Sunday, September 23, 2012

Yeah, I know that all of these "when I wuzza kid" stories that I spout off are usually about as boring as watching those sixty-year-old home movies that your next door neighbors shot during their trip to Mount Yercelmate. But maybe if you can share in a li'l bit of the author's pangs and visions perhaps these paens to a bygone age just might make some sense to your otherwise jaded being. Who knows, if you just happened to have been born with a heart you can osmose my own childhood joys 'n travails which I've regaled you lumpen readers with for years without taking on airs of being "above it all", especially if your own childhood was spent in some ritzy WASP-ish setting so far removed from the muddled confusion of late-sixties suburban fun and games that I unashamedly had to endure.

And as far as childhood joys go, comic books sure made up a hefty part of being able to make it through the age of 11 until 15 (at which time the entire medium became too cringe-y for me 'cept for some EC reprints and the like), and I will go to my doom saying that if it weren't for these inexpensive pieces of pure joy I might have ended up a lesser human being than I am today! Who knows, perhaps I would have turned out to be a physician or computer technician or something equally staid, but thanks to comics I am the weak, ineffectual schlub that the public views with utter contempt but of course you true believers know a whole lot more better, right?

When DC began (re)printing these 80 (later on 100) Page "Giants" back inna late-nineties (on high-quality paper no less!) you could bet that I was happier 'n Larry Flynt at a Depends bulk sale if only because it was these selfsame collections of earlier and perhaps long-forgotten works that made for avid comic book reading when I was but a yoot. Easy to find at garage sales and flea markets for mere pennies (and, when I was lucky enough to have fifty cents to my name, available fresh from the stands), these "Giants" were not only a good source for those long-gone sensationalistic forties/fifties saga, but they were studier'n the standard books which seemed to flop apart after a good fifty or so readings. As with the Marvel collections of the late-sixties (especially the ones with the shrunken original covers proudly emblazoned on the front adding even more tingle thrills to the package!) these DC's certainly were a boffo way for a goon such as myself to waste away the evening hours, as if settling down for a prime time viewing of the 1971-72 ABC schedule wasn't as braincell-killing an ordeal as reading some old collection of BINKY stories ripping off the Archie credo to a 't'.

Out of a combination of nostalgic yearning and boredom, I snatched these slick repros outta the basement just last night if only to do some comic resensification, and as you can guess the old adolescent feelings just kept flyin' outta me faster'n pus from a bursting whitehead. Unfortunately most of those feelings were of the negative variety regarding school worries, home worries and whether or not I remembered to lock the bathroom door, but once I got over those deeply-held fears you can bet that I was able to enjoy these books the same way I did oh-so long ago. And hey, I was able to appreciate the pure adolescent joy of these repros without the aid of a can of soda and bowl of Cheetos beside me (gotta watch the girth, y'know). Heck, while about halfway through book #2 I even got that enveloping glow of joy that has eluded me for so long, as if some spirit was telling me that by reading comic books such as these while Factrix was spinning on the Cee-Dee player perhaps I was achieving what man has strived for all the centuries he's been on this planet, a perfect copasetic existence where art at its height and music at its most extreme are combined in a bliss that is more meaningful than the flowering of the Aquarian Age and the alignment of the planets combined. Then I passed a particularly loud and pungent fart and the feeling left for good.
The PLASTIC MAN giant is a strangity if only because this particular title never even appeared on the shelves...y'see, it was created solely as a "what if" item which really is weird since at least one of the stories that pops up in this collection originally appeared long after DC dumped their long-running "slug" logo as seen on the left. Now, there was a DC SPECIAL featuring some classic Plastic Man sagas that popped up back in late '71, but this is not that and why that SPECIAL wasn't just reprinted I do not know considering the similarities between that 'un and this. But naturally I like the job DC did with this where not only do they reprint the origins of not only Plastic Man but sidekick Woozy Winks again, but run a story from his short-lived mid-sixties revival (a neat saga written by DOOM PATROL creator Arnold Drake even if the entire history and substance of the original comic was "updated") as well as a '76 saga which is more faithful to the original intent but still has that seventies slickness I never did desire. There's even one of those strange "Dial H for Hero" sagas where some geekoid kid conjures up his own version of the character, and although that 'un reeks of DC at their least imaginative I can still osmose it in a 1972 flea market find sorta way! Perhaps the lack of newsprint and iffy reproductions does detract from the thing, but if I squeeze this 'un just hard enough I'm bound to get the right amount of sixth grade addledness outta it which suites me more'n MS. TREE ever did!
Despite the huge cover price, I will 'fess up to the fact that I found the "100 Page Super Spectaculars" which DC introduced in 1972 to have been just as big a hit as I did the 80 pagers, mainly because they really seemed like humongous bargains back when I was buying these books up (although my father thought that fifty cents spent on anything was "pouring money down a rathole" as he used to say). But eh, the vast array of classic Golden Age sagas being presented to me in these reprint collections almost made up for the guilt that I would incur every time I'd trek down to the newsstand to buy my latest stash of goodies. And in the nineties these Spectaculars were still flying around the flea market circuit and at pretty good prices, and you can bet your bottom buck I was spending even more moolah on such classics as that SUPERGIRL special which featured nothing but DC-owned superheroine characters including the classic Phantom Lady complete with her two ample waterwings as much as I was on the ever-dwindling punk rock and garage band finds that might be espied elsewhere at your favorite local grange or abandoned department store.

This JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA title never did happen either, though I assume that's because by '75 when this 'un was planned to hit the boards the big paper crunch put a huge kibosh on any risky publishing excursions. Maybe not (I mean, some of the things that DC and Marvel were tossing at us during the mid-seventies didn't even deserve to even pop into the fetid imaginations of whoever thought 'em up in the first place), but still, this 'un looks like something I sure wish I coulda had only a few years earlier, only now I was like fifteen and music had become my main obsession in life!

Will admit that the only real thrill for me in this 'un's a late-forties JSA saga that just happened to be drawn by the same guy who later ended up doing DONDI, but don't let that get you down because the art is top notch as far as late Golden Age stories happen to go. And although the saga is a typical JSA one where the characters split up and fight rather'n gang up on the bad boys it's still a whole lot better'n some of the stuff that would eventually come outta the comic industry at the same time which seemed more or less to spit on the legacy of their heroes rather than exploit and uplift their better, and perhaps more noble aspects.
If I'm not mistaken, ain't this GIANT SUPERMAN ANNUAL the very first one that DC managed to crank out way back '61 way? Maybe not, but I do know that it was this very issue that figured heavily into fanzine heavyweight Bill Schelly's own entry into comicdom as recounted in his autobio/comic fanzine history SENSE OF WONDER...I remember the part where his father was questioning Bill's choice of title after offering him and his brother a free book to read on a train ride because Bill picked a twenty-five center and his brother a reg'lar sized one for a dime, but squibbling over a few pennies aside it's easy to see why this 'un would affect Schelly enough that the guy would devote a good portion of his life to comic books. Jam-packed with choice fifties freakiness, not only does this giant have lotsa that weird Wayne Boring art (as well as that of Curt Swan, who wasn't at all that weird) but some strange sagas dealing with "Superbaby" (actually a saga on the Toddler of Steel Energy's first exploit), Lois Lane as an ugly-bugly and Jimmy Olson as a swelled head genius who knows Superman's true identity, There's even a heart-tugging story where Superboy has to put dog Krypto down and a weird 'un where Batman sneaks into Superman's Fortress of Solitude to play a dirty trick on him! (And frankly I find it strange that Superman plays it so cool when he finds out...if I were he I woulda sent Batman's head into orbit while re-arranging the rest of his corpse Jeffrey Dahmer-style!). Even that against-the-grain 'un about Superman falling in love with Lori the Mermaid shows up, which only goes to show you that even the mightiest ones amongst us have a nose for nookie, wherever that may be on a half-woman/half fish creature such as she!
The reproduction of the  BATMAN ANNUAL is also boffo enough in its attempts to bring back them early-sixties throb thrills with those extreme cover come ons and action poses that no self-respecting eight-year-old could afford to pass up! Again, this 'un has a tiptop collection of various fifties sagas of varying thrills and chills, the best one perhaps being the strange "Origin of the Bat Cave" saga where the Dynamic Duo head back in time DARK SHADOWS style to solve an ancient mystery regarding their secret love nest hideaway. (Sorry, the professor couldn't resist throwing in a good gay baiting joke!)  At least this 'un was good enough to be reprinted in the BATMAN FROM THE THIRTIES TO THE SEVENTIES tome I reviewed a short while back, and I guess if the folk at DC could get this much mileage outta it they did a pretty good job with the story inna first place! The rest of it ain't bad either especially if you like those credibility-stretching DC sagas that usually did live up to their promise of whacko chills and thrills in a way only a tubba lard kid with snotbreath and terminal skidmarks could really appreciate! And somehow, I always get the feeling that you're still that kid no matter how old and decrepit you turn out to be, which is undoubtedly why this blog is for you!!!
Like the PLASTIC MAN and JSA titles above, this JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA issue never happened as well but stands as what yet another proposed issue might have looked like had DC not bailed outta the giant sized mags in the mid-seventies. It's bound to be a treat if you're really that gung ho on the early Silver Age DC look and feel, though if you aren't you've probably thrown in your lot with the MMMS by this time anyway. I find it rather interesting myself, from that debut story where the fledgling JLA fights that giant starfish to the Atom story which looks like one of those early-seventies DC fillers that used to appear in the back pages of ADVENTURE comics (it aint' exactly like the Atom was that much of a star in the DC universe to warrant his own title...which I think he had for a short while before sales plummeted more'n Brad Kohler's bank account after a night at the track). And as yet another bonus the editors felt it wise to include yet another good ol' timey JSA saga that again was drawn by the same guy who used to do DONDI but you don't have to worry about Missy McGowan or Queenie showing up anywhere here (don't worry, I've dispensed with enough DONDI jokes for a good long time but sheesh, you gotta forgive me since there really ain't that many opportunities to spew any of 'em out these days!).
In closing here's a double header, two issues of a title that I certainly remember fondly even though I've never seen an issue of this 'un anywhere during my rabid collecting days. The SECRET ORIGINS series was something that was custom-made for an obsessive like myself who wanted to read these ancient origin stories first hand, and the fact that these titles were long gone by the time I was heavily into comic books was a whole lot more frustrating than a "No Vacancy" sign on a honeymoon night. Now that I have two of these repros all I gotta say is that waiting to read these "origins" was akin to waiting to get a Vac-U-Form for Christmas, only the thing arrived ten years after the fact and what're you gonna do with one of 'em when you're bloody sixteen anyway???

I guess these "origin" stories are "secret" because most of 'em are actually retellings that take place within other sagas. So if you're expecting the original story of how Batman teamed up with Robin you'll have to settle for a twenty-years-later rehash which transpires amidst a saga dealing with some bizarre circus hijinx! Ditto with the story of Superman which ain't those early pages of wonderment but a fifties-era re-do of his life story presented within the span of thirteen pages. Nice for getting back into that pimply frame o' mind of course, but nothing I would have wanted to read esp. when compared with the original meat 'n potatoes that DC seemed to skittish in reprinting as if the pure unadulterated truth would ruin things for them!

And what really puts the frosting on my cupcakes is that when there is something here that really catches my eye wouldn't you know the story is truncated into some "what was that about?" meaninglessness! Take the CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN I for one am a fan of this Jack Kirby-created series because it does foreshadow a whole lotta the Marvel Age style and excitement a good five or so years before the debut of THE FANTASTIC FOUR, but cutting the story off after six pages certainly was a faux pax of a major dimension if you ask me! They shoulda reprinted it intact and left some of the snoozier stuff like "The Secret Origin of Wonder Woman" off for yet another collection of Silver Age retellings that pale next to the originals. But hey, who said that the terms "caveat emptor" didn't apply to the comic book world, and after reading loads of commentaries and critiques of the biz all jaded me's gotta say is, is there really that much difference between the comic book industry and Big Time Wrestling or Tarot Card Reading or Pornography for that matter?
I think I missed a few of these repros somewhere down the line, and it ain't like I feel like snatching any of the ones I've missed given that I already own seven of these already. However, if the one SUPERMAN annual that's advertised on the reverse of the first SECRET ORIGINS exists I wouldn't mind seein' the thing...that's the one which is subtitled "The Strange Lives of Superman" and features a wide array of stories dealing with the effects of red kryptonite on Our Hero. There are strories about an aged Superman, a Lion Superman, an ugly Superman and best of all a Superman who looks strangely enough like Alfred E. Neuman! Now that's something which I can wrap my emotionally/mentally halted psyche around, and for some not-so-strange reason I know you can too!

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