Well over a year after posting my last 100-Page FAKE!, it occurs to me that I probably never made any official announcement that the series was kaput. I did mention their demise here, but otherwise I never really got around to bidding a proper farewell.
The series began in May of 2018, designed as a proudly fannish attempt to concoct a bunch of 1970s DC Comics 100-Page Super Spectaculars that never were. I announced the series’ transition from the original DC Comics-centric 100-Page FAKES! into the less-restricted (but ultimately still DC-centric) Spectacular Comics 100-Page Specials in April of 2020. I then concocted four monthly issues of Spectacular Comics, with the fourth and final issue posted on July 24, 2020.
At that time, I think I still intended to continue slappin’ these things together. But a few factors combined to make me re-think that intent, and ultimately abandon the concept entirely. The fake books were very time-consuming to create, and they became even more time-consuming when I liquidated my digital comics stash entirely. The final efforts were constructed from a mix of public-domain comics pages available on line and scans of comic books in my collection. Even with all of that, I might have continued doing them if a format change at Blogger hadn’t made the process so much clunkier to accomplish. The inconvenience was more than I was willing to bother messin’ with. Sayonara, FAKES! and Spectaculars.
But I’m glad I did them. They were a cool way to connect with my inner adolescent, the 12-15 year-old kid who loved DC’s 100-pagers in the ’70s, and wished there had been more of them. I wrote a history of DC’s (real-life) 100-pagers, and I felt I wanted to expand on the real world a little bit. Here are links to every one those fabrications:
From the Spectre to the Phantom, with a cast of multitudes: Batman, Aquaman, Spider-Man, the original Captain Marvel, the Shadow, Superman, Superboy, the Justice Society of America, E-Man, Daredevil, Doc Savage, Plastic Man, Wonder Woman, the Silver Surfer, Blue Beetle, the Lone Ranger, the Seven Soldiers of Victory, the Sandman, Rima the Jungle Girl, the Six Million Dollar Man, Spy Smasher, Dial H For HERO, Metal Men, Captain America, the Bat Squad, Ka-Zar, Dick Tracy, Batgirl, Torchy, Bulletman and Bulletgirl, Dr. Strange, Hawkman, Blackhawk, Black Canary, the Vigilante, the Creeper, the Defenders, Hydroman, the Elongated Man, Wildcat, the Doom Patrol, Doll Man and Doll Girl, Ibis the Invincible, the Boy Commandos, Sub-Mariner, Hot Wheels, Captain Action, Zorro, Detective Chimp, Jonny Quest, Green Arrow, the Secret Society of Super-Villains, and Astra, Girl of the Future, plus many more. It was mostly about DC, but it included properties DC licensed or acquired from Quality, Charlton, Fawcett, Mattel, Ideal, Jerry Lewis, and The Chicago Tribune, and it included Marvel, EC, Comico, Mighty Comics, Fox, MLJ, Lev Gleason, more from Charlton, and other purveyors of four-color fantasy.
I regret I never got around to using Vampirella. But I did what I could, until the time came to move on. They weren’t real. But they wereSpectacular.
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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 Men, Tales To Astonish, Our Army At War, Superman, 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 paperbackmay 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.
What do I buy at Comix Zone? Well! My current pull list includes all of the AHOY Comics titles, plus Batman, The Amazing Spider-Man, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Superman, Justice League, Action Comics, Detective Comics, The Other History Of The DC Universe, Money Shot, Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four Life Story, Groo Meets Tarzan, The Marvels, Checkmate, Shazam!, Superman Batman, Amazing Fantasy, Infinite 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…
…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.
I’ve loved comic strips since I was a little kid. While my primary panel allegiance is to comic books, there’s never really been a time when I didn’t peruse at least the Sunday funnies. My earliest specific memory of reading newspaper comics goes back to 1966, when I was six years old and fallin’ hard for superheroes (thanks to the Batman TV series). One week, there was a Sunday Beetle Bailey strip where Sgt. Snorkel dreams that he and Beetle have become their own Dynamic Duo Fatman and Slobber, and high-camp hijinks ensue. There’s no way that was my first exposure to Beetle Bailey and the rest of the popular features found in Syracuse’s Sunday Herald American, but that one certainly resonated with me. And for weeks thereafter, I kept waiting for Fatman and Slobber to reappear in Beetle Bailey, but alas, it was their only appearance. I betcha they were probably erased from continuity in Crisis On Infinite Earths anyway.
In addition to Beetle Bailey, my early favorites included The Family Circus, Dennis The Menace, Blondie, Archie, Pogo, and (I think) Peanuts. I probably read Li’l Abner, too. We received the daily newspapers as well, The Post Standard in the morning and The Herald Journal in the afternoon, so I started scannin’ those black-and-white strips during the week. Although I was (as noted) big into superhero comic books, I didn’t really follow any syndicated adventure or dramatic strips. If memory serves, the non-comical comic strips the Syracuse papers offered at the time would have included Dick Tracy, Steve Canyon, Prince Valiant, Dondi, and The Phantom. The Phantom was the only costumed hero of the bunch–the Syracuse papers did not carry Superman or Batman–but I didn’t start following the exploits of The Ghost Who Walks until later (after The Phantom [and Steve Canyon] were included as accessory identities for the Captain Action superhero doll in 1967).
In the late ’60s and into the ’70s, the adventure strips began to seem more attractive to me, especially The Phantom, Steve Canyon, and Rip Kirby. Aside from reprints in Peanuts paperback collections, the first older newspaper strips I ever read were the 1940s Batman and the 1929/1930s Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, both of which I discovered in the early ’70s. The Batman strips had been reprinted in a few of DC Comics‘ 80-Page Giants in the ’60s, comic books which I encountered as back issues circa…’72, or so? And a Christmas or birthday around that time brought me the hardcover volume The Collected Works Of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century. Reading the adventures of the intrepid Buck Rogers influenced my own eighth-grade art project, a comic strip called Jack Mystery.
(The allure of older newspaper strips was strong, but I didn’t have much opportunity [or funds] to indulge it in the ’70s. I coveted a publication called The Menomonee Falls Gazette, which published a variety of comic strips, but I don’t think I ever bought an issue. I started clipping and saving The Phantom strip from the Syracuse papers, I read paperback novelizations of 1930s Phantom and Flash Gordon strip continuities, and I immersed myself in a fantastic tabloid Dick Tracy one-shot published by DC Comics. I never got around to buying or reading any other vintage newspaper strip collections.)
As time wore on, there were fewer adventure or drama options to be found on the funnies pages in the Syracuse newspapers. The Phantom hung on (and it’s still there today), but Rip Kirby and Steve Canyon faded away, and Dick Tracy eventually disappeared locally, too. I never developed any interest in Mark Trail or Mary Worth, though I did at least flirt with Brenda Starr, Reporter. On the humor front, of course, I was completely taken by Doonesbury, and later by Bloom County, Calvin And Hobbesand The Far Side, too. The late ’70s also brought a number of new strips based on comic books–The Amazing Spider-Man, World’s Greatest Superheroes, The Incredible Hulk, Conan The Barbarian, and Howard The Duck–but the ones I saw didn’t grab me, and the ones I didn’t see, I…um, didn’t see.
Fast-forward through the ’80s (something I wish I could have done in real life). When I lived in an apartment in Buffalo in the ’80s, I subscribed to home delivery of The Buffalo News and continued to get my daily comic-strip fix. I cancelled when I moved back to Syracuse in ’87. In 1989, I bought a house in the Syracuse suburbs. The blockbuster success of the 1989 Batman movie spawned a new syndicated Batman comic strip, ghost-written by my favorite mystery novelist Max Allan Collins and illustrated by my all-time favorite Bat-artist Marshall Rogers. The new strip would be carried in the Syracuse newspapers, and that was sufficient motivation for me to start getting home delivery of the paper again.
I thought the new Batman strip was just wonderful, but it didn’t last long in the Syracuse papers. I was able to continue following it in a promo publication given away at participating comic book shops, but the strip ended entirely not long thereafter. It also appeared in a magazine called Comics Revue, which contained a great mix of new, old, comical, and straight comics. I had already been buying Comics Revue regularly (and was hooked by its reprints of the great British spy strip Modesty Blaise), but I eventually stopped getting it because issues were accumulating faster than I ever got around to reading them.
The newspaper game has changed, not for the better. There is no daily newspaper in Syracuse anymore; the Herald is long gone, and the Post now publishes a mere three days a week, with daily content posted online. I still receive home delivery on Thursdays and Sundays, but I read my comics online. Writer/artist/musician Dan Pavelich began a humor comic strip called Just Say Uncle, and it was (and remains) available on Patreon. Go Comics carries a number of comic strips, including my other current favorites Dick Tracy, Pearls Before Swine, Luann, Carol Lay‘s essential weekly Lay Lines, Non Sequitur, Doonesbury, Fox Trot, and Jump Start, classic Tarzan, and much more. Go Comics has become my daily comics resource. It’s not the same as getting a new Batman newspaper strip delivered to my home every day, but it’s going to have to suffice.
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 Plus, Digital 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 Giant, Action Comics, Adventure Comics, The Adventures Of Bob Hope, The Adventures Of Jerry Lewis, Air Fighters Comics, All-Flash Quarterly, some DC dollar tabloids, All Select Comics, All Winners Comics, All-American Comics, All-American Western, All-Star Comics, America’s Greatest Comics, Aquaman, The Avengers, Batman, Big Shot Comics, Black Cat Comics, Blonde Phantom, Blue Beetle, Blue Ribbon Comics, Bomba The Jungle Boy, Boy Commandos, The Brave And The Bold, Bulletman, Buz Sawyer, Captain Action, Captain America Comics, Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Adventures (etc.), Charlton Premiere, Charlton Wild Frontier, Comic Cavalcade, Crack Comics, Crime Smasher, Danger And Adventure, Daredevil Battles Hitler, DC 100-Page Super Spectacular, DC Special, The Destructor, Detective Comics, Dick Tracy, Doc Savage, Doctor Strange, Doll Man Quarterly, Ellery Queen, Fatman, Flash Comics, The Flintstones At The New York World’s Fair, Funnyman, Ghost Comics, Gold Key Spotlight, The Green Hornet, Green Lantern, Hands Of The Dragon, Hoppy The Marvel Bunny, Hot Wheels, I Am Coyote, Ibis The Invincible, Inferior Five, Iron Man And Sub-Mariner, Jezebel Jade, Jonny Quest, Jumbo Comics, Justice Inc., Justice League Of America, Kid Eternity, Lady Luck, Lars Of Mars, Leading Comics, The Lone Ranger, Man In Black, Man O’ Mars, Mary Marvel, Marvel Boy, Marvel Family, Marvel Feature, Marvel Mystery Comics, Marvel Super-Heroes, Master Comics, Metal Men, Mighty Comics, Military Comics, Minute Man, My Greatest Adventure, Mysterious Suspense, Not Brand Echh, Pep Comics, Peter Cannon Thunderbolt,The Phantom, Phantom Lady, The Phoenix, Planet Comics, Plastic Man, Police Comics, Rima The Jungle Girl, ROG-2000, The Sandman, Scorpio Rose, The Scorpion, Scribbly, Secret Origins, The Secret Six, Sensation Comics, The Shadow, Shazam!, Sheena, Shock SuspenStories, Showcase, Silver Surfer, Smash Comics, The Spectre, The Spirit, Spy Smasher, Stanley And His Monster, Star Spangled Comics, Steve Canyon, Sub-Mariner, Dell‘s Super Heroes, Superboy, Supergirl, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, Supersnipe, Sword Of Sorcery, Tales From The Crypt, Tarzan, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Tiger-Man, Top-Notch Comics, USA Comics, Vampirella, Whiz Comics, World’s Finest Comics, Wow Comics, Zip 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!
When I was an adolescent and young teen in the early ’70s, the past became a source of fascination for me. Movies, old radio, and especially comic books captured my attention. My favorite movie stars were Charlie Chaplin and The Marx Brothers. In addition to the great rockin’ pop music I absorbed on AM radio, I also tuned in to the public station’s Radio Rides Again! to hear affirmation that The Shadow knew what evil lurked in the hearts of men. And comics…! Reprints of superhero adventures from the ’30s and ’40s were becoming increasingly accessible—DC Comics publisher Carmine Infantino was especially keen on using reprints—and other resources even went back as far as 1929 for the debut of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, reprised in a hardcover collection that I received as a gift. The ’70s were a golden age of appreciating the pop culture Golden Age of before, during, and just after World War II.
My discovery of movie serials was part of that. Sort of. Eventually. I kinda fell into digging the chapter plays of the ’30s and ’40s. Prior to the ’70s, I had seen chapters of the 1930s Flash Gordon serials on the afternoon kiddie TV show hosted by Syracuse’s local TV vampire Baron Daemon. I was dimly aware of the silent-movie cliffhanger style of The Perils Of Pauline, though strictly as a tangent; the style manifested in the faux melodramatic Tune in tomorrow, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel! of the campy Batman TV series when I was six, and inspired the late ’60s Saturday morning cartoon series The Perils Of Penelope Pitstop.
Somewhere around 1971 to ’73, I found a Super 8 movie projector in our attic. These artifacts were among the earlier examples of home video, short and silent little flicks to enjoy in one’s own private Bijou. We had, I think, a single Super 8 in our stash, an absurdly short edit of Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein.
I was riveted.
Pretty quickly after that, I noticed Super 8 films for sale at both K-Mart and White-Modell. Prying myself away from stealing surreptitious peaks at Vampirella and Penthouse in White-Modell’s smoke shop, I was drawn to Super 8s featuring Batman and the original Captain Marvel. My parents ultimately bought me two of each hero’s Super 8 adventures, plus a couple of shorter Chaplin reels. More Super-8s would follow, but the format faded away soon thereafter. I never saw any additional superhero Super 8s.
The little Batman and Captain Marvel reels were taken from the characters’ movie serial adventures, 1943’s Batman starring Lewis Wilson and 1941’s The Adventures Of Captain Marvel starring Tom Tyler. My Super 8s began to dovetail with my dawning awareness of superhero movie serials, courtesy of a chapter in All In Color For A Dime, a book collection of essays about comic books, and in On The Scene Presents Superheroes, a one-shot magazine about superhero movies, published in 1966 but still kickin’ around used bookstores in the early ’70s.
In ’73 or so, I attended The Syracuse Cinephile Society‘s screening of the entire 12-chapter Adventures Of Captain Marvel serial–with sound and everything! The first chapter of Batman (its virulent wartime anti-Japanese racism intact) was included in a film compilation called Three Stooges Follies, which I saw twice in movie theaters (at Fayetteville Mall and at The Hollywood). The Hollywood also showed the first Flash Gordon serial from 1936 over the course of two separate Saturday matinees. Vacationing at my grandparents’ house in Southwest Missouri, I managed to stay up and watch two or three chapters of the 1944 Captain America serial, broadcast in their original once-a-week increments during the wee, wee weekend hours by a TV station in Pittsburg, Kansas. I also picked up a copy of To Be Continued, a hardcover history of the serials; I wish I had retained ownership of hat book, but it found a new home somewhere, victim of a purge to gather rent money circa 1980.
In February of 1976, I attended the Super DC Con sponsored by DC Comics in NYC. The film presentations at the con included some DC-affiliated serial footage, though my memory struggles to recreate the specifics. There was probably a Captain Marvel chapter, a chapter from 1949’s Batman And Robin, and I think an original coming-attractions trailer for The Vigilante. I do remember that there was a fragment of a chapter from 1948’s Superman; the two serials actor Kirk Alyn made as the Man of Steel were then presumed to be lost, though both were recovered in later years.
And that was probably it for my serial thrillers for a good while thereafter. Off to college in ’77, graduation in ’80, apartment living in Brockport and then Buffalo until the spring of ’87. I bought my first VCR in December of ’86. I got a VHS copy of Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe at some point, but never quite got around to watching it. When I moved back to Syracuse in ’87, Twilight Book And Game Emporium offered rentals of vintage serials. The Superman serials had been recovered by then, so I borrowed and watched Superman as well as The Green Hornet and the 1943 Batman. I bought budget VHS issues of both Batman and Batman And Robin, the former with some dubbed dialogue to tone down its overt racism. I eventually added Captain America and 1950’s Atom Man Versus Superman. As VHS was replaced by DVD, I got shiny serial discs of The Adventures Of Captain Marvel, The Phantom, Batman, and Batman And Robin. I also watched Atom Man Versus Superman on TV when TCM serialized it over the course of fifteen Saturdays, and a feature-film edit of the great Spy Smasher serial on Netflix.
I have to admit that I have lost most of my young passion for movie serials. TCM has been running Terry And The Pirates on recent Saturdays, and I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to watch it. Between YouTube and streaming options, I can access chapters of Blackhawk, Buck Rogers, The Spider’s Web, Dick Tracy, The Green Archer, Zorro’s Black Whip, The New Adventures Of Tarzan, The Shadow, and many more. But the urge ain’t there anymore. I loved serials when I loved them.
I’m still fond of ’em anyway. If I’m in the right mood, they all remain a mere click away. And with sound! The Golden Age of Comics, brought to life in sparkling (and occasionally scratchy) black and white. To be continued? Well…why not?
Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza. This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.
The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project: Volume 1: downloadVolume 2: CD or downloadVolume 3: downloadVolume 4: CD or downloadWaterloo Sunset–Benefit For This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio:CD or download Carl’s writin’ a book! The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) will contain 134 essays about 134 tracks, each one of ’em THE greatest record ever made. An infinite number of records can each be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Updated initial information can be seen here: THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE! (Volume 1).
I have always loved to read. As a teenager in the ’70s, my prevailing interest in superhero comic books led me into superhero and fantasy hero paperback books. Most of these were reprints of pulp magazine adventures from the ’30s and ’40s, starring such ten-cent stalwarts as Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Spider, The Lone Ranger, and The Avenger. I also read a few of the Tarzan novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, maybe a Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard or a James Bond by Ian Fleming,Ted White‘s original Captain America novel The Great Gold Steal, and paperback prose adaptations of comic-strip storylines featuring Flash Gordon and The Phantom. There were also the Weird Heroes books, a series of then-new pulp hero anthologies (and some solo titles, too). The Phantom and The Shadow were my favorite series, and The Great Gold Steal was my favorite individual book.
At the Super DC-Con in New York in 1976, I picked up copies of two original hero pulp paperbacks from the ’60s, Batman Vs. 3 Villains Of Doom by Winston Lyon (aka William Woolfolk) and The Avengers Battle The Earth-Wrecker by Otto Binder. I thought the latter lacked the panache of Ted White’s Captain America novel, but I kinda liked the Batman book’s attempt to balance the camp of the TV show with the demands of an adventure novel. When the first Superman movie came out in 1978, egotistical novelist Mario Puzo had a contractual clause prohibiting a paperback adaptation of his Superman screenplay; instead, comics writer Elliot S! Maggin was brought in to write an original novel, Superman, Last Son Of Krypton, that was a far better book than anyone would have been likely to cobble together out of Puzo’s ramblings.
The ’70s were almost a Golden Age for paperback superhero novels. And I still wanted more! In the book All In Color For A Dime, I read about Captain Marvel Story Book, a 1940s comic book series starring Captain Marvel in prose novels (with illustrations), and I ached to see these reprinted as paperbacks, available for me to pluck from the spinner rack and purchase for my own reading wonder. I wanted there to be new Batman novels, and new Green Hornet novels. Hell, why not new Blue Beetle novels, too?
I still pick up the ’70s vintage books on occasion, but I don’t have the same teen interest in immersing myself in superhero pulp. I have an Operator 5 novel I picked up in Florida in 1974, and a G-8 And His Battle Aces book I bought in Berkeley in 1999, but I’ve never read either of them. I’m still on the lookout for a reasonably-priced copy of William Rotsler‘s Blackhawk novel. I have a few Captain Future paperbacks, but have never found them interesting enough to finish reading. (On the other hand, I loved the too-few Dick Tracy books written by Max Allan Collins.) There’s a plethora of pulp reprints available now; Vintage Library/Sanctum Books does an amazing job with its ongoing series of double-novel presentations of The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Avenger, The Whisperer, and even Batman’s then-contemporary pulp counterpart The Black Bat. I can’t keep up, but I still buy them every now and again, and I’m glad they exist.
But, except for a few collection purges inspired by the need for rent money years ago, I’ve kept most of the ones I already have. They have no expiration date. They don’t spoil. If the mood ever strikes me again, pure pulp adventure remains within easy reach.
I still wish someone would reprint Captain Marvel Story Book, though. Downloading ’em just ain’t the same, man. Just ain’t the same.
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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 Charlton, Archie, Harvey, Gold Key, Dell, and later from Atlas and Warren. Besides my cherished costumed crusaders, I read funny animal, war, Western, humor, 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 Sack. Where Monsters Dwell. Star Spangled War Stories. The Mighty Marvel Western. Forbidden Tales Of Dark Mansion. Tomb Of Dracula. Uncle Scrooge. Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos. The Lone Ranger. The Phantom. The Phantom Stranger. Master Of Kung Fu. Vampirella. The Scorpion. Archie’s Pals & Gals. Dennis The Menace. The Super Cops. Tarzan. Conan The Barbarian. Fruitman, God help me. Plop! Spoof. Doomsday + 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 JLA, editor 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.
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 Lewisdid 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.