RETRO REVIEW: The Mighty Heroes #1 (March 1967)

by

Or – “From Out Of The Hidden Longbox…”

Several years ago, the previous manager at Gatekeeper Hobbies (Huntoon & Gage, Topeka, ask me about our copy of Showcase #8!) bought several longboxes of comics on Saturday buying day.  One longbox contained 90′s overflow books for the 3 for a dollar bin, one contained some Bronze Age Batman, Spider-Man and such, but one box contained a stack of random Archie, Uncle Scrooge and various cartoon titles, what my late grandma would call funny books.  We get a lot of these type of books brought in to the store, but they seldom get bought for anything other than filler.

Nearly four years later, I opened that box, left to gather dust in a corner of my comics cave and found this issue. Upon reading it, I started to wonder, why do the books that put the “comic” in comics always get the short shrift?

THE MIGHTY HEROES #1
Writer: Uncredited
Artist: Uncredited
Letterer: Uncredited
Colorist: Uncredited
Editor: Uncredited
Publisher: Dell Comics
Cover Price: 12 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $245

Previously, in The Mighty Heroes:  Once upon a time, comic book publishing was more than just a niche market hobby, and many different companies made their name publishing scores of comics in all manner of genres.  Dell Publishing originally was a pulp magazine outfit, but their biggest legacy is probably the comic series called “Four-Color Comics”, an anthology that not only launched dozens of ongoing titles, but is the record-holder for highest number of issues published.  Dell’s big money came in licensed titles, from Hopalong Cassidy to Ben Casey to the super-awesome Dell Monster Superhero Comics…  They also put out a huge number of cartoon adaptations featuring Looney Tunes, Hanna Barbera and even the much more rarefied fare from Terrytoons.  That particular animation house is where this week’s Retro Review comes from, as the rising tide of superhero fare in the mid-60′s (thanks in part to the Batman television program) raised all ships, and turned ‘camp superhero’ into a genre all its own.  I remember these shorts from my childhood afternoons watching cartoons before my grandmother forced me to watch ‘Wheel Of Fortune,’ and clearly remember the opening spiel:

“A call goes out for the MIGHTY HEROES!  STRONG MAN!  ROPE MAN!  CUCKOO MAN!  TORNADO MAN!  And DIAPER MAN!” 

Actually, this time it’s less of a call than it is a quiet afternoon in the unnamed “city…”

It’s interesting to me to see the leisurely pace with which the uncredited plotter starts off this issue, with a wide-shot and a leisurely look at Cuckoo Man in his secret identity as a mild-mannered pet shop owner.  There were very seldom any sort of credits in the cartoon-type titles, but it’s interesting to see the artist trying to capture the unique style (or styles, honestly, as the Heroes character designs vary wildly) of the cartoon art…

Heh..  Diaper Man always kinda cracks me up, for some reason.  Interestingly, the creators choose to frame a bit of mystery around why these disparate souls would be daydreaming about ‘saving the city,’ when it’s clear from the cover that the book was aimed right at the kids who recognized the characters from their Cocoa Frosted Sugar Bomb-enriched Saturday morning rituals.  (Interestingly, the Mighty Heroes had a brief run in theatres in the late 1960′s as well…)

It’s also quite funny to see Tornado Man wearing his cowl even in his day-to-day secret identity, something he didn’t do in the cartoons as his alter ego is a TV WEATHERMAN.  Imagine Willard Scott running about in a powder-blue cowl and trying to keep a second identity…  Actually, now that I consider it, that sounds ridiculously awesome.  Ol’ Ropey doesn’t really resemble his animated self, but his identity crisis is nothing compared to poor Strong-Man, who gets a dye job and a different-shaped (though still slack-jawed) cranium…

“Save the city from WHOM????”  How about a forty-foot tall fighting-mad reptile with enormous fangs and laugh like Bela Lugosi on cold medicine?

I’m certainly not the age-group this is aimed at, but as always with Dell comics, I don’t feel like I’m being pandered to or having my intelligence insulted by the straightforwardness of the story here.  (This was emphatically NOT the case with the Marvel Comics one-shot of the mid-1990′s, where the necessary sarcasm & tongue-in-cheek stuff really killed a lot of the fun of the Mighty Heroes paradigm…)  Having a villain invade the city and head straight for the Baskin-Robbins puts a smile on my face, although that may be just an overload of decompression and badassery being lightened just a little bit…

Cuckoo Man arrives first (ironic, given that he flies the slowest) but the entire fightin’ five of Goodhaven quickly engage the enemy, and use teamwork (i.e. Strong Man using Rope Man as a lasso) to engage the bad guy…  er, frog.  The acrimonious amphibian makes his escape, though, when he blasts Rope Man with a firehose, causing the Fibrous Fighter Of The Felonious to shrink!  Luckily for the Ropester, his partners remember how a super-team is SUPPOSED to work…

Tornado Man leaps into action, F-5 style, enwrapping The Frog’s fleeing fire truck in his whipping winds of wighteousness, and flinging the fleeing Frog back to his buddies.

Awesomeness and goodness has triumphed over the cold-blooded skin of the wicked yet again, and the heroes parade the bad guy through the streets to the delight of the citizenry.  The Mighty Heroes cartoon was created by the nascent animation legend Ralph Bakshi, who also seems to be one of the only guys who remembers them, having revived them briefly during his superlative 90′s Mighty Mouse revamp.  This book, like most of its 60′s brethren, was an anthology of multiple tales, all featuring Terrytoons characters, like the relatively obscure Dinky Duck…

…the much, MUCH less obscure Heckle & Jeckle…

…and the even-I-have-never-heard-of-this-guy-outside-of-old-Mighty-Mouse-comics Hector Heathcote, who apparently did two seasons on NBC back in the day before fizzling completely out of sight and mind.

This issue got a few chuckles out of me, and I enjoyed the Mighty Heroes lead tale greatly, imagining the cartoon voices in my head.  I was even rewarded with a full-on belly laugh in the Heckle & Jeckle tale as a criminal lists where he’s wanted by the law: “Pennsyltucky, Oklavania, Connecticutchussets and Tennessippi…  There are more, but big names confuse me.”  It’s a well-constructed joke, for one, and remarkably literate for what is ostensibly a kid’s tale, and given that I paid fifty cents for the thing, that joke alone paid the price of admission.  It’s really a shame that nobody does comics like this anymore, as any attempts to do “funny books” are always tainted with a modern-edged sharpness that grates against the nature of these fun stories, like sucking on a mouthful of pennies.  The Mighty Heroes #1 is a simple pleasure, but a strong one, earning a well-deserved 4 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  How many people want the next Poll Of The Week to be “Mighty Heroes Versus The Impossibles?”

(Email Stephen at podcast@majorspoilers.com to make it happen!)