Panning for Silver

16 Silver Age Comics That Have Nothing in Common Other Than the Fact I Received Them All at the Same Time From a Very Generous Benefactor

1. Fantastic Four #55 (Marvel, 10/66)
One of the fringe benefits of being a comic collector is how the mere mention of your hobby opens so many conversational doors. For example, a few years ago my wife was at a social gathering with several of her co-workers when conversation turned to the interests and hobbies of their spouses. When she revealed that I was a comic collector (not exactly a state secret, but also not something I tend to advertise to casual acquaintances), an older colleague immediately started regaling her with tales of his own misspent youth in the ’60s reading comics. Long story short: without any effort on my part, I later became the surprised (and grateful) recipient of 16 battered but clearly well-loved Silver Age books. No contest, the gem of this small collection is this Lee/Kirby co-production of Fantastic Four #55, featuring a battle royale between the Thing and the Silver Surfer. If I really have to explain why owning an original copy of any issue from their legendary run is a big deal, then you might want to consider a remedial course or something. Suffice to say, there were almost tears in my eyes when I flipped to the splash page and read “Scripted with a smile by Stan (the Man) Lee! Pencilled with a passion by Jack (King) Kirby! Delineated with a dignity by Jovial Joey Sinnott!” Bliss.

Bonus awesome Silver Age ad copy: “Fellows! Here’s a swell way to make lots of money and win prizes too! Sell GRIT – ‘America’s greatest family newspaper’ – Many make $1 to $5 Weekly” (Whoa, a whole five clams for shlepping last century’s mode of information transport door to door? Sign me up!)

2. The Flash #155 (Marvel, 09/65)
Gosh, Flash — who could be “mightier and more dangerous” than a man who throws curvy sticks, or a fellow in green tights who can be defeated by a decent set of earplugs? All kidding aside, the Silver Age Flash — perhaps more so than any other superhero of the day — was defined by the colorful array of villains who pitted themselves against the Scarlet Speedster, almost all of them created by the incredible team of John Broome and Carmine Infantino. After a while, the Rogues (as they called themselves) started teaming up, held social mixers, and generally acted like a club that members joined for the chance to rob banks and humiliate the Flash instead of, say, go bowling. It’s the kind of mirthful camaraderie you’re not likely to find among the sociopaths and world-conquering killers that pass for comic-book super-villains today, and that’s a shame. Things you’re also not likely to find in comics these days? (1) A tailor who specializes in outfitting super-villains. (2) A giant bowling alley death trap. (3) A hidden African city full of super-intelligent gorillas.

Bonus awesome Silver Age ad copy: “G.I. Joe, everybody’s hero, is every boy’s dream come true – a look-alive, act-alive toy soldier, almost eleven inches tall, with twenty-one movable parts! He takes every military position – run, walk, crawl, climb, throw grenades – he’s tremendous!” (You hear that, people? He’s tremendous! God knows how they would have described him if they had figured out where to place movable part No. 22…)

3. The Twilight Zone #12 (Gold Key, 08/65)
For the uninitiated, The Twilight Zone was a weekly sci-fi/horror TV series hosted by Rod Serling (that’s him in the corner); each episode would feature a story with an ironic twist that, more often than not, had something to say about human nature or the state of the world. The anthology format made the show a perfect fit for comic-book storytelling; in this issue, there are stories about a treacherous gladiator in the days of ancient Rome, a mysterious mass uprising of factory machines, and a kindly couple who are lynched by superstitious townspeople after they reveal their magical powers to save a young girl from a fire. (Bet they wish they mastered that Imperius Curse now, huh?) But no matter — even though they are now deader than dead, they’re still able to appear, Obi-Wan style, to the young man in their charge, whom they instruct to hide his magical powers lest he suffer the same fate. Be quiet, conform, don’t show off your talents — all uplifting messages for the readers of 1965, no?

Bonus awesome Silver Age ad copy: “100 little dolls all for $1.00 – 100 dolls made of genuine Styrene plastic and hard synthetic rubber only $1 for the entire set. You get BABY DOLLS, NURSE DOLLS, DANCING DOLLS, FOREIGN DOLLS, CLOWN DOLLS, COWBOY DOLLS, BRIDE DOLLS and many more in Lilliputian cuteness. And made not out of paper or rags but of STYRENE plastic and hard synethetic rubber.” (You hear that, folks? That’s genuine Styrene plastic we’re talking about, not like those cheap-ass imitation Styrene dolls they try to peddle at some other places.)

4-5. Classics Illustrated #63: The Man Without a Country (Gilberton, Summer 1969); Classics Illustrated #129: Davy Crockett (Gilberton, 09/66)
So if all comics are bad for you, but all classical literature is good for you, what do you do with a comic book that’s based on classical literature? Buy it — at least, that’s what Albert Kanter, the man behind Classic Comics (later Classics Illustrated), was betting on. In a time when Wikipedia couldn’t come to the rescue of every student with an English assignment to write, these books were the handiest way to acquaint yourself with the great works of literature without actually having to read them. The Man Without a Country is based on a short story by American writer Edward Everett Hale about an American soldier who renounces his country and is sentenced to spend the rest of his days at sea without ever visiting or hearing news of his homeland again; Davy Crockett is an illustrated biography of the man who killed a bear when he was three and single-handedly placed a coonskin cap on every American boy’s head in 1955 (or so I’ve heard). Neither is a terrible read, but it’s a little hard to imagine young minds being enthralled by the sight of an old man on his deathbed getting a crash course in 19th-century American history when, you know, there are colorfully dressed bad guys getting bashed elsewhere on the spinner rack.

Bonus awesome Silver Age ad copy: Neither book carries any advertising (except for other Classics Illustrated books), but the stories end with the line “Now that you have read the Classics Illustrated edition, don’t miss the added enjoyment of reading the original, obtainable at your school or local library.” Sure, we’ll get right on that…

6. Daredevil #22 (Marvel, 11/66)
I’ve always considered the pre-Miller Daredevil a colossal wasted opportunity and a blatant attempt to rip off everything that made Spider-Man a unique character, and I’m sad to report my impression remains intact after reading this story. Still, you have to be impressed by the sheer ballsiness of it. Daredevil and a civilian are trapped on a plummeting giant mechanical bird, which Daredevil manages to guide to a safe landing by using his superhuman sense of balance right before it explodes — and we’re only on page two so far! Meanwhile, a mysterious masked figure (the Masked Marauder, and boy howdy if that name didn’t take all of two seconds to come up with) uses his mad scientist set-up to create the Tri-Android, an ultimate android that somehow steals the strength, speed, and intelligence of three master criminals to commit the ultimate heinous act: interrupt a televised boxing match and challenge DD to a fight! If you’re fretting because this Masked Marauder fellow doesn’t ring any bells, don’t worry — after this failed effort, the Masked Marauder’s next eeee-vil plan is to team up with Stilt-Man to expose Daredevil’s secret identity. Let me repeat: his next plan involves teaming up with Stilt-Man. He didn’t show his masked face much after that caper.

Bonus awesome Silver Age ad copy: “Let me show YOU too, how to make yourself ASTRONAUT TOUGH inside and out… in double quick time – or it won’t cost you a cent!” (Seriously, people thought astronauts were tough back then? Courageous, sure, I’ll buy that. But you also had to be a musclebound Charles Atlas type to get yourself shortlisted for an Apollo space mission? That I Dream of Jeannie show is making less and less sense every day.)

7. Metal Men #11 (DC, 12/64-01/65)
Legend has it that DC writer/editor Robert Kanigher came up with the Metal Men concept over a weekend after a scheduling mix-up left him short one story to run in an upcoming issue of DC’s Showcase title. The concept certainly has a “why the hell not?” feeling to it: six robots designed to mimic the properties of their respective elements (gold, lead, iron, platinum, mercury and tin), with the added bonus of assuming any shape they can think of. (The fellow in the snazzy checkered jacket is their creator, Dr. Will Magnus, and Lord knows what was going through his pervy mind when he programmed Platinum, the sole female-shaped robot in the bunch, to be madly in love with him.) In this issue, they’re enjoying a boat ride out on the ocean when Gold’s golden form catches the fancy of “The Queen of Floating Furies,” a sentient naval mine that — again, why the hell not? — implores King Neptune to command the sea’s creatures to help her capture her love. Which is how kids in 1964 got to see the awesome sight of a giant crab scampering off with a bunch of brightly colored robots and their creator in its claws. And then Mercury poisoned every living thing in the ocean and they died. (No, not really.)

Bonus awesome Silver Age ad copy: Not a lot of choice copy to choose from in this issue, but there is a nifty educational essay on sodium, “The Metal with 1,000 Uses,” as well as back-to-back ads for a Charles Atlas-like muscle-building program and G.I. Joe dolls. So much machismo, so little time…

8. Tales to Astonish #64 (Marvel, 02/65)
In the early days of the Silver Age, Marvel had more heroes than it had titles to give them thanks to a restrictive agreement with a distribution partner that allowed Marvel only a certain number of titles at any given time. It’s why a lot of books were bi-monthly in those days, and also why characters like the Hulk and Giant-Man had to share a title. The Hulk needs no introduction; Giant-Man was Marvel’s way of giving Ant-Man a second chance at stardom by making him big instead of small. (Oh, and also by acting like an ass towards his girlfriend and crime-fighting partner — but where Pym’s concerned, that’s kind of a given.) The Hulk story happens at a time when the world doesn’t know Banner is the Hulk and the Leader’s head doesn’t look a spray-painted Jiffy-Pop container, but the real draw here is the rare chance to see Steve Ditko’s take on the Hulk. Sweet.

Bonus awesome Silver Age ad copy: “Boys! Men! I’ll help you master YUBIWAZA… Yubiwaza is the secret, amazingly easy art of self-defense that turns just one finger or your hands into a potent weapon of defense — without any bodily contact.” (Yes, indeed, in just two hours you’ll be an invincible Yubiwaza master, dispatching hoodlums and thugs with just your pinky! Amazing! Incredible! Thrilling! And other adjectives followed by exclamation points!)

9. Jimmy Olsen #84 (DC, 04/65)
Ah, Silver Age Jimmy Olsen stories — you do have the cure for the daily blues. Seriously, there’s more action and dialogue happening on this cover than in the entirety of most early-’90s Image comic books, though the giant gorilla’s Kryptonite eye-beams (now there’s a phrase Google doesn’t see very often) seem like overkill. And do you think they thought “flame dragon” kept them juuuust far enough away from “Godzilla” to avoid the wrath of Toho’s lawyers? This scene actually happens inside the book, but even more disturbing is another story about the Jimmy Olsen Fan Club. Think about that for a second. Somehow, the writers were able to keep a straight face while writing stories about a fan club for the world’s most famous sycophant, a club where male members fight to prove their Jimmy love by making sculptures of him and collecting his hair from barber shop floors. Forget Jim Morrison or Vietnam — this is why kids in the ’60s turned to drugs.

Bonus awesome Silver Age ad copy: “When it’s snowy, cold or muddy… it’s time for FUN with Silly Putty! Bounces! Makes things! Picks up comics! Buy some where you bought this comic!” (Man, and to think I used to feel deprived because all I had to play with growing up with an Atari 2600…)

10. Jimmy Olsen #96 (DC, 09/66)
As if having a whole fan club dedicated to proclaiming his awesomeness isn’t enough, the Great Bow-Tied One also had to deal with gift-bearing admirers from distant star systems. “I come to invite you to our planet,” says Galora of the planet Mord. “Your Mordian fans sent this hair-grooming set as a gift! It includes the Dyna-Comb, which you just used!” Oh, and did I mention that this alien comb also confers super-strength on the world’s most famous redheaded virgin? And that, after he travels back to Mord with her and learns he was tricked into performing a dangerous mission that only he can perform, he prepares a will in which he leaves his Jimmy Olsen robot(!) to his girlfriend on Earth (“to comfort her while she mourns for me”)? Does your job feel a little more fulfilling now, knowing that someone else’s mortgage payment depended on them coming up with drivel like this?

Bonus awesome Silver Age ad copy: Hard to decide between the Polaris nuclear sub for only $6.98 (Big enough for two kids! Real periscope! Fires rockets and torpedoes!) or the electronic computer brain for only $4.99 (Fun at parties! Solves riddles! Even tells fortunes!). Either way, I’m sure many youngsters learned a harsh lesson in marketing when their cardboard submarine and/or plastic light show finally arrived.

11. Marvel Tales #11 (Marvel, 11/67)
Long before Marvel pushed out Marvel Essentials, Marvel Masterworks and other reprint collections, Marvel Tales was the comic-book equivalent of “if you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you.” This particular issue reprints the Spider-Man/Daredevil team-up that originally appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #16, back when ol’ Horn-Head was rocking the yellow/red/black look (don’t mock; he was blind, after all), along with a Human Torch solo story, a Journey Into Mystery Thor story, and a piece in which the Wasp uses a tale about a princess and a “bog beast” to stump her husband with a logic puzzle. “Bro-ther!” he yelps after she reveals the answer. “I’ll take battling a super-villain any time to matching wits with a gorgeous female!!” Yeah, ’cause those gorgeous females will always trip you up by distracting you with their gorgeousness… or something. I try not to think too hard about the sexual politics of Silver Age comic books.

Bonus awesome Silver Age ad copy: “NEW FALSE PLATE — in 24 hours — air mail — We will transform your old, cracked or chipped plate into a beautiful new, lightweight DuPont ‘Beauty Pink’ plastic plate… using your own teeth.” (That’s right, gang — mail-order replacement dentures were yours for the asking in select Marvel comics. Either dentistry has made huge strides in the past 40 years, or Marvel’s readership was a lot older than we were led to believe.)

12. Batman #183 (DC, 08/66)
Would it shock you to learn this meta-tastic comic came out just a few months after the “Batman” TV show premiered? They even managed to work a reference to the Batusi and a patented Batman death-trap into the cover story, God bless ’em. After a story in which we’re treated to the second-ever appearance of Poison Ivy (and why exactly couldn’t we get Ann-Margret slithering around Adam West in a floral-print bodysuit, people?), the main event sees an underworld impostor in a Bat-suit leave Batman in a death trap whilst he tries to trick Robin into bringing him back to the Batcave. But Robin isn’t so easily fooled. What is the tell-tale clue on the cover? Sorry, that would be telling.

Bonus awesome Silver Age ad copy: “Great news for ‘Matchbox’ collectors! The nationwide ‘Matchbox’ Collectors Club you’ve been asking for is here! If you think collecting ‘Matchbox’ cars is fun, just wait until you join the official ‘Matchbox’ Collectors Club!” (You hear that, you little snot-nosed punks? It’s here, just like you asked. Now stop your whining already and go have fun, dammit.)

13. Journey Into Mystery #122 (Marvel, 11/65)
Journey Into Mystery was one of Marvel’s sci-fi/horror anthology titles launched in the 1950s when superheroes lost their lustre; when readers re-discovered the tights-and-capes set in the early ’60s, Marvel obliged by converting its anthology horror/suspense titles into superhero titles. Thor first appeared in JiM #83; this issue is one of the last Journey Into Mystery with The Mighty Thor issues to appear before it was retitled simply The Mighty Thor with #125. The bald fellow in the foreground is the Absorbing Man, one of the few super-villains with the self-confidence to go into battle against the God of Thunder (and his pa!) without a shirt on. Note the “Marvel Pop Art Productions” logo in the upper left corner, which is what the company called itself for a very short time in the ’60s before everyone realized, hey, we’re not pumping out Warhol here.

Bonus awesome Silver Age ad copy: “Make $5.00 to $20.00 a WEEK EXTRA operating this ‘Saturday Morning shoe store’ … Make extra money next week end! Just visit with friends, relatives and neighbors on Saturday mornings and show them how they’ll ‘walk on air’ in Mason comfort shoes!” (Or if selling shoes door to door aren’t your thing, flip a few pages and learn how to make major money selling Christmas Cards, GRIT the family newspaper, or your services as an auto mechanic.)

14. World’s Finest Comics #155 (DC, 2/66)
Awwwww… and after Batman spent all day in his Bat-Woodshop making his friendship plaque for the Man of Steel. This kind of cover scene — the kind in which you’re supposed to look at it and say “What the hell?” — was the calling card of editor Mort Weisinger, who often came up with an outlandish cover scene first and then directed his writers to work backwards to explain it. All those crazy stories where Jimmy turns into a 50-foot-tall turtle man, or Lois gains 500 pounds, or Superman grows antennae and leads an insect revolt against humanity? That was Mort. In this issue, Superman and Batman are at a gala celebrating their 1,000th crime-fighting case together(!) when Batman makes a startling confession:  he is no longer Superman’s greatest crimefighting partner. No, that honor now belongs to the smug and self-congratulatory “Nightman,” whom the Man of Steel confesses to partnering with on the sly on account of the Dark Knight’s pronounced slump in the detection department. ‘Fess up, now — you’re dying to find out where the writers went with this completely insane premise, aren’t you?

Bonus awesome Silver Age ad copy: “Miniature license plates – All 50 states & Canada! Authentic replicas of every U.S. and Canadian Auto license plate… printed on ‘E-Z’ stick gummed labels. These are genuine, true-to-life license plates… on your bike, car, models, luggage, books, etc. You get 6 (six) complete sets… over 600 license plates!” (OK, two points: (1) You get 600 plates for $1, which seems ridiculously cheap even for 1966, but note how they don’t mention how small these plates are, or what they’re made of. Caveat emptor, and all that. (2) All 50 states and Canada? Even the funky polar bear-shaped one they use up in the Northwest Territories? Sweeeet……)

15. The Avengers #25 (Marvel, 2/66)
The Marvel Universe was still in its formative stages at the beginning of 1966, but even then one thing was clear: once you’ve tussled with Doctor Doom, you’ve clearly made it to the Big Leagues. The pride of Latveria High’s Class of [Year Redacted on Pain of Death by Order of His Imperious Doom, May He Reign Over Us Forevermore] first butted heads with the Avengers in this issue, and it’s a testament to his wiliness that he chose to go up against this incarnation of the team (the one with the bowman, the surly speedster, and the standard simpering 1960s-era Marvel heroine) than, say, the original line-up with the Hulk, Thor and Iron Man. Smart man, that Doom.

Bonus awesome Silver Age ad copy: “Amazing illusory ‘X-ray’ vision instantly! See through fingers — through skin — see yolk of egg — see lead in pencil.” (Um, yeah. Because anyone within the comic-reading demographic ever once thought, “Oh, if only I had a pair of X-ray specs to finally see the inside of my pencil.”)

16. Our Army at War #164 (DC, 2/66)
OK, first off you got 80 pages of action for 25 cents. All reprints, sure, but in those days very few people thought of comics as things worth saving, and any way you slice it that’s a good bang for your entertainment buck. The battle stars in question are the tough-as-nails Sgt. Rock (“Sgt Rock places his life in a coward’s hands!”), Mlle. Marie (“the only underground fighter who carries a lipstick with TNT!”), Captain Cloud (“Navajo ace Jonny Cloud’s fiercest opponent is the pilot who is his wingman!”), Jeb Stuart of the Haunted Tank (“The haunted tank’s future is tied to a turtle!”), and Gunner & Sarge (“Gunner and Sarge’s four-legged friend brings ‘em presents – booby traps!”), with special guest star Frogman in a battle bonus story (“The frogman lands on an underwater frying pan!”). Geez, I haven’t even gotten past the table of contents and I’m already riled up enough to go kick some Nazi butt myself. If only I could find a toy to help harness these militaristic impulses…

Bonus awesome Silver Age ad copy: “HALT! Who goes there? … Yes, G.I. Joe – that’s who! He’s the password to a merry Christmas because he’s the toy soldier Santa Claus will put beneath your Christmas tree if you tell your folks about him. They’ll enjoy watching you play with your G.I. Joe, too.” (As spoken by a cartoon Santa Clause wearing a combat helmet. For real. Nice to know the burgeoning military-industrial complex of the ’60s got the seal of approval from the man at the Pole in charge of keeping our little future soldiers in fighting form.)

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One response to “Panning for Silver

  1. This is a GREAT post! I’m subscribing!