The Silver Age of comics. Writers and artists just plain having fun. If they had a crazy idea, the editors joked about it, made fun of each other for coming up with the crazy notion and then? Well, they spent a bucket of money and published it for millions of readers to see.
Batman becomes a fish!
Batman becomes a baby!
Jimmy Olsen becomes…everything!!
An entire decade passed with DC Comics filling an unsuspecting readership of kids with abstract and absolutely preposterous tales. Nothing was off-limits and nothing too far outside the atmosphere of planet ridiculous.
A purple and yellow Batman from the Planet Zur-En-Arrh who has a Bat-Radia device that can jam atmospheric-molecules?
What, you think Grant Morrison made that crazy shit up? Nope. It was France Herron, known for the creation of that international superhero megastar, Pinky the Whiz Kid!
Some of the greatest writers in comics passed through the wackiness of the Silver Age and made the transition from the levity of the 50s and 60s to a darker, more realistic Bronze Age of the four-color world. Some made their start in the 70s without retaining even a kernel of the wake behind them.
But some? Some retained the spirit of Schwartz-inspired genius and carried it in their utility belts through the ebony streets of the 70s and into the bright, shining 1980s. An era of over-publishing and acres and acres of dead trees. And one of my all-time favorites might surprise you, dear reader. I speak of none other than…
Writer of over a billion absolutely preposterous and knee-slapping tales that helped define an era where marketing and advertising elbowed its way into comics and brought with it an onslaught of stories created from action figures and animated TV cartoons.
Rather than fight back against “The Man”, he embraced the opportunity. Writing original promotional comic books for the likes of Radio Shack! Power Tool Institute! Bariatric Health Institute! Silly Putty! Fruit-of-the-Loom! And that comic inspired corporate entity known only as, Schering-Plough Pharmaceutical!
It ain’t easy writing stories about characters known for their toy cars, underwear and bedspreads. But Kupperberg just had his finger on the pulse. He knew who he was writing for and all of his stories read like they leaped out of Schwartz’ filing cabinet. I won’t waste time listing his credits as I’ve only got so much space and my editor would kick my ass. Just go to Wikipedia and scroll away.
And if you get a chance, go hunt for four years worth of the brilliant Arion, Lord of Atlantis. Sublime.
Or how about the first comic book adaptation of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe? Right? Right? ‘Nuff said.
So why the heck am I writing a column about 1980s Paul Kupperberg when this is Silver Age month at Blastoff? It was a happy accident! While I was digging through a stack of Silver Age comics for inspiration, I found one of the best examples of 1950s Silver Age writing. Written in 1986.
It’s a shining example of how much staying power the Silver Age has and how it will never, ever go out of style. It’s a brilliant piece of work (written by you-know-who), filled with all of the bravado of a Silver Age yarn. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:
SUPER POWERS #3!!!
What? You say you’ve never read it? Genius!
Inspired by the Kenner DC toy line of the same name, this series featured designs, writing and art by comics legend Jack Kirby. Guess who paid Kirby the first (and probably the best) royalties of his career? Not DC. Not Marvel. A toy company.
From soap to socks to peanut butter, this line of toys infiltrated children’s homes in a way the average comic book pamphlet never could.
We’ll delve into toys and their storied history within the comic community in later columns. Right now, I want to keep the focus on the guy who picked up where Kirby left off on the series and who, with the absolute madness of Carmine Infantino on art chores, did something no DC writer has ever achieved before or since.
He had Darkseid lose his powers, resort to breaking and entering a department store for an ugly coat and fedora and get his ass handed to him by two young thugs in an alleyway. And then see it as a “teachable moment”.
If that isn’t the ghost of Silver Age Christmas past visiting us, I don’t know what is.
What else do we have inside this fantastic piece of comic book calamity? Well, we’ve got appearances by these extremely well-known DC characters:
“The Golden Pharoah” (who likes to say things like, “By Jove!”)
“The Organic Man” (whose power is that his costume is made of organic matter, allowing him to defeat the fury of Firestorm because Firestorm’s powers don’t work on anything…organic. Wha-huh?)
“Sensus” (who has “forsaken his sight and its distracting illusions” in order for his other senses to become super-heightened)
“Man-Mountain” (Nothing can move him!)
“Trapeze” (who defeats Batman because he’s a “clumsy amateur”)
and who can forget…
“The Mechanic”(who can stop in the middle of any battle and dismantle any electronic device, or engine, or phone line, or…well, you get the idea.
We also get an appearance by “Janus, Son of Jupiter”, who Wonder Woman immediately falls head-over-heels for.
In one panel, Infantino has Wonder Woman literally daydreaming about doing God-knows-what with this guy. Brilliant!
But wait! There’s more!
A 12-page insert, hawking the new “Mask” comic book and line of action figures, underoos and big wheels.
An ad for the DC Heroes Role Playing Game.
And a full-page interview with none other than Pharoah, Samurai, Cyborg, Captain Marvel and Cyclotron in which the DC “interviewer” asks about each characters secret origin and when Plastic Man is asked the biggest advantage to having his superpower, he replies, “I’ve saved a lot of money by never having to buy a remote control TV.”
I love this stuff. And I love that the spirit of the Silver Age will always live on in the pages of our comics. Even if it gets more and more obscure with each passing generation. They may not know the secret origin of this zaniness, but they get to enjoy it just the same.