Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
The sensational DC promotions of 1966!

The sensational DC promotions of 1966!

One of the fun things about rereading Silver Age comic books rather than reprints is the ads. DC and Marvel would both try their level best to convince you that the books you hadn’t bought yet were every bit as cool as the ones you had. For example —

As I’ve mentioned before, I was limited to two comics a week as a kid so these ads offered a fascinating glimpse of stuff I wasn’t able to buy and probably would never be able to — after all, once a book was off the spinner rack the story was gone forever, right? Cool comics covers had the same effect — I yearned after some of them for years.

By 1966, DC apparently decided it needed to up its game, probably because of Marvel cutting into sales. The first innovation was the “go-go checks” at the top of the comics, making it easy to identify DC books as you scoured the spinner racks.These rolled out in some of the February books and became universal in March. I can’t recall that I ever did use them to find DC comics and apparently nobody else did: the checks vanished a couple of years later.

The second, more effective innovation was Direct Currents, a string of blurbs for books about to come out. Marvel had been doing this for a while but for DC it was new. And as you can see, also highlighted the checkerboard motif.This worked much better for me. Not that I could buy most of the books, but like the house ads, Direct Currents tantalized me with hints of all the exciting stories I wasn’t reading. Even books I didn’t want such as Blackhawk or war comics — how could a dead pilot fly Steve Savage’s plane, for instance? Unlike the go-go checks, Direct Currents would continue on into the Bronze Age.

Now I’d like to take a moment to highlight one particular house ad that baffled me at the time, and still has me scratching my head a little.It’s for Batman #179 from March, 1966. As you can see the ad  invokes the hit show of the Broadway season, Fiddler on the Roof. As a kid that baffled me because I had no idea what that meant: why would a fiddler be on a roof? I know now, of course, that it’s a metaphor for the precarious lives of Jews in 19th-century Russia, but as an eight-year-old Brit I was hardly hip to what was hot on the Great White Way.

Looking at the ad now it baffles me because it’s so frickin’ random. Other than “‘Riddler on the move’ sounds sort of like Fiddler on the Roof, right?” there’s no connection between the show and this issue. True, titles that reference pop culture are nothing new (how often did I see “Back in the USSR” as a title when the USSR was still intact?), the title of the story is “The Riddle-Less Robberies of the Riddler.” Bringing up Fiddler in the ad feels really forced — and seriously, how many kids would have planned to buy the issue based on that reference?

On the plus side, the story itself, by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff, is good. The Riddler has the bright idea of pulling some jobs without sending clues to Batman first. When he tries, however, he discovers he can’t steal if he doesn’t riddle first; yes, this is the story that made riddles a compulsion instead of a gimmick. The Riddler Nigma doesn’t want to give up stealing so he becomes his own therapist, treating his compulsion with psychoanalysis until he cures himself. Except if he’s cured, who’s sending those riddles to Batman?

Spoiler: it isn’t a fiddler on the roof.


One comment

  1. Le Messor

    the “go-go checks” at the top of the comics, making it easy to identify DC books

    Huh. I never thought about that as the reason for the checks. TBH, I’d never thought about them at all. (I’d noticed them, but just kind of thought they were the style at the time.)

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