A whole team of superheroes...?! But...of course!
My first superhero team-up book was The Mighty Avengers # 13, published in 1965 but presented to me by my sister Nina and cousin Cheryl in the summer of '66. Prior to that, I don't remember whether or not the notion of superheroes knowing other superheroes had yet occurred to me. No, scratch that; at age six, I was at least aware that Batman and Superman knew each other, because I'd seen ads for an 80-Page Giant featuring the two together. Since one of the scenes on the cover depicted them fighting each other, I presumed that Batman and Superman weren't buddies at all; I had even drawn my own homemade comic book, with a page showing a battered Superman sailing into the stratosphere after being slugged by the mighty Batman (and with Supes muttering to himself, "Darn that Batman!"). See, Frank Miller and Zack Snyder have nothing on me.
In retrospect, the idea that superheroes knew other superheroes probably wasn't really a revelation. I'm sure I thought that Batman knew Popeye, who knew Flash Gordon, who knew Gilligan, who knew Bugs Bunny, who knew The Beatles, who knew Dick Tracy, who knew The Cisco Kid, who knew Samantha on Bewitched, and so on. But that issue of The Mighty Avengers was the first time I'd seen the concept in action, and I loved it. It didn't hurt that The Avengers themselves were five heroes I hadn't encountered before: The Mighty Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man, The Wasp, and Captain America. I was particularly taken with Captain America, and I was thrilled as my Mom and I read about Cap battling the evil forces of Count Nefaria and the Maggia.
By the fall of 1966, the immense popularity of the Batman TV show inspired a superhero gold rush. The Green Hornet joined Batman on ABC's prime-time TV schedule, and both heroes (and their partners) appeared in a TV comedy skit with Milton Berle. On Saturday mornings, CBS added new cartoon Superman and Lone Ranger series, as well as series starring new heroes Space Ghost, Frankenstein, Jr., and The Impossibles. CBS also imported Underdog from NBC. (I forgot to mention Underdog previously; Underdog was certainly another of my early superhero favorites, as was Astro Boy, whose cartoon exploits were a highlight of Baron Daemon's weekday afternoon show on Channel 9 in Syracuse.)
The Marvel Superheroes also came to TV that fall, in a syndicated series of very short, very limited animation episodes adapted directly from the original Marvel comic book stories. In Syracuse, they were shown on Channel 5's weekday afternoon show Jet Set, and they served me with a chance to learn much, much more about Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, and The Incredible Hulk. The Captain America theme song may have been my favorite music that year!
Batman himself headed to the big screen in '66, with a feature-film expansion of his TV show. I recall being in the hospital, tonsils freshly excised, and reading an ad for the film in a comic book: Batman and Robin versus The Joker, and The Penguin, and The Riddler, and Catwoman?! I am so there! We saw the film at the Hollywood Theater in Mattydale, NY, on a double-bill with a horror flick called The Reptile. The Reptile played first, and I was so scared by that film that I wanted to try to crawl into the ashtray to escape the Snake People. Nina said she was just as scared. Luckily, the day was saved by Batman, as the Caped Crusader's cinematic adventure did not disappoint.
As much as I loved (and still love) The Green Hornet series, the new Fall '66 TV show that had the most lasting impact on my life was The Monkees, a show chronicling the misadventures of a struggling quartet of would-be rock 'n' roll stars. Nina hooked me on it by describing it as "like Batman, except with a guitar instead of a bat." Good enough for me! I watched the show, and was a big fan of Davy Jones, in particular. I think it was my brother Art who wound up buying the first two Monkees albums, so there was always Monkees music available to play in the house from that point on. I eventually became an even bigger Monkees fan later on, when CBS picked up the show for Saturday morning/early afternoon reruns, beginning in 1969. By the mid-'70s, The Monkees had secured a permanent position as one of my all-time favorite groups.
1966 ended with the best Christmas present I could have asked for: Captain Action! Captain Action was a superhero doll (if the term "action figure" existed, I don't remember hearing it) from Ideal, which was cool enough. But even cooler--and more lucrative for Ideal--was Captain Action's ability to change into nine other superheroes! Not made-up Ideal superheroes--real superheroes! Captain Action could become Batman! Superman! Captain America! Aquaman! The Phantom! The Lone Ranger! Flash Gordon! Steve Canyon! And Sgt. Fury! It was a cross-company licensing extravaganza that could never be duplicated today. On Christmas eve, at the annual family Christmas get-together (held that year at the house of my Uncle Tot and Aunt Marian, rather than at Aunt Mary and Uncle Mike's house, the regular site for this annual gathering), my aunts and uncles gave me all of the individual superhero costumes except Sgt. Fury. I received the Sgt. Fury costume and the main Captain Action figure from Santa Claus the next morning. I'm guessing ol' Kris Kringle must have asked Mom and Dad to coordinate gifts with the aunts and uncles--he's pretty efficient, that St. Nick.
In 1967, my favorite song was "California Nights" by Lesley Gore. I'm not sure whether or not I had a crush on Ms. Gore (though I think I did have a crush on Nancy Sinatra), but I loved that song, and I received the California Nights album as a birthday gift. Worlds collided pleasantly when Lesley Gore made a guest appearance on Batman, playing Catwoman's sidekick Pussycat and lip-syncing "California Nights" (which may be where I first heard the song). I wrote more about Lesley Gore here
In addition to The Monkees' music, the only other 1967 hit that sticks out in my memory is "Happy Together" by The Turtles; I liked that song, but my Mom thought I liked it even more than I did, possibly just because I knew (and mentioned) the title and artist. I was not aware of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album at all.
Music definitely took a backseat to superheroes in my world circa 1967. I played with my Captain Action doll and my Creepy Crawlers creations, and made up superhero scenarios for these toys and knickknacks to live out. I read comic books as often as possible, amassing a collection of four-color adventures starring The Justice League of America, The Fantastic Four, The Fab 4, The Shield, The Web, The Black Hood, Nick Fury, Dial H For Hero, Aquaman, Superman, Daredevil, Plastic Man, The Challengers of the Unknown, The Amazing Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Teen Titans, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman, Dr. Strange, Hawkman, The Flash, Dr. Solar: Man Of The Atom, The Atom, Green Lantern, The Green Hornet, The Inferior Five, The Spectre, and Magnus, Robot Fighter. Also Super Goof, the superheroic incarnation of Disney fave Goofy. (I can't remember if I'd discovered Charlton Comics' line of Action-Heroes in '67, or if I found out about them later; at some point, I became a big fan of The Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, The Peacemaker, Judo Master, The Sentinels, The Question, and Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt, so I want to at least mention them here. I do know that I didn't discover Tower's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents until much later.)
The Avengers had changed membership between my visits with them, as Thor and Iron Man had left, and Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and The Scarlet Witch had joined; Captain America remained--to me, it wouldn't have been The Avengers without Cap--and so had The Wasp and Giant-Man (the latter now called Goliath, and yeah, dumbass little me didn't realize Goliath and Giant-Man were the same guy).
Oh, and the Justice League? My first issue of JLA guest-starred The Justice Society of America in the first part of that summer's annual JLA/JSA crossover. I had passed on buying part 2 of the '66 JLA/JSA event the previous summer, but it would be a much-anticipated annual highlight for me from that point on.
We didn't visit Missouri that summer. We did have a 4th of July family picnic in our backyard (I bought my second issue of JLA that day at Sweethearts Corner). Dad didn't usually accompany us on the trips to Missouri, but he did go with us on our summer '67 trip, to a cabin owned by a friend of Dad's. In Missouri, my grandparents had gotten me interested in fishing, so Dad bought a fishing license to continue with that endeavor. We didn't realize until we'd arrived that the cabin was located across the state line, in Vermont. Dad may have grumbled silently, but he bought a Vermont fishing license, and he and I went out fishing on a row boat. I don't remember if we caught anything, but I remember being out on the water with my Dad. Decades later, when Dad was in hospice care, trying to thank me for some simple thing, like bringing him a strawberry milkshake, I reminded him of that day out fishing on the water in Vermont, and told him he'd accrued more than enough bonus points to cover a strawberry milkshake.
(I don't think I picked up many comics on that trip--maybe an issue of World's Finest Comics or Superman--and we certainly didn't buy any records. But we did find a book of song lyrics at the cabin, and it contained the lyrics to one of my past favorites, "Blame It On The Bossa Nova." And I think it was on that trip that I picked up a four-pack of Batman posters drawn by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson. One of those images has become iconic among Batfans.)
In the fall of '67, DC Comics expanded its TV presence with The Superman-Aquaman Hour Of Adventure, a one-hour Saturday morning cartoon series combining Superman and Superboy episodes from 1966's The New Adventures Of Superman with new Aquaman cartoons, plus more new cartoons from a rotating cast of DC superheroes: The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom, The Teen Titans (minus Robin the Boy Wonder, whose agent couldn't get him out of his ABC contract), and even The Justice League of America (minus Batman, for reasons cited above; also minus the other JLA members--Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Martian Manhunter--that didn't have solo cartoons in the Superman/Aquaman Hour, and minus Aquaman because...well, just 'cuz).
So 1967 ended, and we welcomed '68 secure in the knowledge that Syracuse and its suburbs were more than adequately protected from evildoers. Good thing. Because there would be a lot of evil afoot in 1968.
|(Yeah, I know--this is from a 1969 comic book. Bear with me--it's for effect!)|
NEXT WEEK: Evil. Good. What did an eight-year-old know? All this, and Disneyland!