Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age! We’ve got a pair of super-titles to examine today, and we’ve got more super titles for the next session too! It’s crazy that Superman had twice as many titles as Batman at this time, not counting their shared title. Imagine that happening today, as Batman has become the face of DC Comics and WB movies, for better or worse. It’s especially funny considering the somewhat uneven quality of the super-books compared to Batman’s titles. Well, let’s see what this batch holds for us, shall we?
- Action Comics #405
- Adventure Comics #411
- Detective Comics #416
- Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86
- Mr. Miracle #4
- Phantom Strange #15
- Superboy #178
- Superman #243
- Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #115
- Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142
- Teen Titans #35
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
“Pawn of the Monster-Maker!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
“Superbaby’s First Friend!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Our issue of Superboy this month has an interesting cover, promising us a Superman-bat-esq tale, complete with torch-bearing mobs. What we actually get is much stranger. The cover composition is suitably horror-ish and well done by Neal Adams, though Superboy’s batwing/arm is legitimately creepy to me. Inside, we are met, not with another ill-fated experiment by Kirk (Man-Bat) Langstrom, but with Superboy traveling through space. He visits the world Glorr, where an advanced civilization was destroyed by their own pollution, which in turn, mutated all of the plant life on the planet.
Brown gives us some pretty cool alien lifeforms in the one panel of this we see. When he arrives home, the Boy of Steel responds to an emergency at a movie studio where a giant mechanical monster has gone haywire. We get a pretty cool two page spread of the Youth of Tomorrow battling the two-headed dragon, though the hero’s off the charts powers, of which we are reminded, rob the moment of any suspense or drama.
Strangely, during the fight, Superboy’s hands suddenly become reptilian. The transformation is brief, and the restored Kryptonian puts out the fire, meeting the director who created the mechanical menace once that is done. Jan Milo, monster movie-maker supreme tells the young champion that this massive mechanism was going to be the heart of his new picture, which was going to restore his fortunes. He gives the Boy of Steel a tour of his studio, introducing him to some of his famous movie monsters, which once again have sort of neat designs. Clark is rather rude and tells the director that his day is done and that monster movies have gone out of style, but the auteur is adamant.
Later on, Superboy responds to a number of emergencies, but each time he does, he transforms into a monster and causes destruction before coming back to himself. He repairs the damage he causes, but people begin to fear him. First he turns into something evoking Frankenstein’s Monster, then King Kong, the Wolfman, and an insectoid creature. At first the Boy of Steel thinks this might have something to do with Glorr, but he eventually comes to suspect Milo might somehow be behind it, as the director and his cameraman show up at each of these disasters.
We discover that Milo is in fact the mastermind, and his assistant has invented an “ultra-morph ray” which, with a red-Kryptonite lens, projects an image over Superboy, somehow causing him to transform into that image….sure. Why not? The pair are out to gather material for Milo’s comeback monster epic, and their latest and last ploy is to turn Superboy into a Super-Bat. Yet, before they can make their attempt, as Super-Bat attacks them! How can this be? Well, Superboy has fooled them with a projector of his own, having spied on them with X-Ray vision. He teaches the two a lesson and hauls them off to the police.
This is a very silly and forgettable story, though it reminds me of the classic Silver Age trope of superheroes getting involved in the movies. It seems like everyone got into that act back in the day, Batman, Superman, Aquaman, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and many more. Those stories tend to be charming and fun, while this one, unfortunately, is just goofy instead. The red herring of the mutated world was an interesting storytelling feint, but there isn’t much made of it, and the crazed director turned nascent supervillain is a silly concept, even for Superboy. It’s not a terrible yarn, but it isn’t a particularly good one either. I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen. Seeing the Boy of Steel turn into various was fun, but that’s about all you can say for it. Notably, we have here another instance of environmentalism appearing in comics, with the mention of the world destroyed by pollution, but as this turns out to be a red herring, that is little more than set dressing.
“Superbaby’s First Friend”
Ohh…another Superbaby story…yay? Just to add to the usual level of crazy for these tales, this one features a completely unexplained witch-baby as well who befriends our little super-scamp. Geoff Brown really pulled this one out of left field. It begins with the Kents going camping, and little Clark is gleefully tearing through the forest…literally! Sheesh, apparently even toddler Superman is occasionally prone to ‘Superdickery‘. Ma and Pa get on to their rambunctious youngster and tell him to rein in the superpowers because someone might see him. However, the Kryptonian kid isn’t the only super-powered child vacationing at this random national park. There’s also a family of…*sigh*….witches, who have a young son around Clark’s age. The two tots meet and are each thrilled to find someone else who can do the things they can do. They take turns showing off and flying around.
Just then, a couple of robbers head through the park, and when they see the soaring super-kids, they panic and wreck their car….over a cliff! The terrific tots save the pair and their car, but the men are so stunned that they just assume they were hallucinating. After all, who would believe something so insane? They continue with their operation, recovering the stolen loot they had hidden at the bottom of the park’s lake. The kids decide that they should help to make up for scaring the men and raise the huge golden statue they stole from the bottom of the lake. Now, this raises some questions about how in the world these two guys managed to steal, transport, and hide this thing in the first place, but Brown has sillier things to do than answer sensible questions like that!
The thieves yell at the super friends, who fly off in tears, but they quickly recover and return to playing, accidentally whipping up a giant wave of bubbles on the lake, leading the robbers to become lost and the Kents and the witch-family to take off, each thinking their child alone was responsible. Neither set of parents believes their super-powered offspring when they tell them about their new friend, and when the authorities respond to the bubble-lanche, they discover the two thieves and their loot.
As far as Superbaby stories go, this one isn’t that bad. The kids’ antics are mildly entertaining, and their completely unconscious thwarting of the thieves is somewhat funny. Still, how utterly crazy is it that Brown introduces this random family of witches without any explanation or background. I’m pretty sure the magical kid is never heard from again, which contributes to this being a pretty forgettable little yarn. I’ll give it 2 Minutemen, as despite the fact that it isn’t too bad, it loses a step because of the continued use of the incredibly asinine baby-talk all of these tales seem to feature.
Both of these stories feature Bob Brown’s artwork, and he does a very solid job throughout. His designs for the background monsters in Superboy are creative and interesting. In fact, I’d have rather seen a story featuring them! He produces some really nice pages and panels, with Superboy’s fight against the two-headed dragon looking particularly god. He also create charming, bright artwork for the Superbaby adventure, turning in an all-around solid-looking comic.
“The Starry-Eyed Siren of Space!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano
“The Death-Trails of Krypton!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
We’ve got quite the romantic cover for this month’s Superman, and you’d think for a moment that someone mixed up the art for Lois Lane and Superman. Now, don’t tell Lois, but that ain’t her getting smooched by the Lips of Steel! Fortunately, the tale inside is not as much ‘lonely hearts’ as the cover indicates. The image itself is really quite good for what it is, a striking composition, though I have to wonder what the heck is going on with Superman’s cape! There isn’t much to it, of course, and I wonder if Julie Schwartz was nervous about putting out a Superman book with nothing but a kiss on the cover, especially because it isn’t really representative of the tale within. The actual story is a much more conventional Super-saga than we might expect from the lip-lock that greets us on the outside.
It starts with the Man of Steel returning from a mission in space when a star unexpectedly explodes, buffeting our hero and sending him hurtling through the cosmos. And here begins the pretty ridiculous and literally astronomical power levels depicted in this story. I guess the de-powering of Denny O’Neil’s run really didn’t last long at all. We are now one issue on, and already the star-juggling Superman is back. Thus, a supernova is just a mild inconvenience to our hero. After the star-shaking explosion, he finds himself in unfamiliar skies and then is drawn inexorably to and through an unknown planet. As he burrows into the world’s interior, he discovers a Star Trek style advanced being, except this one is a brain in a pyramid (almost a brain in a jar) rather than an energy being. The brain introduces himself as Kond and tells the Man of Tomorrow that he drew the Kryptonian to the cavern in order to get his help.
Apparently Kond is a super-evolved being who long ago left his physical form behind, along with his mate, Rija, but she got bored with being a brain in a jar (how could such a thing happen?!) and made herself a physical form in order to enjoy corporeal experiences again. Kond is worried about her and wants the Metropolis Marvel to bring her back, and in exchange, the superbeing promises to give Superman the means to end war, hunger, disease, and poverty on Earth. Disease and hunger, sure, but one wonders what even a superbeing could give someone that would put an end to activities caused BY human beings without abrogating free will. Nonetheless, Kal agrees, pointing out that he would do with it even without being ‘paid,’ which is fitting.
On the surface, Superman quickly discovers Rija, but she is being menaced by a skeletal dinosaur! Quickly rescuing the girl, the Man of Steel finds defeating the monster more difficult, as it reforms when he smashes it. Finally, he flings it into space, and the grateful girl, wants to thank him and experience a little romance at the same time. She modeled her physical form on that of the crew of a passing ship, and the Man of Tomorrow realizes she is a “Starry-Eyed Siren of Space,” because of course she has, and he can’t resist her charms, leading to our cover-kiss. Unfortunately, Kond is observing this super-necking and becomes insanely jealous. He creates a body for himself based on Superman’s and attacks the unwitting love-slave. Using both his newfound Kryptonian might and his own mental powers, Kond almost destroys the hero and returns to Rija, only to discover the she has come to regret her moment of weakness. Like almost any woman in a comic from the Silver Age, she just wanted to make her paramour jealous.
While she weeps and wishes for death (!), thinking that Kond has been so hurt he has taken off, the couple is attacked by an energy being (there it is! I knew there had to be one in this story). Kond jumps to defend his lady love, but every attack just splits the creature in two. Finally, a recovered Superman intercedes, using his super-breath to suck the oxygen away from Rija…killing her! Well, at least for a moment. The Man of Steel has realized that Rija was actually creating these menaces with her subconscious, and as this one was created by her desire for death, allowing her to ‘die’ for a moment ended the threat. Shades of Forbidden Planet!
Fortunately, Kond quickly revives Rija and the soulmates reunite. The superbeings honor their agreement and give Superman four flasks that will somehow end war, hunger, poverty, sickness. Once again, one wonders. However, when the Man of Tomorrow tries to return home, he realizes that the supernova actually blew him into yesterday….or a few million yesterdays ago. He jumps through the time barrier and back into the modern day, but unfortunately, the stresses of the journey destroy the flasks, leaving the world still very much in need of a Superman.
The slightly melancholy ending, with Superman realizing that this shortcut out of the “neverending battle” isn’t going to work after all, is a nice touch, but it isn’t really earned by the rest of the story. Bates’ little moment of characterization feels more like an afterthought than anything else. The rest of his story is relatively effective, a decent little sci-fi adventure, though it’s nothing special. The whole thing has a very Star Trek-ish feel to it, from the advanced beings, the romancing of alien women, and the energy creatures. Another blogger has pointed out that Kond and Rija bear a striking resemblance to The Providers, the alien overlords in the original Star Trek episode, “Gamesters of Triskelion”. It seems likely that Cary Bates was watching some Star Trek reruns while penning this comic. I’ll give the uninspiring but inoffensive result an average 3 Minutemen. As usual, Swan and Anderson turn in a solid job on the art, though there are some particularly nice moments scattered throughout.
“The Death-Trails of Krypton!”
We get another “Fabulous World of Krypton tale in the backup slot this month, which is always a treat, and this one is no exception. It’s a quick but imaginative little yarn about the first man on Krypton to fly…with dire consequences! It starts with a father and son examining strange green trails in the Kryptonian sky. The father explains to his boy that these are the trails of Trolius, and their origins are wrapped in mystery stretching back thousands of years. Fortunately, we can solve that mystery, and the readers are drawn back in time to see a young Kryptonain inventor, Dol-Nd, who is preparing to test his powered artifical wings, which have a cool design thanks to Bob Brown. The young man throws himself off of a cliff, which seems rather drastic for a first test, but fortunately, after a little adjustment, he gets the hang of his wings and soars through the air. Not so fortunate, however, is the unexpected side effect of his flight. The wings have left behind alarming green trails in the sky.
Dol-Nd built his flying harness with the help of a previously undiscovered crystal he found shooting out of geothermal vents in the area, a crystal with massive energy potential, enabling it to power the engine of the wings. The element, Trolium, which he named after the sky god, Trolius (a nice bit of world building) proves to be unstable, giving off deadly radiation when activated. Thus, Dol-Nd concludes that he can never risk flying again.
Unfortunately, an escaped criminal has observed his test flight and is quick to attack the inventor and steal his flying harness, taking to the skies in a journey that might well doom the planet! The quick-thinking young scholar lures the thief down into range with a bag of jewels, pretending to offer them in ransom for the wings, only to smash them into the ground, triggering an explosion of steam and Trolium, which batter the Kryptonian Icarus (though I suppose he got burned by going too low rather than too high) out of the sky. Once again, Bob Brown turns in a really nice sequence here. The story ends with poor Dol-Nd sending his wondrous wings flying towards space where they could do no more harm.
This is another fun little glimpse into the science fantasy world of Krypton, and it is a limited but nicely imaginative one at that. Bob Brown brings some nice energy and creativity to the art, while Murphy Anderson’s inks bring his pencils in line with Swan’s, creating some continuity between the two features. Bates manages to cram his complete story in these six pages…just barely, though we’re left without any characterization and without a spare moment. I’ll give this pleasant little story a solid 3 Minutemen.
And like Dol-Nd’s wings, we have come to the end of this stage of our little journey. These were a decent but unexceptional pair of books. Fortunately, though we had to endure some Superbaby silliness, we also got to enjoy some World of Krypton wonders. That’s the give and take that makes the project work and keeps me sane! I have to admit, though, I’m rather disappointed that O’Neil’s partial depowering of Superman didn’t last a bit longer. We may yet see other scribes return to the idea, but it is clearly business as usual this month. Well, I hope that y’all enjoyed my commentary and that y’all will join me again soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!