“You seemed to be having fun with your Instagram account last month,” the mysterious Story Girl said as she sat down across the table from me in the lounge.
The indie publishing house owner had chosen a good night to stop by the club. The Hearts’ first set was 15 minutes away, and the room was packed. I like nights like this, when the place is full of the faces of old familiar regulars and newer faces such as that of the enigmatic brunette with the dark glasses.
“I was,” I said. “I don’t often take part in monthly photo challenges, but that one was too good to pass up.”
The theme was A-Z and 1-5, a letter and number for each day of October, and I chose to mark the occasion by selecting images from the past 60 or so years of comic book art, including some of my favorite lesser-known characters, all of which are owned by DC Comics.
“It was an intriguing idea,” Story Girl said. “Where did you get the photos?”
“They’re all from books in my collection. I loved superheroes as a kid and never grew out of it, although now I have a greater appreciation of comic books as a storytelling medium and an art form. It was a lot of fun scouring through my books looking for characters to correspond with the letters. And the more obscure the character is, the better. I thought the photo challenge would be a great way to showcase some of those old friends.”
“Nice,” she replied, “although I don’t think I saw all of the posts.”
I tapped a few keys on my tablet and pushed it across the table to her. “Knock yourself out.”
A. Aquaman, one of my favorite fictional characters.
B. The Bug-Eyed Bandit, an obscure villain who fought the Atom a few times during the 1960s. He was an entomologist who turned to a life of crime after inventing an army of mechanical insects to do his nefarious bidding
C. The Crimson Avenger, who first appeared in Detective Comics #20 (December, 1938). Debuting about six months after Superman and six months before Batman, he was the first masked superhero in comic books. His secret identity was Lee Travis, a wealthy newspaper publisher.
D. Donovan Flint, the protagonist in David Michelinie’s Star Hunters series, published by DC Comics in the late 1970s.
E. The Elongated Man. Ralph Dibny acquired stretchy powers like Plastic Man after drinking an elixir derived from a tropical plant. One of his adventures with the Justice League of America took place in Russia in the winter of 1985, hence the earmuffs.
F. The Flying Fish. A champion swimmer who turned to a life of crime after developing aerial skills, this terrifying super-villain struck fear into the hearts of mariners until Aquaman reeled him in.
G. The Gambler. After scooping up the moneybags that had fallen out of the armored car that accidentally crashed in his vicinity, Steven Sharpe decided it would be more productive to be a crook than a law-abiding citizen. So he adopted the persona of a riverboat gambler and began his felonious career, during which he joined the Injustice Society of the World and often found himself at odds with Green Lantern.
H. The Human Bomb. Making his debut in Police Comics #1 (August, 1941), Roy Lincoln was a scientist who ingested 27-QRX (the explosive chemical he developed) to keep the Nazis from getting their hands on it. It gave him the ability to cause explosions whenever he touched something. Donning an asbestos costume and embarking on a superhero career, he switched to a Fibro-wax (whatever that is) suit once his writers learned about asbestos-related health hazards.
I. Inside Earth is where Cave Carson’s adventures took place. A spelunker who built a vehicle (it looked like a sports car with a giant corkscrew mounted to the front) that could drill through the Earth’s crust, Carson and his crew paid frequent visits to the core during the early 1960s, where they encountered a sea serpent, a lava creature, a magnetic monster, a giant spider, aliens, an army of robots, an underground civilization, dinosaurs, an energy crrature, mole men, a flame creature, and a tribe of South American natives. How the aliens, robots, and South Americans got to the center of the Earth without the corkscrew car remains unclear.
J. Jonny Double. The San Francisco-based private investigator with a penchant for snappy banter and turtleneck sweaters first appeared in Showcase #78 (November, 1968), earning 50 bucks a day plus expenses for a case that had him taking on the syndicate. Later he helped Supergirl defeat the evil criminal mastermind Dr. Tzin-Tzin and fought to save the world from the super-villainous menace of Kobra. One would hope that he got a raise for those cases.
K. King Faraday. DC Comics’ top counterespionage agent, he first appeared in Danger Trail #1 (July, 1950). This atmospheric panel is from his adventure “Thunder Over Thailand, ” in which Faraday found himself tracking down the former head of the Axis Strategic Weapons Research Division (“the most dangerous man in the world”) and destroying the munitions factory he had set up in a southeast Asian jungle.
L. Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys. This crime-fighting team made its debut in Sensation Comics #1 (January, 1942), the same issue in which Wonder Woman first left Paradise Island to visit “Man’s World.” Tommy Rogers (left) and his friend Tubby adopted blue costumes and masks in an attempt to help Tommy’s father — the district attorney — apprehend mob boss Wolf Lupo. They managed to capture the miscreant and his gang with the aid of Toughy (center), who eventually got his own blue outfit. Together, the youngsters put an end to The Scorpion’s Counterfeit Ring, solved The Case of the Curious Capsules, stopped Rustlers on the Rampage, and shared more than 75 other adventures before their series ended in 1948.
M. Metamorpho. One of DC’s classic quirky superhero creations of the Silver Age, soldier-of-fortune Rex Mason became the Element Man after he was exposed to a radioactive meteor that had been stashed away in an Egyptian pyramid. It gave him the ability to convert his body into any element or chemical compound, which he used to fight crime. It is believed by scholars, though not confirmed, that Metamorpho was Dmitri Mendeleev’s favorite comic book character.
N. Nicky Walton, one-fourth of the Sea Devils, DC’s quartet of deep-sea divers. During the early and mid-1960s, while Rip Hunter was tooling around through time, Cave Carson was hanging out inside Earth, and the Challengers of the Unknown were fighting scifi menaces, Dane Dorrance, Biff Bailey, and Nicky and his sister Judy participated in fantastic adventures undersea. In this panel from Sea Devils #11 (May-June, 1963), Nicky fights a sea monster that turned out to be a hallucination.
O. Origami Man. This vile and terror-inspiring villain menaced Gotham City in The Brave and the Bold #178 (September, 1981), using paper as a weapon to rid the streets of other criminals. Batman and the Creeper foiled his plans, after which, presumably, they recycled.
P. Prez. After a constitutional amendment lowered the age of eligibility to run for president, Prez Rickard was elected to the White House. The teenager led America in fending off attacks from legless monsters, mob bosses, evil chess players, and the great-great-great-great-great-great nephew of George Washington, who attempted a military coup. He even survived an assassination attempt. The series, which lasted four issues during the Nixon administration, was written by Joe Simon, who had co-created Captain America 30 years earlier. Which proves you don’t hit a home run every time you’re at bat.
Q. Quakemaster. DC Special #28 (June-July, 1977) featured Batman, Aquaman, and the Legion of Superheroes in tales of Earth-shattering disasters. Gotham City’s was caused by the Quakemaster, a former architect who used a special jackhammer that emitted energy waves to knock down other architects’ buildings after one of his was destroyed during a hurricane. The Caped Crusader saved the city, and the Quakemaster was recruited for membership in the Secret Society of Super-Villains before losing his jackhammer in a poker game.
R. Rima. The Venezuelan jungle girl of W.H. Hudson’s 1904 novel Green Mansions appeared in seven issues of her own comic book series between April 1974 and May 1975. The stories were scripted by veteran comics writer Robert Kanigher, illustrated with brilliant art by the Nestor Redondo Studio. Rima later appeared in three episodes of The All-New Superfriends Hour, leaving the jungle to team up with Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman.
S. The Secret Six. Created by E. Nelson Bridwell and Frank Springer, this team of covert operatives starred in seven issues of its own title between April 1968 and May 1969. A recurring theme had the members speculating about the identity of Mockingbird, the mysterious cloaked figure who brought the team together and directed its missions. Mockingbird was actually a member of the team, unbeknownst to the other five, although which member remained a mystery at series’ end.
T. Tomahawk. Unique among comic book characters because his adventures took place before and during the American Revolution, Thomas Hawk is one of DC’s longest-running characters. He first appeared as a backup feature in 1947, was promoted to his own title in 1950, and ended his run in 1972.
U. Ultra the Multi-Alien. The science fiction superhero appeared in seven issues of DC’s anthology series Mystery In Space between 1965 and 1966. Set in an unspecified future time, the feature starred astronaut Ace Arn, who was simultaneously blasted by rays from four different alien weapons. They transformed him into a combination of the four different alien species attacking him and gave him super strength, magnetic powers, flight, and an electrified left leg, while doing very little to improve his appearance.
V. The Viking Prince. Before DC turned it into a team-up vehicle for Batman, The Brave and the Bold was a swashbuckling adventure anthology featuring such heroes as Robin Hood, The Shining Knight, The Golden Gladiator, and Jon the Viking Prince. Written by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Joe Kubert, Jon proved to be the most enduring character, eventually taking over the title. His last appearance there was in this issue, cover dated June-July, 1959. A few years later, he traveled through a time warp to visit Sgt. Rock during World War II, and he spent some time hanging out with the Justice League of America during the 1970s. Historians believe this accounts for the appearance of bell-bottomed pants in 10th Century Scandinavian art.
W. Welcome Back, Kotter. The 1970s TV show with the best theme song ever was adapted to comic book form by DC in 1976. Ten issues starring Gabe Kotter and the Sweathogs were published before the series ended two years later. Neither the show or the comic proved to be as good as John Sebastian’s theme song.
X. The “X” Effect. According to the cover of Metal Men #47 (August-September, 1976), DC’s team of super-powered robots were to face it, prevent it, or stop it. The story inside had them fighting their old enemy the Plutonium Man as he attempted to sabotage a military base in Antarctica. But exactly what the “X” Effect was never got explained.
Y. Young Romance. Once a staple of the comics industry, romance titles are now relics of another time. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Young Romance was the genre’s first series. This issue (#153, April-May, 1968) featured the stories Too Late for Love, Stranger to My Heart, and Love is Just a Word. Other features include the alliterative fashion spread Mad, Mad Modes for Moderns and an advice column written by Laura Penn, Your Romance Reporter.
Z. Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash. The Flash’s arch foe lived in the 25th Century, where he used advanced technology to give himself super speed powers. Wearing a costume similar to the Flash’s (but with reversed colors), he frequently hopped back and forth between the future and the present to hassle the fastest man alive. In this panel from The Flash #281 (January, 1980), he used a holographic illusion to escape capture. The Reverse Flash is expected to play a significant role in The CW’s current TV series, The Flash, in which it has been strongly hinted that he was responsible for the death of Barry Allen’s mother.
One. As in first. Such as the first issue of DC’s Super Powers miniseries, cover dated September, 1985.
Two, the number of issues of Showcase in which B’wana Beast appeared. Debuting in a two-part story early in 1967, Mike Maxwell became a superhero after drinking an elixir that gave him super strength and the ability to communicate with animals. Sort of like Aquaman, except with big game instead of fish. After defeating the power-hungry ecoterrorist “He Who Never Dies,” B’wana Beast wasn’t seen again for 18 years, and then only briefly. He eventually found his niche as an animated character, appearing in Justice League Unlimited, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and Teen Titans Go! He’s even an action figure now.
Three, as in The Three Musketeers. Alexandre Dumas’ heroes Athos, Porthos, and Aramis sallied forth again in four issues of DC Special during the mid-1970s. Behind them on the splash page of issue 22 (June-July, 1976) is the story’s titular villain, “A Monster on the Road to Calais.”
Four, as in Green Arrow, The Atom, The Joker, and Two-Face. They were the 4 Famous Co-Stars who appeared with Batman in The Brave and the Bold #130 (October, 1976).
“Who’s that with Supergirl?” Story Girl asked.
“That would be Toxus, a villain who used futuristic technology to give himself matter transformation powers. I think in that scene they were fighting inside a volcano.”
“Imaginative,” she said.
“I know,” I replied with a sigh. “Nobody writes stories like that any more.”