Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

A few comic-book scenes and the stories attached to them.

The first is from Strange Tales #151, a coda to my fascination with the Secret Empire arc.

In the previous issue, socialite and new Supreme Hydra Don Caballero (which even for a pseudonym is almost as lazy as “the Organizer“) invited Nick Fury to a glamorous party which was, of course, a Hydra trap. In this issue, with Jim Steranko doing the art with Jack Kirby, Caballero changes his mind: as Fury knows he’s Hydra and he knows Fury knows, he’ll dispense with the party and attack Fury on arrival. It’s a solid, action packed story but there’s this one scene —“None so crafty … none so wise”? That sounds like the kind of thing Ka-Zar was saying to Zabu a few months earlier. Who the heck calls a crime boss “wise?”

Then there’s the reveal Caballero is not the Grand Imperator of Them — he’s head of Hydra! This would have more punch if anyone had ever mentioned a Grand Imperator before, but nobody did. Them has always appeared as a council of sinister, shadowy figures with no identifiable leader. Besides, as Le Messor has pointed out in multiple comments, there’s not enough difference between the two to care. Caballero might as well have gloated that “Fury assumes I lead the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks — little does he know, I belong to the Shriners!”

Still, the story is good, which cannot be said of “Animal Man — Hero or Freak?” in Strange Adventures #195. Jack Sparling replaced Carmine Infantino on the art and that’s a big step down, plus the villains in Dave Wood’s story are dull, generic hoods. But there’s this bit.Given Animal Man’s power set at the time this is remarkably sensible planning. Way more sensible than most heroes. It also sets up the twist in the story that when A-Man corners the hoods at the zoo, it turns out it’s been temporarily closed and the animals relocated. Not to worry, our hero still kicks the gang’s butts (generic hoods, remember?), then vows not to stop until he’s wiped crime from the face of the Earth. Good for you Buddy, setting big goals.

Next up, a story from Detective Comics #359 you’ve probably all heard of, “The Million-Dollar Debut of Batgirl.” Knowing Batgirl was slated for the TV series, Julie Schwartz had Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino introduce her in the comics first. While yet another example of the TV show’s effect on the comics, the million bucks refers not to the boost in DC’s revenue but to the amount of money Killer Moth has already extorted from Gotham City’s rich by the time the story starts. Having Killer Moth call his henchmen Larva and Pupa also feels very like the TV show.

The story is curiously old-fashioned in some ways. It’s the next-to-last gasp of “I beat up criminals while dressed for a costume party — I’ll keep wearing this costume to fight crime!” as an origin (the only later one I know was the Crimson Avenger and I assume that was deliberately retro). And the ending panel is the kind of joke moment comics had shown hundreds of times by then.

On the other hand, Fox writes martial arts better (slightly) than most writers of the Silver Age. He gives Babs a specific martial arts move at one point rather than just “judo!” or “karate chop!” and he makes her a brown belt; most writers seem to think if you’re not a black belt, you’re a wuss. It’s a faint foreshadowing of the martial arts explosion to come in the Bronze Age.

But the panel I really want to show is this one:A plain Jane? Seriously? Anyone who looks that hot, even in Princess Leia buns and glasses, should be fighting them off with a stick (“I have $300 worth of overdue books Ms. Gordon — I’d do anything to avoid paying the fines!” Wait, did I say that out loud?). Later she says Bruce Wayne thinks of her as “mousy”; I can understand Bruce not hitting on his friend’s daughter but I can’t imagine him leaving her thinking “I’m mousy.”

#SFWApro. Art top to bottom by Steranko and Kirby, Romita and Kirby, Jack Sparling and Infantino


  1. Dalaska

    How much of a dick is Gordon in that scene?

    “At least I can do my job without having to signal to Batman for help every single month, Dad”

    1. Jeff Nettleton

      It’s a product of the times, starting with the cliche of the mousy, spinster librarian. Just look at the alternate world of It’s A Wonderful Life, where Mary is an “old maid,” and runs the library. Like Donna Reed was not going to attract men, except Jimmy Stewart. To be fair, some of the eye glasses of that age really did not flatter women (or men, really) and hair and make-up, of the age, was less sophisticated. It’s more that Carmine drew pretty women (as did most, but not all comic artists of the era) and it was kind of hard to downplay facial features in line art. Hollywood, by contrast, could do it better, with wigs and make-up and lighting. Look at Tina Louise, in the Eva Grubb episode of Gilligan’s Island. When she first arrives, she is wearing conservative clothes, has a dark wig on, pulled into a bun, is made up plainly and has heavy glasses that hide her eyes. When you get a close-up, you cn see Tina Louise’s natural beauty; but, at most angles, she is very “plain, ” compared to “Ginger” and even compared to Mary Ann. Plus, Tina plays her as very timid and depressed. Of course, the Batman tv series wasn’t about to do that, with Yvonne Craig. She was there for sex appeal, under a mask or in civies.

      1. Acting can make a huge difference. Famke Janssen looks great when she’s playing the shy, awkward teacher in The Faculty but she conveys enough of the awkwardness and insecurity that I can buy it. Then she gets infected by the aliens and presto, she’s got a swagger (“Fuck with me again and I’ll shove my foot so far up your ass you’ll be sucking on my toes until graduation.”).

  2. Jeff Nettleton

    After his defeat, Don Caballero left HYDRA and started up a small tv station, then expanded it into a network, which led him into a war, with the other networks…..

  3. Le Messor

    I don’t get the ‘Don Caballero’ reference? I’d translate Caballero as ‘knight’, but I don’t actually know what ‘Don’ means?

    Wait… I get a cameo in this article? 😀

    1. Der

      I think that in this case(based on those images at least and the poses), “Caballero” was used more as “gentleman” than knight. Caballero is mostly used for that, to indicate that someone is acting like a gentleman, educated, “suave” if you will. And Don can be used as something like an honorific? I know that you can say “el Don”(the Don, this is in a really informal setting) or “Don”(this is more respectful) to refer to someone older than you(way older, if the person is like 2-5 years older and you call it “el Don” is more in jest than with respect)

      So I suppose that in this case, Don Caballero is an alias and the dude just want to be known as the suavest gentleman ever?

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