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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

COMIC BOOK RETROVIEW: Joe Orlando's ADVENTURE COMICS, Part 1




By the early 1970s, Adventure Comics had become the longest-running continuously-published American comic book series. The title began as New Comics in 1935, became New Adventure Comics in 1937, and finally settled on the name Adventure Comics in 1938. It was the second series published by a company then called National Allied Publications; the company's first comic had been New Fun Comics (later called More Fun Comics), and its third would be Detective Comics. Detective Comics is the only one of those first three titles to still survive today, and that book's initials gave its publisher the name by which it would ultimately become best-known: DC Comics.






The Adventure Comics story is a long one, and we're not going to detail it here. But we do need a brief preamble before we pick up our story in the '70s. Unlike Detective Comics (starring The Batman) or Action Comics (with Superman), Adventure Comics wasn't really the home to any breakout comic-book success story in the '40s. There were some notable heroes featured in its pages--Sandman, Hourman, Starman, Manhunter--but nothing blockbuster. That status changed a bit in the late '40s, when More Fun Comics switched to a humor format, and Adventure picked up a few of More Fun's cast of characters: Aquaman, Green Arrow, and cover feature Superboy, "The Adventures Of Superman When He Was A Boy!" From there, Adventure would remain super until the dawn of the Watergate era; in the early '60s, Superboy moved over to make room for his pals The Legion Of Super-Heroes, who then ceded the space to Supergirl in the late '60s. Supergirl remained Adventure's cover star until she migrated to her own solo title in 1972.



Comic book sales had declined precipitously from their heyday; for newsstand proprietors, comic books were a low-profit, low-priority item, hardly worth the effort since there was more money to be made selling...well, virtually any other kind of magazine, especially skin mags like Playboy and Penthouse. Marvel Comics had overtaken DC as the industry's kingpin, and there was additional competition in the form of more expensive black-and-white horror comics magazines, particularly those put out by Warren Publications (Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella).  Although mainstream comics couldn't compete with the more graphic nature of Warren's books, the Comics Code Authority had loosened its restrictions enough for the folks at DC and Marvel to try their hands in the horror comics field. Both companies had some success in that area.

Adventure Comics editor Joe Orlando also edited DC's horror line. Orlando had been an artist for EC Comics, the legendary line known for its horror titles in the '50s (and for Mad, which survived the death of EC's comics line to become a mega-successful magazine in its own right). As Supergirl departed the pages of Adventure, a decision was made to make Adventure an anthology title, more akin to books like House Of Mystery and The Witching Hour than anything with capes or Kryptonians.



The first few issues in Adventure's new direction were nondescript. Adventure Comics # 425 sported a gorgeous Michael Kaluta cover, and some wonderful interior art by comics legends Alex Toth and Gil Kane. But the stories were stand-alone suspense yarns, a mix of science-fiction and fantasy, and nothing terribly memorable. That issue also featured the debut of Captain Fear, a Caribbean pirate series written by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Alex Nino. Other than Captain Fear, these would all seem to be inventory stories (whether they actually were or not). Captain Fear returned in the following issue, joined by two more ongoing features: The Adventurer's Club (really just a framing device for more typical suspense fare, but with irresistible art by Jim Aparo) and a revival of The Vigilante. The Vigilante, a modern-day masked cowboy hero, had been a regular feature in Action Comics in the '40s. With artwork by Mike Sekowsky and Dick Giordano, The Vigilante was clearly my favorite here.




These same three features returned in Adventure Comics # 427, but were replaced with a new cover star in Adventure Comics # 428: The Black Orchid! The Black Orchid was a mysterious, super-powered heroine and master of disguise, and her appearances in Adventure Comics thrilled me no end when I was 13. We never did learn much about her back story--one of my unwritten Notebook Notions at the time included my idea for a Black Orchid appearance in The Brave And The Bold, with The Batman attempting to answer the question, "Who Is The Black Orchid?"--but the stories nonetheless conveyed a sense of tension and supernatural intrigue. Alas, she was gone from Adventure after a mere three issues. (The back-up slots in those three issues were filled by one appearance each of Dr. 13--The Ghost Breaker [starring a supporting character from The Phantom Stranger], Captain Fear, and The Adventurer's Club.)

But the announcement of what had been chosen to replace The Black Orchid assured me that I wouldn't miss her as much as I thought; The Spectre took over with Adventure Comics # 431.

Yes!!

IN PART TWO: The Spectre returns...and he's out for blood! All this, and Aquaman, too!