Categories
Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Kid Eternity

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. It’s separated here for convenience.

A young boy with access to amazing power, power that’s his to command whenever he utters one magic word: ETERNITY!

You were expecting “Shazam?”

In 1971, I hadn’t yet read my first Captain Marvel story. Before I discovered the original Captain Marvel, I discovered Kid Eternity.

In a previous post about DC 100-Page Super Spectaculars, I mentioned first seeing Kid Eternity in the pages of the seventh Super Spectacular, aka Superman # 245. I had never even heard of this character before, but I was taken with the concept: a young boy is killed by Nazis in World War II, but when he arrives at the pearly gates, he is denied entrance into Heaven. He was a good kid, so the problem wasn’t that his immortal soul was supposed to be shipped south to the pits of damnation; no, he wasn’t supposed to be dead at all. It was a clerical error! The Kid–I don’t think we ever learned his name in the original ’40s comics–was originally destined to live a long life. Goddamned Nazis! They ruin everything!

Well, Heaven prides itself on its efficiency, so such a serious error could not be allowed to stand. To compensate, the kid would be allowed to return to Earth at will, but with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. He couldn’t change the course of mighty rivers, nor bend steel in his bare hands, but he could fly, and he could become intangible. And, merely by speaking the word Eternity!, the kid could summon figures from history and literature to help him fight for justice in an unjust world. With the angel Mr. Keeper (or “Keep”) at his side, the boy became Kid Eternity.

I didn’t read Kid Eternity’s full back story until 1973, when the character’s first appearance (from 1942’s Hit Comics # 25) was reprinted in Secret Origins # 4. The Kid Eternity story in this Superman Super Spec (taken from Kid Eternity # 3 in 1946) gave but a thumbnail view of Kid Eternity’s genesis, and then jumped right into the action.

Listen: if you’re a champion of justice, and Rembrandt himself pleads for you to take his case, you take his case. Kid ‘n’ Keep intervened to prevent the theft of The Night Watch. Realizing he needed a little help with these miscreants, Kid Eternity called upon the services of Inspector Javert from Les Miserables, and hijinks ensued.

Nasty fellow, that Javert. And a fat lotta help Nostradamus was. Let’s see how the rest of the adventure turned out:

Awrighty. Kid Cafarelli was hooked. Great concept, gorgeous Mac Raboy artwork, and rousin’ Golden Age comics fun. Kid Eternity became an instant favorite for me.

I next caught up with Kid Eternity the following Spring, in the twelfth Super Spectacular (Superboy # 185), possibly a coverless copy. After the Super Specs were cancelled at the end of ’72, the Kid popped up in the fourth issue of Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Villains, one of a passel of regular-sized reprint titles DC threw on the stands in this time frame. I loved the lead story of the Golden Age Green Lantern‘s first tussle with Solomon Grundy, I adored the tale of Kid Eternity’s first meeting with his evil opposite number Master Man, but I was really and truly blown away by a DC house ad that appeared in that issue:

My fondness for kids whose magic words granted them super powers was about to really take off.

As noted, the Kid’s origin story was reprinted in Secret Origins # 4. When the Super Specs returned in 1973, Kid Eternity found his way into the 21st and final issue of that series, another collection of young hero adventures toplined by Superboy. The Super Spec format was then adopted by a number of ongoing DC titles; I’m not sure how many more Kid Eternity reprints appeared, but I know there was one in the awesome Detective Comics # 439, a comic which featured a new Batman tale called “Night Of The Stalker!” (still my all-time favorite Batman story).

In spite of Kid Eternity’s impressive presence in DC reprints, there was no attempt to revisit the character in new stories. When the annual epic Justice League/Justice Society team-up in 1973 revived a bunch of characters from Quality Comics, the 1940s publisher from whom DC had purchased Kid Eternity, Plastic Man, and Blackhawk, among many others, Kid Eternity was not among the heroic freedom fighters assembled in those pages.

Kid Eternity’s return would have to wait until the early ’80s. Writer E. Nelson Bridwell was obviously fond of our Kid; after all, Bridwell had been the DC staffer in charge of selecting reprints for the Super SpecsWanted, and Secret Origins, and ENB had certainly demonstrated a fondness for reprising Kid Eternity’s Golden Age exploits in those pages. In 1982, Bridwell was chronicling the new adventures of Captain Marvel in the Shazam! strip, which appeared in World’s Finest Comics. In WFC # 278, an unseen benefactor rescued The Marvel Family from a dire predicament; in the following issues, we learned that benefactor was Kid Eternity, and we learned of his heretofore-unknown connection to the Marvels:

Well…of course! The revelation that Kid Eternity was Captain Marvel Junior‘s long-lost brother made sense, and it linked the two grand magic-word heroes of the Golden Age in fitting fashion. Kid Eternity continued to appear in Shazam! until the strip ended in Adventure Comics # 492.

I don’t think the original Kid Eternity ever appeared again after that. The name and general concept were revived for an edgy series in DC’s Vertigo line, and it was so far away from the charm of the Kid Eternity I loved that I never even read anything past its debut issue.

But if I never had any use for dark ‘n’ gritty re-imaginings of Kid Eternity, I’ve never let go of my fondness for the original. How long should you expect me to retain my love of this character?

Duh.

ETERNITY!

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

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

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.

Categories
Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Monkees

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. It’s separated here for convenience.
I was six years old when The Monkees TV series debuted in September of 1966. That was a big year for television, since it saw the debuts of the three TV series that would have the most lasting effect on my personal pop culture cosmology: The MonkeesStar Trek, and (biggest of all) Batman. I didn’t really start watching Star Trek until reruns in the ’70s, but I was a Batman fan almost from the start. Batman began in January of ’66; The Monkees started walking down the street, getting the funniest looks from everyone they’d meet, in September. As I’ve written previously, my sister Denise sold me on The Monkees by hyping it as like Batman, but with singing, and with a guitar instead of a bat for scene transitions. Sold!

My experience of The Monkees was limited in the ’60s. I don’t remember which episodes of the show I saw on first run, but I at least knew who Davy Jones was, and I probably knew Micky DolenzPeter Tork, and Mike Nesmith as well, I betcha. I wasn’t exactly a stranger to the hijinks a young rock ‘n’ roll group could encounter; I’d seen The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night when I was 4, I’d watched their Saturday morning cartoon show (and owned a toy guitar merchandised as a tie-in to that cartoon), and I’d also watched a cartoon series called The Beagles, starring a pair of anthropomorphic canine rock ‘n’ rollers. Roughly contemporaneous to the debut of The Monkees, I was watching a new Saturday morning superhero cartoon called Frankenstein Jr. And The Impossibles, which offered separate adventures of the super-robot Frankie andthe costumed superhero pop band The Impossibles. Superheroes and rock ‘n’ roll?! One would expect The Impossibles to have been the cathode-ray combo that meant the most to me. A super-power trio!

But no, it was clearly The Monkees that mattered. The Monkees were real, like The Beatles. The behind-the-curtain machinations of fabricating a made-for-TV rock group were unknown, unconsidered. The question of The Monkees’ authenticity may or not have concerned me if I’d known about it; by the time I finally heard the whining about The Monkees as a manufactured product that didn’t really play, I’d already become enough of a fan that I wouldn’t have cared if they’d been crafted by the devil himself. I also learned in short order that The Monkees transcended their plastic roots anyway, and became a flesh-and-blood group that played live concerts, made records, lived, breathed, dreamed, fought, created, and, y’know, mingled earthily with groupies ‘n’ stuff. Cheer up, sleepy Jean!

These revelations were all far in the future for me in ’66 and ’67. I saw The Monkees romping on TV and singing songs, and I just loved ’em. I saw Peter Tork and Davy Jones parody Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder as Frogman and Ruben the Tadpole, and I saw all four Monkees take to the sky as Monkeemen. So, there’s your rock ‘n’ roll superhero mashup right there. Monkeeman, AWAY!

I’m a believer. I believe I can FLY…!

The Monkees’ music was real, too. I don’t think any pop music by anyone at any time is better than what The Beatles were releasing from 1964 through 1966, but The Monkees’ records also hold up quite well (and better than, say, The Beagles’ “Sharing Wishes” or The Impossibles’ “Hey You [Hiddy Hiddy Hoo],” though I would buy either of those in a heartbeat right now). My brother Art had the first two Monkees albums, The Monkees and More Of The Monkees, and there were Monkees songs on the radio, so I had plenty of opportunity to hear Micky, Davy, Peter, and Michael sing and play, even if they weren’t really playing until the records they made after that.

As a kid, the Monkees songs that were immediate parts of my world included “(Theme From) The Monkees,” the goofy “Gonna Buy Me A Dog,” “I’m A Believer,” “Saturday’s Child,” “Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow),” “Papa Gene’s Blues,” probably “Last Train To Clarksville” and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone),” and most definitely the righteous stomper “She.” I remember being in a doctor’s waiting room, cooling heels with Art and with one of Art’s friends, who was there with his little daughter. The toddler wanted to be held, and would screech whenever she was set on the floor, prompting Art to chuckle and say, “Thy feet shall not touch the ground!” This instantly brought the lyrics of “She” into my mind–She needs someone to walk on so her feet don’t touch the ground–and that memory remains indelible, roughly five decades later.

Both Batman and The Monkees were cancelled in 1968, though neither series ever really went away. Batman returned in syndicated reruns, and The Monkees returned on a network, switching from new episodes at 7:30, 6:30 Central time Monday nights on NBC to reruns at noon Saturdays on CBS. I first learned of those Saturday afternoon reruns of The Monkees in a two-page comic book ad for the network’s new Saturday lineup, and I wondered if The Monkees were returning as cartoons. I may have been initially disappointed that it wasn’t a cartoon, but I disavow that now. Reruns of The Monkees on CBS solidified my Monkees fandom from that point forward.

I also saw The Monkees in new commercials for Kool Aid, and acquired Monkees records off specially-marked boxes of Post Honey Combs cereal. And I was puzzled by both: One Monkee, two Monkees, three Monkees…only three Monkees? Hadn’t there been four of them? I thought it was a mistake. I had no idea that Peter Tork had left the group, leaving Micky, Davy, and Michael in sole charge of any ongoing Monkeeshines. Nor did I know when Nesmith split soon thereafter, or that Dolenz and Jones released an album (Changes) as a Monkee duo in 1970. And I didn’t know that The Monkees finally ended as a group–such as it was by then–after the dismal sales of Changes. On TV, there were still four Monkees, too busy singing to put anybody down. Hey. hey.

I did hear at least one song from Changes. The CBS reruns dubbed in songs from newer Monkees records, hoping to spur sales to this slightly newer breed of the young generation. I don’t really remember any of them except “I Never Thought It Peculiar,” a clunky and determinedly uncool Davy Jones vehicle from Changes. Few will speak on behalf of that track, but in my mind, it was a hit like “Last Train To Clarksville” and “I’m  Believer,” and I’ll always have affection for it. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures–you either like a song or you don’t like a song–and I remain unbowed in my attachment to “I Never Thought It Peculiar.” In college at Brockport in 1977, the campus radio station WBSU had a copy of Changes in its LP library, and I requested it–begged for it, by God!–from indifferent or hostile student DJs who weren’t about to play anything by the goddamned Monkees. Frustrating.

As steel is forged in the crucible, so my belief in The Monkees was hardened the more people tried to convince me they were no good, plastic, lesser. Bullshit. I know what I hear, I know what I see, and I know what I like. The Monkees TV series helped to form my sense of comedy, right alongside the droll British humor–humour–of The Beatles’ movies, the broad schtick of Jerry Lewis and The Three Stooges, and the brilliance of The Marx Brothers. The Monkees’ records were terrific. If they’d all been assembled in a laboratory by Dr. Frankenstein and Don Kirshner, they’d still be great records. The fact that Michael, Peter, Micky, and Davy also took some measure of control, and became a band rather than just playing one on TV, just enhances the richness of the Monkees story. The Monkees are one of my favorite groups, and they always will be.

I’ve seen all four of The Monkees live, but never all of them at the same time. I saw The Peter Tork Project at The Tralfamadore Cafe in Buffalo in…’83, I think. I saw The Monkees’ 20th Anniversary reunion tour with Micky, Davy, and Peter at the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York in 1986, and again at The Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center in ’87. I saw Micky at a car show in ’87, but he wasn’t singing (and plainly didn’t want to be there). The New York State Fair gave me Micky and Davy in 1996, and just Davy (on a Teen Idols tour with Peter Noone and Bobby Sherman) in the late ’90s. And I saw Micky, Peter, and Michael at Center For The Arts on the University of Buffalo campus in 2012, one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.

Very partial list above–there have been many more Monkees releases in the ol’ CC collection!

I’ve owned VHS recordings of the TV series off cable, a VHS copy of The Monkees’ dark ‘n’ brilliant 1968 feature film Head as it aired on Cinemax, a bootleg of their 1969 TV special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee, an official Head VHS tape, an official Head DVD, the complete TV series on DVD, the complete TV series on Blu-ray (including Head and 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee), my taped-off-the-TV VHS of the 1997 reunion special Hey, Hey, It’s The Monkees, the Heart And Soul VHS, the Justus VHS, all of their albums on CD (many in expanded form), some further repackages, bootlegs, and some solo material as well. Let the official record show that I like The Monkees.

I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve written more (here, and in Goldmine) about The Monkees over this span of decades than I’ve written about any other subject, including Batman, The Ramones, power pop, and The Flashcubes. I don’t think I’m quite done writing about them yet. I became a fan of The Monkees when I was six years old. There has never been any reason for that to change.

Wanna keep up with all things Monkees, new and old? Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) recommends Monkees Live Almanac and Zilch! A Monkees podcast. Also listen to This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl Sunday nights 9 to Midnight Eastern at www.westcottradio.org; we’ve been known to play The Monkees now and again. And again. And again.

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Categories
Boppin'

THE LOVEABLE LUNKHEAD RETURNS

This was originally distributed privately to patrons of this blog on December 1st, 2018. This is its first public appearance. You can become a patron and support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) for just $2 a month.
A recent online exchange about DC Comics Silver Age characters, cosmic crisis crossovers, and a popular real-life entertainment figure who starred in his own long-running DC Comics title inspired this flight of fancy. 

It was yet another crisis. You’d think such things would be rare, but they seemed to happen every summer, sometimes even more frequently. The world, the universe, multiple universes in danger, and the superheroes must save us. Worlds will live. Worlds will die. The universes will never be the same. Again. And again. And again.

But this crisis was different. This time, they invited me.

I’m usually excluded from these things. I used to be as big a star in our four-color world as any of the big guys. I don’t mean just my (if you must) “real” world counterpart, the comedy legend with the telethons and the movies and the temper, the adoring fans in France, the gurgled cries of LAAAAAAAAAYdeeeeeee! I mean me–the comic-book me–mingling with the Caped Crusaders and the Man of Steel, the Amazon Princess, the Scarlet Speedster. I was the Lovable Lunkhead. I met the prettiest girls. I had amazing, silly adventures, and the kids kept coming back for more, every other month. I did all right: Forty issues with my martini-guzzling ex-partner, and then 84 more–that’s 84!–without him, a total of 124 issues from 1952 to 1971, That was a longer sustained success than most of the superheroes in the freakin’ League, man. I was a king of comedy in the funnybooks.

Funnybooks. Nobody calls ‘em that anymore. No one wants any comic in their comic books. They just want another crisis. The real me was celebrated. Comic-book me was forgotten.

I don’t know what made this crisis du jour unique from the infinite previous crises. Maybe because all the heavy hitters were taken off the table before the action even started, out of commission at the hands of a mysterious grandmaster pitting champion against champion for the fate of all reality. Or something like that—I’ve never really understood the macguffins tossed around in these secret superwar things. I only knew that I’d been called to battle, as had dozens of presumably lesser heroes. It was like sending in the walk-ons during an NCAA basketball tournament. The bench was empty; we were the last hope standing.

I’m not a fighter. I’d tell you I never shied from a fight, but one look at my flailing panic in desperate situations would expose that lie. We chosen champions (such as we were) were supposed to fight each other—God knows why—in order to save the multiverse or some such mishigas. Most of the others were bona fide superheroes and adventurers; they expected me, a comic-book avatar of a popular film comedian, to compete with that? Oy….

My pesky nephew Renfrew and my housekeeper Witch Kraft accompanied me, though Renfrew disappeared immediately—knowing him, I figured the little monster was probably working up a high-stakes gambling pool—while Witchy zeroed in on some hero’s sturdy sidekick to flirt with. Everyone presumed I’d be dusted in the first round; presumed I’d be dusted in the first round. This never happened to Buddy Love, man.

My first opponent was a superhero, a stalwart member of a whole Legion of such people, but get this: his super power? He could eat anything. That’s it, I swear, hand to God. He could eat metal bars, walls, and plants and birds and rocks and things. Especially rocks. Man, even I wasn’t afraid of that. He charged at me, and I bent down to tie the loose laces of my sneakers. Safety first. Mr. matter-eatin’ boy overshot, and went careening into our picnic table, landing face-first into Witch Kraft’s Super Secret Recipe mocha, jalapeño, and sardine potato salad á la mode. Even an ability to eat anything wasn’t enough to spare my opponent the gastronomic indignity of that concoction, and I had won my first round.

Then I won my second. And my third. My fourth…?! Crazy. I would trip and my opponent would knock him- or herself out. Slapstick is my super power. I made it to the final round, and I knew that would have to be the end of the line for me.

Why? Because my opponent in the final was the daughter of that badass Dark Knight guy and the buxom cat burglar who used to cause strange stirrings in his utility belt. Trust me; it was a thing that led to a fling, and a second-generation superhero. Little Miss Batcat was one of the fiercest hand-to-hand fighters ever known. My luck had run out for sure.

She whispered something in my ear before the battle. At first, I was thinking to myself, You smooth Don Juan–if only Dean could see you now! But then I heard what she was saying, and I understood my role.

I came out fuming. Bellowing! Beating my chest and swaggering the swagger of the clueless and doomed. She remained tightlipped, all business, making it look good. I tried to make it look good, but my sheer haplessness hampered my façade. I nearly decked myself, not once, not twice, but three times, oh LAAAYdeee! She rolled her eyes behind her mask, but managed to keep saving me from myself. Finally, I seemed to have gotten in a lucky shot, and she crumpled to the ground, apparently defeated.

I had won.

I HAD WON!

The crowd was speechless, dumbfounded. From behind a cosmic curtain, the hidden orchestrator of this contest emerged, masked and hooded, hopping mad. YOU?!, he cried in anguish. YOU won this double-bag super-duper crossover crisis mega event? YOU? He was much shorter than I would have expected a cosmic criminal mastermind to be. I lost a friggin’ FORTUNE in bets on this! YOU WERE AT A BILLION TO ONE ODDS! The only way I can maybe break even is to destroy the universe and do a reboot…ULP!

The miscreant’s dastardly soliloquy was cut short by a savage blow from my former opponent, the Batcat chick. Yeah, she’d thrown the game, but for noble purpose, giving herself the opportunity to play possum and then get close enough to bring the bad guy down. With the dramatic flourish of a true comic book champion, she unmasked the mastermind as…

…Renfrew? MY NEPHEW RENFREW…?!

That kid just ain’t right in the head. Another get-rich gambling scheme. Ponzi had nothing on Renfrew, lemme tell ya. And rest assured: after Witchy and I got Renfrew home, he wasn’t able to sit down for a solid week.

The crisis was over. The vanquished champions recovered, and even more champions from across the multiverse showed up for the after-party. Hell, I think Dean was there, which was my cue to exit. Always leave ‘em wanting more.

I don’t get to participate in crises. Maybe that’s best. I’m a hero—no, scratch that, not a hero. I’m a comic book star from a different time. Fans look back and think because people laughed I must have been a joke. But I wasn’t a joke. I was an A-list star. Readers loved me, and my comic book ran for almost twenty years. They were good comics, too. It’s a shame so few will ever read them again. So I fade away. There’s no dark and gritty revamp of me. There’s no back-to-basics retread, no breathless hype that everything you thought you knew about the Lovable Lunkhead is wrong. There’s just the memories. I’d thank you for those, but that line belonged to another comedian turned comic book star. Instead, I sing: When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high. You’ll never walk alone.

Oh. And I have a hot date tonight with the Batcat chick. The ladies still dig a guy that can make ‘em laugh. The Lovable Lunkhead rises. The Lovable Lunkhead returns.

***

Thanks to Michal Jacotfor providing the spark.

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 
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. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens’ track) is also available from Futureman Records.

Categories
Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Doc Savage, Man of Bronze!

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 wish I could remember where or how I first heard of Doc Savage. In the early ’70s, even before reading about The Man of Bronze in Steranko‘s History Of The Comics, I somehow already knew Doc was a precursor to Superman. But I hadn’t had any exposure to the character, and I knew nothing at all about him.

When I was 11 or 12, maybe as old as 13 or thereabouts, I would occasionally help my Dad when he worked in the visitors’ clubhouse at MacArthur Stadium. MacArthur was the home of our AAA baseball team the Syracuse Chiefs, and Dad ran the clubhouse for the visiting team’s players. Dad was responsible for keeping the place clean and stocked, unpacking the players’ uniforms and arranging their individual lockers, and making sure there was an ample supply of food and beverage. Dad did this for years and years, and it was something he loved doing. This connection also gave me an opportunity to meet Mickey MantleJoe DiMaggio, and Whitey Ford, among others. My older brothers had helped Dad at the clubhouse in previous years, so I also gave it a shot when I grew old enough to try.

God. I was inept.

My recollection is that Dad was pretty patient with my woeful efforts to do the damned job. I tried, but I was just too slow. Still, I spent a lot of time at the ballpark, and I unearthed a few treasures in my spare moments. I found an old Detroit Tigers uniform, which I combined with a skull mask one year to create a Halloween costume as The Ghost Of Ty Cobb. And one day, I found a paperback novel: specifically, a Doc Savage novel, The Land Of Terror by Kenneth Robeson.

I had never read a pulp novel before. My heroes were the heroes of comic books, with strict codes against killing. So I was surprised to read this early Doc Savage adventure, and to see our hero Doc dispense with a bad guy. Permanently. Clearly, this was not how The Justice League of America would handle things!

Subsequently, I learned that the character of Doc Savage would himself regret this early use of fatal force, and would later eschew killing entirely. This copy of The Land Of Terror was missing a page, but it served as my initiation into a whole new world of heroic fiction, a world in which I would immerse myself through much of the ’70s.

Doc Savage had flourished originally in the 1930s and ’40s, the star of his own pulp magazine. Each issue of Doc Savage featured a complete purple-prose pulp adventure novel, credited to the Kenneth Robeson pseudonym, and usually written by main Doc Savage scribe Lester Dent. In the ’60s, Bantam Books began a very successful line of Doc Savage paperback novels, each book reprinting one of Doc’s old pulp adventures, generally wrapped in a stunning new cover painted by James Bama. Bama’s chiseled, gritty rendition of Doc looked nothing like Doc’s original likeness in the pulps, but it was irresistible, and it sold a lot of paperbacks.


I couldn’t tell you the name of my second Doc Savage novel, but I sure read a bunch of ’em. My parents even got me a box of them as my Christmas gift one year, and that was really cool. As noted above, I read more about the history of pulp magazines in Steranko’s History Of The Comics, and learned about just how much Doc Savage influenced the creation of Superman, right down to both characters having the same first name (“Clark Savage, Jr., meet Clark Kent. Kent, Savage. Savage, Kent.”). The Man of Bronze and the Man of Steel even shared a fondness for Arctic retreats, which they both referred to as a Fortress of Solitude. Doc’s fightin’ entourage, which Bantam hype referred to as “The Fabulous Five,” was also a big influence on both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, especially on their earliest work with The Fantastic Four.

Given how much Superman and Batman lifted from Doc Savage and The Shadow, it’s amazing Street & Smith never sued DC Comics  for copyright infringement. I mean, DC sued Fawcett Comics with less justification, claiming Fawcett’s hero Captain Marvel copied Superman.

Doc Savage’s paperback success was sufficient to prompt Marvel Comics to license the character for his own comic book series in 1972, and a feature film, Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze, was released in 1975. I liked the comic books, and really wanted to see the movie (starring Ron Ely, who had been TV’s Tarzan in the ’60s), but I don’t know if it even played in Syracuse. My cousins in Florida saw it and loved it, but reports that it was a campy take on the character dimmed my enthusiasm. I have yet to be able to sit through the film in its entirety.

I never exactly lost interest in Doc Savage, but I did kind of move on. The Shadow became my favorite pulp character, manifested in a terrific DC Comics series and some paperback pulp reprints courtesy of Pyramid Books. Bantam’s Doc Savage books had those gorgeous James Bama covers, but Pyramid’s Shadow books offered equally eye-popping cover paintings by Steranko. The ’70s were a golden age of vintage paperback pulp, with Doc and The Shadow joined on drugstore spinner racks by the likes of The AvengerTarzan(with cover art by my then-favorite comics artist, Neal Adams), The PhantomFlash GordonThe Lone RangerOperator 5, and G-8 And His Battle Aces. I can’t tell you how much I loved this stuff at the age of 15. I wanted there to be new Batman pulp novels, and I wanted to write pulp novels. In high school, I wrote two short stories starring The Shadow for publication in The NorthCaster, and I even started writing a pulp novel called The Snowman. (The only decent, original pulp work I ever finished writing remains The Undersea World Of Mr. Freeze, which was completed for this blog.)

But it all started with a Doc Savage paperback, a battered little book I discovered when I probably should have been cleaning or sweeping or unpacking a visiting player’s bag. That was my Fortress of Solitude.

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

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

Categories
52 Sellout

Tribute To An Unknown Famous Highway

Categories
Boppin'

Buying Comic Books Since 1966

Except for a brief pause when I was in college, I have been buying comic books since I was six years old in 1966. Over 55 years! I’d read comic books before that–older siblings, don’tcha know, armed with issues of Metal MenTales To AstonishOur Army At WarSuperman, and an 80-Page Giant starring Superman’s girlfriend Lois Lane–but in ’66 the Batman TV series inspired an obsession with superheroes, an obsession I’ve never seen any need to outgrow. And that interest manifested in a need to own superhero comic books.

As a kid in the ’60s, my “buying” of comic books generally meant I would pick a four-color prize off the spinner rack and either Mom or Dad would supply the twelve cents necessary to complete the transaction. The earliest specific purchase I can identify is Batman # 184, plucked from the rack at a grocery store in Aurora, Missouri while on vacation in the summer of ’66. Tales To Astonish # 84 followed in short order, located and acquired at (I think) a feed store in Verona, MO, with a copy of Superboy # 132 purchased in there somewhere, from the same store that sold us the above-mentioned Batman. It’s possible I got the Superboy before I got the Batman. Six-year-old me was less than exhaustive in keeping records of this stuff. Slacker.

I don’t know if these were my first comics purchases–and, as noted, they definitely weren’t my first comic books–but they are the first two I can ID with certainty as books I selected myself. (My 1966 Signet Batman paperback may have been my first comic book purchase, though it wasn’t technically a comic book. I scored that one at either Switz’s variety store or J.M. Fields department store back home in North Syracuse, NY, presumably prior to the summer visit to grandparents in Missouri. Unless it was after that, in which case it wasn’t first. Damn my record-keeping skills at six!) 

In North Syracuse, my go-to purveyor of funnybooks was Sweethearts Corner on Route 11. A (very) partial list of comics I got at Sweetheart includes Justice League Of America # 55-56, Fantastic Four # 73, Not Brand Echh # 4, The Spectre # 1, The Avengers # 42, Judo Master # 96, Teen Titans # 11, X-Men # 36, World’s Finest Comics # 162, Wonder Woman # 175, Inferior 5 #1, Doom Patrol # 115, Metamorpho  # 15, Spyman # 1, Green Lantern # 57, House Of Mystery # 173, and JLA # 61 (with “Operation: Jail The Justice League!”). My Aunt Rose bought me a copy of JLA # 57 at a drugstore in Liverpool, the next suburb over from North Syracuse. Every grocery store, drugstore, or other retail outlet with comics on display became a destination for me to increase my stash o’ treasures. Adventure Comics # 368. The Amazing Spider-Man # 48. Action Comics # 356. Aquaman #  30. Dell Comics‘ oddball Super Heroes # 4. A three-pack of King Comics titles at Clancy’s Silver Star. MORE! 

A cover-compromised copy of Superboy # 129 (my favorite individual issue of any comic book when I was a kid) was my introduction to coverless comic books (and yet another possible candidate for my first comic book). Many, many more examples of such contraband would follow. In the late ’60s and well into the ’70s, and even the ’80s, I grabbed these illegal, discounted comics as often as I could, with VanPatten’s Grocery in North Syracuse my biggest supplier.

Summers were a fantastic time for kids who loved comics. The annual team-ups of the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America were obvious highlights. A 1967 trip to Vermont netted me World’s Finest Comics # 168. Before traveling (usually to Missouri again), Mom and Dad would let me pick out a stack of new comics to read on the trip. During an extended time away from Syracuse in the summer of 1968, that same Missouri grocery store took in my 12- and 25-cent payments in exchange for  Marvel Super Heroes # 15-16, Not Brand Echh # 10, Avengers # 56, Avengers King-Size Special # 2, Sub-Mariner # 7, Superman # 207, and DC Special # 1. Extending the ’68 vacation’s route to a California visit, I picked up Adventure Comics # 384 and Aquaman # 41, the latter over the objections of a female second- or third-cousin who didn’t want me to buy a comic book in her presence. (This was an early step in my long history of being occasionally puzzled by the opposite sex. And by, y’know, people. Of any gender.)

Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, summer vacations offered a seemingly endless bounty of comic book purchases, from Astonishing Tales # 2 and a giant-sized issue of The Brave And The Bold in Florida in 1970 through Show-Me State acquisitions of Secret Origins # 5, JLA # 107, and…it’s a long list.  A rest stop at the Greyhound station in Cleveland got me Marvel Feature # 1, the first official appearance of the Defenders. The Springfield, MO bus depot provided DC’s The Shadow # 1. I loved ’em all.

Other than trades with comics-collecting pals, and a bounty of tattered ’60s books passed on to me from my sister’s boyfriend, I don’t remember the what or where of my first back issue purchases. Mighta been at the flea market in Syracuse, or at North Syracuse’s wonderful World Of Books. I was an old hand at back issues by the time I got to the Super DC Con in New York City in 1976. Among other dealers’-room transactions at Super DC Con, I picked up Funnyman # 5, which was one of the oldest complete (i.e., not coverless) comic books in my collection at the time. I still have that one.

Throughout all of this, I continued to buy both new and coverless comics at various stores in the Syracuse area. Page counts varied, prices increased. The familiar 12-cent cost became 15 cents by the end of the ’60s. 15 cents became 25 cents, then slid down to 20 cents before resuming the 25-cent level. Onward and upward. DC had 100-Page Super Spectaculars for 50 cents, later for 60 cents, before that format collapsed. 

I kept on buying comics through high school, and into my freshman year of college in 1977-78. Writer Steve Englehart‘s run on Batman in Detective Comics # 469-476 (which I purchased in installments at Gold Star Pharmacy in North Syracuse and at Liftbridge Bookstore in my college town of Brockport, NY) knocked me out, but it spoiled me for everything that came after that. I hadn’t outgrown comic books. I had just moved on.

I came back to comics after graduating in 1980. It wasn’t an immediate resumption of superdoer fandom, but I’d retained my interest in superheroes (manifested in exulting in Christopher Reeve‘s portrayal of Superman on screen). I stayed in Brockport for a couple of years after attaching the B.A. to my name, and I started visiting a new local store called Comic Book Heaven, “Where Fantasy Reigns But You Never Get Wet.” Frank Miller‘s work on Daredevil and Marv Wolfman and George Perez‘s revival of The New Teen Titans hooked me anew, and I’ve been buying my comic books again ever since.

Living in Buffalo from 1982 to 1987, I was within walking distance of the fabulous Queen City Bookstore, where I regularly stocked up on new issues, and scored a ton of coverless and/or crappy condition ’60s DCs out of the bulk bin. Returning to Syracuse in ’87, I became a regular patron of Twilight Book And Game Emporium, owned by Bob Gray, one of my old comics-trading pals from the early ’70s. When Twilight closed at the turn of the century, I switched to Comix Zone in North Syracuse. I pick up new comics at Comix Zone every week.

A few recent acquisitions from Comix Zone.

What do I buy at Comix Zone? Well! My current pull list includes all of the AHOY Comics titles, plus BatmanThe Amazing Spider-ManBuffy The Vampire SlayerSupermanJustice LeagueAction ComicsDetective ComicsThe Other History Of The DC UniverseMoney ShotFantastic FourFantastic Four Life StoryGroo Meets TarzanThe MarvelsCheckmateShazam!Superman BatmanAmazing FantasyInfinite Frontier, and more. I’m way behind in reading them–I have two very tall stacks of comics awaiting my attention–but I keep getting them, and I enjoy most of them.

I rarely buy comics from any resource other than Comix Zone. Other than the (very) occasional eBay purchase, the only notable recent exception was when DC published a line of 100-page comic books for sale exclusively at Wal-Mart. Hadda have some of those, and it was kind of a kick to buy comic books from a mass-market retailer, just like when I plucked comics off the rack at Sweetheart in the ’60s and ’70s…

…or grabbed an 80-Page Giant (featuring Tales Of The Bizarro World) at the grocery store in Aurora in 1968…

…or snapped up The Brave And The Bold # 78 at a Piggly Wiggly in Kansas…

…and The Brave And The Bold # 91 (featuring artist Nick Cardy‘s absolutely gorgeous rendition of the Black Canary) at the GEM store (Government Employees’ Market) in Syracuse…

…or discovered the Golden Age Plastic Man via DC Special # 15 at a drugstore in the Northern Lights shopping center… 

…or badgered Mom to take me to Carl’s Drugs in Liverpool, for the specific drugs this Carl craved, like Adventure Comics # 428…

…or bought the sultry Vampirella (while also sneaking peeks at Penthouse) at White-Modell…

I actually got this one at World Of Books, but…close enough!

…or E-Man # 10 at a pit stop in Arkansas…

…or The Joker # 1 and an issue of Charlton Comics‘ Yang at a convenience store in Clifton Park, NY…

…or Shazam! # 1 and Howard The Duck # 1, both hoarded by deluded speculators across the country, both purchased by me off the rack, both at Gold Star Pharmacy, the former in 1972 (when Gold Star was still Henry & Hines) and the latter in 1976. Speculation? Comic books are for reading and cherishing, you fools…

…or Detective Comics # 438 from the literal stack of Detective Comics # 438s at Two Guys department store… 

…or Doctor Strange # 50, with art by Steve Englehart’s former Detective Comics collaborator Marshall Rogers, discovered at a candy shop on Victory Boulevard while visiting my girlfriend on Staten Island…

…or my truly crappy-condition Batman # 100, courtesy of an antique shop in Brockport.

The comic books of my life. The Wal-Mart books sure looked cool, too, and they were part of that decades-long tapestry of colorful, action-packed wonder.

I’m not a collector anymore. If I don’t like a book, I stop buying it, and I often get rid of a comic book after I’ve read it. I’m a fan. I still have some of the books I bought as a kid, for 12 cents or 25 cents or whatever. The prices are a little higher now; they start at $3.99 to $4.99 and go up from there, though some retailers (including Comix Zone) offer discounts for subscribers. It’s okay. You can’t assign a value to dreams, and comic books remain the stuff that dreams are made of. Screw the Maltese Falcon. Gimme my comic books.

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

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

Categories
Boppin'

Comic Strip Club

I’ve loved comic strips since I was a little kid. While my primary panel allegiance is to comic books, there’s never really been a time when I didn’t peruse at least the Sunday funnies. My earliest specific memory of reading newspaper comics goes back to 1966, when I was six years old and fallin’ hard for superheroes (thanks to the Batman TV series). One week, there was a Sunday Beetle Bailey strip where Sgt. Snorkel dreams that he and Beetle have become their own Dynamic Duo Fatman and Slobber, and high-camp hijinks ensue. There’s no way that was my first exposure to Beetle Bailey and the rest of the popular features found in Syracuse’s Sunday Herald American, but that one certainly resonated with me. And for weeks thereafter, I kept waiting for Fatman and Slobber to reappear in Beetle Bailey, but alas, it was their only appearance. I betcha they were probably erased from continuity in Crisis On Infinite Earths anyway.

In addition to Beetle Bailey, my early favorites included The Family CircusDennis The MenaceBlondieArchiePogo, and (I think) Peanuts. I probably read Li’l Abner, too. We received the daily newspapers as well, The Post Standard in the morning and The Herald Journal in the afternoon, so I started scannin’ those black-and-white strips during the week. Although I was (as noted) big into superhero comic books, I didn’t really follow any syndicated adventure or dramatic strips. If memory serves, the non-comical comic strips the Syracuse papers offered at the time would have included Dick TracySteve CanyonPrince ValiantDondi, and The PhantomThe Phantom was the only costumed hero of the bunch–the Syracuse papers did not carry Superman or Batman–but I didn’t start following the exploits of The Ghost Who Walks until later (after The Phantom [and Steve Canyon] were included as accessory identities for the Captain Action superhero doll in 1967).

In the late ’60s and into the ’70s, the adventure strips began to seem more attractive to me, especially The PhantomSteve Canyon, and Rip Kirby. Aside from reprints in Peanuts paperback collections, the first older newspaper strips I ever read were the 1940s Batman and the 1929/1930s Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, both of which I discovered in the early ’70s. The Batman strips had been reprinted in a few of DC Comics‘ 80-Page Giants in the ’60s, comic books which I encountered as back issues circa…’72, or so? And a Christmas or birthday around that time brought me the hardcover volume The Collected Works Of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century. Reading the adventures of the intrepid Buck Rogers influenced my own eighth-grade art project, a comic strip called Jack Mystery.

(The allure of older newspaper strips was strong, but I didn’t have much opportunity [or funds] to indulge it in the ’70s. I coveted a publication called The Menomonee Falls Gazette, which published a variety of comic strips, but I don’t think I ever bought an issue. I started clipping and saving The Phantom strip from the Syracuse papers, I read paperback novelizations of 1930s Phantom and Flash Gordon strip continuities, and I immersed myself in a fantastic tabloid Dick Tracy one-shot published by DC Comics. I never got around to buying or reading any other vintage newspaper strip collections.)

As time wore on, there were fewer adventure or drama options to be found on the funnies pages in the Syracuse newspapers. The Phantom hung on (and it’s still there today), but Rip Kirby and Steve Canyon faded away, and Dick Tracy eventually disappeared locally, too. I never developed any interest in Mark Trail or Mary Worth, though I did at least flirt with Brenda Starr, Reporter. On the humor front, of course, I was completely taken by Doonesbury, and later by Bloom CountyCalvin And Hobbesand The Far Side, too. The late ’70s also brought a number of new strips based on comic books–The Amazing Spider-ManWorld’s Greatest SuperheroesThe Incredible HulkConan The Barbarian, and Howard The Duck–but the ones I saw didn’t grab me, and the ones I didn’t see, I…um, didn’t see.

Fast-forward through the ’80s (something I wish I could have done in real life). When I lived in an apartment in Buffalo in the ’80s, I subscribed to home delivery of The Buffalo News and continued to get my daily comic-strip fix. I cancelled when I moved back to Syracuse in ’87. In 1989, I bought a house in the Syracuse suburbs. The blockbuster success of the 1989 Batman movie spawned a new syndicated Batman comic strip, ghost-written by my favorite mystery novelist Max Allan Collins and illustrated by my all-time favorite Bat-artist Marshall Rogers. The new strip would be carried in the Syracuse newspapers, and that was sufficient motivation for me to start getting home delivery of the paper again.

I thought the new Batman strip was just wonderful, but it didn’t last long in the Syracuse papers. I was able to continue following it in a promo publication given away at participating comic book shops, but the strip ended entirely not long thereafter. It also appeared in a magazine called Comics Revue, which contained a great mix of new, old, comical, and straight comics. I had already been buying Comics Revue regularly (and was hooked by its reprints of the great British spy strip Modesty Blaise), but I eventually stopped getting it because issues were accumulating faster than I ever got around to reading them.

The newspaper game has changed, not for the better. There is no daily newspaper in Syracuse anymore; the Herald is long gone, and the Post now publishes a mere three days a week, with daily content posted online. I still receive home delivery on Thursdays and Sundays, but I read my comics online. Writer/artist/musician Dan Pavelich began a humor comic strip called Just Say Uncle, and it was (and remains) available on Patreon. Go Comics carries a number of comic strips, including my other current favorites Dick TracyPearls Before SwineLuannCarol Lay‘s essential weekly Lay LinesNon SequiturDoonesburyFox Trot, and Jump Start, classic Tarzan, and much more. Go Comics has become my daily comics resource. It’s not the same as getting a new Batman newspaper strip delivered to my home every day, but it’s going to have to suffice.


TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

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

Categories
Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Red Tornado

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.

In 1968, the world seemed like it could shatter. Assassinations and protests, an increasingly unpopular war, conflicts between races and generations, and a general feeling of unease and ugliness permeated the year. I was eight years old. I was oblivious to much of what was happening, but even I could tell that things weren’t quite right in the world.

This was not necessarily reflected much, if at all, in the comic books I read.

Comic books were safe, stable. Even within the occasional soap opera mishigas of Marvel Comics, justice could be expected to triumph. This was even more true in the relatively staid and conservative world of DC Comics, the home of familiar, comforting do-gooders like SupermanBatman, and The Justice League of America. In the pages of a comic book, an eight-year-old could be in his heaven, and all could be right with the world. Even in 1968.

In comics, one symbol of stability was the annual two-part crossover of the JLAand their parallel Earth counterparts The Justice Society of America, the original super-team from the 1940s. The first issue of JLA I remember seeing was the second part of the 1966 JLA/JSA team-up, though it remained on the spinner rack unpurchased (I bought an issue of Batman instead). Just shy of a year later, my first issue of JLA was part one of the ’67 crossover, cover-featuring an adult Robin taking his older mentor Batman’s place in the Justice Society. I was hooked, and dutifully (and gleefully!) purchased part two the next month. A cumulative twenty-four cents well spent.

By the time the summer of ’67 became the summer of ’68, I’d somehow figured out that these team-ups were an annual occurrence, and I was right primed for the 1968 two-parter while on vacation in Missouri. Justice League Of America # 64 only featured the JSA, with only Hourman returning from the ’67 team-up. I sort of knew Starman and Black Canary from seeing house ads for their co-starring appearances in The Brave And The Bold, and I remembered Dr. Fate from the cover of that JLA/JSA comic book I didn’t buy in 1966. This may have been my introduction to The Flash of the JSA’s Earth (Earth-Two), but I immediately dug his costume, with its helmet inspired by the Roman god Mercury.

That left one more new character: The Red Tornado. Over the course of these annual JLA/JSA crossovers from 1963 though ’67, writer Gardner Fox had reintroduced all of the original JSA members except the Earth-Two Batman and Superman, both of whom had been reserve members of the team in the ’40s; Batman had been represented by the above-mentioned adult Robin in ’67, and the original Superman would finally reappear in 1969. The original Red Tornado–nicknamed  “The Red Tomato,” in reality a muscular housewife named Ma Hunkel, who donned costume to beat on neighborhood nogoodniks in Sheldon Mayer‘s comedy strip Scribbly–hadn’t ever been a member of the JSA, nor even a reserve member; she’d stumbled into a one-page cameo in the Justice Society’s first meeting in 1940’s All Star Comics # 3, and was never referenced in that context again.

Although Fox and editor Julie Schwartz weren’t averse to using goofball JSA member Johnny Thunder for comic relief, they plainly had no interest in reviving Ma Hunkel (whom Starman recalled as “all brawn and no brain” in the ’68 story). Like ol’ Ma Hunkel, this new Red Tornado barged into a JSA meeting uninvited, but that and the name were the only things our two Tornadoes had in common.

Unlike the tough street fighter Ma Hunkel, the 1968 model Red Tornado had super powers, basically the ability to create powerful whirlwinds of force. The new Tornado believed himself to be the original Red Tornado from the ’40s, but he wasn’t; he was an android, created by the evil T. O. Morrow to infiltrate and help destroy the Justice Society, all as part of Morrow’s scheme to kill his real arch-enemies, the Justice League. Morrow didn’t even bother to give The Red Tornado a face; there were no eyes, nose, mouth, ears, nor any features at all beneath the mask of The Red Tornado. Nonetheless, The Red Tornado refused to be Morrow’s pawn, and instead helped our heroes defeat the villain. The Red Tornado joined the JSA, and later migrated to Earth-One to join the JLA. He perished saving both Earths in the climax of my favorite JLA/JSA crossover, Justice League Of America # 100-102 in 1971. He was resurrected again within a few years.

The Red Tornado’s 1968 debut roughly coincided with Marvel Comics’ introduction of The Vision in the super-team book The Avengers. These two characters had notable similarities. Both were androids, created by sinister masterminds (Ultron in The Vision’s case) as weapons against the good guys, and both rebelled against their evil overloads and went on to join the teams they were supposed to snuff. Both, incidentally, were also Silver Age remake/remodels of lesser-known ’40s characters. Even visually, both had red faces and wore collared capes. Mere coincidence? Yeah, almost certainly. But remarkable coincidences just the same.

I liked the new ‘n’ (supposedly) improved Red Tornado at the time, but looking back, I’ve come to prefer original Red Tornado Ma Hunkel to her android counterpart. For one thing, those Scribbly And The Red Tornado strips that Sheldon Mayer did for All-American Comics in the ’40s were a hoot, energetic stuff just loaded with sheer personality, more interesting to me than the modern-day miasma of a square-peg android wishing he could fit in. Great, a superhero from the island of misfit toys. I first read a teasing sample of Mayer’s Red Tornado in the ’70s, in DC’s oversized reprint of the JSA’s first appearance. I later read a few months’ worth of Scribbly And The Red Tornado stories when they were reprinted in the hardcover book A Smithsonian Collection Of Comic-Book Comics. I would love to read the entire series. Writer Geoff Johns finally brought Ma Hunkel back in the pages of JSA around 2004.

(Although Ma Hunkel never appeared in any of the old JLA/JSA meetings, I would have definitely wanted to include her if I’d had an opportunity to write such a story. I picture a scene of a group of non-powered JLA and JSA members, huddled in hiding while surveying an enemy army, Batman urging caution as he comes up with a plan of attack, only to see ol’ Red Tomato break ranks and dive-bomb headfirst into battle. Green Arrow joins the fight, saying “I like this dame!,” and Wildcat replying, “Told ya so!”)

In 1968, the world was in a fragile state, a state of frightening change. There were even changes in the comics, changes too subtle for a clueless eight-year-old to discern. Justice League Of America # 63, the issue before “The Stormy Return Of The Red Tornado!,” had been the final issue of JLA penciled by Mike Sekowsky. Sekowsky had been the League’s regular penciler since the team’s debut in The Brave And The Bold in 1960, but he was now moving on to other projects (including Wonder Woman). His replacement Dick Dillin debuted with The Red Tornado’s debut, and remained at the job until his death in 1980.

The Red Tornado two-parter was the JLA finale for Gardner Fox. Fox had created the Justice Society in 1940, and the JLA in 1960, and he’d been the only writer the League ever had. Until he wasn’t anymore. In 1968, DC wanted fresh blood, younger blood, to help it compete with those pesky upstarts at Marvel Comics. Thank you for your service, Fox; you know the way out. The winds of change were approaching storm velocity. Batten down the hatches, heroes; it’s gonna be a rough one out there.

WHEN THE EVERLASTING FIRST RETURNS: R is for

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Categories
Comics

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Marvel Comics

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. It’s separated here for convenience.
Make mine Marvel?

In early 1966, I was six years old, and a de facto DC Comics fan. I didn’t know about different comic book companies, but the Batman TV series made me a voracious superhero enthusiast. The superdoers I knew were pretty much all DC characters: Batman and RobinSupermanThe Metal Men, and Superboy. I think my comics reading at the time may have stretched to include the grizzled, battle-weary World War II soldier Sgt. Rock (in an incongruous meeting with The Viking Prince) and humor comics like Gold Key‘s The Flintstones and Harvey‘s Hot Stuff and Casper The Friendly Ghost. This would change and expand as the year wore on. And somewhere in there, I also discovered Marvel Comics.

Marvel was both a veteran and an upstart publisher in the early ’60s. It had been in the comics biz since the 1939 publication of Marvel Comics # 1, cover-featuring the debut of The Human Torch. The company had done well in the ’40s, with the Torch, The Sub-Mariner, and Captain America, but had slid to lower-tier status in the ’50s. In 1962, legend has it that Marvel’s boss Martin Goodman heard DC’s Jack Liebowitz boast during a golf game about how well DC was doing with superhero comics again, particularly with a new super-team book called Justice League of America. Desiring a piece of that super-success for his own marginal comics line, Goodman then directed his wife’s cousin, Stanley Lieber, to create a superhero team for Marvel.

Stanley Lieber had been working for Goodman for almost as long as Goodman had a comics line. Lieber wrote, Lieber edited, and Lieber probably swept the office on occasion. His first published story was a text piece, “Captain America Foils The Traitor’s Revenge,” in 1941. Lieber felt that comics work was demeaning, and didn’t want to sully his name by association with this seedy medium. Hoping to some day become a respected novelist, Lieber used a pseudonym for all of his comics work. To this day, though, no one has read nor even heard of novelist Stanley Lieber; but we all know Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee.

Lee basically ran Goodman’s comics line (variously called TimelyAtlas, and eventually Marvel) from the mid ’40s on. As superhero stories fell out of fashion, Lee churned out Westerns, romance, horror, teen humor–anything that might find a place on the fickle newsstand. The line shrunk. The staff shrunk. The assignments for freelancers all but disappeared. But Lee was still there. One presumes he wasn’t thrilled with the fact, but Lee was still there. And he was still there in ’62, when Goodman gave the command to concoct his own Justice League.

Is the story of the golf game that inspired the Marvel Age of Comics fact or fantasy? It may not matter. As we learned from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend. Lee had his orders. And Lee even had a super power at his disposal: he had artist Jack Kirby. It’s no slight against Lee to suggest that Kirby may have been the single most important creator in the history of American comic books; Kirby’s talent and boundless imagination leaped off every page he ever crafted. Working with Joe Simon in the ’40s and ’50s, Kirby co-created Captain America, The Newsboy LegionStuntmanBoy’s RanchThe Boy CommandosThe Fly, the genre of romance comics, and that’s not even a thumbnail c.v. After Simon and Kirby split up, Kirby continued working and creating. His vibrant visual style added impressive zing to the generic monster stories Lee was slapping together for Marvel’s Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery. Together, Lee and Kirby would make magic. Together, Lee and Kirby would create the Marvel Universe.

Although it’s easy to get carried away with (deserved) praise of Kirby, it’s important to also celebrate how integral Stan Lee was in this partnership. We weren’t there, so we’ll never really know how much work Lee did, nor how much was pure Kirby, but one suspects this whole lightning-in-a-jar of the Marvel Age of Comics couldn’t have occurred without both of them working at the top of their game. Neither Lee nor Kirby could have done it alone, nor would it have been the same with, say, Stan Lee and Carmine Infantino, nor Jack Kirby and Gardner Fox. Marvel was the House of Ideas that Stan and Jack built.

And it started with The Fantastic Four, the superhero team Lee and Kirby created to answer Martin Goodman’s decree. Although much of The Fantastic Four‘s dynamic was immediately reminiscent of Kirby’s previous work on his creation The Challengers Of The Unknown at DC, Lee’s dialogue added a whole other level of seeming verisimilitude. Unlike the monster stories and other disposable strips Lee had been generating, Lee was engaged and energized by writing The Fantastic Four. The spark ignited. The book sold. Success! Success breeds a demand for more. Lee and Kirby accommodated.

The Incredible Hulk! The Mighty Thor! The Amazing Spider-Man, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (though Kirby claimed at least partial credit, and that’s another one we’ll never really know for sure)! The Invincible Iron Man (creation assigned to Lee, his brother Larry Lieber, Kirby, and underrated artist Don Heck)! The hits just kept on coming. Uniting Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, and Ant-Man and The Wasp finally gave Goodman his own Justice League, with the coming of The Mighty Avengers. Captain America was revived, both as an Avenger and as a companion strip to Iron Man in the split book Tales Of Suspense. More! MORE!
And yeah, I was oblivious to all of that.

As near as I can determine, my first Marvel was Tales To Astonish # 80, cover-dated June 1966. It was probably a book that one of my older siblings picked up. Like the above-mentioned Tales Of SuspenseTales To Astonish was a split book, shared by The Sub-Mariner and The Hulk. The book fascinated me in ways I had no way to articulate. It was…busier than the Superman and Batman stories I’d seen, denser, maybe grittier. Even as I write these words, I also recall the claustrophobic art style of DC’s Wayne Boring on Superman and Lois Lane (a 1965 Lois Lane 80-Page Giant is the earliest comic book I remember reading), so maybe I wasn’t really as unprepared for Marvel art as I thought. But man, this still seemed different.

The first story in this issue starred The Sub-Mariner in “To The Death!,” pitting Prince Namor against an undersea behemoth controlled by his arch-enemy, the evil Warlord KrangGrinnin’ Gene Colan‘s pencils (inked by Dazzlin’ Dick Ayers–Smilin’ Stan Lee had a flair with credits) were simultaneously smooth and dirty, and the image of just the behemoth’s grasping hands, clawing at the ocean’s floor as the creature sinks finally into a deadly quagmire, made a permanent impression on this six-year-old. The second story was no less striking, as The Hulk was kidnapped by his foe Tyrannus, who looked positive creepy as a dying old man depicted by Kirby and Bill Everett.

Well. was hooked.

As a kid in 1966, long before there were any such things as comics shops or the direct sale market, you could never be sure you weren’t going to miss the next issue of any given title. Adding to this frustration, Marvel stories were almost always Continued Next Issue!, not done-in-one like most DCs. But I did get Tales To Astonish # 81, and I found it equally gripping. I didn’t get another issue until spying # 84 on the spinner rack at a grocery store in Aurora, Missouri while on vacation that summer. The cover image of Namor wearing an open trench coat, running while discarding his disguise, grabbed me, reminding me of Clark Kent changing into Superman; Namor didn’t have a secret identity, but I wished he did. I could only buy one comic book that day; I had my choices narrowed down to this one, Batman # 184, and Justice League Of America # 47, and my mother told me to buy the Batman and be done with it. I picked up the Tales To Astonish within a week or so after that, at a small store in nearby Verona, Missouri. I didn’t get that issue of JLA until many years later.

So that was my gateway to Marvel Comics. That same summer in Missouri, my sister Denise and cousin Cheryl returned from a walk with a copy of The Avengers # 13, a comic book from early 1965, but any book you ain’t read yet is a new book. With that, Marvel fully joined DC in my comics cosmology. This new appreciation was immediately reinforced by the debut of The Marvel Super Heroes, a syndicated package of (barely) animated adventures starring Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, and The Hulk on a rotating basis. The cartoons aired daily in Syracuse on WHEN-TV Channel 5, as part of the kids’ show, Jet Set.

Marvel continued to enthrall me throughout the rest of the ’60s. I saw no reason for specific brand loyalty–I read and enjoyed DC, Marvel, Gold Key, Harvey, CharltonArchieMightyDell, even the short-lived King Comics line–but there was something particularly invigorating about Marvel, something irresistible in the carefully-crafted illusion of camaraderie created and nurtured by Smilin’ Stan Lee. In the ’70s, I began to identify myself more and more as a DC fan; the reasons why may be subject for a future blog someday. Nowadays, following a brief period where I was buying more Marvels than DCs, the pendulum has swung back to my familiar ratio of more DCs to Marvels.

But I still love Marvel, too. I love the characters, I love the history, I love the tapestry woven all those years ago by Stan and Jack, and Steve Ditko, and Larry Lieber, and Don Heck, and Bill Everett, and Dick Ayers, John BuscemaRoy ThomasJohn RomitaSterankoNeal Adams, and so many others. The House Of Ideas was a very, very, very fine house.

‘Nuff said.

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Categories
Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Tarzan

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.

It all started with a scream.

Everyone knew the scream. It didn’t matter if you were young or old. The fierce jungle cry of Tarzan was a shared reference in our common pop culture, as was the familiar exchange of “Me Tarzan, you Jane.” Some knew the story with a greater measure of depth than that. But everyone knew the scream.

And, with that said, I confess I don’t know exactly where and how I first encountered this iconic Lord of the jungle. Well, except that I’m reasonably certain that my introduction to Tarzan came via my TV screen.

I was six years old when the weekly Tarzan series debuted on NBC in September of 1966. Contrary to the collective popular conception of Tarzan as a savage warrior with limited command of the English language, actor Ron Ely played the title hero as articulate and educated. He still had the scream, of course, but he spoke in complete sentences. Years later, I would discover that this well-spoken character was the (if you will) real Tarzan, the Tarzan featured in the original novels written by the character’s creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs. That “Me Tarzan” jazz mentioned above? That was just Hollywood messin’ with the concept. Eff the man, man.
But, as much as I want to say that Ron Ely and his two televised seasons of protecting the jungle served as my gateway into all things Tarzan…the math isn’t there. I was six years old, already a veteran viewer of TV heroes from Flash Gordon and Superman to The Cisco Kid and Batman. By the age of six, I knew about (or at least thought I knew about) Tarzan. Everyone knew Tarzan. The guy with the scream. Tarzan of the Apes.
It’s quite plausible that my early knowledge of Tarzan formed via pop culture osmosis. I may or may not have seen a Tarzan movie, but the character was such an integral part of Americana that, well, he was just there. Always. A specific introduction wasn’t strictly necessary. No one introduces you to running, or clouds, or snowfall, or the idea that girls can be cute. It’s a fait accompli. It is because it is, was, and ever shall be. Chicken. Egg. Tarzan. 
Anyway, knowing Tarzan wasn’t quite the same as being interested in Tarzan. Let’s presume I caught an episode of the TV show in there somewhere. Let’s further presume I’d had a glimpse of one or more of the older Tarzan movies in TV reruns. Neither of these presumptions is Gospel, but sometimes ya gotta grab that vine and take a swing of faith. I might have thumbed through one of Gold Key‘s Tarzan comic books at the doctor’s office. But even if I did see something of the new or old adventures of Tarzan, they didn’t inspire me to become a fan. Not yet.
The first Tarzan product I ever owned was a Big Little Book. I went through a Big Little Book phase in fourth grade, 1969-1970, and I snapped up as many of those little treasures as I could. The Big Little Books were licensed properties, tiny hardcover volumes featuring a page of text accompanied by a facing page of illustration. I accumulated BLBs starring Batman, The Fantastic FourTom and JerrySpace GhostAquamanDick TracyThe Lone RangerDonald DuckBugs BunnyFlipperThe FlintstonesMickey MouseFrankenstein Jr.…man, any of ’em I could get my hands on. I even grabbed some BLBs based on TV shows I didn’t really watch, like BonanzaThe Man From U.N.C.L.E., and The Invaders. And my haul included the lone ’60s Tarzan BLB, The Mark Of The Red Hyena.

I remember the cover. I know I owned it, and I know I read it. I have no other recollection of The Mark Of The Red Hyena.
But my interest in Tarzan was about to manifest. In 1972, the Burroughs estate terminated Gold Key’s license to publish Tarzan comics, and DC Comics eagerly picked up that license. At DC, writer-artist Joe Kubert began adapting the original novels, and the result was stunning and irresistible. It would be a little bit of an exaggeration to say I was hooked, but I was intrigued, and I read the book as often I could fit it within my comics-buyin’ budget.

Kubert’s work was my real gateway into Tarzan’s world. From there, I started watching the old movies on TV, both the ’30s and ’40s films starring Johnny Weissmuller as the less-loquacious hero and the ’50s and early ’60s action flicks starring Gordon Scott or Mike Henry. I soaked up reruns of the Ron Ely TV series when I could find it. I started reading some of the novels, and DC even published a 100-Page Super Spectacular reprinting a Tarzan newspaper strip storyline, with gorgeous art by Russ Manning.

I became dismissive of the Weissmuller movies, smugly insisting that the monosyllabic brute depicted in those pictures was a distortion of the character. Yet I enjoyed those anyway, especially Tarzan’s New York Adventure. Ron Ely was my favorite Tarzan, but I came to respect the Weissmuller films, too.

In this 21st century, Tarzan isn’t quite the ubiquitous figure in pop culture that he was in the ’60s and ’70s, when I was a mere lad and beardless youth. I’ve never seen the Disney animated take, and I’m sure the House Of Mouse’s Tarzan provides the key contemporary reference point for today’s kids, if they know Tarzan at all. When my daughter was in college, one of her fiction courses required her to read the first Tarzan novel, ERB’s Tarzan Of The Apes from 1912. That was, at least, a text book she didn’t have to buy, as I lent her my copy instead. She hated the book, of course, appalled by its casual, implicit racism and its imperialist POV. I’ll have to ask her if the Disney version is more to her liking.

And maybe I should check out Disney’s Tarzan, too. Does he still have the scream? Gotta have the scream, I say. Gotta have the scream.

WHEN THE EVERLASTING FIRST RETURNS: T is for:

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

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