DETECTIVE COMICS, STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES & SUPERGIRL
|In December 2011 it changed hands for $55,99, was again sold in October 2013 but now for $35,00, was picked up in January 2014 for $46,00 and then sold again one month later, in February 2014, except this time for only $20,00, all four offerings having been described in similar terms of grade and condition.|
|Whilst Batman tries to
catch up with a mysterious strangler (which he eventually
succeeds in doing) who operates under cover of Gotham's
nightly smog, Jason Bard needs to prevent a planned
assassination of a senator by someone who has
impersonated Bard in three cities. Both stories come from
the pen of writer/artist Frank Robbins and start out by
putting a puzzling situation before the reader which is
eventually unravelled by the main protagonist - Batman
and Jason Bard - who in both cases set a baffled
Commissionar Gordon right. This of course serves as a
clever way of indirectly addressing the reader, making
Gordon to them what Watson is to Sherlock Holmes.
However, Robbins goes a step further in both stories and
actually steps outside of the narrative by directly
asking and thus challenging the reader to match wits with
the two detectives. This is a nice plot device which was
used across the board by DC's writers at the time (see Supergirl
#4, below, for another example) but which greatly adds to
the fun of reading both stories - and also covers up some
minor but nevertheless extant plot elements which are
left dangling after it's all over. The mystery denouements
as such are neither new nor terribly intricate, but they
provide for some highly entertaining 1970s comic book
This is one of only two issues of Detective Comics for which Richard "Dick" Dillin (1928 - 1980) drew the Batman; he was far better known for his 12-year run on Justice League of America. Frank Robbins (1917 - 1994) on the other hand had a lengthy run both as writer as well as writer/artist for Batman in Detective Comics from 1968 to 1973; issue #436 would be his last, and in 1974 he moved on to Marvel Comics.
An interesting bonus featured in Detective Comics #433 is the statement of ownership and circulation, which was required in print once a year. It shows that whilst DC printed an average of 332,000 copies of Detective Comics per issue per month during the preceding twelve month period, only 158,638 of these (i.e. less than 50%) were, on average, actually sold. It is a stark illustration of the distribution problems the comic book industry had in the early 1970s and why the policy of making unsold copies returnable (and thus refundable) drove them into a tight corner (which eventually would lead into the creation of the direct market).
This relates to DC's Super Pacs in two ways: First, these figures show just where exactly the stock used for the sealed 3-packs came from. And secondly it should be noted that packaged comics were non returnable. Which of course didn't stop some dealers from ripping open bags and returning the individual comic books which hadn't sold as Super Pacs (leading to specially marked covers as of the mid- to late 1970s to counteract this fraudulent practice).
The number of subscribers, by the way, was 616. Which makes it almost seem like a wonder DC even carried subscriptions.
|Created by Robert Kanigher
and Joe Kubert, the Unknown Soldier is an interesting
World War Two story concept that works really well. As
the "man whom no one knows - but is known by
everyone", his head and face are so severely
disfigured that he typically has it completely wrapped in
heavy bandages. Adding to that air of mystery surrounding
his person, he is deployed on various missions as a US
intelligence agent - often under the code name of
"The Unknown Soldier". The success of his
missions relies to some extent on his ability to produce
masterful facial disguises, allowing him to assume the
identity of almost any man using latex masks and make-up.
In Star Spangled War Comics #168,
however, we see none of that; the Unknown Soldier has
barely made it back from behind enemy lines and needs to
convince a glory hounding lieutnant to fall back with his
platoon or else be obliterated by an impending large
scale German counter-attack. The second feature is based
on an historical event - the last Zeppelin raid on
Britain in August 1918 and the shooting down over the
North Sea of Zeppelin L70 with the chief commander of
Germany's Zeppelin fleet on board.
Like a few other comics packaged into the middle of these bags - without their covers actually visible and therefore in all probability judged to be the least sellable at the time - Star Spangled War Comics #168 is actually a true gem. From a personal point of view, it is the best comic book in this Super Pac by a substantial margin, with tight storytelling in both features and artwork to match it ("The Last Raid" even being a solo production effort by Tom Sutton (1937 - 2002), prolific artist for both DC and Marvel and maybe best known for his horror and sci-fi artwork). I'm also absolutely sure I would have enjoyed this just as much as a kid or teenager.
As with Detective Comics #433, this issue of Star Spangled War Comics prints the statement of ownership and circulation (or, as editor Archie Goodwin calls it on the letters page, apologizing for the fact that it eats up half of that space, "the who-owns-what statement"): of an average of 288,000 copies per issue per month during the preceding twelve month period, only 145,761 of these (i.e. just over 50%) were, on average, actually sold. It is a slightly better track record than what Detective Comics had to show, but still bad enough, and it shows that it was a situation which concerned not just one or two titles, not even just one publisher, but the industry at large.
The number of subscribers, by the way, was 216. Which makes it almost seem silly that DC even carried subscriptions - but then again the figure was up from 108 twelve months previously. From today's perspective, the "who-owns-what statement" is most certainly both entertaining and insightful.
|Linda Danvers is falling
for one David Grahm, but unbeknownst to her his
enrollment at Vandyre University is only a cover for his
life as the boss of a crime gang. When Supergirl has to
stop an earthquake nearby, Grahm saves one of Linda's
roommates from hitting a loosened chunk of concrete at
the bottom of the University swimming pool. Whilst this
is all for the sake of improving his nice guy cover, he
himself sustains severe brain injury and falls into a
coma. Driven by feelings of love and self reproach,
Supergirl uses Kandorian (the miniature Krypton city
under glass in Superman's Fortress of Solitude) surgery
equipment to transfer some of her brain cells to David.
He recovers, but because Supergirl's cells multiply he
finds he has gained super-powers. Creating a costume with
a lead mask, he becomes Super-Scavenger, and when
Supergirl tries to apprehend him after a robbery, he
fights her off with what is in effect her own
super-strength. This however proves to be only temporary,
so Supergirl gets the upper hand after all.
If today's comic books can often be tedious for being far too drawn out (decompressed being the euphemism used for that narrative style), this is a case of the opposite: a done-in-one packing way too much into a mere 17 pages. The result is a storyline that goes off in all kinds of directions fast but never seems to take its time to actually work things out, and before you know it - it's all over. Needless to say that although Cary Bates (who was 25 when he wrote this story) did his best to explain a lot of things and avoid loopholes in plot logic it all remains very superficial. And readers like myself (who have next to no knowledge of the Superman Universe) were probably left a bit confused by the Super-Scavenger's sudden loss of powers, as Bates fails to recall (or, in my case, explain) that all Kryptonian power-transfer cases are only temporary.
All in all, this feels more like a 1960s comic book, in spite of DC's almost desperate attempts to be hip: Supergirl is not only the Girl of Steel but also the Maid of Might - although that seems nothing compared to Zatanna (the back-up feature) who is coined the Saucy Sorceress...
In both stories Bates interrupts the story for a moment asking the readers to make a guess as to how things will continue:
It's a nice touch, but the Zatanna story is even more far-fetched and cheesy than the Supergirl tale, and it outright collapses onto itself. It will be evident from these remarks that the plotting of Supergirl #4 is utterly unimpressive, and both the artwork by Art Saaf (1921 - 2007) and Don Heck (1929 - 1995) is just as bland. Now tastes vary of course (the letters page has nothing but praise from the readers, half of which are female), but this is another example of a comic book whose cover was visible in a DC Super Pac yet at least today proves to be by far the least interesting of the trio.
But then it would seem that this is not just today's take on the first volume of Supergirl - the title only lasted for 10 issues, after which the heroine appeared regularly in Superman Family.
first posted 19 December 2013