Panning the murky old print stream for the odd glimmering nugget
By the Light of the Silver Age
We know when the Silver Age begins, but when exactly does it come to a close? Since it’s just arbitrary retrofitting, a bunch of events and dates have been posited, mostly from the early 1970s: Kirby leaving the Fantastic Four and Marvel, the “relevance” of Green Lantern/Green Arrow… The cut-off points of decades have been pretty misleading in the past while the middles have often been more pivotal: for instance, the years 1955 to 1965 are more of a piece than 1950-60, for instance. Same goes for 1965 to 1975. I therefore deem the end of the Silver Age to be the end of 1975, when Carmine Infantino stepped down as DC publisher, along with his brilliant art director Nick Cardy. Replace them with inexperienced Jenette Kahn* and the legendary (but not in a good way) Vince Colletta as art director, and you have a pretty massive sea change. Compared to that, comics from 1969 are virtually identical to releases from 1970. *creating Dynamite Magazine for Scholastic is what got Kahn the job. She only stayed for four issues, and Jane and Bob “R.L.” Stine likely did most of the heavy lifting, since the magazine only improved following Kahn’s departure. – RG
« People that pick up hitchhikers I believe are basically good people that believe in other people and understand problems and don’t judge people. That’s always the kind of person I’m looking for. » — John Waters
Let’s take a nocturnal drive with George Evans (1920-2001) behind the wheel. Best known for his stellar contribution as a member of the elite EC Comics bullpen, Evans had earlier crafted some impressive comics for Fawcett (his own favourite period of his work) and Fiction House, and later, post-Code, for Gilberton, Dell and Gold Key, Warren and DC. He also worked extensively in newspaper strips, notably on Terry and the Pirates (under George Wunder) in the 1960s. He took over Secret Agent Corrigan from fellow EC alum Al Williamson, a nice long stint from 1980 to 1996, at which point the strip wrapped up and Evans (and Corrigan, presumably) retired.
While Evans’ chief forte was aerial warfare, this piece highlights his way with a mood, his quiet grace and flawless draftsmanship. This story is an excerpt from Gilberton’s The World Around Us series (36 issues, 1958-1961); this is no. 24 (August, 1960), The Illustrated Story of Ghosts, an oft-told tale (but never better) of the urban legend widely known as The Vanishing Hitchhiker (here entitled The Hitch-Hiker). Can’t you just feel that rain?
The renowned folklorist Jan Harold Brunvant wrote, in his epochal study, The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings (1981, W. W. Norton):
« A prime example of the adaptability of older legends is ‘The Vanishing Hitchhiker’ — the classic automobile legend. This returning ghost tale was known by the turn of the century both in the United States and abroad. It acquired the newer automobile motif by the period of the Great Depression, and thereafter spawned a number of subtypes with greatly varied and oddly interlocking details, some of which themselves stemmed from earlier folk legends. »
« Ghost stories … tell us about things that lie hidden within all of us, and which lurk outside all around us. » — Susan Hill
We’ve once before turned our attention upon Dell’s Ghost Stories, an anthology title with such an incredible first issue (written and directed by John Stanley) that all the subsequent ones whither in the long shadow it casts. In recent years, I’ve somewhat softened my stance on these sequels, taking into account that nothing could measure up to Stanley’s work on numero uno — and accordingly judging them on their own merits.
As a kid, I didn’t think too highly of Frank Springer (1929-2009), being primarily familiar with his inks over Frank Robbins on The Invaders (too sloppy, and no substitute for Robbins inking himself, which never happened at Marvel anyhow). Down the line, I ran into some of his earlier work (Phoebe Zeit-Geist, The Secret Six, The National Lampoon, Dial H for Hero and sundry items for Dell) and grew to appreciate his strengths.
Now, Ghost stories was interesting as a ‘horror’ (in the very limited Silver Age/Comics Code in full force sense) anthology, in that the vast majority of the stories were, after that peerless first issue, the work of one single artist (Gerald McCann, after contributing a couple of page to number one, handled issues 2-5, with a couple of filler pages thereafter, then Springer took over for 6-20, the rest of the run consisting of reprints, with the unexpected exception of no. 35).
Here then is what’s likely my favourite Springer Ghost Story: A Room with a Dreadful Secret.
« I don’t know what the hell I published. I never read the things. » — Stanley P. Morse
In the sinister wake of Warren Publishing‘s success with Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella, old-school fly-by-night 1950s comics publisher Stanley P. Morse (Aragon Magazines, Gillmor Magazines, Medal Comics, Media Publications, S. P. M. Publications, Stanmor Publications, and Timor Publications…) dusted off some of his old pre-Code chillers in the late 1960s and early 1970s in black and white magazines such as Shock (15 issues), Chilling Tales of Horror (11 issues), Ghoul Tales (5 issues) and Stark Terror (5 issues). It certainly wasn’t all junk: after all, Morse had published Weird Tales of the Future and Mister Mystery, with their Basil Wolverton and Bernard Baily classics…
Unlike Eerie Publications’ grey-toned and blood-and-gore-ified reprints, these are, as far as I know, unretouched, not to mention decently printed.
Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t Kurt Schaffenberger just about the unlikeliest pick of cover artist for a pre-code horror anthology? Sure, he fit in nicely with ACG’s gentle moral fable aesthetic, but aren’t you just expecting the Man of Steel or The Big Red Cheese to swiftly sweep in, catching the damsel-in-distress before the A Train smooshes her?
« She’s a haunted house / and her windows are broken. » — Scott Walker, “Big Louise” (1969)
I’ve been wanting to share one of the all-time most beautiful art jobs Steve Ditko ever wittled, 1960’s The Ghost of Grismore Castle! (published in Strange Tales no. 79), but I don’t have that book. I do, however, own a 70’s reprint of it, in Vault of Evil no. 14 (October 1974), but the colouring and reproduction were so bland and washed-out that I knew that justice wouldn’t be done to this meritorious piece.
Then it hit me: I *had* seen a lovingly reconstructed presentation of the tale — has it nearly been… 30 years ago? Yikes!
It was reprinted with brio in the redoubtable Mort Todd‘s Curse of the Weird (no. 2, January 1994), a flawlessly-assembled anthology title he somehow conned Marvel into publishing in the early 90s.
So my gratitude goes out to Mr. Todd and, once more, my admiration to Mr. Ditko.
« We shot it from the original stats I dug out of the Marvel vault, rather than reprint VoE #14, and lovingly recolored it! Thanks for noticing! »
Oh, and as bonus, here’s the cover, one of those absurdly lush Kirby-Ditko collaborations. As usual with Marvel, all captions are de trop.
« Like its politicians and its wars, society has the teenagers it deserves. » — J. B. Priestley
Here at WOT central, we’re both massive Bob Oksner (1916-2007) fans, and it’s not generally for the writing. For a long time, his multi-faceted talent was used to great effect all over the DC Comics line, but he rarely received the acclaim he so richly deserved.
And then it was over, in this visual idiom anyway: with the following issue (LITB68), DC brought in well-traveled Henry Scarpelli to handle the covers and create the impression that Binky was just one more Archie clone. Over the subsequent four issues, a handful of (pretty good) new stories were mixed in with the reprints. Then came a change of title and a new logo. The book, now simply called Binky, was a full-on Archie ersatz, and lasted another ten issues into 1971… with one final special popping out of nowhere in the summer of ’77. For ol’ Binky, par for the course!
DC’s Tales of the Unexpected offer quite a ménagerie of strange looking creatures! Any peculiar combination of animals you can think of, you’ll find somewhere within the pages of this series. This possibly deserves its own post, as it’s quite entertaining to see artists combining, say, an elephant with a tiger. That being said, I tend to get annoyed at artists who can’t visualize anything truly alien-looking, thus resorting to carving up earth animals and stitching different body parts together… but that’s a different conversation.
Occasionally the artists will also add tentacles, a sure shortcut to make something mundane look properly alien, and this is today’s area of interest! For more questionable monsters, have a gander at Tentacle Tuesday: Convoluted Critters.
And now, onto ‘unexpected’ tentacles, even if the result of this ends up looking like badly-made puppet with a tacked-on beak…
Of course one can’t discount the lasting power of classic vine-tentacles.
Whereas these mini-planets gone bonkers with tentacles-cum-hair bring to mind, but anticipate, something by Junji Ito.
The idea of an interplanetary veterinarian makes little sense for its assumption that life on other planets would have similar physiology to ours (even limiting the scope of action to only planet earth would be too ambitious – ask a doctor to treat a sick jellyfish and see how well he would do), but here we have the satisfaction of a sweet little scene of inter-species succor.
Some 30 issues later, we have another case of rabid tree-tentacles… this time composed of rubber (or something that behaves like rubber, at any rate).
Finally, this tentacled purple gorilla (so his tail is more dinosaur than gorilla, so what?) will no doubt please a regular reader of this blog!
« Competition brings out the best in products and the worst in people. » — David Sarnoff
The other day, my partner was trying out a video game whose soundscape seemed exceptionally judicious and well-integrated to the action. At one point, she noticed that the optimal way to play was by matching one’s pace and movements to the musical rhythm. I said, “Oh, it’s just like that Star Rovers story!”
And now for a bit of context: The Star Rovers was a short-lived series that sporadically appeared in the back of DC’s Julius Schwartz-edited titles, mainly Mystery in Space, backing main feature Adam Strange.
As Michael Uslan beautifully puts it, in his introduction to Mysteries in Space: The Best of DC Science-fiction Comics (Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1980):
« The Star Rovers were a whole other category of space heroes, typical of the kind of originality demanded by Julius Schwartz. A transgalactic trio of playboy, glamor-girl and novelist-thrill-seeker, they rarely agreed about anything and were rarely right about anything even when they did agree. »
Much of the appeal of the Star Rovers is that they’re not a team: they’re friendly rivals, ‘frienemies’, as we’d call them these days. Aside from matching wits and theories, they never directly compete, as differences in their fields of endeavour would make the exercice pointless. There’s a light, jovial tone to these mysteries, yet they can still be taken seriously as intriguing puzzles.
All nine episodes were edited by Schwartz, scripted by Gardner Fox, and illustrated by Sid Greene (1906-72). The latter, a veteran of the comics industry with published work going back to 1940, arguably turned in the finest work of his busy career, and likely would have kept on doing so had it not been for… Batman’s troubles.
To make a long story short, as the Batman titles were shedding readers like there was no tomorrow (making it possible that there would, indeed, be no tomorrow), DC bigwigs opted to switch things around a bit, pulling editor (and Jack Kirby blackballer) Jack Schiff off Batman and Detective Comics and handing him the reins of Schwartz’s SF titles Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space. He ran those into the ground, but in goofily entertaining fashion, at least. Unlike the bat-books, there were expendable to DC.
As the ultimate Star Rovers tale appeared in the final issue of the Schwartz-edited Strange Adventures before the changeover, it seems likely that the series would have carried on under a Schwartz régime. But the Rovers weren’t at all in Schiff’s wheelhouse: the delicate premise called for deft, intricate plotting and wit, qualities not to be found within Schiff’s stable of writers. Gardner Fox and Greene were among Schwartz’s trusted confederates, and talent poaching was rarely allowed within DC’s editorial enclaves.
After this editorial switch, Greene was, with few exceptions, put to work inking the pencils of Schwartz’s big three: Carmine Infantino on Batman and The Elongated Man, Gil Kane on Green Lantern and The Atom, and Mike Sekowsky on Justice League of America. The problem, at least as I see it: Greene’s inks didn’t mesh well with any of these pencillers’ styles. Oh well — it’s a living. At least Greene was able to return to full pencil and ink duties on a handful of short stories for editor Murray Boltinoff, mostly in the pages of The Unexpected. Better late than never.
Finally, for your edification and amusement, here’s a Star Rovers checklist:
Who Caught the Loborilla? (Mystery in Space no. 66, Mar. 1961) What Happened on Sirius-4? (Mystery in Space no. 69, Aug. 1961) Where Is the Paradise of Space? (Mystery in Space no. 74, Mar. 1962) Where Was I Born– Venus? Mars? Jupiter? (Mystery in Space no. 77, Aug. 1962) Who Saved the Earth? (Mystery in Space no. 80, Dec. 1962) Who Went Where– and Why? (Mystery in Space no. 83, May 1963) When Did Earth Vanish? (Mystery in Space no. 86, Sept. 1963) Will the Star Rovers Abandon Earth? (Strange Adventures no. 159, Dec. 1963) How Can Time Be Stopped? (Strange Adventures no. 163, Apr. 1964).
« When I was a young writer if you went to a party and told somebody you were a science-fiction writer you would be insulted. They would call you Flash Gordon all evening, or Buck Rogers. » —Ray Bradbury
We’ve talked about newspaper strip Flash Gordon in Tentacle Tuesday: Lurkers in the Newsprint, and now it’s time for its comic book version! Although I normally have very little interest in FG, this is no second-rate Tentacle Tuesday: there is some prime tentacular material to be enjoyed.
We first concern ourselves with the Flash Gordon Charlton Comics run, which picked up the count where King Comics had left it in 1967. From 1969 until 1970, Charlton published issues 12 to 18, all of which but the first had glorious covers and cover stories by Pat Boyette, an absolute WOT favourite ( you can visit co-admin RG’s Pat Boyette — Hillbilly Makes Good* for a deeper exploration of his career).
The cover of issue 14 has an octopus shortage (a serious flaw affecting many, many comic book covers!), but the monster o’nine-tentacled-tails the ’emotionless killers’ encounter is a beauty. The following page is also a good example of Boyette’s imaginative page layouts, in which things are kept dynamic, but never engender confusion about who is doing what and to whom.
Then we come to a real bevy of Boyette tentacles a few issues later –
The Creeping Menace, the cover story, is scripted by Joe Gill and illustrated by Pat Boyette. I am including two pages (and a panel) because it’s too difficult to choose between them – all boast the aforementioned dynamic layouts and striking tentacles.
The publishing history of comic-book Flash Gordon was an interesting relay race: Gold Key Comics resumed the run with issue 19 (1978), and kept it up until issue 27 (1979); finally, issues 28 to 37 were published under its Whitman imprint between 1980 and 1982. The latter category offers two tentacled covers, and some inside goodies.
The cover story The Deadly Depths is scripted by John Warner and illustrated by Carlos Garzón. Oh, this thing is not hostile… just hungry.
The last Whitman issue also is of some interest, though on the cover Flash looks like he’s fighting caterpillars with an martini olive for a head.
Cover story My Friend, My Killer! is scripted by George Kashdan and illustrated by Gene Fawcette and features cute serpent plants that look like they’re wearing little hula skirts.
And that concludes our tour of Flash Gordon tentacles in the Silver Age (and with some forays into Bronze).
All pages are scripted by Robert Kanigher, pencilled by Ross Andru and inked by Mike Esposito, except for the first page from Stamps Of Doom!, which was scripted by Bill Finger.
I bitched about Kanigher WW in Tentacle Tuesday: Wonder Girl in the Silver Age, Part I and Don’t Let a Mysogynist Plan Your Wedding: Robert Kanigher and Wonder Woman’s Utterly Unsuitable Suitors. I’m starting to feel like my needle is stuck in the groove, but I will however note one more thing: in my righteous anger about Kanigher’s preposterous depiction of women, I’ve been ignoring that he’s not great at writing men, either. That is… he can write wonderful male characters (see Enemy Ace, for instance), as long as romance is totally off the menu. It’s as if he is saying that romance transforms intelligent, capable men into utter, snivelling dolts (a point of view that one could defend, but within limits). Take a look at what kind of suitors poor Wonder Woman gets saddled with (perhaps their stupidity is one more way of spiting her?) in these panels from Wonder Woman’s Impossible Decision, published in Wonder Woman no. 118 (November 1960):
Allow me to drive one more nail into that coffin, and after this I shall forever hold my peace. I stumbled upon this rather entertaining quote, taken from an interview with Kanigher conducted by Tim Bateman and Steve Whitaker in 1989 (read the full thing here). Here it is, with no further comments from me:
« So Ditko […] tried to force meanings where meanings did not exist. But he tried to tell me that I knew nothing about romance, because his idea of romance was professorial, pedantic. I know what romance is, I’ve written more romance probably than anyone alive. Romance is an excess of passion, and I don’t care if there’re a thousand books that says romance is not that, romance is a time period. Tchaikovsky is a romantic. Excessive, that’s what romance is. So to say that my idea of excessive emotion is not romantic…»
And now, I shall remain mum, and let you savour these tentacles in peace!