I, Momentus

If you’ve been listening to Stars End Episode 7 you know that this comic, Superman #355 (January 1981) came up during our Asimov Trivia segment. It looked pretty interesting and so we spared no expense to obtain a copy and bring it to you.

In it, Asa Ezaak, a thinly veiled parody of Issac Asimov, struts around arrogantly and eventually uses his scientific genius to turn himself into a muck monster of some sort. Scratch that. He becomes the self-titled “Momentus, Master of the Moon!” That’s exactly the sort of name someone who refers to himself as “a person of note, sane and rational, fearless and intrepid, witty and forceful, and above all devilishly handsome” might choose for himself. Also there are werewolves. Don’t know what’s up with that

We’ll probably come back to this one and spend more time with it, giving you a better overview of the story once I’ve, well read it. And we’ll ponder the origins and the inspirations for the story. Is it a fair portrayal? And why a muck monst… er, excuse me “Moon Master?” *Cough.* That will appear here and on our podcast website StarEndPodcast.Wordpress.com.

In the meantime, here’s a short unboxing video to whet your appetite.

If a podcast about the Foundation Series and other things Asimovian sounds interesting to you, check out our show below.

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.

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.