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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, July 18, 2017

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

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 4Part 5Part 6, Part 7, and Part 8. Time now for the thrilling conclusion.

100 pages. That's a bargain, right? In the early '70s, 100 pages of comics could be yours for the low, low price of just fifty cents. Even when dat ole debbil inflation pushed the cover price up to a scandalous sixty cents, it was still a bargain. Old comics and new comics, all wrapped together within a Nick Cardy cover, a lesson in comics history teaming up with the latest adventures of your favorite heroes. A bargain, for sure. And for those who love bargains, what could be better than more bargains? More 100-pagers! More titles! More books! Why settle for just a single 100-Page Super Spectacular each month, when we can have a whole line of titles in that format? More! MORE!!

It was, ultimately, too much of a good thing.

In late 1973, I was 13, nearing my fourteenth birthday coming up in January. I don't recall my precise feelings about the expansion of the Super Spectacular line, though I imagine was in favor it. I do remember being less than fully enthused with some of the resulting book themselves. Detective Comics was a 100-page treat, and so was Batman. But, for me, much of the rest of the 100-page line was more hit or miss than would have seemed likely.

If you're a comics fan, your appreciation of these books may vary significantly from mine. I wanted more Golden Age material from the '40s in the Super Specs' reprints, and I felt that there was too much humdrum (to me) Silver Age stuff where a vintage Spy Smasher, Plastic Man, or Merry, Girl Of 1,000 Gimmicks should have appeared instead. Some of the new material also presented a mixed bag for my increasingly idiosyncratic taste. Maybe I was growing up? Maybe I was outgrowing superhero comics?

No, no--let's not get crazy here.

But the increasing prevalence of fifty- and sixty-cent books stretched my comics-buyin' budget beyond its capacity. World's Finest Comics? The Brave And The Bold? I think I found ways to continue getting most of these issues (without resorting to pilferage), but they were barely holding my interest, if that. (The Brave And The Bold, which had once been one of my favorite comic books, will be the subject of an extended rant another day. For now, suffice it to say that the comic hadn't really changed so much as my taste had changed.)

Although I'd love to read them again now, I never did muster up much enthusiasm at the time for Superman Family, a new 100-page title that replaced the long-running Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen (from which Superman Family continued its numbering) and Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane, as well as the shorter-lived Supergirl title. Those three former lead features rotated the lead spot in Superman Family, backed by reprints of the other two (and other Superman-related stories). I don't even really remember the 100-page Superman books, and the sole pair of 100-page editions of Action Comics kinda left me cold. I dug the two 100-page issues of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, which offered new Legion stories drawn by artist Mike Grell (whose rendition of Lana Lang seemed a bit sexier to me than any previous depiction of Smallville's favorite daughter) and some cool LSH reprints.


Two of DC's licensed titles also went the 100-page route. Tarzan was an interesting experiment; the new adventures of Tarzan, Korak, and (in Tarzan # 230) Carson of Venus were simply gorgeous, with artwork by the likes of Joe Kubert, Russ Heath, Mike Kaluta, and Alex NiƱo, sometimes supplemented by reprints of equally-stunning Tarzan newspaper strips by Russ Manning. DC filled the rest of the book with an odd but intriguing selections of reprints from its own archives, starring characters like Detective Chimp, Congo Bill, and Rex the Wonder Dog. The first two 100-page Tarzans also included reprints of DC's mid-'60s licensed title Bomba The Jungle Boy. However, since DC no longer had the comics rights to our Bomba, he was re-named Simba The Jungle Boy. Listen: if you've seen one jungle boy, you've seen 'em all.

Another ongoing 100-page licensed title was Shazam!. Of course, no one knew at the time that it was a licensed book; virtually everyone thought that DC had purchased the rights to the original Captain Marvel, rather than entering into a licensing deal with Cap's former publisher, Fawcett Comics. But the 100-page Shazam! books nonetheless offered a bounty of Golden Age action starring The Big Red Cheese and the rest of The Marvel Family. The new Marvel Family material couldn't match the vintage stuff, and I was always disappointed that we didn't get to see reprints of the other former Fawcett heroes that we all thought DC owned outright, characters like Spy Smasher, Bulletman, Ibis the Invincible, and Mr. Scarlet.  Still, you'll never hear me complaining about an opportunity to read '40s and '50s stories starring The World's Mightiest Mortal.

Justice League Of America also switched to an ongoing Super Spectacular format, and I surely never missed an issue of that. JLA was written by Len Wein at the time, and I don't think anyone's ever really challenged Wein's status as my all-time favorite Justice League scribe. Hell, I didn't even mind the pandering cover blurb of Here Come TV's Super-Friends!, because this was rock-solid superhero storytelling. Most issues also included vintage tales of The Justice Society of America, but issues # 111 and 112 upped the ante by instead serializing a 1940s Seven Soldiers Of Victory story, giving me my first chance to read a Golden Age adventure of this lesser-known super-group. My only real complaint about the 100-page era of Justice League was that the book's bi-monthly status meant that the traditionally two-part annual JLA/JSA crossover was cut back to a single issue. And it was still worth it!

Unfortunately, the comics-buying market in 1974 apparently did not agree that these books were worth it. By the end of '74, the last 100-Page Super Spectaculars hit the stands: Batman # 261, The Flash # 232, Justice League Of America # 116, Shazam! # 17, The Unexpected # 162, World's Finest Comics # 228, and Young Romance # 204, all cover-dated March-April 1975, but all long gone from the spinner racks by the time the calendar's pages actually flipped to the spring of '75. In their place, a few more diminutive books tried to pass themselves off as Giants. Giants? At a mere 64 pages?! A giant compared to the puny books otherwise cluttering the racks, I guess, but not a true giant. Not a Super Spectacular.
Er--Super Spectacular or not, this looks pretty damned good...!
The marketplace could not sustain the glut of 100-page comic books. The format disappeared entirely, revived only for sporadic nostalgic kicks in the '90s. DC's publisher Carmine Infantino would continue to try to find a format that would entice readers and recapture market share; the dollar tabloids were another cool attempt to accomplish that goal, and they'll likely be the subject of a future reminiscence here in Comic Book Retroview. But Infantino's days at DC's helm were numbered; he was dismissed from the position in early 1976.

But my fondness of that brief flourish of 100-Page Super Spectaculars remains as strong today as it was when I was eleven years old in 1971, and my eyes widened at the sight of my first Super Spec. I occasionally toy with the idea of manipulating my digital comics files in an attempt to concoct new (well, faux new) Super Spectaculars, creating a 100-page Adventure Comics, or The Shadow, or The Sandman, or Rima The Jungle Girl, mixing the then-fresh '70s exploits of those books' stars with vintage vault-raids starring The Boy Commandos, Minute Man, Midnight, Miss America, Robotman, Kid Eternity, and The Crime Crusaders Club (the one-off 1940s Fawcett super-group with Captain Marvel Jr., Minute Man, and Bulletman and Bulletgirl). But it's too much work, and it wouldn't be real.

But those original 100-pagers? To this kid, trying to grow up in the '70s, in that vast but fleeting expanse of time between discovering Hot Wheels and discovering The Ramones, they were real. And they were Spectacular.

(A tip of the Super-Specs to TwoMorrows Publishing's Back Issue magazine, whose spotlight on DC's 100-Page Super Spectaculars in Back Issue # 81 was an invaluable resource in assembling this nine-part retrospective.)

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