Into the Bronze Age: June 1970 (Part 1)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Welcome to the next chapter in our Bronze Age journey!

This month in history:

  • Soyuz 9 launched into Earth orbit for 18 days
  • 1st artificial gene synthesized
  • Tonga (formerly Friendly Islands) declares independence from UK
  • The Falls Road curfew in North Ireland, imposed by the British Army while searching for IRA weapons, is lifted after a march by women breaches the British Army cordon
  • Race riots in Miami Florida
  • Edwin Land patents Polaroid camera
  • “Catch 22” opens in movie theaters
  • Two young girls die in a premature explosion in Derry after their father, a member of the Irish Republican Army, was making an incendiary device
  • Following the arrest of Bernadette Devlin, intense riots erupt in Derry and Belfast leading to a prolonged gun battle between Irish republicans and loyalists

It seems that the situation in Ireland continues to deteriorate this month, and the Space Race also continues apace.  Imagine that, the same decades that saw some of the very greatest of human endeavors, our challenging of the great void of space, also saw the worst of our collective character in the violence of brother against brother all across the world from which we were in the process of escaping.  I wonder if we’ll continue to see these tensions transferred in interesting ways to this month’s comics.

The number one song this month was the Beatles’ “Long and Winding Road.” (I can’t find a decent version of it)  I’ve always felt that the Beatles are a bit overrated, but this is a fairly pretty song.  Yes, yes, I know that a good quarter or more of my readers are now frothing with rage, and I appreciate that.  I respect their importance in musical history, their influence, and all of that, but they’ve just never been one of my favorite bands.  Give me Zeppelin any day of the week.

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

  • Action Comics #389
  • Aquaman #51
  • Batman #222
  • Detective Comics #400
  • The Flash #198
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #77
  • Justice League #81
  • Phantom Stranger #7
  • Showcase #91
  • Teen Titans #27
  • World’s Finest #194

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

Action Comics #389

Action_Comics_389.jpgCover Artist: Curt Swan
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos

“The Mystery Legionnaire!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abel

This is one of those stock Superman plots that provide the fodder for the Super-Dickery pages the internet so dearly loves.  We have The Man of Tomorrow acting uncharacteristically, seeming to disregard his duties and generally act like a jerk, only to be revealed at the end of the tale to have had a good motive for his actions.

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Our odd little adventure begins with the situation you see portrayed on the cover, and for once, the cover doesn’t lie!  Superman suddenly decides to start trying out some different sports, claiming that he’s considering a career change.  You’d think by this point in the DCU there would be some regulations against aliens, mutants, or other super-humans participating in professional sports!  The Batter of Steel performs various super feats on the diamond, but a young boy is brought in for the thrill of pitching to the hero, only to actually slip one by him!  The Metropolis Marvel reacts uncharacteristically to this little upset, hurling the ball into space and storming off.

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Next, he tries soccer, playing the entire field by himself and eventually launching the ball through the net and into orbit!  Are we starting to see a pattern here?  Perhaps!  Once again, Superman abandons the promise of a lucrative contract and flies off to try something new.  Next up on his sports-tour?  Boxing.  Really.

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The strongest being on earth climbs into the ring with a regular, squishable, mortal man.  His sparring partner wears full plate armor, but still!  What kind of nutjob would get into the ring with the Man of Freaking Steel?  Well, his opponent’s sanity aside, everyone else involved, including Jimmy Olsen, points out that this is a recipe for disaster in the form of lots of boxers dying from acute punch-death.  Superman gives a seemingly petty rant about being tired of the responsibilities that come from being a superhero, and he knocks the speedbag he’s working with into the stratosphere!  Yep, I think we’ve figured out the pattern by this point.

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In the end, the Sportsman of Tomorrow tries tennis, basketball, and football, each time sending a ball into orbit.  It’s worth noting that writer Leo Dorfman takes the time to establish that our mighty hero has to use special sporting equipment that can stand up to his strength.  I appreciate that little nod to logic.

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The situations of the earlier games are repeated, but after sending the pigskin into the great black yonder, Superman follows it up.  We discover that he’s been slowly decorating a strange-looking satellite with these various sports accoutrements, and our hero conveniently provides us with an explanation.

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Apparently, this is an alien probe designed to test Earth’s atmosphere to see if it is fitting for invasion.  It is also rigged to explode cataclysmically if anyone or anything living comes too close to it.  The Last Son of Krypton had fortunately been informed about these aliens, the Slurrans, and their tactics, so he was able to prepare a plan to deal with their machinations.  Fearing he was being monitored, Superman faked his sports career to surreptitiously clog all of the air intake ports on this device with balls filled with a special gas which will mutate the alien animals it is to be tested on.

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The aliens are horrified and mark Earth off as a no-go.  The tale ends with Superman relating the adventure into his journal in the Fortress of Solitude, noting that “Earth is entitled to know the truth behind that strange sports craze[…]I’ll record the facts[…]to be opened a century after my death.  While I think there’s no good reason for him not to tell the planet now, I do rather like the idea that Superman is not at all concerned with his image.  Who cares if people think he went sports crazy for a little while?  He saved the world!

This is a weird story that mostly serves as an excuse to show off Superman playing a bunch of sports, but unlike the King Kong riff from last month, at least this tale provided something of a justification for itself.  It’s not the best plot ever, but it isn’t bad, and Dorfman actually takes the time to cross some of the “t”s and dot some of the “i”s of this yarn, which I appreciate.  He addresses what would otherwise be niggling little plot holes or irrational moments.  He even explains how Superman knows about these aliens in the first place.  The sports imagery doesn’t do much for me, since I’m not much of a sports person, other than fencing, but it’s fun enough.  I think they provide a clever cover for our hero’s plan.  So, in the end, I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as it is an enjoyable enough Superman story.

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“The Mystery Legionnaire”

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I think that the Legion story is once again going to be the star of the book.  It’s another of those mystery member yarns that seem to make up a good 90% of Silver and Bronze Age Legion stories, but the central conceit is an interesting one.  It involves a robotic criminal whose disembodied head is summoning its erstwhile body back to it across the space lanes.  It turns out this mechanical malevolent was defeated by a trio of Legionnaires, and what exactly happened during that earlier conflict forms the mystery of the issue.

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Apparently, somewhere in space is a prison for handicapped villains, ne’er do-wells who can now do nothing well because they’ve managed to cripple themselves in their ill-conceived pursuits of ill-gotten gains.  While unable to continue pulling crimes themselves, these ill-favored inmates take advantage of their light security to construct a robotic robber, named KLIM, to steal in their stead.

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On a wild alien world, he was confronted by the three teens, Cosmic Boy, Chemical King, and Shrinking Violet, who defeated, trapped, and beheaded the robotic renegade.  Fortunately for the synthetic villain, his head had its own propulsion and managed to elude his pursuers.  After recovering from his defeat, the bodiless bogey summons his body from across the cosmos.

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Fortunately for the forces of order, the Legionnaires manage to track the body, though they encounter a series of traps at the villain’s sanctuary.  They each use their powers to overcome the obstacles, Shrinking Violet slipping through a gate, Chemical King rusting the bars, and Cosmic Boy smashing a trap with magnetized rocks.

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Finally, they challenge the disembodied head, who is fixated on the single Legionnaire who defeated him, but it turns out that there was no solitary hero to blame.  Yet, the robot remains certain there was.  It seems that he conflated Cosmic Boy and Chemical King with his damaged optics.  Nonetheless, he determines to be revenged on all of the young heroes!  Yet, just as he prepares to strike them down with his powerful eye beams, his vocal device suddenly malfunctions, shattering his invulnerable prisma-glass shield!  How could this be?  Through the  machinations of Shrinking Violet, of course!  She shrunk down and played havoc with KLIM’s mechanisms, causing his boasting to burst his protective bubble.

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This is a fun story, and the focus on the mystery is not overpowering or ridiculous as they sometimes tend to be in Legion tales.  KLIM provides an interesting villain, and overall this is just a solid all-around adventure yarn.  I like that Shrinking Violet, the apparently weakest member of the team, is the one who saves the day.  Everyone gets something to do, and even if there isn’t much characterization, it is entertaining.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Aquaman #51

Aquaman_Vol_1_51.jpgCover Artist: Nick Cardy
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“The World Cannot Wait for Deadman”
Writer: Neal Adams
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Editor: Dick Giordano

The excellent SAG run continues, and Aquaman’s sojourn in the strange alien world continues as well!  This is a visually spectacular arc of issues, with Aparo at the peak of his powers.  Story-wise, this arc is intriguing and has that heady, wildly creative feel of the best Silver Age Stan and Jack Marvel books, where innovative and fascinating concepts and characters are tossed out rapid-fire with amazing regularity.  It’s one of the great tragedies of the comic book world that the Aquaman book and the SAG team would not last long enough to really capitalize on the myriad creations they added to the mythos of the character and his world.

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Of course, we’re first faced with that beautiful Nick Cardy cover.  That situation doesn’t really happen inside, but what an image!  We rejoin the Aquatic Ace right where we left him, meeting the leader of the strange, MC Escher-esq city on the edge of nowhere where he’s found himself marooned.  Unfortunately this Brother Warnn can tell Arthur no more than his winsome companion, despite the fellow’s awesome forked beard and robe.  The Sea King struggles with the seeming hopelessness of his situation, but Aquaman is not one to give in to despair.  He vows to once again brave the bizarre wastelands outside the borders of this strange city in search of other beings who might know the way…home!

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Yet, his newly acquired ‘Girl Friday’ is horrified by his declaration.  Apparently it is blasphemous to her people to even suggest that there are any other civilizations outside of The City.  Their telepathic “conversation” attracts the attention of the powers that be, and the lovely lady warns the Sea King that he will face attack if he leaves the shrine, but a little danger is no deterrent for the Marine Marvel.  He takes out the guard at the entrance, but quickly finds himself pursued by more of these grim guardians with their strange bubble-weapons.  We get a really love page of how our submarine sojourner escapes the bizarre bubbles, diving through a narrow opening in a building to scrape them away.

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Still, he finds his exit blocked, so he knocks out another sentry and uses the poor schmuck as a human (alien?) shield!  His strategy works, and he manages to escape his pursuers, hurling their hapless fellow back into them as a parting gift.

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Aquaman, King of the Sea and King of Fair Play

Yet, as he strikes out into the vast unknown of the wilderness beyond, the Sea King discovers that his plucky companion has followed him.  We get a nice little moment where he privately hopes that her interest isn’t romantic.  Yeah, I don’t think Mera would be okay with that!

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As they begin their journey in search of answers, they discover that the inhabitants of The City are rather sore losers.  They activate some sort of telepathic death-ray, and it nearly does both of the travelers in!

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The girl collapses in pain, but our hero is able to struggle onward.  I like that.  It works for me that Aquaman, who must have an incredibly powerful mind, is able to resist this weapon.  They finally escape the reach of this weird weapon, our hero once again struggles with despair, but he refuses to give in, thinking only of Mera and home!

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Speaking of the fetching fire-haired water witch, we check back in with her in Atlantis, where she is fighting a similar battle against despair, with Aqualad’s encouragement.  We get a brief recap of the events that have led us here, but then we discover that Black Manta is approaching Atlantis!  The Queen of the Sea orders out the army to go on alert, but secretly she laments the fact that she must face this challenge…alone!  We get probably a bit too much melodrama here.  It makes Mera seem rather weak, which I don’t care for.  Still, I like the idea of both man and wife pining for each other from more than a world apart.  I suppose I’m just a big old romantic softie, but that gets me.

Aquaman51_15.jpg

We rejoin our intrepid explorers in time for a strange and funny little scene where they pass two small figures working a mine.  These elfin characters are named Steev and Jimm, and they reference another named Dikk.  That’s right, Skeates and Aparo added the whole team to their story.  Fun!

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Well, Aquaman does indeed discover another city, but one much different from the first!  From a distance it seems to be a blue sphere, but when they get closer, they see it is actually honeycombed with caves and inhabited by a primitive looking people.  Unlike the inhabitants of The City, these folks “talk” in the open, a fact that proves too much for the Sea King’s companion.

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She draws her weapon, and she fires at these peaceful people!  Fortunately, Aquaman realizes what she’s doing and slaps the gun away, though the shot summons a hostile response!  Suddenly the Marine Marvel finds himself preparing to fight for his life, and all because of this girl’s unthinking prejudice!

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I love the look of frustrated determination on Aquaman’s face in that last panel.

This is a good story, as are all the issues from this run.  It captures that wonderfully weird, exotic sense of exploration and adventure that should absolutely characterize an Aquaman book.  I love for the Sea King to get up on land and mix it up, show that he’s a conventional superhero, but a good Aquaman series also has to take advantage of the unique and amazing setting the character has.  The undersea world of the DC Universe is a fantasy world, populated by all sorts of strange peoples and creatures, civilizations and wonders.

This era of the character did a great job capturing that sense of awe and scope in his undersea adventures.  What’s more, I think this tale has a subtle message about prejudice in the portrayal of the inhabitants of The City, and especially Aquaman’s “Girl Friday,” who, despite having MET someone whose very existence challenges her worldview, can’t escape the confines of her preconceptions long enough to see that wonder of the world around her.  Her willingness to murder the inhabitants of the cavern-city is particularly telling.  Once again, we’ve got a message delivered with subtlety.  Mr. O’Neil, are you taking notes?  I think we’ll see with the next week’s issues that you aren’t.  I’ll let you make your own inferences about how this applies to the current political climate in the U.S.

Unfortunately, this little yarn is just that, little.  It’s limited by its length, as the book is accommodating the Deadman backup, leaving only 15 1/3 pages for Aquaman’s adventures.  That means the tale feels abbreviated and a little rushed.  Still, all-in-all, it’s another fascinating chapter in this submarine saga!  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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“The World Cannot Wait for Deadman”

Aquaman51_23.jpg

Speaking of that Deadman backup, it continues to be interesting and, of course, beautifully drawn.  It’s a fast-moving, engaging little yarn that also presents a wealth of potential that, sadly, doesn’t seem to have ever been exploited.  We rejoin our deceased daredevil in the grips of some otherworldly phenomenon caused by that bizarre cat-like creature from the previous issue.  He suddenly finds himself quite corporeal and whole in a strange new world, accompanied by a beautiful and mysterious young woman.

Aquaman51_24.jpg

Deadman somehow senses that she is, in fact, the reason he is there.  It seems that the cat-creature was her manifestation in his dimension, though she is a native of this new world.  She explains that the aliens actually trap her people and use them to dispose of spirits like him, as their only way home is to “ride” a spirit back to their own dimension.  The explanation having been delivered, Boston naturally demands to be taken home.  Earth is still in danger, after all, and he’s the only one who even knows about it!  The lovely lady refuses, stating that she would be trapped again if she were to return.  Right from the start, you can feel Adams stretching his creative muscles in the design of this alien dimension.  We get only the most fleeting glances of it in this short story, but it’s got the makings of a fun fantasy setting, with the people riding giant birds, dwelling in sprawling subterranean caverns, and facing extraordinary threats.

Aquaman51_26.jpg

It’s a real shame that, as far as I know, this is the only glimpse we ever get of this unique world, named Dano by its inhabitants.  Yet, though eerily beautiful, this place is dangerous, and Deadman, the girl, Tatsinda, and some of her people quickly find themselves facing a flash flood, so they flee into the caverns that their race calls home.  Once inside, the little party is ambushed by creepy, arachnid looking antagonists riding a giant…well, hypno-crab would be the best description, I’d say.  (All glory to the Hypnotoad!)  I really like the design for these arachn-anderthals (TM).  Once again, we see them only briefly, but they have lots of visual interest.

Aquaman51_27.jpg

The bizarre mount of the arachn-anderthals renders the little party helpless with its gigantic, hypnotic eyes, and the raiders grab Tatsinda.  The Dead Detective shakes off the mind-warping effects of that gaze and pursues the attackers into a perilous web stretching through the caverns.  He employs his acrobatic training to good effect and quickly gains on them.  Deadman’s aerialist attack lets him get in close, and he turns those dangerous eyes against their owners in rather wonderful fashion.

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Finally, he faces the last of the raiders in a desperate hand-to-hand battle, strength against strength, like Beowulf and Grendel.  Unlike the monstrous Mere-Stepper, though, this fellow doesn’t leave behind an arm as he plunges into the night.  Deadman effectively kills this guy, which is something that I’m usually, ahem dead-set against (I’m sorry!) in comics, but I’m willing to give him a pass this time.  After all, he’s not your average superhero, and this is a sword-and-sorcery-esq tale.  It feels right, even if it is a bit surprising.  There’s something ironic and interesting in Deadman using deadly force.  I don’t know the character particularly well, but I hope writers have taken advantage of that concept at some point in time.

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The story ends with Tatsinda giving her rescuer a kiss, and then, thinking that his world needs his heroic heart more than hers needs her, she once again rips open the dimensional barriers and sends Deadman home!

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It’s a good tale, far too brief to really stretch its proverbial legs and breathe the way we’d like it to, especially given the intriguing nature of the setting, but it is enjoyable nonetheless.  Adams manages to inject a lot in a small space, and one just wonders what he could have done with more pages.  Once again, it’s hard to rate stories this short (7 1/2 pages), but I’ll be generous and also give this 4 Minutemen.

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Batman #222

Batman_222.jpgCover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano

“Case of No Consequence!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano

This is certainly a unique instance of “real life” influencing comics!  The famous urban myth that hounded the Beatles in 1969 about Paul’s death gets a silly, light-hearted treatment with this story.  In case you aren’t aware of this bizarre little conspiracy theory, apparently in 1969 a rumor began circulating around American college campuses, eventually gaining national attention, that claimed Paul McCartney of Beatles fame had died.  The crux of this whole weird myth was that his band-mates had covered up his death and hired a double to replace him…for reasons.  The proponents of this theory pointed to a number of “clues” to the musicians demise supposedly hidden in the Beatle’s music.  Supposedly, playing certain songs backward or in specific ways revealed messages about Paul’s death.

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It is with just such a musical experiment that our tale opens.  Dick Grayson and his college friends at Hudson University are listening to an album of “The Twists,” playing it backwards at a specific speed, and they hear a line by the leader singer, “Glennan,” that seems to indicate “Saul Cartwright” (get it?) is dead.  The Teen Wonder’s curiosity is piqued, and when he discovers that the band is coming to Gotham, he talks Bruce Wayne into offering to host the fab-four during their stay, giving him a chance to get to the bottom of this “mystery.”

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The band arrives, with Saul safe and sound, reassuring the cheering crowds that he is, in fact, still among the living.  Once they are settled in at Wayne Manor, specially re-opened for the occasion, even Batman’s curiosity is piqued.  The reunited Dynamic Duo decide to put the rumor to the test.  Dick gets a recording of “Saul’s” voice and compares it to an earlier sample from one of his records.  The two are markedly dissimilar when compared in the Batcave, but the Dark Knight points out that they would be, one being a speaking and the other a singing voice.

Batman222-06.JPG

Robin decides to try a more direct approach, so he dons his costume and steals the mini-recorder that Saul always carries about from his room.  Or rather, he tries to, but the trained crimefighter is jumped in the darkened hallway of his own home by one of the British musicians.  Think about that for a moment.

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We get a classic head-blow knockout, sending the young hero plummeting down the stairs!  Poor Dick is not coming off too well in this issue.  It’s also worth noting that our heroes start running around in full costume in Wayne Manor with guests staying there.  Good job protecting the secret identities, guys.

Bruce discovers his crumpled sidekick and brings him to the Batcave, where they start to work on new strategies.  After a few more failed efforts, they discover that the band is preparing to do a recording session at a studio in Gotham.  The Masked Manhunters head out to get there ahead of time, but there are a number of hired guns waiting for them!  Batman predicts their ambush with some really weak logic, and the heroes make short work of the gunsels.

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The Dynamic Duo finally simply confront the Twists in Wayne Manor!  Really guys?  “Saul” is sick of all these rumors, but he doesn’t know anything about these attacks.  “Glennan,” however, is not so innocent.  He pulls a gun, because no-one has ever tried that with the Dark Knight before.

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They slap the singer down without much trouble, and all is finally revealed.  Apparently, Saul is not an imposter, but the other three are!  It seems that the previous year, the rest of the band died in a plane crash while Saul was still home in London.  He wanted to keep the band alive, so he hired look-alikes and trained them for a year, starting rumors of his own death to throw people off the scent.  The truth comes out, and the remaining musicians, minus “Glennan,” form a new band called Phoenix.

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So, this was a silly story, but funny as a parody of the whole “Paul is dead” craze.  It is not really clear why Batman would be interested in all of this.  Slow night in Gotham?  Is everybody actually staying in Arkham for a time?  Anyway, the joke is pretty much all that this tale has going for it, and the reversal at the end is a nice twist on the idea.  It’s funny enough, but there isn’t much to it.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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“Case of No Consequence!”

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I really liked this backup tale.  We’ve heard a lot in recent years about how Superman cares about everybody, how that’s one of his defining characteristics which is completely absent in this new big screen portrayal.  That’s entirely true, but what the people who cringe at Superman taking a life and cheer at Batman doing the same forget is that this is a trait not unique to the Man of Steel.  It is, in fact, a definitive mark of both of DC’s founding fathers.  That’s what makes this little yarn so good; it captures the fact that Batman does what he does, not just out of a desire for revenge, not because he is so broken and damaged inside, and not because he is bat-guano insane.  No, he fights his never-ending battle because he, more than anyone else in the DCU, knows the value of life, the value of redemption.  And that’s a beautiful thing, often lost amongst the darkness and grimness of his world.

This particular tale begins with Batman, exhausted from a non-stop night fighting crime, so tired he can barely stand, encountering a simple mugging.  He discovers that the victim is a deaf man, a free-lance journalist whose camera was stolen.  The Dark Knight realizes that the camera is this man’s livelihood, and though he wonders if this is really a case that deserves his attention, he quickly realizes that he can’t abandon the poor soul in his need.

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The thief stepped in developing fluid, and the Dark Detective uses this to track him, tracing the fleeing felon to a seedy pool hall.  The camera-snatcher, a punk named Bleeker Bill, is reveling in his take and playing some pool, until the exhausted hero surprises him.  The Caped Crusader’s fatigue allows his prey to escape, but the hero’s physical abilities are much less important to his success than his brains, so he figures out where the rat will run.

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Bats surprises him by taking a shortcut through the sewers, and cows the coward purely through force of his presence.  The tale ends with the Dark Knight returning the camera, secretly repaired, and pausing for a snapshot for the shutterbug before tottering home, utterly out of energy.

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It’s a quick but complete story, and it captures that too-rarely seen quality of the character, his love for humanity at large.  Batman helps this man because he needs help, because it is the right thing to do, regardless of how he felt and how small the matter seemed.  To the victim, it was the biggest thing in the world, and the Dark Knight recognized that.  It’s simple, but good.  That being said, I’m not crazy about the thief getting away from our hero in the bar.  Tired or not, you’d think the Caped Crusader could toss a batarang or something!  Either way, I’l give this backup 4 Minutemen.

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Thanks for joining me for another set of stories from the Bronze Age!  Please come back next week when we trek a little further into this great era.

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

Aquamanhead.jpgBatmanhead.jpgshowcase-88-fnvf-jasons-quest0robin2 - Copy.jpgPhantom_Stranger_05.jpgrobin2 - Copy.jpg

We’ve got a new addition to the Head-blow counter!  Poor Robin adds another appearance to the wall of shame.

 

 

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