Friday, March 23, 2012

Forgotten Comics: Two more from the Gold Key Vault: The Owl and the Modniks

Well, I've decided to pull out a couple more comics from the old collection and favor you all with another rambling diatribe. This time, we've got two more short-lived comics from Gold Key Comics, a company that was also known as Western Publishing and under the imprint of Whitman Comics.

First up is The Owl. Gold Key never really made much headway into the super-hero market, as it was better known for the many licensed properties it handled, which ranged from The Twilight Zone to The Pink Panther. The Owl was a legitimate super-hero; in fact he was a revamped golden-age mystery man. Unfortunately, he was created right at the end of the big camp craze brought on by the Batman TV show.

The Owl was really Nick Terry, a special investigator for the police department. He must have been independently wealthy, as he had a lot of gear and a mountain top Owl Roost to keep up. Besides his Owlmobile, he had hypnotic eyes and a virtual army of robotic owls. His sidekick was Owl Girl, who was really Laura Holt, ace reporter for the Morning Eagle and fiance of Nick Terry. Most super-heroes have trouble keeping their significant others out of danger then they don't know who they are; the Owl brings his love-life with him on his war against crime.

The Owl's first published case has him trying to thwart the robberies of the Birds of Prey Gang.  Each member has a mask and criminal motif of a different kind of bird. For example, the Pelican has a Pelican-plane with a huge gullet for swallowing bank vaults whole. The leader of the organization was the Eagle. The Owl and Owl Girl were mostly battling the Vulture and the Buzzard. It's always amazing to watch these bozos with all this incredibly high tech equipment use it on paltry bank robberies when the patents could probably set them up as kings much more easily.

The second (and final) issue of The Owl had the hero going up against the Terror Twins. The two youthful maniacs were the sons of a gangster and were musically inclined. They had guitars with laser beams in them, motor scooters that could double as helicopters and a mad scientist who could dream up new gizmos for them. The Terror Twins pulled off the incredible, and pointless crime of stealing two of the faces from Mount Rushmore.  The Owl really has relatively little to do in this story, which spends a good deal of panel space focused on the villains and their dysfunctional family.

The one thing that The Owl had going for it was that it was being scripted by Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman. Yes, that Superman. Unfortunately, it didn't have much else in the plus column. Even the Owl's costume was a drab grey/purple, with a dark purple cape and a mask of yellow eyepieces and an orange beak. It might've gone over okay back in the forties, but as a super-hero costume, it was a stinker in the late sixties.

I do have to say that I remember buying a copy of the second issue just because of the cover. Even back then, I recognized strangeness for strangeness' sake.

Speaking of strangeness, that brings us to our second comic book: The Modniks. This book is a fine example of what happens when old folks attempt to create something hip and fresh for the youngsters, without asking anyone what exactly is still hip and fresh.

This series seems to be half-Archie and half-Swing with Scooter. "The Modniks" doesn't even appear to be the name of the band. They sing and pontificate like beatniks and dress and drive scooters like mods. Unfortunately, the writers didn't realize that these two cultures weren't all that co-existent back in the day; they describe to fairly different outlooks on life and popular culture. But if it's good enough for Herb Caen, I guess they thought they could add "nik" to the end of "mod" and come up with a non-existent stereotype.

The only member of the band that was actually given a name in the several stories I read was the leader, Wheels Williams. The cover of the first issue refers to the band as Wheels and his Cy-Clowns, a pun that's about as close to actual humor as we're going to get here. The band seems to hang around Surfside High School a lot, but they don't appear to attend classes there. Principal Blair doesn't like them, and they have one friend there, Cube (because he's a square, get it? Oh the hilarity!), who they try to turn into a mod in the first issue, but fail, as he's more comfortable as himself. I will say that's a mighty good life lesson right there.

Other stories feature the Cy-Clowns helping out a high school drop-out, a beat poet, and Principal Blair himself, who decides to use some of Wheels' own mod methods to get kids more interested in school.

The first issue was published in 1967 and went over so well that the second one came out soon afterwards ... in 1970. If they had missed the proverbial boat in 1967, did they really think things would've changed in three years? I assume they just had some extra newsprint and printing press time already paid for at the printers and the second issue was merely an inventory comic for such an event. The second issue also had a story of Noel Talent, about a bad actor imaging his next role as a TV surgeon. That story was the highlight of both issues of The Modniks, featuring some welcome artwork by Jack Davis.

I will have to admit that I went out of my way to find copies of both issues of The Owl, but it was one of those remembrances that never comes out as good as the reality. The Modniks was something you find in the cheap bin. And leave it there.


by Rich Meyer

For those of you new to e-books and quiz books, here's one to tempt your trivial taste buds: 101 questions on comic books for all ages, all skill levels. 

Almost every major comic book company is represented: Marvel, DC, Gold Key, Charlton, Dell, etc., along with almost every genre of comic book, from super-heroes to funny animals!

The questions are interactively linked to the answers for easy navigation. 

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