Friday, November 28, 2008

Volume Three, Number Twenty

Historical Overview
of the
MLJ Magazines/Archie Comic Publications
Superhero Lines!

Part Ten

Even though Archie Comic Publications/Radio Comics had launched "The Adventures of Young Dr. Masters" and "The Shadow" in 1964, the Archie Adventure Series line was dying a slow painful death. As mentioned in the previous installment, according to Rick Goldwater, son of one of MLJ Magazines' founders, John Goldwater, the main reason for the poor sales of the line was strictly distribution difficulties; a somewhat doubtful possibility as Archie Adventure Series was distributed by the same company that distributed Archie Comic Publications' Archie Series line which could be found just about everywhere in those days. Most comics fans and historians put the blame on the poor quality of the material, but a few people point the finger at the name of the line itself: ARCHIE Adventure Series.

While the Archie titles were big sellers in the 1960s-and are still quite successful today-they were and still are targeted at a certain type of readership. Also too anything with the name "Archie" on it signified good, wholesome fun. While there's nothing wrong with that, some comics readers were looking for something more challenging, something like, well, what was being given to them by Marvel and to a lesser extent DC/National and Gold Key (with Dr. Solar, Turok and other titles). And while the Archie Adventure Series titles weren't along the same lines as the Archie Series titles the mere mention of the name "Archie" on the cover was a turn-off to the very readers who might well have ordinarily bought "The Shadow" and "Adventures of The Fly" (though chances are they would have only bought one issue of "The Shadow"). Today's fans are a bit more sophisticated, but back in the 1960s Archie meant wholesomeness, and even in 1964 readers wanted their superheroes to have a bit of an edge.

Thus, the line was failing and by 1964 the Archie Adventure Series' flagship title, "Adventures of The Fly" was reduced to being published semi-annually. After issue #30 (October 1964) it vanished completely. But before it was canceled, the title-and the line-made one more attempt at reviving a long forgotten MLJ Magazines character; or in this case more of a revitalization.

In the Fly Girl story that appeared in "Adventures of The Fly" #30, The Fly's partner met up with The Comet. This was not though the same, brutal Comet who had appeared in the early issues of Pep Comics, but rather the ruler of a distant planet called Altron who had come to Earth to convince Fly Girl to be his bride. Even his powers and costume were different with this Comet wearing a rainbow-striped helmet and an extremely gaudy looking outfit. His powers included flight-which he was able to accomplish thanks to his "rainbow helmet"-and the ability to shoot ray beams from his gloves. The story, as with previous stories that had been appearing in "Adventures of The Fly", was fairly pedestrian. But what Fly-fans -and there were some including myself at the time-were totally unaware of was that this Comet was actually a harbinger of things to come in 1965. But that's a story for next month when we talk about Fly Man, Mighty Comics Group and The Mighty Crusaders. See you then.


That's all for this time out. Don't forget to check out The Groovy Agent's excellent blog on 1970s comics at, and feel free to comment on what you've read so far in E-Dispatches From The Great White North at its blogsite .

Friday, November 21, 2008

Volume Three, Number Nineteen

In the early 1960s Archie Comic Publications-sometimes referred to in the indicia of some of its comics as "Radio Comics"-published a line of paperbacks under the name of "Belmont Paperbacks" which, among other things, reprinted under license the pulp prose adventures of The Shadow. As these paperbacks were relatively successful Archie/Radio decided to also publish a comic book featuring the legendary pulp hero. The potential for an exciting hero genre comic reminiscent of the quality material MLJ Magazines published in its early days was clearly evident, but once placed in the hands of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel the result was a comic that ranks high among the worst comics published in the 1960s (sharing top honour with MF Enterprises' Captain Marvel and Dell's Werewolf and Dracula).

Actually the first two issues of Archie's "Shadow" (which debuted November, 1964) weren't all that bad. While the artwork was somewhat pedestrian and the stories for the most part bland both issues stuck pretty close in concept to the pulp Shadow. But beginning with issue number three not only was a new artistic direction taken (with former 1940s Green Lantern artist Paul Reinman at the helm), but a whole new direction for the comic itself was introduced. Gone was the cloaked version of The Shadow and replacing him was a costumed superhero version of The Shadow who in his purple and green outfit battled such threats as "The Radiation Rogue", "Dr. Demon", "Attila The Hunter" and "The Princess of Death"; none of whom would have given even Captain Sprocket a difficult time, but under the direction of Jerry Siegel became deadly foes against the new version of The Shadow.

This is not to say that Jerry Siegel was a terrible writer. He wasn't by any stretch of the imagination. However, as with many writers from the golden age of comics-Joe Simon immediately comes to mind-he lost touch with the times resulting in comics scripts that did not in any way reflect his true talents.

The artwork was not Paul Reinman's best either. In the 1940s he was extremely innovative and had an excellent visual storytelling ability but by the 1960s he was nearing the end of his career and basically was only going through the motions. All in all the potential of this comic was nowhere realized, and after issue number eight it vanished from the newsstands. A couple of decades later in an interview in "Comics Interview" #3 (May, 1983) Dick Goldwater, son of one of the company's founders John Goldwater, stated that the reason for the failure was because the comic was not well distributed. As the same distributor that handled the company's Archie titles-which were found at every outlet-handled "The Shadow", this statement by Mr. Goldwater is extremely dubious at best. The most likely case is that the comic just didn't sell and after eight issues of bad sales Archie Comic Publications simply pulled the plug. That's the most likely scenario but in "Comic Reader" No. 200 (April, 1982) Lou Mougin, in an an article about the 1960s Archie superhero line, put forth a hypothesis that is much more to my liking. According to Lou, what REALLY happened was that the pulp version of The Shadow got so fed up with the abomination that was appearing in the comics that he pulled out his 45s and blew him away. Makes sense to me.
NEXT: Final days of The Fly and an eye toward the future.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Volume Three, Number Eighteen

(Part Eight)


As mentioned last time out "The Double Life of Private Strong" vanished from the newsstands and magazine shelves after only two issues. However, this did not mean that The Fly was the sole super-powered member of the Archie Adventure Series Universe (for lack of a better term). In "Adventures of The Fly" #7 (July 1960) The Black Hood made his silver age debut in a tale where he teamed up with The Fly and in the very next issue (cover-dated September 1960) the silver age Shield (some years later to be revealed as the son of the original Shield) appeared.Both these characters must have gotten favourable fan mail as each made return appearances; The Shield in issue 9 and The Black Hood in issue 10.

In the coming months the Archie Adventure Series Universe continued to grow. In the 14th issue of The Fly Kim Brand, a movie actress who debuted in the previous issue, became Fly-Girl and would be Fly's partner throughout his comics appearances in the 1960s. Also that month-September 1961-Archie would launch a new comics title; "Adventures of The Jaguar" featuring a superhero who could summon up all the powers of the animal kingdom (but for some unexplained reason needed a jet-belt to fly).

Around the same time The Fly, Flygirl and The Jaguar began appearing in five-page adventures in the back of "Pep" and "Laugh". While some comics historians have speculated that this was done to get superhero fans to read other Archie titles this is unlikely as their appearances in these two Archie Universe titles were never promoted and the characters never appeared on the covers of either "Pep" or "Laugh" when they appeared. What is more likely the case is the reverse; that the folks at Archie Comic Publications wanted to get the readers of "Pep" and "Laugh" interested in the Archie Adventure Series line.

"Adventures of The Jaguar" ran for fifteen issues with number 15 being cover-dated November 1963. While a competent series With the exception of issues 13 and 14-both of which featured The Black Hood-none were very memorable or contributed much to the history of the Archie Adventure Series Universe.

With the cancellation of "Adventures of The Jaguar" The Fly's comic was alone on the stands again until (cover-date) August 1964. two new titles were launched that year under the Archie Adventure Series imprint. One was a quarterly title called "Adventures of Young Dr. Masters" which lasted only two issues and the other (cover dated November 1964) is a definite candidate for, outside of M.F. Enterprises' "Captain Marvel", the title of the worst comic book of the 1960s. It's name? THE SHADOW.



Thursday, November 13, 2008

Volume Three, Number Seventeen

Let's return our overview look at the history of MLJ Magazines/Archie Comic Publications superhero lines.

Noticing that National Comics Publications (today known as DC Comics) was having some success with its revival of the superhero genre in early 1959, Archie Comic Publications decided to revive some of its superhero characters from the 1940s. Around that same time comics legend Joe Simon was planning to approach the company in search of some writing assignments. Upon his arrival at the Archie offices, he was given the job of reviving "The Shield" and developing new material for the company. While opinions vary as to who did what to the two concepts, in the end Joe Simon returned with a new version of "The Shield" titled "The Double Life of Private Strong" and a brand new series titled "Adventures of The Fly". Much to the surprise of folks at Archie Comic Publications, when they looked at the first pages of what Joe Simon brought in, they found that they had been done in the unmistakable style of his long-time partner Jack Kirby who, it turned out, Simon had asked to assist on the project.

"The Double Life of Private Strong" was launched first, with a cover-date of June, 1959. Featuring a superhero named "The Shield", the title alluded to the secret identity of the lead character who through manipulation by his scientist father when the hero was a child was able to use the normally untapped 90% of his brain. The comics' appearance on the newsstand immediately resulted in National/DC taking legal action against Archie Comic Publications, claiming that "The Double Life of Private Strong" infringed on their "Superman" trademarks and copyrights. Only one more issue of the comic was published before it-and the legal action-was dropped.

"Adventures of The Fly"-which was about a young orphan boy named Tommy Troy who was given a magic ring that could change him into a super-powered adult known as The Fly-was released under the "Archie Adventure Series" imprint (as was "The Double Life of Private Strong") with a cover-date of August, 1959, the same month that the second and final issue of the comic featuring the new version of the Shield appeared. "Adventures of The Fly" #s 1 & 2 along with both issues of "The Double Life of Private Strong" both featured the work of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Then with the cancellation of "The Double Life of Private Strong", Kirby left and went to work for the company which is today known as Marvel to work on its various monster, western and fantasy titles with Stan Lee. Joe Simon remained on "Adventures of The Fly" for two more issues and then himself moved on. With the comics' fifth issue for no apparent reason or explanation Tommy Troy went from being an orphan boy to an adult lawyer, continuing to have adventures as "The Fly" and ignoring his days as an orphan. Also beginning with this issue the art and writing took on a more National/DC feel to it eliminating all the flare and excitement that made comics by the "Simon & Kirby" team such big sellers in the past. Whether this was a decision of the upper management at Archie Comic Publications-who may have hoped to attract National/DC readers by adopting more of a National/DC look-or by accident we may never know for sure. One thing is certain though, while "Adventures of The Fly" continued to be an enjoyable and readable comic for its time, it didn't have anywhere near the excitement and sales potential that it would have had if Simon and Kirby had remained. For all intents and purposes, "Adventures of The Fly" had gone from being a great comic to just being pretty unremarkable.


NEXT: "Adventures of The Fly" gets a companion title on the stands.