BHOC: ACTION COMICS #458

We now begin to approach an important crossroads in my comic book reading history. My family frequented a local drugstore, part of a chain, pretty regularly, and one day during this summer, the store put in this huge bin of comics. In my mind’s eye, it was massive, though in reality it was probably a lot smaller–factor in my relative size and experience as to what “a lot” of comics looked like. The key thing is that they were selling them six for a dollar (soon thereafter reduced to five for a dollar, still a great buy when new books were 35 cents.) There was just one problem, though…

The bin was virtually exclusively made up on Marvel comics. Now, it’s worth me pointing out here that in the years that have followed, I’ve worked out that the comics that were offered through this bin must have been “affidavit returns”, copies that the distributor had claimed had been  shredded and gotten return credit on, but which somebody was selling off the back of the truck. This situation went on for about a year, and thereafter the bin went away and the chain began selling five coverless comics bundled together–again, books that were meant to be destroyed, and had their covers stripped for return credit, but were still sold nonetheless. It was this sort of graft that spelled the end of the “newsstand” distribution model as a viable vehicle for selling comics.

The books were all older issues as well, from a year to a couple of years as time went on. The bin would periodically be restocked with new old books, always Marvels. Wherever the source of the books was, a local warehouse or some such, it was definitely a part of the Curtis Circulation chain. Curtis was then the distributor for Marvel books–switching to Curtis in the late 1960s from Independent News, then owned by the publishers of DC/National, is what allowed Marvel to expand its line from a paltry few offerings, and also got Marvel books better placement across the nation. Before that time, it could be difficult to find Marvels on the regular.

As anybody who’s been following this page for any length of time can tell you, at this age I was not a Marvel reader or fan, having had a few less-than-optimal reading experiences with the company previously. I was an active Marvel decrier in those days, as my Dad would often thereafter remind me. So the first time I encountered that bin in the drug store, I pored through it, searching like a fiend for a comic book that I wanted to buy. And buried in it, pretty clearly returned tot eh wrong place and thus winding up in this mass of sell-offs, was this lone copy of ACTION COMICS. And so that’s what I bought. This would become the pattern whenever my family had reason to go to the drug store, and I found one or two other misplaced DC books there over the weeks to come–but not many.

It was a solid enough issue, the lead story featuring the introduction of Blackrock, a character I had earlier encountered in the pages of SUPERMAN. Here, Samuel Tanner, the head of the UBC broadcasting network, is dismayed that Morgan Edge’s Galaxy Communications is besting his outfit in the ratings–a victory that Tanner attributes to the fact that Galaxy must have Superman on its payroll for how often they get exclusive news stories on him. So he tasks his chief of technologies Peter Silverstone to create a super hero that will work for UBC. Silverstone comes up with the costume and powers of Blackrock, but needs a powerful, driven person to put into the driver’s seat.

Blackrock makes his debut as Superman attempts to prevent a criminal scientist using a remote vacuum tank to make heists across Metropolis. The identity of the man in the Blackrock costume remains a mystery, but a couple of different possibilities are floated. Blackrock speaks in a strange cadence of television catch-phrases and jingles, and Superman assumes that he’s in cahoots with the tank driver. The two clash inconclusively, then later independently wind up defeating both the tank and the scientist behind it. And now, Metropolis has a new super hero.

Both UBC and Galaxy are in a race to get the lowdown on this new champion–and he gives an exclusive interview to Lola Barnett on UBC. Lola had defected from Edge’s Galaxy Communications earlier, so this was a real thumb in Morgan Edge’s eye, and he orders Clark Kent to track down Blackrock and get him on WGBS. And that’s where this story is To Be Continued. having read that later SUPERMAN comic, I knew who Blackrock really was and what is deal was, so the story didn’t make much of an impression on me.

The back-up was the second part of a Green Arrow and Black Canary story, and was much more interesting. The plot revovled around a thinly disguised analogue of Jerry Lewis, the Nutty Kid, having been abducted. The perpetrator turns out to be Lex Luthor of all people–and he uses a hypno gun to plant a suggestion in the Black Canary’s mind that will make her kill Green Arrow on sight. Why Luthor would want to have Green Arrow killed is somewhat handwaved away. Dinah is able to turn the tables on Luthor by visualizing him as Green Arrow, and thus becoming able to attack him murderously. Luthor escapes at the end, but comedian Danny Harris is found and recovered, so all ends well.

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