Into the Bronze Age: September 1970 (Part 2)

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Welcome back my good readers!  I know it’s taken an age and a day for me to get this post finished, but in the interim, I got my dissertation reading list submitted, so, excelsior!  Ready for another dose of Bronze Age goodness?  Then, without further ado, join me as we investigate another classic 70s comic.

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

  • Action Comics #392
  • Batman #225
  • Brave and the Bold #91
  • Detective Comics #403
  • G.I. Combat #143
  • Green Lantern #79
  • Justice League #83
  • Showcase #93
  • The Flash #200
  • World’s Finest #196

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

Batman #225

batman_225Wanted for Murder-One, the Batman
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Shutdown on York Street!
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Mike Esposito
Letterer: Ben Oda

As is often the case, Batman provides us with solid quality detective yarns.  The headline tale delivers a pretty good mystery with a fair amount of  drama in just fifteen pages.  In a mark of the growing complexity and maturity of these Batman stories, we have some real stakes, and we also have some successful efforts at characterization and consistency.  It’s a pleasant surprise that both Commissioner Gordon and the GCPD come off reasonably well in this issue, despite the fact that they play antagonist to our hero, serving as the primary obstacle to his goals.  In general, our setting is beginning to feel more realized, more fleshed-out than many such stories.

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The headline tale begins by introducing us to Jonah Jory, a TV host with his own host of problems.  He’s a miserable little shell of a man, with false teeth, false hair, false shoulders, and a smile as equally counterfeit as the rest of him.  He’s a talk-show personality of the sleazy and vicious variety, and he’s apparently got a major bone to pick with Gotham’s Dark Knight, ambushing Commissioner Gordon on his show about the venerable police veteran’s connection to Batman.  Late that night, Jory goes to the Gotham Athletic Club to work out, where he is apparently shot and killed.  The guard bursts in to see the window shattered and a caped and cowled figure on a neighboring rooftop.

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Gordon investigates, and it begins to look like the Masked Manhunter might be the murderer, as a gun store owner claims he sold Batman himself a .38 last week, the same caliber as the missing murder weapon!  The Commissioner has no choice.  He issues an APB for the Caped Crusader.  Meanwhile, Batman employs some pretty nice detective work to follow a trail of clues that begin to reveal a setup.  He interrogates a lowlife who had caused a disturbance at the exact time of the killing, ensuring that the caped figure on the rooftop would be spotted, and forces him to reveal that he was paid to do it.  It’s a nice sequence, and it nicely illustrates the increasing seriousness of the character.  The Dark Knight doesn’t play games.  He smacks the guy around, and when the thug starts pleading for his rights, Batman reminds him that he’s currently a hunted outlaw with nothing to lose.  We’re definitely moving away from the deputized, policeman’s friend Batman.

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After the hood, the Caped Crusader tracks down his next lead, another small-time crook named Semple.  Bats finds him in a dive bar, playing pool with his buddies.  What follows is another nice scene, where the Dark Knight easily disposes of the three punks, displaying skill and a suitably intimidating confidence.  Unfortunately, Novick’s art doesn’t quite do the scene justice.  His action and his poses are a bit too awkward and unnatural.  He still manages some nice, moody panels though.

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The Masked Manhunter interrogates Semple and discovers that it was actually him in a cape and cowl who bought the gun as well as being spotted by the witnesses at the scene of the crime.  The plot thickens!  Batman realizes that he’s taken his investigation about as far as he can without getting a look at the crime scene itself, but with Gotham’s finest all over the Club, that is easier said than done.  Fortunately, where Batman is hunted, Bruce Wayne can pass unnoticed.  He goes into the club, changes into his battle togs, and begins to scale the building from a lower floor.

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However, Gordon knows his vigilante friend’s methods, and the man also knows his job.  He and his men are watching the building, not just the entrance, but the exterior as well.  They move in, and there is a touching little moment, made really successful by Novick’s art, where Gordon is offered a gun and contemplates it, realizing what he might have to do.

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They rush the gym, only to find Batman waiting for them.  He has solved the mystery, and he proceeds to show them how the crime was committed.  It turns out that there was no murder.  It was an elaborately staged suicide.  Jory hated Batman so much, perhaps because the Dark Knight represented what he, himself, could never be, that he set out to destroy the hero by the means of his own death.  He was dying of an incurable disease, so he decided to make use of a death that was inevitable at any rate.  Jory had wrapped an elastic pull around a pole, stretched it, and placed the gun in it before he pulled the trigger.  As the weapon fell from his lifeless fingers, it was flung through a window, breaking it.  That, plus the staged spotting of Batman at just that moment, was enough to cast suspicion on the Caped Crusader.  The tale ends with Batman and Commissioner Gordon shaking hands, their friendship restored.

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This is just a good, all around solid detective story.  The mystery is interesting, and while this type of tale has been told before, it is hardly one of the most common tropes.  It’s surprising to see a suicide portrayed in a comic, and this also illustrates the growing maturity of the tales we’re encountering.  We really don’t see much of Jory, but we see enough to establish the type of person he is, and it’s enough to work for the story.  I really enjoyed the portrayal of Batman’s darker, more dangerous presence here.  That, along with Gordon’s own competence, and the little touches like Gordon’s contemplation of his sidearm help make this a really effective story with just a touch of emotional heft.  I’ll give it an above average 3.5 Minutemen.  It loses a bit because of Novick’s awkward action art.

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Shutdown on York Street!

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This is something of an odd little tale, a b-side story that doesn’t quite rise to the level of charm of some of the Batman backups we’ve seen, though it aims at something similar.  Essentially, it’s a teen tale about a young man who gets into a bad situation and finds himself on the run.  Yet, unlike most of these stories, the protagonist of this one is pretty unlikable and almost entirely at fault.  We begin with a group of kids out drag racing through a Gotham night.  That’s right, brace yourselves; we’re in for Fredrich’s attempt at youth culture.  Fortunately, he doesn’t go too overboard, and we don’t face more than some terrible 60s slang.  Anyway, two teen-agers ™ finish their race, and one, a hotheaded young man named Alex, doesn’t take his loss too well.  From the very beginning this kid doesn’t come off well.  He picks on the little mechanic that is hanging out with the group, Jack, accuses the other racer, Vic, of cheating, and gets super possessive of a girl named Chris.  Interestingly, while the two young punks argue over who she belongs to, the girl never voices an opinion.  Real nice.

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But Alex’s unappealing qualities don’t end with chauvinism and being a poor loser.  Unable to handle losing the girl and the race, he hops in his car and heads straight at Vic.  His though bubbles tell us Alex just intends to scare his rival, but this is still incredibly stupid and wildly irresponsible.  Vic, for his part, doesn’t exhibit the brains God gave a common dog, standing stolidly in the middle of the road, sure that Alex is too chicken to car-murder him.  I don’t think that is the sort of thing that one really puts to the test, at least not if one isn’ts a moron.  This ends about the way you’d imagine, tragically.  Alex runs off, swearing that he tried to stop and couldn’t.

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Soon, Batman arrives on the scene, along with the boy’s father, Art Saddows, who is a crime reporters, as well as apparently part of the ‘Mystery Analysts of Gotham City.’  I have a vague memory of having encountered these guys before, and I enjoy the little nod to continuity and the wider Bat-world, even if it isn’t a corner of with which I’m particularly familiar.  Plus, ‘ol Art looks like Dr. Thirteen, pipe and all, so he’s got that going for him.  Let’s hope that he’s a bit more objective.  We’re hit with some of Fredrich’s teen slang, as Mr. Saddows tells the Dark Knight that “one of Alex’s freaked-out friends must be hiding him!”  Maybe he ran away to escape the humiliation of your attempt at talking ‘hip,’ dad?  The reporter is convinced that his son couldn’t really be a murderer, though, as we’ve seen, the kid’s temper doesn’t really seem like it would make such a deed all that much of a stretch.  The Caped Crusader is convinced that the kid is innocent as well, though he doesn’t tell us why just yet.  He sets out to locate the young man and bring him in so that everything can be settled.

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Batman operates like you do?  I think you’ve got delusions of grandeur, my friend…

Three nights later (remember that), Bats spots a car parked in front of a boutique that is flashing its lights in a peculiar pattern.  Three short, three long, three short.  S.O.S.!  Inside the store, a teen gang is robbing…no, not a jewelry store or even a pawn shop, but a dress store, not for profit, but just so their girls can be well-dressed for a party…shoot for the stars, kids, shoot for the stars.

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After the Masked Manhunter makes short work of these unimaginative delinquents, he discovers Alex behind the wheel of their getaway car.  The kid went to hide with his friends, but, because he clearly has excellent judgement, his “friends” turned out not to be worth too much.  They threatened to turn him in if he doesn’t drive their getaway car, which seems a little fancy for robbing a dress store, but they really want to make an impression at the “bash.”  Alex, unable to do anything else, tried to attract help with his S.O.S. gambit, but before Batman can talk to him, the kid takes off again.  He’s figured out who is responsible for this whole mess (you know, other than the guy who pointed his car at a human being).

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Batman catches up with him just in time to prevent him from doing something else stupid, as Alex chases the mechanic, Jack, down, threatening to kill him.  The Dark Knight points out that the kid’s temper has already gotten him in enough trouble, and the story wraps up at the police station, where we discover that Jack let the brake fluid out of Alex’s car because he was jealous of both him and Vic, wanting Chris for himself.  Batman explains that he solved the mystery because of the stain of brake fluid on Chris’s dress.  He points to a black hand-print on her skirt…that is still there three days later!  Remember, the accident happened three days ago, so apparently Chris hasn’t changed clothes or washed her dress in three days!  I think you guys could probably do better.  The tale ends with father and son reunited and Saddows promising to stand by his boy through the manslaughter trial that awaits him.  That’s actually more than a bit dark when you think about it.

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This is a solid enough story, though not terribly memorable.  Alex is rather unlikable, and that hurts the impact of the tale.  He doesn’t really seem all that sad about killing the other boy, mostly just upset about being blamed for it, and the tale ends with him still destined for a manslaughter trial, which is definitely a downbeat, despite the supposed restoration of his relationship with his father.  The subject matter is a little more mature as well, though not to the same extent as the headline story.  Interestingly, Novick’s art is significantly stronger on this backup.  He has some really nice images of Batman looming in the shadows and brooding on gargoyles.  The visual language of Batman’s iconic Bronze Age portrayal, that which continues to define the character today, is definitely beginning to come together.  In the end, I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen.  It is just average, not great, but not bad.

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Well, those two Bat-tales are it for this edition, though they took long enough for me to write up, hmm?  Hopefully I can get on to the next one more quickly.  Either way, the next issue of Batman is a momentous one.  It features the debut of the greatest, most terrifying, most awe-inspiring Bat-villain of all time.  I’m not talking about any of those weak-sauce second stringers like the Joker, the Penguin, or the Riddler.  No, I’m talking about the villain that would become synonymous with the Dark Knight, who would define his nemesis as day defines night.  I am, of course, speaking of none other than the Ten Eyed Man.  I’m sure you’re all suitably impressed.  Be sure to come back for that earth-shattering issue when we reach it!

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: September 1970 (Part 1)

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Hello dear readers, and welcome to another installment of Into the Bronze Age.  I imagine that many of you out there are thunderstruck by the results of the American presidential election, no matter who you favored.  This entire election has been bizarre beyond words.  Many of you likely feel like the world is spinning madly out of control.  Perhaps some of you are feeling pleased and hopeful.  Whatever the case, I imagine we could all use a break from politics and from a national discourse that has grown ever more poisonous and vicious.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about politics.  I’m neither going to lament nor cheer.  No, instead, I’m going to publish this post about, of all things, 1970s comic books.  What a thing to do at a moment in history that, whatever comes, is sure to be remembered for years.  Yet, it’s at times like this I think that these silly little superhero books can do us the most good.  They are bright, hopeful, and they espouse, at their best, the only true heroism, the self-sacrificial love that marks the highest apex of human virtue, mirroring as it does divine virtue.  They remind us that we are at our best, not when we are doing for ourselves, but when we are doing for others.  They are a good escapist refuge from an ugly and uncharitable world, but they are also a reminder that humanity is capable of good things, beauty, joy, and laugher.

So, without further ado, welcome to September 1970.  Let’s see what awaits us within, shall we?

This month in history:

  • Palestinian terrorists hijack ten different planes during what is known as the “Black September” civil war in Jordan
  • Psychedelic drug evangelist and all-around wack job Timothy Leary escaped from prison
  • IBM announces System 370 computer
  • USSR launches Luna 16; returns samples from lunar Sea of Fertility
  • President Nixon requests 1,000 new FBI agents for college campuses
  • Unrest and conflict continues in Ireland

We have a tie between two extremely awesome songs at the top of the charts this month, with both Edwin Star’s “War” and Diana Ross’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”  These are two very different songs, but they provide a nice cross section of the time.  “War” is certainly a very striking piece, given the conflicts filling our list above.

It is certainly an interesting month in history, with all kinds of crazy things going on.  I learned a lot reading about this month, and I was fascinated by both the Black September conflict and the bat-guano insane life of Timothy Leary.  The guy was like a real-life supervillain.  It’s very interesting for those of us on the path to the Bronze Age that we see evidence in this flurry of skyjackings of the trend we heard about all the way back in Batman #219.  Clearly calling this period “The Golden Age of Skyjacking” is rather appropriate.  The Space Race continues as well, giving us something a bit more positive happening in the skies, but there are still signs of unrest everywhere.  Well, enough of all this real-world drama, let’s talk about some superheroes!

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

  • Action Comics #392
  • Batman #225
  • Brave and the Bold #91
  • Detective Comics #403
  • G.I. Combat #143
  • Green Lantern #79
  • Justice League #83
  • Showcase #93
  • The Flash #200
  • World’s Finest #196

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

Action Comics #392

action_comics_392“The Shame of the Super Son”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“The Legionnaires Who Never Were!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abel

Once again, this issue follows what is becoming a familiar pattern.  The Headlining Superman tale is just goofy Silver Age fare, but the Legion backup is just plain good.  The Superman tale continues the Saga of the Super Sons and repeats many of the silly domestic farce elements that annoyed me with the last one.  Once again, everyone seems to just spend all day and night in their costumes, even when doing the most prosaic and pedestrian activities, giving us some really unintentionally funny panels.  I’m actually reminded a bit of the Tick…

In our last issue, we ended on the cliffhanger of Superman apparently taking away his goofus of a son’s powers with gold kryptonite.  He makes this pretty huge choice with ridiculous suddenness, deciding that his hard-luck screw-up of a teenage son, or, you know, a teenager, was too dangerous and incompetent to have super powers.  Apparently Clark doesn’t remember what it was like to be 13 or so.  After all, I know I know I certainly didn’t have everything together at that age…of course, I still don’t, but that’s neither here nor there!  This issue picks back up with the elder Supes as he returns home, sullen and silent.  His son runs off as soon as they are home, justifiably angry at his father for, you know, stripping his powers away permanently without so much as a heads-up.  I have to say, this surprised me a bit.  I was sure that the previous issue’s cliffhanger would be a cheat of some sort and that this one would reveal the kid’s powers weren’t permanently lost just because he’s a klutz, seeing as how that would be insane and incredibly cruel.  I was certain that this issue would reveal it was all just a lesson for the boy, but no, Kanigher amps up the crazy by barreling ahead quite earnestly.

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And Kanigher cranks up Superman’s jerk dial a dozen more notches, as the Man of Tomorrow wordlessly brushes past his wife, who can tell something is wrong, and locks himself in his study, while the wife, increasingly panicked by his complete freaking silence, repeatedly demands to know what happened to her son.  Wow, you’re just bad all around at this family stuff, aren’t you Supes?  So, what does Mrs. Man of Steel do?  She runs across the street to the neighboring mansion of Batman and asks him for help.  In so doing, she interrupts the Caped Crusader lounging in his den, watching TV in full costume.  That’s got to be one of the most ridiculous images in the book, but it has plenty of competition.

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Check out Batman’s swinging 60s den!

The Dark Knight (not so dark here) gets the story out of his friend, who has NOW decided to be remorseful for ruining his son’s life (a little late there!).  Next we get a montage of scenes where the former Boy of Steel gets humiliated in various ways, all while continuing to wear his costume as he engages in even more normal activities.  He nearly drowns while swimming (in a cape!), has to pick up his date on a Bat-bike (the pedal-powered kind), and gets one-uped by Bat-boy.  There’s a lot of silly in these pages.

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Things take a turn when Superman is ambushed by a bunch of criminals from the Generic Gang who happen to have gotten their hands on the most plentiful element in the Silver Age DC Universe, kryptonite!  The Super Son, having lost his powers, is somehow unaffected, and he manages to free his not-so-super father.  I’d have sympathized if he had left him to the crooks.

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This prompts a change of heart in the Man of Tomorrow, who brings his son to the Bottle City of Kandor for his 14th birthday.  While there, they don a set of bracelets that, supposedly signify their bond.  When they come back to the Fortress, they discover one of the dangerous zoo animals escaped , and Superman doesn’t seem to have the power to stop it.  His son belts the beast and discovers that his powers have returned.  Apparently, the bracelets actually gave the elder’s powers to the younger.  The issue ends with father and son reconciled and the Man of Steel, now powerless, retiring and letting his son take over the family world-saving business.  It really seems like he got there the hard way.

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Well, this was a bonkers issue, picking up from the last bonkers issue.  Superman really comes off pretty terribly, both with his ridiculously abrupt and insanely severe punishment of his son and with his callous treatment of his justifiably frantic wife.  The ending would be heartwarming, if it wasn’t made necessary by the Man of Steel’s being inhumanely cruel in the first place.  In the end, this is more or less what you might expect of such a story.  It’s ludicrously Silver Age-y , and I had to check again to make sure it wasn’t really written by Bob Haney.  The domestic farce in this one was even worse than the previous one, and there’s little goofier than the entire set of super families hanging out and swimming in their own pool, all in full costume.  That kind of zaniness costs this issue a half Minuteman over the previous one.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.

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“The Legionnaires Who Never Were!”

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As usual, the Legion backup is great fun.  This one is an offbeat issue, though it certainly employs the standard Legion formula of the apparent enemy within.  I think the Legion must spend more of their time fighting each other and chasing “traitors” than doing anything else.  Imagine how much more they could have gotten done if they weren’t always worried about secret double agents in their midsts!

The issue begins with two of the lady Legionnaires, Saturn Girl and Princess Projectra, heading out on a mission to capture a “space renegade” (good band name), Pozr-Du.  You’ve got to love these Legion names.  On the way, Saturn Girl reveals a new costume, which I suspect points to a larger trend of linking fashion and female characters.  This is something I’ve noticed in some Supergirl comics I’ve read around this period (some of the only ones I’ve encountered).  I wonder if DC was attempting to bring in and engage more female readers with such an emphasis on costume design and the like.  I know the Supergirl book actually had costume design contests and the like.  It makes a certain amount of sense, and I think it’s a rather nice effort on DC’s part, if perhaps a bit heavy handed.

Well, when the girls find their quarry, they are ambushed by the renegade and blasted out of the sky, unconscious!  When they awaken, strangely enough there is no sign of Pozr-Du.  He didn’t bother to capture them or even finish them off, though they landed right in his lap.  Mystified and discouraged, there is nothing the pair can do but return to Legion HQ, which looks a bit different than I remember.  However, once there, things taken an even stranger turn, as their ship is snagged in an “energy-grappler” and Cosmic Boy, manning the defenses, claims never to have heard of them!

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The lovely Legionnaires are captured by their former teammates, and despite their protestations, Cosmic Boy and the others tell them that the Legion has never had members named Princess Projectra or Saturn Girl.  To prove their legitimacy, the heroines demand to be taken to the trophy room where they can produce evidence of their accomplishments, but when they arrive, they find their mementos are missing!  This provides us with a fun little glimpse of the Legion trophy room, complete with some really cool looking creatures and objects.

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Just then, two new members arrive to check out the intruders, Prince Projectur and Saturn Lad!  They demonstrate their powers, and the flabbergasted femmes begin to feel rather hopeless.  Interestingly, both of these guys are wearing almost the exact same costumes as their female counterparts, and it just looks plain ridiculous.  Just a slight redesign on them to give them something a bit more dignified and masculine would have done wonders.  At the very least, give them pants, for heaven’s sake!  This is like the unironic 70s predecessor of the Hawkeye initiative, and it does unintentionally illustrate how silly the average female comic character’s costume is.

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Anyway, fashion disasters aside, our two heroines find themselves prisoners, floating suspended in the middle of a chamber in a detention sphere.  The pair discuss their situation, and I really enjoyed the matter-of-fact way these two unflappable ladies calmly assess the possible explanations of their predicament.  They are experienced enough at this kind of thing to immediately recognize that there are a number of possible explanations.  They could be on an alternate Earth, the weapon they were struck with could have put them into a dream state, or many other even stranger possibilities.  I liked this.  It makes sense that experienced heroes would have a frame of reference for even something as crazy as finding out that none of your friends remember you.

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Unable to determine exactly what is going on from their cell, the ladies plan an escape, and they do so in clever and dynamic fashion.  The cell stretches with their movement, and since their captors failed to take their flight rings, thinking them fake, they fly in opposite directions, straining the bubble’s elasticity until it breaks.  Free once more, Princess Projectra has a plan.  She tells Saturn Girl to stay hidden while she looks for answers.

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In search of just that, she visits the quarters of a particular Legionnaire, her boyfriend, Karate Kid.  The Princess demands answers, and tries to remind Val of their relationship, including a really sweet little flashback to the first time they said “I love you.”  To attempt to spark his memory, the lovely illusionist kisses her erstwhile beau.  He still insists he doesn’t know her, but suddenly he collapses!  In another really clever move, the Princess applied a drug to her lips that would knock him out when she kissed him.  With the Kid unconscious, she applies a small device to his neck, hoping that it will answer her questions.

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Returning to Saturn Girl, Projectra is challenged by her male counterpart.  However, she has begun to suspect the truth, so she creates an illusory monster that threatens her, and the startled “Prince” leaps to her aid, letting her real name slip out in the process.  She unmasks him as Brianiac 5, and the jig is up!

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Slimer, no!

It seems that the new megacomputer Brainy built spit out a prediction that a Legionnaire was in danger of cracking under pressure and endangering her teammates, and it named Projectra.  The device was still experimental, so they weren’t sure that they could trust it.  They devised a training exercise to test their teammate’s reactions and combat fitness, throwing her into a completely bizarre situation.  Saturn Girl was the proctor and used her powers to cancel her partner’s out.  Chameleon Boy was Pozr and Sun Boy played the role of Saturn Lad.  Fortunately the clever Princess used one of Brainy’s inventions to discover that Karate Kid was lying and began to unravel the setup after that.

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Everyone congratulates her on her performance, and she is reunited with Val, who apologizes for putting her through that ordeal.  That’s nice and all, but I have a feeling he’s going to face an ordeal of his own in payback!  We also see the office of Legion Leader taken over by Mon-El, which is a fun little addendum to the story, adding a little peak into the organizational functioning of the team.  Things like that are neat in small doses, adding a certain amount of fleshing out to the concept.

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The reason for the test is a bit stretched, as it really seems like there is probably a simpler way to figure out if Projectra is about to crumble than to subject her to an elaborate and extreme test that could have caused even a sane person to lose it.  Still, by the standards of the high melodrama that usually accompanies internal Legion stories, it rather fits.  The most important thing is that it is a fun tale, entertaining and rather surprising.  The different explanations the ladies propose are so reasonable and utterly common in comics that I never considered that it was all a hoax.  What’s more, the portrayal of the two protagonists was quite good, both of them coming off as competent, brave, and resourceful.

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It’s interesting that they went through their entire adventure without any violent action, yet the story was plenty entertaining.  I particularly enjoyed getting to know Princess Projectra in this yarn, as I hadn’t really encountered here much before.  As is often the case with these Legion backups, this short adventure packs a great deal in just a few pages, and does it with aplomb.  It doesn’t feel rushed, and there’s plenty of excitement while also providing us with a bit of character development.  That’s impressive.  Its also worth mentioning that I really enjoyed the art in this issue.  Win Mortimer turns out some great looking, classic DC house-style work, and he does some several really cool page and panel-breaking layouts.  So, slightly disturbing costuming aside, I’ll give this one an above average 3.5 Minutemen.

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That’s all for today, and I hope this post and these stories bring some lightness and some fun into your day.  On a day like today, that’s a good thing.  Join me (hopefully) soon for the next two tales in our journey Into the Bronze Age!

Ghostbusters: Trick or Terror 2 Released!

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Happy Halloween one and all!  I’m just BARELY getting this one in under the wire, but I am proud to release the second episode in the Halloween adventures of everyone’s favorite spirit chasers, the Ghostbusters!  Join them for another mysterious case as they are called to a foreboding locale and face strange events that just might be connected to their previous Halloween misadventure.

As before, this is a simple, one mission story, but I had a blast making it, and I hope you will have a good time with it as well.  So come on, celebrate Halloween in style, with the kings of creep, the Ghostbusters!

This release includes the original mod as well as the new mission and foes.  You can download the whole thing here:

Download it here!

Challenge the restless dead and make New York safe for her citizens!

Strap on a proton pack and make use of the Ghostbusters’ arsenal of gadgets!

Help Pete, Egon, Ray, and Winston fight back an incursion from the spirit world, and save Halloween once more!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1970 (Part 6)

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Welcome to the last post on August 1970!  It’s not as bad as the Superman tale we met last time, but this isn’t quite the soaring success we encountered elsewhere this month.  I hope you enjoy this next step, Into the Bronze Age!

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

  • Action Comics #391
  • Aquaman #52
  • Batman #224
  • Teen Titans #28
  • Detective Comics #402
  • The Flash #199
  • Justice League #82
  • Phantom Stranger #8
  • Showcase #92
  • Superman #229
  • World’s Finest #195

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

World’s Finest #195

worlds_finest_comics_195“Dig Now, Die Later!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
Editors: Mort Weisinger and E. Nelson Bridwell

This is definitely Zaney Haney, and not his most successful issue, though neither is it his least.  Compared to some of them, this one is even a little tame.  Haney lets this story get away from him a bit, so it isn’t quite as good as the previous iteration.  One highlight is the inclusion of the sidekick team.  I always enjoy seeing Jimmy Olsen and Robin join the World’s Finest.  I find them a fun addition, though they really don’t do much here.  Nonetheless, this issue has some good moments.  Unfortunately, Superman entirely overshadows everyone else in the, as he is wont to do.

When I started reading the Silver Age Superman and World’s Finest books, I was particularly surprised to discover how big a role Olsen often played in these adventures.  It seems that in order to provide Superman a sidekick akin to Batman’s, Jimmy was dragooned into service, despite not really being an equivalent figure.  It’s a weird little trend, and sometimes it really doesn’t fit.  Still, he is a resource kid and a good character, so it also led to some enjoyable yarns.  This one sadly doesn’t offer us anything special along those lines, though.

We pick up where we left off, with Superman unmasked by the brain-damaged Batman, who thinks he is the Mafia’s ‘Big Uncle’ Lukaz.  Trapped by the kryptonite wreath, the Man of Steel is rapidly weakening, and knowing that escape is impossible, he tries a desperate gambit.  He employs ‘Super-Ventriloquism’ to ape the sound of Krypto, hovering outside the fortieth floor window, causing a panic among the hoods.  Now, Super-Ventriloquism is a pretty goofy power, but I have to admit, this is a clever use for it.  It’s actually a good way for the hero to buy himself some time.

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It’s also funny to see a bunch of tough guys running away from a dog…

worldsfinest195-09.jpgWith his captors temporarily routed, the Metropolis Marvel puts everything he has left into an inhalation of super breath, which sucks the lead-lined suitcase closed, cutting off the deadly radiation.  When the mafiosos return, Superman seems to just be starting to recover, so they prepare to finish him off, but he fakes a memory loss like Batman’s, pretending he thinks he really is a hood.  Pseudo-Lukaz decides to make him into a weapon for the mob, and then we get one of the sour notes that trouble this story as the disguised Batman announces that he’ll continue to dress as Batman “to confuse the law!”  Ooookay.  Sure.  That’s a thing.  This has absolutely no follow-up and doesn’t affect anything.  It’s just an extra bit of weirdness that Haney decided to include.

Well, the Bat-Godfather, hereafter, the Batfather, takes his new ‘soldier’ to his special gallery, where he has wax figures of all of the mafia’s enemies.  He shows Superman the figures of Robin and Jimmy Olsen and tells him that they are the next targets.  They summon both boys to a junkyard where the Batfather plans to ambush them.  However, when the two youths are captured and on the point of being executed, Robin delivers an impassioned speech to his mentor, declaring that he loves Batman like a father.  The impact of the Teen Wonder’s words snap the Dark Knight out of his mafia persona.  It’s not a bad moment, though not given much room to breathe.

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Just then, Lukaz shows up, having escaped the Fortress of Solitude through yet ANOTHER head injury, this time that of a robot jailer, whose head-blow jarred its circuits into recognizing him as its master.  The Godfather and his two measly henchmen apparently frighten the entire team into inaction.  There is a good idea here, as the bad guys, using regular old guns, threaten Superman, not with death, but with the deaths of his allies.  The Man of Steel continues playing his part, knocking Batman out with a super-slap and burning Robin and Jimmy Olsen to ash with his heat vision!  He hands over their “hearts” to Lukaz in a special case and carries his erstwhile partner off to ‘dispose’ of him.

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I’m sure that’s fine for a man with a concussion…

On the way, the Dark Knight revives and punches Supes in a really odd looking panel, but the Man of Tomorrow calms him by explaining his plan.  He planted a tracker in the case, and they are headed to find Lukaz’s stash of evidence.  Along the way, we get another sour note, as Batman is stymied by a door marked “For accredited criminologists only.”  Can you imagine the Caped Crusader being stopped by a ‘no trespassing’ sign?  Well, they find the stash, but they are jumped by the Godfather and his two thugs.  Really?  Again?  If you’re going to fight freaking Superman and Batman, you should really bring more than two guys!

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Anyway, Robin and Jimmy arrive and take them out, with Superman revealing that, before he roasted them, he switched them out with their wax doubles from the head gangster’s own collection at super speed.  It’s a solid resolution, though, if the Man of Steel had time to do that, one thinks he could probably have just disarmed the thugs as well.  I suppose he needed the ruse to find the evidence cache, so we can ‘no prize’ that.

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This was a fun story, creative, with some clever moments from Superman and a good character moment with Robin and Batman.  Unfortunately, that was about the only good moment the Dark Knight had in this tale, with Superman carrying almost all of the action, even solving the mystery, making the World’s Greatest Detective pretty much entirely superfluous.  The end results is still enjoyable, but not terribly exceptional.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen on the strength of the cleverer moments.

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This comic also had a Congo Bill backup.  It was a reprint, so I won’t be covering it, but it was a fun little story about a jungle con-artist, which basically employed the old ‘beguiler beguiled’ trope.

 

Final Thoughts:

Well readers, I ALMOST made it to September before our own September ended.  So close!  C’est la vie.  Nevertheless, we have successfully made it through August, and an interesting month it was!  We saw some of the very best and very worst stories we’ve yet covered.  August unfortunately saw the goofy Silver Agey-y Super Sons and, horror of horrors, the insipid foolishness of both tales from the Superman issue (which I was really probably too hard on), but it also gave us more great books than we’ve yet seen in one place.  The Legion backup, Aquaman, Detective ComicsTeen Titans, The Phantom Stranger, and Showcase all featured excellent stories, earning 4.5 Minutemen.  That’s not half bad!  We’re seeing innovation continuing to grow, with the Aquaman book and the creative Phantom Stranger tales, and we’re seeing a further growth of more mature (in the true sense, not in a ‘sex and violence’ one) themes and horror motifs in the Batman books.  All-in-all, I would call it a good month.  It seems we are settling in to something of a routine, with most books following a predictable pattern of quality and style.  Please join me next time to see what September holds!

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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We’ve had a busy month in the head-blow department, with our favorite Aquatic Aces both making an appearance.  Our Aqua-guys just can’t catch a break!  I’m mollified by the fact that, even though Aqualad has been added to the Wall, at least Robin is on there twice.  Take that Boy Wonder!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1970 (Part 5)

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Here we are at our penultimate post for the month of August.  Thank you for joining me again in this mad little venture.  This post features another Superman tale…so, that’s a thing.  It also features the next iteration of Manhunter 2070, which I’ve quite been looking forward to.  So, without further ado, let’s dive right in.

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

  • Action Comics #391
  • Aquaman #52
  • Batman #224
  • Teen Titans #28
  • Detective Comics #402
  • The Flash #199
  • Justice League #82
  • Phantom Stranger #8
  • Showcase #92
  • Superman #229
  • World’s Finest #195

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

Showcase #92

showcase_vol_1_92“D.O.A.”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Frank Giacoia

We return again to the most promising feature to come to Showcase in quite some time, Manhunter 2070, and the question that we must ask is, does it live up to the four-colored glory that was the first issue?  Well, in terms of the story, it absolutely does.  This book presents us with the origin of the titular Manhunter, Starker, and it is an origin story that would be very well suited to a movie.  It’s a classic tale of loss and revenge, and it definitely brings our laconic hero of the first issue into better focus, deepening his character and providing good, solid motivation for his adventures.  The only weakness is the art.  Sekowsky’s unevenness is back with a vengeance.  While some of the same creative energy and striking design is in evidence, it is a bit more limited as the setting doesn’t admit to as much wonder, taking place mostly on a ship instead of on a wild alien world.  There are also some panels that are simply a bit awkward, even ugly.  Nevertheless, the story is strong enough to cover over a multitude of sins, and even when Sekowsky’s art isn’t particularly pretty, it’s usually interesting.

This is not your daddy’s silver age science fiction story.  As in the last issue, the stakes are high and the peril is real.  The villains are vicious, and the hero is willing to kill.  There is a maturity of tone here that is a bit surprising and quite enjoyable.

This bloody tale of vengeance starts with Starker taking his two lovely young guests from the previous issue back to their home.  They’re strolling through a nice sci-fi setting when a reward sheet for Starker himself from “The Brotherhood of Space” prompts the telling of his tale.  After renting a spaceship from Hertz (which is a strange and fun little detail), the bounty hunter begins his story.

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It all started when he was a boy, accompanying his asteroid miner father on an expedition.  His father had just struck it rich when a band of pirates arrived to steal the claim.  When his father resists, the five raiders blast him down, right in front of his son.  The captain orders the boy killed as well, as he never leaves witnesses, but the cook, Slops, asks for the boy to be taken on to help him in the kitchen.  This is no kindly act, however, as both we and Starker learn as soon as they are back aboard ship.  Slops belts the boy, just to show him his place, and he proceeds to work the youth like a slave.

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Starker watches in terror as time passes and the pirates loot ships and murder innocent spacers, but he also watches, waits, and remembers.  Rage burns within him, and he begins to plot his revenge as fear turns into a cold, sharp hatred.  He learns from his captors, and in quiet moments he steals away to the deserted portions of the ship and hones his skills, driven to be better, faster, and stronger than any of them.

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He makes his first step by beating Slops and claiming his job.  The pirates look on with approval, and he is granted greater freedom to develop his plans.  Finally, one day he makes his move, first disabling all the escape craft, and then ambushing a lone buccaneer and stealing his weapons.  I like the continuity of setting that Sekowsky provides by giving us the same kinds of weapons and devices.  He’s doing a good job of making his particular space-future more realized.

Now armed, Starker begins to hunt the men who murdered his father, and there are five names on his list.  What follows seems like the makings of a good Clint Eastwood movie.  He kicks open a door and interrupts a card game between three of the marauders, but only one of them is his man.  He tells the others that they can live if they don’t interfere, but they all draw on him.  In a nice page, he outdraws them and manages to drop all three.  It’s not a bad scene, and the tension and action is well handled.

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dc showcase 092-17.jpgWith this fiery exchange, the cat is out of the bag.  The pirate captain spots the young man on his surveillance cameras, and our neophyte warrior uses the opportunity to tell his prey he’s coming for him.  It’s a good moment.  The raiders start hunting for their nemesis, and Starker once again displays his resourcefulness and nerve.  He knocks out a light in a cargo hold and, when a party of buccaneers prowls through, he ambushes the last man, strangling him to death!  This second victim is another of one of the murderers Starker is hunting.  Afterwards, he gets the drop on the rest of the patrol, and, after tying them up, he moves to the next stage of his plan.

The crusading youth puts on a helmet and floods the ship’s life support system with paralytic gas.  This disables all of the crew except for the last three, conveniently, the last three of the murderers.  They spread out to hunt him down, and one by one, Starker takes them down in a dramatic series of showdowns.  Fittingly, he beats each of them with their signature weapon.

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His job done, and clearly more than drained by the experience, Starker flies the rest of the crew to a Space Patrol station and turns them in, becoming instantly wealthy from their bounties.  His face in the last panel is an excellent touch by Sekowsky.  You can see the strain and the disappointment.  It’s not touched on in the text at all, but there’s a certain melancholy in the end here that is fitting for a good revenge tale.  After all, no amount of vengeance can ever bring his father back.  Finally, his story told, Starker leaves the young ladies with their family and heads back out into space, destined for another adventure.

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This is an excellent story, just high-quality adventure fare.  It is a classic revenge story, well-told, and Starker is likable, sympathetic, and eventually impressive in his fortitude, courage, and capability.  There’s really not too much to say about it, other than I thoroughly enjoyed the read.  While the art is a little rough, it is still worth a good 4.5 Minutemen.

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Superman #229

superman_v-1_229“The Ex-Superman!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos

“Clark Kent, Assassin!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Wayne Boring
Inker: Wayne Boring

Urg.  This is a bizarre and, frankly, just plain goofy pairing of tales.  They have ridiculously poor plots and characterization that makes no real sense.  Once again, I have a feeling that the entire cobbled together first story is just an excuse for what someone considered a neat image for a cover.  In short, Superman books remain a real slog.

This first tale is the continuation of last issue’s feature, and while not as boring as that one, it makes up for it by being bonkers.  Plus, Superman causes multiple deaths!  Yay!  ‘How’ you may ask?  After all, Superman doesn’t kill, right?  Well, pretty recently he’s talked about his code against killing, but apparently he’s totally fine with letting people die or even causing their deaths, just not doing it with his own hands.  This is, of course, wildly inconsistent with the character and his ethos and, because Dorfman clearly wasn’t really paying attention, it is given absolutely no focus or exploration, making the deviation pretty unforgivable.

We pick up where we left off, for whatever that is worth.  The Metropolis Marvel, now not so marvelous or in Metropolis, is hurtling through space towards the ‘Execution Planet.’  Sure.  We’re told his space enemies conspired to make this happen, but that is immediately dropped.  On the planet, we see an inventive execution that is not inventive enough, resulting in the execution of the executioner by just shooting him…I’m detecting something of a double standard here.

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Superman’s ship lands, and he is escorted past a slave camp.  Remember that exists.  At the execution palace, the Man of Steel is shown three different fates that he may choose from, each a terrible transformation, all used on living creatures, by the way, so fairly nasty for a book like this.  The Man of Tomorrow chooses a gas that will turn him into a plant, trapping him in a living death, but when these expert executioners start with the executing, they just…leave him in the middle of the room.  He’s not restrained, he’s not drugged, he’s not even hobbled.  Nothing at all, not so much as a stern glance.  Unsurprisingly, he dodges out of the way and turns the tables on his captors.  How have these guys managed to build an entire culture around execution if they’re so bad at it?

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Here’s the troubling bit.  Superman uses one of the other devices to reflect the gas back on his captors, totally killing an entire gang of them.  So, they were hoisted on their own petard, which is usually a way for writers to get around killing off villains without having the hero get his hands dirty, but it was caused, not by the overreach of the bad guys, but by Superman’s direct actions.  That is really not okay.  I can’t see any way in which he’s not culpable for those deaths.  But Dorfman isn’t about to slow down enough to consider the question.

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The de-powered Kryptonian flees to the river and escapes to the slave camp.  Remember them?  There, and stay with me now, because this is where the story starts zigging and zagging wildly, he runs into a champion who is dressed in a costume like his own.  Strange.  The man challenges the hero to a fight to assert his dominance, but Superman manages to defeat him.  The slave explains that the costume is worn by their mightiest man to honor a hero who saved his people long ago on a distant world.  Ooookay.  He awards it to Supes, since the former Man of Steel defeated him.  Part of the costume is a cape-like glider, and he uses this to take a ceremonial flight.

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Just then, a girl is taken from the encampment by the guards and hauled away to be sacrificed to their god of death.  Superman uses the glider cape that, for some reason, the captors let the slaves keep (once again, these executioner guys are REALLY bad at their jobs) to scale the wall.  He arrives at the admittedly cool-looking skull altar, but it seems he is too late.  The girl’s clothes are on the ground before the ‘god,’ and she has presumably been sacrificed.  What does Superman do?  Well…he…laughs…a lot.  It makes about as much sense as Batman’s attack of the giggles at the end of the Killing Joke, I suppose.  His mirthful madness is ended when the girl shows up out of nowhere, still in her clothes, somehow, and slaps him.

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She then reveals that she is Supergirl in disguise.  She came looking for her cousin and took the girl’s place to protect her.  She overpowered the Executioners, and then she watched passively and patiently as they committed suicide in their defeat by filing into the flaming altar.  Wow.  That’s…awful.  Maybe she didn’t kill them like her cousin, but she certainly didn’t lift a finger to save them…or even so much as voice dissent.  There is a lot of blood on Super-Hands in this issue.

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Well, by now you have likely completely forgotten how all of this started, and we aren’t even done yet!  Maid of Steel tells Man of Steel how she came to be there and offers a goofy, one panel explanation for how he lost his powers.  It’s hardly even worth summarizing, but I suppose I’ve set out to do a job here.  *sigh*  So, apparently Supes flew through ‘red space dust,’ which acts like red kryptonite but infected his suit, causing an allergic reaction that drained his powers.  I’m so glad that mystery was worth solving.

As the pair prepares to leave, Superman wonders about the odd coincidence of the slaves and their costume, and Supergirl helpfully fills him in with further exposition that is not at all tacked on and pointless.  Again, it’s hardly worth summarizing.  Basically, the man of Tomorrow reversed his sobriquet and went back into the distant past and saved an Atlantis-like civilization from a disaster…which really seems like it would screw with history like there was no tomorrow.  Then those people took their advanced city and went into space because the Earth was too dangerous.  They became the descendents of the current slaves.

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Confused?  Don’t see how all of this fits together?  That’s because it’s a weird, nonsensical morass of ideas.  This is not the charming, exuberant excess of creativity of a Stan and Jack book, or even the fun zaniness of better Bob Haney.  There are some neat ideas here, like the Executioners and their death-centric culture.  In fact, most of the individual elements of the story could have supported a tale of their own, and would have been vastly improved by having the room to breath that such an opportunity would afford them.  Instead, they’re discarded practically as quickly as they are introduced, and the cacophonous noise of their combination is just grating.  Combine that with the Super-Pair’s callous disregard for life and terrible characterization, and you’ve got a fairly lousy comic.  It has greater strengths than the previous issue, being much more creative, but it also has much greater weaknesses.  I’m giving it 1 Minuteman.  It’s a homemade super suit of badness.

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“Clark Kent, Assassin”

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How would you react if someone tried to kill you?  I’m guessing that you might be upset, angry, and you’d likely call the police.  Chances are you’d probably be pretty insistent that the would-be killer was punished, what with all of the attempted murder, right?  Wait a second, so you’re suggesting that a rational response to attempted murder might be slightly more intense than the mild  and passing annoyance you feel when someone bumps into you on the sidewalk?  Well apparently Leo Dorfman has a different idea.  The central complication of this issue is a repeated series of attempts on the Perry White’s life, as someone seems intent on uniting him with that ghost he keeps talking about.  The editor is very mildly peeved at this but seems entirely content to let it just keep happening, as if having the assassin arrested is entirely too much bother.  The portrayal is so unbelievably stupid and plot driven that it defies description, so let’s jump right in.

The tale opens at a dinner in honor of Perry White, hosted by none other than the Batman!  Wow.  This is probably the clearest example of the weird, halfway position of the Dark Knight at the moment.  In Detective Comics he’s haunting the shadows and grimly facing murderers and monsters.  Here, he’s standing in the middle of a crowded room and playing MC.  At the party, all of Perry’s friends sign a plaque with a diamond-edged stylus, and Clark does some stupid secret identity farce nonsense to change into Superman.  Sheesh, you’d think that Super-Brain of his would plan some of these things out in advance.  Anyway, the Man of Steel signs the plaque, and later, dressed as Clark again, examines a strange Kryptonian artifact he is investigating for the citizens of Kandor.  He taps the machine with his glasses, and then he immediately steals a knife and tries to make Perry-kabobs.  Striking the plaque instead, he flees and changes into Superman.

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In costume, he has no memory of what happened as Clark.  He flies back to the office, and Perry tells him that Clark is no longer so mild-mannered.  The hero, instead of being concerned that, you know, he’s blacked out and apparently tried to kill one of his best friends, pulls off one of the most ridiculous and unconvincing cover-ups ever.  He claims to spot Kent in a closet and goes inside to stage a conversation with…himself.  Okay, so far as that goes, it’s fine.  But when he emerges as Superman, he tells the Planet staff that he just let the attempted murderer go, and he’s sure he won’t do it again.  What?!

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He also helpfully makes Perry a bullet-proof vest out of printing plates instead of actually doing something sensible.  The editor is happy to wear it instead of, you know, insisting that the guy who just tried to kill him be arrested, or committed, or heck, even asked to explain himself.  What the heck must life at the Planet be like if they’re all so blase about this?  So what does Superman do next?  Does he go to the Fortress of Solitude and run some tests?  Does he go to Batman to get help solving the mystery?  Does he go to the League and surrender himself?  Of course not; he immediately changes back to Clark and tries again, this time with a gun.

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This time Perry actually asks for police protection, but he’s still not that worried about actually catching the man who has now TWICE tried to kill him.  The Man of Steel gives him a full suit of plate armor, and the no-nonsense editor accepts this as a perfectly reasonable alternative to Clark’s arrest.  Surely, this time the Man of Tomorrow will do something to figure out what is going on and…oh wait, no, he immediately changes back to Clark and tries to kill his boss with a grenade!

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Well, Superman finally begins to wonder what is going on, and he investigates the device he was researching.  He translates its inscription, and he realizes that it’s a hypnotic machine that can cause sleepwalking if not used properly.  He deduces that when his glasses touched it, they got charged with its energy, and every time he put them on he went into something like a trance.  He also figures out what he’s been trying to do while sleep-murdering.  He signed the plaque as both Superman and Clark, and he’s afraid someone will notice the similar signatures.  Once again, real smart there, Supes.  His subconscious mind was trying to destroy the plaque, and ‘rush in and smash it’ was about as good an idea as it could come up with.  I suppose that’s not bad for a subconscious.  So, he tries one more time, destroying the object completely with a ray gun and then pretending to come out of a trance.

Perry very helpfully suggests that he must have been under the control of a villain and seems to think absolutely no other vetting or followup is necessary.  Real good journalistic instincts there, White.  The best reporters always just blindly accept the first explanation that springs to mind.

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Like I said, “urg.”  The central conceit of this one is just so ridiculously stupid that I was astonished.  Characterization in comics is often broad and simple, and that’s fine.  It’s a product of the genre, especially earlier stories, but sometimes it is just bad, simply, objectively bad, as in these two stories, though for different reasons.  When characters don’t act consistently within the expectations you create in your setting, you’re failing, no matter what kind of story you’re telling.  This is definitely such a failure because of the conduct of both Perry White and Superman, who both come off like complete and total numb-skulls.  I’ll give this one a single Minuteman as well.

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That wraps it for this week, and a very mixed bag from these two issues.  We see the best and the worst of stories that.  These two books rather wonderfully illustrate the range of quality and approaches found in books of this era.  We’re seeing the advance of the medium and its dragging, dead-weight as well.  Join me soon for the final entry from this month!

 

Into the Bronze Age: August 1970 (Part 4)

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Well, we’re moving right along through August!  I’m hoping to get at least caught up to the proper month before September ends…and I’m behind again.  We’ll see if I can manage, but so far, so good.  In this post we have two interesting stories, and I’ve been rather looking forward to this one.  Be warned, I’m going to indulge my professional interest a bit with some philosophical and literary reflections about the second issue!

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

  • Action Comics #391
  • Aquaman #52
  • Batman #224
  • Teen Titans #28
  • Detective Comics #402
  • The Flash #199
  • Justice League #82
  • Phantom Stranger #8
  • Showcase #92
  • Superman #229
  • World’s Finest #195

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

Justice League #82

jla_v-1_82“Peril of the Paired Planets”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

I enjoyed this story much more than I expected to.  At first blush, I rather thought it was going to be on the goofy side, and it does have its moments.  Nonetheless, the final effect is fairly enjoyable.  O’Neil’s run, though not completely stellar, continues to be strong overall.  In this issue, as with the Jestmaster, we once again get a promising concept that doesn’t have quite the right execution.  The villains of the piece are a race of aliens lead by a fellow named Creator² who build planets for a living, destroying existing ones to create the energy for the construction.  Anyone else reminded of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?  That’s right, the bad guy is Slartibartfast.  The stakes, complete planetary annihilation of not one, but TWO Earths, are certainly worthy of the Justice League, and the idea of an alien race that creates new planets by destroying old ones is the kind of thing that could totally work in the DC Universe.  Unfortunately, the aliens are rather goofy looking, and the concept just doesn’t entirely come together.  Another pass might do wonders.

As is, our tale begins with a very strange occurrence as Superman plummets from the sky, seemingly immobile and unconscious.  The League brings him to the Satellite, but they can find no explanation for his sudden illness.  Then, Batman suddenly falls victim to a similar phantom ailment and passes out.  The Leaguers (Flash, Atom, and Hawkman) call their missing members (Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Black Canary, sadly, no mention of Aquaman…), hoping against hope that one of them will be able to solve this mystery.  I’m going to have to go ahead and call shenanigans on O’Neil for this.  If you’ve got your favorite characters out on walkabout in GA/GL, then you can’t just pull them in for every JLA issue.  It sort of wrecks the whole, ‘on hiatus’ thing.  Why not give some other characters more of a chance to shine if you’re so dedicated to the oddball story you’re telling with them?

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Anyway, we then discover what is going on through a flashback that takes us to Earth 2!  That’s right, we’re seeing a JLA/JSA crossover starting in this issue, and that is pretty exciting.  I love the concept of these events, even if the execution wasn’t always fantastic (a common trait with the JLA, unfortunately).  While I prefer my JSA as the Earth-1, WWII predecessors of the League, there is something undeniably fun about having the two sets of heroes being able to hang out from time to time.  I even told a time travel story in my second JLA campaign in the DCUG, just so I could bring all of these heroes together, with the rosters cleaned up for continuity purposes, of course.  There’s no need to have multiples of the same character running around.  I always hated it when we got two Supermen or two Batmen, after all, as that just felt like a gyp.  I already get to read about those guys!

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I seem to have dragged myself off track.  Ahem.  Anyway…again…in the space between the two universes, Supreme Leader Snoke, err, I mean the Creator², captures poor, lonely, unloved Red Tornado, who is flying around empty, airless, as in no-freaking-wind, space…somehow.  This is one of the minor slips that hurt this issue.  It isn’t a huge deal, but come on.  Tornado’s whole thing is that he moves air around.  How the heck is he flying or doing much of anything where there is no air to move?

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The much bigger misstep is Reddy’s dialog and general characterization in this section.
The android is moping around space feeling sorry for himself, lamenting that he doesn’t fit in, even with the JSA.  When he sees the aliens’ ship approaching, the Tornado says, “Oh boy, this is my chance!  I’ll single-handedly stop the aliens…then everybody’ll have to like me!”  Ouch.  That feels like something that would show up in one of my worst comp. papers.  While it becomes a fixture that Reddy is a melancholy machine, this is just ham-handed and hokey.  Unfortunately, this type of one-dimensional, excessively melodramatic characterization is going to become indicative of the maudlin mechanical man.  He’s as emo as Kylo Ren!  This is part of the reason that poor Reddy has never achieved the popularity and gravitas of his Marvel counterpart, the Vision, despite having all of the same potential.  It’s a real shame, because he really is a great character.  I suppose that, given my love of underdogs, it is to be expected that I rather like this second-rate Leaguer who, at least for most of his history, never quite found his niche.  We’ll be seeing more from him in the future, of course, as he’ll soon be joining the team.

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Justice League of America v1 082-07.jpgReddy, of course, fails miserably in his efforts, because for some reason JLA writers decided to make him the team’s whipping boy.  Did Super Schlub grow up to be Red Tornado, or what?  The afflicted android is captured, and belonging to both Earths, he is able to be used as the focal point for the evil machinations of the planet-wreckers.  Power flows through the captive hero, and the two worlds begin to close in on one another, the barriers between them weakening.  Meanwhile, the aliens launch a preemptive strike on the JSA to prevent their interference.

Creator² arms his assistants with special nets that can counter the heroes’ abilities and dispatches them to capture the champions of Earth 2.  Now, I rather expected this to be goofy and cheesy after the awkwardness of the opening sequence, but the action is actually well-staged and believable in context.  Superman is easily captured because he doesn’t bother to dodge.  Why should he?  That’s a good touch, and it makes sense.  In the same way, it is actually Dr. Mid-Nite that causes the acolytes some trouble, as he’s more wary.  It’s also worth noting that the heroes, not knowing if these aliens are hostile or friendly, don’t just come out swinging.  That’s a good spot of characterization for the team.  Unfortunately, their beneficence leads to their defeat.

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It is these events that explain the strange ailments of the Earth-1 heroes.  As the JSA members were incapacitated, the weakened barriers allowed the effects to bleed over into the their closest counterparts among the Leaguers.  I’ll buy that.  It makes sense, in a comic kind of way.  I do have one bone to pick, though, and that’s the fact that Batman is identified as the closest counterpart to Mid-Nite, but we see the Earth-2 Batman just a few pages later!  Shenanigans I say!  Well, fuzzy logic aside, the Flash arrives on the scene, and he actually manages to do some good against the invaders, evading their nets with some clever maneuvering and decking one of them, but he is distracted by the sudden appearance of his Earth-1 counterpart!  The momentary interruption is all it takes for his foes to capture him as well.  This, of course, also causes Barry to be stricken as well.

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Suddenly, ghostly images of doppelgangers begin appearing around both worlds as the barriers break down even more.  The two teams meet up on their separate Earths and try and make plans, Starman playing the hothead among the JSA.  Fittingly, it is the Atom, a physicist, who figures out what is going on.  By crunching the numbers, he susses out that the two Earth’s are being pulled together and theorizes that the cause is some being with a connection to both planets.  Black Canary tearfully concludes that she must be culprit and insists that she must…die!  It’s not a bad moment, and it makes pretty perfect sense from their point of view.  It’s a good, tense note to end on, with the two worlds preparing to collide and no-one yet knowing what is behind it.

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I suppose it’s…good…that O’Neil is at least being consistent with his insufferable characterization of Green Arrow?  ‘No Ollie, there’s no emergency, I just thought it would be fun to interrupt your road trip’

This is a good issue, a fun enough adventure, though it is really a bit more of a JSA story than a Justice League one.  I’m entirely okay with that, as I love both groups.  As I said, the threat is certainly big enough to serve as a fitting challenge for these two massively powerful teams, though the aliens are really too goofy and boring looking to be entirely successful as antagonists.  The callous disregard their master, this Creator fellow, has for the life on these two worlds is a good trait for a cosmic villain, but I wouldn’t have minded learning a bit more about him.

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The fairly abominable writing of Red Tornado is a bit of a black mark on the issue, but it’s still a relatively minor part of the tale.  Unfortunately, Dick Dillin’s art isn’t quite up to snuff in this story.  He has some nice panels, but there’s also a lot of awkward, stiff figures (like the Superman sequence in the beginning) and art that just seems a bit ‘off.’  So, in the end, this is an enjoyable but flawed book.  It’s great fun to see the JSA and the JLA working on two sides of the same problem, but the weak points in the story and the weaker art keep the comic from being as good as it might.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Interestingly, the letter pages are filled with praises for JLA #78 and 79, the pollution focused issues.  Clearly, the idea of tackling heavier topics was really popular with fans.  In fact, one epistler writes in to say that major newspapers were reporting on these comics.  Notably, the writer also opined that his own city had a major problem with pollution.  Apparently, not-yet-disgraced President Nixon had just given a State of the Union address that named pollution as one of the major problems facing the nation.  Neat!  Those stories were obviously much more timely than I realized.

 

Phantom Stranger #8

phantom_stranger_vol_2_8“Journey to the Tomb of the Ice Giants!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Colourist: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Man, I’ve been looking forward to this one.  Just look at that cover!  I’ve seen that sucker waiting for me in my reading list, and I just couldn’t wait to see if the story inside is as awesome as that cover.  Don’t worry, you won’t have to suffer in suspense like I did.  This issue does, in fact, lives up to the awesomeness of the cover.  This is definitely my favorite Phantom Stranger issue so far, and it is here that I believe the series really finds its feet.  Even the editor seems to realize that they have hit on something special with this issue and this team.  He begins the letter column with a note that O’Neil and Aparo “have taken the Phantom Stranger to new heights” and remarks that he is particularly proud of the issue.  This unusual bit of editorial praise is, in my estimation, pretty spot on.  This tale really dives into the mystical and even mythical elements inherent in the character’s conceit, and it makes the DC Universe a more fantastic and interesting place in the process.  In my estimation, that’s one of the best contributions a book can make.  On the art front, Aparo seems to be on the book full time now, and I couldn’t be happier.  He’s at the height of his powers, so the comic is beautiful, dynamic, and full of interesting and individual looking characters.  Aparo creates no generic faces and no disposable characters.  Every figure he draws is unique and striking.  I’m afraid I’ve got rather a lot to say about this one, as it quite captured my imagination, resonating with many ideas that have been on my mind lately.

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This mysterious and mythic adventure begins in the arctic, with an ice breaker named the S.S. Night Wind suddenly finding itself faced with a vision from nightmare and legend, a massive giant of ice and snow!  It’s cold hands close about the ship, and suddenly the vessel is entirely trapped in ice.  We’re treated to a lovely two-page spread that shows us the scale of the little drama, and the Stranger briefly appears to the crew of the trapped ship to warn them of their danger.

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Our scene shifts to Alaska, where the ship’s financier, Mr. Muttson rages over the trouble with the Night Wind.  He steps into a steam room to try and warm up, but he suddenly freezes solid!  The local law is baffled, as you might imagine, and they call in everyone’s favorite wet blanket, Dr. Thirteen, who was conveniently near-by.  I’m willing to hand-wave his deus ex machina appearance because we are dealing with a story in a high dramatic tone and fate (or her Master!) may very well be playing a hand.

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The Stranger once again puts in an appearance to investigate the mystery himself, and we get yet another confrontation between the two characters.  Despite how many times we’ve seen its like, this scene is actually quite good.  There’s a certain intensity to the good Doctor’s reaction, a certain frustration and anger that rings true and rises above just rote repetition.  Thirteen is his usual charming self in this issue, and yet there is something more interesting and sympathetic about him that I can’t quite entirely put my finger on.  In this exchange, we even get a funny little note that made me chuckle.  The mysterious Stranger greets his opposite number as “Terry,” and this immediately gets under the skeptic’s skin, so much so that you have to think he intended it to do so.  Either way, Thirteen responds that “if he calls me Terry again, I’ll bust him–so help me-.”  It’s a good character moment, adding a bit more personality to the occult investigator than just stiff-necked skepticism.  After all, he’s got to be getting sick of having the Stranger show him up.

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The Phantom disappears, of course, and, also, of course, the Doc dismisses any possibility of the supernatural in that, or in this strange frozen death.  The case reminds him of another, as they all seem to, and he begins to relate the story, telling his listeners about the time a wealthy recluse was found frozen to death in the hothouse in which he kept his prize orchids.  While both the policeman investigating the death and the victim’s nephew suggest some type of mystical explanation, Thirteen is adamant that nothing of the sort is possible.  He finds a canister of freon, and, realizing that the orchids themselves are also frozen, he deduces that the recluse was flash-frozen by someone pumping the chemical in through the sprinkler system in the hothouse.  The skeptical sleuth accuses the nephew, and then he proves he is more than just a mind, as he disarms and captures the killer in a nice sequence.

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Dr. Thirteen, surprising badass

the phantom stranger (1969) 08 - 13 - Copy.jpgThat’s actually one of the best interpolated episodes we’ve seen so far, with a good mystery, a solid action beat, and Dr. Thirteen actually portrayed to good effect.  He’s much more likable here than we’ve seen previously.  Back in the main tale, the local chemist (given a ton of personality in his portrayal by Aparo, despite the fact he appears in a grand total of one panel), discovers that the ice entombing Muttson could only have come from the arctic.  Thirteen and his wife, sensing a link, prepare a helicopter to fly out and investigate the icebreaker.  Before they depart, the Stranger appears with a dire warning, and the Doc actually take a swing at him!

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In the vast, empty wastes of the frozen north, the Thirteens find the trapped ship and begin to search for some clues.  Suddenly, they spot a flash of reflected light, and they descend to discover a huge sword, fit for…a giant!  Just then, the occult investigator is smacked by a giant hand, and both he and his wife are seized by a towering figure that embodies the desolate icy wastes in which he moves.  The creature ominously declares that the humans have violated the sleep of his people, a sleep that began at the dawn of time!

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Fortunately for ‘Terry,’ the Stranger appears once more, and he demands the giant release the two humans.  I love his description of himself.  He announces that he “serve[s] a cause — a master — as ancient as” the giants themselves.  I quite like that, evocative yet mysterious, fitting easily any of the myriad identities we might assign the character (my favorite is still the Wandering Jew serving God).  That’s a difficult line to walk, but O’Neil manages it well here.

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The giants’ design isn’t quite right, what with the green trunks…

Well, as if the situation weren’t tense and chaotic enough, Tala chooses this moment to arrive.  She is her usual delightful self, and I really love her portrayal in this issue.  She is becoming a more fully realized character, while still remaining disconcertingly mysterious.  She makes her usual play for the Stranger, trying to persuade him to join her and abandon the mere mortals to their fate, but this time it is less about an archetypal contest between light and dark and more about the character herself.  O’Neil is really firing on all cylinders in this exchange.  Tala kisses her rival, and he pushes her away, proclaiming “death lies in your kiss!”  Her response is excellent, “Indeed, but such a death as can pale life.”  That’s almost poetic, and it fits the higher tone of the piece, what with its ancient civilizations and apocalyptic possibilities.

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Right after that we hit a rather weird note, as the Stranger stands forth to oppose the giant, employing his vast and enigmatic powers…no, wait, he punches the titan in the face.  Okay…it is extremely cool looking, and I have no problem with the supernatural sleuth getting his hands dirty once in awhile.  Still, we’ve seen him employ some pretty impressive powers in the previous issues, so it is rather jarring for him to suddenly act like all he’s got in his bag is a good right hook.  If O’Neil wanted to limit him, all he needed was a line of dialog, something like ‘I can’t use my abilities because it would awaken the magic of the giants,’ or SOMETHING.  Instead, the hero is smacked down, quite literally, and seems helpless against the jotunn-like creatures.

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You have to admit, though, it’s a heck of a page.

They announce their plans to emerge from their self-imposed exile and reclaim the Earth, but the Stranger, in a wonderful two-page spread, warns them that this globe is not what it used to be.  Humans have sort of wrecked the joint, as we are wont to do.  Here we see some more of O’Neil’s use of realistic and weighty themes, dealing with the social unrest and the pollution that we’ve seen influencing the books we’ve covered.  It’s a nice sequence, not too heavy-handed or preachy because of its context and the solid prose that he marshals for the effort.

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The giants are swayed, but their laws still demand a sacrifice before they can return to their centuries-long slumber.  Tala helpfully suggests they take Maria Thirteen, and in a flash of light, she seems to render her helpless.  Unopposed, the frozen fiends return to their glacial home, and here we reach the second odd moment in the book.  The story takes a fairly dark turn all of a sudden, as the Stranger silently watches the titans’ exodus, not lifting a finger to prevent their killing an innocent woman.  Then, he carries ‘Terry’ back to his helicopter and once again employs mundane methods in his fight, eschewing his powers.  He seals the entrance to the giants’ cavern with dynamite, leaving Maria to her fate.

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The Stranger coldly rationalizes his choice, reasoning that her sacrifice was necessary because any contact between giants and men would inevitably destroy both because of the wrack and ruin that a conflict between magic and technology would unleash.  This is another fascinating concept that just gets tossed out in this issue, one of many that create a wonderful atmosphere of history and mythology lying behind the plot itself.  Yet, the hero’s choice cannot help but seem both unnecessary (without further framing) and callous to us.

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Fortunately, after the cave is sealed, who should make her way back to the helicopter but Maria!  Tala returns and explains matters, telling her opponent that she, indulging in her chaotic nature, could not resist playing a trick on the giants, and thus took the girl’s place when she caused that blinding flash.  It’s a good and rather surprising moment, yet it fits the character well.  I like Tala as not just a being of pure evil, but an avatar of chaos, more like Loki than Satan, the Trickster figure brought to life.  I think that’s got potential, and it certainly has mythical echoes.

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The story ends with the Thirteens reunited and ‘Terry’ being ridiculously condescending to his wife.  To her credit, she doesn’t seem to be taking his nonsense entirely meekly.  Here again we have the good Doctor blatantly disregarding a reliable eyewitness to the supernatural because “we both know such things simply do not occur!”  Great job being scientific and impartial, Terry.  This ending really struck me, as I realized that Dr. Thirteen is willfully blind to the higher realities he continually comes in contact with.  He has now encountered several mysteries that he’s been entirely unable to solve, yet he persists in his stiff-necked adherence to his world-view.  This was particularly interesting to me because I just read C.S. Lewis’s Miracles, his philosophical case for the possibility of the miraculous.  One of his arguments touches on the fact that this is how most of us approach any such questions.  We know miracles cannot exist, therefore, every other explanation, no matter how ridiculous, must be more probable.  This cannot help but bias us in our investigation of such matters, as we have a priori decided that one explanation is impossible.  In this dogmatic dedication to disbelief, Dr. Thirteen reminds me very strongly of the dwarves from The Last Battle.  I can imagine Thirteen sitting there in the dark with them, seeing a dirty barn while surrounded by the eternal, refusing to acknowledge the reality that was staring him in the face.  It makes him something of a tragic figure as well as a comic one and probably has something to do with my growing appreciation for the character.

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This was a great story, and the complaints I have are minor.  The most significant of them is that I wish the concepts tossed out left and right in this book were given more development in the wider lore.  Apparently we do see the giants return in a later issue, so that is exciting!  It was of particular interest to me because I’ve just been studying the medieval tradition of giants, which the titanic creatures of this tale evokes.  I actually just wrote a paper on the giant/Jute debate in Beowulf¹.  I love the archetypal weight the figure of the giant carries, the ageless antipathy between man and monster.  In the medieval tradition, the giants were identified with an antediluvian (pre-Flood) culture, advanced and wicked, possessing great knowledge and power, but corrupting men with that power and forbidden learning.  They were identified with pride (which, if we recall, was the first and greatest sin) and greed.

These jotunn-esq beings with their ancient civilization remind me a bit of those stories.  Their implied history and the Stranger’s cryptic statements indicating the existence of a whole hidden lore helps to give this particular story its strongest feature, that most wonderful quality of literature, which Tolkien called “the impression of depth” (Monsters and Critics 27).  This is the effect that gives works like The Lord of the Rings such a vastness and feeling of reality.  It is the quality that leads a reader to believe that the story does not just exist in these limited pages but expands infinitely on every side of the book itself, with a rich past and undiscovered countries just beyond every hill.  This quality is, of course, limited in this instance, and the the comic has its weaknesses, the loose threads in the tapestry O’Neil is weaving.  Nonetheless, the final effect is exactly that sense of wonder and imaginative adventure that brings me to comics in the first place.  This is the type of story that I love to read, and I give this issue a very strong 4.5 Minutemen.

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Well my good readers, that is it for this post.  This is shaping up to be one heck of a month!   We’ve had some great, high-scoring and fascinating issues, and there are more promising stories on the horizon.  It definitely looks like we’re facing a much better crop of books this month.  I hope you’ll join me soon for the next few issues, which will include the next iteration of Manhunter 2070!

 

¹If you’re interested in literary studies, philology, or textual criticism, you might find this worth reading.  If these things don’t interest you, you can safely skip this section.  Several of the incidents in Beowulf feature the word eoten, which means “giant,” even being related (most likely) to the Old Norse word, “jotunn,” which describes the monstrous figures of scandinavian myth.  Yet, in several spots editors emend it to mean “Jute,” an ancient people that were often in conflict with the Danes.  Essentially, the argument is that a later scribe, having never seen “Eotan,” the word for Jutes, just substituted “eoten,” or “giant.” Coincidentally, this approach to the poem seems to me to be motivated by much the same resistance to the fantastic that drives the close-mindedness of people like Dr. Thirteen.  Scholars have desired a historical document from Beowulf, though that was never what it was intended to be.  They hope to find mythologized records of actual conflicts, real history behind all the fantasy ‘fluff,’ but you can no more do away with the giants than you can with the dragon. They both lie, not at the periphery, but at the core of the poem.  The debate continues (it’s giants), and though there are reasonable arguments for finding Jutes (really, it’s giants), they tend to create as many problems for interpretation (seriously, it’s giants) as they solve.  Meanwhile, rendering these mysterious figures as giants creates greater dramatic unity, (trust me, giants) emphasizing many of the primary themes of the main plot, especially the corrupting effects of power and wealth, both associated in medieval tradition with the figure of the giant (it’s totally giants).

 

Pulp Adventures Released!

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I have finally finished work on a project near and dear to my heart, my pulp heroes mod, Pulp Adventures!  It tells an original tale of danger and daring do, teaming many classic pulp heroes and several modern characters cut from the same cloth!  It features a huge cast of characters, including all of the two-fisted heroes gracing the awesome artwork above there, as well as a host of other crusaders for justice.  The story features several classic pulp villains and a twisting, turning plot that ties in to the settings and adventures of many of the starring characters.  So, what are you waiting for?  Come, ride with Britt Reid, laugh with the Shadow, swing the trees with Tarzan, and buckle your share of swashes with Zorro!

Featuring:

  • An epic, sprawling, world-spanning 17 mission campaign!
  • Over 25 playable characters!
  • Beautiful custom art by the super talented Naitvalis!
  • Custom music!
  • Nazi punching!
  • Dinosaur wrangling!
  • Two-fisted action galore!

Hero Roster:

  • Doc Savage
  • The Shadow
  • Indiana Jones
  • The Green Hornet
  • Kato
  • The Rocketeer
  • The Spider
  • The Spirit
  • The Lone Ranger
  • Tonto
  • Tarzan
  • Conan the Barbarian
  • The Phantom
  • Captain Midnight
  • Miss Fury
  • Dick Tracy
  • Jungle Jim
  • Kolu
  • “Monk” Mayfair
  • “Ham” Brooks
  • “Renny” Renwick
  • Flash Gordon*
  • Buck Rogers*
  • John Carter of Mars*

*These characters don’t feature in the campaign but are playable in the sandbox mode…for the moment!

Download the Pulp Adventures Mod Here! (Version 1.1)

A new, updated version with a number of fixes has been uploaded.  This one addresses a number of bugs and balance issues.  If you download the new version, you do not need any of the patches.  If you downloaded a previous version, delete it and install this one instead.  It will be save game compatible, but to get the benefits of the balance and gameplay tweaks, you’ll need to start a new campaign.  The fixes for missing textures and the like will work either way.

Patches: Only necessary for those who downloaded the original version.

Patch 1: This fixes a missing texture and a bug that kept mission 4 from playing properly.

Patch 2: This provides a missing file necessary for Mandrake the Magician.

Pulp Adventures