DC COMICS SUPER-PACs   The early 1960s brought both good and bad major changes for the comic book industry. The hugely successful comeback of the superhero genre created a streak of new opportunities and creativity. At the same time, however, small stores which had carried comic books for decades 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 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 display racks, which enhanced the product appeal even more. It didn't 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 throughout the 1970s.

  This February (D-2) 1973 DC SUPER PAC bundles together Detective Comics #432, Superboy #193, and Action Comics #421, making it an all-out superhero comicpack featuring two flagship DC characters (Superman and Batman).

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-2" therefore denotes the fourth February 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 - which in reality was the common fate of the average comic book reader in the 1970s Bronze Age, whether their comic books came packaged in a plastic bag or as single issues from a display or spinner rack.

But since DC's editorial at large (unlike their major competitor Marvel) still very much embraced the "single issue, done in one" storyline during the early 1970s, missing an issue of Batman or Superman often didn't even matter, since every issue would start with a brand new story anyway (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 mostly restricted to in-house ads.


Detective Comics #432





February 1973
On Sale:
28 December 1972

Editor - Julius Schwartz
Cover - Dick Giordano (pencils & inks)

BATMAN: "The Great Rip-Off Mystery!" (15 pages)
Story - Frank Robbins
Pencils - Bob Brown
Inks - Murphy Anderson
Lettering - Ben Oda (uncredited)

ATOM: "Suddenly... the Witness Vanished!" (8 pages)
Story - Elliot Maggin
Pencils - Murphy Anderson
Inks - Murphy Anderson

PLOT SUMMARIES - Batman investigates the puzzling murder of a courier carrying a briefcase full of torn halves of paper currency. The Atom deduces that the sudden disappearance of a witness in court is linked to a ripple in time and travels back a hundred years to the past himself.

It had all started on November 26th 1969, when Detective Comics #395 hit the news stands with a cover date of January 1970. It was the first issue of DC's namesake flagship title written by Dennis O'Neil and drawn by Neal Adams, and the Batman was about to change in a fundamental way as he returned to his darker and more mysterious roots.
Other writers and artists were already taking Batman down that path at the time, but it was O'Neil's concept that hit home with readers and Batman editor Julie Schwartz alike.

"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)

This also resulted in underscoring the investigative side of the Batman character - effectively creating the Darknight Detective.

"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 #432 is an example of how Frank Robbins handled this approach, which often also directly involved readers in the puzzle solving process - matching wits and detection skills, so to speak, with the Batman.
This was done by pointing out that something depicted in the artwork or mentioned in the dialogue contained a vital clue. The puzzle question put to the readers was then either answered directly on the next page or later on in the story by showing the Batman put the bits and pieces together.

Robbins, who was both an artist and a writer, started working for DC in 1968 and almost immediately took over the scripting reigns for both Batman and Detective Comics. Together with Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams, Frank Robbins and artist Irv Novick are credited with returning the Batman to his darker roots and making him a more brooding character.


Frank Robbins

The clue to be picked up by readers here was the fact that the attaché-case was obviously bullet-proof - and since Batman took notice of that, he would later on be able to use the briefcase as a shield when a mobster pulled a gun on him.

The "can you solve the puzzle?" approach mostly 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 have the tag-line "Thrilling Mystery Tales" on the covers of Detective Comics.

The visuals of most DC characters were still very much streamlined at the time, resulting in the (in)famous "DC house style".

"DC artists were forced to work within an established house style that governed the page layout as well as the look of the artwork." (Tucker, 2017)

The Batman titles had been slowly shaking off some of the more stringent restrictions since 1969. New visual aspects of the Batman had been defined, and editor Julius Schwartz now made sure that they were adhered to.

As a result, the actual artist chosen to draw a specific issue had a somewhat limited impact on what readers at the time would perceive.

Bob Brown (1915-1977) started his career in comic books in the 1940s, and did regular work for DC and Marvel in the early and mid-1970s, including almost 40 issues of Batman in Detective Comics between 1968 and 1973, with issue #432 being his second to last. Brown, like a number of other veteran contributors at DC Comics in the early 1970s, increasingly found his work to be labelled as "old-fashioned".

"It wasn't so much that Brown couldn't take a more modern approach to his work as that he just plain didn't understand what that meant. Editors kept showing him the work of new artists, he told me. They'd say, "This is what we want now," but Brown couldn't grasp just what it was he was supposed to learn from the examples, which often struck him as displaying weak anatomy, poor perspective and other fundamental errors.  It was almost like they were telling him that "Kids relate to crude artwork" and he knew it wasn't that." (Evanier, 2004)

It was a tough time for Brown. His art for Batman in Detective Comics was mostly solid, and he did attempt to add a few dynamic features (such as having the artwork break out of the panels).

The back-up feature in Detective Comics would change frequently during that period, but a common theme of detective work was maintained. In this case, the Atom (billed as "the world's smallest sleuth") solves a case that is somewhat more "DC superhero-ish" than other back-up features (such as Gotham private investigator Jason Bard, who had occupied that slot in the previous issue of Detective Comics) - not the least because the short (8 pages) story involved time-travel as its major plot linchpin.

Both the story by newcomer Elliot Maggin (who had only started to write for DC in 1972 and 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) and the artwork by veteran Murphy Anderson (who had started working for DC in the 1950s) have a nice flow to them - and the splash page featuring vignettes that form the name ATOM is definitely a nice touch.

The Atom story also features clues that lead up to the solution and subsequent explanation of the strange happenings, but they are simply presented within the story and without directly putting them to the readers as a brain teaser - which, given the very specialised local history knowledge needed to connect the dots, would most likely only have served to frustrate everybody. But, just like the better classic crime novels from the 1930s and 1940s, the stories and mysteries in Detective Comics were always played fairly - the clues could indeed be spotted, so in essence the readers always had the same knowledge as the protagonists did.
Jason Bard would return as back-up feature for the next issue of Detective Comics, and the Atom would feature next in Action Comics #425.

  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. With a bit of luck, you could therefore continue reading the Batman's detective adventures (albeit in true DC style without any plot continuity) from the previous issue, Detective Comics #431.




February 1973
(monthly, except January, March, July and November)
On Sale:
26 December 1972

Editor - Murray Boltinoff
Cover - Nick Cardy (pencils & inks)

SUPERBOY: "The Million-Dollar Double-Cross!" (13 pages)
Story - Cary Bates
Pencils - Bob Brown
Inks - Murphy Anderson

LEGION: "War between the Nights and Days!" (10.5 pages)
Story - Cary Bates, Nick Pascale (original idea)
Pencils - Dave Cockrum
Inks - Dave Cockrum

PLOT SUMMARIES - Suberboy's friend Pete Ross lures a criminal gang out of hiding by pretending to reveal Superboy's secret identity. The Legion has to broker peace between the two factions of planet Pasnic, one of which lives in perpetual sunlight, the other half in perpetual darkness.

Superboy, the youthful incarnation of Superman, was introduced in 1944 in More Fun Comics #101 and gained his own book in 1949; Superboy #193 belongs to this first volume of the title. From its inception the title Superboy was applied to Superman's adventures as a boy, teenager or young adult. The primary setting for the stories was Smallville, but some plots would stretch the locale to universities attended by Clark Kent or even as far afield as time-travel to the 30th Century for adventures with the Legion of Super-Heroes..
Superboy became only the sixth DC superhero to receive his own comic book when Superboy #1 (March–April 1949) was published. Over the years, the title would see the first appearances of a number of other DC (supporting) characters, and according to, Superboy often was the second-best selling superhero title throughout the Silver Age. The character and its various adaptations (which would also include Superbaby) have also been credited with popularizing the prequel (Barnett, 2020).

Before receiving his own title, Superboy was briefly moved from More Fun Comics to Adventure Comics as of issue #103 (April 1946), but even after starring in Superboy as of 1949 the character continued as the main feature of Adventure Comics throughout the 1950s, and it was in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958) that the Legion of Super-Heroes, a group of superpowered beings living in the 30th and 31st centuries, made its first appearance, beginning a close connection with the Superboy character; during the 1960s Adventure Comics even gained the tag line "featuring Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes".

The Legion moved to the lead spot as of Adventure Comics #309 (June 1963) with 1950s Superboy reprint stories as back-ups until making Adventure Comics a Legion-only title as of issue #346 (July 1966).

This lasted until Adventure Comics #380 (May 1969), when the Legion was relegated to back-up status and moved to Action Comics for issues #377-392 (June 1969 - September 1970).

Following a short hiatus, the Legion then began appearing occasionally as a backup in Superboy, starting with issue #172 (March 1971).



Superboy #193 featured a textbox on the cover reading "Plus: A New Legion of Super-Heroes Saga"; beginning with issue #197, this would evolve into the subtitle "Starring the Legion of Super-Heroes". It also, in some ways, signalled a (slow) changing of the guard at DC Comics; whilst the Superboy story is pencilled and inked by veterans Bob Brown and Murphy Anderson, the Legion back-up features artwork and inks by newcomer Dave Cockrum (whose highly acclaimed debut on pencils was the Legion feature in Superboy #184 in April 1972).

  Superboy featured in several of DC's SUPER PACs (a total of 6 issues in 1973 alone), potentially providing continued reading of the adventures of Superboy over several issues, albeit of course without any plot continuity (and potentially changing back-up features, such as Superbaby in the previous issue, Superboy #192, contained in the D-12 December 1972 SUPER PAC).




February 1973
On Sale:
28 December 1972

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

SUPERMAN: "The Fantastic Feats of Captain Strong!" (15.66 pages)
Story - Cary Bates
Pencils - Curt Swan
Inks - Murphy Anderson

GREEN ARROW: "The Headline Maker!" (8 pages)
Story - Elliot Maggin
Pencils - Sal Amendola
Inks - Dick Giordano

PLOT SUMMARIES - An old sailor discovers a plant from a distant planet that gives him temporary super powers that rival those of Superman, whom he idolizes, but becomes addicted to it until Superman helps him drop the habit. In Star City, Green Arrow not only helps Dinah Lance open her new flower shop but also provides her with headline publicity by taking down a hitman in front of her store.

When Action Comics #421 hit the newsstands (and the 1973 D-2 Super-Pac), the Man of Steel's adventures were commonly in the hands of writers Cary Bates and Elliot Maggin; in this case, Bates wrote the Superman story and Maggin penned the Green Arrow back-up.
Cary Bates belonged to a number of DC Comics fans who turned writers at a very young age in the late 1960s and early 1970s, starting to submit ideas for comic book covers at the age of 13 (some of which were bought and published) and selling stories to DC when he was just 17 years old (Eury, 2013).

"When I sold my first script in the fall of '66 I was a freshman in college in Ohio. My parents started having financial problems around that time, so had it not been for my writing I would not have been able to continue paying tuition… so it would not be inaccurate to say Superman put me through college. I graduated with an English degree, which would have probably led me into teaching had I stayed in the real world, but I chose to move to New York to continue writing comics full time." (Bates in Stroud, 2011)

But whilst the scripting of Superman and other major DC characters was entrusted to younger newcomers such as Bates and Maggin, the artists involved belonged to the previous generation of DC staffers who had been working for the company for decades. This in essence teamed up former fans with the comic book pencillers and inkers whose work they had enjoyed as young readers, and the age gap was always there - most visibly so when it came to attire.

Cary Bates

Curt Swan

Murphy Anderson

Sal Amendola

  Whereas Bates and Maggin sported long hair and casual clothes, veterans such as Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson would always be seen wearing shirts and dark ties. The relaxed appearance of the younger staff was only accepted reluctantly by the veteran DC editors, and there were certain limits.

"Whenever I came up to the DC offices to see [Mort Weisinger], he insisted I wear a tie (...) Mort once told me he didn't want Jack Liebowitz (DC's owner back in the day) to walk by his office to see him talking to some"hippie". But on the plus side at least he didn't ask me to get a haircut." (Bates in Stroud, 2011)

Working with the same creative talent that had left its mark on DC's 1950s and 1960s output was also a somewhat mixed blessing.

"I especially enjoyed my Superman and Flash stories with Swan and Infantino, since I was a big fan of both artists when I was reading DC comics as a kid (...) but in retrospect though I will say it might have been better for my career if I had worked with a wider range of artists, especially some of the younger up-and-comers of the era." (Bates in Stroud, 2011)

Long-standing Superman artists Curt Swan (pencils) and Murphy Anderson (inks) both produced work that not only conformed to the DC house style 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)

By the time the early 1970s rolled around this was relaxed a bit, at least when it came to back-up features. The Green Arrow feature in Action Comics #421, however, only deviates from the "clean" DC style in some places.

Sal Amendola was born in Italy and started working in DC's production department in 1969, aged 21,where he did colouring, inking and lettering before taking over a handful of assignments as a penciller. His art for the Green Arrow back-up in Action Comics #421 would, however, remain his only work for that title.

Amendola's claim to DC fame is the Batman story "Night of the Stalker!" which he plotted and pencilled; based on an idea by Neal Adams, it was originally rejected by Batman editor Julius Schwartz and only published several years later after Archie Goodwin had become the Batman editor. Finally published in Detective Comics #439 (February 1974), it has gained the reputation of being one of the most outstanding Batman short stories ever.


But there was trouble brewing in the Superman Universe. Julius Schwartz had only taken over the editorial reigns of Action Comics two issues previously, 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).

Possibly the most problematic aspect, however, were the villains: mostly far fetched, convoluted, and bland. Captain Strong is somewhat different, but ultimately the character and the story come across as "cute" more than anything else, and extremely sanitized.

The very much tongue-in-cheek cover depicting Superman trapped in the iconic telephone box / phone booth, however, is topnotch - Nick Cardy clearly having fun taking the mickey out of a classic Superman cliché.

But overall, unless you were a die-hard Superman fan, a lot of those stories didn't really seem to go anywhere relevant. In comparison to Marvel's output, the Superman fare also seemed to be very much on the meek and mild side. 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), but in the case of the Green Arrow story in Action Comics #421, this too lacks any kind of edge to it.

  Fans of Action Comics would not be able to find the next issue in any DC SUPER-PAC and would have to wait for Action Comics #423, packaged into the D-4 (April) 1973 three-pack.

  "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.
  An overview and analysis of all the 1973 Super Pacs is available here.

BARNETT David (2020) "From ‘Endeavour’ to the resurrection of Nurse Ratched: Why we love a prequel", The Independent, 27 September 2020

EURY Michael (2013) "A Super Salute to Cary Bates", Back Issue! #62, TwoMorrows

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

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

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

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

STROUD Bryan (2011) "Cary Bates Interview",, published online 14 October 2011

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



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uploaded to the web 18 February 2024