WHEN BAD COMICS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE
Unca Cheeks the Toy Wonder’s Silver Age Comics Web Site!
WHEN BAD COMICS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE
The ARCHIE Comics “Mighty Crusaders” Super-Hero Characters of the 1960’s
(This article is dedicated, with thanks eternal, to the incredibly generous Nick Caputo: a mightier crusader than any li’l plush curmudgeon could possibly hope for… or deserve.)
Oh, good golly.
Back in the earlier half of the 1960s — with DC Comics’ incredible Silver Age revival in full creative ascendancy, and Marvel Comics’ Jack Kirby busily redefining the storytelling parameters of the adventure comics genre his own bad self, to boot — the ARCHIE comics group decided to bunny hop its way into the (then-)ongoing super-hero sales conga line.
In the 30s and 40s, you see — the Golden Age of comics — Archie Comics had spawned their own stable of spandexed super-doers, under the separate MLJ Comics imprint. PEP COMICS (The Comet; The Hangman; The Shield); JACKPOT COMICS (Mr. Justice; Steel Sterling); TOP-NOTCH COMICS (The Firefly; The Black Hood); BLUE RIBBON COMICS (Bob Phantom; Inferno, the Flame Breather); ZIP COMICS (Blackjack; The Web); and the good lord only knows how many other similarly short-lived and obscurity-enshrouded entries.
These were — by and large, believe you me — singularly lame and awful in every known storytelling particular.
However: they were handy and convenient, blessed as they were with the twin virtues of being both: a.) already created, and: b.) owned lock, stock and spandex, outright, by You-Know-Who; and — to the good (if, ultimately, clueless) men and women charged with the care and feeding of the profitable Riverdale cash cow — one costumed ding-dong was pretty much the same as any other, really.
However: none of said men and women — as undeniably talented as they were in the entertaining explication of small town teen dating angst, and suchlike — had so much as Clue One, re: “How To Write a Genuinely Marketable Super-Hero Comic Book.” And (give them credit for that much self-awareness, at least) they darned well knew that.
So: they went out and secured the auctorial services of the gentleman who’d only started the whole “super-hero” shebang rolling in the first place, is all.
They went out and hired Jerry (SUPERMAN) Siegel to write the blamed things.
Oh, how stone brilliant that must have seemed, on paper!
The estimable (and much mistreated, by former employer DC Comics) Mr. Siegel, you see, was — somewhat understandably, by this juncture in his justly storied career — more than a little embittered over this whole “super-hero” business, quite frankly. He had — along with fellow artist (and SUPERMAN co-creator) Joe Shuster — been embroiled in a series of increasingly apocalyptic and unforgiving lawsuits with DC, over the decade or so prior, re: the fair and equitable distribution of monies generated by the obscenely successful SUPERMAN franchise and its attendant multi-media merchandising. So: that’s one, right there.
He also had some extremely… ummmmm… antiquated notions as to how to tell a comics story, in an age where rigorous plotting and scientific extrapolation (the John Broome and Gardner Fox DC titles) was the storytelling “norm,” on the one hand; and high-energy emotional breast-beating and bombast (the Jack Kirby-driven Marvel comics) were the order of the day on the other one. So: that’s two, then.
… and: he was stuck (by editorial decree) with using some of the most dire and awful “super-heroes” ever conceived of by the mind of Man as his meta-fictive catspaws, in any event. And that’s strike three, right there.
Not even Mark McGwire can belt out a homer with three strikes already on him, for pity’s sake.
“The Fly-Man’s Partners In Peril” [ADVENTURES OF THE FLY #31; May, 1965; Jerry Siegel, writer; Paul Reinman, the (apparent) artist] is as good an example as any of what I’m talking about, here.
The story opens with a scene of “Fly-Man’s” portly arch-nemesis — the cut-rate Lex Luthor knock-off better known as the Spider — engineering one of his (putatively) “super-scientific” escapes from the state penitentiary; this time, by means of a prison delivery truck specially equipped (by his henchmen, on the outside) with big, dopey-looking super-springy hydraulic leg-thingies.
“Meanwhile,” the following caption blandly observes; “… in the Capital City office of attorney Thomas Troy…”[Quick Origin Recap, courtesy of Jeff Rovin’s THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SUPERHEROES (and with additional commentary courtesy of Your Ever-Helpful Unca Cheeks): [“Tommy Troy lives in the Westwood Orphanage, whose superintendent, Aaron Creacher, hires him out to raise money.” (Yeah… hires him out to sailors. Really nasty sailors. On “shore leave.”) [“Working for elderly Ezra and Abagail March, young Tommy learns that they are wizards and, late one night, tries on a fly-shaped ring he finds in the attic. It glows and opens a door to another dimension, from which steps Turan of the Fly People.
He (Turan) explains that ‘millions of years before, Fly People ruled the earth’; but they ‘waged war with magic, reducing most of the population to common houseflies’.” (… which certainly had everybody buzzing for weeks afterwards…)[“Only a few of the Fly People were able to escape, fleeing to ‘a dimensional plane outside the galaxy’ where they have waited patiently for ‘one person… pure of heart’ to ‘make war against greed and crime,’ which were their own downfall.” (Well… that, and the inherited racial tendency towards congenital imbecility, anyway… ) [“Troy has these qualities; thus, whenever he rubs the ring and says ‘I wish to become… the Fly-Man,” he is ‘projected into the other dimension,’ and returns as a costumed adult called ‘the Fly-Man.’ Tommy continued as the Fly-Man throughout adulthood, cleaning up crime in Capital City.” [No. Seriously. Page 117. Swear to Jesus.]
After a brief, desultory introductory skirmish with the wildly cackling Spider (whose super-villain costume is — unfortunately; given the ampleness of his physique — distressingly skin-tight), Fly-Man is startled, several days later, by the arrival of a flying “remote-controlled, jet- powered gigantic metal claw” whizzing its way over the skies of New York City, during its World’s Fair. [See panel reproduction, below]
“The Spider’s emblem is emblazoned upon the deadly mechanism!” a grim Fly-Man observes. “He probably wants to hog the whole fair to himself!”
(The mental image that line of dialogue conjures up — that of an aging, obese super-villain, capering giddily amongst the twilight shadows of abandoned roller coasters and ring-toss game booths and giggling like a schoolgirl — is, as much as anything, the real reason I first took up the nervous habit of cramming little baby birdies, head first, into electric pencil sharpeners. And laughing.)
In any event: the (inevitable) death-trap accompanying said gigantic metal claw — a massive “electrical discharge,” in this particular instance — is thwarted, right in the very nick, by the sudden arrival of the mysterious (and, from all available evidence, massively color-blind) Comet.[From Rovin’s ENCYCLOPEDIA: “In the early 1940s, while working at his research lab in Manhattan, chemist John Dickering discovers a gas that is ‘fifty times lighter than hydrogen.’ Injecting it into his bloodstream, he finds that he can ‘make great leaps’ through the air.” (The flaming, concussive bouts of hellish flatulence accompanying said super-powered display were a nice artistic “touch,” as well.) [“Jekyll-like, he continues experimenting on himself until, after many injections, the gas accumulates in his eyes and causes them to throw off ‘two powerful beams.’ When they cross, whatever he’s looking at will ‘disintegrate completely. Dubbing the power ‘dissolvo-vision,’ he finds that the only problem is that he can’t control it except by closing his eyes.” (Appparently, the simple expedient of not crossing his freakin’ eyes in the FIRST bloody place never occurs to Mr. Big Deal, Filled-With- More-Gas-Than-a-Propane-Tanker Super-Scientist, here. I’m just sayin’, here, is all.) [“Fortunately, Dickering’s vision can’t harm glass, so he makes a pair of goggles which he raises to release his blasts. Inspired by the exploits of other costumed heroes, he becomes a crime-fighter, albeit an unorthodox one: he is one of the few who –” (Pick One):
A.) ” — kills his adversaries.”
B.) ” — touches himself in combat, while making lewd and suggestive comments to his adversaries.”
C.) ” — subdues his opponents by shrieking the lyrics to old Dexy’s Midnight Runners tunes at the top of his lungs.”
D.) ” — can transform himself, at will, into WEBSTER television star Emmanuel Lewis.”
E.) ” — ‘grooms’ himself with his own tongue. All over.”[“Though girlfriend reporter Thelma Gordon writes him up as a hero, his thirst for blood makes the public uneasy. Not so the aliens of the planet Altrox who, after studying his exploits on Earth, teleport him to their world to help Queen Naija wage war against invading robots.” (You’re all still following all of this, right…?) [“Barely surviving that encounter, the Comet is returned to Earth — where he is promptly shot dead by friends of gangster ‘Big Boy’ Malone, whose gang he had previously busted. Witnessing the tragedy, Queen Naija brings him back to Altrox, reviving and then marrying him.” (This may very well be the first confirmed instance of a comic book origin having been penned by renowned absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco.) [“But bad luck continues to hound Dickering: less than a week later, robot survivors of the Battle of Annexia ambush the newlyweds. By this time, the Altroxian atmosphere has deprived him of his dissolvo-vision — something the Comet doesn’t learn until he tries to use it against the assassins. The Queen is killed, ‘her skull crushed like a rotten bloodfruit.’ Creating a super-powered costume using Altroxian science, Dickering returns to Earth […] and resumes his superheroic career.” (This was all in PEP COMICS #1, incidentally, circa 1940. And just try imagining the eight- or ten-year-old kid of the period slogging his unhappy way through all of that in one pre-adolescent sitting.)]
Well: back to the meta-fictive changeling left here in place of an actual plot, then. Having rescued the hapless Fly-Man from the Spider’s electronic snare, the Comet assures his inectoid pal that “Now that I’ve resigned as ruler of Altrox, Earth will be seeing more of me! I’m glad I was able to help you! And now, goodbye, ’til we meet again!”
“Bah!” a sullen Spider fumes, viewing all of this nonsense from afar. “Why didn’t that nosey super-hero from Altrox stick around his own business, where he belongs?!? The Fly-Man survived my trap! But he won’t survive the next one!”
Pretty tough talk, from a Jenny Craig refugee with a lace doiley on top of his head…
… but: a day or two later, “at a party given at the Van Pyle mansion,” a trio of toughies named (Jesus whack me with a stick if I lie) Boppo the Mighty; Flipsy the Terrific; and Basher the Dynamic crash their way into the foppish festivities, and proceed to separate the revelers from their wallets, watches, and whatnot.
“Must telepathically tip- off my noble friend, the Fly-Man, about these sinister happenings!” a nearby (and typically altruistic) insect resolves, in the happy woodland way of all small, crawling vermin.
(DC should have ponied up the damn dollars for Jerry Siegel. I mean it. Whatever he bloody asked for; if only to spare The Man Who Started It All the ultimate, soul-deadening indignity of having to crank out stuff like this, in the twilight of his years, f’chrissakes. And I really am Just Sayin’, here.)
Fly-Man sneaks his way into the low rent hideout of Boppo, Flipsy and Basher, grimly resolved to give the trio a right good slapping around for Being Dorky Enough To Make Even the Comet Look Like a Darned Good Idea, By Way of Comparison. Unfortunately, his (*kaff*kaff*) fabulous assortment of insectoid powers wears off at an inoppportune moment — oh, yeah; I should have mentioned thhat Fly-Man “can be super-powerful for only one hour out of each twenty-four hour span”; cheapjack magic alien rings being what they are, apparently — and he kerPLOPS humiliatingly directly in front of The Cretins Three, as a result.
Sans the ability to hold long, rambling conversations with crab lice and the like, Fly-Man is roughly as menacing as a blind kitten in a microwave; as Boppo and His Pals effectively demonstrate, in what simply must be one of the most embarrassing ass-whuppings in all of recorded comics history.
“They call me ‘Boppo’,” the first gunsel explains; “… ’cause when I bop ’em, they stay bopped!”
” ‘Flipsy’ is the name!” the second assailant warbles. “For flipping, I am famed!”
“My momma wanted I should become a great pianist!” the third one confesses, in a truly touching moment of emotional vulnerability. “I figured out another use for my hands!”
[NOTE TO “BASHER”: we all did, back during our respective adolesences, dude. It’s a perfectly normal aspect of the whole “puberty”- type experience. And — gosh darn it! — that’s okay. You needn’t live with the guilt and the shame any longer.)
Having thus spanked the (now) unconscious Fly-Man like the proverbial red-headed stepchild, the Spider’s three mesomorphic hirelings — for such they are, in plain point of fact — unceremoniously deposit the internally hemorrhaging insect-guy on a nearby elevated train trestle; rustle themselves up some popcorn and orange sodas; and settle back to watch what promises to be (with said train, even now, fast approaching) a truly impressive display of Really Icky Carnage…
… when — all of a sudden, like; just imagine the odds! — a red, white and blue armored figure comes thundering from out of absolutely nowhere; scoops up Fly-Man in two muscular arms; and whisks the still-stupored super-hero out of harm’s onrushing way.
“The b-bullets are bouncing off his emblem!” one of the trio stammers, as they attempt to gun down the silent Samaritan. (It’s a little-known fact that Siegel was slipped an extra buck by a certain fetishistic ARCHIE editor, each and every time he manaaged to work the word “emblem” into one of his scripts.)
“That’s… the Shield!” one of his partners exposits, helpfully. “He’s able magnetically to attract bullets so they glance harmlessly off his bullet-proof shield emblem!” (See what I mean? Ka-ching!)
“I’d have been a goner if not for you, Shield,” a grateful Fly-Man enthuses. “Where have you been all these years? What made you quite crime fighting?”
“I’d… rather not talk about that… now!” the Shield mutters, by way of response. “Maybe some other day…”
(Yeah, yeah; this guy’s got an origin every last bit as lame-brained and awful as either of the other two we’ve seen thus far. Your Drama- Conscious Unca Cheeks is just holding that little laugh riot aside for a later chapter in this here entry, is all. You’ll all need to see the actual, for real, no foolin’ pages for yourselves to fully appreciate The Origin of… THE SHIELD for the rank and festering horror it truly is. Trust me on this one, people.)
Just as in the earlier instance, re: the mysteriously reappearing Comet… the Shield promptly scampers off, after having hauled Fly-Man’s buggy butt out of the fire; leaving the latter hero even more befuddled than usual as to just what the holy heck is going on around here, anyway; and the spluttering Spider with a batting average of .000, kill-wise.
Part Two of “The Fly-Man’s Partner’s In Peril,” coming right up… on the page immediately following.
Everybody go ahead and rub their “magic fly rings.” Or whatever.
… otherwise known as the You Killed Jerry Siegel! You BASTARDS! wing of our little online atrocity exhibition.
What the anti-social (and adiposal) Spider habitually lacked in luck, he certainly made up for in sheer grit and determination. A few days after his most recent failure (i.e., Operation: Code Name “Boppo”), the massive mastermind is up to his standard shenanigans yet again: this time, utilizing a —
… well: let’s allow the super-villain set’s answer to William Conrad to have his own say, just this once, shall we…? :-))
” […] the emanations from this device can drain most of the energy out of all living organisms… including you! That’s why you can’t crawl, or fly, off! Notice, too, the moving second hand time-piece attachment! It’s counting off the few remaining seconds you have left to live! Enjoy it! When the rotating second hand points directly upward, the atom bomb will explode! And so will you, Fly-Man! So will you!”
A “life-draining” mechanism… and an atomic bomb detonation.
He’s a thorough little cuss. Give him that much, anyway.
“But — ” (the next heart-stopping caption exclaims); ” — a split second before the diabolical mechanism can detonate — !” [Pick One]:
A.) Yet another dorky and deservedly forgotten old ARCHIE Comics super-hero shows up.
B.) Yet another dorky and deservedly forgotten old ARCHIE Comics super-hero shows up.
C.) Yet another dorky and deservedly forgotten old ARCHIE Comics super-hero shows up.
D.) Yet another dorky and deservedly forgotten old ARCHIE Comics super-hero shows up.
Every once in a great while: I feel I owe the lot of you a “freebie” for putting up with all of this.
“The Black Hood… and his robot horse ‘Nightmare’!” a stunned Fly-Man marvels. “His ray-gun blast saved me right at the brink of eternity!”
(Good News/Bad News Time, campers and camperettes. The good news: I’m not going to delve into the unspeakable details of the Black Hood’s origin, at this point.
(The bad news, on the other hand: same upcoming page as The Shield, bunkies.
“The Fly-Man! The Comet! The Shield! And now, the Black Hood! BAH!” a now thoroughly frustrated Spider rages, shaking one ham-sized fist at the inherent injustice of being forced to endure yet another long, lonely evening of villainus interuptus. “The Earth is getting so darned crowded with super-heroes, I can hardly breathe!” (What this four- color universe really needs is a good, old- fashioned, DC-style CRISIS, by golly!)
“Sensational!”, however, is the reaction of the standard man on the street to the news that there’s been a city-wide “run” on spandex over the past week or so. “This is going to be a much safer world with all these great Crusaders around!”
(Oh, yeah. Right. The Good Lord alone knows but that Boppo, Flippy and Basher would — even now — be ruling the planet in a collective iron grip of sheer, unrelenting terror if not for the ongoing presence of these yipyops. Sure thing. Yoooouuuuu betcha.)
“[The] next day, high in the sky,” however: a mysterious, unseen force causes gigantic cloud letters to form, reading: “THIS-A-WAY, SUPER-HEROES! FORM… ‘THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS’!”
The three flight-enabled heroes (Fly-Man; the Comet; and the Black Hood) all zip off in the direction indicated by the helpfully provided cloud “arrow,” accompanying; and are met “in an abandoned amusement park” by a bemused Shield.
“Hello, fellahs!” the chipper crusader chirrups. “Which one of you put that cloud message up in the wild blue yonder?”
“Not me!” Fly-Man stoutly avers.
“Or me!” the Comet echoes.
“I didn’t, either!” the Black Hood concludes. “Neither did my trusty robot steed, Nightmare! He can’t spell that good!” (MWAH-ha-ha-ha! Because… see… he’s, like, a horse, right? Get it? Huh? “He can’t spell that good!” Because he’s a horse! Oh, gawd… my sides…!
(Kill me. Now. Please.)
“Hm-mm,” a pensive Fly-Man muses. “Maybe there’s still another super-hero lurking around! If he did it, he may join us shortly!” (Not exactly “the Darknight Detective,” is he, gang…?)
“Well, whoever did it, it’s a great idea,” the Black Hood enthuses. “Us guys banding together into an injustice-fighting group!”
“Yes!” the Shield readily agrees. “The Spider’s world-wide evil organization is too powerful, too complex, for just one of us to defeat, alone!” Not that you’d ever guess as much from the way these four goobers have been kicking blubbery bad guy butt up and down the block all the livelong day, up to this point. I’m just sayin’, really. That’s all.)
“Objection!” Fly-Man interjects. “In the first place, that name ‘the Mighty Crusaders’ is corny, like something dreamed up in a comic book!” (Now “Fly-Man,” on the other hand…)
“But, more important,” he continues, eschewing modifiers with a manly sort of disdain; “… I’m not convinced you ‘super-heroes’ are mighty enough to deserve joining up with me!”
This snide expostulation occasions, in turn, the single most welcome and heart-warming scene in the comic entire: the other three Crusaders join forces and proceed to pummel the holy living poo right out of a hapless and ineffectual Fly-Man! (YESSSSSS — !!)
“Lucky for you I was so busy while patrolling today,” the bruised and battered hero snivels, once the dust has settled, “that my powers, which can last for just an hour each day, wore off just now! Otherwise…!”
The other heroes all greet this with the general snorting and derision it so richly deserves, flying off in a chorus of catcalls and wet, juicy raspberries.
Seconds after that: the big, mean clown attacks.
This is a wholly true assessment in not one, but two important respects:
1.) That’s our one-man, jumbo-sized jihad, the Spider, waving a Dirty Harry-esque hand cannon in Fly-Man’s goggled face; annnnnnd —
2.) He’s wearing one of Emmett Kelly’s old hand-me-downs. (Not that this isn’t necessarily an improvement, mind.)
“Ha, ha!” the corpulent creepazoid exults. “It was I who planted that cloud message in the sky… to bait you toward your death! We’re alone, now… you, the weak Fly-Man… me, the all-powerful Spider… and this gun, with which I will kill you!”
“It wasn’t simple, conceiving such masterpieces of villainy!” (The “Deal-A-Meal” desperado continues.) “But you always wriggled off the hook, blast you! Things like that could give me a bad name in the underworld! But now my prestige will be mightier than ever! Wait’ll word gets around that the Spider destroyed Fly-Man! From the murderous alleys of Hong Kong to the terraces of elegant Park Avenue penthouses — !”
… well. He just goes on and on and bloody on, doesn’t he, though…?
As unalloyed a pleasure as it most assuredly is, however, watching Fly-Man being ruthlessly and resoundingly pimp-slapped into a stupor by a spandexed Dom DeLuise… all good things come to their eventual end, alas.
“Okay, ‘King Lear’!” a (suddenly) hale and hearty-seeming Fly-Man growls. “Knock it off! You’re a ham, not ‘Hamlet’! So muffle the monologue! Bill Shakespeare, you’re not!”
(Try as I might: I can’t shake the unhappy image of a lonely, desperate Jerry Siegel seated at his battered old typewriter; knocking back shot after feverish shot of cheap rotgut, his mind racing like an amphetamined gerbil on a greased flywheel; wondering “… how in God’s name did it ever come to this? How? HOW? HOW — ?!?”)
It turns out, you see, that Fly-Man wasn’t power-bereft after all, really; nor was he ever the least little bit unawares that the stupefied Spider was loitering about the amusement park in clownish motley.
“How could that be possible?” the villain splutters, bound and helpless in some hastily-spun Fly-Man “steel-tough webbing.”
“What you didn’t know, Spider” the hero smugly explains, “was that a real spider, lurking in a cobweb, saw you come and assume that clown- dummy pose! […] I egged on my friends into a free-for-all, so that I could whisper the news about your secret presence to them, during the scuffle!”
“Fly-Man said he’d pretend the hour during which he could have super-powers was up!” a grinning Shield concludes, sensing (in his uncanny way) that the comic has only one more page to go, in any event.
Doubtless fed up with having wasted his time and energies in support of a story so ineptly engineered as this one, the sulky Spider activates a fail-safe device secreted on his ample person and teleports the heck outa Dodge; leaving the nonplussed paladins to ponder the relative merits of this whole “Mighty Crusader” business, while a waiting world holds its collective breath in eager anticipation.
I don’t make the news, people; I just report it, is all.
“Hold it, letterer!” the final caption self-aggrandizingly blares and simpers. “This isn’t The End by a long shot! There’s something important to decide! Readers, write today! Tell us if “The Mighty Crusaders” should be organized or not! Write: “MIGHTY CRUSADERS” Dept., Radio Comics, Inc., 241 Church Street, New York, N.Y., 10013! Your decision can influence COMICS HISTORY!!!”
All right, then. Unca Cheeks assumes that at least a bare handful of the regular vistors to this site currently reside in the NYC area.
What I want you special, select readers to do for me, please, is this:
A.) Hie thee hence, to 241 Church Street.
B.) Enter the building located thereon.
C.) Make absolutely stone certain there are no survivors.
I think we all owe a gentle, sorely mistreated man by the name of “Jerry Siegel” that bloody much, if nothing else.
Be here bright’n’early next week, kiddies, as we continue our embarrassed, pained examination of the Siegel-written “Mighty Crusaders” characters of the 1960s… with especial emphasis on The Shield; The Black Hood; The Web; and other four-color fancies and failures too dire and awful to long contemplate.
What you’ve seen, thus far, is the quality stuff, comparatively speaking.
Trust me: you’ll all be begging on your hands and knees for more “Boppo,” “Flipsy” and “Basher,” before this sorry sonata has reached its final coda.
Damn, but you guys are good.
I preface this week’s entry in this — our ongoing, oh-my-God look at the almost breathtakingly awful ARCHIE Comics super-heroes of the swingin’ ’60s — with a timely and informative clarification of same, courtesy of reader Tom Brevoort. To wit:
“The current piece on the Archie/Radio Comics heroes is as neat-o keen as usual. However, you made one mistake that I figured I’d point out. While the Comet did make his first appearance in PEP COMICS #1 (drawn by the terrific Jack Cole), all of that latter-day stuff about Altrox wasn’t grafted on until much later, in the 60s (when the character was first revived in THE FLY, before it switched over to FLY-MAN.)
“The Comet has the distinction of being the very first super hero ever to be killed off–and fairly permanently, as these things go. In the 17th issue of PEP, the Comet was gunned down while protecting his brother and his fiancee, and the brother subsequently became the Hangman to avenge his death. The whole business about Altrox was used in the 60s to explain how it was that the Comet was still alive (as though anybody who’d read the original Comet stories in 1940 would still care.)
“More than you wanted to know, I’m sure–but I figure it’s better to straighten this sort of error out quickly, rather than see it perpetuated in the future.”
The management would like to offer its most blushing and genuine thanks to the good Mr. Brevoort, for rendering considerably more lucid its goggle-eyed explication of the origin of the Comet, on Page One of this entry.
Whereas your Unca Cheeks has Silver Age comic books all but falling out of his hemorrhoidal li’l hinder, here; I have yet (to date) to read or own so much as a single Golden Age MLJ/Radio Comics issue. I hang my head in grateful acknowledgment of the gentleman’s scholarship.
Eye for detail like that: the man ought to be an editor.
(… and — so long as we’re about this whole “thankyouthankyou” business: similarly appreciative kudos to the eighteen or twenty of you, out there, who correctly identified longtime Silver Age Martian Manhunter artist Joe Certa as the uncredited penciler of the gape-
inducing JET DREAM AND HER STUNT-GIRL COUNTERSPIES, of a few weeks ago. Maybe I should just sit back and let all of you fellahs do these frickin’ pages, from here on out.)
It seems to me that I recall promising you all a detailed explication of the origin of Silver Age Shield last week.
“The Origin of the Shield” [THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS #1; November, 1965; Jerry Siegel, author; Paul Reinmann (I think) penciler] provides us precisely that; as well as an informative (if fleeting) glimpse of his Golden Age predecessor, as well.
Let’s see if I can keep from screwing this one up, at any rate.
As per Jeff Rovin’s invaluable volume, THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SUPER-HEROES: “Joe [Higgins] is as boy when his father, Tom, an FBI investigator, is killed in an explosion. Before dying, the amateur chemist tells the boy about a secret formula he’d been working on, code-named SHIELD.” (He’s an “amateur chemist”… and he gives his fumbling basement concoctions code names? Ooookay. Whatever.)
“Joe comes to school and becomes a brilliant chemist — ”[You can tell he’s “brilliant,” in that he, at least, hasn’t blown himself up. Yet.]
” — completing his father’s formula and learning that SHIELD stands for Sacrum, Heart, Innervation, Eyes, Lungs and Derma. However, before he is able to get the formula into those portions of his anatomy, Joe learns from an agent the identity of his father’s killer.”
“Impulsively going after the man, Joe is beaten and left at the site of another explosion. Severely injured, he drags himself back to his laboratory […] rubs it (the SHIELD formula) into his body, then dons a special suit containing ‘a catalytic agent that, when bathed in fluoroscopic rays, will cause the formula to be absorbed.’ ” (… and I know I, for one, would be willing to pay Top Comics Dollar for a glimpse of the sequence in which this goober sets to briskly rubbing said super- liniment into his own “innervation,” by golly. Easy to tell this was written before the onset of the Comics Code.)
“[…] Joe finds his genetic structure altered so that he possesses super-strength […]; has the power to leap incredible distances; and is able to withstand both gunfire and temperatures up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. Symbolically ‘jazzing up’ the equally indestructible suit with a patriotic theme […] he adopts the alter-ego of: the Shield.”
Right. Okay. So, then: that’s the colorful, energetic fellow you saw barreling his burly way into a crowd of no-goodniks, in the previous page reproduction. Big, bad Joe Higgins: the Golden Age Shield.
Apparently — supremely dopey origin story notwithstanding — the genial Joe has been quite the effective little crimebuster, overall; because we witness “a meeting of the kingpins of crime,” during which a gaggle of gangland gunsels collectively pony up the moolah requisite to their hiring of an Extra Chunky paid assassin by the name of “the Eraser.” [Again: see page reproductions, above and below]
I’m not necessarily saying this guy’s fat, mind, now; just pointing out that [Pick One]:
A.) … his first choice for a waycool super-villainous “code name” was: “the Mighty Lard Ass!”
B.) … if they’d ever gotten around to shooting a film version of this saga, back in the ’60’s: they woulda signed William Conrad to play this guy.
C.) … he “killed hisself a b’ar/ When he was only three”… and then ate it.
D.) … he has a standing reward of $10,000 ready for anyone who can provide information leading to reliable confirmation of whether or not he actually has feet.
E.) … lookit: the guy’s just freakin’ huuuuuuuuge, all right?
In any event: the Eraser manages to effect a faux communiqué from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, stating that the Shield is to meet a contact at “The Museum of Arch- Villains”; there to receive information “urgent to our nation’s security!”
“I am the Eraser,” the gargantuan gunsel informs Our Hero, lumbering his elephantine way out from the shadows. “… and you are a dead man!”
“A trap, eh?” the Shield sneers, by way of response. “Many have tried to destroy me! Be my guest!”
Illustrating the ages-old super-hero maxim that “Courtesy Kills, Dammit”: the two-ton thugee elects to do precisely that, by means of (*gasp*) his fabulous “Metalor Ion-Gun.”
Transforming the rather stiffly-posed Shield into “a non-living iron statue,” the Eraser promptly calls it a career and quits the whole “This Gun For Hire” shebang.
“Since I can never top this achievement,” he informs his most recent (and final) clients; “… I hereby retire!”
Okay… two quick observations, here:
1.) “Since I can never top this achievement”…? Geez louise, fellah: what’s to “top” here, anyway? The guy all but begged you to take a “freebie” shot at him; and then just stood there — rooted to the very spot — while you struggled to extricate your “Metalor Ion-Whoozis” from that yard or three of coaxial cable you’ve been using to keep your friggin’ pants up! And this is the crowning achievement of your criminal career, f’chrissakes? What have you been snuffing for the past umpty- whatever years, anyway: nuns? Blind people? Little baby bunnies, mebbe…?
2.) “The Museum of ARCH-VILLAINS” — ?!?
It is a happy and contented gangland underworld, then, that goes about its wretched business with what surely must be a collective sigh of relief, now that the pesky, bothersome Shield is no longer around to play the spandexed fly, re: their villainous ointment…
… or: is he?
One thing’s for certain, in any event: somebody’s taken to be-bopping about in the present day, alongside all the other members (Fly-Man; Fly- Girl; the Comet; and the Black Hood) of the Mighty Crusaders; a red-headed, suqare-jawed “somebody” who bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain other red-white-and-blue super-type guy, in plain point of fact.
Quicker’n you can say “gimme my money back, Walrus-Butt!”, the (now retired) Eraser is summoned to appear before a consternated council of the underworld elite.
“I don’t know how the Shield can live again,” the Wide-Load Wastrel confesses; “… but I have emerged from retirement to finish the job I botched… at no extra fee!”
“Just spread the word around” (he continues) “that there’s a plot to steal the Statue of Liberty. [!!!] Once again, I’ll lure the Shield into a death-trap!”
(“… spread the word around”…?)
(“… spread… the word… AROUND” –?)
(HOW, PRAY TELL, PRECISELY, DOES ONE PROPERLY SET ABOUT TO “SPREADING THE WORD AROUND” THAT “THERE”S A PLOT TO STEAL THE STATUE OF @#$%ING LIBERTY,” ANYWAY?!? Huh? HUH?!? Just how does one decently do dat dere t’ing, anyhoo?[SUPER-HERO (approaching his favorite “stoolie,” from out of the nicotine’d mists of some seedy waterfront dive): “Fast Eddie. Talk to me, snitch. What’s the word been on the streets, these past few days…?” [FAST EDDIE (from the side of his mouth; never looking up from the “Shirley Temple” he’s been sullenly nursing all evening): Well, now.. lemme see if I can recollect a mite, Mister SOOOOper HEEEEroh… “Fingers” Finnegan is layin’ low over on “B” Street, after dat last big bank job… [The Super-Hero nods once, silently; Fast Eddie goes on. [FAST EDDIE (continuing): Hmmmm… now that I pauses to consider it: I t’ink I hoid somet’in ’bout your old arch-enemy, Doctor Suppository, hirin’ hisself some out-of-town muscle for anudder one o’ his ‘revenge schemes’ ‘gainst you… [The Super-Hero nods again; a thin, humorless smile creasing his movie matinee idol features. [SUPER-HERO (approvingly): “You’ve done good, Eddie. Looks like you’ve bought yourself another quiet evening, then; one without any broken bones or assorted asswhuppings. [FAST EDDIE (snapping his fingers in sudden recollection): Oh, yeah! I almost forgot! Dere’s a plot t’steal da Statue of Liberty! [There is a long, elastic moment of silence, then; as the Super-Hero stares wordlessly at his idiotically beaming underworld informant… [… and then: the former whips out a Glock from somewhere within the voluminous folds of his night-ebon cape… and promptly blows the latter’s head right off his shoulders, at point-blank range. [SUPER-HERO (sarcastically): ” ‘… a plot to steal the Statue of Liberty.’ Riiiiight. Dickweed.”]
Well… be that as it may: said “word” is, in fact, disseminated throughout the lower underworld ranks; and the Eraser does find himself squaring off, once again, versus a maddeningly familiar star- spangled sentinel.
“I developed the Space-Warpine especially for you, old foe!” the Eraser snarls; lobbing a particularly ludicrous-looking frammistat in the Shield’s general direction.
“I’ve got something for you, too, old shmoe!” the Patriotic Paladin quips, by way of reply. “Namely, a kick in the slats! SKAT, rat!”
“C-Can’t s-stop from falling into my own ghastly trap!” said rat squeals, falling into his own ghastly trap. “YIIIIII — !!”
“He’s puffing out of existence,” the Shield observes, as both hitman and hyper-device vanish in a shoddily-rendered coruscation of other-worldly energies. “… and so is that deadly gadget! Its ray transported him to some place that’s probably light-years away from Earth!”
Retiring, then, to the shadowy confines of his super-secret “cavern sanctum,” the Shield pays silent homage to a life-sized metal statue of… himself (?!?).
“No one knows the Shield had a son,” the modern-day myrmidon muses; “… and that now I’ve grown to manhood, I am carrying on your career in the great tradition you established!” (Allowing yourself to be super-simonized for life by a tutu-sheathed Orson Welles is “establishing a great tradition”…?)
Verily, then: t’is a silly origin.
Let’s see if the perpetually grim-visaged Black Hood can do any better, shall we…?
“While on his night beat” (so sayeth the ever-reliable Rovin) “[patrolman] Kip Burland comes across a skeleton robbing a mansion. Before the officer can react, the costumed robber (named the Skull) slugs him unconscious; plants some of the jewelry in his hand; and blows Burland’s whistle before running off.” (Boy… there’s a euphemism I’d never heard before, by golly…!)
(Incidentally: have fun comparing the accompanying Golden Age origin recital with the ’60s-rendered Silver Age version, in the page reproductions immediately following. The details differ, here and there… but: the baseline particulars all seem pretty much the same, by and large.)
“Burland is arrested for the crime and stripped of his badge, Nonetheless, as soon as he is released on bail, he goes after the real criminal.” (That would be ARCHIE Comics publisher John L. Goldwater, to my way of thinking; but, then… I’m not the fellah so mind-bogglingly secure in his own masculinity that he elects to gad about town in lemon custard-y Underoos, neither. So: there you have it, then.)
“Unfortunately: he finds him… and this time gets shot and tossed from a car. Discovered by a hermit, Burland is nursed to health over a period of several months, during which time he learns that his savior was once the local sheriff, who was also framed by the Skull.”
(Five silver dollars to the first woman or man who can convincingly explain to a much-befuddled Unca Cheeks why a self-proclaimed “hermit” might reasonably be wandering the nighttime city streets of a major urban metropolis in the first place.)
“Together, the men build Burland’s mind and body to physical perfection. They also make him a costume, so that Burland can move about disguised as the avenging Black Hood.” (Gaunt, hag- ridden and obsessive urban vigilantes being far, far more inherently inconspicuous than some guy in a nice pair of Dockers… right?)
Okay… so: what we’re dealing with here (obviously) is a simple case of “Batman Lite,” then. (Sample dialogue from one of the Hood’s gloomy “solo” adventure outtings, by way of corroborative evidence: ” […] the very Fates are gloating over the dark destiny inflicted upon me by the fiend who walks like a man: Bulgy-Eyes!”)
(I said “Batman Lite.” You never heard me say so much as Word One to the effect that we were talkin’ “Batman Good,” here.)
The few (largely cosmetic) alterations made in the overall “cut” in the jib of the origin, betwixt 1940 and 1965, seem rather more calculated to precisely that end: allowing the ARCHIE/Radio Comics group, in general (and “the Mighty Crusaders,” in particular) to have their (quasi-) Bruce Wayne, and… ummmmm… “eat it,” too.
(Geez… don’t you just hate watching a perfectly good metaphor wheeze; stagger; and drop stone dead in its traces like that…?)
Since I do not, alas, possess anything like a full and complete run of the “super-hero” ARCHIE comics of the day, as of this writing; I’m going to leave this particular “chapter” in the discussion of same with a handful of questions for anyone out there more knowledgable on the subject than myself to answer, via e-mail, for the enjoyment of the readership as a whole.
Here we go, then:
1.) When; where; how; and (for God’s sake) why did the Black Hood shift from “the world’s fastest motorcycle” [see panel reproduction, above] to that dopey, two-bit flying mechanical horsey of his, anyway…?
2.) Concerning one of our characters from a previous page: none of the ’60s comics I have ever show Fly-Man actually unholstering that wicked-looking firearm affixed to his belt. Just what in the name of Annie Oakley did that blody thing DO, anyway…?
3.) Go back and check out the page reproduction entitled “The Fly-Man’s Ultra-Pals,” as utilized in the Shield entry, above.
Notice how the character simply… appears in the last panel; all of a sudden, like…?
This was something repeatedly referenced in various and sundry MIGHTY CRUSADERS stories: the somewhat disconcerting (to the rest of his spandexed fellows, at least) fact that ARCHIE’s starred-and-striped sledgehammer would frequently just… wink into existence, whenever one of his aforementioned teammates happened to need him most desperately.
Was this ever explained, in the body of any SHIELD or MIGHTY CRUSADERS tale…?
Coming up next: a quick gander at my all-time favoritest character from the ARCHIE super-hero stable of the 1960s.
Ohhhhhhhh, baby! Is this next one ever gonna generate its fair share of e-mail…
… and then some.
I’m going to enjoy writing this one.
God alone knows what sort of audience the character of the ever- hapless “Professor John Raymond” — a.k.a., the hen-pecked hyper-hero better known (if seldom actually respected; either by costumed criminal recidivists or the ARCHIE readership, overall) as the Web — was meant to reach, sales- and/or apppeal-wise.
From Rovin: “When John [Raymond] was a child, his brother Tom was a juvenile lawbreaker. Tom continued his wicked ways and ended up in jail, while John — trying to understand what made his brother evil — studied psychology and criminology. Unsatisfied simply lecturing about crime, he became the Web, snaring criminals in events of their own making.” (Well… that certainly seems like quite the precipitous response to a little occupational ennui, I dare say.)
“He possesses no abilities beyond his criminology training and physically fit physique. The Web is married to the former Rose Wayne who, in the ’40s, forced him to give up his super-heroic career. But he compulsively returned to it in the ’60s, and — since then — his forays into crimefighting have bbeen the source of frequent domestic squabbles.”
Okay: obviously, it would be sheerest intellectual sophistry of the rankest “P.C.” sort to hold aging comics scribes of the early and mid-1960s to the same standards of gender awareness one might readily expect from today’s working professionals. One doesn’t criticize, after all, when an old wine bottle is corked and decanted; and wine of a corresponding vintage issues forth.
Each and every storytelling medium and/or genre, ultimately, is the product of its respective time and place.
(Your Exasperated and Eye-Rolling Unca Cheeks, in fact, actually knows of one such online message board habitué so ideologically [one might even venture so far as to term it fascistically] inclined; a multi- venued poster whose online “rep” — such as it is — is actually predicated upon “proving” such knock-kneed “kook”isms as [say] “All Silver Age comics scriveners were women-loathing maggots”; or that “All LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES scribes have been race-mongering swine.” Thereby proving essayist C.S. Lewis correct, ultimately, when the learned sir opined that: “Yes; there are genuine sins of the intellect.”)
Nonetheless: I think it fair and reasonable to point out that — even so early on in this nation’s history as the Johnson administration — the story detailed below was just….
… well: just plain ol’ wrong, is all.
“The Web Vs. the Viperous Villains” [MIGHTY COMICS #43; February, 1967; and I don’t even wanna know who wrote and/or drew the friggin’ thing, awright…?] opens up with the infamous Olympic Dish-Tossing sequence, reproduced above.
“A hundred times,” an enraged Rose Raymond hisses at her spandexed spouse. “A thousand times… a million times… I’ve begged you to junk this compulsion of yours to resume your career as the crusading Web! […] I’ll stop you, even if I have to knock you out… for your own good!”
“I’ve learned where that diabolical crook Mr. Scare is pulling his latest caper,” the heroic hubby explains, lovingly twisting his wife’s throwing arm up and back behind her head. “I’ve got to foil him! ‘Bye, Rose!”
Launching himself through the open living room window like a blonde, superbly-muscled lobbed brick, the Web vaults into high-octane super-hero action; pausing only long enough to initiate massive internal hemorrhaging in the corpus of the luckless neighborhood mailman.
“Oh-oh!” the Web muses, mournfully. “The mailman! It’s amazing how often he keeps getting in my way, whenever I leap into action!”
“Sorry, friend!” the hot-footed hero tosses over his shoulder, by way of explanation. “That was strictly unintentional! You have my sincere super-apology!”
Only Page Three… and, already: we are deep, waaaaay deep into The Valley of the Shadow of the Goober, here.
“A little later, before a bank” the following caption instructs; “… a man in a bizarre elf-costume distributes marbles to a group of eaager youngsters.”
I know; I know. Not exactly Secret Society of Super-Villains territory, is it…?
“Marbles from Mr. Elf to you!” the Ross Perot lookalike coos silkily to the eager, shoving throng of little crumb-snatchers surrounding him. “Have fun, little chums!”
No mere comics scribe could possibly be expected to maintain a storytelling pace so breakneck and heart-stopping as this for long, naturally; and so our auctorial focus shifts to a nearby bank robbery, where the heist-meisters in question are using the nearby rugrat ruckus as impromptu “cover” for their vehicle-less getaway.
Quickly dispatching the runaway robbers by means of a handful of marbles, the keenly-intuitive Web immediately turns his antagonistic attentions towaards the aforementioned “elf” and his jumpsuited ally; opining, in mid-tackle, that: “I’m sure that your causing the gathering of all these kids during the progress of a hold-up was much more than mere coincidence!”
(There’s no way any of us can ever be absolutely certain of such a thing, of course… but: the foregoing may well stand, unchallenged, as the single most hopelessly knock-kneed and inelegant attempt at expository sentence structure in the history of the comics medium, entire. Quite the enviable little linguistic feat, really; given that we are talking about the same field of meta-fictive endeavor which blessed us with the auctorial likes of Mike Friedrich and Joe Simon. I’m just sayin’, really.)
“Ah-HA!” Our Hero exults, tearing away the elf-guy’s rubber mask to reveal [Pick One]:
A.) “I was sure that elf-mask hid the features of Mr. Scare, the wily gangleader!”
B.) “I was sure that elf-mask hid the features of Mitch Miller, the wily bandleader!”
C.) “I was sure that elf-mask hid the features of Suzie Rabinowitz, the wily high school cheerleader!”
D.) “Omigawd! It’s… my mailman! And he’s packin’ hisself an Uzi! No! NOOOOOOOO — !”
Unfortunately for our arachnid action hero, however: Mr. Scare really and truly is a wily sort of fellow; as amply demonstrated by his having the felonious foresight to tote along a genuinely super-powered accomplice, in the form of the jumpsuited Stunner.
Momentarily immobilizing the Web with but the merest touch of one of his “paralyzing stun-gloves,” the Stunner helps Mr. Scare to effect a hasty escape; thereby giving the green-and-yellow Gilgamesh a nice, round, fat batting average of 0.00, nabbing-the-bad-guys-wise.
Wending his webbed way homeward once more, our hard-luck hero arrives just in time to be greeted by both a beatifically-smiling Rose and the hearty, heady aroma of home-cooked noodles.[“Noodles: the He-Man Dinner Supplement Endorsed By Eight Out of Ten Spandexed, Self-Aggrandizing Nutbars! Noodles Really Satisfy! Try Noodles — Today! N-O-O-D-L-E-S!”]
“I cooked them exactly the way you like them, dearest!” the winsome Rose all but purrs, in wifely solicitude. “I even added a rare, exotic seasoning I’m sure you’ll adore!”
Said “exotic seasoning,” apparently, is a little Betty Crocker-ish something my mom used to refer to — with a twinkle in her dear little eye; not the glass one; the other one — as: “third degree burns a la mode.”
“ROSE — !!” a bizarrely blase Raymond under-emotes; his brand new noodle “do” making him look disturbingly like pop chanteuse Sheryl Crow. “What an unfortunate accident!”
That’s not the only “unfortunate accident” awaiting discovery hereabouts, however.
Not with five pages yet to go, in this tawdry, fetid little five-finger four-color exercise.
“John doesn’t tell me everything,” a tight-lipped Rose fumes to herself, mounting a particularly seamy-seeming staircase on the “bad” side o’ town. “Well… I have my little secrets, too!”
A mere heartbeat later: a worn oaken door swings open with an anguished shriek of tortured hinges… and we see the Fly-Man. Nekkid. Except for his socks, and a wide, expectant grin of commingled lust and —
… all right. That one was way, waaaay out of line. I can admit that much.
In actual point of fact: Rose has — inexplicably — been training “under the supervision of an expert instructor, [practicing] a series of athletic feats and judo manuevers that would amaze her husband, could he but observe them…”
“Mrs. Raymond,” the lady’s aforementioned “expert instructor” enthuses (we know he’s her instructor, see; thanks to the bright yellow INSTRUCTOR sweatshirt adorning his beefy, muscular frame); “… you’re terrific! These weeks of training have turned you into the best I ever had! You are tops!” [Insert Tasteless Joke Here.]
Okay. I haven’t felt the actual need to issue one of these things, these past few months or so…
… but: right here —
— right NOW —
… any of you relentlessly masochistic li’l poindexters reading these words out there wanna bail: now is most definitely the time. And then some.
All right, then. Just so long as my conscience is clear, at any rate.
Spying upon her couch-banished hubby later that same evening, Rose watches with narrowed eyes as the good (if mildly obsessive) professor slips out into the night, suitably spandexed for yet another go-round versus the still-at-large Mr. Scare.
“And now,” the very next caption breathlessly informs us; “… another secret of Rose becomes known to you ardent fans of the Web and his family…!”
… and with no more preamble than that: fully half of Unca Cheeks’ readership found themselves mysteriously transformed into pillars of salt.
“The costume of Pow-Girl!” a smug Rose muses inwardly. “For that’s what I’ve decided to call myself, in my secret identity! Since my darling insists on taking crazy chances as the Web, somebody’s got to look after his safety!”
My God, but I love the Silver Age of comics!
We finally get to see something a little more action-packed than toppled-over mailmen or near-lethal bowls of noodles, as the Web tracks down and beards the dastardly duo of Mr. Scare and the Stunner in their larcenous lair.
“Remember always,” a solicitous Web counsels, whilst sending hood after cheap hood tumbling ass- over-teakettle during the ensuing melee; “… that it was your own trail of evil that led to your undoing!” (Ohhhhhh… go to bed, old man! Go to BED — !)
Just as they did the first time, however: events reach the perilous pass whereby a smirking Stunner is but scant heartbeats away from quick-frying the Web’s nervous system to a crackly crunch…
… whennnnnnnn: along comes… POW-GIRL!
(You know… there’s absolutely no way in hell to type something like that without it sounding just as brain-dead as the yodeled chorus of your average Beastie Boys song. Just. No. Freakin’. Way. At. All.)
“Pow-Girl is the name!” a domino masked Rose coyly informs her still-brawling hubby, effecting a personal introduction between a startled Stunner’s head and the nearest floor.
“Yeah? You weren’t misnamed!” a grateful Web responds. “Great fightin’, ma’am!”
(It’s sort of like an episode of McMillan and Wife, I suppose. Only with… like… spandex. And goofy “code names.” And moderately less coherent storytelling.)
“Now that I’ve tipped off the police,” an exhausted Web concludes, in the post-battle afterglow; “… I must go!”
“Wait!” a scheming Rose/”Pow-Girl” entreats him. “I think you and I have the makings of a great crime-fighting team! Shall we seal our new partnership with a kiss?”
(“I’m sure he loves me,” the masked minx rationalizes to herself; “… but there’ll be no harm done if I make this little test!”)
“Did you say… a kiss??!!” the Web stammers, swallowing past the beach ball-sized lump of frozen terror suddenly lodged in his throat.
(You know: I’d be willing to lay 8-to-5 odds that this poor guy’s bedroom sees less “action” than a copy of GQ Magazine at Dennis Rodman’s house. Especially when you pause to reflect upon what we’ve seen of his sorry homelife up to this point.)
“Sorry, Pow-Girl!” the Web manages to blurt out, before swinging out and away into the night. “I’m a loner, and not a super-hero playboy! I gotta go now! Thanks again for saving me from destruction!”
Let’s try that last bit again, after processing it through the handy-dandy Unca Cheeks Dialogue Codex… shall we? ;))
“Sorry, Pow-Girl! I’m a [p-whipped uberwuss, who’s reduced to channeling his seething, continually sublimated sexual energies into violent, nighttime vigilante-slash-quasi-fascistic activities], and not a [well-adjusted individual who ought to be left alone with small children]! I gotta go [take a very long, extremely cold shower] now! Thanks again for [allowing me to drool over more shapely female flesh than my own wife has flashed me with in the last month, f’chrissakes]!”
The Unca Cheeks Dialogue Codex: “… because with great power… comes great responsibility!”
The story (I’m in a good mood, tonight; I’m feeling charitable, overall) ends with one of those cutesy little I Love Lucy/I Married Joan-style “moments” so common to (and beloved by) both television sitcoms and super-hero comics of the period; with Rose all but winking and mugging at the audience, and a concluding caption hectoring and huckstering the reader, re: this whole sordid “Pow-Girl” business. (“How about it, Mighty readers? Should Rose quit hen-pecking the Web? Should she on occasion, or even frequently, become Pow-Girl again?”)
In actuality: the only bloody thing they had any business asking their readership for, after this fetid little four-color folly, was forgiveness.
Be here bright and early next week, people.
After a solid year and a half: I finally have a comic book quantifiably worse than the nigh-legendary DOUBLE-DARE ADVENTURES (“starring Bee-Man!”) to share with the whole, happy lot of you.
Oh, yes indeedy.
WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!
You can’t even imagine how much this one is going to hurt.
“Too Many Super-Heroes” [THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS #4; April, 1966; Jerry Siegel, perpetrator; Paul Reinmann, co-conspirator] opens up with “quickie” vignettes of the various members of the Mighty Crusaders (Fly-
Man; Fly-Girl; the Shield; the Comet; and the Black Hood) in their respective “secret identities,” responding in their various trademarked ways to an “emergency team meeting summons.”
(My two personal favorites — both nicely represented here — are the sequences involving Bill [Shield] Higgins and John [Comet] Dickering, respectively. The former’s ongoing “shtick,” see, was that — due to his continually being forced to dart off in response to this super-heroic emergency or that one — he was plainly incapable of holding a decent, well-paying job for more than, say, twenty-four hours; thus being reduced to the most unrewarding and demeaning sorts of brute “donkey” work.
(The latter’s “gimmick,” plainly and simply, was this: the poor s.o.b. couldn’t get himself laid if he started loitering about the neighborhood TruValue Hardware outlet, disguised as a gigantic floor tile.)
Okay: that’s pretty much everything this four-color thalidomide baby of a comic has to offer us, by way of genuine storytelling enjoyment.
From this point onward: it’s all hot, bitter tears of shame and degradation.
Once gathered together in spandexed congress, the members of the Crusaders set about to bickering and squabbling in what one may only reasonably intuit as writer Siegel’s spavined interpretation of the Jack Kirby/Stan Lee-driven Marvel Comics approach of the Silver Age.
“If you quit the Crusaders and went back to being a loner, Black Hood,” a smirking Shield wisecracks; “that wouldn’t aggravate me at all!”
“You’ll get a crack on the jaw for that crack, Shield!” a bellicose Black Hood ripostes, feebly. ” […] Your head’ll be as red, white and blue as your cornball costume!”
Speak the Devil’s name, and he shall appear: no sooner have the hot-headed helpmeets been forcibly separated by Fly-Man and Fly-Girl, than a brand new feebosaurus bursts his way through the storytelling foliage. All of a sudden, like.
“Yes… the Fireball!” the satorially-challenged gent trumpets, serving as his own narrator, on the cheap. “I’ve come out of retirement, because I think the Mighty Crusaders is the greatest thing since the invention of the pizza pie! I want to join!”
(According to the oft-referenced Rovin: this geriatric goofus — real name: Ted Tyler — gained his powers by “going into a laboratory which has been set ablaze by the Bug.” Whoever the hell that might be.
(” […] knocked unconscious by the arsonist and left to die, [Tyler] is bathed in a chemical which gives him the ability to control and even absorb fire.” Not to mention eating away at the portion of his brain responsible for formulating the awareness that — hey — “shortie” shorts are seldom, if ever, suitable crime-fighting attire for a codger. I’m just sayin’, all right? That’s all.)
Regaling the hapless Crusaders with dramatic recountings of his pitiably low-rent spandexed exploits, the Fireball is joined by yet two more Crusader wannabes: Inferno and the Firefly.
“Two Brand X pale imitations of me!” the Fireball derisively snorts of the aforementioned pair, as they come putt-putt-putting along astride their adorable little motor scooter. “I’ll comb them out of your hair, Crusaders!”
(Rovin: “Devoting his life to the study of insects, [chemist Harley Hudson] discovers that their proportionately great strength, leaping ability and other powers derives from” — I kid you not — ” ‘wonderful muscular coordination.’ Mastering this talent himself, he […] chooses the secret identity of the Firefly.” Inferno, on the other hand, is a reformed super-villain of some sort; whose peculiar talent is that of swallowing ambient flames and… ummmm… spitting them back out at folks. Or somesuch. I s’pose.
(Lookit: Unca Cheeks is still trying to wrap his brain — not to mention this here bottle of Everclear — ’round that whole “wonderful muscular coordination” bit o’ business, all right…?)
The trio of farenheit feebs set to tussling with one another in a limp and desultory manner; all the better to determine, you see, which one of them most deservedly merits inclusion within the fighting ranks of the Mighty Crusaders.
“You applicants can borrow that Crusaders craft,” the Fly-Man solemnly intones, breaking things up. “Prove you are worthy of joining our team by doing good deeds! We’ll watch you on our monitor!”
“Do that,” Fireball snorts; “… and learn how superior I am to these clods!”
“You’re superior only in conceit!” an angry Inferno retorts. Ummm… heatedly. [*rimshot*]
(Every time you hear that *rimshot*: Unca Cheeks gets to shake hands again with his old pal, “Mr. Everclear.” In self-defense.)
Meanwhile: in the tastefully appointed suburban home of “Professor John Raymond” — a.k.a. the relentlessly p-whipped Web — said hero is sulkily swabbing dirty dishes, and dreaming of low-rent glories long vanished.
“To think that I — who was once the famed Web — have sunk so low,” the unhappy hubby silently soliloquizes; “… that instead of cleaning up on malefactors, I’m… wiping dishes –”[SIDE TO ALL THE LADIES SCOPING OUT THIS HERE ENTRY: Okay. Look out, now. Here it comes –]
“… while my wife Rosie, bless her heart, is weeping tears over a stupid sopa opera!”
“Watch out, Sarah!” the good Mrs. Raymond moans from the adjoining room, staring wide-eyed and agog at the television screen. “Marcia is out to steal your husband!”
Oh, Jerry… Jerry — !
Bewailing his wimpy lot in life, Raymond slips out under the flimsy pretext of “needing a little exercise.” (“I’ll duck into those bushes,” the soon-to-be-arrested-for-Indecent-Exposure professor resolves; “… doff this dreary, drab garb… and become the glamorous Web once more… Rosie or no Rosie!”)
It’s a happy and contented Web, then, who strides the daytime streets of suburbia in full, foppish regalia; seeking out action; adventure; and any stray, cookie-peddling Girl Scouts in need of a good, solid ass-whupping, by jingo!
*Whew*! All of this pulse-pounding drama and high-octane characterization has your gentle Unca Cheeks just plain ol’ worn out.
A snazzy-lookin’ customized black sedan screeches to a halt directly alongside our Sidewalk Super-Savior; piloted by the Fox, with (God take away this bottle if I lie) Bob Phantom and Blackjack lounging about in the rumble seat.
“Some of us fellows got together,” the Fox helpfully explains to a nonplussed Web. “We decided that, great though it is, the Mighty Crusaders needs us! You remember Blackjack and Bob Phantom, don’t you?” To which a frankly incredulous Web responds, in turn [Pick One]:
A.) [excitedly]: “Do I? WOW!”
B.) [excitedly]: “Do I? WOW! WORLD’S LAMEST COMICS #471; March, 1943! “… And Men Shall Call Him: THE HEMORRHOID!” What an adventure we had then, eh, fellahs — ?!?”
C.) “Oh, hell yes! Best little pair of grocery baggers our neighborhood’s “Piggly-Wiggly” has ever seen, is all! How ya doin’ back there, Herbie? Your mom still have that rash –?”
D.) [winking broadly at the Fox]: “Still pulling ’em in from the high school wrestling team with that creaky old ‘be my costumed sidekick’ dodge, are ya? You twisted, degenerate animal freak, you.”
E.) ” ‘Bob Phantom,’ my ass. You three sailors wanna party: it’s gonna be fifty buckaroonies. Each.”
Everclear: “… Because Booze Really Satisfies.”
(Blackjack: “police detective Jack Jones,” who “while playing his favorite card game — blackjack — at police headquarters, is pulled away to interview a wounded robber about his gang. Jones is captured [by said gang], and — as chance would have it — is walled up with a playing card: the Jack of spades. Managing to work the card through the concrete [!!], Jack is able to breathe until rescued, and adopts a vengeful new identity: Blackjack.”)
(“Managing to work his card through the concrete”…?)
(The Fox: “Angry with himself for continually bungling shots of crime as it’s happening, DAILY GLOBE photographer Paul Patton […] decides to become a crimefighter, just to be on the scene when the law is broken. Experimenting with the costumed identities of the Zebra and Ape Lad, he settles upon the Fox. […] Despite his extraordinary fitness, however: after several years of two-fisted action, the Fox gets cornered; beaten up; and left for dead in a trashcan.” Which — apparently — didn’t “take.” Dammit.
(“The Zebra,” huh? Must have been a black-and-white photographer, then.) [*rimshot*] [sound of frenzied, liquid gulping]
(Bob Phantom; no origin listed. Thank you, Jesus!)
In less time than it takes to get to the top of Page Eight, the Web and Company are milling about with all the rest of the spandexed also-rans in the Crusaders’ mammoth open field HQ, loudly and arrogantly staking their rightful claim to team membership.
“We’ve come to join the Mighty Crusaders!” the Fox barks. “Shield — try to lay one on me right here! I insist!”
“I’ll oblige!” the Shield responds, on the (apparent) grounds that anyone willingly hanging out with the sorry likes of Bob Phantom and the Web is pretty much just begging for it, anyway.
“Missed me!” the ebon non-entity gloats, as the Shield’s haymaker lands foursquare on the chin of a startled Blackjack. “Now you know why I’m called the Fox! Foxy, huh?” (Geez… now I’m really sorry he didn’t settle on “The Zebra.”)
Articles of nomenclature aside, however: a wild, swinging free-for-all breaks out amongst the pin-headed petitioners, with an aggrieved Blackjack taking his burly frustrations out on a startled Web, and the Fox (inexplicably) taking a poke at Bob Phantom.
“You’re disappearing!” the Fox exclaims, as his opponent of choice does precisely that.
“A typical Bob Phantom maneuver!” the latter smugly replies.
(Oh, booze… sweet booze… you’re the only one who truly understands me…)
While all of this is going on, however: Fireball, Inferno and the Firefly are tussling with a Komodo-headed baddie by the rather lackluster name of the Dragon, in a doomed attempt to demonstrate that they really aren’t the crime-fighters who put the more in moron.[CHEEKS’ ASIDE: … oh, yeah… I almost forgot: the Fox pauses long enough during the brawl he started in the first bloody place to plant a quick, spandexed peck on the cheek of a blushing and demure Fly-Girl. [“How cute!” the shapely sidekick thinks, smiling coquettishly. [“I resent that!” a grim Fly-Man fumes, impotently. [“I wonder what sorts of home lives the ARCHIE Comics editors had,” a bewildered (and slightly inebriated) plush toy ponders. Not for the first time, either.]
In any event, however: it turns out that “the Dragon” is, in actuality, none other than former-hero-turned-heel the Hangman; “magic rope”-wielding no-goodnik at large and brother to Crusaders’ team member the Comet.
“Hee, hee!” the Hangman titters, brushing aside Fireball’s ineffectual attack. “Flaming youth, eh? Razz-ma-tazz and poop-poop-a-doop! 23 skidoo!”
“Wha — ??” a befuddled Fireball exclaims. (Welcome to the frickin’ club, Tights Boy.) “The rope fashioned itself into a gigantic loop, and my flames can’t pierce the super- frigidity barrier within it!” (… which scarcely seems any more coherent an observation to offer up, really, than does the aforementioned “Razz-ma-tazz and poop-poop-a- doop!”, to my way of thinking.) (Then again, however: I’m already on my second bottle… so: don’t go by me.)
“The craft got away in a burst of hyper-speed!” Fireball moans, as the Hangman makes good his escape. “… and the rope is zipping after it! We… failed…!”
“… but we put up a good fight!” a chipper (if somewhat delusional) Inferno reminds him. “I’m sure we made a good impression on our Mighty Crusaders buddy-pals!”
Upon returning to their aforementioned “buddy-pals,” however: the torrid twit threesome discover that their would-be comrades-in-arms are being beset a super-duper jumbo assortment of “flying robo-bombs!”
“The Hangman told his chum, the Wizard, to send us’ns to destrroy you’ns!” the devices metallically intone, in an uncanny simulation of the late Irene Ryan, circa THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES.
“Hundreds of robo-bombs!” the Fly-Man exclaims! “Fight, Crusaders — FIGHT! FIGHT!!!”
This, the augmented assemblage proceeds to do; and — although we don’t actually see them doing so, of course — we, as readers, can only imagine the thrills and excitement inherent in watching the Fox, dodging missles behind his teammates; Bob Phantom, courageously disppearing so as to avoid being struck; and the Web, whining piteously for his wife, Rosie, to save him.
“Unfortunately,” a despairing Comet observes; “… there are limits to the number of ’em I can destroy in time with my de-atomizing rays!”
“Have no fear!” a monocled and turbaned dinkasaurus pontificates, appearing from out of nowhere in a plume of other-worldly smoke. “Zambini, the Miracle Man is here!”
“Ditto, Kardak the Mystic Magician!” adds a second Mandrake wannabe, likewise turbaned (but sans momocle).
(No origins listed for either “Sigfried” or “Roy,” here, in Rovin’s ENCYCLOPEDIA. Which means that — whatever their respective origins — these two yip-yops were even less significant, character-wise, than Bob Phantom.)
The twin conjurors put the kibbosh on the robo-bombs, hastily tansforming them into “harmless foam rubber”; and then —
… oh, hell. What do you think?
“Don’t thank me,” an unctuous Zambini all but purrs. “Just accept me into the Crusaders!”
“No! Induct me,” an outraged Kardak huffs. “I’m an even mightier magician! Take that lie back, Zambini… or would you like to be turned into a snail?”
“Irk me not, Kardak!” the foppish Zambini cautions. “Else I shall transform you into the worm you truly are!”
“Gentlemen,” a despairing Fly-Man pleads with them both. “This is a Crusaders meeting, remember? Let’s preserve some dignity!”
This, the twin thaumaturges readily agree to do; and — yoking their respective mystic abilities in tandem — they obliterate Bob Phantom on the spot.
Welllllllllll… no. But it’s a nice dream, isn’t it…?
One captioned “Suddenly…” later, however, a solemn Kaardak intones: “Silence…! I sense great evil! Behold a picture of the menace… mind-projected onto yon mountainside!”
“A parade of giant balloon-figures!” the Black Hood helpfully interprets, realizing that the penciler’s artwork has illuminated this point with less than perfect clarity. “What’s so menacing about that?” (Revealing the one-time police officer to be, quite possibly, the only human being on the face of the planet never to suffer through one of Macy’s interminable “Thanksgiving Day” parades.)
The balloons are then burst from within, revealing themselves as mere Trojan Gasbags for their human payload: “Costumed men who bear the insignia of the Wizard and the Hangman […]!”
With a wholly admirable efficiency, the goofily-grinning gunsels set about to looting and plundering jewelry stores and whatnot; the hapless Crusaders collectively grinding their teeth at the sheer, unmitigated lawlessness of it all…
… when — oh, Sweet Jesus! — TWO MORE WASHED-UP SUPER- HEROES SHOW UP!
“It’s… none other than Steel Sterling!” an excited Shield ululates; “… propelled by his darlin’ Anti-Gravity Belt! Go, Steel, go — GO! Yippee!”[Rovin, once again: “When his father was killed by gangsters, young John Sterling decided to become a crime-fighter. Studying chemistry, he searched for something to give him[self] an ‘edge’ in his battle; what he found was a formula which, theoretically, would give his body the properties of steel.” [“Coating himself with the formula, he hesitated before taking the last step — diving into a cauldron of molten steel.” The big wussy-bear. [“Mustering his courage, he jumped in and emerged with tissue as mighty and impervious as metal. […] Although John can be dominated by magic or dazed by a blow to the head, his greatest worry are ‘solar flare-
ups,’ which cause his powers to ebb. […] His other powers include — ”[ … get this, will you…? [” — the ability to rub his electrolized tongue against his teeth to tap telephone wires, the sound coming from his mouth. Sterling’s companion is his pet dog, Honcho.” Whom Sterling doubtless lobbed into that vat of molten steel whilst the poor, put-upon poochie was asleep or somethin’, betcha. Betcha a dollar.] [Rovin then adds: “In a 1983 retelling of the story, Sterling is hypnotized by a star” — I presume he means “enormous, flaming ball of super-heated gasses,” here; rather than, say, Gabriel Kaplan or Erin Moran — “which compels him to walk through the flames at an iron foundry, whence he gets his powers. The star thereafter leads him to a garbage pail, where his costume has mysteriously been planted.” [There you have it, ladies and gents: the only “super-hero” in all of recorded four-color history to go dumpster-diving for his own costume.]
“Gun ‘im down!” the consternated cutpurses shout, understandably miffed. “Kill him! KILL STEEL STERLING!”
“I can’t outfly bullets!” a worried Sterling confesses, whizzing about in panicky confusion and frantically rubbing his tongue against his teeth. “I’m not that good!”
“But in that moment of unparalleled peril — ” (the very next caption shamelessly exposits); ” — an ethereal form blazes in, yawns its macabre mouth wide… wide… WIDE… AND THEN — ”
“Yum, yum!” the absolute silliest-looking “super-hero” yet chirrups, heartily swallowing the incoming projectiles. “Those bullets taste even better than gumdrops!”
“Mr. Justice!” a grateful Sterling enthuses. “I love ya, pal! Yeah!”[Rovin: “During the Rogers Rebellion in Scotland in 1040, England’s 20-year-old Prince James is lured to a tower of Castle Firth and slain by assassins. Because his destiny was thwarted by human intervention, James’ spirit is not allowed to rest, and –” [… well: no. No… I suppose I don’t much care either, really.]
“Gotcha, crumbs!” the Selfless Spook snarls, elongating one ectoplasmic arm and lassoing both malcontents simultaneously.
“No!” one of the fleeing felons shrills. Don’t hurt me!”
“I got brats to support!” the other one chimes in. “Think of them!”
“Shut up!” is the Deceased Do-Gooder’s cheerily Algonquin-ish reply. “Tell it to the judge!”
“Nicely done!” Sterling congratulates his spectral sidekick. “Now… let’s go join the Mighty Crusaders!”
(Geez-o-pete… what are these “Crusaders” nimrods offering in the way of team benefits, anyway: weekly “freebies” with Fly-Girl — ?!?)
“Meanwhile, at the mountain home of Captain Flag –” the very next caption provides…
“C’mon, Yank!” the red-white-and-blue figure thus referenced exhorts his companion, a massive bald eagle. “I’ve just learned of a terrible threat to the security of the United States!” All of a sudden, like.
Said “mountain home” can’t possibly be more than eight, maybe ten seconds away from Crusaders HQ, tops; because in the very next panel, Captain Flag is commanding” “Shield! There’s a danger to this country that can be best defended by you and me!”
“Lead me to it, Captain Flag!” a jubilant Shield responds, all but groveling in his eagerness to ditch this sorry “plot” for what cannot help but be a better one. “That eagle Yank sure is mighty!”
“Shield!” a youthful, similarly patriotically-bedecked figure exclaims, stepping out from a handy, nearby temporal-dimensional vortex-type whahoozie just as Shield and Flag are being borne aloft by the rapidly- herniating Yank. “Wait for your pal, Dusty!”
” ‘Twas I who transported Dusty out of the past, temporarily,” Zambini modestly confesses; “… for a reunion with his famed partner, the Shield!”
“… but I alone know I’m not the original Shield,” the glum Crusader inwardly soliloquizes; “… but am his… son! What will happen if Dusty learns the truth about me?”
More to the point, I think, are these questions, surely:
1.) So… like… this “Zambini” goombah just… I dunno… routinely resurrects dead-type people… without askin’ their friends and loved ones first or nothin’ — ?
2.) Did a clearly desperate Jerry Siegel really just introduce no fewer than EIGHTEEN FREAKIN’ COSTUMED CHARCATERS in but a scant fourteen pages…?
3.) “What will happen if Dusty learns the truth about me?” Hah! Better to worry about what Marvel Comics’ two-fisted, fightin’-mad attorneys might do, if anybody ever tumbles them onto this whole shamelessly lifted “dead patriotic boy sidekick” business!
Whatever the ultimate answers to these questions, however: I’m afraid you’ll all simply have to turn your (understandably) strained and flagging attentions to the page immediately following this one, for Part Two of “Too Many Super-Heroes!”
“A typical Cheeks, the Toy Wonder maneuver!”
I was just teasing, back on the previous page.
There is no “plot” here.
Just more hurting, is all.
You all thought your doting (if somewhat sadistic) Unca Cheeks was plain ol’ full of it, last week, when he warned that this one was gonna make DOUBLE-DARE ADVENTURES (“… starring Bee-Man!”) look like a cakewalk, by way of comparison.
Go on; admit it, now.
You all thought I was jes’ joshin’ y’all a mite, didn’tcha…?
“Meanwhile,” our introductory caption details; “… inside a government security agency building into which the Hangman has penetrated…”
“I’ll get a fortune from selling these military secrets to a foe of America!” the Hangman silently chortles, pleased that someone’s finally authored a sentence with his name and the word ‘penetrated’ both yoked in grammarial tandem.
“An enemy agent!” an eagle-eyed M.P. exclaims, racing towards the naughty knotsman with all the due alacrity and intent of a man who knows good and damned well those sensitive military secrets must never, no, never end up in the possession of America’s Sworn Foemen. (Those damned Swedes — !)
“The new Cellular-Immobilizer-Ray Pistol has rendered you unable to move!” the valiant guardsman announces, discharging said weapon at the Hangman point blank and paralyzing him, straightaway.
“Me, yes!” the Hangman observes with a wry, inward chuckle. “My magic rope… NO!”
Utilizing that selfsame coil of hyper-hemp, the hero-turned-hellion channels the paralytic power of the immobilizer ray and promptly stamps it Return To Sender; freezing the luckless non-com in a quick, impromptu session of Statue Tag.
The terrible tableau is shattered, however, by the window-smashing arrival upon the scene of that happy-go-lucky patriotic posse: the Shield; Captain Flag; and Buc — errrrrrr… I mean: Dusty!
“Taste the knuckles of Captain Flag, vermin…!” the leader amongst their number thunders, in a line of dialogue which will (I assure you, one and all) live on and on in your collective memories, long after all the rest of this fragrant little four-color stinkburger has (blissfully) faded away into drooling, senile dementia. (Believe me: I know.)
“What’s especially bad about you, Hangman,” Captain Flag offers, by way of frank and well-meaning appraisal; “… is you were once a great force for good… and you’ve turned your back on it deliberately!” (OOOooooooh. OUCH. That’s gotta hurt.)
Blindly stumbling his way towards what little remains of a once-proud and attractive window, a bruised and battered Hangman slithers his serpentine way down the ever-handy Magic Rope.
“He’s at the end of his rope, Captain Flag!” a chipper Dusty helpfully chirrups; yet wondering all the while why he’s being bedeviled by vague half-memories of yet another red-white-and-blue adult mentor, ages agone; one sporting a large, concentrically-circled shield
“Ha, Ha!” the fleeing felon sneers. “My mind’s had enough time to clear, and regain control over the rope! Clobber the bums, rope!”
Out of simple, Christian charity: your kind-hearted and solicitous Unca Cheeks has steadfastly resolved not to subject the whole, frightened lot of you to the scene immediately thereafter, in which three card- carring super-heroes get their collective hinders good’n’stomped. By a big piece of rope.
After the mocking Hangman has made good his hempen escape, a clearly tormented Dusty approaches the Shield, out of earshot from any prying… ummmm… ears. I suppose.
“I know the Shield better than I know myself!” the Teen Copycat counsels. (… and, boy: wouldn’t old Fredric Wertham have had himself a field day with that one…?) “I sense you aren’t him! Tell me who you really are, mister… pronto!” To which the equally anguished Shield responds [Pick One]:
1.) “I guess I’ll have to reveal how that crook, the Eraser, turned Dad into a metal statue…!”
2.) “I guess I’ll have to reveal how that crook, the Web, turned Dad into a metal statue. And then Rosie — sweet Rosie — will be mine! All MINE! NYAHHH-ha-ha-haaaa — !”
3.) “My goodness, but he’s certainly the buff, butch little bruiser! rrrrrUFFFF — !”
4.) “Luuuuuuuuuke… trust your feelings… you know I am your Father, Luuuuuuuke…!”
Before the Shield can cobble up a suitably convincing lie, however: the luckless Dusty vanishes in a gout of fire and smoke.
“The lad is returning back to his own time-era,” a nearby Zambini helpfully explains. “My magical mastery of time could only bring him to the present briefly…!”
(In a follow-up issue of ARCHIE Comics title GOOBERS ON THE LOOSE — issue #117, to be precise; the heart-rending “Good; Schmood! You Want the Script Wednesday, or Don’tcha?” — we are later shown the tragic results of Dusty’s having been arbitrarially yo-yo’d back and forth throughout the time-stream.
(Two words: “rubber bedsheets.”)
“Simultaneously,” we are then informed, via caption; “… an astounding craft streaks towards Crusaders headquarters!”
Said “astounding craft” is being piloted by none other than that Rotund Recidivist of villainy most vile (in times of greatest stress, I like to pretend I’m the guy who used to narrate the old live-action BATMAN television show): the Spider — the only costumed super-villain secure enough in his own masculinity to flounce about with a big lace doiley atop his head!
Upon reconnoitering over the mass spandexed pajama party taking place at Ground Zero, however (“Gulp! What’s goin’ on down there? A super-hero convention? There are too many of ’em for me! I’m cuttin’ out, quick!”) —
… the big dummy loser panics; loses control; and crash-lands his “Spider-Craft” in a nearby pasture.
Along come the Hangman and his bearded, Pharoah-esque baddie buddy, the Wizard, however; reassuring the internally hemorrhaging Spider that they are on their way — even now — to put a serious stompin’ on the heroic assemblage; Crusader and non-Crusader alike. (Which — given that the Hangman’s rope just finished up spanking at least three of ’em like squalling, red-headed step-children — really doesn’t seem all that darned unlikely, quite frankly.)
Just as the dastardly duo have commenced attacking, however: the unfailingly reader-conscious Fly-Girl exclaims —
“Look who’s jetting in… the Jaguar! Master of the Animal Kingdom! He must’ve come to join our ranks, too!”
(I’ve already covered this particular bow-wow’s penny dreadful “origin” in the article 1,001 Uses For a Dead Spandexed Goober. On the unlikely chance that anyone could ever possibly care, I mean.)
Well, mesdames and messieurs: the action (such as it is) finally kicks into high gear, with but a scant, miserable five pages left to go. The Hangman beats up on the Web (oh, yeah; there’s a case of “Man Bites Dog” for you); and the just-arrived Jaguar manages to haul Mister Justice’s milky hinder out of a Wizard-spawned death-trap.
(“Behold,” the Wizard proclaims, in a bit of dialogue which has haunted my restless, hag- ridden slumber for quite the little bit longer than I care to think about just now, if it’s all the same to you lot. “Through the flame-gate I have caused to yawn open… the sight of my beastie dragging the ethereal Mr. Justice down toward the eagerly awaiting shades of the worst villains of a thousand worlds who inhabit the nether-domain of… NITE-GARTH!”
(I’m assuming the man simply never had to breathe, is all; otherwise, he’d never make it through all of that without pausing long enough for a cold soda, and a nice lie-down.)
“We’ve toyed with them long enough, Wizard!” the Hangman demands. “Use your surprise weapon now… NOW!!”
So: the Wizard obligingly drops his pants, see; and then —
It’s because I’ve been watching lots of MR. SHOW episodes lately, is all. I used to be much quieter and more well-behaved, before MR. SHOW. Also: old re-runs of THE KIDS IN THE HALL.
“Up, now,” the Wizard portentiously intones. “Rearing up from far beneath the Earth’s surface… the unknown ore Transfinite!”
That’s when the big, scaly purple claw pops up out of the ground.
(My Good Buddy — Long-Time Site Regular Jack Selegue; Mastermind Emeritus of the highly recommended CHEMICAL COMICS: A Comic Book Periodic Table, which you should only be checking out on a weekly basis, at least — is going to freaking wet himself when he sees this’un. Seriously. He just plain ol’ lives for this stuff.)
“And now,” the malevolent mystic continues; “… my superego- malignancy transforms yon Transfinite into a Doom Claw, which has the wild talent to attract, then weaken, then destroy all ultra-heroes!”
(He’s practically drooling right about now. Jack, I mean. Trust me on this one.)
The various heroes all end up sorcerously KrazyGlued to the Wizard’s “Doom Claw” like so many flies to a mammoth pest strip.
“All of us… perishing!” a rapidly-weakening Kardak manages to rasp. “Zambini… if you and I can just t-touch hands… our combined might can summon the one hero who can save us and defeat the Wizard!”
“T-take my hand, sweet Kardak,” Zambini husks, weakly. “I am but… a stranger in … paradise…”
(NOTE TO SELF: no more KIDS IN THE HALL for the rest of the week. Be strong, dammit.)
The two conjurors marshall what little remains of their ebbing powers, then; and — from out of the mists of sheerest neecromancy comes hurtling the jaw-dropping, gape-inducing, awe-inspiring sight OF —[Pregnant — ? Stop Reading. NOW.] [Heart Patient — ? For God’s sake: go back to one of the menus and click onto another entry. NOWWWWW — !!]
… the awe-inspiring, pants-wetting, brain-embolizing sight OF —
… ROY, THE MIGHTY BOY!!!
“Out of the past comes I,” the cosmic cherub chirrups; “… ROY, THE MIGHTY BOY, who was your comrade years ago, Wizard, before you became evil!”
(“Comrade.” Heh-heh-heh. Oh, yeah. “Comrade.” Uh-huh.)
“The evil I’ve done aged me prematurely!” the hoary hocus-pocuser explains; a trifle over-sensitive, perhaps, re: those unsightly crow’s feet around the eyes and suchlike. “You can’t defeat me, brat!”
“You’re right!” the Youth of Yesteryear readily confesses. “I can’t! But — you yourself, as you were years ago, before you became evil, can!”
“You disgust me!” the Wizard’s sorecerously-summoned younger persona self-righteously intones. “KADDABRA!”
…and — with the moustachioed muttering of that single, solitary magic word: the last remaining wisps of whatever-you-want-to-call-the-feeble- gasping-thing-Siegel’s-been-using-in-place-of-a-plot simply… evaporates.
The Wizard is summarily de-powered (along with the Hangman’s magic rope); an iron cage materializes around them both; and — as a slump-
shouldered and dispirited Wizard snivels, in summation — “We’ll have many years of imprisonment in which to regret the fate that changed you and me… who were once valiant heroes… into despicable villains.”
Call it a pronounced case of Mighty Boy ex machina, if you like.
The story shudders itself to a spastic halt with the gargantuan assemblage of heroes degenerating into a senseless, mano a mano slugfest over the question of which one(s) ought to be granted membership in the Crusaders…
… which is pretty much where we came in, come to think.
“Go away, applicants!” a borderline hysterical Fly-Man ends up shouting at the assorted second-, third- and fifth-stringers. “Too many super-heroes want to get into the act! Perhaps, at some future date — !”
“Future, phooey!” a departing Fox shoots over his shoulder, snidely. “Maybe we’ll form our own new super-hero teams now! Chew on that, Crusaders! Good-bye!”
Not even if you were to smother it in sautéed onions and call it “porterhouse steak,” Winky.
Still: maybe there’s something in the notion, at that.
Bob Phantom. The Fox. Captain Flag. And Roy (“… the Mighty Boy!”). All banded together, in the cause of justice. Adventures and exploits beyond all human ken… modern-day myrmidons who would one day become living legends…
… and, so long as we’re at it: I’d like a pony next Christmas, too.