DC in the 80s – the webzine

We’ve re-branded ourselves as a webzine. You can view it at: www.dcinthe80s.com. We’re also looking for contributing writers, artists (who want to post fan-art) and photographers (who want to post cosplay photos). Hopefully we’ll see you there.

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House ad for Green Lantern v2 #123

House ad for Green Lantern v2 #123

Green Lantern v2 #123 marks the departure of Green Arrow from the series (it was formerly known as Green Lantern co-starring Green Arrow since issue #90) and Green Lantern being the main feature attraction of the series. Why was Green Arrow moved to a different series? The short answer: fan reaction and sales.

Back in 1970, the Green Arrow/Green Lantern team-up worked extraordinarily well. Written by Denny O’Neil and illustrated by Neal Adams, the hard traveling heroes storyline (Green Lantern v2 #76 – #89) injected Green Arrow into the mix as a radical left-wing “voice of the people” to contrast Green Lantern’s “by the book” law-enforcement persona. It was really a Silver Aged crime-fighting version of ‘the odd couple that dealt with socially relevant issues such as racism, corporate pollution, cults, and overpopulation (among other socially relevant issues). While the hard traveling heroes storyline was a critical success and arguably some of the best DC comics stories ever written, it was not a financial success and the series was cancelled after issue #89 in 1972.

The Green Lantern series took a 4 year hiatus and resumed in 1976 with issue #90. The series picked up exactly where Green Lantern #89 left off four years ago – with Green Arrow co-starring, and Dennis O’Neil as writer (and Mike Grell was now illustrating). There was a difference, however, as the series focused less on socially relevant issues and more on adventures of the sci-fi genre. Therein lay the problem: a street-level character like Green Arrow had no place assisting Green Lantern in deep space battling cosmic beings, so stories had to be fine-tuned to ensure that he had a relevant purpose in the adventure. After numerous fan votes (the Great Green Arrow debate) and deliberation by the editorial staff, it was ultimately decided that Green Arrow would be moved to Detective Comics as a back-up feature. Green Lantern would remain the headlining hero of the series until 1986, when the series was renamed to the Green Lantern Corps.

I wouldn’t call it a reboot, but DC was definitely trying to re-create the magic of Green Lantern’s Silver Age debut (ex: fearless Test Pilot, side-kick, Carol Fenris as love interest, sci-fi/outer space-themed adventures) which was a huge departure from his previous “everyman” status (e.g. truck driver who hung out with Green Arrow and foiled earth-based crimes). Additionally, more attention was paid to other members of the Green Lantern Corps – which would play a huge part in the future of the Green Lantern mythos.

His first battle in his new solo series was against Sinestro (a long-time established Green Lantern villain) who had been gaining popularity thanks to recent appearances on the Super Friends cartoon. Dennis O’Neil wrote this issue (O’Neil would stay on as writer until issue #129) and Joe Staton became the new penciler (replacing Don Heck). I’d have to agree with most Green Lantern aficionados that the series got 500% better after Green Arrow got dumped – it just didn’t have the same impact as the original 1970’s Green Lantern/Green Arrow team up and thus was a pale imitation.

A few interesting things happened prior to this issue:

-In issue #116, the replacement Green Lantern known as Guy Gardner ‘dies’ and is later revealed to be trapped in the Phantom Zone (which he is promptly rescued from in issue #123). Guy Gardner would then remain in a ‘coma’ (aka: comic book limbo) until Green Lantern #189 (1985). Guy Gardner would later go on to be a member of Keith Giffen’s 1987 Justice League series and prove to be extremely popular with fans.

-In issue #111, the Golden Age Green Lantern (Alan Scott) teams up with the Silver Age Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Green Arrow to battle (the ?) Starheart. This would set the stage for a retcon that would explain why the Golden Age Green Lantern and the Silver Age Green Lantern are so different in powers and costume (it would also explain why Golden Age Green Lantern isn’t part of the Green Lantern Corps). The real reason? The Silver Age Green Lantern was a Julius Schwartz reboot of the Golden Age version (same name, different powers/costume/character) that was once owned by All-American comics.

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House ad for Wrath of The Spectre

House ad for Wrath of The Spectre

In 1988, based on the renewed popularity the Spectre was receiving thanks to his 1987 ongoing series written by Doug Moench, DC comics decided to reprint the Spectre’s ‘controversial’ stories that ran during 1974-1975 in Adventure Comics. Wrath of the Spectre reprints Spectre stories from Adventure Comics #431 to #440 and three additional Spectre stories (that never saw print) in a 4-issue deluxe format mini-series. The creative team responsible for the Adventure Comics Spectre stories were Michael Fleisher (writer), Russell Carley (art continuity), Jim Aparo (art), Frank Thorne (art) and Joe Orlando (editor). These stories were considered controversial as editor Joe Orlando was trying to push the limits of the Comics Code as far as he could.

A little bit of context: The Comics Code Authority was formed in 1954 as an indirect reaction to a book by Fredric Wertham called Seduction of the Innocent which claimed that scenes of graphic violence, sex, and drug use within comic books encouraged similar behavior on impressionable youths. During the late 1940s and early 1950s it was not uncommon for a comic book to have scenes of graphic violence (real or implied) since horror and crime comics dominated the comic book market. One of the comic book companies to be hit the hardest was EC Comics (known for classic horror and crime titles such as Tales of the Crypt, Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear and Crime SuspenStories). EC Comics went down in a blaze of glory and fought tooth-and-nail to print the material they deemed fit – Comics Code Authority be damned. EC Comics eventually went bankrupt and was sold to DC Comics. Why is this relevant? Because Orlando’s comic book career (first as a penciller and then as an editor) started at EC Comics. You see, Orlando had vast experience working with horror titles (ex: EC Comics, Warren, and Atlas comics) and while Spectre wasn’t a horror character per se – it sure seemed that way based on his original stories.

The Spectre was created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily and first debuted in National Allied Publications’ More Fun comics #52 (1940). It was speculated that Siegel, who also co-created Superman prior to creating the Spectre, was influenced by the success of Gil Kane and Bill Finger’s Batman (published in 1939) and decided to create a darker, grimmer super-hero. When the Spectre first debuted, he was the ghost of a slain cop whose modus operandi was to hunt down murderous criminals and mete out brutal supernatural vengeance. Additionally, the Spectre also fought other mystic beings that were just as powerful as he was. The Spectre was popular enough to become a chartered member of the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics #3 (1940), and then suddenly the Spectre stories were toned down drastically – starting with the introduction of Spectre’s new bumbling sidekick in 1941: Percival Popp the Super-Cop. Once DC realized that the introduction of sidekicks helped sales of a book (ex: Batman and Robin), nearly every DC hero was assigned one. Unfortunately, the Spectre was relegated to keeping his bumbling sidekick out of harm’s way – which pretty much killed the eerie supernatural tone of the series first established by Siegel. The mid-1940’s were not kind to super hero comics as their popularity had waned and other genres of comic books (ex: war, western, science fiction, romance, crime and horror) had become the big sellers. The Spectre was last seen in All-Star Comics #23 (1945) before he slipped into ‘comic book limbo’.

Fun Fact: The Spectre story in More Fun Comics #52 had the first appearance of DC’s version of God in the story.

Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson revived the Spectre in 1966, thanks to the guidance of editor Julius Schwartz who had been systematically reviving and updating all Golden Age heroes (ex: Flash, Green Lantern, the Atom, Hawkman, etc) for a new generation of comic book readers. This newly introduced Spectre was a watered-down version of the original, who now apprehended villains and delivered them to the police instead of slaying them. Furthermore, this new Spectre really played up the “battling powerful cosmic villains” aspect of the Spectre mythos.

In 1972, under the direction of editor Joe Orlando (who was also editor for DC’s House of Mystery), Adventure Comics was gradually shifting from the superhero genre to the supernatural/fantasy adventure genre. By this point the Comics Code Authority has loosened it’s censorship and horror comics were able to get away with more – which is why the market was suddenly flooded with horror titles again. Orlando was experienced with horror comics and it was a genre he was familiar with, he just needed a superhero he could feature in Adventure Comics who could also be played as a horror character – enter the Spectre. Fleisher was chosen as the writer for the Spectre based on his previous experience writing horror/suspense stories and his knowledge of Golden Age DC characters (Fleisher researched and wrote all 3 volumes of The Encyclopedia of Comic Books Heroes). Fleisher was insistent on capturing the original ‘vengeful’ essence of the character (as introduced in the early Jerry Siegel stories) rather than the cosmic champion he was portrayed as during the 1960s in the Gardner Fox stories.

The reason this series was so controversial (at the time) was because the audience of the 1970s were not accustomed to super heroes killing villains. The only other Spectre stories the audience would’ve been familiar with were the Gardener Fox stories of the mid-to-late 1960s in which the Spectre conformed to the “super heroes never kill” rule. It may not be the fact that the Spectre killed criminals that was so appalling, but the manner in which he did it (ex: turn them to wax and have them melted, turned to wood and hacked up with an ax, etc) and the fact that it seemed like the Spectre took pleasure in it. In truth, the creative team was actively trying to recreate the spirit of the EC horror comics of the 1940s, but the comic readers of the 1970s probably would not have been aware of that. Joe Orlando was researching the Comics Code, finding out what he was not allowed to do, and then doing it anyways thanks to some loophole in the Comic Code guidelines (you’ll notice that all of the Adventure Comics issues featuring the Spectre have the Comics Code Authority seal on them). A few readers wrote in to state that they were uneasy with the idea of a super-hero delivering vengeful justice, and a new reporter-type character who represented their views on the Spectre was introduced to the series. The most notable thing about this controversy, however, is that most of the outcry against this series came from within the comic book industry – fan-oriented writers and assistant editors were upset that a super hero character was getting the horror treatment and boldly stated that Orlando, Fleisher and crew were ruining the “American Super-hero”. It was rumored that a combination of DC’s apprehension towards the “controversial” content of the series and dwindling sales were the reasons the feature was cancelled and replaced with an Aquaman feature instead (Adventure Comics #441).

I really enjoyed this reprint series. The coloring is absolutely beautiful and brings Jim Aparo’s illustrations a lot justice. I don’t think anyone can do swooping and swirling capes quite like Aparo. I always liked the Spectre, but only knew of him from whatever I read during All-Star Squadron, so I never really understood his powers as they were never fully explained. Is he omnipotent? Just how powerful is he? This reprint series didn’t answer any of these questions, as he seems to be invulnerable and can’t be harmed by anything. The stories all kind of followed the same formula: a murder/crime is committed, detective Jim Corrigan is on the case, the Spectre catches up to the killers and they meet a gruesome supernatural death at the hands of the Spectre. The stories were pretty self-contained – very much the same approach you’d find in a horror anthology comic. The last three unpublished stories started adding continuity, and that seemed like a step in the right direction.

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Happy birthday to Richard Howell

Spotlight on Richard Howell

In My Not So Humble Opinion

I want to wish a very happy birthday to comic book creator Richard Howell, who was born on November 16th.  Not only is Richard a fantastic artist and a talented writer, but he is also a genuinely nice guy who I have had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions.

Looking back, I probably discovered Howell’s work when he was penciling Tony Isabella’s great Hawkman stories.  The two of them collaborated on the four issue Shadow War of Hawkman miniseries in 1985, which was followed the next year by a special and then an ongoing series.

Hawkman Special cover

Isabella had a great conceit for his storyline: Hawkman and Hawkwoman discovered that their fellow Thanagarians were covertly invading Earth. Unfortunately, Carter and Shiera Hall were forced to combat this infiltration completely on their own.  The Thanagarians possessed a device called the Absorbacon which enabled them to read the minds of anyone on…

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Morning Article Link: The True Power Of Shazam!

Read this!

BW Media Spotlight

FNF-Assassin07

Why is it so hard to understand what makes Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family work? Are we really that cynical? Duy Tano of The Comics Cubeexamines the history of the Marvels and why the attempts to improve the franchise was actually getting everything wrong. [h/t DC Comics In The 80’s]

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DC Nation Clip: Metal Men

I’m really lovin’ the way DC Nation is re-introducing Silver Age characters to a new generation.

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House ad for Christmas with the Super-Heroes #2

House ad for Christmas with the Super-Heroes #2

During his time as an editor at DC comics from 1987 to 1989, Mark Waid was instrumental in many great DC projects (he and Brian Augustyn are credited with creating DC’s Elseworlds spin-off franchise), but his contribution in ensuring that DC’s competitors weren’t dominating the Christmas anthology market during the late 80s is often overlooked.

Case in point: Christmas with the Super-Heroes #1 and #2 (1988 and 1989, respectively).

I won’t delve too much into Christmas with the Super-Heroes #1 (mainly because I couldn’t find a house ad for it), but it was a 100 page reprint of DC’s most popular Christmas stories. A large majority of the reprinted stories first appeared in DC Special Series v1 #21 (1980), so you’re not really getting anything new here. Remember that 1968 story where the Teen Titans battled Scrooge? Yeah, it’s in here. That DC Comics Presents #67 (1983) story where Superman teams up with Santa? Yep – it’s in here, too. I’m not entirely 100% sure of what Waid’s role in all of this was (he’s the editor so I guess he selected the stories to reprint?) but Waid did include a nice little anecdote about a Christmas where he just chilled with his comics – so there’s always that.

The real focus of today’s article is the surprisingly awesome Christmas with the Super-Heroes #2 published in 1989. First, I’m going to tell you that it was also edited by Mark Waid. Second, I’m going to tell you that it was another anthology – but that it contained ALL NEW material! Mark Waid somehow managed to get contributions from Paul Chadwick (of Dark Horse’s Concrete), Dave Gibbons (of Watchmen), Eric Shanower (of First Comics’ Oz), John Byrne (of Superman), Bill Loebs (of Aardvark-Vanaheims’ Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire), and Alan Brennert into one anthology book. That alone, folks, is worth the price of admission. All of the stories seem to be about super-heroes helping out their fellow man (except for the Dave Gibbons story which, for some reason, seems to be about the nature of Batman and Robin’s relationship/conflict expressed in allegorical terms).

The three things that really stand out in this issue are:

  1. the completely silent Enemy Ace story by John Byrne and Andy Kubert,
  2. the pre-Crisis retro story in which Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) and Barry Allen (Flash) are hanging out in the JLA Satellite and decide to go help some folks on Christmas Eve; and
  3. the Deadman story where Kara Zor-El Supergirl makes her last pre-Crisis appearance (4 years after Crisis On Infinite Earths, no less).

I think the Deadman/Supergirl story was my favorite story of all – it was cleverly written by Alan Brennert and it left you with one of those self-satisfying “Aha” moments at the end as all the pieces fell into place. I recall that a lot of fans were hopeful that this would lead to the return of Kara Zor-El Supergirl to the DCU (or the next best step: acknowledging that she existed), but alas, no dice. The Green Lantern/Flash team-up was a great read, as it brought back the old nostalgic feelings from when Busiek was writing Justice League of America in the early to mid-80s. Hell, the whole book was great – read it if you ever get the chance. The book also contained another Waid anecdote as he recounts what he was doing the night John Lennon died.

Mark Waid would leave his editorial position at DC comics later that year and return in 1992 to write The Flash (which would ultimately propel Waid to stardom). Roughly fifteen years later Waid would whistle-blow on the whole comic book industry’s mistreatment of freelance writers (which obviously caused some waves). And now you know the rest of the story. 😉

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Have a Merry Comics Christmas!

Comicspectrum.com reviews it’s favorite Christmas comics of all time. Of course, a few DC comics from the 80s make the list…

ComicSpectrum - Bob's Blog

Vintage Santa Comics

Every year at Christmas time I pull out my box of Christmas-themed comics and decorate my large spinner-rack with holiday themed comics just to give a bit of seasonal flair to the room.  4 sides on the rack, so I do 1 side in DC, and 1 and a half in each of Indies & Marvels.  Since I have WAY more comics than can be displayed on the rack I make choices each year, so it’s always a little different, but there are favorites that make return appearances time after time.

Spinner_XMas_DC

I have many more Marvel Christmas themed comics, but the DC books have covers that represent the holiday better, in my opinion.  Here are some details:

Spinner_XMas_DC_a

Christmas with the Super-Heroes by John Byrne (in the lower left corner above) is probably my favorite cover, but the other 3 in this picture aren’t too shabby.

Spinner_XMas_DC_b

For classic covers, there’s no…

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Christmas Comic Cavalcade: DC Comics Presents #67

It’s December 22nd, may as well start rolling out some holiday content. Superman teams up with Santa Claus in DC Comics Presents #67 (1983).

Teachable Moments

ChristmasComicCavalcade

In our final Christmas Comic Cavalcade of 2012, let’s look at DC Comics Presents #67, published in 1983. This yuletide comic was plotted by Len Wein and E. Nelson Bridwell, illustrated by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson.

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That gorgeous cover is by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, by the way…

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House ad for Supergirl the movie

House ad for Supergirl the movie

When father-son production team Alexander and Ilya Salkind purchased the film rights to Superman in 1974, they also purchased the rights to Supergirl should the Superman film franchise become successful and need to branch out. Ultimately, the Superman movies enjoyed a tremendous amount of success (well… Superman I and Superman II did anyways) and a Supergirl film was released, but it absolutely tanked at the box office and was quickly dropped and swept under the rug by Warner Bros.

The Supergirl movie was filmed one year after Superman III went into production. At this time, the Superman film franchise was considered a hot property that brought in lots of revenue and could do no wrong, so a Supergirl film was just money in the bank. Superman III (1983) blew a hole in this theory by not performing very well at the box office (you can see box office revenues for Superman films here). Why did it do so badly? Was it because it paled in comparison to the action packed blockbuster that was Superman II (1980)? Was it because Richard Pryor played the main antagonist? That’s for discussion another time. Whatever the reason, it was obvious by Superman III that the Superman film franchise had peaked and this concerned Warner Bros, who decided to sit on the finished product for a while. Tri-Star Pictures eventually obtained the film from Warner Bros and released it in North America (it originally premiered in the UK). It had a strong opening week but performed poorly in overall box office sales (Supergirl box office numbers). Helen Slater (actress who played Supergirl) was signed to a 3 picture contract, but this was quickly scrapped. The poor reception of Superman III and Supergirl was too much for the Salkinds, and they sold the Superman films rights to Cannon Films (who later released Superman IV in 1987).

You can find numerous online Supergirl movie reviews that will discuss the nuances of the casting, plot, soundtrack, distribution and background politics of the film – and they are all entertaining to read – but in this article I will focus on the film’s impact on DC comics.

The greatest thing to come out of the Salkind Superman film franchise was the Olivia Newton-John Supergirl costume (y’know… the costume where she is wearing the headband?). This is my favorite Supergirl costume ever, and quite possibly my favorite DC comics related-thing from the 80s. The Salkinds requested that DC modernize the Supergirl costume to keep with 80s fashion (to be in sync with the film), so in Supergirl #17 (1984) DC readers were introduced to a Supergirl wearing a bright red headband. The real kicker is that midway through filming, it was decided that the headband looked too ridiculous and was never used in the movie (you can find test screenings on the DVD). Despite being scrapped by the film’s wardrobe department, the headband did remain as an iconic look for Supergirl until her death in Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (1985). Which leads us to our next item…

A popular rumour/speculation that has been floating around for decades is that Supergirl was killed in Crisis on Infinite Earths because her film did so poorly. This is in fact false and if you pay attention to the clues you will see that the death was pre-meditated. Clue #1: The Supergirl comic book series (1982 – 1984) was cancelled several months before her film was released to North American audiences. Clue #2: Crisis on Infinite Earths was planned/plotted by Marv Wolfman several years before the Supergirl film was released. In later interviews with Dick Giordano, it was revealed that there was some hesitation on DC’s part to kill off Supergirl if the movie was successful – but alas, that was not the case. Jeannette Kahn was the one who ultimately threw the kill switch. So to conclude, it was planned that Supergirl would die in a 1985 company-wide cross-over event, but she would have been spared had her movie been a box office smash.

As far as promotional efforts go, besides this house ad for the VHS release and a “soon to be a major motion picture!” blurb on Supergirl #17, DC didn’t try very hard to advertise this film (at least from what I can remember). It could be due to the fact that Warner Bros dropped this film like a hot potato after it received poor reviews in the UK and tried to distance itself from it as much as possible*. DC comics did, in fact, publish an official adaptation of the film in 1985. The Supergirl film was released as three different versions: the 105 minute North American version, the 124 minute UK/European version and the 138 minute Director’s cut. The Supergirl film comic book was an adaptation of the UK/European version, I believe.

The 1984 Supergirl film is actually quite enjoyable if you don’t take it too seriously or nitpick about all the things that don’t sync up with DC continuity. If you can remember that CGI didn’t exist back then, that they didn’t have a very big budget to work with and that Supergirl is being hoisted by a wire when she flies – then you will probably enjoy it for what it is – a film about a super-powered girl who just happens to be called ‘Supergirl’.

Check out the DC in the 80s facebook page for more links to articles/interviews pertaining to this subject.

*For some reason this film is never included in the Superman’s collectors set (contains Superman I, Superman II, Superman III and Superman IV).

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