- 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.
World’s Finest #200
“Prisoners of the Immortal World!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Don’t be fooled by this striking cover. That mighty orange skinned alien is not, in fact, Mongul. No, unfortunately, it’s a much less interesting villain. Every time I see this cover, it takes me a moment to realize that the big, orange skinned guy in the purple costume with the yellow shape on his chest isn’t the cruel conqueror. Nonetheless, the story within is an enjoyable one, even if it makes me wonder when we’ll see the alien annihilator in the Bronze Age. Apparently he won’t make the scene for another decade!
Anyway, the story at hand is a bit uneven, combining several very different elements. It begins, just like this month’s Titans issue, on a college campus. This time, it’s Hudson University, the stomping grounds of the Teen Wonder himself, Robin. The school is beset by protests and demonstrations, and Dick is right in the thick of it, helping to keep the peace. The scene is being covered by Mr. Mild Mannered, Clark Kent, when suddenly the ROTC building gets firebombed! What follows is really quite interesting from a historical point of view.
During the 60s and 70s, there were several bombings of campus buildings that had a link to the military, so this little episode is drawn directly from the headlines of the day. What’s more, in response the military moves in to take control of the situation, which intriguingly causes Superman to spring into action, as he reasons that soldiers on campus are apt to make the situation even more unstable in light of the Kent State Shootings and similar events. The Man of Steel appeals to the governor and obtains orders for the troops to return to base, leaving the University in the hands of the campus police and the heroes and perhaps defusing some of the tension.
Yet, not everything is resolved by this move, and Robin overhears two brothers, Davy and Marty, in a heated argument about the military. They appeal to the young hero to help them settle matters, and as he tries to separate the two, Superman flies down and scoops them all up so that they can continue the conversation in more peaceful surroundings.
So far, we’ve got an interesting social story with some promising generational elements, but just at that point, the comic takes a hard left turn. The quartet is swept through space by some type of teleportation beam (described, for some reason, as “magnetic body-grabbers,” because that’s how magnets work) and to an alien world.
This is the home of a pair of immoral immortal brothers who, as they helpfully tell us, drain the power from captured super-beings to extend their lifespans. They are currently over 150,000 years old! The two bicker over the prospects for their next victim, and there’s the potential for some interesting parallel development between these brothers and the human siblings, but it doesn’t come together.
The perfidious pair have set their sights on Superman, and when he arrives with his young companions, they use their “mind bands” to blast them with mental bolts, and Friedrich makes the first of a few strange choices, as the aliens talk about how the Man of Tomorrow’s body is invulnerable, despite the fact that they are presumably attacking his mind. This will become a problem at the climax of the tale.
With the Kryptonain captured, the immortals just dump Robin and the other two students in the inhospitable jungle of their world. Inexplicably, we get a one-page origin and catch-up for Robin, which seems rather unnecessary. Who doesn’t know who Robin is? After wasting a page, we pick back up with the teen trio in a nicely bizarre alien setting. Despite the wonder and terror of their situation, the two brothers immediately resume their fight. Interestingly, Robin calls them ‘jackasses,’ which I was surprised to see in a Comics Code book. His cool-headedness and impatience with their stupidity is entertaining. The Teen Wonder organizes his little party, telling the boys to travel along the ground while he takes to the trees to act as a scout, and they make their way back towards the aliens’ citadel.
Shortly, they are attacked by a group of hunters to whom they’ve been sold as game by the immortals. They’re riding a massive, nicely exotic looking, horse-like creature, and they are thundering down upon the brothers. Fortunately, Robin rescues Davy, though Marty gets mind-blasted. The Teen Wonder is in his element up in the alien canopy, and he launches an acrobatic attack that allows him to scatter the stalkers. Taking their ‘mind-bands,’ the trio continues their trek, soon arriving at the alien city.
Meanwhile, the immortals have strapped Superman into their machine, only for him to burst free! The Man of Steel quickly makes short work of their defenses, but they hit him with another mental beam, and he awakens to discover he’s been recaptured again. It is then that the teen team arrives, and Robin takes out the guards with a batarang before leading an assault on the immortals and freeing the Metropolis Marvel. Interestingly, Superman is held, not by bonds, but by a prison of the mind. His escape and recapture was all in his head, designed to make him believe that freedom was impossible, which is a neat idea.
Fighting Mad, the Man of Steel sets out to get his revenge, but the staging of the conflict is a bit odd. Robin clearly freed him from the room that the immortals were in, yet the Kryptonian leaves by busting through the wall and goes somewhere else to attack them. The internal continuity is a bit wonky here, and the scene that follows is where Friedrich makes his other strange choice.
The immortals recover and attack Superman, who overcomes them, not with his super strength, heat vision, or what have you, but by overwhelming their mental attacks with is own mental bolts. That’s right, suddenly Superman has become Professor X! It makes no sense, and there’s no way that he should be able to do this, making the resolution just feel cheap, especially because the immortals were already defeated by Robin and the others.
The adventure helps Marty and Davy to realize that each of them has some merits in their points of view, and they shake hands, ending their argument. The issue concludes with Clark Kent reporting on the boys’ strange experiences, focusing on the new unity between the brothers and hoping that the world can learn something from their example.
There are a lot of good elements in this story, but they don’t combine into a single whole very smoothly. The campus chaos raises some good questions, and the idea of real dangers helping us to put our differences in perspective is certainly a good one. Yet, their intergalactic exploits are a bit too out-there for the moral to be as effective as it might be. How often are aliens going to kidnap us to another world to be hunted for sport? Well, I suppose the chance is significantly higher in the DC Universe. Still, something more domestic might have been more effective as far as the message of the issue goes. The alien adventure was good fun on its own merits, however, and it was great to see Robin in action, proving his independence and resourcefulness. I really enjoyed how unflappable he was in the face of this crazy circumstance. Superman’s inexplicable mental powers really take something away from the story, though. Dick Dillin’s work is quite good for the most part here, especially on the alien flora and fauna, but he has a few weird panels throughout, like the two-page spread above. I suppose I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen. It evens out, more or less.
We have certainly had a very interesting month in this batch of books. The stories have tended to be solid rather than stellar, and we’ve had a number of rather disappointing outings, with a few previously reliable books turning out weaker offerings, like Lois Lane. Nonetheless, there is a good deal to catch our interest here. The growing focus on youth culture and youth involvement is on great display, providing a definite common theme being shared by many of this month’s issues. Dissatisfied young people fill the pages of everything from Teen Titans to Aquaman, showing up in a good number of surprising places, like today’s World’s Finest. It seems like everywhere the unrest on the nation’s campuses, the spirit of rebellion and independence in the youth of the day, is reflected in the pages of these comics. What a change from only a year before! There’s a growing sense of the importance of the youth and their voice in society, a more serious treatment of the younger generations as a whole. This is producing stories that are uneven but interesting.
In the same way, we’re also seeing increased moral and political maturity appearing with greater regularity, like this months’ Superman and Phantom Stranger. While the Man of Steel’s adventure emphasizes a more nuanced ethos than just law=good, the Stranger’s title actually takes a surprisingly sober and realistic (however brief) view of the cycle of vengeance and the conflict in the Middle East. Of course, there’s also still some more ham-handed attempts at the same, like Mike Friedrich’s weak-sauce, tacked-on anti-war message in JLA.
Speaking of which, this month also saw the first unofficial crossover between the JLA and the Avengers, which was fascinating to explore. I really enjoyed the chance to read books across the Big Two and compare them, and the process really put the different approaches of DC and Marvel into context for me. It was quite an eye-opening experience to directly compare the JLA and Avengers books, and I think that might have been my favorite part of this month’s coverage. The comparison revealed the greater sophistication of Marvel’s storytelling and characterization in contrast to DC’s greater imaginative breadth.
We also saw the continued activity of the League of Assassins in the Bat-books, which forms one of the longer-running plot threads we’ve observed so far. We’re still in a period of mostly self-contained stories, which makes the Aquaman title’s layering in of plot threads all the more innovative and exciting. Continuing plots do seem to be becoming a bit more common, which is interesting because around this time Marvel handed down an editorial mandate to eliminate continued stories. I’m curious to see how this trend develops.
This was undoubtedly a fascinating month. I hope that all you readers enjoyed the journey with me, and I also hope y’all will share your thoughts and reflections as well. Please join me soon as we begin our travels through March 1971. Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!
The Head-Blow Headcount:
This month saw two new additions to the Wall of Shame, with both Batgirl and Hawk joining the august company here. It was a bad month for teens, but at least Robin didn’t have a return engagement, though I’m sure he’ll be back before too long. Let’s just hope Aquaman can stay away for a little while. Three in a row was enough!