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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 three 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.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

COMIC BOOK RETROVIEW: Joe Orlando's ADVENTURE COMICS, Part 2

Continuing a look back at the Joe Orlando-edited Adventure Comics in the early '70s. Part One is here.



The Spectre had been one of my (many) favorite characters for years. Originally created in the '40s (by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and artist Bernard Baily) as a near-omnipotent ghostly force of vengeance, I discovered The Spectre when his solo title debuted in 1967. The Silver Age interpretation of The Spectre eschewed the bloodthirsty eye-for-an-eye (and then some!) retribution of the character's earliest appearances, and opted instead for cosmic adventure and thrills. It was one of my favorite comic books when I was seven or eight, but it was cancelled after ten issues. The Spectre had last been seen in Justice League Of America # 83 in 1970, as the Astral Avenger sacrificed his afterlife to save the multiverse.





In between the publication of JLA # 83 and The Spectre's reappearance in Adventure Comics, I had my first opportunity to read a couple of The Spectre's somewhat grislier Golden Age adventures. The 1940s Spectre stories reprinted in DC Comics 100-Page Super-Spectacular and Jules Feiffer's book The Great Comic Book Heroes showed The Spectre as a merciless, Old Testament angel of swift, deadly justice; he made lethal, shoot-first pulp heroes like The Shadow and The Spider seem almost namby-pamby by comparison. These earliest stories would be the inspiration for the new approach to The Spectre, beginning in Adventure Comics # 431 (January-February 1974):

His fellow policemen know him as Detective Jim Gordon, the toughest cop on the New York force--but Jim Corrigan is not just another tough cop. For Jim Corrigan is a dead man...a ghost...a man murdered by gangsters who has returned from beyond the grave to battle crime with powers far beyond the ken of mortal men. But you needn't tremble, gentle reader. Only the vermin of the underworld need fear...THE WRATH OF...THE SPECTRE!

Scary. And cool!

Writer Michael Fleisher, collaborating with Russell Carley for the first seven of The Spectre's appearances in Adventure, pulled out all of the stops to craft a series of chilling, over-the-top revenge fantasies in which heartless murderers met their awful (but deserving) ends. Killers were melted, reduced to skeletons, cut in half by giant scissors, turned to glass (and then shattered), and transformed into wood and run through a buzzsaw. The Spectre was nasty, almost like a comic-book precursor to the purposeful serial killer Dexter. Mercy? From The Spectre?! Oh, you naive sinner...!
This was all very graphic by the standards of a mainstream American comic book at the time, and it was just endlessly thrilling to this young teen as I bought 'em fresh off the rack from '73 to '75. Irresistible artwork by the great Jim Aparo combined with Fleisher's compelling, macabre storytelling to make Adventure Comics my favorite comic book.




Although Adventure Comics had seemed like a tryout book in search of a star, the letters columns indicated that The Spectre might become that star. Sales of The Spectre's appearances in Adventure Comics were said to be encouraging. With issue # 433, the covers unofficially amended the book's title to become Weird Adventure Comics, hoping to draw more horror comics fans to the gritty, gory pleasures of The Spectre's exploits. Editor Joe Orlando continued to search for the right back-up strips; # 431 featured the Alex Toth-drawn one-off "Is A Snerl Human?," a Captain Fear two-parter appeared in # 432-433, followed by a book-length Spectre story in Adventure Comics # 434.



Adventure Comics # 435 gave us the first Adventure back-up to matter: a revival of Aquaman, DC's King Of The Seven Seas, who was then appearing on TV in the Super Friends cartoon show. Outside of his adventures with The Justice League of America, Aquaman had been without an ongoing comic-book home since his own title had been cancelled in 1971. The 1968-1971 run of Aquaman, written by Steve Skeates and drawn by Jim Aparo, had been (and remains) one of my all-time favorite comic books. So I was delighted to see the Sea King return in Adventure; Skeates returned as scripter, but Aparo was too busy with The Spectre (and with the Batman team-up book The Brave And The Bold) to return to Atlantis, so Mike Grell became the new Aqua-artist. I remember reading Adventure Comics # 435 on a flight from Pensacola to Syracuse that summer of 1974, and thinking this was just the best time ever to be a comics fan. And Adventure Comics was one of my prime pieces of evidence in making that case.





Aquaman completed his three-issue trial run in the back of Adventure Comics, followed by the beginning of a Seven Soldiers Of Victory serial in Adventure # 438. The Spectre continued to wreak deadly havoc on evildoers, and all seemed right with Adventure Comics. And then, seemingly without warning, The Spectre was gone.



Wait. What...?!



I suspect a rat.

Were earlier reports of The Spectre's encouraging sales incorrect? Or had DC succumbed to complaints about the harrowing, grisly nature of The Spectre's cold, cruel punishment? I was delighted to see Aquaman return; I was sad to see The Spectre go.


 
 
 


The good news was that Jim Aparo was now able to return to drawing Aquaman, though Skeates was replaced (initially) by writer Paul Levitz. I continued to read and enjoy Adventure Comics (as evidenced by my letter of comment in Adventure # 444), but lost interest in it when Aquaman moved to his own title, and Superboy renewed his long-standing residency as the star of Adventure with issue # 453.

Looking back, my only regret with this era of Adventure Comics is that I wish there had been more. The title was only popular enough to merit bi-monthly status; imagine if there could have been twice as much good stuff to enjoy with a monthly Adventure. More Spectre! More other characters! And more Spectre! It would have been nice if Adventure could have also been converted to DC's 100-Page Super-Spectacular format, with these new Spectre and back-up strips bookending a choice selection of Golden Age reprints from DC's vast archives. It would have been fun. It would have been awesome! But the truth is, it was already all of that. It was Adventure. Can't ask for more than that.