Tuesday, August 7, 2012

DP02-12 The Power Girl Paradox Part 1

.....After the New Doom Patrol story arc ran in SHOWCASE #'s 94 (08-09/77)- 96 (12/77-01/78) there was surprisingly little editorial comment on it. The first letters regarding it were printed in #96 from Bob Rodi and Rick Taylor (both from Illinois). Editor Paul Levitz responded to Rodi by plugging the upcoming Power Girl feature (which Rodi didn't mention) and responded to Taylor thus:
  • "If the DP go back into their own mag you can count on Robotman and Celsius having a few interesting discussions about the leadership role-- and Bob can look for the manhunt for Capt. Zahl. But we'll be looking for your verdict to determine whether the DP make it on their own."
.....Back when these comics were being published, the direct market was in its infancy and publishing decisions that would be driven by sales were driven almost exclusively by newsstand sales and the letters' page where that above response appeared would have to have been prepared before any unsold copies of the Doom Patrol issues could be returned from dealers, counted and deducted from the numbers shipped out in order to determine approximate real sales figures. Those sales figures would presumably be "your verdict". It was a very different system from the modern direct market in which publishers solicit advanced orders from retailers (generally through distributors), total the orders, round the numbers upwards and print that many. If the advanced orders are unusually low and a publisher has reason to trust the retailers' instincts, a proposed title might not even be printed. The fates of existing ongoing titles are determined by the continued confidence of those whose livelihoods depend on selling them, as with the old newsstand system, except that those fates are now determined before they ship, not three or four months later. Since editor Paul Levitz didn't know in 1977 whether the DP's revival would lead to getting their own title again or being put back on the shelf for the moment, he focused on the next scheduled feature, one which he wrote himself.

.....Tellingly, the next issue, which begins a three-issue Power Girl story arc [SHOWCASE #'s 97 (02/78)- 99 (04/78)] has a letters' page that leads with a letter written in anticipation of the Power Girl feature. (The writer, Allan Palmer of Quebec, was tipped off about their plans by a fanzine article. In keeping with the way future Vertigo characters would turn up on the periphery of DC history in the pre-Crisis years, Palmer suggests that PG's recent out-of-the-blue debut in ALL STAR COMICS could be explained by saying that she had been on Earth-1 fighting crime as Black Orchid, another flying bullet-proof female character whose identity and origin had not yet been revealed. Levitz describes this as "a very plausible suggestion".) A second letter from Bill Dickinson (of MN) is all about the DP but there is no response to it. In fact, none of the editorial 'voice' on the page mentions the DP at all.

.....Issue #98 contains a letter from Kevin Callahan (CA) who intuits much of what should have been explained by DC about the DP arc: that the "Doc" who repaired Cliff's body was Doc Magnus; that the Lt. Cable who appears in all three issues is the same Lt. Matthew Cable from SWAMP THING; and that Cliff's new body, drawn by Joe Staton in all three issues, strongly resembles John Byrne's ROG-3000, a back-up feature in Staton's E-MAN title for Charlton two years earlier. [I go on at length about it in the synopsis post for the John Byrne Period.] The DP is also mentioned in a second letter from Al Schroeder III (TN), but the reply to Callahan is more pertinent:
  • "The Doom Patrol is indeed not dead. While sales figures are not yet in, we're keeping the magnificent misfits in the public eye in SUPER-TEAM FAMILY #16, in which they costar with Supergirl. Watch for it in a few months.-- PL"
.....SHOWCASE #'s 99 (04/78) and 100 (05/78) have no letters' pages and SUPER-TEAM FAMILY #15 (03-04/78) was the last issue of that series. Both titles eventually became casualties of the DC Implosion. There would also be no new Doom Patrol title, at least not for a while, no Power Girl title for a bit longer and no Hawkman title (the next three-issue arc in SHOWCASE after an anniversary story in #100). Yet there were clearly plans in place to continue stories with each cast of characters, even if their outlets turned out to be makeshift. Hawkman, for instance, hadn't carried his own title since the days of the original DOOM PATROL series. When it was cancelled he became a co-star in the Atom's series for its last year and then spent the 1970's merely as a Justice League of America member except for sporadic use as a back-up feature in DETECTIVE COMICS. In the year leading up to his SHOWCASE arc Hawkman took on a greater visibility as a character in his own right, guest starring in SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER-VILLAINS and SUPER-TEAM FAMILY independent of the JLA. Despite that, after the arc when DC expanded all their standard titles by eight pages (all new material) he became the back-up in DETECTIVE COMICS again and would have been there regularly had the implosion not hit. To save the company's namesake title from cancellation it became the new home of the double-length BATMAN FAMILY Dollar Comic anthology. The Hawkman feature was relocated to its WORLD'S FINEST COMICS counterpart, replacing the Creeper feature (whose planned SHOWCASE issue was never published).

.....Power Girl (whose bizarre connection to the Doom Patrol I'll try to explain in future posts) at least had a natural home with the Justice Society in ALL-STAR COMICS, where she debuted in the same issue that revived the title, #58 (01-02/76). The story was written and edited by Gerry Conway with assistant editor Paul Levitz. Nearly two years later Levitz wrote the earliest stories featuring the Huntress. She had a simultaneous debut in ALL-STAR COMICS #69 (11-12/77) and DC SUPER-STARS #17 (11-12/77), both drawn by Joe Staton, at that point the regular penciller for both ALL-STAR and SHOWCASE. Power Girl and the Huntress seemed a natural pair. Unlike Earth-2's adult Robin, introduced in one of the 1960's annual JLA/JSA crossovers, these two young women were true legacy characters, not contemporary sidekicks who had grown into the roles of the characters from whom they were derived but new original characters succeeding their predecessors. At the time that was unusual in comics. Aside from Lee Falk's ancestral line of Phantoms (the identity was passed from father to son) or Charlton's Ted Kord replacing Dan Garrett as Blue Beetle, there aren't too many obvious examples. From the way Conway introduced Power Girl, its possible that he considered legacy characters to be a potential important theme for a JSA feature, circumventing the question of how much older these revered Golden Age characters can get and still be plausible as super-heroes. Conway began the series with the newly revealed Power Girl, the aforementioned adult Robin and the by-then-adult Star Spangled Kid forming what they called "The Super Squad", to be augmented by original Justice Society members. The name "Super Squad" actually appeared on a banner on the covers below the logo for the first eight issues of the revival, three issues beyond the point where Conway left as writer and editor and was replaced by Levitz, with Joe Orlando as his editor. After that, a large Justice Society logo pushed the series' actual title to a banner across the top and there was no longer any ambiguity about the focus of the series. It was all about the Justice Society and, less obviously, all about All-American Comics.

.....Are you familiar with the "three on a match" concept? When DC had an unexpected hit with Superman in ACTION COMICS in 1938, it took them a while to realize that having that anthology's only costumed character on the cover would spike sales. In 1939 they tried to test the appeal of costumes by trying a cover story on an older better established title, DETECTIVE COMICS, with Batman. That confirmed their popularity and all that remained was to determine whether it was a new, durable genre or merely a fad. To do this, editors Sheldon Mayer and M.C. Gaines, who had arrived from Dell since Superman's debut, were to create a whole stable of super-heroes. Although Superman and Batman were used to promote these new features (and mentioned as "honorary members" of the JSA when making rare cameo turns), they otherwise were kept separate where the actual stories were concerned. Their stories appeared in 'National' titles, but the next wave of characters would be seen in 'All-American' titles, named for Gaines' All-American Publications venture. If super-heroes had turned out to be a fad, the All-American titles could be cancelled without tarnishing the National brand. If they kept selling, National would add more. In 1940 Gaines and Mayer began with FLASH COMICS (an anthology including the debuts of Flash, Hawkman and Johnny Thunder) and ended with the first appearance of the Justice Society in ALL-STAR COMICS #3 (Winter/1940-1941). By the fall of 1941 National had formed its own team, the Seven Soldiers of Victory, also without Superman and Batman. By the late 1940's romance, westerns and horror began crowding out the super-heroes on the newsstands and, since Gaines had already sold back his interest in All-American to create EC Comics, the All-American brand identity disappeared along with most of the Justice Society's members. ALL-STAR COMICS actually wasn't cancelled, it became ALL-STAR WESTERN. Later, STAR SPANGLED COMICS became STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES. The remaining heroes were consolidated as back-up features in titles whose leads became Batman, Superman or spin-off features like Robin solo stories or Superboy. In the 1980's many of those remaining back-up characters were retroactively assembled in the All-Star Squadron, but back in the 1970's they remained hopelessly obscure to all but a handful of fanatical Golden Age collectors. For a generation of comics fans in the 1970's the Justice Society embodied DC in the Golden Age specifically because they didn't survive past 1951 and were not impacted by the notorious Senate hearings on juvenile delinquency. From 1955 to about 1962 their names were stolen by space age strangers (or so it seemed at the time), but their peers, the Trinity (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman), never went away. The Trinity escaped cancellation, weathered the witch hunts and went to other planets when the trends changed yet again. When the new strangers were explained as living on an alternate Earth, it necessitated there being an alternate Trinity-- one younger, one older. When Conway scripted the new ALL-STAR COMICS the numbering of the western phase of the title (#58 to #119) was ignored, but the stories couldn't reasonably pick up where they left off as easily as the issue numbers did. During the intervening 25 years some sampling of JSA members had been drawn out to join with JLA members for the annual 'Crisis' stories and if readers knew anything about them it was that most of them had retired from adventuring until those crossovers began in 1963. Conway couldn't set new stories in the 1950's with that imminent inactivity threatening to put a damper on things, so he set them in present day Earth-2 with a stand in for Superman (Power Girl, his cousin), a stand in for Batman (the Golden age Robin) and the only full member of the Seven Soldiers of Victory from their generation (Star Spangled Kid-- Wing had long since died and the Golden Age Speedy remained mysteriously absent until Crisis). There was no youth counter part to Wonder Woman (yet). Wonder Girl, after all, was a purely Earth-1 creation, as was Supergirl (the cousin of Earth-1's Superman and the character Power Girl was created to balance in Earth-2's alternate universe). Without a proxy Wonder Woman it wasn't really obvious that he was trying to acknowledge both National and All-American imprints. In a way, it may have been a tip of the hat to the early days of WORLD'S FINEST COMICS when Star Spangled Kid regularly had a feature and Batman and Superman each did as well, but not yet as a team. These younger characters formed a team of their own, a succession to the JSA, but when the Super Squad name dropped by the wayside it became clear that the JSA was to be carried forward, not succeeded. Enter the Huntress.

.....The first new issue of ALL-STAR COMICS gave us a cover of the younger generation of heroes rushing to save the older JSA members, roughly the plot Len Wein used to revive the X-men the previous year. Immediately following her debut, Huntress did the same on the cover of #70 (01-02/78). Since her debut, she took part in each of the annual JLA/JSA 'Crisis' stories until the big one in 1985-1986. At the end of that, she and the Earth-2 Robin became just two of numerous characters who didn't simply die but whose existence had never been part of the new synthesized Earth's history. For many readers (and we can only presume for Levitz) this meant much more than the loss of a beloved character (bad as that may be). It meant a lost opportunity for an Earth-2 counterpart to the concept of the Superman-Batman team. As I mentioned in a paragraph above, Superman and Batman each had features in WORLD'S FINEST COMICS, but weren't scripted as a team until the dawn of the Silver Age, less than a year before the adoption of the Comics' Code Authority. Those stories are generally acknowledged as Earth-1 history. To make the two worlds more closely mirror one another there grew an unspoken assumption that not only did the characters need to be duplicated, but the institutions as well. The Superman-Batman team couldn't really have been recreated in Power Girl and the adult Robin, since Robin's considerably greater experience would put them on an uneven footing. Power Girl and Huntress were both novices with roots to legends and more believably peers. Unfortunately they had only a year from Huntress' debut until the bimonthly ALL-STAR COMICS was cancelled in the DC Implosion. The JSA feature was then incorporated into the Dollar Comics format ADVENTURE COMICS for one more bimonthly year (1979) before being dropped when the title returned to standard length and its first monthly schedule in a decade. Huntress resurfaced in 1980 when DC tried to assuage reader complaints over their most recent price increase (from 40¢ to 50¢) by exchanging eight pages of ads per issue for eight extra pages of story. This made possible a Huntress back-up strip (again by Levitz and Staton) in WONDER WOMAN. Levitz wasted no time in having Power Girl as a guest star but the serial (which far outlasted many of its contemporaries-- most titles eventually just ran longer main features) was a less than ideal venue for building a partnership. They really needed their own feature and Levitz' increasing editorial duties made a now standard 25-page monthly title even less likely to happen than the 17-page bi-monthly title which had been much more common at DC when Power Girl and Huntress were introduced. The Implosion was once thought to have merely delayed such a potential title but that delay lasted until the circumstances of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, which made it impossible.

.....Today, of course, there is yet another alternate universe with an entirely new Earth-2 from which a kind of Huntress and a sort of Power Girl have been expunged and stranded in the New 52 Earth in the current WORLD'S FINEST series. Written by Paul Levitz, no less. Thirty-plus years overdue, but close enough. However, it was a much longer and harder road to reach that point than it would appear and the Doom Patrol ("...you remember Alice, don't you? This is a song about Alice...") got side-swiped in the process. Part 2 should be about what happened to that 1978 Supergirl story when the Implosion hit.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Airing out the summer house

.....So, the moral of the story is "don't use the new Blogger interface"? Assuming that this post indeed posts then it will the first one readers have seen in a while but not the first one I've done in that time. A few here and on my other blogs (the music ones) were typed up and, when I hit 'publish', apparently evaporated. At first, when I tried to read them (to make sure I was controlling the font properly in the new set-up) and they weren't on the home page I wondered if I had posted to the wrong blog by mistake. No such luck. I've been trying to reconstruct them from memory but have scrapped that idea and decided to return to my original concept of documenting and reviewing the Doom Patrol's history. Until I know for certain that the glitches are ironed out I'll be writing from organized notes only, which means things should be informative, albeit drier than usual.

.....As of August 7th the above paragraph still appears as it was saved and this font I am now typing has not been enlarged (something that used to be a common problem when I had to save a post midway through and return to it later-- the continuation would appear in edit mode as a larger and frequently different font, requiring time consuming methods to change it). For the foreseeable future, we might be good to go.