Or – “This Means We Have All Demographics Covered!”

I’m always entertained when people assert that, to draw readers into comics, we need to make comics that represent their particular segment of the population.  This thought process has led to a lot of TERRIBLE comics, that end up being pretty much unapproachable by anyone. So, given that many of us who read comics, myself included, are gravitationally exceptional, why not attack that demographic where they live?  The results actually surprised me…

FATMAN THE HUMAN FLYING SAUCER #1
Script: Otto Binder
Pencils: C. C. Beck
Inks: C. C. Beck
Colors: C. C. Beck
Letters: C. C. Beck
Publisher: Lightning Comics
Cover Price: 25 Cents
Current Near-Mint Price: $80.00

Previously, on Fatman The Human Flying Saucer: Many moons ago, not long after Joe and Jerry kicked off the superhero revolution with their Superman character, a company called Fawcett Comics jumped on the superhero bandwagon.  Fawcett’s answer to Superman was Captain Marvel, aka the Big Red Cheese, a fave-rave of both Radar O’Reilly and Gomer Pyle in their day.  (Ironically, Cap had been out of print for a while before Radar went to Korea, and for a dozen years when Gomer hit Sergeant Carter’s barracks.)  Why am I talking about any of this Golden Age history in a comic released by a super-minor company late in the Silver Age of comics?  Because, Faithful Spoilerite, the creators of Captain Marvel (CC Beck and Otto Binder) reunited in 1967 to take another run at comic book history with Fatman, The Human Flying Saucer!  Fats himself, like Bruce Wayne, Britt Reid, and other legendary super-types, was secretly a man of great wealth.  Of course, Van Crawford’s similarities to Batman and the Green Hornet are rather limited after that…

Birdbrain, indeed, although many of us would love to be a pampered gourmand with nothing to fill his idle hours but birdwatching and other frivolous pursuits.  Still, for all his appetites, Van is nothing if not a man of action, as he quickly demonstrates when an aircraft starts to spiral to Earth on the grounds of Crawford mansion.  Van thinks quickly, KNOCKING DOWN A TREE using only his bulk, saving the occupants of the craft.

The alien, who got lost on his way to a Pixar film, reveals that he didn’t actually lose control of his ship at all, but merely faked his crash in the hopes of finding a human of great compassion, empathy, and wit upon whom to grant the boon of superhuman powers!

Abin Sur, upon reading this comic, was heard to say, “Heeey, now waitaminnit!”  (Although not as loudly as he did upon reading Nova #1 a few years later, but still…)  Van tests his new powers, realizing that he can not only FLY, but fly at tremendous speed through air or water, outrace the fastest fighter jets, even achieve orbital velocities like a real (though I use the word loosely) flying saucer!  Landing at a local airfield, Van encounters a group of thugs out to steal an experimental plane, and immediately starts (in his own words) ‘throwing his weight around!’

Not bad at all for a guy who seems to be pushing 450 pounds!  Van returns home, realizing that his new destiny is to fight crime, and he didn’t even have to watch anybody gunned down in order to do it.  Heading to his walk-in closet, he starts putting together his brand-new identity…

I love the sheer joy on his face in that last panel, showing what CC Beck did better than just about anybody else.  The fact that Van’s uniform is a palette-swap of Captain Marvel’s old togs is a pretty meta statement for the late 60’s, as well.  In his Human Saucer form, Fatman quickly realizes that his transformative powers are more extensive than he first thought, allowing him to manifest a radar dish for listening to the evil Jet Gang’s latest caper, and arrives just in time for the gang to escape in their supersonic escape craft.

The gang quickly realizes their being tailed, and starts firing on the flying saucer tailing them, but Fatman isn’t shaken for a second!

“It’s a laser beam, bozo!”  Let’s see your Frank Castle pull that one out of his butt, hah?  Haters…  The Jet Gang is quickly taken down by Fatman’s superior kung-fu, and Van Crawford rewards himself with a few deep dish pizzas.  The constant food references are pretty oppressive, especially since I had a large holiday dinner earlier this afternoon, but it’s still a fun ride getting there.  In our third story of the issue (from a time when comics had more than one story in them, and were more than 18 pages of story content), Van goes fishing and gets dragged overboard, finding himself in the clutches of a giant sea monster!  Quickly transformed, he saves his crew, zaps the alien with his freeze ray, only to find that the menace may not be quite what he seemed…

Anti-Man tells a sad tale of being the last of his race, forced to forage to survive, but it’s all a ruse to lull our hero into a sense of security.  As soon as Fatman is off his guard, Anti-Man melts the ropes (!!) and attacks again, full-force.  Luckily for the human race, Fatman’s motto is simple:  Fool me once, shame on me.  Fool me twice, LASER BEAM IN THE EYE!!

Van Crawford isn’t the only poor nebbish whose life is in need of a change, though.  Young master Lucius Pindle is likewise kind of a putz, though he lacks Van’s big checkbook.  (He also shares his fashion sense with one William Batson, esquire.)  Frustrated and mocked by his schoolmates, Lucius has a Charles Atlas moment…

That last panel, by the way, is also the secret origin of LSD…  Lucius finds no help from chemistry, but an ancient grimoire of spells contains a strange chant that gives him the change he has been looking for.

Aside from the power to punch through things as though made of cheese (an odd comparison to make, and one that casts doubt on how young Pindle spends his free time) Tin Man even finds himself able to leap nearly into orbit, crashing back down in the middle of the Atlantic.

Dun DUN DUNNN! Anti-Man returns!  Tin Man (sounds like Thin Man, don’t it?) is forced to team up with Fatman, after the requisite misunderstanding and fight, to take down the big lizard in their backyard.  (They really can’t afford to feed him no more, y’know.)  The battle with Anti-Man is actually charming as hell, as Fatman ends up refereeing a best-of-three-falls wrestling match between Tin Man and Anti-Man, ending with a giant mushroom cloud of super-battle.  The match is declared a draw, and Anti-Man is offered a partnership with Fatman and Tin Man.  Before he gets to join up, though, things get even goofier…

I thoroughly love that joke, as 50’s-housewife-with-a-rolling-pin as it is, and Mr. and Mrs. Anti-Man stalk off into the surf to feed their enormous brood.  As their debut issue closes up, Fatman and Tin Man reflect upon how much has happened (and a LOT has for a single issue) and wonder what’s coming up next…

Lightning Comics was one of the most fly-by-night of the late 60’s fly-by-night publishers, with their only other book being “Tod Holton: Super Green Beret,” a book which I’m sure I’ll have to get around to eventually, and their total output seems to be three issue of this book and two issues of Tod’s.  As with many of the comics that came out in the wake of the Batman television series, there’s an element of camp here, but Binder and Beck infuse this title with a gentle Golden Age sensibility.  Van’s girth isn’t the main joke, and his super-powers, though wacky, turn out to be quite useful and make him remarkably formidable in battle.  All in all, it’s a wonderfully fun piece of Golden Age storytelling with beautiful art, and it’s proof that a character doesn’t have to be “badass” in order to still be compelling and fun.  Fatman, The Human Flying Saucer #1 is worth the cost of admission (even as it’s rarity makes that cost somewhat high) making for amiable and light-hearted fun throughout, earning 4.5 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★½

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Who thinks Tod Holton: Super Green Beret would make a fine Hero History?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

Previous post

TURN BACK NOW! Bert gets a reimagining

Next post

ADVANCE REVIEW: Warlord of Mars #6

8 Comments

  1. Jimmy
    April 24, 2011 at 10:07 pm — Reply

    Wow. Most of the comics I’ve read from the 60s (some old Green Lantern, primarily) come across as extremely dated and patently inferior, story-wise, to modern comics (I was also born in the 90s, which should come as no surprise), yet that sounds absolutely fantastic and like a comic I would enjoy reading in ANY era. How long did that series go?

  2. April 24, 2011 at 10:19 pm — Reply

    3 issues, and I could only ever find two of ’em in stores. Binder and Beck were the brains behind Captain Marvel, though, so they’ve got the pedigree for awesome…

    • Jimmy
      April 24, 2011 at 10:24 pm — Reply

      Definitely. Also that comic proves that you don’t have to take an entire mini-series to tell a story–heck, they told an origins story and introduced a nemesis, then introduced a secondary character and had a return of the nemesis along with a conclusion to the nemesis plot, and then teased more villains all in the span of one issue.

      Screw decompression in comics.

  3. April 24, 2011 at 10:49 pm — Reply

    I am interested in a SGB Hero History!

  4. Noobian74
    April 25, 2011 at 9:12 am — Reply

    Hey, the ones that you’ve done so far have been on the money.

    *puts on the striped wig Ben Stiller wore in “Starsky & Hutch”*

    Do it. Do it. Do it.

  5. TaZ
    April 25, 2011 at 3:55 pm — Reply

    “I’m Fatman!”

  6. Oldcomicfan
    April 25, 2011 at 8:16 pm — Reply

    WHERE do you FIND this stuff?
    What can I say? Back in the sixties, we considered Mr. Ed and Gilligan’s Island high art. And as for more mainstream comics – need I say it? BatMite! Superman’s Best Friend Jimmy Olsen! Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lame! How did we ever escape the sixties with any shred of sanity?

  7. R.J.O.
    April 28, 2011 at 12:33 pm — Reply

    Ah! I have fond memories of this comic, which I owned back in the day. I was quite annoyed that I never managed to acquire either of the other two issues. While three issues (even these thick double-sized giants) are rather thin on the ground for a reprint volume, someone (Dark Horse, patron saint of deceased comic book lines, maybe?) should collect them between two covers, with perhaps a historical text piece.

You know you have something to say, say it in the comment section