Or – “Oh, The Sixties. I Love You More Every Year…”
I’ve talked before, at length and in passing, about the affect that the 1966 Batman TV series had on the comic-book industry as a whole. By the time the Summer Of Love rolled around, comic publishers were experiencing a boom the likes of which they hadn’t seen since WWII, and wouldn’t see again until the debut of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Some of the spawn of this time period was brilliant, some inexplicable, some just awful, but all of it was designed to get the comics done and out the door and entertain the kiddies while making a few bucks in the process. Comics were, however, starting to grow up and experiment, but some experiments are more successful that others. Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!
WHAM-O GIANT COMICS #1
Writer(s): Wally Wood/ Andre LeBlanc/ Steffenagan/ Ernie Colon/ W.T. Vincent/ Shean/ Virgil Patch/ John Stanley/ Ward Kimball
Penciler(s): Wally Wood/ Lou Fine/ Andre LeBlanc/ Steffenagan/ Mike Arens/ Dennis Ellefson/ Ernie Colon/ Marvin Stein/ John Ushler/ Sururi Gumen/ Marvin Stevens/ George Wilhelms/ Warren Tufts/ W.T. Vinson/ Willie Ito/ Shean/ Virgil Patch/ John Stanley/ Ward Kimball
Inker(s): Wally Wood/ Lou Fine/ Andre LeBlanc/ Steffenagan/ Mike Arens/ Dennis Ellefson/ Ernie Colon/ Marvin Stein/ John Ushler/ Sururi Gumen/ Marvin Stevens/ George Wilhelms/ Warren Tufts/ W.T. Vinson/ Willie Ito/ Shean/ Virgil Patch/ John Stanley/ Ward Kimball
Letterer: Ben Oda/ Uncredited
Editor: Bill MacIntyre
Publisher: Wham-O Manufacturing Co.
Cover Price: 98 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $90.00
Previously, in Wham-O Giant Comics: Wham-O Inc. is a toy company currently located in California. Founded in 1948, they are known for marketing many popular toys in the past 50 years, including the Hula Hoop, the Frisbee, Slip ‘N Slide, Super Ball, Hacky Sack and the Boogie board. In 1967, though, the wave of Bat-mania caused them to venture into the comic book publishing game, and the minds that gave us Silly String decided that the secret to success lay in the comic book equivalent of dials that go to eleven: BIGGER BOOKS. Wham-O Giant #1 is a HUUUUGE comic, with pages a little wider than the average modern comic book is TALL, 14 inches across by 21 inches tall. (By comparison, Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali, which appears in the “Treasury” format, is roughly 10.5 by 13.5, making this the hands-down winner for Biggest Comic EVER.) Aside from the fact that the damn things are as rare as hens’ teeth in the Midwest, that massive size is what has kept this issue on the Retro Review pile for the better part of two years, as it’s as difficult to scan as it is to handle & store. Originally sold via radio and TV, the book was designed as a delivery vehicle for ads featuring Wham-O’s iconic toy lines, and given the subscription ad contained, was meant to be an ongoing series. Still, the Wham-O ad wizards knew the first rule of journalism: Don’t bury your lead.
Those panels are easily recognized as the iconic work of Wally Wood, a legendary comics artist, probably best known these days as the creative force behind T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (although his print of the ‘Disneyland Memorial Orgy’ is pretty well-known as well.) Radian’s first adventure is pretty standard, and his power of being “a walking atomic reactor” is a common 1950s superhero conceit. Still Woody’s art is lovely, and the wide-screen page format shows off the kind of subtleties that you often missed at smaller reproduction sizes…
Each page is is roughly two-and-a-half regular comic books high, too, which makes it seem like the story goes on FOREVER, a very admirable feat in a comic, especially when the story is only three pages long. Still, things in Wham-O land are clearly a mixed bag, as we transition from straightforward superheroics to Tor (not THAT Tor) with art by Lou Fine, best known for his work at Quality Comics in the 1940s. The tale of a young boy, traveling with his father to a remote cave area, where he finds a strange “ornament” which responds poorly to radiation exposure.
The idea of an unfrozen caveman
lawyer superhero is a unique one, but his origin tale ends up being a sketchy affair filled with cartoon Communists and Asian stereotypes. Gorgeous to look, at though. Also gorgeous is the next tale, a story of a fighting squadron known as The Young Eagles, dog-fighting their way through the European skies of Dubya Dubya Two…
Not only is this tale amazing visually, it feels very period-accurate, and refreshingly literate. If this had become a regular series, I’d wager this could have easily been the break-out series for Wham-O, based on this installment. Someone named Steffanagan, whose art reminds me a bit of Ghastly Graham Ingels, an EC-style tale of a man who discovers “Werewolf Frankensteins” in his family tree…
You have to love a horror tale that makes you giggle like a lunatic, though, especially one that’s followed by an even goofier tale, as we meet Colonel Ray Starkey (aka Star-Key) whose adventures mix science fiction, superhero and mythical tropes into a lovely ghoulash of… something. Lost my train of thought, there.
Star-Key takes the prize for most ridiculous power-up sequence, too, forcing his underlings to shoot him with a flamethrower to trigger his “heat-strength.” He also fights creatures of living kelp who masquerade as super-hot women in bathing suits, so… that’s fun. Also entertaining, in a mid-60s ‘House of Mystery’ sort of way, is a half-page feature called “Unexplored.”
I can ever forgive them for naming the Kaleidoscope aliens “Kaleids,” due to the kinetically weird nature of the story. Galaxo Of The Cosmos, though, is pretty much every science fiction cliche EVER wrapped up in a filler story.
Why he got three pages is beyond me, especially when a strange little “Outer Limits” tale called ‘The Unhumans’ only gets two for it’s paranoid goon-acy…
There’s also a twist ending that makes the death of the Wicked Witch of the West look brilliant in comparison. (The Wizard Of Oz is an iconic movie, but that twist is both dumb and inexplicable.) ‘Stellar Apes’ continues the trend of “WHA?” with a story of a space-ship full of Maynard G. Krebs lookalikes beating space gorillas with a harmonica.
Anthologies are, by nature, inconsistent, but it’s hard to fathom what the Wham-O people thought their target audience was here. By today’s standards, these aren’t tales for children, but who knows what kids in the 1960s were used to. They watched ‘My Mother The Car’ in that decade, y’know. Also, they had characters named Skip Savant with a straight face…
Aside from looking exactly like Race Bannon, Skip has some lovely art from someone whose name I can’t really read, and leaves our hero poised for more adventures that, sadly, would never come. Wally Wood returns with the next feature, breaking out his endearingly lovely cartoon style for Goody Bumpkin.
I do so love that name, by the way… Goody’s simple-but-well-crafted tale slips into a few pages of ads, a short story of Captain Valoren (utterly forgettable, mind you) and then seques to the vaguely ‘Prince Valiant’ stylings of The Wooden Sword, a gladiator tale with some amazing set-pieces.
It’s the rare science fiction story that feels like a throwback even in a fifty-year old package aimed at kids. The next tale is going to be a bit confusing as, even in it’s original size, the lettering is so bizarre and inordinately complex as to be illegible.
The feature is called “Super-Sibling,” if you’re interested, and it reminds me of the kind of thing you might find alongside Wonder Warthog in an underground publication of the time. This book is loaded with content, from gag strips to historical ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’ type tales, to flat-out bigfoot cartooning the likes of which you’d find on a Dairy Queen cup from the 70s. To wit, meet Clyde of the Jungle!
The only real complaint that I have, if it can be considered a complaint, is that the sheer volume of stuff in the book makes it difficult to focus, and the tiny panels (especially in the latter half of the book) are a trial for my over-40 eyes. There’s even some ‘Car-Toons’ style infotainment features stuck in, something that I would have loved as a kid…
In short, it’s a huge mess of comics, in all senses of all three words. The storage of this book is extremely difficult (I reverse-engineered containment out of half a dozen Treasury-sized bags and scotch tape) and finding a copy is virtually impossible, especially in high-grade condition. And for good reason, even when this book falls to pieces, it quickly throws something else at you within a page or two, and the quick-hit nature of the tales allows you to skip a stinker or jump in and out at random over the course of days or weeks. In short, it’s exactly what the cover promises, a giant comic book experience the likes of which could take you days to read and WEEKS to Retro Review. Wham-O Giant Comics #1 is a legendary oddity for damn good reason, and totally worth the 50 bucks I had to shell out to find my copy (a 5000 percent increase in price, I might add), making me wish it had gone on for years, and earning the kind of 5 out of 5 stars overall that only a high-pressure firehose of comics could earn…
DID YOU READ THIS ISSUE? RATE IT!