March 24, 2013

Heroes, Inc. #1 [1969]

HEROES, INC. #1 [1969] features the debut of Wallace Wood's Cannon as the lead story, with a 12-page adventure drawn by Steve Ditko and inked by Wood. There's a lot of history behind the title, for which I'll refer you to this Wikipedia article. The short version is that it was a comic intended to be sold to US armed services members, and with ads targeted at that audience (mostly jewelry, plus land in New Mexico). For some reason the first issue was printed but got little or no distribution. Large quantities of uncirculated copies have turned up over the years, including a lot of about 70,000 copies (not a typo) auctioned off in 2005. That probably makes it one of the most common silver age comics.

Wood continued publishing Cannon stories in other venues, although I don't know if those use the same set-up as this story. They definitely seem to be more risque, with the last major printing of them being published under the adult Eros imprint by Fantagraphics. Another issue of HEROES, INC. was eventually published in 1976, with a second Ditko/Wood Cannon story. The other Cannon stories have been reprinted a few times, but I don't think the two Ditko stories were ever reprinted. Just searching now I see Fantagraphics has another edition coming out in 2014. It's 288 pages instead of the 144 pages of their previous "Compleat" edition, but looks like it's in a landscape format, so I'm guessing it's the same contents reformatted, so odds are no Ditko.

(and reading the description of the upcoming book, I see it is the same set-up on the later stories, only with a lot of nudity added)

In this story, Chinese communists attack a secret lab and kidnap Jean Voss, who has the secret to an anti-missile defense system. The President immediately sends in Cannon on a mission to find and kill her before she can talk. We get a very quick bit of background on Cannon, just that he was a top spy who was captured, brain-washed and returned to assassinate top US scientists. Fortunately re-captured by the US before he could follow through on that mission, they found they couldn't reverse the brainwashing, so they decided to brainwash him even more, leaving him devoid of emotions. Thus his response to the orders to kill Voss rather than even try to rescue her: a deadpan "Right."

The invasion force gets Cannon onto the island base of the communists  and he plays one man army, planting bombs, fighting guards and eventually finding Voss. Apparently he decides that since she already talked under truth serum, he will save her. I'm not sure I get the logic of that. He sticks around on the island while she takes his escape rocket, determined to destroy everything the whole base to keep the secret safe. He manages to do that, even adding a stolen secret enemy plane to his tally. Plus there's a pretty funny ending which I won't spoil.  Hey, it's easy enough to find a copy of this, with 70,000+ uncirculated copies out there...

Fun story, if a little goofy, I kind of like how it plays with and subverts the James Bond model of men's adventure stories. It's obviously Wood's show, so a lot of the surface elements of Ditko's pencils get buried in the inks, but you can still see it in the storytelling and body language, and especially in the hands.


1 comment:

  1. I found a copy of this a couple of years back at an antique market for $5. The story is the type you would expect to see in the men's adventure magazines of the period "I FOUND The Love-Nest Of The Nubile Nazi Women! :)" or some such nonsense headline.

    But even given the type of story, I found it great fun to read. I used to also have (some years ago)issue 2, published by CPL-Gang Publications; they also published the original Charlton Bullseye in the mid-70s. Understandably, I could imagine that one would be a lot harder to find (and since it's in magazine format, harder to find in decent shape).

    But like this story, is great fun to read.

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