Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Who Owns Superboy?

For a lot longer than I thought it would, this topic has been brought up lately. Most often, I read that the reason DC killed off Conner Kent was because the company can no longer use it, but now I am reading the backside of that as people ask how can there be a Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes program this fall if DC no longer owns the rights. Below is my attempt to pull everything together and show that it isn't as cut and dry as some think:

(1) DC has not lost the right to Superboy. The fact that there will be a SUPERBOY and the Legion of Super-Heroes cartoon this fall is proof enough that Time Warner, DC's parent company, feels secure in what owns. I do not deny that it could be saber rattling on DC's part, but it costs too much money to produce a new television show that it would never have gone into production in the first place had anyone in legal thought there was a chance it wouldn't make it on air.

Beyond that, in 52, hasn't Superboy and Krypto just been reinserted into Superman's past? (I ask because I have my copies of the first four issues, but haven't read them yet.) If Time Warner thought it was going to lose Superboy soon, as many have speculated because of Conner's death, I don't think legal would have allowed DC to return the character to prominence in that way.

(2) DC has never really owned the rights to Superboy. Not ever; at best they were leasing the character. The reason is that Siegel, as a freelancer, approached DC on his own with an idea for a Superboy character. How much of the traditional Superboy he pitched then is still up in the air, but because Siegel and Shuster created Superman and brought it to DC (in other words, were Lana Lang, Pete Ross, Krypto etc. Siegel's creations, too, or did he bring just Superboy), any derivatives from the Superman concept they created separately or together were still their property unless they licensed or sold the rights. DC didn't bite at the offer, but in 1945, with Siegel in the Army and Shuster basically blind, DC started running Superboy stories without the permission of either man. In 1947, when Siegel returned from his tour, he and Shuster promptly sued DC for the rights to Superman and, basically, for copyright infringement for DC's use of Superboy. In 1948, the court ruled that DC owned Superman, based on the contract the pair signed many years earlier, but that they owned Superboy. They granted DC the rights to Superboy for $94,000 and DC thought the problem was solved and they owned the character completely.

However, what no one could have predicted, was that in 1976, the Copyright Act would be totally revamped. When that happened, a provision was included that allowed creators of any creative work who had signed their rights away a chance to terminate the agreement when the first term of copyright came up for renewal, provided they gave the licensee notice. This is what the Siegels did. Time Warner, of course, contested the termination notice; IMO, probably not because it thought it was right--there is too much case law supporting the 1948 decision--but because it thought it could outspend the Siegels and force a settlement.

The March 23, 2006, decision did nothing but affirm what everyone already knew: the Siegels own Superboy.

(3) Yet, if the Siegels own Superboy, how can I state that Time Warner still has the rights to Superboy? I say this because Time Warner owns the things that really matter, the trademarks. It owns the S-shield trademark, it owns the Superboy trademark, it owns the Smallville trademark, it should own the Clark Kent trademark, but it has been some time since I last checked the PTO Website and I can't remember. DC owns every single thing that is marketable about the character; what do the Siegels get if they own Superboy, but cannot use the name on the cover of a comic book or license it for a toy? I suggest nothing.

Now, please understand that trademark law is very different from copyright law. Trademark law is consumer protection law in place to prevent someone from using another's more famous, more respected trademark on their shoddy merchandise, which could confuse consumers. Copyright law is in place to protective creative works.

Think about it in this way: Anyone can create a comic book story with a character named "Superboy." Names in and of themselves cannot be copyrighted. However, if in that story the Superboy character copies dialog or drawings from earlier Superboy comic books that DC published, then DC could sue for copyright infringement. Now, if the Superboy character looked and acted nothing like any of the permutations DC has presented over the years, let's say a physically challenged Latino for whom the name "Superboy" was used as an insult, then there could be no copyright infringement, but "Superboy" could not be used on the cover of the comic because Time Warner owns the right to use that trademark on comic books, just as it owns the right to use it on action figure packaging, for instance.

You might see the Siegels' problem in the long run. So, they have ownership of Superboy, what can they do with it? They can't take it to another comic book company since all the elements that make the character Superboy, some of which I listed three paragraphs above, are trademarks owned by Time Warner. They can't use the familiar costume on the comic book cover because that would infringe Time Warner's trademark. They can't use the name on the cover for the same reason. Licensing the character for toys or movies is cut short because none of the familiar elements that identify the character may be used without infringing Time Warner's trademarks.

The Siegels will probably attempt to have Time Warner's ownership of the trademarks revoked or have themselves brought in as co-owners. If they don't, the Siegels may own Superboy in the pages of a non-DC comic book, but if they S-shield and "Superboy" can't be used on the cover, the comic might as well star any generic character with super powers.

When the dust settles, the Siegels should be willing to settle; Time Warner has been willing to settle for a while. I think the case continues, first, because the Siegels want what they deserve this time as opposed to the token pensions Siegel and Shuster were paid starting in 1978. Additionally, there could be some enjoyment on the part of the Siegels watching Time Warner squirm after how Siegel was treated by the people who used to run DC.

However, there is a possible third reason: this could also be a ploy in preparation for an even more important battle to come over the rights to Superman. Legally, Time Warner and the Siegels own Superman equally, and copyright allows equal owners equal use rights, but the Siegels have been pushed out of that market and they want what is legally theirs. Add to that, a nephew of Shuster's who recently came out of the woodwork claiming a share of the rights, and the battle for Superman could be bigger than the Supermen/Superboy knockdown in Infinite Crisis #7.

UPDATE: Since this was written, it appears that Time Warner is taking a step back, at least with the Legion cartoon. Last week, a new press release was issued that referred to "young Superman" rather then Superboy. At first, I thought that it was just a way for the cartoon to grab the coat tails of Superman Returns and the press release coming out the week the movie was released seemed a little too coincidental. However, even before that, at the New York Licensing Show, Time Warner promoted the show to potential partners without any mention of "Superboy," though the S-shield and a male figure in a Superman/boy was featured prominently. A picture of the promotion signage is shown here (scroll to the bottom of the article). Now, there are rumors that the cartoon is going to have any use of "Superboy" dubbed over with "Superman," while the program for the San Diego convention calls the series "Legion of Super-Heroes" and describes it as "a new Superman-themed half-hour adventure series inspired by the DC Comics series." Ask me now, and I would say that Time Warner blinked.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Testing the waters

Somewhere between unemployment, arm operations, and finishing the basement, I've had time to do some thinking. One of the things I came to understand is that I take too damn long to write anything. I don't think I used to be like this. I'm sure that it is something I caught in law school and can't shake. So, I've made a promise to worry less about correct grammar, spelling, pointers to supporting documentation, etc. and just write within a set time limit.

That was easy. Let's see how it goes when I start writing about something that contains facts.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Kind of Back

The cast/splint is off and the stitches are off. I have some mobility in my left arm again, though two-handed typing is still pretty much a desire rather than an actuality. As such, I guess I'll be updating on a less than daily basis for awhile, much to by chagrin. On the other hand, there is a marked improvement in my left arm, i.e. the constant tingling/constricting/burning/aching is nearly gone. As of now, all that remains is a tingling numbness in the little finger and left half of the ring finger and even then the sensation occurs with touch. In fact, my arm is so much better that I want to have the operation on my right arm. Besides, if there a better time to have one's dominant hand encumbered then when unemployed, I don't know of it.

Anyway, to return partially to comics, in late January I wrote about some new action figures being released by ToyBiz this year. Since then ToyFair has come and gone and while I am high on some things being released, I have decidely cooled on others. For instance, just seeing the Young Avengers figures displayed has convinced me that that is twenty-some dollars I can spend elsewhere. Take a look and see if you don't agree, at least esthetically. I can't fault you for wanting to buy them because you like the characters.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Hiatus Continues

The operation on my left arm appears to be a success, at least as far as I can tell. I still have tingling/numbness in my little finger and the left half of my ring finger. I still have a cast on, which I didn't expect. To put it simply, typying is difficult enough when one is a self-taught, two-fingered touch/look-at-the-screen typist, doing it with just one hand makes an already slow process worse.

The sutures come out on Friday. Hopefully new posts soon after that.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Short Break, But First: Trademark vs. Copyright

I'm getting my arm operated on today to correct some nerve compression noise in my arm. I thought I'd have the time to stockpile some posts before today, but I didn't have the time. More posts when I've two hands again.

Anyway, I'd like to post on something comic fans often have difficulty understanding and/or accepting: the application of trademark law and copyright law to comic books. This was originally written as an explanation of the reason why DC can't print a comic book with "Captain Marvel" in the title, so it may come of a little Cap heavy.

I, too, used to think that copyright and trademark were related bodies of law, They have some concepts in common, like infringement and fair use, but the reasons the laws in these areas come from two different
schools of thought.

Copyright law may be considered as a reward for an author. We'll use "author" throughout this discussion as it is the term used in the U.S. Copyright Act. However, any work with a minimal amount of creativity that is fixed in a tangible medium, may be copyrighted. Books, scripts, musical composition, film, comic books, and sculpture are all examples of copyrightable material, thus a sculptor is an "author" for copyright purposes.

Copyright was, once, exactly that, a right to make copies. An author, and only an author, had the right and to determine when and by whom copies of her work would be made and disseminated to the public (unless the work was created under a work-for-hire contract). Over time, other rights became included in the copyright so that it is less a right to copy and more a bundle of rights that an author is free to use as she pleases.

The U.S. Trademark Act (often called the Lanham Act after the person who introduced the bill into Congress) was enacted as consumer protection law, not to protect the owner of the trademark, though that the owner does benefit cannot be denied. The concept of a trademark was created as soon as there two people creating a similar product for consumer consumption.

An example: Quintus Flavius and Marcus Hermanicus are both producing wine in Rome in the third century, BCE. To let taverns know/remember which wine is his, Flavius marks the wine casks with a bunch of grapes. This mark acts an identifier of a product's source, thence as an indicator of quality for a consumer and tavern owners come to know that a cask marked with bunch of grapes will generally be a good source of wine. Hermanicus sees his orders decrease, so he begins marking his casks with a similar mark, causing some people to buy his wine, only find it to be an inferior product. Because of Hermanicus's action, Flavius has lost sales and lost goodwill with customers who think that the quality of his product has fallen.

Modern trademark law is in place to prevent this kind of thing. At its most basic, trademark law is in place to prevent a party from using the same or similar trademark of a competitor on the same or similar product the competitor produces.

Before continuing, I should highlight two points:

First, copyright law (and patent law) is entirely under the control of the federal government, that power granted to Congress through the Constitution (Art. 1, sec. 8. cl. 8). Trademark law was left by default to the states to create and enforce as they saw fit. In that time, that made sense since anything a tradesman produced would
probably not move out of the state, let alone out of the county where it was produced. The Industrial Revolution changed how products were produced and transported, however, and the federal government saw how federal control of trademarks could be helpful. However, the first federal trademark act was based upon the copyright and patent clause and the U.S. Supreme Court found that an improper use of federal power. Eventually, a federal trademark act would be passed (more properly based on the Commerce Clause of the Constitution (Art. 1,
sec. 8. cl. 3) in 1881. The Lanham Act would be enacted in 1946, but the trademark law of the individual states may also apply when a mark is used improperly. In fact, if a person creating a product has no desire or intent to market that product across state lines, there is no reason to apply for a federal trademark since the law of the state that person lives should theoretically be adequate.

Second, it should be remembered that there have been major additions or overhauls to the U.S. Copyright Act (U.S. Code Title 17) and Lanham Act (U.S. Code Title 5, Chapter 22) since both were enacted. For instance, when Whiz Comics was being published, the form of copyright law that was applied was derived from the Copyright Act of 1909. This was a much stricter act with regard to how a copyright was obtained and maintained; I honestly don't think that all the Fawcett material that Bill Black reprints would not be in the public
domain and we could have had a Bulletman or Spy Smasher Archive bynow. Events that DC brought up during the Fawcett case to show that Fawcett had let its copyright on the works featuring Captain Marvel become invalid would not even be an issue any more (and were becoming less important in the years after the court case any way).

A simple way to remember what copyright protects and what trademark protects is this: Copyright protects creativity, trademark protects consumers.

The word SUPERBOY cannot be copyrighted in and of itself, the copyright office would deny the registration because the federal rules prohibit the registering of a copyright for:

"Words and short phrases such as names, titles, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering or coloring; mere listing of ingredients or contents." 37 C.F.R. § 202.1(a)

However, SUPERBOY is exactly the kind of thing that is meant to be trademarked. It is a word that has no inherent meaning. To put SUPERBOY on the cover of a magazine, i.e. to trademark SUPERBOY for a comic book title is perfectly legitimate. There doesn't even have to be anything to do with a "superboy" within the pages of the magazine, since a knowledgeable consumer understands what SUPERBOY means with regard to magazines (or will, if the magazine has yet to be produced). The converse of this is that the entire contents of a SUPERBOY magazine from front cove to the back cover is suitable for copyright protection. It is a creative work. No matter how banal the writer's dialog or how poor the artist's attempt at perspective, it is still something that someone (or someones) created, something that didn't exist previously. The threshold of creativity is a very, very low bar and courts have gone out of their way to explain that it is not their job to pass judgment to determine if a work is creative "enough" (ignoring for now the issue of the whole of a person's creativity being copying the work of another).

To slightly complicate matters, if DC wanted to take an isolated drawing of Superboy from the comic and use it as a corner logo (like Marvel and DC used to do through the seventies) for the SUPERBOY magazine, that drawing could be registered for a federal trademark. Yes, the artist created the drawing, but just like MR. PEANUT or TONY THE TIGER, a creative work can rightly serve as a trademark and, unlike a copyrighted work, the trademark will never enter the public domain so long as the owner properly maintains its registry. (Of course, copyrighted works entering the public domain may be a moot point, but that is not the subject of this post.)

What does that mean in the big picture? Well, anyone can write a story featuring a character named "Captain Marvel." Anyone can wrote a story featuring two characters named "Billy Batson" and "Mary Batson." However, if you write a story featuring a characters named "Billy Batson" who turns into a character named "Captain Marvel" (or even into a character who goes unnamed that has powers similar to Cap) well, there you got yourself a possibility of a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

This doesn't mean that you can't write a story featuring a person who says a magic word to become a super-hero. There are stock situations and ideas in any genre that are available for use; those can't be copyrighted. However, copyright becomes available when a writer had creative touches to the work that differentiates it from any other of that type.

That being said, Marvel would not have needed to secure permission from anyone to create a character named "Captain Marvel." Anyone can so long as that character doesn't infringe upon the other versions of characters similarly named. However, because Marvel owns the trademark for MARVEL, and CAPTAIN MARVEL, no one can use those words in the title for a comic book.

If you do a search at the PTO website,, for Superman, for instance, you'll find that DC has registered the name as the title of a comic book, as well as for a variety of products from underwear to coloring books. This registration prevents anyone else from creating a Superman coloring book. If someone were to create a Superman coloring book, that would be trademark infringement for the unauthorized use of the trademark. If the coloring book were to use images of Superman on the cover and/or in drawings inside, that would be copyright infringement, because a derivative work was created without DC's permission.

(As an aside, and before someone brings it up, let's tackle the Fleischer Superman cartoons. How, you ask, even if the cartoons are in the public domain, can those be put out on DVD and use DC's trademark, SUPERMAN? This is because federal law allows a person who is making available public domain to tell consumers what she is selling. So, the producer is allowed to put "Superman" on the front and to use images of the character taken from the cartoons itself. (However, if the producer were to create new images of Superman and puts them on the box, that would be an act of copyright infringement. Similarly, because of the new images are being used under the SUPERMAN trademark, DC could assert that the producer is also infringing on its trademark as the producer is trying to pass off unauthorized material under DC's trademark.)

When Fawcett pulled out of the comic book business, two things happened that is still affecting comic books, I am ignoring the transfer of certain properties to Dell. My comments are based solely on Fawcett taking care of its own properties and I don't need to complicate a complicated topic more.

First, Fawcett did not renew the copyrights on the comics it had published. Had Fawcett done so, none of the stories being published by Bill Black would be available in the public domain and I'd have that Mr. Scarlet Archive by now. (My belief is that because the Fawcett stories are in the public domain, DC will never publish any collection of those works beyond Cap because all DC would be doing would be cleaning up art and making it
available for anyone to reprint and resell. Despite what Bill Black would have you believe/would like people to believe, the slight alteration of a comic page may identify is as coming from Men of Mystery, but I just don't think that if brought to court the alterations would be enough to give Black a copyright on matter in the
public domain. It goes against the public interest to take something back from the public domain after it has entered it.)

Second, Fawcett did not renew the trademarks for their comic books and that is understandable since Fawcett wanted out of the business. Apart from paying a fee, a federal trademark must be shown to be in actual use in commerce if it is going to be granted that renewal. IMO, this is why every so often DC will publish a new "The Brave and the Bold" mini-series or an All-American Comics one-shot. By doing that, it keeps the trademark active and out of the public domain.

Regarding Marvel and Captain Marvel, the simplest explanation is that Marvel swooped in when it found that the trademark for CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES had expired and published its own Captain Marvel comic book, thereby securing the trademark. As is well known, this is why DC produced ashcan issues of comics titled SUPERBOY, SUPERWOMAN, and SUPERMAN COMICS, and Fawcett THRILL COMICS and NICKEL COMICS without regard for the contents. The companies needed to show that they had a magazine on sale in commerce to secure the associated trademark.

(If you've been paying attention, you may have seen that the publication of ashcans skirted the letter of the law at the time. To obtain federal registration of a trademark, the mark had to have been in use in commerce, that is, for sale across state lines. An ashcan edition was lucky to have made it out of a company filing cabinet, let alone onto a news stand in New Jersey. Things tightened up in the intervening years, so that Marvel had to actually produce a MS. MARVEL comic book to lock-up the trademark, for instance.)

Trademarks serve as indicators of quality for consumers and MARVEL has a certain meaning to consumers of comic books. In the early fifties, MARVEL could rightly be associated with Fawcett super hero comics, but by the time Marvel applied for registration of "Marvel Comics Group" Fawcett's Captain Marvel was off of the radar of the average comic buyer so MARVEL on the cover of a comic book in 1974 was an indicator of a different kind of product than it had indicated in 1954. I offer that Marvel may not have even thought that CAPTAIN MARVEL was available until M.F. Enterprise's version of Captain Marvel come out in 1966. When that version ceased publication within a year, Marvel probably felt it should sew-up control of that name since if one rival used it, what could stop the Distinguished Competition from now printing a comic with that title? (Marvel's first use of Captain Marvel was in Marvel Super-Heroes #12, Dec. 1967.)

So, there you have every reason why DC can publish comic books featuring Captain Marvel, but will never be able to use the character's name on the cover of any of its comics. Not only does Marvel own MARVEL for use with comic books in general, it also owns the trademark CAPTAIN MARVEL for comic magazines. In summary:

1. Names cannot be copyrighted, Any name may be used by any author at any time. However, if you plan on calling your character "Batman," he damn well better not resemble any variation of the character ever published by DC or else you could be hauled in on a copyright infringement allegation.

2. Marvel did not need to secure the permission of anyone to create a character named "Captain Marvel."

3. Titles of periodicals may be trademarked.

4. For a trademark to remain valid, it must be maintained which requires an occasional payment and use in commerce. When Fawcett stopped publishing "Captain Marvel Adventures," it really couldn't protect the trademark because it couldn't publish Captain Marvel anymore. The trademark fell into the public domain and anyone who wanted to could publish a comic book with that title.

5. When use of the name became clear (that is, neither Fawcett nor M.F. Enterprises held the trademark on the name for a comic book), Marvel published Marvel Super-Heroes #12 cover featuring Captain Marvel. That began the process of its securing CAPTAIN MARVEL for its exclusive use as a trademark for a comic book.

6. Because Marvel owns that trademark for use on a comic book, DC cannot use the name of Captain Marvel on the cover of its comics. To do so would infringe on Marvel's trademarked name. This created the situation that people think "Shazam" is the name of the Big Red Cheese.

7. If Marvel hadn't secured the use of "Captain Marvel" as a trademark, DC could have. However, because Marvel owns MARVEL, and thereby the exclusive use of it on comic book covers, DC would still have been fighting an uphill battle. This makes DC's use of "Shazam" as the trademark associated with the original Cap more understandable: there is nothing to prevent DC (or Dark Horse or Image) from using a character in its comics named "Captain Marvel," but there is plenty to prevent any of those companies from using "Marvel" on its covers.

If you still have questions, send me an e-mail or post it here. I'll answer as soon as my arm lets me.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Ten Comics That Changed My Life--Part 6

Justice League of America #100

To be a child who liked comic books in the time between after Batman was cancelled until about 1972 or so was not a pleasant time. The old guard, Gardner Fox, John Broome, even Stan Lee, were leaving comic book writing, sometimes by their own choice, and replaced by a new breed of writer, comic fans that made the transition. In the beginning, comic strip artists had inspired comic book artists; later comic book artists would state that their predecessors in the trade were an influence.

By the late sixties, a new wave of writers was entering the industry, writers who had read the classics and were comic fans. These writers were among the first (after Will Eisner, I guess) who saw that comics could be more than even Stan Lee’s melding of comic book heroics with soap opera melodrama. This resulted in comic books from both of the Big 2 that were still full of action, they were still a bit “off” to my eight-year-old eye and I wasn’t really happy. Villains who threatened with pollution in Justice League, Green Lantern driving around with Green Arrow, Batman divesting himself of Robin and the Batcave, and the Metal Men pretending to be human weren’t what I wanted to see.

Years later when I’ve read comments from fans about and during that time, it appears that they liked a lot of what was coming out. However, like today, what fans like doesn’t necessarily translate into comics that sell and, slowly, overt social commentary went away. It didn’t disappear entirely, of course, and when I thirteen, I was open to Steve Englehart’s work on Captain America and Doctor Strange; I’m sure some eight-year-old in 1974 was as disappointed as I had been in 1969.

All of that was in the future when Justice League of America #100 was released in 1972. I was eleven and loved team comic books, just like I do today. It was during that time of familial dependence for the money to obtain comic books, in general, that I recognized the bargain inherent in a team comic book: More heroes for the same price as a solo title.

The super team I liked the best then, as I do today in concept if not always in execution by DC, was the Justice League of America. Ever since the team’s appearances on the Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, I was enamored of the team. This particular issue was important for me for many reasons.

First, it was the one-hundredth issue of the book, a milestone that DC remarkably didn’t acknowledge on the cover. The splash page acknowledged the event as the reader was presented with the same invitation that had gone out to the heroes of the DCU. “You are invited,” it read, “to a celebration in honor of the 100th meeting of the Justice League of America.” I’m not looking to make trouble, but I think it should be recognized that comic books sold better when Batman was shown enjoying the company of his peers. I’m sure that there is a formula that could be constructed that relates overall comic book sales to the degree of dickiness Batman/Bat-jerk exhibits within a particular year.

Second, this story was the first part of the annual team-up with the JSA. It was also the first three-part story, a trend that would continue over the years. Third, it reflected the importance of Might Crusaders #4, “Too Many Super Heroes!” within the comic industry as the story also included almost every hero that crossed the JLA’s path over the past ninety-nine issues.

Fourth, this story introduced a new gimmick that would be used in almost every JLA/JSA meeting to follow, the use of another group of super heroes. This story re-introduced to the DCU, while introducing them to me, the Seven Soldiers of Victory. For a budding comic historian, what was there about the comic that was not to like?

None of the reasons I just offered are the real reason that this comic is important to me. It is the group of events that make this book important, because this is the comic that made me really to not want to miss the next issue. This comic convinced me there was some sense in getting a subscription.

I was aware that comic books came out on a regular basis, but though it was frustrating to not get the next part of a story—how many Marvel comics did I have that didn’t have a conclusion—and I’d just accepted that as a tribulation of comic book collecting. I liked this story so much that I was determined to get all the parts. Let me tell you, that was a heck of a stressful summer. I was on vacation to South Dakota with my parents when I came across #101. God bless the souvenir stores at national monuments.

After that, I made the extreme sacrifice, giving up some of my ability to buy comic books now, to wager on the future, that Justice League would continue to give me the kind of stories I wanted to read. They must have because I still have many a JLA with the tell-tale lengthwise subscription fold. What I find interesting though, to show how I’ve changed, is that while I probably sacrificed a greater part of my disposable income for those subscriptions, I resented paying for those much less than when I’m expected to pay upfront when I place my order at the comic store. I don’t know what that means, just that it is interesting. To me.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Ten Comics That Changed My Life--Part 5

Walt Disney Comics Digest #7

Even without it, the memory of some comic books linger, even after they have been lost or thrown away. This is one of those for me. I wish I could show you the cover for this comic, but it is either rare or those people who have copies just haven’t gotten around to scanning it into a Website for my use. I know I saw this comic in Woolworth’s in downtown Milwaukee. Unless I looked it up, I couldn’t even tell you what the other stories were in the book, but there was one story included that introduced me to Carl Barks, “The Good Duck Artist.”

The story was Barks’s “Gyro Gearloose and Gus Goose on the Dream Planet.” Gus, Grandma Duck’s lazy farmhand, describes to Gyro the planet of his dreams where the denizens are all as lazy as he is and none the worse for it. Gus even points out where it is in the sky. Gyro, being an inventor, has a rocket capable of the flight; soon, he and Gus are on their way. Upon their arrival, Gus is delighted, and Gyro disheartened, by the laziness of the citizens—who are very goose-like in appearance—beings who refuse to make a minimum effort for anything. For instance, after Gus plops himself down under a tree to join in on the laziness, the person next to him says he is hungry. As luck would have it, an apple falls from the tree within an inch of the beings hand. Gus points out that he could reach out and pick up that apple. The response is that that would be too much work, soon enough, an apple will fall into his open hand.

Gyro, in a naïve effort to help progress along, picks up a fallen tree branch and uses it to shake an apple-bearing branch. So many apples fall that they carry Gus’s new buddy-in-lolling off and into a river. Though wet, he sees that the apples helped him do less work because he didn’t have to walk to the river (plus it allowed him to get a drink without having to wait for it to rain). First, apples are used for transport, but pumpkins as carriages quickly replace them and then gravity is replaced (movement was limited to just rolling downhill) as the new automobiles are powered by rubber band engines. As Gus watches his utopia slip away, he and Gyro see the telegraph, telephone, and rockets invented seemingly within moments of the original apple roll into the river. Worn out by just watching all the activity in the name of doing less, Gus tells Gyro it is time to go back to Grandma’s farm. Gyro agrees, taking the branch that started it all with him. As they head back, Gus takes the branch, leans it into the floor, and rests himself into its crook. On response to Gyro, Gus says that at least he can still dream of his dream planet.

I was around eight years old when I first read the story and probably beginning to truly understand differences in quality of a comic book based on just looking at the art. I mean, I was aware that Batman was drawn in Justice League was different from how he was drawn in his own comic, but until I read this story I never been viscerally affected by the differences. There were other stories in that digest featuring the Duck characters, but I just wasn’t as engaged by those as I had been by “Dream Planet.”

There were other Disney comics around the house, but now I only enjoyed the Duck stories by whoever (alone or in tandem) had written and drawn “Dream Planet,” the unknown “Good Duck Artist.” I was twelve or thirteen when I read The Comic-Book Book and learned that the writer/artist was Carl Barks. When I was eight, however, I didn’t need to know the name because it was the stories he created that mattered.

On a larger scale, I can mark this story as being the one where I started to be discriminating. Not that I wouldn’t have read every comic book printed if possible, but unless the art or story weren’t where I expected them to be, even at eight or nine, I was disappointed. For example, it appears that everyone else who was reading comics in 1969/1970 worships at the altar of Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams, first for their work on Green Lantern, then for their post-Batmania Batman. I felt cheated when I read any of those comics because I thought the stories boring and had trouble following the art. At nine years old, I was an opinionated comic fan. Thank you, “Gyro Gearloose and Gus Goose on the Dream Planet,” for starting me along that path.

By the way, while I have grudgingly accepted O’Neil’s and Adams’s work with Batman, I’ve yet to find anything in their work with Green Lantern. Green Arrow gaining a beard and an attitude doesn’t make up for my nine-year-old self not getting to read more stories by John Broome and Gil Kane. But that’s just me.

Monday, January 30, 2006

One More Interruption

ToyFair 2006 opens in two weeks. We'll soon have hundreds pictures of the new toys (read: "those toys that are related to comic books, i.e. action figures") that should be released through this year and into the next.

The UK ToyFair was last week and there were three items that I thought to be interesting. (All images from, specifically starting from this page.)

Marvel Legends Young Avengers Box Set
If you'd ask me to predict which team would be getting a box set, I would have predicted the Thunderbolts because of time in service, if nothing else or hoped for a Golden Age Marvel set featuring the Invaders and the Liberty Legion. That ToyBiz had the Young Avengers on display means that Marvel must understand that the word of mouth about Young Avengers has been better than the buzz for New Avengers.

Here's a picture of the figures in the packaging:

Here's a close-up, less the glare of the previous picture, that show off the characters better:

From left: Iron Lad, Patriot, Hulkling, and Asgardian

Marvel Legends Monsters Box Set
If you told me that ToyBiz was going to release a Champions box set, I'd have believed that before believing a Monsters set was on ToyBiz schedule (and then a Monsters set that didn't include a Man-Thing repaint, to boot). Here's the set:

Here are close-ups of the four figures:Clockwise from upper left: The Zombie, the Monster of Frankenstein, Werewolf by Night, Dracula.

I know that there are going to be complaints that the Monster and Werewolf figures don't resemble Mike Ploog's art, and that the Dracula sculpt wasn't based on Gene Colan's work. I can understand those complaints. However, the Monster figure does look like it was based on Boris Vallejo's cover paintings from Marvel's old black & white magazine, Monsters Unleashed,

while the Dracula figure looks like it used the Neal Adams-drawn cover for Tomb of Dracula #1 for inspiration.

Marvel Legends Masterworks
I hate pre-posed action figures; they might as well be statutes. I hate the high cost of the statues that have come from DC and Marvel; I'd rather buy the unassembled, unpainted resin pieces and make the statue like a model. However, this set looks like it could be both a display piece and a toy that can be played with:
We really are living in a golden age of comic books and comic book-related merchandise.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Comics In My Future For March 2006 (conclusion)

Continuing with my March DCBS order:

X-Statix Presents Dead Girl #3

Spider-Girl #96
Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #4
The pessimist in me keeps me buying these comics. We don’t have any kids, but even if we have a child in the next year, I don’t have any assurance that comics will be printed in the traditional format within the next five, let alone that there will be any comics from the Big 2 that are child-safe or that would appeal to a little girl. I also read these and will miss Spider-Girl when issue #100, its last, comes out. I likeMary Jane too, and I admire it for basically being a teen drama with Spider-Man in a supporting role.

Apart for Squadron Supreme #1
I’m giving it a chance even though I’ve been caring less and less about this title as it petered to an end as a Max title. Unless something makes it stand out, this could be gone before the first arc is completed.

Captain America #16
Captain America 65th Anniversary Special
I’ll still lukewarm about Captain America (and I may be the only person who no great feeling about the title who wasn’t angry about “Winter Soldier”), but I’ll stay with it for a little while longer. Since Miller crushed the joy out of Daredevil and he can’t fill the role, I wouldn’t mind a Cap title that was just bounding with the energy it had forty years ago when it shared space with Iron Man in Tales of Suspense.

Fantastic Four #536
Someday, Karl Kesel will get the full-time writing gig on this title, but until then I’ll bide my time reading about child services trying to take the kids from Reed and Sue.

I (Heart) Marvel: Masked Intentions
I still don’t understand the point of these I • Marvel comics, but they look fun and the daughter who is just a twinkle in my eye, might like them.

Iron Man #6
Wow, a monthly Iron Man mini-series that will end before the one-year mark.

Marvel Team-Up #18
I think this isn’t selling better because the stories actually move along and that confuses people. Robert Kirkman has to start writing multiple talking-head scenes that fill up space and don’t move the story.

Marvel Adventure Spider-Man #13
Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four #10
If you read interviews with fans from that time, the Silver Age Marvel comics written by Stan Lee were then considered suitable for adults and daring. Now, stories told the exact same way are appropriate for children in a way current Marvel comics apparently are not. There are a couple of problems in that scenario that I think are part of the reason comic book circulation isn’t any better.

New Avengers #17
New Magnaverse #3
Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos #6
Pulse #14
I bash Bendis because I love and I don’t think I’ll be buying this any more after he leaves with this issue.

She-Hulk 2 #6
Thing #5
Thunderbolts #100
Young Avengers #11
Ultimate Extinction #11
I cannot believe I’ve stayed with this since the story began in Ultimate Secret five hundred years ago, but I’m stubborn that way.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #28
I’m loving the stories and as individual pictures, I enjoy Greg Land’s art. However, can anyone honestly say with a straight face that the art is nothing more than a series of models posing? I’ve never been one to care one way or the other about how women are drawn in comic books, but even though Land understands anatomy better than other artists, he still shows the lack of common sense when it comes to clothing female characters poorer artists showed in the ninties. Look at the cover for this issue below.

If Reed Richards is the smartest man on earth, why the hell would he let his girlfriend go out to do battle with the Super Skrull in a halter and open jacket? You can’t even use the old “distraction” excuse because one would think that mammalian secondary sexual characteristics would mean nothing to a reptile. I don't care if she can create invisible force fields, even in a tank, you where your helmet.

Ultimate Spider-Man #s 91 and 92
I have a love/hate relationship with this comic. I find it very slow and it reads way too fast, but then every once in while something happens, like Peter dating Kitty Pryde, that makes it worthwhile. More than any other Spider-Man title, this is the one where Peter should tell his aunt about Spider-Man and it is frustrating that he doesn’t. Still, Bendis and Bagley, long ago, said they wanted to stay on this title as long as Lee and Kirby stayed on Fantastic Four, which means, barring something amazing, come #103, I’ll drop this title.

Powers #18
Still the comic that Bendis writes that I enjoy the most and the letters page never fails to make me laugh hard.

Marvel Masterworks Golden Age Marvel Comics, vol 2.
After playing a far second when it comes to reprinting its past, Marvel has come on strongly with its latest reprints of its Golden Age material. Unlike DC, Marvel took a chance and reprinted complete original comics, not just the stories of individual characters. Thank you, Marvel.

And The Rest
Victoria’s Secret Service #4
This comic is what I thought it was going to be—for some reason I thought it was going to focus on a group of female secret agents who worked for Queen Victoria—but the first few issues have been inoffensive, so I’ll at least finish the first story arc.

Bongo Comics
Simpsons Comics #116
Futurama Comics #24

Boom! Studios
Hero Squared Ongoing #1
I hope “Ongoing” is going to be an ongoing part of the title.

Gemstone Publishing
Donald Duck and Friends #338
Mickey Mouse and Friends #287
Uncle Scrooge #352
Walt Disney Comics & Stories #667

Heroic Publishing
Flare #33
Roy Thomas’ Anthem #2
Roy Thomas writing a comic set during World War II. I hope he’s done enough research on the era.

MR Comics
Big Max #1
If you can only buy one comic book featuring a super-powered gorilla, it might as well be the one written by Dan Slott.

Revolution on the Planet of the Apes #4

Speakeasy Comics
Black Coat: Call to Arms #1
What was the last comic book you bought that was set during the pre-American Revolution America?

Kingdom Hearts, vol. 3

Comic related items
Action Figures
From DC Direct, the Manhunter Robot and Saalak Green Lanternaction figures

Back Issue #15
TwoMorrows published this and Alter Ego are two of the best comic history magazines around. I’d order Alter Ego if I wasn’t already a subscriber.

The Ultimates: Tomorrow Men

Here endth the March order.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Comics In My Future for March 2006

I'm taking a break from comics that changed my life by inserting another series of posts. Because I get all my comics at the end of the month they are released, I don’t have the luxury of talking about them when they are released. However, with my January order due in to DCBS in a couple of days, I can at least discuss that in a timely manner. As of now, here’s the order that I'll be placing:

Dark Horse

A very slim month for Dark Horse from me, but most of their books don’t really interest me. I’d been buying the Little Lulu trades and enjoying them, but unemployment has forced me to make some choices, so Lulu was one of the titles that went.

Hellboy Makoma #2


“One Year Later” starts with this month and I’m adding some titles. However, it isn't because I'm interested in how OYL has changed them, but rather because there are books I’ve wanted to read (or start reading again) but the creative teams weren’t doing anything to make the books appealing.

Batman #651
Detective Comics #817
Apart for Batman Strikes! I haven’t made an effort to buy an ongoing Bat-title in a long time; I just can’t respect the Batjerk DC has been allowing into print since the early nineties. However, with James Robinson writing both titles for three issues (and Paul Dini scheduled to take over Detective after Robinson) I guess I’ll be back, but carefully. The first time Batman treats a peer as a lesser, uses body blows as a substitute for detective work, or can’t see past the border of Gotham City, I’m dropping both titles.

Batman Annual #25
I’ll get it because I’m a sucker for annuals. In the eighties, the only time I ever bothered with some books was when I bought the annual. However, Judd Winick writing anything but his Barry Ween character scares me, because I know that all too soon, HIV will enter some character’s life and Winick will be on his soap box again.

All Star Superman #3
Take Frank Miller’s crapfest that is his version of Batman (apart from what he did in The Dark Knight Returns #2, divide it into the number one, and you have an idea of how much I enjoy this comic.

Superman #650
Action Comics #837
With Kurt Busiek and Geoff Johns, I have to think (hope) the stories will be more about Superman and less about Lois Lane’s bitchiness/randiness. However, I can only hope that Pete Woods’s art is a match since I’ve never seen it.

Supergirl #7
I have to admit that I haven’t liked Loeb’s writing on this book—in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever liked his writing—but I’m not sure Greg Rucka would have been my go-to guy here. My first choice would have been Gail Simone. I’m not crazy about Ian Churchill’s art, either. I’ll give this one a chance, but it’ll probably be among the first to go.

Superman/Batman #25
Thank you, Jebus! Jeph Loeb is finished writing this comic book and I hope he is taking “Lantern Jaw” Ed McGuinness with him. I don’t remember who is taking over the writing, but I hope whoever it is either does away with the internal dialog captions or has Superman and Batman admit their love. I really hate those captions.

Showcase Presents The Superman Family, vol. 1.
I bet I have at least half of the stories in this book in other reprint collections, but even at full price it is worth to read even one classic Jimmy Olsen story I don't own.

Superman Archives, vol. 7
Money is tight and I should pass this up, but the stories in this series have been getting better, so what the hell.

Infinite Crisis #6
I might as well see where this is heading; plus, I’m a sucker for the damn thing. If only the problems that were seething below the surface of the DCU hadn’t had to come to a head because of Identity Crisis.

Omac Project Identity Crisis Special
Aquaman Sword of Atlantis
Buying it for Busiek; I’ll see if I buy into the concept as a whole and stick around.

Birds of Prey #92
If only the Dodsons did more than the cover art for this comic.

Blood of the Demon #13
Green Lantern #10
Hawkgirl #50
I stopped buying Hawkman long ago, but the creative team of Walt Simonson and Howard Chaykin intrigues me enough to give the “OYL” version a try.

Manhunter #20
JLA Classified #s 18 & 19
JSA #83
Even if I wasn’t already pledged to buy this until the day I die, I’d have to buy it to see if Paul Levitz still has his writing chops.

JSA Classified #10
Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #16
A book I’ve been getting, but I have to admit that the “Supergirl” portion of the title has me excited just because it harkens back to the good old, pre-Crisis On Infinite Earths days of SuperBOY and the Legion of Super-Heroes

Even with Barry Kitson drawing it, I still don't like this version of Supergirl's costume.
Showcase Presents Teen Titans, vol. 1
Teen Titans #34
Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer #4
Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein #4
Seven Soldiers: Mr. Miracle #4
I have to admit Grant Morrison’s pulled Seven Soldiers off so far while staying coherent. I didn’t think he’d do it.

Spirit Archives, vol. 18
The American Way #2
Desolation Jones #6
Ex Machina #20
Fables #47
Y, the Last Man #43
The best news I read this week is that this series has a definite ending around issue #60. Good. I don’t hate it, but it is becoming boring and I would have considered dropping it. Actually, a new story begins in this issue; maybe I will drop it and wait for the trade, even if trade collections go against everything that is good and pure about comics.

The Batman Strikes #19
Teen Titans Go! #29
Cartoon Network’s canceling of this show was really dumb, but understandable. CN needs the time to show such classic cartoon features as Snow Day.

Justice League Unlimited #19
Would that the mainstream DCU be half as intriguing as this cover or half as fun as this comic book in general post-Infinite Crisis.


Truth, Justin, and the American Way #1
Gun Fu trade paperback
I missed this the first time around and the description in Previews makes it sound like fun.

Retro Rocket #1
I’m a sucker for giant robots and clean art. Shoot me.

PVP #25
And I’m a sucker for comic books that are funny.

Fear Agent #6
Girls #11
You know, I didn’t like this comic’s first issue; I thought it was going to be another “relationship” comic like the brothers Lunas’Ultra had been. Boy, was I wrong. This is a creepy science fiction mystery that I really surprises me and I am looking to see where the characters will be when the story is told. ABC’s Invasion should be this good.

I never thought I’d say this, but I am actually enjoying something Joe Casey is writing. I guess a hundred million miracles do happen every day.

The Intimidators #4
Savage Dragon #124

Tomorrow, the rest of the order.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Ten Comics That Changed My Life--Part 4

4. Avengers Annual #2: “And Time, the Rushing River"

There are some comic books that once you see the cover, you have to have them; this is one of those for me. I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for covers showing heroes battling heroes, especially in configurations like this where the then current Avengers battled the original Avengers.

I remember the day this one was bought for me. In downtown Milwaukee, there was exactly one traditional news stand by the mid-1960s, but what a newsstand. It had the shape of a large triangle. one side was all magazines, I don't think I looked there a total of ten times my whole life, while the other side was predominantly comic books with the assorted racing form (though Milwaukee didn't even have legalized horse racing) and Sporting News racked above and below them. The owner was a dwarf, who had at least one normal-sized sone that helped him run the stand, usually at night. My clearest memories of either of those two men is seeing one or both of the huddled in the doorway of Walgreen's, trying to keep warm in the winter or dry when it rained.

Making trips to that newsstand was one of the great joys of my life. There were stores in my neighborhood that sold comic books, but especially as I got older, I learned that if I wanted to make sure I got the next issue of a continued story, a trip to the news stand was required. In that respect, I appreciate the convenience of a comic book store, but I miss the newsstand. I miss the excitement of surprise the news stand offered, going there and not knowing which comics will have new issues or actually seeing a cover that makes you want to buy the comic. Even before the Internet, the surprise was going out of buying comic books because of the direct market. When you have to buy a catalog three months before the comics inside are released so that you can pre-order the comics you want, that pretty much takes away the mystery no matter how hard you try.

Apart from the cover, Avengers Special #2 makes the list because it was the first comic I can remember confusing me. I was seven when I got the comic and I could read, but those two things do not necessarily add to understanding. When this comic was published, I had at least a passing knowledge of some of Marvel's characters and continuity cobbled together from cartoons and other comics I'd looked at, so you'd think I’d be able to follow the story.

However, this is the first Roy Thomas-written story I can admit to reading and, let's face it, those who have read any amount of his mainstream super hero work knows continuity matters to him. What that meant is that a seven year old had dumped headfirst into a story that leaned heavily upon past events. Like Mighty Crusaders #4, this comic is chock full o’ heroes, villains, and plot. There’s time travel, parallel dimensions, and flashbacks to foreshadowed events. Even the Watcher shows up in the end to explain a Scarlet Centurion-Dr. Doom-Rama Tut connection I wouldn't have even known existed had Thomas not decided to tell me about.

Did I run from comic books after this one because of my confusion? Was I fearful of trying another Marvel comic for fear of feeling left out? Of course not, if for no other reason that there would have only been four comics that changed my life.

This comic showed me that there was a bigger picture to comic books than just the one I had created piecemeal from my relatively few sources; the world of Marvel comic books was bigger than just the comic was holding at any particular moment. Without understanding the concept, or what it would eventually mean to mainstream comic books within the next few years, I began to figure out that Marvel comic books required you to know inter- and intra-title continuity.

Armed with this knowledge, I began to seek out old comics whenever my parents went to rummage sales. I became the target audience for reprint comics, obtaining an oversized reprint book whenever I could talk my parents into paying a whole twenty-five cents for a new comic whichever parent I was with when I was bought Avengers Special #2 must have been in a particularly good mood. I wonder how my parents would react if I told them that there was a time I paid (pre-Internet) fifty dollars a shot for hardcover reprinting of comic books? I probably shouldn’t; they aren’t young and many was the time they would choke at the thought of paying a quarter.

Oh, and there was a strange parody story here, too, showing the behind-the-scenes machinations of the Bullpen as they put together the latest issue of Avengers, complete with pint-sized super-heroes running amuck. You know what, I still don't know what the hell is really going on in that story.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Ten Comics That Changed My Life--Part 3

3. Mighty Crusaders #4: ”Too Many Super Heroes!”

By the time this comic book came out, the word was out that I loved the comic books. (Actually, with publishers dating comic books three months ahead of the month they are released, there is a very good chance that this comic, dated “April,” was actually released in January 1966, the month Batman premiered. With the word out, assorted relatives—well, probably just my mother and grandmother—started to buy them for me unbidden.

However, unless I was there, I had no assurance that I would be getting anything that I would actually want. I obtained many a Casper, Dennis the Menace, Hot Stuff, and Archie that way. Now, I admit that I looked at everything I was bought—and Istill have a fondness for Silver Age Casper and Hot Stuff—but given the choice, I would have chosen Doom Patrol over Casper's Ghostland any day.

Eventually, my family began to realize that it was super hero comic books that I really wanted. That resulted in an increase of Detective Comicsand Tales of Suspense coming into my possession. It also resulted in my seeing some less familiar super heroes like Gold Key’s Owl and Magnus.

(I’ll be honest and say that when I was a child I really disliked Gold Key comics that featured realistic humans, as opposed to cartoony humans like Elmer Fudd. I hated the covers, whether painted or, in the case of adaptations, repurposed publicity photos. I hated the stiff art and, when I learned how to read, I hated the stories because they felt pointless. I really only began to appreciate some of these comics within the last fifteen years beginning with Valiant’s reprinting Magnus, Robot Fighter and continues now with Dark Horse’s reprinting of Magnus , Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom, and M.A.R.S. Patrol Total War. If Dark Horse decides the market would support it, I’d like to see a reprinting of Space Family Robinson, which was Lost in Space long before the television series of that name was a twinkle in Irwin Allen’s eye. I still can’t bring myself to pick up the recent reprints of Gold Key’s Star Trek, though. This site provides the story of the relationship between the comic book and television series.)

As I was saying, I was beginning to see super heroes that didn’t come from Marvel or DC. It was during this time that I first looked at Mighty Crusaders #4; like the others, it was a comic that just appeared. I looked at it occasionally, but it never really sparked with me then. The comic languished in the comic book box, a big brown cardboard box in the closet where my brothers and I tossed the comics when we were told to put them away; I use proper comic boxes now, but still eschew the use of bags and boards.)

For anyone who hasn’t heard of this series or comic, Mighty Crusaders was published by Archie Comics under the guise of the Mighty Comics Group. During the Golden Age, MLJ Magazines—the company that would evolve into Archie Comics after the company realized which of their characters was buttering their bread—published straightforward super-hero comic books featuring the Shield, the Web, Hangman, the Comet, the Black Hood, and many others, but dropped them in favor of Archie and his friends by the end of World War II. In the late fifties, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby landed at Archie and produced two new comics, The Adventures of the Fly and The Double Life of Private Strong, the latter a reworking of the earlier Shield now in a Captain America mold.

By 1964, Jerry Siegel and Paul Reinman were working on the super hero line. In his writing, Siegel showed an amazing ability to predict trends as his stories were campy seven months before Batman was on television. He also, in what may have been an attempt to emulate the crossovers Stan Lee was doing at Marvel (in fact, a lot of the trappings of the Archie super-hero line at that time could be construed as having been crafted to copy Marvel), began reintroducing Archie’s Golden Age heroes. In his first issue (#31) of The Adventures of the Fly, now re-titled Fly-Man he brought back the Comet, the Black Hood, and what appeared to be the original Shield (he was actually his son). Those three, along with Fly-Man and Fly-Girl, formed a team, the Mighty Crusaders. After meeting for there for three more issues, the group was given its own title.

The story in Mighty Crusaders is incredibly simple, written by Siegel in his best “coincidence mode.” On the splash page, the Mighty Crusaders are gathering for a meeting, which is going to be broadcast on television, when an enemy attacks them. It is just the first of many such attacks from many different villains that were beaten back by the Crusaders and, my hand to God, every single super hero Archie published during the Golden Age. Alone and in pairs they arrived, for twenty-four pages, many choosing that day to come out of retirement, all of them demanding to join the Crusaders. In the end, none of them joined and the story ended as it began, with the Crusaders needing to hold their meeting.

In retrospect, I don’t know why I didn’t like this comic right away as it as everything I want to in a mainstream super-hero comic: action, soap opera melodrama disguised as character development, and the reintroduction of Golden Age super heroes. Thinking about the comic right now, I wish I had access to my copy so I could read it again, but at the time it did nothing for me. What changed my feeling toward the comic was that by the seventies I was reading books like All in Color For a Dime that introduced me to comic book history. Where else but Mighty Crusaders #4 could I actually see a clear picture of characters like Steel Sterling, Roy, the Mighty Boy, and Bob Phantom?

In that context, “Too Many Super Heroes!” retroactively became my “The Flash of Two Worlds”: It gave me access to “forgotten” characters in a way like no other comic I owned. I know that this comic is the one that helped foster my interest in the history of comic books and for “forgotten” characters, those characters published no longer or sporadically. To this very day, I am still a sucker for every character revival, JLA/JSA team-up, or reprint that comes down the pike and I know a great part of that is due to Mighty Crusaders #4; quite a feat for a comic I didn’t really have any opinion one way or the other when I first read it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Ten Comics That Changed My Life--Part 2

2. Superman #193

There were other stories in this issue, but only one has stayed with me since 1967 is the original, classic “The Death of Superman.” (A quick check of The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told shows that this story was originally presented in Superman #149, 1961.) I was six when I came across this book and I was probably at exactly the right age to fall under the spell of the writing style editor Mort Weisinger championed among his writers. I know that every CHOKE!, GASP! and zee . . . zee . . . zee make post-modern comic fans wince with embarrassment. Personally, I think that such shorthand helps convey a story to those who are “age challenged” and helps keep a story in a manageable package, as opposed to, oh, let’s say, a two-part story stretched into a four-part arc, just the right size for a trade paperback reprinting.

Superman #193 (above) reprinted "The Death of Superman," which was originally printed in Superman #149 (left).
(Images from Grand Comcs Book Database

Fittingly, Superman co-creator, Jerry Siegel, wrote the story. To a comic fan that started reading comic within the last eighteen years or so, I’m sure the story is terribly presented and incredibly hokey; the story doesn’t progress because of character motivation as much as a series of events occur. A Superman story from the Weisinger era often feels as though they were written to the tempo of The Saber Dance. I can even almost see Weisinger standing behind his desk, snapping his fingers as he gives each order ala James Cagney in One, Two, Three, telling Siegel to move on.

Beyond that, however, this was the first comic book story to affect me. I mean really get to me. I knew Superman wasn’t dead, if only because there were other Superman stories in the comic book, but I was still able to understand how important it would have been had Superman really died.

The story draws you in slowly. Maybe Luthor really does want to reform. He cured cancer, for goodness sake, and later he stood up to criminals threatening him with death if he didn’t play ball. Maybe only a child, or Superman, could actually believe that someone so evil could really reform. Then comes Luthor’s betrayal and Superman’s slow death at his hand by kryptonite poisoning, Luthor turning the screw by forcing the hero’s dearest friends to watch.

The third chapter is where I completely bought into the story as we are shown the world mourning Superman. The opening mini-splash alone convinced of how important this story was because not only was Batman in line to pay his respects as Superman lie in state, but Aquaman, Flash, Green Arrow and Wonder Woman where there, too. Batman was known to be Superman’s friend, they were in a comic book together, so for other heroes to show up underlined the importance of the event.

(I know that even as a young pre-reader, it was never a problem that aliens would invade Flash’s home city, for instance, yet Superman never showed up to help out. Maybe because I was learning about comic books on my own, I easily was able to keep each character in his or her little comic world. Flash stories were over there and Green Lantern stories over there and Justice League adventures in a third place and there was no intersection--or as we call it now, "continuity"--unless it was necessary. Like in “The Death of Superman.”)

In counterpoint, Luthor was celebrating with the underworld cronies, gangsters and molls from this side of The Adventures of Superman. As Luthor gloated and lovingly retold the tale of his triumph to his admirers, a statue and a painting depicting Superman’s final moments, loom behind him. He had killed Superman and, subconsciously, I was becoming aware of how potent a medium “comic books” could be, if you were willing to let yourself believe in the story.

Then, magnificently, Superman returns! He crashes through a wall, rubble flying, surprising the gathered criminals! Of course, he’s alive; Superman can’t die!

In the second panel, Superman ends Luthor’s celebration as the criminal scientist’s compatriots turn on him verbally. Then, in the next panel, we see that it isn’t Superman, but Supergirl in disguise, revealing her existence to the world by capturing her cousin’s murderer.

Supergirl flies Luthor off to Kandor, the Kryptonian city shrunken and preserved by Brianiac before, now safe in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Luthor will answer for his crime before a tribunal of Superman’s fellow survivors as the world watches. More knowing, I can now see the parallel between Luthor’s trial and the post-World War II war crime trials.

Throughout this story, the art of Curt Swan, with George Klein inking, has been wonderful, as always. Others may favor Swan teamed with Murphy Anderson, or Joe Shuster, or Wayne Boring, but to me the perfect Superman art team was Swan and Klein. Looking at Luthor as he stands trial, you can see the muscles in Luthor’s face radiating his arrogance, the contempt he feels for the Kandorians palatable.

His contempt grows from his belief that he is still in control of the situation, that no sentient being is truly honorable. In exchange for his release, Luthor offers to enlarge Kandor again, something Superman had promised to do for his fellow Kryptonians. To his surprise, the tribunal rejects the offer and Luthor is sentenced to death, one more humane than what he caused Superman to suffer.

The story ends with Supergirl and Krypto (“Now I belong to . . . Supergirl,” the dog thinks) patrolling the skies, taking up Superman’s never-ending battle. In the final panel, a ghostly, heroic shade of Superman waves his down upon the two from the heavens (or Heaven), wishing them well.

How in the world could a kid not want to keep on reading comic books after a roller coaster ride like that? They don’t write them like that anymore; they probably don’t dare. I don’t know how kindly the comic fan of today would take to an imaginary story breaking up the “flow” of continuity. I think that fans cheat themselves out of some great stories because they want every issue of every continuing series they buy to be a required piece of continuity. Not that imaginary stories aren’t being written anymore, but they are usually presented as expensively packaged mini-series that don’t sell as well as they could.

This story showed me that the basic underlying theme of any, what we would today call “mainstream,” super hero story should be hope. Superman died, but his killer was captured and punished. Maybe more importantly, Superman’s legacy continued. For a young child, the world is black and white and I think it should be for as long as possible. Shades of grey will come soon enough, sometimes it seems sooner than it had for the previous generation. Had I been six years old and the story I’d read been ambiguous story (or just one part of a year-long event), I can’t say that I would have wanted to read other Superman comic books.

This story stays with me, who age and experience have pushed toward pessimism, still if only because it is unashamedly optimistic, allowing for hope in the most dire circumstances. And I’m secure enough to say that I like that outcome still.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Ten Comics That Changed My Life--Part 1

Until I ran out of time because of law school. I was a subscriber to Jim Kingman's old-school fanzine, Comic Effect. One continuing feature is a series of articles titled, "The Ten Comics That Changed My Life." In each article a different comic book fan described the ten comic books that, if not literally changing their lives, had some affect upon them.

In the summer of 2003, I submitted my contribution and it was accepted (though I cannot remember the issue number). Anyway, in keeping with my desire to present more comic-book-focused material, over the next ten days I'm going to present one of the ten comics (with some rewriting for clarity along the way).

I have always had trouble making lists of favorites. To pick just ten (ten!) comic books that have affected my life is, I think, as difficult a proposition as asking a maker of M&Ms to pick his ten individual favorite candy-coated chocolate pieces from the last year’s batch. Reviewing the memories of thousands of comic books looked at, read, even absorbed since I was about three years old is, as silly as it sounds, hard. I could have settled for the by now almost cliché choices of Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns, or included more modern comics as Bone or Powers. In the end, I just made a list of the first ten titles that came to me, comics that really helped create the comic book fan I am today. Unfortunately, the list of ten contains sixteen titles, but I was able to categorize. I apologize for the lumping where it occurs, and ask for forgiveness.

1. Batman; Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure; and
The Marvel Super Heroes

And then, to make matters worse, the first items I list aren’t even comic books. Well, I guess Marvel Super Heroes was not far removed from the source material. (In case you did not know, panels from actual Marvel comic books comics were photocopied and cut up. Then a key character (or to truly keep costs down, a key body part of a key character) was manipulated to provide an illusion that there was actual animation going on. In comparison to the work produced by Grantray-Lawrence Animation, and Krantz Film Productions for the series, the concurrent cartoons produced by Hanna-Barbera were fully animated.) Still, I ask your indulgence.

For some reason, there never was a time in my life when there were not comics around. While that may have been a common occurrence back in the 1960s, in retrospect it seems strange because a) I was the first born so there were no hand-me-down comics and b) my parents never had an interest in them. Family legend has it that my father bought me my first comic book from one of those comic book vending machines to keep me occupied while my parents were shopping; however, they were so ubiquitous in my life, even before kindergarten, that it sometimes seems I was given a Casper, the Friendly Ghost comic in the hospital nursery.

So it was, aged four, that I knew of comic characters in January 1966, but I cannot say that I had strong feelings towards them one way or the other. However, I was in the perfect place at the perfect age when my life would actually change and I would start to pay attention to comic books. All it took to change my life was being lucky enough to watch a comic book come to life when on Wednesday, January 12, 1966 at 6:30 P.M. Batman premiered.

Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward).; Image from This Is Pop! at This Is Pop!: 02/25/2005

I cannot begin to find the words to tell you how the Batman show affected me. Be small minded if you must and mock the show for what you think it is or how you perceive today forty years later, but to me it was Batman and because of it, my life would never be the same again.

Batman was everything to me. There was no comedy in the show and surely no mocking of comic book conventions as I saw the program over the next few weeks. That Joker scared me more than Nicholson’s version ever could. The Batcave entranced me. When the Dynamic Duo fought on the show, I battled around the room (eventually getting so out of control that I my mother forbid to watch the show for a week—a truly horrible punishment!—is it not amazing those things that affect us enough as children to remember into adulthood). I was consumed by the show and from that, wanting anything with Batman on it, especially comic books.

Then, in quick succession, two more shows arrived that solidified my love of super heroes. First, The New Adventures of Superman on Saturdays and followed by the daily The Marvel Super Heroes.

Superman (left), Superboy and Krypto (right). Images from Rob's Superfriend's Fan Page! at The Filmation DC Heroes.
For my super-hero hungry self, the Superman show would peak in the fall of 1967 when it expanded into The Superman-Aquaman Hour of Adventure. With that permutation, every Saturday was the lottery and I was always a winner. Not only would I get two Superman cartoons, a Superboy, and an Aquaman, the middle of the program featured a rotating character. Which hero would get the call this Saturday? Would it be a Flash cartoon, or an Atom? Maybe I would hit the jackpot and they would show a Justice League cartoon the members being Superman, Hawkman, Flash, Atom, and Green Lantern (or Superman with the rotating characters).

Clockwise from upper left: Aquaman, Flash with the Atom, Hawkman, and Green Lantern. Images from Rob's Superfriend's Fan Page! at The Filmation DC Heroes.

As I child I never could reason why Batman was not a part of the JLA on television, or Robin shown to be one of the Teen Titans, but even at six years old, I thought it was strange that Aquaman wasn’t on the team. Even Aqualad was a member of the Titans. I kept hoping that a Metamorpho cartoon would show up, like the DC inside-the-front cover ads of the time promised, but that never happened. In the end, I did not care because all it really meant was there were super heroes on television.

Clockwise from upper left: Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, Speedy, and Aqualad. Images from Rob's Superfriend's Fan Page! at The Filmation DC Heroes.

The lottery I mentioned actually ran six days a week. Though I’ve since read that each of the five characters, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Sub-Mariner, and Iron Man, featured in The Marvel Super Heroes were each featured on their own day, when I watched the show three different characters were featured. For those who have never seen the show, each character’s story was broken into three parts, so when I watched the show on a random Monday, I might have been shown the first parts of a Hulk, an Iron Man, and a Thor cartoon. You never knew which characters would show up, hence the lottery. (The second and third parts were shown on the following Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, the first parts of three new random cartoons would air with the conclusions on the following Monday.) I loved all these characters, though given a choice I would have watch a Captain America cartoon every day.
Clockwise from upper left: The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, The Mighty Thor, and Captain America (Not shown, Sub-Mariner).; Image from The Big Cartoon DataBase at The Marvel Super Heroes Show.
It is easy to pick on the flaws in all three of these shows, but I think the harder thing to do is examine them less cynically and, dare I say, appreciate them for what they were, not denigrate them for what they are not. Did it matter so much that there was no real animation in The Marvel Super Heroesmovement or that art styles could change (Kirby to Tuska back to Kirby) with each cut in a scene? So what if Green Lantern had a blue-skinned alien friend in the Pieface role or that Hawkman had a bird for a partner like Birdman? Hearing his maniacal laugh, did it matter that Caesar Romero’s was plainly visible under the Joker’s whiteface or that the bat-shield was way too big to feasibly fit into Batman’s utility belt. Who cared that Fantastic Four #6, “Captives of the Deadly Duo,” was essentially rewritten into a Sub-Mariner story and the FF was replaced by the X-Men; the theme songs alone made up for any flaws. What mattered that I was five years old and super heroes were on television six days a week.

I had not yet developed the jaded eye of stereotypical comic fan, eager to find the problems when comics were transferred to other media so to be among the first to mock them and to complain about them. All I knew was that there were shows and characters on television that excited me, that made me happy and gave me something to look forward to every day. I wanted to feel like that all the time and the fastest route I could think of was through comic books. I wanted to have as many comic books as possible; I wanted to read them and, though at five I did not think in that term yet, I wanted to learn the mythology, the history of the characters.

These shows were what made me want to have comics in my life. I have stayed with comics long past the cancellation of these shows,; I have probably stayed long past the time when contemporary mainstream comics could make feel me the emotions I was seeking at four and five. I read many comics books still and, barring the marketing-driven, written-for-the-trade stories that come from the big two, I recognize the honest statement that the stuff of comics currently being published is better than anyone this side of Will Eisner could have ever conceded as a possibility.

I don’t feel that same excitement anymore, but I do, happily, remember it. Has there ever a time to be any happier and excited about the sheer adventuring fun of super heroes than 1966-1967?

(Addendum: Robby Reed at his Dial "B" for Blog site, recently had a six-part series covering the development of Batman before it went on the air. It is some interesting reading, especially if you are one of those people who are capable of loving the show without having to apologize for it. The first part is here, with a link to the next at the bottom of the page. Caution: It is very graphically intense.)