Thursday, January 4, 2018


The Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band of comic book characters you've never heard of before...
In the grand parade of comic book oddities, it's always unusual to me that Wham-O's enormously oversized introduction to the medium is so frequently omitted from the discussion. The most I've ever really heard about the book, prior to buying myself a copy, was that it (A) contained Wally Wood stories and (B) is large.

The largeness seems to have been the book's demise. What it appears happened -- according to my amateur detective skills, I would love to hear corrections -- is that Wham-O opted to release the book through a traditional periodicals distribution network. At a whopping 14x21 inches, the bigger-than-tabloid book  weighed in at fifty-two pages and was ... was just a fucking burden. Besides finding a place to display something like this, can you imagine a newsstand operator having to successfully refold it after some idly-curious kid pulled it apart, manhandling it while trying to manage the unwieldy thing.

If Wham-O had decided to distribute the book as a toy, to toy stores and department stores, and build a display within the toy departments where Wham-O toys were already available, it might have developed a following. Unfortunately, this weird project tanks at one issue.

Besides the scale and short life of the book, the absence of any Wham-O-like properties in the comics seems unusual, although this was obviously approached as a publishing venture rather than an advertising one. You'd think someone in there would have been fighting crime with a superball ...

What's remarkable to me about WGC isn't the size so much as it is the format. This is the closest I've seen an American comic come to the British boys' adventure anthologies for which I have so much fondness. While superheroes were the order of the day in 1967, WGC also includes science fiction, historical fiction, comedy, (light) horror and  so on. Considering the quality of the contents, it genuinely strikes me as one of the most unique American comics of the medium's history. It deserves a better look, anyway.

The stories which ran in WGC don't resurface elsewhere, making most of the book a playground for the truly gone and forgotten. I honestly think they should be better-known and better-elevated so, for the next few weeks, your Thursdays will be spent at the knees of the greats who brought us the forgotten characters of Wham-O Giant Comics ...

w/a Wally Wood

Wood's powerful Radian opens the book with three busy pages, cramming an origin, a rundown of the hero's powers and weaknesses, the introduction of a major villain and his ultimate undoing, a little sexual tension and a good old-fashioned deathtrap into the space Brian Michael Bendis would have to use to show someone just asking for a price check on a value-pack of toilet wands.

Radian's resemblance to Wood's Dynamo is often commented upon, although the art style employed here is as much MAD Magazine as it is THUNDER Agents. Owing in no small part to the cramped space in the pages of the comic -- boasting "over 1,500 action panels," after all -- Radian's dynamic super-leaps and pulse-pounding punches involve him folding over like a crumpled copy of Wham-O Giant Comics being inexpertly re-assembled by a frustrated newsstand operator.

In the abbreviated adventure, Radian meets his eerie nemesis -- the Steel Skull -- within the first ten panels of the comic. Immediately taking a dislike to the sinister, shiny skeleton, Radian's attempts to battle the gruesome figure come to naught. All he does is waste energy on fighting a hologram and spur Steel Skull to reveal that he knows all about Radian's origin!

Radian was once Gilman Graves, "formerly a low-grade technician at the Pine Ridge atomic power plant." I like how in comics all the atomic facilities have these nice, gated-community style names. "Pine Ridge." "Sun Valley." "Glowing Oaks." "Blast Zone Vista." All the nice places.

When an accidental radiation leak apparently claims the lives of several employees at the plant. Gil is the sole apparent survivor, but it's a real shitshow for Reeves and Smith. Sorry guys, you sound like a 1970s comic revival act, I bet you were nice guys (PS I bet wrong).

"...which shouldn't be hard as long as he's running like that."
Gil is discovered alive, and is placed into the care of Barbra Scott, "The World's Foremost Woman Physicist." Not my words, mind you, I'm just letting you know what the Sixties were like. Barbra insists that she can save Gil, pushing him through  his atomic poisoning, to the other side, which involves powers. In a line which I'm sure the eternally dirty-minded Wood meant as a hella doubled entendre, Barb leans over Gil's supine form and declares "The only chance Gil has is to go all the way ..." Well, all right Gil!

Gil awakes with powers and proceeds to use them to cheerfully wreck things as he discovers the extent of his new abilities. He busts up a hospital bed, knocks out a ceiling, hucks around some immense but important-looking equipment INSIDE A NUCLEAR PLANT WHICH I BET WAS PRETTY IMPORTANT and beats up a safe before Barb comes in like "Hey, can we talk about you punching everything to death?"

Barb also economically informs "the atomic Hercules" of his potential vulnerabilities -- specific wavelengths of radiation and, oddly, hypnosis -- before sending him out to punch a ton of robots before she gets kidnapped.

Naturally, Radian saves the world's foremost woman physicist, which was probably a real blow to the world's secondmost woman physicist at first, although I'm assuming that she eventually came to realize that acclaim earned through mere attrition is without lasting value. In some ways, it seems like the world's secondmost woman physicist is the wiser of the two, you know?

The Steel Skull is revealed as Reese, one of the presumed victims of the Pine Ridge atomic incident, of which I just realized there are probably many many more. "Victims of Pine Ridge" I mean to say. I bet that whole town has cancer. Reese's big plan involved recruiting Radian to his side and forcing Barbra to build "an army of superhuman thugs," which is such a great comic book bad guy plan. "I need a friend and some guys to beat people up for me." What kid reading this wouldn't sympathize?

The End.

For extra Radian-related entertainment value, please enjoy this TV ad from the era, complete with zippy soundtrack clearly intended to evoke the Batman TV show (Everybody was on that thing's coattails back then, weren't they). I'm also fairly sure that this would be the only time Wally Wood comic art had ever been shown on a television commercial ...


Bill the Splut said...

Man, do I remember this! It was the prize possession of a friend and neighbor, and I'd read it every time I'd go over and we were done playing with dinosaurs. I loved the WW1 dogfight comic and that "UFOs of the 1880s" thing, but I really loved that cartoony Wood thing set in medieval days--"Odds Bumpkin" or something? I'd just started reading MAD, and I think that the first names I recognized as "This will be good!" were Mort Drucker and Don Martin, and Wally Wood from just that one story. I started buying those MAD paperbacks around that time, and always liked his MAD-when-it-was-a-comic-book stories.

I look forward to your takes on these! Especially as I don't remember that much about it.

Jonathan Hendry said...

"That's Radian, boys and girls. Not Randian. This isn't some Ditko comic."

Mike Frank said...

I remember when it came out. It was being sold at the local "Toy World" in Alhambra, CA. I then saw it at other toy stores. I never saw it at the usual places comic books were sold in my neighborhood. The reason I didn't buy it was because it was too expensive. Remember at the time comic books were twelve cents.

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