Well over a year after posting my last 100-Page FAKE!, it occurs to me that I probably never made any official announcement that the series was kaput. I did mention their demise here, but otherwise I never really got around to bidding a proper farewell.
The series began in May of 2018, designed as a proudly fannish attempt to concoct a bunch of 1970s DC Comics 100-Page Super Spectaculars that never were. I announced the series’ transition from the original DC Comics-centric 100-Page FAKES! into the less-restricted (but ultimately still DC-centric) Spectacular Comics 100-Page Specials in April of 2020. I then concocted four monthly issues of Spectacular Comics, with the fourth and final issue posted on July 24, 2020.
At that time, I think I still intended to continue slappin’ these things together. But a few factors combined to make me re-think that intent, and ultimately abandon the concept entirely. The fake books were very time-consuming to create, and they became even more time-consuming when I liquidated my digital comics stash entirely. The final efforts were constructed from a mix of public-domain comics pages available on line and scans of comic books in my collection. Even with all of that, I might have continued doing them if a format change at Blogger hadn’t made the process so much clunkier to accomplish. The inconvenience was more than I was willing to bother messin’ with. Sayonara, FAKES! and Spectaculars.
But I’m glad I did them. They were a cool way to connect with my inner adolescent, the 12-15 year-old kid who loved DC’s 100-pagers in the ’70s, and wished there had been more of them. I wrote a history of DC’s (real-life) 100-pagers, and I felt I wanted to expand on the real world a little bit. Here are links to every one those fabrications:
From the Spectre to the Phantom, with a cast of multitudes: Batman, Aquaman, Spider-Man, the original Captain Marvel, the Shadow, Superman, Superboy, the Justice Society of America, E-Man, Daredevil, Doc Savage, Plastic Man, Wonder Woman, the Silver Surfer, Blue Beetle, the Lone Ranger, the Seven Soldiers of Victory, the Sandman, Rima the Jungle Girl, the Six Million Dollar Man, Spy Smasher, Dial H For HERO, Metal Men, Captain America, the Bat Squad, Ka-Zar, Dick Tracy, Batgirl, Torchy, Bulletman and Bulletgirl, Dr. Strange, Hawkman, Blackhawk, Black Canary, the Vigilante, the Creeper, the Defenders, Hydroman, the Elongated Man, Wildcat, the Doom Patrol, Doll Man and Doll Girl, Ibis the Invincible, the Boy Commandos, Sub-Mariner, Hot Wheels, Captain Action, Zorro, Detective Chimp, Jonny Quest, Green Arrow, the Secret Society of Super-Villains, and Astra, Girl of the Future, plus many more. It was mostly about DC, but it included properties DC licensed or acquired from Quality, Charlton, Fawcett, Mattel, Ideal, Jerry Lewis, and The Chicago Tribune, and it included Marvel, EC, Comico, Mighty Comics, Fox, MLJ, Lev Gleason, more from Charlton, and other purveyors of four-color fantasy.
I regret I never got around to using Vampirella. But I did what I could, until the time came to move on. They weren’t real. But they wereSpectacular.
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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 Savage, The Shadow, The Spider, The 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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The late Stan Lee was the single most famous comic book creator in the history of the medium. That fact is not up for debate. We can argue about who was the greatest or most important, and we will, but there is simply no denying that Stan Lee’s name was the most widely-known. To the general public, Stan Lee was synonymous with Marvel Comics and the attendant Marvel Universe movies, with superheroes, with comic books themselves. If you ask passers-by to randomly name someone who created comic books, I guarantee you Stan Lee’s name would the most common answer, and by a margin as wide as The Negative Zone. ‘Nuff said.
For many, that very fame is what tarnished Lee’s legacy. But Stan Lee earned his fame. He didn’t do it alone, and others deserve a significant share of the credit, but anyone who denies that Stan Lee was an important figure in comics is, frankly, an asshole.
Stan Lee did not set out to have a career in comics. It was a paycheck, that was all. Stanley Lieber was an aspiring writer, still in his teens, when he went to work for Timely Comics in 1939; his cousin Jean was married to Timely’s owner, Martin Goodman. Lieber’s early duties were grunt work, and involved no creative endeavor. When these duties called upon him to write a text story for Captain America Comics # 3 in 1941, Lieber didn’t want to use his real name; he wanted to become a respected novelist some day, and he didn’t want to cheapen his name by association with cheap trash like comic books. Lo, there shall come a pseudonym: Lieber chose the nom du biff bang pow Stan Lee.
Stanley Lieber’s great American novel remained unwritten. Goodman put Lee in charge of this lower-tier comics line in 1941, with no real illusion of competing with powerhouse comics publishers like Dell, Eastern Color Printing, and Detective Comics (the latter firm still with us, now called DC Comics). Lee stayed on as decades passed, as Timely became Atlas Comics and eventually Marvel. In 1961, the success of DC’s superhero revivals prompted Goodman to order Stan Lee to come up with Marvel’s answer to The Justice League Of America. So Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby created The Fantastic Four. The rest is history.
In the early ’60s, Stan Lee was writing most, if not quite all, of Marvel’s output, while simultaneously serving as the line’s editor. That’s a lot of work. For the sake of efficiency, the stories were created by what came to be known as the Marvel method: Lee and an artist would work out a basic plot, the artist would transform these ideas into pencilled pages, and Lee would script captions, dialogue, and–where appropriate–the occasional FOOM! or SKRRAKK! It was a true collaboration, perhaps not always (if ever) 50-50, but the end result was what mattered.
The buzz about Marvel seemed to generate almost immediately. The success of The Fantastic Four led to more Marvel superheroes, to The Incredible Hulk, The Mighty Thor, The Invincible Iron Man, The Astonishing Ant-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man, to revivals of Captain America and The Sub-Mariner, two characters that predated Lee’s debut. It lead to The Mighty Avengers and The Uncanny X-Men. The comics attracted an older audience, including college kids, and even celebrated filmmakers like Federico Fellini. This was the cheap trash that Stanley Lieber didn’t want to dignify with his real name? No, not by then. This was pop art. This was a revolution. This was The Marvel Age Of Comics.
Lee was a natural-born pitchman, and some of this buzz should be attributed to his charm and his (perhaps unconscious) marketing savvy. It wasn’t just hype–the comics were solid, and the audience embraced them–but the experience was enhanced by the rapport Lee established with readers. Lee created an illusion of camaraderie within a mythical Marvel bullpen: Stan “The Man” Lee and Jack “King” Kirby, Sturdy Steve Ditko, Jovial Joe Sinnott, Dazzling Dick Ayers, Jazzy John Romita, Rascally Roy Thomas, Mirthful Marie Severin, Dashing Don Heck, even including secretary and receptionist Flo Steinberg and a hapless fictional staff member named Irving Forbush. They were all stars in a way comic book writers and artists never really were before. And not just stars; to Marvel readers, they were family. By the end of the ’60s, Marvel was actively and very successfully competing against its seemingly stodgy competition, and on its way to surpassing the shocked and stunned management of DC Comics as the industry’s undisputed leader.
Stan Lee received most of the credit. He deserved a lot–a lot–of that credit. But the sheer amount of credit that was accorded Lee alienated some of his collaborators, and understandably so. Lee was the editor and the bylined writer, but his creations were not solo works. Steve Ditko, the artist and co-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, was the first to bristle and depart, ditching Marvel in 1966 for lower-paying work elsewhere; Ditko would never work with Lee again.
And in 1970, the very same year that The Beatles broke up, Jack Kirby left Marvel in favor of work at DC. Marvel had been the house that Stan and Jack built. It was like John Lennon joining The Rolling Stones, or Paul McCartney becoming a Beach Boy. Kirby’s frustration with Lee, his resentment of the degree to which Lee and Marvel publicity seemed to downplay Kirby’s own boundless imagination and contributions to the plots and storylines that created Marvel Comics (above and beyond the sheer brilliance of Kirby’s nonpareil artwork), led Kirby to create a DC character called Funky Flashman, a soulless, insincere snake-oil huckster inspired by Lee.
I’m sure that Stan Lee was bewildered by all of this, probably hurt, certainly puzzled. Hadn’t he always given the artists credit, when there was no pre-existing industry standard for that? He was the writer, of course, and Lee saw himself as the primary creator of all these characters. He wasn’t quite wrong, but he was most definitely not quite correct, either. There’s no Spider-Man as we know him without Ditko. There’s no Marvel Universe without Kirby. It’s not just because of their art, but in the way each helped to develop and define these characters before any of them appeared on a spinner rack. They were co-creators, and they deserve credit as co-creators.
We discuss all of this today, not to cast shade upon Stan Lee and our collective memory of him, but to acknowledge his…I guess his humanity. Stan Lee was a legend; he didn’t have feet of clay, but he was subject to the same inconsistencies and issues of pride and ego as any of us. But his were writ large, the great responsibility that comes with great power. He was indeed human.
And comics would not have been the same without him.
You disagree? You’re wrong. Like Casey Stengel managing the New York Yankees, Lee utilized the array of talent at his disposal to make things happen. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and all of the other All-Stars of the Marvel bullpen united to build something larger than themselves, to create, to craft a universe so vast and engaging that it will continue to thrive, to thrill, and to touch the imaginations of millions and millions of people for generations yet to come. Stan was The Man. He couldn’t have done it alone, and he didn’t. But it wouldn’t have occurred at all if he weren’t there.
When the news of Stan Lee’s death broke yesterday, my daughter Meghan texted me: That one kind of hurts. Marvel Comics weren’t her thing as a kid; Meghan’s favorite comics were Archie and his assorted pals ‘n’ gals, her favorite superheroes The Powerpuff Girls. The first Guardians Of The Galaxy movie hooked her, and she became an avid fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Stan Lee’s cameos in each of those Marvel movies solidified his ongoing connection with anyone who ever loved the fantastic, the amazing, the astonishing, the incredible, the uncanny. Stan Lee’s legend is invincible, but it stings to realize that those cameos will end. I’m sure he filmed some cameos we still have yet to see in Marvel films to come, and audiences will feel the tears form when we see him again on that big screen.
I identify as a DC Comics guy. But I loved Marvel Comics too, and I still do. Reading Stan Lee’s Soapbox and those Marvel Bullpen Bulletins when I was a kid helped form the wonder-filled image in my head, the picture of what a magic world comic books could be, what a magic world they had to be. That part? That part was all Stan Lee. Stan Lee passed away this week at the age of 95. I never met Stan Lee. But I knew him. So did you. You always will. Now, Stan Lee is reunited with his beloved wife Joan. And Stan and Jack are together again, amends are made, and the lessons they’ve learned will lead to the greatest comics Heaven has ever seen. We can only imagine. Face front, True Believers. Excelsior, Mr. Lee.
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COMIC BOOK RETROVIEW: The 1966 BATMAN Signet Paperback
by Carl Cafarelli
I don’t think I’ll ever know this for sure, but it’s possible that my first Batman and Robin comic book wasn’t really a comic book at all. I mean, it could have been. It could have been Batman # 184, which I selected out of other four-color choices perched in the comic book display at a grocery store in Aurora, Missouri while on vacation in the summer of 1966. Or it could have been a mini-comic given away as a promo item from Kellogg’s Pop Tarts. Stretching our parameters a bit, it could have been a Batman coloring book. But no–I think my first Batman comic book was really a paperback book: a little 1966 package from Signet Books, promising “The BEST of the original BATMAN–the Caped Crusader’s greatest adventures.” I was six. And a new world was waiting for me.
’66 Batmania had a deep and lasting effect on me. Although my older brother Art had to pry me away from my beloved Wednesday night TV appointment with Lost In Space because he wanted to watch Batman instead, I came to prefer our Dynamic Duo in very short order. Presaging my future life as a pop obsessive, I immediately had to immerse myself in all things Batman. Toys! Coloring books! More toys! Although I had already read (or had read to me) some Superman comic books, the Batman TV show was the true Ground Zero for my lifelong fascination with superheroes.
In retrospect, given the January ’66 debut of Batman, it seems odd I didn’t get to comic books faster. Did I really wait until summer to start amassing these twelve-cent wonders? That simply can’t be true, but I have no memory of reading a Batman comic book prior to Batman # 184 in Missouri, months later. Damn the Swiss cheese of my memories from when I was…all right, only six years old. I guess I can take a mulligan there. Regardless of whether the Signet Batman book was my very first or merely one of my first exposures to Batman in comics form, its significance in my burgeoning hero worship is beyond question. This book mattered to me. A lot.
I’m trying to remember where I got the book, beyond the obvious answer that my parents bought it for me. I have a vague recollection (real or imagined) of plucking it from a spinner rack, and I want to say it was at either J.M. Fields (a department store chain that had its own dedicated Batman merchandise section at the time) or at Switz’s variety store. Neither of those retail outlets carried comic books, damn them. But one of them peddled this, the gateway drug to my lifetime addiction to comics.
The first story in the book has been called the most-reprinted two-page sequence in the history of comic books: “The Legend Of The Batman–Who He Is And How He Came To Be!” It was my first glimpse of Batman’s back story, of how the young Bruce Wayne witnesses his parents’ murder, and the grief-stricken boy’s solemn vow: “I swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals.” After years of training his mind and body, the now-adult Bruce prepares to begin his war on crime, brooding and telling himself, “Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible….”
And the appearance of a bat flying in Bruce’s window provides his inspiration. “A bat! That’s it! It’s an omen…I shall become a BAT!”
It was a far cry from the BIFF! and BAM! of the TV show. On the tube, actor Adam West‘s lines as Bruce Wayne made occasional reference to the murder of his parents; the comics page brought that horror to life, vividly, perhaps even more starkly in this paperback’s black-and-white reproduction.
(The Signet book reprinted Batman’s origin in its most familiar form, as seen in Batman # 1 from Spring 1940, albeit edited into a six-page sequence to adjust for the different page size of a paperback. This two-page origin was first seen, with a different splash image, as the introduction to “The Batman Wars Against The Dirigible Of Doom” in Detective Comics # 33 [November 1939]. Although “The Dirigible Of Doom” was written by Gardner Fox, comics historians believe the origin sequence was written by Batman’s then-uncredited co-creator Bill Finger. The art was by Bob Kane, the guy who took the byline and sole credit for Batman’s creation, ensuring that history would come to regard Kane as a schmuck.)
The rest of the book’s reprints were from the early ’50s, and if they sacrificed some of the pulp noir feel of Batman’s origin, they made up for that loss with sheer zest and commitment. “The Web Of Doom!” (from Batman # 90, March 1955, credits believed to be Finger with artists Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris) doesn’t even skimp on the pulp tension, with its riveting tale of amnesia, danger, and time running out. “Fan-Mail Of Danger!” (Batman # 92, May-June 1955, same presumed credits) mixes humor with suspense to winning effect, presaging our current cult of pop idolatry and obsession.
“The Crazy Crime Clown!” (Batman # 74, December 1952) is next. Written by Alvin Schwartz, penciled by Dick Sprang with Charles Paris inks, this tour-de-force of Batman and Robin versus The Joker offers the book’s only use of any of Batman’s most famous foes, and it’s fantastic. The art’s phenomenal, of course–I regard Sprang as one of the definitive Batman artists, perhaps even more so than later masters like Neal Adams and Marshall Rogers–and the images jump off the page, even in a black-and-white pocket book. And the story remains one of my top Joker appearances, its natural sense of humor balanced with adventure and intrigue. Reading it when I was six, there were times I laughed out loud, while still being thrilled by the storyline. (I do recall being confused by an image of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson standing in a foggy night scene; rather than fog, it appeared to my young eyes as if our intrepid heroes had burrowed their way up from the depths of the Batcave–like Quisp‘s subterranean rival Quake would have done in commercials for Quisp and Quake cereals–and were surrounded by displaced dirt, not fog. Man, I was an odd kid.)
“The Crime Predictor!” (Batman # 77, May-June 1953), “The Man Who Could Change Fingerprints!” (Batman # 82, March 1954), and “The Testing Of Batman!” (Batman # 83, April 1954) completed the paperback’s collection of Bat-treasures. I loved each and every one of them, then and now. Having already been introduced to Batman and Robin via the TV series, I found the Signet paperback to be my best possible introduction to my hero’s comic book adventures.
This was the first of three Batman comics collections published by Signet in 1966, though I didn’t get (nor even see) copies of Batman Vs. The Joker or Batman Vs. The Penguin until many years later. I also didn’t see either of Signet’s two Batman novels, Batman Vs. Three Villains Of Doom and Batman Vs. The Fearsome Foursome(the latter a novelization of the 1966 Batman feature film) until well, well after the fact. I have them all now, secured in varying condition from dealers in the ’70s and ’80s. My copy of Batman Vs. The Fearsome Foursome was autographed by Adam West at a car show in Buffalo in 1987.
And I still have that original, worn, tattered, dog-eared, loved-to-death copy of a paperback collection called Batman, plucked from a spinner rack when I was six years old. It’s falling apart, and its inside front cover was customized in ’66 by that very same six-year-old, a kid who would (sort of) grow up wishing to create fictional adventures of his own.
Hadda start somewhere. Before trading my twelve cents for a copy of Batman # 184 in Missouri, before Detective Comics or The Brave And The Bold or Justice League Of America or World’s Finest Comics, before Denny O’Neil or Steve Englehart, Irv Novick or Jim Aparo, or any other stellar iteration of The Batman in comic form–before any of that–I started here.