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Friday, May 26, 2023

10 Questions With Comics Writer Joe Casey!

Our great friend Michele Fiffe (of COPRA fame) reached out one day and said "You have to interview Joe Casey, he's a huge DC in the 80's guy!" Well we got super excited and co-editor Mark Belkin reached out to see if we could answer 10 Questions. Turns out in addition to being on of the best comic book writers ever, his taste in DC comics of the 1980's is impeccable. Joe Casey had classic runs on Uncanny X-Men,  Adventures of Superman, Wildcats, Cable, and two of his creations (two of my favorite comics) Godland and Automatic Kafka. Highly recommended. Also, and I didn't know this until recently, Joe was one of the creators on the cartoon series Ben 10! Without further ado, 10 Questions with Joe Casey! 

1.What was the first DC comic you remember buying?

JC: Let’s see… the earliest DC Comics I can remember holding in my hands -- and reading over and over -- were Justice League of America #137, All-Star Comics #63 and Secret Society of Super-Villains #3. I have no doubt that my folks bought all three of them for me, because I was just a grade school scrub. Y’know, when I stop and think about it… those three comics really just sum me right up, in terms of my formative tastes. But the first one I remember actually buying on my own would have to be New Teen Titans #9. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even purchase it when I first saw it. I spotted it on the stands at the first Direct Market retailer I ever knew of (Walt’s Paperback Books in Nashville, TN). That classic George Perez cover, with all of the Titans hanging by marionette strings… after I got home, I couldn’t get it out of my head. It just haunted me. I even tried to redraw that cover from memory. So, clearly, I had no choice but to go back and buy that comic book. Once I read it, I was instantly hooked… and I was no longer exclusively a Marvel kid reader. 

2. What were your favorite DC comics runs in the 1980s?

JC: There was a helluva lot to love during that decade. The Baron/Guice Flash (not to mention their two-issue Hawk story in Teen Titans Spotlight), the first two years of the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League, the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans, Fleming and Von Eeden’s Thriller, the Ostrander/McDonnell Suicide Squad, the Kupperburg/Lightle/Larsen Doom Patrol, the Giffen 5YL Legion, the Helfer/Sienkiewicz/Baker Shadow, Chaykin’s Blackhawk, Miller’s Batman work, Alan Moore on Swamp Thing

3. If you could go back in time and write for DC comics in the 1980s, what comic would you like to do? It can be anything you want, a re-boot, or taking over a book.

JC: Listen, I tried to write for DC Comics in 1987! I had the balls to send the great Dick Giordano a Batman fill-in script that I wrote on spec when I was just a punk teenager. Got a very encouraging, handwritten note back from Dick, which I still cherish. But to answer your question… to this day, I would’ve killed to take over for Mike Baron when he made -- in my humble opinion -- his all-too-early departure from Flash. Other than that, maybe DeMatteis’ gig dialoguing the Justice League books. 

4. Tell me all your thoughts on Jack Kirby, the Fourth World, and what that might mean to you?

JC: I have no doubt that Kirby is an influence on anyone who works in superhero comics. Even if he’s not a direct influence, believe me, he’s in there. He’s always been there for me. But I was actually first introduced to the Fourth World characters in the Secret Society of Super-Villains series and then the JLA/JSA/New Gods crossover in Justice League of America #183-185. From there, I eventually inhaled the pure power of the deluxe Baxter reprints of New Gods and I never looked back. At that point, most of those original back issues were still somewhat getable, so I got as many of them as I could afford. And here’s an exclusive tease… that Fourth World material means a lot more to me now than it ever has, for very practical, career-related reasons.

5. Your first DC work was on Superman and the Flash. How did the 1980's runs on those characters affect your runs on those books?

JC: The first Superman comics I even cared about were written by Alan Moore -- the annual with Dave Gibbons and the two “finale” issues of Superman and Action. After that, I was definitely caught up in the excitement of the Byrne revamp. Some of those Byrne/Wolfman/Ordway issues definitely had an impact on my own work, especially when I spent my three years plus on Adventures of Superman. And I can tell you I was damn proud to be writing what I considered the “legacy” title. As for the Flash… well, from my previous answers, it should be obvious to one and all that I have an unhealthy, unconditional love for Mike Baron’s Flash relaunch. I can’t even tell you exactly why it hit me so hard when it first came out… or why it still sticks with me. I was already a big Baron fan from Nexus and Badger and his other indie work. And while I’d read random issues of the Barry Allen Flash series over the few years previous, it was never a must-buy for me. But the Baron relaunch, for the age that I was at the time, just seemed so modern, so cutting edge. Not that it was particularly groundbreaking comics (it wasn’t)… not that I didn’t bump on the differences between the Wally West I knew from New Teen Titans and Baron’s take (I did)… but it had a certain vibe and a narrative voice that just spoke to me. Props to editor Mike Gold (my absolute favorite DC editor of that period), who encouraged Baron to abandon just about everything that was associated with the previous Flash, including his famous Rogues Gallery, which seems inconceivable now. So it's much more than an influence… it’s literally embedded in my DNA as a writer.    

6. How did your admiration of DC in the 80's inspire your work on some of your most popular books/runs/creations; Wildcats, Automatic Kafka (<3), and Ben 10?

JC: You can draw a direct line from any of my “experimental” work straight back to the DC that published Thriller, Swamp Thing, Ambush Bug, Ronin, The Shadow, Dark Knight Returns, Animal Man, Black Orchid, Watchmen, Chaykin’s Blackhawk, Giffen’s 5YL Legion of Super-Heroes and other comics that definitely pushed the envelope when it came to “mainstream” comics. When I broke in as a full-time professional, I made it a personal mission to try and evoke the vibe of those 80’s comics in the ones that I wrote. 

7. Who were some of your favorite writers from the 1980s?

JC: David Michelinie, Mike Baron, Matt Wagner, Howard Chaykin, John Ostrander, Robert Loren Fleming, Keith Giffen, Steve Englehart, Walt Simonson, Frank Miller, Alan Moore. 

8. And subsequently, who were some of your favorite artists?

JC: Paul Smith, George Perez, Alan Davis, Trevor Von Eeden, David Mazzuchelli, Jackson Guice, Luke McDonnell, Howard Chaykin, Gene Day, Dave Stevens, John Romita Jr., Kyle Baker, Todd McFarlane, Kevin Maguire, Bart Sears, Paul Chadwick, Bernie Mireault, Frank Miller, Steve Rude, Erik Larsen, Ty Templeton, Dave Gibbons, Walt Simonson, Matt Wagner, Bill Sienkiewicz, Bob Layton, John Byrne, Keith Giffen, John Totleben, Brian Bolland. 

9. If you could pick any DC comic to do a Crisis crossover issue with, from that time, what comic would it have been?

JC: Jeezus… y’know, I’m gonna say Infinity, Inc. Because history has shown us that Roy Thomas wasn’t too crazy about Crisis in the first place. So maybe I’d be doing him a favor, because I would definitely be into it. Plus, there’s a good chance it would’ve been drawn by Todd McFarlane during his wacky page design phase. But, to be honest, as much as I love the original Crisis (and I do), it was Legends that really connected with me. 

9b. How about Legends crossovers?

JC: If I had to choose, I think the BLUE BEETLE series could've been better served using LEGENDS as a way to push that series more into the spotlight. Not that I didn't read and love what Len and Paris were doing... but it was a bit too old school and the character was featured in LEGENDS to such a degree that maybe his series could've taken better advantage of the particular energy that was in the air in late '86/early '87.

10. What character who was big in the 80's, that may be forgotten, deserves some shine today?

JC: A few years ago, I would’ve easily answered, “Wally West”. But DC has taken some steps recently to rehabilitate the character. So that leaves only one answer for me: Thriller. The concept, the characters… it’s all so cool. A seminal book for me. God forbid DC collect the Fleming/Von Eeden issues, at least…!

DC in the 80's wants to thank Joe Casey for such a great interview! When we asked Joe if we could promote anything for him, he said "I think the most fun thing you could mention as "promotion" goes is that I've got some pretty big DC plans over the next few years. And i do mean BIG." WOW! That sounds exciting. Can't wait to find out what it is. Until next time. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

DC In The 80's Looks At Detective Comics #569–575

DC in the 80's loved that hot Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis run on Detective Comics in 1986. Our friend Michael Campochiaro joins our editor Mark Belkin to read and discuss this all too short run. Comics Talk with Mark and Michael, some 70's babies discussing 80's bangers. Check it. 


Michael: Mark, before we launch into examining writer Mike W. Barr’s and artist Alan Davis’s short but spectacular ‘80s run on Detective Comics, let’s talk a little about our personal histories with these issues, and this era of Batman comics. 

Batman was the first comics character I ever loved, so I’d been into his comics since around 1979 or 1980, when I was just 4 or  5. By the time Barr and Davis teamed up for this run I’d been buying Batman and Detective nearly every month for a while. If I recall, wasn’t Year One on the stands at the same time as these issues of Detective? It was definitely around the same time, and while Year One was huge, and felt so “adult” to me then, the Barr-Davis run really landed squarely in my wheelhouse. It had, and to this day still has, basically everything I want out of a Batman and Robin comic book. 

Mark: When it comes to Batman, the very first issue I bought was Batman 400. Honestly, Batman was Superfriends/60s TV show guy to me when I first started collecting, and I just bought whatever. I can't remember when the Barr-Davis run came out in relation to Batman, but I was collecting Batman when Year One happened. I loved it because I loved the Born Again run on Daredevil by the Miller-Mazzucelli team. But man oh man, the day Detective with Barr-Davis came out, it blew my mind. This was around the same time Alan Davis had done some New Mutants work, and I was a fan, but his Detective run right away became my favorite Batman story ever. Let's jump in.

What's that Robin is covered in?


Michael: From the cinematic opening panels, leading up to the glorious splash page introducing Batman and Robin, I was hooked. 

Mark: It definitely had a vibe that they were going for that more innocent time. TV show and Dick Sprang feel. Denny O'Neil, God rest his soul, had just come back as an editor on the bat titles, and I wonder if he wanted something more light hearted. He was the one who reinvented Batman for the 70s (with Neal Adams), and sent him on the Dark Knight path. I would love to ask Mike Barr or Alan Davis it this was the case. Barr's writing on Outsiders was far more inline with New Teen Titans and X-Men. 

That splash page though. That could be a poster. Alan Davis really put it out there for this issue.

Michael: I love how Barr opens it with the fight between Batman and Robin and Catwoman’s old crew. Their matching yellow cat suits felt like such a throwback, even in 1986. Catwoman’s introduction in this scene is memorable, thanks to Davis’s art. I remember being super excited reading these first few pages when I got home from the comic book shop. In some ways, I think I realized at that moment this was going to be special and it was everything that excited me about Batman comics. At the time I loved him teamed up with Robin, and this version of Jason Todd was fantastic. He was clearly still a headstrong kid, but he was also completely likable. And having Catwoman join in the fun put it over the top for me. Always loved the character, and at this point in time this rendition of Selina Kyle from Barr and Davis was the best I’d ever seen in a comic book.

Mark: The run does start taking a darker tone, which is weird, because I remember it being mostly bright. Maybe being a parent makes me think everything is dark now. How Batman was treating Robin, no wonder Robin became such an ass. I'm sure it was an exploration on losing Grayson for Jason Todd, but Bruce was just mean to him. And then the beatdown on Joker, over Catwoman turning on him. After electroshock therapy no less. But I love the interplay between Bruce and Selina before the heel turn.

Wholesome moment.

Also, how amazing is Alan Davis’ Joker? He’s beautiful. Just so kinetic, so dynamic. When Alfred tells them the Batlight is up and Jason is running happy to jump into action. Or when Batman is falling , having to flex to break his fall. Does anyone draw a better flexing human being than Alan Davis? Dont think so. 

(Michael and Mark had lunch at a coffee place.  Talked about this in real life. Then went back to doing it via a google doc.)

Michael: It definitely feels darker to me since I reread it as a dad now. And yeah, Davis makes everything look absolutely gorgeous. The man draws beautiful people doing amazing things so well. I love the stop at the bar as well, where Robin has a glass of milk with Rhonda as Batman interrogates the bar manager for a lead. I just love that entire scene and especially how Davis draws it.  Such a great two-part story. One of my favorite Joker and Catwoman stories, really, and it seems like no one ever mentions it when discussing those characters. I guess it was the age I read it at, but it was a formative read for me, as was this entire run. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t add that Detective 570 is my favorite Batman cover of all time, and possibly my favorite cover, period. It’s just so gorgeous. And next is..

Scarecrow with his new power to grow.


Michael: The cover is so cool with the oversized, looming Scarecrow (reminds me of the famous 1970s Neal Adams cover with the giant Joker), and the splash page is equally great. I’ve always liked the Scarecrow and Barr delivers one of my favorite stories featuring the character. With more death traps this issue, Barr harkens back to old school Batman stories. Davis draws the hell out of it all—his facial expressions are outstanding, his pacing of the story exquisite, and he draws a wonderfully creepy stick-figure Scarecrow. 

Mark: The cover is such a silver age vibe. So, of course Bruce is being mean to Jason. Kid just wants to enjoy the racetrack, but Bruce is all “this is business.” Who decided this was going to be a thing? Then he’s got Robin spraying water on him as he runs into the fire? WTF? THE KIDS LIKE 13!??!?!?! Then Robin is kidnapped, and Batman is drugged up. Yeah, this seemed alot more normal when I was 11 reading it, but now its seems twisted. And it ends with a gravestone for Jason Todd. Yikes. Scarecrow does look amazing though. Always twisted up. Is Alan Davis a top 10 artist? The artwork is stunning. 

Stupid sexy Batman.

Michael: Heck yeah, Davis is top ten for me. And you’re right, these issues are so much darker than I remembered! Especially the Robin stuff.  There are a lot of people who think Batman should never have a teen sidecick, and I bet they hold up these issues and go, “I rest my case.”

Editor's Note: Edited for length, I'm cutting us discussing 572 because it's too long and I just don't feel it's part of the run.


Michael : We are back in the Gotham groove with this issue! Wow, just a stunner of an issue for me. From the department of redundancy department: yet another killer cover and killer splash page combo. The sense of movement Alan Davis brings, with Batman and Robin always running, jumping or swinging through the city, is just marvelous. Adrienne Roy’s coloring is stellar the entire run, and her work on this issue is especially vibrant. It’s cool how Davis draws Jervis Tetch (what a name!), AKA the Mad Hatter, to look like the character did on the Batman ‘66 TV series. By the way, according to sources online, this is an imposter Mad Hatter, who had made a series of appearances in the Silver and Bronze Ages already. I love how comics are randomly weird like that. 

Mark: So the villains leaves Arkham and Batman kidnaps him to, I'm guessing, menace him? Isn't that going to just piss of the Hatter and make him want to get back his power. Now days it isn't a thing, but this 80s Batman is a dick. I don't remember this level of douche in the Outsiders. 

Batman getting a zero on Uber.

Michael : The opening is great—how nice of Batman and Robin to give the Hatter a lift home from jail, huh? Once again, Barr and Davis make great use of props during fight scenes (giant-sized sports equipment, flying buzzsaw straw hats) to remind us of Batman’s Silver Age adventures. Robin even tells puns again! We also get a glimpse of Bruce Wayne playing the role of the carefree playboy billionaire like he did in the Bronze Age, which I’m pretty sure DC moved away from after this, thanks to all the grim and gritty influence of Frank Miller on the character. This run clearly has a foot in the immediate pre-Crisis years, for sure, and I love that about it. Today I reread this and feel like it’s a successful effort to meld the pre- and post-Crisis sensibilities at a time when DC was undergoing massive change. In case I haven’t been effusive enough, I LOVE this run so much!

Mark : This is definitely a silver age homage. The gimmick villain, the clues, detective work, punching out goons, oversized props. My favorite moment is Bruce snapping at Gordon about his Dad. Nice touch by Alan Davis showing Jason Todd looking happy, then worried when Gordon pulls a douche move. 

I'm gonna say Jason Todd Robin is super sympathetic in this run, and I'm not sure why things had to change. When he's laid our at the end, I'm worried. 


Mark: So my 4 year old daughter wanted me to read her this issue, and after a few pages I had to stop. This is kind of a heavy and dark read. People like to complain about comics being for adults today, but this issue was aimed at kids and it's kinda not. 

Michael: I'm amazed at the stuff I was reading then, age 10, 11, 12. I always think I’ll read these with my kids too and then I reazlie, whoa, this shit is dark. As an adult though, I’m completely fascinated by the tension between the art and the subject matter. Not that Davis doesn’t capture the darkness—he really does, especially the way he draws Batman when he’s angry or anguished. I’m trying to remember my first exposure to Leslie Thompkins. I think it was Batman Special #1 in 1984, also written by Barr and with AMAZING art by Michael Golden. Dude, we should reread and discuss that special someday. So good. 

I see how this issue is setting up the transition to Year Two by recapping Batman’s origin (which was already repeated way too often  in the ‘80s). As a kid I liked this issue but also felt a little disappointed after the previous ones featuring colorful rogues gallery members like Joker, Scarecrow and Mad Hatter. I wanted Barr and Davis to tackle even more of them—Riddler, Poison Ivy, hell even Catman would’ve been awesome. I was way into colorful rogues at that point (and still am, honestly). Solid issue though, but also kind of sad in retrospect because I know Davis only has one more to go before he splits after the first part of Year Two. 

I'm calling Gotham Children's Services, like now.

Mark: Batman was super mean to Jason this whole time, and now he almost got him killed. Great super hero, shitty guardian. Even Leslie knows that and bitches him out, and Jason ended up dead. I guess after Dark Knight Returns, dead Robin became a part of the Batman myth. But Leslie was already getting on Batman about the kind of things "smart" people think they're bring clever writing about today. As if even writers I'm the 80s didn't realize Batman having kids run with him and beating up poor people wasn't problematic. 

The part with Bruce as a kid saying "no wait" as his parents were taken away really got me. I know that pain now. In Batman lore, I've seen Alfred, Gordon and Leslie be the person who consoles Bruce after the murders. I think Alfred works best. Leslie became his foster Mom? I forgot this was a thing. 

I do like the exploration in this issue of Batman as a concept, and there is a part when Batman is talking about Bruce Wayne as if he's the concept, how teachers wanted expell Wayne, who is a construct of Batman. Good stuff. 

Michael: Wow. What a run. The Caped Crusader at his finest in my estimation. Barr and Davis achieved a stunningly high quality of work here. Imagine if they’d been able to continue on for another dozen or more issues together, at least! Then again, one of the things that makes the run so special is its brevity. Blink and you miss it in DC history. Out of these six issues, four or five of them are damn near perfect. This run really deserves to be celebrated as one of the best Batman runs of all time. 

Mark: Agreed. This remains my favorite Batman run by any writer/artist team. I wish we could have gotten a full year. Excalibur was dope though.

Michael: Revisiting these issues with you has been awesome, Mark. Thanks for having me as a guest here at DC in the ‘80s. Let’s do coffee again soon and pick our next comic to discuss. 

Mark: Thanks for coming on the Comic Book Club. 100% we are doing this again. I know we have to do one with DC in the 80s Editor in Chief Justin and our mutual friend Andrew. Talk soon!

Friday, April 14, 2023

Batman 1989 trading cards: first series (O-Pee-Chee)

Today we take a look back at one more piece of Batman 89 memorabilia: the ever-important Batman 1989 trading card set. Being a Canadian, I didn't have easy access to the Topps versions of these cards -- instead we had the O-Pee-Chee versions (which were more or less the same):

image source: mine

I have vivid memories of being obsessed with the Batman 1989 trading card set as an elementary school kid. This was the second trading card set that I'd ever obsessed over, following Topps/O-Pee-Chee's Wacky Packages. 1989's Batmania was a real thing, and it sent a lot of us kids into a frenzy trying to get our hands on anything Batman-related. To this effect, it was a lot easier to convince your parents to buy you a pack or two of Batman 1989 trading cards versus that Starlog magazine with Batman on the cover that was super-expensive by comparison.

Typically found in convenience stores at the check-out counter; these cards made for a quick impulse purchase when you had some spare change leftover from the comic books you were buying. They were actually pretty eye-catching -- yellow packs in a red box that doubled as a display stand really drew attention to the product.

(Note from Mark: I loved these too, and got the Topps version. I hated the gum. Not only did it taste like cardboard, it would get a dust film on the card it was touching. But man I loved these images. I feel like I was getting packs before the movie, so I knew a lot of the plot and images from them. I didn't mind.)

O-Pee-Chee Batman 1989 series 1 display case
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wax packs came in two different designs
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A pack of Batman 1989 series 1 cards cost 35 cents and contained several trading cards, a 'puzzle card' and a stick of gum. Topps had their own Batman 1989 series 1 cards, and the major difference between the two was that the Topps version had 'sticker cards' and the O-Pee-Chee version had 'puzzle cards'. We'll talk about those in a minute.

These cards were pretty low-quality, to be honest. How do you think they were able to afford to sell them for 35 cents a pack? Cheap card stock with a matte finish on the card front and a pulpy texture on the card back. Sometimes the cards would come stuck together or the stick of rock hard gum would stain the cards.  

(Note from Mark: I liked the heavy card stock. I was collecting basketball and baseball cards, and I liked how much tougher these were.)

The entire O-Pee-Chee Batman 1989 series 1 trading card set consisted of 154 cards -- the last 22 cards (#133 - 154) being puzzle cards. The first 132 cards (minus the first card shown in our opener) were movie stills from the film:

front of card #28
image source: mine

The back of the cards had yellow backgrounds and usually contained a description of the scene taking place. I'm a little surprised that these weren't bilingual since O-Pee-Chee printed from Canada and all the packaging for these card was in English and French. Probably for the best, however, since the font would have to be a lot smaller to hold both the English and French versions of the same text on the back of the card.

back of card #28
image source: mine

While getting a trading card set consisting of nothing but movie stills might be considered kind of dull today, this was very exciting back in 1989 when the internet didn't exist and you pretty much had to rely on your memory, movie clips from Entertainment Tonight or Batman 1989 memorabilia magazines to look at scenes from the film.

Any cards with pictures of the Batwing were prized among my friends and I: 

image source: mine

As were the action scenes:

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Or the particularly gruesome scenes:

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Hey look, it's Billy Dee Williams:

image source: mine

I don't think I owned this specific trading card as a kid, but if I did I would've had to have kept it hidden from my parents: 

Joker's bloody mouth
image source: mine 

(Mark: I did own this card and hid it. But I think it was because it was gross and I didn't want Joker to lose.)

Similar to the Topps set, the O-Pee-Chee set included 22 puzzle cards which were necessary to complete both 10-card puzzles (2 puzzle cards revealed the completed puzzle for anyone who wasn't sure what they were striving to complete). As previously mentioned, Topps puzzle cards were actually stickers with a puzzle piece on the back of the card, whereas O-Pee-Chee were not stickers. [I'm not sure if this was by design or a cost-saving measure on O-Pee-Chee's behalf, but after discovering this I felt a little cheated.]

Here's a few card fronts of the O-Pee-Chee puzzle cards to give you an idea of what they looked like:

Joker and his thugs puzzle card
image source: mine

oooh... a Batwing puzzle card. This would've been high-value among my friends and I.
image source: mine

For comparison, here's an O-Pee-Chee puzzle card and it's counterpart Topps puzzle card (which was actually a sticker):

O-Pee-Chee puzzle card
image source: mine

Topps puzzle card
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Astute observers will notice that the Topps sticker card has a different numbering system and has a 'PEEL' indicator in the top right corner. [The Topps card appears to be a brighter shade of red, but that's just my camera. Sorry about that.]

As kids, collecting the entire 154-card set seemed pretty unfeasible (especially since these things were flying off the shelves -- seriously, I rarely ever saw these since they sold out so quickly), but completing a 10-card puzzle? That was doable. So, for this reason, the puzzle cards were the 'chase cards' of the set, especially since they were limited to 1 per pack.

Because I know you're dying of curiosity, here's what the completed puzzles looked like:

completed 10-card 'yellow border' puzzle
image source: mine
completed 10-card 'red border' puzzle
image source: mine

Topps also released a deluxe factory-sealed Batman 1989 series 1 set that also included 11 bonus storyboard cards. As far as I can tell, these boxes weren't numbered so I really don't know how many were produced. Since these factory sealed sets were exclusive to Topps and never made it to Canada, I don't really know much about them or if the 11 bonus cards formed an additional 10-card puzzle. Here's a few pics of the sealed box if you're curious:

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The factory set also included an insert advertising a second series of Batman 1989 trading card set that were also available as a factory-sealed set: 
image source: mine

Much like Topps, O-Pee-Chee released a second series of Batman 89 trading cards that added another 154 cards to the set and picked up the numbering where series one left off (consisting of cards #155 - 308). I had way more luck collecting the second series since a lot of my friends got 'burned out' after the first series and moved on to collecting something else.

If you want to know more about Topps, you can read our informal history of Topps non-sports trading cards from the mid seventies to the early nineties article I write years and years ago. 

Hope you enjoyed the article. If you have any comments/anecdotes you want to share, feel free to chime in below.


Thursday, March 9, 2023

Superman and Batman in Golden Look-Look Books

Hey children of the eighties, let's take a trip down memory lane and revisit those softcover Golden Look-Look Books that were so influential to us during our formative years:  

Superman vs the helicopter backpack bandits. Mine came with a free sticker

Golden Look-Look Books were an integral component of the Child of the 80s Grade School Experience™, along with a lunchbox and matching thermos set of your favorite cartoon characters and running shoes with velcro straps. Marketed as early learning educational material, Look-Look Books featured a vast array of then-popular characters from licensed properties and were often found in the children's section in libraries and department stores.

Since I'm dredging up memories from thirty-something years ago, I'll set the scene for you: you're in primary school and, after a long morning of managing two dozen unruly grade schoolers, your teacher decides to assign the class some 'quiet time' so she can nurse her headache under the guise of encouraging early childhood development. This usually involved siccing you and your classmates on the school library so the librarian can deal with you guys for an hour or so. Since most of us were still learning to read and most of the books were above our reading skill, we all made a mad dash for the most interesting books with lots of pictures of our favorite characters to look at -- this is where Golden Look-Look Books came in.

pile of Golden Look-Look Books.
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Golden Look-Look Books were a line of inexpensive 21cm x 21cm softcover books published by Golden Books, and not to be confused with Little Golden Books (also published by Golden Books) which were roughly the same size but hardcovered. You may also remember Golden Super Adventure Books, Golden Book n' Tapes (children's books that came with an audio cassette) or the large-sized hardcover Golden Book movie storybooks that provided child-friendly summaries of then-popular films. When you think about it, Golden Books, an imprint of Western Publishing, appeared to have cornered the market on children's edutainment since they also published activity books, coloring books, and puzzles. As 80s kids, we were inundated with Western Publishing products and just didn't realize it at the time.

Since Western Publishing had licenses to characters from Walt Disney, Warner Bros, MGM and Universal Studios (among many others), Golden Look-Look Books had a wide assortment of popular characters from cartoons and movies to choose from when deciding who to feature in their books (such as My Pet Monster, Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda, Bugs Bunny, Sesame Street, Pac-Man, Garfield, Barbie, G.I. Joe, Winnie the Pooh, Snoopy and friends, Peter Pan, The Rocketeer...and a few more I'm sure I'm forgetting). 

Even Nintendo had a few characters featured in Look-Look Books.
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Kids of the 80s were extra lucky because we were oversaturated with Saturday morning cartoons and action figure toylines who had no qualms with licensing themselves out to a publishing company who then marketed to us via "educational material" targeted towards youth. It was essentially advertising disguised as education. Did reading adventures about the Masters of the Universe remind me of MOTU toys and increase their value in my eyes? Hell yeah! Marketers, take note: this is how you create life-long brand loyalists.

Okay, enough history, on to today's feature presentation. As much I'd love to showcase ALL of these books, I'll have to stick to the ones with DC characters since we're a DC comics fansite. Let's start with The Adventures of Superman (Golden Look-Look Book edition):

This book used to belong to Jamie. Well, now we know who put the sticker on the cover.

While I'm not familiar with Patricia Relf or David Hunt, Kurt Schaffenberger started illustrating for Fawcett Publications back in the late 1940s and had wound up working for DC comics on the Superman titles from the late 1950s and onwards as penciller and/or inker. He had a notable run on New Adventures of Superboy as penciller from 1979 to 1984 (which is probably what he was doing when he got this gig -- the book was copyrighted in 1982). Unsurprisingly, a lot of comic book writers and artists (that only the hardcore comic book fans might be familiar with) often contributed to these books.

Superman's escape from Krypton pretty much sticks to the comic interpretation. Superman was a pretty big deal at this time (thanks to the success of the 1978 Superman film), and I'm relieved to see that they went with the colorful Silver Age costumes for Superman's parents rather than the dystopian movie versions. 

The page layouts of this particular book were very "comic book"-ish, and by that I mean the colors were vibrant and the story followed sequential steps and were separated by borders. It was probably stipulated from Golden Books that a brief origin story was included in this book so that kids could realize Superman's was from another planet and don't try these stunts at home.

Ma Kent knits tiny Clark Kent a pint-sized Superboy costume. Pa Kent gives lil' Clark about "doing the right thing". This is like a mini morality play. 

Flash forward twenty-odd years, and it's a grown-up Clark working with (his friend) Lois Lane. We're finally introduced to the villain(s) and see a bit of action.

While I didn't question these things as an eight year-old, now I wonder -- of all the villains they could've used -- why go with complete unknowns like "propeller backpack"-wearing henchmen? They could've literally used anyone else (i.e. Intergang, Lex Luthor thugs, etc...). Maybe they're from a Superman comic or cartoon I'm completely blanking on? Either way, not really a big deal -- it still works for the story.

...and now we're at the denouement: Superman discovers the culprit behind all this and brings him to justice. Prior to learning Schaffenberger used to draw Captain Marvel Jr comics for Fawcett I was going to comment that the Evil Mastermind was a dead-ringer for Captain Marvel arch-enemy Dr. Sivana (albeit with a bad toupĂ©e), but I think this kind of explains itself now.

The story ends with Clark giving a knowing wink to the reader that they're both in on the secret of who Superman actually is and that Lois is completely clueless. Hey, it's kind of like Superman is building a rapport with the reader. All in all, this was a pretty harmless book and a quick read with nothing too complex or offensive. Well done, Ms Relf.

Golden Look-Look Books would be absent of DC characters until the second wave of Batmania hit North America as precipitated by the 1989 Batman film.

A 'Special Edition' Golden Look-Look Book featuring Batman and the Joker was released in 1990:

image source:

I don't own this one so I don't have much to tell you about it.  I do know that it was written by Jack C. Harris and illustrated by Al Bigley, Mike DeCarlo and Tad Zar Chow (penciller/inker/colorist, I'm guessing). Note that they went for the classic Super Powers designs of Batman and Joker as opposed to the Keaton Batman and Nicholson Joker designs.

Even the Super Powers Batmobile was adapted into this book. Image source:


Another 'Special Edition' Batman book was released in 1991, 'The Purrfect Crime' featuring Catwoman:

Andrew Helfer wrote this one, but the Bigley, DeCarlo & Chow artistic team remained the same. Let's just cruise through this one real quick:

The only thing I'm noticing here is that Catwoman's costume is looking very much like the one she wore in Mindy Newell's 1989 Catwoman mini-series -- which pre-dated Selina's Batman Returns black leather catwoman suit by at least 2 years -- and remained her main costume throughout Knightfall. [After which she switched back to a purple costume.]

Hey look, it's the "Cat-van"!

It took a tracer to find Catwoman's secret location? Why didn't he just get Robin, Huntress and Nightwing to drive around town until they spotted a van with cat ears parked on the street?

As you've undoubtedly noticed by this point, these 'Special Edition' Golden Look-Look Books are laid out less like comic books and more like illustrated stories. 

As the reader learns more about the motive for Catwoman's thefts they are left with an ethical dilemma: is it right to commit crime even if it's for the greater good? In this case, liberating felines from cruel conditions and neglectful owners. This is pretty heavy stuff for a kid; I think the Animal Liberation Front gives these books out for free as recruitment propaganda.

I would also like to give credit to the writer for not adding any romantic tension between Batman and Catwoman. Which would've came off as awkward.    

Thankfully, extremely rich Bruce Wayne is able to find a solution that makes everyone happy -- proving once again that money can fix everything.

Another Golden Look-Look Book featuring Batman was released in 1992, but this one just took several scenes from Batman Returns featuring The Penguin and the Red Triangle Circus gang and condensed it into a 24-page children's book:

There was a different creative team on this one: Michael Teitelbaum wrote it, and Rick Hoberg and Tad Chow illustrated it. Hoberg pencilled a lot of stuff for DC comics, and was probably best known for being the regular penciller on Mike Grell's Green Arrow in the early 90s.

Since this book featured the Red Triangle Circus gang, I would've been all over this. I do remember flipping through this book as a youth but for the life of me can't remember how it ends.

Since it incorporated aspects of the plot where the Ice Princess is kidnapped and falls to her death in a trap baited for Batman, I'm kind of wondering how/if they watered this down for a juvenile audience.

There were a few more Golden Look-Look Books set in the Batman The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited universe, but these were all released after 1995. Oh yeah, the Batman & Robin film got it's own Golden Look-Look Book, too. This has been a pretty exhausting article to research and write about, and I'm running out of things to say..., I'm going to leave on a high note and link to another blog's review of a Golden Super Adventure Go-bots book. Hope you enjoyed this article on Golden Look-Look Books and it brought back some fond memories of your youth.