Friday, April 4, 2014

JULY 1963: ACTION COMICS #304

Today’s bloggy thing starts my 138-part series on the comic books that hit the newsstands in the month of July 1963. That month was pivotal to my comics career because it’s the month when Fantastic Four Annual #1 ignited my desire to write comic books.

Action Comics #304 [September 1963] has a cover by Curt Swan with inks by Sheldon Moldoff. Superman and his “family” members received a lot of abuse on the covers of the 1960s. Editor Mort Weisinger knew he had to hook his readers with these covers. Dealing with the adult world, kids often feel like they are the universe’s punching bags. Weisinger played to those feelings of helplessness and even alienation, but he also uplifted their spirits as Superman overcame whatever humiliation or threat he faced.

The inside front cover ad pitches “The amazing MADE SIMPLE self-teaching Encyclopedia,” a 25-volume collection which included Mathematics Made Simple, Chemistry Made Simple and so on.  There was no advance payment. The first volume cost $1 plus “a few cents mailing charge” and subsequent volumes would be $1.98 plus those few cents for the mailing charge. You could cancel your subscription to the series at any time. The books were published by Cadillac Publishing Company whose mailing address was in New York, New York.

“The Interplanetary Olympics” (11.67 pages) has Superman and Lana Lang transported to the planet Vorn so the Man of Steel can compete in an athletic competition. Since I want to avoid spoilers for any stories available in recent reprint collections, that’s all you get from me here.

The story is written by Leo Dorfman, but the Grand Comics Database says it’s a reworked version of "The Interplanetary Olympics" from Action Comics #220 [September 1956]. The earlier story was likely written by Edmond Hamilton and was drawn by Al Plastino. There was a wide-spread belief that the comics readership turned over every five to seven years, so such reworkings are common.

This newer version of the story was penciled by Curt Swan and inked by George Klein. It was reprinted in Showcase Presents Superman #4 [September 2008].

There’s a one-third page Tootsie Roll advertisement at the bottom of the story’s final page. It asks readers to “Try a Tongue Teaser” - A Green Glass Gas Globe - by repeating the phrase five times in eight seconds and then “Buy a Tongue Pleaser,” namely a delicious Tootsie Roll, said to be “America’s Favorite Candy.”

DC offered 2-year subscriptions to several of its titles in a full-page house ad. The low price was ten cents per issue. Ten titles were listed: Adventure Comics, Superman, Superboy, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, World’s Finest, Action Comics, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The Adventures of Bob Hope and The Adventures of Jerry Lewis. My brother Ernie had a subscription to Our Army at War and I remember being alarmed that the comics were folded in half for mailing. I don’t think that crease ever came out.

“Coming...Super-Attractions” is a half-page ad for three Superman titles. Superman #164 [October 1963] cover-features “The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman!” and is on sale August 1. Lois Lane #44 [October 1963] has “ Superman's Surprise Choice!” and goes on sale August 8. Adventure Comics #312 [September 1963] is said to be now on sale. It features “The Super-Sacrifice of the Legionnaires!”

The other half of the page is an ad for Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey and includes coupons for one free admission and two free rides. The coupons are said to be worth 65 cents and appear in all of DC’s September-October issues.

The “Metropolis Mailbag” feature runs two-thirds of a page and has letters from Paul Diamond (Beverly Hills, California), James Ward (Johnstown, Pennsylvania), Beatrice Langley (Astoria, New York), Denise Castin (Centerline, Michigan), Alice O'Shawn (Montreal, Canada), Bruce Camden (Englewood, New Jersey) and John Romney (Miami, Florida). Diamond asks why sorceress Circe had different personalities in different stories. The answer:

Circe is sweet and charming when she gets her way. However, when she can’t get what she wants, she is a veritable vixen. As Shakespeare put it: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Reader Camden wrote:

I enjoy all your stories, particularly those in which you make use of the “LL” theme. Has it ever occurred to you that there are LL’s in the names HoLLywood, Niagara FaLLs and Death VaLLey?

The editor responds:

ExceLLent observation; we’LL pass it on to our writers.

The other letters either point out seeming errors, which the editor explains...express favorite story subjects, which often allows the editor to plug upcoming stories...or ask questions, which likewise allows the editor to plug other stories. For example, Romney asks why Superman worries so much about crooks discovering his secret identity and why he couldn’t just assume another identity if they did learn he was Clark Kent? The editor replies:

You over-simplify the problem. However, so many readers have been asking this same question that we have prepared a special story, “Why Superman Needs a Secret Identity, which explains all. It will appear in the next issue.

The bottom third of the page offers memberships in the Supermen of America club for a dime.  It also has “Superman’s Secret Message” - in “Code Jupiter No. 4." The message reads:

XLI RIBX MWWYI SJ EGXMSR AMPP VIZIEP ALC WYTIVQER RIIHW E WIGVIX MHIRXMXC.

Unfortunately, the editor’s answer to Romney’s questions make this secret message redundant. The translated message is:

The next issue of Action will reveal why Superman needs a secret identity.

Next is “Shorty” by Henry Boltinoff. In this two-thirds of a page gag strip, the height-challenged hero is asked to keep a heavy-set friend from overeating. At midnight, the friend tries to sneak some food from the refrigerator. Where Shorty hung a picture of a pig.

The remaining third of the page is an ad for Tootsie Roll Pops - “the only POP with the Tootsie Roll center!”

That’s followed by a full-page ad for Task Force - “America’s Most Exciting War Game - and it only costs one dollar plus a quarter for postage and handling. Purchasers would get two giant battlefields, an 88-piece task force and 375 red markers “to record the massive bombings and shellings.”

Task Force sound like a great deal, but the task force ships, tanks and planes were likely made of thin cardboard. I base that on the one time my brothers and I ordered anything from the Helen of Toy Company. I wonder if that outfit is still around.

Supergirl stars in “The Maid of Menace” (11.67 pages). Written by Leo Dorfman and drawn by Jim Mooney, the story introduces the Black Flame, a super-powered villainess who claims to be the descendant of Supergirl from the 40th Century. This is a terrific story with plenty of action and human drama. Dorfman’s dialogue is heightened by Mooney’s knack for drawing expressions.  The Black Flame is one of the few truly great foes of the original Supergirl.  Alas, that Supergirl is decades gone and not one of her replacements has ever been as interesting or as beloved.

“The Maid of Menace” was reprinted in Showcase Presents Supergirl #2 [December 2008]. Both of the two Showcase Supergirl volumes are well worth getting.

The final page of the Supergirl story was an one-third of the page advertisement for Tootsie Roll Fudge, which I recall as being quite tasty. The theme of the ad is “Great Masterpieces” with the left side of the art showing a facsimile of “The Fifer” by Edouard Manet and the right showing two pieces of the one-cent fudge.

Advertisements fill the rest of the issue. There’s a half-page ad for “104 Kings Knights” - “A glorious set of plastic toys every child will be pleased to own!” - which includes both Black Knights and White Knights and comes in a “Treasure Chest Box.” The price is $1.49 per set.

On the same page is a half-page ad for “150 Civil War Soldiers” at the same $1.49 price. The set contains “two complete armies - the Blues and the Greys. Each piece of molded plastic. Each on its own base measuring up to 4 inches.”

There’s a full-page Wallace Brown Christmas Cards ad which exhorts boys, girls, men and women to sell the cards and claims they could make at least $50 and more likely $100 to $200 in their spare time. I was a pretty trusting kid back then, but even I was suspicions of that claim.

Being the shortest and usually smartest kid in all my grade-school classes, I might have been tempted by the full-page American Body Building Club ad. It reads:

“BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME FOR A NEW MILLION-DOLLAR HE-MAN BODY STRENGTH-POWERED WITH 520 MIGHTY MUSCLES! TO BECOME A STAR IN ANY SPORT! A SUCCESS IN EVERYTHING!”

The booklets were free. Mailing and handling was a dime. But I had other ways of dealing with the school bullies...and, no, statute of limitations or not, I won’t say more.

The back cover featured an ad for “100 TOY SOLDIERS” for a buck and a quarter. The soldiers were said to be made of durable plastic, each on its own base and measuring up to four and a half inches. The soldiers were packed in a footlocker toy storage box and each footlocker contained:

4 Tanks
4 Jeeps
4 Battleships
4 Cruisers
4 Sailors
4 Riflemen
8 Machine gunners
8 Sharpshooters
4 Infantrymen
8 Officers
8 Waves
8 Wacs
4 Bombers
$ Trucks
8 Jet Planes
8 Cannon
4 Bazooka men
4 Marksmen

In future installments of this series, I won’t be writing anything about advertisements I’ve already written about. But I definitely want to give younger readers a feel for the era.

Come back tomorrow for my look at Adventure Comics #312 featuring “The Super-Sacrifice of the Legionnaires!”

© 2014 Tony Isabella

3 comments:

  1. Phil B SoencksenApril 4, 2014 at 9:46 AM

    As a big fan of the traditional "green army men," the ad for the footlocker full of soldiers and assorted military vehicles always excited me, but I never got around to ordering it. My friend Greg did.

    He told me that he received a tiny, cardboard footlocker full of even tinier, plastic soldiers and vehicles that were flat. It was Greg's first lesson in mail-order disappointment.

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  2. Michael Kelly SchurmanApril 4, 2014 at 5:57 PM

    This issue is an example of what sets my collector's soul into a tizzy of confusion. If I have this issue, do I keep it? If I have copies of the cover and both stories in one or another reprint, do I need the comic itself?

    Well, maybe, if it means something from my childhood. Or even some point of adulthood -- maybe if it had been a favorite of my daughter's. I know any time I use "maybe" two or three times in a paragraph I have a problem.

    But there's also the question of Henry Boltinoff's Shorty. It's actually a question of Henry Boltinoff's anything. The older I get the more his clean style and simple humor means to me. Also the nostalgia, of course.

    I have kept several comics only for Shorty, Professor Eureka, Chief Hot-Foot, Peter Puptent or one of their fellows.

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  3. The Interplanetary Olympics were a common motif in comics and SF.

    Norge Benson was probably the first in Planet Comics #26 (September 1943)

    Otto Binder did it 4 times: Captain Marvel in Whiz Comics #75 (June 1946); Jon Jarl in Captain Marvel Adventures #68 (December 1946); Jimmy Olsen in Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #5 (May-June 1955) and Jigsaw in Jigsaw #2 (December 1966)

    Kanigher’s Wonder Woman did it 5 times -- Sensation Comics #83 (November 1948); Wonder Woman #60 ( July-August 1953); #66 (May 1954); #91 (July 1957) and Wonder Woman #148 (August 1964)

    Twice in Mystery in Space –by Mann Rubin in #7 ( April-May 1952) and John Broome in #39 (August-September 1957 )

    Plus Batman in Detective Comics #260 (October 1958) and Aquaman in Adventure Comics #277 (October 1960)

    and the two Superman stories you cite.

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