Wednesday, May 31, 2017

DC Anthology Titles: Three Thrills for a Dime

As a small boy, I loved the comics devoted to the adventures of a single DC hero, titles like Superman, Batman and Superboy. But I loved the anthology titles they headlined even more.
Action Comics, Detective Comics, Adventure Comics and World’s Finest offered three features in each title, and among them were the handful of obscure superheroes who’d survived the Great Superhero Extinction of the early 1950s.
For example, take Detective Comics 279 (May 1960). While the Dynamic Duo tackled the alien Creatures That Stalked Batman, the Martian Manhunter was bedeviled by zany genius Hiram Horner in The Impossible Inventions. With art by Joe Certa and a script by Jack Miller, J’onn J’onzz spun himself like a whirlybird to lower a flying building back to the ground.
Even as a 5-year-old, I couldn’t conceive how that would work.
But the Martian Manhunter sported those eye-catching colors — green skin, blue cape — and an array of powers that rivaled Superman’s, so I was an immediate fan. I loved it when police detective John Jones would emit a concentric rainbow of light to change form.
Of almost equal interest was the seemingly pedestrian feature Roy Raymond, TV Detective, which had begun in 1949. Initially, the brainy Raymond would debunk supernatural hoaxes, but by the time I met him, he was up to more interesting stuff like tricking an actual giant monster conjured by a sorcerer back into the stone it came from. The creature looked like some, slate gray sinister variation on the monster Gossamer that menaced Bugs Bunny in the Warner Bros. cartoons.
Fun stuff, particularly when presented in the richly illustrative art of Ruben Moreira.
Or let’s take as an example World’s Finest 110, with Superman, Batman and Robin backed up by Tommy Tomorrow as well as Green Arrow and Speedy. An embarrassment of riches.
Like Roy Raymond, Tommy Tomorrow was a character who began as something else — in this case in 1947 as an example in a one-off “future facts” feature.
“(I)n fact, Tommy was obviously designed simply as a stereotyped hero to represent the sort of man who might pilot the first rocket to Mars,” noted comics historian Don Markstein. “Even his name was chosen to project the ‘generic future man’ image.”
But by 1960, he had evolved into a near-future “Planeteer” space cop whose purple uniform included curious short pants.  Illustrated by the capable, workmanlike art of Jim Mooney and written by Jim Miller, the tale The Robot Raiders featured this 21st century “future man” tackling space pirates armed by giant robot lobsters and hovering eyes — the kind of intriguing mechanical menaces that Blackhawk had specialized in combating.
“A wealthy playboy, guardian to a young boy … they fight crime together, hiding their identities behind outlandish costumes … Except for the archery motif, the ‘Green Arrow & Speedy’ series sounds like a direct swipe of Batman and Robin,” Markstein noted. “They took the archery motif from Fawcett's Golden Arrow, but more directly from a minor hero from a minor company, called simply The Arrow. But the prior hero he most precisely resembled was Tom Hallaway, alias The Spider.
“Green Arrow was created, if that’s not too strong a word, by Mort Weisinger, editor of DC’s More Fun Comics, who introduced the crime-fighting archer in the 73rd issue of that title (Nov. 1941) — the same one that first featured Aquaman.”
“Green Arrow was never as strong a character as the one he was modeled after. Whereas Batman appears intensely motivated — driven, even — Oliver Queen, the man who masqueraded as Green Arrow (Roy Harper, his ward, was Speedy), seemed merely to dabble in crime-fighting.”
Nevertheless, a character created in 1941 who has his own long-running TV shoe in 2017 must be said to have hit some mark.
In this issue of World’s Finest, the distinctive art of Lee Elias and the writing of Ed Herron introduced us to The Sinister Spectrum Man — a super villain, something we rarely got to see in a feature where the heavies were often just criminal thugs.
With his plane, gimmicks and color motif, Spectrum Man was a distorted mirror image of the hero. That’s a theme that gets played again and again in superhero comics, in various variations.

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