Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Gold Key of Quality

If you were a youth of a certain generation in the 60s and 70s, you always cringed at the sight of Gold Key comics. They were everywhere you looked. Dentist offices invariably chose them to put out with the magazines in their lobby because they seemed more wholesome than those increasingly socially-conscious Marvels and DCs. Your grandma would bring them by the stack after finding them for a nickel apiece at the Goodwill, and you had to smile and say thank you and then half-heartedly flip through them wondering what could possess a company to manufacture such drivel. I wanted Fantastic Four, not Jungle Twins, dammit!

Somewhere along the way, though, as a man rises up above the entirety of the timespace continuum and surveys it, one finds that we were swimming in low-budget beauty all along and lacked the sensory operating system to recognize. These same comics with painstakingly painted covers that I tossed aside in 1970 are now highly sought after by my older, wiser self that now craves the dregs of comicdom. I mean, come on - The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor. Who can say it isn't beautiful? What was I thinking?

While it's true that nothing Gold Key produced ever came close to the glories of a Jack Kirby or a Steve Ditko, it's also true that they represent a peculiar snapshot of an era when comic books were not homogenized into a crass tail-wags-dog commodity aimed at a contrived "fan base" with comic shops, comic conventions, and such. While Marvel and DC constantly scrambled to "build a brand" out of each of their titles, and churned out inferior toys to hype themselves, Gold Key was content to simply make simple comic books. And though many of their publications were indeed intended to cash in on existing popularity of various TV shows, the content in those comics is surprisingly rich and vibrant compared to how little effort Marvel put into their Star Wars comics.

Gold Key's Star Trek probably had the longest run of any of their titles, providing a methadone-like substitute for desperate Starfleet junkies during the great "dry period" between the original show and the movie franchise, when the only thing Trekkies had to keep them going was this and the Saturday morning animated version.

The weird thing about Gold Key, looking back, is how they were all over the place. They put out scores of TV tie-in comics like Star Trek, Dark Shadows, I Spy, Lost in Space, Man from UNCLE, Green Hornet, The Avengers, Twilight Zone, etc. which virtually guaranteed them a future place in the hearts of backwards-looking baby boomer retro freaks. Like, uh, myself.

They put out "funny animal" comics, like Underdog, Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry. They put out superhero comics like Magnus, Robot Fighter and Doctor Solar. They put out new comics of hoary old-codger pulp characters like Tarzan, Doc Savage, G-8, The Lone Ranger, The Phantom and Flash Gordon. They even put out Disney comics, which makes no sense because Disney already had its own titles on the market at the same time.

In retrospect, even a lot of the Marvel-DC comics I loved at the time now seem to be utter and complete shite. There's the colossal downer that was Gwen Stacy getting killed in Spider-man, and then reading about Green Lantern and Green Arrow tackling "serious issues" like drug addiction just bores the living pee outta me. (Not to mention I hated Neal Adams' art then and I hate it even more now.) I coulda been reading Wally Wood's MARS Patrol instead and helped keep Gold Key solvent. But now they're gone, and only the stones remain. Don't do like I done did, kids. Don't be cool!

- - JSH

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