Monday, April 6, 2015

Guest Post - Let's Play Ball! DC Super-Stars 10

Doug: Happy Monday, friends. If you're fortunate enough to have Easter Monday off work, congratulations and enjoy! If you have your nose to the grindstone as usual, well then -- you have our pity! If you're coming by to catch the finale of Karen's and my thoughts on Marvels, we apologize. Travel, real life, the NCAA tournament... all those things conspired to push us back a week. But rest assured that you're in good hands today, as our buddy Mike W. is going to shepherd us through a very timely story. It's the beginning of baseball season here in the States, and Mike has a comic book oddity to spring upon you. So kick back for a few moments and enjoy!

DC Super-Stars #10 (December 1976)
"The Great Super-Star Game!"
Bob Rozakis-Dick Dillin/Frank McLaughlin

M.S. Wilson: Okay, this review is a little different ... not really weird, but a little off the beaten path. The comic in question is DC Super-Stars #10, written by Bob “Babe” Rozakis, with art by Dick “Duke” Dillin and Frank “Catfish” McLaughlin. As you can probably guess from those nicknames, the story is about baseball. (My apologies to any non-North Americans who find baseball either boring or incomprehensible; I’ll try to find a comic about cricket or rugby sometime, just to even things up.) I was a big baseball fan as a kid, so I’ve always had a soft spot for this story, though I lost interest in the game a long time ago. I first read this story as a reprint in DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest #13 from 1981 (titled "Strange Sports Stories", and believe me, it lives up to the name), but I recently got my hands on the original comic. There’s no difference in the story, but the original has the actual boxscore and an inning-by-inning description of the game, and I’m enough of a nerd to want that extra information. I know other blogs have covered this comic, but hopefully I’ll be able to bring a fresh perspective to it. So, without further ado... Let’s play ball!

We start out in suburbia, with a typical (?) couple, Sportsmaster and Huntress. This isn’t the Helena Wayne Huntress, this is the original one, a villainess who’s married to another bad guy, the Sportsmaster. It’s a little weird to see super-villains living in the ’burbs (their house is a very modern looking A-Frame). What I find even more strange is that theyre wearing their costumes around the house; you’d think they’d be a bit more casual at home. Anyway, they’re fighting, which married people sometimes do, but this fight is about something a little surprising: Huntress is ready to drop the villain biz and become a crimefighter! Sportsmaster is opposed to this, of course, but Huntress says it’s simple logic ... villains always lose, so why not switch to the winning side? Finally, (after destroying their nicely-furnished living room) Sportsmaster proposes a contest: Huntress will gather a team of heroes, Sportsmaster a team of villains, and the two sides will play a baseball game. If the good guys win, Huntress becomes a crimefighter; if the bad guys win, she stays a villainess. She agrees, and they start putting their teams together.

They start a week later in Gotham, at a bowling tournament. (In fact, all of their “recruiting” is done at various sporting events, a detail I didn’t notice the first time I read this story.) I’m also not sure about the whole setting ... Huntress and Sportsmaster were always Earth-2 villains, as far as I know. But everything here takes place on Earth-1, and all the heroes and villains we see (except Uncle Sam) are from Earth-1; so I’m not sure if Sportsmaster and Huntress were living on Earth 1, or maybe just travelled there to have the game? Anyway, the bowling tournament is giving away $250,000 (in cash!), so of course Joker and Matter Master show up to steal the money. Matter Master gives the bowlers a taste of their own medicine when he uses his magic wand to make the pins attack people. Luckily, Bruce Wayne, Oliver Queen, and Dinah Lance are on hand (Bruce put up the cash prize and Ollie did the PR), so they do a quick change and attack the villains. The good guys seem to be winning handily, when they’re spirited away by some kind of teleporter machine. It’s weird that Sportsmaster and Huntress have this kind of technology; where did they get it (especially if they’re not even on “their” Earth)? And if villains have access to such a powerful device, why aren’t they using it all the time? Seriously, they have a monitor that can apparently tune in on any location they want, and they have the technology to grab people remotely and teleport them away. It reminds me of the Tantalus Field from the Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror”; that kind of tech should make them almost invincible. Maybe we can assume the machine was one-of-a-kind and the superheroes destroyed it at the end of the story?

Their next grab is in Metropolis, where they net Superman (playing tennis against himself at super-speed ... show-off), along with Lex Luthor and Amazo, who’s much more articulate than I remember him. Next, we go to a United Nations soccer match, with a solid platinum trophy as the prize (Is it any wonder there’s so much crime in the DCU, when they’re giving away $250,000 cash prizes and platinum trophies all the time?). Wonder Woman is at the soccer match, and it’s a good thing because Weather Wizard and Chronos show up to steal the platinum prize. Wonder Woman seems outnumbered (although she really should be able to wipe the floor with these guys in her sleep), but Plastic Man has been masquerading as her lasso, so he helps her against the villains. I can’t help wondering how long Plas has been disguised as Diana’s lasso ... knowing him, probably at least since she got dressed that morning. Before much can happen, the heroes and villains are spirited away. Next we see a horse race between the top two horses in the country, but instead of regular jockeys the horses are being ridden by Tattooed Man and Dr. Polaris, and chased by Kid Flash and Robin (with Kid Flash acting as Robin’s “steed”). I guess Tattooed Man and Dr. Polaris are trying to steal the horses, since they’re said to be the best in the country. The horses are named “Bold Force” and “Foolish Pride”, which I assume refers to real-life horses “Bold Forbes” (1976 winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont) and “Foolish Pleasure” (who won the 1975 Kentucky Derby). Before the villains can ride their stolen horses to a clean getaway, their mounts are stolen out from under them by Felix Faust. And just to top things off, Uncle Sam shows up and the whole lot of them are zapped away by Huntress and Sportsmaster.

Sportsmaster and Huntress explain the contest to everyone (and the villains seem very confident they can win without their powers... the arrogance of evil, I guess?). The heroes are reluctant to play along, but Huntress says she’s somehow hypnotized (“I cast Mass Charm!”) 66,000 people and brought them to a baseball stadium in upstate New York, and they won’t be released until the game is played all the way through. So Huntress apparently can hypnotize huge crowds of people and turn them into virtual zombies... Between this and the teleporter machine, why isn’t she ruling the world?! Incidentally, the baseball field is called Crandall Stadium; I couldn’t find any real venue in upstate New York by that name, so I’m assuming it’s fictional. I’m wondering if it was named after artist Reed Crandall? He wasn’t doing much (if any) comics work by 1976, but he and Dick Dillin both worked on Blackhawk at various times, so maybe Rozakis named the stadium after him. Or maybe Dillin came up with the name? With the hypnotized people at stake, the heroes have no choice but to play. Since each side has ten players, they each choose an umpire. The heroes choose Uncle Sam because of his unfailing honesty (I’m wondering if that’s the  reason he was included in the first place?) and the villains choose Amazo (“... since he’s an android, he’ll have to call them as he sees them.”). Yes, Luthor, Amazo may be destructive and homicidal, but a liar... never!

The first eight innings of the game are glossed over on one page, which shows a few highlights and the changing score. After eight innings, the score is even, 8-8. The crowd is just staring, like zombies; it would freak me out to play in a stadium where there’s just complete silence... I don’t know how the Cubs stand it! Ohhhh, below the belt I know, but all in fun; as I said, I haven’t paid attention to baseball for years, so I have no idea what kind of team the Cubs have nowadays ... apologies to any Cubs fans out there, I really didn’t mean anything by it. I was going to say “Washington Senators”, but I thought that might date me too much! [Doug: Well, Mr. Smarty-pants, the Cubbies are supposed to have a great team this year and next, with aspirations of breaking their 107-year drought as World Series Champions. This may be the last guest post by M.S., kids! :) ]  Sportsmaster tells the villains to cheat and use their powers; I’m surprised they actually held off for so long! Actually, I’m not sure about the whole “no powers” rule; how does someone like Superman not use his powers? Would he really be able to hold back when he hits the ball? Same goes for Wonder Woman. And what about Kid Flash? If he runs to first base slightly faster than any normal human being could, is he using his powers, or is he just a little faster than everyone else?

Anyway, as the ninth inning starts, the villains come out cheating. Tattooed Man uses a tattoo of a baseball glove (which he conveniently happens to have) to catch a short fly, but he doesn’t catch the glove, so Black Canary goes to first base. Sportsmaster then beans Superman intentionally, sending him to first and Canary to second; why the heck would you deliberately throw a beanball when there’s no outs and a runner on first? And why would you bean Superman, of all people (the ricochet almost takes Sportsmaster’s head off!)? Wonder Woman gets a hit to load the bases. Robin strikes out (Really, Robin? Remember how he used to get knocked out all the time? Robin was the Tonto of superhero comics). Kid Flash sends a ground ball to short and Black Canary is thrown out at home (the villains seem to play better when they don’t cheat), but the bases are still loaded. Batman draws a walk, which brings Superman home (Score: 9-8 for the good guys). Green Arrow slams a double, which scores Wonder Woman and Kid Flash (Score: 11-8 heroes), but Arrow is tagged out when Felix Faust uses his magic to transport the ball from the outfield into his hand.

Now it’s do or die time for the villains. Luthor rigs his bat to give off “vibrations” that keep the ball from ever crossing the plate, and he gets a walk. I’m not sure what sort of vibrations the bat could be giving off that would affect a baseball; plus, the ball’s trajectory is pretty erratic, so you’d think the heroes would’ve known something was up. Weather Wizard hits a single and whips up a blizzard to blind Wonder Woman, but she uses her lasso to redirect the storm into Luthor’s face and he’s put out before reaching second base. Joker bunts and uses his laughing gas to make Green Arrow miss fielding the ball. The first time I read this, I didn’t notice the laughing gas (the way it’s drawn, it’s kind of hard to see) so I thought GA was actually laughing at Joker’s idiotic joke. So now the villains have men on first and second. Chronos hits one to shortstop and slows down time for the heroes while speeding it up for his teammates, thereby breaking every law of physics in the cosmos and sending the multiverse into instant heat death. Seriously, when did Chronos get that kind of power? I know when he was first introduced, the “time” thing was just a gimmick, then later on he actually did gain the power to affect time; but this kind of selective control? He should be one of the most powerful beings in the universe. Anyway, Kid Flash strains his super-speed to the utmost and manages to tag Chronos out before he reaches first. It’s all very heroic, but kind of stupid too; why didn’t Kid Flash (who plays shortstop) just go for the force out at second? It’s a lot closer. For that matter, why not go for the force at first, instead of tagging Chronos? Matter Master is next up, and he gets a fly ball... literally, since he gives the ball wings. Green Arrow shoots it down, but a run scores (Score: 11-9 heroes). I guess there’s nothing in the rule book against giving a ball wings. Sportsmaster gets up and whacks a double, scoring another run (Score: 11-10 heroes). Sportsmaster’s feeling pretty good, but not for long as Plastic Man tags him out. Apparently when Sportsy rounded first, he didn’t actually step on the bag but Plastic Man’s foot (which was shaped like the bag). Sportsmaster protests, but Amazo upholds the play (there’s that honesty again!) and gives Plas quite the compliment: “He tricked you in a grandly villainous manner!” Talk about praise from Caesar.

So, the game ends with the heroes winning 11-10; the zombified people leave and the super-heroes and super-villains pop right back where they came from, leaving Sportsmaster and Huntress still bickering. The villains are all shown being defeated very perfunctorily, in three-quarters of a page. Maybe losing the game took all the fight out of them. I’m not sure what the moral of the story is, since the heroes only won by cheating. Of course, the villains cheated first, so many the moral is “It’s OK to cheat as long as the ther guys do it first”? And we never really see any follow-up on Huntress becoming a crimefighter; her next appearances (along with Sportsmaster) were in All-Star Comics #s 72 and 73, where she was still a villain as far as I know (although I haven’t actually read those comics). So maybe we can just consider this an apocryphal story, or a continuity blip.


As I mentioned at the start of this review, the original comic included the boxscore of the game and an inning-by-inning description of the action, which I think is pretty cool. But you might notice some of the plays are questionable, and even downright illogical ... and why so many bunts? Well, I first read this story in a Blue Ribbon Digest devoted to "Strange Sports Stories", and on the inside back cover Bob Rozakis explained how he figured out all the play-by-play stuff throughout the game. His father had taught him a simple game (which he called “Baseball with Cards”) and Rozakis actually played out the whole superhero vs. super-villain game using playing cards. I’ve tried it myself and it’s fun enough, though there seems to be an inordinate number of outs. So that explains why some of the plays don’t make sense... because they were basically random. Of course, I’m sure there was a bit of fudging in places, like when a batter hits a single and the runners advance two bases; that happens quite a bit in real baseball, but there’s no provision for it in the rules for Rozakis’s card game. So we can assume there was a certain amount of improvisation taking place... especially in the ninth inning, since we knew the heroes would win, but couldn’t be sure exactly how.

So that’s my take on this story; it’s a bit weird when you really think about it, but hey, it was the Bronze Age! I love it!


Martinex1 said...

Mike W. Thank you for the review of this wacky story. I am surprised that this occurred in comics in 1976; it seems so silver age to me. It brought back a lot of memories of such craziness in comics.

I love that the spectators had to be hypnotized to attend, as if seeing the greatest superheroes of your world playing baseball wouldn't have the highest attendance rating and costliest tickets of any sporting event ever.

I also like the fluctuation in powers simply to support the plot.

At first, I thought this type of thing could only happen at DC, but then memory kicked in and I remembered all kinds of baseball face offs at Marvel. the Avengers and West Coast Avengers used to have annual contests (in their Annuals if I recall correctly) with some play by play as well. And it seems that the X Men had their own backyard game going many times.

Is that really the Sportsmaster's costume? I have never seen him before. A handkerchief over his face and a baseball cap? This guy was able to gather a team of heavyweights? Crazy and fun. Makes me long for the old days. This whole story almost seems like something more suitable for a Hostess Twinkie advertisement, rather than the headlining story!

My boys just got whiffle balls and bats for Easter. Great way to kick off the season.

Go White Sox! (I am a South Sider after all).

Anonymous said...

Whoa dude what a far out story! Seems like something from the wacky mind of the zany Bob Haney instead of Bob Rozakis!

When one reads stories like this you really have to put aside any sense of realism and just try to enjoy the ride. I think Rozakis started out with the premise of 'hey, I wanna write a story where all the heroes take on all the villains in a game of baseball!', and just tried to make all the elements fit into this premise, logic and reality being secondary considerations.

- Mike 'prefers boxing to baseball' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Humanbelly said...

Ha-- my first reaction was identical to Martinex's-- "Aaaaaand, this was 1976, you say?".

I think I've enjoyed reading this review/critique (which I very much have, btw) far more than I ever would have enjoyed the book itself if I'd bought it at the time. It's so completely unhinged and un-anchored to any consistent platform of reference (be it the DC Universe; laws of physics; principles of good storytelling. . . anything!) that it rather fails for me pretty spectacularly--- as presented .
You know what might have fixed it? A goofy, cartoony style of art-! Something NOT BRANC ECHH!-like, say. . . or the soon-to-be-discovered Fred Hembeck. Dick Dillon's just too. . . non-descript and conventional. Nice, dependable, professional presentation. It doesn't mesh tonally at all with the clutching-at-straws-while-flying-by-the-seat-of-yer-pants story and script.

Hey-- I surely did like Plas here, though! He never been a comfortable fit in the DC Universe-- which is maybe why he works better in this instance. . .
(I love that guy-!)


Humanbelly said...

Also, an odd little artifact that this reminded me of is a #1 issue I have (for some reason) of DC's very short-lived CHAMPION SPORTS STORIES from the 20-cent era. Maybe. . . DC just wasn't ever quite ready to let go of that beloved genre from a bygone age-?


Edo Bosnar said...

What a great story to review, Mike W. I had that very same digest in 1981 - I recall it had some other good stories in it as well. One in particular that stuck in my memory was about a basketball team that played a game against future versions of themselves without faces.

As for this story, I liked it, goofy as it is. My favorite part is that Plastic Man moment you note, in which he makes a fake base out of this foot.
Anyway, I think Mike from T&T has it right: Rozakis just wanted to have the heroes and villains play baseball against each other, so he just did what he could to make that happen - all other considerations be damned.

Incidentally, I have to say that I'm a born and raised (even if now displaced) North American, and I've always found baseball both boring and largely incomprehensible.

Garett said...

I remember seeing this issue, but never read it. Thanks for the fun review, Mike! Love Dick Dillin's art, brings me back to being a kid. I played baseball as a kid, so I probably would've liked this if I'd had the chance. I haven't watched much baseball, but have become a Blue Jays fan in the last couple years, and also started playing baseball again. I can still hit and catch, but my throwing needs work!

MikeS said...

Ha! I have this book, haven't read it in decades though.

Dr. Oyola said...

Perfect choice for opening day!

Mets won their first game and the Pirates have tied up the lousy Reds in the 8th, but ugh! As I typed this they got 3 runs - so the Buccos fall behind again. :(

This is just the kind of story I would have hated a a cheesy non-sensical DC "crap" as a kid. . . but I always loved the weird baseball games the X-Men played on the front lawn of the X-mansion, using their various powers.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, Edo, the faceless basketball team...I guess that's why they called it Strange Sports Stories!

I remember those Avengers/WCA softball games, although they always seemed to get interrupted by some Earth-shattering menace. The X-Men ones were fun too, but I think they used their powers most of the time...I remember Rogue flying up and catching what would've been a sure homer.

Thanks for all the comments everybody :)

Mike Wilson

Humanbelly said...

Whoops, and then the "Most Talent-Heavy Team in the League" Washington Nationals drop the opening game to. . . the Mets??? Can that really be true?

Not a baseball fan by a long stretch myself, but it is an enjoyable aspect of the DC summer background environment-- even when it garners only casual interest. Lordy, do the home games EVER smoosh our metro system, though. Been to our new stadium only once, a few years ago w/ HBSon, where we were part of a Guinness Book of Records event-- the gathering of the World's Largest Trombone Choir. (The choir played-- but the game was fiercely rained out. An experience so miserable all around that it became absurdly comic by the end--)

I did play on our high school JV team in 10th grade. Never got a hit, played very, very little-- but got the "Best Singer On the Team" award at the spring sports banquet. . .


dbutler16 said...

Like Humanbelly said, I think reading this review is probably more fun than reading the actual comic, though I'd like to get a first hand gander at the Dick Dillin/Frank McLaughlin art.

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