This summer, I have been taking frequent strolls down memory lane to write about my first issues of different Marvel comic-book titles of the 1960s. It was a time of transition for me. I still bought some DC titles, but it was the Marvels that had rekindled my interest in comics and which would eventually lead me to a career in the industry.
Baseball cards were no longer of interest to me, of value only because I could trade them for comics. Monster and sci-fi movies were free on television. Science fiction novels were free from the library. I spent my money on comic books.
From the fall of 1963 to roughly summer of 1964, I discovered new Marvel books every month. They were the comics I bought first. Most months, with but a handful of Marvels being published, I could also afford my favorite DCs. Sometimes, when birthday, Christmas, or extra-chores cash came my way, I could buy more. Two or three of those combined that winter.
That extra money partially explains why I bought MY GREATEST ADVENTURE #85 [February, 1964], that and the Bob Brown-drawn cover showing Rita "Elasti-Girl" Farr in all her gigantic gorgeousness. Then and now, I wasn't and am not a comics reader whose libido is quickened by the sight of giant women, but there was just something about the way Brown drew giant women that got to me every time. He did covers of that nature on two other occasions as well, but we'll get around to that in a bit.
Arnold Drake's "The Furies From 4,000 Miles Below" also played to my interest in giant monsters and more personable super-heroes. The Furies were nuclear creatures created by underground testing. The male members of the Doom Patrol had talked former actress Rita into a Hollywood comeback, hoping to keep her out of danger while they dealt with walking reactors. Yeah, it was chauvinistic given Rita's power, but Drake and artist Bruno Premiani made it seem more like they truly cared about Rita, not the sort of knee-jerk macho bullspit of the era.
The issue's back-up story was "The Curse of the Cat's Cradle," a non-series sci-fi story drawn by Alex Toth. I'd seen Toth's art on a Eclipso story a month before and thought it was not dissimilar to Steve Ditko's work at Marvel. After Ditko, Jack Kirby, and Curt Swan, Toth was probably one of the first comics artists whose work I could recognize on sight, but I don't recall anything else about this particular story.
I took an immediate liking to the Doom Patrol. I thought they were as good as the Marvel super-heroes. After buying this comic, I never missed an issue of their original run.
CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN remains one of my all-time favorite comics, but it was in something of a slump at the time of issue #36 [February-March, 1964]. Interior (and cover) artist Bob Brown did the best he could with the material he was given, but the stories in this issue were fairly pedestrian.
"The Giant in Challenger Mountain" revisited a familiar theme for the Challengers. In fact, it was the second time Rocky Davis had grown to enormous size in the space of a few years, preceded by honorary Challenger June Robbins and followed by the more-or-less leader of the team, Ace Morgan. Within this run, we also saw the arrival of the giant-sized and robotic Multi-Woman.
Oh, what the heck, let's just run the string of covers now and get it over with.
Getting back to "The Giant in Challenger Mountain," our buddy Rocky falls into a mountain stream that's polluted with a strange chemical from a meteor which had landed therein. The contaminated waters turns him into a mindless giant. A criminal somehow manages to control Rocky via radio signals until the Challs figure this out and jam the signals. Rocky is cured via a full blood transfusion. Right there in Challenger Mountain as I recall. Still, even as a kid, I knew not to try that at home.
"Bodyguards to a Star" was a tedious case of four Challengers doing what a decent private eye could've done: protecting an movie actress and catching the person trying to kill her. It turned out to be a soap opera. The actress was involved with the leading man and secretly engaged to the producer. I had to look up which one of them was the culprit. Not a memorable story.
ADVENTURE COMICS was another of my regular DC buys. I liked the sci-fi trappings of the Legion of Super-Heroes stories and the thought of all those heroes being part of the same team. Those two elements carried me through a lot of so-so stories.
Swan and inker George Klein were the cover artists for issue #317 [February, 1964]. I remember Edmond Hamilton's "The Menace of Dream Girl" being a pretty neat story with the Time-Trapper lurking in the background, the smouldering sexuality of newest member Dream Girl, and a mystery I figured out early on.
Dream Girl had the power of prophetic dreams, but this story centered on her getting various Legionnaires tossed out of the club or suspended from active duty. Maybe I was smitten by her killer body - interior artist John Forte drew her even hotter than she was on the cover - but, once she started handing heroes their walking papers, I figured out it was because she saw something bad happen to them in her dreams.
The back-up story was a "Hall of Fame" reprint of a Superboy story from 1957, "The Shrinking of Superboy." It was drawn by John Sikela and I suspect its main claim to fame was that it fit neatly into the eight available pages.
JLA #25 [February, 1964] had "Outcasts of Infinity" by writer Gardner Fox, penciller Mike Sekowsky, and inker Bernard Sachs. The cover was by Sekowsky and inker Murphy Anderson. As JLA stories of the era went, this one was pretty out there.
The cover was probably created before the story was written. The scene it depicts is disposed of quickly and then we get to the tale of three alien scientists, condemned by the evil Kraad to be teleported from world to world, transforming into the dominant life form of each planet. When they depart, the worlds explode. This being 1964, we don't see the death and destruction expect from the distance of space, but this adds up to a significantly higher body count than usually found in Silver Age comics.
Kraad blasts the JLA with a de-adhesion ray, reducing them to drifting atoms. Speaking of which, only the Atom survives the ray, protected by the white dwarf star material of his costume. Dazed, he uses Green Lantern's power ring to restore his teammates. His first attempt leads to composite heroes: GL/Superman, Flash/GL, and Superman/Flash. He gets Wonder Woman together correctly, probably a nod to the sensibilities of the day.
Wonder Woman and the composite heroes go after Kraad, hoping to stop him before Earth blows up. To save themselves from another round with the de-adhesion ray, WW sticks the unconscious Atom into the ray's muzzle. I'm not making this up.
Kraad is defeated. The heroes get themselves back together. The Atom wonders if he can uses dizziness as an excuse to fall from Wonder Woman's shoulder into her cleavage. Okay, I *am* making up that last part. I think.
ACTION COMICS #309 [February, 1964] is notable for two Silver Age events. In Edmond Hamilton's "The Superman Super-Spectacular," Superman revealed his secret identity to President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated between the time when the issue rolled off the presses and the time it hit the newsstands. In Leo Dorfman's "The Untold Story of Argo City," Supergirl learned that her Kryptonian parents were still alive. The cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Sheldon Moldoff.
In the cover tale, a surprised Superman found himself the star of the "Our American Heroes" television show. All his friends were there, or, at least, all his friends who appeared in the "Superman Family" books. The Justice League, save for Batman, were no-shows. That was the Silver Age for you, God bless it.
Clark Kent was supposed to be there, but Superman was stymied every time he tried to bring in a ringer. Ultimately, he told his secret to JFK. Somehow, the president then got the Secret Service to leave him alone for a few hours so he could impersonate Clark. I mean, if you can't trust your president...
Yeah, I know, but it made sense back then. After JFK, not so much. Maybe Jimmy Carter, but he's pretty much it.
DC caught flak for its "disrespectful" use of the assassinated JFK in this story, but the Kennedy family had no complaints about it. Indeed, they encouraged DC to complete and publish another JFK tale which the company had in the works.
"Superman's Mission for President Kennedy" would subsequently appear in SUPERMAN #170 [July, 1964].
"The Untold Story of Argo City" was drawn by Jim Mooney. The Supergirl stories of the Silver Age were remarkable because editor Mort Weisinger didn't feel compelled to keep the status quo. Kara started out in an orphanage, got adopted by the Danvers, found her birth parents, and went to college. Little else changed in editor Mort Weisinger's titles - save for a new Legionnaire now and then - but Supergirl got to grow up during her Action Comics run. Makes me wonder if anyone ever asked him why the Maid of Steel got such special treatment.
I must have been flush to buy a war comic, even one as great as THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #52 [February-March, 1964]. My younger brother Ernie had a subscription to OUR ARMY AT WAR and I could get him to buy another title every now and then. Something about this very special team-up of Sgt. Rock, the Haunted Tank, Johnny Cloud, and Mademoiselle Marie grabbed me.
The 25-page "Suicide Mission! Save Him or Kill Him!" is an quintessential Robert Kanigher/Joe Kubert collaboration with Rock and the boys protecting Marie and the vital information she has for the Allies. Kanigher's script never slows for a minute. Getting to know him slightly in the 1970s, I can picture him banging away at a typewriter and the pages flying from the cylinder. Kubert's art captures the chaos of war, the courage of the warriors, and the unexpectedly impish beauty of Marie. This is one of the best comic books of the Silver Age!
Two comments must be made:
One. Marie's father dies in this issue. War always exacts a dear price. However, if memory serves me, Kanigher kills Marie's father in at least one and possibly two other stories in the 1960s. What was this? Three Men and a Battle Babe?
Two. Rock, Cloud, and the Haunted Tank's Jeb Stuart all get promotions at the end of the story.
That's right. Rock becomes a lieutenant!
Just as remarkable, the story continues in the next issue of OUR ARMY AT WAR. Not to fear. By the end of *that* story, Rock is a mere sergeant again.
Notwithstanding the occasional multiple fathers, Kanigher was building a coherent universe within the DC war comics. He remains one of my favorite comics writers of all.
That's it for this Sunday's nostalgic romp. I'll be back on the morrow with more stuff.
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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