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CLOSING ARGUEMENTS: Neal Adams

It is impossible to overstate the impact of artist Neal Adams on American comic books. Whatever grand impact you want to assign to Adams, you can double that, triple it, and keep going to absurd lengths, and you still won’t be able to give Adams more credit than he deserves. 



There have been many tributes written in the wake of Adams’ passing last week at the age of 80. Writers, fans, associates, and pundits have done a wonderful job of recognizing and celebrating his legacy. There is the legacy of his artwork itself, how he revolutionized the way comic book art can be created and appreciated, and how his visual interpretation of The Batman was essential–absolutely essential–in transitioning the character’s image from camp crusader to dark knight; I mean no disrespect to the 1960s Batman TV series (which was also extremely important to me), but there is no way the public’s perception of Batman gets from Adam West to the pop culture dominance of THE Batman without Neal Adams. I recommend a visit to 13th Dimension for further reading on this subject.

Beyond the artwork, Adams was also a tireless and passionate advocate for the rights of creators. His highest-profile battle for truth, justice, and the American way was his role in publicly shaming the publishers of DC Comics into giving credit and (some) compensation to Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in the ’70s. Adams was not the only one involved in this valiant effort, but his voice was the loudest, and he helped get the job done.

That’s the larger picture of Neal Adams and his work, and I encourage you to bop around the web and read more of his story. That would give you a better understanding of just why the comics world is in mourning now.

But I just want to speak for a minute about my own relationship with this body of work. I became more conscious of Adams in the very early ’70s, when I was ten to fourteen years old. I had seen his work before; I have no recollection of where or when I first saw Adams’ dynamic comic book images, though it was probably in DC Comics house ads in the mid to late ’60s. He drew the covers for my first issues of Action Comics (# 356, cover dated November of 1967) and Adventure Comics (# 368, May 1968), and the cover of Batman # 200 (March ’68) in between those. My first Neal Adams interior work was The Spectre # 3 (February-March 1968), followed later that year by World’s Finest Comics # 175 and The Brave And The Bold # 79.

Adams had been bugging regular Batman and Detective Comics editor Julius Schwartz for a chance to draw Batman, but Schwartz was adamantly not interested. Another DC editor, Murray Boltinoff, was more open to the idea. Adams drew a couple of Batman-Superman team-ups in World’s Finest Comics, and Boltinoff assigned Adams writer Bob Haney‘s script for The Brave And The Bold # 79. This was a team-up of Batman and Deadman, a character Adams was already depicting in the pages of DC’s Strange Adventures.

Don’t worry about those two issues of World’s Finest. They’re like the forgotten singles the Kinks did before “You Really Got Me.” Neal Adams really began drawing Batman in The Brave And The Bold # 79.

This issue, this single issue, was Ground Zero for the return of The Batman, the reclaiming of the character’s long-lost pulp roots. It’s no snub to Haney to say this was entirely because of Neal Adams. Adams knew how Batman–sorry, THE Batman–should look. The dark shadows, the visual sense of noir, weren’t in the script; Adams brought all of that in himself.

As Adams continued to draw a few more issues of B&B, legend has it that Julie Schwartz saw letters from readers wondering why that Batman, the REAL Batman, was only appearing in The Brave And The Bold. Schwartz was known to be stubborn, but he was no dummy. Adams was soon drawing Batman stories for Schwartz, usually with writer Dennis O’Neil, who shared Adams’ preference for Batman as a dark knight. In these stories, the definite article in the character’s name was reclaimed after decades of disuse. We caught our first glimpse of The Batman in Adams’ Brave And Bold stories; the stories done by O’Neil and Adams (and Frank RobbinsIrv NovickDick GiordanoJim Aparo, Bob Haney, and others) made the change official. The Batman. THE Batman. 

THE BATMAN!

Within this time frame, very late ’60s into very early ’70s, Adams also did some incredible work for Marvel Comics, notably with writer Roy Thomas in the pages of X-Men and The Avengers. An artist working for Marvel and DC at the same time was a rarity, and certainly something stodgier minds (especially at DC) discouraged and often prohibited. Neal Adams did not care. He made his own rules, and modeled an approach for other creators to follow and expand. His talent was too great for any publisher to even think about blackballing him. Restrictions? Pfui. He was Neal freakin’ Adams. He didn’t draw outside the lines. He redrew the lines.

The Dennis O’Neil-Neal Adams version of The Batman debuted in Detective Comics # 395 in 1970, but I didn’t see that one until a few years later (in the hardcover collection Batman From The ’30s To The ’70s). After Adams’ Brave And Bold run, I started with “Ghost Of The Killer Skies” in Detective Comics # 404 (October 1970), Adams’ single-issue return to The Brave And Bold (with O’Neil) for # 93’s “Red Water, Crimson Death” (December 1970-January 1971), and the return of Golden Age Batman villain Two-Face in “Half An Evil” (Batman # 234, August 1971). That last one thrilled me no end. I was eleven years old. I still wasn’t following creator credits yet (other than Stan Lee and Jack Kirby). I would start to know the names of the writers and artists very soon.

And, by the summer of ’72, I knew who my favorites were. And I knew exactly who knew how to write and draw The Batman.

1972 gave us The Batman’s serialized battle with Ra’s al Ghul, an adversary created by Adams and O’Neil. At the age of twelve, I thought this was the most epic thing I had ever seen. I’m still not convinced I was wrong about that. Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams were absolute superstars to me. The following year, when they brought back The Joker and returned him to his original murderous characterization in “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge!” in Batman # 251, I couldn’t stand the anticipation of waiting for the issue to hit the stands. I read it obsessively, over and over. It will always be among my favorite individual comic books.

“Moon Of The Wolf” in Batman # 255 (March-April 1974) was Adams’ final Batman work for DC Comics, at least until many years later. Other paths beckoned. Other writers and artists continued the work, some of them rivaling or even surpassing what O’Neil and Adams had done. But I say none of that subsequent great stuff–hell, The Batman himself!–none of it would have happened if not for Neal Adams.

I confess I had less interest in much of Adams’ later work. I did absolutely adore O’Neil and Adams’ slam-bang 1978 tabloid Superman Vs. Muhammed Ali, as well as his cover illustrations for Tarzan paperbacks, his illustrations for Harlan Ellison‘s short story “The New York Review Of Bird” (in the 1975 paperback anthology Weird Heroes, Vol. 2 ), and the sublime 1976 DC superheroes calendar, most of which was drawn by Adams. But Adams’ creator-owned material and even his decades-later return to The Batman wasn’t my cuppa. Doesn’t matter. The stuff I loved will always be the stuff I loved, the stuff I love still. I can’t exaggerate the importance of that work to me. It was everything.

1972 was when I made the connection that my favorite Batman stories were created by these guys, Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams. 1972 was also the year I started writing in…well, not in earnest, but maybe in pursuit of earnest. I was twelve. In social studies class, rather than do a boring research project about the Revolutionary War, I scripted a science-fantasy story about traveling back in time to participate in the Boston Tea Party, and corralled classmates to help me perform the piece on video tape. For English class, our study of Bram Stoker‘s Dracula prompted me to write a (terrible) Gothic horror story, performed as an audio tape. By 1973, I was submitting scripts to DC Comics. They were awful, sure, and they didn’t get me anywhere. But I’d made a decision: I was going to create. I couldn’t draw like Neal Adams, but I could write. I’m still doing that.

I met O’Neil and Adams in 1976. It was a brief can-I-have-your-autograph? encounter at the Super DC Con in New York. I felt like I’d met the Beatles.

Neal Adams was the Beatles. He was Babe RuthCharlie ChaplinOrson Welles, and whatever other reference you care to use to indicate he was the best, THE best, at what he did. Nonpareil. It is impossible to overstate the impact of artist Neal Adams on American comic books. That’s not hyperbole. That’s just the way it is. The artist. The crusader. The storyteller. A definite article carries specific meaning.

Just ask The Batman.

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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.

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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Quick Takes For C

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.

CAPTAIN MARVEL (MAR-VELL)

Yeah, the the original Captain Marvel was long gone by 1967, but continued pop culture references kept that fabled name in the public eye nonetheless. The good folks at Marvel Comics recognized the potential value of that name; realizing the name was not protected by any prevailing copyright, Marvel created its own Captain Marvel, an interstellar warrior named Mar-Vell. Mar-Vell’s alien race the Kree planned to invade Earth, and Captain Mar-Vell was sent to our big blue marble to prepare the planet for Kree conquest. Mar-Vell ultimately rebelled against his own kind, and helped Earth to resist domination by the Kree. This Captain Marvel debuted in two issues of a comic book called Marvel Super-Heroes in ’67 and ’68; I first saw him in Captain Marvel # 1 (May 1968).

THE CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN

I confess that my main attachment to the Challs is that I think they make a really cool name for a trivia team. I also think they would have been a natural for a radio drama series: Four adventurers who cheated death! Four men living on borrowed time! These are THE CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN!! In the early ’70s, I picked up a coverless DC giant that reprinted some early Challs stories drawn by the King, Jack Kirby, and those were cool. But I first saw the Challs face arch-enemy Villo in “Two Are Dead–Two To Go!” in Challengers Of The Unknown # 52 (October-November 1966). (Pop music bonus reference: the Challs are name-checked in the song “Challengers” by The New Pornographers.)

THE DAVE CLARK FIVE

One of my siblings owned a copy of the “Bits And Pieces” 45, so my Tottenham Sound adventure starts there. We also had some kind of DC5/VO5 tie-in, a cardboard Dave Clark Five record promoting VO5 shampoo, but I can’t remember anything about it. (Well, other than the fact that li’l me, at four or five years old, would look at this record and point at the first three members of the DC5, reading left to right, and insist, “That’s Dave, that’s Clark, that’s Five;” I think I was joking.)

I remembered the product as VO5 rather than Pond’s, but this looks about right.

THE CLASH

A 1978 (?) issue of New York Rocker was probably my first exposure to The Clash. At a Flashcubes show that summer, I was chatting with Penny Poser (alias Diane Lesniewski), and she told me her favorite bands were The Who and The Clash. I bought The Clash’s “Remote Control”/”London’s Burning” import single…and, um, wasn’t really all that impressed. The B-side grew on me, though, and I later picked up the “Tommy Gun”/”1-2 Crush On You” 45, and eventually got the domestic versions of The Clash’s first three albums. I came to like The Clash quite a bit, but never quite felt the level of worship for them that I reserved for the likes of The Ramones and The Jam.

THE CREATION

This mid-’60s British Mod group was mentioned in Bomp! magazine’s 1978 power pop issue, with The Creation’s “Making Time,””Painter Man,” and “Biff Bang Pow” cited as prime examples of power pop. So, y’know, I wanted to hear this stuff! But good luck with that effort. I started with a DJ at Tip-A-Few, an oldies bar in Syracuse’s Eastwood section, but he’d never heard of Creation, and even if he had, he wasn’t gonna play anything that was never a hit record in America. I finally found an import 7″ reissue 45, combining “Making Time” and “Painter Man.” It was at Desert Shore Records up on the Syracuse University hill; Arty Lenin, guitarist from The Flashcubes, was workin’ the Desert Shore counter that day, so I bought my first Creation record from him.

THE CREEPER

Beware! THE CREEPER! Oooo–scary! The Creeper’s debut appearance in Showcase # 73 was among a small stack of comics my parents bought for me to take along on my summer travels in 1968. I didn’t know comics creators when I was eight years old, but I’m sure I’d seen DC’s ads promoting this new work by Steve Ditko (along with Ditko’s The Hawk And The Dove); I’m equally sure I didn’t connect this Ditko guy to work I’d seen on Marvel’s Dr. Strange in the pages of Strange Tales, nor Spider-Man reprints in Marvel Collectors’ Item Classics, nor Charlton’s Blue Beetle (the latter of which I didn’t see until after The Creeper’s debut anyway). Still found it all very, very cool.

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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Aquaman

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

This was originally posted as part of a longer piece covering both pop music and comic book characters. It’s separated here for convenience.

I don’t think I was aware of Aquaman before my Dad bought me a copy of Aquaman # 30 (November-December 1966), which cover-featured Aquaman’s funeral. Aquaman would eventually become one of my favorite superheroes, but I doubt that I’d heard of him before getting this issue. But who can resist a cover full of superheroes? Fine, I didn’t know Metamorpho or Hawkman yet, but I sure knew Batman and Superman! The thing is, even if Bruce and Clark had been replaced on this cover by some other superheroes that I didn’t know–Green ArrowPlastic ManMartian ManhunterThe Hooded Halibut, even–I would still have been intrigued: it was a comic book cover full of superheroes! What more could a six-year-old want?! Perhaps it was a cheat that these heroes only appeared in a single panel in the story itself (with Metamorpho entirely hidden, but The Flash bringing up the rear), but I don’t believe that put me off.

Given that the King of the Sea’s comic book lasted another 26 issues in the ’60s (and has been revived again and again since then), and that he became a Saturday morning TV cartoon star in the Fall of 1967 (and did so again as one of the Super Friends in the early ’70s), and that he moved into blockbuster Hollywood feature film stardom with the Justice League and Aquaman movies…yeah, given all that, it ain’t a spoiler to reveal that Aquaman survived his own death in Aquaman # 30. He’s resilient.

I think I saw DC house ads for Aquaman #s 31 and 32, plus The Brave And The Bold # 73 (co-starring Aquaman and The Atom), but my next Aquaman adventure was Aquaman # 36 (November-December 1967), with its cover blurb proclaiming, “The King Of The Sea Is Now The King Of TV!” This would have gone on sale around the same time as the debut of the above-mentioned TV cartoon series, The Superman-Aquaman Hour Of Adventure on CBS. The series continued Superman and Superboy‘s  cartoon exploits from the previous fall’s The New Adventures Of Superman, supplemented by all-new animated action starring Aquaman and Aqualad, plus one additional cartoon each week starring one of a rotating line-up of DC superstars (The Flash, Hawkman, The Atom, Green LanternThe Teen Titans, and The Justice League of America).

These cartoons were terrible–hokey, juvenile, formulaic, and strictly by-the-numbers–but I just loved ’em as a kid. Frankly, the comics at the time weren’t exactly cutting-edge themselves, but there was undeniable energy, and there was artwork by Nick Cardy, who is possibly my all-time favorite comics artist. The TV show added a pair of black boots to Aquaman’s costume, and I don’t think it made much use of the comic-book supporting cast other than trusty sidekick Aqualad; the villains were there–I think I remember seeing Black Manta on TV–but there was no sign of Aquababy or Aquagirl. And there wasn’t nearly enough of Aquaman’s beautiful wife MeraThat was a shame! As drawn by Cardy, Mera was the hottest-looking female character in comics at the time.

But my favorite run of Aquaman stories began in 1968, when Dick Giordano took over as editor with Aquaman # 40. Giordano replaced veteran writer Bob Haney with young turk Steve Skeates, and the series just exploded with imagination, drama, and sensational quirkiness. Skeates’ first order of business was a long, long serial involving Aquaman’s search for Mera, who’d been abducted by unknown assailants. Giordano took Nick Cardy off the main art chores–Cardy retained cover art duties, and proceeded to knock everyone out with some of the finest covers of his long career–but found a more than able replacement in Jim Aparo. Like Giordano and Skeates, Aparo had come to DC fresh from budget-priced-but-brilliant work at Charlton Comics, a low-rent line we’ll be discussing in a couple of days. Aparo’s work on Aquaman was stunning, gorgeous–so much so that I still consider Aparo the definitive Aquaman artist, my eternal allegiance to Nick Cardy notwithstanding. This was just a terrific, underrated run, one of my favorite runs of any character at any time.

Sadly, sales weren’t sufficient to keep Aquaman afloat. The book was cancelled with its 56th issue (March-April 1971), cover-featuring “The Creature That Devoured Detroit!” The book may have been too off-kilter to survive, but it was a blast while it lasted. Aquaman returned a few years later in the pages of Adventure Comics (inspiring a letter of comment from a certain future blogger in North Syracuse), and he regained his own comic book in the mid-’70s. The current Aquaman comic book is pretty cool (and Mera is still a knockout), but no version of these characters could ever top my affection for the Skeates-Aparo-Giordano era.

Splash page of Aquaman # 56
My letter to Aquaman, Adventure Comics # 444

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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Quick Takes For T (Comics Edition)

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

Robin the Boy Wonder! Wonder Girl! Kid Flash! Aqualad! I was six years old in 1966, and I I was certainly a fan of ol’ Robin from his heroic appearances on my favorite TV show Batman. The others were unfamiliar to me prior to my introduction to DC Comics’ junior superhero group The Teen Titans. I didn’t even really know Wonder Woman or The Flash yet, and I first encountered Aquaman around the same time as my first issue of Teen TitansThat would have been Teen Titans# 6, cover-dated November-December 1966.

But I for damned sure knew Robin. Batman and Robin! I think I saw a house ad for Teen Titans # 1 before ever noticing the Titans on the spinner rack. I was absolutely fascinated by DC’s house ads during this era, colorful come-ons that teased and enticed with glimpses of everything from Batman and Superman to Starman and Black CanaryDial H For HEROThe SpectreBob HopeJerry Lewis, and Scooter. I don’t remember whether or not I ever owned a copy of Teen Titans # 1; I think maybe I did buy it as a back issue in the ’70s, but if so, it’s long gone now. Either way, though, its cover captivated my young mind, and I wanted it.

In this time frame, my parents frequently allowed me to pluck a comic book of my choice from the rack at Sweetheart Corner, a grocery store in North Syracuse. That’s how Teen Titans # 6 came into my possession. Robin was on the cover! Of course. 

And I loved it. This issue guest-starred Beast Boy from The Doom Patrol; my only previous exposure to The Doom Patrol was another irresistible house ad, depicting a team-up of the Doomsters and that Scarlet Speedster, The Flash. My next Teen Titans was # 11 (September-October 1967), which guest-starred The Green Arrow‘s sidekick Speedy (and opened with a scene revealing the Titans’ bulletin board, featuring pinned letters from Earth-One’s version of President Lyndon Johnson and that other Fab Four, The Beatles).

Seeing Speedy with the Titans prepared me for the team’s TV debut in the fall of ’67, as The Teen Titans became one of the rotating guest features on the new Saturday morning cartoon series The Superman-Aquaman Hour Of Adventure. This show aired on CBS, but the Boy Wonder was still contractually obligated to appear with his caped crusadin’ mentor over on ABC, thus elevating Speedy to full Titandom, at least on Saturday mornings.

I bought Teen Titans comics when I could. Writer Bob Haney‘s willful abuse of the English language in pursuit of his outta-touch idea of hip teenspeak can be kinda painful to read now, but I was all in as a young’un. The art by Nick Cardy was terrific, and would become even better as the series continued. Cardy may be my all-time favorite comics artist, and I first encountered his work in Aquaman and Teen Titans

(Even beyond his overall skill as a draftsman and visual storyteller, Cardy drew some of the prettiest girls in comics, including Wonder Girl and early ’70s Titans addition Lilith.)

DC’s Teen Titans comic book lasted 43 issues, succumbing to cancellation at the end of ’72. It was brought back for another ten issues in the late ’70s, but the latter series was not my cuppa. In the early ’80s, writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez managed a popular and critically-acclaimed revival as The New Teen Titans, and that series (which also brought back Beast Boy, renamed Changeling) made the Titans into A-listers from that point forward.

The New Teen Titans was a great book, and it was key to getting me back into comics after I graduated college. The six-year-old superhero fan from 1966 had grown up…but I resisted growing up too much.

1966 was a big year for me and my superheroes. I liked superheroes before actors Adam West and Burt Ward donned capes and masks to bop the bad guys as TV’s Batman and Robin, but it was certainly Batman that knocked that interest into overdrive. My previous affection for Superman comic books grew into a full-blown obsession with all sorts of superdoers patrolling the spinner racks and magazine shelves. I discovered Marvel Comics in there somewhere, starting with Sub-Mariner and The Incredible Hulk in Tales To Astonish

I first encountered The Mighty Thor in the pages of The Avengers # 13, the same time and place where I first met Captain AmericaIron ManGiant-Man, and The Wasp. We were vacationing at my grandparents’ house in Missouri, and my sister Denise and cousin Cheryl came back from a walk with that comic book in hand. It was an old comic book, published at the end of ’64 (postdated February ’65, as comics were wont to do), probably coverless. Okay by me. Any book you ain’t read is a new book.  

This book was so important to me, and I read it and re-read it many, many times. I have no idea of when I next saw the mighty God of Thunder in a comic book–by the time I got another issue of The Avengers, Thor was no longer an Avenger–but even the one appearance was sufficient to instill wonder and awe in this six-year-old. And if I didn’t see Thor in the funny pages, I could see him on TV; Thor joined Captain America, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, and The Hulk as one of the rotating stars of The Marvel Super-Heroes, a series of (barely) animated short cartoons that aired weekday afternoons, beginning in September of ’66. The year of the superhero!

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS

My introduction to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was most definitely second-hand. If there were issues of Tower Comics‘ 25-cent giant T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents on the rack at Sweetheart, I missed ’em, and I didn’t get around to seeing any of them (and their sublime Wally Wood artwork) until snagging a couple of back issues in the ’70s. No, instead I saw two parodies first. The second of the two was from Marvel Comics, as seen in the humor book Not Brand Echh. I didn’t come aboard the Brechh train until its fourth issue, so I missed seeing NBE # 2’s cracked-mirror version of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. facing Dynamo and NoMan of The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (that would be Knock Furious, Agent of S.H.E.E.S.H. facing Dynaschmoe and Invisible Man of The Blunder Agents). But I did see it when it was reprinted in Not Brand Echh # 10–“The Worst Of Not Brand Echh“–in the summer of ’68. I have all of the Not Brand Echhs in a hardcover collection now.

My first vicarious exposure to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was in a DC Comics humor title: the bad guys in H.U.R.R.I.C.A.N.E., as seen in DC’s The Inferior Five # 1 in 1967. We covered that in a previous Everlasting First. I wish there were a hardcover Inferior Five collection I could buy now.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE

The classic TV anthology series The Twilight Zoneended in 1964, so four-year-old me should have had no business watching it. Maybe it was still in reruns a little after that? Not that I would have been any braver to face the show at six or seven years old. I remember that creepy opening, and I remember the show scared the livin’ chicklets outta me. Ooh! I particularly remember one episode where a mystic scarab or something caused some poor geezer to crumble into dust before my terrified eyes. Brrr! This never happened on Batman. Robin! ROBIN! Save me, Boy Wonder!

Or, y’know, you could send Wonder Girl to save me. That would be fine, too.

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THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: The Batman Theme

This chapter from my book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) includes bits from a few other previous posts, all remixed into its own unique piece. It was distributed privately to this blog’s paid patrons on September 1, 2020. This is its first public appearance. You can become a supporter of Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) for just $2 a month: Fund me, baby!

An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

NELSON RIDDLE: The Batman Theme

Written by Neal Hefti
From the 20th Century Fox TV series Batman, 1966
I grew up in a time when TV theme songs routinely entered the public consciousness. The catchy ditties that opened shows like Gilligan’s IslandF TroopThe Beverly HillbilliesThe Patty Duke Show, and Car 54, Where Are You? weren’t hit records in the usual sense, but within our shared pop culture they were nonetheless as big as any 45 spinning on the radio. 

Many theme songs were sufficiently hook-laden to prompt release as a single, sometimes by the original artist and sometimes in cover versions, and sometimes to chart success. The Cowsills‘ swell cover of “Love American Style” wasn’t a hit, but it should have been, and it remains a staple of their live act. The VenturesPerry ComoHenry Mancini, and Johnny Rivers all made the Top 40 with their respective renditions of themes from Hawaii Five-0Here Come The BridesPeter Gunn, and Secret Agent Man. Television tunes continued to maintain a radio presence throughout the ’70s and ’80s. In June of 1995, The Rembrandts‘ “I’ll Be There For You,” the theme from the NBC sitcom Friends, was the # 1 song on radio the week my daughter was born. I thought that was appropriate, and pretty cool.

The campy 1966 Batman TV series had a seismic effect on me when I was six. No other television program could ever equal Batman‘s lasting impact on impressionable li’l me, creating a life-long interest in comic books and superheroes in general, and in the Caped Crusader specifically. I didn’t understand that the show kinda poked fun at the character, because actor Adam West played the title role straight, and to perfection. As West said decades later in a guest appearance on The Big Bang Theory: “I never had to say ‘I’M BATMAN!’ When I showed up, people knew who the hell I was.”

Batman was the most flamboyantly POP! TV show to ever grace the home screen, more so than The Monkees or Laugh-In, more even than essential jukebox shows like Shindig!  Each episode was an explosion of color and attitude, of purposely hammy acting accompanied by on-screen BIFFs, BANGs, and POWs.

But it wasn’t a rock ‘n’ roll show, at least not musically. Its musical direction was charted by bandleader Nelson Riddle, its simple theme song written by Neal Hefti, both of whom were traditional swing/jazz guys who normally eschewed rock. Paul Revere and the Raiders and Lesley Gore appeared as guests on the show, but it was always clear that Batman‘s producers considered themselves above such primitive noise.

(To illustrate this point that Batman‘s higher-ups did not love rock ‘n’ roll, consider the two-part episode guest-starring British pop duo Chad and Jeremy. When Catwoman literally steals Chad and Jeremy’s voices, a character played by Steve Allen [himself a vocal critic of rock ‘n’ roll] quips that maybe that loss isn’t such a bad thing. And we’re talking about agreeably goofy ‘n’ grinning Chad and Jeremy, who were wonderful but hardly hide-your-daughters ruffians on the authority-threatening scale of, say, The Rolling Stones.)

All of this just makes “The Batman Theme” all the more remarkable. It is rock ‘n’ roll; it’s rock ‘n’ roll written and performed by jazz guys who don’t care if you know they’re just slumming, but it rocks anyway. It transcends its secret origin. 

The Who covered it. The Jam covered it. The Kinks included it in their live set. George Harrison appropriated it for The Beatles‘ “Taxman” (which itself inspired The Bangles‘ “I’m In Line” and The Jam’s “Start!”), and Prince incorporated it into his 1989 Batman soundtrack single “Batdance.” The Marketts had a hit with it. Hefti recorded his own version, and it also charted. 

This entry represents the only spot in this book that’s not occupied by an actual record (although the track was finally given an official release on the CD version of the soundtrack to the 1966 Batman movie). The definitive version will always be the compact rumble performed by Nelson Riddle and his orchestra during the show’s opening credits, heard every Wednesday and Thursday night at 7:30, 6:30 Central on ABC. No subsequent recording has ever matched the specific feel, the unique sway of a caped-crusading call-to-arms accompanied by deadly-earnest chick vocals, rolling percussion, and the on-screen cartoon images of Batman and Robin boppin’ the bad guys at the start of another exciting episode. Riddle recorded a full-length version for the show’s official soundtrack LP, but even that fails to duplicate the simple magic of the short little TV version. 

Years ago, when I auditioned for a game show, prospective contestants were expected to dazzle and impress a small live audience. I did some schtick, got some laughs, and then said that I wanted to close with a rendition of  “The Batman Theme,” but couldn’t remember all the words. “Can anyone help me out?,” I asked. The response was tentative at first, then more confident, and soon everyone in the audience was singing with me: Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na BATMAN!
I whooped my approval. I didn’t succeed in getting on the game show, but I still felt that justice had triumphed. And right now, in your head, I bet you’re singing along with it, too. Thank you, citizen. And thank you, Caped Crusader.

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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: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo 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 165 essays about 165 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). My weekly Greatest Record Ever Made! video rants can be seen in my GREM! YouTube playlist. And I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl.

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Boppin'

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: The Green Hornet Theme

This short piece was originally written as an entr’acte at the middle of my forthcoming book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). I’ve decided that it doesn’t quite fit, so it’s moved from book to blog in one superheroic leap.

An infinite number of songs can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is The Greatest Record Ever Made!

AL HIRT: “The Green Hornet Theme”

My love of superheroes rivals my affection for pop music, and it goes back nearly as far. TV reruns of The Adventures Of SupermanFlash Gordon, and Popeye and Astro Boy cartoons instilled a deep and abiding interest in the larger-than-life adventures of stalwart crusaders who protected the good from the malevolent machinations of evil. When the campy Batman TV series hit the screen in early ’66, that interest in superheroes shifted into supersonic overdrive. I remain a fan to this day. I will not be growing out of it any time soon.

The producers of the Batman show tried to duplicate its success with an adaptation of the old radio hero The Green Hornet; in contrast to the heightened sense of absurdity that made Batman such a hit, The Green Hornet was played as a relatively straight crime drama that happened to feature masked heroes with outlandish weapons. Sounds good to me! Alas, the public did not agree. and The Green Hornet‘s war on crime ceased fire after a single failed season.

I still like it. As The Green Hornet, actor Van Williams was steadfast without seeming corny, and future pop culture legend Bruce Lee was riveting as the Hornet’s high-flying enforcer Kato. Taking a cue from the earlier success of Peter GunnThe Green Hornet‘s jazzy score was as much a star as its heroes, propelling the action and making it all seem so, so cool. Al Hirt’s over-the-top performance of the show’s title theme–a busy, bouncing workout of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight Of The Bumblebee”–rocked as hard as any TV show theme has ever rocked.

As a rabid devotee of both music and comic books, I’ve found a number of superhero-related tunes that thrill my inner six-year-old. Neal Hefti’s “Batman Theme.” John William’s main title them from the 1978 Superman film. “Nobody Loves The Hulk,” an obscure ’60s garage number by a forgotten group called The Traits. None of ’em can surpass the conviction and authority of Al Hirt’s “Green Hornet Theme.” Another challenge for The Green Hornet? Nope. Kato’s gonna kick the bad guys’ asses, like he always does. Just turn the music up. Justice will triumph yet again.


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Birthdays

George Reeves

Born on this day in 1914, in Woolstock, Iowa, actor George Reeves. Reeves will forever be remembered for his portrayal of The Man of Steel, in the TV series, The Adventures of Superman.

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Boppin'

Give Me A Head With Hair, Long Quarantine Hair

As quarantine restrictions ease, I am still not in the merest hurry to get a haircut. My hair is now longer than it’s been since the mid ’80s, when I was managing a record store. Actually, it may even be longer than it was back then. If not, it’s close. It’s bushy and cascading, curly, voluminous. I’m still just about bald on top, mind you, but I have an increasingly lengthy mane nonetheless.

My reluctance to have someone go all Delilah on li’l ol’ Samson me has less to do with COVID concerns and much more to do with my…well, I guess with my satisfaction with my current shaggy ‘do. It feels good to have hair, the follically-challenged part of my North 40 notwithstanding. In times like these, any little trifle that can make us feel better is welcome, no matter how superficial that feeling may be.

As a boy in the 1960s, my hair was short. Every boy’s hair was short. Longer hair was for girls, unless you were either The Beatles or The Mighty Thor; the former was a pretty exclusive club, and the latter wasn’t from around here. As The Rolling StonesThe Monkees, and the male contingent within The Jefferson Airplane further modeled and popularized the idea of lengthier locks for the older boys (and The Monkees probably did more for that cause than anyone else, just via the mainstreaming familiarity of starring on a weekly TV show), those of us still in elementary school retained our exposed ears and close-to-the-head styling, and I doubt many (maybe any) of my peers objected. I never had a buzz-cut, but regular trips to the barber were routine, expected. Normal. The thought of having longer hair never even occurred to me.

(That said, I hated going to the barber. Sitting still was not what I did best, but my regular barber got the job done. I remember visiting a different guy exactly once, and he kept getting annoyed with me, and he kept forcefully jerking my head into position. Bastard. A session with any barber, including my regular guy, left my neck and shoulders itchy, as stray bits of short ‘n’ sharp debris nestled under my collar and under my shirt. On the bright side, my regular barber had comic books for me to read while I awaited my turn to be shorn. And afterward, I liked to run my hand against the grain of the hair just above the nape of my neck, the bristly light resistance providing a unique and fulfilling closure to the process of a haircut.)

Things changed in the ’70s. I was still as four-cornered as they come, but even a square such as I wasn’t immune to a shift in prevailing fashion, as longer hair become more and more common for guys. My barber became a hair stylist, a transformation no less remarkable than Clark Kent entering a nearby phonebooth and emerging as Superman. Dad was still not gonna allow me to start looking like a hippie or a rock star, but the accepted look of male grooming evolved anyway. By eighth grade, I decided that I would have long hair and a beard when I grew up. By high school, while still beardless and not much shaggier than Paul McCartney circa ten years prior, I was using a blow dryer regularly. 
Punk rock hit as I transitioned from high school to college. The Ramones had long hair, but the prevailing image for most of the young punks was the short and spiky hairdo. Over time, this replaced my ’70s notion of stylin’ like Haight-Ashbury. I never quite got to looking like Sid Vicious, and settled instead for a power-pop hybrid that aped the pre-1967 Beatles. It always comes back to The Beatles, man.

The jobs I had from 1978 to 1984 did not favor tresses hanging much over my ears. The record store job was different. My hair grew to the point that customers remarked that I looked like Neil Diamond. That ended in 1986 when I got a job in retail sales, which is still what I do today. That gig required shorter locks. The length of my hair has varied in the ensuing decades (as the hair on top gradually vanished), while rarely getting too long before a supervisor reminds me of my need to visit a barber. Stylist.


Until now. New York state has allowed salons to reopen within appropriate guidelines, but I’ve come to dig having my hair longer. My bosses have mentioned a preference for me to return to a somewhat less hirsute style. Still, there’s been no hassle, and my stated intent to remain the walking, talking embodiment of a song by The Cowsills is understood and accepted, at least for now. It’s getting wild, but it’s clean, and it’s mine. I don’t even mind the miles of gray streaked throughout. I run my hands through it, and the feeling is as validating now as it was when I rubbed the back of my head when I was six or seven. Give me a head with hair. Long, beautiful hair. Shining, streaming, gleaming, waxen, flaxen. Here baby, there Mama, everywhere Daddy Daddy. HAIR!

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: download
Volume 2: CD or download
Volume 3: download
Volume 4: CD or download
Waterloo 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 165 essays about 165 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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Boppin'

THE LOVEABLE LUNKHEAD RETURNS

This was originally distributed privately to patrons of this blog on December 1st, 2018. This is its first public appearance. You can become a patron and support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) for just $2 a month.
A recent online exchange about DC Comics Silver Age characters, cosmic crisis crossovers, and a popular real-life entertainment figure who starred in his own long-running DC Comics title inspired this flight of fancy. 

It was yet another crisis. You’d think such things would be rare, but they seemed to happen every summer, sometimes even more frequently. The world, the universe, multiple universes in danger, and the superheroes must save us. Worlds will live. Worlds will die. The universes will never be the same. Again. And again. And again.

But this crisis was different. This time, they invited me.

I’m usually excluded from these things. I used to be as big a star in our four-color world as any of the big guys. I don’t mean just my (if you must) “real” world counterpart, the comedy legend with the telethons and the movies and the temper, the adoring fans in France, the gurgled cries of LAAAAAAAAAYdeeeeeee! I mean me–the comic-book me–mingling with the Caped Crusaders and the Man of Steel, the Amazon Princess, the Scarlet Speedster. I was the Lovable Lunkhead. I met the prettiest girls. I had amazing, silly adventures, and the kids kept coming back for more, every other month. I did all right: Forty issues with my martini-guzzling ex-partner, and then 84 more–that’s 84!–without him, a total of 124 issues from 1952 to 1971, That was a longer sustained success than most of the superheroes in the freakin’ League, man. I was a king of comedy in the funnybooks.

Funnybooks. Nobody calls ‘em that anymore. No one wants any comic in their comic books. They just want another crisis. The real me was celebrated. Comic-book me was forgotten.

I don’t know what made this crisis du jour unique from the infinite previous crises. Maybe because all the heavy hitters were taken off the table before the action even started, out of commission at the hands of a mysterious grandmaster pitting champion against champion for the fate of all reality. Or something like that—I’ve never really understood the macguffins tossed around in these secret superwar things. I only knew that I’d been called to battle, as had dozens of presumably lesser heroes. It was like sending in the walk-ons during an NCAA basketball tournament. The bench was empty; we were the last hope standing.

I’m not a fighter. I’d tell you I never shied from a fight, but one look at my flailing panic in desperate situations would expose that lie. We chosen champions (such as we were) were supposed to fight each other—God knows why—in order to save the multiverse or some such mishigas. Most of the others were bona fide superheroes and adventurers; they expected me, a comic-book avatar of a popular film comedian, to compete with that? Oy….

My pesky nephew Renfrew and my housekeeper Witch Kraft accompanied me, though Renfrew disappeared immediately—knowing him, I figured the little monster was probably working up a high-stakes gambling pool—while Witchy zeroed in on some hero’s sturdy sidekick to flirt with. Everyone presumed I’d be dusted in the first round; presumed I’d be dusted in the first round. This never happened to Buddy Love, man.

My first opponent was a superhero, a stalwart member of a whole Legion of such people, but get this: his super power? He could eat anything. That’s it, I swear, hand to God. He could eat metal bars, walls, and plants and birds and rocks and things. Especially rocks. Man, even I wasn’t afraid of that. He charged at me, and I bent down to tie the loose laces of my sneakers. Safety first. Mr. matter-eatin’ boy overshot, and went careening into our picnic table, landing face-first into Witch Kraft’s Super Secret Recipe mocha, jalapeño, and sardine potato salad á la mode. Even an ability to eat anything wasn’t enough to spare my opponent the gastronomic indignity of that concoction, and I had won my first round.

Then I won my second. And my third. My fourth…?! Crazy. I would trip and my opponent would knock him- or herself out. Slapstick is my super power. I made it to the final round, and I knew that would have to be the end of the line for me.

Why? Because my opponent in the final was the daughter of that badass Dark Knight guy and the buxom cat burglar who used to cause strange stirrings in his utility belt. Trust me; it was a thing that led to a fling, and a second-generation superhero. Little Miss Batcat was one of the fiercest hand-to-hand fighters ever known. My luck had run out for sure.

She whispered something in my ear before the battle. At first, I was thinking to myself, You smooth Don Juan–if only Dean could see you now! But then I heard what she was saying, and I understood my role.

I came out fuming. Bellowing! Beating my chest and swaggering the swagger of the clueless and doomed. She remained tightlipped, all business, making it look good. I tried to make it look good, but my sheer haplessness hampered my façade. I nearly decked myself, not once, not twice, but three times, oh LAAAYdeee! She rolled her eyes behind her mask, but managed to keep saving me from myself. Finally, I seemed to have gotten in a lucky shot, and she crumpled to the ground, apparently defeated.

I had won.

I HAD WON!

The crowd was speechless, dumbfounded. From behind a cosmic curtain, the hidden orchestrator of this contest emerged, masked and hooded, hopping mad. YOU?!, he cried in anguish. YOU won this double-bag super-duper crossover crisis mega event? YOU? He was much shorter than I would have expected a cosmic criminal mastermind to be. I lost a friggin’ FORTUNE in bets on this! YOU WERE AT A BILLION TO ONE ODDS! The only way I can maybe break even is to destroy the universe and do a reboot…ULP!

The miscreant’s dastardly soliloquy was cut short by a savage blow from my former opponent, the Batcat chick. Yeah, she’d thrown the game, but for noble purpose, giving herself the opportunity to play possum and then get close enough to bring the bad guy down. With the dramatic flourish of a true comic book champion, she unmasked the mastermind as…

…Renfrew? MY NEPHEW RENFREW…?!

That kid just ain’t right in the head. Another get-rich gambling scheme. Ponzi had nothing on Renfrew, lemme tell ya. And rest assured: after Witchy and I got Renfrew home, he wasn’t able to sit down for a solid week.

The crisis was over. The vanquished champions recovered, and even more champions from across the multiverse showed up for the after-party. Hell, I think Dean was there, which was my cue to exit. Always leave ‘em wanting more.

I don’t get to participate in crises. Maybe that’s best. I’m a hero—no, scratch that, not a hero. I’m a comic book star from a different time. Fans look back and think because people laughed I must have been a joke. But I wasn’t a joke. I was an A-list star. Readers loved me, and my comic book ran for almost twenty years. They were good comics, too. It’s a shame so few will ever read them again. So I fade away. There’s no dark and gritty revamp of me. There’s no back-to-basics retread, no breathless hype that everything you thought you knew about the Lovable Lunkhead is wrong. There’s just the memories. I’d thank you for those, but that line belonged to another comedian turned comic book star. Instead, I sing: When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high. You’ll never walk alone.

Oh. And I have a hot date tonight with the Batcat chick. The ladies still dig a guy that can make ‘em laugh. The Lovable Lunkhead rises. The Lovable Lunkhead returns.

***

Thanks to Michal Jacotfor providing the spark.

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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. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens’ track) is also available from Futureman Records.

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Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Red Tornado

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

In 1968, the world seemed like it could shatter. Assassinations and protests, an increasingly unpopular war, conflicts between races and generations, and a general feeling of unease and ugliness permeated the year. I was eight years old. I was oblivious to much of what was happening, but even I could tell that things weren’t quite right in the world.

This was not necessarily reflected much, if at all, in the comic books I read.

Comic books were safe, stable. Even within the occasional soap opera mishigas of Marvel Comics, justice could be expected to triumph. This was even more true in the relatively staid and conservative world of DC Comics, the home of familiar, comforting do-gooders like SupermanBatman, and The Justice League of America. In the pages of a comic book, an eight-year-old could be in his heaven, and all could be right with the world. Even in 1968.

In comics, one symbol of stability was the annual two-part crossover of the JLAand their parallel Earth counterparts The Justice Society of America, the original super-team from the 1940s. The first issue of JLA I remember seeing was the second part of the 1966 JLA/JSA team-up, though it remained on the spinner rack unpurchased (I bought an issue of Batman instead). Just shy of a year later, my first issue of JLA was part one of the ’67 crossover, cover-featuring an adult Robin taking his older mentor Batman’s place in the Justice Society. I was hooked, and dutifully (and gleefully!) purchased part two the next month. A cumulative twenty-four cents well spent.

By the time the summer of ’67 became the summer of ’68, I’d somehow figured out that these team-ups were an annual occurrence, and I was right primed for the 1968 two-parter while on vacation in Missouri. Justice League Of America # 64 only featured the JSA, with only Hourman returning from the ’67 team-up. I sort of knew Starman and Black Canary from seeing house ads for their co-starring appearances in The Brave And The Bold, and I remembered Dr. Fate from the cover of that JLA/JSA comic book I didn’t buy in 1966. This may have been my introduction to The Flash of the JSA’s Earth (Earth-Two), but I immediately dug his costume, with its helmet inspired by the Roman god Mercury.

That left one more new character: The Red Tornado. Over the course of these annual JLA/JSA crossovers from 1963 though ’67, writer Gardner Fox had reintroduced all of the original JSA members except the Earth-Two Batman and Superman, both of whom had been reserve members of the team in the ’40s; Batman had been represented by the above-mentioned adult Robin in ’67, and the original Superman would finally reappear in 1969. The original Red Tornado–nicknamed  “The Red Tomato,” in reality a muscular housewife named Ma Hunkel, who donned costume to beat on neighborhood nogoodniks in Sheldon Mayer‘s comedy strip Scribbly–hadn’t ever been a member of the JSA, nor even a reserve member; she’d stumbled into a one-page cameo in the Justice Society’s first meeting in 1940’s All Star Comics # 3, and was never referenced in that context again.

Although Fox and editor Julie Schwartz weren’t averse to using goofball JSA member Johnny Thunder for comic relief, they plainly had no interest in reviving Ma Hunkel (whom Starman recalled as “all brawn and no brain” in the ’68 story). Like ol’ Ma Hunkel, this new Red Tornado barged into a JSA meeting uninvited, but that and the name were the only things our two Tornadoes had in common.

Unlike the tough street fighter Ma Hunkel, the 1968 model Red Tornado had super powers, basically the ability to create powerful whirlwinds of force. The new Tornado believed himself to be the original Red Tornado from the ’40s, but he wasn’t; he was an android, created by the evil T. O. Morrow to infiltrate and help destroy the Justice Society, all as part of Morrow’s scheme to kill his real arch-enemies, the Justice League. Morrow didn’t even bother to give The Red Tornado a face; there were no eyes, nose, mouth, ears, nor any features at all beneath the mask of The Red Tornado. Nonetheless, The Red Tornado refused to be Morrow’s pawn, and instead helped our heroes defeat the villain. The Red Tornado joined the JSA, and later migrated to Earth-One to join the JLA. He perished saving both Earths in the climax of my favorite JLA/JSA crossover, Justice League Of America # 100-102 in 1971. He was resurrected again within a few years.

The Red Tornado’s 1968 debut roughly coincided with Marvel Comics’ introduction of The Vision in the super-team book The Avengers. These two characters had notable similarities. Both were androids, created by sinister masterminds (Ultron in The Vision’s case) as weapons against the good guys, and both rebelled against their evil overloads and went on to join the teams they were supposed to snuff. Both, incidentally, were also Silver Age remake/remodels of lesser-known ’40s characters. Even visually, both had red faces and wore collared capes. Mere coincidence? Yeah, almost certainly. But remarkable coincidences just the same.

I liked the new ‘n’ (supposedly) improved Red Tornado at the time, but looking back, I’ve come to prefer original Red Tornado Ma Hunkel to her android counterpart. For one thing, those Scribbly And The Red Tornado strips that Sheldon Mayer did for All-American Comics in the ’40s were a hoot, energetic stuff just loaded with sheer personality, more interesting to me than the modern-day miasma of a square-peg android wishing he could fit in. Great, a superhero from the island of misfit toys. I first read a teasing sample of Mayer’s Red Tornado in the ’70s, in DC’s oversized reprint of the JSA’s first appearance. I later read a few months’ worth of Scribbly And The Red Tornado stories when they were reprinted in the hardcover book A Smithsonian Collection Of Comic-Book Comics. I would love to read the entire series. Writer Geoff Johns finally brought Ma Hunkel back in the pages of JSA around 2004.

(Although Ma Hunkel never appeared in any of the old JLA/JSA meetings, I would have definitely wanted to include her if I’d had an opportunity to write such a story. I picture a scene of a group of non-powered JLA and JSA members, huddled in hiding while surveying an enemy army, Batman urging caution as he comes up with a plan of attack, only to see ol’ Red Tomato break ranks and dive-bomb headfirst into battle. Green Arrow joins the fight, saying “I like this dame!,” and Wildcat replying, “Told ya so!”)

In 1968, the world was in a fragile state, a state of frightening change. There were even changes in the comics, changes too subtle for a clueless eight-year-old to discern. Justice League Of America # 63, the issue before “The Stormy Return Of The Red Tornado!,” had been the final issue of JLA penciled by Mike Sekowsky. Sekowsky had been the League’s regular penciler since the team’s debut in The Brave And The Bold in 1960, but he was now moving on to other projects (including Wonder Woman). His replacement Dick Dillin debuted with The Red Tornado’s debut, and remained at the job until his death in 1980.

The Red Tornado two-parter was the JLA finale for Gardner Fox. Fox had created the Justice Society in 1940, and the JLA in 1960, and he’d been the only writer the League ever had. Until he wasn’t anymore. In 1968, DC wanted fresh blood, younger blood, to help it compete with those pesky upstarts at Marvel Comics. Thank you for your service, Fox; you know the way out. The winds of change were approaching storm velocity. Batten down the hatches, heroes; it’s gonna be a rough one out there.

WHEN THE EVERLASTING FIRST RETURNS: R is for

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