Kamandi #4 - Strange Adventures #241 - Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #157

This DC Comics Super Pac is the third compilation from the March cover date publication cycle for 1973, hence its code C-3, and is made up of three titles which featured frequently and indeed regularly in this packaged format: Kamandi, Strange Adventures, and (Superman's Pal) Jimmy Olsen - the first being a monthly book, the second a bi-monthly, and the third published eight times a year. As noted before, DC's comic packs from the early 1970s weren't always very consistent in terms of grouping titles from the same genre, and a common denominator sometimes takes some imaginative thinking - if you don't feel like just saying well it's simply three different DC comics in a plastic bag...

Whilst not an outright "genre comic pack" (such as e.g. the 1972 D-12 Super Pac), one could detect a common theme for this trio of comic books made up of science fiction and future fantasy, given the alien origins of Superman. Kamandi was by far Kirby's most popular title with readers after he moved from Marvel to DC, and it is therefore hardly surprising that if a Super Pac contained an issue of Kamandi it would have it as one of the two outside books with visible covers as a selling point. The same holds true for Jimmy Olsen as it not only featured the Man of Steel in its contents but actually sported a miniature SUPERMAN logo in it's full title Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen.

This, in other words, is a Super Pac which retailers could expect to sell fairly well - simply based on the two visible covers.

There is no general rule to state what grade the issues in a comic pack will be in. During their (in most cases) 40+ years of storage, a lot of things can go wrong. Some of these will only affect the plastic bag, others might not harm the packagaing as much as the contents. As a result, almost any combination is possible: you can have a polybag displaying lots of wear but perfect comic books inside (meaning it was mostly stored in a dark and cool place but at some time took some soiling or slight mechanical abrasion), but you can just as well have a near pristine polybag holding comic books showing substantial paper degradation (indicating the bag was stored well but exposed to light and excessive warmth for an extended period of time). My copy of this Super Pac had kept its contents in very nice shape over all these years. Even with the plastic bag displaying some sign of storage wear (as most comic packs from the 1970s do), the individual comic books all proved to be in great condition: pristine covers with perfect gloss and shine on comic books which were perfectly flat and tight without any spine stress, and the edges are all sharp. The pages are mostly off-white but do have some very slight browning at the edges, indicating that the pack had probably been exposed to sunlight whilst stacked with other packs. However, the comics remained perfectly clean and fresh thanks to the plastic bag keeping any soiling out.





Kamandi #4

March 1973

Editor - Jack Kirby
Cover - Jack Kirby & Mike Royer

"The Devil's Arena !" (22 pages)
Story - Jack Kirby
Pencils - Jack Kirby
Inks - Mike Royer

Jack Kirby's post-apocalyptic epic adventure featuring "the last boy on Earth" portrays a world devastated by a largely unspecified "Great Disaster" which thereafter is ruled by bipedal animals altered by radiation and the after-effects of previous genetic experiments. Whilst a few scattered groups of mankind remain, they have regressed into savagery and lost both language and intelligence, and are now mostly kept as slaves or pets by apes, tigers, dogs, rats and others. Kamandi and a few others have survived in shelters and retain the traits of homo sapiens - but face an alien and dangerous new world.

This is the fourth installment in a concept which was a great framework for presenting stories which were at the same time almost stand-alone and yet set in a developing overall saga. Kamandi certainly was an ideal candidate for the comic packs, and was included regularly - which also goes to show that DC's Super Pacs of the 1970s were far from being collections of leftover poor sellers. Although "under-appreciated in its time (...) the sprawling, innovative series is a real gem, one of the most creative and underrated comics of the 1970s, and perhaps the best of Kirby’s DC canon" (Parker, 2011). It was, in any case, the longest running of Kirby's DC titles, lasting from October 1972 to September 1978 over the course of 59 issues before falling victim to the infamous DC Implosion.

Right from the start the fact that Kamandi's overall concept was so strongly reminiscent of the Planet of the Apes movie lead to accusations of Kirby having plaguarized the movie - when in actual fact he had already come up with those conceptual ideas in the 1950s. But using the famous Statue of Liberty scene from the movie on the cover of the first issue didn't help in any way, and the letters page of this issue contains two missives bringing up said accusation. Wikiepdia and other websites claim that when Carmine Infantino could not secure the rights to the movie for DC he told Kirby to come up with a "piggyback concept"; this information is, however, unsourced and could therefore just be a (more or less informed) guess.

The appreciation of "The Devil's Arena" will to no small extent be tied to the reader's general appreciation of Kirby, but even for those who are not overly enamoured with his style (both in terms of storytelling and artwork) this is an entertaining little piece of early 1970s comic book history.




Strange Adventures #241

March/April 1973

Editor - Julius Schwartz
Cover - Nick Cardy

"The Cloud Creature That Menaced Two Worlds" (25 pages)
Story - Gardner Fox
Pencils - Carmine Infantino
Inks - Murphy Anderson

DC's first science fiction title launched in August 1950, Strange Adventures ran for 244 issues before being cancelled in September 1973 - making this issue the fourth to last to be published. By this time it no longer featured original content but reprinted a story featuring Adam Strange which had originally been published in Mystery In Space #81 in February 1963.

Originally home to feature characters such as Captain Comet, Star Hawkins, and the Atomic Knights, Strange Adventures had initially been a science fiction anthology title with these regular protagonists, but was turned into a supernatural-fantasy title once past the 200 issues count and featured the first appearance of Deadman in Strange Adventures #205 (October 1967), who went on to be the title's main character (with some early Neal Adams artwork) up until issue #216. As of Strange Adventures #217 and together with a logo change, the book became a reprint title featuring Adam Strange in stories originally published some ten years earlier in DC's other long-standing sci-fi adventure title Mystery In Space (one sole new original story written by Denny O'Neil was featured in Strange Adventures #222).

Adam Strange, co-created by Julius Schwartz and Gardner Fox with Murphy Anderson, made his debut in Showcase #17 (November 1958), DC's tryout title, before ultimately moving to a permanent slot in Mystery in Space for almost fifty issues. Mostly written by veteran Gardner Fox and pencilled by Carmine Infantino, Adam Strange is a human from Earth who repeatedly travels to a planet called Rann, located in the Alpha Centauri star system, by using a "Zeta-beam" altered by "space radiation".

"Gardner [Fox] came in one day and we decided to do a new series that was more or less inspired by Burroughs's John Carter of Mars. Now, we had to figure out how to get him out to that star system so we came up with the zeta beam (...) I [Julius Schwartz] gave him his name:"Adam" because he was the first and "Strange" because he had "strange adventures"." (Schwartz, 2000)

In "The Cloud Creature That Menaced Two Worlds" Adam Strange fights Alva Xar, a former warlord who after having slept a 1,000 years is intent on conquering Rann and reigning supreme. The cloud creature is formed by a special weapon which Xar uses (one on Earth, one on Rann), and whilst it nearly spells the end of Strange on his home planet, it proves the downfall of Xar as in its presence all life stops in its tracks save Adam Strange. Just why this happens to be so is left unexplained, along with one or two other holes in the plot logic, but then such things can almost be considered a trademark of Gardner Fox, who back in 1939 introduced some of the most iconic Batman gimmicks but at the same is responsible for probably the worst Golden Age Batman stories of them all.

"Gardner Fox was (...) not the greatest writer, but very capable and reliable, a good plot man." (Schwartz, 2000)

The art by Carmine Infantino, however, makes it easy to overlook those shortcomings as the whole story has a "classic" feel to it - as indeed befits a 1960s period piece.

Oddly enough, the letters page (actually half a page) is concerned with the question who might write and draw new original Adam Strange material - whilst the title was only three issues away from cancellation. In 1978 DC Comics intended to revive Strange Adventures, but the "DC Implosion" with its sweeping cancellations and scaling back of the company's publishing output put those plans on ice. Eventually the revival did happen, in 1979, and with a change of title to Time Warp.

Always an interesting item, this issue of Strange Adventures prints the statement of ownership and circulation: of an average of 275,000 copies printed per issue per month during the preceding twelve month period, some 135,676 of these had actually been sold - i.e. only 49,3% on average. This is an awful figure showing just how bad the distribution situation in the early 1970s was. Surprisingly enough, closest to the filing of the statement Strange Adventures had an even higher print run (353,000), of which, however, it sold even less, namely 47,3% (equaling 166,821 copies).

The number of subscribers to Strange Adventures at that point, by the way, was a mere 59 - up from an average of 30 over the past 12 months. Which makes it seem very - pardon the pun - strange that DC even carried subscriptions for this title.




Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #157

March 1973
(8 issues per year)

Editors - Murray Boltinoff & E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover - Nick Cardy

"The Strange Second Life of Jimmy Olsen" (14,66 pages)

Story - Leo Dorfman
Pencils - Kurt Schaffenberger
Inks - Vince Colletta

"The Secret of the Forbidden Face" (7,5 pages)

Story - Cary Bates
Pencils - Kurt Schaffenberger
Inks - Vince Colletta

The famous Star of Cathay jewel is the feature of an exhibition in Metropolis and it's Jimmy Olsen's job to take a picture of it - however, when he does, the gem seemingly transports his consciousness to ancient China, where all points to Jimmy being none other than Marco Polo. Even meeting a magic djinn in a bottle, Jimmy is drawn into a series of increasingly threatening adventures, but just before he is about to get killed he is sent back to the present time and location, leaving him utterly confused and not knwoing which reality is actual reality and which is a dream. In the backup story, Jimmy Olsen is told by his editor to get a clear portrait photograph of Mr Vargas, an elusive master mentalist whose face never shows up in pictures of him. Vargas uses his powers to stop some crimes, which in turn makes him a target for paid assassins but then Superman swoops in and saves the day - and discovers the secret behind Mr Vargas. The mentalist's face is horribly disfigured and he uses mental powers which not only keep anyone from noticing his face but also prevents photographic film from recording it.

If the cover is anything to go by then editorial knew full well that only the backup story could hold up (a bit), whereas the main feature simply makes you want to never ever pick up a copy of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen again. The story behind this title, however, is a highly interesting piece of comic book history.

Jimmy Olsen, an important figure in the Superman mythos, actually made his debut not in a comic but the Superman radio show in 1940 before appearing for the first time in Superman #13 (November-December 1941). In September 1954 he got his own title, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, which ran for a total of 163 issues up until March 1974. In key with the period, the series initially revolved around its protagonist undergoing all kinds of transformations, including Elastic Lad and Giant Turtle Man. Not surprisingly, by the time Jack Kirby came to DC from Marvel in early 1971, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen was the lowest selling DC title of all - so Kirby picked it because the series was without a stable creative team and he did not want to cost anyone a job (Wallace & Dolan, 2010). Using Jimmy Olsen as something akin to a launch pad, many of Kirby's Fourth World concepts (including the central villain Darkseid) first appeared here with the hope of giving his new creations and titles greater exposure to potential buyers. It was also, however, one of the first instances where "the King" had to acknowledge the limitations which DC would put on his (promised) artistic freedom as all of the Superman and Jimmy Olsen faces were being redrawn by Al Plastino and later by Murphy Anderson:

"Infantino authorized re-drawing Superman’s head as drawn by Kirby, claiming that it was necessary to preserve the value of the licensed Superman characters, and noting that Kirby himself had no qualms with DCs decision to change his work." (Stump, 1996)

This evidently all happened before Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #157. When that issue was fresh off the press, Kirby had been off the book for almost a year, having left the series with issue #148 in April 1972. DC then tried to get Jimmy Olsen back on track, because

"The sales of the Kirby issues plummeted and we hastened to revert to our traditional artists." (Carmine Infantino, in Stump, 1996)

That's the explanation for the blurb "THE NEW" on the cover logo. Judging from the letters page, most readers wanted Jimmy Olsen to move away from the pre-Kirby "gets himself in trouble, is saved by Superman" mould, which Dorfman and Bates did seem to consciously avoid whilst moving the stories back from Kirby's extravagant plots back to the more conventional (some would say lame) DC style. But it didn't work, and in only one year's time Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #164 (April-May 1974) would be merged with Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane (launched in 1958) to form a new title, Superman Family (which continued the numbering from Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen). In that title, Olsen would finally become a more serious character who battled criminals as an urban investigative reporter known as "Mr Action" in crime stories which would rarely feature Superman.



PARKER John (2011) "Comics we love: 'Kamandi, the last boy on Earth'", published online at Comics Alliance

SCHWARTZ Julius & Brian M. Thomsen (2000) Man of Two Worlds, Harper

STUMP Greg (1996) “Infantino Raises Questions About CBG Letters Policy Following Kirby Controversy Flare-Up”, in The Comics Journal #191 (November 1996)

WALLACE Daniel & Hannah Dolan (eds) (2010) DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle, Dorling Kindersley



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First posted 24 January 2014
Expanded and reposted 18 April 2014

Text is (c) 2014 Adrian Wymann
The illustrations presented here are copyright material.
Their reproduction in this non-commercial context is considered to be fair use.