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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Diana had that magic computer thing that she was always using, so she probably knew about quite a few different Earths.

Besides being named Carter Hall, were the two Hawkmen that similar? Did both Carters have the same sort of job? The fact both had a girlfriend by the same name would be more of a problem. If you knew who either Batman or Robin really was, you'd have no trouble figuring out who the other was.

The conceit that Barry Allen named himself after his favorite comic book hero only works if he remained in his own separate reality. Saying he read about the Justice Society as a boy and not noticing that he, too, is part of a team with Green Lantern and Wonder Woman, then later with the Atom and Hawkman is unlikely. And wouldn't other comic book readers be astounded by the coincidences!

Maybe it's just cleaner to let go of the panels showing Barry and Diana reading comics about their predecessors, since they are too hard to reconcile with the later stories.

I think the problem with Barry is less of an issue post-crisis--no Golden Age WW, and people would assume everyone's just paying tribute to great heroes of the past.

Wonder Woman slides into metafiction so often—Diana and the Amazons reading fan mail to the comic book, Robert Kanigher firing most of the cast—they don't exactly reconcile with anything.

Since she's lived on that island for centuries there's no reason she couldn't be the same Wonder Woman in WWII. They could give her comic book another identity. I believe it was established somewhere that the Marvel Universe version of Spider-Man says he's an alien and his costume completely covers his face and eyes because he's not human looking. (Perhaps they use Kirby's Silver Spider origin.)

The FF also read their fan mail.

Or maybe Wonder Woman is just not all there. She did talk to herself for several years, after all.

Another problem: Hydra which was around 50 years before Nick Fury became head of SHIELD.

It's easy to explain them not taking over the world ("The V Battalion destroyed the Doombomb—it will take years to rebuild!") but that undercuts the idea the world needs Nick Fury to stop them. So it's more an aesthetic issue for me than a practical one.

Actually, with the Infinity Formula, Nick Fury could have become the head of SHIELD back in the 60s just like we saw in the actual comics, with the biggest change being that it was Howard Stark, rather than Tony, that was SHIELD's weapons- smith.  That way, Hydra hasn't had so much of a head start.  Did anything ever come of the concept that both Hydra and SHIELD have actually been around for centuries, or is that just an "elseworlds"?

As far as I know they're both canon—I don't know if anyone's used them though. And lord knows what will be left after the current reboot-that's-not-a-reboot.

What happened to the director before Fury? Did they ever tell his story or why Fury was picked to take over?


Ron M. said:

What happened to the director before Fury? Did they ever tell his story or why Fury was picked to take over?

Yes. As seems to be the usual case when it comes to Marvel Comics, they couldn't leave well enough alone.

When the (then-)modern-day Nick Fury débuted in Strange Tales # 135 (Aug., 1965), nothing specifically stated that Colonel Fury wasn't the first choice to head S.H.I.E.L.D., and that's the way it stood for eighteen years.  Then, when the first volume of The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe finally got around to its entry on "S.H.I.E.L.D."in issue # 10 (Oct., 1983), it added a bit of history by stating that COL Fury was the second man tapped as director.  The first man to be appointed to lead the organisation, according to the entry, was assassinated after being named director of S.H.I.E.L.D., but before he could actually take his seat at the big desk.  The entry did not name the ill-fated first director, nor did it elabourate on his background or the circumstances behind his murder.

This new information actually enhanced S.H.I.E.L.D.'s continuity---it provided greater justification as to why so many precautions were taken to ensure COL Fury's safety in the opening pages of Strange Tales # 135---yet it didn't run the risk of contradicting anything.  It was simple, neat, yet added a grim undertone to the job of running S.H.I.E.L.D., which, like many such organisations first starting out, made its share of fatal mistakes.

This was one of those things that should have been left just as it was, since no story could ever equal what any S.H.I.E.L.D. fan imagined to be the first director's fate.  But, of course, someone thought he could tell it better.

In this case, it was Barry Dutter, who wrote the one-shot Fury # 1 (May, 1994).  His story established that the first director of S.H.I.E.L.D. was Colonel Rick Stoner, a man who past with Nick Fury went back to World War II, when Stoner was an officer and Fury was a three-striper.  Stoner was a by-the-book martinet, but unlike most fictional depictions of that sort of officer, Stoner was highly intelligent and competent.  According to the story, Stoner had a low regard for Sergeant Fury's apparent lack of respect for protocol and military courtesy and considered Fury to be a misfit.

Jumping over a bit here, ultimately, when the President of the United States sat down to select the first director of S.H.I.E.L.D., the choices had been narrowed down to Stoner and Fury.  At Tony Stark's recommendation, the President chose Stoner.  Stoner takes the job, organises S.H.I.E.L.D. into an effective espionage force, designed around military principles.  And yes, the story does depict COL Stoner's death at the hands of Hydra.

I have more than a few problems with the tale.  First, it goes against a number of things in established continuity.  First, it shows COL Stoner leading S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on missions, when the Official Handbook entry insisted the first director was killed before the ink on his new "Director of S.H.I.E.L.D." business cards was dry.  Another thing, it rewrote some of the details behind the reason Nick Fury began wearing an eyepatch.  (This, I suspect, was the common lack-of-research error committed by a writer who decides to write the story of how or why something happened, when he fails to find out that the story has already been told, e.g., why Abin Sur was piloting a spaceship at the time of his crashlanding on Earth, rather than using his power ring to travel through space.)  "Why did the 1965 NIck Fury wear an eyepatch?" was a question that had already been asked and answered, in Sgt. Fury # 27 (Feb., 1966).

On top of that, I was annoyed by Dutter's mischaracterisation of Fury.  In the WWII scenes set to establish the start of the friction between Fury and Stoner, Dutter depicts Fury as boorish and uncouth, with a complete lack of respect for the chain-of-command or protocol.  In short, he makes Wolverine look like the soul of propriety.

It was an off-target portrayal, at least, to anyone who had read the actual Sgt. Fury comics.  Sure, Fury was casual with his C.O., Captain Sawyer, but never to the point that he disdained respect. Usually, the most unmilitary thing Fury did to Sawyer was call him "Sam".  And with other officers, he saluted and it was "sir", right down the line, even to lieutenants.  Dutter turned Fury into the "misfit who ignores all the rules and pisses everyone off but gets the job done" stereotype that Hollywood loves so much in order to create an emnity with the by-the-book Stoner.  When you have to rewrite a character's personality to generate a dramatic conflict, then you're taking the lazy way out.

I don't recommend Fury # 1, but if you want to read the story of the first director of S.H.I.E.L.D., it's out there.

I've also read supposedly SHIELD was based on something Fury came up with during the War that was found and developed after he went home, which makes the idea someone else was chosen first seem less likely. But again that goes against his first SHIELD story, where he had no idea what it was all about and didn't think he was a good choice to take it over.

Pappy Boyington said Black Sheep Squadron was "hogwash and Hollywood hokum." So many characters have had their personalities completely rewritten in recent years it's sometimes difficult to remember how they're supposed to act without looking up old appearances.

I had a similar problem with the movie Terminator Salvation Commander. Instead of showing John as a leader in the fight against the machines, he's a grunt. And so we get by-the-numbers cliches in which he has to lock horns with his superiors and break the rules to do what needs to be done. It was a hamfisted effort (ditto most other aspects of the film).

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