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COMIC BOOK RETROVIEW: Marvel Super-Heroes #12-20

As a practicing square peg, I have a long history of digging stuff that is…well, not so much outside the mainstream necessarily, but perhaps just slightly under the radar. A TV show like The Guns Of Will Sonnett, a film like Brain Donors, a terrific local band like The Flashcubes, for example–while none of these essential (to me) pop entities has ever enjoyed massive success and adulation, there are still many who share my enthusiasm for each of them.

But Marvel Super-Heroes, the late ’60s mostly-reprint anthology title from The House Of Ideas? Face front, True Believer: no one will join me in singing the praises of this minor comic book. Perhaps I shouldn’t even sing those praises myself, because it really wasn’t all that great, nor even all that good. But I tell ya: when I discovered this comic as an eight-year-old kid in 1968, it meant almost as much to me at the time as an Avengers King-Size Special or a Justice League-Justice Society team-up.

Marvel Super-Heroes was a follow-up to an earlier Marvel reprint book called (in Stan Lee‘s typical fluent hype) Fantasy MasterpiecesFantasy Masterpieces had begun in 1966 as a regular-sized 12-cent book, reprinting monster and science-fiction stories from early ’60s Marvel titles like Journey Into Mystery and Strange Tales. With its third issue, it expanded to a 25-cent giant format, and added Captain America reprints in front of bogeyman tales like “Beware The Uboongi!” and “I Am Prisoner Of The Voodoo King!” Unlike Marvel’s other ongoing 25-cent superhero reprint anthologies (Marvel Tales and Marvel Collectors Item Classics), Fantasy Masterpieces reached back all the way to the 1940s for Cap reprints, as well as for reprints of Golden Age Human Torch and Sub-Mariner sagas in subsequent issues. Its final issue was Fantasy Masterpieces # 11 in ’67, at which point it changed its title to Marvel Super-Heroes.

Although Marvel Super-Heroes continued the series numbering from Fantasy Masterpieces (commencing with Marvel Super-Heroes # 12), there had been a previous Marvel Super-Heroes one-shot in 1966. That was another all-reprint book, starring The AvengersDaredevil, and a Golden Age Human Torch versus Sub-Mariner story, but the new ongoing Marvel Super-Heroes series would differentiate itself from its predecessors with its embrace of that very word: new. While the back pages of Marvel Super-Heroes would still be filled with reprints, each issue would cover feature a brand-new Marvel adventure.

Marvel Super-Heroes # 12 and 13 offered the debut appearances of Captain Marvel, a new character created to capitalize on (and trademark!) the familiar name of the original Captain Marvel. The original Captain Marvel had been the most popular comic-book superhero of the ’40s, outselling even Superman and drawing the legal ire of DC Comics, who successfully sued the World’s Mightiest Mortal out of the comics biz entirely. Marvel Comics had no connection whatsoever to that original Captain Marvel, but Stan Lee and writer Roy Thomas recognized the potential value of the name, and ran with it. Marvel owns the trademark to this day.

After two issues starring new Captain Marvel adventures, Cap soared off into his own new title. Spider-Man starred in Marvel Super-Heroes # 14, the only time Marvel Super-Heroes would ever feature a new story with a character already starring in its own ongoing series. By now, we were approaching the summer of 1968. And that’s where I came in.

I’ve written extensively in my Singers, Superheroes, And Songs On The Radio series about comics I bought off the rack in the ’60s, and particularly of the comics I read while on vacation during that summer of ’68. I recall seeing Marvel Super-Heroes # 15 on the spinner rack at Ramey’s grocery store in Aurora, Missouri, staring back at me with its beguiling Gene Colan cover of the female Inhuman called Medusa. This was a book I perused at the store, but couldn’t quite bring myself to purchase. It was already a back issue by then–it wasn’t uncommon to see the occasional (slightly) older comic mixed with the new, depending upon how vigilant a store’s staff was at policing its comics rack–and I was drawn to the newer issue: Marvel Super-Heroes # 16, starring a brand-new World War I hero, Phantom Eagle.

Okay. This I couldn’t resist. Twenty-five cents later, it was mine.

Hey, watch yer language Phantom Eagle; the Comics Code Authority is watching you!

I didn’t know that Phantom Eagle had previously been the name of a World War II hero published by Fawcett; with the success of the new Captain Marvel in Marvel Super-Heroes, maybe someone at Marvel figured, hey, why not scoop up some more discarded Fawcett names from the dustbin? If Marvel Super-Heroes had lasted longer, would we have seen new Marvel characters named Mr. ScarletBulletmanSpy Smasher, or Ibis the Invincible?

Well…probably not.

Nonetheless, I loved this only starring appearance by Marvel’s Phantom Eagle, written by Gary Friedrich and featuring what’s probably my favorite work from veteran Marvel artist Herb Trimpe. I was disappointed that The Phantom Eagle never got another shot. The character did pop up subsequently in a time-spanning issue of The Incredible Hulk (with more outstanding artwork from Trimpe), but I was apparently The Phantom Eagle’s only fan, and further appearances were not to be.

I was just as taken with the reprints in Marvel Super-Heroes, mostly 1950s stuff starring Captain America, The Human Torch, and The Sub-Mariner, and often just drenched in the Cold War. There was also a reprint of the ’50s Arthurian hero The Black Knight, and a ’40s tale starring The Patriot. The stories from the ’50s were so different from Marvel’s contemporary comics in ’68, but I still dug them. I was especially fond of the Sub-Mariner stories; this was the first time I’d ever seen Prince Namor drawn by his creator, Bill Everett, and these stories were so energetic, so over the top, so great. I recall playing at my grandparents’ house in Missouri, and swimming at the public pool in Aurora, and repeating the line I’m Professor Zumbar, fool! in my head. Years later, I would learn a bit more about Bill Everett, and discover that my favorite Sub-Mariner stories were Everett stories (both from the ’50s and when he returned to the character in the ’70s). Everett drew the wildest action scenes, and some of the sexiest comic-book women this side of a Nick Cardy page.

I went back to Ramey’s and picked up Marvel Super-Heroes # 15, with the new Medusa story, backed by more ’50s reprints and a 1940s story starring The Black Marvel. Back home in Syracuse, I bought Marvel Super-Heroes # 17 (starring the Silver Age version of The Black Knight in his first solo story) as soon as it came out.  Reprints in that one included the first few chapters of a story starring The All Winners Squad, Marvel’s short-lived (only two appearances!) attempt to copy the success of DC’s Justice Society of America. The All-Winners Squad reprint was continued into Marvel Super-Heroes # 18, cover-featuring the debut of something called The Guardians Of The Galaxy–wonder whatever became of those guys?–but I wasn’t able to find that issue until years later. I bought a coverless copy of Marvel Super-Heroes # 19 (with the jungle hero Ka-Zar), and finally Marvel Super-Heroes # 20, starring The Fantastic Four‘s evil arch-enemy, Dr. Doom. The concept of a villain starring in a solo story knocked me out, man. This was why Marvel called itself The House Of Ideas, right? Right…?

Alas, Dr. Doom was the final new feature to appear in Marvel Super-Heroes; the last page of that issue promised a new feature called Starhawk to star in Marvel Super-Heroes # 21, but that feature never appeared. The title went all-reprint with its 21st issue. Now, I loved reprints–I still do–but it was the end of a very brief era for me. Still, I continued to pick up issues of Marvel Super-Heroes when I could. The focus in its reprint selection shifted away from the ’40s and ’50s, and concentrated on the dawn of The Marvel Age Of Comics in the early ’60s. My Mom gave me a copy of Marvel Super-Heroes # 22 as a Christmas gift in 1969, and I was thrilled to read these early adventures of The X-Men and Daredevil.

Looking back, though, my allegiance to the memory of Marvel Super-Heroes clearly stems from that brief run in the late ’60s, mixing new trial features with, frankly, a goofy selection of reprints from before I was born. I eventually tracked down the earlier issues I’d missed, the ones with Captain Marvel, and Spider-Man, and The Guardians Of The Galaxy, and I even picked up a few issues of Fantasy Masterpieces, one of which included the first All Winners Squad story. Marvel Super-Heroes still holds a cherished place in my memory, even if I’m the only fan who thinks so.

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Black Widow

Long before the Black Widow movie was even in the works, I thought that it was great subject matter for a stand-alone movie, outside of The Avengers franchise. Through previous MCU adventures, we’ve gotten hints that Natasha Romanoff’s life had been spent as a covert agent and assassin. In my head at least, I imagined what a great opportunity it would be to explore her early adventures, a sort of spin on the Bond and Bourne movies. Awesomely, the Black Widow movie is all of that and more.

For my family, this was our first outing to the theater post-covid. While we felt comfortable knowing that the theater we were going to was still taking multiple precautions for safety, we opted to attend the first show on a Monday, when we knew attendance would be fairly low. For further peace of mind, we purchased a buffer seat on either side of us. Since it was a matinee, it was more than affordable to do.

It was so great to be back, sitting in comfy recliners, chomping on buttered popcorn again. Our family loves going to the movies, and the pandemic really put a damper on that. Needless to say, we were very excited as the house lights dimmed.

If there was any handwringing at Marvel or Disney, over whether or not Scarlett Johannson could carry her own movie, the opening weekend box-office take of $215 million squelched that. Serving as both the star of the film and producer, she was able to flesh out a hero that was in need of fleshing out, beyond occasionally remarking, “Just like in Budapest.” 

As the following was revealed in the trailer, Romanoff meets up with her sister, who appears to have had a similar upbringing as an operative. While the two initially go for each other’s throats, they are equally inquisitive about the sister that they barely know. Their mission turns into tracing their own family tree, and trying to separate fact from fiction.

I really don’t want to say anything more about the plot, because it twists and turns in a few unexpected ways. Coupled with unbelievably first-rate action sequences, Black Widow more than holds its own against any of the Cap, Ironman or Thor outings. In fact, I can’t wait to see it again.

By Dan Pavelich

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iPad Comics

I started accumulating digital comic book files somewhere around 2010-2011, I think, maybe a little before that, couldn’t have been much after that. Downloadable digital comic books were in plentiful supply around the web until copyright concerns (rightly) shut a lot of those unauthorized sites down for good. Though I admit to taking advantage of such resources when they were available, I made a personal point of never grabbing anything that was regularly or readily available at retail–absolutely no then-current comics, no book collections–and concentrating solely on stuff I couldn’t get at my comics shop. 

For me, digital comics are a convenience, but generally not my preferred method of reading comics. Frankly, I’m just not all that interested in reading on a device; I’d much rather hold a book in my hands and turn its pages. I don’t do ebooks, either. I’ve purchased maybe two or three digital comics that were otherwise out of print, and I get most of my comics fix when I buy my weekly stack at Comix Zone in North Syracuse every Wednesday, supplemented by the occasional trade collection. 

Nonetheless, I do also love my digital comics. I have something like three thousand of them stored on my computer; I’ve shed a few I no longer want, lost a few others along the way, and I continue to add more from public domain comics resources like Comic Book PlusDigital Comics Museum, and Archive.org. Any time I want to read a vintage adventure of the original Captain Marvel or the 1960s Charlton Comics Action-Heroes, it’s all just a click away.


I started stockpiling these things before I owned an iPad, but the goal was always to put ’em on that portable device. If one was going to read digital comics, the iPad seemed the perfect size to accommodate that wish. When I went to Spain in 2012, I took along the iPad with the idea of reading digital comics during down time. Instead, I wound up reading a hardcover mystery novel by Max Allan Collins and a hardcover bio of Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim. Captain Marvel may as well have just stayed home.

We have a new iPad now, and I’m revisiting the idea of reading comics on our trusty older device. I’ve taken most everything else off that iPad, and loaded about 1000 comic books on it. It came in handy while waiting for a car repair this week, as I sat in the dealer’s waiting room and immersed myself in the first twelve issues of Marvel‘s The Avengers from the ’60s. It was fun, and I think I’m going to re-read the run from that point forward until the mid ’70s; if I do, The Avengers will be the subject of an upcoming edition(s) of Comic Book Retroview.


These are the comics titles I’ve chosen to store (in varying amounts) on my iPad for now: 80 Page GiantAction ComicsAdventure ComicsThe Adventures Of Bob HopeThe Adventures Of Jerry LewisAir Fighters ComicsAll-Flash Quarterly, some DC dollar tabloids, All Select ComicsAll Winners ComicsAll-American ComicsAll-American WesternAll-Star ComicsAmerica’s Greatest ComicsAquamanThe AvengersBatmanBig Shot ComicsBlack Cat ComicsBlonde PhantomBlue BeetleBlue Ribbon ComicsBomba The Jungle BoyBoy CommandosThe Brave And The BoldBulletmanBuz SawyerCaptain ActionCaptain America ComicsCaptain MarvelCaptain Marvel Adventures (etc.), Charlton PremiereCharlton Wild FrontierComic CavalcadeCrack ComicsCrime SmasherDanger And AdventureDaredevil Battles HitlerDC 100-Page Super SpectacularDC SpecialThe DestructorDetective ComicsDick TracyDoc SavageDoctor StrangeDoll Man QuarterlyEllery QueenFatmanFlash ComicsThe Flintstones At The New York World’s FairFunnymanGhost ComicsGold Key SpotlightThe Green HornetGreen LanternHands Of The DragonHoppy The Marvel BunnyHot WheelsI Am CoyoteIbis The InvincibleInferior FiveIron Man And Sub-MarinerJezebel JadeJonny QuestJumbo ComicsJustice Inc.Justice League Of AmericaKid EternityLady LuckLars Of MarsLeading ComicsThe Lone RangerMan In BlackMan O’ MarsMary MarvelMarvel BoyMarvel FamilyMarvel FeatureMarvel Mystery ComicsMarvel Super-HeroesMaster ComicsMetal MenMighty ComicsMilitary ComicsMinute ManMy Greatest AdventureMysterious SuspenseNot Brand EchhPep ComicsPeter Cannon Thunderbolt,The PhantomPhantom LadyThe PhoenixPlanet ComicsPlastic ManPolice ComicsRima The Jungle GirlROG-2000The SandmanScorpio RoseThe ScorpionScribblySecret OriginsThe Secret SixSensation ComicsThe ShadowShazam!SheenaShock SuspenStoriesShowcaseSilver SurferSmash ComicsThe SpectreThe SpiritSpy SmasherStanley And His MonsterStar Spangled ComicsSteve CanyonSub-MarinerDell‘s Super HeroesSuperboySupergirlSuperman’s Girlfriend Lois LaneSupersnipeSword Of SorceryTales From The CryptTarzanT.H.U.N.D.E.R. AgentsTiger-ManTop-Notch ComicsUSA ComicsVampirellaWhiz ComicsWorld’s Finest ComicsWow ComicsZip Comics, and Zorro. There’s room for more, and I will probably add and also trade out more titles and more individual issues.

For all that, it remains to be seen how much I’ll actually read my iPad comics. I don’t intend to have any more extended stays at the auto service center, and I’m way behind on catching up with my towering stacks–plural!–of current comics (a subject for another post). But I like having these available when I want them. And you know, while still waiting for my car, I stopped my reading (prematurely) when I thought the car was almost ready. I should pick up The Avengers from where I left off: Avengers # 13, “The Castle Of Count Nefaria!,” the first issue of The Avengers I ever read as a kid. I have it in my hardcover Marvel Masterworks, and my softcover Marvel Essentials. My much-loved, much-read original comic book is long, long gone. But it’s on my iPad. And it’s waiting for me, whenever I want to read it again. iPad Comics ASSEMBLE!

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Superheroes On TV

Batman was not the first superhero I saw on TV. That honor belongs to the Man of Steel, the Metropolis Marvel, Kal-El, the one ‘n’ only Superman. Everyone knew Superman, and in the early ’60s, everyone had watched Superman on TV in reruns of The Adventures Of Superman, the venerable ’50s series starring George Reeves. Concurrent to this, all of the kids in my neighborhood also watched chapters of the old Flash Gordon movie serials, as well as Astro Boy cartoons, both of which were shown every afternoon on The Baron And His Buddies, the popular kids’ show hosted by Syracuse’s own local vampire, Baron Daemon. If you also include the Mighty Mouse and Popeye cartoons we all watched, like, everywhere, then it’s safe to say that all the kids in North Syracuse had plenty of exposure to televised superheroics well before the debut of the Batman TV series in January of 1966.

Nonetheless, it was the success of Batman that paved the way for more superheroes on TV. Prior to Batman, nearly all of the super adventures we saw were old–second-hand entertainment, already enjoyed previously by our elder siblings, or even an earlier generation. Superman was from the ’50s; Popeye from the ’30s through the ’50s; Flash Gordon from the ’30s. Astro Boy was roughly contemporary, but a syndicated import, not, y’know, fresh Amurrican entertainment. At the beginning of 1966, Batman was really the only superhero starring in brand-new televised exploits; he would have plenty of company by the end of that year.

(This new superhero fad had its first effect on advertising. I recall seeing superhero motifs in TV commercials for Bactine and Lucky Stripes chewing gum, and I loved ’em. The images of Stripeman and a flying, bat-caped Bactine container were as much a part of my TV experience in ’66 as The Monkees were.)

Almost all of the new superhero shows would be animated. In September, the new Saturday morning cartoon schedule on CBS included The New Adventures Of SupermanSpace GhostFrankenstein Jr. And The Impossibles, and even The Lone Ranger, starring another character we all knew (like Superman), but who couldn’t be called a superhero because he was, y’know, a cowboy. On weekday afternoons, we were treated to The Marvel Super Heroes, a series of serialized adventures starring a rotating roster of Captain AmericaThorIron ManSub-Mariner, and The Hulk. These were shown in Syracuse on a show called Jet Set, alongside a collection of whatever other cartoon goodies Channel 5 could get its hands on (including Sinbad Jr And His Magic Belt, in which our seafarin’ hero gained super strength via the wonder of his titular magic belt).

There were live action superheroes, too. Most notable of these was The Green Hornet with Van Williams and Bruce Lee, though there were also two comedy superhero shows, Captain Nice and Mr. Terrific. I was aware of Captain Nice, and even owned a Captain Nice comic book, but never managed to see an episode of the show. I did watch both The Green Hornet and Mr. Terrific, but not many people did; all three series were short-lived.

More animated superheroes followed: Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man on ABC, The Superman-Aquaman Hour Of Adventure on CBS (the latter including additional heroics from The FlashGreen LanternHawkmanThe AtomTeen Titans, and The Justice League of America), and a variety of other super-doers created for the small screen: Mightor! Super 6! Mighty Heroes! Birdman! The Galaxy Trio! Super-President! Surely, evil must tremble before this assembled might of right!

The cancellation of the prime-time Batman in 1968 signaled the ebb of the public’s interest in superheroes. Although Batman quickly returned in a new cartoon series in the fall of ’68, the costumed hero fad had run its course.

With the plethora of superhero movies and TV shows available now, it’s odd to look back and realize that it did once seem like a fad that had ended. In the early ’70s, Superman and Wonder Woman made (perhaps incongruous) guest appearances on a Saturday morning cartoon series based on the kids from The Brady Bunch; an ABC Saturday Superstar Movie called “Popeye Meets The Man Who Hated Laughter” teamed the super sailor-man with other characters from the King Features stable, including Flash Gordon, The Phantom, and Mandrake the Magician; and Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Batman and Robin united in a new cartoon series called Super Friends.

Me? I was 13 by the time Super Friends debuted in 1973, and it wasn’t at all what I was looking for in televised superhero entertainment. I wanted a gritty new Batman series–no, not “Batman,” “THE Batman!” I wanted something that would reflect the perceived (by me) maturity of the 1970s Batman comics stories by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams; in my mind, Medical Center star Chad Everett was born to play The Batman in a serious crime drama, with British actor Christopher Lee as the megalomaniacal Ra’s al GhulThat’s what I wanted, not kids’ stuff like Super Friends.


Alas, I never really liked any of the live action superhero TV fare of the ’70s. Well, at the time, I confess I did kinda like the atrocious Wonder Woman TV movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby, and the awful late night TV adaptation of the musical It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman. The original Captain Marvel had become one of my all-time favorite comics characters, but I couldn’t warm to his banal escapades in Shazam! Lynda Carter was a freakin’ knockout, but I found her Wonder Woman series to be too campy, and this young man had outgrown camp, see? IsisSpider-ManThe Incredible Hulk? None of these was ever quite what I had in mind.

It took decades before there would be a superhero TV series that would captivate me. I loved Smallville, the tale of the boy who would be Superman, from the moment of its debut in 2001. Nowadays, I have all the superhero TV entertainment I could ever want, from all those DC Comics shows on The CW to Marvel shows on Disney + and Netflix. From feast, to famine, to an endless bounty, all within my lifetime. Up, up, and away.

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My Serial Thrillers

When I was an adolescent and young teen in the early ’70s, the past became a source of fascination for me. Movies, old radio, and especially comic books captured my attention. My favorite movie stars were Charlie Chaplin and The Marx Brothers. In addition to the great rockin’ pop music I absorbed on AM radio, I also tuned in to the public station’s Radio Rides Again! to hear affirmation that The Shadow knew what evil lurked in the hearts of men. And comics…! Reprints of superhero adventures from the ’30s and ’40s were becoming increasingly accessible—DC Comics publisher Carmine Infantino was especially keen on using reprints—and other resources even went back as far as 1929 for the debut of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, reprised in a hardcover collection that I received as a gift. The ’70s were a golden age of appreciating the pop culture Golden Age of before, during, and just after World War II.

My discovery of movie serials was part of that. Sort of. Eventually. I kinda fell into digging the chapter plays of the ’30s and ’40s. Prior to the ’70s, I had seen chapters of the 1930s Flash Gordon serials on the afternoon kiddie TV show hosted by Syracuse’s local TV vampire Baron Daemon. I was dimly aware of the silent-movie cliffhanger style of The Perils Of Pauline, though strictly as a tangent; the style manifested in the faux melodramatic Tune in tomorrow, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel! of the campy Batman TV series when I was six, and inspired the late ’60s Saturday morning cartoon series The Perils Of Penelope Pitstop.

Somewhere around 1971 to ’73, I found a Super 8 movie projector in our attic. These artifacts were among the earlier examples of home video, short and silent little flicks to enjoy in one’s own private Bijou. We had, I think, a single Super 8 in our stash, an absurdly short edit of Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein

I was riveted.

Pretty quickly after that, I noticed Super 8 films for sale at both K-Mart and White-Modell. Prying myself away from stealing surreptitious peaks at Vampirella and Penthouse in White-Modell’s smoke shop, I was drawn to Super 8s featuring Batman and the original Captain Marvel. My parents ultimately bought me two of each hero’s Super 8 adventures, plus a couple of shorter Chaplin reels. More Super-8s would follow, but the format faded away soon thereafter. I never saw any additional superhero Super 8s.

The little Batman and Captain Marvel reels were taken from the characters’ movie serial adventures, 1943’s Batman starring Lewis Wilson and 1941’s The Adventures Of Captain Marvel starring Tom Tyler. My Super 8s began to dovetail with my dawning awareness of superhero movie serials, courtesy of a chapter in All In Color For A Dime, a book collection of essays about comic books, and in On The Scene Presents Superheroes, a one-shot magazine about superhero movies, published in 1966 but still kickin’ around used bookstores in the early ’70s. 

In ’73 or so, I attended The Syracuse Cinephile Society‘s screening of the entire 12-chapter Adventures Of Captain Marvel serial–with sound and everything! The first chapter of Batman (its virulent wartime anti-Japanese racism intact) was included in a film compilation called Three Stooges Follies, which I saw twice in movie theaters (at Fayetteville Mall and at The Hollywood). The Hollywood also showed the first Flash Gordon serial from 1936 over the course of two separate Saturday matinees. Vacationing at my grandparents’ house in Southwest Missouri, I managed to stay up and watch two or three chapters of the 1944 Captain America serial, broadcast in their original once-a-week increments during the wee, wee weekend hours by a TV station in Pittsburg, Kansas. I also picked up a copy of To Be Continued, a hardcover history of the serials; I wish I had retained ownership of hat book, but it found a new home somewhere, victim of a purge to gather rent money circa 1980.

In February of 1976, I attended the Super DC Con sponsored by DC Comics in NYC. The film presentations at the con included some DC-affiliated serial footage, though my memory struggles to recreate the specifics. There was probably a Captain Marvel chapter, a chapter from 1949’s Batman And Robin, and I think an original coming-attractions trailer for The Vigilante. I do remember that there was a fragment of a chapter from 1948’s Superman; the two serials actor Kirk Alyn made as the Man of Steel were then presumed to be lost, though both were recovered in later years.

And that was probably it for my serial thrillers for a good while thereafter. Off to college in ’77, graduation in ’80, apartment living in Brockport and then Buffalo until the spring of ’87. I bought my first VCR in December of ’86. I got a VHS copy of Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe at some point, but never quite got around to watching it. When I moved back to Syracuse in ’87, Twilight Book And Game Emporium offered rentals of vintage serials. The Superman serials had been recovered by then, so I borrowed and watched Superman as well as The Green Hornet and the 1943 Batman. I bought budget VHS issues of both Batman and Batman And Robin, the former with some dubbed dialogue to tone down its overt racism. I eventually added Captain America and 1950’s Atom Man Versus Superman. As VHS was replaced by DVD, I got shiny serial discs of The Adventures Of Captain MarvelThe PhantomBatman, and Batman And Robin. I also watched Atom Man Versus Superman on TV when TCM serialized it over the course of fifteen Saturdays, and a feature-film edit of the great Spy Smasher serial on Netflix.

I have to admit that I have lost most of my young passion for movie serials. TCM has been running Terry And The Pirates on recent Saturdays, and I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to watch it. Between YouTube and streaming options, I can access chapters of BlackhawkBuck RogersThe Spider’s WebDick TracyThe Green ArcherZorro’s Black WhipThe New Adventures Of TarzanThe Shadow, and many more. But the urge ain’t there anymore. I loved serials when I loved them. 


I’m still fond of ’em anyway. If I’m in the right mood, they all remain a mere click away. And with sound! The Golden Age of Comics, brought to life in sparkling (and occasionally scratchy) black and white. To be continued? Well…why not?

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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch

This was originally posted at Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) on July 11, 2018. As Marvel’s fantastic WandaVision TV mini-series concludes its run on Disney + today, we reprise this look back at how columnist Carl Cafarelli first discovered Wanda (and her brother Pietro) when he was a kid in the ’60s.

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.

You can’t keep a band together.
–Jazz legend Del Paxton

When you’re six years old, you may believe that some things can remain stable, unchanging. At least that’s what I thought when I was six, in 1966. The Beatles were The Beatles, four specific guys, John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and they would always be The Beatles. The kids I knew on my block were the kids I knew on my block. Family was family: Mom, Dad, my brothers Art and Rob, my sister Nina, and an extended family of aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents. The death of my Aunt Connie, my Godmother, in 1965 was the first existential threat to my sense of comfortable consistency, but even though her passing shattered my little heart, and even though I now feared the possibility of more loved ones being taken away from me, I still had faith that things could remain in place, secure, unchallenged. Safe. When trouble appeared, Mom and Dad could chase it away. And on TV and in comic books, evil could be vanquished by superheroes. Like Batman and Robin, The Dynamic Duo–you could always count on those two. In the summer of ’66, I discovered an entire team of superheroes: The Mighty Avengers!

It was a back issue, a copy of The Avengers # 13 from 1965, but any book you ain’t read yet is a new book. It introduced me to my first superhero group, comprised of five characters I’d never seen before: Captain AmericaThorIron ManGiant-Man, and The Wasp. I was fascinated, and secure in the knowledge that this crusading quintet would always be there to thwart the machinations of nogoodniks like Count Nefaria.

And the next time I saw an issue of The Avengers, the old order had already, like,  changeth-ed. What the…?!

Captain America–then and now, my favorite Avenger–was still there. The Wasp was still there. Dumbass that I was, I didn’t realize that the big guy now called Goliath was good ol’ Giant-Man in a different costume. Thor and Iron Man were gone. In their place were three more unfamiliar heroes: the archer Hawkeye, and a pair of siblings, Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch.

Oddly enough, I think I took this confusing challenge to the status quo in stride. At six, I still didn’t quite understand all the busy little business occurring in superhero comics, especially in the comparatively denser experience of Marvel Comics. I just kinda held on, and exulted in my best thing ever: More superheroes! I think this second exposure to The Avengers predated my first exposure to The Fantastic Four, so Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch were likely the first brother-and-sister heroes I ever saw (before The FF’s Sue and Johnny Storm, The Invisible Girl and The Human Torch). A superhero family? I mean, I sorta knew Superman‘s pretty cousin SupergirlSuperboy‘s supposed older brother Mon-El, and had read a touching imaginary story about Lex Luthor as Superman’s brother. But sibling superheroes seemed new, perhaps even reassuring. In tumultuous times, what could be more reassuring than family?

I don’t recall which issue of The Avengers introduced me to Pietro and Wanda, the speedster Quicksilver and his pseudo-magical sister The Scarlet Witch; I suspect it was either The Avengers # 29 (June 1966) or the following month’s The Avengers # 30. But I felt an immediate attachment to them, and to Hawkeye, too. I accepted this new group as The Avengers. My Avengers. My next issue was probably The Avengers # 33 (October 1966), then # 42 (July 1967), and I tried to keep up with The Avengers as often as I could thereafter.

In the ’80s, writer and artist Mike Tiefenbacher said something to the effect that kids who are attracted to superheroes–and specifically to groups of superheroes–are drawn by the look of costumes as much as by any other factor. I agree. At six and seven years old, I thought Quicksilver’s bold white lightning bolt against a green body suit was mesmerizing, enhanced by his silver hair and its unique horn-like tufts. The Scarlet Witch was basically wearing a bathing suit with a cape, but my affection for her look wasn’t merely prurient, and it had more to do with her distinctive helmet, or whatever that was that framed her face. I didn’t know anything about Jack Kirby, and Dashing Don Heck was the artist on my earliest Avengers adventures anyway. It would be a few years before I learned that Wanda and Pietro had first appeared as conflicted minions of the evil Magneto in the pages of The X-Men, designed and rendered by King Kirby.

Anyway. Although I continued to follow The Avengers as best I could, I missed more issues than I read. Somewhere in there, Wanda and Pietro slipped away, Avengers no longer. I found them again as antagonists in The X-Men, and involved in an inter-title X-Men/Avengers crossover serial. New Avengers joined. One of them, a synthezoid called The Vision, won The Scarlet Witch’s heart, and they were married in the ’70s. Quicksilver’s costume coloring changed from green to a light blue. His mercurial temper and imperious nature resulted in Pietro not being an Avenger quite as often as Wanda was. I caught up on much of Wanda and Pietro’s back story in 1970, when my sister’s boyfriend gave me all of his old comic books, which included many early ’60s Marvels. By then, I no longer called my sister Nina; I had begun calling her by her real name, Denise, as she left home for college.

Things change. When I was a kid, The Avengers was my favorite comic book. I still buy new comic books, often including The Avengers, but the current run just doesn’t interest me, so I’m dropping it from my pull list this week. I’ve very much enjoyed the Marvel Cinematic Universe interpretation of The Avengers, and look forward to many more MCU movies. I’m still a version of that six-year-old kid, enthralled when I saw Captain America throw his mighty shield, enthralled even now with the notion of good triumphing over evil, order over chaos, stability over disarray.

On Monday morning, I was a pall bearer at my Aunt Mary’s funeral. It’s okay; she is in a much better place now than she had been in the recent past. In the limousine, some of the other pall bearers were men who only remembered me from when I was a kid, their friend Maryann’s weird and pesky little superhero-obsessed cousin. Aunt Mary was 94, the last of my Dad’s siblings. They’re all gone now, beginning with their little brother Arthur (killed in a car accident as a child), then my Aunt Connie in 1965, Uncle Danny in 1970, Aunt Helen, Uncle Tot, Aunt Rose, and then Dad in 2012. My mother is in a nursing home. She wanted to attend Aunt Mary’s funeral, but decided she just wasn’t up to the effort on Monday.

As the limo made its way from funeral home to church to cemetery and back, I heard these men talk about their memories of Aunt Mary. More than one of them said that they would have probably wound up in jail if Aunt Mary hadn’t provided them with a place to hang out, a place to be, instead of being out there somewhere getting into real trouble. She was a superhero, as powerful with her Italian cookies and macaroni and meatballs as The Scarlet Witch with her hexes, and Quicksilver with his speed. Avengers assemble. Lemme tell ya: even the baddest of bad guys would have been no match for Aunt Mary’s cookies.

The Beatles broke up. Robin went off to college, leaving his mentor to fight crime alone back in Gotham City, just as my sister Nina–Denise–matriculated her way out of North Syracuse. Some of the kids on the block moved away. Family and friends–so many have been claimed by time, circumstance, and mortality. I’ve welcomed newer members of those groups, too. “The Old Order Changeth.” That was the title of the story where Captain America returned from an adventure to discover he was the last of the old Avengers, charged with the task of whipping these new recruits Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and The Scarlet Witch into shape. Things change. The only constant is change.

Our faith in the value of what we knew, though…well, that doesn’t have to change. We remember. We believe. And we persevere, as our heroes taught us.

I may still have a tiny crush on The Scarlet Witch. She was just so damned cute in that helmet, or whatever the hell it was supposed to be.

Oh, it was a tiara! Of course!

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Superpulp Paperbacks!

I have always loved to read. As a teenager in the ’70s, my prevailing interest in superhero comic books led me into superhero and fantasy hero paperback books. Most of these were reprints of pulp magazine adventures from the ’30s and ’40s, starring such ten-cent stalwarts as Doc SavageThe ShadowThe SpiderThe Lone Ranger, and The Avenger. I also read a few of the Tarzan novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, maybe a Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard or a James Bond by Ian Fleming,Ted White‘s original Captain America novel The Great Gold Steal, and paperback prose adaptations of comic-strip storylines featuring Flash Gordon and The Phantom. There were also the Weird Heroes books, a series of then-new pulp hero anthologies (and some solo titles, too). The Phantom and The Shadow were my favorite series, and The Great Gold Steal was my favorite individual book.

At the Super DC-Con in New York in 1976, I picked up copies of two original hero pulp paperbacks from the ’60s, Batman Vs. 3 Villains Of Doom by Winston Lyon (aka William Woolfolk) and The Avengers Battle The Earth-Wrecker by Otto Binder. I thought the latter lacked the panache of Ted White’s Captain America novel, but I kinda liked the Batman book’s attempt to balance the camp of the TV show with the demands of an adventure novel. When the first Superman movie came out in 1978, egotistical novelist Mario Puzo had a contractual clause prohibiting a paperback adaptation of his Superman screenplay; instead, comics writer Elliot S! Maggin was brought in to write an original novel, Superman, Last Son Of Krypton, that was a far better book than anyone would have been likely to cobble together out of Puzo’s ramblings.

The ’70s were almost a Golden Age for paperback superhero novels. And I still wanted more! In the book All In Color For A Dime, I read about Captain Marvel Story Book, a 1940s comic book series starring Captain Marvel in prose novels (with illustrations), and I ached to see these reprinted as paperbacks, available for me to pluck from the spinner rack and purchase for my own reading wonder. I wanted there to be new Batman novels, and new Green Hornet novels. Hell, why not new Blue Beetle novels, too?

I still pick up the ’70s vintage books on occasion, but I don’t have the same teen interest in immersing myself in superhero pulp. I have an Operator 5 novel I picked up in Florida in 1974, and a G-8 And His Battle Aces book I bought in  Berkeley in 1999, but I’ve never read either of them. I’m still on the lookout for a reasonably-priced copy of William Rotsler‘s Blackhawk novel. I have a few Captain Future paperbacks, but have never found them interesting enough to finish reading. (On the other hand, I loved the too-few Dick Tracy books written by Max Allan Collins.) There’s a plethora of pulp reprints available now; Vintage Library/Sanctum Books does an amazing job with its ongoing series of double-novel presentations of The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Avenger, The Whisperer, and even Batman’s then-contemporary pulp counterpart The Black Bat. I can’t keep up, but I still buy them every now and again, and I’m glad they exist.

But, except for a few collection purges inspired by the need for rent money years ago, I’ve kept most of the ones I already have. They have no expiration date. They don’t spoil. If the mood ever strikes me again, pure pulp adventure remains within easy reach.

I still wish someone would reprint Captain Marvel Story Book, though. Downloading ’em just ain’t the same, man. Just ain’t the same.

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THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: America

This piece is planned to appear as a chapter in my book-in-progress The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). Parts of it have appeared previously in different settings. 
An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

FIRST AID KIT: America
Written by Paul Simon
Produced by Mike Mogis
From the EP America, Columbia Records, 2014

My daughter Meghan knew about First Aid Kit well before I did, and she played their Emmylou Harris tribute song “Emmylou” during one of her guest DJ stints on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio. First Aid Kit were among the final musical guests on Late Night With David Letterman in May of 2015, which was where and when they floored me with their sublime cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America.” 

As a teen, I was a Simon & Garfunkel fan, ranking them up in my pop pantheon not all that far below The Beatles. I never stopped being a fan, though I did listen to them with decreasing frequency. My introduction to the song “America” came via the incongruous means of a comic book letters column in the early ’70s, wherein a reader closed his missive about the (then) topically-relevant Green Lantern/Green Arrow series by quoting the song’s line, And we walked off to look for America. You can scoff if you wanna, and maybe you should, but that seemingly innocuous tag line has stuck with me for decades. I was 12 or 13. I was on a bus going to or from visiting my grandparents in Missouri. Not knowing the song itself yet, I had no idea how very appropriate it was to learn of its existence while traveling on a Greyhound.

Relevance. We search for it in our entertainment and in our art, a connection to what we feel, to what we desire, to where we think we are and what this place looks like today. Relevance. Meaning. Sometimes we imagine a meaning an artist did not intend, but that’s fine. That’s how art becomes a part of our lives.

First Aid Kit is from Sweden, consisting of sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg. In their rendition of “America,” First Aid Kit’s reading of Paul Simon’s lyrics takes on a shimmering, gossamer quality that not even Paul and Artie’s delicate harmonies could match. 

Cathy, I’m lost, I said though I knew she was sleeping
And I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why

The American experiment is nearly two and a half centuries old. This experiment–a nation governed of the people, by the people, for the people, we the people–is ongoing. It has had successes, and it has had failures. There have been times when we’ve fallen far short of our goal of who we want to be. There have been times when our collective efforts have shined like a beacon of hope around the world.

We are not shining at the moment. A nation that could elevate a soulless charlatan like Trump to its highest office is a nation that has betrayed its own ideals. Snowflake pretend patriots who cry out in indignation about athletes taking a knee to protest institutionalized racism and police brutality do far more to dishonor the flag they pretend to revere. While proud know-nothings shrug off science and responsibility as fake news, and blithely and belligerently celebrate the thickness of their skulls in the midst of a pandemic, those who seek a fairer and brighter example of the American experiment may despair. 

We can do better. We can be better.

I still believe in this experiment. The experiment’s guiding principle isn’t unique–there are other nations that also embrace these concepts of freedom and possibility–but it is, and must remain, America’s defining quality. We can be better than we are. We can always seek to be better than we are. The American experiment can choose acceptance over exclusion, charity over greed, humility over arrogance, love over hate. We can. We will. We must. Our goal is written in our mission statement: a more perfect union. This experiment continues. 

All come to look for America.

The sound is sweet, the feeling electric and liberating. Let the word go forth. Let the torch be passed. 

And let freedom ring.