The Sizzling 70s!
Back in the day, when comics usually cost me a quarter, (except those thick, fantastic 100 page comics, which were fifty cents, then sixty, then...but, that's another post) I would save as much from my allowance as was humanly possible, then beg a ride off my Dad to Richland, WA. In the beautiful Tri-Cities, in the heart of Eastern Washington, there was only one comic shop. Two towns over. There I was in Pasco, with a ten-dollar bill burning a hole in my pocket, and the nearest back issues were ten miles away. There I was a Capulet in Pasco, when the Montagues in Richland had the good comics. God laughed at me yet again.
I could con my father for a ride about once a month. Anymore than that was pushing that non-custodial parent guilt to the limit. Ah! To be digging through that converted bathroom in The Bookworm one more time! Old used comics piled to the ceiling! Left side Marvel (which, to me, was just too snotty towards my favs at DC, so I skipped them. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had moved on by then and Marvel was opereating on fumes of their 60s output. Anyone though, wishing to send me a complete run of 70's Marvels for, uh...REVIEW purposes, let me know) and the right, stacked, crammed, just plain packed with DC's.
Yes! Searching through the stacks for the thick spines of 'hunnert pagers', finding books I never knew existed.
Which is, of course, the subject of this column. Some of what DC put out was weird enough, (Captain Action? Brother Power the Geek? Sinister House of Forbidden Love!!), but they deserve a post of their own. This post is about the comics stored under the DC's, the comics crammed down and under, the ones I'd pull out when I couldn't find any new old DC's to buy.
The Monsters in the Dells.
They were the Dells, the Atlas', the Towers, the Lighting Comics. None of the titles I'd heard of, no Disney comics, just oddball, left over and ignored. I spent a lot of money on these castoffs, always finding something even stranger than the time before. Like...
Dell. The folks who brought you Disney and Carl Barks. The comics so wholesome, that they were the only company not to carry the 'Comics Code Authority' seal. Dell had the best selling titles, (Donald and Mickey consistently outsold Superman. Take that, fanboys.) and Dell had the characters that parents loved. But no superheroes, nadaone. They didn’t feel the need, they had Uncle Scrooge! But then, a problem arose, a big one; they lost the Disney license when they split with Western Publishing. Dell did the actual publishing, Western had the licenses for those famous characters. Western became Gold Key and kept publishing Donald, Mickey and Super Goof, Dell became, well, Dell. They had to scramble for what they could find. Not only did they need new material right away, they also ran square and hard into Batman. More specifically the Batman TV series and all that surrounded it.
Overnight, there were more superheroes than you could shake an eighty-page giant at. Everyone was suddenly putting out Super Heroes. Dell found itself looking in from the outside. They needed some superheroes, and needed them yesterday. The heroes needed to have name recognition, but couldn't be like anyone else’s (lawsuits, ya know). They found the perfect solution: who could be more famous that Frankenstein and Dracula? (And cheap! they're in the public domain!)
Remember the 'generic' fad of the 70's? You could get a white can of beer, with 'beer' written on it in black, block letters. there were also other food items, clothes, even books, with white covers and the genre written on it in those same fabulous block letters. This pretty much describes these comics.
Scientist by Day, Rip-off by Night
Dracula was a scientist who could turn into a bat, and then turn into the super powered Dracula. He had a female sidekick, Fletta, (in reality B.B. Bebbee. Yeah, I know... ) whose main power seemed to be attracting generic villains to battle Dracula through generic plots. He wore a sort of pseudo-Batman outfit, sans cape, with a Mickey Mouse style cutout for the face. (But they kept the nose covered, making it look like he had an arrow pointing at his mouth.) This series lasted from #2 to #4, and then (give me strength) was reprinted for issues 5-6. This takes recycling to an extreme.
He's Alive! If You Call That Living...
Frankenstein was even worse. No, really. In Frankenstein #2 (like his buddy, Drac, Frank had no #1) we find out that the Universal films had it all wrong. Frankenstein’s castle was not in Bavaria, or Germany, or anywhere near Europe. Uh uh. It was in America all this time. "Somewhere on the outskirts of Metropole City" (I wonder how they thought of that one?), Frankenstein wakes from a convenient 100 year sleep, just happens to have a rubber union suit (emblazoned with a 'F' on it's belt), a human mask (you see, Frank is pink all over, except for his green head, which must have been grafted from the Hulk) and a stylish 1960s suit (Nostradamus is his tailor).
Frankenstein leaves the castle, saves an old man, who then dies, leaving him all his money. So, all in the matter of a few pages, Frank becomes a millionaire playboy, with a mansion, a butler, and a secret identity (can you guess the name he used? Frank Stone, right. Did you peek?)
He saves his Lois Lane, who goes by the name of...Miss Ann Thrope. It hurt me to type that. After vowing war on evil, he fights Mr. Freek, who sorta gives up, so Frank sorta wins, Ann becomes suspicious that Frank Stone is more than he admits to, and the comic ends. This is committee comics at their worst.
There were also three issues of this title, just enough to get the early sales reports into the office.
Die Monster, DIE!
Dell put a heck of a lot of losers on the stands around this time. I didn't even touch on the giant robot Neutro, a comic soooo dull, that those ten-year-old copies of Highlights you find in the dentists waiting room would be more welcome. And there was Nukla, Brain Boy (okay, I kinda like Brain Boy), Werewolf... But, that's for a future installment of... Comics of the STRANGE!!! (Crash! Boom!!)
So, did I buy these beauties? Sure. They cost me a quarter, which was a quarter less than DC's adaptation of the action figure Captain Action cost me. But then Captain Action was good...right?