Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

DC’s sensational character finds of 1965!

(Or more precisely the end of 1964 through the beginning of 1966, going, as usual, by cover dates).

One of the joys of my Silver Age reread is when I discover how much it helps me appreciate characters such as Metamorpho. That debut cover looked so fricking weird back then: not only does Metamorpho himself look peculiar (even discounting he ewears Fruit of the Looms for a costume), but he defeats the giant with the metal bars by … turning into a mass of Silly Putty?

In the years since his debut we’ve had Nightcrawler, Ghost Rider, Swamp Thing, Man-Thing and countless other strange-looking heroes. They were much less of a thing in the Silver Age so Metamorpho’s appearance packed a real punch. Plus he has an interesting backstory β€” soldier-of-fortune Rex Mason could have held his own with the Challengers of the Unknown or Nick Fury easily enough β€” and a colorful supporting cast. Simon Stagg, for instance, is a dry run for post-Crisis Luthor, a corrupt millionaire, scientific genius and all around rotten dude. Though as the series went along, he became less ominous and more of a buffoon.

Then there’s Beast Boy, later Teen Titans’ Changeling, who crops up in Doom Patrol #99. In some of his reminiscences about the Silver Age, Stan Lee portrayed Rick Jones as a radical break from conventional teen sidekicks, a teenage rebel and trouble maker. But despite his sneaking onto the gamma bomb test site, and thereby leading to Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk, Rick was otherwise a straight arrow, as loyal to the Hulk/Banner as Robin to Batman.

Garfield Logan, on the other hand, was what Lee imagined Rick was. A mouthy, insubordinate kid with a chip on his shoulder, snapping insults at the Doom Patrol even as he begged to join them. In fairness, he had his reasons: parents dead, outcast at school for his green skin, a guardian who graduated from the Charles Dickens School For Corrupt Caregivers.

I liked Gar precisely because I was a well-behaved kid who would never have gone around snapping at people like that or tossing off wisecracks at authority figures … but man, I would have liked to.

And speaking of kids, January 1966 brought us “Dial H for Hero” in House of Mystery. While I didn’t pick it up for several more issues, it instantly became my favorite book. A big part of that was that I was guaranteed at least two and usually three all-new superheroes per issue. In hindsight, I suspect Robby Reed probably appealed to me too. A few years older than me, an incredibly smart science whiz (that would be me some day!) but unlike most nerd characters he’s also up for fun with his friends, such as a soapbox derby this issue.

Robby was also the rare Silver Age teen hereo who was neither a sidekick nor spinoff of an established character. Of course that’s true of the Legion of Super-Heroes but they never felt like kids to me (not meant as a put-down β€” they were a favorite of mine too). I don’t think Spider-Man felt like a kid either, as Peter Parker worked a day job and helped support Aunt May (keep in mind I only read a little Spider-Man back then). I do wonder if Spidey was an influence on Dial H, as Robby living with his grandfather for unexplained reasons seems to mirror Peter’s situation.The debut of “The Man With Animal Powers” in Strange Adventures looked like just one more story in the I Had A Weird Adventure genre of SF and horror comics. It has a complete arc – protagonist Buddy (no last name) gets freak powers, fights off an alien, finally finds the courage to propose to his girlfriend. But four issues later we got to see “The Return of the Man With Animal Powers” β€” could they have reacted to good sales fast enough to decide on a sequel? Or was that the plan all along? Rereading, it struck me that using Carmine Infantino β€” at the time working on nothing but Flash and Detective Comics β€” might indicate they had ambitions for Buddy beyond one issue (the sequel was by Gil Kane, another A-lister).

I loved Animal Man because I loved animals. I was convinced my destiny lay in some field of life science and having animal abilities made Buddy about as cool as possible. Though at the time, not enough people thought so β€” it wouldn’t be until Grant Morrison that Animal Man rose above the C-List.

Immortal Man’s debut in Strange Adventures #177 also looks to me like a one-shot that they saw had potential. A young man baffled by his strange knowledge of history discovers “I Lived a Hundred Lives” thanks to a magic pendant,Β  His prehistoric, magical tribe (I don’t know if anyone’s ever linked them to Zatanna’s Homo magi ancestors but someone should) gave him the pendant so that he could live on into the future, helping ordinary humans with his abilities. At the finish of the story he sacrifices himself, knowing he’ll live again β€” though unlike this story, where he starts as a baby, he always reincarnates as an adult after that (which certainly makes the plotting easier).

While those are the big names for the year, I will note a couple more. First, Adventures of Bob Hope attempted to boost flagging sales by having Bob get a job at Benedict Arnold High to watch over his super-square nephew Tad. When Tad is angered, however, he transforms into Super-Hip, the ultra-cool, ultra-obnoxious guitarist-cum-shapeshifter (don’t make Tadwallader angry. Nobody likes him when he’s angry).

In the end it turned out the Benedict Arnold faculty, modeled on Universal’s classic monsters, were more popular than Super-Hip (or so I’ve read) and squeezed him out. Not that it saved the book.

Mystery in Space gave us Ultra, the Multi-Alien. Space pilot Ace Arn crashes on an alien world used as the basis for that solar system’s crime ring. The four leaders all zap Arn with a ray device that can turn matter from outside the system into an obedient clone. The result was four cloned quarters of Arn’s body while his mind remained independent. I’m fond of Ultra but he didn’t last anywhere near as long as Adam Strange β€” or even Space Ranger.

I was going to wrap up this post by discussing the debut of the villain Egg Fu in Wonder Woman but to do full justice to that bit of batshittery will take more space than I feel like using here. So tune in tomorrow …

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Fradon, Bruno Premiani, Jim Mooney, Infantino, Bernard Bailey, Robert Oksner and Lee Elias.


  1. JHL

    I seem to recall DC took another swing at Immortal Man awhile back, maybe for the New 52.

    Back in the 80’s I picked up an Omnibus at a used book store that collected old DC Space and General Sci-Fi stuff. Space Cabby, Atomic Knights, etc. That’s the only place I can remember ever running across Ultra, the Multi-Alien.

  2. I have a couple of Ultra stories but not the origin, though I’ve read it. Commander Benson sums up his career well (https://captaincomics.ning.com/forum/topics/from-the-archives-deck-log-entry-75-dc-s-newest-bizarre-hero) though I do like the loser villain who appears in the final story (“Well I’ve failed to conquer any worlds so I’ll conquer this empty planet, then kidnap people to become my subjects. That’s just as evil, right?”).

    1. Le Messor

      Do you ever glance at names and then conflate them wrongly in your head? Because for half a second there I read Orlando Bloom and Elijah Wood, and I was back in Middle Earth.

      But thanks for the quick answer. πŸ™‚

  3. It baffles me that a Bob Hope comic existed in mid/late 1960s, let alone if it was any good or not.
    I’m not American but would any self respecting USA “cool/hip” kids (or even “ordinary” ones) by then like, or had even heard of, a guy who started in show biz what, 30 years previously?
    Were DC running out its Bob Hope comic license or just flogging a dead horse? Oh well it briefly had some Neal Adams art at the end, anyway.
    Jerry Lewis comes to mind too but Hope was much earlier: the first Road To… films were 1938/40 without checking?

    1. Bob Hope was still making movies in the 1960s (way below his best work) and β€” perhaps more important for name recognition β€” he was making regular TV specials, and would do so into the early 1970s. That’s where I knew him from so I assume other kids would know him too.
      As to what young kids β€” still DC’s target audience β€” made of the comic I don’t know. Lowbrow slapstick has always been a reliable laugh-getter for that demographic but I doubt DC would have shaken up the formula if sales weren’t going down. If they thought Super-Hip would appeal to a teen audience, I imagine they were mistaken (as witness the monster parodies, as noted, proved more popular).
      Hope’s fame really kicked off with The Big Broadcast of 1938 so yes, his career did go back a long way. But lots of careers stood the test of time β€” when I was a teenager in the 1970s, I knew plenty of girls who swooned over young Cary Grant.

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