Tom Fagan

Hey hey Mr. S.A.,
I was just wondering if either you or Captain Comics were planning a tribute article on Mr. Fagan. I just felt it deserved as he did his bit by being a fixture of the Rutland VT Halloween parade and a comic character in his own right (at least 2 JLA appearance, an issue of Batman and 2 issues of Avengers). Just putting the idea out there.

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in Craig Shutt - Ask Mr. Silver Age.

One Response to Tom Fagan

  1. Mr. Silver Age says:

    Hiya, John!

    I won’t be doing a special tribute to Tom in CBG; I didn’t really know him or have any special perspective on his contributions to fandom. But, as Brent noted in his article on Tom’s death, I did a column on the comics’ pros favorite Halloween parade and Tom’s role in it and the comics that featured it.

    Here’s that column, as tribute to Tom’s contributions:

    A Halloween trip to Rutland

    Marvel and DC’s Silver Age heroes used to get wild and crazy up in Vermont

    Dear Mr. Silver Age,

    Silver Age super-heroes faced so many scary situations every day of the week, did they do anything special when Halloween rolled around?

    Daimon H.,
    San Francisco

    Mr. Silver Age says: You better believe they did, Daimon. Yessiree bob, late in the Silver Age, when the moon rose on October 31, you could find a number of the most powerful heroes in both the Marvel and DC universes heading off for a scarily good time in…Rutland, Vt.

    The catalyst for this odd annual visitation was Roy Thomas and, more directly, Tom Fagan. Tom was a comics fan supreme and chairman of the Rutland Halloween parade. Those two occupations were responsible for creating a parade with a fair number of superheroes marching along and riding on floats—both in the comics and in real life.

    In a letter to Marvel that appeared in Avengers #88 (May 71), Fagan reported that 5,000 spectators watched the 11th annual parade in 1970, with marchers who included The Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, Medusa, Wasp, Quicksilver, Vision, Captain America and Havok. Riding on a float were Thor and Sif along with the Norn Queen. The Red Skull hitched a ride on the float for no known thematic reason, and at one point would have fallen to his doom (no doubt) if not for Thor’s heroic rescue.

    Also present were Nighthawk, Batman and Captain Marvel—and probably a few other DC heroes that Fagan was discreet enough not to mention. The parade kicked off, he noted, with the familiar cry of “Avengers Assemble!” and ended on the same note. Truly, this was the Halloween parade that we comics geeks dreamed about!

    The letter was instigated by Roy’s visit to the parade—at least, in the comics. The Avengers made the trek in “Come On In…The Revolution’s Fine!” in Avengers #83 (Dec 70). Their mission was to guard a famous scientist and his fancy parallel-time machine (don’t ask), and they agreed to ride in the parade to keep an eye on the doc—who, for reasons known only to him and Roy, decided to ride on a float (alongside his apparatus, keeping it safely within sight, natch).

    All would’ve been fine, except The Masters of Evil (Klaw, Melter, Radioactive Man and Whirlwind) decided to kidnap the doc while he was in the parade. Obviously, these guys were not The Masters of Timing. Battling The Vision, Panther, Goliath, Quicksilver and Captain America would have been a daunting task for such a quartet of losers, except they received some unexpected help from The Valkyrie and the Liberators, a new team of female super-doers consisting of Black Widow, Medusa, Wasp and Scarlet Witch.

    That grouping may sound familiar from the parade, and it should—the issue came out just prior to the Halloween parade, so the organizers reciprocated by letting those Marvel characters headline the march. I suppose it’s easier to have someone dress as Havoc than as Goliath, but don’t you wonder how many people recognized him, not to mention some of the others?

    The ladies had traipsed up to Rutland because Valkyrie had riled them up against the male team members, denouncing the guys for putting the women down. The sisters, she said, had to do it for themselves, and oddly enough, they all agreed and went off to battle their menfolk. Actually it wasn’t as odd as it seems, as it was a trick by an imposter who had a real mad-on against men at the moment. The story tied in with the Women’s Lib campaign that was all the rage at the time, and the cover wound up appearing in both Newsweek and New York magazines as a sign of those times.

    Watching this brou-ha-ha from a safe distance were two other parade-goers, namely Roy Thomas, dressed as Spider-Man, and then-wife Jeanie, dressed as The Invisible Girl. They stayed close to Tom, who was dressed as Nighthawk (although in real life he dressed as Batman from over at the Distinguished Competition).

    They apparently had such a good time that Roy and Jeanie returned the next year when the Defenders had a “Nightmare on Bald Mountain!” in Marvel Feature #2 (Mar 72). Upon arrival, genial host Tom told the pair (who weren’t in costume this time) about the scary Bald Mountain rumors. That was pretty scary, but it wasn’t as scary as watching Dr. Strange, Clea, Namor and The Hulk go toe-to-toe with The Dread Dormammu. Guys who have their heads on fire are always scary, but kids, don’t try this at home for your Halloween costume.

    Roy the Boy wasn’t the only comics pro to vamoose to Vermont that year. Over at DC, a bunch of staffers had run up to Rutland, and Denny O’Neil told us all about it in “Night of the Reaper!” in Batman #237 (Dec 71). The story opened with Dick walking along the parade route with three unidentified friends—who bore a strong resemblance to Gerry Conway, Alan Weiss and Bernie Wrightson.

    A footnote explained that “any similarity to actual persons or places depicted in this tale is probably a stranger tale than you’d ever really believe!” But Denny filled in some details in a note on the letters page, in which he described the awesome feeling of seeing “the whole pantheon of super-heroes” marching down the street alongside high school bands and drum majorettes “who look so sweet, so innocent, so absolutely wholesome American that a sentimental man might shed a tear.”

    Denny didn’t mention if he was that man, but he did report on the 48-hour party that followed the parade, which Tom threw at his 24-plus room mansion. The story’s plot came from an idea Bernie had given Denny during their trip to Rutland the previous year, while they were tramping through the eerie Rutland woods. Denny combined that with a suggestion by Harlan Ellison a few weeks later to concoct a story that delivered a lot of spooky atmosphere, courtesy of Neal Adams and Dick Giordano. DC’s parade, it should be noted, included Captain America, Spider-Man, Thor and Havok. Fagan, of course, was wearing his Batman costume in this DC book.

    In the tale, The Caped Crusader followed his ward to Rutland to try to capture a former Nazi concentration-camp commandant (Ellison’s idea) who had a love of masquerade parties. No really, that was why Batman left Gotham City for who knows how long: a Nazi who couldn’t pass up a parade. This time, the comics pros became part of the plotline, with a mad killer (Bernie’s idea) dressed up like The Grim Reaper taking a swing—literally—at killing Alan Weiss. Fortunately, Alan survived to write many more comics. Whew.

    The next year, the pros upped the ante again with three adventures in beautiful Rutland, two at Marvel and one at DC. And the wackiest part was they could be read as a three-part, two-company crossover! Granted, that would have produced so many super-villainous plots for one little town it would have been hard to suspend our disbelief, but not if you consider Rutland to be just a Vermontian version of Buffy’s quaint little town of Sunnydale.

    In fact, the first part of the trouble tied into the previous year’s folderol up on Bald Mountain. The amazing adventure began with “…And the Juggernaut Will Get You If You Don’t Watch Out!” in Amazing Adventures #16 (Jan 73), written by Steve Englehart. The story opened with The Beast nearly being hit by a car carrying Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart and Len and Glynis Wein on their way to Rutland. The Beast quickly change
    d to Hank McCoy so that he and his girlfriend Vera could hitch a ride with the quartet.

    The moment they drove off, the aforementioned Juggernaut dropped out of the sky. A helpful voice inside his head explained that Dr. Strange’s battle with Dormammu the previous Halloween had weakened the dimensional gateway between Earth and where Juggy had been exiled previously, returning him to Earth temporarily. He spent his brief return smashing parade floats and scattering heroes that included Medusa, “Powergirl” (Glynis dressed as a Marvel version of Supergirl, who would be needed later) and a bunch of generic super-doers.

    The Beast beat on Juggernaut for awhile and then attended Fagan’s annual party, where Roy and Jeanie showed up, too. Juggy of course also showed up, causing our comics heroes (Gerry, Steve and Len, that is) to run for their lives. Juggernaut ran too and tried to steal our pals’ car, but it wouldn’t start, which turned out to be the beginning of his end. The trio then ran into Glynis, who had gone missing in her “Powergirl” costume and couldn’t remember what she’d been doing.

    At approximately the same time over in Justice League of America #103 (Dec 72), writer Len Wein was telling a tale in which the Phantom Stranger warned the Leaguers that Felix Faust intended to unleash several unholy entities on the Earth through a gateway near Rutland. It no doubt was more of Dr. Strange’s doing with Dormammu, but the Stranger was too nice of a mystical weirdo to mention that his colleague had screwed up. So Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and Green Arrow rambled up to Rutland to stop Faust.

    As they traveled, we checked in with Gerry, Steve, Len and Glynis stopped by the side of the road while they retrieved their muffler and complained that they’d never get to Rutland. It’s not a linear crossover, of course, since we get to see the pals arrive twice—but it does bring up the question of whether the copyrights on Gerry, Steve, Len and Glynis are owned by Marvel or DC.

    Upon arriving, the JLAers of course joined the parade (after being asked by the Caped Crusader-costumed Fagan). But soon they were attacked by strange beings who resembled—sort of—familiar characters. Their attackers included parade-goers dressed as Adam Strange, Supergirl, Robin, The Golden Age Flash, a red “big cheese,” “Commando America,” a “bargain-basement web-slinger” and a Norse Thunder God. Gee, anybody we know?

    When the guys caught up with Glynis in this version, she again couldn’t remember what she’d been doing. But this time, readers knew what had happened—she’d been mind-controlled by Faust to battle the JLA in her Supergirl outfit. So the mystery that stymied Beast readers was resolved in JLA. And in a move that would prove hilarious to readers of the entire crossover, Faust tried to escape by stealing our pals’ car—but he got pulled over by the cops for having a faulty muffler.

    That left Gerry Conway to wrap things up, which he did in “Firesword!” in Thor #207 (Jan 73). His story opened with the parade in full swing and a host of Avengers greeting parade-watchers from their float. Those watchers included our four pals again, who shortly after the parade ended took their rattletrap car over to Fagan’s house for the party.

    Meanwhile, for no good reason that I can think of, Thor followed the trail of Crusher Creel (a.k.a. the Absorbing Man) into the hills around Rutland, bringing Sif and Hildegarde along for the fun. And just as they were getting down to some real swapping of blows, who should show up but Loki, who planned to tap into the souls of parade-goers to gain the power he needed to kickstart the title’s sword deal. Soon the North Queen was making deals with Sif and all heck was busting loose. Truly, it was one wild night in Rutland, Vt.

    While all this was happening, our four comics pals were waiting for the floats to be fixed from the Juggernaut’s battle back in Amazing Adventures (as a footnote handily told us in this case). So Glynis used the time to change into her “Powergirl” uniform. Glynis went off to the bathroom, where she promptly vanished, and off our pros went to find her—yet again.

    Needless to say, the Firesword didn’t get kickstarted and everything turned out generally fine (although Sif got talked into stuff she regretted). Except, darn the luck, somebody stole our pals’ car. Hmm, I wonder if he was wearing a headdress and metal headband? “Five to one the cops stop it ‘cause of the bad muffler, Steve!” Len prophetically suggested. That was an easy bet to suggest—he’d already written that story!

    Sadly, things calmed down in Rutland after that trio of tales. Only one trip was made the next Halloween, when Steve Englehart took us back for the “Night of the Collector” in Avengers #119 (Jan 74) just after the fabled Avengers-Defenders crossover had finished. No sooner had the team carted Loki off (again) than Mantis had a premonition of danger in Rutland. The Avengers scooted off, explaining to The Swordsman the deal about Rutland (at least, as well as it can be explained).

    Tom Fagan (as Nighthawk) greeted the super-guests upon their arrival, but it turned out Tom was in fact the title villain in disguise! He almost immediately attacked and captured Thor, Cap, Iron Man and The Panther. Frankly, despite the impressive power at their command, the team was pretty easy prey, because, heck, who expected to be attacked by villains during a parade in Rutland? OK, forget I asked that. In any event, it was up to the remaining Avengers—Scarlet Witch, Vision, Swordsman and Mantis—to save the day. I won’t tell you if they did, just to add some suspense.

    Rutland served as the scene of the crime one final time, in “The Carnival of Souls!” in Justice League of America #145 (Aug 77). Even by comics’ wacky dating, this was nowhere near Halloween, but apparently Steve Englehart just had a hankering to head back to Vermont (or maybe Rutland-Halloween stories had been banished by editorial fiat). In any event, the Justice League returned to save Superman, who had been sacrificed by a magician to gain power and now was in a deathly other dimensional state.

    Seven league members, led by the Phantom Stranger, confronted the magician in Rutland (after meeting up with Tom Fagan, of course, who for once was dressed in a snappy sweater). The Leaguers were trapped in said Carnival, where they had to survive a roller-coaster ride, a fun house and a whole mess of mystical but fun weirdness to bring back Superman—without being killed themselves.

    A second story that apparently occurred at the same time as this one showed up in DC Super-Stars #18 (Jan-Feb 78), featuring the Phantom Stranger along with Deadman and Dr.Thirteen.

    As if that weren’t enough appearances, Rutland was the location du jour in Gold Key’s 5 The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor #18 (Dec 7), although only the doc showed up in that one. The super-rabbit title character traveled to Rutland in WARP Graphics’ Thunderbunny #5 (Feb 86) and met many real people in actual locations, thanks to photo references by writer Martin L. Greim. And to cap things off, it made yet another appearance in Animal Man #50 (Aug 92).

    Whew! Rutland was a pretty happening place, wasn’t it? As is apparent, the trips just kind of petered out and then were gone, save for those last two oddball ones. I’m somehow doubting we’ll ever celebrate that parade the way we did back then, but we’ll always have Rutland to remember.

    — Craig Shutt

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