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Scott's Classic Comics Corner: Those Wonderful Gold Key One-Shots

With the possible exception of Fox, I can't think of a publisher that put out more one-shots than Gold Key. Whether planned or unplanned, there's something interesting about Silver and Bronze Age one-shots. These were periods during which publishers were willing to throw things at the wall to see what would stick. Some were good ideas, some were downright terrible. Here's a quick look at a few notable one-shots.

Tiger Girl may be one of the more infamous titles out by Gold Key in the 60s. For me, it is the sheer ludicrousness that makes it so appealing. Created by a waaaay past his prime Jerry Siegel, Tiger Girl is the story of Lily Taylor, a circus performer who has a way of controlling her pet tiger, Kitten. She also seems to have slightly superhuman strength and some sort of generic animalistic qualities. Like most latecomers to the superhero bandwagon (and this entry was very late), there's nothing really new here -and the villains are about as cookie cutter as they comes. Both wear animal fur headpieces (a la Super Chief) and I challenge anyone to find a material difference between Grizzly (was that his name?) and Wolf Houd. This is as campy as it gets (complete with two competing organization with lame U.N.C.L.E. style names), something Sigel had done with the MLJ heroes at Archie. I do like the circus setting, though - as crime and circuses seem to go hand in hand. Normally, I'm a fan of Jack Sparling artwork, but it seems overly rushed here and lacks flow, but that may be the consequence of an incoherent and overly busy script.

Microbots is one of the strangest comic books that I’ve ever read (and that’s saying quite a lot). It was a marketing tie-in to new toy line (I think they were featured in some comic book ads) that was just as short-lived. The premise is as high concept as it gets. A scientist (Dr. Micron) creates a group of ‘helper robots’. A pollution driven apocalypse arrives and only Dr. Micron and his son Jeff manage to survive through some suspended animation chambers. They are revived by young boy named Vik, and learn that they are in a distant future where mankind has reverted to a caveman society. During a battle with a mutated beast, Dr. Micron is killed. The boys band together and use the robots to gain the upper hand on the local cavefolk and battle some renegade army tanks left over from an earlier era (huh?). Apparently, Len Wein wrote this and the art looks like it’s by Jesses Santos trying to look more mainstream, or by a mainstream artist trying to ape Santos. It’s just crazy stuff and I have no idea why Wein thought this was the best route for a toy tie-in or where he was planning to go after this issue. Sadly (or perhaps mercifully), we’ll never know.

John Steele, Secret Agent from 1964 may not be a true one-shot, as it really takes over from the single issue Freedom Agent, but let's not get into semantics. This is another (albeit early) entry into the “Let’s make a James bond comic” sweepstakes. The lead story is a great little tale about military sabotage being conducted by an invisible foe. There are some nice action sequences and a real 'Cold War Paranoia' atmosphere throughout. The second story is also a lot of fun, with Steele trading places with a Castro-like Latin American dictator. Although, the GCD doesn't have credits for this book - I'm 99.9% sure it's Alberto Giolitti. He really is an underappreciated master. This was a very strong book, and it's too bad that Gold Key didn't see the potential to keep it a continuing series.

Shadow Play was one of two one-shots published by Whitman in 1982. It features a lovely painted cover, reminiscent of so many great covers published by Gold Key in the late 60s and 70s. In fact, the entire issue would have fit right into the pages of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not or Grimm’s Ghost Stories. It got me wondering whether this was all leftover inventory. Most of the usual suspects are here to provide artwork: John Celardo, Sal Trapani and Jose Delbo. The only story that really stood out for me was “Time for a Change”, which showcases Al McWilliams wonderful skill as a storyteller. I do love the title, though, as it's perfect for a mystery series.

Much like Shadow Play, Shroud of Mystery was a 1982 one-shot published under the Whitman imprint. The issue leads off with the very effective “What If…”, a tale about a group of harmless aliens who migrate to Earth, and seem harmless. It turns out that they are carrying a virus this raises a dilemma amongst the Earthlings as to how to treat their visitors. The rest of the issue is standard fare with artwork by Sal Trapani and Al McWilliams. It ends off with the cover story, a rather silly take on the Ulysses vs. Cyclops story. Again, I’ve got to think this is all inventory, but who knows? Finding solid information about obscure Gold Key books is not easy.

There are plenty more where those came from (Jet Dream, City Surgeon etc…) that I may have to dip into this well again.

For more talk about classic comics, stop by Seduction of the Indifferent. Questions or comments always welcome at scottshouldbegood at yahoo.ca

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