Into the Bronze Age: April 1970 (Part 1)

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Further up and further in!

This month in history:

  • Riots continue in the Ballymurphy estate in Belfast between Catholic residents and the British Army
  • Midnight Cowboy won the Academy Award for best picture
    • Ironically, John Wayne won best actor for an actual cowboy picture, True Grit
  • The Beatles officially broke up
  • Apollo 13 announces, in one of history’s most amazing examples of understatement, “Houston, we’ve got a problem”
  • Muammar Gaddafi started the “Green Revolution” in Libya
  • 50,000 US & South Vietnamese troops invade Cambodia

We’re still in pretty troubled waters here and will be for the foreseeable future, though I think the Beatles breaking up is an interesting yardstick for our progress out of the 60s and into the 70s.  Of course, the first few years of every decade tend to be more like the previous one than the one they actually inhabit.  We’re seeing that trend write small in the development of superhero comics this year.

This month’s #1 song evenly split between the Beatles’ “Let it Be” and the Jackson 5’s
“ABC.”  Double points for the rhyme!  Man, how far there is to go for little Michael Jackson.  Poor little weirdo.  Say what you will about him, but he could sing.

Well, that sets the stage, but what about the main feature?  Well, we’ve got a rather short month, having lost a few titles.  I’m particularly sad that Strange Adventures stop printing new Adam Strange stories, as they were really hitting a nice stride.

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

  • Action Comics #387
  • Aquaman #50
  • Detective Comics #398
  • Green Lantern #76 (First issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow)
  • Superman #225
  • Teen Titans #26

Bonus!: The Space Museum

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

Action Comics #387

Action_Comics_387.jpgCover Artist: Curt Swan
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos

“One Hero Too Many!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abel

Our journey into the distant future with the never more appropriately named Man of Tomorrow continues in this, the third installment of our story.  The cover, though nice and dramatic, represents only a fairly minor incident in this tale.  The story itself is that somewhat frustrating mixture of fascinating and frustrating.  We see some particularly good character work with Superman this issue, courtesy of Bates, but we also see one of the more ridiculous (and maybe just a tad sacrilegious?) super-feats I’ve encountered in my comic reading tenure.

This chapter of Superman’s enforced future exile begins with his discovering a number of astronauts floating in space in capsules of suspended animation.  The Man of Steel rescues them by flying them through a “rainbow sun,” because Carey Bates apparently doesn’t understand how light works, and, though clumsily expressed, we get a good moment that sets the tone for the rest of the episode, as Superman thinks to himself that “this would have thrilled me once, an eternity ago!  Now even the most spectacular feats don’t give me a charge!  I’m just tired of doing my thing!”  It seems a bit uncharacteristic for Clark to refer to saving lives as “doing his thing,” but the wistfulness, the ennui of a man forever banished from his home, and now aged and facing the prospect of an eternal, anchorless life, is what gives this issue its emotional weight.

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Once rescued, the astronauts naturally have some questions, being chronal refugees themselves, after a fashion, having been in suspended animation for 5,000 years.  Superman has no time for such light weights and, in a really lovely panel, with unusual detail and depth for Swan (‘m thinking Russos’ inking should get some credit here), the Man of Tomorrow blows them off and heads for space, not even bothering to flag down a passing spacecraft, just burning out a component with his heat-vision to force them to stop.  Now that’s an example of super-dickery if ever there was one, but I feel it is somewhat justified by the emotional turmoil that Superman is dealing with.

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We get a brief summary of the story so far, which ends with a nice panel of the Time Trapper secretly observing his hapless victim.  The Man of Might then pays a visit to the Earth of this distant future, and he finds a grim sight awaiting him.  The planet is completely dead.  We get a neat, subtle (for the period) note at this point, where Clark remarks that he should have guessed as much “after a million years of pollution, war, and untold abuses from man.”  Once again, we find the thread of environmentalism being weaved into these comics, which is even more surprising given the generally traditional tone of these Superman books.

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Well, Earth is dead and of no use to anyone, so the galactic cleanup crew arrives to dispose of it in the form of two massive, moon-sized robots.  Superman, being rather sentimental about his adopted world and not entirely in his right mind tries to drive them off, but finds the massive machines entirely unfazed by his efforts.  A frontal assault having proved useless, he heads inside their giant heads, crossing wires and generally mucking things up.  He turns them both into gigantic electromagnets of the same polarity, causing them to repel each other with great violence.  It’s a clever solution, and it is nice to see Superman not simply juggle these planetoid sized automatons…but then Bates blows it by having our hero juggle a planet instead.

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Or rather, bring one to life.  In a ridiculous series of pages, Superman carves the dead world in two by drilling through it again and again, splitting it in two…though how exactly that’s supposed to lead to a world reborn is a bit beyond me.  Next Superman uses his…*sigh* super lungs to collect fresh atmosphere, gathers new vegetation, and new animals, all from alien worlds.

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Finally, and this is really more than a little troublesome if you think about it for more than five seconds, the Man of Steel steals a freaking family of neanderthal-like creatures, cave and all, flies them through space, and deposits them, entirely alone, on a new and alien planet.  Just so that he can play God to a new Garden of Eden.  Of course, his version of a supreme being is definitely the watchmaker type, because he’s off again on his wanderings the next moment, leaving these poor, displaced primitive folks to almost certainly die on this new world without a tribe to help them survive.  Not to mention, it’s just a mother, father, and a son.  It’s not like this new race can go beyond the second generation.

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Good job, Superman.  I’m beginning to think that maybe Lex has been right about you all these years.  And speaking of the smartest man on Earth, we get a rather neat flashback to an aged Luthor visiting the Superman museum back in the past, where he reflects that he never believed his nemesis was dead, nor would he believe it without seeing a body.  He knows he is nearing the end of his days, but the inventor is unwilling to let his hatred die with him, so he creates a small spacecraft, empowered by his own final breath, to hunt Superman across the stars and through the centuries.  Its’ a really cool scene, and it totally works for Luthor.  I rather like the idea of Lex being unable to let go, knowing that HE did not kill Superman, no matter what might have happened to his foe.  It’s a great story beat.

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This weapon has been traveling the spaceways for the last million years, improving its technology and pursuing its neverending search.  I’m reminded of Amazo from JLU, where he just kept adapting until he because practically unstoppable.  Well, the device happens to come across the Metropolis Marvel in his meanderings and strikes him down.  Our hero is saved from the very brink of death by the robotic healer from the cover, and we get another nice character moment, as Superman derides the futuristic physician for saving his life, as he would have welcomed the release of death.  Now, once more, he finds himself in the same position, directionless, ageless, and deathless.  It’s a real curse of eternal life moment.

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Back in the land of the living, despite his wishes, Superman pursues Lex’s weapon and destroys it by luring it into a massive comet.  Then…well, then the story gets weird.  I know, I know, you’re thinking, ‘wasn’t it already weird, with that whole reviving a dead planet thing?’  That’s a reasonable question, but at least that made sense in a Silver-Agey way.  This ending, though?  Well, I’m thinking that maybe Bates wrote himself into a corner.  So, how does he wrap up this tale and bring Superman home?

He has him re-live his entire life.  That’s right.  Superman flies far enough into the future that he suddenly wakes up again as a baby, living through his ENTIRE LIFE a second time, unable to change anything or deviate in any way from what happened.  Think about the Hell that would be for a moment.  Every mistake you ever made, every stupid thing you ever said, every embarrassing moment you ever  experienced, you get a second chance at every single one of them, but you can’t change a single thing!  Wow, I’m going to go ahead and say, I think that may be worse than living forever.  Of course, it also makes no darn sense.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m fine with the whole ‘time is curved’ concept.  It’s the out I was expecting, but why would Superman just pop back into his original life as an observer?  It’s just a bizarre story choice.

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The story finally ends with him observing the empty platform that the malfunctioning time bubble had occupied and considering his adventure.  It’s really a weak, weird ending for a story that held a surprising amount of promise.  On the whole, this is another very uneven issue, containing some great moments and some off-putting ones, with some just plain odd ones sprinkled in for flavor.  The pathos of Luthor hounding his greatest enemy even beyond the end of his life is a great boost to the tale, and Superman’s despair over his fate is rather touching in a few moments.  The problems with the recreation of Earth and the tacked-on, madness-inducing resolution weigh the story down, as does the fact that the Time Trapper’s roll in all of this remains entirely undiscovered and unpunished.  That wouldn’t bother me if we had checked in with him one more time to let him “win,” having tortured his enemy, even if he hadn’t completely trapped him.  As it is, this just seems like Bates ran out of pages and interest.  Still, there are elements here of something grander.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen out of 5.

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“One Hero Too Many”

Our Legion backup tale for this month is, for once, not markedly better than the headliner, being a by-the-numbers mystery where all the Legionnaires are working against each other to try to sacrifice themselves so their fellows don’t have to.  I’m beginning o lose track of how many Legion stories like this I’ve read.  This particular iteration has the distinction of involving politics and taxes, which is a new angle for me.  Basically, the Legion is meeting to test a teleportation device when the head of the future Earth’s equivalent of the IRS shows up, saying the team needs to pay taxes on this new gadget!

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This is quite a surprise, as the Legion is a tax-free outfit, but this fellow informs them that such organizations are limited to 25 members, while they have 26.  The rest of the story consists of the Legionnaires fighting to fall on the sword of resignation.  They each claim to be more useless than the last, though I’ve got to say I think Bouncing Boy probably wins that particular argument…

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As you might be able to tell, this story bored me a bit.  There’s really not a whole lot to it, the central conflict being about an unknown person sabotaging all of the Legion’s efforts to pick a member to drop.  They try to draw lots, only to have them burst into inextinguishable flames.  Next, Brainy has his super computer calculate who has done the least super feats in the last year, only to have it select him!

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Supergirl insists on taking his place as the odd woman out, but she is stopped by the story’s strangest moment, as the Legion of Super Pets show up and insist that if she goes, they go.  Wow.  Is there a more Silver-Agey concept than the Legion of Super pets?  I honestly can’t think of one.  I can’t decide what’s sillier, a superpowered horse or a superpowered monkey…or maybe it’s the idea that a cat with superpowers would be a hero rather than a villain.  (Hey!  Don’t throw things at me; I’m a cat person, but you have to admit that the latter is WAY more likely..)

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The issue ends with Superboy getting caught red-handed in an act of sabotage, revealing he was behind all of the others.  He hands in his resignation and refuses to tell his future teammates WHY.  Interestingly enough, he doesn’t tell the reader either.  The Teen of Steel bids a rather steamy goodbye to Duo Damsel, and then he heads back to his home time, leaving the Legion wondering why he resigned.

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This is a rather generic story, with nothing that interesting going on.  None of the Legionnaires evince all that much personality either, other than Duo Damsel at the very end.  Any story that the Super Pets show up in is going to suffer in my eyes.  Given the promising notes in the headline story, this one feels like even more of a relic of the Silver Age.  I think it will also merit 2.5 Minutemen.

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Aquaman #50

Aquaman_Vol_1_50.jpgCover Artist: Nick Cardy
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“Deadman Rides Again!”
Writer: Neal Adams
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Editor: Dick Giordano

Now here we go!  While this issue isn’t perfect, it is definitely just flat-out beautiful!  We’ve got the ideal Aquaman artist and the definitive Bronze Age artist together in a single issue, Jim Aparo and Neal Adams, teaming up to tell an intertwined tale about Aquaman and Deadman.  Of course, I’m also simply always excited to cover an Aquaman story by the SAG team.  This issue was covered by that home to all Aqua-awesomeness, The Aquaman Shrine, and I’ll be drawing on some of Rob Kelly’s boundless expertise on this subject.

Let’s start with that dynamite cover!  I love that long-time Aqua-artist Nick Cardy, who always produced truly beautiful books during his tenure on the title is still around to create our covers here at this later date.  I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a Cardy cover that I didn’t like.  The man always seemed to bring something compelling and dynamic to his composition, and this particular offering is no exception.  We have this really intriguing image of Aquaman being attacked by this strange substance from an even stranger city, all against that stark white background.  It’s beautifully rendered and quite striking.  I’d certainly have plunked down my $0.15 (just 15 cents!  Even calculated for inflation, that’s barley a dollar today.  Why are we paying 4 bucks for a 15 page comic these days?) for this comic.  How could you not want to know what was going on inside?

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And speaking of that very topic, let’s dive (I’m sorry, I’m sorry!) right in!  This issue demonstrates, perhaps as well as any I’ve read, the power of Jim Aparo’s visual imagination.  Throughout it is designed in fascinating, psychedelic fashion, and the reader’s disorientation in strange and alien landscapes recreates that of our hero as he journeys into worlds unknown.  We start with a splash page that hints at what is to come, and then we are dumped straight into a bizarre world that defies explanation or description.  Instead of wasting my words, I’ll just add an image of the strange vista that greets the Sea King as he recovers his senses.

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He thinks back, trying to piece together how he ended up in this place, and we are treated to several panels of Aparo’s wonderfully fluid illustrations of the Undersea Aces in aquatic motion.  You really get a sense of their grace and power as they swim along.

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They quickly spy Ocean Master and Mera, still in parley as we left them in the last issue, and before Aquaman can finish his challenge to his villainous brother, Ocean Master interrupts, swearing that his intentions are honorable.  In fact, he is there to warn Monarch of the Oceans about “Them!”  Orm declares that, for the first time in years, his mind is clear, and he remembers that Aquaman is his brother; unfortunately, this realization came too late, and he made a deal with “Them” to kill his sibling turned enemy.  Before he can explain the threat, a strange craft arrives, disgorging even stranger looking creatures armed with sinister devices.  Aquaman moves to defend himself, but he’s too late!  In a really striking panel, the Sea King is consumed by an inky black ray that literally splashes the page with obscuring ink.

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We return to the “present,” where our Submarine hero is “swimming” through the air of the alien world in which he has awakened.  He comes upon a vast, amoebic lifeform with a single, cyclopean eye.  The creature pursues Arthur, and his strength and telepathy seem useless.  Suddenly, he finds that he is not alone in his fight, as a pretty young woman in odd garb opens fire on the beast.  Aquaman tries to contact her telepathically, but to no avail.  He takes the weapon from her and strikes the monster in its eye, only to have the girl shove him to cover as it explodes!

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After he regains his senses, Aquaman begins to hear a telepathica “echo,” a distant, garbled signal, which is actually a familiar name!  This begins a nice little game that Aparo plays throughout the issue, hiding references in the “noise” of this bizarre world.  Let me also take a moment here and point out how refreshing it is to have our hero go to a world where there would be no reason for the inhabitants to speak English, and to have that actually be followed up in the story.  It’s a minor point, but it’s nice to see Skeates is on top of that type of detail.

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As the Sea King pursues the “sound,” desperate to find a way home to Mera and his kingdom, he discovers that his lovely protector is following him, right to a wondrous and outlandish alien city that sees to stretch in all directions.  If this were a Lovecraft story, I’m pretty sure that the sight would tear Aquaman’s mind asunder, but our hero is made of stern stuff, and he takes the strangeness of this pace in stride.

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Again he finds the inhabitants of this world “deaf” to his telepathic pleas, so he continues to pursue the “sound” he heard before, which lead him to a large building, but it is guarded!  Aquaman, plans to rush the guard, awash in garbled telepathic signals that are actually a whole set of names, featuring the best and brightest at DC!  The SAG team is featured, as are many, many others.  See how many you can pick out!

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The guard responds by firing, seemingly blindly, and his gun discharges those very same bizarre green bubbles from the cover.  Aquaman laughs them off, until the coat him, sapping his strength and threatening to bring him down.  He shakes them off in a really lovely sequence, diving once more for the guard before he can fire another salvo, and lays a tremendous looking blow on him.

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Once Aquaman reaches the interior of the structure, he discovers that it is, in fact, a temple, the one place where the inhabitants of this mad city are willing to “converse” telepathically, since they believe that communication is sacred.

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Arthur learns that the people of this world have no conception of planets, stars, or anything beyond their own realm.  The girl tells the hero that their leader is the only one who might be able to aid him, and that is where the first half of our story ends!

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This is, as I said, not a perfect issue, but it is a darn good one.  It is very creative, with a mysterious delima, fascinating new setting, and subtle but consistent characterization for Aquaman.  This is an inventive tale, especially visually, and you can really see the SAG team starting to hit their stride.  They’re doing new and exciting things, and they are putting out stories that are definitely of the Bronze, rather than the Silver Age.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.

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“Deadman Rides Again!”

A particularly neat feature of this and the next two issues is that they include a set of backup Deadman stories drawn and plotted by none other than Neal Adams himself!  What is particularly cool about this arrangement is that editor Dick Giordano was not one to do things by half measures, so he wove the Deadman stories into the main Aquaman narrative.  The Aquaman Shrines’ Mr. Kelly writes that this decision was made in order to give Aparo a chance to get caught up on his deadlines, and I think it is fortunate for us that it did, as we get a really unique story.  It’s a rarity when a backup and a main feature overlap like this, and the pairing here is a particularly fun and unlikely.

This chapter of our tale opens in the mystical land of Nanda Parbat, where the restless Boston Brand prepares to resume his identity as Deadman in a quixotic attempt to fight evil and balance the cosmic scales.  He has a trippy, fascinatingly drawn conversation with the powerful…spirit…god…thing?  Rama Kushna.  This gives us one of my favorite panels in the book, a wonderful conflation of Deadman’s blank visage with the diving submarine of the Ocean Master.

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Aquaman50_26.jpgKushna informs Brand that he can begin his quest, but first he must address a danger that threatens the entire world, and she points him towards the aquatic villain without much more explanation.  Deadman pops in on Orm and plays fly on the wall long enough to observe him plant some sort of device and meet with a bizarre pair of aliens near a otherworldly craft.  I’m not crazy about the design of these aliens, as they are a bit too Silve Age-y for my tastes, but I’ll be darned if they don’t look quite striking in Adam’s stark pencils.

During this villainous tete-a-tete, Deadman learns that Orm has made a deal to have Aquaman killed, and he pursues Ocean Master to warn the Sea King.  In trying to take over Orm’s mind, Boston finds a small piece of it inaccessible, and in his efforts to break in, he inadvertently releases the blocked memories of the villain’s true family ties.  Thus, Orm recovers his memories and rushes off to warn his brother, bringing that portion of the plot back up to speed with the main tale.

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I know folks make fun of Orm’s stylized helmet, but I’ve always rather liked it.  The design is very unique, and when streamlined as it was in later years, it makes for a great look for the villain.

One crisis averted, Deadman heads back to the aliens’ base, but they seem to be aware of spirits like him.  Before they can act, he discovers their plan, which is to reduce the intelligence of the Earth’s population drastically in order to make them more tractable.  I’m not the first to say this, but the current political climate really makes me wonder if a similar plan succeeded in our world.  The aliens quickly realize what is going on when the intangible hero starts possessing them, and they have a defense on board for just such an occasion!  They release a bizarre looking creature that resembles a cross between a monkey and a cat, with huge, hypnotic eyes.  It tears Deadman free of his host, and casts him into…”Noplace!”  There our tale ends.

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This is an interesting story, though we don’t get a whole lot of plot.  Fortunately, it can ride the narrative coat-tails of the main feature, so it doesn’t suffer much in that department.  The art is, of course, superb, and we get several really captivating page and panel designs.  It is appropriately moody and psychedelic for a Deadman story, despite the slightly goofy alien designs.  I’ll give it a 4 out of 5, mostly for its role in the larger tale.

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Detective Comics #398

Detective_Comics_398.jpgExecutive Editor: Carmine Infantino
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Moon Struck”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Julius Schwartz

This issue of Detective comics is something of a rarity, being a better Bruce Wayne story than it is a Batman story.  It isn’t a bad Batman tale, but it just has a few character moments for Bruce out of the mask that I particularly enjoyed.  We start off with a lovely metaphoric Neal Adams cover, so lovely that I wonder if the Bob Brown artwork inside might have been a bit of a letdown to kids who paid their change without thumbing through it ahead of time.  Brown is a fine, solid artist, but his action is a bit stiff, and he’s certainly no match for Adams.

The story itself begins in an airplane winging its way west as a couple of stewardesses try approach Bruce Wayne’s seat, hungry for an autograph.  Bruce, traveling incognito in a pair of all-disguising sunglasses (taking disguise tips from Clark, are we?), thinks they’re after him, and there is a fun little subversion of that which gives him a slight touch of humility as they ask the lady beside him for her John Hancock.  It turns out she is the famous, or perhaps more accurately, INfamous author of a new smutty, tell-all scandal book about Hollywood’s best and brightest.  This prompts a rather surprising and interesting exchange between this woman, Maxine Melanie, and our Un-Caped Crusader.

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She offers to sign his copy, and Bruce responds rather stiffly, assuring the overconfident lady that he “wouldn’t be seen dead reading your book!”  She responds that he’s alone, as her work will soon be splashed all over the big screen thanks to the very studio our hero is on his way to visit.  Our scene shifts to said studio, and we get a continuation of that theme, which I find most intriguing.

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Wayne storms into the studio and demands that they kill this movie, declaring that no business of his will have anything to do with such trash.  The executives respond by asking him if he’s even read the book, a fair point, and one that Bruce concedes, offering to read the work in question.  The plot begins to pick up here, but honestly, this short scene is the portion of the issue that caught my attention.  I really enjoyed the fact that Bruce Wayne was concerned with, not only murder, mayhem, and such other obvious evils, but was also with morality on a smaller scale.  He intends that he and his businesses should be a force for good, moral good as well as practical good, in the world.

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That’s an excellent little touch.  That’s a hero, someone who isn’t just saving lives, but who is trying to live a morally exemplary life himself.  Not only that, but when he is challenged about the book, he immediately recognizes the point and agrees to read it.  That’s a reasonable, thoughtful response.  This is not the emotionally crippled sociopath that is the modern Batman.  I know this may seem prudish to a modern audience, but I really appreciate a character that is not simply a moral relativist.  How completely alien for heroes today who are, as often as not, devoid of all real virtue.  It’s sad that these days it’s not even possible to differentiate heroes from their villains by their being unwilling to kill.

Anyway, as for the plot itself, Bruce ends up having to go to a bookstore to get the book, as the studio’s advance copy is missing, and he finds the arrogant author there doing a signing.  Suddenly, she is murdered with a poisoned pen by a surprisingly spry granny who throws Wayne for a loop when he tries to stop her.  The murderer is clearly someone in disguise, and thus begins the real mystery.  We see some of the stiffness in Brown’s art in the action of this page.

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Well, this hated writer had a long list of enemies, but at the top of said list are the Hollywood luminaries skewered in her book, a husband and wife along with an aging leading man.  Batman finally makes his appearance and begins to investigate, discovering that the couple each try to take the fall for the other, the husband going so far as to attack the Dark Knight with a poker.  Yet our hero is unconvinced.

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On his way to interrogate the last fading star, he is attacked once again by the husband!  Or rather, it LOOKS like the husband, but it turns out to be our third suspect, who, as well as being a talented actor, is also a master of disguise!  This leads us to the other charming feature of this issue, which is the reveal that the star couple really do love one another, each having been willing to sacrifice their lives for their spouse.  That’s a good ending.

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So, thus ends a rather unusual Batman story, one that is not a particularly great BATMAN tale or a particularly excellent mystery, but which has some intriguing features that make it stand out as a character tale.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, just for being interesting.

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“Moon Struck”

Here we have another rather disappointing Robin story, which is a shame, because I’ve been looking forward to these backups. The setup is certainly interesting.  A Russian scientist is lecturing at Hudson University, and he has been presented with a moon rock by NASA.  Of course, young Dick Grayson is in the audience for the lecture, but so is an antsy young man named Herb who is so paranoid he is wearing what looks like a homemade space suit in fear of radiation.

When the students approach the hunk of lunar geography it gives off a bizarre flash of green light, leaving the fretful teen a verdant shade of weird himself!  This causes a lockdown of the school and fears of radiation and who knows what else.

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Robin hits the scene and starts to check into this strange occurrence.  He checks out the showers, where Herb was right before he started looking like a Martian, discovering some strangely scented soap.  Just as he is starting to put things together, the lights go out and he is jumped by a mysterious figure!

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Here’s where things get disappointing.  Robin has a brief fight with this guy, and then he is taken down by one punch.  Big hero.  The issue ends with him recovering consciousness and with me once again saddened by the poor performance of a secondary member of the Bat family.

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I really want to call this a head-blow, but unfortunately, it doesn’t quite make the grade.

I think that the really fun bit of this story, at least for me, is the Cold War and Space Race subtext to the issue.  One of the students remarks that he’s surprised that the Russian scientist is working with NASA since his people lost the race to the Moon, and it struck me, here in 1970, the Moon landings were a very recent memory.  We are not yet even an entire year on since mankind first walked on the Moon. Science fiction has only recently become science fact. This very month a real-life space opera was playing out above the nation’s collective heads in the form of Apollo 13’s struggle for survival. I’m not quite sure what to make of this realization yet, but I am quite sure it is significant. There is no doubt that it puts this whole era into somewhat sharper focus for me.

It is one of the strengths of man that we organize reality in our thoughts, but it can also be a weakness as we impose boundaries and borders, cutting off possibilities and preventing ourselves from seeing connections. Thus, to my mind, the Space Race was a phenomenon of the Sixties, something quite alien to the atmosphere of the 70s, yet here we are, in 1970 with these events very clearly part of the zeitgeist.  This is a good lesson for me as a reader not to be too rigid in my thinking.

In the final analysis, the mystery of the moon fragment is an intriguing one, but Dick being dropped like a sack of potatoes doesn’t really seem worthy of the character.  The subtext of Cold War tension adds a little something, but it’s still a sub-standard tale  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.

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That’s it for this month.  I hope you’ll join me again next week for the next league in our journey Into the Bronze Age!

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: March 1970 (Part 4)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpg

And back to the Bronze Age, March 1970!

  • Action Comics #386
  • Batman #220
  • Brave and the Bold #88
  • Challengers of the Unknown #72
  • Detective Comics #397
  • Flash #195
  • G.I. Combat #140 (no Haunted Tank story, won’t be covered)
  • Green Lantern #75
  • Justice League of America #79
  • Phantom Stranger #5
  • Showcase #89
  • World’s Finest #192

Bonus!: Star Hawkins

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

Showcase #89

Showcase_Vol_1_89.jpgCover Artist: Mike Sekowsky
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel

 Jason’s somewhat vague quest continues!  This month, we open with a one page summary of the previous issue and then pick right up where we left off.  Jason is riding down the road towards Paris, while far away his corpulent adversary is yelling long distance at a couple of hired killers, ordering them to kill the boy and his missing sister.  The interesting note here is that the two French thugs (how very not intimidating) are answering Tuborg, the hefty horror’s call on a car phone, circa 1970!  I’m always astonished by such things.  I wonder how they worked before the invention of cell phones and the like.  I assume it has to be some type of radio hook-up, but I don’t know.

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Anachronistic technology aside, Jason finds a young blonde woman next to a sporty foreign car, and stops, thinking it is his sister.  When he greets her, she answers in a thick southern accent, supposedly Louisianian, but much more like Texan.  She further surprises him by planting a big kiss on him!

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The girl seems to already be picking out their wedding china when the killers arrive.  Despite the fact that they are only about fifty feet away and using a telescopic scope, these geniuses still manage to miss the young pair by a good several feet.

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Jason and the young lady, Billie Jo, take cover, and once again surprising our hero, the girl pulls out a revolver and continues indulging in Texan stereotypes, though she’s from “Lo’isiana.”  She quite blithely starts blazing away, and then the pair make their escape on Jason’s bike.  Except for the weird angle of Billie’s arm, this gives us a pretty dynamic and attractive splash page, which shows what Sekowsky can do when he wants to.

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A chase ensues, and the youthful daredevil manages to stay ahead of the assassins by going cross country until he runs out of gas!  They flee into the woods and are pursued by the French toughs, armed with a submachine gun and a rifle!  The girl displays positively suicidal levels of bravery, insisting on stopping to take on the two heavily armed killers with her single revolver, but fortunately for her, Jason has more sense.

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They arrive at a Chalet looming out of the trees and get in through a window.  Hiding in the darkened building, Billie once again falls to romantic thoughts, but they are interrupted by a gun barrel!

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They discover an older woman, the owner of the house who is not too happy about these trespassers in her home, until she realizes that Billie Jo is a southerner.  Fortunately for our young lovers, this lady just happens to also be from “Lo’isiana,” despite the fact that she is living in a Chateau in the middle of the French countryside!  What a coincidence!  As I say, it is fortunate for Jason and Billie Jo, as this tough old lady also displays foolish levels of bravery and confidence, casually engaging in a gun battle with the two killers outside to defend these two kids she’s just met.

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dc showcase 089-22.jpgAs the bullets fly, the heroes flee at their savior’s urging, refueling the bike and taking off, the assassins in hot pursuit in a stolen car.  The chase continues with the our protagonists joining a cross-country bike race (where’s Lance Armstrong?), which helps them stay ahead of the hunters, but it all comes to a head when they reach a bridge that is under construction.  Jason manages to stop his bike in time, but the heavier car of his pursuers is not so agile, and they take a brief but dramatic trip down a cliff.

Our story ends with Jason telling Billie Jo his story.  Just think about that for a moment.  This entire time, all she’s known about him is that he is American and was being hunted by killers, but nevertheless she is willing to go through all of this for him.  This kid must have some kind of charisma!  The two part, and our young wanderer continues his eponymous quest.  Our last image is another of those really cool, movie-poster like teasers for the next issue.  I’ll say this for Sekowsky, he can create some nice, cinematic images, even if the quality of his art in this book is rather uneven.  It is, however, superior to that Phantom Stranger story from this month.

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All-in-all, this is a solid adventure yarn, quick moving and exciting, though the double coincidence of meeting Billie Jo, who looks like his sister, and then their expatriate protector is a bit much, especially as she and the young lady prove to be distantly related on top of it all.  Also, the complete, unthinking willingness of these utter strangers to risk life and limb in a fight that they A) know nothing about, and B) have no stake in, is rather wild.  It makes for an entertaining story, but it certainly strains credulity.

That’s not to mention the inexplicable competence and coolness of these two ladies.  Now, I’m all for southerners being depicted as hyper-capable and tough.  After all, we’re a hardy breed, and rural folks will generally be more inured to the hardships of life than others, though those generally don’t involve gun battles in this country.  This book seems to read like a movie in a lot of ways, and that element of cinematic style is, I imagine, intentional.  This type of tale is surely not unknown in the 70s, the hero on the run, meeting interesting and colorful characters along the way.  It’s a good formula.

Jason still doesn’t have much personality, though.  In fact, he utterly pales in comparison to the two ladies in this story.  In the final analysis, I suppose I’d give this story 3 Minutemen out of 5.  It’s a pretty average adventure.  Like the previous issue, it’s a nice change of pace, but nothing earth-shattering.

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World’s Finest #192

World's_Finest_Comics_192.jpgCover Artist: Curt Swan
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

 I really do hate the kryptonite deus ex machina of these Silver Age flavored Superman stories.  Bring on “Kryptonite No More!”  This particular team-up is another Bob Haney outing, and while it is not nearly as zaney as some of his offerings, it is certainly lacking in logical consistency and has some sillier elements.  I’m guessing Haney had just watched Stalag 17 or the like, as this story has the definite feel of that WWII/Cold War thriller genre.  It features out heroes getting captured behind the Iron Curtain in some vaguely German-type country by a generic villainous army/secret police officer.  As an aside, I’m really amazed there isn’t a TV Trope entry for this type of character.  It’s really a plot much more suited to the likes of G.I. Joe than Superman and Batman.

The interesting thing about it is how this story provides a little snapshot into the Cold War tensions of the day, but even in 1970, I have to think this book would have felt like a bit of a throwback.  After all, there’s a big difference between 50s flavor red scare and 80s flavor.  I imagine the 70s would likely have its own distinct subgenre.

This Haney tale begins with Superman flying over a generic “Central European dictatorship, named Lubania, where an equally generically evil officer, in this case, named Colonel Koslov, is observing the Man of Steel via radar.  The Colonel has his lackey trigger an “accident” with one of their trains, endangering the lives of many of his people, all in order to lure Superman into their nation.  The Man of Tomorrow obliges, though he notes that he doesn’t have permission to enter Lubanian lands.  Superman saves the train, but he is hit by a device of Dr. Zirkan, a generic scientist type and unwilling pawn of Koslov.

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This machine emits “synthetic kryptonite radiations, which are converted into radio waves….because that makes sense.  But far be it for me to criticize comic book science.  No, the thing that bothers me about this whole setup is the fact that this mini-Mussolini just happens to have a device capable of projecting long-distance kryptonite waves.  Who is this loser to have such a thing?  Not only that, but apparently it just robs Superman of his powers, not crippling or harming him otherwise.  What?  Isn’t kryptonite, you know, toxic to the Man of Steel?  Details such as this matter not one whit to Zaney Haney.

Well, nonetheless, the effects of this device prove rather troublesome for Superman, as he happens to be soaring over the countryside when it hits, sending him plummeting to his death!  This panel demonstrates rather nicely the solid job Andru does on the art chores for this issue.  He turns in a lovely house style-type issue.

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Or rather, it would have if the Man of Might were any second rate hero, but he is as resourceful as he is powerful, and he manages to steer for a water tower, using his cape as a parachute.  It’s a nice moment, and it is within comic book logic for him to survive this way, despite the fact that he’d just be wet in addition to pulped in real life.  I’ll give Haney that one.

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Koslov steps up the villainous cliches by bringing out his hunting falcon as he begins the search for the downed superhero.  Meanwhile, on the ground, Superman discovers that these plans have been well laid, and the countryside is plastered with posters offering a reward for his capture.  Realizing that he can’t stroll out of the country in his ‘working clothes,’ the Man of Tomorrow wisely decides to change into his civilian garb, even tearing and muddying it to make him seem like a vagrant.  That’s smart, and nicely indicative of Clark’s ability to use his brain as well as his brawn, which makes his next move so baffling and frustrating.  He lands in a deserted spot in the countryside, changing in a ruined house.  He realizes he can’t just carry his super suit around, so he does the sensible thing and buries it….wait, no he doesn’t, he has a much goofier idea.  To ensure it isn’t discovered, he buys some balloons from some children, ties them to his costume, and sends it aloft.

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Clearly, that’s much safer than burying it in the middle of nowhere.  The costume will be much harder to find hanging nicely visible in the air.  It should come as no surprise that Koslov sends his falcon to retrieve the costume, which acts as a giant “SUPERMAN WAS HERE” sign.  He then puts some dogs on the hero’s trail, and they hound him (I’m sorry!) through the countryside.  Superman makes another clever, though bat-guano insane, move here, as he swings along high tension power lines to throw the dogs off his trail.  He’s no longer invulnerable, so one slip and he’s a fricasseed Metropolis Marvel.

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Superman escapes to the city, making his way to the American embassy, only to discover that the “ambassador” is a fake.  He apparently realized this even before entering the building because the flag outside only had 48 stars.  One wonders why bothered to walk into the obvious trap.  We clearly aren’t meant to ask such questions of this story.

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Clark steals a radio from the embassy, and he once again displays his resourcefulness by making a mini-receiver out of the larger machine that he can conceal as he moves about the city.  Using this device, he hears a “radio liberation” broadcast from Batman!  The Dark Knight informs his crime-fighting partner that he’ll be parachuting into the country that night in order to help him escape!  Unfortunately, the voice is a fake, and Koslov peppers the countryside with bogus Batmen to trap Superman.  Our hero happens upon one of them, and he fakes cowardice in order to get the drop on this duplicitous double.  He steals the fallen fake’s costume and is able to move about undetected.

WF192-14 The Prison of No Excape.jpg

Eventually he encounters another phony hero, and the two come to blows, but it turns out the phony is actually the genuine article, who Superman knocks out just as he discovers this fact.  This I didn’t care for.  Sure, Superman could turn Batman to ash with a look, but without his powers, the Caped Crusader should really be able to clean his clock without too much trouble.  Now, Bats gets his bell rung because he’s stunned by the realization that he’s fighting his friend, but still, the whole contest shouldn’t have been that even.  I realize I’m well inside the borders of pedantic nerd-dom here, but it bothers me nonetheless.  Y’all know by now that a lack of logical consistency is my main pet peeve in these stories.  On the plus side, this sequence is nicely dynamic and well drawn.

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Anyway, their fight attracts our generic Colonel, and he and a handful of soldiers manage to capture Superman and Batman, the world’s finest heroes.  These are just regular losers with guns, not a super power between them.  Superman is without his powers, sure, but you’re telling me Batman couldn’t manage to drop a smoke pellet, throw a batarang, or otherwise arrange a daring escape?  This niggling problem is magnified by the next twist of the story.

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Rather than gun them down, our heroes are carted off and interned in a prison camp that is right out of The Great Escape.  Here’s the bit that bothers me.  They let Batman keep his costume, not even bothering to take his utility belt.  ‘Do we want to know who Batman really is?’  ‘Nah, he’s our prisoner, why would we do that?’  That’s just asinine, as is the idea that a utility-belted Batman would spend more than about five minutes in this generic prison camp.  This is why the folks behind the Lone Ranger insisted that he never get captured long enough to be unmasked because, obviously, that’s the first thing you do when you capture a masked man.

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This story employs an interesting concept, even some really enjoyable episodes, but the ridiculous elements, the maddening plot contrivances, and the usual Haney excesses really ruin it.  I like seeing Superman having to rely on his wits, and the idea of him powerless behind enemy lines has some legs.  He and Batman teaming up to evade secret police could give us a good yarn.  Instead, we get this schizophrenic little story.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen, though the frustrating bits are almost enough for me to knock it even further down.

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Bonus Feature: Star Hawkins

Star_Hawkins_001.jpgWriter: John Broome
Artists: Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs

(Gil Kane for the Who’s Who Entry)

This is another of those rotating features from Strange Adventures, like the Atomic Knights, and like that other great concept, this particular character also tended to produce above average sci-fi yarns.  Star Hawkins himself was a neat character idea, a private detective in in the distant future.  You see plenty of spacemen characters, explorers, space cops, and the like, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered another future private eye in comics.  It’s a really neat way to explore a future setting, not from the top, with spaceships racing between the stars, but from the bottom, with a gumshoe walking through the rough streets of that far day.  He premiered in Strange Adventures #114, and like the Knights, he was a rotating feature that appeared in every third issue following, though this character lasted longer than the ill-fated warriors of the wastelands.

Star is not exactly the traditional “Hard Boiled Detective,” not a Phillip Marlowe or a Sam Spade.  Instead, he’s a bit more of the smooth type, more like the charming and cheerful Richard Diamond.  The Detective is clever, tough, but he’s not overly cynical or world-weary.  In fact, he’s a bit of a romantic.  He is, however, in keeping with the archetype, perpetually down on his luck and short of scratch.  Hawkins is perpetually running short of funds and in need of a case.

Yet, Star doesn’t tackle his cases by himself.  No, he has a very unique and entertaining girl friday named Ilda!  Interestingly enough, she’s a robot secretary who is usually key to Hawkins resolving his cases, often in unusual and surprising ways.  This is, at its heart, a comedy feature, but it actually pulls off genuine entertainment, which is something of a rarity in the Silver Age.

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Your average story has Star so low on funds he might even have to pawn poor Ilda (which raises some interesting questions about robots and free will, but that’s neither here nor there), and then finding a case that can pay the bill, often catching clever crooks, usually with Hilda’s aid.  For a secretary, she came complete with all kinds of features.  She’s super strong, super tough, ray-proof, and has all sorts of neat features, like the ability to communicate telepathically with her boss.

Together, they fought a range of interesting future crimes, and the whole range of stories were often funny, entertaining, creative, and just plain fun.  Both Star and Ilda are likable characters, and their dynamic is a charming one, the classic gumshoe and secretary, with the twist of Ilda’s indispensable aid.  All-told, these are fun, light stories, and they are decidedly above the quality of the average Silver Age sci-fi yarn.  Check them out and discover a neat hidden gem from that era!

 

Final Thoughts:

So, here we are at the end of our third month.  This was an interesting set of stories, and once again we had some highs and lows, often from the same folks.  This month gave us an excellent Bob Haney story and one that really rubbed me wrong.  We had artists turning in good work in one book and rather ugly work in another.  It was an uneven month, and still very much in that middle ground.  I feel like Matthew Arnold’s pilgrim from his “Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse,” looking down at the ruins of a former time and feeling the pressure of a new age about to begin, yet not finding himself fully present in either reality.

“Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born,
With nowhere yet to rest my head,
Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.
Their faith, my tears, the world deride—
I come to shed them at their side.”

Fortunately, unlike Arnold’s traveler, we are not quite so morose about the scene before us.  We are, however, very much in an intermediate stage of comics.  The major events of the Bronze Age wait just over the horizon, and there is still much influence of the Silver Age on these stories.  In fact, I’d say a good quarter of them, notably the Haney and Superman books, are just about indistinguishable from your average issues from the mid 1960s.  Yet, the Batman books are beginning to change already, unsteadily, but with increasing speed and consistency, they are leading the way to something new.  Of course, next month sees the advent of that groundbreaking run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow by O’Neil and Adams.  We have an increasing social conscious evident in Justice League, an evident desire to mix things up in Phantom Stranger and Showcase, and there is more on the horizon.  I find myself once again anxious to dive into next month’s stories!

In particular, I find myself very eagerly (and rather impatiently) awaiting the arrival of The King at DC Comics in 1971.  Jack Kirby will very soon, in just over a year of publication, begin his amazing and all-too-brief tenure of storytelling in the DC Universe.  1971 will give us the short, yet incredibly productive and foundational runs of all of the 4th World titles.  I’ve read all of those before some years ago, and they are very much a work in progress.  Much like Lee and Kirby’s amazing run on the Fantastic Four, every issue throws out an unprecedented amount of concepts, and some of them are brilliant and endure, some of them are clunkers.  The overall effect, though, is fairly mind-blowing.  Plus, who can resist Jack Kirby’s spell-binding art!

I’m also looking forward to the many new, though short-lived books that are going to pop-up in the 70s proper.  In particular, I’m excited about reading through the insane sounding Beowulf book from 1975.  I’m a medievalist, and Beowulf is one of the texts I study, so it will be a lot of fun to see this rather unique take on the epic.  Plus, I love Beowulf himself as a character (he’s my second favorite epic hero, after Aeneas).

All of this is to say, there is some really exciting work on the horizon, and I hope you’ll all join me as we continue our trek…Into the Bronze Age!

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Surprisingly, we don’t have any more head-blows to add to the counter.  We came close with several characters, including Vigilante and Batman, but they didn’t quite conform to the stereotype.

 

Into the Bronze Age: March 1970 (Part 3)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpg

And back to the Bronze Age, March 1970!

  • Action Comics #386
  • Batman #220
  • Brave and the Bold #88
  • Challengers of the Unknown #72
  • Detective Comics #397
  • Flash #195
  • G.I. Combat #140 (no Haunted Tank story, won’t be covered)
  • Green Lantern #75
  • Justice League of America #79
  • Phantom Stranger #5
  • Showcase #89
  • World’s Finest #192

Bonus!: Star Hawkins

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

Green Lantern #75

Green_Lantern_Vol_2_75.jpgCover Artist: Gil Kane
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Joe Giella

Well, here we are.  This is the last issue of Green Lantern before Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil would begin their landmark run, combining the title with Green Arrow.  It’s a shame the classic Lantern tales don’t end on a better note, as this story isn’t particularly impressive.  Interestingly enough, there’s not even the slightest hint of the change coming the next issue.  This is mostly a Silver Age GL story, too odd to be called by-the-numbers, yet with no trace of the pathos (overblown and silly though it may seem now) to be found in the book’s new direction.  One can only imagine the shock that longtime readers must have felt, buying this book one month, and that first O’Neil issue two months later.

As for this issue, despite the fairly awesome cover, rather nicely designed by Gil Kane, it does not prove all that interesting in the final analysis.  I really like that image, GL struggling to keep the two worlds apart.  It’s a good visual metaphor, though not one that fits this story all that well.  The tale has a lot of really promising elements, but the central plot is weird and Silver Age-y, including a number of strange story choices and nonsensical plot elements.  It begins with Hal, the traveling toy salesman (that secret identity still galls me to no end), as he discovers that his rival, the lovely Olivia Reynolds, has suddenly taken ill.  After being denied entrance to her room, because of course he was, not being family or having any particular connection to her, Hal decides to barge in as Green Lantern!

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The attending physician fills the Emerald Gladiator in on Olivia’s condition, which is critical.  She isn’t responding to any treatments, and Hal tries to use his ring to heal her.  This actually raises a rather interesting and troubling ethical question for this character concept.  If GL’s ring can heal sicknesses and treat untreatable illnesses, shouldn’t he be spending all of his time power-ring zapping cancer out of sick kids or the like?  I mean, utilitarianism has its problems, but there does seem to be a ‘greater good’ question in play here.  I suppose that’s the trouble with wish fulfillment powers, right?  With infinite power comes infinite moral responsibility.  That’s a subject that Astro City dealt with in a wonderful manner with the Samaritan.

Philosophizing aside, GL’s ring discovers that the young woman is being affected by a strange form of energy.  The Emerald Crusader is about to head out to follow this energy beam when the first particularly strange story choice shows up.  The Doctor, Eli Bently, insists on accompanying the hero.  He claims that his medical knowledge will obviously be necessary to save Miss Reynolds.  After all, clearly they have an entire semester that covers strange energy emanations in medical school…though, in the DC Universe, maybe that would be a good idea after all.  You’d think after shoe-horning in this random doctor, Broome might make him integral to the plot in some way.  Well, if that is the case, you’re clearly expecting far too much logical consistency out of this story.  This is not Chekhov’s Doctor.

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The unlikely pair follow the energy and discover that it is coming from the portal to the anti-matter Universe of Qward!  Here’s our first promising note.  Qward is a really neat concept, and one that is definitive of the GL mythos and the wider DCU at large.  While it is given great development in the modern day, it still had legs even back in its early incarnations.

So, does GL leave the doctor back on Earth?  Don’t be silly, clearly Doc Bently is VITAL to the success of their mission!  Hal hauls him into the incredibly perilous Qwardian Universe where there is an entire world set on killing them.  They’re attacked by Weaponers right away, who have developed a teleportation technology allowing them to zap ahead and hit the Lantern in force very rapidly.  The Emerald Gladiator overcomes a few bands of them, but then is hit with a powerful new weapon that almost kills him.

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Suddenly, he is saved by a strange Qwardian!  The man teleports the stunned Lantern to safety, then dashes away without much explanation.  Shortly, he is cut down by the Weaponers, and Hal reacts to the death of his savior with about the same amount of effort and intensity that your or I might bring to bear when we misplace our keys.  Our fearless hero casually theorizes that his mysterious benefactor “must have secretly been a member of a resistance group here” and “in rescuing me he was only doing his job…and paid with his life.”  This really bothered me.  Green Lantern, armed with the most powerful weapon in the universe, just sits idly by and watches the man who saved his life be killed right in front of him.  Good job Hal.

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Well, the Emerald Crusader realizes that the Qwardians are tracking his ring, so they need to find a way to move about without using the ring or attracting attention.  At this point Hal apparently displays a little known power, the ability to get “mental impressions” of music.  Really GL?  You got a “mental impression”?  Some people just call that, you know, hearing, but sure.

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The pair discover a few troubadours and decide to steal their clothes.  Hal notes that their presence makes sense because Qward is “a kind of futuristic feudal society,” which sounds fine…except that it totally doesn’t.  I actually rather like the look of these fellows (who, though they’ve done nothing wrong, still apparently deserve to get beaten and robbed according to Hal!), but they really don’t fit Qward.  This is the anti-matter universe, right?  So, evil is good and good evil, everything is backwards and topsey-turvey.  That’s the basic concept.  That doesn’t really seem like a society that would welcome strolling minstrels singing about love and what-have-you.  In fact, I rather would imagine that the music of a place like that would resemble that of House Harkonnen from Dune, all hideous sounds and screeching metal.  Or, you know, modern pop music.

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Nonetheless, our muggers, I mean heroes, hike towards the source of the energy (remember that?), and encounter an old couple who give them lodging and food in exchange for a song.  This once again seems like a violation of the premise.  One wouldn’t think the whole Law of Hospitality thing would hold true in Qward, but add it to the list.  GL sings a weird little ditty that “just came to him.”  I have no clue what this is, but I suspect it must be some kind of reference.  If you recognize it, let me know because I’m curious!

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Well, the duo finally reaches the capital city of Qward, the creatively named Qwardeen.  Funny how alien world always have capitals that are basically extensions of their names.  It’s not like there’s an Earthopolis here.  Anyway, at this point we get another one of those neat concepts that are lost in the hustle and confusion of this story.  Hal and the doc discover the Weaponers gathered around a strange golden monolith, which, according to ancient legend, holds some kind of great power.  There’s a short history of the Weaponer’s attempts to open it, all of which have come to naught, but apparently they are harnessing a new powersource to crack it.  The concept of this gift from their ancestors, this cultural mystery, is a neat one, and I like the glimpse of Weaponer culture it provides.

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Yet, the powersource that they are harnessing?  Here’s where we get our second weird feature of this story.  It is the “overmind” of Olivia Reynolds.  Now, the comic implies that this is something the reader might have encountered before in this book, but I really don’t remember anything about it.  I suppose the story that featured it could just have been that forgettable, but I don’t know.  Either way, apparently the young lady’s mind is a unique specimen, super powerful, even, apparently, sustaining an entire alien world(?) it seems.  Don’t ask me.

So, the Weaponers crack the monolith, and the Green Gladiator leaps into action.  Oh, and the doctor plays his vital role to the plot by…standing next to Olivia.  Great work doc!  Couldn’t have done it without you!  The interesting thing here is that the monolith is empty, except for a recording.  It tells the Weaponers that the technology and drive they achieved trying to open it is, in fact, the gift the ancestors bequeathed them.  The disembodied voice declares to the disappointed Qwardians that “your greatest scientific discoveries down through the ages have all stemmed from your efforts to open the obelisk!”  That’s a moderately neat idea, one that could have supported a story on its own, I think, if it were given some more room to breath.

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Well, the Emerald Crusader leads the way back to Earth, but they are intercepted by more teleporting Qwardians!  Hal decides to hold them off so the other two can get to the portal, and we get another of those ugly collage images that Kane loves so much.

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Sorry Mr. Kane, but a lot of implied action is still not as good as some actual action.

GL defeats the Weaponers and escapes, leaving a recovering Olivia in the care of the good and obsessively dedicated doctor.

So, like I said, this is a story with some neat ideas within it, but the whole is weakened by the weird, inexplicable, or illogical plot elements.  The “overmind” thing was a particularly strange addition.  That’s a heck of a concept to throw out in an editor’s note.  In the end, I like pieces of this, but the final result is just rather weak.  Even though I don’t care for the coming O’Neil run as much as some folks, I think it will be a nice change of pace from this series of substandard stories.  I give it 2.5 Minutemen.

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Justice League #79

JLA_v.1_79.jpgCover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella

Despite starting with a rather hokey cover, this is a pretty strong issue.  The cover, though beautifully drawn, is rather on the nose.  Pollution is bad, get it?!  The very silly looking villain with the nozzle hands (not a terribly functional design, methinks), isn’t helping anything either.  Fortunately, what lies within is much better than that cover.  We pick up right where we left off, our earthbound heroes in peril and Green Arrow being led away from the city manager’s office by security after his shouting match with that purblind civil servant.  This gives us a nice little moment where the guards let him go, noting that they respect him and would prefer to be hauling the city manager, Crass, out instead of the hero.

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The Emerald Archer heads to the sinister factory that started all of this mess and discovers evidence of the Leaguer’s battle there.  This gives us another nice detail, where Ollie needs to get through the electric fence around the facility, but doesn’t happen to have an arrow that’s perfect for the job, so he improvises with a flare arrow.  It’s a nice little nod to realism, and a pleasant contrast to the Silver Age quiver full of plot devices that was Green Arrow.  Now, it should come as no surprise to anyone that has read these stories or knows of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow title shortly to begin, but O’Neil is obviously a big fan of Oliver Queen.  He tends to give Ollie a great deal of ‘screen time,’ and the character tends to loom large in O’Neil’s JLA stories.  The downside of this is that it takes focus away from other characters that, quite honestly, I like better, though I am fond of Arrow as well.  The upside is that it allows O’Neil the freedom to develop the character in interesting ways.

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We see some evidence of the author’s affection for the Battling Bowman as Ollie swoops in to save the captured Leaguers in what is, quite admittedly, a really clever rescue and a nice series of panels.  This in turn leads into another very clever move on GA’s part (this books is full of them!), wherein he revives his unconscious teammates by jury-rigging the fuel source of one of his incendiary arrows, which includes pure oxygen, to give the heroes a dose of fresh air.  They awaken and leap into action, each member of the team getting a chance to take out a baddie.  I really like the resourcefulness that Arrow displays in this story, and it certainly provides both good character moments and a gripping narrative.

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jla079-07.jpgWell, our heroes pursue their former captors, but they escape into what seems to be just another part of the factory but is revealed to be a disguised spaceship!  Meanwhile, the outerspace duo of Lantern and Superman are still investigating the dead planet “Monsan.”  Get it?  I have to say, it passed right by me in the last issue.  The name is Monsan, as in “Monsanto,” AKA, the folks with the reputation of being the most evil corporation on the face of the Earth.  Now, I know the GMO debate is overblown and that GMO foods are safe to eat and all that, but Monsanto has a nice long history of being involved in such scandals, some of them quite serious and still in recent memory.  Interestingly enough, their PR problems obviously stretch way back to the 70s at least (though I believe they actually go much further back than that!).  It’s a clever little reference, and one that I completely missed the first time reading these.

On “Monsan,” our heroes discover a survivor on the ruined world, and he fills them in with a dose of exposition.  Apparently theirs was a heavily developed race, and they “gloried in [their] industrial might!”  Their factories poisoned their world, but they didn’t care, even when their scientists began to warn them of their impending destruction.  When people began to die in droves, their leader, Chokh (get it?), transformed his people with radiation baths in order to allow them to live on a poisoned planet.  Unfortunately the process also warped their minds, and now they seek to colonize other planets by converting them into wastelands, uninhabitable by any other race.  His warning delivered, the survivor passes away.

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As they leave, Green Lantern plans to destroy the dead world (good heavens, Silver Age characters were powerful!), only to be stopped by Superman.  The Man of Steel insists that they leave it there in space, as a warning!  Dun, dun, DUN!

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We cut back to Earth where the team has contacted Hawkman on their satellite headquarters in an attempt to intercept the fleeing building-ship.  The Winged Wonder springs into action and pursues the Monsanians in his own Thanagarian space cruiser, but the building explodes, revealing a sleek, powerful vessel!  The shrapnel from the explosion damages Hawkman’s ship, and he he as to abandon it moments before the enemy reduces his craft to free floating atoms!  This leaves Hawkman stranded, unconscious in space!  There’s a lot of exclamation points in this paragraph!  I’ve always liked the Space Cop Hawkman being hardened against vacuum, but only for a short time.  It’s a trait that lends itself to some good dramatic tension.

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Well, the Monsanians figure that their long-game is blown, so they decide to poison the Earth directly, and they start “seeding” it with capsules that will release deadly toxins.  Their leader, Chokh, grants the earthlings one hour to make their peace before he hits the button and dooms the planet.   Fortunately, the heroes are regrouping.  We’ve reached the final act, and it’s time for our protagonists to stop reacting and start acting.  Superman and the Lantern find Hawkman floating out there in the black, and they bring him into the Satellite, meeting the rest of our courageous cast.  They realize they can’t locate and disable all the bombs, so they decide to tackle the problem at its source.

Our heroes split up again, and this time it is the Superman/Lantern team’s turn to shine.  They attack the Monsanian ship, tearing right through the hull and destroying the control mechanisms.  It’s a sequence that is almost really good, but there are some weird elements to art that make it look a bit odd.  Check out Lantern’s creepily intense expression as he blasts some aliens.

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That’s the face of a madman.

O’Neil again demonstrates his ability to juggle a large cast effectively, as the alien leader flees his ship and blasts his way into the Satellite to menace the other Leaguers.  Or rather, the idea is a good one, but the execution is a bit weak.  We’ve got one alien with a ray gun and no real powers versus a quintet of heroes.  To make a fight of it, O’Neil has to take some of the team out of the fight, and he uses some rather silly contrivances to do so.  Vigilante gets hit by a ricochet (interesting for a laser beam to ricochet…).  The graceful, hyper coordinated, and superbly trained Black Canary…trips.  Threatening the blond bombshell, Chokh orders the others to throw themselves out of the airlock.

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Atom uses the confusion of the moment to shrink down and surprise the alien with an excellent looking tiny-sized uppercut, and the villain is defeated in short order.  We end the story with a two panel conversation between Ollie and Dinah.  Ollie, still not one to play it cool, declares his love for the lady, but she is still reeling with the loss of her husband.  Nice timing, jerk.  The final thought is a somewhat ironic and bittersweet one, as Dinah says she’s glad they’ve saved the Earth, while GA, looking at a factory belching smoke into the atmosphere, wonders whether they really have.

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A quick note, I hate the ridiculously complicated origin of Black Canary.  We haven’t gotten there yet, but I think they’d have done a lot better to simply introduce an Earth 1 Canary and avoid the whole issue.

So, thus ends this JLA two-parter, and it was, all around, a good, solid story.  It has its weak moments, and the aliens really don’t pose all that much of a threat.  Still, you get some really nice character moments, you get Vigilante reintroduced to the DCU (Yay!), and you get an entertaining story.  This is a fitting end for the adventure we began last issue, and I have to say, though I braced myself for some really preachy environmental messages (a-la the Archie TMNT book!), O’Neil actually kept the message somewhat subtle.  It’s a bit on the nose a few times, but nothing so bad as the cover.  That final image is a nice, effective way to keep the readers thinking about the issue without beating them over the head.

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This is definitely a sign of the more socially conscious bent of Bronze Age stories, featuring characters dealing (in a small way) with loss, and of course with the environmental issues.  There’s a lot of personality packed into a small number of pages.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen out of 5.

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Phantom Stranger #5

Phantom_Stranger_Vol_2_6.jpgCover Artist:Neal Adams
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Vince Colletta

This issue of The Phantom Stranger has a lovely Neal Adams cover, but unfortunately, the art inside is just downright ugly.  Mike Sekowsky, long time artist for the Justice League book, is certainly capable of producing perfectly acceptable art, even some strong work on occasion, but for whatever reason, this isn’t one of those occasions.  I’m sure being inked by the notorious Vince Colletta, who was famous for being quick and not much else, didn’t help matters.  Of course, Colletta’s reputation for taking shortcuts and generally riding roughshod over pencilers is a result of his often being called upon to meet impending deadlines.  It’s an unfortunate reputation to have garnered.

This story is, like the Jason Quest feature in Showcase, another effort where Sekowsky is handling both art and writing chores, and it is another case where I can’t say I’m thrilled with the results.  It opens with those four annoying teens from the previous issues speaking in abominable 60s slang.  Wait, is Bob Haney writing this?  The quartet are walking through a small town in the evening when they hear a crash and screams coming from a house on the corner.  Two old women come running out of the building as all sorts of small objects go flying about the place.

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The youths investigate, only to discover the tumult stopped.  Or rather, it is stopped until the old women reenter the home, and then it begins all over again.  The kids call Dr. Thirteen, despite the fact that he has never actually accomplished anything for them, and he rushes right over.  In the interim, the Phantom Stranger shows up and takes charge, telling the kids that the house is haunted, not by a poltergeist as they assumed, but by something worse!  Dun, dun, DUN!

Dr. Thirteen shows up, and it’s the usual song and dance about the Stranger being a charlatan and so forth, and Thirteen insists on telling a story to prove that there is always an explanation for such things.  We are seeing the format of the threefold tale continuing, though it’s a trope that is wearing a bit thing by this point, I think.

The good Doctor tells the story of a family tormented by what seemed to be a similar spirit, things flying about the house, strange events, unexplained noises, etc.

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They call Thirteen in to investigate, and he catches a small fellow slipping around the house, causing the ruckus.  The young man is, rather meanly, known as Creepy Conway.  They keep referring to him as “dim witted” as well.  Real nice.  So, this kid had a crush on the family’s daughter, but when she rejected him, the family’s incredibly creepy son recruited him to be his agent in terrorizing his folks.  We’ve got a nascent super villain here, maybe something worse!  He reminds me a bit of that kid with the exposed brain from The Tick, Charles, AKA, Brainchild

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What a rotten brat!

So, that ends Thirteen’s tale, which brings us to the Stranger’s point in the rotation.  He responds with his own yarn about an occurrence with a real ghost, and I’d say this is the strongest part of the issue.  We get a solid ghost story, where a young couple is driving back from a party and take an ill-fated shortcut through the woods.  The young man awakens and is terrified, screaming about “the family curse!”  Before he can persuade the young lady to turn around, they are both greeted by a an old black powder pistol, and its owner is…a headless horseman!  The spectre threatens the young man, David Drew-Gorham, asking if he has found the spirit’s lost head.  David pleads for mercy, claiming that he has searched in vain and cursing his cruel ancestor who wronged the ghost many years ago.

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Then we get a flashback, telling the tale of how this horseman became headless.  He was a young man in love with a woman above his station, the daugher of the local baron, and when the nobleman discovered their love, he had the young man arrested.  Because of planted evidence, our future spook is tried for robbery and condemned to death by the executioner’s axe.  Yet, that was not punishment enough for the bloody baron, and he hid the young man’s head, burying it separately from his body.  This has caused his spirit to wander restlessly, unable to move on and greet his love in the afterlife missing something so important as his head.

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His story finished, the ghost prepares to kill the latest descendent of the baron, but the Phantom Stranger appears out of nowhere and turns the weapon aside.  He orders the specter to follow him, and the enigmatic hero leads him to his own grave.  The horseman objects that there is nothing of use to be found there, but the Stranger orders him to fire his weapon at the strange bust in the likeness of his head that the baron had placed on the tombstone.  The ghostly musket cracks, and the bust breaks open, revealing the horseman’s mummified head!  This was the baron’s final dastardly joke.  His lost crown restored, the ghost goes to his final rest.  It’s not a bad little ghost story, and it is actually much prettier than the rest of the book.  I don’t know why exactly, but there is definitely more detail and attention given to these pages.

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The end of that tale brings us to the end of our original, where the Stranger makes the proclamation that this too is the work of an evil spirit, and he even calls her by name!  Enter Tala once more.  She is accompanied by a really cool looking monster, which just gets called “Thing.”  She reveals that she is merely there at the behest of one of the elderly sisters.  Apparently, she doesn’t enjoy how her sibling eats all of the pistachio icecream, so she did what any normal, sane person would in such a circumstance.  She summoned a foul hell-beast to torment her.

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I’m not kidding.  That’s the crux of the plot.  The old lady is angry at her sister, so she summons a spirit, and Tala just happens to tag along.  It’s pretty silly.  Well, the Stranger gets the book the spinster used to do her summoning, and, despite being attacked by the amorphous Thing, he manages to throw the tome into the fire, ending the threat.  It isn’t much of a resolution, certainly a lot less interesting than last issue’s dramatic stand-off between our mysterious hero and the bewitching witch.  It’s also a little strange to see the Stranger get throttled.  I guess he’s solid enough at times, hmm?

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Well, our hero vanishes, leaving Thirteen raving about exposing him for the fraud he is.  Our final scene is of the old troublemaker, who is thinking about all of the different copies of that spellbook she has cached around the house.

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This was a fairly weak offering from Sekowsky, with only the headless horseman story being a particularly interesting one.  Even the well designed and visually appealing “Thing” gets almost no “screen time,” being dispatched almost as soon as he appears.  That’s a shame.  The framing narrative is really rather weird, and not in the way you’d hope for in a Phantom Stranger tale.  Those four kids are really starting to get on my nerves, and I’m hoping they won’t be long for this book.

One fun thing about this issue was the letter column, which reveals that at least someone else out there felt the same way I do about these kids’ tortuous slang.  “Ugh!…the kids names and their dialog were strictly pre-Giordan ‘Teen Titans.'”  That would be the work of ‘ol Zaney Haney and his “teenspeak” our perceptive writer is referring to, and that is just what this dialog reminds me of.

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So, all-in-all, I give this rather ugly episode 2.5 Minutemen.

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Well, that’s it for this week.  Join me next week for the end of this month’s books, a special bonus, and my final thoughts for the month!

 

Into the Bronze Age: March 1970 (Part 2)

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And back to the Bronze Age, March 1970!

  • Action Comics #386
  • Batman #220
  • Brave and the Bold #88
  • Challengers of the Unknown #72
  • Detective Comics #397
  • Flash #195
  • G.I. Combat #140
  • Green Lantern #75
  • Justice League of America #79
  • Phantom Stranger #5
  • Showcase #89
  • World’s Finest #192

Bonus!: Star Hawkins

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

Challengers of the Unknown #72

Challengers_of_the_Unknown_Vol_1_72.jpgCover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

This is an alright story that has the weakness of relying on an extremely convenient and ill-fitting deus ex machina.  O’Neil is clearly trying to shake the Challengers up and find a new grove for this book, just as he is doing for many other DC books during this period, but he has just as clearly not hit on the right beam yet.  This particular outing sees the Challengers move away from their science fiction roots and their comfortable, mad-science stomping grounds and into the mystical.  Now, there’s some precedent for the Challengers dealing with the occult, but it works best when the threat is something fantastic in origin but ultimately physical in its effects, something that the Challengers are really suited for meeting on their terms.  That’s not the case here, and the result is a bit odd, requiring a rather contrived set of occurrences for its resolution.

How so?  Well, follow along and find out!  We begin with the owner of a chemical firm named Murlin (get it?) ushering his employees out and then beginning to conduct dark and strange experiments.  The narrator helpfully informs us that much lore has been lost from the Dark Ages, and it seems this character, who apparently is doing some sort of chicken dance as he takes off his lab coat, is trying to rediscover the secrets of the alchemists.

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His efforts fail, but his cat drinks the imperfect brew and proceeds to spread a strange sickness to anyone who he touches.  This plague seems to be quite amorphous and unpredictable.  It spreads through touch, and those affected react either by becoming almost catatonic or by becoming violent and erratic.  As it spreads, we rejoin the Challengers where we last left them (can you remember that long ago?  All these books make it tough to keep up with plot threads at times!).  Prof. is still in critical condition, being kept safely apart from any chance of taking part in the story.  We see Red emerge with better news, however, as his operations were a success and he has two good eyes again!

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cotu 72 p09.jpgThe Borrowed Time Brigade begins to celebrate, but their revelry is cut short by the entrance of one of the plague victims who proceeds to attack poor, defenseless Prof.  ‘Ol Brainy just can’t catch a break!  After the team stops the patient, the hospital briefs them on the situation.  As the Challengers start to make plans, we see a return to the subplot of the love triangle, as Red mouth’s off in terms that make him sound like quite the sexist jerk, prompting Rocky to yank him off his feet.  It’s a good character moment, though Red is really coming off badly in these exchanges.  The Lady Challenger confesses to Ace that the whole situation is really awkward for her because she’s “quite fond of” Red, and, while she cares about Rocky, “we could never be more than…friends!”  You’ve got lousy taste, lady.

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Rocky, for his part, is developing a real endearing, Ben Grim-esq pitiable character beat, though without the Thing’s rocky orange countenance to blame for his bad luck and self deprecation.

And this brings us to one of the weird moments in this story that keep it from firing on all cylinders.  Corinna, from seeing the plague victims, is reminded of something she read in an old alchemy text.  She, apparently, just happened to spend her evenings doing some light reading of ancient and presumably incredibly rare tomes of Medieval alchemical instruction manuals, you know, like any sensible girl does on a Saturday night.

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Oh yeah, you read that in high school, right?

I know she was locked away in a creepy castle her entire life, but O’Neil seems to be forgetting what particular flavor of generic creepy castle he introduced way back in issue #69.  That was a traditional mad scientist setup, where a biologist was trying to create immortality through purely scientific means.  Despite an atmosphere that could suit Dracula just fine, there wasn’t a hint of magic or mysticism in that place.  But suddenly, Corinna is apparently a part-time alchemy expert.  It’s extremely convenient and more than a bit incongruous, both for the Challengers as a team, and for the character as established.

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Well, the team splits up, Red and Rocky scouting around town to see what they can see, and Ace and Corinna, who has totally always been into the occult, totally, go in search of an antidote in her personal library of alchemy texts.  We see our other would-be alchemist roaming the streets in his awesome green robe, where he tests his potion and discovers its unexpected effects.  I will say this, the art for this book is pretty strong, and Dillin turns in a solidly drawn story in that lovely, realistic 70s DC house style.  The highlight of the issue is probably the interesting, unique, and expressive face they give this one-shot, throw away villain.

cotu 72 p12.jpgWell, Murlin (not Merlin!) decides that, if he can’t be immortal, he may as well zombify the whole city…for reasons.  And here we get another one of the coincidences of the story as Red and Rocky just happen to be exploring this very same block, and Rocky just happens to see Murlin, and then just happens to think he’s suspicious and give chase.  Okay, maybe chasing the guy in the big green robe isn’t such a stretch after all, but the others totally are.

 

Rocky loses Murlin, who very cleverly outwits the Challenger’s muscle man by…going into a door.  Yep, that’s the extent of his evasive tactics.  He goes into his building, and Rocky apparently just looks around for a second, doesn’t see the guy in the open, and doesn’t bother to check the door.  When the heroes find the place at the climax, they tell Rocky that anyone could have missed this big, obvious door, but they’re clearly lying to spare his feelings.  Okay Rocky, I take it back.  Corinna doesn’t have lousy taste, as you’re clearly too stupid for date material.

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Anyway, the Challengers discover the cure and manage to stop Murlin right before he injects the plague into the water supply.  The wannabe manages to infect Rocky and Red in the process, and Murlin manages to stun Ace.  Just as he prepares to deliver the killing blow, Corinna saves the day by whacking him over the head.

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The other two are quickly brought around with the antidote, and they distribute it to the rest of the city.  With that, the day is saved, and Challengers welcome Corinna as their newest member, though Red insists that Prof could have done the same thing.

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It’s a fair concept, I suppose, but the sloppy writing (a crime O’Neil is occasionally guilty of), weakens it.  The central trouble of the plague is interesting, especially with the standard zombie/infection themes and threats, where even your allies may turn against you if they get infected.  I think playing that side of the drama up more could have made for a stronger tale, and the extreme convenience of having Corinna just happen to be an expert on alchemy was a bit much to swallow.  I’d rather have her prove her worth more directly than simply act as a plot device.  So, I’ll give this tale a below average 2.5 Minutemen.

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Detective Comics #397

Detective_Comics_397.jpgExecutive Editor: Carmine Infantino
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Hollow Man”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Alright!  Now here we go!  We have another Neal Adams illustrated Batman story, the second in Detective Comics.  The first, was of course, #395, which I covered HERE.  We are at the very beginning of Adams’ legendary tenure as THE definitive artist for Batman in the Bronze Age, and, arguably, for any age.  It is Adams’s amazing artwork that brings the dark and brooding tone back to the Caped Crusader, freeing him from the TV look of the Adam West show, and he’s already firing on all cylinders with this beautiful book, though we’ll see his style continue to improve over the next few years.  The story here is also superior to the odd offering of the previous Detective Comics issue, and though it isn’t one of the best this era will produce, it is certainly an enjoyable read.

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Let’s get started!  This tale opens with a lovely sequence where a set of frogmen clamber up out of Gotham harbor to raid a sea-side charity art exhibit (sure, those things happen all the time, no doubt), clubbing a watchman in the process.  Batman arrives in fine style, taking out half the gang before they even have time to react.  Yet the Dark Knight makes a fatal mistake by not freeing the watchman first, as the thus threaten to kill the downed man if the Caped Crusader doesn’t freeze.

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The crooks fire a pair of spear guns, seemingly skewering Batman, who is propelled off of the dock and into the murky waters of the bay.  I particularly like the image of Batman taking the hits and falling into the water, as well as that of the frogmen diving in after him.  Of course, the Dark Knight is not so easily dispatched!  He shifted his body within the shroud of his cape, and dodged the spears.  Mostly.  One of them hit his right arm, deadening a nerve.

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Unable to pursue the divers, Bruce heads home, and we get a nice moment illustrating his mastery of a wide range of disciplines, as he treats the wound and practices some yoga breathing to aid healing.

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detective comics 397 015.jpgWhile recovering, he hears the story of a Charles Foster Kane-esq character named Orson Payne, a clever elision of Orson Welles’ name with that of his most famous character.  The fellow even looks like ‘ol Orson when we meet him in a few pages.  This millionaire seems to have become a recluse after the woman he was obsessed with disappeared.  Bruce ignores all of this as he focuses on his recovery.  His cleaning lady arrives, and Wayne notices her seeming disgust with the TV, despite the fact that she always seems to leave it on when she leaves.  This little, seemingly minor detail will take on greater importance at the end of our tale.

detective comics 397 008.jpgAfter she leaves, Batman decides to continue pursuing the case, and he remembers a detail about the divers’ escape that leads him, via cool undersea sled, straight to stately Xanadu, err, I mean the Payne estate.  What follows is another excellent sequence wherein the Masked Manhunter infiltrates the estate through stealth and acrobatic expertise.

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He arrives to see Payne ranting like a madman to the painting that the divers stole so many pages ago.  It seems the millionaire is collecting, by hook or crook, every image of his beloved missing paramour.  Batman demands the return of the painting, and the aged magnate tries to kill him!  They play a game of cat and mouse in the mansion, and Adams manages to keep the action rather wonderfully realistic, with the Caped Crusader surviving a dead drop through martial arts training, and escaping through aid of his batrope and a handy chandelier.

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The action ends when the madman pursues a specter out into open air, forcing Batman to save his life.  Bruce returns home, and when his cleaning lady returns, once again displaying disgust for TV coverage of Payne, he realizes that she is, in fact, the missing woman.  Apparently she abandoned everything and chose a simple life rather than be controlled by the obsessive Payne.  Given how everything turned out, I’d say she made the right choice!

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While the story isn’t amazing, it is interesting, logically consistent, and the art is beautiful and wonderfully effective.  Adams’s style on a Batman book is a perfect marriage, as he does an amazing job with moody lighting and staging and realistic action.  The final effect for me is a good, solid 4.5 Minutemen.

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“The Hollow Man”

This is the conclusion to the Batgirl backup from our previous issue, and it is a fair ending, though the villain’s motivation is a bit of a stretch.  We pick up right where we left off, with Batgirl grabbed by the Orchid Killer.  She flips him over her head, no fainting violet she, and discovers that it is not her date, Max, but a stranger who knocks her out with…a backhanded slap…forget what I said.  Batgirl goes down like a chump.

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She awakens to find Max, apparently having saved her.  He claims that her attacker ran off as he came back to check on the ruckus.  Batgirl decides to try to bait her trap again, and after a date with another goofy looking fellow turns violent, it seems like she might have her man!  Then Jason Bard steps back into the story, coming to her defence.  The detective gets in a good shot, but then he is betrayed by his bad knee, and the attacker gets away.

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Babs checks out his address from the computer dating card, and she finds someone still packing up.  She “finds” him by smashing straight through a window she THINKS MIGHT belong to the killer, and hitting him with the full force of her dive.  She bases this on this being the only light on in the vicinity about where the apartment might be.  It’s a good thing she didn’t crash in on some poor, unsuspecting Gotham citizen, maybe snapping his spine in the process!

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Well, this guy turns out to be her mysterious assailant, and he has a set of masks, including one of “Max!”  Now here is where this begins to fall apart.  So, Max was actually the killer the whole time?  Then why didn’t he kill Batgirl when she was out cold?  That makes zero sense.

The killer, despite constantly posing as homely guys, actually has movie star good looks, and this apparently is the source of his grudge against women.  They never cared about who he was, just his handsome face, so he searched for a woman that would accept him despite the plain masks he wore, and he killed him when they didn’t…ooookay, I guess that works.  It is an interesting inversion of the usual man/woman dynamic, with men tending to judge women by their looks, but I suspect that the reveal is hampered by having to be squeezed into 2/3rds of a page.

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I love how she just sits down casually on his bed to discuss all his murders.  It’s not like this guy is a threat because he completely kicked your caped backside a few pages ago or anything, Babs.

It’s not a bad story, but the easy defeat of Batgirl and the inexplicable sparing of her life by a serial killer really hurt it.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.

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Flash #195

Flash_v.1_195.jpgCover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“I Open My Mouth…But I Can’t Scream!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta

This is another of those offbeat issues of the Flash that I warned y’all was coming, but this one really isn’t too bad.  It’s a slightly odd but somewhat charming story, and it has a few nice little moments in it.  The main problem with this tale is the fact that its resolution was pretty rushed, wrapping things up too quickly.  The plot is a fairly simple one, and it features a belated addition to the Flash mythos, that staple of Silver Age heroes, the super pet.  Except, sadly, this pet has neither superpowers nor a cool dog-sized mask.  In this issue, the Flash will get a dog!  That dog will then be promptly ignored by future issues!  Wait, that last one wasn’t quite as exciting…though, I suppose neither was the previous idea, because it didn’t seem to make much of a splash in the book.  That’s a shame, because, despite the goofiness, I do enjoy these types of Silver Age synchronicity.  A super-fast dog could have been entertaining.  I’m rather surprised that they didn’t arrange ANOTHER lightning+chemicals accident to give this dog speed powers.  After all, they’d already done that for Kid Flash.

And it gets lonely on those long runs.

The issue opens with Flash, having appeared in a charity telethon, signing autographs, and Kanigher throws in a fun set of inside inside jokes.  The names of the kids getting Flash’s John Hancock are those of comic book luminaries and letter writers!  Mark Evanier, Peter Sanderson, and Irene Vartanoff all get a nod.  That’s cool all by itself, but I also like scenes like this.  Flash’s very public and very beloved profile in Central City is part of what makes him unique.  The only other hero with a similar open setting is Superman, but Flash has an accessible, grounded persona that is even more ‘home-town-hero’ than Superman.  That’s something that they totally captured, albeit with Wally, in JLU’s “Flash and Substance” episode.

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Well, after Flash has finished making his fans’ day, he heads home through the park, where a young, aspiring actress asks him to take some publicity photos with her to boost her career.  Because he is so easy going and good natured (why I love Barry as a character), the Fastest Man Alive agrees, only to be ambushed!  The “photographer” blinds him with a light of “volcanic intensity,” and gunmen try to rub our hero out!  I’ll just point out that the Owl Gang (I’m already missing those guys and their gimmicky costumes) tried this exact trick last issue, and it was completely ineffective.  Here, it almost works, and Flash just about knocks himself silly trying to dodge his assailant’s attacks.  Way to keep things consistent, guys.

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Flash seems doomed to take a bullet when a dog rams the gunman…because dogs always attack by body-blocking, not by biting or the like.  It’s a very awkwardly drawn panel, too.  Anyway, our canine champion scatters the remaining thugs, standing guard over the Scarlet Speedster until he recovers.  Before he can discover the dog’s name origins, the powerful pup takes off, and the Fastest freaking Man alive, can’t catch up to him or find him.

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The next morning, Barry discovers that the heroic pooch from the previous night is going to be destroyed for killing its master.  Unable to believe the dog, Lightning, is capable of this, he rushes to the pound to plead his case, and then he sets out to investigate.  This gives us one of those weird collage images that Gil Kane seems to have become so fond of.

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Unable to find anything useful, he breaks his furry new friend out.  Flash pulls a weird stunt where he propels Lightning at super speed (that’s ALMOST like he’s got powers!).  While racing through the city, they discover a blind man drowning.  Apparently he fell off his houseboat.  One wonders if perhaps a houseboat might not be the safest residence for the sightless, especially if you can’t swim, which seems to be the case with this fellow.

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Lightning jumps in to save the gentleman, and this convinces Flash that he is no killer.  Looking for anything to help him prove the pooch’s innocence, the Sultan of Speed returns to the scene of the crime, and conveniently discovers the victim’s brother in a standoff with the same thugs who ambushed the hero the previous night.  With Lightning’s help, the Flash dispatches these killers, and in an extremely quick resolution, a glove with dog’s teeth embedded in the fingers happens to fall out of the ring-leader’s pocket.  Barry realizes that the victim’s brother hired the thugs for the hit, and they framed the helpful hound.  One would think that a coroner could tell the difference between a dog bite and a fake, but maybe Central City needs a new M.E.!  Where’s Quincy when you need him?

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The story ends with Barry adopting Lightning, who would have made a fun addition to the Flash family, but he doesn’t seem to make any return appearances for quite a while, if at all.  That makes this story a bit of a waste.  In the end, this tale is a bit silly and overly contrived.  The rapid resolution is its biggest weakness, but the idea of the Flash taking the time to save the life of an abandoned dog is just a rather charming one, though the end result doesn’t quite take enough advantage of the good will the concept generates.  The final result balances out into an average 3 Minutemen.

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This issue also includes a weird little seven page backup story, so you might imagine that the main feature ran short.  This is a story about Barry overcoming his fear of rollercoasters to save the day when, Iris having dragged him onto one, he sees a broken track ahead and fixes it before disaster can strike.  There’s not much to it, but it does have a nice little moment that displays Barry’s deep love for his wife as he agrees to the ride because he can’t say “no” when “the love of [his] life” is against him.  I’m a sucker for things like that.  I suppose this backup, what there is of it, is fine, but it doesn’t even really seem worth rating.

Alright, that’s the second set of books in March 1970!  Join me next week for part 3, and a bonus to boot, a new design for the site!

 

 

Modding with EZScript: An Outline

Howdy folks!  Some time back, in the process of trying to help a new modder in the FF community, I wrote a rather lengthy post on Freedom Reborn about the step by step process of creating a mod.  It occurred to me that this information, all gathered in one place, might prove helpful to other newcomers and folks who want to try their hands at modding.  So, I’m adapting that gargantuan post to a how-to-outline that I’ll share here.  So, without further ado, I give you a crash course in modding!

Let’s start at the beginning.  Make sure you have all of the necessary tools.  To mod successfully and without undue headache, one needs the following:

  • FF2 Mod Tools (FFEdit, Character Tool)
  • M25’s Mod Tools (EZScript Editor, Language File Generator, and more)
  • FFX (an amazing expansion to the core game mechanics that adds tons of new attributes and functionality)

So, install all of the various tools, and if you’re running a version of Windows newer than XP, as I imagine most folks are these days, it is probably a good idea to run all of these things in compatibility mode for XP SP3.  I’d also run them as an Administrator, just to be on the safe side.

Now, on to business!  Here is a rough, step-by-step outline that can give you a sense about what all goes into modding.

1) First, decide what you want to call your mod.  Then, copy the newest version of FFX (3.3 I think), and rename it to whatever you want your mod to be called.  The title should be simple, because you’ll have to use it a few different times, and you don’t want to be having to type out a forever-long name dozens of times.  Also, and this is something you’ll see me say a few times, make sure you don’t have any unusual characters in the name.  Limit it to letters and numbers, as FF has a tendency to freak out over anything else.  Next, make sure FFEdit is pointing in the right direction.  Do so by opening it up and directing the primary data path towards your newly created mod folder.  Make sure you leave the secondary data path alone.

2) Now, decide which characters you want/need in your mission.  Create herofiles for them.  Give them simple, lower case names without any special characters and punctuation marks.  Test and balance in the Rumble Room until satisfied.

3) Quit, rename your FFX3 folder to something different, FFX3a is what I use.  Now, rename your mod folder to FFX3. (This step isn’t absolutely necessary, but FFX Edit2 sometimes has something of a hard time with mods other than FFX.)

4) Run FFX Edit2.  Save.  This “Brands” all of the characters in that mod, giving each a unique “Complex” number, which helps FFX and EZScript tell them apart.  This is necessary to get stuff to run smoothly.  Once you’re done, don’t forget to change both folder names back.

5) Next, launch your mod, open the Rumble Room, and choose M25’s Add to Dat as your gametype.  Put your newly created herofiles into the roster, use the “———–” blank entry if you need to, and then run it.  It should only take a moment.  Now, quit, open FFEdit, check on the characters and make sure everything was added nicely.

6) Now, open up your EZScript Editor.  Go to “Panels,” “Config,” and set the Dat directory to your mods folder.  You can set the other directories or not, it won’t be super important for a simple project.  Now, I recommend working on top of an existing EZScript mission.  One of the example missions or one of mine would serve as a fine base.  Either way, compose your mission.  I STRONGLY recommend using:

#————————————–

to differentiate your encounters, to make it easier for you to read and for folks who help you with troubleshooting.  Avoid capitalization in composing your missions, except when writing encounter names, which are okay to capitalize, just make sure you are being consistent.  One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give you is, keep it simple.  Keep your naming schemes simple, keep your layouts simple, keep your plans simple.  The more complex you get, the more chances you’ll mess something up, and the less chance you’ll be able to find it easily.

7) Next, click “Tools,” “Analyze,” and look at the report it gives you.  This should catch MANY of the careless errors and plain ‘ol mistakes that tend to creep in to this type of work.

8) After that (or really before if you want), you can create your map, adding in any encounter markers you need.  Make sure all encounter names match what your mission calls for EXACTLY.  You can point your EZScript Editor to this newly edited map to double check that.  Unless you are designing the FIRST mission of a campaign, do NOT put any heroes on a map you create if you are using EZScript.  The first mission needs for the heroes to be placed already, otherwise check out my tutorials on what markers are necessary to get everything to play nicely.

9)
 Open your mod folder and copy your mission’s .txt file into the mod’s Story directory.  If it doesn’t have one, just create a folder named Stories in your mod’s main directory.  If you have multiple missions, you can put them all in there, but make sure to rename the copies so you don’t just overwrite them in the Stories folder.  Now, run your mod again.  Go to the RR again, for game type, select M25 Generate Language Files (or something like that).  Just use the ———- character, that will work fine.  Run it, then quit.  You’ve just added all of your missions dialog to your mod’s caption.txt.  However, the game itself can’t read txt files, so we need to get this into your captions.dat.  Now, open M25’s Language File Generator that you downloaded before we got started, and run it, pointing it at your mod director.  This updates your Lang files.  Also, before you start this process, make sure you’ve got CLEAN language files.  If you’ve already been poking around in them, I strongly recommend you get your language files from a clean install or clean version of FFX3.

11) Open up FFEdit and click on the “Campaign” tab.  Now, you’ll see the default FF missions there, and I recommend you leave them be for the moment.  You can delete them all, but in general things work better when you just leave them alone.  They won’t affect anything.  Add your own missions in, set the required characters and and unavailable characters, and move your missions to the top of the order.  Save and exit.

11a) For your first mission ONLY, you’ll need to place your starting heroes on your map through the editor.  Don’t forget to do this, as otherwise your mission won’t start.  The game spawns no heroes for the first mission.

12) Now your mod should be ready to play!  Open up FF and click “New Campaign” and give it a test.  Chances are you’ll run into some troubles, but stay patient and try to eliminate factors.  Always double check the obvious!  I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent troubleshooting missions with inexplicable problems, only to realize that I misspelled “encounter” or forgot to do something equally basic.  Also, when in doubt, feel free to ask for help!  I’m always happy to help new modders, and the FF community is amazing!