The Brave & The Bold Index Part 4

The Brave and The Bold Index Part 4
Showcase: Of Strange Suicide Squad Stories Inside Earth, Part 1

Continuing the index/history of the greatest comic magazine ever! 😉 I admit to giving legendary writer Robert Kanigher a hard time here. As far as I know he may have been as wonderful a mentor and humanitarian as he was a writer. Perhaps he did not have much to work with. Despite a distinguished career as a comic book writer; you have to admit, not everyone hits home runs every time …
With issue #25 of The Brave and The Bold came a change of format.  Why?  Perhaps the genre (swashbuckling adventure) was dying out in comics as it was in movies and television.  Plus superheroes were exploding in popularity for the first time since World War Two.  The Superman television program helped, as had the revival of the Flash and Green Lantern (National Comics being nearly the only publishers still doing superheroes).  National’s Showcase title was among its most successful – Flash, Challengers of the Unknown, Green Lantern and Lois Lane featured in three-issue stints (or so) attracted readers.  The powers-that-be at Brave and Bolddecided to do the same.
            Even the appearance of the magazine would change.  Now the proud “Brave and Bold” banner would be shrunk down and placed in the upper-left hand corner of the comic to make room for the specific feature’s logo, which had been done with the Viking Prince solo runs of #23 and #24.  This has led to some confusion – “Viking Prince #23” was recently sold on Ebay for $5.00 instead of ten to twenty times that if properly labeled “Brave & Bold #23” (a hint to those looking for back issues).
            So the Viking Prince, the sole survivor of B&B’s first four years, was quietly shelved (are there still unpublished Viking Prince stories in a vault somewhere slowly crumbling to dust?) and the magazine was thrust ahead 1100 years!
            “Introducing America’s Top Secret Weapon” screamed issue #25 in September 1959, “in reports never before published to the world!!”  Thus was introduced The Suicide Squad:  Colonel Rick Flagg, command pilot; Jess Bright, nuclear physicist; Dr. Evans, astronomer/astrophysicist; and Karin Davies, eye-candy, er, space-medicine nurse.  Yes, Task Force X, “known as the Suicide Squad because of the fantastic perils it unhesitatingly faces with supreme courage and unique methods.”
Rick and Karin are in love of course (typical 1950s science fiction – there’s always a woman and she and the leading man always fall in love).  However, Jess and Dr. Evans love Karin too!  So Rick and Karin decide to keep their love for one another to themselves for the good of the team.  A love quadrangle would only get in the way of team missions!  This was mentioned every issue and was pretty much the sole character development.
            The Suicide Squad was Robert Kanigher’s attempt at “The Challengers of the Unknown”, with wonderful Ross Andru/Mike Esposito art instead of wonderful Jack Kirby art!  The art was typical 1959 – straightforward and realistic-looking men, women and machinery.  Imaginations were let loose on the “perils” – gigantic aliens and beasts attacked our heroes non-stop.  While the artwork was good, the storylines were for the most part … well … silly; even for the times.  The perils were usually of the science-run-amuck-because-we-tampered-in-God’s-domain found in the “B” movies of the time.  One expected to find Peter Graves or Leslie Nelson popping in to help!
In their first story (#25: Three Waves of Doom) an earthquake awakens a dinosaur-like creature that sets fire to Tokyo er Atlantic City, freezes metal and absorbs all chlorophyll!  The Suicide Squad defeats it by tricking the beast into grasping onto a rocket and shooting it toward the sun! 
The stories seem to talk down to its youthful audience.  Facts are thrown in almost as if the characters are showing off their intelligence (one character actually says, “It’s a good thing we have enough sodium manganate on board!”  What?!).
And in six issues we never learn Dr. Evans’ first name!
The Suicide Squad was given three issues to do their thing (#25 – 27) and another three-issue try-out later in 1961 (#37 – 39), without success.  The plots of the other five issues read like an edition of Weekly World News:
1)                  Radiation shrinks the Squad down to matchstick size, yet they must still thwart a submarine attack against America! (#26: The Sun Curse)
2)                  Dinosaur-like serpent attacks Paris metro, boats on the Seine and the EiffelTower! (#26: Serpent of the Subway)
3)                  Scientist turns self into ten-story reptile – carries A-bomb into city! (#27: Creature of GhostLake)
4)                  Intelligent dinosaurs from other dimension invade earth! (#37: Raid of the Dinosaurs)
5)                  Planeload of nuclear missiles land on island of Cyclops! (#37: Threat of the Giant Eye)
6)                  Alien giant’s pet pterodactyls capture warships, planes, Statue of Liberty! (#38: Master of the Dinosaurs)
7)                  Other-dimensional “mirage men” try to kill the Suicide Squad! (#38: Menace of the Mirage People)
8)                  Gigantic dinosaur-shaped spacecraft contains Jurassic zoo! (#39: Prisoner of the Dinosaur Zoo)
9)                  Sculptor-Sorcerer kills scientists by turning them into gold statues! (“Mr. Kanigher?  The attorneys for Ian Fleming are still holding on line three!”) (#39: Rain of Fire)
The texts in the issues were interesting, albeit soon forgettable: “real” sea serpents and dragons were examined, including the one spotted in Gloucester Harbor, Massachusetts in 1817.  Another text teaches us how sonar can track a submarine.
Task Force X faded into obscurity for twenty-five years.  Keith Griffin brought back the idea of a Suicide Squad in the late 1980s as a companion to his new “Justice League” title.  This time, Rick Flagg recruits villains and minor superheroes (including fellow B&B alumni Nemesis) to do battle with evil.  Flagg even went toe-to-toe with Batman to a mutual draw (not even Superman could do that in the late 1980s!).  That version of the Squad was definitely more successful, being fully entrenched in the superhero genre.  But these six issues are the originals and a fun read: just as the Thunderbirds TV show was some years later – silly, but charming.  Certainly the quality of the Squad as a comic book paled in comparison to previous issues with the Viking Prince and Silent Knight.  Overall, not a very good start to B&B’s “Showcase”-style format.
            It would hit a home run next time.

Copyright (c) 2012 Michael G. Curry

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