Retro Comics are Awesome

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andersonh1
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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Detective Comics #184
June 1952

The Human Firefly!
Script: Ed Herron Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Charles Paris

Ho! Wait till they gaze upon the Firefly - genius of incredible lighting effects! I'll dazzle their infantile brains!

The last time I read a story featuring the Firefly (which has been a while, admittedly), he was a pyromaniac. In this first appearance, Garfield Lynns, self-described "world's foremost lighting effects genius" has turned to crime because he's tired of existing on a small salary to help entertain the rich. He uses lighting effects to fake a fire and robs many in the crowd at a show, but Batman and Robin see through the deception, capture Lynns's men and go after him. His car crashes and he tries to escape, certain that Batman and Robin will find him, but the glow of what turns out to be a firefly leads them in the wrong direction (Robin thought it might be a cigarette). Yep, you guessed it, this stroke of luck leads to Lynns adopting the criminal persona of the Firefly. As the Firefly, he uses various lighting effects to blind pursuers, cause traffic jams so he and his gang can make their getaway, and take a lighthouse beacon so he and his gang can rob a ship. When he captures Batman and Robin at one point, he attempts to drive them insane with his "Cyclops light". In the end, Batman uses the Firefly's own methods against him to blind his gang and capture them all.

So it's interesting to see this villain's debut, but he's not a very effective villain. He tries three different thefts, is stopped by Batman each time, and is captured at the end of the story. It's odd to get another flying insect-themed villain so soon after Killer Moth, who at least lasted for three stories. I don't know if Firefly will be back next time or not, he may be a one and done. The novelty here is in seeing the debut of a long-running if minor member of Batman's group of recurring enemies and how different he was from the modern version.

I like the five or six panels where Batman and Robin are trying to find a way to deal with the "Cyclops light". There are some fine lines and silhouettes of a type rarely seen in these old comics, and visually it looks very interesting.
Image

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Detective Comics #185
July 1952

The Secret of Batman's Utility Belt!
Script: John Broome Pencils: Dick Sprang Inks: Charles Paris

Batman loses his utility belt, putting his real identity as Bruce Wayne in danger of being discovered. The way the story sets this up is interesting. Batman chases a group of crooks into a coal hopper only to discover that he's trapped there. The coal is slowly being fed into the power plant's furnace. Batman has no way out and thinks that he's going to die before he's found. He carries a disc in his belt with his actual identity as Bruce Wayne on it, which becomes visible when he pours a chemical over it. We get his whole address here, which is fun. Bruce Wayne (Batman) 224 Park Dr. Gotham City, USA. His reasoning for doing this:

If something happened to Robin too, it might be possible for a criminal to impersonate the Batman. Such an impostor might easily get away wtih murder until the police learned the truth. This way they'll know my career is... ended!

But of course he doesn't die, Robin finds him in time and is able to rescue him from the coal hopper. Batman says he'll destroy the disc when they get back to the Batcave, but the belt is lost in a fight with crooks. It's hard to believe that Batman does not notice it's fallen off until they reach the Batcave, so that part of the story is a bit too contrived. The rest of the plot almost makes up for it though, as he and Robin hunt for the belt as it goes from a kid who found ti by the waterfront, a hobo who gets it when the belt falls off a bridge onto a moving train, a pawnbroker who bought it from the hobo, a construction worker, a wealthy collector, and finally the crooks who have been pursuing it all through the story who steal it from the collector. Batman, who is wearing his spare belt by this point in the story, nearly gets the belt back but has to break away from the crooks to put out a fire. The crooks are exultant when they discover the identity disc... but once again, Batman has outsmarted everyone. He did get his original belt back during the fight, switching it with a spare which had a false name and address on the disc, so when the crooks went there he could round them all up.

We've had stories about the Batcave, the Batmobile, the Bat-Signal, the Batplane, and Batman's many different costumes. So I suppose a story about the utility belt was bound to happen sooner or later. It's more entertaining than it probably has a right to be, but this is a fun story. The most interesting part of it for me is Batman's preparations for his possible death, though obviously the identity disc is there to drive the plot and will probably never appear again.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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andersonh1 wrote:
Wed May 05, 2021 5:45 am
The most interesting part of it for me is Batman's preparations for his possible death, though obviously the identity disc is there to drive the plot and will probably never appear again.
Probably not, but I love the idea of it.
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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Ursus mellifera wrote:
Thu May 06, 2021 6:49 am
andersonh1 wrote:
Wed May 05, 2021 5:45 am
The most interesting part of it for me is Batman's preparations for his possible death, though obviously the identity disc is there to drive the plot and will probably never appear again.
Probably not, but I love the idea of it.
I like it too. I realize these old 40s and 50s Batman stories are pretty straightforward kids' adventure stories, but there are often some interesting ideas for the character in them. I'm just impressed by how many new stories and ideas the writers came up with (formula recurring villain plots aside) given how many hundreds of Batman stories had been written by 1952. We're north of 450 Batman stories since his debut in 1939 at this point.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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andersonh1 wrote:
Thu May 06, 2021 8:35 am
We're north of 450 Batman stories since his debut in 1939 at this point.
WOW.
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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Back to GA Superman volume 2.

Action Comics #46
March 1942

The Devil's Playground
Writer: Jerry Siegel Art: Paul Cassidy

The cover depicts a scene from the story rather than generic action, which is a rare thing, as Superman takes on the masked villain the Domino at an amusement park. When a patron reports losing money to gamblers at one of the stands, owner Jim Gantry takes some men and roughs up the gamblers, throwing them out of the park. But these men work for "the Domino", a crime boss who wears a purple cowl (think something like Batman's cowl without the ears), and the Domino attacks Gantry in his office. When Clark and Lois visit the park, in one of the coincidences that sometimes make these narratives work, Clark spots sabotage and races in as Superman to fix it and save lives. The Domino sends his men in to rough up Gantry and commit sabotage, all in an effort to force Gantry to allow gambling in his amusement park.

Superman is so busy trying to track down the Domino and stop what he's doing that Lois finds another escort, society playboy Jeff Farnham. You get no points for guessing that the prominently named and conspicuous guest character turns out to be the Domino, who attempts to kill everyone with dynamite rather than be captured by Superman, but fails. He burned through his inherited money and turned to crime to keep up his standard of living. Storywise, we're back to the type of plot with a crook or gangster who stays active only as long as it takes Superman to figure out who he is, but visually the cowled figure of the Domino is more interesting than the typical suit and fedora wearing gangster or political poss, and he's drawn as if he has fangs once or twice, so he's clearly being portrayed as fairly sinister. I think that elevates this formula story a bit, and shows the value of costumed villains to take on costumed heroes.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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World's Finest Comics #5
Spring 1942

I love some of these World's Finest covers. This one features a happy, smiling and saluting Superman, Robin and Batman on a movie screen with a silhouetted audience watching them. I enjoy happy, patriotic super-heroes. It's simple but effective, and though we don't get them all here, I bet the "96 Thrilling Pages!" was a big selling point. That's a lot of content.

The Tower of Terror
Writer: Jerry Siegel Art: John Sikela

Right away I'm questioning what Indian tribe would have built a stone tower like the one that Brent Matthews wants to buy. That doesn't seem like anything that North American Indians would have constructed, so that's a stumbling block for me right away. In any case, Matthews has been warned not to move it, but Matthews will not be intimidated by those "ignorant savages" as he calls them. Jerk. An arrow is left on his pillow as a warning, and a tire on his car is loosened so that it will fall off. In addition to the local Indians, local museum specialist Lemuel Potts adds his voice to the Indians to try and persuade Matthews to leave the tower. No luck, Matthews wants that tower.

At this point a painted Indian begins stalking the workmen disassembling the tower. It has to be noted that the other Indians have been shown in modern dress, so this guy stands out. He escapes after his attack, with Lois wondering if he might have been a ghost. Superman picks up the tower (which does not collapse into a pile of stone as it should) and carries it through town to Matthews estate. I'm disappointed to see Superman siding with Matthews over the tower, but have no problem when he later saves him from thugs who kidnap him and try to shoot him. But the following night it's the mysterious Indian who kidnaps Matthews, along with Lois who had just arrived at his home in the hope of obtaining a statement from him about events. The Indian plays a tune which collapses the tower, and while Superman rescues Matthews and Lois from the top before that happens, the mysterious Indian is caught in the collapse as he tries to run. As he's dying, the truth is revealed: he's not an Indian at all, but Lemuel Potts. And he wasn't actually standing up trying to protect a cultural artifact at all, but rather trying to get ancient Indian artifacts hidden in the tower.

I spent this story siding with the Indians who wanted to keep their tower. Matthews was not sympathetic at all, though I had no desire to see him killed, and it seems very odd for Superman to side with the rich collector rather than the little guy, which is what he would normally do. It seems like this is an attempt by Siegel to write something a little more potentially supernatural than his usual crime plotlines, but it just didn't work for me on much any level.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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We're getting near the end of GA Superman volume 2.

Superman #15
March-April 1942

The Cop Who Was Ruined
Writer: Jerry Siegel Art: Leo Nowak

Lois goes to lunch with Sergeant Branigan, "famous two-fisted fighter of the Metropolis Police", and while at the restaurant see gangster Bill Talley and his thugs attempting the old protection racket. Branigan takes them on as Lois phones the police. There is an exchange of gunfire and a woman is shot. Talley blames Branigan, who took a blow to the head during the fight and can't see. The inquiry can't prove that Branigan deliberately shot the woman, but that he may have done so "while misusing his powers as a police officer" and so he's fired, but not tried for murder. Clark and Lois stick by him and help him set up a small business so he can support himself. The story paints them as good friends, and makes me wish there was more of an ongoing supporting cast besides Clark, Lois, Perry White and the semi-regular Sgt. Casey.

Of course Talley and his men love that Branigan is blind and they try the protection racket on him, only for Superman to put a stop to it. Meanwhile Lois is trying to track down the woman who was killed, and tracks her down to... you guessed it, Bill Talley's house. Jimmy Olsen makes a rare appearance as he goes for help when Lois is caught. Jimmy leads Branigan to the house after he insists, and Superman also arrives. Another blow to the head restores Branigan's sight, which I expected would happen somehow before the story was over. It was predictable but welcome all the same. Turns out that the dead woman was Talley's ex-wife, and he killed her during the shootout and blamed Branigan, who is reinstated when the facts come out. Not a bad story, and it drew me into Branigan's plight and had me rooting for him. It's good to see that Clark and Lois have friends outside of work, even if it's only for the sake of the plot. And it's good to see Jimmy, who rarely seems to show up in these 1940s stories.

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Superman #15 continued...

Saboteurs from Napkan
Writer: Jerry Siegel Pencils: Leo Nowak Inks: John Sikela

I think it's odd that we get an ersatz Japan in this story published after the Pearl Harbor attack, unless perhaps it was written beforehand. All-Star openly puts all of the JSA into the war against Germany and Japan, and the Superman newspaper strip is not shy about naming either nation, so maybe this was written before the attack, when they danced around the foreign powers and the war in Europe when a story dealt with them.

In any case, the story opens with Superman stopping the sabotage of a new battleship and going to see the secretary of the Navy to find out what's going on. The suspects are agents of Napkan, who are clearly meant to be the Japanese. Superman stops them from toppling the government in the fictional South American country of Equaru and then returns home. His write-up of the events in the Daily Planet draws the attention of Napkan agents, who kidnap and attempt to kill him. When he follows them back to the embassy, he learns of yet another sabotage plan and has to go save the Panama Canal. The Napkan ambassadors surprisingly get no comeuppance from Superman, but it's hinted that they will be punished by their superiors for their failure. Lois stays out of trouble for once, appearing only at the beginning and in the final panel of the story.

They should have just gone ahead and made the enemy agents Japanese. This is a full fledged WW2 storyline with fictional nations, and there's no getting around it. It does show the danger of letting Superman get too involved in the war though, because he could surely end it all by himself, and of course that can't happen if the comics are going to reflect the real world to any extent. But having him fight saboteurs is not an unreasonable plotline.

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Re: Retro Comics are Awesome

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Superman in Oxnalia
Writer: Jerry Siegel Art: John Sikela

We have more fictional countries at war, as Oxnalia invades Numark. Angered by the news, Superman heads to Europe. It sure looks like he's flying here, even though the narration describes "a tremendous leap" launching him "into the sky". Metropolis also appears not to be on the east coast, since he has to cross "over the vast continent" along with cities, states and towns. When an Oxnalian ship spots him at sea, halfway to Europe, the two officers are looking upward, so he's apparently either flown, or leaped the entire Atlantic Ocean, which amounts to the same thing. The Oxnalian dictator is warned, and he sure does look like Hitler. Hmmm.... I wonder what country Oxnalia is supposed to be....

Superman saves the king of Numark's life, and sets out to rescue his son Michael from kidnappers. When they see him coming, they describe him as "a man in the sky - and swooping down towards the castle", so he's clearly flying. As if that wasn't clear enough, when Superman rescues the prince from an airplane, the boy exclaims "You - you can fly!", so we have an eyewitness testimony, right on panel. Superman stops a bombing run on Numark, heads across the border to Oxnalia, beats up their entire army singlehandedly, and forces their dictator to summon his army so he can smash all the weapons of war. When the "beloved dictator" runs for it, he's shot by one of his own soldiers for cowardice. Oxnalia sues for peace.

I guess the fictional countries make more sense here, because Superman can't really defeat Hitler and Germany singlehandedly in the comics when the war carries on in real life. In any case, Superman is definitely flying now and is clearly considerably more powerful than he was just a few years earlier. The power creep upwards didn't take long. I remember a similar plot over in the Flash where Jay Garrick singlehandedly stops a war in Europe, so we're seeing a lot of superhero wish fulfillment around this time. If only it had been that easy.

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