Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

The Archie super-hero digests: cool, or just weird?

It’s been a while since I posted anything here – real life has been kind of slamming me, mainly in the form of piles of work that I’m still sort of digging myself out of. I have several half-written posts that have been collecting dust since last December/January, and I fully intend to get to them, but I decided to ease into it by writing about something that’s near and dear to my heart (and I’m happy that this post coincides with favorite national public holiday in Croatia, Antifascist Struggle Day).

Anyway, it should be no secret at this point that I’m a big fan of digests. A really big fan. (Like, really.) I’d say my first love back in the day were the DC digests that reprinted all kinds of Silver Age and, occasionally, Bronze Age superhero goodness, but also a little horror, war, SF and even humor. But even before that, when I was in my brief Archie phase, my favorite books they published were, in fact, the digests. And back in the late 1970s, Archie Comics published two digests that, compared to the rest of its digest line at the time, were really odd ducks. The second one, though, has always been one of my favorite ever.

I’m talking, of course, about the two super-hero digests, published in 1978 and 1979 respectively.

The first one, Archie’s Super Hero Special, aligns more with what digests were at the time, in that all of the comics were reprint stories. It also seems more like a typical Archie book, in that about half of its contents feature the regular Archie characters, albeit exclusively those in which they assume their occasional super-hero identities, like Pureheart and Evilheart (alias Archie and Reggie)…

…or Captain Hero (Jughead).

Most of the remaining stories feature the super-heroes that originally appeared from the late 1950s through the mid-1960s in the Archie Adventure Series line. So there’s Simon & Kirby’s revamped version of the Shield…

…and the Black Hood…

…and Jaguar.

And there’s also some material from Archie’s Red Circle horror books, mainly one-page stories or features like this ‘essay’ (by Phil Sueling no less, and illustrated by Gray Morrow):

But also a six-page story drawn by Stan Goldberg, which I found really interesting.

All in all, though, a sort of unusual mix of stories, but one that really provides bang for the buck (a little less actually) that you would have paid for it at the time.

Then a year later, this weird and wonderful book was released, under the title Archie’s Super-hero Comics Digest Magazine:

The selection of stories here is even more eclectic than in the preceding volume, with only a few of the light-hearted teen super-hero stories, including Superteen (Betty Cooper) herself…

Most of this book, though, is dedicated to more or less serious superhero fare, with more reprints from the late ‘50s and ‘60s…

Like the Fly and the Web – it’s an effort not to make some dad-joke level remark about the former getting caught in the latter

What makes this one so unique, and also blew my little just turned 11 year-old mind when I first picked it up, is the new material. First and foremost, there’s several Black Hood stories, in which the character has an entirely new look (the bright yellow costume pictured above has been ditched) and the stories are quite gritty. But the most notable aspect is the art by, e.g., Gray Morrow:

And Neal friggin’ Adams:

And remember, this was printed in the same book as the all-ages Superteen story sampled above

(The Black Hood stories were, I believe, reprinted in that burst of Red Circle super-hero publishing launched by Archie Comics, and shepherded by Rich Buckler, in the early 1980s.)

And that’s not all. The digest also had some horror(ish) stories, with art by the likes of Wally Wood and Jesse Santos:

The second story is even scripted by Tom DeFalco

So that’s it. I hope I conveyed how fascinating these two digests, especially the second one, are, and how much I always enjoyed picking them up occasionally and reading them all the way through or at least a few favorite stories.

Also, since it’s the beginning of what looks like a long, hot summer over here, it seemed particularly appropriate to talk about these because I always associate the second book in particular with hot summer days. You see, I first bought it at a giant newsstand in downtown LA on a hot, hazy day during a family trip – and then read in the back seat the car during the long drive back to Oregon on I-5. In July. Ooof.

So if you find these somewhere for a reasonable price (as opposed to unreasonable), I’d definitely recommend picking them up, especially the second one which, as I said, is simply one of the weirdest and coolest digests ever put together.

4 Comments

  1. Jeff Nettleton

    My cousin had the first one and it was my visual introduction (after reading text articles, in Maurice Horn’s The World Encyclopedia of Comics) to the MLJ/Archie heroes, as well as the Archie superhero identities. Tons of fun in there, especially the reprints of Simon & Kirby’s Prvt Strong and the Fly. Some years later, I acquired my own copy and then the second one. Two great little packages of material.

  2. Chris Schillig

    I, too, love digests. A few years ago, when Archie was reprinting Marvel material in digest form (exclusively at Walmarts, I believe), I bought all of them. When the line was discontinued, I was bummed. It was a little bit of excitement at the old check-out counter.

    1. Edo Bosnar

      Funny you should mention that. As linked at the beginning of the second paragraph, I wrote about the Marvel digests distributed by Archie, once when the line was just starting and then a a post-mortem after it was discontinued.
      Yeah, I was bummed about it ending, too. And they weren’t exclusive to Walmart – they could be found in other, similar stores and in certain grocery store checkout lines as well. In some places there were also stocked by Barnes & Noble.

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