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DC COMICS SUPER-PACs   Even in the early 1960s, the comic book industry realized that in spite of the hugely successful comeback of the superhero genre (which had been clinically dead for most of the 1950s) and the subsequent streak of new creativity and enthusiasm it generated, its traditional sales points were fading away. Small stores that had carried comic books were pushed out of business by larger stores and supermarkets, and newsagents started to view the low cover prices and therefore tiny profit margins comics had to offer as a nuisance.

Many ideas on how to turn these developments around were put forward by different publishers, but the most successful concepts strived to open up new sales opportunities and markets and thus tap into a new customer base.

One place these potential buyers could be found was the growing number of supermarkets and chain stores. But in order to be able to sell comic books at supermarkets, the product would have to be adjusted.
Handling individual issues clearly was no option for these outlets, but by looking at their logistics and display characteristics, DC Comics (who came up with the Comicpac concept in 1961) found that the answer to breaking into this promising new market was to simply package several comic books together in a transparent plastic bag.

This resulted in a higher price per unit on sale, which made the whole business of stocking them much more worthwhile for the seller. The simple packaging was also rather nifty because it clearly showed the items were new and untouched, while at the same time blending in with most other goods sold at supermarkets which were also conveniently packaged.

Outlets were even supplied with dedicated Comicpac racks, which enhanced the product appeal even more since the bags containing the comic books could be displayed on rack hooks in an orderly and neat fashion.

It didn't really matter therefore that buying these three comic books in a comicpack for say 59¢ (rather than from a newsagent for 60¢ in that case) clearly presented no real bargain - it was the opportunity and convenience to pick up a few comics at the same time parents and adults did their general shopping. Neatly packaged, it almost became an entirely different class of commodity.


  DC's "comicpacks" were, in a word, a success - so much so that other publishers quickly started to copy it.

"DC's focus [for the Comicpac] was on both the casual reader and the parents and grandparents who were looking for gifts." (Wells, 2012)

By the early 1970s, DC relaunched their comicpacs, calling them DC Super Pacs, and they continued to sell well.

"The DC [comic packs] program lasted well over a decade, with pretty high distribution numbers. The Western program was enormous - even well into the '70s they were taking very large numbers of DC titles for distribution (I recall 50,000+ copies offhand)." (Paul Levitz, in Evanier 2007)

Unlike comic books distributed to news stands and other traditional outlets, comicpacks were non-returnable. Bags that didn't sell were thus the retailer's problem, not the publisher's (leading some distributors and retailers - who most likely had previously rigged the returnable comic scheme, e.g. by selling comic books without their covers - to simply split the packs open and return the loose comics).
The only way to stop such illegal behaviour was to make comic books contained in comic packs distinguishable from regular news stand editions - and Western, the largest distributor of comic packs, did just that as of 1972 by introducing their logo on the cover.

DC titles distributed by Western in their own comicpacks featured the Western "smiling face" logo instead of the DC roundel; the covers would also not show the issue number and the month.

DC's own comicpacks, however, continued to contain regular newsstand editions only throughout the 1970s.


This December (C-12) 1972 DC SUPER PAC contains Batman #246, Flash #219, and World's Finest #215, and even though these titles feature major DC characters (Batman, Superman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Green Arrow), none of them was published monthly at the time. As a consequence, only Batman #246 carries a December cover date (the title was published eight times a year, including in December), whereas Flash #219 and World's Finest #215 display a January cover date (in the case of bi-monthly publication, DC would print the second month on the cover, thus making the title appear "new" on shelves and racks for a longer period of time).

Right from the start in 1961/62, when DC Comics launched the Comicpac, all of their multi-comic packs were reference-numbered using a letter plus digit, e.g. B-3. And since DC wasn't just filling plastic bags at random with any comic books, a B-3 pack from a specific year would carry the same titles and issues no matter where or when it was sold (rare packaging errors aside).


  By 1964 the digit would refer to the month, i.e. A-1 and B-1 would both feature comic books with a January cover date (or January/February in the case of bi-monthly titles), and four packs (A through D) per month were the rule from mid-1972 to 1978 (when DC ended their own comicpacks).

"C-12" therefore denotes the third December SUPER PAC, in this case from 1972.

No titles had truly permanent slots in the SUPER PACS, although there was a high level of consistency with DC's flagship characters (the data for 1973, for example, shows that the SUPER PACs of that year offered buyers complete runs of Superman and Batman as well as the Batman team-up title Brave and the Bold). But since sales points could vary a lot with regard to their supplies and selection of SUPER PACs, the availability of specific titles was never guaranteed. However, one needs to bear in mind that this was a common fate of the average comic book reader in the 1970s Bronze Age, whether his or her comic books came packaged in a plastic bag or as single issues from a display or spinner rack. Back in those days, an uninterrupted supply of specific titles was, quite simply, never truly guaranteed.

In the case of DC titles this mostly wasn't a problem anyway. Unlike their major competitor Marvel, DC's editorial at large still very much embraced the "single issue, done in one" storyline principle, so it often didn't even matter in which sequence you read your copies of Batman or Superman, since every issue would start with a brand new story (there were, of course, exceptions).

Also very much unlike Marvel, DC had no regular editorial feature across its titles at the time, through which the publisher would communicate with its readership (the way Marvel and Stan Lee did with their famous Bullpen Bulletins); the interaction with fans and readers was limited to the letters pages, and plugs for other titles restricted to in-house ads.

Something else that set DC apart from Marvel was their use of half-pages, usually for the last page of a story. The lower half would often be used for ads; in this case for Kamandi (on the final page of Batman #246) and Phantom Stranger (in Flash #219). The big news in late 1972 as far as DC was concerned was the imminent launch of Shazam, i.e. Fawcett's Captain Marvel. It wouldn't be long though before DC would get a call from Marvel's lawyers and, as a result of that conversation, drop the tagline "THE ORIGINAL CAPTAIN MARVEL" after a few issues, since the House of Ideas had seen it all coming and trademarked the name for a completely new character in 1967.

Whether you were a DC fanboy or one of Marvel's true believers back in 1972, it would probably have been hard to disagree that the House of Ideas definitely had the upper hand when it came to making in-house ads look attractive and trumping up a hype for a title or the line in general.

This SUPER PAC also provides some additional information on the packaging material and process, thanks to a printed line of text on the polybag's lower left hand corner which refers to a registered trademark (REDI-RAK) and a U.S. patent number (3.308.660).


The patent concerned was filed in 1962 and registered in 1965 by Bernard F. Brieske, who registered a number of US patents in conjunction with the production and usage of packaging items (such as polybags), in conjunction with Illinois-based Vision Wrap Industries (who had the Redi-Rak name trademarked in 1969). Only a small handful of SUPER PAC polybags carry that reference.
The patent "is particularly directed to bags or similar containers which are formed of polyethylene and which are provided with grommets whereby the bags can be effectively employed for rack merchandising and for similar uses". As such, this system would do away with any added on hanging labels (as seen on the very first generation of DC Comicpacs) as these would become an integral part of the packaging.

The patent also illustrates how the polybags were filled from the bottom:

"Where (...) sections [of polyethylene] are employed, a heat seal is provided along the end of the bag which has the grommet adjacent thereto. In the normal course, the package manufacturer will market a bag of this type with an open end whereby the persons interested in using the bags can heat seal or otherwise close off this end when the goods are inserted in the bag. For display purposes, the grommet end of the bag would then become the top of the bag."

Many important questions still remain open regarding the packaging of comicpacks (most importantly where it was done and by whom), but this little snippet of information on the polybag of the C-12 December 1972 SUPER PAC at least sheds a little bit of light on this aspect.




December 1972
(monthly, with the exception of January, March, July and November)
On Sale:
19 October 1972

Editor - Julius Schwartz
Cover - Dave Cockrum (pencils) & Neal Adams (inks)

"How Many Ways Can a Robin Die?"
(22.5 pages)
Story - Frank Robbins
Pencils - Irv Novick (pg 1-17), Dick Dillin (pg 18-23)
Inks - Dick Giordano
Lettering -
Ben Oda
Colouring - NN

PLOT SUMMARY - Someone is demonstrating ways to "kill" Robin by using dummies and is thus psychologically torturing Batman, who must track down further dummies and hope he will be in time to rescue the real Robin from the hands of a twisted killer.

Batman #246 follows on the heel of a three issue run by Denny O'Neil / Neal Adams (including a two-issue story in which Batman tracks Ra's Al Ghul to Switzerland) and presents readers with some very noticeable changes.

First off, Frank Robbins spins yarns very differently than O'Neil does, and the artwork of this issue is even split up between two pencillers, Irv Novick and Dick Dillin.

Robbins (1917-1994) took over writing the Batman in 1968 from Gardner Fox, who had essentially been pouring out stories featuring Bruce Wayne and his vigilante alter ego since 1939.

After a transition phase (the "camp" TV show was gone but things were still very much tongue in cheek), Frank Robbins initiated the character's return to his darker, more gothic roots before O'Neil and Adams ran with it.

"How Many Ways Can a Robin Die?" may explain why writer-artist Robbins is identified and remembered less with Batman's transition to a darker place than is the case with O'Neil and Adams. On its surface, the story - divided up into no less than five chapters, all of which sport borderline goofy titles - seems to have more in common with the often ludicrous Batman stories from the 1950s and 1960s than with the Darknight Detective tales from the 1970s.

  The villain - who leaves behind word-game clues for Batman to find - is also rather reminiscent of the Silver Age "gimmick characters", and the resulting deductions made by Batman based on those clues are either outright obvious or totally far-fetched, making the story as a whole seem oddly out of sync with the classic Bronze Age artwork delivered by Irv Novick (who helped transition Batman to become a darker character in a much darker world as much as Adams did) and Richard Allen "Dick" Dillin.

The darkness lurks underneath the surface.


Frank Robbins

As light-heartedly as it may be portrayed, Batman is actually trying hard to prevent his sidekick from being killed - in most gruesome ways, no less. And once he catches up with the perpetrator, he lets him know that "I am always prepared to die (...) but not at the hands of rabid dogs like you." Those aren't just words that Robbins has the Batman say; the Darknight Detective does indeed view the psychopathic criminal as something below human - which of course questions Batman's humanity just as much in return. It is a return to the mindset of the Batman of 1939 who threw criminals off of roofs.

And with that state of mind, with an anger barely controlled, the Darknight Detective goes off like this on Ravek because the criminal knew exactly how to play the Batman: push his guilt buttons, and if Robin were to die, the Darknight Detective would have psychologically imploded. Ravek understood the Batman's secret weakness, and Robbins give the readers a glimpse into a very dark abyss, and a person only barely - and very delicately at that - balanced.


It is entirely possible to read over those aspects and be left with what then almost feels like a send-off of those camp Batman tales. It actually works both ways, which is a credit to Robbins.

It also works because Irv Novick and Dick Dillin (for the conclusion) both provide solid atmospheric artwork that reflects and supports both the Saturday matinée cliffhanger take and the far less optimistic noir aspects of the story.


Irv Novick

Novick (1916-2004) graduated from the National Academy of Design in New York City and, following a brief stunt at the illustrator's studio of Harry Chesler in 1939, went on to spend almost his entire career in the comic book industry. In the mid-1960s DC Comics offered him an unprecedented freelance contract which guaranteed him the highest artist's rate plus a steady amount of work. In essence, this meant that as soon as Novick had finished a job he was to immediately receive another assignment - which explains his substantial body of artwork for DC over the years.
When Carmine Infantino became a part of DC's management in 1968 he made sure that Novick became a full-time superhero penciller, thus providing the artwork for most of DC's top titles of the genre, including numerous contributions to Batman and Detective Comics.

Irv Novick had a substantial part in shaping the visuals of Batman during the late 1960s and all throughout the 1970s. Retaining his very own style, he (together with a few other pencillers) fleshed out the popular culture icon look which Neal Adams had created, and left a lasting contribution to the hallmark appearance and visuals of the Darknight Detective - which still remain iconic to this day.

His pencils had a classic touch in the best sense of the word, and his pictorial storytelling was fresh and dynamic and even made some of the lamer plots of the Bronze Age look interesting.

  With a little bit of luck, regular buyers of DC's SUPER PACs would be able to pick up the next issue of Batman too - as Batman #246 would be contained in the 1973 B-2 SUPER PAC (albeit slightly hidden as the middle comic book).



FLASH #219

December/January 1972/73
On Sale:
17 October 1972

Editor - Julius Schwartz
Cover - Nick Cardy (pencils & inks)

FLASH: "The Million Dollar Deathtrap" (13.5 pages)
Story - Cary Bates
Pencils - Irv Novick
Inks - Joe Giella

GREEN LANTERN & GREEN ARROW: "The Fate of an Archer" (9.5 pages)
Story - Denny O'Neil
Pencils - Neal Adams
Inks - Neal Adams

PLOT SUMMARIES - The Top makes a million-dollar bet with Mirror Master that he cannot escape prison and destroy the Flash with his optical weapons, and the Mirror Master takes him up on it. / After Black Canary is hit by a car she urgently needs a blood transfusion. Green Arrow shares her rare blood type, so Green Lantern sets out in search of the archer.

The Flash was a regular title in DC's SUPER PACs, and although its namesake character is a mainstay in the DC Comics stable, the series has been cancelled and restarted several times.
The first volume, starring Barry Allen as the Flash, picked up the numbering of the original Flash Comics with issue #105 (March 1959) and ran until issue #350 (October 1985).

In one of DC's first (and often confusing) switches in alter egos, Barry Allen would then die in Crisis on Infinite Earths and Wally West, Allen's sidekick Kid Flash, took up his uncle's mantle as the Flash. Somewhat similar to Batman's sidekick Robin, DC now sports several different Flashes, depending on what volume of the title (and possibly what parallel DC universe) you're looking at.

Flash #219 features the original DC Flash, as well as his first ever villain, Mirror Master (whom he encountered in his first adventure, back in Flash #105), together with The Top - and the overall result actually looks and feels like an early 1960s comic book story, rather than one from 1972.

Comic book publishers with established and popular characters have traditionally strived to ensure that their visuals remain identical. Disney has always had a very strict "house style" policy in that respect, instructing artists in great detail how to draw its characters, because Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and all the others should always look the same, regardless of the creative talent involved. A similarly strict policy was in place at DC Comics.

"DC artists were forced to work within an established house style that governed the page layout as well as the look of the artwork. Editor Julie Schwartz's motto was 'if it's not clean, it's worthless'." (Tucker, 2017)

Carmine Infantino
(1925 - 2013)

  When Carmine Infantino was appointed DC's art director in 1967, he eased the rules a bit in an attempt to make DC a more welcoming place for talented artists. But general management at DC still felt that their "safe and polished" house style was actually sophisticated (and more refined than anything Marvel would ever put out), and therefore had it continue for some characters, including the Flash (whom Infantino had, somewhat ironically, pencilled for years following the superhero's relaunch in 1956).

Years later, looking back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, and reflecting on his promotions to DC's Editorial Director in 1967 and then DC's Publisher in 1971, even Carmine Infantino himself had to admit that

"The DC books were very sterile-looking in those days." (Infantino & Spurlock, 2001)

The Flash story in Flash #219 seems like an excellent illustration of Infantino's thoughts since, incredible as it may seem, the penciller at work here is the same who drew most of the Batman issue also to be found inside this SUPER PAC: Irv Novick.
The difference, induced by the house style for the Flash at the time, is striking.

It is safe to assume that Novick simply adapted to what was expected from him, depending on the title, but even if he did add more detailed backgrounds the inker would simply override that - especially since the inker on this issue was Joe Giella.

Born in 1928, his inking style became synonymous with DC's house style. Being the final step in the production of the artwork besides colouring, inkers such as Giella were in a position to make sure that the rules of the house style were adhered to - an experience even Carmine Infantino recalled from back when he was "just" a penciller for Batman:

"Remember, once I turned in the drawing, I had nothing more to say (...) Giella had the house style then. It was a very slick look, and I wasn't fond of it, but it was the house style." (Infantino in Eury & Kronenberg, 2009)

The "slick look" resulted in artwork that generally featured very little detail and more often than not just blank or highly reduced backgrounds. It was an approach that didn't do justice to the artwork of many pencillers.

"[Gene Colan's 1950s] art was buried in the DC house style inking of people like Frank Giella and Sy Barry." (Apeldoorn, 2013)

Some creative teams were able to fight off this reductionist policy, mostly due to either working on a failing character or title, or thanks to being fan favourites.
  Neal Adams and Denny O'Neil clearly belonged to the second group in 1972, and so in spite of Julie Schwartz being the editor, Adams was able to pursue his own style without restrictions - not the least due to the fact that he inked his own pencils.

It seems almost impossible to imagine a starker contrast in telling a story through words and images than the one readers of Flash #219 experienced - in seeing O'Neil and Adams tell a Green Lantern and Green Arrow yarn as compared to Bates and Novick doing the same for the Flash on the preceding pages. The two end results seemed to come from entirely different eras.

The impact Adams visual approach had on some of DC's main characters (resulting in an implicit new "house style" for Batman) is common knowledge.

What is less talked about is how the powers in charge at DC reacted to the fans embracing the change both in artwork and how the character was handled.

"I had asked to work on Batman many times and [Julie Schwartz) turned me down. So I drew Batman for several issues of Brave and the Bold. Letters poured into DC Comics saying and asking "Why is the only 'good' Batman the one in Brave and the Bold?" Under this barrage of fan mail Julie finally offered to let me draw for the regular Batman titles. In our hallway chat, as he offered me the Batman work, Julie finally said, and with some annoyance, "Why is it, Neal, that you think you know how to do Batman and all the rest of us don't?" What I said to Julie at the time (...) is that it's not that I knew what Batman should be, it's that I and every kid in America knew what Batman should be." It just didn't seem like the people at DC Comics knew what Batman ought to be." (Neal Adams in Eury & Kronenberg, 2009)

One look at the page composition and complexity of the artwork of "The Fate of an Archer" embedded in Flash #219 is enough to understand that this didn't just apply to Batman.


The fact that readers of Flash even got to see this was due to the faltering success of Green Lantern. Sales had been in a major decline for years, and even the O'Neil/Adams stories that co-starred him with Green Arrow ultimately failed to save the title, which was cancelled with issue #89 (April/May 1972). The end of the story arc of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series was therefore published as a back-up feature starting in Flash #217 and ending in this issue, #219. Prior to Flash #217 the back-up story had featured Kid Flash, starting with Flash #220 that spot would be given over to the solo adventures of Green Lantern up until issue #244 (September 1976) when the title (now reduced to a page count of 17) would drop back-up features.




December/January 1972/73
On Sale:
17 October 1972

Editor - Murray Boltinoff, E. Nelson Bridwell (assistant)
Cover - Nick Cardy (pencils & inks)

"Saga of the Super Sons!" (23.5 pages)

Story - Bob Haney
Pencils - Dick Dillin
Inks - Henry Scarpelli

PLOT SUMMARY - Superman and Batman are having increasingly heated discussions with their teenage sons about their roles. When Superman creates an alternate timeline and reality in Sparta City, Superman Jr. and Batman Jr. can explore crime-fighting without ramifications yet still put an end to the local mob boss, albeit with some unexpected help.


Did you ever wonder if one day Superman and Batman had Sons... what they would be like??
Heroic Chips off the Old Blocks -- or Super Duds? Wonder no more, Faithful Ones!
Imagination? Put-On? No! For now, here, revealed in all its Shock and Human Anguish,
the sensational top-secret
World's Finest Story that cried out to be told..."Saga of the Super Sons!"

If this (Superman and Batman aside) sounds a lot like Marvel and not at all like DC, then it's because of the writer - Bob Haney.

Robert G. "Bob" Haney (1926-2004) started working in the comic book industry in 1948 and joined DC in 1954, where over the next 30 years he scripted just about every sort of comic book DC published (Evanier, 2004).

Sometimes called "Zany" Haney, he was in actual fact one of the few people at DC in the mid-1960s who

"understood that Marvel was successfully reinventing the super-hero comic for the current generation" (Evanier, 2004)

Haney almost desperately tried to bring some of that "Marvel flavour" to the stories he was writing for DC, and that included his very own (and sometimes completely off-beat) version of Stan Lee's hyperbole - as illustrated by his introduction to "Saga of the Super Sons".

But Haney understood that readers expected the writers of the comic books they were buying to connect with them, and whilst he could not make DC look like an exclusive secret club the way Marvel portrayed itself, addressing readers as "faithful ones" was definitely a step in the right direction.

Bob Haney

  He was also keenly aware of the fact that the content itself had to change, and his vehicle for that was the Batman team-up series Brave and the Bold.

"I wanted the spooky dark night Batman image of his original days. Such artists as Neal Adams and the redoubtable Jim Aparo brought this vision to panelled reality." (Bob Haney, in Best of the Brave and the Bold #5, 1988)

Haney cared very little about the conventionalities of the DC Universe and would sometimes even write stories which outright contradicted them - so much so that Haney's Brave and the Bold Batman would be deemed to be living in an alternate reality called "Earth-B" (Eury, 2013).

Haney could whip up tightly plotted scripts (e.g. his classic Brave and the Bold stories illustrated by Neal Adams) just as easily as throwing out extremely loose plots with lots of holes and very little overall sense.

The "Saga of the Super Sons" sits somewhere between those two poles, especially since it features an interesting "what if" scenario in the premise of both Superman and Batman having a son, even though the "what if" concept as such was not new. DC published a number of stories, particularly during the 1960s, which did not take place in the regular continuity of the featured character. Most of these stories were labelled "imaginary stories" and featured alternate histories, mostly concerning Superman. In this case, however, both the introduction and the added explanatory notes ("Cat on a hot typewriter") by Bob Haney made it clear that the Super-Sons were actual stories from the lives of Superman and Batman.

Richard Allen "Dick" Dillin (1928-1980) was in charge of pencils (as he had been for the conclusion of Batman #246), inked by Henry Scarpelli (1930-2010, who is more noted for his work for Archie Comics), and the resulting artwork has a conventional layout and a very clean look to it - even in the dynamic renderings of the action sequences. Clearly, DC's antiquated house style was starting to give way to what was still a very conservative style but one that at least could be seen as being in step with its time.


Dick Dillin

The Super-Sons would make subsequent appearances in World's Finest #216, 221-222, 224, 228, 231, 233, 238 and 242, all scripted by Bob Haney. In World's Finest #263 (July 1980) Denny O'Neil explained the Super-Sons' existence as the result of a computer simulation, created by Superman and Batman on the Man of Steel's computer in his Fortress of Solitude.

  "Comic packs" not only sold well for more than two decades, they also offer some interesting insight into the comic book industry's history from the 1960s through to the 1990s. There's more on their general history here.

APELDOORN Ger (2013) "Hopping Along", published online 6 October 2013 at Fabulous Fifties

EURY Michael & Michael Kronenberg (2009) The Batcave Companion, TwoMorrows Publishing

EURY Michael (2013) "The Batman of Earth-B", in Back Issue #66 (August 2013), TwoMorrows Publishing

EVANIER Mark (2004) "On the Passing of Bob Haney", published online 7 December 2004 on News from Me

EVANIER Mark (2007) "More on Comicpacs", published online 2 May 2007 in News From Me

TUCKER Reed (2017) Slugfest: Inside the Epic Fifty-Year Battle between Marvel and DC, Sphere

WELLS John (2012) American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1960s (1960-1964), TwoMorrows Publishing



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uploaded to the web 15 January 2022