Saturday, June 27, 2009

Out of the Vault - Power Factor #1

The late 80's and early 90's were littered with independent comics publishers that sprung up almost literally overnight, published one or two issues of a book or two, then disappeared without a trace. And it sometimes seems as if half of them were edited by David Campiti (who now runs a company called Glass House Graphics, which boasts a certain Jinky Coronado among its creators--according to Wikipedia, Campiti can also boast a certain Jinky Coronado as his wife).

One such company was Wonder Color Comics, which lasted long enough to publish single issues of three titles, before shutting its doors. One of those titles was Power Factor #1, published in 1987, written by Kevin Juaire and drawn by Tom Lyle and Doug Hazlewood.

The cover features the central problem with Power Factor in a nutshell. There are four characters on the cover: a costumed archer holding the body of another costumed hero on the left, and two shadowy figures in some sort of blue dimensional rift on the right.

None of those characters appear in the story. Some of their costumes appear on mannequins, however.

That doesn't make any sense, I know. Let's try it this way: Power Factor is the story of...

No, that doesn't really work, either. Let's try it this way:

The story opens in 1965 with a meeting between crime bosses. The main Boss (who is not named in the scene) explains to the representatives of the other syndicates that costumed superheroes are no cause for panic. He displays a mannequin wearing a bullet-riddled costume and says that any hero who wears a costume will soon be dead.

He then gives his son Michael a squirt gun. Michael recoils, saying "That's a bad guy's gun. I wanted to be a cop." I have no idea how you can tell a bad squirt gun from a good squirt gun, but roll with it.

We then see a flying superhero confront a couple of street thugs. Bullets bounce off him, and the toughs turn to run. But then a homeless guy pulls out a huge freaking blaster and blows a hole in the hero. The Boss (or maybe a boss, the art is unclear) steps out and tells his underlings to collect the costume.

In the Boss's office, a few years later, we see he has a gallery of mannequins in costumes representing all the heroes he has killed. While he's gone, however, his son Michael, who still has no idea what his dad does for a living, sneaks into the office and tries one of the costumes on. The Boss comes back and tells Michael that he should hold no reverence for costumes, because the "heroes" who wear them are the enemies of his Family.

Ten years later, Michael has joined the family business. The Boss's right hand man, Julius, tells him, "There's no secret whose son you are, Michael." Then in the next panel, Julius takes a phone call and announces, "Larson Grant is dead."


Apparently, Larson Grant was the name of the Boss (so it sort of was a secret whose son Michael was, at least to the readers). So now Michael is the new head of the syndicate.

Seven years later, it's 1987, and two men are meeting in a small kitchen. Sam Drake has superpowers and has been on the run for twenty years. Josh Kennedy, an old black ex-coach who walks with a cane, asks Sam how many times he's tried to kill himself.

The two men then confront a third man, identified only as Ferret. Ferret was a costumed hero who was "convinced" to retire by the mob. Sam and Josh tell Ferret they have a plan to revive the costumes, but Ferret flees. When Sam tracks him down, Ferret says he was ordered to retire or lose his wife and child. No way will he ever wear the Ferret costume again.

So Sam says "Be somebody else," and dumps a dozen costumes onto the ground (stolen from the mannequins in Michael's office).

And there, twenty pages in, we finally get to the crux of the concept of Power Factor. The premise is that a hero wearing a costume would be easy to kill, because the bad guys could just study him till they found a weakness: discovered a vulnerability in his powers, a flaw in his tactics, or failing that, just figured out his secret identity and threatened his family. Power Factor, then, is a group of heroes dressed in the costumes of dead heroes, who switch those costumes back and forth, so the bad guys never know exactly whom they dealing with.

This isn't completely spelled out in the story, mind you. We have a scene of Josh recruiting another hero for their stable, and then a scene where Sam Drake, dressed in the costume young Michael tried on so many years ago, confronts the grown Michael and basically says, "We're back." The first issue ends with Michael contemplating his bad guy squirt gun in an old trunk.

No, the premise is spelled out in way too much detail in a three-page text feature following the story. Editor Campiti waxes ecstatic about how awesomely different Power Factor will be from other super-team books, with an oblique slam at Watchmen thrown in for good measure. Three full pages to tell you what I said in one paragraph above.

Well, you can probably understand why Power Factor didn't take off. It was all about the concept. Ideas are cheap; what matters is the execution. Which is not to say Power Factor was horribly written or drawn. Writer Kevin Juaire did some interesting things with structure that showed he had at least a clue about storytelling. And artists Tom Lyle and Doug Hazlewood turned in a competent art job that foreshadowed their later work for DC (Lyle as penciller of Starman and Hazlewood as inker of Adventures of Superman, among others).

But what makes a series really take off is characters. And Power Factor just doesn't have them. The most distinctive character in the book, the Boss, dies halfway through the story. The "heroes" of the series, Sam and Josh, appear without fanfare late in the book, and spend most of their time standing around conversing casually with other characters they've never met. Meanwhile, fully a third of the book, seven pages, is devoted to anonymous heroes being killed off. We never know who they are, and we don't care, because they're dead within a few panels.

By the end of the first issue, there was no tension, no mystery, no excitement. Wonder Color Comics folded after this was published. A second issue was published (with art by Carmine Infantino, supposedly) by Pied Piper Comics before that company, too, folded.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


So here it is, 11:30 p.m., and I've just realized that it's Wednesday and I've got no Big Audio Wednesday update. Chalk it up to severe depression over a personal mess and post-Atom Man exhaustion.

Anyway, I've been rewatching Buffy on Hulu lately. I got onto the Buffy train late--Season Four, actually, which is when the show had already passed its peak--and even though I worked at a TV station that aired the show in syndication, I had still never actually watched all the episodes, especially in order. I'm almost halfway through Season Two now, both anticipating and dreading the moment when Angel switches from Love Interest to Big Bad.

The biggest problem with Buffy on Hulu, though, is that it seems to hang up in the player even worse than other shows. The show will lock up and the player bar will suddenly announce that it is "buffering..."

That's right. Hulu has to Buffer the Vampire Slayer.

Had to say it. I'm not proud of it, but it had to be done.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Bit of Perspective

Just as an addendum to yesterday's Vault entry, you know when Stan says this?

Here are the kinds of new titles Marvel was coming out with about that time.

Omega the Unknown (1975)
Howard the Duck (1976)
2001, A Space Odyssey (1976)
The Eternals (1976)
Godzilla (1977)
Star Wars (1977)
The Human Fly (1977)
Ms. Marvel (1977)
Red Sonja (1977)
Logan's Run (1977)
Machine Man (character introduced in 1977, got his own series in 1978)
Spider-Woman (character introduced in 1977, got her own series in 1978)
Shogun Warriors (1979)
Devil Dinosaur (1978)
Dazzler (character introduced in 1980, got her own series in 1981)
Savage She-Hulk (1980)

So now you see what Stan the Man meant by "blockbusters only." A few observations:

Marvel was going crazy with the movie tie-ins at the time, obviously. Star Wars hit huge and lasted for 107 issues. But Logan's Run was not a hit and lasted only 8. Kirby's 2001 lasted 10 issues, and a character from the series (Machine Man) was spun off into his own book the next year. Japanese licensed characters Godzilla and Shogun Warriors had brief runs as well. Real-life stuntman The Human Fly didn't last long, either.

Results were similarly hit-and-miss for the original characters as well. Kirby's creations--Machine Man, Devil Dinosaur, and The Eternals--were all canceled fairly quickly. Howard the Duck and Omega had very limited shelf lives. Red Sonja (a spin-off from Conan) lasted only 15 issues in her own book.

Marvel also tried introducing a range of female counterparts of their male signature characters. So we got Ms. Marvel (23 issues), Spider-Woman (50 issues) and the Savage She-Hulk (25 issues).

I understand that Stan the Man's appearance in Nova was a joke. Just like the FF story in which Stan agrees to do a special issue featuring the Impossible Man (which would presumably be the issue we were reading at that moment), he changes his mind as soon as the Impossible Man has left, because Marvel would never publish such a silly-looking character (said as he walks past a poster of Howard the Duck).

In Nova, he's saying that Nova is not a significant enough hero to rate a Marvel title, when in fact, we are reading him in a Marvel title at that moment. So Nova is clearly going to be more significant than Stan the Man thinks.

But the joke turned out to be on Stan, I think. Because none of the "blockbusters" published by Marvel in that period turned out to have legs. Star Wars and Spider-Woman were the best of the lot, but none of the others were able to sustain a title for more than 25 issues (two years of a monthly title). The characters have (mostly) survived in Marvel continuity and been reborn and rejiggered in attempts to make them more appealing, with some notable successes, but none of Marvel's "blockbuster" characters from the late 70's were successful out of the gate.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Out of the Vault - The Man Called Nova #5

So yeah, I guess I'm going to ride this horse till the wheels fall off or something. Last week featured the Marvel Bullpen guest-starring in Fantastic Four #176. The text feature replacing the letter column said that the Marvel offices would also feature in an upcoming issue of The Man Called Nova.

So I decided to look it up. Turns out, it was issue #5, cover dated January 1977. The cover is one of Kirby's lesser efforts, but at least it effectively conveys what goes on inside. The basic story is, Richard Rider sees a TV news story saying that Marvel Comics is looking to get hold of Nova for a potential comic book. So he changes to Nova and flies there immediately.

When he gets there, he meets Marv Wolfman and Sal Buscema (this issue's writer and penciller, natch), who want to pitch the idea for a Nova comic book to Stan Lee. The only tie-in to FF # 176 is a brief mention by Marv that "We had a little trouble here the other day, and we haven't cleaned up yet."

Turns out, Stan's out giving lectures, so to kill time, Nova, Sal, and Marv head to Central Park, where Nova demonstrates his various powers. It doesn't take long--he only has the flight, the not-so-impressive super-strength, and the invulnerability.

It does make for an amusing moment, though, when he asks a cop to shoot him. The cop protests, but his older partner says, "Take it easy, Bill. We got clearance from downtown for this." Wonder if Marvel specifically called them to clear the shooting, or if it's just a general rule of the NYPD: "If a superhero asks you to shoot him, do it." I kind of like the latter idea.

Anyway, about that time, that issue's villain, Tyrannus, shows up, driving a lame-o giant robot with a drill for a hat. Tyrannus was a bad Mole Man knock-off who first appeared in an early issue of The Incredible Hulk, and whenever I see him in a comic, my first reaction is, "who?" And then I sort of remember vaguely that he's that lame guy who shows up every now and then to provide a generic punching bag for one issue while the hero's taking a break from whatever he's really got going.

So Nova spends way too many pages making Tyrannus look like a legitimate threat, then (as is usual for Tyrannus apparently) beats him with one punch. Okay, and the threat of several more--they seriously pull the ol' "not the face" routine here, because Tyrannus is apparently the Barbi Twins' brother or something.

So with New York safe once again, Nova and the Marvel boys head back to the office to finally see Stan Lee.

It's not a bad cameo. I'm not sure whether to credit Sal Buscema or inker Tom Palmer with the Mort Drucker-like quality of the caricatures in this ish. I would say it's mostly Palmer, which is cool. His inks get pretty muddy in other places, though. He sometimes got a little too carried away with the zip gun, if you know what I mean.

So anyway, a fun issue overall, I guess, but kind of a throwaway. You could say the same about the Impossible Man's appearance in Fantastic Four #176, of course, but that issue was a breather after a multi-issue battle with Galactus and featured the return of a long-almost-forgotten character. This issue was a one-off in a string of one-offs before Nova had any real signature villains of his own (the next issue would feature the return of Condor, Powerhouse and Diamondhead, making them the first members of his recurring rogue's gallery). Plus, this was the second appearance of the Bullpen in three months, so you can see why this issue had very little of the impact that the FF one did.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Big Audio Wednesday - Superman vs. Atom Man, the Final Chapter

So here they are, the final six episodes of the Atom Man storyline from 1945.

One thing that struck me when listening to the story the first time was how bloodthirsty the story was for what was ostensibly a children's show. Multiple characters die off in gruesome ways and the death trap Sidney sets up for Superman is one of the most sadistic I've ever heard of. But kid's entertainment was different back then, nine years before Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent.

The other thing that strikes me, which I've already remarked on a few times, but which bears repeating, is how sophisticated the storytelling is. Although most children's entertainment was based around kids' short attention spans, this long form story includes twists and turns to rival any mother's soap opera or modern serial drama. All in brisk fifteen-minute chunks that have no problem holding a kid's attention.

But radio serials weren't unique in that regard. Many comic strips employed the same tricks, telling longer stories over the course of weeks and months in tiny chunks. Dick Tracy's epic battle against Flattop lasted over a year, I think.

The story so far:

Nazi scientist Der Teufel injected young Henry Miller with a solution of dissolved Kryptonite to transform him into an Atom Man, with the ability to shoot rays of radioactive death from his hands. Miller, having killed both his first mentor Der Teufel and his second mentor, the criminal genius known only as Sidney, has set off on a destructive rampage to destroy Metropolis in retaliation for the defeat of Germany.

Meanwhile, a powerless Superman lies buried alive in a bunker underneath the murdered Sidney's garage. Even if he can get himself free, he is powerless in the Atom Man's presence and has already been defeated by him twice. How can he possibly prevail?

Click the widget to listen. Files will autoplay in order.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Out of the Vault - Fantastic Four #176

Posting this a day late. Sorry.

So one of the very few blogs I read regularly anymore is snell's "Slay, Monstrobot of the Deep," and for a while now, he's had this sporadic series going where he's building up to a recap of Fantastic Four #177, featuring the Frightful Four. But the actual hook he used to start off the series was the final panel of FF #176, featuring this shot of the Frightful Four's three main members (the fourth member has changed over the years).

So I thought it would be a good change of pace, after three weeks of blogging about comics featuring real people, to jump back into a good old-fashioned mainer-than-mainstream superhero comic. And what better issue to feature than the issue that leads into snell's series, Fantastic Four #176.

Cover-dated November 1976, Fantastic Four #176, titled "Improbable As It May Seem--The Impossible Man Is Back in Town!," is a palate cleanser. The FF had just finished an epic multi-issue adventure on Counter-Earth that had culminated in a titanic battle between Galactus and the High Evolutionary. Cosmic stuff, man, and I got briefly hooked on reading FF as a result of it. Issue #176 was a low-key, comic relief interlude before the next big multi-issue arc.

So the issue opens on a spaceship as the Fantastic Four are returning to Earth. Ben Grimm is upset, because he has become the Thing once more (he had spent the previous arc as a human, wearing an exoskeleton that was an exact duplicate of his rocky self). After several pages of recap and exposition, in which we learn that Galactus is responsible for the Thing's rocky return, our heroes make reentry--with one tiny extra problem. The Impossible Man, an alien shapeshifter who can duplicate any shape and any power, has also stowed away on board.

It does not go smoothly. The tachyon-powered ship comes into too fast, and the Thing shatters the controls when he tries to decelerate (apparently, Galactus made him stronger than he was before). The ship crash-lands in the lake in Central Park, providing the Impossible Man with his first bit of entertainment.

Our heroes next attempt to take a taxi to the Baxter Building. After some hijinx involving the Invisible Woman sitting unseen on Reed's lap so they'll all be permitted to ride in the same cab, the drive is promptly cut short thanks to the Impossible Man's pranks. During the confusion of the ensuing traffic jam, the Impossible Man wanders away and ends up visiting the Marvel Bullpen, where Stan Lee and...

Oh crap!

You mean this is another comic book featuring real-world people in a superhero story? Seriously???!!!!

So okay, yeah, both DC and Marvel did this to an extent (for a DC example, see Superman vs. Muhammad Ali)., but Marvel seemed to do it more. Someday, I'll have to cover the issue of Marvel Team-up featuring the Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players (which was the name of the SNL cast at the time).

So yeah, Marvel had in an early issue once mentioned the fact that there was a Fantastic Four comic book that chronicled their adventures. And in Fantastic Four #176, we see a conference between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the FF's original creators, and Roy Thomas and George Perez, this issue's writer and penciller, over what to do for the next issue.

See, the Fantastic Four have been busy off-planet for a while now, what with fighting Galactus and all, so the guys at Marvel haven't been able to get in touch with them to find out about their latest adventure. Suddenly, Jack "King" Kirby has a craaaaazy idea...

...when the Impossible Man pops in and demands they do a comic book about him. When Stan remembers that readers didn't like Impossible Man's earlier appearance because he was too silly, the Impossible Man goes psycho. He decides to prove his real power by mimicking the powers demonstrated on the comics covers displayed around the room. He bounces around the room as Captain America's shield, blasts everything in sight with Iron Man's repulsor rays and Cyclops's optic blasts, even flies around on Namor's dainty little ankle wings.

At which point the Fantastic Four show up for a very brief battle, which draws in cameos from more Marvel artists and writers. Reed finally convinces Stan to agree to do an Impossible Man story in one very special issue of Fantastic Four, and the day is saved. All is well.

Until "Roger" (who I'm guessing is Roger Stern) shows Reed Richards a newspaper with a very disturbing classified ad. The Frightful Four are conducting supervillain auditions at the Fantastic Four's headquarters in the Baxter Building. Say what?

Our heroes rush over to the Baxter Building to find out what's going on, leading to the final confrontation with the Frightful Four, which leads into snell's series.

Overall, the issue isn't bad. The art is standard early George Perez, means lots of stiff poses and straight-on head shots (see the Fantastic Four in action above), but Joe Sinnott's inks are as slick as ever, and the story is fun.

The guys at Marvel must have been proud of it, anyway, because they replaced the normal letter column with a text feature detailing the genesis of the story, and mentioning that it would tie in to a later issue of The Man Called Nova, also featuring the Bullpen.

Can't wait.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Big Audio Wednesday - Superman vs. Atom Man, wk. 6

Five years after this serial aired on radio, Columbia produced its second movie serial starring Kirk Alyn as Superman, titled "Atom Man vs. Superman."

However, the storyline had nothing to do with the radio storyline. The plot involved Lex Luthor inventing a synthetic form of Kryptonite and using it to menace Superman. The serial, with its ultra-low budget and limited special effects, couldn't have mimicked the plotline of the radio serial. The massive destruction the Atom Man causes, to the house in Germany and to the beach cabin, as well as later events in the storyline, could not be recreated on a 50's movie serial budget.

Oh, and another thing: when I posted the Superman/Batman team-up back in December, I mentioned that I found Batman's vulnerability refreshing. The same thing is in evidence here. Superman in 1945 was not the impossibly noble icon he would become in the 50's and beyond. Instead, he is by turns devious, stupid, and in his encounters with Kryptonite and Atom Man, fearful. Fearful in a way and to a degree you would never imagine the modern-day iteration of the character acting. The helpless desperation in Bud Collyer's voice when Atom Man has him cornered is something completely unfamiliar, but not entirely unpleasant. Superman on radio is a real guy.

The story so far:

Nazi scientist Der Teufel injected chemist's son Henry Miller with a solution of dissolved Kryptonite to create an Atom Man who, with the help of a converter box and metallic gloves, can project rays of atomic destruction from his hands. In their first encounter, Atom Man blasted a helpless Superman into a coma, then attempted to destroy Metropolis for the glory of the Fatherland. He failed, having exhausted the energy of the Kryptonite in his blood in his battle with Superman.

With the help of a mysterious criminal mastermind named Sidney, Miller obtained more Kryptonite and renewed his powers. Meanwhile, Superman had a device built to warn of Kryptonite radiation nearby; the device was built into a belt that Clark Kent now wears.

Miller, having learned Superman's secret identity while posing as a reporter for the Daily Planet, helps Sidney set a trap for Superman. Sidney lures Kent to his house on the pretense of exposing Superman's secret identity, while the Atom Man hides in a closet with leaded mirror doors and thick lead paint that is opaque to Superman's X-ray vision.

What will happen next? Click the widget to listen (files will auotplay in order).

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Out of the Vault - Banzai Girl #2

Banzai Girl #2This is actually a bit recent for the Vault. Most of the comics I cover are from the previous century, 60's through 90's. But since I'm on a real-life-cheesecake-girls-in-comics kick, I figured I'd keep the streak alive with Banzai Girl, the Adventures of Jinky Coronado.

Published in 2002 by Sirius, Banzai Girl is the story of real-life Filipina model/hot babe Jinky Coronado. Jinky is just your average high-school girl who likes to hang out at the mall with her friends. But she is troubled by recurring dreams of herself as a fantasy princess and a futuristic warrior. In both sets of dreams, she is battling evil supernatural horrors. And when the horrors cross over into her waking life, Jinky realizes she may not be so average after all.

What made Banzai Girl unique was not just that the characters were based on Jinky's real-life friends and family. It was also that, unlike Flaxen or Barbi Twins Adventures, Jinky's adventures were written and drawn by Jinky herself (along with co-artist Wunan and colorist Michael Kelleher).

Banzai Girl #2 back coverAccording to an interview, Jinky (it may be impertinent to keep calling her by her first name, but dammit, Jinky's just such a fun name) started the comic after attending a seminar on comics creation. It started out as a simple depiction of Jinky's life with her family and friends, but at the suggestion of incorporating more "trappings of the genre" (meaning monsters and fistfights, apparently), Jinky's marketing degree took over, and she turned the comic into every fanboy's dream.

For instance, issue #2 depicted here. As you can see, once again we have two cover illustrations (although the issue is not a flipbook, so it does not count as two front covers).

There was actually a third variant cover featuring a photo of Jinky in costume being menaced by cartoon tentacles, but I couldn't get a good scan of it (I don't have the issue, just the in-house ad to go by). You can see it here.

This is as subtle as Banzai Girl getsAs the issue opens, Jinky and her best friend Katie J. are being attacked by an angry tree, giving us our first glimpse of Jinky's skirt, which can never seem to cover her ass for more than one panel. The girls escape the clutching branches, as the tree devours, then spits out, Katie's backpack. The only thing missing is some chalk she was taking to school for the blackboard.

Meanwhile, the parents in town are being possessed one by one by sinister creatures known as Shadow Whisperers, who also seem to be behind the opening of a new local mall. Bad news for teenage loiterers!

And later, as Jinky sleeps, she has a dream in which she is a futuristic warrior battling an alien ship devouring calcium deposits, and another in which she is the princess of a fantasy kingdom who is attacked by a nasty creature who sucks the bones out of one of her guards.

Sucks to be him

Jinky wakes up the next morning to discover that her parents have been possessed and more tentacles are trying to burst in through her bedroom door, while Katie J. pulls out a really big-ass gun to shoot 'em with.

The rest of the issue consists of in-house ads and photos of Jinky in her schoolgirl outfit.

And even though it seems just as silly and content-free and full of vanity as both Flaxen and Barbi Twins Adventures were, Banzai Girl is a much better comic. Because it really is a comic.

Flaxen used Susie Owens's real life as a vehicle to tell leaden lessons in self-esteem. And Barbi Twins, while trying to be flip and satirical, never had any spark; it was too obviously a flimsily-constructed publicity stunt rather than a serious effort at an entertaining comic.

But Banzai Girl, while being as vapid as most of comics of the 90's and early oughts, was at least vapid in a comic-y way. And entertaining, to boot. Jinky Coronado brought a spark and energy to her writing and art that the guns-for-hire doing the other real-girl books never did.

The proof is in the sales. While Barbi Twins Adventures was a one-shot, and Flaxen a two-shot(or perhaps more correctly, two one-shots), Banzai Girl ran for four issues, was collected into a trade edition, and more recently, a four-issue sequel series, Banzai Girls, was also published. And more apparently is on the way. Banzai Girl was that true rarity, a vanity comic that actually works as a comic.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Big Audio Wednesday - Superman vs. Atom Man, wk. 5

It may not seem very remarkable today, but the continuity in these radio serials was completely unknown to comics readers of the time. I have no hard evidence to support this, but I suspect that The Adventures of Superman radio series transformed comics writing.

Not right away, understand. But Golden Age comics were horribly written, with stories churned out in great quantities at high speed with little care given to craft. Character development, continuity, building suspense, complex plotting: none of these existed in comics which consisted mainly of 6- and 8-page stories. The comics were all about action, action, action, every page bursting with color and speed lines.

But there are no colors or speed lines on radio. So the writers of the Superman serial had to take this character, stripped of his visual appeal, and somehow write compelling stories about him. And what they did changed the character, and the face of comics, forever.

They introduced a supporting cast, including editor Perry White and cub reporter Jimmy Olsen. They introduced a weakness for Superman: Kryptonite. They concentrated on mystery stories that forced Superman to use his wits rather than his fists.

And with Henry Miller, the Atom Man, they introduced perhaps the first authentic supervillain.

Villains in the comics were usually gangsters or petty crooks with a clever gimmick. The closest they got to honest-to-goodness supervillians were the evil geniuses, mad scientists who used their knowledge to create horrible menaces like death rays or fire apes. Superman had by this time met villains like Lex Luthor and the Ultra-Humanite (who was a disembodied genius brain who possessed other bodies, but was otherwise a Luthor clone). He had also met that merry prankster, Mr. Mxyzptlk, whose magical powers caused Superman great headaches.

But Atom Man was something different: a deadly serious bad guy who could stand toe-to-toe with Superman and and beat him in a fight. That just didn't happen. The whole point of Superman, the whole appeal, was that he could beat anybody with one punch, as long as he knew whom to punch.

In that sense, Atom Man could be the precursor to the whole range of supervillains populating comics today. Even if he's not the first, the sheer popularity of the radio program would make him probably the most influential.

Before we jump into the program, though, one other observation: is it just me, or does the announcer, when he's doing the commercials hyping those ubiquitous comic buttons, sound like he's saying "commie buttons?" Was this some sinister cereal-fueled plot to turn our kids into Commies?

'Collect all your favorites--Stalin, Lenin, and of course, there's lovable old Trotsky with his little beard. Wear 'em on your jacket or trade with your friends. Just make sure not to ask any questions if your friend shows up with a button missing...'

Anyway, enjoy the next weeks' worth of programs.

The story so far:

In their first battle, Atom Man zapped Superman into a near-death coma, killed his mentor Der Teufel, then left to attack Metropolis. However, his battle with Superman had exhausted the Kryptonite energy in his blood. So he contacted the mysterious fat man, Sidney, to obtain more Kryptonite from the Scarlet Widow.

Meanwhile, Superman's comatose body was discovered by hunters and taken to the hospital, where doctors were unable to help him due to his impenetrable skin. He finally revived enough to escape the hospital and made his way back to the Daily Planet as Clark Kent, still dazed and incoherent. Perry White decided to take him to Florida to recuperate.