Fatman, the Human Flying Saucer #3

FATMAN, THE HUMAN FLYING SAUCER #3; September 1967; Milson Publishing Co. (aka Lightning Comics); Wendell Crowley, editor.  On the cover (not included on my copy, but viewable on the GCD), Fatman, a seriously stout superhero clad in a costume resembling that of the original Captain Marvel, only green and with a flying-saucer emblem rather than a lightning bolt, is confronted by an ominous, shadowy figure referred to as "the terrible Shroud".  Fatman responds by transforming into his additional super-identity, the Human Flying Saucer.  A small blurb at the bottom of the cover informs us that Fatman is "written and drawn by the creators of the original CAPTAIN MARVEL, O.O. Binder and C. C. Beck."  (Technically not true; Otto Binder wasn't one of the original creators of Captain Marvel, though he wrote a lot of the Captain's stories.)  Another blurb on the cover and also within the issue refers to him as "the only comic hero with 3 identities"-- again not altogether true, since there was a brief period when Daredevil had three identities-- DD, Matt Murdock, and "brother" Mike Murdock-- and there was also a Flash story titled "The Mystery of Flash's Third Identity". 

Review by Bill Henley

Now this is a Silver Age comic book that I have heard of often, but never until now actually seen a copy of (not, truth to tell, that I was looking very hard).  But a coverless copy of #3 turned up in the dollar bargain box at Carol & John's.  So here's a review of this rather odd comic.  An unusually elaborate credit box on the first page informs us that the comic is "TRIPLE-DISTILLED for your ENJOYMENT by 3 masters of comic-craft"... "O.O. Binder, famous writer of Captain Marvel stories in the 'Golden Age of Comics' created the characters and incidents... Wendell Crowley-- famous editor of Capt. Marvel comics-- goes over the scripts, adding a bit here, crossing out with his blue pencil there"... "C. C. Beck, infamous creator of Dr. Sivana, Clarence the Maniac Man, and Captain Marvel, the world's mightiest mortal, puts everything down on paper!"  Clearly they were making a big pitch to pull in nostalgic fans of the original Captain Marvel who at the time was barred from publication by the infamous DC lawsuit against Fawcett Comics.  I have to suspect, however, that the number of active comic-book readers in 1967 who actually remembered Captain Marvel was quite small, which helps explain why this was the third and last issue of this series.

As I said, this is the only issue I've ever seen, so I'm not totally familiar with the origin and backstory of Fatman.  Apparently, though, he got his super-powers by drinking a chocolate drink given him by a friendly alien.  He's billed as "the only comic hero with 3 identities".  In normal life, he's Van Crawford, a plump young millionaire who seems to have a lot of different interests-- orchid raising, chess, stamp collecting, etc.-- but whose most consistent interest seems to be food.  When danger threatens, he dons the costume of Fatman.  As Fatman, he's apparently stronger and more agile than you would normally expect from a man of his physique.  (If he'd been a Marvel character, he might have been a good opponent for the Kingpin.)  And when he needs to take to the sky, he can transform himself into "Saucerman," a living flying saucer.

The main story in this issue (it's a 25 cent, 64 page comic) pits our hero against S.A.T.A.N., an organization whose acronym suggests it isn't exactly devoted to goodness and world peace.  (Later in the issue, we find out that it stands for "Sabotage Agents To Annihilate Nations".)  After winning a chess tournament and donating the $5000 prize to charity, Van Crawford reads a news item that three new nations, Octogonia, Rubemania and Coolsland, are issuing postage stamps for the first time.  He wants those stamps for his collection, so he directs his butler Butterworth (whom I guess is entitled to membership in the elite Superhero Butlers' Association along with Alfred, Jarvis, and maybe Richie Rich's butler Cadbury) and his cook Grollo to accompany him on a trip to these countries.  But the same three countries happen to be targets of the evil plans of the Master Chessman, head of S.A.T.A.N.!  His agent Gung Ho is dispatched to Octogonia, where Van Crawford has already arrived.  The King of Octogonia, doubling as the tiny country's postmaster, informs Van that a complete set of the newly issued stamps will cost five million octomarks.  When Van asks how much that comes to in dollars, and notes that he only has $25,000 with him, the King informs him that $25,000 will not only buy Octogonia's stamps but the crown and the entire country!  Van accepts the throne of Octogonia when he learns that his coronation will be accompanied by a big banquet, a "meal fit for a king"! 

But S.A.T.A.N. agent Gung Ho is lurking about and targets for the banquet with his "Evil Eye of Deadly Crystal"-- and "King Van" is distressed to find that the entire dinner has been transformed to wood, a meal fit only for termites!  (At least he's not the original Green Lantern, who would have been in real trouble.)  Outraged at the perfidy of a villain who would "tamper with food," Van assumes his Fatman guise and leaps to the attack against evil Gung Ho, only to be literally frozen stiff by Gung Ho's Evil Eye.  Fortunately, his aide Grollo has heat abilities which are not useful only for cooking, and Fatman is quickly defrosted.  Our hero forces Gung Ho to transform the feast back into real food, but while Fatman is chowing down, Gung Ho escapes custody by using his Evil Eye to transform himself into a "World War I bomber".  But before the bad guy's bomb can devastate Octogonia, Fatman assumes his third identity of "Saucerman," and extrudes a "bomb-tong" to grab the explosive and dump it in an empty field (it turns out to be a dud anyway).  Returning to his Fatman guise, our hero is hailed by his subjects as "King Fatso" and carried in triumph on their shoulders (though one of them complains about the weight). 

Gung Ho reports his failure to the Master Chessman who encourages him to persevere and notes that, if he can destroy any of our hero's three guises-- Van, Fatman, or the Flying Saucer-- he will get them all.  Gung Ho sends "King Fatso" a telegram challenging him to a duel atop Mount Octogonia.  "I'll just have to finish him for good so I can eat in peace!"  As Saucerman, he flies to the top of Mount Octogonia, taking Grollo along as a "second" to the duel.  Gung Ho attempts to destroy Grollo by using his Evil Eye to blast a hole in Mount Octogonia, which is apparently a volcano.  But the resulting shower of molten lava, only invigorates Grollo, whom we learn is an "underground gnome".  (How Fatman obtained the services of such a creature is presumably told in issue #1 or 2.)  But then Gung Ho transforms Fatman himself into a literal "tub of lard", and the barrel goes rolling down the mountain.  "Is Fatman doomed?"

Before we find out, we pause for a house ad for a (supposedly) upcoming new Milson/Lightning title, CAPTAIN SHAZAM!  He's described as "Tuff! Fab!  A turned-on super swinger!",  but the ad doesn't describe him in any further detail.  But the CAPTAIN SHAZAM title never actually reached the stands.  (I remember reading somewhere that, despite the obvious associations, Captain Shazam wouldn't have been all that much like Captain Marvel.)  The back cover of the comic (still attached to my copy) contains a house ad for another short-lived Milson title, TOD HOLTON, SUPER GREEN BERET. 

Fortunately for our hero, the rapid rolling motion of his plunge down the slopes of Mt. Octogonia transforms him from his lard-barrel form into the Human Flying Saucer!  As a last resort, Gung Ho changes himself into "(his) most FIENDISH FORM," a giant vulture!  But "Saucerman" flies right through the vulture and apparently disintegrates him, leaving only a "Squawk!" and a cloud of feathers!  Fatman explains to the people of Octogonia that he has other missions to pursue, and turns the crown back over to the previous king so that he can travel on to Rubemania, still intent on collecting its stamps.  But the Chessman, undeterred by the loss of Gung Ho, dispatches to Rubemania another of his agents, a diminutive fellow known as "Bug".  Bug's chief asset is a "vest-pocket computer" which informs him of strategies for his evil plans, though they are accompanied by insults like "insect-brain"!  Bug and Van Crawford both find that the nation of Rubemania is occupied with the country's annual beauty contest, judged by the nation's President Plowshare.  When Bug attempts to assassinate the President using a ray-gun disguised as a camera, our hero exclaims "GREAT STEWED RHUBARB!" and knocks the camera-gun aside.  But its beam damages a nearby Ferris wheel.  Fatman keeps the wheel from falling, saving the passengers. while Grollo repairs it with his "heat powers".  Fatman then starts off to capture the midget assassin but is distracted by the "delicious aroma" emanating from a "Rubeburger" stand.  Acting on instructions from his contemptuous computer, Bug uses an "ultrasonic vibrator" to turn Fatman and other nearby people into helplessly vibrating "human tuning forks".  He then plants "polar attractors" on Fatman and Pres. Plowshare, so that they will smash into each other and achieve mutual destruction!  Fortunately, the motion of being pulled through the air again triggers our hero's change into Saucerman!  Tracking Bug to a hiding place inside a building, Fatman has Grollo smoke him out with a "volcanic fume blast" augmented by the onions Grollo recently ate.  "The amazing Fatman, plump but agile, goes up the building's wall after Bug!"  But the chase gives Bug time to construct an "electronic miniaturizer" which shrinks Fatman to miniature size and imprisons him inside a vacuum tube on top of the miniaturizing device.  As Grollo and butler Butterworth look on despondently, the ending caption of Part 2 asks, "Has the sinister S.A.T.A.N. won at  last?  Will Fatman end up bottled like an olive?"  (The Atom, a somewhat more serious superhero, had recently faced a similar dilemma in the story, "Lockup in the Lethal Lightbulb!") 

But never fear; in Part 3, "Chess Game of Death!", Fatman seizes the twin electrodes inside the vacuum tube, causing the tube to shatter and restoring him to his full, ample size.  Our hero seizes Bug and turns him over to Rubemanian justice, and departs the country to the cheers of its grateful citizens.  S.A.T.A.N.'s Master Chessman is frustrated that two of his agents have been put out of action by the "overstuffed oaf," but he consoles himself that his third agent, Shroud, is already in place in Fatman's next destination, the arctic nation known as Coolsland.  Arriving at the capital, Swingston, Fatman and his aides find the city deserted, but trail the inhabitants by their tracks in the snow and find them huddled and freezing to death without shelter.  Once again Grollo comes to the rescue with his heat powers (maybe he ought to be the star of the comic, or at least billed as a sidekick).  "Man, dig that COOL heat!  That cat's really TURNED ON!"  Fatman is baffled by the "cool" lingo of the Coolslanders as they try to explain why they fled their home town; "A fiend, Fats... black as the Grim Reaper!!  Man, he was the weirdest!  We had to split, but fast!"  Shroud-- who appears to be an actual black cloud rather than a human being-- reports back to the Chessman, who commands him to destroy the entire nation of Coolsland if that it what it takes to eliminate "El Blimpo the Human Flying Machine"!  Shroud responds with alacrity; "I'll expand myself to 1,000 times my normal size and cover all Swingston with a blanket of FREEZING DEATH!"  (Hmmm... I think Shroud has been hanging around here in Cleveland the last few days.  Where's Fatman when we need him?)  Fortunately, Shroud's power is no match for that of the Human Flying Saucer;  "Not even the coldest cold or the darkest dark can stop the fantastic change from a flesh and blood man to a flawless machine!"  Saucerman grabs Shroud and bodily pulls him away from Swingston.  Then, reverting to Fatman, he rolls downhill, forming the core of a giant snowball which buries Shroud for good.  Observing from afar, the Chessman "flies into a satanic rage"; "So, Van Fatman, you've countered my every move!  But I'll still have the last move-- and the last LAUGH!  YAA HAA!"  

Back at home, Van Crawford receives a challenge to a rematch from Godfrey Gaylord, the man he beat at chess at the beginning of the story.  But when he visits Gaylord's home, an elaborate castle, and sits down to the chessboard, Van finds his seat transformed into an electric chair!  Isn't this an excessive revenge for losing a chess game, Van asks Gaylord.  But the revenge is not just for the chess game, but for Fatman defeating Gaylord, who is also S.A.T.A.N.'s Master Chessman, in his "chess game of chaos"!  However, our villain is not entirely unsporting.  He hooks himself up to his electric-chair setup as well, and proceeds to play a chess game with Van for which the penalty of losing will be death!  Ultimately it is Godfrey who makes the wrong move and faces checkmate by his archfoe.  "Will Van Crawford sit idly by and watch another human being-- even so despicable a one as the mad Master Chessman-- go to his doom?"  As a matter of fact, no.  Van slips his bonds and leaps to snatch the electrocution equipment away from Gaylord before the lightning can strike.  Later, after delivering Gaylord to a mental hospital, Van reflects to his loyal minions at home that "I studied under some of the  greatest escape artists in the world, boys.... Hoodini the Third, Slippery Will the Wizard of Gotham (is this a reference to Fawcett editor Will Liebeson? a veiled reference to Batman?)  and others!  I could have broken loose at any time!"  But such a feat calls for plenty of nutrition to restore our hero's energy, and Grollo pleads that he is "running out of fuel" as Van calls for a twentieth pizza!

There are three other Fatman stories in the issue, which (perhaps mercifully) I'm going to cover in less detail.  The tale of the "Impractical Joker" involves an obnoxious fellow called "Franky Prankster" who headlines a TV show sponsored by Van Crawford's company.  Van and his father want to cancel the guy and his terrible show, but Franky begs for mercy on grounds that he needs to support his wife, eleven children, and aged mother.  But when the Crawfords give Franky another chance, his practical jokes on TV get so out of hand that Fatman has to intervene on-screen.  Franky (who is actually a bachelor) is fired from the show and relegated to a job as a "guinea pig in a joke factory," but the impromptu appearance of Fatman on TV leads to an outcry for our hero to have a TV show of his own.  The final caption of the story urges Fatman's real-life readers to "write or call your local TV station" in an effort to get Fatman on TV.  I'd have to say that Binder, Beck and Crowley were decidedly over-optimistic in thinking that their new character would be successful enough to have a chance to appear on TV (though, at that, I guess there have been sillier concepts for Saturday morning cartoons).

Next, we have a story of Van Crawford visiting a candy shop which advertises "Saucer Sweets" named in his honor by the proprietress, Eunice "Sugar" Kane.  Van finds himself attracted as much to pretty Sugar Kane as to her products, and he is obliged to take action as Fatman to protect her against the aggression of a rival candy manufacturer, "Kandy Dandy".  Ultimately, the wealthy Van purchases a partnership in Sugar's candy business, and they seem to be considering a more personal kind of partnership as well.  The final caption asks readers, "Do you think Fatman should have a girlfriend?  Do you like Sugar Kane?" and invites readers to write in with their reactions.  Let us hope that Van and Sugar did hook up and live happily ever after as candy magnates... for his career as a superhero was about to come to a quick end.   There was one more story in the issue, "The Orphan Ufolet." in which Fatman/Saucerman helps a miniature flying saucer-- which is itself a living, infant creature-- return to the custody of its "mothership".  At the end, the caption urges readers to "get the next issue of FATMAN THE HUMAN FLYING SAUCER at your favorite magazine stand-- or if you don't see it, ask for it!"  But no matter how insistently any readers may have asked for it, it did them no good, for this was the last issue. 

I was reading comics in 1967, but I don't remember seeing this one at all.  If I did, though, I probably ignored it completely at "my favorite magazine stand," since I was a devoted Marvelite at the time.  I took my comics reading pretty seriously (by and large, the Silver Age was an era when superheroics were treated as serious business) and I would probably have turned my nose up at a deliberately "funny" superhero comic (other than NOT BRAND ECHH). The fact that my own physique at the time was not unlike that of Fatman probably wouldn't have helped.  Reading this comic book now, it does have a certain goofy charm lacking in NBE and other funny superheroes of the time, such as DC's failed PLASTIC MAN revival. But I can understand why it didn't achieve the hit status its creators seemingly expected based on their track record with Captain Marvel in a very different era.