Tuesday, November 24, 2020

 

   


            
Let me tell you about the Challengers of the Unknown.

                My relationship with the Challengers began in the early days of my comic book reading and stretched all the way into my DC editorial days. I loved the Challengers, but was continually frustrated by them at the same time.

                It all began in that magical summer of 1958 at Camp Tockwogh. I've written about the camp before and recall that it was a hotbed of comics. They were everywhere at camp. On just about any given flat surface, a comic book could be found. They appear
ed to be community-owned books, passed around from camper to camper until they were just about falling apart by summer's end. Lots of them were very memorable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, for me, many of these were my first encounters with the characters.

                Secondly, DC Comics in particular, seemed to be on a Silver Age creative high in that summer of '58. If one was to look back then, they would find some spectacular stories: Superman #123, August, 1958, featured the "test" story for Supergirl who, less than a year later debuted in Action Comics #252, May 1959. Bizarro made his first appearance in Superboy #68, October, 1958. Batman was in his Silver Age glory fighting crooks and aliens in his own title, as well as Detective Comics. The Martian Manhunter had secured his position as a popular back-up feature in Detective Comics as well. House of Mystery, House of Secrets


, Mystery In Space and all the other DC anthology titles were at the top of their collective game. And there was Blackhawk, holding his own after being bought from Quality Comics a few years earlier. Jack Kirby had begun drawing the Green Arrow stories in World's Finest Comics and Adventure Comics as well as doing the Challengers of the Unknown.

  
             
Like I said above, let me tell you about the Challengers of the Unknown. My first encounter with them was the issue I saw at camp, Challengers of the Unknown #3, dated August/September, 1958, cover featuring "The Invincible Challenger". I saw it, but I didn't read it. I do not remember why I didn't read it at the time. I can only assume some other camp activity commanded my attention. But I didn't forget it. The image of the Challenger Rocky, emerging from a crashed space capsule, shooting flames from his hands as his teammates looked on in horror, stuck with me forever. This was one of my first frustrations regarding the Challengers. (Other comic book historians have noted that the Challengers, and issue #3 in particular, were the predecessors of Marvel's Fantastic Four, which Kirby created some years later--but that's another story).

                Now let me tell you about walking to school. I walked to school. There were no school busses, no parents drove me and there were no car pools. My brother and I walked to
school through our suburban neighborhoods. At the time, it seemed like a long journey, but it was actually less than a mile. As we walked along, we were joined by many more kids also headed to the Alfred I. DuPont Elementary School. The walk home was always a pleasure. School was out and some genius had erected a Dairy Queen right in our path. I formed many friendships on those walks to and from school, some of them lifelong. The school is no longer there, it has since been demolished for a shopping center. The Diary Queen is now a hot dog restaurant.

                One friend I made on my walks home, whose name I sadly no longer remember, gave me a memorable comic book experience. I do remember his house. In fact, I recently found it on Google Maps. It had a wonderful front porch that I would often visit on my way home. On the floor of this porch were scattered dozens of comic books. It was a stopping point along the way, were I could sit and read a few comic books. Since I was usually expected home, this friend would often let me borrow some issues as long as I returned them on my way to school the next day. I never took advantage of the privilege, which is why I remember some comic books vividly, but I didn't actually own them. They had been loans.

                On one truly memorable day, my friend lent me three comic books: Tales of Suspense #2, March, 1959 (with a spectacular Steve Ditko cover), Weird Science-Fantasy #26, December, 1954 (the Flying Saucer report) and Showcase #11, November/Decemb
er, 1957 (featuring the third appearance of the Challengers of the Unknown).

                Indicating the Weird Science-Fantasy, my friend informed me, "The stories in this one are true." (And they were. The book was filled with short one-, two- or three-page adaptations from actual news reports of UFO sightings.) However, when I returned home, I forgot which one he said was true and misremembered it as being the Showcase issue featuring the Challengers of the Unknown. The epic story in this issue, "The Day the Earth Blew Up" was written and drawn by Jack Kirby and I first read it, believing it was true. Now this belief was reinforced by some of the story content. For one, an early scene takes place in the Arctic base, Little America. Now I had seen Little America on one of Walt Disney's True Life Adventures, so I knew it really existed. Secondly, the story included aliens, and I was well-aware of UFO reports (even before reading the Weird-Science Fantasy issue). Thirdly, at the end of the story, after the Challengers and the American military had defeated the alien invaders, Challenger Rocky Davis says, "Mankind will never know how close it came to disaster!" To which Red Ryan responds, "…or the part we Challengers had in preventing it!"

                All of this went to convincing me the story was true and, in an effort to prevent a world-wide panic, the government had "hid" the story in an innocent comic book. I held onto this belief for quite some time, probably until I encountered my next issue of the Challengers of the Unknown. Of course, this made Showcase #11 featuring the Challengers one of my favorite comic books!

                Before I continue, let me tell you a little more about Showcase #11. It is a landmark comic book, both in comics history and in the career of creator Jack Kirby. The book is filled with "Kirby concepts"; ideas and visuals he would use again, years later. First of all was the aliens' method of travel: A teleportational "tunnel" which would appear again in Kirby's Fourth World series as a "Boom Tube".






             

            The story was divided up into four "chapters," each with its own "splash" panel, most of the time a full page. One of those chapter openings featured a stunning perspective shot of the aliens floating down a "gravity shaft" with two of the Challengers as their prisoners. Years later, Kirby re-created this page in Fantastic Four #7, October, 1962.  

                So my introduction to the Challengers was sporadic and out of order. I had first seen them on the cover of issue #3 of their own comic, but the first story I actually read was Showcase #11, one of their tryout issues. I finally caught up with the Challengers again with issue #9, August/September, 1959. By this time, Jack Kirby had left and the book was being draw very well by artist Bob Brown.

                I have heard many reasons as to why Jack Kirby left DC back then and why Challengers of the Unknown #8 was his last issue. Some of the reasons were related to disagreements over the breathtaking Sky Masters of the Space Force comic strip by Kirby and Wally Wood which editor Jack Schiff had brokered. Another was supposedly over the length of stories; Kirby preferred book-length epics, allowing for more intricate plots, where Schiff liked short stories, believing his younger audience lacked attention spans for longer tales. They compromised with a longer lead feature and a shorter back-up story in each issue when most of the DC comics at the time featured three stories in each issue. Of course, Kirby took the book-length concept with him when he left to join Marvel.

                The original run of the Challengers of the Unknown ran for 74 issues, followed by 6 issues of reprints. After three issues as a new lead feature in the reprint title Super-Team Family in 1976, the Challengers returned to their own title with #81, June/July, 1970, with me editing. I was thrilled. There were a number of things I wante
d to accomplish with the characters and the title, but time and other factors did not allow me the opportunity.

                As I mentioned earlier, there were lots of frustrations surrounding the team. For example, the writers and editors seemed to have some trouble deciding on Prof's last name. He started off as "Prof Haley", became "Prof Hale", and then "Prof Harrison" and back again to "Prof Haley" before it stuck. Sometimes, he had two different names in the same issue. Red Ryan started off as a "circus daredevil", but later became an expert rock climber. Ace's piloting and Rocky's champion Olympic wrestling background remained consistent.




                Another thing I always had an issue with was the Challengers' uniforms. In their first appearance, they wore one-piece jumpsuits like Ace did, their aviator member. They were drawn as one-piece, but the colorist made them two-tone, giving them burgundy tops and purple trousers. Later Showcase issues had them modified a bit so they were clearly a shirt and pants with a belt. When they finally got their own book, they had gone back to the solid burgundy, which they wore until issue #43, April/May, 1965 when someone made a horrible decision to give them yellow and red costumes "super-hero" togs. The uniforms were improved in #70, October/November, 1969, going back to a burgundy jumpsuit with a yellow stripe and fur collar.

                One thing I really hated were the god-awful hot pink Challengers' uniforms that they wore in the issues I edited. This wardrobe directive had come from the publisher. I had no control over them, but I loathed them.

                When I was reading and editing the Challengers, their real first names were never revealed. Maybe they were given first names in later issues I never read, but I always had my own ideas about what they would be. Their first names would have been: Alan Morgan (which, upon reflection, sounds a bit too much like "Alan Moore", but I made this name up long before I knew of Alan Moore), Harrison Haley (picking up on the early issues' indecision on exactly what his name was supposed to be), Dennis Ryan (because I had a childhood friend named Denny Ryan) and Robert Davis (because it sounded like some executive's name, a contrast to Rocky's rough exterior).

                The Challengers was the first Showcase success story, earning their own comic title even before the Flash. If the Flash was the first story of the Silver Age skyscraper, the Challengers helped build the foundation.

                I didn't follow the Challengers much after I stopped editing them, but they will always have a special place in my early memories of comic book reading. And Showcase #11, featuring the Challengers of the Unknown will always remain one of my favorite comic books!

 

Next: Let me tell you about Superman!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020


                Let me tell you about summer camp and comic books.
                Sometimes, the reason a specific comic book becomes a favorite is the circumstances under which it is first read. Sometimes it's where it was first read as well as its content. There was a time in my comic book collecting history when I could remember exactly where I bought each and every issue I owned.
                Back in the days before comic shops, comic books could be found it all sorts of stores and locations. I never quite understood the distribution of comic books in my home town of Wilmington, Delaware. I lived north of the city. In the pharmacies and five-and-dime stores where I bought my comic books, I usually encountered DC Comics, Dell Comics, Harvey Comics or Archie Comics. For some reason, Charlton Comics, Prize Comics, ACG Comics and Atlas Comics never seemed to make it out of the city.
                My theory (and that's all it is) is that, at the time, the comic books from publishers I regularly saw had larger print runs than the smaller publishers. When the comic books were unloaded from the Wilmington train station downtown, they ended up on trucks. The trucks would begin their deliveries in town and work their way to the suburbs. By the time they got to my neighborhood retailers, I theorize, they had run out of the Charlton, Prize, ACG and Atlas, and only had DC, Dell, Harvey or Archie left to sell. That's why Atlas, Charlton and the rest of that group always seemed "different" to me. It was if those comics were from "the wrong side of the tracks," and therefore had a whole dissimilar appeal for me. As I said, this is only my theory.
                I would only find these "different" comic books if I was downtown on a shopping trip with my parents. When I was a little older, I bravely (and rather foolishly) rode my bike 'way into downtown searching for comic books. It wasn't long before I knew all the locations for comic books. There was a little smoke shop and magazine store across the city bus garage on Delaware Avenue. There was Ma's Magazines near the center of town. There was an outdoor magazine stand on one of the wider streets. There was a newsstand down in the railroad station. There was Big Nose Sammy's magazine store near the newspaper office. (Big Nose Sammy was a well-known Wilmington character, surly and unpleasant to kids, but someone who had a big supply of comics in his back corner.) There was also a store across from the Y.M.C.A. and one on Matson Run. There was a huge discount department store called Gaylord's that sold comic books. Biking to all of these places took me a good two or more hours, back when kids had a little more freedom and free time. And, as I said, I was able to always recall which comics I found at which store I had visited.
                These buying  jaunts occurred later in my comic book reading life, sometime after I had actually discovered comics. The exact time and place I discovered certain comic books have also been burned into my brain.
                Let me tell you about Camp Tockwogh!
                Tockwogh is a Y.M.C.A. camp on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, about 60

miles from where I lived in Wilmington. It's still there and my memories of this fantastic place are still very clear in my mind. The camp consisted of many pine wood cabins scattered though the woods, a huge mess hall, a rec room or two, an open-air chapel and various other buildings. Deep in the woods there was Hidden Lake. The camp sits on the edge of a 100-foot bluff above a rocky sand beach of the Chesapeake. When I was a camper, there was a gigantic wooden staircase leading down to the dock where we swam and had swimming lessons.

                I first went to Tockwogh when I was 7 years old in 1955.
The camp was divided by ages, assigned to specific "tribes", identified by different colored t-shirts. First and second graders were the Cherokees in red shirts with white lettering. The third and fourth graders were the Algonquin, in their white shirts with green lettering. Dressed in blue shirts with white lettering were the Iroquois from grades fifth and sixth. The older campers were the Sioux, who wore civies. We paddled canoes, learned archery, had arts & crafts, had three-legged races, had sack races and treasure hunts. We played softball and capture the flag. We sat around a campfire at night and heard ghost stories. It was wonderful.
                (Quick aside: One of more memorable ghost stories one of the counselors told around the campfire was, as I discovered many years later, a re-telling of a story from Tales From the Crypt #21, December/January, 1950. "House of Horror" had been written by Al Feldstein and drawn by Harvey Kurtzman. The tale was an account of fraternity brothers who were driven insane by whatever it was they encountered within the title's "House of Horror." The camp Tockwogh counselor had re-told the story in the first person, as if he had been one of the fraternity brothers. He ended his narrative by screaming like a madman and running off into the woods. It was hilarious and scary at the same time, in the grand EC Comics tradition.)
               While our camping days were filled with activities, we also had quite a bit of free time. I used that time to read comic books. I don't know if the camp provided the comic books, or campers brought them from home, or if the counselors  supplied them, or a combination of all three. Whatever the case, comic books were in the cabins, in the rec room, in the mess hall, and even down at the archery range. The best place to read them, however, was in the cabins. The best time to read them was at night with a flashlight under the covers!
                The eerie atmosphere of the cabins in the woods, surrounded by the scent of pine and the sound of chirping crickets,(not to mention the occasional "boom" from the U.S. Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground across the bay) was the perfect setting to delve into the world of comic books. In 1956, it was in these almost supernatural surroundings that I first discovered House of Mystery!
                Let me tell you about House of Mystery. House of Mystery was one of DC Comics' anthology titles which also included House of Secrets, Tales of the Unexpected, and My Greatest Adventure. These titles stated out as supernatural or adventure stories. In the early issues, the stories would be supernatural. But just a few issues later, they would present stories of the "supernatural" that would turn out to be hoaxes with logical explanations at the end. Later, they would evolve into science fiction titles.
                Although the comic had begun in 1951, the first one I read under the covers of my upper camp bunk, aided by my flashlight, was House of Mystery #46, January, 1956 with a cover by Bill Ely. This was a "transitional" issue, featuring a semi-supernatural story, a couple of crime mystery stories, as well as a science fiction story. The opening tale, "The Bird of Fate", was illustrated by Jim Mooney. The identities of the writers of these stories have, unfortunately, been lost to history. This first story fell into the category of "semi-supernatural". A crook covets a rare talking bird and murders its owner to possess it. A clever detective, suspecting the foul deed, rigs up microphones to make the murderer believe the bird is hounding him into confessing. It works, but the reader is left wondering is the murdered man's spirit was really speaking through the bird.
                The next story was drawn by Ralph Mayo. Entitled "Dead Man's Diary", the story is one of vengeance. The police receive a diary in the mail telling the story of a man seeking revenge on a wealthy businessman who caused his father's death. The businessman had marooned his father on a deserted island where he starved to death. By writing anonymous letters to the businessman, the diary's writer convinced the businessman that someone was planning to murder him by poison. He then got hired by the businessman as his "food taster," tasting all his food before he could eat it. He then staged events so the two of them were trapped

in a mountain cabin by an avalanche he'd rigged. While there, the man died, telling the businessman he had been poisoned by some of the food in the cabin. But he'd passed away, not by food poisoning, but by a condition he'd been warned about by his doctor. He knew the businessman would be terrified of eating any of the food in the cabin and would starve to death.

                The police dug out the cabin and did indeed find the diary writer and the businessman both dead: The man by natural causes, and the businessman by starvation. At first there didn't seem to be a supernatural element to this story except for the unanswered question of how the dead man sent the diary to the police in the first place. Oddly enough, this question is not even addressed in the story.
                The next tale was another "semi-supernatural" tale of vengeance. In "The Phantom Arena",
drawn by John Prentice, a developer, Tom Jason, is just finishing construction on a new sports arena for a large city. One of the construction workers, Carl Travers, is insanely jealous of Jason. The two men grew up together in the same neighborhood, but Travers became a lowly worker while Jason became a wealthy developer.
                There is an accident at the construction site and Travers is believed

killed, his body washed out to sea through the sewers beneath the new building. Jason is devastated over the death of his boyhood friend. However, a few days later, Travers' long lost twin brother, a researcher in psychic phenomena, appears stating that the spirit of his brother blames Jason for his death. He claims there is now a curse on the building. Jason doesn't believe this at all. However, an accident occurs at the beginning of every event in the new building. Jason is certain Travers' brother is causing these catastrophes, but he has no proof. In reality, Carl Travers survived the initial accident and is now pretending to be his own "twin brother." For his final act of vengeance, he plants a time bomb rigged to the building's clock. However, as he climbs down from the top of the building he sees the clock's hands moving ahead, seemingly on their own, detonating the bomb prematurely. Travers is caught in the explosion. With his dying breath he confesses to Jason. Jason is again devastated because it was he who, ironically, changed the clock, setting it to the time of Carl Travers' original accident as a tribute.

                It was the final story in this issue, however, which was to make it a favorite of mine. "Black
Magic for Sale" was the cover story, also illustrated by Ely. Illuminated under the covers by my flashlight, the spooky tale told of a creepy little curio shop run by an equally creepy little curator. In his shop is a fantastic array of seemingly supernatural items priced far too high to be sold. The items include a crystal ball that shows a realistic futuristic city, building blocks that move by thought, a doll that grows on command, a bottle that pours a never ending stream of milk, a toy flying saucer that

flies through solid objects and a camera that takes 3-D solid images. And finally: a solid gold doll house.

                The locals believe the little old shop keeper to be a sorcerer or wizard and shun the shop. However news of the solid gold dollhouse attracts robbers who break in one night. They try to steal the doll house, but activate a button on its edge causing a fantastic change. The noise attracts the proprietor who reveals the truth to the stunned crooks. These items are not magical at all. The little old man discovered them in a crashed flying saucer. They are actually toys from another planet!
                As the cops arrive, the proprietor shows them the effect of the doll house's pushed button. It has released a gas that has shrunk the crooks. The little old man theorizes this would allow an alien
child the ability to play in their miniature house. However, he knows of no way to reverse the process but will gladly allow the shrunken crooks to live in the house for the rest of their lives.
                I had never read such a tale and it haunted me for years. Re-reading it still gives me the chills and shivers I first felt when reading under the covers by flashlight at Camp Tockwogh.
                I could never have imagined that 230 issue later, I would be editor of House of Mystery. This is why #46 will always be one of my favorite comic books.


* * * * *
                Next: Let me tell you about the Challengers of the Unknown!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Batman #105

            

                     Let me tell you about buying comics in the late 1950s.
                Sometimes it wasn't easy. During that time, there were no comic book specialty stores. There weren't even any WaWa or 7-11 stores with magazine shelves. However, comic books were on sale almost everywhere. They could be found at pharmacies (called "drug stores" back then), grocery stores, department stores, magazine stores, candy stores and at bus and train stations.  Just about every "Mom & Pop" general store had a wall of shelves for magazines and comics or a spinner rack.
                Of course, at only 8 or 9 years old, a comic book fan would have to depend on his or her parents to take him or her to one or more of these stores unless he or she was lucky enough to have one in his or her neighborhood. I was lucky. Within walking distance of my house, there was Tigue's Drug Store, which had a pharmacist, a lunch counter and soda fountain, racks of greeting cards, dozens upon dozens of convenience items and a large selection of magazines and comic books.
                I had a modest allowance, and if I could save it and scrape up a few extra found pennies, nickels and dimes, I could toddle over to Tigue's and buy some comic books. After all, back then, they were only ten cents apiece!
                Unfortunately, this didn't happen often enough for me. I rarely had the funds, time or unsupervised freedom to dash off and buy comic books. But once I had the opportunity to buy comic books at the most wondrous place I had ever encountered in my young life.
                Let me tell you about Booth's Corner.   
                Tucked along a side road, about a half mile from the Delaware and Pennsylvania border,
lies the Booth's Corner Farmers' Market. Originally, Booth’s Corner was opened by Earl Phillips, a farmer, in the 1930s. He used his 13-acre farm as a sales ground for local Amish farmers and other merchants looking for a friendly place to sell their goods. The site consisted of a huge open farmland with a large wooden barn. As the years passed, more sheds and buildings were added to the original, as more merchants wanted to become part of the community that was quickly forming. People from across the county soon considered it to be the best place for farm fresh produce, poultry, and meats.
                In 1973, fire destroyed the original barn, but today, Booth's Corner is a huge building, on the original site, housing over 100 merchants and several dozen food vendors.
                In the summer of 1957, my parents took my brother and me to Booth's Corner. I guess curiosity took them there, and once that was satisfied, they never returned. But for me, it was a dirt-floored wonderland. In my memory, the entrance, at the time, was a huge tent, probably just some kind of temporary opening. It was evening and the whole interior was lit by a string of hanging light bulbs. Just inside this entrance was a man selling roasted peanuts, and the aroma permeated the entire place.
                As my brother and I approached the second table in the building, we stopped short. At about waist level in front of us was a huge plywood table covered with comic books! We had never seen so many scattered in one location. There must have been hundreds of them. Behind the table, selling these books was, I swear, the Wicked Witch of the West herself: an old woman with a scarf around her head, hunched over, with a scowl on her face. She was selling the comics for a nickel apiece. She wouldn't let us page through them. We could just select the ones we wanted, pay her, and move on.
                There were all kinds of old, back-issue comic books there: horror, funny animals, westerns romance, mystery, science-fiction, and super-heroes. The variety seemed endless. The first one I saw (as later research told me) was, Mystic #53, November, 1956. The cover, by artist Bill Everett, terrified me. As a couple cowered in terror, monstrous hands were bursting through a wooden door.
Although mesmerized by this cover, I wasn't about to buy a comic that was certain to give me nightmares. I dropped it like a hot potato and looked for something else.

                (A brief aside: The image of that particular Mystic cover, however, was burned forever in my brain. Some 24 years after I originally saw it, as an editor at DC Comics, I commissioned a cover from artists Rich Buckler and Steve Mitchell. It was for the Mister E character in Secrets of Haunted House #34, March, 1981. That cover paid homage to the Mystic cover that had terrified my 9-year-old sensibilities.)
                The next book I saw on the Booth's Corner table was Batman #105, February, 1957.
                Let me tell you about Batman and me.
                I met first Batman in Joe's Barber Shop on the Concord Pike in my Wilmington neighborhood (right across the street from Tigue's Drug Store). It was there I read many a comic book while waiting to get my hair cut. I remember glancing at a Batman comic there, but didn't have time to read it. The first Batman story I actually read was at my cousin's house in Kentucky, some months later, and it wasn't strictly a Batman story. It was a Batman-Superman team-up in World's Finest Comics #90, September/October, 1957, entitled "The
Super-Batwoman", written by Edmond Hamilton and drawn by Dick Sprang and Stan Kay. The cover was by Curt Swan and Ray Burnley. In that story, Batwoman gained temporary super-powers in an adventure with Superman, Batman and Robin.
                Picking up Batman #105, there were three characters I immediately recognized on the Sheldon Moldoff cover: Batman, Robin and their guest-star: Batwoman. I couldn’t give the old witch of Booth's Corner my nickel fast enough so that I could actually have my first-owned issue of Batman! I was so excited I didn't even look at any of the other old comics on that table.
                One of the great things about collecting comics in the
late 1950s and early '60s was the hunt! Searching for the best and newest places to purchase or read comic books added to the excitement of the books themselves. Tigue's Drug Store is gone. Sadly, I recently learned that Joe the Barber has passed away. The original Booth's Corner barn has been replaced by a modern building. The memories of these places are all that's left, fueled by the re-reading of the comic books found at these wonderful places.
                When I got home, later that night, I curled up on my bed to read the issue and it became (and still remains today), one of my favorite comic books!

                First of all, it retained the smell of roasted peanuts and, as I look back on it today, it is one of the quintessential Silver Age Batman comic books. All of the things that made the Batman of that era unique were contained in the three stories. It began with the cover tale, "The Challenge of the Batwoman", written by Batman co-creator Bill Finger and drawn by Moldoff and Charles Paris (ghosting for "Bob Kane" whose signature
appeared on every story). The story was an intricately-plotted tale wherein Batman injures his leg while pursuing a masked criminal with Robin. The criminal is also injured and loses his memory. Batwoman witnesses Robin pursuing the unmasked crook and mistakenly believes the crook to be Batman. She takes him back to her own Batcave beneath her mansion (It appears that all of Gotham City's millionaires have mansions built over caves. Wealthy heiress Kathy Kane, secretly Batwoman, was no exception--and there were at least two more that I can recall). There, she plans to re-train the amnesia-suffering criminal. Contacting Batman via his belt radio, Robin is instructed to go along with Batwoman's plan for awhile as it will prevent the Gotham City underworld from realizing the real Batman is laid up.
                (Another aside: "challenge" and "underworld" were two words I first learned from reading this comic book!)
                Of course all goes awry when the criminal regains his memory at just the wrong moment, but Batman comes to the rescue using a special leg brace to fool the criminals into believing he is uninjured. It also protects his secret identity when Kathy Kane later encounters Bruce Wayne with a sprained ankle. At the end of the 10-page fiasco, Batwoman promises to retire because she screwed up so badly. Since I bought this back issue  after I read the World's Finest Comics Batwoman story, things were out of order for
me. At the end of the Superman-Batman tale, the two established heroes agree to allow Batwoman to remain an active super-hero. (Really nice of the two chauvinists).
                Since Batwoman was in the first Batman story I ever read, I thought she was part of the series all along. In later years I realized this wasn't the case. She was a mystery to me on some levels. For example, I never understood her costume's color scheme. What did bright yellow and red have to do with bats? I thought she looked more like "Robingirl". I always wondered if her costume was originally designed to be more like Batman's but just ended up being colored wrong.
                The middle story in Batman #105, "The Second Boy Wonder", was Detective Comics!). In this tale, returning from a case, Batman is shocked to learn that the Robin role has been taken over by a young lad named Freddy Lloyd.
written by France Herron and drawn by the same Moldoff-Paris team as the first. This was my favorite tale in the book. Robin had been invented to give readers someone with whom they could identify in the Batman stories. That theory worked 100% for me when I was 9 years old. I loved stories that centered on Robin (22 years later, I would be writing his solo adventures in
                According to Freddy, Robin (Dick Grayson) had been injured and crawled to Freddy's home seeking aid. Freddy said he was the son of an Olympic decathlon champion and had the ability to substitute for Robin until he recovered. Later in the story, he proved himself every much the equal to Robin and received such praise from both Batman and Alfred the butler.
                "Freddy" is horrified to see how easily Batman and Alfred dismissed Dick Grayson and reveals himself to actually be Dick in disguise. He did this to prove he was every bit the disguise artist Batman was. When he sees Bruce Wayne and Alfred laughing at him, he realizes they knew all along he was the real Robin. Batman's detective skills had kicked in and he easily saw through Dick's disguise. I'll avoid any more spoilers and not reveal how Batman pierced Dick's disguise. All in all, it was a fun and informative 8-page story for this new Batman and Robin fan.
                The final story in my first Batman comic was written by Arnold Drake and was entitled
"The Mysterious Bat Missile", another Moldoff-Paris 8-page adventure. Pure science fiction, this tale begins with a strange "Bat-Missile" appearing in the Bat-Cave. Controlled by thought, the craft can fly and pass through solid objects. Even though they have no idea where it came from, the Dynamic Duo used the weird craft to thwart a gang of crooks. At the end, they find it was a gift from the "Batman of the future," who saw their current 1957 difficulties in his "time telescope". Using "chromium power units," he transported the "Batmobile of the future" to aid them as a thank-you for inspiring his career. He used the last of the "chromium power units" to retrieve the missile and thank them in person. He and the missile then vanish forever.
                The science fiction element was one of the things that distinguished the Batman of this era from all the others. Gone was the mysterious Batman of the pre-Robin days. Gone were the murderous villains, now replaced by various robbers, stealing money, furs, paintings or museum treasures. Gone were the dark, foreboding nighttime adventures as Batman and Robin cruised around in broad daylight, somehow responding to Commissioner Gordon's Bat-Signal projected onto a clear, blue sky.
                But this Batman had a cartoony appeal. He had the big, 1950s Batmobile. He had his utility belt and his silken cord with which to swing. He had science-fiction adventures. And he had Alfred the Butler and the Batcave. (Although in the second story, the entrance was shown to be on road high above a mountain cliff, a depiction I never saw again). Somehow, in some way, this issue still invokes the memory and atmosphere of the dark, but garishly lit interior of Booth's Corner. Re-reading it, I remember the smell of the roasted peanuts and the horrifying cover of the nearby Mystic comic. I remember the old witch who sold it to me and the excitement of actually owning my first Batman comic book.
                It has an honored place in my collection as one of my favorite comic books.        

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Next: Let me tell you about summer camp and the House of Mystery.    

Thursday, May 7, 2020




Let me tell you about myself and comic books.
                I don't remember when I first became aware of comic books. It might have been in the waiting room of my pediatrician's office, or it could have been in my local barber shop waiting for a haircut. It might have been at my cousin's house in Kentucky, or it could have been down the street at a friend's house.
                Whatever the case, comic books have always been part of my life. Very early on, I was a fan of Little Lulu and Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge featuring Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck and his and nephews, Huey, Dewy and Louie. My older brother and I shared the love of these comics and, whenever we encountered them, we would eagerly read them together or get our babysitter to read them to us.
                There were a few other obscure titles I remember, usually because of some unique quality that set them apart from others. Television and I are about the same age. I am a member of the first generation who grew up with television. Comic book television tie-ins easily attracted my attention and I recall getting my mother to buy me a copy of Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, Mary Jane and Sniffles and Beany and Cecil because I had first seen them on the fuzzy gray screen of my living room TV set.
                Now let me tell you about Superman.
                I first met Superman on that same television set when a local Philadelphia station's kiddie show began broadcasting black and white versions of the 1940s Fleisher Superman cartoons. I watched "The Arctic Giant," wherein the Man of Steel battled a tyrannosaurus rex which had been thawed from the ice in Siberia. It thrilled and terrified me all at the same time. I remember watching it peeking around the corner of my dining room into the living room because the prehistoric beast scared me so.
                I had heard of Superman, of course, but that was the first time I saw him in action.
                Sometime later, (a few weeks or months, I don't recall) my family was visiting some friends across the river from our Delaware home in New Jersey. Playing in their living room, their television was on and I heard "Faster than a speeding bullet…" I looked up expecting to see the cartoon Superman…but no! This was no cartoon! This was live! Superman was real! I had encountered The Adventures of Superman television show starring George Reeves for the first time. Enthralled, I sat in awe as the real life Superman battled "The Runaway Robot", probably one of the best episodes for such an introduction to a young, first-time viewer. From that point on, I was a Superman fan, never missing the weekly show or the cartoon broadcasts.
                At the time, I made no connection between Superman and comic books. As far as I knew, he was strictly a television star.
                Now let me tell you about Kentucky.
                For the first fourteen or so summers of my life, my family would travel from our Delaware home to my mother's family who lived down in Kentucky. The family owned a large tobacco farm there and that is where we vacationed. Mine was a clich├ęd childhood: living in suburbia and visiting grandma "down on the farm". It was during one of these trips, in the summer of 1957, that I first discovered the comic book Superman.
                Stopping somewhere on our journey down south, at some unremembered rest stop, my mother told me I could buy a comic book. I went over to the wall of magazines and looked at the lower tier where they displayed their collection of comic books, searching for the usual Little Lulu or Donald Duck title. Suddenly, my eyes landed on an issue of a comic book entitled Action Comics. And there, in all his red, blue and yellow glory, was Superman. This was the first time I had seen the colors of his costume.
                I picked it up and was immediately taken with the differences in this comic as compared to the others I had read. First of all, it wasn't a Dell Comic. All of the others I had ever seen had been Dell Comics. I thought all comics were Dell Comics, but no, this was a Superman-DC National Comic! The other notable difference was that there were word balloons on the cover, something I had never seen on a Dell Comic. I rushed over to hand the man behind the store counter the dime my mother had given me. I couldn't wait to read this brand new sort of comic book.
                I was nine years old at the time and I couldn't imagine that my life was about to change.
                I spent the rest of my life collecting comic books, and, after a twisted and crooked road, ended up as an editor and writer at DC Comics. But that's a different story, and one I will, as time goes by, relate right here.
                You see, in due course, I discovered other comic book fans who told similar stories about their discovery of comics. I learned I was as eager to hear their tales and they were eager to hear mine, as we discussed the comic books we loved.
                And so, this blog. Each week or so, I thought I would detail here one of My Favorite Comic Books, exploring just why it is a favorite. Sometimes it will be because of the character and the story. Sometimes it will be the art. Sometimes, it will be the circumstances under which I found it. Sometimes, it will be the concepts introduced and the way the tales are presented. Whatever the case, I'll examine it in detail and reveal why this simple printed medium has been so important to me.
                I await your comments and suggestions and hope you have as much fun sharing my initial discoveries as I had when I first came upon…My Favorite Comic Books.
               
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                So, let me tell you about my first super-hero comic book, Action Comics #231, August, 1957.
                It was probably on sale in June, since back then, comic books were dated a few months ahead in hopes they would stay on display a little longer. The cover was drawn by Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye. Boring, as I would learn later, was one of the three main Superman artists of the time. As I mentioned above, what had grabbed my attention initially were the colors of Superman's costume. Since I had only seen him on black and white television, the bright red, blue and yellow colors were a total surprise to me. I had assumed he was dressed in shades of gray. Of course I would discover years later, that Superman's first television costume was actually two shades of brown to show contrast since red and blue shared a too-similar gray hue on the black and white screen.
                The second thing I noticed was Jimmy Olsen. Jimmy was an old friend from the television show, so the familiarity of him (and Perry White and Lois Lane) made the story all the better for me. After that, I noticed what I thought was a very strange look to the city of Metropolis. In the Fleisher cartoons, Metropolis seemed to be a city of mile high, art deco skyscrapers surrounded by mountains. On television, Metropolis was portrayed by Los Angeles, with City Hall playing the part of the Daily Planet building.
                Boring's Metropolis looked dirty. On the cover, Superman and Jimmy are in front of a dilapidated construction fence overgrown with weeds. They're in a dirt-covered alley with an old tin can lying in the foreground. The skyscrapers are only suggested in the pink background by a series of vertical lines.  In the story inside, all the paved streets of Metropolis looked as if they were dirt roads.
                The story was "Sir Jimmy Olsen, Knight of Metropolis," in which Jimmy Olsen was to inherit the island kingdom of Vumania, but only if he could perform three brave, knightly deeds, as prescribed by a medieval proclamation. Evil men tried to prevent his success because they were using the island to stash ill-gotten loot. With Superman's help, Jimmy fulfilled the tasks but finally realized his island kingdom is worthless. Superman discovered the crooks and exposed their plans.
                The story was written by Otto Binder. There were no artist or writer credits anywhere in the book as it was not the policy of DC at the time to list such creative acknowledgment. Later research yielded the names to me.
                Boring and Kaye did the interior art as well and, even with my young eyes, I found it unusual. While all the characters were familiar (Superman looked like Reeves and Perry White looked like John Hamilton from the television show), Boring's portrayal of Jimmy Olsen was very strange. For one thing, he sported a crew cut, and in some panels he was completely unrecognizable except for his red hair and checkered sports jacket.
                Needless to say, my first Action Comics 12-page Superman story was not the reason this comic remains a favorite.
                I was very excited to learn that Action Comics was not strictly a Superman comic. Two other features filled out the title, features completely new to me. The first one was Congo Bill. Congo Bill was a guide and fortune hunter in modern-day Africa, assisted by a young boy called Janu the Jungle Boy. The story covered familiar territory for me since I was a fan of the Ramar of the Jungle television show. Ramar was an American doctor in Africa, so the setting and pith helmet worn by Bill looked familiar to me.  I immediately accepted the story. Although I had no background information on Bill or Janu, the story, "Congo Bill's Useless Partner," written by Jack Miller, clearly illustrated the partnership relationship between the two.
                Fortunately for this first-time reader, the story was beautifully drawn by Nick Cardy. The villains had distinctive appearances and the local costumes and clothing were authentic-looking. The story had a rhinoceros, a leopard and an elephant for local color and detailed looks of rifles and bear traps. All in all, a solid and enjoyable 6-page romp, but still not the reason it falls into my favorite category.
                Now let me tell you about Tommy Tomorrow.
               
The third and final story in this issue was the one that won me over. Masterfully drawn by Jim Mooney, "The Academy Award of Space" was written by Otto Binder. It told of the annual awards given by the Planeteers for the greatest feats of bravery by their members, the interplanetary policemen of one hundred years in the future. The space villain, Planet Pete, had made it his goal to discredit Tommy Tomorrow so he would be disgraced and reduced in rank by winning the "Space Boner Award" (really!).
                Planet Pete repeatedly attempted to thwart Tommy's heroic deeds, but failed each time, unable to outwit Colonel Tomorrow's ingenuity. The 6-page story had everything: space ships, space monsters, robots, explosions, comets, a space dragon, a damsel in distress, a radioactive river, a lightning crater and more.
                Now I had encountered science fiction before. I watched Space Patrol, Rocky Jones, Flash Gordon and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet on television and even had a Tom Corbett comic book. But this Tommy Tomorrow story was what made me a science fiction fan. It wasn't the story, but just one panel on page two. In order to save the Earth, Tommy Tomorrow had heroically detonated a "super H-bomb" in outer space to snuff out a "comet tail's flame." Mooney had depicted this feat with a half-page illustration of breath-taking beauty showing The Space Ace, Tommy's rocket ship, the flaming comet, the curvature of the Earth below and a huge explosion against a star-studded background of outer space.
                As a nine-year old reader, holding the comic in front of me, the entire world was blocked from my view. The comic, and the illustration, became my world! I wanted more, and from that day forward, I looked for more science fiction everywhere: In comics, on television, in books and movies. When my friends wanted to play cowboys, I wanted to play spaceman! And I will always credit Tommy Tomorrow (and Otto Binder and especially Jim Mooney) for bringing me to those other worlds.
                I still have it. My copy of Action Comics #231 is covered in tape and I have replaced its cover with a computer generated print, but I still have the original copy I bought on my way to Kentucky. It was my first favorite comic book!

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Next: "Let Me Tell You about Batman and Booth's Corner"