100th “Issue” Special!

It’s been almost three short years, and here we are at the 100th post on Comics, The Universe and Everything! I hope you’ve been enjoying the ride!

Anniversary Issues have become a big deal in the comics world, a universe where very few comics last long enough to have 100 issues. Indeed, some of the all-time most important series — All-Star Comics comes to mind — never made that milestone. And so we get big comics with epic stories and a plethora of guest stars or returning favorites. The Fantastic Four faced off against virtually all their foes! Spider-man became more spidery by growing 4 extra arms! I don’t remember what happened in Avengers 100 but the cover promises “the mightiest 100th issue of all!!” Also ten-damn-dollars for Amazing Spider-Man #800, but that’s another conversation.

For our 100th post spectacular, we’ll revive the “First Comics” column. I’ve written about my first comic as a collector (Action Comics # 425) and my first issue of Fantastic Four (#126). Today we’ll look at my First 100th issue, Justice League of America #100, August 1972. Ironically, #99 had been a double-sized issue. DC had tried to make their entire line of comics 52 pages for 25 cents but that experiment ended and issue 100 returned to the more modest size and price of 20 cents. A SPECIAL REGULAR-SIZED ISSUE!!

It was probably on the stands 49 years ago today as I write this and the next issue box from JLA #99 ramped up expectations!

This is about a year before, with all the seriousness a nine-year-old can muster, I decided I was a “comic book collector.” I only owned a handful of comics at this point but I knew I liked team books with lots of heroes and this one promised to fit the bill.

So let’s revisit the actual comic. It’s surprising how little happens in this issue.

It begins with some JLAers arriving at the team’s dusty, cobwebbed former headquarters ready to celebrate their hundredth meeting. That’s a bit on point, but okay. Green Arrow must have a dustbuster arrow or some nonsense that will help them clean up. Also, I have no idea why they’re holding this celebration in what looks like a cave while they have a perfectly good multi-million-dollar state-of-the-art satellite headquarters. Nostalgia, I suppose.

Their satellite, by the way, is in geosynchronous orbit which is 22,300 miles above the Earth’s surface and THAT is a fact that I learned from reading comics.

Everybody wants to attend the party. There are more than 2 pages of characters getting ready to go to, starting to go to, arriving at the cave, or bemoaning the fact that they can’t attend the party. DC takes the opportunity to pad the list of guest-stars that they hyped in the last issue. Just saying, Adam Strange — one panel, Martian Manhunter — one panel, Snapper Carr — one panel. At least we see why Batman is too good to help clean up the cave; two low-level thugs need apprehending. Also, Diana Prince needs a lift. Doesn’t she have an invisible plane?

And there’s a cake with a big numeral on the top. Even at eight, I knew that was lame. Also, would someone please slap the crap out of Green Arrow?

Suddenly… as they say in the comics biz, everyone in the cave is teleported to Earth Two and we’re introduced to The Justice Society of America. America Two? I really like the JSA and for as long as I can remember I’ve liked them better than their Earth One counterparts. When I came back to comics in the 80s, I mostly read Marvel books before Crisis on Infinite Earths. Two of the exceptions were All-Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc. Because of the JSA connections.

That’s what makes this a personal key for me. As near as I can figure this was my introduction to the JSA as a group although I’d seen some reprints of their solo stories. Still, look at this! Cool gas mask, cool hood, cool goggles, cool helmet. Also, Wildcat has literal whiskers! Great stuff! And for me way more interesting than the everyday leaguers.

And here the book gets positively Asimovian. The JSA explains that their Earth is being gripped by a huge hand which has something to do with a villain called the Iron Hand. Clearly, Len Wein had been watching Star Trek.

With Zatanna’s help, Dr. Fate conjures an oracle who keeps on with all the long-winded explanations. The key to saving Earth Two from the Hand? Turns out it’s the Seven Soldiers of Victory (Well, eight really, but let’s say that’s about keeping the name alliterative and not about the fact that Wing was Asian). Anyhow, the 7SofV? Also pretty cool. But Stripsey? Bwah-haha! Oh, the 1940s, you can be so silly!

The last adventure of the Seven Soldiers had them encounter a menace called the Nebula Man who is somehow similar to that hand thing. We get an extended flashback. The 7SofV built a whatchamacallit to defeat the Nebula Man and that same thingamabob just might do the trick here. Luckily for their publicist, they’re victorious, although one of the soldiers sacrifices his life and the rest are taken out of time so they no longer exist. The contemporary Earth 2 heroes can’t really remember them.

Something almost happens; in an homage to the great JSA stories from All-Star Comics, everyone has to break into teams to retrieve the time-lost Seven Soldiers. In another homage, the Earth 1 Wonder Woman gets left behind to “brief anyone else who might arrive.” We get another flashback and now the coincidences are multiplying faster than the spiders in Miss Havisham’s wedding cake. That Iron Hand guy? He used to be known as merely “the Hand” and he was responsible for them becoming a team in the first place. We learn his early history with the team, which is ultimately their origin story.

Then something finally happens! We get to see the first team retrieve the first soldier from the depths of the past.

And as suddenly as the action began, it ends, because the pages have been successfully filled. We end with a couple of panels where the Iron Hand gives a typical over-the-top supervillain rant and vows that all these foolish heroes will not foil his plans. The next issue is hyped with a title that is almost a pun and the issue is over.

Overall this issue is mediocre; I poke fun but enjoyed revisiting the issue. The story, bringing two teams together to welcome a Golden Age group back into continuity is worthy of a 100th issue. But the pacing is a bit off and I wonder if this was planned for a double-sized issue and had to be reconfigured in a hurry when they decided to make all the titles regular-sized again. The JLA warranted a larger anniversary issue. Another hundred issues on they got one, a “Super-sized, star-studded 200th” issue if the cover is to be believed.

The story continues into JLA 101 and concludes in 102. It’s more of the same; the other groups of heroes rescue the remaining Soldiers of Victory and we get a lot of patent DC Weirdness along the way. We learn which soldier sacrificed his life and Diana, without any powers, gets to take down the Iron Hand. The weapon that the 7SofV built is recreated and this saga ends in a way parallel to the 7SofV’s last story; one of the JSA sacrifices his life to deploy the device and save Earth Two.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

59 Years of the Fantastic 4

Happy Belated Fantastic Four Day! Fifty-nine years ago this week Fantastic Four #1 hit the stands and to quote Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew, “Nuthin’ was ever gonna be quite the same again.” The Fantastic Four is one of those things that I’ve liked as long as I remember. As a kid, I knew them first from their 1967 animated series. I don’t remember it that well; (it’s not like we form a lot of detailed memories when we’re three), but I liked it. Here are three personal firsts that are related to the Fantastic Four to mark the anniversary.

My First Fantastic Four Comic

The first Fantastic Four comic I remember buying was Fantastic Four #126 (September 1972). This was about a year before I decided I was “officially” collecting comics; I was getting comics pretty sporadically at the time. But what an amazing place to start! Inside, the title is “The Way It Began!” and the cover is a stunning recreation of Kirby’s cover to FF#1 drawn by the inimitable team of John Buscema and Joe Sinnott. This comic defined my mental picture of the FF for all time.

The story is good as well. Initially, Roy Thomas treats us to the standard flavor of family brouhaha with which Lee and Kirby brilliantly began so many issues. Reed tinkers and then does the absent-minded-professor thing. Ben and Johnny bicker. Sue tries to keep things on track. Also Alicia. Classic. This leads us into a framing sequence where Ben is reminiscing using Reed’s thought-projector helmet which does exactly what one would expect a thought-projector helmet to do.

The thought-projector helmet… erm… projecting thoughts.

Ben then narrates a shortened version of the origin from FF #1, which ends with the iconic image below. I expect that many copies of this issue are missing this page; it’s one of the quintessential team pin-ups.

Short summaries of the team’s first encounter with the Mole Man and the Mole Man story from issues 88-90 follow. In that last story, the Mole Man uses a device that blinds the team and Ben has an epiphany. If the Mole Man’s device can blind and cure the team, maybe he can use it to cure Alicia’s blindness. He storms off intending to help her.

After a year or two, FF #126 was made into one of those Power Records sets with the recorded dialogue. If Johnny’s voice sounds familiar, that’s Peter Fernandez, aka Speed Racer! (The “!” may be obligatory). Thanks to the magic of YouTube, you can experience the entire issue with the dialogue abbreviated somewhat here.

My First Blog Post.

Two years ago Marvel published a facsimile edition of Fantastic Four #1, part of the promotion for the latest series of Fantastic Four that started shortly thereafter. That seemed like a big deal at the time. “The World’s Greatest Comix Magazine” had been off the market since April 2015 because some executive at Marvel was having a pissing match with 21st Century Fox and didn’t want to do anything to promote Fox’s latest FF movie including publishing their own flagship title.

Anyway, I’d wanted to review the Facsimile edition. I’d previously done some short reviews that I posted on Facebook, like this one and this one here, but a Facebook post was utterly unsuitable for what I wanted to do for the Facsimile edition. I wrote All In Color for Forty Dimes and a week or so later I had a blog. This blog.

My First Fan Letter

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The letter itself is pretty self-explanatory. It wasn’t printed because as I now realize it’s much too long. For your edification, an open letter to Dan Slott, referencing Fantastic Four (2018) #2. What do you need to know about the book to appreciate the letter? Not too much. This is the first time we’ve seen Reed, Sue, and the kids since Secret Wars. They, along with Molecule Man and the Future Foundation have been rebuilding the multiverse one universe at a time. Franklin rebuilds the universes and then the group explores them; they’ve been at it for five years or so and time seems to have passed more quickly for them than it has on Earth. Franklin and Valeria are teenagers.

At some point, Franklin loses the ability to create universes. Evidently, all is now right with the multiverse; Franklin is done.

And the “Multiverse” has to fight back as the personification of one of the fundamental forces of nature.

Confrontation commences. It’s not pretty. Then this.

You can read the rest for yourself; here’s my letter.

Dear Dan,

Fantastic Four has been my favorite comic for almost forty years.  I’m thrilled to have Fantastic Four back on the spinner racks; the Marvel Universe doesn’t work correctly without its first family.  When I heard that you’d be helming the book, I was pleased.  You always seemed to have a good understanding of the characters; from their guest appearances in Amazing Spider-Man, to your 8-issues on The Thing and everything in between.

Issue 1 was an unadulterated pleasure.  I also really enjoyed issue 2, but there was one false note I’d like to address.

Reed is a tricky character to write; this was never more evident than in Civil War.  Tony is an engineer who thinks pragmatically.  His position in Civil War made sense.  Reed by contrast thinks like an academic working forward from first principles.  He has strong sense of right and wrong.  He should have been the first person to come over to Cap’s side, rather than the last.  Reed’s characterization in that series is wildly off the mark, it’s almost closer to Victor than it is to Reed.  Civil War 2, incidentally, showed us how necessary the Four are to the Marvel Universe.  In that series, Reed was the person we needed to refute Carol’s arguments, but Reed was unavailable.

So what didn’t ring true in FF #647/2?  That Reed would bypass 208 realities teeming with life to secure a better chance of saving the rest.  Reed decides things based on principles, not pragmatics.  When Galactus lay dying, it was Reed who insisted on saving him despite the risk; Tony, the pragmatist, was overruled.  Reed is confident; he strode into the afterlife without hesitation to save Ben.  We see this confidence after the Future Foundation was routed by the Griever.  It should have been evident before then.  Reed doesn’t make tactical retreats nor does he take the easy way out.  In the Galactus Trilogy, a tactical decision might have been to try to quickly develop a way to preserve some life, while Galactus consumed the Earth’s energy.  Instead Reed confronted Galactus with the Ultimate Nullifier.  A riskier decision, but one that preserved virtually all life on Earth.

I hope this is helpful.  Aside from this, these first two issues were like a trip home.  You have to be careful writing Reed.  When you start pulling parts out of what makes him Mr. Fantastic, you could end up with the Maker and that would be a travesty.

Joseph F. Kolacinski
Horseheads, NY

Reed’s characterization has been hit-or-miss for a while; at least since Civil War. One of those posts that’s been waiting in the wings is called “Writing Reed Right,” but that’s a big undertaking. I don’t even have a guess as to when that might be finished.

Where’s a thought-projection helmet when you need one? I hope you enjoyed my reminiscences. We’re now on a twelve-month countdown to the 60th anniversary. We’ll need something pretty big for that. Any suggestions? Do you remember your first Fantastic Four comic? Let us know in the comments!

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.