I’ve written before on this blog — several times — about my admiration for comics writer Gardner Fox’s reference library — a library I don’t really know anything about, but the existence of which can (or must, even) be inferred from the assortment of off-the-wall factoids (mostly, but not exclusively, related to mythology and folklore) to be found scattered throughout his Sixties ouevre. The Justice League of America story featured in today’s post — “Secret Behind the Stolen Super-Weapons!” — is another sterling example of this penchant of the prolific scripter’s; but before we jump right into the story, let’s take a moment for a look at the cover. (It’ll be brief, I promise.) Read More
Somehow, someway, in the 18 months that I’ve been doing this blog — during which time I’ve written 26 posts tagged “Batman”, 8 tagged “Detective Comics”, and 14 tagged “Carmine Infantino” — I’ve neglected to write about a single one of the Batman stories Infantino drew for Detective during the corresponding span of time in the 1960s. And since I believe that Infantino’s artwork for the Caped Crusader holds up better after half a century than virtually any other aspect of the “New Look”/”Batmania” era of the character, that’s an oversight that needs to be rectified — which I am happy to do, at last, with this post. Read More
For the first several years that I read and collected comic books, I had only the vaguest notion that there ever been a publisher called EC Comics. I didn’t know that, before the advent of the Comics Code Authority, there had once thrived a skillfully-executed line of horror, crime, science fiction, and war comics that were, beyond their other attributes, much more graphic than anything one would ever find on the spinner racks of the mid-to-late ’60s. You see, the Code was established in 1954, and EC’s last comic book was published shortly thereafter, in early 1956 — while I wasn’t born until 1957. And though by 1966 I was a regular reader of Mad magazine, I had no clue that Mad was in fact the sole survivor of EC’s line, converted to a magazine format in 1955 to evade the Code’s strictures.* All of which I offer by way of explaining that if the 70th issue of DC Comics’ The Brave and the Bold had included creator credits (which it didn’t), I would not have recognized the name of the book’s penciller, the great EC Comics artist, Johnny Craig. Read More
Throughout the 1960’s, as their upstart rival Marvel Comics distinguished itself with the development of a complex and more-or-less consistent fictional universe that linked all of the company’s heroes, villains, and other characters into one ongoing meta-story, DC Comics resolutely continued to operate as a collection of mostly independent fiefdoms, each under the dominion of its own editor. Sure, all the A-list heroes showed up for Julius Schwartz’s Justice League of America, regardless of who was editing the heroes’ solo series, and they could also pair off in George Kashdan’s (later, Murray Boltinoff’s) The Brave and the Bold — but, by and large, DC’s editors didn’t pay much attention to continuity across the line.
Within an individual editor’s purview, however, there were occasional stabs at crossovers and other signifiers of a shared universe — especially within the books guided by Schwartz. As we’ve discussed in a previous post, one way Schwartz accomplished this was be establishing close friendships between pairs of his heroes (Flash and Green Lantern, Atom and Hawkman) which provided frequent opportunities for guest-shots in one another’s books. Another way was to set up a plotline in one book that would carry over into another book — as was done in the classic “Zatanna‘s Search” story arc that ran through multiple Schwartz-edited books from 1964 through 1966, culminating in Justice League of America #51’s “Z — as in Zatanna — and Zero Hour!”. Read More
“Batmania” may have dominated the pop culture landscape in 1966, but it was by no means the only thing going on at the time — not even within the smaller sphere of pop-cultural activity that was of special interest to nine-year-old boys such as myself. For one thing, there was also The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (that’s the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, for those of you who don’t already know, and yet might actually care for some reason), in addition to being something of a mini-phenomenon of its own, was of course also part of the larger wave of popularity of the “super-spy” genre in the early-to-mid-Sixties. The wellspring of this popularity was author Ian Fleming’s James Bond, the hero of a series of espionage thrillers who’d debuted in 1953, but who’d really taken off (especially in the United States), when it was revealed that President John F. Kennedy was a fan. By 1966, the enormous success of Agent 007 had yielded a crop of imitators as well as variations on the “spy-fi” concept, including TV’s spoof Get Smart and Western-spy-fi genre hybrid The Wild Wild West, not to mention comics’ Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents series. Read More
The eastern world, it is exploding
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’?
— P. F. Sloan, “Eve of Destruction”, 1964
Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Beret
— Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler and Robin Moore, “The Ballad of the Green Berets”, 1966
By October, 1966, United States military forces had been operating in Vietnam for over a decade, though mostly in an advisory role for much of that time. Beginning in 1961, however, President John F. Kennedy had greatly increased the number of American troops stationed in the region; and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, had used the authority of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, passed in August, 1964, to escalate the U.S.’s military role in the conflict between North and South Vietnam. The deployment of 3,500 Marines in March, 1965, effectively began the American ground war there. By December of that year, the number of U.S. troops had been increased to 200,000. Read More
It’s a well-known fact of comic book history that, in the 1960’s, editor Julius Schwartz often came up with an idea for a cover, had one of his stable of artists draw it up, and only then assigned a writer to script a story around it. I don’t know if any of Schwartz’s fellow DC editors of the time followed a similar practice — but if there’s any one non-Schwartz cover of the mid-Sixties that might be considered a candidate for “cover first”, it’s surely the Carmine Infantino-Joe Giella cover of The Brave and the Bold #69, edited by George Kashdan.
That’s partly due to the fact that Infantino is the same artist who pencilled many of those classic covers for Schwartz’s books — but mainly, it’s because of that big, red, iron bat holding Batman prisoner. That visual is so bizarre and unlikely, yet also so striking and memorable, that I find it easier to believe that someone — whether Infantino, Kashdan, or someone else — came up with it all on its own, and then found a way to work it into a story, rather than that it emerged naturally during the plotting of the story it ultimately came to illustrate. Especially since “War of the Cosmic Avenger”, written by Bob Haney and illustrated by Win Mortimer, doesn’t really have a whole lot of use for the big red bat after the first few pages. Read More
DC Comics actually published two issues of Justice League of America in September, 1966: the subject of this post, issue #49, which was released on September 13, according to the Library of Congress Copyright Office’s filing records (accessed, per usual, via the amazing web site Mike’s Amazing World); and issue #48, released a little less than two weeks earlier, on September 1. That might seem odd, considering that JLA was only being published nine times a year at this point, but the extra November-dated issue was actually a reprint collection — an “80-Page Giant” featuring three of the premier super-team’s earliest adventures. Read More
People who’ve known me for a while are likely to know that as much as I love comic books, they’re not the only thing I geek out over. Another of my abiding passions, going back more than forty years, is the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, in all its cultural manifestations — classic literature, modern prose fiction, art, films, music, and — of course — comics. Over the last few decades I’ve been fortunate enough to have had several opportunities to combine my interests in Arthuriana and comics in ways I can share with others — beginning with an article in the late, lamented fanzine Amazing Heroes in 1984, continuing with contributions to academic (!) works such as The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, and more-or-less culminating in my web site, “Camelot in Four Colors: A Survey of the Arthurian Legend in Comics” — est. 2000, and looking every day of its age (still, you should check it out, OK?).
I got the Arthurian bug in a big way around 1973 or thereabouts. It was sparked by a number of factors, among the most significant being T. H. White’s novel The Once and Future King (as well as its stage and movie musical adaptation, Camelot), Mary Stewart’s Merlin novels, and C. S. Lewis’ contemporary science fantasy That Hideous Strength. Those were all manifestations of the Arthurian legend that I encountered as an adolescent in the early Seventies — but, of course, like many if not most other English-speaking people of the modern world, I was first exposed to King Arthur and his mythos during the earlier period of my childhood. And what was probably one of the first truly significant exposures came along in September, 1966, in the form of World’s Finest #162 — in which the ranks of the Round Table knights were joined by none other than my two favorite heroes, Superman and Batman. Read More
Comic book superheroes don’t get married very often. The conventional wisdom is that tying the knot not only puts an end to any dramatic tension in a hero’s current romance, but that it also severely limits the storylines that writers and artists can explore with that hero in the future. The pull of this idea among modern comics creators is so strong that even superheroes who’ve been married for as long as 15 years (Superman), or 20 (Spider-Man), can find themselves suddenly single — not through anything so mundane as legal divorce, of course, but rather by way of such plot machinations as having the Devil alter the characters’ history (Spider-Man), or rebooting a whole universe (Superman). Read More