Marvel Adventures Vol. 2 Released!

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Well, it is finally here, only half a year after I told y’all it was almost done.  I wasn’t too far off, was I?  The sad truth is that this mod has languished almost entirely finished on my hard drive since the end of the summer, with very little left to do.  Unfortunately, a PhD is no easy matter, and my work rather swallowed my free time in those intervening months.  Nonetheless, finish it I did at long last, and now y’all can explore all the awesome new content that I’ve stuffed into this release!

Welcome to Marvel Adventures Vol. 2! 

This update massively expands both the hero and villain rosters of the original release, adding in tons and tons of characters, including almost every major player that didn’t make the cut the first time, as well as a great variety of lesser characters.  It includes everyone from Spider-Man, Hulk, and Galactus to the various venomous members of the Serpent Society, and just about everyone in between!  Even the illustrious Squadron Supreme put in an appearance in the intro to the next Avengers campaign!

The final total for the mod is somewhere around THREE HUNDRED characters!


That’s right, this expansion is just crammed full of content!  It features three brand new campaigns and several expansions for the originals!  As I mentioned in my previous teaser, the X-Men benefit from a whole new story-arc that takes them from the familiar confines of the X-Mansion to the distant stars of the Shi’ar homeworld! (Plus, a short spin-off campaign featuring solo stories!)


The Fantastic Four get in on the expansion fun, completing their original campaign arc with the reveal of the dastardly Dr. Doom’s malevolent machinations and a world-threatening brawl between alien tyrants right in the heart of downtown New York!


This expansion adds a host of tweaks, fixes, and improvements to everything that came before, as well as generally expanding its boundaries in every direction.  I hope that you can all enjoy this love letter to Marvel comics as much as I enjoyed making it!

And I want to take another opportunity to boast about the incredible, exclusive, and ridiculously beautiful new skins by super-star skinner Afghan Ant!

Check out the Marvel Adventures album HERE!

So, is that enough to sell you on this little project?  If so, great:

Download Marvel Adventures Vol. 2 Now!

I left an important note of thanks out of the readme, so you can get an updated version here.

Be sure to delete any previous installations. 

You can set your data path to whatever you like, but the installer includes a number of .exes that are set to work with the Steam installation.  I’m afraid they won’t be of much use for folks with other paths, but they’re a nice little bonus feature for the rest of you.  They’ll allow you to launch the individual campaigns without having to do any file editing!  Speaking of those campaigns…

New and Expanded Campaigns:

  • X-Men (major expansion)
  • X-Men 2 (, mini-campaign telling solo stories)
  • Avengers (small expansion)
  • Fantastic Four (major expansion completing their arc)
  • Spider-Man and the Marvel Knights (big, brand new adventure!)
  • SHIELD (mini-campaign)

Have fun folk, and make yours Marvel!

Into the Bronze Age: November 1970 (Part 3)

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Hello my fair readers, and welcome to the next installment of my DC Bronze Age review feature.  Today we encounter another debut, but a much more profitable one than that of the last post.  Just as the Ten-Eyed Man is introduced in one Batman book, Denny O’Neil unleashes the League of Assassins in another.  One of these concepts would go on to great success and lasting fame.  I’ll let you figure out which one.  (Hint: It isn’t the guy with eyes on his finger-tips!)  Join me as we delve further into November, 1970!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)
  • Action Comics #394
  • Adventure Comics #399
  • Batman #226 (the debut of the awe-inspiring Ten-Eyed Man!)
  • Brave and Bold #92
  • Detective Comics #405
  • The Flash #201
  • G.I. Combat #144
  • Justice League of America #84
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106
  • Superman #231
  • World’s Finest #197 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • World’s Finest #198

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


Detective Comics #405


detective_comics_405“The First of the Assassins!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Living Statue”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Ben Oda

“The Sleuth in the Iron Mask!”
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Bob Brown
Letterer: Artie Simek
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

Now we’re getting into some of the significant milestones of Denny O’Neil’s work on Batman.  We’re not quite into the really legendary runs just yet, but we’re getting closer.  Nonetheless, this issue features the first appearance of O’Neil’s League of Assassins, the deadly, shadowy organization that would feature prominently in many of his stories and prove to be of lasting significance to the Batman mythos.  Of course, this organization would reach its zenith of fame when its members served as the primary antagonists in the Christian Bale Batman films.  The League’s lasting potential isn’t necessarily completely obvious from this first story, but they do make an impression, and their returns will give us some of the best Bronze Age Batman stories.

detective405-04This particular issue isn’t quite as good as some of those that follow, but it’s a good, solid adventure tale, pitting the Dark Knight against a challenge that seems a bit more worthy of him than some of those *cough*Ten-EyedMan*cough* he’s faced recently.  I like the grim sense of adventure that the hero displays throughout the story.  O’Neil is channeling a bit of Sherlock Holmes, who relished a challenging problem.  This portrayal of the Caped Crusader seems to have a similar taste for danger and daring-do, which I enjoy. I like a grim avenger of the night quite a bit, but it’s also nice to have a character who has some sense of adventure as well.

Batman answers the summons of the Batsignal, and finds his old friend waiting for him.  Commissioner Gordon tells him that fifteen leading shipping magnates have been murdered, and the sixteenth, apparently marked for death, is in Gotham.  The man, K.C. Agonistes, is living on his heavily fortified yacht under tight security, but Batman agrees to look into the matter just in case.

detective405-07The hero arrives on the ship in disguise, only to be instantly spotted as a phony.  Agonistes’ security seems to be everything it is cracked up to be, but he is delighted to see the Masked Manhunter nonetheless and invites him onboard for the duration of their cruise.  When they get out to sea, Batman, vigilantly keeping watch from the bow, spots a pod of dolphins behaving strangely, and then we get a rather odd moment, as he grabs a rifle from a cewman and starts blazing away at the sea-mammals.  It’s weird to see Batman using a rifle, but I guess he isn’t firing at people.  Why was he shooting at dolphins, you may ask?  Does he just resent their smug, holier-than-thou clicking?  No, he recognized that they were living bombs.  These were trained dolphins were laden with plastic explosives, and despite the Dark Knight’s best efforts, they make destructive contact with the ship.

Batman manages to leap to safety, and he finds three other survivors in a lifeboat, Agonistes, his fiancee, and a sailor.  They land on a nearby island, only to quickly discover that it is covered in booby-traps.  The Masked Manhunter displays his skill and tradecraft as he protects the little group from multiple dangers.  After dodging a thrown knife, he surmises from the unique blade that their antagonist is a silek master.  This is actually a real martial art practiced in Southeast Asia, which is a neat bit of detail and realism.  Not content to stay on the beach and be a target, the Caped Crusader takes to the jungle to turn the hunter into the hunted.

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It’s at this point that the might hero makes some rather foolish mistakes.  He is tricked by a decoy planted near a fire, despite being suspicious of it, and then, thinking that Agonistes and company were in danger because he had been lured away, he rushed into a snare.  It does seem like maybe throwing a batarang at the mysteriously careless assassin sitting in front of his fire would have been a safer way to handle that, but ahh well.  While hanging upside down, he is confronted by the small, unassuming assassin, who introduces himself as Tejja.  The killer heads off to fulfill his contract, promising to come back and finish the hero afterwards.

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With a supreme effort, the Dark Knight manages to free himself, and he arrives in camp just in time to confront the assassin, who, oddly enough wields a blade with both hand and foot.  Once again, that’s a real thing, but how strange!  It’s a great detail to make the whole conflict more exotic and exciting.  The two masters square off, and Batman is wounded in the first exchange and has to employ a trick in order to turn the tide.  He falls through the campfire, his cape catching fire, and he uses it as a distraction in order to get his licks in.  He manages to put the assassin down, but he realizes that this was the work of more than just one killer, that there is an entire organization out there, efficient, secretive, and quite deadly.

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This is a good story, and the shadowy League of Assassins certainly comes off as dangerous and capable, though we get only a taste of their menacing presence.  Batman is well portrayed as well, given some solid characterization and a chance to display a range of abilities and skills.  It’s nice to see the character developing into the hyper-capable, yet still reasonably grounded, crime-fighter that I know and love.  The only real weakness of this issue is Bob Brown’s art.  It’s serviceable, but his action just doesn’t really capture the fluidity and dynamism of a good martial arts duel.  It has its moments, but there is some awkwardness to the figures that takes away from the excitement and drama of key moments.  This is an exciting first step into something greater, but it is still only a first step.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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“The Living Statue”


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BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING!

The finale of last month’s Batgirl story is pretty good, an action packed sprint that stands in contrast to the more sedate detective story of the previous issue.  We pick up where we left off, with the captured heroine slowly being entombed in plaster.  Her captor, the spurned actress Veda, accidentally triggers an image of the giant, Jor-El-like head of the murdered artist, Billy Warlock, who looms ominously over the proceedings.  The maddened murderess acts with wild abandon, destroying the film evidence of the murder and starting a blazing conflagration.  Gil Kane’s art is in rare form, and he really captures the scene in striking fashion, the blazing flames, the deranged dame’s dancing, and Batgirl’s helpless fear.  It’s really quite good.

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detective405-21Just then, when all hope seems lost, ‘Infra Red,’ the other leading actress in Warlock’s films, arrives.  She had suspected Veda, and she attacked the wild woman, accidentally freeing Batgirl in the process.  Babs disables Veda and drags both women out of the flames to safety, though it seems the evidence has been reduced to ashes.

Fortunately for poor Jason, it seems that creepy voyeur Billy Warlock had one more card to play.  He had another camera hidden in the eye of his giant image, and it captured Veda’s crazed confession.  That evidence, plus, you know, the whole attempted murder thing, Veda is arrested and Jason is freed.

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It’s a very brief but exciting story, and it nicely completes the tale begun last month.  It’s interesting that the fictional version of Andy Warhol maintains the real artist’s strange voyeuristic tendencies.  I wonder how much Robbins knew about the man in 1970 and how much of this portrayal was intentional and how much just lucky coincidence.  Either way, art imitates life in fascinating ways!  There’s really not much to this backup, which is understandable, as it is only seven pages, with one of those taken up with a re-cap.  Nonetheless, it is fun, and I am very impressed with Kane’s work on it.  I quite enjoy the mad abandon he manages to capture in Veda’s rampage.  You really get a sense of character through her destructive dance.  The one criticism I can really level at this story is that Batgirl really doesn’t get much to do.  She is only saved by someone else’s intervention, which doesn’t leave her in the best light.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, though it is too short to really rate higher.

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Flash #201


the_flash_vol_1_201“Million Dollar Dream”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Finale for a Fiddler”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Murphy Anderson
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Another Kanigher story, but this one is better than I expected, like the last one.  While it crosses into bathos a few times with its overly earnest, overly melodramatic tone in the beginning, it actually manages to pull of an effective ending.  This issue also contains a new Golden Age Flash story which is goofy but rather charming.  That tale actually gives us an honest to goodness supervillain, unlike the main Flash title, which remains steadfastly supervillain-free.  Sadly, we’re in the middle of a huge supervillain drought, one that is due to last for a long while yet.

Anyway, on with the issue at hand!  It begins in an unusual way, with the Flash desperately urging a young man in a wheelchair to get up and walk, like some garishly clad physical therapist.  The kid, named Pablo, gets up but collapses shortly thereafter, and we discover that he is physically healthy but has a mental block that makes him believe his legs don’t work.  We also learn that he blames the Scarlet Speedster for this predicament and that the hero blames himself as well.  Before we learn just what is going on, the hero, who is just casually strolling through the streets with Iris (secret identity, what secret identity?) is ambushed by the Generic Gang!  Now, you have to admire both the courage and the unbelievable stupidity of these guys.  They’re just a trio of regular gangsters, and they try to run the Flash down with a car, then try to shoot him.  The Flash Who can dodge bullets.  That displays a suicidal level of overconfidence.

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Their attack isn’t immediately disastrous because the Fastest Man Alive is apparently lost in thought, so much so that he just stands there while people shoot at him and Iris screams for him to snap out of it, which is at least a bit too much.  On the plus side, Iris takes it to one of the thugs with her purse, which is pretty entertaining.  A shrinking violet she’s not, this Iris.  When the hero snaps out of it, he quickly trounces the troublesome trio, ending the fight.

He and his lady love continue their walk after this rather pointless interruption, and they pay a visit to ‘Spanish Village,’ the Latino quarter of the city and home to Pablo.  He’s a local hero, a basketball star that the whole community was pulling for, so Barry reflects on how he dashed, not just the kid’s hopes, but the hopes of all of his people as well.  It’s then that we find out what actually happened.

The Flash visited Pablo when Iris told him she was going to write a story on the kid being called ‘the Spanish Flash.’  Being the friendly neighborhood hero that he is, Barry wants to do something for the kid, so he promises to zoom him over to Puerto Rico to visit his grandparents.  Yet, on the way, they spot a ship afire at sea.  The Scarlet Speedster leaves Pablo in what should be a safe spot and rushes to fight the flames, only to have the kid struck by falling debris while he’s busy.  The hero rescues him, but the boy suffers from shock and develops a troublesome mental black about his legs.

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So, yeah, it actually is pretty much the Flash’s fault.  His endangering the kid would seem like a more reasonable choice if Kanigher didn’t have the speedster casually mention that, if he had thought about it, he could have zipped to Puerto Rico, dropped the boy off, and been back at the ship in no-time.  Sheesh, the Silver Age Flash is ridiculous.  Anyway, mired in guilt, the hero continues to do his job, taking on a set of criminals in a helicopter and getting his hair parted by a bullet for his troubles.  And therein lies a problem with the character’s portrayal.  He can run across the world before you can blink, but he can still be hit by a bullet.  Ahh well, plot will out.

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The bullet temporarily paralyzes the Flash, and he finds himself in the same doctor’s office as young Pablo.  Talk about awkward encounters.  Just then,there’s an explosion in the chem lab, because of course there is.  A blaze begins, and the Fastest Man Alive can’t quite live up to his name.  He encourages the kid to get out on his own, but with supreme effort, the boy picks the hero up and, together, they get to safety.  It’s actually a pretty good scene and a solid ending to the issue.

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The ending rescues the story, as it is weak in some of its other points, but it goes out well.  The Flash’s selfless insistence that Pablo leave him behind is effective, and the boy’s uncertain heroism, panicked prayer, and sudden escape make for a nice combination.  The end result is a solid issue, despite the idiotic bravery of the local branch of the Generic Gang.  Once again, we’ve got a really interesting concept of which Kanigher doesn’t really take advantage, just like last issue.  In this instance, we have the idea of what happens when a hero’s mistake costs an innocent something dear, which will be explored to better effect in the future.  Still, this isn’t really a bad treatment of the concept, despite the heavy-handed portrayal of Barry’s grief.

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One notable feature of the issue is the diversity of the cast.  We’ve been seeing an increase in racial diversity in our books recently, and here is another example.  Both Pablo and his neighborhood inject some different personality into the Flash’s world, which is a neat addition.  We’re definitely seeing something different from the homogeneous DC Universe of the 60s, even if only slightly.  That’s nice to see.  I’ll give this issue, flaws and all, 3.5 Minutemen.

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“Finale for a Fiddler”


flash-v2-sa-201p19

This back up is actually a new story of Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, which is a great treat.  I was pleased to see that Jay was starring in this tale, as I’ve read very few of his stories, though I like the character.  Unfortunately, this particular offering was written by Robert Kanigher, so its quality is in doubt.  Dubious authorship aside, this is a fun, if silly, little adventure.

It begins with our favorite veteran Flash taking on the Turtle and his goons.  Remember when I asked for supervillains?  I had hoped for something better than the Turtle.  This guy’s gimmick?  He’s slow.  That’s it.  He’s slow moving, slow talking, and somehow that makes him good at fighting a super-speedster rather than, you know, making him worse than literally anyone else.  Look out Ten-Eye, you’ve got competition at the bottom of the heap!

flash-v2-sa-201p20

The goofiness of the concept aside, the scene where Jay takes this loser out is actually fairly entertaining, though the hero reveals that perhaps senility is setting in, as he tries to block bullets with a trashcan lid!  He comments that “they don’t make things as good as they used to,” though I’m pretty sure that tin tops never stopped bullets.  The complication of the fight is that the hero is starting to feel his age, and he’s running out of steam rounding up the crooks.  When he finally finishes them off, he’s done in, and we get a charming little scene of Jay and Joan, with his wife taking care of her exhausted husband.

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However, the hero can’t rest on his laurels for long, as he’s promised his lovely lady that he would take her to a concert.  On the way to this outdoor rock festival, we encounter the Fiddler, casually driving down the road in a car mad in the shape of a giant fiddle!  It’s delightfully silly.  I actually like things like this as, in the setting of the DCU, they more or less work.  This is a wonderfully whimsical world where the fantastic is the commonplace.  This is a world where men can fly and where the ability to shrink is enough to make you a superhero.  In this setting, criminals regularly dress up in bright costumes, and heroes are just as fashionable.  Why wouldn’t these types of folks have ridiculously customized modes of transportation?

Well, as you can probably guess, the Fiddler, who, despite being a bit goofy, is a more legitimate villain the the opening act, has planned to rob the concert that the Garricks are attending.  As he’s getting into position, Jay himself is also looking for some prime real-estate, and he changes into the Flash to bag a spot close to the stage for Joan.  Apparently Kanigher thinks that secret identities are overrated, as both of his heroes just parade around with their partners in public.  Nobody could ever crack that code!  Anyway, this is apparently a hilariously 60s concert, complete with love beads and hippies galore.  The panel where the couple are greeted by the concert-goers is just odd, but entertaining.

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When the Fiddler begins his act, things get psychedelic in a way the concert-goers weren’t anticipating, and even the Flash has a hard time of it.  The waves of sound send him reeling, and then the villain reveals that he’s too  dumb to succeed, as he stops playing in order to gloat, with his foe on the ropes.  Of course, the fastest man on Earth 2 takes advantage of the pause to capture the crook, ending the show.

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This is a silly little story, but it’s fun, with lots of color and even some characterization.  Kanigher gives each moment of the book something interesting to fill it out, whether it’s the hero’s creeping awareness of age or the ‘groovy’ tone of the concert crowd, there’s a ton of personality packed into a few pages.  I enjoy the subplot, if it could be called that, about Jay’s increasing age.  I’m getting to the point in my life where I am starting to identify more with the aging veterans than with the brash young pups, and it’s neat to see even a hero wrestle with the march of time.  There’s plenty here that is goofy, but the overall effect is so much fun, and the setting seems to fit some goofiness, so I really don’t mind too much.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.  It’s fun but brief.

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That will do it for this set of comics.  It was overall a fun batch of books, with a very interesting first and a few nice surprises.  Next up, we’ve got more JLA, which I’m looking forward to!  We’ve also got an issue of Lois Lane that, judging by the cover, is going to be nuts.  Don’t miss the next edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Before I bid you adieu, however, I’ve got a question for you, my good readers.  What do y’all think of the current format of this feature?  I’m aiming to do 2-3 comics each post.  Does that seem like a good fit to y’all?  I figure that is a bit more bite-sized than the massive posts I had started out doing, but I’m happy to adjust my practice if the is a consensus about what style y’all would like best.  Please let me know in the comments if you have a preference.  Well, until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: November 1970 (Part 2)

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Welcome back readers, for an extra special edition of Into the Bronze Age!  This is not just any post.  This is a post of incredible significance.  We honor today an event that will be sung throughout the ages, a debut that causes all of the other moments of note we’ve encountered to pale in comparison.  I am speaking, of course, of the creation of the greatest Batman, nay, the greatest comic villain of all time, the one, the only, Ten-Eyed Man!

That’s right, prepare yourselves for the unbridled glory that is, without a doubt, one of the dumbest character concepts ever conceived.  What more could you possibly ask for?

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)
  • Action Comics #394
  • Adventure Comics #399
  • Batman #226 (the debut of the awe-inspiring Ten-Eyed Man!)
  • Brave and Bold #92
  • Detective Comics #405
  • The Flash #201
  • G.I. Combat #144
  • Justice League of America #84
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106
  • Superman #231
  • World’s Finest #197 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • World’s Finest #198

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


Batman #226


batman_226The Man with Ten Eyes!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Case of the Gigantic Gamble!”
Penciler: Will Ely
Inker: Will Ely
Letterer: Pat Gordon
(Reprint)

I’ve been looking forward to this one, in the same sense you look forward to a movie you know is going to be so bad it’s good.  Ohh man, this comic is something else.  It introduces one of the dumbest, most useless villains in comic book history with what very well might be the worst “power” of all time in the character of the Ten-Eyed Man, a guy with ‘eyes’ in his fingers.  That’s his whole gimmick, that he’s got eyes on his fingertips.  Why is that an advantage rather than a crippling liability?  Well, you’d have to ask Frank Robbins.  He certainly spends plenty of time trying to convince us that this is actually the greatest thing ever, but what makes this issue so very marvelous is that it takes itself completely seriously.  In the goofiest, most bat-guano insane Bob Haney stories, you never feel like Haney is unaware of the fact that the story he’s telling is bonkers.  In the same way, in most of those silly Superman tales that feel more Silver than Bronze Age-y, you can tell that the authors are, to a certain degree, in on the joke,  Not in this comic.  Frank Robbins, who is usually a good, dependable scribe, goes above and beyond to ratchet up the drama and, in some senses, realism, of this piece, to unintentionally hilarious effect.  So, let’s examine the shinning star of ludicrousness that is this issue.

We start with a gang of criminals preparing to rob a fur warehouse, with only a lone guard to stop them.  Unfortunately for them, he’s a special forces veteran who survived the jungles of Vietnam, and he’s more than capable of handling them.  He trashes the thugs, but one of them manages to bean him with a brick, knocking him out and making his vision go fuzzy.  They set a bomb to blow open the vault (do fur warehouses have vaults?), only to have the Dark Knight arrive and spoil their plans.  Fortunately for them, the groggy guard, mistaking the hero for his assailants, attacks him as he tries to cut the fuse.

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The pair struggle, with Batman trying to reach the bomb and the guard unwittingly preventing him, until the explosives go off, blinding the watchman and injuring the Masked Manhunter.  Now here we meet one of the silly notes of the story, but by no means the silliest, as the crooks grab the watchman, whose name is Philip Reardon, and cart him off to a doctor, for some reason.  The gang leader is determined that the blinded man can be turned into an asset, but there’s absolutely no reason that he should think the fellow would be willing to help him, even if he wasn’t crippled.  This doesn’t prevent the gangster from spending a pile of money on doctors in an attempt to cure the fellow’s blindness, though, which is an awfully big investment for very flimsy reasons.  But really, focusing on something as mundane as a gap in plot logic is really doing this ridiculous story a disservice.

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Meanwhile, Batman’s vision has been damaged as well, and it is only with the help of his trusty aide, Alfred, that he’s able to get home.  Eventually he and Reardon end up in the office of the same eye specialist.  For some reason, the Dark Knight is obsessed with continuing his work, even while injured, despite the fact that there is no compelling reason for him to take the risk.  There’s no overriding case, no impending danger, no dangling mystery left unsolved.  Nonetheless, he rigs up a set of camera lenses and makes Alfred give him directions over the radio.  Many may remember this type of story being told to much better effect in the Batman: TAS episode “Blind as a Bat,” which did feature an immediate danger that could not wait.

Well, unfortunately for Reardon, the specialist apparently got his qualifications from a crackerjack box, as his idea to restore the man’s lost sight is nothing short of ridiculous.  He performs a delicate operation to connect the veteran’s optic nerves to the nerves in his fingers.  Because that’s how nerves work.  And because fingers can detect light.  And because this would be at all useful.  Yet, Robbins is determined to show us how this is the most amazing ability ever conceived.

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Reardon, newly “powered,” blames Batman for his blinding, which is completely irrational, considering it was the thieves who planted the bomb, but I’m actually going to let that pass.  People do react irrationally to tragedy and loss, and, strangely enough, this might actually be the most believable part of this story!  Reardon indulges his hatred by ambushing the Dark Knight when the hero returns to the clinic, knocking him out and almost burning his eyes out with a surgical laser!  Alfred manages to rouse his master in the nick of time over their radio channel, and then begins a very odd fight scene.  Batman thinks his opponent is blind, so it takes some time for him to puzzle out what is going on, probably because it’s so colossally stupid that he can’t bring himself to believe it.  To make matters worse, his video lenses were knocked out in the first attack, so his vision is on the fritz.  During the fight, we see the complete infeasibility of the Ten-Eyed Man’s “power,” as he accidentally catches himself with one of his hands, thus causing agonizing pain in his ‘eyes.’  That’s…that’s quite a weakness there.  It makes the one-hour water limit of Aquaman seem positively dignified and helpful.

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The Gotham Guardian finally manages to defeat his ‘ohh so challenging’ opponent by ‘blinding’ him by wrapping his cowl around the embittered man’s hand…eyes…whatever, allowing the hero to get in a knockout blow.  Yet, when he brings the doctor in to take charge of the clearly unhinged patient, he is gone, and Batman makes a chilling proclamation, declaring that the Ten-Eyed Man has been “unleashed on innocent Gotham–the most dangerous man alive!”  Wait, did I say chilling?  I mean wildly, hilariously exaggerated.  Really?  “The most dangerous man alive”?  That wouldn’t be, say, the Joker?  Or, hey, what about all of those super-villains with world-ending powers that are running around out there?  Nope, it’s the guy with eyes in his fingertips.  That’s the guy who we should really be worried about.

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This is just such an absolutely ridiculous comic that it is difficult to even know where to begin.  You have to wonder how Robbins ever convinced himself that this was a character worth writing about, much less how he sold Julie Schwartz on him.  After all, the guy’s not a bad writer, but I guess everyone has an off day now and then.  This is just a particularly egregious one.  What really ratchets up the quality of this tremendous failure to such lofty and delightful heights of terribleness is the extent to which Robbins goes to establish the believably and realism of key moments.  He focuses on logical consistency, after the initial shark jumps, stressing things like the desperation and awkwardness of Batman’s blind-fighting, the limitations of someone with eyes on their freaking fingertips, and more.  It’s a Silver Age-type idea told with Bronze Age attention to detail, and the result is just wonderfully bad.  I have to give this comic 1 Minuteman for quality, but I’d give it a 5 for Mystery Science Theater-type entertainment.

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Brave and Bold #92


brave_and_the_bold_92Night Wears a Scarlet Shroud!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Here are are with another jaunt into the Haney-verse!  This issue is actually quite tame by Haney standards, and this month the Zany One turns in an interesting, exciting issue that almost makes complete sense.  It features a new creation, the Bat-Squad, that I’m fairly certain never saw the light of day again (as always, let me know if I’ve missed something!).  This eclectic collection of random Brits actually make up a nice supporting cast for this one issue, but I can’t imagine another story that would have an easy time making use of them.  Their presence in this tale is just a result of happenstance, and there would be no reason for them to join forces again.

We meet this trio of characters on the set of a movie being filmed in London.  They are Margo Cantrell, script girl and stand-in for the lead actress, Major Dabney, a retired Scotland Yard inspector who is working as a technical advisor, and Mick Murdock, a British version of Rick Jones.  He’s a guitar-playing troubadour type.  They’re all working on a film called The Scarlet Strangler, which is based on a real set of unsolved murders by a mysterious madman that took place many years ago in the very neighborhood in which they’re filming.  I was entertained by the fact that Bruce Wayne is showing up here to oversee yet another movie that he’s invested in, tying this story in with three others that have had similar setups.  I have to imagine that this is just coincidence, because I just can’t conceive of Bob Haney having intentionally taken note of such a small issue of continuity.

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Anyway, Bruce Wayne, movie producer, happens to be on hand to see the starlet play her first scene with the ‘Strangler,’ but something goes wrong, as the mysterious figure plucks her up and carries her off rather than following the script.  They quickly realize something is amiss, and the film’s director, Basil Coventry, faints in shock.  Bruce slips away and changes into Batman, who actually bothers to offer a plausible explanation for his presence in London.  Are we sure this was Bob Haney?

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brave-and-the-bold-092-014The Dark Knight organizes the trio to help him search for the missing actress, they begin prowling the foggy streets, where the hero has a strange encounter.  He’s passed by a horse-drawn carriage and a cabby who speaks in a manner some half-century out of date.  Before he can consider the odd occurrence, he sights the Strangler and ambushes him, only to be tossed about like a rag doll by his ‘maniacal strength!’  Fortunately, the Major arrives before the fiend can finish him off.  In the struggle, Batman tore off part of his opponent’s coat, and the former inspector discovers small beetles on the fragment, claiming that they are a species that fills the cellars of London and that each family has unique markings, allowing you to tell which cellar they hailed from.  This seemed strange and specific enough to be true, so I was surprised to find that no such species exists.  That’s a neat little detail, and it adds a touch of something special to the story!

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The Major sets out to search for the madman’s hideout by ogling beetles, and the Masked Manhunter decides to risk a more immediate gambit.  He asks Margo to pose as the kidnapped actress in the hopes that the Strangler will think she’s escaped and come after her.  Meanwhile, he and Mick will remain close by.  The fiend takes the bait, and a desperate struggle ensues.  They have him on the ropes, but he is rescued by a shadowy figure.  There’s another player in the game!

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At that point, the Major checks in and tells the team that he’s found the fiend’s hideout, and when they search it, they find the missing actress, though she claims she’s actually the character she was playing.  This causes some of the party to panic, thinking they’ve somehow traveled back in time.  Just then, they sight the Stranger approaching, but he is confronted by the shadowy figure who had aided him, who is revealed to be Basil Coventry!  The Strangler turns on his erstwhile ally, and the Major is forced to shoot him to save the director’s life.

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The strain is too much for the filmmaker, however, and he turns on Batman, claiming that he, himself, is the Strangler.  They struggle, falling through the rotted floor and into a cellar, where they dislodge an ancient Nazi bomb, leftover from the Blitz, trapping the Dark Knight!  Man, Bob Haney does not do things by half measures!  The bomb, originally a dud, is activated by its fall.

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The Major, who had actually been on a bomb disposal squad during the war, attempts to disarm it with Mick’s aid.  This gives us a nice, tense scene, accompanied by a constant ‘tick tick,’ as they race against time to disable the weapon.  In the final minutes, they find a crucial component rusted in place, and Batman orders them all out of the area.  It’s a great moment, and his final thoughts as he is left in the empty cellar with no companion but the constant ticking of the bomb, are quite effective.  He thinks, “Death’s been a close companion often before!  Now I’m ready to welcome it for the last time!”

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Watching from a safe distance, the ‘Bat-Squad’ see the bomb explode and mourn the selfless hero’s death…albeit, a tad prematurely!  He emerges from the fog and tells them that he had in the last, desperate moments, heard the Thames on the other side of the earth wall and had dug his way to the river.  The in-rushing water had lifted the bomb, and he was able to swim to safety.  It’s a good, last minute escape, and it actually works pretty well.

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And the story STILL isn’t over, as we’ve still got the Stranger matter to wrap up!  I don’t know that anyone could pack as much into a comic as Bob Haney, and yet this story really doesn’t feel rushed, which is impressive.  I’ve been trying to rein in my summaries, but this one refused to be cut down.  A Bob Haney story just defies brevity.  brave-and-the-bold-092-031Well, the mystery of the Strangler is cleared up in a bit of exposition by Basil Coventry, now returned to his senses.  He tells the reunited quartet that his grandfather had been the original Strangler, and his father had been driven mad by the knowledge, eventually coming to believe that he, himself, was the murderer.  The elder Coventry had been confined to an asylum, and the director had set out to make the film as a way of excising the family demons.  His father had learned of this and escaped, attacking the production and posing as the Strangler.  The knowledge had, in turn, temporarily driven Basil himself mad when he saw his father killed.

It’s a lot of exposition, but it actually fits together reasonably well, and it makes for an interesting story.  I rather would have liked to see this set up a tad earlier, so the effect could build over the story, but it is still quite an enjoyable plot.  The issue ends with the questions of the strange, anachronistic moments unexplained, and we’re left to wonder if there was some sort of time travel at work.

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This is a really fun, exciting, and interesting story that is just stuffed with atmosphere and admirably creates some nice tension.  Haney turns in an unusual and intriguing mystery story that is just packed to the gills with personality and content.  The three members of the ‘Squad’ all get some characterization and contribute to the plot, and what’s more, they make a fairly charming set of characters.  Haney manages to get you to care about them, at least a bit, in a short amount of time.  Of course, this misty, fogbound setting is just perfect for Nick Cardy’s moody artwork, and he turns in a stellar job, though I am not crazy about his Batman.  Like his Ocean Master, he’s a little too soft for my tastes.  Nonetheless, he gives each of the supporting characters tons of personality and detail, and the strange crimson-gloved killer is nicely menacing.  This is just a solid, enjoyable piece of comics storytelling.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, as there’s really not much wrong with it, other than the bottom-heavy exposition.  It’s a remarkably coherent and sensible story for a Haney-offering, and yet it has his trademark exuberance and color.  The combination is really quite good.

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That will wrap up this post.  We had two wildly different stories which displayed the two extremes of quality.  Amazingly, the goofiest story was not the one penned by Bob Haney.  That says something!  Anyway, I hope that y’all enjoyed the read and will join me again soon for our next stop on our journey Into the Bronze Age!  In the meantime, keep the heroic spirit alive!

Into the Bronze Age: November 1970 (Part 1)

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Hello fellow comic lovers, and welcome to a new edition of Into the Bronze Age!  In this batch of posts we’ll be covering November 1970.  Tomorrow, America is swearing in a new president, and I don’t know about you, but personally I think I’d rather spend my time with heroes and visit a brighter, happier world than ours!  Today we’ve got a triple serving of supers, with two Superman stories and one with the current star of Adventure Comics, Supergirl.  Let’s see what history had in store for November 1970.  With any luck, it will put our current troubles in context.

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.

 

This month in history:

  • Genie, a 13 year old feral child was found in Los Angeles, California, having been locked in her bedroom for most of her life (warning, depressing stuff)
  • Trial of Seattle 8 anti-war protesters begins
  • Luna 17, with unmanned self-propelled Lunokhod 1, is launched and lands on the Moon
  • Two men are shot dead by the Irish Republican Army
  • Scientists perform 1st artificial synthesis of a live cell
  • Lt Gen Hafez al-Assad becomes PM of Syria following military coup
  • In Japan, author Yukio Mishima and two compatriots commit ritualistic suicide after an unsuccessful coup attempt
  • George Harrison releases 3 album set “All Things Must Pass”
  • Pope Paul VI wounded in chest during a visit to Philippines by a dagger-wielding Bolivian painter disguised as a priest

Wow, this was a pretty fascinating month!  It features the rescue of Genie, who many of y’all may have learned about in psychology and sociology classes, the trial of the Seattle 8, and even the stabbing of a Pope!  What a crazy time.  The events related to the Seattle 8, members of the ‘Seattle Liberation Front,’ a radical anti-war movement, are particularly noteworthy for our purposes.  They display the unrest, social upheaval, and political turmoil that we’ve been watching creep into these comics.  1970 is considered the beginning of the end for much of the counter-cultural movement, an ending signaled by the tragedy of Altamont, which came at the tail end of 1969, but clearly these things have not run their course quite yet.  We see that the Space Race continues, with a craft landing on the Moon itself.  Once again, I’m struck by the contrast between humanity’s best qualities, embodied by this generation’s attempt to reach for the stars, and their worst, embodied in…almost everything else on this list.  Well, enough of that.  Let’s get to the comics!

The chart topper this month was “I think I Love You,” by the Partridge Family, a song whose odd tune seems somehow fitting for the time.

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

  • Action Comics #394
  • Adventure Comics #399
  • Batman #226 (the debut of the awe-inspiring Ten-Eyed Man!)
  • Brave and Bold #92
  • Detective Comics #405
  • The Flash #201
  • G.I. Combat #144
  • Justice League of America #84
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106
  • Superman #231
  • World’s Finest #197 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • World’s Finest #198

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


Action Comics #394


action_comics_394“Midas of Metropolis!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“Requiem for a Hot Rod!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

Urg!  This is yet another of the gimmicky, ‘hero is acting like a jerk for a good reason’ stories that the Silver Age loved so much.  This trend is, of course, the origin of the Super Dickery trope, and this comic is a prime example of the form.  Just look at that cover!  Ohh, those pitiful poor people!  I imagine the strategy must have worked.  Kids must have thought to themselves, ‘well, he can’t REALLY be doing’ whatever monstrously jerkish act was on the cover, and they’d just have to pick up the book to find out.  The practice leaves me pretty cold, and this one is no exception.

This particular story just feels rather pointless.  It’s all an incredibly, ridiculously, hilariously elaborate plot to catch a master counterfeiter.  It begins with Clark Kent interviewing Cyrus Brand, the richest business magnate in the country, who apparently has an unhealthy relationship with the gigantic globe in his office.  During the interview, a pair of dim criminals attempts to rob his vault, apparently forgetting that they’re in Metropolis, and a quick change later, Superman smashes through the wall, probably doing more damage than the criminals would have.  His efforts are for naught, though, as a sophisticated security system traps the crooks.  This prompts Brand to taunt the Man of Steel, saying that his money is better than any superpower.  I’m thinking I’d still like to be able to fly or be bulletproof, but sure.

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Beautiful two-page spread but…should we…should we leave him alone with that globe?

action-394-11-08-copyShortly thereafter, Superman begins acting like Super-Capitalist, charging for all of his super-feats.  He rescues a sinking ship, a crashing plane, and a derailed train, all belonging to Brand, and he charges for each deed, quickly amassing a fortune and even building his own bank to hold it!  The altruistic Man of Tomorrow has turned into a libertarian champion of his own self-interest, and, of course, he is condemned by Lois and his friends.  Who is John Gault?  Apparently, Superman is.  He begins a business war with Brand, rapidly squeezing him out of many industries.  Finally, he sells an oil field to the tycoon, throwing in a golden trophy he created to commemorate the sale.  When Brand returns to his secret counterfeiting ring, hidden in a lead mine of course, the trophy takes off through the ceiling, revealing its location.

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Superman bursts in and captures the crooks, revealing that he had noticed the almost perfect forgeries when he had examined Brand’s vault with X-Ray vision, but he had to go through this ridiculous ruse in order to reveal the guy’s funny money source.  He had to gather up all the bogus bucks in secret to avoid a panic, and the job done, he torched it all, giving his remaining holdings to charity.

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action-394-18-14The whole thing is goofy, but the execution is not terrible.  It’s a silly, Silver Age-y plot (I’m going to use that phrase so often, people are going to think I hate the Silver Age, which isn’t the case!) that just feels unnecessary.  This is an extreme length to go to in order to catch a counterfeiter.  It seems like Superman could have simply spied on the guy with telescopic vision, and sooner or later he’d have led him to his source.  Dorfman does make an effort to explain the necessity of the Man of Steel’s business bluff, citing the possible panic caused by a flood of funny money, and I appreciate the effort to cover that angle, even if it is still a bit much.  In the end, this is a by the numbers tale, with some fun images of Superman doing some slightly unusual things, like drilling for oil or building his own bank, but it’s pretty forgettable.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutement.  It’s silly but not offensive.

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I’m not sure why, but something about the ‘Superman National Bank’ strikes me as terribly dystopian…


“Requiem for a Hot Rod”


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This is a story that, strangely enough, gains from the predominant absence of Superman.  It’s very rare in these old stories that poor, pitiful Clark gets a chance to shine.  Usually, he’s just brought in for a quick joke at his expense, and the charm of his secret identity, the quiet strength of the character, is rarely explored.  We get a glimpse of something better in this short little backup.

It begins with Clark and Lois riding in an antique car (better motorheads than I can probably identify it) as part of a parade of classic vehicles, when suddenly they are driven off the road by a rampaging drag racer in a modified hearse!  Shades of Twisted Metal!  Well, Clark is thrown clear of the car and switches to Superman to save the run-off roadsters before switching back.  They continue on their way and stumble upon a drag strip and their automotive antagonist.  The suped-up hearse is in the midst of a game of chicken, and the driver, “Coffin” Crowley, wins, but the disguised Man of Steel notices a pattern.  He calls the racer out, and the crowd force him into his roadster and into a new game of chicken with the supposedly fearless ‘Coffin’ fellow.

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Clark holds steady, and the dragster turns away, crashing into bales of hay on the sidelines.  After the race, the reporter reveals that Crowley’s undefeated record was the product of cheating, as he had a device in his car that would momentarily blind opposing drivers, causing them to turn away in a predictable pattern.  Crowley is humiliated, and the racers learn a lesson about the stupidity of the game of chicken.  The best part is the mild mannered one gets to succeed on his own, having used sunglasses to block his opponent’s secret weapon.  Kent is given a hero’s welcome after the race and enjoys a rare moment of triumph.  Of course, the story ends with poor Clark getting a ticket for holding up traffic as he heads home in his antique auto.

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This is a fun little story, and it’s great to see Clark Kent take an inning rather than just be the butt of a joke to protect his secret identity.  I haven’t encountered many stories like this in this year of reading, but I’m pleased to see that they are still around.  I’m hoping that Clark’s part of the Superman mythos will see some development after the “Kryptonite Nevermore” storyline.  In any case, this is a simple but original (in my experience) tale, and the resolution is clever.  I’ll give this enjoyable little backup a solid 3.5 Minutemen, brief as it is.

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Adventure Comics #399


adventure_comics_vol_1_399“Johnny Dee…Hero/Bum”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

“Television Told the Tale!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Bernard Sachs

The Black Canary backup is a never printed story that was written back in the Golden Age, so I won’t be covering it.  It isn’t current continuity and it doesn’t really fit into the scope of this project.  Instead, I’ll just focus on the headline tale.

I have to say that this cover didn’t exactly instill me with confidence, but I am pleased to say that the story inside, though odd, is actually a fun adventure with some surprising moments of personality.  That cover made me wary, as I really don’t care anything for football, but the game is not really the focus, serving instead as the background for the tale.  The plot is at once conventional and unusual  It’s a standard idea, an athlete is threatened into throwing important games so that the ne’re-do-well villains of the piece can clean up on unlikely bets.  The unusual angle is all of this is happening around college football, which just seems incongruous.

The story opens with an awkward attempt at an in media res beginning that doesn’t quite work, as we’re thrown into the middle of a conversation between Supergirl and star athlete Johnny Dee.  The boy is refusing to play in a game, and, for some reason, Supergirl has decided to talk to him about it.  Why the Maid of Might is involved in the career of a college athlete Sekowsky doesn’t bother to explain.  We’re then told, in a fairly nice collage page, the story of Dee’s rise to stardom.

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adventure399p05Not willing to let sleeping dogs lie, Supergirl decides to investigate the football star’s sudden case of stagefright.  She vibrates through the wall of his girlfriend uninvited after spying on the young lady’s private tears.  I think Clark might need to teach his cousin what ‘invasion of privacy’ means!  After being scared to death by the sudden materialization of a super-powered alien in her room, the girl, Roxie, says that her beau has sworn her to secrecy.  So, Supergirl respects her decision and heads home…err…wait, no, that’s not quite it; she kidnaps the young lady and flies her to Dee’s room to confront him.

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This finally elicits the story of his woes, which seem rather out of proportion to the usual lot of a college athlete.  Apparently, Johnny and Roxie were recently ambushed by hooded figures who beat them both and told the star in no uncertain terms that if he didn’t follow their instructions to throw certain games, they’d kill his girl.  The ambush scene is really pretty effective, dark, moody, and the pain of these two poor, innocent kids is rather touching.

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Well, as a result, Johnny feels like he has no choice, and he refuses to go to the police…for some reason.  He also refuses Supergirl’s help…for some reason.  Sekowsky is having to play logical leap-frog to tell the story he wants, it seems.  Nonetheless, the Girl of Steel is not so easily deterred, as we’ve already seen.  She spies on the boy until he gets a call from the villains, who tell him that he’d better sit out the next game.  To ensure his cooperation, they’ll have three (!) snipers there to kill Roxie if he doesn’t comply.  That also feels a tad excessive to keep a college football player in line, but apparently this gambling syndicate is super serious, despite being involved in college athletics.

Supergirl determines to aid the athlete one way or the other, so she watches the next day as the game begins, and in there fun sequences, she captures three hidden or disguised gunmen (one dressed as an old lady!), freeing Johnny Dee from their threat and allowing him to turn the tide of the game.  Yet, this syndicate has more guts than gray-matter, and they decide that they want yet MORE trouble with the flying, indestructible sun goddess, so they kidnap Roxie.

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The Maid of Might, being a bit more enthusiastic than wise, traps them on a bridge by bending the steel supports into a cage.  Yay for the destruction of millions of dollars of public property!  It’s also a pretty cool sequence, but while reading it, I kept thinking, ‘geez, there has to be a less destructive way to do this!’  It’s possible I’m getting too old for comics!  Anyway, the girl rescued, the heroine drops her back off at the stadium just in time for the winning field goal, kicked by none other than Johnny Dee!  Their reunion is sweet, but I enjoyed the coda even more, as Supergirl suddenly remembers her caged crooks and rushes back to capture them, only to be met by an unsympathetic policeman and given a pile of citations!  Ha!  That’s a surprising and unusual touch, and I quite enjoyed it.

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This is a fun story with more personality and charm than I expected.  The silliness of some ruthless criminal syndicate being super invested in college athletics, let alone having enough resources to dedicate multiple killers to keeping one particular athlete in check, is a bit much.  Still, Sekowsky keeps everything moving and injects enough tension and entertainment into the story to make up for it.  I found it particularly interesting that the two supporting characters in this comic were both Black.

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That’s still unusual for this time, and I was even more surprised when their race didn’t feature into the story at all.  Good for Sekowsky, giving his comic some diversity and treating the move naturally.  I’d call that a positive.  Nevertheless, there’s a subtext to a pair of African Americans being harassed by hooded whites that should make us all at least a little uncomfortable.  I can’t imagine that the imagery was unintentional, and hopefully the injustice of the moment, outside of the context of race, stuck in the minds of readers at the time and made it easier to recognize it in other contexts as well.

On the art front, this book is like most of the Sekowsky pieces we’ve seen lately, varying greatly in quality from page to page.  There’s tons of personality in the art, as well as some very striking panels, but there is also plenty of wonky anatomy and awkward composition.  Sekowsky art is never boring, at least.  Well, I’ll give this unusual little yarn 3.5 Minutemen, held back from 4 by the silly elements, but earning extra for its charm and uniqueness.

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That’s it for these books, and fun reads they were.  Assuming we all survive inauguration day, I hope you’ll join me soon for the next edition of Into the Bronze Age!

Into the Bronze Age: October 1970 (Part 6)

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Hello my dear readers, and welcome to the last edition of Into the Bronze Age for October 1970.  We’ve made it through another month and are well on our way to 1971!  It’s been a particularly interesting month, and at the end of the post I’ll provide some reflections on the overarching themes that we’ve been observing in this set of books.  Well, let’s get started!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.

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.


Superman #230


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“Killer Kent Versus Super Luthor”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Dan Adkins

Ohh boy, this is a goofy one, folks.  This issue, with its incredibly gimmicky premise and its simplistic execution could be the poster child for the current state of Superman comics in 1970.  While change is abroad at DC, with social relevance breaking in on superheroes and growing depth and complexity to be found in most books, their flagship character remains completely unaffected, starring in stories that could easily have come from 1960 rather than 1970.  This is definitely one such tale.  Yet, despite its silliness, this issue actually has some pretty fascinating concepts behind its foolish facade.  The basic idea is an old one, what would happen if the hero and villain exchanged lives.  In this case, it is Lex Luthor who comes from Krypton and Clark Kent who is born on earth.  Bates actually adds some really interesting wrinkles to this setup, though they don’t amount to much.

To begin with, young Lex-El’s childhood is rather different than Kal’s.  His mother dies in a completely predictable accident with one of Jor-El’s inventions when an ion storm overloaded the device, which, for some reason, wasn’t designed to deal with common weather events.  What is this, like the third time, just in this year of comics, that one of Jor-El’s inventions has gone horribly wrong?  Seriously, why would this guy be let within a mile of a lab?  Everything he builds tries to kill somebody!  Anyway, this leaves Lex without a mother, but it leaves his father embittered and bat-guano insane to boot.  Instead of blaming himself for forgetting the fact that Krypton occasionally has storms, Jor blames the real villain.  Krypton itself.  That’s right, the planet killed his wife, and the planet must pay!  It’s utterly nuts, even for a crazy man.

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And Jor-El is not just your garden variety madman.  No, he’s a madman with access to incredibly destructive super science!  He creates a weapon called the ‘Lethal Liquid’ that destroys Krypton from the inside out, but not before he and his bald-as-an-egg boy (also the fault of one of his inventions, by the way) hop a rocket for Earth.

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I am become Jor-El, destroyer of worlds…

Meanwhile, on Earth the parents of Clark Kent are also quite different from the kindly farmers we remember.  Ma and Pa Kent have more in common with Bonnie and Clyde than with the rural American ideal.  When we meet them, they’re engaged in a running gunfight with the police, a chase that is only ended by the sudden arrival of the kryptonian rocket.  It drives them off the road, killing them.  However, they had already given their son to an underworld scientist named Dr. Markem so that he could implant, and I kid you not, “evil genes” in the kid.  Apparently, these parents of the year were really concerned that their son should grow up to be a criminal himself…for some reason.  So, they hired this quack to take their “evil genes” and implant them in their sons brains…despite the fact that A) that’s incredibly stupid and B) he’s already their son and should therefore already have their genes.

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Well, unspeakably goofy and unnecessary plot devices aside, the Dr. drops his now orphaned charge off at the Smallville Orphanage while Jor-El discovers that, for some reason, he doesn’t have powers on Earth, though his son does.  The mad scientist gives baldy a super suit and sets up a medical practice, using his advanced science to become very successful.  The years pass, and Clark, adopted by the Langs, grows up to be young Lex’s best friend.  Lex becomes Superboy, and when Clark saves his life from an assassin, they become friends in that identity as well.

Yet, the peace of these idyllic times is soon shattered by madness…and also plot.  The insane Jor-El decides once again to blame an inanimate object for a misfortune and concludes that he must destroy Smallville in revenge for the attack upon his on.  He invents a new doomsday device (ohh, is it Tuesday already?), and he unleashes it on the town.  At the same time, Superboy and Clark had gone flying when the adopted boy went into a trance as his evil implant began to do its work.

Superboy rushes Clark to his father’s office, then notices the device destroying the town.  He manages to stop it, but his friend awakens, now ‘evil,’ and attacks the nutball scientist, killing him in the struggle.  Yet, our story doesn’t end there!  Next, for some reason, we leap ten years into the future, where Lex Luthor is a reporter for the Daily Planet and Clark Kent is in a comma after a failed robbery.  Because this wasn’t complicated enough, Lois Lane is also moonlighting as a nurse and has fallen in love with the comatose crook.

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But we’re STILL not done.  The aged Dr. Markem shows up at the hospital and uses an invention to teleport the patient to his hideout, where he revives the criminal in hopes that he’ll pay him the money his parents owed when they died.  Just then, the evil scientist, not to be confused with the mad scientist, dies of a heart attack, leaving Kent alone in his hideout with a plethora of super-scientific inventions and a sudden desire to kill Superman.

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Phew!  Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.  The setup with an aggrieved Jor-El and a motherless Lex could have been really fascinating, but the execution is just so silly that there isn’t much here.  The evil gene device is so goofy that it undermines another fun concept, which is the idea of a human Clark Kent with reason to hate the superhuman kryptonian.  The issue manages to be readable and entertaining, but too silly to amount to anything.  It’s a shame, because there were neat ideas here.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.

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P.S.: The one standout feature of the issue is an item printed in the letter column which makes the same observations about the Superman books that I’ve been noting.  Keane Bonyun asks why, with so much of DC evolving, the Man of Steel is stuck in the past, a flat and uninteresting character in comparison with many of his fellows.  The editor notes that a big change is coming for Superman himself, and in the meantime, he points out new directions in Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, which is rather neat.  Clearly even at the time people both within and without the company were aware that the times were changing and the genre was evolving..


Teen Titans #29


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“Captives!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza

This book, on the other hand, is a fun read.  Unfortunately, it reveals that the pointless Mr. Jupiter experiment is not yet over, but at least it gets the Titans back in action and back in costume.  Despite a few weak moments, it’s an interesting issue.  Perhaps the most compelling feature of the story is that it engages with the concept of Hawk and Dove in both frustrating and enjoyable ways.  Skeates manages to make Dove both aggravating and likeable at different points, but the most important thing is that he delivers an action-packed and enjoyable adventure.

We pick up where the previous issue left off, with Aqualad having been defeated by Ocean Master and his cronies and tied to a tree to die of dehydration.  The silly one hour limit is mentioned again, unfortunately.  I wonder when they got rid of that.  Anyway, just as he’s about to run out of time, the young Aquatic Ace sees that the cavalry has arrived, in the form of the Teen Titans!  That’s right, they finally got off their duffs and decided to do something useful.  Aqualad fills his friends in on the story so far and tells them that he managed to put a tracer on one of Ocean Master’s men.

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Meanwhile, Hawk and Dove have slipped away from the team in order to pursue the investigation on their own.  Hawk actually has a pretty good plan, and they head to Sharon’s (the girl who was attacked last issue) apartment and wait, hoping that the villains are still watching the place.  Sure enough, a band of thugs show up, and Hawk plans to disable them and let one escape so that they can trail him back to Orm.  In the donnybrook that follows, Dove is pretty much useless, but even worse, he turns tail and runs, rationalizing that they can’t take these three, seemingly average guys and he needs to get help.  Of course, if Dove had been even moderately useful in the fight, that probably wouldn’t have been the case.  This brings me to a problem I had, not so much with the issue, but with the character.

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Hawk and Dove are a cool concept, and one that is definitely timely for the era of their creation.  However, making proper use of them is rather tough.  It just makes no sense for a sincere pacifist to be a superhero.  It’s an inherently violent job, after all.  Justice League Unlimited handled the portrayal quite well, presenting a Dove who was very capable in a fight, despite the fact that he didn’t resort to direct violence.  The Dove who is a master of aikido, the martial art that turns an attack back upon an attacker, is a much more reasonable and useful character, after all.  Aikido is used to protect the practitioner, but it also emphasizes protecting your opponent from injury, which fits as a pacifistic way to take an active part in a fight.  Lifeline from G.I. JOE employed it for just such a purpose in the 80s comic.  Of course, we’re dealing with the very beginning of the character’s career, and it makes sense that neither he nor his writers would have worked out all the kinks just yet.  The result is still frustrating, making Dove seem like a coward rather than a man of principle.

Well, back to the story, Dove finds the other Titans and brings them on the run as their attackers cart Hawk off.  They make short work of the minions in a nice Cardy action scene, only to have Hawk dragged beneath the waves by Ocean Master!  Dove tries to intervene, only to be captured as well.  The pair awaken in an underwater base, tied to a pole.  The peaceful partner has managed to piece together the plot, and it seems to be related to one of our previous Aquaman stories.  Remember the aliens who were in cahoots with Orm?  They’re back, and now they’ve brought in some intergalactic muscle!  The handsome gents from the last issue of Titans were a super strong warrior race that the original invaders recruited.  The strange transformation that Sharon witnessed was a process that they use to walk among humans.

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After they compare notes, our heroes manage to escape from their foolproof prison by…standing up.  Even the heroes seem to be surprised by how easy it is.  Apparently Ocean Master is really not cut out for this world domination bit, as he tied the two brothers to a pole that had no top.  It’s a little taller than the teens, but they stretch a tad and manage to free themselves.  It’s…a bit silly that the mighty supervillain would make such an oversight, and it makes him seem incompetent.  It’s a fairly minor issue, though, and the escape requires cooperation from the brothers, which helps to add to the story and gives them a solid character moment.  Once free, they fight their way through the base until they run into Ocean Master himself, displaying good teamwork despite their differences.

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With Ocean Master they find one of the disguised aliens, and Hawk can’t take him alone, so Dove abandons his principles in the face of global Armageddon, and comes out swinging.  They’re holding their own when alien reinforcements arrive and things start to seem hopeless.  Just then, the Titans charge in, having used the tracker to find the base, and they clean up their extraterrestrial enemies with aplomb.  It’s another lovely Nick Cardy sequence.

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After the action, the heroes deal with the big question, the future of the Titans.  As I mentioned in the intro, we sadly don’t see the end of the Jupiter episode, but at least Aqualad is smart enough to realize how completely inane the whole thing is.  The rest of the Titans say they still feel like their vow has merit, and I suppose a vow is a vow, no matter how foolish.  Of course, they’ve already broken it by taking part in this adventure.  Nevertheless, they say that they’ll only help out in extreme cases like this and that they’ll leave regular crime fighting to the police.  Hopefully this is Skeate’s first step to moving them into a new direction.  We’ll have to wait and see.

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This is another good issue, as if that were really in doubt with Steve Skeates holding the pen.  Cardy’s art is as lovely as always, though I really don’t care that much for his Ocean Master.  He’s well drawn, but he just seems softer, less imposing than Aparo’s or Adams’.  Anyway, this issue is fun, exciting, and even manages to ask some interesting questions about principles and pacifism, even if it does so a bit awkwardly at times.  Despite the frustrating moments with Dove, I’ll give Skeates credit for trying to do something new and challenging.  The whole adventure is enjoyable, and it’s great to see the Titans back in action.  I especially enjoy that Aqualad gets to play the leader and the level-headed one.  It’s a role he’s good at, and it’s a shame we don’t see it more often.  Unfortunately, it looks like Aqualad will be leaving the book after next issue, and that is a crying shame.  The team won’t be the same without him.  Anyway, I’ll give this issue 4 Minutemen, though I’m tempted to go a bit higher.

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Final Thoughts:


This was a solid if hardly electrifying collection of issues.  While most of the books were fairly average in quality, we had a handful of stronger offerings.  In particular, it’s worth noting that we actually got an entirely tolerable, even enjoyable, issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow.  Even if the comics weren’t stellar, this month provided us with several unique and interesting moments, from the arrival of Jack Kirby at DC to the first, halting steps towards bringing more mature themes to the Man of Steel in Action Comics.  At the same time, issues like this latest Superman remind us of just how far there is to go, and the contrast between this month’s two Superman books is really telling.  Even more interesting to me is the fact that, in the context of the whole catalog of DC comics, what Jack Kirby is starting to do in his Fourth World books is all the more exciting and innovative.  I’m sure it will be a fascinating experience to read those books in context.  Well, that’s it for October 1970.  I hope you’ll join me soon as we begin our sojourn in November!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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It’s been an uneventful month, in terms of the wall of shame, though I’m sure we’ll see new additions soon to rack up the headcount!

Into the Bronze Age: October 1970 (Part 5)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Today we’re covering the first appearance of the unique heroine, Rose and Thorn, which is pretty cool, but much more excitingly, we’re also going to encounter the triumphant return of Jack “the King” Kirby to DC Comics in his inaugural issue of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen!  We’ve finally reached the event that DC had been plugging for months.  I’m definitely looking forward to covering the unfolding saga of the Fourth World in all of its bizarre, insanely creative glory.  I’ve included some general reflections on Kirby and his career, so this post is a bit longer than normal.  Let’s see what these books have in store for us!

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what its all about.

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.


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #105


lois_lane_105Death House Honeymoon!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“Night of the Thorn”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

I was quite uncertain as to how this book was going to go, but I have to say that I was pretty pleasantly surprised.  First off, it was a Robert Kanigher script, which hasn’t worked out too well so far in my experience.  Second, it was Lois Lane, which I didn’t really expect to be reading to begin with.  Yet, the inclusion of Rose and Thorn intrigued me enough to pick it up, and I’m glad I did.  The story inside is actually fairly enjoyable, though there is one glaring problem caused by Kanigher apparently forgetting Superman’s powers.  I suppose there are a lot of them to keep track of!  Still, I think this new character is promising.

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Our first glimpse of the mysterious botanical beauty is in the form of flyers dropped all over Metropolis, informing the members of the ruthless criminal organization known as the ‘100’ that she is out to destroy them  These flyers contain a picture of the beautiful Thorn, as well as the challenge, which seems somewhat short-sighted.  Clark Kent and Lois Lane discover these circulars and are split on how to treat this character.  Lois wants to chase down the story, while Mr. Mild Mannered is afraid that if they do, they’ll make this woman a target for the 100, though it rather seems like that particular cat is already well out of its bag.  We also get a bit of somewhat unusual misogyny from Perry White, as Clark convinces him the story is too dangerous for a woman.  Instead, the editor tells Lois that a convicted murderer named Johnny Adonis, awaiting his fate on death row, has asked to see her in his final hours.

Once she arrives (Superman having saved her from a car wreck on the way, just to stay in practice), the girl reporter discovers that the convict has a very unusual request.  He wants her to marry him for the short time he has before his date with the chair.  Adonis points out that she can have the marriage annulled as soon as he is gone, and then he declares that she owes him a debt.  We discover that he had saved her life years ago when she fell through the ice of a frozen lake while on vacation.  Feeling that she owes the killer her life, Lois agrees.  Of course, there’s a small dose of obligatory drama with Superman because of her choice, but nonetheless, the deathhouse is soon the scene of a grim and joyless wedding.  Yet, the wedding is just a smokescreen, and as soon as the Man of Steel has left in disgust, the prisoners stage an escape, using the new bride as a hostage!

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Meanwhile, the Metropolis Marvel encounters the enigmatic vigilante known as the Thorn for the first time.  He finds her taking it to a trio of 100 thugs and intervenes just in time to save her from a bullet.  Before he can talk with her, though, she vanishes into the night.  That’s right.  She slips away and hides in the shadows….hides from the man with X-Ray vision.  In the shadows.  Are shadows made of lead in the DCU?  This is the only real problem with the story.  Apparently Kanigher forgets how Superman’s powers work.

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“Shadows!  My kryptonite…err…wait a minute…”

Next we cut back to the escaping prisoners, who, clear of pursuit, decide to dispose of their hostage.  They push their car into the river with Lois inside, and her pleas for help seem to fall on deaf ears, her new “husband” coldly ignoring her plight.  Yet, just then Thorn arrives, pulling the reporter out of the river and attracting the bullets of the surprised convicts.  That’s just too much for Mr. Adonis, though, and he turns on his fellows, struck with a sudden attack of conscience.  He gets a few of them, but they get him as well.  Fortunately, Superman arrives just in time to stop the rest of the gang, though too late to save Lois’s new groom, who dies in her arms.  Her work done, Thorn sneaks off into the fog, and we get the dumbest line in the book, as captions tell us “vainly Superman stares through the curtaining vapors.”  Really?  It’s a shame Superman doesn’t have any powers that let him do things like see through fog or shadows.

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It’s really silly, but despite that goofy little oversight, this first chapter is pretty entertaining.  We don’t see much of Thorn (or Rose for that matter) in this first tale, but what we see is enough to pique our interest, as she is a relentless, capable crusader, pursuing this 100 organization.  It’s not a bad introduction, and the next story will fill us in on who she is.  This headline plot seems like it’s going to be pretty goofy, with the gimmicky “Lois is marrying a prisoner” thing, but it actually works out pretty well.  Lois does have an obligation to the guy, and though his request is absurd, Kanigher manages to make the case for it at least well enough for the world of comics.  In context, it’s less absurd than Superman losing Thorn in the fog.  We don’t get to know Adonis well enough for his death to have much of an impact, but his little arc is moderately interesting.  All in all, it’s a solid story, worth an average 3 Minutemen.

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“Night of the Thorn”


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This is the real meat of the issue, the backup tale that gives us the origin of the fascinating character Rose and Thorn.  How can Rose AND Thorn be one character?  Well, that’s the gimmick, and it’s a good one.  Her origin even makes ‘comic book sense,’ which is enough for me in this context.  It’s a standard superhero origin, but with a great twist.

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We first meet Rose Forrest at the grave of her father, police detective Phil Forrest.  She obligingly fills us in on what happened to her dearly departed dad, who was on the police force of Metropolis and who was investigating the activities of the vicious new criminal organization, the 100.  He and his partner, Danny, make enough trouble for the gang that the hoods put a price on their heads.  Eventually, they manage to take Forrest out in a fiery running gunfight which left him at the bottom of a river.  For some reason, Danny seems to think it would be a good idea to bring his partner’s daughter to see daddy get fished out of the river, but the sight is too much for her, and she suffers a breakdown.

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While in the hospital, the doctors observe her sleepwalking, and they helpfully tell us that “her ego personality as Rose is incapable of violence[,] but her id, her unconscious self, is different!”  Now, that’s mostly nonsense, but the result is that, once she is released, she begins to live a double life.  Every night she wakens, no longer Rose, but with a new personality in control of her body.  This Thorn persona crosses through a convenient secret passage in her brownstone home to an abandoned and even more convenient costume shop in a neighboring building.  There she dons a wig and dresses in a strange disguise, then takes to the street to exact her revenge on the killers who took her father from her.  On this particular night, she interrupts the gang’s ambush of Danny, disabling the attackers, and then running off before the stunned policeman can ask her any questions.

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She ends the night by chasing another set of killers into a bowling alley and bowling a very unlikely strike, pitting bowling balls against bullets and somehow not becoming a bullet-ridden corpse.  It’s a bit silly, but it’s entertaining enough.  The night spent, she returns home and transforms once more into the passive and peaceful Rose, who remembers only a strange, disjointed dream.

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This is a fun story, but it’s real strength lies in the power of the concept rather than the particular execution.  It’s a great idea, and I am very much looking forward to see where it goes from here.  I was particularly surprised by the fact that the portrayal of the main character’s psychosis, though handled with traditional comic book exaggeration and sensationalism, is actually more or less accurate.  You see, Lady Grey has a doctorate in psychology, and while this particular type of thing is not her area of expertise, when I ran it past her, she told me that dissociative identity disorder (the official name for what is colloquially known as multiple personality disorder) can work more or less like this.  I was quite astounded that the science in the story wasn’t complete nonsense.  That is, of course, ignoring the sleepwalking component, as the two are unrelated.  So, good on Kanigher!  This backup is too brief to do much more than set up the concept, but it succeeds at that well enough, though the last encounter in the bowling alley is a bit of an odd fit, not quite meshing with the rest of the tale.  I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen as well, and we’ll have to see what else Rose and Thorn have in store for us.

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133


jimmy_olsen_133“Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Pal, Brings Back the Newsboy Legion!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Pencilers: Jack Kirby and Al Plastino
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: E. Nelson Bridwell and Murray Boltinoff

Okay gang, strap in for the beautiful, gloriously insane madness that is Jack Kirby’s Fourth World.  The most mad, and strangely, at times, also the most glorious, is his Jimmy Olsen!  So we’re in for a wild ride.

I love Jack Kirby.  He’s hands-down my favorite comics creator and, arguably, the most important figure in the history of superhero comics.  I’ve read most of his genre-defining work at Marvel produced with Stan Lee, and it is a fascinating experience to read through those amazing early Marvel books from the dawn of the Silver Age, watching step by step as that unparalleled team built the Marvel Universe line by line, panel by panel, but even more so because at the same time they were transforming superhero comics forever.  The work is often silly and Silver Age-ish, undeveloped and simplistic, and always overwritten.  Stan Lee never meet an unnecessary caption that he didn’t like, and calling his prose purple is like calling the sun a candle!  Nonetheless, there has never been an era like that one.  If you’re interested in the legendary King of Comics, let me recommend this fascinating documentary about his life and work.

Stan and Jack were the ultimate creative partnership, generating countless concepts, a seemingly bottomless well of imagination and innovation.  Not all of their ideas were hits, and there was probably a dud or two for every success in those early days.  Yet, they created entire worlds of possibilities, and their successors have had long and illustrious careers merely mapping the landscapes first explored by comic’s most dynamic duo.

Unfortunately, (or fortunately, for DC Comics) that golden age didn’t last.  Marvel in general and Stan Lee specifically didn’t treat ‘the King’ properly for a peasant, much less for comics’ royalty.  There’s a good deal of ‘he said,’ ‘she said’ about the events surrounding Kirby’s departure from Marvel Comics, and I won’t get into the ugly details of the matter.  While what I’ve read has made me more sympathetic to Kirby than Lee, the real details of those days are probably lost to history, and there’s no sense fighting ancient battles all over again.

Suffice to say, the man who had at least half credit for building the Marvel Universe found that familiar space no longer home and set out for new horizons.  He came to DC Comics, and the company was only too thrilled to have such a comics luminary working for them.  Kirby did not come empty handed either.  He brought with him an entire new universe full of characters, concepts, and wonder without end.  The King was given the opportunity to explore this new world, though the folks in charge never quite understood the idea, which made them continuously nervous and eventually contributed to the early demise of the various Fourth World books.  They were definitely different, and the books teemed with life and creativity, just as the early Marvel books had.  This was an era of imagination much like that earlier age, with Kirby pitching out idea after idea, filling each book with eye-popping, astounding sights.  Just like his earlier work, they weren’t all hits, but they expanded the DC Universe tremendously.

As part of his new contract, Kirby was tasked with salvaging DC’s lowest selling book, Jimmy Olsen, the price he must pay for the chance to bring his new ideas to life.  There’s an apocryphal story that Jack told DC, ‘give me your lowest-selling book and I’ll turn it into your highest-selling book.’  True or not, DC didn’t have much to lose, because, much like the other Superman books, as we’ve seen, Jimmy Olsen was stuck in a Silver Age-ish rut.  Its stories were formulaic and silly, and readers were tiring of the routine.  Kirby brought something entirely new to the series, breathing new life into a book on its last legs, and that is where we begin today.  Prepare yourselves.  The journey is a wild and wonderful one.

One of the most noteworthy features of this first issue is the return of a previous Jack Kirby creation, the Newsboy Legion, to the pages of DC Comics.  It’s quite fitting that Kirby’s return should also coincide with his reviving of an old concept from the 40s, one that was near and dear to his heart.  These plucky kids were one of the many ‘kid gang’ groups that crowded into comics during the Golden Age, and Kirby drew on his own experience in a neighborhood gang to create them.  Originally, they were a group of orphans who sold newspapers to survive and got into all kinds of adventures.

This new set are the descendants of the original, which is a fun angle, and they are working for Galaxy Broadcasting, the new parent company of the Daily Planet, as child reporters…because that makes sense and is totally legal.  They include a fun set of walking archetypes: Gabby, the loquacious one, Big Words, the brainy one, Tommy, the normal one, and Scrapper Jr., the tough one.  Unfortunately, the King has added in a new member, likely in an effort to add some diversity to the cast, named, and I kid you not, “Flipper Dipper,” who goes everywhere dressed in a S.C.U.B.A. diving outfit, complete with mask and fins.  It’s…an odd choice.  He’s a ridiculous character who can only contribute to a story through the force of plot.  All the other kids have a fairly normal, conventional gimmick.  What does this poor schmuck get?  Diving.

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Inexplicably, the kids have built an incredibly hi-tech vehicle called the ‘Whiz Wagon,’ capable of flying, underwater travel, and a host of other incredible feats.  Morgan Edge, the mysteriously sinister new president of Galaxy funded the construction of the vehicle, which was designed by resident genius, Big Words.  This is just number one of the crazy, imaginative concepts that Kirby is going to squeeze into this issue.  Take a look at this thing.  It looks like a suped-up version of the ‘o-matic’ 60s Fantasticar.  It is certainly neat looking.  After all, no-one could design a gadget like Jack Kirby!

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The Legion, led by Jimmy Olsen, are going to use this fancy contraption to travel to a mysterious place called the ‘Wild Area,’ an ill-defined spot of unspecified dangers, there to plumb its secrets.  It’s supposed to be wildly unsafe, so, naturally, they’re sending kids to cover it.  This doesn’t sit too well with Clark Kent, who confronts the slimy Morgan Edge about his choice, but his efforts to protect the youths are rebuffed.  Edge insists that the inhabitants of the Wild Area, the “Hairies,” don’t trust anyone over twenty-five, meaning that the crew has to be young.  As you’ve probably already guessed, this story is going to be about the generation gap, in insane Kirby fashion.

Leaving the office, the disguised Man of Steel is run down by a car, which, of course leaves him unscathed.  It seems that Morgan Edge has been annoyed by his questions, and the car was full of Intergang’s hired killers.  Still following me?  We’re only a few pages in!  With Kent pretending to be home recovering from his “accident,” the Whiz Wagon sets out on an incredible journey by sea, sky, and road, heading to the ill-defined Wild Area, where they encounter a group of hi-tech bikers called ‘The Outsiders’ that only Jack Kirby could have imagined.

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They ride crazy, over-designed bikes, wear outlandish gear more fitting for space travel than cycle riding, and employ sci-fi weapons.  Jimmy and his youthful pals take fire in the Wagon, and so they immediately do the sensible thing and attack these heavily-armed Star Wars rejects barehanded.  Their insane courage is rewarded rather than earning them messy deaths, and when Jimmy knocks out the gang’s leader, they immediately put him in charge.

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Following the ancient rule, in his own book, Jimmy’s sort of awesome.

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Meanwhile, Superman sets out to find the Legion, sure they are in over their heads.  He employs a power I’m pretty sure he’s never evinced before or since, as he uses his heat vision to detect the afterimage of the heat created by the Wagon’s passage.  Oookay.  I hope that if I’ve got any readers who are Superman experts, they’ll correct me if I’m wrong about that, but it seems like a weird addition.  Arriving in the Wild Area, the Metropolis Marvel discovers the home of the ‘Outsiders,’ only to be attacked by the gang, now lead by his old friend!  Before the two can straighten things out, one of the bikers shoots the Man of Tomorrow with a weird ray, conveniently packed with kryptonite…that this random guy just had..in case Superman ever showed up.  It’s a very Silver Age-ish moment, silly in the extreme and an example of that kryptonite-as-plot-device trend I hate.

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Well, the Man of Steel recovers and meets the Legion in the wondrous, Kirby-esq city known as ‘the Habitat.’  It’s a glorious full page splash, and it makes absolutely no sense.  Superman points out that a ‘dropout society’ like the Outsiders could never have built anything like it, but the origins of this bizarre arboreal urban sprawl will remain a mystery for the moment.  With things calmed down, the hero meets with his young friend, who apologizes for the zapping and fills him in on the Legion’s assignment, ‘The Mountain of Judgement.’  You’ve just got to love the portentous names that Kirby assigns everything.  One of the bikers tells them what little that they know about it, which isn’t much.  Apparently it’s some type of gargantuan mobile structure at the end of some type of dangerous path called ‘the Zoomway.’  Just then, a tremendous sound shakes the entire city, heralding the presence of the Mountain of Judgement!

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I want to live in Jack Kirby’s world.

Okay, catch your breath, gang!  This utterly mad issue was just the start, and what a start it was!  Kirby is simultaneously introducing a new supporting cast for Jimmy, establishing a bizarre and exciting new setting, and planting the seeds for the Fourth World.  This issue, as irrational and silly as it is in many regards, is just absolutely chock full of imagination and wonder.  That’s perhaps Kirby’s greatest strength, the conjuration of wonder, and it will be a common accomplishment in the Fourth World books, even at their weakest. He manages it here, with the strange societies of the Wild Area, the mysterious, alien structures of the Habitat, and the pure ‘Kribyness’ of the visuals.  I’ve left a lot out of my summary, because there is no way to capture all of this colorful craziness.

I was not very fond of these early Jimmy Olsen issues when I first read them some years ago.  All of the sillier elements grated too much on me, but I’ve developed more appreciation for such wild stories in the interim.  As bizarre as this issue is, it is also undeniably fun and imaginative.  It’s even zanier and even more creative than an outing with Zany Haney.  It has plenty of weaknesses, with the stupid kryptonite convenience at the top of the list.  It’s also worth noting that, while Jack Kirby was an artist of unparalleled skill and creativity, with his talents matched only by the bottomless productivity of his ever-working imagination, his skills as a dialog writer are not quite as legendary.  The 60s slang that fills the book, while not as horrible as some of the earlier Teen Titans issues, can be pretty cringe-inducing.

The whole generation gap angle of the story also feels a bit dated, even in 1970.  The angst of generational conflict, which will be felt more next issue, bores me.  I suppose that’s because I was an angsty teenager once and am now keenly aware of just how stupid I was. Of course, as we’ve often noted, Superman is certainly a fitting symbol for the established order, having remained almost entirely unchanged for years, so I suppose there is something more clever here than I had really given Kirby credit for.  In the context of the social relevance trends, the revamping of characters, and the greater social engagement sweeping through DC Comics, this theme is actually quite fitting.  Who is more a symbol of the previous generation than Superman?  Of course, Jimmy is not really the first character I’d pick for a rebellious avatar of teen identity.  Still, I’ll have to see how the other issues strike me.  Perhaps they’ll read better on the second pass.

The dropout societies of the Wild Area, and even the name that Edge gives them, the ‘Hairies,’ obviously references the hippies of the 60s, but they are much more exciting.  Hippies with ray guns and Kirby-tech might even be moderately tolerable.  Nonetheless, the final result is intriguing.  You couldn’t read this issue and not want to know just what in the blue blazes was going on.  And that is nothing to laugh at.  There’s an undeniable charm and frenetic energy to this story, so despite its goofy elements, I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.  We’ll see better Kirby stories before long, but even with its weaknesses, this is a fascinating beginning!

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Well my friends, that’s it for this milestone edition of Into the Bronze Age!  The King is here, long live the King!  Please join me again soon for our last two issues of the month, which promise to be interesting at the very least.  I hope that y’all are enjoying our trek as much as I am.  Until next time, keep the heroic spirit alive!

Into the Bronze Age: October 1970 (Part 4)

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Hello fellow Bronze Agers, and welcome to another edition of my investigation of the depths of DC’s Bronze Age books.  We have an interesting pair of comics lined up for today’s article, one sci-fi and the other supernatural.

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what its all about.

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.


Green Lantern/Green Arrow #80


green_lantern_vol_2_80Even An Immortal Can Die!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

As has became a sad routine, I dreaded this comic, but I was very pleasantly surprised when I it.  Some of the trademark excesses of this series are still on display in this month’s issue, but I think this must be the most successful story of this run, as a story.  Ironically, as the type of thoughtful investigation of important social issues that O’Neil set out to deliver, it is, perhaps, the weakest.  It’s an interesting contrast.  To his credit, O’Neil displays more subtlety and nuance than has been his wont in this book, and even Green Arrow doesn’t come off as too insufferably self-righteous.  Unfortunately, taking the action off the Earth robs the comic of the social consciousness it has been trying ohh-so-hard to cultivate.

Ohh, it starts on Earth alright, with our Hard Traveling Heroes continuing their cross-country trek in their old truck.  Ollie even broaches the very hopeful topic of their getting off the road for a while, but that will have to wait as a near miss by a big rig sends the trio off a bridge and into a river.  To get out of the drink, they climb aboard a ship transporting toxic waste.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that: A) the poor schlubs having to transport the stuff were not mustache twirling villains, just decent, hard-working sailors trying to do a job and do it right, and B) the stuff was on the way to be disposed of properly rather than being dumped into the river for poorly defined reasons.  Are we sure this is really a Denny O’Neill script?

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Unfortunately, the ship’s boiler blows, almost killing Green Lantern and setting the scow ablaze (O.S.H.A. must be the most lax and laid back organization on the planet in the DC Universe).  The Guardian is presented with an interesting moral dilemma.  He has enough innate power to either save the ship or take Hal to a doctor, but not both.  The logical (hello there, Spock) choice is to protect the lives of the crew and the health of the environment by saving the ship, or at least that’s how it’s presented.  Instead, the immortal, changed by his time on Earth, chooses to save his friend.  It’s actually a nice moment, but it is undercut because it strikes me as a bit of a false choice.  Yeah, it’s bad to let the toxic sludge get loose in the water, but the sailors are not in immediate danger, and the life of a human being is of great value.  It seems strange that even a being with as long-term a view as a Guardian would take such an ecological incident as more important than a human life.

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Wait, isn’t the Lantern’s ring supposed to automatically protect them from lethal dangers? Oh well, plot will out…

Well, in another pleasant touch of nuance, the crew has to toss the waste overboard because it is flammable, but O’Neil goes out of his way to show that they do so unwillingly, aware of the cost.  It’s actually a pretty effective scene.  Meanwhile, the Guardian’s swift action saves Hal’s life, but their happy reunion with Ollie is short-lived, as the immortal’s peers are none too happy with his choice.  They inform him that he’s transgressed and needs to be judged.  Green Arrow responds with his trademark tact and diplomacy, telling a race of god-like beings that the Guardian’s choice was “the only human thing to do!”  I’m sure that carries tremendous weight.  Thanks Ollie; you’re a big help.

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The traveling trio are sent to a world called Gallo, which is like the intergalactic Supreme Court.  This is actually one of my only real problems with this issue.  It doesn’t make much sense that the Guardians would farm out their justice system to anybody else.  They aren’t exactly shy about their abilities or bashful about their judgements.  I’m wondering if this place ever showed up again, because it really doesn’t fit in with the Lantern Corps. mythos.  Anyway, when they arrive, a robotic bailiff demands that they surrender their weapons, and when the Emerald Archer resists, the electronic enforcer insists, violently.  Here we see a very nice piece of storytelling, where Adams and O’Neil work together in perfect sync.  Arrow uses the distraction of the fight to snap off one of his arrows’ warheads, and the art conveys this perfectly but unobtrusively.  You hardly notice it if you aren’t looking for it.  This will, of course, become important later on.

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Apparently, things on Gallo are not what they should be, and both the Emerald Crusader and his erstwhile boss notice, but it is too late as they have already been disarmed and captured.  Instead of the customary tribunal, they are greeted with one cruel and vicious judge who proceeds to give them a trial that could have been plucked from the pages of Kafka.  The accused are gagged and summarily sentenced to death on false evidence, a sentence delivered by a jury of robots!

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In the holding cells, the green-garbed heroes discover the real Tribune of Gallo, whose power has been usurped by their former master mechanic, who has some type of hangup about the superiority of robots to flesh and blood.  Unfortunately, that angle really doesn’t get much development.  The guy is crazy and on a power-trip, and his pro-machine agenda doesn’t really provide much more than window-dressing for the story.  Nonetheless, O’Neil delivers a great scene as Green Arrow rapidly strips their cell to create a makeshift bow, arming the arrow with his salvaged warhead.  It serves ably and destroys their robotic jailer, allowing them to escape and recover their weapons.  It’s a great character moment for him, though it continues the process of elevating Ollie at Hal’s expense.

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In the meantime, the Guardian’s death sentence is being carried out as he is slowly sealed in plastic, only to be rescued at the last minute by our emerald heroes.  It’s a lovely, dynamic sequence illustrated beautifully by Adams, but it also includes the other false note of the issue.  Hal has a moment of conflict as he goes up against the judge, thinking to himself “it’s hard–very hard for me to use my ring!  Though the judge is mad, I’m conditioned to respect the authority of the law!”  Good heavens!  It’s not like Hal was in the SS!  He’s not a brainwashed cultist; he’s a former soldier, daredevil test pilot, and space cop.  To a certain extent, we’re all ‘conditioned’ to respect authority.  It’s part of growing up in an ordered society, but most of us don’t get paralyzed with indecision when we encounter something that is obviously and grossly unjust.  It’s not like this judge is even the proper representative of the court on this world.  Hal just freed those guys from a cell, so the law is definitely on his side!  It’s just a stupid moment, and it makes the character seem incredibly dense to boot.  I understand what O’Neil is going for, but as with so many aspects of this series, the execution is just off.

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‘Hard, very hard because I lack basic reasoning skills!’

Fortunately, our heroes manage to get ‘the old timer’ out of his plasticine tomb in time, and he notes that he simply held his breath, having learned from humanity that “where there is life, there is hope.”  That’s one of John Carter of Mars’s favorite phrases, and one I’m quite fond of too.  It’s a good lesson to learn and certainly a truth that humanity bears out.  Despite our flaws, we are awfully hard-headed (which can occasionally be an asset).  The Guardian decides to stay behind and receive a judgement from his fellows, but he sends Hal and Ollie back to Earth and the adventures that await them.

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This is definitely a much better comic than many of its predecessors.  The plot works, the threat is actually pretty legitimate, and the alien setting is a lot more fitting for the power ring wielding Green Lantern than random small towns in the American countryside.  The characterization of the protagonists is, on the whole, better.  Even Green Arrow only gets one short self-righteous speech (thus fulfilling his contract).  The Guardians’ moral dilemma is interesting, even if it feels a tad forced.  It does make sense that a being used to seeing the biggest of big pictures, galactic order, would struggle with the emotional attachment of living life on a small, personal scale with the two heroes.  Yet, the comic definitely loses something by taking its action off-world as well.  While an examination of themes of justice is possible in a story set among the stars, it loses any real social relevance by having no connection to the more terrestrial problems of injustice found under the Sun.

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I know I’ve been hard on this series, but it is important for us to remember, and especially for me to remember as I write, that what it is doing is well and truly unique for its time.  This book was like nothing else of its day, and nothing really like this had ever been done before in comics.  As ham-handed and tone-deaf as it often was, it was also groundbreaking and incredibly innovative.  I’ve probably not been giving O’Neil enough credit for the risks he took and for overcoming the obstacles he must have faced.  Nonetheless, a story is good or bad, regardless of context.  It either works as a story or it is flawed, and noble intentions do not a successful plot make.  I’m trying to deal with these tales both as stories and as cultural artifacts, so I’ll try to balance my coverage appropriately.  Make no mistakes, though.  Many of these stories are not particularly good, as stories.  Something can be important without being actually good.  So, all things considered, I’d give this issue a strong 3.5 Minutemen.  It loses points for Hal’s inane inner conflict, but only just.

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Phantom Stranger #9


phantom_stranger_vol_2_9Obeah Man!”
Writers: Joe Orlando and Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo

This is fun story with a bit of a flawed resolution.  Notably, we’ve got Mike Sekowsky handling the writing chores this month, and he varies up the formula a bit to interesting results.  Instead of what has become the standard, with a frame tale setting up stories narrated by both the Stranger and Dr. Thirteen, this issue just gives us Thirteen’s flashback in addition to the frame tale.  It gives both of them more room to breathe and is definitely a step in the right direction.  I think we’re seeing this book continuing to find its feet.  I’m hopeful that it will soon settle into a really strong run.

This issue takes us down to an unnamed Caribbean country that is a clear analogue for the mysterious island nation of Haiti, and of course, that puts our heroes up against the dark forces of Voodoo!  Now, I know, you’ve probably heard how Voodoo in real life has very little in common with its portrayals in popular media.  In fiction, it is the religious equivalent of the Nazis, the perfect theological antagonist, spooky, enigmatic, and full of dark rituals.  In reality, it’s a religion that’s much like others of its kind, shamanistic and made up of an amalgam of Christian and African beliefs and practices.  We’re dealing with the most sensational type of portrayal here, but I was fascinated to discover that the sinister influence of Voodoo in this story is actually loosely based on real history.  In 1970, the Haitian dictator François Duvalier was in the last years of his reign, a reign that he had supported by co-opting the local forms of Voodoo.  He claimed to be one of the Ioa, or governing spirits of the world, as well identifying himself as Jesus and God himself, just to up the ante on the blasphemy all the way to 11.  He used Voodoo and dragooned its leaders into his service in order to gain spiritual as well as political control over his subjects.  That’s a pretty perfect setting for a spooky Phantom Stranger adventure and a dystopian nightmare!

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And the story doesn’t disappoint.  In Haiti we discover professional wet blanket Dr. Thirteen coming to the aid of the country’s president.  Interestingly, though he looks like Duvalier, he’s actually the good guy here, trying to improve his country and being opposed by shadowy and nefarious Obeah Men (Voodoo sorcerers).  It seems his assistant has died without a mark on him after receiving a Voodoo warning.  The President tells Thirteen that he’s been unable to make any headway against the Obeah Men and asks for his help to discredit them so that the people will stop supporting the charlatans.  He offers to take the good doctor to a ruined fortress where the Voodoo ceremonies are held.

On their way there, Thirteen tells the Haitian head of state about a similar case.  Here’s our interpolated episode, which is actually a pretty standard story.  I’ve seen this plot adapted in a few different places, including on the radio show Escape.  I imagine there is a short story that has served as the originator, but I haven’t bothered to track it down.  Anyway, it’s a pretty standard setup.  A colonial officer in Africa runs afoul of a Voodoo priest and is forced to kill him.  With his dying breath, the man curses the officer, and he lives in fear of that curse ever after.

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Eventually, he sees the man again and is given a token of warning, in this case, a Voodoo doll with pins in the legs.  The victim’s fear and belief create a psychosomatic reaction (he loses the ability to walk), and there is a threat of death.  In this instance, the worst is prevented by Dr. Thirteen discovering that the man’s nephew had faked the second encounter and used a recording to hypnotize his uncle in his sleep.  You know, people are always doing that in fiction, and it seems to require a huge amount of luck.  All it would take is one bad dream, midnight snack, or trip to the bathroom to reveal the scheme.  But I digress.  There’s a reason that plot has been adapted multiple times; it’s a good one, and Aparo’s beautiful art makes this a memorable version.

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Back in our frame tale, guess who makes an appearance?  It’s the Unnecessary Teen Gang.  At least Sekowsky lampshades the absurdity of their showing up in Haiti, as they explain they mysteriously won a trip, and we can assume this was orchestrated by a higher power…for some reason…despite the fact that they contribute absolutely nothing to the plot.  Dr. Thirteen spots the kids in a market and flips his lid.  He leaps out of the car and starts demanding that they tell him where the Stranger is, arguing that he’s never far away from them.  Just as they tell the overly excited ghost breaker that they haven’t seen the man with the awesome medallion, the Stranger himself appears, in the limo no less.  Immediately, the President proves more sensible than the supposed scientist, as he doesn’t discount any possibilities out of hand, willingly hearing his visitor out.

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The gang all head to the ruined fortress, and once there they they find a ceremony in full swing, as well as a pair of strangely garbed figures in the midst of the dark ritual.  One is revealed, of course, to be Tala.  The other is the enigmatic Obeah Man.  And here we have the big weakness of the issue and one of the very few failures of Aparo’s art.  The Stranger leaps at the Voodoo priest and socks him, and then…something happens.  The art just doesn’t quite manage to convey the action, and the whole thing is wrapped up in a single page.  The Stranger grabs some type of jar called the ‘Seal of Solomon‘ (a symbol with historical and occult significance, figuring prominently in medieval lore about Solomon’s extra-textual magic powers) and the Priest sort of dissolves, and then, I guess, turns into a bug.  The Stranger slaps him into the jar, and tosses it into the sea, prompting Tala to bug out in response (sorry!).

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Confusing or not, that fourth panel is still cool looking.

It’s not much of a showdown.  Anticlimax can be quite effective, but the whole thing is so vague and the action so unclear that it just feels unsatisfying.  Once again, Dr. Thirteen accuses the Stranger of having faked the whole thing and being in league with the villains of the piece, but the President demonstrates a broader mind, thanking the mysterious champion for his aid.  Of course, the Stranger disappears, leaving Dr. Thirteen cursing the empty air once more.

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This is a fun story, and the historical background I discovered about it makes it all the more interesting for me.  I quite enjoy that the Haitian president is wise enough to insist that a truly rational man must not discount anything out of hand, all while ‘ol Terry rages at the evidence of his own eyes.  Aparo’s art is beautiful and moody as always, nicely evoking the exotic locale of the story.  The narrower focus of this issue allows for a great development of the main plot, but unfortunately the digressions with the Unnecessary Teen Gang takes up some space that would have been better used on the Obeah man.  That vague final confrontation is rather disappointing, weakening a promising story.  Fortunately, the interpolated episode is pretty good, so that helps balance out the flaws of the frame tale.  I suppose I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, though that might be a tad generous.  It has its problems, but it is plenty entertaining and I just find the creepy background of a despotic state ruled through fear and a co-opted religion adds a lot of flavor to the issue.

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The letter column actually includes a note from the editor about how a recent visit to Haiti served as the inspiration for this story, which confirms the setting.  The letters themselves are full of effusive praise for the new direction of this book.  Notably, most folks seem to share my opinion of the useless teen gang, but people are split on Dr. Thirteen.  Everyone seems to recognize that they’ve got something special here, though.  I can’t wait to see what’s next!

 


Well, that’s it for this post.  I hope y’all found these commentaries interesting.  I know that I found a lot in these two issues to sink my teeth into, despite their flaws.  We’re definitely seeing a lot of the changing face of comics with these two books.  They are almost a microcosm of the Bronze Age, pushing the standard boundaries of comics in themes, content, and style.  I hope y’all will join me again soon for another step in our journey Into the Bronze Age!