On the plus side, the tongue-in-cheek stories, which never quite reached the level of parody, were often amusing, the art could be fluid and appealing, and the characters had (generally untapped) possibilities. Issue Number 3, in particular, has a lot of loopy charm, as our heroes first face evil duplicates of themselves, then an evil cloud from which the duplicates materialized, then the grinning fiend "The Deathless Smiler" who smiles in the face of death as he steals because apparently he simply can't be killed. They also have to deal with the possibility that one of their number is an impostor. While Paul Reinman may not have been a top-flight artist, his adeptness in lay-out makes him a good "story-teller." As for the scripts, they were written by no less than Jerry Siegel of Superman fame. Geared towards younger children, the Crusaders was a lower-case Justice League that was dopey but not without entertainment value. [Ironically Mike Sekowsky of JLA fame did the art for at least one issue.] There were two more attempts to revive these heroes -- one by Archie Comics and one by DC Comics -- but neither was successful.
THE MIGHTY CRUSADERS # 3. Mighty Comics Group [Radio Comics/Archie Comics]. 1966. When Radio/Archie comics decided to revive their Golden Age heroes line, they reintroduced them in their current day super-hero comic The Fly [which had been rechristened Fly-Man by this time]. There was enough reader demand for these old heroes - Black Hood, The Comet, The Shield -- along with Fly-Man and his partner Fly-Girl, to be given their own short-lived series The Mighty Crusaders. Radio tried to imitate the Marvel style by having heroes with embarrassing problems (for instance, the Shield, who is actually the son of the original Shield, has trouble getting to a meeting because he can't hold onto a job and can't afford a car) and who are always bickering. They even changed their name to the Mighty Comics Group, but it just didn't work. Marvel had a certain style, better stories and artists, and this knock-off, while not without its charms, just didn't catch on.
FLASH 137. "Vengeance of the Immortal Villain" is another double-Flash issue that has Vandal Savage kidnapping Justice Society members of Earth 2 and inadvertently causing weird counter-reactions on Earth 1 - which alerts Barry "Flash" Allen. Barry vibrates into Earth 2 and meets up with Jay Garrick, who is also investigating the phenomenon on his own Earth. The two team up to stop Savage from capturing any more JSAers, but the arch-foe uses his powers to set the two of them against each other. Some of the JSA members make a guest appearance in this issue, but mostly just as frozen bodies on display in glass cases; they don't get in on the action. However, this particular Flash issue helped set the stage for the historic JLA-JSA team ups in Justice League of America. Carmine Infantino's pencils, normally so superior, are kind of flat and uninspired in this issue, as if he were rushed or disinterested, making this a classic of a minor kind.
THE NEW WONDER WOMAN # 180 - 188. DC Comics 1969. Due to flagging sales, DC Comics decided to reinvent Diana Prince as a sort of Girl from U.N.C.L.E. Character, teaming her with an elderly Chinese named I-Ching who trained her in Oriental combat techniques and the like. Her super-powers were lost when she decided to stay in Man's World when Paradise Island, home of the Amazons, shifted into another dimension. With good art by Mike Sekowsky and generally interesting stories by Dennis O'Neill, the brief run of the "new" Wonder Woman was quite entertaining, albeit with plenty of dopey moments. Not all of the stories were in the spy genre; WW's opponents included a witch named Morgana who gave her quite a run for her money [#186]. There was a trio of sadistic females who kept a young girl as a slave in the story "Them" . But Diana's chief opponent was the evil Dr. Cyber, who wanted to rule the world and who turned out to be a beautiful woman who employed only attractive female agents. Her face horribly scarred during an incident in which she tried to murder Asian criminals, Cyber decided to blame Diana for her condition and vowed to destroy her. In a two-part story in issues 187 - 188 ["Earthquaker" and "Cyber's Revenge"] Cyber tried to decimate Hong Kong and nearly succeeded. I-Ching's long-missing daughter Lu Shan also turned up and turned out to be working for Cyber. Diana could be as ruthless as Jack on the TV show 24 in dealing with enemy agents when thousands of lives were at stake. The "new" Wonder Woman didn't last very long - pretty much fading out when the spy craze did - but it proved an interesting chapter in the life of DC's greatest heroine.
CAPTAIN AMERICA # 113 (1969). The Strange Death of Captain America. Written by Stan Lee. Pencils by Jim Steranko. Inks by Tom Palmer. The Avengers, who guest-star, believe that Cap was killed by the forces of Hydra in the preceding issue. Madame Hydra - later known as Viper - whose origin we learn, ambushes the Avengers at Cap's funeral with knock-out gas, and begins to bury them all alive in a cemetery .. when Cap reappears in all his glory with Rick Jones, his Bucky surrogate, at his side. An excellent Stan Lee script is brought vividly to life by Jim Steranko's highly creative art and lay outs [beautifully embellished by Tom Palmer] A wonderful and exciting two page spread shows Cap bursting into the cemetery to strike at the forces of Hydra as they try to bury The Avengers. This book shows off Steranko's great strength as an artist as well as his weaknesses [which don't seem to matter so much in comparison], such as the occasionally stiff, stilted postures of the characters. The artwork throughout is striking and highly effective, however, making this [along with the story] one of the most memorable Captain America adventures of the period.
FANTASY MASTERPIECES # 8. 1966. This was a reprint book of both golden and silver age material published in the sixties. The highlight of this issue is a 22 page battle between the Human Torch and the Sub-mariner from Marvel Mystery # 9. Billed as "the Battle of the Comic Century" on the splash page, it doesn't compare in any way to the great Thing vs. Hulk battle in two classic early issues of the Fantastic Four, but it does have its pleasures, and it's easy to see why it seemed so sensational to Golden Age readers. Bill Everett's art is comparatively crude - certainly it can't be compared to Kirby's -- but it still pulls you along and gets across some of the excitement of the situations. Sub-Mariner is out for revenge and is seen as an enemy of the human race; the Torch is out to stop and even destroy him, and does indeed try to kill him throughout the story. [Note: this is the original android Human Torch, not Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four.] Yet when policewoman Betty Dean intervenes she gets them to stop fighting pretty quickly, and the Torch puts his hand across Subby's shoulder as if the two were the best of friends. The rest of the book shouldn't be sneezed at. "Droom, The Living Lizard" from Tales to Astonish # 9 has nice Don Heck [?] art telling a story taken right out of B-grade monster movies. A formula meant to increase the size of fruits and vegetables to alleviate hunger accidentally turns a rare lizard into a beast of Godzillian proportions. At the end he's projected by rocket into outer space where he lands on - you guessed it - Earth, and becomes the first of the diinosaurs. Bolstered by fine Jack Kirby art, "The Man in the Beehive" is a nightmarish did-it-happen-or-didn't-it tale of a thief allegedly being shrunken as punishment; it did not lead into a "Bee-Man" series the way "The Man in the Ant-hole" led to the creation of Ant-Man. "Call Her ... Medusa" has a race of Gorgons whose glance can turn men to stone show up to invade Earth only to encounter a school for the blind where their powers are useless. Typical of these stories, they don't bother exploring the planet further but simply leave. Jack Kirby is back again for the issue's mini-masterpiece, a Captain American adventure from the seventh [Oct. 1941] issue of Captain America.. This well-drawn story details how Cap and Bucky end the murderous career of a Nazi fiddler who kills political opponents by hitting a certain note that explodes a bomb inside their radios. The story is eerie, suspenseful, and even humorous as times. All in all, whatever its flaws, this is a worthwhile package.
THE SHADOW. No. 8 Sept. 1965. Radio [Archie] Comics. In the sixties Archie comics developed a new line of super-hero comics, some of which were based on older characters, and some of which were brand new. The Shadow was based on the old pulp hero, and retained some of the character's signature aspects while changing him into more of a traditional superhero, with a uniform [instead of the traditional covering cloak] and a variety of super-powered villains. In this story, "The Game of Death," a bored millionaire inveigles The Shadow into protecting him when a group of the hero's old foes gather in the rich man's mansion in an attempt to destroy their hated enemy. The millionaire has actually hired these antagonists - Radiation Rogue, Elasto, Attila the Hunter, Dr. Demon and the Diabolical Dimensionoid -- in a desperate attempt to add excitement to his life. Of course The Shadow figures out the truth and outwits his nefarious enemies.
The script is full of action and has its tongue firmly in cheek. The most amusing character is Elasto, who can stretch like Mr. Fantastic and "hates" himself because he can't help himself from committing evil. In one flashback he is shown crying as he robs a jewelry store. "I regret stealing these gems!' he sobs. "But not enough not to rob us, eh?" says the store owner, "Slobbering hypocrite!" The art is sometimes pedestrian, but the more striking panels indicate an artist that probably could have done a better job if he wasn't rushed. Still, the art is reasonably attractive, and the story colorful and, in its own silly way, quite entertaining.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA # 60. 1968. "Winged Warriors of the Immortal Queen."Story by Gardner Fox. Art by Mike Sekowsky and Sid Greene. The Queen Bee (Queen Zazzala) has managed to make herself immortal [a goal from which she was thwarted by the league in her last appearance in issue # 23] but has learned to her horror that along with immortality comes an increasing lack of mobility that will eventually lead to complete paralysis. Using her wand, she shrinks members of the JLA - along with guest-star Batgirl - to the size of bees [like Marvel's The Wasp they come complete with wings] and forces them to travel to various planets to get the ingredients for an antidote. Of course our heroes encounter obstacles on each planet that seem determined to keep them from acquiring each ingredient. When a tree creature on one planet protests that his people will die without the liquid the league wants to remove, Green Arrow only wants to "blast that tree-threat" with one of his arrows. [Admittedly the tree did attack first, but Batman had already surmised what the problem was and held the tree at bay.] Naturally back on earth the league figures out how to outwit the queen. Sekowsky's panels are larger than usual, and Greene's inks are rather heavy, but the artwork is still quite nice. It's also fun to see a full-sized Batgirl swatting away miniature winged versions of the Justice League in one bizarre battle scene. Not top-notch but fun.
DOOM PATROL 86 - 87. DC Comics. 1964. The Brotherhood of Evil, including The Brain, Monsieur Mallah (the big ape) and Madame Rouge, were first introduced in these classic issues of the original DP. [These characters, who later turned up in the New Titans comic, are currently causing problems for the Teen Titans on their cartoon show.] A criminal named Morden steals a giant robot named Rog and uses it to cause mass destruction just to audition for membership in the Brotherhood. Later the Brain tries to use Rog to steal the Statue of Liberty, a plot foiled by members of the Doom Patrol. In the following issue Negative Man reveals the skull face underneath his bandages as the Brain uses a device that can turn toy tanks into formidable full-sized weapons to attack a bank vault. The stories are nonsensical, the characters mostly one-dimensional, but the stories are fun, and both the DP and the Brotherhood are very quirky and interesting creations. The art is nothing special, but it is at the very least functional and sometimes better. Story: Arnold Drake. Art: Bruno Premiani.
MYSTERY IN SPACE # 75. May 1962. The Planet That Came to a Standstill. Kanjar Ro, a hawk-nosed, bug-eyed villain who put the Justice League of America into a "Slave Ship of Space" in JLA # 3, escapes from confinement and causes mischief on the planet Rann, whose protector is the famous Adam Strange. Kanjar Ro uses a "gamma metal gong" to freeze the inhabitants, but Adam has a plan to catch Kanjar in his own trap, using the zeta beam that whisks him from Earth to Rann in an instant. The JLA make a guest appearance in this - which is what made it exciting to readers back in the 60s - but the story, while not without merit, isn't really a classic - at least not as far as Justice League fans are concerned. The league only gets involved in the story accidentally, and only show up at the end (aside from some opening panels). Kanjar Ro is not a terribly interesting villain, either. The Murphy Anderson (?) art is very nice and clean, but he doesn't handle the JLA with the flair that Mike Sekowsky did. Still, Adam Strange was an interesting character (he appeared in Justice League of America more than once), and this is hardly one of his worst stories.
DOOM PATROL # 90. 1964. Madame Rouge is given her own impressive elastic powers - as well as a malleable face -- in this issue in which she disguises herself at different times as each and every member of the Doom Patrol. The Brain and Mallah have guest appearances as the nasty French school teacher gets out of jail [she was arrested at the end of the story in # 87] and returns to her companions-in-evil for a new assignment. Using her new powers of disguise and her Mr. Fantastic-like elongated abilities, Rouge causes havoc at a dam collapse, a mine cave-in and a ship disaster before being exposed for the villainess she is. This time she escapes - good! The art in this issue is rather effective and well done. One of the very best early DP adventures, and certainly a highlight of their battles with The Brain and his buddies. Story: Drake. Art: Premiani, doing his own inks.
FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL # 5 (1967). Script: Stan Lee. Art: Jack Kirby; Joe Sinnott. Lee and Kirby really decided to go all out for the fans with this extra-special annual that stars the FF and features a ton of guest-stars, including the ever-popular Inhumans and the regal Black Panther. The main villain is the sub-atomic Psycho Man who wears an outsized suit (to make him appear to be as large as everyone else) and employs three modestly super-powered underlings as he fires beams that make his victims feel fear, panic, insecurity and so on. The conflict climaxes on an island that has not only just been acquired by the Panther, but is also being used as a temporary refuge for the Inhumans -- and also has Psycho Man's main HQ (in a positive riot of coincidences) just off shore under an outcropping. It's fun to watch the heroes battling projections of their greatest fears, menaces that they can't stop (The Thing has a big, tentacled monster, beautifully designed by Kirby, to deal with, while the Panther battles a actual -- if imaginary -- panther). Kirby's pencils are lively and attractive and the story is silly but entertaining. Psycho Man did not pop up again for many years.
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD presents Hawkman # 43 (1962). The Masked Marauders of Earth. Carter and Shayera Hall, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, are called in when out-sized hawks with human-like face masks commit inexplicable robberies on Earth. Their weird-looking masks emit dangerous rays that Hawkman tries to counter. Seems these same intelligent, talking man-hawks have struck before on Thanagar, but now their weapons are more formidable. Using the materials they have stolen from Earth, they plan to launch a laser-beam attack on Thanagar, but Hawkman and Hawkgirl manage to come up with a way to put the Manhawks out of business. A good Gardner Fox story is bolstered by some very nice, elegant Joe Kubert art. This was one of the try-out issues Hawkman got in The Brave and the Bold before being awarded his own series.