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!

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