Monday, February 12, 2007

Number 92

Secret Origins and Sky Bird #2

June, 1961 was a good month for me. On June 22 I got Superman Annual #3, and on June 29 I bought the first Batman Annual, which I thought was excellent, and still do! But a couple of weeks earlier, on June 15, I waited impatiently at Sunnyside Pharmacy for Gus the pharmacist to put out that week's comics, pouncing on the one special squarebound issue I'd been waiting for, Secret Origins. I'd been primed for it since seeing the ads in some DC Comics.

I was 12-years-old, would be 13 in less than a month. A teenager! Time to put childish things like comic books behind,* but not just yet. I just had to have something called Secret Origins.
After all, it promised to show me the origins of the Superman-Batman team, which I followed in World's Finest Comics, Adam Strange, a terrific strip from Mystery In Space, Flash (one of my favorites), Green Lantern, and even lesser super-heroes like Green Arrow and J'Onn J'Onzz, the Martian with the stupidest name ever. I could have skipped the Wonder Woman origin, but I was especially interested in the Challengers Of The Unknown, by a "new" favorite artist, Jack Kirby.

I took the book home and with shaking hands started to read, only to find by the last page that I'd been screwed. It wasn't at all what I wanted or what I'd hoped it would be.

Apparently Jim Harmon, who wrote the issue of Sky Bird#2 devoted to just that subject, felt the same way.

I showed you Sky Bird #1 back in Pappy's #26. Number 2 is a five-page fanzine produced like the first issue on a spirit duplicator. The cover artist, Ronn Foss, was a talented amateur who was expected to go places in comics. As it turned out he didn't--not the way he had planned, anyway--because by the time Ronn was ready for comics they weren't ready for him. Comic book companies by 1961 were closed shops; they had all the artists they needed or could keep busy. Ronn worked on fanzines, taking over The Comicollector and Alter Ego from Jerry Bails, and published his own 'zines for several years.

Jim Harmon wrote the book, The Great Radio Heroes, and was one of the first writers to take popular culture of the 1930s and '40s seriously. At the time I read this issue of Sky Bird** with its critique of Secret Origins I said a loud, "Amen!" in agreement. In the 46 years since I've softened my opinion. For its time the editors published what they felt was the most commercially viable material. They probably thought that no one would be interested in the early 1940s comic books.

I pulled out my original copy of Secret Origins (I still have it, along with the other DC squareback annuals I bought that month) and re-read it. I should say I skip-read it, since the stories were familiar enough to me. I agreed with Harmon in his original assessment of what should have been included, but neither he nor I had any idea that by the mid-1960s we'd see The Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer, reprinting several great stories, which in turn begat book after book of comics archives and reprints. (That's not to mention the Internet and Pappy.)

In 1961 neither Harmon nor I could have dreamed that within the next few decades we'd be seeing all of the things that we wanted for Secret Origins and much, much more.

*I'm still reading comics nearly five decades later. So much for outgrowing them.

**Incidentally, I scanned Sky Bird #2 before selling it a few years ago on eBay for the outrageous winning bid of over $200. I'm still shaking my head over that one. It made me wish I'd held on to more of the old fanzines, which I thought were interesting, but to which I assigned no value either personally or financially.

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