COVER STORIES for 07/23/2006
COVER STORIES INSTALLMENT #63
Welcome to the 63rd edition of "Cover Stories," in which I look at a number of comics covers with a common theme!
As promised, this week's theme is Sideshows, which used to be common fare at circuses, but seem to have disappeared for good.
National Comics 42 introduced one of the few circus-related characters in comics (well, aside from Robin, Deadman, and the Circus of Crime, how many others can you think of?): The Barker, seen here! Now, National, which was published by Quality Comics, is probably best-known to most of you as the original publishers of characters like Plastic Man and the Blackhawks, as well as the original members of the Freedom Fighters (not that they used that name in Quality's books), but the Barker really was pretty different!
For those who don't know, a barker was someone who would stand out in front of a tent at circuses and carnivals, "barking" out praise and paeans for the attraction inside the tent, which would usually be some kind of sideshow feature, like the strongman, midget, or fat woman shown here. "Hurry, hurry, step right up and see the amazing crocodile man!" or things like that would be typical of his shilling.
The Barker lasted in National Comics through issue 75, and even had his own comic book, believe it or not, which lasted 15 issues! Not a lot of info about the Barker on the web, but I'd imagine that he had humorous adventures centering around the circus.
This cover was by Plastic Man creator Jack Cole. The cover story was written by Joe Millard and Cole. Also in this issue were Sally O'Neil, Policewoman by Al Bryant, a Windy Breeze gag filler by Cole, Uncle Sam by Ed Dobrotka, Quicksilver (better known to modern comics readers as Max Mercury) by Fred Guardineer, a Salty Waters gag filler by Bernard Dibble, Destroyer 171 by Al Camy, G-2 by Don Rico and finally, Chic Carter by Vernon Henkel. Yes, none of these stories had titles!
Yeah, I knew I couldn't fool you... there is indeed a Superman cover for this theme, and here it is: Action Comics 122, featuring "The Super-Sideshow." As you can see, there's a number of circus performers pictured here, the lady sharpshooter (shades of Annie Oakley from a few columns back), a strongman, a knife thrower, a human flamethrower, and even a clown! This cover was by Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye.
"The Super Sideshow" was by Al Plastino. Also in this issue, a Captain Tootsie advertisement by C.C. Beck, Congo Bill in "Butterfly Booty" by Ed Smalle, a Mischievous Morton gag strip by Phil Berube, Zatara in "Mail Order Magic" by W.F. White, a Shorty gag by Henry Boltinoff, a Daffy & Doodle gag by Lit-Win, and the Vigilante in "Curtain Time for the Mystery Crimes" by George Roussos.
Now, if a super-sideshow wasn't enough for you, how about an entire super-carnival, from outer space even?
Yes, the cover of Adventure 198 featured an eight-armed alien, a fire creature, and a diamond man facing off against Superboy! Now, a few observations here: Obviously, the octo-armed man isn't wearing a shirt because he can't find them in his size... the flame creature obviously burns through all his clothes... and the diamond man? Well, looking at what's left of his clothes, apparently those diamond edges aren't exactly good for keeping clothes in nice condition, eh?
This cover was by Curt Swan and Sy Barry. Inside, the same team did the art for the story, "The Super-Carnival from Space," in which an alien circus tries to force Superboy to join them. You might also want to check out Superman 145 for another take on this tale!
Also in this issue, Buzzy in the PSA "Start The Day Off Right!" by Jack Schiff and Win Mortimer, Aquaman in "The Daredevil of the Seven Seas" by Ramona Fradon, a Little Pete gag page by Henry Boltinoff, Johnny Quick in "The Mechanical Fortune Teller" by Ralph Mayo, the text feature, "Those Wild Animals" by Jack Miller, and Green Arrow in "Wanted for Murder: Green Arrow" by George Papp.
So, had enough of sideshow attractions? Even ones from outer space?
Well, I hope not, because here's Strange Adventures 15, featuring a trio of freaks who appear to be aliens... and there's a barker there, too! These freaks were delightfully drawn by Gil Kane.
Now, how about one final sideshow attraction, featuring a character whose title gave him ample opportunities to join a freak show?
Yes, it's Jimmy Olsen 65, featuring the cub reporter as "The Human Porcupine!" as rendered by Curt Swan and George Klein. This was, of course, one of the many, many bizarre transformations that Jimmy Olsen underwent in the pages of his comic book... although I don't recall seeing another in which he joined a circus act!
Now, I should admit... I'm not 100% certain that this was an actual transformation, despite what Superman says. But I could be confusing this with the re-appearance of the Human Porcupine from a later issue, "The Planet of Doomed Olsens," in which the Legion of Super-Heroes portrayed some of Jimmy's transformations... Cosmic Boy assumed the Human Porcupine role, using his magnetic powers to shoot metallic quills.
And of course, you know that real porcupines don't shoot their quills, don't you?
The stories in this issue were "The Alien Jimmy Olsen Fan Club" by Jerry Siegel with Swan and Klein on the art, "Pennies for UNICEF!" a PSA with Superman, by Jack Schiff and Sheldon Moldoff, "The Human Porcupine" by Siegel, Swan and Klein (reprinted in Jimmy Olsen 122, which I believe was an 80 Page Giant), Peg and Shorty gag fillers by Henry Boltinoff, and "The Mysterious Lord of Devil's Island!" by Robert Bernstein and John Forte. Oh, and a Tricksy filler by Boltinoff.
Join me next time for another installment of "Cover Stories," in which I'll present some covers dealing with a certain old-time circus attraction, 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 !