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Scott’s Classic Comics Corner: DC Super-Starsgazing Pt. 1

During the 1970s, DC launched countless numbers of re-print titles. As a young reader and then collector, I shunned these for the most part. As I’ve grown older and wiser, I now seek them out as they often contain hidden gems. Here’s the first part of my look at DC Super-Stars.

1

DC Super-Stars #1 isn’t a particularly noteworthy debut. We’ve got a couple of so-so Teen Titans reprints from the 60s wrapped up in a so-so Nick Cardy cover. I remember buying this one off the 10 cent rack at my LCS circa 1980 and thinking “Who the hell is Lilith?” The first story is from Teen Titans #11 and it’s a pretty standard Bob Haney/Nick Cardy collaboration. The second story “Skis of Death” has always struck me as a particularly ridiculous tale and it features sub-par Gil Kane art. I’ve never understood why it would be chosen as a showcase reprint for the Titans. It was also reprinted 5 years later in a Best of DC digest. I’m fairly sure that the idea here was to send up a trial balloon to measure the appetite for the Teen Titans in the mid-70s. It must have been somewhat successful, as the Teen Titans series was re-launched 6 months later.

2

DC Super-Stars #2 was the first of the “Super-Stars of Space” installments. I’m not sure why DC thought that the comic book world was in need of some old sci-fi reprints, but in hindsight, I’m quite happy they did. This one leads off with the famous “Planets in Peril” story from Mystery in Space #90 from 1964, teaming up Adam Strange and Hawkman. Truth be told, I find this to be one of the most convoluted stories Gardner Fox has ever written (and that’s saying quite a lot). Much more interesting is the “Origin of the Atomic Knights” from the team of John Broome and Murphy Anderson. It’s a terrific concept and I’m actually quite surprised that one of today’s writers hasn’t done a revisionist version of it. For me, the real highlight of this issue is the “Knight of the Galaxy” store from Mystery in Space #7. This was a fun strip that ran as the lead in the early issues of Mystery in Space in 1951 and 1952. The story is written by Robert Kanigher and the artwork is Carmine Infantino. I really love this era of Infantino’s pencils – it’s still Caniff influenced and there’s just a touch of Toth. It’s one of those great ‘girls can do anything boys do’ stories. It is lots of fun and a real rarity. If memory serves, the letters page include a rather long and very lame letter ‘written’ by Adam Strange. I guess you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do for a letters page in a second issue, but it’s sooo bad.

3

In issue #2, Editor E. Nelson Bridwell announced that the previously advertised Plop! Issue slated for DC Super-Stars #3 was shelved in favour of a very special issue featuring the Adult Legion. Personally, I dig the Adult Legion stories and I think they represent some of Jim Shooter’s best work on the series. I’m not entirely sure why DC chose Legion as a filler issue, as they already had a series and I would have thought floating another trial balloon a la Teen Titans would have made more sense. I don’t think much of this particular Ernie Chan cover, but it’s a cheap way to pick up some Silver Age Legion.

4

With DC Super-Stars #4, we get another ‘…of Space’ issue. I like this multi-paneled Ernie Chan cover – it’s nothing groundbreaking, but sets the stage for the issue. We lead off with a decent Adam Strange story (I wish they went with some of the earlier ones). Space Ranger was always just a mediocre strip, but this one has some nice Jim Mooney creatures. It’s always a treat to see a Captain Comet story – and DC obviously thought this was a good time to re-introduce him to the DCU. What I really love about this issue is the one-page on the astronomer Frederick Bessel drawn by Mort Drucker. It’s early 50s rarities like this that make these purchases worthwhile.

5

DC Super-Stars #5 is a real change of pace, collecting 3 Flash-related stories. I really dig this Dick Giordano cover, and it’s a nice change of pace from all of the Chan covers. Again I don’t fully understand the rationale behind this issue, but I’m a sucker for 60s Flash stories. There are solid Flash and Kid Flash reprints here, but the really interesting story is the Jay Garrick story. In a rare ‘shot for shot remake’, Rico Rival has redrawn a 1946 story from All-Flash Comics. It’s an interesting little experiment that didn’t really take off. Apparently the original stuff was too substandard. This trick was also done with a story from Four Star Spectacular #1 from earlier that same year.

6

Were back in space with DC Super-Stars #6 (in fact, Bridwell notes that every even numbered issue will be ‘… of Space’. There’s a solid, if unspectacular Adam Strange story, a Captain Comet tale with a rather gruesome ending as creatures are turned into statues for the town square. There’s also a really fun Tommy Tomorrow story with superb Jim Mooney artwork. This one is great, as Tommy travels to the past and is assisted by his younger self. The gem of this issue is the Space Cabby story from 1958. I love Space Cabby and wish to hell someone would reprints those stories.

For more comic book talk – stop by my blog Seduction of the Indifferent

Next Up: Magic, guns and one of the strangest Superboy tales of all-time.

16 Comments

I have recently begun to really appreciate the various old reprint titles (though I’ve mostly been looking at Marvel’s).

For one thing, I did not even suspect that there were so many I had never heard of, e.g. Marvel Super Action, Marvel Triple Action, etc. (It took me a while to figure out that before the development of TPBs or the limited series, ongoing reprint series were the only format available.)

Beyond the historical curiosity, though, I find that even today these old reprint titles still fill an important niche. In many cases if you want an old story, your only other options are 1) very expensive original issues, 2) black and white Essentials volumes with 20 other issues packed in or 3) expensive Masterworks volumes. These obscure old series can be a godsend for a picky collector.

On the Flash issue, having read both the redrawn and original versions of “Deal Me From the Bottom,” the original art really wasn’t any worse than any typical Golden Age Flash story. It’s just that the style for the character was very cartoony until the late 1940s, when they started to bring in artists like Joe Kubert and Carmine Infantino (though Infantino tried to stick a bit more to the house style, from what I recall).

It would certainly have stuck out like a sore thumb when compared to the later Infantino art, but I kind of feel like the editor who called it substandard was going for a cheap shot.

Two things…

First, it still continues to amaze me that Kid Flash was originally in an identical costume to the adult Flash.

Second, I’m sorry, but did any one else feel the immature urge to laugh at the Teen Titans story title “Monster Bait”?

When I first started to hunt down comics on Ebay (back in 1999!), the first thing I looked for was all those reprints of classic DC Sci-Fi. No local stores had much old inventory bins, and old DC science fiction reprints where not “hot” enough to bother keeping them in stock. SO the only way I could satisfy my thirst for those cool Julius Schwartz edited tales was Ebay.

My first Ebay want list included issues # 2, 4, 6, and 8 of DC SUPER-STARS, the FROM BEYOND THE UNKNOWN reprint series and the STRANGE ADVENTURES run between # 217 and 244 that reprinted most of the Adam Strange and Atomic Knight stories. I recently managed to finish collecting all those runs. But the very first run I bought on Ebay was that DC SUPER-STARS of Space run. I was so happy to find a seller that sold the four issues in one lot (skipping those boring super-heroes issues i didnt want), in VF/NM and for about $10! To this day, its one of my favorite deal that I ever got on Ebay.

Back then, these reprints were the only way to get Schwartz era sci-fi at a cheap cost.

Now today you can get the complete ADAM STRANGE run in expensive DC Archives (in 3 volumes which I am a proud owner), and recently there was a SHOWCASE volume of STRANGE ADVENTURES (does anyone know why they started the reprints with SA # 54 instead of #1 ???). In any case, I sure hope to see more!

If you can find it there was a great book published in 1999 (maybe that was what got me going on the sci-fi hunt?) titled PULP FICTION LIBRARY: MYSTERY IN SPACE which collected tales from different eras of DC history and had one sampling of each of the series characters like Chris KL-9, Knights of the Galaxy, Tommy Tomorrow, Captain Comet, Space Cabby, Star Hawkins, Atomic Knights, Star Rovers, Space Rangers, Ultra the Multi-Alien and of course Adam Strange. Tons of good stuff in there with classic Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Alex Toth, some Golden Age Jack Kirby, and even a Frank Frazetta! The book also covered the most recent (at the time) Science Fiction antholies: the short TIME WARP Dollar comics series (5 issues) and the all-too brief revival run of MYSTERY IN SPACE from1980-1981 (issues # 111-117). By the way Scott, these two are right up your alley, late Bronze Age goodness (and at least half of these issues had some Ditko in them), you should feature them in one of your columns one of these days.

I am 100% with you on Space Cabby, and I would add Space Museum, Star Hawkins and the Atomic Knights to the “must reprint this” list. I heard that Atomic Knights will eventually be included in a kind of mish-mash volume of Showcase. But I would prefer they each get their own “done-in-one” single volume. Oh! And how come DC never did a collection of all those great Gorillas stories? Wouldn’t that be cool or what?!

I’d buy a Space Cabbie reprint.

I think somebody *did* bring back the Atomic Knights, but everyone ignored it.

The Atomic Knights were revived, sort of, in DC COMICS PRESENTS #57, but not really.

The latest version of the Atomic Knights appeared in The Battle for Blüdhaven, then in . . . Countdown . . . and then most recently in Final Crisis, I think.

Jeremy A. Patterson

July 21, 2009 at 12:52 pm

When will you be doing articles on the varius anthology titles of the other great publishers: AC’s ‘Americomics’ (This six-issue run was a good mixed bag of pre-Femforce AC goodness), Men of Mystery (With the series going to a new format in September’s #80, this book is a good fit for a future column!), the second ‘Sentinels of Justice’ series (The first series was a standard yet enjoyable team book, but this version was never a team book & was more of a book in which every issue spotlighted a different hero that AC has revived from the Golden Age! This version lasted 3 issues!), AC Annual (This 4-issue series was a giant-sized anthology that spotligted a variety of AC characters in its run. While the first issue spolighted a Femforce/Nyoka team-up on its cover, the later issues somehow de-emphesized the Femforce characters in favor of spotlighting charcters AC had revived from the Golden Age. The final issue was noteworthy of having the ONLY newly-produced-by-AC story to spotlight Sterling’s aptain lash character!), & Retro Comics (This six-issue [and one annual] run had a great idea of spotlighting a different character in each issue: The premiere issue [#0] starred Catman & Kitten [who would also spotlight issue #3], #1 has the biggest hit of the batch, with the S&K revision of the Fighting Yank! Even Femforce regulars got solo issues here [Miss Victory in #2 & Tara in #4], & the final regulatr issue, #5, ‘introdeced’ a ‘new’ hero called Doctor Dimension [It is actually a reworking of an old Commando D tale]. The Annual is a gem, with solo stories of SEVEN Golden Age heoes!)

I hope that will stimulate your brain, Scott!

J.A.P.

Wraith – you are quite correct that these are a great asset to have for collectors. They are a great way to take a strip out for a spin without breaking the bank.

Kelson – what confounds me is why didn’t they just find more suitable reprints to use? They could have even gone to some of the Johnny Quick stuff (as they did in some 100 Pagers) – those always looked great. I wonder if they were trying out some new talent without having to pay for a new script.

Ethan – the move the the yellow costume was the best thing they ever did for Kidflash

K-Dotter – I’ve always been aware of that Pulp Fiction Library book – but never actually seen one. I’m a big fan of both Time Warp and Mystery in Space and that 1980 sci-fi relaunch would be a good topic. I’ve posted bits on at least one of those titles on my regular blog. I also featured Space Cabby in my ‘Reprint This’ topic on my blog.

J Bird – Unfortunately, my knowledge of post-1999 comics (coincidentally, the year my formal education came to an end) so I’m not familiar with any of those. I just thought a Grant Morrison or Warren Ellis would have a field day with Atomic Knights.

Jeremy – I just don’t have sufficiently familiarity with the AC Comics (aside from some of the reprints) to discuss them here. I’m not really buying books these days (money’s too tight to mention) so they’re not likely in my near future. Perhaps one day…

My only complaint about those reprints was that there was nothing “OF SPACE” about the Atomic Knights. They were science fiction based stories set in the future, but not taking place in space.

Funny how DC has this great heritage of old SF-based stories while Marvel’s was, at about the same time, a heritage of monsters…

I think I have 5&6 of DC Superstars that you posted above Scott. It is one of their nicer reprint books. Another I’d recommend is the short lived Four-Star Spectacular, one issue of which IIRC features some nice Blackhawk material.

Mike Blake, I agree with your statement in general DC was, primarily due to Julius Schwartz, the more convicted devotee of pure sci-fi; however Marvel had some worthwhile efforts in the genre. Monsters only really took over around about 1958-59. Before that a nice diversity of stories popped up in their Atlas titles. Plenty of horror and supernatural indeed, but also in such late blooming titles as Strange Worlds and Amazing (Adult) Fantasy as well as the earlier Journey into Mystery, Strange Tales and Uncanny Tales afforded some nice sci-fi tales, especially by Ditko. Always of a different flavour than DC, but still great otherwordly oddities.

[...] on DC Super-Stars reprints from the 1970s – including a Flash book which re-drew a Golden Age story. [...]

Wow, this post just triggered a flush of memories: that 2nd issue with Adam Strange and Hawkman on the cover was one of the first comics I ever bought (after an issue of Marvel Team-up and a few Spidey Super Stories…) Something about that multi-paneled cover just excited me – otherwise I didn’t read SF titles at the time because as a little 6/7 year-old kid, my preferences were pretty much restricted to super-heroes. Also had that Flash issue, as well as the one featuring Aquaman. I just loved these, and re-read them over and again, not realizing that they were reprints until much later.
And since someone mentioned Time Warp, that is definitely a series that should be collected in a color TPB: great stories, great art and those stunning covers by Kaluta. What’s not to like?

There was also a multi-part tale that was written in the 40′s and not drawn until the 70′s in the back pages of Adventure (between I believe 438-443 or so). It was a Seven Soldiers Of Victory story.

Those Atomic Knights stories were to be collected in a Showcase Presents volume but it got pulled from the schedule. I think I remember those later appearances by them in some Superman titles tried to ret-con the characters as being in some sort of Matrix-y like suspended animation. They were to be included in the Showcase volume so I’m almost glad the book was cancelled/delayed.

The Strange Adventures Showcase volume started with the first code-approved issue, even though one of the stories was a sequel to a story from the previous non-code issue. Wish they would collect the earlier Captain Comet stories but DC seems to be reluctant to reprint much of the Fifties stuff.

Jeremy A. Patterson

July 27, 2009 at 10:53 am

You can get the entire 6-issue run of ‘Americomics’ for a dollar each at this store:

http://stores.ebay.com/mycomicshop

J.A.P.

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