It’s a bird … it’s a plane … it’s …. a Bicentennial Banner blog!

DC SALUTES THE BICENTENNIAL

#30

Action Comics #461

actioncomics461

Published monthly, thirty cents, July

Cover artist: Bob Oksner

Editor: Julius Schwartz

            Action Comics? Really? You need me to give a background of Action Comics? Okay, okay … Issue # 1 was cover dated April 1938 and featured the debut of that literary iconic trope – the superhero. He was and is called Superman. He was not a masked crime fighter inspired by the pulps like Crimson Avenger, but more in line with the pulp’s Doc Savage or Hugo Danner (the prototype superhero from the novel “Gladiator” by Phillip Wylie) in that he was a perfect human specimen. Only a bursting shell could pierce Superman’s flesh; he was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look! Up in the sky!

            Rather than a Doc Savage clone, he wore a colorful costume and cape ala the pulp detectives of the day. He was a hybrid of these two styles of hero and transcended them both.

            Superman was on the cover of the first issue (in the iconic pose of his smashing a car to bits) and did not appear on the cover again until #7, and then again not until #10.  But based on the sales of the issues on which he WAS the cover feature, the star of this anthology comic was obvious. After #13 he was on the cover (even if it was just a blurb) on every issue until the 1980s, when it changed to a weekly format.

            Action Comics also saw the debut of Lois Lane and Superman bad guys Lex Luthor, Brainiac and the Parasite as well as other DC/National heroes such as Zatara, Vixen (although she should have debuted in her own comic cancelled in the DC Implosion) and Supergirl.

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“Kill Me or Leave Me”, Cary Bates ( w ), Curt Swan (a), Tex Blaisdell (i)

            This story is continued from the previous issue and continues in the next, concluding in the issue after that (where Superman, with amnesia, witnesses the signing of the Declaration of Independence – the comic that was actually on the stands on July of 1976 as opposed to the cover date). Still, with a little manipulating it could have had the Bicentennial banner, yes?  I owned the next two issues after this when they were published.

 karb-brak

            Villain Karb-Brak is convinced Steve Lombard is Superman and attacks him. Superman, meanwhile, saves a Senator from flame-thrower-wielding terrorists and hies to the Galaxy Building just in time to save Lombard. They battle.

            As in the previous issue, Superman gets feverish around Karb-Brak, who touches Superman and causes the gym in which they fought to explode! Superman saves Lombard and Karb-Brak. Karb-Brak, in his human identity of Andrew Meda (get it?) walks away.

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            Karb-Brak reveals his origin: He is banished from his home planet in the Andromeda galaxy because he is allergic to everyone on the planet – a planet of super-powered beings. But the planet of his exile – earth, obviously – has a being whose powers are similar to his own. When Superman approaches, he becomes allergic. If he does not eliminate Superman, he will die.

            With Lombard no longer on his list of Superman’s secret identity, Karb-Brak goes to suspect #2: Clark Kent. Using his psi-machine, Karb-Brak mentally manipulates Clark’s friends and other citizens of Metropolis into falling in love with Kent. They fawn over him, want pieces of his clothing and treats him like a 1970s rock star. Kent is chased into a park and attacked by Karb-Brak, where Clark accidentally hurts bystanders while protecting his identity. His guilt and concern hold him back as Karb-Brak continues the assault.

            The crowd cheers on Clark Kent – they now realize he really is Superman – and he fights back. The psi-machine worked too well. Karb-Brak returns to his psi-machine to make the public cheer him instead of Kent. Superman knocks out Karb-Brak, and uses the psi-machine to make the public forget his dual identity and the fight in the park.

            Karb-Brak is now too weak to fight Superman and gives him an ultimatum: stay on earth and I die or leave earth forever and let me live – which will you choose, hero, which will you choose?

***

The Toughest Newsboy in Town”, Elliot S! Maggin (w), Curt Swan (a), Tex Blaisdell (i)

            This is a solo Perry White story. Perry was the editor-in-don’t-call-me-chief of the Daily Planet – Clark, Lois and Jimmy’s boss. He first appeared in November 1940 in Superman #7. Before that time, Lois and Clark worked for George Taylor of the Daily Star. The explanation of the switch was never given at the time, but retconned in the 1970s as part of the Earth-One and Earth-Two lore.

            After Easter dinner, Perry’s gathers his four grandchildren to tell them of his amazing exploits.

            In 1934 Perry was hawking papers when a man gave him a quarter for a two cent edition! Perry recognized him as missing toy company heir Victor Larson. Perry followed Larson to his office where he kept a man named Doctor Norton hostage. Victor ran up gambling debts with the mob and is in hiding; Norton has designed an atomic bomb and Larson is trying to torture the plans out of him. Perry jumps through the window and eventually knocks out Larson. Poor Norton dies of a heart attack in the meantime. Perry writes his first story (the atomic bomb angle was nixed) and got a job reporting for the Daily Planet instead of selling it.

            One newspapers headline (partly covered) touts “Giordano wins art …” The editor of this Earth-One Daily Planet was not named in this story – was it George Taylor?

 

 

Superman in Action: letter column for Action Comics #457 (which introduced Pete Ross’ son Jon). Brian Scott of Streator, IL (positive), Mike White of Mackinaw, IL (positive), Mark Schneider of Concord, Mass (negative as to the Superman feature, but positive on the Green Arrow back-up), and Dan Cardenas, San Luis Obispo, CA (positive) contributed.

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Join me next time for DC’s Bicentennial issue #31: Adventure Comics #446

 

Original Material copyright 2015 Michael Curry

Images used are copyright their respective holders and reproduced here under the “Fair Use” doctrine of 17 USC 106 & 106a for the purposes of criticism and comment.

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World’s Finest Comics #239: Bicentennial banner blog continues!

DC SALUTES THE BICENTENNIAL

#26

World’s Finest Comics #239

World's_Finest_Comics_239

Published nine times a year, thirty cents, July

Cover artist: Ernie Chua (unsigned – very unusual for him). Inked by John Calnan

Editor: Murray Boltinoff

            World’s Finest Comics began life as 1939 New York World’s Fair Comics and 1940 New York World’s Fair Comics. Those were one-shot anthologies released by National Comics featuring their star attractions – in 1939’s issue that meant Superman, Slam Bradley, the Sandman and Zatara. 1940 starred Superman and Batman (and Robin, don’t forget Robin) in the same book, although in separate stories, along with stories of Hourman, Slam Bradley, Johnny Thunderbolt and Red, White & Blue. The comics were so successful the company decided to make it a continuing quarterly comic called World’s Best Comics with #1 dated Spring 1941. As another company already was publishing a Best Comics, National changed the title to World’s Finest Comics with #2 (Summer 1941) to avoid their getting a taste of their own litigious medicine.

            It was a successful anthology featuring separate tales of Superman, Batman (and Robin, don’t forget Robin), Johnny Thunder, Red, White & Blue, the Crimson Avenger, and others; but always featuring solo tales of the company’s Big Two: Superman and Batman (and Robin, don’t forget Robin).

            Sales in superhero comics slumped over the years, causing cancellations of most magazines and cutting of page counts in the survivors. There was only room for one feature in World’s Finest now, who should it be? Should either Superman or Batman (and Robin, don’t forget Robin) be relegated to a back-up strip? Or ousted altogether?

            The powers-that-were came up with a brilliant idea – team up their two biggest stars in one story! Thus the Superman/Batman Team (and Robin, don’t forget Robin) was born in issue #71 (July 1954).

            Except for a brief time in the early 1970s (issues #198 – 216) – where Superman instead teamed up with other DC characters in an imitation of The Brave and the Bold, the magazine remained a vehicle for the Superman/Batman team. Robin? By this time Robin had grown and was more or less on his own. Robin appearing in World’s Finest after the switch back to Superman/Batman was rare. He did team with Superman in one of the non-Batman issues: #200 in fact…

            With issue #244 (May 1977) World’s Finest returned to its anthology roots by becoming a Dollar Comic and featuring additional stories starring, among others, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Wonder Woman, the Creeper, the Vigilante and Shazam/Captain Marvel.

            The comic reverted back to “normal” size with issue #283 (September 1982) and lasted until issue #323 (January 1986).  By this time Batman was budding into his “brooding sociopath” persona with which came a dislike of Superman, his “old friend”. The editors and writers gleefully took advantage of the rift between the two characters for the next twenty years.

            World’s Finest was revived as a mini-series in 1990 and the title Superman/Batman ran from 2003 – 2011 for 87 issues. Batman/Superman – the flip made quite likely to boost sales – is a “New 52” title. World’s Finest itself became a “New 52” title with DC’s reboot of their line featuring stories of the Power Girl/Huntress (and Robin, don’t forget … oh never mind) team.

            As an anthology in its Golden Age, World’s Finest featured the “best” of National Publications, so no new heroes or supporting characters of note debuted. The comic did introduce two durable villains: the Scarecrow and the Composite Superman (a man with Superman’s costume on the right side and Batman’s on the left, with all the powers of the Legion of Superheroes … you read that correctly…).

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“The UFO That Stole the USA”, Bob Haney ( w ), Curt Swan and John Calnan (a), Jack C Harris (Asst. Ed.)

            People who started reading comic books only since the 1980s missed out on the glorious writing of Bob Haney. I regret never having had the chance to meet him and shake his hand and tell him how much I enjoyed his work – especially his long runs in The Brave and the Bold and World’s Finest Comics. He died in 2004. Websites are devoted to his range of work.

            Oh sure he has his detractors – even his biggest fans (like me) cringe at some of his quirks – his apparent hatred of Plastic Man, for example. But mostly he is criticized for his utter lack of continuity. His work stood so much in its own bubble it was designated as being in its own alternate universe – designated as Earth B. Haney’s job was to tell a story – and if regular continuity or character canon had to be changed or ignored, it was. If a factoid had to be put in that only appeared in that issue and never again to appear in that character’s history, so be it. Bruce Wayne was a US Senator for a time. He had more wards after Dick Grayson (most of them were imprisoned or killed) and never mentioned again. These were called Haney-isms.

            But they were fun, and kept the story going. Face-palm moments? Oh to be sure. But I’d rather read a comic written by Bob Haney than most anything released today. He made comics fun to read. That was the whole point, isn’t it?

***

            Superman and Batman investigate a rural farm outside of Gotham City. Where one half of the farmhouse stood is now a huge smoking pit, the house neatly cut in two. The farmer and his wife hysterically babble about their horse and someone stealing fish and are taken to a hospital. Superman investigates the pit – it goes down for miles and before he can reach bottom notes that the tunnel is hotter than the core of the sun (Wait, wouldn’t that turn the earth to a cinder? Shut up.)!  Whatever did this is obviously of extraterrestrial origin (Well, not necessarily … I said shut up.).

Worlds-Finest-239-03

            Batman enlists a police sketch artist to draw the farm couple’s rants. He draws a spaceship destroying their house and stealing their fish pond and horse.

            They return to the farm to find a crowd of UFO “crackpots” including a boy who finds a clue – a map identifying other possible targets. Also in the crowd is Gold of the Metal Men, disguised as a human. The heat from the pit melts his disguise and the crowd, thinking him an alien, pushes him into the pit! (Wait, if it’s hot enough to melt Gold’s disguise, why aren’t the crowd blistering and getting hot? Because gold melts at a lower … I said shut up!). Superman rescues him before he melts away.

            Why is Gold there? He is a UFO buff, you see. A fact never revealed before or again in Metal Men lore. It is this issues’ Haney-ism.

            ( What kind of bull– … Shut up, I said!)

            Since the map the young boy discovered is made of a metal not found in this solar system, Superman heads to space to find the planet of its origin. Batman discovers that the metal did NOT come from the aliens’ home planet, but was mined elsewhere.  Batman drives to a nearby space observatory to radio Superman – if he finds the metal’s home planet, he will be accusing the wrong planet’s inhabitants!

            But the aliens shoot at the Batmobile from the sky, knocking Batman out. He is saved by Gold and taken to a hospital. Superman and Gold, aware that the aliens may be watching and listening, pretend to Kervorkian Batman by pulling his plug and killing him (ala the cover)!

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            Actually Superman substituted a dummy Batman, threw Gold into the atmosphere where as thin gold foil he could block the alien scanners (but Gold wouldn’t have the mass to cover the entire … I’m warning you!) and whisked Batman to his Fortress of Solitude where they compare notes.

            They find the alien spy satellite and triangulate the home planet. Superman takes off to exact revenge. After he leaves, the house, the pond and the horse are returned intact (But how could the house be made whole if it was sliced … That’s enough!) The aliens meant no harm, but how to tell Superman that? Gold spins into space where Batman sends a message via Morse code to Superman (but the mass thing again … Zip it!).

            Meanwhile, Superman has already deflected a deadly beam shot from the alien planet. When he gets Batman and Gold’s message, he confronts the aliens. No, they meant no harm to Earth – they were merely testing their weaponry for their attack upon their enemies on the planet of Pyra. Oh well, that’s okay then, says Superman. He flies into space and redirects the deadly beam back to Pyra. He explains that the beam is now so diluted it will only stun them. This is also apparently acceptable to our heroes…

            He warns the aliens never to experiment with weapons meant to destroy another civilization on Earth again. The aliens cheerfully agree: “You are an intelligent and all-powerful being. We bow to your wishes!”

            Ah Bob Haney, god rest your saintly soul…

            (But … sorry, story’s over!)

            And while we’re at it, it is always good to see Curt Swan art … he is never anything less that perfect! (I agree … it’s too late to suck up now)

 

From the World’s Finest Fans: letters for WF #236, guest starring the Atom. A positive letter from David Trenton of New York, NY, J. Charles Backman of Sterling Heights, MI criticized the incorrect use of Morse code in that issue, John Baker of Baltimore, MD asked about where the headshots on the cigar-band cover came from (from various back issues and promo drawings) and Fred Schneider of New York, NY wrote a positive letter.

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Join me next time for DC’s Bicentennial issue #27: GI Combat #192

 

Original Material copyright 2015 Michael Curry

Images used are copyright their respective holders and reproduced here under the “Fair Use” doctrine of 17 USC 106 & 106a for the purposes of criticism and comment.