrent of creative imitation and invented a new genre. Implacably vested in the Second World War, the Overman swept all before him (and the far too occasional her) until the troops came home and more traditional genres supplanted the Fights ‘n’ Tights crowd.

Although new kids kept up the buying, much of the previous generation also retained their four-colour habit but increasingly sought older themes in the reading matter. The war years altered the psychology of the world, and as a more world-weary, cynical young public came to see that all the fighting and dying hadn’t really changed anything, their chosen forms of entertainment (film and prose as well as comics) reflected this. As well as Western, War and Crime comics, madcap escapist comedy and anthropomorphic funny animal features were immediately resurgent, but gradually another periodic revival of spiritualism and interest in the supernatural led to a wave of increasingly impressive, evocative and even shocking horror comics.

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

Almost every publisher jumped on an increasingly popular bandwagon, with B & I (which became the magical one-man-band Richard E. Hughes’ American Comics Group) launching the first regularly published horror comic in the Autumn of 1948 – although Adventures Into the Unknown was technically pipped by Avon, who had released an impressive single issue entitled Eerie in January 1947 before launching a regular series in 1951.

By this time Classics Illustrated had already long-milked the literary end of the medium with adaptations of the Headless Horseman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (both 1943), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1944) and Frankenstein (1945) among others.

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

The company that would become DC Comics eventually bowed to the inevitable, launching a comparatively straight-laced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles with the December 1951/January 1952 launch of The House of Mystery.

When the hysterical censorship scandal which led to witch-hunting hearings (feel free to type Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, April-June 1954 into your search engine at any time… you can do that because it’s still notionally a free country at time of writing) was curtailed by the industry adopting a castrating straitjacket of self-regulatory rules.

HoM and its sister title House of Secrets were dialled back into rationalistic, fantasy adventure vehicles, which nevertheless dominated the market until the 1960s when super-heroes (which had started to creep back after Julius Schwartz began the Silver Age of comics by reintroducing The Flash in Showcase #4, 1956) finally overtook them.

Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom and a slew of other costumed cavorters generated a gaudy global bubble of masked mavens which even forced dedicated anthology suspense titles to transform into super-character split-books.

However, nothing combats censorship better than falling profits and at the end of the 1960s the Silver Age superhero boom stalled and crashed, leading to the surviving publishers of the field agreeing to loosen their self-imposed restraints against crime and horror comics. Nobody much cared about gangster titles at that time but as the liberalisation coincided with another bump in global interest in all aspects of the supernatural, the resurrection of scary stories was a foregone conclusion and obvious “no-brainer.”

Even ultra-wholesome Archie Comics re-entered the field with their rather tasty line of Red Circle Thrillers

With Tales of the Unexpected #105 and House of Mystery #174 National/DC switched to anthology horror material before creating an all-new title to further exploit the morbid fascination with all thingies fearsome and spooky (they even resurrected the cancelled House of Secrets in late 1969) for those heady days when it was okay – and profitable – to scare the heck out of little kids by making them laugh.

Edited until #14 by Dick Giordano, The Witching Hour first struck at the end of 1968 (with a February/March 1969 cover-date). From the outset it was an extremely experimental and intriguing beast and this amazingly economical Showcase Presents collection reprints the first 19 issues, completely covering the first three years as the fear fad grew to become the backbone of DC’s sales. It is perhaps the most talent-stuffed title of that entire period…

Hopefully, as DC continues its archival conversion of Silver Age classics into new full-colour and digital editions, this collection will be available too in all its gory hues and glory…

In this graphic grimoire the traditionally cool and creepy horror-hosts who introduce such spooky fare are three witches. Based as much on Macbeth as the ancient concept of Maiden, Mother and Crone this torrid trio constantly battled to outdo or out-gross each other in the telling of terror tales. Moreover, Cynthia, Mildred and Mordred – as well as shy monster man-servant Egor – were designed and usually delineated by master artist Alex Toth; making framing sequences between yarns as good as and sometimes better than the stories they brazenly bracket.

One minor quibble: records from the period are not complete and occasionally a creator is unknown, but this volume also sadly misattributes the artist too. I’ve attempted to correct the mistakes when I’m certain, but please be warned and beware – I’m not always right either…

Following a stunning Nick Cardy cover, Toth starts the ball rolling by introducing the sinister sisters and their ongoing contest before Dennis O’Neil & Pat Boyette relate the story of a time-travelling tap-dancer in ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’.

Toth then writes and illustrates a compelling period piece of peril in ‘Eternal Hour!’ and Jack Sparling relates the eerie fate of wave-obsessed Stanley’s search for ‘The Perfect Surf’.

Toth’s scary sisters then close out the premier issue (with, I suspect, additional inks from Neal Adams), but still find room for ‘Silk Gauze’, an informational page by persons unknown which first appeared in Tales Unexpected#126.

Although attributed to Toth, #2’s introductory episode is by his old Standard Comics stable-mate Mike Sekowsky (inked by Giordano) and leads into Sparling’s dream-chiller ‘Scream!’, after which young José Delbo delineates shocking period tale of slavery and vengeance ‘The Trip of Fools!’ before Sid Greene’s short ghost story ‘The Beat Goes On!’ and Sparling’s ‘Once Upon a Surprise Ending!’ end an issue regrettably short on writer credits.

Following another Sekowsky/Giordano intro, Toth & Vince Colletta illustrate Don Arneson’s medieval mood masterpiece ‘The Turn of the Wheel!’, whilst Alan Riefe & Sparling told a decidedly different ghost-story in ‘The Death Watch’, after which Steve Skeates & Bernie Wrightson reveal a very alterative fantasy hero in ‘…And in a Far-Off Land!’, followed by the first of a series of short prose vignettes: an anonymous fright-comedy entitled ‘Potion of Love’.

Toth illustrates the sisters’ ‘Witching Hour Welcome Wagon’ (a useful identifying rule of thumb for the uninitiated is that the master usually signed his work – and was allowed to…) after which new kid Gerard Conway spectrally scripted ‘A Matter of Conscience’ for art veterans Sparling & George Roussos. Another anonymous prose piece ‘If You Have Ghosts’ precedes a smashing yarn entitled ‘Disaster in a Jar’ by Riefe & Boyette and Conway scripts period witchfinder thriller ‘A Fistful of Fire’ for Delbo – a vastly underrated artist who was on the best form of his career at this time.

Toth’s Weird Sisters close out that issue and eerily, hilariously open #5 before Wrightson lavishly embellishes a nifty but uncredited (as is every script in this one) nautical nightmare ‘The Sole Survivor!’, followed by text-teaser ‘The Non-Believer!’ and Boyette’s stunning, clownish creep-feature ‘A Guy Can Die Laughing!’

Stanley Pitt & Giordano’s dating dilemma ‘The Computer Game’ was one of the first to explore that now-hoary plot., and after Toth signs off the witches, there’s an added one-page black-comedy bonus from Sid Greene with ‘My! How You’ve Grown!’

Sekowsky & Giordano limned Dave Kaler’s take on the sisters’ intro for The Witching Hour #6 after which a far darker horror debuts as ‘A Face in the Crowd!’ by Conway, Mike Roy & Mike Peppe, wherein Nazi war-criminal and concentration camp survivor meet in an American street; Marv Wolfman & Delbo described a tale of neighbourly intolerance in ‘The Doll Man!’ and ‘Treasure Hunt’ by Skeates, John Celardo & Giordano showed why greed isn’t always good. Also included were Conway’s prose tale ‘Train to Doom’, ‘Mad Menace’ – a half-page gag strip by John Costanza – and ‘Distortion!’; another Greene-limned one-pager.

Toth & Mike Friedrich were on spectacular form for #7’s intro and bridging sequences, whilst Bill Draut was compulsively effective in prison manhunt saga ‘The Big Break!’, whose scripter Steve Skeates also wrote modern-art murder-mystery ‘The Captive!’ for Roussos. Then Friedrich & Jack Abel advise a most individual baby to ‘Look Homeward, Angelo!’. Whilst text piece ‘Who Believes Ouija?’ and Jack Miller & Michael Wm. Kaluta’s gothically delicious ‘Trick or Treat’ round out the sinister sights in this issue.

Sergio Aragonés & Neal Adams provide the witch-bits for #8, bracketing their own satanically sardonic ‘Above and Beyond the Call of Duty!’, as well as ‘Three Day Home Trial!’ (Aragonés & Cardy) and staggeringly inventive ‘Computerr’ by that man again and Toth.

‘The Career Man’ is a witty but anonymous prose piece and the issue closes with a Twice Told Tale by Ron Whyte & Sparling, as an urban myth is revealed in ‘The Sign of the Hook!’

Toth & Draut began #9, after which Bob Brown & Murphy Anderson illustrate ghostly tale ‘The Long Road Home!’ and, after text story ‘The Dark Well’, peripatetic, post-apocalyptic, ironic occasional series ‘The Day after Doomsday’ (by Len Wein & Sparling) makes a welcome appearance.

Delbo delightfully delineates a terrifying tale of Old China in ‘The Last Straw’ and, after George Tuska takes over the Weird Sisters link-segments, a doomsday debacle closes the dramas with a ‘Trumpet Perilous!’ drawn by Sparling & Abel.

The witches opening issue #10 are once more by Toth & Draut, promptly followed by a magnificent illustration job by the great Gray Morrow on regrettably uncredited ‘A Warp in Time… Loses Everything!’ after which the all-word ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’ precedes Conway & Toth’s superb forbidden romance ‘Hold Softly, Hand of Death!’. Tuska handles the Sisters before Sparling’s faux-fact page ‘Realm of the Mystics’ ends this excursion into the outer dark.

Toth drew the intro and Jack Oleck’s ‘The Mark of the Witch’ (inked by Draut) in #11, whilst – following text-tale ‘Retired Undefeated!’ – Tuska inspirationally illustrates creepy chronal conundrum ‘The Sands of Time, the Snows of Death!’

The Witching Hour #12 is similarly blessed, as after a sinisterly sexy Skeates/Toth intro, the devilish duo then describe an horrific ‘Double Edge’ battle between witch-queens and valiant mortals, followed by a Machiavellian actor’s ‘Double Take’ (Skeates & Tuska) and a demonic duel and ‘Double Cross!’ by Skeates & Gil Kane. The ever-anonymous prose piece is the mordantly merry ‘The Dead Can’t Talk But…’

Giordano’s last issue as editor was #13, which opened in grand style as fellow comicbook hosts Cain, Abel and the Mad Mod Witch (from Houses of Mystery and Secrets and The Unexpected, respectively) attend ‘New Year’s Eve at the Witching Hour’ (illustrated by Neal Adams), followed by a marvellously experimental and effective psycho-thriller by Alan Gold & Gray Morrow entitled ‘The Maze’: a far more traditional but no less scary story ‘The Accursed Clay!’ (Miller, Sparling & Frank Giacoia) and the just plain strange tale of ‘The Rush-Hour Ride of Abner Pringle!’ by Wein & Delbo.

As an added treat the text token is ‘The Witching Hour Mistree’ by that shy but not retiring rogue Egor…

When veteran editor Murray Boltinoff assumed the reins with #14 (April-May 1971) an element of experimentalism was surrendered but the more conventional material was no less welcomed by the horror-hungry readership: more proof, if any were needed, that artistic endeavour and envelope-pushing aren’t to everybody’s taste.

George Tuska replaced Toth as regular illustrator of introductory and bridging sections, but otherwise most fright-seeking kids could hardly tell the difference.

The all-science fiction issue’s terror-tales open with a beautiful yet oddly-stilted yarn from Conway and Jeff Jones who explore the solitary burdens of ‘Fourteen Months’ in deep space, whilst ‘Which Witch is Which?’ (by Kaler and drawn by Stanley & Reg Pitt) depicts the comeuppance of an intergalactic Lothario.

As “Al Case”, Editor Boltinoff provides text feature ‘Dead Letter Office’ before the issue ends on a classic visual high note with ‘The Haunted House in Space!’ illustrated by the dream team of Al Williamson & Carlos Garzon.

After the usual grisly graphic girl-talk TWH #15 starts with a murder masterpiece from George Kashdan & Wally Wood revealing ‘Freddy is Another Name For Fear!’, after which Al Case scripts ‘End of a World’ before Phil Seuling & Gray Morrow steal the show with the fearsome fable of the ‘Bayou Witch’ and Case & Art Saaf ring down the curtain with ‘I Married a Witch!’

Issue #16 saw House of Mystery expand from 32 to 52 pages – as did all DC titles for the next couple of years – opening the doors for a superb period of new material and the best of the company’s prodigious archives to an appreciative, impressionable audience.

The mysterious magic began after Tuska’s punchy prelude with cautionary ‘Never Kill a Witch!’ by Carl Wessler, John Calnan & Bernie Case, after which Boltinoff – as Bill Dennehy – provides a slick, edgy reinterpretation of a classic fairytale for Morrow to lavishly limn in ‘The Spell of Sinner Ella!’, before switching back to his Case persona for the Tony DeZuñiga illustrated duelling drama ‘You Can’t Hide From Death’.

The classic reprints began with ‘The Wondrous Witch’s Cauldron’ (drawn by the legendary Lee Elias from House of Secrets #58), followed by a Joe Orlando illustrated, Charles King scripted text piece ‘Last Meal’ and Howie Post and Draut’s ghoulish period parable ‘The Curse of the Cat’ which both came originally from House of Mystery #177.

Kashdan & Heck open #17 with a modern magic myth in ‘This Little Witch Went to College’ after which a classic 1950’s fear-feature from Sensation Mystery Comics #109 saw Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella devastatingly depict the ‘Fingers of Fear!’ whilst from House of Secrets #46, Howard Sherman delineated ‘The Second Life of Simon Steele’. Dennehy, Calnan & Colletta provide a new yarn with an old moral in ‘The Corpse Who Carried Cash!’ before Wessler & mood-master Jerry Grandenetti fantastically finish the fear-fest with ‘The Man in the Cellar’.

The same team open #18 with ‘The Worm that Turned to Terror’, a schizophrenic slice of domestic hell followed by ‘The Diggers!’: a nasty, vengeful yarn from Bobs Haney and Brown with Giacoia inks that encompasses half a century of French war and regret.

Tales of the Unexpected #13 was the original source of both the Ed Herron/Jack Kirby conundrum ‘The Face Behind the Mask’ and the Herron/Cardy creepy-crime caper ‘I Was a Prisoner of the Supernatural’, after which modernity resumes with Jim Aparo’s ‘Hypnotic Eye’ and Kashdan, Calnan & Colletta’s cautionary tale ‘When Satan Comes Calling!’

The final issue in this superbly spooky compendium is The Witching Hour #19 which – after the customary Tuska drawn kaffeeklatsch with Mordred, Mildred and Cynthia – commences in a stylish, sparkling Jack Phillips & Grandenetti chiller ‘A Tomb for the Winning!’, swiftly followed by ‘The Four Threads of Doom’ (by anonymous & Cardy from Tales of the Unexpected #12) after which a different anonymous and Tuska provide a fresh new thriller in ‘Stop Beating, Heart! You’re Killing Me!’.

One final Cardy reprint ‘The Lamp That Changed People!’ (House of Mystery #20) follows before this wonderful debut volume of witchly wonderment concludes with Kashdan/Elias shocker ‘What Evil Haunts This House?’

These terror-tales captivated reading public and critics alike when they first appeared and it’s indisputable that the supernatural sector saved DC during one of the toughest downturns in comics publishing history. Now their blend of garish mordant mirth, classic horror scenarios and suspense set-pieces can most familiarly be seen in such shows and series as Dimension 404, Goosebumps, Horrible Histories, and their many imitators.

If you crave beautifully realised, tastefully gore-free sagas of tension and imagination, not to mention a huge supply of bad-taste, kid-friendly cartoon chaos, stay up past The Witching Hour as long and as often as you possibly can…
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Bat Lash


By Sergio Aragonés, Denny O’Neil, Nick Cardy & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2295-6

By 1968 the glory-days of comicbooks as a cheap mass-market entertainment were over. Spiralling costs, “free” alternatives like television and an increasing inability to connect with the mainstream markets were leaving the industry at the mercy of dedicated fan-groups with specialised, even limited, interests and worse yet, gradually becoming dependent on genre-trends to maintain sales.

Editorial Director Carmine Infantino, a thirty-year veteran, looked for ways to bolster DC business (already suffering a concerted attack by the seemingly unstoppable rise of Marvel Comics) and clearly remembered the old publisher’s maxim “do something old, and make it look new”.

Although traditional cowboy yarns (which had dominated both TV and cinema screens since the 1950s) were also in decline, novel spins such as Wild, Wild West and Italian “Spaghetti Westerns” were popular, and would be a lot easier to transform into comics material than the burgeoning Supernatural craze that would soon come to dominate the next half-decade – but only after the repressive and self-inflicted Comics Code was finally re-written.

Thus Spanish/Mexican cartoonist (and occasional actor) Sergio Aragonés Domenech was asked by Infantino and Editor Joe Orlando to add some unique contemporary twists to a cowboy hero they had concocted with the aid of the legendary Sheldon Mayer. Although many hands had already stirred the plot, the irrepressible Aragonés – with dialogue-provider Denny O’Neil – rendered and remade the world-weary, lonely saddle-tramp archetype into a something completely fresh and original – at least in comicbook terms…

The result was a seemingly amoral wanderer with an aesthete’s sensibilities, a pacifist’s good intentions, and the hair-trigger capabilities of a top gun-for-hire. …and played for sardonic, tongue-in-cheek laughs…

Roguish, sexually promiscuous and always getting into trouble because his heart was bigger than his charlatan’s façade, Bat Lash caroused, cavorted and killed his way across the West – including Mexico – in one Showcase try-out (#76, August 1968) and seven bi-monthly issues spanning October/November 1968 through October/November 1969 before mediocre sales and a turbulent marketplace finally brought him low.

A lost masterpiece of the era and a splendid variation on the traditional western genre, Bat Lash’s exploits are criminally uncelebrated and – as far as I know – only available in this slim (a mere 240 pages) monochrome tome gathering all those ahead-of-their-times adventures plus later well-meaning revivals from DC Special Series #16 and a short run from the back of rival and fellow controversial cowboy Jonah Hex.

The greatest strength of Bat Lash stories was that they took well-worn plots and added a sardonic spin and breakneck pace to keep them rapidly rattling along. It also didn’t hurt that the majority of the art was produced by unsung genius Nick Cardy, whose light touch and unparalleled ability to draw beautiful women kept young male readers (those who bothered to try the comic) glued to the pages.

The drama begins with eponymous Showcase introduction ‘Bat Lash’ in which the flower-loving nomad wanders into the town of Welcome in search of a fancy feed only to find a gang of thugs and a mystery poisoner in the process of driving out the entire populace…

No “Suthun Gen’leman” – no matter how far he might have fallen – could allow such a situation to proceed…

Mere months later – which leads me to conclude that the Editorial Powers-That-Be were a mite overconfident with their western wonder – Bat Lash #1 hit the stands, carrying on the episodic hi-jinks in ‘Bat Lash… We’re A-comin’ Ta Get You’ as the laconic Lothario narrowly escapes a lynching only to stumble into the murder of a monk carrying part of a treasure map. Is it his finer instincts seeking retribution for the holy man, the monk’s stunning niece or the glittering temptation of Spanish gold that prompts the rootin’ tootin’ action that follows?

In #2 ‘Melinda’s Doll’ opens with a shotgun wedding, expands as the drifter becomes unwilling guardian to a little girl orphaned by gun-runners and brilliantly climaxes with unexpected poignancy and calamitous gunplay…

A radical departure – even for this offbeat series – occurs in ‘Samantha and the Judge’ when the easy Epicurean – whilst reluctantly trying out the temporary role of Deputy Sheriff – encounters a hanging judge who believes he is a Roman Emperor, after which ‘Bat Lash in Mexico!’ sees the mild-mannered wanderer cross the border and stumble into a revolutionary crisis in issue #4.

Soon embroiled in an assassination plot; Bat needs all his wits and a big bunch of luck and guile in a tale as much gritty as witty which truly displays the hidden emotional depths of the rambling man…

Still in Mexico for #5, the impish creative team pit the dashing rogue against his near-equal in raffish charm and gunplay when he meets a deadly bandito in ‘Wanted: Sergio Aragonés!’ Of course, they are both outmatched and overwhelmed by the delightfully deadly Senorita Maribel

Mike Sekowsky pencilled most of issue #6 for Cardy to ink: a dark, tragic origin tale of ‘Revenge!’ which reveals the anger and tears behind the laughter, before Bat Lash #7 and final foray ‘Brothers’ sets our far-from-heroic protagonist on the trail of a younger sibling he had believed dead for a decade…

And that’s where it was left until 1978 when giant sized anthology comic DC Special Series (#16) produced a Western-themed issue for which O’Neil and artist George Moliterni crafted a slick, sly murder-mystery set in San Francisco. Here an older Bat Lash is getting by as a professional gambler until the idyllic life disappears, enveloped in a deadly war between Irish gangs and Chinese immigrant workers.

This compelling, enjoyable yarn eventually led to a four-issue run as back-up in Jonah Hex #49-52 (encompassing June-September 1981) wherein the charming chancer wins a New Orleans bordello in a river-boat card game and, despite numerous attempts to kill him, eventually takes full possession of the Bourbon Street Social Club

Is he that hungry for lazy luxury and female companionship, or is it perhaps that he knows a million dollars in Confederate gold was hidden there in the dying days of the Civil War and never found…?

Scripter Len Wein and the incomparable Dan Spiegle continued and concluded this utterly under-appreciated character’s solo exploits in fine style; which only leaves it to you to hunt down this brash and bedazzling book or – if you are a truly passionate fan/humanitarian – bombard DC’s editors with (polite) requests and enquiries until they are convinced to give the foppishly reluctant gunslinger the comprehensive compilation – even digitally – that he so deserves…

Enchanting, exciting, wry and wonderful, this is a book for all readers of fun fiction and a superb example of comics’ outreach potential.
© 1968, 1969, 1978, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Batman volume 6


By Dennis O’Neil, Frank Robbins, Robert Kanigher, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Neal Adams, Irv Novick, Bob Brown, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5153-6

After three seasons the overwhelmingly successful Batman TV show ended in March, 1968. It had clocked up 120 episodes plus a theatrical-release movie since its premiere on January 12, 1966; triggering a global furore of “Batmania” and causing hysteria for all things costumed, zany and mystery-mannish.

Once the series foundered and crashed, humanity’s fascination with “camp” superheroes burst as quickly as it had boomed, and the Caped Crusader was left to a hard core of dedicated fans and followers who hoped they might now have “their” hero back.

For comicbook editor Julius Schwartz – who had tried to keep the most ludicrous excesses of the show out whilst still cashing in on his global popularity – the solution was simple: ditch the tired shtick, gimmicks and gaudy paraphernalia and get Batman back to basics; solving baffling mysteries and facing life-threatening perils.

That also meant phasing out the boy sidekick…

Although the college freshman Teen Wonder would still pop back for the occasional guest-shot yarn, this sixth astoundingly economical monochrome monument to comics ingenuity and narrative brilliance features him only sporadically. Robin had finally spread his wings and flown the nest for a solo back-up slot in Detective Comics, alternating with caped newcomer Batgirl.

Chronologically collecting Batman’s cases from February 1971 to September 1972 – issues #229-244 of his own title as well as the front halves of Detective Comics #408-426 – the 33 tales gathered here (some Batman issues were giant reprint editions, so only their covers are reproduced within these pages) were written and illustrated by forward-thinking creators determined make the masked manhunter relevant and interesting on his own terms once more.

One huge factor aiding the transition was the fact that the publishers now acknowledged that a large proportion of their faithful readership were discerning teens or even adults, not just kids looking for a quick, disposable entertainment fix. Working through other contemporary tropes – most notably a renewed global fascination in all things supernatural and gothic – the creative staff deftly reshaped Batman into a hero capable of actually working within the new “big things” in comics: realism, organised crime, social issues, suspense and even horror…

During this period the long road to our modern obsessive, scarily dark Knight gradually revealed a harder-edged, grimly serious caped crusader, whilst carefully expanding the milieu and scope of Batman’s universe – especially his fearsome foes, who all ceased to be harmless buffoons and inexorably metamorphosed back into the macabre Grand Guignol murder-fiends which typified the villains of the early 1940s.

This mini-renaissance also resulted in a groundbreaking experiment now lauded as one of the first great extended Batman epics…

The moody mayhem begins with ‘Asylum of the Futurians’ by Robert Kanigher, Irv Novick & Frank Giacoia from Batman #229, which pitted the astounded hero against a sect of self-proclaimed mutants who might simply have been the craziest, most self-deluding killers he had ever faced.

Detective Comics #408 offered a short sharp shocker by neophyte scripters Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. Limned by Neal Adams & Dick Giordano, ‘The House That Haunted Batman’ showcased spectral apparitions, the apparent death of Robin and a devilish mystery perpetrated by one of the Gotham Guardian’s most sinister enemies. Frank Robbins, Novick & Giordano then addressed an ongoing social revolution as our hero stopped a juvenile delinquent gang-war. When the now-united kids’ occupied a palatial new building the ‘Take-Over of Paradise’ (Batman #230) led to a vicious murder. Luckily the Caped Crimebuster was on hand to solve the case before a renewed bloodbath began…

Detective Comics #409 pitted Batman against a disfigured lunatic slashing portraits and killing their subjects in ‘Man in the Eternal Mask’ (Robbins, Bob Brown & Giacoia) whilst the next issue proved to be another chilling and memorable murder-mystery from the most celebrated creative team of the decade. ‘A Vow from the Grave!’ by Denny O’Neil, Adams & Giordano at their visually spectacular best, featured an exhausted Batman hunting one ruthless killer and inadvertently stumbling into another murder in an enclave of retired circus freaks…

Multi-talented Dick Giordano was the inker of choice for the Darknight Detective at this time; his slick, lush line and brushwork lending a veneer of continuity to every penciller. Unless I say otherwise, please assume it’s him on every cited story from now on…

The Dark Knight was lured to Vietnam to save an airliner full of hostages in Batman #231 (Robbins, with Novick pencils), barely surviving a vicious vengeance scheme triggered by the ‘Blind Rage of the Ten-Eyed Man’.

Then the first subtle plot-strands were woven in a breathtakingly ambitious saga unlike anything seen in comics before. Detective Comics #411 found Batman still in the East, undercover and hunting Dr. Darrk; leader of the lethally clandestine League of Assassins so casually introduced in #405. The pursuit led ‘Into the Den of the Death-Dealers’ (O’Neil, Brown) where a climactic struggle resulted in the monster’s death and freedom for an exotic hostage he was holding. Her name was Talia

We learned more of her in Batman #232 where O’Neil & Adams introduced her father – immortal eco-terrorist Râ’s Al Ghūl – in a whirlwind adventure which became one of the signature high-points of the entire Batman canon.

‘Daughter of the Demon’ is a timeless globe-girdling mystery yarn that draws the increasingly dark detective from Gotham’s concrete canyons to the Himalayas in search of hostages Robin and Talia, purportedly captured by forces inimical to both Batman and the mysterious figure who claims to working in secret to save the world…

Ra’s was a contemporary, more acceptable visual embodiment of the classic inscrutable ultimate foreign devil (as typified in a less forgiving age as the “Yellow Peril” or Dr. Fu Manchu). This kind of alien archetype permeates popular fiction and is still an astonishingly powerful villain-symbol, although the character’s Arabic origins – neutral at the time – seem to uncomfortably embody a different kind of ethnic bogeyman in today’s post 9/11 world.

The concept of a villain who has the best interests of the planet at heart is not a new one, but Ra’s Al Ghul, whose avowed intent is to reduce teeming humanity to viable levels and save the world from our poison, hit a chord in the 1970s – a period where ecological issues first came to the attention of the young. It was a rare kid who didn’t find a note of sense in what “the Demon’s Head” planned.

The spectacular tale ended with a shocking pronouncement of what Ra’s intended for Batman…

A return to relative normality came in ‘Legacy of Hate!’ (Detective Comics #412 by Robbins, Brown) as Bruce Wayne headed to Northern England for a convocation of kin gathered to settle the ownership and disposition of ancient Waynemoor Castle. Sadly, even Batman could not separate the spate of attempted murders which followed into purely human perpetrators and the manor’s vengeful ghost knight…

Issue #413 blended the spooky tone of the times with a healthy dose of social inclusion as ‘Freak-Out at Phantom Hollow!’ (Robbins, Brown) found Batman saving two abused hippie kids being picked on in a rural hamlet, only to become embroiled in a witch’s curse and mad bomber’s plot. Batman #233 was an all-reprint edition after which #234 featured the stellar return of one of the hero’s most tragic foes.

As comics became increasingly more anodyne in the 1950s, psychologically warped actualised schizophrenic Two-Face was dropped from Batman’s roster of rogues, but with ‘Half an Evil’ (O’Neil, Adams & Giordano) he resurfaced at the forefront of grimmer, grittier stories.

When a string of bizarre and brutal robberies afflicting Gotham, the baffled Batman has to use all his ingenuity to discern the reasoning and discover the identity of a ruthless hidden mastermind in time to thwart a diabolical scheme…

An aura of Film Noir redemption colours O’Neil & Novick’s ‘Legend of the Key Hook Lighthouse!’ from Detective Comics #414, as Batman tracks gunrunners to a haunted coastal bastion in Florida. However, only a supernatural intervention enables him to save bystanders who, whilst not exactly innocent, certainly don’t deserve the fate psychotic banana republic despot General Ruizo planned for them…

In Batman #235’s ‘Swamp Sinister!’ (O’Neil, Novick) some early insights into the true character of Talia and her ruthless sire manifest as the Dark Knight races to recover a stolen bio-weapon whilst over in Detective Comics #415 Robbins & Brown’s ‘Challenge of the Consumer Crusader’ sees the Gotham Gangbuster uncover an extortion ring inside the nation’s most respected product-testing organisation.

Detective Comics #400 had introduced a dark counterpoint to the Gotham Gangbuster wherein driven scientist Kirk Langstrom created a serum to make him superior to Batman and paid a heavy price. Over two further exploits Langstrom and his fiancée Francine had endured his monstrous transformations until Batman found a cure. Now that trilogy was expanded in #416 as Frank Robbins pencilled and inked his own script ‘Man-Bat Madness!’ wherein Kirk seemingly slipped back into his transformative madness. Luckily, Batman had the faith to look beyond appearances and discern a hidden factor in the scientist’s inexplicable recidivism…

‘Wail of the Ghost-Bride!’ (Batman #236, Robbins, Novick) blends mysticism with an solid murder-plot, cover-up and blistering action after which a journalist tries to become ‘Batman for a Night’ (Detective Comics #417, Robbins, Brown & Giordano) but only succeeds after experiencing a similar crime-created loss…

‘Night of the Reaper!’ – by O’Neil, Adams & Giordano from Batman #237 – is one of the most revered tales of the era: a harrowing Halloween epic which finds Robin working with his old mentor to solve a string of barbarous killings only to uncover a pitifully deranged perpetrator as much sinned-against as sinner…

Following the cover of reprint giant Batman #238, Detective Comics #418 writes a temporary finish to the short-lived career of The Creeper as ‘…And Be a Villain!’ (O’Neil, Novick) pits the Gotham Guardian against a former hero being simultaneously killed and driven crazy by his own powers. At the heart of the problem is the criminal scientist forcing Creeper to steal in return for a promised cure, but that’s no help as Batman battles a foe faster, stronger, more agile and far scarier than he…

A corpse weighed down with Batman figurines leads the hero into an underworld imbroglio packed with shameful family freaks, a ruthless master smuggler and the pitiful ‘Secret of the Slaying Statues!’ (Detective #419 from O’Neil & Novick) whilst Christmas classic ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night!’ (O’Neil & Novick in Batman #239) sees the masked manhunter striving to save a desperate, poverty-struck single-parent from making the worst decision of his life – with a little seasonal help from a higher power…

Robbins again solos for Detective Comics #420’s ‘Forecast for Tonight… Murder!’ as a radioactive dead man stalks one of Gotham’s greatest philanthropists; easily outwitting Batman’s every preventative measure. It only gets tougher when the hero discovers he might be safeguarding the wrong injured party…

The long-brewing war between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul went to Def Con 3 in Batman #240 when O’Neil, Novick & Giordano set the scene for the groundbreaking “series-within-a-series” soon to follow. When Batman uncovers one of his opponent’s less worthy and far more grisly projects he is forced to compromise his principles and deliver ‘Vengeance for a Dead Man!’ The end-result will be open war between Batman and the Demon’s Head…

Batman had to break a blackmailer who knew all Gotham’s dirty secrets out of prison during a full-scale riot in ‘Blind Justice… Blind Fear!’ (an all-Robbins affair from DC #421) whilst in the following issue O’Neil, Brown & Giordano had the Dark Knight expose a cunning hijacking ring using radical methodology for corporate reasons in ‘Highway to Nowhere!’

Another sociopathic killer debuted in Batman #241 as the hero hunts for freelance spy Colonel Sulphur whose extortion scheme revolved around his threat to kill a Pentagon officer’s wife. ‘At Dawn Dies Mary McGuffin!’ by O’Neil & Novick sees Batman scouring Gotham in a tense race against the clock in direct counterpoint to Detective #423’s ‘The Most Dangerous Twenty Miles in Gotham City’ (Robbins, Brown) wherein the masked manhunter’s cognitive skills are tested trying to slip a Russian agent past a gang of ultra-patriots. The killers don’t care that he’s being exchanged for a captive American, they just want to kill a commie and send a message…

Batman #242-244 (and the epilogue from #245 not included in this volume) formed a single extended saga taken out of normal DC continuity. It promised to relate the final confrontation between two opposing ideals. O’Neil, Novick & Giordano opened the campaign in Batman #242 with ‘Bruce Wayne – Rest in Peace!’ With his civilian identity taken off the board, Batman gathers a small team of specialist allies – comprising criminal alternate-identity Matches Malone, scientific advisor Dr. Harris Blaine and Ra’s’ top assassin Ling – to destroy the Demon forever.

Meanwhile it was business as usual in Detective #424 where ‘Double-Cross-Fire!’by Robbins & Brown – played out an astoundingly cunning murder plot with Batman challenging Commissioner Gordon (and us readers) to spot the telltale clue which gave the game away. O’Neil & Novick then get all Shakespearean in #425 where ‘The Stage is Set… for Murder!’ with Batman carefully seeking to glean which thespian was plotting a big, bloody finish before the curtain comes down forever…

O’Neil, Adams & Giordano returned with the second chapter of their landmark epic as Batman #243 sees the team – plus latecomer Molly Post – bombastically invade Ra’s’ Swiss citadel moments after their intended target passes away…

Nobody suspected the ageless villain’s resources included ‘The Lazarus Pit’ which could revive the dead…

In Detective Comics #426, a spate of inexplicable suicides amongst the wealthy leads Batman to suave gambler Conway Treach: a man who just can’t lose. Soon however, the huckster learns that his grim opponent has his own system for winning ‘Killer’s Roulette!’; another suspenseful Robbins masterpiece which leads chronologically and conclusively to Batman #244 and the fateful finale wherein ‘The Demon Lives Again!’ Sadly, despite all his supernal gifts and forces, Ra’s cannot escape the climactic vengeance of his implacable foe in dream-team O’Neil, Adams & Giordano’s compulsive climax.

With the game-changing classics in this volume, Batman finally returned to the commercial and critical top flight he had enjoyed in the 1940s reviving and expanding upon his original conception as a remorseless, relentless avenger of injustice. The next few years would see the hero rise to unparalleled heights of quality so stay tuned: the very best is just around the corner… that dark, dark corner…
© 1971, 1972, 2015 DC Comics. All rights reserved.