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CSBG Archive

Scary Afternoons

My boss Katie had a call from a parent who was upset about my class last week. The mother of one of my students had heard we were planning a ‘scary movie’ for my Young Authors class this Monday — Halloween day — and she really didn’t feel her eleven-year-old son was ready for something like that.

The movie in question, as it happens, is Duel.

You can't go wrong with the classics.... despite what some parents might think.

I wanted to bring in something by Richard Matheson, because as far as I’m concerned you can’t go wrong with Matheson and it always lights the kids up when I rattle off his resume. (“The original version of I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man, the Star Trek with the good Kirk and the bad Kirk, the old Twilight Zone with the monster on the airplane wing, Hell House, Somewhere In Time, The Night Stalker.…” Usually my student nerdlings are familiar with at least half the list. And we’d run the original Kolchak movie The Night Stalker last year.)

Duel seemed like a good choice because I was certain the kids hadn’t seen it, and it’s a terrific example of how to build suspense by taking something perfectly ordinary and keep ratcheting up the tension on it until you have something genuinely frightening.

DUEL's practically a How-To manual on writing ordinary tension that builds to sheer terror.

It IS a class, after all, and more, it’s a class on writing. My kids are largely interested in doing adventure stories, this semester. So we’ve been talking a lot about earning the moment– they always want to launch right into the big climactic fight, so we’ve been spending a lot of time on how to build suspense, how to cut off your hero’s options one by one until he has to confront the thing that scares him, stuff like that. So when it came time to do something for Halloween, I figured this year’s Matheson would be Duel, since it’s a– pardon the expression– textbook example of that kind of thing.

I explained all this to Katie in an email, adding frostily that in addition to all that, Duel had originally been shown on network television forty years ago, and I really didn’t think anyone was going to be sent screaming into therapy over it. What did this woman think a YMCA-employed writing teacher was going to show to a roomful of sixth and seventh-grade children? Saw III? Which mother had complained, anyway? I’d be happy to lay all this out for her…

Katie assured me she’d already settled the woman down and it wasn’t anything to worry about, she just wanted the information in case anyone else asked. And then she told me who the problem mother was.

I had to laugh when Katie told me this. Because here’s the punchline– when I’d told my Young Authors class we were doing a scary movie for Halloween, this particular mother’s little angel had blurted out– wait for it–

–“You should bring in SAW!!”

He’s also the one that keeps bugging me about doing HALO and WARHAMMER fan fiction and I have to keep telling him no, he has to do something that’s all his. Clearly, cable television and videogame culture have already poisoned this boy far beyond any movie I might show in my classroom.

My first impulse was to write a righteous (and subtly snide) email to the concerned mother and tell her all this, but I reconsidered. Why rat the kid out?

Because, remembering back to when I was eleven years old, I had to sneak around a lot too. Back in 1973 I was… let’s see… I think I’d just discovered Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles. And I was still very high on the Three Investigators as well as the Alfred Hitchcock anthologies for young readers– Ghostly Gallery, Monster Museum, that stuff.

Mom didn't care for these-- she had made up her mind after seeing PSYCHO that Alfred Hitchcock was a terrible person-- but she tolerated me reading them, since they came from the school library.

(Eventually I figured out that the guy I really liked reading wasn’t Alfred Hitchcock but Robert Arthur, which led me to Arthur’s own anthologies.)

Mom didn't really approve of these either, but again, coming from the school library got me a pass.

Also, by the time I was twelve, I’d found that it was possible to actually purchase my own James Bond novels at the local B. Dalton’s for sixty cents each…

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When I was a kid and first starting to buy my own books, most of my Bond novels looked like this. Though I much preferred the look of the Bantam editions with the amazing Frank McCarthy paintings, I knew that the nearly-naked ladies on them would really bother my mother. These illustrations, on the other hand, were so small that the unclad ladies on them went unnoticed. Anyway, when you're mowing lawns for two dollars a whack, you have to consider that sixty cents for a Signet is a much better deal than the ninety-five-cent Bantam edition would be.

Mom didn’t care for that AT ALL but it was my money, and if I wanted to “waste it on those trashy books,” well, too bad. Anyway, she’d already lost that fight a year or so previously when she’d caved on letting me check Fleming’s Bond books out of the local library.

But her particular bête noire, without question, was comics. Nothing else ever came close.

The incident that really crystallized this for me, and I remember this like it was yesterday…it was when I was nine years old. We were vacationing at the beach with another family, my dad’s boss Harold and his wife Pam and their new baby. This particular afternoon, while Dad and Harold were out playing golf, as menfolk did back then, the wives and kids had been left behind to hang out on the beach and enjoy the rare Oregon Coast sunshine. We were camped out in a sort of improvised driftwood windbreak, and I was a little apart from the others, settled in against a driftwood log with a comic book. Mom went off to get something, drinks maybe, so for the moment it was just Pam and the baby and me. Pam asked me about the comic I was reading.

As trashy comics go, this is really pretty innocent.

It was one of my beloved DC Giants, Justice League #93. Pam was genuinely interested, wanting to know who the characters were. “I know Superman and Batman, but who’s Green Lantern? And the Atom? What does he do?”

I remember Pam being especially interested in JOURNEY INTO THE MICRO-WORLD! Or possibly she was just impressed that I knew what a sub-atomic universe was at the age of nine.

As for me, I was delighted to find an adult that didn’t laugh or sneer at superheroes for once. (Or hum the Batman theme– “na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-BATMAN!” You younger folks have no idea how sick we comics fans got of people laughing and doing that between 1969 and 1980.)

I was in the middle of explaining to Pam why the League was shrinking to a sub-atomic size in “Journey Into the Micro-world!” when Mom showed up, literally grabbed the book out of my hands and told me to stop bothering Pam with my silliness.

Today, with the benefit of adult hindsight, I know that Mom was really wired about making a good impression on the boss and probably spent the whole weekend praying Dad wasn’t going to screw up yet another good job. (Which he eventually did.) Any little thing would have set off her alarms.

But what I felt at the time– the reason the memory is so vivid– was the hurt at how unfair it was, Mom was acting like I had done something wrong and I knew I hadn’t. Pam and I were having a nice conversation and Mom was just shutting it down for no reason. I felt betrayed.

I think Pam must have seen the wounded look on my face because she actually protested. “It’s all right, Patty, he was just telling me about his book….” But Mom had made her ruling and that was that.

That was when I realized how much Mom hated, and I mean really hated, comics. And thus that was when I began making an effort to be more discreet about which ones I was reading. Because if Mom felt that way about the Justice League, well, God help me if she found me with any of the ones that even I knew were maybe Not For Kids.

Of course, there were books I was interested in that I didn't even bother TRYING to buy or bring home, because if my mother found them she'd have forbidden comics from ever being in our house again. Thankfully, Marvel's reprint program has let me get caught up with Morbius and Satana at last. The silly part is that Mom's indoctrination was so strong that I still feel like I'm getting away with something, reading them.

The funny thing is, I remember there was one comic book that genuinely did scare the hell out of me when I was a kid, and Mom never caught that one at all. I’ve been watching Brian unfold his Scariest Comic Books of All Time! series all month, but I’m certain this one won’t be on it.

It was Amazing Spider-Man #121.

Believe it or not, this comic scared the crap out of me when I was eleven.

The death of Gwen Stacy.

Today the story is regarded as a classic, one of the major Spider-man stories, right up there with The Master Planner saga and “Spider-Man No More!” and so on. But modern readers have no idea what a stealth grenade the thing really was when it came out in early 1973.

Let me give you a little context. A quick check of Mike’s Amazing Newsstand Index tells me what other books I’d picked up back then, that fateful spring.

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I was mostly still a DC reader. In Superman, I’d just been introduced to Steve Lombard. And in Action, there was Gorilla Grodd, also new to me since I wasn’t a big Flash reader.

Largely unsung in today's comics press, but early 1970s Super books were on quite a roll.

I was more of a Bat guy– still am, really– but the smart Superman stuff kept me coming back. DC wasn’t nearly as full of itself and Superman’s need to be inspirational back then. The stories were quick and entertaining and full of clever, sassy humor.

People rarely talk about them any more, but Bronze Age Superman with Bates and Maggin writing and Swan and Anderson on art was really pretty awesome.

And though my beloved 80-Page Giants were no longer around, I had been completely won over by DC’s new 100-Page Super-Spectaculars.

E. Nelson Bridwell put out these wonderful little lessons in DC history once a month. I loved both of these, especially the JSA reprint of the original Injustice Society story.

Even if they did cost an exorbitant, unheard-of fifty cents each.

The other books I’d picked up that March were Justice League of America #105, introducing me to the Red Tornado… and I’d also decided to give this new Shazam! thing a try.

Enjoyed both of these, especially the JLA book, which I read to tatters. A Wein-Dillin satellite-era classic.

Now, I’d read Marvel books, and even a fair amount of Spider-Man, by the age of eleven. But my experience had been largely Lee-Romita reprint stuff, in Marvel Tales.

Just for the record, this is a pretty bitchin' comic book. The Rhino, the Lizard, and an Iron Man thriller sandwiched in between.

So it’s in that context that I was suddenly greeted with this incredibly dark, creepy, funhouse-mirror version of what I’d thought a Spider-Man comic would be, in Amazing Spider-Man #121. And I don’t mean just the death of Gwen, or the Goblin stuff. The whole issue freaked me out, even the opening scenes– maybe even especially the opening scenes– with the gang visiting Harry Osborn in his sickbed, still writhing and delirious from his drug overdose. Drugs, especially LSD, had been whipped up by the media into something almost as terrifying to 1970s suburbanites as the Black Death was to medieval peasants. And here they were in Spider-Man. It took me completely by surprise, and not in a good way.

I’m not trying to say that adult themes don’t have any place in Spider-Man, or anything like that. But remember, I was eleven. More, superhero comics were my refuge, a comfort-food thing, a way to get away from my family.

Most of all, I had a set expectation of what Spider-Man comics would be like. So as far as I was concerned, the tone was weirdly, frighteningly off. Spider-Man, in my Lee-Romita experience, had been serious, but it was always serious in a fun way. Peter Parker had to deal with terrible things, he made huge personal sacrifices, but the tone of the stories always left room for a certain bounce and humor.

But in this new thing from Gerry Conway and Gil Kane, that was all gone. Everything was serious in a different, adult way. Sentences ended in periods now, not exclamation points. The wisecracks and snappy patter had disappeared.

I remember this reading experience just as vividly as the earlier Justice League anecdote above. We were on vacation again, this time up at our cabin on Mt. Hood, just east of Brightwood. I’d been allowed a comic from the general store, I’d chosen this one, and settled in to the big lounge chair to read it when we got back to the cabin. It was too dark and windy and rainy to go do anything– I think that was how I’d wheedled Mom into letting me buy the comic in the first place– and while the rest of my family were watching TV on the other side of the room, I was quietly freaking out.

You know how, when you’re a kid, and you see your parents get bad news? Suddenly they look serious and scared and when you see the look on their faces… that’s what scares the hell out of you? These beginning pages felt like that, seeing Gwen and Peter and MJ all scared and heartsick over Harry Osborn, instead of kidding around like I was used to. Imagine you’re eleven years old, going from scenes like this….

And this…

To this.

And that’s just the setup. When Norman Osborn showed up a page later looking like a homicidal maniac I was almost as startled as Peter Parker was.

The art itself seemed harsher. The inking was coarse, much more than what I was used to from growing up on the elegance of DC’s Murphy Anderson and Dick Giordano, or Marvel’s Joe Sinnott, not to mention John Romita himself.

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As for the plot, Norman Osborn got weirder and weirder, and the story just kept getting relentlessly scarier.

Eventually Osborn becomes the Green Goblin again, and though his target is Peter Parker, Gwen will do just fine.

By this point eleven-year-old me was scrunching further and further down in silently mounting terror with each turn of the page. This was going to be really, really bad.

That tiny little “oh my Lord” was like a punch in the stomach. This was so horrible that Spider-Man himself was clearly scared shitless. (So naturally I was too.)

So by the time we arrived at the famous confrontation on the bridge, my eleven-year-old self was feeling something very close to panic.

And the worst part? After that terrifying buildup? I didn’t get the safe landing a lifetime of superhero comics reading had led me to expect. Spider-Man failed. Gwen was dead. And it sure looked to me like that failure had sent my favorite Marvel hero right over the edge.

I got to that last page and just sat there shaking. I was horrified. Worse, I didn’t dare explain to anyone why I was so upset– if I’d showed it to my mother, I knew, I’d have been forbidden from reading all comics for the rest of my life, especially if she saw how much that story had gotten to me.

I didn’t want that. I still loved comics, and even still loved reading about Spider-Man. I just wanted this story, this particular comic, to be erased from my brain somehow. I didn’t have the vocabulary or the maturity to explain why I was so bothered by that story, or why it was just not right, not fair, for that to happen to Spider-Man. I just knew that it shouldn’t have happened that way.

It’s interesting today to look back and realize how not alone I was… apparently quite a few other readers were freaked out too. There’s a reason so many people mark “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” as the end of the Silver Age. To those of us that were reading comics at the time, it felt like a door slamming. It changed the rules for superhero stories. No longer were we guaranteed that it would all work out okay in the end. Now… good guys could lose.

Kurt Busiek did a much better job of articulating that feeling of WRONGNESS in MARVELS #4... and God bless Tony Isabella, I'll always be grateful to him for the great fix he did on that tale in WHAT IF #24. I really think eleven-year-old me would have dealt better with the Isabella version.

As for me, well, I’d learned MY lesson. I stuck strictly to the Marvel Tales Lee-Romita Spidey for the next couple of years. I knew what I wanted from my Spider-Man comics, and I trusted Stan. This Gerry Conway guy…. who the hell knew what kind of crazy horrible shit he might pull? It was at least two years before I finally dared to check back in on the main book again. (For… what else? The return of Gwen, in the original Clone Saga.)


So what’s the point? That kids should be protected from this sort of thing? That scary comics and movies really are dangerous?

No. Exactly the opposite. See, here’s what parents forget: kids bounce back. Yeah, that Spider-Man story traumatized me… for a few hours. I got over it. I even learned something about what I liked and didn’t like. And years later I came to appreciate what Gerry Conway did on Amazing Spider-Man, especially the death of Gwen and the Jackal story and clones and all of that. And it meant more because I got to that appreciation by myself, through reading lots of different kinds of stories and learning how they worked.

Mom, for all her good intentions, would have been doing me a huge disservice by shielding me from lurid comics and pulp paperbacks and late nights staying up to watch Hammer films on Sinister Cinema. Sure, sometimes I got shook up (There was one Late Late Show movie, Hauser’s Memory, that I recall got to me just as bad as the death of Gwen did, but I won’t go into that one.) But I mostly did all right. Parents can’t really protect you from culture anyway, no matter how hard they try.

You know what does protect you? Experience. It’s the best inoculation. In the long run, no matter what I may think of today’s eleven-year-olds furtively using their parents’ cable television channels to watch stuff I think is appalling, like Saw movies or whatever, it probably isn’t doing them any more harm than my sneaking around to read Marvel monster magazines or see movies like Wizards did to me. (And I assure you that my mother had far more hate in her heart for those things than I do for today’s slasher films. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.)

So if it turns out that Duel does freak out a couple of my students on Monday? I say so the hell what, that’s what I say. They’ll get over it, and in the long run, they might even end up grateful for getting to see stuff like that. I did.

And what’s more, I’m betting that if it does get to them, they won’t tell me or their parents, either.

Have a happy Halloween, everyone, and I’ll see you next week.


That’s an excellent choice for a movie. I only first saw “Duel” as an adult, just a few years ago. It is indeed disturbing, but I doubt it’ll scar any pre-adolescent minds. In fact, if I had seen it back when I was about 11/12 years old, I think I would have been more upset about the end, i.e., not finding out who the trucker is and why he was trying to kill Weaver’s character, than anything else.
Your thoughts on the “Death of Gwen Stacy” are interesting – it’s fascinating what a difference a few short years can make. I mean, I read that story the first time in its Marvel Tales reprint, and I was roughly the same age as you when you first read it in the original run. But it didn’t have the same impact – because I already knew before reading it that Gwen was no longer around, and had been reading the regular Spider-man series for awhile so I was already used to a more somber, “adult” tone in a lot of the stories. A comic that really disturbed me at about that time was the “Dream Dome” Killraven story in Amazing Adventures. I don’t know what about it scared me – the dystopian future, the nightmarish versions of the Marvel heroes in it – but it just did. It was therefore the first and only Killraven book I bought at the time (not counting his appearance in Marvel Team-up). I recently re-read it while going through the Essential Killraven; it’s actually a pretty good story, and for the life of me I still can’t figure out why it freaked me out so much when I was a kid. All I do know is that that story plus a borrowed (and very tattered) issue of the old Wein/Wrightson Swamp Thing which also scared me are the reason I tended to avoid horror comics for the longest time…
By the way, I can also identify with your lack of anyone to talk to about something that disturbed you in a comic (or seen on TV, etc.). Like you, for me it would have meant a ban on comics reading if my parents found out (in my case, it was more my dad who was always itching for an excuse to put an end to that particular hobby of mine).

Quick question; did you have a similar reaction to the earlier death of Wonder Woman’s similarly flaxen-haired love interest, Steve Trevor? What about the death of Dorma (who actually debuted in the Golden Age)?


As for me, I was delighted to find an adult that didn’t laugh or sneer at superheroes for once. (Or hum the Batman theme– “na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-BATMAN!” You younger folks have no idea how sick we comics fans got of people laughing and doing that between 1969 and 1980.)

In Amazing Heroes#119 in 1987, Max Allan Collins had an interview. He said the following about how he wrote for DC:

“I’m afraid what I’m running smack up into is the old Batman TV show controversy: the old business about, Gee that was a TV show that made fun of Batman and made fun of comic books, so we have to show people that Batman and comic books are serious and they’re adult and accordingly all the fun goes out of it. There was a reason why that TV show was played for laughs and that is when you put actual human beings in those costumes and act out those stories, it looks stupid. They betray their juvenile roots. It can’t be done straight”. (Further to what Collins said, I will note that a few episodes of the Adam West show did adapt 1965 published issues of Detective Comics.)


Closer to the main thrust of the thread, Max Allan Collins actually fought this trend of more violent foes-not out of any concern about violence in the media, since in his novels for adults, he features some very hard violence. In an interview in Amazing Heroes#119, he said that, in reference to a Frank Miller written story which had Catwoman as former prostitute, he found that inappropriate, the equivalent of doing Peter Pan and having them face historically accurate pirates. Collins considered Catwoman as derived from children’s entertainment, and therefore people should keep that in mind when handling her. Again, Collins did not say this from any prudishness (since he strongly supports the freedom of speech/1st amendment), but he felt it incongruous to have such an idea in something derived from children’s entertainment. That sort of thing belongs more in Dragnet (by which I mean Jack Webb and Ed O’Neil’s Dragnet, not Dan Akroyd’s Dragnet).

(The 1988 Time magazine Superman 50th anniversary article mentioned the same general concept.) As the Batman does indeed represent a more overtly juvenile version of the Shadow (look at Robin’s old costume), Collins’ idea has some merit. The story that you covered today featured a more overtly juvenile version of the Spider.

“Collins’ idea has some merit”

Does it work the other way around though? Is it incongruous as well to have kid versions of, say, Dracula and Frankenstein?

Continuing Collins’ thoughts:

“My problems with this latter-day Batman, specifically — and the latter-day Batman character in general — is a basic wrongheadedness in approach. Batman was created by kids for kids, a juvenile fantasy embraced by adolescents of all ages. Making a realistic, “adult” version is fundamentally foolish, even silly: Catwoman is a prostitute; Commissioner Gordon cheats on his pregnant wife”.


In a similar vein, Alvin Schwartz in a 1993 interview objected to a 1992 published Superman story involving a neighbor beating his spouse. (Of course, Siegel and Shuster had done spouse beating in the 1930’s.)

I kind of miss the feeling of being scared. It’s a lot harder as an adult to have the crap scared out of you without some serious depravity. My own experience mirrors yours a little. When I was a kid the Clayface episode of Batman the Animated Series was terrifying. When Roland Daggett’s goons forced Matt Hagen to swallow that experimental putty, I was practically shivering. The other part that was scary was when Clayface got electrocuted and started transforming into misshapen versions of everyone that he had ever shapeshifted into.

I love that episode, and I still find it wonderfully creepy. I think that when we’re kids our emotions are amplified we feel terror instead of feeling uneasy. Kids also get much more excited than adults do. I don’t think anything I’ve experienced in my adult life has matched the excitement I felt when I was a kid.

…but was Batman originally created “by kids for kids”? I thought early Batman belonged firmly to pulp tradition which was not specifically kids’ books…ditto for Superman.

And if one thinks that argument is valid, that characters written for kids should be off-limits for adult content, wouldn’t it make just as much sense to declare that all comics are kids’ medium and that there should be no adult content in any comics at all? That’s what many people are thinking, btw.

Does it work the other way around though? Is it incongruous as well to have kid versions of, say, Dracula and Frankenstein?

I’d say not… there have been many.

But the point I was trying to make is that audiences– even juvenile audiences– are generally capable of finding things at their own level, without a lot of parents or other authority figures in the way trying to shield them from potential harm. It’s a waste of time, especially since kids always find the stuff ANYWAY.

I’m not terribly interested in The Drak Pack, and I think my eleven-year-olds would find Peter Straub’s Ghost Story to be a snoozefest. My dilemma when I was young wasn’t getting at the ‘adult’ stuff– it was more about trying to insure that Mom wouldn’t take away things I thought of as MINE because she thought they were bad influences or something. She would have loathed Savage Sword of Conan, but she wouldn’t have thought of it as too adult or complex for me. She’d have thought it was pornography.

“…but was Batman originally created “by kids for kids”? I thought early Batman belonged firmly to pulp tradition which was not specifically kids’ books…ditto for Superman”.

It seems that Doc Savage primarily aimed at 15 years old boys. The Shadow may have had an older audience-it tended to have actually complicated mystery puzzle plots and had advertisements for laxatives.


Collins covered that:

“Anyone under 25, knowing only the film franchise [aside from Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, of course], may be astounded by the crude, juvenile nature of the source material; even a generation or so of fans of DC’s Batman comics and graphic novels may find bewildering the amateurish nature of the Batman’s real beginnings.

Have any of the iconic superstar heroes of American popular culture ever had shabbier beginnings than Batman?

Batman, as the Chronicles demonstrate, was something else again; even Superman was better written and drawn in his beginnings. Like Superman, Batman was written by kids for kids. The first story (Detective Comics #27) is crudely drawn, almost childish in Kane’s strained combination of Chester Gould and Milton Caniff technique. Finger’s captions are redundant but necessary, as the drawings do not convey the action. The story is a pale shadow of low-end B movie plots with some radio serial nonsense tossed in; even Batman’s detective work, such as it is, is off-camera (‘I secured this contract from one of his hired killers’) [‘Tec#27 copied the plot and scenes of Partners of Peril by Theodore Tinsley, a novel of the Shadow].

…………But the plotting remains simultaneously simplistic and incoherent: Batman leads the police to assume he’s a jewel thief ‘so that the (real) jewel thieves would think they weren’t being watched.’

Much has been written in recent years about the introduction of Robin pulling the strip down from its ‘serious’ beginnings. Anyone reading the early stories, however, knows that the audience being sought was a juvenile one, and a kid sidekick for young boys to identify with was a smart, commercial addition”.


Regarding Dracula and Frankenstein, they reside in the public domain, so nobody controls them anymore, but to cover them anyway:

Collins points out that Siegel, Shuster and Bob Kane had not reached their mid-20’s when they started their features in the 1930’s, indicating his view that kids created these properties for kids. Mary Shelley had only reached the age of 19 when she wrote Frankenstein, which explains her her hysterically contrived explanation for the monster’s enviable learning (stumbling upon a mislaid package that just happens to contain several classic works of literature and philosophy) and other plotting problems.


Bram Stoker had reached the age of 50 when he wrote Dracula, though.

nice article. if some of your students due freak out over duel then the film is doing its job as being a scary film. and had the same reaction when gwen died. could not believe marvel finaly let that happen and threw a life changer in the spider man books.

…but “shoddily done” is not the same thing as “made for kids”, and majority of pulp done then and now is not known for high production values or innovative narrative techniques. You might also observe that early Batman was not averse to killing or maiming.
I think much of these modern torture porn films going around are crude and juvenile (latter part of juvenile but nevertheless juvenile), doesn’t mean they are for kids.

Also, I’m not sure if I’d call 15-year olds kids even now, and definitely not in the earlier part of the century: many 15-year olds at that point were working, and e.g. despite the official recruitment age limit being 18, there were good amount of younger soldiers in WWI…

…actually it kind of makes sense that Stoker was around 50 when writing Dracula, since that story is very much about a terrible foreigner seducing your daughter, which I guess is more adult theme of horror (the kids unsurprisingly quite like vampires who seduce you). Adult horror would probably also feature bowel cancer, mortgage payments and your dad getting Alzheimer.
The kind of horror wallowing on depravity with lots of inventive killing and crudest of sex has always struck me as something 16-year olds like to come up with.

Man, the Bates and Maggin Superman stories, mostly drawn by Swan, were so great for so many years. Nice to hear someone else echo my personal opinions. I would especially draw attention to the Maggin stories in the last three years or so before the continuity reboot – all of which appeared in SUPERMAN, I think. He didn’t script ACTION in those days, which after Wolfman/Kane was turned over entirely to either Ambush Bug or stories intended for nine-year-olds. Obviously, #400 is an absolute Maggin highlight, but anything written by Maggin between about #390-423 is tremendously high quality.

I recall turning on “Jeopardy” one afternoon. Don’t know what year this was but after the Superman-Lois wedding had been announced but before the Death of Superman storyline. Elliot S. Maggin was a contestant on “Jeopardy” (He didn’t win). In the one minute or so Alex Trebek had to get to know the contestants, he read off a card that Maggin had scripted Superman “for more than 15 years until recently being replaced”. He asked Maggin why he had never come up with the idea of marrying Superman and Lols Lane like those who had come after him. “I did,” Maggin replied, rather curtly “My editors wouldn’t go for it.” I think by editors, he means EDITOR, singular, because Julie Schwartz was the only guy making those decisions during the entirety of Maggin’s many years with the character.

I don’t know what the sales were all those years of the ’70s and early ’80s. DC clearly thought it was important to make a drastic change. But all those Bates and Maggin stories were infinitely more thought-provoking and emotionally gripping than almost any of that Byrne and post-Byrne crap, in my opinion.

Great article as usual!
I had a similiar experience when I read Kraven’s last hunt as a kid.

Always been a fan of The Night Stalker, especially the first TV movie and some of the better episodes.
Have you done a post on the different incarnations (books, tv, comics, reboot tv) of the character?

Ed (A Different One)

October 31, 2011 at 10:37 am

So, that’s what that movie is called? Who knew?

A little over ten years ago when I first began co-habitating with the woman who shortly thereafter became my wife, I was flipping through the wasteland that is Saturday afternoon cable television to kill about 20 minutes or so before we left to attend a party or dinner or some other such social event.

By sheer random luck, I came upon the beginning of the climatic scene the Duel. I probably have the details wrong, but I just remember the heavy 70’s atmosphere and dress, the style of the car, the guy looking ominously into his review mirror as he slowly pulled away from the dread-inducing truck. Then watched as the car started to sputter and the dread-inducing truck started gaining ground. Before I knew it, I was on the edge of my seat egging the guy on as he finally, torturously crested the hill and went cruising down to the movie’s conclusion (no spoilers).

I’m far from an avid TV watcher and even less so for movies, but I was glued to my seat for that scene. I always wondered what movie it came from as I naturally had questions about how the characters got there, who was driving the truck, why he was after 70’s guy, etc. , etc., etc. Somehow, not knowing the answers to those questions added to the “spookiness” of the scene, though, as my mind would come up with it’s own ideas of who was behind the wheel and why he/she/it was so hell bent on 70’s guy’s destruction.

Now that I know the name of the movie, I’ll have to carefully consider whether I want to watch it or not. It may take away from the initial impact I experienced by just happening upon it on TV . . .

“Duel” is one of the best movies ever. And since there are no bodies or blood, I wouldn’t hesitate to show it to 11-year-olds.

I was 13 when Duel first aired. It terrified me. I was afraid to get in the car for weeks.

There were some truly awesome made-for-TV movies around that time.

I was 13 when Duel first aired. It terrified me. I was afraid to get in the car for weeks.

There were some truly awesome made-for-TV movies around that time.

Oh, yeah. Universal put out a bunch of good ones. In fact, Hauser’s Memory with David McCallum, that so thoroughly creeped me out a couple of years later, was one of them. From the novel by Curt Siodmak, who also gave us the just-as-creepy-but-not-as-well-filmed novel, Donovan’s Brain.

Always been a fan of The Night Stalker, especially the first TV movie and some of the better episodes.
Have you done a post on the different incarnations (books, tv, comics, reboot tv) of the character?

I have not, mostly because there’s not a lot I can think of to say about them. I love the Kolchak movies as well, the show a little less so, but the Moonstone prose offerings are AWESOME.

“And if one thinks that argument is valid, that characters written for kids should be off-limits for adult content, wouldn’t it make just as much sense to declare that all comics are kids’ medium and that there should be no adult content in any comics at all? That’s what many people are thinking, btw”.

Collins stated that he did not think of comic books as a medium as juvenile, just a specific genre as juvenile. After all, we do not consider television as juvenile due to Power Rangers or Dragnet as juvenile due to 1987’s Dragnet, nor have I noticed many people rejecting film tickets as gifts even though the following franchises stand as the highest for domestic gross:

Star Wars (inspired by the Flash Gordon serials)
Harry Potter
The Lord of the Rings (started with the Hobbit, and the Hobbitt received initial reviews as a children’s book)


So, I have shown that the film franchises listed as the highest-grossing derive from children’s entertainment. Even if we adjusted for inflation, not too many would suggest that the Shaft, Dirty Harry, Death Wish, etc. franchises (all only had R-rated entries) would make the list.

Did Collins bother to validate his comments in any way or is it just “well, I don’t think comics are juvenile but I think Batman is, hear me roar”. Because still, claiming that a book written by 20-year olds with 15-year olds as target audience (or even 12-13-year olds) is a children’s book still doesn’t make any kind of sense to me, even if the book was not particularly well done (technically 15-year olds are juvenile but lumping them together with 12-year olds, 10-year olds and 7-year olds is idiotic).

Did Collins bother to validate his comments in any way or is it just “well, I don’t think comics are juvenile but I think Batman is, hear me roar”.

You guys are having so much fun with this that I hesitate to get in the middle, but it’s worth pointing out that Collins was answering the question of why he had such a troubled stint as the WRITER of Batman. Part of his answer was that he was giving them straight-ahead Batman and Robin adventure stories, but DC had decided to throw everything into pushing the Frank Miller, “Year One” version.

Speaking as someone who was there buying the books off the stands, that’s a fair assessment. Collins was doing good, solid, Bronze-Age Robbins & Novick-style Batman stuff. But it’s not what the market was howling for. Collins felt that history was on his side and I tend to agree, but DC went the other way anyway. That’s how we got Jim Starlin and Asshole Batman for the next few years.

More from Amazing Heroes#119: “one of the basic problems that Denny had with my Batman approach is that I bring a lot of humor to it……And again I don’t see how any intelligent writer can approach a story about people in long underwear and capes without either removing their brain or putting their tongue in their cheek to a degree…….

[On [presumably] the Christopher Reeve Superman films] The Superman movies have all, as far as I’m concerned fallen to a degree into the Batman TV show approach-maybe not quite as broad…..And I think they did that because because there’s no other way you can play it. It just doesn’t work. I mean, look at that costume.

Collins mentions that he feels comfortable with properties that derive from “the Shadow and is an offshoot of crime fiction”. He later mentions that “I do make a distinction between costumed hero and super-hero”, referring to his own Wild Dog as derived from “the tradition of Zorro, the Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet, the Shadow”.

Later, Collins said “Early on, I asked, Do you want me to do mock-Miller [imitation of Frank Miller] , and I was told not to do that-to do traditional Batman”. Well, if they told Collins to do that, they should have realized, as Count Karnstein said:

As the poster Count Karnstein pointed out, those traditional comic books:
“had giant pennies and stuffed dinosaurs, was wearing caveman, zebra, and rainbow costumes, teamed up with Bat-Mite, split in two, melded with Superman, fought a living #2 pencil, drowned in giant gravy boats and menaced by giant sized water pistols, tennis rackets, and all sorts of insane absurdities long before the Batman movie or tv show were released….Dozier was bringing the characters to the screen in the manner in which they had been portrayed in the comics. Was there ever a silly, absurd, ridiculous Green Hornet comic book? If so, it’s escaped my attention for the better part of 40 years. Did we ever see a Caveman Green Hornet or a Green Hornet in a rainbox/zebra/dayglo red suit? Did we ever see Green Hornet being drowned in a giant gravy boat or being chased by aliens and dinosaurs? Was there ever an Ace the Green Hornet Dog? How about a Hornet-Mite?

No? I didn’t think so. There’s your answer. It’s literally that simple. Dozier was taking characters and putting them on the screen. Green Hornet was always played straight and serious in the comics/strips/radio, so he was done that way for tv. Batman was as absurd, silly, goofy, and ridiculous as anything else that has ever appeared in comics, and so that’s how he appeared on-screen”.

I must say that Collins may have a point vis a vis Peter Pan. Can you imagine a Peter Ran adaptation with Captain Hook as a chicken pimp kidnapping children to sell them to Thailand? How about Saban’s Power Rangers doing the same? People have this odd idea that the most famous adventure properties derive from adult literature, that if something has achieved fame it must come from adult literature, but as I have shown above (e.g. Harry Potter and Star Wars), the opposite seems true in recent decades.

(Yes, I recall Andrew Vachss wrote Batman: The Ultimate Evil to oppose child abuse in Thailand. I appreciate Vachss’ efforts, but since that property featured a boy sidekick in short shorts, elf shoes and shaved legs for 48 years, it does not seem appropriate.)

You were ELEVEN years old and shaking from this?!? Maybe things were different back then. I read it when I was 11 or 12 (I’m 31 now) and,while I appreciate how important it is to the canon,I found it to be pretty corny. I can’t imagine actually being scared from it at any age.

You were ELEVEN years old and shaking from this?!? Maybe things were different back then.

Well, yeah. That’s why I spent a huge part of the column explaining that. It was kind of the point. “End of the Silver Age.” NOTHING LIKE IT HAD EVER BEEN DONE.

I read it when I was 11 or 12 (I’m 31 now) and,while I appreciate how important it is to the canon, I found it to be pretty corny. I can’t imagine actually being scared from it at any age.

Which would make it… 1990? 1991? Considering all the changes in superhero comics by then, it’s no wonder. By the 1990s readers had been desensitized to pretty much any and every kind of violence in a superhero story, and certainly to the Event Death phenomenon.

Context counts for a lot. I can’t imagine anyone being terrified by the 1931 Dracula with Bela Lugosi, myself, but in its theatrical release it had women running screaming out of the theater.

Jumping back to Collins on Frank Miller; I must say that having Selina Kyle as a former prostitute seems at odds with a story where the hero escapes by pressing a button which summons bats to rescue him, all of which occurs in Batman: Year One.

Collins predicted that the 1989 Tim Burton film would not do well unless they mimiced the style of the Adam West show. However, the brute force of WB’s marketing helped make up for a weakly plotted, poorly directed film. (The star of Mr. Mom in rubber velcro muscles, the director of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure at the helm.)

Further follow-up on Max Allan Colins:

Despite the increased attention on Collins and “Road to Perdition,” don’t look for him to be lured into writing any superhero titles any time soon. “I’m always up for writing ‘Batman’ or other costumed heroes, in the Zorro/Shadow tradition; superheroes — super-powered heroes — aren’t really my cup of tea. Never say never, though. A certain amount of super powers can be interesting — I love the character Kai on the wonderfully warped ‘Lexx’ TV series, a living dead man who cannot be killed. Still, Kai has weaknesses — he needs proto-blood to survive, for example. But generally a super-powered hero is the kind of character only a kid can identify with — a kid wishing to be an adult, essentially. In storytelling terms, if the hero has greater powers than his adversaries, what’s so heroic about him? Underdogs are easier to identify with. Batman may be a remarkable human being, but he is human — he bleeds; bones break.”

[I should note to Collins that even the Nolan films had that scene where he summoned bats by pushing a button.]

All this talk about Duel” and nobody mentions that it was Steven Spielberg’s first full-length movie (yes, made for TV but I saw it in theatrical release several years later).

More from Max Allan Collins:


“What a lot of people, the Batman show is despised by a lot of comic fans, particularly Batman fans, the dirty little secret of the Batman TV show is that it was extremely accurate to the comic, it was exactly how the comic was. It worked in a similar fashion; it worked for kids who liked a fun adventure story and if you were older you could see some of the irony. If you were under 12 you didn’t know it was campy, so it worked for a huge wide audience. A lot of the stories are based on comic book stories, some written by Bill Finger who was the co-creator of Batman, so this thing they hate was actually extremely accurate for the 1950’s batman. No one would cop to that because they wanted him to be a dark knight, they wanted him to be oh-so serious but now they’ve got Batman screwing Catwoman, which is like the Tin Man doing Dorothy doggy-style.

It’s crazy! It’s just crazy.

These things began as comics for children…….”

“The ultimate freelancer’s revenge, although some people say this proves the point of why some fans didn’t like what I did, Toys R Us came to DC and asked to do 3 or 4 packets of toys when Batman was still hot, and they want to sell them at Toys R Us. They looked at 5 years of the Batman comic book, they looked at Year One and Dark Knight and all this stuff. Guess what they picked? Only my comics! That’s all they did, and I got royalties off of it.

While the comic book fans were talking about how terrible what I did was, I was getting incredible checks in the mail for all the comics that were sold at Toys R Us”.

One should note that Collins noted that he had started to craft Wild Dog with the idea of toys and cartoons (1980’s era cartoons), but his “instincts” stopped him.

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