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for Monday, May 1, 2006

Amazing Stories of Suspense 90

The big comics successes of the mid-1960s were Marvel's rise to super-heroic dominance of the newsstands and DC's more fleeting triumph with the campy Batman TV series. Archie Comics attempted to mimic both trends by reviving its own costumed cut-ups from the Golden Age of Comics.

Launched by the legendary Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the late 1950s, ADVENTURES OF THE FLY became FLY-MAN which, in turn, begat THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS. Neither was a true hit, but FLY-MAN hung on for an additional 11 issues as a SHOWCASE-like title called MIGHTY COMICS. Alas, none of the heroes featured in these issues, usually two per issue, would advance to regular titles.

AMAZING STORIES OF SUSPENSE #90, a black-and-white comic book published in England by Alan Class, reprinted the two stories from MIGHTY COMICS #49 [August, 1967] and the Paul Reinman cover of that issue. The issue came out sometime prior to 1971. Thanks to Nova Land, who sent me this and other Alan Class comics, I can pinpoint when these issues came out a little better. Check out his letter later in this column.

Steel Sterling, Man of Steel leads off the issue teaming with the Black Hood against "The Deadly Masterminds." Written by Jerry Siegel, co-creator of another, more successful Man of Steel, this 12-page story is drawn by Reinman...though I do see a hint of Chic Stone in a panel here and a panel there.

Siegel enthusiastically tries to be all things to all readers in this story, combining campy and often overblown writing, garish villains, fast-paced action, a super-hero with relatable problems, and hip teen dialogue that will make your teeth hurt. This opening caption sets the tone:

Battling warped evil geniuses is not only the dedicated mission of mighty Steel Sterling, but an everyday hazard of his unique villainy-battling existence! Prepare to see the most far-out combat clashes of all time, as a sinister foe of Sterling's joins forces with another titan of knavery to menace Steel and the Black Hood with the explosively perilous doom-gizmos of "The Deadly Masterminds!"

Man, I wish I had some doom-gizmos!

Steel Sterling

The villains are Dr. Evil, who comes from the future to spring the Monster-Maker from the limbo-like captivity where MM ended up at the end of his previous battle with Sterling. Dr. Evil has come to the swinging Sixties to recruit associates for evil schemes in his own time. By mid-tale, the doc also wants to recruit the Black Hood, who he believes has great potential. As silly as this story is, that concept is intriguing and several years ahead of its time. Kudos to Siegel.

The Marvel super-heroes created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others often had very human problems. Steel Sterling's problem likely resonated with the young boys reading these comics in the 1960s. He was painfully shy with the ladies. Siegel plays it for laughs, but it is a very real moment in the midst of all the super-hero action.

Going for that "hip teen" ambience, the story opens in "a soda shop, which is dug by its teen-age clientele for its groovy snacks and its ear-splitting juke box." When the sensors on his "Sterling Scooter" alert Steel to an imminent earthquake, the hero has to get the kids out of their hangout. Resisting a request to "frug" with some eager young ladies, Steel pushes some jealous football players out of the shop for a rumble. The place empties just as the quake hits. Says one of the jocks, "The soda shop is quiverin' like me, before a mid-term exam!"

The villains have a falling-out when the Black Hood offers to go into the future with Dr. Evil in exchange for Sterling's safety. The doc's down with this, which pisses off the vengeance-minded Monster Maker. The heroes take advantage of this to shove the bad guys into the time machine and back to the future. Steel gets the last word when the Hood asks him if he thinks they'll ever tangle with the villains again:

Maybe yes, maybe no! But this is for sure...! As long as there are evil masterminds around to be put down, we super-cats will continue our ultra-fight to see that right always triumphs! Ye ye!

Fox Splash

The Fox story - "The Gasser Attacks!" - is also by Siegel and Reinman. This 12-page story is seriously creepy, entirely due to its hero. Daily Globe staff photographer Paul Patton loves exotic go-go dancer Delilah and she loves him back. But she's not nearly so fond of Paul's other identity...the Fox. She would marry Paul in a heartbeat, but Paul is afraid her feelings would change if she learned of his costumed crime-fighting and that she would make him give up being the Fox as a condition of marriage. His solution to this problem is to stalk her. Swear to God.

On the wall of Paul's "Fox Den" headquarters, he plays a life-size video clip of Delilah dancing. In his guise as the Fox, Paul spends every night sitting in Delilah's club watching her dance. He sends her a bottle of perfume and a red rose every night, but she won't give him a tumble. The perfume? It's specially treated to allow the Fox to track her movements via his "fragrance-tracker." His thoughts are just as creepy:

Delilah...I love you so! If...only you could learn to care for me! Then life would be more than a mocking charade, a haunting, taunting mirage that is only a shadow of what it could be...if only you cared...

When Delilah is kidnapped by the Gasser Gang, the Fox tracks and rescues her. Then he professes his love and asks for a date, only to rebuffed. Delilah won't cheat on Paul. Leave it to writer Siegel, who pretty much invented the two-person super-hero romantic triangle with Superman, Lois Lane, and Clark Kent, to take the bit to a new and much darker level.

The Fox is a true super-hero specialist. He's got any crimes involving Delilah or the club in which she works covered. The rest of the city? It's on its own!

The two Siegel/Reinman super-hero stories only fill 24 of this issue's 68 pages. The other nine tales come from various Charlton and Marvel (Atlas) comic books.

World of Fantasy 7

Five of the stories were from WORLD OF FANTASY #7 [May, 1957]. Bill Everett's cover was inspired by "The Man In Grey," but doesn't accurately reflect the story. Drawn by Gray Morrow, the four-pager involves men from the future traveling back in time to either save or annihilate the Earth.

Someone in the Flames

"Someone in the Flames" (drawn by Dick Ayers, four pages) has a wanted criminal attempting to take control of a Central American tribe by posing as their feathered serpent-god Quetzacoatl.

"The Girl Who Didn't Exist" (four pages) is a spooky romance involving a solitary man and an equally lonely ghost. It was drawn by Tony DiPreta.

The other two stories for WORLD OF FANTASY #7 were written by Carl Wessler, a mainstay at EC Comics in the 1950s and the Murray Boltinoff-edited DC Comics of the 1970s and 1980s. In "Wheels of Doom," drawn by Manny Stallman, two elderly brothers fret about how to save their failing business. Magic motorcycles which turn back the clock turn out to be the key to their salvation. The tale is bizarre, but satisfying.

Wessler's "Run For Your Life" is of a kind with the "cold war" sci-fi and supernatural tales so prominent in Marvel comics through the mid-1960s. Drawn by Robert Q. Sale, the four-pager features a man using ancient spells and modern-day smarts to free his son from a Communist prison.

Belam in Barnesville

A third Wessler story came from WORLDS OF FANTASY #12 [June, 1958]. In the wacky "Bedlam in Barnesville," an eccentric loner is falsely accused of crimes and proven innocent by his friends...the termites! The four-pager is drawn by Jim Mooney and, if it weren't for those campy Steel Sterling and Fox yarns, it would easily be my favorite story of the issue.

The last Marvel/Atlas tale is "It Hides in the Forest!" from WORLD OF FANTASY #17 [April, 1959]. Shape-changing aliens are set to invade the Earth unless Earthlings are smart enough to find the advance agent they've sent to our world. They should talk; they're the ones who announce this to Earth in advance of their invasion. But we're no geniuses either; it takes a youngster's pet pooch to expose the agent who is disguised as...wait for it...a tree. Drawn by Joe Sinnott, the story runs four pages.

Memorable Mile Splash

The original publication information for most Charlton stories is difficult to track down unless Steve Ditko drew something in the same issue. Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be the case with "The Memorable Mile" (five pages).

The story opens with a stadium full of people watching a foot race at which at least one contestant is expected to break the two-minute mile. A mysterious runner appears, allows the other runners to lap him, and then runs circles around them to win the race. He disappears, leaving the spectators wondering who he was. The last panel shows a smiling statue of the Roman god Mercury.

To me, the art on this story looked to be by one of the usual Charlton artists: Charles Nicholas, Vince Alascia, Bill Molno, Sal Trapani, or some combination thereof. Charlton buff Ramon Schenk, who read the tale in a later Alan Class reprint, believe it's inked by Trapani and probably pencilled by Rocco Mastroserio.

Texas Rangers in Action

Surprisingly, the other Charlton story in AMAZING STORIES OF SUSPENSE #90 is a western. TEXAS RANGERS IN ACTION was a western anthology series which ran for 75 issues between 1956 and 1970. As you can guess, the stories starred various Rangers. To the best of my knowledge, these Rangers weren't recurring characters.

"End of the Trail" (eight pages) was pencilled by Nicholas and inked by Alascia. A weary Ranger retires and plans to buy a ranch. He helps to recover a friend's ranch from the owlhoots who "stole" it and buys the bad guy's ranch. The Ranger leaves his brother in charge of his new spread and then returns to the Rangers. He's not ready to retire after all.

That's AMAZING STORIES OF SUSPENSE #90, 68 pages of old-time comics goodness. I realize not all of my readers are as fond of my Alan Class columns as I am, but, what the hey, it's not like you're paying for them or any of the 20-plus other TOTs I post the rest of the month. So, unless you're planning to make some big-ass TIP THE TIPSTER donations, cut me some slack.

Don't pout. I still love you madly.



Creepy Worlds 122

As previously mentioned, my collection of Alan Class reprints has grown by leaps and bounds due to the generosity of my dear pal Paul Fearn (Barnsley's best man) and Nova Land, who went to school in England from 1972 through 1975.

Here's a recent e-mail from Nova:

I've been re-reading the comics prior to sending them off, and there's lots of fun stuff. That's a nice thing about giving comics away; it gives me an incentive to actually read books rather than just letting them sit.

I recall you writing about the difficulty of dating Alan Class comics, but don't recall if you've managed to come up with dates for them. If you haven't, the comics I'm sending may be helpful in putting a fairly close approximations of the actual publication dates on issues from all the various series. This is due to the changes in pricing that occurred in the early 1970s.

In mid-February 1971, Britain switched from their old system of pounds and shillings and pence to a decimalized system, and there was a transition period where the old currency was phased out and the new phased in. Thus, any Alan Class comic with a price of "1/-" (one shilling) is pre-February 1971, any comic that features both "1/-" and "5p" is from the transition period, and any comic that has the price simply in pence is post-transition. I would be inclined to date the first comic in each series to display the dual price tags as the February 1971 issue.

Creepy Worlds 124

In the box I'm sending, CREEPY WORLDS #122 has dual prices so is a transition issue; #124 has only the new price, so it's a post transition issue. UNCANNY TALES #79 has dual pricing; #82 has only new pricing. SUSPENSE #110 has dual pricing; #116 has only new. Best of all, ASTOUNDING #75 has only old pricing, #77 and #82 have dual pricing, and #84 has modern pricing. That means dual pricing begins with either #76 or #77 and runs through either #82 or #83. So the transition period lasted six to eight months.

If, as would make sense, there was dual pricing on all the series for identical length of time, then finding either the first or last issue with dual pricing would enable you to determine which issue to call the February 1971 issue. That is, if all the series were published monthly, as the back cover blurb "available monthly" would seem to imply. But, if it means instead simply new issues of at least one listed series will be available in any given month, that complicates matters. Still, by seeing how many transition months there were for each series, it should then be possible to see whether some of these series came out more frequently than others and deduce the frequency of each.

Additionally, there is a price hike from 5p to 6p which occurs with Uncanny #86, with Suspense #125, and with Sinister Tales #113. The price hike thus seems to have occurred about a year and a half after decimalization, i.e. somewhere toward the end of 1972. That would make sense. It had to happen before June, 1974 (which would be the absolute latest I could have acquired any of these comics) and more likely at least a year earlier (to allow time for someone to buy a newsstand copy, read it, trade it in, and for me to have found and bought it at a second-hand stall.) Once you have enough comics in each series to determine which was the first or last transition issue for a series, and to determine which was the first 6p issue, it should be possible to put a more exact date on when the price hike occurred. Once you do that, either the February 1971 date for the first transition price issue, or whatever the date is for the first price hike issue, will give you base dates to use in assigning dates to the rest of the issues in the least for the years when the series were monthly.

Astounding Stories 77

One cross-check on this:

As noted earlier, ASTOUNDING STORIES #77 is either the first or second dual-pricing issue of that series and therefore, by my reasoning, would be either the February or March, 1971 issue. That makes sense as a date for that issue because of the contents: reprints of the Ultron-6 stories from August and September, 1969, issues of THE AVENGERS. Obviously these issues had to come out after 1969, and it seems reasonable Marvel would want a delay of at least a year before reprints of the stories appeared. So it seems unlikely this issue could have appeared much before February, 1971. Likewise it could not have come out much later. It had to come out at least a year before the price hike, and the price hike had to occur well before 1974. So I think my speculative dates are fairly close.

Wow, Nova! Your e-mail expands my knowledge of these comics in a major way. It might take me a while to sort it all out, but I think I can get the hang of it. Thank you...and thanks again for all the swell comics!

While I'm making with the heartfelt gratitude, thanks to all of you for spending a part of your day with me.

I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff!

Tony Isabella

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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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