Saturday, April 30, 2022


So, I recently picked up a couple of older comics: Adventures of the Fly #30 and Fly-Man #32. Partly because it turns out that the Archie company let several a couple of years of mid 1960s comics slip through the cracks. In this case, they left off the copyright notices, a requirement at the time of publication and rendering the comics public domain upon publication. What's interesting in these issues is that issue #30 re-introduced the Comet. Issues 31 and 32 (with the change in name) introduced the third Shield and the concept of the heroes as the team the Mighty Crusaders. 

Adventures of the Fly #30 is the last issue before the superheroes went in full camp mode. Like the Jaguar comics of the time, at this point of time the comic reads much like 1950s, early 1960s Superman family comics. Just not quite as good. But, still there's some fun to them, especially if you're a kid. Or, if you're weary and need something to cleanse your palette after reading a selection of comics by Tom King, Brian Michael Bendis, and Geoff Johns.

The other interesting thing about this particular issue is that two of the three stories it contains are centered on Kim Brand aka the Fly Girl. And, in the second story, she is in the story as much as the Fly is.

The first story, Kim Brand decides to call on Tom Troy aka the Fly in his law offices. Troy has been so successful of late in putting away gangsters, that a couple are laying in wait for him and she ends up being captured by them. She knows she could change to Fly Girl and take them out easily but it would mean sacrificing her secret identity. She reasons Troy is on patrol as the Fly and could return any moment. So, she must figure a way to warn him without alerting her captors. The good part of this story is that her solution is by subverting the stereotypes of women of the time, that they would dismiss her bizarre actions as being those of a dizzy female. The only real flaw is that bad science in that as Brand she has no powers, but she blows up a balloon which is able to float away as if filled with helium. 

The second story, Fly Girl and the Fly discover a bank robbery by a short man named Limbo and his girlfriend Stella Stretchpants (really!) in progress. Only the bank tellers are helping the couple in the robbery! Turns out Limbo is a master chemist from a perfume factory who accidentally discovered a super-chemical when used in perfumes has extreme effects. One, is a super attracter that makes women fall in love with him and men overly eager to help. Soon, he has the Fly couple also helping them make their escape. The next encounter, he reveals another perfume that sets the couple against each other, more interested in fighting each other than stopping the villain. The heroes realize they have a dilemma, trying to stop the couple without coming under the influence of the super-perfumes. The story actually makes me think of the plots of the Batman television show. There's the humor and parody in the names and plot, but not at the expense of the heroes or the nature of heroes. They are capable and smart and treat the threat as serious.

The third story is the one with the Comet. This story especially reminds one of the Supergirl and Lois Lane stories. The Comet is the ruler of the alien planet Altrox. Through alien technology, he has fallen in love with Fly Girl and has foresaken his crown to do so. His rainbow pith helmet is actually a replica of his crown. He proves he is able to fly and has super strength that puts him at the equal to her. She is suspicious of his motives and comes up with several tests: an electromagnet to see if he's a robotic android (it only attracts and destroys his prized helmet), a wrestling match under the excuse that she cannot marry someone who cannot outfight her but really to give her an excuse to see if she can grab a face mask hiding some kind of ugly inhuman visage and three, and lastly, a kiss to see if there is an attraction and that she could love him but in reality to allow her to read his mind to see if he's lying about anything. The mind-reading backfires as it gives the Comet's advanced brain a head-ache. She confesses and was quite moved by the kiss. However, he wants nothing to do with suspicious women and leaves to go back home. If the first story subverted the expectations and characterization of women, this one leans into them Fly Girl does not come off as well here.

The interesting thing is the Comet. His appearance here is similar to many of the super suitors other super characters that would pop up in the Superman family comics. It reads as nothing more than a one-shot. The cover shows a purple faced alien but that's simply Fly Girl's imagination of what he might look like underneath a human mask. His costume is simply red & white. Another thing that's notable is there is no mention of the golden-age Comet. At some point, it was revealed that the original Comet didn't die, but was transported to the planet Altrox. But, here it is just re-using the name without acknowledging the older character.

Yet, it didn't end there for the Comet. He returned for the next two issues! I don't have #31 handy, but it includes the Fly couple, the Comet, the son of the golden-age Shield as the new Shield, and the Black Hood. His costume has changed colors to the more garish orange and green. I don't recall whether there is an in-story explanation for why he's back on Earth, slightly different powers, and different colored costume. The other notable thing, as seen with change in name to Fly-Man, these new stories are less straight-forward and more campy. They read like it's recycled 1960 Justice League plots but scripted by Stan Lee doped up on strong cold medication. With that is also a change in artists, from the solid if somewhat dull John Giunta to the more notably flashy and hyper art of Paul Reinman whose work fittingly has the flat cutout looks of Mike Sekowsky from his JLA days

Issue #32 opens up with the heroes fighting each other on a deserted island. Turns out, they disagree on what to call their new team. It seems like the Mighty Crusaders name was given to them by the Fly-man's old villain the Spider and the other members think that tarnishes it. However, the names the other members have are even worse. The fight is interrupted by an incoming atomic warhead. Before it reaches them, they are encased by a force-field globe that protects them from the blast. The Comet reasons the warhead was sent to kill him by enemies fearing that he might return to Altrox. Likewise, the force field was from his friends. This kind of scares the others, that just being near him makes them a target. So, they depart. However, the explosion has awoken the Atlantean tyrant Eterno from his suspended animation sleep, centuries ahead of schedule. Fearing that the heroes or descendants of them could be a threat to his future plans of conquest, he sets out to do a preemptive strike against them. 

Now, these aren't good comics, but there are some interesting bits here and there. The first threat sent against them is a powerful giant robot called Doombala whose name evokes the monster comics of Atlas. It's he and not Eterno on the cover. In a writing and art disconnect, Fly-man shrinks himself and enters the robot through it's nose and is expelled by a sneeze. At least that's what the art shows us. The writing says he is entering through the mouth and expelled by a robotic cough!

The summation of the story's plot on the GCD actually gets this wrong. It says that it was the fight against Doombala that set Eterno free when it wasn't. The readers aren't introduced to Eterno until after the fight, but that's presented as a flashback revealing Eterno is behind the menace of Doombala and was woken by the earlier atomic explosion.

Another part is the heroes in an attempt to strategize in private decide to hide out amongst others at a comic book convention! They almost don't get in since they aren't dressed as comic book characters but real superheroes. Eterno tracks them down and creates evil powered duplicates based on several of the characters of several cosplayers. A very similar story was done in the pages of the Freedom Fighters which was part of an unofficial crossover of the Freedom Fighters and The Invaders. In both cases, the villains the teams faced were called... the Crusaders. It's too bad that the cosplayers aren't in costumed identities meant to parody the Justice League, FF, or Avengers. Instead, they are using names that clearly meant to be silly, belittling the subject matter. At one point, there is a deliberate meta-fictional bit (before the term existed), where the comic fans are extolling the characters from the golden-age and companies should dust them off and bring them back like Radio Comics is doing. Radio Comics is the name Archie was publishing these under at the time and the Shield, Black Hood, and Comet were all golden-age characters back when they were MLJ. Soon, they would also bring back the Web and Steel Sterling for solo stories and some others to lesser degrees.

The ending is really bizarre but suitable for this comic. You have the Shield revealing a power that was set up earlier in the comic but this is the last time he's able to use it. Then, there's how Eterno is ultimately taken out. It's a bit out of left field and almost seems like something that might have happened in an Ant-Man comic. But, I won't spoil it for you.

As noted, the Comet is in the green and orange costume which he'd wear for the rest of his Silver-Age appearances. When he shows up in the 1980s revival, he is wearing his original red & white colors which is a definite improvement before he reverts to his golden-age powers and looks. I think I may be the only person that actually liked the red and white costume with the rainbow helmet. There's no mention of the character's previous super-strength. It is revealed that it is his helmet that allows him to fly as well as powering his gloves which fires de-atomizing rays aka disintegrating beams. He is still being presented as being the ex-ruler of Altrox.  I wonder when it was revealed that this version of the Comet was really the return of the golden-age one, that he's not simply an alien using a currently unused superhero name. Was this something Buckler came up with when doing the revival in the 1980s? It is something to keep in mind if anyone wishes to use the public domain versions of the Comet. The 1940s one is public domain, and this one is public domain. But, combining the two into a single hero might not be.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Eclipse means Eclipso!

With the eclipse, it seemed a good time to look at one of a couple silver-age DC comics I picked up. One thing the comics showed was that if you think that the Silver-Age Doom Patrol was weird, you probably need to read more DC comics from that era. House of Secrets during this time had two features much like their competition's Strange Tales and Tales of Suspense. In this case, the two were Eclipso and Prince Ra-man. One of the things that attracted me with this comic was it promised a merging of the two features into one story pitting the hero against the star villain.

Eclipso was sort of DC's version the Hulk, playing on the Jekyll and Hyde motif: good guy scientist who turns into a menace. In Eclipso's case all it takes is an eclipse to turn scientist Bruce Gordon into the villain Eclipso. Unlike the Hulk, Eclipso got to wear a costume, had incredible intellect and was an out and out villain. Gordon spent most of his time trying, and failing, to prevent coming into eclipses and then helping to set things up that would force him to become Gordon again. In this he is aided by his girlfriend Mona and her father Professor Bennet. A strong sudden light is enough to banish Eclipso.

Prince Ra-Man is a bit tougher to explain. He has his roots in an earlier strip featuring Mark Merlin who was an occult detective. He got himself stuck in another dimension and the only way to get back to our reality was to be cast into a recently deceased body. In this new body, he has various mental powers (telekinesis, illusion casting) and a powerful artifact, the six-sided sun. Sort of like the cinema version of Doctor Strange, it has the all of the earmarks of being a mystical hero but explaining it in pseudo science fiction terms while hedging their bets by also sprinkling in Egyptian references. Upon arriving back in this reality he tells Mark's fiance Elsa that Mark is dead. But, she travels with Prince Ra-man in his crusade against crime. Prince Ra-Man may be DC's first superhero to actually sport a beard. With that, plus a white streak in his black hair and his eyes being all white and black ringed, he is looking almost more like a villain than a hero at the time.

This story starts with Bruce, Mona and Professor Bennet preparing for the next eclipse and a plan to instantly banish Eclipso. As usual Eclipso uses his intellect to outwit them and embark on his next plan of world conquest. In this instance, Eclipso emerges from Bruce Gordon as opposed to Bruce transforming into Eclipso. Eclipso's plan involves him to create Helio, a being made from sun and various chemicals. He even designed a costume for Helio. Of course, it means Eclipso has to shield himself from his own being in order to avoid getting banished. With Helio's power, they steal a space platform so that they can attack anywhere on earth from the safety of space. Eclipso is eventually defeated and returns to Gordon's body. However, Helio is still out there.

In the part two, Prince Ra-man sets out to end the ongoing threat of Helio. In their first encounter Helio almost manages to kill Ra-man and Elsa in a cave in. Helio travels to the lab complex of Buce Gordon in Solar City. He creates an artificial eclipse which transforms Bruce into Eclipso this time. When Prince Ra-man arrives, he quickly reasons that Eclipso is Gordon's other self which Professor Bennet admits. The professor tells him this transformation is only temporary but if there is a real eclipse, Eclipso will split off permanently and if Eclipso and Helio are able to get the stolen space platform into space, they will be nearly unstoppable. Ra-man grows his disc to giant size and flies it like a flying carpet after the platform where he has to battle the two villains.

GCD lists both parts of the story to be by Bob Haney while Jack Sparling did the art for the first half and Bernard Bailey on the second. It's not quite the book length battle promised on the cover, it is still a fun read of a couple of off-beat characters. The stories don't give much background on the characters and so the handling of Eclipso seems a bit inconsistent, with him emerging from Bruce in the front half and a transformed Bruce Gordon in the second. Eclipso's appearances after his run were sporadic in the 1970s. Some reprints, a battle against Batman, the Metal Men, an appearance in Crisis. It would be in the 1990s that Eclipso would get upgraded into a major villainous threat as he was portrayed as a dark villain that was able to use his black diamonds to create dark-sides of the various heroes. In one issue of his own comic he would be responsible for the deaths of various characters including the original Steel, the lady Dr. Midnight and Wildcat, Peacemaker, Mark Shaw Manhunter, the Creeper and another or two. The Creeper would get better and the Manhunter killed was retconned to have been someone else in his costume. In these stories, Eclipso doesn't display the scientific expertise and cunning that he does in these Silver-Age stories where he seems more of a Doctor Doom or Lex Luthor style villain. Prince Ra-Man would cross swords again with Eclipso a few issues later. He would eventually come clean with Elsa over his identity. Not much later he was killed in the final issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Since then, there have apparently been sporadic inconsistent appearances of him and/or Mark Merlin.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Pete Francisco redux

Back in February I shared the story of Revolutionary War hero Pete Francisco who loomed like a mythological hero come to life. Today on I was reading a newly uploaded book Soldiers of Fortune. I've not read a lot of ACG and was mainly going through this for curiosity's sake. However, it has a two page story devoted to Peter Francisco. The story even mentions the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in Greensboro, NC and the commemorative monument remembering him. From Soldiers of Fortune #3, ACG, July-August, 1951, retrieved from