Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 5)

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Hello Internet travelers!  It’s been radio silence here on the Greylands for the last week.  Lady Grey and I traveled to Iceland over spring break, and we were busy taking the advice of Granger from Fahrenheit 451, who said “Stuff your eyes with wonder […] live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”  We spent some time out there in this gloriously beautiful world, reveling in the unsurpassed glory of creation, and we had a great time.

We visited waterfalls, hiked on glaciers, and even snorkeled in a glacial river between two tectonic plates (and that was intense, let me tell you!).  It was a really wonderful and necessary break, and sadly now we have to come back to the real world with all of its endless problems.  At least there are bright and hopeful comics to keep us company!  Today, I’ve got a pair of titles and a trio of stories.  I hope y’all enjoy my commentary as we travel farther Into the Bronze Age!

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 #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87 (AND Avengers #85-6)
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Phantom Stranger #11


Phantom_Stranger_Vol_2_11“Walk Not in the Desert’s Sun…”
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo

Underneath this suitably creepy cover, we’ve got about two-thirds of a really awesome comic that takes a hard left turn right at the climax.  The resultant story is a bit odd, but it still ends up being an interesting read with surprisingly sophisticated handling of some rather unexpected themes.  Gerry Conway makes his return to scripting DC books, and he is already displaying impressive maturity and skill.  The growing seriousness of the Bronze Age is definitely on display in this issue as well.

It begins with the Phantom Stranger narrating a string of strange phenomena in the night sky over the western hemisphere, as people all over the world look up and see a sinister triangular shape of purple hanging framed against the stars.  Three nights later, the police in New York try to talk a desperate woman down from the Brooklyn Bridge.  She has just killed a man, and she screams that she will be her own master from now on.  As she rants, she slips off over the side and plunges into the fog, only to vanish before hitting the water.  Aparo gives us a wonderfully atmospheric two-page spread of the incident that adds to the mystery.  The police are baffled, and the sudden appearance and cryptic warning by the Phantom Stranger doesn’t do much to comfort them.

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Meanwhile, apparently the Weathermen have taken their bat-guano insanity inter-planetary, as a pair of dropouts have somehow managed to hijack an Apollo spacecraft and are planning to crash it into Washington D.C. in protest of the space program’s ‘waste’ of resources.  Really?  That’s what you’ve got a problem with?  Not the war in Vietnam, the race problems, or police brutality?  I’m glad you boys have your priorities right.  Despite the pleas of mission control, it seems like this inexplicably capable pair of nutjobs is going to make good on their threats, but the capsule suddenly goes off course and splashes harmlessly into the Atlantic, empty!

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the phantom stranger (1969) 11 - 05The Stranger has noticed all of these events, and after spotting a story about a glowing pyramid suddenly showing up in the Sudan, he decides to investigate.  How does he get there?  Why, by flying commercial, just like everyone else.  It’s a weird sight to see the Stranger just walking through the airport.  Does he even have a passport?  Or money?  Either way, on the flight, he meets a young woman named Lynn Berg (Lindbergh reference?) who wants to talk to him because she gets nervous on flights.  The Stranger’s slightly odd response is perfect, as he says “Feel free to speak.”  Not the most warm and welcoming, is the Phantom Stranger.

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You have to wonder if he uses his powers to skip the lines…

They arrive in Israel, and in a move that really surprised me, Lynn begins to talk about the current troubles in the Middle East, philosophizing about the conflict and war in general, wondering if there can ever be a right or wrong in such conflicts.  Just as the Stranger begins to share his own critique of warfare, Lynn’s brother arrives to pick her up, only to run right into a terrorist attack.  The Stranger foresees it moments before it occurs but too late to prevent it.  A pair of (presumably) Palestinians throw grenades, which kill Lynn’s brother, shouting “for my dead father!”

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In response, the young woman, consumed by grief and rage, chases after the pair, attacking them, wrestling a knife away from one of them and actually killing him with it!  The Stranger sort of ineffectually calls after her and watches helplessly (which doesn’t really make a ton of sense), as the dead terrorist drops the grenade he’d been holding, causing an explosion and apparently vaporizing Lynn.  This is an incredibly effective scene.  Just as the traveling companions are talking about war and the cycle of vengeance, that very cycle plays out before our eyes.  In revenge for some unknown act that cost them their father, two men kill an innocent.  In response, the dead man’s sister is herself blinded by vengeance and kills one of them, dooming all three.  It’s a powerful and surprisingly subtle demonstration of the endless nature of revenge.  The effect is rather arresting.

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But, this is a comic, and we’ve got other, stranger fish to fry, so the scene shifts to that mysterious glowing pyramid our enigmatic hero read about.  Inside, a masked figure in Egyptian regalia holds forth to a gathered crowd, explaining his evil plan, and evil it is.  In attendance are all of those people warped by hatred and selfishness who were snatched away from their deaths, including the girl from the bridge and the two pseudo-astronauts.  Evil-tut explains that he is the ‘Messiah of Evil,’ and has drawn all of them together in order to build ‘an army of evil’!  Strangely, Lynn Berg is in a cell there as well, drawn thither because her heart was filled with hate at the moment of her death.  Suddenly, the Stranger is there in her prison, and he comforts the girl.

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Just then, guards burst in, and when the Spectral Sleuth tries to fight them, he encounters a powerful force-field.  What’s more, they knock him out with just a touch, which also seems odd.  The Stranger is brought before the fiendish pharaoh, who reveals himself to be…Tannarak!  That’s right, the promising villain from the last  issue returns, and in grand fashion!  Apparently, at the moment of his death beneath the falling statue, he was snatched away by powerful beings who called themselves the ‘Gods of Hate,’ who chose him as their champion, as the Messiah of Evil and charged him to build an army of the like-minded with which to seize power.

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The Stranger shouts that such an agenda would “upset the very balance of the universe” and invokes the concepts of chaos and order, declaring “this must not be!”  He strikes down the guards, somehow now able to do so, despite the fact that a few pages before he couldn’t’ even touch them, and then charges Tannarak.  Yet, the sorcerer is not to be taken so easily, and he zaps the hero with a beam that turns his own hate and anger against him.  The mysterious one realizes that his rage is self-defeating, so he calms his mind and strikes out, not in anger and not for revenge, but for justice, and delivers a great blow.

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Yet, he and Lynn are still badly outnumbered, so they flee, and here is where things get weird.  Well…weirder, in context.  They race into a chamber filled with advanced machines, alien machines!  They trigger a defense mechanism and are bombarded by terrible rays, but each selflessly tries to shield the other.

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The apparently mechanical sentries of the machines note that they had thought Earth the perfect place to build an empire of evil, as they had found the planet’s inhabitants purely selfish beings, but this act of sacrifice makes them reconsider.  They decide that they must seek what they want elsewhere and decide to destroy their base, the pyramid, because their mission is a failure.  When the rays shut off, the Stranger and the girl flee, leaving Tannarak and his minions to face a cataclysmic explosion!  In a really surprisingly grim touch, Lynn is driven mad by the experience.  As the Stranger says, her “mind has escaped whither they cannot follow.”

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Wow.  Okay.  Where to even begin with a story like this?  It has some really fantastic elements, and the scene with the terrorist attack is unquestionably quite strong and touching.  There’s probably no clearer symbol of the endless cycle of vengeance in the modern imagination than the conflicts in the Holy Land, and that scene was handled with surprising maturity and subtlety.  I love seeing Tannarak return as well.  I think he’s got a ton of potential, and his being chosen as a champion of evil makes perfect sense.  After all, he was a completely selfish being, putting his own continued existence above every other concern, and what is evil but the ascension of selfishness, the triumph of will?  At the same time, that’s why the trappings of his ‘army of evil’ were slightly disappointing to me, as I’d have liked to see just a slightly more sophisticated treatment of their morality.  Evil very rarely owns the fact that it is evil; instead, it is much more common for that type of utter selfishness to hold itself up as the greatest good, as it so often does in our own society.

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Of course, then there’s the alien element which just comes out of left field.  Why not just have Tannarak’s backers be mysterious and sinister beings?  Making them some kind of aliens just doesn’t fit with the rest of the story, and it certainly doesn’t fit with the Egyptian motif without some type of explanation.  Tannarak was raised in Egypt, so we could have just hand-waved the pharaoh act if left to his own devices.  Add to this the different moments that just don’t quite make sense, like the invulnerable guards suddenly becoming conveniently vulnerable and the Stranger’s unexplained commercial flight, and you’ve got a very uneven story.  All of those rough edges could have been smoothed over with a bit of thought (perhaps the Stranger took a dive in the first fight, and perhaps he was on the flight to keep an eye on Lynn), but we don’t get any such attention in the comic.  In the end, it’s a story with a ton of potential, but the final result is just a bit too clumsy.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen on the strength of its treatment of its themes, but it loses plenty because of its oddities.

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Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108


Superman's_Girlfriend,_Lois_Lane_Vol_1_108“The Spectre Suitor”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell

“Mourn for the Thorn!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell

We’ve got a super gimmicky cover, once again focused on a troubled wedding for the Man of Steel and the glamorous girl reporter, which seems something of a tradition for this book.  While the story inside isn’t quite as gimmicky as its wrapping, it is more than a little weird.

lois_lane_108_03The strange tale opens at the home of Sir Noel Tate, a wealthy man who Lois is interviewing.  However, when we join them, they have put the question and answer session on hold in order to investigate sounds coming from the old fellow’s souvenir room.  They interrupt a trio of thieves in the process of robbing the join who knock Tate out and begin to threaten Lois.  The plucky girl reporter holds her own for a while, but just as one of the thieves is about to skewer her, mysterious things start to go wrong for him and his confederates.  They’re attacked by an unseen assailant and driven away.  When Tate comes to, he tells Lois that she’s in danger…from a ghost relative of his!  Interestingly, Lois scoffs at the idea of ghosts, as if that’s even slightly less believable than half of the ridiculous stuff she encounters on a daily basis.

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Back at the Daily Planet, Sir Noel’s efforts to warn the journalist are intercepted by an invisible presence.  It apparently possesses Jimmy to lure Lois out of her office, then poses as her on the phone to Tate.  Next, for some reason, it draws Lois into the slums of the city, where she observes an interesting scene.  A desperate young man holds a slum-lord at gunpoint, and despite the fat-cat’s pleas for mercy, the gunman insists that he’s preyed on his tenants too long and too viciously to be spared.  It’s a scene somewhat reminiscent of the infamous Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76.

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What makes this moment fascinating is the social commentary present in it.  There’s nothing really sympathetic about the slum-lord, despite the fact that he’s got the law on his side in this encounter, and it is implied that men like him are the reason for the deplorable conditions in the slums.  Before the would-be murderer can finish his grim deed, his landlord has a heart attack and dies, courtesy of the mysterious ghostly suitor, who is himself moved by the plight of this area.  Cryptically, he mentions how it reminds him of London’s East End from 83 years ago.

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Meanwhile, Superman arrives for a romantic dinner with Lois, and we get one of the strangest scenes in the book.  After the couple shares a kiss, the ghostly stalker realizes that he’s got some pretty powerful competition.  So, he uses the power of plot to conjure a vision of Kal-El’s mother, Lara, in Lois’s eyes.  The vision is super vague, but it’s presents the Kryptonian woman in horror at the approach of something, and this creeps the Man of Steel out.  When Lois starts laughing uncontrollably, he freaks out and almost hits her!  Horrified at his reaction, Superman flies away in disgust.  The whole scene is just odd.  It doesn’t really make sense, at least in part because the ghost’s powers are so vaguely defined that we’re not sure what is his doing and what is reaction (or overreaction).  The end result is just rather disjointed and seems like a clumsy excuse to get the Metropolis Marvel out of the picture.

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That night, Lois has a nightmare about her wedding with Superman being interrupted by her spectral suitor, only to awake and find a letter from his ghostly hand that declares he’s going to bring her to his spirit world soon.  Despite her best efforts, the ghost prevents the desperate reporter from revealing her plight by stealing her voice and freezing her hands, and the next night, he summons her to Sir Noel’s estate, where she steals the knight’s nefarious ancestor’s dirk.  A frightened Tate calls Clark Kent in search of Superman, but before the hero can arrive, Lois is transported back through time to London’s East End in the 19th Century, through the ill-defined power of the ghost and his dagger.

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She arrives and is confronted by a mysterious figure emerging from the mist, but just as he’s about to stab her, he declares that she’s “not like the others.”  Lois realizes that her spectral suitor is none other than the ghost of Jack the Ripper!  Just then, Superman arrives, having scoured time to find her (and I like the detail that he didn’t know exactly when to look), and takes her home, where Sir Noel fills in the blanks.  Apparently, his ancestor was driven mad by the deplorable conditions of London and set out to punish the women who represented those conditions, the prostitutes who walked the streets, which seems pretty monstrously unfair.  The ghost sent Lois back so that his living self could kill her, but the Ripper realized that she was an innocent and couldn’t bring himself to do it.  Confused yet?  Fortunately, the dirk was destroyed when Lois was sent back in time, so the spirit is now banished for good.

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This is just a weird, wandering tale.  It has some effectively creepy elements, and there is some definite menace as poor Lois is hounded by her invisible, unstoppable stalker.  The fact that a story featuring Superman manages to conjure up that sense of helplessness is actually fairly impressive, but the plot is just too random and too rushed to be entirely effective.  Even Werner Roth’s usually beautiful art isn’t quite up to the standards we’ve gotten used to in the last few issues.  There are several spots where his figures seem awkward and stiff, especially his Superman.  I’ll give this one 2.5 Minutemen.  It isn’t bad per se, just a little off.

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“Mourn for the Thorn”


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Unfortunately, this issue’s Rose and Thorn backup isn’t much better.  The usually impressive series suffers from some really goofy elements and an altogether rushed plot in this outing.  It begins, strangely enough, with the strip’s protagonist dead!  Lois and Superman look on as the valiant Thorn lies dead in her golden coffin, apparently finally having fallen prey to the 100.  We then get a flashback that tells us how the Nymph of Night met her fate.  She cornered #24 on her hit parade and took him out in an alley, only to…die…somehow…because of car exhaust?  It’s an exceedingly silly scene.

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Thorn is standing in an alley when the killer’s partner backs his car towards her.  Does he run her down?  Pin her against the wall?  No, don’t be silly.  He stops next to her and poisons her with carbon monoxide.  Now, I know that emissions standards were worse in the 70s, but I’m still thinking that simply running your car in an alley didn’t create the equivalent or mustard gas or anything.  It’s such a ludicrously impractical way to kill someone and so unnecessarily complicated that it takes you right out of the tale.

After the Thorn is killed, the 100 apparently take her body back to their funeral parlor front, not bothering with the authorities or anything, and nobody notices that there’s a murdered woman just sitting in the front window.  Later, a woman with the “Friends of the Friendless” comes to claim the body.  She’s a member of the 100 who is playing a part, despite the fact that the funeral parlor’s owner is their leader, which doesn’t make much sense.  The whole sequence feels unnecessary, as the killers could have just taken her body and done whatever they wanted with it, skipping this whole dog and pony show.

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The criminals bring the boxed Baleful Beauty to a sinister looking old house called ‘The Mansion of Mourning,’ which is an admittedly cool name.  It’s a front for the 100 as well, providing a hideout for their wanted members.  As they prepare to plant the Thorn in a grave, her perfidious pallbearers drop the casket, and rain splashes on her face.  Suddenly, the Vixen of Vengeance revives!  She rises from the grave in a pretty fantastic panel that, if the story had more space, would have made a great splash page.  Apparently, the vigilante took some medicine to fake her death when she realized she was trapped, and she claims she always wears nose filters which prevented her from asphyxiating.  Ooookay.

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Well, the Thorn makes swift work of the gathered hoods in a nice full-page action sequence and then drops another set of numbers on her newest catch.  Returning home, she awakens as Rose, who finds herself weeping at the news of the vigilante’s death, despite the fact that she doesn’t know her.

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This story has some great elements.  In fact, the big reveal of the Thorn’s return from the grave and the last moment with Rose’s unexplained connection to her alter ego are both quite good.  Yet, the story overall is a bit on the weak side.  It’s clear that Kanigher is really struggling with his page count in this one.  While he’s done a great job at creating condensed, simplified plots that worked remarkably well in only 8 pages, this issue’s effort is just too convoluted.  The silly method of the heroine’s “death” combined with the unnecessary complications involving her burial and the funeral parlor break too much with verisimilitude without explanation or excuse and they take away from an interesting story idea.  The resulting yarn is worth only a substandard 2 Minutemen.

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I hope you enjoyed my coverage of these two comics.  We’re almost done with February, just three more comics to go!  In the next post, we’ll see what Denny O’Neil’s got in store for his Superman revamp, which I’m excited about.  I hope you’ll join me again soon for my coverage of that and more!  Until then, keep the heroic spirit alive!

Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 4-Special Edition!)

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Welcome to another stop on my journey Into the Bronze Age!  In today’s post, I’ve got something special for you!   The next book in the Roll Call is JLA #87, which has a rather unique origin and merits a slightly different approach.  It’s actually an interesting footnote in comic book history, one half of an unofficial crossover between DC and Marvel’s two top teams, the JLA and the Avengers!  In honor of this unprecedented event, I’ve decided to do a special post.  I’m going to put off covering the next few DC comics for a little while and cover both halves of this ‘crossover,’ as well as provide a little background about the event and the characters it created.  That’s right, for the first time in my Bronze Age feature, I’m going to cover a Marvel comic!

So, how did we end up with a quasi-crossover several decades before the official JLA/Avengers crossover event?  Back in 1969, rascally Roy Thomas of Marvel fame and the dynamic Denny O’Neil were friends, and they were each writing their companies’ respective big super-teams.  They decided to do an unofficial crossover, creating pastiche characters in each of their magazines.  The product of Roy’s efforts were the Squadron Sinister (Avengers #70), which would later spawn the Squadron Supreme and go on to become an enduring part of the Marvel Universe.  O’Neil seems to have chickened out a bit (JLA #75), producing only evil doppelgangers of the League, but a few years later Thomas tried again with Mike Friedrich.  The results were this month’s JLA story and Avengers #85 and #86.  There’s a little feature on this ‘crossover’ here that provided some background for this post.

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 #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87 (AND Avengers #85-6)
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Justice League of America #87


JLA_v.1_87“Batman – King of the World”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

That’s a great cover by Neal Adams.  It’s in the hackneyed ‘hero acting out of character’ tradition, but it is still quite striking and beautifully rendered.  What lies inside is a red letter issue, featuring the creation of characters of very limited impact in the DC Universe but who are of significance in comic book history at large, the Champions of Angor!  I can already hear you asking, ‘who?’  That’s because these guys are pretty obscure.  In fact, they’re so obscure that I didn’t even include them in DCUG, which has almost every DC character you could imagine.  Nonetheless, the impetus for their creation as quixotic counterparts of Marvel’s premiere super-team, the Avengers, is actually really interesting.

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While both Avengers issues are classics and the characters introduced therein found a life of their own, this book is not quite so fortunate.  It’s a really fun read, but the Champions themselves are pretty forgettable and play only a minor role in the story.  It begins, not with the ersatz Avengers, but with Batman and Hawkman in battle with some unseen foe.  The Dark Knight is already down, but in a nice show of his fortitude and courage, the Winged Wonder, though badly battered, makes a final charge, only to be blasted by a beam of energy.  We then see a towering robotic figure, which has a pretty nice design, much better than the boxy robots from #84, looking a bit like one of Dr. Who’s Cybermen.  The mechanical man ponders Hawkman’s signal device and decides to trigger it in order to draw his fellow Leaguers…to their doom!

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Next we check in with Superman, who is apparently still mopey from his pity-party in the Flash’s book this month, and he thinks about how he’s alone on Earth.  To cheer himself up, he goes to seek out his fellow Leaguers, the only folks with which he can really identify.  I actually like that element of this scene, even if it is a bit overly emotional.  Heading to the satellite, he encounters Zatanna, who is given an oddly intense description by Friedrich and an awkward close-up by Dillin.  She’s called “The girl with the enigmatic smile and the dancing eyes,” and “the bearer of peace.”  It’s a bit…weird.  She apparently calms the Man of Steel with her mere presence and explains that today is the anniversary of the League’s rescue of her lost father, so she came to celebrate.  As it turns out, she arrived just in time to answer Hawkman’s distress call from South America.

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Apparently close-ups are not too flattering for the mistress of magic…

JusticeLeague087-05Superman, Zatanna, Flash, and the Atom arrive to discover Batman and Hawkman apparently just palling around with a giant, laser-spewing robot.  Nothing to see here!  Strangely, the Dark Knight acts like his fellow Leaguers are crazy, denying that they need any help.  In a funny bit, the Atom asks, with palpable snark, “What about the mysterious robot–doesn’t it strike you as a wee bit strange?”  That guy is six inches of sass!  The Masked Manhunter replies that, as Bruce Wayne, he was funding an archeological dig for Carter Hall’s museum when they unearthed the robot, and after it was awakened by the sun, it obeyed his orders.  This contains a fun idea, that Bruce would chip in to help his fellow Leaguers in their secret identities.  There’s some story and characterization potential there.

Well, needless to say, the team is a tad suspicious, and when Green Lantern’s arrival elicits an irrational outburst from Batman, they suddenly find themselves facing the menacing machine, apparently under his orders!  The metal monster targets Zatanna first, doing the classic robot bit of talking out all of its thought-processes and actions, revealing that it considers her the greatest threat.  The bot disables her with a power blast, and the Flash begins to blitz it while the Atom attempts to shrink inside its head.  Both heroes are repulsed by a force field and KOed.

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Superman and Green Lantern attack, but they can make no headway.  Analyzing the Emerald Crusader, the machine turns itself yellow, and apparently Hal lacks the creativity to, I don’t know, use his ring to throw rocks at it or something.  The android antagonist zaps Hal, leaving only a Man of Steel vs. a metal man, but even the mightiest Leaguer of all falls before the villainous machine.  This is actually an interesting moment, because Superman gets taken out, not by magic and not by kryptonite, but by more direct methods.  What makes this notable is that this is the first time we’ve seen such a portrayal in the post-kryptonite world.  It looks like O’Neil’s elimination of the emerald element is already starting to bear fruit, as you have to imagine that, if this story had been told a few months before, this android would surely have been armed with a kryptonite beam or the like.  O’Neil’s innovation is already leading to better storytelling.

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Back to the story, we discover that the robot was controlling Batman’s mind to throw the League off, and in order to keep him under control, it plays along with his growing power delusions, pretending to offer the defeated Leaguers to Batman as its ‘master,’ and thus recreating the cover.  This seems…overly elaborate and unnecessary, as the bot can’t possibly think the normal guy in the bat costume is much of a threat to it.  Nonetheless, we get a shock when the robot declares that the Justice League members are…dead!

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JusticeLeague087-17Of course, that can’t really be the case, and we see, one by one, that they are really alive.  It starts with GL and the Atom, as the Emerald Gladiator uses his ring to trace the robot’s transmissions home, wherever that is.  The Atom shrinks to subatomic size and catches a ride on the ring’s beam, following those transmissions to their origin in order to shut the machine down at its source.  That’s a pretty clever move, and it’s successful, as the android freezes just as it was about to destroy a native village in its search for minerals.

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The rest of the League look down on the battlefield, and we see that the Lantern created duplicates of them to trick the rampaging robot into thinking they were dead.  Weirdly, Friedrich describes these as androids, which doesn’t really seem to fit for the power ring, but it’s a minor point.  Superman heads off to get Batman and Hawkman to a hospital, and the remaining team members travel with the Emerald Knight to meet up with the Atom on the alien world from which their android antagonist originated.

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When they arrive, they discover nothing but ruins and a newly destroyed machine, courtesy of the Mighty Mite.  The planet seems to have been “shattered by nuclear warfare” ages ago, and just as the heroes are contemplating whether their enemies might still be around someplace, a quartet of strange looking super beings arrive.  These, at last, are the Champions of Angor, heroes from an alien world!  They include Jack B. Quick, a speedster who can fly for short periods, Blue Jay, a man with the power to shrink and gain wings, the Silver Sorceress, who has “hex powers” and a costume without even a hint of silver on it, and Wandjina, an Australian storm god armed with a powerful mystic weapon.  My, do these guys seem familiar or what?  Their parallels are pretty clear.  They’re obvious stand-ins for Quicksilver, Ant-Man/Yellow Jacket, the Scarlet Witch, and Thor.  Sadly, unlike their Squadron counterparts at Marvel, they aren’t terribly electrifying.

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Their designs are pretty awful, though a few of them (Blue Jay and Silver Sorceress) have some potential.  What the heck is going on with Wandjina’s weird little hairy epaulets?  Also, his name is pretty terrible.  There are literally hundreds of storm gods to choose from.  Why in the world did Friedrich pick one with such a goofy name?  Personally, I’d have gone with somebody like the Babylonian god Marduk.  He’s got a cool name, a good backstory, and provides some cool design possibilities.  Anyway, I think both their lackluster role in this story and their pretty weak designs help to explain why this foursome never amounted to much in the DCU.  It’s a shame, because I love the idea of the JLA having a surrogate set of Avengers to wail on from time to time.

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JusticeLeague087-20Back to our tale, the audience is let in on what neither group of heroes knows and is provided with the backstory of the planet.  Apparently it was run by competing mega-corporations, like some alien version of the Space Merchants, and they seeded the galaxy with robotic servants, each programed to harvest resources and send them home to their owners.  These interstellar companies eventually wiped each other out in an atomic war, but their mechanical servants remained.  Just as the League battled one on Earth, the Champions battled one on Angor, and they both tracked the robots’ signals back to this planet.  In classic ‘Marvel Misunderstanding‘ fashion, the two groups of heroes misinterpret each other’s motives and begin to fight pretty much immediately.  In a fun little touch, Friedrich includes a literal ‘literary license’ enabling him to translate the alien language.

The fight itself is really brief, effectively just one double-page spread, which is quite disappointing if you’ve heard about this issue and looked forward to reading it for the sake of this moment.  It is a cool spread, with each hero squaring off against their opposite number, though it is weakened by some heavy-handed narration about the madness of war.  We get it Mike, ‘war, what is it good for?’  I’m really rather sad that we, for some reason, get GL here instead of Superman because it would have been great to see the Man of Steel vs. the God of Thunder.  That’s really a missed opportunity.  I suppose it isn’t the only one in this issue.

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During the conflict, Jack B. Quick hurls some rocks at the Scarlet Speedster, who in turn, sends them flying back at his opponent, but one of them actually strikes Blue Jay, nearly killing him!  Zatanna immediately stops fighting and calls the Lantern over to help.  They heal the injured size-changer, and, in the usual fashion, this act of selfless heroism convinces the other side that they must have been mistaken about their opponents.  With the help of a ring translation, the gathered heroes share their stories and make friends, and the story ends with another really weird focus on Zatanna, as all the Leaguers give her a super-awkward looking group hug and the heavy-handed narration continues.

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This issue is just jam-packed full of plot.  There are at least two or three issues’ worth of story here, and I’m not even talking about the modern ‘decompressed’ methods of storytelling.  Once again, Friedrich’s narrative eyes are bigger than his stomach, as he just fills this comic with ideas that are all fighting to have enough space.  The result is a riotous and creative book that feels very rushed.  You’ve got the initial robot menace, the adventure to the alien world, the discovery of the backstory of the space merchants, and the fight with the Champions, any of which could easily have filled an issue.  Trying to pack it all in means only the first idea really got explored, and even that one ended very abruptly.  Of course, the biggest flaw of the book is , in some senses, the disappointing appearance of the Champions of Angor.  They’re barely in the story for six pages, and their big battle is over in two.  The concept of an Avengers analog is a promising one, but sadly, these guys don’t quite live up to their potential.

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Awkward moments courtesy of Mike “Touchy-Feely” Friedrich.

Despite its crowded plot and less than inspiring new characters, this is still a fun book to read.  There’s no question that this is better than last issue, even with its flaws.  While the ideas in this comic may be crammed together and largely unexplored, they are interesting.  We’ve once again got an impersonal, greedy corporate entity as our villains, which seems to be becoming a more common device and certainly feels fitting for the modern day.  You’ve also got a bit of an anti-war message here, but it’s so incongruous and so easily lost amongst the hustle-and-bustle of the more interesting elements of the story that it doesn’t amount to much.  It’s also more than a little strange that, despite her prominent role in this story, Zatanna didn’t join the League here.  That feels like another missed opportunity.  Dillin’s art is pretty strong, and that seemingly characteristic stiffness from his JLA work isn’t really in evidence here.  His design for the robot is quite good, but obviously his designs for the Champions aren’t so fortunate.  I suppose that, over all, I’ll give this fun but flawed issue 3.5 Minutemen, largely on the strength of the first episode and the intriguing ideas in evidence.

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Avengers #85


Avengers_Vol_1_85“The World Is Not for Burning!”
Writer: Roy Thomas
Penciler: John Buscema
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Mike Stevens
Editor: Stan Lee

You can see what else Marvel put out this month HERE.

Some years back I read through The Avengers up through the early 80s, and I really loved the experience.  Perhaps if I live to be 150 I’ll have time one day to go back and read through all of Marvel like I’m doing with DC.  Either way, I love the Avengers as a team and a concept, and their comic is one of my all-time favorites.  Those early Avengers years in the Silver and Bronze Ages produced some truly great comics, and they are a blast to read.  As I’ve discussed before, while the characters who make up the JLA have a special place in my heart, I can’t deny that, on the whole, the classic stories of Marvel’s main team beat those of DC all hollow.  Here at the beginning of the Bronze Age, we’re in a great time for the Avengers, featuring some of my favorite stories from this series.

This particular issue begins with our star tossed heroes, Thor, Black Panther, Black Knight, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Quicksilver, and Goliath (the Clint Barton variety, a concept I never cared for), as they prepare to journey via Mjolnir.  They are returning home from the extra-dimensional tyrant Arkon’s world, where they just concluded the previous issue’s adventure.  Thor hurls his enchanted hammer about, ordering it to take them all back where they came from, but only three of their number arrive at their respective homes.  Goliath, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and the Vision don’t appear with the others, but Thor and the Panther don’t have time to investigate, as they are due to join Cap and Spidey at a Toys for Tots charity event, which is a nice little bit of detail.  It does seem like the matter of missing heroes might take precedence, but far be it for me to advocate disappointing disadvantaged kids!

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The missing Avengers find themselves only partially materializing, left in a wraith-like state on a world that is dying!  All about them, human beings burn horribly and the very streets melt under the fire of a raging sun.  Unable to do anything more than watch, they feel helpless.  Quicksilver, spying a paper, realizes that the date indicates that they’ve been gone for weeks rather than hours!  In an attempt to do something, Wanda uses her hex powers, and suddenly they find themselves solid and on a peaceful street corner on the right date.  Yet, there are subtle hints that all is not as it seems, as people don’t seem to recognize the team.

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When they arrive at Avengers’ Mansion, it too seems subtly different, and inside they accidentally trigger a trap before they are confronted by a strangely garbed figure who tells them that this is his team’s home!  This is Nighthawk, who the team had encountered months ago as part of the Squadron Sinister, yet he seems not to know them.  After an ill-fated attack on the diamond-hard Vision, Nighthawk employs the better part of valor and escapes through a secret door.  The Vision slips through and opens it, and the team pursues the mysterious masked man.

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Inside what should be their meeting room, they discover four new figures: Lady Lark, American Eagle, Tom Thumb, and…Hawkeye?  Well, neither pastiche team arrived fully formed, it seems.  This quartet are obvious parallels to Black Canary, Hawkman, the Atom, and Green Arrow, though, oddly, American Eagle seems more like a cross between Captain America and the Winged Wonder, as he’s an uber patriotic, flag-waver type, who immediately assumes the Avengers are commies!

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In classic Marvel fashion, the teams immediately come to blows when Goliath tries to get some answers out of Nighthawk in his usual hot-headed fashion, dangling the guy out a window.  Suddenly, a message comes over the view-screen, where Dr. Spectrum (Green Lantern) tells his team that the solar rocket ‘Brain-Child One’ is ready for launch, and he calls them the “Squadron Supreme.”  The Vision realizes that his team must have witnessed a glimpse of the future of this world and tries to explain, only for Tom Thumb to blind Goliath as the giant laughs at his diminutive stature (real sensitive there, Clint).  Interestingly, instead of having shrinking powers like the Atom, Tom Thumb is just a little person and inventor, making for a very unusual parallel.

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The teams leap into action, with Tom Thumb disabling Quicksilver with an adhesive that coats the speedster, Lady Lark disabling the Witch with a sonic cry, Hawkeye hitting the Vision with an explosive bolt, and American Eagle decking Goliath.  It seems like things are going badly for the Assemblers until Clint’s destroys Tom Thumb’s flying platform and the Vision recovers to take out Eagle and Nighthawk.

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Inside, Quicksilver shakes off his sticky prison and hits pseudo-Hawkeye like a cannonball, while the Witch turns the tables on Lady Lark, zapping her with a hex-sphere.  With the Squadron captured, the Avengers realize that they are going to need these strange heroes’ help if they are to save their world.  They take the reviving Nighthawk, commander a ship, and head to the launch site, explaining the problem in transit.  Fortunately, the nocturnal avenger (Freedom Force joke!) believes them, because without his help, they’d have to defeat the three strongest members of the Squadron!

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This comic is a blast to read.  It feels well-paced, and the plot has plenty of room to breathe, unlike it’s distinguished counterpart.  It is overwritten in the classic Marvel tradition, with dialog just everywhere.  Roy Thomas was always great at writing adventure stories, even if he followed in Stan’s footsteps by being very verbose, and this was no exception.  Notably, in contrast to the DC book, where the pastiche team received only a few pages, this entire issue revolves around the Squadron Supreme, first as mystery and then as antagonist.  They are given a great deal more space, and the fight between the two teams takes up roughly seven pages in this book, more than doubling the space devoted to the encounter in JLA.  Of course, they also feature in the next issue as well, where the other part of the Squadron gets as much room to shine as the Avengers themselves.  It’s no wonder that their appearance here proved much more memorable than the Champions’ over in DC.

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Of course, it’s hard to get much better than John Buscema art in the Bronze Age.  The man was a master, and there’s a reason that his run on this book is legendary.  As for the Squadron members themselves, their designs are, on the whole, stronger than those of their counterparts, but there are still some definite exceptions.  The new Hawkeye’s design is rather incoherent though his hood is neat, and American Eagle’s wings and helmet can end up looking rather goofy.  Lady Lark, Nighthawk, and Tom Thumb, however, benefit from solid, distinctive designs.  All of these characters would evolve in future appearances, but it’s notable how little those three changed.  From their very first appearance as villains ten issues ago, the original four members of the team had a pretty solid look and concept.  I’ll give this half of the adventure 4.5 Minutemen, an enjoyable adventure with some grand stakes and some interesting new characters.

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Avengers #86


Avengers_Vol_1_86“Brain-Child to the Dark Tower Came…!”
Writer: Roy Thomas and Len Wein
Penciler: Sal Buscema
Inker:Jim Mooney
Letterer: Shelly Leferman

You can see what else Marvel put out this month HERE.

The second half of this two-parter opens with the gathered heroes rushing to confront the remaining there Squadron members guarding the rocket as it prepares for lift-off.  For reasons of plot, Nighthawk must stay with the ship to shut it down, so the Avengers hurry to stop the launch, only to get into a brief fight with the Squadron members.  Fortunately, Wanda manages to hit the rocket with a hex sphere, which also has the power of plot, and stops the launch.  Just then, Nighthawk arrives and straightens everything out.  In a funny touch, Goliath notes that it’s nice to meet superheroes that they don’t end up fighting and observes that it is a rare occurrence for the team.  That’s a fun bit of self-awareness, and, just as the DC booked aimed at being a bit Marvel-ish, it seems that this one aims to be a bit DC-ish.

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Poor Pietro, perpetually in over his head…

After the Avengers tell their story, the Squadron members explain the rocket’s origins, and the mystery begins to unravel.  It seems that a decade ago a very unusual child was born, a son of two parents who had been exposed to great amounts of radiation who was born with an incredible intellect.  The child prodigy to put all others to shame, he was a brilliant scientist by the tender age of four!

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In an effort to increase his intelligence even further, young Arnold Sutton experimented on himself, giving him the most advanced mind on the planet, but making him a deformed freak.  His work was respected, but he was still ostracized and abused.  He became a top rocket scientist for the U.S., but eventually moved to a deserted island in order to be free of humanity.  It becomes clear that this brilliant mind is still the mind of a child, and it has decided to lash out at those who hurt it.  Thus, the rocket supposedly meant for exploration is actually a doomsday device.

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Back on the Avengers’ Earth, the remaining team-members try to bring their missing mates home, but without success.  Unaware of this, the lost heroes soldier on, teaming up with the present Squadron members to pay the young ‘Brain-Child’ a visit.  When they arrive on his island, they are met with powerful advanced defenses, confirming their suspicions.  In another DC touch, the heroes split up into teams and each try to break into the uncanny kid’s fortress from four different directions.  The speedsters take the first crack at him, naturally, but they get caught in a storm of flying rocks and must whip up their own super-speed cyclone to counter it.

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Meanwhile, Nighthawk and the Scarlet Witch encounter a massively muscled guardian who makes short work of the psuedo-caped crusader.  It also hypnotizes poor Wanda before she can hurl a hex sphere.  On the third front, Dr. Spectrum and the Vision encounter a weird, Lovecraftian creature that manages to counter both their powers and overwhelm them.

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The final team of Goliath and Hyperion (it seems like not teaming Hawkeye and Hawkeye is a bit of a missed opportunity!) attempt to sneak up on the genocidal grade-schooler, only for him to reveal that he has mental powers as well as great intelligence!  Brain-Child manages to take out the mighty Hyperion, who, in a fun touch, is called a ‘man of brawn.’  But, though stunned, Goliath is still fighting, and he employs his ex-identity’s expertise to turn Hyperion’s tough form into an improvised missile!

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The weakened Brain-Child collapses, and all of his traps, even his entire fortress, disappear as he loses consciousness.  The strain apparently snaps his mind back to its proper child-like state, and Dr. Spectrum uses his power prism to turn him into a normal boy.  The Squadron promises to take care of him and give him a normal life, and just then, the Avengers begin to fade out!  They arrive back home, their fellows finally having succeeded, and the story ends on a surprisingly sombre note, as the Vision ponders whether they can ever know if they are truly…home!

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I strongly suspect that this classic issue provided the inspiration for an excellent episode of the Justice League show featuring an ersatz JSA.  That episode featured a very similar antagonist.  The plot was admittedly quite different, but it did center around a post-apocalyptic world.  If true, that’s a fascinating line of descent, from JLA pastiche in the Avengers to JSA pastiche in a JLA show.  How neat!

As for the comic itself, it is another really entertaining story, and it is great fun to see the Avengers actually team up with their heroic counterparts from the ersatz-League.  It makes for a fitting end of the saga, and Brain-Child is a sympathetic and intriguing antagonist.  Thomas manages to tell his story with admiral brevity, yet still manages to make you feel for the little guy, creepy though he is.  There’s enough tragedy with this character to fit the high tone of the comic and make him compelling.  The ending is great, exactly what comics are all about, providing a hopeful resolution to the issue’s problem.  The little DC-esq touches to plot are also really fun for readers ‘in the know,’ as is the hint of self-awareness from Goliath.

In a fascinating and unusual display of erudition, this story references Robert Browning’s poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” with both its title and the comments of one of its characters.  This is a delightfully fitting reference, as Browning’s poem paints a scene of Gothic desolation as its knightly hero trudges slowly and painfully through a wasteland that the poet describes in detail.  Notably, it seems that at least some of the ugliness of his surroundings are a matter of the knight’s perspective, as he sees through jaundiced eyes and with the vision of despair.  Brain-Child experiences just such a vision of the world, but unlike Childe Roland, who perseveres to his ambiguous fate at the Dark Tower, the brilliant boy gives in to despair and decides to drown the whole world in fire, himself included.  The reference is a really neat addition to the story.

Once again, the art is superb, and Brain-Child is suitably disturbing.  I’ll give this issue 4.5 Minutemen as well.  It loses a little credit for the silly bit with Nighthawk in the beginning.

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Reading these stories in context is just fascinating.  They really highlight the different approaches to story-telling current at the two companies, as well as just being interesting as a piece of comic lore.  In comparison with the counterpart Avengers stories of this unofficial crossover, the weaknesses of the JLA tale are particularly telling.  The Avengers yarns are simply significantly better than the JLA version, and I once again find myself wondering just how the Justice League book survived with Marvel routinely kicking its backside every month in this era.

The Marvel books are just full of characterization and personality.  It’s on display in nearly every panel, overwrought, but present nonetheless.  In fact, even the brand new characters of the Squadron already begin to develop distinct personalities in the few pages allotted to them.  Compare that to the JLA issue, where only Superman really gets any characterization.  The scripting of the Avengers books is also a good deal more balanced, even if Thomas is more than a little purple in his prose.  The Marvel books are, as one might imagine, more character driven, while the DC title is much more idea driven.  In fact, one of the best traits of the JLA as a concept is on display in this issue, and that’s a tendency to engage big ideas.  Of course, those don’t get much attention, but they are present, nonetheless.  Interestingly, the DC book is really the more socially conscious, with its half-hearted anti-war message and its more memorable menacing corporate apocalypse.

The fates of these two groups of characters is quite interesting and illustrative.  It’s really impressive how quickly and completely the Squadron became fixtures of the Marvel Universe, even eventually starring in their own incredible and sophisticated maxi-series.  Meanwhile, it took around two decades for anyone at DC to do anything with the Champions of Angor, and even then their return is pretty obscure (Silver Sorceress and Blue Jay joined the JLI).  I can’t help but think that their respective fates reveal the quality of each group of characters, as well as the chance they had to make an impression on fans in their original appearances.  The DC team definitely seems like a matter of wasted potential, which makes one wonder, what might have been?

Until next time, I, like the Vision, will be pondering whether I’ve somehow ended up in an alternate reality ever-so-close to my own.  It would explain quite a bit.  Whatever universe we’re in, keep the heroic ideal alive, and be sure to join me again soon for another step on our journey, Into the Bronze Age!

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Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 3)

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Hello readers and Internet travelers!  This is another iteration of Into the Bronze Age, where I’ll be examining a few books cover dated from February 1971.  Lady Grey and I are bound for Iceland next week for a vacation, so I’m going to try to squeeze in a few more posts before we go, as I imagine I won’t have time while we’re traveling.  So, how about we check out some classic comics?

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 #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Detective Comics #408


Detective_Comics_408“The House that Haunted Batman”
Writers: Len Wein and Marv Wolfman
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Phantom Bullfighter!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Now that is a heck of a cover!  How could you not pick this comic up?  It’s got a haunting image, a provocative mystery, and it just begs to be read.  Sadly, the story inside isn’t quiet as compelling, though it certainly looks lovely with Neal Adams handling the art chores.  It includes the return of a villain that I’ve never heard of before, which surprised me because I thought I knew even the more obscure Batman rogues pretty well.  This adds another little discovery to my Bronze Age journey.

This strange, surreal story begins with Batman, on the trail of his young ward, Dick Grayson, who had disappeared from college 24 hours before.  The Dark Knight has tracked Robin to a creepy old mansion that, strangely enough, wasn’t there the day before!  Inside, he prowls through darkened rooms until he spots the Teen Wonder, who collapses into his arms and then…dissolves into dust!  We get the exact scene from the cover, which is a bit of a rarity.  I tend to enjoy seeing that kind of payoff, but considering how detailed the cover image was, it actually feels like a bit of a cheat in this instance, as seeing the image in the comic doesn’t actually add anything, which it should.

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Anyway, horrified by this sight, Batman recoils, and then he races up the grand staircase to discover the source of a horrible cry that fills the house.  He encounters a room full of bats and a gramophone, but disconnecting it doesn’t stop the sounds.  Suddenly, a gunshot rings out, and the Masked Manhunter takes off after the shooter, only to discover that he’s a phantom figure of Dick Grayson!  The apparition’s shots drive the hero through a trap door and into a darkened room, a room inhabited by his friends in the Justice League, Robin, and Commissioner Gordon, who are all gathered around…his coffin!

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That is a legitimately creepy image.

The Caped Crusader’s friends take turns bashing him, cursing his memory, and suddenly the hero finds himself in a tiny room with the walls closing in.  Just before he’s crushed, the world resolves itself into a very different vision, a high-tech facility, with both Batman and Robin trapped in glass tubes, being bounced up and down.  It is then that the villain of the piece reveals himself to be, Dr. Tzin-Tzin, the Master of Illusion…who I’ve never heard of.  Apparently, he only has a half dozen or so appearances in the Bat books, though he first showed up some fifty issues ago.

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Ironically, the unbelievable, nighrmarish motivations for Dick’s departure expressed here will go on to become the primary characterization of his relationship to his surrogate father.  Yay for modern comics!

He kindly explains that the League of Assassins had hired him to dispose of Batman after the Dark Knight defeated their first operatives.  It’s great to see the League storyline surface again, but Tzin-Tzin isn’t terribly interesting, though he’s plenty dramatic in this tale.  He informs the Caped Crusader that the up and down movement in their tubes will trigger a bomb as soon as either he or Robin hits 100 repetitions.  At the moment, the Teen Wonder is way ahead, so the villain demands that Batman beg and plead with him to spare the young man.  Instead, without a second thought, the hero begins to accelerate his own movement, surpassing Robin and triggering the explosion!

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Instead of being destroyed, however, he stuck to the top of his tube and dropped his belt down to trigger the bomb, then escaped in the smoke.  Yet, Tzin-Tzin won’t allow him to get away that easily, and the Dark Knight is confronted by the villain’s ‘Deadly Dozen,’ which precipitates a really great looking fight where Batman really shows the physical expertise that marks the definitive interpretation of the character.  Once again, Batman plays Captain America, employing a shield to good effect.  Better watch out; Bruce, Cap may sue!

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Adam’s action looks great as the Maksed Manhunter massacres the minions, and just when the remaining members of the Dozen manage to grab the hero, causing Tzin-Tzin to reveal himself in order to deliver the death blow, Robin makes his move!  The Teen Wonder takes the villain out and allows Batman to finish off the last two killers.  The whole scene makes for a good sequence.

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Yet, when the Dynamic Duo escort their captive out to the Batmobile, he suddenly vanishes, revealing himself to still be in the house…which then explodes in spectacular fashion!  Thus, Tzin-Tzin escapes to trouble our heroes another day.

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This is a fine story, with some really nicely disconcerting action in the first, nightmarish portion of the tale.  That bizarre, dream-like sequence is perhaps the strongest element of the story.  While Batman’s escape from Tzin-Tzin’s trap is nicely handled, as is the fight, what is going on with the villain is just not quite established well enough.  He’s a master of illusions, okay, but the final trap doesn’t really jive with that.  I didn’t really get a great sense of what he’s about, other than being a Fu Manchu clone.  That said, the whole is still a fun read, and it’s nice to see Batman and Robin in action together, if only briefly.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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“The Phantom Bullfighter!”


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This was a pretty intriguing setup for a mystery featuring the Danger Dame in an exotic setting, which is something you don’t see too often.  We join the fire-tressed female in Spain, where she has traveled to collect a rare manuscript for her library.  She’s has joined the fellow donating the text, Don Alvarado, who is a rancher involved with the bullfighting tradition.  They are watching a legendary matador who is now in his twilight, El Granados, when he is suddenly knocked down by a bovine belligerent.  The man’s servant, an aged former bullfighter himself, tries to rescue him, but a young upstart leaps out of the stands and begins to distract the bull.  It is a service for which neither the prideful El Granados or the aged Manolo are grateful.

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Later the bullfighter joins Don Alvarado’s party as they head to the ranch in order to pick out some bulls for his next fights.  That night, someone steals El Granado’s sword, and Batgirl spots the shadowy figure creeping about the house, so she flagrantly endangers her secret identity and changes into Batgirl.  She pursues the thief, but he whips his ‘stiff-brimmed hat’ at her, knocking the fighting female out cold!  That’s right, Batgirl gets another slot on the Headcount courtesy of Oddjob!  It is pretty goofy that a hat, however stiff it’s brim, could knock someone out, but we’ll give it a partial pass as there is a precedent.

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Batgirl awakens an hour later and heads back to her room, defeated.  The next morning, they discover that El Granados’ first choice of bulls was killed with his sword!  The strange slaying sets up quite a mystery, as there are endless questions of motives.  Who would kill the animal and why?  The servant, Manolo, promises to guard the sword with his life, so that night Babs thinks there isn’t much chance of a repeat performance, that is, until she spots a sword missing from the wall of the old house.

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This short little tale manages to set up a pleasantly puzzling mystery, and while it is short on action, Robins uses his time wisely by introducing an interesting cast of characters and giving us lots of suspects to choose from.  I’ve got my suspensions about who and why, and I’ll let y’all know if I’m right when we hit the next issue.  Batgirl’s performance is pretty poor, which, as we’ve seen, is unfortunately often the pattern of these Bat-Family backups.  Despite that, this is a good little story, and it emphasizes the ‘detective’ in Detective Comics.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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The Flash #203


The_Flash_Vol_1_203“The Flash’s Wife Is A Two-Timer!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

KANNNNIGHER!  You made me believe in you!  You made me think that maybe there was more to you than the hack behind those earlier stories, but it was you!  All along, it was you!

What am I raving about, my curious readers?  Well, we’ve reached the notorious issue of the Flash where Iris’s bat-guano insane retcon occurs.  I knew this was coming, but I had forgotten that it was written by Robert Kanigher.  It’s odd enough that a retcon should show up at this early date in the first place, but what lies inside is even stranger, and one can’t help but wonder how it came about.

The story begins with the Flash taking a trip up to the JLA satellite headquarters where he meets an unusually sullen Superman.  When the Scarlet Speedster explains that he came up early because Iris was out of town and he was a bit lonely, Super-grump replies by saying that he’s an alien alone on Earth and questions what Flash would know about loneliness.  Sheesh!  Of course, Superman grew up on his adopted world from a very young age, so the existential angst seems a bit overblown in context.

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Oddly, the Flash answers that he knows more than the Man of Steel thinks, and proceeds to tell a tale about the strange discovery of his wife’s origins.  Apparently, a few days before, Barry had returned home to find the house deserted and a weird note from his wife.  It read, bizarrely enough, “Darling-can’t stop myself–irresistible force–pulling me–1000 years–future-help me…”  In response, the Fastest Man alive rushes to the basement and hops on his Cosmic Treadmill, racing through time  to the year 2970.

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Once there, he sees a hi-tech aqueduct and decides to get a drink, only to be attacked by jetpack wearing guards firing futuristic (but not 1000 years worth of futuristic) weapons.  Dodging their fusillade, the Flash phases through a mountain to escape.  He emerges in what is described as a “self-contained city,” and notes that it had been “atom-bombed,” which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, seeing as its mostly still there and not, you know, just a radioactive wasteland.  I know that folks had a lot of goofy ideas about what atomic war would be like, but for Heaven’s sake, the Atomic Knights tales were more accurate, and those stories were published over a decade before this one!

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Inside the city, the Crimson Comet discovers ragged survivors of a nuclear war…somehow, and finds that conditions are very grim.  As a siren sounds and the place empties, he also encounters Iris, who begs him to leave her and return home!  When he refuses, she tells him her story, which began that morning when she was cleaning up her father’s lab.  She discovered an amulet she had as a baby, and when she picked it up, it began speaking to her!  It’s the record of Jor-El…er…I mean Eric Russel, who was a scientist of Krypton..er…’Earth West’ in 2970.  Earth East had pretty much defeated his hemisphere-nation, and a nuclear attack was eminent, so he and his wife sent their baby Kal-El…err…that is, Iris, back in time to save her.  The Kents…err…I mean, the Wests, had been praying for a child, and she just materialized out of thin air (good thing she didn’t show up inside a wall or something!), so they adopted her.

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After confronting her father about hiding the truth from her, Iris went home, melodramatically wondering if Barry could still love her even though she’s from the future, which is one of the dumbest sentences I’ve ever read, and I teach freshmen composition….in the Trump era.  Anyway, Iris suddenly felt herself sucked through time and just managed to scrawl that note.  Back in the future, her real parents spot her amulet and realize their daughter has returned.  They tell her about the current state of the world, which is really rather unintentionally funny.  Apparently, all the big nations wiped each other out, so the world is now ruled by…Laos.  That’s right!  It’s a hilariously random choice, though I suppose Laos was much more on the American mind in 1970 than in 2017.

Shortly after being reunited, the family is forced to part again when their Earth-East ruler spots Iris through a spy satellite and claims her as his own, announcing that he’ll wipe out the entire city if she doesn’t come with him.  Of course, the Flash isn’t about to let some futuristic fascist carry off his wife without a fight, so he challenges this fellow, Sirik, to a duel when he arrives.  We get some moments between Barry and Iris which are supposed to be sweet, but the context is just so ludicrous that even this old softie didn’t get misty eyed.

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Ming the Merciless…err…I mean Sirik, tells the Scarlet Speedster that he has to get past his men in order to earn the right to face him.  Barry moves at normal speed until he’s out of sight, then proceeds to blitz baldy’s boys.  The action looks okay, but Novick misses the opportunity to make the setting of the city-tower interesting and unique, filling most of his panels with blank backgrounds.

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Finally reaching Sirik, the Flash finds the fiend holding Iris hostage.  Instead of just shooting his antagonist, the dictator tells him to stand behind a wall, for some reason, and then starts to fire.  The Scarlet Speedster slips through the wall and belts the villain.  However, he’s the world’s worst loser and triggers a nuclear holocaust to kill them all in response.  The Flash zips across the world, somehow knowing  where the missiles are launching from, and destroys them all, as well as their missile sites.  This puts both hemispheres on equal footing, and the hero lectures the gathered East and West folks, telling them that they have to learn to live together or risk completely destroying the world.  Finally, the happy couple returns home, promising to visit the future-in-laws from time to time.  The story ends with Super-buzzkill continuing to whine about being all alone (despite the fact that he has a mother, a father, and an adopted sister, not to mention a bunch of bullet-proof, presumably nearly immortal pets).

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Interestingly, the issue includes a note acknowledging that Kanigher just swiped Superman’s origin for Iris, so at least he’s honest about that.  Nonetheless, this is just a silly issue.  The story is just so colossally unnecessary, adding a completely useless complication to Iris’s origins that contributes nothing to her characterization or her relationship, and I’m pretty sure it’s one that rarely if ever produces anything worthwhile in future comics.  If you’re going to create intentional parallels to another story, especially one in your own universe, you really need to do it for a reason.  The ring structure in Beowulf, with mirrored encounters recurring throughout the poem, serves important narrative purposes.  To use a comics example, the origin for Earth-3’s Alexander Luthor Jr. intentionally mirrors that of Superman to interesting effect in Crisis on Infinite Earths, completing the inversion of hero/villain and stretching it all the way back to the beginning/ending in a very clever piece of writing.

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Thanks, Super-Sourpuss!

On its own terms, the tale is just weak, not focusing on the ‘possible future’ angle enough for the parable of East and West destroying one another to have much impact.  There is actually interesting work to be done there, and the fact that the story ends, not exactly with a defeat of the villainous East, though that’s there, but with a plea for peace, could be worthwhile.  Yet, it’s shoe-horned into one panel, and the real consequences of the war are glossed over throughout.  The character moments between Iris and Barry that were supposed to be sweet just come off as silly and saccharine as well.  It feels much more like a story from the 50s or early 60s than it does a comic from 1971, and the final resolution with the Flash just casually jaunting across the entire planet in a heartbeat to destroy the nukes just smacks of Silver Age excess.  The story isn’t terrible, just mediocre and goofy.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.

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And that does it for today!  We had a solid set of Bat-tales and a ridiculous Flash issue.  I really just can’t figure Kanigher out.  There are several lesser lights working at DC during this period, though there is plenty of amazing talent.  I find myself groaning a bit whenever I see Dorfman’s name in the credits, as he tends to produce pretty silly stories, but Kanigher is a bit different.  He writes goofy comics like this one, yet he can also turn out some solid, even great work.  It’s something of a mystery.  Anyway, I hope you’ll join me again soon for another step in my journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Batgirl finally helps Aquaman break his streak as the sole new addition to the Wall of Shame and gets her second spot on the Headcount.  I’m actually a little surprised that the Bat-family hasn’t featured on this list more often, as I remembered the ‘ol noggin’ knock being a common device in these stories.  At least Aquaman has some company at the end of the list now!

Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome to part 2 of February 1971!  We’ve got a good pair of books in this post, and I found plenty to talk about.  I’m afraid I grow a tad long-winded on this one, folks, so be warned!  Let’s see what awaits us as we travel Into the Bronze Age!

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 #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Aquaman #55


Aquaman_Vol_1_55“Return of the Alien!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“Computer Trap!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

Man, I am LOVING these Nick Cardy Aquaman covers.  They’re always exciting, dynamic, intriguing, and just beautifully rendered.  This is a particularly striking example.  The story within is definitely worthy of such a great cover, and it returns to a plot thread readers must have thought abandoned back in issue #52.  This tale takes us back to the strange microscopic world that exists within Mera’s ring and to the brave girl who helped Aquaman during his sojourn there.  I was really struck by the moral conundrum with which Skeates faced his character in that earlier story, as the Sea King had to choose between leaving his alien girl Friday in the clutches of slavers or risk her death at the hands of a hostile colony.  While I understood Aquaman’s choice to abandon her, it definitely seemed like an unresolved issue when he came back to the normal world.  In this story, the Marine Marvel finally sets out to right that wrong.  It’s great that Skeates brought this thread back from three issues ago, despite there not having been a single mention of it since.  That level of continuity was still rather rare in this era, and it’s the smallest example of such in this issue.

The story itself begins with Dr. Vulko, playing his role as Atlantis’s resident mad scientist, as he prepares a machine to transport the Sea King back to the microscopic madhouse.  Apparently, in a fun little touch of universe awareness, Aquaman got advice from the Atom about how to build this shrinking device.  Operating the machine, Vulko reminds Mera that she must concentrate, as she’s vital to the procedure.  As we discovered in that earlier story, the Queen can actually exert some form of telepathic control over the realm in her ring.  There’s actually room for a really interesting set of stories exploring that connection and the origins of this place, and I have to think that Skeates saw that possibility.  Unfortunately, he never got the chance to investigate those mysteries.

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Vulko throws the switch, and Aquaman shrinks back to the surreal, Dali-esq sub-reality.  He begins to explore, but he encounters another one of those horrible cyclopean blob creatures that attacked him on his first visit.  Realizing that there’s nothing to be gained by fighting the monster, the Sea Sleuth evades it and continues his quest.  There’s a nice bit of characterization in that encounter, as Arthur evinces sound judgement but also shows some awareness of his public role as king, noting his subjects might not understand his actions.  As it turns out, that’s a thought that proves somewhat prophetic given the other events in this story.

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With the telepathic guidance of his wife, Aquaman succeeds in locating the colony of the big-headed slavers of the previous story, and he just charges right in swinging.  It’s a pretty dynamic sequence, as the Sea King just smashes into their defenses.  Meanwhile, back in Atlantis, Mera can sense that her love is in combat, and Vulko stresses that she must not think about wanting him to return to her or she’ll bring him back prematurely.  At the same time, Aqualad is observing a fiery speech in an Atlantean park, where a local nutjob has managed to acquire quite a following.  The rabble-rouser, named Noxden, is stirring up resentment against the King by claiming that the destiny of Altanteans is to be air-breathers, and this is a destiny of which Aquaman robbed them!

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I would NOT want to be in that guy’s way!

All the way back in issue #35, the Atlanteans were converted into air-breathers, and their king restored them (in issue #43), because it’s pretty stupid to live on the bottom of the sea if you can’t breathe underwater.  Yet, despite the utter absurdity of the fellow’s claims, people are beginning to listen.  There was a time when that would have seemed more far-fetched than it does today, I suppose.

Yet, if there’s one thing that history teaches us, it’s that a looney who shouts loud enough and provides a convenient scapegoat for people’s problems will always be able to attract a following.  Aqualad is disgusted by the raving rhetoric, seething at the idea that Atlanteans would be so ungrateful to the king who had done so much for them, and he heads out to tell Aquaman.  Just at that moment, the Marine Marvel is getting overwhelmed by his alien antagonists and…oh no.  Not again…that’s right, the third head-blow in a row!  Arthur gets conked on the noggin and he’s down for the count!

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Before we learn what happens with the Sea King, though, we have another stop.  Subplots galore!  In this case, we’re touching base with Mupo, the fiery young man who led the rebellion against Aquaman’s regent-turned-tyrant way back in issue #47.  This book is just full of continuity!  Mupo has been swayed by Noxden’s speech, and he begins to spout some racist rhetoric, which Aquagirl calls him on.  The Marine Mistress shows her class by storming out on the moron.

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Meanwhile, Mera uses her connection with the ring-world to revive her husband, which si a nice touch and a way to give her more of a role.  Aquaman awakens as he’s being taken prisoner by the aliens and carefully times his escape, plowing through the guards that thought he was helpless.  As he’s swimming through the city, searching for a place to hide and make plans, who should he encounter but the object of his quest herself!  The girl signals him and hides the hero while they talk.  The Marine Marvel realizes that she’s communicating with him telepathically, despite the fact that this was against her beliefs when they last met.

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Aquaman55_14She explains that her captors have opened her mind and taught her to think for herself, strangely enough.  Yet, even more surprising, when he tells the young lady that he’s there to rescue her, she refuses, saying she’s happy in her role!  While she may be a captive, she is, in many ways, more free than she was in her oppressive home.  It’s an interesting wrinkle and an unexpected twist.  Yet, it is also a bit unsatisfying.  Our hero has gone through all of this to save her, and she doesn’t want to be saved!

Stunned, Aquaman leaves, realizing that he’s got twenty hours on the clock before he’s due to be recalled and hoping he can find somewhere to hide and wait for his rendezvous.  At the same time in Atlantis, our plot threads are converging, as Aquagirl encounters Aqualad, just as she’s thinking over things with Mupo.  When the young Aquatic Ace brushes her off in his hurry to see the King, she thinks that the more he ignores her, “the more attractive Mupo looks!”  Uh-oh Garth, better watch out!  You’ve got competition!

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Nobody draws action like Jim Aparo.

Back in the microscopic world, Aquaman encounters another group of the aliens, and as he’s tearing his way through them, he suddenly begins to grow, way ahead of schedule!  When he arrives back home, Mera apologizes, realizing that her anxiety must have inadvertently led to her recalling him, but her husband stops her, saying that she came through at the perfect time.   Just then Aqualad arrives and tells his tale, but Aquaman silences him as well, reminding his young charge that he respects free speech and isn’t about to start censoring folks he disagrees with, which is a nice character beat.  The story ends with a very striking image of Noxden, gesturing in a manner that is grimly familiar.

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This is a very good tale, and it is absolutely packed full to the gills (if you’ll forgive the expression) with plot.  In fact, it’s so stuffed with story that I had trouble summarizing it!  Skeates is layering in storylines that could stick with the book for a long time to come, doing some worldbuilding, and in general giving Aquaman a more fully realized setting to inhabit.  Of course, that makes the title’s impending cancellation all the more heartbreaking.  None of these plotlines will get resolved in the next and, as it happens final issue, leaving so much undone, so much potential wasted.  I suppose I’ll talk about that in more detail when I cover the final issue, but on this read-through, I’m really struck by how much this loss hurt the character.  At the very beginning of the Bronze Age, where the DC Universe is evolving and growing, and when he had a fantastic opportunity to do the same, the powers that be cut the legs out from under Aquaman.  That’s just a crying shame, and it explains a lot of the problems the character has had since then.

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Anyway, in terms of the story itself, it is a really enjoyable read.  The quick cuts between the different plots keep it moving at break-neck pace.  While the resolution of the plot of Aquaman’s girl Friday is a bit of a letdown, the adventure that reunites the pair is pretty exciting.  It does seem like the Sea King could have offered her a third option, or at least tried to do so.  He could have sent the Atom in to bring her up to Atlantis, where she could have had her mental and physical freedom.  Maybe that idea would have materialized in time, if Skeates had been given the opportunity.  We’ll never know now, I suppose.

I enjoy the mini-plots with Aquaman’s supporting cast.  At this time, the Marine Marvel is the only character that has his entire extended super family gathered around him, giving him unique story possibilities that other characters with similar supporting characters don’t have access to at the moment.  It’s great to see Skeates take advantage of that.  I also love seeing more of Tula in general.  The character she developed into under Skeates’ pen, capable, level-headed, independent, and still with a great sense of adventure, is one that I really love.  The plot of the trouble-making politician that the young Aquatic Aces are mixed up in is certainly not a new one for Aquaman, but this time it comes with a new twist.  Interestingly, part of Noxden’s platform is a call for free and democratic elections, which is actually quite sensible and seems only natural to an American audience.  After all, one of the central values of our culture is reverence for democracy.  There is a lot of potential for some fascinating stories in the interplay between tradition and progress in Atlantis.  Sadly, we won’t really get to see Skeates develop that potential.

In the end, though this isn’t a perfect story, it is a lot of fun and just full of intriguing beginnings.  The SAG team has done a lot of experimentation, but I rather feel like, with this issue, they were settling into what would have been a very promising routine.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.

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“Computer Trap”


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We’ve got a very pleasant surprise this month in the form of an extra Aquaman yarn as a backup in this issue.  This is a great little 7 1/2 page story that hits on some unexpected themes.  The backup begins with Skeates doing a bit more aquatic world building, as the Sea King, returning from a mission on the surface, swims through a submarine ghost town.  It’s a forlorn abandoned city that rather gives our hero the creeps, and while he’s pondering what happened to its inhabitants and how long it has lain empty, he suddenly detects a telepathic signal.  Strange!

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When he goes to investigate, he discovers an advanced computer, a self-aware machine that attacks his mind!  The AI attempts to enslave his will, but Aquaman is no mental weakling, and his incredible willpower and mental strength hold off the telepathic attack.  In the interim, we get treated to a flashback to this device’s origins, and it’s a pretty interesting story, the archetypal ‘machines turn on their masters‘ setup. An advanced aquatic society built this powerful computer to help run their civilization, but, in a classic twist, the machine found the humans far too unstable and imperfect, so it simply took over.

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In this case, the device actually dominates the minds of the citizens and turns them into efficient little worker-bees, creating more and more machines and more and more advancements, all in the name of ‘progress.’  That was the great ideal, progress for its own sake, and progress defined as technological growth, while all else in this culture decayed.  In a really neat take on the concept, the machine can only control the minds of the adult society members because their brains are fixed and rigid, leaving the youth to grow disaffected and eventually to abandon the colony in search of a place that valued more in life than the endless pursuit of ‘progress.’  In a cool example of truth in fiction, the minds of young people actually are more flexible and less fully developed, so this is surprisingly believable on that score.  Of course, there are also obvious social parallels as well.

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Eventually, the machine’s slaves grew old and died, leaving no-one to serve it.  The computer plans to use Aquaman to attract a new population to pursue ‘progress,’ but the King of the Seven Seas is nobody’s pawn.  He stops fighting the device long enough to summon help, and though the computer invades his mind, the timely arrival of an electric eel breaks its control!  To put an end to the menace of this mad machine, Aquaman summons a horde of his finny friends, and they collapse the cave it inhabits.  Yet, Skeates leaves a note of mystery in the ending of this tale, as the machine may yet survive!

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This is a quite a good story for as brief as it is.  It helps that it fits into the end of the previous yarn, building off of its momentum, allowing this one to feel a bit more expansive than it really is.  Skeates also deals with some really fascinating themes here, including the dangers of the rapid pace of technological advancement, one of the perennial subjects of science fiction.  As long as man has built machines, there has always been a fear that they might somehow cost him his humanity.  As it turns out, it’s a fear well founded.  We’ve begun to see that our hypertechnological society comes at a cost, with kids losing the ability to interact socially because of their addiction to social media and the like, not to mention the impact of information and sensation overload in the Internet Age.  These are just the newest manifestations of an ancient phenomenon.  Very little that we create comes without a cost, and it seems that those costs are growing more dear.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the story for me was Skeates’ implicit criticism of the concept of progress as its own goal.  C.S. Lewis described the origins of this tendency brilliantly in his essay “De Descriptione Temporum,” where he wrote of the modern idea of a progressive, which is to say ‘evolutionary,’ view of history:

“that what has imposed this climate of opinion so firmly on the human mind is a new archetypal image.  It is the image of old machines being superseded by new and better ones.  For in the world of machines new most often really is better and the primitive really is the clumsy.”

And he critiqued this view in his Mere Christianity, arguing that:

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

There can be no progress without a concept of a destination, without an ideal and a goal, and you’re either moving closer to that end or you’re moving further away, so movement by itself is not necessarily progress.  It’s a useful lesson to remember, and, in its own small way, this little backup tale teaches it.  The departure of the colony’s youth makes the point rather well, as they are searching for the things that give a culture its soul, the things that make life worth living, like the sublime pleasures of art and literature.  Of course, Skeates’ story is so brief that it can do little more than gesture at its themes, but they are interesting enough on their own merits that they still add some flavor to the final product.  I’ll give this great little backup 4.5 Minutemen, as it gets extra credit for at least having the potential to be thought-provoking.

Of course, it hardly needs to be said at this point, but Aparo’s art in this issue is as beautiful as usual.  His depictions of the action scenes are particularly impressive, but I just plain love his illustration of the ring-world.  He gives that place such a wonderfully insane feeling that it really adds something to Aquaman’s adventures there.  His Tula is a tad off this issue (she’s probably the only Aqua-character for whom I really prefer Nick Cardy’s rendition), but Aparo, as usual, also injects a lot of personality into the supporting characters.  That last shot of the rabble-rousing politician is a bit chilling and instantly conveys the fellow’s nature and personality.


Batman #229


“Asylum of the Futurians!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Temperature Boiling… and Rising!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Not the most amazing cover we’ve had here, though I suppose it does do its job of making the reader curious about what’s going on.  And what is going on is rather weird.  This isn’t the type of terrible, lazy story we’ve encountered from Kanigher in the past, but neither is it the stronger type of tale he’s been telling lately in our reading.

The yarn itself opens with a young woman running along a country road where she encounters the Batman, who has come searching for her and her husband.  Her name is Laura, and how the Dark Knight knows her isn’t explained.  When she asks about his fortuitous arrival in the middle of nowhere and the middle of the night, he just says he’ll tell her later.  Odd.  She proceeds to tell the Caped Crusader that her husband disappeared in the middle of the night, and when she found him, the scene she witnessed was almost enough to drive her mad!

Refusing to describe the source of her trepidation for fear he won’t believe her, Laura leads Batman to an eerie, gloomy old house in the woods.  Therein, they observe a scene out of an asylum, as musicians play on invisible instruments, waiters serve phantom food, and diners dressed in futuristic garb eat off empty plates.  They observe Larua’s husband, Stephen, a “famed photographer of psychic phenomena” looking on in befuddlement before he finally breaks out in anger, demanding to know the meaning of all of this.  In response, the creepy lady in charge yells out that they thought he was “the Seventh Futurian,” but since they were mistake, they must kill him!  His work made them think that he’d be able to “hear” their music, and “taste” their food, things only a Futurian can do.

Batman takes that as his cue, rushing in and overcoming the gathered gang and their futuristic weaponry.  It’s a nicely drawn sequence for the most part, and it ends with only the girl left standing.  She declares that the Futurians are “the wave of the future,” born psychic and destined to rule the world.  They have cells all over the planet, waiting for the arrival of the Seventh who will lead them.  She reasons that only one person could overcome five of her fellows, and thus the Dark Knight himself must be the Seventh for which they’ve been waiting.  They hand the Masked Manhunter a crown, and he decides to play along in order to take care of them peacefully.  But it’s a trap!  The crown tightens on his head, knocking him out, and the Futurians decide to put him to the test.

Taking a book out of Renaissance witch trials, they lock him in a coffin and toss it in the lake, thinking that only the special Seventh could escape from a watery grave.  Inside his sinking prison, the Dark Knight uses the now loosened crown to pick the coffin’s lock and swims for the surface.  For some reason, the Futurians seem sure that this guy they’ve just tried to kill, TWICE, who has dedicated his life to fighting crime, is going to help them take over the world.

Instead, for some strange reason Batman seems more inclined to punch them in their faces.  He takes them out, using the estate’s statuary, and captures their lovely leader.  Then, as he takes the rescued couple home, we discover that when Stephen was captured, he “screamed silently for help,” and somehow, that call reached the Caped Crusader.  The question of psychic powers is left ambiguous, but not in a particularly productive way.  It’s so vague and these characters so forgettable (I had to go back and look up their names), that it doesn’t have much impact.

This is a mediocre story.  It’s okay, and Novick renders the action nicely.  Yet, the Futurians are too big of a concept to be tossed out in 15 pages while also vying for space with two other supporting characters, one of whom is entirely superfluous to the plot.  Kanigher could have just had Batman show up at the house and saved two pages for better use.  The gang/cult themselves are just shy of being interesting.  With some more development, they could have made the jump, but as is, they just seem like generic would-be world-conquerors.

In general, the concept of this story just doesn’t quite manage to come together, and that concept, interestingly enough in light of the Aquaman backup tale above, seems to be tied into Futurism, an early 20th Century cultural movement originating in Italy that, coincidentally enough, advocated complete neglect of the past and an ethic of unbridled progress.  Even when I first read the “Futurist Manifesto” in college, I thought its principles were utterly foolish.  To once more quote Lewis, he argued that “[t]o study the past does indeed liberate us from the present, from the idols of our own market-place.  But I think it liberates us from the past too.  I think no class of men are less enslaved to the past than historians” (12).  Far from enslaving us, a knowledge of the past frees us from the blindness that makes contemporary mores into commandments and fashion into fact, and it also puts bygone days in their proper context, removing the rosy tinge that nostalgia tends to apply to all such visions.

But what has this story to do with Futurism?  It’s only tangentially related, but I can’t help but think that it is this movement which Kanigher had in mind when he penned this tale.  The antagonists of the piece read like a more militaristic version of the Futurists, which is impressive considering just how militaristic the originals were.  There are some definite parallels, and the sad thing is that these guys could actually furnish some really interesting villains if they were given any chance to develop a personality other than ‘strangeness.’  The story just feels a bit unfinished, though it is entertaining enough.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.


“Temperature Boiling… and Rising!”


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It’s nice to get a bird’s eye view of Hudson University.

The second half of this Robin tale is pretty good, even better than its predecessor.  It picks up with the student volunteers for Prof. Buck Stuart’s senate campaign as they try to make sense out of the shocking newspaper headline from last issue and the picture showing their golden boy giving a payoff.  In an interesting scene, a hippy-looking kid blows his top and tells Dick Grayson that he’s through playing by the rules before storming out.  What makes the scene fascinating is the boy’s mention of the Kent State Massacre.  Bringing that real event into the story instantly makes it feel more serious and grounded, and it really puts the kid’s anger and impatience into perspective.  This election, and those like it in which young people were getting involved, mattered.  They mattered because they were a chance to show the youth of this country that the system worked…or risk driving them into the streets in anger and despair.  It’s a small moment, but it struck me nonetheless.

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The story continues, with the candidate himself arriving and telling the boys that the claims are phony.  With the help of Phil Real, the campaign photographer, Dick does some good detective work by realizing that the damning picture is doctored and sets out to prove it as Robin.  The Teen Wonder heads to the local paper where the editor tells him in no uncertain terms that their publisher is backing the incumbent and won’t allow a retraction without hard evidence, so Dick goes in search of just that when the fellow reveals that their source’s name was…Phil Real!

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When Robin arrives at his friend’s room, he finds Phil’s roommate, who is one of the kids behind the fire at the campaign office from last issue.  The firebug and his friend jump the young hero, and for the second issue in a row, Robin barely escapes a slot on the Head-Blow Headcount, as he gets his bell rung pretty good.

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Still, he keeps his feet and easily dispatches the two college-toughs. In the room he finds the evidence he needs of the photo tampering, enough to force the paper to print a retraction, which helps to swing the election in Stuart’s favor!  At the end of the tale, Dick Grayson leaves the victory party, saying there’s still much more work to be done, an ending that I rather liked.  There’s something in it that indicates our young hero is growing up.

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This is a good ending to this story, and it manages to pack a really impressive amount into these seven pages.  There’s enough of a misdirect to make the mystery feel somewhat satisfying, with the evidence of both this and last issue seeming to point to the photographer.  Robin gets to display some detective skills and gets in a touch of action as well, in general, being portrayed as the intelligent, capable, and resourceful young man he is, which hasn’t always been the case with these Robin tales.

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It’s nice to see the Teen Wonder come off well.  He is one of my favorite characters, after all.  This iteration doesn’t have as much focus on youth involvement in politics as the previous one, but together they make an interesting whole, commenting on the situation.  It’s fascinating to see the social unrest of the period work its  way so clearly into comics, and this tale is a particularly obvious example of the tendency.  I’ll give it a good score of 4 Minutemen.

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And that will do it for the second part of February 1971.  I hope y’all enjoyed the read and will join me again soon for the next edition of Into the Bronze Age, where we’ll have a little something from the Dark Knight and the Fastest Man Alive.  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Oh no!  Three in a row!  Poor Aquaman.  He just can’t catch a break, and the biggest blow of all is yet to fall.  Once again, Robin narrowly avoids inclusion on the Wall of Shame, and no-one else has really come close.  We’ll have to see if this month holds any more additions to the august company.

Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 1)

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Here we are diving into February!  We’re definitely moving along pretty well this year.  I’ve managed to get a good routine of reading and writing down.  I consider it training for when I start writing my dissertation, and having just finished a conference paper, I think the practice may be doing me some good!  Anyway, this month we’ve got a promising line-up of books.  I wonder how they’ll stack up in the reading.  For today, we’ve got a double-dose of Super, and despite a real clunker, the net result is mostly positive!

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:

  • Idi Amin ousts Milton Obote and appoints himself president (dictator) of Uganda
  • A series of house searches by the British Army in Catholic areas of Belfast, resulting in serious rioting and gun battles
  • OPEC mandates “total embargo” against any company that rejects 55 percent tax rate
  • National Guard mobilized to quell rioting in Wilmington NC
  • Apollo 14, 3rd US manned Moon expedition, lands near Fra Mauro, and Alan Shepard & Edward Mitchell (Apollo 14) walk on Moon for 4 hrs
  • South Vietnamese troops invade Laos
  • Richard Nixon installs secret taping system in White House
  • Algeria nationalizes 51 percent of French oil concessions
  • Many deaths in Ireland as the Troubles continue to escalate

Things are really getting bad in Ireland.  I’ve condensed a half dozen or so entries on the subject here.  Sadly, there’s no relief in the near future.  We also see the rise of OPEC, heralding all kinds of complications later on in the decade.  Notably, this is the month that Nixon started his notorious tape-recording operation.  We’re still three long years away from his impeachment.  I wonder if history will be repeating itself any time soon.  On a more positive note, man once more walked on the Moon this month.  That’s a bright point at any time.

This month’s number 1 was the Osmonds with the very cheerful “One Bad Apple.”  This song of encouragement in love despite disappointments and ‘bad apples,’ seems surprisingly fitting given the ugliness of this month in history.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Action Comics #397


action_comics_397“The Secret of the Wheel-Chair Superman!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editors: E. Nelson Bridwell and Murray Boltinoff

“The Super-Captive of the Sea!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editors: E. Nelson Bridwell and Murray Boltinoff

Urg.  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, and not only did the cover story not fix the problems with the previous issue, it magnified them as well.  To his credit, Dorfman does attempt to address the obvious issues with Superman becoming a super-bum, but his efforts are woefully inadequate.

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Our story, such as it is, picks up right where the previous one left off.  As the not-so-Superman takes off in his wheelchair, pursued by a curious, gawking crowd, Jimmy Olsen notices the disturbance and sets out to discover what has brought his former friend to this extreme.  The Man of Tinfoil, after escaping from the lookey-loos with the aid of a cloud of steam created by his heat vision, returns to his squalid home.  There Jimmy finds him and finally gets the story of the former hero’s disappearance.  It’s a pretty lack-luster tale.

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What we don’t hear is the agonized screaming as the crowd is scalded by steam…

Apparently after a series of disappointing missions, his powers just began to fade away, one after another, leaving only his invulnerability and visions.  I don’t know about you, but I think I could find some way to use being invulnerable and being able to melt things with my eyes.  I’m just saying.  Anyway, the now hobbled Kryptonian was fired by Moran Edge for taking too many sick days….despite the fact that he’s still invulnerable.  I don’t think Dorfman quite thought that one out all the way.  For a while he tried to continue hero-ing with the aid of his superman robots, but they were eventually all destroyed, and Superman, not having any savings, was forced to live on the streets.  There’s some nonsense about him not wanting to mooch off of his friends because of his pride too.

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Of course, that’s silly six ways from Sunday, but we covered that last time.  Anyway, we also discover who the strange, plague-ridden people are who were sharing Superman’s hovel.  They are a doctor named Reynolds and his wife who were infected with a terrible disease while trying to cure it, and the super-bum has promised to care for them for the few weeks they have left to live so that they don’t risk infecting anyone else.  We’re supposed to see all of this as a sign of Superman’s continuing altruism, but that conflicts with his petty motivations for the rest of the story, which are revealed when Jimmy convinces his friend to visit a neurologist.

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The doctor elicits a more substantive account of the missions that preceded Superman’s power loss, and it turns out that in each case, the Man of Steel discovered he wasn’t needed because mankind had advanced technologically to the point where they could deal with any disaster.  Instead of being proud of his adopted race or in any way acting in accordance with his established characterization, this cause Superman to develop psychosomatic symptoms and imagine his power loss because he feels sorry for himself.  Despite being told its all in his head, the former Metropolis Marvel  can’t get out of his own way long enough to restore his powers, giving up after a whole five minutes of effort, really displaying that willpower and drive that made him such a great hero.

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What a hero!

Then, to cap things off, back home he gets distracted while heat vision drying his clothes and sets the building on fire.  He finally recovers his powers in time to pull the doctor and his wife out of the inferno, but they die anyway.  They die because of his carelessness, but we’re supposed to be okay with it because they only had a short amount of time left anyway.  Then, after burying his friends, Superman heads out into space to find a new world that needs him, not for their sake, but for his, because in this comic Lex Luthor was right all along.

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I don’t have much to say about this comic that I didn’t say last time.  It’s an example of terrible characterization, and Dorfman’s efforts to address the glaring problems with his portrayal just don’t hold up, especially because the entire conflict of the story is that Superman felt so bad for himself because human beings weren’t in mortal danger from natural disasters that he sank into a power-robbing depression.  That’s fairly awful.  I’ll give this, like the first issue, two Minutemen.  The story is so-so, but the characterization is what sinks it.

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“The Super-Captive of the Sea”


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Our backup for this issue is another ‘Untold Tale of the Fortress,’ which seems like a pretty decent setup for interesting stories.  This one stretches the the theme a bit, as we begin by discovering that Superman had two other Fortresses of Solitude, one in a meteor and one at the bottom of the Sea.  Now, I’m no Superman expert, but I was surprised to learn of their existence.  I was curious if these alternate Fortresses had some life beyond this book, and according to the Fortresses’ Wikipedia article, the undersea version was introduced way back in 1958!  Who knew?

Anyway, our untold tale begins with Superman re-opening that very undersea Fortress and using its monitoring equipment to watch for threats beneath the seas.  What’s this?  Has Superman decided that lording it over the whole air-breathing world isn’t enough and he he needs to horn in on Aquaman’s territory?  We don’t find out right away, as the Man of Steel rushes out to dispose of some barrels of radioactive waste that are caught in a fishing boat’s nets.  While rounding up the barrels, the Metropolis Marvel turned Marine Marvel (Aquaman is so going to sue him) accidentally leaves the sea and suddenly begins to suffer some strange ill effects.

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Swan draws some great underwater action.  I’d love to see him tackle an Aquaman tale!

We learn that a cloud of space pollution (sure) recently drifted into the Earth’s atmosphere, and it plays merry havoc with Superman’s sense of direction.  Water seems to block the effects, so he moves into his old Fortress while he waits for the cloud to dissipate.  Over the following days, the Man of Tomorrow has to get creative to deal with threats that aren’t in the sea, like using his heat vision from a distance to weld a bridge that is collapsing and creating a tidal wave to put out a forest fire.  At each adventure, he thinks he spots two shadowy figures leaving the scene, but when he investigates he finds only innocuous sea-life.  One wonders how he’s explaining Clark Kent’s sudden absence from the Daily Planet during these escapades.

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Eventually, Superman begins to get lonely, so he uses his powers to create a suit of lead-glass that should protect him from the cloud’s effects.  Come on, Supes; if you’re lonely, just visit Atlantis!  I’m sure Arthur and Mera would roll out the red carpet for you!  Well, just as the Submariner of Steel prepares to leave the ocean, he’s confronted by two strange aquatic aliens.  They catch him in a net that gives off red sun radiation and explain that they are the source of all of his problems.

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Apparently, they’re from a water planet which has observed Earth for some time, and they decided that they just had to have a Superman of their own, so they devised these tests to see how he would operate on a oceanic world.  I’m reminded of the opening lines of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds:

[T]his world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.  […] Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

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Literary associations aside, Superman’s not about to stand for being carted off to some other world without so much as a ‘how-do-you-do,’ and he’s got a clever plan.  The invaders tell him that they were the sea creatures he kept seeing, as they have the power to change shape, so the Man of Steel says he doesn’t believe them and challenges one of the aliens to turn into a seahorse.  When the aquatic alien obliges, the Man of Tomorrow goads him into coming close ‘so he can see clearly,’ and the seahorse/creature swims into the net.  Once he’s inside, Superman bets him that he can’t turn into a whale, and the dim-witted alien (Okay, so maybe the ‘intelligences greater than man’s’ bit doesn’t fit so well after all) cheerfully shows off, snapping the net and freeing the Kryptonian.  Superman quickly freezes the pair and, donning his suit, hurls them through space towards their homeworld and disposes of the cloud.  Yeah, I’m sure that will work great and they won’t die horribly in the vast and frozen void of space.

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This is a fun little story.  It’s very much a Silver Age plot, but it’s handled well enough that the silliness of the concept isn’t too much.  The aliens are pretty cool looking, very fitting for aquatic extraterrestrials.  I quite enjoyed Superman’s plan for defeating them.  It’s straight out of a fairy tale.  It’s the kids tricking the witch into the oven or the like, and I found it charming, a pleasant expression of the character’s cleverness.  My only real problem with the story is its wasted potential.  What a perfect opportunity to have Aquaman guest star!  I’ll bet the Sea King was relieved when Superman went home and stopped stealing his thunder.  Other than that, this enjoyable backup is just fine.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Adventure Comics #402


Adventure_Comics_402“Love Conquers All-Even Supergirl”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

“Rat-Race”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Tony DeZuniga
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

This offbeat issue of Adventure provides us with an interesting angle, a superhero falling for an old, old scam.  The villains of this piece employ a honey trap, a scam wherein a grifter/spy/general-ne’er-do-well seduces a mark in order to get something out of them.  It’s a new one on me to see this done with a superheroine, at least outside of a specific espionage-esq setting.

The villains in question here are a new femme fatale named Starfire (no, not the famous one) and her conman minion, a Brit named Derek.  Starfire has a neat look, with a distinctive star-burst eyepatch, but we don’t learn too much about her.  Apparently she’s got aspirations to world domination, but with an unusual twist.  She plans to put a female hegemony in place, with her at its head, of course.  That’s a pretty neat take on an old refrain, and it definitely has potential for an antagonist of Supergirl.  Well, this unknown megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur has an ace up her sleeve.  Her scientist henchman has been developing a pill that removes superpowers…all superpowers…which seems a bit of a stretch.  One pill that counters everything, power rings, genetic mutations, alien DNA?  That’s…convenient.  For some reason, Starfire has pegged Supergirl as her first victim, so she’s hired honey trap expert Derrek to seduce the young heroine and slip her the pill.

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What the devil is going on with his hair in the second panel?

The ‘young man,’ who in Sekowsky’s lackluster art looks to be in his late 30s, has to get his introductions the hard way, so Starfire arranges a fake mugging for the grifter in Supergirl’s home town.  It works like a charm, unfortunately for the make-believe muggers, who get a real beating.  They also yell out their plans to one another, which is probably not a fantastic idea when dealing with someone who has super hearing, but luckily for them, the Maid of Might seems to not be paying attention.  When the heroine goes to check on Derrek, he surprises her with a kiss in thanks and turns on that British charm.

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“I THINK SHE’S FALLING FOR OUR SECRET PLAN, GUYS!  JUST BE COOL!”

The next day, Linda Danvers finds Derrek in one of her classes at Stanhope College, and she finds herself thinking about him.  Later, she finds a sign a note on the campus bulletin board from the conman, begging Supergirl to meet him that night.  The Girl of Steel reluctantly agrees, even though she knows she can’t get involved with a mere mortal.

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She meets Derrek, dressed in a formal version of her costume, which is a fun little touch, and they have a night on the town, where he works his magic.  Still, Supergirl is made of sterner stuff, so she tells him that they can’t be together, and after one last kiss, agrees to meet him the next day for a farewell picnic.

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What…is going on with that car’s back end?  It’s apparently floating several feet off of the ground!

On that day, Derrek slips the anti-powers pill into her cup, completing his mission.  Meanwhile, Starfire’s flunkies have staged a robbery to put the drug to the test, and when Supergirl intervenes, she finds her powers rapidly waning!  She dodge gunfire for a moment but suddenly crumples to the ground.  When the grifter checks her, he declares to his confederates that Supergirl is dead!  Dun-dun-DUN!  That’s a good cliffhanger to end on.  It’s hard to get much more serious than ‘the book’s star is dead!’

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So, this month Supergirl became a romance comic.  This story was an interesting departure, and there is actually a little bit of good character work here.  That’s the part of the tale that I found most enjoyable.  It’s reasonable that Supergirl might fall for a charming rascal who said and did all the right things.  After all, she’s still just a girl, young and inexperienced with romance.  I know I was pretty darn stupid at that age and got into all kinds of romantic troubles before I meet my wife.  It’s a plot that actually takes some advantage of Supergirl’s age and setting, which is a pleasant change of pace.

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The whole thing moves a bit too quickly to make the betrayal have the punch that it could have, and the anti-power pill is a bit of a silly gimmick.  Yet, the biggest weakness with this story is the art.  Sekowsky’s usually uneven pencils are absolutely abominable in this story, and there are several pages that are just plain ugly.  The creativity and inventiveness that marked Manhunter don’t have much opportunity to shine here, and his figure-work and perspective are all kinds of wonky.  The final effect is a solid if unattractive story of an unusual type.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.  Amor vincit omnia!

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And since I’m not covering the very short-lived backup feature in Adventure (I believe this is its last month), that will do it for this post.  I hope you enjoyed my musings and will join me again soon for another leg of my journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: January 1971 (Part 4)

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Mondays stink, but they can be better with some Bronze Age comics!  We’ve got some landmark issues on tap today, folks.  Not only do we have a new offering from Jack Kirby, which introduces several enduring elements of the DC Universe, but we also have the opening moves in Denny O’Neil’s attempt to update Superman for the Bronze Age.  Check out my take on these books below!

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 #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.


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135


jimmy_olsen_135“Evil Factory!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

This one is a bit odd, folks, so odd I really had a hard time figuring out what to say about it.  The plot itself is actually fairly straightforward, at least as far as superhero comics go, but the implications thereof are something else entirely.  In this issue Kirby continues laying the groundwork for his Fourth World saga, introducing and explaining new concepts which will echo through the pages of DC Comics for decades to come.  They don’t quite reach their potential on their first outing though, as the King, for all of his creative brilliance, sometimes lets his imagination run away with him.  He was unparalleled at creating new ideas, new characters and situations, but he wasn’t always the best at seeing what complications those new creations entailed.  That was probably one of the great strengths of the ‘Stan and Jack’ team.  Two heads are, after all, better than one.

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Our issue opens with a shot of a horde of tiny, toy-sized replicas of our protagonists, Superman, Jimmy Olsen, and the Newsboy Legion, all swarming up the arm of a strangely garbed scientist like a colony of colorful ants.  It’s a really striking image, though it doesn’t actually have anything to do with the story inside, much like the lovely Neal Adams cover for this issue.  After playing with the fun-sized Legionaries, two masked miscreants, named Simyan and Mokkari (who is pretty cool looking) discuss their plans to destroy a mysteriously and rather ambiguously named “Project.”  Apparently they are using advanced science to clone human beings and modifying their DNA to achieve certain monstrous effects.  They are even growing a specially designed giant to kill Superman himself!

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This all seems pretty tame in 2017, very standard sci-fi stuff, but in 1971, this was much more cutting edge.  While the idea of cloning had been fodder for science fiction authors for decades, really coming to prominence in the 50s, a lot of the definitive books were still to be written in 71.  This is one of the advantages of my little project.  I’m able to see stories like this much more clearly in their context, rather than reading them purely from the perspective of the 21st Century.

Meanwhile, back at the ‘Mountain of Judgement,’ Superman and the Legion bid farewell to their Hairy hosts and receive dire warnings about troubles at…the Project!  How vague!  They take to the Zoomway again and soon arrive at the secret base called with that incredibly descriptive moniker, where they are greeted with great suspicion and many armed guards.

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Once past security, the Legionnaires make a very surprising discovery.  Among the base personal are…their fathers, the original Newsboy Legion!  There’s a charming panel where the boys greet their dads, and it’s cool that Kirby got to bring his original characters back in some fashion.  The King does a great job in creating adult versions of his lovable urchins, and they all have wonderfully distinct faces.

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Even Flippa-Dippa’s father thinks he’s an embarrassment!

While the kids reconnect with their fathers and get caught up on events, Superman takes Jimmy aside to explain the situation to the young man.  The Man of Steel tells his young friend that “the genetic code has been broken,” and the Project is dedicated to genetic research.  Specifically, it’s all about cloning.  In an effort to break things to the reporter gently, the Man of Tomorrow kindly presents him with a sight sure to trigger an existential crisis, introducing Jimmy to a clone of himself!  Apparently, the government, for some reason, decided to use the Daily Planet as a pool from which to collect the samples for their work, so they secretly collected DNA from the employees during routine medical examinations.  Notably, they did this without bothering to inform the staff.  Why clone Jimmy Olsen of all people?  Well, Kirby never bothers to explain that.

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How would you react to finding out you had been cloned without your knowledge or consent, that there were dozens, maybe hundreds of clones of you running around and serving a shady government organization?  Shock?  Horror?  Anger?  Well, not Jimmy.  He evinces mild surprise.  This is my biggest problem with this issue in particular and this arc in general.  The idea of the organization that would come to be known as Project Cadmus is a great one, just full of storytelling potential.  It’s use on JLU led to some of the best episodes of that series.  In fact, for my money they’re some of the best superhero stories around.  It was also used to good effect in Young Justice.  Part of what made those stories so great was their willingness to explore the themes inherent in such an undertaking, themes about the morality of cloning, the humanity and independence of artificial lifeforms, and the rights that a man-made being would merit.

Now, the first time I read these books, I spent several issues in a row waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the colossal ethical problems with cloning to be addressed, at least in some fashion.  I thought for sure the shady, top secret government program that was cloning people without their consent, screwing with the DNA of their subjects, and creating human beings to serve their will, i.e., doing tons of super villain-esq stuff, would be revealed to have some type of nefarious agenda.  But that never happened.  The natural questions that cloning, especially cloning in secret and under conditions like these, raises, in fiction and in real life, are never so much as hinted at.  It’s a colossal oversight, and something that really weakens the story Kirby is telling.  There’s nothing even slightly troublesome in his DNA Project, no questions of morality, just bright and shining potential.

jo135-18If you’re familiar with the sci-fi tradition involving cloning, it’s obvious that this is not just a question of a concept that lacked the sophistication of later day treatments back in 1971.  No, the themes that are inherent within the idea were present in the fiction as early as the 60s, maybe even the 50s, so this is just a matter of Jack Kirby moving too fast for his own good, which happened from time to time.  He spun out new creations so quickly that he barely had time to think them through before he was on to the next thing.  That had to be especially true now, as he was dreaming up an entire new universe of characters and concepts.  But, it doesn’t make this story any less flawed.

Back to our tale, as Jimmy presumably struggles with his existential angst at discovering that he’s been copied a zillion times, our two evil scientists contact their mysterious master, the malevolent Darkseid!  We get a bit more of a look at him, and he is quite the imposing figure, even from this early date.  Just then, their Superman slayer breaks free and starts trashing the joint, and in desperation, they teleport him directly into the rival Project, there to serve his destructive purpose.

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When the monster arrives, he lays into Superman, and having received a coating of kryptonite, the creature is quite effective.  The Man of Steel takes a beating, and the crazed clone continues its rampage.  In response, the grownup-Legionnaires decide to release a special project, a clone of their old friend and mentor, the Guardian!  Ethical qualms about cloning your dead buddy?  Nah!  The caged subject’s repeated cries of “Let me out!” combined with his shadowed portrayal give him a sinister sense that is quickly dispelled when the new Guardian leaps into action to save the base.

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Big, green-skinned guy with anger issues?  Does he, by chance, seem Incredibly familiar, or is it just me?

jo135-27It’s great that Kirby gets a chance to revisit so many of his old creations, and you can feel his pride as he reintroduces them back into the DC Universe.  The Guardian would go on to have a very respectable second career at DC, surviving as a concept long after Kirby’s time there ended.  Of course, the other concepts the King introduced in this story also went on to significant roles in the DC Universe, as I mentioned above.  It’s a shame that some of their later significance wasn’t present here in their introduction.  The story is really fine, in so far as it goes, and Kirby is in fine form for the art, filling both competing genetics projects with wondrous gadgetry.

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The introduction of the cloned Guardian is exciting, and it’s fun to meet the original Legion.  Notably, we also learn what each of them went on to do, and this mostly explains their presence at the DNA Project, mostly but not entirely.  Apparently Scrapper Sr. is a social worker.  I can see how a teacher, a geneticist, and a doctor are going to be important in a cloning facility, but I’m not quite sure what vital role a social worker fills.  Anyway, I’ll give this imaginative but flawed story 3 Minutemen.  It’s readable, but it’s really missing something.

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P.S.: As with the last episode, Kirby also included a text piece expanding on the ideas presented in the magazine.  It’s even crazier than last month’s, by a significant margin.  I hardly know where to begin with this thing.  The bonkers, almost stream-of-consciousness style of the essay is matched by the bizarre content.  It’s a pseudo-defense of the idea behind the Hairies, an idea that is still way too vague by the end of the piece’s attempts to explain it.  I’m guess Jack himself wasn’t entirely sure what they were.  It may also be a defense of the hippy movement’s incredibly short-sighted and impractical ideals.  I really can’t do this thing justice, so I’m just going to let y’all read it.  All I’ve got to say is that this piece provides the same lack of comprehensive thought as the issue itself.

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Superman #233


superman_v-1_233“Superman Breaks Loose”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Letterer: Ben Oda

“Jor-El’s Golden Folly”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Murphy Anderson
Inker: Murphy Anderson

With this wonderfully iconic cover we we reach the landmark “Kryptonite Nevermore” storyline at last.  Amidst the universe wide wave of renovations, the head honchos at DC decided that their flagship character, the Man of Steel himself, needed to join the growing ranks of the revamped heroes that were populating their books.  So, who better to rework the father of superheroes than the man who had already done the same thing with so many other characters, Denny O’Neil?  I’ve read a bit about this set of comics, and I’m very curious to read them.  The choices that he made in reworking Superman are fascinating.  There’s a tendency to wonder why he didn’t make certain choices that seem obvious these days, though I suspect that owes a great deal to hindsight.  After all, what hero had more continuity, more inertia, and more baggage than the Man of Tomorrow?  Think about what a daunting task it must have been to approach the job of updating Superman.  There’s also a question of exactly how much freedom the author had.  After all, as DC was forcing the re-drawing of the character in Jack Kirby’s books, it isn’t terribly likely that they would give Denny O’Neil carte blanche in his approach.

The first change O’Neil makes is an interesting one, and I suppose it addresses perhaps the biggest problem the character faced at this point.  At the very beginning of the comic, an experiment with a new ‘kryptonite-engine,’ which promises to produce cheap energy for the entire world, goes wrong.  Superman attempts to smother the resultant explosion with a lead shield, despite the fact that it could literally kill him.  Yet, his efforts fail, and he’s caught in the blast.  By all rights, he should be dead, yet he wakes up with no ill-effects!  Strangely, the explosion seems to have turned the kryptonite samples the team was using into common iron ore.

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superman-233-0006Meanwhile, back at the offices of the Daily Planet, we learn that effect wasn’t just local.  Apparently the device’s malfunction destroyed all of the kryptonite on Earth!  And just like that, with the stroke of a pen, Denny O’Neil does away with the biggest crutch that Superman scribes have ever had.  Somewhere hack writers were crying out in despair.  We also meet the Planet’s new owner, the creepy Morgan Edge, head of Galaxy Broadcasting which has bought the paper.  In a scene silly enough to be right out of Batman V. Superman, Edge casually and randomly assigns the newspaper reporter Clark Kent to be his new on-air newsman.  He sends the mild mannered fellow out to cover the launch of a new ‘mail rocket,’ the kind of concept that was always showing up in comics but didn’t survive past the 50s in the real world.  Interestingly, Morgan Edge voices a completely reasonable concern, wondering if the complete and total removal of the only thing that could stop Superman is actually all that great of an event.  That’s a theme that’s much more common today, but it’s good to see it here.

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Obviously, this provides a new complication for the Man of Steel, as he’s now got to find a way to do his hero-ing while live on camera in front of millions of viewers!  This is one of the changes that seems somewhat ill-conceived.  While it adds some more chances for complications and challenges to the character, it seems like an unnecessary hurdle for the character’s status quo.

Anyway, the Metropolis Marvel faces his first test almost immediately, as he spots a man with a radio spying on the launch and has to deal with him during a commercial break!  Superman encounters some random thug, part of the Generic Gang, no doubt, whose group plans to hijack the rocket and sell it overseas.  He thinks he’s ready ready for the last Son of Krypton, as he’s managed to acquire a sample of the most abundant element on Earth, kryptonite!  Of course, if this neanderthal could read, he’d know that his space-rock isn’t going to do him much good.  To educate the fellow, the Man of Tomorrow happily takes the rock from him and eats it!  It’s a great scene, a very clear and forceful message about the completeness of the anti-kryptonite change.

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Having dealt with the man on the ground, Big Blue takes to the wild blue in search of the other part of the Generic Gang, who have arrived in fighter jets!  Superman’s heat vision suddenly weakens, and he’s forced to down the two jets by more direct methods.  He challenges himself to find different ways to stop the two threats, and in one entertaining bit, he uses his x-ray vision to spot the pilots of one of the jets and then knocks them out by punching directly through the hull.  I like the idea that Superman tries to shake things up just to have fun with his adventures.  That seems like a nice bit of characterization.

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On his way home, the Man of Steel suddenly finds himself weakened for a moment as he passes over the spot of the kryptonite explosion, and we get a closeup of the impression he left in the sand when he crashed.  Dun-dun-DUN!  In the epilogue, we see a strange sight, as a sinister creature of sand in the shape of Superman arises out of that impression and stalks off towards civilization.  There’s something in O’Neils narration of this scene that reminds me a bit of the end of Yeats’ “Second Coming.”  There is certainly something portentous about the scene, and it is fittingly intriguing, setting up the saga to come.

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This is a solid story and a good beginning for something new.  Superman’s life and setting are being shaken up, and the removal of kryptonite is certainly a good first step towards forcing a more grounded and creative approach to the character.  This comic is perhaps most notable for what it doesn’t do.  Most of the Man of Tomorrow’s trappings remain unchanged, and now, despite the unexplained dimming of some of his powers, he certainly seems more powerful than ever.

There isn’t a whole lot else here, and the threats the hero faces in this issue are fairly run-of-the-mill.  That works well enough because O’Neil is showing us the impact of the opening scene on the character’s life, but they don’t have a great amount of interest in-and-of themselves.  Still, it’s a good, readable story with some interesting action and an intriguing ending.  I know a bit about this arc, but I still find myself looking forward to seeing how O’Neil builds on the seeds he’s planted here.  Of course, Swan’s art is beautiful, and he really shines, both in the action and the detailed face work he does in several scenes.  His Bronze Age art is some of the very best there is.  As for this issue, I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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“The Second Coming”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Of course, this poem also feels horribly apt for out world today, but that’s neither here nor there.

“Jor-El’s Golden Folly”


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This was a great little backup tale.  I thoroughly enjoyed the read, which I did not expect.  It’s a fun examination of life of Krypton-that-was without some of the more ridiculous elements that generally accompany such yarns.  It follows the early career of the great scientist himself, Jor-El, before he had acquired the fame that followed him later in life.  It’s a neat glimpse into the life and character of both of Superman’s parents, and the story actually has some surprising elements for a comic from this period, especially in its treatment of Lara Lor-Van.

The story begins with Jor-El’s assignment to his first project at the Kryptonopolis Space-Complex, where he meets Professor Ken-Dal and General Dru-Zod(!), who will be his bosses.  Jor will be working on the space program, which is in dire trouble, as its budget has been slashed just as it was nearing completion.  Notably, the facility also houses the training facility for future space-pilots, and in a remarkably forward-thinking move, Bridwell makes them all women.  Jor-El even wonders why women make better astronauts than men.  That’s a pretty surprising development from a period where we’ve still seen plenty of sexism alive and well, and it’s a cool insight into Kryptonian culture.

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Well, Jor-El gets right to work, and he decides that if they can’t afford to build powerful rockets, they must find another way to get their ships off of the ground.  So, he develops the principles of anti-gravity in a fun little sequence, where he straps a device to a dog and levitates it.  One wonders if this confused looking pooch is Krypto!  Either way, his project gets approval, but because of budget cuts, the scientist is forced to build his ship out of the most common element on the planet, gold.  That’s a fun little detail.

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Everyone mocks Jor-El’s ship, calling it his “golden folly,” in a situation somewhat analogous to Howard Hughe’sSpruce Goose.”  Just like Hughes himself, however, the Kryptonian scientist is vindicated when his ship successfully takes off.  However, Lara, who displays an admirable adventurous streak, wanted to be in the cockpit for the maiden voyage, so she stowed aboard.  Her flight is successful until the ship hit space, and then the controls go dead!  Between Jor-El’s remote tinkering and Lara’s piloting skill, they managed to put the ship down on a moon.

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There’s a slim chance that Lara could have survived, so when the next rocket heads for that moon several days later, Jor-El uses his antigravity belt to stow away aboard and not add any weight, which is actually quite clever.  On the harsh, barren moon, the young scientist searches desperately for the brave pilot who captured his heart, and at long last, he manages to find her.  There reunion is charming, and it tells the tale of how the pair got together.

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This is just a fun story, and I thoroughly enjoyed the glimpses of Krypton’s former glories that it provided.  Jor-El and Lara are both interesting characters under Bridwell’s pen, and I was particularly impressed with his treatment of Lara.  Together, these two make worthy parents for the Man of Steel.  Once again, I’m impressed by the ability of the this era’s creators to tell complete stories in such limited space.  These seven pages give us an adventure, several character moments for both protagonists, and a bit of world building.  That’s impressive!  I’ll give this enjoyable slice of Kryptonian life 4 Minutemen.

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Final Thoughts:


This was a pretty good month, over all, and it brought me several delightfully unexpected gems.  The stand outs for me were the books I was most prepared to dislike, Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane and Superboy.  Neither of these comics was exactly amazing, but I was very pleasantly surprised both by how much fun they were and by the lack of the sort of gimmicky silliness that I expected in those titles.  Here’s hoping that they continue to be of such solid quality.  In particular, Robert Kanigher continues to impress me.  Even his less stellar offerings, like this month’s Haunted Tank are generally respectable efforts these days.  I’m curious to see if his improvement will last.

We also saw the return of several themes that have become definitive of the early Bronze Age, like environmentalism and youth culture in this month’s Superboy and Batgirl stories.  I was impressed with how both of those books handled these themes and the more mature moral sense that they displayed.  At the same time, we had some disappointments this month, notably Jack Kirby’s unexamined and unproblematized treatment of cloning in Jimmy Olsen.  Still, all things considered, this was a fine beginning to our new year.  I can’t wait to see what else 1971 has in store for us!  As always, thanks for reading, and, until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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

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No new changes on the Headcount, so poor Aquaman still has the last two slots.  I’m sure we’ll see more additions soon.  I only hope they aren’t more from the Sea King!

Into the Bronze Age: January 1971 (Part 3)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpg
Hello my dear readers, and welcome to my penultimate post about January 1971!  Today, we’ve got my first coverage of a Superboy issue, as well as some Superman’s Girlfriend, so we’ve got tons of super-action.  We’ve also got G.I. Combat, for a more serious story, and the trio are a good set of books.  Please join me as I work my way through them.

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 #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.


G.I. Combat #145


gi_combat_145“Sand, Sun and Death”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor: Joe Kubert

“A Hatful of War”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Mort Drucker
Inker: Mort Drucker
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

“The Iron Punch”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: Arthur F. Peddy
Inker: Arthur F. Peddy

gicombat145-03“Hot Corner”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert

“Mile Long Step”
Writer: John Reed
Penciler: Jerry Grandenetti
Inker: Jerry Grandenetti

“Glory Drive”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert

“Missing: 320 Men”
Writer: Sam Glanzman
Penciler: Sam Glanzman
Inker: Sam Glanzman

The Haunted Tank crew rides again, and it seems we’re back in North Africa.  Once more, the ghostly guardian of the tank is singularly unhelpful, appearing in precisely one panel.  I’m beginning to grow frustrated with this book, despite the fact that most of its stories are fairly entertaining.  As I’ve said before, it just feels like a waste of a great concept when the ghost has no impact on the plot.

In this particular comic, J.E.B. tells Jeb that “there is more than one ghost in this battlefield,” which proves as pointlessly prophetic as usual.  Just as the tank commander begins to ask for something actually useful, the desert sands around them begin to erupt with tank fire, and the Stuart finds itself in the crosshairs of not one, not two, not three, but FIVE panthers!  It’s a wonderfully dynamic double-page spread, but it also seems ridiculously improbable that a light tank could last for five seconds in such a situation, much less actually get away.  The crew conducts a running fight as they flee, but eventually run out of ammo and escape into a dust storm.

The German commander pursues but loses them in the swirling sand.  Once the dust settles, the Tank is confronted with a strange sight, a battle damaged but intact B-25, just sitting in the middle of the desert.  Out of ammo and low on fuel and, more than anything else, just plain curious, the crew investigates.  They find the bomber’s co-pilot and gunners all dead, but the pilot is missing.  Suddenly, that very pilot appears, looking quite the worse for wear.  He holds them at gunpoint, and it quickly becomes apparent that he’s been driven mad by his experiences.

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The pilot, a lieutenant, was on a bombing mission with his crew, their very first combat mission, and they ran into an absolute forest of flak and fighter power.  Everyone onboard was killed but the pilot, and he turned back, limping the plane down into the desert.  He can’t face the reality that all of his men are dead.  Just then, the German armor shows up, and the Lieutenant agrees to help the tank crew hold them off, swearing he won’t fail his men a second time.  Arch, Slim, and Rick man the turret positions on the bomber, and Jeb himself, with the Lieutenants help, cooks up a surprise for the tanks.

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Now, here we get to an even more ridiculous moment, as the crew manages to take out two German tanks…with machine guns!  A B-25 is armed with a mixture of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns which MIGHT be able to mess up a lightly armored vehicle but would be about as useful against an actual battle tank as a spitball.  What’s more, the German armor apparently has a hard time hitting the gigantic, stationary plane.  It’s a cool scene, but it makes no sense!

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Well, improbable firepower aside, Jeb and the pilot sneak behind the tanks and hit them with Molotov cocktails, which is actually much more believable, especially because the loony Lieutenant gets gunned down while doing so.  The battle won, the pilot asks to be put back in the cockpit, and he passes away, determined to see his crew back home at last.

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This is an okay story, so far as it goes, though it’s got several really unbelievable bits, and I’m not even talking about the Confederate ghost!  It’s one thing to show your light tank, crewed by a heroic quartet and guided by a ghostly guardian, able to take out heavier opponents.  That is, technically speaking, possible, though it is wildly unlikely.  If you hit it just right, it’s within the realm of possibility that a Stuart’s main gun could knock out even a tiger tank if the stars were aligned properly.  On the other hand, a machine gun isn’t going to do more than scratch the paint of a medium or heavy tank.  At most, you might get lucky and put some rounds through the view ports. This kind of thing bothers me, especially in a setting like this that aims, to a certain degree, at verisimilitude.

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The pilot’s pitiful break from reality caused by his horrific first mission and the deaths of his crew is moderately affecting, and his delusional death manages to strike that melancholy note that so many of these stories strive for.  It’s also interesting that his decision to turn back is treated with sympathy and made justifiable in context.  That said, I don’t think he gets quite enough space to be entirely effective.  Of course, Russ Heath’s art is as beautiful and striking as usual.  He’s really a fantastic fit for this book.  In the end, this story is just so-so.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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Superboy #171


superboy_vol_1_171“Dark Strangler of the Seas!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson

This was a surprisingly enjoyable issue.  I had braced for some hokey silliness, though I had some hope because AquaBOY had a cameo, which seemed like fun.  I was surprised to find this comic very much a fitting offering for 1971.  Teaming Superboy and Aquaboy is a great idea, and I’m rather surprised that it took this long for DC to come up with it.  After all, what other DC hero could easily have been active at the same time as Superboy?  Batman was out traveling the world and getting his education, and everyone else was still living their regular lives for the most part.  Aquaman, however, was wandering the seas as a young man, and he could definitely have shared some adventures with the Boy of Steel.

The plot of this yarn centers around something that surprised me, namely, oceanic oil spills.  I didn’t expect to see this issue getting attention way back in 1971.  I thought that the focus on oil pollution was a bit more recent, centering around some of the big spills of the 80s and 90s.  Looking at a list of oil spills, though, I see that there were a few major ones around this time, so the issue would definitely have been in the zeitgeist.  The story itself begins in striking fashion, with a pair of fishermen struggling to pull in a strange catch, and when Superboy happens by and gives them a hand, a dark, humanoid shape is pulled up out of the surf.

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The Boy of Steel realizes that this is a human being covered in crude oil, and he rushes him to an industrial detergent factory, where, with the help of the workmen, he manages to clean the oil off and reveal…Aquaboy!  Holding his head above the tank to prevent the strange youth from drowning, Superboy unwittingly nearly dooms the young Marine Marvel.  In desperation, the Prince of the Sea slips out of his hands and catches his ‘breath’ underwater, taking the opportunity to explain to his super-powered savior what happened.

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In a surprisingly touching scene, Aquaboy relates how he encountered a dolphin covered in oil and drowning because of it.  Despite his best efforts to clean the oil off, the creature died before his eyes, and the Marine Monarch set out to seek revenge for the needless death.  He found an oil tanker, leaking a constant stream of crude, and they ignored his orders to heave-to.  Not to be deterred, he launched a one-man boarding action and started cracking heads, but he sliped in some oil and….oh no!  That’s right, it’s Head-Blow Headcount time, as he took a belaying pin to the back of the head and got knocked out.  The crew threw him overboard and then attempted to drown him in oil.  Fortunately, his finny friends towed him to shore, hoping humans could help their prince.

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superboy-171-0011Superboy is aghast at this callous disregard for life, and he agrees to help the young Sea Sleuth seek justice.  They fly to the offices of the tanker’s owners, Trans-East Oil Company, and they let them know that they’d better fix their fleet of tankers or face the consequences.  In a further sign of the shift in values going on in comics and in the culture, the company’s owners are classic industrialist villains, much more concerned with their bottom lines than any cost to the environment.  Shades of Captain Planet!

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Not to be denied, the youthful heroes decide to take matters into their own hands.  Aquaboy begins locating leaking tankers, and Superboy begins rounding them up, taking them to the middle of the desert, dumping out their oily cargo, and then dropping them into dry-dock to be fixed at their owner’s expense.  It’s a rather delightfully chaotic scheme, ignoring laws in pursuit of what is right.

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Unfortunately, the Oil Company execs are not about to take this threat to their bank accounts lying down, so they plan a trap.  After the next tanker roundup, they track Aquaboy and lure him in to an ambush with a look-a-like for his girlfriend, Marita, who looks just like Mera.  I half suspect that Frank Robbins didn’t know what Mera’s name was or when she showed up.  Either way, it seems that Arthur definitely has a type!  The crew of a tanker filled with nitroglycerin(!) hang “Marita” from their rigging, and in a pretty cool sequence, Aquaboy jumps from one leaping dolphin to another dolphin to board the ship in great, swashbuckling fashion.  Yet, as he’s about to free the fire-tressed femme fatale, she frees herself and he is trapped in a net instead!

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I hear some classic, Errol Flynn-esq swashbuckling music in my head when I see this scene…

When Superboy arrives, the corrupt captain orders him to swear to leave the company alone, or they’ll drop Aquaboy into the nitro and blow him to kingdom come (no, not that one).  The young Marine Marvel is adamant that his partner can’t give in, no matter what happens to him, but the Boy of Steel has plans of his own.  He races away, seeming to give in, only to turn back and grab the Prince of the Sea, shielding him in his cape, and hurling the pair through the ship’s hull at super speed, so fast that they pierce the nitro before it can react.  They’re deep underwater by the time the ship blows, and all that is left is to do is haul the would-be blackmailers back to their employers to let them know who’s really boss.

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This is a fun adventure with an environmental focus that is just tailor-made for its guest-star.  Aquaman is a character who is perfect for tackling environmental themes such as pollution and man’s impact on this planet.  It’s fascinating to see that connection made this early on.  It’s also really fun to see the young heroes acting as champions of justice, rather than upholders of law.  It looks like there is some effort to create a more mature sense of morality in these characters, getting beyond the law=good paradigm that dominated portrayals in the Silver Age.  It’s also rather fitting for this to happen with a couple of fiery teen heroes who might naturally be a bit more rebellious and impetuous.

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Here we’ve got our two protagonists breaking laws, violating international borders, and generally carrying on a personal crusade without the slightest shred of justification other than their sense of right and wrong.  Superboy, for his part, is much closer in line with the early portrayals of the character during the Golden Age, where he was a champion of the oppressed against the rich and powerful, an interpretation that I understand has made a comeback in recent years.

I would have liked to see more of the two teens’ personalities, as there isn’t much to differentiate them as Super and Aqua BOYs rather than their full-grown counterparts, but that’s a minor complaint.  I’m also not crazy about the rather unequal partnership between our two heroes.  Aquaboy doesn’t get a whole lot to do, and he’s rather overshadowed by his super-partner.  That’s a constant problem for Superman, though.  Despite those minor criticisms, this is an enjoyable, entertaining read with some really intriguing trappings.  I’ll give this story a good score of 4 Minutemen.

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P.S.: Interestingly, this issue also came with a one-page brief on Superboy’s chronological setting, an acknowledgement of the sliding time-scale of DC Comics, which I found curious.  The editor notes that, because Superman hasn’t aged, his youth has to keep moving forward, so they’ve updated the setting fro his adventures as Superboy.  Notably, they did so inside a story, where the Boy of Tomorrow time-traveled, returning to a different year than he left, which is a clever, if problematic way to handle the issue.  I bet this is one of the first times something like this has been addressed directly.


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #107


lois_lane_107“The Snow-Woman Wept!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta

“My Executioner Loves Me”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

Our Lois Lane story today isn’t quite as gobsmackingly profound and compelling as our last one, (how could it be?) but it’s a fun, charming, and imaginative read.  I continue to think I may have misjudged Robert Kanigher.  He wrote a lot of clunkers that I suffered through, but I’m starting to suspect that he’s coming into his own now.  I suppose time will tell.  At any rate, let’s check out this story, and y’all can judge for yourselves.

We begin at the office of the Daily Planet, where our old friends Clark Kent and Lois Lane are getting their assignments from Perry White, assignments that aren’t sitting too well with the girl reporter.  While Clark has been tasked with ferreting out the secret behind a Nobel Prize winner’s new research, Lois has been given a story on Superman being made the king of Raleigh College’s ‘Winter Carnival.’  Fun fact: apparently Lois graduated from Raleigh College.  Well, alma mater or not, Lois isn’t having any of this, and she yells discrimination at Perry.

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The exchange is a bit surprising and rather entertaining.  Perry’s unperturbed response, “don’t wave the women’s lib flag at me,” cracked me up.  There’s a touch of social concern in that scene, downplayed because the lady journalist’s main motivation is her professional pride.  She’s driven by the desire to get the biggest and best story, a classic example of the intrepid reporter archetype, and a nice return to her roots as a character.  It’s interesting to see Lois display some of the fire and independence that I’ve always loved about the character, traits she carries throughout the issue but which have been absent in other portrayals.

When she and Clark arrive at Raleigh, she meets a snow sculptor, a college romeo who tries to put the moves on her (bold kid!), but Lois lets the boy down easy, posing for a sculpture for him and telling him that he’ll meet a nice girl his own age before too long.  Meanwhile, Clark manages to get an interview with Professor Bridnell and his assistant, Dr. Tort.  We learn that the assistant is actually a defector from behind the Iron Curtain, and then the good professor explains his research.

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Apparently he’s invented a serum that can turn an air-breathing creature into a water-breathing one, and he explains how his invention will allow humanity to colonize the seas and escape the damage done to the surface world, giving a new lease on life to society’s cast-offs.  Wow, I bet Aquaman would have something to say about that!  In a surprising concession both to the stability of the setting and to realism, the Professor notes that there are years of testing ahead of the usability of his invention, which I enjoyed.

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Pictures: An Atlantean nightmare

Bridnell shows Clark a pistol-like device that can administer his serum and explains that he’s built an antidote into it as well, just in case.  However, when the reporter leaves, Dr. Tort suddenly attacks his employer, revealing himself to be a communist spy!  He meets with a team sent to retrieve him and the professor’s research, and he explains the potential of truly aquatic soldiers who could stealthily disable America’s nuclear subs, destroying our retaliatory ability and enabling a successful Soviet first strike!

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Just then, Lois happens to come snooping, hoping to scoop Clark.  She overhears Tort’s plans, and he uses the invention on her.  Unfortunately, the untested device has an unexpected effect, turning her into a statue of snow!  They hide her with the other snow sculptures on the quad, thinking that the sun will dispose of the evidence for them, but when Superman arrives for the carnival, he notices her ‘melting’ in a strange way that almost looks like…tears!  He touches the liquid and realizes it is salty, deducing that something bizarre had happened to Lois.  That would be a bigger leap if Lois didn’t end up in crazy situations on a daily basis.

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Seeking to get help for her, the Metropolis Marvel rushes the frozen female to Prof. Bridnell’s lab, only to interrupt Tort and the commies (sound like a 50s rock band!) preparing to sneak out in costumes among the carnival crowd.  They hit him with the same device, and the Man of Steel turns into the Man of Snow!  Apparently, he’s suffering from a mysterious occasional weakness which began in the “Kryptonite Nevermore” story we’ll encounter in the next post.  Frozen solid, the hero can’t do much to help his situation.  In a desperate maneuver, he uses his heat vision on the lab’s lead door, hoping that it will reflect enough heat to set his molecules back in motion.  This succeeds, but Lois is still trapped in an icy prison.  The Man of Tomorrow captures the commie crooks and uses the Prof.’s invention to restore his lady love in another gamble, as he’s uncertain if it will work.  Fortunately, the device cures her, and Lois and Superman play king and queen of the Winter Carnival.

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I have to say, I’m enjoying these Lois Lane issues much more than I expected.  I’m liking the portrayal of Lois herself, and the more sedate pace of these yarns allows an opportunity for character development and the chance to meet some interesting secondary characters.  This one is just a mostly straightforward adventure, but the story comes with a good deal of personality and charm, with the addition of little touches like Lois’s frustration at her assignment and the festivities of the Winter Carnival, not to mention the Cold War paranoia of the nefarious Soviet operatives and their apocalyptic dreams.  Speaking of which, it’s interesting to see the Cold War tensions raise their heads, as we really haven’t seen much of that in recent comics.

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Werner Roth returns to the art chores on this story, and I am impressed once more.  His work is just lovely and detailed, full of individual personality and distinctive faces.  He does a great job on the people, but he also turns out fine work on the very different scenes featuring the destruction of the commie plans.  In terms of the plot, the techno-babble is just a tad stretched between the initial concept and the snow-statue effects of the ray, but I’m willing to give it a pass because it mostly works in the usual comic book sense.  I don’t see why a ray designed to make someone a water-breather would turn them into snow, but I suppose unexpected side-effects are a thing.  I liked the range of imaginative ideas in this book, from underwater colonies to Soviet schemes.  There’s a healthy dose of wonder in it.  So, all in all, I’ll give this enjoyable little tale 4 Minutemen.

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“My Executioner Loves Me”


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The saga of Rose and Thorn continues, and it also continues to fascinate me, perhaps a tad more than the stories themselves entirely merit.  The concept is just so innovative that it transcends the material to a certain extent.  Yet, despite the fact that these stories are crammed into eight page backups, they have the advantage of a rolling continuity, one tale leading directly into the next.  We’re definitely not seeing an established status quo, rather a constantly evolving, even if in short hops, narrative.  That’s pretty unusual for this period.

This particular offering opens in media res, with the Thorn being chased by a trio of the 100’s gunmen, and it seems that she has a few more tricks up her nonexistent sleeves!  She has developed a Batman-esq utility belt, which she calls her ‘Thorn Arsenal Belt,’ containing various small ‘thorns’ that carry different gimmicks.  One might ask where she would get such things, especially since she couldn’t do any of her vigilante shopping in her other pesonality, but it is fun enough that I’m willing to let that slide for the moment.  In this instance, she throws some concussion grenades at her pursuers’ car, putting it out of commission.  She then handles the thugs themselves with her fits after tossing a smoke grenade for cover.  I have to say, I’m not a huge fan of Ross Andru’s art on this feature, but this action scene looks great.

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The Thorn has developed another new gimmick, as she is marking the 100’s killers off, one by one, leaving numbered calling cards with her victims when she leaves them for the police.  It’s a cool and different idea that helps to highlight how the Thorn differs from other heroes.  She’s not out for abstracts like justice; she’s out for revenge, plain and simple, a visceral, primitive motivation, one that drives her peculiar madness.

The next day, we once again check in with the secret head of the 100, Vince Adams, who also happens to be Rose’s boss.  The docile half of this particular dynamic duo accidentally walks in on a meeting between Adams and the latest killer to be assigned to the Thorn’s contract, and then Kanigher briefly checks in on the other subplots, Rose’s ironic burgeoning romance with Adams, the golden coffin, and her complicated relationship with her father’s partner, Danny.

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Then, night falls, and we’re back to the Thorn!  She heads out on patrol, only to be ambushed on the docks by the new assassin, a gentlemanly gunman whose scruples allow her to get the drop on him, dumping him overboard.  He strikes his head and begins to drown, and Thorn has a nice moment of indecision where she debates whether or not to let him die.  What finally makes up her mind is the thought that her father wouldn’t want her to become a murderer, which seems very fitting.

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The Baleful Beauty dives in and saves the guy, which blows him away.  The girl realizes that she saw him meeting with Adams, and she wonders what he was doing at the funeral parlor.  As for the waterlogged gunman, he is moved by her risking her life for him right after he tried to kill her, and the fellow, Beau, falls for her.  He asks the Thorn to run away with him, promising he’ll protect her.  Just then, more assassins attack, and now Beau’s neck is on the block as well for failing in his mission.  The pair rush to his car, and they engage in a running fight, finally eluding their pursuers with the help of some ‘thorn-nails’ that shred their antagonists’ tires.

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Beau is making plans all the while, and promises to smuggle the pair of them out of the country.  They share a kiss, and then the Vengeful Vixen leaps out of the car, leaving her hitman turned hunk to realize that she’s dumped him in front of the police station!  She tells him that he’ll be safe from the 100 in jail, and that “I forgot myself for the moment!  But I’m the Thorn!  And you’re number 22!”  Man, that is cold!  It also happens to be extremely awesome.  I love that touch, and really, that whole little episode, condensed though it is.  Finally, the Thorn heads back home and changes back to Rose.  Yet, her hand was grazed by a bullet in the fight, and Rose wakes up wondering how she scratched her hand.  That’s an intriguing development, and I am looking forward to see what Kanigher does with these seeds he’s planting!

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These eight pages are just packed with story and with action.  Kanigher is stuffing plot and development in hand-over-fist, and its’ a bit strained at times, but it works surprisingly well on the whole.  The story is just so darn enjoyable, and the beats are so interesting, that you can’t help but forgive it for its limitations.  I found this little tale very readable, and I’m intrigued by the setup Kanigher has established.  I’m definitely in to see where this goes.  This series is just good, clean adventure fiction, but with a really fascinating twist.  I’ll give this chapter of the Rose and Thorn saga a solid 4 Minutemen, and if it had more room to breathe, I’d have to think it would climb even higher.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Sadly, Aquaman adds ANOTHER appearance on the wall of shame, making two in a row!  The Sea King is not off to a great start in 1971.  Of course, things are going to get worse for him soon, when his book gets cancelled, but I suppose there’s no sense borrowing trouble.  I wonder who the next star of the Headcount will be!


That does it for these books.  I hope you’ll join me again soon for the last two books of January 1971.  Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share you thoughts and insights in a comment!  Until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!