- 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 #201
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Forever People #1
“In Search of a Dream!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Pencilers: Jack Kirby and Al Plastino
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby
With the thunder of a boom tube and the roaring of the Super-Cycle, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World arrives in earnest! It is in these three new books, Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle, completely his own creations, that the King’s long-awaited vision, his long cultivated ideas, really come into their own. Jimmy Olsen has been teasing something vast and wondrous beyond the horizons of the known reaches of the DC Universe, but The Forever People dives in more directly, while the other books will go further still.
And it all begins with the very Kirby set of characters on this cover, the Forever People, a group of free-spirited teenagers and part of the vast tapestry of stories and characters Kirby wove around the concept of the New Gods. Curiously. these particular characters haven’t amounted to much over the years. They’re probably the element of the Fourth World that has found the least traction in the wider DC Universe. While the saga of Darkseid and Orion has provided the backdrop for many an epic adventure and the daring Mr. Miracle has found his place with the Justice League, these kids never quite found their niche. I remember that being at least somewhat the case from the very beginning, so I’m curious to see how these issues will hold up to my memories.
The cover itself is more interesting than compelling. It sets up a bit of a mystery, and it’s a mystery that the story within does develop to a degree, but I think its strongest feature are the incredibly Kirby-ish characters front and center. They’re a wonderfully colorful and lively looking group, and they fit the very distinctive aesthetic that the King was developing for the New Gods, sort of a shiny, sci-fi take on his classic Asgardian designs. Their individual designs aren’t all successful. Mark Moonrider in particular has a bit too much going on, what with the superfluous loincloth worn over his pants. Nonetheless, they’re certainly striking.
Their first tale begins with the introduction of that constant feature of Fourth World stories, the boom tube, a glowing trans-dimensional portal accompanied by an otherworldly sound, and, in this case, by rhyming verse, which is an interesting and unusual way to start a comic. From the portal emerge the Forever People, a colorful quartet riding an amazing vehicle, the Super-Cycle, in a two-page spread that I have to imagine was more impressive before Vinnie Colletta got his hands on it. I’ve searched for a picture of the original pencils, but no luck. Still, it’s a nice first look at our young heroes as they come careening onto the Earth. As we will discover in a few pages, these are the Forever People, Mark Moonrider, Big Bear, their hippy-looking pilot, Vykin, and Serifan, whose costume I’ve always rather liked.
They’re headed for a collision with a teenage couple in a conventional car, but they phase through the automobile, saving themselves, but seemingly dooming the other kids. Just as their car flies over a cliff, those startled youths are rescued by Vykin the Black, (or Vykin, the inappropriately named), and his Mother Box. We then get the first of our evocative but incredibly vague and contradictory Jack Kirby descriptions of his crazy Fourth World concepts, as the Forever People argue over exactly what a Mother Box is.
While Mark Moonrider tells the rescued couple that it’s like a computer, Vykin strenuously objects that Mother Box lives and talks to them. At this point, I can only assume the human kids have become convinced they’ve meet a group of madmen. The young New Gods tell their newfound friends that they’ve arrived on Earth from a place called ‘Supertown’ to rescue someone called ‘Beautiful Dreamer,’ a vital mission, but they pleasantly agree to let the kids take some pictures for their friend, Jimmy Olsen.
As the couple departs, Serifan falls into a trance, and his friends note that he’s made contact with Beautiful Dreamer, but they are being watched by malevolent eyes! A group of hi-tech thugs has spied the team’s arrival, and we discover that they are members of Intergang who report to none other than Darkseid! Our still mysterious menace tells his flunkies to follow but not to engage and warns them that the kids are more than they appear.
Meanwhile, at the Daily Planet, Clark Kent is just finishing up an interview with the heavyweight champ, who confesses to the reporter that he feels like his accomplishments are insignificant when a being like Superman is around who can do pretty much anything. He and Lex Luthor should form a support group! The dialog is a bit over the top and goofy, but the sentiment is actually an interesting one, and the theme of the Man of Steel’s presence having unintended sociological consequences has, of course, become much more common these days. Once again, Jack Kirby was ahead of his time.
The encounter leaves the Last Son of Krypton introspective and lonely, feeling like he doesn’t really fit in on Earth, something that is becoming a recurring theme in the last few months. His reverie is interrupted by the arrival of Jimmy Olsen, who has brought his friends’ bizarre pictures to show off. With his telescopic vision, Clark spots an alien city at the center of the picture of the boom tube. There’s a rather hokey bit as Superman gets hung-up on the idea that there is a place called ‘Supertown,’ but the upshot is he decides to investigate these strange travelers.
On his way to intercept the Forever People, the Man of Steel is spotted by Intergang, traveling the same route in a helicopter, and, on orders from Darkseid, they turn their fancy new weapons on the Kryptonian. Their ray guns hurt him, but he is Superman after all. In a nice looking sequence, the Metropolis Marvel rips up a tree and hurls it through the helicopter. Seeing this, the Forever People assume that the new arrival must be another volunteer from Supertown, but before he can explain, they declare that Mother Box has located Beautiful Dreamer nearby. The kids can’t fix her location, but Superman’s x-ray vision spots an underground entrance.
Unfortunately, the hatch is booby-trapped, and it releases a “toxi-cloud,” which the Man of Tomorrow blows away by whipping up a whirlwind. Just as he finishes his spin, he’s snatched out of the air by a brutish pair of purple paws! A group of Darkseid’s minions called ‘Gravi-Guards’ attack, and one of them pins the hero to the ground by transmitting “gravity waves from heavy mass galaxies,” which almost actually makes sense.
Realizing that they’re outclassed, the Forever People all put their hands to Mother Box and call out “Tarru!” They switch places with a strange new champion named ‘The Infinity Man,’ who seems to have reality warping powers, declaring that he comes from the place “where all of natural law shifts and bends and changes,” allowing him to reverse the effects of the Gravi-Guards powers and send them flying. With a casually tremendous blow, Infinity Man sends Superman’s antagonist crashing cross-country.
Declaring to the recovering hero that he’s an ally of the Forever People, the Infinity Man offers the vague and sinister pronouncement that Darkseid has kidnapped Beautiful Dreamer in his search for something ominously called “The Anti-Life Equation!” Dun-dun-DUN! With a name like that, it seems unlikely that this is a good thing. The strange alien champion calls out a challenge to Darkseid, demanding that he show himself, and just then the man-god himself appears, looking very 80s cartoon villain-ish in his cape. Declaring that the girl is of no use to him as her mind refuses to give him what he seeks, the Apokoliptian ruler raises her from underground but promises that sooner or later he will find what he’s looking for, and then he will us it to “snuff out all life on Earth–with a word!”
At that, the villain vanishes, and the two heroes discover that the girl is rigged to a bomb. Trusting in being faster than a speeding explosion, Superman scoops up Infinity Man and Beautiful Dreamer, and he kicks it into high gear to escape the blast. When they land, the Man of Steel’s questions are interrupted by the return of the Forever People as the Infinity Man disappears, leaving them in his place. When they ask how they can thank him for his help, Superman replies that he wants to see Supertown. The kids argue that the Kryptonian’s powers are needed there on Earth in light of the threat posed by Darkseid, but he insists that he has to investigate this place. They open a boom tube for him, but consumed by guilt, he turns back at the last moment. Superman hopes he’ll have the chance to visit Supertown someday, but realizes he can’t go yet….which is a bit silly. His obsession with the place, just because it’s called ‘Supertown,’ is goofy, as he has no other real reason to think there is anything there for him. What’s more, presumably he could have jumped through the portal, checked things out, and come back right away. There’s no immediate danger, so the guilt-trip was a bit much.
Aside from the slightly silly ending, how does this issue stack up? Well, it’s good fun from beginning to end, packed full of new concepts and the products of Kirby’s ever-expansive imagination. The Forever People themselves had a lot more personality right from the beginning than I remembered. They bicker and argue in friendly fashion, and their characters have some shape already. However, they don’t really do too much for this to be their book. Other than using the Mother Box to save the runaway car, all they do is switch into Infinity Man, who is certainly cool in action but far too vague in that very Kirby fashion to be fully grasped yet. It’s also worth noting that Vykin’s sobriquet is pretty tone-deaf, though of course this is only 1971. Still, we’re getting to the point where folks are realizing that naming a Black character ‘black,’ is maybe a bit much. Nonetheless, there’s something to be said for Kirby with his inclusion of a black character with this team in an era where almost every hero was still white.
There’s plenty here to catch a reader’s interest and make them want to find out what is going on, but sharing space with Superman means that the Forever People get a bit short-shrift in their own first issue. Darkseid’s appearance is also a bit strange and surprising. This is our first real meeting with him, and the fact that he gives in, even though he double-crosses the heroes, doesn’t seem quite in character with the supreme villain he will grow into. It’s not the most impressive first showing for great and powerful Darkseid.
It’s really interesting to see the Forever People’s gestalt setup with the Infinity Man. It’s very Captain Planet, (“With our powers combined!”) and one can’t help but wonder if they didn’t inspire that later-day character in some fashion. Fortunately, the Forever People don’t have that annoying ‘Heart’ kid that was shoehorned into being the ‘real’ hero every freaking episode. *Ahem* Where was I? Ohh, right! The art is good throughout, of course, but it isn’t quite as spectacular as what will eventually populate these pages. Of course, the Superman issue remains, as I discussed previously, and the resulting changes to Kirby’s art leave the Man of Steel looking a bit awkward from time to time. The story itself is a good read, with some exciting action and several hooks for further development. The silly elements and the vagueness of some of the concepts hold it back from being great, but it’s still a solid comic. I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.
P.S.: We’ve got another text piece in this issue, but this time it isn’t by Kirby himself. It’s actually a reflection by Marv Wolfman on a meeting with the King just before the younger creator had broken into comics. It’s a charming read and a neat peak behind the curtain.
G.I. Combat #146
“Move the World”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler/Inker: Russ Heath
Editors: Joe Kubert and Robert Kanigher
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler/Inker: Joe Kubert
“A Flower for the Front”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
“The Secret Battle Eye”
Writer: Hank Chapman
Penciler/Inker: Joe Kubert
“The Bug That Won an Island”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
“Battle Tags for Easy Co.”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler/Inker: Joe Kubert
We’ve got a standard type of cover for Haunted Tank stories, promising a deadly surprise for the crew. It’s decent enough, but not the best of its type that we’ve seen. The same could be said of what’s inside. This was a solid if unspectacular Haunted Tank tale. Most notably, the titular haunting spirit’s customary cryptic advice is actually almost useful, which is a nice change of pace. As usual for this book, I’ll only cover that feature and not the various backups.
This story opens with a bang as the Haunted Tank and two other armored units are traveling through a dark desert night, only to have it suddenly lit up by explosions as they are cut to pieces by Nazi anti-armor half-tracks. Jeb manages to get the Tank down into a ravine where they have cover, but the vehicles gets stuck. Just then, their own gray ghost appears and tells Jeb “if you put your back into it […] you can move the world!” While this sounds like his usual enigmatic nonsense, there is actually practical advice in his proclamation.
The tank commander hustles the crew outside, and with all of them straining mightily, they manage to free the Stuart. Just as the Nazi infantry is approaching the ravine to finish them off, the Haunted Tank bursts out, guns blazing, and cuts a path through them. Moving at top speed, they manage to avoid the fire of the halftracks. They manage to knock one of them out, but that leaves three to chase them, any one of which has a gun big enough to punch through the hide of the light tank. Jeb and co. lose their company in the desert night and head towards Fort Solitary, which they are ordered to hold at all costs.
On the way, they encounter a lone G.I. holed up in a ruined house and trading fire with a German unit. Just as the tank pulls up, he manages to finish off his opponents by kindly returning one of their grenades to them. The young man introduces himself as Ulysses, named for the “Greek G.I. who was kicked around for seven years…after his war ended,” which is an interesting way of looking at the epic, rather fitting for a fellow in a warzone. Just like his namesake, this young man is the only survivor of his own crew, a patrol from Fort Solitary.
Ulysses boards the metal ship, and they arrive to find Fort Solitary has been wiped out by the Luftwaffe. Jeb knows that the Nazi halftracks are on his trail, so the troops dig in and prepare for the inevitable attack. They pile up rubble around the Tank’s turret to provide cover.
When the Germans attack, their commander thinks Jeb has made a tactical blunder by digging in, but as his other two vehicles move to flank the entrenched position, the body of the Haunted Tank suddenly roars out from behind a hill and shreds one of them, while two of the crew pop out of the smoke on the other flank, hitting their halftrack with Molotov cocktails, sending it up in flames.
Meanwhile, just as the German officer begins to think that he’s attacking a decoy, the turret fires and smashes his vehicle. It turns out that Stuarts are made so that the turret can be detached, and by putting their backs into it, the crew were able to take all three of their enemies.
This is a fairly good story, and the tactics at the end are actually quite clever and a nice solution to the difficult odds the Tank faces. Interestingly, this is probably one of the more realistic Haunted Tank stories, in some ways, as they aren’t running around knocking out Tigers left and right. Instead, they’re up against a set of halftracks with anti-tank guns, which really aren’t good in a stand-up fight. A Stuart might actually be able to win in such an engagement, which is sort of neat to see, even if they go about it in very unorthodox fashion. The inclusion of Ulysses seems a bit unnecessary, as he doesn’t really contribute anything to the plot, so he feels a bit like a dropped thread. Still, the end result is reasonably entertaining. I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.
Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82
“How Do You Fight a Nightmare?”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inkers: Dick Giordano and Bernie Wrightson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Ohh Green Lantern / Green Arrow, what am I going to do with you? There’s a roughness to many of these stories, a feeling of potential present but unrealized, and that is certainly the case for this month’s issue of the book. We’ve got a lot of creative concepts tossed out in these pages, but they are both wildly underdeveloped and in direct contrast to established canon to boot! I’ve heard that O’Neil started to get into mythological threats in his Superman stories, and this issue perhaps heralds the beginning of his interest in that vein of storytelling.
This mythological mash-up of a tale begins with Green Arrow showing up, in full costume no less, at Black Canary’s front door. So much for that secret identity, Dinah! The stupidity of such a move is completely unremarked in the comic, and it is treated as perfectly natural that Ollie would stroll up to Canary’s home in costume. The resultant scene is actually a little charming, as the Emerald Archer announces that, despite the fact that they had agreed to keep their distances until the beautiful bird ‘got her head together,’ he just happened to find himself in the neighborhood with a box of roses. We’re actually getting a bit of character development as their relationship progresses, albeit slowly, in the background of these stories.
However, when Dinah opens the box, she finds, not roses, but monsters! A pair of winged creatures, half women, half birds, burst from the box and attack the heroic couple. They look like the harpies of Greek mythology, but whatever they are, they seem to mean our heroes no good. In what will become a running theme in the issue, Green Arrow attempts to protect Canary, and she resents his interference, pointing out that she’s a big girl and quite capable of looking out for herself. Yet, Ollie’s solution of a tear gas arrow indoors proves to be a rather poor decision, and moments later he hauls the still protesting Canary outside. Dinah let’s her would-be suitor know just what she thinks of his strategy, and then they realize that their avian antagonists have vanished!
Realizing that mythical monsters are a bit out of their line, the heroes decide to reach out to one of their allies who is more experienced in such matters, so naturally, they call…Green Lantern?!? That’s right! After all, who knows more about magic and myth than the science fiction space cop? Surely you wouldn’t turn to Wonder Woman, Aquaman, or even Hawkman, all of whom have a decent amount of experience with myth and mysticism. Nope, Green Lantern, all the way. It’s at this point that we start to realize this story is moving at the speed of plot.
Well, one telegram later, and the Green Gladiator is on his way, only to encounter the harpies himself! He chases them through the sky to a discotheque where he is faced with a strange red-skinned femme fatale who calls herself “The Witch Queen.” She declares her intention to destroy him, and then with a burst of yellow energy, she pulls the hero into the jewel atop her wand. Then, the imprisoned Hal sees the woman’s shadowy ally, who he recognizes with a dramatic “YOU!”
In the meantime, Arrow and Canary get antsy with the Lantern’s long absence, and they decide to investigate on their own. The Emerald Archer finds a strange jewel in the flower box, and he decides to investigate the florist from which he purchased the roses…which really seems like it would have been a good place to start in the beginning, what with the monsters jumping out of the rose box and all. The dynamic dame drives them on her motorcycle, but when they reach the shop, a massive hand smashes Green Arrow’s face through a window, leaving Canary to face the new threat alone.
She finds herself facing three massive women in Greco-Roman style armor, and they speak about destroying the man but not hurting their ‘sister.’ Think you know who these large ladies are? Think again. O’Neil has stranger plans! No shrinking violet, Canary refuses to let these giant girls make a ghost out of Green Arrow, and when one of them moves to ‘chastise’ their wayward ‘sister,’ Dinah takes her out in a nice action sequence. The leader of the women pleads with Canary to join them in their cause, the punishment of mankind, and she tells the fighting female their story.
They are, in fact, Amazons, but not so fast! They aren’t the Amazons you know…the Amazons that are already part of the DC Universe. Instead, they are somehow a different set of Amazons, and O’Neil shows no awareness that DC already has that particular mythic group covered. The tale they tell is that they were champions and defenders of mankind, along with the harpies and their powerful high priestess, but when their leader spurned the advances of a mighty sorcerer, he banished them all to a different dimension, from which they can only escape for short periods at a time with the help of jewels like that which Arrow discovered. Speaking of the Emerald Archer, he finds the entire story dubious and refuses to believe in Amazons and the like, despite the fact that he was on a team with an Amazon for years! There’s a Bob Haney-like disregard for continuity and context at play in this story!
The Amazons promise to prove their claims by bringing the heroes to the Witch Queen, and in the interim, we check in with that very femme fatale, who is going over plans with a familiar figure. Sinestro, the renegade Green Lantern, is her mysterious partner, and he is also apparently her brother, though I’m pretty sure this random sibling never appeared again. The rogue ring-slinger had somehow discovered the dimension of Amazons “by chance” and used his sister to manipulate them, planning to have them help him trap and destroy his nemesis. Being unable to locate Green Lantern, Sinestro decided that his friends were easy to find, so he planned to use them as bait. They were easy to find? Well, I suppose I would take more issue with that if Green Arrow wasn’t waltzing around Dinah’s suburban house in full costume. I suppose he wouldn’t have been too hard to find at that! To complete the trap, Sinestro gave his sister his power ring so she could pretend to have magic powers to throw Hal off-guard. It’s…an odd plan, overly complicated and very random, not exactly Sinestro’s finest work.
Just as he’s finished his helpful exposition, Sinestro’s evil family reunion is interrupted by Green Arrow’s dramatic entrance. As the villain rushes to retrieve his ring, the Emerald Archer draws his bow and lets fly an arrow, pinning the power ring to the wall in a really nice sequence. Claiming he doesn’t need the ring to take on an Earthling, Sinestro charges the Battling Bowman, only to be met with an uppercut and laid low.
When his sister tries her luck, Black Canary pitches in, and we get a really great moment. Ollie thanks the blonde bombshell for saving his life twice that night, and her reply is wonderful, “I’d do it for anyone…astray cat, a politician–just anyone at all!” O’Neil is getting a better handle on these characters, and their banter has become quite charming. There’s a great, rather unusual (for 1971) quality to their relationship that is rather special.
With Sinestro captured, Green Arrow tries to get him to return Hal, but the villain claims the Lantern is trapped in the dimensional prison, which only one man can inhabit at a time. The Amazon leader, realizing they had been duped by a man, offers to lead Canary inside to rescue their friend, and despite Ollie’s protests, in she goes. The dimension is a surreal, utterly alien place, and within Hal fears that the very strangeness of his surroundings might drive him mad. He is scooped up by the harpies and is too stunned to use his ring. The Emerald Crusader is brought to face the high priestess, who is revealed to be Medusa, and her snakeish-hair snares the hero. She looks suitably frightening in Adams’ pencils, though the strange dimension she inhabits doesn’t quite get enough attention to be effective. Just before Green Lantern is crushed by her serpentine hair from hell, Black Canary arrives, and she and the Amazon manage to persuade Medusa to release him, arguing that unjustly slaying a man would stain their honor forever. With the Amazon’s aid, Hal is able to return them to the real world, where they are reunited with a still skeptical Green Arrow who has certainly never traveled to other dimensions or seen other craziness as part of the Justice League and thus has every right to scoff.
This is a weird issue. It’s a fun read, but the treatment of all of its different elements just feels very half-hearted. There’s an imaginative energy here that is interesting, but it’s put to poor use. Basically any one of the concepts that O’Neil tosses out in this tale could provide the fodder for a solid plot, but with all of them falling all over one another and competing for narrative space, the result is a mess of half-baked ideas. We’ve got open contradictions to pretty basic DC continuity in the presence of these ersatz Amazons, who themselves have a really poorly defined ethos. They hate all men because ONE guy betrayed them? That seems a bit much. At least the regular DC Amazons have a pretty legitimate beef with mankind, what with all the murder and mayhem to which they’ve been subject. The idea of creatures of myth having been locked away is an intriguing one, and it has been given much more thorough development in other instances. In this case, the whole setup is just far too vague to really work. All of these elements could really have benefited from stretching the story out over two issues.
We also have a very uninspiring return of a classic villain, the only actual supervillain we’ve seen in all of O’Neil’s issues so far. It’s something of a disappointing showing for Hal’s greatest enemy, with his rather ridiculous plan and Ollie dropping him with one punch. What exactly was the point of having the harpies attack Arrow and Canary? Just to make them call in the Lantern? That seems like a lot of trouble to go to for a fairly simple goal. All of that being said, this issue does have some strengths. Obviously, Adams’ art is beautiful and dynamic, as usual, but he is really firing on all cylinders with this issue. I think the more fantastical elements of this tale really brought out his best. O’Neil, for his part, is doing a much better job with characterization at this point. Ollie is quite charming rather than being insufferable, Hal is hardly doing any naval-gazing at all, and Dinah is growing into the no-nonsense firebrand that she’s meant to be. These qualities help rescue the issue from being a complete failure, and I’ll give the confused muddle of half-baked but fun ideas 2 Minutemen.
That will do it for this batch of books. I hope you enjoyed the read! Please join me again soon (I promise!) for the next set of books in March 1971, as we travel further Into the Bronze Age! Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!
The Head-Blow Headcount:
I can’t believe this, but I actually missed Green Arrow’s second appearance on the Headcount this month! That sock to the skull definitely counts, and he joins the august company once more, giving us our only addition so far this month!