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.