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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!

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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Charlton Comics

The new DC Comics movie The Suicide Squad comes out next week. One of the film’s characters is The Peacemaker, a property originally published by Charlton Comics in the ’60s, and later purchased by DC in the ’80s. The Peacemaker’s appearance in The Suicide Squad marks the first time any Charlton Comics hero has ever appeared in live action. That’s as good a reason as any for columnist Carl Cafarelli to look back at his first exposure to the wonderful world of Charlton Comics.


Although DC and Marvel tend to dominate any discussion of mainstream comics today, there has never been a time when there were only two successful comics publishers. DC, Marvel, Ahoy (and Archie Comics, too) have been in this business since before World War II; most of their Golden Age competition–Quality ComicsLev GleasonFiction HouseHillmanFox, et al.–had deserted the funny-book racks by the time Bill Haley and his Comets began to rock around the clock. Fawcett Comics, publisher of the original Captain Marvel, also threw in the towel (or cape) in 1954, but returned as the purveyor of  Dennis the Menace comics. ACG stayed in the game until the mid-’60s. Dell Comics, which was likely the best-selling American comics publisher of all time (due to licensed properties ranging from Mickey Mouse to Tarzan), hung on until the early ’70s, though it lost most of its licenses along the way.  Many subsequent publishers have come and gone–Gold KeyTowerWarrenAtlasEclipseFirst, Comico, etc.–and still many more continue today. My weekly trips to Comix Zone in North Syracuse will often include new books from Dark HorseDynamiteAfterShock, and IDW, along with my steady supply of DCs, Marvels, and Archies.

As a kid in the ’60s (and still today), I dug super-hero comics. I gravitated toward DC and Marvel, but I would also grab the occasional book from Mighty Comics (Archie’s short-lived super-hero line, home of The Mighty Crusaders) and Gold Key (Magnus, Robot Fighter and Dr. Solar: Man Of The Atom). And, somewhere along the way, I stumbled across the Charlton Comics line.

Charlton had also started in the ’40s, and Charlton stubbornly and tenaciously remained in the four-color field until the ’80s. Based in Derby, Connecticut, Charlton Publishing’s offerings were manufactured entirely in-house, and the Charlton Comics line was a low-rent line-up that existed for the sole purpose of keeping the printing press a-rollin’; churning out product was cheaper than shutting down the press and firing it back up.

“Low-rent” isn’t meant as a criticism, really, though Charlton titles did indeed display ample evidence of being produced on a tight budget. But there was often something quirky and unique about some of Charlton’s output, and I consider myself a Charlton fan.

I’ve had difficulty trying to reconstruct where I first encountered Charlton Comics. I have an imprecise recollection of seeing Charlton’s Hercules book somewhere, but my specific interest was Charlton’s Action-Heroes line, edited by Dick Giordano:I recall picking up an issue of Judo Master at Sweethearts Corner in North Syracuse; I remember Peter Cannon…Thunderbolt (and its back-up strip, the bickering superhero team The Sentinels); I don’t think I caught any Captain Atom or The Peacemaker until years later, but I clearly remember a coverless copy of Blue Beetle # 5, an extravaganza by writer-artist Steve Ditko, with Blue Beetle joining forces with The Question in a tale seemingly (but not actually) written by Ayn Rand. If I were to ever write the Justice League of America/Justice Society of America/Charlton Action Heroes crossover of my dreams,”Our Man” from Blue Beetle # 5 would play a significant role.

While it’s not terribly likely that I’ll ever write such a thing, it would be perfectly plausible for someone else to do it; DC Comics purchased the rights to most of the Action-Heroes line in the ’80s, as a gift to one Dick Giordano, who was running DC at the time. Giordano had left Charlton in the late ’60s, initially to work as an editor at DC (including some really, really top-notch comics in Aquaman and The Teen Titansand a terrific Western book called Bat Lash), later as an acclaimed freelance artist, and eventually as DC’s capo di tutti capiA few Charlton writers and artists followed Giordano to DC in 1968, including Jim AparoSteve Skeates, and Denny O’Neil. DC hired Giordano on the recommendation of another Charlton talent, the above-mentioned Steve Ditko.

Dick Giordano’s exodus from Charlton roughly coincided with the end of the Action-Heroes line. But my discovery of Charlton Comics was just beginning; Charlton picked up the rights to Lee Falk‘s newspaper hero The Phantom, which featured some stunning Jim Aparo artwork in the early ’70s, and I bought that title as often as I could. Licensed properties became Charlton’s primary stock in trade, though I generally didn’t buy any of them other than The Phantom. I do remember a Charlton issue of The Partridge Family that reminisced about old radio shows like The Lone RangerI Love A Mystery, and Fibber McGee And Molly; it was, incongruously, the first time I ever saw a picture of The Shadow, a character that would become very important to me in the ’70s.

Scan of Don Sherwood’s original art from The Partridge Family # 5.  Thanks, o’ mighty Internet!


My appreciation of Charlton manifested in back issues, as I retroactively discovered the beauty, the splendor, the wonder of my hair…er, of Blue Beetle, The Peacemaker, Nightshade, Judo Master, Captain Atom, The Prankster, The Sentinels, and Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt. I’m still waiting to read Charlton’s acclaimed science-fiction Western hero, Wander. Charlton published one more action hero in the ’70s, the great E-Man by Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton, but that’s a discussion for another day. The spirit of Charlton lives on in Charlton Neo, current publisher of fine titles like The Charlton Arrow, and there’s even a Charlton documentary film in the works. Not bad for a low-rent publisher that once soft-pedaled its heroes with the tag line, “Action-heroes? We Got ‘Em!!!…And they’re not half-bad!” No, not bad at all.

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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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Captain Marvel Adventures?

CAPTAIN MARVEL!

With one magic word–SHAZAM!–young Billy Batson is transformed into the World’s Mightiest Mortal: CAPTAIN MARVEL!

The original Captain Marvel is my second-favorite superhero, surpassed in my fannish pantheon only by Batman (because, well…Batman!). I’m referring to the Big Red Cheese, the top-selling comic-book superhero of the 1940s, not any of Marvel Comics‘ later usurpers of the name. You may know him as Shazam; he’s Captain Marvel to me. 


I’ve written previously of how I became a Captain Marvel fan, but there’s a specific element of that I want to re-visit. Before DC Comics licensed (and much later purchased) Cap from Fawcett Comics in the early ’70s, and even before my first real exposure to the character via Super 8 home movies of the 1941 Adventures Of Captain Marvel serial, I had a picture in my mind of who and what I thought Captain Marvel should be. 

Captain Marvel, beaten by Superman and prone on the floor behind Lois Lane. As if.

That mental picture was not based on any actual Captain Marvel adventure. A letter of comment printed in a Lois Lane comic book made reference to DC putting Captain Marvel out of business in the ’50s. From that wisp of an inspiration, my imagination conjured an expectation of a straight-ahead Eisenhower-era superhero, fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. Yeah, like Superman, sure, but like a very specific version of Superman: the TV Superman. The late George Reeves.

On The Adventures Of Superman, Reeves portrayed the Man of Steel as a tough, no-nonsense hero, particularly during the show’s first two seasons. I didn’t necessarily envision some actor like Reeves playing Captain Marvel in a movie, but I did picture a similar approach to straightforward Captain Marvel comic-book adventures, perhaps with a bit more ’50s science-fiction angle (kinda like Superman And The Mole Men, Reeves’ superhero debut). 

Understand: this was around 1971 or so. Captain Marvel’s comic book appearances were not readily accessible to anyone but collectors, so I had no familiarity whatsoever with the humor and whimsy of much of that material. Nor did Tom Tyler‘s portrayal of Cap in The Adventures Of Captain Marvel offer any clue to the essential lightheartedness of the Big Red Cheese; from those silent Super 8s to an epic evening spent watching the entire original serial (with sound!) at a 1972 Syracuse Cinephile Society event, my first actual glimpse of this World’s Mightiest Mortal offered no clue that Captain Marvel’s adventures were anything frothier than a Doc Savage pulp novel.

When DC revived Captain Marvel in 1972 for a new comic book series called Shazam!, I was introduced to the lighter approach that helped the good Captain outsell Superman during World War II. I was all in at the time; the appeal of the new stories grew thin, but I remained in awe of the vintage reprints.

But I’ve rarely gotten the latter-day Captain Marvel I really wanted. I wasn’t expecting (and did not wish for) a quasi-realistic interpretation of a hero with clenched teeth and the weight of the world on his frilly-caped shoulders; I just didn’t want the stories to be silly.

Right before the Shazam! title was cancelled in 1978, its final two issues started to veer away from attempts to copy the elusive charm of Cap’s late ’40s/early ’50s exploits. I wasn’t blown away with that pair of issues at the time, but enjoyed the series more as it switched to a backup strip in the giant-sized World’s Finest Comics title. Writer E. Nelson Bridwell and artist Don Newton presented a somewhat more serious Captain Marvel that maintained a sense of wonder but reclaimed a feeling of excitement that had previously been missing from Cap’s adventures in the ’70s.

In 1994, writer and artist Jerry Ordway produced a hardcover graphic novel called The Power Of Shazam! that managed to hit all the right marks. My only quibble was that it repeated the mistake of having the adult Captain Marvel retain the mind of the child Billy Batson; that misguided approach was introduced by Roy Thomas in a 1987 mini-series called Shazam: The New Beginning, a book as drab and empty as a superhero comic book could be. I’m sad to say that all subsequent incarnations of Captain Marvel have repeated this approach of Billy the kid’s mind in Captain Marvel’s adult body, like Big with super powers. (Ordway’s subsequent Power Of Shazam! ongoing series suffered from some ups and downs, but was overall far more interesting to me than any extended Shazam series that has followed it.)

Captain Marvel was also used well in the pages of JSAJustice, and particularly in the oversize one-shot Shazam!: The Power Of Hope in 2000, written by Paul Dini and gorgeously illustrated by Alex Ross. In 2015, we got two perfect takes on Captain Marvel, as writer Grant Morrison got it exactly right in the one-shot The Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures, and so did Jeff Parker and Evan Shaner in the two-issue Convergence: Shazam!

I have no affection whatsoever for any current version of the original Captain Marvel. The 2019 Shazam! film was based on writer Geoff Johns‘ revamp of the character, introduced in 2012 as “The Curse Of Shazam!,” a backup series in Justice League. This ham-handed reboot is even more frustrating when you consider that Johns demonstrated a much better grasp of Cap when he was writing JSA

But know the real Captain Marvel. He’s out there somewhere, even if DC isn’t likely to ever call him by his real name again. But he’s out there, starring in exciting new adventures of the world’s mightiest mortal. I hope we’ll get to read those adventures some day.

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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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Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 134 essays about 134 tracks, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).

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SHAZAM! My Secret Origin As A Captain Marvel Fan

With one magic word:  SHAZAM!

Although the super-hero boom in comics of the 1940s was undeniably started by the incredible popularity of Superman, and manifested in countless attempts to copy/capture/re-create/steal the Man of Steel’s successful model, Superman wasn’t necessarily the best-selling superdoer in the funny-book business.  For a time in the ’40s, Superman was outsold by his biggest rival, the original Captain Marvel.

For those who don’t know this original Captain Marvel, lemme give you the brief.  A young, orphaned newsboy named Billy Batson is granted secret, fantastic power by the ancient wizard Shazam; whenever our Billy speaks the wizard’s name, he is magically transformed into the World’s Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel. The wizard’s name is itself an anagram of the wonderful abilities Billy can access when he calls on the power of Shazam: The wisdom of Solomon! The strength of Hercules! The courage of Atlas! The power of Zeus! The skill of Achilles! The speed of Mercury! If you are a mad scientist like Dr. Sivana, or an evil tyrant (and literal worm) like Mr. Mind, or just another nogoodnik in The Monster Society Of Evil, get set to get your ass kicked by Captain Marvel!

I’ve been trying to remember when and how I first got hooked on Captain Marvel, who would ultimately become my all-time second favorite comic book hero (after The Batman). As a kid in the ’60s and early ’70s, I had heard of Captain Marvel, even though Cap was long gone by that point. The first Captain Marvel I ever saw was a Marvel Comics character who’d usurped the name from its rightful owner. Even as a stupid kid, I eventually figured out that Mar-Vell of the Kree couldn’t be the same Captain Marvel referenced on TV shows like The Good Guys and The Monkees.

(Digression: one of my many favorite moments on The Monkees was when Peter Tork had been kidnapped and tied to a chair. Left alone, still bound to the chair, our brave Peter shook ‘n’ shimmied his way in front of a mirror, squared his shoulders, and cried out with a defiant, “SHAZAM!” And the mirror shattered, prompting Peter to say, “Well, that’s seven years’ bad luck for Captain Marvel!”)

Thanks to Melanie Mitchell for screenshot

My first exposure to Cap was second-hand, in the letters page for a Lois Lane Giant. The letter-writer complained of a scene in a previous Giant where Superman fended off a number of super-powered suitors vying for Lois’ fickle affection; one of the defeated suitors, lying dazed on the floor, was Captain Marvel. The fan took issue with this, saying something like, “I know you put Captain Marvel out of business in the ’50s, but there’s no need to gloat over it!” The editor, E. Nelson Bridwell, replied that it was meant in fun; Lois Lane artist Kurt Schaffenberger had previously been one of the main Captain Marvel artists, and had included Cap’s image as a joke. Bridwell further commented something to the effect that Captain Marvel had been one of his own favorites as a young comics fan, and that he’d never wish to be disrespectful toward the World’s Mightiest Mortal.

I dug out that previous Lois Lane Giant, and I found the page and panel in question. There he was. So that was Captain Marvel! And now, I wanted to know more.

Coincidentally–but relevantly–I found a Super-8 movie projector in the attic. On subsequent visits to K-Mart and White-Modell, I saw Super-8 movies for sale, including Super-8 movies starring Charlie Chaplin, Super-8 movies starring Batman…and Super-8 movies starring Captain Marvel! I acquired them all in short order.

Long before the home-entertainment Utopia delivered by Betamax, laser discs, VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, and on-line streaming, 8mm and Super-8 films were short, silent movies made for home consumption. My two Captain Marvel Super-8s were twelve-minute distillations of the first and the final chapters of the 1941 movie serial The Adventures Of Captain Marvel.

The chronology of my Captain Marvel fandom gets a little confusing; so much happened either all at once or in short order, and I have difficulty putting it all together 45 years later.  But figure we’re in a rough timeline of 1972 to ’73 or so.  I watched my Captain Marvel Super-8s over and over. I read a single page of the first Captain Marvel comic book story, reprinted in Jules Feiffer‘s book The Great Comic Book Heroes (which contained just that one page of Cap, for legal reasons we’ll touch on in a few paragraphs). I was getting well hooked on Captain Marvel, albeit with relatively little to go on.

But two events kicked my Shazam mania into overdrive. In this time frame, it became clear that my teeth were a mess, and that I would need braces. One evening, following an early (and physically uncomfortable) consultation with the orthodontist, my parents decided to treat me to an evening with the Syracuse Cinephile Society.  The Syracuse Cinephile Society was a monthly (I think) gathering of film buffs, who would convene upstairs at a downtown bar called The Firebarn to screen vintage films. This was not my first visit to the Syracuse Cinephile Society; my cousin Maryann had already taken me to The Firebarn to see Humphrey Bogart in Dead End, and she also took me to see Errol Flynn in The Adventures Of Robin Hood, though I don’t recall for sure whether that was before or after Mom and Dad took me to see….

Tom Tyler as CAPTAIN MARVEL!

…Well, they took me to The Firebarn to see the Syracuse Cinephile Society’s screening of the complete twelve-chapter movie serial, The Adventures Of Captain Marvel.  The whole thing! With sound, unlike my silent little Super-8s! Mind you, this was over three and a half hours of serial action, three and a half hours originally intended to be enjoyed over the course of three months in twenty-minute weekly installments, not in a single evening as your butt hurt from sitting and your teeth ached from orthodontic invasion.  But it didn’t matter. I was captivated. SHAZAM!

By this time, I probably knew a little bit about what had driven the World’s Mightiest Mortal off the newsstands decades ago.  The folks in charge of DC Comics were none too thrilled about the success of Captain Marvel, a character published by Fawcett Comics. DC sued, claiming that Captain Marvel was a copy of Superman, and a violation of DC’s copyright on mighty caped guys who could fly.  Fawcett eventually capitulated, and agreed to retire Captain Marvel permanently. Captain Marvel and the rest of The Marvel Family (his sister Mary Marvel and their pal Captain Marvel, Junior) disappeared–seemingly forever–following their final appearance in The Marvel Family # 89, cover-dated January 1954.

One of my favorite comic books in the early ’70s was a reprint title called Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Villains, a DC book that usually featured stories from comics’ Golden Age, the ’40s. The fourth issue of Wanted was a particular favorite, with a lead story reprinting the original Green Lantern‘s first encounter with Solomon Grundy, and a back-up of Kid Eternity (another of my faves!) facing his evil opposite number, Master Man.  But, for all that, the one thing in this issue that just ’bout made my head explode was this one-page house ad:

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!

Captain Marvel was coming back?! At DC??! Not even world peace or a Beatles reunion could have been more welcome news to me at the time.  Well, maybe a Beatles reunion. World peace is nice, too. But I could barely contain my glee at this announcement.  Captain Marvel was coming back!

The new comic book was called Shazam! During Captain Marvel’s nearly two-decade absence from newsstands, Marvel Comics had claimed the Captain Marvel name as a trademark, preventing DC from ever using that name as a comic book title. Curses! But I loved the new stories at the time, and I really loved the fact that DC was including a Golden Age Cap reprint in each issue. I figured this was the start of a new Golden Age!

But DC couldn’t quite get a handle on what to do with the World’s Mightiest Mortal. The scripts aimed to be charming, but usually settled for silly instead. Even with a new Saturday morning live-action Shazam! TV series, the character just never really caught on in a big way. Matters weren’t helped by the then-unknown fact that DC hadn’t actually purchased the rights to Captain Marvel; it was merely a licensing deal with Fawcett; that meant there was a limit to how much exposure Cap could get at DC, at least without DC having to pay additional fees that, frankly, wouldn’t have been worth it, given Captain Marvel’s lack of blockbuster sales appeal.

In the decades since, DC did eventually assume full ownership of Captain Marvel, and the character has appeared as a member of the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America, and on animated TV shows including Justice League Unlimited and Batman: The Brave And The Bold. There is a Shazam! feature film in development, with Dwayne Johnson signed to play one of Captain Marvel’s enemies, the mighty Black Adam. So the World’s Mightiest Mortal lives on.

Unfortunately, DC doesn’t call him Captain Marvel anymore; now, the character is just called Shazam. Marvel Comics owns the original name, and has its own Captain Marvel movie coming, with Brie Larson in the title role. It bugs me a little that the original Captain Marvel can’t use his own name, but that battle was lost a long time ago. I read Marvel’s Captain Marvel comic book regularly, and I’ll see Marvel’s Captain Marvel movie when it’s released. That’s the way it is, and I accept it.  I’ll even enjoy it, I betcha.

Marvel Comics’ Captain Marvel

But, in my heart, I know who the real Captain Marvel is: a little kid with the biggest, best secret in the world; a kid who can move mountains, and fly around the world, and shrug off bullets and bad guys with a smile and a twinkle in his eye; a kid who can shed the troubles and limitations of frail humanity, and become a champion like no other; a kid who can become, at will, the World’s Mightiest Mortal.

It’s a pretty good deal. All it takes is one magic word.

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Comics And LP Cover Cavalcade Supplement # 2: Superpulp Paperbacks And Rock ‘n’ Roll 45s

Normally, this is a lightly-annotated but otherwise random collection of images of comic book and rock ‘n’ roll album covers. A previous supplemental edition dealt with rock magazines and paperback covers, and today’s edition shifts just a little more for a cavalcade of superhero pulp paperbacks and rock ‘n’ roll 45 picture sleeves.

Another challenge for The Green Hornet! This was kind of my Holy Grail among superpulp paperbacks for a few years (a position now held by the elusive Blackhawk novel by William Rotsler, or cheaply priced copies of Ron Goulart‘s Vampirella novels). I passed up a chance to buy it in 1978 at a collectibles shop in Brockport (read “passed up” as “cash-strapped college freshman conceded he couldn’t spare the cost of a collectible paperback”). I don’t remember where, when, or how I finally assumed ownership of a copy of this coveted prize. I may have received it as a gift from my pal Fritz, who definitely scored me a set of Green Hornet playing cards, or I may have located a copy on one of my many used bookstore burrows. The Infernal Light and one other tie-in to the 1966 Green Hornet TV series–a hardcover juvenile novel called The Case Of The Disappearing Doctor–were the first Green Hornet novels ever published. Well, I guess you could count the three Green Hornet Big Little Books published in the early ’40s, but given the character’s massive popularity on the radio, one wonders why there was never a Green Hornet pulp magazine. My specific memories of both The Case Of The Disappearing Doctor and The Infernal Light have grown as cloudy as the asphyxiating fumes from The Green Hornet’s gas gun, but I believe I was disappointed by the former and relatively satisfied by the latter. Three Green Hornet prose anthologies have been published within the last decade or so, but no more full novels as of yet.

I liked The Dead Boys. The Cleveland punk group was never quite among my very favorites, but I bought both Dead Boys LPs (Young, Loud And Snotty and We Have Come For Your Children) and particularly liked their songs “All This And More” and “3rd Generation Nation.” Later on, I quite liked the first album by The Lords Of The New Church, with former Dead Boys lead singer Stiv Bators. In between The Dead Boys and the Lords, Stiv Bators briefly tried his hand at power pop, with Frank Secich from Blue Ash adding genre credibility and punch on guitar. The overt power pop moves were downplayed a bit by the time of Bators’ 1980 album Disconnected, but were on full display in the two non-LP Bomp! singles that preceded it. All four of these sides are incredible, but even the sheer splendor of “The Last Year,” “Not That Way Anymore,” and “Circumstantial Evidence” must yield the crown to Stiv’s cover of “It’s Cold Outside.” The 1967 original by The Choir (who were essentially the roots of The Raspberries pre-Eric Carmen) is a garage pop classic, and I think I heard it on a Pebbles collection before I heard the Stiv Bators version. But man, Stiv’s cover just POPs, with aggressive drums and slashing guitars propelling a track which I consider one of the defining singles of power pop.

Writer Otto Binder was a key figure in science fiction and comic books from the ’30s into the ’60s. Binder is best known for his Adam Link series (credited to Eando Binder, a pseudonym originally shared by Otto and his brother Earl Binder) and his extensive resumé of work in comics. Binder was one of the most prolific and important contributors to the adventures of the original Captain Marvel, and later made significant innovations to the Superman mythos, including the introductions of The Legion Of Super-HeroesBrainiacSupergirlKryptoJimmy Olsen‘s signal watch, and the bottle city of Kandor. It pains me to note that Binder displayed no affinity whatsoever for Marvel Comics‘ ’60s style in this 1967 Avengers novel, which I picked up in the dealers room at New York’s Super DC Con in 1976.

I’ve long promised a complete blog post about my all-time # 1 rock ‘n’ roll crush Suzi Quatro, and we’re getting closer to that. No, really. For now: this was nowhere near my first Quatro record, but it was probably the first Quatro record I ever heard. The lovely Suzi appeared on a 1975 episode of a British rock ‘n’ roll TV show called Supersonic, carried in New York by WPIX and available via the magic of cable TV for this lovestruck fifteen-year-old in the Syracuse suburbs. Suzi lip-synced “I May Be Too Young,” but I didn’t catch the song’s title, initiating my fruitless search for a mythical Suzi Quatro song called “Little Susie From Baton Rouge” or “I’m Just Waitin’ For You” or whatever the hell it might be called. To make matters worse, it was a non-LP single, so its identity remained a mystery even after I started accumulating Quatro’s albums. I finally, finally tracked it down as a 45 purchase at Jack Wolak‘s much-missed Knuckleheads in the early ’90s. I still didn’t know the title of the song I’d heard nearly two decades before on Supersonic, but an eager spin on the home turntable confirmed that my search had finally reached its end. (Then, of course, I got it again on a Suzi Quatro CD anthology, and ultimately sold my 45 to Ronnie Dark, host of the fab radio show The Wax Museum With Ronnie Dark. Fickle? Not me, man. I’m still true to you, Suzi.)

Yeah, my copy of this novelization of the 1966 Batman movie is signed by the film’s star, Adam West. The benefits of being a good citizen. West appeared in costume at a car show in Buffalo in either ’86 or early ’87. I was already freelancing for Amazing HeroesComics Collector, and Comics Buyer’s Guide, so I wanted to set up an interview with West, but it was not to be. It was still a thrill to meet ‘n’ greet the one TV star that had the most impact on the development of my pop culture sensibility. I think I’d picked up the paperback on a visit to my once and future homeland in Syracuse, at Twilight Book And Game Emporium on North Salina Street, a great store run by my friend Bob Gray. I don’t know if the pseudonymous Winston Lyon is the same “Winston Lyon” (aka William Woolfolk) who had ghost-written the previous Batman novel Batman Vs. 3 Villains Of Doom.

I sometimes claim to have had a love/hate relationship with The Knack, but I never really disliked them, and I occasionally liked them a lot. I must have purchased this single before I got around to buying the Get The Knack LP; it would have been unusual for me to buy a single if both sides were on an album I already owned. Either way, this picture sleeve of the lovely Sharona herself was certainly a factor. I also picked up the “Good Girls Don’t” single, which didn’t have Sharona on the sleeve, but featured a radio edit of the familiar album track (with the lines “Wishing you could get inside her pants” and “Until she’s sitting on your face” replaced by the less-rude “Wishing she would give you just one chance” and “Until she puts you in your place”). “That’s What The Little Girls Do,” an album track on Get The Knack, was my favorite Knack cut at the time, though it’s since been replaced by “Your Number Or Your Name.”

I adored superpulp paperbacks in the mid ’70s, grabbing as much as I could of the pulp adventures of The ShadowDoc SavageThe AvengerThe PhantomFlash GordonThe SpiderOperator 5The Lone RangerTarzanConan, and whatever other grim avatar of justice could be found in bookstores or on drug store spinner racks. I accumulated ’em far faster than I could read them–there are many I bought over forty years ago that are still awaiting my attention–but they don’t expire, and I’m still adding to the stack. I devoured the first two volumes of editor Byron Preiss‘ Weird Heroes anthology immediately upon their publication in 1975. I was a fan of what Preiss was doing, both here with this “New American Pulp” and also his digest-sized graphic novel series Fiction Illustrated. The second volume of Weird Heroes was like an all-star shindig to me, with stories by Philip José Farmer (whom I knew from Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life), Ted White (who wrote my cherished Captain America superpulp paperback The Great Gold Steal), and comics veterans Steve Englehart (then at Marvel, later to write the definitive Batman serial in Detective Comics) and Elliot S! Maggin (one of my DC Comics Fave Raves, later to write a pair of terrific Superman novels), with illustrations by SterankoEsteban MarotoRalph ReeseTom Sutton, and Alex Niño. I didn’t know writer Charlie Swift or artist Stephen Fabian at the time. The big star attraction for me was my favorite writer Harlan Ellison working with my favorite artist Neal Adams on Ellison’s character Cordwainer Bird–The Shadow’s nephew! TRIPLE PLAY! For all that, this was probably the final Weird Heroes I owned in the ’70s, though I much later tracked down all of the six subsequent volumes and Preiss’ own Guts, a full-length novel continuing with his character from the first Weird Heroes book.

After The Sex Pistols collapsed, this first single by John Lydon (the former Johnny Rotten) and his post-Pistols group Public Image, Ltd. was intriguing and captivating, and it seemed a good sign that I would enjoy the music of PiL nearly as much as I’d revered the Pistols’ “God Save The Queen” and “Pretty Vacant.” There was an announcement that PiL would play a 1979 or early ’80 date at a Syracuse club called The Slide-Inn, a former disco where I’d seen 999David Johansen, and The Flashcubes, but if that date was ever really booked in the first place, it never happened. I woulda traveled across glass to see that. Nothing I ever heard of PiL’s music after the debut single ever appealed to me a fraction as much as this song, “Public Image,” which could have been a Sex Pistols track as far as my ears were concerned. Still love it. I should check further, to see if there is anything else in the PiL canon that might appeal to me more than “Death Disco” or “This Is Not A Love Song.”

Here’s one of those superpulp paperbacks I own but haven’t read yet. Armageddon 2419 A.D. reprints the original Philip Francis Nowlan pulp novel that later served as the basis for the first science-fiction comic strip, Buck Rogers. Like Edmond Hamilton‘s Captain Future novels, I fear this may be something I should have read when I was much, much  younger. I think I snagged my copy at The Book Warehouse, a former warehouse on Syracuse’s North side that was filled with old books and magazines. I lived within walking distance of The Book Warehouse when I moved back to Syracuse in 1987, and it was a frequent stop for me until it finally closed years later. It was my source for so much cheap backdated print, from rock ‘n’ roll reference books and comics retrospectives through old Playboys, countless novels, crossword puzzle collections, children’s books (for my wife, a teacher), and lotsa pulp. Man, the sheer mass of James Bond (by Ian Fleming and John Gardner), John IrvingMickey SpillaneEllery QueenMax Allan CollinsSue GraftonSara ParetskyAlan Brennert, et al. I scored at The Book Warehouse…! We are fortunate to still have a few terrific second-hand booksellers in Syracuse, and Books End and Books & Melodies (both on James Street in Eastwood) remain my go-to book shops. Still miss The Book Warehouse.

It’s a slight puzzlement to me that I don’t have any recollection of Paul Revere & the Raiders from when I was a little kid in the ’60s. I know we used to watch Where The Action Is! occasionally, so I must have seen the Raiders there. I later knew their only # 1 hit “Indian Reservation,” but knowledge and appreciation of the freakin’ motherlode of the Raiders’ splendid ’65-’68 recordings wouldn’t come until my deeper dive into the wonder of  the rockin’ pop of the ’60s when I was a teen in the ’70s. 45s of “Him Or Me–What’s It Gonna Be” and “I Had A Dream” were, I think, my first Raiders records, purchased from my friend Jay (along with “Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl” by The Barbarians). I was not immediately impressed. That would change. And how!

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GAME SHOWS, Part 1: My Love Is Jeopardy!, Baby!

The late Alex Trebek’s final appearance as the host of Jeopardy! will air tonight. Columnist Carl Cafarelli wrote this piece in 2018, and we reprise it here in tribute to a beloved personality. What is courage? Alex Trebek.

I’ve never spoken much about my love of game shows. It’s not a secret, and I’m certainly not ashamed of it, but it doesn’t come up much in conversation, nor have I ever really been inspired to write about it. When I fell hard for the old What’s My Line? via black-and-white reruns on Game Show Network, I toyed with the idea of slappin’ together a piece about that show’s status as a unique and captivating time capsule of the entertainment world in the ’50s and ’60s. I found What’s My Line? utterly fascinating, and I may yet write about that at length some day.

My favorite game show is Jeopardy!, and I still watch it faithfully. I also watch Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, though I’m a Johnny-come-lately on that one; I never watched it much when it was in prime time, and only began following its afternoon airings a few years ago. Most of the prime-time game shows fail to interest me. When I say I love game shows, that love is not indiscriminate. Jeopardy!Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, and the music-oriented Beat Shazam are the only current game shows I watch regularly; the latter is between seasons right now, and I haven’t quite forgiven it for using Shazam in its title but not even bothering to reference the original Captain Marvel, the bastards. (In Beat Shazam‘s favor, though, it’s difficult to be mad at a show which uses “Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire as its theme song.)

One of my earliest TV favorites was a game show, specifically a kid’s game show called Shenanigans! hosted by Stubby Kaye. Man, I loved that show. On 1960s afternoons when I was home sick from school, I delighted in all manner of sitcom reruns, the occasional soap opera (The Edge Of Night and Secret Storm), and games shows from Concentration and Hollywood Squares to Let’s Make A DealThe Newlywed Game, and The Dating GameTo Tell The Truth was a particular favorite, and I always loved Jeopardy! I’m not certain, but I think my brother Art may have tried out for the old Jeopardy!, when it was hosted by Art Fleming.

In the ’70s, I continued to watch game shows: The Match GameThe Wizard Of Odds (with some guy named Alex Trebek billed as the man with the money to make a dark day sunny), Musical Chairs (a short-lived musical game show hosted by Adam Wade, featuring a then-unknown Sister Sledge, and probably the first U.S. game show with an African-American host), and Beat The Clock!, among others. I never liked Name That Tune. And nothing ever touched Jeopardy!‘s status as my favorite. Still, I probably didn’t even realize when it went off the air in 1975, concerned as I was with surviving high school and maybe finding a girl willing to share some lovely parting gifts and a copy of her home game or something.

When Jeopardy! returned in 1984, I wasn’t impressed. I missed Art Fleming, thought Alex Trebek should go back to wizarding his odds, and probably figured the revival was doomed. I…uh, revised my opinion. I’m not kidding when I say the only reason I haven’t cut the cable is so I can keep watching Jeopardy! and Who Wants To Be A Millionare? at the convenience of me and my DVR. Don’t judge. I am as God made me.

I tried out for Jeopardy! once, in the late ’80s. There was a traveling open call for contestant try-outs, and it stopped in Syracuse. Well, what the hell, right? Well, the hell indeed. The try-out was a written test, give to me and a large number of others gathered at a hotel conference room. We weren’t informed of our individual test scores, but I was among that vast majority of prospective contestants whose names were not called to move on. Alex, what is frustration? The only bright spot for me and my fellow losers? A somewhat obnoxious applicant, bragging throughout the pre-test milling period about how he was a MENSA member and a sure-fire future Jeopardy! champion, was sent home right with the rest of us. What is schadenfreude?

Watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? with my wife and daughter over the past few years, I occasionally think about what a kick it would be to get on there and try my luck and vast repository of utterly useless trivia. I don’t actually think I’d do all that well. When the show relocated from the East Coast to Vegas, I gave up any fanciful notion of wanting to be a wannabe millionaire.

I’ve only ever tried out for three game shows in my lifetime. Jeopardy! was the biggest name I ever attempted. Around 1989 or ’90, a proposed music trivia game show (if I ever knew its title, I don’t recall it now) was, I guess, going around different places trying to put together a presentation to sell the show. One of its stops was Camillus Mall in Syracuse’s Western suburbs. A game show? Music trivia? I couldn’t resist that!
And I did pretty well. I sailed through the written test (though another audience member had to give me a helpful nudge when I couldn’t remember the name Billy Joe Royal), and was chosen to compete in the actual game. My opponent was a much younger girl, a teenager I think, though she seemed to have a decent command of older rock ‘n’ pop trivia. The show’s host kept exhorting us (the contestants) and the audience to display the proper giddy level of over-the-top enthusiasm. I was in my mercifully brief laid-back phase–I was a mature adult of thirty years, after all–but I did my best to seem, you know, breathless and in-the-moment. I was in the lead pretty much the entire game, but ultimately lost on the final question, failing to name the common trait among Percy Faith‘s “Theme From ‘A Summer Place’,” The Ventures‘ “Hawaii Five-O”,” and Paul Mauriat‘s “Love Is Blue.” They’re all themes!, I blurted out. NO, YOU FOOL! The host didn’t really say that, but he was surprised I’d missed it; he’d made the mistake of believing I was competent. My young adversary knew they were all instrumentals, and she won the gazillion dollars and the life-time supply of Turtle Wax. I won a set of headphones. No one got a copy of the home game.

I vaguely recall that we were all invited to come back the next day for another go at the same location, but I already other plans. I was, in fact, going to try out for another game show.

The day after almost winning but finally self-destructing on this would-be musical game show, I was set to participate in open auditions on the Syracuse University campus, with a chance to appear on what was then my favorite of all game shows.

I was going to audition for MTV’s Remote Control. That story unfolded in a previous Boppin’ Pop-A-Looza (https://popalooza.art/2020/04/10/remote-control/) But don’t touch that dial! The MENSA guy would be so disappointed with you.

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REJECTION ACCEPTED: Trying (And Failing!) To Write For DC COMICS

My vulgar sci-fi rock ‘n’ roll comedy short story “Guitars Vs. Rayguns” hit comic book stores last week. Specifically, it appeared as a bonus feature in the pages of the AHOY Comics title Billionaire Island # 5. If you’re looking for a foul-mouthed, fast-paced, three-chord space farce, I humbly suggest you snag a copy of Billionaire Island # 5 and read “Guitars Vs. Rayguns.”


Written and sold last year, “Guitars Vs. Rayguns” was my first-ever fiction sale. I’ve sold a few more since then, but you never forget your first. Its publication casts my memory back to some previous failed attempts. Now, I do have some skimpy credits as a professional freelance writer of nonfiction. But I always wanted to write fiction, too. 

And I especially wanted to write for DC Comics.

DC Comics was my first and most prevailing missed target as a would-be writer. My first attempt to break in at The Line Of Superstars was a handwritten Batman story, about which I remember nearly nothing. I began writing it while at my cousin’s wedding reception, probably around ’73 or so, maybe ’74 at the latest. The only detail I can recall of the story (other than the fact that it was simply awful) was that it was set in Syracuse, as The Batman had traveled here from Gotham to consult with local police regarding the shooting death of a city teenager. That part was based on a true story at the time, though apparently the Syracuse Police Department wasn’t really able to enlist Batman’s help. Stupid real world. I finished “writing” it, and mailed it off to the good folks at DC. I don’t believe I even received a rejection slip.


Roughly concurrent to that–perhaps even in the same mailing–I also concocted a handwritten story for the Shazam! comic book, starring the original Captain Marvel. The story may or may not have co-starred Plastic Man; as a reader and fan, I know I wanted these two lighter-hearted heroes to meet, but I don’t recall if ol’ Plas made an appearance in my Captain Marvel mini-epic. The story itself concerned Captain Marvel’s arch nemesis Dr. Sivana devising a way for his equally-evil son Sivana, Junior to become the super-powered villain Captain Sivana. Just as Billy Batson’s magic word “SHAZAM!” transformed the young Batson into Captain Marvel, Sivana, Junior’s shouted “SIVANA!” changed him into Captain Sivana. Hero and villain fought to a standstill, until Captain Marvel suddenly veered off and challenged his evil foe to follow him to Savannah, Georgia to continue the fight; confused, Captain Sivana repeated, “Savannah, Geor…?!” and instantly changed back into mortal form. Savannah is a homophone for Sivana. I am so damned clever. Captain Marvel zipped back, slapped a gag on Junior, and carted the lot of those miscreants off to the hoosegow. The folks at DC were speechless. I never heard back on this one either.

Around 1975 (I think), I tried again, this time with a full script. Typewritten, too! “The Overtime Crimefighter!” showed a typical day (and night) in the busy life of The Batman. I think I still have this one somewhere. I don’t remember much of it, other than Batman systematically dismantling my fictional version of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the group that had kidnapped and brainwashed heiress Patty Hearst. I am nothing if not topical. Of course, “topical” ain’t quite the same as “not terrible,” and “The Overtime Crimefighter!” earned me a form-letter rejection.

But I would not be deterred! I was far too oblivious for that. My friend Mike DeAngelo was a very good artist, and I thought we could collaborate professionally. I worked up another complete Batman script, “Nightmare Ressurection!” It was a sequel to a classic Batman story from 1966, “Death Knocks Three Times!,” reviving a villain called Death-Man, unseen since his one and only appearance in Batman # 180 in ’66. My story was grim, frenetic, and nonsensical. Not even Mike’s art samples could save this from rejection.

The team-up that will never be: Captain Infinity and The Batman

After “Nightmare Ressurection!,” I took some time off for college and–believe it or not!–girlfriends. Yep, man of the world, that’s me. In the early ’80s, I tried to create a theoretically original character called Captain Infinity. It was, frankly, not thought through at all, but it was intended as a cosmic tale of a prince from a far galaxy renouncing his throne and fleeing his responsibilities; his escape route brought him to Earth, and hijinks ensued. I wrote a synopsis and introductory pages for the pilot story, “The Splitting Of Infinity!,” and sent it off to resolutely unimpressed DC staffers. I don’t blame ’em a bit.

I tried a few more times with DC in the ’80s. I submitted a plot treatment for another new character, Lawman, designed to be the resident, non-powered local hero in a crime-ridden urban neighborhood. Lawman was meant to be a superhero version of a neighborhood watch program, with one guy playing the role of masked hero, backed up by a small network of friends and allies determined to take their city blocks back from the thugs and ne’er-do-wells. I also submitted treatments for a couple of existing DC properties. One of these was a story about Green Arrow, stuck on monitor duty aboard the Justice League‘s satellite, dealing unexpectedly with an attack from Mala, an obscure Kryptonian bad guy whom Superman defeated in the ’50s. Another was a Justice League story called “The Trial Of Dr. Light!,” which would have introduced a new supervillain group called The Predators. My memory of The Predators is sketchy, but I know I intended them to be a team that worked together like the good guys would, without the back-biting and betrayal that characterized most groups of honorless thieves. One of The Predators was named The Miracle Worker, and his schtick was a device used to tap into other dimensions, including a solid dimension that allowed him to create floating chunks of dense matter upon which he could effectively walk on air. The female Predator Deathsong, who was The Miracle Worker’s beloved sister, was able to destroy people, property, even planets with her singing–kinda like Mariah Carey. There were two more members of The Predators, but I remember nothing else beyond the fact that it was all very, very ’80s, and DC rightly passed on the lot.

DEATHSONG! Her music will kill you.

Those Green Arrow and Justice League treatments were submitted alongside one more original character pitch, intended for DC’s New Talent Showcase book. That character was called The Trident, a World War II-era super-scrapper I envisioned as an answer to the unanasked question, “What if Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had created a two-fisted black superhero in the ’40s?” That question remains unasked and unanswered. My treatment for The Trident’s debut in “A Trident Glows In Brooklyn!” was a preposterous mess about a black police officer working his Brooklyn beat circa 1942, and being granted super-abilities by some cosmic do-gooders called The Men Of The Trident. No, I don’t think it made any sense either. Writer Roy Thomas had recently introduced a black hero called Amazing-Man in the pages of his WWII Justice Society book All-Star Squadron, and I wanted The Trident to be the second black superhero retroactively placed in that 1940s DC milieu. I viewed The Trident’s racial identity as incidental, which may have been foolish; but I liked the idea of a hero who just happened to be a black guy, just as The Guardian and the Silver Age Green Lantern (the two overriding influences on my concept of The Trident) just happened to be white guys. Foolish or not, someone at DC felt it wasn’t necessary to reject it outright. The letter accompanying my spurned ‘n’ returned Green Arrow and JLA proposals noted that The Trident was being forwarded to the editor of New Talent Showcase for further consideration.

That was 1985, and it was the last I heard from DC. But it’s as close as I ever came to achieving my dream of writing for DC Comics.

(I did write one more complete story using DC characters, a pulp short story starring The Batman and Aquaman. I never submitted it to DC, but I like it a lot, and never tire of pointing folks in its direction: The Undersea World Of Mr. Freeze.)
And while I never did break in at DC, I have now sold four short stories to AHOY, and I’ve cashed the paychecks for each of them. Call me a late bloomer. I started this as a teenager. I’m still doing it. More to come.

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The Everlating First: E-Man

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

The late Nicola Cuti is one of six posthumous recipients of the 2020 Bill Finger Award, honoring comic book writers who created a body of work that has not received the recognition it deserves. The award is named for Bill Finger, the long-uncredited co-creator of Batman. Cuti joins Virginia Hubbell BlockLeo Dorfman, Gaylord DuBoisJoe Gill, and France Edward Herron as this year’s slate of honorees. My favorite Cuti work was a superhero called E-Man, originally published by Charlton Comics in the ’70s.The Charlton Comics line eschewed superheroes after the demise of its Action-Hero line in the late ’60s. By the early-to-mid ’70s, Charlton’s only superhero book was The Phantom, plus Popeye if you wanna stretch the superhero tag to broader parameters. Revivals of Blue BeetleCaptain AtomThe PeacemakerJudo Master, and Peter Cannon…Thunderbolt were unlikely, and it was equally unlikely that Charlton would create any new costumed heroes to take their place. Charlton editor George Wildman was amiable, but firm: superhero books did not sell for Charlton.
So the 1973 appearance of two new action series from Charlton was, to say the least, unexpected. Yang was a martial arts series, so that made commercial sense amidst the frenzy of the kung fu craze. But there was also a new superhero book–a quirky, energetic, unique superhero book, drawing more inherent inspiration from the Golden Age charm of Plastic Man or the original Captain Marvel than from anything else DC or Marvel was doing at the time–but it was undeniably a superhero book, a bona fide Charlton superhero book. It was E-Man, created by writer Nicola Cuti and artist Joe Staton.

For most of these entries in The Everlasting First, I’ve been able to call to mind some specifics about when, where, and how I first became aware of the pop subject at hand. But my initiation into E-Man fandom is a jumble of tangled, thorny, conflicting memories. E-Man debuted at a time when I was become ever more active in seeking out new comic-book superhero thrills; it was a little before the short-lived Atlas Comics line, so Charlton’s return to the superhero wars stood out even more. I think I remember purchasing an issue of E-Man (and definitely an issue of Yang) at a convenience store in Clifton Park. I remember a coverless E-Man scored at Van Patten’s Grocery in North Syracuse. Later on (1974? ’75?), while traveling with family from Southwest Missouri to the Florida panhandle, I know I bought an issue of E-Man during a pit stop somewhere in Arkansas. How did I first hear of E-Man? What was the first issue I saw, and/or the first I read? That memory is lost. All I can tell you is this: however I came on board, I was an E-Man fan instantly. I tracked down all the back issues, bought each new issue, and was crushed when it was cancelled. Superhero books did not sell for Charlton.
E-Man deserved a much, much better fate. This book was simply unlike anything else on the stands at the time. Jim Hanley‘s Captain Marvel pastiche Goodguy came closest, but that was a black-and-white strip that appeared sporadically in fanzines (and I would really love to see that stuff collected in book form!); DC’s Shazam! (starring the actual Captain Marvel hisself) never quite gelled, and Simon & Kirby‘s The Sandman was weird and kinda fun, but still more weird than fun. By contrast, E-Man sparkled with the positive energy promised by its hero’s insignia:

(And E-Man’s constant companion Nova Kane was the sexiest character in mainstream comics in the mid-’70s. I mean, sure, she was an exotic dancer, and that reinforced her pulchritudinous appeal. But her comic book appearances somehow avoided pandering for the most part. Nova was never, ever portrayed as any kind of bimbo or sexpot, and was usually the smartest and most sensible person in the room at any given moment. She was capable, and in control, simultaneously good-natured and wordly. Nova was the heart of E-Man.)

E-Man lasted for a mere ten issues at Charlton. Hard-boiled private eye Michael Mauser was introduced in E-Man # 3; presumably intended as a one-off character, Mauser eventually became a key member of the E-Man cast, and has appeared in solo adventures as well (initially as a back-up strip in Charlton’s Vengeance Squad). Nova acquired super-powers in E-Man # 8; I thought this detracted from the engaging interplay of the grounded, sensible, street-wise Nova and the cosmically naive E-Man, but I grew accustomed to the idea over time.
And I did have time to grow accustomed to the idea; First Comics purchased the rights to E-Man from Charlton in the early ’80s, and began a new series of E-Man adventures. Joe Staton returned to the art chores, but Cuti was unavailable; his replacement, Marty Pasko, had done some fine work for DC (including a delightfully goofy run on The Metal Men, with art by Staton), but his E-Man didn’t seem quite right to me. Cuti returned to his co-creation with First’s E-Man # 24. First Comics withdrew from the comics biz years ago, but E-Man, Nova, and Mauser have continued to pop up from time to time from various publishers. One of these days, I need to go back and re-read the lot of ’em. And I’m delighted that there were a few new latter-day adventures of E-Man by Cuti and Staton published within the past few years in the Charlton Neo series The Charlton Arrow
Nicola Cuti passed away in 2020. The work lives on. You can’t destroy energy.

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