Saturday, June 23, 2018

100-Page FAKES! Presents: JUSTICE, INC. # 1

100-Page FAKES! imagines mid-1970s DC 100-Page Super Spectaculars that never were...but should have been!

DC Comics was making active use of licensed properties in the early to mid '70s. This was nothing new for the company, as DC and its '40s affiliate All-American Comics had been leasing characters from other rights holders for decades, from Mutt & Jeff through The Adventures Of Jerry Lewis, The Many Loves Of Dobie GillisHot Wheels, Captain Action, and Bomba The Jungle Boy. DC had discarded all of those licenses by '75, but had taken on others. DC's biggest licensing success in the '70s was TarzanKorak, Son Of Tarzan presumably did okay for DC, though one suspects other Edgar Rice Burroughs creations like John Carter Of Mars in DC's Weird Worlds title may not have been quite as popular.  Fritz Leiber's sword and sorcery characters Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were on the immediate horizon, introduced in the pages of Wonder Woman before commencing their own title, Sword Of Sorcery. And in 1975, following the promising start of a terrific venture into adapting classic pulp with The Shadow, DC licensed another vintage Street & Smith pulp hero: The Avenger!

The Avenger had originally been Street & Smith's attempt to duplicate its previous newsstand sales bonanzas with The Shadow and Doc Savage. The character was even credited to Kenneth Robeson, the pseudonym used (mostly by Lester Dent) for chronicling Doc Savage's exploits. Both Dent and The Shadow's raconteur Walter Gibson consulted with writer Paul Ernst on the creation of The Avenger. The Avenger ran for 24 issues from 1939 to 1942, far short of the long runs of its predecessors. Nonetheless, when Bantam's paperback reprints of old Doc Savage pulp novels found a new audience for the Man of Bronze in the '60s and '70s, other publishers wanted a piece of the pulp action. In 1972, Paperback Library (a division of Warner Communications, which also owned DC) started reprinting The Avenger. The character was more popular in paperbacks than he'd been in his original pulps, and Warner continued the series with new Avenger novels (still credited to Kenneth Robeson, by now written by Ron Goulart). The back cover of each paperback reprised The Avenger's back story in delicious purple prose:

In the roaring heart of the crucible, steel is made. In the raging flame of personal tragedy, men are sometimes forged into something more than human.

It was so with Dick Benson. He had been a man. After the dread loss inflicted on him by an inhuman crime ring, he became a machine of vengeance dedicated to the extermination of all other crime rings.

He turned into the person we know now: a figure of ice and steel, more pitiless than both; a mechanism of whipcord and flame; a symbol to crooks and killers; a terrible, almost impersonal force, masking chill genius and super-normal power behind a face as white and dead as a mask from the grave. Only his pale eyes, like ice in a polar dawn, hint at the deadliness of the scourge the underworld heedlessly invoked against itself when crime's greed turned millionaire adventurer Richard Benson into--THE AVENGER.

Jesus. Every attempt I've ever made to write pulp fiction has been an effort to channel that.

Now, given that arch-rival Marvel Comics had its own superhero team book with a similar title, DC wasn't about to (nor, one guesses, legally able to) launch a book called The Avenger. Instead, this new comic book would take its name from the title of the first Avenger novel: Justice, Inc. Denny O'Neil, who was already writing The Shadow, was tapped to likewise adapt Justice, Inc. Al McWilliams provided elegant artwork for the debut issue, with comics legend Jack Kirby taking over at the drawing board for issues 2-4, completing the brief run of Justice, Inc. at DC. The Avenger also made a guest appearance in DC's The Shadow # 11, getting to meet one of his primary inspirations.

In making DC's Justice, Inc. # 1 into a 100-Page FAKE!, we're taking more liberties than we've done with our previous faux Super Specs. I mean, if we're gonna pretend anyway, why not pretend more? So this 100-page extravaganza imagines DC accompanying its licensing of The Avenger with additional licenses: Dick Tracy, The Green Hornet, and The Lone Ranger. DC actually did license our good cop Tracy not long after this, for the tabloid-sized Limited Collectors' Edition # C-40 (December 1975-January 1976), a book which I adored but which apparently sold the mass-market equivalent of bupkis. In 1975, The Green Hornet had been absent from comics since Gold Key's three-issue companion to the 1966-67 TV show; Gold Key was still publishing The Lone Ranger in '75.  Still, I betcha DC could have secured licenses to both the Hornet and The Lone Ranger. Maybe. I guess. Pinnacle Books began reprinting Fran Striker's old Lone Ranger juvenile novels as paperbacks at this time, in preparation for an announced forthcoming "major motion picture," and interest in the late actor Bruce Lee (who had played Kato on the '60s Green Hornet TV series) would prompt a theatrical release of a badly-edited compilation of three episodes of that show as a feature film called Kato And The Green Hornet.

In the fanciful, untethered Boppinverse, that's sufficient grounds to imagine DC's Justice, Inc. # 1 as a 100-Page Super Spectacular, with the then-new adaptation of The Avenger alongside reprints of Dick Tracy, The Green Hornet, and The Lone Ranger. A stretch? Oh yes. It's fantasy, so forgive the indulgence. We're gonna do that here sometimes. The Super Spec version of Justice, Inc. # 1 is filled out with reprints of legit DC properties The Batman and Scribbly and The Red Tornado, plus the original Captain Marvel, a character DC began licensing in 1972 and eventually acquired outright.

Future 100-Page FAKES! will likely return to Justice, Inc. for at least one of the Jack Kirby issues, plus another visit (or more) with The Shadow, and perhaps even a DC 100-Page Super Spectacular version of a title Charlton Comics was publishing in this time frame. For now, all of these characters are copyright their respective owners. We can share a representative sampling here; my subscribers get to see the whole thing. Here's where everything appeared originally:

The Avenger/Justice, Inc. in "This Night...An Avenger Is Born!," Justice, Inc. # 1 (May-June 1975)
The Batman (untitled), Detective Comics # 36 (February 1940)
The Green Hornet in "Proof Of Treason," The Green Hornet [Four-Color] # 496 (1953)
Dick Tracy in "The Case Of The Purloined Sirloin" (1958 Esso giveaway)
Scribbly and The Red Tornado (untitled), All-American Comics # 53 (October 1943)
The Lone Ranger in "The Ghost Town Sheriff," The Lone Ranger # 100 (October 1956)
"Captain Marvel Battles The Pressure Peril," Captain Marvel Adventures # 133 (June 1952)

Scoff if you must, but I woulda jumped up, down, and sideways for a comic book like this in 1975. Suspend your disbelief. Just imagine. The Batman. Captain Marvel. Dick Tracy. The Green Hornet. The Lone Ranger. Scribby and The Red Tornado. And The Avenger! DC Comics. Justice, Inc. # 1.


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