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:

Aquamanhead.jpgBatmanhead.jpgshowcase-88-fnvf-jasons-quest0robin2 - Copy.jpgPhantom_Stranger_05.jpgrobin2 - Copy.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgAquamanhead.jpg3072564469_1_3_hCmU7jwq.jpg

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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!

 

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