Into the Bronze Age: December 1970 (Part 5)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Hello Internet travelers, and thank you for joining me for today’s stop on our journey Into the Bronze Age!  This is the very last post covering the banner year of 1970.  We are standing at the threshold for the 70s proper, and soon we’ll be exploring a whole new year of comics.  We’ve got a promising trio of titles to examine in this post.  So, hop in your Whiz Wagon and join me as I investigate these classic comics!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #395
  • Adventure Comics #400
  • Aquaman #54
  • Batman #227
  • Detective Comics #406
  • The Flash #202
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #81
  • Justice League of America #84 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Justice League of America #85
  • The Phantom Stranger #10
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134
  • Teen Titans #30
  • World’s Finest #199

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.

Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134

jimmy_olsen_134“The Mountain of Judgment!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta

We return to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World today in our second issue of Jimmy Olsen.  With this book we get a bit better of an idea about the setting Kirby is developing, but there are still far more questions than there are answers.  Kirby is setting up a great deal here, and my memory doesn’t quite serve to show me which threads will get paid off.  I have a vague notion that several of the ideas he sets up here won’t quite get the development they need.  Nonetheless, this issue is full of wild ideas and colossal concepts, including some classic Kirby artistic experimentation.

jo134-03

It opens in grand fashion, with a full-page splash of a mass exodus from the tree-house like ‘Habitat’ we saw at the end of the previous issue.  It’s a parade of crazy, Kirby-esq vehicles, led by the wondrous Whiz Wagon.  Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboy Legion are leading the Outsiders out in search of the mysterious and oh-so-awesomely named ‘Mountain of Judgement.’  The Newsboys get into some antics as they try to film the crowd that turns up to see them off, and Flippa-dippa is already stretching for an excuse to make himself useful…which is not a great sign.  Yet, the festivities are interrupted by the newly recovered Man of Steel who tries to talk the crew out of pursuing their mission, intimating that he knows something they don’t.  Jimmy and the Legion insist they have a job to do, but their discussion is cut short by the antagonistic bikers, who mount another attack on the Metropolis Marvel.

jo134-04

One of them tries to run Superman down with a rocket cycle, because apparently he’s a moron and doesn’t get the whole ‘more powerful than a locomotive’ thing, and that goes about as well as you’d expect.  The Man of Tomorrow catches it and plays rocket wrangler in a really cool panel.  Yet, the next attack is more effective.  One of these dropouts with their ridiculously advanced weaponry, targets the hero with a bazooka shell of kryptonite gas, and another finishes him off with a “green K paralysis gun.”  Of course, this is another example of that ‘everything is kryptonite’ problem with this era of Superman stories.  Fortunately, next month we get “Kryptonite Nevermore,” and I am really looking forward to that.

jo134-07

Anyway, Superman is defeated and possibly poisoned, you know, what with the deadly element he was exposed to and all, and his best friend, Jimmy Olsen, casually and callously notes that now they can get on with their job.  This is the one point of the book that really bothered me.  Last issue, the attack on Superman was sudden and unexpected, and Jimmy had just taken control of the gang.  This issue, on the other hand, the attack goes on for some time, the young reporter is clearly more in control, and yet he does nothing to stop it.  What’s more, he greets his friend being knocked unconscious with all the concern that you or I might muster for seeing a stranger stub their toe.  That’s a beat that doesn’t ring true.  It seems like, at the least, they could have, you know, listened to what Superman had to say.

jo134-08

After that kerfuffle, the convoy heads out, careening towards the foreboding Zoomway and beginning a race with death as they encounter obstacle after obstacle in their search for the mysterious Mountain.  First, Jimmy sends the Whiz Wagon straight through a camouflaged entrance to the roadway at top speed, ‘trusting in his instincts,’ which seems an unnecessary gamble, but what do I know?  Next, they must build up speed on a rock-strewn course in order to leap a chasm, a jump that some of the bikers don’t make.

jo134-13

Then they wade into “the water course,” where Flippa-dippa actually contributes, by planting a charge on a blocked exit, though his incompetence nearly gets himself killed as the charge goes off too early.  Of course, the incredible Kirby-bikes of the Outsiders are equipped for submarine operation as well, because Jack Kirby’s reality is way more interesting than ours.

jo134-14

Next, the crew encounters a reality-warping tunnel that messes with their senses, and they have to pilot by instruments as they lose all sense of direction.   This is portrayed by two bizarre pages of Kirby’s patented black and white photo-collages.  They’re fairly psychedelic and surreal, but it rather irks me that his model car doesn’t actually look that much like the Whiz Wagon.  I think he’d have been better off to incorporate some pencils, as he did in similar instances with the Fantastic Four.  I know that this was the King experimenting with the medium, pushing its boundaries and pioneering new techniques, but I never really cared for the effect that this type of gambit created.  According to the letters’ pages of the old Marvel books, though, it seems to have received at least some positive reaction from fans.  I wonder what DC readers would have thought of this in 1970.  If they hadn’t been reading Marvel books, it’s possible they wouldn’t have seen anything like this before.

jo134-16

jo134-19At any rate, Superman has awakened during all this adventure, and he sets out after our young travelers, zooming past the dangers they overcame.  Along the way, he passes the bikers who were left behind in the madcap dash towards their goal, and, in a bit of a cheat, he notes that they are all unharmed.  I can’t help but wonder if that was a Comic’s Code sop, because you’ve got to think that the guys that failed that jump and plowed into the chasm wall probably didn’t do too well.  Nonetheless, the Man of Steel suddenly encounters a bizarre, Brobdingnagian behemoth, a boogeyman from the nightmares of a regular car, a gigantic converted missile carrier with a frightening facade that is screaming down the Zoomway.  This is the Mountain of Judgement.  Who should be caught in its path but the plucky Legion.  Pulling off a last minute save, the Metropolis Marvel carries the Whiz Wagon into the Mountain, which is Kirby-tech from top to bottom.  Instantly, the enigmatic Hairies who we heard about last issue spring forth and start examining the Wagon with delicate instruments.

jo134-20a

Only Kirby could design this gloriously mad vehicle.

Superman begins to explain but is interrupted by the discovery of a tiny but incredibly powerful bomb hidden in the car-mounted camera.  The Hairies lessen its power, and the Man of Steel smothers its blast, leaving the Legion boys entirely gobsmacked.  At this point, Jimmy finally begins to show some appreciation for the guy who is constantly saving his life.  It seems that Morgan Edge had an ulterior motive for sending this expendable little gang of kids on this assignment.  They were a Trojan Horse designed to destroy the Hairies.

jo134-29

But, just who are these strange people, and what are they doing in this bizarre corner of the world?  Most of our questions remain unanswered, but their new hosts take the hero and his crew on a tour and show them the incredible insides of the Mountain, which serves as a giant rolling home for their enclave.  Essentially, theirs is a “mobile scientific society,” whatever that is, and Superman somehow knew about them.  The issue ends with the Legion wondering what game Morgan Edge is playing, and we get a glimpse of the man himself contacting a mysterious master, a strange character by the name of…Darkseid!

jo134-30-copy

This is another jam-packed issue, full of Kirby’s signature wild, rollicking action, an imaginative overload.  Unfortunately, our inker is the notorious Vince Colletta, so I imagine that we’re losing some of the nuances of the art.  Nonetheless, the book is full of fantastic visuals and wonderfully over-designed gadgets.  I don’t think he’s quite got the hang of Superman himself yet, as the Man of Steel occasionally looks a bit wonky, but the rest of the art in this issue is as gorgeous and creative as you’d expect.  The King delivers a plot that centers around a frantic race, which makes for a fun read, and the mysteries he’s introducing left and right are intriguing.

jo134-30

Obviously, DC fans will recognize where a lot of this is going, but it is great fun to see the seeds planted.  The weakness, other than the odd moment with Jimmy’s indifference to Superman’s plight, is Kirby’s dialog.  It’s got a strange quality to it that I just can’t put my finger on.  Just check out some of the examples I posted above.  It has something in common with Beat poetry, an odd rhythm and cadence, combined with some silly 60s slang.  I’m definitely not the first to observe this, and while it isn’t a huge problem with this issue, this is something that marks the Fourth World books and can make them feel a bit dated, even for their contemporary milieu.  Still, on the whole, this is a fun issue, full of the manic energy that always characterizes Kirby’s plotting.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

minute3.5

Interestingly, despite several ads for more forthcoming Fourth World books due out this very month, we won’t see them premiere until a few months into the next year.  I wonder what happened there?

P.S.: Several of my friends over at Freedom Reborn have been kind enough to remind me of something that I really should have remembered.  Apparently, despite hiring Jack Kirby to draw Superman and Jimmy Olsen, DC’s top brass were concerned that he would somehow damage the characters by drawing them like Jack Kirby rather than like the house style.  They actually had artists like Al Plastino and Murphy Anderson retouch and sometimes completely redraw both of those characters, leading to the weirdness I noticed in the Superman figures above.  Here’s a great article by Kirby champion and expert, Mark Evanier.  It’s really a crying shame, and the few samples of existing Kirby Superman art really make me long for what might have been.  I had actually learned this years ago when I read through the 4th World omnibuses, but I apparently had forgotten.  Thanks guys!

P.P.S.: This issue also came with an odd, off-beat text piece by the King himself where he praises the possible development of real-life Whiz Wagons and ponders the world that might come.  It’s an interesting read, though Kirby’s strange prose style is a bit hard to get a hang of.  It seems that prediction like these were everywhere decades ago, and yet I still don’t have my flying car, my personal submersible, or my jetpack.  Clearly, we’ve failed to make the future as awesome as it should have been.  After all, we’re living in the 21st Century, and aside from the Star-Trek like device I carry around in my pocket, it doesn’t seem all that different from the 20th.  Buck Rogers would be heartbroken!

jo134-26

Teen Titans #31

Teen_Titans_Vol_1_30.jpgGreed… Kills!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Dick Giordano

“Some Call It Noise”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Nick Cardy
Editor: Dick Giordano

Apparently we’re seeing a change in format with this issue.  Instead of a single story, we’re going to get two short yarns each month for a while.  I’m more than a little disappointed by that, as I’ve been looking forward to this issue because the cover indicated it would be Aqualad-centric, even featuring the fantastic but rarely used Aquagirl.  Imagine my dismay when I realized the promising cover only represented a brief backup tale (8 1/2 pages) rather than a full comic.  Promisingly, both of the stories herein are penned by Steve Skeates, but they didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

The first tale, which is actually not the cover story, sadly returns our titanic teens to the pointless Mr. Jupiter plot.  We find them engaged on a mission for the mysterious millionaire, costume-less and also rather clueless.  Lilith has had another vague vision, and she has brought them to a pawnshop she foresaw being robbed.  The team debates the value of following her “hunches,” and Kid Flash is particularly dubious.  Yet, the would-be thieves do show up, and while the boys tackle them, quickly dispatching two of them, the young speedster lets his pigeon get away.

teentitans30-04

For some reason, he doesn’t use his super speed in pursuing the guy, and then he just stands idly by while the fellow stumbles into traffic and gets run down.  Now, it’s supposed to be sudden, but how sudden does it have to be for a kid with super speed not to be able to intervene?  That bothered me, and it smacked more of Kid Flash just choosing not to act than anything else, which is a failure on Skeates’ part.

teentitans30-05

A scene follows with the police in the hospital that tells us that the injured man is Kevin Murphy (no, not Tom Servo’s alter ego), a notorious thief, thought to have died ten years ago.  What does all of this have to do with a job for Mr. Jupiter?  Well, wait and see.  The kids follow up on their “mission,” visiting a wealthy businessman, named Mr. Tout, from whom they are tasked with getting a donation for a charity to help first time youth offenders reform.  Mr. Scrooge, er…I mean Tout doesn’t react take too fondly to this idea, and he screams about how criminals can’t be reformed and how he won’t subsidize lazy bums who won’t get jobs.  Cardy really does some great personality work with this fellow, giving him a distinct and evocative look.

teentitans30-07

Their plea having failed, Mal notes that Tout looked directly at him during his tirade and speculates that there were probably racial overtones in it.  The quintet try to decide what to do now, and Lilith surprises them all by insisting that they go visit the injured Mr. Murphy.  teentitans30-08It’s handy to have the powers of plot.  Meanwhile, Tout discovers the concussed crook’s whereabouts and, strangely, begins to panic.  He decides that he must take care of this situation, immediately!

When they arrive at the hospital, the former Titans discover gunmen attempting to take out the police guards and kill Murphy.  Fortunately for the lone cop still standing, the girls intervene, promptly incapacitating the two assassins in a nice Cardy action sequence that, like some of our previous issues, demonstrates the different fighting styles of the participants.  Interestingly, Lilith is actually useful in the fight, which I didn’t expect.

teentitans30-11

The gunsels grounded, the kids get an explanation from Murphy, who is dying from his injuries (that’s entirely on you, Wally).  Apparently, he and Tout were partners years ago, and after a big score, the ‘self-made man’ went straight and built himself a business empire.  Yet, he was afraid that his former partner would one day be caught and turn on him, so he tried to have him killed.  Murphy faked his own death in order to escape, and when his identity was in the papers after his capture, Tout decided it was time to finish the job.  Strangely, the issue ends, not with the capture of Tout, but with the youths just wandering down the street, talking over the enigmatic events of the case.  Tout’s fate is implied, but not shown.

teentitans30-14

This is a fine story, with an interesting twist, but the trouble is that it isn’t really a Teen Titans story, just like some of the earlier issues I’ve covered.  Replace little-miss plot device with a clue that connects Murphy to Tout, and you could lift the Titans entirely out of this plot without anyone noticing.  None of the team use their abilities, none of their secret identities come into play, and the characterization, while solid, isn’t particularly distinctive or necessary to the narrative.  There’s nothing at all that makes this a Teen Titans tale.  The kids aren’t even in costume.  Cardy’s art is as beautiful as usual, but it also suffers from the lack of costumes.  His Kid Flash and Speedy are pretty hard to tell apart without any of their action garb to aid us.  Cardy still turns out a lovely story here, but I miss his seeing his Titans in action.

teentitans30-15

Part of the problem here is just the situation that Skeates inherited, but I’m disappointed that he didn’t just go ahead and disentangle the team from this narrative albatross around their necks.  There are some elements of social commentary here, with the bootstraps-businessman’s success not actually a product of his own hard work, the racial tension, and the counterexamples for criminal reform and the like.  It subtly pushes for a more liberal approach to several social issues, but there isn’t much made of those ideas.  I suppose I’ll give this story 3 Minutemen.  It’s about average.

minute3

Oddly, this comic also includes a two-page, mostly text short story about Kid Flash encountering a bank robber with a portable whirlwind, who is definitely not Whirlwind.  I wonder if this was an experiment or just a space filler.

“Some Call it Noise”

teentitans30-20

The story I was so eagerly anticipating proved more than a little disappointing in context, mostly from its brevity, which left Skeates just too little space to follow any of the fun and interesting ideas he introduced.  Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable little adventure, and it is great fun to see Aqualad and Aquagirl in a story together, something we haven’t seen for quite some time, and never in a Teen Titans book, methinks.

This little yarn begins in an operating room where a desperate case is met by a daring doctor.  The patient has some type of head trauma that will prove fatal, unless, perhaps an experimental treatment the doctor has been developing is employed.  Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite aquatic adolescents hurry out of the waves on their way to a concert.  This is a fun idea, but unfortunately, Skeates just doesn’t have the time to do much with it.

teentitans30-21

It does give us a charming image, though.

Just as the two young heroes reach the concert, the experimental surgery reaches its own crescendo, and the patient seems to be recovering well.  Yet, there is a terrible side effect of the new drug, and the recovering man goes mad!  His body chemistry thrown into turmoil, he develops superhuman strength, and he smashes his way out of the hospital.  Outside, he pulls a Grendel, catching wind of the merry music in the park and, enraged by the noise like that lonely fen-stalker, he sets off to put a stop to the revelry in most violent fashion.

teentitans30-22

The maddened patient charges past the Aqua-teens, clocking poor Tula on the head and leaving her stunned.  Aqualad sets out in pursuit, realizing that this guy needs to be stopped before he kills someone.  Just as the crazed music critic prepares to smash the band, the Aquatic Ace attacks, laying into the fellow in a nice action sequence.  However, here we get one of my only real critiques of the issue.

teentitans30-23

Aqualad thinks to himself that he’s able to throw a strong punch underwater, so he’s even more capable on the surface without the water resistance to fight.  Now, you might be thinking, ‘but that’s right!’ and you’d be correct.  My issue is that this really rather sells his abilities short, as he isn’t just able to throw “a strong punch;” he’s downright super strong!  I think Skeates, as much as I love him, forgets the super strength of his Atlanteans too often.  Still, it’s a minor complaint, and the kid still handles the enraged patient with aplomb.

teentitans30-24

teentitans30-25

Yet, his encounter with his angry antagonist proved a dangerous distraction.  Aquagirl, injured more seriously than he realized, has wandered off in a daze, trying to head to the sea, but stumbling further inland in confusion.  In growing fear, as their one-hour deadline looms closer and closer, Garth sets out on a desperate search.  Following a few clues, he finds her leaning against a lamppost in town, and then we get one of the stronger beats of the story.  Aqualad notes that their hour was up five minutes ago, yet they don’t just drop dead.  Instead, they grow weaker, yet the young man pushes himself to a heroic effort, carrying the lovely lady all the way back to the beach.  He even passes out on his feet, but keeps stumbling forward blindly, collapsing mere inches from the sea.

teentitans30-26

Fortunately, the tide comes in, reviving the exhausted Atlanteans.  It’s a great sequence, and it shows that Aqualad has some of his surrogate father’s force of will.  It also establishes that the one hour limit is not a hard and fast rule, but a general guideline that threatens, not immediate death, but growing weakness.  That’s a significant step in the right direction.  In the final half page, the two teens head out to sea, and I really love the spin Aqualad puts on their adventure.  He argues that, even though they missed part of the concert, it was worthwhile because he “saved a man from doing something he would have hated himself for for the rest of his life.”  That’s true, and an unusual angle on the events of the day.  It implies a thoughtful, empathetic quality for the young hero, which I enjoy.

teentitans30-27

This is a fun little adventure, but it is definitely just that, a little adventure.  I really enjoy seeing Aqualad and Aquagirl get to share a story together, but it is so brief that Tula’s role is almost nonexistent.  She takes no part in the real action, and she’s even out of her head for half of the tale.  That’s a shame because she’s a great character who doesn’t get much focus in the first place.  Despite the fact that I wanted more from this backup yarn, it is effective and efficient, delivering a complete story in just a few pages.  I’ll give it a fun but limited 3.5 Minutemen.

minute3.5

World’s Finest #199

worlds_finest_comics_199Race to Save Time”
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Colourist: Tatjana Wood
Editor: Julius SchwartzE. Nelson Bridwell

This is the second half of our two-parter featuring the race around the galaxy between Superman and the Flash, and it is great fun.  The crazy cosmic adventure of the last issue continues here, though the scale gets reduced a bit for the finale.  Also, Jimmy faces more chronological conundrums.  Interestingly, the first issue promised, in no uncertain terms, that we would get an answer to the age-old question about who would win in a race, the Flash or Superman.  “There must be a winner!” declared the cover copy, and there is…sort of.  O’Neil still cheats a bit.  I wonder if that question was ever entirely settled in the Bronze Age.  Who wins, you ask?  Well, there’s only one way to find out!

Our story picks up right where it left off, with poor, time-displaced Jimmy facing a flight of airborne arrows.  The situation looks pretty hopeless, until the hapless teen fades through time once more, but this is only a temporary temporal reprieve, as he lands right in the middle of a witch trial by the masked menace of the Spanish Inquisition!  I bet you didn’t expect that!  Of course, the young man’s sudden appearance is taken as proof positive that he is in league with dark powers, so he is sentenced to die. Poor Jimmy, out of the frying pan, into the inquisitional fire.

worlds-finest-comics-199-004

Meanwhile, our two heroes are continuing their race, and we get a brief recap of events , thanks to some exposition from the masters of the art, the Guardians.  Our nameless Centurion is still hanging out, but sadly we don’t get any more of his inner monologue.  That’s a missed opportunity Mr. O’Neil!  Anyway, the radical racers are ambushed by another batch of the Anachronids, and unfortunately they chose their sector of space well as they are near an orange star, so Superman is weakened.  The charging champions put up a good fight, but eventually they go down, captured by the super-fast robots!

worlds-finest-comics-199-007

Back in 15th Century Spain, Jimmy is not one to wait idly by for his fate.  He uses his wristwatch, a marvel in that era, to distract his guard and then takes him out, fleeing the prison.  He escapes into the night, trying to figure out how to get home.  In search of shelter, he stumbles into a barracks, accidentally stirring up a hornet’s nest of trouble!  Fleeing the roused soldiery, the young reporter climbs up a balcony, only to run smack into the grand inquisitor himself, Torquemada, now unmasked.  Poor Jimmy!  His luck is worse than mine!

worlds-finest-comics-199-011

As time continues to fluctuate, we also get a brief check-in with some other DC characters, including Batman and Wonder Woman, as their environments shift and anachronisms creep into the modern day.  In deep space, Superman and the Flash awaken to meet their captors and the architects of the universe’s current peril, the Phantom Zone Villains!  They kindly introduce themselves to the Scarlet Speedster as: Kru-El (definitely a case of nominative determinism), Jax-Ur, the notorious General Zod (whose Silver Age look is only so-so), and Professor Va-Kox.  This criminal quartet have had their robotic minions bring the heroes back to the strange, extra-dimensional planet they visited last issue.  Apparently, the villains have managed to escape from the Phantom Zone to this dimension, but they can go no further.  They created the Anachronids to turn the universe on its head, as they’ve determined that upsetting the time-stream will weaken the dimensional barriers enough for them to escape.  That’s workable enough technobabble for the setting.  The Flash cries out that this plan will kill billions of beings, and, in true villainous style, the Phantom Zone refugees respond with callous disregard.  All that matters is their freedom, and once free, they’ll pick up the pieces and rule like kings!

worlds-finest-comics-199-014

Well, for something like the fourth or fifth time this month, the villains complete their contractual obligation to leave the heroes alone in order for them to escape, as the Phantom Zone Four propose to leave the pair alive in order to see their triumph.  Man, the DC villains really need to read the Evil Overlord List.  Even so, the strange star of this world is red at the moment, so the Metropolis Marvel isn’t strong enough to burst their bonds, and, his medallion captured, the Flash doesn’t have the energy to vibrate free.  But wait, the medallion was made by the Guardians, so the heroes realize it may function similarly to a power ring.  They concentrate their willpower on the device, and Superman uses it to free himself, but before he can help his comrade, Zod returns, destroying the medallion!  He has them both dead to rights, and he tells them the villains decided they were too dangerous to let live.  That’s the right idea, Zod; if only you had acted on it earlier.

worlds-finest-comics-199-018

The Flash, still bound, manages to knock the kryptonian’s gun away, and Superman jumps his father’s old foe.  The Man of Steel, now more like the Man of Soft, Bruisable Flesh, takes a beating, but he eventually manages to knock the former dictator out, twisting his ankle badly in the fight.  It’s a fun scene, as Superman has to work much harder than he’s used to because he doesn’t have his powers, yet he still triumphs through force of will.  I rather prefer the Bruce Timm approach to the character, though, which stipulates that everything Superman does requires great effort, but that’s really a matter of taste.

worlds-finest-comics-199-019

Unfortunately, the Flash also catches a ricochet blast from the gun, rendering his legs temporarily paralyzed.  This leaves both heroes unable to walk, but, as the Flash declares in grand heroic fashion, they can still crawl!  They set out, dragging themselves desperately towards the Phantom Zone criminals’ headquarters, where they hope to find the controls for the Anachronids.  Never one to let the weight of the universe resting on his shoulders get him down, the Scarlet Speedster declares to his not-so-super partner that they “began this thing as a race-remember?  Well, we’re still racing–and I’m still determine to beat you!”  That is just a great sequence, and it just wonderfully captures the indomitable heroic spirit of these two characters, Flash in particular, with his cheerful, hopeful personality.

worlds-finest-comics-199-021

Next, O’Neil briefly checks back in with Jimmy as he awaits the headman’s axe, just to add a little more tension to the situation.  Back in the future, the two exhausted, injured heroes, arrive at the headquarters and encounter Jax-Ur and the Professor playing six dimensional chess (!).  The Flash throws a rock to distract them, and then, using a last burst of speed, the pair rush the villains and knock them out.  With just thirty seconds left until the the universe is shattered, the heroes drag themselves up the steps of the control center, and the Flash pulls the shut-off lever with only moments to spare.

worlds-finest-comics-199-026

Exhausted, he declares somewhat sheepishly, “Hey!  Guess what?  I won!”  That’s right, the Flash won the race…after a fashion.  This sets everything to rights, as the Anachronids decelerate and disintegrate, not being able to survive at sub-light speeds.  Jimmy is yanked back through time just in the nick, as the axe descends.  Just then, Kru-El dashes into the control center with a gun, but the sun has just turned once more, giving the Man of Steel back his powers.  He decks Kru-El and destroys their machinery.  Then he takes Flash home, noting that he’ll get the Guardians to help him seal this dimensional breach.

worlds-finest-comics-199-027

Well, this is a great two-parter.  This second half doesn’t have the rapid pace and non-stop action of the first, but it is still a lot of fun.  I love the heroes grit, reduced to crawling, and yet refusing to give in.  They persevere and succeed pretty much entirely on moxie alone.  It’s a lovely character moment for the two of them.  The story does have a few little weaknesses, some break in logical consistency, like Superman taking out Kru-El easily, despite the fact that the villain now has super powers too.  The wrap-up is really a bit too brief, and it seems that O’Neil may have run out of room.  Still, the story is so much fun, and the adventure, both for the heroes and for time-tossed Jimmy, is so satisfying, that I’m not too bothered by such things.  Once again, Dillin’s artwork is really strong, standing in particular contrast to the stiff and lackluster work from this month’s JLA.  By the way, Bronze Age Jimmy is growing on me as a character.  He’s proving resourceful, courageous, and capable.

Speaking of Jimmy, his encounter with the Inquisition gives O’Neil a chance to bring in a little social consciousness, as the youthful reporter notes that the fanaticism and cruelty of Torquemada didn’t die out in the Middle Ages (in fact, it was generally way more common in the Renaissance), but continues to live on in the modern day.  We certainly still see plenty of that kind of viciousness and irrationality in our own time.  It is a fine little note, but it would have been more effective if he could have connected it to the main plot more directly.  I think there’s an angle to be worked there with the Phantom Zone villains, but c’est la vie.  In the end, this is just an all around enjoyable comic yarn.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen, with the the Flash’s unflappable good cheer helping overcome its weaknesses.  I just had a blast reading both of these stories.

minute4.5

 

Final Thoughts:

And that, my dear readers, is the end of the first year of our journey Into the Bronze Age!  It’s taken a tad more than a year of real-time, but hopefully the next will move a little more quickly!  Either way, I am very excited to have completed an entire year of this project, having read most of the superhero books published by DC Comics for 1970.  It’s been a fascinating journey, and we have watched the Bronze Age grow before our very eyes.  We’ve seen Silver Age tropes grow a little more rare, but more importantly, we’ve seen a revolution taking place in the pages before us, as the cardboard characters of the Silver Age began to grow, developing unique personalities (some of those more pleasant than others…I’m looking at you, Ollie).  We’ve seen Denny O’Neil absolutely everywhere, jumping from book to book to book, constantly innovating, often failing, at least in part, but arguably succeeding more often than not.  I’m really blown away by how large a role he’s played in these early days of experimentation and evolution.  Clearly, the Bronze Age at DC owes a great deal to that man, and even if his writing is sometimes heavy handed and pedantic, the fellow did some amazing work.  It’s easy to credit later works for being more sophisticated than their predecessors, but it is important to remember that the former wouldn’t exist without the pioneers who came before.

Over the last year of comics, social consciousness themes have grown from occasional influences trumpeted, often solely, in the books being penned by Denny O’Neil, to showing up just about everywhere, even in the most conservative of DC’s offerings, like the Superman titles.  The most immediate and marked change, is of course, in Batman, who has evolved quickly and more consistently than most.  He’s already begun to resemble the ‘grim avenger of the night’ version of the character that is the pure expression of the concept, at least for my money.  Books like Aquaman are serving as sources of innovation, both in art and story, and a spirit of change seems to be in the air.  Interestingly, even the fans notice it, and many of the letters of the latter part of the year have talked about the ‘character revolution’ or something similar, going on at DC, calling for the same process to be applied to characters not yet affected.

I would say by December 1970, the Bronze Age was well and truly on the way.  The change between the first and last month is really quite marked, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds!  First, what about this month itself?

We’ve had a lot of solid stories and a few strong stand outs.  This month’s comics have featured two different takes on the growing political involvement of America’s youth.  We’ve also seen multiple instances of real-life events influencing and inspiring this month’s comics, from the student march in Cleveland being reflected in Robin’s tale to the cultural anxiety around the rise of Satanism being reflected in the Flash’s macabre plot.  In general, I think there has been a slight uptick in stories with supernatural elements, with Flash, Kid Flash, Batman, and, of course, the Phantom Stranger all facing occult menaces this month.

All-in-all, I’d call that a pretty fitting end to a good year of comics, and I hope that you’ll join me soon as we race back through time on our Cosmic Treadmills to peer into 1971!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

Aquamanhead.jpgBatmanhead.jpgshowcase-88-fnvf-jasons-quest0robin2 - Copy.jpgPhantom_Stranger_05.jpgrobin2 - Copy.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgAquamanhead.jpg3072564469_1_3_hCmU7jwq.jpg

arrowheadglheadAquamanhead.jpg

Only Aquaman joins our distinguished company on the wall of shame this week, though we had several very close calls, more than we’ve had before, I believe.  There you go, folks, an entire year of head-blows.  It seems Aquaman’s reputation of getting knocked out as regularly as Philip Marlowe is probably deserved.  Hopefully things will improve for my favorite hero in the next year.

Into the Bronze Age: December 1970 (Part 4)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Welcome readers, to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  It’s a beautiful day here at Grey Manor, a perfect day for discussing some Bronze Age books, wouldn’t you say?  Today we’ve got a trio of books as diverse in quality as they are in content.  Care to check them out?  Then join me, as we travel further up and further in!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #395
  • Adventure Comics #400
  • Aquaman #54
  • Batman #227
  • Detective Comics #406
  • The Flash #202
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #81
  • Justice League of America #84 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Justice League of America #85
  • The Phantom Stranger #10
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134
  • Teen Titans #30
  • World’s Finest #199

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow #81

green_lantern_vol_2_81“Death Be My Destiny!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Well, we’ve got another issue of O’Neil’s desperately socially conscious comic, and this one also takes the action off-world, though the effect is perhaps slightly more potent than that of the last issue, given the more relatable problem the cast faces.  Unlike the previous issue, with its mad judge and distinctly sci-fi setting, which was not instantly recognizable as tackling current social problems, this comic deals with the question of overpopulation, which was in the zeitgeist in 1970.  Interestingly, I thought for sure that this book had been born out of a trip to the movies by O’Neil.  I was sure that he must have been prompted to write this story by seeing Soylent Green.  Imagine my surprise when I realized that science fiction classic wouldn’t be released until 1973!  However, that famous film was actually based on a 1966 novel, entitled Make Room! Make Room!  It seems likely to me that O’Neil had either read that book or encountered its influence on the culture.

At any rate, the story itself is an odd one.  Despite the last issue having ended with the Hard Traveling Heroes having headed back to Earth, we pick up with the second trial of the rogue Guardian, this time by his fellows on Oa.  The Green Team, plus Black Canary, are there to serve as witnesses for the accused, but they argue like folks in a modern political debate, insisting entirely on their own point of view and making no effort to accommodate that of their audience in their argument.  Surprisingly, the Guardians aren’t swayed, but the real surprise is that we don’t get any pontificating from Ollie during the trial.  Despite the efforts of the heroes, judgement is passed: the rogue Guardian is stripped of his powers and immortality, and he is sentenced to live out the rest of his days on Maltus, the original home of his race.

green-lantern-081-003

The obvious reference to Uncle Sam is…odd.

green-lantern-081-005The heroes ask to accompany him to his place of exile, and Hal takes the opportunity to announce that he’s not sure he wants to serve the Guardians anymore.  It is actually a pretty decent moment in the context of the arc he’s been traveling over the course of the series, as he displays a semi-mature sense of morality, evincing the ability to think beyond ‘authority=good.’  Having spoken their piece, the quartet depart in a truly beautiful full-page spread.  It really captures the majesty of the characters and setting, a quality of which this run takes too little advantage.  Whatever you can say about the writing on these books, the art remains flat-out gorgeous and innovative.  I just wish Adams were given more opportunities like this one.

green-lantern-081-006

Unfortunately, when they arrive on Maltus, they find it disastrously overpopulated, absolutely teeming with life, and the Guardian notes that it was fine when they last checked on it, an eon ago.  This series really makes it seem like the Guardians are super bad at their jobs.  When the heroes land, they are immediately attacked by desperate citizens and forced to take to the skies again.

green-lantern-081-007

In order to discover what happened, Green Lantern simply plucks an entire vault of archives out of a building, and the others investigate.  In the records they find a strange story.  Apparently the planet traveled through a bizarre cloud of cosmic dust which made the population sterile.  In order to save the race, a scientist named Mother Juna took samples from the Maltusans in order to create clones, even endowing them with false memories so that they were indistinguishable from natural born citizens.

green-lantern-081-014

However, she didn’t stop when the population was restored.  Even worse, the effects of the dust cloud eventually wore off, and the resulting population explosion strained the planet to the breaking point.  Having solved the mystery, the cosmic quartet set out to see the effects of this situation for themselves, and Adams provides us with a striking two-page spread that captures the desperation of the Maltusan plight.

green-lantern-081-016_17

Determined to do what they can to help matters, the heroes travel to Mother Juna’s citadel which just happens to be, in classic Green Lantern plot-device-style, entirely yellow.  The Emerald Crusader prepares to dig under the dome, and his vermilion partner sets out to distract the crowd in order to buy him time.  With Black Canary acting as his assistant, he puts on a dazzling display of arrow acrobatics.  In a funny and fitting little touch, O’Neil describes Ollie’s qualifications for the job as “unerring aim” and “a natural sense of theater.”  That works.  Green Arrow is definitely a bit of a ham.

green-lantern-081-019

With the tunnel finished, the heroes rush inside, only to be greeted by a giant golden guardian.  It sure is fortunate for Mother Juna that she happens to like the color yellow!  For some reason, Hal decides to try and duke it out with this behemoth rather than, I don’t know, let the guy with the explosive arrows handle it.  Even more ridiculous is the fact that Ollie follows suit, temporarily forgetting that he’s got a bow.  He offers some silly explanation about trying to ‘play fair with them,’ which is something that hasn’t bothered him during the rest of his superhero career and so seems a bit strange showing up now.  Black Canary cleans up after the boys, however, saving the day with a judo throw.

green-lantern-081-021

The crew are confronted by Mother Juna herself, along with a duo of golden guardians.  The quartet flees into her facility and the Green Team suddenly remember their abilities and take the two gargantuan guys out, while the bird lady sings a swan-song for Mother dearest.  Before they can do anything else, the maddened crowds from outside bust in and begin to wreck the joint.

green-lantern-081-026

Hal helps the heroes get Mother Juna outside, where she confesses that she kept up her clone creation because she remained sterile from the cosmic dust and she “was always taught that a woman was nothing if she wasn’t a mother”.  There’s some women’s lib commentary there, but it’s shoe-horned into the end of this issue, so it doesn’t really work very well.  Black Canary is super moved by this, despite the fact that this nutjob may have doomed her world.

green-lantern-081-027

Finally, the Guardian chooses to spend his remaining days on Maltus, trying to do some good and hoping that his finite time will spur him to greater efforts.  The heroes bid him farewell and head back to Earth, where Dinah has some appropriately vague moral about love to append to the adventure.

green-lantern-081-029

Society was unjust to you?  Man, that stinks…but maybe you shouldn’t try to destroy the entire planet? Maybe?

This issue is an interesting one, but it isn’t completely successful.  The problem with this story is that the overpopulation of Maltus is entirely the fault of one madwoman, not the fault of its people.  The folks of that world did nothing wrong.  The depredations of overpopulation are not a result of their greed, their shortsightedness, or their ambition.  It’s the result of a race-saving measure gone horribly wrong.  Thus, once again, the parallels that can easily be drawn to our own little orb are not as clear as they might be.

green-lantern-081-030

Of course, plot wise, the central focus of the problem in one character allows the heroes the chance to solve it, which they obviously couldn’t have done if it were an organically overpopulated world.  It, like the last issue, is an example of theme sacrificed for plot, which is an understandable trade-off, and one that works to the advantage of the story itself, which is a reasonably enjoyable adventure.  On the positive side, O’Neil seems to be getting into a better rhythm with his characterization.  No-one is insufferable or even really annoying in this issue.  In fact, Ollie is down-right charming, what with his arrow tricks and his wry sense of humor.  I wonder if that’s actually a sign of improvement or just a fluke.  I don’t’ remember this run well enough to say for sure.  Anyway, I’ll give this particular outing 3.5 Minutemen, seeing as it is a bit uneven.

minute3.5

Justice League of America #86

jla_v-1_86“Earth’s Final Hour!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Story Consultant: Dennis O’Neil

I was pretty excited about the beginning of Mike Friedrich’s run on JLA, having heard good things about it, but after having read the first issue…that is no longer the case.  His is a strange story; in many ways, it feels like one of those gonzo 60s JLA tales that didn’t bother with trivial matters like logical consistency or verisimilitude, complete with a rather lame villain.  On the plus side, we get the return of Aquaman to the team he helped found for the first time in ten issues.  That’s cause for celebration, seeing as Denny O’Neil seemed to have forgotten that the Sea King was actually part of the team.

In fact, this disjointed adventure actually begins with Aquaman, as the Marine Marvel receives word in Atlantis that strange machines are stripping the plankton from the oceans.  Obviously, plankton is the foundation of the food-chain in the sea, and Arthur realizes that without it, Atlantis will starve and eventually Earth will die.  Of course, plankton is also a huge part of the oxygen supply of our world, which doesn’t get a mention in this story.  That’s actually the bigger threat, as losing plankton would mean we’d lose at least half of our oxygen production.  At any rate, the Aquatic Ace heads out to put a stop to these shenanigans, and he performs rather poorly, being taken out by some rocks in a less than impressive two-page spread.  He does manage to press his JLA signal device, though.

justice-league-of-america-v1-086-02-03

justice-league-of-america-v1-086-04We then meet the culprit and get a one-page bio on him.  That’s right, it’s gay Tony Stark.  Tony decided to moonlight at DC, and developed a fabulous fashion sense while he was at it.  This is our villain.  This guy.  He’s…somewhat less than intimidating.  Obviously, not everyone can be Darkseid, but this guy isn’t even Brainstorm.  Apparently he’s a rogue tycoon who stole a memory altering device and used it to steal his way to power and wealth.  Then, the story takes a hard left turn, as he’s visited by very Silver Age-looking aliens who come from a world organized by magical principles as opposed to the scientific principles of Earth.  Also, for some reason, that magic creates pollution, and they’ve killed off all of their plankton.  Wait, what?  It’s…odd.  It really doesn’t quite fit together, both the magic and the pollution angles.  Pick one outlandish concept at a time, Friedrich!  Well, being an immoral little slimeball, our businessman, Theo Zappa, called, “The Zapper,” in a nickname almost as lame as he is, steals the visiting magic alien’s wand, because, of course he does.  ‘The Zapper’ decides to use his newfound power to steal all of Earth’s plankton and take over both Earth and the alien world.

justice-league-of-america-v1-086-05

justice-league-of-america-v1-086-09Opposing his ridiculous plan is the JLA.  They find Aquaman and take stock, realizing that the theft of the plankton (which, by the way, is an event of absolutely ludicrously staggering scale, as the oceans are, surprisingly, quite big, after all) will cause a global catastrophe, and the Sea King actually takes charge, dividing the League’s assets up and giving them assignments.  That’s a fun moment, and about the only bright spot Aquaman gets in this issue.  The team divides up in classic fashion, with pairs of Leaguers pursuing different goals.

In one of the features of this issue that I actually quite enjoyed, each pair of heroes gets a little title at the head of their adventures, featuring both of their names.  Superman and Aquaman head under the sea to try and track down the plankton stealing machines which, somehow, are already done.  Yep, they’ve stripped ALL THE OCEANS ON EARTH of all of their plankton.  They encounter some enraged whales, which Superman knocks out ‘for their own good,’ and then the Sea King is trapped by a maddened wall of fish, in danger of being crushed until the Man of Steel creates a whirlpool to free him.  It’s a cool page, but once again, Aquaman comes off looking bad.  Zappa is working against the pair, and he magically enlarges some jellyfish to attack them.  The Man of Tomorrow can’t take his opponent because it’s magic, despite the fact that, as we’ve discussed previously, that’s not how his “weakness” to magic works.  This is my old bugbear for logical consistency rearing its head.  At least Aquaman gets to do something, as he easily shreds his jellyfish and frees the Metropolis Marvel.  Yet, when they reach the control center for the machines, they find ‘The Zapper’ already gone.

justice-league-of-america-v1-086-10

justice-league-of-america-v1-086-12

Hawkman and The Flash, meanwhile, have taken to space on a really flimsy excuse.  Aquaman overheard the term “Cee” when he was first attacked, and Hawkman wondered if it might refer to the “Sea of Space.”  Sure.  Anyway, they happen to encounter Zappa’s spaceship, because of course he has one, and set out in pursuit in Hawkman’s Thanagarian ship.  Zappa does…something, it’s really not clear, which slows them down, and when they board his ship, the villain teleports himself and his plankton cargo to his alien destination.

justice-league-of-america-v1-086-14

justice-league-of-america-v1-086-15

Oddly, suddenly folks have forgotten how to create caption boxes…

justice-league-of-america-v1-086-18Our final pair, the Atom and Batman have the most luck, as they encounter the alien traveler that Zappa had bamboozled to begin with, and he fills them in on the plot.  Ray uses his scientific training to figure out the teleportation device in Zappa’s office, and they travel to the alien world, where Batman does his part.  The Caped Crusader tracks Zappa down in his palace, where he is living like a king.

Interestingly, Friedrich is clearly trying to bring in some of the ‘grim avenger of the night’ vibe that has been growing in the Bat-books, as he has Zappa panic at the sight of the Dark Knight and includes several atmospheric captions.  The Atom chips in again by decking the lavender louse and saving his partner, but the people of this planet, Kalyarna, are none too happy about their actions.

justice-league-of-america-v1-086-20

Fearing what will happen without their stolen plankton, the aliens threaten to storm the palace, and we get a really neat idea with mediocre execution.  The rest of the League arrives and confers about what they should do.  Superman, knowing he’s vulnerable to the magic weapons of the aliens, bravely goes out to face the crowd, but not to fight, to talk.  He realizes that they’re desperate, and he goes to reason with them.  He gives them a speech about how nobody else can solve your problems for you, echoing the very similar speech he gave in Action Comics #393.  It’s not as tone-deaf as that one, but it is a bit surprising.  If Superman had stuck to this bootstraps philosophy, Lex Luthor might have been more okay with him.  Anyway, the League promise to stabilize Kalyarna, but the Man of Steel tells its people that they must rethink how and why they pollute their planet.  Of course, this ends with a ‘and so must we’ moment.

justice-league-of-america-v1-086-23

Like I said, this is an odd one, and it’s the second JLA story about pollution within a year, which might be a bit much.  This comic especially suffers in comparison to the fun, relatively reasonable O’Neil issue that it reminds us of.  Notably, O’Neil gets a “story consultant” credit on this issue, which might help to account for the return of this topic.  The completely unimpressive villain, the ridiculous threat, and the vague and largely uninteresting challenges the League faced make this a pretty weak issue.  It doesn’t help that the stiffness in Dillin’s pencils is back, unlike the other books we’ve seen him on this month.  Yet, the unusual focus, not just on pollution, but the necessity of balance in nature, is at least a little interesting.  After all, what could seem less important than plankton?  But it is, in fact, vitally important, and important on a global scale.  That lesson doesn’t quite justify this yarn, though.  Despite a few bright spots, this JLA issue just isn’t that good.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.

minute2.5

The Phantom Stranger #10

phantom_stranger_v-2_10
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
“Death… Call Not My Name”
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando

“The Bewitched Clock”
Penciler: Ruben Moreira
Inker: Ruben Moreira

“Charlie’s Crocodile”
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciler and Inker: Jim Aparo

This issue features the first mainstream comics work of Gerry Conway on an ongoing title, so we’re seeing comic book history in the making, here.  What’s particularly impressive about that is the fact that Mr. Conway was only 16 when he started writing for DC, and it was shortly after that when he broke into Marvel and got a full-time gig.  I can’t imagine holding down a full-time creative job when I was 16, much less turning out quality writing, comic or otherwise, that early.  I flatter myself to think I’m not a bad writer when I turn my hand to it these days, but at 16, despite delusions to the contrary, that was certainly not the case.  This issue is a very impressive first effort.

the-phantom-stranger-1969-10-01

The main tale is framed by a warning from the Phantom Stranger about evil hiding in the shadows, and it is in a shadowy club that the sinister stalker of this story makes his first appearance.  A trio of young women are out for a night on the t0wn, and one of them complains about never meeting any interesting men.  That’s a complaint that she won’t have time to regret as a dapper but vaguely disquieting gentlemen approaches her and asks for a dance.  He seems to have a hypnotic effect on the girl, Lottie, and when she returns to her friends she is stunned, able only to stutter out that the man’s name was ‘Tannarak’ before she collapses, suddenly stone dead!

the-phantom-stranger-1969-10-02

the-phantom-stranger-1969-10-04Her friends are horrified, as you might imagine, but who should come to the rescue?  Dr. Thirteen!  What?  You were expecting someone helpful?  Actually, Thirteen’s portrayal in this issue is a bit more varied and interesting than we’ve seen previously.  Of course, when the Phantom Stranger arrives a few minutes later, the good doctor does immediately accuse him of murder, but I suppose old habits die hard.  Thirteen quickly realizes that, whatever he may think of the Stranger, he knows the man is no murderer.  The first part of this story even has the two men set aside their differences as they work on the case.  It’s actually a fun dynamic.

the-phantom-stranger-1969-10-03

Thirteen has been in town investigating a similar spate of murders, murders without a clue and deaths without a sign of violence.  The Stranger realizes there is more here than meets the eye (no, she wasn’t killed by a Decepticon).  There’s a nice moment, as Dr. Thirteen blames himself, thinking he could have stopped this death if he had been smarter or faster, and the Stranger actually comforts him, establishing a slightly more cooperative dynamic for this issue.  I would totally read an odd-couple/buddy cop feature with these two teamed up, as long as you could figure out some way for Thirteen to be useful.

the-phantom-stranger-1969-10-05

Anyway, the other two young women flee the murder scene, which seems like a poor choice no matter how you slice it, and emerge into a mysterious, foggy night.  They encounter the same mysterious figure from the club, and their screams alerts our two heroes.  The supernatural sleuths charge out into the night, only to discover one of the girls hysterical and the other missing.  The Stranger, in a nicely ambiguous scene, calms the girl, either through his powers or through pure force of will.  She tells her story, and, of course, Dr. Closed-Minded immediately disregards the Stranger’s offered warning of the supernatural.  In response, the phantom detective (no, not that one) pulls his patented disappearing trick.

the-phantom-stranger-1969-10-11

We switch to follow the perspective of our villain, the mysterious Mr. Tannarak, as he brings the hypnotized Michelle to his home.  Along the way, he rants madly, calling her Dianna, his love.  It slowly emerges that this lost love he conflates her with died nearly a hundred years ago!  The aged ancient obligingly recounts his origin for his guest, and we discover that he and the original Dianna were once children, stealing on the streets of Cairo long years ago, and after being caught and confronted with the specter of death in the form of a dead body, the young Tannarak became obsessed with escaping that great enemy of mankind.

the-phantom-stranger-1969-10-13

He searched for years, studied for years, and eventually mastered the arts of alchemy, by which he made himself immortal.  Essentially, he pulled a Voldemort, placing his soul in a golden phylactery, a statue of himself (shades of the Picture of Dorian Gray!).  As with all such dark rituals, however, this immortality comes at a high cost.  The alchemist is now without a soul, and he survives by stealing those of others, as he did the unfortunate young lady at the club this very night.  Yet, he has a different fate in store for Michelle.  Because she reminds him of his lost Dianna, he will make her immortal too, whether she wants that soulless unlife or not.

the-phantom-stranger-1969-10-14

Fortunately, just as he prepares his alchemical concoction for the dire deed, the Phantom Stranger arrives to save the girl.  What follows is a really nice fight between the two.  It begins as Tannarak tosses ‘the Elixir of Death’ at the mysterious hero, seemingly burning him terribly, but the Stranger tosses off his smouldering cloak and clocks the alchemist with a powerful blow.

the-phantom-stranger-1969-10-15the-phantom-stranger-1969-10-16

Not out of gimmicks yet, the immortal employs ‘the Blood Stone,’ apparently a bit akin to the Philosopher’s Stone, in an attempt to turn the Stranger into stone, but he proves too fast.  His attacks having failed, Tannarak attempts to bargain with the spectral sleuth, offering him wealth and immortality, trying to distract his foe as he grabbed another alchemical concoction.  Once again, the Stranger is too quick for him, and a last blow sends the immortal crashing into his statue, which collapses on top of him, exploding into rubble and finally putting an end to his evil.

the-phantom-stranger-1969-10-17

Having been tracking down the murderer, Dr. Thirteen and the other girl arrive just in time to try and explain away all of the magic and mysticism that has transpired that night.  Thirteen actually offers some reasonable explanations for some of it, but when the Stranger takes off his jacket to show that the sleeve has been turned to gold, ‘ol Terry is at a bit of a loss.

the-phantom-stranger-1969-10-18

This is a great story.  The whole thing works; it hangs together and makes sense, maintaining logical consistency throughout.  The fact that a 16 year old kid could tell such a story puts a new perspective on those that can’t.  Its only real flaw is the fact that the captions are overwritten.  Some of them are appropriately dark and tension-building, but many of them are positively purple in their attempt at pulchritudinous prose .  Strangely, it is only really the captions that are overwritten.  For the most part, the dialog is strong and fitting, and the character work is quite good.  In terms of the villain of the piece, his origin could have used a bit more attention, but it works reasonably well.  Tannarak is delightfully mad and viciously evil, a combination perfectly captured by Jim Aparo.  It is hardly worth mentioning at this point, but this is a gorgeous book, and picking the art for this post was really quite tough.

the-phantom-stranger-1969-10-19

The big battle was particularly dynamic and exciting, something that has been lacking in some of our Phantom Stranger stories.  The whole story, however, is beautifully rendered, heavy with atmosphere, lit with candles, suffused with fog and smoke, and covered throughout in a lowering sense of foreboding, well conjured by both word and image.  This issue also grants us the rare sight of the Stranger divesting himself of both cloak and jacket, which leads to a strange sight.  He looks a bit less mysterious and enigmatic standing about in a white turtleneck.  It’s a fun sight that contrasts with his obvious supernatural air.  I’ll give this strong story 4.5 Minutemen, a thoroughly enjoyable read.

minute4.5

 

This issue also includes a reprint of an old tale, as well as a fun, four page backup, which is really too brief to bother with giving a full write-up, but it is a good example of expeditious writing.  In just four pages we meet a horribly hen-pecked husband who is treated terribly by his wife.  He answers a newspaper ad to ‘get rid of all nuisances,’ meeting a “Mr. Scratch,” which is an old name for the Devil, and making  deal.  Ignoring a warning from the Phantom Stranger, he’s given an inflatable crocodile to put in his pool, which is guaranteed to do the trick.  When his wife goes for a swim, he suddenly finds himself free, but he pays a price when his friends find the same gag and put it in his pool after a party.  He suffers the same fate.  It’s a classic short horror tale, beautifully illustrated by Jim Aparo.

 

That will do it for today, and an interesting day it was.  The Phantom Stranger continues to be one of the strongest books I’m encountering, but my beloved Justice League has taken a disappointing turn.  Let’s hope that JLA will improve under Friedrich’s tenure.  Green Lantern?  Well…it continues to be fascinating, whatever else one can say about it.  I certainly never have a hard time finding something to say about that book.  We’ve only got one more post to go before we break through into 1971, and I’m excited to see a new year’s worth of books!  Well, until next time ladies and gents, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: December 1970 (Part 3)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Today we’ve got Detective Comics and The Flash, two books, four stories.  There are some fascinating real-world connections to these comics, methinks.  Check them out below and see if they ring any bells for you!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #395
  • Adventure Comics #400
  • Aquaman #54
  • Batman #227
  • Detective Comics #406
  • The Flash #202
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #81
  • Justice League of America #84 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Justice League of America #85
  • The Phantom Stranger #10
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134
  • Teen Titans #30
  • World’s Finest #199

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.

Detective Comics #406

detective_comics_406“Your Servant of Death — Dr. Darrk!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Explosive Circle!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

In our headline tale we have the next iteration of the growing saga of the League of Assassins!  From auspicious beginnings last issue, the promising setup receives further development in this story, and O’Neil teases an epic adventure that will unfold in these pages in months to come.  This particular part of that whole, like its introduction, doesn’t quite have the grandeur of that which would eventually develop, but it’s a fair adventure tale with the added attraction of successfully creating an “impression of depth.”

The story starts off with a bang, literally, as a bomb goes off as shipping magnate Count Orsoni christens the newest ship in his fleet.  The traditional wine bottle is rigged to blow, and the resulting explosion nearly kills the wealthy industrialist.  If we recall, last issue we discovered the League of Assassins was out to get shipping magnates.  Batman remembers this as well, so he travels to Europe in his secret identity.  Conveniently, Bruce Wayne is an old friend of the Count, so he arranges to visit his ailing pal at his estate, where he is being treated privately.  Apparently the Count survived, but he was paralyzed by the blast.

detective406-02

detective406-04Upon arrival, Wayne is greeted by Mara Thursday, the Count’s cousin, who takes him to the manse.  It is there that he meets a fellow who will figure into the future of the League plot, Dr. Ebenezer Darrk!  With a name like that, he’s got to be a good guy, right?  Well, once again showing blatant disregard for his secret identity, Bruce changes into his ‘work clothes,’ and Batman prowls the night, keeping watch on the Count’s room in the belief that his would-be killers will try again.  As he settles in for his vigil, he hears Mara scream and rushes to her room.  She tells him some story about an attacker that is full of holes, clearly lying to distract him from the Count (I guess we’d call those “alternative facts” today.).  It’s actually a neat sequence, as O’Neil leaves the reader to ponder on how Batman saw through her lies, only explaining the matter later on.

detective406-06

Can you figure it out?

Anyway, the Dark Knight isn’t fooled, and he races to protect the Count, only to be ambushed by another League Assassin!  This guy is a sling master, firing spiked bullets at the hero, and it takes a clever ruse for Batman to take him out.  The Caped Crusader de-cloaks, rigging his cape and cowl as a decoy to draw the slinger’s fire and allowing him to get the drop on the killer.  It’s a nice display of the character’s resourcefulness.

detective406-09

One danger surmounted, our hero continues his quest, only to discover Orsoni is missing!  He tracks the nabbed nobleman to a secret passage into ancient catacombs below the estate and discovers his friend in the middle of a stone chamber.  When he approaches, a cloaked figure gets the drop on him, threatening to shoot the Count if Batman doesn’t follow orders.  I wonder who could possibly be under that cloak?  The Law of Conservation of Detail means there’s really only one possibility at this point.  Well, whoever he is, he happily explains to the Masked Manhunter that these Christian catacombs actually have an older origin, once having served as a Roman dungeon, and, somehow, the various torture device of those lousy Latins are still there and in working order.  The super mysterious figure forces Batman into a deathtrap, chaining him to a table and giving him a cord that holds a giant axe above his own head, making the hero his own executioner!

detective406-14

Of course, the Dark Detective has figured out the same thing we have, and he calls his captor Dr. Darrk, who, in turn, reveals that he is actually the head of the League of Assassins.  Pulling the classic villain move of leaving the hero unattended (what is that, the third time already this month?), Darrk takes off, leaving Batman alone with only a paralyzed man to help him.  Yet, astonishingly, Orsoni claws his way to his hands and knees and crawls, not to the trapped crime fighter, but to a statue of his favorite saint, St. Diona (a fictional saint, for some reason).  With a desperate prayer, the injured man topples the statue, which lands in precisely the right position to protect the Caped Crusader from the blade and yet not crush him with its own stony weight.  It’s a good moment, and the hero is stunned, recognizing the possibility of a miracle in the unlikely series of events (even Batman is more open-minded than Dr. Thirteen!).

detective406-16

His escape arranged, perhaps with divine intervention, the Dark Knight sets out after the dark-Darrk, snatching up a shield to protect him from the sling-armed slayer.  This proves fortunate, as his foe has recovered, but after a quick shield toss that would make Captain America proud, the Masked Manhunter continues on his way.  He finds a cloaked figure creeping out a window, only to discover that it is Mara, dressed in the Doctor’s robes.  Darrk has already made good his escape!  The Count’s captured cousin, Mara, agrees to spill her guts, and the story ends with Batman taking her and the assassin to the authorities and assuring the Orsoni that he’ll chase Darrk down.

detective406-18

This is a good story, with some nice mystery and plenty of action.  I often enjoy it when an author invites their readers to solve a mystery themselves.  I’m usually pretty good at that type of exercise, but I have to admit, I didn’t entirely put together the pieces of Mara’s deception.  She claimed that an attacker came in through her window and struck her, but she didn’t see his face.  She was sitting in front of a mirror at the time with a lamp next to her, so she would certainly have seen the man, which Batman realized.  That’s a fun piece of detective work.  The second exotic assassin to do the bidding of the League was another fun element of the story, and I quite enjoyed the possibly miraculous saintly intervention, especially the hero’s cautiously credible reaction to it.  There’s both a nice nod to faith and a solid piece of characterization there.  The real weakness of the issue is the lack of mystery surrounding Darrk and the complete lack of development for him as well.  He’s just sort of generically evil, and he gets so little ‘screen time’ both as a cypher and as a villain that his reveal is pretty much without impact.  Fortunately, O’Neil sets this plot up to get further development, and we know that we’ll see this fellow again.  This is a good second outing for the League of Assassins, and I think I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

minute4

“The Explosive Circle!”

detective406-21

Our Batgirl backup for today is an intriguing one because of its connections to social unrest and youth culture.  Interestingly, we’ve got youth involvement and student organization showing up in the Robin story this month at the same time this particular tale makes its appearance with a very different perspective on the phenomenon.  This version touches on questions that are back in the news today, whether peaceful protests are effective and whether or not violence can be justified as a form of protest.  The answers to these questions seem pretty clear to me, and writer Frank Robbins takes more or less the approach that you’d expect.

It all starts with a bomb, just as the headliner does, as a Gotham building explodes, leaving behind a charred clue, a burnt library book that Commissioner Gordon asks his librarian daughter to help him identify.  One would imagine that the police could probably manage that on their own, but sure.  She recognizes the text as “the current rage of the ‘tear down the establishment’ crowd,” a description that is delightful on its own merits, and for the contempt it displays for its subject.  Naturally, Babs decides to pursue this clue on her own, as Batgirl, having remembered the girl who checked this book out, thanks to her photographic memory.  I imagine that particular character trait was mentioned before this issue, but this is the first time I’ve taken notice of it.

Batgirl heads to the girl’s apartment, where the hippies are hanging about in bunches.  The girl, Shelley Simms, blithely informs the fire-tressed crime-fighter that she and her hippy group were planning on protesting her, if they could ever figure out where she lived.  The profound stupidity of that statement is just the beginning and is, of course, indicative of the general mindset of the hippy movement.  That statement really struck me, because, of course hippies would have picketed superheroes if they actually existed in the 60s.  In fact, I imagine superheroes would almost certainly be protested today as well.

detective406-23

detective406-25Anyway, when Batgirl confronts the silly Miss Simms with the fact that her book was found at the site of the bombing, she suddenly freaks out and declares, in wonderfully silly 60s slang, “I don’t need your fuzz-fink help–lay off!”  Real smart cookie, this one.  Babs, on the other hand, is actually quite intelligent, so she stakes out the girl’s apartment and tails her when she leaves.  Well, she’s fairly intelligent, as she follows her on the street, rather than swinging across rooftops and the like, so she gets spotted.

Shelley leads her costumed companion to a fiery young man at a theater which is hosting a ridiculous, edgy play, complete with faux protesters and jack-booted thugs to put them down.  Apparently Shelley lent her book to this real winner of a guy.  The young fireplug, Mal, uses the distraction of the performance to have his boys quickly grab the girl detective.  Babs narrowly avoids a trip to the Head-Blow Headcount wall of shame, but she’s eventually brought down anyway.  When she awakens, Batgirl finds herself trapped in a mined basement, and Shelley, the brain-surgeon, is completely surprised that her radical terrorist boyfriend is a bomber and a killer, a revelation that one has to imagine had been presaged before now.

detective406-28

Well, Gil Kane is back, and with him come the nostrils…so many nostrils.  The art in this backup is generally good, but he does pick some odd angles.  The story itself manages to be engaging and intriguing in its brief seven pages.  Of particular interest is the similarity of the plot to then current events in the form of the Weathermen’s bombing campaign.  The Weathermen were a radical domestic terrorist organization that had its roots in political movements originating on college campuses.  They were involved in bombings of public buildings and monuments from the late 60s through the late 70s.  In fact, they had been behind a bombing this very year, in October. Their brilliant, infallible plan was to blow things up until they magically created a communist utopia.  Incredibly, this didn’t work out too well.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So, radicalized youth movements were in the news in 1970, and the experience of the stupid Miss Simms was likely one that many young people shared, as they watched political movements they were involved in splinter, change, and darken.  This particular comic story doesn’t capture all of that nuance, of course, but in these seven pages Robbins manages to evoke the destructive side of the counter-cultural movement and set up an engaging plot.  My only real complaint is how incredibly annoying Shelley is.  I wish that Batgirl had just dangled her off of a building instead of bothering to tail her.  The girl’s venomous response to Babs’ attempt to help her and the increasing stupidity that followed rankled me.  I suppose I should have more patience with the character; after all, I was 18 once, and as stupid yet convinced of my own intelligence as ever a teenager was.  Nonetheless, I don’t have much patience for that kind of nonsense these days.  Shelley’s foolishness aside, I’ll give this story 3.5 Minutemen.

minute3.5

The Flash #202

the_flash_vol_1_202“The Satan Circle”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Accusation”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got another Kanigher story, and one more clue to figure out what kind of writer he is.  This particular yarn won’t put the debate to rest, however, as it is neither exceptionally good nor exceptionally bad.  Notably, it features another story seemingly based on the Manson Family murders of a few years back.  Folks who have been following this feature for a while may remember that we encountered a Green Lantern/Green Arrow story earlier in 1970 that dealt with the same events in interesting ways.  This particular comic takes a decidedly less serious slant on events, but there are some creepy parallels that I imagine are not accidental.

Despite that, the headline tale begins sweetly enough, with a nice domestic scene between Barry and Iris Allen.  Iris is headed out of town to cove a spate of disappearances in Hollywood dance clubs that seem to be related to a movie about a “black magic cult.”  I was a bit surprised at the reference to evil Satanic cults hiding right under the surface of everyday America way back here in 1970.  It’s at least a decade too early for the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the 80s, when Americans would see Satan worshipers under every rock.  The 80s was a weird time, guys.  Anyway, the couple share a charming farewell, with Barry, of course, late for work, but still stopping long enough to pick a rose for Iris to wear in her hair.  As I’ve said before, I always enjoy these little scenes, and Kanigher does a good job of making use of this one, both for exposition and for setting up a Chekhov’s Gun for later in the issue.

flash-v1-202p03

That evening, Barry receives a frantic phone call that freezes the blood in his veins, as he hears Iris desperately cry for help before the call is cut off.  In the blink of an eye, he’s speeding across the country as the Flash.  He arrives at the home of a Hollywood director, where Iris was to begin her investigation, only to find it ablaze, with a burning satanic effigy in the yard.  The Scarlet Speedster also finds a body in the pool, and he has a bad moment where he thinks it might be Iris.  Inside the mansion, he discovers half a dozen more victims, each wearing a devil mask, but with no sign of his wife among them.  A panicked search of the place finally presents a clue, when he finds her rose next to a phone upstairs, revealing that she has been kidnapped!

flash-v1-202p06

The Crimson Comet sets out to search for a lead, visiting the suspiciously Satanic ‘discotheques’ where the missing kids had last been seen.  It’s quite odd to see the Flash dance with various club girls, as if he’s trying to blend in.  I think the bright red superhero costume and super speed might give you away there, Barry.

flash-v1-202p07

In between some of his visits, the speedster is ambushed by a motorcycle gang who are definitely not the Hell’s Angels.  No, they’re the totally unrelated Hell’s Imps.  You might think that a biker gang would be a poor match for an honest-to-goodness superhero, but they have a strange gas in their exhaust that affects Barry, slowing him down.  He still manages to escape, arriving at ‘Pluto’s Palace,’ which looks just like the first place, only to meet a sultry cage dancer who promises to lead him to the Satan Circle!

flash-v1-202p10

A rapid midnight race leads him to a seemingly deserted house occupied by robed cultists.  It is, of course, a trap, and his guide answers to the leader of the group, who claims to be an incarnation of Lucifer himself.  He looks a bit more like Vincent Price to me.  The cultists reveal that Iris is their prisoner and they plan to sacrifice her for a dark ritual.  Well, the Flash should be able to take a bunch of bathrobe wearing weirdos, right?  Wrong.  The gas he inhaled earlier had a delayed effect and begins to weaken him even further.  He tries to carry Iris away, only to collapse under he weight.

flash-v1-202p14

Desperate, the Scarlet Speedster devises a very clever escape.  He drums his fingers on the old wooden floor at super speed, so fast that the motion is invisible, until the rotten boards collapse under the Allens, sending them tumbling into the (relatively) clean air of the basement.  Able to clear his head, the Flash is ready for round 2.

flash-v1-202p16

Kanigher tries to create a bit more tension by trapping his hero between cultists armed with explosive bullets and the arriving motorcycle gang, but he doesn’t really have enough space left to pull it off.  Out of necessity, the Sultan of Speed wraps up the villains in a half page.  The story ends with a nice little exchange between the Allens back at home, where Iris points out that the Satan Circle was no match for the stronger circles, the wedding bands that binds the two of them together.  Aww.

flash-v1-202p18

This is a solid story, but it lacks a certain something to make it really ‘good.’  The villainous Satan Circle receive practically no development at all.  We don’t even know if they actually had any mystic powers or not.  For all we know, they’re about as magical as your average modern day “witch.”  Nonetheless, the Circle racks up a pretty terrible body count, and I’m not entirely sure that is earned by the story.  Despite that weakness, the Flash’s search for Iris and his fear and uncertainty about her fate was handled pretty well, other than the incongruous moments with the frantic hero stopping to dance in various clubs.  Probably the most interesting element of the story is the cultural currency it carries.  While the Satan Circle as we meet them has little in common with the Manson Family, the scene of a Hollywood big-shot’s home turned into a charnel house, with graffiti and strange signs left behind, certainly evokes the Family’s murder of the Tate family.  Add to that the constant undercurrent of fear about ‘devil music’ and its influence on young people, and you’ve got a story that is clearly drawing from the zeitgeist.  Whatever its connections, the comic itself is entertaining, if not terribly impressive, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

minute3.5

P.S.: Legendary skinner, Freedom Reborn member, and all around awesome guy, Daglob, just clued me in to an event that almost has to have been a major influence on the creation of this story.  Apparently, in 1969, Anton LaVey began to popularize the ‘Satanism’ movement, starting with the publication of The Satanic Bible that very year.  What’s more, 1970 saw the premiere of a documentary on the phenomenon, and apparently Satanists and the occult suddenly flooded the zeitgeist, often becoming, to quote my friend, “likely suspects in movies and TV shows.”  Now, Satanism, especially LaVey’s signature brand, is nothing more than jumped up Epicureanism with a bunch of nonsensical occult bells and whistles.  Nonetheless, it certainly had the potential to seem terribly frightening to mainstream America at the time.

It descends from the Romantic Period’s misreading of Milton’s Satan from Paradise Lost and similar lionizing of the “Satanic Hero,” a character who rebels against social norms and cultural constraints, pursuing their own desires.  The poetWilliam Blake famously claimed that Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it” (“Marriage of Heaven and Hell”).  For a fairly clear refutation of that reading, check out C.S. Lewis’s A Preface to Paradise Lost.  It’s a short work and a wonderful read on its own merits, especially if you’re interested in literature and in epic in particular.

Anyway, I seem to have wandered somewhat astray from my point.  This revelation puts the Flash tale in a rather different light, doesn’t it?  Now we can see it reflecting a general anxiety about the encroachment of strange and seemingly sinister beliefs, as well as the clear and frightening evidence of social decay and upheaval represented by such madness as the Manson Murders.  That’s a fascinating new perspective!  Thanks Daglob!

“The Accusation”

flash-v1-202p21

I was delighted to discover another Steve Skeates penned story in this month’s offerings, and this off-beat little backup didn’t disappoint.  It’s odd, but it’s an interesting read.  From the very beginning, this story establishes itself as a bit unusual, as in the opening pages, we join, not our protagonist, but a man named Carson, who dreams of a ghostly Kid Flash tormenting him for a hidden crime.  flash-v1-202p22The spectral speedster, in a nicely drawn sequence, accuses Carson of murdering a young man, but the dreamer insists upon his innocence.  When he awakes, he’s disturbed by the dream and can’t get it out of his head.  He remembers that a kid was killed by a hit and run driver the night before, but he’s certain that he stayed home last night…or is he?

Meanwhile, we check in with Wally West in school, where apparently he’s being taught by Clark Kent.  As a teacher, the brief little scene, where a daydreaming Wally is asked a question and frankly admits he wasn’t’ paying attention made me smile.  What unusual and refreshing honesty!  Having survived the soul-crushing weight of high school for another day (sheesh, as bad as it is for a normal kid, think what torment it must be if you have superpowers and routinely save the world!), Wally switches to his costume and spends the night tracking down a car-stripping gang.

Meanwhile, our mysterious Mr. Carson’s sleep is troubled, as he has another dream along the same theme, where the ghostly Kid Flash calls him a murderer and mentions stolen jewels!  Once more awakening in panic, he goes for a drive to try and calm his nerves, and the two halves of our plot rush towards a collision.

flash-v1-202p25

Kid Flash, in the meantime, has managed to find his pigeons, and he smashes into them at super speed, carefully using only a light blow, for fear of killing them by striking them at full velocity, which is a nice touch.  We cut back and forth between our plots, with the dream-convicted Carson slowly remembering what he had repressed from the previous night.  He had acquired some stolen jewels, and driving home in a hurry, had run over an innocent kid rather than risk crashing and being caught with the goods, a cold-blooded act of murder!  He struggles against the returned memories as Wally struggles against the thieves, and he too almost joins the Headcount as he gets distracted and takes a head-blow.  Fortunately for him, he recovers and ties up the criminals for the police.

flash-v1-202p26

Yet, as he’s walking home, a little shaky from the blow, Carson, driving erratically in his mounting dread, spots the boy and recognizes him as the spectral figure from his dreams.  The dream-tormented may-be-murderer panics and, frozen by the sight, smashes his car into a pole, dying in the impact.  Like Lancelot in Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott,” Kid Flash, unaware and with grim curiosity, discovers the person who died from sight of him.

flash-v1-202p29

I’m glad to see Kid Flash return as a backup for the Flash.  I like the character, and I am excited to see more of his adventures.  This particular yarn is an interesting start to the feature.  Taken as a story bound by the more restrictive limitations of fiction as verisimilitude that we’re used to in the modern day, which tries to get as close to the real, rational world (outside of obvious difference, like the existence of superheroes) as possible, this tale wouldn’t work.  We’re left asking, ‘why does Carson see Kid Flash, if the boy knows nothing about his crime?’  Yet, a normal, logical plot is not what Skeates is going for here.  He leaves just enough mystery and mysticism in the story to make the strange coincidences functional, to make them serve as clues to something uncanny under the surface.  In this instance, the questions we’re left with are, in fact, part of the story’s purpose.  It’s short, but it gives us just enough, just barely enough, to work as a story, and a reader, in remarkably few pages, travels from sympathizing with the unknown Mr. Carson to marveling at the coldness and viciousness of his crime.  It would have been nice to learn more about him, but the story works, even so.  Dillin’s art is fantastically moody, and he really captures the anguish of Carson’s brief journey from ignorance to desperation.  I’ll give the backup 4 Minutemen, as it was intriguing and enjoyable.

minute4

That will do it for this post, and I hope y’all enjoyed the read!  We’ve got a pretty solid pair of books here, with both youth culture and satanism in the mix!  The contrast between this month’s Robin and Batgirl’s stories really makes for a fascinating snapshot of the time, representing both the hope and the fear of the growing power of youth culture.  Once again, current events make their presence known in DC Comics, leaving their mark on this fantasy world.  I hope you’ll join me soon for another day’s journey, Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: December 1970 (Part 2)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Hello readers, and welcome to another Into the Bronze Age feature!  Today we’re tackling an Aquaman and a Batman issue, two of my favorite characters and two of my favorite books, but this month doesn’t quite provide two of my favorite stories.  Nevertheless, I’ve got a fun and interesting set of reading for this post.  Check it out below!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #395
  • Adventure Comics #400
  • Aquaman #54
  • Batman #227
  • Detective Comics #406
  • The Flash #202
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #81
  • Justice League of America #84 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Justice League of America #85
  • The Phantom Stranger #10
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134
  • Teen Titans #30
  • World’s Finest #199

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.

Aquaman #54

aquaman_vol_1_54“Crime Wave!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

Well ladies and gents, this is a weird one.  It’s a self-professed experiment in storytelling, and not an entirely successful one.  Yet, neither is it a failure.  It’s a bold attempt to do something new and innovative with the format of comic book storytelling, and the SAG team definitely deserve some kudos for being willing to try new things, which they’ve been doing all along in their run on this book.  Yet, I feel like this script could probably have used one more pass in order to make it truly a hit.  Nonetheless, what we have is a creepy, disconcerting tale that is apt to stick in the mind, and all under a very striking cover by the inimitable Nick Cardy!

The comic is actually two stories, a framing narrative and an interpolated episode happening at the same time.  We start with two cops, John and Paul, and I feel like that might well be a reference of some sort which I can’t quite place, who have arrested a well-dressed man who had broken into a jewelry store (might it be a reference to the Apostles?).  The man is in a strange daze, unable to say anything other than “I’m dead!  Thanatos killed me!”  Apparently, the zombiefied thief is actually a prominent socialite, one of a string of respected citizens who have suddenly and inexplicably turned to crime.  They all evince the same bizarre behavior, and the police are stumped.  The detective, John, orders the passive prisoner taken to “the science boys,” in hopes they can figure out what is behind this.

aquaman54_03

Meanwhile, Aquaman has been visiting with some surface friends and has forgotten about his one-hour limit, which is stupid in multiple ways.  I’ll give Skeates a pass on the use of the limit in general because he’s just working with what he’s got, that being the established canon at this point.  Interestingly, the team includes a very fitting poem in the opening of the tale that hints at what lies within.

aquaman54_04

The King of the Sea is hurrying home to the water when he’s jumped by another suicidally overconfident gang of plain-vanilla street-punks, just like those that attacked the Flash last month.  Sheesh!  Is there something in the water in the DCU that gives generic gunsels delusions of grandeur, or what?  I suppose that something like that would explain why folks like the Ten-Eyed Man think they can cut it as supervillains.  Well, this gesture should have been incredibly foolish, but unfortunately the Marine Marvel doesn’t perform too marvelously.  He tears them up until…that’s right, the notorious head-blow strikes!  I’m really not crazy about random punks being able to take down the super strong, super tough Atlantean, as I’ve said before.  It really feeds into that inconsistent portrayal of his powers that plagues the character.  Generally speaking, that isn’t a major fault of the SAG run, but it does crop up from time to time.  I’ll give this instance a partial pass, though, as the hero would have been weakened by his time out of the water.

aquaman54_06

Either way, what follows is very strange, and a reader is apt to feel like they’ve missed a page.  Suddenly, we’re presented with a black panel with a few enigmatic word balloons, then Aquaman is suddenly free, walking down a spooky lane and approaching the faded magnificence of a crumbling mansion.  He has a note from Mera asking him to meet her there, yet there is some malignant presence within the house.  When the Sea King approaches a mirror inside, his image distorts, grows, and becomes a grotesque exaggeration of his form before bursting from the glass and attacking him.  What is going on?!  It’s a brave narrative gambit, and it works fairly well to invite the readers into the hero’s own sense of confusion and bewilderment.aquaman54_07

Suddenly, Aquaman awakens in Atlantis, with Mera leaning over him.  She tells him that some kind surface -dwellers brought him back to the sea and he was rushed home, but she denies any knowledge of the mysterious note that drew him to that house in the first place.  Aquaman feels responsible for unleashing the monster that attacked him, whatever it might be, and he says that it is up to him to stop it.  That’s a good character moment.  It captures his sense of duty and morality, as he feels the necessity to take responsibility for this creature on himself, despite the fact that he was duped into releasing it.

aquaman54_08

Yet, before he can act on his impulse, we get another mysterious black panel with frantic dialog about how “He’s coming out of it!  Turn that thing up!” and other such exclamations.  Suddenly, Aquaman finds himself battling the being, which calls itself Thanatos, on a strange, surreal landscape.  Here’s where we get one of the issue’s missteps, as our perspective suddenly changes and we follow Thanatos himself for a time.  I think the action panel is supposed to serve as something of a chapter heading, rather than part of the story, but it’s so unclear that it breaks the flow of the story.  What’s more, following Thanatos and seeing his point of view doesn’t make sense in context of the story’s resolution.

aquaman54_11

aquaman54_13We watch as the rampaging monster attacks Atlantis, and when Aquaman responds, he can’t seem to make any headway against the beast.  He gets weaker as it gets stronger!  Despite his best efforts, Thanatos knocks him out, causing him to awaken in bed once again.  Mera tells her husband that Thanatos headed out to sea, and despite being weakened, the Marine Marvel heads out after him, fearing what will happen to life in the ocean if the monster has free reign.

We check back in with the cops, who obligingly provide us with some exposition.  Apparently, a local crime lord has been kidnapping prominent citizens and subjecting them to a strange type of brainwashing.  The subject is trapped in their own mind, fighting an amped-up version of their own death instinct, and when the psychic manifestation ‘kills’ them, they become “death-driven,” beginning to act as pliant criminals for the mastermind.  If you’ve had any psychology classes, this may sound a bit familiar.  If so, it’s because this is basically Freudian psycho-analysis, and as such, is more or less debunked these days.  Still, Freud serves as a useful touchstone for popular conceptions of psychology and for exaggerated comic book science.

aquaman54_17Well, we can probably figure out what’s happening to Aquaman now, which is why I think this reveal should probably have been postponed a bit.  We get another mysterious black panel, now a bit more understandable, and suddenly the King of the Sea arrives in…an underwater Wild West town!  It’s quite strange, but given that we know he’s in a dreamworld now, it sort of works.  I really wish that Skeates had toyed with this a bit more, told us, perhaps, why Aquaman would imagine a western town for his showdown.  I feel like there’s some fun character work that could have been done there.  Was a young Arthur Curry a fan of Wagon Train, Have Gun-Will Travel, or the Lone Ranger?  Personally, I see him as identifying with The Rebel (Johnny Yuma).

aquaman54_18

Our hero plays the part of the unwelcome stranger, and the townsfolk give him a cold shoulder until Thanatos arrives for a reckoning, submarine six-shooter and all!  We get a bizarre but fun underwater Old West face-off, straight out of a classic western, but once again, the monster saps Aquaman’s strength, and he gets hit!  Of course, this causes him to awaken again in Atlantis, and he begins to put the pieces together.  The Sea Sleuth deduces that none of this is real, but just then, Thanatos breaks into the palace!

aquaman54_20

The two aqua-foes square off as the two policemen raid the hideout of the crimeboss they think is behind the zombiefied citizens.  Inside, they discover the same slimeball who had kidnapped Mera back in issue #44, which started the classic ‘Search for Mera’ arc.  What follows is interleaved action, as the cops take down the villain’s gang and Aquaman takes down Thanatos in a really cool Aparo splash page.  While the other prisoners are zombiefied, the Sea King is able to resist, to hold out against his own worst instincts, until the policemen free him.  The story ends with our hero on his way home to Atlantis, ready to spend some time with his beloved, noting that they’ve been apart too much lately.

aquaman54_26

aquaman54_20-copyAs I said, this is a weird issue.  The attempt to tell a dream story within another story is an interesting one, but Skeates breaks his own story logic by following Thanatos for a time, despite the fact that, in the scheme he sets up, this monster should be nothing more than a manifestation of Aquaman’s death-drive.  He shouldn’t really have his own motivations and desires, short of killing his alter-ego, especially because this is all happening in Arthur’s mind.  I think it would have been more effective to just have the beast show up every few pages and disappear inexplicably.  Skeates almost achieves that, with the constant reversions to the palace and the clever use of his black panels.  I do like that the villains have a hard time keeping Aquaman under control.  It’s another of those story beats that emphasize the power of his mind and spirit, which I always enjoy.

Aparo’s artwork is excellent as always, and the brutal, maniacal face he gives Thanatos really helps to establish the dangerous and fearsome presence of the character.  The story has a nice, moody color palette for many of the encounters with the monstrous manifestation and the scenes with the cops chasing their leads, giving the comic something of a noirish feel at times.  As usual for an Aparo book, I find myself having to restrain myself, because I tend to want to post every other page or panel because the comic is just chock-full of striking images.

The unexpected and unheralded return of Mera’s kidnapper is something of a letdown.  His roll could easily have been filled by any generic thug, as his backstory doesn’t impact the plot at all.  We don’t even get a ‘curse you Aquaman’ type moment.  It just feels like something of a waste.  The end result of this issue, uneven as it is, is still an enjoyable read.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, giving credit for the innovation that Skeates attempts despite its mixed success.

minute3.5

P.S.: This issue also has a very neat feature in the form of a letter from Steve Skeates about his writing process, talking specifically about the recent O.G.R.E. issue as well as this one and relating an intriguing story about how the writer actually worked for a group of industrial spies for a time!  It’s interesting to read about his perspective on these tales, but his account just drives home my feelings about the role of the spy organization in the last issue.  To bring OGRE back, only to tell us that they’ve been definitively shut down seems…something of a waste.  Nonetheless, check out the rare glimpse behind the curtain!

aquaman54_30

Batman #227

batman_227“The Demon of Gothos Mansion!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Help Me … I Think I’m Dead!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Mike Esposito
Letterer: John Costanza

This issue of Batman, while not perfect, definitely captures the mood and feel that I identify with the Dark Knight.  I feel like we’re getting closer to that definitive Bronze Age Batman.  The plot has a few weak points, but the cover story really manages to strike the right tone for the character.  We get one of those always slightly ill-fitting stories that pits the (relatively) grounded Batman against the supernatural, but this outing does so with a fairly light touch that works pretty well.

batman-227-004The story centers around Alfred’s niece, Daphne Pennyworth, who made an appearance not that long ago in Batman #216, a story I only vaguely remember.  She’s written her uncle a letter explaining that she’s gotten herself into more trouble.  She’s taken a job at a remote manor house which is the scene of mysterious happenings.  It might be nothing, but a rather Hal Jordan-looking Bruce Wayne offers to look into it for his friend, and just like that, we’re off!  Batman investigates the estate, prowling the grounds and discovering armed guards.  That’s suspicious, so he tests their intentions by just strolling into sight and letting them take a shot at him.  I rather like this whole sequence, as the menacing, torchlit shape of the Batman strikes an ominous figure.  He is so capable and so on top of things that when they attack him, he easily takes them out in a nicely done page.

batman-227-005

Having discovered that something untoward is definitely going on, the Dark Knight decides to spy on the other inhabitants of the estate, and he observes something quite unusual from his vantage point.  The owner of the mansion, Heathrow, and two followers pass by, discussing a dark ritual and the summoning of a demon named Ballk!  Something sinister is afoot!  The detective helpfully informs us Ballk is “one of the nastiest creatures of mythology,” but in this case, the name seems to just be made up rather than drawn from actual myth.

batman-227-006

batman-227-013Now with some idea of what the trouble is, the Masked Manhunter goes in search of Daphne, who he finds locked in a tower of the mansion.  She fills him in on her predicament, telling him she was hired to teach Heathrow’s two children, but she discovered that they were “a pair of hideous dwarves!”  Whoa, I’m thinking that’s not politically correct!  Apparently Heathrow forced her to don an elaborate old-fashioned dress, the same dress as worn by the woman in an old portrait in her room, a woman who could have been her twin.  The mystery nicely established, Batman breaks her out, only to fall prey to a trap and be taken prisoner by Heathrow’s two little henchmen.

The master of the manse happily conforms to generic standards and both leaves the hero unattended in a death trap AND provides him with some grade-A exposition as well.  It’s convenient, but as I’ve said before, it’s an established part of the genre, so we can accept it.  Apparently, Heathrow’s family have served the demon Ballk for hundreds of years, and he and his followers have been searching for just the right woman to sacrifice to the beast, a woman who is an exact match for the original victim that once freed the spirit.  Daphne is just such a woman, and they plan to sacrifice her at midnight!

The trap itself is a fairly clever affair.  Batman is placed on a stone pedestal that is attached to counterweights, slowly sinking and tightening a noose about his neck.  His escape is excellent, as he tightens his neck muscles and swings, by his neck, to grab a torch off the wall with his feet, burning the noose off.  It’s a wonderful display of acrobatic acumen and grim determination, and it makes for a heck of a page.  Once free, the Dark Knight meets a shadowy figure who he thinks is Daphne, but her strange speech and hypnotic effect on him reveal that she is actually the ghost of the demon’s first victim.  In the only real weakness of the issue, the Masked Manhunter suddenly falls in love with her in a subplot that doesn’t really have enough space to breathe.

batman-227-014

The phantom female leads our hero to a black chapel, where a horrible ceremony is taking place.  The Masked Manhunter intercedes just in time to rescue Miss Pennyworth and interrupt the ritual.  In another cool sequence, he scoops Heathrow up bodily and hurls him at his followers, scattering them like ten-pens.  The old man dies, either naturally or as a result of dark magic gone wrong, and the Dark Knight frees Daphne.  With matters settled, he rushes out into the night to track down the ghostly girl, but she fades away, leaving nothing but her portrait and a weeping hero behind.

batman-227-018

The romance subplot is a bit odd and doesn’t really work, but the rest of the issue is good fun.  O’Neil nicely establishes a Gothic horror feel for the tale, and the coloring and moody art really helps to bring that effect to life.  The central plot is a conventional one, but it works despite its familiarity because of the good presentation.  I particularly like Batman’s portrayal as capable, dynamic, and grimly resolved.  His escape from the death trap is one of the high points of the issue, as is his effortless defeat of the guards at the beginning.  We’re approaching that spot-on portrayal of the character that I’ve been looking forward to.  Novick does a great job on the art for this issue, really turning out a striking book.  In the end, this story succeeds in its creation of atmosphere, tension, and mystery, even when the plot goes astray, so I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

minute4

“Help me…I think I’m Dead!”

batman-227-023

This Robin backup is an interesting one.  It features the Boy Wonder getting involved in politics, a prospect I’m of two minds on.  On the one hand, I’d prefer politics stay out of my comics, except in the broadest ways, but on the other, it makes sense that folks who pursue justice and have strong moral compasses would probably get involved in trying to fix their world with more than just their fists.  In either case, we’ve got another campus-centric adventure here, but unlike some of the previous stories, this one works pretty well with its setting.

The story opens with Dick Grayson arriving for a shift at “Friend’s Phone,” a student-led phone counseling service of sorts.  Basically, its for kids who need someone to talk to, and it’s a nice thing to see the Teen Wonder involved with.  However, when he answers his first call, he recognizes a voice on the other end, a voice that is incoherent and panicked.  Rather than call the police, which, in such a situation, would be a pretty fair response, he changes into Robin with the help of a trick briefcase and goes to investigate.

The voice belonged to a boy named Phil Real, who works for the same local political campaign that Dick has joined, but when the hero races to his apartment, he sees the young man tottering on the edge of a cliff.  With an acrobatic rescue, the Teen Wonder prevents a tragedy, and Phil, the campaign’s photographer, tells him that he had accidentally poisoned himself with developing chemicals and went out of his head.  While pulling the pair out of the river, Robin notices how terribly polluted it is, and we discover that this is, in fact, the central issue for his candidate, Prof. ‘Buck’ Stuart.

batman-227-024

I have to think it wouldn’t be quite as bad if you were wearing pants, kid.

The next day we see a debate between the incumbent, Mr. Forte, and Buck, and it seems the town is on the Prof.’s side.  Yet, we see the wheels of corruption turn a little faster than the wheels of democracy, and the local corporation that is behind the pollution of the river passes orders down to stop Buck, one way or the other.  Those orders go into effect that night, as Robin is driving around town in his red micro bus and sees masked men running out of Stuart’s campaign office, which is ablaze!  In a scene that is clearly meant to be cool but just seems rather weak, the Teen Wonder flips a switch on his dash and changes the bus’s license plate.  That’s the only disguise the vehicle has.  I’m sure that no-one could possibly connect the guy who drives around in a red micro-bus to the masked crimefighter who ALSO drives around in the same type of vehicle.  Nope, that license plate is a stronger disguise than Clark Kent’s glasses!

batman-227-027

Robin leaps into action, taking out one of the saboteurs before narrowly avoiding another slot on the Head-Blow Headcount!  He takes a blow to the back of the head and gets stunned, but he doesn’t quite get knocked out.  So close!  Unfortunately, the punks get away, and the political supplies in the office are a total loss.  Nevertheless, the kid volunteers redouble their efforts and take to the street to get the word out.  This is an interesting angle, as Friedrich focuses on the growing political power of teenagers, which was a rising factor in this period.  It’s neat to see that referenced in comics, especially comics aimed at just such an age group.  This story has something of an implicit encouragement to get involved.

batman-227-029

Yet, the newfound vigor and momentum don’t last, as the local paper prints a picture that seems to show Prof. Stuart paying someone off to pollute the river and strengthen his case.  That’s where we are left, with many more questions than answers.

This is a solid story, especially considering the fact that it only has seven pages to do its work!  Friedrich sets up a good mystery, gives us two nice action beats, and even does a tiny bit of world building for Dick Grayson.  The one real problem with this setup is that the gadgets provided for the young hero have all been rather lame.  I think the poor kid is getting the short end of the stick.  While his mentor has Batmobiles, Batplanes, Batboats, and even WhirlyBats, poor Robin has…a micro-bus.

batman-227-030

Obviously there isn’t much to this backup tale, but it is a good start, and I look forward to seeing what develops next issue.  Interestingly, there is a political undertone to this story, since our hero is backing a politician aiming to curb pollution and balance economic and environmental concerns.  It’s quite routine for us today, but I imagine it was a bit more challenging in 1970.  All-in-all, I’ll give this story 3.5 Minutemen.

minute3.5

P.S.: Fascinatingly, I just just discovered that this Robin story has a lot in common with an actual event from 1970!  Apparently, the river fire that sparked the events of the first JLA story I covered, JLA #78, had its origins in the headlines of 1969, when the polluted Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio went up in flames.  This served as a rallying point for the beginning of the environmentalism movement, and in 1970, students at Cleveland State University got involved in local politics by staging a march to the river to protest pollution.  That hardly sounds like coincidence to me, and I have to think that this story of a polluted river and college students rallying to effect change must be related to those real events.  If so, we’ve got yet another touchstone for the impact of the growing social consciousness in comics.

The Head-Blow Headcount:

Aquamanhead.jpgBatmanhead.jpgshowcase-88-fnvf-jasons-quest0robin2 - Copy.jpgPhantom_Stranger_05.jpgrobin2 - Copy.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgAquamanhead.jpg3072564469_1_3_hCmU7jwq.jpg

arrowheadglheadAquamanhead.jpg

Sadly, my favorite character moves into the lead on the Headcount, adding another appearance to the Wall of Shame.  Robin, despite a close call, will not join him again just yet.

That will do it for today, folks.  Thanks for joining me for a further jaunt into that great comic era, the Bronze Age!  Please join me again soon for a few more classic comics.  Until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: December 1970 (Part 1)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Welcome to December 1970, where we have finally reached the end of the first year of this not-so-little project, something over a year after I actually began it!  Hopefully, we’ll be able to move through the next year a bit more quickly.  But first, we’ve got to get there, which means we’ve got one more month of comics to read.  Let’s take a look at what was going on in the world back then, shall we?

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.

This month in history:

  • USA’s Environmental Protection Agency created
  • US and USSR perform nuclear tests
  • Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe Trophy & Bill Masterson Trophy stolen from NHL hall of fame
  • The Dutch Antilles government of Petronia falls
  • Soviet Venera 7 is 1st spacecraft to land on another planet (Venus)
  • An uprising against Poland’s communist regime fails
  • Walt Disney’s Aristocats is released
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (United States) signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon (OSHA arrives)
  • Unrest continues in Ireland
  • Paul McCartney files a lawsuit to dissolve the Beatles

This is a fairly quite month, at least compared to our last few, though there are dozens of nuclear tests perform that provide mute but eloquent witness to the tensions in the world.  Perhaps the event of greatest note is the landing of the first spacecraft on another planet.  That was quite an accomplishment, and one I hadn’t heard of before.  Of particular interest to this blog, given my propensity for jokes about it, is the advent of OSHA.  I suppose now my teasing won’t be anachronistic.

The top song this month was “Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles.  You’ve gotta’ love Smokey Robinson!

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #395
  • Adventure Comics #400
  • Aquaman #54
  • Batman #227
  • Detective Comics #406
  • The Flash #202
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #81
  • Justice League of America #84 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Justice League of America #85
  • The Phantom Stranger #10
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134
  • Teen Titans #30
  • World’s Finest #199

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.

Action Comics #395

action_comics_395“The Secrets of Superman’s Fortress”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Credit Card of Catastrophe”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

This is a pretty solid issue, with two enjoyable tales within, and just check out that cover!  That’s a striking image, and it certainly piqued my curiosity.  The headline tale doesn’t quite live up to the cool cover, but it’s fun enough, with some cool extra treats.  It does have one glaring logical problem, though.

This cover story starts with something unexpected, a flashback to Superman’s creation of his Fortress of Solitude!  We just get a brief glimpse of him setting the place up, then we are treated to cool two-page spread diagram of the place, which was a pleasant surprise.  I’ve mentioned before how much I loved this type of thing as a kid, and I still think it is a nice feature to add to a story, to give readers a spatial sense of a place, fleshing the setting out a bit more fully.  The diagram accompanies a visit from Jimmy Olsen, who Superman takes for a tour in thanks for the boy’s assistance on his adventures.

action-395-05-02-03

I love what the giant gold key says about Superman

In time, he also brings Lois for a tour, and he shows her his not-at-all creepy hall of Lois dioramas immortalizing her aid in various cases he’s faced.  The girl reporter takes this as a charming sign of the Man of Steel’s affection.  I think I might be more inclined to take it as a sign of him being a super-stalker, a-la Superman Returns!  Anyway, Lois’s questionable sense of romance aside, she also notices a restricted access door and asks the hero about it, but he refuses to answer.  After he returns her home, the Metropolis Marvel looks inside the forbidden room and spends some time in melancholy reflection of the artifacts within, a cape and a feather.  It’s a nice, moody scene, and readers are really left wondering what could affect Superman so profoundly.

action-395-06-04

In answer to the burning question on the audience’s minds, Superman puts on a device that will help him recall the experience he has been trying to forget because he just has to see it again.  We learn that on a mission in space he spotted a crashed spacecraft on a wild planet and decided to investigate.  When he arrived, he discovered a tribe of primitive humans, probably survivors of the ancient shipwreck, who are being hunted by slavers using dogs.  The Man of Tomorrow leaps into action, not one to let such injustice pass, and creates a shelter for the panicked savages, and, in a funny scene, he also just lets the dogs chew on him until he weaves a net to hold them.

action-395-08-06

But his efforts do not go unnoticed, and we meet a group of alien amazons, powerful warrior women who are on the world to mine an element vitally necessary for their race.  The commander of the crew, Captain Althera, is quite struck by the heroic conduct and appearance of Kal-El, the ol’ lady killer, and she begins to wonder about where he might have come from.  For his part, Superman promises the tribe that he’ll protect them until the slavers leave.  The next gambit of the amazons, which involves booby-trapping a fruit tree they visit, is easily defeated when the Man of Steel simply carries the tree away, prisoners and all.  Althera’s crew is concerned about her infatuation with the alien, but she attempts to hide her feelings.

action-395-10-07

The amazons have a very Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon look, which I love.

Later that night, Superman discovers her slipping out of their camp to carve a statue of him, only to smash it in anger at her own feelings.  Clearly this chick’s got issues!  Like Lois, the hero has perhaps poor judgement about romance, and he finds this strange outburst quite endearing.  The kryptonian, long sojourning among frail humanity, is fascinated by this powerful, passionate female alien.  Her strength and spirit are intriguing for him, and he begins to wonder if he’s found a woman of iron who could keep up with a Man of Steel.  That’s actually a cool angle, and it makes sense that, even though Superman identifies with humanity, there would always be a part of him that would desire the company of beings that were really his equals.

On her way back to cap, the distracted Captain accidentally triggers a deadfall setup by the tribesmen, and though she has the strength to hold it temporarily, the Man of Tomorrow must come to her aid.  His intercession moves the warrior woman.  She insists that he must be one of her people, and she wants him for her mate!  Interestingly, Superman isn’t in too big of a hurry to dissuade her at first, but when her helmet falls off, the feathery plumes covering her head reveal that her people are avian.  For some reason, this is a deal breaker, and it is also the on real problem with this story.  (It never stopped Captain Kirk!)  Superman realizes that they are incompatible, but seeing as he’s the last of his race, that’s true of any other being, including Lois!

action-395-16-12

In a neat touch, the reason that Althera was convinced the hero was one of her people was because he could fly, which her bird-like race had once been able to do as well.  She assumed he was a further evolution.  That works pretty well, and it makes the kryptonian’s revelation of his origins an effective turning point for the story.

action-395-17-13

With Superman’s help, the amazons quickly manage to mine the materials they need, and the two races part in peace, leaving Clark nothing to remember his lovely lady-lark but a single plume from her head.

action-395-18-14

The whole thing happens too fast to be entirely successful as a tale of lost love, but it’s a fun story, and the Vrandarians have a cool design.  There’s a story worth a longer treatment here, with a warrior woman who rebels against her matriarchal culture in the name of love and Superman lured to the stars by the prospect of a partner who could really be his equal, but these promising elements are really only here in embryonic form.  Still, it’s an enjoyable enough read, despite Superman’s seeming overreaction to his possible paramour’s plumes and the speed of their romance.  I’ll give it an average 3 Minutemen.

minute3

“The Credit Card of Catastrophe”

action-395-22-01

This is a story that I fully expected to be super gimmicky and silly, but, despite the fact that it seems like an utterly conventional ‘overly elaborate but harmless scheme’ story on paper, it actually features a more thoughtful, reasonable resolution than I expected.

The story beings with an off-beat scene, as Superman, for some reason that is never explained, visits a fortune teller named ‘Madame Mephisto’ (apparently the Marvel character is moonlighting at DC!).  The Man of Steel is oddly affected by her routine, but he remains skeptical, though he accepts a token from her: a card that is supposed to grant him three wishes, wishes with a secret price.

Later on, the Metropolis Marvel is in disguise as his mild-mannered alter-ego, covering a baseball game (apparently he, like his recent movie counterpart, has the most eclectic beat in newspaper history) when the stands begin to collapse!  He rushes to help as Superman, but his powers fail him.  In desperation, he wishes to be able to accomplish his usual daring do, and suddenly leaps into action.  Afterwards, his card glows mysteriously!  One wish down.

action-395-23-02

The next day, because every day in the DCU is a constant cavalcade of crises, Clark is covering the filming of a movie when something goes wrong.  A hot-air balloon threatens the crowd, and once again the Man of Tomorrow’s powers fail him.  Once again, his wish saves the day, accompanied by the glowing of his card!

action-395-26-04

The third day, you guessed it, we get another disaster, an oil platform threatened by an iceberg.  One quick wish later and Superman is carving the ‘berg into ice cubes,’ and his third wish is gone.  His powers seem to have deserted him permanently, and he sets out to find the mystic who started all of this.  She claims to have affected him with her magic and promises to restore his powers, but for a price!  Madame Mephisto demands that the hero hand over half the gold in Fort Knox, and Superman faces an interesting moral quandary.  If he agrees, he’s committing one heck of a crime and betraying the public trust.  If he refuses, there’s no telling how many could suffer and die because he won’t be able to help them.  I’m pleased that the rational choice of the greater good is actually the one he takes, displaying a slightly more mature morality than ‘crime=bad’ that usually populates such books.

action-395-27-05

Yet, when he returns with the gold, he gives it to the fortune teller in an unexpected fashion, dumping the heavy bullion right on her head!  I was sufficiently taken aback by this twist, thinking, ‘that would kill her!’  Here’s where the story impressed me and proved itself to be more than I expected.  Superman digs the buried clairvoyant out, only to unmask her as…Supergirl!  This is where the cliche comic story would generally provide a paper-thin excuse, which this one certainly has, but it also has a surprisingly well thought-out resolution.  Supergirl attended a lecture on hypnotism and was curious if she or Clark could be conned into doing something against their will, so she wildly unethically decided to experiment on her cousin without his knowledge or consent.

action-395-29-06

She hypnotized him into believing his powers were gone and that the card could restore them; then she followed him to ensure that nothing really went wrong.  The fun bit is that Superman reasoned it out in a believable fashion, without ridiculous jumps in logic.  He realized that in each challenge he faced, he wasn’t hurt, despite his powers supposedly having been cancelled.  He recognized that only his voluntary powers were affected, making it unlikely that magic was the cause, which is quite clever and reasonable.  When the Maid of Might restored his powers in order to get the gold, he spied on her with X-Ray vision and sussed out enough of the rest to turn the tables on her.  Supergirl complains that he ruined her experiment, so they’ll never know if they can actually be controlled through hypnotism, which, of course, is magic in comics.

action-395-31-08

This is a fun and curious little story, surprising in that the contrived plot is actually given enough thought to make it work out in the end.  Supergirl’s experiment seems unnecessary, and I think I’d be more than a little annoyed at being used as a guinea pig if I were Superman, but, let’s face it: he’s probably done worse things to her.  I’ll give this simple and gimmicky but enjoyable story 3 Minutemen.

minute3

The letter column for this issue includes a funny missive to the sour-grapes writers who voiced complaints about the same names constantly showing up in the letter feature as certain epistlers got their dispatches picked fairly often.  The letter included a hilarious and very clever little poem which I found worth sharing with y’all:

A pox on Martin Pasko,
A plague on Irene V.
And fie to all the other fans
More fortunate than me!

Thus readers rant a million ways
O’er fruitless hours of writing praise
In deathless prose and deathless verse,
At times verbose and sometimes terse.

Suppose the reader knocks the tale
And says the artwork was too stale?
Or if not, what else might be wrong–
Was the story too short? Or too long?

Yes, that just might be the key
To critical success for me!
And so, once more, to pen and paper
To criticize each startling caper
Of daring men and super-creatures,
Aliens, spirits, other features.

But hapless writers, don’t lose heart
If the pearls of wisdom you’d impart
Are deemed too dull by guys and dolls
Who cull comments for lettercols.
No hard names should you others call:
Patience and work will conquer all.

Better luck next time.

Isn’t that clever?

Adventure Comics #400

adventure_comics_vol_1_400“Return of the Black Flame”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

We’ve got a milestone for Adventure Comics here in issue number 400, and to celebrate, Mike Sekowsky, who is wearing three different hats in this issue, arranges a return engagement for a Supergirl villain.  I didn’t even know she had any villains!  The femme fatale of our tale turns out to be the Black Flame, a Silver Age character I’d never heard of.  Apparently, she’s a rogue from the Bottle City of Kandor, which is a pretty neat idea, honestly.  In one of her previous encounters with the Maid of Might, she was stripped of her powers with gold kryptonite, which is apt to make one a bit cranky.  I was pretty thrilled to find a tale with an actual supervillain, as those have been few and far between in our comics this year.  The story itself is fun, if a bit goofy.  Apparently Sekowsky thought that the Black Flame’s triumphant return wasn’t enough to mark the 400th issue, so he introduced three more bad guys, putting the heroine up against a fitting four antagonists.  The trouble is, whereas the Flame is an established villainess with a kryptonian pedigree, her three associates are one-shot opponents who don’t make any sense in this setting.

We join the Maid of Might as she repairs her super-suit (apparently, she doesn’t have an Edna Mode on call).  She’s enjoying a classic black and white film (a girl after my own heart), so she catches a strange news broadcast that follows the flick.  The station received an unusual note, a public appeal to Supergirl for help, including a hidden phone number that only her super senses can detect.  Intrigued, Kara decides to investigate.  A call leads her to a mysterious rendezvous that is definitely not a trap.

adventure-400-04

Meanwhile, at the trap…err…rendezvous, a quirky quartet are gathered together, watching her progress.  They include the tall, spindly figure of ‘The Inventor,’ the green-clad leprechaun, ‘L. Finn,’ and the portly presence of ‘the Toymaster.’  Now, that’s ToyMASTER, not ToyMAN.  He’s totally different and original and not at all a ripoff.  Shut up!  Toyman is a well-known DC villain.  Toymaster has, I’m fairly certain, never appeared again.  Why Sekowsky didn’t use the existing villain, who already had a grudge against Superman and his friends, I’ll never know.  Anyway, this very motley and unimpressive assortment are lead by the costumed Black Flame, who has a pretty cool look, though it really doesn’t scream ‘black’ or ‘flame.’  She obligingly gives us a flashback to her escape from prison, which is pretty neat.  She slowly assembled odds and ends until she could build a one-shot stun ray, which she used to zap a guard and get his gun.  Then she staged a daring breakout of her kandorian prison, blasting her way to a ship.

adventure-400-05

Oddly, she takes that ship to the Phantom Zone, as if it were a planet to which you could just fly.  My knowledge of the Silver Age Superman mythos is a tad spotty, but I’m pretty sure that even then it was firmly established that the Zone was a separate dimension you had to have special equipment to access.  That was more or less the whole point.  I hope a reader will correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m inclined to put this down to Sekowsky’s confusion, especially considering what happens next.  The fiendish flame wants to recruit some fellow villains.  So, who does she carry away from the Phantom Zone?  Perhaps General Zod, Jax Ur, or another famous kryptonian criminal?  Perhaps some new and exciting foes from Krypton-that-was?  No!  She calls the three goofballs we met before, who just seem to be earthlings.  How in the world did they end up in the Phantom Zone?!

Well, their inexplicable origins aside, the narrative returns to the present, where Supergirl strolls into the eerie old house that is definitely not a trap.  Once inside, she’s ambushed by a robot maid with a lasso coated in kryptonite dust.  She destroys the automaton, but she begins to succumbs to the effect of the poisonous element.  Suddenly, Streaky, little cape and all, arrives, ignoring her pleas for help and coating her with more kryptonite dust!  It turns out that this is another robot, controlled by the Toymaster, and the embattled heroine beheads it with a blow, passing out from the effort.

adventure-400-08

Robo-Streaky, no!

The Maid of Might awakens in a strange setting, tied up with kryptonite coated bonds and posed as a ten-pin in an oversized bowling alley.  The quartet of criminals have a supply of kryptonite bowling balls, and they take turns rolling for a deadly strike.  That’s right, we’re in classic villainous death trap territory here.  The whole setup is pretty silly, but I’m willing to give it a pass considering how central a part of the genre this kind of thing is.  I’ll admit, it’s weird and unique enough to be entertaining.

adventure-400-11

With each strike, Supergirl grows weaker, but she also realizes that the impacts are knocking the kryptonite off of her bonds, so she recovers between rounds.  Finally, she is strong enough to break free, and she puts her foes on their heels until L. Finn hits her with a blast of magic, knocking her out once more.  It is revealed, to literally no-one’s surprise, that the fellow dressed as a leprechaun is, in fact, a leprechaun!

adventure-400-17

Once more, the Maid of Might awakens in a death trap.  Twice in one issue is pushing things a bit, even in a comic book!  Genre conventions be darned, the Black Flame is going to have her overly-elaborate revenge, even embracing the classic villain mistake, and leaving the heroine to her fate, confident that there is no way she can escape.  To be fair, things do look grim for Supergirl.  She’s bound in a pile of gold kryptonite dust (one wonders where the Flame got all this stuff!), with a giant kryptonite harpoon pointed at her chest.  Now, once again, I’m going to plead foul.  Doesn’t gold kryptonite remove powers pretty quickly?  I didn’t think it was a slow process.  What’s more, aren’t the effects of the gold variety irreversible?  Didn’t we just see that a few months ago in a Superman story?  Then again, I suppose green kryptonite doesn’t accomplish its effect all at once.  I suspect that I’m giving this more thought than Sekowsky did.  Still, I’m inclined to call shenanigans.

adventure-400-20

adventure-400-21Inconsistent alien minerals aside, the situation looks dire for our heroine, but she escapes in a cute and moderately clever sequence.  It does depend entirely on the incompetence of the Toymaster, though.  He left his toys and his control box right next to her prison, within convenient reach.  I can’t help but think that the Flame would have been better off going for the name-brand villains rather than these generic knock-offs.  Toyman would never have made such a rookie mistake.  I suppose you get what you pay for.

Either way, the Girl of Steel discovers that she can control these little automatons telepathically, and she orders them to free her.  They make for an entertaining and charming little robot army.  She turns their adorable ire on her captors, and they make quick work of the villainous team, enabling Supergirl herself to put the Black Flame out of action.  I have to say, I just love the scene of the toys descending on the villains.  That’s so silly and yet so fun that it really captures the joyful absurdity of a superheroic world.

adventure-400-23

This is a fun enough story, but it really does have some weak points.  The random earth-villains randomly being in the Phantom Zone is odd by itself, and the double death trap dilemma is a bit much.  I would have liked to see more of the Black Flame, as she piqued my curiosity.  Unfortunately, after her escape, all she really did was give orders to her evil associates.  I suppose I’ll give this flawed issue 2.5 Minutemen. as its faults slightly outweigh its enjoyability, but the adorable antics of the animate toys make me smile.

minute2.5

That covers our first post on December of 1970.  I hope you enjoyed it and will join me again soon for our next few issues.  They promise to be an interesting pair!  Until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: November 1970 (Part 5)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpg
Welcome to the Greylands!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)
  • Action Comics #394
  • Adventure Comics #399
  • Batman #226 (the debut of the awe-inspiring Ten-Eyed Man!)
  • Brave and Bold #92
  • Detective Comics #405
  • The Flash #201
  • G.I. Combat #144
  • Justice League of America #84
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106
  • Superman #231
  • World’s Finest #197 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • World’s Finest #198

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.

Superman #231

superman_v-1_231“The Wheel of Super-Fortune!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Dan Adkins

This one is pretty nuts, ladies and gents.  It’s the second part of last month’s crazy-pants story, and it ups the insane ante to new heights.  It’s a weird, wild combination of random elements that make a very Silver Age-ish story, continuing the trend of the Man of Steel’s books feeling dated.  This particular issue combines magic and mad science, plus a bald Superman and lots of melodrama with Lois.  Feast your eyes on this odd offering.

superman-231-0004

It begins with a recap of last issue, as Super-Lex takes Lois to the Fortress of Solitude, where he just happens to have a giant crystal that can somehow replay the past.  He shows her Clark Kent’s ridiculous villainous origins, but Lois is way too obsessed to listen to any of his ‘logic’ or ‘reason.’  She’s in love with the formerly comatose crook, and nothing can change that!  We’re not quite dealing with the capable and self-possessed Lois we were just talking about in the last post.  In the flashback, we see that Clark may have been given ‘evil genes,’ but he apparently wasn’t given brains, as he plans to set himself up as a ‘big-time gang boss’ with the proceeds from one little gas station robbery.  Is…is that how it works?  Somehow, I doubt it.

Meanwhile, in his deceased mad scientist/benefactor’s secret lab, Clark discovers a criminal teletype, which tells him about some mystic named Grandovic that can predict the future for criminals, which sounds promising to him. The neophyte ne’er-do-well takes one of the bad doctor’s unlikely inventions and robs a bank, nearly killing Lois in the process, as she’s too smitten to get out of the way of the giant rolling tank!

superman-231-0008

Fortunately, Super-Baldy is there to save the day, and we get a bizarrely hilarious scene where Lois furiously attacks the hero because he’s preventing her from leaping to her death and he knocks her out with one finger.  Of course, while he’s dealing with the irrational reporter, Clark gets away, having left behind a bomb to cover his escape.

superman-231-0009

The villainous Kent uses his ill-gotten gains to garner an audience with Grandovic, a randomly floating mystic-type in Tibet.  After giving him a diamond worth 2 million bucks, the visionary answers his burning question, how can he defeat Superman.  Grandovic fills Clark in on all of Lex’s history, and points out that he loves Lois, so he can be attacked through her.  In response, Kent proves how evil he is by poisoning the swami, who in turn prophecies his assailant’s death through the means of a steering wheel.  Clark thinks he’ll just avoid cars and be fine, but apparently he never studied his mythology.

superman-231-0014

Back in Metropolis, Lex secretly protects Lois from a falling piece of masonry, though she notices that Superman must have intervened in some fashion and begins to reassess her view of him.  Before anything else can come of that, Lex is attacked in his apartment by a cool looking robot, which unfortunately only lasts two pages before the hero literally chops it in two with his hand.  Inside is a taped message that directs the Man of Tomorrow to a rendezvous with Clark, wherein the criminal reveals that he’s given Lois a drug that he can use to kill her with the push of a button.  He tells his nemesis that unless the big baldy backs off, he’ll kill his girl.

superman-231-0017

After a mix-up with a super-robot, Clark makes good on his threat, but he only stuns Lois, rather than kill her.  She immediately throws herself at him when she awakens, but he’s got no time for her.  He’s got a wildly impractical war-machine to drive!  He takes a new vehicle out to level Metropolis, and when Super-Lex doesn’t back off, he does just that, amazed that the Metropolis Marvel would allow this to happen.  As the hero destroys his vehicle, Clark declares that all the thousands of deaths he just caused are on Lex’s head, but the Man of Steel was one ludicrous step ahead of him.

superman-231-0022

It turns out that Lex built an entire, FULL-SCALE replica of Krypton at some point in the past and filled it with androids.  He just evacuated the entirety of Metropolis overnight and filled it with his kryptonian androids, so no-one died!  Wow.  That’s a big development to toss out in a single line of dialog.  Of course, it doesn’t account for the billions of dollars worth of property damage, but oh well.  I wonder if Zack Snyder read this comic.  I suppose not, since there’s no sex and death.

superman-231-0023

Well, silly plot devices and terrible directors aside, Clark pulls a different kind of device out of his pocket.  It’s a ray that steals Superman’s powers and transfers them to a nearby object, specifically, a steering wheel.  Clark very helpfully explains the entire situation to Lex as opposed to, you know, just grabbing the artifact himself while the hero is reeling.  In the struggle that follows, Super-Lex gets the brass super-ring and Clark dies…because….the story is almost over?  There’s really no good explanation.  His ‘evil genes’ basically fry his brain, and this magically fixes everything, including Lois’s obsession.  I’m not going to try to explain this last page.  Just read it and marvel at the craziness as Bates suddenly realizes he’s run out of space and has to wrap everything up.

superman-231-0025

This is a pretty goofy story.  It’s all over the place, with the random criminal guru, the tons and tons of mad-style science, the Lois subplot, and ridiculous ending gambit by Super-Lex.  Interestingly enough, this issue also reprints a Superman story from 1956, and that one is positively grounded and restrained compared to this one, which is instructive in context.  There’s not really much to recommend this comic.  I’ll give this goofy tale 2 Minutemen.  It’s entertaining, but nutso.

minute2

World’s Finest #198

worlds_finest_comics_198“Race to Save the Universe!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell

“Joanie Swift, Queen of Speed!”
Penciler: Paul Norris
Inker: Paul Norris
Editors: Whitney Ellsworth, Jack Schiff, Julius Schwartz, and E. Nelson Bridwell

Well in contrast to that last Superman story, this issue of World’s Finest is just plain fun!  It’s full of big, bombastic action, cosmic concepts, and a universe-spanning setting that would be perfectly at home in Grant Morrison‘s JLA.  Considering the fact that Morrison penned some of the best League adventures of all time (not perfect, but undeniably great), that’s a very good thing.  This comic is just a rip-roaring adventure from start to finish, and while it’s packed full of crazy events and ideas, they all work together and make sense in the mad, wonder-packed world of the DC Universe.

worlds_finest_1970_198_03-04

worlds_finest_1970_198_05

It opens with a bang, as Jimmy Olsen steps out of bed and right through time itself!  He plummets through a strange hole in the time continuum (gotta’ love comics science!) and right into the middle of a Roman chariot race, circa 15 B.C.!  Not only that, a Roman charioteer charges through a similar portal and finds himself in ‘modern’ day Metropolis.  Of course, the Man of Steel is confused at first, thinking that this guy in the Roman getup is just some nut.  After all, given the insanity of his daily routine, that’s as likely as anything else.  In a fun and funny little moment, Superman just lets the Centurion break his sword on the ‘ol abs-of-steel so he can see for himself how pointless it is to fight.  Just as the Metropolis Marvel is about to take this time-tossed Roman to the funny-farm, he’s interrupted by one of the Guardians of the Universe!

The Guardian, with their usual tact, orders the Man of Tomorrow to get to Oa, today, and we get one of the only bits of this story that irked me.  Superman flies straight to their world, with his Roman in tow, and somehow the guy doesn’t die a messy and unpleasant death in the vacuum of space.  The text tells us that he takes a ‘space-warp,’ but one would imagine such a phenomenon as being…you know…in space.  Still, it’s a minor point, and I absolutely love the poor, rattled Roman’s befuddled thought bubbles as he tries to make sense of what in the heck is happening to him!  “Surely I have passed beyond the mortal realm!” he thinks as Superman flies him through space, and “Have I passed unto Olympus?” is his wondering thought when he sees the strange science of the Guardians.  If I have one criticism of this comic, it’s that I would have loved to see more of this guy!

worlds_finest_1970_198_06

Well, speaking of the Blue Man Group, no, not that one, once he arrives, they fill our hero in on the situation that spurred his summons.  Apparently beings called the ‘Anachronids,’ bizarre forms of life that move faster than the speed of light, have moved into inhabited space.  These creatures move so fast, in fact, that their very passage is playing merry havoc with space/time, causing random rifts to open between today and yesterday, the likes of which spawned Superman’s Latin companion.  The Guardians have need of the Man of Steel’s incredible speed and endurance, as they must stabilize the time-stream by employing a counter-balancing speed-force to that of the Anachronids.  Of course!  That kind of wonderful techno-babble totally works in the DCU.  The trouble is, Superman by himself is not going to produce enough power, so the Guardians send him to recruit the Flash and give the Scarlet Speedster a medallion that will grant him endurance and the ability to run in space.  Together, the titanic twosome must race for the galaxy or risk time itself unraveling in the face of the universe-shattering speed of the Anachronids!

Got all that?  Good, because we’re only on page six!  Well, once Superman picks up his partner in speed, the Flash offers a friendly idea, noting that they have raced in the past, but they have never had a definitive outcome.  He suggests that they make their universe-saving jaunt a competition, which would hopefully drive both of them to give their utmost.  This, and several other moments, show a particular strength of O’Neil’s writing in this issue.

worlds_finest_1970_198_08

The casual, jolly attitude they take to their world-saving, the free-spirited love for adventure that both heroes evince, is a great deal of fun.  I just can’t help but compare this to the endlessly grim and serious comics of the modern era, where even characters who should have a real sense of wonder and adventure about them still manage to be relentlessly serious and joyless as often as not.

worlds_finest_1970_198_11

So, it is with good spirits that our heroes set out on their race, passing the Moon in a moment and tearing through the cosmos on an incredible journey.  In a fun little detail, Batman officiates the start of the contest.  Meanwhile, we check back in with poor Jimmy in Rome, and his high school Latin fails him miserably as he finds himself sentenced to death as a wizard!  Back in space, Superman and the Flash are ambushed by the incredibly speedy Anachronids, who begin firing at them with energy weapons.  The Man of Steel manages to protects his partner, but their antagonists turn their deadly attentions to a nearby star, causing it to go super nova in a matter of moments.  It’s a lovely page, and it really sells the scope of the challenge facing our heroes.

worlds_finest_1970_198_12

The turbo-twosome have to outrun the exploding star (how’s that for wide-screen action?), but they are almost caught by the solar fire until they dive through a rift in space, perhaps caused by the Anachronids’ passage.  They fall into a bizarre, barren landscape, getting separated in their descent.  Superman finds himself under a strange, center-less sun that oscillates between red and yellow, and during the sanguine state, he’s clobbered by a trio of…shall I say ‘phantom’ assailants?  We just see their ghostly outlines, but sharp-witted DC fans will likely recognize some of the Phantom Zone villains.  What is going on?!

worlds_finest_1970_198_13

worlds_finest_1970_198_14

The trio attempts to feed the unconscious Man of Steel to a horrible, Lovecraftian monster, and the sun’s split personality renders him mostly helpless.  Fortunately, the Flash has been searching for him, and he launches a cleverly deduced attack against the big green ugly.  He sees that it has no eyes, and, in a bit of a stretch, he thinks that it may have a radar sense that he can confuse.  He does so by whipping up a dust storm.  The Speedster guesses that the antenna near the creature’s mouth are probably important, so with a dust storm and an attack to its sensitive tendrils, he frees his partner, who, with a return of yellow sunlight, decks the beast into a mountain.  It’s a great action sequence, and while the Flash’s idea about a radar sense doesn’t really get set up properly, I’m willing to let it go because the rest of the encounter makes pretty good sense.  Eyes or radar, it’s reasonable to think that a dust storm might be a good distraction.

worlds_finest_1970_198_17

The monster escaped, the heroes take to their heels once more, racing straight through the heart of the bizarre star, hoping that their path to freedom lies within.  Superman points out that space and time is distorted around stars, so they count on this being their doorway back into the normal universe.  That mostly works in a comic kind of way, so I’m not going to kick, especially because it just looks awesome.

worlds_finest_1970_198_19

Free, the racers once again encounter their eerie antagonists, and they endeavor to capture one.  When they manage to slow the speeding being down, they discover that it is actually a robot!  What’s more, the machine disintegrates shortly thereafter, apparently not designed to exist at anything below the speed of light.  With more questions than answers, the heroes once more take up their race, tearing off through space, and for the final page of the book, we check back in with poor Jimmy, who is facing a firing squad of Roman archers.  The story ends with their arrows in the air!

worlds_finest_1970_198_21

worlds_finest_1970_198_22This is just a fun, exhilarating issue.  This is the type of Bronze Age story that I really love.  It’s got vast, cosmic scope, big ideas, and bigger action.  The cheerful, grand heroism of this tale is precisely what makes comics great.  The mystery set up in this comic is intriguing, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next issue.  It helps that Dick Dillin is really firing on all cylinders for this book, turning out some great art and some really dynamic, well-rendered action.  The stiffness from some of his JLA issues is gone and what is left is imaginative and lovely.  I really like the camaraderie and friendship displayed between the two heroes, even if they aren’t given a ton of development.  Their spirit of adventure comes through, and in an epic tale like this, that’s enough.  They also each got a moment to shine, as the narrative was nicely balanced between their exploits, and the Jimmy subplot provided an enjoyable dose of comic relief.  I particularly enjoy the universe spanning nature of this yarn, bringing in several different elements of the DC mythos, from the Guardians to our spectral villains.  I’ll give this cosmic adventure 4.5 Minutemen, a great score!

minute4.5

There’s an enjoyable reprint of a Johnny Quick story as a backup to this issue.

Final Thoughts for the Month:

This was really a rather fascinating month.  It really drove home to me how much things at DC had changed in just one year’s time.  Over the course of the last year, we’ve watched as DC comic books go from the racial homogeneity of the Silver Age to a set of titles that, at least in the supporting casts of their stories, tend to feature more than a few minority faces.  It really seems like there has been an increasing attention to racial issues.  Obviously, this month we saw a particularly excellent story on race, but it seems to me that the company as a whole has taken an effort to present a more realistically diverse portrayal of the world in the pages of their books.  I’m not positive, but it does seem to be so, and that is a pretty cool development to watch happening.

This month also gave us both the highs and the lows of creativity, with two different new concepts being introduced, both of which would endure for a time, though to very different fates.  While the Ten-Eyed man was a goofy concept that was too silly even for comic books, the League of Assassins showed promise from the very beginning, worthy antagonists for the Dark Knight, employing many of the same methods and skills that he himself uses.  They are an interesting threat lurking out there in the DC Universe, and readers must have looked forward to their return.  At the same time, one can’t quite imagine anyone clamoring for the return of the Ten-Eyed Man.  Despite that, he will once again grace the pages of Batman in just five issues.

Perhaps most intriguing of all, this month showed us another side of Robert Kanigher.  I’ve certainly not been kind to this fellow, and yet in this month alone saw several solid stories penned by this maligned writer and one exceptional tale.  How strange to see Kanigher take an inning after the messy, silly stories he’s told previously.  I’m very curious about whether this is a turning point or a high water mark.

Well, that will do it for November, 1970!  It was a pretty good month, all told, but I’m excited to head into the final month of this first year.  Hopefully I can move through 1971 a little more quickly.  Otherwise, this process is going to take forever and a day!  Until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!

The Head-Blow Headcount:

Aquamanhead.jpgBatmanhead.jpgshowcase-88-fnvf-jasons-quest0robin2 - Copy.jpgPhantom_Stranger_05.jpgrobin2 - Copy.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgAquamanhead.jpg3072564469_1_3_hCmU7jwq.jpg

arrowheadglhead

Once again, it’s been a quiet month, with no new additions to the wall of shame.  I bet December will hold new noggin’ knockin’ wonders for us, though!

Into the Bronze Age: November 1970 (Part 4)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpg
Greetings internet travelers, and welcome to a particularly fascinating edition of Into the Bronze Age!  I’ve got something special for y’all today, something that surprised the dickens out of me!  I’ve got a story that was much less enjoyable than I expected and a story that was vastly more enjoyable as well.  I’m sure y’all will be as surprised as I was.  So, let’s get right into this post’s features!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)
  • Action Comics #394
  • Adventure Comics #399
  • Batman #226 (the debut of the awe-inspiring Ten-Eyed Man!)
  • Brave and Bold #92
  • Detective Comics #405
  • The Flash #201
  • G.I. Combat #144
  • Justice League of America #84
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106
  • Superman #231
  • World’s Finest #197 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • World’s Finest #198

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.

G.I. Combat #144

g-i-_combat_vol_1_144“Every Man a Fort”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Cover Artist: Joe Kubert

This is an unusual and fun issue of the Haunted Tank.  Unfortunately, the ghost of the titular haunting still doesn’t really contribute anything, but the book sticks out because the story it tells actually touches on the origin of the heroic tank crew who star in these tales.  This issue gives us the first meeting of the tank crew in tank training, and a memorable meeting it is.  We also get the first meeting of Jeb and J.E.B., which is much less interesting and something of a let-down.  For the third book in a row, Robert Kanigher turns in a perfectly serviceable story without any glaring flaws.  Maybe we were just in a lull for him.  I suppose time will tell which set of stories was the fluke, the terrible or the tolerable.

gi-combat-144-03

This particular tale begins in media res, with the Haunted Tank taking on a German panther, smashing the other steel beast, but being rocked by their fire in return.  Jeb is blown out of the hatch and has his bell rung but good.  He begins murmuring about the crew’s first meeting, which leads us to a flashback and reveals something I didn’t know.  Jeb is a Yankee!  This also comes as a surprise to the other three members of the crew, Slim, Rick, and Arch, who are all Southerners.  They don’t display good Southern manners, however, instead telling Jeb that, since he’s a Northerner, he’s not fit to bear the name of the famous Confederate general.  What follows is an episode out of the Three Musketeers, as Jeb, with quiet courage, puts up a list, saying that anyone who wants to try to make him change his name is welcome to sign it.  Shortly, he’s got three different appointments for fights, which Russ Heath illustrates wonderfully.  Shades of d’Artagnan!

First Slim cleans his clock, but as soon as he has recovered, Jeb seeks out the next name on the list, introducing himself as Jeb Stuart.  So, next up, Rick rearranges his face.  Still undeterred, Jeb approaches Arch, and after a brutal fight, the three tankers accept him, telling their former foe that he’s earned the right to that name, in spades!  It’s a great sequence, and it establishes Jeb’s character in an endearing, hard-won fashion.  I do wish we had gotten a bit more development of the other three crew members, as they remain little more than names.

gi-combat-144-07

gi-combat-144-09Later that night, Jeb is visited by his namesake, who tells him that he has the heart of a “Johnny Reb,” and that the ghost will be proud to be his guardian.  It’s a bit lackluster, to be honest.  I like that he recognizes the tank commander’s fighting spirit, but I would have preferred that their first meeting be a tad more dramatic.

Nonetheless, the flashback rolls on, and we join the Haunted Tank on its first mission, to reinforce a fort overlooking vital supply routes in North Africa.  We get a really nice scene where the crew stops to pray, only to be ambushed by a half-track.  I quite enjoy little moments of faith like that.  They manage to dispatch that threat, only to arrive at the fort too late.  It has already been bombed to smithereens by the Luftwaffe.  That brings us back to the present, and the crew carries on with Jeb still delirious.

gi-combat-144-11

They spot a train carrying supplies for Rommel, and they realize it is up to their tank to stop it.  Yet, try as they might in a vicious running firefight, once again, nicely drawn by Heath, they can’t smash through its armor.  Now, that seems a bit silly, but they actually did have armored trains, so it’s not quite as goofy as it seems, especially given the small gun on a Stuart.  Anyway, Jeb comes to just in time, ordering Slim to ram the engine, a desperate gamble that pays off, sending the train and all of its ammo and fuel over a cliff and saving the day.  As usual, the General appears once the action is over to offer unhelpful commentary rather than supernatural aid.

gi-combat-144-14

This is a solid story, and I really enjoy the camp episode about Jeb’s name.  His quiet, obstinate perseverance is great.  The whole thing looks good, as do most of these Haunted Tank tales, and the adventure with the train is a neat change of pace.  Interestingly, this origin actually contradicts an earlier one from issue #114.  Leave it to Kanigher to botch some continuity.  That earlier story tells the tale of how General Stuart himself came to be attached the the tank, and it is an interesting one.  I rather wish that supernatural side of the concept had been explored a bit more, but I imagine they had to walk lightly about such things in the Silver Age.  Perhaps we’ll see more done with it in future issues.  At any rate, I’ll give this fun and interesting issue 4 Minutemen, though it loses a bit for the continuity kerfuffle.

minute4

Justice League of America #84

jla_v-1_84“The Devil In Paradise!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Great Ant Circus!” (reprint)
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Murphy Anderson
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editors: Whitney Ellsworth and Julius Schwartz

This is an odd one.  Denny O’Neil’s groundbreaking run on the book is over, and we get one issue with a fill-in writer before the beginning of Mike Friedrich’s run.  It seems like Kanigher (yes, he strikes again) was going for a ‘Very Special Episode’ type of story with this comic, but the result is so uneven and random, with the melodrama turned up to 11, that the resulting read doesn’t ever really come together.  Unlike the last few mostly tolerable Kanigher offerings, this one is full of poorly thought-out events, abandoned plot points, and overall sloppy writing.  It isn’t the worst story of his we’ve covered, and it actually still manages to be somewhat enjoyable.  Nonetheless, it is weird.

Almost immediately after it begins, we get a flashback.  The JLA are receiving a special Nobel Prize, which is actually a cool idea and something that makes perfect sense for a group of people who regularly save the entire world.  This particular instance is actually rather small-potatoes, as the team receives the reward for saving a kidnapped scientist before he could be “sold behind the Iron Curtain.”  In a fun touch of continuity, the organization they’re tangling with is The 100, the same group that has begun to make its presence known in some of the Superman books also penned by Kanigher.

The 100 have a veritable army guarding the scientist, and we get a fun sequence where all the gathered members of the League get to chip in during the rescue, though the creators apply cartoon logic to Superman’s powers, as he melts an entire tank, somehow without deep-frying the guys inside.  They’re literally sitting in molten steel and only seem mildly perturbed in a ‘How dare you melt my tank’ kind of way.  You can’t see him, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Yosemite Sam was actually piloting that tank.

justice-league-of-america-v1-084-02

Yep, it sure is a good thing that the melting temperature of flesh is so much higher than steel!

While the others keep the gang busy, Hawkman affects the professor’s rescue with an assist from the Flash, and that brings us back to the ceremony.  After the League’s time in the limelight, another recipient takes the stage, Dr. Viktor Willard, whose ‘Pax Serum’ has turned “the hawks of savage, primitive tribes of the Matto Grosso country into doves!”  Now, if that sentence didn’t disturb you, A) you haven’t read enough science fiction or B) you didn’t think about it enough.  This guy invented some kind of drug that made human beings docile.  That’s a dystopian dictatorship’s dream!  What’s more, he presumably gave it to an unwilling population, forcibly restraining their hostile tendencies.  That’s wildly ethically problematic!  Yet, the League and the Nobel crowd seem to think it’s the greatest thing in the world.  Yay!  Let’s just drug people to make them act the way we want!  Shades of Equilibrium!

justice-league-of-america-v1-084-04

Anyway, that’s not even the weirdest thing to come out of this scene.  All of a sudden, with no explanation, Black Canary becomes telepathic, reading the thoughts of Willard’s fiance, Phyllis Temple.  Oddly, she calls her new ability “SP.”  ESP stands for extra-sensory perception, but I’m guessing ‘ol Kanigher just got confused.  To add to the inexplicable oddities, Superman’s x-ray vision suddenly goes haywire, and he sees half of Willard’s face as a skull.  That is never mentioned again, by the way.  It’s just a random little bit of madness.  On the way home from the event, Superman and Flash have a race, but it proves too destructive, so they call it off.

justice-league-of-america-v1-084-05

Next, we get an incredibly, achingly melodramatic scene between Batman and Black Canary.  They cross paths in the Watchtower, changing shifts for monitor duty, and they share a kiss, instantly regretted by both, as the heroine is still mourning the loss of her husband.  It’s not that bad of a scene, but the captions are just too much!  I wonder what Ollie would think of this.  My wife would hate this scene, as she will hear of no other love interest for Batman but Catwoman.  I’m not quite as militant about it, but that pairing does have a place in this old softie’s heart.

justice-league-of-america-v1-084-09

Anyway, the plot, such as it is, picks up two days later as the League responds to a distress call from the remote hinterlands of Australia where a native village has been destroyed by another tribe, which has seemingly gone mad.  Suddenly the team is attacked by Aborigines with weird weapons and mirrored shields.  The heroes have a brief fight, but then their opponents just vanish and we get some gobbledygook about the natives’ belief in the supernatural and the heroes’ belief in science.  What does this have to do with our main plot?  Your guess is as good as mine, since it is never explained.  Were these folks experimented upon by Dr. Willard?  Are they just random natives practicing black magic?  Who knows?  The League don’t bother to find out, just leaving with the whole matter uninvestigated.  Way to go, team!

justice-league-of-america-v1-084-12

Cool panel, though.

On the way home, the Flash discovers the recent Laureate’s fiance floating on an overturned boat, delirious.  He rushes her to the hospital in Central City (which I suppose is really no further away for him than a coastal hospital).  While comforting her, his wife, Iris, arrives, steaming mad and ranting about how he missed her receiving a reward.  She declares “The JLA’s no place for a married man!  Let your superhero bachelors carry on!”  This is another completely random, completely out of character moment.  Shades of Bob Haney!  Iris has always been very supportive of Barry’s superhero career, so this comes out of nowhere and, I’m fairly certain, goes nowhere as well.

justice-league-of-america-v1-084-13

The League brings in the suddenly-telepathic Black Canary, and the bird-lady sings about what she sees in Miss Temple’s mind.  Apparently, her fiance went from Nobel Peace Prize recipient to flat-out Bond villain, complete with secret volcano lair, all in the blink of an eye!  The mad scientist flew her to his private island base and explained his randomly evil plan to her.  He declares that, for no particularly good reason, instead of curing aggression in the world, he’s going to ramp it up to cause a holocaust, leaving the pair of them safe in their underground bunker.  He also introduces her to his incredibly vaguely defined servant, “Nether Man,” described as “Neither man, robot, nor android.”  Sure.  Why not.  Nether Man is smitten with the lovely Miss Temple, but when she escapes, he is sent to hunt her down nonetheless, sinking her speedboat in the process.

Having gotten the scoop, the League leaps into action, encountering a series of booby-traps and obstacles on the island, which give several different members a chance to shine.  It’s a nice sequence, as Superman detonates mines, the Atom picks a lock, and Hawkman dodges lasers.  Then, while they are fighting really uninspiringly designed robots, Flash has a line that irks the literary scholar in me, as he refers to ‘machines turning against men’ as “Orwell’s nightmare world of 1984.”  What?  1984 has nothing to do with machines turning against men!  Sheesh, Kanigher, read a book!

justice-league-of-america-v1-084-19

While the League are occupied, Phyllis runs to confront her fiend of a fiance as he is preparing to launch his doomsday device.  He orders Nether Man to kill the meddlesome woman, only to have his creation turn on him, destroying itself in the process.  The final page of the issue attempts to deliver some kind of moralizing message, but it makes no sense with the story that’s just concluded, as Phyllis philosophizes that both Nether Man and Dr. Willard are “victims of the same hate that ravages the world!  Unwitting murderers!  But…who can cast the first stone at them?”  Wait, what?  What story were you reading, lady?  Those two were victims of the hate that your psycho boy-friend whipped up trying to annihilate humanity!  I’d call him a pretty ‘witting’ murderer, and, while I’m no saint, I feel fairly comfortable in my moral fitness to throw the first stone at attempted genocide.

justice-league-of-america-v1-084-22

Clearly, we’re meant to find this ending super profound and meaningful, but the story just doesn’t earn anything of the sort.  The Frankenstein-esq turn with Nether Man is good, and surprisingly well handled in a very short span of time, but his master gets pretty much zero motivation for his genocidal tendencies.  The issue is chock full of material and has plenty of action, but it really feels like three or four separate, disjointed stories rather than one unified plot.  The Aristotelian Unities don’t really apply to comic stories, but some type of unity of action is important in any conventional yarn.  This issue certainly fails at that, and while there are some fun team moments and even some interesting ideas introduced, like the attraction between Batman and Black Canary, the strange, discordant notes of unexplained events, incongruous dialog and action, and general lack of development and, you guessed it, logical consistency, leave it something of a mess.  It’s not a bad read, but if you think about it for more than two seconds, you’ll find your head hurting.  I’ll give this off-beat issue 2 Minutemen.  It certainly seems like those last few solid Kanigher issues might have been the fluke after all, but just wait until you see what’s next!

minute2

Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106

lois_lane_106“I Am Curious (Black)!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: Milton Snappin
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell

“Rose and Thorn: ‘Where Do You Plant a Thorn?'”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell

Wow.  Just….just wow.  This is an amazing comic.  I know that is hard to believe.  Just look at that title and that cover, not to mention the name in the credits!  Nonetheless, this is a heck of a comic book.  I expected this issue to be a terrible, ham-handed, melodramatic mess.  How could it be anything but, right?  Well, I was blown away by what was under that goofy cover.  Robert Kanigher, of all people, managed to tell a simple, subtle, touching, and authentic story about race, bigotry, and inequality that gently delivers a a message of human unity without beating the reader over the head with it.  This comic actually achieves the profundity that Denny O’Neil is trying so desperately to grasp in each new issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow.

This unusual story starts off with Lois Lane, clearly entirely pleased with herself, as Lois often is, having just received an assignment to get “the inside story of Metropolis’ Little Africa,” an all Black neighborhood in the poorest part of the city.  In a somewhat creepy little panel, Clark thinks, for no particular reason, that he’s going to ‘keep an eye on her’ as Superman.  I’m sure that won’t be significant later.  The glamorous girl reporter gets a ride from her favorite taxi driver and heads to the slums.  Yet, when she arrives, she gets the cold shoulder from all of the area’s inhabitants.  They just refuse to talk to her, politely ignoring all of her efforts to break through.

lois-lane-106-p_005

There’s a particularly striking scene where she passes a street meeting and a fiery young man points her out, noting that, though she is young and pretty, they must not forget that:

“she’s whitey!  She’ll let us shine her shoes and sweep her floors!  And baby-sit for her kids!  But she doesn’t want to let our kids into her lily-white schools!  It’s okay with her if we leave these rat-infested slums!  If we don’t move next to her!  That’s why she’s our enemy!”

It’s a really surprisingly honest moment, dealing fairly straight-forwardly with issues of school desegregation and white flight.  The young man’s earnest anger is shocking, as is the subject matter appearing in a superhero comic, much more in Lois Lane.  Kanigher shows admirable restraint in moments like this throughout the book, letting the scenes speak for themselves, and they speak eloquently.  Lois herself is struck by this speech.  She ponders how, though the young man’s words aren’t true for her, they are true for many of her race.

lois-lane-106-p_006

Having determined that she won’t get any story out of this neighborhood while she’s looked at as an outsider, Lois conceives of a bold plan.  She convinces Superman to use a kryptonian device to temporarily turn her into a Black woman so she can see what the world looks like through such people’s eyes.  What follows is a short but telling collections of scenes where Lois, suddenly not the “right” color any longer, discovers how different life is for the other half.  Her favorite taxi driver blows right past her on a rainy street, refusing to pick her up.  On the bus, she’s the subject of suspicious looks, or at least feels that way.  That’s one of the most remarkable things about this story.  Kanigher captures, not only the obvious signs of racial inequality, but the general sense of ‘otherness’ that minorities have to deal with.  That’s impressive.

lois-lane-106-p_008

Arriving in the slums, Lois heads in to one of the tenement buildings to talk to some of the inhabitants, only to find a fire starting in a trash pile.  The place is incredibly run-down, and one of the renters informs the disguised reporter that the slumlord who owns the place refuses to do any maintenance.  That renter invites Lois into her home and what follows is something akin to the Widow’sMite.  This woman, who has almost nothing, who has to chase rats out of her baby’s room, offers Lois coffee, shares her hospitality, and then asks this complete stranger if she needs any help.  It’s a touching little scene, and it helps to ground the humanity of the folks trapped in this area.

lois-lane-106-p_011

Lois is moved, and she heads out to see what else there is to see.  In an ally, she spots an ‘improvised pre-kindergarten,’ where a man is teaching a group of children that ‘Black is beautiful.”  This may strike you as odd, especially if you aren’t familiar with American racial history, but it is actually a really interesting and subtle addition to the story.  You see, the famous Doll Test in the 40s indicated that segregation and racial inequality had a psychological effect on minority children.  They literally preferred white skin to theirs, tending to have subconsciously absorbed the narrative or racial inferiority.  It’s a pretty heartbreaking idea that kids might be uncomfortable and unhappy in the skin they’re born in, but that was (and may still be) the world that we had created.  Once again, Kanigher displays surprising sensitivity and insight.

lois-lane-106-p_013

lois-lane-106-p_015Well, the crisis of the story arrives when Lois meets the fiery street speaker she had encountered earlier, but the young man, named Dave Stevens, of course, doesn’t recognize her.  He does recognize a gang of kids creeping into an alley to meet a pusher, however, and charges after them in order to protect his neighborhood.  The thugs meeting the kids don’t take kindly to the interruption and shoot the brave fellow.  Superman arrives just then and captures the criminals, then rushing the wounded man to the hospital.  It’s at this point that we get one of my favorite panels in the book.  Stevens needs o-negative blood for a transfusion, but the hospital is out.  Lois, with a wonderfully rendered expression of realization, simply states “I–I’m o-negative!  Just like him!”  There’s no heavy-handed captions, no undue focus.  The moment stands on its own, and it is a great moment.  Lois realizes that she, a White woman, shares the same blood that is coursing through the veins of this Black man.  That she is the same, inside, as he is.  It’s really lovely.

The transfusion is conducted, and it is a success!  While the young man recovers, Lois has an interesting conversation with the Man of Steel, asking him, point blank, if he would marry her if she was couldn’t change back.  His response is really fascinating, as he doesn’t ever really answer her.  He points out that he is the ultimate outsider, being an alien, but she retorts that his skin is “the right color.”  It’s intriguing to see other writers toying with the idea of Superman as a representative of the established order, a symbol of conservatism and resistance to change.  The man himself seems better than that, but there is a touch of that old fear, that superheroes are inherently fascistic or oppressive, defending the existing social order as they do.  I’ve always found that argument foolish, as heroes can and do inspire folks to be compassionate and courageous, but the possibility is certainly there.  Just last month we saw Jack Kirby putting Superman in a similar role by placing him at odds with Jimmy, as a representation of youth culture.  We’re certainly getting into pretty interesting stuff on this front, no doubt about it.

lois-lane-106-p_017

The issue ends with Lois, having transformed back into her usual coloring, greeting the revived young man.  Once again, Kanigher makes an excellent choice of restraint.  The final pages is wordless, with nothing but the dawning realization and acceptance on Dave Stevens’ face to tell the story.  He recognizes the same truth that the reporter herself did, that inside, they are the same, whatever outward differences may appear.  It’s a good, hopeful ending.  It’s touching without being saccharine, and I really don’t think it could have stood any dialog or captions and still kept that balance.

lois-lane-106-p_018

I think what may be most astonishing to me about this book is the fact that I’ve never heard of it.  I’ve read a decent amount about comics and their seminal moments.  I’ve read about Denny O’Neil’s Green Lantern run, the drug abuse issue, and more.  I’ve heard about a lot of the important stories, and yet…this issue has never had a mention so far as I can tell.  It has never garnered any notice, but it is a bold and sensitive (for a 14 page comic story) treatment of some very timely issues.  I can only imagine that no-one was paying any attention to Lois Lane.  I know I certainly didn’t expect to find an honestly poignant story in these pages!  Yet here it is, a forgotten gem.  This type of book is one of the reasons I started this project.  I am thrilled to have discovered it, not least because its message of seeing through the other fellow’s eyes is especially fitting these days, at least in my country.  That’s one of the great strengths of literature.  It builds our capacity for empathy and helps us to look at the world from different perspectives.  That’s one of the ways that literature makes us better as human beings, and this little story in an insignificant comic magazine has just such power.

The whole issue is beautifully illustrated by Werner Roth, who I’ve never heard of before.  I’ll be looking for his name from now on, though!  He really captures the emotions of the various characters and gives each extra an interesting and unique face.  Lois herself is given a lot of personality by both Kanigher and Roth, and I think her portrayal is one of my favorite parts of the issue.  She is represented as intelligent, capable, and level-headed, which is great given how often the Silver Age Lois was just a complete mess, a mad, manipulative, emotionally disturbed harpy.  This story gives us a more worthwhile Lois, and I quite enjoyed it.  Overall, I can’t think of any way this comic could be improved, so, this 14 page Lois Lane story written by Bob Kanigher of all people is the first Bronze Age book to earn 5 Minutemen out of 5!  Clearly, I’m going to have to reassess Kanigher as a writer.

minute5

“Rose and Thorn: ‘Where Do You Plant a Thorn?'”

lois-lane-106-p_022

Apparently Thorn is actually a man in drag…yeesh!

This is another interesting and engaging Rose and Thorn story, probably stronger than the first offering because it doesn’t have as big of a job to do since the origin has already been told.  It can focus on smaller tale and give it more development.  The concept continues to intrigue me, and I’m pleasantly surprised once again by Kanigher’s writing in this backup.

This particular yarn opens with the eponymous Thorn gazing at the window of a funeral home at a solid gold coffin on display there.  Apparently the 100 like grand gestures, as they’ve commissioned this flashy final resting place just for her.  As she considers the coffin, a pair of the 100’s gunmen come after her, but she makes short and vicious work of them.  In fact, it may only be the arrival of her father’s former partner, Danny Stone, that saves the life of one of the thugs.  That’s a little touch that I enjoy, as Thorn isn’t exactly a rational and restrained heroine.  It makes sense that a vengeance driven split personality might have some problems with excessive violence.  I’m curious to see if that will be developed.

lois-lane-106-p_023

Anyway, the story continues the following day, when Rose is once again in control, and she is palling around town with her new boss, Vince Adams, owner of the funeral home and secretly a leader of the 100.  We get some good intrigue as Rose is left to browse the flowers in a florist shop owned by another 100 member as he and Adams meet to discuss the murder of her alter ego.  The florist is charged with killing Detective Stone, and when the officer just happens to waltz into his store seeking roses for Rose, he sees his chance.  One poisoned bouquet later, and the trap is set.  Fortunately for Rose and Danny, the girl’s dog chews on one of the flowers, dying in their stead!  I was really surprised by this.  Usually you never kill a pet in a comic like this, even if you kill human beings.  It is pretty dark, as an animal is completely innocent, and it’s the kind of thing that forever marks a villain.  Folks can forgive a likeable rogue for a little murder, but never animal cruelty.  Such are the vagaries of audience ethics!

lois-lane-106-p_027

Well, Stone realizes that something is up, and instead of descending on that florist shop with a SWAT team, he just strolls in casually to ask the guy how his flowers ended up poisoned.  What’s more, he also blindly accepts the ridiculous story the guy tells him about having bought the flowers from some strange trucker and walks right into the trap the store owner sets up.  Detective Stone is apparently exceptionally bad at his job.  It’s a good thing he’s working in Metropolis.  Without Superman around, he’d probably already be dead.

lois-lane-106-p_030

What is going on in that last panel?  Is the gun animate?

He gets lucky once more, however, as once he is sapped, Thorn comes to his rescue, making a dynamic entrance and leaving the two gunsels stuck to a giant cactus!  They look like they’ve been crucified, so it is a rather striking image.  Stone recovers and captures the two thugs, probably getting credit for a collar he doesn’t deserve.

lois-lane-106-p_031

This is a solid little tale, told in just 8 pages.  It’s a good example of economical storytelling, and Kanigher fits in action and character development admirably.  The small cast helps that task, of course.  Ross Andru’s art is actually one of the biggest weaknesses of this story.  While it is usually serviceable, even rather good with some of the face-work, it is also occasionally stiff, awkward, and just downright ugly in some spots, especially the opening page with Thorn.  There’s a few places where the art fails the story as well.  Still, all-told, this is a good story in a remarkable issue.  Color me intrigued by Ross/Thorn’s saga.  I’ll give this one 4 Minutemen, though I’m inclined to take off some points for Stone’s ridiculous gullibility.

minute4

Well, what a fascinating selection of issues we’ve covered in this post!  I just can’t figure Robert Kanigher out.  He can turn out the goofiest, laziest, scholckiest work you’ve ever seen in one book and yet turn out one of the best short comics I’ve ever read in another, all in the same month!  Whatever Kanigher’s story may be, we’re certainly getting into intriguing trends here at the end of 1970, and we have only one more post to go before we round out November.  So, until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!