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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 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
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).

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

Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.

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).

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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

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Captain Marvel Adventures?

CAPTAIN MARVEL!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Serial Thrillers

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

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

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

I was riveted.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

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

Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.
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).

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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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Boppin'

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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