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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Doc Savage, Man of Bronze!

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

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

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

God. I was inept.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Buying Comic Books Since 1966

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few recent acquisitions from Comix Zone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Hoppy The Marvel Bunny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Now Showing

Black Widow

Long before the Black Widow movie was even in the works, I thought that it was great subject matter for a stand-alone movie, outside of The Avengers franchise. Through previous MCU adventures, we’ve gotten hints that Natasha Romanoff’s life had been spent as a covert agent and assassin. In my head at least, I imagined what a great opportunity it would be to explore her early adventures, a sort of spin on the Bond and Bourne movies. Awesomely, the Black Widow movie is all of that and more.

For my family, this was our first outing to the theater post-covid. While we felt comfortable knowing that the theater we were going to was still taking multiple precautions for safety, we opted to attend the first show on a Monday, when we knew attendance would be fairly low. For further peace of mind, we purchased a buffer seat on either side of us. Since it was a matinee, it was more than affordable to do.

It was so great to be back, sitting in comfy recliners, chomping on buttered popcorn again. Our family loves going to the movies, and the pandemic really put a damper on that. Needless to say, we were very excited as the house lights dimmed.

If there was any handwringing at Marvel or Disney, over whether or not Scarlett Johannson could carry her own movie, the opening weekend box-office take of $215 million squelched that. Serving as both the star of the film and producer, she was able to flesh out a hero that was in need of fleshing out, beyond occasionally remarking, “Just like in Budapest.” 

As the following was revealed in the trailer, Romanoff meets up with her sister, who appears to have had a similar upbringing as an operative. While the two initially go for each other’s throats, they are equally inquisitive about the sister that they barely know. Their mission turns into tracing their own family tree, and trying to separate fact from fiction.

I really don’t want to say anything more about the plot, because it twists and turns in a few unexpected ways. Coupled with unbelievably first-rate action sequences, Black Widow more than holds its own against any of the Cap, Ironman or Thor outings. In fact, I can’t wait to see it again.

By Dan Pavelich

Categories
Comics

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Marvel Comics

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.
Make mine Marvel?

In early 1966, I was six years old, and a de facto DC Comics fan. I didn’t know about different comic book companies, but the Batman TV series made me a voracious superhero enthusiast. The superdoers I knew were pretty much all DC characters: Batman and RobinSupermanThe Metal Men, and Superboy. I think my comics reading at the time may have stretched to include the grizzled, battle-weary World War II soldier Sgt. Rock (in an incongruous meeting with The Viking Prince) and humor comics like Gold Key‘s The Flintstones and Harvey‘s Hot Stuff and Casper The Friendly Ghost. This would change and expand as the year wore on. And somewhere in there, I also discovered Marvel Comics.

Marvel was both a veteran and an upstart publisher in the early ’60s. It had been in the comics biz since the 1939 publication of Marvel Comics # 1, cover-featuring the debut of The Human Torch. The company had done well in the ’40s, with the Torch, The Sub-Mariner, and Captain America, but had slid to lower-tier status in the ’50s. In 1962, legend has it that Marvel’s boss Martin Goodman heard DC’s Jack Liebowitz boast during a golf game about how well DC was doing with superhero comics again, particularly with a new super-team book called Justice League of America. Desiring a piece of that super-success for his own marginal comics line, Goodman then directed his wife’s cousin, Stanley Lieber, to create a superhero team for Marvel.

Stanley Lieber had been working for Goodman for almost as long as Goodman had a comics line. Lieber wrote, Lieber edited, and Lieber probably swept the office on occasion. His first published story was a text piece, “Captain America Foils The Traitor’s Revenge,” in 1941. Lieber felt that comics work was demeaning, and didn’t want to sully his name by association with this seedy medium. Hoping to some day become a respected novelist, Lieber used a pseudonym for all of his comics work. To this day, though, no one has read nor even heard of novelist Stanley Lieber; but we all know Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee.

Lee basically ran Goodman’s comics line (variously called TimelyAtlas, and eventually Marvel) from the mid ’40s on. As superhero stories fell out of fashion, Lee churned out Westerns, romance, horror, teen humor–anything that might find a place on the fickle newsstand. The line shrunk. The staff shrunk. The assignments for freelancers all but disappeared. But Lee was still there. One presumes he wasn’t thrilled with the fact, but Lee was still there. And he was still there in ’62, when Goodman gave the command to concoct his own Justice League.

Is the story of the golf game that inspired the Marvel Age of Comics fact or fantasy? It may not matter. As we learned from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend. Lee had his orders. And Lee even had a super power at his disposal: he had artist Jack Kirby. It’s no slight against Lee to suggest that Kirby may have been the single most important creator in the history of American comic books; Kirby’s talent and boundless imagination leaped off every page he ever crafted. Working with Joe Simon in the ’40s and ’50s, Kirby co-created Captain America, The Newsboy LegionStuntmanBoy’s RanchThe Boy CommandosThe Fly, the genre of romance comics, and that’s not even a thumbnail c.v. After Simon and Kirby split up, Kirby continued working and creating. His vibrant visual style added impressive zing to the generic monster stories Lee was slapping together for Marvel’s Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery. Together, Lee and Kirby would make magic. Together, Lee and Kirby would create the Marvel Universe.

Although it’s easy to get carried away with (deserved) praise of Kirby, it’s important to also celebrate how integral Stan Lee was in this partnership. We weren’t there, so we’ll never really know how much work Lee did, nor how much was pure Kirby, but one suspects this whole lightning-in-a-jar of the Marvel Age of Comics couldn’t have occurred without both of them working at the top of their game. Neither Lee nor Kirby could have done it alone, nor would it have been the same with, say, Stan Lee and Carmine Infantino, nor Jack Kirby and Gardner Fox. Marvel was the House of Ideas that Stan and Jack built.

And it started with The Fantastic Four, the superhero team Lee and Kirby created to answer Martin Goodman’s decree. Although much of The Fantastic Four‘s dynamic was immediately reminiscent of Kirby’s previous work on his creation The Challengers Of The Unknown at DC, Lee’s dialogue added a whole other level of seeming verisimilitude. Unlike the monster stories and other disposable strips Lee had been generating, Lee was engaged and energized by writing The Fantastic Four. The spark ignited. The book sold. Success! Success breeds a demand for more. Lee and Kirby accommodated.

The Incredible Hulk! The Mighty Thor! The Amazing Spider-Man, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (though Kirby claimed at least partial credit, and that’s another one we’ll never really know for sure)! The Invincible Iron Man (creation assigned to Lee, his brother Larry Lieber, Kirby, and underrated artist Don Heck)! The hits just kept on coming. Uniting Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, and Ant-Man and The Wasp finally gave Goodman his own Justice League, with the coming of The Mighty Avengers. Captain America was revived, both as an Avenger and as a companion strip to Iron Man in the split book Tales Of Suspense. More! MORE!
And yeah, I was oblivious to all of that.

As near as I can determine, my first Marvel was Tales To Astonish # 80, cover-dated June 1966. It was probably a book that one of my older siblings picked up. Like the above-mentioned Tales Of SuspenseTales To Astonish was a split book, shared by The Sub-Mariner and The Hulk. The book fascinated me in ways I had no way to articulate. It was…busier than the Superman and Batman stories I’d seen, denser, maybe grittier. Even as I write these words, I also recall the claustrophobic art style of DC’s Wayne Boring on Superman and Lois Lane (a 1965 Lois Lane 80-Page Giant is the earliest comic book I remember reading), so maybe I wasn’t really as unprepared for Marvel art as I thought. But man, this still seemed different.

The first story in this issue starred The Sub-Mariner in “To The Death!,” pitting Prince Namor against an undersea behemoth controlled by his arch-enemy, the evil Warlord KrangGrinnin’ Gene Colan‘s pencils (inked by Dazzlin’ Dick Ayers–Smilin’ Stan Lee had a flair with credits) were simultaneously smooth and dirty, and the image of just the behemoth’s grasping hands, clawing at the ocean’s floor as the creature sinks finally into a deadly quagmire, made a permanent impression on this six-year-old. The second story was no less striking, as The Hulk was kidnapped by his foe Tyrannus, who looked positive creepy as a dying old man depicted by Kirby and Bill Everett.

Well. was hooked.

As a kid in 1966, long before there were any such things as comics shops or the direct sale market, you could never be sure you weren’t going to miss the next issue of any given title. Adding to this frustration, Marvel stories were almost always Continued Next Issue!, not done-in-one like most DCs. But I did get Tales To Astonish # 81, and I found it equally gripping. I didn’t get another issue until spying # 84 on the spinner rack at a grocery store in Aurora, Missouri while on vacation that summer. The cover image of Namor wearing an open trench coat, running while discarding his disguise, grabbed me, reminding me of Clark Kent changing into Superman; Namor didn’t have a secret identity, but I wished he did. I could only buy one comic book that day; I had my choices narrowed down to this one, Batman # 184, and Justice League Of America # 47, and my mother told me to buy the Batman and be done with it. I picked up the Tales To Astonish within a week or so after that, at a small store in nearby Verona, Missouri. I didn’t get that issue of JLA until many years later.

So that was my gateway to Marvel Comics. That same summer in Missouri, my sister Denise and cousin Cheryl returned from a walk with a copy of The Avengers # 13, a comic book from early 1965, but any book you ain’t read yet is a new book. With that, Marvel fully joined DC in my comics cosmology. This new appreciation was immediately reinforced by the debut of The Marvel Super Heroes, a syndicated package of (barely) animated adventures starring Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, and The Hulk on a rotating basis. The cartoons aired daily in Syracuse on WHEN-TV Channel 5, as part of the kids’ show, Jet Set.

Marvel continued to enthrall me throughout the rest of the ’60s. I saw no reason for specific brand loyalty–I read and enjoyed DC, Marvel, Gold Key, Harvey, CharltonArchieMightyDell, even the short-lived King Comics line–but there was something particularly invigorating about Marvel, something irresistible in the carefully-crafted illusion of camaraderie created and nurtured by Smilin’ Stan Lee. In the ’70s, I began to identify myself more and more as a DC fan; the reasons why may be subject for a future blog someday. Nowadays, following a brief period where I was buying more Marvels than DCs, the pendulum has swung back to my familiar ratio of more DCs to Marvels.

But I still love Marvel, too. I love the characters, I love the history, I love the tapestry woven all those years ago by Stan and Jack, and Steve Ditko, and Larry Lieber, and Don Heck, and Bill Everett, and Dick Ayers, John BuscemaRoy ThomasJohn RomitaSterankoNeal Adams, and so many others. The House Of Ideas was a very, very, very fine house.

‘Nuff said.

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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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Comics And LP Cover Cavalcade Supplement # 2: Superpulp Paperbacks And Rock ‘n’ Roll 45s

Normally, this is a lightly-annotated but otherwise random collection of images of comic book and rock ‘n’ roll album covers. A previous supplemental edition dealt with rock magazines and paperback covers, and today’s edition shifts just a little more for a cavalcade of superhero pulp paperbacks and rock ‘n’ roll 45 picture sleeves.

Another challenge for The Green Hornet! This was kind of my Holy Grail among superpulp paperbacks for a few years (a position now held by the elusive Blackhawk novel by William Rotsler, or cheaply priced copies of Ron Goulart‘s Vampirella novels). I passed up a chance to buy it in 1978 at a collectibles shop in Brockport (read “passed up” as “cash-strapped college freshman conceded he couldn’t spare the cost of a collectible paperback”). I don’t remember where, when, or how I finally assumed ownership of a copy of this coveted prize. I may have received it as a gift from my pal Fritz, who definitely scored me a set of Green Hornet playing cards, or I may have located a copy on one of my many used bookstore burrows. The Infernal Light and one other tie-in to the 1966 Green Hornet TV series–a hardcover juvenile novel called The Case Of The Disappearing Doctor–were the first Green Hornet novels ever published. Well, I guess you could count the three Green Hornet Big Little Books published in the early ’40s, but given the character’s massive popularity on the radio, one wonders why there was never a Green Hornet pulp magazine. My specific memories of both The Case Of The Disappearing Doctor and The Infernal Light have grown as cloudy as the asphyxiating fumes from The Green Hornet’s gas gun, but I believe I was disappointed by the former and relatively satisfied by the latter. Three Green Hornet prose anthologies have been published within the last decade or so, but no more full novels as of yet.

I liked The Dead Boys. The Cleveland punk group was never quite among my very favorites, but I bought both Dead Boys LPs (Young, Loud And Snotty and We Have Come For Your Children) and particularly liked their songs “All This And More” and “3rd Generation Nation.” Later on, I quite liked the first album by The Lords Of The New Church, with former Dead Boys lead singer Stiv Bators. In between The Dead Boys and the Lords, Stiv Bators briefly tried his hand at power pop, with Frank Secich from Blue Ash adding genre credibility and punch on guitar. The overt power pop moves were downplayed a bit by the time of Bators’ 1980 album Disconnected, but were on full display in the two non-LP Bomp! singles that preceded it. All four of these sides are incredible, but even the sheer splendor of “The Last Year,” “Not That Way Anymore,” and “Circumstantial Evidence” must yield the crown to Stiv’s cover of “It’s Cold Outside.” The 1967 original by The Choir (who were essentially the roots of The Raspberries pre-Eric Carmen) is a garage pop classic, and I think I heard it on a Pebbles collection before I heard the Stiv Bators version. But man, Stiv’s cover just POPs, with aggressive drums and slashing guitars propelling a track which I consider one of the defining singles of power pop.

Writer Otto Binder was a key figure in science fiction and comic books from the ’30s into the ’60s. Binder is best known for his Adam Link series (credited to Eando Binder, a pseudonym originally shared by Otto and his brother Earl Binder) and his extensive resumé of work in comics. Binder was one of the most prolific and important contributors to the adventures of the original Captain Marvel, and later made significant innovations to the Superman mythos, including the introductions of The Legion Of Super-HeroesBrainiacSupergirlKryptoJimmy Olsen‘s signal watch, and the bottle city of Kandor. It pains me to note that Binder displayed no affinity whatsoever for Marvel Comics‘ ’60s style in this 1967 Avengers novel, which I picked up in the dealers room at New York’s Super DC Con in 1976.

I’ve long promised a complete blog post about my all-time # 1 rock ‘n’ roll crush Suzi Quatro, and we’re getting closer to that. No, really. For now: this was nowhere near my first Quatro record, but it was probably the first Quatro record I ever heard. The lovely Suzi appeared on a 1975 episode of a British rock ‘n’ roll TV show called Supersonic, carried in New York by WPIX and available via the magic of cable TV for this lovestruck fifteen-year-old in the Syracuse suburbs. Suzi lip-synced “I May Be Too Young,” but I didn’t catch the song’s title, initiating my fruitless search for a mythical Suzi Quatro song called “Little Susie From Baton Rouge” or “I’m Just Waitin’ For You” or whatever the hell it might be called. To make matters worse, it was a non-LP single, so its identity remained a mystery even after I started accumulating Quatro’s albums. I finally, finally tracked it down as a 45 purchase at Jack Wolak‘s much-missed Knuckleheads in the early ’90s. I still didn’t know the title of the song I’d heard nearly two decades before on Supersonic, but an eager spin on the home turntable confirmed that my search had finally reached its end. (Then, of course, I got it again on a Suzi Quatro CD anthology, and ultimately sold my 45 to Ronnie Dark, host of the fab radio show The Wax Museum With Ronnie Dark. Fickle? Not me, man. I’m still true to you, Suzi.)

Yeah, my copy of this novelization of the 1966 Batman movie is signed by the film’s star, Adam West. The benefits of being a good citizen. West appeared in costume at a car show in Buffalo in either ’86 or early ’87. I was already freelancing for Amazing HeroesComics Collector, and Comics Buyer’s Guide, so I wanted to set up an interview with West, but it was not to be. It was still a thrill to meet ‘n’ greet the one TV star that had the most impact on the development of my pop culture sensibility. I think I’d picked up the paperback on a visit to my once and future homeland in Syracuse, at Twilight Book And Game Emporium on North Salina Street, a great store run by my friend Bob Gray. I don’t know if the pseudonymous Winston Lyon is the same “Winston Lyon” (aka William Woolfolk) who had ghost-written the previous Batman novel Batman Vs. 3 Villains Of Doom.

I sometimes claim to have had a love/hate relationship with The Knack, but I never really disliked them, and I occasionally liked them a lot. I must have purchased this single before I got around to buying the Get The Knack LP; it would have been unusual for me to buy a single if both sides were on an album I already owned. Either way, this picture sleeve of the lovely Sharona herself was certainly a factor. I also picked up the “Good Girls Don’t” single, which didn’t have Sharona on the sleeve, but featured a radio edit of the familiar album track (with the lines “Wishing you could get inside her pants” and “Until she’s sitting on your face” replaced by the less-rude “Wishing she would give you just one chance” and “Until she puts you in your place”). “That’s What The Little Girls Do,” an album track on Get The Knack, was my favorite Knack cut at the time, though it’s since been replaced by “Your Number Or Your Name.”

I adored superpulp paperbacks in the mid ’70s, grabbing as much as I could of the pulp adventures of The ShadowDoc SavageThe AvengerThe PhantomFlash GordonThe SpiderOperator 5The Lone RangerTarzanConan, and whatever other grim avatar of justice could be found in bookstores or on drug store spinner racks. I accumulated ’em far faster than I could read them–there are many I bought over forty years ago that are still awaiting my attention–but they don’t expire, and I’m still adding to the stack. I devoured the first two volumes of editor Byron Preiss‘ Weird Heroes anthology immediately upon their publication in 1975. I was a fan of what Preiss was doing, both here with this “New American Pulp” and also his digest-sized graphic novel series Fiction Illustrated. The second volume of Weird Heroes was like an all-star shindig to me, with stories by Philip José Farmer (whom I knew from Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life), Ted White (who wrote my cherished Captain America superpulp paperback The Great Gold Steal), and comics veterans Steve Englehart (then at Marvel, later to write the definitive Batman serial in Detective Comics) and Elliot S! Maggin (one of my DC Comics Fave Raves, later to write a pair of terrific Superman novels), with illustrations by SterankoEsteban MarotoRalph ReeseTom Sutton, and Alex Niño. I didn’t know writer Charlie Swift or artist Stephen Fabian at the time. The big star attraction for me was my favorite writer Harlan Ellison working with my favorite artist Neal Adams on Ellison’s character Cordwainer Bird–The Shadow’s nephew! TRIPLE PLAY! For all that, this was probably the final Weird Heroes I owned in the ’70s, though I much later tracked down all of the six subsequent volumes and Preiss’ own Guts, a full-length novel continuing with his character from the first Weird Heroes book.

After The Sex Pistols collapsed, this first single by John Lydon (the former Johnny Rotten) and his post-Pistols group Public Image, Ltd. was intriguing and captivating, and it seemed a good sign that I would enjoy the music of PiL nearly as much as I’d revered the Pistols’ “God Save The Queen” and “Pretty Vacant.” There was an announcement that PiL would play a 1979 or early ’80 date at a Syracuse club called The Slide-Inn, a former disco where I’d seen 999David Johansen, and The Flashcubes, but if that date was ever really booked in the first place, it never happened. I woulda traveled across glass to see that. Nothing I ever heard of PiL’s music after the debut single ever appealed to me a fraction as much as this song, “Public Image,” which could have been a Sex Pistols track as far as my ears were concerned. Still love it. I should check further, to see if there is anything else in the PiL canon that might appeal to me more than “Death Disco” or “This Is Not A Love Song.”

Here’s one of those superpulp paperbacks I own but haven’t read yet. Armageddon 2419 A.D. reprints the original Philip Francis Nowlan pulp novel that later served as the basis for the first science-fiction comic strip, Buck Rogers. Like Edmond Hamilton‘s Captain Future novels, I fear this may be something I should have read when I was much, much  younger. I think I snagged my copy at The Book Warehouse, a former warehouse on Syracuse’s North side that was filled with old books and magazines. I lived within walking distance of The Book Warehouse when I moved back to Syracuse in 1987, and it was a frequent stop for me until it finally closed years later. It was my source for so much cheap backdated print, from rock ‘n’ roll reference books and comics retrospectives through old Playboys, countless novels, crossword puzzle collections, children’s books (for my wife, a teacher), and lotsa pulp. Man, the sheer mass of James Bond (by Ian Fleming and John Gardner), John IrvingMickey SpillaneEllery QueenMax Allan CollinsSue GraftonSara ParetskyAlan Brennert, et al. I scored at The Book Warehouse…! We are fortunate to still have a few terrific second-hand booksellers in Syracuse, and Books End and Books & Melodies (both on James Street in Eastwood) remain my go-to book shops. Still miss The Book Warehouse.

It’s a slight puzzlement to me that I don’t have any recollection of Paul Revere & the Raiders from when I was a little kid in the ’60s. I know we used to watch Where The Action Is! occasionally, so I must have seen the Raiders there. I later knew their only # 1 hit “Indian Reservation,” but knowledge and appreciation of the freakin’ motherlode of the Raiders’ splendid ’65-’68 recordings wouldn’t come until my deeper dive into the wonder of  the rockin’ pop of the ’60s when I was a teen in the ’70s. 45s of “Him Or Me–What’s It Gonna Be” and “I Had A Dream” were, I think, my first Raiders records, purchased from my friend Jay (along with “Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl” by The Barbarians). I was not immediately impressed. That would change. And how!

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

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Comic Book Cover Cavalcade #1

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

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

BATMAN # 253 (November 1973)

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

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

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

DC SPECIAL # 10 (January-February 1971)

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

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

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

SHAZAM! # 8 (December 1973)

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

SHOWCASE # 100 (May 1978)

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

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

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

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

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

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This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.
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Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 134 essays about 134 tracks, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).

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The Way I Talk (brought to you by pop culture)

Catchphrases have been a part of mass popular culture for as long as there has been mass pop culture. It goes back at least as far as the golden age of radio, with things like “‘Tain’t funny, McGee” (from Fibber McGee And Molly), “Coming, Mother!,” (from Henry Aldrich), and the whole litany–“Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane…!”–heralding a new adventure of Superman. Hell, it probably goes back farther than that. The thread continues uninterrupted through “Bang, ZOOM!,” “You bet your sweet bippie!,””Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?,” and about nine dozen lines from Seinfeld, plus whatever more recent iteration I’m too curmudgeonly to notice. The devil made me do it.

I was thinking of what lines from pop culture regularly find their way into my own speech patterns. Some are more obscure than others, I guess, because my personality tends to be more obscure than others. I think the two phrases that pop into my daily discourse most often are “I’m comin’, Beanie boy!” (from TV’s Beanie And Cecil cartoon) and “HERE! In the SHADOWS!” (from the radio adventures of The Shadow). The former is better-known than the latter, and either is more widely recognized than my three runners-up: “I can’t pronounce Baccaruda” (from a Plymouth Barracuda commercial, reprised on record by the British group The Barracudas), the seemingly non sequitur “Now CRAYON I can say!” (from an episode of The Monkees), and “I own a hundred pairs of stretch socks” (from Marvel Comics‘s 1960s humor title Not Brand Echh).

(I have also been known to recite the opening bits from the TV shows The Adventures Of Superman and The Green Hornet in their entirety with no discernible provocation. I also sometimes blurt out made-up intros to shows that never existed, starring comic book characters The Challengers Of The Unknown or the original Captain Marvel. I am most certainly me.)

I live inside my pop obsessions. A number of slightly-used lines from TV, movies, comics, songs, and other effervescent sources could find their own random way into my patter at any given moment. “Hey, that’s O-NED-ers!,” “You gotta be quick!,” and “Chad? Who’s Chad…?” from my favorite movie, That Thing You Do! “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!” from the 1966 Batman film, a line I once spoke directly to actor Adam West when one of us was in full Batman costume (I won’t say which one of us that was). “Your bullets cannot harm me; my wings are like a shield of steel!” from the Batfink cartoon. “No brag, just fact” from TV’s The Guns Of Will Sonnett, generally delivered in my best approximation of a Walter Brennan impression. Quotes from John F. Kennedy‘s speeches (“We choose to go to the moon and those other things…!”) and quotes from JFK impersonator Vaughn Meader‘s hit comedy LP The First Family (“I should like to point out that I am standing here in my shorts dripping wet,” and “The rubber swan is mine”), each spoken with my attempt at the right voice as the torch is passed to a new generation. With vigor.

The beat goes on. Lines from Casablanca and The Maltese FalconThe Dark KnightThe Grapes Of WrathThe Marx Brothers, audience response lines from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the deep tone of James Earl Jones, all jumbled together in a quotation gumbo: This could be the start of a beautiful friendship, the stuff dreams are made of. Why so serious? I’ll be there. Members of the faculty, faculty members, students of Huxley and Huxley students–well, I guess that covers everything. From the freezer to your table. This is CNN.

As I recite all of these lines in my ongoing role as whatever it is I’m supposed to be, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether or not folks pick up on the specific reference. It’s not a trivia challenge, a round of Name That Catchphrase! From “To the Batpoles!” to speculation of what’s behind the curtain Carol Merrill is standing next to, it’s just the way I talk. An early clue to the new direction. Sorry about that, Chief.

I do think it’s time to bring “You bet your sweet bippie!” back into the general lexicon. Save the Texas prairie chicken. I am Spartacus. Live long and prosper. And let’s be careful out there.

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

(And you can still get our 2017 compilation This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4, on CD from Kool Kat Musik and as a download from Futureman Records.)

Get MORE Carl! Check out the fourth and latest issue of the mighty Big Stir magazine at bigstirrecords.com/magazine

Hey, Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 100 essays (and then some) about 100 tracks, plus two bonus instrumentals, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).