Deck Log Entry # 181 Mysteries of the Silver Age (Part One)

Those of you with long memories and an interest in such a thing will remember Jeff of Earth-J’s thread on the television soap opera Dark Shadows.  Jeff introduced it in 2010 and it picked up a good head of steam, running strong for years.  Even five years later, folks are still posting to it.  The on-going discussion of the series reminded me of something that had confounded me for years.


One of the more important second-tier characters on the series was Professor Timothy Stokes, portrayed by Thayer David.  At least, that was the name of the character when he was introduced on the show in April of 1968.   Stokes’s stature was such that I don’t recall anyone else on the show calling him “Timothy”.  He was always introduced as “Professor Timothy Stokes” or addressed directly as simply “Professor Stokes”. 


On one occasion, two months after his introduction, the professor tells young David Collins that his name is “Timothy Eliot Stokes”.  But that was for effect.  He wasn’t a “three-namer”, like Edgar Allan Poe or William Jennings Bryan.  Every other time, he referred to himself as simply “Timothy Stokes”.  And in the end credits, he was listed variously as “Professor Stokes”, “Timothy Stokes”, or “Professor Timothy Stokes”.


And Timothy Stokes he remained, through 1968 and all of 1969.  Then, at some point in 1970, something strange happened.  There were wide gaps in my viewing of the show by then, so I cannot tell you exactly when, but I discovered that some of the characters, who had become familiar with Stokes by then, were calling him “Eliot”, and he was being referred to as “Professor Eliot Stokes”.  The closing credits were now listing him as “T. Eliot Stokes”.


What the hell happened to “Timothy”?


Things like that bug me.  Yes, lots of “mysterious” changes have taken place on television series, especially in those days, when the Internet and entertainment-news programmes weren’t feeding the fans every tiny development.  Characters disappeared from casts.  Formats changed.  But these type of things, a savvy viewer knew---even if he didn’t have the exact details---were tied to actor availability or budgets or ratings.  But there didn’t seem to any reason for changing Stokes’s name so significantly, and after he had been so long established.


I own a couple of books about Dark Shadows and have read a few more; I periodically scan any websites about the show; I raised the question on Jeff’s Dark Shadows thread.  Yet, I have never come across the reason for it.  Not even a hint.  Not even a mention of the fact that the name was altered.  The show’s fans seem to be unaware of it, and any who are apparently don’t care.


Of course, I wouldn’t be talking about it here if the same sort of the thing didn’t happen in comic books, as well.  Peculiar little alterations that showed up for no apparent reason within the fictional conceit of the series.  Neither could they be explained by a well-grounded conjecture, such as a change in artists or an obvious editorial fiat.  In the half-century since, these mysteries have intensified, as none of ensuing books or articles or interviews examining the Silver Age have ever shed any light on them.  At least, none that I have come across.  Even Internet searches produce next to no results.


Over this Deck Log Entry and the next, I'll discuss four of the things that have always bugged me.



1.  The Adult Robin---the Mystery of His First First Costume.


Minor changes in a character’s costume can be tricky things.  Most of the time, they can be attributed to differences in artists’ renditions.  A fresh artist on a series might (1) overlook small details in a character’s costume; or (2) deliberately make small adjustments that he feels are more æsthetically pleasing.  Case in point, after the uniforms of the three charter members of the Legion of Super-Heroes settled into their standard versions, Lightning Lad---as drawn by John Forte and Jim Mooney and Curt Swan---displayed a sort of cummerbund beneath his belt.  Other Legion artists, like Win Mortimer, never drew it all, and eventually, even Swan got tired of adding the extra decoration. 


And then you had Green Lantern artist Gil Kane, who spent most of 1964-5 tinkering with the arrangement of green and black on the Emerald Gladiator’s costume, until he got it just the way he wanted it.


But the adult Robin of Earth-Two’s first first costume (no, that’s not a typo) doesn’t fall under either of those rationales.


I am in the minority of fans who preferred the original outfit of the grown-up “Boy” Wonder of Earth-Two, and those of you long-time Legionnaires will remember me mentioning this curious instance before---that between Justice League of America # 55 and 56, the double-issue story which featured his Silver-Age début, Robin actually wore two slightly different costumes.


It’s clear enough on the cover of JLA # 55 (Aug., 1967).  The now-adult Robin is wearing a costume almost identical with the Batman’s, except in place of a bat-emblem on his chest, resides an “R” contained within a red circle, off-set by tiny bat-wings; and a yellow, scalloped cape, adorned by one of those high collars so popular with Golden-Age super-heroes.  But that’s not the costume he wears inside the book.

It’s close, but the discrepancies are obvious.  The “R” chest-insignia does not have the red-circle underlay.  Nor does Robin wear the black-blue trunks and his “shirttails” flair out from under his utility belt, in a fashion similar to the jerkin he wore as the Boy Wonder.


Most curious are the lines drawn around the biceps of his sleeves.  These lines appeared on his arms throughout JLA # 55.


The adult Robin does not appear on the cover of the second half---JLA # 56 (Sep., 1967)---but when you open it up, he’s now wearing the version of his outfit that appeared on the previous cover---the costume conventionally considered to be his first one.  There’s no in-story reference to the new duds; they’re simply there.


So, why did artist Mike Sekowsky, who penciled the interiors of both issues and the cover of # 55, make the changes?




I don’t know.  I’ve never seen any source mention this, or discuss it, except for my own post about it on these boards six years ago.  I’ve never seen anyone connected with DC at the time address it.    But I have a hunch that the tweaking between issues wasn’t Mike Sekowsky’s idea.  In fact, the inclusion of the now-grown-up Boy Wonder of Earth-Two in that JLA/JSA team-up was an attempt, and a transparent one, by DC to have it both ways.


A year earlier, the phenomenal popularity of the Batman television programme had infected the country with “Batmania”.  And DC, seeing its profit-share rocketing sky-high, fueled the bat-frenzy by playing up the Caped Crusader as much as possible.   For one thing, he had been turned into the virtual star of Justice League of America.  For over a year, Batman had been hogging most of the action and all of the covers. The cover of 1966’s JLA Giant Annual displayed the Gotham Gangbuster taking up most of the cover space, while the rest of the League trailed far behind him.  (This, no doubt, confused eager “Batmanics” after they opened up the book and found that the three reprinted tales within came from the early years of the JLA, when their hero barely showed his pointy-eared cowl.)


Yet, die-hard JLA fans---the ones who remembered when Batman was just one of the bunch, no more special than any other member---were complaining loudly about his monopolisation of the title.  They’d had enough of “His Batship”.


Leaving Batman out of that year’s JLA/JSA team-up, yet giving an adult Robin a featured spot was a not-so-sneaky trick.  Editor Julius Schwartz could claim that he was responding to the wishes of the JLA purists, yet, at the same time, play to the Bat-fans, who wanted all-Batman, all the time.


The way I figure it:  when Sekowsky got the script for the first half, JLA # 55, the costume he originally designed for the adult Robin was far more evocative of his boyhood outfit.  Hence, the jerkin with the flared tail and the simple “R” laid over the batwings for his insignia.  And those peculiar lines around his biceps?  I suspect that Sekowsky was channeling the boy Robin’s costume even more by intending his adult outfit also be short-sleeved.  The lines on the biceps demarked where the shirt-sleeves stopped, and his arms would have been bare down to the gloves.


However---more conjecture here---when the art for JLA # 55 got to Julius Schwartz’s desk, he was unhappy with Sekowsky’s design.  I’m guessing it was too late to alter the art for that issue, but for the second half, # 56, Schwartz told Sekowsky to make the adult Robin costume more Batman-like.  Thus, the change from a tunic to the standard super-hero shirt and the addition of the blue-black trunks and the red circle around the chest emblem.  (One thing Julie probably could do, and did, before issue # 55 went to press was instruct the colourist to ignore the idea of short sleeves and colour the adult Robin’s arms grey, to give the appearance of long sleeves.  Sid Greene had already inked the lines indicating short sleeves, so they had to stay.)


Whatever the reason for the changes, the latter version is the one that stuck and the one that everyone considers to be the Earth-Two Robin’s original adult costume.  Few remember that there was an even “original-er” one.



2.  The Elongated Man---the Mystery of Malleable, Maroon Manhunter.


Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, débuted in The Flash # 112 (Apr.-May, 1960).  His ability to stretch his body to great lengths wasn’t a terribly original super-power.  It had already been done in the Golden Age, to great effect, by Plastic Man, and when Superman editor Mort Weisinger needed to give Jimmy Olsen a super-hero identity, he went with the super-stretchable Elastic Lad.  Not to mention only a year later, Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee would appropriate it as the power for Reed Richards, in the first issue of The Fantastic Four.


Julius Schwartz probably let the writer of “The Mystery of the Elongated Man”---John Broome---get away with giving his new character such an uninspired talent because the E-Man was never intended to be more than a second-tier super-hero.  That probably also accounted for the drab purplish-grey-and-dark-blue costume that artist Carmine Infantino designed for him.


The Elongated Man made a half-dozen more appearances in The Flash, showcasing his lighthearted, publicity-loving personality.  But he never seemed able to break out from being an also-ran.  In fact, with even Kid Flash showing to be more popular, Dibny dropped down to third-tier status.  Schwartz banished the E-Man to comics limbo until the editor could find a better slot for him.


Fortunately, the Elongated Man’s get-out-of-limbo-free ticket arrived only a year later, when Schwartz was suddenly appointed editor of Batman and Detective Comics.  In an attempt to revitalise the character, Schwartz scrapped the science-fiction milieu that Batman had been shoved into.  The Caped Crusader was going to be a detective again, and that meant no more Buck Rogers stuff---which was bad news for the long-running “Manhunter from Mars” back-up series.  J’onn J’onzz got kicked to the curb and Schwartz replaced him with the Elongated Man, who, with some minor tweaking, could fit the bill.


To accommodate the magazine's title, the readers were told that the Elongated Man was a mystery-hound and an amateur sleuth.  The premise was that independently wealthy Dibny and his wife, Sue, travelled the country, inevitably running into bizarre occurrences and baffling problems, which would set Ralph’s nose a-twitching.


The only visual change in the character, at this point, was eliminating the mask he had worn during his Flash days.  As Schwartz explained in a “Batman’s Hot-Line” letter column, since the Elongated Man had publically revealed his secret identity, there was no practical reason for the mask.  For two years, the series rolled along handily, proving to be a strong enough back-up that, a couple of times, the “Ductile Detective” got promoted to the lead story, teaming up with the magazine’s headliners, Batman and Robin.


Finally, it was decided that the Elongated Man was enough of a star to shed his dreary grey “stretch-nylon” duds and join the ranks of the primary-coloured super-heroes.  At the end of the tale “Green Lantern’s Blackout”, from Detective Comics # 350 (Apr., 1966), Ralph receives a new costume from Sue, as a birthday present.





The E-Man’s new duds certainly were snazzy---primarily red, with some black highlights and touches of yellow.  The scratchiness of Carmine Infantino’s inks, over his own pencils, often made the art look murky, and having a hero dressed in dull tones didn’t help.  The colour of Ralph’s new outfit---particularly, the crimson---brightened up the strip considerably.


Now, those of you who were devout Elongated Man fans at the time might be thinking that the mystery in question occurred seven issues later, when the Stretchable Sleuth appeared, without explanation, in a yellow costume.


It’s true that in “Tragedy of the Too-Lucky Thief”, from Detective Comics # 357 (Nov., 1966), Dibny wears a yellow outfit, with no in-story reference as to why.  But there was little mystery to it.  Obviously, the off-hue was a colouring mistake; it was the correct costume, only yellow where it was supposed to be red, and red where it was supposed to be yellow.  The colourist had inadvertently reversed the proper scheme.


This was confirmed in a subsequent “Batman’s Hot-Line” letter column, when reader Alan Trahern, of Covington, Louisiana, took Julius Schwartz and company to task for such a glaring error---“the biggest boo-boo since the Flash stood unmasked, his whole costume torn to shreds and a total loss after battling with his fellow Justice League members against some terrible menace in JLA [# 35] . . . .”


To which, Schwartz candidly explained:


The reverse-color-switch on Elongated Man’s costume was unfortunately committed by our colorist---who must have been temporarily overcome by a stroke of color-blindness.  And because Ye Editor at the time the color-crime was committed happened to be vacationing in far-off California, he wasn’t around to catch the error.


The following tale---“The Faker-Takers of the Baker’s Dozen”, in issue # 358---restored the correct arrangement of red and yellow to Dibny’s duds, and all was right with the Elongated Man’s world.


Until the next issue, that is.

Detective Comics # 359 (Jan., 1967) is overwhelmingly known for its lead story, “The Million-Dollar Debut of Batgirl”.  However, another development occurred in the Elongated Man back-up tale, “Riddle of the Sleepytime Taxi”.  It was another costume alteration for Ralph.  This time, the red portions of the E-Man’s costume had been recoloured to a muted shade of the reddish-purple uniform worn by fellow stretching hero, Elastic Lad.  As with the earlier discrepancy, the new colour scheme was not addressed in the story proper.


I remember my first thought, after buying the comic off the spinner rack and reading the “Sleepytime Taxi” story, was that whomever was in charge of colouring had goofed, again.  I didn’t give the change that much thought because---like the last time, I figured---when next we saw Ralph, he would be back in the right-coloured costume.


That’s why I was puzzled when, a couple of weeks later, I picked up my copy of Justice League of America # 51 (Feb., 1967) at Koplin’s Drug Store.  This was the issue that featured the conclusion of Zatanna’s search for her father, and the Elongated Man makes a guest-star appearance.  And again, his costume was given that muted magenta colour. 


I was really interested in what I would find when the next issue of Detective Comics---# 360---came out two weeks after that.  I immediately turned to the back-up tale, “London Caper of the Rockers and Mods”, and saw that they were still colouring the Malleable Manhunter in maroon.  As they did in the story after that and the story after that.


It appeared the plum-coloured outfit was here to stay.  I scrutinised the letter columns month after month, hoping to see editor Schwartz’ response to a letter asking about the change.  But if any fans ever did ask about it, their letters never saw print.  No question about the magenta-hued costume ever appeared, and no reason was ever given.




I’m willing to wager that nearly all of you reading this had no idea that the Elongated Man ever experienced such a dramatic colour change in his second costume.  That would be understandable if it had only been for a half-dozen stories or so.


What’s remarkable is that nobody remembers the maroon outfit---when it ran for twenty-six issues!  After Detective Comics # 359, it appeared in every Elongated Man adventure until his series was cancelled, two years later.


After “Pursuit of the Bugged Bandits” in Detective Comics # 383 (Jan., 1969), the Stretchable Sleuth was kicked out to make room for a Batgirl series.  Once again, he was consigned to comic-book limbo---until 1971, when Julius Schwartz needed some filler for a few issues of The Flash.  Schwartz published four back-up stories featuring the Elongated Man, starting with The Flash #206 (May, 1971).


Interestingly enough, when the Elongated Man returned, his costume was finally coloured the way it was supposed to be---crimson.  And it would stay that way for the rest of the Ductile Detective’s pre-Crisis career.


Even more curiously, you won’t find any reference to the maroon costume in the various Elongated Man-based websites.  Even the various comic-book-index sites, such as the Grand Comics Database or Mike’s Amazing World of DC Comics, which note the tiniest details, say nothing about the two years Ralph Dibny spent looking like Little Jack Horner’s thumb.


While I was able to put together a reasonable theory for the alterations in the adult Robin’s costume, I’ve never come up with any plausible idea as to why the signature colour of the Elongated Man’s second uniform was changed to a darker and, frankly, a drearier shade.  Or was there a purpose?  If the first time, in Detective Comics # 359, was a colouring mistake, then why was it perpetuated?  Why didn’t Julius Schwartz yell “Whoa!  Fix it!”, like he did with the earlier, yellow error?


Even an argument that Julie preferred the maroon colour wouldn’t make sense.  When he brought the Elongated Man back in The Flash, he allowed the return of the red costume.


I’m open to any suggestions you guys might have.  Better yet, if any of you have come across some information that I haven’t---my storehouse of Silver-Age behind-the-scenes knowledge is far from comprehensive---then you have the floor.  I’m all ears.

* * * * *

Next time, we'll look at two more instances of unexplained tinkering---including a permanent change in the appearance of DC's most famous super-hero.  A change that no-one ever noticed, even now!

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Thanks, Commander. That is something I'd never have picked up on, and it is an interesting question.

I remember a friend of mine's big question was why Jeannie was the only prime-time show built around the astronaut program when that was such a tremendous deal back in the day.

Commander Benson said:

I spent decades trying to find the reason for Healy being in the Army, with no joy.  Then, kind of like Philip did with the Elongated Man's magenta costume, somebody proposed a reason that---while it's not definitive; it doesn't come from someone who was attached to the show---was so solid in logic that I believe it's correct.

Don't keep us in suspense, Commander!  What was the reason?

Peter Wrexham said:

Commander Benson said:

I spent decades trying to find the reason for Healy being in the Army, with no joy.  Then, kind of like Philip did with the Elongated Man's magenta costume, somebody proposed a reason that---while it's not definitive; it doesn't come from someone who was attached to the show---was so solid in logic that I believe it's correct.

Don't keep us in suspense, Commander!  What was the reason?

I answered this when the subject came up four years ago, while I was doing a requested series of posts on military-based sitcoms.  This rationale was posited by a source on the Sitcoms Online site; as I said, it doesn't come from anyone connected with the show, so it's not definitive, but it has the ring of accuracy. 

Here it is, as I posted it four years ago.


O.K., here's the only thing that makes sense.


When I Dream of Jeannie debuted on 18 September 1965, with the episode "Lady in a Bottle", Captain Anthony Nelson was shown to have been one member of a three-member astronaut team---which was actually in accordance with the protocols for N.A.S.A.'s Gemini project.  The other two members were Bill Daily (who was not listed as a regular cast member in that first episode) as Captain Roger Healey, U.S. Army; and Don Dubbins as Lieutenant Pete Conway, U.S. Navy.  The use of three services was to reflect the fact that, for astronaut-rated aviators, N.A.S.A. is a joint assignment.  (In other words, not a specifically Army or Navy or Air Force job; a qualified military officer from any service may fill the billet.)


The inclusion of Captain Healey, an Army officer, was despite the fact that there had not been an Army aviator in the space programme at that time.


Also in this first episode, Doctor Bellows was a minor character and not yet figured in as the one from whom Jeannie's magical shenanigans must be hidden.  That rôle was intended to be filled by Nelson's teammates, Healey and Conway.  (Hence, the reason that Healey acts much more seriously and maturely in the first dozen episodes or so.)


Very quickly, it dawned on producer Sidney Sheldon that the show didn't need two astronauts that Captain Nelson kept having to hide Jeannie from.  That two astronauts could be constantly hoodwinked just wouldn't pass believability.  And one fooled astronaut could get the point across as effectively as two.  There was also a financial benefit, as eliminating one of the three-astronaut team would save the show's budget the cost of paying an actor for a recurring rôle.


So, poor Don Drubbins got the axe, and LT Conway was never seen, again.  Bill Daily was moved up to regular-cast status, and since it had already been established that Captain Healey was an Army man, the show just left it that way.


Until I bump into Bill Daily someplace and get the story from him direct, that's the answer I'm going with.

I don't remember noticing, at the time JLA 55 came out, that there were two different versions of the adult Robin's costume.  Your suggested reason for the changes seems eminently plausible.  Before reaching the point in your article where you drew attention to the line round Robin's bicep, I had noticed that line.  My immediate reaction was that this must have been intended to indicate short sleeves, and I wondered if there could have been a colouring error.  However, a deliberate change, to make the costume more Batman-like, is a much more likely explanation.

As a matter of fact, one thing I do remember from that time, is being somewhat irritated by the blatant way the costume had been made to resemble Batman's so closely on the cover.  At least, though, it broke the tedious run of covers with the Caped Crusader himself hogging the action.  The other JLA and JSA members seemed to me to be so much more interesting.

Incidentally, in the panel you chose to show the line round Robin's bicep, doesn't his leap look remarkably clumsy?

What I always wondered about Dark Shadows was why Jeremiah (I think that was his name) appeared as a ghost in one episode and vowed to protect Victoria Winters, then was never mentioned again. Another annoying bit was Barnabas seemed out to kill Julia Hoffman before the first time travel sequence, but when they returned to the present he was just kind of angry at her.

The red does make Elongated Man look too much like Plastic Man. Did they not expect DC to use Plas  when they came up with the costume?

I always assumed the different uniform was a way to make him look different from Major Nelson.

Elongated Man, IIRC, was created as something of a Plastic Man stand-in.  His creators apparently did not know or remember that DC had acquired him from Quality.  Or so I read once.

Besides Blackhawk, DC didn't capitalize on their ownership of the Quality heroes though they did co-opt Plastic Man's powers for the Elongated Man and Doll Man's for the Atom.

Not looking at this thread until today, I came up with the Plastic Man guess too but it had already been posted.

The question about Major Healey being Army had puzzled me in later years. It wasn't clear to me when the series was in its original run because we had a black-and-white TV. In black-and-white the Air Force and Army uniforms looked very similar and when I was a kid I wasn't aware of the differences. In recent years watching reruns in color, I was a little puzzled about Roger being Army. In the 60's all of the real astronauts were pilots. In 1947 when the Air Force split from the Army, all of the jet and propeller pilots became Air Force. The Army only had helicopter pilots, so the astronauts tended to be Navy, Marine Corps or Air Fortce. Also Roger is in the Engineer Corps of the Army, which (like the Navy Seabees) is involved in construction projects, not aviation. Healey could have qualified for his flight wings (either as a pilot or a member of a flight crew) before joining the Engineer Corps. NASA's non-pilot "mission specialists" didn't come along until much later in the Space Program. Today there are astronaut wings, but they didn't exist until 1983. I think the reason for Roger being Army may be explained by this quotation from the Wikipedia page for the writer Sidney Sheldon, the creator of I Dream of Jeannie:

"Sheldon enlisted in the military during World War II as a pilot in the War Training Service, a branch of the Army Air Corps. His unit was disbanded before he saw any action."

I think being Army Air Corps before there was an Air Force, Sheldon wanted an Army character in his story.

Yet he picked the goofball. (Although Roger wasn't really goofy until after he found out about Jeanie.)

Ron M. said:

Yet he picked the goofball. (Although Roger wasn't really goofy until after he found out about Jeanie.)

In a left-handed way, Ron makes a point.  If Sidney Sheldon wanted a character in the Army because of his old Army Air Forces days, then why not make the lead---Captain Nelson---the Army man? Especially after promoting both men to major because, under the respective uniform regulations at the time, an Army major had a slightly more impressive-appearing uniform than an Air Force major. (For one thing, an Army major wears gold braid on the visor of his combination cover, while---in that era---an Air Force major did not have any adornment on the visor of his cover.)

You'd think Sheldon would want the star to be the (more impressive-looking) Army guy.

Commander Benson said:

Until I bump into Bill Daily someplace and get the story from him direct, that's the answer I'm going with.

Looks like bumping into Bill Daily won't answer the question, either. Since we were discussing the matter of Roger Healey's Army service, I scooted over to the Sitcoms Online site and the thread about the topic. There, I found a recent post by the webmaster of the Jeannie Sisters website about I Dream of Jeannie.

What she said in her post was:

I did ask Bill about that one time. He didn't know either, except that he thought it had been because he was an Army vet.

Commander Benson said:

Peter Wrexham said:

Commander Benson said:

I spent decades trying to find the reason for Healy being in the Army, with no joy.  Then, kind of like Philip did with the Elongated Man's magenta costume, somebody proposed a reason that---while it's not definitive; it doesn't come from someone who was attached to the show---was so solid in logic that I believe it's correct.

Don't keep us in suspense, Commander!  What was the reason?

I answered this when the subject came up four years ago, while I was doing a requested series of posts on military-based sitcoms.  This rationale was posited by a source on the Sitcoms Online site; as I said, it doesn't come from anyone connected with the show, so it's not definitive, but it has the ring of accuracy. 

And the link to that response is here, in the thread "Military Sitcoms" 

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