I am vengeance, I am the night, I am Bronze Age awesomeness! Welcome, Internet travelers, to another edition of Into the Bronze Age, where we’ve got a set of Bat-comics on the docket. We’ve got the whole Bat-Family in attendance, as well as some friends of the cowl, so let’s we what they’re up to!
(You can see everything published this month HERE)
Action Comics #404
Adventure Comics #410
Brave and the Bold #97
Detective Comics #415
The Flash #209
Forever People #4
G.I. Combat #149
Justice League of America #92
New Gods #4
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #113
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141
World’s Finest #205
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
“Swamp Sinister” Writer: Dennis O’Neil Penciler: Irv Novick Inker: Dick Giordano Letterer: John Costanza Editor: Julius Schwartz Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano
“The Outcast Society” Writer: Mike Friedrich Penciler: Irv Novick Inker: Dick Giordano
“Castle With Wall-to-Wall Danger!” Writer: John Broome Penciler: Carmine Infantino Inker: Joe Giella Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
This month, our headline tale is another episode in the growing saga Ra’s Al Ghul, but this time it doesn’t have Neal Adams’ peerless pencils to help it. According to our credits, he was involved in the cover, but it looks much more like Dick Giordano to me. Either way, it’s a solid composition, capturing a nicely dramatic scene, though something of a cheat. The story within is not quite as good as the earlier entries in the set, but the last one makes an especially hard act to follow. It begins, dramatically enough, with a body delivered to Bruce Wayne’s penthouse apartment! As the great detective begins trying to piece together where his deceased guest might have come from, the mysterious Ra’s Al Ghul arrives and helpfully explains.
It seems that the head of the League of Shadows himself sent the body, by way of a calling card. The horribly disfigured corpse was once one of his men, a researcher named Pollard, who, together with another named Striss, was working on a chemical compound for him, a compound that “renders molybdenum as weak as tinfoil.” Yet, instead of delivering the formula once it was prepared, they planned to steal it. Interrupting the theft, Al Ghul was struck down, and the thieves escaped.
Talia discovered her father and set out after the traitors, while their doctors managed to revive the Demon’s Head. Notably, for the first time we begin to get a sense of Al Ghul’s immortality angle, as he mentions having been revived often before, but there is no sign yet of the Lazarus Pits. As for the corpse, it seems that the chemical the thieves stole has an unexpected side effect. If left exposed to the air, it becomes a deadly plague. The horrible disfigurement of Pollard is the result. Having been exposed during his attack on Al Ghul, Pollard died shortly thereafter, but Striss escaped, ignorant of the danger of what he carried. Now Al Ghul must locate the fugitive before his daughter, who is ignorant of these facts, does, and he needs the World’s Greatest Detective to do so in time.
The Dark Knight agrees, as if he has any choice, and takes off. He theorizes that Striss will want to test his chemical, and he goes to the closest supply of molybdenum, which is held by an eccentric billionaire. At the fellow’s mansion, Batman discovers an attack already underway. The gate has been gassed, and masked men stalk the grounds. Taking out the marauders in a nicely drawn sequence, the Caped Crusader makes his way into the mansion itself, where he finds a frightened French housekeeper who tells him that the invaders took the master of the house to “the small stream.”
The hero is momentarily stumped, knowing there are innumerable smalls streams around, but then he realizes that, in French, the word for “small stream” is “bayou,” and he makes an important connection. He realizes that Striss has taken his billionaire captive to the eccentric fellow’s private fallout shelter, which is located in the Louisiana bayou.
Tracking them with the help of Ra’s, Batman bails out of a plane over the swamp and begins his search, finally interrupting an confrontation between the villainous doctor and Talia. During the ensuing struggle, the chemical vial is shattered, and Striss falls into the lethal liquid. The others escape, and Al Ghul’s doctors manage to treat them for the plague. The tale ends with Batman noting that the grateful kiss he receives from Talia would be much more enjoyable if he hadn’t just witnessed her cold willingness to kill.
This is a fair enough little adventure, and we get a few interesting moments with Al Ghul, including the hints about his unnatural resiliency. Yet, there isn’t a lot to it, and the final result feels a little lackluster, especially in comparison to the rather breathtaking chapter that preceded it. Al Ghul isn’t quite as mysterious or fascinating a figure, and although Batman and Talia share an intriguing moment at the end, she doesn’t really have much to do either. In the end, the tale feels a bit cramped, and Novick’s art, though solid as usual, isn’t quite as striking as Adams’, especially when it comes to R’as himself. I’ll give this story 3.5 Minutemen. It’s fine, but it isn’t exceptional.
“The Outcast Society”
Our Robin backup continues the hippie commune-centered adventure of the previous issue. Robin is fairly appalled at the poor conditions in which the commune inhabitants live, with rickety shacks for shelter, no power, and carrying their water from the nearby stream. The leader of the dirty hippies, Jonathan, tells the young hero that they don’t want his “plastic world.” There’s an interesting connection there to a recent Green Lantern issue about the growing artificialness of the world. Despite the protestations of the hippie head-man, Robin insists that he must arrest Pat Whalon, as the bullet that his girlfriend wears around her neck, the same that was dug out of his leg, matches the gun of her policeman father, who was shot down in the previous issue.
The ‘Outcast Society’ refuses to let the Teen Wonder take the punk, saying they have to vote about whether or not to allow this. Funny, but I don’t think the cops would see it that way. Robin agrees to be patient and gets the grand tour. He sees the hippies building, working, and farming, and the portrayal of the place is full of starry-eyed optimism. Dick takes part and pitches in, while Pat makes a nuisance of himself, bragging about his radical exploits and generally being a real jerk. Finally, the Community votes to let the Teen Detective arrest the rabble-rouser, but Pat sets a nearby field ablaze and escapes!
This a decent little tale, though not terribly compelling. Novick and Giordano do a really good job with the art, though, bringing energy and personality to the various characters inhabiting this world that helps to make this story where not much happens still feel somewhat worthwhile. Robin in particular looks great, with his cape always whipping about dramatically. It’s rather funny to see the sympathetic treatment of hippie communes here from a modern perspective. Old ‘Touchy-Feely’ Friedrich is in full swing. Notably, most communes didn’t fare too well or last too long. Unsurprisingly, taking a bunch of ignorant kids who don’t know how to do anything and don’t have any kind of solid moral code and sticking them in a field to make their own way didn’t generally turn out all that well. I’ll give this particular Outcast tale an average 3 Minutemen. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t particularly great, either.
The Brave and the Bold #97
“The Smile of Choclotan!” Writer: Bob Haney Penciler: Bob Brown Inker: Nick Cardy Editor: Murray Boltinoff
“Who Has Been Lying in My Grave?” Writer: Arnold Drake Penciler: Carmine Infantino Inker: George Roussos Editor: Jack Miller
Our bi-monthly dose of Zaney Haney comes with another helping of Wildcat this month, which is always welcome. As I’ve said before, the character that Haney really had the best handle on was ‘ol Ted Grant. Yet, this issue doesn’t really take advantage of that familiarity. Our heroes are partnered up on the cover, but that isn’t quite the case in the comic itself. The cover has nice Nick Cardy art, and it makes for a striking image, though it is a fairly massive cheat, in terms of the story it represents. There’s not even that much of a defense of the image as symbolic.
That story begins in fine fashion, with Bruce Wayne, vacationing in Acapulco, watching a young man preparing for a demanding cliff-dive. Suddenly, the bold billionaire sees a rifleman, preparing to kill the kid. When the native makes his dive, so does Bruce, as Batman! Using his cape as a parachute (which we haven’t seen too often at this point, I think, but will eventually become a staple of the character), the Dark Knight manages to ruin the would-be killer’s shot.
Later on, Bruce, back in-mufti, follows the assassin’s target, a young native named Luis. He spots a poster of his old friend, Wild Cat, apparently boxing in the local arena under the name El Tigre. Strange! Just then, the hapless kid is jumped by a trio of knife-wielding thugs. Batman intervenes once more, but by the time he dispatches the desperadoes, Luis has vanished.
That night, Bruce attends the fight, only to see the former champ get drugged and knocked out. When the hoods try to get to him under cover of the ensuing riot, the Masked Manhunter takes a hand once more. Rescuing Ted and his assistant, who turns out to be Luis, the Dark Detective takes them to their shack, where he learns their story. It seems that Ted had once fought Luis’s father, and after the Mexican boxer refused to take advantage when Ted got resin in his eyes during a match, the pair became great friends.
Years later, when Luis’s father began to search for a lost cultural treasure of Mexico, an idol of the ‘smiling god,’ Choclotan (which is, of course, fictional), the old champ came to help. Yet, when the pair were searching the mountains for the lost treasure, Luis’s father was killed and Ted’s head was creased by a bullet, leaving him amnesiac. Apparently there is a sinister band of smugglers after the treasure as well, headed by a shadowy figure known as El Grande. They are the ones behind the attacks on the duo.
Luis found his costume and has been helping him make a living by fighting as ‘El Tigre,’ while the youth cliff-dived for tourists. Yep, sounds like a great plan. Have the man with brain damage fight in boxing matches! Anyway, poor judgement aside, Batman agrees to help, and they set out to search for Choclotan. They encounter an old friend of Luis’s family on the way, a rancher named El Sordo, who owns a massive stead in they area they are traveling. Apparently he was Luis’s father’s manager, and he offers to guide the group in their search.
On the way, Ted suddenly snaps out of his fugue for a moment, telling the group they need to climb a nearby cliff. When the agile Luis does so, he sees massive jaguar prints carved in the valley, leading the way to the treasure, and tells Batman that jaguars were the sacred animal of Choclotan. As they push on, the group realizes they’re being followed, and that night, while El Sordo is on watch, the Dark Knight makes his own patrol, only to be attacked by machete-armed muchachos. Suddenly, Wildcat appears and lends a hand, and the pair manage to fight off the fiends and discover an apparently wounded El Sordo.
Yet, when they finally reach the end of the trail, a flooded volcano crater, and Luis dives in to locate the treasure, his reemergence reveals treachery! El Sordo is, in fact, El Grande, and he has captured the heroes. Insisting that Ted is merely faking his memory loss, Grande/Sordo has his beastly henchman, called ‘The Ox,’ attempt to beat the truth out of the boxer. Despite the champ’s best efforts, he takes a beating and finally tells their captors that he remembers.
The treasure, he claims, is in a nearby cave, and his confession is taken as a terrible betrayal by young Luis. Yet, when the smugglers enter the cave, Wildcat suddenly stops Luis from following, and moments later, a massive jet of water shoots out of the cavern, washing the would-be thieves away! The treasure chamber was booby-trapped, and Ted’s memory had come back, allowing him to recall this and trick their enemies. Finally, the trio discover the grinning god, and Choclotan can return to his people.
This is a fun yarn, and it is honestly rather tame for a Zaney Haney offering. The plot is relatively unified by his standards, and while the exotic Mexican setting provides plenty of flavor, there aren’t any particularly insane flourishes to speak of. Sadly, Wildcat isn’t really present for much of this story, instead he’s present in name only, as his amnesiac self lacks any real personality.
There are some nice elements to the adventure, like the surprisingly subtle hint about El Sordo, when we learn that this wealthy rancher was formerly just a fight manager, which should make an attentive reader suspicious. Of course, such a reader would also notice that Wildcat effectively killed several men in the finale, a fact that is barely acknowledged. Yes, it’s mostly an example of a ‘hoisted by your own petard‘ trope, but Ted’s role is a bit more direct than those usually are, as he willfully sends them into a situation he knows will probably kill them. That’s problematic, but such concerns never slowed Zaney Haney down one bit.
On the art front, I can’t say I’m fond of the combination of Bob Brown and Nick Cardy. Brown seems to be trying to ape Cardy, or Cardy is overwhelming Brown, but the final result is less somewhat than the sum of its parts, seeming like a poor compromise between their two styles. I suppose I’ll give this fine, Indiana Jones-style adventure 3.5 Minutemen. It’s an entertaining read.
Detective Comics #415
“Challenge of the Consumer Crusader” Writer: Frank Robbins Penciler: Bob Brown Inker: Dick Giordano Letterer: John Costanza Editor: Julius Schwartz Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano
“Death Shares the Spotlight!” Writer: Frank Robbins Penciler/Inker: Don Heck Letterer: Ben Oda
“The Forbidden Trick” Writer: William Woolfolk Penciler: Leonard Starr Inker: Leonard Starr Editor: Whitney Ellsworth
“The Case of the Finders Keepers” Penciler/Inker: John Prentice
Our issue of Detective Comics this month is notable, not so much for its story, which is fair enough, but for the real-life people it is based on, which provide another of those intriguing glimpses into the zeitgeist of the era that I love. We’ve got a solid enough cover, a dramatic image of the hanging Batman, though it is, unsurprisingly, something of a cheat. The tale within begins with the Dark Knight following, of all things, a garbage truck! He’s trailing two trashmen when they jump a man in a suit and prepare to throw him into the compactor in the back of their truck. The Caped Crusader intervenes, and with the help of the would-be victim, he manages to chase the thugs off.
After the action, the Masked Manhunter discovers that their target was none-other than Tom Carson, famed “consumer crusader” and “leader of ‘Carson’s Consumer Commandos.'” That’s right, there’s a Ralph Nader in the DC Universe! This fascinates me. Ralph Nader is a champion of consumer rights and has been a huge factor in holding government and industry accountable for their deeds in the U.S. in the last half century. He also created “Nader’s Raiders” and “Public Citizen,” a pair of watchdog groups that advocated for public interests. Nader was in the headlines in the early 70s, and it is fun to see him and his work referenced in such a way in comics. What an unusual topic for a superhero story!
Anyway, this pseudo-Nader, Tom Carson, tells Batman that he has a lot of enemies because of all of the big companies he’s ticked off by exposing their malfeasance. Yet, the most recent case is Magna Industries, who were preparing to introduce a “microwave anti-pollution device.” Carson’s group was testing their product, and he notes that a poor result could be disastrous for the company. The Caped Crusader drops Carson off with Barbara Gordon for safekeeping, which is a fun little detail, and then he heads to check out Ben Ames, president of the company in question. He notes that, as Bruce Wayne, he knows Ames personally, and can’t believe he’s behind the hit.
At the Ames estate, the Dark Knight sees a light on and reasons that the corporate bigwig might be waiting for a certain call. Disguising his voice, Batman fakes the call from the Carson’s car, which he borrowed, and proves Ames’ guilt. In order to figure out his motive, the hero tries a more theatrical approach. He uses some of Carson’s spare clothes and some phosphorescent paint to stage a ghostly visitation. Suddenly, Ames is confronted by the “ghost” of the man he tried to have killed! During the confrontation, Ames declares that Carson drove him to it because he tried to blackmail his company, threatening to release a damning report, despite the fact that the device was perfectly safe.
One mystery solved, the Masked Manhunter sets out to find who is in back of the blackmail scheme. Heading to Carson’s headquarters, he interrupts his assistant, Joan Wilde, in the middle of a call to Ames. Unfortunately, she has confederates. In a neat sequence, they attack Batman, using the various testing devices in the consumer products laboratory. After a desperate and colorful battle, the Dark Knight manages to turn the tables on his antagonists, who get caught in their own trap as the machines turn on them.
You’ve heard of jungle Batman and snow Batman, but how about disco Batman! Staying alive, staying alive!
Pursuing the femme fatale behind the caper, the hero leaps into a convenient car to give chase to her, only to realize it is hooked to a crane for crash testing. Before he can react, the Dark Detective finds himself hurled high into the air, only moments from a cataclysmic collision with the ground.
When the car comes crashing down, Miss Wilde is certain she has disposed of her foe, only for Batman to emerge, a little worse for the wear but uninjured, from the smoke. He tells her that he threw himself into teh air to avoid contact with the car, and that, plus the airbags, allowed him to survive. I’m not sure that would actually work, but it makes comic sense, so I’ll give it a pass. The issue ends with Carson discovering the corruption in his organization and being cleared of any involvement.
This is a solid little mystery, and the fight in the testing laboratory is pretty fun and creative. It’s a really clever setting for a superhero fight, filled with lots of bizarre gadgets and silly contraptions that make for good superheroic fodder, all of which could realistically exist in such a place. It’s also really quite interesting to see the consumer rights revolution make its way into comics, albeit obliquely. Who knew the DC Universe had their own Ralph Nader? You keep up the good work, Tom Carson! So, I’ll give this tale 3.5 Minutemen.
“Death Shares the Spotlight”
Our Batgirl backup picks up where the last left off, with Babs dashing off to ‘call the police,’ an excuse she uses to go into action. She contacts the agent who had been in charge of auctioning off the props from the Mesa movie studio, one of which was used in that night’s assassination attempt. The girl detective learns that a hundred of the prop guns are still in Gotham, being used in a wild west show featuring a former Mesa movie star. At the same time, Jason makes his own connection and sets off as well.
Counting on the powder-burns on would-be killer’s hand to identify him, Babs is disappointed when all the show’s players begin using prop guns. That doesn’t stop the star of the show, Chuck Walla, from letting his guilt and self-consciousness drive him to flee the spotlight in an attempt to destroy the evidence, his gloves, before anyone notices.
When Batgirl confronts him, the actor catches her at gunpoint. He admits that he tried to kill Tiz, who was once his girl, before joining up with her new husband. Just then, Jason jumps in, having followed his own trail to the assassin. The Daredevil Dame pitches in, taking out Walla but making her beau think it was his blow that did it, which is rather cute.
This is a brief and rapid-paced tale, feeling even shorter than normal, but it is reasonably complete. I did feel a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a bit more to it, and Walla’s panicked display of guilt was a bit much. Unfortunately, this also features some of Don Heck’s worst work we’ve seen so far. It’s very rough and awkward in several scenes. I’ll give this lackluster offering an average 3 Minutemen. It’s not bad, but it isn’t particularly good either.
And that does it for this iteration of Into the Bronze Age! Bat-books galore! I hope y’all enjoyed the post and that y’all will join me again soon for another dose of classic comics. Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!