Spiderwoman # 10 (Marvel Comics, January, 1979).

The main reason I liked the first Spiderwoman series was the Carmine Infantino art. The second thing I liked, reading it back then, was the fact that Jessica (Spiderwoman) Drew was unpopular with people. Not like Peter Parker who was (I thought) initially meant (in the Steve Ditko days) to be unpopular  – but ended up being everyone’s best mate as well as boyfriend of all the best-looking girls in his college etc. No, Jessica was really actually not likeable, as in, when people met her, they did not like her. She gave off a particular chemical, we were told, to which people reacted negatively.

Issue 10 starts with Jessica and her boyfriend Jerry Hunt (moon?)bathing on a Los Angeles beach at night. After checking that Jerry’s mouth has healed as his lips had recently been sewn together by a super-villain, they kiss, but while they are kissing Jessica sees a beautiful, winged and costumed, female figure in the sky, illuminated against the full moon. Breaking away from Jerry, Jessica quickly dons her Spiderwoman costume and jumps into the air in order to ride the wind currents so that she can approach the flying woman and speak to her. Jessica has this thing about being different and she thinks she and this mysterious woman might have something in common. But the winged woman just flies away.

When Jessica alights, Jerry is furious. He complains that she has ruined a special moment.  He drives her home then leaves in a pet. Jessica asks her creepy landlady Priscilla where her friend Magnus is. He has got a new job as a stage magician, explains Priscilla. Jessica is surprised to hear that her old friend, who is a centuries-old descendant of the famous magician Merlin, should condescend to being a stage performer, but perhaps, she reflects, when you’ve been alive so long you learn to have fun. In her bedroom, Jessica finds a present left for her by Magnus. It’s a gorgeous, and rather risqué, satin dress. Putting on the dress, Jessica goes to the place where Magnus is doing his stage act but the last show is in progress when she arrives and she is not allowed to enter.

When Jessica finally finds Magnus, the old fellow is sitting between two attractive young ladies. One of the ladies is hosting a party that night at her luxurious apartment. Magnus is invited and he tells Jessica that she can come along too. At the party, lots of unusual people have odd exchanges. ‘Do you play backgammon?’ one man asks a woman. ‘No,’ she replies, ‘I am into decadence.’ This is one difference between West Coast America and the UK, I feel, as I consider backgammon to be a very decadent game.

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Boldly stylized late-phase Carmine Infantino artwork.

As usually happens to her at parties, Jessica finds herself ignored. At last a man approaches her with a drink and compliments her on her unusual hair-style. Managing to get away from him, Jessica walks outside where there is a swimming pool. At this point the beautiful costumed flying woman returns. Her name is Gypsy Moth and she has power over clothing so she causes the swimming costumes worn by the women around the pool to turn into cocoons. Jessica asks Magnus to put her into costume magically. The magician complies and also causes everyone present at the party to forget that she was there as Jessica. Spiderwoman rises on the winds again to speak with Gypsy Moth, saying that she does not want to fight her. She does not care about her wrapping those women up in cocoons. She only wants to talk with her. Jessica thinks that Gypsy Moth might be, like herself, a product of the High Evolutionary’s genetic experiments.

 

Gypsy Moth, however, insists that she does not want any friends and she causes Spiderwoman’s costume to begin to unravel. Then she ties Spiderwoman up in threads and makes her plunge to the bottom of the swimming pool. Jessica manages to wriggle out of the threads and get out of the water just as her lungs feel like they are bursting. As Spiderwoman confronts Gypsy Moth again, Jerry Hunt arrives on the scene, having tracked Jessica to the party because he wants to apologise for his earlier behaviour. Thinking that Jessica is in danger, he pulls out his gun and shoots Gypsy Moth in the shoulder. Angered, Jessica zaps him with a venom blast and Gypsy Moth flies away. Jessica is now furious with Jerry for shooting someone with whom she thought she might have been able to form a friendship. She feels that she has more in common with someone like Gypsy Moth than with, for example, anyone else who was at that party.

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The Brave and the Bold # 108 (DC Comics, August/September, 1973).

I featured one of my favourite DC writers in an earlier post (Cary Bates) and this time I’m going to look at a story by another one – Bob Haney.

Haney is said to have been unpopular with continuity-obsessed readers because he often ignored continuity. That, presumably, is precisely part of the appeal for Haney-fans like myself. Used as a striking stone for sparks of inspiration, ‘continuity’ can be a good thing. But used to nail down corners of a fantasy world, it can defeat its own object.

Anyways, in this story, ‘The Night Batman Sold His Soul’, the Batman becomes trapped in a well and is on the verge of drowning while trying to persuade a kidnapper that the boy he has kidnapped needs urgent medical treatment. In his desperation, the Batman offers his soul to the devil if he can only escape from the well. The Devil appears after the boy has been saved and reminds the Batman of the terms of his offer. From now on, the Batman’s actions will serve the cause of evil. Thus, when the Batman sees a former thief on the street and calls out to him, the ex-thief panics and runs and is killed by a lorry. The reformed man’s wife brands the Batman a murderer.

Meanwhile, Sgt. Rock – now a white-haired World War 2 veteran – is convinced that the old man whom the Batman was pulled from the well by was Adolf Hitler himself, who had escaped from the bunker in which it was commonly supposed he had perished through use of a body double.

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Jim Aparo artwork!

‘The Secrets of Three Sunken Ships’ (Sea Devils # 13, DC Comics, September-October, 1963).

The ‘Sea Devils’ diving team are visited by three DC Comics’ artists or artist-combinations who take it in turns to chronicle a short adventure each. Readers are then invited to vote for their favourite art style.

Joe Kubert draws the opening story, wherein Dino imagines he is battling pirates after being rocked by an explosion from a missile fired by a ‘pirate’ submarine. Dino aims to restore the honour of his family name which had been lost when pirates robbed his ancestor, Captain English, of his honour by capturing the vessel he was commanding without a shot being fired.

image-8In the second story, drawn by Gene Colan, the Sea Devils travel back in time to help the Ancient Greeks repel an invasion by the Persians.

In the final story, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito depict the Sea Devils as they occupy a facsimile Marie Celeste to see if they can solve the famous mystery regarding what happened upon the original vessel. (This story is somewhat confused as it represents the Marie Celeste as having been lost at sea instead of having been found abandoned.) A giant alien boy captures the facsimile ship, with the Sea Devils on board, intending to keep it as a toy. The Sea Devils summon the boy’s parents to his bedroom. The boy’s parents then order him to return the ship to where he found it.image-11

I wonder who the readers voted for. I think Kubert comes off best in this instance. I would like to buy more issues of Sea Devils.

‘The Menace of Dr. Grimm!’ (Fantasy Masterpieces # 4, Zenith Books, August, 1966. Originally in Captain America # 4, Timely Comics, June, 1941).

On their way to the cinema, Private Steve Rogers and his young friend Bucky Barnes witness an armed robbery in progress. After changing into their costumes in an alleyway, the pair emerge as Captain America and Bucky.  Bucky gets knocked unconscious by a blackjack during the ensuing fight and so, once he has mopped up the crooks, Steve Rogers takes his injured friend to the nearest hospital in a taxi. The nearest hospital turns out to be a private establishment owned by Dr. Grimm, a bald, heavy-built man in a white smock. Grimm says that Bucky needs to stay at the hospital for several days while he recovers.

That evening, Bucky shares his concerns about the creepy hospital with his nurse, Miss Ray. She explains that she has only been working there for a few days since the last nurse left suddenly without giving notice. Miss Ray does not like the hospital, either. At night she hears strange noises.

During the night, Bucky is woken by loud cries. Convinced he can hear Miss Ray screaming, Bucky opens the door to his room and encounters a monstrous hump-backed man crouching in the corridor. Dr. Grimm arrives with a leash. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ the Doctor tells Bucky. ‘Igan is harmless when I am holding his leash.’ When Bucky says that he heard a woman screaming, Dr. Grimm insists it must have been an auditory hallucination brought on by the young man’s nerves. The Doctor warns Bucky not to leave his room at night as he allows Igan to roam around a little then.

The following morning, Bucky’s breakfast is brought by Dr. Grimm’s hideously ugly servant Lomm instead of Miss Ray. When Bucky asks after the nurse, Lomm says he knows nothing but perhaps she ran away during the night. In any case, the Doctor has already advertised for a new nurse.

By now convinced that something sinister is going on at the hospital, Bucky writes to Steve, saying he thinks Captain America should investigate the place. Dr. Grimm catches Bucky in the act of writing the letter and wraps his powerful right arm around the boy’s face. Nonetheless, the Doctor decides to mail Bucky’s letter so that Captain America can be lured into a trap.

After receiving Bucky’s letter, Steve Rogers steals away from Fort Lehigh, the army camp where he is currently stationed, wearing his Captain America uniform. Arriving at the hospital, Captain America wrestles with the monstrous Igan. After being punched, Igan retreats in order to pull a hidden lever in the wall. A steel door closes and the airtight room begins to fill with water. Captain America escapes through a trapdoor in the ceiling only to meet with Dr. Grimm. Holding the hero at gunpoint, the Doctor explains his grim purpose. He has created a powerful monster called Gorro which requires much energy to survive and so the Doctor draws energy from human captives. Bucky is currently being prepared as the next victim of this process. When Captain America lunges forward in anger, Grimm presses a concealed button and a glasso-metal cage descends, trapping the hero.

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Dynamic storytelling by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

The next morning, Steve Rogers’ friend, the beautiful Betty Ross, applies at the hospital for the available position as nurse. After checking Betty is in good health, Dr. Grimm awards her the post.

Subsequently, Dr. Grimm marches Captain America at gunpoint to a laboratory where Bucky is strapped to a bed, surrounded by sinister-looking medical apparatus. Betty is also there with her hands tied behind her back by a rope that is secured to the ceiling. Enraged, Captain America whirls and punches Dr. Grimm before the fiend can react. The masked hero then frees Bucky but not before Grimm’s servant Lomm has managed to open the cage containing Gorro. A loud roar echoes from the far end of the room as the monster emerges. Captain America leaps over Gorro and knocks out Lomm. But then Gorro seizes the sentinel of liberty with huge beast-like fingers. Having freed Betty, Bucky shoots Gorro repeatedly with Dr. Grimm’s fallen automatic. Dr. Grimm meanwhile has pursued Betty onto a tower balcony and prepares to throw her to her death. After Captain America  pulls Betty from the Doctor’s clutches, Grimm and the hero grapple briefly until the maniac plunges over the balcony to his death. Captain America explains to Betty that Dr. Grimm had aimed to develop Gorro to a point where he would become almost human. Aided by Gorro’s strength, Grimm planned a career of crime.

On returning to camp, Steve thanks the sentry, Pete, for covering for him. But he is mistaken. The ‘sentry’ is not Pete. It is Sergeant Duffy, who punishes Steve and Bucky with a month’s duty in the kitchen for leaving the camp without permission.

THE END.

‘The Claws of the Cheetah.’ (Wonder Woman # 230, DC Comics, April, 1977).

It is 1942. War Department secretary Diana Prince is attending a gala dinner in support of the American war effort. The President himself is there – Franklin D. Roosevelt. Diana is sitting next to Major Steve Trevor, the man she loves, but all he wants to do, it seems, is talk about Wonder Woman! Needing to visit the Powder Room, Diana excuses herself. ‘But since all you have been doing for the last ten minutes is talk about how wonderful Wonder Woman is, I doubt you will even notice I’m gone,’ she thinks, ruefully.

Before Diana can enter the Powder Room, a crazed isolationist newspaper political columnist called Maxwell Stanhope attacks the President with a stiletto dagger. Diana runs into the Powder Room and then instantly re-appears as Wonder Woman. The amazing Amazon captures the deranged columnist before he can harm Roosevelt. After the fracas is over, the President thanks Wonder Woman personally for saving his life.

Unfortunately, Wonder Woman’s unexpected appearance at the gala has an unforeseen effect. Also in attendance is beautiful, wealthy debutante Priscilla Rich. Suddenly seeing Wonder Woman in action like that triggers the re-emergence of the buried side of Priscilla’s personality known as The Cheetah. Disoriented and distressed, Priscilla staggers to the Powder Room but the face which glowers back at her from the mirror on the wall there is not her own. It wears the sneering expression of The Cheetah. ‘Let me have control again, Priscilla,’ the reflection seems to say. ‘You know we have a lot more fun when I am in charge.’ Fleeing the building, ‘Priscilla’ tells her chauffeur to drive her home. But by now this woman is no longer Priscilla Rich. The Cheetah is back in control. Wearing her special Cheetah body-suit, the villainess luxuriates upon her king-sized bed,  contemplating how she will make use of her new weapon – a wrist-mounted device for firing ultra-sharp darts.

The following afternoon, The Cheetah leaps from a bridge over the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal onto a sight-seeing boat where she proceeds to divest the tourists of their valuables, threatening them with her claws. Wonder Woman happens to be flying overhead in her robot plane. When the Amazon confronts her old enemy, The Cheetah fires a volley of sharply-tipped darts. After Wonder Woman deflects the darts using her Amazon bracelets, The Cheetah punches her foe into the canal before releasing another round of darts. Unable to react as quickly in the water, the Amazon cannot deflect all of the missiles. One dart strikes her forehead, stunning her, so that The Cheetah is able to get away.

But worse is yet to come. The Cheetah had attacked the tourist boat hoping that Wonder Woman would show up, for she had coated her darts with an indelible ink which would only appear when viewed through infra-red lenses. Having noticed how Wonder Woman had always seemed to be on hand to deal with cases of espionage in and around Washington over recent months, The Cheetah had deduced that in her secret identity Wonder Woman must work at the War Department. The Cheetah makes a list of all the ‘WACS’ (Women’s Army Corps personnel) and ‘WAVES’ (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) working at the War Department who match the Amazon’s height and build. She then dons a pair of special contact lenses and spends days stalking the streets of Washington, spying on her list of subjects. In due course, The Cheetah discovers the mark made by her treated dart on Diana Prince’s forehead. The villainess proceeds to invite Wonder Woman (via a letter sent to Lieutenant Prince) to the recording of a public service film being made by the Junior League Committee for War Work. (The Cheetah had simply attached Priscilla Rich’s name to a Junior League Committee letterhead.) The film itself is a legitimate appeal in support of war bonds, but The Cheetah plans to plant an explosive device in the studio camera. ‘The sign which warns that the camera is ‘rolling’,’ The Cheetah explains in a soliloquy, ‘will be the detonator. When the Amazon muffs her lines or the Director calls ‘Cut!’ the camera will stop’ and then the device will explode. After recording her plan carefully in in her diary, the Cheetah goes to bed.

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Jose Delbo art, inked by Vince Colletta.

 

 

However, the next morning, it is Priscilla Rich who wakes and reads to her horror in her diary about The Cheetah’s discovery of Wonder Woman’s secret identity as Diana Prince and about the TV studio assassination plan. ‘What can I do?’ she wonders. ‘If I report what’s going to happen, I’ll be locked up as a madwoman. If only Wonder Woman did not exist, then nothing would trigger The Cheetah side of my personality and I could live a normal life.’ Priscilla decides to invite Diana to her home. When Lieutenant Prince arrives, Priscilla holds up a pocket watch and asks her guest to  look at it. Diana obeys and Priscilla quickly hypnotizes her. (Since Diana has not been living in the western world for very long, Priscilla had surmised that the Amazon would still be naïve and trusting. ‘Perhaps,’ the debutante muses, ‘she has never even heard of hypnotism!’) Priscilla commands the hypnotized Diana to forget all about the existence of Wonder Woman.

For a week there is no sign of Wonder Woman anywhere. On the day of the filming, Steve Trevor decides to go to the studio in Wonder Woman’s place. Priscilla is present at the long-disused movie studio in downtown Washington when Trevor arrives. Seeing that her plan to prevent The Cheetah’s bomb from going off has failed, Priscilla attempts to persuade Diana Prince that she is really Wonder Woman so that she can save Steve Trevor’s life. When Diana refuses to believe her, Priscilla pretends to attack her with the dart-firing bracelet. Diana instinctively moves to protect herself with her Amazon bracelets. ‘You see,’ cries Priscilla, ‘you are Wonder Woman!’ Her memory restored, Diana turns into Wonder Woman, which triggers the re-emergence of The Cheetah. The two women tussle and Wonder Woman knocks The Cheetah unconscious with a studio back-drop.

The interview with Trevor, meanwhile, has started. The director does not like Steve’s military uniform and considers shouting ‘cut’. Luckily, the director’s assistant says that Steve looks just right in his uniform. But then a mistake is made with the cue cards and the director does shout ‘Cut!’ Wonder Woman bursts into the studio and throws the camera through an open doorway so that the bomb explodes in an empty corridor. By now, The Cheetah has revived and attacks Wonder Woman again but the Amazon defeats her once more and subdues her will by encircling her with her magic lasso. Wonder Woman informs her captive that she will be taken to Transformation Island, a rehabilitation centre run by the Amazons.

The End.