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
Cover 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.
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!
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Detective Comics #397
Executive 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.
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.
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.
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.
While 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.
After 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.
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.
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!
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.
“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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Cover 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!