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Paperback Cover Cavalcade #1

In the wake of my recent slimming-down of my massive collection of books, this inaugural edition of Paperback Cover Cavalcade selects five books that survived the cut, books I’ve owned for years and years but have never quite gotten around to reading. 
Yet.

THE SKYLARK OF SPACE by Edward E. Smith

I started visiting the weekly flea market at Syracuse’s Regional Market in the mid ’70s. I was a teenager, and my main shopping goal was to score comics, books, and magazines; rock ‘n’ roll records would join that group of sought-after items in very short order. My first-ever flea market purchase was probably a now-forgotten issue of the 1930s pulp Dime Detective. I didn’t shop at the flea market every week, but I went as often as I could.

Among the regular dealers at the flea market were some science-fiction fans. My stubborn memory won’t surrender details or mental image, but I think it was two or three guys and maybe one girl, all college-age or just a little older. Their wares were science-fiction, fantasy, recent and vintage, books, magazines, fanzines. If they’d also had comic books, Monkees LPs, Playboy, and a corned beef on rye, I woulda found my teenage heaven right there. But close enough! I’m pretty sure they sold me my spiffy softbound trade reprint of two classic pulp adventures starring The Shadow, and they definitely sold me this beat-up paperback The Skylark Of Space by Edward E. Smith.

I had heard of Smith, aka E. E. “Doc” Smith, from…somewhere. Maybe Smith had been mentioned in Phillip José Farmer‘s own books Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, or maybe Steranko had brought up Smith in the pulp chapter of The Steranko History Of Comics. Wherever I had encountered Smith’s name, I knew he had written a seminal space-opera fantasy novel series called Lensman. And one Sunday, as I browsed through this s-f collective’s flea market offerings, one of the sellers asked if there was anything I had in mind. “Something with superheroes?,” I replied. The bookseller nodded, indicated that he knew exactly what I needed, snatched up a copy of The Skylark Of Space, and pressed it in my hand. Buy this, kid. Whether the order was spoken or implied, I obeyed and surrendered the appropriate amount of cash to assume ownership of this Skylark.

If memory serves, this same little collective of fans and purveyors was the driving force behind a science-fiction convention in Syracuse in (I think) early 1977. It was my second convention, following the Super DC Con that DC Comics staged in NYC in February of 1976. Wish I could remember the name of the s-f convention in Syracuse; I betcha I still have the program somewhere, buried deep within my big ol’ stack o’ stuff. There was, alas, no superhero or comics programming–a single comics-centric panel had been planned but canceled when its guest speaker was unable to attend–but I had a blast anyway. I don’t really remember the panels, but I remember scoring comic books (primarily Charltons, Flash Gordon and The Peacemaker) in the dealers’ room, watching the Sean Connery film Zardoz, and attending an after-party where no one was concerned with any need to prevent seventeen-year-old me from enjoying a beer or two. I enjoyed myself very well, thank you.


BEHOLD THE MAN by Michael Moorcock

During that same time frame of my pilgrimages to the flea market, I was also burrowing through the new and used books and magazines at Economy Bookstore. Economy had two locations, one on Salina Street in downtown Syracuse and another in Shoppingtown Mall out in DeWitt. I loved both spots, and I was especially fond of the basement section in each, where the cheap second-hand and (illegal) stripped-cover merchandise dwelled. I recall scoring my cherished copy of Harlan Ellison‘s The Glass Teat in the Shoppingtown basement, and snapping up remaindered magazines downstairs at Salina Street.

It was either at the downtown Economy Bookstore or at North Syracuse’s World Of Books (another favorite spot) that I bought some back issues of Unknown Worlds Of Science Fiction, a black-and-white comics magazine published by Marvel. The only thing I remember about any of them now is a story in the sixth issue: writer Doug Moench and artist Alex Niño‘s adaptation of Michael Moorcock‘s book Behold The Man.

I knew Moench from his work on Marvel’s Master Of Kung Fu, and Niño from DC’s “Captain Fear” feature in Adventure Comics. “Behold The Man” knocked me out. I was a 16- or 17-year-old wannabe writer in a post-Watergate era, questioning authority, flirting with iconoclasm, an agnostic, skeptical of the existence of a deity, and only a short span of time away from falling facade-first for punk rock. “Behold The Man”‘s story of a time traveler who becomes ensnared in Biblical events transfixed me. 

It took me years to secure a copy of the Moorcock book itself. I don’t know where or when I finally got it, though I suspect it was in the late ’80s or early ’90s at Syracuse’s Book Warehouse. I wish I could have read it when I was still a teen, and I don’t know if it can possibly have the same effect on 60-year-old me as it might have had on my too-serious, thin-skinned, wide-eyed younger self. 

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE by Dave Wallis

By my teens, I was a big fan of 1960s rock ‘n’ roll, especially the British Invasion. That translated into a love of seeing rockin’ pop performers in the movies, or at least a curiosity about that. I’d seen all of The Beatles‘ movies, I’d seen The T.A.M.I. Show, and I was dying to see things like Having A Wild Weekend, starring The Dave Clark Five. I read music histories and biographies, desperate to learn more and more. 

It was in those non-fiction works that I discovered that The Rolling Stones had once intended to make a movie. The proposed movie’s title sounded intriguing: Only Lovers Left Alive. It obviously wasn’t supposed to be as (transcendently) frothy as Help! or A Hard Day’s Night. I eventually discovered that this movie would have been based on a dystopian science-fiction novel, written by Dave Wallis and published in 1964. 

Of course, the Stones never made that movie, nor did they star in the adaptation of A Clockwork Orange they were rumored to be mulling. (The 2013 vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive is unrelated to the Wallis novel, and also does not star The Rolling Stones; make up your own undead Keith Richards joke). That back-story of a movie The Rolling Stones thought of making was sufficient motivation for me to eventually grab a copy of the Wallis book, probably purchased at Book Warehouse.

THE POINT MAN by Stephen Englehart

Stephen Englehart–billed as just Steve Englehart for his work in Marvel and DC Comics–wrote a lot of comics that I liked, loved, or even worshipped. I was fond of his runs on The AvengersCaptain America,and The Defenders for Marvel, and his subsequent Justice League Of America and Mr. Miracle stories at DC, but it was his Batman work that really blew my mind. He scripted my all-time favorite single Batman story, 1974’s “Night Of The Stalker!” in Detective Comics # 439. He wrote what I consider the definitive run of Batman stories in Detective Comics # 469-476 (1977-78). I was so disappointed in any other Bat-writer’s attempt to follow Englehart that I wound up giving up on comic books entirely for a few years.

I returned to comics fandom a little while after graduating from college in 1980. When I moved to Buffalo in 1982, I began frequenting Queen City Bookstore and sweeping up deeply-discounted back issues of magazines about comics, primarily The Comics Journal and Comics Feature. In those magazines, I read articles about Englehart, and an extensive Englehart interview, which was where I learned that he’d written a novel called The Point Man.

Had to have that. It took me years to find it. Maybe I plucked it from the shelf of a great book shop in Melbourne, Florida while on vacation in 1994, or maybe I got it at one of the two great bookstores on James Street in Syracuse, or maybe even at Mike Paduana‘s late, lamented, and fantastic Metropolis Book Shoppe in North Syracuse. Wherever, whenever, however: mine, now!

SUPERHEROES, edited by Michel Parry

This one’s an oddity, and I am for damned sure hanging on to it. Superheroes is a 1978 British collection of short stories, each connected to the general titular theme. Several of the individual stories saw their first publication here, while others are reprints, some from the ’40s, some from the ’60s and early ’70s. It includes “Man Of Steel, Woman Of Kleenex,” Larry Niven‘s 1971 rumination on the unlikelihood of Lois Lane ever surviving a night of passionate bouncy-bouncy with Superman. I regret that it doesn’t contain Steven Utley‘s 1977 short “In Brightest Day, In Darkest Night” (a favorite from my Economy Bookstore sci-fi magazine hauls), but it does have Robert BlochGeorge E. ClarkDonald F. Glut (creator of The Occult Files Of Dr. Spektor), Norman Spinrad, and more.

I bought this in the early ’90s at a Syracuse bookstore on Salina near the corner of Bear Street, just a block or two from Book Warehouse. I think it was called Bear Street Books? It was one of my very few visits to that store, which closed not long thereafter when its owner fell ill and eventually passed. The only other thing I remember buying there was a back issue of Goldmine magazine from 1986. That issue contained my first published work in Goldmine, the start of a fruitful twenty-year freelance association with GM. I was between subscriptions (and between jobs) when it came out in ’86, and this was the first copy I’d managed to find.

From digging through the bins of every used bookstore I could find to pulling some of my very own work out a bookstore’s back room, I’d say that qualifies as full circle.

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Comics And LP Cover Cavalcade Supplement # 1: Paperbacks And Rock Mags

Normally, this is a lightly-annotated but otherwise random collection of images of comic book and rock ‘n’ roll album covers. Today’s edition shifts just a little for a cavalcade of rock magazine and paperback covers instead. Consider me a Renaissance blogger.

One of the many prizes I scored in the dealers’ room at DC Comics‘ 1976 Super-DC Con in New York was this paperback novel from 1966. Produced as tie-in product for the immensely popular Batman TV series starring Adam WestBatman Vs. 3 Villains Of Doom is slightly less camp than the TV show, and seems a bit closer to its original comics inspiration. According to DC Wikia, the novel incorporates three Batman comic book stories from 1947-1950, and places them within a framing device of The JokerThe Penguin, and The Catwoman competing for the Tommy (as in Tommy gun), the underworld equivalent of an Oscar for, y’know, best–or worst–bad guy. Listen, criminals may be a superstitious and cowardly lot, but they crave validation just like regular folks do. You like me! You really like me! HA-HA-HA-HAAAA! Waughh! Meow! Ahem. I haven’t re-read this in many years, but I recall that it was a fun and entertaining pulp-lite superhero book. Credited author “Winston Lyon” is as fictional as Alfred and Commissioner Gordon; the novel was written by William Woolfolk, prolific veteran author of many novels, comic books, and screenplays. Batman Vs. 3 Villains Of Doom was only the second prose novel to star a DC Comics superhero, following George Lowther‘s The Adventures Of Superman in 1942.

Creem magazine was one of the all-time great rock ‘n’ roll rags, and it will be the subject of a near-future edition of my rock magazine reminiscence series He Buys Every Rock ‘n’ Roll Book On The Magazine Stands. (My series itself was inspired by a recent invitation from Devorah Ostrov and former Creem regular John Mendelssohn for me to contribute to Reet, a new online magazine in the proud and plowed Creem tradition.) This fairly reverent 1987 special Creem edition dedicated to The Monkees may seem an anomaly for the notoriously snarky Creem because…well, because it is an anomaly for the notoriously snarky Creem. But nor was it a unique anomaly, as the perpetrators of Creem weren’t exactly above chasin’ a quick buck by pandering to a perceived mass pop market. Hell, my first Creem mag was a 1977 spotlight on The Bay City Rollers, and I kinda wish I still had a copy of that. That said, I know that Bill HoldshipCreem‘s editor in 1987, was and remains a Monkees fan himself, and his guidance produced this lovely souvenir document of resurgent Monkeemania in the ’80s. This I still have, and I’m keepin’ it. One regrets The Monkees never did a Creem Profiles Boy Howdy! bit…did they?

Harlan Ellison was my favorite writer when I was a teenager, and no other author has ever really challenged his position at the top of my literary pantheon. Ellison was an enormous influence on my writing, and on my attitude toward writing. His essay collections (in particular The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat) were as essential to me as his fiction. I don’t remember how I started on my path to Ellison Wonderland. My first exposure to his work was the time-traveling Star Trek episode “The City On The Edge Of Forever,” which I adored (although Ellison despised the changes made to his work in the televised version). I saw his name in comic books, as co-writer (with Roy Thomas) of “Five Dooms To Save Tomorrow!” in The Avengers # 101, and as inspiration for a character called Harlequin Ellis in Justice League Of America # 89 (written by Mike Friedrich). My friend Bob Gray may have recommended I check out Ellison’s books. My first was Paingod And Other Delusions, a collection of short stories that included Ellison’s masterful “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said The Ticktockman.” I was hooked immediately, and set out to accumulate as many Ellison books as I could, as fast as I could. I saw Ellison speak at Syracuse University around 1976 or so, and I was riveted as he read his then-unpublished short story “Hitler Painted Roses.” After the lecture, Ellison autographed my copy of his No Doors, No Windows, and playfully tried to hook me up with the diminutive co-ed standing in line in front of me. Um…that’s not why Ellison’s my favorite writer. But it didn’t hurt.

Shortly after I left Buffalo to return to Syracuse in 1987, I suddenly became a bigger, more devoted fan of The Flamin’ Groovies. I don’t know exactly why, but it grew out of my increased attention to Goldmine, the bi-weekly tabloid for record collectors. I’d begun freelancing for Goldmine in late ’86, the start of what would be a twenty-year run as a GM stringer. I started ordering sundry delights from Midnight Records, one of Goldmine‘s regular advertisers. And again, I have no idea why I abruptly fixated on the Groovies at this time, though I think their track “First Plane Home” may have played a role in my Groovies revelation. It wasn’t like I didn’t already appreciate the group; I’d owned their Shake Some Action and Now albums for years, and absolutely loved them. Either just before or shortly after my move to Syracuse, I finally grabbed a copy of 1979’s Jumpin’ In The Night, the final Flamin’ Groovies LP released up to that point. “First Plane Home” freakin’ blew me away, just as “Shake Some Action” had done years before, so I guess I do know what sparked my 1987 embrace of the Groovies. And now I needed more! Midnight sold me an Australian fan magazine, Flamin’ Groovies Quarterly, a new (!!!) Groovies album called One Night Stand, a CD of live performances (Groove In), and an all-Groovies edition of one of my fave rave rock reads, Bucketfull Of BrainsBucketfull Of Groovies filled me in on the back story for what had become one of my all-time favorite bands. This was an invaluable resource when I interviewed the Groovies’ Cyril Jordan for Goldmine in 1992.

1970-’71. I hated sixth grade. Hated it. About the only good thing I can say about sixth grade is that it was slightly better than seventh grade, the way shingles is better than leprosy. The only other good thing about sixth grade was The Pigman, a novel by Paul Zindel. My reading teacher Mrs. Mott read the book to us in class; oddly enough, I don’t remember any of us ever having the book in front of us while she read, which seems strange for a reading class. I was already reading at a high school level, so I betcha I could have followed along acceptably. The book was fascinating, sad, emotional, unforgettable. I believe I had another class in a subsequent year that also studied The Pigman, and I read it on my own at that time. My original well-worn copy is long, long gone. I replaced it with a fresh copy a few years back, when my own daughter was entering high school. She declined the option of reading it herself. But I owe myself the pleasure of re-visiting it. (A pretty classmate named Diana was the third and final only good thing about sixth grade, but she never noticed me anyway.)

When I started my recent look back at rock mags of days gone by, a few friends mentioned Rock Scene as a favorite. I bought the occasional issue of Rock Scene in the late ’70s/early ’80s, and browsed through many more of ’em on the racks at The Liftbridge Bookstore in Brockport. But Rock Scene never meant as much to me as Creem or Bomp!Trouser Press or The Pig Paper, nor even the distrusted Rolling Stone. In retrospect, I probably should have dug Rock Scene more than I did. Really, the magazine was like a more specifically rock-oriented version of vintage 16 or Tiger Beat, focused far more on pictures than on text. There’s nothing wrong with that, and you’d think my uber-pop sensibilities would have taken to that like a High Times reader takes to chocolate chip cookies. I recall seeing an uncharacteristically snide remark within a Rock Scene piece about KISS that would have been right at home in Creem, and maybe there was more of that if I’d been paying attention. And Rock Scene did feature The Sex Pistols and The Ramones, and I was for damned sure in favor of that! I don’t think I kept any of my few Rock Scene purchases from the time, but I’ve picked up a couple of old issues at record shows in recent years. My Rock Scene fan friends were right; I was wrong.

Flea markets and used bookstores. From these fertile fields, I amassed a decent collection of paperback novels based on the ’60s TV spy show The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I don’t believe I ever saw the show when it originally aired, but I certainly knew of it and its protagonists, Napolean Solo and Illya Kuryakin. My first Man From U.N.C.L.E. adventure was a Big Little Book (The Calcutta Affair) ’roundabout fourth grade. In the mid ’70s, I saw a film called The Spy With My Face on CBS‘ late movie. The Spy With My Face was an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., expanded with extra footage for a 1965 theatrical release. Hey, reduce, reuse, and recycle! I loved it. Although I started snagging the paperbacks soon thereafter, I confess I’ve yet to read one. But I still have them, and I’ll get to them one day. One of the many great things about books is that they have no expiration date. I’m told the Man From U.N.C.L.E. books also hold the distinction as the first resource to spell out the full name of U.N.C.L.E.’s evil adversary, THRUSH. We knew from the TV series about the United Network Command for Law Enforcement; it was the novels that suggested the bad guys were the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity. Hence, y’know, bad guys. I’ve since seen most (all?) of the TV series episodes as reruns. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t make a brief mention of actress Yvonne Craig, later to become TV’s Batgirl, steamin’ up the spy business on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Although Yvonne Craig did appear on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. series, this scene did not appear on the TV show. Somehow I sense you’re not surprised. This is from One Spy Too Many, a 1966 feature film expansion of a two-part episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Craig was not even in the original TV two-parter, but was in an earlier episode. With her clothes on.

The first punk record I ever heard was “God Save The Queen” by The Sex Pistols. The Ramones would ultimately mean a great deal more to me, but the Pistols were also important, and I still enjoy blastin’ “God Save The Queen,” “Pretty Vacant,” “Holiday In The Sun,” and “No Feelings,” among others. Punk magazine’s document of the Pistols’ American tour and messy demise was the cover feature on either the first or second issue of Punk I ever owned; I think I picked this up before I purchased the previous issue, which cover-featured The Dictators. The Sex Pistols issue was Punk‘s first as a slick magazine, transitioning from its previous tabloid format. This issue earned bonus points with me for also covering The Bay City Rollers, though apparently many Punk readers were simply horrified to see the Rollers in a punk zine. I thought Punk was a terrific, terrific magazine, and I regret that I missed most of its run. I did snag an earlier issue (with a John Holmstrom drawing of Joey Ramone on the cover, and hilarious interviews with David Johansen and the hapless Dorian Zero contained therein), and a subsequent issue starring Joey Ramone and Debbie Harry in the magazine-length photo-funny “Mutant Monster Beach Party.” Punk was gone too soon. I own two different retrospectives of the magazine, one hardcover and one softcover, and neither gives me what I really want: a comprehensive reprinting of every single page of every single issue of PunkNOW!!!

My addiction to superpulp paperbacks in the ’70s prompted me to pursue spinner-rack reprints of decades-old adventures starring the likes of The ShadowDoc SavageTarzanThe SpiderThe AvengerOperator 5Conan the BarbarianEllery Queen, and The Lone Ranger, plus novelizations of ’30s comic strips starring Flash Gordon. I wish there were even more, and I wish I’d picked up the then-new Vampirella novels a couple of years later. My favorite series was probably The Phantom. Like the Flash Gordon books, these were prose adaptations of old newspaper strips, and I consumed them with great delight. Their covers were perfectly prototypical ’70s era pulp paperback fare, colorful kindred spirits to the other willfully-garish drugstore potboilers, even with a costumed hero mixed in with the prerequisite sex and violence. The cover of The Veiled Lady is a prime example, as The Ghost Who Walks deals hot lead from his firearm while cradling and protecting a buxom damsel in distress. My favorite Phantom novel was the debut entry, The Story Of The Phantom, which seemed more complete and accomplished than its sequels, but I enjoyed every one I read. And I read a few: The Story Of The PhantomThe Slave Market Of MucarThe Scorpia MenaceThe Veiled LadyThe Mysterious AmbassadorThe Hydra Monster, and Killer’s Town, with The Goggle-Eyed Pirates a more recent internet purchase. For those who came in late.

I’m tempted to suggest that Hot Wacks Quarterly didn’t know whether it wanted to be a rock magazine or a girlie magazine, but I think its editors knew precisely what they were going for here. Hot Wacks specialized in coverage of bootleg recordings, but wasn’t above the use of rock-related cheesecake photos to help sales. Even so, the magazine never connected for me. I owned two or maybe three issues, realized my indifference, and moved on.

The inverse of Hot Wacks QuarterlyThe Beatles in Oui.

Hey, I had fun doing this! There will be more comics and LP covers to come, of course, but maybe we’ll look at some paperbacks and rock mags again, too.

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Boppin'

Superpulp Paperbacks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Birthdays

George Reeves

Reeves, pictured with co-star Noel Neill (a.k.a. Lois Lane)

Born on this day in 1914, in Woolstock, Iowa, actor George Reeves. Reeves is remembered for portraying Superman in the early 1950’s, though he previously had a solid film career. He appeared in Gone With The Wind, The Strawberry Blonde and From Here To Eternity.

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Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Not Brand Echh

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.
Never underestimate the transcendent power of just being silly.

When you’re a kid, “funny” and “silly” are pretty much the same thing. As we mature, our sense of humor may expand to embrace wit, sarcasm, irony, the sardonic, the acerbic, the caustic, the blackest of black. But if we retain some lasting connection to the inner child that understands how to have fun, we may also retain a fondness for broad slapstick, painful puns, exuberant goofiness, and the thrill of inane, delirious giggling. Silly is eternal. Silly is immortal. Silly can help to keep us young.

Most American kids in the ’60s and ’70s read Mad magazine at some point. Mad was more than merely silly; it was funny, and it occasionally achieved fleeting brilliance. It was also silly, willfully so. That anarchic, chaotic spirit was flashy, infectious; it inspired many, many attempts at the sincere flattery of imitation. Brilliance is difficult to copy convincingly. But silliness? Silliness is easy.

Not Brand Echh was brilliantly silly.

In 1967, the growing success of Marvel Comics continued to gather steam. Marvel had begun the ’60s as a lower-tier comics publisher; it would be the undisputed # 1 by the early ’70s, and it would never look back. As Marvel sought to expand its line, writers Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich suggested to Stan Lee the idea of a book devoted to parodies of other comics. Thomas and Friedrich wanted to channel the freewheelin’ free-for-all of the earliest issues of Mad in the ’50s, when Mad was itself still a color comic book needling other comics in such classic stories as “Superduperman,””Batboy And Rubin,” “Melvin Of The Apes,” and “Starchie.” They chose the name Not Brand Echh, utilizing Stan Lee’s familiar twist on the dismissive phrase “Brand X” when referring to other comics publishers, and pitched it to Stan as a series of take-offs on DC ComicsGold Key, and other four-color rivals. Lee insisted that the book needed to parody Marvel’s own line instead, but the concept was otherwise a go. With the tag line “Who says a comic book has to be GOOD??,” Not Brand Echh # 1 hit the stands with a cover date of August 1967.

The first issue’s dynamic and silly Jack Kirby cover subtly recalled the cover of Mad # 1 from 1952 (perhaps the only time anything was ever subtle in Not Brand Echh). It depicted The Fantastic FourThe Silver Surfer, the evil Dr. Doom, and a random scared kitty cat recoiling in horror before the advancing figure of Forbush Man, a Marvel in-joke based on the supposed mishaps of a hapless, fictional Marvel staffer named Irving Forbush. Ol’ Irv was a fixture of Stan Lee’s fan-friendly Bullpen Bulletins and Stan Lee’s Soapbox hype pages in all of the Marvel books, regular features that did as much to sell the Marvel image to eager acolytes as the stories themselves did. Turning Irving into a costumed figure–albeit one who appeared only on the issue’s cover–conveyed the message to Marvelites that this new book was guaranteed good fun for you, the discerning True Believer in this, The Marvel Age Of Comics. Excelsior!

Inside, Lee and Kirby parodied their own work, as The Fantastical Four tangled with Doctor Bloom and the stolen cosmic power of The Silver Burper. Subtlety? No time for that now! This was the broadest of broad humor, the artwork loaded with sight gags and chicken fat, the script laden with strained puns and wordplay. It was certainly silly. And, to a kid like me, it was freakin’ hilarious.

But I didn’t catch up to it until later. I may have seen Marvel’s house ads for the first issue, but I don’t recall seeing either the first or second issues on the racks at the time of their publication. The first issue I remember seeing was # 3, sitting on the spinner at Sweethearts Corner in North Syracuse, its cover hawking parodies of The Mighty Thor (“The Mighty Sore!”), Captain America (“Charlie America!”), and The Incredible Hulk (“The Inedible Bulk!”). I was probably intrigued, and also likely confused. I put it back on the spinner, and bought DC’s The Spectre instead. I couldn’t risk wasting my twelve cents on this uncertain tomfoolery, could I?

Could I?

Well, maybe I could. The image of Not Brand Echh stayed in my mind. When the fourth issue appeared at Sweethearts the following month, I was ready to take the ever-lovin’ plunge, make that furshlugginer leap of faith.

Silly. And absolutely captivating to this seven-year-old.

With a theme of “The Bad Guys Win!,” this issue showed off-kilter versions of Marvel heroes Daredevil (Scaredevil), Sub-Mariner (Sunk-Mariner), and The X-Men (The Echhs-Men, of course) being defeated by their arch-enemies, cracked view reflections of Electro (Electrico), Warlord Krang (Krank), and Magneto (Magneat-O). The humor was broad, manic, fast-paced, and as far removed from subtlety as The Three Stooges from The New Yorker. It made me laugh, man.

I missed the next two issues of Not Brand Echh (including the debut of the now-hyphenated Forbush-Man as a character [rather than just a cover joke] in NBE # 5), and returned for the seventh issue’s hysterical betrayals…er, portrayals of the origins of The Fantastical Four and the Distinguished Competition’s Stuporman. References in the latter story to DC’s Mort Weisinger and E. Nelson Bridwell (Mort Wienieburger and Birdwell) sailed over my head faster’n a speeding bullet, but were still funny, just ‘cuz. I was particularly taken by the image of a window washer who looked a lot like Ringo Starr, gazing up and shouting, “Look! Up in the ever-lovin’ sky! It’s a goony-bird! It’s a Jefferson Airplane! Naw! It’s nothin’ but Stuporman. Him we gotta look at every day. I wuz hopin’ it wuz maybe a goony-bird!”

Forbush-Man returned in the next issue, chronicling his efforts to join a super team, and getting into misadventures with The Flighty RevengersKnock Furious and the Agents Of S.H.E.E.S.H., and The Echhs-Men. On that issue’s final page, a dejected Forbush-Man decided that no really famous group would ever want him as a member, and so he walked away from a chance to join The Beatles. This was, incidentally, the first time I recall ever seeing The Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band garb. The story concluded with the nonsensical moral, “The Byrds in the hand are worth The Who in the bush!” Awrighty….

Not Brand Echh switched to a 25-cent Giant format with its ninth issue, and expanded its scope to lampoon movies (Boney And Claude) and TV shows (The Mean Hornet), as well as Archie comics (“Arch And The Teen-Stalk”) and the familiar Marvel parodies (The Inedible Bulk versus The Sunk-Mariner, and Captain Marvin). But for me, the best was yet to come.

Best?

Worst!

It took two chapters (here and here) in my ’60s memoir Singers, Superheroes & Songs On The Radio to recount my memory of 1968.  Comic books were among the highlights of ’68 for me, and one of those highlights was Not Brand Echh # 10. For this was an all-reprint issue, The Worst Of Not Brand EchhWith this blockbuster, I had the chance to catch up on some of the Brecch blechh I’d missed: The origin of Forbush-Man! Spidey-Man versus Gnatman and Rotten the Boy Blunder! The origins of Charlie America and Mighty Sore! Knock Furious versus The Blunder Agents (my first vicarious exposure to The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents)! There was only one story I’d seen before, The Ecchs-Men versus Magneat-O tale from NBE # 4, which I appreciated here like a reunion with an old friend. But the prize among prizes for me was “The Silver Burper!” from Not Brand Echh # 1.

For this inaugural Not Brand Echh story, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby pulled out all the stops for a jackhammer take-off on their own epic Fantastic Four classic, wherein the unspeakably evil Dr. Doom appropriated The Silver Surfer’s power cosmic. Chicken fat sight gags and goofy side comments pummeled the reader mercilessly, and I would recite many of the lines for decades thereafter. I can rule the world! The universe! DISNEYLAND! Or, How joyfully he frolics and gambols in the noonday sun! Such innocence should be rewarded! SHOOT HIM!
And, of course, my favorite of all–this exchange between Mr. Fantastical and Dr. Bloom:

DR. BLOOM: I have far more power than you!

MR. FANTASTICAL: But I know more big words!

DR. BLOOM: But I can SPELL them better!

MR. FANTASTICAL: My hair is wavier!

DR. BLOOM: My nose is shinier!

DR. BLOOM: I own a hundred suits of armor!

MR. FANTASTICAL: I own a hundred pairs of stretch socks!

DR. BLOOM: I’m the boss of a whole complete country!

MR. FANTASTICAL: I own a hundred pairs of stretch socks!

DR. BLOOM: But here’s the clinker, big mouth–Do YOU have your very own magic surfboard? Hmmm??

MR. FANTASTICAL: I own a hundred–URKK!

DR. BLOOM: Oh, shuddup with the socks already!

I believe I just snorted, and milk came out my nose. Again. Fifty years later, the memory still makes me chuckle, and smile.

Not Brand Echh only lasted for three more issues, finally succumbing to Forbush fatigue after its thirteenth issue. Marvel tried a more general parody comic book called Spoof in the early ’70s, and even tried a magazine called Crazy to compete directly with Mad magazine. I sampled both the short-lived Spoof and the longer-lasting Crazy, but found neither to be of interest to me.

Most of us are only kids once. The oddball things that tickle our fancies at a specific age, a particular flashpoint in our lives, can assume greater resonance in our emotion and memory than some other random thing that doesn’t enjoy the benefit of nostalgia or cherished recollection. By any attempted objective measure, Not Brand Echh really wasn’t exactly Proust, nor Swift, nor even Bennett Cerf. Well, maybe that last one. I think much of the artwork is beyond easy reproach–Marie Severin, in particular, was practically peerless in her mastery of humor comic visuals–but neither Stan Lee nor Roy Thomas was quite a natural at writing comedy. Much of the humor is forced. Nearly all of the parody names are awkwardly, painfully strained (and therefore a huge influence on my early, inept attempts at writing humor). But I was seven and eight years old when I first read these. This is explanation, not excuse. I adored this stuff, and no invasion of rational thought will ever change that enduring fact. Oh, shuddup with the socks already! Who says a comic book has to be good? Well…who says this isn’t good? Make mine Brand Echhs! Sometimes silly can offer all the satisfaction a kid could ever need.

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Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Inferior Five

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.

In the ’80s, a writer named Mike Tiefenbacher was working on some funny animal comics for DC. Tiefenbacher was using a pair of supporting characters he’d named Sacco and Vanzetti, but his editor objected, pointing out that kids wouldn’t get any reference to Sacco and Vanzetti, the anarchists convicted and executed (perhaps wrongly) in the 1920s. Tiefenbacheer agreed that, of course the kids wouldn’t get the reference, but that the names were inherently distinctive and funny in context, and that the kids would respond to that. (The editor won the argument. Editors always win arguments.)

But Tiefenbacher was right. Kids do respond to what seems funny, to what strikes them as delightfully silly, regardless of whether or not they understand the motivation, the relevance, or the back story. They just think it’s funny; they just know it makes them laugh.

I was seven years old when DC published Inferior Five # 1 in 1967. It was loaded with references I didn’t get, including direct parodies of the TV show The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a show I knew about but didn’t really know. None of that mattered. Inferior Five was silly, busy, energetic, frantic fun. It was funny. It made me laugh; I understood that fact just fine.

The Inferior Five’s name was a take-off of Marvel‘s Fantastic Four, but that was where the similarities ended. The I5 was created by writer E. Nelson Bridwell, a DC staffer who’d been basically the first comic book fan to break into the comic book industry in the ’60s. The team had made three previous appearances in DC’s try-out book Showcase before debuting in its own title. I didn’t see any of the Showcase appearances until years later, but those issues revealed the back story that the earnest but inept members of The Inferior Five were all legacy heroes, the sons and daughter of various members of a Justice League doppelganger called The Freedom Brigade: the 97-pound (and still losing weight) weakling Merryman, the powerful but clumsy Awkwardman, the cowardly archer White Feather, the corpulent, slow-flying Blimp, and the beautiful, super-strong but dim-witted Dumb Bunny.

When I first met this intrepid quintet in Inferior Five # 1, the I5 was summoned by good guy spy outfit C.O.U.S.I.N. F.R.E.D. (Competent Organization Utilizing Scientific Investigation for National Fiend, Ruffian and Evildoer Defense)–it was the ’60s, and super-secret acronyms were everywhere–to thwart the evil machinations of H.U.R.R.I.C.A.N.E. (Heinous, Unscrupulous Rats and Rogues Initiating Criminal Anarchy and Nefarious Evil). By page 10, The Inferior Five (along with Merryman’s grandfather, the elderly Green Hornet counterpart Yellowjacket) were being debriefed by characters lampooning The Man From U.N.C.L.E.‘s Mr. WaverlyNapolean Solo, and Illya Kuryakin (Mr. IvanhoeCaesar Single, and Kwitcha Belliakin).

Did I understand all of this when I was seven years old? No. Did I find it amusing? Oh God, yes! Action! Chills! Spills! Thrills! Plus, I learned what the word “indolent” meant! My favorite line in the whole damned thing was when the evil “Tabby” Katz, seeking to avoid a beat-down from Dumb Bunny, held up an artificial plastic baby and implored, “You wouldn’t hit a woman with a baby, would you?” “No,” Dumb Bunny replied, “I’d hit her with a grown man!” And. She. DID!

I next caught up with the inept avengers in Inferior Five # 3 (guest-starring a Tarzan clone called Darwin of the Apes), and again from Inferior Five # 7 through its tenth and final issue in 1968. I absorbed the I5’s encounters with seemingly familiar characters like Cobweb KidAllergy QueenThe Kookie QuartetSub-Moron, and Iron Pants, plus SupermanGroucho Marx, and Norton from The Honeymooners. In the ’70s, I went back and completed my Inferior Five collection. And, with or without pastiches of other characters, I loved the individual heroes of The Inferior Five.

Um…especially Dumb Bunny. Even at the age of seven, a couple of years before sneaking my first look at Playboy, I understood the appeal of a beautiful woman wearing rabbit ears on her head and a cotton tail on her curvy derriere. See, kids understand more than ya might think.

From Dumb Bunny to Barbi Benton–a kid’s gotta start somewhere….

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Boppin' Comics

THIS MAN, THIS MARVEL: A Guy Named Stan

The late Stan Lee was the single most famous comic book creator in the history of the medium. That fact is not up for debate. We can argue about who was the greatest or most important, and we will, but there is simply no denying that Stan Lee’s name was the most widely-known. To the general public, Stan Lee was synonymous with Marvel Comics and the attendant Marvel Universe movies, with superheroes, with comic books themselves. If you ask passers-by to randomly name someone who created comic books, I guarantee you Stan Lee’s name would the most common answer, and by a margin as wide as The Negative Zone. ‘Nuff said.

For many, that very fame is what tarnished Lee’s legacy. But Stan Lee earned his fame. He didn’t do it alone, and others deserve a significant share of the credit, but anyone who denies that Stan Lee was an important figure in comics is, frankly, an asshole.

Stan Lee did not set out to have a career in comics. It was a paycheck, that was all. Stanley Lieber was an aspiring writer, still in his teens, when he went to work for Timely Comics in 1939; his cousin Jean was married to Timely’s owner, Martin Goodman. Lieber’s early duties were grunt work, and involved no creative endeavor. When these duties called upon him to write a text story for Captain America Comics # 3 in 1941, Lieber didn’t want to use his real name; he wanted to become a respected novelist some day, and he didn’t want to cheapen his name by association with cheap trash like comic books. Lo, there shall come a pseudonym: Lieber chose the nom du biff bang pow Stan Lee.

Stanley Lieber’s great American novel remained unwritten. Goodman put Lee in charge of this lower-tier comics line in 1941, with no real illusion of competing with powerhouse comics publishers like DellEastern Color Printing, and Detective Comics (the latter firm still with us, now called DC Comics). Lee stayed on as decades passed, as Timely became Atlas Comics and eventually Marvel. In 1961, the success of DC’s superhero revivals prompted Goodman to order Stan Lee to come up with Marvel’s answer to The Justice League Of America. So Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby created The Fantastic Four. The rest is history.

In the early ’60s, Stan Lee was writing most, if not quite all, of Marvel’s output, while simultaneously serving as the line’s editor. That’s a lot of work. For the sake of efficiency, the stories were created by what came to be known as the Marvel method: Lee and an artist would work out a basic plot, the artist would transform these ideas into pencilled pages, and Lee would script captions, dialogue, and–where appropriate–the occasional FOOM! or SKRRAKK! It was a true collaboration, perhaps not always (if ever) 50-50, but the end result was what mattered.

The buzz about Marvel seemed to generate almost immediately. The success of The Fantastic Four led to more Marvel superheroes, to The Incredible HulkThe Mighty ThorThe Invincible Iron ManThe Astonishing Ant-ManThe Amazing Spider-Man, to revivals of Captain America and The Sub-Mariner, two characters that predated Lee’s debut. It lead to The Mighty Avengers and The Uncanny X-Men. The comics attracted an older audience, including college kids, and even celebrated filmmakers like Federico Fellini. This was the cheap trash that Stanley Lieber didn’t want to dignify with his real name? No, not by then. This was pop art. This was a revolution. This was The Marvel Age Of Comics.

Lee was a natural-born pitchman, and some of this buzz should be attributed to his charm and his (perhaps unconscious) marketing savvy. It wasn’t just hype–the comics were solid, and the audience embraced them–but the experience was enhanced by the rapport Lee established with readers. Lee created an illusion of camaraderie within a mythical Marvel bullpen: Stan “The Man” Lee and Jack “King” Kirby, Sturdy Steve Ditko, Jovial Joe Sinnott, Dazzling Dick Ayers, Jazzy John Romita, Rascally Roy Thomas, Mirthful Marie Severin, Dashing Don Heck, even including secretary and receptionist Flo Steinberg and a hapless fictional staff member named Irving Forbush. They were all stars in a way comic book writers and artists never really were before. And not just stars; to Marvel readers, they were family. By the end of the ’60s, Marvel was actively and very successfully competing against its seemingly stodgy competition, and on its way to surpassing the shocked and stunned management of DC Comics as the industry’s undisputed leader.

Stan Lee received most of the credit. He deserved a lot–a lot–of that credit. But the sheer amount of credit that was accorded Lee alienated some of his collaborators, and understandably so. Lee was the editor and the bylined writer, but his creations were not solo works. Steve Ditko, the artist and co-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, was the first to bristle and depart, ditching Marvel in 1966 for lower-paying work elsewhere; Ditko would never work with Lee again.

And in 1970, the very same year that The Beatles broke up, Jack Kirby left Marvel in favor of work at DC. Marvel had been the house that Stan and Jack built. It was like John Lennon joining The Rolling Stones, or Paul McCartney becoming a Beach Boy. Kirby’s frustration with Lee, his resentment of the degree to which Lee and Marvel publicity seemed to downplay Kirby’s own boundless imagination and contributions to the plots and storylines that created Marvel Comics (above and beyond the sheer brilliance of Kirby’s nonpareil artwork), led Kirby to create a DC character called Funky Flashman, a soulless, insincere snake-oil huckster inspired by Lee.

I’m sure that Stan Lee was bewildered by all of this, probably hurt, certainly puzzled. Hadn’t he always given the artists credit, when there was no pre-existing industry standard for that? He was the writer, of course, and Lee saw himself as the primary creator of all these characters. He wasn’t quite wrong, but he was most definitely not quite correct, either. There’s no Spider-Man as we know him without Ditko. There’s no Marvel Universe without Kirby. It’s not just because of their art, but in the way each helped to develop and define these characters before any of them appeared on a spinner rack. They were co-creators, and they deserve credit as co-creators.

We discuss all of this today, not to cast shade upon Stan Lee and our collective memory of him, but to acknowledge his…I guess his humanity. Stan Lee was a legend; he didn’t have feet of clay, but he was subject to the same inconsistencies and issues of pride and ego as any of us. But his were writ large, the great responsibility that comes with great power. He was indeed human.

And comics would not have been the same without him.

You disagree? You’re wrong. Like Casey Stengel managing the New York Yankees, Lee utilized the array of talent at his disposal to make things happen. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and all of the other All-Stars of the Marvel bullpen united to build something larger than themselves, to create, to craft a universe so vast and engaging that it will continue to thrive, to thrill, and to touch the imaginations of millions and millions of people for generations yet to come. Stan was The Man. He couldn’t have done it alone, and he didn’t. But it wouldn’t have occurred at all if he weren’t there.

When the news of Stan Lee’s death broke yesterday, my daughter Meghan texted me: That one kind of hurts. Marvel Comics weren’t her thing as a kid; Meghan’s favorite comics were Archie and his assorted pals ‘n’ gals, her favorite superheroes The Powerpuff Girls. The first Guardians Of The Galaxy movie hooked her, and she became an avid fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Stan Lee’s cameos in each of those Marvel movies solidified his ongoing connection with anyone who ever loved the fantastic, the amazing, the astonishing, the incredible, the uncanny. Stan Lee’s legend is invincible, but it stings to realize that those cameos will end. I’m sure he filmed some cameos we still have yet to see in Marvel films to come, and audiences will feel the tears form when we see him again on that big screen. 

I identify as a DC Comics guy. But I loved Marvel Comics too, and I still do. Reading Stan Lee’s Soapbox and those Marvel Bullpen Bulletins when I was a kid helped form the wonder-filled image in my head, the picture of what a magic world comic books could be, what a magic world they had to be. That part? That part was all Stan Lee.
Stan Lee passed away this week at the age of 95. I never met Stan Lee. But I knew him. So did you. You always will. Now, Stan Lee is reunited with his beloved wife Joan. And Stan and Jack are together again, amends are made, and the lessons they’ve learned will lead to the greatest comics Heaven has ever seen. We can only imagine. Face front, True Believers.  Excelsior, Mr. Lee.

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Boppin'

This Mask, This Candy Bar

I don’t remember all of my Halloween costumes. My trick-or-treat years began some time in the early to mid ‘60s, and I retired from door-to-door costumed begging around November 1st of 1972, by then an eighth grader and forced by societal expectations to give up this annual grab for free candy. Stupid societal expectations.

The earliest costume I can remember wearing was my Ben Cooper Superman suit, probably in either ‘65 or ‘66. The costume puzzled me. What was with the eye mask? Superman doesn’t wear a mask! And how come the costume didn’t have red shorts over blue tights, like the Man of Steel wore? Whoever this Ben Cooper guy was, he clearly had no proper eye for detail.

The next year, I was Batman. Of course. My Dad tried to talk me into being The Green Hornet instead, trying to tell me that there’d be tons of Batman wannabes prowling North Syracuse that Halloween night, but The Green Hornet would be unique. I would not be dissuaded; years before Michael Keaton or Christian Bale made it a catchphrase, I was already insisting, “I’M BATMAN!”

The third and final store-bought costume I remember is Birdman, a Hanna-Barbera cartoon hero later subverted into a comedy figure as Harvey Birdman. Hmf. I take my superheroes seriously, thankyouverymuch. And never mind that my Birdman garb was supplemented by a less-than-intimidating pair of cardboard wings I made; criminals may be a superstitious and cowardly lot, but I think my disguise would only strike scornful laughter in their hearts.

I remember three subsequent homemade costumes. One may have just been used for a Cub Scout party rather than actual trick-or-treating. That was my get up as Dworn, the super-weakling from space. I remembered ol’ Dworn from a cherished Superboy 80-Page Giant a few years back, though my look was my own, accomplished with a torn ‘n’ tattered cape and a pretend barbell marked “10 LBS.,” with super-weakling me bent over struggling to carry it. Like Jon Lovitz, I was ACTING…!

Dworn, we hardly knew ye

I did go out one Halloween as the ghost of Ty Cobb. Yeah, top that, you poseurs. I got an old Detroit Tigers uniform from my Dad, and I added a skull mask to make it special. No one was impressed with my creative ingenuity, but I liked me. The costume for my farewell Halloween rounds in ‘72 was Charlie Chaplin. I was a huge Chaplin fan when I was 12, and I was SO proud of that costume. It was a triumphant end to my career as a trick-or-treater.

Although I was now done with soliciting candy from friends, neighbors, strangers, and assorted riff raff, I still wanted to get dressed up the next couple of years, as I took over the role of handing out the sweet treats to the masked kids knocking at our door. As The Shadow, I accidentally terrified one youngster (who got extra candy as compensation for his trauma), but no one knew what to make of me as Groucho Marx.

(Wait. Come to think of it, no one ever knew what to make of me as myself either.)

My interest in Halloween kinda faded away. As a freshman in college, I went to a costume party as a generic glitter rocker I called Satan Starr, Superstar. As a senior, I slapped together a decent Supergirl costume. I wound up reprising that one for two subsequent Halloweens.

For God’s sake, put your red shorts on, buddy!

And I only remember three more Halloween costumes, worn to parties hosted by co-workers. In the late ‘80s, I finally took Dad’s suggestion and became The Green Hornet, with lovely wife Brenda poised to kick ass as Kato. There was also a party where Brenda wore my old McDonald’s uniform, and I have no recollection of what I wore. And finally, one Halloween night in the ‘90s, I raided my knickknack drawer for props and tchotchkes to throw together an impromptu disguise as Freelance Generic Batguy (Not Affiliated With DC Comics, A Time-Warner  Company). I slay me.

Now, all of my costumes have been permanently relegated to storage. I mean that figuratively; the costumes themselves are long, long gone. I won’t say I outgrew the urge to play dress-up–I’ve never shown any evidence of outgrowing anything–but really, the only thing I miss about Halloweens of the past is all that free candy. I do dig free candy.

I betcha that Ben Cooper still gets free candy, damn him. Even if his Superman doesn’t wear his red shorts on the outside, where they belong.

Wait…what?!

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Fans of pop music will want to check out Waterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, a new pop compilation benefiting SPARK! Syracuse, the home of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & CarlTIR’N’RR Allstars–Steve StoeckelBruce GordonJoel TinnelStacy CarsonEytan MirskyTeresa CowlesDan PavelichIrene Peña, Keith Klingensmith, and Rich Firestone–offer a fantastic new version of The Kinks’ classic “Waterloo Sunset.” That’s supplemented by eleven more tracks (plus a hidden bonus track), including previously-unreleased gems from The Click BeetlesEytan MirskyPop Co-OpIrene PeñaMichael Slawter (covering The Posies), and The Anderson Council (covering XTC), a new remix of “Infinite Soul” by The Grip Weeds, and familiar TIRnRR Fave Raves by Vegas With RandolphGretchen’s WheelThe Armoires, and Pacific Soul Ltd. Oh, and that mystery bonus track? It’s exquisite. You need this. You’re buying it from Futureman.

(And you can still get our 2017 compilation This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4, on CD from Kool Kat Musik and as a download from Futureman Records.)
Hey, Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 100 essays (and then some) about 100 tracks, plus two bonus instrumentals, 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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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Batman

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 introduction to Batman, my favorite comic book character, came in the person of Adam West, star of the 1966-1968 Batman TV series; I wrote about that here, so we don’t need to cover all that again. For now, suffice it to reiterate that no TV series ever had as great and as lasting an impact on my life as did the campy, twice-weekly adventures of The Dynamic Duo in 1966.

But that’s just the first part of a first impression. Where did I go from there? Well, the massive nature of Batmania ’66 made the Caped Crusader as ubiquitous as The Beatles had been just two years before. There was so much Bat-merchandise everywhere you turned; the J.M. Fields department store had a small section devoted exclusively to Batman tie-in stuff, and I still have the Batman wastebasket I got there.

One of the most intriguing Batman products would have to be the bubblegum cards. There were two entirely different series of Batman cards; there was a series featuring stills from the TV show, capturing images of Adam West and Burt Ward capturing Gotham’s Most Wanted, and there was another series with painted, pulpy images of Batman and Robin battling their deadliest foes. Oh God, those painted cards were awesome, and I sprang for a complete set of reproductions a couple of decades ago. Those cards, with their hints of an unknown wonderland of Batman adventure, were my first teasing taste of (excuse the expression) a Batman beyond what I’d seen on TV.

(I recall a similar feeling of Bat-discovery in, I think, a tie-in from Hostess or some other sweet treat distributor, which carried images of Bat-villains I’d never seen, like The FoxThe Shark, and The Vulture; I got another sideways glance into Batman’s vast rogues gallery with coloring-book appearances by The Bouncer and Blockbuster.)


I can’t quite remember my first Batman comic book story. I have a vague memory of a battle with The Joker involving giant tubes of paint (which would have been from a 1966 Kelloggs promotion), and that may or may not have been my first. If not, then the honor probably goes to a 1966 Signet paperback, collecting Batman reprints in black-and-white. Most of the reprints were from the ’50s–I particularly loved a Joker story called “The Crazy Crime Clown!”–but the first story in that book was a reprint of Batman’s origin story by (uncredited) writer Bill Finger and (too-credited) artist Bob Kane, as it appeared in Batman # 1 in 1940 (except for, y’know, the expensive color part). I still have that paperback, and if that’s where my Batman comics-readin’ started, then I picked a hell of a great place for my Batman to begin.

Subsequently, the first bona fide Batman color comic book I owned was Batman # 184, purchased off the rack at a grocery store in Aurora, Missouri in the summer of ’66.  I’ve purchased a few more Batman comic books since then.

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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.

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Comic Book Cover Cavalcade #1

As the music portion of my former series Comics And LP Cover Cavalcade already split off into its own separate LP Cover Cavalcade, the comics portion also needs its own space. This inaugural entry of Comic Book Cover Cavalcade shares five DC Comics covers from the 1970s.
ALL-STAR COMICS # 58 (January-February 1976)

When writer Gerry Conway left Marvel Comics for DC in the mid 1970s, one of his highest-profile assignments was this opportunity to revive All-Star Comics, which had been the home of comics’ original 1940s super-team, The Justice Society of America. Continuing its numbering from the final JSA issue of All Star Comics in 1951 (pretending All-Star Western # 58 and onward never happened), the new series initially soft-pedaled the old ’40s JSAers to focus on the three younger heroes–Batman‘s former partner Robin, former Seven Soldiers of Victory member The Star-Spangled Kid, and a buxom new character called Power Girl–who comprised the team-within-a-team referred to as The Super Squad. Conway script, Mike Grell cover, Ric Estrada pencils, and inks by the legendary Wally Wood helped get the new All-Star Comics off to a solid start. Conway returned to Marvel before long, but the series continued with style and distinction.

BATMAN # 253 (November 1973)

I was thirteen years old in 1973, and I was a big, big DC fan. The Batman was my favorite character, and you bet I insisted on calling him THE Batman. The Batman was a creature of the night, a dark avenger, not the campy crusader whose TV show hooked me on superheroes when I was a mere child of six. No! The Batman was serious stuff! You can look back now and smirk at my sanctimonious nerdiness, but I say to hell with you. I was having a grand old time, and I remember the comics of this period with great fondness. Writer Denny O’Neil was on a roll, having already given The Dark Knight a new classic adversary in Ra’s al Ghul; penciler Neal Adams and inker Dick Giordano provided sleek visuals that were as integral to the mood, setting, and storytelling as any word within the captions and balloons, and alternate penciler Irv Novick (also inked by Giordano) deserves credit for maintaining that style in the many issues Adams didn’t have time to draw. In Batman # 251, O’Neil, Adams, and Giordano had reintroduced The Joker in “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge!,” returning the character to the murderous roots of his debut in 1940’s Batman # 1. It is not an exaggeration to say that “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” influenced every single Joker story published since 1973.

And, a mere two issues later, The Batman got to meet his greatest inspiration, The Shadow. DC had licensed the character of The Shadow in hope of tapping into ’70s-era nostalgia for the pop culture playthings of the ’30s and ’40s. I was all in, as I read my Doc Savage paperbacks, watched The Marx Brothers on Saturday night TV late shows, listened to old adventure radio shows (including The Shadow) on the public station’s Radio Rides Again presentations, and devoured histories of comics, histories that taught me about the Golden Age of Comics in the ’40s, and even about the blood ‘n’ thunder pulp magazines that helped to sire those comics. Pulp magazines like The Shadow.

The Shadow was the biggest single influence on Bill Finger and Bob Kane when they created the character of The Batman in 1939. I knew that, so I was more than primed for The Shadow’s DC’s series (written by O’Neil), and absolutely psyched to see The Shadow finally meet his disciple in the pages of Batman # 253. Beneath an atmospheric cover by Mike Kaluta (regular artist on DC’s The Shadow), the actual story by O’Neil, Novick, and Giordano could be viewed as anti-climactic, or even a cheat. The Shadow is an off-stage player in most of the tale, stepping out from the shadows only near its end. I didn’t care. I loved it without reservation, and I still do.

DC SPECIAL # 10 (January-February 1971)

If I had to pick my all-time favorite comics artist, I would acknowledge the above-mentioned Neal Adams and Wally Wood, plus (of course) Jack Kirby, and a long, long list that would include Dick SprangCarl BarksJack ColeAlex TothJim Aparo, and…listen, we’re gonna be here all night, and I haven’t even mentioned Marshall Rogers yet. But when I have to name just one, I usually say Nick Cardy.

And I don’t pick Cardy on the basis of most of the covers he cranked out as DC’s go-to cover guy in the early to mid ’70s. Those were fine, obviously, but his best work was his brief stint as the regular artist on the Batman team-up title The Brave And The Bold, his Teen Titans (especially his later issues), and his exquisitely-rendered Western series Bat Lash. Oh, and the gorgeous covers he drew for Aquaman.

And there’s also this gloriously atmospheric cover for DC Special # 10, dressing up a basic collection of 1950s cop and fireman stories, reprinted from old issues of Gang Busters and Showcase. Calling them basic isn’t meant as a put-down–I read this damned thing over and over when I was 11–but there’s nothing inside that could hope to match that dynamic Cardy cover. 

SHAZAM! # 8 (December 1973)

The same pursuit of the nostalgia market that prompted DC to license The Shadow also led to the company licensing Superman‘s biggest sales rival from back in the ’40s, the original Captain Marvel. DC had effectively sued Fawcett Comics‘ Captain Marvel out of existence in the early ’50s. When licensing and attempting to revive Cap in 1973, DC Publisher Carmine Infantino‘s intent to restart the World’s Mightiest Mortal’s former comic book Captain Marvel Adventures was immediately thwarted by another, more powerful rival. Marvel Comics had trademarked the Captain Marvel name for its own unrelated use during the original Cap’s decades-long dormancy, and wasn’t about to allow DC to use it. DC went with the alternate title Shazam! instead. Each issue of DC’s Shazam! series featured vintage Cap reprints backing up the new adventures, and the reprints were…well, better. A lot better. The eighth issue was a 100-Page Super Spectacular collection containing only the old stuff, and I felt like it was a gift given to me directly from the Rock of Eternity. This was just magnificent.

SHOWCASE # 100 (May 1978)

DC’s original try-out book Showcase survived on newsstands from 1956 to 1970. It was a series that offered readers an opportunity to sample potential new series, with sales presumably determining which concepts would graduate to ongoing series and which would, y’know…not. Some point to Showcase # 4 (which introduced a brand-new superhero called The Flash, inspired by the 1940s character of the same name, but reimagined as something minty-fresh) as the beginning of comics’ Silver Age, and I would agree. Showcase produced a lengthy list of, well, showcases for both new characters introduced in its pages and already-existing characters given a shot at joining DC’s A-list. The series was revived briefly in the late ’70s, and that revival brought us Showcase # 100.

For this celebration, writers Paul Kupperberg and Paul Levitz teamed with artist Joe Staton in an attempt to craft a new adventure that would feature at least a cameo by each and every one of Showcase‘s stars and woulda-beens. Well, almost; Showcase # 43 had featured a reprint of a British adaptation of the James Bond novel and film Dr. No, and DC’s license to thrill with 007 had never been renewed. And I’m not positive, but I don’t think The Doom Patrol or Power Girl–the stars of the Showcase revival issues that preceded # 100–made it into the big party either.

But yeah, everyone else is represented, from Fireman Farrell through Manhunter 2070. Even Archie ripoff Binky, even Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs stand-ins Windy and Willy. We’ve got Bat Lash, AquamanGreen LanternLois LaneThe CreeperThe AtomSgt. RockEnemy AceThe Teen TitansDr. Fate and HourmanThe Challengers of the UnknownThe Inferior FiveThe Phantom StrangerJonny DoubleAngel and the ApeTommy TomorrowThe Hawk and The DoveThe SpectreAnthroAdam StrangeThe Sea DevilsThe Metal MenSpace Ranger, the pop group The ManiaksNightmasterCave CarsonRip HunterB’wana BeastDolphinFirehair, Johnny Thunder, and Jason’s Quest protagonist Jason. Maybe someone else I missed. Hell, maybe 007 is in there somewhere, hidden behind the rest of this large cast.

And it’s a blast. It’s goofy in all the right ways, serious where it needs to be, and never so serious that it gets in its own way. Forgive the comparison, but it’s like a Marvel movie in comics form, a lighthearted superhero epic that satisfies. It’s fun.

Quick! Someone go back to 1973 and tell my 13-year-old self that’s it’s okay for superheroes to be fun. Lighten up already, young man.

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This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.
The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:
Volume 1: downloadVolume 2: CD or downloadVolume 3: downloadVolume 4: CD or downloadWaterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:  CD or download
Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 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).