Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Adventure Comics Digest
ADVENTURE COMICS was one of the first mainstream comic books to reach its 500th issue but it wasn’t easy. After dropping the venerable LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES strip at the end of the sixties the book seemed to lose direction. SUPERGIRL headlined it until she finally received her own overdue title while the LEGION strip was shunted off to irregular backups in ACTION and later SUPERBOY. After that a succession of interesting but ultimately failed series from CAPTAIN FEAR, THE BLACK ORCHID and the Fleisher/Aparo SPECTRE to a PLASTIC MAN revival and a new, CAPTAIN ATOM-like STARMAN were featured. Then somebody (probably editor Carl Gafford) had the idea to revive the title as part of DC’s growing Digest line. Starting with issue 491 in 1982, ADVENTURE COMICS brought the LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES strip home with two chronological reprints in every 100 page issue, starting from the first appearances of the characters.
The coolest part, though, was that this new version of ADVENTURE also featured some all new stories as well as reprints of characters who had appeared in the title in previous incarnations. To be fair, the reprints were more than likely inventory material and they dried up fairly quickly anyway. They included Don Newton Captain Marvel stories (with Kid Eternity) and Alex Toth on CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN. They dried up about halfway through the run.
Along with those, there were those groovy sixties AQUAMAN stories by Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo, THE SPECTRE by Murphy Anderson and later Neal Adams from the character’s sixties appearances, golden age Simon and Kirby SANDMAN stories (and later NEWSBOY LEGION), Toth’s seventies BLACK CANARY and ZATANNA by Gray Morrow. THE RAY, the seventies PLASTIC MAN and SHAZAM reprints rounded out the title.
The centerpiece, though was the LEGION. With a regular page of detailed annotations by LEGION scripter (and long-time buff) Paul Levitz, the whole history of the series and the characters shaped up right in front of you in every pint-sized issue. Eventually Nick Cuti came on as co-editor and later editor but if anything, things got even better. The covers were a mixed bag but featured new art every issue from the likes of Gil Kane, Ed Hannigan and Keith Giffen.
Issue 500 was all LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES reprinting no less than ten sequential stories from the original series including the first appearances of the Substitute Heroes and Light Lass. Walking comics encyclopedia E. Nelson Bridwell presented a brief history of the title, too. The writing was on the wall by that point, however. In spite of some excellent covers on the last few issues, ADVENTURE was cancelled with issue 503 in 1983. The digest version had run a scant thirteen issues but it was enough to get the title to that milestone number. These issues, along with the other mostly reprint digests that DC published in that period, are some of the most enjoyable, best kept secrets in the comic shops. With their teeny-tiny print, they’re also probably one of the main causes of my deteriorating eyesight, too, but hey, it was worth it! After all avenging ghosts, undersea races, thirtieth century teenagers and golden age super heroes? This wasn’t just a good read, it was an ADVENTURE!