Into the Bronze Age: October 1970 (Part 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.


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.


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.


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.


The Day Superboy Became Superman!


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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