Into the Bronze Age: May 1971 (Part 4)

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Welcome back Internet travelers!  In belated honor of Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday last week, I’ve got a new post featuring some comic goodness, courtesy of the King!  As you might imagine, there are also plenty of features celebrating this event out there in the vast Internet ocean.  Check out a nice set of tributes on Kirby-Visions, a lovely biography of the King on The Kirby Effect, an affectionate tribute from the Fire and Water Podcast (Gallery), and a great cover gallery of the Master’s 70s work on Diversions of the Groovy Kind!  If you happen to be in New York, be sure to swing by the Kirby Museum for a celebration of the man, the myth, the legend, and his life and works.

So, let’s see what these books have in store for us!

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 #400
  • Adventure Comics #406
  • Batman #231
  • Brave and Bold #95
  • Detective Comics #411
  • The Flash #206
  • Forever People #2
  • G.I. Combat #147
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #83
  • Justice League of America #89
  • New Gods #2
  • Superman #237
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #110
  • World’s Finest #202

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


Forever People #2


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“Super War!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Pencilers: Jack Kirby and Al Plastino
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

We start this post off with the second issue of The Forever People, which has a rather uninspiring cover.  We’ve got a nice, dynamic Kirby figure on the front, as Mantis leaps out at us, but I really rather dislike photo-collages on covers.  They just look drab and ugly.  The black and white image, fuzzy from 70s printing limitations, just seems a mess, contrasting unpleasantly with the clean-lined characters.  The story inside, however, is more successful, giving us a more thorough introduction to our young heroes, and with no Superman to steal the spotlight this time.  The tale begins with the kids having apparently arrived right in the middle of a major intersection in a city, and their arrival provides quite a stir and quite a traffic jam.  The gang are all amused at the quaint ways of the humans and their slang, and after some hijinks where the youths are mistaken for hippies, they hop on the Super Cycle and ‘phase out,’ arriving in a nearly abandoned section of town.

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Meanwhile, we meet the villain of our piece, and not in the most impressive fashion.  Apokaliptian soldiers drag the Mighty Mantis from a cocoon and throw him before Darkseid.  For his part, Darkseid has suddenly snapped into focus, much more the character that would come to shake the very foundations of the DC Universe than the one we met last issue.  From his craggy features to his imperious manner and grand plans, this is our villain fully realized, which is nice to see.  I rather imagined it might take more time for Kirby to find his feet with him, and there may still be some adjusting.

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Yet, Darkseid is ever in charge, and he berates his cringing subject for his attempt to usurp power for himself.  It seems Mantis wanted to conquer Earth for himself, and, surprisingly, Darkseid agrees, just reminding his minion that he still answers to the master of Apokolips, who plays a more subtle game.  Mantis returns to his ‘power pod’ to continue gathering his strength.

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Meet one of the greatest villains in the history of comics.

Amidst the derelict buildings of their destination, the Forever People encounter a crippled young boy on crutches named Donnie, who is really excited to meet super beings like them.  His uncle, Willie, the watchman of the area, is somewhat less thrilled, however.  He threatens the group with a gun until Beautiful Dreamer uses her illusion powers to make him see them as clean-cut, normal kids.  There’s actually sort of an interesting note of social commentary as she says, “You used to know lots of kids like us!  Remember?  We never passed without saying ‘hello’!”  I imagine that there’s a note of wistfulness, a sad acknowledgement of the growing generation gap, and a wish for its healing, in that little statement.  One can easily see Kirby himself having known such kids and missing the world they inhabited, yet also still acknowledging that young folks weren’t bad just because they didn’t fit that mold.

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I don’t think naming yourself ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ is going to help your case, girl.

At any rate, as Willie invites the youths to stay with him, night falls over the city (we haven’t been told which city), and Mantis emerges from his pod in a very vampire-esque sequence.  His powers at their zenith, he blasts his way out of the tunnels that have sheltered him and begins an attack on the city.

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Our young heroes are busy scouring the abandoned apartments for furniture to furnish their new pads, and young Donnie is introduced to Serafin’s ‘Cosmic Cartridges,’ which lead to a pretty cool psychedelic scene when the boy touches one.  It’s a nice moment of Kirby Cosmic, and it is really a dose of something new at DC, with lots of potential imaginative power.  Their tete-a-tete is interrupted when they see a news broadcast of Mantis’s rampage, and the Forever People quickly rush to summon the Infinity Man!

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The mysterious champion from beyond the realm of the natural laws confronts Mantis, who is fighting with the city’s police, lobbing charged objects at them like a more garishly garbed Gambit.

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Infinity Man belts the perilously powered villain, but Mantis responds by encasing his foe in a block of ice “which can hold giant worlds in the grip of icy death!”  Meanwhile, Darkseid and Desaad observe the situation, with the sinister scientist measuring the rising fear within the city in the hopes that it will stimulate the mind of the one who possesses the Anti-Life Equation!

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Mantis continues to run amuck, creating flowing streams of magma and reveling in destruction, but the Infinity Man doesn’t play by the normal rules of physics.  He uses his strange powers to molecularly disassemble his icy tomb in a scene with a cool concept but rather poor execution, for which I’m fairly certain we can at least partially blame the inks.

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Freed, the hero attacks the Apokalyptian would-be conqueror once more, striking him with a beam that destabilizes Mantis’s powers, causing him to vent his stored energies uncontrollably.  The defeated felon flees into hiding once more, and the Infinity Man summons the Forever People back to Earth and disappears into the ether.  The comic ends with Darkseid dispassionately regarding Mantis’s failure and making his inscrutable plans.

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This is a pretty solid second issue.  We get to learn a bit more about all of our young heroes, and once more I’m struck with how good a job the King is doing with their characterization in relatively small space.  There is a lot of personality on display in their pages, from the boisterous good humor of Big Bear to Serafan’s wide-eyed fascination with human culture.  Yet, we still don’t see the kids do much of anything.  even the Planeteers tended to be more useful than these five.  They summon the Infinity Man right away, and he provides a fairly impressive showing.  The fight with Mantis is pretty exciting, and Kirby makes it fairly creative and entertaining.

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fp02-26Sadly, one of the real weaknesses of the issue is the art, which I really didn’t expect.  I’m fairly certain we’re seeing the consequences of having Vinnie Colleta inking all of Kirby’s books.  There is a lot of heavy inking, lost detail, and empty backgrounds.  There are some muddy, ugly panels as well.  Of course, the King’s pencils are not at their best here either, and the really striking moments often share space with some slightly awkward panels, like Mantis’s strange flight pattern during the fight.  When the art is good, it’s great, but when it’s bad, the contrast is quite telling.  Still, there are some wonderful moments throughout.

Notably, Kirby’s attempt at creating unique speech patterns for his New Gods is on full display here, and it is partially successful.  The kids strike a mostly enjoyable balance, providing an ‘outsider’ perspective on human culture with almost-hip dialog that isn’t quite recognizable, but Infinity Man and Mantis are a little odder, overly-written and a bit off-putting at times.  The final result is a fun, enjoyable issue that continues to unfold the mysteries of the cosmic epic Kirby is weaving, and it’s certainly worth a read.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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G.I. Combat #147


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“Rebel Tank”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor: Joe Kubert

“Sniper’s Roost”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Mort Drucker
Inker: Mort Drucker
Editor: Robert Kanigher

“Tin Pot Listening Post!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Jerry Grandenetti
Inker: Jerry Grandenetti

“Broomstick Pilot”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: John Severin
Inker: John Severin

“Battle Window”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“Target for an Ammo Boy”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert

You sure got a lot of story for your quarter in these old books.  Just look at all of those war yarns packed into this comic!  Anyway, they all lie under a decently dramatic cover, the classic perilous situation cliffhanger, and the Haunted Tank tale it represents is a fair one, though it has some elements that sit somewhat uneasily with me in light of recent events in the U.S.  It starts with Jeb and his crew being left behind by their C.O., who gets knocked out defending a bridge.  The Haunted Tank rides to the rescue in a wonderfully dramatic sequence full of action and explosions, two important ingredients in awesomeness.  Jeb brings his tank in through cover, and they manage to knock out the remaining enemy armor, destroying the bridge in the process.

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Mortally wounded, their C.O. dies in Jeb’s arms, and once again, the art proves the power of the comic format, as Heath packs a lot of emotion into a single panel.  Afterwards, the ghostly General Stuart visits his namesake to provide yet more enigmatic advice.  He tells his charge that the tank will soon be fighting on his side, which is strange, seeing as the Civil War (which J.E.B. points out the Confederates called ‘The War Between the States’) ended a hundred years before.  He warns that some Southerners are still fighting it.

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When the crew returns to base, they encounter their new commanding officer, who is named Major Bragg, a rather ill-tempered Southerner who gives my folks a bad name.  The Major wears a Confederate forage cap, and he is very upset to learn that Jeb shares the name of the famous rebel general.  Essentially, this whole story is a reprise of #141, with Jeb being given grief for his name, but under combat conditions instead of training.  Bragg, who is still bitter about the whole Appomattox thing, relegates Jeb and his men to courier duty, refusing to let them fight unless the lieutenant backs down about his name.  Things get tense, and Jeb’s crew find themselves slugging it out with hecklers to defend their honor.

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One day, a supply run for the armored column (and using a light tank to carry ammo seems a bit…odd) leads the Stuart to a mountaintop fortress which has knocked out the rest of their tanks.  Even the Major was stopped cold in his assault, but, despite his orders to pull back and not engage, Jeb takes his tank into the teeth of the enemy position.  He uses his lighter vehicle to flank the fortress, and they manage to destroy the edifice.

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Finally, they have earned Major Bragg’s respect, and he admits that Jeb is worthy of the name, saying “You’re a rebel at heart [..] a Johnny Reb in a Damn-Yankee uniform!”  That made me chuckle.  There’s an old joke where I come from about people growing up and realizing that ‘Damn-Yankee’ happens to be two words, just some light-hearted regionalism.

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So, this is a fine little story, with some really nice looking action, especially in the first part, but it is a bit repetitive in its theme. Bragg isn’t really that much of a character, having only one real note, so he isn’t all that interesting.  Incidentally, I wonder if his name is a reference to the famously prickly and unlikeable Confederate general Braxton Bragg, whose name is significantly more awesome than he was.  Either way, the comic Bragg, like his possible namesake, is not exactly an electrifying presence.  On the positive side, I do enjoy the camaraderie of the tank crew that we see, with them standing up for each other, even against their fellows.  I suppose, all things considered, I’ll give this one a solid 3 Minutemen.

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Green Lantern/Green Arrow #83


Green_Lantern_Vol_2_83

“And A Child Shall Destroy Them!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Time for another dose of naval-gazing ‘adventure’ with the Green Team.  Yay?  I’ll admit, I’m really not enjoying this series.  I’m rather dreading that some of the darkest days are still before us.  I’m afraid this particular issue is not a high point, though it does reintroduce a character who is very important to the Lantern’s mythos, which is worth something.  The book has a standard ‘looming shadow’ cover, and as is often the case, this one is something of a cheat.  It’s not a particularly exciting image, and it’s got cover dialog, of which I’m rarely a fan.  I’d say the biggest weakness is the presence of the rather unintimidating looking character, Grandy.  While his being there fits the story, it takes away from the menace of the scene.

The tale inside begins with a scene from a month ago, where that same fellow from the cover is walking with a young girl when he bumps into a dark haired woman.  The man asks the girl to punish the woman for not apologizing, and the child’s eyes glow.  Suddenly the woman drops to the ground in agony.  Creepy!

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In the ‘present,’ our hard traveling heroes have showed up at the ‘Meadowhill School,’ escorting Dinah Lance to her new job as a P.E. teacher at the girl’s school.  One wonders what kinds of credentials she could have produced for such a job in her secret identity.  Also, what happened to the flower shop?  O’Neil gives us some attempts at character development, with the lovely Mrs. Lance talking about how she’s felt useless and lost and hopes to do something productive by working with children.  What?  Saving the world with the JLA isn’t fulfilling enough?  I think you might have issues, lady!

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It fits in vaguely with the uncertain direction O’Neil has taken the character down in this book, but it’s still obvious that this is we’re moving at the speed of plot.  As they approach the school, O’Neil takes a page from Stan Lee, and he has Dinah employ that very special superpower that all females have in such stories, woman’s intuition.  She gets a sense of dread, and suddenly they are attacked by a mad flock of birds.

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The Green Team shifts into fighting togs, and the Emerald Archer uses a sonic arrow to scatter the foul fowl.  Just then, a tree branch falls right on top of Ollie, but he is saved at the last minute by Hal’s quick action.  Then, once again illustrating the ridiculous missmatch in power between the two, as the Emerald Crusader gathers the birds up and sends them ten miles away with a thought.  Yep, good thing you and your bow were here, Green Arrow.

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Then, continuing to display the brilliant and exacting attention to detail that we’ve been observing in this run, the heroes just stroll up to the school in full costume, with Dinah still in civies.  That won’t endanger the ‘ol secret identities at all.  ‘Hey, I wonder if that woman hanging out with Green Lantern and Green Arrow might have something in common with that superheroine who also hangs out with them?  Nah!’  In a mildly clever touch, they hang a lantern on the inspiration for this story, with the characters referencing Alfred Hitchcock and The Birds.

At the school, they meet the owner and headmaster, Jason Belmore, who, long-time readers of the series may remember was the fiance of Carol Ferris, the excuse for putting her on a bus in the book.  Of course, it makes no real sense for him to be running a girl’s school, but add that to the list of plot conveniences in this tale.  Belmore immediately insists the heroes leave, without expressing the slightest curiosity about why Dinah is palling around with Justice Leaguers.  Strangely, after this is done, the nervous headmaster turns to the cook and seeks his approval.  The cook, the same fellow from the opening scene, sics the same little girl on our heroes.

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Meanwhile, the Lantern spots a figure by their car, only to discover that it is Carol Ferris, though she is bound to a wheelchair.  She asks to be taken away with them, and the trio drive off, with Hal’s former flame asking for help for her current fiance, who is living in fear (awkward!).  Yet, as they drive, the car begins to come apart, and it careens off of a cliff, with only the Emerald Gladiator’s ring saving them.  It’s a nice looking sequence, especially when the Lantern summons a power-ringed Pegasus to carry the trio.  It’s a wonderful image, beautifully rendered by Adams.  Sadly, it’s the only magnificent moment in the book.

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When they land in an abandoned barn to seek shelter from a sudden rainstorm, Carol wonders about the Lantern’s new limitations, and he begins to talk about his loss of confidence.  Taken on its own terms, its’ a touching scene, and Adams does a heck of a job rendering the care and weariness on Hal’s face as he talks.  In the context of the series, it is undercut by the problems with the earlier stories that brought him to this point.  Continuity is a double-edged sword, after all.

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Back at the school, Dinah dismisses her class a bit early, which angers Grandy, who threatens her in really creepy fashion.  The canny Canary realizes something is up, so she slips into costume, once again again flagrantly endangering her identity.  ‘I wonder if the tall statuesque blonde has anything in common with the tall, statuesque brunette who is the only other woman here?’

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green lantern 083 015Prowling the halls, she is discovered by Belmore and Grandy, who attack her, but she easily handles them until the little girl, Sybil, uses her powers to cripple the Canary.  Then, unsurprisingly, Grandy removes her wig and discovers her identity.  Wow.  Who could have ever seen that coming?  Notably, O’Neil includes a moment where the Blonde Bombshell reflects that she’s enjoying the violence and notes that she needs to be careful about that, which is interesting, but it’s still presented in the nonsensical context of Dinah ‘hating violence.’

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The cruel cook orders the frightened children to haul her to the basement, where he explains that he found Sybil wandering in the woods, and now she enforces his will.  He plans to murder Dinah by proxy, so he stirs up a wasps nest and locks her in.  She claims the door is too sturdy to break down, but she apparently conveniently forgets about the fact that she has a super powerful ‘Canary Cry.’  Add it to the list.  Unable to think of anything better, the heroine hunkers down and hopes to survive.

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The Green Team returns to the school, but when they encounter Grandy, he sics Sibyl on them again, crippling them both with pain.  Ollie hears Dinah’s scream from below and struggles to his knees, fighting against the agony and loosing a flash-bang-like arrow that disables the creepy kid.  They race to the basement and rescue Dinah, though she is hurt.  The Emerald Archer wants to tear the cook apart, but the Lantern insists that, because he was responsible for crippling Carol, the fight was his.

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It sort of is at that, Ollie…

When Grandy is confronted, he demands that Sibyl punish Green Lantern, only for her to speak for the first time and refuse.  She is tired of hurting people, but the vicious fellow slaps her and tells her to “obey.”  With tears in her eyes, she agrees, only to bring the roof down on them.  And Hal apparently just watches.

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Seriously, the whole building collapses, and they get everyone else out, but Green Lantern seems to just let that little girl die.  Ollie asks his friend if he could have saved her, and his response, “I’ll live with that question the rest of my life” isn’t much of an answer at all.  It’s a weird, unhappy moment.  Yet, the story ends on a different note.  Hal approaches Carol and tells her that he was foolish and prideful, insisting that she love him on his own terms.

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He removes his mask (in public, let’s not forget, with lots of other people standing around), and reveals his identity, telling her he’s realized what really matters.  She apparently completely forgets about poor Jason Belmore and declares her love for the Lantern, who scoops her up in his arms and heads off into the rain.  Once again, it would be a sweet scene on its own terms, and the team really pack some emotional punch into it, but the context hurts it.  The last image of the book is of a little girl standing over the Lantern’s mask.  Dun dun DUN!

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Interestingly, I have zero memory of Carol being crippled from when I read through these books the first time.  I wonder how long that is going to last.  Well, as you can probably tell, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with this issue.  To be honest, it really isn’t a bad story as such, and it certainly achieves what it sets out to do.  It strikes a very effectively creepy tone, evoking Hitchcock movies and The Twilight Zone.  I’m almost certain that there is a particular story being referenced in this setup, with the creepy kid with powers, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.  Nonetheless, the authorial gymnastics that O’Neil has to go through in order to place his characters in this situation are more suited to Scooby Doo than Green Lantern.  Once again, he’s forcing the characters into the plot rather than letting the plot adapt to the characters.

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The tale also has a really grim ending, with the unhappy little girl apparently killing both herself and her tormentor.  Compare this with another of our recent stories featuring an unhappy child with powers and its happy ending, and you’ll see quite a contrast.  The art, as always, is beautiful, and Adams really gets a few chances to shine with some dramatic moments, but he still gets few opportunities to really take advantage of the fact that he’s drawing Green Lantern, other than the winged horse.  Interestingly, Adams apparently had some fun with his faces in this issue, as, according to Dick Giordano, he based the faces of Sibyl and Grandy on then current President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew, who he disliked.  Weird, you’d think, given the power dynamics, it would be the other way around.  For my part, I rather think that Grandy looks much more like horror legend Vincent Price, who certainly fits the tone of the tale.  Art origins aside, this is a rather uneven story.  Taken all together, with the significant flaws and the significant successes, I’d give this tale of horror 2.5 Minutemen, though I really am inclined to give it less thanks to the plot induced stupidity of the heroes.

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P.S.: On a broader note, I think I have finally put my finger on precisely what I dislike about this series.  It is the element of dreariness that characterizes it.  Green Lantern stories have the limitless wonders of the universe as their playground, and yet this run has its eyes firmly on the muddy earth, almost never looking to the heavens.  I understand O’Neil’s reasons for that, as I discussed with the first issue, but even with such earthbound tales, there is room for a glance at the stars now and then.  Yet, that is not all.  No, there is just no sense of joy, of revelry, of real adventure to be found in this book!  This issue displays these qualities perhaps the most clearly of any we’ve seen.

Their stories are small, but not just with the necessary intimacy of character drama.  They are small with a pettiness, a smallness of soul, and not just of setting.  What O’Neil is trying to do is admirable, and there are times when the comic shakes off its shackles and stretches to the stars, and I don’t just mean the issues set off planet.  There are moments when there is hope and joy and wonder to balance the dreary slog of his preaching or torturing of his characters, but they are, unfortunately, in the minority.  If there is one thing that comics are about, it’s hope, though that is true of Art in general, the Art that gropes its way towards the divine.  Despite the very heavy-handed invocations of hope from time to time, it seems largely absent from this series.  There is just too much misery, too much ugliness, and not nearly enough wonder.


 

Well, that does it for these comics.  We didn’t exactly have an inspiring set of books in this batch, but they certainly weren’t boring!  I hope y’all enjoyed my coverage and commentary on these comics, and I also hope you’ll join me again soon for more Bronze Age goodness!  We’ve got a JLA issue in the next batch, which is usually something I look forward too, but this is certainly an unusual one!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

 

4 comments on “Into the Bronze Age: May 1971 (Part 4)

  1. M.P. says:

    “Back to your pod, Mantis!”
    “I’m goin’, I’m goin!”
    Great post. Great art in all these issues, and I continue to be impressed by the Haunted Tank.
    I thought that was Agnew! Shows you how old I am, that I caught that.
    Cheers!

  2. B Smith says:

    If the Lantern/Arrow books seemed gloomy at the time, they were quite groundbreaking in doing so – in these days of grim’n’gritty, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when DC comics (at least) were considered somewhat saccharine and anodyne in their stories – this series was to comics what “Easy Rider” had been to cinema (even going so far as having Hal and Ollie go off to “find America” a la Fonda and Hopper).

    In retrospect, it’s easy to see that O’Neil and Adams may have gone slightly overboard, but that they were able to do the stories they did was nothing short of astonishing at the time – and quite telling that the title only lasted about ten issues under their aegis.

    As for the characters referencing Alfred Hitchcock – don’t tell me you didn’t recognise that postman?

    • Benton Grey says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful and insightful comment, B!

      You are, of course, entirely right about the significance of this book for its day. O’Neil and Adams were pioneering in the medium, but what my wider reading is showing me is that, even back in 1971, there are examples of the same kinds of things done with a lighter touch (and with a heavier touch too, to be fair). In fact, O’Neil himself turns in better stories in some of his other books as often as not.

      Of course, hindsight is always clearer, and we’ve got nearly half a decade of increased sophistication and development of the medium with which to judge these early stories, and that’s a fair point. The main problem isn’t just about execution, it’s about the treatment of their themes. Their weakness isn’t just a matter of clumsiness, it’s a matter of vision. That being said, they remain important books. Yet, a story doesn’t have to be good to be important!

      Ha! Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t notice ol’ Hitchcock himself making his traditional guest appearance! How neat!

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