Do you love superheroes? Comics? So do we in the FF community. Come join us and be part of creating something fantastic!
Howdy! I’m Benton Grey, the chief modder, writer, scripter, and everything else for Greylands Games, dedicated to making mods for the greatest superhero game of all time, Freedom Force. I’ve been creating highly rated mods for FF for years, and with the help of the community, I’ve produced a lot of fun stuff. Now I need your help on my latest project!
One of my passions is bringing my favorite characters, settings, and stories to life in this great game. I’ve created mods that deliver adventures for the Ninja Turtles, classic pulp heroes, the entire Marvel superhero universe, and more, bringing each to life in a way not really possible anywhere else. I’m currently working on a massive update and revision of my already epic and sprawling DC Universe mod, the DC Universe According to Grey, and I’m looking for folks with a love of DC Comics, superheroes in general, and/or sound design to help me find or create music and voice packs for the mod.
This is a mod and is done purely “for the love of the game,” so to speak, so these are volunteer positions. However, this is a chance to be involved with a fun and rewarding project, work with folks who share your interests and hobbies, and help bring your favorite heroes and their universe of wonder and heroism to life.
Sound Designer Positions:
This project could use one or more team members who have an interest in music and sound design to take the lead on choosing and/or creating the sound assets. This can take a number of different forms.
There are multiple campaigns, with dozens and dozens of missions, all of which currently are using music from the base game. I would love to see someone with a good musical and narrative sense help me tell these stories through sound. This could involve finding and choosing existing music, composing new music, or making editorial decisions about musical direction using existing resources.
The mod also has dozens and dozens of voice packs, but I would love to have someone to track down new voice assets, recruit and supervise voice actors to increase and enhance our coverage of characters, or simply explore existing assets and decide how best to employ or modify them.
Familiarity with sound editing software would be beneficial, but these positions don’t require much technical expertise.
If you want to see the fruits of your labors, you will need to get a copy of the game, which is available from GOG and Steam very cheaply. This is not required, as you could do your sound work without owning the game (but why would you want to?).
We use Discord and email to communicate
Successful candidates will be willing to put in a little effort, have a good attitude, and be willing to help me tell exciting superhero stories through sound. Because this is just a fan project, this need not be a major commitment. This is a labor of love for all involved, and any help you provide will be welcome.
This is an excellent opportunity to get some experience in game design in an accessible and low-impact way.
Howdy folks, and welcome to another DCUG Developer’s Diary! I promised more news before too long, and I am pleased to deliver. It has been an incredibly productive few weeks. I have gotten so much done, conducted so many experiments and tried so many different approaches to modding problems, that I’ll be hard pressed to remember and record a tithe of it, but I’ll try to hit the highlights for y’all! I’ve been hard at work on my Aquaman campaign, and most of the progress I’ve made has been on that part of the project. I’ve finished the next two missions, which were very work intensive and demanding, both in terms of modding and in terms of writing.
I’ve really been digging into FF modding, trying all sorts of things in order to bring this story about my favorite character to life in as high a quality as I can manage. I’ve done a lot of innovating, and I’ve tried to bring a high level of detail to everything about the campaign, from maps to characters, to effects, to plots. I’m quite happy with how it is all turning out, but I am also perpetually frustrated that I can’t quite bring what’s in my imagination to the screen as perfectly as I’d like. I’ll tell y’all a little about all of the different parts of the process I’ve gone through to bring this adventure to life.
Creating an Undersea World:
In my last DD, I walked y’all through some of the steps I went through to try to create an interesting and attractive underwater map for my second mission, and although I was pretty happy with the results of my labors, I wasn’t completely content. Considering how much of Aquaman’s story is going to be set beneath the waves, I had a good reason to keep trying to improve things. I had a number of different ideas about how I could enhance the look of my underwater maps, and I’ve been hard at work trying to figure out how to implement them. Tweaking map textures looks okay and is important, but I had bigger dreams.
I had always thought that it would be great to be able to put a ‘water’ filter over the ‘camera’ of FF. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do that, or at least none I could discover…but I couldn’t shake the idea. As I often do when I am trying to get inspiration for a mod, I spent some time going back and playing through FF1 and 2, and this reminded me of something that might provide me another way to accomplish a similar result and set me to digging into FF’s game files and documentation to figure out how to bring a bit more atmosphere to my undersea settings. This lead me on a journey that had me experimenting with Python scripting in new ways that were both exciting and more than a little scary, because I was very much out of my depth! But, that’s how you learn when you’re modding. In fact, constantly stretching to accomplish something that seems out of reach is the only reason I’m a modder in the first place!
Dream Wave Effect
As you may remember if you’re a veteran of FF2, the second game began with a rather unusual mission, which was actually a nightmare of one of the Freedom Force members. At the end of the mission, the player’s vision of the map was distorted by this blurry, wavy, dream-vision effect that covered the map. It occurred to me that, if I could figure out how to create this, and if it could be customized, such an effect might actually be a pretty perfect device for giving a submarine map an underwater “feel.” So, I opened up the script for the first mission and started digging. Now, I’ve been teaching myself about real Python scripting, but I am still beyond a neophyte, so I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking for or what to make of it when I found it. Fortunately, Irrational helpfully labelled their scripts, and it was all clear enough for me to find the pertinent sections, even if I didn’t yet know how to interpret. them.
So, I started reading through the FFscripting document, hoping to find explanations of this code. The documentation did have a section on the Dream Wave effect, though it was a little hard for me to understand. Eventually, I copied the code that, to my best guess, was what I needed and just started experimenting with it. Unfortunately, my first efforts either simply didn’t work or even crashed the game! Finally, I hit on this combination. Here’s the code you can use to create an EZScripted mission that uses the Dream Wave.
The first lines on each side are just the usual setup for EZScript missions. At first I was just using the two obvious lines, Mission_StartDreamWave and Mission_FadeDreamSinParams, but the effect wasn’t actually beginning. That’s when I noticed that the FF2 mission script actually had those PreRenderer and ff.RENDER commands, so I added those too, and I found myself with a nice, trippy warp effect! Then it was just a matter of tweaking it. The documentation explained that the first two commands I started with are what actually controls how the Wave appears.
The Start command has three points of customization (how long it fades in, how long it lasts, and how long it fades out). You’ll notice that the duration control is set to -1, meaning it will run forever, and thus I’ve got a 0 in the last slot, because it doesn’t need to fade away. You could tweak these settings to create short-lived effects and do other kinds of clever moves with it.
The Fade command sets the degree and strength of the effect, and it’s also got various customizations: (Frequency, or how often waves of the warping effect are created / Amplitude, or how big the waves are / Speed, or how quickly they move across the screen / and Fade Time, or how quickly they fade away) The default values in the mission were “(1, .03, .35, 1)”, so you can see that I didn’t change them drastically. I tried a few various permutations, but I eventually settled on the lowest amplitude and a slower speed. I think the final product looks pretty good, and you can check out a video of the effect in action on a missionhere below. It looks pretty good in action, but it can be a little disconcerting, even on the lowest setting, so I’ll include a set of non-warped mission files for the campaign for those who are prone to motion-sickness or the like.
So, the maps certainly looked a bit more striking and ‘watery’ with the Dream Wave effect turned on, but they were still missing something. Several folks on FR had suggested that if I could change the light color on the map to make it more sea-toned, that could help, so I had planned to mess with the lighting settings of the maps. However, before I could do that, I had to discover what actually controlled these settings! At first I thought this might be controlled through the map files, like the layout or extents texts, but after examining some of them, I realized that wasn’t the case. There were almost certainly nice, clear tutorials that covered this kind of thing once upon a time, but if they existed they’ve been lost to the ages, so I had to poke around in the forum archives for mentions of the subject. I eventually found some of our great former mappers discussing these settings, which it turns out were located in the python files of a map. Thus, I was once again delving into unfamiliar depths! With that post as a guide, I was able to find this section of the python document:
rotation: Sun rotation angle from north in degrees: +ve is east tilt: Sun tilt from horizontal in degrees: +ve is down brightness: Intensity of sunlight (0=none to 1=full) ambient: Intensity of ambient light (0=none to 1=full) Color: 3-tuple, red, green, blue values (all are 0 to 1)
Then I dug around in missions and custom maps and found those that seemed to have nice, bright, clear light, and used that as a starting point. I then played with the color values, changing out what colors were strongest, until I found a nice, ocean-y color palette which was, as you might imagine, heavily blue and green. Here’s the code I ended up using (just right below the code for the Wave effect).
You’ll notice there are some other commands there too, each with their own settings. I just copied those from another mission, but you could add further customizaiton with those settings for shadows. However, we’re concenred with the sunlight settings. I’ve got brightness and ambient light both turned all the way up, and I’ve got the blue light at max and the green pretty close. The combination creates a nice, watery feel for the maps and everything on them, including my characters and props.
Creating a Sky Sphere
You may notice in my screenshots and videos that there’s another feature these maps have that help create their atmosphere, and that is a background that replaces the blank black void that is the default for FF maps. Here, as with most everything I’ve done, I’m just standing on the shoulders of FR community giants. What you see in these images is called a “sky sphere”, which is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a big spherical object that sits around your map and provides a lovely backdrop for your adventures. The way that our mapping masters had used these in the past was to make them character templates, but that can create problems in modding, both because of this creating ‘phantom characters’ that mess up the complex “branding” function of the FFX Control Center, and because campaign missions don’t seem to like such characters being on a map. Thus, I tried making these into regular generic objects, and that seems to have worked just fine. I tried adding them directly to the map nif, but when I did, the top of the sphere was registered as the ‘ground’ and all the characters were shunted to the outside!
So, how do you use a sky sphere? Well, it’s actually super easy. They’re included with the map pack, so you can find the actual object and their textures in that wonderful resource. You’ll find the spheres in the pack’s art/library/characters directory. Once you get them, you can copy the settings they have in the map pack, but just change their template type to “generic.” Now, because they’ll be objects and not characters, their textures need to be in with the rest of your map’s textures. Once you’ve done that, you can place them on your maps by placing a marker, then changing it to be the sphere. Once you’ve done that, you’re good to go! The spheres come with several really nice textures, but you can also just name your own textures in the same pattern and use them on your maps for a variety of different effects! Check out my ‘water sphere’ on my Atlantis map!
Atlantean Chic – Decorating My Aquatic World:
Speaking of Atlantis, my story called for a visit to the fabled lost city by the Aquatic Ace, and thanks to folks vastly more talented than me, I had great starting places for both the Atlantean Palace and the city itself. However, as always seems the case, I wanted a bit more. So, as I worked on the various maps, I started cobbling together new props to decorate them. I did this by the usual method of just using replacement textures in a map’s folder, but I also literally built props using Nifskope, which is a huge blessing for modders. Nifskope allows you to combine and manipulate meshes, so I was able to take parts or whole meshes, both character and object, and use them to create various new props. This is exceedingly easy to do these days. For example, I created a throne as a centerpiece for my Atlantean throne room by combining the chair object from the FF1 Robot Factory maps, the TNT crates from the warehouse maps, a dolphin RandomDays had imported for me, and a little shell from Tomato’s Aquagirl skope. The result looked like a lot more than the sum of its parts.
Adding a refl and a glow texture to the mesh pieces, as well as tweaking the color settings of the meshes themselves, allowed me to make the whole thing look shiny and impressive. I did the same type of thing to create some nice underwater foliage for my city map. I started with a thin tree object, the ger_tree_poplar, but I wanted to make it look like a piece of a kelp forest, so I copied over ger_weed, and then placed several copies of it all up and down the tree, rotating and enlarging them here and there so that the whole thing had a nice, ragged, wavy appearance. I created a number of items like these, and I rounded out my decorations by adding textures I found online to existing meshes to create artistic accents, making bronze statues, golden images, and paintings. The paintings used art from the Atlantis Chronicles, which a seemed fitting place to find images of Atlantean history.
While I’ve been hard at work designing maps and writing missions, other incredibly talented members of our community have been contributing some wonderful stuff to other facets of my project. Tomato has continued to help me out with a number of contributions, big and small. RandomDays has imported a ton of incredibly useful objects for me and has in general pitched in innumerable ways, and Deanjo2000 has been churning out some incredibly gorgeous skins and skopes! In fact, between RD and Dean, we’ve got an amazing vessel for Aquaman’s nemesis, Black Manta. Dean has contributed a lot of great DC characters to the mod since my last update, and he was kind enough to create the Aquaman supporting cast member Murk, from the modern books, who Jeff Parker did such excellent work with. This gave me a really useful character to play with in my development of my Aqua-adventure, and it’s also just fun beating the snot out of this thinly-veiled pastiche of the hook-handed Aqua-jerk of the 90s! In general, I’ve seen a fantastic amount of support from the community lately, which has been really encouraging and energizing. Look for even more great art assets coming soon!
Telling the Story:
Of course, all of the work described above has been in service of a story that I’ve been dying to tell for years and years. My Aquaman campaign is one that I mapped out in broad strokes back when I was first working on the DCUG, over a decade ago. The story has evolved and changed a good deal since then, and I have been more than a little influenced by the fantastic work done by Jeff Parker and Dan Abnet in the New 52 Aquaman series. Still, I’m quite excited to finally get the chance to tell it, especially because it is such an ambitious project, and one that I have often despaired of ever having the chance to do justice. With the support of the FF community, diminished but still full of talented, I have been able to make a good start on it. As I’ve made maps and props and a thousand and one little tweaks and enhancements, I’ve also been hard at work on the campaign.
I’ve finished missions #3 and #4, which included some of the most challenging writing of the entire narrative. I had to introduce Atlantis, supporting characters, and an absolute mountain of plot, all in a very small amount of narrative space, as I only had a few missions and base scenes in which to do it. I could probably have spread this over more missions, but considering how much time and effort it takes to successfully write, script, and create a mission, I’ve tried to be conservative with my campaign design, which is not a strength of mine, as my project catalog can attest! So, I’ve slaved over the writing of these missions and base scenes, and while I’m not 100% happy with it (I never am), I am content. The missions themselves I think are a neat mix of ideas, and I hope they’ll prove fun to play. The players will be hit with a lot of information and a lot of my original Aquaman mythos in these missions, but I’ve tried to make them exciting and entertaining, as well as (hopefully) full of intriguing glimpses of story and mystery. As an extra treat, each mission has a custom cover created by Unkoman for their loading screens. Some are snappy tweaks of classic Aquaman covers, and some are much more elaborate creations, but they are all awesome, and Unko has put a lot of time and effort into them, crafting these custom loading screens that really make the campaign feel polished and complete.
#3 “Torn Between Two Worlds”
I won’t give away too much of my plot in these features. Instead, I’ll tease a bit about the missions and talk about how I made them. This first one up presented some design problems, in multiple ways. First, I had to skope custom keys for various characters that I already had in the DCUG, but for whom I didn’t have underwater versions. Then I had to create new powers and builds for each of them. When writing the mission itself, I knew I wanted a showdown with some of Black Manta’s minions, but I wasn’t really sure what to do to make it interesting and provide some variety. I came up with a couple of different encounter types so that the mission wasn’t simply a straight fight, and I designed it so that Aquaman was accompanied by some Atlantean allies. My scripting challenges arose from two sources. First, I needed to get the allies into the mission immediately so that the opening cutscene could include them and set up what was going on. Second, I needed my villain to get defeated but still get away, and I wanted to make sure that he didn’t show up until the player had cleared out all of his henchmen.
To solve my first challenge, I made my starting encounter an Alliance encounter, which allows you to create long-term allies for the mission, and I simply had its starting cutscene be my intro CS. However, as is often the case, solving one problem created another one, and this one was quite the mystery to me for a while. I would play through the entire mission, and everything would work, only for all of the starting encounters to respawn as I was playing through the last encounter. It was maddening! Not only did it look super messy and confusing, the mission wouldn’t end because the event chain had restarted! I finally, just yesterday, figured out what the issue was, after seeing no clear reason why this would happen and trying dozens of different things to fix it. The problem all came down to the fact that I was using my Alliance encounter to start my mission, and it was also being used to launch those opening encounters. It’s super obvious in hindsight! You see, the CS would play, and the encounter would ‘end’, spawning the next ones…but it wasn’t ACTUALLY over until all of the allies died. Most of the would get taken out in the mission, but your main ally, Murk, was made of sterner stuff, and he’d usually stick around until the end, where he was knocked out by another encounter….which would then start the whole thing over again! Simply using a different encounter to spawn the others solved the problem very nicely.
The second problem proved much more easily solved, though it also gave me some trouble. EZScript has an option for Custom Encounters that allows you to set one up where a villain will stop fighting at certain health thresholds. This is meant to simulate a common mission element from the FF campaigns, and it would be a very useful mission component. The trouble is, it’s never worked quite right, and I have trouble with it every time I try to use it. I decided to give it another look, and sure enough, it gave me fits. Either Manta wouldn’t stop and would get knocked out, or he’d stop and just get stuck, so the rest of the mission didn’t play. Finally I gave up and just used a simple Interrogation, which worked like a charm. However, this left me with the difficulty of getting my villain away. I’ve gotten around this in the past by having the screen fade and just having dialog advance the plot and narrate what’s happening. Obviously, that’s not the most elegant of solutions, and I wanted a bit more out of this, especially because I didn’t plan on this actually being the end of the mission. The trouble is that, once in an interrogation state, a character is locked into their stun animation and can’t move. So, I decided to cheat a bit. I used some camera work and fades to extricate Manta, then gave him an animation command to bring him out of the stun state. He still couldn’t move, but he LOOKED normal, and that made the CS work reasonably well. In the, the mission proved to be more challenging to create than I anticipated, especially since it was originally conceived as just a fight, but the final product should prove interesting, I hope!
#4 “Caverns of Death”
Bizarrely, mission #4, although much more ambitious in terms of scripting, as I was trying something I’d never done before, proved much easier. In fact, the most complicated and fanciest bits worked right out of the gate, while the simple stuff, as is often the case, tripped me up. This one involved the newly recruited Aqualad joining Aquaman as they fought their way through a cave full of monsters, and made some interesting discoveries about the history of Atlantis along the way, as well as some hints of the overarching plot! I decided to get clever, because once again I was struggling to find a way to provide some variety to how my story idea made it into mission form. The monsters our Aquatic Aces faced were a fairly straight-forward threat, but I came up with the idea of having the heroes encounter eggs that could hatch at random intervals, spawning more of the monsters. If the heroes can destroy the eggs early, they won’t have to worry about reinforcements, but if they don’t, they might get overwhelmed! I did this by creating two sets of encounters. The first was just a custom Destroy Object encounter with a Countdown condition to provide a ticking clock. The second, which is only triggered if the object isn’t destroyed before the clock runs out, spawns a monster in a Hunt encounter. I added some FX to make it look a little smoother, and it all worked pretty well. Here’s the EZScript encounters in question:
Actions: countdown, heroes destroy objects
Objects: trench_egg named bob
Next: If Timer Still Going: None
Next: If Timer Expired: Birth1
bob is destroyed
Play effect effect_ffx_transmute at scrack1
Interestingly, I’ve recently discovered that the brilliant M25, who created EZScript, was even more brilliant than I had given him credit for, and he included the ability to name objects (like ‘bob’ up there) as well as characters so that you manipulate them directly through your scripts.
Alright folks, well that should give y’all a nice peak behind the curtain at what I’ve been up to. Now that I’m past these challenging missions and maps, I’m hoping I can move a bit more quickly in the coming weeks, but we’ll see. I know that I promised some information about my GLC campaign in this diary, but I think it’s already long (probably overlong!) enough, so I’ll get to that next time. I hope that this has been interesting and useful. Please feel free to ask questions or post comments, especially if you’re interested in getting into modding yourself or are just looking to get involved in the fantastic FF community!
Howdy folks! I’m still hard at work on the DCUG (look for another Developer’s Journal soon, with lots of really cool developments), but my friend, the mighty Marvelite, Jimaras8 has been hard at work as well, continuing his work updating and expanding Marvel Adventures. He’s added a few new characters, but he’s mainly been focused on balance tweaks and FX udpates. I also completed a set of bug fixes, replacing missing textures and objects that were causing problems in some of the missions.
Howdy folks, and welcome to the first developer’s diary after my long hiatus. I am getting back to work on the mod, shaking off the rust, and working out the kinks. I have been super busy the last few weeks, hitting my modding to-do list hard and getting a ton done! With the semester done and things calming down a little bit here at Grey Manor, I have finally been able to catch my breath and get back to my great modding love, the DCUG! I have really had a blast working on it, and I have learned a lot recently. I’ll share the highlights with y’all, as well as a little sneak peek at my Aquaman campaign, which is my current focus. Fair warning, I’m going to talk a fair bit about mapping in the beginning of this post, and I’m going to try to create my long-deferred tutorial video on the subject in a few weeks. If that subject doesn’t interest you, skip on down to screenshots of the new campaigns! And make sure to stay tuned for another developer’s diary entry next week which will provide another peek at the Green Lantern Corps. campaign which I have also been working on!
Map Design Part 1: Creating the Elusive Second Story
To get started with my return, I foolishly tackled something that I knew was going to be difficult and frustrating, and guess what? It was both of those things! When I had to put the mod on hold, I had started to develop custom maps for my Aquaman campaign. I faced a number of hurdles, detailed in my last couple of entries, and there was one in particular I had not solved yet and which returned to haunt me when I came back to the mod. You see, thanks to Daglob who modified the crane object from FF 1, I had a nice big oil rig to serve as a setting for the Sea King’s adventures. Unfortunately, while it looked great, characters would fall right through it in the game, meaning it wasn’t much use as, you know, a map.
The main issue is likely that FF just doesn’t do multiple floors, really, and whatever is tagged as the ‘ground,’ is going to be used that way by the game engine. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about the actual mechanics of the terrain meshes (nifs) and how they are set up to change what the game perceives as ground, and there really isn’t anyone left in the community who could tell me either. So, what to do? Well, the answer is obvious. Cheat!
I tried a thousand different approaches to fix this, mostly centered around trying to create a ‘false floor’ through the use of other objects. I settled on the pier object from FF 1, which gave me a nice, flat object to work with. I tried blowing it up and adding it directly to the nif. Characters still fell through. I tried adding it in the editor. Still fell through. I tried a dozen different sizes and permutations, and no luck. I tried just adding the original, small object, and just covering the rig’s surface with them. That worked! However…it also screwed up the character’s pathing.
Finally, I realized that, when blowing the object up, I had used the scene root and tried to do the whole thing at once. You see, objects in FF2 have to have two pieces to be interactable. There is the object mesh itself, and then there is a bounding box, which tells the game where the mesh starts and ends, spatially. Although Nifskope was telling me it had expanded the bounding box as well, it hadn’t. So, when I did both pieces, both the object and the bounding box, individually, it worked perfectly! Now, I’ve got an oil rig, and all I need to do is add the set dressing!
Map Design Part 2: Textures, UV Maps, and Madness, Oh My!
Of course, my luck being what it is, that was far from the end of my mapping woes. The next hurdle arose when I started remastering the first two missions of my Aquaman campaign, which were all that I had previously finished. I’ve been reworking my whole planned plot for the campaign, and I’m really happy and excited about how it’s coming together, but the changes required me to rework those first two missions. And that meant I needed a new map for mission 2, as the map I had planned on using, one of the incomparable CmdrKeonig’s crackerjack creations, but it was too small to fit in everything I needed. CK’s map was, at its core, a re-texturing or re-skinning of an existing terrain. The way most custom maps work is that, in addition to positioning objects in new and interesting ways, they provide a sub-directory in which an existing map’s terrain mesh can look for the textures it needs. But the mappers replace the vanilla textures with new ones that have the same name. Most of the custom FF maps that accomplish such amazing transformations use this fairly simple device to do it, though skilled mappers like CK also put in a lot of work ‘dressing up’ the map with re-textured and repurposed objects too.
So, what does all of that have to do with my own map troubles? Fortunately, CK’s map was based on one of the FF2’s Cuban missions, which all share the same texture set, and there was another of those missions which had the space and layout I needed. So, I just open the map up in FFEdit and point it’s texture directory to CK’s _textures_underwater folder, and it’s smooth-sailing, right? Well, nope; no such luck! The new map featured an airforce base with a big runway, and for some reason, when I gave the map the underwater textures, they displayed differently on the runway area than they did on the rest of the map! This distortion was pretty noticeable, and it really bothered me, so I tried to find a way to fix it. Whew! What a black hole this particular problem was!
Now, I know fairly little about textures (skins), and I know even less about meshes, so I had no idea what was going on here. I guessed that there was something about the terrain.nif, the actual 3d model of the map terrain itself, that was making those spots display the texture differently. So, I had to change it. I started by finding the level_layout.txt file for the map, which tells the game which terrain.nif to use. I copied and renamed it, pointed the map to this new file in the editor. Then I tracked down the terrain.nif, copied and renamed it, and pointed the layout file itself to its folder. The first entry in the layout is always the map’s mesh.
So, now I had a version of the mesh that I could play with and not mess anything up, and play I did. Or more accurately, I beat my head against this particular wall for days! I opened the map in Nifskope and clicked on the various pieces of the terrain, pouring over their entries and trying to figure out what settings controlled how they displayed textures. I compared their entries line by line, looking for whatever was different, and I tried a thousand different things, none of which had ANY positive effect! Finally, the community came to my rescue, and told me that how a texture is displayed is apparently all about something called a UV map. Who knew?!
I suppose that to be a good modder, it really does help to know about all of the different parts of game design. Anyway, I found a tutorial that explained how to edit the UV maps, which it turns out is a rather painstaking process in Nifskope. And that runway area was BIG! But, after a lot of rather maddening work, I finally had the map looking the way I wanted! Then it was just a matter of decorating it! So, I copied CK’s excellent design for his map, scattered a bunch of shrubs and weeds retextured to look like coral and seaweed all over the place, as well as some boulders and such for visual and gameplay interest. Then, because this mission is supposed to be one of the stages on the young Aquaman’s search for Atlantis, I asked superstar skinner Dean2000 to create some extra textures for me so I could add in the traces of a ruined city, using the map’s original textures and layout as a guide. I’m super happy with the finished product!
Map Design Part 3: Getting Clever
With the main map done, I set out to create a base scene to help me advance the plot and set up the mission that was going to take place on it. Now, my Aquaman plot is fairly ambitious. I’ve got a lot of story and a lot of development that I’m trying to cram in, and I struggled figuring out how to get through everything I needed in the base scene, while keeping the cutscenes it featured reasonably interesting to watch. I don’t just want to hit my players with a whole bunch of text with no visual interest! The story called for me to explore the origins of Black Manta and Aquaman, drawing on some of Geoff Johns’ better ideas from his N52 run. I had an excellent FF1 custom map featuring a lighthouse by the sea, but I wanted to portray some of what happened IN the water, and the map just has a flat, ‘painted’ surface for the water. How could I portray a story featuring both land AND sea in one map without looking silly? If I were Dr. Mike of The Strangers mod fame, I could just shift between maps INSIDE the base scene, but I don’t have a clue how he did that, and I probably couldn’t replicate it even if I did! So, once again, I decided to cheat.
I wrote the base scene CSes to focus the camera on a few different spots on the map, all out of sight of each other. Then I added a nice animated “water” object (one of our mappers, I forget who, created this years ago) above the surface of the “water” on the map in two of those spots. In the first spot I added a ship object “floating” in the top water layer, and my swimming Aquaman below it. In the other, I placed two ship objects, partially hidden in ‘floor’ of the map, to make it look like the ship had been sunk. Then, with a little camera work, the whole scene plays out relatively nicely, and the players only see what I want them to see. I’m inordinately pleased with how well it worked out.
Aquaman Campaign Update and Preview
While I was struggling with my various mapping mountains, I also tackled a ton of other, smaller jobs. I spent a lot of time tweaking the art assets for the Aquaman-related characters, especially the Aqua-Family, and that included new skins an skopes for Arthur’s sidekicks, Aqualad and Aquagirl. The tremendously talented Tomato very graciously agreed to make the Prince and Princess of the Sea for me, and they turned out fantastically! I also spent a lot of time skoping the keys of the various aqua-characters and updating their Herofiles to make them more interesting and unique in the game. I did a ton of work on the swimming keys, in particular, creating specially modified versions drawing on a wide range of different animation sets that gave me vastly more options in how I built the various characters. I discovered that the swimming keys were compatible with male_basic keys, and a hovering animation from another MB set would often look quite good as a swimming animation. That really expanded my options!
But the really excited work for me was remastering and reimagining my first two missions, laying in story hooks and plot threads that I can play with throughout the campaign. It’s great to finally be getting started on my Aquaman adventure in earnest, as this was one of the first ideas I conceived when I began working on my DCUG mythology. So, I rewrote the first mission, adding in some new elements to set up things to come, and I completely scrapped and recreated my second mission, starting with that whole new map. The first mission involved Arthur Curry beginning a quest to find Atlantis, and by finding it, to discover what happened to his mother, Atlanna, who was stolen away when he was a boy. During his search, he finds a mysterious island that is home to a research station, which has been besieged by the Marine Marauder!
My second mission saw the rookie Aquaman clash with the forces of Black Manta for the first time, as both men searched for Atlantis! This mission actually takes place underwater, so I have a separate mesh and key-set, essentially for my hero and all of his foes, an entirely separate set of characters, essentially. Everyone gets flight to simulate their ability to move in 3 dimensions, and eventually Aquaman will have the ability to summon his finny friends to aid him! As the mission progresses, Arthur makes a terrible discovery about his future nemesis, and he finds that the sea floor is covered with clues about Altantis! Finally, our hero frees an actual Atlantean warrior from Mantas men, but his welcome from his erstwhile people is not quite what he hoped it would be! Here’s a few glimpses of the mission, and you can see the base scene in action too!
Well, that should give y’all a sense of what I’ve been up to lately, though there are a thousand and one little jobs I’ve been doing as well. I hope that this has proven interesting and informative. Please feel free to ask questions and give feedback! There are some exciting developments on the horizons for the DCUG and for the Aquaman campaign in particular. I hope to have more to share with y’all soon! In the meantime, here’s a little peek at the Green Lantern Corps. campaign mission I finished a while back. Expect to see more about that, as well as about OrWolvie’s Green Arrow campaign, in my next developer’s diary! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!
Howdy folks! It has been a very tough year and a half here at Grey Manor, but now that the semester is over, I’m finally able to get back to my hobbies, including Freedom Force. I posted this plea for help a long while back, the last time I tried to restart my project, but life conspired against me. I’m back at it again, however, and I could still use some help to see my DC Universe dreams brought to life! If you’re a gamer, artist, and/or a lover of superheroes, please think about helping out!
I am recruiting new members for my latest project, a massive, sprawling, all-encompassing mod aiming to bring the DC Comics Universe to life! We have big plans, and though we have already made a tremendous amount of progress in bringing them to fruition, we could use a little help in making this long-time dream come true. If you’re interested in getting into modding, join our team and help us create something fantastic!
Do you love superheroes? Comics? Video games? So does the Freedom Force modding community. Come join us and be part of creating something fantastic!
As many of you visiting this site know, I’m Benton Grey, the chief modder, writer, scripter, and everything else for Greylands Games, dedicated to making mods for the greatest superhero game of all time, Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich. I’ve been creating highly rated mods for FF for years, and with the help of the community, I’ve produced a lot of fun stuff. Now I need your help on my latest project and those to come!
One of my passions is bringing my favorite characters, settings, and stories to life in this great game. I’ve created mods that deliver adventures for the Ninja Turtles, classic pulp heroes, the entire Marvel superhero universe, and more, bringing each to life in a way not really possible anywhere else. I’m currently working on a massive update and revision of my already epic and sprawling DC Universe mod, the DC Universe According to Grey, and I’m looking for folks with a love of DC Comics, superheroes in general, art, and/or game design to create materials for this and future projects.
This is a mod and is done purely “for the love of the game,” so to speak, so these are volunteer positions. However, this is a chance to be involved with fun and rewarding projects, work with folks who share your interests and hobbies, and help bring your favorite heroes and their universe of wonder and heroism to life.
The project needs visually creative people who can conceive and design maps for use in the various character/team campaigns and to represent famous DC Comics locations. The game editor is free, intuitive, and easy to use, so no experience is required, but having some background with creating/designing maps could certainly be beneficial. Some basic texture editing experience would be useful but is not required.
Familiarity with 3D Studio Max, Blender, and/or Nifskope would be a big plus, though willingness to learn would also be appreciated. Having the ability to create/edit 3D objects would give mappers much more flexibility in design.
Successful candidates will be willing to put in a little effort, have a good attitude, and display a willingness to learn FF modding/mapping.
This is an excellent opportunity to get some experience in game design in an accessible and low-impact way. This project would be great for producing materials for a portfolio or just as a fun hobby for someone who likes being visually creative.
It is not required but is heavily recommended that mappers get a copy of the game, which is available from GOG and Steam very cheaply (currently around $1.50).
3D Artist Positions:
Character/object artists and animators are needed for the DCUG and for the FF community at large. An amazing amount of resources have already been created for this game, but I’m looking to tackle some new challenges with this mod and would welcome any modelers and/or animators who want to bring DC Comics characters to life. Animators will need to own and have experience with 3D Studio Max, while modelers can manage with free programs like Blender.
Texture artists/skinners are also very welcome, and the community has a lot of resources for folks who want to learn about this type of 3D game art. FF textures can be created with free programs like GIMP or with Photoshop, and experience with either would be beneficial.
Successful candidates will have some artistic experience and at least be willing to learn and undertake tutorials to get the hang of the craft. Being a team player and good at collaboration will also be a plus.
Many FF community artists have used modding as a way to build a portfolio of 3D art which has helped them get work in their fields, so this is a good opportunity to do likewise, or just to have fun bringing your favorite characters to life.
These positions will become even more vital when I move on to my next project, which will see a major expansion of my TMNT mod into a full Saturday Morning Cartoon mod, which will feature a wide range of characters from the classic cartoons of the 80s and 90s, like the Thundercats, Silverhawks, Transformers, and more. So, if you’re a fellow child of the 80s and a fan of those classic shows, help me see that dream realized!
Nifskope is a program that allows the editing of 3D models (meshes) and animations, creating wondrous variety and providing a wealth of flexibility from the already wide resources available to FF modders. Even folks who don’t have expertise necessary to create 3D art from scratch can contribute by becoming “skopers”, and using Nifskope to alter existing meshes and animations to create wonderful new effects. I am looking for people experienced with Nifskope or who are willing to learn.
Successful candidates will be detail-oriented, preferably have some related experience, and willing to work and experiment to learn how to take full advantage of the possibilities Nifskope presents.
If you are looking for a way to help and are willing to put in some work learning this program, this is a great opportunity to contribute something important to this project and the community at large, as well as develop extremely flexible modding skills.
We could also use any experienced scripters or programmers, especially those familiar with Python scripting. If you’d like to contribute to the campaigns of this mod or even help to improve the game itself, there are a lot of ways to contribute for those with the right skills or those willing to learn. If you’re good with Python, you can even contribute your own stories and missions as well as help to bring our planned stories to life!
Successful candidates will have some scripting/programming experience and be willing to learn Python if not already familiar with that language.
Help me bring the DC Universe to life in a way never seen before! I hope you’ll find a way to contribute and help out, for this project or the next.
So, what are you waiting for? Join the DCUG or the FF community at large!
To apply, send an email with your qualifications to bentongrey AT yahoo.com.
Or, if you’re just interested in joining the community, just drop by FreedomReborn.net and make yourself at home!
Hello fellow Internet wanderers, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age, finishing up our coverage of December 1971. I’m afraid that there is a cloud hanging over our celebration of the joy of classic comics today, as a tragedy has struck the FF community. We recently learned of the death of Cyber Burn, content creator extraordinaire, my constant aide and ally, my dear friend, and all-around great human being. He was an amazing guy, and we are all grieving his loss. I’m going to write more about him and his importance to our community and literally everything I ever created for FF in a future post. At the moment, I don’t have the capacity to do him justice, though I am far from certain that I ever will be up to that particular herculean task.
In the meantime, let’s celebrate one of the things that always brought him joy, one of the things that, for him, as for many of us, served as a refuge from the ugliness and tawdriness of the world around us, the realm of the fantastic, the brighter, more hopeful terrain, of superhero comics. Let’s see what our last books of the month have in store for us.
(You can see everything published this month HERE)
Action Comics #407
Adventure Comics #413
Detective Comics #418
The Flash #211
Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87
Justice League of America #95
Mr. Miracle #5
Phantom Strange #16
Superman #246 (#245 was all reprints)
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #117
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144
Teen Titans #36
World’s Finest #208
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144
“A Big Thing in a Deep Scottish Lake!” Writer/Penciler: Jack Kirby Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson Letterer: John Costanza Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell DNA Project: “The Torn Photograph” Writer/Penciler: Jack Kirby Inker: Vince Colletta Letterer John Costanza Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell Newsboy Legion: “Kings for a Day!” Writers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby Penciler: Jack Kirby Inker: Joe Simon Letterer: Howard Ferguson Editors: Whitney Ellsworth
The first book in this batch is that misfit, redheaded step-child of the Fourth World titles, Jimmy Olsen, but unlike the bizarre, confusing mixture of ideas from the previous pair of issues, this month the King gives us something much more focused and fun. As you might guess from the cover, this comic sees the Newsboy Legion and our titular cub reporter coming face to snout with an ersatz Loch Ness Monster. In such an aquatic adventure there’s even a chance that Flippa Dippa might actually be useful….but I wouldn’t count on it. The cover image itself is a pretty good one, with a nicely dynamic and exciting central drama unfolding upon it, as the Legion hang on for dear life or leap to safety during their impromptu shipwreck. The whole thing has the King’s trademark energy and excitement. Superman doesn’t quite fit in with the picture, both because of Murphy Anderson’s overwriting of Kirby’s work and because he’s not really part of the dominant scene. That is actually rather accurate, as he plays no role in Jimmy’s plot, but it looks a bit odd to have him disproportionately soaring past as his young friends face pseudo-Nessie’s watery wrath, ‘Sorry kids, I’ve got super-business back in Metropolis, good luck with the monster!’
Kirby’s cover is a pretty fair promise of what awaits us within, and our tale begins with a Kirby-tech speedboat racing across the surface of “Loch Trevor,” which is totally not Loch Ness, thankyouverymuch. The pilot of the craft is searching for a supposed sea monster that stalks the waters of the Loch, and he finds it, or rather, it finds him, in rather dramatic fashion, destroying his ship and setting the stage for our adventure. Back in Metropolis, everyone’s favorite corporate shark, Morgan Edge, is raking Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboy Legion over the coals for failing to come back with a story. Of course, they have a heck of a story about “The Project,” but they’ve been sworn to secrecy. The King also seems to have forgotten that he last left Jimmy Olsen watching musicals projected onto the clouds of a miniature Universal Monster-themed world, so one would imagine he’s got quite the story to tell himself! Nonetheless, the heinous head of Galaxy Broadcasting casually dismisses the Legion’s claim that their Whiz Wagon was destroyed by a bomb and sends them out to chase down the scoop on the sea monster of Loch Trevor. Man, the gang are awfully forgiving about all of Edge’s attempts to kill them. You think they’d be a tad more insistent about that whole thing. Yet, once they’re out of his office, he opens the secret screen in his desk that we saw in this month’s Lois Lane, but this time he’s not looking at himself. Instead, he orders a hit on the Newsboy Legion!
Meanwhile, all crime everywhere has apparently been stopped, because Superman and the Guardian are spending their time dropping by a “discotheque,” not for charity, not as a benefit, not working a case, but just to “help their attendance.” Oookay? I’m glad they’ve got their priorities straight. Inside, they meet the young woman who is running the place, a girl named Terry Dean, who we saw briefly in #138. It seems she first appeared in a rather interesting sounding issue, #127, wherein Jimmy Olsen goes undercover to expose a slumlord. It’s neat and a little surprising that Kirby is making use of this minor supporting character introduced before his run, though I wouldn’t have minded some editorial reminders here. At any rate, Dean introduces them to a super Kirby-ified band, the San Diego Five String Mob, who are secretly serving Apokolips. They are wonderfully cool looking, in that inimical Kirby style of gonzo gadgets and weird wardrobes. As the malevolent musicians maintain their cover, playing strange music, Dubbilex, the D.N.Alien suddenly appears, bringing with him a warning!
The King cuts away before we see what comes of that, though, and we travel to the skies over Scotland, where Jimmy and the Legion are literally dumped out of a fancy jet in the Whiz Wagon. Scrapper is determined he’s going to fit in, and has dressed the part, complete with kilt and Tam o’ Shanter, but unfortunately, his voice gives him away every time he opens his mouth, which becomes a running gag. On the ground, the gang nearly run over their contact, Felix MacFinney, as they try to stop their careening car, but they manage to do no permanent harm. This whole scene is fun and Kirby actually gives us some fairly charming humor, though we’re also besieged with comically exaggerated Scottish accents at every turn.
Back in the “discotheque,” Dubbilex reveals to the Man of Steel that there is a tunnel under the club that leads right back to the Project, but it is a tunnel the good guys didn’t make! Well, the bad band certainly can recognize a cue, so they prepare to strike…giving us a weird and interesting little sequence. They each play a note, summoning their “Sixth String,” Barri-boy, who is just another guy with a crazy instrument, but he literally brings the house down when he plays! That seems a little inefficient, but it’s still a fun sequence.
Back in Scotland, our neophyte newshawks meet MacFinney’s lovely daughter and engage in some banter while the plan for the monster-hunt the next day. MacFinney also shows them a device he created to attract the marine menace. Nothing suspicious here, nope! The next morning finds them out on the Loch, monitoring Flippa Dippa as he swims in its murky depths. Suddenly, he’s ambushed below the waves by a fellow frogman, and the others prepare to go to his aid, only to find themselves looking down the barrel of MacFinney’s gun! It seems that the Scotsman is actually an Intergang assassin! Fortunately, while Jimmy distracts the gunsel, the little Scrapper Trooper that the full-sized Scrapper brought along slips away and activates the monster lure. The situation is resolved in dramatic fashion, as the creature swamps the boat and seizes MacFinney, leaving the others soaked but safe. When they reach the shore, they find Flippa Dippa there ahead of them, having overcome his assailant, MacFinney’s “daughter,” another Intergang assassin. One wonders, how inept must she be at her job to have been taken out by Flippa Dippa? Confused but very curious, the gang determine to stay in Scotland and solve this monstrous mystery!
This is a fairly fun story, as silly as it is in parts, and the main plot, with Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion investigating the mystery and generally carrying on with their own banter and shenanigans, seems like a good fit for the characters. It’s a premise that serves them well, and I’d be happy to see the book settle onto a course like this. Heaven knows the last few issues have shown it is desperately in need of some direction. In terms of the writing, Kirby’s dialog, rather stilted and awkward in some of his other books, is generally in much better shape in this issue, provided you don’t mind his atrocious Scottish accents. He seems to have a good grasp of the voices of the Newsboys, which isn’t too surprising, seeing as they are his creations, after all. In fact, the interplay between Scrapper and the Scotsman, as well as the banter between the rest of the boys, is often genuinely funny and enjoyable. And then there’s everything Flippa Dippa says…the book’s resident embarrassment has fairly cringe-inducing lines throughout, like: “This ghetto guppie says ‘yeah!'” and “My SCUBA cells are vibratin’, Jimmy.” It is rather funny in an almost meta sense how desperately enthusiastic he is when he discovers that their adventure will involve a body of water, like he realizes how completely pointless he is as a character. Overall, Flippa Dippa aside, this is an enjoyable adventure. The King’s unmatched creativity is once again on display, but all of these different elements fit together much better than the bizarre horror-planet of the previous issues. Superman and the Guardian just sort of casually dropping by the club is pretty goofy, but the Kirby-tech band is so cool that I’m willing to give it a pass. Of course, the King’s art is great throughout, despite Colletta’s inking. I’ll give this promising start to a new adventure 4 Minutemen, with its sillier elements holding it back from a higher score.
P.S.: I’ve been really enjoying the Newsboy Legion stories that have been reprinted as backups in these books. They’re simple but fun.
Teen Titans #36
“The Tomb be Their Destiny” Writer: Bob Haney Penciler: George Tuska Inker: Nick Cardy Letterer: John Costanza Editor: Murray Boltinoff Aqualad: “The Girl of the Shadows” Writer: Steve Skeates Penciler/Inker: Jim Aparo Letterer: Jim Aparo “Superboy Meets Robin the Boy Wonder” Writer: Bill Finger Penciler: Al Plastino Inker: Al Plastino Editor: Jack Schiff “The Teenager from Nowhere” Writer: Bob Haney Penciler/Inker: Nick Cardy Letterer: Ben Oda Editor: Mort Weisinger
Well, if this month’s Jimmy Olsen issue was an improvement over the previous one, we can’t really say the same forthis month’s Teen Titans, which is rather disappointing. The book continues to limp along without a clear direction and without any real reason for the Titans to actually be involved in its plots. To start with, we’ve got an okay cover, with a hint of mystery to it, though the perspective and layout is a bit wonky. I’m not really sure how those stairs exist in relation to the angle of the floor at the front. While the scene is non-Euclidean, it is also atmospheric, but the context is a bit too vague for it to be entirely successful. Our heroes seem to be hunting this figure rather than trying to rescue him, but he’s turning to dust, which his dialog tells us is….bad, as if they’re out to help him? It’s just not terribly successful.
Unfortunately, the story itself isn’t much better. It picks up where we left off in our last issue, in the purported crypt of the “real” Romeo and Juliet, where Robin, Speedy, Wonder Girl, and the superfluous Mr. Jupiter examine the scene and debate whether Lilith is really the incarnation of Romeo’s star-crossed lady love. They spot a shadowy figure and give chase, only to be temporarily trapped by a cave-in. While they are delayed, the shadowy figure sneaks off with the unconscious forms of Romeo and Lilith (doesn’t have quite the same ring as the original, does it?).
The misshapen figure turns out to be a hunchbacked madman named “Calibano,” who is supposed to resemble Romeo’s cousin of the same name, though I wouldn’t have gotten that from the art alone. As the young lovers revive, this Calibano tells them that Romeo and Juliet were actually part of a love triangle, with him as the third angle. Lilith uses her power of vagueness to learn that it was actually him who killed the original moon-struck Montague, causing Juliet to take her own life. Then, he apparently got trapped in their tomb and put into suspended animation…by…plot? Seriously, that’s not explained at all.
Now Calibano’s convinced that the new couple are the originals reawakened, as he was, and he challenges Romeo 2.0 to a duel, and the brave young man fights a desperate battle while Lilith makes the valuable contribution of…shouting…and…looking worried. It’s just a very impressive showing for a superheroine. As the ancient feud reunites, the rest of the Titans follow the trail of their lost teammate, only to come across the other Calibano leading a water-borne funeral procession. We’re reminded that the police were interested in the Loggia family, and this funereal flotilla out on a foggy night seems suspicious.
Suddenly, Mr. Juptier, who let’s remember has displayed no particular skills or abilities or received any special training up to this point, decides that he’s an action hero, and he and Robin investigate the suspect ships. The pair discover that the casket is a cover for smuggling industrial diamonds (which really doesn’t seem all that worthwhile, really), and overcome a bunch of frogmen in an extended scene where neither of them is apparently troubled by the need to, you know, breath for what one can only assume is a good 15-20 minutes. The marine marvel millionaire hauls himself out of the water to confront Calibano, and is nearly killed, only to have his life saved by the sudden arrival of Don Loggia, who is actually honest, though still a jerk, and who was suspicious of his nephew.
While Robin was being upstaged by a random dude with no qualifications for hero work, the other two Titans arrive just in time to save Romeo…by straight-up murdering the original Calibano! That’s right, Speedy shoots the guy with a sharp arrow as opposed to any of the zillion trick arrows he carries. He shoots him right in the chest, and though the poor fellow is able to stagger back to the crypt, he definitely dies. (Man, the books this month have had an unusually high body count for the era!) The story ends with the characters wondering if Lilith and Romeo are actually the reincarnations of their much more interesting and famous predecessors, and we are told that they are totally in love. Yep, definitely deeply and really in love, a love that is absolutely going to last beyond this issue and will certainly carry significance for years to come. Or not. Yeah, it will probably not surprise y’all to learn that our dear friend, Zany Haney, the anti-continuity cop, completely drops that particular plot thread, and this Romeo guy is never heard from again. It’s just as well, because the whole ‘reincarnated Romeo and Juliet’ angle doesn’t seem super sustainable over the long-haul.
So, what are we to make of this story? Well, much like the previous issue, it’s not an entirely bad tale, by itself, but it isn’t particularly suitable for the Teen Titans, and there is absolutely no reason for these characters to be here. The actual Titans contribute almost nothing to the story, short of Speedy murdering a poor, deformed, and mentally ill fellow. That’s the part of the story that galls me most, as Haney gives Speedy exactly one panel to feel a little bad about missing the sword and shooting the guy straight in the chest, and that is it, as if this wasn’t entirely avoidable if the character was acting in any normal fashion. And, of course, because it’s a Zany Haney plot, this killing will never be mentioned or thought-of again, and that’s terrible on multiple levels.
Let’s also not forget Haney just casually adding a character and a whole subplot to what is arguably the most famous play of all time. It’s not quite as bonkers as it seems, though, as it is very likely that “Calibano” and his plotline were drawn from “Caliban,” a character in another of Shakespeare’s plays, The Tempest. In that story of magic and mysticism, Caliban was the misshapen and monstrous servant of the wizard Prospero and was also the unlucky angle of a love triangle. Nonetheless, even if Calibano has respectable origins in another of the Bard’s tales, his presence in this story is weird and a bit disconcerting, especially because the last issue ended with the young couple discovering the apparently mummified remains of Calibano, who was also wearing different clothes. Continuity errors aside, this whole thing is just a bit of a mess. Everything happens at the speed of plot, and the two plotlines end up feeling entirely alien to each other, despite the attempts to connect them with the multiple Calibanos. You could pretty much drop the entire Loggia family plot thread from this issue and lose nothing except for Mr. Jupiter’s inexplicable display of commando skills.
As you might be able to tell, I have just about lost all patience with this whole premise. This whole ‘superhero summer camp’ thing we’ve got going on, with the Titans involved in this vague project with Jupiter, just has nothing to recommend it to me. Lilith also continues to be vague and pointless, only now she is joined in her uselessness by Wonder Girl, who does nothing all issue. I find myself wishing we could see the Titans be, you know, superheroes. On the plus side, the team of Tuska and Cardy continues to be great, really turning out some lovely work with lots of darkly atmospheric scenes that add some drama and mystery to this silly plot. Their work is really deserving of a better story. So, what is the final score? Well, I would probably have given this one 2.5 Minutemen like its first half if it weren’t for Haney having Speedy kill the antagonist with zero justification, logic, or examination. That plus ‘secret agent-Jupiter’ sours the story for me, so I’ll give it 1 Minuteman. Haney is really batting 1000 this month.
“The Girl of the Shadows”
Interestingly, this issue has another little Aqualad backup, which is cool, but it is a super brief one, only running 3 pages. Apparently, this little mini-adventure, by the wonderful SAG team, was actually slated to appear in the cancelled Aquaman #57, and it was put into inventory when that book never materialized. Unfortunately, that also meant that this intriguing little tale and the mysteries that it introduces are never resolved! What a crying shame! Being only 3 pages, there’s really not enough here to judge, so I’ll just share all three pages and offer a brief overview.
It begins with the young Aquatic Ace emerging onto darkened docks, searching for a girl that had intrigued him when he saw her earlier at a concert (don’t tell Tula!). Just as he finds her and she gives him a cryptic greeting, she is confronted by a big man in strange armor who tries to capture the mysterious maiden. The Sea Prince cleans his clock, then asks the girl for an explanation. All she says is that they must “get past the wall — before it’s too late!”, and then she disappears, leaving our young hero to wonder what this strange encounter was all about. So, we are left with a mystery that will likely never be solved, and that’s a shame, because Skeates set the stage for an interesting story, and I would have quite enjoyed it if he had been given a chance to finish it in these pages.
“The Teen-Ager from Nowhere”
This month’s Titans issue actually held two original backups, and the second is a solo Lilith story, which is actually a good deal better than you’d probably expect from what we’ve seen of her in the main book. This little tale is something of an origin story, and in just 7 pages Haney gives us more information about Lilith and more reason to care about her than in all of the issues she’s been in up to this point combined. It is still, of course, pretty vague, but that vagueness is at least a bit more understandable here, and the story also seems to promise some answers might be forthcoming.
It begins when a 12 year old Lilith sees a group of men leaving her small Kentucky town to search for the body of a young boy presumed drowned in the river. Suddenly she runs after them and yells that he’s not in the river, leading them into the hills and finally to an old well. They find and rescue the boy, but then they begin to wonder how she knew he was there. The young girl can’t explain her knowledge, and the crowd grows more suspicious until her father finally arrives and takes her home. Back in the safety of her own house, her parents are supportive, but the pre-teen psychic senses that she is actually adopted, and she runs out of the house in search of her origins.
In fact, she runs all the way to the orphanage that once sheltered her, where somehow the matron recognizes and remembers her, despite the fact that she was only one year old when she was adopted. Neat trick! Lilith learns that her powers were apparently shared by her real mother, who brought her to the orphanage after some mysterious trouble relating to her father. The kindly matron warns the strange girl not to dredge up the tragedies of the past, but the youth swears that she will discover who she is, though she is glad when her adoptive parents come to fetch her home.
This is a surprisingly good story for focusing on Lilith, and it shows that she could be a decent character if she was given any development or personality other than “mysteriousness.” The girl’s lack of understanding of her powers or past is much more believable and excusable, as she is just beginning her journey. A 12-year-old not being able to explain a first flash of psychic insight is much more understandable and palatable than, say, a college-age girl doing the same after having lived with such abilities for years. Nick Cardy’s art is just plain gorgeous, as always, and he brings so much humanity and emotion to his characters that you can’t help but sympathize with the lost young girl or her concerned parents. Haney’s writing is positively restrained and thoughtful here, and the final result is a really solid and intriguing backup that actually makes me, of all things, look forward to more stories about Lilith! I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, as it isn’t quite strong enough to reach a higher score, .
World’s Finest #208
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Gaspar Saladino “Peril of the Planet-Smashers!” Writer: Len Wein Penciler: Dick Dillin Inker: Joe Giella Letterer: John Costanza Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell “The Inside Story of Robotman!” Writer: Joseph Samachson Penciler/Inker: Jimmy Thompson Editor: Jack Schiff Ghost Patrol: “The ‘Spectacular’ Crimes” Writer: John Broome Penciler: Carmine Infantino Inker: Frank Giacoia Editor: Sheldon Mayer
Oh man, what an awesome cover! How could you pass by the newsstand and not plunk down your quarter to see what kind of story could have such an epic image over its pages? Many of us have probably heard the old saying that the Silver Age Superman could “juggle planets,” but that expression, which captures the casual omnipotence of the character and thus one of the flaws with his portrayal in the era, doesn’t really apply here. Instead, we get a wonderful portrayal of a truly epic feat that feels properly epic. You can see the strain and effort on Superman’s face, like a moment out of the wonderful old Fleischer Superman cartoons, where the Man of Steel would constantly be pushed to his limits to defeat his foes and rescue his friends. It feels heroic and exciting in the extreme, and it is beautifully and powerfully rendered by Neal Adams. In fact, it’s such a cool cover, that I’ve been anxiously anticipating its approach in my lineup, quietly excited to read the story it represents. So, does the tale within live up to that dynamite image? Perhaps a better question is, could anything?
Sadly, although Wein and Dillin give us a good super-story inside, it isn’t quite the amazing epic that our cover promises us. It begins with Dr. Fate helping the police to recover a stolen “thermal-ray,” which is apparently insanely dangerous for a hand weapon, but the technological marvel and its erstwhile criminal owners are a poor match for the master of magic, who simply causes the device’s trigger to disappear! That’s a wonderfully clever and straightforward solution to the threat. However, his heroics are soon interrupted by an emergency call from…the hospital?? Apparently this Dr. Fate is a literal medical doctor, which was completely news to me. I always knew him as an archaeologist, but apparently, his earliest appearances had him sharing his fellow Justice Society member, Dr. Mid-Nite’s profession. Who knew? Surprisingly, what awaits the good doctor at the hospital is not your average case but an ailing alien! The strange-looking being telepathically communicates the mental message that “Earth is doomed!” The medical magician is left stunned, realizing that he must save this creature’s life, or its secret will die with it, and so may the Earth itself!
Meanwhile, our other heroic headliner is hanging out on a satellite above Earth 1, contemplating his magical misadventure from the previous issue. We find Superman lamenting the fact that he has two whole weaknesses in his otherwise invulnerable form. Boo-freaking-hoo, the poor sun-god is only mostly invulnerable! Just then, the morose Man of Steel hits upon the idea of seeking succor from one of his mystical allies and heads out to consult the Mistress of Magic, Zatanna. On the way, he casually disposes of a radioactive dust cloud by sucking it into his lungs and then blowing it into the sun. Yep, clearly he’s not powerful enough! Unfortunately, Zatanna tells the Action Ace that she can’t help him, because her father told her that “to know how our powers work would cause them to stop working!” Now, I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that just means that Zatarra didn’t feel like answering a young Zatanna’s questions…I do enjoy Zatanna just casually doing crazy magic as she talks to Supes, almost like she’s rubbing it in.
Having exhausted his options on Earth 1, Kal conceives of an alternative, and he goes to visit his other spell-slinging friend, Dr. Fate, on Earth 2. The Man of Tomorrow arrives just in time to help his fellow hero with his unusual patient, and mage teleports them to his tower and fills his guest in on the plot. Apparently this alien was just hanging out in the sky over a city and was struck by a plane (imagine being the pilot and trying to report that!). I suppose you’ve got to be prepared for things like this when you live in the DC Universe. The Arcane Avenger supernaturally scans his patient’s mind and discovers images of two landmarks, a Mayan temple and Stone Henge, and the heroes split up to investigate the mysterious threat facing the world.
Dr. Fate travels to the Mayan temple, only to discover another alien just “sitting” in the sky, meditating, and ignoring him. When the occult hero presses his case, the strange being casually causes the surrounding flora to grow and attack, and the wizardly warrior has to employ his magical might to escape from the plant-based peril, literally blowing up some one of the hungrier heinous herbs from the inside! It’s a nice little sequence, and Dillin renders it well. However, just when Fate is ready to grab his alien attacker, the being simply vanishes!
On the other side of the world, Superman doesn’t have much better luck in England, where the same pattern repeats itself, though with a giant formed from the ground itself in place of the sinister shrubbery that attacked his ally. The sand is too soft for the Man of Might’s blows to have much of an impact, so he tries a different tack, turning the entire colossus into glass with his heat vision, and shattering it with a powerful blow, another really cool sequence, with an honestly clever resolution. Yet, just as with Fate, the mysterious meditator vanishes when approached. What could these baffling beings be up to? Well, as the heroes prepare to regroup, they each encounter strangely sudden natural disasters, with Dr. Fate stopping a rampaging tidal wave and Superman saving a city from an unexpected volcanic eruption.
Comparing notes, the dauntless duo discover that the continents of Earth 2 are being drawn together, and the planet is heading towards an apocalyptic ending! Risking another probe of their injured alien, they discover that he was a member of the Buudak, the “high lamas” of an ancient race, who are seeking an interplanetary Nirvana, one that can only be found through the release of energies resulting from the destruction of the Earth! The heroes confront the alien trio as they prepare their final psychic attack, but both might and magic prove futile. In desperation, the dauntless dyad decide to combine their abilities, and Dr. Fate channels his preternatural power into the Metropolis Marvel, giving him mystical might to match his star-born strength.
The supercharged Superman is able to shrug off the alien’s attacks, smashing their psychic shield, and the terrible trio vanish as their own powers consume them. However, despite their defeat, the world is not yet saved, and the continents continue to converge! The master of magic reclaims his power and forges occult chains, and Superman hauls the rogue land masses back into place! The adventure ends with the world restored and with the Man of Might having decided that his vulnerability is for the best after all because…and see if you can follow this, he was only able to save the day because Fate’s magic could effect him…though one wonders just how often such a situation is going to arise. To be fair, the Kryptonian’s actual last thought makes more sense, as he notes that “a little humility is good even for a Superman.” That is almost certainly true, and in fact, I might say “especially good”.
Muddled moral aside, this was a pretty fun issue. Dr. Fate and Superman make for an unusual team, and it is interesting to see them in action together. They are in many ways opposites in terms of their powersets, with one being a physical juggernaut, while the other is a magical powerhouse. It’s a pairing that we don’t see too often, and I enjoyed the casual yet logical reason behind their team-up. Superman just happens to show up looking for answers, and he drops into an adventure already in progress. Good enough, and it makes the world of DC feel a bit more interconnected. The incredibly powerful alien lamas made for solid antagonists, though I would have liked to know a bit more about them. Their objective, spiritual enlightenment at all costs, is also an unusual one, adding an interesting twist on the standard ‘destroy the world’ plot, but their casual dismissal of the lives they’re about to destroy does raise some questions about their ethos! Our heroes’ efforts make for an entertaining and exciting tale, especially in the first half. Unfortunately, the final confrontation and climax aren’t as successful. Dillin makes the first challenges the team faces visually interesting and fun, especially Superman’s fight with the sand giant, but the last attack isn’t nearly as engaging, though it is serviceable enough. The real problem with this story, and it is a minor one, is that Dillin’s portrayal of that wonderfully dramatic moment from the cover just simply pales in comparison. It’s fairly uninspiring rather than the show-stopping scene it really should be. Still, if the worst you can say about a comic is that it has one moment that isn’t as impressive as its cover, then you’re not doing too badly! In the end, this is a really enjoyable adventure, if not quite as epic and memorable as the cover promised. I’ll give it a strong 4 Minutemen.
Well, with these three books, we have reached the end of December 1971, and an interesting end it is! This month saw quite a collection of comics, with few high highs but several quite low lows. Nonetheless, we had an unusual number of moderately high scoring books this month, with a lot of them earning 4 Minutemen, even if few scored higher. Overall, it was a fairly enjoyable month of comics, with several pleasant surprises along the way, including Action Comics, Adventure‘s new Zatanna backup, The Creeper’s guest spot, Superman‘s plankton-fueled panic, and more. There were a few real clunkers, though, with the master of madcap plots, Zaney Haney, turning in two terrible tales that even his insane energy can’t save. We’re seeing some books dragging, like Teen Titans, while others, like Jimmy Olsen have hopefully begun to recover, though Kirby’s 4th World work is so wild and uneven, there’s no promise of that. One thing is certain, both Zaney Haney and the King will have something unique and creative for us next month, whether it sinks or swims.
In terms of themes, this has been a fascinating month, with many a book aiming at a significance that its story can’t quite match. Nonetheless, there are some really interesting attempts to tackle heavier ideas in this batch of books, and the social relevance revolution is on full display. We’ve got obvious examples, like Green Lantern / Green Arrow, which attempted to address racism in O’Neil’s usual rather ham-handed fashion, but which did succeed in achieving some real importance by introducing John Stewart, a new black hero who would go on to become an excellent and worthwhile addition to the DC Universe. If his portrayal in this first appearance was rather one-note, his very existence was still rather remarkable. The Green Arrow backup also aimed at relevance, and with a fair amount of success too. That unusual ground that tale trod had to feel particularly revolutionary in 1971, with Ollie questioning how much good a superhero could actually do in light of the social problems plaguing the country. O’Neil’s attempts at verisimilitude and relevance are effective, if rather depressing.
Though the issues that percolate in the background of the story are vague and unexplored, the sense of unrest and tension fits with what we’ve been seeing in many of the other other books that have tried to take on such themes. In fact, we find that this idea has plenty of company this month. Interestingly, we see just that same vague sense of tension, especially among the youth, reflected in Justice League, where we meet an ersatz Jimi Hendrix. Of course, the most fascinating element in that story was its look at the plight of Vietnam veterans, though sadly it was given little more than a glimpse. This issue does recognize the power that music was playing in the counter-cultural movement, a concept which we also see show up in much more fantastic and strange fashion in Superman’s visit to the “discotheque.” Unfortunately, Jimi Hendrix never quite managed managed to rock hard enough to bring down a literal roof.
Nonetheless, we can see how much DC comics have changed in just a year, with so many different teams on so many different titles attempting to engage the tumultuous culture of their day to a degree that was much more rare when we started our journey. One of the most unexpected of these attempts was our backup Kid Flash tale, which featured another wealthy businessman as an antagonist, which is becoming a much more common trope, but which also focused, not on environmentalism as has already become common, but instead on nutrition. That really surprised me, showing up in 1971, as I think of that as a much more modern concern. Heck, I grew up in the 80s, where preservatives and all manner of additives in our super-processed food was just the norm! It’s the carcinogens that make it tasty!
Social relevance wasn’t the only connection to the real world that we saw in our books this month. We also got to see the first appearance of the Rutland Halloween Parade in DC Comics, which was quite entertaining, though that issue did have some problems with tone, combining the light-hearted fun with the heavy drama of holocaust survivors and escaped Nazi war criminals…real laugh-a-minute stuff! Despite its rather schizophrenic tone, it did manage to be an interesting and memorable issue. After all, it’s not every day you see Batman sharing the page with Thor and Spider-Man!
All-in-all, there were a lot of really entertaining reads this month, and we saw a lot of great art in the pages of our various books, even when the stories themselves weren’t quite as good. Pleasantly, even when the main tales tank, I find myself really enjoying several of our backups, like The World of Krypton, Rose and Thorn, and especially the new Zatanna feature. I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes out of that one. Despite its unevenness, I’m still excited about reading the rest of the 4th World as it develops. Though there are several runs that I find myself wishing would end, there is still plenty to be excited about. I wonder what next month will bring us!
Well, there’s only one way to find out! I hope that y’all will join me again soon(ish) for another edition of Into the Bronze Age! I’ll be posting a tribute to our fallen friend, Cyber Burn first, and I hope that y’all will join me for that as well and honor his memory. Until next time, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!
Hello folks, and welcome back to Into the Bronze Age! It’s an all-Super edition of our little project, featuring three different Super-centric titles! They are a very mixed bag of books, capturing the uneven, transitional nature of this part of the Bronze Age, all within the Superman Family. We’ve got some Silver Age-y silliness, along with some early bronze Age attempts at relevance. It’s quite the collection. So, without further ado, let’s see what Superman was up to this month!
(You can see everything published this month HERE)
Action Comics #407
Adventure Comics #413
Detective Comics #418
The Flash #211
Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87
Justice League of America #95
Mr. Miracle #5
Phantom Strange #16
Superman #246 (#245 was all reprints)
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #117
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144
Teen Titans #36
World’s Finest #208
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Cover Artist: Curt Swan “Prince of the Wolf-Pack!” Writer: Bob Haney Penciler: Bob Brown Inker: Murphy Anderson “Clark Kent, Madcap Millionaire!” Writer: Leo Dorfman Penciler: Bob Brown Inker: Murphy Anderson
Yikes, guys. So, the Superboy title has often been a slog in my project, a source of goofy and senseless stories, more farce than fun, but this is one of the sillier, dumber yarns we’ve yet encountered, at least if you’re not counting Superbaby stories! I’ve been watching this ridiculous cover getting closer in my book list, and I’ve almost been dreading it. The central image seems to promise a good deal of silliness, and I can’t say that my trepidation wasn’t justified. To be fair, the goofy cover image is entirely accurate about what lies within. Now, the idea of Superboy displaying animalistic qualities isn’t necessarily a bad one, and there’s no real reason that it couldn’t have produced an interesting and exciting visual. The trouble is that Swan doesn’t really go far enough to sell the idea. Superboy is running with a pack of wolves, but he just looks like Superboy hunched over in a stupid-looking pose rather than something really strange and mysterious. It is much more out of place than it is intimidating. Yet, as dumb as the cover image is, the story inside is worse. I suppose that should come as no surprise, as it’s penned by that master of literary madness, Bob Haney, and in this story, he just about out-Haney’s himself.
It begins with an alien probe crashing on the Moon and releasing a strange radiation. Meanwhile, Pa Kent hears a wolf howling in the night outside their farm and rushes outside to kill it, noting that wolves haven’t been seen in those parts in years. Unbeknownst to elder Kent, a malevolent looking man named Adrian Lykan (because the story is about wolves, see?) is watching him and plotting his destruction….for reasons! The same evening, Superboy is walking alone, spending a whole two seconds in introspection and wrestling with an angst that is instantly forgotten, when he is transformed by the mysterious alien probe. Except…not really. It takes away his super powers and replaces them with…wolf…powers, I guess? He doesn’t turn into a Super-were-boy or anything. He just hunches over and looks silly, like on the cover. He also apparently gains the power to telepathically communicate with the pack of wolves which is conveniently hanging out nearby. They accept him as their leader and run through town.
And here it gets even dumber. The Mayor and the other Smallville-ites immediately turn on Superboy because he’s running with the wolves and set out to kill him. Yep. They flat-out decide to murder their former hero with Kryptonite bullets (man everyone had some of that stuff back in the day), just because he’s acting strangely. Don’t bother to investigate or help the kid. Nope, just shoot him in the face. Well, while the terrible townsfolk gather the pitchforks and torches, Lykan sets his plan in motion. The evil man, who apparently likes being evil because he’s all evil and such, has decided to destroy the “most moral citizen” in Smallville, and that’s apparently Kent. Why does he want to do this? What does he hope to gain? Well, this is Zaney Haney, and he has no time for “logic” or “motivations”!
How does Lykan plan to destroy Kent? Is he going to use his magic powers to curse the upright man? Mind control him? Take his shape and frame him? No, don’t be silly. Instead, and try to follow me here, he poses as a contractor, gets Kent, as town treasurer, to hire him for a job, gets paid in cash by Kent who is in a hurry to help his son, fakes work papers for illegal Mexican laborers, brings them in to do the job, and then poses as someone else in an attempt to blackmail Kent about the whole business, setting him up as a patsy. Did you follow all that? If not, don’t worry; I’m sure you’re not alone, as it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And I haven’t even gotten to the mystical wolf-guardians yet. Hang on to your cape!
So, as Lykan’s plot is unfolding, the townsfolk hunt Superwolf and his pack and straight-up shoot the kid with a Kryptonite bullet. Fortunately, one of the Mexican workers saves him and takes out the bullet, and because he has lost his powers, the alien mineral doesn’t affect him. Lucky break, that. While he recovers, Pa Kent goes to get the unwittingly illegal immigrants and sets out to hide them away until he can sort things out. On the way, however, Lykan uses his magic to hijack the truck and drive it off a bridge, only for the workers to be rescued by the werewolf-wonder’s wolves. Who knew that one of a wolf’s abilities was super-swimming!
Meanwhile, Chief Parker arrests Kent because of the frame job against him, and the town brings in a wolf hunter who is actually Lykan in disguise…for reasons? He tracks and attacks Superboy, using magic AND a gun, which just seems like overkill, shooting the kid a second time! This is an unusually violent issue! The Lupine Marvel holds him off until his pack arrives and chases the warlock away. Just as Clark is about to die, the alien probe that conveniently gave him wolf powers even more conveniently shuts off, restoring his powers and saving his life. The pack slink off into the night, and we’re told that wolves, far from causing evil, apparently are secretly holy beings that show up to combat evil when it appears….somehow….for….reasons.
As Lady Grey said when I described this tangled mess of a tale, “Well, that certainly is a story…” That’s really about all you can say for it. It’s so silly, unnecessarily convoluted, and poorly developed that it almost defies description. It is a pretty perfect example of the negative side of Zaney Haney’s excesses. Yes, it is full of creative ideas and rapid-fire invention, but all of these new elements are lacking any sense of purpose or significance. We get a bizarre marriage of magic and science between the wolves, warlocks and rogue satellites, and it all moves at the speed of plot, with no effort to make any of it make sense. It’s just weird, silly, and unsatisfying. There’s nothing that justifies this story being a Superboy story, as even his powerset is swapped out for whatever the heck Haney wanted. You could plug almost any other character in here, and it would make as much (or as little) sense. The art is fine throughout, though Brown’s portrayal of Superwolf is just goofy looking. It would even have been more effective for him to have actually physically transformed. That also could have helped justify the townspeople’s insane reaction to his change. I’ll give this bizarre yarn a single sad Minuteman, as it really has nothing to recommend it, lacking even the exuberant fun of many of Haney’s crazy stories.
P.S.: Interestingly, the letters column includes a fascinating and mysterious missive (bottom of left column), in which the writer complains about Superboy’s excessive happiness and lack of angst and suggests the addition of a supporting character with some horrific type of hang-up, the details of which the editors refuse to print, citing the Comics Code. One can’t help but wonder what kind of tragic issue or scandalous story was suggested. Notably, the editor’s reply offers an argument that I generally find quite compelling, citing the need for escapism and joy in comics. Given the nature of this cover story, however, I find myself wishing that such efforts would nonetheless acquire a bit more quality and craftsmanship, in addition to their search for the strange and whimsical!
“Clark Kent: Madcap Millionaire”
Our backup tale is not as dumb as the headliner, but it is still rather silly and very Silver Age-y. This story revolves around an almost unknown relative of the Kents, a rich uncle (doesn’t everyone have one?), who I thought had been conjured ex nihilo in the style of Bob Haney. Yet, this random guy has actually shown up exactly one other time that I can discover, in Superboy #119. According to the DC Database, he will have one more appearance, in Superman Family #191, years later. At any rate, this Kendall is fabulously wealthy, but he has no children, and he is trying to bribe Clark to into letting him adopt the extraterrestrial orphan. After all, that is clearly the only logical solution to his situation. Heaven forbid he, I don’t know, adopt any other kid who needs a family.
Well, despite the fact that the Kents are sure that Clark won’t pay any attention to the wealth Kendall can give him, the young man suddenly becomes very enthusiastic and jumps into a fancy sports car….which he then proceeds to crash directly into a wall. Surviving the fiery explosion uninjured somehow doesn’t give away his secret identity, and the rather battered Boy of Steel turns on his parents and accepts his uncle’s offer. What is this? Superboy acting out of character? Yep, you guessed it, this story is a prime example of Superdickery, and as usual, an unjustified and silly one at that.
Clark gets up to various other antics, but it doesn’t take us long to discover his reasons for acting like a spoiled rich kid. While scuba diving in his uncle’s private lake, he rips open the old man’s raft, sending him careening to the shore, and then blows up the dam with his oxygen tank (which seems unlikely, even by comic logic). It turns out that the raft was full of poison gas, and if his uncle had fallen in when it deflated, he would have died. Uncle Kendall’s lawyer, Larry Frane, is the only other character we meet, and he tries to convince the old man not to adopt Clark. Gee, I wonder who the villain of the piece could be? Yep, the lawyer is essentially Checkov’s Mouthpiece.
It all comes to a head when Clark sees the lawyer plotting another deathtrap for Kendall, this one involving a strategically weakened railroad trestle. The Boy of Tomorrow swoops in and catches the larcenous lawyer in a trap of his own devising in a scene that looks for all the world like he is crushing the poor guy to death. Look at the terror on Frane’s face! After dealing with the death-threat, the Smallville Superhero confesses to his parents that he had discovered Frane’s fiendishness on that first day and had wrecked the car because it had a bomb in it. He pretended to be a spoiled brat to protect his uncle…because that was the only way. Sure. Let’s not forget that he kept up this charade when he spoke to his parents in private. So, essentially, our hero emotionally tortured his parents for no good reason. Yay?
This is a fairly silly story, featuring a mostly unprecedented rich relative who is just a plot device, and a ‘barely there’ premise so thin you can just about see through it. This type of story is not my favorite at the best of times, but this particular example annoys me because it doesn’t make much effort to justify itself. Nobody has any personality or development, and our hero’s actions aren’t really justified. The art is quite good throughout, but it can’t save a sub-par story. I’ll give this one 2 Minutemen. It’s weak, but not as weird and wacky as our headliner.
Cover Artists: Curt SwanMurphy Anderson “Danger–Monster At Work!” Writer: Len Wein Penciler: Curt Swan Inker: Murphy Anderson Editor: Julius Schwartz The Fabulous World of Krypton: “Marriage, Kryptonian Style!” Writer: Cary Bates Penciler: Rich Buckler Inker: Murphy Anderson Editor: Julius Schwartz “There Is No Superman!” Writer: Jerry Siegel Inker: Stan Kaye Editors: Whitney Ellsworth, Jack Schiff, Mort Weisinger, and Julius Schwartz
Well, if our Superboy issue was a disappointment, our flagship title might help make it up to us. Len Wein gives us an adventure that makes sense and has at least a little logical consistency, unlike our first two tales. Interestingly, although we have a classic example of a Superdickery cover here, the tale within is nothing of the sort. It’s a classic bait and switch, with our hero being a complete jerk on our cover in a fashion that has only the slenderest connection to his actual actions. The cover itself is solid enough, though not too much more than that. The blob-like monster’s destructive rampage is well-depicted, and Superman’s inexplicable disinterest could intrigue readers. The contrast makes for an odd and entertaining tableau.
Our actual headline tale begins in the middle of a thunderstorm, as our titular Superman dives deep down into the Marianas Trench in a rather nice sequence. He has come to collect samples of algae and plankton, and after a clam-related calamity, he resurfaces in time to lend aid to a ship swamped by the storm. In a fun little moment, a somewhat chagrined Superman berates himself for letting the clam catch him, thinking “Aquaman would never let himself get trapped by a giant clam!” I found that a charming touch, and it’s nice to see Clark being a bit more introspective and fallible in this small way.
Back on the surface, it turns out that the Man of Tomorrow was gathering the samples for the minds of tomorrow. That’s right, this is the first appearance of the organization that was fast to become a fixture of the DCU, S.T.A.R. Labs! That’s fun, and I’ve been wondering when it would show up. Interestingly, it isn’t given much fanfare or attention, just being used as a bit of set-dressing. I’m curious how long it will take before this perennial source of heroic support and mad-science threats will become ubiquitous in the pages of DC Comics.
Whatever lies in its future, at the moment S.T.A.R. has sent Superman to fetch samples from the depths of the ocean in the hopes that they will be the key to designing an organic pollution solution, an engineered algae that will assess corrupt matter and clean it automatically. Surely that could never go catastrophically wrong, right? Well, after dropping off the samples, the Metropolis Marvel returns home, and Wein gives us a lot of little character moments throughout these opening pages, providing more characterization and personality in 5 pages than we got in the entirety of our previous comic. As part of that, we get a charming moment where Clark drops in to check on his elderly, ailing neighbor. His doing so also opens the door to a rather odd subplot in the story, as he hears about a group of his neighbors who are arming themselves and forming a vigilante committee because the streets have become dangerous. Mr. Mild Mannered makes the case that they shouldn’t take the law into their own hands, which is deeply ironic considering what he does in his free time. If you’re wondering what this has to do with deep-sea algae, well, you’re not alone.
Speaking of Superman’s samples, back at the lab, a scientist makes a breakthrough in his experiments with it but accidentally drops several beakers into the sink, sending the mad-science mixture into the sewers! Later on, the Man of Steel goes for a patrol in the still-raging storm, and we get a very interesting panel in the style of Kirby’s experiments with combining photos and drawings, as our hero flies through a city-scape. I think this is more successful than most I’ve seen, as Swan and Anderson manage to merge the two images a bit more effectively than is usually the case. During his patrol, the Last Son of Krypton discovers a strange gelatinous monster rise from the sewer and threaten civilians, but when he pursues it, he discovers that it is actually cleaning the sewers as it goes! Thinking that this thing could do the city some good, he decides to just try to drive it through the sewers before disposing of it. It works like a charm, for a little while, and then the green growth suddenly explodes into the street and begins to devour all in its path, not just pollution!
Superman finds this creature to be a difficult foe, as he can’t seem to hurt it, despite his great strength, and it constantly oozes out of his grip. Finally, he strikes upon an idea and creates a whirlwind to suck the ooze into the ozonosphere, where he reasons the oxygen-rich environment will weaken it, as “no organism alive can survive in the poisons of its own waste products,” and since this creature gives off oxygen, oxygen should presumably be the one thing it can’t process. The Man of Steel’s skyward gambit pays off, and the creature is weakened enough for him to bind it in plastic and return it to S.T.A.R. Labs for study (I’m sure they’ll keep it safe and definitely not endanger the city with their further experiments…). Oddly, the story ends, not with our hero’s success, but with his return to his apartment, where the gun-toting yahoos we met earlier have managed to accidentally shoot an innocent bystander. Superman speeds his wounded neighbor to the hospital and says “I told you so” to a now chastened group of vigilantes who, for some reason, aren’t being arrested for shooting someone!
This is really a solid story, not exceptional or earth-shattering, but a good, entertaining yarn that presents our hero with an interesting challenge and manages to provide a bit of characterization and some fun moments along the way. Wein provides a logic for everything that happens, and it all feels like a good Superman adventure, with the hero faced with an opponent he can’t merely overpower. Wein comes up with a clever solution to this problem, and even better, the solution makes sense, in a comic-science kind of way. The little touches, like the episode with the clam, or a moment where the blob steals a smoker’s cigarette are fun and help to make this tale more than just a standard monster-mash. The only real flaw is the completely unconnected subplot about armed vigilantes. It receives almost no attention and has absolutely no impact on the main plot, making it feel out of place. The art, for its part, is quite good throughout, with Swan and Anderson doing a really nice job with the somewhat dim, rainy setting that is found throughout the story. It gives this tale an unusually moody, atmospheric feel for a Superman yarn. Overall, this is a fine, fun comic, and worth an above average 4 Minutemen. It’s a pleasant relief from the silly stories of our first book in this batch.
“Marriage, Kryptonian Style”
Once again, the World of Krypton backup proves to be an interesting and entertaining slice of sci-fi to complement our feature story. This issue’s offering is rather intriguing, considering how the interpretation of Krypton will change in coming years. It is all about a rather surprisingly dystopian concept for the pre-Crisis version of Krypton, a massive computer, Matricomp, that controls who can marry who. It isn’t quite as dark as such concepts usually are these days, as people are not normally paired together arbitrarily or without their consent. Instead, they form their own relationships and merely come to the computer to see if they are compatible for marriage. It is such a journey that young Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van undertake, but when they present themselves to the machine, it does not give them an immediate answer, which is unusual. Jor remains sanguine, but Lara is worried, and as it turns out, rightfully so!
The next day, she is approached by an attendant from the computer complex named Anr-Mu (and I can’t wrap my head around how to pronounce that!), who informs her that the device found her and Jor-El incompatible and their marriage has been forbidden. She refuses to give up and goes to question the computer, only for Matricomp to tell her that the only man on the planet with whom she is compatible is Anr. What a coincidence! Clearly nothing nefarious going on here! Lara doesn’t take kindly to being paired up with a stranger, but Anr tries to hypnotize her, only to be interrupted by the timely intervention of Jor-El. However, the fighting scientist’s attack is easily shrugged off, and Anr takes a pacified Lara away.
Fortunately, though Jor may lack his future-son’s super strength, he’s still a very smart guy, and he manages to solve the mystery behind these strange events. He confronts Matricomp with the revelation that the computer is actually the cause of his troubles. Apparently, the great machine, being wholly devoted to shepherding love, has become enamored with the idea of love itself. It created an android, Anr-Mu, and through him sought to experience love for itself. After handily explaining its plot, the corrupted computer tries to crispy-fry its challenger with an electrical burst. Yet once again the great scientist proves his brilliance, having worn rubber clothing that protects him from the zap. Thwarted, Matricomp commits synthetic suicide, blowing itself up, but Jor manages to escape and reunite with Lara, free to create their own destiny.
This is a good little backup tale, with an interesting premise that is a curious glimpse of a more dystopian version of Krypton, something similar to the sterile, dehumanized world that John Byrne would conjure in the next decade. Bates delivers a quick but complete adventure in these 8 pages, with an intriguing addition to the mythos. I have rather enjoyed these tales that feature a two-fisted version of Jor-El. It reminds me of the glimpses we get of the more heroic version of the character from Superman: TAS. I’ll give this solid backup a strong 4 Minutemen.
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane
“S.O.S. – from Tomorrow!” Writer: Robert Kanigher Penciler: Werner Roth Inker: Vince Colletta Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell Lady Danger: “The Needle in the Haystack!” Penciler: Carmine Infantino Inker: Carmine Infantino Rose and the Thorn: “The Ghost with Two Faces!” Writer: Robert Kanigher Penciler: Rich Buckler Inker: Dick Giordano
Love must be in the air…along with mind control. This month we learned about marriage, “Kryptonian Style,” and we also get an issue of Lois Lane where the relationship between Superman and our headlining heroine is a bit more developed and overt than we usually see. More importantly, it’s a story with an intriguing premise and setting that doesn’t quite live up to its potential, once again displaying Kanigher’s active imagination and somewhat uneven writing. However, if the tale itself isn’t everything it could be, the cover is pretty spectacular. Roth delivers a really striking image, inviting us into the disorientation of our stars as they stare at a world “turned upside-down!” It’s a nice piece, and Roth has added a lot of detail to the topsy-turvy terrain, as well as two of his traditional beautifully drawn figures. It’s a great piece and very effective. Unfortunately, it’s rather more exciting than the story it heralds.
The actual adventure begins with some unseen figure sending a message in a bottle, only for it to be struck by lightning and hurled through time! That’s an intriguing opening, but back in the ‘present,’ Morgan Edge is chewing out his two top reporters, Clark Kent and Lois Lane, because it is a slow news day, which I’m sure makes for just dynamite leadership. Interestingly, once they leave he opens a secret screen on his desk and gazes at…himself! The multiple Morgan mystery remains, but it won’t be solved this issue. Meanwhile, Lois hits the town trying to find a story, but everything is quite, other than the silent struggle of the drug epidemic and its cost, but as a cynical doctor says, that is hardly front page material at this point. With nothing newsworthy happening, Superman drops in to take Lois out on a date, and they share a romantic afternoon, which is a little strange to me, as I’m more used to a Superman who keeps Lois a bit more at arm’s length, but this is the same era that gave us that bonkers book with Superman having a family dinner with his wife and son while in full costume. Anyway, during the date, Lois finds our time-traveling letter in a bottle, and it is an S.O.S. from 2196…the future!
The pair decide to investigate this mysterious missive, and they travel to a future divided between two classes, the “Upmen” and the “Downmen”. Apparently the “Upmen” seized control of the world through “tle,” a powerful drug that keeps the lower class subservient and docile. Those who refuse to be drugged are hunted down like dogs, and it is in the middle of such a hunt that our heroes arrive. The Man of Steel easily protects a group of the down-trodden Downmen from their upper-class oppressors, but once the powers that be see his strength, they offer a truce and a tour of their world. The time-tossed twosome are treated to a feast, only to be drugged with tle. In a welcome if not entirely effective sop to logic, we’re told that this drug is alien in origin, and Superman theorizes that it must have originated on a planet with a red sun, explaining its ability to affect him. I can accept an alien drug affecting him, but the plant coming originally from a world with a red sun makes no real sense, of course. It’s not like the current crop has “red sun radiation” in it or anything.
Dubious story logic aside, our drugged protagonists then face a rather odd adventure. They are made pliant by tle and sent to hunt the Downmen hiding in the woods, with an objective set for a tower on the other side of the forest, but they just sort of wander through the undergrowth on a high for a while. Then the substance wears off, and they face terrible withdrawals, including bizarre hallucinations. Finally, they reach the tower, and Lois refuses to stay behind, which is brave and all, but a little silly considering that we’re talking about Superman. What exactly does she think she’s going to contribute to this little assault?
The tower defenders shoot them with gas which messes with their equilibrium, as we saw on the cover, but seeing as the Metropolis Marvel regularly flies around the world, this isn’t really all that effective. With a rather odd looking kick, the literal Man of Tomorrow smashes the tower and captures the Upmen, finally leading their downtrodden slaves in burning the tle fields before returning home.
So, I’m guessing this is Kanigher’s attempt at an anti-drug story, following in the footsteps of O’Neil’s recent groundbreaking Green Arrow/Green Lantern yarn. It’s less focused and less successful, though the depiction of withdrawal symptoms is interesting, and it is certainly unusual for Superman, of all characters, to be the one depicted as strung-out. The central anti-drug message is obscured by the trappings of the future setting, including the fact that the drug is mandatory rather than being a temptation. The plot is also a bit confusing and contradictory, with our heroes being drugged and sent to hunt the Downmen, only to just sort of wander about, with the tower made their objective, but also being forbidden….it’s odd and doesn’t quite make sense. What exactly is the Upmen’s plan here? It’s still an enjoyable story, with some nice action beats that work better than some of Roth’s earlier efforts. In general, his art is excellent throughout. As odd as it is to see the Man of freaking Steel paddling a canoe in the park, Roth really does great work with the romance elements of his stories. Yet, his portrayal of the withdrawal scene works okay too, though the melodrama is turned up to 11. In the end, this is an odd, uneven, and rather poorly thought-out offering on the drug question, though it isn’t a bad read. I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen, as the adventure is serviceable, even if the themes don’t get developed properly.
The Ghost with Two Faces
As has often been the case, our Rose and Thorn backup blows the headliner away, delivering a good, solid adventure story with some neat touches. It begins with the clueless young Rose watching footage of her alter-ego, the Thorn, taking out some bank robbers in a really cool sequence that actually makes it look believable that this lovely lady could take out an entire group of lethal gunsels. That night, Rose dreams of a strange house, inside of which lies a mystery she must solve. When she leaves for vacation the next day, she actually discovers the house from her dreams and rents it, even though it is supposedly haunted. In a clever touch, the girl receives a Thorn costume in the mail and is confused by it, though readers realize it clearly must have been sent by her other personality, as her innocent side obviously wouldn’t have packed it for her vacation. I like that attention to detail.
By day Rose bathes on the lonely beach by her rented house, but by night, the Baleful Beauty takes over, and she stalks the sands, searching for a kidnapped newspaper publisher and his wife. Although a night-traveling naturalist manages to snap a photo of her, the Nymph of Night runs her quarry to ground, and in another really nice sequence, she takes out the kidnap gang and frees their prisoners. The next day, Rose is startled to discover that the “ghost” of the house has been captured on camera, and it is none other than the Vixen of Vengeance herself, the Thorn!
This is a fun, fast-paced tale, with a surprising amount of personality packed into its few pages. The story clearly doesn’t take long to summarize, and yet it was a good read. My only complaint is that the dream about the house is a bit ambiguous. Are we supposed to understand that the Thorn was already working on the case, and she wanted Rose to use the house as a base? It doesn’t actually play any role in the plot, other than putting her in the vicinity of the kidnappers. We also don’t really get time to develop any of the story’s elements very much, but Kanigher keeps the plot simple enough that it doesn’t need too much more space. Nonetheless, this action-packed adventure made for an enjoyable yarn. This month we’ve got Rich Buckler taking over the art chores, but Dick Giordano is still inking, and the pair of them make for a heck of a team. The art is gorgeous and atmospheric, really nicely suited to the character. The action looks particularly good, and Buckler’s layouts are really dynamic. I know Buckler mostly from his work on Fantastic Four, which is good, but I think the work he does here is even better. Interestingly, though he did both this and the Krypton story from this month, they look pretty different. I guess that’s the impact an inker can have, and I think Anderson is often rather heavy-handed, to create more continuity with Swan’s work. Whatever the case with the art anomalies, I’ll give this fun romp a solid 4 Minutemen.
Well, that does it for our Super-story-extravaganza! And a very mixed bag of Kryptonian hi jinks it was. We had some solid yarns and some intensely silly ones, featuring social issues from pollution to drugs. Nonetheless, I had a good time reading them, especially given the darkness of the day. I hope that my coverage of these comics has been a pleasant diversion for y’all, dear readers! I also hope that you’ll join me again soon (hopefully!), when we’ll finish up this month and continue our journey Into the Bronze Age! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!
Welcome back to our voyage into the Bronze Age! Once again life has intervened and rather spectacularly ruined my plans for a quicker turn around on this little feature. Things have been difficult here in the Greylands, though I suppose that they are indeed difficult in most places these days. For those of you that pray, I’d appreciate your prayers. We are physically and materially okay, but we are feeling rather worn-down by life at the moment, and there may be more difficult challenges on our horizon. Here’s hoping that 2021 may yet bring us all brighter days.
However, when life gets you down, there are few better escapes than the wonderful world of superhero comics, especially this particularly exuberant variety from the Bronze Age, so let us see what strange marvels the next bit of this month holds for us!
(You can see everything published this month HERE)
Action Comics #407
Adventure Comics #413
Detective Comics #418
The Flash #211
Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87
Justice League of America #95
Mr. Miracle #5
Phantom Strange #16
Superman #246 (#245 was all reprints)
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #117
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144
Teen Titans #36
World’s Finest #208
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Justice League of America #95
Cover Artists: Neal Adams
“The Private War of Johnny Dune!” Writer: Mike Friedrich Penciler: Dick Dillin Inker: Joe Giella Editor: Julius Schwartz
“How He Began”: Dr. Mid-Nite Writer: Charles Reizenstein Artist: Stan Aschmeier
“The Origin of…Doctor Fate” Writer: Gardner Fox Artist: Howard Sherman
We’ve got a very interesting story to kick off this set of comics, a tale that wholeheartedly steers into the relevance push of the early Bronze Age, combining a number of different contemporary issues in its plot. The result is a story that is rather fascinating as a representative of its era, even if the plot itself leaves something to be desired. The tale has a solid, if unexceptional cover. Adams’ rendering of our titular antagonist, Johnny Dune, is colorful and interesting, even if he is just wearing “normal” clothes. Well….normal is a relative term in the 70s. Let’s just say that he’s not wearing a costume. The piece captures the basic idea of the conflict, with Johnny having hypnotized the League. I do enjoy the miniature figure of the Tiny Titan trotting along at his feet. It’s not the most exciting of covers, but it does its job and sets the stage reasonably well.
And the show that plays upon that stage begins, not with our titular antagonist Johnny himself, but with Batman and Aquaman preparing to teleport up to the JLA Satellite, only to be scooped up by Superman, who dramatically declares that he is trying to prevent their deaths! In a two-page spread that gives us a nice cross-section of the Satellite, he transports the heroes to their headquarters, and we discover that Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman disappeared in some type of teleporter disaster. Fortunately, the world’s greatest detective is on the case!
Meanwhile, we are introduced to the young man from the cover, Johnny Dune, a Vietnam veteran returning home to a country that doesn’t want him. We learn that he fought in several battles of that terrible war, eventually getting wounded and facing certain death at the hands of advancing North Vietnamese troops. In a moment of agony and anger, he cried out for them to stop, and strangely enough, they did. Thus Johnny Dune discovered that he was a mutant with the power to control people with his voice. Despite his newfound power, the young man finds nothing but closed doors and rather unnecessarily discouraging “No Help Wanted!” signs when he returns home. Really, I don’t think it’s necessary to advertise that you don’t have any jobs available. It’s usually the other way around. It’s also interesting that the comic uses the word “mutant”, as you don’t tend to see that term show up as often at DC, given its association with Marvel. Of course, at this point, the original X-Men title had been cancelled, and we were still years away from the beginning of Chris Claremont’s legendary run.
Next, we jump forward in time and join Green Arrow and the Atom as they perform an exhibition for a youth event. And it turns out that they are the opening act for…Johnny Dune, who has become a successful musician. That’s a sharp turn! We jump back and see that the rising star had approached one of the city’s political bosses, wanting to run for mayor (man, there must be something in the air; everyone’s getting into politics in the DCU!). Johnny is dedicated to addressing the somewhat vague social problems plaguing the city, including poverty, drugs, and violence. He warns that the kids are restless and angry but promises that he can calm things down, thanks to his star power. The rocker offers to play free concerts to help cool the situation off, only to be betrayed by the wheelers and dealers afterward.
In revenge, Johnny uses his power to hypnotize his current crowd into following him, as he leads them, Pied Piper style, out of the city. When the Emerald Archer and the Six-Inch Super-Sleuth try to stop him, the would-be musical messiah sics his audience on them. The heroes hold their own for a while, but get taken out by one random big dude, the first of many unimpressive showings by our heroes in this issue. You know, Ollie getting his lumps from an average guy is one thing, but the Atom getting casually taken out by a backhand is something else. I suppose that’s often how his stories go, though. No-one can touch the shrinking superhero…until the plot requires it.
Well, our pummeled protagonists manage to get off a distress call, just as Batman has solved the mystery of their teammates’ disappearances.. The Dark Knight theorizes that the trio intercepted a Zeta-Beam and got zapped to Rann, a theory proven a moment later, as Green Lantern manages to contact the team with a distress call of his own. The team splits up, with Superman headed to space to succor the heroes on Rann, while Batman and Black Canary take the Batjet to aid their other allies. In a cool moment, Aquaman is the one who takes charge and makes the plan. Its coolness is counteracted, however, by the fact that he decides to stay on the Satellite and coordinate things….for no particular reason. This is the last time he shows up in the story. So, why was he included in the first place?
The Gotham Guardian and the Bird Lady parachute into the fray, immediately beset by Dune’s disciples. Fortunately for them, they are so focused on their fighting, that they resist his voice, but then he sics his captive heroes on them, and the new comers just…let their teammates pummel them. We get a line about how they can’t bring themselves to fight, but this isn’t a life and death matter yet, so that just seems like another cop-out. With all the Leagures lassoed, our generic Jimi Hendrix heads down the highway, his brainwashed followers behind him.
Yet, along the way, Dune begins to lose control, and some of the kids start wrecking fences. When the musician can’t stop them, he sends Green Arrow to deal with the troublemakers. At first the Ace Archer can’t resist his commands, but in a moment when his captor is distracted by the chaos, the hero seizes his chance. Stopping up his ears, Odysseus-style, the Battling Bowman use a “suction cup arrow” to shut the singer’s trap, then clobbers him. This breaks the spell, and the kids run wild. So the heroes….bravely beat up a bunch of teenagers…? Yep, and even more oddly, Friedrich’s overblown narration plays it as a moment of great heroism.
But none of this is what Johnny Dune wanted, so seeing the destruction his former disciples are dishing-out, he frees himself and commands the crowd to turn their anger on him, instead. They beat him to within an inch of his life, somehow exorcising their rage in the process, and then just wandering off. Friedrich gives us a fake-out then, with Dune supposedly dying, only to be revealed to have survived on the next page. Ohh, the suspense? Apparently the battering he suffered somehow removed his powers, and the League and the law just kind of let him wander off to pursue his political career, despite having kidnapped hundreds of people with his hypnotic voice. Man, the authorities in Generictown sure are forgiving!
So, this is quite a comic. “Touch-feely Friedrich” is writing in his usual style, so the melodrama is cranked up, especially in his narration. Despite that, the tale is full of fascinating elements, as Friedrich stretches and strains for as much relevance as he can cram into the pages. In fact, it’s over-full, positively stuffed with different concepts, all fighting for space. We start with a returning Vietnam veteran, something rare enough in comics of this era, but even more so, Friedrich includes a nod to the difficulties such soldiers faced when coming home, the lack of opportunity and cultural hostility that greeted them. Larry Hama and other (better) writers would later deal with these themes more successfully in the 80s, when the events weren’t quite so present and time, perhaps, allowed for greater clarity and perspective.
Nonetheless, this is a really interesting moment, something that we have not seen very often in this era. In general, it seems DC books were largely ignoring the war and its consequences at this point. Yet, it isn’t just the plight of the veterans that fills the pages of this issue, as we also have other social problems providing background for the ill-defined unrest of the youth, the rage and disaffection which were still reverberating through the culture. Interestingly, there’s no mention of the anti-war movement, which would have been a natural fit for Johnny’s origins and a focus for the otherwise directionless anger of the kids in this story. Friedrich introduces the issue of returning veterans, and then he immediately moves on from it.
That is indicative of one of the major problems with this issue, as it’s a rather jumbled and discordant mix of different elements. As the plot develops, none of the interesting components of Johnny’s backstory actually have any impact on the direction of the story, other than his power and the fact that he was a musician. His military background, his inability to find a job (which is, itself, immediately undercut by the fact that we jump to him as a famous rock star), or his involvement in a neighborhood gang. None of these facets of his origin seem to actually color who he becomes or the choices he makes in the end. We’re given an intriguing hint that he was twisted by his experience in Vietnam, having become inured to violence, but though he displays a willingness to hurt the Leaguers, we don’t really see that come into play, not even in his moment of crisis and self-sacrifice. That’s disappointing because there is a ton of potential in this story’s setup. Speaking of his grand gesture, that also feels a little underwhelming, as it just feels unnecessary. Why does he have to turn their rage against himself? Why does that free them? Because plot? To make matters worse, our heroes are wholly unimpressive throughout. After all, they really don’t do much, other than occasionally beat up some kids, and or get their heads handed to them by random civilians.
Interestingly, the popular and influential, though troubled Johnny Dune, seems to be based on Jimi Hendrix to some degree, especially in the flashy style of clothes he wears throughout the adventure. Friedrich mentions Hendrix by name in his narration, and the real-life star himself had died recently, in 1970. Interestingly, Hendrix himself had been in the army, though he was discharged before seeing active service.
On the art front, this issue is solid, but not exceptional. There are definitely some of those stiff and awkward poses that characterize Dillin’s work on the book, he also does some great storytelling, bringing a lot of personality to Johnny, and giving us some nice moments throughout. All-in-all, this comic is more interesting in premise than in practice. It’s a fairly underwhelming story that can’t quite seem to decide what it’s doing. It’s still an engaging read, and it is fun to see an obvious Jimi Hendrix proxy captivating the DC Universe. I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen, as it more or less breaks even.
P.S.: Another fascinating feature of this issue is that its letter column contains correspondence from not one, but two future comics professionals! That’s right, we’ve got letters from both Mark Gruenwald and future DC Answer Man, Bob Rozakis, which is pretty cool! As you’ll see, they had rather different opinions about the work DC in general, and Friedrich in particular, were doing. I suppose that’s why Gruenwald ended up working for Marvel! However, I have to say, I think the young curmudgeon has some pretty good points in his letter, especially about the disappointing lack of supervillains in these pages. I’m curious if his math is right. It sounds pretty accurate, and we certainly have seen more than our share of alien menaces in this book since we’ve started this project, haven’t we?
Mr. Miracle #5
“Murder Machine!” Writer: Jack Kirby Penciler: Jack Kirby Inker: Mike Royer Editor: Jack Kirby
“Young Scott Free” Writer: Jack Kirby Penciler: Jack Kirby Inker: Mike Royer
Boy Commandos: “The Invasion of America” Writer: Jack Kirby Penciler/Inker: Joe Simon
Well, if our Justice League story this month is a bit of a disappointment, the wonderful madness of Kirby’s Fourth World can make it up to us. In this issue, the King treats us to another delightful outing for the world’s only super-escape artist. It has a pretty good cover, continuing the pattern of our hapless hero being held helpless while being threatened by wonderfully exaggerated perils. The dangerous device isn’t as creative and outre as some of the previous entries, but I love the ridiculous variety of menaces it includes. There’s a missile labelled A-Bomb, as if you would need anything other than that, as well as a knife, an axe, and a flamethrower, which is helpfully labelled for our convenience. It’s entertainingly silly and excessive. As an added bonus, this cover is a pretty honest depiction of the devilish threat that awaits our hero within.
Our adventure begins with Big Barda, in her rather skimpy attire from the end of the last issue, performing her daily exercises to the delight of a group of workmen who have come to deliver a cannon for Scott Free’s act. In a fun and honestly funny scene, she puts all of the admiring apes to shame as she casually rips the massive cannon free from its lashings and tots it away on her shoulder. Kirby’s narration in this section, and really throughout the issue, is a bit weird and on the nose: “See Big Barda! See how she exercises! Big Barda is tough! Big Barda is incredibly strong! Big Barda comes from Apokolips!” Has he suddenly turned into Dr. Seuss? Despite that, the dialog for this opening scene is entertaining and natural….unfortunately, that doesn’t really last.
Yet, while Barda is making the menfolk feel inferior, we are introduced to Vermin Vundabar, the pint-sized Pinochet, who we learn has modeled his appearance and attitude after the rigorous military discipline and efficiency of the Prussian army of the 19th century. He’s been sent to Earth by Granny Goodness to kill Scott, and with the help of one of his henchmen, he’s testing a death trap. In a nicely effective scene, the trap backfires, injuring his minion, all while Vundabar coldly looks on. Then, he casually executes the fellow for having failed him! It’s a very effective introduction to the character, and Kirby puts a ton of personality into the little dictator in every panel.
Meanwhile, Scott and Oberon are trying out their newest act, which involves Mr. Miracle being strapped to a cannon as it fires! Man, ‘ol Scott doesn’t do things by half measures, doe she? But as they are occupied with their preparations, Barda is ambushed by some of Vundabar’s troops, and though she gives a good account of herself, she’s captured. Fortunately, Mr. Miracle is able to escape his bonds before he gets bisected by a cannonball, and he sets out to rescue the captured Female Fury.
Arriving at Vundabar’s headquarters, the heroic Houdini is greeted by a video of his antagonist before being trapped in a “titanium coffer” and locked into place on a conveyor belt of death! The coffer is then subjected to a host of horrible attacks, including battering, blasting, zapping, and finally…melting! Then, in a great moment, as Vundabar and his lackeys laugh and gloat about having caught and killed the world’s greatest escape artist, who should show up behind them but Mr. Miracle himself!
It’s a fun reveal, and he shares with them (and us) how he escaped by using his boot jets to cut through the floor and burrowed underground, which is a fairly satisfying explanation. Kirby specifically tells us that Vundabar’s cameras were focused on the front of the trap, so they didn’t pick up the hole in the conveyor belt. In another entertaining touch, while the gathered goons question him, Scott uses those same boot lasers to literally cut the floor out from under them. I’m not quite sure how that worked without them noticing, but it is a fun moment, so I’ll just roll with it. Our tale ends with Scott scooping up the weakened Barda and the pair flying off into the sunset.
This is an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable issue. Kirby’s plotting is fun and action-packed, though his dialog and especially his narration is just plain odd in places. This is particularly noticeable in some of the unnecessarily vague and unclear descriptions of Apokolips. Despite that, there are moments of genuine humor and charm, and Kirby really seems to have a good sense of his characters. Vundabar is introduced well and given plenty of unique color and a strong personality. I love the way he doesn’t even bat an eye as his henchman literally explodes behind him. Of course, the premise is pretty wacky, but it works in the wild world of comics. Why would a New God from Apokolips model himself after Prussians from Earth? Because Earth is the center of the universe, apparently! I suppose since Darkseid is convinced that humans have the Anti-life Equation, it would make sense for his forces to turn their attention to our little orb.
Anyway, the central threat of the issue is visually interesting and exciting, and Scott’s escape is relatively satisfying. Kirby’s art is great and energetic throughout, but he also does an excellent job of capturing the emotion and personality of his characters, like Scott’s fear for Oberon while the hero himself is strapped to the cannon. I think we’re seeing the benefits of having a better inker. At any rate, I’ll give this enjoyable outing 4 Minutemen. As much fun as it is, it’s good, not great, with enough little flaws to keep it from a higher score.
P.S.: This issue had an odd little moment that confused and intrigued me, and I can’t quite decide how I feel about it. When Scott confronts Vundabar at the end, the villain accuses the hero of ‘cheating’ and using a technological trick to escape his trap. Mr. Miracle replies that “even in the ‘crunch’ I play it fair — and you know it!” So, this implies that Scott has access to technology and powers that he refuses to use out of some sense of fair play…when the forces of a personification of pure evil are trying to kill him… I find this simultaneously utterly stupid and tremendously entertaining. I love the idea of a hero who is having a good time with his adventures, perhaps who even pushes himself to excel by giving himself challenges within his adventure, like the cosmic race between Flash and Superman from World’s Finest. However, while I could absolutely see Mr. Miracle having such an attitude, I don’t know that it really makes sense for it to be applied to his conflict with Darkseid’s minions. After all, they represent a hellish reality for him, not merely a threat to life and limb. Either way, I’m intrigued by this element and curious if Kirby will develop it further.
The Phantom Stranger #16
“Image in Wax” Writer: Len Wein Penciler/Inker: Jim Aparo Letterer: Jim Aparo Editor: Joe Orlando Cover Artist: Neal Adams Mark Merlin: “Threat of the Horrible Hex” Writer: Arnold Drake Penciler/Inker: Mort Meskin
Doctor 13: “And the Corpse Cried, ‘Murder!'” Writer: Len Wein Penciler/Inker: Tony DeZuniga
In this month’s Phantom Stranger yarn we find an interesting if overstuffed tale of mystery and magic. All of that lies beneath a cover which is a very mixed bag. The background of wax figures is really excellent and striking, with the Phantom Stranger unobtrusively included in their number, his signature shadow stretching menacingly above. Yet, the central image of the old man in the wheelchair is rendered a little comical by the girl’s apparent terror, despite the monstrous hands reaching from ‘off-screen.’ It’s only half successful, I’d say, as the crippled figure of the old codger doesn’t really fit in with the heavy atmosphere of the rest of the piece.
Within, the oppressive feel of the cover is replicated in a dark and misty night, as a pair of punks tries to break into, of all things, a wax museum. Unfortunately for them, they are interrupted in the act by an apparently frail and helpless old man, and one scream later, they have been transformed into wax statues! This sequence was actually a bit confusing. Before we see the reveal of their fate, the old man, Tallow, dispatches two other shadowy figures to “find the girl!” On my first read, I naturally assumed that those were the former felons.
The next day finds a crowd attending the grand opening of the museum, which has a focus on the occult. Viewing the “Hall of Wizards” with the rest of the patrons is a certain Stranger who senses evil in the old house. Intrigued? Well, if so, too bad, because it’s going to be a quite a while before we follow up on that! Instead, that night, two men attack a woman on a deserted street, only to be interrupted by the Phantom Stranger, whose dialog has suddenly been turned up to 11 on the dramatic scale. I can’t quite decide if lines like “the powers of truth are a beacon in the darkness, far stronger than the shadows they dispel!” are cool or corny. Either way, after saving the girl, our mystery man discovers that she has lost her memory. After she is brought to a place of refuge and left with a promise of protection, she dreams strange and vivid dreams!
Falling through a very Aparo dream-scape reminiscent of some of the last of his Aquaman issues, she finds herself in a fantastic and ancient setting, where she is greeted as “Queen Dalia.” As she watches, the chief priest of this outlandish place declares that the stars declare that they, the wizards of their people, must go into hiding or be destroyed. Their only hope is a spell called “The Deathless Sleep” which will render them “as statues–waxen soulless parodies of life.” Do you see the connection? Well, hang on; it gets stranger! The chief priest, Tallow (!), declares that he will watch over their sleeping fellows, keeping himself alive by absorbing life forces from those that slumber. Yet, Dalia refuses to join him, not wanting to give up her life, and then she is suddenly rescued by the Phantom Stranger, who pulls her through the psychedelic dream space and back to the land of the waking in a cool sequence.
Think you’ve got a handle on the story? Well, hold on to your hat, because despite the fact that we’ve already got a haunted wax museum, an amnesiac girl, and a mysterious ancient civilization, Wein isn’t done tossing in elements just yet! After the nightmare, the Spectral Sleuth and his lovely charge go for a walk to clear her head, only to encounter an ardent and anxious young man named Ernie Drapper, who claims to be her fiance. He goes from distressed to dangerous at the drop of a hat, attacking the Phantom Stranger when the mysterious man tries to explain the situation. While they struggle, they are struck by a burst of dark energy, and when they recover, they discover the girl has been taken! A very tolerant and forgiving Stranger shrugs off Drapper’s attempt to murder him and takes the unstable fellow in search of his forgetful fiance.
Their search takes them to the wax museum, of course, where they are captured by wax figures come to life and brought before Tallow, who is indeed the long-lived chief priest from Dalia’s dream. We discover that she had escaped from her people, having stolen life force from another (!), and they have been seeking to recapture her. At this explanation, Drapper once more displays his disturbingly short temper and penchant for violence, breaking free and trying to burn the whole place down while they’re all still inside it. They rescue Dalia from the flames, but her respite proves short lived, as she melts away like wax once outside, confessing that she was one of these mysterious wizards in hiding, but that she did truly love him. The Phantom Stranger offers the grieving Drapper the rather unhelpful thought that he still has his memories, and then wanders off into the night, leaving the unstable young man weeping over his love’s smoldering remains.
Ooookay…..so, did you follow all that? If you’ve got questions, you’re not alone! I am left a bit befuddled. She tells us that her amnesia was self-induced, but she also says that she lied to Ernie…so….how much was the lie? Did she actually not know what she was, or was she only lying at the end when she said Tallow’s tale wasn’t true? I’m guessing it’s the latter, but this is all a bit confusing. This story is, like many of Wein’s during this run, just plain overstuffed with ideas. There is just too much going on here, and while it isn’t as incongruous and messy as some of Kanigher’s efforts on the book, it does definitely feel hurried and incomplete. We’ve got a lost society hidden in plain sight, which is an interesting idea, but we learn almost nothing about them, their culture, their origins, their objectives, or their motivations, other than preserving their people. We have the girl with amnesia and the mystery of her identity, but although we learn that she was part of this group, we learn almost nothing else about her. What was she doing living as a human? How long had she been on the run? She stole life force to make her escape; did she kill someone to do that? There’s a ton that could be done with these ideas, but Wein just rushes right through them, not taking any time to explore or develop any of these interesting elements. This should have been at least two issues, I’d say, with one perhaps unraveling the enigma of the girl’s identity, ending with the discovery that there was more to the mystery than meets the eye and leading in to the whole ‘secret wizard colony’ thing. Even in comics, that needs a bit more air to breathe.
The art, of course, is fantastic and atmospheric. Aparo creates moody, menacing mystery, mind-bending visions, and even great quiet moments with gusto and aplomb. He also includes some fun Easter eggs in the wax museum. Among the famed figures gathered in that macabre manse, sharp-eyed readers might spot the creepy Cain of House of Mystery fame, as well as Sargon the Sorcerer and, perhaps, the Time Trapper (though his costume is so nondescript, it could just be a generic robbed figure). I wonder if the fellow in colonial garb is someone too, but if so, I can’t place him. His Stranger looks particularly great, always in motion and wreathed in shadow, a striking, dynamic figure in any scene. It’s always interesting to me when this clearly supernatural entity suddenly seems human, like when the stunned Stranger is sprawled on the sidewalk, his hat knocked off his head. It further muddies the waters with just who or what he is. At any rate, the lovely art helps to elevate the rather flawed story, and the end result is a fun, though somewhat confusing and overfull tale that leaves you wishing Wein had picked just one element on which to focus. Still, though the individual components of the story are underdeveloped, Wein does give us a complete tale with a full emotional arc, however rushed. I’ll give it an average 3 Minutemen.
“And the Corpse Cried ‘Murder'”
Our backup is once again a tale of Dr. Thirteen, the Ghost-Breaker (which is, to be fair, an awesome nom de guerre). It begins with a couple on a mountain road witnessing the fiery crash of a car in an apparent suicide. Yet, later on, the good doctor receives an unexpected an unusual visitor in his study, a ghostly apparition who claims to be the spirit of a murdered man named Paul Williams. The interloper, who proves to be actually incorporeal, begs Dr. Thirteen to find his killer, and the intrigued investigator agrees, though he plans to expose the poltergeist as a plot!
He pays a visit to the “ghost’s” widow, who suggests that a disgruntled former employee of her husband, Ross Curran, might have hated him enough to kill him. Heading to the suspect’s house, the skeptical sleuth arrives in time to see the electrical technician apparently commit suicide after admitting that he killed his former boss. Yet, when the doctor examines the body, he finds that it is as cold as ice, as if it had been dead for hours. He also finds a thin film of dust over everything in the room, theorizing that there is a similar residue in his office. Suspecting that he’s being set up as a sucker, the Ghost-Breaker sets out to live up to his nickname.
Calling Mrs. Williams, he implies that he’s uncovered new evidence, and a while later, the supposedly spectral Paul Williams shows up, very much corporeal, and armed to boot! He admits that he and his wife faked his death, sending a derelict to a fiery fate in his place, and framing Curran for his murder, with the electrical wizard’s unwitting aid. Just as the murderer prepares to add another death to his doll, Dr. Thirteen triggers an illusion of his own, the same holographic technology that had created William’s ghostly “manifestation” and Curran’s “suicide”, images projected onto reflective particles floating in the air. William’s fires ineffectively, and the Ghost-Breaker wades in, only to lose the initiative a moment later. Just as Williams is about to kill the doubting detective, his would-be widow stumbles in, having caught one of the stray bullets he fired, leaving Dr. Thirteen to close the case in a more peaceful, if somber, fashion.
This is a really solid Dr. Thirteen tale. It’s got a good central mystery, wrapped in the appearance of a false enigma. It’s a clever twist on a familiar plot, with a private detective brought in to play unwitting patsy for a nefarious plot, providing an unimpeachable witness for a false reality. The pay-off requires science fiction technology, but for a story taking place in the DC Universe, that is pretty believable. Of course there would be realistic holograms floating around in that world. Thirteen himself is clever and resourceful, not really being taken in by the plot. In only 8 pages, Wein manages to deliver a complete and satisfying mystery, complete with a nice emotional beat at the end. DeZuniga’s art is pretty solid throughout, achieving some really nice effects with some of the holographic sequences. I’ll give this fine backup 3.5 Minutemen. It’s a good and intriguing read, and unlike the title tale, in this one, Wein makes excellent use of his limited space.
And that will do it for this delayed dose of Bronze Age brilliance! We’ve got a solid set of stories, all of them making for at least decent reads, and with a very diverse set of styles. I hope that y’all found them as interesting as I did, and that you’ll join me again (hopefully soon!) for another ed
Howdy folks, and welcome to our second Bronze Age blog post of 2021! I hope the year is treating y’all well so far. Unfortunately, madness continues to rule the day here in the U.S., but you know what is a pleasant distraction from the creeping death of civilization? Comics!
So, let’s continue in our journey Into the Bronze Age!
(You can see everything published this month HERE)
Action Comics #407
Adventure Comics #413
Detective Comics #418
The Flash #211
Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87
Justice League of America #95
Mr. Miracle #5
Phantom Strange #16
Superman #246 (#245 was all reprints)
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #117
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144
Teen Titans #36
World’s Finest #208
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Detective Comics #413
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Gaspar Saladino
Batman “… And Be a Villain!” Writer: Dennis O’Neil Penciler: Irv Novick Inker: Dick Giordano Letterer: John Costanza Editors: Julius Schwartz
Batgirl: “The Kingpin Is Dead!” Writer: Frank Robbins Penciler and Inker: Don Heck
“The Case of the Careless Caretaker” Penciler/Inker: George Papp Editor: Whitney Ellsworth
“The Case of the Terrified Tenderfoot!” Writer: Joe Millard Penciler: Alex Toth Inker: Frank Giacoia Editor: Whitney Ellsworth
Our first story for this set of books is a pretty darn good one, with an unusual guest star! It features the first appearance of the Creeper in our little journey, though we’re years on from his original debut in Showcase #73, 1968. The character was originally created by Steve Ditko and Don Segall, though he was most often written by Denny O’Neil in this era, as he is in this issue. I’ve always rather liked the Creeper, though he’s never been a favorite of mine. He’s such an oddball that he triggers my innate love of second stringers and z-listers. This yellow-skinned weirdo is a simple enough concept, a Question style reporter-turned superhero, with the twist of also being something of a color-blind Captain America, having been dosed with a super serum. Despite those classic elements, he’s never really caught on or hit the big leagues. Part of that is probably due to his design. While his visuals are certainly striking, they are also just plain weird. That is really rather fitting for the somewhat off-beat and wild personality of the Creeper persona, but it doesn’t necessarily work all that well in practice, especially the red boa. Anyway, perhaps in part because of his crimes against fashion, the solo series the character received in 1968 only lasted six issues, and he had been homeless since then, occasionally popping up as a guest star in other books. He’s a natural fit for a team-up with Batman, as the characters are of similar power levels, yet so diametrically different in style.
This particular appearance of our favorite proto-Freakazoid has a fairly good, effective cover. It’s a nice juxtaposition of the two characters that tells you a bit about them from the start, and I really enjoy the integration of the title into the billboard. It’s a nice composition, I think. The adventure within is similarly well-crafted, beginning with Batman staking out a drug firm, laying in wait for whoever has been hitting similar concerns around Gotham. Imagine the Dark Knight’s surprise when a shadowy figure gets the drop on him, landing several blows before being revealed as…the madly cackling Creeper! The Masked Manhunter certainly gets the worst of the fight, finding his former friend a fierce opponent, inhumanly fast and strong. In fact, Batman takes such a beating that he falls off the edge of the roof, only barely catching his bat-line and saving himself from a fatal fall! Wow! It’s not often you see the Caped Crusader get his head handed to him, especially these days, and by the Creeper, no less! This opening sequence is great, dark, moody, and mysterious, and you really feel the surprise and consternation of the Gotham Guardian as this strange, manically laughing figure overwhelms him!
Well, we rejoin our harried hero in his penthouse where he is licking his wounds and planning for a rematch with his amber-hued antagonist. Meanwhile, in a private facility outside of town, his erstwhile foe reports to an obviously evil scientist named….Dr. Yatz? If you’re familiar with the Creeper, you might recognize that name, as it was a Dr. Yatz who created the formula that gave the fellow his powers, but that redoubtable researcher died in the process. It turns out that this new Dr. Yatz is that worthy’s brother, and he’s promised to reverse the process and ‘cure’ the crazed hero, who has found himself trapped in his super-form, slowly losing his grip on reality!
The bad doctor reveals that he’s just using the poor unhinged fellow to help him recreate his brother’s serum to sell to the highest bidder, and he plans to kill the clown once he’s finished! Fortunately, the Dark Detective is on the case, and the next morning Batman’s research leads him to deduce part of the plot, and he sets out to investigate the facility of Dr. Yatz. He arrives disguised as an old farmer and tries to bluff his way inside, quickly taking out the guard when that fails. It’s a fun sequence that shows off the Masked Manhunter’s mastery of disguise, even if it doesn’t accomplish much.
Inside, the sinister scientist gives the Creeper “the cure,” only to reveal that it was really a deadly poison! When the golden goofball tries to get preemptive revenge, he discovers that the doctor has indeed finished his formula and used it on himself! Weakened, the hero finds himself outclassed, but Batman’s timely intervention turns the tables. Yatz escapes, pursued by his would-be victim. The Caped Crusader follows in turn, his old junker revealed as an undercover hot-rod, and all of them converge at an old bridge where the traitorous tech plans to sell his brother’s formula to foreign agents. The Creeper arrives and clobbers the doctor while the Gotham Guardian tackles the torpedoes.
Yet, the yellow yahoo is still not himself, and in his madness, he threatens to kill Yatz, despite Batman’s pleas. Desperate to keep his erstwhile ally from doing something he’ll always regret, the Dark Knight dives down upon the pair, knocking them both off of their high perch, and sending them into a battering landing below. This knocks both enhanced humans out, and suddenly, the Creeper turns back into Jack Ryder, none the worse for wear! The Masked Manhunter theorizes that the poison interacted with the super serum in his veins, and they cancelled each other out. What luck!
This is a good, entertaining story, with an engaging plot and a pretty interesting guest star in the crazed Creeper, fighting to hold on to his sanity. In fact, the Creeper comes off quite well in this adventure, as O’Neil really emphasizes his speed, agility, and strength, portraying him as a real force to be reckoned with. I quite enjoyed his portrayal here, and I think a more madcap, unhinged costumed identity suits the character better. I like the idea that he really does lose himself a bit when he transforms rather than it just being an act. There’s a lot more potential there.
This yarn moves at a brisk pace, but it never seems rushed, with Batman’s brief investigation a satisfying unraveling of the mystery elements. Each of the heroes gets plenty to do, and there’s lots of fun action. In fact, Novick’s art is really nice throughout the book, but he often brings a sense of dynamic motion and frenetic energy to the fight scenes. He also really captures the Creeper’s unbalanced state in his face work. There are a few places where his figures end up looking awkward, like a moment between the Creeper and Yatz that looks more like a dance-off than a fight, but on the whole, his work continues to be great, atmospheric, and action-packed. I’ll give this quite enjoyable adventure a strong 4.5 Minutemen!
“The Kingpin is Dead”
Our Batgirl backup this month is a solid mystery, perhaps a cut above the largely average adventures we’ve seen from her so far. We join our headline heroine in the company of her father and Jason Bard as the trio arrive to attend the opening screening of “The Stepfather,” a gangster film purportedly based on a real life (alleged) criminal kingpin, Floyd Marcus. Marcus himself is also coming to the screening, accompanied by his hulking bodyguard.
Suddenly, a classic car careens around the corner, and a hand pokes a tommygun out the window, apparently gunning down a member of the crowd! Yet, this is revealed to be nothing more than a publicity stunt, so when another car follows in its tracks a few moments later, the police don’t react until a glasses-wearing gunman repeats the earlier act, only with live ammunition this time! The kingpin is hit, and the car speeds away before anyone can react. In the chaos that follows, Barbara swipes her father’s car and takes off in search of the killers, having recognized the gunman as Marcus’s stepson, Mike, who presumably rubbed-out the real-life “Stepfather” in order to take over his mob. Thanks to her “photographic memory,” she recalls that the young Marcus collects antique cars like the one used in the drive-by.
The girl detective heads to the Marcus estate, getting there ahead of her quarry, and discovers one car missing from the garage. When Mike and his cohorts arrive, they spot Batgirl’s bootprints in the mud outside the garage and immediately and rather improbably deduce that they must belong to the Daredevil Dame. The tale ends with the trio bringing their car into the garage, with Mike enigmatically noting that “She may be the final coffin-nail we need to bury the “Kingpin’s” empire forever!” Strangely enough, once Batgirl sees them, she concludes that she was wrong and that the be-spectacled badman is not the one who killed his father. Dun dun DUN!
The story ends with one of those occasional editor boxes pointing out that they’ve given the readers all the clues and asking if their audience has figured out the mystery. I confess, I’m stumped, and I’m usually both pretty perceptive about stories, as well as being fairly genre-savvy. I’ve read back through this tale several times, but I’ll be darned if I can figure out the twist, so consider me interested! The story itself is a solid setup for a mystery, establishing the premise, setting, and characters with an impressive efficiency. There’s really not much to it, but Robbins makes good use of the space he’s got. On the art front, Don Heck’s work is better in this issue, perhaps because there isn’t much actual action, so we don’t see any of his oddly stiff or bizarrely contorted figures. Instead, it all looks pretty good, dark, atmospheric, and with a fair amount of personality in the faces of his characters. I’ll give this brief bat-yarn an above average 3.5 Minutemen, and will be looking forward to the resolution!
“Flashing Wheels” Writer: Cary Bates Penciler: Irv Novick Inker: Dick Giordano Editor: Julius Schwartz
Flash I: “The Rival Flash” Writer: Robert Kanigher Penciler: Carmine Infantino Inker: Frank Giacoia
Kid Flash: “Is This Poison Legal?” Writer: Steve Skeates Penciler: Dick Dillin Inker: Dick Giordano
Okay…this comic…it’s hard to know quite where to start. I suppose my first thought is: “why?” It’s such an odd, unnecessary tale, with such a forced, stretched premise, that it’s a bit hard for me to wrap my head around it. I can only assume that roller derbies must have been all the rage in the early 70s, because Bates is clearly trying to cash in on a fad. Now, I have to say, I didn’t expect much from this issue because of its cover, but the yarn within is definitely not what I expected. The cover itself offers us the usual ‘unexpected reversal,’ trope, but it just doesn’t pack that much of a punch. A woman on roller-skates outrunning the Flash? Why, I’m on the edge of my seat. That just doesn’t seem terribly interesting or threatening. This is our menace? A roller-skater? It’s nice enough looking, with Novik and Giordano rendering the figures well, but I can’t say what they’ve rendered piques my interest. And this cover doesn’t really do justice to what lies inside.
It begins on a fun note, with the Fastest Man Alive, Barry Allen, living up to his chronically late reputation, arriving 30 minutes late to a roller derby match his wife is covering. I’ve always enjoyed the ironic quirk that the Flash could do everything in a heartbeat in his superheroic identity, but he was just sort of pokey and slow in his civilian life. It’s a fun bit of characterization. Well, this time his tardiness has kept him from being able to talk his wife out of participating in the violent event herself in an effort to get the inside scoop. Iris does okay until a hulking amazon of a competitor named Kate Krasher sends her careening over the rail, knocking her out. Yet, just before Iris loses consciousness, she seems to see Krasher, not as a gung-ho gal, but as an alarmingly hideous alien!
Heading home, Barry assures his wounded wife that she must have just hit her head, but the next night, the city experiences an earthquake, despite the fact that it sits atop bedrock! As the tremors hit, Barry races around town helping the victims of the shaking in a couple of nice action pieces, though like Superman in our first adventure this month, his speed level is a little ridiculous. At least afterward he has to stop and catch his breath, as he’s run himself ragged with all of his rescues. I do like that touch.
After having done what he could, the Scarlet Speedster heads to the “Science Institute” (I guess Star Labs isn’t around yet), and figures out that the epicenter of the earthquake was…you guessed it, the roller derby rink! As our hero investigates the suspect structure, he discovers that all of the skates have strange devices in their soles. Yet, while he’s snooping about, he gets whanged on the head and knocked unconscious! That’s right, Barry gets added to our Head-blow Headcount! He awakens, bound in a “strangling sheath” that will grow tighter as he struggles, and the disguised alien conveniently explains that her world is dying, so her unnamed and generically evil race needs to build a new one. They plan to do that with the raw materials from the Earth, after they destroy it! How are they going to accomplish that feat?
Well, stay with me now, that’s what the roller derby rink is for. It hides a massive drill, which is burrowing down into the core of the planet. The unwitting skaters were secretly driving the device deeper with every turn around the course, and eventually it will shatter the planet. “Kate” begins what she says is the final skate (one wonders how she plans to escape the planet’s impending implosion), mocking the Flash’s helplessness. However, it’s never wise to count Barry Allen out, and though he can’t move, he cleverly vibrates his body, creating friction between his molecules, generating heat, thus causing the air inside the trap to expand, bursting it. Of course, one imagines that none of that could have been all that good for him either, but it makes sense in a comic book kind of way.
Freed, the Fastest Man alive decides to stop the alien plot by pummeling its pernicious perpetrator, thus stopping her from skating and solving the problem…naw, just kidding; he decides to unwind the drill by skating in the other direction. Unfortunately, that is just what “Kate” wanted, and Barry figures this out at the last moment, but calculating that he can’t undo his super-speed screw-up with one pair of skates, he….gets all of the skates. And skates in them. At the same time. Or maybe he just rolls them around the rink. I’m not entirely sure, and the art doesn’t make it clear. Either way, this silly story ends with the villain tripping on the spinning skates, and Barry bets that this probably isn’t the last he’s seen of “Kate Krasher” or her race.
So, who would like a piece of that action? If you’d bet against our hero’s overly hopeful prediction for the future of this particular mort of a menace, your money would be pretty safe. As far as I can tell, neither “Kate’ nor her nefarious but ill-defined race are ever mentioned again. And I can’t say that feels like much of a loss. This is a goofy little tale. I can’t help feeling that, even if you were this desperate to tell a roller-derby story, there had to be a better way to do it. I’m left where I started, wondering “why?” Why would the aliens hide their secret scheme right out in public. They could presumably have just had their own people drive their drill without the run-around of the skating. Just buy a warehouse and drill to your heart’s content, no muss, no fuss!
“Kate” looks somewhat menacing in her monster form, though that is undercut by the fact that she’s still wearing the same jersey. Yet, most of the comic, she’s just running around as a rather burly babe, (who sometimes has a man’s face!). She doesn’t make much of an impression, really, and other than conking the Speedster on the head, she really doesn’t do much, either. Despite the zany and overly complicated premise, there are some fun bits in this story, like Barry’s super speed antics during the earthquake, his escape from the trap, and his deduction of the alien plot. The art is quite good throughout, with Novick and Giordano making a great team. Of course, I’m gathering that Dick Giordano teams well with pretty much anyone. Novikc’s faces are full of detail and personality, even if “Kate” is a bit inconsistent. Barry’s expressions during the roller derby match are hilarious. Nonetheless, this particular adventure is just pretty forgettable, despite its wacky plot. Unless you’re an avid roller derby fan, I don’t think there’s really all that much here that’s worthwhile. I’ll give it 2 Minutemen. It’s not boring, and it’s not ugly, but it is plenty wacky.
Is This Poison Legal?
This month’s Kid Flash story is an interesting one, notable in our cataloging of the influx of themes of social relevance. It is also yet another yarn that features a sympathetic portrayal of a commune, showing the continued influence of the counterculture movement. In fact, that’s where this adventure begins, in a positively idyllic version of a commune where the inhabitants “live with nature” and “are happy, carefree…the whole scene”, which Skeates and Dillin contrast to a squalid and ramshackle village where “there is much poverty, sickness and death”. Of course, at this point in time, the desperate state of the village probably had more in common with most American communes than the rosy setting in the comic. I’m not sure about my dates, but I think that a lot of the communal living experiments, built on half-baked ideals and not much else, were starting to fail by about this point, though I could certainly be wrong.
Nonetheless, as Kid Flash races through the struggling village of Greenvale (do all the settlements around him have color-coded names?), he is approached by two ragged children who say their mother is sick and ask him to help. Unfortunately, even the Fastest Boy Alive can’t outrun the reaper, and he arrives too late to save the ailing woman. Attending the funeral, Wally finds himself troubled, as the woman officially died from “malnutrition,” despite not looking underfed enough for that. In the graveyard, he encounters one of the hippies from the commune, Jeremy, who was the woman’s brother. He declares that the local fat-cat, Alex Sampson, is responsible for her death. According to the young man, Sampson owns almost everything in town, including a chicken farm, where he pumps his poultry full of poison in order to make the birds weigh more and thus sell for more.
With Jeremy swearing vengeance, Kid Flash decides that he better keep an eye on things, and that night he interrupts the angry beatnik as the latter tries to burn down Sampson’s farm. The Teen titans tears away, bringing Jeremy with him, just as Sampson sets out to shoot him down. Together, they hatch a plan to get a state inspect to the farm before the corrupt farmer can hide his crimes. The next morning, Jeremy brings a truck loaded with hippies and fresh food and parks it right in front of Sampson’s store, giving groceries away to the townsfolk. The infuriated industrialist rounds up the local law and has a stand-off with the long-haired set, only for Wally to zoom back into town towing the state inspector, having first taken him to the chicken farm, where he discovered the local tyrant’s toxic secret. The story ends with the inspector presenting Sampson with a warrant for his arrest!
This is a fine little story, hippie hijinks aside. It moves very rapidly, but despite its quick pace, it hits all the necessary notes, which is unsurprising given that Steve Skeates is the scribe. He establishes the conflict and gives us a clever resolution, with the hippies keeping Sampson occupied while Kid Flash fetched the inspector, including a few decent emotional moments. While the plot is solid, the story’s real interest lies in its very Bronze-Age themes. This is clearly another effort at social relevance, which seems to be becoming a focus of Skeates. Once more we’ve got the wealthy and powerful cast in the role of the villain, signalling the growing distrust of the powers and social structures that be. Notably, Sampson seems to own the local law and knows how to game the system, requiring our hero to do more than simply turn him over to the police.
Yet, in addition to the dominant themes of corruption and illicit wealth, there’s also a focus on nutrition, and Skeates raises questions about the super processed, preservative-filled diet of the average American. While the starving townsfolk of this tale are something of an exaggeration, this is a real and significant subject today, and I imagine that was even more true in the 1970s. Even in the 21st Century, the American diet is probably a good deal less healthy than that of other first world countries, who are a bit stricter about what can be added to their food. I’ve been particularly struck by the difference when I spent time abroad in the last few years.
Dillin and Giordano’s artwork is great, and they capture both emotion and action very well. The backup is full of visual interest, even though there really isn’t all that much action in it. We still get entertaining and humorous scenes like Flash bouncing Jeremy around like a ball in his slipstream. On the whole, this is an entertaining and interesting little story. I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.
Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Jack Adler
“Beware My Power!” Writer: Dennis O’Neil Penciler: Neal Adams Inker: Dick Giordano Letterer: John Costanza Editor: Julius Schwartz
“What Can One Man Do?” Writer: Elliot S! Maggin Penciler: Neal Adams Inker: Dick Giordano Letterer: John Costanza
“Earth’s First Green Lantern!” Writer: John Broome Penciler: Gil Kane Inker: Murphy Anderson Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
We’ve got a landmark issue of Green Lantern this month, as Denny O’Neil continues to push the envelope, striving for social relevance and innovation in his run. From our cover, I imagine you can already guess what the big news is, as it introduces us to the first Black Green Lantern, John Stewart, who stands proud and defiant in the center of the page. It’s an iconic cover, but not necessarily a great one. Of course, Adams’ art is very good, and his figures are dynamic. The image is a fairly striking one, with John crouched protectively over a helpless Hal, though it doesn’t really have all that much in common with the comic inside. There’s just not much else to it, and so it feels a little empty. Yet, I imagine that is part of the idea, as this is such a big moment that Adams wants to make sure we can’t miss its significance. And make no mistake, this is indeed an important moment.
We’ve seen a few moves at this point towards greater diversity in DC’s Bronze Age books, with Jack Kirby’s introduction of several non-white characters in his Fourth World titles, however awkwardly some of them might be portrayed (I’m looking at you, Flippa Dippa!), and Mal Duncan having (for some reason) joined the Teen Titans. Change was clearly in the air, and with a surprising suddenness, DC Comics had become at least a little more diverse. I imagine this was a very welcome change for many readers. Notably, I remember reading a Green Lantern issue from the late 60s where a young Black reader had written to thank DC for just showing a Black face in a crowd. In other words, this fan had put pen to paper to praise DC for simply showing that folks like him existed. Moments like that really throw the significance of this issue into stark relief. After all, even with presence of characters like the Black Racer or Vykin (called the Black, in case we forget!), there is still a gap between such secondary characters and the true stars of the DC Universe. I can only imagine what that young reader must have thought to see a Black Green Lantern astride the cover of one of the company’s major titles.
Of course, as is usually the case with O’Neil’s run on this book, the premise is rather more promising than the execution. The John Stewart introduced in this issue has very, very little in common with the character who will become a fan favorite in later years. For someone like me, who knew him only from Justice League / Unlimited, the character’s portrayal here was something of a shock. John Stewart is a hero that I had never really heard of when I was reading comics as a boy. I grew up with Hal Jordan as my Green Lantern on Super Friends and the like, and he remains my favorite. In fact, when Bruce Timm was creating Justice League, I started grumbling about the fact that we were getting this other guy I’d never heard of, rather than my favorite GL. Little did I know what a treat I was in for when John Stewart joined that show’s cast. I imagine it was that show’s amazing portrayal of the tough, no-nonsense former Marine, voiced by the incomparable Phil LaMarr, that cemented John Stewart as a great character in the minds of many fans. It certainly won me over, and now he’s a character I would never want to see the DCU without.
Yet, the character we meet in these pages is unlikely to inspire any similar admiration. Our tale begins with Hal Jordan charging his ring “somewhere in Southern California” when an earthquake suddenly rips through the town. He flies out to lend a helping hand, only to discover his backup Green Lantern, Guy Gardner, in a dangerous situation. Gardner risks his life to save a child trapped on a bridge, but in the process he is badly injured and hospitalized. Discovering that he’ll be out of commission for at least six months (yikes!), the Guardians send Hal to look up their next choice for an alternate, John Stewart!
We find Stewart intervening as a pair of policemen hassle some folks on the street. Stewart gives an aggressive officer some attitude and stands his ground until the fellow’s partner pulls him away, pointing out that if he wants to get respect, he has to give it too. The Green Gladiator is unconvinced that this fellow is the right kind of man for the job, pointing out that he’s got a big chip on his shoulder. The Guardians, astonishingly, are unconcerned about his opinions. Obediently, Hal approaches Stewart and makes the offer for him to become his backup, which John accepts. When the Lantern demonstrates his oath, his understudy opines, “Man, that’s pretty corny…except for the part that says ‘Beware my power’!” Given the social struggles going on and the rhetoric of the Black Power movement at the time, that’s both understandable and a little worrisome for someone whom you are handing the most powerful weapon in the universe.
And once Stewart gets a taste of the ring’s power, he does indeed enjoy it, taking to ring-slinging like a natural, though he refuses to wear a mask, declaring that he has nothing to hide. Suddenly, the newcomer gets the chance to try out his skills for real, as they see a runaway fuel truck at the airport. The Emerald Crusader saves civilians while John stops the truck…mostly. He punctures the tank enough to spray an arriving politician with oil, a senator who happens to be a racist jerk. Hal chews his new partner out, and John responds in kind. The argument ends with the veteran GL assigning his protege to guard the senator as both a lesson and a test in putting his duty above his personal feelings.
That night, a gunman takes a shot at the politician, but John refuses to go after him. Yet, while Hal grabs the gunsel, Stewart prevents a second shooter from killing a policeman, eventually revealing that it was all a setup. The first gunman used blanks, faking an attack on the senator by a Black man to stir up racial unrest and support his racist platform, while a confederate outside would kill a cop to create a martyr for the cause. Hal finds himself eating crow as Stewart proves that he was right all along.
So, what are we to make of this important issue? Well, like most of O’Neil’s run, it is ham-handed and rough, but it has a good heart. The biggest problem with this tale is that we really don’t see much of Stewart that makes him an interesting character. He’s pretty two dimensional in this first appearance, and sadly, it’s going to be quite a while before we’re going to see more of him. Once again, O’Neil introduces a concept that really deserves and, in fact, demands more exploration, only to immediately abandon it. There are moments that show us some personality and charm in John, but they are few and far between. Honestly, I think they owe more to Adams’ art than to O’Neil’s writing, like the little moment where John talks about becoming a superhero with milkshake on his lip. It’s a great glimpse of Stewart’s simple, straight-forward, and unpretentious nature, but it’s also one of the only such moments we get.
Once again, we see poor Hal play ideological whipping boy, as he is justly schooled by the newcomer to the book who we eventually see was right all along. But that’s one of the other problems, as the themes of this issue are a little muddled. There’s no particular reason for Stewart to figure out the mystery when Jordan doesn’t, so it makes the other hero seem rather dim. Also, in isolation, Hal would have a good point about the duty of a Green Lantern to rise above their personal politics or preconceptions, but that is undercut by John’s share of the narrative and near prescient perceptiveness. Given that the message John’s role supplants is itself a positive one, rather than the negative ideas straw-manned in previous stories, the whole thing feels a bit uneven, as if there are competing themes and messages here that don’t mesh together well. I think what O’Neil is going for, especially in the last panel’s conversation about how style doesn’t matter, is the idea that the principles and goals of an ideology are more important than the ‘style’, or we might say the ‘tone’ of the group that supports it. I find myself thinking again of the Black Power movement, whose fiery rhetoric and “any means necessary” attitude made many white Americans uncomfortable or fearful, yet which had legitimate grievances and goals as well. Of course, many people at the time had similar fears about the Civil Rights movement as a whole.
In the end, I wish we had gotten to see more of John Stewart and learn more about who he was, beyond the ideology which crowds out all other smaller concerns in this issue. There’s really not narrative space for much else, which is a shame. Of course, Adams’ art is gorgeous throughout, and we get some great personality in the various faces of the main cast, as well as some cool page layouts and perspectives There’s not much to the story itself, and neither the senator nor the plot are really given enough space to be more than background dressing for Stewart’s day out as a Lantern. On the whole, it’s only an average story at best, but its significance and boldness shouldn’t be overlooked. I’ll give this one 3.5 Minutemen, with its historic nature edging it above average.
Wouldn’t it be nice if rhetoric like that of our snake-like senator from this issue had died out back in the Bronze Age? Sadly, instead we’re living in an era where emboldened white nationalists are among those who stormed the capitol. Where’s John Stewart when we need him?
Unusually, we’ve got a Green Arrow backup this issue, rather than the Emerald Archer sharing space with his partner in pigment. It tells an equally unusual tale with interesting implications. The yarn begins with a short recap of Ollie’s history, including his bankruptcy. In the ‘current’ day, the Battling Bowman is frustrated that he doesn’t have the resources to support good causes in Star City, so he sets out to patrol the town to blow off some steam. There’s a fun little moment where we get some ‘man on the street’ commentary about the hero and hear how he’s appreciated by the denizens of his town. Meanwhile, we discover that the current mayor has decided not to run again, and his political party (unnamed, but knowing our hero, we can probably guess!) is thinking about running….Oliver Queen!
During his patrol, Ollie saves a boy’s dog from a speeding train in a panel that is really rather unclear about what exactly is happening, but he leaves the yard frustrated, realizing that the boy was only there because he had no safe place to play. When he gets home, the gets the call asking him to run for mayor, and in a fun sequence, he calls his Justice League pals for advice, and they all tell him the same thing, “don’t do it!” Personally, I think Clark’s got the most practical argument. Feeling like it is a silly idea, the Emerald Archer heads across town to visit Dinah (via rocket arrow!), but he runs into a riot along the way! We aren’t told what it’s about, and Ollie certainly doesn’t know, but in the midst of the violence and chaos, he discovers the boy from his earlier adventure, only to see the young man catch a stray bullet.
The boy dies, despite Green Arrow’s best efforts, leaving Ollie crushed. It’s honestly a pretty touching scene, counterbalanced by Maggin quoting from A Farewell to Arms. Finally, an exhausted and disheartened hero reach’s Dinah’s place and announces that he’s going to run for mayor in an attempt to do some good. Also, he apparently just walks right up to her front door in full costume. Forget being mayor, he is already endangering their secret identities!
This is a pretty good little backup, opening up a really interesting direction for the character. We have seen other DC heroes take on such public responsibilities, like Batman’s extremely short-lived congressional career, which consisted of a single vote. (You guessed it; that took place in a Zany Haney tale, guest starring Green Arrow, coincidentally enough.) Yet, the Dark Knight’s political dalliance is emblematic of such forerunners, in that they were usually brief and had little-to-no lasting impact. I’ll be curious to see if the team actually does anything with this new direction and how long it lasts. Personally, though I am curious to see what will come, I’m a bit wary of this type of tale. I feel like when you get into realistic questions about how much actual good a superhero could do compared to what they could accomplish if they put their resources to work on actual social problems, you are getting into the philosophical weeds and missing the point of the fantastical setting and archetypal power of such tales. There are plenty of ways to explore such themes, but I don’t really know if stories about a guy who dresses like Robin Hood and fights crime with gadget arrows is necessarily the best forum for doing so.
This is not to say that comics ‘shouldn’t be political’ in the terms of the current controversy, because, of course, they already are and always have been. Instead, I just mean that the superhero genre, and especially the major universes like DC and Marvel, don’t really lend themselves to stories that strain for this level of political realism, because it opens the doors to so many questions that the setting just isn’t geared to answer. When you bring in this level of realism, the fantasy of super-powered people throwing cars at each other, causing millions in damages over thousands in stolen goods, doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. This is, essentially, a wondrous setting, a world where a solar-powered sun god can turn into a paragon of virtue by being raised with good values, rather than succumbing to the classic temptation of absolute power, as would be infinitely more likely. It’s an inherently hopeful concept, and I think it works best with stories that take advantage of that hopeful (and, let’s face it, unrealistic on more than one level) tone.
The story itself is solid, even a little touching, and it asks some interesting questions about the role of superheroes in problems that don’t involve garishly-clad madmen or invading aliens. It’s fast-paced, but there is just enough time for each of the elements to work, with Maggin letting us meet the unfortunate kid before he croaks, allowing that moment to have some more significant weight. It’s brief, but effective, and while I prefer a more light-hearted take on Green Arrow to the relentlessly down-beat portrayal in this run, Ollie himself is becoming well-drawn and interesting, having grown much more likable since we started.
The art, of course, is great, with Adams succeeding in giving a lot of the more melodramatic moments appropriate emotional weight. Seeing this tale in context of the previous one, I’m reminded again of how much more suited Adams is to stories of this scale. His city-scapes and realistic action fit Green Arrow and Batman so much better than the much more fantastical characters like Green Lantern, who just feels completely wasted when dealing with random gunmen and petty crooks on the scale Adams does best. On the whole, I’ll give this effective little morality play 4.5 Minutemen. It is, perhaps, particularly poignant today, at least for those of us in a country whose leaders refuse to take responsibility for their actions or wield their power with principle.
Well friends, that will do it for this set of comics, and a very interesting set it is! We’ve experienced the fun, the forgettable, and the fascinating. In a sense, our socially conscious tales from Green Lantern feel quite timely, a I am reading them during our own time of unrest and in light of our own social crises. I can’t help but wish that the political leaders of our day were as concerned about using their power responsibly and effectively as the fictional fellow who wears a Robin-hood hat and regularly fight gun-toting bad guys while armed with nothing more than a bow and arrow. The comparison, however silly, is not flattering to many of the folks in charge these days. But despite the pressure of our current problems, I found these comics a very pleasant escape, especially the Batman adventure with the Creeper. I hope that y’all have enjoyed this part of the journey as well and will join me again soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!
Happy New Year! I imagine we’re all very happy to greet 2021. I know that I’ve never been quite so happy to say goodbye to year, at least! And what better way to start the new year than with Bronze Age comics? Well folks, welcome back to a new edition of Into the Bronze Age! I’m excited to get into the December cover-dated books of 1971. Glancing at the cover gallery, it looks like we’ve got some fun stories in store of us! In fact, we’ve got a pretty darn good set of comics in this batch. There are some fun surprises and some real winners in this set. So, without further ado, let’s get started with what was going on in the world in December of 1971!
The Cambodian Civil War intensifies, with conflicts between government forces and Khmer Rouge rebels.
Soviet space probe Mars 3 is first to soft land on Mars
Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujeira, Sharjah, and Umm ak Qiwain form United Arab Emirates and declare independence from the UK
President Nixon commutes Jimmy Hoffa’s jail term
The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 begins after Pakistani strikes in Northern India, which connected to the Bangladesh Liberation War
West German Chancellor Willy Brandt receives the Nobel Peace Prize
Multiple bombings and clashes in Ireland that claim several lives, including several IRA members being caught in the blasts of their own bombs
The Pakistani Army executes over 1,000 people in a genocidal ethnic and ideological purge of East Pakistan
India and Bangladesh win their wars, and Bangladesh achieves independence
Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) formed by Jesse Jackson
USA and Russia continue nuclear tests
Important films released this month included the horrifying A Clockwork Orange, which says something about the zeitgeist of the age, though I hesitate to say precisely what
The Troubles in Ireland escalate a great deal this month, with bombing after bombing and violence abounding. What a terrifying time that must have been for those who lived through it, never knowing if a simple visit to a pub might end in injury or death. On a more positive note, Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan this month, thanks in part to the support of India. In the US, things seem to have been fairly quiet as the nation approached Christmas. I wonder what that was like!
This month’s top song is the funky “Family Affair” by Sly and the Family Stone, which is apparently beloved but didn’t really grab me.
(You can see everything published this month HERE)
Action Comics #407
Adventure Comics #413
Detective Comics #418
The Flash #211
Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87
Justice League of America #95
Mr. Miracle #5
Phantom Strange #16
Superman #246 (#245 was all reprints)
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #117
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144
Teen Titans #36
World’s Finest #208
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Action Comics #407
Executive Editor: Carmine Infantino Cover Artists: Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson
Superman: “The Fiend in the Fortress of Solitude” Writer: Cary Bates Penciler: Curt Swan Inker: Murphy Anderson Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Atom: “The Challenge of the Expanding World (II)” Writer: Bob Haney Penciler and Inker: Alex Toth Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Superman: “The Planet of Prey!” Writer: Cary Bates Penciler: Curt Swan Inker: Murphy Anderson Editor: Murray Boltinoff
We begin the month with a rather typical Superman yarn, replete with secret identity drama and over the top super-feats, though Bates manages to make it a readable enough tale out of these conventional ingredients. The cover is pretty much faithful to what we find inside, though the device of having Supes spying the characters outside the fortress and the attendant rock wall makes it a bit muddy. It’s a solid if unremarkable cover, which is fitting for the story within.
The adventure begins with a small plane in peril, as its pilot struggles to bring it in for an emergency landing in the frozen north. In fact, as it noses in for a crash landing, we discover that the misplaced plane has actually touched down at the foot of the Fortress of Solitude! Fortunately for the pilot, Superman happens to be at home and rushes the fellow to an Alaskan hospital (one imagines Iceland would be closer to the North Pole). However, it turns out that this seemingly innocent airman is actually a notorious criminal the Metropolis Marvel once put away. The hero remembers his face, but too late, as the scofflaw had already stolen a plane and escaped.
Unbeknownst to Superman, the flying fugitive, Michael “King” Andrews has gotten away with the knowledge of the location of the Fortress of Solitude, and he proceeds to plot to rob the place as his revenge, recruiting his son, Mike Jr., who is living at a reform school. In a relatively effective bit of characterization, we discover that the boy is actually starting to turn his life around, enjoying the trust he’s earned at the school, but he feels like he can’t let his father down. Of course, the kid’s possible redemption doesn’t seem to have sunk in all that well, as he happily kidnaps Clark Kent at gunpoint for his father. I guess his qualms aren’t all that serious after all. Kent, playing possum to protect his secret identity and thus establishing the pattern for this story, is brought to an abandoned airfield, where they meet the third member of this criminal conspiracy, a mysterious electronics expert that Mr. Mild-Mannered realizes is wearing a disguise!
The quartet fly to the Fortress of Solitude, with “King” putting all the others to sleep, even his own son, remarking that a criminal can’t trust anyone. Once there, the electronics expert, Slesar, disables Superman’s security, and they break in (somehow without the gigantic key). Apparently the man-sized keyhole passes entirely through the door, which rather seems to defeat the purpose! Once inside, they lock Clark up and leave the boy to guard him, but a series of emergencies popping up around the globe force the undercover hero to create various distractions, allowing him to slip out and save the world, flying all the way around the globe, putting out fires and saving submarines (poaching in Aquaman’s domain there!), all in a matter of seconds, which is just plain ridiculous.
The power level of the Silver Age Superman certainly seems to be back to its full extent, and it is just plot-breaking. If the Man of Steel can zoom around the entire Earth and carry out various incredibly complex tasks, all in under ten seconds, than he certainly could have just zoomed away and captured the intruders without giving away his identity. This kind of thing rather bothers me. I’m fine with Superman using his super speed to zoom across a room and back faster than the eye can see, but when he does that on a planetary scale, it’s just too much!
Anyway, overblown power levels aside, the adventure comes to a head when “King” tells his son, worried about an apparently trapped Clark Kent, that he was just going to kill the reporter anyway, as ruthlessness is also required of a successful crook, a sentiment that “Slesar” shares, unfortunately for his partners in perfidy. The electronics expert reveals himself to be…Lex Luthor! It isn’t all that much of a surprise, but the revelation is still fun, and Luthor is truly nasty here, as he’s planted a bomb in the Fortress and plans on killing both the Andrews pair in cold blood to keep them from warning the Man of Tomorrow! “King” isn’t one to take such things meekly, however, and the two shoot it out, with Luthor”s lethal laser laying his foe low. That gives us another on-panel murder! The Comics Code Authority folks must have been asleep at the switch.
Just then, Superman returns and captures his nemesis (with a tap!), disposes of the bomb, and comforts the young Mike, who now sees the error of his ways and wants to avoid his father’s fate. Interestingly, the tale ends with the Action Ace asking Luthor if he truly hated him enough to sacrifice his own life to kill him, and Luthor’s sullen reply, “You know the answer to that, Superman” shows a surprisingly vicious portrayal of the character, which is striking.
Well, this was a solid, if unremarkable, story. The plot was pretty simple, with the secret identity antics, though fun to see thanks to Curt Swan’s lovely pencils, not terribly interesting to read. Yet, the different unique elements help it to stay entertaining. The understated arc of the young hoodlum, Mike Jr., and his discovery of his rotten father’s true character leading to his transformation is actually quite effective. Bates does a lot with those characters with very little “screen time”. Luthor’s plot and his cold ruthlessness are also an interesting addition, really marking him as an effective and threatening villain. It helps that he straight-up kills “King”, which is still a rarity in this era. Swan’s art is good throughout, and Superman’s side trips are quite striking. The ultimate result is a fine read that I enjoyed better than I expected. I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, as it is a little above average thanks to the subplots.
The Planet of Prey
This month’s backup is a lot more creative than our headline tale, resulting in a clever and interesting little sci-fi superhero adventure. It begins with the Action Ace returning home from a mission in space when he encounters a strange planetoid that veers into his path. When he approaches it, he finds himself besieged by the telepathic ‘squawking’ of a flock of alien avians. They swarm about the Man of Steel, but he easily and relatively gently dispatches them. Heading down to the surface, he discovers that the seemingly barren world has suddenly transformed into a miniature copy of Krypton, complete with micro-sized versions of his birth parents, Jor-El and Lara! They beckon him down, but Kal-El realizes they obviously can’t be his parents and heads back into orbit, feeling strangely drained from the effort.
And this brings me to the small but crucial detail that really made me appreciate this yarn. Bates throws something strange and intriguing at his hero, but he still has Superman behave like a rational, intelligent person rather than a gullible idiot. In the typical version of this type of plot, characters who have seen illusions masquerading as loved ones hundreds of times seem to instantly and foolishly believe the evidence of their eyes and ignore the impossibility of the situation, doing intensely stupid things as a result. I really enjoyed that Bates didn’t go the way I expected when I saw fun-sized Jor-El. Instead, our Kryptonian traveler is confused and suspicious, which is the rational response to such a sight, and I appreciate that type of logical consistency.
Anyway, once back in space, the Metropolis Marvel looks down to see that the world has now turned into a scale version of the Earth, complete with a tiny crumbling Metropolis and bite-sized Jimmy and Lois trapped within. Even then Superman doesn’t just rush in like a moron, but perplexed, he lands nearby, and then the trap springs! The illusion vanishes and the very soil seems to reach out to swallow him as the gravitic pull of the world suddenly increases a thousandfold!
In another clever moment, the Man of Steel tries to emulate the Fastest Man Alive, trying out his friend The Flash’s vibrating trick to escape. It isn’t enough, but just then he begins to hear telepathic messages of hope, and the alien birds from the beginning of the story arrive and break him free. They explain that he is now vibrating at their wavelength, enabling them to communicate with him. They tried to warn him off earlier, but he thought it was an attack. Apparently they live in a symbiotic relationship with this strange, predatory planetoid, which uses psychic illusions to lure in unwary spacefarers in order to consume them. Superman wonders why they would deprive themselves of sustenance, but surprisingly, they inform him that it was a purely mercenary action, as they have learned that the world becomes unhealthy for them when it consumes sentient life!
What a fun, creative, and unusual story! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I love that Bates told a story that maintained psychological realism and logical consistency, creating actual. reasonable motivations for his protagonist instead of having things just happen ‘because of plot.’ Even better, the central concept, although not completely unique, is interesting, and he really does keep you guessing as the adventure unfolds. I also love that last touch, that the alien creatures saved our hero, not because of altruistic motivations, but simply out of self-preservation! It’s a simple story, but it’s quite well crafted with a lot of small but significant creative touches. The art, of course, is lovely, and Swan gets to stretch his creative muscles with the alien creatures, doing a good job of rendering the different scales of his hero and the illusions. I’ll give this brief but high quality little outing 4.5 Minutemen!
Adventure Comics #413
Supergirl: “The Walking Bombs!” Writer: John Albano Penciler: Art Saaf Inker: Bob Oksner Letterer: Ben Oda Editors: Joe Orlando and Mark Hanerfeld Cover Artist: Bob Oksner
Hawkman: “Earth’s Impossible Day!” Writer: Gardner Fox Penciler/Inker: Joe Kubert Letterer: Gaspar Saladino Editor: Julius Schwartz
Zatanna: “Zatanna the Magician!” Writer: Len Wein Penciler/Inker: Gray Morrow Editor: Joe Orlando
Robotman: “The Robot Ghost!” Penciler/Inker: Frank Bolle Editor: Whitney Ellsworth
Our Adventure Comics headline tale this month is an odd collection of elements that don’t quite fit together. It has some really charming touches, though, and Albano manages to give this Supergirl adventure some unique personality for the Maid of Might. All of this lies underneath a striking but strange cover. Our central image is pretty arresting, but it also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We’ve got a four-armed robotic walking bomb dressed up in a suit, apparently robbing a bank. If you were to take way the extra appendages, this would work reasonably well, capturing a moment of shocking discovery. However, if you think about the image for a minute, it make so no real sense. If you’re trying to pass off your android as a person, why in the world would you give him an extra set of arms? Other than that detail, which continues to bother me in the story itself, it is a nice-looking cover, which communicates the peril reasonably effectively.
The story begins with Linda Danvers rushing through town on some vital errand…specifically, she’s trying to get to a sale at a department store! In a fun detail, she thinks to herself that she can’t use her super speed to beat the rush because it wouldn’t be fair to the other shoppers. We join the disguised Girl of Steel as she tries on some different outfits, and the fashion themes of this book continue as Art Saaf indulges his inner fashion designer. Unfortunately, our young heroine indulges in a bit too much bargain hunting and has to head to the bank, only to discover that the place is being robbed! What’s more, the thief is a four-armed robot of all things! The Girl of Tomorrow ducks into a convenient alley and begins to change, only to discover that she’s got an audience in the form of a resident bum, who is quite happy to extend her hospitality. She is in too much of a hurry to find a handy telephone booth like her cousin, so she shoves the voyeur’s hat down over his eyes and completes her transformation into Supergirl. This whole exchange cracked me up. This is a hilarious and fun little scene that adds a sense of whimsy to the tale.
Once inside the bank, the Maid of Might is confronted with the towering android, who announces that if she interferes with his heist, he will blow the surrounding city blocks to smithereens! Just then, a young boy attacks the bank-robbing bot for stealing his mother’s deposit, and when the machine is about to strike the kid, it suddenly hesitates, and instead returns the money. How odd! Having no real choice, Supergirl lets the android escape in a flying sphere. She trails the fleeing felon to a secret underground lab, smashing in to find a turtleneck-wearing mad scientist who traps her in an electrical cage. The mastermind warns the Girl of Steel that if she breaks out, it will set off bombs in San Fransisco! As an aside, I hate it when writers mix real American cities with the usual DC geography. It blurs the lines of the setting, in my mind.
At any rate, our villain starts to monologue, and it is at this point that the major discordant note of the story enters the equation. The machine-making mad scientist tells his superheroic guest his tale of woe. His name is Robert Meekly, and he was a banker whose son suffered an accident that left him blind. The boy’s only hope was an operation that would cost $25,000, an astronomical amount for his hapless father. Meekly tries everything to raise the money, but his last hope, the president of his bank, refuses his loan, despite the fact that he’s served faithfully for 15 years. So, the desperate father does what he has to do and steals the money, going to prison as a result, but not before he gets his son the operation. To make things worse, while he was imprisoned, his wife took his son and disappeared.
Okay, now just hold on a minute…apparently our mad scientist learned robot building and bomb making…while working in a bank? Really? I know that super-science is easily accessible in the DC Universe, but come on! This is just ridiculous! Well, balmy bona-fides aside, the unfortunately named Meekly has come to deserve a less harmless name, as he now plans to get his revenge by robbing and blowing up banks across the country. He leaves our hobbled heroine to carry out his sinister scheme, and she prepares to escape, only to discover that her on-again-off-again powers are conveniently off again. Despite this limitation, the resourceful Supergirl manages to short out the electrical cage with a hair pin, which is another fun touch.
She interrupts Meekly’s machinations, only for him to try to strangle the powerless powerhouse! Even without powers, Linda is no pushover, and she breaks free. Then her powers return just as conveniently, and she smashes through the robotic roughnecks, but not before the mad Meekly manages to release some of his death machines, targeting two banks. The Maid of Might tells the irate inventor that his son is actually the teller at one of those banks! Meekly suddenly realizes his terrible mistake and agrees to help Supergirl stop the walking bombs. They split up, and he does indeed manage to capture his robotic bomber, but it blows up before he can dismantle it. While searching the wreckage, the authorities find the medal that Meekly was constantly playing with, and they realize that it was a little league award for his son.
Well, on that cheerful note, our tale ends, and we find ourselves with a discordant mixture of elements that just don’t really add up to a coherent whole. We’ve got a charming, off-beat opening, a tragic origin for our villain that doesn’t match his eventual M.O. at all, and then that downbeat ending. The banker-turned-supervillain mad scientist just doesn’t make any sense, but the basic plot is pretty straight-forward and works reasonably well. I find the little details of Supergirl’s shopping spree and changing challenges quite charming, and Albano seems to have a solid handle on her characterization. It seems that some of the themes that we’ve seen in this run of the series are continuing, with an ongoing emphasis on fashion and a uniquely feminine touch to some of the plots. That’s interesting, and I still find myself wondering just how much of the book’s contemporary audience was female and how well this focus worked. Despite those positive elements, I am already getting tired of the disappearing superpowers gimmick. I’d like to see more made of this or it wrapped up already. On the art front, Saaf’s pencils are quite pretty throughout, and he injects a ton of personality into his characters. I suppose this more or less all evens out, and I’ll give the whole kit and caboodle an average 3 Minutemen.
Zatanna the Magician
The highlight of the book and, quite possibly, the month, is this brief backup tale with Zatanna. It’s great fun, and boy is it gorgeous with Gray Morrow doing the art chores! It begins with our heroine’s retired father, Zatarra, researching “the realm of the supernatural” when he is ambushed by some spectral spooks who creep out of the woodwork in his study. Meanwhile, the Maid of Magic herself is in the basement talking to her manager, Jeff, trying to convince him that she should use legerdemain instead of her actual magical powers in her stage show. In a fun little sequence, Zatanna explains that, while real magic is very easy for her, almost like cheating, illusion takes skill and practice.
The pair head upstairs to get some coffee, only to be ambushed by her mind-controlled father, who banishes them into another dimension! The Mistress of Mysticism finds her powers outclassed and unable to transport them back, so they go in search of a natural “dimensional juncture” or meeting place between dimensions. She whips up a flying carpet, and away they go. Unfortunately, they suddenly find themselves under fire by a gang of barbarians. They land, and Zatanna whips up a sword and shield for Jeff, who objects that he doesn’t know how to use them. In a great sequence, the pair manage to hold their own for a few minutes but eventually get overwhelmed. Our tale ends with both dimensional exiles unconscious and in the hands of the barbarians, who remark that “the Master” will be pleased with them.
This is a great little story, just full of interest and color. It gives us an intriguing, all-too brief glimpse of the daily life of the magical pair and sets up an equally intriguing adventure, with Zatanna swept away into strange environs by her bewitched father. There’s some good action, some creative designs, and some nice character touches, with some good banter between The Maid of Magic and her manager, all packed into only 7 pages. Also, I’m tickled that the manager apparently gets his wardrobe from the same place as the ever-fashionable Geoff from Supergirl’s supporting cast, as he is dressed in the height of groovy 70s fashion. Of course, bringing all of this to life in inimitable style is Gray Morrow, who’s work is just plain lovely, while also being dynamic and full of energy. There’s never a panel where the characters are simply still and static; someone is always moving or interacting, with hair waving about or clothing in motion. It’s pretty impressive. The whole makes for a great story, and the only real problem with it is that there should be more of it, which is a great problem to have! I’ll give this delightful little adventure 4.5 Minutemen. I feel like Zatanna is a character with a lot of potential, but I’ve never really read a solo story with her, so I am quite looking forward to seeing more of her adventures!
Executive Editor: Julius Schwartz Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Gaspar Saladino
“Night of the Reaper!” Writers: Dennis O’Neil, Bernie Wrightson, Harlan Ellison Penciler: Neal Adams Inker: Dick Giordano Letterer: John Costanza Editor: Julius Schwartz
“The Screaming House” Writer: Bill Finger Pencilers: Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson Inker: Bob Kane Letterer: Jerry Robinson Editor: Vincent Sullivan
Our Batman issue this month is, as usual, a cut above the average stories we’re seeing. It’s a pretty cool tale, with a fun setting and a surprising subject, though it has a bit of a tone problem, bouncing between spooky and funny, light hearted and heavy. We’ve got a pretty good cover, which is not much of a surprise from Neal Adams. It features a nice, menacing figure threatening Robin, creating good tension and interest, though the red background is a bit overpowering, I think.
The comic itself begins with a really striking splash page, featuring Batman pinned to a tree with a stake! How could this be? Well, it will be a little while before we get an answer, as we jump to a delightful two-page spread featuring Robin and three of his friends (who never get named, oddly enough), visiting the comic-famous Rutland Halloween Parade, which provided an opportunity for backdoor crossovers between DC and Marvel Comics in the Bronze Age. This real world phenomenon was a superhero themed event in Rutland, Vermont, which local writer and comic fan Tom Fagan, promoted in both DC and Marvel comics, featuring many attendees dressed as their favorite comic heroes, including comic book professionals. In the 70s, beginning with Avengers #83, both DC and Marvel creative teams began to use the event as a setting for unofficial crossovers between their characters. This Batman yarn is the second such and the first from DC.
Robin and his friends, who are apparently subtle cameos by comic creators (left to right, I think) Bernie Wrightson, Gerry Conway, and Alan Weiss, which is a really fun detail that I didn’t know until I started researching these “crossovers”. One of these friends, Alan, if my identification is correct, is a bit wacked-out because he’s been up for three days cramming for exams (and maybe taking stimulants more powerful than coffee!), and he’s obsessed with the floats. Also in attendance are costumed revelers dressed as such mixed Marvel and DC stars as Captain America, Hawkman, Havok, a bespectacled Aquaman, and a portly Man of Steel, among others. Unfortunately the festivities are interrupted by a fight, as three men jump a parade-goer dressed as….Robin! Dick and his buddies (minus the distracted Alan) charge over to even the odds, a concept that I always appreciate in fiction. Mr. Terrific would be proud!
Though the good Samaritans’ hearts are in the right place, they’re a bit outclassed, and soon Dick’s buddies get bashed, and he’s left to handle the situation by himself. He’s also got to do it without giving away his secret identity by fighting too well. He gets two of the toughs, but then Alan stumbles into him, giving the third an opening. Suddenly the Teen Wonder finds himself kissing pavement as the punks escape (I’m going to say that this doesn’t count as a Headblow for the Headcount, as Dick maintains consciousness). The roughed-up Robin replacement reveals that he doesn’t know what caused the attack, leading the real Robin to conclude that someone may have actually meant to target him, as the gunsels seemed like professionals. Slipping away, he dons his costume and starts to investigate, soon stumbling upon the transfixed Caped Crusader from our opening scene.
Tremblingly, the horrified hero approaches the tree, only to discover that the hanging form is not his pierced partner but a pegged party-goer in a Batman costume. As the Teen Titan tries to gather his wits, he’s attacked by the grim reaper, or at least a reasonable facsimile! Robin dodges a blow but trips on a rock and plunges over the cliff-side, striking his head on the rocks below (Man, Dick is really not coming off too well in this story, is he?). Fortunately, Batman arrives in the nick of time and pulls his imperiled partner from the drink before he drowns. The Dark Knight takes his sore sidekick to Tom Fagan’s house, where there is a Halloween party in full swing.
There Dick is treated by an aged German physicians, Dr. Gruener, who helps the Masked Manunter explain what he’s doing in Rutland. Apparently the doctor is a survivor of a concentration camp, a camp run by an escaped Nazi war criminal nicknamed “The Butcher.” They suspect that he’s hiding nearby, as the doctor having learned his former tormentor was in town. They hope that, since the Nazi was obsessed with masquerade parties, the superhero shindig of Rutland might lure him into the open. However, to complicate matters, Schloss, “The Butcher”, stole some gold from his fellow Nazis when he fled the sinking ship that was the Reich, and his former friends have found him as well and have dispatched a hit-squad to handle him.
Leaving Robin to recover, Batman heads out into the party to search for his quarry, and here we get some more fun cameos. Not only do we see a rather homemade Thor costume, but we also see Spider-Man, or rather, “Webslinger Lad.” In addition to the mighty Marvelites, Denny O’Neil himself is chatting with Thor, while Len Wein, looking like Cain from House of Mystery, provides snide commentary nearby. This is another great little meta touch. However, if you notice it, it does detract a bit from the search for a Nazi war criminal. On that subject, the Dark Knight heads outside, and finds the reaper’s latest victim with the help of the still dazed and confused Alan. While continuing his search, the Caped Crusader notices a light in the tower of Fagan’s house, a light being used as a signal. The Masked Manhunter ambushes a few of the Nazis hunting his target in a sequence that is a bit cooler in premise than in practice, as Adams’ art doesn’t quite capture the action like you’d expect, but he makes up for it in the following pages. Batman hauls one of the assassins out a window and dangles him off a roof to interrogate him. The fellow confesses that they planted a bomb in the traitor’s car, which explodes, killing “The Butcher”, despite Batman’s best efforts. It’s a really rather spectacular sequence.
The Dark Knight is angry and frustrated, and when Robin tries to comfort him, he lashes out, telling his partner that the case isn’t over, as the Nazis don’t account for all of the killings. But he knows who does. The Gotham Guardian sets out on a grim business, tracking down the Reaper, who he finally confronts, calling him by name….Dr. Gruener! The Holocaust survivor acknowledges the truth of Batman’s declaration, explaining that he simply couldn’t let “The Butcher” get away without getting his revenge, revenge for his entire family who died in the camps. He reported his discovery of the Nazi to the authorities, but then he thought better of it and tried to kill anyone who he thought might get in the way of his exacting his own revenge, like the Dynamic Duo. The Masked Manhunter struggles with his sympathy for the Doctor and his quest, but he ultimately rejects the sentiment, proclaiming that no man has a right to play judge and jury by himself (which is a nice character moment and a key component of who Batman is).
The pair struggle, but their fight comes to an unexpected and tragic conclusion when Alan wanders back into the scene, still dazed and confused. He bumps into Gruener as the older man is running across a dam, prompting the desperate doctor to prepare to kill him, only to see the Star of David the young man is wearing and finally realize that he was himself becoming a monster like the one who destroyed his family. Staggering blindly backwards, the doctor falls to this doom on the ground below as Batman looks helplessly on. It’s a really well-executed moment, and Adams’ art is superb.
This is a good story, though it is a bit uneven in tone, with moments of comedy, clever cameos, horror, and tragedy all fighting for space and balance. You can certainly have comedic beats in a story that tackles serious themes (the Marvel movies have turned that into an art form), but it feels incongruous here, especially because the transitions between those moments are a little too sharp and because O’Neil is dealing with just about the heaviest of heaviest themes, the Holocaust. Once again, he deserves some credit for tackling a pretty dark and serious topic for this era of comics, and he does some good work with it, making the camp survivor, Dr. Gruener sympathetic and tragic in fairly little space. Apparently it was Harlan Ellison’s idea to write a story on that subject, which is why he gets the credit at the beginning of the issue.
On the lighter side, all of the cameos and the Rutland setting itself are really fun. I can only imagine what a thrill it was as a young fan to see Thor sharing the page with Batman, even if only as a joke. It would be several years before there would be any official crossovers between DC and Marvel, so this would have been an exciting and almost unprecedented experience. Of course, Adams’ art is quite good, moody and dynamic, really delivering on the tension and action in many scenes, but there are also a few places where his figures or poses end up looking a tad odd, which is unusual for him. All-in-all, this is a good and entertaining read, even if it doesn’t quite come together. I’ll give it a solid 4 Minutemen.
That will do it for this set of stories, and a fine set it was! I hope that y’all enjoyed my coverage as much as I enjoyed writing it! Please join me again soon for the next batch of books as we continue our voyage Into the Bronze Age!