Welcome, readers, to the final installment of my Into the Bronze Age feature for July 1970. Because of the vagaries of release dates, we only have a single comic to cover today, but it will be followed by my observations on the month as a whole.
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
“The Mystery Bombers!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos
This issue contains two mediocre Superman tales that very much prove the rule about the enduring Silver Age-ness of the Man of Steel’s comics. They are by no means the worst examples of these tendencies (there’s no domestic farces or giant-headed-super-freak-children to be found in these pages, thankfully), but they do evince some of the excesses of Silver Age stories, while at the same time suffering from the paradoxical lack of imagination that sometimes afflicted such books.
The first story is the strongest, though that’s not saying much, featuring an actually clever solution to its central problem, even if it is presented in the context of a ludicrous setup. The plot centers around Superman being sent upon multiple ‘scavenger hunts,’ seeking for clues to the locations of bombs hidden around the city. Clark Kent receives a call at the Planet from an anonymous bomber who declares that he has hidden an explosive somewhere in the city and demands that our favorite mild-mannered reporter pass the tip on to his ‘friend’ Superman, along with the promise that he can discover the bomb’s location by studying “every archive and exhibit in Science City.”
Apparently this ‘Science City’ is a science-themed amusement park of sorts crossed with a museum and a laboratory. Sure. Anyway, moving at super speed and with his ‘super brain’ (good grief), the Man of Tomorrow is able to go through all of the exhibits until he makes an extremely unlikely connection between one particular exhibit on constellations and a comment the bomber made about horses. So, he does the logical thing and flies to Metropolis Museum and one particular exhibit that happens to feature a chariot. Wait, that wasn’t what you thought of when you heard ‘horses’? Yeah…this isn’t exactly a Philip Marlowe mystery. We’re dealing with problems that are solved with the expediency of plot.
Well, this pattern is repeated twice more, with the Metropolis Marvel absorbing vast amounts of information in each case, and doing so in only seconds. Now, I have no problem with Superman being able to read at super speed. Sure, that makes sense. I have no problem with his mind being able to work super fast as well. Still, the idea that he could absorb and understand the entire contents of the Library of Congress in instants and find the one, completely improbable and unconnected clue in all of that…it’s just lazy writing, not an astonishing feat.
Anyway, each time he discovers a bomb, it explodes moments later. So, for the last device, the Man of Steel substitutes a string of firecrackers, which he ignites himself. Why such a strange ruse? Well, this is the clever part of the story. Superman realized that the unlikely timing of the explosions meant he was being watched and that the bombs were being detonated for his benefit. It was never about the bombs, which meant it must have been about the bizarre labors he was put through. Thus, he reasoned that the knowledge he was absorbing was the real goal of these bombers.
The bombers are, of course, aliens, complete with a ridiculous and unnecessarily convoluted plot to steal all of Earth’s knowledge, because this is a Superman comic book. I’m not even going to go into their plan, as it makes little enough sense reading it in the story to begin with. They trap the Man of Tomorrow in an empty house in order to drain the knowledge out of him, but through *sigh* super will-power, the hero scrambles all of it, making it useless. They leave, and the story ends with Superman explaining to Jimmy how he figured everything out.
Aside from the believable and reasonable inference about the bombs, the story doesn’t’ have much to recommend it. Superman running around reading everything in the different locations is mildly neat to see, but the plot is just forgettable and goofy. The aliens were after all the information on Earth (they would have done better to steal Hawkman’s Absorbascon!), so they had Superman read everything in an overgrown science fair, the Library of Congress, and the…Monies of the World collection…really? Way to shoot for the stars there, guys. I’m sure that pretty much covers the total of human knowledge. I give this weak tale 2 Minutemen. The one clever moment is not enough to make it really enjoyable.
The backup tale isn’t as ludicrous on its face as the previous story, but it does suffer from the obsession of Silver Age books to pit their heroes against generic, boring criminals. The result, though not as goofy in some ways, is just less interesting overall. In this story Superman inexplicably loses his powers own by one. There’s some story mileage there, and we’ve seen it done to better effect elsewhere. Not so much here. There are a few interesting moments as the Man of Steel tries to figure out what’s going on, but there’s also a decent amount of silliness as he more or less shrugs and says, ‘ohh well, maybe it will get better.’ Apparently the invulnerable alien sun-god has the same attitude towards losing all of his earth-shattering power as I do to having a sore muscle. It seems like you should probably be a bit more concerned about this, Superman, what with the fate of the world so often hanging on your shoulders and all.
Anyway, The story begins with the Metropolis Marvel waking up and experiencing the joy of a splitting headache. He is on vacation with Jimmy and Lois (way to be a third wheel, Jimbo.), and his headache concerns the hero, as he shouldn’t be susceptible to anything of the sort. So, what does he do? Well, first he wanders around in the woods of their resort using his powers without his costume, wildly endangering his secret identity for no particularly good reason. Everything seems to work other than his invulnerability, so he heads to the Fortress of Solitude to do some tests.
He manages to blow up his computer, once again, for no good reason, and gets no answer for his trouble. He chalks it off to random happenstance and decides to just go on with his day when he suddenly discovers he can’t fly. He has to be taken back to Metropolis by one of his robots before he freezes to death in the arctic cold.
In town he hears about a robbery by the “Jet-Set gang,” which sounded quite promising when I first read it. I thought, ‘yay, another gang-with-a-gimmick!’ As I’ve mentioned before, I have quite a fondness for the idea that the common criminals in the DC Universe get into the fun of donning costumes and embracing various gimmicks, like the Owl Gang from Flash a while back. This sounded like a perfect opportunity for something of the sort. Unfortunately, it’s nothing that fun or creative. It’s a gang of crooks with a rocket-powered truck, but they’re just generic, run-of-the-mill criminals. Dorfman doesn’t even bother to name them. Well, Superman has to catch a cab (!) to get to the scene of the crime, which gives us a moderately funny little scene, but once he’s there he has to figure out how to stop these careening crooks. He rips up the guard rail from the road creating a giant corral, but doing so exhausts him to the point where he can’t even fight back once the bad guys dismount.
They knock him out and take him to a movie set owned by a crooked movie producer. (Also known as a movie producer. Bad-a-bing!) Ahem…sorry. Anyway, the criminal world decides to auction off the Man of Steel’s costume and accouterments, but they plan to send the hero himself to ‘the Execution Planet,’ which, for some reason, regular, generic Earth gangsters happen to know about…and care about…and think a better option than…you know, taking their revenge themselves. It’s…a weird choice, and the whole thing just smacks of wasted opportunity. To crown the failure of imagination that is this little tale, the attendant criminals are entirely the same generic breed. Where is Lex Luthor? Where is the Toyman? Where is Brainiac? Where is Parasite? Where is Metallo? Heck, I’d settle for the Prankster! What a waste.
The issue ends with the Generic Gang trying on Superman’s costume and paying to step on his cape. Here we learn that the Man of Steel’s costume is completely bulletproof…which rather begs the question of why the hero was worried when threatened with guns earlier in the story. Anyway, I’m losing interest in this little yarn as I type. The idea of the captured hero being auctioned off, the ‘Auction of Evil,’ has been done many times. I seem to remember a few different versions from Batman, and there is a solid turn on the trope from the fun Justice League Adventures comic from a few years back. This iteration just doesn’t do anything much with the premise, providing a disappointing outing. I give this one 1.5 Minutemen, the story having lost points for missed opportunities and general lack of creativity.
Well readers, this brings us to the end of July 1970, and a fairly unimpressive month it was, with only a few yarns that rated better than mediocre. The only real bright point was the Legion backup, and even safe bets like the Haunted Tank had an off day, it seems. We saw not one but two classic comic tropes given a less than stellar treatment. We did, however, see a fascinating glimpse into the zeitgeist with the echoes of the Manson Murders found in the GA/GL book. Yet, the same month that gave us something so very timely (if also as ham-handed as usual) also gave us Superman stories that seemed positively like throwbacks.
We can really see the cost of Superman’s out of control power level in these issues, and, I would wager, in this entire trend. Writers have no real idea what to do with him. They can’t actually challenge him, so they invent some new way to handicap him every issue. Either he turns huge, or he loses his powers, or he goes nuts, or something even stranger happens to him. They don’t have any real stories to tell with the character. I imagine that this is part of the reason that he has been so resistant to change. Who had any good ideas before “Kryptonite No More”? With the book controlled by the same folks and using the same formulas that they had been for the past twenty years, there isn’t a lot of room for innovation. Nonetheless, Superman’s lack of evolution is becoming more and more noticeable as more progressive stories are popping up all over the place in the other books.
Sadly, this month we are forced to bid farewell to one of the books that was headed in a very positive direction, Challengers. I know that this won’t be the last time we see a promising book or idea abandoned. In fact, we face the all-too-quick demise of Jack Kirby’s incredibly innovative and creative Fourth World just around the corner, following rapidly on the heels of its very birth. I suppose we must brace ourselves for such lamentable events as we travel further Into the Bronze Age! Fortunately, we will also see some amazing new stories and concepts born. In fact, though I do know it will be short-lived, I can’t help but get excited because I’m already starting to see ads for The King’s dramatic arrival in the DC Universe! Let’s see what the next month holds!
One wonders what readers in 1970 thought of this enigmatic advertisement. Boom Tube? What in the world could that be? It must have been exciting!
The Head-Blow Headcount:
The Headcount remains unchanged! Will next month be as quiet?