Reprint reviews: 'Silver Streak v1,' 'Marvel Mystery v7,' 'Flash v6'

Silver Streak Archives Volume 1 (Dark Horse, $59.99)

Reprinting Silver Streak #6-9 (Sep 40-Apr 41)

By Charles Biro, Jack Cole and diverse hands

 

The thought that kept crossing my mind when I read the Silver Streak Archives is that there must not have been any grown-ups in the room when these comics were made.

 

It must be said on the front end, as Jeff of Earth-J and others have said, that it's a disappointment that this book begins with Silver Streak #6. Honestly, something called an "archives" ought to be comprehensive, and begin with issue #1. It's easy to understand the reasoning; i.e., issue #6 was when the Golden Age Daredevil debuted, who was the breakout character, going on to headline his own comic book, which ran for 134 issues. But I'd like the whole run, thank you very much, especially since characters like The Claw had their stories begin before issue #6. 

 

Speaking of The Claw, at the beginning of issue #6, he's dead. So, you know, where's that issue #5, Dark Horse? Anyway, he doesn't stay dead for very long, coming back from beyond the grave in an unspecified manner. Yeah, he comes back from death without any explanation at all.

 

In fact, everything about The Claw is unexplained. He can change size, shoot lightning bolts from his hands and disappear in a puff of smoke, all without a whiff of an explanation. Finally, at the end of the Daredevil/Claw story in issue #8 (p. 158), there's a reference to his "mystic powers," which is all we get. Once again, I wished for those first five issues.

 

And that's one of the things that made me wonder if there were any adults in the room. Any professional editor would have done the readers the service of explaining who these people are, but nobody ever does. And a grown-up writer would have written The Claw with some kind of internal logic, instead of a character that appears to have been created and written by a 10-year-old. I mean, why doesn't he just "poof" Daredevil away? His powers need a frame, an explanation, some limits. And, come to think of it, why can a bored playboy (yes, another one) do the ridiculously superhuman things Daredevil does? In one scene he gets out of a huge barrel by running as fast as a motorcycle, so he can use centripetal force to escape. That strict regimen of pipe-smoking, brandy-drinking and drollery really paid off! 

 

Also, The Claw is quite yellow -- he's a caricature of Fu Manchu, who was himself a caricature of the "yellow peril" -- but he is sometimes called, inexplicably, the Green Claw. Meanwhile, Silver Streak, the nominal superhero lead,  wears purple-and-green, then red-and-yellow -- any color, it seems, but silver. Even Daredevil isn't immune to capricious hues, debuting in navy-and-yellow, which inexplicably changes to red-and-navy by his second appearance. 

 

There's plenty more wackiness, too much to cover in a single review. One incident that stands out is when The Claw, who is located in Tibet, digs a tunnel to America. That's pretty silly, but let's say it's possible. Wouldn't you take the most direct route, under the Pacific? Nope, this tunnel goes under the Atlantic -- presumably under Europe, without anybody noticing -- so that The Claw can attack New York instead of the West Coast. 

 

Another is when Dickie Dare, the boy inventor, is captured by a rival inventor who performs brain surgery on him to turn him evil. That's amazingly awful, given the skull-boring and scalpel stuff, even though it seems to be easily undone by a second brain surgery. I mean, yuch.

 

As I say, there's plenty more silliness, but nothing out of the ordinary. There's your run-of-the-mill Golden Age backup features, including a loincloth-wearing jungle lord named Lance (nothing gay about that), a girl-hating pirate in a poofy shirt (nothing gay about that at all), a secret agent, an aviator, a newspaper editor (who is a master of the disguise) and so forth. 

 

The most interesting thing about Silver Streak to me was the decision -- by somebody, somewhere -- to combine the Daredevil and Claw features. That's a first of some kind (a permanent team-up? an ongoing inter-book crossover?) and I'd really like to know the thinking behind it. But I suppose we'll never know, and have to content ourselves with simply enjoying this bizarre feature for its utter weirdness.

 

Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Marvel Comics Volume 7 (Marvel Comics, $74.99)

Reprinting Marvel Mystery Comics #25-28 (Nov 41-Feb 42)

By Carl Burgos, Bill Everett and diverse hands

 

I've always wondered at the precipitous drop in the popularity of superheroes in the late 1940s, and this collection may give me a clue.

Let me say, as quickly as I can, that this is sheer speculation on my part. It's just that this particular series has only hit 1942, and I'm already bored with the repetitive, unimaginative nature of these stories. I can't imagine a steady diet of them until the book was canceled in 1949, and I like superhero stories.

So, I don't have much to say. The stories in this volume are exactly like the ones in the previous volume. Whatever I said in my review of that book applies here.

But, given that I was kinda bored, I started analyzing stuff I normally don't bother with. For example, I noticed that in three of the four covers included in this volume, someone was trussed up and in jeopardy. Once it was a girl (natch), once a boy (Toro), but once it was Sub-Mariner! Evidently, someone at Timely Comics -- or, given the shenanigans over at Wonder Woman, all comics of the time -- thought that having someone hogtied on a cover was a big seller. Or maybe the artists just liked it. :)

Also, I noticed that the Nazis on Marvel Mystery #25 were wearing green uniforms with orange helmets, while the Nazis on the cover of Marvel Mystery #27 were wearing orange uniforms with blue helmets. I have no idea what this means. Was "gray" really that hard? Maybe it was too dull. Or maybe the colorists only had B&W newspaper and/or newsreel art to look at, and guessed the gray they were looking at wasn't gray at all, but orange or green.

Or maybe I was really bored and just looking for things to think about.

Meanwhile, here is something to think about, and it's not pretty. When the Golden Age of Reprints began, we'd get four Golden Age books in a hardback for $49.99, later $59.99. (Less, really, with discounts at Amazon and elsewhere.) But recently I complained that the DC Archives suddenly lurched to half-size for the same price, and now the Marvel Archives are the same size, but the price has gone up roughly 50%. This book was $75 -- and I don't know anyone, including myself, who can afford to amass a collection of Golden Age reprints at $150 per eight issues. 

Has China suddenly started overcharging? Have the costs to restore old books suddenly gone up? Whatever it is, I am now joining the chorus of comics fans saying these books are un-affordable. Seriously, even my sense of completism recoils at this price range.

Flash Archives Volume 6 (DC Comics, $59.99)

Reprinting Flash #142-150 (Feb 64-Feb 65)

By Gardner Fox and John Broome (w), and Carmine Infantino, Murphy Anderson and Joe Giella (a)

Speaking of price, here's an HC with nine Silver Age comics for $60. Wow, I can't afford that for long. Especially since I already have these comics in floppy form.

And, once again, I have little to say. This is the Scarlet Speedster's best Silver Age years, when he's already met all his arch-foes and -- in these issues especially -- is seeing them a second or third time. That's not a knock, since many of the introduction stories for the Rogues came early in the Flash's second incarnation, and were fairly clumsy. By 1964 the guys doing these books had hit their stride and were doing solid and entertaining work routinely.

And that's something else that needs mention: There are five guys in the credits for the issues in this book, which cover a year of Flash. Gardner Fox and John Broome -- editor Julie Schwarz's best SF guys -- wrote all the stories in this book, and also all the stories for a few years before and a few years after. Carmine Infantino draws every single issue, as he had since the feature's inception in 1956, and as he would until 1967. There are only two -- two! -- inkers. 

That's simply not something that happens any more, and hasn't really happened since the Silver Age, when it was routine for a Jack Kirby to draw 101 issues of Fantastic Four, or Mike Sekowsky to draw 68 issues of Justice League of America. Sure, that sometimes resulted in boring repetition, but it also meant consistency of approach, style and storytelling. Flash was a book that had a specific look for the main hero's super-power in action, a unique cityscape, a peculiar eccentricity in its narrative captions (involving little pointy hands) and so forth. Infantino's Flash, like Kirby's Fantastic Four and Sekowsky's Justice League of America and Gil Kane's Green Lantern and Murphy Anderson's Hawkman had a unique feel, was a unique experience, in a way that today's cookie-cutter and interchangeable superhero books can't match. Sure, today's art is in many objective ways better, but nothing can really replace the feel of a Silver Age book that kept the same creative team for many years.

I miss that feel in a way I find hard to describe. I guess you had to have been there.

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I have been waiting for you to review the Silver Streak Archives, and I’m glad you threw the Golden Age Marvel Comics Masterworks into the same review because it makes an interesting comparison. Golden Age anthology comics are always a mixed bag, but whereas Marvel Mystery Comics (for example) tend to have one (or two at the most) breakout features (sometimes, sadly, none at all), and the rest is sub-par dreck. As you put it: “It's just that this particular series has only hit 1942, and I'm already bored with the repetitive, unimaginative nature of these stories… The stories in this volume are exactly like the ones in the previous volume.” I agree with that assessment (Sub-Mariner excluded).

I found Silver Streak, OTOH, to be much more even in terms of readability and entertainment value of its individual features. Gleason’s Daredevil, Silver Streak and Claw are not as good as Timely’s Captain America, Human Torch, Sub-Mariner triumvirate, but the “filler” features are far, far better. As you put it, “The thought that kept crossing my mind when I read the Silver Streak Archives is that there must not have been any grown-ups in the room when these comics were made.” I really can’t dispute that, but there is a certain frenetic energy to the anthology which I find difficult to resist. As you say, “we'll… have to content ourselves with simply enjoying this bizarre feature for its utter weirdness.” That pretty much sums up my assessment of the entire collection.

I’m still scratching my head over the decision to begin the collection with issue #6, but we may get lucky (as we did with DC’s All-Star Archives Vol. 0) when the series is complete.

Regarding the price factor, I am rapidly approaching the same conclusions you are. I usually buy at least one archival reprint each week (two, if my pull & hold file is overflowing), but I also have a weekly budget. Even with my discount, I hit that budget pretty quick at those prices. Some I know I will read over and over and over again, but I can’t see myself re-reading, say, Jesse Marsh’s Tarzan again anytime soon. I am at the point, too, where I’m going to have to make some difficult cuts. :(

That's pretty silly, but let's say it's possible. Wouldn't you take the most direct route, under the Pacific? Nope, this tunnel goes under the Atlantic -- presumably under Europe, without anybody noticing -- so that The Claw can attack New York instead of the West Coast.

See, that is the genius of his plan. He is doing the unexpected!

Anyway, regarding the prices on Archives and such. It also doesn't make sense in that DC seems to be dumping a lot of Archives (ad Showcases for that matter) because they couldn't sell them. So how does jacking up the price or giving us less for the old price going to help? It just seems weird. The books usually have to be deeply discounted for me to buy them anyway (I'm talking 50% or better). If Marvel has jacked them up to $75 even at that discount it will make me hesitant.

I hadn't thought of Silver Streak in terms of consistency between lead features and filler, and I think you're right. But is it because the filler at Gleason is so much better than the filler at Timely, or the leads so much worse at Gleason than the leads at Timely? I tend to fall on the latter part of that debate, but to each his own.

Speaking of which, I almost made an exception for Sub-Mariner myself. His personality, loyalties and status quo were all over the map, from a staunch ally of the U.S. and valued ally of the Coast Guard to the opposite, and everything in between. In the 1980s or so Roy Thomas (or someone) tried to retroactively establish that all the blows to the head (Namor suffered amnesia more often than any hero I can think of) or the mess that is his genetic soup had rendered him more or less brain-damaged, to explain his volatility.  The idea didn't catch on, but reading these stories it's easy to see how someone got the idea that Subby is either severely bipolar or schizophrenic.

I agree with you on the "frenetic energy" of these stories. I'd have mentioned it, except that I went into that angle at some length in a previous Golden Age review and didn't feel like re-hashing it. I should keep in mind that each book's merits deserve comment, even if they're the same I've mentioned elsewhere.

Finally, I'm hoping for a Silver Streak Archives Vol. 0, too!

I agree that the good Timely stories are better than the good Gleason stories, but sometimes I'm in the mood for "utter weirdness" or "frenetic energy" or however you want to put it.

Regarding the Sub-Mariner, that "multiple blows to the head" to the head theory sounds familiar. If you think it was put forth by Roy Thomas in the 1980s, it's probably from that 12-issue limited series which traces Subby's history. I prefer John Byrne's explanation for Namor's volatility from the 1990s series. Byrne postulated that, as a hybrid, Namor needed to spend equal amounts of time under water and on land to maintain the proper oxygen/nitrogen mix in his bloodstream (or something).

That kind of made sense, in a "comic book science" sort of way. After spending his entire life up to the point mostly underwater, by the time he first came to the United States as a teenager inthe 40s, he was bug-nutty. After splitting his time underwater and on land for a while, he meloowed out. Decades later, after having spent however-long-it-was wandering NYC as an amnesiac, he went bug-nutty again after Johnny Storm dumped him in the drink. Eventually, after splitting his time above and below the waves, he again mellowed out.

Both of those Subby explanations sound familiar, and are undoubtedly what I was thinking of. 

... but sometimes I'm in the mood for "utter weirdness" or "frenetic energy".

Feel free to come over to my house and hang out with Action Lad, Jeff.

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