It's not very good. But mainly that's because I'm looking at it with 2019 eyes. Why they didn't work at the time is not as clear.
Atomic War was basically a standard WWII war comic, only with Russians instead of Germans, and with the word "atomic" stuck in front of everything. For example, the main battlefield seems to be Europe, and more specifically, Germany. The front line is the Rhine. The "dirty reds" want to cross, and the heroic Americans don't want them to. Battles are fought with atomic mortars, atomic howitzers and atomic hand grenades.
Yes. Atomic hand grenades. Which were just like regular hand grenades, only they packed a bigger punch.
That's obviously really silly, since if anybody actually was dumb enough to make an atomic hand grenade, nobody would be dumb enough to use it, since it would kill everyone on both sides and irradiate the land so there could be no victor.
But that's a 2019 understanding of nuclear power, which was less well understood in 1952. (Although you will still find idiots today who think a nuclear war is winnable.) But it contrasts badly with how the air war is carried out, where atomic weapons are at a premium.
Basically, it's fought with long-range bombers. In the first issue, the Russians launch a sneak attack (of course), which involve bomber fleets (and spies misdirecting our defenses, because COMMIE SPIES) where essentially each plane had one atomic bomb. We still manage to shoot down most of the bombers, but one atomic bomb is dropped on New York (of course), another on Detroit (the "hub of our defense industry") and a third on Chicago (because, um, unclear). That's it. Other cities are targeted, notably Washington D.C., but the bombers don't make it through to them.
And while those cities are destroyed, the surrounding area is fine. New York City is gone, but New Jersey is unaffected. Which, from a 2019 perspective, is laughable. The book doesn't mention fallout much, or radiation poisoning at all. The underlying assumption seems to be that atomic explosions are just bigger than conventional weapons, and have no further harmful effects.
The actual stories are the usual war comics cliches of soldiers learning their lessons (one who learns he does, in fact, need his Turkish ally), geographic humor (a Georgia solider in the Arctic who doesn't like the cold) and/or being over-the-top heroic. Officers and other authority figures are always wise and morally upright. (Why did we need the Comics Code again?) Maybe these cliches weren't cliches in 1952, but I suspect they were.
There are no continuing characters, and a lot of stories end with a heroic soldier dying. That latter I suspect wasn't conventional in1952, and the two things combined might be why the book didn't succeed.
Or maybe it was because of the U.S. mainland being attacked, which didn't happen in WWII. Maybe the kids of 1952 didn't like the idea of us losing at the beginning. I dunno.
Each issue begins with a disclaimer about how these stories are meant to be warnings for us to be vigilant so these bad things cannot happen. I find that amusing, because it reminds me of crime comics, where there is usually a disclaimer somewhere about how crime is bad, and how the fate of the crooks are meant to be object lessons in how crime doesn't pay, and yet the word CRIME is usually huge on the cover, and each story is pages of breathless, gleeful depictions of how cool it is to be a crook (until, inevitably, you get caught/killed in a single panel at the end). Here, we have a stern warning at the beginning of how terrible war is, and then pages and pages of war being glamorized.
Captain Courageous is worse, Much worse. Poorly written, poorly drawn. It's only 1942, but still -- contemporary books at DC weren't anywhere near this bad.
I confess I haven't finished it. I fell asleep in the middle of the "Lone Warrior" strip, which was virtually identical to the "Captain Courageous" strip, in which a character with an outfit with stars on it and no origin or secret identity or background or motivation, fights crooks with undefined super-powers (can he fly, or is that just bad drawing?) and snappy, tough-guy patter of the 1942 variety, albeit as imagined by a 12-year-old who goes to the movies a lot. Similarly, the art looks as if rendered by a a pre-teen. Maybe the content will improve in the last few strips -- yes, I WILL read it all -- but that is not usually how comics of the time were built. I really don't hold out much hope just looking at the titles: "Typhoon Tyson," "Kay McKay, Air Hostess," "Luke and His Magic Flute" and "Paul Revere Jr."
“That's obviously really silly, since if anybody actually was dumb enough to make an atomic hand grenade, nobody would be dumb enough to use it…”
I dunno, man… even Galactus had his “ultimate nullifier.” :)
“The book doesn't mention fallout much, or radiation poisoning at all.”
Even Isaac Asimov made mistakes (such as parts of the country being “partially radioactive”) in his “Galactic Empire” series and had to concoct explanations how such things could be plausible in sequels decades later.
I always appreciate these PSArtbook reviews. I have allowed myself to fall far behind and I’m not even certain which ones (of certain series) I have read and which I have not. There for a while I was enjoying reading comics not from the Big Two, but here lately the pendulum has swung back the other way and I figure life’s too short to read crap comics. I’m sure it will swing back again at some point, and these reviews help me arrange which ones I may want to read in which order when I delve back in.
I have a feeling that in 1952 the general public, including comic book writers, had imperfect understanding of nuclear weapons. I tried to confirm what people understood then, but I couldn't find anything. The U.S. military, occupying Japan, obviously knew what happened to the survivors of the two bombings and the lasting radiation. I don’t think the general public was made aware of these things until years later.* I understand that when nuclear bomb testing was going on the U.S. military had its soldiers walking around in the radiated areas afterward. I think the idea of “just a bigger bomb” was prevalent at first.
* The novel On the Beach was published in 1957. The world-ending radiation in that book and its later movie was greatly dreaded by then.
...I am interested by these PS (and other companies'
) books of preumably-PD Golden and Atomic obscurities as well! I have not been able to buy many, alas:-(. One I did was the one collecting the.complets CAPTAIN VIDEO series from Fawcett drawn by George Evans. It only ran six issues, standard try-out run - even with the mania for early TV it obviously didn't sell! That's all I know if Captain Video, most of whose episodes are long lost - Anybody here know it much? The disapproving quote Dr. Wertham made from the CV comic was what kept it in my mind.
I’ve got a lot of catching up to do today so I’ll keep my comments to a minimum. (You’re welcome.)
HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #6
DOOMSDAY CLOCK #1-12
LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (NEW) #2
LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (OLD) #295-300
FLASH FORWARD #4
JIMMY OSEN #6
MAD #11: This is the “20 Dumbest Things of 2019” issue. Coming in at #20 is the rumor that Mad has been cancelled, despite no such announcement being made by its corporate owners. Three issues have been published since the story broke in July, plus at least two specials. Also, they’re running an ad for subscriptions and guarantee current subscribers that they will receive six issues in 2020. Never have so many been so upset about the supposed cancellation of a magazine they stopped reading years ago.
STAR TREK: YEAR FIVE #9
EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SNIFTER OF TERROR: SEASON TWO #3
AMERICAN JESUS: THE NEW MESSIAH #1
BASKETFUL OF HEADS #3
KLAUS: THE LIFE & TIMES OF JOE CHRISTMAS
DOC FRANKENSTEIN ALIVE, ALIVE!: I love Frankenstein’s monster, and I like to pretend, impossibly, that all “Frankenstein” stories, books, comics, movies, take place in the same continuity. Two of the best ever Frankenstein comic book series were collected this year, and I read them both, back-to-back. First, Frankenstein Alive, Alive! was Berni Wrightson’s last project (written by Steve Niles). As it became increasingly difficult for him to work and apparent that he wasn’t going to be able to finish, he chose Kelly Jones as his successor to work from his layouts.
Second is the until-now-unfinished Doc Frankenstein mini-series by the Wachowski brothers (now sisters) and Steve Skroce. To be perfectly honest, I was previously unaware that both of the Wachowski’s were transgender until I read Lana Wachowski’s moving introduction. It wouldn’t have made any difference to me if I had known, but apparently it did to some people. I was heartened by the line, “I take comfort in the fact that if you were one of those people for whom this change constitutes a problem, you aren’t reading this introduction.”
ULTIMATE X #1-4 (2010): Although I wasn’t a fan of Marvel’s so-called “ultimate” universe, I bought this mini-series (written by Jeph Loeb) for the Arthur Adams art. Or, I should say, I started to buy it. I bought and read the first two issues when they came out, but when issue #4 came out and I realized I had missed #3, I decided to put it on hold. It took me several years to remember to buy #3, then several more to sit down and read it, which I did over the weekend.
It takes place after some catastrophic event: the FF have disbanded, Wolverine is dead, and mutants have been ordered to turn themselves in or be shot on sight. The first issue spotlights Jimmy Hudson, Wolverine’s son; the second “Karen Grant” (a.k.a. Jean Grey); the third Derek Morgan (a winged mutant known as “Guardian”). The fourth issue spotlights Liz Allen and her half-brother. Their father is the Blob. She has flame powers (!?) and he has his father’s. I was enjoying reading this alternate universe story at last… right up until the point I discovered it was not a four-issue series but a five! AARRGGHH!
AVENGERS: LOKI UNLEASHED: This is a fairly recent one-shot I just learned exists. It is a retro story which takes place shortly after Avengers #277 when the Masters of Evil attacked Avengers mansion. It is an old school story, written by Roger Stern and drawn by Ron Lim, with multiple footnotes referring to contemporaneous Marvel events (such as Iron Man #218 and Thor #361). As a matter of fact, Avenger: Loki Unleashed is one of several done-in-one specials Marvel released in 2019.
DOCTOR STRANGE: SURGEON SUPREME #1: Every once in a while I will buy the first issue of a new direction just keep up with what’s happening in the Marvel Universe (especially if they’re written by Mark Waid). Doctor Strange in particular has gone through many changes over the years, and none of them ever stick. In this one, he has regained the ability to perform delicate brain surgery. No explanation whatsoever is given. One detail has me intrigued enough to maybe try a second issue: the new hospital administrator is Anthony Ludgate (a.k.a. Dr, Druid), who happens to be dead.
INCOMING!: This one-shot introduces the direction of the Marvel Universe for 2020, set up by Marvel Comics #1000. It cost $10 and the grammar irritated me. Two key characters are revealed to be Bel-Dann and Raksor, the Kree and Skrull observers from the X-Men #137 (the “Death of Phoenix” issue). Their original fate (they killed each other) was excised from the published version, creating a dangling plot thread, and what happened to them next was revealed in Fantastic Four Annual #18. I really hate the current incarnation of the Champions. A line I did appreciate was the definition of a teenager: “a kid’s idea of a grownup.” One thing I can say about this story is that it was not decompressed; the end couldn’t come quickly enough for me. It was like reading HoX/Pox, except it was about the entire MU and not just the mutants.
I seem to remember a scene in some Ultimate book where Peter Parker and friends (which included Johnny Storm) were at a beach party or clambake or something, and somehow Liz Allan caught fire and became a human torch. I guess she was a mutant. But Johnny was immediately attracted to her as a result, and they may even have started dating, I don't really remember. All I do remember is saying WTF when Liz Allan -- humdrum, tertiary character Liz Allan -- turned out to have super-powers. That's just ... an odd choice.
Just burned through the second Black Hood TPB and the first Crusaders TPB from the latest incarnation of the MLJ heroes. The former was pretty good, very street-level and gritty. The other was just generic super-team with generic friction between characters. They had been sitting in my to-read pile for ages, and I've resolved to finish that pile off. (There's another pile of to-read books,which are work-related, in that will inform future columns, movies and TV shows, which I will frantically consume just prior to the column/TV show/movie coming due.)
Also read Superman: Year One from Frank Miller and JR JR. Felt like I was reading Straczynski's Superman: Earth-One again in that this character is not my Clark Kent, and he is doing very not-Clark-Kent things, and I'm confident none of these things will ever be mentioned again, and I am not the least bit interested in whoever this Superman-Lite is, because he's generic.
How many rewrites has Superman's pre-Superman days gotten? There was the one from Mark Waid that I've forgotten, and another, I think by Kurt Busiek, that I've forgotten. Both supposedly in continuity, but never mentioned again. Can someone help me remember the names of those books so I can write about them in my book? They all run together in my head into a single stew, now with added Frank Miller sauce.
I'm partway through a few books that I have to take a break from now and then, including Modern Love and the second volume of the Basil Wolverton bio. I can't read either for an extended time, because the first is awful and the second is tedious.
Speaking of Superman: Year One, it’s an odd one, neither fish nor fowl. Someone (Kelvin, I think…?) pointed out that this is supposed to be neither the pre-Flashback nor New 52 Superman, but rather the Superman of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Universe. That makes sense to me now, but it didn’t occur to me in the first place because originally, as far as we knew in 1985, we were glimpsing the future of the mainstream DCU. Even within the Dark Knight universe, I draw a line between The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again (specifically between DK2 #2 and #3. The Superman: Year One version may not bear much resemblance to any other version (even the one from DKR), but I can see him fitting right in with the “I’m the goddam Batman” Batman. And what’s this “Year One” appellation? It covered his whole life… up until the point he left Earth in search of his roots or whatever. And he left Earth shortly after going public with his powers? Whatever.
“How many rewrites has Superman's pre-Superman days gotten?”
I wish you hadn’t asked that. I tend to remember the ones I like and forget the ones I don’t, but seein’ as it’s for your book, I’ll get you started. I read Birthright (the Mark Waid one) twice. I didn’t like it either time and don’t intend to read it ever again. I did like Secret Origins, the one by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. (Bob hosted a detailed discussion of that series somewhere on this board.) Inspired by Doomsday Clock, I started re-rereading that one just last night. (We used to have “the pounding of Superboy’s fists”; now we have Dr. Manhattan.) After that I plan to re-read Grant Morrison’s “New 52” run of Action Comics.
One of my favorites was 1998’s Superman For All Seasons by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. Another favorite was the treatment by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely in All-Star Superman #1, which reduced the well-worn origin story to four wordless “widescreen” panels on a single page.
On another note, you’re finding Modern Love awful? I’m reading only a story at a time, too, but I’m finding them delightful. Here’s a hint: don’t compare them to later ECs; compare them to other romance comics of the time.
Thanks for putting Superman: Year One in some sort of context. I couldn't imagine why MIller was wasting his time on something that was only slightly different than the existing origin(s), and where it varied it wasn't particularly compelling. But then, as noted, there are so many origins for Superman now (man, sometimes I miss the Silver Age) that it's difficult to keep track of them all.
I read the third Black Hood trade. It wasn't as good as the first two, but it was OK. Doesn't matter I suppose -- we'll probably never see this version of the character again, though, since it's been canceled.
And I finished Modern Love and honestly didn't enjoy it. It wasn't that I was comparing it to later EC efforts, it was that it was so retro in its attitude toward women. The '50s weren't exactly enlightened, I know, but I did tire of story after story where women object to being kissed, the guy forces himself on her anyway, and then she melts into his arms with thrills running up or down some part of her anatomy (it varies between legs, spine and arms). That was a myth of the times, I suppose, but we didn't see any of that in the St. John romance books, and some of the others. This idea that women secretly want to be dominated -- one character actually says it out loud -- makes me kinda queasy. Especially the subtext that it's the "uppity" women who need to be slapped down the most (and will enjoy it).
Maybe I did expect EC to be a little better than other books of the time. I didn't expect them to be worse.
Hmm… a clear case of what makes horseraces. What made you feel queasy I saw as simple naiveté.
ACTION COMICS #858-863: I followed Superman: Secret Origin up with Action Comics #858-863, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank reintroduction of the LSH. Because it has been only a year or two since I last read this sequence up through “New 52” I won’t be reading the rest of it again so soon, but I do plan to re-read the “New 52” Superman again for the first time (yes, that’s what I meant to say).