Review: Silver Age Suicide Squad and Silver Age Adam Strange Omnibuses

Back when there was a CBGXtra, I frequently reviewed DC’s Showcase Presents volumes that reprinted Silver Age series, many of which had never been reprinted before. Can you believe there was a time they published two a month? Now they are gone, and so are the DC Archives, which reprinted, in color, many Golden Age and Silver Age series.

 

What has replaced them is a series of omnibuses which reprints big chunks of Golden Age, Silver Age and Bronze Age material in big, heavy volumes that cover a lot of issues each.  Unfortunately, DC is using these to reprint, again, much of the Silver Age material that is already available in Archives and Showcase Presentses. Since I have an extensive collection of those, I’ve pretty much been ignoring them.

 

Two exceptions are the Silver Age Suicide Squad and the Silver Age Adam Strange.

 

Suicide Squad came out in conjunction with that terrible movie when DC wanted to publish anything they had with that name. The SA Suicide Squad only made six appearances in tryout titles and didn’t sell well enough to earn an ongoing title. As far as I know, these stories had never been reprinted, at least in a collection, so that’s why I bought it. “New” Silver Age reprints are hard to come by these days.

 

The Suicide Squad was very similar to the many non-powered adventure teams DC was so fond of in the early Silver Age, and the characters are mostly nondescript. Of the four, I think only Rick Flagg and maybe Karin Grace ever made any significant appearances post-Silver Age.

 

Six issues aren’t enough to fill an omnibus, so the majority of the big book is reprints of stories from Star-Spangled War Stories set during “The War that Time Forgot.” This gave writer Robert Kanigher the opportunity to tell World War II stories set on Dinosaur Island, and to call the military men who were sent there the “The Suicide Squad.” I usually like Kanaigher war stories, but in these he would pick a few characters, tell the same story over and over for several issues, pick some new characters, and repeat. Most of these stories were reprinted in Showcase Presents the War that Time Forgot, but the color in this omnibus doesn’t help the quality. Unless you are a DC Silver Age series reprint completest (like me), you can safely pass on this one.

 

The Silver Age Adam Strange Omnibus is different. I’m a big fan of the character. My collection includes most of his Mystery in Space originals and Strange Adventures reprints, plus the Showcase Presents and DC Archives reprints. So why do I recommend this? Unlike the other reprint collections, this omnibus includes the Adam Strange stories from the issues of Mystery in Space that were not produced by Julius Schwartz, Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino. They had moved on Batman and Detective Comics when those titles were in trouble, leaving Adam and Mystery in Space to Editor Jack Schiff, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Lee Elias. Those stories are not fondly remembered by those who read them when they were published, and as far as I know, they have never been reprinted.

 

As much as I disliked them as a child, as an adult I have a more tolerant attitude. They are not as good as what came before, and the finned helmet is gone, but they are acceptable. They are included along with the Showcase tryouts, two new stories that were published during the Strange Adventures reprint days, and with Adam’s final Silver Age appearance in an issue of Hawkman. With the exception of a guest appearance in an issue of Justice League of America, this is a complete collection of all the Silver Age Adam Strange stories.  For that reason, I enjoy having this collection almost as much as I enjoy having all of the Steve Ditko issues of Amazing Spider-Man stories in one big volume. Great stuff, even 50 years plus later.

 

Hoy

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Thanks for the reviews, Hoy! I wasn't aware of the Suicide Squad one and I only have a couple of their issues. It's too bad they didn't just do a smaller TPB of their collected issues. That would appeal to me, whereas an entire thick, expensive Omnibus including those SSWS that *have* been reprinted doesn't so much. I don't need another copy of those.

A complete collection of Adam Strange would be cool, although the quality really drops off with the Siegel/Elias ones. It's too bad they didn't include the JLA appearance and make it complete. Having those books will make it easier for me to sell of my originals some day.

-- MSA

Enjoyed your reviews Hoy.  Thanks for posting them.

Both of these are a bit unusual when compared to other DC Omnibus Editions.  Suicide Squad is likely one of the smallest Omnibus collections DC has ever released, clocking in at 336 pages.  By contrast, the Adam Strange Omnibus is 944 pages; most DC Omnibus collections tend to be around the 1,000 page mark.  The Suicide Squad Omnibus was released in 2016, and a TPB was released in January of this year, all the same issues collected as the hardcover, same page count.  That's not the norm; while it's not a hard and fast rule, these softcovers usually collect about 1/3 of the material contained in the Omnibus.  The first JLA Silver Age Omnibus was released in 2014, collecting Brave & Bold 28-30 and JLA 1-30; in the next few years, the same material was split between three TPBs.  The first LSH Silver Age Omnibus, released last year, contains all the same stories that made up the first 3 LSH Archives, plus two stories from the fourth volume.  A smaller TPB of purely Suicide Squad stories - Brave & Bold 25-27 and 37-39 - would be more appealing to me personally than including the SSWS tales.

The Adam Strange Omnibus is unusual in the sense that a smaller TPB collection came first, the year before the Omnibus was released.  The TPB is 336 pages and collects Showcase 17-19 and Mystery in Space 53-74.  In all the other cases, the hardcover Omnibus came first and the softcovers followed a year or so later, and sometimes longer.

I had never read any Silver Age Suicide Squad before I bought the Omnibus, and to tell you the truth, I don't think I had missed anything. I found it a chore to slog through.

I find that I've hit the point of diminishing returns on Kanigher stories anyway. The repetition, both of themes and storytelling technique, has reached the point of irritation. But even so, this particularly series was tiresome.

The team had four members, like most non-powered Silver Age squads: the Heroic Leader, the Hot Chick and Two Other Guys. Usually the two other guys are a strong guy and a "kid" of some kind, like Corky Baxter or Johnny Storm. But this time they were two scientists -- in what fields, I do not remember.

See, here's the thing. As usual, Heroic Leader and Hot Chick are romantically linked. But in this strip, Kanigher kept telling us (and telling us and telling us and telling us) that the two could not reveal their love, because the two scientists were also in love with Chick, and breaking their hearts would destroy unit cohesion.

What th-?

That makes little sense in general, but especially in this case. Becaue these two guys almost never have any dialogue, and don't do very much. If they're in love with Karin, they certainly don't show it or say it, or show or say much of anything. And frankly, given how Karin moons over Rick, and how they're always whispering to each other about their forbidden love, the two scientists would have to be blind to overlook that she's in love with him, so really, the cat should be out of the bag. 

Hey, maybe they were blind! It's possible, given how little we know of them.

In fact, they'd be awful easy to replace if they got a bad attitude. So what's the real story about why you won't profess your love to Karin, Rick? Hmmm?

OK, if Rick were secretly gay or something, that might be interesting. But that's not the story as written. Instead, we have to have mention of this non-existent problem every issue (and often several times each issue), with Heroic Leader doing all the work (mainly by flying a plane really well, which probably was hot stuff at the time) while Kanighter trots out his usual bag of tricks: mysterious giants, aliens, dinosaurs, etc. He gave us no giant clams, but if there had been a seventh appearance, I'll bet he would have.

Honest, it took me months to get through the Suicide Squad stories. Then all that was left were War that Time Forgot stories that I'd already read in Showcase Presents form. Honestly, this was a huge disappointment.

I borrowed Suicide Squad: The Silver Age Omnibus, Volume 1 from the library, and couldn't finish it. Bob Kanigher can be creative, but he can also be repetitive to the point of inducing narcolepsy. 

As Cap describes above, three of the four guys on the Suicide Squad are mooning over the woman on the team, as if she's the only woman on Earth. She only has eyes for the team leader, but doesn't want to break the hearts of the other two. The team leader should have solved the problem by dissolving the team, or at least replacing his two romantic rivals; it's not like they were the only scientists in the world either, and they were pretty much dead weight.

Cap posits that it might have been more interesting to present the situation as a case of The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name. Another more interesting possibility would have been for the four of them to stop hiding their feelings and form one big happy orgy family. But that would have been too much to ask. 

By the time I got through all the Suicide Squad tales in the book, I had little interest in and less patience for the War That Time Forgot stories.

So it sounds like Suicide Squad is well-named, as that's what it makes its readers want to join before they finish reading the book!

I agree with most of the points you've made about the Silver Age version of Suicide Squad, but on the other hand, the post-Schwartz Adam Strange stories are not as bad as I remember. My main objection when I was a kid was that they were different from what I was used to. As an adult, I'm more aware of the reasons for the changes and I can accept the stories by Dave Wood (I forgot to mention him in my review), Jerry Siegel and Lee Elias are okay for what they are and I'm glad they were included in this omnibus. 

Now, when are we going to get that ULTRA the Multi-Alien Omnibus?

Hoy

I picked up the Suicide Squad softcover a few months ago.  I’ve wanted to read them along with Cave Carson if I get the chance because Showcase and The Brave and the Bold had an incredible string of successes through 1962.  Everything received a title or a slot somewhere, although Hawkman struggled a bit, except for those two.  On the surface they don’t look that different from the Challengers, Sea Devils, or Rip Hunter— nonsuperpowered groups having fantastic adventures.  So why didn’t they succeed?

There really is no charm to Suicide Squad.  Rick and Karin are tiresome and whinny.  The two scientists are non-entities.  I recognize characterization wasn’t a strong suit but I don’t even know which is which.  Also, the stories represent Robert Kanigher at his worst.  An idea a minute until he’s filled the alloted pages.  It’s like reading Joe Gill when he’s just typing to fill pages (do note, I think Gill did write some interesting things given the conditions he worked under, so I’m not dissing his work, and, of course, some of Kanigher’s work is outstanding).  This approach kind of worked with Wonder Woman, and strangely enough worked very well with Metal Men (oddly all three with Andru and Esposito).  I think having to nominally fit within the Wonder Woman mythos constrained him just enough, and Metal Men developed its own internal logic and that series just jelled in its own brand of wackiness, which is sadly missing in recent attempts to “update” them.

Reading these stories reinforces that we as readers really were “discerning” back them, and just because DC published something didn’t mean it would be a hit.  Which gets me back to my point of the incredible string of successes they had.  

As an aside I don’t really count Showcase #1, 2, 3, and 5 as failures.  Each never got a second issue to find and build an audience.  Fireman Farrell is enjoyable (Arnold Drake’s stories are very good and well supported by John Prentice’s art).  That it didn’t find an audience I think hints that the audience was looking for something else.  The more realistic approach of those stories might have made it a big hit a few years prior, but the audience in 1956 was looking for something different, and that something different turned out to be superheroes and the Silver Age.  Fireman Farrell fighting fire demons, volcano men, and intergalactic arsonists might have clicked, but I’m kind of glad that we do have that one issue of a regular fireman doing his job in well told stories.  #2 features animals in beautifully drawn stories that are almost Disneyesque in tone (Kanigher’s “anything goes approach” reined in).  #3 is a typical Kanigher war story but issue length (and with Russ Heath art).  Sardine, Shark, and Whale as The Frogmen probably could have carried a series in one of the war titles.  And #5 was a collection of well done one off law enforcement stories, each with a slight twist ending, but was it even intended to be a possible continuing series.

DC had a line of licensed police/crime comics in the 1950s - Gang Busters, Mr. District Attorney and Big Town, and The New Adventures of Charlie Chan after Big Town was cancelled. It dropped them at the end of the decade. So in 1956 "Manhunters" was in line with stuff it was doing. A feature called "Manhunters Around the World" had appeared in Star-Spangled Comics and World's Finest Comics in 1949-51, 1952.

I suspect how much effort the editors put into the try-outs varied. In some cases they may have needed more to do, in others they may have had enough on their plates already and not cared much.

Since Showcase was bimonthly, and three issues intervened, the third "Challengers" issue was separated from the second by eight months. So the second pair of Challengers issues may not have been commissioned until after early information about the sales of the first two came in.

The five issue "Tommy Tomorrow" try-out seems to represent a change of policy. Since there were two interruptions, it ran in the title over a year. The five issue "Strange Sports Stories" try-out in The Brave and the Bold started at the same point, and was followed by the switch to team-ups.

I think Fireman Farrell could have fit in nicely with that type of comic, but its time was coming to an end, albeit  a few years still in the future.

Could the “Manhunters” stories have been intended for those other titles and “pressed into service” to meet an impending deadline?  

Luke Blanchard said:

DC had a line of licensed police/crime comics in the 1950s - Gang Busters, Mr. District Attorney and Big Town, and The New Adventures of Charlie Chan after Big Town was cancelled. It dropped them at the end of the decade. So in 1956 "Manhunters" was in line with stuff it was doing. A feature called "Manhunters Around the World" had appeared in Star-Spangled Comics and World's Finest Comics in 1949-51, 1952.

I suspect how much effort the editors put into the try-outs varied. In some cases they may have needed more to do, in others they may have had enough on their plates already and not cared much.

Luke Blanchard said:

I suspect how much effort the editors put into the try-outs varied. In some cases they may have needed more to do, in others they may have had enough on their plates already and not cared much.

I understand that the editors were assigned to do different issues/characters in the try-outs. The effort they put in was probably directly related to whether the assignment was something they were happy about or not.

Dave Palmer said:

Could the “Manhunters” stories have been intended for those other titles and “pressed into service” to meet an impending deadline?  

Gang Busters didn't have star characters, but the GCD tells me at that point it ran four stories of 6 pages each. The "Manhunters" issue had three of 8.

Mr. District Attorney starred the D.A., and Big Town starred newspaper editor Steve Wilson and was being overseen by Julie Schwartz. 

So most likely the "Manhunters" stories were written for the Showcase issue.

The "Manhunters" issue was edited by Jack Schiff, but I don't know who actually oversaw what in his office as Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan were his assistants.

Richard Willis said:

I understand that the editors were assigned to do different issues/characters in the try-outs. The effort they put in was probably directly related to whether the assignment was something they were happy about or not.

I suppose how many titles DC put out may have been governed by how many the higher-ups were willing to fund, how many the editors could handle, or how many the distributor would handle. Here's how many DC issues DC Indexes has in its gallery for each January during the lifespan of the original Showcase:

1955 30 Showcase was a year from starting

1956 32 including Showcase #1 and It's Gametime #4

1957 33

1958 35

1959 27 I didn't know the DC line shrank in 1958

1960 26

1961 26

1962 27

1963 27

1964 29

1965 29

1966 31 including 3-D Batman #1

1966 30

1967 30

1968 30

1969 30

1970 27

1971 29 Showcase had just ended

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