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for Friday, July 16, 2004

Jimmy Olsen 74

My first Marvels.

By the summer of 1963, my interest in comic books had fallen off considerably. I still bought comics - to alleviate the boring days when, against all odds, none of my neighborhood buddies were around, or to help me survive the tedium of those family vacations which didn't exactly sing to me - but they weren't the center of my youthful universe.

FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #1 [1963] changed that, though it took a few months for the change to truly take hold of me. I began to make more frequent trips to the drug store where I bought my comic books and started buying other Marvel titles as well. There were some DC titles I enjoyed, but, whenever finances limited my comics buying, which was pretty much the entire time I was in elementary school, the Marvel books were my priority.

In writing these remembrances, I have been using some terrific online resources to prompt my memory. The SILVER AGE MARVEL COMICS COVER INDEX [] confirmed I'd bought two Marvel books with a cover dates of January, 1964. However, when I went to MIKE'S AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS [] and used his way cool "Time Machine" feature to check out the DC comics with the same cover date, I spotted *seven* issues that I knew I owned as a kid. I wouldn't have had the extra money to purchase those comics at that time and, if I had, I would have bought more Marvel books with such extraordinary wealth.

The seven books were:

Adventure Comics #316, Batman Annual #6, Green Lantern #26, House of Secrets #64 (which I'd never read previously), Jimmy Olsen #74, Superman #166, and Superman Annual #8.

How could I crack this mystery?

Assuming these issues came out two-three months prior to their cover dates, their arrival wouldn't have coincided with my December 22 birthday. They weren't a birthday present...and I surely would have remembered any trade involving so many comics.

Back then, there were only four ways I could get comic books. Either I bought them myself, as I know I did with two of those DCs (Adventure Comics and Green Lantern)...or I was given them by my parents or uncles (but only, for some strange reason, the uncles on my mom's side of the family)...or I got them in schoolyard trades (baseball cards for comic books)...or I got them - and here was the answer to my mystery - from my barber!

I have mentioned in a previous installment of these "memoirs" that I went an extra six blocks or so to go to a barber with better comics than the barber closest to my house. I usually went to his shop on weekdays right after school because Saturday was when all the working adults got their hair cut. As much as I liked comics, that's how much I disliked these vaguely unsettling men with their cigars/cigarettes/pipes who would "jump line" ahead of me when they were in a hurry. Besides, Saturdays were meant for better things than haircuts.

However, for whatever reason, there I was on a Saturday in the fall of 1963, getting my hair cut. I had gotten to the barber shop before it opened so that I could be the first customer and get out of there quickly. My plan worked...but then the barber asked me if I could help him out for a few hours.

The older kid who usually swept up and ran errands for him was unable to get to work until noon. Could I stay for a couple hours and help him out? In exchange for any *five* of the comic books he had in his shop? I said "yes" quickly, but I did remember to call home and confirm that this was okay with my folks.

What a kick! It took this series of nostalgic remembrances to remind me of my first comics-related job!

I was almost too good a worker. I would move the broom around the barber chair while the barber was still cutting the customer's hair. I nearly tripped him once. But he and his customers seemed to be amused by my efforts.

The barber wasn't nearly as cheerful when I collected my pay. Not only did I take five comics he had just brought into his shop that morning, but two of them were giant-sized comic books costing a quarter each. But he hadn't put any conditions on my selection and, after all, even with the quarter comics, he was paying me less than forty cents an hour. He was good to his word, but he didn't look happy about it.

An intriguing thought occurs to me. Could my barber have been a comics reader himself? If he was, he was definitely a DC reader. I never saw a Marvel in his shop.

Maybe his dismay was because he hadn't had the chance to read those issues before they went home with me. In any case, it didn't affect our professional relationship. I continued to go to him for haircuts throughout elementary school. We traded comics from time to time, as did many of his young customers. It's possible I even worked for him a few more times.

I was incredibly good with that broom.

Adventure 316

The comics themselves?

ADVENTURE COMICS #316 [January, 1964] was the most memorable of the bunch. It was a starring role for Ultra-Boy, his first such spotlight since he was introduced in a Superboy story I had never read. Writer Edmond Hamilton did a great job portraying the life of "The Renegade Super-Hero"...though I was a little taken aback by the revelation that Ultra-Boy had framed himself as part of a plan to trap some space raiders. I might have been a few weeks shy of my 12th birthday, but I thought not telling any of his fellow teen heroes was stupid and that hoping his fugitive status would get him an invitation to join the raiders was very much a long shot. But, credit where it's due, the plan worked.

Other fond memories:

Artist John Forte drew the space raiders as almost ethereal. They were pale blue, tall, and willowy. Very cool.

Phantom Girl, who never lost faith in Ultra-Boy, was one hot Legionnaire lassie.

Backing up the 19-page lead story was a five-page section on "The Origins and Powers of the Legion of Super-Heroes." It was a far simpler time, one in which writers could recap the origins and powers of 21 super-heroes and 5 super-pets in a handful of pages. I memorized every entry.

Green Lantern 26

GREEN LANTERN #26 [January, 1964] had that great cover by Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson, but I almost didn't buy the issue. Green Lantern was cool, but his and his secret identity's relationship(s) with Carol Ferris and Star Sapphire gave me the creeps. Hal Jordan loved Carol who loved Green Lantern, but Hal wanted her to love him as Hal. Carol spent crazy time trying to trick Green Lantern into marrying her, even when she was transformed into Star Sapphire and didn't know she was Carol. Both of them were bipolar. I think we got off easy here. Hal merely slaughtered the Green Lantern Corps when he went psycho. The two of them could have taken out most of the West Coast!

Writer Gardner Fox's "Star Sapphire Unmasks Green Lantern" was an especially creepy addition to their romantic canon. GL promises to marry Star if she can unmask him. She succeeds. He unmasks her right back and, surprised to see she's really Carol, blurts out her name...which causes her to revert back to her Carol persona without any memory of what just happened. The story ended with GL thinking something along the lines of "Oh, well, I guess I'll have to marry her if she ever turns back into Star Sapphire"...and then he pushes Carol into the path of a bus.

Nah. I'm just kidding about the bus. Hal wouldn't be getting his big insane on for another thirty years.

The second story, also by Fox, found Green Lantern battling an evil sorcerer who lived inside his power ring. He defeats the guy, Myrwhydden by name - and, yes, I did have to look it up - by making him mute and thus unable to speak his magic spells. He also kept the guy imprisoned in the power ring, which struck me even then as cruel and unusual punishment. Maybe "Emerald Twilight" wasn't so far-fetched after all.

Batman Annual 6

What of my barber shop haul? Truth be told, it wasn't a very impressive batch of comics.

BATMAN ANNUAL #6 [Winter, 1964] promised "Batman and Robin's Most Thrilling Mystery Cases" and delivered eight stories from the late 1950s. There were all perfectly fine tales, written by Bill Finger, Edmond Hamilton, and Dave Wood...and drawn by Dick Sprang and Sheldon Moldoff with inks by Charles Paris. But I was 12 and, while I didn't mind the occasional mystery, I was more fond of the costumed villains, monsters, and strange transformations often found in the Batman comics of the time. An entire annual of the mystery stories was more than I wanted.

I probably took HOUSE OF SECRETS #64 [January, 1964] as part of my pay because of the spooky cover by Bob Brown and because it was a chance to try out a new title without it costing me anything, not even a few baseball cards. I don't recall being impressed with it, though, and didn't get another issue for years.

"The Threat of the Horrible Hex" was by Jack Miller (script) and Mort Meskin (art). Mark Merlin defeats three evil spirits who have cursed an innocent family by transferring the curse to himself and then burning down the barn which protects the ghosts. He was a self-sacrificing kind of guy; eventually, he would allow Prince Ra-Man, a Doctor Strange impersonator, to take over his body lock, stock, and barrel.

(Ohmygawd! I suddenly have this irresistible urge to write a John Constantine/Mark Merlin team-up. It would be the horror comic equivalent of teaming up the Punisher with Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry. Someone call Karen Berger at Vertigo!)

"Hideout on Fear Island" by writer Bob Haney was my intro to Eclipso - "Hero and Villain In One Man!" - as well as my first real awareness of artist Alex Toth. I liked Eclipso and Toth, who, for some reason, put me in mind of Steve Ditko, but not enough to pay twelve cents for half a comic book.

JIMMY OLSEN was something of a guilty pleasure for me. I did like the character, but I hated the stories that played him for an idiot. There were three stories in SUPERMAN'S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN #74 [January, 1964], two of them written by Jerry Siegel and one by Leo Dorfman. I'm guessing the cover story - "The Pranks of Jimmy the Imp" by Siegel, penciller John Forte, and inker George Klein - was one of the idiot stories, mostly because I can't remember a blessed thing about it. I must be suppressing the memory.

Dorfman's "Jimmy Olsen and the Forty Thieves" - drawn by Curt Swan and inked by Klein - was a neat "time travel" story in which Lex Luthor tricks Jimmy into calling Superman into a trap. What I thought was cool was how Jimmy saved his pal. He sicced a deadly snake on Luthor, forcing Lex to save Superman so that Supes could get them back to the future before he died from the bite. Silver Age Jimmy showed his stones on occasion.

Siegel's "Jimmy Olsen's Secret Love" (drawn by Swan and Klein) was the first of the stories in which Jimmy and Lucy were disguised as Magi the Magician and heiress Sandra Rogers as part of separate undercover operations. They fell in love with each other without knowing they already knew each other. In took about three stories for the truth to come out, but the big reveal was as anti-climatic as you can imagine. many times did they do this same basic story on LOVE AMERICAN STYLE or THE LOVE BOAT? Just asking.

Superman 116

SUPERMAN #166 [January, 1964] had one of several "imaginary" stories in which Superman was married, but we never saw the face of his wife. In Edmond Hamilton's "The Fantastic Story of Superman's Sons" (drawn by Swan and Klein), Jor-el II had super-powers and Kal-el II didn't. Guess which one saves the Earth from an escaped Phantom Zone criminal?

Some of my favorite Superman stories over the years have been those which make it clear Superman isn't a hero only because of his powers or, as in this case, a person doesn't need super-powers to be a hero. We could use more of those.

SUPERMAN ANNUAL #8 [Winter, 1964] had a theme of "untold tales and secret origins" and still managed to be unmemorable, at least for me. I learned when Lois first suspected Clark was Superman and the origin of Superman's super-costume, and the untold tale of red kryptonite. I witnessed Superboy's first day at school, Mxyzptlk's first prank, and Krypton's first Superman. And the only story that got the slightest rise out of me was one I had already read in an old issue of ADVENTURE COMICS.

"Prisoner of the Super-Heroes" by Jerry Siegel and George Papp had the Legion of Super-Heroes doing horrible things to Superboy. They discredited him, exiled him from Earth, and finally imprisoned him...all on the basis of faulty intelligence.

Where is Michael Moore when you need him?


Now that I've cleared up the mystery of how I got all of those January-dated DC comics - and I hope you enjoyed this investigation as much as I did - I can get back to Marvel and my first issues of two more Marvel titles. Swing around the website tomorrow and I'll tell you all about them.

Tony Isabella

<< 07/15/2004 | 07/16/2004 | 07/17/2004 >>

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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