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.

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