Hey, you 21st century kids may have your Playstations and iPods...but back when I was a kid, we had Plastigoop!
Possibly created in some dark sub-basement of DuPont Chemical Co. or the Pentagon, Plastigoop was a multi-colored compound included in Mattel's Thingmaker kits, which kids could heat-set into several different shapes using various metal molds. Yes, heat-set...as in, "giving kids stuff to play with that could burn their skin".
The Thingmaker kit I vividly remember is the Creepy Crawlers set, which featured molds of all kinds of cool bugs, lizards, and assorted slimy critters. However...I wish I'd seen the other Thingmaker kit that was advertised on the back covers of July, 1967 DC Comics...The Fright Factory!
(click on the ad for a larger view)
Unlike neon-colored bugs and worms, Fright Factory creations could be worn on your face and eyes (perhaps imparting super-powers due to their mild radioactivity)...but beyond that, how about that AD? Imagine the horrified moms across the nation when they spotted that insane image while Junior read his comic book? Worse yet, how many kids actually followed the ad's suggestion and cut out the eye-hole? I'm sure just the thought of that would terrify those comic book collectors who "slab" their comics in hermetically-sealed plastic cases.
Though I wasn't able to find a retro commerical for the Fright Factory, I did find one for the good ol' Creepy Crawlers kit...complete with a mini-demo of the process. Enjoy!
Remember that ad for the Revell sweepstakes I ran last week? You know, the one that promised a full-size replica of a Gemini spacecraft as its grand prize? Yeah, that one. I was dying to find out more about this insanely cool prize and, at Ian's suggestion, decided to go right to the source and contact the Revell PR department.
Shortly after I sent off my note, several readers posted interesting clues that seemed to answer at least where the mysterious Gemini prize ended up. From "grayman" came a link to some chatter on a space modelers message board, which included this comment from a teacher named Bob:
"That Mockup was won by a youth in Portland Oregon and was donated to OMSI where it has been a valuble tool for teaching. I know as I have simulated missions many times with my students."
Ahhh...a location! "OMSI" is the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry located in Portland, and it's definitely the home of a Gemini spacecraft according to a profile on the Waymarking, a website featuring cool stuff from around the world (thanks for the link, Pat). So...it appears that this, indeed, is the spacecraft we've been looking for:
Click here for more views of OMSI's Gemini exhibit...but that still leaves us with the question of who won the spacecraft. Unfortunately, I still haven't found out...but today I did get an interesting letter from Ms. Joyce Collier of the Revell company's sales department, who was gracious enough to do some digging. Here's what she had to say:
I spoke to a man by the name of Howard Reider. Howard was the man who brought this idea to life. In 1967, he was the PR & Marketing Manager for Revell. He was very sorry, but had zero information on who won the prize. His best suggestion would be to look in local papers in Oregon or possibly Boys Life Magazine archives as the prize was donated by a winner to a local museum. Possibly, the museum in Oregon has a file on this and the boy that won.
To confirm for all, this was not a model. This was an actual replica that was produced by McDonald Douglas. The capsule had to be shipped via railroad direct to the museum. The prize was awarded via a sweepstakes type entry, in order to win; the winner had to agree that they would donate to a local museum for two reasons, (1) So that others may enjoy and (2) Because it had to be shipped via railroad direct to the donation site.
A little more trivia for you, the cost of building this kit was $5,000. In 1967 $5,000 was unheard for any type of prize. Plus the additional model kits that the kid won. At least the kid got to keep all the model kits as he watched his beloved capsule given away. There were numerous glitches along the way in production. At the last minute McDonald Douglas said they would not provide the capsule. However, after seeing all the press etc, they some how found a way to complete the project and deliver to the museum.
I would be interested in hearing any further information on this if the museum has the name of the winner etc.
I realize this does not answer your number one question of WHO the big winner is, hopefully, you will find some of this info helpful.
Also, it made Howard's day when I called him and asked about this. He said in all the years after this contest, not one person ever called him about it again. He was astounded that now 40+ years later that people are interested.
Please keep me advised if you are able to find the winner etc."
Joyce Collier Revell Sales
Thanks, Joyce! I really appreciate the time and effort you spent looking into "The Gemini Spacecraft Mystery", as well as Howard Reider's helpful spirit. Wow...what a promotion, especially in light of how special it really was. Hats off to you, Mr. Reider!
Based on Joyce's information, it sounds like the capsule wasn't delivered on a Flying Guppy aircraft afterall (as it said in the original ad)...and can you believe McDonald Douglas deciding not to send the capsule at the last minute? Wow...I'm betting that caused Mr. Reider a bit of heartburn.
So, there you go. The latest update in the Gemini Spacecraft Mystery...but hopefully not the last. I will take Mr. Reider's suggestion, contact OMSI and (hopefully) get the winner's name!
From the moment of his 1938 debut in Action Comics #1, Superman's powers were constantly shifting and evolving. In fact, it would be twenty years before his vast array of powers would settle into the standard set we're familiar with today. However, over those intervening years, exotic new powers would suddenly appear and disappear at random. In rare cases (like X-Ray vision) these weird new abilities would stick...but in many more cases, the new powers would appear once or twice and then vanish forever.
Over the next few weeks, I'll be digging up some of these forgotten superpowers and presenting them here, usually (but not always) with accompanying visuals. To kick off the first installment of Superpowers That Time Forgot I've got not one but two obscure superpowers that appeared in Superman #45 (1947). In "The Case of the Living Trophies", Superman was captured by an inter-dimensional alien (whom Superman classified as "the most powerful enemy I've ever tackled") and placed into a collection of living beings. Paralyzed by a numbing gas, Superman launched an escape plan by using...telepathic will control?!!
(click on the panels for a larger view)
With the alien distracted, Superman tipped over and shattered his trophy case. Then, only a few panels later, exhibited yet another shocking new superpower...
Now, Superman had occasionally twisted his facial features into clever disguises before (as early as Superman #26, 1944), but he'd never "morphed" into an entirely different and much larger body type...Plastic Man style!
After turning the tables on his alien captor, Superman freed his fellow captives and returned to Earth...without even a peep of explanation for the bizarre new abilities! As you might have guessed, this was the one and only story featuring Superman's telepathic mind control and shape shifting powers...though, rest assured, there were plenty more Superpowers That Time Forgot. Stay tuned!
"Scarecrow! Scarecrow! The soldiers of the King feared his name. Scarecrow! On the southern coast of England, there's a legend people tell, Of days long ago when the great Scarecrow would ride from the jaws of Hell And laugh (Ahhh! Ha-ha! Ha-ha! Haaa!) with a fiendish yell!"
"With his clothes all torn and tattered, Through the black of night he'd ride, From the marsh to the coast like a demon ghost He'd show his face then hide (He'd rob the rich then hide) And he'd laugh (Ahhh! Ha-ha! Ha-ha! Haaa!) till he split his side! Scarecrow! (Scarecrow!) Scarecrow! (Scarecrow!)"
excerpts from The Scarecrow Song, by Gerard Shermann and Terry Gilkyson
As a kid, I was a big fan of The Wonderful World of Disney, broadcast Sunday evenings on NBC. My favorite shows were, of course, the animated shorts of Donald Duck and Goofy (not so much Mickey)...but I also have fond memories of Disney's lavish live action movies. One of them, above all, fascinated me from the first (and only) time I saw it in an early 1970's rebroadcast.
As a budding comic book fan at the time, you can imagine how big of an impact Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh had upon me. One part Zorro, another part Robin Hood, Dr. Christopher Syn was a mild-mannered priest in 18th century England living a secret life as The Scarecrow, a fearsome rebel leader who fought the King's forces and helped the poor. However, unlike Zorro and Robin Hood, the Scarecrow was a much more intense, visually frightening character...obviously a sight that made a lasting impression.
As the years went by, I always hoped I'd be able to see it again...but after a supposed video release in the 1980's (which I never managed to find), Disney...for whatever odd reason...chose not to release it to video or DVD...until late in 2008. Alerted by a coworker who also pined to see Dr. Syn again, I jotted the DVD set onto my Christmas list and...sure enough...finally added Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh to my collection! Part of Disney's tin-boxed "Treasures" series, the nifty limited edition set includes two discs, one with the original 3-part TV presentation, the other the theatrical version, along with the usual extras, a certificate of authenticity, and a publicity photo of Dr. Syn.
Unfortunately, due to the hurly burly of the holidays, I wasn't able to actually sit down and watch the DVD until just last weekend. Naturally, I chose the TV edition since those old introductions by "Uncle Walt" are pure "nostalgia crack" for me, immediately beaming me back to those long ago Sunday evenings. I was surprised to learn from one of Disney's genial chats that the Dr. Syn books (by Russell Thorndike) were supposedly based on actual historical accounts...though I haven't come across anything backing that claim up. Regardless of its historic roots (or not), the movie was every bit as good as I remembered it, which is somewhat rare for long-buried relics of childhood (since they don't often age well).
Strangely, and sadly, only days after (finally) watching the movie again, I heard the news that its star Patrick McGoohan passed away (Jan. 15). Bringing a wry stoicism to the priest and a manic flair to his alias the Scarecrow, McGoohan's performance was not only the highlight of show, but (as I've learned) one of the actor's favorite roles as well. And speaking of his many distinguished roles, I can't believe I've gone this long without ever checking out The Prisoner, the groundbreaking 1960's television series starring (and produced by) McGoohan. I plan on rectifying that oversight very soon (via Netflix).
Now, I was planning on providing a link for interested readers to scoop up their own copy of this wonderful DVD set, but it appears as if Disney (once again!) cluelessly underestimated the appeal of Dr. Syn...because the Limited Edition is already sold out!Ahhh! Ha-ha! Ha-ha! Haaa!
Looks like you'll all be joining me in those Netflix queue lines, huh?
The past seven decades have not only seen Superman's powers dramatically increase, but also branch off into some rather startling, bizarre directions. In part one, we witnessed Superman projecting a beam of telepathic will control and, a few panels later, morphing into a completely different body shape! Obviously, those exotic new abilities never stuck...but there are plenty more weird new powers to catalog!
One of the weirdest appeared back in Superman #22 (1943). While in the process of rounding up the criminal gang of "Beetlebrow" Macklin, Superman employed some combination of his superpowers to broadcast his voice into police radios across Metropolis!
Now, long-time Superman fans might view this oddball power as a precursor to the equally silly super-ventriloquism power he used through much of the 50's and 60's. However, unlike that more direct, one-to-one form of long-distance communication, the super radio voice appeared to mass-communicate directly through radio waves. Or, more amazing yet, through a specific police radio frequency!
Some have postulated that all of these voice-projecting abilities could actually be psionic or mental in nature...unknown to even Superman himself. In other words, what Superman believes to be a long distance projection of his physical voice might actually be a mental projection of his thoughts to "listeners" he pictures in his mind...in this case the Metropolis police force.
That's the theory, anyway...one I don't really subscribe to. In fact, the psionic angle becomes kind of a Pandora's Box that leads to more "explanations" for Superman's scientifically impossible feats (such as flying, lifting buildings or ships without destroying them, etc), which tends to leach all of the fun and fancy out of the character.
Which may be the reason these strange "outlier" powers never really took root. While convenient to the plot, powers like super radio voice seemed to cross a subtle line that caused fans and even the creators themselves to think "Oh, come ON!". I mean, "powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men" is one thing...but a super radio voice?
As standards evolved (eroded?) during the 1960's, not everyone was thrilled. Take Kristy Lindgren of Goose Bay, Labrador (Canada) for example. In a letter printed in Flash #189 (1969), Kristy reacts to the cover of Flash #185 published just a few months earlier...more specifically a sign held by one of the rampaging hippies.
First, the cover in question:
Next, Ms. Lindgren's objection:
Following her reasonable request for an explanation...she got one from editor Julius Schwartz. An incredibly lame explanation...but an explanation nonetheless.
It's true, Mayor John Lindsaydid endorse the controversial "Give a damn" anti-poverty campaign of the late 1960's...but really, points for originality Julie....but I don't think I'm buying it.
"Phenomenal cosmic powers!Itty-bitty living space."
– The Genie from Disney's Aladdin
One of my favorite aspects of fantasy fiction has always been theobject of power. Appearing across several centuries and genres (including superhero comics), fictional characters have long fought for, coveted, saved the day with, or quested after various magical or super-scientific artifacts...the "Deux Ex Machinery" of fiction, if you will.
If you share my affinity for these mega-powerful McGuffins (especially those from superhero comic books), let's see how many of them you can identify in the 10-question quiz below. Begin by clicking on the "Start Quiz" button below...and forget about that "your name" box. You don't need to enter your name in order to take the quiz. Have fun!
As you've seen in partsone and two, Superman has exhibited some odd new powers over the years. Some came completely out of left field, only to quickly disappear, while others were bizarre new applications of existing powers that confounded and perplexed. A perfect example of the latter category took place in Action Comics #269 (1960) as Superman (for the 5,763rd time) had to prevent Lois Lane from discovering his secret identity. Revealed to be Clark Kent by his reflection in a magical "truth mirror", Superman jumped into damage control mode by inscribing a disclaimer on the back of the ancient mirror with his fingernail.
But why would Lois believe the freshly-carved phrase was written centuries ago?
Answer: Super Antiquing-Breath!
One of the silliest of Superman's standard set of abilities, super-breath was usually employed for great, concussive blasts of air or to flash-freeze objects...but exactly how would a concentrated blast of air chemically age wood to look "centuries old"? Actually, from the picture above, it looks more like he's treating the wood with a super-acidic loogie than a blast of air. Yick!
Needless to say, Super-Antiquing Breath was never used by Superman again...unless you count his brief association with The Pottery Barn.
It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of DC's Kingdom Come
(1996). Set in a near-future version of the DC Universe, this four-issue opus by creators Alex Ross and Mark Waid was equal parts a cinematic spectacle and a surprisingly philosophical meditation on the responsibilities and dangers of power.
Although it ostensibly focused on the conflict between older, traditional heroes and a reckless, amoral generation of young vigilanties, I see much more to the tale...especially as I grow older. Whether or not it was intended by Ross and Waid, and despite its superhero trappings, Kingdom Come reflects the larger philosophical conflicts and clashes I see and experience in the world around me. For example, amidst yet another great political shift, Kingdom Come's warnings against the hubris of power and corrupted utopian visions is as timely as ever.
Of course, being the Superman fan that I am, Kingdom Come's older version of Superman is not only my favorite character in the story, but a point of personal identification as well. No, I've never faced the temptation to level the United Nations with my super-strength (I don't have super-strength), but as an unapologetically conservative guy, I sometimes feel as anachronistic and estranged from the society around me as this morality play's conflicted central character.
This "stranger in a strange land" theme was driven home yet again in a recent (and pleasantly surprising) guest appearance of the Kingdom Come Superman in the pages of Justice Society of America. Cleverly set between Kingdom Come #3 and #4, the older Superman was drawn through a dimensional rift into an extended adventure with the JSA.
Which brings us (at last) to my Highlight Reel clip. In the final chapter of Thy Kingdom Come
(JSA #22), Superman was returned to his native dimension after defeating the messianic threat of Magog. After re-presenting a few of Kingdom Come's closing scenes (this time from different camera angles), the once-tragic tale of the Kingdom Come Superman and his world draws to a triumphant, transcendent end...as gloriously illustrated by Kingdom Come co-creator Alex Ross!
Note: Those of you who aren't familiar with Kingdom Come or DC Comics in general, I'll post some comments you might find helpful below each pair of pages (click on the pages for larger views).
Page 1: Superman has just finished burying the bodies of the superheroes destroyed by an atomic bomb. Wonder Woman's gift is, essentially, the restoration of Superman's Clark Kent personna...which he had abandoned during his self-imposed exile from human society (where we found him in Kingdom Come #1). For fellow fans of the story...compare this page to its corresponding scene in Kingdom Come #4. Ross' shift in camera angles is pretty cool.
Page 2:10 years later, Clark and Diana are obviously "married with children", visited by a doting Bruce Wayne (in a full-body exoskeleton from his long Batman career). 20 years later, we witness the funeral of Batman, attended by a virtual who's-who of Kingdom Come cast members...including a grief-stricken Selina (Catwoman) Kyle in the foreground.
Page 3: 100 years later, an enigmatic glimpse of Earth's future as humanity (accompanied by what appear to be members of Clark and Diana's family) takes to the stars while the proud "First Couple" looks on. Note the sunburst shirt Clark is wearing matches the one worn by his father Jor-El in Silver Age Superman comics (left). 200 years later, a planet-wide disaster is grieved by Clark, Diana and (presumably) a small band of their family members. 500 years later, Superman leads the rebuilding of human society, using his powers and Kansas farmer know-how to bring life to dead soil. Sharp-eyed Superman fans will note how his flying pose echoes the famous cover pose of Superman #1 (1939).
Page 4: 1000 years later, as a humble old man makes his way through a futuristic utopia (note the glimpse of criss-crossing blue laces around his feet), the Legion of Superheroes soars overhead. Briefly glimpsed in a single panel of Kingdom Come, the appearance of the super-teens (including a Superboy and a Supergirl) bring the saga full circle, to the obvious joy of an aged Superman (still sporting his Clark Kent spectacles).
Having a comic book collection that spans over half a century, I'm continually fascinated by comic book ads and the insight they offer into their native eras. My favorites were the eclectic, low-budget ads published prior to the 1980's, before slick campaigns for video games and junk food crowded out all of the fly-by-night hucksters, musclemen, and pranksters.
In that pre-1980's era, you never knew what you'd see advertised in those crazy-quilt grids of low-tech capitalism. In fact, taken together, it's astounding to realize just how much bizarre and flat-out dangerous stuff was readily available to the average kid of the 1950's, 60's, and 70's. Sure, there were the karate ads promising forbidden knowledge of secret pressure points...ads for fireworks, live monkies, model rockets, and sweepstakes with knives, whips, and axes for prizes. But they were nothing compared to the deadly loot available from the US Army Surplus ads!
When the US military no longer needed various types of equipment, it would sell the surplus items at public auction, usually to entrepreneurs who'd then sell the goods to the general public through surplus stores or ads like this one. Appearing in late 1966 issues of Marvel comics, this half-page ad is tough to decipher at first glance due to its tiny type and cluttered layout. So, instead of straining your eyes to read those itty-bitty blocks of copy, let me blow a few of them up...because they've got to be seen to be believed. Keep in mind, these ads were aimed squarely at children and teenagers. Look this stuff...and imagine you're a kid in 1966 with a few bucks to spend. What would YOU buy?
Machettes? Hand & Leg Irons? CANNONS?
Now, alot of this stuff was well beyond what one kid could afford in 1966, but you'd be surprised how much money enterprising Baby Boomers could scrape together in no time flat! How many neighborhoods do you think pooled their resources together for their very own jeep, boat, airplane, or passenger bus?
Army weapons and vehicles not your style? Well, in another ad from the same comic book, the smart kids could spend $6.95 for their very own Atomic Energy Lab!
Truly an age of WONDERS(and cheap, readily-available cannons)!