- Action Comics #395
- Adventure Comics #400
- Aquaman #54
- Batman #227
- Detective Comics #406
- The Flash #202
- Green Lantern/Green Arrow #81
- Justice League of America #84 (reprints, won’t be covered)
- Justice League of America #85
- The Phantom Stranger #10
- Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134
- Teen Titans #30
- World’s Finest #199
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Green Lantern/Green Arrow #81
“Death Be My Destiny!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Well, we’ve got another issue of O’Neil’s desperately socially conscious comic, and this one also takes the action off-world, though the effect is perhaps slightly more potent than that of the last issue, given the more relatable problem the cast faces. Unlike the previous issue, with its mad judge and distinctly sci-fi setting, which was not instantly recognizable as tackling current social problems, this comic deals with the question of overpopulation, which was in the zeitgeist in 1970. Interestingly, I thought for sure that this book had been born out of a trip to the movies by O’Neil. I was sure that he must have been prompted to write this story by seeing Soylent Green. Imagine my surprise when I realized that science fiction classic wouldn’t be released until 1973! However, that famous film was actually based on a 1966 novel, entitled Make Room! Make Room! It seems likely to me that O’Neil had either read that book or encountered its influence on the culture.
At any rate, the story itself is an odd one. Despite the last issue having ended with the Hard Traveling Heroes having headed back to Earth, we pick up with the second trial of the rogue Guardian, this time by his fellows on Oa. The Green Team, plus Black Canary, are there to serve as witnesses for the accused, but they argue like folks in a modern political debate, insisting entirely on their own point of view and making no effort to accommodate that of their audience in their argument. Surprisingly, the Guardians aren’t swayed, but the real surprise is that we don’t get any pontificating from Ollie during the trial. Despite the efforts of the heroes, judgement is passed: the rogue Guardian is stripped of his powers and immortality, and he is sentenced to live out the rest of his days on Maltus, the original home of his race.
The heroes ask to accompany him to his place of exile, and Hal takes the opportunity to announce that he’s not sure he wants to serve the Guardians anymore. It is actually a pretty decent moment in the context of the arc he’s been traveling over the course of the series, as he displays a semi-mature sense of morality, evincing the ability to think beyond ‘authority=good.’ Having spoken their piece, the quartet depart in a truly beautiful full-page spread. It really captures the majesty of the characters and setting, a quality of which this run takes too little advantage. Whatever you can say about the writing on these books, the art remains flat-out gorgeous and innovative. I just wish Adams were given more opportunities like this one.
Unfortunately, when they arrive on Maltus, they find it disastrously overpopulated, absolutely teeming with life, and the Guardian notes that it was fine when they last checked on it, an eon ago. This series really makes it seem like the Guardians are super bad at their jobs. When the heroes land, they are immediately attacked by desperate citizens and forced to take to the skies again.
In order to discover what happened, Green Lantern simply plucks an entire vault of archives out of a building, and the others investigate. In the records they find a strange story. Apparently the planet traveled through a bizarre cloud of cosmic dust which made the population sterile. In order to save the race, a scientist named Mother Juna took samples from the Maltusans in order to create clones, even endowing them with false memories so that they were indistinguishable from natural born citizens.
However, she didn’t stop when the population was restored. Even worse, the effects of the dust cloud eventually wore off, and the resulting population explosion strained the planet to the breaking point. Having solved the mystery, the cosmic quartet set out to see the effects of this situation for themselves, and Adams provides us with a striking two-page spread that captures the desperation of the Maltusan plight.
Determined to do what they can to help matters, the heroes travel to Mother Juna’s citadel which just happens to be, in classic Green Lantern plot-device-style, entirely yellow. The Emerald Crusader prepares to dig under the dome, and his vermilion partner sets out to distract the crowd in order to buy him time. With Black Canary acting as his assistant, he puts on a dazzling display of arrow acrobatics. In a funny and fitting little touch, O’Neil describes Ollie’s qualifications for the job as “unerring aim” and “a natural sense of theater.” That works. Green Arrow is definitely a bit of a ham.
With the tunnel finished, the heroes rush inside, only to be greeted by a giant golden guardian. It sure is fortunate for Mother Juna that she happens to like the color yellow! For some reason, Hal decides to try and duke it out with this behemoth rather than, I don’t know, let the guy with the explosive arrows handle it. Even more ridiculous is the fact that Ollie follows suit, temporarily forgetting that he’s got a bow. He offers some silly explanation about trying to ‘play fair with them,’ which is something that hasn’t bothered him during the rest of his superhero career and so seems a bit strange showing up now. Black Canary cleans up after the boys, however, saving the day with a judo throw.
The crew are confronted by Mother Juna herself, along with a duo of golden guardians. The quartet flees into her facility and the Green Team suddenly remember their abilities and take the two gargantuan guys out, while the bird lady sings a swan-song for Mother dearest. Before they can do anything else, the maddened crowds from outside bust in and begin to wreck the joint.
Hal helps the heroes get Mother Juna outside, where she confesses that she kept up her clone creation because she remained sterile from the cosmic dust and she “was always taught that a woman was nothing if she wasn’t a mother”. There’s some women’s lib commentary there, but it’s shoe-horned into the end of this issue, so it doesn’t really work very well. Black Canary is super moved by this, despite the fact that this nutjob may have doomed her world.
Finally, the Guardian chooses to spend his remaining days on Maltus, trying to do some good and hoping that his finite time will spur him to greater efforts. The heroes bid him farewell and head back to Earth, where Dinah has some appropriately vague moral about love to append to the adventure.
This issue is an interesting one, but it isn’t completely successful. The problem with this story is that the overpopulation of Maltus is entirely the fault of one madwoman, not the fault of its people. The folks of that world did nothing wrong. The depredations of overpopulation are not a result of their greed, their shortsightedness, or their ambition. It’s the result of a race-saving measure gone horribly wrong. Thus, once again, the parallels that can easily be drawn to our own little orb are not as clear as they might be.
Of course, plot wise, the central focus of the problem in one character allows the heroes the chance to solve it, which they obviously couldn’t have done if it were an organically overpopulated world. It, like the last issue, is an example of theme sacrificed for plot, which is an understandable trade-off, and one that works to the advantage of the story itself, which is a reasonably enjoyable adventure. On the positive side, O’Neil seems to be getting into a better rhythm with his characterization. No-one is insufferable or even really annoying in this issue. In fact, Ollie is down-right charming, what with his arrow tricks and his wry sense of humor. I wonder if that’s actually a sign of improvement or just a fluke. I don’t’ remember this run well enough to say for sure. Anyway, I’ll give this particular outing 3.5 Minutemen, seeing as it is a bit uneven.
Justice League of America #86
“Earth’s Final Hour!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Story Consultant: Dennis O’Neil
I was pretty excited about the beginning of Mike Friedrich’s run on JLA, having heard good things about it, but after having read the first issue…that is no longer the case. His is a strange story; in many ways, it feels like one of those gonzo 60s JLA tales that didn’t bother with trivial matters like logical consistency or verisimilitude, complete with a rather lame villain. On the plus side, we get the return of Aquaman to the team he helped found for the first time in ten issues. That’s cause for celebration, seeing as Denny O’Neil seemed to have forgotten that the Sea King was actually part of the team.
In fact, this disjointed adventure actually begins with Aquaman, as the Marine Marvel receives word in Atlantis that strange machines are stripping the plankton from the oceans. Obviously, plankton is the foundation of the food-chain in the sea, and Arthur realizes that without it, Atlantis will starve and eventually Earth will die. Of course, plankton is also a huge part of the oxygen supply of our world, which doesn’t get a mention in this story. That’s actually the bigger threat, as losing plankton would mean we’d lose at least half of our oxygen production. At any rate, the Aquatic Ace heads out to put a stop to these shenanigans, and he performs rather poorly, being taken out by some rocks in a less than impressive two-page spread. He does manage to press his JLA signal device, though.
We then meet the culprit and get a one-page bio on him. That’s right, it’s gay Tony Stark. Tony decided to moonlight at DC, and developed a fabulous fashion sense while he was at it. This is our villain. This guy. He’s…somewhat less than intimidating. Obviously, not everyone can be Darkseid, but this guy isn’t even Brainstorm. Apparently he’s a rogue tycoon who stole a memory altering device and used it to steal his way to power and wealth. Then, the story takes a hard left turn, as he’s visited by very Silver Age-looking aliens who come from a world organized by magical principles as opposed to the scientific principles of Earth. Also, for some reason, that magic creates pollution, and they’ve killed off all of their plankton. Wait, what? It’s…odd. It really doesn’t quite fit together, both the magic and the pollution angles. Pick one outlandish concept at a time, Friedrich! Well, being an immoral little slimeball, our businessman, Theo Zappa, called, “The Zapper,” in a nickname almost as lame as he is, steals the visiting magic alien’s wand, because, of course he does. ‘The Zapper’ decides to use his newfound power to steal all of Earth’s plankton and take over both Earth and the alien world.
Opposing his ridiculous plan is the JLA. They find Aquaman and take stock, realizing that the theft of the plankton (which, by the way, is an event of absolutely ludicrously staggering scale, as the oceans are, surprisingly, quite big, after all) will cause a global catastrophe, and the Sea King actually takes charge, dividing the League’s assets up and giving them assignments. That’s a fun moment, and about the only bright spot Aquaman gets in this issue. The team divides up in classic fashion, with pairs of Leaguers pursuing different goals.
In one of the features of this issue that I actually quite enjoyed, each pair of heroes gets a little title at the head of their adventures, featuring both of their names. Superman and Aquaman head under the sea to try and track down the plankton stealing machines which, somehow, are already done. Yep, they’ve stripped ALL THE OCEANS ON EARTH of all of their plankton. They encounter some enraged whales, which Superman knocks out ‘for their own good,’ and then the Sea King is trapped by a maddened wall of fish, in danger of being crushed until the Man of Steel creates a whirlpool to free him. It’s a cool page, but once again, Aquaman comes off looking bad. Zappa is working against the pair, and he magically enlarges some jellyfish to attack them. The Man of Tomorrow can’t take his opponent because it’s magic, despite the fact that, as we’ve discussed previously, that’s not how his “weakness” to magic works. This is my old bugbear for logical consistency rearing its head. At least Aquaman gets to do something, as he easily shreds his jellyfish and frees the Metropolis Marvel. Yet, when they reach the control center for the machines, they find ‘The Zapper’ already gone.
Hawkman and The Flash, meanwhile, have taken to space on a really flimsy excuse. Aquaman overheard the term “Cee” when he was first attacked, and Hawkman wondered if it might refer to the “Sea of Space.” Sure. Anyway, they happen to encounter Zappa’s spaceship, because of course he has one, and set out in pursuit in Hawkman’s Thanagarian ship. Zappa does…something, it’s really not clear, which slows them down, and when they board his ship, the villain teleports himself and his plankton cargo to his alien destination.
Our final pair, the Atom and Batman have the most luck, as they encounter the alien traveler that Zappa had bamboozled to begin with, and he fills them in on the plot. Ray uses his scientific training to figure out the teleportation device in Zappa’s office, and they travel to the alien world, where Batman does his part. The Caped Crusader tracks Zappa down in his palace, where he is living like a king.
Interestingly, Friedrich is clearly trying to bring in some of the ‘grim avenger of the night’ vibe that has been growing in the Bat-books, as he has Zappa panic at the sight of the Dark Knight and includes several atmospheric captions. The Atom chips in again by decking the lavender louse and saving his partner, but the people of this planet, Kalyarna, are none too happy about their actions.
Fearing what will happen without their stolen plankton, the aliens threaten to storm the palace, and we get a really neat idea with mediocre execution. The rest of the League arrives and confers about what they should do. Superman, knowing he’s vulnerable to the magic weapons of the aliens, bravely goes out to face the crowd, but not to fight, to talk. He realizes that they’re desperate, and he goes to reason with them. He gives them a speech about how nobody else can solve your problems for you, echoing the very similar speech he gave in Action Comics #393. It’s not as tone-deaf as that one, but it is a bit surprising. If Superman had stuck to this bootstraps philosophy, Lex Luthor might have been more okay with him. Anyway, the League promise to stabilize Kalyarna, but the Man of Steel tells its people that they must rethink how and why they pollute their planet. Of course, this ends with a ‘and so must we’ moment.
Like I said, this is an odd one, and it’s the second JLA story about pollution within a year, which might be a bit much. This comic especially suffers in comparison to the fun, relatively reasonable O’Neil issue that it reminds us of. Notably, O’Neil gets a “story consultant” credit on this issue, which might help to account for the return of this topic. The completely unimpressive villain, the ridiculous threat, and the vague and largely uninteresting challenges the League faced make this a pretty weak issue. It doesn’t help that the stiffness in Dillin’s pencils is back, unlike the other books we’ve seen him on this month. Yet, the unusual focus, not just on pollution, but the necessity of balance in nature, is at least a little interesting. After all, what could seem less important than plankton? But it is, in fact, vitally important, and important on a global scale. That lesson doesn’t quite justify this yarn, though. Despite a few bright spots, this JLA issue just isn’t that good. I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.
The Phantom Stranger #10
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
“Death… Call Not My Name”
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando
“The Bewitched Clock”
Penciler: Ruben Moreira
Inker: Ruben Moreira
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciler and Inker: Jim Aparo
This issue features the first mainstream comics work of Gerry Conway on an ongoing title, so we’re seeing comic book history in the making, here. What’s particularly impressive about that is the fact that Mr. Conway was only 16 when he started writing for DC, and it was shortly after that when he broke into Marvel and got a full-time gig. I can’t imagine holding down a full-time creative job when I was 16, much less turning out quality writing, comic or otherwise, that early. I flatter myself to think I’m not a bad writer when I turn my hand to it these days, but at 16, despite delusions to the contrary, that was certainly not the case. This issue is a very impressive first effort.
The main tale is framed by a warning from the Phantom Stranger about evil hiding in the shadows, and it is in a shadowy club that the sinister stalker of this story makes his first appearance. A trio of young women are out for a night on the t0wn, and one of them complains about never meeting any interesting men. That’s a complaint that she won’t have time to regret as a dapper but vaguely disquieting gentlemen approaches her and asks for a dance. He seems to have a hypnotic effect on the girl, Lottie, and when she returns to her friends she is stunned, able only to stutter out that the man’s name was ‘Tannarak’ before she collapses, suddenly stone dead!
Her friends are horrified, as you might imagine, but who should come to the rescue? Dr. Thirteen! What? You were expecting someone helpful? Actually, Thirteen’s portrayal in this issue is a bit more varied and interesting than we’ve seen previously. Of course, when the Phantom Stranger arrives a few minutes later, the good doctor does immediately accuse him of murder, but I suppose old habits die hard. Thirteen quickly realizes that, whatever he may think of the Stranger, he knows the man is no murderer. The first part of this story even has the two men set aside their differences as they work on the case. It’s actually a fun dynamic.
Thirteen has been in town investigating a similar spate of murders, murders without a clue and deaths without a sign of violence. The Stranger realizes there is more here than meets the eye (no, she wasn’t killed by a Decepticon). There’s a nice moment, as Dr. Thirteen blames himself, thinking he could have stopped this death if he had been smarter or faster, and the Stranger actually comforts him, establishing a slightly more cooperative dynamic for this issue. I would totally read an odd-couple/buddy cop feature with these two teamed up, as long as you could figure out some way for Thirteen to be useful.
Anyway, the other two young women flee the murder scene, which seems like a poor choice no matter how you slice it, and emerge into a mysterious, foggy night. They encounter the same mysterious figure from the club, and their screams alerts our two heroes. The supernatural sleuths charge out into the night, only to discover one of the girls hysterical and the other missing. The Stranger, in a nicely ambiguous scene, calms the girl, either through his powers or through pure force of will. She tells her story, and, of course, Dr. Closed-Minded immediately disregards the Stranger’s offered warning of the supernatural. In response, the phantom detective (no, not that one) pulls his patented disappearing trick.
We switch to follow the perspective of our villain, the mysterious Mr. Tannarak, as he brings the hypnotized Michelle to his home. Along the way, he rants madly, calling her Dianna, his love. It slowly emerges that this lost love he conflates her with died nearly a hundred years ago! The aged ancient obligingly recounts his origin for his guest, and we discover that he and the original Dianna were once children, stealing on the streets of Cairo long years ago, and after being caught and confronted with the specter of death in the form of a dead body, the young Tannarak became obsessed with escaping that great enemy of mankind.
He searched for years, studied for years, and eventually mastered the arts of alchemy, by which he made himself immortal. Essentially, he pulled a Voldemort, placing his soul in a golden phylactery, a statue of himself (shades of the Picture of Dorian Gray!). As with all such dark rituals, however, this immortality comes at a high cost. The alchemist is now without a soul, and he survives by stealing those of others, as he did the unfortunate young lady at the club this very night. Yet, he has a different fate in store for Michelle. Because she reminds him of his lost Dianna, he will make her immortal too, whether she wants that soulless unlife or not.
Fortunately, just as he prepares his alchemical concoction for the dire deed, the Phantom Stranger arrives to save the girl. What follows is a really nice fight between the two. It begins as Tannarak tosses ‘the Elixir of Death’ at the mysterious hero, seemingly burning him terribly, but the Stranger tosses off his smouldering cloak and clocks the alchemist with a powerful blow.
Not out of gimmicks yet, the immortal employs ‘the Blood Stone,’ apparently a bit akin to the Philosopher’s Stone, in an attempt to turn the Stranger into stone, but he proves too fast. His attacks having failed, Tannarak attempts to bargain with the spectral sleuth, offering him wealth and immortality, trying to distract his foe as he grabbed another alchemical concoction. Once again, the Stranger is too quick for him, and a last blow sends the immortal crashing into his statue, which collapses on top of him, exploding into rubble and finally putting an end to his evil.
Having been tracking down the murderer, Dr. Thirteen and the other girl arrive just in time to try and explain away all of the magic and mysticism that has transpired that night. Thirteen actually offers some reasonable explanations for some of it, but when the Stranger takes off his jacket to show that the sleeve has been turned to gold, ‘ol Terry is at a bit of a loss.
This is a great story. The whole thing works; it hangs together and makes sense, maintaining logical consistency throughout. The fact that a 16 year old kid could tell such a story puts a new perspective on those that can’t. Its only real flaw is the fact that the captions are overwritten. Some of them are appropriately dark and tension-building, but many of them are positively purple in their attempt at pulchritudinous prose . Strangely, it is only really the captions that are overwritten. For the most part, the dialog is strong and fitting, and the character work is quite good. In terms of the villain of the piece, his origin could have used a bit more attention, but it works reasonably well. Tannarak is delightfully mad and viciously evil, a combination perfectly captured by Jim Aparo. It is hardly worth mentioning at this point, but this is a gorgeous book, and picking the art for this post was really quite tough.
The big battle was particularly dynamic and exciting, something that has been lacking in some of our Phantom Stranger stories. The whole story, however, is beautifully rendered, heavy with atmosphere, lit with candles, suffused with fog and smoke, and covered throughout in a lowering sense of foreboding, well conjured by both word and image. This issue also grants us the rare sight of the Stranger divesting himself of both cloak and jacket, which leads to a strange sight. He looks a bit less mysterious and enigmatic standing about in a white turtleneck. It’s a fun sight that contrasts with his obvious supernatural air. I’ll give this strong story 4.5 Minutemen, a thoroughly enjoyable read.
This issue also includes a reprint of an old tale, as well as a fun, four page backup, which is really too brief to bother with giving a full write-up, but it is a good example of expeditious writing. In just four pages we meet a horribly hen-pecked husband who is treated terribly by his wife. He answers a newspaper ad to ‘get rid of all nuisances,’ meeting a “Mr. Scratch,” which is an old name for the Devil, and making deal. Ignoring a warning from the Phantom Stranger, he’s given an inflatable crocodile to put in his pool, which is guaranteed to do the trick. When his wife goes for a swim, he suddenly finds himself free, but he pays a price when his friends find the same gag and put it in his pool after a party. He suffers the same fate. It’s a classic short horror tale, beautifully illustrated by Jim Aparo.
That will do it for today, and an interesting day it was. The Phantom Stranger continues to be one of the strongest books I’m encountering, but my beloved Justice League has taken a disappointing turn. Let’s hope that JLA will improve under Friedrich’s tenure. Green Lantern? Well…it continues to be fascinating, whatever else one can say about it. I certainly never have a hard time finding something to say about that book. We’ve only got one more post to go before we break through into 1971, and I’m excited to see a new year’s worth of books! Well, until next time ladies and gents, keep the heroic ideal alive!