Into the Bronze Age: September 1970 (Part 1)

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Hello dear readers, and welcome to another installment of Into the Bronze Age.  I imagine that many of you out there are thunderstruck by the results of the American presidential election, no matter who you favored.  This entire election has been bizarre beyond words.  Many of you likely feel like the world is spinning madly out of control.  Perhaps some of you are feeling pleased and hopeful.  Whatever the case, I imagine we could all use a break from politics and from a national discourse that has grown ever more poisonous and vicious.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk about politics.  I’m neither going to lament nor cheer.  No, instead, I’m going to publish this post about, of all things, 1970s comic books.  What a thing to do at a moment in history that, whatever comes, is sure to be remembered for years.  Yet, it’s at times like this I think that these silly little superhero books can do us the most good.  They are bright, hopeful, and they espouse, at their best, the only true heroism, the self-sacrificial love that marks the highest apex of human virtue, mirroring as it does divine virtue.  They remind us that we are at our best, not when we are doing for ourselves, but when we are doing for others.  They are a good escapist refuge from an ugly and uncharitable world, but they are also a reminder that humanity is capable of good things, beauty, joy, and laugher.

So, without further ado, welcome to September 1970.  Let’s see what awaits us within, shall we?

This month in history:

  • Palestinian terrorists hijack ten different planes during what is known as the “Black September” civil war in Jordan
  • Psychedelic drug evangelist and all-around wack job Timothy Leary escaped from prison
  • IBM announces System 370 computer
  • USSR launches Luna 16; returns samples from lunar Sea of Fertility
  • President Nixon requests 1,000 new FBI agents for college campuses
  • Unrest and conflict continues in Ireland

We have a tie between two extremely awesome songs at the top of the charts this month, with both Edwin Star’s “War” and Diana Ross’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”  These are two very different songs, but they provide a nice cross section of the time.  “War” is certainly a very striking piece, given the conflicts filling our list above.

It is certainly an interesting month in history, with all kinds of crazy things going on.  I learned a lot reading about this month, and I was fascinated by both the Black September conflict and the bat-guano insane life of Timothy Leary.  The guy was like a real-life supervillain.  It’s very interesting for those of us on the path to the Bronze Age that we see evidence in this flurry of skyjackings of the trend we heard about all the way back in Batman #219.  Clearly calling this period “The Golden Age of Skyjacking” is rather appropriate.  The Space Race continues as well, giving us something a bit more positive happening in the skies, but there are still signs of unrest everywhere.  Well, enough of all this real-world drama, let’s talk about some superheroes!

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

  • Action Comics #392
  • Batman #225
  • Brave and the Bold #91
  • Detective Comics #403
  • G.I. Combat #143
  • Green Lantern #79
  • Justice League #83
  • Showcase #93
  • The Flash #200
  • World’s Finest #196

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

Action Comics #392

action_comics_392“The Shame of the Super Son”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“The Legionnaires Who Never Were!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abel

Once again, this issue follows what is becoming a familiar pattern.  The Headlining Superman tale is just goofy Silver Age fare, but the Legion backup is just plain good.  The Superman tale continues the Saga of the Super Sons and repeats many of the silly domestic farce elements that annoyed me with the last one.  Once again, everyone seems to just spend all day and night in their costumes, even when doing the most prosaic and pedestrian activities, giving us some really unintentionally funny panels.  I’m actually reminded a bit of the Tick…

In our last issue, we ended on the cliffhanger of Superman apparently taking away his goofus of a son’s powers with gold kryptonite.  He makes this pretty huge choice with ridiculous suddenness, deciding that his hard-luck screw-up of a teenage son, or, you know, a teenager, was too dangerous and incompetent to have super powers.  Apparently Clark doesn’t remember what it was like to be 13 or so.  After all, I know I know I certainly didn’t have everything together at that age…of course, I still don’t, but that’s neither here nor there!  This issue picks back up with the elder Supes as he returns home, sullen and silent.  His son runs off as soon as they are home, justifiably angry at his father for, you know, stripping his powers away permanently without so much as a heads-up.  I have to say, this surprised me a bit.  I was sure that the previous issue’s cliffhanger would be a cheat of some sort and that this one would reveal the kid’s powers weren’t permanently lost just because he’s a klutz, seeing as how that would be insane and incredibly cruel.  I was certain that this issue would reveal it was all just a lesson for the boy, but no, Kanigher amps up the crazy by barreling ahead quite earnestly.

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And Kanigher cranks up Superman’s jerk dial a dozen more notches, as the Man of Tomorrow wordlessly brushes past his wife, who can tell something is wrong, and locks himself in his study, while the wife, increasingly panicked by his complete freaking silence, repeatedly demands to know what happened to her son.  Wow, you’re just bad all around at this family stuff, aren’t you Supes?  So, what does Mrs. Man of Steel do?  She runs across the street to the neighboring mansion of Batman and asks him for help.  In so doing, she interrupts the Caped Crusader lounging in his den, watching TV in full costume.  That’s got to be one of the most ridiculous images in the book, but it has plenty of competition.

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Check out Batman’s swinging 60s den!

The Dark Knight (not so dark here) gets the story out of his friend, who has NOW decided to be remorseful for ruining his son’s life (a little late there!).  Next we get a montage of scenes where the former Boy of Steel gets humiliated in various ways, all while continuing to wear his costume as he engages in even more normal activities.  He nearly drowns while swimming (in a cape!), has to pick up his date on a Bat-bike (the pedal-powered kind), and gets one-uped by Bat-boy.  There’s a lot of silly in these pages.

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Things take a turn when Superman is ambushed by a bunch of criminals from the Generic Gang who happen to have gotten their hands on the most plentiful element in the Silver Age DC Universe, kryptonite!  The Super Son, having lost his powers, is somehow unaffected, and he manages to free his not-so-super father.  I’d have sympathized if he had left him to the crooks.

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This prompts a change of heart in the Man of Tomorrow, who brings his son to the Bottle City of Kandor for his 14th birthday.  While there, they don a set of bracelets that, supposedly signify their bond.  When they come back to the Fortress, they discover one of the dangerous zoo animals escaped , and Superman doesn’t seem to have the power to stop it.  His son belts the beast and discovers that his powers have returned.  Apparently, the bracelets actually gave the elder’s powers to the younger.  The issue ends with father and son reconciled and the Man of Steel, now powerless, retiring and letting his son take over the family world-saving business.  It really seems like he got there the hard way.

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Well, this was a bonkers issue, picking up from the last bonkers issue.  Superman really comes off pretty terribly, both with his ridiculously abrupt and insanely severe punishment of his son and with his callous treatment of his justifiably frantic wife.  The ending would be heartwarming, if it wasn’t made necessary by the Man of Steel’s being inhumanely cruel in the first place.  In the end, this is more or less what you might expect of such a story.  It’s ludicrously Silver Age-y , and I had to check again to make sure it wasn’t really written by Bob Haney.  The domestic farce in this one was even worse than the previous one, and there’s little goofier than the entire set of super families hanging out and swimming in their own pool, all in full costume.  That kind of zaniness costs this issue a half Minuteman over the previous one.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.

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“The Legionnaires Who Never Were!”

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As usual, the Legion backup is great fun.  This one is an offbeat issue, though it certainly employs the standard Legion formula of the apparent enemy within.  I think the Legion must spend more of their time fighting each other and chasing “traitors” than doing anything else.  Imagine how much more they could have gotten done if they weren’t always worried about secret double agents in their midsts!

The issue begins with two of the lady Legionnaires, Saturn Girl and Princess Projectra, heading out on a mission to capture a “space renegade” (good band name), Pozr-Du.  You’ve got to love these Legion names.  On the way, Saturn Girl reveals a new costume, which I suspect points to a larger trend of linking fashion and female characters.  This is something I’ve noticed in some Supergirl comics I’ve read around this period (some of the only ones I’ve encountered).  I wonder if DC was attempting to bring in and engage more female readers with such an emphasis on costume design and the like.  I know the Supergirl book actually had costume design contests and the like.  It makes a certain amount of sense, and I think it’s a rather nice effort on DC’s part, if perhaps a bit heavy handed.

Well, when the girls find their quarry, they are ambushed by the renegade and blasted out of the sky, unconscious!  When they awaken, strangely enough there is no sign of Pozr-Du.  He didn’t bother to capture them or even finish them off, though they landed right in his lap.  Mystified and discouraged, there is nothing the pair can do but return to Legion HQ, which looks a bit different than I remember.  However, once there, things taken an even stranger turn, as their ship is snagged in an “energy-grappler” and Cosmic Boy, manning the defenses, claims never to have heard of them!

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The lovely Legionnaires are captured by their former teammates, and despite their protestations, Cosmic Boy and the others tell them that the Legion has never had members named Princess Projectra or Saturn Girl.  To prove their legitimacy, the heroines demand to be taken to the trophy room where they can produce evidence of their accomplishments, but when they arrive, they find their mementos are missing!  This provides us with a fun little glimpse of the Legion trophy room, complete with some really cool looking creatures and objects.

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Just then, two new members arrive to check out the intruders, Prince Projectur and Saturn Lad!  They demonstrate their powers, and the flabbergasted femmes begin to feel rather hopeless.  Interestingly, both of these guys are wearing almost the exact same costumes as their female counterparts, and it just looks plain ridiculous.  Just a slight redesign on them to give them something a bit more dignified and masculine would have done wonders.  At the very least, give them pants, for heaven’s sake!  This is like the unironic 70s predecessor of the Hawkeye initiative, and it does unintentionally illustrate how silly the average female comic character’s costume is.

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Anyway, fashion disasters aside, our two heroines find themselves prisoners, floating suspended in the middle of a chamber in a detention sphere.  The pair discuss their situation, and I really enjoyed the matter-of-fact way these two unflappable ladies calmly assess the possible explanations of their predicament.  They are experienced enough at this kind of thing to immediately recognize that there are a number of possible explanations.  They could be on an alternate Earth, the weapon they were struck with could have put them into a dream state, or many other even stranger possibilities.  I liked this.  It makes sense that experienced heroes would have a frame of reference for even something as crazy as finding out that none of your friends remember you.

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Unable to determine exactly what is going on from their cell, the ladies plan an escape, and they do so in clever and dynamic fashion.  The cell stretches with their movement, and since their captors failed to take their flight rings, thinking them fake, they fly in opposite directions, straining the bubble’s elasticity until it breaks.  Free once more, Princess Projectra has a plan.  She tells Saturn Girl to stay hidden while she looks for answers.

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In search of just that, she visits the quarters of a particular Legionnaire, her boyfriend, Karate Kid.  The Princess demands answers, and tries to remind Val of their relationship, including a really sweet little flashback to the first time they said “I love you.”  To attempt to spark his memory, the lovely illusionist kisses her erstwhile beau.  He still insists he doesn’t know her, but suddenly he collapses!  In another really clever move, the Princess applied a drug to her lips that would knock him out when she kissed him.  With the Kid unconscious, she applies a small device to his neck, hoping that it will answer her questions.

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Returning to Saturn Girl, Projectra is challenged by her male counterpart.  However, she has begun to suspect the truth, so she creates an illusory monster that threatens her, and the startled “Prince” leaps to her aid, letting her real name slip out in the process.  She unmasks him as Brianiac 5, and the jig is up!

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Slimer, no!

It seems that the new megacomputer Brainy built spit out a prediction that a Legionnaire was in danger of cracking under pressure and endangering her teammates, and it named Projectra.  The device was still experimental, so they weren’t sure that they could trust it.  They devised a training exercise to test their teammate’s reactions and combat fitness, throwing her into a completely bizarre situation.  Saturn Girl was the proctor and used her powers to cancel her partner’s out.  Chameleon Boy was Pozr and Sun Boy played the role of Saturn Lad.  Fortunately the clever Princess used one of Brainy’s inventions to discover that Karate Kid was lying and began to unravel the setup after that.

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Everyone congratulates her on her performance, and she is reunited with Val, who apologizes for putting her through that ordeal.  That’s nice and all, but I have a feeling he’s going to face an ordeal of his own in payback!  We also see the office of Legion Leader taken over by Mon-El, which is a fun little addendum to the story, adding a little peek into the organizational functioning of the team.  Things like that are neat in small doses, adding a certain amount of fleshing out to the concept.

The reason for the test is a bit stretched, as it really seems like there is probably a simpler way to figure out if Projectra is about to crumble than to subject her to an elaborate and extreme test that could have caused even a sane person to lose it.  Still, by the standards of the high melodrama that usually accompanies internal Legion stories, it rather fits.  The most important thing is that it is a fun tale, entertaining and rather surprising.  The different explanations the ladies propose are so reasonable and utterly common in comics that I never considered that it was all a hoax.  What’s more, the portrayal of the two protagonists was quite good, both of them coming off as competent, brave, and resourceful.

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It’s interesting that they went through their entire adventure without any violent action, yet the story was plenty entertaining.  I particularly enjoyed getting to know Princess Projectra in this yarn, as I hadn’t really encountered here much before.  As is often the case with these Legion backups, this short adventure packs a great deal in just a few pages, and does it with aplomb.  It doesn’t feel rushed, and there’s plenty of excitement while also providing us with a bit of character development.  That’s impressive.  Its also worth mentioning that I really enjoyed the art in this issue.  Win Mortimer turns out some great looking, classic DC house-style work, and he does some several really cool page and panel-breaking layouts.  So, slightly disturbing costuming aside, I’ll give this one an above average 3.5 Minutemen.

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That’s all for today, and I hope this post and these stories bring some lightness and some fun into your day.  On a day like today, that’s a good thing.  Join me (hopefully) soon for the next two tales in our journey Into the Bronze Age!