Reprint reviews: 'Archie v6,' 'Tarzan v11,' 'Showcase: Showcase v1'

Archie Archives Volume Six (Dark Horse, $49.99)

Reprinting Archie Comics #19-22 (Mar/Apr-Sep/Oct 46), Pep Comics #57-58 (Jun-Sep 46)

By Bill Vigoda (a) and diverse hands

What struck me most about these Archie comics from 1946 is how "modern" they are.

And by that, I mean that I could clearly tell that these stories were published after World War II -- and how far after WWII would have been hard to guess sometimes if I didn't already know. Early Archie stories leaned on schtick from, I suppose, the 1920s: raccoon coats, Archie's jalopy, that sort of thing. But, despite Archie still having the jalopy (which he would, almost unchanged, into the 1970s), the dialogue and humor have a distinctly post-war snap. The expressions, in particular, were things I heard in my own youth in the 1960s, mainly by adults but also parroted by their kids: "It's a cinch!" "My folks'll murder me!" and so forth. It's not earth-shaking, I know, and there was plenty of old-fashioned humor, too. But this is the first volume where the pop culture is starting to look and sound familiar -- especially when Betty & Veronica go to extreme lengths to get a singer's autograph, a la Frank Sinatra or Elvis.

The characters have taken recognizable shape by this volume, too, although the girls are still somewhat glamorous (instead of being outright cartoons, like the boys). But Mr. Weatherbee is in his final form (although his name is spelled "Wetherbee") and Miss Grundy finally has the name that will stick. Jughead is even referred to as "Forsythe" in one story, a name that was quietly forgotten (AFAIK) until a story I read in the 1970s or '80s. Reggie is already a regular foil, and the last name that will stick to him has finally arrived (Mantle). 

One oddity: A two-panel sequence shows Betty in her bra and panties, something I doubt would happen now, or for the last several decades. It was no more revealing than a bikini, and it was vaguely story-related (very vaguely), but the Archie comics of my lifetime seem to prefer sexuality to be oblique, not quite this direct. Maybe my analysis is off -- I welcome other thoughts -- but It kinda surprised me to realize I was looking at Betty's bra for no particularly good reason, and I couldn't remember another time where that had happened.

Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years Volume Eleven (Dark Horse, $54.99)

Reprinting Tarzan #52-56 (Jan 52-May 54), March of Dimes #125 (Feb 55)

By Gaylord DuBois (w), Jesse Marsh (a)

I'm still waiting for the lightning to strike so that I will suddenly understand why great artists revere Jesse Marsh, but while I'm waiting I've grown comfortable with his style and quite enjoy these stories. Well, those that are of some length; toward the end of this volume several stories seemed abruptly truncated. The "52-page magazine" blurb appears on all covers, so I can't blame a reduction in pages. Maybe DuBois was just getting bored.

Fortunately, Dark Horse has announced the beginning of another Tarzan reprint series, The Russ Manning Years. Since The Jesse Marsh Years should run another 9-10 volumes, I can compare the two and see if that prompts the lightning. If nothing else, it will provide variety.

Showcase Presents: Showcase Volume 1 (DC Comics, $19.99)

Reprinting Showcase #1-21 (Mar/Apr 56-Jul/Aug 59)

By diverse hands

This book is exactly what I, a devout completist, asked for. I'm glad to have it, but I don't know who else would want it.

As most people reading this know, Showcase the comic book was a try-out title for various concepts, which -- if sales allowed -- launched those concepts into their own titles. Concepts that debuted in the issues in this volume (#1-21) and later gained their own books include "The Flash," "Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane," "Challengers of the Unknown" and "Rip Hunter ... Time Master." Honorable mentions go to "Space Ranger" and "Adam Strange," who went on to lengthy runs in Tales of the Unexpected (Space Ranger) and Mystery in Space (both). 

Since my Showcase collection doesn't begin until around issue #55 (with a smattering of issues before that), I've wanted a collection just like this -- even though I've already read most of the issues included in this volume. That's because DC has already included the Showcase issues of successful characters in the Showcase Presents, Chronology and Archives series collecting those characters. So even before I got this book, I'd already read the Showcase issues of Adam Strange, Challengers of the Unknown, Flash, Lois Lane and Rip Hunter -- usually more than once.

Which left exactly six stories in this Showcase that I'd never read before. Six -- and two of them are Space Ranger, and I think I've read at least one of those before somewhere. And, of course, the remaining concepts are ones that had to be worse than Rip Hunter, because Rip Hunter got his own book, and the remaining four concepts didn't. And, believe me, worse than Rip Hunter ... Time Master is pretty bad.

But that's exactly why I wanted this volume. These are comics so bad they'll never be reprinted any other way, and since I'm a completist, how could I go through life not having read four issues of a high-profile Silver Age DC comic book? It would drive me mad! So now I have read these stories, and here they are:

* Fire Fighters (Showcase #1): This really should have been called "Fire Fighter," singular, in that the three stories in this book focus on Fireman Farrell, the son of a famous firefighter who died heroically. Farrell's pretty heroic, too, as these pedantic, plodding, painfully sincere stories by Arnold Drake attest. They're all drawn by John Prentice, who is competent enough but rates a zero on the "Gee Whiz" scale. (For some reason, all his middle-age men resemble Perry White from The Adventures of Superman TV show.) I admire firefighters as much as the next guy, but honestly, even I got sick of these humorless do-gooders lecturing me about fire safety.

* Kings of the Wild (Showcase #2): I'm not sure what they were smoking when came up with this one, but it's three stories that only have two things in common: 1) They're all written by Robert Kanigher, and 2) They involve animals. 

They all follow the Kanigher formula: Introduce problem, beat reader over the head with problem, solve problem. The first involves a Southwestern Native American boy whose animal spirit is an eagle, and whose animal nemesis is the mountain lion. He is guarding the sheep (Southwestern Native Americans have sheep?) when a mountain lion and an eagle ... oh, forget it. If you're read enough Kanigher stories, you know his this one's going to play out.

The second story involves a loner boy who runs across a stray dog. These two "outcasts" only have each other until a great flood gives them a chance to be heroic, and ... oh, wait. You can guess how this one ends, too. 


Finally, a circus bear escapes, and helps a forest ranger fight off wolves. OK, I confess I didn't see that one coming, because ... well, it's ridiculous. All the more so since the circus animals can talk to each other. (But not to humans. And, now that I think of it, wolves.) Turns out the bear prefers captivity, which left me feeling uneasy.

Oh, the artists on these three tales were top-drawer guys often associated with Kanigher, Joe Kubert (eagle), Ross Andru/Mike Esposito (dog) and Russ Heath (bear). I can't imagine anyone thinking this concept might earn its own title, so why waste that kind of talent? Perhaps they were originally planned as back-up tales in Tomahawk or something.

The Frogmen (Showcase #3): Once again, this is really the story of a specific frogman, who must earn the trust of his two oafish compatriots despite his diminutive size. So the Kanigher formula comes into play: Introduce problem ("I'm short"), beat reader over the head with problem (every single day ends with "Shark" and "Whale" making fun of him), then solve problem (he does something heroic). Once again I find it hard to believe anyone thought this shallow a premise could support an ongoing title, but at least there's Russ Heath art -- which was good practice for him, I guess, given that Sea Devils was in his immediate future. Maybe the "try-out" in this case was for him

Manhunters (Showcase #5): Three mildly interesting stories by Jack Miller, who is less formulaic than Kanigher but whose plots are often even more implausible. The stories are detective tales, and they're drawn by Mort Meskin, Curt Swan and Bill Ely. They're competent in a Silver Age DC way, but nothing memorable.

So there you go. Including the Space Ranger stories (which were pretty stupid), none of this changed my life. But now I can check that item off my bucket list -- or I will check it off, if they publish two more Showcase Presents: Showcase volumes, which should take us to issue #63. Volume 2 wouldn't have much I haven't read before: exactly two Tommy Tomorrow issues. It's Volume 3 I really want, which would include more Tommy Tomorrow, G.I. Joe, I -- Spy and Cave Carson.

But even though I wouldn't need anything past Volume Three, I hope there will be more for those of you have never read Showcase. Later in the series fewer and fewer and concepts got the nod for their own books, so there's a lot of material that will never get reprinted any other way, such as Angel & The Ape, B'wana Beast, Dolphin, Firehair, Jason's Quest, Jonny Double, Leave it to Binky, Manhunter 2070, The Maniaks, Nightmaster, Top Gun and Wendy & Willy. Most of it's not very good, but some of these characters went on to better things -- and they got their start as minor concepts in Showcase.

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...As far as nekkid B&V go , CC , in this century I have seen at least two bathing shots with the naughty bits obscured by standard water (Veronica , alone in a bathroom , in a bathtub) , and steam and shampoo (B&V showering in the Riverdale High ladies' loo) !!!!!!!!!!! The solo Veronical was probably a Twentieth-originating reprint .

  A ways ago , I believe Archie switched in official age descriptions of B&V , as shown by their website's universe guide , from fifteen to sixteen - and Archie , anyway , from sixteen to seventeen...maybe a " sixteen-seventeen " misture .

I don't know if the collection notes the editors of the issues. According to the GCD "Fire Fighters" was Mort Weisinger's, "Kings of the Wild" and "Frogmen" Robert Kanigher's, "Manhunters" was Jack Schiff's.

 

A series called "Manhunters Around the World" had previously appeared in Star Spangled Comics, World's Finest Comics and Detective Comics, all of which Schiff was involved with editing. This was apparently a police stories anthology feature, but the story titles at the GCD indicate the stories were often set internationally (including in Australia and Canada), which I gather is not the case with the Showcase #5 stories.

 

Charlton had tried a comic about a firefighter called Danny Blaze in 1955. It ran two issues. This was in the recent past when Showcase debuted at the start of 1956.

 

In an article quoted here Robert Kanigher claimed that Showcase was his initial suggestion. He says he linked the idea to the presence of five editors at the meeting, arguing that each editor would only have to come up with "two characters per year" and that "sooner or later one or more is bound to hit and we'll have new books". (Actually, it would only work that way if the title were a monthly. In the event Showcase was a bimonthly until #74, when it went eight-times-a-year.)

 

For its first five issues the Showcase features ran one issue at a time. I think there's a parallel to Dell's Four Color here, and it has a bearing on why Showcase ran "Kings of the Wild" and "Frogmen". Four Color was apparently used to put features on the stands without giving them their own titles and putting them on the schedule regularly. The thinking at DC early on may have been that Showcase could be used similarly; the DC editors could try out ideas, and if one of them really clicked, it could get its own title. I should note Kanigher, in the passage I quoted, doesn't say that, but it would explain why he should have tried "Frogmen", which seems too thin a concept for an ongoing war series but may have struck him as a good idea for an occasional Showcase feature. As for "Kings of the Wild", he might have thought that one might go down well, as there were other animal adventure comics in the period (e.g. DC's Rex the Wonder Dog, Dell's Hi-Yo Silver, Charlton's Black Fury). There's also a similarity in the idea to Disney's nature documentaries. Note that Flash's first two appearances were both one-offs; it may be that Schwartz thought of the feature at that point as a good way of filling his assigned Showcase issues.

 

From #6, when features started appearing in runs of issues at a time, to ##69/71 most of the appearances seem to be genuine try-outs in the "we think this is ready for prime time" sense. Exceptions are the Flash's second appearance, if my suggestion above is correct, the adaptation of Doctor No in #43, the "Sgt. Rock" story in #45 (to be fair, full-length Rock stories were apparently rare at the time; I found one earlier one, in Our Army at War #127), and the King Faraday reprints in ##50-51. I've read, however, that "Metal Men" was cobbled together very hastily. My own theory is that the Dr. Fate/Hourman stories were originally intended for The Brave and the Bold (the "Super-Team Supreme" name looks like an afterthought); if I'm right they may have been used in Showcase to fill a hole in the schedule, or it may be someone thought the team might make it as the stars of a feature.

 

From ##70/72-81 the features ran one issue at a time again (#71 concluded the "Maniaks" try-out), but most of the features from that string of issues got titles (the exceptions are "Top Gun" in #72, which was an issue of western reprints, "Johnny Double" in #78, and "Dolphin" in #79), even "Windy and Willy" in #81 (altered Dobie Gillis reprints). Conversely none of the later features did, but "Firehair" from ##85-87 did briefly continue in the back of (Son of) Tomahawk. I've read New Gods was originally slated to appear in Showcase, but replaced it on the schedule instead.

 

 

I always love hearing from you, Luke, because you generally tell me things I don't know.

Your research explains "Manhunters" to my satisfaction, as part of a larger effort that blipped up in Showcase. I actually thought that of all the one-offs here -- I can't imagine the premier publishing company in comics expending money otherwise. But I don't know anything about the internal machinations of early 1960s DC, so I couldn't even speculate. But you know more, and shared it. Thanks for your info.

As to the Kanigher info you unearthed, it doesn't strike me as anything I wouldn't have guessed otherwise. I have made my opinion of Kanigher's professional work clear on this site before, but one thing I haven't mentioned is that part of my disdain is informed by my disgust at the man's relentless self-aggrandizement. It seems to me he desperately wanted to be regarded as Harvey Kurtzman -- copying his page layouts, aping his words in interviews, browbeating his artists to perform the same Kurtzman tricks over and over. As a lad I grew tired of Kanigher's comics; as an adolescent I grew tired of hearing his voice in fanzines; as an adult I've put it all together and derived a negative appraisal of the man. And now I can barely read anything he's written -- as opposed to Kurtzman, whose every effort dazzles me, as I unearth and read them.

At the moment I've nothing to add, except that I've just realised that Gaylord Dubois rhymes with "Betty's Bra"...

 

Which in turn rhymes with Egnarts Mada!

ARCHIE: I’ve allowed myself a few volumes behind in this series, but I intend to catch up soon. Regarding the use of language, I once used the word “cool” in front of a classroom of ninth graders when I was student teaching (this would have been around 1985 or so), and they accused me of using a word from their generation.

TARZAN: I’ve given up waiting for the lightning to strike. I’m so far behind in so many of my series that my 2012 New Year’s resolution was to not fall behind reading any series I’m current with. The problem with that strategy, though, is that I find I go in a strict sequence in that (relatively) small circle and find it difficult to work volumes of other series into the rotation. It’s not impossible, but Jesse Marsh provides so little bang for the buck I find it difficult to justify the time it takes to read a volume. Dark Horse has previously reprinted Russ Manning’s Tarzan (some of it, anyway) in a series of paperback digests. It’s really good stuff. I can’t figure out why Dark Horse chose to follow the Joe Kubert Tarzan series with Jesse Marsh’s rather than Russ Manning’s, but better late than never.

SHOWCASE: I gave this one a pass because I already own the color Showcase “Best of the ‘50s” tpb. Unfortunately, it does not include “Kings of the Wild” or “The Frogmen,” but it does include Fireman Farrell. If Showcase #4 represents the first Silver Age story, then Showcase #1 represents the throw-it-against-wall-and-see-what-sticks decade of the 50s.

SHOWCASE: I gave this one a pass because I already own the color Showcase “Best of the ‘50s” tpb. Unfortunately, it does not include “Kings of the Wild” or “The Frogmen,” but it does include Fireman Farrell. If Showcase #4 represents the first Silver Age story, then Showcase #1 represents the throw-it-against-wall-and-see-what-sticks decade of the 50s.

I think I have the Showcase trade as well. I own something in color that includes that first issue. I wouldn't think DC would reprint it in color twice, but I've been wrong before.

I bought Showcase Presents Showcase even though I have read the major stories before, of course. But it's the stories that I haven't read that sold it to me. Fireman Farrell had an odd charm though Space Ranger didn't impress me much. I read Rip Hunter's first appearance when it was reprinted in World's Finest but had no idea it was his first appearance!

As Luke mentioned, I got a Wonderful World of Disney vibe from it with all the genres it, well, showcased: adventure, animals, science fiction, romance, masked heroes. Too bad there wasn't a Western!

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