COVER STORIES for 03/19/2006
COVER STORIES INSTALLMENT #45
Welcome to this 45th edition of "Cover Stories," in which I look at a number of comics covers with a common theme!
This week, it's time for another set of covers that tie in with a current holiday of sorts... yes, that's right... it's April Fool's Day covers!
Let's begin, shall we?
Here, as you can see by this Wayne Boring/Stan Kaye cover, Mr. Mxyzptlk returns in Action Comics #80! Surely you're not surprised that I'd feature Mxy on at least one of these covers, as he's probably the best-known prankster character in comics, right?
Quick aside: This issue of Action was reprinted as Special Edition Comics #1 for the U.S. Navy with simplified text - yes, that's right, simplified text. Given that comics were considered to be a children's entertainment way back when, how low an opinion did the people behind Special Edition Comics have of U.S. Navy personnel???
But I digress. As I said, in this issue, "Mr. Mxyztplk Returns" in the lead story by Don Cameron and Ira Yarbrough, and if you can't afford to buy a copy of the original issue, you can pick up Superman #272 from February 1974 to read it in reprint form! Oh, and just to be complete, Mxy's first appearance was in Superman #30, itself reprinted many, many times (off-hand, I know it was in "Superman: From the 30s to the 70s" as well as in "The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told" trade paperback).
Also, in this issue we had Congo Bill in "The Riddle of the Reservoir" by John Daly, a Grandpa Peters filler by Tom McNamara, the Vigilante in "The Pillage of the Parthenon" by Mort Meskin, a Casey the Cop filler by Henry Boltinoff (incidentally, this was the first Casey the Cop - previously, the filler was titled Clancy the Cop). There was also the text story "Escape by Night" by Jack Miller, a Hayfoot Henry filler written by Al Schwartz, and finally, Zatara in "Tumbling Timber" by W.F. White.
Courtesy of Adventure Comics 247, here's the debut of the Legion of Super-Heroes! Yes, I hear some of you scratching your heads and saying, "But what does that have to do with April Fool's Day?" Well, I'll explain in a paragraph or so.
This cover was by the impeccable Curt Swan with inks by Stan Kaye. As you can see, the core three Legion members here are presented a bit differently from their "classic" appearances... heck, Lightning Lad is even called "Lightning Boy" in this issue!
Some of you are no doubt aware that this appearance was never intended to lead to anything else... the Legion were just some one-shot superheroes (as were often introduced in various Superman family titles) to be used once, and then discarded... but they proved popular enough that eventually they took over Superboy's self-titled book in the 1970s (and subsequently got rebooted more than any other comic book feature). This one story has been reprinted a whole bunch of times... in Superman Annual #6 (in edited form), DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest #1, Adventure Comics Digest #491, DC Silver Age Classics #3C, The Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Vol. 1, and of course, the Millennium Edition Adventure Comics 247. The Silver Age Classics and Millennium Edition, naturally, reprint the entire book... and they're fairly easy to find cheap, too!
OK, now to explain the April Fool's aspect of this. In the story, the Legionnaires from the 30th Century invite the Boy of Steel to join their club... but of course, they make Superboy perform a series of tests in order to prove he's worthy of the honor (it never occurs to Superboy to question why they would even bother traveling back in time 10 centuries to offer Superboy this opportunity if they weren't already certain he was worthy - I mean, it's not like time travel can be cheap, can it?).
Superboy good-naturedly opts to take on the challenges, but he consistently fails every one, because he's distracted by other events occurring that he needs to take care of... and so, he's rejected...
...not! Yeah, we see that those funny, funny fellows (and lady) of the LSH just couldn't resist tugging on Superboy's cape, and they arranged for him to fail all those tests! Naturally, they revealed this to Superboy after he's accepted their rejection of him, and they go ahead and let him join.
(Hmmm... you know, maybe this one story explains why Superboy would grow up to be a Superman who's constantly pulling pranks and hoaxes and so on to teach his friends a lesson?)
Also in this issue: A house ad for Challengers of the Unknown, a text feature called "Read 'em and Laugh" (a bunch of old jokes), a Little Pete filler by Henry Boltinoff, Green Arrow in "The 13 Superstition Arrows" by France Herron and George Papp (in which Green Arrow uses arrows that have a bad luck theme), a Casey the Cop filler by Boltinoff, and Aquaman in "Aquaman's Super Sea-Squad" by Jack Miller and Ramona Fradon!
So... who's our next prankster? Why, it's Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, from issue 31 from his own title!
As you can see on this Swan/Kay/Plastino image, the tables are being turned... usually, it's Superman pulling a prank or hoax on Jimmy in this title! And isn't it quite a bizarre image? I mean, Jimmy puts a life-size wax figure of himself in a block of ice which has a speaker embedded in it? Where do you even begin to shop in Metropolis for the stuff you need to accomplish this - and for that matter, how was it that Jimmy didn't figure Superman wouldn't notice that "his" lips aren't moving, or that Superman wouldn't use his X-Ray vision to check on Jimmy's health within the ice?
Now, as if this wasn't enough... this issue was a landmark one for Jimmy Olsen, for the first tale behind this cover was "The E-L-A-S-T-I-C Lad" by Otto Binder and Curt Swan, the first Elastic Lad story (which was reprinted in 80 Page Giant #2)! This was followed by a public service page by Jack Schiff and Lou Cameron, a Casey the Cop filler by Henry Boltinoff, "The Mad Hatter of Metropolis" by Bill Finger and Curt Swan, a Shorty filler by Boltinoff, a text page filler, and then finally, Binder and Swan present "The Boy Who Hoaxed Superman," which was reprinted in Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #104!
Now, if you've got more than a passing familiarity with Superman family titles, you may recall that there's a Lois Lane cover very similar to this Jimmy Olsen one... save that both Lois AND Lana Lang are putting themselves into "suspended animation" on the cover!
OK, OK, I know that this column is very Superman-heavy... you're probably wondering if any other comics titles at all featured pranks or the like, right? Well, there were... dozens of them! And just to try to balance things, here's one featuring Superman's one-time biggest competition, Captain Marvel, and his family!
Yep, it's Marvel Family #88, with cover art by Kurt Schaffenberger (who would go on to do lots of art for DC Comics, particularly on Lois Lane and Supergirl, among many other characters).
Anyway... on to the contents of this issue, which I sadly do not own (heck, I've never owned an original Captain Marvel book from the Golden Age!)... the Grand Comics Database, as always, provides the details: Danger Lights, a text story by John Martin, the cover-featured "Jokes of Jeopardy" written by Otto Binder with art by Bud Thompson, half-page fillers featuring Dizzy Daisy by Howard Boughner and Wilbur the Waiter (art uncredited), "The Big Fire" starring Headline Harry by Boughner, a Marvel Family Puzzle Page, a Rubbernose Randolph filler by Art Helfant, a Colonel Korn and Korny Kobb filler... and then the main event of the issue (even if it wasn't cover-featured): "The King of All Time!" with writing by Otto Binder and art by Kurt Schaffenberger! Don't fear, dear readers... this tale was reprinted in Shazam! #15.
What? I didn't tell you anything about the story "Jokes of Jeopardy"? Well... looking at the cover, you can probably figure out as much as I can... apparently, someone tries to take out the Marvels using practical jokes, albeit with a more deadly means than one would expect... I mean, just look at the variations on the "bucket of water over the door" gag there!
Join me next time for another installment of "Cover Stories," and in the meantime, you can check out my blog at http://waffyjon.blogspot.com for other musings and ramblings by me, or email me with comments about this column at !