I recently finished reading Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent for the first time and found myself in need of a little mental palate-cleansing. I first turned to The Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer for the third time... sort of. That book was originally published in 1965, but I always think ot it as a mid-seventies thing because I received my copy for my tenth birthday. The book comprises text in the front, comics in the back. I made a really good effort when I was ten to read through the text, but I felt an almost physical tug from those brightly-colored Golden Age classics pulling me to the back of the book. I tried reading a chapter at a time but, frankly, ending up skimming them more than giving them a deep read. I did read enough of the Superman chapter to realize that Feiffer was pretty much full of $#!t when it came to his philosophy of superheroes (and was dismayed, decades later, when that philosophy was carried over into a popular film) but, apart from that, his book is written with such a joie de vie for comics that it makes a perfect counterpoint to Wertham's bleak Seduction of the Innocent.

The Great Comic Book Heroes was reissued in the early 2Ks (I think it was), but without the comics. I took that opportunity to "re-read it for the first time." But I didn't buy a new edition; I read my HC, in-depth for the first time, but was able to resist the temptation of the comics in the back (which I did read many, many times over in my youth and since). So this was my third time through (or second, depending on your point of view). I enjoyed it immensely, but it is very short and I found myself in need of more "mental palate-cleansing."

That realization led me to All in Color for a Dime, the 1970 collection of fanzine articles edited by Dick Lupoff and Don Thompson. Like Seduction of the Innocent, All in Color for a Dime has achieved nigh-legendary status (in certain circles). Also like SOTI, it had been out of print and difficult to obtain for a number of years. When it was reissued in 1997 I snatched it right up... then let it sit on the shelf for 25 years. I read one chapter per day of SOTI and posted my thoughts as I went along. AICFAD comprises eleven essays so, for the next week and a half, I plan to read and post my thoughts on one essay per day.

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I haven't read All in Color since I first got it, so, so many years ago. I'll appreciate the refresher!

Somehow, I've acquired two copies of All in Color for a Dime, but I don't believe I've ever actually read it. 

My edition of The Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer (1977, first paperback) has only the first page of Captain Marvel's origin from WHIZ Comics #2, stating,

Jules Pfeiffer wrote:

This excerpt will, hopefully give the flavor of Captain Marvel. More cannot be printed without unsettling the settlement between Clark Kent and Billy Batson. We thank S. J. Liebowitz, President of National Periodical Publications, Inc., for permission to reprint, for historical purposes, the following matter. Our excerpt, unfortunately, must end where Captain Marvel begins; for those not versed in comic book metaphysics, let it be known that "Shazam," the word that adds two feet, ten years and red leotards to Billy Batson's scant frame, is an acronym. S is for Solomon's wisdom, H is for Hercules' strength, A is for Atlas' Stamina, Z is for Zeus' power, A is for Achilles' heel and M is for the million things you've ... 

When I was a kid I had a good grounding in Golden Age Comics, not only through the Feiffer book, but also those DC "treasury editions." I would have felt cheated by the single-page Captain Marvel recap had it not been for the "Famous First Edition" of Whiz Comics #2. The tabloid anthologies (Action Comics #1, Detective Comics #27, Sensation Comics #1, etc.) provided not only the headliner, but all of the back-up features as well. 

1. "The Spawn of M.C. Gaines" by Ted White

This essay, by the managing editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic magazines, is a good first chapter because it provides a concise history of the medium, concentrating on its origins. One thing upon which White and Feiffer (and I) agree is that kid readers identify with the hero, not the sidekick. If I was looking for something to cleanse my mental palate of Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent, try these three paragraphs on for size.

"[Batman] also caused himself a little extra trouble when Dr. Wertham stated, in Seduction of the Innocent, that the relationship between Batman and Robin (which is to say , between Bruce Wayne and his ward, Dick Grayson) was sexually unhealthy. Dr. Wertham was of the certain notion which became well-publicized, that not only was the relationship homosexual, it was obviously homosexual to the comics' youthful readers! One shudders to think what the good doctor would have made of the Boy Scout Handbook, with its wholesome enthusiasm for exactly the same sort of 'comradeship' between the boy scouts and their counsellors.

"It's fashionable today to sneer a little and to chuckle at the Boy Scout image, at the goody-two-shoes approach. It's fashionable to see rampaging homosexual lust in every man's hand on a boy's shoulder, but I wonder if in our cynicism we aren't cutting ourselves off from a part of the innocence of childhood.

"I'm certain Dr. Wertham must have had no knowledge of the ideals and conditioning we had as boys and Boy Scouts. These ideals have permeated boys' books of the last four generations, and their reflection in Batman's fatherly comradeship with Robin was not only innocent, but touchingly inspiring. No boy I ever knew read more than that into Batman's relationship with Robin, and I doubt anything more was intended."

Ah, that's more like it.

I will have to dig through my books to see if I still have my copy from way back when. One of my favorite chapters was on Popeye as the first super hero.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

When I was a kid I had a good grounding in Golden Age Comics, not only through the Feiffer book, but also those DC "treasury editions." I would have felt cheated by the single-page Captain Marvel recap had it not been for the "Famous First Edition" of Whiz Comics #2. The tabloid anthologies (Action Comics #1, Detective Comics #27, Sensation Comics #1, etc.) provided not only the headliner, but all of the back-up features as well. 

Likewise. Fortunately, I, too, have the Limited Collectors' Edition of WHIZ Comics #2 (and several other of the Golden Age debuts such as Detective Comics #27, Batman #1, Action Comics #1, Superman #1, Sensation Comics #1, All-Star Comics #3).

Jeff of Earth-J said:

1. "The Spawn of M.C. Gaines" by Ted White

This essay, by the managing editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic magazines, is a good first chapter because it provides a concise history of the medium, concentrating on its origins. One thing upon which White and Feiffer (and I) agree is that kid readers identify with the hero, not the sidekick. 

I agree also. There may be good reasons to have sidekicks (or junior partners, as Randy would say for Robin), but in my book, the notion that the reader identifies with the sidekick is not one of them.

I am another one who’s had the book forever but haven’t read it. Also, I can’t put my hands on it.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

One thing upon which White and Feiffer (and I) agree is that kid readers identify with the hero, not the sidekick.

Me too.

Dr. Wertham was of the certain notion which became well-publicized, that not only was the relationship homosexual, it was obviously homosexual to the comics' youthful readers! 

On what planet?

One shudders to think what the good doctor would have made of the Boy Scout Handbook, with its wholesome enthusiasm for exactly the same sort of 'comradeship' between the boy scouts and their counsellors.

"It's fashionable today to sneer a little and to chuckle at the Boy Scout image, at the goody-two-shoes approach. It's fashionable to see rampaging homosexual lust in every man's hand on a boy's shoulder, but I wonder if in our cynicism we aren't cutting ourselves off from a part of the innocence of childhood."

I almost hesitate to point out that the experiences of boys entirely depend upon who the scout masters are. Today we have this:

Boy Scouts wrap up month-long trial over $2.7 bln sex abuse deal

https://www.reuters.com/legal/transactional/boy-scouts-wrap-up-mont...

I have an old paperback of this somewhere!

"Feiffer was pretty much full of $#!t"

About that... Feiffer wrote The Great Comic Book Heroes with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, but I didn't realize that when I was ten; I thought he was serious. 

2. "Me to Your Leader Take" by Richard Ellington

Ellington's contribution to AICFAD was a love letter to Planet Comics, which was the field's first comic dedicated to science fiction. He gives an overview of the entire series, which serials were good, which serials were not-so-good, before finally settling on the serial Planet Comics is best remembered for: "Lost World."

"There were many other strips, of course, but for the most part they were grey mediocrities best quickly forgotten. However, I've saved for dessert the most popular and undoubtedly the best strip Planet Comics ever produced - Lost World.

"Lost World alone was worth the 10 cents to me any time and can stand comparison with almost any struip around for interest, imagination and originality.

"The strip was credited to Thorncliffe Herrick and stayed in his able hands throughout its life. I don't recall any other strips by him, certainly none in Planet, but he did quite a few of the little two-page stories which Planet ran.

"According to the Day Index, 'Herrick' was actually a house name, and one of the writers whose works appeared under it in Planet Comics was Jerome Bixby. Bixby is now a screenwriter, credited with the story for Fantastic Voyage."

I don't recall when it was or where I first read about Planet  Comics, but I do remember being eager to read some. Unfortunately, reprints of Planet were even harder to find than the Justice Society's in All Star Comics. However, this being the true Golden Age of Comics, I now own a 14-volume hardcover set of all 73 issues on Planet Comics as collected by PS Artbooks. And, if you are interested in only "Lost Planet" and not the filler, PS Artbooks also offers a single volume of just the "Lost World" stories which ran in issues #21-64. 

Ellington concludes his chapter with the admission: "Even with the fantastic changes made by Fawcette, Payne, and Byrne, I would hardly call Planet a great comic book. But the improvement it underwent over the years was truly remarkable." Nevertheless, using Ellington's chapter as a guide, I very much look forward to reading through (what he considers to be) the best of Planet Comics in the near future. Along with Heap and Frankenstein, my Golden Age "To Read" stack is growing increasingly taller. 

Regarding the chapter's title, Ellington also points out that the language spoken in "Lost World" is a literal translation of Latin directly into English. I wouldn't be too surprised if it were revealed that this is where George Lucas got the idea for Yoda's lingo.

Planet Comics was a direct casualty of Fredric Wertham's anti-comics crusade. 

Found my copy of All In Color For A Dime - an Ace paperback cover price $1.50 - yellowed pages but still in pretty good shape considering it is probably 50 years old.

One point I found interesting in Ellington's essay was the reference to the Planet Comics letter page. For some reason I didn't think Golden Age comics ran letters. And it was one of the letter writers that offered the explanation regarding the use of Latin for the alien language.

"For some reason I didn't think Golden Age comics ran letters."

I suspect Fiction House was the outlier in the field in that respect. When publishers discovered, well into the '50s, that a letters page would satisfy the Post Office's requirement for second class postage, the prose stories were dropped over a period of time. But Fiction House grew from the pulps, which traditionally had a vigorous fan-mail following; there were Planet Stories/Planet Comics; Jungle Stories; Jungle Comics; Wings/Wings Comics; and so on. Ellington also points out that some of the pulp magazine covers were later reused on comic books. 

3. "The Big Red Cheese" by Dick Lupoff

First of all, Lupoff clears up something for me I had never been 100% certain of until today: "Binder" is "pronounced with a short i, by the way." I have always had a hankering for Golden Age Captain Marvel stories, every since I read the treasury edition of Whiz Comics #2. DC would go on to release three additional Captain Marvel treasuries as well as six "100-Page Super-Spectaculars" (of which I have/can afford four). I always preferred the '70s reprints to the ones which came later (such as the slip-cased hardcover of "The Monster society of Evil" discussed here), although I probably have them all. 

Never since DC revived "SHAZAM!" in the '70s have they been able to recapture the original sense of whimsy. Originally, Captain Marvel was a childlike fantasy. Lupoff describes one story in particular that caught my attention. "Metaphysical theses have been written on the exact nature of the transformation that took place when Billy shouted the word Shazam! and disappeared in favor of Captain Marvel. To be quite fair about it, Billy himself often spoke of "calling on" rather than "changing to" Captain Marvel. And, in at least one story, Billy was seen to cheat on a written examination by whispering his word and obtaining a wraith-like presence of the captain, who provided correct answers to the exam." If this story were adapted today, I have no doubt the writer would have Captain Marvel apply the wisdom of Solomon and refuse to help Billy cheat. 

Lupoff concludes his chapter by mentioning Marvel's Captain Marvel: "His real name is Captain Mar-Vell, and while the stories are really rather good, I frankly find it painful to see the blaspheming of the old beloved name." I don't have to wonder what he would have thought had he known DC officially dropped the "Captain Marvel" moniker in favor of "Shazam." That is painful for me to see. 

Yeah, pace Mar-Vell, Monica Rambeau, Noh-Varr, Carol Danvers, old Uncle Tom Cobbleiigh and all, but to me, Billy Barson is Captain Marvel.

Lupoff's essay is a love letter to comic books in general and Captain Marvel in particular. Although the character that spawned our love for comics may vary, we can all identify with the sentiments he expresses.

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