Monday, April 13, 2015



While a lot of the crossovers I've covered here have elements of hand-to-hand conflict, here's one based in "foot vs. foot."

FLASH #175 was published as a follow-up to a similar set-up in SUPERMAN #199, which had only seen publication about three months earlier. The Superman story is a good read, but it has a somewhat "kiddie-level" feel to it. Superman and the Flash race one another for charity, but have to deal with illegal gamblers trying to sabotage the race for their own benefit.

As the cover above shows, the FLASH version of this conflict hinges more on the hero's pathos in contention with DC's premiere hero. The script by E. Nelson Bridwell shows a little more concern with overall continuity than was typical of DC comics in 1967.

In short, Superman and the Flash are forced to run across the galaxy in a competition managed by two alien gamblers, Rokk and Sorban, who had appeared in an earlier Superman story. The aliens also hold the whole Justice League hostage and threaten to destroy the home city of whichever hero loses the race. Refreshingly, Bridwell does manage to find ways for three of the Justice Leaguers to provide aid to the racing heroes, so that they're not simply confined to sitting around playing cheerleaders.

The story doesn't stand up to close scrutiny. Since Flash can't breathe in space, the alien betting on him promises to supply him with a force-field of breathable air throughout the race. However, you learn by story's end that the aliens are actually two of Flash's old foes, Professor Zoom and Abra Kadabra, who have only instigated the race in order to lure the Flash into various death-traps. When one of the villains says that he cancelled the force-field so that Flash should have died in space, Superman advances the absurd explanation that he provided the Flash with enough air to breathe via his "super-breath." Hmm, so Superman can expel pure oxygen from his lungs, rather than carbon dioxide? Still, I didn't really worry about such niceties as a kid reading this comic.

Ross Andru's art puts a lot of verve into the galaxy-spanning race, and the two heroes are seen to be somewhat distrustful of one another, possibly in response to the pervasive influence of Marvel Comics during the period.


Though like most fantasy-fans I've been entertained by the films based on the works of Jules Verne, I've been somewhat more ambivalent about the author's fiction. I have sampled more of his oeuvre than many modern readers, largely the "usual suspects" like JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, and AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, though I also have sampled some obscurities like OFF ON A COMET and THE CARPATHIAN CASTLE. But I had never come across the two novels that gave rise to his character Robur the Conqueror, entitled ROBUR THE CONQUEROR and MASTER OF THE WORLD. Elements from these novels were used in their most famous cinematic adaptation, 1961's MASTER OF THE WORLD, starring the redoubtable Vincent Price.

Recently I was able to correct that situation, as I came across an Ace combination of both novels, originally issued to take advantage of the then-current movie.  I crossed my fingers before reading them, for although I'd enjoyed some sections of both LEAGUES and EARTH when I recently re-read them, I found that Verne's tended to be over-indulgent with his copious research of places and physical phenomena, often at the expense of his characters.

The first of the two novels, "Robur" (published 1886), was a heady surprise. Verne starts slow, with a lot of detail about the state of manned flight-craft in his era, and introduces a whole society of balloon-specialists. Two members of this society, young hero Evans and his mentor Uncle Prudent, become the novel's heroes as they encounter the arrogant engineer Robur, who predicts that "heavier-than-air" flight will soon eclipse the "lighter-than-air" type. When the balloonists reject his claim, Robur kidnaps both men and their Negro valet (more on whom later). He takes them aboard his fantastic craft, the Albatross, and shows them how easily he can confound the military resources of every nation by simply sailing beyond their reach.

Verne is never great with characterization, so it's not clear what Robur gains from the kidnapping beyond a big "told you so," nor is it clear as to why he wants to keep the three men prisoners once he's accomplished this. Robur is clearly in the mold of Verne's earlier Captain Nemo, but Robur is more arrogant, in contrast to the way Nemo is mostly minding his own business when he's forced to take Professor Arronax and his companions aboard the Nautilus. While Nemo and Arronax enjoy each other's company as men of science, Robur does not socialize with his captives, though Verne may have meant to suggest that down deep, Robur wanted from them some validation of his accomplishment. Yet the fact that Evans and Prudent are unremittingly hostile toward Robur endows the novel with more tension than I found in LEAGUES: I read ROBUR with the same excitement I get from the best adventure-pulp.

Robur is in some ways a more compelling character than moody Captain Nemo, but unfortunately he's also more inconsistent. Sometimes he goes about mocking the authority of the European countries, but he also goes out of his way to prevent an African tribe committing a mass ritual murder of several innocent subjects. Evans and Prudent succeed in escaping the Albatross, and they also damage it with an explosive charge. However, when the two men and their crew are in danger during the test-flight of one of their balloons, Robur brings in the Albatross to rescue his rebellious guests, and then sets them free. He then issues another mocking declaration of the inevitable superiority of "heavier-than-air" flight, and vanishes into the sky. It's as if Robur, like his author, was just keeping Evans and Prudent in his company just to build tension, when his long-range aim was actually to catch the balloonists in an embarrassing situation, the better to prove publicly the superiority of his concept-- and indeed, the last we hear of the novel's protagonists is that the citizens of the U.S. are mocking them for their craft's failure.

MASTER OF THE WORLD (1904) lacks any of the virtues of the previous novel. Wikipedia notes that Verne's health was failing when he wrote MASTER, and indeed he passed in 1905, so one can understand if this was something less than a triumph.

However, this doesn't make MASTER any more fun to read. It's outrageously padded with tourist-like descriptions as the protagonist John Strock investigated strange phenomena in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Strock eventually finds out that Robur has holed up in one of the mountains while perfecting a new device: a triple-threat vehicle, "The Terror," which can convert from an air-craft to a land-vehicle to a submersible. Toward the short novel's end Robur captures Strock but never gives any reason as to why he chose to convert his Albatross into this new "Transformer-style" vehicle. Whereas a character named John Strock is instrumental to Robur's defeat in the 1961 film, here Verne takes the lazy way out and has Robur's craft struck by lightning. Strock survives the debacle but Robur's body is never found in his miracle-craft's wreckage.

I said that I would comment on Verne's character of Uncle Prudent's Negro valet, who goes by the name "Frycollin." I haven't read enough Verne to know of his general attitude toward characters of color, but Frycollin has got to be one of the worst minstrel-show Negroes of all time. In my commentary on the first two Tarzan books, I remarked that although Edgar Rice Burroughs was somewhat ambivalent on African Blacks, he found it expedient to heap cruel humor on a Black African-American character, a maid named Esmerelda. But at least once or twice Esmerelda seems like a human being, while Frycollin is just a concatenation of every minstrel-show trope in existence: he's witless, he eats like a pig, and he's a complete coward-- so much so that even when Prudent and Evans lay plans to escape, they know they can't confide in Frycollin or he'd reveal their plans, either out of stupidity or cowardice.  For that matter, given the unimaginative way Verne uses the tropes, I can't imagine them being even modestly funny to those who like racist humor.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


I've finished a lengthier analysis of DC Comics' CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS here. but that essay doesn't discuss the series from the POV of crossover aesthetics.

First, I should note that this type of crossover is the one I defined here as the STATIC CROSSOVER:

In such works, the author assumes an overall cosmos in which all of the myth-characters he invokes are capable of encountering one another at any time.

The first example of the static type that I cited on this blog was FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #3, Marvel Comics' first large-scale assemblage of most of their 20th-century characters in one story. CRISIS ON INFINTE EARTHS-- "COIE" for short-- has many of the same faults and virtues of this annual. On the one hand, the seasoned fan enjoys the experience of seeing characters mixed together that did not typically meet, be it Mr. Hyde and Hawkeye, or Swamp Thing and the Losers. On the other hand, the meetings are so short that there's often a sense of frustration in such brief encounters.

A lot of COIE consists of characters looking up at the sky in apprehension or laying plans to deal with the Anti-Monitor, and these don't exactly give artist George Perez the chance to excel with his mastery of superhero kinetics.

The best issues to seek out for heroic action in the Mighty Perez Manner are COIE #6, in which the DC heroes contend with characters from other publishers, including Fawcett and Charlton:

And COIE #9, which puts the heroes in conflict with a contingent of DC's best villains, plus a tiny handful of Fawcett villains.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


I've already discussed the two best Stan Lee-Steve Ditko crossover stories of the Silver Age, here and here,  and the one Stan Lee-written comic that wasn't a collaboration with either Ditko or Jack Kirby  here. But Ditko also did one other notable crossover in the Silver Age. Given Ditko's contrarian nature, though, it's significant that he refuses to give the casual reader what he might expect. "Blue Beetle Faces the Destroyer of Heroes," the lead story of BLUE BEETLE #5, does have the hero of the titular feature cross paths twice with the hero of the same comic's backup strip, The Question. However, the heroes do not meet with both in costume.

First, Vic Sage (aka the Question) crosses paths with Ted Kord (aka the Blue Beetle) when both happen to be at a museum. They stand together to prevent some scuzzy hippies from assaulting one of the Greek artworks on display, but they part ways thereafter and don't so much as shake hands.

Later, one of the hippies takes it into his head to don a costume based on a sculpture that represents absurdity and pointlessness, and to break into the museum to finish what his buddies started: destroying images of heroism and purpose.  While Blue Beetle is fighting the costumed kook atop the museum's roof, on the street below one of the hippies grabs a cop's gun and tries to shoot the Beetle. Vic Sage happens to be around, and he disarms and clouts the bum, perhaps saving the Beetle's life. The Beetle then goes looking for his opponent, and never pauses to find out who shot at him or who saved him from being shot.

The "Blue Beetle" story also introduces a character who is featured as the villain in the "Question" backup, but this second story is not a crossover as such.

It's doubtful that "Destroyer of Heroes" made much impact on its dominantly juvenile audience at the time. However, many hardcore fans of the period still regard "Destroyer" as one of the most important stories of the decade.  Though philosophical concerns did sometimes pop up as side-issues in the Silver Age stories of, say, Superman and the Fantastic Four, BLUE BEETLE #5 is arguably the first mainstream comic book to devote an entire issue to exploring its author's philosophical outlook. (It's rivaled only by MYSTERIOUS SUSPENSE #1, but this full-length comic was also authored by Steve Ditko, and bears the same cover date, October 1968, as BLUE BEETLE #5.)

Of course one can argue with many aspects of Ditko's Ayn Rand-flavored meritocracy, but the story remains one of Ditko's best dramatizations of his concerns. Later, Blue Beetle and Question teamed up "for real" in another story from Charlton, one from Americomics, and finally from DC Comics. This established the trope of a bond of friendship between the two heroes that never existed in the original Ditko crossover, a bond referenced in Alan Moore's WATCHMEN, where the Ditko characters are transformed into Rorschach and Nite Owl.