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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I just did a quick count of DC's January 2017 output and with variants it was 198 books (including TPB, HC, etc.), 114 without variants.  Of that (not counting variants) there were  88 different comic books.  In the period Luke surveyed anything selling fewer than 200,000 copies was probably on the chopping block.  Today, very few comics sell more than 100,000 and most much less.  The direct market really changed the financial dynamics of the industry but are we really getting three to four times as many high quality and memorable books?  Is the core audience for comic books big enough for the industry to survive?

I've heard retailers say that Marvel needs to cut back their total titles per character and let readers focus on a few. That might raise sales and would definitely make it easier for retailers to order. 

Even without figuring all the various X-men or Spider-Man titles, that note of 84 variant covers alone is terrible. It's just market manipulation. Mile High Comics is preselling variants of the latest hot ASM issue with the new "Red Goblin" at several hundred percent of cover price, saying that they'll be underpriced when the comic comes out. 

Do these people never learn?

It's hard to compare pre- and post-direct market sales. Circulation figures from the newsstand market rely more on selling a high percentage of the print run, so returns don't cut into profits so deeply. A comic selling 100,000 copies of a book with a 200,000 print run is more profitable than one selling 200,000 copies of a 500,000 print run.

Today the publishers make money no matter how many they sell, but sometimes the amount doesn't cover overhead and it's better to put those resources into something else.

I'm sad to find that virtually any Marvel comic I like lasts about 12-16 issues (USG excluded, thankfully) and then it's cancelled. I don't know what the cutoff level is, but the quirky, different stuff doesn't have much market. 

I suppose if this is the market comics fans want, they will get it, and they apparently do. I don't much care for it, so I mostly avoid in-continuity universe superheroes.

I've heard people talking about whether the comic book market could survive since the soldiers came home from WWII. Much like life, comic books find a way. I just wish there was more diversity to draw in a wider audience, which would spur more diversity and bring in a wider audience, repeat.

-- MSA

I would like there to be more of an audience, but if one counts translations of European comics, mangas, American reprints, British reprints, newspaper strip reprints and e-comics there's great diversity.

There's a fair amount of diversity if we  spread the net that far, but those aren't readily available in most comic shops. I have to go to Amazon to find TPBs most of those things.

I'd love for there to be more European comics--I'm reading Valerian and Largo Winch albums now. Cinebook has done some, but when stores have to stock 10 X-men titles each month, there's not much room.

And, frankly, I don't know that most stores have an audience that would pick those up. It's that usual cycle of supply-demand-supply. The demand in comic shops seems to be very much straight-forward, non-diverse superheroes, and as long as sales go up for crossover events, we'll get more of them.

-- MSA

I re-read the Adam Strange stories every few years, mostly because I remember Alanna as being my first comic book crush as an emerging teenager. The reproduction is crisp and clear in this reprint collection, and of course the paper quality is good without being glaring. The coloring is good and avoids the oversaturation of modern computer coloring, but I think the original colors in the newsprint issues was brighter. I fondly remember the green skies of Rann.

Hoy

Luke wrote:

>>  I didn't know the DC line shrank in 1958

If memory serves, a big part of that line-gutting was the cancellation of most of their funny animal titles. I think FOX & CROW was the only one to survive. Also, within a couple years, all westerns would be gone, and most of the teen humor comics (MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS was the only one they had in the early 1960s, and it wasn't really typical of the Archie style of comic books since DOBIE had full-length stories rather than short stories. Also, DOBIE had Bob Oksner drawing it, making it by far the best-drawn teen humor comic on the stands at the time).

If anyone's interested, the Suicide Squad omnibus* is on sale on Comixology for $5.99 this week. 

*Or the digitized version of the paperback, if there's a difference. 

Dave Blanchard said:

If memory serves, a big part of that line-gutting was the cancellation of most of their funny animal titles. I think FOX & CROW was the only one to survive. Also, within a couple years, all westerns would be gone, and most of the teen humor comics

There are a couple of complicating factors: they added titles even as they shrank their line; not everything was on the same schedule. According to DC Indexes's galleries, this DC annual output of issues from 1957-61 (by on sale date):

1957 412

new titles: Heart Throbs, Sergeant Bilko

cancelled: Dodo and the Frog, Nutsy Squirrel, Raccoon Kids

1958 414

new titles: Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane, Challengers of the Unknown, The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, Sgt. Bilko's Pvt. Doberman, The Flash

cancelled: Big Town, Robin Hood Tales, Jackie Gleason and the Honeymooners, Mutt & Jeff, Peter Panda, Leave it to Binky, Buzzy, Gang Busters, Mr. District Attorney, The New Adventures of Charlie Chan

1959 368

new titles: Pat Boone

cancelled: Hopalong Cassidy, Rex the Wonder Dog, Sgt. Bilko's Pvt. Doberman

1960 345

new titles: The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Green Lantern, Superman Annual, Justice League of America

cancelled: Sergeant Bilko, Pat Boone, Flippity & Flop, Peter Porkchops, Three Mouseketeers, A Date With Judy, TV Screen Cartoons, Western Comics

1961 337

new titles: Rip Hunter... Time Master, Secret Origins, Batman Annual, Sea Devils, Aquaman

cancelled: All-Star Western

sources: DC Indexes, the GCD, DC Timeline

In some cases the last issues appeared after a hiatus since the previous year: Buzzy, Flippity & Flop, and Peter Porkchops. My apologies for any mistakes.

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