Into the Bronze Age: March 1970 (Part 3)

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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 (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!

 

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