Into the Bronze Age: March 1970 (Part 4)

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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.

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.

WF192-02 The Prison of No Excape.jpg

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.

WF192-17 The Prison of No Excape.jpg

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.

WF192-18 The Prison of No Excape.jpg

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.

Wham!.jpg

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:

Aquamanhead.jpgBatmanhead.jpgshowcase-88-fnvf-jasons-quest0

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.

 

2 comments on “Into the Bronze Age: March 1970 (Part 4)

  1. Joel Blashka says:

    I was also a fan of the Star Hawkins series. The first illustration that you posted was by Gil Kane and not Mike Sekowsky.

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