Showcase Presents Strange Adventures Vol. 1

Showcase Presents Strange Adventures Vol. 1

First Published: December 2008

Contents: Strange Adventures #54 (March 1955) to #73 (October 1956)

Key Creator Credits: John Broome, Otto Binder, Edmond Hamilton, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane, Bill Finger, Sid Greene, Joe Samachson, Gardner Fox, and others

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Strange Adventures Vol. 2

Overview: Who wants to go on an adventure today? Specifically, a Strange Adventure? Tighten your belt, grab a hat, and let’s see where the Showcase Presents Strange Adventures Vol. 1 takes us!

Let’s start with a quick explanation about Strange Adventures. This was an anthology title started in 1950, and would feature four 6-page stories. The themes of the stories were all sci-fi in nature, whether it aliens looking to take over or destroy the Earth, or mind transference between man and gorilla. A story might feature a character gaining temporary powers, which he would then use to solve whatever problem society was dealing with at the moment. There is no continuity between the stories, so these can be read in any order.

What’s great about this collection is the legendary comic talent doing some of their earliest work for DC Comics. Whether it writers like John Broome, Edmond Hamilton, or Gardner Fox, or artists like Carmine Infantino, Bill Finger, and Gil Kane, these are all names that could be on a Mount Rushmore of DC creators.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Strange Adventures as a title ran for 24 years, going from 1950 to 1973. So historically, this is an important part of DC’s history. During it’s run, characters such as Captain Comet, Immortal Man, Animal Man and Deadman would make their debut in this title — but not in any issues collected here. These are interesting tales if you are fans of the 1950s sci-fi stories. And yes, there are enough stories featuring gorillas to make me take a look. But for the casual fan, this may not be the best book. I struggled to finish this volume. Not because the stories were bad. They were just not that interesting to me.

Turning Gold Into Silver: Comic fans love a great debate. Whether it’s simple topics like Betty or Veronica, or more complex query like which character is the strongest. Even away from the comic characters, we tend to argue a lot about the eras of the comics. I’m talking the Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, and so on. Does the Golden Age start with Action Comics #1, or does it begin with the very first comics? When did we move from the Silver Age to the Bronze Age? Those are debates for other forums. I have discussed that the generally accepted starting point for the Silver Age is Showcase #4, which featured the debut of the Barry Allen Flash. That issue had a cover date of October 1956. Now scroll back up to the top of the post, and you’ll see the final issue in this collection, Strange Adventures #73, also had a cover date of October 1956. So, in my opinion, you could make the case that this Showcase Presents Strange Adventures Vol. 1 could be a collection of Golden Age comics. Admittedly, there is not much difference between issues #73 and #74, so it was more of a rolling transition into a new era of comics.

If you like this volume, try: the JSA: Strange Adventures mini-issue series from DC Comics from 2005. This has been collected as a trade paperback. Written by science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson and art by Barry Kitson, the story is set firmly in the Golden Age era of World War II. Johnny Thunder decides to try writing stories for the popular science-fiction magazines of the time, by scripting stories about the Justice Society members fighting against monsters and aliens. At the same time, a new villain appears on the scene in Lord Dynamo, and it takes the entire line-up of the JSA to defeat this new threat. This really is a great homage to so many elements – whether it’s the type of stories from the Golden Age, or the fact that so many of DC Comics Silver Age writers came from the sci-fi magazines of the 1940s (Julie Schwartz, Gardner Fox, etc.).

Showcase Presents World’s Finest Vol. 2

Showcase Presents World's Finest Vol. 2

First Published: October 2008

Contents: Superman, Batman, and Robin stories from World’s Finest Comics #112 (September 1960) to #145 (November 1964)

Key Creator Credits: Curt Swan, Dick Sprang, Edmond Hamilton, Bill Finger, Jerry Coleman, Jim Mooney, Dave Wood, and others

Key First Appearances: Composite Superman

Story Continues From: Showcase Presents World’s Finest Vol. 1

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents World’s Finest Vol. 3

Overview: Sometimes the smartest creations in life is simply combining two great things together. For example, milk chocolate is awesome all on its own. So is peanut butter. Those two by themselves are some of the tastiest sweets in the world. But in 1928, Harry Reese had the brilliant idea to combine the two together. Now, some 80 years later, the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup is the most popular candy bar in United States. <Excuse me for a moment, I think I need to run to the store to pick up a Reese’s!>

So peanut butter and chocolate, two great tastes that go great together. We all get that. But you are here to read about comics, right? So let’s take two great heroes (Batman and Superman), merge them together into one title, and we get the Showcase Presents World’s Finest Vol. 2.

The stories here follow the same pattern as the previous volume. Something happens that brings the two heroes together. Between Superman’s strength and Batman’s smarts, the heroes find themselves on the winning end of things at the end of each 15-page story. There is no continuity with these stories, so you can read them in any order. The supporting casts for both characters make numerous appearances along the way, as well as their rogues galleries.

It’s funny that I used the word ‘merge’ in the first paragraph. (Truthfully, not funny, but rather deliberate on my part!) The highlight of this volume involves the introduction in World’s Finest #142 of the Composite Superman, who might be just the greatest DC Silver Age character of all time. Joe Meach was a down-in-his-luck diver (don’t most divers head down eventually?), and Superman helps him out by getting him a custodian job at the Superman Museum. One night while Meach was cleaning up in front of a Legion of Super-Heroes exhibit, lightning hits the Legion figurines, and the electrical energy passes on to Meach. Suddenly, Meach finds that he has all of the powers of the Legionaires. Using Chameleon Boy’s shape-changing ability, Meach creates a hybrid costume that is half Superman, half Batman. Dubbing himself the Composite Superman, he appears to befriend Superman and Batman, but his long term goal is to destroy Superman’s life. Fortunately, our heroes see though his scheme, and stop Meach until he exhausts his powers. The Composite Superman, be it Meach or other characters, will return time and time again to face off against Superman and Batman.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: I can think of two good reasons why these stories should be showcased. The first is Batman, and the second is Superman. Seriously, this is a no-brainer. Of course these should be collected. Sure, they are Silver Age stories, but I would contend that the best Batman or Superman Silver Age stories from this time period are in this collection, and not in the Showcase Presents Batman or Showcase Presents Superman volumes. This is a perfect volume to skip around and read the stories that most interest you. I was always fond of the Joker-Lex Luthor team-ups. (DC tried to duplicate that team-up magic with a Clayface-Brainiac collaboration. Yeah, not quite as interesting as Joker-Luthor!)

Footnotes: The story from World’s Finest Comics #141 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Robin Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: the Batman & Superman: World’s Finest maxi-series from 1999. Written by Karl Kessel, with art by Dave Taylor, Peter Doherty, and Robert Campanella, the series looks that the Batman/Superman team-ups over a 10-year period. Issue #1 takes place ten years before present day, issue #2 takes place nine years before present day, and so on. This is set in the Post-Crisis universe and reflects events that happened in their comics between 1986 and 1998. In the first issue, the two heroes team-up for the first time, but fail to save a doctor. With each issue, the two heroes re-unite on the anniversary of the doctor’s death. This collection is a solid story, with glimpses into the expanded families of both characters. We get a funny Bat-Mite/Mr. Mxyzptlk team-up in issue #6 that brings along Robin and Lois Lane. The standout issue in this story is #7. Taking place sometime after the death of Jason Todd and after Superman’s return from his space exile, Superman takes Batman to his hometown of Smallville, Kansas. The two actually spend time talking through their issues and emotions. No super villains interrupt the discussion. In fact, the heroic actions by the two stars are actions that anyone could do in their daily life; Superman assists a woman delivering a baby, while Batman performs CPR on a doctor. A trade paperback collecting all ten issues was released in 2003. I can’t recommend this title, and in particular issue #7, strongly enough – PICK THIS UP!

Showcase Presents World’s Finest Vol. 1

Showcase Presents World's Finest Vol. 1

First Published: October 2007

Contents: Superman/Batman story from Superman #76 (May-June 1952); Superman, Batman, and Robin stories from World’s Finest Comics #71 (July-August 1954) to #111 (August 1960)

Key Creator Credits: Curt Swan, Dick Sprang, Edmond Hamilton, Bill Finger, Jerry Coleman, and others

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents World’s Finest Vol. 2

Overview: They are arguably the two most recognizable heroes in comic books. Superman – more powerful than a locomotive; able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Batman – defender of Gotham City, avenging the death of parents by striking back at crime. Each are stars in their own right, having moved from the comics to newspaper strips, radio dramas, and movie serials. At some point, it seemed natural that these two forces for good must cross paths, and that finally occurred in 1952 in Superman #76,  Clark Kent schedules a cruise (because everyone knows that the Daily Planet has a very generous vacation policy), but due to overbooking, he is asked to share a room with millionaire Bruce Wayne. Before the ship can leave port, an explosion on the docks prompts both men to change into their costumed identities. accidentally revealing their secrets to each other. Promising to keep each other’s secret, Superman and Batman work together, making for one of the most important comic book team-ups of all time.

Two years later, the Superman and Batman features in World’s Finest are combined, teaming up the two heroes (plus Robin, the Boy Wonder!) issue after issue after issue. The reasons for the team-ups vary from the reasonable to the absurd – whether fighting aliens or giant robots; traveling through time to the future, or into the past; stopping Lex Luthor on his next scheme to rule the world, or having Batman pose as Superman to keep Lois Lane from discovering Superman’s secret identity.

The supporting casts for both characters make numerous appearances. From Metropolis, Lois, Jimmy, and Perry cross paths with Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, and Batwoman from Gotham City. In later Showcase Presents World’s Finest volumes, we will see a friendship develop between Jimmy Olsen and Robin, leading to a junior World’s Finest team-up.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: If you can think of this volume as a collection of imaginary stories, than this is a fun and interesting volume. If you are a continuity nerd, this book will make your head explode. These are all one-and-done stories, and should never be referenced again in any other story. The plots are absurd, and would never be published into today’s publishing environment. But it’s stories like this that inspired writers like Grant Morrison to create wonderful tribute stories, such as All-Star Superman and Batman: Incorporated.

Footnotes: Superman and Batman (with Robin) had been the stars of World’s Finest Comics since the first issue, which was initially published as World’s Best Comics #1. (The title changed to World’s Finest Comics with issue #2.)  However, these characters were each featured in their own stories within the magazine. In 1954, due to declining interest in comic books, World’s Finest Comics was reduced from a 64-page book to a 32-page book. In order to keep both of the stars of the book featured in the title, Superman and Batman started teaming up together in one story beginning with issue #71, which is where this Showcase Presents volume begins. 

If you like this volume, try: the first story arc Superman/Batman from 2003. Created by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, the Public Enemies story brought back together the World’s Finest team in a monthly comic book. In this volume, President Lex Luthor accuses Superman of treasonous crimes, and calls upon the super-hero community to bring him in dead or alive. Batman and Superman work together to uncover Luthor’s scheme, and to prove Superman’s innocence. Loeb takes an interesting approach to the story, showing us Superman through the eyes of Batman, and vice versa. The art by McGuinness is perfect for this title: Superman is big and bold and his muscles have muscles, while Batman is sleek and dark and mysterious. in 1987. This title ran for eight years, and some story arcs are better than others. For my money, Public Enemies is among the best and is the perfect way to return to the World’s Finest team.

Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 3

Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 3

First Published: April 2007

Contents: Superman stories from Action Comics #276 (May 1961) to #292 (September 1962); Superman #146 (July 1961) to #156 (October 1962); original content from Superman Annual #3 (August 1961), #4 (January 1962), and #5 (July 1962)

Key Creator Credits: Otto Binder, Jerry Coleman, Al Pastino, Wayne Boring, Curt Swan, Jerry Siegel, Robert Bernstein, Bill Finger, and others

Key First Appearances: Legion of Super-Villains (Cosmic King, Lightning Lord, Saturn Queen)

Story Continues from: Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 2

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 4

Overview: Welcome back to the world of Superman! Rocketed to Earth as a baby as his home planet died, Kal-El grew to adulthood under the yellow sun, gaining powers and abilities beyond mortal man. Disguised as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, Superman fights for truth, justice, and the American way.

The scope of Superman starts to spread, across the world and across the years. Superman introduces the world to his cousin Kara, who will become Supergirl, a new protector for Earth. From the far future, we get visits from the Legion of Super-Heroes, teenagers with powers who have been inspired to greatness by Superman. The challenges get harder and harder, as Lex Luthor devises more elaborate plots, and Mr. Mxyzptlk builds more mischievous schemes.

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Generally, my opinion of Silver Age Superman stories is negative – the tales don’t hold up, the stories are filled with plot holes, and there is no progression with the characters. But this volume goes against the norm. This is a fun Superman volume with a lot of classic stories, such as “The Last Days of Superman!” and “The World’s Greatest Heroine!”. We get a mix of everything in this volume – Superman, the Daily Planet staff, Supergirl, Lori Lemaris, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and more. This is the first time I feel that these Superman stories should be showcased like this, so get it in your library!

Footnotes: Action Comics #285 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Supergirl Vol. 2.

The Legion story in Superman #147 is also reprinted in Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: All-Star Superman, which has been collected in multiple formats. Written by Grant Morrison with art by Frank Quitely, this 12-issue series is a wonderful homage to the Silver Age adventures of Superman, such as those collected in this volume. In this timeless story, Superman finds that his body is killing him after an over-exposure to the sun. Given a small window left to live, Superman vows to make the most of his remaining time. He grants Lois her greatest wish, he has one last adventure with his pal Jimmy Olsen, and he works with Lex to save the world. This is probably the best Superman story told in the last decade.

Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 1

First Published: August 2006

Contents: Batman #164 (June 1964) to #174 (September 1965),  Batman stories from Detective Comics #327 (May 1964) to #342 (August 1965)

Key Creator Credits: John Broome, Carmine Infantino, Gardner Fox, Sheldon Moldoff, Bob Kane, France Herron, Bill Finger, Murphy Anderson

Key First Appearances: Aunt Harriet Cooper, Outsider (heard but not seen in several issues. His first actual appearance will occur in Detective Comics #356, collected in Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 2), Mystery Analysts of Gotham City

Story Continues In: Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 2

Overview: Welcome to the Silver Age of Batman comics. These issues are considered to be the point where Batman and Robin crossed over from the Golden Age adventures to the Silver Age. This is notably shown by the change to Batman’s costume, with the yellow oval added to the chest behind the bat emblem.

While most of these stories are one-and-done, we do see the seeds being planted for monthly continuity in the books. The Mystery Analysts of Gotham City are introduced, a team of detectives and novelists that assist Batman with some cases. The Outsider’s name starts coming up as a mysterious villain pulling the strings of many cases for the Dark Knight. As always, the familiar faces of Batman’s rogues gallery, such as the Joker, Penguin, and the Riddler, make multiple appearances in this volume. Friends of Batman show up, like the Elongated Man and Zatanna, for team-ups that would soon become the norm in the pages of The Brave and The Bold.

Finally, for those fans of the 1966 television series, you may be surprised to learn that Harriet Cooper was a character in the comics before she was introduced on the show. Dick Grayson’s aunt moved in to stately Wayne Manor in Detective Comics #328 following the death of Alfred Pennyworth. (No worries, faithful reader! We will see the return of Alfred in the next volume!) Much like the show, Bruce and Dick must often develop wild excuses to get away from Aunt Harriet to respond to the call of the Bat-Signal!

Why should these stories be Showcased?: Batman is an interesting character. Much like Superman, the character changes to more closely reflect the era around him. The 1940s gave us a detective and the 1950s gave us a sci-fi super hero. With this volume, we see Batman start to become the celebrity of Gotham City, bordering on pop culture icon. This is a night and day difference from the Batman we have seen for the last 30 years in comics and film. If you are OK with Batman cracking jokes and smiling, then pick up this collection. If you want the dark and grim detective, hold off for volumes 4 and 5 down the road.

Footnotes: During this era, Bob Kane is credited for the art in several issues in this era. However, Kane often employed “ghost” artists, such as Sheldon Moldoff and Dick Sprang, to draw pages in the style of Kane.

The Robin story from Detective Comics #342  was also reprinted in Showcase Presents Robin the Boy Wonder Vol. 1.

If you like this volume, try: Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. Yes, this gives us a version of the “dark detective”, but it also gives the reader an easy introduction to Batman based in a more current era. Bruce Wayne still tragically loses his parents in Crime Alley, but he is then raised by Alfred Pennyworth, who has a Special Forces background to better protect young Bruce. We see a Batman that physically struggles to fight thugs or give chase while wearing a heavy costume complete with cape. Batman faces down a crime organization led by the Penguin, who is more a ruthless businessman and less a waddling bird-man. This is a great way to introduce Batman to a new reader without the 75 years of continuity baggage behind him.