Into the Bronze Age: July 1970 (Part 1)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpgHoly Hannah!  I began writing this post all the way back at the beginning of summer, and here we are at its end.  My how the time has flown by!  I’ve been hard at work on my mods, finishing two of them during these months, Marvel Adventures Vol. 2 and Pulp Adventures, both of which will be released soon.  Know my time has been well spent!  Well, if this post won’t kick off the summer, at least it can be the beginning of a fond farewell, with another journey Into the Bronze Age!  Join me as we begin to explore the comics of July 1970.  *Sigh*  I was almost ahead there for a while!

This month in history:

  • Unrest continues in Ireland, with riots and clashes aplenty
  • The first 747 takes to the skies
  • America’s Top 40 debuts on the radio with Casey Kasem (of course best known to this particular commentator as the voice of Robin and Shaggy)
  •  Libya orders confiscation of all Jewish property
  • USSR performs nuclear tests
  • Race riots in Asbury Park and Hartford

The top song this month was Three Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” which is great fun!

As you can see, it was a pretty ugly month, with unrest and conflict everywhere you look, along with a healthy does of Cold War saber rattling.  Let’s see if the comics reflect that harsh climate or offer us an escape!

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

  • Action Comics #390
  • Batman #223 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Brave and the Bold #90
  • Challengers of the Unknown #74 (Final issue!)
  • Detective Comics #401
  • G.I. Combat #142
  • Green Lantern #78
  • Superman #227 (Reprints)
  • Superman #228

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

Action Comics #390

Action_Comics_390.jpg“The Self-Destruct Superman”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos

“The Tyrant and the Traitor”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abel

The headline tale in this issue was a Silver Age-y miss, but as seems to be the rule for these Action Comics books, the Legion backup saved the day.  The Superman story isn’t bad per se, but it does engage in several of the common Silver Age Superman tropes that I rather heartily dislike.

The Man of Steel’s adventure starts with a slight tremor dislodging something buried deep beneath the White House.  Suddenly, a strange device is accidentally activated, and the President, in classic comic shadows, calls the Man of Tomorrow to warn him that “it” is coming for him.  It seems that Superman gave the President a secret weapon to use against him if he should go rogue.  I wonder what Batman would give to have one of these tucked away for a rainy day.  Of course, if the President had this thing, one wonders why it wasn’t used on any of the zillion occasions where the Last Son of Krypton went nuts because of Red Kryptonite, brainwashing, or just because it was Tuesday.

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Nonetheless, the mysterious mechanism hunts Superman all across the Earth and even into the past!  He can’t seem to shake it, no matter what he does.  He tries flying through the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, and he even leads the device into the path of the gigantic meteor that struck Arizona in the distant past.  That last one manages to bury the weapon for a time, though, if it is capable of time travel, it seems like it could just make that time up by going back a little earlier…time travel!

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Well, nothing the Man of Steel does manages to do so much as scratches this thing, and the reason why, such as it is, gets revealed when Kal-El is contacted by a Kandorian scientist.  Apparently the device comes from Krypton, so “it’s super like me,” as our hero declares…and that brings us to my biggest problem with this issue.  This is a common trope from the worst part of the Silver Age Superman mythos.  Writers apparently forget their own setup for the character, that he is super powered because of the interaction of his biology and the conditions on Earth, like the yellow sun.  Simply being from Krypton doesn’t make an inanimate object super.  This is the kind of breakdown in story logic that bugs me.

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Well, back to our story.  Before the scientist can tell the Last Son of Krypton (except for all of those other kryptonians in Kandor), the weapon arrives, sending the hero running for cover.  For some reason, he is filled with paralyzing fear whenever it approaches.  Superman used ‘self-hypnosis’ to remove knowledge of the device from his mind to protect its efficacy, but the Kandorian managed to give him one last tip before he had to flee.  The machine is tracking the Metropolis Marvel through his brainwaves.  Taking a desperate gamble, Superman puts on a “relaxer hood,” a trophy from his space adventures that blanks out a person’s mind.  Unable to track non-existent brainwaves, the device self-destructs!

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When the hood shuts off, Superman visits Kandor and gets the whole story from his friend.  It seems this machine was actually created by Jor-El, his father, who apparently left this incredibly dangerous weapon just lying around his back yard, where a young Kal stumbled across it.  Way to go, Jor, real father of the year move there.  After accidentally activating the kill-bot, the boy was fortunately saved by his father, who deactivated its weapons permanently.  The even left an indelible mark on Kal-El’s psyche, causing him to be terrified of the gadget even years later.

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This isn’t a bad story, despite it’s glaring logical flaw.  That does hurt it, but the basic premise of Superman facing a threat that he can’t outdo physically is a solid one, done many times over the years, of course.  His solution is reasonably clever, but the whole thing doesn’t really come together in any particularly impressive way.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen, knocking it down a bit because of the stupidity of the ‘ohh, it’s from Krypton, this inanimate object must be super in the same way as a living organism!’ bit.

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“The Tyrant and the Traitor”

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Now this Legion tale is much more promising, displaying a sophistication and a potential that is decidedly more impressive than the headline story.  The basic setup is very interesting, with a pleasantly surprising complexity and a sociological realism.  The premise is that there is an uprising in progress on the planet Lahum, a world ruled by the tyrannical “President Peralla,” who has his sights set on galactic conquest.  Unfortunately, the rebels are not any better, being led by a vicious fellow named Diol Masrin who, even worse, is just a pawn for some sinister sounding organization called the Dark Circle.  At the moment, the conflict is merely planetary, thus the United Planets cannot intervene, but the Legion, being a private organization can.  What a set-up!  Minus the sci-fi trappings, this could easily be the plot for a solid G.I. JOE story from the awesome Larry Hama comic run.  Those stories often featured morally ambiguous situations that the heroes had to navigate, choosing between two evils or the like.

Apparently, this operation is to be undertaken by the Legion’s “Espionage Squad,” which I didn’t even know existed.  How neat!  Chameleon Boy is the head, and we get a rather nice Mission Impossible-esq scene with him picking his team.  The undercover operatives will be Brainiac 5, Timber Wolf, Element Lad, Saturn Girl, and Karate Kid.  The Legionnaires have to infiltrate the rebels by hijacking a shipment of contraband weapons from a crew of smugglers, and then posing as gun-runners to make contact.

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Once on Lahum, the Legionnaires jump the rebel officer who comes to inspect the guns, with the help of Proty, Cham’s shape-shifting pet, disguised as one of the weapons.  Chameleon Boy himself takes the officer’s place, with the help of Saturn Girl’s telepathy, and the The other Legionnaires pose as volunteers for the rebel force.

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Their infiltration is running quite smoothly until their column is hit by the “Humanoids,” artificial troops of the planetary tyrant who are rumored to be unstoppable.  The Legion pitch in during the battle to maintain their cover, blazing away with the newly acquired blasters, but the strange foot-soldiers reform as soon as they are blown apart!  The situation looks hopeless until Element Lad disables the Humanoids by turning the ground under their feet to mercury, sinking them into the very earth…err…Lahum.

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Once in the rebel camp, the team makes contact with Masrin, pretending to be fellow operatives of the Dark Circle.  They are welcomed with open arms, but a little later Cham discovers that the officer he’s impersonating has a sweetheart in camp, and he has to do some smooching to keep his cover.  It’s a fun little detail, and Chameleon Boy’s “the things I go through for the Legion” line made me chuckle.

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Meanwhile, Saturn Girl has split off to infiltrate the other side of this conflict, and she poses as a science student in order to get a position as a research assistant with the tyrants chief scientist.  There’s a nice little moment when she reaches the capitol, as she is disgusted by the “primitive” conditions that Peralla’s rule imposes on his subjects.  There are no moving sidewalks or flying cars, how dreadful!  It’s a good touch to the setting, the idea that technological development and infrastructure would be different on a world like this, under the heel of a dictator.

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The tale ends with the chief scientist conferring with a young assistant of his about whether or not to hire the undercover Legionnaire, and we are greeted with a cliffhanger as the girl answers that she knows the heroine’s identity!  Dun, dun, DUNNN!

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This is a great tale, with some solid action, but the best part of it is the maturity of the set-up.  You’ve got some moral complexity as well as some science fiction trappings.  The heroes are up against a challenge that is not only going to be very difficult to overcome, removing BOTH the rebel leader AND the powerful Peralla, but also quite interesting.  Bridwell squeezes a great deal in only a few (12) pages.  He does a fantastic job of being economical with his storytelling, yet still providing everyone with something to do and developing the principal characters, like Chameleon Boy and Masrin, very effectively in the limited space.  This story doesn’t have the space to be flat-out amazing, and it is still just a solid adventure tale.  Nonetheless, I’m very impressed.  It was by far the most interesting yarn I read in this batch.  I’ll give this one 4 Minutemen.  The strength of the setup really takes it a long way in my book.

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Brave and Bold #90

Brave_and_the_bold_90.jpg“You Only Die Twice!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

This is a weird one, definitely fairly Zaney Haney.  While I like Adam Strange and would be happy to see him guest star in Brave and Bold, he really doesn’t do so here.  The Hero of Rann is essentially just a plot device, having almost no part in the actual story other than to instigate some of the events.  This is one of those left-field stories that put Bayman through the type of arc that would be a “bold new direction” these days, lasting months or years and drastically altering the character’s status-quo.  For Haney, though, this is a Tuesday.  The ridiculous events of this tale are precisely the type of thing that gave rise to the phrase, Earth-Haney, as such things really don’t fit in with the main DCU, no matter how Silver Age-y it is at a given moment.

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Get ready.  This is going to be a weird, wild ride.  This zaney yarn begins with Batman interrupting a mob hit in a barbershop, saving the life of a notorious criminal named Jarrett, but apparently losing his own in the process!  That’s right, Batman catches a burst from a Thompson submachine gun, and he goes down for the count.  The EMTs load him into an ambulance, and just as they are preparing to leave, a reporter wonders aloud what Batman’s place in history will be and what his obituary will look like.

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Strangely enough (or naturally enough in a Haney story), this snaps the Dark Knight back from the brink, and he awakens, surprising the heck out of the medics.  After his narrow scrape with death, Bruce Wayne broods about how he will be remembered when he dies.  One might pause to wonder how the recovering, wheelchair-bound Wayne managed to escape from the doctors and EMTs with his secret identity intact, seeing as he almost died, but then one would be expecting too much logic out of a Bob Haney story.

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Later, we get our plot device appearance from Adam Strange, who just shows up while Batman is patrolling the streets.  The Hero of Two Worlds tells the Caped Crusader a strange story, relating how his usual Zeta Beam transit between Rann and Earth was interrupted by solar flares, which somehow shunted him into the future.  During his brief stay, he saw  Batman’s obituary!  He managed to snag part of the article before he was pulled back through time, but unfortunately the date didn’t make the trip.  What’s more, the obituary contains some strange and ominous information.  It declares that Batman died in disgrace, having betrayed those close to him and pushed everyone away (so, like modern Batman then?).  There’s a funny, though rather ill-fitting scene where Batman wanders distractedly through the middle of the Gotham street, completely absorbed by the article.

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brave and the bold 090 010.jpgHe narrowly avoids all kinds of troubles, finally bumping into a businessman named Mike Morrison, who tells the Dark Knight that he’s being hunted by the same thugs who were after Jarrett at the beginning of the story.  Apparently he was desperate and took a kickback, which the mob used to blackmail him.  When he refused to pay, they sent trigger men after him.  Bat’s saves Morrison from a gunman, then goes to have a word with the syndicate behind them.  Here we get one of those bizarre Haney moments, as Batman cuts a deal with the criminals to protect Morrison because he has no proof of their wrong-doing.  Instead of, you know, beating a confession out of these thugs or dangling them off of a rooftop or anything, the Caped Crusader agrees to just let them do whatever they want for two weeks.  Imagine that.  Doesn’t that seem entirely anathema to Batman?  Well, not in the Haneyverse.

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Of course, this is all a setup, and Batman is smeared for making a deal with them.  Publicly humiliated, he loses his temper and belts the mob’s lawyer in front of city hall, opening the city to a lawsuit.  Sheesh, I’m running out of energy!  Well, to skim over this tangled web of Haney madness, Commissioner Gordon resigns in protest for…reasons, and the Dark Knight gets bitter and hangs up his cowl.  He drives Alfred away, brooding over his coming death and the seeming inevitability of his fate.

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I have to admit, Batman at a hearing in front of a committee is a pretty funny image…

So, he does the natural thing…runs off to Rann.  Yep, he catches a Zeta beam with Adam Strange and hides out on another planet, figuring he can’t die on Earth if he’s not actually on Earth.  That’s actually pretty solid reasoning, if one has the resources to flee the solar system when necessary.  Here we get a nice little montage of Batman doing touristy things on Rann, which is actually rather fun.  Nothing manages to cheer him up.

brave and the bold 090 020.jpg
brave and the bold 090 025.jpgYet, his fate does seem inescapable.  Watching an invention of Sardath, the Masked Manhunter observes a scene on Earth, witnessing Alfred having lost his life savings to the mob and being threatened by the thugs.  They want him to badmouth Batman in order to expiate his debt, but the loyal old retainer refuses, knowing that death will be his reward.  Millions of miles away, the Dark Knight realizes he has no choice.  He must return and face his own death in order to save his oldest friend.  We get an admittedly cool panel of his interplanetary transit via Zeta beam, and then a moodily inked but awkwardly drawn sequence where Batman infiltrates an Ellis Island stand-in known as Immigrant Island, where the gang is holding Alfred.

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Apparently the great Detective has lost a step during his retirement, because a gunman gets the drop on him.  It looks like this will be all she wrote for Batman, until a gloved hand knocks the gunsel’s weapon aside.  Adam Strange to the rescue!  Yep, deus-ex Adam decided he couldn’t let his friend face his destiny alone, so he came along, and this is the first and last useful thing he does in this issue.

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The two heroes rescue Alfred…or rather, Batman rescues Alfred, and Adam Strange strikes a pose.  Seriously, Alfred does more in this scene than the ‘Hero of Two Worlds.’  Batman should have brought John Carter along.  The original dual-planetary hero would have been more help.  In fact, I’d read the HECK out of that story…anyway, I suppose I can’t put off this summary any longer.  Bruce and Alfred bury the hatchet, and the Dark Knight realizes that he jumped to a conclusion about that newspaper fragment.

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We end with what Rob Kelly likes to call the ‘Friendly Farewell,’ and a note about the inscrutability of fate.  All’s well that ends well…except for the damage done to Batman’s reputation, Bruce Wayne’s life, and Gordon’s career!  Ohh yeah, those things are just completely ignored, as one would expect from a Zaney Haney story.  It reminds me a bit of the totally complete solution to global warming from Futurama.  The problem is solved once and for all.  ONCE AND FOR ALL!

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As you can probably tell, this story didn’t exactly grab me.  Writing this summary was something of a tortuous undertaking, trying to keep all of the random Haney touches straight and make it make sense on the page wasn’t easy.  I can only assume that Haney just sat down at a typewriter, banged out a script, and never looked back to see if it made any sense.  Sometimes he came up aces, and sometimes he didn’t.  This isn’t the worst example of Zaney Haney-ness, but it isn’t a particularly good one either.  There could be a good story here, with a character’s struggle against fate and all that, but it doesn’t really reach that point.  In the end, I’d give this one 2 Minutemen.  It’s not great, but it isn’t terrible either.

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Challengers of the Unknown #74

Challengers_of_the_Unknown_Vol_1_74.jpg“To Call a Deadman”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: George Tuska and Neal Adams
Inker: George Tuska and Neal Adams
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

This is and isn’t the final issue of the Challengers.  This is the final issue of new material, sadly.  After this story, the book becomes a reprint title.  This is a shame because, as we’ve seen, this team is just starting to hit it’s stride.  George Tuska definitely turns in a fabulous job on pencils, and O’Neil delivers an interesting and entertainingly eerie supernatural yarn with the plot.  Once again, we see the Challengers dealing with something that really should be a bit out of their line, but we have a pleasant surprise that makes this tale work better than some of the others, a guest star known as Deadman!  Neal Adams lends his considerable talents to the Deadman portions of the story, so this is one fine looking issue.

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The book in question opens in suitably atmospheric fashion, with Deadman inviting us to enter his world of mystery and spirit, and we meet a frantic man pounding upon the doors of a crumbling stone prison.  The door is opened by a twisted little man, and the visitor, an older fellow named Dr. McJames, declares that he has what was promised, a huge ruby.  Just as the old timer is preparing to hand over the jewel, a voice rings out in the night, and who should appear but Johnny Double!  He’s DC’s answer to the hard-boiled detective, and I was surprised to discover that he had only been around a short time at this point, having debuted in 1968.  I rather expected that he was a character from the 50s, but apparently he’s late Silver Age.

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This is a nice little cameo, and he serves as our entrance into the story, catching us up on the plot and helping to bring the Challengers into the action.  He was apparently hired by the museum for which Dr. McJames works to determine if the scholar was stealing, and Johnny just caught him red handed.  It seems the ruby which was to be the currency of this late night assignation belonged to the museum’s collection.  Yet, the gumshoe knows that there is more to this than meets the eye, and he contacts to our heroes to see what that might be.

We catch up the Chals in a great panel with Red practicing his acrobatics and Rocky taking up painting, as he says, trying to improve his mind, “glom up some of that culture…refinement.”  His expression in that panel is just priceless, instantly establishing the character.  I don’t know if he’s ever more reminded me of the infinitely likable Ben Grimm.  I definitely am enjoying the characterization work O’Neil is doing with these guys.

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Interestingly, it has just occurred to me that we’re seeing a rather unusual cycle of influence here.  The Challengers of the Unknown inspired the creation of the Fantastic Four, and now the Fantastic Four is being drawn on in order to flesh out the personalities of the Challengers themselves.  In fact, even the tumultuous relationship between two members of the team has been adapted for this book.  Just as the The Thing and the Human Torch are always fighting with one another, so Rocky and Red are always in conflict here.  It’s notable that the ersatz Thing’s antagonist is the ‘fiery’ member of the team, Red.  I suppose it isn’t terribly original, but then again, what in comics, or any other literature, is?  Twenty-three hundred years ago Solomon said “there’s nothing new under the sun,” and I suppose it’s even more true now than it was then.

Well, their customary brawling is interrupted by the arrival of the rest of the crew, along with Johnny Double.  He fills them in on what he knows, which isn’t a whole lot, and points them in the direction of the mystery.  The fabulous foursome (actually a quintet at the moment, with Prof. tagging along), attempt to interview the the troubled scholar, but he refuses to talk!  Not one to be so easily stymied, Corinna uses her amazing powers of deus ex machina…err…I mean hypnosis.  Right, hypnosis.  She’s apparently a skilled hypnotist, as well an expert on mystical lore, a magician, and whatever else the plot requires her to be.  It’s a bit weak, but at least it is vaguely in the same vein as some of the skills we’ve already seen her demonstrate, and we’re far enough along in her tenure on the team that it isn’t quite as jarring as other inexplicable skills she’s evinced.  And, to be fair, it’s a lovely page.

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Of course, there’s a bit of an ethical dilemma here, what with hypnotizing someone against their will, and while it isn’t solved, I’m pleased to see O’Neil at least acknowledge it.  Red, of course it’s Red, raises an objection, but Corinna pleads necessity as she sensed “that he’s in deep trouble.”  Under the influence of her mesmerism, Dr. McJames relates his story, and an odd one it certainly is.  Apparently, his daughter fell ill, and medical science was helpless.  Suddenly, a spectral figure in 18th Century dress appears and sucks his child’s very spirit into a small, coffin shaped box!  The ‘ghost’ claims that he has taken her soul as revenge because one of the good doctor’s ancestors sentenced him to hang.  Yet, the spirit offers a bargain, the museum’s ruby in exchange for the soul of his only daughter!

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The Challengers decide to take the case and try to free the girl’s spirit, but Ace asks Prof. to stay behind because he is still recovering, a request to which the Prof. concedes…but with silent, though bitter, frustration.  Of course, this also serves as another chance for Red to be a jerk to Corinna.  O’Neil is really playing up the jerk angle with his character.

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The team heads to the ominous tower in search of the spirit box, which Corinna suspects is the key to the mystery.  When they arrive, they are greeted by the specter who threatened McJames, seemingly hanging from a gallows, offering cryptic and threatening warnings.  Trying to comfort a shaken Corinna, poor Rocky gets rebuffed once more, but while woe-is-me-ing, the hulking hero is toppled headlong by an unexpected attack.  That strange little man from the beginning of the tale hurtles out of the night, scattering the Challengers like ten-pins.  Before they can recover, he hi-tails it into the tower and bars the door, which only momentarily delays the mighty Rocky.

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Once inside, the quartet play a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the weird little fellow, eventually culminating in an acrobatic altercation in the rafters, as Red and Ace corner him.  The Igor-esq little fellow, named Nodo, apparently serves the ghostly villain of the piece, and he’s determined to protect the casket.  Yet, the vital McGuffin is smashed in the fight.  Much to everyone’s horror, they see the girl’s spirit drift away in the night, apparently in the grasp of the villainous ghost!  Here ends one half of the tale, and here begins another.

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This is one of the neat aspects of this story.  The first half is told from the perspective of the Challengers, but the latter half follows our spectral hero, Deadman, as he relates the end of the adventure for us.  He found his way into these events by visiting his old friend at his former circus, Vashnu, a seer and mystic.  Yet, Boston Brand finds his friend locked in his thoughts, so we get a frame within a frame, as he recalls how an apprentice of his, Seth Gross, betrayed his trust and stole both his secrets and the spirit casket from him.  I think we can probably see where this is going.  Gross learned the secrets of astral projection, and used this stolen knowledge along with the casket to pose as a ghost and extort the poor professor.

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Deadman sets out to track Gross down, and he arrives just as the “ghost” is putting on his hangman act.  The spurious specter heads back to his body, but Deadman beats him to it, and uses it as leverage to force the truth out of the weasel.  Deadman is steaming mad at Gross’s misdeeds, especially because he is running a big risk that time will run out before the girl’s spirit is rejoined to her body and it could be lost forever.

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deadman 074 027Realizing that he needs an astral body in order to save her, Deadman pulls a new stun.  He batters Gross’s spirit into submission, then actually possesses the spirit itself!  The pain and strain are incredible, but he manages to reach the tower just in time to save the girl and return spirit from whence it came.

Fortunately, the girl is restored, but when Deadman frees Gross’s spirit, he’s been driven insane by the ordeal.  Whoa, that’s pretty brutal, though seeing as he was going to do more or less the same to the girl, it’s hard to feel too bad for him.  Of course, Deadman does tell us that the bogus bogey, Gross, is now doomed to wander the earth forever.  So, we end with a fairly dichotomous moment, split between the happy reunion of father and daughter and their fond farewell with the Challengers one the one hand, and the shattered psyche and spiritual doom of Seth Gross on the other.  It’s an interesting end to the tale.

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That’s not the type of thing you expect to find in Silver Age story, that’s for sure!  There’s definitely a more mature tone to this tale.  For all of its faults, it’s goofier moments, it’s stretched set-up, poorly developed villain, and the clumsy exposition that drives too much of the plot, there is definitely something here that is markedly different from that which came before.  O’Neil is, as he has in several of the previous issues, pushing for more complex and compelling storytelling.  The effort may be flawed, but it’s still noteworthy.  The final result is an uneven but undeniably interesting read.  The art is really lovely and full of personality, suitably moody and atmospheric.  The characterization doesn’t advance too much, spinning its wheels with several already-old beats, but we do get a few nice moments. All-in-all, this is a fine story, and it seems like the creative team was just was really starting to cook.  That makes it all the more lamentable that this is the last new issue.  I would have enjoyed reading more of this cast of characters’ adventures.  So, this last issue of the Challengers earns a solid 3 Minutemen out of 5.

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Well my friends, that just about does it for this greatly belated edition of Into the Bronze Age!  With any luck I’ll be able to get back on track after this, most of the work on my mods being done at this point.  The semester is beginning, but here’s hoping it will still leave me some time for this little project.  Join me next time as we travel further Into the Bronze Age!

 

 

 

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