Into the Bronze Age: October 1970 (Part 2)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Welcome to the second edition of October 1970’s Into the Bronze Age!  Today we begin our coverage of Adventure Comics with Supergirl’s new look, and we have another of the Aquaman adventures by the SAG team.  Let’s see what fun awaits us!

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

  • Action Comics #393
  • Adventure Comics #398
  • Aquaman #52
  • Detective Comics #404
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #80
  • Phantom Stranger #9
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #105
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133 (Jack Kirby’s debut!)
  • Superman #230
  • Teen Titans #29

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


Adventure Comics #398


adventure_comics_vol_1_398“The Maid of Doom!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Jim Mooney
Inker: Jim Mooney
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

“Catcher in the Sky”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Mike Peppe
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

This issue of Supergirl contains a reprint, which is the headline tale oddly enough.  I’m guessing that they had a shortfall of some sort.  Either way, it also features the first of the ongoing adventures of the Maid of Might in her new costume.  DC apparently held a write-in contest allowing readers to design the new look.  That’s a pretty cool idea, and I imagine it was a good way to get interest and buy-in from female readers in 70s.  I do wonder, however, if traditionally “girlie” interests like fashion would have held as much fascination for young ladies that were already breaking with convention by having an interest in superheroes.  I suppose there are still a number of ‘female-friendly’ comics on the shelves at the time, comics marketed specifically at girls like the various romance books, but it seems like kids reading a flat-out superhero might be a bit different.  I suppose that my curiosity on that score isn’t likely to be satisfied any time soon, but there it is nonetheless.  If any of my readers happen to be ladies who were reading these books circa 1970, I’m sure we’d all be delighted to hear your take on the matter.

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Anyway, the results of the contest are Supergirl’s new costume, and I have to say, it’s one of my favorite looks for her.  Unfortunately it is also a rather short lived one, but I find it an overall strong design for the character.  It helps with one of the problems of her classic costume, the color balance.  While Superman has his red trunks (in every proper version, darn you New 52!) to break up the blue, Supergirl doesn’t have such a feature.  The boots and belt of this costume help to provide more visual interest, and I rather like the gloves as well.  It’s recognizably a super-inspired costume, but one that has much more of her personality on display.

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The story itself is a simple but fun little yarn, a variation on a gag that has been used many times before and since this issue hit the stands.  It begins with Supergirl, young Linda Danvers, lounging in her apartment watching TV.  Apparently, she enjoys watching the tube by contorting her body, given the way she has her chair aligned with the set.  Also, she seems not to have gotten the memo from Batman that one should do one’s TV watching in costume.  Nevertheless, she hears a broadcast about an aircraft carrier that has suddenly vanished in the Gulf.

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She leaps into action and goes to investigate, searching for hours above and below the waves but finding nothing.  When she surfaces again, she sees a trio of search planes disappear into the thin air and she follows hot on their tailfins, emerging in an alternate dimension!

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Come on Sekowsky!

When she arrives, she sees a massive alien, on something of a King Kong scale, examining the planes.  When she goes to speak with the creature, a larger being, apparently the smaller one’s father, enters, searching for something called a ‘dimension grappler.’  It seems that Jr. has been playing with Daddy’s tools.  The little one lies and says he hasn’t seen it, and in a funny little scene, Supergirl turns snitch, using super lungs to be heard and pointing out Jr.’s perfidiousness.  The mystery solved, the earthlings are sent home while Jr. gets his just deserts.

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This is a silly but fun little story, and the silliness is so matter-of-fact that one can’t really hold it against the comic.  As goofy as the concept is, it still seems perfectly at home in the DC Universe.  I wonder how many times that gag has been used over the years, the omnipotent child.  I know it’s shown up in everything from Star Trek to Transformers, and many a setting in between.  This particular story is very brief, but it still manages a funny beat with the punishment of Jr. and a little bit of characterization in the way that Supergirl handles the problem.  Her dialog, not wanting to be a snitch, is rather entertaining, and I rather like that her solution is nonviolent, just a direct conversation.  In the end, this is just too brief to earn more than an average rating, however cute it is.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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Aquaman #53


aquaman_vol_1_53“Is California Sinking?”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

Well dear readers, you are looking at a rarity, the only clunker in the entire SAG run on Aquaman.  It’s a crying shame too, because this book is graced by one heck of a cover!  Just look at that wild image.  How could you have resisted pulling that off the shelf or the spinner rack?  Unfortunately, the promise of that cover is squandered inside, and the epic struggle against impossible odds never occurs on the pages within.  Instead, we get a really bizarre little story that seems much more fitting for Bob Haney than for Steve Skeates.  It is silly and off-beat, but it feels much more like a handful of independent ideas than a coherent story.  I’m thinking that maybe there is some type of inside joke here I’m not getting, but whatever the case, this story just didn’t come together for me.  Interestingly, the splash page includes the debut of the S.A.G. branding.  This is not the most auspicious premiere of the symbol.

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It begins promisingly enough, though with a quirkiness that proves par for the rest of the course.  A secretary is tap-tap-tapping away at her typewriter in an office building, oblivious to the fact that water is rushing in around her until she is entirely submerged.  The page is rather funny, and the girl’s surprised face once she’s underwater is comedic.  Aparo definitely stretches his comedy skills in this issue, for what that’s worth.

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Yet, the submarine secretary is not actually about to suffer a sea-drenched sendoff.  This is apparently just the sales pitch of a “scientist,” a suspicious looking character wearing sunglasses and a fedora.  He’s trying to convince chubby Race Bannon…er…that is, Eliot Harlanson, a Californian bigwig of some unspecified variety, that Atlantis is destined to rise and, as a result, California is destined to sink beneath the waves.  Fortunately for Mr. Shades, Harlanson (Chubby Race…Chace?) has more money than brains, so he buys the tall tale…though, I suppose in the DC Universe, this would be pretty plausible.

In a really odd touch, the millionaire is not all that worries about the millions that would die if California sank into the sea.  No, what he’s really concerned about is his house, as he continually describes it, his “beautiful, spacious home,” upon which he’s spent millions.  Well, what is a selfish millionaire to do in such a situation?  Mr. Shades has a plan.  He just needs to buy an atomic bomb (an ‘A-bomb’), ’cause you can just pick one of those up at the corner store, and nuke Atlantis.  Problem solved.

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So, you can see that the weirdness of this tale starts out already cranked to 11.  It gets more convoluted, though.  Mr. Shades turns out to be an agent of O.G.R.E.  Remember them?  They’re one of a passel of secret criminal organizations that sprouted up during the James Bond, Man from U.N.C.L.E. craze in the 60s.  There for a while, every hero had their very own evil organization as a nemesis.  Aquaman had his O.G.R.E. and Hawkman had C.A.W., and there were plenty others to boot.  These guys haven’t been heard from in nearly 30 issues at this point, and sadly this is not the most impressive of homecomings.

That really is a shame because I always felt like O.G.R.E. had a decent amount of potential, though it was never developed.  Blend in some of the 80s anti-corporate themes and make O.G.R.E. a consortium of massive, shady corporations looking to exploit the resources of the oceans and willing to go to any lengths to accomplish their ends; maybe you’d have something.  You could weave any number of plots into their machinations, and such a setup gives you a constant background source of threats and supervillains.  The last gasp of the ill-fated Sword of Atlantis take on Aquaman got into something rather similar, though it never got a good chance to develop the story hooks Tad Williams introduced.

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This is apropos of nothing; I just love Aparo’s undersea vistas…

Anyway, as I said, O.G.R.E. doesn’t come off too well here.  Apparently, they want to take out Aquaman, and they see nuking Atlantis as the simplest way to do this…I wonder if they’ve ever heard of overkill.  Yet, their organization is not up to the job, so they’re convincing some random millionaire moron to do their dirty work for them…somehow.  But their plan is YET MORE convoluted, as they’ve also employed Black Manta to act as (unwitting) bait to lure Aquaman to Atlantis so he’ll be in position for the ensuing nuclear holocaust.  Remember that Manta showed up a few issues back?  Well, this is why.  He’s serving as a catspaw for O.G.R.E., and he’s armed with a shiny new raygun for the job.

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We cut back to him ranting and raving outside of Atlantis, where he provokes the Sea King into sending his finny friends against him, only to have them scattered by a blast from the gun, which ‘scrambles brainwaves.’  For some reason, this single gun seems to convince everyone that Manta can suddenly conquer Atlantis with his half dozen men, so the Marine Marvel goes out to head him off.  In an  admittedly neat page, Aquaman bets on his mental powers to shield him from the ray’s effects and focuses with all his might on a single though, ‘get Manta!’  He powers through the blast and clocks his nemesis with a powerful blow.  I always enjoy displays of the Sea King’s mental fortitude and grit, so I like this bit.

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After capturing the devious devil-ray themed villain, Aquaman interrogates him, literally slapping the truth out of him in a fairly awesome sequence.  The Sea King realizes that something is up, and he gets Manta to admit that someone put him up to this attack.

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Slapping him THROUGH the metal helmet, Aquaman is a tough son of a gun.

Unfortunately, the villain doesn’t know what O.G.R.E. is planning, so the Marine Marvel can’t do anything but patrol around the undersea city.  Luckily, he spots the sub on its approach and summons a giant squid (!) to grab it.  This is an awesome panel, with the sea creature completely dwarfing the sub and emphasizing the power at Aquaman’s command.

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Just as it seems the day is saved, the stupidity and utter incompetence of our Californian millionaire, personally overseeing the mission, of course, comes into play.  He hits the release lever for the bomb, and it seems as if Atlantis is doomed!  Aquaman races desperately to catch it, but even the fastest being under the sea isn’t quite fast enough, and the bomb hits the seabed…and nothing happens.  It’s a dud.

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Meanwhile, G-Men have captured the O.G.R.E. agents, and when Aquaman and Aqualad compare notes with them, they learn that Harlanson’s girl friday was actually one of their operatives, and she arranged for the bomb to be a fake.  We also learn that pretty much everyone was just let go with a warning.  Despite trying to nuke Atlantis, Harlanson is just sent back home.  Apparently he didn’t know Atlantis was inhabited.  I’d call that unbelievable, but given the level of ignorance in the real world, it seems like the most plausible piece of this story.  More inexplicably, our hero just up and lets Black Manta go, saying that “knowing he had been used was enough punishment for him.”  Really?  Not, you know, prison?  They guy is, at the very least, a pirate and a murderer.  At worst, he’s a war criminal.  I know we want to keep our villains in circulation, but this is just plain ridiculous!  There has to be a better solution than, ‘oh well, don’t try to murder us anymore you naughty boy, you!’

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This issue is just too weird.  Harlanson doing all of this just to protect his fancy house is just plain silly.  All of the other elements seem incongruous as well: the O.G.R.E. agents who don’t actually do anything, the anticlimax of the bomb being a dud, the pointless battle with Manta that has zero impact on the story, and the uncharacteristic foolishness of Aquaman just letting his most deadly enemy go free after capturing him IN THE ACT of trying to CONQUER ATLANTIS.  It’s just too much.  There are several fun moments, and Aparo’s art is as awesome as always, but the final result just leaves me scratching my head.  It isn’t actively annoying, like the book of certain Green-clad heroes, but it certainly isn’t nearly as good as the bulk of the SAG productions.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.  There’s some fun to be had here, but it is mostly buried under the silliness.

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I’ll let Aqualad handle the parting thoughts today:

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Thanks…that’s…good to know?

Was this really in the zeitgeist in the 70s?  I thought all that ‘Atlantis rising’ hogwash was a result of the spiritualist movement in the 20s with Edgar Cayce and that bunch.  I’m curious if there’s something I’m missing.  As always, if you know something I don’t, please drop me a line in the comments!


Well, that does it for today’s features.  I hope you’ll join me soon for another pair of Bronze Age stories.  Until then, keep up the search for adventure!

Into the Bronze Age: October 1970 (Part 1)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Welcome to a new month of Into the Bronze Age!  This month sees some changes to our lineup of books, as several new features hit the DC Universe.  We’re also going to add in some existing features because they’ve reached a point that will (hopefully) make them a bit more readable.  The advent of Supergirl’s new look seems like a good time to give Adventure Comics a fresh try in the hopes that the stories will have improved to match.  Eventually, we’re also going to be adding all of the rest of the Superman books that we have been skipping.  Jimmy Olsen makes the cut because of the dramatic arrival on the DC scene of Jack, the King, Kirby, as he ushers in his Fourth World from that humble beginning!  Comics will never be the same.

Lois Lane slips in on the strength of a new backup feature, the intriguing Rose and Thorn concept, starring a hero with multiple personality disorder, something unique enough to pique my interesting.  I’m planning on just covering the backup feature and ignoring the ridiculou gambols of the girl reporter.  Speaking of back up features, it seems that the Legion of Superheroes is leaving the pages of Action Comics, which makes me quite sad, as their adventures have routinely been the best part of that book.  They’ll eventually reemerge in Superboy, so we’ll add that title then as well.  It’s an exciting time in DC comics, and the Bronze Age is really getting underway.

This month in history:

  • 63 arrested in riot to buy Rolling Stone tickets in Milano, Italy
  • Plane carrying Wichita State U football team crashes killing 30
  • Baseball umpires call their 1st strike (Get it?)
  • October Crisis occurs in Canada, in which Quebec separatists kidnapped politicians and clashed with government forces
  • PBS becomes a US television network.
  • Khmer Republic (Cambodia) declares independence
  • Fiji gains independence from Britain
  • A man dies in a premature bomb explosion in Dublin, Republic of Ireland
  • Russian passenger flight hijacked to Turkey
  • Russia and the US test multiple nuclear bombs
  • The US and the USSR sign an agreement to discuss joint space efforts
  • Serious riots in the Catholic Ardoyne area of Belfast which last for three nights

Things continue to be tense and unstable in the real world, with further rioting and escalating nuclear tensions.  Interestingly, the Space Race seems to be taking a turn with the US and USSR in talks to combine their efforts.  I don’t remember what came of that in the immediate future, so I’ll be curious to see how it develops.  There is a bit of positive news here as well, as de-colonization continues with the peaceful acquisition of independence by Fiji.  Well, enough of the troubles of the real world.  Let’s talk about superheroes!

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

  • Action Comics #393
  • Adventure Comics #398
  • Aquaman #52
  • Detective Comics #404
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #80
  • Phantom Stranger #9
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #105
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133 (Jack Kirby’s debut!)
  • Superman #230
  • Teen Titans #29

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


Action Comics #393


action_comics_393“Superman Meets Super-Houdini!”
Writer:Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Day Superboy Became Superman!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

This is a very interesting issue, which is not to say that it is necessarily good.  The first tale is pretty much standard Superman fare, though not too Silver Age-y, but the backup is very different and quite unexpected.  The Man of Steel’s books have been rather aptly inflexible throughout the year of comics we’ve been reading, maintaining the status quo and serving as a very sharp contrast to the more innovative titles like Green Lantern and even Justice League.  Yet, this issue delivers our first (in our tenure, at least) attempt at social relevance in a Superman title.  It’s a very interesting offering, and it makes this issue noteworthy.  Sadly, we’ve lost the Legion backup, but if this plucky little story is an indication of a change of pace, Action Comics might remain readable despite the loss.

Our headline tale introduces us to a daredevil escape artist  named ‘Hairbreadth Holahan,’ who could just about serve as a prototype for the soon to premiere Mr. Miracle.  We meet this Holahan as he dives from a plane over Metropolis while handcuffed.  Sensing disaster, Clark Kent, waiting with an eager crowd of observers, slips off to become Superman.  Yet, his heroics are unnecessary, as the showman pulls off a spectacular last minute escape and touches down safely.  Interestingly, his son, who serves as his hype man, is unfazed by his narrow escape, being in on the act.

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Impressed, the Man of Tomorrow invites the daredevil to team up for a charity exposition at a museum fundraiser, but in the interim, members of the Generic Gang spot Holahan’s picture in the paper and realize that he is actually a convict who escaped from prison 15 years ago.  They blackmail the showman into pulling a job for them, and he agrees in order to protect his son from the revelation of his past.  When the night of the show arrives, Holahan has the Metropolis Marvel seal him into a suit of armor with his heat-vision, only to escape moments later.  As he is leaving, the theft of a priceless jewel is discovered, and he is apprehended by Superman.

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Holahan is actually sentenced and sent to prison, where his real job begins.  He breaks the leader of the Generic Gang out using a chemical hidden in a false tooth.  The crime boss leads him to the Gang’s hideout, but “Holahan” makes a slip that reveals he isn’t who he claims to be.  It seems that it is actually Superman in disguise!  He takes out the criminals in a rather cleverly designed panel that illustrates the rapidity of the action and the power of the character, and then he hits us with the exposition to explain the switch.

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action-393-20-14Holahan came to the Man of Steel with his blackmail problem, and they switched places at the museum in order to discover the Generic Gang’s hideout and capture all of their members.  It’s a reasonable solution, and the father-son relationship at the heart of Holahan’s portrayal is fairly charming.  In an uncharacteristic bit of melancholy, Superman notes that, despite his incredible power, the escape artist has one thing he doesn’t, and that is a son.  If he only knew what awaited him with the super-loser of a son he has in the Haney-verse, I don’t think he’d be too anxious for one!

This is a fine story, with a few clever moments and a likeable one-shot character in Holahan, though he doesn’t get much development, as you might imagine.  Interestingly, I noticed what I thought was a silly art mistake, as Both Superman and Holahan had their arms raised when the pair flies away in one panel, but it is revealed that this is because it’s a disguised Superman who is doing the flying.  That kind of attention to detail is always enjoyable.  There isn’t much to write home about here, but it’s solid adventure fare.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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The Day Superboy Became Superman!


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This story is about an event that brought the Boy of Steel from the simplicity of a child’s view of the world to the complexity and nuance of a man’s.  It’s goal is a noble one.  It’s execution is a bit lacking, but it is easier to forgive those who aim high and miss.

We find our titular protagonist hanging out at Metropolis University, where a gang of street kids called ‘The Raiders’ have invaded the school’s swimming pool.  In order to avoid violence, Clark slips off to become Superboy, who Andru doesn’t quite succeed in portraying as college age.  The Teen of Tungsten handles the problem by casually freezing the kids into the pool and carting them, ice and all, back to their neighborhood with a warning.  His efforts are greeted with applause by the college students, all except for a girl named Marla Harvey, who berates him for picking on poor kids who just wanted to have fun.

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Well, that isn’t the end of the matter, and Superboy later discovers that the Raiders have lived up to their names, raiding the cafeteria and stealing a banquet’s worth of food to hold their own feast in a railyard.  The adolescent hero is called a ‘Super Fink’ when he reclaims the repast and sics the law on the kids.  He has a pretty cold comeback, telling the teens that they’ll get a free meal at the city lock-up.  Ouch!  Afterwards, Marla drops out because she doesn’t want to attend a school that will have kids arrested for, as she says, “feeding the hungry.”

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Later, in response to a report from the school library about a ton of burglarized books, Superboy tracks the larcenous literature-lovers down to a condemned building serving as a school for the slum kids, a school run by little miss bleeding heart herself, Marla.  She takes a page out of Green Arrow’s book, delivering a stinging lecture that follows many of the same ideas of that earlier comic without quite as much hand-wringing and melodrama.  She does attempt to lay a similar guilt trip on the Boy of Steel, asking “while you’re off preventing disasters on remote worlds, who prevents disasters in your own backyard?”  To the credit of this story, our hero doesn’t immediately kowtow to that pressure and bewail his terrible crimes and deep moral failings.  Instead, he listens politely and then goes on with his work.  Of course, we all know that Superboy is in the habit of saving the world more or less daily, so once again, there isn’t too much weight to such accusations.  Still, because they’re delivered in a less hysterical fashion, they are also better received.

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Unfortunately, while the young hero is pondering Marla’s words, she herself meets disaster.  Returning to tell her why she’s wrong (attaboy!), Superboy discovers the impromptu school being torn down and the bleeding heart, now bleeding in general, trapped in the debris.  Why she was just hanging out while the bulldozers tore the building down around her is a question that doesn’t get answered, making her demise seem entirely unnecessary.  As she dies, she bewails the fact that there will now be no-one to teach her students, but Superboy swears to carry on in her place.

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In almost no time, the Boy of Steel completes much of the construction of a new school to stand on that spot, but he stops partway through, having reached a realization.  He tells the gathered crowd that he could finish the structure, even rebuild the entire area, but then they’d be relying on him to do their work for them.  Instead, he encourages them to go to their representatives and fight for what they need, voting wisely to get a government that will do what needs doing.

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The crowd, rather than being furious at such a condescending speech and once more calling him a “Super-Fink,” cheers enthusiastically, and months later they have managed to get a new school built.  In a last gesture, Superboy changes the bust of himself that the city erected into one of Marla Harvey, whose legacy the school is.  It’s an interesting message, because, of course, there are not really super-powered alien sun gods flying around that can fix all of our problems for us.  It does raise some real questions about why Superman especially, but superheroes in general as well, don’t do more to ‘fix’ the world.  This question is answered in some really impressive ways over the years, most notably with the DC heroes in the Alex Ross and Paul Dini collection, The World’s Greatest Superheroes.  Such questions are not to be answered here, though.

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This is certainly an unusual story and a rather fascinating one in context.  The only real issues are the brevity and thus lack of development, and more significantly, the ease with which the problems of the slum are overcome, as if all a group of people need do is ask for better conditions.  It undercuts the message of maturity and complexity that drives the story.  Of course, to some degree this is the result of the medium; with only so much space available for the tale, you can only accomplish so much.  I’m curious what Dorfman would have done with an issue-length yarn.  Despite it’s challenges, this is a fairly successful outing.  It lacks the gravitas of the first Green Lantern/Green Arrow issue, but it also lacks its excesses.  This is a landmark issue for Superman, though I imagine it isn’t going to get much attention and follow up.  It does tell us that even on the notoriously conservative Superman books people are beginning to stretch themselves, ask bigger questions, and take some risks.  Change is in the air, and the Spirit of the Age is manifest.  I’ll give this particular manifestation 3.5 Minutemen.  It’s flawed, but it’s a good effort.

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And that starts October 1970 off with a bang.  Please join me here again soon for the next step in our journey!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1970 (Part 6)

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Just in time for Christmas, welcome to the last edition of Into the Bronze Age for September 1970!  I rather wish that I had some type of Christmas special planned, but I hope a regular old IBA post will be a welcome gift nonetheless.  We have an interesting pair of stories, and we are looking at a definite change coming next month.  So, let’s see what is in store for the end of September (in December).

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

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

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

Showcase #93

showcase_vol_1_93“Never Trust a Red-Haired Greenie”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Editors: Mort Weisinger and E. Nelson Bridwell

I’ve been looking forward to this last issue of the Manhunter feature, but I’ve also been dreading its arrival.  Why, you may ask?  Well, it’s been so much fun that I just hate to see it end!  It’s a crying shame that Starker did not get picked up for an ongoing series, but this issue hit me with more than just disappointment over the loss of a promising character and concept.  It struck me with the cruelest surprise I’ve encountered in any of these comics, perhaps the cruelest I’ve ever met in comics at large.  This issue, the last major mention of Manhunter 2070 ever in mainstream DC continuity, ends on a cliffhanger!  What a kick in the teeth!  And what a cliffhanger it is!  I’ll share the painful moment with you, and you can see what I mean.

Other than the ending, this is another exciting and engaging sci-fi yarn, continuing to flesh out a really interesting universe full of fascinating peoples and places.  The loss of the setting is as significant as the loss of the character himself.  Speaking of Starker, the Manhunter, we find him on his way home to his base orbiting Jupiter, where Arky, his robotic man Friday, has a new job for him.  Apparently we’ve got some white-collar space crime, which makes for a nice change of pace.  A mining company executive took off with two million ‘credits,’ and has vanished.  Starker takes off after him, heading to the planet Zodan, which Arky warns him is home to a very strange culture.  Remember the crime-city on Krypton-that-was?  Those folks would feel right at home on Zodan, where theft is the planetary pastime.  It’s a goofy concept, just like that World’s Finest story, but unlike its predecessor, it’s actually pulled off rather well.

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From the moment he arrives, our stoic bounty hunter friend is besieged by one thief after another in a series of funny little bits.  However, Starker is not a man to be trifled with, so all of the Zodanian “Greenies” quickly come to regret having tried to get one over on him.  In this issue, the unevenness of Sekowsky’s art is still evident, though not too badly.  Yet, in the splash page below, it looks like Starker is performing a dance number rather than fighting.  One-two-three, and kick!

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The futuristic Manhunter gets by more or less just by being a terrifying individual, making it very clear to those he encounters that stealing from him would be the last mistake they’d be likely to make, and his grim, confident carriage is quite well handled.  He’s definitely an entertaining character to see in action.

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There’s several nice, moody panels like the above to illustrate his search

We follow as his chase leads across the spaceport, and he eventually discovers that his quarry has headed to another world in the system, but when he heads for that planet, he is unaware that he has two space-suited stowaways clinging to his ship.  They follow him stealthily for the rest of the issue, a constant, menacing presence behind him.

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On the planet Zoldar, Starker finds his prey drinking away his sorrows in an extraterrestrial version of an Old West saloon.  Apparently the embezzler met with craftier thieves than himself and was duped out of all his ill-gotten gains in a rigged card game.  This is not what I expected, and it’s a nice twist.  From the first time we meet this thief, Wallen, he’s actually rather pitiful and sympathetic.  As the bounty hunter gets the story out of the poor loser, three other toughs try to horn in on the bounty, but our hero makes quick work of them.

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He leads Wallen in pursuit of the card sharks that fleeced him, and the two head off in a cross-desert chase on a pair of alien mounts.  These creatures, called glyphs, are just one of the many examples of the world-building that Sekowsy is doing in this issue.  We have unique names for technologies, places, and creatures.  His setting is really beginning to feel fleshed-out, to acquire that “impression of depth” we’ve discussed before.  Unfortunately, they are ambushed by their quarry, and Starker and Wallen are pinned down by unseen shooters in the alien wasteland.  In a really nice sequence, the Manhunter orders Wallen to draw their fire, telling him, “they might miss–I won’t–dead or alive–you’ll still be worth 25,000 to me.”  It’s a great moment, really fitting the tough-as-nails hunter and showing how unique he is among the characters that populate the DC line at this point.

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showcase-093-18Wallen survives his sprint, and Starker is able to pick off one of their attackers, though he is bushwhacked by the other.  Interestingly, his prisoner actually warns him, saving his life.  He survives the hit and kills his attacker in turn.  Then, Starker gathers Wallen up, noting that he owes him and wishes he could let him go in recompense for his warning, but saying he can’t.  That’s another nice character touch, and I rather like the inflexibility of his approach to his work.

The pair encounter another strange scene as they continue their journey.  They discover a red-headed ‘Greenie’ woman lying in the desert, apparently hurt.  When Starker dismounts and picks her up to bear her to safety, another lady appears to hold him at gunpoint.  This was all a trap, and these two femme fatales were the stowaways from Zodan.  They devised this ambush to ensure that the hunter’s hands would be busy when they struck, intending to steal his prisoner and the loot.  Yet, Starker is not one to take things lying down, so he drops his lovely burden and goes for his gun, only to get blasted again and again by the deadly dames.

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They leave him for dead, and he is too weak even to fire off a parting shot.  After they depart, he is also discovered by a pack of neanderthal-like creatures, and the last image of the book is one of the man-beasts raising a club to threaten the helpless hunter.  Infuriatingly, the editor’s box tells us that we can only find out what happens if Manhunter is picked up.  What a gambit that was.  Sekowsky was really stacking the deck, for all the good it did him.  It’s a crying shame, because he really created a gripping cliffhanger.  Starker is in deep, deep trouble, and I, for one, would really have loved to see what happened.  He’d been shot several times, marooned in the desert, and was now facing a savage tribe’s wrath.  That is quite a note to go out on.

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This was another great issue, and it is definitely a loss for the DC Universe that this series was never picked up.  I think this may be the best work Sekowsky ever did, and he clearly really enjoyed this creation.  I love the feel of this story, in particular.  The universe Starker inhabits is actually rather Star Wars-ish, nearly seven years early.  There’s a lived-in feel to the place that is a departure from the dominant sci-fi settings of the day.  There is a great deal of originality and personality in Starker and his setting, and I can only imagine what it might have grown into if given the chance.  I suppose the day of the cosmic 70s stories had not yet arrived and this concept was just ahead of its time.  Again, Sekowsky gives us a solid mixture of action, intrigue, and mystery, with a healthy dose of character moments for his taciturn protagonist.  I’ll give this issue a 4.5 Minutemen, though I’m tempted to deduct some points because of the dirty cliffhanger trick, and I will bid a very fond farewell to Starker and his world.  It was here only briefly, but I shall miss it nonetheless.

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World’s Finest #196

worlds_finest_comics_196“Kryptonite Express”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Russos

This is a surprisingly decent issue.  We’re definitely back in the zaney reaches of the Haneyverse, but as goofy and gimmicky as the concept is, Haney actually manages to turn in a fun tale that works without too many bizarre or irrational moments.  I suppose this is one of the last kryptonite-as-gimmick stories we’re likely to see, given the rapid approach of “Kryptonite No More.”  And this one uses the heck out of that gimmick.

The comic opens with a sudden meteor shower blanketing the U.S., falling all across the country.  It just so happens that these are not your ordinary, every day meteorites.  They are, in fact, a huge supply of kryptonite.  Now, let’s get the silliness of this setup out of the way right from the start.  It is, of course hilariously silly how much of the exploded planet of Krypton ended up on Earth.  All of it must have flown directly at our system.  The basic idea is that Krypton exploded and chunks of its radioactive matter showered Earth around the same time baby Kal-El got here, right?  Then how in the blue blazes would this big cloud of space debris happen to get here some thirty odd years later?  That’s not the way space and gravity work!

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The silly plot device aside, the country suddenly finds itself in a fix.  There’s now tons of kryptonite (literally) scattered all across the continent, just waiting to be picked up by some black-hearted rogue, just itching for a chance to kill Superman.  It’s like Lex Luthor’s dream come true.  It’s literally raining kryptonite.  The President makes a special televised plea to all Americans, urging them to gather up the mineral and deliver it to a special train that would travel through the nation to collect it.  Batman and Robin will play conductor and Superman will serve as a guard and scout.  They’ll also have a passel of security forces from every agency in the alphabet soup.  Ohh, and Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen (described as a “reporter” instead of photographer, interestingly enough), and Clark Kent will be along in a special press car.  And here we’ve reached maximum gimmick.

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Of course, here we reach our second problem with the concept.  If there was a meteor shower of such proportions, the black market would already have to be absolutely flooded with enough kryptonite to kill a Super-elephant.  It’s just lying on the ground for the taking.  Are you telling me every criminal and psychopath from Lex Luthor to the lowest street hustler wouldn’t have hit the countryside for a kryptonite scavenger hunt?  But, because this is a Bob Haney story, the blazingly obvious is just plain unreasonable.

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worlds-finest-comics-196-007Despite the abundant availability of organic, free range kryptonite, a criminal mastermind and train enthusiast (no, really, that’s how he’s described) plots to steal the special train and its green glowing cargo.  Seriously, this guy is Sheldon Cooper after the inevitable mental break.  Anyway, Dr. Cooper, er, I mean K.C. Jones, sends his thugs to grab the train.  We get an actual set of costumed (after a fashion) crooks, which is always a plus in my book, especially considering how often we’ve seen the members of the Generic Gang lately.

Our well-dressed henchmen storm the train after a smoke bomb goes off in the fire (because, apparently, this is a coal-powered train, for some reason).  Batman and Robin battle their way back from the the engine towards the kryptonite but get caught at gunpoint.  Batman pulls a fairly clever stunt, tossing a batarang back towards the throttle while shielded by Robin’s cape.  The train slams to a stop, sending the assailants flying.

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Meanwhile, the attackers have uncoupled the press car, leaving Clark Kent in a very embarrassing position.  He fakes a panic attack, locking himself in the bathroom, only to emerge as Superman and rejoin the cars.  The begins a series of secret identity farces that are par for the course.  One wonders how Clark ever manages to show his face in public after these types of things.  The first attack repelled, they soon face a second.  They pass through a tunnel inhabited by bats, only to find that the Batman’s namesakes are part of a second trap!  The winged mammals carry tiny gas canisters, and soon the entire train is snoozing, other than Superman himself.  The Man of Steel stays out of range of the kryptonite and pushes the train back with a telephone pole until his partners can reawaken and regain control, a clever way around the problem.

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The heroes seem to be doing pretty well, with two up and two down, but K.C. is not to be defeated so easily.  He must have his special train…and the kryptonite.  Hey, I’m okay with his quirk.  A quirky villain is an interesting villain, though, in this case, the quirk is pretty much all this guy has going for him.  Anyway, he lays a trap for the Express, faking a special celebration of the lining of the Transcontinental Railroad and offering the Man of Tomorrow a golden spike that is actually disguised kryptonite.  The villain captures the train, and Superman just manages to escape after he is left to die (of course).

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When the Man of Steel recovers, he finds the train racing back down the tracks, out of control.  Batman is chained to the front car, which is also full of kryptonite.  Still weakened, the Man from Krypton is too weak to stop the train from the back, and the whole kit and kaboodle crashes into a river!  In a nice display of resourcefulness, the Dark Knight grasps a sharp piece of kryptonite between his feet and uses it to cut his bonds before he drowns.

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Meanwhile, Robin seems to bungle an escape attempt, breaking Jimmy’s signal watch in the process, but everything is not as it appears.  K.C. seals the press members in a cavern with a landslide, and the World’s Finest pair only manage to spot their would-be tomb because Batman makes a sharp-eyed observation.  Robin and the others freed, the heroes head out to stop the train.  Aboard the Express, Batman battles his way to the engine, only to be ambushed by…Robin!  Fortunately, the Dark Knight expected this double cross, having surmised that this Teen Wonder is an impostor, and he takes him out, though he is still captured by the rest of the henchmen.  Superman, for his part, can’t get close because of the kryptonite, but he comes up with a crazier (day I say “zanier”?) solution.

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He flies ahead to where a bridge crosses over the Rio Grande into Mexico, and relocates it a mile further inland in the U.S.  When our villainous train enthusiast crosses this bridge, he stops to taunt the hero, thinking he is safe in Mexico, which seems utterly stupid on too many levels to count.  I know Superman likes to obey the law and everything, but come on!  Fortunately, the Man of Tomorrow has outsmarted him, though he notes that the plan wouldn’t have worked anyway, as he has authority to make arrests in all U.N. member nations, which is a nice little detail and makes sense.  To finish things up, Superman throws the kryptonite car into space, which should really make K.C. question his life choices, and the tale comes to an end with some more secret identity farce, as Lois wonders what ever happened to Clark.

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I was entirely prepared to find this another silly, annoyingly Silver Age-ish tale, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was so much fun.  The kooky elements don’t get in the way of the fun.  It’s actually a solid adventure story with several clever moments.  Each of the stars (other than poor Robin) is given something interesting to do, and they both display their better qualities, showing what they bring to the team.  There is a lot of quick thinking on display, and most of the solutions, other than the bridge stunt, are actually fairly reasonable.  The villain is entertaining enough, if a tad silly, and at least he had some costumed henchmen, who were worth at least half a Minuteman by themselves!  This was a fun story, and it was enjoyable enough to make up for the goofy and gimmicky premise.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, an average comic.

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Final Thoughts:

We’ve had an interesting month in this set of books.  We’ve seen the highs and the lows, and once again they were penned by the same hand, which is an odd situation.  On the whole, it’s been a fairly solid month, with several of our usually lackluster titles turning out enjoyable issues.  Once again, the portrayal of Batman across the DCU illustrates the liminal nature of these stories.  We’re trekking through a world in transition here, and the Dark Knight is the clearest symbol.  While the teams on the Batman books are delivering a grim avenger of the night, a detective who uses his wits more than sci-fi gadgets, Bob Haney continues to bring us the ‘Policeman’s Friend’ version of the character.  Of course, one imagines that Haney would portray him, and anyone else he fancied, in whatever way he liked, regardless of what the rest of the world was doing.  Yet, Haney isn’t alone.

We’re seeing more and more books following the pattern of Batman and Green Lantern and taking on a more mature tone and set of themes, with mixed success, and Superman continues to be the poster child for the conservative (both politically and generally) tendencies of the genre, as he continues to engage in very Silver Age-ish adventures that are beginning to feel more and more dated.  Interestingly, Denny O’Neil seems to be at the center of a great deal of the change that DC is experiencing.  Whatever missteps he may be guilty of in Green Lantern and other books, he certainly deserves a great deal of respect for the innovation he did, and there are probably more hits than misses to his credit.

Here we are, almost to the end of our first year of the Bronze Age, and the growth during these months is actually rather notable.  There is still much to come, however, and we’ll be seeing some changes in the next month, both to DC comics and to this blog feature.  Of course, something we’ve been eagerly awaiting is finally going to arrive, as next month will see the first forays of the King into DC comics of the Bronze Age, as Jack Kirby begins his tenure on Jimmy Olsen.  That’s pretty exciting, and though those stories are very uneven, I can’t wait to cover them!  I’m also adding a few other titles to my already massive reading list.  I’m going to begin covering the Supergirl stories in Adventure comics in the hopes that the Silver Age-y hijinks are on the way out, and I’ll also be adding, of all things, Superman’s Girlfriend: Lois Lane.  That book, which I never thought I’d be reading, apparently adds a new feature next month, a backup of Rose and Thorn, which intrigues me.  Unfortunately, it’s written by Robert Kanigher.  So…we’ll see how that goes, but since she’s definitely a superhero, I feel like that means I should cover her in this feature.

So, please join me soon for the next issue of Into the Bronze Age, where we will start on October’s comic offerings.  Until then…

 

Merry Christmas to all!

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May God bless your celebrations and may the new year bring us all a better, more joyful world.

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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The Headcount remains the same at the end of the month, just having added a few new faces.  Our list has certainly grown, though not quite as much as I suspected.  Enjoy the wall of shame, my friends!

 

Into the Bronze Age: September 1970 (Part 5)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  With all of the madness that is loose in our world these days, I imagine we can all use more joy and adventure.  I know I quite enjoy my visits to the Bronze Age.  It helps to take the mind off of the utter insanity of our own times.  We’ve got a book I dreaded and I book I eagerly awaited on the docket for this post.  Let’s jump right in, shall we?

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

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

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

Green Lantern/Green Arrow #79

green_lantern_vol_2_79“Ulysses Star is Still Alive!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dan Adkins
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Well, we can’t avoid it any longer, I suppose.  It’s time for another return to the parade of self-righteousness and poor decision-making that is the Green Lantern/Green Arrow book.  Fortunately, this issue isn’t as bad as the some of the previous outings.  It’s central concern is a very legitimate one, and it even manages to feel timely for us today, given the contents of our headlines in recent months.  However, this wouldn’t be a Green Lantern/Green Arrow adventure without some infuriatingly obnoxious bloviating from Ollie and some irrational inflexibility from Hal, as well as a generally pervading, pointlessly aggressive stupidity and hotheadedness from both of these supposedly heroic men.  Still, these qualities are a bit less on display here than they have been.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

We join our hard traveling heroes camped on a quiet and peaceful night out in the wilderness, not far from where they had their last adventures with the pseud0-Manson Family.  I probably haven’t said quite enough in praise of Adams’ art on this book, given my general frustration with O’Neil’s plots and characterization, but he really does do fantastic work.  He packs his panels with personality and visual interest.  In the simple scene around the camp fire, each character is doing something that tells you a bit about them.  Hal is reading, Ollie is whittling, and the Guardian is floating in apparent meditation.  That’s a nice touch.  The quiet of this idyllic scene is shattered when these two veteran heroes detect some slight sign that something is amiss, and they leap into action to investigate.  That’s a good another nice touch.  It makes sense that these two have been at their dangerous work long enough that they’d have combat-honed senses.  It makes them seem competent and professional.  The adventure that follows doesn’t quite match that setup, though.

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The Green Guardians discover an unlikely pair of white men preparing to gun down a helpless Native American man.  They quickly disarm the would-be killers, with very different methods and wildly varying levels of effort.  Check out the page below.  Look at the skill and concentration evident in Green Arrow’s precision shot.  Look at the almost bored expression on Hal’s face as he plugs up the other gunman’s weapon.  It’s almost as if a man armed with the most powerful weapon in the universe outclasses an average hood with a handgun to the point of absolute absurdity.  Once again, we see how incongruous of a pair Hal and Ollie make, and not just because of their diametrically opposed viewpoints.

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Well, the gunmen having been disarmed, the heroes investigate, and they discover that the two antagonists are Theodore Pudd, who runs the lumberman’s union, and Pierre O’Rourke, who claims to own the lumber rights to the area.  This pair quite cheerfully display a truly appalling level of racism and general awfulness, calling the Indians “animals” and “filthy savages.”  O’Neil wants to make sure we don’t miss the subtle touches of his intricate characterization.  Be sure to read closely, or it might elude you.  The issue at the core of this encounter is that the local Indian tribe, who, if you remember, were the target of the crazed hippies of the previous story, have an old claim to the timber of this area, but the records have conveniently disappeared.  As a result, O’Rourke is trying to take it over and cut the tribe off from their only means of support.  Because Pudd and company are such racist slime, they won’t even let the tribesmen join the union and work as lumberjacks.

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These are bad guys.  Get it?  BAAAD GUUUUYS!!!

There was one other copy of this land deal, originally negotiated by the tribe’s famous chief, Ulysses star.  The copy was given to his son, Abe, who went off to the city years ago and hasn’t been heard from since.  The lack of a clear and unambiguous legal solution causes the usual conflict between our two headliners.  Hal immediately gives up, and Ollie immediately starts tongue-lashing him, demanding that they stay and fight, legally or illegally.  They part ways, and, to his credit, the Lantern actually reconsiders his defeatist attitude and decides to try and find a way to help, legally.  That’s good.  After all, one of the fundamental traits of a hero is the ability to find a Third Way.  The Emerald Knight spends some time philosophizing with the guardian, and then he heads off to try his gambit.

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The guardian actually makes a rather interesting point.  He observes that our culture’s national heroes are warriors.  The very mythology of our world is one driven and defined by violence, so it makes sense that violence would be in our nature.  He sees a power of spirit here that is worthy, even if its effects are often tragic.  There’s some truth to that.  The same qualities that allow us to overcome adversity are often those that can be turned to destructive ends.  I’m reminded of the classic Star Trek episode, “The Enemy Within,” where Kirk’s good and evil sides are split into two beings, and the ‘good’ captain discovers that he can’t lead effectively without his ‘evil’ counterpart.  This is a topic that has been on my mind lately, humanity’s dual nature.  We are a creation of both light and shadow.  We are noble and vile, both comic and tragic.  It’s what makes us so very paradoxical.  Here, the Guardian plays, with some success, the archetypal role of the outside observer.  This is one of the oldest uses of science fiction, and one of the most effective and valuable.

Back to our tale, Hal searches for the son of Ulysses Star, knowing his task is likely hopeless.  He reminds us that he was an insurance investigator (I think we’d all rather forget that), and he has the skills for such detective work.  Yet, all he can find is the fellow’s last known address.  Maybe that’s because he was only in that job for a few months because he was having a midlife crisis at the ripe old age of 30.  Either way, when he arrives at the run-down tenement, he discovers a raging fire, with one resident still trapped inside.  The Emerald Crusader makes forges very tortuous path inside, using his ring in an extremely limited fashion and nearly getting knocked out by a falling beam (a narrowly subverted head-blow!).

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He manages to get out by the skin of his teeth and rescue the civilian, despite the fact that his bell was rung so well he couldn’t concentrate to use his ring.  This is another instance of O’Neil handicapping the hero without clear reason.  Even with his power limited, it really seems like the Lantern could have simply wrapped himself in a bubble and flown into the building.  That makes the entire desperate scene seem like the result of Hal’s stupidity rather than any necessary peril.

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As you probably expect, the rescued man is none other than Abe Star, but unfortunately the old man tells the Emerald Gladiator that the deed was burned up in the apartment.  The hero is stymied once again, but he is actually beginning to act a bit like the man of iron will he’s supposed to be.  The Lantern refuses to give up, so he heads to Washington, going straight to the highest authority to get aid for the tribe.

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Meanwhile, Green Arrow meets Black Canary at the Indian reservation, where they take stock of the dispirited condition of its inhabitants.  The lovely lady notes that the tribe’s biggest problem is that they’re just beaten down by history and oppression.  They’ve “been under the white man’s heel for so long they’ve lost faith in themselves.”  Corny dialog aside, as I understand it, there is a real issue here, and one certainly worth focusing on, though it is honestly not given all that much attention here.  This is an adventure story, though.  Because the Emerald Archer has all the subtlety of a bulldozer, his solution is pretty ostentatious.  He dresses up like an Indian chief and covers himself with glow-in-the-dark paint, playing the role of the spirit of Ulysses Star in order to inspire the tribe.

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He makes a few appearances, threatening the lumbermen and putting on a ghostly routine, as well as making an impassioned speech (Ollie has to have at least one per issue, you know) to the Indians.  Despite the fact that they doubt his ghostly bona-fides (which is itself a small but important point, as the tribespeople are less superstitious and gullible than the white men, a reversal of an old, old trope), they agree to fight for their land.  It is, of course, unclear what this will accomplish.  Matters come to a head the next morning, as the men of the tribe block the path to the timberlands, and the situation descends into a melee.  Oddly, Black Canary philosophizes about how she despises violence.  Really?  Since when?  You’re a superhero.  Your job constantly involves violence.  It’s something you literally engage in daily.  I somehow doubt that you become a street-fighting superhero because you abhor violence.  But it’s so much more touchy-feely-appropriate if she does.  That’s just one more lovely little example of O’Neil’s tone-deaf mischaracterizations.

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Do you reckon he gets tired, lugging that soap-box around?

Anyway, Black Canary and Green Arrow help the Indians defend their land, and things devolve into a sprawling brawl until the fight is stopped rather definitively by Green Lantern.  Notably, his mere arrival is enough to completely end hostilities.  He just places a big green wall between the sides and that is that.  This is perhaps the most glaring example of his complete mismatch with this setting found in this issue.  After all, O’Neil had to send him offstage in order to create any actual dramatic tension in this confrontation.  If the Emerald Crusader had been there, the fight would have been over before it started.  Essentially, with his setup for this book, O’Neil has painted himself into the same type of corner which the Silver Age faced with Superman, where his power is so vast you have to find ways to handicap him to prevent his resolving the conflict of the plot in the first two pages.  The difference is, such a situation is unnecessary with the Lantern, only existing because of the story O’Neil insists on telling.

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Of course, this entire escapade is entirely unnecessary.  After all, the Native Americans have freaking superheroes on their side.  Green Arrow and Black Canary, who regularly fight threats a bit more serious than some unpleasant loggers armed with sticks, threats like legitimately super-powered beings, could easily have trounced these jerks themselves, for whatever good that was going to do.  This would probably have been a better option.  After all, we’ve already seen that the loggers are willing to kill the Indians in cold blood, and they have access to guns.  I’m not really clear on what Arrow’s plan was supposed to accomplish, other than putting some spirit back into the tribe, which wouldn’t matter too much if they were all dead.  The matter is made even worse by the fact that this is the second time Ollie has convinced a group of untrained and unqualified civilians to fight a superior force.  At least this time he joined them from the beginning, rather than wait until dozens of them were gunned down so that his entrance could be more dramatic.  That precious moral superiority of his is on awfully shaky ground.

The immediate danger having been neutralized, Hal announces that he’s brought a U.S. congressman there from Washington to personally investigate this matter, which is actually a pretty good solution, considering the situation and the lack of documentation.  So, naturally Ollie congratulates his friend on his quick thinking and they put their efforts into helping the tribe and organizing peaceful protests…err…no, no, that isn’t what happens.  That’s entirely too sensible and mature.  Instead, the two “friends” decide to have a fist fight in the middle of the stream…for reasons. Green Arrow, still dressed as a yellow ghost, rages against his partner’s solution, and their immediate response is to pummel each other.  It’s completely pointless, so much so that even the characters themselves seem to admit that this brouhaha is unnecessary.

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O’Neil gets pretty darn purple in his prose as he narrates the fight, which, of course, is beautifully illustrated by Adams, but the highlight of this pointless punch-fest is how it ends.  That’s right, this issue gives us, not one, but two, count ’em, two, new entries for the Head-Blow Headcount!  Logs being floated down river clock both of our “heroes” in the back of the head, and in classic comic book fashion, they go down like a pair of proverbial sacks of potatoes.

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After they’re fished from the river, they go back to the village, where the tribes-folk themselves are split about the plan.  Some of them have no faith in the government (I wonder why?), and some of them are determined to make a go of it.  In the end, this is really the only option; Green Arrow’s way would have, at best, resulted in all of the tribesmen getting arrested, or perhaps even killed.  Apparently he never heard of peaceful protest or civil disobedience.  Fortunately, the investigation of the fire at the tenement building revealed (despite Lantern’s ignoring its too-convenient occurrence) that the two trouble-making timbermen were involved in that arson attempt, so they get carted off to jail.  The issue ends with our heroes once more gathered around a campfire, admitting that their foolish fight accomplished precisely zilch, and the story closes with a quote from The Armies of the Night, a counter-cultural “nonfiction novel” by Norman Mailer published just two years earlier.

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You can definitely see some of the influences at work on O’Neil in his choice of this book.  To call it merely anti-war would be an oversimplification, but it dealt with the current cultural issues in the States, centered around opposition to the war in Vietnam.  That’s an interesting choice, and I wonder how much of O’Neil’s audience would have read the book, as well as how many would have picked it up after seeing the editor’s note.  The evidence of counter-cultural influence in O’Neil’s choice of end-tag is noteworthy given the goals of this project, as we can see quite clearly a line of influence, and a relatively recent one, having an impact on the comic world.  It will be interesting to see how that impact spreads in the DCU.

This issue has me a bit torn.  On the one hand, the mischaracterization isn’t quite as bad as some of the previous examples we’ve seen, and the story itself is readable enough.  On the other, the problems are all those we’ve seen before, and their continued presence makes them more grating and more frustrating with each new book.  I’m glad that Hal comes off a bit better here, eventually, but Ollie is still an irrational, self-righteous jerk who, despite his endless lecturing, is something of a hypocrite.  The completely pointless fistfight, as well as the uselessness of Arrow’s grand gesture take away from the impact of the story.

What gives me pause, though, is that the central issue, the abuse and neglect of America’s native peoples, is an extremely important one, and, unfortunately, timely today, just as it was in 1970.  Ironically, one of the most glaring problems with this issue is that, despite its achingly desperate attempt to be socially conscious, all of the characters in this book, including the Native Americans and supposedly enlightened heroes, talk like actors in a 50s Western.  There’s ‘redskins’ this and ‘pale-faces’ that everywhere you look.  It’s really rather silly and smacks of the same kind of condescending cliches as Tonto‘s famously broken English.  Nonetheless, the plight of the local tribe manages to be moving, perhaps in spite of O’Neil’s treatment.

It is, of course, granted more pathos by the current events of our day, like the protests at Standing Rock.  It’s a shame that, after all of these years, we still can’t seem to do right by the native peoples in this country.  I won’t get into the entire issue here, as this is hardly the venue for such matters, but I will say that, right or wrong, good, bad, or ugly, when it is the Federal Government versus native peoples, I sort of feel like we should probably give the native peoples the benefit of the doubt at this point.  It only seems fair, given our history.  Anyway, that made this issue a bit more interesting to me than it might have been otherwise, but in the end, it’s still a story with very flawed writing and characterization that features a situation not really suited for its characters.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  It has enough strong points to keep it above a truly bad rating.

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Justice League of America #83

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“Where Valor Fails… Will Magic Triumph?”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella

This was yet another great issue of Justice League, which rather wiped the bad taste out of my mouth.  O’Neil’s run on the book continues to be consistently good, with fairly compelling stories, solid characterization, and interesting situations.  Yet, this particular issue shares a fault with most of his other outings, a somewhat weak and underdeveloped villain.  We are picking up with the second part of last issue’s plot, which saw Earth-1 and Earth-1 poised to be destroyed by Supreme Leader Snoke…er…I mean Creator², in his bid to design a new planet with the energy of their annihilation.  It’s a wonderfully off-beat idea, and a threat worthy of uniting the JLA and the JSA.  Interestingly, this story predates the similar setup in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by almost a decade.  I wonder if there’s any influence there.

Unfortunately, Creator² himself, and especially his minions, are just a tad boring.  They’re just blue-skinned aliens in robes.  There’s nothing distinctive or captivating about them.  Still, this run continues to be of high quality overall, and I have a feeling that I will eventually number it among some of my favorite Justice League runs of all time.  These stories are still products of their time, however.  Even as O’Neil is innovating and shaking things up with the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes, the book can still feel a bit hokey at times.  For the most part, though, we’re seeing the League in arguably the best form of the book’s history to this point.  Admittedly, that’s not really saying that much, given the goofy, Silver Age-y fare that tended to make up the League’s Adventures.

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We begin preciously where we ended, with Canary’s erroneous, but logical, conclusion that she is the cause for the growing convergence of the two Earths.  Throughout the book, her hopeless heroism, determined as she is to sacrifice herself for the greater good, is one of the strongest features of the tale.  It really works well.  She is not some robotic, heartless automaton, blithely giving up her life without a tear or a twinge like we might expect from a Silver Age story.  She is fully aware of what this gesture will cost her, and her quiet determination in the face of that knowledge is really rather moving.

Meanwhile, our bathrobe wearing villain is almost ready for the grand finale that will serve to launch his new planet with a bang, but he’s concerned about the JSA, seeing as they’ve already proven tough to handle.  He dispatches a set of his weird net devices to disable the team as a preemptive attack.  The Society itself is gathered to study their fallen members when the nets arrive, and once again the weapons prove formidable, capturing four members in several pages of nicely dynamic action.  As before, each net is capable of neutralizing the powers of its victim, so Staman finds his energy bolts reflected against him, Wonder Woman finds her bracelets bound, and Hourman finds himself accelerated through his hour of power in mere seconds.  It’s a good sequence.  The only problem is that the nets are fairly lackluster antagonists, being just devices, and not terribly visually interesting ones at that.

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Back in Earth-1, we listen in to a desperate conversation, as Canary insists that she must die, and Ollie, his usual cool and rational self, responds about as you’d imagine.  He won’t hear of anything happening to Dinah, but Green Lantern has a great third way, exercising that heroic creativity that is so much a part of the concept of American superheroes.  He posits that they don’t have to kill the Canary; they just have to move her to another dimension far enough away that the effect will cease.  He heads out to search for such a place, to Arrow’s enthusiastic support.

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Unfortunately, just as the Emerald Crusader discovers Red Tornado and the dimensional rift, his jade counterpart on Earth-2 is captured, freezing him in place in the depths of space.  At almost the same moment, we catch a quick glimpse of Hawkman, out on crowd control, when another strange cross-over occurs and the inhabitants of the two worlds briefly see one another face to face.  He saves an old woman, nearly run over in the resulting chaos, but before he can do more, his counterpart is captured as well and he is rendered helpless.

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Aboard the Satellite, the remaining heroes fear that Lantern’s absence must mean his failure, and Canary delivers a surprisingly haunting and touching meditation on her death, suggesting that she’ll board the transporter and simply scatter her atoms across space, becoming one with the stars.  It’s an impressive scene, made even better by Ollie’s frantic (and rather selfish when you think about it) attempts to talk her out of it.  The rational, scientific mind of Ray Palmer takes a more pragmatic view, and he suggests that they wait until the last minute before they make any choices.  The scene is really effective, and it’s as fine a piece of character work as you’re likely to see, even today.  If O’Neil can do this, one wonders why his characterization is so clumsy and heavy-handed in Green Lantern/Green Arrow.

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Dillin really captures Canary’s sorrowful determination.

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Meanwhile, on Earth-2, all of the Society members have fallen except for Dr. Fate and Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt.  Their magic seems to be more effective than the powers of their friends, but they are still fighting a losing battle until the mystic master teleports them to a graveyard, in search of more magical might.  Once there, he summons none other than the Spectre!  I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen this ghostly gent in this book since issue #47, and we’re quickly given to understand that his status quo has changed quite a bit.  Rather than discover him with his human host, Jim Corrigan, Fate finds him in a grave, and the spirit speaks of his sins and his imprisonment in the tomb.  It’s an interesting tease, and I’m quite curious what the situation is because I have no memory of any of this.  The editor assures us that this story will be told, so I am looking forward to that.

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Fortunately, the spectral hero has a plan.  His mystic senses have detected the machinations of Creator² and his cronies, and he sends his allies after the villain himself while he uses his very ecotplasmic being to serve as a bulwark between the colliding worlds.  The image of this effort is a pretty striking one, emphasizing both the character’s power and the skope of the problem.  His desperate ploy buys Dr. Fate and the Thunderbolt the time they need for their assault.

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There’s a nice sequence where the aliens detect their approach to their ship and open fire, only for Fate to teleport inside, causing Creator² to assume they’d been vaporized.  the effort exhausts the master of the mystic arts, leaving the Thunderbolt to take out the blue-faced minions, but he can’t handle Creator².  With one last, titanic exertion, Dr. Fate rips the ship itself apart in a pretty cool panel.  The process is halted, and though the release of energy causes some minor tremors, the worlds go back to their rightful places and the day is saved.  Yet, the victory comes at a cost.  The Spectre is literally torn apart by the dimensional shift.  That image, which is half tragic, half comic, isn’t nearly so successful.

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Of course, what is completely glossed over in the story is that Dr. Fate just totally killed dozens of beings.  He even admits that the aliens probably couldn’t live through that blast.  I realize they were preparing to commit dual planetary genocide, and while that’s about the worst crime imaginable, it’s still a bit crazy that Fate casually took several lives without so much as batting an eye.  That is definitely a big departure from the Silver Age, but not in a good way.  It wouldn’t have bothered me if O’Neil had dealt with that act, even a little bit, but no, it’s completely glossed over as we race to the conclusion of the issue.  It’s downplayed so much that I hardly noticed it on my first look, and death shouldn’t’ be treated that lightly in a superhero book, especially when a hero is the cause.  I would be more troubled if it were a traditional superhero who had done it, but a mystical character like Fate is always something of a liminal figure.  It makes sense that his work and his experience would lead to a somewhat different code than the heroes grounded in more mundane realities.

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On a more positive note, on Earth-1 (or more accurately, above it), the Atom detects the dimensional shift, and the heroes celebrate their narrow escape.  It’s a good ending, and Ollie’s joy at Canary’s reprieve is really quite charming.  He’s already entirely head-over-heels for her, and it definitely comes through.  Finally, the Lantern returns and fills them in on the score, leaving them to wonder if they’ll ever see the Spectre again.

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This is a good all-around issue.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, even if it was, once again, much more of a JSA story than a JLA one.  I’m pretty content either way, especially since the Society don’t have a book of their own yet.  (I’m looking forward to that one when it arrives, by the way.)  This issue managed to pack a lot of action in, as well as some really excellent character moments.  Dillin’s art was back up to snuff this month as well, so the book looked quite good.  That odd stiffness of last issue is gone, replaced with some truly attractive pages and an overall improvement in quality.  I enjoyed the handling of the magical heroes and their triumph.  It makes perfect sense that this super-scientific culture would be great at handling all types of threats, except those which defy science, like magic.  It’s also pleasant to see Dr. Fate take center stage, as I haven’t gotten to read that many stories that focus on him.

Once again, O’Neil manages to spread the spotlight out pretty well, with nearly everyone getting at least one interesting moment, either in action or in dramatic scenes.  The balance between the two types of focus is actually very well handled.  The pacing is also quite good, as is the economy of storytelling.  He told a complete tale in two issues that had time to breathe and still provided plenty of excitement with appropriately world-shattering stakes.  O’Neil continues to turn out good, solid adventure stories in this book, and I’m enjoying the ride.  They haven’t been stellar, but they have been consistently good, and that’s rare enough in an ongoing series to deserve praise.  Unfortunately, apparently this is the last issue of his tenure on the title.  I’ll miss his unique and creative concepts, though I hope we’ll get some more fully realized villains in coming issues.  If I recall correctly, there are some really excellent stories awaiting us.

It’s interesting to me that two of the books I look forward to most and the book I most dread are all penned by the same man.  It’s striking how very different these comics are from one another.  It seems that, perhaps, when forced into more traditional adventure fare, O’Neil really shines.  He wouldn’t be the first author who, when let completely off the leash, produced lower quality work because he was too concerned with his own agenda.  I’m reminded of the difference between Garth Ennis’s Dan Dare and…well, pretty much everything else he’s ever done.  Sometimes limitations can bring out the best in us.  This is actually a weakness in the concept of complete artistic freedom, an idea we tend to ascribe almost religious weight to in our culture.  I rather think that what’s necessary is a balance of structure and freedom, and that balance is difficult to achieve.

Ideally, the limitations for an artistic work should be internal, the moral and spiritual compass of the creator, but people being what they are, I’m far from convinced that channeling creativity into positive courses is always a bad thing, if done well.  That’s something that the tropes of the heroic ideal of the American superhero actually provides rather well.  Anyway, back to this particular story, I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen out of 5.  The weak villain and the completely unacknowledged killing by Dr. Fate cut it down from a perfect score.  I would have enjoyed seeing Bruce Timm and company take a crack at this story.  I think they could have really made something of it.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Another entry for the wall of shame, and this time, it’s a two-fer!  How exciting!  This month, both Green Arrow and Green Lantern join the ranks of the head-blow heroes.  Their moment of infamy is made all the more ludicrous by the fact that it was caused entirely by their own stupidity, resulting during their completely pointless fistfight.  It’s a particularly delightful addition to this august company.

Well, that’s it for this week.  We’ve had the best and the worst in this post, and we’re almost through September.  I’m looking forward to the next batch of commentaries, which will include the final chapter of Manhunter!  Please join me next time as we check out another set of stories and travel further Into the Bronze Age!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1970 (Part 4)

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I’m making pretty good progress now.  Let’s hope I can keep this momentum for a while.  Today we’ve got two more issues to talk about.  They’re a solid pair of comics, so without further ado, let’s march a little further up and further in!

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

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

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

The Flash #200

the_flash_vol_1_200“Count 200 – and Die!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Well, I know what you’re thinking, yet another Kanigher penned book.  You’re probably already bracing for vitriol and frustration, but, and no-one is more surprised by this than I am, this issue is actually not that bad.  It’s a readable story without the kind of ridiculous elements and just flat-out bad writing that has marred most of the other Kanigher work we’ve encountered.  There are a few glaring oversights, but the central conceit is actually an excellent one, though the author doesn’t come even close to taking advantage of it, and the resolution is surprisingly clever.

The story begins with what seems like a nightmare ripped straight from the mind of Amanda Waller.  A super-powered being blows right past the very best that America has to offer, an entire army of troops, highly trained agents, and incredibly sophisticated security, and then quite easily assassinates the president of the United States.  This amazing assassin’s identity?  None other than the Scarlet Speedster himself, the Flash.  Of course, things aren’t quite what they appear to be.  It is shortly revealed that this was all a training exercise on a fancy practice course.

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A vaguely Eastern femme fatale named Doctor Lu has managed to run a Manchurian Candidate special on the Fastest Man alive, and she has been working at brainwashing him to perform the assassination he has just practiced.  Gathered together to view this demonstration is a rogues gallery of cliches of all of America’s enemies, including the Easter Germans, the Russians, the Arabs, and the Chinese.  Dr. Lu herself is decidedly tinged with Yellow Peril.

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While we’ve seen Flash speed past the President’s defenses and compliantly serve this Dr. Lu, he’s been programmed to see crowds of children at an amusement park called Funland and to see Dr. Lu as Iris.  In that latter point lies the major issue with this issue, but we’ll get there in a moment.  Dr. Lu actually explains to her gathered commie rogue’s gallery (sadly, not the THE Rogue’s Gallery) why she hasn’t unmasked the Flash, claiming that doing so would snap him out of the programming, which seems comic-book-plausible enough.

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We then jump back from our in media res beginning to the actual start of our saga, where Iris Allen awakens her sleeping husband with a kiss.  He happily notes the taste of honey on her lips thanks to her lipstick, and she announces that she is off to interview a new tennis champ.  Barry isn’t too happy with his wife playing tennis with this handsome young athlete first thing in the morning, so he speeds over to the courts and screws with the match by secretly making Iris humiliate the champ by way of some super speed serves.

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It’s really silly that Barry “the Flash” Allen would be jealous of a tennis champ, but it sort of fits his character.  After all, despite being the fastest man alive, Barry is still a simple, humble guy, and the whole scene is fairly fun.  I suppose this is a pretty human reaction, and even a super hero can be silly at times.  Y’all know I’m a sucker for the domestic bliss scenes between Barry and Iris, and I have to say that I find this a bit charming.  Unfortunately, their happy moment is interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Lu and her minions…in the middle of the city…in broad daylight.  Subtle they are not.  Of course, we could ask how in the world they happened to find the couple in the first place, considering that this was a spur of the moment encounter, but I’ll just skip that one.  It’s a pretty small hole by Kanigher standards.

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They shoot Iris with a quick-acting drug that will kill her if she doesn’t receive the antidote, and they threaten to let her die unless the Scarlet Speedster allows himself to face the same treatment.  This is actually a pretty clever way to capture the hero, and it’s good to see that Kanigher doesn’t pull something out of thin air to explain how these average humans can get the drop on the Fastest Man Alive.

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That is how they caught the speedster, and then began his intensive programming.  You’d think that the League would be looking for him when Barry and his wife disappeared in broad daylight, but maybe they were busy with an alien invasion or the like.  Anyway, the next several scenes are examples of Flash’s programming, comparing what he thinks he’s seeing with the reality.  Here’s the issue I alluded to earlier.  Supposedly, Dr. Lu doesn’t know Flash’s secret identity, which is what makes this plot something less than the continuity catastrophe it could be.  Yet, she kidnapped both Flash AND Iris, and when she first arrived, she found them kissing.  The not-so-good doctor has been masquerading as Iris, and all of the scenes she sets up are domestic scenes, the type a husband and wife would share.  She still calls Iris nothing more than Flash’s “biographer.”  For all the cleverness of her plan, Dr. Lu is apparently as dumb as a brick.  That’s a fairly glaring oversight, but considering the quality of Kanigher’s previous outings, it’s really not that bad in comparison.  Fortunately, it doesn’t actually interfere with the success of the story, which works despite the silliness of that inconsistency.

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Sadly, these are just hallucinations.  Take a good look.  It’s going to be a long, long time before we actually see an honest to goodness supervillain in this book.

 

Things come to a head when Dr. Lu sends Barry out on his deadly errand in earnest.  She sees him off with a kiss, and then the Speedster zooms through Washington and into the Oval Office itself.  Just as he pulls the trigger of his gun, he snaps out of his fugue, and he moves the President out of the way.  He zips back and plucks Iris out of the villain’s base, narrowly avoiding a flight of missiles that destroy the island lair when he evades them.  When they finally return home, Barry explains to Iris that it was her honey lipstick that saved the day.  When Dr. Lu kissed him, he realized that she wasn’t really Iris, because she tasted like spice (‘natch), not honey.  It took a few moments for this to ‘click’ in his head, but when it did, the programming shattered.

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As I said, the resolution is actually fairly clever.  I quite enjoy the idea that Barry knows his wife’s kiss so well that he can recognize a fake, even when brainwashed.  That’s an idea this old romantic finds entirely charming.  While the issue doesn’t really take advantage of its central concept, it is a fascinating one, one which would be explored often in years to come.  That is, of course, the question, ‘what would happen if metahumans turned against humanity?’  That question has spawned a host of great stories, including my favorite story arc from Justice League Unlimited.  Kanigher treats it merely as window dressing, and the world remains blissfully unaware of the fact that The Flash casually waltzed into the highest office in the land and came within the tiniest fraction of an instant of killing the leader of the free world.  There’s a lot there to work with, but it is not to be utilized here.

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Nonetheless, this was a solid issue, free of Kanigher’s common excesses, and his one strange goof doesn’t really injure the story.  I enjoy the moments between Barry and Iris, and the effect is pretty solid.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.  I know, I’m surprised a Kanigher book cracked 2.5 as well!  As a side note, this being the 200th issue of The Flash (something of an underwhelming double centennial, if you ask me), the creators scattered the number 200 throughout the issue, and they invite readers to try and find them all.  That’s a fun little gimmick.

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G.I. Combat #142

gi_combat_vol_1_143“The Iron Horseman”
Penciler: Joe Kubert and Russ Heath

Unfortunately, we don’t have any other credits for this issue.  It’s funny, while the rest of the DC line seems to have followed the Marvel model to some extent, proudly proclaiming their creative teams, the trend doesn’t seem to have caught on with this book.  Of course, this is a rather different animal than most of the other titles we’re reading, isn’t it?  This particular issue doesn’t have the punch of some of the previous outings, reading more like a generic war story of the type that fills the rest of the G.I. Combat run.  We’ve had a great string of Haunted Tank tales, but most of the DC war stories are just by-the-numbers yarns built around a central conceit or gimmick, and they tend to drive that gimmick into the ground, just to make sure you don’t miss it.  This one doesn’t go to that extreme, and the gimmick actually fits in rather naturally.  Still, it has a rather similar feeling, and the ostensible stars of the book get somewhat short shrift in favor of this month’s conceit.

This adventure begins with an old soldier regaling a group of orphans at a convent with the tales of his exploits in the neophyte tank corps. during World War I.  We get to see some neat Great War era tanks, and that is rather fun.  I had actually never seen the German tank pictured, which is called a Sturmpanzerwagen.  It looks like an evil Sandcrawler, and I’m wondering if a young George Lucas might have seen a picture of one of these somewhere.  Anyway, story time is cut short by the arrival of Jeb and his tank in search of their mechanic, who happens to be our storyteller.

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After getting the Stuart tuned up, the crew heads out on patrol, only to be ambushed on the edge of a ravine.  They escape the blistering fire by skidding wildly into the river below, and once down they lay a trap of their own.  Their ghostly guide does his usual oracular act, showing up to deliver a cryptic message about the past and present fighting together, which has absolutely zero impact on the outcome of the story.  Nonetheless, the crew manages to get both enemy tanks thanks to some clever maneuvering and some iron nerves.  When they return, Jeb chats with Pop, the Great War veteran, and we discover that his tall tales are just that.  It seems that he lied about his age to enlist, but he was discovered and sent home before his first battle.  He’s been itching to prove himself ever since, and now he’s considered too old for combat.  I’m sure you can all see where this is going.

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A few days later, Jeb spots a German armored column moving down the road and calls in an artillery strike, but the remaining tanks think the convent is the observation post, so they prepare to flatten it in retaliation.  The Haunted Tank speeds to the rescue, but one of the German tanks apparently came fully loaded with the on-board flamethrower trooper option.  The firebug pops out of a hatch and engulfs the Stuart in liquid flame.  Somehow, this doesn’t instantly deep fry or asphyxiate the crew, which is what happens in real life (and which makes flamethrowers pretty useful against armored targets that aren’t airtight, what with fire’s tendency to eat up oxygen).  Yet, they are knocked out.  Pop rushes to the rescue and mans the machine gun, hitting the flame trooper, nearly at the cost of his own life.  The injured trooper falls back inside his tank, his weapon still spewing flame, and a fireball is the result.

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The art in this book never disappoints!

Everyone is banged up, and poor Pop is pretty badly hurt.  Yet, the nuns nurse him back to health, much to the joy of the children, who have now seen one of his war stories come true before their eyes.  We, of course, see the truth of the General’s cryptic words, but they don’t actually affect the plot at all.  Sadly, once again the book takes pretty much zero advantage of its concept, and the Last Cavalier could easily be lifted right out of the adventure without any effect.  The story is solid, and it is neat to see some glimpses of WWI tanks.  Pop’s obsession with proving himself is really rather sad, especially considering his age.  It is probably far too common for a man to have his entire life defined by one disappointment from his youth, so there is some pathos to be found there.  It’s not the most compelling story we’ve found in this book, though.  We have a happy ending despite that.  I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen.  It’s a fairly average issue.

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Well, not great, but not bad either.  This was an enjoyable enough pair of comics.  With these two down, we’re half way through this month!  I’m going to try to finish September before Christmas break.  I’ll be traveling for a few weeks then, so I doubt I’ll get any entries written.  I’m also working on a bit of a Christmas present for my readers who are Freedom Force fans.  I’m making no promises, but perhaps there will be something four-colored and fun in your stockings this year!  Well, that’s it for today.  Please join me again soon for the next stage of our journey Into the Bronze Age!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1970 (Part 3)

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Well, let’s try and squeeze a few more of these features in bef0re Christmas, shall we?  Join me today for some Zaney Haney madness, and some more Bat-adventures!

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.

Brave and the Bold #91

brave_and_the_bold_91“A Cold Corpse For the Collector”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We return once more to the land of the wacky, the private demesne of ‘ol Zaney Haney, Earth-H.  Haney’s work has been very hit or miss for me, some of his stories being outlandish but exciting fun, while others were just too goofy and too far out there for me.  This one, though, is definitely a hit.  It fits the Haney formula of casually introducing a world-shattering change to a character while giving absolutely zero thought to how the given revelation will be handled going forward, but unlike some of the offerings we’ve encountered, this one makes a fair amount of sense, and the characterizations aren’t really all that far off from what one might expect from the characters involved.  The final result is actually an interesting tale that, while lacking any real impact on the universe, easily could have been an important milestone for the Justice League’s newest dynamite dame, Black Canary.

She, of course, is our guest star for this issue, and it is her backstory, not yet twisted and retconned beyond all recognition, that provides the dramatic weight for the yarn.  The core of the story is a standard villain identity mystery, with an enigmatic mob figure secretly pulling the strings in Gotham’s shadows.  The book opens with a mob exchange gone wrong, resulting in one dead bagman and one stolen score.  This event causes consternation to the gathered crimebosses of Gotham, who are meeting in a darkened, smoke-filled room, with a rather surprising guest.  It seems Batman shares a seat at their table!  It is shortly revealed that this masked manhunter is a fake, a plant hired by the shadowy mastermind known as ‘The Collector’ (because he always ‘collects,’ ‘natch), to sit in on their meetings and give them Batman’s perspective on their dealings so they can anticipate him.  Riiiiiigggght.  Foolproof, I’m sure!  A cape and cowl do not a detective’s mind make, methinks.  This is an odd gimmick, made all the odder by the fact that Haney did the exact same thing in World’s Finest just last month, with a crime boss (who actually was Batman, strangely enough) dressed as the Bat.  I guess he thought it worth repeating.

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At any rate, the Collector promises to solve the problem of the rival gang without a war, and in the interim, the real-and-for-true Dark Knight is busy helping Commissioner Gordon identify the bagman who took the long last dive.  They are joined by private eye Larry Lance, a name you more astute DC fans might just recognize, except, this is not THAT Larry Lance.  That’s right, we’re on Earth-1, and surprisingly, Haney actually bothers to make that clear.  It’s rare for the Zaney One to actually specify where and when a story was taking place, or give continuity anything but mostly benign neglect.  Well, this universe’s Larry is also investigating the Collector, and though Gordon has no time for him, the Caped Crusader is willing to work with the shamus.  It is very strange to see Batman playing good cop to Gordon’s bad cop.  That’s just unnatural.

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Back in Lance’s office, he encounters a lovely lady, a lady going by the name ‘Myra Kallen,’ but who we likely recognize as Dinah Lance.  That’s right, this is Earth-2’s Black Canary.  She apparently has found the Earth-1 counterpart of her dear, departed husband, and despite the hugely problematic and complicated philosophical and psychological implications of the relationship, has determined to win Larry-1’s heart to replace the Larry she lost.  From the beginning, it’s clear she’s not thinking too clearly about this whole situation, but that actually makes pretty perfect sense.  How could she be objective about such a thing?  How could anyone?

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Later that night, a disguised Collector ‘collects’ from the rival gang, killing their leader at an illegal casino while posing as a dealer.  Batman has anticipated this move, and he’s hard on the killer’s heels, only to catch the gumshoe, Lance, instead.  I imagine we’re all likely genre-savy enough to see where this is going, but unfortunately for the love-struck lady in the leather jacket, the plot continues to barrel towards its inevitable conclusion.

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The P.I. hands the hero a line about how he was chasing the guy and was clocked on the head right before the Dark Knight grabbed him.  They find a discarded disguise that seems to confirm his story, but, and I enjoyed this, the master detective remains suspicious.  I like that Batman isn’t entirely taken in by the subterfuge here.  When the pair meets up with ‘Myrna,’ the Masked Manhunter recognizes the Canary, and when they are alone, he warns her away from Lance.  She rejects his advice, insisting that she has to run her own life, but she sticks around just long enough to save him from an assassination attempt.

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That takes ‘yellow journalism’ to a whole new level…

The next day Batman and Gordon are apparently just hanging out, drinking coffee, which makes for an image I find quite humorous and a little charming.  They get a tip from the suspicious shamus that the Collector will be holding a meeting at the Gotham Museum, but when the Dark Knight arrives, all he finds is an ambush.  Just as he’s about to grab the gunman, the hitman gets hit from behind, by Lance!

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This looks like a setup for the greatest version of the Odd Couple ever.

Once again, his story seems plausible, but the Caped Crusader isn’t entirely sold on it.  Unfortunately, he cannot convince Black Canary to share his doubts.  She accuses her Justice League colleague of being jealous, and interestingly enough, he admits to himself that he does have some feelings for her.  I thought that was a nice little touch, and let’s face it, basically everybody in the League except for the married guys made a play for Canary at one time or another.  Who could blame them?

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The Pretty Bird’s problems don’t end there, though, as Larry-1 arrives just then and overhears enough to figure out who she really is.  He proclaims his love for her, and Haney does a good job of making him seem fairly earnest, if just a touch greedy.  It’s a surprisingly subtle handling of a scene that couldn’t have borne anything more than a light touch.  It’s pretty solid characterization.  The sweet-talking shamus convinces the fighting female to help him catch the Collector…or at least, that’s what he says.

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The next night, Lance contacts the Dark Detective with another tip.  He claims the Collector will be at a deserted racetrack, but when he arrives, the hero is sideswiped by a sonic scream.  Black Canary is using her powers against her former friend!  You guessed it; time for the big reveal.  Larry-1 shows his true colors, preparing to murder Batman and announcing that he was the Collector all the time (gasp!).  Canary puts herself in harm’s way to save her teammate, but she’s too stunned to take Lance down.  Fortunately, the Caped Crusader is still fast with a batarang, and he disarms the crime boss.  The two heroes chase after him when he flees on horesback, and we get a nice, dramatic chase sequence, with Canary showing off her motorcycle riding skills, vaulting over and smashing through obstacles.

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Batman tackles Lance, and the two fall, still struggling, into a pond.  In classic ‘hoisted on your own petard’ fashion, the villainous gumshoe impales himself on his own knife (or at least, that’s what Batman says when Canary shows up.  Sure Bats. Sure.).  The story ends with Canary’s lament about the loss of her old life and the challenges of building a new one on Earth-1.  Fortunately, she will have friends like Batman.

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This is actually a very solid story.  It’s definitely Haney, but it’s enjoyable Haney.  He hit on a really great concept here.  If there was a Larry Lance on Earth-2, chances are there would be one on Earth-1, but what if he wasn’t what his counterpart had been?  It’s a good idea for a story, and while it could probably have benefited from a bit more development, it was a fun and interesting read.  Canary doesn’t come off great, but her equivocation about Larry is actually quite believable.  Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to get back someone we’ve lost, even if it wasn’t exactly the same?

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We’re still seeing the kinder, gentler Batman that Haney prefers in these books, and the character here really bears fairly little relation tothe grim avenger we encountered in the other Bat titles lately.  Canary is also a little less the capable heroine we have seen elsewhere.  Nonetheless, this is, in the end, a good story, made extremely creepy by the retcon that’s coming to her backstory in a few years (we’ll get there, eventually).  Good thing it could easily lift right out of her history because it’s a Haney tale.  I’ll give it an above average 3.5 Minutemen.  I love Cardy’s art, but I don’t think he’s quite right for Batman.  His style is a bit too soft for the Dark Knight.

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This comic also had a rather neat little gem hidden in the letters page, a story of the real-life heroics of artist Nick Cardy.  Apparently he piloted a tank in World War II, where he met the editor, Murray Boltinoff.  In a fun little touch, Boltinoff relays a short adventure from the Big One.  Check it out below:

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Detective Comics #403

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“You Die By Mourning”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Pencilers: Carmine Infantino, Bob Brown
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Break-Out!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Time for yet more Batman!  The Caped Crusader being overexposed is definitely not a new phenomenon.  It’s a good thing he’s a great character, otherwise this might get old.  It’s also fortunate that his stories tend to be above average, though that isn’t really the case for this issue.  Both of this month’s Detective yarns suffer from brevity and a resultant lack of development, and as we’ve seen from the Legion backups, that doesn’t have to be the case, even for these short comics.  The headline tale, with the wonderfully melodramatic title, “You Die by Mourning,” is a bit odd.  It’s nicely atmospheric, but the individual elements don’t really come together in a satisfying whole.  I’d bet this is another story conceived of for the purpose of a particular image or moment.

Our drama dawns with the arrival of a veiled woman dressed in mourning clothes in Bruce Wayne’s V.I.P. (Victim’s Inc. Program) offices.  Calling herself, Mrs. Randall, she meets with the man himself, and frantically claims she’s there in relation to the death of her husband, a death which has yet to occur!  A gun falls out of her purse when she reaches for a handkerchief, and she flees the office, leaving a mystery in her wake…a mystery that piques the curiosity of Wayne’s alter ego, the Batman!

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That night, the Masked Manhunter heads to the Randall home, where he sees Mrs. Angela Randall and her husband, the unlikely named ‘Laird’ Randall (is he Scottish nobility?) getting ready for a costume ball at a haunted house.  The hero suspects that Angela is plotting her husband’s demise, but he can’t figure out what brought her to V.I.P.  He stows away aboard the eerie horse-drawn coach that arrives to transport them, and along the way they are attacked by a car full of gunmen.  The coachman, apparently in on the job, leaps clear, but the Dark Knight saves the Randalls with a smoke bomb and some quick action.  The gunmen’s car wrecks in the smoke, and we get a nice scene where Batman quickly and efficiently disposes of them.

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I love the moody effect of that last panel.

He sends the Randalls on ahead with the coachman, which turns out to be something of a mistake.  The muffled figure pulls a gun when they arrive at the “party” house, empty save for the three of them.  We then get a couple of pages of exposition that pass for the resolution, as Robbins packs all of the story he neglected earlier into his last few pages.  The coachman reveals that he is a mobster named Van Paxton, who runs a paving company that Randall was bidding against.  Just as he prepares to kill the couple, a dead ringer (pun only partially intended) for Mrs. Randall leaps in the way.  In a twist that comes mostly out of nowhere, it is Angela’s estranged twin sister, who also happens to be Paxton’s wife.  She married the no-goodnik, and she was so ashamed of what he was that she cut all ties with her sister.  When she learned that Paxton was going to kill her sister’s husband, she visited V.I.P. in the hopes of raising a red flag about the whole thing and…somehow…saving him.  Oookay.  That’s a lot of convoluted plot to cram into just two pages.

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Just then, Batman arrives and tackles the killer.  Brown isn’t always my favorite artist, but his work is usually just plain solid.  His action looks good, and he often does some pretty good layouts.  This story is no exception, and the confrontation between the Dark Knight and Paxton, though not jaw-dropping, is good, clean four-color art.  We get yet another story where the villain is hoisted by his own petard, as the mobster falls through a floorboard and…strangles?  It isn’t super clear, but he is totally dead.  That’s the important part.  The poor twin sister is mortally wounded as well, and the story ends with her prediction to Bruce Wayne having come true in a way she never anticipated.

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This is an entertaining enough tale, but it isn’t of the quality we’ve been seeing from the Bat-books lately.  The ending is rushed, and the setup is far too brief to be effective.  All of that exposition shoved into the last pages means that we don’t actually get invested in any of the characters.  It doesn’t help that our hero’s climactic struggle is against a single average guy.  The stakes aren’t really impressive enough to make the fight exciting, though Brown’s art helps matters.  The overly complicated plot with the unlikely twists just sort of leave a reader cold.  It seems that Robbins really had a bit too much story for his venue, and the result is not good, though it isn’t actively bad like some we’ve read.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, since it is enjoyable, if unimpressive.

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“Break Out!”

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The Robin backup faces similar problems to the headliner, and once again, the Teen Wonder doesn’t come off too well in his own feature.  This is becoming a sad tradition.  This story, weighing in at only 8 all-too brief pages, just doesn’t have the space it needs to accomplish its purpose well, even building on the previous issue as it does.  If we remember, in the last Robin tale, the younger half of the Dynamic Duo broke up a fight among juvenile delinquents from a detention farm, only to pick the wrong pigeon and belt the innocent party.  After those events, our teenage hero has set out to visit that farm in order to get a better idea of what conditions are like on the ground there.

We find him lost and having run out of gas in his groovy Volkswagen van, stuck in the pouring rain.  Not the most auspicious of beginnings.  He’s passed on the road by two kids in a truck, but he eventually gets some help from an older couple, and we get the hilariously 60s line from our protagonist that this “goes to show our ‘over-30s’ can’t be completely written off.”  At least he’s not too angsty to realize that, which puts him ahead of some teen heroes, so I’ll take it.

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When he finally arrives at the farm, he finds it covered with police, so he switches to his battle togs and breaks out his brand new Robin cycle.  Now, don’t get excited.  While you might be expecting all kinds of cool new gadgets and maybe an exciting car chase to accompany this debut, all we get is a line of dialog about the super swanky license plate changer that this bike features.  That’s a bit of a wasted opportunity, it seems to me, especially with the focus on Robin building his own identity and career as a solo act.

The cops tell him that two of the kids from the farm have escaped in an old truck, and they show him the strange message that was left scratched into the floor of their barracks.  It reads ‘Forced to go–guns buried-help me.”  It turns out the missing kids are the same two from the previous donnybrook, and, determined not to make the same mistake again, our Teen Wonder jumps to the opposite conclusion, and decides the the bigger of the two boys, Ed, must have kidnapped the smaller one, Frank.

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Recalling the truck that passed him on the road and performing a nice bit of deduction, he tracks the kids to an abandoned barn and finds them both loading shotguns.  Robin jumps the smaller kid, and belts him, ignoring his pleas of innocence, only to narrowly avoid a blast from the other boy’s gun.  The junior detective takes out the gunman, and then gets the story from a rather bitter Frank.

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Man, whatever Gil Kane’s strengths are, he cannot draw a gun to save his life!

The kid relates how ‘Big Ed’ was working for a mobster who wanted him to recruit a ‘teen-age’ gang for him.  The would-be teen-boss had even stashed some guns and supplies out by the farm.  Frank had pretended to go along with Ed in order to bust him in hopes of earning some time off his sentence.  It was he who left the note on the floor.  There’s a bit of a message crammed into the last little bit about playing by the rules, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because no-one wants to spend their life looking over their shoulder.  That’s a fairly cynical view, really.  I suppose this kid will go far in this dirty world of ours.

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So, as you can see, this story just isn’t all that much to write home about.  It’s a teen problem, which they seem to enjoy putting Robin up against, but the stakes just aren’t too high and the plot and characters aren’t developed enough to make it work.  If we had gotten to know the two kids just a bit in the previous story, this could have worked much better.  As is, the very first time we start getting to know them, we’re already in the denouement with exposition flowing fast.  This just felt a bit boring and bland, in addition to being underdeveloped, and that’s never a good thing for an adventure tale.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  There’s a bit of evidence of the generation gap here, but nothing particularly noteworthy.

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These two issues were a mixed bag, but none of them were particularly impressive.  They were enjoyable enough, though.  I think the most interesting part of both books was the letter column feature about Nick Cardy’s war service.  Who knew?  That was a neat surprise, and it also says something about the difference in the generations that populate the ranks of DC at the time.  I was struck with the thought that Cardy was part of the old guard, the professional writers and artists who, along with the rest of their generation, shared an almost universal experience of war service.  They had experienced privations, hardships, and much more, and most of them were also children of the Depression in one form or another.  The upcoming generation hadn’t had those experiences, but they had grown up on the comics the previous generation had created, and now they were beginning to take a hand in the field.  I’m curious what differences will be revealed about the two generations through the work that they produced.  We are, here in the 70s, going to see the change over taking place.  It should be interesting to observe.

 

Into the Bronze Age: September 1970 (Part 2)

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Welcome back my good readers!  I know it’s taken an age and a day for me to get this post finished, but in the interim, I got my dissertation reading list submitted, so, excelsior!  Ready for another dose of Bronze Age goodness?  Then, without further ado, join me as we investigate another classic 70s comic.

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.

Batman #225

batman_225Wanted for Murder-One, the Batman
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Shutdown on York Street!
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Mike Esposito
Letterer: Ben Oda

As is often the case, Batman provides us with solid quality detective yarns.  The headline tale delivers a pretty good mystery with a fair amount of  drama in just fifteen pages.  In a mark of the growing complexity and maturity of these Batman stories, we have some real stakes, and we also have some successful efforts at characterization and consistency.  It’s a pleasant surprise that both Commissioner Gordon and the GCPD come off reasonably well in this issue, despite the fact that they play antagonist to our hero, serving as the primary obstacle to his goals.  In general, our setting is beginning to feel more realized, more fleshed-out than many such stories.

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The headline tale begins by introducing us to Jonah Jory, a TV host with his own host of problems.  He’s a miserable little shell of a man, with false teeth, false hair, false shoulders, and a smile as equally counterfeit as the rest of him.  He’s a talk-show personality of the sleazy and vicious variety, and he’s apparently got a major bone to pick with Gotham’s Dark Knight, ambushing Commissioner Gordon on his show about the venerable police veteran’s connection to Batman.  Late that night, Jory goes to the Gotham Athletic Club to work out, where he is apparently shot and killed.  The guard bursts in to see the window shattered and a caped and cowled figure on a neighboring rooftop.

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Gordon investigates, and it begins to look like the Masked Manhunter might be the murderer, as a gun store owner claims he sold Batman himself a .38 last week, the same caliber as the missing murder weapon!  The Commissioner has no choice.  He issues an APB for the Caped Crusader.  Meanwhile, Batman employs some pretty nice detective work to follow a trail of clues that begin to reveal a setup.  He interrogates a lowlife who had caused a disturbance at the exact time of the killing, ensuring that the caped figure on the rooftop would be spotted, and forces him to reveal that he was paid to do it.  It’s a nice sequence, and it nicely illustrates the increasing seriousness of the character.  The Dark Knight doesn’t play games.  He smacks the guy around, and when the thug starts pleading for his rights, Batman reminds him that he’s currently a hunted outlaw with nothing to lose.  We’re definitely moving away from the deputized, policeman’s friend Batman.

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After the hood, the Caped Crusader tracks down his next lead, another small-time crook named Semple.  Bats finds him in a dive bar, playing pool with his buddies.  What follows is another nice scene, where the Dark Knight easily disposes of the three punks, displaying skill and a suitably intimidating confidence.  Unfortunately, Novick’s art doesn’t quite do the scene justice.  His action and his poses are a bit too awkward and unnatural.  He still manages some nice, moody panels though.

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The Masked Manhunter interrogates Semple and discovers that it was actually him in a cape and cowl who bought the gun as well as being spotted by the witnesses at the scene of the crime.  The plot thickens!  Batman realizes that he’s taken his investigation about as far as he can without getting a look at the crime scene itself, but with Gotham’s finest all over the Club, that is easier said than done.  Fortunately, where Batman is hunted, Bruce Wayne can pass unnoticed.  He goes into the club, changes into his battle togs, and begins to scale the building from a lower floor.

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However, Gordon knows his vigilante friend’s methods, and the man also knows his job.  He and his men are watching the building, not just the entrance, but the exterior as well.  They move in, and there is a touching little moment, made really successful by Novick’s art, where Gordon is offered a gun and contemplates it, realizing what he might have to do.

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They rush the gym, only to find Batman waiting for them.  He has solved the mystery, and he proceeds to show them how the crime was committed.  It turns out that there was no murder.  It was an elaborately staged suicide.  Jory hated Batman so much, perhaps because the Dark Knight represented what he, himself, could never be, that he set out to destroy the hero by the means of his own death.  He was dying of an incurable disease, so he decided to make use of a death that was inevitable at any rate.  Jory had wrapped an elastic pull around a pole, stretched it, and placed the gun in it before he pulled the trigger.  As the weapon fell from his lifeless fingers, it was flung through a window, breaking it.  That, plus the staged spotting of Batman at just that moment, was enough to cast suspicion on the Caped Crusader.  The tale ends with Batman and Commissioner Gordon shaking hands, their friendship restored.

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This is just a good, all around solid detective story.  The mystery is interesting, and while this type of tale has been told before, it is hardly one of the most common tropes.  It’s surprising to see a suicide portrayed in a comic, and this also illustrates the growing maturity of the tales we’re encountering.  We really don’t see much of Jory, but we see enough to establish the type of person he is, and it’s enough to work for the story.  I really enjoyed the portrayal of Batman’s darker, more dangerous presence here.  That, along with Gordon’s own competence, and the little touches like Gordon’s contemplation of his sidearm help make this a really effective story with just a touch of emotional heft.  I’ll give it an above average 3.5 Minutemen.  It loses a bit because of Novick’s awkward action art.

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Shutdown on York Street!

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This is something of an odd little tale, a b-side story that doesn’t quite rise to the level of charm of some of the Batman backups we’ve seen, though it aims at something similar.  Essentially, it’s a teen tale about a young man who gets into a bad situation and finds himself on the run.  Yet, unlike most of these stories, the protagonist of this one is pretty unlikable and almost entirely at fault.  We begin with a group of kids out drag racing through a Gotham night.  That’s right, brace yourselves; we’re in for Fredrich’s attempt at youth culture.  Fortunately, he doesn’t go too overboard, and we don’t face more than some terrible 60s slang.  Anyway, two teen-agers ™ finish their race, and one, a hotheaded young man named Alex, doesn’t take his loss too well.  From the very beginning this kid doesn’t come off well.  He picks on the little mechanic that is hanging out with the group, Jack, accuses the other racer, Vic, of cheating, and gets super possessive of a girl named Chris.  Interestingly, while the two young punks argue over who she belongs to, the girl never voices an opinion.  Real nice.

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But Alex’s unappealing qualities don’t end with chauvinism and being a poor loser.  Unable to handle losing the girl and the race, he hops in his car and heads straight at Vic.  His though bubbles tell us Alex just intends to scare his rival, but this is still incredibly stupid and wildly irresponsible.  Vic, for his part, doesn’t exhibit the brains God gave a common dog, standing stolidly in the middle of the road, sure that Alex is too chicken to car-murder him.  I don’t think that is the sort of thing that one really puts to the test, at least not if one isn’ts a moron.  This ends about the way you’d imagine, tragically.  Alex runs off, swearing that he tried to stop and couldn’t.

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Soon, Batman arrives on the scene, along with the boy’s father, Art Saddows, who is a crime reporters, as well as apparently part of the ‘Mystery Analysts of Gotham City.’  I have a vague memory of having encountered these guys before, and I enjoy the little nod to continuity and the wider Bat-world, even if it isn’t a corner of with which I’m particularly familiar.  Plus, ‘ol Art looks like Dr. Thirteen, pipe and all, so he’s got that going for him.  Let’s hope that he’s a bit more objective.  We’re hit with some of Fredrich’s teen slang, as Mr. Saddows tells the Dark Knight that “one of Alex’s freaked-out friends must be hiding him!”  Maybe he ran away to escape the humiliation of your attempt at talking ‘hip,’ dad?  The reporter is convinced that his son couldn’t really be a murderer, though, as we’ve seen, the kid’s temper doesn’t really seem like it would make such a deed all that much of a stretch.  The Caped Crusader is convinced that the kid is innocent as well, though he doesn’t tell us why just yet.  He sets out to locate the young man and bring him in so that everything can be settled.

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Batman operates like you do?  I think you’ve got delusions of grandeur, my friend…

Three nights later (remember that), Bats spots a car parked in front of a boutique that is flashing its lights in a peculiar pattern.  Three short, three long, three short.  S.O.S.!  Inside the store, a teen gang is robbing…no, not a jewelry store or even a pawn shop, but a dress store, not for profit, but just so their girls can be well-dressed for a party…shoot for the stars, kids, shoot for the stars.

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After the Masked Manhunter makes short work of these unimaginative delinquents, he discovers Alex behind the wheel of their getaway car.  The kid went to hide with his friends, but, because he clearly has excellent judgement, his “friends” turned out not to be worth too much.  They threatened to turn him in if he doesn’t drive their getaway car, which seems a little fancy for robbing a dress store, but they really want to make an impression at the “bash.”  Alex, unable to do anything else, tried to attract help with his S.O.S. gambit, but before Batman can talk to him, the kid takes off again.  He’s figured out who is responsible for this whole mess (you know, other than the guy who pointed his car at a human being).

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Batman catches up with him just in time to prevent him from doing something else stupid, as Alex chases the mechanic, Jack, down, threatening to kill him.  The Dark Knight points out that the kid’s temper has already gotten him in enough trouble, and the story wraps up at the police station, where we discover that Jack let the brake fluid out of Alex’s car because he was jealous of both him and Vic, wanting Chris for himself.  Batman explains that he solved the mystery because of the stain of brake fluid on Chris’s dress.  He points to a black hand-print on her skirt…that is still there three days later!  Remember, the accident happened three days ago, so apparently Chris hasn’t changed clothes or washed her dress in three days!  I think you guys could probably do better.  The tale ends with father and son reunited and Saddows promising to stand by his boy through the manslaughter trial that awaits him.  That’s actually more than a bit dark when you think about it.

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This is a solid enough story, though not terribly memorable.  Alex is rather unlikable, and that hurts the impact of the tale.  He doesn’t really seem all that sad about killing the other boy, mostly just upset about being blamed for it, and the tale ends with him still destined for a manslaughter trial, which is definitely a downbeat, despite the supposed restoration of his relationship with his father.  The subject matter is a little more mature as well, though not to the same extent as the headline story.  Interestingly, Novick’s art is significantly stronger on this backup.  He has some really nice images of Batman looming in the shadows and brooding on gargoyles.  The visual language of Batman’s iconic Bronze Age portrayal, that which continues to define the character today, is definitely beginning to come together.  In the end, I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen.  It is just average, not great, but not bad.

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Well, those two Bat-tales are it for this edition, though they took long enough for me to write up, hmm?  Hopefully I can get on to the next one more quickly.  Either way, the next issue of Batman is a momentous one.  It features the debut of the greatest, most terrifying, most awe-inspiring Bat-villain of all time.  I’m not talking about any of those weak-sauce second stringers like the Joker, the Penguin, or the Riddler.  No, I’m talking about the villain that would become synonymous with the Dark Knight, who would define his nemesis as day defines night.  I am, of course, speaking of none other than the Ten Eyed Man.  I’m sure you’re all suitably impressed.  Be sure to come back for that earth-shattering issue when we reach it!