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.