Deck Log Entry # 181 Mysteries of the Silver Age (Part One)

Those of you with long memories and an interest in such a thing will remember Jeff of Earth-J’s thread on the television soap opera Dark Shadows.  Jeff introduced it in 2010 and it picked up a good head of steam, running strong for years.  Even five years later, folks are still posting to it.  The on-going discussion of the series reminded me of something that had confounded me for years.

 

One of the more important second-tier characters on the series was Professor Timothy Stokes, portrayed by Thayer David.  At least, that was the name of the character when he was introduced on the show in April of 1968.   Stokes’s stature was such that I don’t recall anyone else on the show calling him “Timothy”.  He was always introduced as “Professor Timothy Stokes” or addressed directly as simply “Professor Stokes”. 

 

On one occasion, two months after his introduction, the professor tells young David Collins that his name is “Timothy Eliot Stokes”.  But that was for effect.  He wasn’t a “three-namer”, like Edgar Allan Poe or William Jennings Bryan.  Every other time, he referred to himself as simply “Timothy Stokes”.  And in the end credits, he was listed variously as “Professor Stokes”, “Timothy Stokes”, or “Professor Timothy Stokes”.

 

And Timothy Stokes he remained, through 1968 and all of 1969.  Then, at some point in 1970, something strange happened.  There were wide gaps in my viewing of the show by then, so I cannot tell you exactly when, but I discovered that some of the characters, who had become familiar with Stokes by then, were calling him “Eliot”, and he was being referred to as “Professor Eliot Stokes”.  The closing credits were now listing him as “T. Eliot Stokes”.

 

What the hell happened to “Timothy”?

 

Things like that bug me.  Yes, lots of “mysterious” changes have taken place on television series, especially in those days, when the Internet and entertainment-news programmes weren’t feeding the fans every tiny development.  Characters disappeared from casts.  Formats changed.  But these type of things, a savvy viewer knew---even if he didn’t have the exact details---were tied to actor availability or budgets or ratings.  But there didn’t seem to any reason for changing Stokes’s name so significantly, and after he had been so long established.

 

I own a couple of books about Dark Shadows and have read a few more; I periodically scan any websites about the show; I raised the question on Jeff’s Dark Shadows thread.  Yet, I have never come across the reason for it.  Not even a hint.  Not even a mention of the fact that the name was altered.  The show’s fans seem to be unaware of it, and any who are apparently don’t care.

 

Of course, I wouldn’t be talking about it here if the same sort of the thing didn’t happen in comic books, as well.  Peculiar little alterations that showed up for no apparent reason within the fictional conceit of the series.  Neither could they be explained by a well-grounded conjecture, such as a change in artists or an obvious editorial fiat.  In the half-century since, these mysteries have intensified, as none of ensuing books or articles or interviews examining the Silver Age have ever shed any light on them.  At least, none that I have come across.  Even Internet searches produce next to no results.

 

Over this Deck Log Entry and the next, I'll discuss four of the things that have always bugged me.

 

 

1.  The Adult Robin---the Mystery of His First First Costume.

 

Minor changes in a character’s costume can be tricky things.  Most of the time, they can be attributed to differences in artists’ renditions.  A fresh artist on a series might (1) overlook small details in a character’s costume; or (2) deliberately make small adjustments that he feels are more æsthetically pleasing.  Case in point, after the uniforms of the three charter members of the Legion of Super-Heroes settled into their standard versions, Lightning Lad---as drawn by John Forte and Jim Mooney and Curt Swan---displayed a sort of cummerbund beneath his belt.  Other Legion artists, like Win Mortimer, never drew it all, and eventually, even Swan got tired of adding the extra decoration. 

 

And then you had Green Lantern artist Gil Kane, who spent most of 1964-5 tinkering with the arrangement of green and black on the Emerald Gladiator’s costume, until he got it just the way he wanted it.

 

But the adult Robin of Earth-Two’s first first costume (no, that’s not a typo) doesn’t fall under either of those rationales.

 

I am in the minority of fans who preferred the original outfit of the grown-up “Boy” Wonder of Earth-Two, and those of you long-time Legionnaires will remember me mentioning this curious instance before---that between Justice League of America # 55 and 56, the double-issue story which featured his Silver-Age début, Robin actually wore two slightly different costumes.

 

It’s clear enough on the cover of JLA # 55 (Aug., 1967).  The now-adult Robin is wearing a costume almost identical with the Batman’s, except in place of a bat-emblem on his chest, resides an “R” contained within a red circle, off-set by tiny bat-wings; and a yellow, scalloped cape, adorned by one of those high collars so popular with Golden-Age super-heroes.  But that’s not the costume he wears inside the book.

It’s close, but the discrepancies are obvious.  The “R” chest-insignia does not have the red-circle underlay.  Nor does Robin wear the black-blue trunks and his “shirttails” flair out from under his utility belt, in a fashion similar to the jerkin he wore as the Boy Wonder.

 

Most curious are the lines drawn around the biceps of his sleeves.  These lines appeared on his arms throughout JLA # 55.

 

The adult Robin does not appear on the cover of the second half---JLA # 56 (Sep., 1967)---but when you open it up, he’s now wearing the version of his outfit that appeared on the previous cover---the costume conventionally considered to be his first one.  There’s no in-story reference to the new duds; they’re simply there.

 

So, why did artist Mike Sekowsky, who penciled the interiors of both issues and the cover of # 55, make the changes?

 

 

 

I don’t know.  I’ve never seen any source mention this, or discuss it, except for my own post about it on these boards six years ago.  I’ve never seen anyone connected with DC at the time address it.    But I have a hunch that the tweaking between issues wasn’t Mike Sekowsky’s idea.  In fact, the inclusion of the now-grown-up Boy Wonder of Earth-Two in that JLA/JSA team-up was an attempt, and a transparent one, by DC to have it both ways.

 

A year earlier, the phenomenal popularity of the Batman television programme had infected the country with “Batmania”.  And DC, seeing its profit-share rocketing sky-high, fueled the bat-frenzy by playing up the Caped Crusader as much as possible.   For one thing, he had been turned into the virtual star of Justice League of America.  For over a year, Batman had been hogging most of the action and all of the covers. The cover of 1966’s JLA Giant Annual displayed the Gotham Gangbuster taking up most of the cover space, while the rest of the League trailed far behind him.  (This, no doubt, confused eager “Batmanics” after they opened up the book and found that the three reprinted tales within came from the early years of the JLA, when their hero barely showed his pointy-eared cowl.)

 

Yet, die-hard JLA fans---the ones who remembered when Batman was just one of the bunch, no more special than any other member---were complaining loudly about his monopolisation of the title.  They’d had enough of “His Batship”.

 

Leaving Batman out of that year’s JLA/JSA team-up, yet giving an adult Robin a featured spot was a not-so-sneaky trick.  Editor Julius Schwartz could claim that he was responding to the wishes of the JLA purists, yet, at the same time, play to the Bat-fans, who wanted all-Batman, all the time.

 

The way I figure it:  when Sekowsky got the script for the first half, JLA # 55, the costume he originally designed for the adult Robin was far more evocative of his boyhood outfit.  Hence, the jerkin with the flared tail and the simple “R” laid over the batwings for his insignia.  And those peculiar lines around his biceps?  I suspect that Sekowsky was channeling the boy Robin’s costume even more by intending his adult outfit also be short-sleeved.  The lines on the biceps demarked where the shirt-sleeves stopped, and his arms would have been bare down to the gloves.

 

However---more conjecture here---when the art for JLA # 55 got to Julius Schwartz’s desk, he was unhappy with Sekowsky’s design.  I’m guessing it was too late to alter the art for that issue, but for the second half, # 56, Schwartz told Sekowsky to make the adult Robin costume more Batman-like.  Thus, the change from a tunic to the standard super-hero shirt and the addition of the blue-black trunks and the red circle around the chest emblem.  (One thing Julie probably could do, and did, before issue # 55 went to press was instruct the colourist to ignore the idea of short sleeves and colour the adult Robin’s arms grey, to give the appearance of long sleeves.  Sid Greene had already inked the lines indicating short sleeves, so they had to stay.)

 

Whatever the reason for the changes, the latter version is the one that stuck and the one that everyone considers to be the Earth-Two Robin’s original adult costume.  Few remember that there was an even “original-er” one.

 

 

2.  The Elongated Man---the Mystery of Malleable, Maroon Manhunter.

 

Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, débuted in The Flash # 112 (Apr.-May, 1960).  His ability to stretch his body to great lengths wasn’t a terribly original super-power.  It had already been done in the Golden Age, to great effect, by Plastic Man, and when Superman editor Mort Weisinger needed to give Jimmy Olsen a super-hero identity, he went with the super-stretchable Elastic Lad.  Not to mention only a year later, Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee would appropriate it as the power for Reed Richards, in the first issue of The Fantastic Four.

 

Julius Schwartz probably let the writer of “The Mystery of the Elongated Man”---John Broome---get away with giving his new character such an uninspired talent because the E-Man was never intended to be more than a second-tier super-hero.  That probably also accounted for the drab purplish-grey-and-dark-blue costume that artist Carmine Infantino designed for him.

 

The Elongated Man made a half-dozen more appearances in The Flash, showcasing his lighthearted, publicity-loving personality.  But he never seemed able to break out from being an also-ran.  In fact, with even Kid Flash showing to be more popular, Dibny dropped down to third-tier status.  Schwartz banished the E-Man to comics limbo until the editor could find a better slot for him.

 

Fortunately, the Elongated Man’s get-out-of-limbo-free ticket arrived only a year later, when Schwartz was suddenly appointed editor of Batman and Detective Comics.  In an attempt to revitalise the character, Schwartz scrapped the science-fiction milieu that Batman had been shoved into.  The Caped Crusader was going to be a detective again, and that meant no more Buck Rogers stuff---which was bad news for the long-running “Manhunter from Mars” back-up series.  J’onn J’onzz got kicked to the curb and Schwartz replaced him with the Elongated Man, who, with some minor tweaking, could fit the bill.

 

To accommodate the magazine's title, the readers were told that the Elongated Man was a mystery-hound and an amateur sleuth.  The premise was that independently wealthy Dibny and his wife, Sue, travelled the country, inevitably running into bizarre occurrences and baffling problems, which would set Ralph’s nose a-twitching.

 

The only visual change in the character, at this point, was eliminating the mask he had worn during his Flash days.  As Schwartz explained in a “Batman’s Hot-Line” letter column, since the Elongated Man had publically revealed his secret identity, there was no practical reason for the mask.  For two years, the series rolled along handily, proving to be a strong enough back-up that, a couple of times, the “Ductile Detective” got promoted to the lead story, teaming up with the magazine’s headliners, Batman and Robin.

 

Finally, it was decided that the Elongated Man was enough of a star to shed his dreary grey “stretch-nylon” duds and join the ranks of the primary-coloured super-heroes.  At the end of the tale “Green Lantern’s Blackout”, from Detective Comics # 350 (Apr., 1966), Ralph receives a new costume from Sue, as a birthday present.

 

 

 

 

The E-Man’s new duds certainly were snazzy---primarily red, with some black highlights and touches of yellow.  The scratchiness of Carmine Infantino’s inks, over his own pencils, often made the art look murky, and having a hero dressed in dull tones didn’t help.  The colour of Ralph’s new outfit---particularly, the crimson---brightened up the strip considerably.

 

Now, those of you who were devout Elongated Man fans at the time might be thinking that the mystery in question occurred seven issues later, when the Stretchable Sleuth appeared, without explanation, in a yellow costume.

 

It’s true that in “Tragedy of the Too-Lucky Thief”, from Detective Comics # 357 (Nov., 1966), Dibny wears a yellow outfit, with no in-story reference as to why.  But there was little mystery to it.  Obviously, the off-hue was a colouring mistake; it was the correct costume, only yellow where it was supposed to be red, and red where it was supposed to be yellow.  The colourist had inadvertently reversed the proper scheme.

 

This was confirmed in a subsequent “Batman’s Hot-Line” letter column, when reader Alan Trahern, of Covington, Louisiana, took Julius Schwartz and company to task for such a glaring error---“the biggest boo-boo since the Flash stood unmasked, his whole costume torn to shreds and a total loss after battling with his fellow Justice League members against some terrible menace in JLA [# 35] . . . .”

 

To which, Schwartz candidly explained:

 

The reverse-color-switch on Elongated Man’s costume was unfortunately committed by our colorist---who must have been temporarily overcome by a stroke of color-blindness.  And because Ye Editor at the time the color-crime was committed happened to be vacationing in far-off California, he wasn’t around to catch the error.

 

The following tale---“The Faker-Takers of the Baker’s Dozen”, in issue # 358---restored the correct arrangement of red and yellow to Dibny’s duds, and all was right with the Elongated Man’s world.

 

Until the next issue, that is.

Detective Comics # 359 (Jan., 1967) is overwhelmingly known for its lead story, “The Million-Dollar Debut of Batgirl”.  However, another development occurred in the Elongated Man back-up tale, “Riddle of the Sleepytime Taxi”.  It was another costume alteration for Ralph.  This time, the red portions of the E-Man’s costume had been recoloured to a muted shade of the reddish-purple uniform worn by fellow stretching hero, Elastic Lad.  As with the earlier discrepancy, the new colour scheme was not addressed in the story proper.

 

I remember my first thought, after buying the comic off the spinner rack and reading the “Sleepytime Taxi” story, was that whomever was in charge of colouring had goofed, again.  I didn’t give the change that much thought because---like the last time, I figured---when next we saw Ralph, he would be back in the right-coloured costume.

 

That’s why I was puzzled when, a couple of weeks later, I picked up my copy of Justice League of America # 51 (Feb., 1967) at Koplin’s Drug Store.  This was the issue that featured the conclusion of Zatanna’s search for her father, and the Elongated Man makes a guest-star appearance.  And again, his costume was given that muted magenta colour. 

 

I was really interested in what I would find when the next issue of Detective Comics---# 360---came out two weeks after that.  I immediately turned to the back-up tale, “London Caper of the Rockers and Mods”, and saw that they were still colouring the Malleable Manhunter in maroon.  As they did in the story after that and the story after that.

 

It appeared the plum-coloured outfit was here to stay.  I scrutinised the letter columns month after month, hoping to see editor Schwartz’ response to a letter asking about the change.  But if any fans ever did ask about it, their letters never saw print.  No question about the magenta-hued costume ever appeared, and no reason was ever given.

 

 

 

I’m willing to wager that nearly all of you reading this had no idea that the Elongated Man ever experienced such a dramatic colour change in his second costume.  That would be understandable if it had only been for a half-dozen stories or so.

 

What’s remarkable is that nobody remembers the maroon outfit---when it ran for twenty-six issues!  After Detective Comics # 359, it appeared in every Elongated Man adventure until his series was cancelled, two years later.

 

After “Pursuit of the Bugged Bandits” in Detective Comics # 383 (Jan., 1969), the Stretchable Sleuth was kicked out to make room for a Batgirl series.  Once again, he was consigned to comic-book limbo---until 1971, when Julius Schwartz needed some filler for a few issues of The Flash.  Schwartz published four back-up stories featuring the Elongated Man, starting with The Flash #206 (May, 1971).

 

Interestingly enough, when the Elongated Man returned, his costume was finally coloured the way it was supposed to be---crimson.  And it would stay that way for the rest of the Ductile Detective’s pre-Crisis career.

 

Even more curiously, you won’t find any reference to the maroon costume in the various Elongated Man-based websites.  Even the various comic-book-index sites, such as the Grand Comics Database or Mike’s Amazing World of DC Comics, which note the tiniest details, say nothing about the two years Ralph Dibny spent looking like Little Jack Horner’s thumb.

 

While I was able to put together a reasonable theory for the alterations in the adult Robin’s costume, I’ve never come up with any plausible idea as to why the signature colour of the Elongated Man’s second uniform was changed to a darker and, frankly, a drearier shade.  Or was there a purpose?  If the first time, in Detective Comics # 359, was a colouring mistake, then why was it perpetuated?  Why didn’t Julius Schwartz yell “Whoa!  Fix it!”, like he did with the earlier, yellow error?

 

Even an argument that Julie preferred the maroon colour wouldn’t make sense.  When he brought the Elongated Man back in The Flash, he allowed the return of the red costume.

 

I’m open to any suggestions you guys might have.  Better yet, if any of you have come across some information that I haven’t---my storehouse of Silver-Age behind-the-scenes knowledge is far from comprehensive---then you have the floor.  I’m all ears.

* * * * *

Next time, we'll look at two more instances of unexplained tinkering---including a permanent change in the appearance of DC's most famous super-hero.  A change that no-one ever noticed, even now!

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Bob Kane originally wanted red leggings on Batman. Bill Finger talked him out of it. Wouldn't have worked for Batman but might have worked with Robin.

Action#1- 1938

Showcase#4- 1956

Close to twenty years. The problem came up when they moved the JLA forward to keep them from getting too old but left the JSA active in the 40s. By Crisis all of the JSA should have been retired.

By the Crisis Roy Thomas had established they aged at a super-slow rate due to the effect of battling a time-based villain in the early 1940s. So they had an out.

The "chronal energy" they received didn't so much slow their aging (since on some of them, especially teenaged Robin, it might have complicated their secret identities) as provide them with "years of added vitality", so that as they aged, they always had the physical capabilities of someone decades younger than they were: in their 60's they were on a par with someone in their 40s who was in peak physical condition, for example.  This would certainly have extended the careers of most of the non-powered heroes.  Possibly, this also could have extended the fertility of the females exposed to the energy, but unfortunately, most of the Infinitors mothers weren't there at the time, so why and how their mothers waited until the late 1960s to have their first children remains a mystery...but not a "mystery of the Silver Age"!

Nor was it explained at the time how the JSAers who were not there to receive this chronal energy still had the same vitality being Doctor Mid-Nite, Wildcat, Mister Terrific and Black Canary.

I'm assuming Wonder Woman didn't need it.

Maybe Doctor Fate and the Spectre gave the others their share!

Ron M. said:

The problem came up when they moved the JLA forward to keep them from getting too old but left the JSA active in the 40s. By Crisis all of the JSA should have been retired.

That ship has unfortunately sailed, but why did they choose to tie the JSA to the 40s? The DC/All American heroes generally didn't participate in WWII. They could have moved them forward like they did the JLA. I don't think too many people would have complained.

The Earth-Two Wonder Woman's origin is tied into WWII.

Superman of Earth-Two, Doctor Fate and the Sandman all mention battling Nazis in Justice League of America #107.

DC Special #29 (1977) has the Justice Society actually begin in 1940.

But it was Roy Thomas who maintained that time played out normally on Earth-Two, cementing the heroes to the Golden Age.

Of course, Marvel has the same problem. For everyone with an explanation for their longevity (Nick Fury, Cap, Bucky) we have someone who isn't, like the Howling Commandoes. And I still find it bizarre that Namor now spent what, 50-plus years wandering the Bowery as an amnesiac.

What really depresses me is that the Silver Age comics I grew up with must have been totally different. Jack and Stan, for instance, would have had to settle for stories of the First Line and the Blue Marvel instead of the FF.

Brave and Bold Batman also mentions fighting Nazis. Haney didn't care how old that made him.

The Ancient One lived 600 years and said Dr. Strange could do the same or longer, so Fate probably has something similar going for him. Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman is over 2000 years old. As long as she's on that island she doesn't age, and we can assume she went back there when the JSA broke up. And we have no idea what the lifespan of a Kryptonian might be, except how time affects Kal-L (since Kal-El never got that old unless you count that story where he's a million years old and about to disintegrate.)

There are organizations experimenting with longevity in real life. One says if they succeed people will probably have to go in every decade or so to be rejuvenated, not all that different from what we're seeing with characters like Nick Fury.

Stan and Jack avoided showing the effects of time on Golden Age heroes. Namor doesn't age like a human, the Torch is an android, and Captain America was frozen so he's roughly the same age he was during WWII. Roy Thomas established they age when he brought back the Whizzer in 1975 and promptly had him suffer a heart attack. In 1981 Tom DeFalco did the same thing to Blue Diamond in Marvel-Two-in-One#79.

Like I said, the ship has sailed. It seems like the choices made by Roy Thomas and others in the 1970s of insisting that the JSA heroes were involved in WWII were poor choices. The brief scenes in the Fantastic Four tying Reed and Ben to WWII were just that --- brief scenes that could be easily overlooked. Perhaps in the 1970s the creators still thought that the comics cycle of boom and bust was getting close to bust again. I don't think any of them thought we would be dealing with these continuity issues 40-plus years later.

Cementing WWII into the stories of the JSA characters was like tying the hands of future creators. I think Marvel did OK with it's explanations for Captain America, the original Torch and Sub-Mariner. So Cap was frozen longer. The Torch as an android is easy. So Namor wandered in a lot of places before Johnny Storm found him in the flophouse. Where they really went wrong, as much as I enjoyed it, was bringing Nick Fury and the Howlers out of WWII.

I remember the Legends of the DC Universe miniseries from a few years ago showed the DC war heroes aged in real time (and Rock, as Kubert and Kanigher always, wanted, dead at the end of WW II). And the former Mademoiselle Marie has a son who looks awfully familiar ("Wow. Go Rock!").

In 1963 there wasn't really a problem bringing Fury and the Howlers out of WWII. The problem was not updating them when Reed and Ben were. And for awhile there in the 70s it did look like the cycle was repeating. The monsters were back, and that had been a sign the superheroes were going away the first time.

I just had to say that I have just read this series via Comixcology and found i loved it.
Kind of DC's 'Marvels'
I would recommend it to any and everyone - you're the only other person I've heard of who's seen it Fraser.



Fraser Sherman said:

I remember the Legends of the DC Universe miniseries from a few years ago showed the DC war heroes aged in real time (and Rock, as Kubert and Kanigher always, wanted, dead at the end of WW II). And the former Mademoiselle Marie has a son who looks awfully familiar ("Wow. Go Rock!").

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