Thursday, September 13, 2012

Five Fifty-Year-Old Comic Books

In September of 1962, I bought twelve comic books. At 12c each, I spent $1.44, which is less than half of what one comic book costs today. In fact, a 32-page comic book today costs twenty-five times as much as it did fifty years ago.

Back then, most comic books had three different stories in them, but if they had only one, it was often billed as "a three-part novel." Today it is rare to find a comic book with a single complete story in an issue and the amount of plot in one of those three-part novels would be fodder for a year or more of issues today.

By the time I entered sixth grade, I had abandoned reading such titles as Felix the Cat, Casper the Friendly Ghost and Hot Stuff and was a superhero fan. Superman was number one on my list of favorite heroes and five titles starring the Man of Steel were among my dozen purchases that month.

Superman was, not surprisingly, the star of his own magazine, which usually featured three separate adventures in each issue. In addition to the cover-featured story in this issue, in which he releases a Kryptonian villain from the Phantom Zone, there were two more tales. In "The Super-Genie of Metropolis," the Man of Steel pretends to be a genie in order to smoke out a foreign agent. In "Superman's Day of Doom," he is felled by kryptonite and saved by a Little League player named Steven Snapinn (named after the son of DC staffer and letterer Milt Snapinn).

The Man of Steel shared the spotlight in Action Comics with Supergirl. In the cover story, Superman battles a robot made of kryptonite that was created by his arch-enemy, Lex Luthor. Yes, the remnants of Supes' lost home world turned up quite often in those days. (More than one critic remarked that it seemed to be on sale at every five-and-dime in Metropolis.) Luthor escaped from prison fairly regularly back then as well. However, since he never bothered to change out of his prison uniform -- although he occasionally put on a lab coat over it -- he probably knew he'd be going back fairly quickly.                                        
Supergirl's adventure, "The Mutiny of Super-Horse" features Comet, the most recent addition to the Super-Menagerie (which already included Krypto the Superdog, Streaky the Supercat and Beppo the Supermonkey), starring in a movie.

Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen both had their own titles fifty years ago. Many of Lois' adventures involved her getting in trouble and being rescued by Superman. When that wasn't happening, she'd be trying to find a new way to prove that Clark Kent and Supes were one and the same, always to be foiled in some clever way by the Man of Steel. And, from time to time, there were stories about her being married to Superman.                                                      
In the trio of tales in this particular issue Lois' ability to control her curiosity is tested by Superman with "The Forbidden Box," she dreams that she becomes "The Immortal Lois Lane" when she travels into the past and meets Leonardo DaVinci, and is scammed by a crook into thinking she is married to Clark in the cover story.
Superboy, the teenage incarnation of the Man of Steel starred in his own title as well as in Adventure Comics, where he teamed up with the Legion of Super-Heroes. The Legionnaires were a team of heroes in the 30th century -- young Supes would cross the time barrier to visit with them -- with a wide variety of powers. In this particular installment, Sun Boy, who had solar powers, lost them and the Boy of Steel and his compatriots tried to "recharge" him.                                                                                The second story in the issue takes place in the 20th century; "Superboy Meets Steelboy" when he journeys to an underground world that is protected by a robot who looks just like him.
The final book in the Superman quintet of September, 1962 is World's Finest Comics, each issue of which featured a team-up of Superman and Batman (and Robin). This issue featured a double-team-up as Lex Luthor and The Joker joined forces to battle the heroes. For a change, Luthor doesn't have a kryptonite weapon, but you'll notice that he is, as usual, wearing his prison grays. And what better way to battle the heroes than by flying around town in a giant flying pocket watch?                                   
World's Finest lived up to its name, by the way, as far as superhero fans were concerned. In addition to the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusaders, there were back-up stories starring Green Arrow ("The Iron Archer," in which GA and Speedy face crooks who use a robot archer) and Aquaman ("Menace of the Alien Fish," in which the Sea King and Aqualad battle, you guessed it, alien fish).

  Quite a bit of entertainment for just 60c. According to the inflation calculator, that 1962 amount has the buying power of $4.55 today, not enough to buy two current comic books, even if they were as story-packed as their fifty-year-old counterparts.

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