Retro Comics are Awesome

A general discussion forum, plus hauls and silly games.
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andersonh1
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The Evolution King
Writer: Jerry Siegel Pencils: Leo Nowak Inks: John Sikela

Wrapping up Superman #15 we get a story about a villain who makes people age at an incredible rate, the "Evolution King". Lois goes to lunch with "famous athlete" Phil Carter, much to Clark's chagrin. Phil vanishes, and then an old man claiming to be him tries to convince Lois Lane of his identity. She feels sorry and embarassed for the old man, but Clark investigates and recovers the old man from gangsters. A check of his fingerprints reveals that he has Carter's fingerprints. When the same gangsters try again and kidnap both Lois and Carter, Superman is able to learn the location of the boss's hideout. Long story short, the Evolution King uses his process of aging to either make people old or revert them to infancy to extort them.

The threat is ended because frankly this guy isn't very smart. After his men capture Clark and Lois, and they're both apparently helpless, the Evolution King demonstrates how his aging pills work by taking one, intending afterwards to de-age himself. But Clark breaks the ropes he's tied up with and instead of giving the now-old man the de-aging pills, gives him more aging pills instead, causing the Evolution King to age to death. Clark tells Lois (who was unconscious when Clark broke his ropes) that the Evolution King miscalculated and fell victim to his own drugs, but there's no getting around the fact that Clark essentially killed him. It's possible that Clark gave him the wrong ones by accident, but it's impossible to be sure. I think there was more weirdness and horror that could have been derived from the premise of artificially premature aging than we actually got. Nice idea for an interesting villain, but half the story is spent on gangsters and investigations, so it could have been better.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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andersonh1 wrote:
Mon May 24, 2021 1:20 pm
It's possible that Clark gave him the wrong ones by accident, but it's impossible to be sure.
Right. "By accident."

Image

Sure thing, Clark.
Check it out, a honey bear! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinkajou

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Yeah, Superman can be pretty ruthless in this era. All of that is mostly behind him, but I wouldn't put it past him to have finished off the Evolution King deliberately, especially since he breaks the ropes and reveals his strength right in front of the guy. People who figure out that Kent and Superman are the same person tend not to live too long.

Wrapping up Golden Age Superman volume 2:

Action Comics #47
April 1942

Powerstone

Writer: Jerry Siegel Art: John Sikela

Luthor: You can hit!
Superman: You ought to see me when I really try!


I love the cover for Action 47 (which incidentally appears in the Superman 75th anniversary animated short) which features the above dialogue as Superman punches Luthor through a brick wall. How does Luthor survive that? The story reveals the answer. Luthor has figured out how to use electricity to give himself super-strength. Though he thinks he's as strong as Superman now, he's still not invulnerable, but he wants the Powerstone, a "stone from another planet with scientific properties" which will make him Superman's physical equal. Since it's inaccessible, he forms a plan to trick Superman into retrieving it for him. Luthor intimidates a random rich resident of Metropolis, Brett Calhoun, into taking a "strange, unusual" action to "startle Metropolis". Then he goes and robs a bank and gets into a fight with the responding Superman, who punches him through a brick wall and an oak tree, so once again the cover image has depicted an event in the story. Luthor escapes when the police distract Superman. What the robbery has to do with his plan, if anything, is not clear, but the personal nature of the fight between Luthor and Superman is good stuff.

The plot switches back to Brett Calhoun, who plans to give half his fortune away to the man who can prove he's already the richest man in Metropolis. A number of the richest men turn up, pay the $100,000 entry fee, and are promptly taken hostage by Luthor, who will kill them all unless Superman does him a "slight favor" and retrieves the Powerstone. Superman agrees, and heads around the world to fight volcanos, hypnotic snakes, magical flames, the cult that guards the Powerstone and a death trap... all on one page. It's efficient storytelling, to say the least. Naturally he overcomes all obstacles and returns the Powerstone to Luthor, who mocks his stupidity. But Superman is not so stupid, he made a fake Powerstone and hid the real one, and as Luthor fights him, his enhanced strength wears off. The electricity treatment was needed every so often to keep his strength. Luthor is jailed, Calhoun is freed from his influence and does not give the money away, and Superman thinks Clark will get the story into print before Lois gets back to the office.

Superman so rarely has physical opposition equal to him, so that alone makes this a refreshingly different story. Add in Luthor and it becomes very personal, with plenty of good verbal and physical sparring between the two of them. Great story to end volume 2.

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Back to GA Batman vol. 8. I pre-ordered volume 9, so it ought to be here soon, meaning I need to finish writing up reviews for the current volume.

World's Finest Comics #59
July-August 1952

The Joker's Aces!
Writer: David Verr Pencils: Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz Inks: Stan Kaye

The Joker employs a couple of "specialists" in his latest crime spree. Brice, tall and thin, shimmys through an unused sewer pipe into the burglar proof home of a millionaire and shuts down the power, enabling Joker to rob the place. Hopkins, short with bad eyesight and thick glasses, is able to get a job at a top security factory working with flammable materials, and his thick eyeglasses act as a lens enabling him to start a fire as a diversion while Joker robs the place. Baker, a sword-swallower, steals a priceless jeweled knife. Batman and Gordon can't pin down his methods, so they set a trap to lure the Joker in and capture him.

The attempt fails, and the final expert the Joker employs is Bruce Wayne himself, who he forces to work for him by kidnapping Dick Grayson. What is Bruce's specialist skill? He was an expert shot with a slingshot while in college at Gotham University. Never mind that we've never seen or heard of this skill before, or that Robin was the one using a slingshot in his early stories and would have been a more logical choice. Bruce is supposed to fire some diamonds that the Joker plans to steal from the ship they're on to his getaway boat. Bruce manages to get a message to the harbor police via his slingshot shooting, and they not only raid the Joker's hideout and rescue Dick, but also arrest the Joker and his men.

It's not a bad Joker story and breaks the usual formula a bit, so I appreciate that. However, as you can tell from the above comments, I don't like the contrivance that's needed to include Bruce in the plot. It's not just because the slingshot skill comes out of nowhere, but also because everyone else the Joker employs are criminals and willing participants in the scheme. I do find the Joker's various attempts at disguise throughout the story pretty funny though. At one point he puts on a fake goatee, and at another he's wearing large glasses, but he's still got that white skin and green hair, so these are hilariously ineffective disguise attempts. And I love his loot rooms in his hideout, the "jewel room", the "gold room" and the "currency room", which we've seen in past Joker stories. The Joker is a magpie, a hoarder who collects gold and jewels and cash, and piles them up not so that he can become rich per se, but just so he can enjoy his collection.

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Batman #72
August-September 1952

The Jungle Batman!
Script: David Vern Pencils: Bob Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz Inks: Charles Paris

Despite the perfectly servicable premise (how would Batman fare if cut off from all of his crime equipment) I figured this was going to be a hokey imaginary story or something along those lines. The jungle costumes are hard to accept at face value in all honesty. But the story itself does work as a survival tale for Batman and Robin. They capture the "Sinster 8", some of the world's most dangerous criminals, and are tasked with guarding them as a top secret remote control Navy ship transports them to "Satan's Island", a prison in the middle of the Atlantic (which brings to mind "the Raft" from the MCU movies, that floating prison out in the ocean.) While en route, the Navy ship is torpedoed by other crooks in an attempt to free the Sinister 8, who escape out to sea as the ship sinks. Batman and Robin are forced to abandon both costumes and utility belts (except for their masks of course) as they swim for it, using debris to stay afloat.

They make it to a nearby island, but so have the Sinister 8, so the story becomes one of Batman and Robin using the natural resources of the island to both come up with food and shelter, and to find ways to recapture the escaped criminals. I hate to say it, but while Robin's leopard-spotted shorts are servicable, Batman's cowl and single shoulder muscle-shirt look does his appearance no favors. They use the island's plant and animal life to recapture the criminals a few at a time, fight a giant octopus out on the lagoon, and ultimately escape the island by capturing the ship that the Sinister 8's fellow crooks send for them. Their fighting prowess and reputation gives them a win, and they sail back to Gotham City, arriving two weeks later with Gordon very happy that they're not dead, lost at sea.

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andersonh1 wrote:
Tue Jun 01, 2021 8:09 am
I hate to say it, but while Robin's leopard-spotted shorts are servicable, Batman's cowl and single shoulder muscle-shirt look does his appearance no favors.
I looked up the outfits and, wow. I... wow.

Is Batman wearing a gorilla? I mean... look at that thing.
Check it out, a honey bear! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinkajou

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Yeah, Batman should have gone with the shorts-only look like Robin.

The Legion of Faceless Men!
Script: ? Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Charles Paris

This is yet another story involving yet another of Gotham City's strange themed clubs, of which Bruce Wayne is not actually a member for once. Batman is the club member. "The Maskers" consists of members who wear masks in their everyday work. The club includes men such as Sven Thorson, famous deep sea diver, Jim Hendrix the test pilot (no relation!) and Gregory Miner, actor at the Chinese theater. On the way home from the annual meeting of the club, Batman and Robin stop a robbery by a man in a knight's armor, though the thief gets away, and Robin remembers someone at the party wearing a similar outfit. As the story goes on, the thief appears again and again, each time wearing a different mask that someone in the club wears. The papers name him "the Masked Bandit".

Despite some red herrings and other suspects, the culprit turns out to be not a member of the club at all, but the doorman of the building the club meets in, who had been stealing various materials needed for counterfeiting. The doorman wore thick glasses to help him see, and the various masks not only diverted attention towards the club members, but also concealed his glasses. It's a decent whodunnit, and the various masks make for a visually interesting villain. I do wonder just how many more of these strange clubs we'll see stories built around?

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Batman #72 concluded.

The Death-Cheaters of Gotham City!
Script: David Vern Art: Jim Mooney

We get two back to back themed-club stories in one issue, which just seems odd editorial planning to me, though as you'll see this story stands out from the others. This is the "Death-Cheaters'" club, "a club composed of dead men". In other words, men who were clinically dead but were revived through various means. John Grant died of cobra bite, but was revived by native serum. Jeff Sievers, suffered an epileptic attack during a golf game and was pronounced dead, but revived 20 minutes later. And there are others, all brought back to life by "modern science". So in fairness it's an interesting idea and an interesting collection of men. Batman and Robin witness just such an incident as gangster "Little Dougy" is shot and killed, but is revived during surgery. When the newspaper prints that Hollywood is negotiating for the movie rights to the story of the "Death-Cheaters", Little Dougy decides that he wants to join that club and cash in on the payday.

The club turns Dougy down due to his criminal record, and then club members start dying the same way they died the first time, with notes left at the scene of each murder. Little Dougy is the obvious suspect, a bit too obvious I thought, so I immediately suspected a club member. Batman also suspects a club member, simply because whoever the killer is, he knows the habits of the other men. Bruce decides he must join the club to get to the bottom of the mystery, but he has to die to join the club. I couldn't quite believe I was reading this next part in a 1950s Batman comic, but Bruce takes a poison pill which kills him. Dick calls the doctor, who was treating Alfred for something, upstairs to check on Bruce. The Doctor confirms that he's genuinely dead, so Bruce just committed suicide. But Bruce was counting on his "strong constitution" and artificial respiration to save him, and Dick is able to revive him. Don't ever tell me that modern Batman is the obsessive version of the character, this is a pretty grim gamble that Bruce took in order to catch a killer, back in the innocent kid's comic that is 1950s Batman.

To wrap it up, Bruce joins the club, announces that he knows who the killer is, and having thus baited the trap, fends off an attack on a fake Bruce Wayne (his dummy of himself in a canoe out in the lake), and though the killer, disguised as Little Dougy, gets away, Batman now knows that he's Jeff Sievers, who appeared to die of epilepsy. As the club's accountant, he was embezzling the funds. Knowing he was about to be caught, he started killing the other members and framing the convenient little Dougy. The final page of the issue has six panels, and the middle and bottom four are upside down, so the answer to the whodunnit is slightly obscured, a trick the Batman comic has not done before. This story is a variant on the strange club idea we've seen several times by now, but there's enough that's new and different that it doesn't feel entirely repititious. Bruce committing suicide, even if he expects to be revived, is a shocking action by the character in this era.

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Detective Comics #186
August 1952

The Flying Bat-Cave!
Script: John Broome Pencils: Lew Sayre Schwartz Inks: Charles Paris

If it was anyone else, I'd be worried! But once Batman puts his name on an agreement, he sticks to it - the chump!

Robin does some solo investigating and gets captured. The gangsters are just about to kill him when their boss stops them, figuring correctly that they can use Robin to force Batman to leave them alone. They actually get him to sign a pledge to stay out of Gotham for a week, which Batman does, and then they let Robin go. Batman in this story is so scrupulously honest that he won't go back on his word, even though it was extorted from him and even though he knows the crooks will use that to run rampant....

... except he does go back on his pledge. Sure, he technically doesn't violate the exact wording of his agreement, not to "set foot" in Gotham, but he spends the whole week in his "flying Bat-Cave", an oversized helicopter from which he harasses crooks from the air. This characterization strikes me as very "Adam West Batman", the upright paragon of virtue who keeps his word to one and all, but still outsmarts the crooks. My guess is that this story was meant to show Batman being clever, but it's honestly a bit silly how often Batman thinks "I'm not breaking my promise!" as he gets right up to the line and uses an elecromagnet to steal the crooks' guns, or takes a swim in Gotham Bay, or even lands on the roof of a Post Office because "it belongs to the Federal Government and is not part of the city." I can't honestly say I'm a big fan of this one. Even allowing for the era it was written, it's hard to accept the story on it's own terms.

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Detective Comics #187
September 1952

The Double Crimes of Two-Face!
Script: Don C. Cameron Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Charles Paris

At a public display of their crime-fighting trophies in support of Gotham law enforcement, Batman and Robin discuss their various enemies with Commissioner Gordon, including the Penguin and the Joker. Also discussed is Two-Face, who will appear in the form of Harvey Dent, long since cured of his disfiguring injury. Harvey is playing himself as Two-Face to show the public what happened. And we get a flashback to the creation of Two-Face when acid was thrown in his face, creating a scarred, ugly side. This time he's made up to look like Two-Face, but it apparently snaps his mind, and he returns to his criminal ways, going on a rampage of crimes themed after the number two.

After failing to stop several of the crimes, Batman manages to trap and capture Two-Face, and after the makeup is removed, it's Harvey Dent. But Batman isn't convinced, because the crimes are not in character for Two-Face. He wasn't using his lucky coin to make decisions. And sure enough, even with Dent in custody, Batman tracks down Two-Face, still at large, leading to a nicely done confrontation on top of a giant clock in downtown Gotham. The fake Two-Face turns out to be theater manager George Blake, who figured he could commit crimes and lay the blame on a supposedly relapsed Harvey Dent. Dent himself is fine and recovering by the end of the story, while Blake will face justice.

This is the third man to impersonate Two-Face and try to blame Harvey Dent. We had Wilkins, Dent's butler, back in Batman #50; then actor Paul Sloane in Batman #58, and now George Blake. How long can it be before the writers just have Harvey Dent relapse and return to a life of crime? Three uses of the same Two-Face impersonation plot is pushing it. I guess that's the problem when they created a great villain, gave him a happy, redemptive ending, but still want to use that villain. They can't have it both ways forever.

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