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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: The Red Tornado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHEN THE EVERLASTING FIRST RETURNS: R is for

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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

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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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iPad Comics

I started accumulating digital comic book files somewhere around 2010-2011, I think, maybe a little before that, couldn’t have been much after that. Downloadable digital comic books were in plentiful supply around the web until copyright concerns (rightly) shut a lot of those unauthorized sites down for good. Though I admit to taking advantage of such resources when they were available, I made a personal point of never grabbing anything that was regularly or readily available at retail–absolutely no then-current comics, no book collections–and concentrating solely on stuff I couldn’t get at my comics shop. 

For me, digital comics are a convenience, but generally not my preferred method of reading comics. Frankly, I’m just not all that interested in reading on a device; I’d much rather hold a book in my hands and turn its pages. I don’t do ebooks, either. I’ve purchased maybe two or three digital comics that were otherwise out of print, and I get most of my comics fix when I buy my weekly stack at Comix Zone in North Syracuse every Wednesday, supplemented by the occasional trade collection. 

Nonetheless, I do also love my digital comics. I have something like three thousand of them stored on my computer; I’ve shed a few I no longer want, lost a few others along the way, and I continue to add more from public domain comics resources like Comic Book PlusDigital Comics Museum, and Archive.org. Any time I want to read a vintage adventure of the original Captain Marvel or the 1960s Charlton Comics Action-Heroes, it’s all just a click away.


I started stockpiling these things before I owned an iPad, but the goal was always to put ’em on that portable device. If one was going to read digital comics, the iPad seemed the perfect size to accommodate that wish. When I went to Spain in 2012, I took along the iPad with the idea of reading digital comics during down time. Instead, I wound up reading a hardcover mystery novel by Max Allan Collins and a hardcover bio of Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim. Captain Marvel may as well have just stayed home.

We have a new iPad now, and I’m revisiting the idea of reading comics on our trusty older device. I’ve taken most everything else off that iPad, and loaded about 1000 comic books on it. It came in handy while waiting for a car repair this week, as I sat in the dealer’s waiting room and immersed myself in the first twelve issues of Marvel‘s The Avengers from the ’60s. It was fun, and I think I’m going to re-read the run from that point forward until the mid ’70s; if I do, The Avengers will be the subject of an upcoming edition(s) of Comic Book Retroview.


These are the comics titles I’ve chosen to store (in varying amounts) on my iPad for now: 80 Page GiantAction ComicsAdventure ComicsThe Adventures Of Bob HopeThe Adventures Of Jerry LewisAir Fighters ComicsAll-Flash Quarterly, some DC dollar tabloids, All Select ComicsAll Winners ComicsAll-American ComicsAll-American WesternAll-Star ComicsAmerica’s Greatest ComicsAquamanThe AvengersBatmanBig Shot ComicsBlack Cat ComicsBlonde PhantomBlue BeetleBlue Ribbon ComicsBomba The Jungle BoyBoy CommandosThe Brave And The BoldBulletmanBuz SawyerCaptain ActionCaptain America ComicsCaptain MarvelCaptain Marvel Adventures (etc.), Charlton PremiereCharlton Wild FrontierComic CavalcadeCrack ComicsCrime SmasherDanger And AdventureDaredevil Battles HitlerDC 100-Page Super SpectacularDC SpecialThe DestructorDetective ComicsDick TracyDoc SavageDoctor StrangeDoll Man QuarterlyEllery QueenFatmanFlash ComicsThe Flintstones At The New York World’s FairFunnymanGhost ComicsGold Key SpotlightThe Green HornetGreen LanternHands Of The DragonHoppy The Marvel BunnyHot WheelsI Am CoyoteIbis The InvincibleInferior FiveIron Man And Sub-MarinerJezebel JadeJonny QuestJumbo ComicsJustice Inc.Justice League Of AmericaKid EternityLady LuckLars Of MarsLeading ComicsThe Lone RangerMan In BlackMan O’ MarsMary MarvelMarvel BoyMarvel FamilyMarvel FeatureMarvel Mystery ComicsMarvel Super-HeroesMaster ComicsMetal MenMighty ComicsMilitary ComicsMinute ManMy Greatest AdventureMysterious SuspenseNot Brand EchhPep ComicsPeter Cannon Thunderbolt,The PhantomPhantom LadyThe PhoenixPlanet ComicsPlastic ManPolice ComicsRima The Jungle GirlROG-2000The SandmanScorpio RoseThe ScorpionScribblySecret OriginsThe Secret SixSensation ComicsThe ShadowShazam!SheenaShock SuspenStoriesShowcaseSilver SurferSmash ComicsThe SpectreThe SpiritSpy SmasherStanley And His MonsterStar Spangled ComicsSteve CanyonSub-MarinerDell‘s Super HeroesSuperboySupergirlSuperman’s Girlfriend Lois LaneSupersnipeSword Of SorceryTales From The CryptTarzanT.H.U.N.D.E.R. AgentsTiger-ManTop-Notch ComicsUSA ComicsVampirellaWhiz ComicsWorld’s Finest ComicsWow ComicsZip Comics, and Zorro. There’s room for more, and I will probably add and also trade out more titles and more individual issues.

For all that, it remains to be seen how much I’ll actually read my iPad comics. I don’t intend to have any more extended stays at the auto service center, and I’m way behind on catching up with my towering stacks–plural!–of current comics (a subject for another post). But I like having these available when I want them. And you know, while still waiting for my car, I stopped my reading (prematurely) when I thought the car was almost ready. I should pick up The Avengers from where I left off: Avengers # 13, “The Castle Of Count Nefaria!,” the first issue of The Avengers I ever read as a kid. I have it in my hardcover Marvel Masterworks, and my softcover Marvel Essentials. My much-loved, much-read original comic book is long, long gone. But it’s on my iPad. And it’s waiting for me, whenever I want to read it again. iPad Comics ASSEMBLE!

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THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch

This was originally posted at Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) on July 11, 2018. As Marvel’s fantastic WandaVision TV mini-series concludes its run on Disney + today, we reprise this look back at how columnist Carl Cafarelli first discovered Wanda (and her brother Pietro) when he was a kid in the ’60s.

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

You can’t keep a band together.
–Jazz legend Del Paxton

When you’re six years old, you may believe that some things can remain stable, unchanging. At least that’s what I thought when I was six, in 1966. The Beatles were The Beatles, four specific guys, John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and they would always be The Beatles. The kids I knew on my block were the kids I knew on my block. Family was family: Mom, Dad, my brothers Art and Rob, my sister Nina, and an extended family of aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents. The death of my Aunt Connie, my Godmother, in 1965 was the first existential threat to my sense of comfortable consistency, but even though her passing shattered my little heart, and even though I now feared the possibility of more loved ones being taken away from me, I still had faith that things could remain in place, secure, unchallenged. Safe. When trouble appeared, Mom and Dad could chase it away. And on TV and in comic books, evil could be vanquished by superheroes. Like Batman and Robin, The Dynamic Duo–you could always count on those two. In the summer of ’66, I discovered an entire team of superheroes: The Mighty Avengers!

It was a back issue, a copy of The Avengers # 13 from 1965, but any book you ain’t read yet is a new book. It introduced me to my first superhero group, comprised of five characters I’d never seen before: Captain AmericaThorIron ManGiant-Man, and The Wasp. I was fascinated, and secure in the knowledge that this crusading quintet would always be there to thwart the machinations of nogoodniks like Count Nefaria.

And the next time I saw an issue of The Avengers, the old order had already, like,  changeth-ed. What the…?!

Captain America–then and now, my favorite Avenger–was still there. The Wasp was still there. Dumbass that I was, I didn’t realize that the big guy now called Goliath was good ol’ Giant-Man in a different costume. Thor and Iron Man were gone. In their place were three more unfamiliar heroes: the archer Hawkeye, and a pair of siblings, Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch.

Oddly enough, I think I took this confusing challenge to the status quo in stride. At six, I still didn’t quite understand all the busy little business occurring in superhero comics, especially in the comparatively denser experience of Marvel Comics. I just kinda held on, and exulted in my best thing ever: More superheroes! I think this second exposure to The Avengers predated my first exposure to The Fantastic Four, so Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch were likely the first brother-and-sister heroes I ever saw (before The FF’s Sue and Johnny Storm, The Invisible Girl and The Human Torch). A superhero family? I mean, I sorta knew Superman‘s pretty cousin SupergirlSuperboy‘s supposed older brother Mon-El, and had read a touching imaginary story about Lex Luthor as Superman’s brother. But sibling superheroes seemed new, perhaps even reassuring. In tumultuous times, what could be more reassuring than family?

I don’t recall which issue of The Avengers introduced me to Pietro and Wanda, the speedster Quicksilver and his pseudo-magical sister The Scarlet Witch; I suspect it was either The Avengers # 29 (June 1966) or the following month’s The Avengers # 30. But I felt an immediate attachment to them, and to Hawkeye, too. I accepted this new group as The Avengers. My Avengers. My next issue was probably The Avengers # 33 (October 1966), then # 42 (July 1967), and I tried to keep up with The Avengers as often as I could thereafter.

In the ’80s, writer and artist Mike Tiefenbacher said something to the effect that kids who are attracted to superheroes–and specifically to groups of superheroes–are drawn by the look of costumes as much as by any other factor. I agree. At six and seven years old, I thought Quicksilver’s bold white lightning bolt against a green body suit was mesmerizing, enhanced by his silver hair and its unique horn-like tufts. The Scarlet Witch was basically wearing a bathing suit with a cape, but my affection for her look wasn’t merely prurient, and it had more to do with her distinctive helmet, or whatever that was that framed her face. I didn’t know anything about Jack Kirby, and Dashing Don Heck was the artist on my earliest Avengers adventures anyway. It would be a few years before I learned that Wanda and Pietro had first appeared as conflicted minions of the evil Magneto in the pages of The X-Men, designed and rendered by King Kirby.

Anyway. Although I continued to follow The Avengers as best I could, I missed more issues than I read. Somewhere in there, Wanda and Pietro slipped away, Avengers no longer. I found them again as antagonists in The X-Men, and involved in an inter-title X-Men/Avengers crossover serial. New Avengers joined. One of them, a synthezoid called The Vision, won The Scarlet Witch’s heart, and they were married in the ’70s. Quicksilver’s costume coloring changed from green to a light blue. His mercurial temper and imperious nature resulted in Pietro not being an Avenger quite as often as Wanda was. I caught up on much of Wanda and Pietro’s back story in 1970, when my sister’s boyfriend gave me all of his old comic books, which included many early ’60s Marvels. By then, I no longer called my sister Nina; I had begun calling her by her real name, Denise, as she left home for college.

Things change. When I was a kid, The Avengers was my favorite comic book. I still buy new comic books, often including The Avengers, but the current run just doesn’t interest me, so I’m dropping it from my pull list this week. I’ve very much enjoyed the Marvel Cinematic Universe interpretation of The Avengers, and look forward to many more MCU movies. I’m still a version of that six-year-old kid, enthralled when I saw Captain America throw his mighty shield, enthralled even now with the notion of good triumphing over evil, order over chaos, stability over disarray.

On Monday morning, I was a pall bearer at my Aunt Mary’s funeral. It’s okay; she is in a much better place now than she had been in the recent past. In the limousine, some of the other pall bearers were men who only remembered me from when I was a kid, their friend Maryann’s weird and pesky little superhero-obsessed cousin. Aunt Mary was 94, the last of my Dad’s siblings. They’re all gone now, beginning with their little brother Arthur (killed in a car accident as a child), then my Aunt Connie in 1965, Uncle Danny in 1970, Aunt Helen, Uncle Tot, Aunt Rose, and then Dad in 2012. My mother is in a nursing home. She wanted to attend Aunt Mary’s funeral, but decided she just wasn’t up to the effort on Monday.

As the limo made its way from funeral home to church to cemetery and back, I heard these men talk about their memories of Aunt Mary. More than one of them said that they would have probably wound up in jail if Aunt Mary hadn’t provided them with a place to hang out, a place to be, instead of being out there somewhere getting into real trouble. She was a superhero, as powerful with her Italian cookies and macaroni and meatballs as The Scarlet Witch with her hexes, and Quicksilver with his speed. Avengers assemble. Lemme tell ya: even the baddest of bad guys would have been no match for Aunt Mary’s cookies.

The Beatles broke up. Robin went off to college, leaving his mentor to fight crime alone back in Gotham City, just as my sister Nina–Denise–matriculated her way out of North Syracuse. Some of the kids on the block moved away. Family and friends–so many have been claimed by time, circumstance, and mortality. I’ve welcomed newer members of those groups, too. “The Old Order Changeth.” That was the title of the story where Captain America returned from an adventure to discover he was the last of the old Avengers, charged with the task of whipping these new recruits Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and The Scarlet Witch into shape. Things change. The only constant is change.

Our faith in the value of what we knew, though…well, that doesn’t have to change. We remember. We believe. And we persevere, as our heroes taught us.

I may still have a tiny crush on The Scarlet Witch. She was just so damned cute in that helmet, or whatever the hell it was supposed to be.

Oh, it was a tiara! Of course!

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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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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 Pulps

I’m not 100% certain how I first became aware of pulp magazines, but the book pictured above was certainly an early clue. I recall seeing the hardcover collection The Pulps at World Of Books in North Syracuse in the early ’70s, maybe as early as 1971, but probably ’72 or so. It was one of a number of books that caught my eye all at the same time, right alongside comic book celebrations All In Color For A DimeJules Feiffer‘s The Great Comic Book Heroes, and Crown Books‘ Superman From The 30’s To The 70’s and Batman From The 30’s To The 70’s. Edited by Tony GoodstoneThe Pulps was the only one of these books that I didn’t acquire in that early time frame. I was certainly intrigued by it nonetheless.

My real indoctrination into the world of pulp magazines came via Steranko‘s History Of Comics, I’d say around 1974. My high school library had both volumes of Steranko’s captivating account of the Golden Age of comics, and I spent a lot of time immersing myself in those books. Steranko’s chapter on “The Bloody Pulps” fascinated me, and fanned the flames of my nascent interest in The ShadowDoc SavageThe AvengerThe SpiderOperator 5The Phantom DetectiveThe Black Bat, and G-8 And His Battle Aces

(What’s that? I should have been studying when I was in the school library? Ahem. Just move along.)

I read my first pulp adventure–The Land Of Terror, a Doc Savage paperback–before reading Steranko’s account of the pulps, and possibly/probably before spying The Pulps at World Of Books. I told my story of discovering Doc Savage here–a sequel describing my discovery of The Shadow is forthcoming–and of my teenage fascination with superpulp paperbacks here

Somewhere in there, I picked up my first pulp anthology, The Fantastic Pulps (edited by Peter Haining), plus my very first actual pulp magazine, a flea market purchase of a forgotten random issue of Dime Detective. The flea market also provided me with a copy of The Crime Oracle And The Teeth Of The Dragon, a trade paperback reprint of two vintage Shadow pulp novels, reprints which included the illustrations from the original pulps (something the paperback reprints lacked). 

In the ’80s, when I was living in Buffalo, I snagged a few more ragged pulps at the flea market. In later years I also bought some of Anthony Tollins‘ exquisite pulp reprints starring The Shadow and Doc Savage, and some Black Bat and Spider books, too.

And I finally did buy a copy of Tony Goodstone’s The Pulps. Some time early in this newfangled new millennium, I saw a used copy on display (in very good shape) at Metropolis Books, one of the best little book shops that ever was. Metropolis was also in North Syracuse, pretty much kitty-corner across the street from where World Of Books used to be. I told Metropolis owner Mike Paduana about seeing The Pulps on the shelf when I was eleven or twelve, and gestured in the direction of the cafe that now occupied the hallowed ground that had once been World Of Books. And I mentioned to Mike how I always wanted that book when I was a kid, but never got around to getting it.

Mike kinda looked at me for a second before saying, “What are you waiting for? You know you’re gonna buy it today.”

Yep. Mike was right. Years later, it’s on my bookshelf next to The Great Comic Book Heroes. Some things just take time.


Back cover of my Amazing Stories pulp, offered here for my friends in The Charlton Arrow Facebook group, a fine bunch of folks who have a thing about Uranus. And who wouldn’t have a thing about Uranus?

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Hey, Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made 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: https://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/2019/06/the-greatest-record-ever-made-updated.html

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 FlashcubesChris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens’ track) is also available from Futureman Records.

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Superpulp Paperbacks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Game Of The Name

Can you name, name, name, name them today?

When you write fiction, you generally have to come up with names for your characters. Even in short fiction, you may find that referring to your players just as “He,” “She,” “That Dude,” or “Designated Pronoun” can grow tiresome over the course of your narrative. The expectation of names isn’t absolute, and I think I’ve done some effective short pieces where individuals are not given specific handles. More often that not, though, your baby needs a name.

Where do our fictional names come from? Well, that can be answered the same way we reply when someone asks us where we get our ideas: I dunno. The creative process is enigmatic, elusive, mysterious, and stubborn, and it tends to drool a lot. And it never picks up the damned bill at diners. It’s a right bastard, that creative process. Rather than risk our sanity trying to make sense of That Dude behind the curtain, maybe it’s best to just look at the results.

My first character creations were superheroes, scrawled on construction paper, notebook pages, and loose-leaf sheets when I was in elementary school. Skipping past some of the maybe less-than-entirely-original names I gave to a few of my characters–BatmanKid ColtThe Avengers–I recall coming up with various good guys and bad guys named Rain-Hat SamJemThe PowerThe Bolshevik BatGloppyThe Scarlet Redman, and Jack Mystery. (I re-visited Jack Mystery as an adult, and he coulda been a contender: The Jack Mystery Story.)

Eternity Man and Jenny Woo

I continued to create and name more superheroes as the years passed, from Captain Infinity, The Trident, and Lawman through the more recent Eternity Man (with his co-star Jenny Woo). But let’s move past superheroes; most writers probably aren’t going to be using superheroes in their stories anyway. What are some of the more…civilian names I’ve concocted?

In sixth or seventh grade, I created a baseball player named Skip Keller. Ol’ Skip would have been the star of a series of sports comics, absolutely none of which I ever got around to writing. Slacker, thy name is CC. In 2019, I resurrected the Skip Keller name for an entirely different character, a former pop star turned songwriter and producer, in a short story called “Hitcore.” That story didn’t sell, but I like it a lot, so its day ain’t done yet. For “Hitcore,” I also named two other new characters: Mephisto Records receptionist Amber (no last name designated), and successful rock auteur Willington Blue. They’re all going back to the drawing board for some tweaking (maybe even in pursuit of a novel-length story), but the names will remain.

Amber? No, it’s The Green Hornet’s trusted confidante Casey

The Beat And The Sting was me pulling at the threads of an idea for a Green Hornet ’66 story. To The Green Hornet’s familiar supporting cast of KatoLenore “Casey” Case, and District Attorney Frank Scanlon, I added the rock group Ben Arnold & the Turncoats (with the lead singer’s real name Arnie Bennett, plus guitarist Roger Hartwell, bassist James Thomas, keyboardist Steve Davis, and drummer Tommy Hammond) and Century City crime boss Samuel “Sammy” Vincenzo. This story has potential, but no plausible path to publication at this time.

Terry Legend and Malice were names I gave to detective creations in the ’70s. Terry Legend was a parody character I used once in my high school literary magazine, and Malice (first name undecided) would have been the deadly-serious lead in an unwritten story called “The Children Of Malice.” I may yet use both names, but if Terry Legend does return, he won’t be a parody character anymore (his comic-booky name notwithstanding).

One of my favorite blog pieces here is Jukebox Express, a wholly fabricated account of a make-believe 1950s rock ‘n’ roll B-movie made by various fictional people we’ve seen in film, TV, comic books, etc. The players, from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel‘s Sophie Lennon and Gilligan’s Island‘s Ginger Grant through That Thing You Do!‘s Troy Chesterfield and My Favorite Year‘s Stan “King” Kaiser, all came with their names pre-attached. But I came up with the names of their characters: Rose “Mama” MammamiaKirby LeeArchibald Toby, and Rocco “Death” Manzetti, respectively. My favorite among the names I slapped together here is Rocco’s moll Cupcake O’Hara, played by The Rocketeer‘s Jenny Blake. Yeah, I put a lot of work into this trifle.

The short stories I completed in 2019 contained but a few named characters. Of the unsold batch (in addition to “Hitcore”): “Dreaming Deadly” starred Sam and Billy, and an unnamed girl; “Sword Of The Chosen One” starred Flora and Anna“Montie Pylon Finds His Holy Grail” starred Montgomery Pylon and Louise; and “The Greatest Thud Never Heard” included no named characters at all. The first story I sold last year, “Guitars Vs. Rayguns,” included no named characters. “The Picture Of Amontillado” starred Dorian Gray and Wild Edgar Poe, and I don’t think I’d get away with a claim of creating either of those names. 

That leaves my loosely-connected Copperhead stories, two of which sold, one of which is pending, and a fourth is in its early stages of this-ain’t-ready-yet! Each of these feature a lead character–The Copperhead KidThe CopperheadCodename: Copperhead, and Copper–and not many other names: a Sheriff, a Deputy, Ma and Pa, an unnamed sister, Cody, a Director, a Director’s Wife, a family in peril, various goons and no-goodniks, and some assorted pronouns. Those were all the names needed to tell the story. For now.


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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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Hey, Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 127 essays about 127 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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DEAR SUPERGUYS (or: I Was A Teenaged Comic Book Letterhack)

I’m not sure exactly when I wrote my first letter to a comic book editor. I know I wrote a letter to DC Comics in the summer of 1970, when I was ten years old, asking if the good folks there would be willing to send me a copy of Superboy # 129 as a reward for bypassing fifth grade on my way to sixth grade that fall. Presumptuous? Duh. My letter did not merit a prompt response. I don’t think it was my very first attempt at a “Dear Editor,” but it’s the earliest I can remember with any precision. If there were indeed earlier missives, they were also inquiries about securing elusive back issues from DC, albeit with a promise of appropriate payment. I got yer twelve cents; I got yer twelve cents right here.

In the ’60s and into the early ’70s, I was a near-insatiable fan of comic books, particularly superhero comic books, particularly DC and Marvel superhero comic books. I also read books from CharltonArchieHarveyGold KeyDell, and later from Atlas and Warren. Besides my cherished costumed crusaders, I read funny animal, war, Westernhumor, monster, and eventually some horror, too. I confess to occasionally peaking at romance books, because the girls were cute (and the artwork often gorgeous). Sad SackWhere Monsters DwellStar Spangled War StoriesThe Mighty Marvel WesternForbidden Tales Of Dark MansionTomb Of DraculaUncle ScroogeSgt. Fury And His Howling CommandosThe Lone RangerThe PhantomThe Phantom StrangerMaster Of Kung Fu. VampirellaThe ScorpionArchie’s Pals & GalsDennis The MenaceThe Super Cops. TarzanConan The BarbarianFruitman, God help me. Plop! SpoofDoomsday + 1. I read ’em all, and loved ’em all, right alongside my Justice League Of America and Avengers.

By the time I was 15 (and probably earlier), I was identifying myself specifically as a DC Comics fan. I continued to buy, read, and enjoy Marvels and others, for sure, but my primary allegiance was to the boys at 909 Third Ave and (later) 75 Rockefeller Plaza. Why DC? Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, for starters. The work that writer O’Neil and artist Adams did on Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman (the latter often ably penciled by the underrated Irv Novick instead of Adams, all of it inked to stunning effect by Dick Giordano) just knocked me out, and the afterglow of that stuff kept me in DC’s thrall. I dug Jack Kirby‘s Fourth World stuff, Len Wein‘s scripting on JLAeditor Joe Orlando‘s stewardship of Adventure Comics, O’Neil with Mike Kaluta on The Shadow, the return of the original Captain Marvel in DC’s Shazam!, and the plethora of vintage reprints in DC’s 100-Page Super Spectaculars. I still loved Marvel, but I was clearly a DC guy.

Which, I guess, is why all of my letters of comment went to DC books. As adolescence and early teens brought me a sense that I might want to become a writer, I sought the recognition and ego-stroke of seeing my name in print in DC Comics letter columns. I evolved from my previous letters asking how I could track down copies of The Spectre‘s 1966 appearances in Showcase to attempting fannish praise and pithy commentary. My reach far exceeded my grasp, and my hand-scrawled drivel was justifiably ignored by DC’s editorial staff.

(I was only, like, twelve or thirteen when I began writing these letters in earnest, but I cringe to look back on them now. No physical copies survive, thank Rao, but I remember the sheer pimply cluelessness I exhibited therein. I wrote a letter to The Brave And The Bold‘s editor Murray Boltinoff, demanding that he explain his editorial policies to me, ‘cuz I di’n’t like his and B & B writer Bob Haney‘s disregard for continuity. I recall a letter to JLA which casually used profanity to make this immature soul seem mature. I signed off most of my letters with “Thanx,” an attempt to create a signature gimmick for what I hoped would be an abundance of published letters of comment. Not a one of them saw print, nor did they deserve to see print. I cringe at their memory, and recognize them as the work of a square-peg kid in dire need of a girlfriend.)

I did begin to receive some form letter replies, and some form letters with annotation added. I recall a reply to a heartfelt letter I’d written to Batman editor Julie Schwartz, begging that The Batman’s atmospheric noir adventures never again succumb to the campy approach of the mid ’60s. Some time after that, our local hero Mailman brought me a letter ostensibly from The Batman hisself: a form letter with a classic Carmine Infantino Batman drawing and a note “Thanks for your nice letter, from The Batman.” A more personalized postscript was typed in following The Batman’s signature: “…who will eschew camp like cyanide from now on, rest assured!” Cool! Plus, I learned a new word with “eschew.” I figured this meant my letter would soon see print on an imminent Letters To The Batman page, but it was not to be. I guess a letter from The Batman was all the recognition I required. Thanks, citizen!

Middle school passed by. High school commenced. I continued to buy and read comics, to try to write comics, and to write letters to the comics’ editors. I walked home each day after school, and often made a side trip to the nearby Gold Star Pharmacy to see if any new comics were in. A pretty girl from my school worked there, but I never bothered trying to flirt with her while buying my comics–what would have been the point?–and she remained friendly and professional. Yvonne. Not her real name. One day during the Spring ’75 semester, I stopped at Gold Star for my weekly fix. Among the haul was Superman # 289, and that contained my first published letter of comment.

Over the friggin’ moon, man!

The letter itself was perhaps not much less embarrassing than my earlier, unpublished attempts. But no matter! Though it was just a silly letter gushing about how great Superman # 277 had been with its dazzlingly clever doppelgangers of Ernest Hemingway and Mason Reese–a combination one would rarely see otherwise–it was technically my first nationally-published piece of writing. It was a piece of something all right, but I was thrilled.

And again: no, you get a life.

For dramatic purposes, the part of Yvonne will be played by Ms. Yvonne Craig

I don’t think I showed it to Yvonne at the drug store, though I did show her a subsequent letter published in Adventure Comics # 444. She was very polite. Somewhere in there, a letter in The Brave And The  Bold # 120’s letter column mentioned in passing that “Carl Cafrelli” wanted to see Batman team with The Shadow, a request I do not recall making, but probably did. I don’t know how many more letters of comment I wrote, but I do know I was trying to concentrate more and more on my own writing (and my collection of rejection slips from DC), so my letterhacking likely petered out around this time.

Then it was off to college. Nascent independence. An illusion of maturity. GIRLS! Success with girls, even. And, y’know, punk rock. I continued to read comics well into my freshman year at Brockport, 1977-78, but finally abandoned my four-color friends when Steve Englehart stopped writing Batman in Detective Comics; everything that came after that was a disappointment to me, so it was time to quit.

I mean, after I wrote one more letter.

My final letter of comment of the 1970s appeared in Detective Comics # 479, extolling the virtues of what Englehart and artist Marshall Rogers had done with The Batman, a short run that remains my all-time favorite series of Batman stories (even above O’Neil and Adams). With that, I was done with comics for the remainder of my college career.

(My love of comics did help me snag one little bonus perk in college. No, it wasn’t a girl, though–oddly enough–my ostensibly hilarious impression of former DC Comics star Jerry Lewis did somehow convince a girl I already knew that I was suddenly irresistible. Ah, if Yvonne coulda seen me then…but I digress. During my freshman year, I wrote about comics and other topics in my assignments for Dr. Burelbach’s Popular Fiction class. The following September, I wanted to get into a Fiction Workshop reserved for upperclassmen, so this mere sophomore had to plead his case to that course’s instructor, Dr. Fitzgerald. Dr. Burelbach happened to be there in Dr. Fitzgerald’s office when I arrived, so I mentioned that I’d taken his Pop Fic class the previous semester. This made for a much shorter interview than I was expecting. Fitzgerald turned to Burelbach and said, What do you think, Fred? Burelbach nodded toward me and said, Well, he’s a brilliant writer. Fitzgerald turned back to me, smiled, and said, All right, you’re in. Score one for the good guys.)

I returned to comics after graduating (early) from college in 1980. My return was slow and tentative at first, but eventually resumed with a fervor to match the fannish enthusiasm of my adolescence. In the ’80s, I had a few letters published in Green Lantern and/or Green Lantern Corps (when Englehart was writing it) and in Batman (when Doug Moench was writing it), and I wrote an unpublished rant complaining about gratuitous violence in Justice League Of America. I started freelancing for the fan magazine Amazing Heroes in 1984, and I didn’t write many letters of comment after that. I had one published in an issue of The Power Of Shazam! in the ’90s (even though I didn’t intend it as a letter of comment, just a note to accompany my request for Mr. Mind‘s Venusian Decoder Card), and finally my first and only published letter to Marvel Comics in 2016’s Invincible Iron Man # 11. Marvel still has letters columns in its books; DC does not. I read ’em both anyway.

But I’ve always been a DC guy at heart. I have the letters to prove it.

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