Tuesday, August 21, 2018


DC’s STRANGE SPORT STORIES lasted less than a year, with six issues in 1973-74. I remember seeing the title here and there over the years at reasonable prices (I just picked up 3 issues this month for 60 cents each--not bad when you consider it sold for 20 cents forty-four years ago), but I never took the plunge. Evidently, few others did either since it had such a short run. You could interpret the title a few ways--for some years, I just assumed that it consisted of strange-but-true stories from the world of sports: say, a high school football team which had been 0-13 for the last twenty years but somehow one weekend beat the state champs and set new scoring records, or the story of a one-armed baseball pitcher. However, that’s not it at all. These are strange fictional stories taking place in the world of sports. The two stories in this issue both have a kind of supernatural element and could almost have been in an issue of BORIS KARLOFF'S TALES OF MYSTERY, but one is set in the world of basketball and the other in the world of boxing.

THE CHALLENGE OF THE FACELESS FIVE tells the story of five guys who start playing basketball in the neighborhood and devote themselves to it every waking hour, so they dominate the high school leagues, NEVER losing a game, then they move on to college, still never losing a game, and they become arrogant and spoiled due to their success. Then their coach--who is having doubts about the whole enterprise--seeks out a mysterious fortune teller (because that’s ALWAYS the first thing to do when facing difficult issues in your life!) who spins them an incredible tale about how the group will eventually take their success into areas beyond sports and collude with aliens to oppress mankind, so the team winds up in some netherworld playing a faceless (literally, smooth fronts of their heads) version of themselves from the future, beating them, and thus keeping these bad things from happening in the future. Ummm, OK!

MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GLOVES deals with a third-string boxer whose 12 year old son wants him to get out of the fight racket and involves that go-to plot device from B-movies and comic books, the charm or amulet with some kind of weird magic power. Dad gets killed, the son grows up and becomes a police officer and puts the whole world of boxing behind him, but it rears its ugly head again when he least expects it, and that amulet of his father’s happens to be around to provide the “strange” element in the story, leading to a too-quick resolution.

I can see where DC felt this concept had potential. There was a market for TWILIGHT ZONE-style “strange story” comics for decades, and a good number of those had stories that brought supernatural elements into real-life situations, NOT horror settings or gothic castles. As for the sports angle, the motivation might have been the same as it was for Hot Rod comics. Kids who buy comic books like Hot Rods (or in this case, sports), so create a Hot Rod (or Sports) comic book and they’ll buy it. With the popularity of sports AND TWILIGHT ZONE-style stories, it must have seemed a very commercial prospect.

DC Comics had a lot of re-defining to do for itself in the 70’s and 80’s as the comics market and popular culture changed in ways (ways NOT for the best, alas) that no one could have anticipated, and by the mid-to-late 80’s, DC had evolved into something that had little appeal for me, but since it’s now a mutli-billion dollar property which is part of the Time Warner empire (even though I’d bet a small amount of its revenue nowadays comes from actual physical COMIC BOOKS--they do manage to get in the news every few years as they kill off Superman, though not really of course, or make Batman even more un-recognizable, but many more people read ABOUT those comics than read them), I guess they are having the last laugh.

As for me, I’m picking up forgotten and short-lived DC titles from 45 years ago for 60 cents, titles that will never be revived or reissued or championed in the corporate halls of DC/Time Warner, and finding them an entertaining way to kill an hour here and there. DC had a crack set of writers and artists during this period (Denny O’Neil and Dick Giordano were involved with the second story here), and even the lesser-known talents who were assigned to this kind of third-tier project were working hard to be as good as their star colleagues...and succeeding, at least as well as a college football team with a 6-6 record who gets an invitation to the Howdy Doody Snack-Cake and Fried Pie Bowl in St. George, Utah, teamed up against Armpit State Technical College, a bowl to be aired on ESPN-8 (or was it ESPN-9).

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