The Brave and The Bold Index Part 7
Showcase: Of Strange Suicide Squad Stories Inside Earth, Part 4
Continuing the index/history of the greatest comic magazine ever! 😉
Strange Sports Stories ran for an unprecedented five issues of Brave and Bold in 1963. From #45 – 49 sports tales were told with a science fiction twist. The best way to explain is to describe them:
1. (#45: Challenge of the Headless Baseball Team) The World’s Series championship pole contains an element needed by aliens to maintain their warp drive, so they challenge the Champion New York Jets to a Worlds’ Series! This tale was selected by Infantino himself as one of his favorite tales included in DC Special #1.
2. A chemist raises huge berry bushes; eating berries turn the chemist into the “Goliath of the Gridiron (#45)”. But within a week, the same chemicals that caused the enormous growth killed the plants. Uh-oh.
3. (#46: Hot Shot Hoopsters) 14-year old college geniuses use science and mathematics to defeat AlvaniaUniversity’s basketball team.
4. (#46: Danger on the Martian Links) John Broome wrote an excellent tale of Wale Marner, the greatest golfer in the solar system of 2372, who wins the Mars Nine-Planet Tournament. Oh and defeats an alien invasion along the way!
5. (#47: The Phantom Prize Fighter) A Faustian tale: Boxer allows an alien to take over his body in six months so the alien can survive earth’s radiation belt in exchange for being invulnerable in the ring for half a year.
6. (#47: Saga of the Secret Sportsmen) John Broome’s tale of a time when sports and athletes are outlawed! And on top of that – Uranus attacks (stop giggling)! Interestingly, people participate in sports through what we would now call virtual reality – one wears special glasses and you see and can participate in various sporting events. John Broome was thirty years ahead of his time on this one!
7. (#48: The Man Who Drove Through Time) A man drives an 1896 automobile so fast he goes forward in time to 1964 and competes in the Indianapolis 500.
8. (#48: Duel of the Star Champions) An Altairan kidnaps the earth representative of the intergalactic Olympics and steals his “will to win”.
9. (#49: Warrior of the Weightless World) Zero-gee basketball players are sent to destroy the evil alien Creon rocket-repair depot.
10. (#49: Gorilla Wonders of the Diamond) Genetically engineered baseball-playing gorillas beat the Yankees, the Reds, The White Sox and the Dodgers then try to conquer the world! Note that the story only said they played Chicago – I presume it was the White Sox and not the Cubs, because the story stated the crowd was surprised that the gorillas won. J
Gardner Fox and John Broome gave us tales that could have come straight out of “Astounding” or “Asimov”. The stories were incredible for their day. In the more cynical 21stcentury, the storylines sound quaint. But taken in light of their times the stories are wonderful pieces of science fiction for pre-teens and older!
The art was by Carmine Infantino. His artwork was even more stylized than Joe Kubert’s, and is definitely an acquired taste. I was never a big fan of his artwork – though I grew to like his work on Marvel’s Star Wars – his term on Spiderwoman and his last years on the Flash were just plain bad.
But he’s such a giant in the industry and his interviews are so darn interesting how could you not like him personally? Well, I will say this – his work on “Strange Sports Stories” was the best thing he ever did!
Instead of angular and stiff, his characters looked almost realistic. Add in the scientific machinery at which he excels and you have a very stylized comic.
His most unique contribution to the series was the silhouetted text box next to the artwork. Nearly every panel in each story had a text box next to it describing the action, (“Suddenly a Venusian walked onto the basketball court” along with a silhouette describing the action – such as a Venusian walking, a man lighting a pipe, a basketball or baseball thrown, etc.). It added a unique dimension to the stories. So much so that Infantino still talks about the series as being among his favorites. Mine too.
The letter columns praised the series’ originality and requested more. Unfortunately, there would only be the five issues. In the early 1970s, National brought back Strange Sports Stories as a horror book rather than in the science fiction genre. Instead of alien invaders, clawed hands sprang from the thirteenth hole, that sort of thing. It lasted a few issues, enough to qualify “Strange Sports Stories” as a B&B feature that graduated to its own magazine. A later DC Special titled “Strange Sports Stories” had superheroes vs. super-villains in a baseball game.
By the way, Infantino said in an interview with Alter Ego that he hated drawing science fiction. This from the man who made Adam Strange the beloved stylistic feature it was; the man whose only later work of quality was Marvel’s Star Wars; the man who helped make “Strange Sports Stories” one of the most truly unique series in
Brave & Bold and in comics altogether!
And remember: “Strange Sports Stories” got its own comic book, something the Viking Prince never did. So this series ranks up there with the Justice League, Hawkman and the Teen Titans.
Although Brave & Bold was advertised in other comic books it never hyped itself. The Justice League audience could have been enticed to buy the next issue featuring Cave Carson if it was hyped enough at the end of the Amazo story in #30. Instead it was announced the JLA would get their own magazine. Whoopie! I’ll save up for that instead of Brave & Bold! There was no mention of the return of the Suicide Squad after the first run of Hawkman. Why not? Couldn’t it only have helped sales? The first issue of Suicide Squad’s second run (#37) blurbed that they were back “because you demanded it!” We did? When? If we did where were the accolades in the letter columns?
The last Strange Sports Stories ran in September 1963. B&B had an eight-year run of unimaginable successes and disappointing failures. But in those eight years the market had changed beyond even Gardner Fox’s vast imagination. What do they do now?
Imagine reading the notes from the late-night brainstorming sessions: Superheroes seem to be the big thing again. Do we continue our “Showcase”-style or leave that to Showcase and try something different? We can increase sales by showing superheroes and other popular National characters, but which ones? Maybe we can split the magazine between two characters, like Hawkman and Adam Strange in Mystery on Space. Or we can go back to three features; with superheroes instead of Vikings, gladiators and knights! Maybe we can recreate the magic of the Justice League by bringing back the Justice Society or revamp a new Seven Soldiers of Victory! Gosh, the Justice League has been so successful even Timely is back in the superhero game with their version: the Fantastic Four. It has an up-dated Human Torch and they brought back Namor the Submariner! Timely, Atlas or Marvel, whatever it’s called this week, hmmph! Who would have thought? Remember those great Human Torch-Submariner battles? Two great heroes together in one giant story…
Two great heroes in one …
Next: The Team-Up Years Part One: The World’s Greatest Super Heroes
Copyright (c) 2012 Michael G. Curry