Wednesday, July 9, 2014


ABC wasn’t the only network to bring a campy, action-adventure-comedy superhero series to the airwaves in the mid-1960s – although they obviously brought the most high-profile example to air with BATMAN. NBC and CBS also tried their hands with competing series. The latter network brought the almost criminally unfunny Mister Terrific to airwaves, a plodding mess which made a waste of Dick Gautier and all it had going for it - almost exclusively- was the voice of Paul Frees in the rhyming introduction.

By contrast, NBC had Captain Nice, a half-hour sitcom format show borrowing heavily from Get Smart – which made sense because it shared a similar pedigree, with Buck Henry at the helm. The show starred William Daniels as a bright police chemist and unremitting mama’s boy named Carter Nash who invented a super-serum which gave him tremendous super-powers. Decked out in a costume sewn up by his mother, he takes to the skies of crime-ridden Big Town as the surprisingly competent hero of the show.

Dripping with promise, the industry ad for
the show was a Jack Kirby illustration which ...
well, it doesn't really capture the show, I guess.
The program itself isn’t on DVD or streaming services, and apparently only had a series of re-runs many moons ago on the old HA! cable network – which is a shame, because I found it terrific. Besides Henry  at the helm, some of the Get Smart writing team was brought over, the terrific and underrated Alice Ghostley appeared in a recurring role as Mother Nash, and even Liam Dunn (you might  remember him as the preacher in Blazing Saddles. “Son? You’re on your own…”) is in it, not to mention the lovely Ann Prentiss WHOM I LATER LEARNED died in prison for trying to arrange a hit on her brother-in-law, Richard Benjamin. How did I miss that? Richard Benjamin was once the target of an assassination plot. I feel like they should’ve mentioned that in my civics classes.

Of course, the show starred William Daniels, whom you’ll know as (depending on what decade you were born in) Dr.Craig on St.Elsewhere, the voice of KITT, or Mister Feeny. Or, I guess, Captain Nice. Or John Adams. I dunno folks, he’s been around.

You can find the episodes on YouTube if you’re willing to try, and you should because they’re pretty solid with a lot of potential (keep an eye out for Bob Newhart playing a philosophical Hugh Hefner-type in one episode), and some genuinely good gags abounding. Less than that, however, can be said of the sole issue of Captain Nice in comics.

Who exactly is responsible for the single issue from Gold Key (numbered, in that exciting way that all the Gold Key licensed comics was, “issue #10211-711” or, to put it more simply, “No.1”) is up in the air. The art is very likely the product of Joe Certa, the artist who co-crated the Martian Manhunter with Joe Samachson and who frequently provided art duties on assorted Gold Key titles. The writer – he’s a mystery. Let’s say it was possibly Neil Gaiman, just for the sake of having someone to blame.

"Luring people into this alley!"
I’m personally pretty delighted to have gotten my hands on a copy of this comic, as goofy as it may be, simply because I’ve turned out to enjoy the show so much -- but the comic is a disappointment. The three stories in this issue manage to miss the target on the characterizations within the series. Mrs.Nash is depicted as hyper-critical and disapproving, Captain Nice is portrayed as bumbling, and most of the other characters aren’t portrayed at all.

But hey, it’s a mid-60s licensed Gold Key comic, I’m lucky I found the right interior behind the cover. Coulda be The Little Stooges if I hadn’t played my cards right.

Unlike the TV show which rarely featured super-villains and tended to stick to thugs and crooks -- like the old Adventures of Superman show and, really, most superhero TV shows  before Smallville or thereabouts – the comics gives Captain Nice a couple of super-crooks (unpowered, though they may be).The first is The Rooster, a brazen red-headed crook who’s suffering the compulsion to crow about his crimes as the sun rises. The second is a fur-thieving femme – who manages to escape the Captain’s clutches – named Slymme Fatale. In between the two, the main enemy is water, so thrills abound.

I feel like I’m admitting a genuine personal failing in that there isn’t even enough material in this book for me to really mock – I mean, I’m struggling to make a dick joke, and I’m inclined to blame the source material but what kind of craftsman blames his tools, right? A craftsman who’s got a licensed Gold Key comic to work with, is who.

Listen, I feel bad, lemme link you to that Bob Newhart appearance so you got something to laugh at. It’s got Joanne Worley in it, it’s a real Sixties bonanza.

He looks stunned because that explosion was his ratings hitting rock bottom.


James W. Fry 3.0 said...

I never saw this comic,but I was a big fan of the TV series. And honest-to-God, it's the ONLY goddamn time I ever remember William daniels playing a character who DIDN'T come off as some kind of annoying prick---yeah, even Mr. Feeney. Your experience with CAPTAIN NICe --the comic--- was probably a pretty common one. My experience was that most comics based on TV series, regardless of the genre, were produced by folks with little or no exposure to the source material. All manner of details, personalities and settings were completely out of step with what regular viewers of the television series may have been familiar with. In the early seventies, Len Wein wrote an article for The Monster Times (remember them?) about what a clusterfuck Gold Key's STAR TREK comic was when he took over as writer. The writer he replaced obviously had never seen (or just plain couldn't remember) the show (e.g. "lasers" were the weapon of choice). The artist, Alberto Giolitti, lived in Italy, where the show had not yet been broadcast at all, and had apparently only been given photos of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the Enterprise. The result? LOTS of characters drawn with their back turned to the reader. With no reference on Mr. Scott to work from,Giolitti drew him differently in Every Issue, with NONE of the different versions bearing even a casual resemblance to James Doohan. And then there were the trails of rocket exhaust given off by the Enterprise;s warp nacelles... Wein takes credit for correcting all this by providing the otherwise-talented Giolitti with shitloads of reference, but nothing like this ever happened with any other TV comics I remember.

James W. Fry 3.0 said...

Also, your mention of Richard Benjamin (I never knew that stuff either---FREAKY!!!) made me think of HE & SHE. If you've never seen it,there are episodes on YouTube. The series, trying VERY hard to mimic the magic of the Dick Van Dyke Show, was a sitcom about newlyweds played by real-life married couple Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin. Benjamin's character was a cartoonist, the creator of popular superhero "JetMan". Jack Cassidy stole the freaking show as vain, none-too-bright "Oscar North" >ahem<, the actor who played JetMan on television. Given the talent on the screen and behind the camera (the writing staff were all alumni of the Jay Ward studio) the show underperformed somewhat. But despite that and being dated as hell, it's still worth a look.Your mileage may vary.

Calamity Jon said...

Oh my stars and garters, you have no idea how much I love Jack Cassidy. I was just in a conversation earlier tonight about the best recurring murderer on Columbo: Cassidy, Culp or MacGoohan. There's no wrong answer, but it's always Cassidy for me, his smug air of menace gave him the gravity of a malicious fairy tale creature.

Inre: licensed TV comics, I think something similar must have prevailed in the conditions under which the British Star Trek weekly comic was produced (I think in TV21, but definitely an older British weekly)- I suspect the details of the show were transmitted via telephone, because either the editor, the writer, the letterer or some combination of the three were under the apprehension that the Enterprise was under the command of "Captain Kurt."

Michael Young said...

I was a huge fan of this show when I was a kid. My mom even made me a Captain Nice costume for Halloween. I only wish I had a picture of me wearing it.

On a side note. I love your blog. I just discovered it due to an archive episode of "This American Life". Keep up the great work.

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