Friday, April 6, 2012

The Greatest 1950s Stories Ever Told review:

 After the success of The Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told, DC put out this follow up containing stories from the 1950s (what, they couldn’t call these stories the Greatest Atom Age Stories Ever Told?). Because the 1950s saw a great decline in the popularity of super heroes, there was a much wider variety of genres on newsstands, and for the most part, this volume tries to reflect that, containing more non-super hero stuff than its predecessor had.
 Problem is, the super hero stuff is still center stage, to an overwhelming degree.
 Why is that a problem, you ask? Because even though the 1950s saw comparatively little actual super hero output, DC crammed in all the hero stuff it possibly could into this volume, even if it wasn’t in any way representative of the decade. For all its flaws with living up to its “Greatest” title, Greatest Golden Age stories still reprinted enough stories that you got a genuine feel for the 1930s-40’s comic book aesthetic, as well as an ambience of the culture of that era. 1950s Stories has little in the way of that. When I think 1950s, I think hot rods, tail finned cars, malt shops, alien invaders, diners, guys wearing fedoras, over-the-top appraisals of suburban life, and cold war paranoia. Turn right the fuck away if you expect any of that in here. Instead, get ready for randomly chosen stories which, if you didn’t know better, could have come from either the previous decade, or the 60s!
 Oh well, here we go. Just for fun, I’m going to include an extra rating that measures the “fifties-ness” of each story, although it won’t affect the overall score.
Superman & Batman in “The Super Batman” from World’s Finest #77: While trailing a mad scientist who has a machine that absorbs energy (he intends to steal Superman’s powers for himself), Batman gets exposed to the machine and gains Superman’s powers, while Supes himself becomes powerless.
A fun story. The bad guys seem unusually clever and competent, Batman’s inability to handle Superman’s powers is realistically explored (and results in some well-timed humor), and Superman’s attempt to cover up his vulnerability also results in some funny moments. I gotta say that I like Curt Swan’s Batman, who looks far more gothic than was the norm for him in this era, maybe it’s just because the scenes of him flying give Swan an opportunity to have fun drawing the cape.
 Also, check out these bystanders who were obviously recolored for this reprint to look African American, but instead look like they’re in blackface:
 I love it when attempts at diversity end up creating racism where there was none. Such is the folly of the PC brigade. Even funnier, I think that the woman is supposed to be Lois Lane. Wouldn’t be the last time that she did this.
1950s-meter: Some people are seen wearing fedoras, and Superman drives a distinctly 50’s esque car with his logo on it. This image was included on the back cover in monochrome. 2.5/5.
 Rating: 4/5. A fun read that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is a lot more competently plotted than other stories that use the same gimmick.
 Tomahawk in “The Black Cougar” from Star-Spangled Comics #113: In Revolutionary War-era America, a respected warden is really the costumed criminal called Black Cougar.
 Oh, and some guy named Tomahawk is the hero, but he doesn’t appear much in this story.
 Also, is it just me or does the Cougar’s costume look familiar?
1950’s-meter: It’s a period piece, so that doesn’t apply here.
Rating: 3.5/5. An interesting story focusing almost solely on the villain. The last few panels with the Cougar switching his identity to escape almost feel like the kind of escape a super hero would make. I had no idea Tomahawk had any recurring villains outside of Lord Shilling. The Frank Frazetta art is also nice, although the colors bleed into the ink a bit too much and spoil the effect.
 John Jones; Manhunter from Mars in “Escape to the Stars” from Detective Comics #228: John Jones (Martian Manhunter) trails a mad scientist who is trying to create a machine that teleports objects into space, but soon finds himself caught up in a crisis of conscience when he realizes that the scientist’s machine may be the only way he can ever return to his home planet.
 Now this story took me for surprise. I’d always thought that Martian Manhunter was just a typical superhero who had a secret identity as a detective, and that he engaged in actual detective work about as much as Batman (which was almost never). Here, he really is a detective, following clues and coming to conclusions through logic and application. Also, apart from a flashback to his origin, we never see him in Martian form. I’ve done some research, and apparently this was the norm in his early years. I just love the concept; an alien who poses as a human and uses his powers to aid him in otherwise normal detective work. It’s far more interesting than him just turning into his Martian form to fight crime.
 But what also makes this story stand out is John’s moral dilemma. How many other heroes were faced with something like this at the time? Here he’s found his only way to return home, but using it would allow a dangerous criminal to go free, and he’s grown too fond of his adopted planet to let that happen. A pretty interesting conflict at play here.
 1950’s meter: Trenchcoats, fedoras, classic cars and Martians. 3.5/5.
Rating: 5/5. Damn good for it’s time, and prescient of Marvel’s “flawed heroes” approach. Most interesting Martian Manhunter story I’ve ever read. I’ve read mixed reviews for the Showcase editions reprinting Martian Manhunter’s early stories, but now I’m curious to read them in order to see how long this “detective with Martian powers” premise lasted before it became generic superhero stuff.
 Sugar & Spike in “Lobsters Away” from Sugar and Spike #3: Spike gets a pet (baby) lobster, and he and Sugar help return it to the sea.
 Sugar and Spike was a humor title about two babies who spoke in gibberish that only they and other babies could understand, often being smarter than the adults around them. It’s like a precursor of that god-awful Baby Geniuses movie, only actually charming, or Rugrats without porn jokes.
 1950’s meter: An American middle class family can afford to eat lobster at a high class restaurant with a French waiter without it being a special occasion. It depresses me that that has become a thing of the past. Otherwise, not much. 1/5.
Rating: 4/5. Cute.
 Lois Lane in “The Girl in Superman’s Past” from Showcase #9: Lois and Lana Lang meet for the first time. For some reason, Lois allows Lana to room with her and helps her find a job. They then do a lot of weird, suicidal shit in order to get Superman to rescue them, in order to prove that Superman loves one of them more than the other.
 Meh, not much to say here.
 1950’s meter: Women in this story wear 50’s fashion, women in this story sell stoves on TV, women in this story are stupid. Oh yeah, it’s a 50s story. 5/5.
Rating: 3/5. Meh.
 Green Arrow & Speedy in “Mystery of the Giant Arrows” from Adventure Comics #252: A bunch of giant arrows start falling from out of the sky. Green Arrow and Speedy investigate, and find they are coming from another dimension. They hop a ride on one and are whisked off to that other dimension to investigate. Jack Kirby drew all of this, while his wife inked it.
 I know Green Arrow was a Batman ripoff, but I didn’t know that he also ripped off Batman’s silly sci-fi adventures. Kirby’s art is okay, but it lacks a certain passion.
 1950’s meter: This story has weird things coming out of the sky, which reminds me of the song “Purple People Eater”, and you can’t get any more 50’s than that. The arrows symbolically represent missiles, which is what 1950s America feared would land every day. Also, it has reaction shots from a panicked populace (in fedoras). A 1950s story if there ever was one. 5/5.
A scene from countless B-movies.

 Rating: 3/5. Once the novelty of seeing Green Arrow in a sci-fi story drawn by Kirby wears off, there isn’t much to say about it.
 Green Arrow & Speedy in “Prisoners of Dimension Zero” from Adventure Comics #253: ‘Yup folks, the previous one was a two-parter (and you know they wouldn’t have included it if Kirby hadn’t drawn it). In the other dimension, GA and Speedy learn that the arrows were being fired by children (though it’s never resolved whether or not the children will continue to keep firing the arrows or not), then meet up with that dimension’s version of Green Arrow, creatively named “Xeen Arrow”. Xeen Arrow fights a villain and then shoots our heroes back to Earth.
 Despite the fantastic sci-fi setting, the best part of the story is when Green Arrow worries about how if he dies he’ll no longer be able to make appearances at toy stores to autograph things for kids.
 1950’s meter: Not a blip on the radar.
 Rating: 2/5. Well that sure was pointless.
  Congo Bill & Janu in “Gorilla City” from Congo Bill #6: Congo Bill and his sidekick Janu get kidnapped by intelligent gorillas. It’s quite dull, really, if a precursor to the Grodd stories in The Flash.
 The most interesting thing about this story? Janu has been given a dark skin color to imply that he’s a native, but you see, in the original stories, he was white. He’s portrayed as childish, unintelligent, unable to speak except in monosyllables and dependent on Congo Bill, a great white hunter, to help him. Thus, by making Janu black (well, actually, a weird purple-ish hue) in this reprint, DC has made this story extremely racist, whereas if they’d kept his original coloring, this wouldn’t have been an issue at all.
 That’s Political Correctness for you though, making you think while making you laugh, and by ‘laugh’, I mean ‘facepalm’, and by ‘think’ I mean ‘giggle at the irony’.
 1950’s meter: Non-applicable here. Arguably it does show off DC’s gorilla obsession from the 50s, but since this is a jungle series, it isn’t nearly as wacky as other instances of this trope.
 Rating: 2/5.
  Captain Comet in “Devil’s Island in Space” from Strange Adventures #28: An H-bomb mysteriously disappears and Captain Comet investigates, finding it to be the work of some invisible alien criminals who have been exiled to Earth.
 While Captain Comet is sort of a bland character (his power is basically that he’s perfect at everything), all of the stories I’ve read featuring him from his 50’s Strange Adventures run have been gems. This story is well plotted, suspenseful, eerie, and it’s concept of Earth being used as a prison planet manages to be intriguing without shoving a “humans suck” message down our throats. Pretty good.
 1950’s meter: Invisible alien invaders, H-bombs, cold war paranoia. The fifties-ness is strong with this one. 5/5.
 Rating: 4.5/5. Good solid storytelling, an interesting concept and creepy aliens. I want a Captain Comet Archive.
 Nighthawk in “Riddle of the Crystal Ball” from Western Comics #72: In the old west, two criminals named Jed and Lute (sometimes spelled “Luke”) visit a fortune teller to find out the identity of the masked crime fighter Nighthawk. The fortune teller turns out to be Nighthawk himself, who gave away his own secret identity in order to trap the crooks.
 Remember when I briefly talked about western comics that were indistinguishable from super hero comics? This is one of them. This could easily be a Mort Weisinger Superman story in some ways.
 1950’s meter: Inapplicable again because of the setting.
 Rating: 3/5. Slight, but enjoyable. Gil Kane’s art saves it.
 Wonder Woman in “Top Secret” from Wonder Woman #99: Wonder Woman answers fan requests about why she has a secret identity. It turns out she made a bet with Steve Trevor (who constantly calls her “angel”) that she would marry him if he could pick her out anywhere, like in a crowded beach, a costume contest, etc. Hijinks ensue.
 This was surprisingly fun, even though Steve Trevor’s rape face will haunt my dreams. Seriously though, this story wasn’t as obnoxious as similar “romantic games” stories from this era of comics, like the Lois Lane story I’ve already covered, although Steve Trevor’s dialogue sometimes sounds like something a villain would say( “You’ve got until tomorrow noon to outwit me, angel, or be my bride!”). The underrated Ross Andru does a great job, although oddly enough I find his Diana Prince sexier than I do his Wonder Woman.
 Also, even though he’s a guy, the way he constantly (and creepily) calls Wonder Woman “my angel” makes it impossible for me not to hear Steve Trevor’s dialogue in the voice of Jennifer Beals in the movie Vampire’s Kiss: “Dream of me my angel”. Brrrr.

1950’s meter: None.
 Rating: 3.5/5. Fun.
 Blackhawks in “The Raid on Blackhawk Island” from Blackhawk #109: Blackhawk disappears, and the weapons collected in the Blackhawk trophy room are suddenly revitalized and put to use by a villain called the Question Mark. The rest of the Blackhawks fend for themselves.
 I’m not going to give away the ending, but let’s just say that Superman was far from the only hero in this era that was capable of “dickery”. I’d be interested to learn if the weapons in the Blackhawk’s trophy room were actually from previous stories or not.
 1950’s meter: Not a blip.
 Rating: 2.3/5. A decent twist, but tedious to read. That Mad parody of Blackhawk really was one of the most accurate ones they ever did.
 Fox & the Crow in “Three Hundred Dollars” from Fox & the Crow #14: Fox checks his monthly expenses, and realizes that the reason he’s always coming up short on money is because of the Crow. Hijinks ensue as the Crow swindles him yet again.
 Fox and the Crow was a funny animal strip about a crow that was always ripping off a fox through schemes. I’ve gotta say that the ones I’ve seen, including this one, are fairly cleverly plotted. I like how it emphasizes how dumb and malicious the Crow is even though he always wins, unlike in other funny animal cartoons where the “trickster’ character is just a jerk we’re expected to root for without being given any reason to (Jerry the mouse, anyone?).
 1950’s meter: $300 is considered an obscene amount for monthly expenses. Oh, if only it were so (and it probably wasn’t even back then). 2/5.
 Rating: 4/5. Fun, if not exactly on par with Carl Barks’ duck stories.
Superboy in ‘Superboy and the Sleeping Beauty” from Superboy #22: Lana Lang ends up getting pricked by some herbs which put her into a coma, so Superboy arranges a school play of “Sleeping Beauty” in order to make people think Lana is just rehearsing a role.
 It’s as dumb as it sounds. But hey, it has midgets. Midgets in uniform.
 It also has Superboy controlling Lana’s comatose body with strings like a puppet.
 I’m not going to rate this one. You make this story up in your head based off of these images and rate it yourself.
 Viking Prince in “The Hammer of Thor!” from Brave and the Bold #3: Viking chieftain Olaf is captured by the evil Baron Thorvold, who has some sort of grudge against Jon, the Viking Prince. Jon sets out to rescue Olaf by promising to give Thorvold the Hammer of Thor.
 An interesting story which makes me curious to read more about Viking Prince, but the real star here is Joe Kubert’s art. It still looks like a more rugged version of Steve Ditko’s style, but is still quite effective in it’s own right.
 1950’s meter: Inapplicable again.
 Rating: 3.5/5. Quite interesting.
 Aquaman in “The Sorcerer of the Sea” from Adventure Comics #245: Aquaman comes across a showman named Jason Deeter, who claims to have the ability to make sea life do his bidding with Voodoo dolls. He soon demonstrates this ability on a disbelieving Aquaman.
 At this point Deeter seems to be the villain of the story, but all he really wants is to humiliate Aquaman a little, nothing evil. Things change when he is forced by some gangsters to use his powers for crime…
 So far, I was really enjoying this. It’s refreshing to have a villain whose motives are believable, and Ramona Fradon’s art is great; particularly her design for Deeter, with seaweed hair and a face that could easily come from a sea hag. However, this story ends on a cop-out that, well, let’s just say that this story is the comic book equivalent of a 1935 movie called Mark of the Vampire.
 1950’s meter: In pre-industrial waste, pre-Jaws America, more people took to the beaches then than now, so it’s believable that someone like Deeter could attract a large audience. 1/5.
 Rating: 3.5/5. The ending is a bit disappointing, and doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny, but it’s still a lot of fun, mostly for Fradon’s artwork.
 Johnny Peril in “Queen of the Snows” from Sensation Comics #107: Adventurer Johnny Peril becomes obsessed with the legend of Subara, the queen of the snows, and he’ll stop at nothing to prove she exists.
 One of the things that disappointed me about this volume was that they didn’t reprint any anthology horror or sci-fi work from the time. This story suffices nicely, because it’s really an eerie horror story. Johnny’s obsession is believably portrayed, and the story has a wonderfully ambiguous (if cliché) twist. Beautiful art by Alex Toth doesn’t hurt either.
 1950’s meter: Merely fulfilling the horror story quotient makes this count as a “50s-ish” story. After all, the 50’s were renowned for their horror comics. 3/5.
 Rating: 5/5. Great art, good writing and great atmosphere all come together. It reminds me a little of Robert E. Howard’s “The Frost Giant’s Daughter”.
 Batman in “Two-Face Strikes Again!” from Batman #81: Harvey Dent attempts to prevent a bombing, only to become disfigured once again. Two-Face is back for keeps! Mayhem ensues as only Dick Sprang at the height of his talents could depict it.
 On one hand, this story is disappointing in that it treats Two-Face simply as an over-the-top madman with a gimmick and instills in him none of the sympathetic qualities of his early appearances. On the other, this is as close to a definitive Sprang-era Batman story as you can get: Oversized props, weird death traps and a whole lot of bad puns and stupid clues pieced together to form a “mystery”. As in a lot of these stories, Batman comes off as the real villain of the piece because the villain is having so much fun that it becomes infectious. It’s pretty clear that the reason Two-Face was brought back was to capitalize on the 50’s trend for horror comics, as the splash page shows. Or maybe it’s because DC feared someone would rip him off again.

 1950’s meter: Harvey’s scarred visage fills the “50s horror comic’ quotient, plus I just like the subtext of how he becomes Two-Face again: Here’s your seemingly average, seemingly ordinary guy in a suit (not grey flannel though) and fedora with a monster lurking just beneath the surface, with a blast (representing the bomb) that sets his inner fiend loose. That’s pretty 50s for me! 5/5.
 Rating: 4/5. Dick Sprang at his peak.
 Shining Knight in “Knight of the Future” from Adventure Comics #159: Merlin accidentally sends Shining Knight and his sidekick Butch into the future, where Earth has become a vaguely medieval monarchy where “all evil” has been wiped out and weapons are banned. Initially treated as enemies, Shining Knight and Butch overthrow some anarchists. Butch also falls in love.
 Shining Knight was one of those cool, mystical superheroes whose career was frittered away fighting mundane threats, but he became a cult hit when Frank Frazetta drew a handful of his adventures (I had a collection of those, and the covers really tried to sell it as a medieval fantasy, even though most of the stories took place in the present). The art here is okay, but nothing outstanding. The story itself is nothing special, although I do find it odd how dystopian and oppressive this supposedly “perfect” future without weapons is depicted.
 1950’s meter: Visions of the future with flying cars, and an oppressive dictatorship seen as a good thing. Not too fifties, but close. 2.5/5.
 Rating: 3/5.
 Phantom Stranger in “When Dead Men Walk” from Phantom Stranger #1: Three men die in a plane crash, but their ghosts (apparently) have unfinished business, so they go about doing the tasks they had wanted to do in life, albeit in far more sinister ways.
 Like the Aquaman story, this story’s resolution is a bit disappointing (and nonsensical), but it’s fun while it lasts. Infantino’s work here is wonderfully moody. Only some bleed through color which ruins the spooky shadows keeps the story from achieving its full potential, but it works.
 1950’s meter: 50’s jets and 50’s fashion, lovingly illustrated by Carmine Infantino. 3/5.
 Rating: 3.5/5. A story drawn by Infantino during his peak decade is always worth reading.
 Tommy Tomorrow in “Marooned in the Fourth Dimension” from Action Comics #238: Tommy Tomorrow tries to find out if a machine that sends things into the fourth dimension works or not, but ends up stuck there instead as part of a scheme. It’s quite dull, really.
 1950’s meter: Pretty high, actually. Tommy Tomorrow’s future just looks like a slightly futuristic version of the 50’s, with robots that could easily have come from a pulp magazine of the time. 4/5.
 Rating: 2.2/5. Dull, if better plotted than usual. I read that some of Tommy Tomorrow’s stories were drawn by Virgil Finlay. Since it’s obvious that the Frazetta drawn stories in this volume weren’t reprinted because of their literary qualities, why not reprint a Finlay story?
 Johnny Thunder in ‘The Unmasking of Johnny Thunder” from All-Star Western #121: In the old west, crime-fighter Johnny Thunder is secretly schoolteacher John Tane, the sheriff’s son. Sheriff Tane disdains John for being a pacifist and considers Johnny his “true son”. Then one day, Sheriff Tane is apparently killed, and Johnny realizes he’ll never be able to tell his father the truth.
 All I knew about this character coming in was that Alex Toth drew a lot of his adventures (always a plus), that he used hair-dye to protect his secret identity, and along with Tomahawk and Nighthawk (Marvel had kids for their westerns, DC had hawks) was DC’s biggest western hero prior to Jonah Hex. I can see why this strip was so popular, as there’s a really well-executed Father vs. Son dynamic at play here, and one that carries far more emotional weight than the typical “hero poses as a wimp” scenario. The final panel, which in other comics, would be depicted as a knowing wink to the reader, is one of the most quietly somber things I’ve seen in a while.
 On top of that, Alex Toth just draws the hell out of this story. Okay, I want an Archive now.
 1950’s meter: Not really applicable here, although the whole concept of a father wanting his son to be a fighter instead of a pacifist would certainly be relevant in the coming decade!
 Rating: 5/5. Damn good.
 The Flash in “The Coldest Man on Earth” from Showcase #8: I already covered it before. It’s as goofy (and surprisingly educational) as it got back then. 
 It still has no business being called “great”, and isn’t even intrinsically 50’s. Why not reprint the Flash’s own origin story? It’s an undisputed classic, has a great 50’s ambience what with scene in the diner, the radar room, etc. “Around the world in 80 Minutes” from Showcase #13 would also have been a good choice, with a late 50’s Mad-style irreverence to it, and Barry and Iris even go see the 1956 version of Around the World in 80 Days (presumably on re-release).
 “Castoff Love” from Girl’s Love Stories #27: A girl named Nan has been forced her whole life to accept her sister Nola’s used things, even her used boyfriends.
 Now here is where DC really got it right for this volume; we have a story from a non-super hero genre that has no recurring characters, and is perfectly evocative of the era. This is as perfectly 50’s as it gets if you’ve seen soap operas from the time period. It’s cliché, inadvertently sexist while trying to be empowering, the heroine ends up winning the man who would probably be the least likely to be interested in her (for a reason you won’t believe) and the art looks like the stuff Roy Lichtenstein would soon be ripping off. Nola’s mistreatment of Nan is so over-the-top it caused me to have Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? flashbacks.
 1950’s meter: An almost definitive 1950’s romance comic. 5/5.
 Rating: 4/5. So perfectly campy it’s hard to hate. And people criticize superhero comics for having silly dialogue and poor understanding of psychology when they try to be serious. The funny thing? It’s really not much sillier than modern “feminist” indie comics that you see The Comics Journal salivating over.
 King Faraday in “Spy Train” from World’s Finest Comics #64: King Faraday boards the orient express in order to catch a spy, along the way he narrowly evades several attempts on his life and flirts with an actress.
 In an interview, Carmine Infantino once said that one strip he wished he could have developed more was the King Faraday strip, which he felt was ahead of it's time. I agree, every Faraday story I’ve read has been a gem, and I wish it had been developed more. The only real flaws with this story is that the splash page gives away the villain’s identity, and the colorist forgot that Faraday’s hair is white and gave him blond hair.
 1950’s meter: 4/5. Feels like every Hitchcock film and spy story from a men’s adventure magazine of the era rolled into one.
 Rating: 4/5. This stuff really needs to be collected along with Infantino’s Phantom Stranger work.
 Green Lantern in “Summons from Space” from Showcase #23: Hal Jordan battles yellow pterodactyls on Venus. Notable for being the first time Hal was sent on an intergalactic mission, the first time he was contacted by the (unseen) guardians and the debate over who inked this story. My guess is it was Kubert.
 A slight, enjoyable tale, the real saving grace being the art. They should have gone with the Invisible Destroyer story from the same issue instead, as it’s a “great story” in that it features Hal Jordan’s first super villain, and a 50’s story in that it features a cool sci-fi menace, a title that could adorn a B-movie poster easily, and has a bomb going off, complete with mushroom cloud.
 You also have to wonder why they even bothered to include any Green Lantern stories at all, since the character only appeared in two issues during the whole decade, both at the very end of ’59. See what I mean about this volume just being a slapdash showcase for hero stuff?
 1950’s meter: Not a blip.
 Rating: 3.3/5.
 Sgt. Rock in “Calling Easy Co!” from Our Army at War #87: Sgt. Rock recalls the time he sent four men on a mission and found several cracked the next day, while one became an unlikely hero.
 As with most Sgt. Rock stories, it’s not really the plot that matters here, it’s the grit, the mood, and the attempts to capture the grittiness of military life, including the monotony. It’s not the kind of thing one wants to read often, but something has to be said for reading it every once in a while.
 1950’s meter: Hey, it’s a period piece, so the use of the meter here is inapplicable.
 Rating: 3.5/5.
 Jimmy Olsen in “The Jimmy Olsen from Jupiter” from Superman’s Pal; Jimmy Olsen #32: Jimmy Olsen gets turned into an alien, covers himself in bandages, and discovers he can read minds. Hijinks ensue.
 Man, they really had to cover the whole damn “Superman family” of titles, didn’t they? Oh well, this is surprisingly fun if you don’t take it too seriously.
 1950’s meter: Aliens, Superman being mentioned as a TV and movie star (this was shortly before George Reeve’s died) and Jimmy watches what he thinks is a sci-fi movie on a late night TV show. 50’s enough for me. 3.5/5.
Rating: 3/5. Watching Jimmy use and abuse his newfound powers is fun.
 Challengers of the Unknown in “Secret of the Sorcerer’s Box” from Showcase #6: Obnoxious scientist Reed Richards, shy Sue Storm, hot-headed Johnny Storm and brutish, nasty Ben Grimm steal a rocket and get exposed to cosmic rays, which gives them the powers of elasticity, invisibility, self-immolation, and being ugly. They then fight a villain named the Mole Man.
 …..At least, that’s what overzealous Kirby fanboys say the story is about, and they also say that that uncreative hack Snidely Whiplash Stan Lee went and ripped it off by changing the title to ‘Fantastic Four”. Hmmm, actually, this story seems to be about four bland, all male adventurers who survive a plane crash and then decide to engage in suicide missions for the hell of it, eventually taking on a modern-day sorcerer named Morelian, who gets them to open a box containing bizarre horrors within.
 I don’t see much resemblance between the two, but what do I know?
 1950’s meter: Giant monsters, suicidal stunts not being performed by idiots on MTV and idiots who watch MTV, and people actually giving a shit about radio shows. Pretty good. 3/5.
 Rating: 3.5/5. Fun, but don’t believe the hype about FF being an inferior rip off of this.
 So there you have it, a volume which only features a handful of great stories, and most of them barely even qualify as 50’s stories either in tone (or in date). Oh, it’s not a terrible collection by any means, or one you should pass up (some of the stories within have never been reprinted elsewhere), but it falls flat compared to it’s predecessor volume. I give it 3.5/5.

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