Hello Internet travelers, and welcome to the final edition of Into the Bronze Age for May, 1971! We’ve got three tales to finish out the month, and though quality varies, there’s plenty here to enjoy. I hope that all of my readers are safe and sound, having escaped from the various disasters plaguing us at the moment. Speaking of escapes, let’s do just that, find our way to a world full of heroes and find solace in the fantastic and the wondrous!
(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.
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #110
“Indian Death Charge!” Writer: Robert Kanigher Penciler: Werner Roth Inker: Vince Colletta Cover Artist: Dick Giordano
“The Face of Fate” Writer: Robert Kanigher Penciler: Ross Andru Inker: Mike Esposito
Well, we’ve got quite a cover on this month’s Lois Lane issue. I…hardly know where to begin. It’s beautifully drawn by Dick Giordano, but it certainly is unusual. Lois protecting a Native American baby is one thing, that getup is something else. It really is a pretty striking image, with a crowd of angry white faces threatening in the background, even throwing rocks. Given the attitudes about racial mixing that still exist today, you can imagine what it might have been like in 1971, seeing a white woman with an Indian baby, claiming it as her own. The ridiculous elements of the image aside, it still probably created something of a stir.
The story within seems an obvious attempt by Kanigher to capitalize on his success with his previous excellent racial story. Sadly, this one isn’t nearly as good. It begins in a similar way, with Lois pursuing a feature in the ghetto of Metropolis, where she is interviewing candidates for the Daily Planet’s “Mother of the Year” contest. Yet, just as in the previous book, she is rebuffed by the natives of the place, though this time not because of her race. Instead, a mother rather unkindly attacks the reporter because she is not a mother and so is unfit to pick one.
The career-minded Lois replies with biting sarcasm and flippant wit…oh wait, no, she is immediately consumed by an existential crisis because a stranger pointed out she doesn’t have children, and she weakly tells Clark that she would have a family, if only Superman would marry her. This little scene bothered me a bit, though I suppose I should have expected it. I want Lois to be the confident, self-assured woman we’ve been getting glimpses of lately, and this seemed a bit weak for her. Nonetheless, she begs off the story with Perry and is sent to cover a Pueblo Indians rain dance on a reservation in the west, with Clark along to cover the same story for TV.
While there, we get a cross-section of the tourists, all saying various terrible things, which sets the tone for the encounter. The Pueblo tribesmen declare that they won’t hold the dance, as it is a religious ceremony and not a circus. The crowd gets ugly, and Superman has to intervene to prevent a riot. He whips up a dust storm to blind and separate the crowds, and while he is working, Lois tries to help a young Indian mother get her child to safety, but the girl declares “My baby must learn to expect hurt from the white man!” Wow! Yeah, no-one in this country has gotten a worse deal than the Native Americans, but I’d still say that doesn’t exactly make her mother of the year material, what with the willful endangerment of her infant and all!
As the crowds break up, Lois follows the Pueblo people, offering to help. They refuse her aid, but let her accompany them, telling their story. It is a sadly familiar tale of exploitation and corruption, the eradication of the buffalo herds and the theft of land, but it has a particular wrinkle. The Indian leader, Johnny Lone Eagle, shows the reporter a dam being constructed that threatens to flood their village. What’s worse, the dam isn’t fated to provide power to a city or anything so useful or productive. No, it’s only going to create a lake for a rich man’s fishing preserve.
The Pueblo tribesmen plan to attack and dynamite the dam, risking their lives, women and children too, to protect their homes. Lois observes their war dance the night before the attack, but convinces their leader to let her report the story….with smoke signals. Oookay. That’s a bit much, and it rather undercuts the seriousness of the story. A little later on, the young Indian mother, Singing Rain, is discovered laying on the ground, apparently badly injured, though she looks more like she just can’t be bothered to get up.
Deathly ill or just mildly annoyed?
On the morning of the showdown, the Indians and the construction workers face off, about to come to blows, when Superman scoops up the entire dam, angry crowds in tow, and drops it into a mountain valley, quickly shaping the place into a replacement pond with super strength, and thus solving the problem.
Yet, Singing Rain has apparently worsened, and she dies, but not before giving her baby son to Lois to raise as her own. Lois is touched and promises to care for ‘Little Moon,’ though no-one, white or red, is happy about it. We see her happily taking care of the little tyke, but things take a turn when a sleazy publisher who would give even J. Jonah Jameson pause tries to get her to sell the rights of her story. When she refuses, the fellow twists the facts, claiming she approached him, and soon the foster mother finds herself the center of competing protests.
Shortly thereafter, Lois is driving when she is forced off of a bridge! In other words, it’s a Tuesday. She and the baby plunge into a river, and though the reporter finds herself trapped, she desperately pushes the child to the surface, only to be rescued at the last moment by a Native American soldier. She awakens in the hospital to find Joseph Bright Wing, Little Moon’s father, who was missing in Vietnam. He was in the truck which sent her careening off the bridge, on his way home, having escaped from a V.C. prisoner of war camp.
He thanks the girl reporter for caring for his son and notes that she almost gave her life for the boy. She bids Little Moon a tearful farewell, and the story ends with an unexpected ceremony, wherein Lois Lane is surprisingly selected as the Daily Planet’s (foster) mother of the year. Yet, one moron in the crowd can’t keep his mouth shut, and he calls out that she’s color-blind, caring for an Indian baby. We get a real clunker in her reply, as Lois answers back that: “It’s you who are blind! My heart and Little Moon’s are the same color!”
It’s…an unsatisfying conclusion, really. Superman snaps his super fingers and solves the racial conflict, giving both sides what they want, despite the fact that the sides were not equal in merit. The trouble is that the rich jerk who was willing to flood an entire village so he could take a private fishing holiday didn’t deserve to get what he wanted. I’d have rather seen some of the social justice-oriented Superman we glimpsed in O’Neil’s run, smashing the dam and changing hearts, not just placating the bullies pushing around the little guys. The ending to Lois’s plot is okay, but just packed full of convenience. It’s positively deus ex machina. She happens to run off the road right in front of the child’s father, who just happened to be coming home from Vietnam at that exact moment. Kanigher is clearly trying to recreate the magic of the previous story’s powerful ending with their hospital room meeting, but this one just doesn’t come together naturally or effectively.
This issue has a great message about the humanity and dignity of America’s abused native population and about the insignificance of racial difference, but they are rather lost in the shuffle of competing elements. This comic ups the drama and the stakes compared to the previous tale of this type, but it moves too far too quickly. There was something remarkably realistic, despite the fantastic trappings, in the previous yarn. This one tries to cram a bit too much into the plot, leaving too little room for pathos. Instead, it descends to bathos. Yet, Kanigher’s heart is certainly in the right place, and it is interesting to see him focus on native peoples and the continuing themes of racial divisions. Perhaps the most striking thing about this issue is the blatant racism on display in many of the background characters, an ugliness that is treated pretty straight-forwardly. It’s surprising and arresting.
As for Roth’s art, for the most part it is beautiful and detailed, as it usually is. I’m still really enjoying his tenure on this book, but there are a few moments where his work fails in its storytelling duties, as when the supposedly injured Singing Rain looks more like she’s mildly perturbed rather than desperately hurt. Still, Roth fills the book with interesting and detailed faces and delivers some solid emotional work throughout. All things considered, I’ll give this ambitious but rather flawed issue 2.5 Minutemen. It just doesn’t manage to capture either the quiet dignity or the gentle impact of Kanigher’s previous effort.
“The Face of Fate”
Topping off this issue is another Kanigher-penned tale, the continuation of his Rose and Thorn feature. This one picks up where the last left off, with the titular Thorn haunted by the spirit of a wronged woman that wants vengeance in order to find its peace. The plea for revenge has found the right type of audience, and the next night, the Thorn sets out to find the girl’s killer, Albert Talbot, and bring him to justice! On her nightly prowl, the female fury finds her boyfriend, Detective Danny Stone, getting his head handed to him by a pack of 100 thugs. It’s just possible that Stone is really bad at his job given how often she has to rescue him!
The Baleful Beauty comes on like Gang Busters and takes out the gunsels, only to discover that Stone’s sister may be following in her ghostly guide’s footsteps, falling for the charms and hollow promises of her target! This is…a bit convenient and an unnecessary complication. However, because the supernatural is involved, you could hand-wave it as the workings of fate. A bit of dialog drawing attention to this fact would have gone a long way, however.
Following the slightly dented detective’s lead, the Nymph of Night manages to locate Talbot’s estate/hideout, and she scales the fence, taking out a pack of dogs and then a passel of guards with various trick thorns in a rather nice looking set of sequences. Finally, the Vixen of Vengeance earns her name by facing down the felonious fiend who murdered poor Selena.
Talbot has taken Detective Stone’s sister hostage, but as he threatens her with a candelabra, he unwittingly sets the drapes alight in his panic, setting the whole house ablaze in no-time. The Thorn saves the foolish girl, but she is unwilling to let even such a despicable lout as Talbot meet his fate in a fire, so she rushes in to save him as well. She succeeds, pulling him from the flames, but he is horribly burned, meeting a similar fate as his victim. To add ironic salt to his wounds, the Baleful Beauty leaves him the same mask worn by Selena years ago. When she returns home that morning, the Thorn sees Selena’s spirit fade away, finally able to find peace.
This is a brief and absolutely packed story! It’s actually pretty good, which adds to my growing impression that Kanigher was actually best in small doses. He really crams plot into these few pages, and though he over does it a bit, the end result is a pretty solid tale of vengeance. The final showdown is rapid-fire but quite dramatic, and the irony of the ending is pretty effective. The villain meets a fairly grisly fate, and this type of approach to justice continues to set this feature apart from the rest of the DCU. It’s rather refreshing to find a tale like this as the exception, rather than the rule in a superhero universe! There are some slightly clunky elements, as with the random element of Stone’s sister and history repeating itself, but she does add to the tension in the final scene and add a bit more urgency to the plot. I’m actually a bit surprised that Kanigher wrapped this arc up in just two issues. I rather expected it to have a bit more buildup, and it may have benefited from such. Nonetheless, the final effect was pretty solid, and Rose and Thorn continues to be a strong feature. I’ll give this outing 3.5 Minutemen.
World’s Finest #202
“Vengeance of the Tomb-Thing!” Writer: Dennis O’Neil Penciler: Dick Dillin Inker: Joe Giella Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano
Rounding out the month of May, we’ve got another adventure of the world’s finest team, and it’s a fairly solid one. We’ve got a wonderfully dynamic cover with the two super-friends locked in deadly combat. The strange enthroned figure behind them looks suitably alien, though the featureless orb isn’t as menacing as it might be. I’m reminded a bit of the titular Robot Monster. The cover text boldly proclaims that this image is not a cheat, which is certainly intriguing. It’s a beautifully illustrated composition, which makes the opening splash page of the book, which largely recreates it, a tad disappointing. Dick Dillin is a fine artist, but comparing his work to Neal Adams’ is a losing proposition in my book.
The actual tale begins with a stormy night over a distant Middle Eastern desert, where a familiar flying red and blue form is struck by lightning, and, strangely, knocked out of the sky by the bolt! A gang of desert bandits hear the impact and are soon astounded when Superman walks out of the rain and into their camp. Even more amazing, the Man of Steel seems to have lost his memory, and the bandit leader, ‘Bedouin Brakh,’ decides to use the confused hero to forward his own nefarious goals.
The next day finds Lois Lane (of course) covering a nearby archeological dig of the tomb of ‘King Malis,’ (I bet he was a real nice guy) when they are suddenly attacked by bandits. The archeologists take a page from Dr. Jones and prove that any well stocked expedition is a well armed one, opening fire on the raiders. Yet, one of them proves bullet-proof, and he smashes through the guards. Lois, displaying rather insane levels of courage, bare-handedly attacks the man she just saw shrug off rifle bullets, revealing him as Superman! Unfortunately, it’s an amnesiac Man of Tomorrow who doesn’t recognize her, and the girl reporter finds herself taken prisoner. The bandits use the confused champion, dressed up as a ghost, to scare away other visitors and take over the dig in order to loot it.
Back in the states, a certain millionaire playboy hears about the mystery surrounding these events on the news and decides that Batman should investigate, which is a tad random. O’Neil gives us a few touches of realism as Bruce complains about the heat and closes his eyes to prepare to enter the tomb without being blinded by the change in light. Such little details are welcome. and add to the slightly higher tone of the tale
As the Dark Knight springs into the supposedly haunted tomb, he surprises the Bedouin guards and acquits himself well until Superman suddenly appears. The Masked Manhunter thinks his friend is playing a part, so he goes along with what he expects to be a staged fight, but only too late does he realize that the conflict is in deadly earnest. The Man of Steel chokes his friend out, and the bandits take the Gotham Guardian prisoner!
Meanwhile, we see Superman…or rather, SuperMEN, smashing into icy cliffs in the arctic. What is this?! It seems that the real Metropolis Marvel has been at this Fortress of Solitude working on his Superman robots, trying to get them functioning properly. O’Neil hits his one of his favorite notes as we’re told that the trouble is too much pollution in the air, which is making the bots go haywire. That bugged me a bit, because it felt a tad forced. An increase in radiation affecting the machines would make a certain amount of sense, but this just seems a bit silly, an excuse for mentioning the author’s pet subject. Nonetheless, the Kryptonian decides that he can’t trust his doppelgangers any longer, despite his best efforts, and he discovers that one of his robots is missing. Heading back home, he hears about Lois’s disappearance and streaks off to the rescue.
Arriving at the tomb, he confronts the bandits, who have enslaved their prisoners, forcing them to excavate the site. Of course the sinister Superman is, in fact, the renegade robot. Interestingly, when the real Man of Steel orders his artificial android back home, it refuses for an intriguing reason. While its master has never treated it as anything but a machine, Brakh has treated it as a friend, and so it chooses to stand with him. That’s…actually almost touching if you think about it. Superman is entirely unmoved by this and doesn’t bother to ask if androids dream of electric sheep, just smashing the apparently sentient super-bot without a qualm!
Batman gets in on the action, dropping the bandit, but the tomb is opened in the struggle, and a strange red light escapes from it, weakening the Metropolis Marvel. Suddenly he is no match for the renegade robot, who lays a vicious beating on him in revenge for his mistreatment. The Dark Knight tries to intercede, but the machine easily cleans his clock. Just then, a glowing figure emerges from the darkness of the sepulcher in a nicely dramatic appearance. It’s a mummy with a glowing red globe for a head, and it starts smashing everyone nearby. This could look rather goofy, but I find it a surprisingly effective design.
Taking a gamble, the Caped Crusader comes to his senses just in time to rescue Superman, tossing his cape over the creature’s glowing gourd. His hunch was right, the creature’s head is some kind of device that gives off radiation similar to that of a red sun, weakening the Kryptonian. When the antagonistic android tries to intercede, Batman gets some revenge, smashing the machine, and when the recovered mummy attacks again, Superman returns the favor, knocking the shinning sphere off of its shoulders with a boulder and then smashing what is revealed to be its robotic body.
The exhausted champions theorize that the legendary King Malis was actually some type of advanced android created by an alien race and imprisoned on Earth centuries ago. Sure. That makes sense in a comic book-y kind of way. The heroes suspect they’ll never learn the details of this weird case, but the Man of Steel notes that, whoever those beings were, “they had problems very like ours!”
Ohh! Batman with the bad-A one liner! Nice!
That’s a droll ending to a fun adventure. O’Neil gives us a solid romp here, full of dramatic peril and heroic efforts. While Batman’s ignominious defeat by the Superman robot the first time is a bit disappointing, for the most part we see the wit and energy here that characterizes O’Neil’s better stories, as when Superman casually notes that he’d have to be foolish to make his own robots stronger than he is. Strangely, despite the fact that O’Neil is doing such a bang-up job on the Batman books at this time, he doesn’t quite seem to capture the Dark Knight’s voice in this yarn. Other than that, there are only two real flaws here, one being that the Masked Manhunter is captured, but not turned into the Maskless Manhunter, which makes no sense. Why in the world wouldn’t the villains want to unmask Batman? It’s a common trope, but not a good one.
Perhaps more significantly, nobody at all seems even mildly concerned that this robot has suddenly developed sentience and free will, perhaps making it, in C.S. Lewis’s terminology, hnau. Instead, his creator seems just mildly miffed that his walking toaster is talking back to him. Frankensteinthis ain’t, is what I’m saying, but as has often been the case with the stories we’ve encountered so far, this tale raises the specter of themes that it doesn’t have the interest to pursue, and that’s a shame. Still, despite that oversight, O’Neil delivers a fun read here. It might have benefited from being a two-parter and developing Malis and this strange alien race some more, but we’re left with the impression of depth. Dillin’s art is really quite good throughout as well, and we’re not seeing some of that stiffness that often accompanies his JLA work. There are several really nice sequences in this story. I suppose I’ll give this adventure 3.5 Minutemen, as it is fun, but not quite living up to its potential. On an unrelated note, it looks like the next issue features Aquaman. Yay!
The Head-Blow Headcount:
We’ve got no additions to the Wall of Shame this month, but we’ve still collected quite a list of characters. Who knows how many head-blows the future holds?
Well, it took me a while, but I’ve gotten through another month in our journey! Quite a month it was, featuring the return of legendary (and legendarily bad) Bat-villain, the Ten-Eyed Man…for some reason! The ridiculousness of that story alone made this month of comics worth the read for me! Still, there was a lot more here than just the Emperor of the Occulus. We’ve also got Batgirl’s fashion adventures, an (almost) guest appearance by Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon, and a cameo by Alfred Hitchcock. You don’t see that every day in comics!
We encountered my least favorite JLA issue to date, thought it was certainly fascinating as a cultural artifact, providing a brief glimpse of the pop-culture production of the early 70s, as well as some biographical elements of a famed sci-fi writer. Perhaps most notably, it pointed to Harlan Ellison’s involvement with comics in this era and the overlap and cross-pollination between mediums that is always the case. The Flash continues to be a real, real drag, ironically enough, though the inclusion of an Elongated Man backup should help to lighten the blow. O’Neil’s Superman, on the other hand, is staying surprisingly strong, delivering fun, even somewhat thoughtful, comics. Now that he’s got full-length books to work with, it is paying off well. It’s a shame that his Green Lantern/Green Arrow work can’t evince the same sense of adventure and wit. I suppose he is trying too hard in that book.
On an even more exciting note, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga continues to develop, and with second issues, we’re starting to get into the meat of his stories. Having read through his Fantastic Four run since the last time I read these books, I have a new perspective on how he is developing as an artist and storyteller, and it is fascinating to see. Of course, it continues to be really interesting to see the context of his efforts in the Fourth World, and what is going on in the rest of the DCU really illustrates just how innovative and different his work was. This month’s brief glimpse of cosmic, psychedelic elements in the Forever People is just a hint of such difference, but it is a telling one.
In terms of cultural significance, we saw a continued interest in the turmoil on campuses in both the Robin backup and our weird Supergirl tale this month, though it isn’t given as much focus as it has been. Lois had another racially charged adventure this month, and despite its lack of success as a story, it points to the increasing social awareness in the DCU and, in particular, a focus on Native American issues.
Notably, we also saw the creation of a character by the ever unpredictable Bob Haney that really defied expectations for this era in the form of the feminine yet entirely independent and self-possessed Ruby Ryder. Strangely, this was actually one of the elements of the month’s books that I found most interesting. When even heroic women like Black Canary are still occasionally depicted as shrinking violets, it’s interesting to see Haney’s femme fatale hold her own in a man’s world, a businesswoman in an era when that type of thing was exceptionally rare.
Well, that will do it for the month of May, 1971! I hope that y’all enjoyed the ride as much as I enjoyed the reads. Stay safe out there in the real world! For those of you in the paths of hurricanes, fires, floods, or earthquakes, I wish you all the best, and you’re in our prayers in the Grey household. Remember folks, do what you can to help out, as there is a lot of need. Until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!