THE OLD 52: Imagining A New Pre-Crisis DC Comics

I don’t remember any of the details (like whose idea it was or where the idea appeared), but some time back, someone in one of the online DC Comics groups I frequent challenged fellow fans to come up with a Pre-Crisis DC Comics New 52. That is, a hypothetical slate of 52 comic book series set in the DC Comics continuity that existed prior to the 1985-1986 mini-series Crisis On Infinite Earths, a series which wiped out the multiple universes that had been DC’s playground up to that point. Worlds will live! Worlds will die! And the DC Universe will never be the same!

The idea here was to create a new DC line-up based in the old DC continuity. One of DC’s latter-day relaunches was called The New 52, so this would be the new Old 52, drawing on characters and concepts that DC had before the Crisis. I liked the idea, and started jotting down possibilities. I wound up with way more than just 52.

I mean, way, way more than just 52.

Rather than attempt a self-edit–because really, what fun would that be?–I figured I’d just list the whole mess right here:

Action Comics

Action Heroes

The Albatross

Adventure Comics

All-American Western
All-Star Comics

All-Star Squadron

Ambush Bug

Angel And The Ape
Aquaman
The Atom
Bat Lash

Batgirl
Batman

Beowulf: Dragon Slayer
Beware The Creeper

Black Lightning

The Black Orchid

The Black Spider
Blackhawk
The Blue Beetle

Blue Devil
The Brave And The Bold

The Bronze Tiger

Bulletgirl
Captain Atom And Nightshade

Captain Thunder
The Challengers Of The Unknown

Claw The Unconquered

The Crimson Avenger
DC Comics Presents

DC’s Imaginary Stories

Deadman

The Demon

Dial H For HERO

The Doom Patrol

Doorway Into The Unknown

Dr. Fate

Firestorm

The Flash

Forbidden Tales Of Dark Mansion
Freedom Fighters

G.I. Combat

Green Arrow And The Black Canary
Green Lantern
Hawkman

Hercules Unbound

Hourman
House Of Mystery

The Human Target

Ibis The Invincible

Inferior Five

Jason’s Quest

Jimmy Olsen

The Joker

Jonah Hex

Judo Master

Justice League Of America

Kamandi

Kid Eternity

Kobra

Legion Of Super-Heroes

Lois Lane

The Maniaks

The Martian Manhunter

‘Mazing Man

Metal Men
Metamorpho
Mister Miracle
Mystery In Space

Nemesis
The New Gods

Newsboy Legion

Ninja The Invisible

Nubia Of The Amazons

OMAC
Our Army At War
The Peacemaker

The Phantom Stranger

Plastic Man 

Plop!

The Question

Ragman

Rima The Jungle Girl

Robin
Rose And The Thorn

Scribbly And The Red Tornado

Secret Origins

The Secret Six
Secret Society Of Super-Villains

Seven Soldiers Of Victory
Sgt. Rock

Shade The Changing Man
Shazam!

Shazam’s Squadron Of Justice
Showcase

Slam Bradley

Son Of Vulcan
The Spectre

Spy Smasher

Stanley And His Monster

Star Hunters
Star Spangled War Stories

Starfire
Strange Adventures

Sugar & Spike

Suicide Squad
Super-Team Family

Supergirl

Superman

Swamp Thing

Swing With Scooter

The Teen Titans

Thriller

Tomahawk

The Trident

The Unknown Soldier

The Vigilante

Vixen
Warlord

Weird War Tales

Wildcat

The Witching Hour

Wonder Woman

World’s Finest Comics

Young Love

Zatanna


As a Silver and Bronze Age kid, my specific yearning is for the DC Universe as it existed in the ’60s and ’70s, but I also included some ’80s titles, as well as the 1960s Action Heroes that DC bought from Charlton Comics in the ’80s. Given my druthers, this line would also include some licensed titles, from The Adventures Of Jerry Lewis through TarzanThe ShadowHot Wheels, and Captain Action. Plus the former Charlton book E-Man, which DC never published nor had rights to publish, but what can I say? I like E-Man! But that’s all well outside the parameters of this exercise.

In my imagination, these are written and drawn by creators like Nick CardyJim AparoTony IsabellaTrevor Von EedenMurphy AndersonNeal AdamsDenny O’NeilSteve EnglehartMarshall RogersTerry AustinJoe KubertNestor RedondoMichael UslanBob RozakisCurt SwanRamona FradonBob HaneyMike GrellSteve SkeatesDick GiordanoSal AmendolaPaul LevitzMark EvanierDan SpiegleJack KirbyLen WeinGerry ConwayJose Luis Garcia LopezAlex TothMike W. BarrDon HeckWally WoodDon NewtonGray MorrowMike SekowskyDick DillinMartin PaskoRoy ThomasJerry OrdwayKurt SchaffenbergerArnold DrakeIrv NovickGeorge PerezDave CockrumFrank RobbinsRich BucklerBerni WrightsonGene ColanMike KalutaJoe OrlandoBob OksnerE. Nelson BridwellMarv WolfmanJoe StatonWalt SimonsonArchie GoodwinCarmine InfantinoDick SprangMichael NetzerGil KaneSteve DitkoMarvel Comics stalwarts John Romita and John Buscema, latter-day lights such as Steve Rude and Darwyn Cooke, and a long list of more. Many of these creators are no longer with us. But if one is going to fantasize, one should shoot for the stars.

A few points to clarify. Starfire is the ’70s DC sword and sorcery heroine, not the 1980s Teen Titan. The Albatross was an aborted 1975 back-up series that would have been written by Martin Pasko, who hated the idea and did his successful best to sabotage it. Ninja The InvisibleVixen, and Captain Thunder were all era-appropriate DC books that were proposed but never realized, with the latter writer Roy Thomas’ idea for an Earth-1 reboot of the original Captain Marvel as an African-American hero. 

Batgirl, the Black Orchid, Black Spider (a Batman villain), Bronze Tiger, Bulletgirl, Dr. Fate, Hourman, Nemesis, Nubia, the Question, Robin, Rose and the Thorn, the Seven Soldiers of Victory, Shazam’s Squadron of Justice, Slam Bradley, and Wildcat (I’m thinking this would be the Earth-1 Wildcat) were DC properties that never starred in their own pre-Crisis DC books. The pulp-reminiscent Crimson Avenger was chosen here as a substitute for The Shadow.Jason’s Quest and The Maniaks had appeared in DC’s Showcase in the ’60s. There was never a book called DC’s Imaginary Stories, nor a Charlton characters team-up series called Action Heroes, but there should have been. I also wanted to have genres beyond my superhero favorites, hence the inclusion of humor, horror, science fiction, Western, war, and romance titles. If I could have justified throwing in a 100-Page Super Spectacular, I woulda, but even flights of fancy need some sense of tethering.

(The need for tethers didn’t prevent me from listing The Trident, a World War II-set comics series I submitted to DC in the ’80s. The perks of having your own blog. The Trident came about when I asked myself the question, “What if Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had created a two-fisted black superhero in the ’40s?,” and then attempted to answer that rhetorical query. You’re free to ignore the Trident; DC certainly did.)

So that’s the director’s cut of my Old 52, imagining a new pre-Crisis DC Comics. It’s not worth the effort to try to whittle this down to a mere 52, and I betcha everyone from Sargon the Sorcerer to Super-Turtle to the Mind-Grabber Kid is queuing up to expand the line after successful appearances in Showcase. Bigger worlds live. Nobody dies. A new old DC universe. Just imagine.

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This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl

Categories
Birthdays

Yvonne Craig

Born on this day in 1937, in Taylorville, Illinois, actress Yvonne Craig. Craig will forever be remembered as Barbara Gordon, A.K.A. Batgirl, though her other roles included dozens of TV appearances, and the feature films; Gidget, The Gene Krupa Story and Kissin’ Cousins.

CLOSING ARGUEMENTS: Neal Adams

It is impossible to overstate the impact of artist Neal Adams on American comic books. Whatever grand impact you want to assign to Adams, you can double that, triple it, and keep going to absurd lengths, and you still won’t be able to give Adams more credit than he deserves. 



There have been many tributes written in the wake of Adams’ passing last week at the age of 80. Writers, fans, associates, and pundits have done a wonderful job of recognizing and celebrating his legacy. There is the legacy of his artwork itself, how he revolutionized the way comic book art can be created and appreciated, and how his visual interpretation of The Batman was essential–absolutely essential–in transitioning the character’s image from camp crusader to dark knight; I mean no disrespect to the 1960s Batman TV series (which was also extremely important to me), but there is no way the public’s perception of Batman gets from Adam West to the pop culture dominance of THE Batman without Neal Adams. I recommend a visit to 13th Dimension for further reading on this subject.

Beyond the artwork, Adams was also a tireless and passionate advocate for the rights of creators. His highest-profile battle for truth, justice, and the American way was his role in publicly shaming the publishers of DC Comics into giving credit and (some) compensation to Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in the ’70s. Adams was not the only one involved in this valiant effort, but his voice was the loudest, and he helped get the job done.

That’s the larger picture of Neal Adams and his work, and I encourage you to bop around the web and read more of his story. That would give you a better understanding of just why the comics world is in mourning now.

But I just want to speak for a minute about my own relationship with this body of work. I became more conscious of Adams in the very early ’70s, when I was ten to fourteen years old. I had seen his work before; I have no recollection of where or when I first saw Adams’ dynamic comic book images, though it was probably in DC Comics house ads in the mid to late ’60s. He drew the covers for my first issues of Action Comics (# 356, cover dated November of 1967) and Adventure Comics (# 368, May 1968), and the cover of Batman # 200 (March ’68) in between those. My first Neal Adams interior work was The Spectre # 3 (February-March 1968), followed later that year by World’s Finest Comics # 175 and The Brave And The Bold # 79.

Adams had been bugging regular Batman and Detective Comics editor Julius Schwartz for a chance to draw Batman, but Schwartz was adamantly not interested. Another DC editor, Murray Boltinoff, was more open to the idea. Adams drew a couple of Batman-Superman team-ups in World’s Finest Comics, and Boltinoff assigned Adams writer Bob Haney‘s script for The Brave And The Bold # 79. This was a team-up of Batman and Deadman, a character Adams was already depicting in the pages of DC’s Strange Adventures.

Don’t worry about those two issues of World’s Finest. They’re like the forgotten singles the Kinks did before “You Really Got Me.” Neal Adams really began drawing Batman in The Brave And The Bold # 79.

This issue, this single issue, was Ground Zero for the return of The Batman, the reclaiming of the character’s long-lost pulp roots. It’s no snub to Haney to say this was entirely because of Neal Adams. Adams knew how Batman–sorry, THE Batman–should look. The dark shadows, the visual sense of noir, weren’t in the script; Adams brought all of that in himself.

As Adams continued to draw a few more issues of B&B, legend has it that Julie Schwartz saw letters from readers wondering why that Batman, the REAL Batman, was only appearing in The Brave And The Bold. Schwartz was known to be stubborn, but he was no dummy. Adams was soon drawing Batman stories for Schwartz, usually with writer Dennis O’Neil, who shared Adams’ preference for Batman as a dark knight. In these stories, the definite article in the character’s name was reclaimed after decades of disuse. We caught our first glimpse of The Batman in Adams’ Brave And Bold stories; the stories done by O’Neil and Adams (and Frank RobbinsIrv NovickDick GiordanoJim Aparo, Bob Haney, and others) made the change official. The Batman. THE Batman. 

THE BATMAN!

Within this time frame, very late ’60s into very early ’70s, Adams also did some incredible work for Marvel Comics, notably with writer Roy Thomas in the pages of X-Men and The Avengers. An artist working for Marvel and DC at the same time was a rarity, and certainly something stodgier minds (especially at DC) discouraged and often prohibited. Neal Adams did not care. He made his own rules, and modeled an approach for other creators to follow and expand. His talent was too great for any publisher to even think about blackballing him. Restrictions? Pfui. He was Neal freakin’ Adams. He didn’t draw outside the lines. He redrew the lines.

The Dennis O’Neil-Neal Adams version of The Batman debuted in Detective Comics # 395 in 1970, but I didn’t see that one until a few years later (in the hardcover collection Batman From The ’30s To The ’70s). After Adams’ Brave And Bold run, I started with “Ghost Of The Killer Skies” in Detective Comics # 404 (October 1970), Adams’ single-issue return to The Brave And Bold (with O’Neil) for # 93’s “Red Water, Crimson Death” (December 1970-January 1971), and the return of Golden Age Batman villain Two-Face in “Half An Evil” (Batman # 234, August 1971). That last one thrilled me no end. I was eleven years old. I still wasn’t following creator credits yet (other than Stan Lee and Jack Kirby). I would start to know the names of the writers and artists very soon.

And, by the summer of ’72, I knew who my favorites were. And I knew exactly who knew how to write and draw The Batman.

1972 gave us The Batman’s serialized battle with Ra’s al Ghul, an adversary created by Adams and O’Neil. At the age of twelve, I thought this was the most epic thing I had ever seen. I’m still not convinced I was wrong about that. Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams were absolute superstars to me. The following year, when they brought back The Joker and returned him to his original murderous characterization in “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge!” in Batman # 251, I couldn’t stand the anticipation of waiting for the issue to hit the stands. I read it obsessively, over and over. It will always be among my favorite individual comic books.

“Moon Of The Wolf” in Batman # 255 (March-April 1974) was Adams’ final Batman work for DC Comics, at least until many years later. Other paths beckoned. Other writers and artists continued the work, some of them rivaling or even surpassing what O’Neil and Adams had done. But I say none of that subsequent great stuff–hell, The Batman himself!–none of it would have happened if not for Neal Adams.

I confess I had less interest in much of Adams’ later work. I did absolutely adore O’Neil and Adams’ slam-bang 1978 tabloid Superman Vs. Muhammed Ali, as well as his cover illustrations for Tarzan paperbacks, his illustrations for Harlan Ellison‘s short story “The New York Review Of Bird” (in the 1975 paperback anthology Weird Heroes, Vol. 2 ), and the sublime 1976 DC superheroes calendar, most of which was drawn by Adams. But Adams’ creator-owned material and even his decades-later return to The Batman wasn’t my cuppa. Doesn’t matter. The stuff I loved will always be the stuff I loved, the stuff I love still. I can’t exaggerate the importance of that work to me. It was everything.

1972 was when I made the connection that my favorite Batman stories were created by these guys, Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams. 1972 was also the year I started writing in…well, not in earnest, but maybe in pursuit of earnest. I was twelve. In social studies class, rather than do a boring research project about the Revolutionary War, I scripted a science-fantasy story about traveling back in time to participate in the Boston Tea Party, and corralled classmates to help me perform the piece on video tape. For English class, our study of Bram Stoker‘s Dracula prompted me to write a (terrible) Gothic horror story, performed as an audio tape. By 1973, I was submitting scripts to DC Comics. They were awful, sure, and they didn’t get me anywhere. But I’d made a decision: I was going to create. I couldn’t draw like Neal Adams, but I could write. I’m still doing that.

I met O’Neil and Adams in 1976. It was a brief can-I-have-your-autograph? encounter at the Super DC Con in New York. I felt like I’d met the Beatles.

Neal Adams was the Beatles. He was Babe RuthCharlie ChaplinOrson Welles, and whatever other reference you care to use to indicate he was the best, THE best, at what he did. Nonpareil. It is impossible to overstate the impact of artist Neal Adams on American comic books. That’s not hyperbole. That’s just the way it is. The artist. The crusader. The storyteller. A definite article carries specific meaning.

Just ask The Batman.

If you like what you see here on Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do), please consider supporting this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon, or by visiting CC’s Tip Jar. Additional products and projects are listed here.

This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Quick Takes For B

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

THE BEAU BRUMMELS

The Beau Brummels: It’s weird to realize that I don’t remember The Beau Brummels at all from the ’60s, even though my sister Denise went to see them at the State Fair on a double bill with the legendary Gene Pitney. You’d think I would at least remember their animated turn as The Beau Brummelstones on an episode of The Flintstones, but no! Instead, I heard “Laugh, Laugh” on an oldies radio show in 1976 or ’77. A rock station in Utica, WOUR-FM, had a flat-out terrific Friday night oldies show called (I think) The Time Machine, and that gave me an opportunity to deepen my affection for The Kinks and The Yardbirds, among others. I heard “Laugh, Laugh” one Friday night on WOUR, and the song has not left my All-Time Hot 100 since then.

CHUCK BERRY

I don’t know if it was WOLF-AM or WNDR-AM that started playing “Johnny B. Goode” in regular rotation in the early ’70s, right alongside your Badfinger and your Temptations. Maybe both stations did it. I didn’t know it was an old song; I just knew that I liked it a lot. Somewhere in there, I learned a lesson that’s an integral part of our format on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio: it doesn’t matter if a song’s old, or new, or borrowed, or blue, as long as it’s a great song. And great songs should be played with other great songs, without regard for their date of origin. That’s what radio oughtta be.

THE BLACK CANARY

Though a (non-powered) super-heroine from the ’40s, DC Comics revived The Black Canary for sporadic use here and there in the ’60s, and eventually made her one of the line’s core characters. I first saw the name and image in a house ad for The Brave And The Bold # 61 (August-September 1965), which appeared in (I think) an issue of The Adventures Of Jerry Lewis. The ad promised the super-heroic team of Starman and Black Canary, which caught my interest, but the issue was long gone from the stands by the time I saw that ad in ’66. My first true Black Canary adventure came in the summer of ’68, when she appeared with her fellow members of The Justice Society of America in a two-parter running in Justice League of America # 64-65. (But my favorite Black Canary appearance came in The Brave And The Bold # 91 [August-September 1970], when she teamed with Batman and–more importantly!–had the chance to be rendered in pulchritudinous splendor by the incredible Nick Cardy!)

BLACKHAWK

Another character from the ’40s, and a character DC had purchased in the ’50s from a publisher called Quality Comics. DC kept this aviator’s title going until 1968. But I never read it; it wasn’t really a super-hero book, so I wasn’t interested. I picked up the very last issue, Blackhawk  # 243 (October-November 1968), a coverless copy I found at Van Patten’s Grocery in North Syracuse. I (much) later learned that the final two issues of Blackhawk were a back-to-basics attempt, trying to return the character to his former glory; DC’s stewardship of Blackhawk up to that time was and is widely regarded as a waste, at least until those last two issues. I discovered the real Blackhawk via Golden Age reprints in the ’70s, and my favorite run is a revival in the ’80s, written by Mark Evanier and usually drawn by Dan Spiegle; I would buy a trade collection of that run without hesitation.  Hawk-a-a-a!

BLONDIE

Reading about punk rock in Phonograph Record Magazine in 1977, I was taken by Mark Shipper‘s description of Blondie as “like Marilyn Monroe backed by The Dave Clark Five.” Okay, I’m in. I was still reluctant to buy the LP without hearing something first; when I got to college that fall, I pestered WBSU DJs in Brockport to play “X-Offender” for me, and I was hooked at first listen. Plus that Blondie girl, that Debbie HarryMan, she was cute!

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD

Someday I’m going to devote an entire Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) to my love-hate relationship with The Brave And The Bold, a long-running DC title that went through many phases and philosophies over the course of 200 issues. It had once been a tryout showcase for proposed new comic book series; the most successful B&B tryouts were a pair of concepts called The Justice League of America and The Teen Titans. But B&B was a super-hero team-up book from # 50 through its farewell at # 200, with just one Sgt. Rock World War II tale in # 52 standing as the sole exception. From 1967 through the book’s termination in 1983, it was specifically a Batman team-up book. My first B&B was # 70 (February-March 1967), teaming Batman and Hawkman. I never learned where my copy came from; it turned up one day, alongside an issue of World’s Finest Comics and an issue of Mighty Comics, in a pile of magazines in our bathroom at home.  Did my Dad buy it for me? Did my Mom? Maybe one of my siblings? I still don’t know, but I sure loved this. I’d previously seen the alternate Earth-2 incarnation of Hawkman in the preceding summer’s Justice League-Justice Society team-up, but this issue of The Brave And The Bold was my introduction to the familiar, regularly-published “real” Earth-1 Hawkman.


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Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. 

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Aquaman

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

This was originally posted as part of a longer piece covering both pop music and comic book characters. It’s separated here for convenience.

I don’t think I was aware of Aquaman before my Dad bought me a copy of Aquaman # 30 (November-December 1966), which cover-featured Aquaman’s funeral. Aquaman would eventually become one of my favorite superheroes, but I doubt that I’d heard of him before getting this issue. But who can resist a cover full of superheroes? Fine, I didn’t know Metamorpho or Hawkman yet, but I sure knew Batman and Superman! The thing is, even if Bruce and Clark had been replaced on this cover by some other superheroes that I didn’t know–Green ArrowPlastic ManMartian ManhunterThe Hooded Halibut, even–I would still have been intrigued: it was a comic book cover full of superheroes! What more could a six-year-old want?! Perhaps it was a cheat that these heroes only appeared in a single panel in the story itself (with Metamorpho entirely hidden, but The Flash bringing up the rear), but I don’t believe that put me off.

Given that the King of the Sea’s comic book lasted another 26 issues in the ’60s (and has been revived again and again since then), and that he became a Saturday morning TV cartoon star in the Fall of 1967 (and did so again as one of the Super Friends in the early ’70s), and that he moved into blockbuster Hollywood feature film stardom with the Justice League and Aquaman movies…yeah, given all that, it ain’t a spoiler to reveal that Aquaman survived his own death in Aquaman # 30. He’s resilient.

I think I saw DC house ads for Aquaman #s 31 and 32, plus The Brave And The Bold # 73 (co-starring Aquaman and The Atom), but my next Aquaman adventure was Aquaman # 36 (November-December 1967), with its cover blurb proclaiming, “The King Of The Sea Is Now The King Of TV!” This would have gone on sale around the same time as the debut of the above-mentioned TV cartoon series, The Superman-Aquaman Hour Of Adventure on CBS. The series continued Superman and Superboy‘s  cartoon exploits from the previous fall’s The New Adventures Of Superman, supplemented by all-new animated action starring Aquaman and Aqualad, plus one additional cartoon each week starring one of a rotating line-up of DC superstars (The Flash, Hawkman, The Atom, Green LanternThe Teen Titans, and The Justice League of America).

These cartoons were terrible–hokey, juvenile, formulaic, and strictly by-the-numbers–but I just loved ’em as a kid. Frankly, the comics at the time weren’t exactly cutting-edge themselves, but there was undeniable energy, and there was artwork by Nick Cardy, who is possibly my all-time favorite comics artist. The TV show added a pair of black boots to Aquaman’s costume, and I don’t think it made much use of the comic-book supporting cast other than trusty sidekick Aqualad; the villains were there–I think I remember seeing Black Manta on TV–but there was no sign of Aquababy or Aquagirl. And there wasn’t nearly enough of Aquaman’s beautiful wife MeraThat was a shame! As drawn by Cardy, Mera was the hottest-looking female character in comics at the time.

But my favorite run of Aquaman stories began in 1968, when Dick Giordano took over as editor with Aquaman # 40. Giordano replaced veteran writer Bob Haney with young turk Steve Skeates, and the series just exploded with imagination, drama, and sensational quirkiness. Skeates’ first order of business was a long, long serial involving Aquaman’s search for Mera, who’d been abducted by unknown assailants. Giordano took Nick Cardy off the main art chores–Cardy retained cover art duties, and proceeded to knock everyone out with some of the finest covers of his long career–but found a more than able replacement in Jim Aparo. Like Giordano and Skeates, Aparo had come to DC fresh from budget-priced-but-brilliant work at Charlton Comics, a low-rent line we’ll be discussing in a couple of days. Aparo’s work on Aquaman was stunning, gorgeous–so much so that I still consider Aparo the definitive Aquaman artist, my eternal allegiance to Nick Cardy notwithstanding. This was just a terrific, underrated run, one of my favorite runs of any character at any time.

Sadly, sales weren’t sufficient to keep Aquaman afloat. The book was cancelled with its 56th issue (March-April 1971), cover-featuring “The Creature That Devoured Detroit!” The book may have been too off-kilter to survive, but it was a blast while it lasted. Aquaman returned a few years later in the pages of Adventure Comics (inspiring a letter of comment from a certain future blogger in North Syracuse), and he regained his own comic book in the mid-’70s. The current Aquaman comic book is pretty cool (and Mera is still a knockout), but no version of these characters could ever top my affection for the Skeates-Aparo-Giordano era.

Splash page of Aquaman # 56
My letter to Aquaman, Adventure Comics # 444

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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Quick Takes For T (Comics Edition)

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

Robin the Boy Wonder! Wonder Girl! Kid Flash! Aqualad! I was six years old in 1966, and I I was certainly a fan of ol’ Robin from his heroic appearances on my favorite TV show Batman. The others were unfamiliar to me prior to my introduction to DC Comics’ junior superhero group The Teen Titans. I didn’t even really know Wonder Woman or The Flash yet, and I first encountered Aquaman around the same time as my first issue of Teen TitansThat would have been Teen Titans# 6, cover-dated November-December 1966.

But I for damned sure knew Robin. Batman and Robin! I think I saw a house ad for Teen Titans # 1 before ever noticing the Titans on the spinner rack. I was absolutely fascinated by DC’s house ads during this era, colorful come-ons that teased and enticed with glimpses of everything from Batman and Superman to Starman and Black CanaryDial H For HEROThe SpectreBob HopeJerry Lewis, and Scooter. I don’t remember whether or not I ever owned a copy of Teen Titans # 1; I think maybe I did buy it as a back issue in the ’70s, but if so, it’s long gone now. Either way, though, its cover captivated my young mind, and I wanted it.

In this time frame, my parents frequently allowed me to pluck a comic book of my choice from the rack at Sweetheart Corner, a grocery store in North Syracuse. That’s how Teen Titans # 6 came into my possession. Robin was on the cover! Of course. 

And I loved it. This issue guest-starred Beast Boy from The Doom Patrol; my only previous exposure to The Doom Patrol was another irresistible house ad, depicting a team-up of the Doomsters and that Scarlet Speedster, The Flash. My next Teen Titans was # 11 (September-October 1967), which guest-starred The Green Arrow‘s sidekick Speedy (and opened with a scene revealing the Titans’ bulletin board, featuring pinned letters from Earth-One’s version of President Lyndon Johnson and that other Fab Four, The Beatles).

Seeing Speedy with the Titans prepared me for the team’s TV debut in the fall of ’67, as The Teen Titans became one of the rotating guest features on the new Saturday morning cartoon series The Superman-Aquaman Hour Of Adventure. This show aired on CBS, but the Boy Wonder was still contractually obligated to appear with his caped crusadin’ mentor over on ABC, thus elevating Speedy to full Titandom, at least on Saturday mornings.

I bought Teen Titans comics when I could. Writer Bob Haney‘s willful abuse of the English language in pursuit of his outta-touch idea of hip teenspeak can be kinda painful to read now, but I was all in as a young’un. The art by Nick Cardy was terrific, and would become even better as the series continued. Cardy may be my all-time favorite comics artist, and I first encountered his work in Aquaman and Teen Titans

(Even beyond his overall skill as a draftsman and visual storyteller, Cardy drew some of the prettiest girls in comics, including Wonder Girl and early ’70s Titans addition Lilith.)

DC’s Teen Titans comic book lasted 43 issues, succumbing to cancellation at the end of ’72. It was brought back for another ten issues in the late ’70s, but the latter series was not my cuppa. In the early ’80s, writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez managed a popular and critically-acclaimed revival as The New Teen Titans, and that series (which also brought back Beast Boy, renamed Changeling) made the Titans into A-listers from that point forward.

The New Teen Titans was a great book, and it was key to getting me back into comics after I graduated college. The six-year-old superhero fan from 1966 had grown up…but I resisted growing up too much.

1966 was a big year for me and my superheroes. I liked superheroes before actors Adam West and Burt Ward donned capes and masks to bop the bad guys as TV’s Batman and Robin, but it was certainly Batman that knocked that interest into overdrive. My previous affection for Superman comic books grew into a full-blown obsession with all sorts of superdoers patrolling the spinner racks and magazine shelves. I discovered Marvel Comics in there somewhere, starting with Sub-Mariner and The Incredible Hulk in Tales To Astonish

I first encountered The Mighty Thor in the pages of The Avengers # 13, the same time and place where I first met Captain AmericaIron ManGiant-Man, and The Wasp. We were vacationing at my grandparents’ house in Missouri, and my sister Denise and cousin Cheryl came back from a walk with that comic book in hand. It was an old comic book, published at the end of ’64 (postdated February ’65, as comics were wont to do), probably coverless. Okay by me. Any book you ain’t read is a new book.  

This book was so important to me, and I read it and re-read it many, many times. I have no idea of when I next saw the mighty God of Thunder in a comic book–by the time I got another issue of The Avengers, Thor was no longer an Avenger–but even the one appearance was sufficient to instill wonder and awe in this six-year-old. And if I didn’t see Thor in the funny pages, I could see him on TV; Thor joined Captain America, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, and The Hulk as one of the rotating stars of The Marvel Super-Heroes, a series of (barely) animated short cartoons that aired weekday afternoons, beginning in September of ’66. The year of the superhero!

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS

My introduction to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was most definitely second-hand. If there were issues of Tower Comics‘ 25-cent giant T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents on the rack at Sweetheart, I missed ’em, and I didn’t get around to seeing any of them (and their sublime Wally Wood artwork) until snagging a couple of back issues in the ’70s. No, instead I saw two parodies first. The second of the two was from Marvel Comics, as seen in the humor book Not Brand Echh. I didn’t come aboard the Brechh train until its fourth issue, so I missed seeing NBE # 2’s cracked-mirror version of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. facing Dynamo and NoMan of The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (that would be Knock Furious, Agent of S.H.E.E.S.H. facing Dynaschmoe and Invisible Man of The Blunder Agents). But I did see it when it was reprinted in Not Brand Echh # 10–“The Worst Of Not Brand Echh“–in the summer of ’68. I have all of the Not Brand Echhs in a hardcover collection now.

My first vicarious exposure to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was in a DC Comics humor title: the bad guys in H.U.R.R.I.C.A.N.E., as seen in DC’s The Inferior Five # 1 in 1967. We covered that in a previous Everlasting First. I wish there were a hardcover Inferior Five collection I could buy now.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE

The classic TV anthology series The Twilight Zoneended in 1964, so four-year-old me should have had no business watching it. Maybe it was still in reruns a little after that? Not that I would have been any braver to face the show at six or seven years old. I remember that creepy opening, and I remember the show scared the livin’ chicklets outta me. Ooh! I particularly remember one episode where a mystic scarab or something caused some poor geezer to crumble into dust before my terrified eyes. Brrr! This never happened on Batman. Robin! ROBIN! Save me, Boy Wonder!

Or, y’know, you could send Wonder Girl to save me. That would be fine, too.

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This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download
Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1)will contain 165 essays about 165 tracks, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1). My weekly Greatest Record Ever Made! video rants can be seen in my GREM! YouTube playlist. And I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl

I’m At BAT! (No Pun Intended)

Love Letters 2 Rock N Roll recently asked its Legion of Super-Stringers to write a blurb about our “up-to-bat” songs, the tracks that would play if we were professional baseball players about to enter the batter’s box. I swear the pun in my choice is unintentional.

The crowd was anxious. This wasn’t supposed to be close, wasn’t thought to be any real challenge for the hometown heroes. But that’s baseball. There’s no clock. There’s no guarantee of dominance. The team who scores the most wins. Obvious? Sure. It ain’t rocket surgery, man. It’s baseball.

So there we were: bottom of the ninth, the visitors ahead by one run, two outs, the bases loaded, the season coming down to whatever happened next. The final playoff game in a best-of-seven series. The winning team would go on. The losing team would go home. We’d been the favorites to go 4-0. It hadn’t worked out that way. Injuries. Bad luck. Baseball.

Scratchy McQuade was at bat. He’d strode to the plate as his familiar at-bat theme “I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton-John played for the still-puzzled fans, desperate for a hit. Maybe not an Olivia Newton-John hit, but you go into battle with the pop music you have, not the pop music you wish you had.  First pitch: swing and a miss, strike one. Second pitch: high and outside, ball one. Ball two. Ball three. Strike two. C’mon Scratchy! C’mon Olivia!

Ball four. Scratchy strolled to first, the run scored, and the game was tied. A conference at the mound, the content of which caused seasoned lip-readers to blush like schoolgirls. Play resumed. Next batter.

Me.

I was so far down the line-up that no one knew what my at-bat song would be. I’d been an occasional designated runner, but otherwise hadn’t appeared since preseason exhibitions, and I was set to be traded in the off-season. I was not a hometown hero. But there weren’t many choices left. The manager had sighed, cursed, and thumbed me to the on-deck circle. With Scratchy now at first, and the potential winning run at third, it was time.

My song played. That well-known intro. The fans buzzed. They knew the song; they all knew the song. And they started to sing along:

Batman! Batman! Batman! Batman! Batman! Batman! Batman!
I wanted the TV version, but I was okay with a snippet of the longer version from Nelson Riddle‘s TV soundtrack album. I ruled out composer Neal Hefti‘s version, The Marketts‘ hit version, covers by The WhoThe Jam, the live Kinks. I wanted old school, old chum. I wanted the original.

Excitement surged through the crowd, palpable and electric. They didn’t know me. But they knew the song. They felt the confidence of the just and true. BATMAN WOULD SAVE US!

I was hit by the first pitch. Our run scored. The season was saved! I was traded to Metropolis, but I’d had my moment. A hero? I guess not. But I’ll take it. Yes, Commissioner. Yes indeed.

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na BATMAN!

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THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: The Batman Theme

This chapter from my book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) includes bits from a few other previous posts, all remixed into its own unique piece. It was distributed privately to this blog’s paid patrons on September 1, 2020. This is its first public appearance. You can become a supporter of Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) for just $2 a month: Fund me, baby!

An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

NELSON RIDDLE: The Batman Theme

Written by Neal Hefti
From the 20th Century Fox TV series Batman, 1966
I grew up in a time when TV theme songs routinely entered the public consciousness. The catchy ditties that opened shows like Gilligan’s IslandF TroopThe Beverly HillbilliesThe Patty Duke Show, and Car 54, Where Are You? weren’t hit records in the usual sense, but within our shared pop culture they were nonetheless as big as any 45 spinning on the radio. 

Many theme songs were sufficiently hook-laden to prompt release as a single, sometimes by the original artist and sometimes in cover versions, and sometimes to chart success. The Cowsills‘ swell cover of “Love American Style” wasn’t a hit, but it should have been, and it remains a staple of their live act. The VenturesPerry ComoHenry Mancini, and Johnny Rivers all made the Top 40 with their respective renditions of themes from Hawaii Five-0Here Come The BridesPeter Gunn, and Secret Agent Man. Television tunes continued to maintain a radio presence throughout the ’70s and ’80s. In June of 1995, The Rembrandts‘ “I’ll Be There For You,” the theme from the NBC sitcom Friends, was the # 1 song on radio the week my daughter was born. I thought that was appropriate, and pretty cool.

The campy 1966 Batman TV series had a seismic effect on me when I was six. No other television program could ever equal Batman‘s lasting impact on impressionable li’l me, creating a life-long interest in comic books and superheroes in general, and in the Caped Crusader specifically. I didn’t understand that the show kinda poked fun at the character, because actor Adam West played the title role straight, and to perfection. As West said decades later in a guest appearance on The Big Bang Theory: “I never had to say ‘I’M BATMAN!’ When I showed up, people knew who the hell I was.”

Batman was the most flamboyantly POP! TV show to ever grace the home screen, more so than The Monkees or Laugh-In, more even than essential jukebox shows like Shindig!  Each episode was an explosion of color and attitude, of purposely hammy acting accompanied by on-screen BIFFs, BANGs, and POWs.

But it wasn’t a rock ‘n’ roll show, at least not musically. Its musical direction was charted by bandleader Nelson Riddle, its simple theme song written by Neal Hefti, both of whom were traditional swing/jazz guys who normally eschewed rock. Paul Revere and the Raiders and Lesley Gore appeared as guests on the show, but it was always clear that Batman‘s producers considered themselves above such primitive noise.

(To illustrate this point that Batman‘s higher-ups did not love rock ‘n’ roll, consider the two-part episode guest-starring British pop duo Chad and Jeremy. When Catwoman literally steals Chad and Jeremy’s voices, a character played by Steve Allen [himself a vocal critic of rock ‘n’ roll] quips that maybe that loss isn’t such a bad thing. And we’re talking about agreeably goofy ‘n’ grinning Chad and Jeremy, who were wonderful but hardly hide-your-daughters ruffians on the authority-threatening scale of, say, The Rolling Stones.)

All of this just makes “The Batman Theme” all the more remarkable. It is rock ‘n’ roll; it’s rock ‘n’ roll written and performed by jazz guys who don’t care if you know they’re just slumming, but it rocks anyway. It transcends its secret origin. 

The Who covered it. The Jam covered it. The Kinks included it in their live set. George Harrison appropriated it for The Beatles‘ “Taxman” (which itself inspired The Bangles‘ “I’m In Line” and The Jam’s “Start!”), and Prince incorporated it into his 1989 Batman soundtrack single “Batdance.” The Marketts had a hit with it. Hefti recorded his own version, and it also charted. 

This entry represents the only spot in this book that’s not occupied by an actual record (although the track was finally given an official release on the CD version of the soundtrack to the 1966 Batman movie). The definitive version will always be the compact rumble performed by Nelson Riddle and his orchestra during the show’s opening credits, heard every Wednesday and Thursday night at 7:30, 6:30 Central on ABC. No subsequent recording has ever matched the specific feel, the unique sway of a caped-crusading call-to-arms accompanied by deadly-earnest chick vocals, rolling percussion, and the on-screen cartoon images of Batman and Robin boppin’ the bad guys at the start of another exciting episode. Riddle recorded a full-length version for the show’s official soundtrack LP, but even that fails to duplicate the simple magic of the short little TV version. 

Years ago, when I auditioned for a game show, prospective contestants were expected to dazzle and impress a small live audience. I did some schtick, got some laughs, and then said that I wanted to close with a rendition of  “The Batman Theme,” but couldn’t remember all the words. “Can anyone help me out?,” I asked. The response was tentative at first, then more confident, and soon everyone in the audience was singing with me: Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na BATMAN!
I whooped my approval. I didn’t succeed in getting on the game show, but I still felt that justice had triumphed. And right now, in your head, I bet you’re singing along with it, too. Thank you, citizen. And thank you, Caped Crusader.

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You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.

This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:

Volume 1: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download
Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1)will contain 165 essays about 165 tracks, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1). My weekly Greatest Record Ever Made! video rants can be seen in my GREM! YouTube playlist. And I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl.

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: The Green Hornet Theme

This short piece was originally written as an entr’acte at the middle of my forthcoming book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). I’ve decided that it doesn’t quite fit, so it’s moved from book to blog in one superheroic leap.

An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is The Greatest Record Ever Made!

AL HIRT: “The Green Hornet Theme”

My love of superheroes rivals my affection for pop music, and it goes back nearly as far. TV reruns of The Adventures Of SupermanFlash Gordon, and Popeye and Astro Boy cartoons instilled a deep and abiding interest in the larger-than-life adventures of stalwart crusaders who protected the good from the malevolent machinations of evil. When the campy Batman TV series hit the screen in early ’66, that interest in superheroes shifted into supersonic overdrive. I remain a fan to this day. I will not be growing out of it any time soon.

The producers of the Batman show tried to duplicate its success with an adaptation of the old radio hero The Green Hornet; in contrast to the heightened sense of absurdity that made Batman such a hit, The Green Hornet was played as a relatively straight crime drama that happened to feature masked heroes with outlandish weapons. Sounds good to me! Alas, the public did not agree. and The Green Hornet‘s war on crime ceased fire after a single failed season.

I still like it. As The Green Hornet, actor Van Williams was steadfast without seeming corny, and future pop culture legend Bruce Lee was riveting as the Hornet’s high-flying enforcer Kato. Taking a cue from the earlier success of Peter GunnThe Green Hornet‘s jazzy score was as much a star as its heroes, propelling the action and making it all seem so, so cool. Al Hirt’s over-the-top performance of the show’s title theme–a busy, bouncing workout of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight Of The Bumblebee”–rocked as hard as any TV show theme has ever rocked.

As a rabid devotee of both music and comic books, I’ve found a number of superhero-related tunes that thrill my inner six-year-old. Neal Hefti’s “Batman Theme.” John William’s main title them from the 1978 Superman film. “Nobody Loves The Hulk,” an obscure ’60s garage number by a forgotten group called The Traits. None of ’em can surpass the conviction and authority of Al Hirt’s “Green Hornet Theme.” Another challenge for The Green Hornet? Nope. Kato’s gonna kick the bad guys’ asses, like he always does. Just turn the music up. Justice will triumph yet again.


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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Green Hornet

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

This was originally posted as part of a longer piece covering both pop music and comic book characters. It’s separated here for convenience.

Another challenge for The Green Hornet, his aide Kato, and their rolling arsenal, The Black Beauty! On police records a wanted criminal, The Green Hornet is really Britt Reid, owner-publisher of The Daily Sentinel, his dual identity known only to his secretary and to the District Attorney. And now, to protect the rights and lives of decent citizens, rides The Green Hornet!

Oh yes–the 1966 TV series was absolutely my introduction to The Green Hornet and Kato. But first, a little background information is in order.

The Green Hornet was originally one of the most successful radio heroes of the 1930s. Created as a contemporary follow-up to the success of The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet’s modus operandi was to make everyone–the public, the authorities, the underworld itself–believe he was the biggest, baddest supercriminal of them all. The Green Hornet and Kato would move in on some crook’s evil scheme, ostensibly to cut the Hornet in on a piece of the ill-gotten profits, but really to work secretly in smashing that scheme and bringing the crook to justice. The parallels between The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet were many: just as The Lone Ranger was often mistaken for an outlaw because he wore a friggin’ mask, fercryinoutloud, The Green Hornet posed as an outlaw to accomplish his crimefighting goals; each had an ethnic assistant–The Lone Ranger’s faithful Indian companion Tonto and The Green Hornet’s Asian chauffeur Kato–but neither was really played as the comic relief or stereotype that could have been expected in Depression-era pulp entertainment (Tonto’s broken English speech patterns notwithstanding); both had distinctive modes of transportation–The Lone Ranger’s fiery horse Silver and The Green Hornet’s supercar The Black Beauty; both eschewed killing, obeying a strict moral code, even when dealing with a murderous criminal element; and both had telltale signature weapons (The Lone Ranger’s silver bullets and The Green Hornet’s nonlethal gas gun). It was even revealed that the two characters were blood relatives: John (The Lone Ranger) Reid’s nephew Dan, who appeared in some of The Lone Ranger’s adventures, would grow up to be the father of Britt (The Green Hornet) Reid.

While The Lone Ranger’s success survived the demise of the golden age of radio, leading to a classic TV series (and a pair of feature films) in the late ’40s and ’50s, The Green Hornet could not duplicate that success in other media. Both characters appeared in movie serials, and both appeared in licensed comic book series, but The Green Hornet was really long gone from the spotlight by the time he returned in 1966.

The Green Hornet’s return was prompted by the success of Batman, the campy, twice-weekly ABC TV show that had been the breakout hit of ’66.  Batman producer William Dozier wanted to return to the four-color well, hoping for another comics-related hit. He shot an unsold pilot for Dick Tracy. He shot test footage for a legendarily awful sitcom approach to Wonder Woman. And he sold The Green Hornet series to ABC.

Actor Van Williams was cast as crusading publisher Britt Reid and his alter ego, The Green Hornet. A then-unknown Chinese-American actor named Bruce Lee became Kato. And they were both just outstanding in their roles. We all know of Lee’s subsequent fame and acclaim as a martial arts expert and movie star in the early ’70s, and much of his raw talent and charisma was already evident here. But one shouldn’t ignore Williams’ easygoing charm and believable authority as the titular hero; this show wouldn’t have worked without the talents of both Williams and Lee.

Unlike BatmanThe Green Hornet was played relatively straight; there were few truly outlandish villains, very little campy humor, and a sense of action and adventure that was never really present in the exploits of our Caped Crusaders over in Gotham City. It was a crime drama, a detective show, where the leads happened to have secret identities and high-tech crimefighting gear. Even when the shows crossed over, as The Green Hornet and Kato tangled with Batman and Robin on a two-part episode of Batman, Williams and Lee still seemed to play things straight amidst all that campy silliness (versus the exaggerated, comedic “straight” required of Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin).

Where Batman was a colorful, incandescent explosion of self-conscious pop-art exuberance, The Green Hornet was cool. Taking a partial cue from Peter Gunn, each episode was propelled by jazzy, uptempo music, with Al Hirt‘s “Green Hornet Theme” (itself a jazzed-up version of “Flight Of The Bumblebee”) setting the tempo at the beginning of each show. Lee’s impressive skill with gung fu was simply dazzling, and the show delivered tight-lipped thrills with panache and style.

It was doomed from the start.

Batman‘s mass popular appeal had been as a self-aware joke. The American viewing public was not in the mood for super-heroics played straight, and The Green Hornet lasted but one season. After Bruce Lee’s death, as anything he’d done became a potential box-office bonanza, three episodes of The Green Hornet were badly stitched together, fattened up with extraneous and nonsensical Bruce Lee fight scenes from other, unrelated episodes of the show, and released to movie theaters as a feature film in 1974. The film has been variously referred to as The Green Hornet and as Kato And The Green Hornet. I saw it (as Kato And The Green Hornet) at The Biograph Theater in downtown Syracuse, an old-time movie house (originally called The Eckel) that was in its death throes, and would be a parking lot before long. A DVD version of Kato And The Green Hornet remains the only legitimate home-video release of anything from The Green Hornet TV series.

During the show’s original run, there were a handful of tie-in products. Gold Key Comics published three issues of a Green Hornet comic book, the hero’s first comics appearances since a one-shot in 1953.  There was a set of Green Hornet playing cards, a paperback novel called The Infernal Light, a Green Hornet Halloween costume (which my Dad tried to get me to choose, insisting it would be more distinctive than the Batman costume I went with instead), a Green Hornet costume for the Captain Action action figure, and a Green Hornet Better Little Book. Al Hirt released an LP of (mostly) TV theme songs, The Horn Meets “The Hornet,” with a proud cover of Hirt standing next to Van Williams, in costume and in character.

The Green Hornet largely faded from pop culture after that. There have been sporadic attempts to license the character for comic-book revivals, and there was a simply horrible feature film version starring Seth Rogen a few years back. I’m thankful that didn’t catch on! I’ve heard some of the original radio episodes, and I’ve watched the first movie serial from the ’30s, and enjoyed them. But my Green Hornet remains Van Williams, with Bruce Lee at his side, charging forth in The Black Beauty with gas guns, Hornet’s sting, and gung fu, set to kick the bad guys’ asses and elude the police while jazz plays in the background and foreground. Another challenge for The Green Hornet? Yes, please.

Oh. And release the TV series on Blu-ray awready!


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