Saturday, September 10, 2011

Episode #195: Superman Family Comic Book Cover Dated July/August 1956: World's Finest Comics #83!

World's Finest Comics #83, July/August 1956, was published around May 31, 1956. It contained 32 pages for the cover price of 10¢. The editor was Jack Schiff, and the cover was pencilled by Dick Sprang and inked by Stan Kaye. At the top of the cover was a banner headline advertising a "Gigantic Contest" for about 5,000 prizes by DC Comics. More about this contest later in this episode.

The 12 page Superman/Batman story in this issue was titled The Case Of The Mother Goose Mystery, written by Bill Finger, pencilled by Dick Sprang and inked by Stan Kaye. It was reprinted in World's Finest Comics Archives vol. I and Showcase Presents: Superman vol. I. According to the Grand Comic Book Database, the cover credit listed in both reprint editions incorrectly listed the cover penciller as Curt Swan, and Dick Sprang personally confirmed that he had pencilled the cover.

Superman, Batman and Robin had just left the Gotham City Annual Police Ball when they saw a man, dressed in a Humpty Dumpty costume, stumbling down the street. When the heroes ran to his aid, he mumbled something about finding Mother Goose and danger before passing out. There happened to be a doctor's office, and they took the injured man to Dr. King.

The heroes waited in the front room while the Dr. took Mr. Humpty Dumpty into the examination room. Superman, Batman and Robin became impatient in the waiting room (after all, it was a doctor's office). After waiting a very long time, they entered the examination room, only to find it empty except for a note. It read, You three have always been considered the world's greatest crime fighters! So this is a challenge, a duel of wits -- your combined intellect against mine! For your first clue, investigate London Bridge!

Batman recalled that the man dressed as Humpty Dumpty warned about Mother Goose, and deduced that their challenger was embarking on crimes involving Mother Goose nursery rhymes. Superman remembered the line from a nursery rhyme about London Bridge falling down, and was about to fly to London to check it out, when Batman informed him that a replica of London Bridge was in Gotham City.

The almost life size replica was in the Exhibit Of Architectural Structures. As soon as Superman, Batman and Robin arrived, the London Bridge model began to collapse. While Superman flew up to save the bridge. Batman swung up on his batrope to save the guard who fell off of the collapsing bridge. The Caped Crusader was surprised to find that the guard was only a man shaped balloon. Superman was also surprised to find that the bridge was only built of balsa wood. They found another note on the costumed balloon, If you don't know the answer yet, try searching Hickory Dickory Dock.

Batman happened to remember that there was a dock built entirely of hickory wood on the Gotham waterfront. When the three heroes arrived there, they say a man who was reaching into his pocket. Fearing the man was reaching for his gun, Batman tackled him before he could pull out a gun. The dazed man introduced himself as Mousey, and instead of a gun, took a note out of his pocket and led the heroes to the top of the nearby clock tower.

Inside the top of the clock tower was none other than Mother Goose herself, with another note pinned to her bonnet. When Superman, Batman and Robin examined Mother Goose, Mousey dropped a cage to trap them, and left the clock tower. Superman broke out of the cage and discovered that the bars were made of paper mache, not iron. And the note on Mother Goose's bonnet read, Still puzzled? Perhaps the Cat and the Fiddle will help. Batman found a trap door in the floor which lead to the street, as if their mystery opponent wanted to provide a means of escape.

Superman began to suspect that the whole case was just a wild goose chase, no pun intended. Batman decided that it was about time to do some investigating. So the three heroes returned to the offices of the fake Doctor. Robin found a cigar with what looked like lipstick on it, and wondered if the Doctor had been a woman in disguise. Batman thought that he might have been an actor wearing makeup.The Caped Crusader also noted that Humpty Dumpty would not have been smoking if he had really been injured, which meant that he and the fake Doctor might be working together.

Meanwhile, Mousey entered the offices of Adventure, Inc., R. Melville, President, as noted by the sign on the door. Melville called Mousey Jones, an actor he had employed. The purpose of Melville's actors and writers was to supply excitement, adventure and the thrill of danger to their clients. Melville's latest clients were the three McKenna Brothers, who wanted to feel like their heroes, Superman, Batman and Robin.  Unfortunately, the brothers had their dates mixed up, thinking their date to play their favorite heroes was the next evening.

Melville paid Jones for his night's work, but Jones was dissatisfied with the few measly bucks he earned, and wondered if there was a way to cash in on this setup. He contacted a small time hoodlum named Foots Moley. Jones explained everything about Adventure, Inc., and their latest clients posing as Superman, Batman and Robin. Together, Jones and Moley, with his gang, went to the Cat and the Fiddle Night Club. The building had a giant statue of a cat playing a fiddle on the building, as well as a helium filled cow balloon. It was tethered to a cable, ready to appear to jump over the "moon" installed on the nightclub's roof, simulating the fake Superman carrying it.  Moley and his gang robbed the customers, while Superman carried Batman and Robin to the nightclub as well.

Moley and his gang left the nightclub just as the heroes arrived, along with Melville and his staff of writers, who wanted to watch their script performed by their superhero worshiping clients. Melville and his staff were surprised when the heroes totally ad libbed their performance. They were not as surprised as Moley and his gang were when they discovered that they faced the real World's Finest Heroes, who made quick work of the gang.

Batman assumed that Melville and his staff also belonged to Moley's gang, but Melville talked the World's Finest Heroes into returning to his office where he explained everything to the heroes. Melville even had the McKenna Brothers go to his offices to confirm his story. As Melville went over his script with the McKenna Brothers, the World's Finest Heroes left because, as Superman said, This was where we came in.

After first reading this story, I asked myself, "And the point of the story was ...?" and I'm still asking for the most part. This story was filled with misunderstandings for everyone. The McKenna Brothers had the wrong date, Moley and his gang mistook the World's Finest Heroes for the fake actors costumed as their favorite superheroes, and Batman mistook Melville and his staff for members of the Moley gang.

This story might also be an early example of cosplayers shown in comic books.

The written clues, fake props and easy means of escape all pointed to a theatrical production. But early in the story, Superman, Batman and Robin were led on a wild goose chase.

When Melville learns the entire story about Jones' involvement with Moley's gang, I expect Jones to be out of a job, except for doing command performances in jail.

This story wasn't the worse I've read, but I like it less than most Bill Finger written stories. It did have a staple of Finger stories, with oversized props like the cat with the fiddle, Mother Goose and the cow balloon. I'm torn between giving it a high 2 or a low 3, so I'll settle for 3 Superman Capes out of 5.

Green Arrow starred in the 6 page second story of the issue, The Error Car, drawn by George Papp. Professor Weldon presented Green Arrow and Speedy with a new Arrow Car, which was so filled with crime fighting accessories, that GA and Speedy had to fight their own car in order to catch the villains.

After this story, DC placed a full page ad for their slogan contest. Readers who submitted entries could win 5,000 prizes, including a Columbia bike, skates, games and dolls. Entry forms would appear in issues of DC Comics carrying the September 1956 cover date. This contest will be followed in future episodes.

The final story of the issue starred Tomahawk in the 6 page story, The Tribe Without A Chief, drawn by Bob Brown. Tomahawk helped the Chippewa tribe expose a plot by the Mohican tribe to keep the Chippewas from selecting a new tribal chief after the death of Chief Running Bear.

Elsewhere in DC Comics, 30 titles carried the July or July/August 1956 cover date.

Next Episode: Superman Comic Book Cover Dated September 1959: Action Comics #256!

In 3 Weeks: Superman Family Comic Book Cover Dated August 1956: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #14!

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