Thursday, February 28, 2008


Any child who was glued to the TV in the 60s and 70s the way I was became intimately familiar with the handful of cartoon producers who dominated the TV animation market. And just as people develop brand loyalty with everything from cars to toothpaste, I was a devoted Filmation man. I admit I watched everything, and I did have a few favorites produced by those other guys, but Filmation consistently put out material that was right up my alley. Now that many of these shows are being put out on DVD, complete with audio commentary by producer Lou Scheimer and others from the Filmation family, I’ve been reliving some of these wonderful childhood memories.

My earliest memories of Filmation go back to their first Saturday morning cartoon show, The New Adventures of Superman. I was too young to remember when they first aired, but I saw episodes aired as repeats on Sunday afternoons. I do recall, however, the premiere of The Adventures of Batman and Robin which came along a couple years later (the animated show couldn’t air until after the live-action show was canceled). I was a huge Batman fan and was thrilled to death that an animated version was coming to Saturday morning. The frenetic opening credit sequence, with its quick cuts and flashing primary colors, really got me jazzed right off the bat (pardon the pun). I also loved their new Batmobile design. Far more sleek and serious looking that the George Barris creation, it looked like the muscle cars I saw zipping up and down my front street at the time.

Despite the initial excitement over the opening credits, I remember feeling a bit let down by the stories. The format was essentially the same as the Superman show (seven minute adventures with fairly simplistic storylines), but the animation seemed even more limited. Also, I don’t recall the first episode featuring any of the major villains like The Joker or The Penguin. I could be wrong about that, but that was my memory. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was something not quite right about the show. Having seen some of those cartoons on YouTube recently, I think I was probably disappointed with the slow pacing. Even with limited animation, Superman could still generate excitement because he was saving jet planes from fiery crashes and shifting the Earth’s orbit. Batman was simply gathering clues and catching crooks. That was great in the live-action show when you had Adam West and Burt Ward chewing up the scenery, but those strangely immobile close-up shots that Filmation was so famous for just didn’t inspire much excitement. Nevertheless, it was Batman, so I stayed loyal.

Around the same time, I remember seeing their movie tie-in shows, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Fantastic Voyage. I was especially fascinated with Fantastic Voyage, just as I had been with the movie. What I liked about the animated series was that they had a flying ship called the Voyager rather than a submarine like in the movie. With Voyager, they could travel anywhere in their miniaturized state. And the hero had an eyepatch! That was really startling to me (I hadn't yet seen Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.). The closing credit sequence (yes kids, they used to have those once upon a time) was especially atmospheric, showing clips of the empty, darkly lit miniaturization lab while moody music played; probably the gloomiest credit sequence of any Saturday morning show in history.

I didn’t discover the Aquaman TV show until the early 70s when it was in syndication. One of the local independent stations ran the show early on Saturday mornings before the network shows started. This was really my first exposure to Aquaman since I never read his comic books. Although I was only lukewarm about Aquaman, I loved the back-up stories featuring other heroes of DC’s line-up like the Flash, Green Lantern, Atom, Teen Titans, and the Justice League of America. The miniaturization thing must’ve really captivated me back then because I was especially fond of the Atom, and I got a real kick out of seeing the whole gang in the Justice League of America sequences. Again, legal issues prevented Batman from being in this animated JLA, but he never had much to do in JLA anyway.

All these action/adventure shows really made Filmation stand out in my mind. I was never a fan of the anthropomorphic funny critters that Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera cranked out. I liked science fiction and comic books, and that was Filmation’s source material, at least in the early days. By the early 70s, they started branching out. More on that later…

Friday, February 22, 2008


When last I blogged, I was talking about the moment I became a serious comic fan. It was the spring of 1972 and I had just gotten three comics while shopping with my dad and brother: Batman #242, Justice League of America #99, and The Brave and the Bold #102 featuring the Teen Titans. Something in the spring air made me absolutely ecstatic about these comics, and I wanted to read more.

When I went back to school after the weekend, my second grade teacher, Ms. Morningstar, announced that we could bring comic books in to class to share with our classmates during our recess periods. I couldn’t believe it! I would get to read more comics without having to get my parents to buy them. I also wanted to share my excitement for the comics I had read, but I didn’t wanted to bring in those three comics I had just gotten. I was young but no fool; those classmates of mine would destroy my new comics in no time.

I decided to dig out my old Batman #220 and #227 as soon as I got home from school. When I finally found them, they were even more worse for wear than I remembered. Batman #220 had a huge tear across the cover, which I clumsily repaired with Scotch tape. Since I thought this might be the last time I would see the comic, I read through #220 one last time. It was exciting to discover how much my reading skills had improved and that I could follow the story much better than I could a year earlier. I noticed that one character in the story was named “Sloan,” which sounded to me like a person in a TV crime show or on one of my mother’s soap operas. Suddenly, comics seemed like real adult entertainment and not silly kid stuff like the Saturday morning cartoons. You have to realize, I had a much older brother, so I was in a real hurry to grow up, at least intellectually.

I took my battered Batman comics into class, which I felt gave me the legitimate right to paw over the comics that the other kids brought in. I was immediately drawn to a copy of The Brave and the Bold #60 featuring my new favorites, the Teen Titans. Unbeknownst to me, this was only the second appearance of the Teen Titans and the first time Wonder Girl joined the group. Wonder Girl was a bit of a fudge on DC’s part anyway, since the original Wonder Girl stories were of Wonder Woman as a girl, like Superboy was Superman as a boy. For Teen Titans, however, she miraculously became the daughter of Wonder Woman, putting her in the same time frame. Of course, I learned all this later. At that moment, I was just blown away at how different these Teen Titans seemed from the ones I saw in my B&B #102.

While the Teen Titans, as they existed in 1972, were older, more independent adolescents like The Mod Squad, the early Teen Titans reflected their younger, more subservient roles as pint-sized sidekicks to their big league partners. There was one page in B&B #60 were each Titan bids farewell to their older partners before they go off on their mission. I was particularly struck by the brief conversation that occurred between Batman and Robin:

Although it was just a couple of panels, I was thrilled to see Batman and Robin looking and interacting just like they did on the TV show. I quickly realized that this book was from the mid-60s, obviously a hand-me-down from an older sibling to one of my classmates. It was so fun to see Batman and Robin like this, rather than the separate crime fighters they had become in the early 70s. This comic made me yearn to see more older comics so I could piece together the entire history of my heroes. The comic bug had settled in my heart for the long haul.

During the summer of ’72, I asked for a comic book every time my dad and I stopped by a drug store or convenience store, which was frequently since he was a heavy smoker and always needed cigarettes. I often wonder how much my dad’s nicotine addiction contributed to my comic book addiction. At any rate, I read all kinds of comics that summer, including some Marvel titles like Spiderman, Captain America, and Daredevil. But it was another Teen Titans issue that really touched me.

Teen Titans #40, “Spawn of the Sinister Sea,” had Aqualad betray his fellow Teen Titans because the daughter of this bad guy had seduced him. To keep Aqualad from causing any more trouble, the other Teen Titans chain him up. There’s one panel where the chained Aqualad is crying out his anguish, so strong is the power of the girl over him. To my seven-year-old brain, this was serious drama. I was enthralled with comics. I kept reading comics. I didn’t realize that I had become a comic fan, or that such a thing even existed, but I certainly was one. It took a few years before I fully embraced my passion.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I mentioned in my previous post about my first encounters with comic books as a child. My big influence was the Batman TV show, which led me to ask for Batman comics even though I couldn’t read them. As I learned to read, I was better able to appreciate them and, by the spring of 1972, I was turning into a serious reader. So on a warm spring evening while I was out shopping with my father and older brother, I came across a comic spinner rack that changed my whole life.

It’s funny the things your brain chooses to remember. This would have otherwise been a fairly ordinary moment hardly worth registering, but I remember it as clearly as any wedding or funeral or holiday. It was a Friday evening, but still light out due to the longer spring days. I tagged along with my dad and brother Craig on a trip to the Eastpoint Shopping Center (a few months later they put a roof over the whole complex and turned it into one of those newfangled malls). Dad and Craig did a lot of things together and I would feel left out, so every once in awhile I had to assert myself and insist on going with them. Then I would be disappointed because they would talk about stuff that I was too young to understand and I would still feel left out. By the time we stopped into a drug store, I wandered off to check out the toys and stumbled across their comic spinner rack. I was immediately struck by the cover of Batman #242. The caped crusader was looking grimmer than ever, looming over the grave of Bruce Wayne (?!!), the glow of the eternal flame by the gravestone lighting Batman’s countenance from below for dramatic effect. Bruce Wayne dead but Batman alive? How could this be? I had to get this comic.

No sooner did I grab the Batman than I also spotted Justice League of America #99. I had never seen a JLA comic before, but I was familiar with the super heroes from the Saturday morning cartoon shows. This book had all the heroes together in one comic, including my fave Batman. Flipping through the pages, I also saw that they had reprinted old stories of the Atom and some guy named Sandman. This Atom looked different from the one I knew, and this Sandman guy was completely strange. Also, the artwork had a certain crudeness to it that I found appealing. At this point, I was reading the daily comic strips and I fancied doing my own comic strip when I grew up. My own attempts at drawing a comic strip were nowhere near as accomplished as the artwork I saw in these new comics, but the rough simplicity of these Golden Age stories gave me hope. I wanted this book too.

I was about to track down my dad when I noticed a third comic that I couldn’t resist. The Brave and the Bold #102 featured good ol’ Batman again along with some group called the Teen Titans. All I knew was that Robin was part of the group. Robin and Batman in a comic story together! I hadn't seen that in my brief comic reading life, so I had to see what this was all about. But now I was holding three comic books in my hand. I had never asked for more than one comic book at a time in my life. Also, these comics were 25 cents each rather than 20 cents like some of the others. As I nervously worked out my sales pitch, Dad and Craig appeared.

“I can’t make up my mind between these three books,” I whined. “I know they’re 25 cents each, but they have extra pages in them. And they have some old stories like from when you were a kid.”

“Well, let’s get them all then,” Dad stated, as if this was a no-brainer.

Thus was the difference in perspective between an adult and a child. To me, spending 75 cents on comics was an extravagance. To my dad, 75 cents was two or three packs of cigarettes which he would burn through in a day. Looking back, my dad never denied me any reading material, even if it was a hardcover that might have cost four or five dollars back then. He wanted me to read, which was a noble and understandable motivation. I didn’t see reading as something that was helpful to my development at the time; I equated it with play, and I knew how hard it was to coax my parents into buying me certain toys. Toys and books were the same in my mind, requiring equal amounts of persuasion. If only I had understood the difference in our perspectives then, maybe I could’ve talked him into getting me more comics.

Anyway, he bought me the comics and I spent the whole weekend pouring over them. There’s something about spring that fills your spirit with renewed energy and joy, and somehow I associated that burst of euphoria with the reading of those comics. Batman #242 kicked off what would become the now famous multi-part story with Ras Al-Ghul and the League of Assassins, which was reprinted in its entirety as a giant-sized treasury book. I was completely hooked with this opening chapter. The JLA story was less memorable for me, but it still got me interested in reading JLA for a couple of years. But that The Brave and the Bold with the Teen Titans really got me excited.

The young sidekicks of DC’s heavy hitters (Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad, Speedy, and Wonder Girl) worked together as a team like my TV favorites, The Mod Squad. This particular story had something to do with the Titans fighting Batman and his uptight, establishment grown-ups over some urban renewal project. Just like the kinds of hip, relevant stories they did on The Mod Squad. This was cool stuff to me. I was really digging comics.

I went back to school after that weekend filled with a new enthusiasm for reading. This is where the serendipity came in. Often as the school year would draw to a close and the weather would get warmer, teachers would start to get a little more permissive. In this case, my second grade teacher Ms. Morningstar told us that we could bring in comic books to class that we could share with our fellow classmates during recess periods. Hot dog! We would be allowed to read comics in class! Still more tomorrow….

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I can narrow down the time I became a comic fan to one specific moment when I was seven years old. It was in the spring of 1972 and I found myself captivated by a comic spinner rack in a drug store. From that point, my future geekdom was assured. But before I get to that, I should step back a couple years.

I owned my first comic books before I could read. Having been weaned on the Batman TV show, I always had a love for the caped crusader and, if I saw a Batman comic on the shelves in a drug store or convenience store, I would instinctively point to it and whine my desire for it simply because it had Batman’s face on it. The first Batman comic I remember owning was Batman #220, This Murder Has Been Pre-recorded! This was the winter of 1970 and I hadn’t learned to read yet, but I liked looking at the pictures. And boy, those were some pictures! This was a radically different Batman from the one I saw on my TV screen. He had taller ears on his cowl and his lean, sinewy body made him appear more menacing and stern. Robin was nowhere to be found, so forget about any friendly, “ol’ chum” banter. And while I couldn’t read, I could tell that this story was more like a crime thriller a la Mannix or one of those Quinn Martin crime shows. It was different, a little scary, but way cooler.

Several months later, I talked my dad into buying me Batman #227, The Demon of Gothos Mansion! I was just beginning to read at this point and I wanted desperately to comprehend what was going on in this book, but since none of the dialog said “See Spot run” or “Dick has a red ball,” I was hopelessly lost. But I loved those pictures! This issue was along the lines of a gothic horror story, and for the first time I understood how Batman’s persona was supposed to be utilized. He was the personification of a bat, a symbol of the supernatural and feverish nightmares. (I believe the cover was inspired by the cover of Detective Comics #31, channeling those earlier roots.) Batman was meant to be dark, brooding, grim, and mysterious. I was catching on. Suddenly, Adam West was looking pretty lame.

The back-up story featured Robin, now a college student living on campus and, in his spare time, patrolling the college town of Carthage as Robin, the Teen Wonder. This new environment put Dick Grayson/Robin right in the thick of hippies, drug pushers, and war protesters. Quite a long way from “Holy priceless collection of Etruscan snoods!” but I liked it.

My six-year-old brain was piecing together the evolution from the TV show to the then-current comic. Years later I discovered that, had I bought a Batman comic even one year earlier, it would’ve looked pretty similar to what I had seen (and was still seeing thanks to syndication) on TV. However, with the rapid changes taking place in American society in the late 60s, Batman’s campy television image had become an embarrassingly passé fad, plummeting in popularity just as quickly as it had risen two years before. No one was interested in that old Batman, least of all the baby boomer writers who were taking over the direction of DC characters in the late 60s and early 70s. The metamorphosis of Batman from 1969 to 1970 was beyond dramatic, and I was jumping in right as the transformation had reached completion.

So while I liked these Batman comics, the fact that their reading level was slightly higher than my own prevented me from really enjoying them. By second grade, however, my reading ability accelerated rapidly. So much so that I was moved to the highest level reading class in my grade to encourage my growing interest in books. By the spring of 1972, I was reading whatever I could get my hands on. That’s why that drug store spinner rack fascinated me so much. I was ready to tackle those comics. More on that tomorrow…

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


The creation of the Captain Action ATV continues...

About 10 years ago, while I was attempting to quit smoking, I returned to my adolescent hobby of model building as a way to get my mind off my nicotine addiction. At the time, there were several retro model kits on the market, including the one pictured here from AMT. The kit allowed you to create a customized car by taking a generic 1964 Ford Galaxie and attaching to the body any combination of trim pieces and decals provided in the kit.

Not only did I get to play George Barris and make my very own customized car:

but I’ve continued to uses pieces from this kit to customize other models and action figure projects. The kit came in handy with my Captain Action ATV project.

With the kit, I was able to create a radar assembly on the back spoiler and add a set of brake lights. It disturbed me that this ATV toy did not come equipped with proper safety features like brake lights. I know Captain Action wouldn’t drive any vehicle without brake lights.

I also added additional side vents for the turbo-charged engine, and front fog lights. Along with the rocket launcher mentioned in my previous post, I think this ATV is starting to shape up into an appropriate action mobile for the Captain. My final step will be to add some flashy decals to jazz up the design. And I need to figure out what to do for the headlamps. More later…