Comics : America's Best TV Comics #1 (Promoted Cartoon Show)
This story is part of a Lookback Series: From The Beginning
This review was first published on: 9 Nov 2015.
If you were reading a Marvel Comic, like Amazing Spider-Man #55 in the late Summer of 1967, you came upon a two page ad in the centerfold for the latest Saturday Morning Cartoon line-up on ABC TV. “America’s Best TV Comics are here.. Saturdays!” read the headline. (America’s Best Comics, get it?) Prominent in the ad were the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man (explaining why the ad is so prominent in Marvel Comics). “Yep, Tiger,” reads the copy, “you’d better believe it! Two of Marvel’s mightiest creations are now more exciting than ever! In all-new adventures that’ll hit you where you live and all in colossal color!” Only the ad is not just for those two shows but for the whole line-up which was:
- 9:00AM: Casper the Friendly Ghost
- 9:30AM: The Fantastic Four
- 10:00AM: The Amazing Spider-Man
- 10:30AM: Journey to the Center of the Earth
- 11:00AM: King Kong
- 11:30AM: George of the Jungle
- 12:00 Noon: The Beatles
with a plug for American Bandstand starring Dick Clark coming on at 12:30PM.
I don’t know the process that led a two-page ad to become a 68 page (counting covers) comic but Marvel clearly had a stake in the success of these series. The comic contained (as pointed out on the cover) “Six Fabulous Film Features,” half of which are abridged reprints. But weren’t there 7 cartoon shows in the line-up? Sadly, the Beatles cartoon does not make the transition to the comic book. I watched so much of that Beatles cartoon back in 1967 that I still can’t listen to the song If I Fell without thinking about John Lennon’s brain getting transferred into the Frankenstein Monster. (Sadly, Universal Music Group seems to have blocked all these Beatles cartoon YouTubes. The best I can do is this sped-up version. But I digress.)
America's Best TV Comics #1 (Promoted Cartoon Show)
Year 1967 : SM Reprint
Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #42
Reprints: Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) #19
See Original Credits
Mr. Fantastic dominates the cover. There seems to be some dispute as to whether his figure is drawn by Jack Kirby or Larry Lieber. It may be Larry. It certainly isn’t Jack. Unless someone took a Kirby figure and pasted a goofy Mr. Fantastic face on it like DC did with Superman during Jack’s Jimmy Olsen days. The FF vignette under Mr. F’s left arm is certainly Kirby, however and the Spidey vignette in the lower left corner is John Romita. Both are apparently reprinted from previous stories but I can’t pinpoint either one of these. You have no idea how many times the FF went running for cover with the whole landscape collapsing around them until you go to look for one. And the Spidey panel is so generic as to preclude a search. Still, as usual, if anybody knows, please don’t hesitate to pass the information along.
The inside front cover is a greytone page advertising the shows (including the Beatles). Each show gets an illustration inside a 1960s TV tube-shaped panel. The FF, Journey, Kong, George, and Beatles images are the same as in the two page ad in ASM #55 and elsewhere. The Spidey image, however, looks like it was taken from the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #48, May 1967 and then reversed. The Casper image is anybody’s guess. While the copy brags that the shows are “all in colossal color,” the images here are in black and white. And eight ABC logos run down the center of the page which seems like a bit of an overkill.
The stories are in the same order as the viewing schedule so the first one is Casper the Friendly Ghost in…
The Flying Horse. Like the FF and Spidey tales, this story is an abridged reprint. This one is a Harvey Comics Casper tale. One tip-off is the Harvey Comics jack-in-the-box logo in the upper lefthand corner of the first panel. Another is that, according to GCD, the full story is “reprinted in The Ultimate Casper Comics Collection (iBooks, 2005, Random House).” If you must compare this story to the full version, you’re welcome to look for it there. I’m not going to bother. I would be interested in learning where it was originally published, though, if anyone knows. Wherever it was, it appears to be adapted from a 1963 Casper cartoon called The Enchanted Horse. (I’m assuming the cartoon was not based on the comic story.) Not only is the story the same but much of the dialogue is too.
Casper is hanging around with his friend Nightmare, the friendly ghost horse. A bearded man in a fez and riding a magic carpet spots Nightmare and declares, “Yoicks! A flying horse! Just what I need!” He introduces himself to Casper as “Ali Boo Boo” (yeah, I know) and offers to buy the horse. Casper tells him Nightmare is his friend and not for sale. So Ali Boo Boo enchants an apple and offers it to Nightmare who eats it, putting him in Ali’s power. He jumps on Nightmare’s back and flies off. “You can keep my old rug,” he tells Casper, “I won’t need it now.”
Casper follows but Ali zaps him with lightning from his fingertips and an incantation. “Abba Dabba, zero hour, Casper lose your ghostly power,” he intones and Casper falls and lands hard on the ground. Fortunately, he’s a ghost so he can’t hurt himself. Also fortunately, he lands near Wendy the Good Little Witch’s house. He runs there and tells her that Ali has stolen Nightmare and “my ghostly powers.” “I think my magic brew will bring them back,” Wendy says and feeds some to Casper who confirms that he feels his powers returning. Wendy then consults her magic mirror (“Magic Mirror, please do tell…where does Ali BooBoo dwell?”) and an image appears of a castle in the clouds.
Wendy and Casper climb on her flying broomstick and catch up to Ali just as he is arriving at his castle. They chase him inside but Ali makes the door disappear. Out in the dark alcove, they spot an old lamp in a niche. Casper picks it up and a genii pops out of it. The genii tells them that Ali imprisoned him. He then shows them the magic words (“Open, O Sesame!”) to get a chunk of the wall to open up. “There you are, Casper,” says the genii even though Casper has not told him his name. (Well, he is a genii.) When Casper asks the genii if he’s joining them, the genii takes a powder. “I’m getting out of here for good!” he says.
Inside the castle, the pair immediately finds Ali. “If I can’t keep you out then I’ll keep you in!” says Ali and pulls a switch on the wall that opens a trap door to the dungeon. Wendy falls in but Casper floats above the hole and challenges Ali who takes a scimitar off the wall. “Uh oh! Must you be so mean?” asks the Friendly Ghost. Ali swings his scimitar but it passes through Casper. Deciding he is wasting time, Casper disappears, making Ali think “there’s nothing left of that spook now!” Casper passes through the floor to the dungeon, finding Wendy, unhurt from her fall. He passes through the door of the dungeon and opens it from the outside. (No key needed, apparently.) They soon catch up to Ali who is “hypnotizing Nightmare into being evil.” (This time the incantation is “Mumbo Jumbo, you are now a frightful horse! Mumbo Jumbo!” A bit of a letdown after the previous rhyme.) Nightmare gets so fierce that steam comes out of his nostrils. Ali grabs a lance, climbs up on Nightmare and attacks Casper and Wendy but Wendy uses her broom to create a cloud of dust. (At least Wendy still knows how to rhyme. Her spell is, “Broom…broom…sweep you must! Sweep us up a cloud of dust!”) Ali decides to retreat. “You can keep this dusty old palace,” he says, “I’ll use my scary steed to frighten some rich king away from his castle. Then I’ll have a better one!”
Casper follows, materializing in front of Nightmare who, not remembering Casper, is terrified of ghosts. He runs wild, snapping his bridle and saddle. Ali hangs onto Nightmare’s tail for dear life but is finally shaken off. Casper flies down and grabs Ali by the arms, halting his fall. “I never thought I’d be glad to see you!” says Ali. Casper turns his body into a parachute (like Mr. Fantastic!) and floats Ali safely to Earth. “You saved my life, Casper,” says Ali, “how can I ever repay you?” “Well, you can undo your magic spell and make Nightmare his old self again!” says Casper. Ali tells him they need a magic brew and that he has “all the things we need in my lab.” (Lab? Ali has a lab?) Wendy and Casper help stir up the brew. Nightmare arrives and, attracted by the “delicious odor” of the brew, drinks it, becoming “his old self again.” “I’m sorry,” says Ali, “But, I’m through doing evil!” Nightmare wants to return to the enchanted forest with Casper but Ali wonders how he will “get around now.” So, Casper creates a flying carpet out of clouds and Wendy enchants it “so it won’t break apart.” “Wow!” says Ali, “This is even better than my old flying carpet!” Ali apologizes for the trouble he caused but Casper tells him, “It’s never too much trouble to make another friend.” Casper and Wendy fly off on Nightmare (Apparently, Wendy has forgotten her broom.) Wendy looks out at the reader and says, “See you on ABC-TV and in Harvey Comics.”
Well, I don’t have the full story to which to compare this version but I did watch the cartoon and the cartoon is better. It’s still not much to write home about but it is for small children, after all. The stereotype of Ali Boo Boo is pretty appalling but let’s not get bogged down in imposing today’s sensibilities on our benighted past. Casper and Wendy are cute enough and the story does offer some suspense and some challenges. Still, I recommend staying in bed and start watching that Saturday morning line-up with the FF at 9:30AM. It’s the little kids that are usually up early anyway. Two webs.
The Fantastic Four story is also abridged from a much longer story but this time we’re familiar with the source. It comes from Fantastic Four #19, October 1963 and the story is The Fabulous Fantastic Four Find Themselves Prisoners of the Pharaoh!, 22 pages in its original but only 10 pages here.
Reed Richards summons the Thing and his blind girlfriend Alicia Masters to the FF’s headquarters. He tells them that he and the Invisible Girl were visiting the Museum of Natural History and noticed an Egyptian hieroglyphic that shows “a vial containing a radioactive herb” that allows a blind pharaoh to see again. Reed thinks they can use Dr. Doom’s time machine to go back to Ancient Egypt, retrieve the herb, and cure Alicia’s blindness. The FF and Alicia fly to Dr. Doom’s castle. (The castle is vacant since Doom apparently leaped to his death in Fantastic Four #17, August 1963. The explanation of how Doom survived his fall occurs in his next appearance, which just happens to be Amazing Spider-Man #5, October 1963.) They find the time machine intact and quickly teach Alicia how to operate it by touch. She is instructed to return them in 24 hours because, you know, it takes a day in the present for a day to occur in the past. (And what does poor blind Alicia do by herself in Doom’s castle for 24 hours with no food and no place to sleep?) Meanwhile, the FF find themselves back in Ancient Egypt looking at a Sphinx that “hasn’t even begun to chip yet.” A group of warriors, wearing helmets that “don’t seem to belong to this time,” attack them. The FF rout the warriors until they are all struck by something that makes them lose their powers and pass out.
They regain consciousness in the throne room of the pharaoh Rama-Tut who reveals that he is also a time traveler. He tells them that he comes “from the year 3000, the glorious age of enlightenment, the century of peace and progress, the ultimate in civilization and culture! And I hated it!” Later, he visits “the ruins of an amazing ancestor of mine” and finds the remains of a time machine plus “the plans for its operation.” It is heavily implied here that the ancestor is Dr. Doom. (In his next appearance in Fantastic Four Annual #2, 1964, Rama-Tut meets Dr. Doom, confirming that it was Doom’s time machine he used. This time, however, he says he is from the 25th century rather than coming from AD 3000. Doom and Rama discuss the possibility that they are the same man. They aren’t, but that’s as far as I’m going because Rama’s history gets very crazy. He turns out to also be Kang the Conqueror and Immortus and, in recent years, was discovered to be Nathaniel Richards, making him Reed’s descendent instead of Doom’s. Believe me, I’m not going there.) Using the time machine inside a Sphinx (so the Sphinx that we know is actually from the future), he makes a bad landing and is blinded. The natives bring him an herb that mingles with the radiation from his machine, forming a mixture that restores his sight. Now, he uses his “ultra-diode ray” gun “invented in the year 3000” on the FF robbing them of free will. The Thing is placed on a galley ship as one of the slaves. Exposed to “the heat of a sun far hotter than that of twentieth-century New York,” he changes back to Ben Grimm. The change makes his arms small enough to slip out of his shackles and negates the effects of the ultra-diode ray, because it had shot the Thing and not his alter-ego. (None of this makes a lick of sense but just ride with it.) He slips his chains and dives into the sea. The ship’s crew decide to leave him be because, “we cannot row this cumbersome vessel as fast as he can swim!” (Yeah, because ancient ships were so slow that they can’t even go as fast as a swimmer.)
Back in the pharaoh’s palace, the Human Torch is forced to entertain Rama and Sue, whom Rama has decided to marry. (Don’t they all?) Ben Grimm somehow slips through any security and shows up behind the curtain that is behind Rama’s throne. He grabs the ultra-diode gun and fires it at Sue. Two wrongs don’t make a right but, apparently, two diode ray shots will first sap your will, then turn you back to normal. Now that Ben is out of the hot sun, he turns back into the Thing and the ray takes control of him again. But Sue is now free so she takes the gun and shoots the Torch and the Thing, returning them to normal. The Torch then finds Reed being used as a huge rubbery shield to protect Rama’s army and he changes Reed back to normal. Rama, seeing the writing on the wall, takes a powder, blasting off into space in a missile and leaving his Sphinx “to mystify mankind for centuries to come.” Sue finds the vial with the radioactive herb in it. (It very conveniently says Optic Nerve Restorative on it.) But then a booby trap goes off in the Sphinx, blowing up the rest of Rama’s equipment.
Now, the 24 hours have passed and Alicia returns the FF to the present. They think they have a cure for Alicia’s blindness but they soon find out that the vial did not come with them. “The time machine will transport nothing with radioactive properties!” says Reed. (Yeah, Reed, everybody knows that!) Reed vows to return to the lab to try to find a cure (he doesn’t). Alicia says she cares more that they are all safe than that she is cured. And Ben tells the others that he’ll never forget how they all risked their lives to help Alicia.
So how do you turn a 22 page story into a 10 page story. It’s really rather impressive. Here are all the boring details.
After the splash page, this version jumps to page 3 panel 3, skipping the page in which the FF track down the Thing and Alicia. The rest of our page 2 is composed of page 3 panel 5, page 4 panels 2 & 3, and page 5 panel 1 of the original.
Page 3 of our version uses page 5 panels 4, 5, & 7 (but using a word balloon from panel 6 in our version of panel 7), and page 6 panels 1 & 2 of the original.
Page 4 is composed of the original’s page 6 panels 1 & 2, then page 8 panels 1, 2, 4, 6, & 8 (our version of panel 8 is elongated and part of Sue’s lines from the original panel 9 are moved into the new version). So what’s missing by skipping all of page 7? A longer battle with Rama-Tut’s army.
This page 5 is from page 9 panels 1, 3, & 5, then page 10, panels 1 & 4. The gaps here explain Johnny’s question, “How can he know about us?” when there is no indication in the shortened version that Rama does know them.
Page 6 skips Rama’s tale of building his sphinx time machine and starts with page 11, panel 1. The word balloon, “My eyes! I can’t see!” is lifted from page 11, panel 2 and put into panel 3, which is the next panel in our version. To make that work, the caption is moved from the top to the bottom of the panel. Our version skips Reed’s attempt to snatch the ultra-diode ray and jumps to Rama ray-gunning them from page 11 panel 5. The rest of our page is from page 12 panel 1 and page 13 panel 3 of the original. Rama’s words to Sue that she will become his queen are lifted from page 12 panel 2 and put into our version of page 12 panel 1. Skipped are panels showing the hypnotized FF members performing their new tasks.
Page 7 in the new version uses page 13 panels 4 & 5, and page 14 panels 1, 3, 4, & 5. Gone is Ben’s fight to get off the ship. (And the caption “Finally” is removed since our version jumps from the Thing’s transformation to Ben right to his escape.)
Page 8 in the ABC version takes page 15 panels 1, 2, & 5, then page 16 panel 1, a truncated page 17 panel 3, and page 16 panel 3. So far, the shrinking of this story has been masterful but this is a big-time mistake. By putting those two panels out of sequence, we have the Torch going to rescue Reed followed by the Torch still with the Thing and Sue where he tells them he will go find Reed. Anyone reading this who was unaware of the original must have wondered what Lee and Kirby were smoking. I should also mention that some of Rama’s words from page 16 panel 2 are shoved into the page 16 panel 1 illustration that is used. Also, the caption for page 16 panel 3 is clumsily redone for no reason, except this is the out-of-sequence panel which may be reason enough.
Page 9 is from page 17 panel 4, page 18 panel 1 & 2, page 20 panel 5 & 6, and page 21 panel 3. The missing panels show the FF avoiding the Sphinx’s booby-traps and locating Rama in his capsule within. In order to make this work, a caption is added saying, “Minutes later, inside the Sphinx,” and Rama’s words are trimmed a bit so that he isn’t replying to something Reed no longer says. After Rama escapes, we lose the caption where the Thing speculates that Rama may be Dr. Doom himself. Sue’s comment of “Everybody! Look what I found!” from that same panel (page 21 panel 2) is shoved into our version of page 21 panel 3 as the Optic Nerve Restorative turns up.
Our last page takes page 21 panels 4 & 6 (where Ben’s reply to Reed’s comment in the now excised panel 5 is removed and a caption reading, “A heartbeat later, outside…” is added), then page 22 panels 1, 2, 3, 5, & 6. Reed’s explanation from panel 4 that radioactive materials will not make the time machine trip is shoved into panel 3. His comments in panel 5 are trimmed and the final caption from panel 6, which plugs next issue and the Molecule Man, is removed.
Overall, a pretty impressive job. The story holds together and the missing fight scenes are only noticeable to somebody who knows the original. The only flaw is the panel mix-up on page 8. It’s a bit of a wacky choice for inclusion, though. This issue came out at around the same time as FF #69, December 1967, which just follows an amazing 2 year run for the series. This story feels much cruder and wackier by comparison. Perhaps it was chosen because it could be reduced to 10 pages while the Golden Age of the FF couldn’t even be confined to a single issue. Still, it’s great fun and nicely condensed. Four webs.
That’s all well and good but now we come to the abridgement of something we hold near and dear; an issue of the Amazing Spider-Man. The issue chosen is Amazing Spider-Man #42, November 1966, The Birth of a Super-Hero! You all know the story. (If you don’t check our review of it.) So, let’s recap this version of things.
Our splash page shows Spidey apparently robbing a bank, then we quickly switch to JFK Airport where John Jameson turns into a super-human due to some spores he picked up in space. Back at the lab, government scientists speculate that the spores have come from Jupiter “where far greater muscle power is needed to overcome the tremendous gravitational pull.” (Are we sure these are really scientists?) They contact Tony Stark to make a suit for John Jameson to weigh him down. It is delivered quickly.
Back at John’s hotel, his dad, J. Jonah Jameson, gets a call from Frederick Foswell about Spidey’s bank robbery. JJJ convinces John to go after Spidey. John finds Spidey and they duke it out, with Spidey assuring John that he didn’t steal any money. Spidey webs up John’s head and escapes. He flashes back to the bank incident in which he detected a bomb in one of the moneybags that went into the vault. He snatches the bag and dumps it in the river before it explodes.
Then, in quick succession, JJJ learns that no money is missing from the bank, Peter Parker can’t sleep and feels compelled to seek out John Jameson again, and John exits his hotel room, looking for Spidey. They find each other and Spidey maneuvers John into a power station generator, which jolts him and turns him back to normal.
Spidey contacts the authorities and they (and JJJ) come to take care of John. Jonah blames Spidey for everything and Spidey swings off.
I know what you’re going to say…”Where’s Mary Jane!!???” That’s not the only thing missing from this shortened version. Let’s review:
The splash page is pretty much the same except the woman in the lower left corner who says, “Then, he is the menace people have said he was!” is gone, replaced by the Marvel Comics Logo seen in the upper-left of ASM covers at this time. (I didn’t bother to mention that the FF’s logo was on the splash page of the Rama-Tut story.)
Page 2 of the new version consists of page 3 panels 1, 2, 3, 6, & 7, plus page 4 panels 2 & 3, revamped a bit. The caption from page 3 panel 1 is changed from “While, at Kennedy Airport…” to “Meanwhile, at JFK Airport, let’s look in on Jolly J. Jonah Jameson and son…” in order to introduce the characters. Gone is the entire original page 2 in which Spidey drops the moneybag in the drink and Frederick Foswell tells Betty Brant and Ned Leeds about the “robbery.”
Page 3 here consists of page 4 panels 4 & 5, and page 5 panels 1-5 of the original. Not much missing here.
Page 4 here consists of page 5 panel 7, page 9 panels 3 & 4, and page 10 panels 1 & 2 of the original. Gone is the whole section with Foggy Nelson defending the Rhino as well as the Rhino’s escape attempt. Also gone is Peter’s exchange with Flash, Gwen, and Harry. A small piece of the Spidey-John Jameson fight is also gone, necessitating the elimination of Spidey’s word balloon, “Oh, is that all that’s bothering you?” which is a reply to “You can’t deny robbing that bank! Too many witnesses saw you!” from an eliminated panel.
Page 5 has page 11 panels 3-5, and page 12 panels 1 & 2, again skipping some of the battle.
Page 6 uses page 12 panels 3-5 and page 13 panels 1-3, continuing uninterrupted from the previous page.
Page 7 presents page 13 panels 4-6, page 14 panel 5, and page 15 panels 3-5, skipping Spidey’s visit to JJJ in which he tells him he didn’t steal any money, and John’s visit to JJJ in which “his voice is bitter, arrogant, completely merciless.” The one panel preserved in all of this is when JJJ receives a phone call confirming that no money is missing. Since there is no Spidey visit, the caption changes from “Sixty seconds later…” to “And, speaking of that peerless paragon of publishing parsimony…” The next panel in the new version shows Peter jumping up in bed. Since we’ve lost the action in between JJJ’s phone call and this, which would allow for the passage of time, this caption now beings with “Later” when it originally began with “While.”
Page 8 begins with page 16 panels 1 & 2 of the original, omitting John’s mauling of his bodyguards. It then skips page 16 panel 3 in which John leaps up at Spidey (and in so doing, mashes part of John’s panel 3 dialogue into his panel 2 thought balloon) and continues with page 16 panels 4 & 5, moving on to page 17 panel 1 & 5, skipping some of the battle and requiring some slight manipulation of John and Spidey’s dialogue.
Page 9 gives us page 17 panels 6 & 7, then page 18, panels 1-4, omitting nothing.
Page 10 also continues directly with page 18 panel 5 and page 19 panels 1-5. But the story ends there, leaving off page 19 panels 6-8 and page 20, all of which is the lead-up to and reveal of Mary Jane Watson.
Now, I understand why MJ is gone, why the Rhino is gone, why the exchange with Gwen, Flash, and Harry is gone. It not only makes sense to eliminate them from this version but it makes this version work better for those unfamiliar with Spider-Man. But it loses all of the elements that make this story great. Without all the extras, it is a pretty routine tale and the silliness of it all, which is well covered in the original, stands out. Someone plants a bomb in a payroll bag in order to plunder the bank vault when it goes off? (Wouldn’t that just ruin all the money and leave the vault still locked?) The fact that John gets big and strong must mean the spores come from a big planet like Jupiter? (You’d have to be a lot bigger and stronger than that to survive Jupiter’s pressure. And why should spores care whether you survive Jupiter or not?) Spidey uses electricity to kill the spores because he figured he could “shock it out of his system?” (Yeah. Why not?)
It’s a masterful abridgement of a classic story but it goes from five webs all the way down to two.
There’s a full-page ad for an ABC show called “Cowboy in Africa” starring Chuck Connors of “Rifleman” and “Branded” fame. Now, I grew up in the 60s and I remember many, many TV shows but I have no recollection of this one at all. Probably because it was only on for one season, from September 11, 1967 to April 1, 1968. Here’s the opening theme for it anyway.
The next page is an ad for a show I do remember. “The Second Hundred Years” was about, as the blurb explains, “a gold miner, frozen in ice for 67 years thaws out and comes back to life!...102 year-old Luke Carpenter, who still looks and acts 35, discovers he has a son who looks twice his age and a full grown grandson who looks just like him!” Yes, that’s really what it was about and I used to watch that. It starred Monte Markham as grandfather and grandson with Arthur O’Connell as the son who was older than his father. It too only lasted a year, from September 6, 1967 to March 28, 1968. And, what the heck, here is its opening in which the ages given for the characters are different than the ad in the comic. Arthur O’Connell died in 1981 at the age of 73 but Monte Markham is still alive, older now than Arthur O’Connell got to. He’s shown up here and there over the years but not so much in starring roles.
We’re not done with the TV plugs. Next is “Custer!” another show I don’t remember. According to our friends at Wikipedia, it was also known as “The Legend of Custer” and it only lasted 17 episodes from September 6 to December 27, 1967. It starred Wayne Maunder who I’ve never heard of (and I’ve heard of Monte Markham). It also starred Slim Pickens. And here’s its opening too.
That ad covers 2/3 of the page. The rest, almost as an afterthought, plugs the most successful of these shows: “Batman” starring Adam West and Burt Ward. But this is third season Batman with Batgirl when the show was on the downhill slope. Did ABC realize that? Or was “Batman” so popular, they figured they didn’t need to fill up much space to plug it? Throughout my childhood, ABC was the lowest-rated network of the big three, often mocked in popular culture. A look at these promos gives a good taste of why that was.
One more full-page promo: Off to See the Wizard, a cartoon version of the Wizard of Oz starring the voices of Daws Butler (voice of Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss, etc.), Mel Blanc (voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, etc), and June Foray (voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Cindy Loo Who, and Ursula from “George of the Jungle,” etc). Or so it seems from the promo. But here’s the tip-off. After the Tin Woodman says “”The whole gang, Dorothy and her dog, Toto, the Tin Woodsman…hey, that me… the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow will all be on hand,” the Scarecrow says, “Here are some of the fabulous films you’ll see! “Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion!” “Rhino!” “Lili!” “Cinderella’s Glass Slipper!” and “Zebra in the Kitchen!” Just to name a few!” and the Lion thinks, “And how about stars such as Tony Randall, Chuck Connors, Adam West, Robert Culp and many more?!” What does this mean? As Television Obscurities puts it, “Each week, the characters from The Wizard of Oz— in animated form — would introduce a feature film or other programs. Because it only ran an hour, often films were shown in two parts over the course of two weeks.” Oh, okay. That doesn’t sound so good. It lasted from September 8, 1967 to February 23, 1968.
The rest of the issue, as far as I can tell, is new stuff. These versions of “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “King Kong” never get comic series and George of the Jungle #1 is cover-dated February 1969, more than a year after this book.
Journey to the Center of the Earth is based on the “Land of the Dead” by Ken Sobol, the first episode of the series which you can find here. In the comic version, Professor Oliver Lindenbrook, his niece Cindy, his student Alec McEwan, his guide Lars (who doesn’t merit a last name) and (yes) Lars’ duck Gertrude come upon a “roaring river” on their way to the center of the Earth. The Prof notes “it bears an odd semblance to the River Styx – habited by Charon in Greek Mythology.” (“Semblance,” “habited,” he talks this way because he’s a Professor.) He explains that Charon “took the dead souls across the Styx to the land beyond.” Gertrude flies down and finds a boat.
Meanwhile, Count Sackhussem and “his oafish lackey, Torg” (who tried to destroy the Lindenbrook party but ended up getting trapped down at the Earth’s core with them…as you can learn in the opening credits to the cartoon) watch from a cliff above. “They’ve found a boat,” the Count tells Torg, “You must build a raft for us and we will continue to follow them!” There’s virtually no vegetation from which to build a raft. Note how the Count leaves it all up to Torg to accomplish this…somehow.
The Prof and crew take the boat, with Lars steering. They run into rapids but Lars makes it through. (“Good steering, Lars!” says the Prof.) But they encounter a “monster lizard” standing upright in the middle of the river. They try to carefully maneuver around the lizard but the monster takes a swipe at them, knocking Alec into the water where he gets sucked into an “underground grotto and the water’s gone!” (Well, technically it’s all underground.) There, Alec comes upon the Count and Torg who, apparently, didn’t build a raft after all. (How did they get there? Who knows?) The Count thinks he has captured Alec but all three of them are quickly surrounded by “strange chalk-like people” who have long white beards, wear golden Greek helmets and stand about 15 feet tall.
The others make it to shore and search for Alec but instead come to a pass guarded by Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards the entrance to the underworld. Lars and the Prof prepare to fight Cerberus but, before they do, Gertrude flies at the dog and scares him away. “First dog-hunting duck I ever see! Ha, ha!” says Lars.
But suddenly a “lava stream” comes pouring down the pass. The group climbs upon giant leaves and surf them on the lava. Where do the leaves come from? How do they resist the lava so they don’t burn up? How can they support the weight of the group? Who knows?
The lava takes them toward an ice wall but it melts the ice as it flows, creating a tunnel for the crew to surf through. On the other side, they find Alec, the Count, Torg, and the chalk people and they rush over and spirit the trio away before the giants can budge. Expressing his “gratitude,” the Count pulls a gun on our heroes but Gertrude flies into his face, knocking him off-balance. He falls into Torg and they both fall over a cliff. “They’ve been killed!” says Cindy. “No!” says the Prof, “they’re all right! They landed in those bushes!” (What bushes?) “We’ll see them again, I’ll wager!” “Not too soon, I hope,” says Alec. “And see them they will,” declares the final caption, “in further exciting adventures on the ABC television series…Journey to the Center of the Earth!”
Well, that all seemed rather abrupt and perfunctory with no explanation of the mythological elements or the chalk people. To be fair, the episode has a lot more to it. (And its own screw-ups.) In the cartoon, the group comes upon the river. The Prof tells Cindy about Charon but pronounces it “Sharon,” which may be the way Pluto’s moon is supposed to be pronounced (so I’ve heard) but not the River Styx ferryman. It is Lars, not Gertrude, who finds the boat and there is no talk from the Count about building a raft but, somehow, the Prof and crew end up on a raft instead of the boat they found. As they travel the Styx, they find a mountain carved into the three heads of Cerberus. The monster lizard appears and attacks them. (None of this nonsense of them trying to float around him.) A whirlpool appears and sucks the monster down. Lars prevents the raft from being sucked in but Alec falls in and follows the monster down. The raft heads for a waterfall and the others reach shore before tumbling over. Alec finds himself in the underground grotto amongst a lot of old Greek armor and weapons. The chalk people arrive and Alec escapes. Meanwhile, the others come upon Cerberus. Gertrude does not scare the monster away. Instead, Lars fights the dog and knocks it off a cliff and into the river. Then a griffin shows up and Cindy scares it away with her flare gun. They then stumble on a lake of boiling quicksand.
Meanwhile, Alec finds a river of ice and the Count and Torg, who have indeed constructed a raft, albeit one only big enough for the Count (Torg swims alongside). The Count and Torg capture Alec only to be surrounded by the chalk men. Back at the quicksand, Lars throws a javelin with a rope attached to it (don’t ask where he gets these things) so that it attaches to the other side. The Prof and Cindy cross on the rope but giant vultures attack them. They all manage to get across.
The chalk men take their prisoners to their king. The Count, who speaks Greek, can understand the king and realizes they must be descended from the Ancient Greeks. He also understands that the chalk men plan to kill them. Torg goes berserk, pulling a pillar out of its place to use as a weapon. This sends the roof toppling down on them. The three prisoners get away but are trapped by a wall of solid ice. Elsewhere, the others come upon a jungle with an erupting volcano, which explains the leaves and the lava but not how the leaves can survive the lava. They surf the lava and the lava creates the tunnel in the ice wall and Alec is rescued from the chalk men and from the Count. Some more stuff happens but none of that nonsense with Gertrude and the gun.
So, now we know that there is a bit of a connection with Greek myth after all, though we never learn why Cerberus and the griffin actually exist or why the Greek descendants turned chalky and grew to 15 feet. The lava flow and the leaves make more sense, as does the meeting between Alec and the Count. But, I’m not reviewing the cartoon. And the comic story has all of these flaws and more. It’s a fun little novelty but it’s pretty worthless, really. One-half web.
King Kong was a Rankin/Bass production, although the episodes were created in Japan by Toei Animation. The Pilot was an hour long and premiered on September 6, 1966. Subsequent episodes were a half-hour with two six-minute Kong stories bracketing the six-minute “Tom of T.H.U.M.B.” segments. (Tom was a three-inch tall secret agent working for Tiny Human Underground Military Bureau.) In the King Kong series, Professor Bond takes his children Susan and Bobby to Mondo Island. Bobby finds a valley full of prehistoric creatures and is rescued there by King Kong. The two become friends. As far as I can tell, the comic story is not based on any TV episode. Let’s take a look at it.
At Mondo Island, Professor Bond receives a letter from circus man P.T. Bunkum. He wants Kong and Bobby to perform at his circus in exchange for $100,000 sent to Bobby’s favorite charity. The Bonds tow Kong to California on a barge on which he sits up cross-legged. (Very different from his trip to the US in the 1933 movie.) At the circus, Bobby rides a white horse as he introduces Kong who performs an act in which he picks up lions and elephants and puts them through big hoops. The audience is enthralled. But a thunderstorm breaks out and spooks the animals, which spooks the crowd. “Bobby’s horse runs wild” and Kong leaves the Big Top to rescue him. In the confusion of people fleeing the circus, all the animals leave too. (Apparently, they were just running free in there.) P.T. Bunkum calls for “the National Guard, the Army, the Green Berets” and it appears that all of these guys come out. One General tells his men, “This is a maximum alert, men, and go for the big gorilla first. That thing could destroy the entire city in no time.” What city? Who knows? It is near the ocean and a snow-capped mountain. It seems rather small. It has a drugstore, a place called “Credit,” and a city park. That’s about all we know.
There is mayhem in the city. Bobby gets thrown off his horse and hits his head. Elephants, lions, tigers, and cheetahs are running through the streets, causing traffic accidents and attacking people. Kong saves a little girl from a tiger and hands the cat over to the circus authorities. Bobby regains consciousness and finds himself stalked by lions. The Army prepares to shoot the lions but Bobby calls them off as Kong scoops him up and puts him on a roof. “Hold your fire!” yells Bobby, “Kong can take care of this.” But it turns out that the circus has tons of lions they leave loose. They climb all over Kong. (One panel shows nine lions…and there may be more.) The lions claw and bite Kong, who “tries to protect himself without harming the lions.” Finally, “with 7500 pounds of lions on his back, Kong makes for the ocean and dives.” (According to Animals, the average weight of a male lion is 420 pounds and weight of a female lion is 280 pounds. So, Kong has 17 or so lions on his back? What kind of circus is P.T. Bunkum running anyway?) “The ocean quickly takes the fight out of the lions” and Kong rounds them up and puts them in a barge, then tows them to shore.
The next day, the city holds a parade honoring Kong and the mayor gives him a giant plaque that reads, “King Kong, World’s Greatest Lion Tamer.” P.T. Bunkum horns in and brags, “Not only am I donating $100,000 to this lad’s favorite charity, as promised, but I’m taking his big friend on a world-wide tour, and I guarantee…” but Kong grabs his stomach and growls. Bobby explains “Kong just announced his retirement from show business.” Bunkum doesn’t look pleased but Kong and Bobby don’t care. “Let’s go home, buddy,” says Bobby.
Don’t ask me why Bunkum has so many untethered lions in his circus but I’m willing to forgive it. It’s a cute story and Kong is a lovable hero. Give this one two webs.
Our final story is George of the Jungle, a cartoon series that enjoyed enough popularity to eventually spawn a 1997 live-action movie starring Brendan Fraser. (There was also a “George 2” in 2003, not starring Brendan Fraser and a 2007 cartoon reboot.) Pretty impressive for a show that only lasted one season. George was a dim-witted Tarzan type who swung on vines and tended to crash into trees. His mate Ursula, a redhead on the show but a blonde here, is much more intelligent than George. She adores him but realizes what a dimwit he is. George has a pet elephant, Shep, whom he thinks is a dog. The show was created by Jay Ward and Bill Scott, the creators of Rocky and Bullwinkle and each half-hour show consisted of three segments: George, Super Chicken, and Tom Slick.
As far as I can tell, this story is not based on an episode either. In it, George tells Ursula he has a big surprise. She hopes it will be “earrings? Or a necklace? Maybe some jewelry? A fur? A new dress? New shoes? Perfume?” But it turns out to be a “doggie bone” for Shep. Ursula tries to tell George that Shep is an elephant but gives up because Shep acts like a dog. He takes the bone and buries it. Two evil characters watch this. Just as Ursula doesn’t look like her TV version, these guys may be Tiger Titherage and Weevil Plumtree, recurring villains on the show, but they don’t look like them either. The Tiger-like guy thinks he has found the secret elephant burying ground but the Weevil-like guy doesn’t know what that is. “Don’t you go to any Sabu movies?” asks “Tiger.” (Remember Sabu?) “The secret burying ground is full of precious ivory tusks!”
After Shep leaves, “Tiger” digs up the bone, declaring it “a rare dog-bone-shaped ivory tusk!” He steals it, thinking the “ground must be full of dog-bone-shaped ivory!” Later, Ursula tells George, “There’s something wrong with Shep!” George, who can apparently understand Shep’s sobs, says, “What? Someone stole your bones? Then how come skin fit so well?” (Hah. This one made me laugh.) Shep takes George to his burial ground where all the bones have been dug up. The bad guys drop a net on George. “Tiger” points a gun at George and demands to know where the “best of the fancy-shaped ivory” is. (I think he means the rest.) George gives out a yell to summon the great apes but he messes it up and summons “thousands of bunnies” instead. “Weevil” wants to keep a bunny as a pet. While the bad guys deal with the bunnies, George chews himself out of the net. The bad guys run for it. George tries to stop them but swings on a vine into a tree and falls on top of a crocodile. Fortunately for him, “Tiger” and “Weevil” have fallen into some quicksand. George arrives and takes the bag of doggie bones from “Tiger.” Shep rushes in and grabs the bag, knocking George into the quicksand. “Well, there goes our big opportunity,” says “Tiger.” “Does that mean I get to keep the bunny?” asks “Weevil.” And George, upside down, with his legs sticking out of the quicksand, says, “George always like happy endings!”
It’s all because I watched it as a kid, but I’m a sucker for “George of the Jungle.” What can I say? This story made me laugh. Three webs.
We’re not quite done. We have to look at the inside front cover’s ad for ABC’s Sunday cartoon lineup.
- 9:30AM: Milton the Monster
- 10:00AM: Linus the Lion-Hearted
- 10:30AM: Peter Potamus
- 11:00AM: Bullwinkle
- 11:30AM: Discovery ‘67, which is very much like Discovery '68 only earlier.
- 4:00PM: The Beagles and Tennessee Tuxedo
- 4:30PM: Magilla Gorilla
If you’re curious about any of those shows, feel free to look them up. I was going to do it for you but I’m just worn out.
And one more thing. The back cover has an ad for ABC’s new Thursday 8PM show, The Flying Nun. Yes, a young nun flies by way of her wing-like coif. Yes, the show starred “Sally ‘Gidget’ Field” (Andrew Garfield’s Aunt May). Yes, I used to watch this show every week. Yes, I was only 10 years old but I still cannot defend it.
It’s a compilation of goofy stories and unsatisfying abridgements. Two of the stories star cartoon characters that were mostly forgotten decades ago. Two feature characters that work much better in cartoons than they do in comic pages. The two abridged Marvel stories aren’t really worth reading (read the originals instead). If you take the average of the webs I gave to each story, this issue deserves 2 ¼ webs. But, none of that means a thing. It’s a comic with Spidey and Casper the Friendly Ghost, with the Fantastic Four and George of the Jungle, with oddball versions of King Kong and Journey To The Center of the Earth. With ads for Batman, The Second Hundred Years, and the Flying Nun! It may not be the nostalgia fest to you that it is to me but so what? It’s one of the coolest, oddest little packages that you’ll find in any Silver Age comic.
What does that make it? Five webs, of course.
Next: More end-of-1967 weirdness. The Fantastic Four Return Pocket Book.