SHOWCASE #50 and the Non-History of Yankee Doodle Dandy

This one isn’t about a comic book feature that saw print but rather one that didn’t–at least not in its original intended form. SHOWCASE was the round-robin series that would move from editor to editor throughout the DC stable, each of whom was expected to debut some new feature within its pages as a try-out to determine if reader interest was strong enough to warrant giving that series its own title. This was a way in which to mitigate the risk of launching new books that might not prove to be popular enough to succeed, and it was incredibly effective throughout its first couple of years. Among the features to graduate out of its pages were THE FLASH, CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN, LOIS LANE, ADAM STRANGE (in MYSTERY IN SPACE), GREEN LANTERN, AQUAMAN and THE ATOM. That’s a pretty strong hit ratio all things taken into account. But this time, we’re talking about a SHOWCASE feature that never made it beyond its initial conception: YANKEE DOODLE DANDY.

YANKEE DOODLE DANDY was the brainchild of longtime DC editor Larry Nadle, who worked there for 20 years, specializing in romance comics and TV and movie tie-in comics. He is also remembered as one of several DC editors who demanded kickbacks from his talent in order to secure assignments, and who would reuse old stories again, paying himself for the script. Nadle had a vice, horse racing, and a problem, a heart condition, and the latter was suddenly the end of him just as he was beginning to line up a new feature for SHOWCASE. All that exists of this feature is the proposed cover, reproduced above. I’ve seen this mock-up credited to Nadle sometimes collaborator Bob Oksner, though it looks more like the work of Mike Sekowky and Frank Giacoia to my eye. In any event, his brainstorm was for a new spy series featuring a master of disguise: archaeologist John Dandy would use a chemical spray concealed within capsules in his pen to become the faceless Yankee Doodle, master of disguise, in a manner similar to Steve Ditko’s The Question. Nadle passed away before the feature could be finalized, and DC’s editorial staff moved swiftly to fill that issue of SHOWCASE instead with reprints of King Faraday stories from a decade earlier, bracketed by a short framing sequence, under the new title I–SPY. It was hardly a success, though it did help to make future generations aware of Faraday, who would be brought back in the 1980s.

Still, the idea of a faceless master of disguise kicked around DC’s editorial office for a few years thereafter. Ultimately, Robert Kanigher came up with his own take on that concept, his version set during World War II where most of his military series took place. He tried out the idea in a Sgt Rock story in OUR ARMY AT WAR #168, and when it seemed to hold promise, he developed it as a feature that would begin in STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES #151. That feature was the Unknown Soldier, which became a long-running part of DC’s military series, one that could veer further into horror during the years when that genre was growing in popularity in the early 1970s. The Unknown Soldier wasn’t blank-faced like Yankee Doodle–rather, his features had been largely burned off. But he could build up realistic disguises over what little remained, making him a versatile agent for the Allied cause. In between jobs, his face was swathed in bandages.

Decades later, editor Tom Peyer brought the discarded cover to the attention of writer Grant Morrison, an avowed aficionado of the era. Morrison was so taken with the find that he decided to introduce the character in the DOOM PATROL run he was producing with Richard Case. But while they took their initial cues from the concept cover–which was repurposed as the cover to that issue of DOOM PATROL, colored as though it were the color guide for that long-ago issue–Morrison and Case swiftly changed the character completely in order to make him fit in more smoothly with their ongoing storyline concerning the Men From N.O.W.H.E.R.E. Still, it was as close to true publication as Yankee Doodle Dandy ever came.

One thought on “SHOWCASE #50 and the Non-History of Yankee Doodle Dandy

  1. Synopses of the Sergeant Rock indicate it’s just “an” unknown soldier who saves Rock but never gets identified. As it was four years before “the” Unknown Soldier appeared, I doubt there’s a connection, even though it’s in the Showcase volume.
    I had no idea on the backstory of Yankee Doodle not appearing. Interesting.

    Like

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