Wednesday, April 19, 2017

COMIC BOOK RETROVIEW: DC 100-Page Super Spectaculars, Part Five

Continuing a look back at DC Comics' 100-Page Super Spectaculars in the 1970sBegin with Part 1, move on to Part 2, then Part 3Part 4, and we pick it all up here:

Many months passed between the quiet demise of DC's 100-Page Super Spectaculars in early 1972 and the format's unexpected resurrection at the end of that year. But the return was welcome, and involved minimal, cosmetic differences from what had come before. Rather than continuing as just a format for specific special issues of other ongoing titles like Superman, Batman, Superboy, The Flash, Our Army At War, and Adventure Comics, the series was now officially titled 100-Page Super Spectacular, a regularly-scheduled monthly book that could spotlight a different character or group or theme in each issue. The thirteenth and final issue in the previous series had been Superman # 252; the new series resumed as 100-Page Super Spectacular # 14, starring Batman. Nothing else had really changed at all.

Editor E. Nelson Bridwell's letters column in that issue laid out some of the parameters for this revived series of Super Specs:

Okay--you asked for us to bring back the Super Spectaculars--so here they are--one of 'em, anyway! This issue was originally planned for last May, but it's hitting the stands in December instead. Future Specs will include House Of Mystery, Superboy, Army At War, Shazam!, Superman, Justice League and Flash among others--at least, those are our current plans.

We'll definitely include Golden Age material in most of our Specs. We've already lined up two Kirby classics for the Superboy Spec (due 2 months hence): a Boy Commandos, and a Sandman, featuring Sandy the Golden Boy. And we still plan to reprint a complete Justice Society story in the JLA Spec...'s a question for you fans out there. How much of a Super Spec should be devoted to the title hero? There are 33 Batman pages this issue. Should there be more? Less? About the same? We'd like to keep using various other heroes who don't have their own Specs--but what are your views on the subject?

And what themes should we use? What characters should we highlight in each Spec? These are all things we'd like to hear your ideas and suggestions on.

Bridwell went on to note that, although DC had the rights to characters acquired from Quality Comics (he listed Plastic Man, The Ray, Doll Man, The Black Condor, Phantom Lady, Uncle Sam, Blackhawk, Kid Eternity, Captain Triumph, and Firebrand as examples), and also to heroes originally published by Fawcett (Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Junior, Mary Marvel, Spy Smasher, Bulletman, Ibis the Invincible, Mr. Scarlet, Minute Man, and Commando Yank), the company had no proofs or negatives for any of this material. This meant that reprints of any of these would need to be shot directly from old comics in good condition; DC had a complete library of the comics it had published, but almost none of the Quality and Fawcett books. The scarcity of this source material would limit DC's ability to reprint much of it. (Ibis the Invincible would eventually be the only Fawcett character other than Captain Marvel and company to ever appear in a Super Spec.)

This issue came out about a month before my thirteenth birthday, and I absorbed it. Bridwell's comments were as interesting to me as the stories themselves, tantalizing me with the possibilities of what Golden Age goodies might be imminent. I was particularly intrigued by the promise of finally reading one of the original Justice Society Of America stories from the '40s, and by the hope (however faint) of seeing Spy Smasher and Bulletman in action. I ached to see all of this.

I don't think I ever wrote a letter in response to Bridwell's questions, but I know I preferred to see less of an issue's star feature, and more of other characters. I'd make an exception for The Batman or Captain Marvel, but otherwise? Why fill space with yet another Flash or Superboy tale, when we could have The Crimson Avenger or Hourman instead? If it had been up to me, I'd have at least occasionally done away with a single starring hero entirely, and gone back to the World's Greatest Super-Heroes! format of my first Super Spec from the previous year. In my scrawled and scribbled notebooks from the time, I show a crude cover sketch for a proposed Grab Bag edition of the Super Specs, starring The Seven Soldiers Of Victory, The Marvel Family, Wonder Woman, the Golden Age Flash, and the Golden Age Atom. My handwritten notes also preserve my fevered, fannish fancy for several pages' worth of other imaginary Super Specs, including two more Grab Bag issues: one (again) starring The Seven Soldiers Of Victory, accompanied by the 1966 Jerry Lewis meets Batman story, The Masked Ranger, Bulletman, and Plastic Man, and the other one filled with The Justice Society Of America, Minute Man, Tarantula, Scribbly, Wonder Woman, and The Shadow.

This was all clearly the work of a boy still several years away from having a girlfriend.

Anyway. The first in DC's new ongoing series of Super Spectaculars was a worthy return for the format, enclosed within a gorgeous Nick Cardy wraparound cover. Originally announced as spotlighting heroes and their methods of travel, the issue itself made no mention of its chosen theme, but quietly delivered it in spades.

The book opened with a gritty two-part Batman story from 1939, pitting The Dark Knight against a vampire, The Monk. This was one of the few early Batman stories not written by Batman's co-creator Bill Finger, leaving Gardner Fox the task of introducing The Bat-Gyro (the precursor to The Batplane) and The Batarang (then spelled "Baterang"), as well as Bruce Wayne's first published paramour, Julie Madison. Other stories in this issue showed The Atom traveling via telephone line, the aviator Blackhawk, Wonder Woman driving her invisible plane and riding a kangaroo, the diminutive Doll Man hitching a ride atop his dog Elmo, Wildcat cruisin' on his Cat-o-cylce, and finally Batman again, introducing the Batmobile of 1950. Get yer motor runnin', and head out on the highway!

(Alas, my relationship with this issue was not without its own drama. I took it with me to re-read in the hotel in Albany when my brother Rob got married, and I accidentally left the damned thing behind when we checked out. I think I may have replaced it with a coverless copy from Van Patten's Grocery Store in North Syracuse, and eventually with an intact copy about a decade later. To this day, whenever I drive to Albany to visit Rob and his family, I pass by that same hotel, shake my fist, and curse.)

Superboy starred in the next Super Spectacular (which appeared the very next month, rather than the two-month gap Bridwell had expected). With only two Golden Age reprints (the Jack Kirby Sandman and Boy Commandos stories Bridwell mentioned in the previous issue), this was a lesser treat for me. The letters column revealed that readers had stated a preference for more of each issue's star rather than less, so that meant (I thought) too much Superboy in this issue. It was spectacularly...okay.

Sgt. Rock starred in 100-Page Super Spectacular # 16. Although my main interest in comics has always been superheroes, I did like DC's war books (and Marvel's too, actually), but I don't remember whether or not I ever picked up this particular Super Spec. But the next one? Super Spec # 17? I'd been waiting for that one my whole comics-readin' life, my friend. I snapped it off the spinner rack at a drug store in Northern Lights Plaza the second I spotted it. It starred The Justice League Of America. It featured a Golden Age Sandman story. All well and good. But, most importantly, it offered my first chance to read an original 1940s adventure starring The Justice Society Of America. We'll re-live that euphoric moment when Comic Book Retroview returns.

(Now, if you'll excuse me, I've gotta drive to Albany and shake my fist at a hotel. Again.)

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

No comments:

Post a Comment