The backstory here is something that we’ve covered in the past, but just to summarize events again: in the mid-1960s, the comic book field was seeing a bit of a resurgence. A fad for costumed super heroes had sprung up, exploding to massive life in the wake of the premiere of the live action BATMAN television show. Every publisher worth his salt raced to come up with their own longjohn heroes to get in on some of this action. Al Harvey, the publisher at Harvey Comics, best known in those days for kid comics such as CASPER THE FRIENDLY GHOST, had a secret weapon at his disposal: he had long been a close friend of Joe Simon, one of the most accomplished writer-artist-editors in the field, and someone who, as part of the legendary Simon & Kirby team, had created mega-hit properties during the original super hero explosion of the 1940s–notably Captain America. If anybody was going to be able to come up with a bevy of successful new super hero books, it was likely to be him.
The idea that Harvey was going to be getting into the super hero field in a big way, with Joe Simon at the helm, was threatening to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby at Marvel. They had the utmost respect for Simon’s talent and accomplishments, and thought his new line could pose a mighty threat to their own slowly growing Marvel Comics empire. In response to this, Lee and Kirby began to originate new characters at the behest of publisher Martin Goodman, with the intention of launching more titles and taking control of more newsstand space. The Inhumans and the Black Panther were both originated as a part of this push–and when it became apparent that marvel’s distribution deal wouldn’t allow them to expand as they had hoped, those characters instead were folded into FANTASTIC FOUR, giving rise to one of the most fertile runs in comic book history.
Ultimately, however, the reality of the Harvey Super Hero titles didn’t live up to all of the concern everybody was feeling beforehand. They were, charitably, pretty awful, and none of them lasted more than a few issues. Part of that, no doubt, was that Harvey chose to release teh new books in teh larger 25 cent format. There must have been some feedback that a bunch of teh publishers during this period were getting from distributors or retailers, because a number of new firms attempted this–Tower Comics, Lightning Comics, Harvey–and to a one, this approach failed in every instance. From a practical standpoint, this makes perfect sense: a kid is more likely to have 12 cents to part with than a quarter, and even if he had a quarter, that could buy two other comics and a piece of gun for the cost of a Harvey book. These comics were going to have to be exceptional to overcome that sticker shock–and they weren’t.
It turned out that Joe Simon’s sensibilities were all wrong for the moment. His conception of a super hero had been fully formed in the 1940s, and his new characters were crafted along similar lines–it didn’t matter too much what a hero’s shtick was, they were all basically the same underneath, spouting generic dialogue and evidencing the personality of a block of wood. The new Harvey books were simultaneously a big silly, in what seems to be an attempt to cash in on that BATMAN camp aesthetic. But the humor is tone-deaf, and only really serves to undercut any sense of drama. Despite working with a team of seasoned professionals–and some character conceptions from a newcomer, Jim Steranko, who would go on to be one of the great practitioners of the form–these books were the walking dead just as soon as they showed up.
Take this guy, B-Man (or Bee-Man, depending on how you want to look at it.) He was aerospace engineer Barry E. Eames, who misdirected a probe rocket sent to pick up samples from Mars so that he could pillage its contents for his own profit. What he got was swarmed by a nest of alien bees, who stung him, somehow putting him into contact with an advanced civilization living on Deimos, Mars’ moon. The aliens bring Eames to their world and tell him that he now has the same attributes as the bees which stung him. They outfit him in an ugly-as-sin costume filled with gadgets and send him back to Earth as their spy and envoy. So he’s not a super hero per se, but rather more of a menace in the manner of Prince Namor in his earliest appearances.
The whole thing is pretty dopey, and reading it feels like the creators have no respect for the intelligence of their readers–like the stupider the material is, the better it will sell. There’s a feeling of condescension that comes across in practically every frame. The GCD doesn’t know who wrote this first Bee-Man story–they speculate that it may have been Otto Binder, but I’d like to think that Binder was a better craftsman all around than this. The artwork was done by Bill Draut, and it’s competent, but no better.
DOUBLE-DARE ADVENTURES only lasted for two issues, so poor Bee-man never got the chance to show off what he really could do. He did eventually end up joining the F. Bee I.–I swear to you, I am not making this up–and adopting a slightly more heroic persona. But that wasn’t enough to save him, nor were the assorted other features that backed up DOUBEL DARE ADVENTURES: The Glowing Gladiator and Magicmaster. The best features in the two issues were reprints of fantasy stories that Simon & Kirby had done for Harvey titles a decade earlier.
4 thoughts on “Brand Echh: Double-Dare Adventures #1”
Wow, I’d never heard the Inhumans and Black Panther were planned for their own series.
Joe Simon’s sensibilities only got weirder — Brother Power and Prez, need I say more?
I’m a big Bill Draut fan, and own a couple of original pages from one of his stories for the S&K romance line.
But superheroes were very much not his strength.
I would conjecture that the idea driving the 25 cent price, was that it would be more profitable for vendors, and thus get shelf space. It obviously failed because of “you can’t beat something with nothing”, and buyers not wanting to spend the money on unknown characters. But that may not have been obvious to the publishers trying to jump on a trend.
Were the writers of these ever interviewed, and asked what they were thinking at the time? It all looks so “phoned-in”, they might’ve just been doing junk for pitiful paycheck.
I feel that way about pretty much every DC anthology Jack Schiff edited. Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures often put some real imagination into their stories; Tales of the Unexpected and House of Secrets were just “how can we fill these 10 pages?”