By Craig “Mr. Silver Age” Shutt
Hated Mr. Silver Age,
Me dislike clever Mopee Awards! Me hope you always run out of great comic books to not talk about and give no awards to for sheer goodness. Me don’t think you should not write about fewer comics! Yes, hurry up! Me certain me mean exactly that. Head feel fine, me stand up.
Bizarro N. O.
Mr. Silver Age says: I often get that feeling when I read your stories, Biz. Naturally, there’s no actual question in your question, and the answer is yes, there are plenty of comics left to “honor” with Mopee Awards. So many, in fact, that this year’s awards go to entire groups of comics! That’s right: I’ve gathered bunches of deserving issues and I’m collectively giving them one of these beauties to honor the bulk of their “sheer goodness,” as you put it. You’re not welcome.
As Mr. Silver Age’s fans (both of you) remember, these annual awards celebrate some of the goofier concepts and laugh-out-loud moments from Marvel and DC’s Silver Age super-hero comics. They help us remember a time when comics were read by excited kids eager to devour this month’s delectable banquet of four-color treats, even the ones that were a bit frothy or half-baked.
The awards are named for the magical elf who claimed he gave Barry Allen his super-powers in Flash #167 (Feb 67). Fans instantly disavowed the existence of that story, and we’d no doubt do the same for some of these classics, if it wasn’t so much fun to revisit their sheer, unadulterated dopiness. What were they thinking? And what were we thinking, enjoying them so much? Not even Mr. Silver Age can answer every question.
The Mopee Awards honor a type of comic book and a time in comics history that won’t be seen again. Fortunately, we can revisit those times whenever we want and enjoy those stories for entirely new reasons. Here are the ones we’re revisiting this time around:
The “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover — Well, OK, Go Ahead” Award to Superman #127 (Feb 59) and #162 (Jul 63) and Amazing Spider-Man #40 (Sep 66). This may come as a shock, kids, but, back in the day, covers were important to sales. They attracted our attention and intrigued us with the puzzle or dire predicament they presented, forcing us to fork over our 12¢ to learn the outcome. A bland cover could mean sales disaster.
So what the heck were they thinking with the cover to “The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue” in Superman #162? The cover image, showing both Supermen married with children, was taken from the final page of the comic book!
Granted, the story was a gigantic wish-fulfillment of the Supermen solving every problem on Earth, usually in a few panels, with few real threats. But a dramatic image could have been created from any of the challenges they faced in this three-part, novel-length adventure. We didn’t need to see they lived happily ever after!
But that was still better than the cover giveaway for “Titano the Super-Ape!” in Superman #127. That image showed Titano killing Superman with this kryptonite vision, while Lois encouraged the ape to mimic her as she donned sunglasses so he’d put on lead glasses. That’s how they defeated him! Four panels from the end!
I hear you Marvel fans nodding in agreement at Superman’s bone-headedness. So what was going on with “Spidey Saves the Day! Featuring The End of The Green Goblin!” in Amazing Spider-Man #40? The cover showed Spidey standing over a defeated GG, and that title telegraphed the ending like nothing Superman ever bannered!
Fortunately, this approach didn’t become more widespread. Just think of the stories we might have seen: “Robin Doesn’t Die at Dawn!” “Spidey Saves Aunt May’s Life!” “Crisis on Earth-Two Averted!” “Galactus Goes Away!” The mind reels.
So here’s your Mopee Award for saving us the effort of reading those stories, guys. Ironically, Mopee wasn’t shown on the cover of his only Silver Age appearance. Had he followed your lead, the title of his story would have been, “You’ll Never Mention This Issue Again!”
2. The “Kitty Cat of Doom!” Award to The Atom’s many cover-featured death traps. Remember from earlier how covers were critical in the Silver Age? (I hope you’re not already skipping ahead.) This priority may explain why The Atom never quite reached top-tier status. The dramatic tension invoked by his covers sometimes did not shatter our senses as it should have.
The biggest reason? The dangers that threatened the Mighty Mite were dangerous to him only when he was tiny. In those cases, something typically prevented him from reverting to his normal size and escaping. That made it tough for readers to get too worked up.
How dramatic can it be, when the villain insists that you keep your super-powers so he can kill you? Usually, eliminating a hero’s powers was an effective first step in a death trap. Granted, Superman wasn’t affected by kryptonite when he was non-super, which I never understood exactly. But, otherwise, super-powers should have helped avoid death.
Not for The Atom. Even his introduction in Showcase #34 (Oct 61) didn’t exactly make pulses pound: He was trying mightily to push a cork into a bottle. Granted, a tiny genie was pushing against him — and ultimately succeeded in escaping. In his third tryout issue, Showcase #36 (Feb 62), he was trapped by a deadly piece of … flypaper.
The drama didn’t ramp up much, once The Atom moved to his own magazine, which he did despite those sleep-inducing dilemmas. In #1 (Jul 62), he was menaced by a deadly Venus Fly Trap. Oh, the horror! In #2, he was nearly drowned when the dastardly villain pulled the stopper out of the sink and almost washed him away! I can’t think of any way to overcome that!
The hits kept coming. In #4, in a series of panels, he used an eraser to bounce high enough to reach a crook’s jaw so he could hit it. Kids, don’t try that at home. In #5, he had to fend off a hawk who didn’t like The Atom sitting in her nest.
Fortunately, more dire — or, at least, less obviously benign — threats arose, as The Atom’s Rogues’ Gallery grew. But the excitement level dropped when The Mighty Mite got stuck in a patch of tar on a car tire, as the car began moving in #17 (Mar 65).
My favorite was #21 (Nov 65), when he had to face a deranged kitty-cat (technically, a “tiger-cat”) under a glass dome. But #23, when he had to duel a regular-sized jack-in-the-box, was up there, too. Just for old time’s sake, he battled a hawk again in #37 (Jul 68), but this time he had the help of his new pet bird, Major Mynah!
So here’s your Mopee Award, Atom, for sticking around way longer than your covers gave you any right to do. Don’t let it fall over on you or you may create the first Mopee Death Trap!
3. The “Wet Mop of Death!” Award to The Human Torch’s many convenient defeats in Strange Tales. I’ve noted before that The Torch’s solo adventures were well labeled when they landed in Strange Tales. His Rogues’ Gallery was not the most fear-inspiring group of guys, and their capabilities for dealing death to a super-hero who could produce the heat of a super-nova fell a little short. Fortunately for them, when the occasion required it, Johnny’s flame acted like a candle in the wind.
If he wasn’t making like Tony Stark and simply running out of power at just the worst moment, he was being trapped in asbestos rooms. That happened in #102 (Nov 62), his second solo adventure, plus #116 (Jan 64), #118 (Mar 64), and #122 (Jul 64). Ironically, that may have been the most effective death trap, as asbestosis probably shaved a few years from his life.
Then there were the What Th —? Moments that made us think the writers should’ve taken one more pass through the typewriter, such as the back-to-back battles in #113 (Oct 63) and #114 (Nov 63). First, Johnny’s flame was extinguished by “damp seaweed,” courtesy of The Plantman. Then The Acrobat, disguised as the long-lost Captain America, nailed him with a wet mop. A wet mop!
Planty was perhaps Torch’s most deadly foe, as he returned in #121 (Jun 64) to take out Johnny with some dewy acorns, a Mopee Award-winner a few years ago. Other highlights included The Beetle extinguishing Johnny’s flame with his own “soaking wet body” after he came out of a pool in #123 (Aug 64), a “Mystery Villain” doing the job with a spray mist in #127 (Dec 64), and the splash from an amusement park’s flume ride dousing it in #130 (Mar 65).
Then, there was the woman in #133 (Jun 65) who shot “freeze blasts” of “240° below freezing” (i.e., -208°) at The Torch to make his flame too cold to ignite. I wonder how they arrived at that number? In Johnny’s final strange tale, #134 (Jul 65), a blast of compressed air from Kang’s jousting lance snuffed The Torch’s flame — and the series.
Here’s your Mopee Award for having the most fragile super-nova-level flame ever, Johnny! Keep it in a climate-controlled room, since high humidity could make condensation build up on it and snuff your flame!
4. The “My Brain Says No but My Mouth Says Go” Award to Jimmy Olsen’s many self-induced transformations. Superman’s Pal had an exciting life, hanging around a guy who gave him some of the most dangerous artifacts in the galaxy and let him poke at them with a stick. He also continually ran to Professor Potter’s laboratory to take part (voluntarily or accidentally) in the most cockamamie experiments known to man. It’s tough to kick-start three rousing adventures per issue.
Jim’s judgment in picking his friends was important, because he also excelled at clumsiness, recklessness, and plain bad luck.
In “The Flying Jimmy Olsen” in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #2 (Dec 54), for instance, he found a trophy on his shelf — a trophy he didn’t remember receiving. The tag said that drinking the potion would give the drinker “great powers for one day.” Jim’s response? “Sounds phony to me! Well, can’t do any harm to try it.” No, what harm could drinking some strange alien potion do?
He repeated this goofiness in #23 (Sep 57), when he finally reached the Silver Age, by quaffing a “beard tonic” given to him by a stranger on the street after his attempts were foiled to enter The Beard Band club for bearded men. He repeated his motto: “It can’t work! But what have I got to lose?”
But Jim wasn’t always reckless; he was clumsy, too. In “Superman’s Seeing-Eye Dog” in #11 (Mar 56), Superman dropped off for Jim’s collection some meteoric dust that emitted X-rays. Jimbo promptly dropped it and fell on top of it, irradiating his eyes so he had X-ray vision.
With neither of them learning anything from these catastrophes, Superman dropped off an abandoned leaden chest he’d found floating in space for Jim to examine in #31 (Sep 58) and then flew off. Good move, Supes. Inside, Jim found a bottle of green fluid, which he promptly dropped and spilled all over himself. That introduced Elastic Lad.
He became “The Human Flame-Thrower” in #33 (Dec 58), when he visited Prof. Potter’s lab and picked up a jar of fireflies from an experiment. He immediately dropped the jar and then could light Perry’s cigar from five feet away.
In #20 (Apr 57), he stopped by the prof’s lab and drank a jar of liquid he assumed was milk. Yeah, Potter always kept unmarked glasses of milk on his lab table. It was actually a speed formula, making him “Jimmy Olsen, Speed Demon.”
Several times, he was the victim of Professor Potter’s confusion. That’s right: several times. First, in #28 (Apr 58), he took a toothache remedy that turned out to be the prof’s nuclear-irradiated magic beans, making him “The Human Skyscraper.” In #32 (Oct 58), Potter gave him a nose spray intended to cure his cold, but Potter confused it with his Pinocchio spray that made Jimmy’s nose grow when he told a lie. Hey, it could happen to anyone (dumb enough to take whatever Potter handed him).
Usually, though, Jim brought on his own trouble. My favorite came in #41 (Dec 59), when Superman left a pear-shaped space fruit on Jim’s desk for him to write about. He mistakenly laid his real pear next to it, then reached over, grabbed it, and took a bite. That lapse turned him into “The Human Octopus.”
And who can forget the time, in #53 (Jun 61), when he and Lois went on a cruise and Jim stumbled across an enlarging ray washed ashore on an island? What are the chances? As he and Lo examined the gun, Jimbo accidentally hit the On button, and its radiation shot through a souvenir turtle Lois had bought and struck him. Thus was born “The Giant Turtle Man!”
Whew, enough! Here’s your Mopee Award, Jim, for continually finding new ways to transform yourself accidentally into truly bizarre creatures. If you keep this up, one day you’ll mistakenly eat a space banana and wake up looking like Mopee! And I wouldn’t wish that — or any of these awards — on anyone.
Known to fans worldwide as “Mr. Silver Age,” Craig Shutt has waxed nostalgic about comics of old in CBG since 1992. Send comments and suggestions to email@example.com.
“Ask Mr. Silver Age” is © 2012 Craig Shutt