Marvel Adventures: The Squadron Supreme

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In honor of the Fire and Water Podcast‘s coverage of the Squadron Supreme, I thought I’d post a little promo for my Marvel Adventures update.  That’s right, those awesome analogs that actually managed to outgrow their referential origins are included in the update that I’m working on!  They feature in an Avengers mission, and the whole roster is available to play in the sandbox mode!  To show off the Squadron in all their glory, I threw them into a Rumble Room session against the Avengers.  Enjoy the show!

 

 

But the Avengers are ready for them.

 

 

A chaotic melee quickly develops

 

 

Man, the Swordsman just can’t catch a break, can he?

 

 

Cap, I love ya’, but I think you might be out classed…

 

 

Iron Man surveys the field

 

 

Uh-oh, I think the God of Thunder might be in trouble!

Eventually the Squadron pulled off a victory, as they just packed more power than this Avengers team.  I should have added Hercules into the mix to provide the mighty Marvelites a better chance.  Well, I hope you enjoyed this little preview, and stay tuned for more Into the Bronze Age, as well as more news and releases for Freedom Force mods!

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: May 1970 (Part 2)

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Howdy folks!  Welcome back to the Bronze Age.  Join me for the next stage of our trip!

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

  • Action Comics #388
  • Batman #221
  • Brave and the Bold #89
  • Challengers of the Unknown #73
  • Detective Comics #399
  • Flash #196 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Flash #197
  • G.I. Combat #141
  • Justice League of America #80
  • Showcase #90
  • Superman #226
  • World’s Finest #193

Bonus!: Star Hawkins (for real this time)

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

Challengers of the Unknown #73

Challengers_of_the_Unknown_Vol_1_73.jpgCover Artist: Nick Cardy
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: George Tuska
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Now this is more like it.  While it’s got its weak points, this is a Challengers issue, hitting the notes that a good story of theirs should.  Interestingly, the editor includes a short missive in the letter column about the rotating cast of artists that the book has featured over the last few months, promising that they have finally settled on someone that they think is right for the Chals.  I have to say, George Tuska does a fine job with this story.  The art is good, but the layouts and general design is particularly impressive.  This is, of course, all the more bittersweet, since the book ends with the next issue.

This Challengers adventure begins with an out of control space capsule careening earthward and splashing down in the ocean.  It is immediately picked up by waiting support crews and landed on an aircraft carrier, which is depicted only in silhouette as dawn breaks over the horizon in a rather nice panel.

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The naval crew find the pilot dead, not killed by the force of reentry or anything of that sort, but strangled while trapped alone in a sealed craft 10,000 miles from earth!  Dun dun DUN!  Now that’s a pretty good problem for the Challengers, something bizarre and inexplicable.  Again, Tuska’s art conveys the message in an interesting way.  Just the image of that arm sticking out of the capsule and the startled faces of the officers tells you just about everything you need to know.

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We pick up with the Challengers who are camped out in Ace’s New York apartment, and we also pick back up with the old argument.  Red is an insufferable jerk to Corinna, again.  At this point, his boorishness is getting old, but the highlight of this scene is the return of the Prof!  He’s walking with a cane, but he is walking, and he’s back to his old self!  That’s a very pleasant surprise, as I rather imagined he’d been written out of the series permanently.

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Of course, this prompts Red to begin picking on Corinna, wanting to throw her off the team.  Also predictably, Rocky steps in to defend her, since the lady Challenger apparently can’t stand up for herself.  This leads the two to come to actual blows, where both show off their expertise, the strongman throwing Red around the place, and the acrobat flipping and rolling to stay in the fight.  It’s a nice sequence, even if this whole love/hate subplot is getting old.

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Ace arrives to break up the fight and inform the team about their mission.  Arriving at an air force base, the Chals meet a fellow named Major Cheever, an astronaut who will be their liaison during their visit.  Here is where things take a turn for the strange and we run into one of the only real problems with this issue.  Corinna suddenly receives “weird vibrations” and informs us that she is totally a medium, and she has absolutely been one all along.  This is definitely not a sign that O’Neil is making her character up as he goes along.  This is the problem with Corinna.  She’s really vaguely defined, and there is just no unifying concept behind her.

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Well, she runs off to find privacy to employ the ability that she’s absolutely always had, and she brilliantly decides that the base vacuum chamber is the best place.  I’m sure you can see what’s coming.  Of course, someone slams the door on her and turns on the mechanism, sucking the air out of the chamber.  I’m sorry Corinna, but it’s things like this that make it seem like Red, as much of a jerk as he is, might just have a point.  I’m not convinced you’re really Challengers material.

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She’s rescued by Rocky, who shatters the shatter-proof glass in desperation.  Corinna recovers, but the two guards who had been watching the facility have been shot!  Ace does some quick thinking and realizes that the guards have been staged to make it look like a murder/suicide, but apparently the killer is a moron, as the supposed suicide was shot in the back.  That’s not really all that much of a deduction there, Ace.  I guess you’re not exactly Sherlock Holmes, eh?

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Later, the Chals hold a seance to contact whatever is involved in this mystery, an idea that, unsurprisingly, Red opposes.  Ace overrules him, and they actually manage to make contact with…something, an otherworldly spirit, but just as it is about to spill the beans, someone throws a grenade in the window!

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The team scatters, but Rocky manages to smother the blast with a mattress, adding a nice line that it “takes more than a lousy hand grenade to do in a lunk like me.”  It’s a good moment.

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Challengers_73_15.jpgThe Chals head to the base and Ace, Red, and Corinna prepare to head up towards the Moon so they can challenge (sorry!) whatever is causing these problems.  They join Major Cheever, after Ace gives a nice little speech about how much still remains unknown about the cosmos to a dubious officer.

However, in space, the team is attacked by…Major Cheever!  Just then, a strange energy creature materializes in the capsule.  I really like the design for this being, amorphous and vaguely defined, fitting for an energy lifeform.  Having touched Corinna’s mind, the creature, named Machu, feels a connection towards her.  It resists Cheever’s orders, and it tells its story.  Apparently its race long ago came to the Moon looking for a new world to call their own.  This being was the guardian of his people, but because he failed in his duties, they were destroyed.  With his dying (what? breath? do energy beings breath?)…something, their leader cursed Machu, saying that he must stay in the cold emptiness of space until he destroyed two evil creatures as recompense for his failure.

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It seemed that the “wild black” drove Cheever insane, and his meeting with Machu convinced him that space was too dangerous to humanity.  He has become certain that the alien life that man will inevitably encounter, like this energy being, will corrupt humanity and eventually destroy them.  Thus, he has manipulated Machu’s grief to sabotage the space program.  It was this creature that strangled the astronaut, and now Cheever sics him on the Challengers.  Yet, Machu has learned from his contact with our heroes, and he realizes that his understanding of man has been flawed.  He attacks the Major instead, in a really nicely drawn sequence, which ends with the astronaut’s death.

 

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To atone for his mistakes, having killed an innocent man, Machu decides to end his own life to complete his mission.  Shocked, the Challengers begin their descent, coming back down to Earth and the end of their adventure.

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So, this is a good story, just the right kind of tale for the Challengers, where they encounter something new and unknown and solve their problems with more than just brute force.  It is really only weakened by two things.  The first, as already noted is the fact that O’Neil just can’t decide who he wants Corinna to be.  Yeah, the whole mystical element of the last issue does lay some groundwork for this sudden turn at being a medium, but it is just too much of a stretch.  If she hadn’t been shoe-horned into the team in the first place, she might have been able to develop more organically.  The second issue with the issue (sorry again!) is that our villain, Major Cheever, just shows up out of nowhere.  A bit more setup would have done wonders for the effect of the story.  As is, I like the mystery at the core here, I like most of the character work, and I really enjoyed the art.  The Challengers are probing the unknown, and that’s the way it should be.  The story just needs a little more room to breathe.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.minute3.5

Detective Comics #399

Detective_Comics_399.jpgCover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Panic By Moonglow”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Julius Schwartz

This is a solid, enjoyable Batman tale, though definitely still a product of this intermediate era, like the other story of this month.  It gives you a look at Batman’s brilliance as a detective, as well as his mastery of martial arts.  It’s nice to have this balanced portrayal, though Bob Brown’s art doesn’t quite manage to match the action.  It’s always obvious when you have someone who doesn’t really know how to fight drawing a fight scene.  For super powered demigods slugging each other, that isn’t necessarily that big of a deal, but when you’re supposed to be seeing a martial artist in action, the results can look comical and awkward.

Nonetheless, the issue is fun, and it follows a pretty exciting cover.  I like its layered effect, Gordon’s arm, Batman crouched and ready, and the murderous Master Kahn (“Khhhhhhhhaaaaaaannnnn!”) behind him.  The story opens with Batman and a local martial arts master putting on a demonstration of close combat techniques for the police.  Now, clearly this is a bit of a holdover from the “policeman’s friend” Batman, but it isn’t too jarring.

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The pair begin to spar, and the Masked Manhunter embarrasses the hot tempered Master Khan, and in response, the fighter pulls out a knuckle-duster and tries to put the hero down.  Batman flat out cold-cocks him, knocking the fellow unconscious.

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This prompts a fit of whining from a fellow named Arthur Reeves, who is the “mayor’s new public works coordinator,” and something of a red herring in this story.  He doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than to add some texture and lightness to the tale, but I suppose he is rather entertaining, being something of a bureaucratic antagonist for Batman.  Most notably, he gives us a funny scene where, after complaining that the Dark Knight shouldn’t be trusted because he wears a mask, and no-one who “pretends to serve the public has any reason to stay hidden.”  In response, Bats simply lifts off the fellow’s toupee.  It’s a legitimately funny moment., and if not entirely fitting for Batman, it doesn’t seem entirely out of character either.  Even the grim avenger of the night might happily puncture the inflated ego of such a stooge.  It’s also nice to see a sign that not everyone in power approves of the Dark Knight’s crusade.

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Batman gets back to his crime-fighting efforts, and a month later, he answers the Bat-signal to discover that Khan’s dojo has burned down, and he seems to have died in the blaze.  “Seems to,” being the operative phrase, and I’m sure we can all see what’s coming.  Later, Batman and Gordon are called to a seance (a lot of that going around this month!) with the claim that vital information will be revealed to them.  On the way, a gunman tries to ventilate them with a Thompson, but the Caped Crusader manages to take him out by playing possum.

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Heading for the seance once again, and now knowing that it is somehow involved in this setup, Batman and the Commissioner meet a former hood named “Big Dough” Joe, who claims to have reformed.  It ends up being another red-herring, but it helps this story to feel a bit more fleshed out, and there is a good touch of humanity in this fellow’s brief appearance.  He’s trying to turn his life around, even thanks Gordon for putting him away, and yet we can’t help but be suspicious of him.

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Well, during the seance, a “medium” named “the Great Dilbert” (really dude?  That’s going to be your stage name?) puts on a show that features the “spirit” of Khan swearing vengeance on Batman from beyond the grave.  Interestingly, his plan is not to kill the Masked Manhunter, but to embarrass him as the martial artist himself was, by killing Gordon!  In response, the pencil-necked geek, Reeves, insists (how does he have any say in all of this?) that the Commissioner be locked in a vault and carefully protected where no-one can get to him.  In a solid display of the Dark Knight’s skills, the hero sneaks in disguised as a cop (somehow with his entire costume hidden under the uniform, cowl and all!), and then deduces that the Gordon they are protecting is a fake!

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The imposter is revealed to be “Dilbert,” but just as he is preparing to confess, he dies mysteriously!  It seems his partner poisoned the mask he was wearing to ensure his silence.  His dying “words” are ‘D..do..j..jo…” which, of course makes everyone suspect our formerly felonious friend.  The Caped Crusader has other ideas though, realizing that what the fellow actually said was “dojo.”

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He arrives at the ruined martial arts studio and discovers (gasp!) a very much alive Khan.  We get a nice, dramatic reveal as Batman confronts his adversary and they begin a duel, torch vs. katana, and then hand to hand.  It is an admittedly short fight.  Batman just straight-up outclasses this clown, and he drops him in relatively short order.

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This issue is a good, solid Batman adventure, with a reasonable mystery, some action, and plenty of personality.  It’s a pleasant read, if a bit underdeveloped.  After all, it’s only 14 1/2 pages.  I think just another page of background or attention for Khan could have added a good deal to the whole thing, but nonetheless, it’s a fun story.  I really do love that panel of Batman silently de-toupee-ing the weasel Reeves.  I’ll give it four Minutemen!

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“Panic By Moonglow”

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Let’s see if Robin performs any better in this adventure than in the first part.  As we remember, he was knocked out with a head-blow (Holy Hannah!  How did I miss that!  I’m going to retroactively add it to the list!), and we join him this issue as he comes to, looking up into the face of Zukov, the Russian scientist who was lecturing at the university.  The quarantine is still in effect, so the good doctor offers his quarters for Robin’s recuperation, but the Teen Wonder has more on his mind than rest.

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He is suspicious of Zukov, and he eavesdrops on his host.  It’s a good thing too, because the husky huckster is in cahoots with communist spies!  He lets them out of a trap door, and orders them to take out the “sleeping” sidekick.  Robin is way ahead of them, though, and he takes off to prevent the rest of their plan from coming together.  Apparently, they poisoned the student from the last issue with the aid of the soap the Teen Wonder discovered, but that was just to set the stage for their next move.  Once the boy dies, the Russians will use this to bury NASA under a storm of bad publicity for releasing a cosmic plague on the planet!

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Robin takes off to retrieve the Moon rock as evidence, and an over-eager National Guard sentry takes a shot at him!  This is a really interesting bit of synchronicity, given the violent events at Kent State this month, especially considering that this issue would have been written well before that happened.  Clearly, there was tension in the air during this year.

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Well, despite the sentry’s shot, our hero manages to reach the building’s roof, and the Russian agents attempt to intercept him.  Here Robin gets a better showing than the last issue, taking out two of his opponents in appropriately acrobatic fashion as he dangles from a rope.

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Inside, he confronts Zukov, who has a tiny, hand-held laser, and it actually functions somewhat like an actual laser, rather than the variety most commonly found in comics.  Unfortunately, Robin has another unimpressive moment, as, startled by a shot, he crashes through the skylight and snags his cape on the edge, leaving him a sitting duck for the spy.  Obligingly, Zukov begins to monologue, graciously explaining his plan, and Robin uses the time to free himself, and, in an admittedly nicely drawn sequence, catch his rope and slide down into the darkened interior of the building.

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A brief game of cat and mouse follows, and Zukov kills causes his own demise by slicing through one of the supports of the lunar lander module on display there, causing the vehicle to collapse and crush him.  Fortunately, the good guys find the antidote and rescue the poisoned dweeb, and all’s well that ends well.

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All-in-all, this is a fair back-up story, and it is definitely an improvement over the first half.  We get to see Robin do some pretty cool stuff, using his brains and his training, and even his goof in this issue leads us to a good sequence that shows off his skills.  The Russian plot is actually fairly clever and subtle, by comic book standards, and the Cold War tensions, as well as the surprisingly apt presage of campus-bound violence makes this issue rather interesting in retrospect.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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The Flash #197

Flash_v.1_197.jpgCover Artist: Gil Kane
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta

“To the Nth Degree”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta

This is a fun all around issue of the Flash, especially considering how rough most of the issues I’ve read have been.  This set of tales takes advantage of the character, the supporting cast, and the powers.  Sadly, no ‘Lightning the Speedy Hound.’

We start with Barry Allen working in his police lab with his long-time partner (who we’ve never seen before, of course), who is working on cracking a case.  The pair have worked together so long that they’ve developed their own non-verbal shorthand.  With a series of gestures they hold an entire conversation, with Barry rubbing his nose to indicate approval.

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Just then a call comes in that “Ice” King is in the middle of another robbery.  This is not a new supervillain, but a criminal of unlikely and fairly preposterous cleverness.  Apparently, Central City has been hit by heavy snowfall, and this creative crook has been making his getaways on skis to avoid the police on treacherous roads.

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It’s silly, but it is quite fun, and Flash tries several inventive tactics to catch this chilly criminal.  Of course our hero could simply super speed punch this fellow into the next timezone, but it fits the character that he’s challenging himself to find creative, relatively non-violent solutions.  He finally chops the fellow’s skis into matchsticks with super speed, but the thief has a heart attack as he tumbles into the snow!  Or at least, that is how it seems.

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Conveniently, there is an ambulance on hand, and they load him up and rush off.  Shortly Flash realizes that this was another clever plan by the “Ice” man (one wonders how long this run-of-the-mill crook could have operated in Central City before Captain Cold decided to show him who the real ice king is…).  Yet, this revelation comes from Flash’s crime lab partner, Charlie Conwell, and without thinking, Flash responds with the same gesture used by Barry Allen!

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The Scarlet Speedster tries to cover the gesture by faking a sneeze, but a seed of doubt is planted!  Nonetheless, the thief made good his getaway.  We’re next treated to a charming little scene between Barry and Iris.  This little glimpse of their domestic life is just plain lovely.  This the texture and joy that’s lost because DC has apparently become terrified of marriage, not to mention the moral aspect of that loss.  Anyway, Mrs. Flash is filling in for the Picture News’s drama critic, and she encourages her heroic husband to take up amateur acting.  He agrees and auditions for a production of Hamlet being put on by the police department.  It’s a nice bonus that the minor supporting character Dexter Myles, former shakespearean actor, is directing the play.  Barry snags the part of Horatio, and already we’re seeing lots of Flash’s life outside of the mask, which makes for a fun expansion of his world and character.

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Unfortunately, the cast all comes down with the flu right before opening night, but the Fastest Man Alive believes that “the show must go on,” so he decides to play all of the parts himself at super speed!  We get another of Kane’s odd collage panels, but this one actually works quite well, perhaps because all of the different elements work together to tell a single story.  After finishing his performance, the Crimson Comet is suddenly struck by that virus that hit everyone else, just as “Ice” King and his cronies show up, dressed as policemen, to raid the box office.  They decide to snuff the Flash because he seems helpless, but our hero super accelerates his metabolism so that the illness runs its course in moments.  It makes sense, in a comic book-y kind of way, and he’s able to roll with his assailants’ punches long enough to get back on his feet.

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He takes out the gang in a nice panel, and then he heads home to the ministrations of his caring wife.   Yet, he’s interrupted in his recuperation by his old friend Charlie!  Knowing him to be suspicious, the Scarlet Speedster uses his speed to appear as the Flash and as a bed-ridden Barry.  This convinces the other scientist that he must have been wrong about the hero’s secret identity, and he leaves Barry to recover.

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This was a fun, light-hearted story, which fits the Barry Allen Flash quite well.  After all, he’s not driven to be a hero by loss like Batman (despite later retcons); he does it because it is the right thing to do and, to a degree, for the fun!  He, like Aquaman, is an adventurer, but unlike the Sea King, his world is, for all of its color and charm, relatively normal.  Thus, it is fitting that we see a community of characters growing up around the Flash.

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For all of their silliness, that is something that the Silver Age adventures of the Scarlet Speedster accomplished quite well.  Central City is an interesting setting, and Barry Allen is much more a part of it than other characters, like Bruce Wayne/Batman, are traditionally part of theirs.  Gotham may be central to who Batman is, but Bruce Wayne is a man apart, while Barry Allen is working with the police department, taking up hobbies, and living a domestic life.  It makes him a character that I’ve always really loved, even when his adventures were too silly for my tastes.  This one manages to maintain the charm without too many of the more Silver Age-y trappings.  So, I’ll give it a hearty 4 Minutemen out of 5.  What do you say, Mrs. Allen?

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“To the Nth Degree”

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You might think from the title that this story might have something to do with Nth Metal, but nothing of the sort.  Instead, this is another misadventure courtesy of Flash’s father in law, the absent minded Professor Ira West.  These are usually pretty goofy stories, and I’m not that fond of them in general.  This one, on the other hand, is actually quite fun.  It starts with the forgetful academic having perfected a new type of telescope, one which can “pierce hyper-space–see stars thousands of light-years away” because, sure, that’s how light works.  It’s a really goofy idea, not even workable with comic book science, and it’s one of two in this tale.  Still, I suppose they can be overlooked, as nonsensical as they are.

Prof. West mixes up his addresses, and sends this experimental telescope (really?) to Barry, sending the amateur telescope that was to be a gift for his son-in-law to the Astronomical Society by mistake.  How is this guy allowed to run his own life?  Anyway, Flash gets his gift, but when he looks through it he sees, not the Moon, but a distant world in the midst of a violent volcanic firestorm!  Barry is not one to let suffering go unanswered, and he feels like he must do something to help the inhabitants of this  strange planet.  Yet, he’s not Superman, so how is he to get there?  Well…he…flies…through space…on the light from the telescope.  Because, once again, that’s how light works.  This is that other silly idea, but the payoff is pretty cool.
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He finds a planet populated by flame beings, and it’s a cool (sorry!) design.  Their world is breaking up, preparing to explode because of an overheated core.  The Scarlet Speedster leaps into action and begins to smother the overwhelming fires.  He even cools the core down with super-speed air blasts.

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He makes his way back to the light beam by stepping on grains of sand!  He gets back to Earth, and our tale ends with the absent minded professor absentmindedly destroying the experimental telescope.  Sadly, he also lost the formula, so the technology is lost to the world.

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This is a fun story with Flash doing some pretty cool super speed tricks to save the alien world, even if the deus ex-machinas that get him there are utterly ridiculous.  Prof. West is a lot more tolerable this issue, even rather likable in his brief appearance.  Silly in parts, but enjoyable overall, I’ll give this issue 3 Minutemen.

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Well, that’s it for this batch of issues.  I hope you enjoyed this leg of the journey, and please join me next week for another chapter!

 

Happy Easter!

Also, it just so happens that this post falls on an important day, perhaps the most important day in history, so allow me to wish you a happy Easter!  Today the True Hero returned, the fellow who all true heroes emulate in that defining trait of heroism, selflessness.

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Into the Bronze Age: May 1970 (Part 1)

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Time to head back to the Bronze Age!

This month in history:

  • The National Guard, responding to rioting, kills 4 at Kent State in Ohio, prompting the creation of the song, “Ohio”
  • Construction workers break up an anti-war rally in NYC’s Wall Street
  • 100,000 demonstrate against Vietnam War
  • 100,000 march in NY supporting US policies in Vietnam
  • Race riots in Augusta Georgia, multiple deaths
  • Peter Green quits Fleetwood Mac to join a cult
  • Multiple nuclear tests by East and West

Man, things are heating up this month, and it is clear that both Cold War and racial tensions are rising.  The occurrence of the infamous Kent State killings is particularly noteworthy for American history, though I am struck by the fact that there were marches both for and against American involvement in Vietnam.  I think our national consciousness tends to downplay the fact that there was actually a lot of support for the war throughout the conflict, despite the fact that we think of it ending almost purely because of the force of popular opinion.  Eventually the weight of public opinion did shift, but I don’t think it was ever as monolithic a force as we tend to imagine.

In what strikes me as a strangely fitting bit of synchronicity, the top song for this month is The Guess Who’s “American Woman.”  Make of that what you will.

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

  • Action Comics #388
  • Batman #221
  • Brave and the Bold #89
  • Challengers of the Unknown #73
  • Detective Comics #399
  • Flash #196 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Flash #197
  • G.I. Combat #141
  • Justice League of America #80
  • Showcase #90
  • Superman #226
  • World’s Finest #193

Bonus!: Star Hawkins (for real this time)

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

Action Comics #388

Action_Comics_388.jpgCover Artist: Curt Swan
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos

Well, as you might guess from that cover, this is a wacky one, but as it pretends to be nothing but just that, it’s actually more than a little fun.  The whole issue is like one of those activity books for kids full of different types of puzzles.  It’s basically one long ‘spot what’s wrong in this picture’ game, and there is plenty to spot.  It’s a rather charming, goofy, and purely Silver Age-ish bit of fluff, but it is fun nonetheless.  In fact, this book is so completely and utterly bananas, that I’m going to have a devil of a time summarizing it.  Have fun spotting all the errors in the pages I include; it will take some doing to note them all!

The story opens with a weird, wacky splash page that sets the tone for what’s to follow, featuring a mixed up mish-mash of the Justice League greeting a bewildered Superman.  Each Leaguer has something out of place, many bearing the wrong symbols or even the wrong faces under their masks!  Notably, Aquaman has the face of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Newman.  This is fitting enough, as this entire issue reads just like a tale from that venerable humor magazine.  As much oddness as there is on this page, Swan was apparently afraid to mess with the Amazing Amazon; the only thing wrong with her is that she is wearing her old costume.

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The plot, what there is of it, centers around the Earth suddenly being replaced by an odd-ball world that bears more than a passing resemblance to Bizarro World.  We find a version of Mr. Mxyzptlk that seems like a neanderthal version of a leprechaun.  This odd edition of the 5th dimensional felon meets up with a surprisingly eloquent and erudite Bizarro, and they begin to make plans.

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Meanwhile…gosh, this is even harder than I thought.  Just…just try to keep up with the madness, okay?  Meanwhile, Superman is all set to marry a particularly scatterbrained and easy going Lois Lane, prompting check-ins with lots of characters acting out of, well, character, including Lois’s old flame, Sgt. Rock, who receives a Dear-John letter from the girl reporter.  Wow, the postal service on this alternate Earth is great, delivering to the past, specifically World War II!  He…apparently has Wonder Woman’s robot plane, so he heads to Metropolis to take out his rival.  Back in town, our usual Superman somehow arrives in this topsy-turvy world, and he doesn’t know what to make of all this craziness.

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Next, it looks like trouble is stirring as Lex Luthor, with a glorious head of hair, and Brainiac in Mxyzptlk’s threads stop by.  But what’s this?  They’re only there to deliver their wedding present, a bizarre monster to serve as a pet.  While trying to sort out what is happening, Superman finds himself attacked…with syrup?  How about brussel sprouts?  How strange!

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Bizarro and Mxyzptlk show up to add their presents to the wackiness, but things take an even stranger turn when Sgt. Rock launches his final assault with, very specifically, five-day-old garbage, his syrup and vegetables having failed.

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Finding none of these “weapons” successful, Rock gives up and leaves Lois to the better man.  It turns out that this world’s Superman is actually vulnerable to all of these random substances.

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Finally, a scientist shows up and explains, as if any explanation could possibly really work here, that his experiment has accidentally switched Earth with an alternate dimension’s version of the planet while Superman was off-world.  They do some comic book science to switch it back, but the important thing is that on the alternate Earth, the wacky wedding takes place without a hitch…I guess.

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Well, this is certainly an entertaining little descent into madness, though there isn’t really anything to it other than Bates deciding to have some fun turning Superman’s world on its ear.  It manages to work by being entirely honest about what it’s after, and it has some genuinely funny moments. I have to say, I love the image of Sgt. Rock, hardened veteran soldier, pelting Superman with garbage.  Excuse me, five-day-old garbage.  It’s really a bit hard to rate a humorous issue like this, but I suppose I’ll give it a fun but silly 3.5 Minutemen out of 5.

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It seems that the Legion tale this month is, “Sun Boy’s Lost Power,” is a reprint, so I won’t be covering it.  Interestingly enough, the editor claims that this type of tale has been heavily requested by fans.  I wonder if there is any truth to that or if they are merely covering the lack of a new story.  It really could be either.  After all, this is the age before comic book stores, so it’s not like it was easy to find back issues.

Batman #221

Batman_221.jpgCover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano

“Hot Time in Gotham Town Tonight!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano

This is a solid Batman story of the common type that seems to be emerging from this middle era between the wackiness of the Silver Age and the pathos of the Bronze Age.  It has an excellent cover, which, now that I think about it, actually looks a lot like a scene out of the Arkham series.  Though this cover is only very loosely related to the story within, it is certainly a nice image, one that might have convinced me to pick it up in those long lost days.

The basic story is a fairly simple one, though with that touch of the fantastic that seems to characterize this intermediate era.  It seems that normally docile animals all over the German countryside are suddenly turning vicious.  One fisherman was devoured by…trout!  A farmer was also attacked by a pair of formerly passive oxen that suddenly turned murderous!  The source of these disturbances seems to be some sort of pollutant that has seeped downstream from a chemical firm on the Rhine.  In a rather convenient turn of events, it seems Bruce Wayne is in the country visiting a possible business partner, (a lot of that going around these days) Baron Willi Von Ritter, and it just so happens, that the local authorities suspect that his factory is the culprit.

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Bruce agrees to check him out during his visit, and arriving at Biochem-Fabrik, LTD, he discovers it to be located in a massive, imposing medieval fortress that was expanded and updated by the Nazis in World War II.  It seems the good Baron was actually dragooned into working for the Third Reich, but he was cleared of any wrongdoing during the Nuremberg trials.  This, of course, leads us, as well as our hero, to wonder if perhaps the powers that be were a little too quick to give Ritter a clean bill of moral health.  While there, Bruce meets the Baron, his pretty young wife, and Otto, his assistant.

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We learn a bit about the Baron at this point, and I have to say, I rather like this fellow.  We really only get part of a page to develop his character, but Robbins and Novick do a lot with that little space, and you get a nice sense of who he is with that economy of image and word that only comics can manage.  Von Ritter leads his guest through his castle, past hunting trophies and, most interestingly, a padded jacket, goggles, and sabers which Wayne recognizes as a “Heidelberg dueling outfit.”  This is apparently a real thing, and I am more than a little happy that this comic led me to learn about this practice.  Apparently, students in Europe have a practice of joining dueling societies, and ever since the 18th Century, they’ve been engaging in duels of honor where the objective is to mark your opponent’s face while bearing any and all wounds you yourself receive with discipline and courage.  This was seen as a measure of character and training for manly virtue….and I have to admit, I’m more than a little sorry that my own academic exploits haven’t been accompanied by a few duels.  I mean, I’ve enjoyed being a fencer, but this is something of an altogether different sort!

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Well, the effect of this little moment and the Baron’s pride at his own dueling scar, which he refers to as his “badge of manhood,” is to tell us that he is a disciplined, serious man with deep sympathies towards old traditions.  Of course, we’re meant to see this as indicative of Nazi leanings, but it is just possible that they point to an older, more honorable heritage.  The whole effect reminds me of Babylon 5‘s Londo Mollari, who was part of a similar dueling society that shows up in a great episode.  It’s a minor detail, purely atmospheric, but I found the real practice behind it, as well as what it tells us about the good Baron, to be quite fascinating.  Extra points for Robbins for the historical tidbit, which he explains only with context, leaving readers to search out the reference on their own.

Anyway, you’re probably wondering what all of that has to do with this story, and the answer is ‘pretty much nothing.’  Sorry, it just caught my interest, and it lead me on a merry chase for the history behind the concept.  Who says comics aren’t educational?  The tale really takes off when our favorite billionaire-playboy-with-a-secret retires for the night and the Batman begins to prowl through this ancient edifice!  Good job keeping your identity safe there, Bruce.  I’m sure no-one will connect the American hero with the lone American staying at the castle.  Well, silly risks aside, he finds a hidden lab packed with animals, and within, a shocking sight: a lamb savagely attacking a cowering lion!  The two animals fight in a pit as a hooded figure with a whip watches with too-intense interest from above.

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Batman realizes he has discovered the root of the strange occurrences, but this mysterious character will not go down without a fight.  He employs his whip in a manner worthy of Indiana Jones, or perhaps Zorro, managing to entangle the Masked Manhunter long enough to fit him for a very ironic fate.  The fiend unleashes a horde of common bats that have all been injected with his “killer” serum, which brings out the, well, you guessed it, killer instinct in any creature it is administered to.  This is all part of a plan to create a new master race for another shot at that whole ‘thousand year Reich’ thing, which didn’t work out so well last time.

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The bats attack the Bat, and though he shields himself with his cape, he knows that it is only a matter of time until they tear him apart in a death of a thousand cuts.  Yet, the Dark Knight is cool headed, even in the worst of extremities, and, while reflecting on the bats’ ability to hunt by using their natural sonar, he spots the means of his salvation, a seemingly useless bit of tinfoil!  This is a fun, ironic scene and all that, but I have to think, no matter how aggressive, bats just wouldn’t be all that dangerous to a man.  But then again, we’re dealing with a world of super science and all sorts of craziness, so I suppose I can let it slide.

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Meanwhile, our masked villain has escaped, and we follow him to a rendezvous with the young Baroness, Ilga, where he is revealed to be none other than Otto, the Baron’s assistant.  The two make plans for a new Nazi resurgence, preparing to make the aged butler their first human test subject, when a battered but still very much alive Batman interrupts their efforts.

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Not one to give up lightly, Ilga injects Otto with the serum, turning him into a killing machine, but also removing all his inhibitions.  Unsurprisingly, he turns on her, and strikes a killing blow…with…a backhand?  That is one heck of a slap!  It’s a bit silly that she dies from what looks like a vicious but still pretty light blow.  Sure, if the guy had enough super strength to juggle cars, that would make sense, but that isn’t really what this drug does.  It’s a minor quibble, but I did notice the disconnect, as I was surprised when Ilga died from that attack.  It pulled me out of the story for a moment.

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As usual, Novick’s art is solid and serviceable, but I think the greatest strength may be his face work.  I love the expression of surprise on Otto’s face when his partner sticks the knife…err…needle in his back.  The Dark Knight tries to stop Otto, but most of his blows seem to have little effect.  He tries some judo instead, and in the type of ironic ending that comics just love, he flips the rampaging chemist directly into the pit with the still ravening lamb.  Yep, Otto is apparently killed by a lamb…despite the fact that he is ALSO pumped full of this serum, so he should probably be able to take even a particularly aggressive sheep.  That’s two, Robbins.  It is funny, but it does rather take away from the dramatic tension of these last pages.  Death by lamb!  Shades of How I Met Your Mother.

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The issue ends with Batman explaining his clever escape to the dying Ilga, because he’s got to have someone to show off to.  He remembered the Allies using tinfoil to confuse German radar, and he threw the bats off with the same trick.  “I know now–we never could have–beaten you!” the dying girl declares, to which Batman answers, “For the same reasons the ‘beasts’ have never beaten us–our strength is in our humanity for our fellow men!”  That’s a nice sentiment to end on for this issue, but there’s just one problem: it doesn’t actually fit the story at all.  Batman’s victory had nothing to do with compassion, just cleverness.  I suppose Robbins felt one moral was as good as another.

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In the end, this is, as I said, a solid tale, and I find myself inordinately fond of this fairly generic German baron.  I really wish we had gotten a check in with him at the end of the story.  I’d have liked to see his reaction to the betrayal of his wife and assistant.  I think not doing that is a bit of a missed opportunity, but perhaps I’m still just tickled by the idea of college students dueling with sabers.  Either way, this story, flaws and all, gets a fun 3.5 Minutemen.  I like the mystery and the misdirection, and I think Batman’s solution to dealing with the bats was particularly clever.

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“Hot Time in Gotham Town Tonight”

The backup this month sadly features neither Batgirl nor Robin, but it’s a fairly decent story, more about Gotham than about Batman himself.  It centers around a pair of firefighters who are running around town because of false alarms being turned in by a pair of punk kids.  The kids learn a lesson when a child is almost killed in a building fire, the fire engine having been delayed by their “joke.”

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Luckily, Batman is there in a nice splash.  I think there is a subtle message of racial unity in this tale, as the events take place in a black neighborhood, and the fire-fighting pair are black and white.  The duo has a little tension about how to handle the kids, but they manage to work it out.  More importantly, their combined efforts help to put out the blaze.  We’re also given a nice moment as a family welcomes their rescued child, after Batman gave the boy mouth-to-mouth to bring him around.

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This is where things take a turn for the weird, adding a wrinkle that this short story simply couldn’t support, as the fire inspector leads the firemen to the source of the blaze, one of their apartments!  Inside, the fireman’s kid brother, Joey, just returned from a tour in Vietnam, tells them that the whole thing was caused by the strange green statue he brought back with him, a statue that was reputed to have mystic powers!

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They scoff, of course, but just then the relic begins to shoot out strange rays.  Okay, sure, evil, fire starting Buddha, why not?  But that’s not the crazy part.  Out of nowhere, Batman shows up, struggling mightily against the rays and finally managing to shuck the statue out the window, where it smashes on the pavement below.  How did Batman know about this?  Where did this evil artifact come from?  Don’t ask such nosy questions, we’ve only got 8 pages!

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It’s not a bad story, but it certainly does leave some questions unanswered.  Now, we can no-prize this, say that the statue was part of some case Bats was working, and we’re just tuning in at the end, having joined the story in media res.  Such an explanation would work, but it would have been nice for the tale to provide one line of dialog to make the connection.  The final tag line also seems a bit off, declaring, “For the natural violence of life there is always the fireman!  For the supernatural violence of life there is always…the Batman!”  Well…that’s all well and good, but the supernatural really isn’t Batman’s bailiwick.  That’s much more in the vein of someone like the Phantom Stranger.  Speaking of that particular mysterious devil, he’ll show up in our next book!  Meanwhile, I’ll give this slightly puzzling yarn 2.5 Minutemen.

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Brave and Bold #89

Brave_and_the_bold_89.jpgExecutive Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Well, this is definitely a Bob Haney issue.  My goodness is it a Bob Haney issue!  He’s in full Haney-verse mode here, inventing new elements of the Batman mythos out of whole cloth, creating nonsensical plots, and making Batman talk like one of his slang-slinging Teen Titans.  The Phantom Stranger is our guest-star of the month, and it is interesting that the Stranger is still in the middle of his evolution in his own title.  The character still hasn’t been entirely nailed down, which is fortunate, because Haney would likely have blithely ignored anything that had been established.  As it is, the Stranger is a bit off in this issue.

The tale begins with an unusual and not terribly attractive splash page.  We’re still a ways away from the wonderful run of Jim Aparo on the Brave and Bold art chores.  Apparently, a weirdo Amish-ish cult…err…sect is strolling into Gotham, complete with covered wagons and livestock.  They are led by a neck-bearded mystic with a shepherd’s crook who goes by the name of Josiah Heller.  Apparently, these are the “Hellerites,” who have come back to reclaim what was theirs in the early days of the city.  The police aren’t happy with this bizarre parade, but apparently the Hellerites aren’t breaking any laws.  It’s funny that Batman has to remind the freaking police commissioner about what the law says.

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We get a flashback to what happened to the Hellerites in the 19th Century, a history that has totally always been part of Gotham’s past.  Apparently, because the Hellerites looked and acted differently, people didn’t like them.  They were treated as outsiders, and when a child was found mysteriously dead, the Hellerites were blamed.  A riot ensued, and their settlement, at the center of modern day Gotham downtown, burned to the ground, their leader, the original Josiah Heller, with it.

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The modern day Hellerites have come back to demand reparations for their land that was stolen by the Gothamites’ ancestors.  The cult camps out in Gotham park, where apparently there is no law to prevent it because “no one ever tried it before.”  I find that hard to believe, that no bum had ever tried to camp out in the park rent free.  Anyway, the new Heller begins to preach fire and brimstone, threatening Gotham with various mystical judgements if they its citizens don’t grant his demands.

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I think it’s funny that the hippie looking folks are sympathetic.

Gotham is split, and because we’re still in 60s mode (I imagine that Haney will be perpetually in 60s mode always and forever), this causes riots and protests.  The City Council is also split, as the land the Hellerites have demanded is the most expensive real estate in Gotham City.  Surprisingly, Bruce Wayne argues in favor of these demands, citing it as their responsibility to make up for their ancestors’ sins.  This struck me as really weird, but then again, the whole setup is so bizarre that it’s hardly worth picking on this particular nit.

The story takes off when The Phantom Stranger shows up and has a enigmatic tete-a-tete with the demanding Mr. Heller.  The Stranger tells the neck-bearded one that he’s tampering with dangerous forces, and then vanishes when Heller tries to “smite” him, knocking himself unconscious.  Batman has overheard all of this and searches the unconscious cult leader, discovering some clues that indicate this fellow is not what he appears to, including cigarettes, even though the Hellerites don’t smoke.

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After this encounter, strange things start happening around Gotham, as spectral Hellerites begin to wander the streets, demanding land that they once owned.  No one can tell the difference between the ghosts and the flesh and blood types because they apparently still dress the same a century later, 1700s chic!  Things get wackier from here, as the Stranger shows up again to warn Batman about the danger to the city.  Batman, despite the fact that he was just dealing with the supernatural in his own magazine, is completely unwilling to accept that such things are possible.  How very Haney.  It’s at this point that professional wet blanket (as Rob Kelly calls him), Dr. Thirteen shows up.

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He does his usual bit, calling the Stranger a charlatan, but then Haney gives us something that is, admittedly, as awesome as it is crazy.  We get to see the good doctor karate chopping the Phantom Stranger, dropping him like a ton of bricks!  Ha, I can’t imagine the Stranger being taken out like that in his own book, but I have to say, it’s fairly entertaining, and a nice panel to boot.  Thirteen even uses a drug to ensure that the mysterious man with the disco medallion stays unconscious for a good long while.

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This isn’t quite a head-blow, but I’m going to count it!

Yet, a close encounter with a ghostly Josiah Heller makes a believer out of the Dark Knight, and a check in with the police department computer (what, the Batcomputer is on the fritz?) helps our hero to begin piecing together the plan, such as it is, of the specters.  It seems that the Hellergeist is after the town’s first born sons, including, apparently, Dick Grayson, who is magically transformed into a warlock by the curse of the Hellerites because, of course he is.  He zaps his partner, pins Alred to a wall, and then levitates the modern day Heller, spouting something about how only this new Heller can end this waking of the spirits.

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Realizing that he’s out of his depth, the Masked Manhunter goes to pull the Stranger out of police lockup.  Despite Thirteen’s drugs (a bit creepy that he just has those on him, isn’t it?), our enigmatic hero awakens in time to aid the Dark Knight in a showdown against the ghostly Heller.  The Stranger’s ill-defined powers seem to be overtaxed with fairly minor deeds, leaving Batman to pick up the slack, taking out his ward-turned-warlock.  He also determines that the modern Heller is actually an imposter, which is what caused all these problems in the first place.  He is actually a fugitive named Karl Loftus who lost his memory and, thanks to a resemblance to the original Heller, was taken for a long lost descendant.  Apparently the Hellerites are rather easily led.  The convenient arrival of a sheriff helps to snap the fellow out of his delusion, in turn banishing the restless spirits…somehow.

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The story ends with Thirteen still skeptical, despite the fact that he’s seen things in this issue that are pretty darn hard to account for.  Ohh, and the Stranger vanishes once again.  I wonder if Batman appreciated how annoying that is when someone does it to you.  Their leader gone, the Hellerites trek out of Gotham, their departure as pointless as their arrival.

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This is a fairly average Haney story, I suppose, wacky and weird, though not so stupid as to be particularly troublesome.  As you can tell, I didn’t put too much effort into understanding this plot, though I’m not sure if it would have helped if I had.  The characterization is typically off, but the scene of Thirteen karate chopping the Stranger is worth something.  As usual, the story is jam-packed, but the final effect is not one of Haney’s strongest.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.

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Well, that’s it for this week’s selections.  I hope you’ll join me next week for another league further in our journey Into the Bronze Age!

Into the Bronze Age: April 1970 (Part 2)

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Howdy readers!  I apologize for the long delay in posts, but the last two weeks have proven to be crazy busy.  I had hoped to get this post up by this weekend, but there was a pile of student papers that disagreed with me rather stringently.  Nonetheless, we are back on track now, and I hope to get back into the swing of things.

Time for another stride Into the Bronze Age!

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 (Rolled over into the next post)

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

Green Lantern #76

Green_Lantern_Vol_2_76.jpgExecutive Editor: Carmine Infantino
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Colourist: Cory Adams
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Well, here we are at last.  This story, more than any other single issue, defines the thematic beginning of the Bronze Age proper.  With this issue, Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams begin their famous run on this book, uniting DC’s two vermilion clad heroes to “discover America.”  This was a huge sea-change in comics.  We’ve already been observing the creeping turn towards social relevance and more serious stories, but that has been a fairly minor undercurrent in our readings.  It is the O’Neil/Adams tenure on Green Lantern/Green Arrow that brings those minor eddies into the mainstream in full force.

I’m afraid I’m probably not going to add too much that is really new to the discussion of these books, so be warned.  Their importance really shouldn’t be undersold, as this was the series that taught the industry that comics were a medium capable of tackling important social issues like poverty, racism, and drug use.  Of course, we’ll see the infamous issue where Green Arrow’s former sidekick gets addicted to heroin before too long in this title.  There is no doubt that this is an influential run, but my goodness, I really, really dislike it.  I understand its cultural importance and its status as a milestone for comics, but the problem is that these stories are all message and no subtlety, or perhaps more importantly, no joy.

O’Neil, as we’ve already observed, has a tendency to be a bit preachy, but in this book, that tendency is given full reign.  The result is an unbearably sanctimonious and mirthless series.  Reading about poverty, racism, and drugs sounds like a ton of furn, right?  Well, that’s part of the problem.  The joy and excitement of superhero tales gets left behind in the race to brow-beat the audience with this month’s message.  Now, this is not to say that comics shouldn’t deal with such issues, and I’m sure that there are a lot of folks running around today who had their eyes opened to some of our world’s problems by reading about them in Green Lantern.  Still, I think such tactics, much like the trends in modern comics, tend to miss the purpose of a world with superheroes.  Such a setting should really show us something to aspire to, something to hope for.  It can and should be a better world, though not a perfect world.

Of course, the main characters in this book suffer a similar fate to the stories themselves, quickly becoming entirely unlikeable.  Green Lantern loses all common sense so that he can repeatedly be taught lessons, while Green Arrow becomes O’Neil’s mouthpiece, and thus, intolerably self-righteous, with a certainty of his own sainthood magnified beyond all reason by the fact that the stories constantly bear him out as right.  The end result is a fascinating study of the time, but also a real chore to read these days.

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All of a sudden, Green Lantern’s world takes a turn for the ugly, and it happens so quickly, it must have given long-time readers whiplash!  This issue famously opens with the Emerald Gladiator flying above Star City, when he sees a businessman being attacked by some street punks.  He swoops down to the rescue, sending the young aggressor flying off to the police station and helping the older citizen to his feet.  Having completed his good deed, Hal turns to accept the accolades that he knows will be forthcoming from the crowd, only to receive a shower of cans, bottles, and verbal abuse.

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It’s a funny, surprising scene, and it certainly accomplishes its purpose, which is to knock readers off of their preconceptions.  It’s also a neat and unusual move, and it addresses a big problem with the standard practice of superheroes.  How much of the nuance of a situation can you absorb when you’re jumping down from rooftops and skulking in alleyways?  It isn’t easy to tell exactly what’s going on in every situation, and things like this would, in reality, probably happen quite a bit.  On the other hand, I don’t read books about invulnerable sun gods that can fly or men who fight crime by shrinking because I’m obsessed with realism.

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Well, the Emerald Crusader turns to lash out at the crowd (!), but he is stopped by Green Arrow, who has observed all of this.  Already, Hal is coming off quite badly.  Ollie gives Hal a quick tour of the particular slum he’s blundered into and explains that the fellow he saved is actually the local slumlord.

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That’s right, Arrow invoked Godwin’s Law way before the Internet

This is where we get one of the most famous, and infamous, moments from this book.  As the two heroes are taking in the squalor of their surroundings, an old black man approaches and asks Hal a question.  “I heard about how you work for the blue skins…”

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Well, this leaves our hero utterly stunned.  He can think of nothing to say in response to this shattering critique of his career as a hero.  This is, of course, where most of us reading this book throw our hands up and say “COME ON!”  The obvious answer to this is, ‘Oh, you want to know what I did for the black skins?  How about the time I saved the entire planet, your skin included, from the Qwardians, or how about when I kept Sinestro from enslaving all of humanity?  Or how about any of the other hundred times that I have rescued every last man, woman, or child of every last race that is or ever will be on this spinning rock?’

Green Lantern is, quite literally, above such complaints.  His job isn’t just to catch bank robbers or to stop muggers, he patrols the freaking cosmos.  Ohh, I’m sorry that life is unfair, but let me ask YOU a question.  Is it better to live in a slum and be ALIVE, or is it better to be space dust because I was chasing around after a slum lord instead of stopping the latest plot by a world-destroying menace?

Gah.  It galls me every time I read this story.  Of course, the guy does have a point, and just about any other hero who ISN’T saving the entire freaking planet every day should probably be pretty convicted by this.  But Green Lantern doesn’t fit the bill.  I realize that this is part of what O’Neil is doing.  He wants this contrast of powers and perspectives, and he especially wants to play with the concept of the Guardians of the Universe.  It would have been a bit more palatable if Hal had kicked, at least a little, at this, because he has every right to turn this back on his interlocutor.

But no, he hangs his head as if he’s the worst man in the world, and he begins his guilt-ridden journey with Green Arrow.  The issue follows the Lantern as he attempts to make up for his mistake by persuading the slum lord to have a change of heart and spare the poor folks who he is about to force out on the streets, but, being a slum lord, the fat-cat has no heart.  Thus, the Emerald Crusader’s words fall on deaf ears, and for the second time this issue, we see our supposed hero display a deplorable lack of self-control.  I thought the whole ring thing was all about willpower, but oh well, O’Neil has a sermon he wants to preach…err…a story he wants to tell.

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The Lantern prepares to lay this slimeball out, only to be stopped mid swing by non other than the Guardians of the Universe!  They tell him that the slumlord has committed no crime and order their ring-bearer to Oa, in no uncertain terms!  They refuse to listen to Hal when he arrives, and then they assign him a seemingly menial cosmic task, diverting meteors and then just hanging about in space.  Of course, this nicely illustrates why that earlier scene is so silly, as Green Lantern diverts massive chunks of space debris with a thought.

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Meanwhile, the Emerald Archer tries a different tactic with our resident scumbag.  He takes a page out of fellow vermilion hero, Green Hornet’s, playbook, and Ollie pretends to shake down the slumlord, who promises, in turn, to meet with him later with a payoff.

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Here we get a particularly nice sequence that displays Arrow’s skill, as well as Adams’ excellence, as two of the slumlord’s errand boys try to take out the hero, only to incriminate their boss by falling for a dummy in a darkened room while being far too talkative.  Unfortunately, the tape recorder Ollie hid next to the dummy, the target at which, we remember, he wanted the thugs to shoot, surprisingly got shot.  That part isn’t exactly the Archer’s finest moment.

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Meanwhile, Hal gets feed up with sitting around in space and heads back, teaming up with Ollie to trick the slimeball into incriminating himself by impersonating one of his gunsels with the help of his power ring.  This time the ruse works, and despite some last minute hysterics involving a grenade (!), the slumlord is arrested.

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It seems as if things will end happily ever after until The giant floating head of a Guardian crashes the party and starts chewing Hal out for abandoning his space-floating duties.  This prompts a ridiculously impassioned speech from Green Arrow, drawn with incredibly impassioned panels by Adams.  It really does look fantastic, but the melodrama of the moment just really drives home how goofy the exchange is.  Ollie demands that the practically omniscient alien come down off of his emerald tower and learn what it is really like on Earth.  The emotions of the scene are so visually exaggerated that the Archer looks like a Shakespearean actor in the midst of trodding the boards during the climax of “Macbeth” or “Othello.”

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“Come off your perch!  Touch…taste…laugh!  And cry!  Learn where we’re at…and why!”  Ouch Ollie, just ouch.

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Astonishingly, the Guardians don’t just vaporize this goateed goofball; instead, they take him seriously and send one of their number to join the two earthmen in a roadtrip across America, “searching for a special kind of truth…searching for themselves…”

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Yikes.  Now, in general, I’m all in favor of earnestness in comics and in general, and I don’t like folks who react to all such honesty with a sneering, ironic disregard, but I have to say, there’s plenty to mock here, and justifiably so.  The silliness of these stories was apparent even to readers in the 70s, and it is perhaps even more so now.  I can imagine this story being appealing to an angry, angsty young man, as I was at 16, someone who is learning about how complicated the world is, and yet whose perceptions are still very simplistic.  I’m afraid I’m at least a decade too late in life for this story.

Nonetheless, it is an important issue, and it does help catapult comics truly into the Bronze Age.  Adams’ art is beautiful, and there is definite value in comics wrestling with cultural problems.  Green Arrow as the champion of the downtrodden is one of those great concepts that remain, sticking with the character forever more, even after the rough edges that attract criticism have been worn away.  We’ve seen his brash, self-righteous personality developing just in the few months we’ve been following him under O’Neil’s pen.  Even though this incarnation is too extreme to be truly likable, there is something good in that concept.  In the end, this is a story more valuable for its cultural weight than its literary value or even its enjoyability.  It is a flawed but fascinating beginning, and I give it 2.5 Minutemen, having taken points away for the glaring, galling ludicrousness of that exchange in the tenement building, as well as for Ollie playing the ‘Nazi’ card in his argument with Hal.

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Superman #225

Superman_v.1_225.jpgCover Artist: Curt Swan
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos

Well, this is quite the weird story, and, honestly, I’m rather astonished that it got published.  It’s strangely, inconsistently, and thoughtlessly dark.  I can only assume that someone at the Comics Code Authority was asleep at the switch…or rock stupid.  You’d never guess from the fairly conventional beginning that this issue of Superman would end with a straight-up suicide, but it does.  You read that right, this Superman tale ends with a thinking, feeling being intentionally taking its own life, but I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself.  Follow along, and see if you’re as amazed as I was.

In fairly typical fashion, the issue opens with a set of aliens plotting against Superman for no particular reason.  Interestingly enough, their plot entails creating a clone by scanning the Man of Steel as he passes by their world on his way home from a space mission.  In a funny little sequence that really marks the bipolar nature of this story, the clone figures out he doesn’t have any powers by attempting to fly and landing square on his head, knocking himself out.  The Super-copy believes himself to be Superman, and the aliens encourage this, telling him that the real Superman is an impostor that has stolen his powers, planning to use them for evil.  They assure their creation that he must destroy the “false” hero in order to reclaim his rightful powers and place, and they give him devices to aid him in this quest.

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On the plus side, the aliens kind of remind me of This Island Earth

 

Now, let’s get something straight.  This is not a robot, not an unliving or mindless contraption.  This is a living being they have created, with a mind and will of its own, and even though it is easily talked into attempting murder, it is not simple.  Keep that in mind.

After being sent to Earth, the clone encounters several situations during which it is affected by its environment as Superman never could be.  Because of an alien device implanted in its head, it transfers these effects, sniffling, sneezing, and other human reactions to Clark, causing him to feel everything the clone does.  This plays a role in the small secret identity farce subplot that seems to be a contractual obligation of every Superman book.

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The real action of the story picks up when the imposter attempts to assassinate his rival with a kryptonite pitchfork at a costume parade, but because of the intervention of random partygoers, who apparently are quite willing to bodily drag a stranger around, just because they like his costume, the Metropolis Marvel escapes.  Thank heavens that Meteropolites are apparently the definition of ugly Americans…

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Having lost his weapons, the clone heads to the Fortress of Solitude to retrieve new devices powerful enough to do the deed.  His counterpart, experiencing the intense cold of the arctic vicariously, makes an incredible leap in logic and deduces that it must, of course, be coming from his double, who he doesn’t really know about, and from the Fortress, which he has no real reason to think endangered.

Plot contrivances aside, The Man of Tomorrow manages to capture his double, and attempts to break his conditioning and figure out his story.

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However, nothing works, so Superman turns him over to authorities, sends him home, or puts him in the Phantom Zone, right?  Nope, none of those relatively reasonable solutions are even considered.  Instead, our “hero” decides the the only viable solution, because his double transmits all sensations back to the original, is to keep him locked in a small cage, too tiny for him even to lie down in, for all of eternity.  ‘Cruel and unusual’ is for chumps!  That doesn’t apply to superpowered sun gods from space!

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To make matters even worse, Superman seriously considers straight-up murdering the imposter in order to solve the problem, and the only reason he doesn’t is that he has “conditioned [himself] against killing for too many years.  It’s a good thing The Man of Steel’s moral code is so famously flexible, otherwise that might strike me as a bit off.

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That’s right, Superman seriously considers flat-out murdering his double.

After what must be weeks of imprisonment, judging from the impostor’s super-beard, he realizes that his rival is, in fact, the real Superman, a shattering revelation.  The clone has a moment of clarity, and he figures out who and what he is, and he refuses to let the aliens use him to endanger the true Man of Steel.  So, how does he get out of this predicament?  How does Dorfman tidy up the Superman mythos and dispose of this duplicate?  Well, he has him commit suicide, of course, with a pistol-looking device, no less!  The double gets a Superman robot to give him a metal-melting ray, which is no threat to the cage or the bot, but the clone turns it upon himself, destroying the device implanted in his brain and killing himself.  He even wrote a suicide note for Superman!

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How did this get published?!

That is freaking dark, and it is an incredibly incongruous end to this goofy story.  Superman’s tears at the end are poor recompense for the clone that gave its life to protect his.

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Ugh.  I truly don’t care for this story.  This was way too heavy of an ending to be treated so cavalierly, and it threw the tone of the entire issue wildly off.  Unfortunately, this isn’t even the type of ham-handed attempt at depth that we just saw from Green Lantern.  No, this is just a tone-deaf train-wreck of a tale that seems completely oblivious about what it is doing.  I’ll give it a clumsy 1 Minuteman.

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Teen Titans #26

Teen_Titans_Vol_1_26.jpgCover Artist: Nick Cardy
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza

Our vague and confusing adventure continues!  We have this lovely Nick Cardy cover with Titans abandoning their costumes and running towards a bold new direction!  Except, no-one really seems to know just what that direction is.  One thing is certain; it is just plain strange.  Inside, we pick up where we left off, with the robotic ‘man Friday,’ Angel, leads the Titans into danger.  To make his point, the robot obligingly gets its armed blown off by a laser.  This catapults the Titans into a series of death traps that they navigate without using their powers…for reasons.

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When they manage to escape, they find mysterious Mr. Jupiter waiting for them, drink in hand, like he’s watching whatever happens to be the rich guy equivalent of a ball game.  There’s something off about this guy, seeing as he casually watches teenagers fight for their lives.  Having survived the obstacle course, which Jupiter unconvincingly claims was never really deadly, he orders the Titans to go into the inner-city neighborhood “Hell’s Corner,” not to be confused with Hell’s Kitchen, get jobs and blend in.  Their funds for this effort?  A single penny and another super helpful and super vague prophecy by Lilith.  Yes, thank you, that is just great.  You are a super valuable part of this team.

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In Hell’s Corner, the Titans, in mufti, encounter a little girl selling lemonade, as well as rejects from every 60s biker movie ever.  The head biker punk, complete with scarf, goggles, and jodhpurs, wreck the kid’s stand, just to sufficiently illustrate how bad he and his friends are.

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Not quite kicking the dog, but close enough

The Titans restrain themselves from delivering a richly deserved beating to the resident loud-mouth and his cronies, remembering the terrible tragedy caused by their last violent efforts, when the esteemed Nobel Prize winner died in a crossfire last issue.  A young man with no such hang-ups, piles into the punk.  He turns out to be the youthful Mal Duncan, the girl’s big brother, and he’s decided to put the overdressed bully, “Storm,” in his place.

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As the gang prepare to “flatten” the fiery Mal, the Titans finally take action, whipping the biker-types in short order.  The young man is not terribly grateful for the help, and he tells the Titans that they are in the wrong neighborhood.

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Nevertheless, the teenage heroes are determined to fulfill their mission…for more reasons, so they find various jobs around the area.  In a corny but funny montage, we see Hawk getting work as a boxing instructor at the neighborhood boys club while Don becomes the next Bob Ross, encouraging his students to “paint what you feel,” whether that be orange skinned people or happy trees.  It’s a simple but effective distillation of the personalities, though, I admit, peaceful ubernerd that I am, even I sort of want to dump Don’s metaphorical books, just for being such a touchy-feely wuss.

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The club puts on monthly boxing matches to help kids work off steam in a controlled environment, something that I imagine schools these days might benefit from, but I digress.  Mal and the fashionable punk Storm square off, but the bully proves to be a sore loser after the young champion manages to knock him out.  The local gang decide to work Mal over after the fight, but the Titans intercede, putting the biker-flick rejects down for the second time.

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Mal goes out with the team, and while dancing, they decide to recruit him.  That’s right, they decide to have this slightly above average kid who is a moderately competent boxer without any powers, training, or special skills, join their superhero team.  Once again, this is absolutely necessary…for reasons.  They put Mal through the totally-not-really-death-traps-I-promise, and he survives, rather amazingly, though by the skin of his teeth.  ‘Are you guys sure I don’t need any training or anything before I start dodging laser beams and blazing floors?’  ‘Nah, you’ll be fine.  You’re can box!’

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Feeling understandably a bit outclassed and undeserving of a spot on a FREAKING SUPERHERO TEAM, Average Boy faces sleepless nights and self doubt, so he decides he must prove himself.  How will he do so?  Will he fight a villain, stop a crime, or maybe just overcome a training challenge?  No, don’t be silly, those obstacles are far too insignificant for mighty Average Boy!

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No, instead, Mal decides to hitch a ride on a space rocket not designed to actually have a human pilot, because apparently it is super vital that NASA get human reactions from this space flight, and it isn’t like they have any trained astronauts whose job that is or anything.  The team is stunned to discover that Average Boy has done something so colossally stupid and so utterly necessary…for reasons once again, but Mal is happy.  He declares, in what would actually be a sort of cool moment if the story warranted it in even the tiniest fraction, “I’m in my own groove at last!  Doing MY thing!  And I’m a first!  A cat from Hell’s Corner reaching for a star!”  While the 60s slang is painful as always, the thought of a black astronaut, especially one from an impoverished background, breaking down barriers is actually really cool.

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And that’s the problem with this issue, and this arc, in general.  There are some cool elements here, most notably Mal and the racial undercurrent he represents.  I like the character, especially as I’ve gotten to know him in other mediums, like Young Justice.  I think he’s got great potential, but this story makes no freaking sense.  There is not one thing about this plot that works logically.  Everything is happening because the plot requires it to do so.  I can’t stand that kind of silliness.  I’ll be quite happy when Aqualad shows up in a few issues to knock some sense into the Titans…at least, I hope that is what is going to happen, judging from the cover.  So, I give this irrational issue 1 Minutemen.

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Final Thoughts:

Sheesh, this was an extremely dichotomous month.  We had three fairly enjoyable stories in the first half and three mediocre to detestable stories in the second.  I admit, part of the reason this post took so long to put together, aside from my being insanely busy, was that it was such a poor lot of stories that I had a hard time working up the energy to discuss them.  Still, we stand at an important moment, with the Bronze Age taking a big step forward with the start of the Green Lantern / Green Arrow run.  As much as that book gets on my nerves, I do believe it is going to lead us to bigger and better things…eventually.  One thing is certain, this month, short on books as it was through the vagaries of publication schedules, was certainly long on innovation!  We have the brilliant SAG team doing fascinating things in Aquaman with both story and art, we have Adams’ setting the comic world on fire with his beautiful, realistic pencils, and we had several plot elements that, however lacking they may be in logic or enjoyability, are certainly creative.  I suppose I can endure three bad books for three entertaining ones.  That still beats the proportions on student papers!

Well, that does it for this month!  I hope the next month has some better stories in store for us!  In an attempt to go ahead and get this post up, I’m going to cut out the bonus feature for this month and add it on to the coverage of the next.

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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I somehow missed two new head-blows, but I’ve added them in.  Welcome Robin and the Phantom Stranger to the wall of shame!