Superman vs. Beatlemania

By the 1960s, Superman had logged nearly three decades as the protector of Metropolis, America and indeed the Earth itself, fighting off countless invasions of fascist armies, super-insects, malevolent space aliens and giant robots. However, not even the Man of Might could hold back the "British Invasion" of pop culture, led by four cheeky lads from Liverpool.

Even staid old DC -- pegged by wags of the day as "Dad's Comics" -- could hardly fail to take note of Beatlemania. Traditionally, only the safest, parent-approved celebrities made it into the pages of DC books; the most "daring" comedians to show up were Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis, while Rock-and-Roll was represented not by Elvis Presley but the clean-scrubbed, family friendly Pat Boone. So when the Beatles stormed in, was it a sign that DC was ready to appeal to a hipper crowd at last? Or just a reflection on the "safe" all-ages appeal of the Fab Four in their mop-topped, pre-psychedelic phase?

Some of the books the lads showed up in you might have expected, like Girl's Romances and Heart Throbs, aimed squarely at the same female audience who pinned up Beatle photos in their bedrooms. But before long, they also made it into the pages of Metal Men, Teen Titans and, of course, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen.

DC hedged their bets, as usual; the Beatles' name and their images were invoked to spike sales, but inside the books, Beatlemania was viewed through the lens of older eyes; as a kooky fad that would soon pass, but not before making fools out of a lot of teenagers. In Jimmy Olsen #79 (Sept. '64), for example, we get "The Red-Headed Beatle of 1,000 B.C.", which starts with Jimmy -- already well-established as DC's resident teenage lamebrain -- dancing to a swingin' Mersey beat, complete with customized red Beatle wig.

Kudos to artist George Papp, at least, for including the left-handed bass-player (Paul, natch).

Despite the cover art, that's pretty much it for Beatle references until the end of the story, when Jimmy slips his wig on a young Samson to keep the strongman's hair from being cut. Then, for good measure, Jimmy starts his own musical craze when he plays (presumably Lennon/McCartney) music on a shofar, of all things.

Note that Superman stays comfortably in his "father figure" role, here; vaguely aware of the Beatles thanks to the incongruously cowboy-sounding name of their drummer. As we've seen before, as late as 1969, Superman is still under the impression that Ringo is the real celebrity in the group, dropping his name like any other clueless square trying to sound hip.

Jimmy Olsen #87 (Sept. '65) brings us "Jimmy Olsen, Rock-n-Roll Star," which unsubtly heaps even more scorn on pop music in general and the Beatles as its avatars. Visited by Bizarro-Jimmy Olsen, who's in danger of being fired by Bizarro-Perry White if he doesn't score a scoop, our Jimmy comes up with a "brilliant" scheme; disguising himself as Bizarro-Jimmy, he'll go on the popular pop-music TV show Hulla-Bashin' and do a deliberately awful act, getting thrown out of the studio and thus creating a story worthy of the Bizarro front pages (why the real Bizarro-Jimmy couldn't do the same thing is beyond me).

With the cooperation of the show's producer, Jimmy puts on a bizarro mask and a Fab Four-like suit, topping it off with a long-haired wig "so my hair will look like the Beatles!" Looking on, the producer chuckles approvingly. Once in the spotlight, Jimmy does his worst, with what I'll take to be the Bizarro version of "Love Me Do:"

To his consternation, however, the teenage audience loves the act (hey, the worse it sounds, the more kids like it, right?). Putting on Bizarro masks of their own, they throw down in a Bizarro Rave.

Jimmy Olsen #88 brings us "The Swinging Superman," and while the Beatle references are a bit more subtle, they are mentioned on the cover, just in case. Jimmy is "Bouncier than the Beatles!" , we're told, with his rocking new hit, "The Krypton Crawl!" (Superman is shown dancing to the beat and singing "Yah, Yah, Yah!")

Hijinks ensue when Jimmy goes to meet his stewardess girlfriend Lucy Lane at Metropolis Airport, only to be nearly trampled by an overexcited crowd of teenage girls, there to greet the Beatle-esque Rick Rock and His Rolling Romeos, in a scene reminiscent of the Fab Four's 1964 arrival at JFK Airport.

Miffed to find Rick Rock cozying up to Lucy, Jimmy decides to fight fire with fire:

That's right, kids, a couple of guitar lessons and he's ready for stardom. Just think what that boy could accomplish if he put his mind to it. Of course it helps to have the most powerful being in the known universe standing by to help you land a gig. But hey, it's not like he's got anything better to do, right?

Anyway, Jimmy forms his band ("Jimmy Olsen and His Carrot-Top Cut-Ups"), and they all don red wigs to resemble him. Superman recounts the story of a music-making monster on Krypton that once entranced his parents and many other Kryptonians, nearly leading them, Pied-Piper style, to their dooms. Using his power of super-recall, he writes down the monster's tune on sheet music for Jimmy's band. When they play it, Superman loses his mind and goes into a dance/march across town.

What follows is a series of unlikely occurrences "explained" away in a head-scratching denouement, but if that surprises you, you're obviously new to this site (Welcome!). The point is that pop music is again portrayed as foolishness performed by hacks, and this time we've added "potentially dangerous" to the mix.

Apparently there were no hard feelings, however, because who should show up in the Beatles' first color film, Help! but Jimmy Olsen himself! Early in the film, the lads are settling into their gadget-laden apartment when an electric organ emerges from the floor on a lift. Paul McCartney is at the keyboard, but instead of sheet music we see a row of vintage DC Comics.

We can just make out bits of the Superman and Jimmy Olsen mastheads, with one issue of Action Comics opened to a Supergirl splash page.

Naturally it didn't take long for an excited reader and Beatle fan to mention this in a letter to Jimmy Olsen;

You'll have to forgive my skepticism here, but I kind of doubt the Beatles included the comics in the film to "repay" DC for publicity. As if they needed Jimmy Olsen to help get them noticed! Can you imagine a kid in 1964 reading the comic and thinking, "Hmm...who are these 'Beatles' Jimmy speaks of? I'll have to look them up." And as noted, it's not like they're treated very respectfully.

More likely the comics are just one more little sight gag in a film littered with them, the idea of director Dick Lester, the prop master or some other crewmember. What makes it a bit more interesting, though, is the publication dates of the issues featured. A bit later in the scene, John Lennon takes a seat at the organ and we get a better look at the books, allowing us to determine the specific issues:

On display are Action Comics #304 (Sep. '63), 311 (Apr. 64) and 314 (Jul. '64), Superman #165 (Nov. '63) and 166 (Jan. '64 ), and Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #65 (Dec. 62), 67 (Mar. '63) and 75 (Mar. '64).

The filming of Help! occurred from late February to mid-April 1965. That means adding these comics to the scene wasn't just a matter of going out to the newsstand and picking up whatever was handy; all of these books had been around for a while, some of them for nearly two years. So it's reasonable to assume that someone somehow connected to the film collected them, someone who obviously had a thing for Superman, as by 1965 we're already well into the era of arguably "hipper" titles like the Flash, Green Lantern and the Justice League of America, to say nothing of the glamorous and newly trendy Marvel roster of titles.

A couple of years later, the Beatles would make another film, the infamous Magical Mystery Tour, for broadcast on the BBC. In the UK the six songs written for the film were released in a special double-EP made to resemble a book, with (among other things) illustrations of key scenes in the film. One image showed the fantasies of a character called Buster Bloodvessel, which included a rather familiar-looking figure (not present in the film itself):

Of course the ideal form of recognition from the Fab Four would be a mention in one of their songs, but this is something Superman never gets. When a superhero does finally show up in Beatle lyrics, it's Superman's arch rival Captain Marvel in Lennon's "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill." Not until his 70s Wings period does McCartney give his one shout out to the genre with "Magneto and Titanium Man," name-checking two Marvel villains in the title (and a third in the lyrics: the Crimson Dynamo).

Maybe it was their revenge for those Weisinger-era stories poking fun at their look and sound, but when it was time for the Beatles to return the "publicity," Marvel and Fawcett got all the love.