- Action Comics #398
- Adventure Comics #404
- Batman #230
- Brave and Bold #94
- Detective Comics #409
- The Flash #204
- Forever People #1
- G.I. Combat #146
- Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82
- Justice League of America #88
- New Gods #1
- Superboy #172
- Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136
- Superman #235
- World’s Finest #204
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
“Take-Over of Paradise!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
“Danger Comes A-Looking!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz
This cover looks very Black Panther-ish, but the story inside features a different type of gang. The headline tale continues to engage themes of youth involvement and demonstration, though Robbins’ handling of these ideas is a bit strange. It begins with Batman intervening in a gang fight between two groups of young punks. When he shows up, both of them turn against him, which doesn’t work out too well for their leaders. I rather enjoy how little patience the Dark Knight has for their nonsense throughout this issue. He gives them a speech about how, if they really care about their ‘turf,’ they should try to make it better, not tear it apart, and he reforges the kids into a singular community action group called ‘the Brave Barons.’ They channel their anger into productive avenues, cleaning up their neighborhoods and trying to make a difference.
It seems like Batman has helped them find their way until a year later when Alfred draws his master’s attention to a news story featuring the Barons themselves. They have taken over a new luxury apartment building in order to demand the city build affordable housing for its poor inhabitants. They surrounded the building with a chain of explosives and are holding the structure hostage until their demands are met.
The Masked Manhunter is furious at them and declares that they’ve made their beds, so they can lie in them. He refuses to take a hand. Now, I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, Batman is a hard fellow, so he might just let people too stupid to learn from their mistakes learn how much they can cost. On the other hand, with Gotham in danger, he’s not one to sit on the sidelines, regardless of his personal feelings. I guess you could say that he didn’t consider these kids any real threat, but it still strikes me as a bit off.
Yet, as the siege wears on, the Barons two leaders, Shades and Rap demand to talk to the Bat himself, hoping he can negotiate for them. Tensions begin to show between these two as they wait, however. While the Dark Knight reluctantly agrees to deal with the gang, Rap and Shades begin to fight. Shades wants to demolish the building to make a statement, but Rap isn’t willing to go that far. They struggle, and we cut away before we see what happens.
Meanwhile, the Caped Crusader arrives and meets two more of the gang, Mouse and Kitten, who let him through. Mouse leads the hero to the headquarters where the leaders had holed-up, but when they arrive, they find Rap dead! The young man fills Batman in, then bolts as they begin searching the building. Shades uses a megaphone to tell the Barons to clear out, and the Dark Knight zeroes in on his location, finding him in a closet with the detonator. They fight a desperate battle, but Batman is able to put the kid down and disable the device.
Strangely enough, when Shades tells Batman to take him in because he’s guilty of killing Rap, the Masked Manhunter is preoccupied, waiting for someone else to arrive. He tells Shades that he didn’t actually kill Rap. When the Baron’s leader blacked out, the real murderer finished Rap off! Just then, the killer, anxious about the distinct lack of explosions in the building, comes to investigate, and the hero and the gang member capture the shadowy figure. Only then do they realize that it is actually Kitten!
Apparently this cat has some wicked claws, and she murdered Rap and framed shades so that she could take over and “show them what a femme leader could do”! Yikes, that’s taking women’s lib rather far. Batman suspected the truth when Mouse recognized the body even though he could only see its legs. Yet, the hero didn’t suspect that it was Mouses’s girlfriend, rather than he himself, who had done the deed. The story ends with Shades declaring that, even if things turned out badly, at least they got their ‘message’ across and that they’re willing to pay the price, which is a strange note to end on. It almost seems to justify the Barons’ terrorist tactics.
This is a story with potential but not enough space to actually accomplish its aims. There are too many characters in too cramped of a plot to be effective. We barely meet the two leaders before they are at each other’s throats, and we don’t really meet Kitten at all until she’s revealed as the killer. The social themes at play here don’t have enough room to breathe either, though they add an interesting dimension to the story. With the talk of “their people” and the cover design, I rather wonder if these kids were supposed to be black in the original concept. That would likely have made this comic a bit too controversial at the time, though.
The central mystery of the murder is reasonably engaging, and I enjoyed both Batman’s deduction and his miscalculation about the killer’s identity. It simultaneously showed his skill and his humanity. That section worked well, however weak the motivations involved were. Novick’s art was quite strong in this whole comic, but particularly in this first chpater where it is heavily atmospheric and nicely dramatic. In general, the tale is just a bit too rushed and a bit too underdeveloped. I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as it’s a fairly mediocre story, but not an unpleasant read.
“Danger Comes A-Looking”
The robin backup that follows, however, is actually quite good, doing more with less. It helps that Friedrich builds on what came before in surprising detail. He’s really crafting an interesting ongoing saga for the Teen Wonder. Not only does this story pick up threads from previous Robin backups, it also ties right in with last month’s World’s Finest, making the bombing and unrest on campus part of the young hero’s setting, which is a neat touch. Once Superman drops him off, Dick decides to start investigating that bombing.
Before he can even get started Robin is jumped by three college toughs. They bite off a bit more than they can chew, however, and the young Action Ace gives a good account of himself. Well…almost. He sends two of the three flying, and then one of them gets in a lucky gut punch. Apparently this one punch leaves Robin too stunned to follow the trio as they run off. Now, if you’ve ever taken a real punch to the gut, you know that it can take a lot out of you, especially if you’re not ready for it. Yet, Dick was in the middle of a fight and he’s a trained fighter, so I’m not quite sure how things would shake out this way. This scene bugged me, as it really only happens because of plot and it once more makes the character seem incompetent for the sake of a story.
Whatever the case, poor Dick takes a licking, unable to spot anything of his assailants but their orange tennis-shoes. The next day he has to wander around campus bruised and battered, which means he has some explaining to do. He runs into Phil Real, our photographer friend from a few issues back, and a new girl named Terri Bergstrom, who catches our young hero’s eye. They’re apparently part of a computer club that is working on a computer dating service, which must have been in the zeitgeist around this time. After all, we got a mention of it in a Batgirl arc in the last year. I touch on this short scene as I suspect it will prove important in a future issue, though it doesn’t figure into this story.
Where our plot does pick back up is when Dick observes a notice in the school paper from Marty and Davy, his friends from the last World’s Finest adventure. They ask Robin to meet them, and when he does, they tell him that they think they’ve figured out who the bomber is, but before they can explain their suspicions, the Teen Detectives spots orange shoes like those of his attackers and discovers that they are part of the initiation ritual of members of the Kappa Zeta fraternity (never trust a frat boy!), known as the Broncos. The Titan pursues the boys and discovers them attacking a protest by the radical ‘Students for Democratic Action’ organization.
Emulating his mentor in the main title, Robin flings himself into the middle of the melee, and he finds the two sides turning against him. The Teen Wonder makes short work out of the first two attackers, which lets him calm the situation down. Interestingly, the young hot-head, Hank Osher, who we met a while back, is heading up the protest, and he storms off, bad-mouthing the young hero. Suddenly, his car explodes, seemingly confirming the theory that Marty and Davy had that the angry radical was the bomber.
This issue ends rather differently than the Batman tale, as Robin notes that Frank caused his own demise as “playing with violence is like playing with fire! Sometimes you get burned–permanently!” The Teen Wonder is hard on himself for not having seen Hank’s role in the crime, but he’s also rather introspective about how he keeps finding himself in the middle, with both sides against him in these conflicts. (I feel ya’, kid!) I imagine it had to be tough to be a level-headed person during this era (though, I suppose a rational person is always on the outs with our world), someone aware enough to see the problems with the culture but reasonable enough to know that change has to be incremental to be sustainable and successful.
This brief story is really fairly good. You’ve got a lot of moving parts, and Friedrich is successfully fleshing out Robin’s supporting cast over the course of these backups. He’s doing a good job of cramming a ton into these stories, and the payoff is exponential, as each new story builds on what came before. Curiously, his writing is much less melodramatic and touchy-feely here. The protagonist is faced with interesting challenges, and his stories being set in one of the most volatile and controversial areas of American culture during this period provides lots of plot and character possibilities. This particular setup is intriguing, though I’m hoping there’s more to the mystery than meets the eye. At the least, the issue of the orange shoes remains to be resolved, but I imagine there will be more going on with Hank Osher as well. Taken in isolation, this little story is way too brief and incomplete to be successful, but in context, it makes for a solid step along the way for this arc. I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, as it loses a bit for making Robin take a dive in the opening pages.
Brave and the Bold #94
“Rebels in the Streets”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Ohh Bob Haney. Crazy, zaney Bob Haney. This story is definitely a product of the Zaney one, and its contrast with this month’s issue of Batman is really telling of Haney’s disregard for continuity or characterization. He is definitely in a world all his own. This tale also deals with youth involvement, protest, and radicalism, but in Haney’s own inimitable style, upping the ante to a ludicrous degree.
The crazy is evident right from the start, as Commissioner Gordon and the army have the Gotham ghetto cordoned off because they’ve received a threat that the youth of the area have acquired an atomic bomb. Yep, you read that right. While the Brave Barons just got some regular old explosives, these enterprising youngsters went out and bought themselves some radioactive materials and built their very own weapon of mass destruction! They want to negotiate, and The Bomb is their bargaining chip. Batman is heading into the slums to meet with the kids of STOPP (Society to Outlaw Parent Power, a Bob Haney name if ever there were one).
On the way in, a punk with a switchblade jumps him, but the Dark Knight easily disarms the kid, and offers to go with him peacefully. It’s a nice little moment. The revolutionaries blindfold the Masked Manhunter and bring him to their leaders, Mark, Chino, and Linda, who fill him in on the situation. From the beginning, the tensions between this trio are evident, and the atmosphere is thick with animosity for anything and everything.
They’ve got that late 60s ‘rebelling against the whole world’ vibe in spades. The trio tell the hero that ‘The Genius Dropout’ built their a-bomb, which is a pretty impressive feat for someone who didn’t finish high school. They give Bats a copy of the plans as evidence and send him back to the powers that be. Once convinced, the city has the Caped Crusader contact Mark once more to get their demands.
In the meantime, Batman is desperate to keep the peace, even begging for the President not to send in the National Guard and to give him time to resolve things peacefully. Yet, Commissioner Gordon is not so patient, and he’s starts rounding up protestors and cracking down on the city. It’s almost like being held for ransom by an atomic weapon is serious or something! Friction develops between the old friends, and the Dark Knight keeps defending the kids, who, once they start playing with atomic weapons, seem to me to have graduated from youths to terrorists rather definitively. Caught between the two groups, the hero calls in backup, young backup, and the Teen Titans come to help.
Robin and Lilith show up ‘in mufti’ (civilian garb), while Kid Flash and Wonder Girl come in costume. The first pair infiltrates STOPP to try and find the bomb while the others act as backup. The kids are well organized and paranoid, but fortunately the Titans have laid their plans well, so they are accepted, provisionally. As the two costumed kids search the town, Dick and Lilith join Chino to deliver their demands, which they do, with a bomb for some reason. As Batman is trying to calm the powers that be, there’s an explosion outside city hall, and when the smoke clears, STOPP’s demands are on the door, like a set of theses. On the way back, the undercover pair get spotted by the cops, so they knock Chino out and have their backup rescue them.
The kid’s demands are actually pretty reasonable for the most part, though there are some glaring exceptions. They want slumlords prosecuted, pushers arrested, and their garbage picked up. Basically, they want the laws enforced, but they also want ghetto schools closed and all of their agitating fellows released. Most outrageous of all, they want several public figures, including Gordon and Batman himself, locked up as a sign of good faith. Keep in mind, all of this is being enforced by threat of atomic annihilation. I can’t emphasize that enough. While people very reasonably insist on rational actions, like evacuating the city, Batman insists that they kowtow to the terrorists’…er…I mean kids’ demands.
Meanwhile, the search goes on with no luck, until the Dark Detective reasons that he might be able to find this Dropout Genius if he checks school records. He tracks the underage Unabomber down, but discovers that he’s been arrested at the protests and has lost his memory. Sure! Why not! With no time left because of Batman’s insistence on not evacuating, the city caves and agrees to all demands. Yet, even that doesn’t stop the madness. It’s almost like folks crazy enough to threaten to blow themselves sky-high shouldn’t be trusted to make rational choices!
Linda, one of the three leaders, refuses to surrender the bomb, swearing that the powers that be will never keep their word. Yikes, and we thought Kitten was a crazy chick! She only planed to blow up a single building. This girl makes her look like an amateur as she plans to murder a town! Linda steals the weapon and hides it somewhere else, so the Titans track her down. Lilith uses her powers to invade the girl’s mind, but for some reason, she doesn’t just find the bomb’s location. Instead, there’s a whole song and dance about what made the young harpy what she is as the psychic explores her past. Apparently, Linda’s mother left her with relatives when she was young, and she had major abandonment issues. She ran away when her mother was going to return seven years later, so the Titans figure that the mother is the key to the girl’s psyche…or something.
The revolutionaries agree to help the team find the woman, and we eventually get a big, emotional reunion, as the hurt daughter lashes out at her mother before finally making up in tears. Ohh, and she also gives up the bomb. Sheesh. Maybe I’m being a little unreasonable, but I sorta’ don’t think that someone who is willing to nuke an entire city for no reason really deserves a happy ending. Either way, the story ends with Gordon and Batman strolling off into the sunrise talking about making a better world.
Man, summarizing Zaney Haney ain’t easy! This story is just plain nuts. It’s an entertaining read, (when is Haney NOT entertaining?) but the central premise is just so insane that I can’t get past it. In addition, the reactions of both Batman and Gordon really drive me nuts, as they are completely out of sync with what is happening in the story. After discovering that STOPP had hidden a freaking atomic bomb in a statue of the Dark Knight, the Commissioner treats it like a delightful prank by a precocious child. He actually laughs about their antics. The tone is wildly out of measure with the situation. ‘Those darn kids and their atomic weapons! Haha! What rascals!’ That’s just a completely bonkers response to attempted mass-murder.
In addition, look at the difference between Batman’s portrayal in this story and in his own title. In his own book, the Caped Crusader is completely unwilling to negotiate with the gang when they cross the line from activism to terrorism, which seems rather fitting for his character. In this one, he goes to incredible extremes to make sure that everybody complies with the little terrorists. He’s completely sympathetic with their goals and even excuses their methods. That’s about as big a difference as you’re going to see. Now, I’m not a huge fan of Haney’s personal demesnes of character portrayals, but I generally don’t find it to be the worst thing ever. Yet, even if your version of a character is different, it should still make some kind of sense! Haney’s treatment of the themes that are clearly very powerfully present in the zeitgeist of youth involvement and the nature of social activism is about as out of touch and ridiculous as his stories usually are, and its weaknesses really show when read concurrently with what other authors were doing with the same ideas at the time.
I know this is a comic, and comics use broad strokes and larger than life characters and situations. Nonetheless, this setup is just too ludicrous and too all over the place to work. As usual, Haney throws in everything including the kitchen sink, with a homemade atom bomb, a trained youth terrorist army that can’t decide if they’re protesting or blowing things up, emotionally damaged women, Batman at odds with the authorities, and undercover teen heroes, and that doesn’t even cover everything!
On the plus side, we get some more of Nick Cardy’s lovely, soft pencils, but unfortunately, it’s a Batman story. Though I love his work, I’m not crazy about his rendition of the Dark Knight. Fortunately, we get some wonderfully atmospheric work on Gotham City and on the revolutionaries and the Titans. Nobody draws the Titans like Cardy! Yet, his art can’t save this tale. I can’t get past the bat-guano premise and the fact that Haney wants us to empathize with terrorists who threaten to nuke their own city, so I’m going to give this one 2 Minutemen. It’s still readable, but rather maddening.
Clearly the state of America’s youth was on the zeitgeist, at least over at DC, at this time. Just in today’s two books we see three different examinations (admittedly of varying quality and thoughtfulness) of the situation. It’s fascinating to see such different perspectives on the issues of the day manifested so clearly in our comics. Let’s see what interesting material our next books hold. Please join me soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age, and until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!