Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Climax Adventure Comic: 'All Star Adventure Comic Vol. 1 Redux'

When Climax Adventure Comic was launched in 1962 it appeared at first glance as just another regular addition to the growing stable of K.G. Murray titles - from the trade dress on the spine to the text box proclaiming “100 Pages!”, to the “No 1” suggesting an ongoing series. Even the “Adventure Comic” type/font was similar to the one found on other recently launched titles from 1959/1960 (eg. All Star Adventure Comic, Super Adventure Comic, the reformatted Devil Doone Adventure Comic).

Based on the timing and the contents, it appears Climax was launched specifically to pick up where All Star Adventure Comic Vol. 1 left off. As discussed previously, All Star was in a transitional phase after #12 with the DC/ACG axis. I don’t believe Climax was advertised as such at the time – the only in-house advertising for Climax which I can recall dates from the 1970’s – but it makes sense that Climax was regarded in-house as the new ‘non-DC’ title carrying the balance of non-DC/ACG material originally earmarked for All Star Adventure Comic.

However, as is often the case when analysing the K.G. Murray comics, there is a kink to the order of things. For one thing, rather than building up momentum to make an impression on the comics buyer, Climax would ease into a casual annual publishing frequency for the first 10 years or so, before a late spurt of another dozen or so issues on an almost quarterly frequency saw it out in 1976. Hardly a typical schedule for an ostensibly mainline K.G. Murray title.

For another, some of the contents in the first issue are quite disarming. The cover features a jungle/adventure scene, and sure enough there are jungle stories and Ka’a’nga features, all reassuring and familiar from the last few issues of All Star Vol. 1. But balanced awkwardly alongside these jungle stories, westerns and tales of espionage are unexpected reprints by Australian artists Hart Amos and Vernon Hayles from K.G. Murray’s original 1940’s Climax title, A Climax Color Comic. These Australian features may be of considerable interest to aficionados of vintage Australian comics in 2007, but they most likely appeared to be oddly crude inclusions to the reader in 1962 accustomed to the slicker US product (and not without reason – for example, why these strips insisted on narrative captions beneath the panel rather than the conventional placement across the top is quite bewildering!)

It’s not until the second issue of Climax, published in 1963 that Climax looks wholly like the series it was intended to be. Or, put another way, Climax #2 is what the 13th issue of All Star Vol. 1 would have looked like if it didn’t feature a Murphy Anderson cover and DC/ACG contents. Turn over the cover and the reader is confronted with a page by Bernard Krigstein; a few pages further on some admirably coarse Joe Kubert; further on, some lush Wambi, Charlie Chan and western pages add flavour to the overall mix.

(Note: the cover to Climax #2 is based on a panel on page 4 of the first story, “Eric the Red” illustrated by Krigstein, which originally appeared in Explorer Joe #2, October-November 1952 (Ziff-Davis), and was subsequently reprinted in High Adventure #1, October 1957 (Farrell) and Top Adventure Comics #1, 1958 (Super Comics, I. W. Publishing). The Super Comics version is most likely the source of the Climax #2 copy. I have not seen the cover to either the Ziff-Davis or the Super Comics editions so I am unsure whether the cover to Climax #2 is a copy of one of these issues, or another illustration by an Australian artist.)

And so it is for the next 10 or so issues. Jungle and SF stories, westerns and mystery stories, Kirby and Ditko and Krigstein and Toth and Heck and Powell… starting to sound a bit like those early All Stars, right? No surprise. In fact – just in case any more evidence was required that Climax Adventure Comic is 'All Star Adventure Comic Vol. 1 Redux' in all but name - Climax #9 features no less than 5 stories previously published in All Star #3!

To my surprise Climax #6 appears to contain ACG material, at least based on the cover which features Nemesis. I have yet to confirm the contents of this issue, but in true K.G. Murray fashion, it’s another little kink in the neat schema I am attempting to outline. (I do not have a copy of Climax #6 so if anyone has a copy they would like to loan or sell to me, please send me an email.)

This leads to the broader question of the source of the non-DC material published by K.G. Murray in this period. It is worth noting for the moment that there does appear to be a supply-line issue with the non-DC material in Climax. Apart from the annual frequency and the curious mix of contents in the first issue mentioned above, the title is riddled with reprintings of its own material. For example, a large portion of Climax #2 is reprinted in Climax #7 and #8.

Other issues also have a conspicuous concentration of material. Climax #4 reprints the entire main feature contents (sans text story) of Rugged Action #3, April 1955 (Atlas/Marvel), and the bulk of Rugged Action #2, February 1955 (Atlas/Marvel). Similarly Climax #5 reprints the entire main feature contents of Journey Into Unknown Worlds #39, November 1955, as well as a swag of other Atlas/Marvel stories from Mystery Tales between #23 and #40.

Consider also that beginning with issue #10 in 1971, rather than presenting reprints of predominantly 1950’s material, Climax Adventure Comic began reprinting contemporary Marvel comics such as Conan the Barbarian, amongst a range of other titles and genres from a variety of publishers. In this short yet active phase of a few years Climax would resemble other second tier titles in the K.G. Murray stable such as Super Giant or the various Charlton-dominated titles such as the horror or Planet Series titles more than it would the mainline titles.

In fact an overview of Climax Adventure Comic prompts many questions regarding the supply-line for Climax, and indeed for All Star. How did K.G. Murray source this material? Why does it appear to arrive in bursts and chunks and hiccups? Why the retreads within a few issues? Was the material sourced via DC, as unlikely as that sounds? Was it via an agency such as Transworld Features Syndicate, a possibility which my friend Kevin Patrick has thrown into the ring, or another third party? Was it a third party which was responsible for the wave of non-DC material published by K.G. Murray in the 1970’s? All good questions and fodder for speculation, and I’ll be addressing all of this along with the ACG/DC issues of All Star Adventure comic shortly.

All going well I will list the contents of the early Climax issues and the All Star Vol. 1 issues over the next few days, even if I’m not able to identify the source of each and every story.


mcannon said...

Tried to post my first comment, and entered it under the wrong item! Let's see if I can get it right this time.....:--

Fascinating stuff, Spiros! “Climax Adventure” ( I always feels compelled to call it that, as “Climax” sounds like some dodgy skin mag) is certainly one of KGMs strangest magazines for all the reasons that you cite; the weirdly varied contents, the reprinting and the odd publication schedule.

I’m pretty certain that I had a copy of Climax Adventure #6 as a child; I remember buying an issue of CA during a family holiday on the NSW South Cost in 1967, and that would fit with the publication time for #6.

I can certainly remember some stories from it; “Mr Morgan’s Monster”, an early 1960s Jack Kirby-drawn story from the Marvel Monster comics (which I saw reprinted by Marvel only a few months later in an issue of their “Fantasy Masterpieces” comic); a 1950s Atlas short about a young man who could fly (can’t remember the title, but I recognised the story when the splash page was reprinted a couple of years ago in an “Alter Ego” article on artist Werner Roth); and, I think, a “Johnny Galaxy” story.

(Johnny Galaxy was, of course, a European SF series that had its own short-lived KGM title around the same time, but that’s a whole OTHER KGM mystery…)

There were doubtless a number of other stories, but even that sample, combined with the ACG “Nemesis” story that was the issue’s cover feature (a story that would only have been a year or so old at that time, making it possibly the latest ACG material to be reprinted by KGM), demonstrates what a weird mix that “Climax Adventure” was!

And yeah, if anybody has TWO spare copies of “Climax Adventure” #6, I’d love one too! It’s one of about a dozen KGMs I remember owning as a child that I’m still chasing.

Mark Cannon

spiros xenos said...

Mark, I remember you mentioning Climax #6 in one of our many discussions, including the Nemesis feature. Thanks for me giving me an idea of some of the rest of the contents of this issue. Also, James has a cover scan up on his site.

Your memory is probably right about Johnny Galaxy. JG features appear in Climax #'s 7-10, as well as later issues, so it's likely it was also in #6.

The earliest Johnny Galaxy self-titled issue I have is #2 from around 1972. I haven't crosschecked the contents with Climax yet to see whether the contents are the same. But you're right, that is quite another KGM mystery altogether!

"Mister Morgan's Monster" also appears in Super Giant #3, a few years after Climax #6. I expect to discover even more connections between Climax and Super Giant as I go through them.