Text features used to be a thing in comic books. Not just letter columns or chatty behind-the-scenes pieces like you get today, but actual short prose stories (often illustrated) starring the characters featured in the title. Stan Lee’s first published story was a Captain America prose story in that title’s third issue in 1941.

The two-page text pages were there to fulfill some quirk in the Postal Regulations that gave comic books cheap mailing rates for their subscription copies, but they were a fun little extra added attraction to young readers even if they didn’t exactly stretch the boundaries of literature. Text stories were pretty much unavoidable in comics from the 1940s, but by the 1950s and the shrinking of the page count from 64 to 32, they all but disappeared, replaced by the aforementioned letter columns or pieces like the science-fact pages run by Julius Schwartz in his science fiction titles.

One place where text stories lived on into the 1980s was in the hardcover DC Comics reprint annuals published in the U.K. The earliest stories in my possession appeared in the Superman Batman With Robin the Boy Wonder Annual 1977, published in England by Brown Watson. Along with a Batman tale (“This One Will Kill You, Batman!” by Denny O’Neil, Irv Novick, and Dick Giordano) and the Superman story (“My Best Friend–the Super-Spy!” by Elliot S! Maggin, Curt Swan, and Bob Oksner) are two illustrated prose stories, Superman in “The Master Plan of the Mind Reader” and Batman in “The Riddler’s Ransom Robbery.” Both are uncredited, but the illustrations on the Superman story are signed “J. Britton,” who seemed to be doing a creditable riff on Curt Swan, and the Batman piece contains unsigned art by Bryan Talbot.

Below, “The Master Plan of the Mind Bender!” More of these U.K. prose stories in the days ahead, including those by Grant Morrison and Alan Moore!



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