- 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
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Teen Titans #31
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.
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.
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.
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. It’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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
World’s Finest #199
“Race 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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.