Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Episode #111: Who's Who In Action Comics #1!

Since this year is the 75th anniversary of DC Comics, I decided to dedicate episodes through the year to shedding some light on some of the unexplored corners of Superman's part of the DC Universe. For this episode I'm featuring the other characters and creators who appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938. This issue wasn't published until April 18, 1938, according to documentation submitted with the ongoing lawsuit between the Jerry Siegel family and DC Comics (as noted by the Grand Comic Book Database at Mike's Amazing World Of DC Comics, at, gives the date as being around May 3, 1938. The issue contained 64 pages and was sold for a dime. Vin Sullivan was the editor of this title, which was originally planned as Thrilling Comics, as noted in episode #108 about Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. Superman was featured on the iconic cover, drawn by his co-creator Joe Shuster. Superman would not return to the cover until issue #7. He was also featured in the first 13 page story of the issue. But this episode will highlight the other characters who appeared in comic book stories in this issue. I'll give a brief history of each character and creator, and how long they ran in Action Comics or other DC Comics.

This past weekend when I picked up my comic books at my local comic book store Acme Comics in Longwood, Florida, I missed an opportunity to pick up the Millenium Edition Action Comics #1, cover dated February 2000. Since I couldn't read the stories themselves to do the synopses, the main resources I used were the aforementioned GCBDB and Mike's Amazing World Of DC Comics. For the brief creator biographies I used the Lambiek Comiclopedia at There were some short features in the issue but I'm concentrating only on the other comic book stories, all untitled, in order of appearance (with the titles as they are referred to now):

Chuck Dawson, in the 6 page western adventure The A-G Gang, written and drawn by Homer Fleming.
Zatara: The Mystery Of The Freight Train Robberies, 12 page occult story written and drawn by Fred Guardineer.
Stcky Mitt Stimson: , 4 page crime story written and drawn by Russell Cole.
Marco Polo: , 4 page historical adventure written and drawn by Sven Elvin.
Pep Morgan: The Light Heavyweight Championship, 4 page adventure story written and drawn by Fred Guardineer.
Scoop Scanlon, Five Star Reporter: The International Jewel Thief, 6 page adventure story drawn by William "Bill" Ely.
Tex Thomson: Murder In England, 12 page adventure sotry written and drawn by Bernard Baily.

Chuck Dawson, in the story The A - G Gang, went on a vendetta against crooked ranch owners who had committed fraud to swindle him out of the ranch he inherited from his late father. The story continued in future issues of Action Comics, and Chuck lasted through issue #22, cover dated March 1940. His creator, Homer Fleming lived from 1883 - 1967. During the 1920's he was the artist for the comic strip Craig Kennedy, about a criminologist written by Arthur B. Reeve. He was a comic book artist who drew mostly western characters for DC from 1936 - 1945, like: Buck Marshall: Range Detective for Detective Comics, Captain Jim Of The Texas Rangers for New Comics (later New Adventure Comics), and The Whip for Flash Comics, a Zorro-like character of the 1840's. Fleming also drew two issues for Classics Illustrated, Tom Brown's School Days (1948) and The Adventures Of Marco Polo (1950).

Zatara, in The Mystery Of The Freight Train Robberies, and his assistant Tong helped his friend, police Detective Brady, guard a freight train from the Tigress. While the train went through a tunnel Brady was killed, and the rest of the police and Zatara and Tong were trapped. Zatara saved everyone from the trap but the crooks escaped. Zatara suspected train Inspector Babcock as being an accomplice to the gang, and his investigation proved his suspicion correct. Tigress attempted to kill Zatara in a fire, but he escaped to stop another robbery and capture the crooks, except for Tigress. She escaped to fight another day.

Zatara had the second longest run in Action Comics after Superman, lasting through issue #132, May 1949, and then issues 136, 138 and 141, February 1950. Zatara would also be featured on some early covers of Action Comics. He also appeared in both issues of New York World's Fair Comics, which was renamed World's Best, then World's Finest Comics through issue #51, April/May 1951. Zatara was a copy of Lee Falk's adventure comic strip hero Mandrake The Magician, complete with a dark ethnic assistant. He is also the only other character other than Superman whose legacy continues today, through his daughter Zatanna. John Giovanni Zatara was a stage magician, adventurer and crimefighter. He got his start as a magician from his grandfather, stage magician Luigi Zatara. On his 15th birthday his grandfather gave Zatara a box of magician's stage props and admonished him to practice so he could become a stage magician. Zatara did just that and became a professional magician at the age of 19. During his career he acquired a copy of his supposed ancestor Leonardo Da Vinci's notebook, written backwards to protect his secrets. Zatara discovered that by reading the backward words aloud he could perform real magic, not just stage illusions. He used his magical abilities to fight crime during his stage career. Roy Thomas would use Zatara as a member of the All-Star Squadron in the 1980's, so some of the details of Zatara's biography are from this later run.

In Turkey, Zatara became trapped by an avalanche he created to defeat his enemy King Inferno. Zatara was found by a woman named Sindella. They fell in love and married, and had a daughter Zatanna, who is a member of the DC Universe today. Zatara defeated the elemental Allura, who placed a curse on Zatara and his daughter. Both would be killed if Zatara saw her again. Zatara disappeared, searching other dimensions for a counterpart to Allura to defeat him. Zatanna herself became a magician like her father and began searching for him. Zatara found a good version of Allura, who forced his evil counterpart to release Zatara from the curse, and he was reunited with his daughter. Zatara would later sacrifice himself to save Zatanna during a battle with the primordial Shadow Creature. Zatara would periodically guide his daughter from the afterlife.

Another Zatara, presumably his grandson, would appear in the Elseworld's mini-series Kingdom Come.

Zatara's creator, Fred Guardineer was born on October 3, 1913 in Albany, New York and died on September 13, 2002. He earned a fine arts degree in 1935 and moved to New York City and got his start drawing pulp magazine covers. In 1936 he joined Henry Chesler's comic shop, working on such features as Lobo and Dan Hastings. Fred became a freelancer in 1938, drawing comics for Centaur from 1937 - 1939, DC from 1938 - 1940, drawing Zatara, Pep Morgan and Speed Saunders, and Marvel in 1941. From 1941 - 1944 he worked for Quality, on Tor the Magic Master, Merlin, Quicksilver, and Marksman. He also worked for comics publishers Hillman, Eastern Pines and Gleason, where he drew mostly crime stories. Fred retired from comics in 1955 at the age of 42, and became a government employee. He died in San Ramon, California.

Sticky Mitt Stimson, in perhaps his only comic book appearance in a crime story, was chased by police for stealing some apples, and got a lucky break to make his escape. This story was drawn by Russell Cole, who I could find out little about. He drew stories for other DC titles such as New Comics (later New Adventure Comics then Adventure Comics) and Detective Comics.

In his historical adventure, Marco Polo, his father and uncle were granted an audience by the Pope, who gave them a mission of traveling to the Khan of Tartary. Their mission was to take priests and men of learning to the monarch to bring their knowledge to his people. Their adventure continued in future issues through the 17th issue of Action Comics, October 1939.

Sven Elven, the story's writer and aritist, was born in 1880, but I could find no information about the date of his death. The only information I could find about his comic book career was that he worked in the early years of the industry. For DC he worked on various titles, beginning with New Fun #5, August 1935 through Detective Comics #37, March 1940. He drew stories for such DC features as Captain Quick, Cosmo, The Phantom Of Disguise, Pirate Gold, The Three Musketeers, Treasure Island as well as Marco Polo. For Centaur he worked on Miraclo The Great, and for Fawcett he drew El Carim and the Jungle Twins.

Pep Morgan faced a crooked fight trainer who decided to take his revenge on Pep after the Boxing Commission pulled his boxing license. Pep would continue to have adventures through Action Comics #41, October 1941. His creator was also Fred Guardineer.

Scoop Scanlon, the Five Star Reporter, in his first adventure witnessed the rescue of a jewel thief from authorities by his gang. Scoop was accompanied by his pal and sidekick Rusty. He chased after newspaper stories through Action Comics #13, June 1939.

Scoop's creator, William "Bill" Ely, was born in 1919, and I could find no information about his death, or even if he is still alive. He had a long and prolific career in comic books from the late 1930's - 1960's. Bill began at the Funnies, Inc. comic book packaging house and also worked for Dell on such titles as Ellery Queen, Martian The Magic Man and The Robinsons. He had an extensive career for DC, beginning with Sandra Of The Secret Service in More Fun Comics #21, June 1937 through Winner Take All for Young Love #62, July/August 1967. Bill also worked for many other comic book publishers: Centaur, Fiction House, ACG/Creston, Ziff-Davis, Eastern Color and Marvel. He worked on many titles, genres and characters for DC including Rip Hunter Time Master and The Atom.

The final story of the issue involved Tex Thomson, an oil tycoon who, on a visit to England, found a dead body in the English countryside. An area girl named Sonja accused Tex of murder, forcing him to go on the run from the sheriff. Tex learned that Sonja was a member of the gang responsible for the murder, and that they had kidnapped a boy named Bobby who could clear Tex of the crime. Tex freed Bobby only to be captured himself, but the sheriff arrived and arrested the gang. Tex would become the masked hero Mr. America in Action Comics #33, February 1941, in the story The Origin Of Mr. America. Tex had quit fighting organized crime to join the war relief effort and had boarded a relief ship bound for Europe. The ship was sunk and Tex was apparently the only survivor. He was rescued by another ship and returned to the USA, where he dedicated himself to protecting his country. Tex dyed his hair and donned the red, white and blue caped costume of Mr. America. His first mission was to bring the saboteurs of his relief ship to justice. Mr. America discovered that defense contractor Pratt was the leader of the saboteurs and exposed him, leading to the whole gang's arrest. Tex's identity would be changed again to Americommando in Action Comics #52, and he would continue to appear until issue #74, July 1944.

Tex Thomson as Mr. America would be a major character in the four issue Elseworlds mini-series Golden Age, written by James Robinson and drawn by Paul Martin Smith, published in 1993. The story was collected in a trade paperback in 1995. You should be able to find copies in the back issue bins of your local comic book store or on the internet.

Bernard Baily, Tex Thomson's creator, was featured in episode #20, Jerry Siegel's Other Artists. That episode contains a more complete biography. Bernard was born on April 4, 1916 and died on January 19, 1996. He had a mulit-faceted comic book career as publisher, editor, writer, artist and head of his own comic book packaging company. His most famous character was the Spectre, co-created with Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel. Bernard drew both story art and covers for many DC titles from the 1940's - 1960's. He also worked for Stanmor and Marvel in the 1950's, mostly on mystery titles. He was also a comic strip artist for Stories Of The Opera in the 1940's and Gilda Gay in the 1950's.

I hope this episode was not too boring, but I thought it would be interesting to find out a little bit about the careers of the characters who made their debut in Action Comics #1.

Next Episode: Superman Vs. The Clan Of The Fiery Cross. Since February is Black History Month I thought it would be an appropriate time to look at this story form the 1940's Superman radio show, when the Man Of Steel played a small part in the civil rights movement by exposing the secrets of the Klu Klux Klan.

Join the Superman Fan Podcast and My Pull List groups on facebook, and follow the podcast and blogs on twitter @supermanpodcast.

Superman Fan Podcast is a proud member of the League of Comic Book Podcasters at and the Comics Podcast Network!

Superman Fan Podcast is at . Send e-mail about this podcast to And thanks to Capt. Zorikh for following this blog. Check out his blogs on this website.

My Pull List is my spoiler free comic book review blog of the titles I read every week. It can be found at . Send e-mail about this blog to .

Superman and all related characters are trademark and copyright DC Comics.

Thanks for listening to the Superman Fan Podcast and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Episode #110: Happy Birthday, Alex Ross!

Nelson Alexander (Alex) Ross was born on January 22, 1970, in Portland Oregon and raised in Lubbock, Texas. He was the youngest of four children. Alex's father was Clark Ross, a minister ordained in the United Church of Christ denomination. His mother was Lynette, who was a freelance fashion illustrator in Chicago and graduated from Chicago's American Academy of Art, where Alex would later attend. In the book Mythology, which contains Alex's art for DC Comics, some samples of his mother's work is also printed. It's easy to see where he got his talent from, even though she had long before abandoned her art career to raise a family. Alex knew what he wanted to be, a comic book illustrator, from a very early age. Before he began his comic book art career Alex worked for about 3 1/2 years at the Leo Burnett ad agency. There he did ad layouts, animatics and commercial storyboards.

Alex Ross's first published comic book artwork was the five issue mini-series Terminator: The Burning Earth, written by Ron Fortier for Now Comics, since defunt. Conflicts with the publisher made him insert the words "Now Comix Bloz" backwards, with spaces between some of the letters of the words, on the cover, mixed with some other coded text.

His first published superhero work was the cover for the novel Superman: Doomsday & Beyond. Alex's first Marvel story was the unpublished Deadline, planned for the fifth issue of the Marvel anthology title Open Space, edited by Kurt Busiek. Unfortunately the title was cancelled with issue #4, and was never printed until it appeared as a supplement to Wizard magazine's Alex Ross Special Publication. The story involved an employee of a corporation, who's first field assignment was to set up the site for a new colony on another planet. She ran into complications in finishing her job.

Alex and Kurt would later collaborate on Marvels, published in 1994, which looked at the history of the Marvel Comics characters, beginning with the original Human Torch and Namor in the 1940's through Gwen Stacy's death. The story is told through the eyes of photojournalist Phil Sheldon. In the back of the trade paperback of the four issue series is an article about how Alex collected the photo reference he used for the series.

Ross and Busiek would also collaborate on Astro City, begun in 1995. Kurt wrote it, Brent Anderson drew it and Alex supplied character designs and painted covers. Astro City explored what the real world would be like if super heroes and villains existed. Some of the storylines have been: the Samaritan can't enjoy the thrill of flying because he's too busy rushing all over the world to rescue people from various disasters, a date between two super heroes, a kid sidekick's initiation, a reformed supervillain's attempt to build a new life after prison and a hero is driven from Earth because of his love's attempt to discover his secret identity.

While he was working on Marvels, Alex began developing an apocalyptic story for the pantheon of DC characters. He typed up a synopsis and sent it to DC, where Dan Raspler brought Mark Waid on board and the project would become Kingdom Come. But Alex's first published DC story art was Sandman Mystery Theatre Annual #1, August 1994, about the golden age Sandman in his original suit, cloak and gas mask. The original proposal for Kingdom Come can be read in Wizard Magazine's Alex Ross: Millennium Edition. Kingdom Come was the apocalyptic end of the heroic age of the DC heroes, as seen through the eyes of a pastor suffering a crisis of faith, Norman McCay. He was modeled after Alex's own father, who he had wanted to use as a character in a story for a long time. The children and grandchildren of DC's heroes had become disconnected from their elders' moral code, and were hard to differentiate from the villains. One of the superhero progeny was Nightstar, a character Alex had originally created when he was eleven years old. In Kingdom Come she is the daughter of Dick Grayson and Starfire, former members of the Teen Titans.

Uncle Sam followed Kingdom Come. It took the national figure and comic book hero and examined the darker parts of American history, with the result that he was able to face and overcome his darker self.

From 1998 - 2003 Alex Ross collaborated with Paul Dini on a series of tabloid size editions celebrating the 60th anniversaries of DC's top super heroes. They also explored the basic symbolism each DC icon represents.

Superman: Peace On Earth, 1998. To Alex Superman represented Science as the ultimate science fiction superhero. The story explored Superman's attempt to combat world hunger, a battle he ultimately failed because he made humanity dependent on him. He's not powerful enough to solve the world's problems. Superman works best by inspiring humanity and leading by example. Ross's original art was auctioned by Southeby's for $81,000, with the proceeds going to both UNICEF and Harper House in Chicago.

Batman: War On Crime, 1999. Batman represents Mystery to Alex. The Dark Knight faced crime in a real world setting, through the double murder that orphaned a young boy. Batman is struck by the similarities between he and the boy, except for the boy's poverty. The story explores how their paths cross again. Southeby's auctioned the original art for $157,000 for the Reisenbach Charter School in Harlem.

Shazam: Power Of Hope, 2000. To Alex, Captain Marvel symbolizes Magic. Captain Marvel deals with troubled children and grants terminally ill children their fondest wish. The story also explores how, even though he is the World's Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel is still a boy himself at heart.

Wonder Woman: Spirit Of Truth, 2001. Wonder Woman symbolizes Myth to Alex. The story is set in the Middle East and was published just after 9/11. It explores Wonder Woman's fight against injustice around the world, and how she is perceived by women around the world as she comes to their aid in a revealing costume that resembles an American flag.

For the Decmeber 8, 2001 edition of TV Guide, Alex provided the cover art, which was printed as variant covers featuring the lead actors of the TV show Smallville, Tom Welling (Clark Kent), Kristen Kreuk (Lana Lang), Michael Roesnbaum (Lex Luthor) and Superman. The covers together created a single picture.

In the early 2000's Alex teamed with writer Jim Krueger on the Marvel trilogy Earth X, Universe X and Paradise X. These mini-series combined many Marvel characters from various decades. In this story set in Marvel's future, Earth's inhabitants gain super powers. The story explores what happens to the old heroes when they are no longer special. The following titles further expand the story.

Alex's next projects were two Justice League books. JLA: Secret Origins, 2002. It retold the origin of the "Original 7", each in eight panel stories. In JLA: Liberty & Justice, 2003, the Justice League battled the world-wide threat of an alien virus.

Alex Ross also contributed art to the 9-11 benefit anthology, which raised money for victims of the attack. One cover he contributed was an homage to the cover of The Big All-American Comic Book, 1944, which showed a boy and his dog gazing in wonder at a billboard portraying the All-American line of superheroes. In Alex's version a billboard protrayed emergency workers: police, firemen, doctors and nurses. Krypto and Superman gaze at the billboard in admiration, and the Man of Steel says, "Wow!"

He also painted the promotional poster for the 2002 Academy Awards, which showed the Oscar on top of the First National Building.

For the 2004 movie Spider-Man 2 Alex created a series of paintings that were shown during the opening credits. The original art was auctioned on ebay to benefit the United Cancer Front.

In 2005, the book Mythology: The DC Comics Art Of Alex Ross was published. Chipp Kidd wrote it and also did the art direction and design. Geoff Spear was the photographer. While the book was a history of his DC Comics work, it also contained examples of Alex's art growing up, as well as his mother's advertising art. In the back is a section that shows the creative process behind the cover illustration, and an original story, from development to finished art.

From 2005 - 2006 Alex teamed with writer Jim Kreuger and penciller Doug Braithwaite on the twelve issue mini-series Justice. Ross painted over Doug's pencils. The series told the story of the DC supervillains uniting to undermine public support for the Justice League through their own humanitarian efforts while preparing the League's ultimate demise.

Alex contributed covers for DC's Justice Society Of America from issues 3 - 26 from 2007 - 2009, through the Thy Kingdom Come storyline.

Beginning in 2008 Alex Ross again teamed with writer Jim Krueger on Project Superpowers for Dynamite Entertainment. The series, and subsequent series resurrected public domain golden age superheroes. Alex developed character sketches and painted covers, and the interior art is done by various artists. Dynamite also published Avengers/Invaders in cooperation with Marvel Comics, pitting the Avengers against the golden age versions of Captain America, Namor and the Human Torch.

Alex Ross completes about ten pages a month. His usual routine is to draw all ten pages and then paint them. Each page takes about 3 - 4 days to complete. He has stated that among his artistic influences were: Norman Rockwell, cover painter for the Saturday Evening Post magazine for about fifty years; Andrew Loomis, illustrator and author of several books in drawing and illustration; and comic book artists John Romita, Sr., George Perez and Bernie Wrightson.

While Alex has many enthusiastic fans of his art, and I am certainly one of them, some comic book readers don't find his art appealing. They find his art too stiff and not showing enough motion. I won't say they're wrong, because everyone has different tastes. There are a few photorealistic comic book artists whose art seems too posed and stiff, but I can't say the same for Alex's art. His action scenes carry a great sense of motion and his figures have an almost 3-D effect. His characters carry weight and portray a sense of power. An Alex Ross comic book is usually a great comic book, at least with the art. I also respect his sense of craft with his art and his love of comic book history.

Next month Alex Ross will appear at MegaCon in Orlando, Florida from March 12 - 14, 2010 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. Check their website for details. I haven't been to MegaCon since 2006, and I had hoped to attend this year. But finances probably will mean I'll have to wait another year. My wife even said she would go with me, at least once, just to see what the insanity I'm involved with is about.

For more information about Alex Ross's comic book work go to or, or visit his website, (If you're curious about what Alex Ross's art studio looks like, click on this link on his website:

Several online interviews with Alex Ross:, from Jack Kirby Collector #27 (1999), available at the same website if you would like to read it in magazine form.

Alex Ross has also been interviewed on a number of comic book podcasts. Check your favorite podcasts to see if he has appeared on them.

Next episode: Who's Who In Action Comics #1!

Join the Superman Fan Podcast and My Pull List groups on facebook, and follow the podcast and blogs on twitter @supermanpodcast.

Superman Fan Podcast is a proud member of the League of Comic Book Podcasters at and the Comics Podcast Network!

Superman Fan Podcast is at . Send e-mail about this podcast to .

My Pull List is my spoiler free comic book review blog of the titles I read every week. It can be found at . Send e-mail about this blog to .

Superman and all related characters are trademark and copyright DC Comics.

Thanks for listening to the Superman Fan Podcast and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Episode #109: Showcasing Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane!

Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #1, cover dated March/April 1958, was published around January 14 of that year. This was not the first issue to feature Lois Lane as the main character. That honor went to the story
Lois Lane, Girl Reporter, the third story published in Superman #28, May/June 1944, published around March 3, 1944. That story featured Lois covering the story of a man who was standing on a building ledge, threatening to commit suicide. As usual, Lois climbed out on the ledge to get the story. When the man told her the silly reason he wanted to kill himself because his affection for a woman was spurned, Lois stamped her foot in anger at him. The ledge cracked under her foot and she fell off the ledge. Lois broke her fall by grabbing an election banner hanging from some lower floor windows. It ripped, and her fall was further slowed by awnings that she fell through until she landed on the catch hoop held by policemen on the ground. For her trouble Lois was rewarded with another front page story and the affection of the love-sick man who had now set his affections on her. This story was reprinted Superman Archive vol. VII and Showcase Presents: Superman Family vol. I.

At the end of the last episode I had mentioned that Lois Lane #1 would be the topic of this episode. When I began researching this topic I discovered that I did not have a copy of that issue in reprint. However the same Showcase Presents edition that contained the first solo Lois Lane story also contained the first silver age title featuring Lois Lane as the main character, which was Showcase #9, July/August 1957, published around May 23, 1957. Showcase was a title began by DC Comics during the lean years of the 1950's. Editors took turns on the title, trying out new features and characters each issue. Some would reappear for two or three issues. It was an audition book, to try out new characters without going to the work and money to start a new series with the risk it could flop. If the character sold well enough then DC would begin a new series for the character. The first such success from Showcase was The Flash, who, after some unremarkable features in the first three issues, was published in issue #4. This marked the beginning of the silver age of comic books and the return of the superhero genre. The Challengers Of The Unknown was the next hit, although to a lesser degree than the new Flash. Lois Lane was next, appearing in issues 9 and 10, and edited by Superman editor Mort Weisinger. That is why Showcase #9 is the topic of this episode. Showcase #10 and Lois Lane #1 will be the topic of future episodes.

The cover to Showcase #9 was drawn by Al Plastino. The issue contained 32 pages and three stories and sold for ten cents. The first story in the issue was the eight page The Girl In Superman's Past, written by Jerry Coleman and drawn by Al Plastino. This was the second appearance of the adult Lana Lang, the first being in Superman #78, September/October 1952 issue (reprinted in Superman From The Thirties To The Seventies). The story began with Lois surprised to see a red-haired woman kiss Clark in the Daily Planet offices. Clark introduced Lois to Lana Lang. Lois was immediately interested in Lana because she remembered Superman also talking about Lana, especially when Lana asked Clark if it was a coincidence that he and Superman left Smallville on the same day. Clark was left sweating buckets.

Lois took Lana to dinner, where Lana talked about trying to prove Clark was Superboy in Smallville. Lois had also arranged an interview for Lana to audition for a job doing TV commercials, and offered to let her stay in her apartment until Lana could get established on her own in Metropolis. The next day Lois interruped Superman while he had lunch with Lana. Lois asked Superman for help getting to an interview appointment on time. Instead of flying her there he built a giant kite and tied Lois to it, using his super breath to blow her to her destination. (I guess it would have been rude of Superman to use super-speed to fly Lois there during his lunch date with Lana.)

The next day it was Superman's turn to have lunch with Lois. Lana returned Lois' favor by asking Superman to show some moral support by being near her as she auditioned for her TV job. Instead of interrupting his lunch with Lois to be with Lana, he built a platform and tied to to the outside of the building where Lana's audition was, where he finished his lunch with Lois. That evening Lois and Lana dedcided to pretend to put themselves in danger to find out who Superman would save first, in order to find out who he loved more. They borrowed a remote control steamroller and glider. Lois pretended to be in danger of being runover by the steamroller while Lana pretended to be about to crash her glider. Superman knocked a meteor to the ground in front of Lois while a gust of wind lifted Lana's glider so that it could land safely. Lois and Lana are left to guess if Superman saved both of them or not.

The second story was the eight page The New Lois Lane, written by Otto Binder, pencilled by Ruben Moreria and inked by Al Plastino. Superman turned down Lois Lane's offer of tickets to the Daily Planet dance. Lois wondered if Superman's rejection was because she was gaining weight. She weighed herself on a public fortune telling scale, and her fortune said, "To win the man of your dreams, adopt a new strategy." So Lois pledged to stop trying to discover Superman's secret identity. Later she saw Superman perform for some Metropolis orphans and leave, but resisted the temptation to follow to discover Superman's secret. She took a shortcut through an alley and discovered some footprints through some spilled ink, and surmised they were Superman's footprints after he changed his disguise.

In his civilian disguise Superman used his x-ray vision to check on Lois, who was covering up the footprints. It turned out that Lois was right. what she didn't know was that Superman wanted her to follow him and discover his identity as Allen Todd, for a special purpose. Superman changed back to his normal guise as Clark Kent and went back to his apartment. He was met by "Con" Conners and his criminal partner, who stalked Clark's apartment building to take a picture of Superman flying out of Clark's window with a high speed camera. In his apartment Clark saw another building on fire. As Superman he lit a rug on fire with his heat vision to let the smoke cover his flight out the window. After dousing the flames he flew to another apartment he rented as Allen Todd. He used his x-ray vision to follow Lois. She was at the Daily Planet offices and noticed one of the Superman trophies was cracked and had a photo hanging out of it. Lois took it out and read the message to the 25th century, that Superman's secret identity was on the other side. Instead of peeking Lois ripped it to shreds, to Superman's disappointment.

Allen Tood met Lois at her Planet office and squeezed his fingerprints into the door nob to leave her a clue about his identity. Later, she noticed the fingerprints pressed into the knob and used a hammer to destroy the impressions. Superman met Lois at her office as himself to find out why she was covering for him, and she told him about her pledge. The Man of Steel left Lois to write two letters, one to her and the other to Conners. Lois opened her letter, which was "from" a dying man who knew Superman's secret and wanted to tell it to her. Conners' letter was "from" an underworld informant who tipped Conners that she had a tip to Superman's identity.

Conners kidnapped Lois and went to the apartment, which wasTodd's apartment, not Kent's. He shot Todd but the bullets bounced off him. Lois regretted allowing Superman's identity to be discovered, but he simply said he would create another one, and took Conners and his henchman to the police for firing a deadly weapon. Later, at the Daily Planet Lois told Clark she was anxious to learn Superman's new secret identity.

The final eight page story was Mrs. Superman, written by Otto Binder and drawn by Al Plastino, another in a series of stories where Lois had a dream she was married to Superman. It began with Lois inviting Clark to join her and Jimmy at the beach, which he declined citing an apointment. Lois recalled that Superman also had an appearance later that day at an orphanage. Clark asked Jimmy to help him move his heavy desk closer to the window, and Jimmy almost moved it by himself. Lois scoffed at herself for suspecting Clark. At the beach Lois and Jimmy heard a swimmer yelling for help. Lois jumped in but hit her head on a rock in the shallow water. Superman saved the swimmer, and took the unconscious Lois to the hospital, where she began to dream and talk in her sleep. The doctor was concerned that if she didn't wake up he would be concerned for her health but she seemed to be having a happy dream. The doctor left Superman with her, and he decided to whisper in her ear to plant suggestions in her dream.

Lois was dreaming she had a secret home on Mt. Bliss with Superman and a young son. To shock her awake Superman whispers in her ear that he was really Clark Kent. In her dream Superman decided to reveal his identity because his enemies had never found their secret home. At first Lois was disappointed, because Clark was the man no girl would want to marry (which was a real boost to Superman's morale). But it didn't matter because he was still Superman.

Next Superman suggested annoying incidents and Lois dreamed that her super husband used his x-ray vision to discover his gift before unwrapping it, she had to clean Superman's uniform with a blowtorch, and Superman had to leave her alone at dinnertime to handle an emergency. But her mood was boosted by all of the trophies that had been given to Superman by a grateful world. Superman then planted suggestions about a bratty son, who, in Lois' dream, threw toys against the wall in a tantrum because he didn't want to take a nap. He had created holes in the wall. He then flew out of the window without permission and brought back a grizzly bear to play with. Lois hurt her hand spanking him. When Superman returned he helped her feed a very hungry boy, who ran Lois ragged filling one super bottle of milk after another. Her mood was lightened thinking about how he would replace Superman one day.

Finally Superman pulled out the big guns. After his suggestion Lois dreamed that Superman heard the cries of Lulu Lyons (another LL Superman aquaintance). Lois watched on TV as Superman rescued her form two robbers, and then carried her back to her home. An angry and jealous Lois greeted her super husband with some very sharp questions about Lulu. He informed her that Lulu replaced her at the Daily Planet when they married. Lois realized Lulu filled her shoes, getting herself in trouble and needing Superman's rescue. Later Superman mistakenly called Lois Lulu, which caused her to throw a vase at Superman, making him duck. (So it wasn't just George Reeves who ducked.) Her heartbreak made Lois wake up from her dream, and she told Superman it was silly to suspect he was Clark Kent. As Superman flew away Lois wondered if she would have a happy or sad life as Superman's wife.

These three stories were typical of the many, but not all, of the stories edited by Mort Weisinger, where the characters tried to manipulate each other. After reading about his tight control of the Superman titles and his treatment of the creative talent that worked for him, these types of stories seem to say a lot about his character and personality. And that's pretty sad.

Next week: Happy Birthday, Alex Ross!

Join the Superman Fan Podcast and My Pull List groups on facebook, and follow the podcast and blogs on twitter @supermanpodcast.

Superman Fan Podcast is a proud member of the League of Comic Book Podcasters at and the Comics Podcast Network!

Superman Fan Podcast is at . Send e-mail about this podcast to .

My Pull List is my spoiler free comic book review blog of the titles I read every week. It can be found at . Send e-mail about this blog to .

Superman and all related characters are trademark and copyright DC Comics.

Thanks for listening to the Superman Fan Podcast and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Episode #108: Happy Birthday, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson!

To begin the year in which DC Comics celebrates its 75th anniversary, there's nothing more appropriate than to commenorate the birthday of the founder of the company that would eventually become the comics publisher we know today as DC. Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was born on January 4, 1890, and died on January 1, 1968. He founded National Allied Publications in 1934, and holds the distinction of publishing the first newsstand comic book with original material, not Sunday comic strip reprints as had been the case with previous publishers.

At the end of the last episode, when I announced that my next episode would feature Wheeler-Nicholson, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an e-mail from one of his granddaughters, Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson Brown. She mentioned that she had been to Eustis, where I live, and called it "a beautiful classic old Florida town". Nicky also mentioned that the family had created a website and blog about their esteemed family member: I would like to thank Nicky for letting me know about the site. It was a valuable resource for this episode.

Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was born in Greenville, Tennessee. His father's last name was Strain, and he died in 1894, the same year Malcolm's brother Christopher was born and a sister died. It was not a good year overall for the family. His mother's maiden name was Antoinette Wheeler, and she moved her family to New York City. She worked as a journalist there, and later at a new women's magazine in Portland Oregon. She would remarry, to a teacher, T. J. B. Nicholson, and that is how Malcolm's last name became Wheeler-Nicholson. He grew up in Portland and a nearby horse ranch in Washington state. Teddy Roosevelt and Rudyard Kipling were houseguests. Malcolm's interest in writing grew as he worked as a reporter, and he became fascinated by comic strips as they began to appear in newspapers.

He attended Manlius School, a military academy in DeWitt, New York and joined the U. S. Cavalry in 1917 as a 2nd Lieutenant. He became the youngest Major in the Cavalry. Under Gen. Pershing he commanded Troop K as the U. S. Army hunted for the Mexican bandit Pancho Villa, and fought the Muslim Moros in the Phillipines. According to the family website, in 1917 he served on a diplomatic mission as the liason and intelligence officer to the Japanese Embassy in Siberia, as a mediator in the conflict between the Cossacks and the Bolshevicks. The Major's military career took him to London, Germany and Japan. After WWI he attended the Ecole Superieure de Guerre in Paris, France's premiere military academy. There he met his wife, Elsa Sachsenhausen Bjorkbom, who the family described as a Swedish aristocrat. They married in Koblenz, Germany in 1920. Their first child, Antionette was born in his wife's hometown of Stockholm, Sweden in 1922.

That same year the Major's military career ran into controversy. He wrote a letter to President Warren G. Harding, over his superiors heads, critical of Army command because of strategic and administrative problems he saw. The New York Times covered the story and published the letter. According to the family's website there was concern about what the Major might make public because of his job as an intelligence officer. As the website recounts, the Major was shot at as he entered his darkened quarters, at Fort Dix, by a guard watching from an upstairs window. The bullet entered his skull above his ear, missing his brain, so he suffered no permanent damage. The Major was convicted in a court martial for violating an Article of War because of his letter's publication, and placed back in rank. That meant that he could never expect to be promoted, so he resigned his commission in 1923. His second child, daughter Marianne was born that same year. Sons Malcolm and Douglas were born next, in 1927 and 1928 respectively, and youngest child Diane was born in 1932.

The family settled in Grenwich Village in New York City and became part of a group of artists and writers. During the 1920's the family moved to a chateau outside Paris, France. After the stock market crash of 1929 wiped out the family finances they returned to New York City. Wheeler-Nicholson concentrated on his career as a writer. His literary career began in the military on nonfiction topics such as Modern Cavalry in 1922 (which is still cited in military journals, according to the family website), and the fictional western novel Death At The Corrall published the same year.

As a civilian he wrote short stories for the pulps, military, historical and other adventure stories for pulp magazines such as Adventure and Argosy. The Major also ghost wrote adventure novels about the air hero character Bill Barnes for Street & Smith, publisher of Doc Savage, The Shadow and other pulp heroes. In 1925 he founded Wheeler-Nicholson, Inc., a newspaper syndicate.While his syndicate efforts were not very successful, he did adapt the classic Treasure Island as a comic strip drawn by N. Brewster Morse.

In 1933 Famous Funnies was published, considered the first modern comic book sold on the newsstands for a dime. Wheeler-Nicholson was drawn into the ebryonic comic book industry and formed National Allied Publications in 1934. Son Douglas recalled hearing his father talking about the potential of comic book as graphic storytelling, as both a new type of literature and an educational aid. Newspaper comic strips' reprint rights were bought up, and the Major found either the rights too expensive, or all or most strips bought up for reprint rights. He solved that problem by filling a comic book with original material, in his first publication, New Fun: The Big Comics Magazine, cover dated February 1935 and published around January 11 of that year. It was a 10"x15" magazine with the cover price of 10 cents, and had a color cover with black and white art inside. The only feature in color was the one on the cover, Jack Woods, a western detective strip written and drawn by Lyman Matthew Anderson. The editor was Lolyd V. Jacquet. The strips covered a variety of genres from detective, adventure, period pieces, westerns, sword and sorcery, science fiction, humor and funny animals. Several text articles were also included.

Jacquet edited the first four issues before founding comic book packaging company Funnies, Inc. His company created the content for a variety of publishers, including Martin Goodman's Marvel Comics #1. Wheeler-Nicholson edited the fifth and sixth issues. In the sixth issue Jery Siegel and Joe Shuster made their comic book debut with two features, Henri Duval, a musketeer swashbuckling story under their real names, and Dr. Occult, a supernatural crimefighter created under the pseudonym Leger & Reuths. New Fun was renamed More Fun for issues 7-9, and More Fun Comics from issue #10 forward. Siegel and Shuster contributed strips through issue #32.

According to the family's website Wheeler-Nicholson mentored Siegel and Shuster by providing character ideas and possible storylines. He also played more of a role in the development of Superman than is acknowledged in most comic book histories, even though he would be out of comics before Superman premiered in Action Comics #1. The website did not share a lot of details because the family did not want to interfere with, or become entangled in, the ongoing Siegel/DC lawsuit. Eldest daughter Antoinette Harley stated that her father recognized the connection with the Nietzien ideal of the superman, because of his educational background, and recognized the potential of the character because of his belief in the power of graphic communication.

Later that year the Major published a second comic book titled New Comics, cover dated December 1935 and published around November 12, 1935. It contained 80 pages for a dime. While still containing more pages than the average comic book of the day, it was closer to the standard size of a comic book of the era than New Fun.
With issue #12 the title changed to New Adventure Comics, and then became Adventure Comics with issue #32. This title would be the oldest DC title continuously published until issue 503 in 1983. Last year DC began a new Adventure Comics and acknowledged the original series by counting issue #1 also as #504 and so on with subsequent issues.

Wheeler-Nicholson had continual financial problems both personally and professionally as he built his business during the Depression. The family website stated that the Major was a stronger creator and editor than businessman and failed to find someone who could run the business side for him and allow him to concentrate on the creative side. The fight for shelf space with distributors was intense, and the competition with other comic books reprinting familiar newspaper comic strips was a challenge for a title containing new unknown material.

The last comic book title the Major published was Detective Comics. Issue #1, cover dated March 1937 appeared around February 27, 1937, containing 64 pages for a dime. It holds the distinction as the first comic book title dedicated to one genre, detective stories. It's most famous character would not appear until issue #27, Batman, but that would not be until after the Major lost his company. Vin Sullivan was the first editor, and another title, Thrilling Comics fell through for the time being. Siegel and Shuster contributed two continuing features that began with Detective #1, Bart Regan, Spy and Slam Bradley.

Continuing financial problems forced the Major to take on his printer, Harry Donenfeld, as partner to cover printing debts, and when money ran out again Harry would eventually buy out the Major. There are various stories about how Harry wound up with the company. He sent the Major and his wife to Cuba to "work up new ideas" and then changed the locks to their offices. Donenfeld sued for nonpayment and forced the company into bankruptcy. He arranged for the judge to appoint an old Tammany Hall buddy as interim president and sent Jack Liebowitz to bankruptcy court to buy the assets. Detective Comics, Inc. was formed. Harry gave Wheeler-Nicholson a "go away" token of a percentage of More Fun for the next decade.Liebowitz would instruct Vin Sullivan to get Thrilling Comics ready to publish, under the new title of Action Comics, and the rest is history. And so the Major was forced out of the industry he played a large role in founding. Like most pioneers in any walk of life he did not reap the benefits of his trailblazing, which has grown tremendously and we are reaping the benefits and enjoyment today.

According to the family website he wrote 93 novels, novellas, short stories and serials, four books of military strategy and hundreds of nonfiction articles. In his 60's he taught himself the basics of chemistry and patented some inventions that are still used in industrial applications. When a renewed interest in comic book history grew some inconsistencies in the Major's story were becoming accepted truths in various accounts of that history. Wheeler-Nicholson's children and grandchildren established the website as a way to correct such errors. Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson Brown and other family members contribute. Among the most famous accounts were Gerard Jones' Men Of Tomorrow and David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague. While Nicky has talked with Gerard Jones on a number of occasions she recommends his book, except for his accounts of her grandfather. The family considers Hajdu's book to border on character assassination about the Major. Nicky wrote an article for the International Journal Of Comic Art, vol. 10 #2, Fall 2008 in rebuttal to Hajdu's book. That issue, and others of the journal, can be ordered from the website.

Another magazine featuring Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson is Alter Ego #88, August 2009. Print and digital editions are available at

Next Week's episode: Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #1!

Join the Superman Fan Podcast and My Pull List groups on facebook, and follow the podcast and blogs on twitter @supermanpodcast.

Superman Fan Podcast is at . Send e-mail about this podcast to . Superman Fan Podcast is a proud member of the League of Comic Book Podcasters at and the Comics Podcast Network!

My Pull List is my spoiler free comic book review blog of the titles I read every week. It can be found at . Send e-mail about this blog to .

Superman and all related characters are trademark and copyright DC Comics.

Thanks for listening to the Superman Fan Podcast and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Episode #107: Superman: The Year In Review!

Happy New Year, 2010, everyone!

2009 continued, for the most part, a run of excellent Superman stories. The year began with the final three issues of the New Krypton storyline through the Superman titles, which concluded with the restored Kryptonian city of Kandor leaving Earth and constructing New Krypton with its crystaline technology. The planet settled into Earth orbit on the opposite side of the sun, setting up the Superman stories for the rest of the year. The biggest development in the Superman titles was the Man Of Steel's decision to leave Earth for New Krypton to keep an eye on his native people, because he doesn't totally trust them.

Next came the Origins & Omens, a company wide second feature highlighting origins and hints of future character developments, which tied in to the then upcoming Blackest Night event series. While the ones in the Superman titles were interesting, it seemed much ado about nothing to me.

A much more satisfying series was Superman: World Of New Krypton, the first ten issues of which were published in 2009. Except for an issue or two of the latter issues, this has been a satisfying series, developing Kryptonian society for modern readers. Geoff Johns did a clever job of combining past versions of Krypton into different guilds, each with their distinct wardrobes. Kal-El became a member of the military guild, led by General Zod, and took his place while Zod recovered from an assassination attempt. The current triangle numbering continued as the New Krypton storyline continued across the Superman family of titles.

Over in the regular Superman titles the supporting cast did a good job of carrying both Action Comics and Superman. Nightwing and Flamebird were re-introduced in Action Comics in the form of Chris Kent and Thara Ak-Var. Chris battled accelerated aging, while Thara had a mysterious connection to the ancient Kryptonian Flamebird legend. Mon-El took Superman's place, at the Man of Steel's request, as the guardian of Metropolis, and, as Clark's British cousin Jonathan Kent, a member of the Science Police under the leadership of The Guardian.

In Supergirl, Kara battled Superwoman, who was identified as Lois Lane's sister Lucy. Supergirl also spent the year hunting for Reactron, her father's murderer.

The Superman Annuals chronicled some origins in the New Krypton story. Action Comics Annual #12 told the origin of the Nightwing and Flamebird team, as Thara wore a special suit to retrieve Chris Kent from the Phantom Zone. She became a member of the Relious Guild and became connected to the legendary Flamebird. Superman Annual #14 chronicled how Mon-El came to Earth and Supergirl Annual #1 revealed the origin of Lucy Lane as Superwoman.

The new storyline began as Codename: Patriot, four issues across the Superman titles, beginning with Superman: World Of New Krypton #6. General Lane, leader of Project 7734 (Hell), discredited the Kryptonian heroes and Mon-El, building public opinion against the Metropolis superheroes.

Then in Jimmy Olsen Special #2, he continued his investigation into Project 7734 until he was shot and apparently drowned in Metropolis Harbor. While his absence has been notice by the Daily Plaent staff in subsequent issues, there have been no new details about Jimmy's fate.

The numbering contiued after Codename: Patriot and was now called World Against Superman. Amond the developments that have occurred was that Mon-El was thought killed by the public but had been captured by Gen. Lane and later escaped. Lois Lane discovered the truth about her father and was arrested by government agents. She faced her father alone in an interregation room and later released . Lois then resigned from the Planet staff after Perry could not print her story about Project 7734, in an unspoken agreement between the two so she would be free to get to the bottom of the story.

Adventure Comics returned in 2009 featuring the Conner Kent Superboy and the second feature Legion of Super-Heroes.

Superman's origin is also in the middle of a makeover as the new year begins with Superman: Secret Origins. While it does not totally negate John Byrne's Man Of Steel revamp, it does largely return many of the silver age elements of Superman's origin, including his start as Superboy and connection with the Legion of Super-Heroes. This new origin has upset some Superman readers, many of whom are mostly familiar only with the post Man Of Steel Superman. They're where I was in 1986, when it felt "my Superman" was being changed. I got back into comic books a few years later, and have since read some of the past Superman origins. All of them have been different from what came before and have shown Superman's origin from different perspectives and have added details that haven't necessarily contradicted past origins.

What's coming up for 2010? first of all the final two issues of Superman: World Of New Krypton will be published. DC has announced that the final fate of New Krypton will be decidedin the 3-part mini-series Superman: Last Stand Of New Krypton. The escaped Brainiac will attempt to recapture Kandor, and Zod will be prepared to sacrifice Earth to defeat Brainiac. Superman will attempt to stop both megalomaniacs. I would have liked to have seen the story tightened in Superman: World Of New Krypton and this battle conclude the mini-series. DC seems a little too quick, like Marvel, to break a story into as many mini-series as possible.

Free Comic Book Day on May 1, 2010 will see issue #0 of Superman: War Of The Supermen, which will apparently see the tension between Earth and Krypton explode, and be the Superman event series of the year.

Some of the past plots that are continuing into the new year are: Lana's health problems, Thara's deal with Jax-Ur, Zod's most dangerous sleeper agent, to stop Chris Kent's rapid aging. Also, Lois' attempt to uncover the story of her father's Project 7734, what is going on with Lucy Lane, and what is the fate of Jimmy Olsen? Personally I think that Jimmy will be recovered or rescued by Project Cadmus and be treated for his injuries, or cloned.

While I have enjoyed almost all of theses plots and stories, I have more of a problem with their presentation. World Of New Krypton has been great, but with that mini-series being the main Superman story, the regular Superman titles have become secondary. I wish that DC would return to the 1990's, in one respect, and run the story through the regular Superman titles, instead of separate it from them, and give budget conscious comic book readers a reason to read one but not the other. Breaking up the story into all of these sepatate mini-series seems the idea of a desparate company of a shrinking industry to milk as much from the readers it still have. Marvel has been guilty of this as well. I'd like to see the regular Superman titles being the focus of the stories, not supporting the main event mini-series.

DC has said that the reason they removed Superman from Earth was to show how important he was to the DC Universe. They said the same thing about 52, One Year Later and Trinity. When will they finally get off that soapbox and develop the next story that focuses on some other point.

Another thing I would like to see, which propbably won't happen until probably 2011 wtih the end of War Of The Supermen is the return of Clark Kent. One good thing from the 1990's ws the development of Clark Kent as much as Superman. Let's see the development in Clark and Lois' relationship. Kal-El can't be Superman all the time. There's been very little Clark Kent the last several years.

Beyond comic books I have enjoyed the Warner Premiere animated movies. Superman / Batman: Public Enemies was a great animated DVD, but my favorite is still Justice League: New Frontier. On the movie front I am very disappointed in Warner Brothers. They have been very slow to make a decision on a direction for the next Superman movie. DC Entertainment was even formed to better utilize the DC Universe for movie development. Other than the Jonah Hex movie, no new projects really seem to be in any stage of development. According to the Superman Homepage website DC Entertainment will soon announce their movie plans. Let's hope they get the ball rolling on a new Superman movie and DO IT RIGHT!

Next Week: On the first full week of the new year, and to begin celebrating DC Comic's 75th anniversary, the subject of the episode will be the founder of what would become DC, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson.

Superman Fan Podcast is at . Send e-mail about this podcast to .

Superman Fan Podcast is a proud member of the League of Comic Book Podcasters at and the Comics Podcast Network!

My Pull List is my spoiler free comic book review blog of the titles I read every week. It can be found at . Send e-mail about this blog to .

Join the Superman Fan Podcast and My Pull List groups on facebook, and follow the podcast and blogs on twitter @supermanpodcast.

Superman and all related characters are trademark and copyright DC Comics.

Thanks for listening to the Superman Fan Podcast and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Superman WebRing

Superman WebRing The Superman WebRing
This site is a member of the best
Superman websites on the Internet!
Previous SiteList SitesRandom SiteJoin RingNext Site
SiteRing by



Total Pageviews