(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
“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
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert
“Mile Long Step”
Writer: John Reed
Penciler: Jerry Grandenetti
Inker: Jerry Grandenetti
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Superboy 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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
“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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
“My Executioner Loves Me”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
The Head-Blow Headcount:
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!