SUPER-HEROES

by any other name would . . .

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The Hypno Trap, SUPERHEROES No. 4 (June ’67); art: Sal Trapani.

be c moon to me

As a little kid, I had almost no control over what funny book might land in my lap. STUMBO TINYTOWN being an exception (see HERE THERE BE GIANTS!).

Before I started to hunt down Charlie Brown books (more about that another time), there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to my reading regime–outside of school. And, even when rhyme or reason came into the equation, nevertheless, an odd funny book could still fall like manna and render me in want for more.

The following oddball comics have few champions to sing their praises. Unkind reviews state they are L7–but they are C moon to me!

superheroes.directory

star the fab four

Here’s a funny book I read one afternoon. From a pile of comics on my bed–borrowed I would guess and needing to be returned at a later date circa 1967. I chose this one from the pile, immediately consumed with interest–a funny book about the Fab Four. No, not that Fab Four!

superheroes1cAnd, despite being about a group called the Fab Four, it wasn’t called FAB FOUR. No this Dell comic book had the generic title of SUPERHEROES. Maybe Dell wanted to appropriate the Fab Four name, but at the same time get on the super-heroes band wagon.

SUPERHEROES No. 1 (January ’67); cover art: Sal Trapani. On sale around August ’66.⇒

This Fab Four are four ordinary teen-agers: a good-looking dark-haired young man, one red-headed beauty, a blonde boy with a southern drawl, who complains about the cold, and a bespectacled nerd with brown hair. Keep in mind, this was a funny book published by the venerable Dell Publishing, Inc.–who had been publishing four-colour comics since 1929–beginning with THE FUNNIES (January 16th ’29). At the start of the comic, our four teen-agers are visiting the Dell Hall of Heroes

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The Origin of the Fab Four, SUPERHEROES No. 1 (January ’67); art: Sal Trapani. The Dell Hall of Heroes featured characters being published by Dell, which had lost its license to publish a host of characters (those were now being published by Gold Key), so they had to scrounge up some new heroes, like Toka, Kona and Nukla–Dell was staking a claim on names with the letter K and ending in the letter A.

I need to stop here for a moment and underline this point. There’s a Dell Hall of Heroes that one may visit! It boggles the mind to consider just what else might be in this museum. Well . . .
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superheroes.mindtransferAs our four adolescents discover four advanced but inactive androids, a mad scientist is trying to animate his own robot invention in the building next door. Despite being a genius, this villain mixes up the polarities of his charged cables resulting in an electric shock that transfers the minds of the four youths into the four android super-heroes in the Future Room of the Dell Hall of Heroes.

The good-looking boy, Dan, becomes El (this is what they call him as he wears an L on his chest). The red-head, named Polly, becomes Polymer Polly. The southerner–Reb–becomes Crispy. And the boy with glasses–Tom–transfers his nervous demeanour to the android called Hy.

El is clearly the alpha in the group and gets the most scenes. Polly is next in the pecking order–she seems to be highly intelligent (or more intelligent than her human self)–she is the only one who can fly. Crispy has control over cold and can create snow balls or turn things to ice. Hy, at the bottom of the order, has the ability to create hypersonic pulses, which should make him very powerful–but he rarely uses this power and most of the time when he does he can’t control it.

The is immediately apping. They’re teens–just like the Legion of Super-Heroes (appearing in ADVENTURE COMICS at the time)–but their android bodies are grown-ups. They are ordinary humans and it’s the android that has the powers (this makes sense–robots or androids can have all kinds of powers–while humans getting super-powers isn’t as likely).
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SUPERHEROES No. 2 (April ’67) and No. 3 (May ’67); art: Sal Trapani. On sale around November ’66 and January ’67, respectively. Apparently, Dell waited a few months after the first issue–perhapes to see the sales charts–before releasing more issues.

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The best thing is the teens can put their minds into these androids. This is what really caught my attention that afternoon when I read this comic and made an impression on me for the rest of my days. Transfering your consciousness into an inanimate object and making it go, that’s an ultimate wish-fulfillment.

SUPERHEROES No.4 (June ’67); cover art: Sal Trapani. ⇒

The series only runs for four issues, with the last issue taking a disturbing turn as the normal adolescents become super-powered themselves, abandoning that whole concept of androids animated by their minds–that very thing which is C moon to me.

In the fourth issue, finally, we see the teens with their families and we learn a little bit more about them–Tom the nerd has his own comic book fanzine. Also in this issue, the youths are a little more in fashion–the boys even have longer hair, there’s more topical references. It’s like suddenly the creative team realizes their story needs more fleshing out.
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The Hypno Trap, SUPERHEROES No. 4 (June ’67); art: Sal Trapani.

superheroes4.mrmodThe artist for the whole series, including covers, is Sal Trapani–a prolific penciller and inker for a host of publishers–not just Dell, but Marvel, DC, Gold Key, ACG, Charlton, Harvey,  et al.

⇐ Meet Mr. Mod, SUPERHEROES No. 4 (June ’67); art: Sal Trapani.

 Meanwhile, the writer is unknown. The Grand Comics Database had previously credited Don Arneson as the scripter, but he denies the dubious identification, so it’s up in the air what writer or writers may have worked on the series.

Next up: Another single issue I found around the same time as this one, also out of the blue–a real funny funny book: ARCHIE’S MADHOUSE No. 43.

superheroes.directory

form their own union of same

ARCHIE’S MADHOUSE was an attempt to ape the success of MAD magazine. There were a lot of comics and magazines like this at the time. Archie even put out a book called TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU BATS (’66) which is awfully close to TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU MAD, the original cover copy for MAD (from EC.

ARCHIE’S MADHOUSE No. 43 (October ’65) didn’t have a cover (of course) but I knew what it was by the indicia on the first page. The indicia is the bit of information that identifies the title, issue number, date and publisher–usually appearing at the bottom of the first page or the inside front cover

Super-hero teams are one theme for issue 43. Another is horror. In general, Archie comics were trying to play on these trends–while still staying within the Comics Code.

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The Dream Team Scheme, ARCHIE’S MADHOUSE No. 43 (October ’65); art: Joe Edwards.

In the Dream Team Scheme, Captain Sprocket is out of sorts because he’s not getting any adulation. He hits on the idea that these days super-heroes have to have a gang, so he tries to get his own group of heroes together.

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The Champ of Lamps, Blue Beam, ARCHIE’S MADHOUSE No. 43 (October ’65); art: Dexter Taylor.

In the following story we’re introduced to the Champ of Lamps, Blue Beam. I kind of figured out that this guy was a send-up of Green Lantern. Blue Beam is a member of the Union of Super Heroes–which turns out to have Captain Sprocket as a member (so he managed to get his own gang, after all). Blue Beam’s main problem is with an upstart super-hero named Ringo, a real bully.

While this was all a lot of fun, I found a big puzzler in the Dream Team Scheme. I recognized the other group of heroes that steals Captain Sprocket’s thunder and gives him the idea he should have his own gang. I recognized them from my favourite funny book of them all!

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The Dream Team Scheme, ARCHIE’S MADHOUSE No. 43 (October ’65); art: Joe Edwards.

superheroes.directory

challenge the giant epics of homer

There are three great things about the Homeric epics–THE ILIAD and THE ODYSSEY. One is that they’re really long with lots of stories in them. Another is that they begin in the middle of all the action. And the third is that they point toward a whole lot of other amazing stories (most of which we can only guess at because those didn’t survive in written form).

My favourite giant-sized funny book was like that.

It was long with many stories. It began in the middle of things. And it suggested a world of other stories that I could only guess about. This was the giant that I mentioned back in issue No. 1. As I said there, this comic had no cover and it was many years before I found out the real title (and a few years more before I could get an intact copy, including cover). As with the Fab Four, the title of the comic was not something I could have guessed from the content–not in a million years.

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It was called SUPER HEROES VERSUS SUPER VILLAINS–issue No. 1, but there were no further issues. Just like Dell, the publisher of this funny book was trying to exploit the generic super-heroes brand.

The actual publisher, like so much else, was a mystery to me at the time. The indicia for this book was published on the inside front cover, which was missing from my copy.

⇐ SUPER HEROES VERSUS SUPER VILLAINS No. 1 (1966); cover art: Paul Reinman.

ARCHIE’S MADHOUSE No. 43, by association, led me to believe that this giant-sized funny book must also be an Archie publication. I vaguely recall seeing these heroes, as well,  in a funny book featuring Archie and the gang.

But SUPER HEROES VERSUS SUPER VILLAINS had no inside content to indicate a link to Archie–no feature pages or house ads to suggest so. And even if my second-hand copy had had a cover, the indicia would probably have just added to my confusion. The indicia identifies the publisher as Radio Comics. The front cover in the style of the Marvel Comics Group, identifies the publisher as the Mighty Comics Group.

Even if I had seen the cover, it would have confused me. The cover credits Dick – Vic – Bob and Paul. Paul might be Paul Reinman who did the bulk of the art. Vic could be Victor Gorelik who did the colour. Dick might be Richard Goldwater, the editor.

partners in peril.colourBut who was Bob? Some people think that Robert Bernstein wrote these stories, since Bernstein had written earlier Fly stories –so that could be the Bob.

Fly Man’s Partners in Peril, SUPER HEROES VERSUS SUPER VILLAINS No. 1 (1966); story: Jerry Siegel; art: Paul Reinman; reprinted from ADVENTURES OF THE FLY No. 31 (May ’65). ⇒

However, it’s generally acknowledged now that Jerry Siegel wrote all of these adventures, having become the Mighty Comics Group’s chief scribe in the mid-60s–after yet another falling out with National Periodicals.

For more on this great comic see minim .005 Battle of the Super-Heroes.
superheroes.directory

keep secret their top-secret origins

The fact is that Radio Comics was an imprint of Archie. However, the origins of Radio Comics pre-date Archie. Before there was Archie, there was MLJ. The original Shield first appeared in PEP COMICS No. 1 (January ’40) published by MLJ Magazines. The Comet also debuted in the very same issue (looking quite different from the Comet of the ’60s).  The Black Hood, along with the Shield, was one of MLJ’s most popular heroes from the Golden Age. He first showed up in TOP NOTCH COMICS No. 9 (October ’40). Criminology professor John Raymond first became the Web in ZIP COMICS 27 (July ’42).

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The All-American teenager, Archie, began his life in PEP COMICS No. 22 (December ’41). As Archie’s popularity grew, he overtook the MLJ super-heroes, until MLJ changed its name to Archie Comic Publications.

⇐ Fly Girl for a Day, THE ADVENTURES OF THE FLY No. 20 (July ’62); art: John Rosenberger.

Archie Comics tried to get back in the super-hero game under the Radio Comics imprint at the end of the ’50s. Fly Man was originally called the Fly and first appeared in THE DOUBLE LIFE OF PRIVATE STRONG No. 1 (June ’59), before getting his own funny book, where his origin story was told–ADVENTURES OF THE FLY No. 1 (August ’59). Little Tommy Troy had a magic ring that transformed him into the Fly.

Joe Simon created the character and brought in his old partner Jack Kirby to help with the project. In concept it was a bit like the original Captain Marvel (a boy transformed by magic into a costumed adult with fantastic powers). Then when Jack Kirby was over at Marvel, Stan Lee created a very similar character name of Spider-Man.

Meanwhile, Tommy–Thomas–Troy grew up, became an attorney and took on a female partner, Fly Girl. The name of the Fly was altered to Fly Man. The popularity of FLY MAN waxed and waned, but it was through this comic that so many other old heroes (and new ones) were introduced–such as the Shield and the Web.

Of course, I knew none of this when I read and re-read and re-re-read SUPER HEROES VERSUS SUPER VILLAINS.
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could be mighty mighty

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The Shrinker, MIGHTY HEROES No.3 (May ’67).

The Mighty Crusaders should not be confused with the Mighty Heroes. The Mighty Heroes was a group of super-heroes played completely for laughs who had their own Saturday morning cartoon–usually broadcast along with UNDERDOG.

I got one of their funny books–published by Dell–and like Dell’s SUPERHEROES, MIGHTY HEROES ran for four issues in 1967. Mighty Mouse appeared at the back of my issue–MIGHTY HEROES No. 3 (May ’67).

Then there was ASTRO BOY. Unbeknownst to me the name of this character in Japanese is Tetsuwan Atomu–the Mighty Atom. Astro Boy also appeared on Saturday morning TV. NBC who did the American version of the Astro Boy cartoons, licensed the character to Gold Key. The first issue of Gold Key’s ASTRO BOY fell into my lap, but when I looked around for more issues, I could never find another one.

Little did I know that there was a big stink over Gold Key using Astro Boy in a funny book. Astro’s creator Osamu Tezuka denounced the work. But to my eyes, this was good stuff.

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Attack of the Mud People, ASTRO BOY No. 1 (August ’65); story: Fred Fredericks; art: unknown.

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smell as sweet

In addition to the 1966 giant-sized SUPER HEROES VERSUS SUPER VILLAINS from the Mighty Comics Group and the 1966/67 SUPERHEROES title from Dell–there was also a one-shot king-sized MARVEL SUPER HEROES in 1966, followed by a giant-sized MARVEL SUPER HEROES ongoing series in 1967 (taking its numbering from the previous run of FANTASY MASTERPIECES). Meanwhile, of course, DC had the Legion of Super-Heroes.

DC and Marvel, in an attempt to stop the scavenging of the super-hero label, joined forces.  They jointly trademarked the super-hero (or superhero or super hero) name for comic books, so no one else could exploit it. Whether a name like super-hero can be trademarked is another question. By the ’60s the label had already fallen into such general use that it could be argued as too generic to be meaningfully trademarked.

And I’m not sure that DC and Marvel in their effort to corner the market on super-heroes did themselves any favours. The mid ’60s were a time when you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a guy in a cape. That big trend died off as the ’60s came to a close and a lot of publishers were dying off, as well. It might’ve been better for the industry to keep the competition going.

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For more Super stuff, see 61 Things that are Super.

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COMING UP . . .

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A Convention of Paper Dolls!

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8 DAYS, LOUISE!

. . . for the third week in June, fixing a hole where the rain gets in and stops my mind from wandering . . .

MYSTERYMEN1June 15 ’39, ADVENTURE COMICS No. 40 (July ’39) goes on sale, as Sandman makes his first appearance in that book–although this is actually his second appearance by date, given that he also appeared in the 1939 issue of NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR COMICS–sold at the New York World’s Fair that year, beginning April 30 ’39. Story by Gardner Fox and art by Bert Christman, with the cover featuring the Sandman by Creig Flessel who would become the regular Sandman artist as of issue 44. And MYSTERY MEN COMICS No. 1 (August ’39) from Fox Features debuts the Green Mask and the Blue Beetle–cover by Lou Fine.

June 16 ’39, the first issue of SMASH COMICS (August ’39)– features Bozo the Robot on the cover by Ed Cronin and inside a special feature on America’s number one box office star, Mickey Rooney, by Bernard Baily.
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E-MAN 10 last issueCharlton puts out the last issue of E-MAN–No. 10 (September ’75)–on sale June 17 ’75. Painted cover by Joe Staton.

MORE FUN COMICS No. 82 (August ’42) comes out on the 18th of June ’42–as Green Arrow and Speedy plunge back through the mists of time to Sherwood Forest in Robin Hood’s Revenge! And born on the 18th of June ’42, JAMES PAUL McCARTNEY. Well Happy Birthday to YOU!

The Beatles, BIRTHDAY

And when Macca turns 32 . . . Marvel Comics releases MARVEL TREASURY EDITION No. 1 (1974), a collection of Spider-Man stories, copying DC’s success with the giant-sized tabloid format; edited by Stan Lee; cover by John Romita. Plus SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN No. 1 (August ’74), a black and white magazine format with mature content; edited by Stan Lee; cover by Boris Vallejo. [For those who can’t do the match that’s a June 18 ’74 e.t.a for the drugstore racks.]

Coming out on June 19 ’53, BATMAN No. 78 (August-September ’53) features the Manhunter from Mars [a prototype of J’Onn J’Onzz] and Batman of the Mounties.

Below: reprint from BATMAN No. 223 [G-73] (July-August ’70); story: David V. Reed; art: Lew Sayer Schwartz & Stan Kaye.

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On newsstands the 20th of June ’38, Centaur presents AMAZING MYSTERY FUNNIES Vol. 1, No. 1 (August ’38), with a cover by Bill Everett.

It’s the 100th meeting of the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA–which just happens to also feature their tenth yearly cross-over with the Justice Society of America–and as if full-bursting roster of JLA, JSA alumni isn’t enough–Len Wein, Dick Dillin and Joe Giella kick in the long lost Seven Soldiers of Victory for extra measure–in the August ’72 issue (No. 100)–cover by Nick Cardy. Meanwhile, over in the Marvel Universe, the Amazing Spider-Man teams up with the Uncanny X-Men in the September ’72 issue of MARVEL TEAM-UP (No. 4)–by Gerry Conway, Gil Kane and Steve Mitchell; cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia. Both comics are timed to be in the spinner racks on the20th of June ’72.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERIICA 100A

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. . . for the last week in June, every summer we can rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight if it’s not too dear . . .

Now listen up hombre, get on yer cayuse and gallop on down to the trading post ’cause there’s a parcel of them ALL-AMERICAN WESTERN issues No. 121 (August-September ’51) for the 22nd of June ’51 and that there DC duster features the Unmasking of Johnny Thunder by Wild Bob Kanigher, Doc Alex Toth and Sy the Kid Barry–reprinted in THE GREATEST 1950S STORIES EVER TOLD (1990).

superman annual no. 1At your friendly newsdealer June 23 ’60, the 80 page Giant-size SUPERMAN ANNUAL No. 1 (1960) presents an all-star collection of Superman stories selected by editor Mort Weisinger–cover by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye.

With the trend toward teen humour mags, Sheldon Mayer’s long running autobiographical feature is pressed into service, as SCRIBBLY No. 1 (August-September ’48) hits the newstands on June 25 ’48.
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You’ve heard of the Whistler, the Mysterious Traveler, the Man in Black and the Strange Dr. Weird–but thrill-seekers mark the 27th of June 27 on your 1952 calendar, that’s the date when the new comic book chiller, THE PHANTOM STRANGER, makes his suspenseful debut. The August-September ’52 cover dated first issue boasts stories from Manley Wade Wellman and John Broome, with artwork from Carmine Infantino, Sy Barry, Joe Giella and Murphy Anderson.

It’s a cover to cover glamour fest on June 29 ’58, when the one-shot KATY KEENE CHARM (September ’58) arrives on your neighbourhood newsstand. Created by Bill Woggon, with ideas from you the reader!
KATY KEENE CHARM No. 1 (September '58)

Batman Annual No. 1Watch for these precious items hitting the stands on June 29 ’61: Archie Comics introduces a new mystery man, for their thrilling line of super-hero titles, in THE ADVENTURES OF THE JAGUAR No. 1 (September ’61). Learn 1001 Secrets of Batman and Robin in the 80 page Giant-size BATMAN ANNUAL No. 1 (1961), featuring classic tales selected by editor Jack Schiff–cover by Swan, Sprang, Moldoff and Paris. And in an imaginary story, Superman brings Hercules and Samson into the present from the ancient past to fix them up with Lois and Lana, in ACTION COMICS 279 (August ’61).

LoisLane77.houseWarning: the 29th of June ’67 is the most heart-thumping, shocking, nail-biting day in all of DC comics history! Superman’s cataclysmic clash with Zha-Vam concludes when it becomes an all out Battle of the Gods, in ACTION COMICS No. 353 (September ’67). AQUAMAN is attacked by both Ocean Master and Black Manta in issue No. 35 (September-October ’67).  Sgt. Rock is in command of a firing squad for a deserter in OUR ARMY AT WAR No. 184 (September ’67). After a change of government on Earth, the Legion become outlaws, with some of them being sent to Takron-Galtos, while others remain on Earth as an undercover resistance movement, in ADVENTURE COMICS No. 359 (September ’67). Ron-Avon of Belgor challenges the Boy of Steel to a deadly duel that will test his code against killing, in SUPERBOY No. 141 (September ’67). SUPERMAN’S GIRL FRIEND LOIS LANE No.77 [G-39] (September-October ’67) is an 80 Page Giant collection of Shockers! edited by Mort Weisinger; cover by Kurt Schaffenberger–frankly the scariest comic book ever printed. And you’ll be shocked at the events that cause Batman to write his last will and testament, in DETECTIVE COMICS No. 366 (September ’67)–cover by Infantino and Anderson.

Heroes of the future and the past appear in the present ACTION COMICS No. 267 (August ’60) as Superman meets Hercules in the 20th Century! And Supergirl meets the Legion of Super-Heroes for her first time.  Make sure you’re on time to get this issue arriving the 30th of June ’60.

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All on sale dates might be approximate, as provided by Mike’s Amazing World of Comics (The Newsstand) and by other sources.

All characters, logos, and images are owned and © 2013, 2015 by current copyright holders. They are used here for educational and review purposes.

revised 2015

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