Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 3)

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Welcome to another dose of Bronze Age goodness!  We’re moving through March of 1971, and I’ve got a pair of issues and a foursome of stories for you today, my good readers.  I hope that y’all will enjoy my coverage of these 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 #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.


Detective Comics #409


Detective_Comics_409“Man in the Eternal Mask!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Night of the Sharp Horns!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got a decent if not particularly spectacular Batman tale in our headline slot.  It features a mystery that is more about the ‘why’ than the ‘who,’ which culminates in an appropriately dramatic confrontation.  The story begins with an unseen assailant attacking a portrait hanging in a museum and scrawling “Die Jinx, Die!” onto the canvas (shades of Ace Ventura!).  In the morning, the vandalism is discovered, and neither the curator nor the security guard can figure out why or how the artwork was attacked.  After all, it’s a portrait of a beloved philanthropist who no-one had cause to hate.

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Meanwhile, Batman pays a visit to the artist of the piece, Rene Leclerq, where he is due for his own portrait.  That’s a bit odd.  I can’t really see the Dark Knight just standing around in an artist’s studio when he could be prowling the streets.  ‘Well, there’ve been 10 muggings and 3 murders while I sat around here, but that is a darn good likeness!’  Robbins needs the Masked Manhunter to get involved in the plot, but I have to think there was a better way to accomplish that.  Either way, when Leclerq prepares to resume work on the hero’s portrait, he finds it has also been defaced with a similar message.

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Batman reasons that, though there are many people who might find him a jinx, the only connection between this incident and the first is the artist himself.  Though Leclerq can think of no-one who would hold a grudge against him, the Caped Crusader arranges a trap, hoping that a public unveiling of the repaired painting will flush the deranged art critic into the open.  Yet, when the painting is revealed, there isn’t a sign of a telling reaction from anyone in the crowd, though the pair do notice Tracy Calhoun, the “Adonis Athlete,” a football star that the artist had painted five years before.  The Law of Conservation of Detail should make you sit up and take notice of this.

That night, Batman lies in wait for the anti-art attacker, and when a dark figure lashes out at the portrait, he finds more than he bargained for, as it leaps to life and grapples his knife away from him.  The Dark Knight has posed as his own portrait, which is a tad Looney Toons-ish, but I’ll give it a pass.  After a struggle, the vandal lands a lucky blow and knocks the hero out for a while.  Sadly, this doesn’t quite count for our Head-Blow Headcount, as Bats takes it on the chin and not the back of the noggin.

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Nonetheless, when he staggers to his feet, he realizes that the fight actually pointed him to a suspect, as his opponent had a “chin like a rock,” and was obviously very athletic.  This makes him think of Tracy Calhoun, who was described in just such a fashion during his heyday.

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The mystery of why Calhoun would want to destroy Leclerq’s art remains, and when the Masked Manhunter goes to find the artist, he discovers that he’s been called to an unknown client’s house in the middle of the night.  Deducing what is afoot, the Caped Crusader speeds to Calhoun’s house while the young man confronts the artist and explains why he hates him.

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Apparently, on the last day of their sittings, Leclerq begged for a few minutes more after their time had run out, and Calhoun reluctantly agreed.  Then, late for a date, he sped away recklessly and suffered a terrible car wreck that left him horribly scarred.  When the artist protests that he’s as handsome as he ever was, the embittered athlete removes one of those ubiquitous life-like masks, which are apparently available in every corner store in comic universes, to reveal a terrible, shattered visage.

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Clearly insane after the loss of his good looks, which he let define him, Calhoun blames Leclerq for the accident caused by his own recklessness, and he’s decided that the man must suffer.  The former footballer first destroys his own portrait with a saber, then prepares to pinion the painter as well.  Just then, Batman arrives, and while Calhoun holds him at bay for a time, eventually he is once again hoisted by his own petard, as he strikes his portrait while preparing a blow, and the entire heavy painting collapses off the wall, crushing him.  He had accidentally cut the supports when he attacked the artwork, and the object of his hatred destroyed him.  Unfortunately, the final image is rather more comical than tragic, with the madman’s arms and legs poking out of the canvas like he’s a cartoon character.

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This is a solid enough story, and the ‘attractive person turned hideous and embittered’ is an old archetype that still works pretty well.  It was nicely subverted in the Freedom Force villain Shadow, but we’ve seen it played straight many times in comics.  Dr. Doom, anyone?  We certainly all know folks who are too concerned with their appearances, so it isn’t hard to imagine someone so obsessed that a loss of their beauty would send them over the edge.

I enjoy the irony of the final confrontation, as a man who has destroyed his own life by his choices insists on blaming someone else, only to have his continued self-destructive choices finally finish the job.  It’s not the most memorable story, but it does its work well enough, even if it is a bit too rushed to give us much of a real mystery.  I’ll give it an average 3 Minutemen.

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“Night of the Sharp Horns”


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The backup tale, however, once again proves better than the headline.  We pick back up with Batgril’s adventures in Spain as she searches for the mysterious figure who had killed the arrogant but aging El Granados’s bull the night before.  She had just discovered that another sword was missing from the estate, so she takes to the grounds in order to keep a watch.  Her lonely vigil is rewarded with the sight of a cloaked figure slipping into the pastures where he begins to perform multiple passes with the chosen bull, El Aguila.  Babs thinks that his athleticism and agility mark him as Paco, the young firebrand who had rescued the older bullfighter in the ring during his last performance. 

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Detective409-25Just as the stranger prepares to slay his bovine opponent, Batgirl intervenes, snaring his sword in her cape.  When the bull charges, she rescues the trespasser and realizes that her suspicions were correct.

Yet, the young man denies that he had killed the previous bull, and when he escapes (ungrateful punk), she finds her hands full dealing with the now unencumbered El Aguila.  Making like a Minoan, the daring dame leaps over the bull’s horns and runs to the estate’s arena for safety.

Detective409-26

Yet, that safety proves short-lived, as a dark figure appears riding a massive bull!  Charging her like some particularly awesome cavalryman, the bull-rider tries to skewer the young heroine with a sword.  Fortunately, Babs has some skill with a rope, and she lassos the bull, sending her assailant flying into the air.  After hog-tying the beast in a fashion that would make the Vigilante proud, she confronts her attacker, who is revealed to be Manolos, the aged servant of El Granados!

Detective409-29

What was he doing killing his master’s bovine opponents?  He tells the girl detective that he was still faithful, but his master was getting too old to continue his career, so he had set out to kill the bulls before they killed the bullfighter, knowing that former champion was too stubborn to retire.  El Granados himself arrives and confronts his old friend.  While angry at first, he realizes the truth of Manolos’ words, and he agrees not to fight again.  As they reconcile, Batgirl vanishes.

Detective409-30

It’s a nice ending, but it sort of leaves an important point unaddressed.  While everyone can probably forgive the killing of the bulls (except PETA), Manolos did also straight-up try to murder Batgirl.  He attacked her with a sword while mounted on a charging bull.  I don’t think he just wanted to scare her!  That bit of craziness aside, this is a good story, and the two-part tale gives us a surprising amount of character development and drama, while also delivering some nice action.  Batgirl herself comes off much better in this half, as she doesn’t get knocked out by a hat or anything equally embarrassing.  I’m impressed by how successful Robbins is at creating a character-driven mystery with such little space to work with.  The reconciliation between the bullfighter and his mentor is suitably touching, and Paco’s arrogant attempts at stealing his rival’s glory provides a solid, if somewhat unlikely, red herring.  I was impressed with Don Heck’s work on this feature, and I’m not always a big fan of his superhero art.  He turned out several really pretty pages and nice, dynamic action sequences here.  In general, this is a good backup story, doing a lot with a little.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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The Flash #204


The_Flash_Vol_1_204“The Great Secret Identity Expose!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Mind-Trap”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Murphy Anderson

Our Flash headliner for today is something of an oddball.  There’s really not that much too it, and if it weren’t for the fact that last month’s bonkers issue was penned by Robert Kanigher, who is also the schizophrenic scribe responsible for this screwball story, I’d think that it was an attempt to immediately bury the bizarre retcon of that tale.  As is, the yarn seems somewhat pointless.

This outing begins the morning after last issue’s decade-spanning daring-do, with Barry and his wife celebrating their safe return from the future and reminiscing about Iris’s uncovered origin.  I always enjoy these little domestic moments between the couple, and this one has the potential to be charming, though not much is made of it.  They are admiring the locket that had been sent into the past with her when their reverie is interrupted by a call that sets them on a new adventure.  The call summons Iris to cover a banquet honoring a business tycoon, and at the function, the reporter suddenly leaps up and declares that the guest of honor is, in fact, a fraud!

flash204-03

Barry, thinking fast (‘natch), pulls her out of the ballroom, only to discover she has no idea she said anything.  Just then, the police arrive to confirm her declaration.  Apparently, the fellow is a fraud, having kidnapped the real business magnate and masqueraded as him.  Determined newshoud that she is, Iris charges off to get the story, leaving her husband stunned.

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He changes in to the Flash, just in case, and on their way back from the banquet, the couple sees a pair of disabled musicians playing for donations on the street-corner.  Suddenly, Iris declares that these two are really disguised fugitives.  Naturally, the hidden hoods don’t take too kindly to this, and the Flash has to take them out as they fill the air with bullets, for all the good it does them.  Once more, Iris has no idea what she’s done and refuses to believe either her husband or the shouted threats of the captured gangsters who promise that their organization, the Generic Gang, will get revenge for her actions.

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The next day we get the most interesting part of the issue, where the JLA have a cameo as they arrive en mass to testify in court about one of their cases.  What makes this interesting is that here we’ve got a story that implies the existence of something equivalent to the cape laws in the Watchmen, where superheroes can give testimony in costume, which is neat in a nerdy kind of way.  And after all, nerdy kinds of neat are really our bread and butter here at The Greylands.

flash204-09

Iris is a very stubborn woman.  I sympathize, Barry!

Anyway, as Batman prepares to take the stand, Iris suddenly leaps up and reveals that he is really Bruce Wayne!  Fortunately, once more Barry is quick on the uptake and he chatters his teeth at super-speed in order to scramble the soundwaves of her dramatic courtroom confession.  I guess that makes sense in a comic-booky kind of way, but it’s a bit of a stretch.

flash204-10

Batman, who of course can read lips, realizes what has just happened as the Flash scoops the renegade reporter up and zips her out of the courtroom.  In a telephone booth  Barry again confronts his wife with her actions, and she swears that she doesn’t even known the League’s identities.  Suddenly, Superman summons the Scarlet Speedster and declares that he’s needed for an emergency meeting of the League.  The Fastest Man Alive has to do some fast talking as he tries to explain what even he doesn’t understand.  The JLA is understandably concerned, and Flash tells his teammates that there is clearly something going on and vows that if he doesn’t get it sorted out in 24 hours, they’ll never see him or his wife again.

flash204-13

Superman is being super-pushy.

When he goes to find Iris, the Flash discovers that she’s been kidnapped by members of the Generic Gang, which is gunning for her.  They hustle her into an armored truck, and somehow the man who can move at the speed of light can’t get to their victim before the doors close.  The Fastest Man Alive takes after the fleeing gangsters, taking their pursuit car out in a blink and conveniently overhearing that the door of the armored truck is rigged to blow if opened.

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Ahead, the drivers of the truck bail out, sending their vehicle careening into the drink.  The hoods hose down the dock with machine gun fire, but the Flash takes them out easily in an admittedly fun sequence.  He dives off of the dock and tears the armored doors open by projecting his vibrations forward like a cutting beam, which seems a bit out of his usual line, and then zips Iris away before the explosives can blow.

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I do enjoy how the entire sequence takes place while the truck is in the air, a nice display of Flash’s speed, if a bit awkwardly handled.

Determined that Iris can’t just be left around to blurt out secret identities willy-nilly, the Scarlet Speedster determines to go to the future with her where both she and his secrets will be safe.  His wife objects that he can’t give up his life (regardless of the fact that he’s also giving up her life), and he replies that she’s his wife, for better or worse, so where she goes, he goes, which is fairly sweet.  However, on the way, their progress is halted, and her locket begins to glow and emit energy waves.  Somehow Barry deduces from basically no evidence that the locket had absorbed some weird temporal energies, and it was the source of her sudden ESP, so they return to their own time and Iris agrees never to wear the necklace again.  Problem solved.

flash204-20

In a  fun bit of synchronicity, “The Ballad of Barry Allan” came on my radio station while I was writing this feature.  Very apropos!This is a weird little tale.  It’s entertaining enough, but the resolution is pretty random, about as random as the gimmicky conflict that drives the plot itself.  The Generic Gang are little more than mobile obstacles to Barry, offering no real threat to the Fastest Man Alive.  This supervillain drought is really starting to get old.  One wonders just why writers were for so long unwilling to use Flash’s villains, who comprise one of the best rogue’s gallery in comics.  It makes absolutely no sense, though I suppose it’s indicative of a  larger trend.  Super villains are very scarce in general these days.

While the League’s cameo is neat, Kanigher doesn’t really do much with their interview with the speedster.  Almost any line spoken by one of the heroes could have been assigned to another one without making any difference.  Barry’s willingness to give up his life to stay with his wife is sweet, but it really feels like he gives up on solving the problem way too easily.  With all the resources that the League has to bring to bear on something like this, it seems worth at least one visit to the Satellite or something.  In the end, this is a forgettable and somewhat pointless little story, with a goofy, logic-leaping conclusion.  On the plus side, Irv Novick’s art is great on the Flash, if a little light on details in the action sequences.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  Man, Kanigher’s score are just all over the place!

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In a  fun bit of synchronicity, “The Ballad of Barry Allan” came on my radio station while I was writing this feature.  Very apropos!


“The Mind Trap”


flash204-22

We get another Steve Skeates penned Kid Flash backup here, and I’m always happy to see part of the SAG team in action.  The story Skeates spins is very promising, but unfortunately it’s rather starved for space.  Its premise is an old but enduring one, featuring a mind-hopping villain, something of a telepathic virus, traveling from host to host.  It has shades of many a horror tale, though this version doesn’t manage to harness a harrowing horror tone. 

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It begins with Wally West and the rest of his class on a tour of an exhibit on ancient Egypt at the local museum, hearing a legend about a terrible tyrant, Pharaoh Rama-Skeet (Skeates having some fun at his own expense?), who swore that death wouldn’t stop his drive for power.  Just then, a car wreck outside attracts their attention, and the kids watch in wonder as a man pronounced dead suddenly stands up and hurries off in an imperious manner.  Wally switches into his ‘work’ clothes and takes after the apparently stunned man.  When he finds the fellow, the man touches him, and Kid Flash suddenly finds himself fighting a terrible mental battle, realizing that this is the spirit of Rama-Skeet trying to wrest control of his mind away.

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Wally sinks into darkness and knows no more until he finally comes to himself several minutes later, having just touched someone else.  The young hero watches helplessly as the man undergoes the same mental trauma that he himself had faced, but he wonders why the spirit would leave a super speedster for a regular Joe.  He begins to suspect that the 15 minutes the ghost inhabited his mind might be all the still weakened Pharaoh can manage at once.  This is a bit of a jump, and if the story had more room to breathe, we might have seen this pattern repeated once or twice more to really establish it.  As is, Skeates is working at a feverish pace.

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In order to throw the power-mad phantom off his guard as he begins to rant and rave, Kid Flash kneels before him, but this is just a ploy, and the Fastest Boy Alive slams into super-speed, dragging the possessed man behind him.  He plans to keep the host helpless until the 15 minute limit is up in the hopes that the spirit will be destroyed by the host’s mind in that time.  Though the task is incredibly taxing on a body already exhausted by his mental struggle, the teen hero manages to keep up the pace until the Egyptian ghost runs out of time.  With a terrible cry, the specter departs, leaving his host confused but unharmed.  Exhausted but victorious, Kid Flash collapses to rest.

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This is a fine little story, but it could have been much, much better with some space to grow.  This kind of challenge, as Wally himself admits, is really out of his line, but his solution to the problem is really fairly brilliant.  Despite that, the very brief tale just didn’t have the time to develop the creepy atmosphere and mystery that these types of plots really thrive on, and the result is that the villain is both entirely forgettable (having almost no real dialog) and not terribly threatening.  That’s a shame, as this could have been much more.  I suppose we must judge a story on what it is and not what it could have been, so I will give this too-brief tale 3 Minutemen, as it is enjoyable if not impressive.

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P.S.: Interestingly, I am apparently not the only fan wondering where all the supervillains have gone.  This issue includes a letter demanding their return and marveling at their long absence.  Notably, this letter is written by future DC luminary, Bob Rozakis!  Rozakis, DC’s future Answer Man, got his start in these very letter columns, which would also be where he would do much of his work on the other side of the pen.  I love things like this, little traces of DC history buried in their letters.  How neat!


 

And on that note, I’ll wrap up today’s post.  I hope that y’all enjoyed my commentary and found something interesting and worth your time herein.  Though these weren’t the most amazing issues, they have their moments.  The real highlights of this month await is in the books to come.  Our next post will introduce Forever People #1, the next Kirby Fourth World book, so don’t miss that!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

2 comments on “Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 3)

  1. B Smith says:

    Wouldn’t have picked Robert Kanigher for a name dropper, but the character Forrest Acker in that Flash story is surely a wave to Forrest J Ackerman (look him up in Wikipedia if you’re not familiar with the name; no couple of words could describe his activities and accomplishments).

    • Benton Grey says:

      Why, you must be right about that! Ackerman would certainly have been on the radar of someone like Kanigher, and the fellow actually looks a bit like Ackerman on the page. What a neat little Easter Egg!

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