I've started this thread for issue reviews of comics from the Silver and Bronze Ages that were by published companies other than Marvel and DC. Comics I currently have in mind to write about include issues of Charlton's Blue Beetle (pre-Ditko) and Son of Vulcan, Dell's Brain Boy, Kona and Space Man, Lightning Comics's Fatman the Human Flying Saucer, M.F. Enterprises's Captain Marvel, and Tower Comics's Undersea Agent. Please feel free to contribute your own reviews.


This post displaced The Grant Morrison Thread from the home page.

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I have a collection with a Garth sequence where Garth meets Robin Hood and his gang, and they turn out to be rather thuggish. Back in the present he responds to a friend's claim that Robin only stole to give to the poor with the observation that people like clever criminals and make excuses for them.

Two of Marvel's Silver Age western characters - Kid Colt, and the Rawhide Kid - were outlaw heroes. I'm very convinced now that the Rawhide Kid was Marvel's take on Billy the Kid.

There was a find your own adventure book where if you take one of the paths you meet King Arthur and his men. They're crude barbarians that laugh at the idea of a round table.

I remember the Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood showed his Merry Men happily feasting then showing the poor he helped to convince Maid Marian that he wasn't the crook she'd heard he was. She was convinced, but I wasn't. The poor looked sad, ragged, and like they were living off of the Merry Men's leftovers.

Just wanted to chime in and note that I am loving this thread. Keep it up!

Thanks, Mr S. That means a lot to me.

The Frogmen #8 (Dell, 1963)

This issue has a long "The Frogmen" story, a short "Boy of the Pacific!" story, and a text tale.

The frogmen of the title feature are Steve and Jim, two divers who undertake freelance jobs. In this instalment an official from a new African nation hires them to determine if a mine which has been submerged by a dam has diamonds in it, as the former owner claims. In reality Jason, the former owner, is trying to defraud the government. He has diamonds deposited in the mine. When Steve and Jim dive they fight and kill a giant snake and find the diamonds. But they are suspicious of how easy they were to find and warn the official, Mr Lumarta. An analysis of the diamonds concludes that they don't belong geologically to the area. Lumarta asks the frogmen to dive for rock from the mines to prove this. The villains waylay the pair's cab, knock them and the cabby out, and fake a car accident by putting them aboard and sinking the cab. The frogmen revive and escape the cab, but too late to save the cabby (who was complicit with the villains). When they dive to get the rock they are attacked by two of Jason's thugs. One of these is killed in a mine collapse, but they escape with the other and proof of Jason's guilt.

The feature was possibly modelled after the TV show Sea Hunt. DC's "Sea Devils" feature came first, and had received its own title by the time of the first appearance of "The Frogmen"' in Four Color #1258.

I read the issue because the GCD lists this story as partly pencilled and inked by Don Heck. I was hoping to learn what he could do when he wasn't doing superheroes. However, the GCD's page has a note that Nick Caputo has suggested "Mike Sekowsky may have pencilled a few pages of the story and other inkers may have assisted". Heck's style is unmistakenly present at times, but Steve sometimes looks just like the protagonists from Sekowsky's early Silver Age SF stories at DC, so it does appear he was involved too.

According to DC Indexes the story appeared the same month as Tales of Suspense #51, which is to say just after the end of Heck's "Thor" run and two-thirds of a year before he started on The Avengers. By that point he was working Marvel-style at Marvel. DC comics used full scripts. Presumably Dell comics were either drawn from a full scripts or from rough layouts.(1) Dell comics of the early 60s made more use of large panels than contemporary Marvel or DC comics. I've sometimes wondered if they influenced Marvel's shift towards larger panels. This story even has a full page panel when Jim and Steve first see the snake.

The story is OK, but not all that exciting. There are some nice vista shots in the art, and I wish I could say who deserves the credit. The story doesn't really benefit from the occasional large panels as the art in these usually doesn't make the most of the space. Other 60s Dell comics I've read also had this problem.

When the heroes wake up in the sunken car the dialogue is all in thought balloons, implying the car is already full of water. This made me wonder how they could have held their breaths while they were asleep.

The splash page has an underwater scene with Steve and Jim, two hostile frogmen with axes who are running out of air, two other frogmen who are about to fight a shark, and an octopus. It doesn't match the story at all.

The hero of "Boy of the Pacific!" is Kaynau, a boy who lives in a tribal community on a small Pacific isle. In this instalment the tribe's priest or witch doctor, Kuba, resents a visiting doctor who is treating the ill chief. He tries to sabotage his plane, accidentally turns it on, and crashes into the sea. Kaynau rescues him, and Kuba apologises to doctor and is forgiven.

The crash is depicted comedically. The rescue panel has references to Kaynau's "superior swimming ability" and "fish friends", meaning the sharks; possibly other instalments represented him as a pearl diver.

The GCD attributes the pencils of this story to Frank Springer. The art is solid and likewise makes use of those Dell large panels. The natives are depicted as attractive people. The story is only four pages.

The text story is a sentimental story about a boy's friendship with a sea captain.

(1) Comics can be written by drawing rough layouts and writing the dialogue on the page.

The issue can be read at Comic Book Plus.

This post displaced the thread What Comic Books Have You Read Today? from the home page.

Wild Western Action #1 (Skywald, 1971 [cover date])

This is another comic from Skywald's short-lived colour line. As was normal for these comics the issue featured a new story - this time 10 pages - backed by pre-Silver Age reprints.

The new feature was "The Bravados". This appeared in three issues of Wild Western Action and one issue of its own title. This issue has the title characters' origin story. The Bravados are a gang of avenging gunfighters who team up to take on a murderous gang leader called Santana. The group consists of a rancher called Joshua Reno, a black man called Gideon, a mute Indian called Charade, a woman they nickname Hellion, and a hired gun called Jefferson Drumm. Reno, Gideon and Hellion have all lost family members in one of Santana's raids, and Charade has lost his tongue to him. They meet up in the ruins of the raided town. Drumm rides in with a small army of Santana's thugs just behind and they have to fight for their lives. After the fight Drumm explains he briefly rode with Santana before realising what he was up to and offers to lead the others to his hideout. The story was written by Len Wein, pencilled by Syd Shores, and inked by Mike Esposito. It's very much like a Marvel story of the same period, with a good action climax, but too short.

The editor was Sol Brodsky, who founded Skywald with Israel Waldman. (The company was named after them.) He held important positions at Marvel before and after his time at Skywald and had also pencilled, inked and written for the company. He wrote a number of short Western stories for Marvel in the latter 60s, so it's possible he had an affinity for the genre.

The reprints are a "Billy Nevada" story with art by Don Heck; a "Durango Kid" story with art by Fred Guardineer; a "Swift Arrow" story with art by Fred Meagher; and a story called "The Two Guns of Rio Vegas!"

The GCD takes the "Billy Nevada story to be a rebranded "Billy the Kid" story from Toby's Billy the Kid Adventure Magazine. It doesn't have a listing of the story's original appearance - not everything is indexed at the GCD yet! - but it does list Heck as having done one other instalment of the series. It reads like a poor Joe Gill effort, but the GCD doesn't record him as having written for Toby.

The "Durango Kid" story is from ME's Charles Starrett as the Durango Kid #35 and concerns a lady sharpshooter who is blackmailed into working for a gang. At one point she performs a ricochet trick that would put the Rawhide Kid to shame. The Durango Kid was a character Starrett played in the movies. What struck me about him was that he was likely the model for Tim Holt's Redmask identity in the same company's Tim Holt. This was another movie star comic, which represented its star as a cowboy of the Old West. As Redmask the comic book Holt wore exactly the same kind of lower face mask. (Later he switched to a red domino mask. The comic was eventually retitled Red Mask.)

The "Swift Arrow" story was a rebranded reprint from ME's Straight Arrow, which was licensed from a radio show. This was about a heroic Comanche warrior who had a secret identity as a rancher. I thought Meagher's art particularly good in this one.

The GCD takes the final story to be another rebadged Toby "Billy the Kid" one, but I doubt this; I think if it were, it would be presented as a "Billy Nevada" story. I also don't think "Billy the Kid" would fit in all the places in the text which have "Rio Vegas". To be fair, he is called "the Kid" at one point, and there are places in the story where the name "Rio" looks like it could be an alteration, but there is also a caption (top left second page) where it looks original. In the tale Rio loses his memory due to an accident, and a wagoner convinces him he's his brother with the intention of turning him in for the reward. The tale might be a non-series story, but I'm not certain of that; it takes it for granted that Vegas is both an outlaw and a good guy, as if this were something readers were expected to already know. The GCD identifies the artist as Mike Sekowsky (with the note "Art id by Steven Grant via the GCD Error List"), but it looks like Alex Toth to me with someone else inking. I could also believe it was George Tuska imitating Toth's style.

The issue can be read at Internet Archive.

The first version of this post displaced the thread "My" Doctor Who Timeline: Overall Thread from the home page.

Blue Beetle (1964 series) #5 (Charlton, 1965).

This is one of the issues from the Dan Garrett Blue Beetle's magic scarab period. The issue has a nearly book-length Blue Beetle story, a short non-series story, and two filler pages. I had the Blue Beetle story as a kid in an Australian comic.

The Blue Beetle story was written by Joe Gill, pencilled by Bill Fracchio, and inked by Tony Tallarico. It has credits on the opening splash. In the tale a physicist friend of Garrett's called Lewis Coll, who lives in a castle, travels to Saturn in a rocket to obtain a material called siliconium. His exposure to Saturn's atmosphere changes his personality so that he becomes surly and arrogant. Back on Earth he makes an indestructible armour and shield from the siliconium and sets out to conquer the world as the Red Knight, to run it properly. His weapon is a lance that fires a ray capable of destroying a jet and his means of locomotion a horse that he has armoured and which the siliconium somehow allows to fly. He defeats the Beetle at their first encounter and kidnaps his fiancée to be his queen. He also takes over a city. (Conclusion spoiler warning.) The Beetle obtains from the pharaoh who gave him his powers a powder that destroys Coll's armour, and administers an antidote that restores his original personality.

It's not a good story. It's not incompetently constructed, and the resolution makes sense. (I have read Gill stories of which I would not say this.) But the details of the story are ill-thought-through. The atmosphere of Saturn affects Coll even though he spends the whole trip in a space suit.(1) The horse is only incompletely armoured, so it should be vulnerable. There is no explanation of how the siliconium allows the horse to gallop on air aside from a vague reference to its "properties".

The cartoony Fracchio/Tallarico art isn't pretty, but it isn't incompetent; one can always tell what's going on. I was initially going to write that what keeps the story from being better is therefore the writing, but if it were drawn by Gene Colan one would forgive much. I guess the bottom line is the art doesn't make up for the writing and the writing doesn't make up for the art. The villain's powers and their explanation don't sufficiently grab the imagination, and the story doesn't explore what might be done with siliconium in an imaginative way.

The story does have a couple of nice moments between Coll and his fiancée, and a funny line of dialogue in the panel about his conquest of the city. (The actual conquest is all off-panel.) It also attempts to provide exciting action sequences. And Coll's motivation as the Red Knight is more interesting than if the Saturnian atmosphere had simply turned him evil.

In the short story a man falls into a deep cavern while exploring some caves and is rescued by subterranean people. This has interesting art which the GCD on the suggestion of Nick Caputo tentatively attributes to Maurice Whitman. It's not a great filler story, but I've read worse Charlton ones. The other filler pages are fact pages about the Gulf Stream and the temple of Amon-Ra at Karnak.

The issue has a two-page letters column largely taken up by drawings sent in by readers. One of these is a suggested new costume for the Beetle by Alan Weiss which reminds me of Goliath's blue and yellow costume, introduced a year later.

This was technically the last issue of this volume, but this version of the feature was continued later in the year using the numbering from the another series.

The issue can be read at Comic Book Plus.

The first version of this post displaced the thread POW! ZAP! BLAM! Comics definitely aren't for regular people anymore... from the home page.

(1) The whole space journey is very unreal. Coll has a moon rocket because the government has lent him one to test his heat shield. There is no explanation of how he can reach Saturn, and he seems to make the journey fairly quickly. Possibly Gill's idea was that Coll's heat shield made the journey possible, as there's a reference to Coll wanting the siliconium to "provide man with the heat-shield man needed for high-speed space travel". But that sentence shows a misunderstanding of what heat shields are needed for, which is to protect spacecraft against friction in atmospheres. I think these sorts of errors and unrealities do matter, despite the fact that many of us don't have a problem with radiation origins like the Sandman's. They prevent one buying into a story.

Blue Beetle (1964 series) #1 (Charlton, 1964).

This issue has the origin of the magic scarab version of the Blue Beetle. This was a true Silver Age reboot. He'd had superpowers previously, but they here received a new explanation and were ramped up. He was not depicted as having been the Blue Beetle before he acquired the scarab, and his secret ID was now Dan Garrett, archaeologist, where previously he'd been Dan Garret or Garrett, policeman.

In the latter Fox issues the Blue Beetle was already depicted as super-strong and super-fast, and as travelling about in a way which resembles flying but which I think is supposed to be leaping. Charlton first used him in Space Adventures (1952 series) #13-#14. The #13 story was a Fox reprint with (the GCD says) a new splash. The GCD guesses the #14 story was a reprint too, but the title fits the story very well and the GCD doesn't have a record of a Fox story of that name, so it might be a Charlton original. In that one he uses x-ray vision and arguably flies, although again he could be leaping. He was certainly depicted as flying from the first issue of Charlton's 1955 Blue Beetle series.

The present issue has a nearly book-length Blue Beetle story and three filler items. The stories aren't credited. The story was surely written by Joe Gill, as the GCD states. It credits the art to Bill Fraccio and Tony Tallarico, but the earlier part of the story looks somewhat different to me to me to the story in #5, so perhaps Tallarico only inked part of it.

Garrett is asked to lead an expedition to a site called El Alil in Egypt. He initially doesn't want to as a General Amenhotep has a force in the region and has been exploding nuclear devices. But an Egyptian lady archaeologist called Professor Luri Hoshid shows up at his home in a dancing girl costume and talks him into it. At El Alil they excavate the mastaba of the evil pharaoh Kha-Ef-Re. Dan takes Luri to a restaurant in Cairo and has a run-in with Amenhotep.

Dan and Luri reach Kha-Ef-Re's sarcophagus, which has an inscription that "Kha-Ef-Re will live when the white-hot light" touches him again. A blue scarab is resting on it, "standing sentry duty". When Dan touches it he receives the power of the Blue Beetle and is transported in a vision to ancient Egypt, where "the most of magnificent of the great and good pharaohs" entrusts him with the mission of fighting Kha-Ef-Re and Amenhotep. With his new powers Dan realises that Amenhotep is about to drop an H-bomb on their location. Luckily the mastaba has a lead-lined chamber and Dan transforms into the Blue Beetle by saying "kaji dha" and smashes an opening into it. When he and Luri emerge they find the mummy has been reanimated by the explosion, and it quickly grows to a giant size.

The mummy heads off to join Amenhotep, "the man who gave him life". Dan transforms into the Beetle again and heads off to fight it.  He is attacked by one of Amenhotep's jets and destroys it with lightning from his hand after telepathically warning the pilot to bail out. Then he locates Amenhotep and the mummy with his super-vision. (There's a nice drawing of the Great Sphinx here.) But when he confronts them the mummy defeats him with rays from its eyes.

(Conclusion spoiler warning.) The mummy places him and the scarab on an altar to destroy them but Luri revives him. He fights it again, and this time he wins. The mummy shrinks back to its original size and becomes inanimate. Since it was revived by radiation he seals the mummy in the lead-lined chamber "never to be seen by the eyes of man again" (that won't work; another archaeologist will open it up). Then he destroys Amenhotep's forces. The Great Pharaoh tells him he may keep his powers. He rejoins Luri as Dan and she makes a pass at him but he tells her he is "not free to love" as he has a "sacred mission... and must be ready when I am called".

I don't know this is objectively better than the Red Knight story, but I enjoyed it much more. The story has action and spectacle. It doesn't insult the intelligence with obvious science bloopers. And I like the romantic element in the story and the assistance Luri provides to Dan. The giant mummy has a fun design: gangly, with giant bloodshot eyes. (He looks different on the cover.) General Amenhotep has a slightly comical appearance that fits his character, and I can buy the existence of a power-mad general who is isn't completely under the control of his government in that part of the world.

When Dan and Luri enter the burial chamber their workers flee. Why isn't explained. It could be they're worried about a curse - Luri says when she and Dan started down the steps "all the workmen dropped what they were at... and watched us" - but I'd rather believe they've heard Amenhotep is about to drop a bomb and are getting out fast. We're not told if the bomb is dropped as a test or if Amenhotep is out to murder Garrett and Luri because of the fight in the restaurant. Gill also doesn't address the issue of fallout.

The story is titled "The Giant Mummy Who Was Not Dead". This is very much like the title of a Fox Blue Beetle story from Phantom Lady #13 called "The Mummy Who Never Died!" The Fox Beetle also fought a foe called the Red Knight in the cover story of Blue Beetle (1942 series) #18. So it may be Gill took inspiration from Golden Age Blue Beetle stories.

The filler items are all factual. The first is a one-pager about water features in Africa with very nice art. The second is another one-pager about the platypus with decent nature art. The third is a three-pager about what fossils reveal about prehistoric life with slipshod art the GCD attributes to Frank McLaughlin. The text item is a story in which a policeman's life is saved by a heart transplant which has a supernatural twist ending.

The issue can be read at Comic Book Plus. These panels are from the scan there.


Archaeologist mating ritual

Interesting DC never seemed to want to use Dan Garrett. He was dead when they got the character and they left him that way I guess.

On the other hand AC Comics had Garrett come back to the life the brief time they used the character. ("Try not to get killed this time!" a god tells him.) DC did a sort of remake of that story, having him come back but not as a living human being but some sort of zombie or something and having Ted Kord stop him. Been about 30 years since I saw the AC story but I think Kord was the bad guy in their version, and both were sort of battles between old and new Blue Beetle for the name. I'm guessing AC assumed Blue Beetle was public domain and DC made it clear to them that he wasn't. (Although apparently his original Fox stories are.)

The rpg GURPS Supers had a Russian superhero named Red Knight. I'm unclear on whether it was a Phantom sort of passing from generation to generation since WWII or if he was immortal. For some strange reason they mentioned him several times but never gave his origin or what his abilities were. They also showed their main heroine Flamin' Jane fighting a giant robot on the covers of both 1st and 2nd editions of the game but never explained where it came from or what its abilities were so you could have her fight it in the game.

Captain Atom #82 (Charlton, 1966)

part one

Charlton Captain Atom stories appeared in two phases. The first wave of stories appeared in Space Adventures (1958 series) #33-#40, #42 in 1960-61. The stories were written by Joe Gill and mostly drawn by Steve Ditko. A few were drawn by Rocco Mastroserio. One could view the character's run in Space Adventures as a precursor for Marvel's decision to put superhero features into its monster comics. Many of the Ditko stories were reprinted in 1965 in Strange Suspense Stories #75-#77.

Presumably the series wasn't a success for Charlton, since it wasn't continued. A number of the stories are readable, on about a level with lesser early 60s Marvel stories, and a couple are interesting oddities, like "The Little Wanderer" from Space Adventures #35 which is about a boy who won't wake up because he's busy riding through space on the back of a space bird. The story was cover-featured, but when it was reprinted in Strange Suspense Stories #76 Charlton constructed a new cover using panels from the story that I think works very well.

Ditko returned to the character in 1965. This time he had his own title, which continued Strange Suspense Stories's numbering. The reprints in the previous issues must have been done to lead into the new series. The reprint issues even had a small "Strange Suspense Stories" logo and a large "Captain Atom" logo. The first new issue, Captain Atom #78, came out the same month as Amazing Spider-Man #32, when Ditko's run on that title still had six months to go.

According to the GCD Ditko drew Charlton's Konga and Gorgo until the issues cover-dated for Nov. and Dec. 1963 respectively. He also drew the lead story for The Return of Gorgo #3 in 1964.  If it hasn't missed anything, when he returned to "Captain Atom" new work by him had mostly been absent from Charlton's titles for two years. The Return of Gorgo was an irregular title (possibly an annual one), and I thought of suggesting the story was done earlier, but I don't think that makes sense; if it had been available, wouldn't Charlton have run it in Gorgo? Other artists imitated his style for Konga and Gorgo covers.

The indicia of the issues call the title Captain Atom Vol. 2. The issues of Strange Suspense Stories before the title change said they were Vol. 1, so my guess is this was due to the earlier Captain Atom title from Nation-Wide Publishing, which featured a boy science hero. There had also been an Australian superhero title of the name.

This post displaced the thread The 2015 C2E2 Silver Age Trivia Challenge! from the home page.

part two

The stories from the original series were all 5 to 9 pages, but the new one featured near-book-length tales. At first the new series was again scripted by Gill. #79 has a "story by Ditko & Gill" credit, so apparently Ditko co-plotted. It also has a "created by Pat Masulli" credit. Masulli was Charlton's executive editor. My recollection is I've seen a drawing of Captain Atom by Ditko that credited Gill as his creator, so perhaps Masulli provided the starting idea. David Kaler replaced Gill from #82. The Ted Kord Blue Beetle debuted in the title in #83 as the star of a back-up feature. "Nightshade", written by Kaler and drawn by Jim Aparo, was the back-up feature in the final three issues.

A two-parter in #83-#84 reduced Captain Atom's power and gave him a new look. In #84 a liquid metal was sprayed onto his body, apart from his head, to contain his radiation. It came to the surface when he powered up and was visible when he was in costume on his arms. This is the root of his modern metallic look. At one point an "emblem" was placed in front of his chest during the spraying process. So the remodelled Captain Atom actually had a glowing atom symbol on his chest: it wasn't a device sewn onto his costume.

The present issue, from before the makeover, featured the debut of Nightshade. In the tale Captain Atom is assigned to capture a thief called the Ghost who has been stealing from industry and who his superiors believe will steal from the government next. They have film of him action that shows he is able to fade away, like a ghost. Atom is assigned to work with Nightshade, who has not previously worked for Atom's department but whose abilities his superiors praise. (I suppose she's previously had freelance adventures.) Atom and Nightshade are given passes to a party a millionaire called Alec Nois will be holding, where their superiors believe information will be passed.

The story then switches to the Ghost, who is revealed to be Nois. His origin is he's Peter Parker if he was never bitten by a radioactive spider. (This must be deliberate.) Girls wouldn't date him because his family had no money, boys disliked him as a swot. Years later he invented a teleportation device which he has since used to enrich himself. The device is built into the gloves of his costume.

Nightshade is Eve Eden, the jet-set daughter of a senator. In mufti at the party Atom and Nightshade independently spot the information being passed. Nightshade switches to her costume and confronts one of the men, revealing her skills at martial arts. The Ghost shows up, and then Captain Atom. The Ghost teleports both heroes to another universe.

The effect wears off and they return to the grounds of Nois's house. From information Atom overheard Nightshade identifies the Ghost's next target as a "secret file and map" room at the Pentagon. They find him there stealing the plans for Fort Knox. He teleports the plans away and plays with them a bit before telling them his plans and leaving himself. ("I'm going to do what Goldfinger failed to do! I'm going to steal the gold from Fort Knox! Ha, ha!") Atom and Nightshade reveal their true IDs to each other.

The next day Atom and Nightshade head off to Fort Knox in mufti and realise the vans passing them on the road are probably connected with the Ghost's operation. They spot the Ghost's meet up with his men from a helicopter. They wait for him to leave and split up. Nightshade captures the men. (The helicopter comes down and she leaps out and attacks them. This is one of those things that doesn't look wrong on the page but wouldn't work in real life. Talk about announcing you're coming!) Meanwhile Atom turns invisible and heads inside - at this point he could pass through walls - to capture the Ghost.

[Resolution spoiler warning for this paragraph.] Atom spooks the Ghost by grabbing the teleportation machine he's brought along but nearly blows things by speaking and revealing his presence. In the fight that follows one of the Ghost's glove devices is damaged and he disappears in a "weird field" created by the malfunctioning device. (A caption says he "feels himself being torn apart" but he returned.) Atom tells Nightshade what happened and she suggests they have dinner together after completing their reports.

This is a genuinely good story, largely because the Ghost is such a good villain, and potentially quite dangerous as he can teleport things other than himself. He's reminiscent of the Ghost introduced in Iron Man #219-#221. (One of the commentators on that story at the Supermegamonkey website notes this.) The other Ghost's power was intangibility, but this Ghost is represented as becoming intangible as he fades away. They're visually similar, Captain Atom's Ghost has been "causing havoc for industry" (but has no special anti-industry animus), and both stories emphasise how difficult the villain is to stop.

Since he's a teleporter, the last element also recalls the depiction of the Vanisher in X-Men #2. I think that's not a coincidence as they have similar headpieces that frame their heads. (They also both wear capes.) If it's not a coincidence, did Ditko design the Ghost to look like the Vanisher, or was he based on a design of Kaler's? According to a review of Action Heroes Archives, Vol. 2 at Amazon Kaler was a fan-turned-pro, so it might be the latter. The design is a very strong one. The Ghost returned several times, the last time in a story presumably intended for Captain Atom #90 which eventually appeared in the fanzine The Charlton Bullseye #1-#2, where it was scripted by Roger Stern and inked by John Byrne. (I owe the last point to that Amazon review and Roger Stern's credit to the GCD.)

Captain Atom's ability to pass through walls at this point was later shared by Gerry Conway's Firestorm. I hadn't thought of this before, but I'd guess Firestorm was partly modelled after Captain Atom. The climax of the story, where Atom fights the Ghost while invisible, reminded me of how I used to wonder why Firestorm didn't avoid injury by staying intangible while fighting. Eventually Conway changed his powers so he couldn't do that, but for a long time he could.

In later issues Nightshade had weapons and powers, but here she only demonstrates intelligence and martial arts ability. I read a sequence in a later issue where she uses a blackout ray and thought "Aha! She's a senator's daughter who has a blackout ray! She's based on Phantom Lady!" but she doesn't use it here. I wondered if she was the model for the depiction of the Black Widow as a martial artist who is a jet-setter in her secret ID in Amazing Spider-Man #86, but John Romita has said the Widow's redesign was inspired by Miss Fury, so the similarities there might be a coincidence.

Rocco Mastroserio inked. His inks give Ditko's art a slightly more realistic look. I found the combination pleasing.

The issue has a two-page "Judomaster" how-to-do-Judo back-up by Frank McLaughlin. The text page is a fact piece about Sumo wrestling. The issue also has a page illustrated by Ditko announcing future issues will have a letters page. This has a note from editor Dick Giordano foreshadowing the character's makeover.

The issue can be read at Comic Book Plus.

"Nightshade", in Captain Atom #87-#89 (Charlton, 1967)

Nightshade again appeared as Captain Atom's partner in the lead stories in #85 and #86. In #85 they fought a pair of costumed crooks called Punch and Jewelee. The issue, with its oddball villains, is like Ditko's later superhero work, but easy to enjoy. It also makes interesting use of the Ghost in his secret identity, which the heroes still don't know.(1)


Atom and Nightshade are depicted as having camaraderie and working professionally together. They're security agents rather than police, and one of the interesting elements in this story and #86 is the department they work for contributes to their cases by its analyses of information. In #85 they think they've seen Rois grabbed by a giant gem, but their chief tells them radar would've picked it up and they were instead hypnotised. In #86 they're told certain radar anomalies may be a lead to the Ghost's hideout.

#85 introduces Nightshade's air car, "designed for her by the C.I.A.". It also introduces her ability to turn into a shadow, but here she's reluctant to do it ("I'll have to use that dreadful power again") and makes the change by pressing a button on her belt. In #86 she uses a gas bomb and changes into a shadow again, but this time there's no mention of a button (and she's not in shadow when she does it, as she has to be in the back-up stories).

#86 is another contest between the pair and the Ghost, with an odd twist ending which the Ghost's later appearances build on. This is another enjoyable issue but they keep fighting the Ghost like they don't get they'll only get one crack at him before he teleports, so he keeps getting the better of them. (The Ghost is formidable, but I figure he could be taken out by a concealed sniper.) Atom demonstrates he can still walk through walls, and forms an "atomic fireball" instead of blasting things with his hands as he originally did. His new look, which I used to think a bit of a hodge-podge, has really grown on me. He eschews a mask because his face was revealed to the world in #84, but he still has a secret ID (as Captain Adam he doesn't have white hair).

#88 depicts the heroes as keeping in contact when they're on other missions, and the "Nightshade" story in #89 indicates in his Adam identity the Captain has acted as Eve's escort. But his love interest seems to be reporter Abby Ladd, who is hostile to Captain Atom.

The "Nightshade" back-ups in the last three issues are by Kaler and Jim Aparo. All three could be DC back-ups of the 70s, and the first two are terrific. Aparo was already a classy artist. Kaler gets a "created and written by" credit, which is interesting as it's an indication he was co-plotting with Ditko, not just scripting.(2)

In #87-#88 Nightshade, in her real identity, is kidnapped by an "agent of foreign powers" called the Image to put pressure on her father and other senators to vote against a defence bill. He can watch people through mirrors and use them as doorways. This makes him an entertaining villain, but the really interesting thing in the instalments is Nightshade's origin. [Spoiler warning.] We learn that when she was a child her mother revealed to Eve and her brother than she was really a princess from the Land of the Nightshades. The Nightshades had to flee their world when it was invaded by someone called the Incubus. The royal family had the power to turn themselves into shadows when in shadow, and her children inherited this. She took them with her to her homeworld, but on their visit there they were attacked by monster servants of the Incubus. Eve managed to transform into a shadow and get her mother home, but not before she was fatally wounded. Her mother made her promise to not tell her father and to go back for her brother.

Aparo and the colourist give the Land of the Nightshades a strange, otherworldly look. The Incubus's monsters look like werewolves and their leader looks like Man-Bat (who hadn't been introduced yet). I wondered if these sequences were the inspiration for the invisible world that Invisible Kid could visit using his power in Superboy #203.

In #89 Nightshade has a second encounter with Jewelee from #85. After spotting her at a party she changes in her car in the parking lot under the cover of a "black cloud" her car releases. (This could not possibly conceal her identity from anyone who saw her get into the car and Nightshade get out. Luckily the parking lot is empty.) In the fight she uses a skateboard, a black light beam, and a gas bomb. This story also reveals that after the death of her mother she was raised by her father in Japan, and her martial arts teacher was formerly Tiger from the Judomaster series (although she doesn't know this).

The issues can be read at Comic Book Plus.

(1) It's comparable to the use of Norman Osborn in Ditko's final issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Both are men of position who the readers know to be criminal and plotting crimes.

(2) On the other hand, the text in the next issue panel in the "Captain Atom" story in #88 reads to me like Kaler didn't know what to make of the indications Ditko had drawn and just described what was in the panel. The "metallic object" is first shown behind Atom's ship in the page's fourth panel, but it's hard to see there as it's coloured like the moon. I also wondered if when Atom uses the "fire extinguisher" against the giant insect on p.13 Ditko meant him to be using bug spray, but the idea could be he took the fire extinguisher with him as the only weapon he had available. The explanation of the planet Atom visits in that story has some overlap with the depiction of Zenn-La in Silver Surfer #1 the next year.

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