Into the Bronze Age: January 1971 (Part 1)

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Welcome internet travelers, to my first strides into the next year of DC’s Bronze Age comics, 1971!  We’re beginning a whole new year, a year that will bring us the expansion of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World books to include all of their titles, and a year that will bring a number of changes to the DC Universe, starting with the Man of Steel himself.  We’ll tackle the landmark “Kryptonite Nevermore” story at the end of this set of posts.  I’ll be adding Superboy to my staple of books, as it will be gaining a Legion of Superheroes backup feature, which means that I’ll now be reading every superhero comic DC published other than Wonder Woman, and the Amazing Amazon is due to get added to my list when Denny O’Neil takes over the title in preparation for her return to her classic roots, in April of 1972.  We’ve got a while to wait for that one.  As for 1971, I can’t wait to see what this year of comics holds for us!  I hope you’ll join me as I continue my journey!

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:

  • Cigarette ads banned on TV
  • Ohio agrees to pay $675,000 to relatives of Kent State victims
  • Globetrotters lose 100-99 to NJ Reds, ending 2,495-game win streak
  • Berkeley chemists announces 1st synthetic growth hormones
  • 29 pilot whales beach themselves & die at San Clemente Island, Calif
  • Irish Republican Army (IRA) carry out a ‘punishment attack’, tarring and feathering 4 men accused of criminal activities in Belfast
  • Congressional Black Caucus organizes
  • Rev Philip Berrigan & 5 others indicted for plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger
  • 2 bombs explode at UK Employment Secretary Robert Carr’s home
  • At a party conference in Dublin, Sinn Féin end their 65 year abstentionist
  • John Lennon and Yoko Ono record “Power to the People
  • Riots break out in the Shankill Road area of Belfast, North Ireland
  • Charles Manson and accomplices convicted for the Tate murders
  • Military coup in Uganda under major general Idi Amin
  • The 170 delegates of the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) call for the resignation of Northern Ireland Prime Minister James Chichester-Clark
  • Apollo 14 launched, 1st landing in lunar highlands

Clearly 1971 did not bring calmer days with it, especially not in Ireland.  I was really surprised that TV ads for cigarettes were banned this early.  I thought for sure they continued into the 80s.  Unrest continues around the world, but in America, this month is more about aftermath than new events.  It does feature Apollo 14’s mission, which is pretty exciting.  There is the plot to kidnap Henry Kissinger by a gang of priests and nuns, though.  That’s pretty insane, and I’m more than a little surprised that I never heard about it.  Apparently, the group was never convicted, and there are rumors that this was a setup.  Perhaps Nixon asked someone to ‘rid him of this troublesome priest.’  Still, one wonders!

This month’s number 1, just barely, is George Harrison’s deceptively lovely “My Sweet Lord,” which the unobservant might not realize at first is actually a Hare Krishna song, not a Christian one.  Harrison had joined the slightly cult-y Hare Krishnas back in the 60s and this song was an expression of his new religion.


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

  • Action Comics #396
  • Adventure Comics #401
  • Batman #228 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Brave and Bold #93
  • Detective Comics #407
  • G.I. Combat #145
  • Superboy #171
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #107
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135
  • Superman #232 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #233

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


Action Comics #396


action_comics_396“The Super-Panhandler of Metropolis!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Invaders from Nowhere!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Ohh, hooray, another gimmicky Superman story.  Yay?  This is not the most electrifying beginning for the new year.  Our headline tale, as you can gather from that cover, is another ‘Superman in an everyday situation’ yarn, which doesn’t have much appeal for me, and this one goes beyond the normal gimmickiness to also portray the Man of Steel himself rather badly.

It all begins in the far future decade of the 1990s.  What could such an inconceivably distant era hold for the Metropolis Marvel?  Well, nothing good, I’ll tell you that much.  The story opens with an episode of “Where Are they Now,” a TV show that tracks formerly famous individuals.  They catch up with James Olsen, now chief producer of WMET-TV, but instead of asking him about his own life, they ask a bunch of question about Superman, who disappeared years ago.  I bet that had to tick ‘ol Jimmy off.  Apparently, the Man of Steel just gradually faded from public view, and eventually no-one was able to contact him any longer.  We cut to the man himself, slumped and defeated, sitting in a wheelchair and panhandling on a street corner.  What could have brought him to this low state?  Well, we don’t get to find out this issue.

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Instead, we get a tour of the true city of tomorrow, Metropolis, circa the 1990s!  In this remote future, the citizens no longer need a Superman, as they have all kinds of nifty technological wonders , like anti-gravity beams, escape-proof capture cells in banks, and fire detectors in every streetlight, as well as helicopter fire engines.  Do you remember when they came out with those anti-gravity beams in the 90s?  What a time…

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Superman’s sad-sack inner monologue tells us that he has lost all of his powers except for his super vision and hearing, and this has apparently left him a complete wreck of a human being.  He thinks of himself only in terms of his abilities.  He also thinks of himself entirely as Superman, not Clark or even Kal-El.  Herein is one of the biggest problems with this story.  This mopey, defeated loser doesn’t have much in common with the Superman from last month’s World’s Finest, dragging himself through the dirt of an alien world to save the universe, despite the overwhelming odds against him.  Some of the best Superman stories are those in which he loses his powers and then goes on to demonstrate that it isn’t super strength, invulnerability, flight, or any of the rest that makes him a hero; it’s the indomitable spirit that animates him.  In fact, one of my favorite episodes of Justice League is “Hereafter,” where the Man of Tomorrow gets transported to a very distant tomorrow indeed where the sun is red.  He quietly, calmly, and heroically goes about doing what he can to survive and to find answers, despite the fact that he’s powerless.  It’s a wonderful examination of what makes him special, the unassuming greatness that isn’t about bullet-proof skin or laser eyes.

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Anyway, back to our story.  The crippled Superman, who is definitely not just Clark Kent, saves a young boy who stupidly runs into traffic, who repays him by insulting the man who saved his life.  Nice, kid.  A good Samaritan sees the deeds and gives the Super-bum five bucks, which he uses to buy some food, taking it home to an abandoned tenement building.  He’s apparently got a bunch of diseased folks living there with him, as we get a glimpse of ‘strangely mottled arms’ reaching out for the food.  That doesn’t get explained, this month, though.  Desperate to regain his lost glory, the former Man of Steel also does some experiments in an attempt to restore his powers.  All they do, however, is destroy his clothes, leaving him nothing to wear but his costume so that we can reach maximum gimmick.

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action-396-15-11So, the next day he goes out covered with a blanket and a shawl so people won’t see the costume, and while he’s out, he runs into Lois, now married with children, and what’s more, married to a dead-ringer for Clark Kent.  The girl’s got issues, and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this, either.  Later, while begging in front of the Daily Planet building, Superman reaches for a dropped coin and reveals his costume.  The crowd notices and bombards him with questions.  The issue ends with him fleeing in his wheelchair, pursued by the quizzical crowd.

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Check out those groovy 1990s fashions!

This is a weird one, and it rubs me the wrong way to an extent.  There’s probably a good story to be told about Superman losing his powers; in fact, that story has been told several times, and told well, but this isn’t one of them.  The character examination that should be the fruit of such a storytelling endeavor is wasted here, with the bitter, broken former hero concerned only with his loss of power and glory.  It isn’t that we couldn’t handle a story about an embittered Man of Steel, it’s that this story gives us no real justification for his state, other than the loss of his powers.  Of course, there are also the logical problems with this story, as it is just strange that, with or without powers, Clark Kent would end up a beggar.

He’s a talented and intelligent guy.  Plus, you know Bruce would kick some money his way!  Heck, the Last Son of Krypton could just sell some of his homeworld’s technology and live in luxury the rest of his life.  Instead, he’s apparently just left the Fortress of Solitude sitting empty.  The sci-fi elements of the far-future 1990s are pretty hilarious in retrospect, but that isn’t anything to hold against this story.  There are some intriguing mysteries teased in the background of this tale, like the apparently diseased inhabitants of Super-bum’s tenement and the question of how he lost his powers, but they are not the focus of the plot.  I assume they’ll get developed next issue, but I can’t say I’m particularly excited about reading that tale.  I’ll give this one 2 Minutemen for its misuse of its central character.

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P.S.: Interestingly, the effects of “Kryptonite Nevermore” were already being felt when this book hit the stands, as it includes a one page update on the state of Superman and his setting.

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“The Invaders from Nowhere”


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This is a fine Superman story, if not particularly impressive.  While this tale is a bit unusual for the Last Son of Krypton, for the Atom, it would just be a Tuesday.  The curtain rises on the Man of Steel himself ripping his way into his Fortress of Solitude, as all of the security systems are going nuts and the great golden door has jammed.  A rapid search of the place at super speed reveals two weird looking aliens who introduce themselves as Seekers from the world of Krann.  This pair of extraterrestrial invaders precede to capture the Metropolis Marvel despite his best efforts.  His punches pass right through them, and their weapons render him helpless.

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Superman is transported aboard their ship to a world under a red sun where some sort of sinister experiment awaits him.  Once planetside, he’s locked in a strange cage-like device, but our hero won’t take this sort of thing lying down.  He’s determined to fight, despite the fact that he should be powerless under a red star, yet when he starts to resist, he discovers that his powers remain undiminished.  Strange!  He throws himself at his cage again and again, but his efforts have no effect.

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We cut to the aliens in the control room, and they helpfully fill us in on their plot.  It seems the core of their world has run out of energy and begun to grow cold.  They’re trying to jump-start it by siphoning off Superman’s energy through his escape attempts.  They accomplish their purpose, and the Man of Steel, exhausted, slumps over…dead!    The Krannians drag him outside, only for their captive to spring back to life!  Superman notes that he can control his hearbeat, so he could stop it long enough to appear dead.  That’s a useful trick that could make Batman jealous.

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Fearing that the red sun would render him powerless as he tried to fly to Earth, the Man of Tomorrow hijacks the alien ship and heads for home.  Yet, as he flies, he experiences a strange phenomenon, as he begins to grow.  Eventually, he and the ship emerge back in the Fortress of Solitude, springing out of the model of Krypton!  The entire alien world was actually part of a microscopic universe, and the incredibly advanced extraterrestrials were inhabitants thereof.  This fact explains why Superman didn’t lose his powers under the red sun, as it was just the replica in the Krypton display.  Before our hero can decide what to do with the pint-sized kidnappers, there is a tiny explosion, and a microscopic examination of the area reveals the ruins of Krann.  Their plan worked too well, and their planet’s core overheated until it exploded like Krypton-that-was, for a nice little touch of irony.

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This is a fun little backup yarn, clocking in at a brief but enjoyable 9 pages.  It manages to set up the problem, provide some action, and even deliver a bit of a surprise, all in those few pages, and that is nothing to sneeze at.  The concept of a mysterious microscopic world and invaders therefrom is not a new one, having showed up often in the Atom’s escapades, but it’s always one I enjoy.  It provides an opportunity for fantastic and unusual adventures that can stretch the imagination.  After all, the possibilities of such a setting are limitless.  Of course, Krann barely gets any exploration in this story because it is so short, but the possibility is still there.  In this case, I’ll give this tale 3.5 Minutemen for a fine read.

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Adventure Comics #401


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“The Frightened Supergirl”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

“The Strange House”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

As with the last issue, this book contains a backup for Tracey Thompson, an extremely short-lived character, which I won’t be covering as it isn’t really a superhero story.  The Supergirl feature is an unusual but entertaining little tale, featuring a character I had previously only encountered in All-Star Superman, Lex Luthor’s niece, Nasthaltia “Nasty” Luthor.  Nasty, a fitting antagonist for the Maid of Might, was apparently only introduced a few issues ago in #397.  It seems she had a fairly short life, appearing in only ten issues, but it looks like we’ll see her a few more times before she fades into obscurity.  However, it isn’t the presence of the awkwardly named ‘Nasty’ that makes this issue unusual.

We begin in media res, with the villainess’s plan already completed.  Supergirl has been reduced to a quivering, cringing wreck, completely paralyzed by fear.  She is cowering in terror from a mouse while Lex Luthor and his young niece look on.  Nasty helpfully fills us in on how the Maid of Steel got into this situation.  The Lady Luthor poisoned the heroine’s drink at a luncheon in her honor, spiking her water with an an agent that caused utterly crippling fear.

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In complete panic, Supergirl smashed her way out of the building, fleeing down the street.  Everything and everyone she encounters just feeds the fires of her fear.  In a funny little episode, she encounters a little boy dressed up as a cowboy who tries to play with her, which only horrifies the girl more.

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I love the kid’s sheepish encouragement in panel 3.

adventure-401-06She tears through everything in her mad flight, smashing buildings, cars, and more.  The police try fruitlessly to restrain her, for all the good that does, and finally, Nasty herself shows up, claiming to be a friend of the frantic female.  By speaking calmly and soothingly, she temporarily allays the Maid of Might’s fears and brings her back to her hideout.  There, joined by her villainous uncle, she revels in the humiliation of her foe.  Lex plans to sell tickets to view the terrorized teen to the underworld, by which he expects to make a fortune.

adventure-401-13First, however, Nasty wants to have a bit more fun, so she pulls out a little toy car that can follow a target and sics it on Supergirl.  Spooked by the device, the Maid of Steel lashes out again, utterly destroying the house they were hiding in and very quickly revealing how bad an idea it is to panic a super strong, invulnerable person in an enclosed space.

All of a sudden, Linda Danvers awakens in bed and slowly realizes that this had all been a dream.  She sees with relief that the city still stands.  Then, that same toy car from her dream rolls into her room, a gift her roommate got for her little brother.  How strange!

This is an odd story, though it is fun.  The ‘it was all a dream‘ maneuver surprised me, because as crazy as this all was, it didn’t seem substantially crazier than a normal Sekowsky story.  All throughout, I was thinking, ‘man, folks are really going to love Supergirl after this.  First there’s that bridge from a few issues ago, now she’s torn down the entire town!’  I think it would have been interesting to see Sekowsky actually play with the consequences from such an event as he did with the bridge incident, but I suppose he really didn’t have time in only 14 pages.  It’s entertaining to see Supergirl just tear through town, and there are several funny moments in the tale.  The dream angle also covers over some issues I had with the story, as it does seem a bit odd for Supergirl, while certainly acting irrationally because of fear, to nonetheless run away instead of flying away.  Also, the pair of super geniuses who have captured her certainly don’t act too bright when they antagonize the incredibly powerful alien in their little house.  Of course, with the plot being the product of a dream, you can handwave all of that.

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Speaking of the villains, I like the focus on female antagonists so far in this book.  It’s something of a rarity to have a cast that is primarily female agents in comics, and there’s good potential in that setup.  That being said, I’m not certain how I feel about Lex Luthor having a niece.  I rather prefer him to be alone in the world, a solitary man of brilliance, will, and blackened soul.  Nonetheless, Nasty is undeniably fun in this story.  The whole story is enjoyable, and I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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And that is our first pair of books.  Not the most impressive duo, but I’m sure there are better stories awaiting us.  Please join me again soon for another step in my Journey into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

 

3 comments on “Into the Bronze Age: January 1971 (Part 1)

  1. m.p. says:

    Why do you figure they got rid of Kryptonite (temporarily)? I could never figure that out. Superman’s gotta have some weaknesses, like magic, red sun radiation, Jimmy Olson’s tendency to create chaos.

    • Benton Grey says:

      …Lois Lane’s habit of falling off of tall buildings…

      Ha, right!

      Hmm, interesting question, M.P.! I’ll probably try to do some research on it when I get to the story in question. At the moment, I will say that I also find it rather odd. I mean, obviously kryptonite had become a ridiculous crutch for Superman’s writers, and I imagine that DC editorial had to realize that. At a time where there was a move across the board toward logical consistency in storytelling, the stories where everything just happened to have kryptonite in it whenever it was convenient for the plot had to stand out. At the same time, if you remove that element of the mythos, you remove a significant part of what makes the whole archetype work. What’s more, removing it without also addressing the way too-limited approach to ‘invulnerability’ would just leave the character pretty much untenable.

  2. […] I suppose it will come as a surprise to pretty much no-one who read my coverage of the previous part of this story that I was dreading reading this issue.  It ended up being pretty much exactly what I expected, […]

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