Retro Comics are Awesome

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andersonh1
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Superman #16
May-June 1942

The World's Meanest Man
Writer: Jerry Siegel Pencils: Leo Nowak, John Sikela Inks: Leo Nowak, Ed Dobrotka

Clark and Lois take kids from the slum out into the country for an outing, and of course there's always trouble that Superman has to handle. He first rescues a kid from falling out of an apple tree and then stops a charging bull from injuring the children (where exactly did Clark take these kids anyway?). The kids, of course, have a blast When they tell Perry White about it, he wants to raise money to build a free vacation home in the country for underprivileged families and use the Planet to raise the funds, which he does in very short order. Among the many contributors to the fund is Charlie Grayson, ex-con, sent up the river when the Planet exposed his crimes. He gives a check for the vacation home, saying that if such a place had existed when he was a kid, he might have avoided a life of crime.

When a masked thief steals the money from the Daily Planet and Clark can't account for his wherabouts to Sgt. Casey (because he was elsewhere as Superman), Casey wants to take him in for questioning, but Clark pretends to panic and runs, easily getting away. It's up to Superman to clear Clark's name and recover the money, which he does, but the masked villain gets away. When the masked crook attempts a bombing he's caught by Superman, and to no one's surprise it is indeed Charlie Grayson, who wanted to wreck the campaign for the vacation farm simply to take revenge against Perry White and the Daily Planet. I was hoping his contrition was real when he contributed to the farm, but no such luck. Not a bad story, and anyone with a heart has to be rooting for Perry White's project to succeed. The only downside is that Grayson is such an obvious suspect, even though misdirection is employed by making him seemingly contrite and supportive. Clark "losing his head" and running from the police is a fun scene, and possibly the highlight of the story.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Superman #16 continued....

Terror From the Stars
Writer: Jerry Siegel Art: John Sikela

There's an interesting splash page that depicts Superman fighting three spaceships out in space. Is this the first time we've seen an "alien invasion" in these comics? That's not what the actual story is about, it's one of those symbolic splash pages, but it still struck me as interesting. The story itself starts with Perry White wanting to stir up controversy, so Clark says he'll write about the astrology racket. Abou Sabut, the "eminent astrologer" objects to Clark's articles and proposes to prove that astrology is a science like any other. When Abou Sabut's first two predictions come true, Clark is left looking foolish and suffering the ire of Perry White.

Clark investigates as Superman, and finds that Sabut has "underworld connections" and paid crooks to make his "predictions" come true. When Superman confronts Sabut, Sabut is shot just when he's about to explain everything. The true villain is Tom Nelson, who had represented Abou Sabut in the early panels of this story. His plan was to ultimately frame Sabut for the crimes and while Sabut went to jail, Nelson would keep the money. Perry is pleased with the story and Clark is out of the doghouse. In a rare occurrence, Lois does not appear at all in this story.

Case of the Runaway Skyscrapers
Writer: Jerry Siegel Pencils: Wayne Boring, John Sikela Inks: John Sikela

"What a racket! Stealing buildings for ransom!"

There's a new threat in Metropolis, calling himself Mister Sinster. When he sends a letter (in rhyme) to the editor to the Daily Planet, threatening to steal the Jensen building, Perry sends Clark and Lois to cover the dedication. The building vanishes in a purple haze, leaving an empty gap between the other buildings. Mr. Sinister demands a $100,000 ransom for the return of the building. Superman listens in on the Ace Construction board meeting as they discuss the ransom demand. They plan to pay the ransom, and Superman urges them not to, only for a giant apparition of Mister Sinster to appear over the skyline and warn them not to listen to Superman. This is a novel threat for Superman to tackle and a nice change from thugs with criminal schemes. There are some great shots of Superman soaring over Metropolis with the city drawn in nice detail behind him, particularly on the bottom of page 4 where it looks like he's leaping high over the buildings, with his cape breaking the edge of the panel.

Superman spies on the ransom delivery, but the board chairman vanishes in a purple glow and then reappears without the money, happy to be "back on Earth." The Jensen building has been returned as promised, but the bank next door is gone and Superman berates the "weak-kneed board of directors" for their cowardice, which encouraged Mister Sinister. Clark decides to provoke Sinister and writes a derogatory article in the Planet, which Perry publishes. Sinister steals the Daily Planet building with everyone inside, including Lois and Perry, dragging the building to "the fourth dimension". It's up to Superman to rescue everyone, facing a shadow monster of the fourth dimension and Sinster's death ray ("the ray hasn't been invented yet that can permanently annoy me!" Superman boasts), before stopping Sinister from stealing the entire city of Metropolis. Sinster flees through the dimensions with Superman pursuing, and there's a great page of both of them stretched and squashed and insulting each other ("you animated beanpole", "you string bean", "get it thru your thick head there's no escape"). They return to the fourth dimension and Sinister sics his men on Superman, who observes that Sinster wants to rule the world only because he was a failure as a poet. It's hilarious. And since Sinster has been rhyming through a bunch of the story, Superman belts out a bad poem as he punches him out. An accidental shot by the ray reduces Sinster to nothing but a shadow, and the story ends with Clark joking that Sinster is a "shadow of his former self."

I love this story with its larger than life villain, his crazy but effective sci-fi plot, weird dimensional threats and fun dialogue. And Perry White even gets in on the action for once. Good stuff.

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andersonh1
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Here's that panel I mentioned, which just does a great job showing Superman leaping those tall buildings...

Image

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Finishing up Superman #16...

Racket on Delivery!
Writer: Jerry Siegel Art: John Sikela

Clark and Lois go to the grocery store and find a bunch of thugs roughing up the delivery driver, attempting to extort money from him, leading Superman to intervene and run them off. Their boss, "Slats" Morgan, berates his tough guys and is determined to intimidate the store owner so the other shops in town won't dare stand up to him. Superman roughs up Morgan and his gang, warning them to lay off the racketeering, but Morgan isn't about to give up his money so quickly.

Clark writes up the expose for the Planet and is congratulated by Vernon Hale, city council. He, Clark and Lois are kidnapped by Morgan and his gang, who leave them to die in an old shack they push into the river. It's a novel way to murder them, I'll admit. But of course, Clark changes to Superman, breaks free easily, and saves Lois but not Hale, who can't be found.Hmm... At this point, Superman has had enough and tears through Metropolis busting up Morgan's gang. So why didn't he do that last time he confronted Morgan? And it turns out that, surprise, surprise, Hale is in on the whole racket. And once again, Clark beats poor Lois in writing up the story, leaving her wondering just how he does it.

Good art, and a reasonable if formulaic story that should have been finished halfway through after Superman confronts Morgan the first time, leaving the second half of the story feeling as if it's just there to fill pages. Not that it's not fun to watch Superman beat up the gang, but this really wasn't a challenge for him at all.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Batman #74
December 1952 - January 1953

The Crazy Crime Clown!

Script: Al Schwartz Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Charles Paris

Has the Joker lost his mind? That's what the splash page asks the reader, and it's a question that would seem obvious to modern Batman readers: yes, he has. But in the 1950s, despite how he looks and dresses, the Joker is not actually crazy... probably. As the story opens, he's robbing people of things that look like money and jewels but are actually cheap imitations, and he tries to deposit them at the police station, claiming he thought it was a bank. At the trial, the Joker's lawyer says that he suffers from "hebophrenic schizophrenia" (an actual condition, I looked it up) that makes him act foolishly. In other words, it's the insanity plea, and the Joker is sentenced to the insane asylum. This is a first, I believe.

However Batman suspects that the Joker is faking and wants into the asylum because a bank clerk sent there the previous week has a million dollars in embezzled funds, and the Joker intends to learn where it's hidden. Bruce is put on the inside and disguises himself as Minos the mind-reader and tries to trap the Joker, who figures out his scheme. He leaves the disguised Batman to die by drowning, but Bruce messes with his mind in various ways and gets the Joker to genuinely question his sanity. In the end the Joker has to confess that he had learned where the money was hidden to convince himself that he was sane, and he's sent back to the state prison. This is more of a caper than a serious crime story, and if read with that in mind is a lot of fun.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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I genuinely want to read this issue, now.
Check it out, a honey bear! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinkajou

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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It's a fun one. I think I like the non-insane, non-killer Joker, at least in small doses. He's more enjoyable to read than the modern version, mainly because of his creative crimes. They were still writing the character that way as recently as the 90s, though of course he was back to being a murderer then as well. It's his ego and twisted sense of humor that makes him entertaining. If he's just a creepy killer and nothing else, someone's missed the point of the character.

The Movie That Killed Batman!
Script: Bill Finger Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Ray Burnley

What has Alfred been up to? After the writers seemingly forget about Alfred for months at a time, the character gets a major role in a story again as he gets to flex his acting muscles, playing criminal Skid Turkel in a movie designed to "strip the glamor" from the condemned killer. With his moustache shaved off and a bald cap, Alfred looks just like Turkel. Batman and Robin are also involved in the movie so they get to act with their butler, who falls down on his domestic duties much to Bruce's annoyance. Turkel hears about the movie while in prison and is able to break out, seeing his chance to kill Batman.

Turkel attacks Alfred and takes his place, leaving the butler to burn to death. We learn that Batman finally captured Turkel because his ex-girlfriend Mabel, who he had once threatened to kill in order to get away from Batman, filled Turkel's gun with blanks. Turkel plans to use a real gun and real bullets for the scene and gun down Batman. Batman caught on to the fact that it was Turkel and guessed he was planning something because Turkel was wearing his new tie, something Bruce knew Alfred wouldn't do. It's always some small detail that Batman picks up on in these stories that clues him in, but this time he got lucky that it was his tie, or he'd have been a goner.

There's an interesting example of "comic book time" here as Batman refers to Turkel's first crime back in 1939, which he and Robin were involved with. And yet Robin hasn't aged a day from 1939 to 1953, going by the art, not to mention that Robin was the sensational character find of 1940 and wasn't around in 1939! It's one of those things the reader just has to overlook because otherwise it makes no sense. Turkel is a genuinely vicious criminal as described, willing to run down children to kill Batman, kill his girlfriend, and burn Alfred to death (Alfred escapes through a secret entrance to the Batcave and puts out the fire). He escapes from prison by using friction and his belt to start a small fire and then hits the prison guard in the face with the hot belt buckle, stealing his uniform in the process so he can escape the prison. He's one of the better "gangster" type killers we've seen, and though it strains credulity a bit that Batman can't tell the difference between a made-up Alfred and Turkel, that's just a convention of the "exact double" type of storyline. It's good to see Alfred again in more than a cameo, and as always Dick Sprang's art really is great. He's easily my favorite artist from this era.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Batman 74 concluded...

The Water Crimes of Mr. Hydro!
Script: Bill Finger Pencils: Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz Inks: Stan Kaye

Don't ever mock a prison water-boy, or else he'll become a super criminal. TIm Flagg, prisoner in the Gotham Prison, is mocked by his fellow convicts for wanting to break out with them. Angry and humiliated, he is determined to show them just what he can do with water. He is able to use the prison water tower to escape, and once out rather than do the sensible thing and avoid the law, he determines to continue with his water crimes, and to take on Batman. Aim for the top, Tim. Donning an orange and blue costume, he goes on a crime spree using water to pull of his crimes, and he calls himself Mr. Hydro.

As is typical for this type of story, the plans work for a while, and Hydro escapes Batman several times. Hydro doesn't just wait to be caught though, he goes on the offensive. Believing that an underground river leads to the Batcave, he follows it and is proven correct. Attempting to explode a wall and flood the cave, his explosives go off too soon. Batman is able to drop emergency walls (because of course he's prepared for a possible flood!), and after knocking out Hydro, use leverage to move a boulder and open another tunnel, allowing the flood to drain. The story ends with Hydro and his gang caught, and Batman planning to permanently seal off the river.

A lot of this story is fairly formulaic and we've seen the tormented individual turn to crime before. The Mr. Hydro costume isn't terribly impressive (though no worse than Killer Moth). I was all set for a story where Hydro's methods worked until Batman finally catches him on the final attempts. But the way Hydro actually finds the Batcave and comes close to flooding and destroying it was a nice plot twist and definitely elevated the story. All in all it was better than I expected.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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I was prepared to be unimpressed by a "main character gets amnesia" storyline, but I found more to say than I expected after reading this one.

Detective Comics #190
December 1952

How to Be the Batman!
Script: Bill Finger Pencils: Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz Inks: Stan Kaye

You're a detective - the greatest detective on Earth! And your career mustn't be ended by this amnesia - I won't let it be ended!

This story gives us the old "amnesia" and "has to learn to be himself again" storyline with Batman losing his memory and Robin attempting to retrain him. When a night watchman loses his memory after a robbery, a psychiatric evaluation of the watchman and a conversation with psychologist Dr. Evarts leads Batman to suspect that Dr. Sampson, "brilliant psychologist... who was sentenced to prison for malpractice" could well be behind the theft. The story does not keep the reader in suspense, Batman is absolutely correct, it is Dr. Sampson using psychology to commit crimes. Batman and Robin tackle his gang during a robbery and are separated. When Robin finds Batman, he has lost his memory just like the night watchman and no longer knows who he is or what's going on.

Poor Robin keeps showing him familiar items like the Batcave or Batplane in the hope that it will jog his memory, because Batman must recover! But all to no avail, Batman remembers none of it. There's a fun bit of continuity here with the dinosaur and giant penny trophies where the stories they originated from are named. I have to admit that some of Batman's comments made me chuckle ("What a weird car! Is it yours?"), but Robin's desperation is well conveyed. The crime-fighting origins of both Batman and Robin are retold here for the first time in a long time, and the image of Joe Chill running away, illuminated by the streetlight, reminded me of the David Mazzucchelli shot from Year One. A detail I had forgotten about the older origin story was that Martha Wayne wasn't shot, she could not stand the shock of seeing her husband gunned down and that killed her. Bruce vows over the graves of his parents to "dedicate his life and inheritance" to bringing criminals to justice.

Robin cannot bear to let this go, even though the stories and the familiar surroundings have no effect, so he decides to teach Batman all the skills that Batman had originally taught him. It doesn't go very well, the amnesiac Batman is timid and unsure of himself. When he takes Batman with him to stop yet another Sampson gang robbery, it goes poorly with Sampson declaring "You're not Batman. Not any more." Gordon can't believe Batman failed so badly and dismisses him from the case. Gordon, you jerk, forget that Batman has almost singlehandedly solved half of Gotham's crime for you over the last 15 years! Robin suggests that Batman's scientific knowledge might have been a help, and they revisit Bruce's lab where he had been studying blood samples taken from the night watchman. Bruce had figured out what the amnesiac Batman and Robin think might be an antidote. Long story short, they think the formula failed, but it took time to succeed and Batman is himself again just when he most needs to be, in the middle of a fight with Sampson's gang.

There are some gems in what is honestly a well-worn plot idea, that of the main character getting amnesia and having to overcome it. The story is a mini-refresher on Batman's origin, motivations and some history, which we don't see all that often in this era, so it's good to be reminded of why the character does what he does. And Robin's desperation and refusal to give up hits home and shows that despite his skills and sheer guts that allow him to take on violent criminals much bigger and stronger than him, he's a kid dependent on his father figure and is willing to go to great lengths to help him.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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There's an interesting mix of melodrama and banal brutality in some of these Fantastic Four issues reprinted in the second omnibus. The (absurdly named) Frightful Four, consisting of the Wizard, the Sandman (who I always thought was strictly a Spider-Man villain), Paste Pot Pete (such a stupid name that he changes it to the Trapster in the group's second appearance) and Madame Medusa, decide they're going to defeat the Fantastic Four for no real reason other than they think it will make them look impressive. And by "defeat" the story really means "brutally murder". The first attempt is to attach the Wizard's anti-gravity discs to them and just let them drift out of the Earth's atmosphere where they'll suffocate and otherwise die in the vacuum of space. The second attempt is to leave them trapped on an island where a "q-bomb" (an ersatz atom bomb I assume) is about to go off, and it's only Sue's force fields that keep them alive. This blend of over the top Stan Lee hyperbole and dialogue and crazy costumed villains mixed with some pretty ruthless attempts to kill the Four make for a mix of tones that probably shouldn't work, but actually work quite well.

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