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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.



"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)

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

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 January (D-1) 1973 DC SUPER PAC contains Tarzan #216, Detective Comics #431, and Action Comics #420. and features two flagship DC characters (Superman and Batman) alongside one of DC's major licensed title (Tarzan).

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 and contain comic books with a January cover date (or January/February in the case of bi-monthly titles), and the letters (A through D) marked the four different packs per month (which was the rule from mid-1972 to 1978, when DC ended their own comicpacks). "D-1" therefore denotes the fourth January SUPER PAC, in this case from 1973.

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 during the early 1970s, 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.





January 1973
On Sale:
28 November 1972

Editor - Joe Kubert
Cover - Joe Kubert (pencils & inks)

"The Renegades"
(18 pages)
Story - Joe Kubert
Pencils -Frank Thorne
Inks - Joe Kubert
Lettering -
John Costanza
Colouring - Tatjana Wood

PLOT SUMMARY - Tarzan prevents the looting of an ancient temple by a group of renegade mercenaries.

Tarzan, created by American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912 for a story entitled Tarzan of the Apes, was an immediate hit with the pulp fiction readership (Burroughs himself wrote two dozen sequels), quickly became the star of radio shows, movies and other media, and has been a household name in popular culture ever since (Lupoff, 2005).

Tarzan's career in comics started out with an adaptation of Tarzan of the Apes into newspaper strip form in January 1929, with artwork by Hal Foster (of "Prince Valiant" fame). Numerous publishers subsequently put out Tarzan comic books, and the character has been licensed by Gold Key (Western Publishing), Charlton, DC, Marvel, and Dark Horse Comics over the decades.

DC took over the series in April 1972, publishing 52 issues of Tarzan up until February 1977, and continued the numbering from the previous Gold Key series, thus strating out with Tarzan #207 and ending in Tarzan #258 (publishers in the early 1970s still believed that a comic book series would sell less if people perceived it as new).

It seems the main reason Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. chose to transfer the comic-book license for Tarzan was Western's disinterest in stepping up its production; Gold Key was only putting out eight issues of Tarzan a year (along with six issues of Korak, Tarzan’s son), but none at all starring any of Burroughs’ other creations, in spite of an ever increasing market interest for more of his material both in the US and abroad (Stewart, 2022). A chance meeting in Europe between Carmine Infantino and ERB Inc.'s vice-president Robert Hodes sealed the deal with DC (Schelly, 2008).

Infantino, it seems, had thought of Kubert (who had enjoyed Burroughs’ fiction and Hal Foster’s work on the newspaper comic strip in his youth) right from the get-go of acquiring the license.

Carmine Infantino
(1925 - 2013)


"One bright, sunny day, Carmine called me into his office. “Joe” he said with a broad smile, “how would you like to do Tarzan?” Carmine and I had known each other since we started in this business. If anyone knew of my love for Burroughs’ Tarzan, he did. I jumped at it. Here was an opportunity for me to connect again with the joys of my childhood.  To infuse myself into the world of Tarzan, the Ape-Man, and to write and draw the character that had been an inspiration to me." (Kubert, 2005)

Kubert immediately and enthusiastically geared up for what he considered to be a dream project, and his enthusiasm for the material resulted in what is considered by many to be some of the best work of his long career.


Joe Kubert
(1926 - 2012)

Kubert decided to start out at the beginning and thus initiated DC's run with an adaptation of Burroughs’ first Tarzan novel. Whilst this had been done before (by Hal Foster in a newspaper strip rendering in 1928 and by God Key in a single issue adaptation in 1965), editor-writer-artist Kubert wanted this to go deeper into the original material, resulting in a four-issues arc in Tarzan #207-210.

Tarzan #216

  DC's Tarzan would feature additional adaptations of the Burroughs books, with original stories by Kubert slotted in between.

Tarzan #216 stands out somewhat, as Frank Thorne took over pencilling duties, albeit inked by Kubert (who resumed complete art responsibility with the following issue).

Critically acclaimed, Kubert's take on Tarzan had its critics at the time, as can be glanced from the letters pages - although more than anything else, it was the backup feature that drew its regular flak from readers who essentially just wanted to see Tarzan in a comic book carrying the title Tarzan.


"Beyond The Farthest Star"
(6 pages)
Story - Marv Wolfman
Pencils -Howard Chaykin
Inks - Howard Chaykin

Based on the two novellas Adventure on Poloda (published in 1942) and Tangor Returns (published in 1964), which Burroughs had written in a very short time in late 1940, they formed the nucleus for a series that never came to be and therefore remained a much lesser known part of Burrough's work.

Marv Wolfman breathed new life into it by adapting it for the backup slot in DC's Tarzan, where it ran through issues #212-218 (September 1972 - March 1973) as well as in Tarzan Family #61 (February 1976).

  DC's very first issue featuring the character, Tarzan #207, was included in the April 1972 B-4 DC Super Pac, and at least three more issues are known to have been included in Super Pacs prior to Tarzan #216, the tenth issue produced by DC.




January 1973
On Sale:
30 November 1972

Editor - Julius Schwartz
Cover - Michael Kaluta (pencils & inks)

BATMAN: "This Murder Has Been Censored" (14.5 pages)
Story - Denny O'Neil
Pencils - Irv Novick
Inks - Murphy Anderson

JASON BARD: "Crime On My Hands!" (9 pages)
Story - Frank Robbins
Pencils - Don Heck
Inks - Murphy Anderson

PLOT SUMMARIES - Batman investigates and solves a murder at a luxury resort when a man with the word "censored" stamped on his forehead is found dead. Jason Bard finds one of his business cards with a message scribbled on it on a dead bartender.

It all started on November 26th 1969, when Detective Comics #395 hit the newsstands with a cover date of January 1970. On the surface of things, it was the first issue of DC's namesake flagship title written by Dennis O'Neil and drawn by Neal Adams. But at the core, Batman was about to change in a fundamental way that would shape the character indelibly.

The story, "The Secret of the Waiting Graves", is now a classic in itself and often considered to be Batman’s turning point as the Silver Age crossed into the Bronze Age and the Darknight Detective returned to his gothic roots.


Dennis "Denny" O'Neil
(1939 - 2020)

  In actual fact, other writers and artists were already taking Batman down that path at that time, but O'Neil's chilling tale pointed out the potential of the Caped Crusader as a truly dramatic character like possibly no other story previously had. It was a compelling concept that hit home with readers and Batman editor Julie Schwartz alike, and over the next few years, the best was yet to come - not the least because O'Neil had a clear-cut plan.

"The comics at the time had been trying to follow the example of the Adam West comedic TV show, and they weren’t doing a very good job of it (...) The books were being a bit shaky sales-wise, as hard as that is to believe, and Julie [Schwartz] wanted to continue to publish Batman. So he came to me and asked, “What have you got my boy?” What I thought I had, and what I told people I had, was that we were going back to what Bill Finger started with in 1939, and we added to that what the world had learned about telling stories since then." (O'Neil, in Handziuk 2019)


Detective Comics #395
(January 1970)

O'Neil was very methodical about his take on turning the Batman into a much grimmer, darker character

"I went to the DC library and read some of the early stories. I tried to get a sense of what Kane and Finger were after." (O'Neil, in Pearson & Uricchio 1991)

Ultimately, this also resulted in underscoring the investigative side of the Batman's persona - effectively creating the Darknight Detective.

"There was very little consistency. Sometimes he was a detective, sometimes he was more a superhero. When I took over the franchise I said okay, this is the way we do it. Batman comics will be about superhero stuff with a lot of action, and Detective Comics is about the same character functioning as a detective." (O'Neil, in Handziuk 2019)

As a result, Batman and Detective Comics took two entirely different routes. The most obvious change for the latter title was the complete disappearance of costumed villains, all of which were replaced by plain clothes thugs and evil-doers.
  Detective Comics #431 is a prime example of this approach, which also tried to involve readers in the puzzle solving process - matching wits and detection skills, so to speak, with the Batman. And like any good novel from the 1930's Golden Age of crime fiction by the likes of Agatha Christie, readers of Detective Comics #431 were not only presented with a line-up of the characters involved but also given a handy overview of what their potential motives would be for them to become suspects as Batman would unravel and solve the mystery surrounding the murder.
The classic Michael Kaluta cover for Detective Comics #431 emphasizes the frequent nods to literary works of classic detective fiction, with Batman directly adressing the reader and declaring, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, "STOP! NOBODY LEAVES THIS MAGAZINE TILL A MURDER IS SOLVED!"
The detective approach also involved O'Neil dropping hints that a certain aspect presented in the text or (more frequently) depicted in the artwork contained a vital clue, as well as showing Batman putting the bits and pieces together in his musings and thoughts.

  This also lead to one or more instances every issue where readers were essentially asked to pause and consider the possible solution to the mystery tale they were reading - in this case even prodded by the remark that "apparently the Batman's got the thing hacked! -- And you?".

It made for great reader involvement, and the letters pages at the time were proof of the fact that it was appreciated and savoured. It thus also made total sense to haver the cover tag-line "Thrilling Mystery Tales".

The back-up feature in Detective Comics would change frequently during that period, but Jason Bard certainly was a very fitting accompaniment.

Following his first appearance in Detective Comics #392 (October 1969), the stories featuring the Gotham private investigator worked exactly the same way - and Frank Robbins was every bit a master at this for his own creation Jason Bard as Denny O'Neil was for the Batman.

It distinctly set apart Detective Comics from other comic book titles - a special tidbit of reading thrill. And just like the aformenetioned crime writers of the 1930s and 1940s, the stories and mysteries were played "fair" - the clues could indeed be spotted, so in essence the readers always had the same knowledge as the protagonists did.

  The engaging plotting and writing was beautifully embellished by the creative talents of Irv Novick for the Batman tale and by Don Heck for the Jason Bard yarn - both provided with moody inks by Murphy Anderson.

The detective element of Detective Comics was indeed so strong that the next issue's back-up - the Atom - was billed as "the world's smallest sleuth".


  Detective Comics was a regular title in DC's SUPER PACs - six out of the twelve issues published in 1973 were offered in DC's Super-Pacs.

The endpage of the Batman story of Detective Comics #431 featured a half-page ad for Shazam #1, which would also be packaged into the B-2 February 1973 Super-Pac.





January 1973
On Sale:
30 November 1972

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

SUPERMAN: "The Made-To-Order Menace!" (15 pages)
Story - Elliot Maggin
Pencils - Curt Swan
Inks - Murphy Anderson

HUMAN TARGET: "The King of the Jungle-Contract!" (8.66 pages)
Story - Len Wein
Pencils - Dick Giordano
Inks - Dick Giordano

PLOT SUMMARIES - A space-travelling bard who has the power to create what he sings about comes to Earth and creates a super-menace for Superman to battle. The Human Target is hired by a famous big game hunter who believes that his rival is trying to kill him and goes on a safari in Africa disguised as his client.

When Action Comics #420 hit the newsstands (and the 1973 D-1 Super-Pac), the Man of Steel's adventures were regularly in the hands of writer Elliott (S!) Maggin. Born in 1950 and thus only 22 years of age, he had only started out twelve months prior, albeit with a bang - his first script appeared in Superman #247 (January 1972), titled "Must There Be A Superman?", and gained almost instant classic status.

Maggin was Instantly considered a prodigy by editor Julie Schwartz who liked his approach, which was deeply rooted in classic mythology.

"I had written a paper for a humanities class comparing Superman to Achilles, talking about the classical themes that recur in the literature of archetypal characters. I think there's something hard-wired in the human brain that causes us to suck up stories of that sort and make them a permanent part of our consciousness." (Maggin, in Freiman 2009)

And so, Maggin (who would go on to sign his name as Elliott S! Maggin, the exclamation mark being a reference to the abundant use made of it in comic books) was offered the opportunity to write scripts for Superman (Freiman, 2009).

Elliott Maggin


"I was in the right place at the right time, certainly, because I fell into place at a time when Superman was kind of out of fashion among comics mavens.  When Mort Weisinger retired and Julie took over Superman I don’t think anyone knew quite what to do with the character.  Mort’s approach had been that he was telling fairy tales for children.  When I showed up with this classic liberal education, I brought this notion that Superman was a contemporary icon and had to reinterpret that iconography in twentieth-century terms." (Maggin, in Stroud 2018)

Paired with Maggin for the artwork were classic Superman creative talents Curt Swan (pencils) and Murphy Anderson (inks), both of which produced work that not only conformed to the DC house but in many ways shaped it.

"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)


  Private investigator and bodyguard Christopher Chance - who assumes the identities of clients targeted by assassins and other dangerous criminals and thus goes by the moniker of Human Target - was created by Len Wein and Carmine Infantino and made his first appearance only a month prior to this outing, in Action Comics #419 (December 1972).

The character would continue to be the back-up feature in several issues of Action Comics up until issue #432 (February 1974) before moving to the Batman titles Brave and the Bold and Detective Comics. In 2010, the Human Target was turned into a Fox TV series that lasted for two seasons.

"The only thing I owed my audience was my own judgment and my own best effort. I write my stories for me and hope that other people will like them as well." (Wein, in Wolfman AN)


Julius Schwartz had only taken over the editorial reigns of Action Comics with the previous issue, and he wasn't happy at all with its main character, the Man of Steel.

"Having spent much of the previous decade merely observing from the cultural sidelines, the now-thirtysomething Superman was hit hard by the disillusionment that seized the country in the 1970s (...) Marvel heroes bickered and questioned and agitated - they were agents of chaos, and they looked like the kids who read them. Superman, on the other hand, dutifully imposed order, and he looked like a cop." (Weldon, 2013)

And Schwartz wasn't alone in feeling that the character had somewhat fallen out of sync with the times.

"O'Neil shared his editor's ambivalence, because he figured that such a high-profile character would come with too many corporate strings attached. He also found it difficult to get excited about a character who could see through time and blow out a star. "How do you write stories about a guy who can destroy a galaxy by listening hard?" O'Neil famously joked." (Weldon, 2013)

Together, Schwartz and O'Neil reached the conclusion that the only way forward was to "depower" Superman - readers needed to see him struggle.


Julius Schwartz
(1915 - 2004)

And so, they took the man of Steel's well-known major weakness off the board as all Kryptonite on Earth was turned into iron by a freak scientific experiment in Superman #233 (January 1971). At the same time, Superman's powers started to mysteriously fade.
  It was a nice idea, but there simply were too many "super-this" and "super-that" abilities tied into Superman as a character, and Clark Kent was still constantly having to foil the discovery of his dual identity. At the end of the day, not too much changed after all - except O'Neil didn't want to write Superman anymore (Freiman, 2009).

The most problematic aspect, however, were the villains: far fetched, convoluted, and ultimately uninteresting. The Space Minstrel is just as much an example of this as are Star Sapphire and Captain Strong.

Unless you were a die-hard Superman fan, a lot of those stories didn't really seem to go anywhere relevant. Not surprisingly, many readers bought Action Comics not because they were fans of Superman, but because of the second features appearing in the title (Kingman, 2013).

  Action Comics #419 (featuring the first appearance of Human Target) was packaged into the D-12 December 1972 Super-Pac .

DC back in the early 1970s was often trying hard to be just as cool as competitor Marvel, but somehow it rarely worked - as can be glimpsed from the in-house ads of the time, which both in terms of verbage and visuals is hardly making a splash and seems very matter-of-fact.

  "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.

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

FREIMAN Barry M. (2009) "Exclusive Interview with Elliot S! Maggin", supermanhomepage.com, published online January 2009

HANDZIUK Alex (2019) "An Interview with Legendary Creator Denny O'Neil - The father of Modern Day Batman", cgmagonline.com, published online 16 March 2019

KINGMAN Jim (2013) "The Ballad of Ollie and Dinah", in Back Issue #64 (May 2013)

KUBERT Joe (2005) "Introduction", Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan: The Joe Kubert Years, Dark Horse Books

LUPOFF Richard A. (2005) Master of Adventure: The Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs, University of Nebraska Press

PEARSON Roberta E. & William Uricchio (1991) "Notes from the Batcave: An Interview with Dennis O'Neil", in The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and His Media, Routledge

SCHELLY Bill (2008) Man of Rock: A Biography of Joe Kubert, Fantagraphics Books

STEWART Alan (2022) "Tarzan #207 (April, 1972)", Attack Of The 50 Year Old Comics, published online 26 February 2022

STROUD Bryan (2018) "An Interview With Elliot S! Maggin - A Superman Author Worthy of the S!", nerdteam30.com, published online 20 June 2018

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

WELDON Glen (2013) "The 70s Were Awkward for Superman", The Atantic, 3 April 2013

WOLFMAN Marv (AN) "Speaking with Len Wein Part One", What Th--? Exclamations from The Wolfmanor, published online, date unknown





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uploaded to the web 9 June 2023