Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age! With the world apparently either burning or drowning, this seems like a perfect time to read stories about super beings and heroes. In desperate times, some light-hearted adventure is often just what the doctor ordered! We certainly have some interesting titles in this batch. We’ve got one of the weirder Justice League issues I’ve ever read, but we also have some more epic Kirby goodness to cleanse the palate, as well as more of O’Neil’s interesting Superman run.
(You can see everything published this month HERE)
Action Comics #400
Adventure Comics #406
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’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #110
World’s Finest #202
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Justice League of America #89
“The Most Dangerous Dreams of All!” Writer: Mike Friedrich Penciler: Dick Dillin Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Okay guys. Brace yourselves. This is a weird one. In fact, that doesn’t do it justice. It’s just plain bizarre and…well…I’m afraid it is also just plain bad. I love the JLA, and I can appreciate an experimental story, but what we have here is a failed experiment. We start with an unusual cover, nicely drawn by Neal Adams, but rather uninspiring. It claims the reader will have a chance to inhabit the role of Batman or Superman…what about Aquaman? Anyway, inside, we begin with a JLA meeting, with Aquaman acting as chairman, which is mildly fun. Sadly, this is the last semi-useful thing he will do in this issue. The gathered Leaguers break up and head back out among the populace, dressed in some really swinging 70s fashions.
Bruce Wayne thinks he’s cool with his ascot, but check out Aquaman’s duds! That takes confidence!
Oddly, we suddenly cut to Mike Friedrich, a character in his own comic, who tells us that sometimes stories exert their own pressure and insist on being told. O-okay? We cut to LA, where Black Canary is apparently just walking around the street in costume for no particular reason, when she runs into the cleverly named ‘Harlequin Ellis.’ Those of you with a taste for science fiction and some background in its luminaries may well recognize both name and figure.
That’s right, this guy is an homage to Harlan Ellison, famed fiery sci-fi writer for TV, movies, and print. The comic character also happens to be a TV writer with a fiery personality, and he sets his sights on the Blonde Bombshell. Another strange note here is that the narration is second person, inviting the reader to identify with Dinah, though that doesn’t last.
They meet and there is an instant connection, as in, love at first sight, which is hokey enough on its own, but an established trope. Add to that ‘ol ‘Touchy-Feely’ Friedrich’s narration, and the scene is rather cringe-inducing in saccharine tone. The pair grab a cup of coffee and stare longingly into each other’s eyes until Green Arrow shows up and reacts about as well as you’d expect when he finds Ellis making time with his girl. The writer laughs the situation off, but he offers a chance for Dinah to meet him if she wants to “dump this crude bozo.” Here the narration switches to the standard omniscient third person.
He’s really lucky the Ace Archer doesn’t turn him into a pin cushion…
Afterwards, we follow ‘Harlequin,’ back to his…home? Office? It’s unclear, but his secretary and some other guy are there, presumably people actually connected to the real Ellison, but they add pretty much nothing to the story. The writer is deaf to their pleas, sitting at his typewriter, dreaming up stories concerning the JLA.
Suddenly, Green Arrow and Black Canary find themselves transported to Mexico, where they find a curio store with a strange artifact. When they touch it, they fade to black, and we cut to Superman, or, maybe Ellis imagining Superman? Either way, at this point the narrative perspective shifts again, and suddenly we’re supposed to identify with Ellis, who is apparently creating real events with his imagination, fueled by his broken heart…somehow. It is…confusing to say the least, and this artifact is never explained.
Superman, guided by Ellis, spies Canary, who is no longer in Mexico, I guess, and swoops down to carry her away, speaking romantically, which confuses the heroine. Then the Man of Steel spots the JLA, trapped in a cave by a cyclops, and he says he’s somehow responsible, presumably because Ellis has imagined all of this. What’s worse, Aquaman is dying! Super-Ellis charges the Cyclops, and, in a sequence with really heavy narration that drowns out the art, he overcomes the monster, only to arrive too late. Aquaman is dead!
Except, not really, of course. The Metropolis Marvel suddenly turns into Harlequin, and the League vanishes, leaving the Emerald Archer and the Dynamic Dame back at the restaurant where they started. Black Canary once again displays her ‘woman’s intuition’ powers and gets a sense of what’s happening, with a weird visualization of the ‘pit’ of despair that threatens to swallow Ellis, who is heartbroken over the rejection by the girl who he just met.
Heading to club where he offered to meet Black Canary, his mind drifts again, and suddenly he is Batman, observing Green Arrow facing a ‘Minotaur,’ which is clearly a centaur, while the lovely Mrs. Lance looks on. The unfortunate archer’s arrows are ineffective, and when Black Canary moves to intervene, Bat-Ellis jumps in to save her, using his cape to blind and defeat the beast. Once again, he is revealed to be the writer, and the scene fades, but the Emerald Archer is still hurt.
Summoning help, Dinah leaves Ollie to go meet Ellis, and we get another weird visualization of despair as she explains that her heart belongs to someone else…and apparently doesn’t bother to follow up on how this guy has incredibly potent reality warping powers. She just lets him walk away, and the comic ends with another appearance by Friedrich, who builds on his earlier statement, talking about how he identifies with all of his characters. It is a weird and not terribly clear or satisfying ending.
Yikes! This dialog!
So, this is one weird issue. It’s got a strange, dream-like structure that is confusing and disjointed. It’s trying so desperately for pathos and emotional weight, and it is just failing spectacularly in that regard. This is clearly a personal project for Friedrich, a fan letter to Harlan Ellison, which is fine, but it just doesn’t work for the rest of us. It is badly conceived, badly executed, and badly written.
Friedrich tries several interesting tactics here, but none of them really work. His structure, meant to evoke a certain stream-of-consciousness storytelling, leaves the readers unable to follow the plot (I’m still trying to figure out the magic artifact thing). The narration is another failed idea. Second person narration is traditionally used to place the reader in the story after a fashion, but he breaks whatever success that move could have had by switching characters multiple times. While I’m sure it would have been neat to see the wink at Harlan Ellison during this era, whose name was showing up all over the place in the 60s and 70s, including on some story credits at Marvel around this time, the story is just a mess. I’ll give it a sad 1.5 Minutemen.
New Gods #2
“O’Deadly Darkseid” Writer: Jack Kirby Penciler: Jack Kirby Inker: Vince Colletta Letterer: John Costanza Editor: Jack Kirby
Fortunately, we have another issue of Jack Kirby’s epic New Gods saga to make it up to us! It has another photo-collage cover, though you can hardly tell, as the image is dominated by Orion’s tortured form. That part of the composition is pretty great, but I think the three floating heads would have been better as just one figure, whether of Darkseid or his minions. Either way, it’s something of a mixed bag. When you open the book, however, the splash page more than makes up for it. It’s a great image of the opposed worlds of Apokolips and New Genesis with a nicely written bit of narration that catches new readers up on the mythic origins of our tale. I particularly like the description of Apokolips, with “its stark and functional temples–in which creatures of fury worship a creed of destruction!” Not half bad!
The story really begins with Highfather, who is communing once more with the Source, which tells him that it is time for more inhabitants of New Genesis to follow Orion to war. The young Lightray begs to make the journey, but he is refused, while on Earth, the man in question makes a disturbing discovery, as he finds Darkseid waiting for him at the home of one of his new human allies. The great villain sits impassively in a chair, and when Orion hesitates in his instinctive attack, the master of Apokolips taunts him with secret knowledge. Then, from behind the door springs one of his minions, who attacks the Dog of War with a “shock-prod.” Orion pushes through the pain and grapples his foe, eventually knocking him through the wall and sending him plummeting into the air, only for both Darkseid and his dance partner to disappear.
The scene seems slightly…beneath Darkseid. It isn’t quite grand enough, fitting more with a gangster film than a cosmic epic, with the single heavy hiding behind the door. I think Kirby is still finding the right tone for the character, as I suspected might be the case. After the fight, Orion’s five rescued companions introduce themselves, giving him an instant supporting cast.
Now, as I remember, these five contribute almost nothing to this book, but we’ll see if my memory has been unkind to them. They certainly don’t’ evince an excess of personality in this issue. I assume the King wanted to provide a human perspective on the grand cosmic tale he’s telling, but I think a single human sidekick could have filled that function more easily than five of them.
At any rate, the next scene follows the escaping Darkseid, who goes back to his hidden base and quickly displays his displeasure with his flunky’s failure. There he finds Desaad, who is working on a device to trigger abject panic in its targets in the hopes of triggering the brainwaves for which they are searching. After a successful test on the hapless workers nearby, Darkseid orders the device into action.
That’s some glorious Kirby-tech!
Meanwhile, Orion uses his Mother Box to fill his newfound friends in on the conflict into which they’ve stumbled, and we get previews of some of the Apokoliptian threats that face the Earth, including Mantis and the Deep Six. The fact that Kirby never had Aquaman encounter those aquatic aliens is a massively missed opportunity. This section serves as a bit of a catchup, bringing readers up to speed on the current state of affairs across the 4th World books, including a glance at the Wild Area from Jimmy Olsen.
Show and Tell time is interrupted by the unleashing of the fear ray, which sends the city into a panic. Orion dons his Astro Harness and rides to the rescue, and once again, I can’t help but feel like we’re probably missing some detail in some of these panels, thanks to Coletta. Either way, our ferocious hero arrives at the source of the ray, a giant billboard, but it has defenses of its own. He is blown out of the sky, but not before he blows it away in turn. Orion manages to stop his careening fall with a blast of his ‘Astro-Force,’ saving himself and returning to his friends. Darkseid, for his part, is disappointed at the lack of results, and in his dialog with Desaad we get yet more hints about Orion’s origins.
This is a pretty good issue, though it is largely setup and catchup. Still, it manages to provide us with a solid adventure tale and several moments of plot and character development. In terms of the art, it is absolutely beautiful for the most part, and if Kirby’s work got a bit too cramped and rushed in this month’s Forever People, that is absolutely not the case in this book, where he gives us not one, not two, not three, but FIVE lovely full-page splashes, not counting a gorgeous double-page image of New Genesis.
All of this eye candy robs us of some plot and action, leaving this issue feeling a bit thin, but it admirably serves its purpose of setting the stage for the adventures to follow. There are still a few spots where Kirby’s pencils are a bit off, notably with Orion looking a bit funky in a few panels, but his dialog is, thankfully, missing that occasional clunkiness we’ve noticed in these books. Taken on its own, this story is flawed but fun. I’ll give this issue 3.5 Minutemen, with the art making up for the paucity of plot.
“Enemy of Earth” Writer: Dennis O’Neil Penciler: Curt Swan Inker: Murphy Anderson Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Our final book for this post is another issue of Denny O’Neil’s Superman run. So far, these comics have proven to be pretty solid, if a bit strange at times. Let’s see how this one stacks up! First off, we’ve got a really striking and unusual cover. Adams has certainly rendered the bizarre mutations of the crowd well…but I’m not sure that the effect isn’t more comical than dramatic. Either way, the cover certainly piques a reader’s interest. The tale inside is a pretty solid adventure story, and there’s a certain amount of personality and wit that raise it above the average. It begins in standard Superman fashion, with the Man of Steel racing to save a crashing plane. Yet, the aircraft in question is an experimental device that has been up into space, and when the Kryptonian sets it down and rescues the pilot, he finds him hideously mutated!
After taking the unfortunate flyer to a hospital, where the doctors are completely stumped, the Man of Tomorrow reasons that the illness could be the result of an alien disease. To ensure that he isn’t contaminated, Superman just takes a quick jaunt to the radiation belt to take a bath in deadly rays, as only Superman can. This is a fun little scene, though there is a rare failure in Swan’s art as he can’t quite pull off an interesting illustration of the phenomena. I would rather have liked to see what Kirby would have done with that!
Returned to Earth, our hero changes into Clark, after which he is ambushed by Morgan Edge, who tries to give him a tongue lashing for not getting the story on the experimental ship, only to have Mr. Mild Mannered very politely but firmly let him know that the reporter was on the way to deliver that very scoop on the air. It’s a brief but nice scene, giving Clark a chance to show some personality, which is too rare in these older stories.
Yet, during the broadcast, the Kryptonian begins to feel weak, only to discover that the Sand creature that has been following him is nearby. Turning back into the Metropolis Marvel, Superman confronts his dusty double, but his efforts to communicate are met with silence while an attempted touch is met with a burst of energy so powerful it knocks him through the roof! Even worse, when the Action Ace regains his feet, he finds the Daily Planet staff have been affected by the same strange alien disease as the pilot! It seems clear that the radiation bath was insufficient and Superman has infected them. This leads us to a nice dilemma.
Superman realizes that he’s responsible for this and that he’s a danger to everyone he’s around, but just then he hears a mayday from Lois, who is on assignment in South America. Her plane is going down in an area being overrun by a horde of army ants that are consuming everything in their path. O’Neil displays a bit of personality and cleverness in Superman’s exasperated reaction as he observes “that girl just can’t lead a normal life!” It’s another small but enjoyable moment.
After alerting the hospital, the Man of Tomorrow takes off for South America, still trailed by the Sand-man (no, not that one!). Meanwhile, Lois’s plane has crashed, apparently because her moronic pilot forgot to put fuel in it! This is a weird little detail. What’s the point of it? There’s no real payoff, and it just seems too stupid to be believable. Nonetheless, that’s the explanation we’re given, and things get worse when bandits arrive!
Superman arrives to help, but when he lands amidst the marching army ants, two of them that touch him immediately grow to massive size and attack him. After disposing of them, the hero discovers that one of them grew even further after he hit it, and he wonders why. Disposing of the ants by throwing them into space, the Man of Steel faces a terrible choice.
He’s seen first hand how dangerous his mere presence can be, infected as he is with the strange disease. He wonders if he should head out into space, never to return, thus leaving Lois to her fate, or intervening and risking who knows what effects on Lois and perhaps even the microbes in the air itself. Now, this is, even in context, a bit extreme given the existence of sources of help like the Green Lantern Corps., but we’ll give it a pass for the dramatic weight it achieves.
Meanwhile, an ill-conceived bit of heroism leads to the pilot being knocked out and the bandits abandoning them both. Lois tries to lug this albatross around her neck to safety, but he’s too heavy and the ants are too swift. This leads to another really good moment, as the reporter contemplates just leaving the idiot, especially because this is his fault in the first place, but she decides she has to do the right thing, no matter the cost. That’s a great character moment for her, and it reveals the type of woman Lois should be.
Elsewhere, the doctors have cracked the case and cured the disease. They send out broadcasts to let Superman know, but in some good dramatic irony, he is sitting in space, unable to hear. Just then, the sand creature arrives, now somewhat colored after their contact. Realizing that the energy explosion after their encounter was the reason one of his hands didn’t infect one of the ants, the Man of Steel takes a desperate chance, embracing the creature and triggering a tremendous blast that sends him hurtling earthward like a meteorite.
He lands with a tremendous impact near Lois, and though he is weakened, he is stills strong enough to carry her and her burden to safety, handily capturing the bandits in the process. Just when it seems like everything is going to be alright, the sandy stranger arrives, finally able to talk after their latest contact, and the dusty doppelganger tells Superman that he is the Kryptonian’s exact equal, and he fears that they cannot both survive! Dun dun DUN!! That’s a pretty solid cliffhanger.
This is a pretty good story, even if it isn’t outright fantastic. We get a pretty great problem for our hero to solve, and it’s one for which all of his great strength is useless, and there are several small but entertaining moments that demonstrate a surprising amount of personality and even provide some character development. One of the strengths of O’Neil’s run is his tendency to provide Superman with interesting moral dilemmas, where his abilities are secondary to the problem at hand. It’s a good way to provide drama to a character as powerful as he is. I’ll give this one 4 Minutemen.
And that wraps us up for this post. It’s certainly an interesting trio of books, and the JLA issue especially is something of a time-capsule, both for fashion and for culture. Thank you for joining me in my journey through these classic comics! I hope y’all will join me again soon for the last issues of the month. In the meantime, stay dry and safe out there in the real world! Here in the Grey household, our prayers are with those affected by the hurricanes, fires, and floods. Until next time, keep the heroic spirit alive, and as part of that, try to find some way to help those that need it!