Superman: Special Reports

Favorite Silver Age Stories - Part 1 (of 2)

Author: Sean Hogan (shogan@buckho.com)

Last updated: September 27, 2004



It can be a lot of fun to hunt through the back bins. With that in mind, I'm going to skip through some of my favourite comics. Let's step into the Way Back Machine and look at the DC Universe in the Silver Age of Comics.

I'll start way off the beaten path -- with Superman's most feared ally,

Ambush Bug

Action Comics #560 Although his stories sport a tag saying "created by Keith Giffen", Ambush Bug first appears in a story written by Paul Kupperberg and pencilled by Giffen in the Superman team-up comic DC Comics Presents #52, dated December 1982. Superman's teammates this issue are the New Doom Patrol (basic plot: Negative Woman's powers go berserk and create havoc until Superman catches and contains her).

Amidst chaos, Ambush Bug (in his green longjohns and orange antennae) appears. His gimmick is that, by use of little flying electronic bugs, he is able to transport himself with his trademark "pop" sound effect. In this issue, he decides to establish himself as a bad guy by murdering a District Attorney on live television.

Ambush Bug is far funnier when he decides to become a hero, which he does in DC Comics Presents #59, co-starring the Legion of Substitute Heroes. Giffen does story and breakdowns with additional dialogue by Paul Levitz and finishes by Kurt Schaffenberger. Actually, the art is a real treat here -- the issue is dedicated to Joe Shuster and the art has a great Shuster-looking Superman, while still showing Schaffenberger's distinctive style.

In the story, the Bug tugs on Superman's cape and accidentally gets towed along into the 30th Century. With everyone reliable away, Superman has the Subs put Ambush Bug under house arrest. Great hilarity ensues, mostly at the expense of the poor Subs.

Kupperberg gets another crack at Ambush Bug in Supergirl #16 (cover date February, 1984). The running joke here is that AB doesn't recognize Supergirl and thinks that something strange has happened to Superman's look and memory (in fairness, they did have red kryptonite in those days!). While lacking Giffen's wit, the story is a nice self-contained tale about two of my favorite characters.

Plot and humour gel in the absolutely wonderful DC Comics Presents #81, as Ambush Bug decides to team up with Superman to defeat the villainous Kobra. The Bug finds a pretty red rock which he gives to Superman -- but, of course, the rock is red kryptonite (see! toldja!) and it switches each character into the other's body. Wacky hijinks ensue. If you buy only one Ambush Bug comic -- this is the one to get.

But wait! Don't touch that dial! There's more!

Action Comics #563 1985 is a good year for the Bug as he also gets several 8 page stories in Action Comics (#560, 563, and 565) and a mini-series. The Action issues assemble the team that will continue to haunt Ambush Bug, as Giffen is joined by writer Robert Loren Fleming, inker Bob Oksner, colorist Anthony Tollin, letterer John Costanza, and an unknown editor named Julius Schwartz. These issues set up Ambush Bug (real name: Irwin Schwab) as a private detective and begin the storytelling journey into a Pythonesque world.

Shortly afterwards, our man Schwab gets his own 4 part miniseries, cleverly titled Ambush Bug . The first issue introduces his famous sidekick, Cheeks the Toy Wonder. The first issue also kills Cheeks the Toy Wonder.

Issue #2, in addition to the giant mutant koala bear, introduces Johnni DC, Continuity Cop. This little lady (with her DC Bullet body -- a tribute /rip-off of the Johnny DC ads of the past) is in charge of correcting DC continuity. It is rumoured that she is the real power behind the Crisis on Infinite Earths (actually, that's my rumour, but I like it). I bet Hypertime has her hyperventilating (get it? clever, eh? neh? ah well).

The third issue is a real treat to those who have a fondness for DC's lesser known characters as Ambush Bug checks in with characters 'Crisis-ed' into limbo, like Egg Fu, Wonder Tot, Binky, Super-Turtle, and the Super-Pets, among many others.

After the miniseries, Ambush Bug appeared in various special issues. There was a 6-issue miniseries, "Son of Ambush Bug" (which I haven't read) as well as some one-shot appearances.

Secret Origins #48 reviews a number of possible origins for the Bug: including a Batman-style origin that had me giggling for a week (that issue has several other origins including Rex the Wonder Dog, last seen in Superboy and the Ravers).

The Ambush Bug Stocking Stuffer dated 1986 is a great mess of a story that features a cannibalistic doll and the return of Cheeks the Toy Wonder. It's enuff ta make ya weep wit' joy.

Finally, there's the very strange "Ambush Bug Nothing Special" from 1992 that features, as its main villain, the detached head of Superman editor Julius Schwartz. Honestly. I told you it was very strange. Julie looks good, though: for an evil, immortal head that is.

Post-Crisis, Ambush Bug has appeared in every single comic ever made by DC, although mostly off camera or between panels. His most recent visible appearance was in Chronos One Million (as a bartender in Hong Kong, 11,021 AD). A seriously superhero version of Ambush Bug appeared in the prestige format Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl and Batgirl.

Julius Schwartz' villainous head has not been seen since 1992.

Creators In The Comics

One of the things I liked best about Silver Age stories is that the people involved in making the comics sometimes appeared in the stories -- not just in cameos, but as part of the plot.

Julie Schwartz is mostly responsible for this by introducing parallel Earths. However the interaction between Superman comics and the real world has a long tradition, starting with the first imaginary story in 1942. In the story titled "Superman, Matinee Idol", Clark and Lois go to the theatre to see a movie about Superman. Since the movie includes scenes showing Clark transforming into his alter ego, Clark has to keep diverting Lois' attention from the show (sorry, I don't have the issue # -- it appears at page 150 of the hardcover, Superman From The 30's To The 70's).

With all these parallel Earths around, it was only a matter of time until a story was written about someone from our Earth meeting the DC heroes. Cary Bates did the honours in May 1968's "Flash -- Fact Or Fiction" from The Flash #179 (also reprinted in the collection The Greatest Flash Stories Ever Told).

Flash gets knocked into a new Earth and finds that kids know all about him and his secret identity from their comics. Needing some help to build a Cosmic Treadmill, Barry heads off to find the "one man on Earth who might believe my fantastic story and give me the money I need -- the editor of that Flash comic mag!" With Julie's help, Barry builds his machine and heads back home.

Superman #411 Classic Superman artist Curt Swan draws his own adventures on Earth-1 in Superman Annual #9, from 1983. Falling asleep at the drawing board, he awakens in Metropolis. Heading off to 344 Clinton Street, Apartment 3-D, he introduces himself to Clark Kent. Clark mentions that he has already visited Earth Prime and met Julius Schwartz (not a story I know). As Clark opens his shirt and reveals his Superman costume, Swan says, "I've drawn this scene a million times on a million sleepless nights... but I never thought I'd see it for real!" Great fun.

In 1985, Julius Schwartz turned 70. As a birthday present, the gang at DC snuck around Julie to prepare Superman #411 as a special tribute to him. It's a terrific story that has the Earth-1 Schwartz as a nasty, down and out bum. Perry White sees his old friend on television and enlists Superman to help Schwartz. Mix in a super-villain and a modified version of Julie's history, garnish with in-jokes and finish with Superman taking Earth-1 Schwartz to Earth-Prime in time for the DC Comics surprise birthday party for Julius Schwartz. The story ends with Superman placing a bust of Schwartz in his apartment, next to the bust of fellow editor, Mort Weisinger.

While I'm treading into the present, this is a great time to recommend both Julie's book, Man of Two Worlds: My Life In Science Fiction and Comics (published in 2000) and the DC Comics Presents tribute comics to Julie Schwartz published in 2004 (some of which also featured Julie as part of the story).



Relevant Links:
  • Favorite Silver Age Stories Part 2 (of 2)