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Just imagine: you're 11 years old, you're a fan of comic books and superheroes, and one day, you stumble across this on the spinner rack.
"100 Action-Packed Pages,""World's Greatest Super-Heroes!" Only fifty cents! If you have two quarters on you, you've already fumbled them out of your pocket and handed them over to the guy or gal at the cash register, and flown home faster than any stunned onlooker could even exclaim, "Look! Up in the sky...!"
In 1971, I was that 11-year-old. I couldn't fly home with my new treasure--I bought it in a Greyhound station, en route from Syracuse to summer vacation in Missouri--but it was a glimpse of glory nonetheless.
The DC 100-Page Super Spectaculars were so cool, providing eager young fans like me with an opportunity to read and enjoy reprints of adventures from the DC Comics archives, going back as far as the late 1930s up through the then-recent decade of the '60s. The Golden Age reprints were my main interest; I loved the '60s stories, sure, but the stuff from the '40s? That was exciting, and mostly new to me--undiscovered territory. The Super Specs mixed old and older in an irresistible package, all in color for five dimes. Inflation? Vanquished as easily as the mad scientist Luthor punched through a wall by the Man of Steel.
Although my first Super Spec was listed as issue # 6, there were only two Super Specs prior to this, a Weird Mystery Tales mystery and horror collection and a Love Stories romance book. I don't recall whether or not I ever saw those first two, but the World's Greatest Super-Heroes! book was the first Spec in my sphere, and I devoured it. I read it and re-read it again and again. I didn't realize that Neal Adams' gorgeous wrap-around cover was an homage to the cover of All-Star Comics # 16 from 1943, but Adams' cover has itself become something of an iconic image on its own.
The lead-off treat in this book was the two-part "Crisis On Earth-One" and "Crisis On Earth-Two" epic from 1963, the very first meeting between The Justice League of America and The Justice Society of America. The annual JLA/JSA meetings had been a cherished summer event for me since 1967; with this reprint, I effectively got a bonus JLA/JSA adventure that year, as I read the new crossover in 1971, and also discovered its origin from back in '63. When I started buying back issues within the next few years, I would eventually acquire all of the JLA/JSA books, and I also now have most of them in trade paperback reprints. But this Super Spec was my first opportunity to look back at how it all began.
The Spectre was next. A previous Comic Book Retroview detailed my love for The Ghostly Guardian, and the reprint in this Super Spec was my first exposure to the grim, vengeful Spectre as he was portrayed in his earliest adventures in the '40s. It was a far, far cry from the cosmic Spectre adventures I'd read in the '60s, and I was thrilled by this merciless, pulpy avenger. Johnny Quick, The Vigilante, and Wildcat offered further Golden Age goodness, and the Super Spec concluded with a Silver Age '60s Hawkman story (with gorgeous Joe Kubert artwork). What a book! What a value!
(And, as if all that weren't already plenty and then some, this comic book bonanza also included a [presumably] comprehensive checklist of DC lead characters, from 1938 to date. The checklist even offered information on each character's first appearance, so eager little neophytes like yours truly could learn that Plastic Man debuted in Police Comics # 1 in 1941, or that The Doom Patrol was introduced in My Greatest Adventure # 80 in 1963. See? You can learn stuff reading comic books!)
So this 100-Page Super Spectacular was a treasure trove, a great big gaudy gift from Comic Book Heaven. In my seventh-grade English class that fall, I listed "DC 100-Page Super Spectacular" as my favorite book. No, you get a life. And it had to be a one-off, right? There was no reason to expect that DC would do something like this again, no likelihood that this gift would keep on giving. Right? Right?
But in late fall, before '71 ceded ground to the election year of 1972, a sequel appeared. My family and I were on our way to an evening at my Aunt Mary and Uncle Mike's house, and we stopped along the way at Sweetheart Corner grocery store in North Syracuse. And there, on the spinner rack, was another 100-Page Super Spectacular, this one starring Superman, with his guests Air Wave, The Atom, an American Indian hero called Super Chief, another Silver Age Hawkman story, and some young guy called Kid Eternity, who hadn't even rated a mention in that theoretically comprehensive DC characters checklist I'd read in the summer. But who cared about that?! Two quarters acquired. Two quarters spent. It was mine. All mine! This was the start of a beautiful friendship.
My second Super Spec was also the second one devoted to superheroes: 100-Page Super Spectacular # 7, alias Superman # 245. My most cherished memory of this issue was the first DC appearance of Kid Eternity, a 1940s hero I hadn't previously known, but who became an immediate favorite. Otherwise, this Super Spec was a little bit of a letdown after the previous issue's superhero extravaganza. The first big difference between the two was one I'd need to get used to in the 100-pagers; whereas my first Super Spec promised "World's Greatest Super-Heroes!," with no specific starring character, this one--and all subsequent superhero Super Specs--had the name of a headliner above all others: in this case, Superman. There would be no more superhero free-for-alls in the Super-Specs; there would be a bona fide star--Superman, Batman, Supergirl, The Flash, Superboy--to open and close the issue, with the supporting acts filling the space in between. I preferred the grab-bag format, but what can a poor boy do? (This sleepy North Syracuse town was just no place for a variety-lovin' fan, yeah. But I digress....)
I still enjoyed the rest of that issue. I would have also preferred more material from the '40s rather than the '50s and '60s--I was already becoming an avowed Golden Age fan--but I couldn't deny the Silver Age brilliance of the opening Superman story, 1964's three-part "The Team Of Luthor And Brainiac!" The final story in this issue, "The Prankster's Greatest Role!," was emblematic of Superman's often delightfully goofy exploits in the '50s. In between, we were treated to The Atom's first encounter with the time thief Chronos, the origin of the Native American superhero Super-Chief, another Silver Age Hawkman adventure (marking the Winged Wonder's second appearance in the two consecutive superhero Super Specs), and one other Golden Age story, starring Air Wave. A nice collection, a fun comic book, but--other than Kid Eternity--not as flat-out great for me as the previous Super Spec.
Some time passed before I found the next Super Spectacular. I'm not sure now if I saw a later issue or two before stumbling across a coverless copy of the eighth Super Spec at the tiny McMahon's grocery story across from Sweetheart Corner in North Syracuse. But I snapped it up immediately when I saw it. And it was the best one yet.
|I didn't see the cover until years later. But this was still enough to hook me, then and there.|
If you were never a kid who collected comics, then I can never make you understand the pure, sublime bliss of reading this comic book the first time. Or the second. Or the twenty-third. I loved this book. I still do.
The next Super Spec was also a coverless purchase for me, some time after the fact: Our Army At War # 242, starring Sgt. Rock and the battle-happy joes of Easy Company. Although superheroes were my main comics interest, I frequently purchased war, Western, humor, and mystery books. I don't think I have this issue anymore--I'm tempted to run into the garage and check my one remaining battered box of coverless comic books, just to see if this somehow survived the purge, but I'm positive it didn't. Too bad! I remember liking it a lot.
I was getting a whole bunch of my comic books without covers at this time. They were basically contraband--books that had been stripped, reported as unsold and destroyed, then put back on sale at a hefty discount--but I didn't know any better. I was getting comic books cheaply! My coverless streak continued with the subsequent Super Spec, and we'll talk about that one when Comic Book Retroview returns.
|Supergirl uncovered! Wait--that doesn't sound quite right....|
As a twelve-year-old in 1972, I may have had a teeny little crush on Supergirl. Also on Batgirl, The Scarlet Witch, Dumb Bunny of The Inferior Five, Lilith of The Teen Titans, Beautiful Dreamer of The Forever People, all of the female members of The Legion Of Super-Heroes, Yeoman Janice Rand on Star Trek, various Playboy playmates, actresses Raquel Welch and Paulette Goddard, and my classmate Annette Tullar. Among others. I was a fickle kid. I think my Dad was a little concerned about my potentially fragile machismo whenever he saw me reading what he thought were girls' comic books--Wonder Woman, or Supergirl's exploits in Adventure Comics--but he needn't have worried. It's not that my interest was purely prurient--I dug superhero comics, regardless of the gender of the superdoer in question--but I was very much in favor of pretty girls. Quit worryin', Dad.
Adventure Comics # 416, DC's tenth 100-Page Super Spectacular, promised "World's Greatest Super-Females." Regular Adventure headliner Supergirl was the star, bookending an irresistible selection of DC heroines. Although Supergirl had been the solo star of a few previous DC Giant collections--curiously, there had never been a Wonder Woman Giant--this Super Spec was only DC's second-ever multi-character collection of distaff heroes, following 1969's DC Special # 3, the...er, "All-Girl Issue." See Our Fighting Females Do Their Thing! Oy....
My first copies of both DC Special # 3 and the 100-Page Adventure Comics # 416 were coverless, delaying my opportunity to appreciate the Neal Adams/Nick Cardy mashup on the former and Bob Oksner's parade o' cutie-pies on the latter. But I loved the contents of each. The DC Specials may be a subject to cover in future blogs. The Adventure Comics Super Spec was another 100-page winner.
The issue began and ended with Silver Age Supergirl stories, all with clean and appealing art by Jim Mooney. The rest of the issue was all Golden Age material from the '40s, from the first appearance of The Black Canary (as a beguiling antagonist for the hapless Johnny Thunder) through an amiable episode in the exploits of Merry, Girl Of 1,000 Gimmicks. There was also a three-part Wonder Woman tale from 1948, but the highlight for me was the DC debut of The Phantom Lady, another Golden Age character that DC had purchased from the now-defunct Quality Comics line. Following Kid Eternity's appearance in the seventh Super Spectacular, this was the second time DC had re-introduced a Quality character in these 100-pagers. I confess that Phantom Lady's skimpy costume was likely the chief draw for me at the time, but between her, the Kid, and my old pal Plastic Man, the Super Specs were turning me into a Quality fan. And there was still much more of them yet to come.
This trend of old Quality heroes returning continued in the next Super Spec, alias The Flash # 214. Alas, Quicksilver (no relation to Marvel's subsequent Mighty Avenger of the same name) didn't captivate me anywhere near as much as Kid Eternity or Plastic Man, nor as much as Phantom Lady's wardrobe. I liked The Flash all right, but this issue was a lesser treat for me. Silver Age Flash, Kid Flash, and Metal Men stories shared space with a previously unpublished Golden Age Flash story, plus Johnny Quick and Quicksilver. (Quicksilver was much, much later revived as Max Mercury, a mentor to The Flash's young protege Impulse.)
The Super Specs returned to the Superman Family for the the twelfth issue, aka Superboy # 185. This issue spotlighted "World's Greatest Young Heroes," and it included another Kid Eternity story, the second one I'd ever seen. That was the highlight of the issue for me. There were two other Golden Age stories (starring The Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy and Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys), a pair of Silver Age super-teams (The Teen Titans and The Legion Of Super-Heroes), with the Boy of Steel opening and closing our show. It was fine, but not quite as spectacular as some previous Super Spectaculars.
Oh, but the next issue? That was spectacular. Jaw-dropping. Amazing! Little did I know it was also going to be the Super Specs' final act, at least for the time being. We'll fly high in the next edition of Comic Book Retroview.
There was no direct market for comics in the early '70s. Comic books were a marginal, potentially moribund medium, inefficiently distributed to indifferent retail outlets--newsstands, drug stores, grocery stores, the occasional soda fountain (the latter itself a dying breed)--and displayed haphazardly (if at all) by proprietors who could make more money on virtually any other printed product. Shelf space was limited. Should one display a twenty-cent issue of Mr. Miracle for its limited market, a fifty-cent issue of Life for its larger market, or a one-dollar issue of Playboy or Penthouse, with naked girls? It's not even a rhetorical question. Comics were the lowest of priorities. They weren't dead quite yet, but their situation was serious, and perilous. It would deteriorate to critical condition by decade's end.
Carmine Infantino was running National Periodical Publications, a company which most us usually just referred to as DC Comics. In a shrinking industry, Infantino saw DC's arch rival Marvel Comics surpass his company in sales, and he was trying everything he could think of to regain DC's lost status as comics kingpin. He tried higher page counts at a higher price (52 pages for twenty-five cents), giving consumers more product for their money and shopkeepers more money for their efforts, but was undercut when Marvel returned to a standard format of fewer pages for less money (something like 32 pages for only twenty cents). He looked into more licensed product, including a deal to publish Tarzan and other Edgar Rice Burroughs creations. He expanded DC's horror and mystery line, and enjoyed some success in that realm. He lured superstar writer/artist Jack Kirby away from Marvel. He sought media awareness and publicity for DC's forays into somewhat more serious, relevant subject matters--youth rebellion, racial unrest, political corruption, antiwar protest, civil disobedience, women's rights, Native American rights, pollution, drug abuse--particularly in the pages of Green Lantern (co-starring Green Arrow, written by Denny O'Neil and exquisitely rendered by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano). And he exploited DC's vast archive of previously-published material, often flooding the market with reprints in a desperate attempt to claim market share and that damned elusive spot on the retail racks and shelves.
DC's 100-Page Super Spectaculars were born from these efforts. The contents of these books were all reprint, so DC saved money on those pesky writers and artists whose work the company had already bought and paid for years before. E. Nelson Bridwell was on staff, and he assembled the reprints. DC just needed to pay either Neal Adams or Nick Cardy (or Joe Kubert, if it was a war book, or Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson on the first Superman Super Spec) for a stunning new wraparound cover--money well-spent!--and voila! A 100-Page Super Spectacular! Priced at fifty cents for 100 pages, with no outside advertising, the package was indeed a value for fans and shopkeepers alike.
Its success, ultimately, was mixed.
My twelve-year-old self was oblivious to most of this in 1972. I had been a fan of both DC and Marvel, but DC was clearly my favorite line, and my sense of allegiance was increasing. DC was doing so much great stuff in the early '70s: Batman, Green Lantern, Tarzan, Kirby's New Gods and related titles, Justice League of America, The Brave And The Bold, and Superman, among others, were all solid books at the time. And I loved the reprints even more, so 100-Page Super Spectacular was indisputably my favorite comic book.
I bought my comics wherever and whenever I could: coverless, gray-market contraband from Van Patten's Grocery Store, McMahon's Grocery Store, Mickey's Bait Shop, and World Of Books, all in North Syracuse; new comics from Sweethearts Corner, Henry and Hines Pharmacy, Carl's Drugs, Fay's Drugs, CVS Drugs, Hosler Drugs, and others I've forgotten, plus on the road at bus stations from Buffalo to Springfield, Missouri, and at Ramey's Grocery Store in Aurora, MO. I was intrepid, and insatiable. And one day in early '72, I was at Henry And Hines and I spied what simply had to be the greatest comic book ever published:
At the time, whatever money I'd accumulated from mowing lawns and/or weekly allowance was gone, pffft, a mere memory of cash long since spent. I was broke, busted, bereft of funds, beat 'n' torn, Bowery-bound, a bum. I begged my parents for the pair of quarters required to purchase this peerless, pristine gem. They may have grumbled--another comic book, Carl?!--but they must have sensed the urgency of my plea. I think I had to wait for a subsequent visit back to Henry and Hines, praying the book would still be there. It was. And it was mine.
This thirteenth 100-Page Super Spectacular, officially listed as Superman # 252, was filled almost exclusively with material from the Golden Age of Comics, the 1940s, with the 1961 story "Superman's Greatest Feats!" the only exception. And it was a blockbuster tour de force, opening with a two-part Superman story from 1942, pitting the Man of Tomorrow against a super-powered Lex Luthor. After that, I was treated to a 1940 story starring one of my Justice Society fave raves, Doctor Fate, and the gorgeous artwork of Sheldon Moldoff (copying Alex Raymond) in the Golden Age Hawkman story that introduced Hawkgirl.
Continuing and expanding upon the trend of previous Super Specs, this issue reintroduced not one, but two characters DC had purchased from the defunct Quality Comics line, The Black Condor and The Ray, both lusciously drawn by artist Lou Fine. The two Quality heroes bookended another pair of JSA members, The Spectre and Starman, with the above-mentioned Silver Age Superman tale bringing this fantastic treat to an anticlimactic end. But no matter! The next issue blurb at the end of that story promised another Batman Super Spec coming soon, with more Quality heroes (Blackhawk and Doll Man), plus Wonder Woman, Wildcat, and The Atom. Yep, this issue's theme of "The World's Greatest Flying Heroes!" would be followed by a collection of non-flying heroes, and their methods of transportation. That description might not seem all that enticing here in print, but I knew it was gonna be another blockbuster. I couldn't wait for the next Super Spec.
The Batman Super Spec would have presumably been cover-dated August 1972, with an on-sale date of May 5th. But it didn't appear on that date; I don't remember where or how I found out, but DC unexpectedly cancelled the 100-Page Super Spectaculars with this Superman issue. Infantino was still scrambling for ideas, trying to find something that would work. Marvel was killing DC in sales. We need lower-priced books to compete! The rest of the DC line shrunk back down to Marvel's twenty-cent size, and the 100-pagers vanished entirely.
Infantino still pushed reprints. A new regular-sized titled called Wanted: The World's Most Dangerous Villains! became my new de facto favorite, reprinting old stories of superheroes versus dastardly nogoodniks. It wasn't quite the same as the Super Specs, but it was at least something.
But even as I got my Golden Age fix in the pages of Wanted, and right around the same time that DC introduced another reprint book called Secret Origins, either God or Carmine Infantino heard my silent prayer in North Syracuse. In the final month of 1972, the 100-Page Super Spectaculars returned! And that's where we'll pick up our story when Comic Book Retroview continues.
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...
...Now...here'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.)
I was six years old in 1966 when I saw my first issue of Justice League Of America. I stared at its cover, thumbed briefly through its pages, intrigued, but still opted to buy an issue of Batman instead. It would be another eleven months before I finally bought a copy of JLA to read and own and cherish. From the missed opportunity in the summer of 1966 to my gateway to DC Comics super-team action in June of '67, these two issues of JLA had one very significant thing in common: both of them guest-starred the Golden Age heroes of The Justice Society of America.
I didn't really understand what was going on, but I knew one thing for damned certain: more superheroes! The annual teaming of the JLA and the JSA had been a summer tradition for DC since 1963. I soon learned that the Justice Society was a group of heroes from an alternate dimension, Earth-Two, heroes who'd fought bad guys since the '30s and '40s. Editor Julie Schwartz and writer Gardner Fox concocted the alternate-earth scenario so they could bring in DC's older heroes from past decades, including the original (and usually quite different) Golden Age versions of The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom, and Hawkman, and an Earth-Two Wonder Woman who was virtually identical to her Earth-One counterpart. (The Earth-Two Superman was also originally depicted as identical to the familiar JLA Man Of Steel, though some differences were tweaked in by the '70s; the Earth-Two Batman didn't participate in a JLA/JSA team-up until the '70s, but was established as a "semi-retired" hero, his caped crusadin' now mostly the responsibility of his all-grown-up former partner, Robin.)
Beyond the doppelgangers (albeit original-issue doppelgangers) of our JLA stars, the JSA included a number of characters unique to Earth-Two, including Dr. Fate, Wildcat, Hourman, Mr. Terrific, Dr. Mid-Nite, Starman, Black Canary, The Spectre, The Sandman, and Johnny Thunder and his magic Thunderbolt. Maybe it was heresy. Maybe it was hubris. But, nearly from the start, I loved the Justice Society even more than I loved the Justice League.
(Over time, I eventually learned how to pronounce the names, too. At the age of seven, I thought they were the Justice Lagoo and the Justice Sockatee.)
The first time I recall seeing an actual vintage image of the JSA from the '40s was in the pages of a book called All In Color For A Dime, a wonderful collection of essays chronicling the Golden Age of comic books. This was, I dunno...1971, maybe? Early '72? Whenever it was, when I saw it on the shelf at World Of Books in North Syracuse, I was just plain hypnotized by its photo section, a small collection of color photos of old comic books. Spy Smasher! Minute Man! Ibis the Invincible! The Young Allies! Marvel Comics # 1! But the most magic among these magical sights was the image of All-Star Comics # 3, and its cover depicting the first meeting of the group Johnny Thunder described as "A swell bunch of guys!" The Justice Society of America.
I wanted this comic book. Lord, I wanted it! My desire for All-Star Comics # 3 might have rivaled my yearning for a Beatles reunion or Playboy Playmate Lorrie Menconi. I didn't need to own an original copy. I just needed to read it!
The summer of '72 treated me to my first real trip to New York City. I attended Old Timer's Day at Yankee Stadium, where I got to meet Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio and Whitey Ford and Phil Rizzuto (Rizzuto, in particular, was the nicest of all), and I got see Mantle, my baseball hero, hit a home run (even though it was just in exhibition). I dined in Little Italy. I saw Charlie Chaplin's film The Great Dictator. And my Dad took me on a side trip to 909 Third Avenue. National Periodical Publications. The company's name was National, but most kids just called it DC.
I was hoping that DC offered tours of its offices, but no, no, a thousand times no! Looking for a reason to justify our visit to this Fortress of Solitude, Dad told the receptionist I was trying to find out where I could buy back issues. A DC emissary--never did get his name--gave us the address for a dealer named Bill Thailing, so I ordered his catalog. Thailing had a copy of All-Star Comics # 3 for sale! For only...300 dollars?! Oh, the humanity! It was my introduction to the idea of comics--collectibles--being sold for more than cover price. No way in hell I could ever afford that. I still wanted it anyway. If anything, I wanted it more.
And I would have settled for a reprint. Eagerly. But DC wasn't reprinting Golden Age JSA stories; even as publisher Carmine Infantino repeatedly raided the company vaults for old inventory that could be re-used for nuthin', and as more and more 1940s adventures made their way into the back of 25-cent Giants and scattered throughout the 50-cent 100-Page Super Spectaculars, the Justice Society remained on the inactive list, at least as a team; there were a bunch of individual JSAers appearing in reprints, but never the assembled might of comics' first supergroup. The JSA stories were too long to be used as filler; they'd been book-length affairs in All-Star Comics, far too lengthy to reprint as a backup, nor even to take over an entire issue of a regular-sized reprint book like Wanted or Secret Origins. The 100-Page format was the only thing around at the time that could have contained an All-Star JSA adventure (with room to spare even!), but the 100-Pagers vanished before DC announced any intent to present an All-Star encore.
So, when the 100-Page Super Spectaculars returned at the end of 1972, one of the first promises that editor E. Nelson Bridwell made to readers was that a near-future Super Spec would finally--finally!--present a 1940s Justice Society story for discerning comics fans in 1973. Hallelujah!
With a cover date of June 1973, 100-Page Super Spectacular # 17 starred the Justice League of America, who appeared in two reprints from the '60s. Yeah. Good. Fine. There was a Golden Age solo adventure starring The Sandman, one of my favorite JSA members, seen here in his original Green Hornet-inspired gas-mask motif rather than the later Simon & Kirby skintight costumed heroics I'd seen reprinted as backups in Kirby's The Forever People. Well...cool, actually. But c'mon. The main event? The reason I'd been pacing and waiting and haunting drug stores and grocery stores and any other damned place with new comics on its spinner racks, ever since the last Super Spec a freakin', interminable month ago? Well, there it was, at long last. Reprinted from All-Star Comics # 37, November 1947: The Justice Society of America in "The Injustice Society Of The World!"
Goosebumps. And again, no--you get a life.
It wasn't the JSA's first appearance from All-Star Comics # 3, but good enough for me. I read it, re-read it, re-re-read it, over and over, all summer long. I copied its format for an original JSA script I wrote, and I re-read it yet again. I scribbled covers of more imaginary 1940s All-Star adventures in my notebooks. I re-read it again. If you can't understand that adolescent fervor, then I suspect you've never been a young, enthused fan of anything.
It would be a little while before DC reprinted any more old JSA stories. Several of them would appear in the ongoing Justice League Of America book, when that title was switched to the Super Spectacular format. In 1975, an oversized dollar title called Famous First Edition (which had taken on the mission of reprinting some key Golden Age DC books in their entirety) presented a complete reproduction of that elusive All-Star Comics # 3, the first JSA story, the first appearance of any comic-book super-team. I still own my copy of that Famous First Edition. I'll never forget how much it meant to me.
|In the '70s, I did purchase one vintage issue of All-Star Comics: a coverless copy of # 51 from 1950|
In this far future world of 2017, I own at least three physical reprints of that important third issue of All-Star Comics. I have a digital copy, too. In this millennial age of convenience, I can read any old Justice Society story whenever I wish. The yearning, the ache, is gone, and one hopes it hasn't quite been replaced yet by complacency or entitlement. Because I still remember that feeling, that burning desire to discover these superhero adventures that had once been commonplace, all in color for a dime, to immerse myself in something from long ago, seemingly a million miles away, but something I still felt that I could almost touch, if only. No amount of jaded modern shrugging can wipe that away. In my head, I'm still at least in part that kid I was then. And in my head, the Justice Society of America can still save the day. A swell bunch of guys.
DC's 100-Page Super Spectaculars had begun with mystery, romance, and superhero collections in 1971 (issues # 4-6; no one remembers exactly why the series' numbering began with # 4), then switched to being a format for special issues of other ongoing series (Superman # 245, The Flash # 214, Adventure Comics # 416, etc.) while still also retaining the numbering sequence of the Super-Specs. The format was killed in early '72, then returned as a separate monthly series with 100-Page Super Spectacular # 14 at the very end of that year (though cover dated March 1973). As the spring and summer of 1973 beckoned, readers had no inkling that the series was nearing its end, nor that the format would live on in expanded (albeit short-lived) form thereafter. In the mean time, though, we were still getting 100 pages of DC reprints for half a buck, every single month.
Following the giddy treat of a 1940s Justice Society of America story the previous month, Super Spec # 18 was, inevitably, a let-down. It still offered some of the Golden Age goodness I craved, including a cool 1943 Superman tale called "I Sustain The Wings," and '40s adventures starring the Golden Age Atom, TNT and Dan the Dyna-Mite, The Hourman (long one of my favorites), and the first DC appearance of the former Quality Comics hero Captain Triumph. The Silver Age was represented by the revamped latter-day Atom and two more Superman stories, including the three-part non-continuity Imaginary Story "The Amazing Story Of Superman-Red And Superman-Blue!" I would have preferred to have at least subbed out the middle Superman story ("Superboy's Last Day In Smallville!") for another '40s gem, preferably starring a hero we hadn't yet seen in a Super Spec (Bulletman, Mr. Terrific, Liberty Belle, Midnight, Scribbly and The Red Tornado), or even a reliable, familiar face like Plastic Man or The Vigilante. No one ever listened to me in 1973...!
(The Silver Age Atom reprint featured one odd editorial choice, the decision to add the yellow circle around Batman's chest insignia. The yellow circle had originally been added with the debut of Batman's "New Look" under editor Julie Schwartz in 1964, but most [if not all] reprints of Batman's pre-1964 appearances had left the bat-insignia without the taint of retouching.)
|Note also the house ad for DC's then-upcoming new comic starring a licensed property sure to thrill Golden Age fans!|
Behind a Nick Cardy cover, this issue's marquee event was the first appearance of Batman's enemy Two-Face, a two-part story from 1942. The issue ended with Two-Face's third and final 1940s appearance, "The End Of Two-Face!" In between, Golden Age goodies starring Dr. Mid-Nite, Black Canary, Starman, Blackhawk, The Spectre, and Wildcat added up to a flawless Super Spec, and certainly one of my favorites.
The pendulum, alas, would swing away from the '40s for the next Super Spec, which starred Superboy and offered only two bits from the 1940s (my boy Kid Eternity, and one of the three Superboy reprints), though I have to admit I enjoyed reading The Teen Titans' first appearance, and I always liked seeing The Legion Of Super-Heroes. (Also, artist Jim Mooney made Lex Luthor's sister look really cute as a jungle princess in that issue's Supergirl reprint.) After that, The Flash starred in 100-Page Super Spectacular # 22. This was the final issue, at least under that title.
But it was far from the end of these 100-page extravaganzas. The very next month, the eighth issue of Shazam!, starring the original Captain Marvel, took on the Super Spectacular format for one glorious issue. Each new issue of Shazam! had included one classic Cap tale alongside DC's (failed) efforts to revive the character, and the tabloid-sized dollar title Limited Collectors' Edition had published one wonderful collection of vintage Marvel Family stories, as well. For this young Captain Marvel fan, Shazam! # 8 was yet another dream come true, serving up even more of the 1940s superhero action I wanted most. With a thought of the past and an eye on the future, 1973 was the best of times!
But an ad for the next Super Spectacular stopped me short. Detective Comics # 438, cover-dated January 1974. Terrific Batman cover by Mike Kaluta, the artist on The Shadow. The regular 'Tec had just begun a new era under new editor Archie Goodwin, and that seemed promising, with a moody lead Batman story (gorgeously rendered by Jim Aparo), and the first installment of an exciting back-up feature called Manhunter, by Goodwin and artist Walt Simonson. Cool! We'd pause for a 100-page Detective Comics dip into the ol' vaults, and resume the new stuff next month.
But the ad for that cover of Detective Comics showed something I found disconcerting at the time. The promised "EXTRAs" of Green Lantern, The Atom, Robin, and Hawkman indicated a likely paucity of Golden Age material, but it was the featured hero in the middle of those extras that concerned me. Manhunter. Specifically, "The ALL-NEW Manhunter."
"All-New?!" Aw, no...! DC couldn't be thinking of putting new material into the Super Spectaculars!
WHEN COMIC BOOK RETROVIEW RETURNS: Yes. They could.
I was not happy when new material finally made its way into the formerly all-reprint 100-Page Super Spectaculars in 1973. In retrospect, I know my reaction was in error, and I came to realize that pretty quickly. I mean, it was hard for me to argue with the results presented by the first ongoing title to assume the Super Spectacular format: Detective Comics, starring The Batman. Granted, much (most) of my interest in the Super Specs up to that point had been in the reprints of superhero stories from the '30s and '40s; I could get new stories anywhere, and stuff from the '50s and '60s generally didn't interest me as much as the earlier material. Detective Comics # 438, the first issue to take the 100-page format, contained no Golden Age material at all, just familiar-seeming Silver Age fodder packed between new bookends starring Batman and the all-new Manhunter.
It was an inauspicious beginning to the final era of Super Specs. I recall finding my copy in a stack of comics at a department store called Two Guys in suburban Syracuse's Northern Lights Shopping Plaza. The idea of a stack of comic books for sale sounds initially intriguing, right? But the allure evaporates when you realize it was a stack--two or three stacks--of the same comic book. Two Guys carried Detective Comics # 438, and that was it, comics fans. I never saw any other comic book there, either before or after my acquisition of 'Tec # 438. But the stacks of that issue that the folks at Two Guys had set out for sale? Those stacks were there for a long, long time.
Both of the new stories in this issue were first-rate; even this curmudgeonly li'l Golden Age fan had to admit that. As we noted before, new editor Archie Goodwin had taken over stewardship of Detective Comics with the previous issue, and Marvel Comics vet Goodwin was clearly invested in producing comics that could rival the best of anything else on the racks in '73. Goodwin wrote both of the new stories, a pair of gritty, atmospheric gems illustrated by the great Jim Aparo (on Batman) and newcomer Walt Simonson (on Manhunter). The effort resulted in two rock-solid new comic book adventures, separated by what I felt were some boring stories from the 1960s.
And even that wasn't really fair, for two reasons. First, although I'd developed a passion for the Golden Age of the '40s, the Silver Age was a pretty special time for superheroes, too. And second, as we would learn soon thereafter, the reprint selections in this issue were thrown together at something approaching the last minute. The decision to switch both Detective Comics and Batman to the Super Spectacular format came down quickly and unexpectedly, leaving editorial assistant E. Nelson Bridwell the rhetorical equivalent of no time at all to pull out some old funnybook pages to fill the book, stat. The late, great ENB should be commended for assuring that Detective Comics # 438 hit Two Guys (again and again) with something other than scores of blank pages in between your Batman and your Manhunter. From my vantage point in this far future world of 2017, I've gotta give Bridwell enormous credit for pulling that off, and I like those Silver Age reprints a lot more now than I did then. Subsequent issues would allow more prep time, and would include more older reprints in the mix.
The 100-page Batman # 254 followed the next month, with Batman reprints stretching back into the '40s and '50s as well as the '60s, and a nice new Batman story combining '70s character Man-Bat and '60s villain The Getaway Genius. As a bi-monthly Super-Spectacular, Batman would continue to offer new stories with varying levels of pizazz, from the five-star blowout of superstar artist Neal Adams' final Batman work of the '70s (on Len Wein's "Moon Of The Wolf" in # 255) to the silliness of writer Denny O'Neil's attempt to understand the character of The Penguin in # 257. We'd see Catwoman, Two-Face, The Joker, and even Batman's inspiration, the legendary avenger known as The Shadow, and we would enjoy a selection of reprints from throughout The Dark Knight's history. This was all very entertaining, and it was the second best Batman book on the stands.
Archie Goodwin's Detective Comics, though? Will WOW!! suffice?
Detective Comics # 439 looms large in my legend for its lead-off story; "Night Of The Stalker!" is my single favorite Batman story, and I have a lot of favorite Batman stories. This is just pure pulp on the one hand, a story of this grim avenger The Batman relentlessly hunting and pouncing upon a hapless trio of murdering thieves; but it packs an emotional punch as well, as The Batman gives in momentarily to his need to pause and grieve for the parents that were violently taken from him so long ago. Script by Steve Englehart (moonlighting from Marvel in his first Bat work; he would return a few years later to write the definitive short run of the character, also in Detective Comics), plot and pencils by Vin and Sal Amendola, the gorgeous art inked to stellar effect by Dick Giordano, and even including a scene (of Batman fighting in the water) suggested by Neal Adams; "Night Of The Stalker!" is Batman done to perfection.
(Though an obvious highlight of Archie Goodwin's run on Detective Comics, "Night Of The Stalker!" was actually begun under the auspices of previous 'Tec editor Julius Schwartz. Hat off to everyone who had any involvement whatsoever. More than four decades later, the story still gives me chills.)
This issue also offered another terrific new chapter in Manhunter's saga, and the reprints included Golden Age exploits of Hawkman, Dr. Fate, and Kid Eternity, and '60s adventures of The Atom, Elongated Man, and Batman and Robin.
But a funny thing had happened with Detective already. Where I'd originally been resistant to the idea of new material appearing in the Super Spectaculars, the new stuff in Goodwin's 'Tec was freakin' irresistible, and I loved it even more than the reprints. And I still loved the reprints, too! The price increased by another dime to 60 cents with 'Tec # 440, but that was more than okay. Between the new and the old, this was the best package in comics.
Ah, but the magic ended prematurely, even before the Super Spectacular format itself went away. After seven issues as editor of Detective Comics, Archie Goodwin returned to Marvel following issue # 443 (which concluded his Manhunter story with a combined Batman-Manhunter adventure). Every issue in Goodwin's run was a gem, with terrific storytelling and luscious artwork from Jim Aparo, the Amendolas, Howard Chaykin, Alex Toth, and Walt Simonson, bolstered by an amazing selection of reprints starring Doll Man, The Spider, Plastic Man, The Spectre, The Creeper, even Ibis the Invincible, the only appearance by any of the former Fawcett Comics heroes (other than Captain Marvel and company, of course) in any of the Super Specs. A very brief Golden Era ended abruptly.
Goodwin's replacement was Julie Schwartz, whose contributions to comics history remain legendary. It was still something of a letdown, even with Jim Aparo returning to regular art chores. I've liked and even loved a lot of things that Len Wein wrote over the years, but I never warmed to his version of Batman. The reprints became pedestrian, but it didn't matter; the Super Spectacular format only ran for two more issues, and Detective Comics returned to regular size, no reprints, with its 446th issue, cover-dated April 1975. At least it returned to monthly status.
From that first 100-page issue of Detective Comics all stacked and forlorn at Two Guys in the fall of 1973 through the final 100-Page Batman that hit the stands in December of 1974, the final phase of the 100-Page Super Spectaculars flared and ultimately failed in a little over a year. We'll talk a little bit about some of the rest of the 100-pagers published during the format's last hurrah when Comic Book Retroview's retrospective on DC's 100-Page Super Spectaculars concludes. All in color for six dimes!
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 Niño, 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...!|
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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