THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Doc Savage, Man of Bronze!

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

This was originally posted as part of a longer piece covering both pop music and comic book characters. It’s separated here for convenience.
I wish I could remember where or how I first heard of Doc Savage. In the early ’70s, even before reading about The Man of Bronze in Steranko‘s History Of The Comics, I somehow already knew Doc was a precursor to Superman. But I hadn’t had any exposure to the character, and I knew nothing at all about him.

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

God. I was inept.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Buying Comic Books Since 1966

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few recent acquisitions from Comix Zone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

This was originally posted as part of a longer piece covering both pop music and comic book characters. It’s separated here for convenience.
My 50+ year love affair with comic books is based primarily on my fondness of superheroes. But I’ve dabbled in other comic-book genres at times. Carl Barks‘ Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck stories are recognized classics, Sheldon Mayer‘s Sugar & Spike deserves wider recognition, and I’ve been known at various points in my life to follow the four-color sagas of ArchieEnemy AceBat LashGroo the WandererMs. TreeTomb Of DraculaLove And RocketsFish Police, and Fission Chicken.

Although it was never a specific interest, I’ve occasionally had some affection for funny-animal superheroes, too. My first such passions were Mighty Mouse and Underdog on TV, followed by Henry Boltinoff‘s single-page (or less) Super Turtle fill-in strips in various DC comic books in the ’60s. And I also dug Super Goof, a Gold Key Comics title, which starred the familiar Disney character Goofy; whenever our dear Goofy gobbled down one of his secret supply of Super Goobers, he’d upgrade into the costumed, super-powered Whatever-The-Hell-Goofy-Was Of Steel, Super Goof. Sure, you can laugh, but it was the closest Disney comics ever came to an ongoing superhero book. Er, unless you count Zorro….

But neither Underdog nor Super Goof was the first anthropomorphic critter to don a cape and fly through the sky to punch evil in the eye. One of the first–if not the first–was Captain Marvel Bunny, better-known as Hoppy The Marvel Bunny.

In the 1940s, the original Captain Marvel was so popular that Cap’s real-life masters at Fawcett Comics figured that spin-off characters would be well warranted. Cap gained a younger counterpart, Captain Marvel Junior, and a sister, Mary Marvel; each of these characters was popular enough to star in separate cover-featured series (in Master Comics and Wow Comics, respectively), and to appear in his/her own solo comics, as well. The three teamed up (often with non-powered, non-starring supporting character Uncle Marvel) in the pages of The Marvel Family, too. Someone at Fawcett must have decided that a funny animal version could sell to even younger readers, so Hoppy the Marvel Bunny was born.

Hoppy’s first appearance was in Funny Animals (aka Fawcett’s Funny Animals# 1 in 1942. His debut revealed that the soon-to-be-magic bunny rabbit was a big fan of Captain Marvel–wasn’t everyone?–who discovered he could also become the World’s Mightiest Lagamorph by speaking Cap’s magic word, SHAZAM! In a flash of lightning, Hoppy became Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, and adventure was afoot. (A rabbit’s foot! See what I did there?)

Hoppy remained the star of Funny Animals for years, and also starred in 15 issues of his own comic book. In the early ’50s, the Captain Marvel connection was dropped, as Hoppy became a more traditional funny-animal feature. When Fawcett folded in the mid ’50s, Charlton Comics picked up the rights to Hoppy, and reprinted some of the Marvel Bunny tales under the name Magic Bunny.

Hoppy was never much on my radar; he was gone from the comics racks long before I was born, and never had sufficient pop-culture oomph to merit a nostalgic revival. I probably first heard of Hoppy while studying comics history in the books All In Color For A Dime and Steranko‘s History Of The Comics, tomes that I devoured in the early to mid ’70s. Even when DC Comics acquired Captain Marvel and company, Hoppy was certainly the lowest of priorities.

Well, at least until DC Comics Presents # 34 in 1981. For the second and concluding chapter of a team-up between Superman and The Marvel Family, writer Roy Thomas pulled Hoppy the Marvel Bunny out of his hat as a climactic surprise guest star. This was clever, unexpected, and so cool. Hoppy saved the day, and even told Superman that he was his favorite comic book hero.

Heh. I thought Hoppy was supposed to be a Captain Marvel fan! Traitor. Just can’t trust a rascally rabbit.


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


Comic Strip Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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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He THOUGHT He Was An Artist!

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be an artist almost as much as I wanted to be a writer. I kept writing, and I got better at it; I didn’t really stick with the art to the extent that would have been necessary, so those skills never improved. 

This is a piece I did for art class in 1976, when I was 16, a junior in high school. Honestly, although that date felt accurate, my unreliable memory didn’t think I took an art class during my junior year. But I did, and this was from that class: 

The character of Agent 690: Man Of Action! was created by my friend Michael DeAngelo, intended as a one-off gag depicting me as an ass-kickin’ adventurer. Mike was a senior, and a much more accomplished artist than I was. We collaborated on comic strips for our high school literary magazine The NorthCaster. Those collaborations were strictly writer-and-artist, with me cobbling together the words and situations and Mike providing the pretty or gritty pictures necessary to tell the story. I had hoped we could take that collaboration to a higher level, working for DC Comics as the next Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, but the good folks at DC did not share my enthusiasm, and our Batman submission drew nothing more than a polite rejection slip.

Mike’s father Richard DeAngelo was my 11th-grade art teacher, and possibly my 10th-grade art teacher, too. Mr. DeAngelo was NOT–big letters, in italics, and what the hell, let’s put it in bold NOT–the high school art teacher referenced in my reminiscence The Jack Mystery Story, the teacher who told my parents he had to break me. No, no, no. Mr. DeAngelo may not have been terribly impressed with my prowess as an art student, but he never really discouraged me; that was my freshman art teacher, who I guess figured it was his job to crush the uppity art-makin’ aspirations previously nurtured by my eighth grade art teacher John DiGesare. Mr. DeAngelo did throw me out of his house once–I spent quite a bit of time there, visiting Mike and later on his younger sister Lissa–but that’s another story. 

(There’s also a story–perhaps apocryphal–that Mr. DeAngelo, as an active member of the local arts community, invited John Lennon and Yoko Ono to his house when Yoko’s This Is Not Here exhibit was at the Everson Museum in 1971, and that they accepted his invitation. But I digress.)

Anyway. I don’t remember whether or not I asked Mike if I could use Agent 690 for my own one-off art project, but use him I did. The result was silly and inconsequential, but I was 16, and I look back upon it fondly.

When He THOUGHT He Was An Artist! returns: before Agent 690, I did another one-off comic strip for Mr. DeAngelo’s class, a dark ‘n’ gritty superhero tale called Hero. My apparent lack of shame means it will post here soon.


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This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at You can read about our history here.
The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:
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Hey, 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).


Martin Pasko’s THE ALBATROSS (DC Comics, 1975)

When I heard the news that the comics community had lost writer Martin Pasko, one of the first things that came to my mind was The Albatross, a DC Comics superhero he was writing circa 1975 or so. 

It was an odd thing to think of so immediately in the moment. I have great fondness for a lot of Pasko’s work, including some of his Superman stories, his ’70s run on The Metal Men, his Doctor Fate, and his scripting (with Alan BurnettPaul Dini, and Michael Reeves) on the 1993 animated feature film Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm, which may be the single best Batman movie ever made. Given Pasko’s impressive resumé, The Albatross seems a pretty unlikely thing for anyone to remember when remembering Marty Pasko.

Especially considering the fact that The Albatross was never published.

The Albatross was a phantom project. Not only did it fail to see print, it was never even announced as forthcoming (unlike, say, Gerry Conway‘s also-unpublished Ninja the Invisible), probably never assigned to an artist, possibly never even completed by Pasko. The only reference I’ve ever seen made to The Albatross was in my own work, specifically in an Amazing Heroes article on humorous superheroes I wrote in the ’80s. You say you’ve never heard of The Albatross? It’s okay. Neither has anyone else.

The only reason I know anything at all about The Albatross is because I attended the Super DC Con in New York City, February 1976. I was 16 years old, and I was in my Heaven: meeting comics creators (including Jerry Siegel and Joe ShusterJerry RobinsonBob Kane, and my heroes at the time, Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams), mingling with other fans, attending panels, watching old superhero movies, competing in a trivia contest hosted by E. Nelson Bridwell, and cruising the dealers’ room. It was an amazing experience, and I wish someone would publish an in-depth retrospective of that convention. Decades later, when my Dad was in hospice care and trying to express his gratitude for a strawberry milkshake I’d brought for him to enjoy, I joked to him, “C’mon, Dad–remember that time you took me to New York for the DC Comics convention? I’d say I still you a little more than a strawberry milkshake.” Dad smiled, and enjoyed his milkshake.

I attended nearly every panel the Super DC Con offered. If I missed anything, it wasn’t because I hadn’t tried. Lacking a costume for the costume parade, I joined in plainclothes, claiming I was supposed to be DC writer Elliot S! Maggin, who had written himself into a Justice League Of America story the previous summer. Although I was a hit, convention organizer Phil Seuling apologized that he couldn’t give me a share of the costume parade prize because I wasn’t, y’know, actually wearing a costume. That was fine; my prize was being congratulated by DC’s new publisher Jenette Kahn (who seemed genuinely amused as she shook my hand) and Maggin himself, who said that Kahn had just told him that, because of his JLA appearance, his name and likeness now belonged to DC. I’m not sure he was kidding. 

But I digress. Let’s get to The Albatross.

It was at one of the panels that the subject of The Albatross was introduced. I wish I could remember which panel it was, and who the participants were. I’m pretty sure writer Bob Rozakis was there–I have a vague memory of him responding to a friendly barb from his wife, with a “Thanks, Laurie!”–and maybe Maggin, Denny O’Neil, and Cary Bates? That would indicate it was the writers’ panel, which would have been a logical setting for Martin Pasko to talk about The Albatross.

I do remember Pasko looking around the audience to be sure a specific, unnamed DC editor wasn’t in the ballroom at the moment. Satisfied that the coast was clear, Pasko smiled and proceeded to tell us the brief saga of this DC Comics character no one would ever know.

The concept of The Albatross had been the brainchild of a DC editor. Pasko would not say which editor it was. Pasko was given the assignment to develop The Albatross, possibly as a back-up feature. In the editor’s premise, The Albatross was secretly a prison inmate, either a man convicted of a crime he hadn’t committed, or a former felon who’d seen the error of his ways (I forget which). Every night, as his fellow convicts were snug in their beds, with visions of reasonable doubt dancing in their heads, the prisoner we call The Albatross would break out of prison–every night–don his mysterious costume to battle the forces of evil, presumably succeed in boppin’ the bad guys, and then return to his cell, his nocturnal missions undetected by unsuspecting prison guards. Enter: The Albatross! BEWARE THE ALBATROSS!

Spine-tingling, right? No?

Yeah, Pasko also thought it was ridiculous.

But an assignment was an assignment. Pasko almost certainly was the one who named our jailbird protagonist The Albatross, and as he wrote the strip, he found he could not take it seriously. He decided to play up the absurdity, go for subtle laughs, a nudge in the ribs rather than a leap over a tall building in a single bound. The editor still saw this Albatross as a straightforward costumed crimefighter, and he kept rejecting Pasko’s attempts as inadequate. You don’t seem to be getting the right feel for this, the editor told Pasko. One presumes that all involved finally acknowledged a dead end and moved on. The Albatross could escape from prison with ludicrous ease, but his comic-book exploits never saw the light of day.

Pasko smiled again as he concluded his story. Those of us in the small crowd giggled in appreciation. And that was the end of what I’m sure was history’s only public discussion of this DC hero called The Albatross.

Who was the DC editor that came up with the idea of The Albatross? I guess it could have been Julie Schwartz, the legendary and visionary curmudgeon who had given Martin Pasko the nickname “Pesky Pasko” back in the ’60s, when Pasko was a comics fan writing critical letters to the editor. I’m not convinced it was Schwartz, and I don’t think it was Murray Boltinoff or Joe Orlando. My gut thinks it was Robert Kanigher, a veteran and notoriously irascible writer and editor who could occasionally come up with batshit-crazy concepts (perhaps most notably The Black Bomber, a schizophrenic black superhero who was secretly a white racist in his civilian identity, with neither personality aware of the other one; that would have been embarrassing and horrible, but writer Tony Isabella convinced DC to scuttle plans for The Black Bomber, allowing Isabella the opportunity to create his own original [and now iconic] character Black Lightning.) But if it were Kanigher, and he wasn’t happy with the writing, why wouldn’t Kanigher have just written The Albatross himself?

So I don’t know. The Albatross’s secret daddy could have been Kanigher. It could have been Schwartz. It could have been Stan Lee…no, wait, it couldn’t have been Stan Lee. Schwartz? Kanigher? Someone else? We’ll never know the answer to that one. Pasko did get to use the Albatross moniker for a different character in the ’80s, when he was writing the great Nicola CutiJoe Staton character E-Man for First Comics. In a parody of Marvel‘s successful X-Men comics, Pasko named his Dark Phoenix lampoon–what else?–Dark Albatross. I’m sure I was the only E-Man reader ever to see that name, and to think immediately of an earlier, unrealized Albatross mentioned once–once–at a writer’s panel during a DC Comics convention in 1976.

As that 1976 writers’ panel adjourned, a still-smiling Pasko went over lunch plans with his friends and fellow writers. My recollection of him is fixed in place in that moment: a writer and fan filled with good humor, aware of himself, but not in an ironic way. That’s my mind’s picture of Martin Pasko, and it’s a happy image to me. Here’s to The Albatross. Here’s to Pesky Pasko. Godspeed Mark, and thank you for the memory.


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

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

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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).


COMIC BOOK RETROVIEW: Batman #180 (May 1966)

This inaugural entry of Comic Book Retroview was written some time in the ’80s as a spec submission to Comics Buyer’s Guide; it was intended to be the first in a series of reviews of back issue comics (an idea a CBG reader had suggested in the letter column), but editors Don and Maggie Thompson passed on the idea.  This is its first publication. All images copyright DC Comics Inc.

In 1966, Batman and Robin became household names.  The vehicle for this new-found fame was, of course, a twice-weekly televised showcase on the ABC network, a comedy/adventure program which would catapult the Caped Crusaders to national prominence and magazine sales in excess of one million copies that year.  Around the same time that the TV show was beginning to gain in popularity, Batman # 180 was published.

The issue’s cover set the mood.  Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson produced a cover that re-created the spirit of the blood and thunder pulps of yore:  pummeled by heavy rain, the hero struggles desperately with the gun-toting villain–the vision of death incarnate!–as his partner falls helplessly into an open grave.  It could have been a cover for Black Book Detective (starring the pulp hero The Black Bat) as well as for Batman.  The scene is completed by a tombstone marked, “R.I.P. Batman and Robin,” and by the ominous threat hissed by the villain:  “I’ll be the death of you yet, Batman and Robin!”

Inside, the story “Death Knocks Three Times” fulfilled the promise of the cover.  In twenty-four pages, uncredited author Robert Kanigher (with pencils by Bob Kane ghost Sheldon Moldoff, and inks by [I think] Joe Giella) spun a gripping, suspenseful yarn about a murderous thief called Death-Man, who was captured by the Dynamic Duo and brought to trial for the killing of an armed police guard.  Throughout his capture, trial, and subsequent death sentence, Death-Man remains confident and unconcerned:  “Do you really think you have the power to sentence me to death?  I–and I alone–possess the power over life and death!  I am beyond your feeble laws!  You can no more jail a shadow–or punish it–than m-m-m–“

And with that, Death-Man fell to the ground, and was pronounced dead on the spot.  This was on page seven.  Mere pages later, Death-Man would soon rise from the grave to rob again, boast again, and die again before Batman’s eyes.

Although a one-shot character, Death-Man was arguably the most memorable addition to Batman’s gallery of rogues since the 1940s.  Compared to the ineffectual clown that The Joker had become by this time, and to the costumed buffoons Batman would soon play with on the tube, the self-proclaimed master of death cut a striking figure.  Indeed, Death-Man’s arrogant taunts and mocking death(s) were enough to shake even the dread Batman to the point of nightmares.  In spite of an unconvincing explanation for Death-Man’s death-cheating–Eastern mysticism and self-discipline allowed him to enter a state of suspended animation–the villain’s cat-and-mouse games with Batman lent themselves to a fascinating storyline.  The climactic cemetery confrontation alluded to on the cover is wonderfully atmospheric, as Death-Man meets his final fate for real.

“Death Knocks Three Times” was the final flourish of the New Look Batman, begun in 1964 by editor Julius Schwartz to streamline and revitalize the character.  Soon after this issue was published, the camp silliness and “Holy Jet-stream!” expletives of the TV show began to show up in the comics as well, effectively destroying everything that Schwartz had worked for over the past two years.  However, the saga of Death-Man was more than just the last story of that period; it was also the finest, and worthy of standing alongside the later accomplishments of Neal Adams, Denny O’Neil, Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, et al.  Really, they just don’t write ’em like that anymore.

POSTSCRIPT:  Although the original version of Death-Man never again appeared in DC Comics continuity, the character was slightly revamped in the ’60s by  Japanese manga artist Jiro Kuwata, who called the villain “Lord Death Man;” Kuwata’s version is included in the 2008 book Batman:  The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga.  Subsequently, Lord Death-Man has appeared in DC Comics continuity, and has even been retrofitted into Batman ’66, the 21st-century comic-book version of the camp TV show.  Holy irony!

When I was 16, I wrote a script called “Nightmare Resurrection,” a sequel to “Death Knocks Three Times,” bringing Death-Man back from the dead one more time.  It was terrible.  I bow to Kanigher, Moldoff, Giella, and Schwartz.   

By Carl Cafarelli


Captain Marvel Adventures?


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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