Tuesday, April 29, 2008

George Rears - 1977

sg George Rears - By the summer of 1977 (How come almost all childhood comic book memories take place in summer?) I was a full fledged comic book junkie. Now that I had a regular allowance, I had enough income to support my habit. I bought just about every DC super hero title, and was just about ready to start venturing over to the Marvel side--but I heard all their stories were continued...

Living in Germany meant the only source of comics was the Post Exchange complex--there were no comic shops. But there was one other place I could find Superman adventures: the newsstand. Except there was one problem--all the comics were in German!

Out of curiosity, I picked one or two German Superman comics up, and noticed they were direct translations of stories DC had published a year or two earlier (ancient stories in a ten year old's eyes). The paper was a bright and flimsy, and the lettering was mixed case type set.

Thumbing through the books the other night it reminded me of some of the early Ultimate Spider-Man books in look and feel. Needless to say, the German comics just didn't feel right...instead I gravitated to the "Taschenbuchs" (German for "paperback") which look uncannily like the DC Digests that would debut a few years later. I bought a few of them, and enjoyed looking through the stories I had seen earlier in my English DC books.

However, Superman Taschenbuch #7 intrigued me. On the cover was a picture of Supergirl breaking into a Justice League meeting, obviously with something important to say. It looked like a great story. So I bought the digest, skimmed through the whole thing (I can't read German) recognizing every story in the book from my collection. But there was no Justice League story in the book. None. No Supergirl, either. So I went to my Justice League collection, and started researching.

Supergirl had some Justice League appearances in the mid 1970s, but none with this drawing. I remember the Justice League appeared in Superman Family where they were under Cleopatra's mind control, but this picture didn't seem to fit, either.

As time went on and we came back to the United States, this story was on the back of my mind, especially as I started to get serious about collecting the JLA. The hype built in my mind--the big guns of the JLA, and Supergirl, too! It didn't take long to figure out that this picture had to be post-1970, due to the hot pants and puffy shirt outfit Supergirl was sporting. I later checked out all the issues of Supergirl’s own magazine from 1972-1974, and none of them had this cool image.

I knew Supergirl had an early 70's run in Adventure Comics. That series started out as the old figure-skating outfit Supergirl, and later on it became a costume of the month club. One thing I did notice--the Adventure books were hard to find--I never could find anything from Adventure #420 until when the Spectre run started (Issue 431). Perhaps people stopped buying it when it became a fashion magazine? Since, I was more serious about my JLA and Flash collections this curious little story disappeared from my consciousness. Until last month.

While doing some investigating on eBay for another project I was doing, I came across a whole bunch of Adventure Comics--including a bunch I had never seen before...among them was Adventure 423..."Treachery".

After having wondered what this story was about for thirty years, it was inevitable that I would be disappointed, and needless to say it met my expectations. Three words: Mind Control Glasses. I give the Germans credit. They were smart enough to use the really cool cover image. They were also smart enough to use other stories on the inside. The cover is still cool, though.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Planet Comic Book Radio

sgMy episode of Planet Comic Book Radio--"Son of My 70s Show"--is now available as a podcast.

I had a lot of fun talking with pal Javier, and we mostly talk about my time at the Kubert School, treasury comics, Power Records, and black and white magazines, but other stuff finds its way into the conversation, as well.

It's broken up into three parts so you don't overload on my geeky ramblings:

Part 1Part 2Part 3

Javier told me his highest rated episode was his first, when my pal Ben Holcomb was on the show. I'm hoping I at least match that, so Javier will be inspired to do another 70s-themed show (Beneath the Planet of the 70s Show, perhaps?), so please check it out!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Comics = Happy - 1942

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Another photo sent to me by my pal Rick, of Mail-It To Team-Up fame--a bunch of kids enjoying comics! What could be better?

Actually, it could be a lot better--I've seen this photo before here and there, and I believe its a shot inside one of the Japanese internment camps set up right after Pearl Harbor, one of the more shameful moments in our country's history.

But, if anything, this photo reiterates the Transformative Power of Comics--look how happy these kids look as they devour the newest issues of Marvel Mystery Comics, Feature, Wings, Blue Beetle, Spy Smasher (no irony there), and Uncle Sam Quarterly (ok, lots of irony, actually).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Planet Comic Book Radio - 4/22/08

sgShameless Plug Department: I will be the guest on my pal Javier "El Muerto" Hernandez's swell online radio show Planet Comic Book Radio next Tuesday, April 22nd!

I will be the guest for the whole hour, and we will talk about my various blogging endeavors, and Hey Kids! is sure to come up.

The show airs every week live at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific Time, and of course available for Podcast afterwards. Please check it out and tell Javier Hey Kids, Comics! sent you!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

George Rears - 1981

sg George Rears - I always loved Earth-Prime stories. Earth-Prime was supposed to be where we lived. You and me. Really. No super-heroes. Theoretically, these comic book characters did exist, just in a different dimension, vibrating at a different speed than us.

All you had to do was change the rate your molecules were vibrating at, and boom--you could be on Earth-1, the home of DC's silver and bronze age characters. It's true. I read it in The Flash #228--the first comic I ever bought.

So I was a sucker for these crazy Earth-Prime stories. The Justice League had two Earth-Prime writers visit for a team-up with the Justice Society in 1975, and later, the League visited our Earth when they discovered our Superman: Ultraa...of course that incident was kept hush-hush. You can only read about it in the comics (JLA #153). Neither of these stories, nor the Flash yarn I mentioned earlier, are considered classics today--although I love them all.

It was the next Earth-Prime story, though that raised the bar forever. "To Kill A Legend", the lead-off story from Detective Comics #500 (March 1981) blew me away. Upon first seeing this story, I was confused...here we had probably the biggest anniversary issue in comic history (Issue 500! Detective Comics!) and DC let an unknown writer, Alan Brennert, have the lead story! Needless to say, as a fourteen year old I wasn't familiar with Mr. Brennert's multitude of other work in science-fiction and TV. I guess I needed a life outside of comics. I probably still do.

So after I got past the writer confusion I sat down and read what was to become my favorite Batman story. Dick Giordano provided stunning artwork as Batman and Robin are interrupted in the middle of the case by the Phantom Stranger (definitely the coolest member of the Justice League, though not necessarily my favorite). It seems the Phantom Stranger wanted to offer Batman the chance to stop the cycle that occurs every 20 years that creates a new Batman.

Off goes the Batman, with Robin following behind him to a world without super heroes (I forget whether it is named as Earth-Prime, but it definitely could have been). So here you have the World's Greatest Detective trying to solve a murder before it happens--researching the would-be killer, investigating the would-be victims, trying to make it all fit. Meanwhile Robin sees something that Batman appears to miss: young Bruce Wayne is a spoiled brat.

The story briskly follows Batman and Robin as they solve the case using knowledge from Batman's own life and clues from this new world. Interesting twists lead them down false paths, and finally they make it to the crime scene, where Robin confronts Batman about the natural order of things and how Bruce Wayne of this world appears to be destined to be a spoiled brat. Batman makes a case for how he has lives to save, and then he does just that...and then they return home.

What really makes the story, though, is the epilogue: Apparently young Bruce Wayne is inspired from that event to get his act together. He now wants to be just like the man that saved his parents. There will be a Batman on this world after all!

I can't do the story justice in one paragraph; after all, I'm no Alan Brennert. I'd recommend reading it. DC has reprinted this story in just about every "Greatest Hits" or "Best of Batman" package they have produced, and deservedly so.

I just remember reading this story, then stopping and putting the book down to take it all in. I was trying to process the many different themes: One man can make a difference vs. The natural order of things, not to mention the nature vs. nurture conflict. I'm sure I eventually read the rest of the book, heck it was $1.50, but I couldn't tell you one thing about the other stories today, many years later.

I have since become a huge fan of Mr. Brennert's comic work. After this story I would always have the highest expectations when I saw his name attached to a book, and he never did let me down. A lot of his work focused on both Earth-2 and Batman, including Brave and the Bold #s 182 and 197. Each of which I could write about in length, also.

When the DC multiverse went away in 1985 due to the Crisis on Infinite Earths, we lost Earth-Prime. Gone was the idea that these characters really do exist, just at a different vibratory rate. Now, they were just imaginary characters, all living in their imaginary world. I guess we don't live on Earth-Prime anymore.

Monday, April 14, 2008

This Ain't A Library - 1946

sg
This cool photo was sent to me by my pal Rick, who runs several comic-related blogs (what's with that?) like Mail-It To Team-Up. I never realized kids of the 40s actually dressed like that--beany cap and all!

That newsstand is certainly like the kind I see in my dreams, loaded from top to bottom with comics, more than I could ever hope to buy in a month with my meager allowance (why I'm not a millionaire, since this is a dream anyway, I can't say).

That issue of Modern Comics (top center) is #56, cover-dated December 1946, which means this was taken around September of that year.

Thanks Rick!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Dennis The Menace - 1954

sgAnother famous Reading Comics photo, sent to me by my pal Tommy, of the The Bat-Blog.

Photos like these probably gave Dr. Wertham night sweats.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Man and Superman - 1948

sgThis famous photo of Superman Kirk Alyn was another one sent to me by my pal Tommy, who runs the The Bat-Blog.

Was there ever a photo of George Reeves doing something like this?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Comics Shop Pre-History - 1945

sg
This was another photo sent to me by my pal Tommy, who runs the super-fun Batman fan site The Bat-Blog. He doesn't remember where he found it; in any case, it sure is cool, maybe my favorite of all the ones I've ever posted here.

This industrious kid has set up his own little comics stand, and he's got copies of Gene Autry, New Funnies, Mutt and Jeff, Blue Bolt, and Captain Marvel Jr. for sale(that's issue #7, from 1945) as well as some other books.

You can see this was Comics Specialty Shop Retailing in its infancy, because A)there's a girl, and B)the owner is engaging the customers, not busy playing Magic: The Gathering.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

George Rears - 1976

sg George Rears - Growing up in the 1970s near a military base overseas, any piece of Americana was in high demand.

Probably none more so than comics. Except for maybe baseball cards. Baseball cards, of course, were seasonal. Sometime every March, a case would come into the PX, and it would be sold within a week.

Usually, they would reorder, and another case would come in some time in April, but that would sell out too. Just as fast. Think of all the dollars left on the table by not ordering baseball cards…

If nothing else, the one lesson I learned from my father serving our country, is that the Soviet Union was destined to collapse. Why? Because a centralized economy (as exemplified by the PX) was doomed to failure.

So anyway...by 1976, I was a huge comic fan. However, I wasn't much of a baseball guy. But, I did buy baseball cards. That is, I bought baseball cards when they were available. It didn't take long for my parents to realize I was headed toward a life of couch potato-hood, so they signed me up for baseball that year. Hey, I liked baseball cards, right?

So, off I want to play baseball. One problem. I hated it. I had never played before, and I was awful. Terrible. Even the outfield couldn't hide me. The season couldn't end soon enough for me. It wouldn't be long before I could go back to the comforts of comics. Except Julius Schwartz wouldn't let me.

DC Super Stars #10 featured Strange Sports Stories; however, not just the typical Strange Sports Stories that DC published--this was much wackier...essentially, the DC Super-Villains challenged the DC Super-Heroes to a baseball game. I know what you are thinking--"Shouldn’t they have challenged them to a softball game?"--but no. A Baseball game.

This is the point were I should start making fun of the story. Bruce Wayne and Ollie Queen in a bowling alley when Matter Master and the Joker attack. The Sportsmaster and Huntress solving a marital spat by placing a bet on the sporting event. And the baseball game. Can't forget the baseball game. However, I can't make fun of it. As a nine year old, this story rocked! As a 40 year old, well, not so much (although in place of the letter column is a play by play description of the entire game).

But what is wrong with fun comics for nine year olds? I loved the Killing Joke, Dark Knight Returns, and Batman: Year One, but many years ago I loved this crazy story where Uncle Sam gets to be the Umpire because everybody trusts him--and so does Amazo, because he is an android and can't lie (he can kill the Justice League, but he'll tell the truth while doing it, I guess).

Needless to say, I went on to love baseball (although I still can't play), and have come to view baseball's Opening Day as one of the great American holidays. I have been playing Rotisserie baseball (some call it Fantasy baseball) for 20 years now, which ironically, made me into even more of a couch potato than collecting just comics.