- 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.
“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.
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.
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!
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.
Now 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.
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.’
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.
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.
‘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.
Superman’s Pal, 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.
Superman 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!
So, 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.
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.
Meanwhile, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
“A 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Superman’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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!