Votes for Wonder Women

3x5 19th Amendment Victory Flag Women's Suffrage Right to ...

It’s now the 100th Anniversary of the day that Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, and the United States officially recognized women’s right to vote. We’re once again flying a “19th Amendment Victory Flag” to mark the occasion. I wrote about this flag last year. It’s based on the flag of the National Women’s Party, a gold, white and purple tri-color with 36 stars added for the thirty-six states that approved the amendment. The story about how the amendment passed is great. It’s also amazing that something that seems so unequivocally the right-thing-to-do by modern sensibilities came down to a single vote. You can find that story in last year’s article, 19th Amendment Victory Flag.

A turning point in that story involved a political cartoon where Carrie Chapman Catt, the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, was sweeping the letters “RAT” toward the letters “IFICATION,” symbolizing the campaign to support the amendment. When I was thinking about what to write this year, I spent some time looking for that political cartoon. If you’ve read this blog, you know I like to write about comics and I like to write about history and flags. History and flags are part of the “The Universe and Everything” part. Anyway, at some point I put “Carrie Chapman Catt” and “Cartoon” into duckduckgo.com and I stumbled upon something in the nice triple intersection of the Venn diagram that’s implied above. Ha! Math! There’s another thing!

I’ve always considered DC Comics to be the more conservative of the two major comic book companies. They were static for a long time while Marvel was innovating and they were so dedicated their own house style that they had other artists redraw Jack Kirby’s pictures of Superman when he was working on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. I get that those are small-c conservative, but you have to admit that’s pretty conservative. It’s like putting pants on Michelangelo’s David.

But there were pockets of progressive-ism as pointed out by Tim Hanley on his blog, The 1940s Justice Society Of America Were A Surprisingly Progressive Bunch. That’s well worth a read as is his post on Wonder Woman’s place in the JSA.

So, what was in that intersection mentioned above? “Wonder Women of History” a back-up feature that ran in Sensation Comics and Wonder Woman for twelve years starting with Wonder Woman #1 in 1942. Each issue featured a short biography of 1 to 5 pages, full of cheesiness and hyperbole. These included the stories of figures like Abigail Adams, Joan of Arc, and Marie Curie. Among the women featured were two important leaders of the suffrage movement taking us from the Seneca Falls Convention to the passage of the 19th Amendment.

And in honor of the Centennial that Amendment, here is the biography of Susan B. Anthony from Wonder Woman #5 (June-July 1943).

We also present the reason for the search result; Comic Vine tells me that Carrie Chapman Catt is a comic book character in Wonder Woman #26 (November-December 1947). That has the incongruous title of “Speed Maniacs from Mercury.” Luckily, that’s not the story in which Mrs. Catt appears.

Eventually, Wonder Woman of History was replaced with makeup tips and advice on landing a husband because DC is so progressive. But the Wonder Women of History were fun while it lasted. If you like these, there are a lot more here. It was nice when comics tried to educate as well as entertain.

References:

Adventure #265

Back in November, I stumbled across three beat-up vintage comics at my local comic shop: Adventure Comics #265, Action Comics #257, and Superboy #76. The issue of Superboy has become my retirement plan as it is the first appearance of Beppo the Super-Monkey. As soon as the DCEU decides to make a movie about his exploits, I’ll be on my way to Easy Street.

One of the first things I noticed when I got these books home is that all three share a cover date of October 1959. I find that intriguing for two reasons. The first is that this is almost precisely 60 years ago. It was when I bought them anyway. On second thought maybe not-quite-so precisely after all; these probably hit the stands in July or August. I contemplated calling this post “Attack of the 60-Year Old Comic Books;” but that is dangerously close to treading on someone else’s turf, even as an homage. And as the universal brouhaha of 2020 interferes with my ability to blog it’s becoming more and more inaccurate. We’re basically at 61 years at this point.

The second intriguing thing is that these three books were right together in a box in the back room. The odds of that occurring by mere happenstance must be infinitesimal. Much more likely is that these were first purchased at the same time from the same place by the same person, thoroughly enjoyed and then, possibly years later, given up for some reason. It’s fun to contemplate what these comics’ collective journey must have been, but sadly this is something that we could probably never discover.

In choosing one of these comics as the focus of this post, I eventually settled on the issue of Adventure for one particular reason. After World War II, superhero comics faded away; horror comics, western comics, crime comics, and other genres took their place on the newsstand. Only a few superheroes remained in publication. Most people are aware of three of those, namely Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. The remaining two were Aquaman and Green Arrow; they survived within the pages of Adventure Comics. Even though we’re well into the Silver Age proper by 1959 and the Comic Code Authority had been established years before, I was justifiably curious about this unflagging outpost of the superhero genre and the features within it.

The main feature of Adventure at this time was Superboy who was only the 6th DC hero to receive his own title and the only one to gain in popularity between the end of World War II and the Silver Age. Superman and his satellite characters maintained widespread appeal, so there can be little doubt that the Man of Steel’s popularity helped carry this title through the interregnum between the Golden and Silver ages.

Sadly, our lead story, The First Superman Robot, reads like an episode of Three’s Company. How does the plot progress? It opens with Clark building a Superboy robot. As he is leaving to go on patrol, “Dad Kent” as he’s referred to in this story decides to “try out his new tool chest” while Clark reminds him of the rules; he is not to use the robot unless there is a dire emergency. But Pa or Dad or Jonathan or whoever has lost the key to his tool chest and decides to have the Superboy robot melt the lock with his x-ray vision. Yes, you read that correctly and no, I don’t get it either.

Of course, Superboy sees this and becomes very upset. He decides to prank Jonathan to teach him a lesson. Now, I did not experience the 1950s, but I have watched enough Leave It To Beaver to know that this is not the way things worked back then. I suppose if you’re young enough, making rules that your parents have to follow might rank up there with flight and super strength.

The form of the prank itself is… odd. Superboy builds a Superman robot and pretends to be aged unnaturally to adulthood. He uses his “time telescope” to spy on his future self and get the face correct because the secret to a character-building prank like this one lies in the details.

It occurs to me that both Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke wrote stories about devices like the Time Telescope, but that bit of trivia adds nothing here. I now return you to our regularly scheduled program.

Anyway, nothing is ever this simple. Pa or rather “Dad” gets wise to the prank and decides to turn the table on our young hero.

And he does. There is a certain amount of strangeness here that permeates the entire story. Dad thinks of and calls Clark “Superboy” consistently while Superboy thinks about “Clark” in the third person as though he’s a separate character.

Check out the look on Clark’s face as Jonathan carries his “favorite playthings” away. He knows he’s taken things too far and resolves to make things right with Dad when he gets home from the store. Conveniently, the Superman robot begins to malfunction and explodes in a conveniently helpful way, removing it from the story. Clark, with some time to kill, decides to entertain himself using the time telescope which might be even better than the internet. Imagine being able to watch any cat at any time throughout all of history and not having to wait for someone to post a video. Sounds great!

Clark tunes in on his future self while Superman is watching that very instant from the future. We get to see Clark watching Superman watching Clark watching Superman watching Clark ad infinitum. This opens a “time pathway” that causes Clark to change places with his adult self.

It’s not clear to me why in these panels, Superman would have a time telescope “by sheer chance.” If I had had a device that allowed me to look through time as a boy, I’d damn sure have one now. Just sayin’ as they say.

Hilarity ensues. Clark tries to talk to Dad Kent, who refuses to believe he’s now the actual, real, adult Clark from the future and not the robot. Even Krypto believes he’s an enemy and forces him from the house, guarding it so Adult-Clark cannot return.

This, of course, is a problem. Clark needs access to the time telescope so he can set things right and return to his own time. After some gratuitous adventures in Smallville, he manages to trick Krypto long enough to access the time telescope and make the switch. The tone of this sequence, like so much of this story, is odd. Clark remains unmoved by seeing his long-dead parents. At least he didn’t try to order a Pepsi Free, accidentally woo Martha or invent Rock and Roll. For that, we can all be thankful. Both Clark and Dad Kent learned their lessons, so we wrap things up a bit too nicely. It seems to me that Clark could have broken all of space-time with those time telescope shenanigans. Seriously, let’s have some perspective here.

The remaining two stories, as mentioned before, feature Aquaman and Green Arrow. Both are lightweight enough that, judging only by these stories, I’d have to assume that the popularity of Superboy was mainly responsible for dragging these characters into the Silver Age. When their original home of More Fun Comics switched to an all-humor format, these features moved to Adventure along with Superboy starting in issue 103 (1946). Green Arrow remained through issue 269 (1960) when it was supplanted by Congorilla of all things. Aquaman persisted until issue number 282.

The Aquaman story is probably the weakest and the blandest in this comic. A man named Roxroyd offers Arthur a large sum of money to transport a heavy safe to a particular spot in the ocean.

Despite the suspicious nature of the request, Arthur agrees after a startlingly lax vetting process, which mainly consisted of using his pet octopus as a lie detector. He transports the safe to the agreed-upon location.

But Arthur’s still not suspicious even after a group of thugs try to break into the safe and eventually blow the door off. It isn’t a safe at all, it’s a solid block of stone. Now he gets it, he’s been duped; Roxroyd is a counterfeiter who dumped his equipment at the bottom of the ocean and then tricked Arthur into dropping the now-immovable stone atop them, making them inaccessible. Within four too-brief panels, Arthur tricks Roxroyd into confessing and all is once again right with the world.

The final story features Green Arrow. I previously wrote about Green Arrow’s encounter with the Clock King from World’s Finest Comics #111 (1960). The Amature Arrows is NOT better, but maybe it’s just a little charming. It starts out with GA and Speedy “out west” visiting the “Green Arrow Camp for Boys” that’s paid for with “all” of GA’s “reward money.”

The kids at the camp are all excited to see Green Arrow and Speedy; they are particularly anxious to show them a collection of special arrows that they invented in Arts and Crafts. There’s a doughnut arrow, a baby-rattle arrow, a candy cane arrow, a bubble gum arrow, and a bait arrow that flies through the air and quacks like a duck. GA and Speedy are rightfully dubious, but the kids are convinced that the arrows will help them fight crime. Suddenly, the most obvious thing possible occurs!

A group of escaped criminals gets the drop on our heroes and the boys. They force the archers to throw away all their specially-made trick arrows but not, inexplicably, their bows. Doubling-down on the obviousness, GA and Speedy then use the inane arrows to capture the bad guys. It’s obvious, but it’s not without its nice touches; the panel where the “desperado” is swamped by ducks is hilarious. As an old guy, I’ve gotten to really enjoy some of the silliness here, but overall it doesn’t do much for me.

Six-year-old me might have been a different story. I can see kids of a certain age really enjoying this story.

So, bottom line, if you’re looking for a serious-comic-story, there isn’t one here to be found. If you’re in the mood for a little silver-age silliness, on the other hand, this comic is pretty good. As a bonus, you get a sense of the two lesser-known superheroes to survive the golden age.

Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Villains Part 1

WANTED the complete collection, finally complete.

I had a few issues of this title during my first period of collecting (1973-1976) and I’d been slowly amassing issues since the early ’80s. When the last few issues fell into my lap in February, it became time to once again spend some time with the title. In this post, we’ll talk about the first three issues.

Promotional blerb for issue #1

I had fond memories of this title from when I was a kid and depending on which issue I first owned and when I obtained it, my exposure to this title might predate my decision to become an actual collector. There’s a lot to like about WANTED; there appears to be a lot of golden and silver age goodness between these covers and the marketing is wonderful; The World’s Most Dangerous Villains promises drama and high stakes! There’s also a heavy representation of the Earth Two characters who I had first encountered in the pages of Justice League. I took an immediate liking to the Golden Age characters and the JSA in particular; immediately preferring them to their more modern counterparts.

DC Comics lowers its prices.

I have to wonder if this book and its sister title Secret Origins of Super-Heroes and Super-Villains weren’t a repository for the reprinted material no longer appearing in oversized 25-cent issues, but I’m not sure the timing completely supports that.

Issue 1:

The title of the book is immediately tested in the opening story of the first issue, “The Signalman of Crime,” reprinted from Batman 112, December 1957. “World’s Most Dangerous Villains?” I actually had to look this guy up to determine that this wasn’t his only appearance in addition to being his first. It isn’t, but even switching to being a Green Arrow adversary under the name of “Blue Bowman” this gentleman doesn’t exactly have a distinguished career.

He’s a small-time hood who can’t recruit a gang and decides he needs a gimmick to make a make a name for himself. Inspired by the Bat Signal, he settles on committing crimes using signs and signals. Seven lackluster but vaguely charming pages later, Batman and Robin apprehend the Signalman after many sign related puns and a wholesome lack of Danger.

The second story is the “Crimes of the Clock King” from World’s Finest 111, (Aug 1960). Clock King has no real powers to speak of, but he does move a minute hand forward to enable himself to steal some jewelry. Sadly, the strongest impression made by this story is the extent to which Green Arrow used to be nothing more than a pale imitation of Batman. We see the Arrow-Signal and the Arrow Car and I can’t help but wonder if there’s an Arrow Cave somewhere. The story is filled with puns and features a giant prop, in this case, an hourglass. At least I’d heard of the Clock King and the time-related puns weren’t quite so dreadful as the sign related puns.

Finally, there’s “Menace of the Giant Puppet” from Green Lantern #1 (July/August 1960), a monument to early Silver-Age tropes. A villain called the “Puppet Master” is controlling small-time hoods, making them commit crimes. Meanwhile Carol, despite the progressive move of having her running Ferris Aircraft, spends a lot of energy pining after GL, trying to maneuver him into a proposal. We find out she actually called her dad and asked permission to date GL. The titular confrontation with the giant puppet feels kind of tacked on, driven mostly by the interesting visuals rather than the plot. In the final confrontation, the Puppet Master’s defeat is embarrassingly easy, especially given the book’s sub-title.

Ultimately, issue 1 features three profoundly second-string bad guys.

Issue 2:

The second issue finally gives us some big name villains; the Joker and the Penguin team up in the “Knights of Knavery” from Batman #25 (Sept/Oct 1944). which reminds us strongly of the fact that comics, as good as some may be were initially publications for children. There’s a cheesy sit-com quality to the story. The villains, who strangely enough are sharing a cell, manage to escape through the masterful ploy of borrowing a broom.

There’s also an extended sequence where Penguin is pulled aloft by a handful of helium balloons with Batman and Robin in tow. Not only is this physically impossible, but it also appears that Penguin has super strength of which we weren’t previously aware. Over the course of the story, the two villains bicker, then team-up and then let their desire to one-up

each other proves to be their undoing.

Really, the best thing about this story is the narration. If you’ve ever seen the Batman TV series, you can’t help but hear that series’ narrator in your head when you read this. It’s evident that comics from this era or at least the stories written by Donald Clough Cameron ( credited as C.A.M. Donne) had a strong influence on the voice of that program. This makes a rather mediocre story much more enjoyable.

The other story in issue #2 gives us another “name brand” villain; it reprints the second appearance of the Trickster from The Flash #121 (June 1961).

James Jesse, The Trickster, we’re reminded, was a famous aerialist, who invented shoes that made it appear as though he could walk or run on air. He began a life of crime using gimmicks and gadgets as a trademark.

At the beginning of the story, Jesse, a. k. a. inmate 10828 is allowed to build toys for orphan children in the prison yard. He escapes by installing a compressed air system in a model plane.

Once out of jail, Jesse makes sure that he’s on the scene whenever Flash apprehends any criminals, then he uses one of his gadgets to “make off with the loot.”

Eventually, Flash tracks Jesse down to a toy factory where he builds his equipment. We momentarily think Flash is defeated, only to be treated to a careful explanation of his escape.

Flash apprehends the Trickster with ease. For a 12-page story, this one, much like the Green Lantern story in issue #1, seems surprisingly lightweight. There is little drama and any jeopardy was ephemeral. The high stakes promised by the title are nowhere to be found.

Issue 3:

The third issue returns to giving us no brand name villains but is 100% Golden Age. All Earth-Two all the time. Sadly, the first story was a bit of a slog. It’s “The Little Men Who Were There” from Action Comics #69 (Feb 1944). In this, The Vigilante faces

The Dummy who is either a small man resembling a ventriloquist’s dummy or a ventriloquist’s dummy brought to life. His original gimmick was to pretend to be inanimate so that his ventriloquist was thought to be the real gang leader. We might give this story some credit for trying to match the book’s subtitle. The Dummy was one of the most prominent members of the Vigilante’s Rogues Gallery and could be considered the hero’s archnemesis. The two met many times including a number of times in stories featuring the Seven Soldiers of Victory. In pre-Crisis continuity, the Dummy killed Vigilante’s sidekick, Stuff, the Chinatown Kid.

In the story, the Dummy and his gang are using a shrink ray to sneak onto planes and robbing them reminiscent of train robberies in the old west. Eventually, they use the shrinking ray on the Vigilante and Stuff and leave them to the mercy of a chicken. This should be hilarious, as we all know that chickens are inherently funny, but no such luck. I’ll give the writers some credit for using the phrases “thieving jackanapes” and “homicidal homunculus” but it’s not enough to save the story.

The second story gets more interesting as Doctor Fate encounters “The Fishmen of Nyarl-Amen” from More Fun Comics #65 (March 1941). Nyarl-Amen, with his fishmen to serve him, ruled the world from his undersea city 50,000 years ago. With little explanation, he now seems bent on returning to power.

To that end, Nyarl-Amen interrogates an American serviceman and his Fishmen invade Hawaii almost a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fate confronts the Fishmen’s leader and then destroys their city, killing everyone within. This story and its reprint are Nyarl-Amen’s only appearance.

The final story in the issue is “The Human Fly Bandits” featuring Hawkman and Hawkgirl from Flash Comics #100 (Oct 1948). This is towards the end of Hawkman’s run in Flash Comics which ended with issue 104, although he remained featured in All-Star Comics through early 1951. The plot revolves around a gang who have stolen a gyrocar and a gyrobelt that allow the possessor to defy gravity. It’s the so-called science in this 8-page that makes it so abysmal. We do get an oversized prop; the Hawks are captured and left to drown in a huge thermometer, †which is being heated by a stove so that the mercury will rise. They escape by causing an explosion which throws them through the glass with no ill effects. I guess we know much more about the toxicity of mercury than we did in 1948.

Also, the Gyrocar can drive up the side of a building and park there because of gyroscopes. The gyrobelt works the same way, because “the rotary action of a gyroscope overcomes the force of gravity.” Nonsense! You can see how gyroscopes work here. I hope this is the low point for the series. The plan is to cover the remaining issues, but that might be a long time in coming if these don’t get a bit better.

References:

First Comics, Christmas Edition

Action 425It’s about a month on, but I thought I’d share one of my Christmas gifts with everyone. I got a copy of Action Comics #425 from my lovely wife, Joanne. It’s a beautiful copy for a 46 year old book with an iconic Nick Cardy cover.

This book is a quasi-key for me for although it doesn’t have a historic story element or first appearance, it has an important place in my history as a collector.  Prior to this I’d had limited exposure to comics.  I had some vague memories of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and “The Marvel Super Heroes” cartoons, although I was convinced that that last was called “The Merry Marvel Marching Society” because of the closing theme (I have no recollection, what-so-ever of the opening theme btw).  I think I recall my Dad reading a Daredevil comic or two to me but, 50+ years later I’m not even sure that’s an actual memory and not some sort of mental ret-con.

Over the previous few months, I’d gotten a few comics and enjoyed them and as seriously as a 9-year old could, I decided to become a “comic book collector,” whatever I thought that was.  I promptly marched out (as promptly as I could, anyway, given that I needed to amass 20¢) and picked up this issue.  This was my first comic as a collector.

I hadn’t reread this book for most of the intervening time, in fact all I really recalled of it was that there was a “story about an emu.”  That’s still better than it could be, I suppose.  I can’t remember anything about my first Batman comic, although I know there must have been one since at some point in my life, I didn’t own any Batman comics, and now I own a few.

I’d made a few attempts to figure out what this “first official comic” was in the 80’s to no avail.  I knew it was an Action, I thought it had an emu in it and I knew it came out sometime in 1973.  That’s surprisingly little to go on when your main resource is whatever happens to be in stock at your LCS.  Still, 45 years after I’d first picked up the issue, with some skills of google-fu and a visit to what a friend calls “that dark web site,” I managed to track it down.

It’s easy to see why I’d have picked this book.  The cover is amazing.  It’s unusual in that the main hero isn’t the focus; the cover centers on some older kids reading a comic while a little red-haired kid is excited to see Superman flying by in the background.  I’m sure it spoke to me.  I can’t imagine a better cover to attract a kid who just decided to become a collector.

The interior of the book is less impressive.  There are three (Count ’em! 3!) stories, which is a surprising number for a standard sized comic.

Spoilers follow, but come on… you’ve had 46 years people!

The Superman story begins in New Zealand when a hunter, Jon Halaway is attacked by a 12-foot tall flightless bird.  He kills it in self defense.  It turns out, the bird was a Moa (Sorry, Emu fans). There were nine species of Moa in New Zealand, but all of them had been hunted to extinction by the year 1500.

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Halaway is distraught, and becomes obsessed by this tragedy.  He searches and discovers the Moa had left an egg near an underground hot-spring that emitted “strange fumes.” He wastes no time bringing the egg back to the States, where it becomes clear that it is sapping his life force.

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The egg hatches and the Moa develops some bizarre powers, including the ability to fly by flapping its feet.

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After getting telepathic messages from the Moa, Superman is able to return it to the hot spring and Halaway recovers.

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It’s a pleasant, lightweight story, and I liked the conservational aspect.

The second story features the Atom though the title, “The 13 Men Who Run the World” is a bit of a bait and switch. A lot happens and is hung on a thin plot in a mere 6 1/2 pages. We discover Ray’s size-control mechanism is malfunctioning and that Jean is representing a biochemist who is accused of stealing gold from Fort Knox. Her client is being falsely linked to the aforementioned 13 men in the title. In quick succession, a witness who wants to come forward is murdered, Ray and Jean are kidnapped, we learn that the 13 men don’t actually exist, Ray beats the actual bad guys as the Atom and they are brought to justice.

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The final feature is the first installment of an early Human Target story and it stays close to the character’s formula: someone is in danger of being murdered and Christopher Chance assumes his identity to catch the killer. In this case the potential victim is “the Great Antonio” who is scheduled to walk a tight-rope across Niagara Falls.

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The ads are fun too. Did you know that a BB gun is an ideal way to convince your parents that you’re responsible enough for an actual, real gun? The ad doesn’t quite come out and say that, but I think the subtext is clear.  Evidently owning a B-B gun leads to responsible gun play in later life.

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Also, you can get enough training from an outfit that advertises in comic books to get a good job in “electronics.” Mr. Bemis, by the way, is the name of Burgess Meredith’s character in the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last.”  Things do not end well for him.

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There’s also 3 pages of ads for “Pirates of the Caribbean” model kits, which probably seemed excessive for the time and still seems excessive after 5 movies.  Also, also there are Sea Monkey’s but not Polaris Nuclear Subs or x-ray glasses.

This book was a pleasant trip down memory lane.  It makes an interesting addition to my collection; it’s wildly different from the other books I have from the same time period.