Sunday, May 7, 2017
TIME BUBBLES: The Atom #1, 55 years ago this week!
Hello, Bubblenauts! Looks like I'm a little late getting this one to press, so we're actually looking at 55 years ago last week. Last month, too, since there's columns often look at an entire month of DC output.
For our last jaunt into the hallowed halls of DC history (yeah, I think we'll wrap the Bubble after this entry) we stop in at the fourth week of April, 1962 — 55 years ago this week! — to witness the first #1 issue for The Atom.
And April 1962 was pretty big month for DC. In addition to The Atom getting his own mag, the month also featured the first appearances of Dr. Light, Superwoman Luma Lynai, and Van Wayne, who'd pop of 55 years later on NBC's brief DC-centric show, POWERLESS. There's also the start of the Saturn Girl/Lightning Lad relationship, the first use of the name "Dinosaur Island" in The War That Time Forgot, and the first Silver Age appearance of the Justice Society of America confirming Earth-2 dopplegangers for Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and, yes, The Atom. Flash and Green Lantern also learn each other's secret identities, and we witness Jimmy Olsen's 21st birthday!
So, strap yourself in, as away we go . . .
THE ATOM #1
(on sale Tuesday, April 24, 1962)
It seems DC had high hopes for the Mighty Mite, as his #1 is only the fourth appearance of the character! After making his debut in SHOWCASE #34 (on-sale July 27 1961), The Atom starred in #35 (Sept. 28, 1961) and #36 (Nov. 30, 1961), before graduating into his own series, the first issue of which hit stands April 24, 1962. In this era, it generally took about three months to get the first solid sales returns from newsstand distributors, and full results could take as long as six months to trickle in. Given the lead time publishers then took in preparing a comic book for print, work on The Atom #1 must have begun before DC really had solid numbers on SHOWCASE #36. But fan reaction to the first two Atom appearances, plus early returns on the third, must have been enough to warrant giving the green light, faster even than had been granted for the Flash revival. And while Green Lantern made it to his own series in less time that did The Atom, it took him six appearances (three in SHOWCASE, and three in BRAVE AND THE BOLD as a member of the JLA) to merit his own title. Meanwhile, Hawkman made his debut seven month before The Atom, but would have to content himself with a second tryout run, which also starts this month, before getting his solo series wings.
Work on The Atom certainly began early. In December 1960, about the time JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #2 was on stands, and likely just before #3 hit (Dec. 22), and before Hawkman would make his debut in BRAVE AND THE BOLD #34 (Dec. 29), Jerry Bails, a pioneer of early comics fandom, and Roy Thomas, who would go on to work on a few things in the comics industry, wrote a letter to DC editor Julius Schwartz suggesting a revival of The Atom. Their idea was to give him shrinking powers, the ability to compress his atoms, as it were, in similar fashion to Golden Age hero Doll Man.
Schwartz would later say he was already planning an Atom revival similar to the reboots he'd given Flash (SHOWCASE #4, on stands July 5, 1956) and Green Lantern (SHOWCASE #22, out July 25, 1959), and had already assigned Gil Kane to work up costume designs when the Bails/Thomas letter arrived.
Still, writer Gardner Fox wrote Bails and Thomas on Jan. 1, 1961, to advise them an Atom reboot was in the works, which would use some of their "excellent" suggestions, including the shrinking power. However, Fox said he was likely to make the new here a college student, rather than a "scientific experimenter," as Bails and Thomas has suggested. When The Atom would finally hit newstands seven months later, Fox has split the difference and may Ray Palmer a college professor.
The character was named for sci-fi magazine editor Raymond Palmer, who had helmed AMAZING STORIES from 1938 to 1949, among other things. Palmer — who would have been well-known to Fox, a prolific sci-fi author, and Schwartz, the first agent to specialize in sci-fi material — actually had a lot in common with The Atoms' Golden Age counterpart, Al Pratt. Hit by a truck at age seven, and victim of an unsuccessful operation to repair the broken back that resulted, Palmer's growth was stunted. He ended up with a hunchback and never stood more than four feet tall.
The comic book Palmer was, of course, all man, in the best RIGHT STUFF tradition of the early 1960s. Although the temptation today would be to make him out as someone akin to the BIG BANG THEORY nerds, Ray Palmer was, as depicted by Kane, the vision of dynamic heroism.
The whole white dwarf star angle reportedly was Schwartz' own contribution, and between the hard science backgrounds of he and Fox, and the drawings of Kane, The Atom should have been a smash hit. After all, his power-predecessor, Doll Man, had lasted in his own comic until July 1953, surviving long after almost all of his Golden Age compatriots has quit the scene. If Doll Man could have eeked out just three more years, he'd have made it all the way into the official start of the Silver Age — four and might have made the transition from Quality Comics to DC along with BLACKHAWK, which might've negated the need for an Atom reboot at all. Can you imagine Doll Man as a founding member of the JLA?!
And yet, as auspicious as was his start, The Atom series never really took off. Most of DC's anthology titles were published monthly during the Silver Age. But for some inexplicable reason, only Blackhawk got similar treatment. All of the solo titles DC published during the 1960s got at most eight issues per year, sometimes nine, depending on how the schedule fell. Even at the height of Batmania, it took folding 80-Page Giants into his regular numbering to boost Batman up to 11 issues. So, 8x per year was was a popular, well-selling title got. The Atom, however, never managed to break out of bi-monthly status, languishing his entire run at a comparatively paltry six issue per year for his his entire tenure, from 1962 to 1968. Six years seem like a healthy run, but the Atom only managed 38 issues over that time before merging with HAWKMAN for a final eight issues. It would be nearly 15 year before The Atom would get his own title again, and that was a limited serie, the four-issue SWORD OF THE ATOM game-changer.
In the circulation figures that appeared in 1964, The Atom was selling an average of 265,304 copies per issues. That's YUGE compared to today, but keep in mind that in 1965 ACTION COMICS was moving an average of 518,026 copies per issue. Even Bugs Bunny and the Three Stooges were selling more than 332,000 copies, each, at that time. Heck, the Metal Men were averaging 295,513 per issue! And by 1967, average issue sales for The Atom had fallen to 184,100 — a 30.6 percent loss at a time when comics did well to sell one copy for every three printed. Of course, sales for all comics sank around 1968. Some blame reader fatigue after the craze of the Batmania years, I say it's more likely due to the sale of DC in 1967 to Kinney National Corp., which started a steep downhill slide for distribution sister-company Independent News — the war horse upon which Harry Donenfeld rode DC to greatness — which became defunct by 1970.
But back to the Atom. I recently asked members of the Facebook group Comic Book Historians why they thought The Atom never really took off. The consensus seemed to be that Fox wrote over kids' heads, long on scientific principals, but short on characterization, and without much of a supporting cast to play off from. Fox was strong on plot, and that worked great for the Golden Age, but less so as the Silver Age wore on and readers for a taste for Marvel, where character was king. It's worth noting, I guess, that Fox also handled Hawkman, who logic dictates also should have been a bigger star in the DC pantheon.
The other negative point raised by most of the historian group members, many of whom were kid comic connoisseurs of the era, was the ridiculousness the typical ATOM cover. As opposed to Doll Man, who as often as not was depicted on covers socking grown men on the jaw in the best jingoistic tradition of let's-punch-Nazis, The Atom was most often shown trapped in light bulbs, or watches, or kitchen drains, or else menaced by things like plants, and birds, and even cats — all perils easily avoided simply my returning to his full, regular height.
Still, DC has published more than 100 comics starring The Atom — 101 in fact. Take a look:
THE ATOM Vol. 1 #1-38 (1962-1968) — 38 issues
THE ATOM AND THE HAWKMAN Vol. 1 #39-45 (1968-1969) — 7 issues
SWORD OF THE ATOM #1-4 (1983) — 4 issues
SWORD OF THE ATOM SPECIAL #1-3 (1984-1986) — 3 issues
POWER OF THE ATOM #1-18 (1988-1989) — 18 issues
THE ATOM SPECIAL #1-2 (1993-1995) — 2 issue
THE ATOM AND THE HAWKMAN Vol. 2 #46 (2010) — 1 issue
ALL-NEW ATOM #1-25 (2006-2008) — 25 issues
GIANT-SIZE ATOM #1 (2011)
CONVERGENCE: THE ATOM #1-2 (2015) — 2 issues
I don't count 2007's COUNTDOWN PRESENTS: THE SEARCH FOR RAY PALMER because, while it has his name in the title, that limited series is not so much about The Atom and the team searching for him and the different realities they visit. Still, take every other comic starring The Atom, string 'em together as one series, and we're up to #102, should DC ever revert to legacy numbering.
And that's a pretty big run for a little guy.
If you want to own The Atom's first #1 issue, it'll set you back a big $2,700 in Near Mint condition, according to ComicBookRealm.com. But it can be yours in mid-grade Fine for $810, or in low-grade Good for $189.
And here are the other DC Comics out the same week as The Atom #1. The prices at the end of each entry are the current retail spread for Good/Fine/Near Mint.
on sale Tuesday, April 24, 1962
DETECTIVE COMICS #304
Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris ghost for Bob Kane in, "The Return of Clayface," by Bill Finger. This is the second appearance of the second baddie to sport the Clayface moniker, Matt Hagen. There have been, oh, I dunno, about a dozen since. This one, a treasure hunter transformed by a blob of radioactive goop found in a cave, bought it in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, by which time there was already a third Clayface running around. Hagen has stayed dead, however, and could not even be revived when all the other Clayfaces banded together to form the Mud Pack. In the backup, Joe Certa draws and Jack Miller writes The Martian Manhunter as he battles Professor Proxon and his nefarious scheme to teach those so inclined how to do evil, at "The Crime College." ($13/$57/$190)
HEART THROBS #78
Before he became the chief Spider-Man artist of the post-Ditko era, John Romita worked on DC's romance comics, here illustrating the cover and interior story, "The Girl in His Arms," although the cover does look a lot like Don Heck to me. JLA artist Mike Sekowsky illustrates one of the other three stories in this book, but beyond that the credits for the issue are lost to the ages. This series began life at Quality Comics on May 4, 1949, and made the shift over to DC along with BLACKHAWK and G.I COMBAT when Quality folded. As a DC title, it lasted all the way to #146, on stands Aug. 22, 1972, at which point DC changed the title to the less breathless LOVE STORIES for an additional six issues, the series finally ending at #152, on July 26, 1973. In 1999 DC's Vertigo imprint co-opted the title, probably to retain trademark, for a four issue limited series that sort of spoofed the original series by telling classic romance comic tropes, but with a definite R-rated twist. ($7/$29/$95)
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #12
It's the first appearance of Dr. Light, who was taken seriously as an adversary here and for many years after. "The Last Case of the Justice League," by Fox, Sekowsky and inker Bernard Sachs is hardly that, but Light really was intended as a villain capable of taking on the entire team. His makeover as a third-rate buffoon was really a post-millennial retcon, the result of having been used so often. Naturally he had to lose each fight, but Luthor or Joker never gained ridicule for all their loses. But then, Luther and Joker never slummed it by taking on the Teen Titans. Much has been made of the Silver Age revivals of DC heroes, like Atom, Flash, and Green Lantern, but Light also is a Right Stuff-era science-based reboot, the name having previously been used during the Golden Age by a foe of Dr. Mid-Nite. ($46/$198/$660)
STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES #103
Continued from the last issue, G.I. Robot fights The War That Time Forgot with help from writer Robert Kanigher and artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. Interestingly, although this feature had run in SSWS since #90 (Feb. 25, 1960), this issue marks the first time the setting is referred to as "Dinosaur Island." The island was it's own star and was visited by a host of different characters, including members of the original Suicide Squad. The dinosaurs ran wild until #137 (Dec. 19, 1967), after which SSWS became a vehicle for Enemy Ace, 2 1/2 years after his spotlight run in SHOWCASE (#s 57-58). A 2007 SHOWCASE PRESENTS volume collected the Dinosaur Island tales as THE WAR THAT TIME FORGOT, but only those that appeared in SSWS #90-128. The stories from Issues #129-137 have never been reprinted. The island has since re-appeared in a brief run of WEIRD WAR TALES issues from the early 1980s, as a setting in the 1998 limited series GUNS OF THE DRAGON (which gave it an origin story), in the opening scene of Darwyn Cooke's 2002 DC NEW FRONTIER series, and in the 2008 12-issue limited series, THE WAR THAT TIME FORGOT. The back-up story in this issue, "Stars and Stripes Against Swastikas," is by Eisner-shop stalwart Jerry Grandenetti. ($25/$108/$360)
on sale Thursday, April 26, 1962
ACTION COMICS #289
The lead Superman story is fogettable one by Leo Dorfman and Al Plastino in which an new Daily Planet employee, never seen since, reveals himself to be practical joker, so Superman sets out to teach him that practical jokes are not fun by being a super-dick, which was kind of a think for the Man of Steel in this era. But the real gem of this issue is the Supergirl back-up tale, which is probably why it gets the cover real estate. "Superman's Super-Courtship," is by Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney, has Supergirl trying to find her super-cousin a super-wife. She do the job herself, but, alas, cousin kissin' is a sin on Krypton. So, Supergirl tries setting up Supes with Helen of Troy, and the adult Saturn Girl, and nearly succeeds with Luma Lynai, the Superwoman of planet Staryl, which revolves around a blue son. They fall madly in love — Lois be damned — but, sadly, the yellow rays of Earth's sun prove deadly to Luma. So, it was not meant to be. Luma has only made a cameo appears here and there in the DCU since 1962, but this story made enough of an impression that it still resonates to this day, meaning Luma even warrants her own wikipedia page. This story also is the one that first set in cannon the Saturn Woman/Lighting Man marriage. Prior to this there had been no hint of a relationship between the two, but when the Legion series begins in ADVENTURE COMICS in a few months, the relationship will be cemented in their teenage counterparts as the great love of Legion lore. ($18/$75/$250)
ADVENTURE COMICS #297
In the lead story by Finger and George Papp, Lana Lang's parents are believed to have died on an African expedition, so Lana moves in with the Kent's and becomes, "Lana Lang, Superboy's Sister." But, a group of criminals soon think she's actually Superboy — because it's 1962, and anything can happen! The back-up story features Bizarro World, a fun series that ran from #285-299, by Siegel, John Forte, and George Klein. The series was brief, but fondly enough remembered that DC collected it in the 2000 tpb TALES OF THE BIZARRO WORLD, a 192-page collection I'm pretty sure you can still get on Amazon. And, I suppose, so long as were cheering the first appearance in April 1962 of The Floronic Man, Superwoman, and Dr. Light, we might as well give a nod to the big debut of this issue, Bizarro-Gorge Washington! ($14/$60/$200)
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #42
As mentioned above, Hawkman got his Silver Age reboot in #34 of this title, on sale Dec. 29, 1960. But the run to #36 did not merit him is own title, so the Hawks, man and girl, got a second try-out, starting in this issue, and ending in #44 (out Aug. 23, 1962). Hawkman would then bounce around with appearances THE ATOM (#7) and get a third tryout series in MYSTERY IN SPACE (#87-89) before finally getting his own series on Feb. 20, 1964. And that series would be on #4 before he'd get invited to join the JLA in the team's 31st issue (Sept. 10. 1964). Why Hawkman was so slow to catch on is a mystery to me. Fox was a pro at the sci-fi zeitgeist of the day, although the same theories given for Atom's book, above, may apply. But at any rate, the artwork by Joe Kubert was totes faboo! ($32/$138/$460)
THE FOX AND THE CROW #74
Launched on Oct. 10, 1951, this series was the third to feature that animated Odd Couple, the refined Fauntleroy Fox and crass Crawford Crow. Gee, I wonder if Neil Simon read comics books as a kid? The characters were licensed by DC from Columbia Pictures' Screen Gems department, where they were the most popular animated shorts put out by the studio, right from their debut in 1941. The duo appeared first in REAL SCREEN COMICS, which launched March 16, 1945. They then got a second title on Oct. 13, 1948, when COMIC CAVALCADE switched from super-heroes to funny animals with its 30th issue. Then came their titular title, more than a year after their last cartoon appeared in theaters. From 1951 until cancellation of the cavalcade (with #60, on April 16, 1954) Fox & Crow could boast of being the cover feature on three DC titles, more than anyone in the stable save Superman and Batman! And they heroes only scored their trifecta by sharing prime acreage on WORLD'S FINEST COMICS. Fox & Crow managed theirs all on their own merit. Real Screen ended its life as TV SCREEN CARTOONS with #138 (Nov. 29, 1960), but Fox & Crow's own title lasted all the way until #108 (Dec. 26, 1967) before converting to STANLEY AND HIS MONSTER for its final four outings. That's not a bad run at all for the characters, especially considering most of their stories by Jim Davis (not the Garfield guy) featured no supporting players at all — just Crow making a monkey out of Fox. Sadly, nothing from the 20-year comics history of these characters has ever been reprinted, due to questions of ownership. That same rights question also has kept the original cartoons out of public view for decades. ($5/$23/$75)
STRANGE ADVENTURES #141
It's another tale of the Atomic Knights, in "Menace of the Metal-Looters," by John Broome and Murphy Anderson. The Knights made 15 appearances in this title between #117 (April 26, 1960) and #160 (Nov. 27, 1963), but never twice in a row. Why they were never made the regular cover feature I'll never know. But at least we got their adventures collected in 2014's THE GREAT DISASTER FEATURING THE ATOMIC KNIGHTS before DC folded the much-missed SHOWCASE PRESENTS line. Rounding out this issue are typical tales for this title, "Battle Between the Two Earths," by Fox and Carmine Infantino, with Anderson on inks, and "Gran'pa Fights a Space War," by Fox and Sid Greene. The two earths story features planet Ergdol, located in Earth' orbit on the opposite side of the sun. Luckily Ergdol wasn't there anymore in 2008, when DC put New Krypton in its place. ($16/$71/$235)
Finally, these DC comics also are celebrating their 55th anniversaries this month, having come out earlier in April, 1962.
on sale Tuesday, April 3, 1962
THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY #123
Fans talk about Batman's bug-eyed alien days of the '50s and early '60s as if he alone was subject that B-movie trend. But it really was an across-the-board kind of thing. Even DC's original "horror" title had gone full-spaceman at this point, with "Secret of the Sun Treasure," drawn by Lee Elias, and "Lure of the Decoy Creature," with art by Howard Purcell, both solidly in the sci-fi genre. Only "The Phantom from the Fog," drawn by Ruben Moreira was a genuine mystery tale. Maybe that's why its the only one of the three stories in this issue that's ever been reprinted. Sadly, the authors of all three are unknown today. ($13/$57/$190)
OUR ARMY AT WAR #119
The lead Sgt. Rock story by Kanigher and Kubert features the only appearance of new Easy Company recruit Benjamin B. "Babyface" Barrett, a 16-year-old who proves himself worthy of being called a solider despite being underage. It was a more jingoistic age and this tale would probably be a touch sell today. The other two stories in this issue are both written by Bob Haney, with one drawn by Jack Abel, the other by Grandenetti. ($37/$158/$525)
SECRET HEARTS #80
Launched July 22, 1949, this book boasted photo covers on its first six issues. It lasted throughout the Atom and Silver Ages, and even into the Bronze Age, but was one of the first romance titles DC cut in the '70s purge, ending at #153, on May 20, 1971. As with HEART THROBS, above, the cover is by Romita Sr., although I still would have told you the cover is by Heck. Interestingly, Romita only did the splash page of the story inside the book, and that's only because it's exactly the same as the cover. The rest of the Romita story us drawn by Arthur Peddy, best known as the co-creator of Phantom Lady, so it ain't hard to look at. The other stories are by Sekowsky & Sachs, and Bill Draut. ($4/$15/$50)
It was a good thing Superboy had the lead feature in ADVENTURE COMICS at this time, because he wasn't getting much screen time in his own mag!. The lead story here, by Siegel and Papp is another Superbaby romp, while the back-up, also by Papp, writer unknown, is really a Krypto tale, although Superboy shows up at the end to save the day. Neither story has ever been reprinted. Sadly, court battles over Superboy at the time between DC and the Siegel heirs kept him from ever getting a SHOWCASE PRESENTS volume. The letters page has a missive from E. Nelson Bridwell, who is not too far off from breaking into the industry professionally. ($15/$66/$220)
on sale Thursday, April 5, 1962
GREEN LANTERN #13
Although they had been fighting side-by-side in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA for 14 issues at this point (counting the three BRAVE AND THE BOLD try-out issues), Green Lantern and The Flash learn each other's secret identities for the first time here, in a book by Broome, Gil Kane, and Joe Giella, that has to have one of the oddest covers ever. The Spectre had not yet been rebooted for the Silver Age at this point, which is probably why the inter-dimensional race Flash & GL face are called the Spectarns. Flash would later do the big-head thing in an issue of his own mag (#177) in 1968. ($56/$240/$800)
SUPERMAN'S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN #61
It's a typical anything-can-happen issue for Jimmy as he plays, "Jimmy Olsen, Coward," by Leo Dorfman, Curt Swan, and George Klein, and, "Olsen the Roughneck," by Robert Bernstein and Forte, before embarking, as if that wasn't enough already, on "Jimmy Olsen's Wildest Adventure," by Finger and Forte. The final story is notable in that Superman gives Jimmy a robot duplicate of himself for his 21st birthday. And yet, it's not until Issue #72 that Jimmy is inducted as an honorary member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, which has an 18-year-old age limit! ($7/$32/$105)
on sale Tuesday, April 10, 1962
Just like Batman and the House of Mystery, Blackhawk was floundering for a reason to exist around this time (for most of his DC run, actually), and instead of Nazi's is seen here battling, "The Super Jungle Man," by Dave Wood, Dick Dillin, and Sheldon Moldoff. The other stories in thisish pit the Blackhawks against the magician Vakoma, and villains Red Top, Criminal Clown, and Thunderbolt, none of whom are ever seen again. Jungle Man was relegated to comic book limbo after this one outing, as well. ($7/$29/$95)
G.I. COMBAT #94
The issue leads off with a Haunted Tank story by Kanigher and Russ Health, then closes with a genre war tale by Kanigher and Irv Novick. Not much more to say than that, other than that this is just the eighth appearance of Jeb Stuart and the Haunted Tank crew, who made their debut in Issue #87 (Feb. 14, 1961). Although Haunted Tank would never take over this mage, as Sgt. Rock did OUR ARMY AT WAR, or the Unknown Soldier did STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES, or ever displace the G.I. COMBAT logo in place of its own, as happened on all other DC war mags of the period, Stuart and crew would ride as lead feature to the very last issue, #288, out Dec. 11, 1986. ($41/$176/$585)
MY GREATEST ADVENTURE #68
We're still a year away from editor Jack Schiff trying to stem flagging sales on this title by introducing a new super-hero team as its lead feature, and so we're still gifted here with first-person Silver Age weirdness, such as, "My Buddy Became a Cave-Man," by George Roussos, as well as, "My Deadly Island from Space," by Purcell, and, "I Was a Hero to the Miniature Men," by Moldoff. Authorship of all three tales is unknown. ($13/$54/$180)
on sale Thursday, April 12, 1962
CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN #26
Even the Challs could not escape the grafting of sci-fi tropes onto their usual modus operandi, as proved by, "The Secret of the Space Spectaculars," by Dave Wood and Bob Brown. The issues other tale, "Death Crowns the Challenger King," by Arnold Drake and Brown, is a little more in the Challs milieu, with its lost jungle society. Although a Jack Kirby creation, The King only did the first eight issues of this series, which speaks to the power of the creation, I think, that it lasted in its first run all the way to #77, published on Oct. 1, 1970. ($11/$48/$160)
TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED #71
Ah, Space Ranger. The legend is that DC publisher Irwin Donenfeld called editors Jack Schiff and Julius Schwartz into his office one day in 1957 and asked each to come up with a space-based hero, one from the future, one from the past. Schiff picked future and working with Fox, Edmond Hamilton and Brown, came up with 22nd century guardian of Earth, Rick Starr, Space Ranger — a character who (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) is nothing at all like the lead in Isaac Asomov's 1952 novel, DAVID STARR, SPACE RANGER. Space Ranger got a two-issue try-out in SHOWCASE, starting with #15 (May 20,1958). That was immediately followed by a three-issue run for Adam Strange. Within five months Strange graduated to his own series in MYSTERY IN SPACE, starting with #53 (June 4, 1959). But it took almost a year after his debut for Space Ranger to get his town series, starting in this title with #40 (June 16, 1959). Sure Starr and Strange both got their own series in June 1959, but, perhaps tellingly, in took three issues before Space Ranger actually started appearing on the cover of his new mag. He'd last here until #82 (Feb. 13, 964). Then, when Schwartz began the Batman revamp, swapping titles with longtime Bat-meister Schiff, payback was due and Schiff would drop Strange from the cover of MiS in favor of his space man, as of #92 (April 30, 1964). That'd only last three issues, however, before Starr and Strange would begin alternating the prime real estate. Space Ranger finally lost the battle and got dropped after MiS #99 (March 11, 1965). But for two subsequent appearances in Mis #101 and #103 (probably to burn off inventory), Space Ranger would not appear again for more than a decade, when he'd turn out for SHOWCASE #100 (Feb. 16, 1978), and then only because it featured nearly every character to appear in the title. ($15/$63/$210)
on sale Tuesday, April 17, 1962
THE ADVENTURES OF BOB HOPE #75
Yup, Bob Hope. If you're not of a certain age, you might not even know who Bob Hope is. Or, if you're my age, you might know him only as the host of occasional tv variety specials, usually held to entertain troops overseas. But there was a time when Hope (1903-2003) was just about the biggest comedic star on the planet. Licensing celebrities was just one truck DC tried as super-heroes sales began to falter at the close of the Golden Age, and Hope, Alan Ladd, Dale Evans, Ozzie & Harrient and Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis and got DC series between 1948 and 1952. Hope's series began Nov. 25, 1949 (the first four issues had photo covers) and lasted an amazing 108 issues, all the way to Dec. 7, 1967. This issue falls in a run of four (#74-77) illustrated by Mort Drucker of MAD magazine fame. Surprisingly, that hasn't impacted back issue prices much and this one goes for the same range as everything from #71-93 ($6/$25/$85)
The first story, by Jerry Coleman and Jim Mooney is typical of the era, pitting Batman against invading space aliens. The second, by Finger, Modloff and Paris features the only appearance of Batman's younger cousin, Vandeveer Wayne. Just think if NBC show Powerless had lasted longer, speculators probably would have caused this issue to skyrocket in value, given the character Van Wayne, played by Alan Tudyk. As it is, it goes for $100 more than the issues immediately before and after it, but that's mostly due to the Joker cover. Finally, the that story, also by Finger, Moldoff and Paris, has The Joker unmasking Batman, thinking the caped crusader will then lay off, little realizing that, as luck and editorial dictate would have it, a light was in the clown prince's eye at the time, and he never got a good look at Batman's true face. ($42/$180/$600)
GIRLS' ROMANCES #85
It's another Romita Sr. cover, although this one looks more like his classic style than a Heck imitation, to me. As with SECRET HEARTS, above, Romita's cover also serves as splash page to an inside tale otherwise drawn by another artists, in this case Werner Roth. Story authors are unknown today, but the other art teams in this issue include Tony Abruzzo & Sachs, Sekowsky and Mike Peppe, and Sekowsky and Draut. GIRLS' ROMANCE was DC's fourth romance title, after SECRET HEARTS, GIRLS' LOVE STORIES, and the short-lived ROMANCE TRAIL. Launched Nov. 30, 1949, it sported photo covers on its first half-dozen issues. Believe it or not, about a year from now, DC will reach peak love, with seven romance titles on its roster! ($5/$12/$75)
on sale Thursday, April 19, 1962
THE FLASH #129
It's the second Silver Age appearance of the original Flash, Jay Garrick, in, "Double Danger on Earth," by Fox, Infantino, and Giella, as he and his namesake face off against Captain Cold and The Trickster. This issue also marks the first Silver Age appearance (albeit in flashback) of the Justice Society and members including the original Green Lantern, Hawkman, and Atom (appearing a week before his reboot's #1), along with Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary, while also establishing the existence of a separate Earth-2 version of Wonder Woman. ($47/$203/$675)
MYSTERY IN SPACE #76
It's a fairly typical Adam Strange tale by Fox, Infantino, and Anderson, to lead things off, followed by genre tale, "The Trojan Whale of Space," by Broome and Greene. As any good space opera fan knows, no story is so good that it can't be improved immeasurably simply by appending the words, ". . . of space," to the title. ($20/$87/$290)
SUGAR & SPIKE #41
We're in mid-run for Sheldon Mayer's classic baby talk comic, deemed by no less than Neil Gaiman to be, "the most charming thing I've ever seen in comics." The title even got the Archives treatment, with a hardcover volume in 2011 that reprinted Issues #1-10. Launched Feb. 23, 1956, S&S lasted 98 issues, until August 19, 1971, and might have lasted longer but for Mayer's failing eyesight, which kept him from the drawing board. He'd return to the series after cataract surgery, drawing new stories for the overseas market until his death in 1991. Some of these tales were reprinted in the 1980 in THE BEST OF DC digest series (#s29, 41, 47, 58, 65, and 68). These sold well enough that DC actually announced a revival of the title, although it never came off. Mayer had an agreement with DC that no one but him would ever write these characters. Nonetheless, in 2015 DC annonced a new Sugar & Spike series written by Keith Giffen, featuring the characters now grown up and acting as private detectives specializing in work for the super-hero community. That series also never materialized and the stories were burned off in the short-lived LEGENDS OF TOMORROW series. ($11/$45/$150)
WORLD'S FINEST COMICS #126
Before we got Superman Red/Superman Blue, there was Positive Superman/Negative Superman, as Lex Luthor creates an anti-Superman to help him commit crimes, forcing Supers to turn to Batman and Robin for help, in a story by France Herron, Mooney, and Moldoff. The back-up tales feature stalwarts recently booted from ADVENTURE COMICS, including Aquaman, by Miller and Nick Cardy, and Green Arrow, by Wood and Elias. ($11/$45/$150)
Now, a lot of DC Comics were on less than a monthly schedule in 1962. In fact, most of them came out less frequently — some bi-monthly, others eight times per year. So, just to give you an idea of where The Atom #1 places in the grand scheme of things, here's a list of DC Comics that skipped April, with what issue number they were on at the time:
• THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS #70
• ALL-AMERICAN MEN OF WAR #91
• AQUAMAN #3
• FALLING IN LOVE #51
• GIRLS' LOVE STORIES #87
• THE HOUSE OF SECRETS #54
• THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS #13
• OUR FIGHTING FORCES #68
• RIP HUNTER, TIME MASTER #8
• SEA DEVILS #5
• SHOWCASE #38 (Metal Men)
• SUPERMAN #153
• SUPERMAN'S GIRLFRIEND, LOIS LANE #33
• TOMAHAWK #80
• WONDER WOMAN #130
And that's another bubble! Maybe the last one. Who knows? We'll see. If the bubble returns, it'll probably be in a slightly different form, focusing on specific issues rather than a week, or month in time.
Until then, remember, "Hey, Kids! COMICS!"