Brand Echh: Mighty Comics #40

By 1966, the super Hero fad of the 1960s was in full swing, propelled to the forefront of popular culture by the debut of the BATMAN television show, which became a short-lived national obsession. BATMAN’s mix of straightforward heroics with broad self-deprecating humor made it the poster child for middle America in terms of defining what the “Camp” movement in the arts was all about. To most ordinary people, camp translated into “So bad or ridiculous that it becomes good due to how absurd it is.” And the trend towards attempting to hop onto the BATMAN gravy train permeated comic book publishers, from DC all the way down to the rest. One publisher that dove in full bore was, of all companies, Archie Comics.

As we’ve covered in the past, the rise of Marvel Comics and the growing interest in super heroes had caused Archie to re-invent its ADVENTURES OF THE FLY series, rechristening it FLY MAN. As a part of this process, Archie’s creators attempted to tap into what was going on at Marvel, mimicking all aspects of the Marvel style of storytelling–the banter, the fights, the humor, everything. But they did so without having and real understanding of what was appealing about it or how any of it really worked. In essence, Archie wound up with a series that was a brilliant Marvel spoof, but one that didn’t realize it was a spoof. In essence, the BATMAN television show.

In the pages of FLY MAN, Archie (operating initially under the cover branding of Radio Comics for some reason) dusted off and brought back many of the costumed crusaders they had initially published twenty-plus years earlier during the Golden Age of Comics. The writer tasked with leading this super hero revival was Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman, who was then in exile form DC/National for having attempted to once again regain the rights to his cash-cow creation. Siegel’s remit appears to have been to duplicate the appeal of the newfangled Marvel books as closely as possible, but he clearly had some degree of disdain for the competition, given how poorly he did so. It could be that, like so many, he simply couldn’t accept that a lifelong pulp hack such as Stan Lee could suddenly be transformed into a renowned and respected wordsmith thanks to his association with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others. Put aside the fact that Siegel himself didn’t have a whole lot of lasting success apart from the Man of Steel.

In aping the Marvel style, Siegel began trying to give the Radio Comics characters not so much distinctive personalities (the dialogue was still very much interchangable–all of the Radio comics characters spoke exactly alike) but recurring foibles that could be returned to again and again as shtick. So the mighty Shield couldn’t hold down a job in his civilian identity as Joe Higgins, because he was always needing to dash away to combat some villain. This was Siegel’s interpretation of what made the Marvel characters work. That all said, I find these comic books delightful in much the same way that I can enjoy the BATMAN series to this day. It’s all a goof, but one that the characters aren’t in on.

As the fad for super heroes reached a crescendo, Archie made a move: they transformed FLY MAN into MIGHTY COMICS, an anthology series in which they would feature a rotating cast drawn from all of the myriad super heroes that they’d brought back from limbo, typically two in each issue. They also changed their publishing imprint to the Mighty Comics Group in an attempt to hew even more closely to Marvel’s style, and they adjusted their cover design to look as much like the Marvel books as possible (in particular the Marvel split-titles such as TALES OF SUSPENSE or STRANGE TALES) The first MIGHTY COMICS issue, #40, was devoted completely to my favorite of all of their absurd champions, the Web. Somebody must have liked the Web, too, as it seems like he appeared more often than just about anybody else during the MIGHTY COMICS era.

The Web’s bit was that he had been a famous super hero years before in the 1940s, but now that he was middle-aged and married, he was drawn largely by his own ego back into the fight against crime and costumed criminals, much to the consternation of his long-suffering wife, Rosie, who while she met him when he was first the dashing, adventurous hero, would rather he settle down and live a normal suburban life. So it’s a sitcom set-up, the Dick Van Dyke Show if rather than heading off to write the Alan Brady Show, Rob Petrie instead pulled a green and yellow costume out of mothballs and hit the streets. It was dopey and dumb, but that’s part of what made it all so fun.

This first story in MIGHTY COMICS #40 was apparently the work of artist Paul Reinman, who was the primary illustrator of practically all of the MIGHTY COMICS output. But I seem to detect the hand of Mike Sekowsky in these pages as well–Mike moonlighted a bit for MIGHTY COMICS now and then, so he may have helped lay out this story or done some loose penciling before Reinman dove into it. Sekowsky was blindingly fast as an artist, so he tended to be a guy that other artists turned to for help when they ran into a scheduling jam.

How can you not love such brilliantly off-kilter nonsense such as this?

The influence of BATMAN can be seen all over this ad for an Annual-style collection of earlier Mighty comics/Radio Comics stories.

8 thoughts on “Brand Echh: Mighty Comics #40

  1. I love these! The web was my favorite of the group. This mighty comics issue with the web in solo action was my favorite issue of the entire group run.

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  2. Radio Comics: It’s my opinion that Archie Comics believed their acquisition of the Shadow license, which quickly turned into a costumed superhero title, would soon eclipse both Adventures of the Fly and Adventures of the Jaguar in sales. As the Shadow was at that time remembered as a radio program more than a pulp hero, rebranding their heroic comics as Radio would link the three heroes with the Shadow being the best known of the bunch.

    I didn’t say it was a very good idea.

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  3. Thing is… if you read a lot of those comics in the ’80s & ’90s self-proclaimedly being done as “homages” to Stan & Jack, by people who claimed to love old Marvel comics more than anything else in the world, virtually all of them read much more like (perhaps appropriately unconscious) homages to Jerry & Paul…

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  4. It always amazes me that Sam Rosen, Silver Age Letterer Supreme, was involved in this series (though always uncredited). Stan wasn’t keeping him busy enough?

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  5. Being a lifelong pulp hack is definitely an underrated talent, because this is … bad. It’s like someone took the worst aspects of Silver Age Lois Lane, the camp of the Batman TV show, Marvel style tics, and pureed it all in a blender.

    I wonder how much editorial freedom Jerry Siegel had here. Was he being told to deliver a specific product, and so was phoning it in for the paycheck? After all that happened to him before, did he feel that trying to do any really creative work on his part would just be futile, so what’s the point?

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  6. I vaguely recall reading at least one or two Web stories when I was 5 or 6, when my family lived on U.S. Navy base in Japan. I also recall already having a preference for Spider-Man and thinking this was a weird sort of imitation. Actually, it comes off more as super-hero comics done as situation comedies. Not without some charm but very primitive in story and art.

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