The importance of a comic book cover can never really be overstated. It's the first thing a potential reader sees, and especially back before we had solicitations and previews, in the days of newsstands --- and sour-lookin' newsstand owners who were quick to remind you that this ain't a library --- it was often a creator's only chance to convince them to pick it up and at least check out what was inside. Because of that, there are decades of comics out there that are either so bizarre that they pretty much demand to be read, like just about every Silver Age DC book, or books plastered with over-the-top dramatic titles like "And There Must Come... A Destiny!"
In 1945, however, things were a little different. So different, in fact, that the fine people at Fawcett Magazines once decided that it would be a good idea to use that precious bit of real estate on the cover of Captain Marvel Adventures to let you know that you were about to get a story where Captain Marvel went to Columbus, Ohio. Although to be fair, they also determined that this was less important than the story about an old man who found a piece of string on the ground.
Last week, when ComicsAlliance launched its poll to determine our readers' favorite Archie character --- and I'm happy to announce that Jughead Jones has taken a considerable lead, narrowly beating Randolph The Kid Who Likes Anime --- I tried to mention a few things about the characters that the average reader might not know. Veronica, for instance, had a storyline where she was revealed to be the prophesied destroyer of all vampires, which is a good thing to know even if it doesn't tip the voting scales in her favor.
But there was one piece of the Riverdale puzzle that I thought I should probably elaborate on: That time that resident nerd Dilton Doiley was possessed by a sentient jean jacket. And believe it or not, it's somehow way weirder than it sounds.
I've been writing about weird old comics on the Internet for over ten years now, and in most cases, those stories stick out because they're built around a weird premise, or because some kind of big, strange event happens in the middle of it that comes out of nowhere. But today, I read "The Super-Pranks of Krypto," and that story's a little different.
I mean, yes, as the title indicates, it's a comic about a dog from space pulling pranks on his owner, who is also from space, but really, by the standards of the Silver Age, that's not all that strange. No, this one's weird because every single choice in every single panel that was made by the creators is the weirdest, most inexplicable choice that they could've possibly made.
If you were a super nerdy teen in the late '90s, there's a pretty good chance that you encountered Apollo Smile in some form or another, whether it was through her career as a voice actress in stuff like the Sega Dreamcast's Space Channel 5 or in her role as the "Live Action Anime Girl" who welcomed viewers to the Sci-Fi Channel's first-ever showing of Galaxy Express 999. If you somehow missed out, I've always thought of her as a mascot of that very particular time right before the death of the VHS tape, when Japanese animation was on the verge of breaking through into mainstream pop culture. She's the feeling of digging through the shelves at Suncoast Video and paying $35 for a VHS tape of Sailor Moon that had two episodes on it given human form.
As you might expect, I feel squarely into Smile's target demographic, but somehow, some way, I managed to miss the fact that she had a short-lived comic book series in which she starred as herself. Well, an idealized version of herself, anyway --- I'm not sure if the real life version could control a starship through the power of interpretive dance.
Whenever people talk about the major eras of the Justice League, they tend to skip from the sitcom-inspired International era of Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire straight to the big action widescreen reboot of Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's JLA, and with good reason. Those were two hugely important and influential runs that helped to define what DC was for an era, and they're certainly worth talking about. The thing is, there was another era in there, too, and while it doesn't get talked about too much, it's every bit as tied into exactly what was driving the DCU: That stretch from 1992 to 1993, when Dan Jurgens rebuilt the Justice League around Superman.
To be fair, though, it's easy to see why it might not get the press that the other major runs receive. It's in this weird little middle ground between those two extremes, caught between snarky quips and world-shattering stories, never quite getting as memorable as either. Also, there's the thing where the new Justice League is almost murdered by a board game in their first adventure.
A few weeks ago, I found myself in an antique store, and --- being the kind of person I am --- I pretty much ignored anything that wasn't a vintage Santa Claus figurine or a banged-up long box full of back issues. I mean, I can see an old lamp or a gently used kitchen table pretty much any time I want to, but finding out what comic books could properly be considered "antiques" was an opportunity that doesn't come along every day.
As you might expect, the answer was "a bunch of random-ass comics from the late '80s and early '90s," but mixed in there with Knightquest tie-ins and that one issue of Green Lantern: Mosaic where John Stewart explains Christmas to the aliens was an issue that caught my eye. It was Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future #2, which comes complete with some of the weirdest house ads I've ever seen.
Most of the time, when you see Superman and Batman fighting --- and boy howdy have we seen Superman and Batman fighting --- it's over some kind of ideological difference. It's a conflict that always seems to have its roots in mistrust between the ideas that those two characters represent, that extremely relatable conflict between a super-powered alien and a normal, regular, non-powered human who only has a billion dollars, a weaponized meteorite, and a rocket car to level the playing field.
But for me, that's only part of the story. I think if we just go a little deeper, we'll find that there's one major source of conflict between Superman and Batman that you almost never hear about.
Batman and Superman are hitting the big screen this week with the promise that they'll v each other harder than anyone has ever been v-ed before. But if you're looking for a comic that features some of the best examples of those two heroes going at it, I can highly recommend digging through a back issue bin to find yourself a copy of World's Finest Comics #197. It's an extra-sized issue that's crammed full of one story after another where Superman and Batman find themselves fighting against each other.
But even though all three of the stories in that issue are basically stone-cold classics, the best one by far is the one where Batman --- a grim, gritty, ruthless Batman --- lures Superman out to another planet so that he can lock him up in a jail cell and beat him with a laser whip whenever he doesn't obey. And it might just be the weirdest story about those two characters fighting that I've ever seen.
With the release of Batman v Superman hovering just over the horizon, I know that a lot of people are going back and reading some of their favorite stories about those two characters, and I, my friends, am no exception. The thing is, I'm not all that into seeing them fighting. I mean, yeah, it's good for a change of pace every now and then, but most of the time, I want to see the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight putting aside their differences to fight against a threat too great to deal with individually.
Like, say, an army of garden gnomes that are trying to convert science into magic so that a wizard can take over the world.
I don't know about you, but when I play Dungeons & Dragons, I'm looking for a very specific kind of quest. Storytelling and character development are nice, but really, at the end of the day, I want an epic that's full of magic swords, dragons, and a threat so huge that it puts an entire kingdom --- maybe even an entire world --- in the kind of dire peril that can only be thwarted by stout-hearted heroes who aren't above lying about their dice rolls when they need to. In other words, I need something that's a little more intense than helping some dude recover from being cursed with tiny little baby hands.
But apparently, that is exactly what the gaming community wanted back in 1988, when Advanced Dungeons & Dragons devoted the entirety of its opening arc to one character's harrowing recovery from having his hands shrunk, a tragedy that drove him to drink, caused him to lose faith in his gods, and gave us lots of truly hilarious panels where he holds normal-sized objects that suddenly look huge.
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