Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 6)

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Hello Internet travelers, you’ve just encountered the final post in this portion of my coverage of DC Bronze Age comics!  Here at the end of this month of mags, we’ve got all Superman, all the time!  They’re a pretty fun set of comics, and they certainly have some interesting qualities, both positive and negative.  They make a pretty fitting set of titles to consider as a cap to this set of features.  Enjoy!

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 #201

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.


Superman #235


Superman_v.1_235“Sinister Scream of the Devil’s Harp!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Denny O’Neil’s tenure on Superman continues, and, quite frankly, I continue to be impressed.  I’m very pleasantly surprised that, under this goofy looking cover with what looks like a hairy brown version of Satan slugging it out with the Man of Steel, there is a good, solid Superman story.  The cover is actually dynamic and interesting enough, though like roughly half of the Metropolis Marvel’s comics from this era, it depicts him being bested by someone inexplicably more “super” than he is.  Somewhat hackneyed concept aside, the real problem is the goofy-looking opponent he faces.  The character, who turns out to be attempting to evoke the goat-footed Greek god Pan rather than the cloven hoofed Devil of medieval imagination and popular culture (one inspired the other, after all), just doesn’t quite fit with the tight-wearing superhero.  Nonetheless, the comic really is a good read.

We join Mr. Mild Mannered himself, Clark Kent, on a rare date with Lois Lane, as the two of them prepare to attend a special concert of a new piano virtuoso, the improbably named Ferlin Nyxly.  There’s some fun bantering between the two, and we actually see Lois displaying some of the pluck and personality we’ve been seeing in her own book, but which seems to have been missing in Superman’s own books since the 50s.

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Fitting, as I don’t see Lois as the classical music type…

Poor Clark, for his part, is still playing second fiddle to his alter ego, but as the pair take their seats, he spots helicopter-borne assassins preparing to bomb the crowd in order to kill a visiting dignitary!  That’s pretty cold blooded!  The Man of Steel does his quick-change routine, stops the bomb with his body, and then yanks the copter down, all the while being hosed down with machinegun fire.  His casual handling of the situation is entertaining, as with last issue, and the complete helplessness of these would-be killers against him makes for a nice contrast with what comes later in our tale.  As he leaves, Supes gives Lois a wave, a simple gesture that will have unintended consequences.

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Yeah, just keep trying.  Maybe you’ll get lucky!

Meanwhile, his antics have attracted the attention of the crowd, and no-one is taking any notice of Nyxly’s playing, causing the musician to berate himself and think back on the strange start to his music career.  It seems that not long ago he was the curator at the Music Museum, where he was cataloging new acquisitions.  He noticed a strange, devilish harp and he played it, an eerie tune resulting, as he lamented that he had never amounted to anything.  Nyxly had always wished to be a musician, and after playing the harp and considering his wish, he suddenly found himself able to play beautifully!

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That night at the concert, the excited susurrus of the crowd is suddenly silenced by the surprising outcry of an old man in the audience, who chastises the concertgoers for their rudeness.  Clark and Lois notice that the man is a former pianist whose skill mysteriously disappeared a few months ago.  What a coincidence!

The next day, Clark narrowly manages to avoid having to read a blistering editorial against himself!  Mr. Corporate Evil himself, Morgan Edge, orders Kent to deliver the message after misinterpreting a picture of the hero waving to Lois and accusing him of grandstanding.  Fortunately, the reporter is saved by the bell, or more accurately, a breaking story, when reports come in of an unidentified flying object over the Atlantic.

The Man of Steel takes the opportunity to get into costume and investigate the matter.  Flying over the watery wastes, he encounters the sand creature created a few issues back, and try as he might to catch up to it, he can’t close in on the strange being.  Meanwhile, the bitter musician broods over his perceived slights, and he strums upon his harp and wishes that he could fly as the Kryptonian does.  Suddenly, Superman plummets out of the sky, no longer able to soar!  The rest of his powers remain, but back in Metropolis, Ferlin Nyxly finds himself floating.  Racing along the waves like the Flash, the Metropolis Marvel finds himself being paced by the sand creature, but he’s unable to communicate with it.

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superman 235 0017Now we hit the one real weakness of the issue.  For some reason, Nyxly feels the need to dress up in a Pan costume from his museum and take to the streets to steal the wealth he’s always coveted.  O-okay?  The story of this weak fellow’s corruption through power is actually pretty good, but the random choice of Pan as his costumed (sort of) identity is a really odd one, especially considering the fact that the Greek deity is associated with Pan pipes (which he’s credited with inventing) rather than harps!  Logic aside, the flying soon-to-be felon zooms around the city before snatching some money bags from an armored car, only to be shot by one of the guards in a rather funny panel.  As he falls to the Earth, Nyxly wishes for invulnerability, and when he hits, he smashes a hole in the pavement but emerges unscathed, flying away and happily ignoring the guards’ bullets.

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Back at the paper as Clark, our hero has coffee spilled on him and is stunned when it actually scalds him.  Before he can investigate this strange occurrence, he’s summoned to observe a broadcast of a challenge by none other than Nyxly, now calling himself “Pan.”  The nascent villain calls Superman a coward and a braggart and dares the hero to meet him for a duel, which thrills Morgan Edge, of course.  Despite his mysteriously flagging powers, Superman refuses to back down from a challenge, and speeds to face ‘Pan.’

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Counting on his remaining abilities, the hero attacks, but Nyxly plays his harp and steals first his speed and then his strength, leaving the former Man of Steel to bruise his knuckles on the villain’s chin.  Suddenly, as Pan toys with his helpless victim, the sand creature races into the stadium and, at Superman’s urging, smashes the harp, breaking the spell.  Having helped his double and despite the Man of Tomorrow’s attempts to communicate, the sand creature leaves as mysteriously as it arrived, leaving Clark to wonder just how they are connected and what this motivates this strange being.

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So, Pan is a weird choice for a supervillain’s nom de guerre, (Freedom Force did it better!) but despite that incongruous element, this is actually a really solid story.  You’ve got some nice action, some good characterization for everyone involved, including the villain, who is given a surprising amount of depth for a one-shot character, and an intriguing resolution.  The ongoing mystery of the Sand-Superman is really a fascinating one, and I’m quite enjoying O’Neil’s treatment of that plot thread.  O’Neil is making the most of the ongoing storytelling in this book, and it is a promising move in general, highlighting the growing complexity of the writing in this era.

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‘Pan,’ despite his silly aesthetic, provides an interesting departure from the usual two dimensional villains we’ve been encountering, as he’s driven to evil much more by his desire for self-realization than by greed or a thirst for power.  I also quite enjoyed the focus on Superman’s ‘never say die’ attitude, despite how hopeless his situation was, but man, would he have been embarrassed if he survived all the brilliant madmen, alien warlords, and rampaging monsters, only to be taken out by this loser!  This was a fun, interesting comic, and I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, taking away some points for Pan’s goofy appearance.

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136


Jimmy_Olsen_136“The Saga of the DNAliens”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Time for some more Fourth World madness!  While all of Kirby’s New Gods books are creative in the extreme, I think there’s little doubt that his Jimmy Olsen series houses his craziest, most ‘out there’ ideas.  All this title’s zany concepts like the Wild Area, the Project, and everything that goes with them, are really unique and unusual, whether they soar or sink.  This issue contains some of both types in the exploration of the mysterious government ‘Project,’ and the attempts of the rival Monster Factory to destroy it.  We get a nice looking Neal Adams cover image, though that yellow background is rather ugly.  Unfortunately, the Hulk…err…I mean the green Jimmy clone, is a bit goofy looking.

This issue we join events already in progress as the Jolly Green Jimmy engages in a massive battle with the newly emerged Guardian clone, while Superman has already been knocked out by his Kryptonite covered fists.  Kirby captures this titanic struggle in a glorious double-page spread.  For a time, Guardian holds his own, relying on his superior agility to counter the monster’s strength, but eventually it lands a devastating blow, stunning the hero.  Jimmy tries to revive Superman, and the creature is momentarily distracted when it notices that the youth shares its face.

 

jimmy olsen 136-06 the saga of the dnaliensSuperman cleverly frees the young reporter from…well…himself, by collapsing the floor beneath them with subtle pressure from his foot, snatching his pal from the crashing creature.  The conflict seems about to renew when suddenly a cloud of smoke explodes from the Incredible Olsen’s own head, and he collapses.  The Legion and their allies are all befuddled by this sudden turn until the Man of Steel reveals a tiny antagonist hidden in the monster’s hair, a miniature paratrooper armed with gas grenades.  Moments later, an entire company of teeny troopers float down around them and assemble a Lilliputian device that covers the creature in liquid nitrogen, freezing him.  To top off the weirdness of this twist, these minuscule military men are all clones of Scrapper!

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jimmy olsen 136-11 the saga of the dnaliensSo, the Project created tiny paratroopers from Scrapper’s DNA?  Were they trying to put the Atom out of a job?  It’s so insane that I hardly know what to say about it, yet, in a certain sense, the idea works.  It’s another of these utterly crazy concepts that Kirby tosses out left and right in this series.  Such crumb-sized commandos would actually be pretty useful, and their role in defeating the monster is certainly an interesting twist in the story.  Still, the choice of Scrapper, as with all of the Newsboy-derived clones, is baffling, though he himself seems thrilled by it, missing out on the existential angst of being cloned without his consent, just like Jimmy did last issue.

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With their unintentional attack having failed, the two Monster Factory scientists find themselves on Darkseid’s bad side, and you really don’t want to be there.  In classic Kirby fashion, the two Apokoliptian’s study a massive, room-sized model of their target, just so the King can provide some visuals of the place, and they ponder their next move.  They decide to use a new and unknown creation and travel down into a special chamber to witness the creatures hatching.

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jimmy olsen 136-21 the saga of the dnaliensMeanwhile, back in the Project, the Legion is thrilled to meet the Guardian and ply him with questions, only to have their fathers reveal that this is not the original hero, but a clone created to replace him.  Sadly, this doesn’t really get explored, but as Superman takes Jimmy on his promised tour of the facility, the young man at least voices some concerns over the dangers of playing God.  I’m glad Kirby at least nodded at the moral and practical issues involved with these concepts, but the story still remains entirely too matter of fact about such things.

During the tour, the pair see the wonders of the Project, including where the young clones are raised (lots of issues there that don’t get explored), and the ‘step-ups,’ advanced clones like the Hairies with incredible intelligence.  Kirby also includes a fairly neat photo-collage, which has a bunch of ‘science-y’ stuff on it.  I think this works better for me than most of such images because what you’re looking at is not supposed to be the same type of 3D object as that portrayed by the regular art.

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Yet, the highlight of their trip is when the Man of Tomorrow introduces his young protege to a rather different kind of tomorrow man, a home-grown alien, the product of radical tweaking of human DNA.  The strange looking fellow named ‘Dubbilex’ bears Jimmy’s slack-jawed amazement with dignity and undeserved good humor.  There’s a certain undercurrent of sadness in this being who had no say in his creation and who now serves as a conversation piece for every big-wig visitor to the place.  The tale ends with the hatching of the mysterious monsters of Simian and Mokkari, four armed creatures that bode ill for our heroes.

jimmy olsen 136-21 the saga of the dnaliensa

‘Hey, do I come to your job and stare at your horrible fashion sense?’

This is a fun story, despite (or perhaps because) of the Kirby’s trademark imaginative insanity. The fight with the Jade-jawed Jimmy clone was dynamic, and its ending was certainly entertaining.  The strange facility itself proves the real star of the issue, and Jimmy’s tour is a fascinating look at the place.  The King is moving quickly, but he’s working to establish an interesting and exciting setting in the Project and its evil opposite.  There’s no question that the concepts he’s introducing are both fascinating and groundbreaking for comics.  It’s just a shame that he’s not making more out of what he’s creating.

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It’s likely that some of the nonchalant attitude surrounding the genetic tinkering and flat-out Frankensteining of the Project results from Kirby’s own hopeful scientific optimism about the power and destiny of the human race.  He seems never to entirely have lost the cheerful outlook and faith in science of 50s science fiction, despite the real world’s failure to deliver on the promise of the shiny utopian visions of earlier fiction.  He sees these things as intrinsically positive, and we’re still a year away from Watergate, so America hasn’t entirely lost faith in the government yet either.  What to modern readers seems incredibly sinister may have been, to a certain extent, quite straight forward to contemporary audiences.  So, despite its shortcomings, this is still an entertaining and intriguing issue, and I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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P.S.: Notably, the letter column for this issue includes a missive from a sharp eyed fan who spotted the touch-ups of Kirby’s art in the previous issues, as well as DC’s rather weak explanation that Kirby was just not used to the characters, so his versions didn’t look right.  The column is otherwise filled with almost universal praise for the King’s new efforts on the book, including letters from several readers who had followed Joltin’ Jack from Marvel, which is pretty neat.


World’s Finest #201


World's_Finest_Comics_201A Prize of Peril!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Our final book this month is something of a mixed bag.  There’s an enjoyable superhero story here, but there are also some rather odd moments as O’Neil makes some strange choices.  Nevertheless, we’re presented with a nicely dynamic cover by Neal Adams (how did he find time to actually draw any books with all the covers he was doing ?).  All of the figures look good, and the framing, with them literally battling over Earth, is rather nice.  Yet, Dr. fate looks a bit odd, just sort of standing in space.  The cover promises some more star-spanning adventure, like some of our previous issues in this series, and we definitely get a fairly non-terrestrial tale, which plays into the strengths of both the protagonists.

It begins with a meteor shower heading towards Earth and being noticed by both Superman and Green Lantern independently.  Each hero sets out to divert the menace, but they end up unwittingly cancelling out each other’s efforts, exacerbating the situation, and the Man of Steel has to race to save a airliner from a rogue meteoroid.  This incident is actually a neat idea, as it is entirely possible that the two heroes most concerned with space might foul one another’s lines as they responded to the same emergency.

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Afterwards, the two heroes investigate why their efforts failed and, finding one another, an argument breaks out.  This is one of the weaknesses of the issue, as their fight is a bit silly.  They immediately blame each other, taking rather mean-spirited shots ant one another.  Superman even tells Lantern that his attitude for the last several months has been lousy.  It all feels just a bit too petty, and while we’ve seen this kind of thing from Hal lately, it seems out of character for Clark.

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Suddenly, the glowing visage of a Guardian appears and berates the two heroes, telling them that this exchange is beneath them, which is actually quite true.  He proposes a contest to help them sort out their differences, saying that the winner will have dominion over atmospheric perils and demands that they meet back in space in 24 hours.

The next day, the contentious champions rendezvous to find that Dr. Fate has seemingly been summoned to create their contest.  They wonder at his being there rather than home on Earth-2, but he waves away their question and shows them a purple dragon, an enchanted object from his universe, that will be the goal of their competition.  Next he conjures two vast, parallel race courses and tells each hero that they must face their gravest fears in order to reach the finish line.

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The race starts, with Green Lantern pondering what awaits him, as he is, after all, fearless.  That’s why his ring chose him.  Along his way, the Emerald Gladiator is suddenly seized by sticky yellow strands.  His ring is helpless against the golden bonds, and he soon finds himself faced with an immense yellow spider.  He is also consumed with fear, despite the fact that he had never really been afraid of bugs before.

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He realizes that, though his ring can’t free him, his own strength can, and he manages to snap his bonds and escape from the trap.  Now, this whole scene works reasonably well.  Obviously, Hal is not really afraid of spiders, but he is afraid of becoming too dependent on his ring and it failing him in his need.  The sequence is effective and exciting, and at least a little insightful on O’Neil’s part.

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wfc20117Superman’s encounter with his greatest fear is not quite so successful.  Suddenly the Man of Steel finds himself confronted by the towering figure of his birth father, Jor-El, and the Kryptonian scientist tells his Earth-raised son that he is terribly disappointed in him because he’s wasted his gifts and not become a man of science.  Okay, that’s rather odd.  Superman’s greatest fear should really have involved either his abusing his powers or his not being able to save someone despite his powers.  Those are really the things that worry the Man of Tomorrow.  But he hangs his head and is ashamed of all the world-saving he’s done, because a father he never really knew yells at him.  Yet, what really makes the whole situation go from strange to creepy is when Jor-El starts spanking his super-son, and the Metropolis Marvel begs him to continue, saying he deserves it.  Yikes!  I feel like we’ve stumbled into something that maybe O’Neil should have kept private!

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I’ve…got nothing.

Well, the Action Ace finally wakes up to what’s going on and, by exerting his willpower, dispels the illusion and continues on his way.  The two heroes arrive at the same time, and, in order to keep the speedier Superman from reaching his goal first, Green Lantern tries a risky gambit.  He notices that the creature has a strange aura about it and reasons that it may be more than an inanimate object, so he uses his ring to cancel out its effect, bringing the beast to life and causing the Man of Steel to fall back.  Yet, when he himself tries to cage the creature, the Emerald Crusader finds his ring helpless, as the monster rips through his constructs.

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The dragon repulses both heroes and tears out into space, racing straight towards the Justice League Satellite.  Finding their individual efforts inadequate, the two Leaguers join forces, with Green Lantern using his ring to shield Superman from the creature’s magic, while the Kryptonian champion belts the beast, tearing it asunder.  They celebrate their combined victory, but Superman realizes that they’ve been duped, so they rush off to confront “Dr. Fate.”

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Sneaking up on him in a power-ringed comet, which is actually a fairly clever tactic, the heroes leap upon their ersatz ally, revealing him to be Felix Faust, the Justice League’s old foe.  Faust’s thoughts explain that he needed the Lantern’s ring to activate his spell and the whole thing was an elaborate ruse to destroy the League.  With their enemy captured, Superman and Green Lantern realize that their rivalry bred nothing but ill-fortune, and we get something of a sappy O’Neil moment as Hal wishes the people of Earth would realize the same thing.

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This is, taken as a whole, a pretty decent superhero adventure.  You’ve got some nice action, an interesting setup, and an honest-to-goodness supervillain behind it all.  You’ve also got some attempts at characterization with the two protagonists, though the end result isn’t the best fit.  There are some definite weaknesses in this issue, though.  For one, Faust’s plan is just a touch too complicated to really make sense.  He needs the Lantern’s power ring to activate his spell, which is reasonable enough as such things go, but this is the best way the wizard can come up with to accomplish that goal?  Why not just present the Lantern with the big, scary looking dragon and let nature take its course?  Why bring Superman into this in the first place?  O’Neil just needed a little more thought and another line of exposition to solve that problem.  Something along the lines of ‘I needed Superman’s strength to breach the dimensional pocket that had trapped this creature’ or the like would do the trick.

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Rather more significant is the *ahem* odd episode delving into the Man of Steel’s daddy issues.  The embarrassing panel aside, the scene still just doesn’t really fit with the character, though O’Neil tries to justify it by saying that this fixation is a result of Kal-El being an orphan.  There’s just one problem with that.  He’s not really an orphan.  He was adopted as a baby and raised by the Kents.  He’s got a father who is proud of him, and while there’s still some room for angst and ennui in that setup, it just doesn’t track for this to be the defining issue in his life.  Despite these weaknesses, this is a fun adventure and an enjoyable read.  I particularly liked the resolution, with the heroes combining their powers to defeat the threat, as well as the reveal that Felix Faust had been behind it all.  It’s just nice to see an actual villain show up in one of these books.  Dillin’s artwork is serviceable, though he really does some good work on the larger, more cosmic moments of action.  I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen, though I’m a little tempted to dock it a bit more for the spanking.

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Final Thoughts:


What a month!  All-in-all, it was a fairly positive set of titles and there were several quite enjoyable reads scattered throughout.  Obviously, the most notable feature of this set of books was the appearance of two new Jack Kirby created comics, bringing our total of Kirby books up to three.  The debut of these two books marks the true beginning of his Fourth World saga, and these are also the first books in his career that he’s had near total control over.  What a huge shift that was, the realization of a dream the King had long been chasing.  It was also a pretty unheard of event in the comic industry at large, as it was rare for a single creator to be given that much control over their work.  For the first time in his career, the King was free to really let his imagination run wild, and the end results are certainly fascinating.  While The Forever People is a limited success, the first issue of New Gods is extremely striking.  There’s no doubt that Jarrin’ Jack is blazing new trails.  It really is a unique experience to read these books in context, and I’m fascinated to see how these titles will develop together against the backdrop of the wider DC Universe.

This month also highlights just how uneven Denny O’Neil was as a writer.  He created a very solid, completely realized Superman adventure on the one hand and yet turned in the muddled mess of this month’s Green Lantern book on the other.  That doesn’t even take into account the…odd choices made in our World’s Finest tale.  I’m becoming convinced that one of the defining traits of his work during this period is a tendency towards great ideas and poor execution.  There’s no doubt that he was extremely imaginative and that he could occasionally do a great job with characterization.  Yet, at this stage, his work is more often marked by aspiration than accomplishment.  I have a feeling that will change in time.  After all, he is still innovating and testing what the genre can do at the moment.

In terms of major themes this month, we see that youth culture continues to be a significant concern.  Both this month’s Batman and Brave and the Bold titles feature stories concerned with both teen involvement and its dangers.  Notably, each has a story that details disenfranchised groups turning to violence to achieve their ends, with very different receptions from the protagonists in the two books.  These were not this month’s only attempts at relevance, however, with even Superboy getting into the act for the second month in a row.  Of course, the message in that book was lost in the shuffle, but it is still a sign of the times and features an unexpected theme, one we haven’t really seen before, in its treatment of poaching.

Well, I believe that wraps up March 1971.  I hope that y’all enjoyed the journey, and what’s more, I hope you’ll join me again soon as I start looking into April!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

Aquamanhead.jpgBatmanhead.jpgshowcase-88-fnvf-jasons-quest0robin2 - Copy.jpgPhantom_Stranger_05.jpgrobin2 - Copy.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgAquamanhead.jpg3072564469_1_3_hCmU7jwq.jpg

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Believe it or not, I actually almost closed this month out without acknowledging Green Arrow’s second appearance on the wall.  This month’s turn on his shared title saw the Emerald Archer get his goateed face shoved through a plate-glass window.  The booming blow landed on the back of his head and knocked him right out, earning him another coveted spot on the Headcount!  He’s our only new addition this month, making it a pretty quiet period, but I’m sure there’s more head-blows on the horizon!

Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 5)

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Hello folks, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  I’m back on my routine, at least for a little while, so I’ll hopefully finish this month up soon.  I’m very excited about today’s post, as we’ve got New Gods #1, the start of what is undoubtedly the most significant of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World books.  There’s also a delightful little surprise in this month’s Superboy, which added to my enjoyment of these comics.  In general, we’ve got a good set of books to discuss, so let’s get to it!

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 #201

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.


Justice League of America #88


JLA_v.1_88“The Last Survivors of Earth!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

This is an interesting cover for an unusual issue.  Notably, this comic has the distinction of being the only pre-crisis JLA book to feature Mera on the cover, and she does look good there with the rest of the League.  It’s a shame she didn’t get into action with them more often.  The cover itself is indicative of the era, showing the JLA having failed in some fashion, a common trope, but interestingly, there is some truth to this particular tableau.  The issue inside is a fun one, if a bit odd, as the heroes really don’t have much impact on the outcome.

The tale begins with a strange golden spaceship, which has a pretty cool design, speeding towards Earth as a robotic voice addresses its passengers.  The voice reminds its charges that they are the people of Mu, which, like Atlantis, is a legendary lost continent, and a very promising addition to the mythos of the DCU.  The mechanical voice continues, recounting how the citizens of Mu had used their superior technology to flee what they thought was a dying world, but their return, thousands of years later, has revealed a flourishing orb.

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The people of Mu, being kept alive by their machines, are now degenerated and decadent from their enforced isolation and inaction, and they can only respond with hatred to the modern inhabitants of Earth who they assume must be inferior to themselves.  Dillin achieves a pretty creepy, horrific effect with his portrayal of the Muians, vast rows of stiff, motionless figures, all screaming mindlessly for blood.  It’s like a much darker version of Wall-E, and as we’ll see, it serves a similar theme.

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Meanwhile, blissfully unaware of the threat approaching from space, a trio of Justice Leaguers pursue a “busman’s holiday,” working at an archeological dig in the South Seas Islands.  Carter and Shiera Hall have been joined by Hal Jordan of all people, and they are working to uncover clues to lost civilizations.  I love these types of glimpses into the ‘off-duty’ lives of the Leaguers, especially when they are hanging out together.  This is a really fun setup, and I would have enjoyed spending more time with these characters here, but Shiera quickly turns up a tablet inscribed with strange symbols that seem to point to the mysterious continent of Mu.  Just then, lightning strikes her out of a clear sky!  Green Lantern is able to blunt its force, but she’s still stunned, so the heroes suit up, with Hawkman taking his wife to a hospital while Hal contacts the League.

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In a touch that I quite enjoyed, Aquaman was on his way to join the trio to lend his services in interpreting whatever they found.  If you’re working on lost continents and civilizations, what better expert to call in than the king of just such a place?  It’s a really cool detail, and it proves wise, as he fills Hal in on what the Atlanteans know about Mu: it was an advanced civilization in the pacific that disappeared mysteriously.  The Sea King also brings news that strange disasters are occurring in the Gulf of Persia, the Mekong Delta, and the Coast of California, all of which point to Mu (though how they do so is quite unexplained).  The Emerald Crusader divides the League’s forces to deal with the different disasters and heads out himself, only to be struck by lightning as well, just managing to save himself at the last moment!

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In California, Batman, Green Arrow, and Black Canary arrive in the Batjet, but there is some tension in the air, as Batman remembers a kiss aboard the Satellite.  When they land, Black Canary pulls the Dark Knight aside, much to Arrow’s chagrin.  After telling Ollie that she’ll talk with whoever she care to, she tells Batman that she wants his advice on how to deal with the hot-headed archer, and she came to him because she thinks of him as a brother!  Ouch!  Bats is stuck in the one trap not even he can escape, the friend zone!  Nonetheless, he takes it like a man, and when the Emerald Archer starts flipping out and demands to take off, the Masked Manhunter even lets them use his plane.  (Real mature, Ollie.  It’s not like lives are at stake or anything.)  It’s a surprising but enjoyable little scene, with a bit of humor and just a touch of pathos, as Batman realizes that the attraction he feels is one-sided.

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Back on the other side of the world, Superman and the Atom approach the Persian Gulf, where refugees are fleeing a violent set of earthquakes.  The readers get a glimpse of the culprit, a golden medallion, an artifact of Mu, worn about the neck of a respected Iranian man, which serves as a transmitter for the destructive energies of the Mu spacecraft.  The heroes labor in ignorance, however, with Superman doing his best to help the evacuation and save lives while the Atom heads to a lab to try and sort out what is going on.  He stops a few looters and then gets to work, eventually determining the center of the disturbances, but not their cause.

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As the heroes head towards the epicenter of the quakes, the medallion’s owner smashes it, unwittingly ending the disaster.  Notably, the man, a devout Muslim, is portrayed as wise and selfless in a very positive and sympathetic treatment of Islam for a comic from 1971.  We even get an editor’s note providing a touch of background for the religion, which is surprising.

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At the same time, in Vietnam, the Flash has his hands full with an out of control monsoon.  Floods are destroying the country, and the Fastest Man Alive is run ragged trying to save lives.  While he labors, a young woman accustomed to tragedy prays to her household gods, another artifact of Mu.

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In another surprising touch, we’re told her husband was killed by the Viet Cong and her son by American napalm, an unexpected glimpse of the ongoing tragedy unfolding in Vietnam, and one that is handled with an unusually light touch.  Just as Green Arrow and Black Canary arrive and mark the center of the disturbance with a flare, the young woman smashes her idol in rage at its failure to protect her family, ending the storms.

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JusticeLeague88-23Finally, in California, Batman is left alone to confront the arriving Muian ship, and his valiant but foolhardy barehanded attack against the technological marvel, ends in defeat.  It’s a shame he didn’t have an advanced jet with all kinds of weapons on hand.  Once again, Green Arrow’s temper gets everyone in trouble.  The League just might be better off without him.

The people of Mu have their robotic caretaker snare a youth off of the street to interrogate, trying to discover how their attacks have been defeated.  The young man tells gives them a fiery response about how they are really jealous of the freedom and life that regular humans have, and then escapes the ship.  When it takes off, something suddenly goes wrong and it crashes into the sea, incidentally killing hundreds or thousands of Muians.

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When his friends ask him what happened, the young man informs them that he threw a wrench into the craft’s engines, thus saving the day….and also committing a touch of genocide!  The story ends with the Leaguers comparing notes and realizing that none of them ended the threats.  Finally, Aquaman recommends that they write this case up as “unexplained.”

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Yay!  They’re all dead!

This is a fun issue, though the final resolution is really rather too sudden and random, and I’m not quite sure what we’re supposed to make of all of this.  The final narration stresses the theme of the Muians’ plight, the dangers of overreliance on machines, but the message is a tad muddled in delivery.  There’s something here about the triumph of human nature over machines, but it doesn’t quite get developed.  This idea is apparently in the zeitgeist, as we’ve just seen an Aquaman issue on the dangers of over-mechanization.

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JusticeLeague88-10 - CopyDespite the slightly awkward ending, there are a lot of neat elements in this tale, interesting and thoughtful little touches, like having Aquaman be called in as an expert in lost civilizations, some decently graceful attempts at exposing readers to other cultures, and even a little romantic intrigue.  The lost continent of Mu itself is a really fascinating concept, and it’s a shame it didn’t get a bit more development here, though that’s often the case for comics of this era.  I’m curious if anyone else ever made anything of the seeds planted in this story.  The threat the heroes face is one well suited to the League, and it’s an interesting change of pace that the team doesn’t actually save the day.  Most everyone gets something to do, though Aquaman gets the short end of the stick, as usual.  Dillin’s art is uneven in this one, alternately very strong and rather awkward, but for the most part he turns out a very pretty book.  There are a few just strange looking panels, though, like Batman’s awkward run.  In any event, this is an enjoyable read without the weirdness of the some of our previous issues.  I’ll give this one a solid 3.5 Mintuemen.

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New Gods #1


New_Gods_v.1_1Orion Fights for Earth!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

Now here we go!  Kirby’s New Gods book is, unsurprisingly, the core of his New Gods saga, and it is here where we really begin to learn what’s behind everything we’ve seen teased in the other books.  The cover copy declares that this is “an epic for our times,” and that is a fitting description for the adventure that lies inside.  After all, an epic is usually defined as a long narrative poem of high tone and style dealing with the deeds of a powerful hero, often across a backdrop of the fantastic, and, other than the lack of verse, Kirby’s book does match up to that definition fairly well.  It is certainly a story that is larger than life, mythic in scope and proportions, and that is obvious even here at the very beginning.  In his other Fourth World books, the King has been introducing interesting and exciting new concepts, innovating in smaller ways, but with this book, Kirby begins to do that which he had done in Marvel in the 60s, create something completely new.

The world he conjures is unlike anything seen before, at least in DC Comics.  There are similarities to his Asgardian adventures and the cosmic aspects of his Fantastic Four, but there is a scope here, an imaginative intensity, that is unprecedented.  These are truly new myths being created before our eyes, with just that type of archetypal power, and the end result, however flawed in the particulars as it can be on occasion, is still something incredible.  I love these stories, and it is really a breathtaking experience to go back and read them in the context of what was going on at the time.  Reading them cold in the 21st Century only allows you to experience them obliquely.  You don’t realize how incredibly groundbreaking they were, because what they accomplished has in the decades since become commonplace as swarms of imitators have flooded comics with similar work.  Yet, seeing Kirby’s Forth World burst onto the scene in this book in 1971 really puts into perspective just how revolutionary Kirby was, as he always was.

This first issue is no exception, and from the beginning, you can tell you’re in for something special.  I have to say, though, that the cover is not particularly impressive.  The figure of Orion is a striking one, but the weird coloring has never appealed to me.  I’ve always preferred the recolored versions I’ve seen.  Nonetheless, what’s within does not disappoint.  The tale starts with the fall of the old gods.  In an incredible Kirby splash page, he tells with remarkable narrative efficiency of the Twilight of the Gods, of Ragnarok.  These old gods, who look rather suspiciously like Kirby’s Asgardians, battle one another in an apocalyptic scene, and with a single page, the King wipes away what he had once created in order to begin afresh.  It’s beautifully fitting on many levels.

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The conflict ends in the destruction of the world of the gods, which is torn in two, and the two new orbs are left floating in space.  We aren’t told yet, but these will become New Genesis and Apokolips, the eternally opposed homeworlds of the New Gods.  Kirby’s narration throughout this section is, quite honestly, probably some of the best prose he’s ever written.  He really manages to capture the epic tenor he sets out for, and though sections of the book can get a bit clunky, the opening pages set an impressive tone.

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Across the vastness of space comes the dramatic figure of Orion, possessor of the “Astro Force,” whatever that means, a warrior who we meet as he returns home to New Genesis, and we’re treated to some incredibly striking visuals of its beautiful floating city and Cyclopean architecture.  He’s greeted by the lighthearted Lightray, a lightning quick young man who flies circles around the dour Orion and implores him to stay in the paradisaical city and “learn to laugh again.”

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Their conversation reveals our first hints at Orion’s dual nature, and we get a sense that he is a troubled soul and more than meets the eye.  The warrior has been summoned home to meet with his father, and the New Gods’ leader, Highfather.  The very patriarchal looking Highfather leads his son to “the chamber of the Source,” where they see a white stone wall, their “link with the Source.”  The idea of “the Source” provides a suitably vague and cosmic…well, source, for the powers of good, while still allowing for a surprising compatibility with the concept of the one God and thus folding in rather nicely with DC’s lightly drawn cosmology, even jiving peacefully with my own religious sensibilities.

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As the pair stands before the wall, they are joined by Metron, an eternal scholar, a being of intellect, whose outlook has something in common with the cold logic of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.  It seems there is no love lost between Orion and this newcomer, and their verbal sparring is only interrupted when Highfather communes with this mysterious Source, and a in very biblical image, a fiery finger writes upon the wall and “having writ, Moves on.”  The message it leaves behind is “Orion to Apokolips–then to earth–then to WAR.”  It’s a portentous declaration, but Highfather reminds Orion that, though the Source advises, they still have the freedom to choose, and it is this freedom that separates those of New Genesis from Apokolips.  The young man’s choice leads him across the vast distances between worlds, to war!  As he takes his leave, Metron offers a cryptic statement that reveals he knows that Orion’s true origins lie on Apokolips, and Highfather angrily swears him to secrecy.  I quite like the celestial scholar’s line, “How wonderfully wise is the Source!  Who is more ready to fight the father– than the son!”  It illustrates the archetypal dimensions of the story Kirby is spinning.

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To Apokolips Orion flies, and our first glimpse of the grim, gray world is quite stunning, with its ashen surface and massive fire pits.  It looks every inch the archetypal Hell, and as he travels above it, Orion’s thoughts inform us that it is the opposite of New Genesis, a world dedicated to conquest and domination, to the extermination of freedom.  His reconnaissance is interrupted by a trio of Apokaliptian shock troopers, the parademons, which starts a running battle as Orion faces various waves of enemies, including heavy cavalry mounted on giant, vicious dogs!

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Most of the troops are visually interesting and imaginatively designed, and the action looks good in Kirby’s wonderfully dynamic style.  In the various skirmishes, we begin to get a sense of Orion’s lust for battle and the dangers of his temper.  Finally, the warrior makes his way to the palace, only to discover that Darkseid has already gone to Earth, but his visit does not go unremarked, as the titanic tyrant’s son, Kalibak the Cruel, is there to greet him.  Their battle is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Metron, who has come to hurry Orion on his way.

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ng01-29The scholar warns the warrior of Darkseid’s plans, telling him that the Apokaliptian monarch even now works on a device that will allow him to search all of the minds on Earth for the mysterious and sinister ‘Anti-Life Equation.’  Before vanishing as mysteriously as he appeared, he also reveals that Darkseid began his search there on Apokolips with a quartet of kidnapped humans.  The warrior frees the captives, and holding Kalibak off, opens a boom tube to Earth to help them escape.

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Then to Earth they travel, leaving a raving Kalibak behind them, swearing revenge.  Once there, Orion explains to the four he rescued that there is a conflict brewing of universal significance, something far beyond their understanding, and the book ends with him shouting a challenge to Darkseid, a challenge which Darkseid, from his hidden fastness, answers.

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ng01-20Then to War!  Wow!  Summarizing this book was a real challenge.  Since so much of this is new and since there are so many big ideas flying around, it is tough to be brief when talking about this story.  In fact, I left some interesting moments untouched, like the glimpse of New Genesis’s culture revealed in Highfather’s reverence for the innocence of youth, which itself is an effective shorthand for his world’s love of freedom and for the stakes for which this galactic game shall be played.  In general, this is a great story, though it will eventually be overshadowed by what comes after.  Kirby’s art is a little rough in some spots, and of course Colletta’s inking doesn’t do him many favors.  None the less, the visual imagination at play is wonderful, with both New Genesis and Apokolips fitting perfectly into their archetypal roles.  Kirby’s imagination is clearly unleashed in this book, and the fruits of his labors are wondrous.  There are Promethean structures everywhere, and many panels stress the scale of the world we’ve entered, as Orion is shrunk to insignificance before a starfield or an ominous edifice.

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ng01-16I’ve mentioned how archetypal this story is, and that is an important part of its success, as the King is essentially creating a new myth, working in the broad, bright colors of legend, evoking the eternal struggle of the Norse Gods, the Olympian war against the Titans, or similar cosmic conflicts.  This is a larger scale, a much larger scale, than anything we’ve seen in DC Comics, and clearly already more fully realized than any similar worldbuilding we’ve seen in the last year.  The only parallels can be found in Kirby’s own work in Marvel, but with the Fourth World the King seeks to surpass even those heights .  Think about how astonishing this book must have been when it hit the stands amongst the mundane everyday stories filling DC’s books.  Even this month’s Justice League tale, which has some measure of imaginative reach, feels positively cramped and halfhearted by comparison.  Despite that, he’s doing some pretty solid character work even from this first chapter, especially considering the era.  There are mysteries surrounding Orion, and a lot of personality at play in everyone we meet.  The impression of depth is downright palpable, and you just know that this conflict sprawls far beyond the pages of this book.  What’s more, we can see the lasting impact of this story in the fact that so many of its elements, even just from this first entry, have gone on to become central elements of the DC Universe.  It’s a great beginning, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series!  I’ll give this first chapter 4.5 Minutemen, as it loses just a little for the clunkier moments.

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Superboy #172


Superboy_Vol_1_172“The World of the Super-Ape!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Brotherly Hate!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: George Tuska
Letterer: Joe Letterese

Oh boy, we’ve got gorillas on the cover!  According to legend, DC’s indefatigable editor, Julie Schwartz, believed (and not without some reasonable circumstantial evidence) that a gorilla on the cover of a comic would boost sales.  Supposedly, the effects were so marked in the Silver Age that all of his editors wanted gorillas for their covers, and he had to institute a policy of no more than one gorilla cover a month!  Whatever the case may be, there sure are tons of gorilla covers from this era of comics!  This particular offering is a fairly striking one, and there’s a nice mystery, which gets a fairly good buildup in the story itself.  As for that very cover story, it has a really ludicrous premise, but the whole thing is handled surprisingly well.  While the concept is very Silver Age, the writing feels a tad more mature.

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The tale opens with a recapitulation of Superman’s origin, but this time, there are two rockets headed for Earth.  One crashes in Smallville, and the other, strangely enough, in the heart of Africa, where its inhabitant is adopted by the apes.  Then the scene shifts forward 15 years, where an ivory poacher vanishes after an encounter with a strange shadowy figure.  The preserve officers call in Superboy when they are stumped by the lack of tracks.  A second group of poachers, out to capture gorillas for a zoo, also go missing, once again accosted by a shadowy figure.

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There’s a nice effect to these mysterious attacks, and Robbins continues to delay the final reveal of the antagonist, granting the first half of this comic a cool, old-school monster movie feel.  Tension mounts from scene to scene as the mystery deepens.  The payoff isn’t quite as good as I had hoped, however.  Eventually, Superboy decides that there must be connection between the apes the poachers were hunting and the mysterious disappearances, so he dresses as a gorilla in order to have the primates lead him back to their tribe….which is pretty silly, but okay.  The apes oblige, and in their cave, the Boy of Steel sees strange statues, idols, and even a magnificent throne, all carved in the likeness of a massive gorilla, and carved by intelligent beings.  Brown does a good job rendering these scenes and granting them a mysterious atmosphere.
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Inside the cave, Superboy discovers the captured poachers making a break for it, one of them having secreted a gun when they were taken, and he reveals himself in order to help their escape.  The gorillas pose no threat to him until, all of a sudden, a SUPER ape appears, one speaking Kryptonese!  That’s right, he is confronted by a flying, invulnerable gorilla, complete with cape and tights, no less!  They fight but find themselves too evenly matched, even clashing with heat vision in a nice panel.
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The Boy of Steel decides to try to solve riddle of this obvious fugitive from his homeworld, so he heads back in time and observes a second renegade scientist, the anthropologist an-kal, sending a cybernetically enhanced ape to safety and cursing the Science Council for not approving of his work.  Oookay.  This guy is even crazier than ol’ Jor-El!  What is it with Kryptonian scientists?
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“They can be a great people […] They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son…err…simian.”

Back in the modern day, Superboy rounds up the escaping poachers and brings them right back to the super-ape, Yango, telling his simian simulacrum that they don’t need to fight.  The youth realizes that the gorilla has dedicated himself to protecting the animal world as he has the human world, and so he is delivering the criminals to his justice and trusting, for some reason, that the gorillas won’t just murder them.  They part as friends, Superboy to continue his work in man’s world, Yango, in that of the animals.
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What a goofy concept, and what a goofy visual!  Yango, a gorilla in a full costume, looks pretty silly.  Despite that, this is a fun issue, and the super-fight is pretty entertaining.  It’s also interesting to see Robbins take on the issue of poaching, however obliquely, way back in 1971.  We see in this another attempt on DC’s part for social relevance, and, interestingly, the message doesn’t overwhelm the adventure, unlike some Green Lantern yarns I could name.  In fact, it rather fades into the background amidst the energetic rush of the story.  The first half of the comic is really the best, as the mystery of what is taking the poachers unfolds, but the reveal of Yango himself is, I have to admit, not what I expected.  I’m curious if this oddball character ever appeared again, but I don’t think he did.  If any of you readers know differently, please let me know!  Despite the silliness of the super-simian, I have to say, I enjoyed this read.  The whole tale has something of an Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan feel to it, and that’s a good thing.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as the yarn is entertaining despite its goofiness.
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“Brotherly Hate!”


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We’ve got a real treat in the back of this book this month!  After too long in limbo, the Legion of Superheroes returns to the pages of DC Comics!  This starts what will become a regular backup feature for quite some time.  Eventually, the Legion will actually muscle Superboy out of his own book!  This is good news to me, as I’ve really enjoyed the daring deeds of these futuristic do-gooders.  Our story this month is a solid one, with a touch of family drama flavoring the adventure.  It begins with a Legion rocket arriving at the “Interplanetary Bank,” where they discover that the “guardian beasts” have been disabled.  I’m already 100% onboard, as a setting in which there is something called an “Interplanetary Bank” and which is guarded by giant monsters seems pretty promising to me!  The Legion team, Lightning Lad, Timberwolf, and Light Lass discover that the perpetrator was none other than Lightning Lord, the brother of Lad and Lass!

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We get a brief reprise of how the trio got their powers, and then, to my delight, we get a nice origin for the Legion itself!  Young Lightning Lad, Garth Ranzz, travels to Earth looking for his brother, and on the ship, he meets the future Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl, as well as the “richest man in the universe,” R.J. Brande.  When a gang of assassins try to kill Brande, the trio intervene, each using their powers to pitch in.  Brande is thankful, but he is also inspired, so he offers to set the three youths up as superheroes, citing Superboy and Supergirl as examples of teenage heroes.  They all agree, and the Legion is formed.  I’d read summaries of this event, but it is really fun to actually see it played out.

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With their flashback over, the team tracks Lightning Lord’s ship, confronting him on a barren and rocky world.  When they confront him, Lightning Lad tries to talk his brother down, but when he refuses, both of the Legionnaire siblings hesitate, causing Timberwolf to spring into action.  The high-voltage villain tries to zap him, but Lightning Lass throws herself in front of the beam to save the boy she loves.  This enrages Timberwolf, but Lightning Lad insists that he face his brother alone.

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They are evenly matched, and they throw electrical bolts back in forth to little effect.  Yet, Lightning Lad backs his brother against a metallic cliffside and ricochets a blast into his back, knocking him out, but turning his hair white in the process.  Their sinister sibling captured, the heroes find themselves hoping that he will reform, but something tells me that’s a tad unlikely.

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This is an all-too-brief adventure, but it is a fun one.  Bridwell manages to add just enough pathos to the confrontation to make it interesting, and the action is entertaining.  I have to say, though, I think my favorite part is a look at the Legion’s founding.  I suppose I share something of Bridwell’s love of continuity.  That sense of history, of more stories than exist on the page, is key for the “impression of depth” that is such an important part of a well-realized setting.  I’ll give this fun little Legion legend 3.5 Minutemen.

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What a set of stories!  We finally get the debut of New Gods, and we get the return of the Legion to boot!  I’ll call that a win.  This finishes off our penultimate batch of books, bringing us to the end of the month, a hearty dose (an overdose?) of Superman!  Please join me again soon for my commentary on those comics as I trudge further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!