Friday, May 05, 2006

May 1976

Ah HA! With Blockade Boy's cooperation, I have deceived you (because you are my friends; it's a Legionnaire thing). I told you I didn't have a Time Bubble; I do have a Time Bubble.

In fact, as you read this, it has encircled you and is chronoporting you back thirty years. Are you tired of complaining about the quality of mega-crossover events and having your joy in comics eclipsed by picayune details of plot and art that cause you to miss the forest for the trees? Yes; I'm tired of that, too... .

So, welcome to May 1976, where you're safe from all the awfulness of the DC Comics of 2006! Let's go to the comic book store and see what joys await you because Everything Used to Be Better, you know.

Oh, wait; that's right -- there is no local comic book store. No matter where you live on the entire planet. There are no comic book stores, period.

Oops. Well, I'm sure if you drive or walk for miles to scrounge around in the back of 10 or 12 bookstores and drugstores, you'll find one that carries comics with a few issues that haven't already been torn, or damaged, or gone yellow, or already been bought by some irate parent trying to shut their kids up on a cross-country auto trip. Better hurry, because there's probably only one or two copies of each issue...!

Let's see what FABULOUS comics await you!

Ah, the legendary Batman Family title, where every month a grown man in a Robin costume and a crimefighting Congresswoman engage in goofy repartee and needlessly acrobatic fighting techniques like the one meaninglessly portrayed on this cover. That's what they did. Every month. Really.

In this issue, Babs & Dick combat Freeway, the Technician, Bugg, and Dr. Excess. Yow! They don't write 'em like that any more! Come to think of it, I believe Dr. Excess was not only the villain, but the writer... .

Hm. At least there's a Bathound story and a Signalman story. Each of which were actually written 20 years earlier. I love that picture of Ace: "Bathound Loves You."

Oo, I found another undamaged comic behind that one: Karate Kid 2! Not Ralph Macchio, silly; Karate Kid, the Legionnaire so cheesy he made Bouncing Boy look like an eminence grise. This is "Martial Arts Mayhem at Its Mightiest", folks.

What's he up to? Fighting Major Disaster (who's surfing on a giant communion wafer) and the Disasterettes to save the U.N. back here in 1976.

Why? Because it's 1976 and people still think the U.N. is worth saving. It is, of course; Diana Prince has to work somewhere. I mean, it's not like she can just open a dress shop in the Village or something!

What's Batman doing? That's it; Batman is always doing something cool. Batman will make us happy we're not in the evil future of 2006 any longer... .

Batman 275 finds our hero fighting a motorcycle gang on an ice rink in a classic, "The Ferry Blows at Midnight." How? Why?

Who cares? It's 1976. Writers just come up with some wacky centerpiece scene ("I know; in his forty year history, Batman's never fought a motorcycle gang on an iceskating rink!") then build a flimsy story around it.

It doesn't matter; there is no continuity, there are no ramifications, nothing has to make sense. In 1976, life, both in the real world and comics, is just one big Austin Powers movie.

But surely it's part of some larger plan? Perhaps a criminal mastermind is behind it all? Well, no. The only Special Guest Villain in this story is ...

wait for it ...

Joey One-Eye.

Snicker. Giggle. Snort. Okay, Beavis, settle down. Suffice it to say that while the ferry may wait till midnight to blow, the story is way ahead of it.

Meanwhile, in Metropolis, Superman is fighting Black Rock.

Who? Black Rock. Black. Rock. Come on, people! You know...!

A broadcasting company wanted a superhero on payroll so they had the brilliant scientist head of research guy (every network had them in the 1970s, you know) whip up a supersuit, then the scientist hypnotizes the network president into wearing this "Black Rock" outfit and fighting Superman, then hypnotizes that guy's nephew, a comedian named Les Vegas who constantly made TV-themed puns, into becoming Black Rock, then becomes Black Rock himself.

No, I am not making that up. Oh, by the way, isn't that exactly what you would wear if you were a supervillain named "Black Rock"? Green bodysuit, purple hood and cape; why, of course, it is.

Johns? Morrison? Palmiotti? Ha! Who needs those hacks? Here in 1976 we've got Elliot S! Maggin, baby, and, no, the exclamation point is not a typo; have your parents explain it to you. Hey, wait ... I think I've figured out "Dr. Excess's" secret identity!

Well, if those mainstreamers aren't satisfying you, here's one: Claw the Unconquered 7. It's about a guy who lost his hand and got it replaced with a magical one, having sword and sorcery adventures in an undersea city.

Boy, if only we could have had a comic like that in 2006! It'd be as popular, classic, and critically acclaimed as Claw!

What about the ever-engaging JLA? This is the Bronze Era, the fabled satellite league, which everyone knows rocked out loud....

Here they are fighting, um...

a purple thing with Flash's legs, Hawkman's head, and a detachable arm.

I assume their opponent is superpowerless except from the waist down. Well, let's put that issue on the "buy pile" immediately; don't even have to crack that open to know it's a winner.

Just what are Oliver and Arthur's lower halves doing? I ... I'm not quite sure. But it sure makes the monster mad. Maybe it's the Comics Code Authority Monster. Aren't there supposed to be word balloons or narration bursts that explain it?

  • Monster: "I've stolen the Flash's lower parts -- and now I want yours!"
  • Narration: "Beware ... the Mish-Mash Monster!"
  • Aquaman: "MY SWORD!!!"

Points to whoever comes up with the best expository blurb for this cover, by the way.

I won't spoil the plot for others, but in 2006 they can still buy that comic and find out how great it was. Probably at the same drug store we're at right now in 1976, in fact. Except in their evil future it's not Winkleman's Family Pharmacy, it's CVS.

Oh, as long as we're buying comics in May 1976, there's at least one other we should definitely get. It'll be good ... eventually.

Say, in about 30 years:


Chris Sims said...

"Batman 275 finds our hero fighting a motorcycle gang on an ice rink in a classic, 'The Ferry Blows at Midnight.'"

I have no problem whatsoever with this.

Anonymous said...

Although having a character named "Joey One-Eye" in a story centered around a blowing ferry is pushing the Werthameter a bit.

C. Elam said...

I fear I must disagree, because I would scoop up any one of these comics before I'd take free copies of DC's INFINITE CRISIS.

I'm glad some people are enjoying it, but DC's "new direction" is just the "old direction" with better production values.

Dorian said...

Bless you. In one simple post you've managed to perfectly disect the comic fan attitude that's been driving me buggy all week.

Brack said...

Is that the same purple JLA body part stealing monster that Waid used in his JLA Year One series?

S Bates said...

Oh, wait; that's right -- there is no local comic book store. No matter where you live on the entire planet. There are no comic book stores, period.

I assume you're talking about the US here, right? In the UK, there are still no local comic book stores. Well, there are if you live in the city centre but not elsewhere. And these city centre specialist comic stores existed back then as well. So no real change there.

In the 70s you could also buy comics from your local newsagent. You can now - the only difference being that now the US comics are UK variants of the American material. However, nowadays I can't go to my local market and buy a large wad of shipping ballast comics for next to nothing. However I can now buy comics on the Internet and TPBs from bookstores.

Batman 275 finds our hero fighting a motorcycle gang on an ice rink in a classic, "The Ferry Blows at Midnight."

The difference is now we'd have Batman fighting a motorcycle gang on an ice rink because the gang had brutally raped Batgirl. Or something.

Some comics (not all!) seem to think grim'n'gritty is the way to go. Which is fine, but they keep all the other superhero goofiness, like multicoloured spandex and science-defying superpowers.

It doesn't matter; there is no continuity, there are no ramifications, nothing has to make sense.

Like much of the current multi-part super-duper cross-over events of the year, which are full of continuity and ramifications, make sense?!? Not that it matters because a year or two later, they'll have another "event" that retcons the whole thing anyway.

Are things much worse now than they were? No, not really. However, the comics do tend to take themselves too seriously. And the Big Two do tend to try and milk things for all they're worth (the six-billion part Civil War being one example). And comics are somewhat more expensive than they used to be (albeit printed on better paper).

JP said...

Hey, I *liked* that Black Rock story! I was only 9 when I read it (in a reprint, I'm not quite that old yet), but I distnctly recall enjoying it.

Expository caption: Deranged, poorly-designed composite MoralityDroid thwarts perverted archer-merman coupling. JLAers rush to provide assistance.'

naladahc said...

I think Freeway, the Technician, Bugg, and Dr. Excess may get offed in the next few issues of Batman or Detective Comics.

Gwen said...

"Boy, if only we could have had a comic like that in 2006! It'd be as popular, classic, and critically acclaimed as Claw!"

Sadly enough the Claw is still around in comics today. He moonlights with Red Sonja now days

Anonymous said...

Is this about the complaints circulating about IC? If so, I'm confused by what I am guessing to be your argument. You seem to be suggesting that we're better off now because comics are taken more seriously... not only by those who write them but by consumers at large.

Yet by this logic, shouldn't we more than ever expect the stories we purchase, more than in 1976 certainly, to make sense? For the things depicted within their panels to tell a story, and for some integrity of narrative? If these basic ideas of fiction are missing in what has been touted by the biggest event in the DC Universe in twenty years, then shouldn't we at least be rightfully disappointed, if not outraged?

Hmm. I must respectfully disagree that you're comparing equal components of the same medium. There have been examples of good storytelling in comics recently. It seems fair that such an "event" that purports to "change everything" should at least live up to the best that has gone before it, if not its own marketing.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

Blackrock is Fred Silverman turned super-villain. Sweet. I interviewed Blackrock here. Not one of my better interviews, but I do work in a "man-boob" joke. That counts for something.

Yeah, people forget that the olde-tymey comics had certain charms, but that they also stank in ways that modern audiences wouldn't accept in their monthly books. Ah, to fuse the anarchic fun spirit of ye olden days with modern style, that is the dream.

And dig them lapels on Karate Kid! Nice!

Scipio said...

"pushing the Werthameter".

Heh. Heh heh. He said-- he said "pushing the Werthameter."

"I would scoop up any one of these comics before I'd take free copies of DC's INFINITE CRISIS."

Ah. But have you READ any of them? I dare you!

"I have no problem whatsoever with this."

Yes, the ice rink thing would be kind of fab. But, ah, I deceived you AGAIN, Chris! It's actually a soccer stadium, if you look closely. Which is not fab at all.

"In one simple post you've managed to perfectly disect the comic fan attitude that's been driving me buggy all week."

My pleasure. Those of who have been through war appreciate peace more.

"Is that the same purple JLA body part stealing monster that Waid used in his JLA Year One series?"

No. That would have been clever though. Maybe it's a nod to it ... .

"I think Freeway, the Technician, Bugg, and Dr. Excess may get offed in the next few issues of Batman or Detective Comics."

LOL! No, not Dr. Excess! Who will Dr. Domino play chess with?

"Is this about the complaints circulating about IC?"

Yes. Yes, it is.

"Sadly enough the Claw is still around in comics today. He moonlights with Red Sonja now days."

No, what's sad is "Claw" is now "Sword of Atlantis".

Anonymous said...

Expository caption: Justice Leagues learn to beware the Hawk-'em Sock-'em Robot.

joncormier said...

I can't wait for the return of Black Rock. Only now he'd be like a Swedish Black Metal themed character burning churches while dressed like the road warriors from the WWF (and the requisite battle-axe). Okay, maybe that's the Black Rock of the nineties, but still!

You know, I don't get the attitude of it was better when. I've never experienced it first hand, I've never read it online. I have a sneaking suspiscion we all simply assume it exists out in the comics black hole somewhere. Just saying.

Scipio said...

"Then I saw a monkey shoving a robot Batman in a garbage can that is obvioulsy already too full, and I realized that no, they were better once."

Have you actually read SSOSV #1? I have; used to own it. The whole series, in fact.

It was not ridiculously fantastic. It was very very bad. You would not enjoy it.

If someone made a comic book that bad today, fans would be outraged and he'd be fired.

Exactly like Larry Hama was when he created Orca the Whalewoman.

Walaka said...

I dunno, Scipio. I agree with the gist of what you're saying; the paeans to the good ol' days often ignore a lot of the dreck that was out then.

My problem with the comics today can probably be boiled down to two issues: accessibility and pretentiousness.

When I pick up a comic these days, I feel I have to read a zillion other things to know what's going on. There seem to be no re-caps, no helpuful captions telling me who's who, no narrative devices that catch me up. As a result, I rarely buy anything - I can't get engaged enough to care about anyone.

Another barrier is that all this stuff seems so self-important. It's hard to find anything on the racks that isn't a fundamental change to the character or the world or the universe - a character or universe or world that it seems the creators expect I know already (see accessibility). Too many stories seem to yearn to be "important" rather than good.

Maybe it can be attributed to audience: I think writers and artists used to create comics - good ones and bad ones - with the reader in mind who had never read comics before. Now it seems so intramural; the writers seem to be writing to the same group over and over: the goup that will get the references, the group that has read all the tie-ins, the group that will track the million details needed to understand the story -- in short, the fan.

I have other issues with current comics: I have never liked gratuitous violence, I think that singles cost too much, I think that the obsession with continuity has gone too far. But overall, I just don't feel that the writers care if I read the stuff or not - they are playing to their base, and I'm not in it.

And for the record, I didn't mind buying comics at outlets other than specialty stores. It was fun.

Anonymous said...

What would be the classical Greek equivalent of a pulp story featuring Batman battling a biker gang on a soccer pitch?

I'm sure such treasures existed, but have long since been lost.

Jeremy Rizza said...

Wasn't this also the era when Batman operated out of a skyscraper that had a freaking sequoia or something growing through the middle of it? They need to move him back in there!

You can borrow my Time Bubble again any time, pal! And thank you for having it detailed before you returned it to me. It's so shiny now I have to don sunglasses before getting within twenty feet of it. And the interior smells like lavender!

naladahc said...


I'm assuming the Legion of Substitute Heroes' Lavender Lad was tagging along for the time jaunt!

Oh wait. I can't remember if he survived Zero Hour... er Infinite Crisis... er...

EM said...

You can add me to the list of folks that aren't quite sure what your point is.

Are those comics beyond lame? Yes. Are they fun? Hell yeah! I'd rather have and read any of them, than sit down and try to work my way through Infinite Mega Never-ending Overblown Crisis to End All Overblown Crises (Until the Next One Comes Along).

At least one of the virtues of these mid-70's DC's is that they're not pretending that the whole concept of grown people in tights pounding on each other is anything but silly.

And, yes, there were no local comics shops, as we know them today, but consider this:

In the small town (pop. about 5,000) where I grew up, in those days there were three-four places on my walk home from school where I could buy comics. Today, there aren't any. In the city of 600,000+ where I live today there are only three comics shops, which are the only places I can get them. The eleven year old me in 76 had much easier access to comics than the 41 year old me in 2006 does. The three shops in the town where I live now are the closest comics shops to the town where I grew up, and they're an hour and a half away from it. If 11 year old me were growning up there today, he'd have no access to comics whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

DC of May 1976! Super keen! The month and year I was born. Thank you sir, for a wonderfully geeky birthday gift.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but what were my choices in May 1986?

Scipio said...

"a skyscraper that had a freaking sequoia"

Actually, that tree was achingly artificial, an offense to god and nature.

And it had an elevator in it that went down to the Batcave.

Kitty said...

Hahaha, excellent! Thanks for this writeup! As much as I have issues with today's crop of comics, I don't want to go back to the "wacky old days."

I'm reading a stack of old issues of JLA at the moment and I have trouble enjoying them even ironically - I like real storytelling, and these just read like disposable Mad Libs. "$villain gets $wacky_weapon and launches $nutty_scheme, punching ensues."

Marc Burkhardt said...

Actually in the culturally advanced San Francisco • San Jose Bay Area there was a comic book store: Comics & Comix! It was a chain that started in the late '60s and still survives in a truncated form to this day!

I used to buy all my stuff there, when I wasn't hanging around a 7-11.

I do think some of the IC criticism is far, far over the top (over at Comics Should Be Good, especially), but agreed with Evil Robby at least in terms of IC #7's gore. When Superboy-Prime first went nuts, it served a useful plot point. When Earth-2 Supes is covered in buckets of blood, it's just excess.

I equate Infinite Crisis with a Hollywood blockbuster like "Independence Day." Not exactly a super-classic, but entertaining enough. I have higher hopes for 52, where stories and characters can be more fully developed.

To be honest with you, I think I owned all the comics you "highlight" at one point or another. They're ridiculous, far from cool and lack any depth whatsoever.

But you know, they were FUN. Because, you know, no matter how you dress up a superhero comic it all comes down to overgrown bodybuilders in spandex beating each other up.

To me, that's just as true about SSOV as it is about Secret Six! Love em both in a genuine, non-ironic way.

Anonymous said...

If someone made a comic book that bad today, fans would be outraged and he'd be fired.

Would that it were so. Half the staff at Marvel would be standing in line at Window A.

Jeff R. said...

Okay, sure, 1976 was an awful year. (And 1986 isn't a good crumudeonly pick either, since that's post-crisis and british invasion and all kinds of things that were fun at the time but carried the seens in How Things Got To Be The Way They Are Now.)

Me? Give me 1982, any day of the week. Superman split in two by Lord Satanus, protecting Metropolis without invulnerability, among other powers. Per Degaton and the Crime Syndicate turning Earth-Prime into a nuclear wasteland. Starfire's return to Tamaran. The Great Darkness Saga, for crissakes. And, of course, the fake composite superman.

That's the year of reference for wanting things to be back like the good-old bronze age, pre-crisis days.

Anonymous said...

I'm hear to say 1976 rocked! The great thing about comics in 1976 is they were just fun. 2006 not so much.

Scipio said...

"And, of course, the fake composite superman."

Amalgamax? I think I remember that...

"When Earth-2 Supes is covered in buckets of blood, it's just excess."

Excuse me; that's DOCTOR Excess to you!

Julio Oliveira said...

Yeah, the problem if this post is that as absurd as this comics were they actually FUN with capital letters. The only reason I didn't think I wasted my money on Infinite Crisis is that read it for free.

Marc Burkhardt said...

"Excuse me; that's DOCTOR Excess to you!"

Heh. Well played, sir.

Anonymous said...

Fun Fact: When I was 9 I found this comics lame and incredibly unfun, until the modern age I hated superheroes, is the continuity that made intersted in comics

But then again, I live in a country where you buy comics in specialised stores and on your local drug store

Anonymous said...

I'm old enough (41) that I was not only around then, but I actually bought four of the comics you cited. I'm going to have to go with the others who say, "Yeah, but at least they were fun."

It's not just the grim-'n'-grittiness of the modern era. In small doses (say, "Watchmen" or the original "Dark Knight") that can be interesting and even refreshing. On the other hand, I don't need to see Black Adam punching the front of Psycho Pirate's face out through the back of his head. I just don't.

I continued to read the Superman titles for many years post-Crisis, but eventually I realized that they were taking six issues to tell stories that would've been eight pages in the '50s. One can argue that there's more characterization these days, but I would argue that the real difference are the huge panels. What amazes me about the Showcase Presents books is just how long it takes me to get through a standard-length '60s story in comparison to the five-minute read of a modern comic.

At some point, comics became all about the visuals. Again, that's cool in small doses. Not so cool when the books are three bucks a pop and you need to read five monthly titles to follow a single storyline. Look at the 30 cent price on those titles. That's a price a kid could afford.

From this old-fogey's perspective, it all began to go downhill when it was decided that comics needed to be on nice, expensive, archival paper. That's crap. My favorite comics were the ones I read and reread until the covers were ready to come off. The moment they began to be treated as collectibles rather than things to read in the bathroom or shove in a school folder is the moment that the wheels began to come off the SuperMobile.

Finally, I simply realized that I simply wasn't the audience anymore. I don't know who the audience is, but I suspect that they're about half my age. Instead of wishing that modern comics were like the ones I grew up with (especially the "100 pages for 60 cents" books...God, weren't those the best?), I realized that there were thousands of old-fashioned comics I've never read, and thanks to reprint TPBs, I'll never have to be lacking for them. I haven't bought a new, single issue comic in years. If it's worth having, it'll be in TPB.

Bully said...

Yeah, well, but there's an excuse: Everyone was too busy getting their bunting hung up for the Bicentennial to think about great comics in early '76.

Anonymous said...

The thing is, I think comics really *are* fun now.

The purpose of Infinite Crisis, on a storytelling level, seems to have been catharsis. Going straight through the darkest and most gritty and coming out the other side. And while it didn't totally achieve that, I think things have come out pretty good OYL.

Anonymous said...

I loves me some 1970s--it's my favorite funnybook era, period.

At DC, Cary Bates ("Grant Morrison Before There Was Grant Morrison") seemed to write everything, and his whimsical madness/mad whimsy was infectious.

At Marvel, they were relishing the loosened comics code, and we got plenty of 70s staples--blaxploitation (Luke Cage), bikers (Ghost Rider), devil worship (GR again, Son of Satan), and martial arts (Iron Fist). And you had to love the revival of all their Kirby monster reprints.

No, most of the comics weren't good, but they were fun.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Scipio. The foggy lens of Nostalgia makes everything "that was" better in retrospect, but the truth is that many of those books were painfully bad. Just as bad, and sometimes worse, than "Infinite Crisis", only with less violence and more retarded plots.

It's interesting to note how the many fans who say that things were so much better "way back when" always defend Golden/Silver age comics with the safe and subjective "it was fun" argument, but refuse to acknowledge that less-nostalgic readers can find the current crop of comics equally "fun".

I personally thought "Identity Crisis" was a fun and compelling read, and "Dark Knight 2" was freakin' hilarious – two series generally loathed by the more nostalgic fans. The ironic thing is that many of the readers who complain that modern comics "take themselves too seriously" didn't appreciate DK2's brutal mockery of DC's flagship characters. But hey, it was FUN to see Catgirl almost swallowing the Atom, or Elongated Man's cameo! And since "being fun" is an inevitably subjective criteria, you can't tell me that these series AREN'T "fun". I think the Golden Age Superman, with his thousands of "convenient plot-device powers", sucked lollipops through a straw – but if someone else enjoyed 'em, hey, more power to them. Who am I to say that the books they enjoyed weren't "fun"? And by the same rationale, who are they to say that the modern comics I enjoy aren't "fun"?

Therefore, the same subjective "fun" argument that excuses all the flaws found in old comics should also excuse any flaws found in modern books. If a nostalgic fan can excuse Superman's Golden Age ridiculous superventriloquism as "fun", that fan should extend the same generosity towards books that OTHER people consider "fun", even if those books doesn't appeal to his tastes.

If a modern fan finds a storyline such as "Hush" (which I personally considered a piece of garbage) to be fun, who are any of us to tell him that it WASN'T fun?

naladahc said...

"Infinite Crisis" to "1976 comics" to the use of the word "bunting" in this post's comments.

Never in my life did I ever think I would read the word "bunting" on a comics blog!

Now this is the definition of awesome.

Anonymous said...

Sorry man, I agree with evil Robby Reed on this one. And hauling out bad comics from 1976 is a misnomer. You can always find some garbage around. I don't think DC pulled off any successes with this. Part of the problem is that you're looking at it from the perspective of someone who's already a fan. James Robinson clearing away old goofy Batman villains may seem like taking out the trash to someone who's been reading the title for years, but to someone picking up their first issue it's gory and a little sick. Seeing Senior Citizen Superman getting beaten to a bloody death by a younger self who cuts a bloody emblem into his own chest isn't anything to be applauded either. That's not a problem you can blame on 1976, it happened this week.

Anonymous said...

Instead of wishing that modern comics were like the ones I grew up with (especially the "100 pages for 60 cents" books...God, weren't those the best?), I realized that there were thousands of old-fashioned comics I've never read, and thanks to reprint TPBs, I'll never have to be lacking for them. I haven't bought a new, single issue comic in years. If it's worth having, it'll be in TPB.

Amen, brother!!

What do new comics cost these days? $3 apiece, isn't it? I figure every title I don't buy is one more Masterworks or Archives I can buy that year ($3 x 12 = $36, a little more than the price of those collections).

Marc Burkhardt said...

Hammerheart -

You're right. Fun is fun, no matter what era you're reading. But, lost in all this hoopla is that it is possible for one reader to find Y The Last Man and Klaw The Barbarian fun - without putting any quotation marks around the word "fun."

When people totally dismiss an entire generation of work in favor of an other, it doesn't really reflect anything but personal taste.

There was plenty of crap comics in '66, 76' 86, 96 and 2006. And there was good stuff too.

Frankly, the best moment in any comic had NOTHING to do with IC this week. It was Jason Bard's interview with "Mr. Orca."

Now THAT's fun.

MarkAndrew said...

I know; in his forty year history, Batman's never fought a motorcycle gang on an iceskating rink!

HORRORS! A writer actually has a clever hook for his story and executes it. IN ONE ISSUE!

As everyone knows a comic CAN'T be any good unless it's essentially a meta-comment on what other writers have done or it part 17 of a 32 part series all based on Beating you over the head with the same damn idea over and over and over... repeat 32 times.

You're right.

A done in one story with an engaging hook.

I'm SO glad we've grown past this kind of childish hackery, and you'll NEVER see this kind of writing from the New DC.

The New DC: One half-baked idea that Cary Bates already thought of fourty
years ago, now dragged out for thirty issues.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, those 1976 DC books were pretty bad, worse than whatever's out now, no doubt.

1976 Marvel books, on the other hand...

Anonymous said...

Of course "fun" is a subjective evaluation. Presumably, today's readers must gain some enjoyment out of modern comics, or they wouldn't drop three bucks an issue.

I'll cop to a bit of the rose-colored nostalgia. For example, I was surprised to discover just how lame and repetitive the stories in Showcase Presents: Superman turned out to be. Far too many of the plots involved Superman concocting a hugely elaborate ruse just to lure some average-schmoe crook out of hiding.

On the other, virtually all of the stories in Showcase Presents: Metamorpho were hugely entertaining, despite (or more likely, because of) the wacky stylings of Bob Haney.

I don't know how the other old-timers define "fun," but I know that for me the comics of old were about heroes who enjoyed being heroes in a world which, while far from perfect, was at least optimistic. Today's books lean toward the dark, depressing and pessimistic. Maybe that's fun for some. More power to 'em, I guess. I just know that I could do without a DC Universe in which Batgirl was crippled and then sexually molested. (And that's from Alan Moore, a writer I generally like.)

I think that what's most telling about the post-Crisis DCU is that they've never figured out what to do with Captain Marvel. He JUST DOESN'T FIT in a grim-'n'-gritty world, and I'd argue that he's pointless in a universe overpopulated by supers. I was really hoping that IC would see the return of the Multiverse if for no other reason than that the Marvels could go back to Earth-S and once again be the World's Mightiest Mortals. Instead, they killed Shazam, gave Billy Batson a hood, and promoted Captain Marvel, Jr. At this point, I think that I can pretty much forget about ever seeing a good Captain Marvel story out of DC, short of a Showcase Presents: Marvel Family. (And why isn't there one, dammit?!)

Anonymous said...

According from's search function, Bugg and Dr. Excess are not, in fact, from that issue of Batman Family but from the 2002 miniseries Batman: Family. Touche! Also:

Blackrock was brought back somewhere during the incomprehensible swamp of Infinite Crisis crossovers as a boob war mercenary.

Claw the Unconquored is going to have his own series again (in an attempt to cash in on the popularity of Conan, just like last time), and has appeared in a crossover with Red Sonja.

So not only are comics now as bad or worse than comics from 1976, they're dangerously close to being recycled versions of the same bad comics! How long do you think it is before there's a Signalman revival?

Anonymous said...

I actually liked Batman Family from a few years back. It had Bugg, Tracker, Doctor Excess, Athena, Freeway, Technician, Suicide King and Mr. Fun in it (a team of loser villains if I've ever heard one). It was done by John Francis Moore, who did the lamented Chronos series from the late 90's.

Blackrock came back last year in Mark Verheiden's Superman, in a completely forgettable and boring fashion.

And don't forget that a modern day version of Claw the Unconquered ran around with Primal Force, another unfortunate Zero Hour spin-off.

Scipio said...

"As everyone knows a comic CAN'T be any good unless it's essentially a meta-comment on what other writers have done or it part 17 of a 32 part series all based on Beating you over the head with the same damn idea over and over and over... repeat 32 times."

Yes! THAT is what I want!

Every month!

Anonymous said...

Who in their drug-addled mind would want to go back to senseless seventies DC? It was like they asked different people what they wanted in a comic book and found any thin reasoning to put it all in one book. They made no sense, on purpose! While I feel like Marvel and DC are pulling out my low hairs making me buy twelve mini-series for what is essentially one storyline, I would rather spend my money on something the writer and artist actually took some time to work on than the afternoon ramblings of some pothead.
And P.S. Infinite Crisis not only gave us the truly spectacular creation of psycho Superboy-Prime, but also the inspired Rolling Head of Pantha, who managed to draw more fans than the rest of Pantha's body combined.

Anonymous said...

And another thing, what the hell is up with the Mish Mash Monster's spring arm?! Flash's legs, Hawkman's head, and a spring arm?! That's the kind of deranged creation Morrison would need crank, smack, and a week of straight sweat lodge fasting to even come close to imagining.

C. Elam said...

Good God, there weren't this many comments last night.

Ah. But have you READ any of them? I dare you!

Scipio, I've read most of them, or at least books from the same timeframe. And I really enjoy them! I know this is shocking, but it's true.

I realize this is satire (how much so, not quite sure), and I'm not going to debate the merits of IC here because I have no vested interest in it. HOWEVER, I will make the same point I made to Dorian on his blog, which is that I don't think comics are all that different than they were in 1976. They looker nicer, they read a bit differently, but they're the same thing as they were back then at their core. They've only changed as the world as a whole has changed. I'm not interested in new comics, and that's fine. I certainly don't begrudge you and anyone else who enjoys them - that's why I like to read different blogs!

I just wish we could end this old vs. new debate, because I find it tiresome and divisive. And I'm on the side that does the most bitching, so that should tell you something.

And DUDE, one look at my Blogger icon should prove I have a love for bad old comics. How many people even know who Lomax is, even in fandom?

C. Elam said...

Oh, but well-played sir. Well-played indeed.

Anonymous said...

I remember 1976 and that was not a good year at all.

This was the era when DC almost went out of business. Where the Superman and Batman titles were seriously being considered for cancelation.

No one back then liked DC Comics and they weren't buying them. In fact, those comics sucked so much, that when DC did get better (1982 was a very good year and DC was better then Marvel), they still didn't sell. Superman and Batman were at the bottom of the comics list.

MarkAndrew said...

Oh geez. THIRTY year old Cary Bates idea. Sorry. Won't happen again.

C. Elam
"I realize this is satire (how much so, not quite sure), and I'm not going to debate the merits of IC here because I have no vested interest in it."

Well, me neither, cause I haven't read it. I have a pretty good idea what I like, (And I do like an awful lot.)

Were older comics better written? I dunno. They tended to make more effective use of yer basic five part story structure or at least did so faster. There's also, well, kind of a sense of irony t'most of them that you only occasionally see now-a-days.

I'm completety incapable of taking the idea of a dude who dresses up in little black Jammy Jams 'cause his paretns got killed completely seriously. And I have trouble relating to material that requires me to take it completely seriously to derive full enjoyment. I like a side 'o irony with my silly-ass superheroes, thank you please. And some mondern comic writers, don't seem to be incapable of looking at the material as, well, kind of essentially ridiculous, or being able to distance themselves from the playthings of their youth enough to do the literary/thematic recontextualization thing which is the basis of art. (Sorta. At least for the purposes of this paragraph. :))

Anonymous said...

Indianapolis, of all places, had a comic book store in 1975. It was called (I think) Comic Carnival and Nostalgia Emporium ... and it was AWESOME.

I didn't live in Indianapolis. I lived in Middletown. Population: 2000. And I was 12 in 1976.

And SSOV #1 is a fucking awesome comic book. It was a great series. I still have every issue when so much of the rest of my collection has been sold off or left in storage.

I didn't read very many DC comics at that time. But Marvel ROCKED in 1976. And not just because The Black Panther was fighting the Klan!

C. Elam said...

markandrew :

You're a Bob Haney fan, so I'm pretty sure we have common ground. He's one of my favorites, so that should tell you the kind of comics I enjoy.

I must admit, I didn't foresee this post exploding quite as much as it did.

(And count me in as a fan of SSOSV #1. It might not be high art, but it's silly fun. Some of the later issues, ah, not so much.)

Chris Sims said...

I'd just like to point out that I was commenting on this post before it was cool.

I think it's fair to say that I read a heck of a lot of back issues and current comics, and I tend to enjoy most of them, regardless of era. But I will say that while the new DC may well just be the old DC with better production values, production values do go a heck of a long way, especially when it involves (generally) less stilted and more natural and flowing dialogue.

I am, of course, excepting anything written by Brian Bendis from this argument.

Would I rather read a thirty year-old Batman story than Infinite Crisis? Well, yeah, probably, if for no other reason than that one makes sense and the other's irreparably broken. But there are dozens of current comics I'd rather be reading than both of those.

I love the Superman Showcase madly, but I don't want stories today to follow that same formulaic wackiness all the time. And I love seeing a sustained and brutal beating in my comics, but I don't need it all the time. Fortunately, I can read both.

Is there a problem with comics today? Sure. But it's just a different problem than the ones that were around thirty years ago. Dismissing an entire and ill-defined "era" is pointless, seeing as there's always 90% of anything is usually not going to be very good.

Martin Wisse said...

"Oh, wait; that's right -- there is no local comic book store. No matter where you live on the entire planet. There are no comic book stores, period."

Lambiek has been operating since 1968. I'm sure even in the US there were some comic book shops by 1976.

Anonymous said...

"Cary Bates (Grant Morrison before there was Grant Morrison"

That's a brilliant analogy. And don't forget that Cary Bates wrote himself in as a JLA/JSA villain, the same way Morrison appeared in ANIMAL MAN.

I will also stand up for most of the run of SSOV. First, it brought back the Fourth World characters which was vitally important to me in my early teens and I loved learning about all sorts of obscure DC characters I had never heard of before.

(Of course, this from a person whose earliest comic books have notes by me, written in them, creating new earths, with new characters for the JLA and JSA to meet.)

Anonymous said...

If I can find enjoyment in reading Superman Chronicles, Teen Titans Showcase, Watchmen, Identity Crisis, AND Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis... do I have to give up my Internet pass?

I worry that I don't enough snark to hang out with the cool kids anymore.

Anonymous said...

At first I thought that Karate Kid cover said "The Undies".

Sorry about that. Carry on.

Anonymous said...

>I just know that I could do without a DC Universe in which Batgirl was crippled and then sexually molested.

Persoanlly what she became (Oracle) is much more satisfying than what she would have stayed as Batgirl.

Anonymous said...

Best comic blog post of 2006 so far...or at least of 1976. :)

Peter said...

I remember loving JLA #130 as a ten year old. The interior art was surreal and creepy, with that disturbing amalgam creature having resulted from a teleporter mishap. When I think "DC Comics" or "World's Greatest Superheroes", this is the time period I have in mind. As Ken S. just pointed out above, there were great comics coming out in the mid 70s, and I miss them, especially after reliving the delicious nostalgia via the JLU animated series.

Anonymous said...

>>I just know that I could do without a DC Universe in which Batgirl was crippled and then sexually molested.<<

>Persoanlly what she became (Oracle) is much more satisfying than what she would have stayed as Batgirl.<

Here's the thing: I have no problem with Oracle as a character concept, but the process through which Barbara Gordon became Oracle is another matter.

"Watchmen" was a great series precisely because it was a metatextual commentary placing the long-johns cliches into a more realistic setting. But when the actual long-johns stories begin to resemble "Watchmen," I take issue.

Growing up, Batgirl was very much the character you see on that "Batman Family" cover; in fact, I bought that very comic. From my perspective, "my" Batgirl wasn't just killed, she was crippled and molested to become "your" Oracle.

Similar thing happened to "my" Hal Jordan during the process of creating "your" Kyle Rayner. It wasn't enough to retire Hal, he had to be stripped of his character and his honor and mutilated beyond recognition in order to make way for the new guard. (And yeah, I know about Parallax, but as far as I'm concerned, Hal was murdered in "Emerald Twilight.")

And who says that Batgirl couldn't eventually have become a more "satisying" character ("satisfying to whom?" is another question that really can't be answered here) with the right writer?

Anonymous said...

I'd have to care about the Green Lantern Corp for Kyle Rayner to be "mine." I'm much more of a fan of John Stewert from the JL animated series. So if I have a GL it's him.

And its simple as to why Batgirl wouldn't grow up. It's hard to break a cycle without breaking the cycle in a harsh way, and if I'm not mistaken The Killing Joke was retrofitted to be cannon, it wasn't originally intended that way.

Anonymous said...

>especially after reliving the delicious nostalgia via the JLU animated series.<

The JL series, while being a lot of action, also has a huge continuity within its universe that is the hallmark of the modern age. The season finale of season 1 plays with the series finale. In addition the entire Cadmus arc, spanning well over a season indirectly, was aimed towards much older audiences.

The animated series is both fun and challenging.

Marc Burkhardt said...

Batgirl had already retired from costumed adventuring when the Joker paid his "visit."

Barbara could well have decided she had more to offer as Oracle than a costumed hero without being crippled and possibly raped.

For whatever reason, however, writers never feel that's "realistic."

Anonymous said...

I kind of think everyone's correct in this thread: old DC comics were generally pretty abyssmal, and yet they didn't take themselves so seriously as to forget it's just kid's stuff.

The big problem, I think, was that the olden-days writers (or, perhaps more importantly, the editors) had never actually spent any time living among humans on planet earth, and as a result had little concept of mood or dramatic tension. I'm going to cite Gerry Conway as one of the worst offenders, and as perhaps the clearest example I will point out the JLA/JSA crossover where Mr. Terrific was murdered. The JLA satellite is trashed, one of the founding members of the JSA has been possessed by an evil spirit and is on the run, and a revered member of the JSA has died a violent death ... and how does Gerry Conway finish the issue? By 1) Superman declaring that the day was a "success" and 2) the final panel containing a Superfriends-style joke with lots of canned laughter. I don't know whether those were the editor's idea or Gerry Conway's; either way, any modern competent editor would have insisted on a different ending.

I'm seeing plenty of love for Cary Bates, but he was basically Bob Haney without the awesomeness. Bates is the reason Barry Allen had to be killed off in CoIE: Barry Allen had been so poisoned by Bates's handling of his title (thirteen years), it was difficult to draw a distinction between the character and how he was being consistently written. I could go on and on about how tone-deaf Bates was with regard to human emotions, but two observations:

1) A scant nine issues after Barry found out Iris had been murdered, and immediately after the story arc wherein he brought Thawne to justice, Barry was on the make again, saying of his new neighbor Fiona Webb: "Yiyiyi! I must be hallucinating ... she's like something that walked out of a dream!" He then proceeded to clumsily hit on her, and kept it up until he finally got through to her. To read all the post-Crisis handling of Barry, you'd think he mourned a hell of a longer and more deeply than he actually did.

2) In the final issue of the "Flash" title, Iris returned to the 20th century for a while, by possessing a middle-aged banker who looked like the Monopoly guy. Nothing wrong with that (other than the fact that Iris has stolen someone else's body). But when Barry starts realizing that the Monopoly guy reminds him of Iris and starts talking in slightly gooey fashion to him ... ew. Bad enough that you've got the mental violation of the poor shmuck whom Iris is inhabiting (which Barry seems to have no problem with), but now there's this undertone of a possible super-speed physical violation.

And of course Bates's escalation of Barry's powers, to the point where you could blow him up and scatter his atoms through the time stream, but he'd reassemble himself atom-by-atom over time and be as good as new. When you've overpowered a character to that degree -- and you've created a standard where his powers are always up to any ridiculous task -- there's nothing left to do with the character except insert him into situations involving a Shakespeare-like understanding of the human psyche. Which, again, was not Bates's strong suit.

That said, Denny O'Neill was the Geoff Johns of his day, revamping just about every major DC character. Does he get enough love for that? A lot of it didn't work at the time (Superman / Wonder Woman), and a lot of it hasn't held up 30 years later (Green Lantern / Green Arrow), but I admire his ambitions and I am grateful for his successes (Batman).

Scipio said...

"You seem to be suggesting that we're better off now"

Honestly, I am not certain how I could have made my point any CLEARER. Criticism of contemporary comics is fine; it's welcome; it's HIGHLY NEEDED. However, criticism of contemporary comics is undercut if one is blind to the flaws of comics of the past. I have often pointed out that there are things that past comics did well that contemporary comics do poorly: maintaining a consistent (if sometimes small) supporting cast; resisting decompression; narrative structure; minimalist art. But I have never ever ever let that blind me to the fact that the comics, even ones that did those things well, could also still be ACHINGLY STUPID or just plain bad for entirely other reasons, and in ways that would probably not happen today (e.g. poor art, absurd situations, inconsistent characterization, sexism and other -isms). Unfortunately, many critics of whatever is wrong now must always insist that things used to be better generally, when that's not actually relevant; all that matters is: something is wrong now.