Ah, those glorious “annuals.” I use quotation marks here because their popularity pushed up their publication faster than yearly.
If regular comics were a ten-cent treat, the annuals were a quarter miracle.
I had just turned 6 in June 1960 when I pushed aside the other comics on the newsstand.
Out of my way, Ricky Nelson comics, Beep Beep the Road Runner 6, Girls’ Romances 70 and Tales to Astonish 13 (featuring some giant monster, no doubt soon to be forgotten, by the name of Groot).
I had eyes only for something new under the sun, and stared agog at the first Superman Annual.
I loved Superman, and an 80-age comic that promised some of the best of his past adventures seemed to be designed with me personally in mind. Fortunately, hundreds of thousands of other kids had that same feeling, and plunked down enough hard-wheedled quarters to make the giants a permanent fixture of the Silver Age.
Within this square-bound beauty were The Witch of Metropolis from Lois Lane 1 (March-April 1958), The Supergirl from Krypton from Action Comics 252 (May 1959). A Visit from Superman’s Pal from Superboy 55 (March 1957); The Girl in Superman’s Past from Superman 129 (May 1959); The Execution of Krypto from Superboy 67 (Sept. 1958); The Fattest Girl in Metropolis from Lois Lane 5 (Nov.-Dec. 1958); The Super-Brain of Jimmy Olsen from Jimmy Olsen 22 (Aug. 1957); The Super-Key to Fort Superman from Action 241 (June 1958) and a story called Superman’s First Exploit. It wasn’t — it was from Superman 106 (July 1956) — but we were too happy to care.
Included, intrigingly, were the first issue covers of Superman, Superboy, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane, then rarely seen, and a map of Krypton designed by Jerry Siegel. A treasure indeed.
But the second Superman “annual” appeared on the newsstand a mere six months later, and was even better. The “All-Menace” issue featured Superman’s battles with Brainiac, Titano, Bizarro, Metallo, the Invulnerable Enemy and the Thing from 40,000 AD. Tarzan also landed his own Dell Giant late in 1960.
June of 1961 brought the third Superman Annual (“The Strange Lives of Superman”) and two others that I missed because they sold out instantly — the first Batman Annual and Secret Origins.
I can vividly remember my shame at bursting into tears when the news dealer told me Secret Origins had vanished as soon as he’d set it out.
The fourth Superman Annual (“Adventures in Time and Space and on Alien Worlds”) arrived in November, along with the second Batman Annual (“Action Roles!”)
Over at a company book company that had not yet even acquired its famous name, Stan Lee took notice. He published a Strange Tales Annual full of giant monster stories in July 1962, along with a Millie the Model Annual. In 1964, Lee published Marvel Tales Annual, a title devoted to reprints of superhero features then only a year or two old.
My love for these 80-page giants tempted me to try to bind my favorite comics into volumes — an idea better in conception than in reality, I’m afraid.
Why do I write these articles and create these collages? Mostly because these comic books warmed me with an immense joie de vivre at the dawn of my life, and I like to rekindle at least a reflection of its radiance here at sunset.