Thursday, April 29, 2010

Not-So-Secret Origins of the JLA Week- Wonder Woman

Technically, the Silver Age Wonder Woman WAS the Golden Age Wonder Woman. Her series had never been cancelled. This new origin story, however, creates a dividing line between the Wonder Woman who was the secretary for the Justice Society of America during WWII and the new, more powerful Wonder Woman who was an equal member of the Justice League.

Enjoy "The Secret Origin of Wonder Woman" by Robert Kanigher, penciled by Ross Andru and inked by Mike Esposito from Wonder Woman #105, April 1959.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Not-So-Secret Origins of the JLA Week- Green Lantern

Imagine my surprise when I suddenly realized I did NOT actually own a reprint of this story! I have a reprint of Green Lantern's origin being abbreviated and recapped in Green Lantern #1, but somehow, I was unaware that this specific story was missing from my library.

In a state of panic, I went to the local, public library to check out Green Lantern Archives. Little did I realize they only had a copy of Green Lantern Archives vol. 6!
Thankfully, that blogger's blogger and all-around good guy Mykal Banta helped me out with a scan of this landmark story. Incidentally, If you're a big fan of Gil Kane's artwork, (and who wouldn't be?) you may want to check out Mykal's newest blog, "Kingdom Kane".

As I alluded to yesterday, the unbridled success of DC's remake of The Flash in Showcase #4 struck a chord with the powers that be at DC. It was decided to try the formula again, this time with another cancelled hero, Green Lantern. The original Green Lantern (created by Martin Nodell) had been a railroad construction engineer who found a mysterious and ancient lantern fashioned from metal from a meteorite. This lantern and the ring fashioned from it had almost magical powers, a sort of Aladdin's lamp.

Editor Julius Schwartz had come from sci-fi publishing and he liked the idea of modernizing DC's heroes with more "scientific" explanations. There were hints of that in The Flash's origin, but sci-fi takes a front seat in this, the debut of Green Lantern. From Showcase #22, September-October 1959 here's Green Lantern's origin from "S.O.S. Green Lantern" by John Broome, drawn by Gil Kane and inked by Joe Giella.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Flash Origin Update! A Reader Spots Something Interesting!

I received an entertaining comment from Silver Age Comics blogger Pat Curley:

"Pat said... It's a minor thing, but it's always bugged me that Barry's reading Flash Comics #13, because the cover shown has no resemblance to the actual cover of that issue--for one thing, Flash Comics #13 is a Hawkman cover (Hawkman and Flash basically alternated cover appearances)."

Pat, you are HARD CORE! You're dead right, my friend. I even checked All-Flash Quarterly #13- no match there, either. In fact, I checked all the covers of Flash Comics and there were no close matches at all! That cover is pure Infantino.

Now, not to get all geeky and take this to some meta-comics level, but perhaps that cover is a cover of Flash Comics #13 exclusive to Earth 1? I mean, after all, on Earth 1, which is much like our Earth except it has superheroes and stuff, there was a Gardner Fox, much like our own Gardner Fox, except he wrote Flash comics based on visions he had in his sleep of the Flash of Earth 2. So, perhaps Earth 1 has many of our Golden Age comics, but with variant covers. Imagine the new collecting frontiers!

Man! Even I want to beat me up after that!

Nice job, Pat! you win the "no-prize"!

Not-So-Secret Origins of the JLA Week- The Flash

For many comics historians, Showcase #4, October, 1956 is the "Day the universe changed". Or at least one of them. The publication of this little number ushers in The Silver Age. The Flash is widely regarded as the first new superhero of the Silver Age. Especially by DC. I'm not sure why they withhold their love from poor little Johnny Jones, Manhunter from Mars. After all, he did debut almost a full year earlier than The Flash. Perhaps, as a back-up feature to Batman he just didn't bring in the sales figures of a coverboy like Flash.

At any rate, in Showcase #4, DC takes it's first steps towards creating a new age of heroes. And they did it by looking towards the past. The Flash was a remake of a previous DC hero from the 1940's whose book had been cancelled (in fact, Barry Allen is reading one of his comics in the story). This process is old hat these days, but in 1956, comics had only been around for 2 decades. As you'll see tomorrow, it was successful, because DC went back to the same well time and time again.

Enjoy the beautiful dynamic art of Carmine Infantino, inked by Joe Kubert (more commentary after the feature) :

I have to say, Barry Allen is a likeable guy. While The Flash is a very physical sort of hero, his alter-ego is a genuinely nerdy police scientist and comics geek.

There are many ways to show a man running fast but Infantino seems to have mastered the technique of depicting The Flash's speed through blurred motion lines, suggesting that he's moving faster than the eye can keep up with.

My favorite panel in this issue? Top of page 5, with the food floating in mid-air. Comics don't actually move, like film or TV, so it's remarkable how well Infantino captures the moment here. I think the coffee really sells it. It would have been very easy to draw this scene and simply rely on captions to tell you what was happening, but this picture actually tells you that everything is standing still except Barry.

Tomorrow: Green Lantern.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Not-So-Secret Origins of the JLA Week- Martian Manhunter

This week, I'm going to further highlight the original Justice League of America- One member at a time.

Since the JLA debuted already formed in Brave and the Bold #28, I have decided to spotlight them each in the order they (or their Silver Age origins) debuted in the comics.

We start with Martian Manhunter or, as he was originally known, John Jones, Manhunter from Mars. Mr. Jones debuted as a new back-up feature to Batman in Detective Comics #225, November, 1955. As you can see from the story you are about to read, the emphasis of the comic was on the detective angle of the character. John wouldn't be written as a more conventional Superhero for a few years.

Enjoy "The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel" . Script by John Samachson, art by Joe Certa.

I don't know a lot about 1955, but I still find it unlikely that you could walk in off the street and become a police detective. I doubt it was like walking into a diner holding up their "Help Wanted" sign.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

One of the Many Reasons I love My Wife!

So, this morning (being Saturday) I popped in a "Challenge of the Superfriends" DVD. As (my wife) Amy and I sat watching Superfriends over breakfast with our 5-year-old (who LOVES Superfriends), the Superfriends were in trouble. Seems they were captured by the Legion of Doom. The L.O.D. locked the Superfriends in a cage and launched the cage into space, headed for the sun.

Now, every time I see this, I think to myself, "I'm pretty sure they'd all starve to death before they ever reached the sun." Never mind other questions regarding exposure to cold and radiation. But Amy, out of nowhere, says " As they were getting closer and closer to the sun, wouldn't Superman be getting more and more powerful?

Damn! I love you, baby!

Friday, April 23, 2010

If It Sells, Keep Sellin' It!

To say that Batman and Robin were a huge commercial success would be a vast understatement. True, Batman sold well for the eleven months he existed prior to adding his now-famous sidekick, but nothing like the household name he would become simply by adding a spunky kid to the team.

The combo was so successful, that every comics company rushed to imitate it, adding junior partners to their established heroes (often just a miniature version of the adult hero, such as the Human Torch's buddy, Toro) even DC itself. Few of these duos were very dynamic. Still, it had worked once, it would work again.

Not only did DC slap sidekicks on many of their existing heroes ( and by the Silver Age there were enough of these scamps to form their own team-the Teen Titans) and create heroic duos from whole cloth (Green Arrow and Speedy, for example) they also gave us an endless string of Batman and Robin wanna-be's.

Let me elaborate on that. I don't mean just pale imitations of Batman and Robin, I mean that, within the context of the Batman and Robin comics, the Dynamic duo encounter myriad crime-fighters who have based their careers on those of Batman and Robin. The Knight and Squire may be the most famous.

My personal favorite are B&R's Native American counterparts from the Southwest- Chief Man-of the Bats and Little Raven!

But, as mentioned, this formula for success was not limited to the pages of Batman. DC felt that what was good for the goose was good for the gander. Therefore, what had been good for Batman would have to be super for Superman. Enter Nightwing and Flamebird:

Not content to simply go around fixing all of Earth's problems, Superman decides he needs to also fight crime in the bottled city of Kandor.

For those who don't know, Kandor is a city that was shrunken, placed in a bottle and stolen by Brainiac all before Krypton exploded. Kandor currently resides on a table in Superman's Fortress of Solitude, where it sits under a red sun lamp (can't have a whole city of Supermen running around, can we?). Whenever Superman uses his shrink ray and stops by for a visit, he has no superpowers.

So, how will Superman fight crime in Kandor if he's not... super? He'll do it Batman-style. And he takes that lovable doofus, Jimmy Olsen along with him to play Robin.

Superman names himself Nightwing and Jimmy Flamebird, after two Kryptonian birds. He fashions costumes based vaguely on the birds' plumage. Pretty soon, they have a Nightcave, Nightmobile and even a Nighthound. Of course, Nightwing and Flamebird are a little spoiled by being Superman and Superman's Pal, so they wear jetbelts that allow them to fly.

"Er- ahem, that's NightWING, Jimmy!"

What's really remarkable, is that this concept didn't just yield a couple of memorable stories and vanish. In fact, Nightwing and Flamebird were one of the back-up features in Superman Family well into the 1970's- although at that point, Nightwing was Superman's cousin Van-Zee and Flamebird was Van-Zee's lab assistant, Ak-Var. (if you'd like to read one of those nifty stories, check out Diversions of the Groovy Kind)

Nowadays, if you mention Nightwing, people think of Dick Grayson after he quit being Robin. And Flamebird was also used again in Teen Titans, this time as a new name for the original Batgirl, Bette Kane.

The names have since been recycled several times.

Still, even though it was a throw-away idea that really broke no new ground, Nightwing and Flamebird's adventures were tremendously fun.