Where There’s Life, There’s Hope

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As John Carter of Mars would always say, “where there’s life, there’s hope!” – and that’s a mantra I am repeating to myself often these days!  Howdy folks!  I have not fallen off the face of the Earth, nor have I given up on either my blog or my mods, so don’t worry.  This isn’t a post announcing me closing shop or anything.  However, I am in the final stretch of my PhD program and am banging away night and day on a black hole of a dissertation that threatens to consume me.  I’m afraid that I’ve had to put pretty much every other part of my life on hold, including my hobbies, in order to try to get this thing finished in time to graduate. Thank you all for your patience!  I hope to be able to get back to posting and modding sometime this summer.  If any of y’all are folks who pray, I certainly wouldn’t mind some prayers as I race for the finish line!

Into the Bronze Age: November 1971 (Part 4)

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Hello Internet travelers, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  It’s time to explore some more classic, Bronze Age DC comics, and we’ve got a pretty interesting trio of titles to talk about this time.  We have a significant issue of The Haunted Tank’s harrowing adventures, a cool and unusual issue of JLA, and finally another frantic feature of the Fourth World!  Let’s dive right in, shall we?

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 #406
  • Adventure Comics #412
  • Batman #236
  • Brave and the Bold #98
  • Detective Comics #417
  • The Flash #210
  • Forever People #5
  • G.I. Combat #150
  • Justice League of America #94
  • New Gods #5
  • Superboy #179
  • Superman #244
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #116
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #143
  • World’s Finest #207

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


G.I. Combat #150


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“The Death of the Haunted Tank”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor/Cover Artist: Joe Kubert

“The Two-Legged Mine”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor: Robert Kanigher

“Hip Shot”
Writer: Sam Glanzman
Penciler: Sam Glanzman
Inker: Sam Glanzman
Editor: Robert Kanigher

“Ice Cream Soldier”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert
Editor: Robert Kanigher

We’ve got a landmark issue of the Haunted Tank this month!  For once, the cover doesn’t lie, and when it promises the “Death of the Haunted Tank,” it is being quite literal!  After roughly 60 issues, the plucky little M-3 Stuart tank will meet its demise in this issue.  And that cover is a pretty good one, in addition to being honest.  It’s dramatic, catching a moment, not before disaster strikes, but just as it is striking, which creates a pretty dynamic effect.  Of course, Kubert’s stark work adds to the drama of the moment rather nicely.

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Inside, our tale begins in what has become normal fashion, with the spectral J.E.B. Stuart offering one of his habitual vague warnings that could really mean anything, as Kanigher continues to not really take advantage of his awesome premise.  In this case, the General’s super helpful warning that “things aren’t what they seem” applies to a seemingly crashed German bomb that is actually a trap for the tank.  Jeb and company knock it out in a nice two-page splash, but then their ghostly guardian informs them that this was the last time he could “help” them, and bids them farewell.

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As Jeb ruminates on this startling turn of events, his crew continue to contemplate his apparent insanity as he seems to speak to empty air.  They roll past a depot where other crews are cannibalizing knocked out tanks for parts.  There are two things of note in this scene.  First, the other crew actually asks who Jeb’s tiny little Stuart constantly knocks out tanks much heavier than it, joking that it must be because it is haunted.  Second, we get a shot of this crew, who include Joe, Russ, and Steve, who are given very detailed faces.  I feel like this has got to be a reference to particular folks.  I’m guessing, and this is just a guess, that the fellow in the middle is Joe Kubert and the one on the right is Russ Heath.  I would love to hear from any readers who actually know!

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Anyway, possible creator cameos aside, the ghostly guys next run into trouble when they encounter a Jeep full of wounded troops fleeing a fighter.  The crew manages to knock the perilous plane out of the sky (more unbelievable feats!), encouraging the team.  Yet, their continued faith in the old Stuart meets a much tougher test later on, when they are sent into a hot zone to aid Dog Company.

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The infantry is getting cut to pieces on the banks of a river by a tank and artillery in the woods on the other side.  Jeb charges the Stuart into the teeth of the enemy guns, and they get the enemy tank.  However, the AT gun tears their little tin box apart piece by piece, and in surprisingly short order, the Haunted Tank dies, though the crew manage to make a frantic escape.

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When Jeb and company realize that no more backup is forthcoming, they race to the depot and assemble a new, “Jigsaw Tank” out of cannibalized parts.  They take their new makeshift metal monster into combat, just in time to stop two new Nazi tanks charging across the river, and they even manage to clean up the AT gun that killed their previous ride.  The story ends with General Stuart returning, and explaining that the tank didn’t matter, only the dedication of the men inside, so the grateful crew christen their new vehicle The Haunted Tank once more.

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I actually expected rather more form this tale.  It’s a fine, fun story, however unrealistic it is for the guys to assemble a new tank so quickly and easily.  Still, I’ve been seeing this cover approaching for some time, and I just expected the death of the tank that had been through so much with the crew to be given a little more weight.  Instead, Jeb and co. basically joke about it for a minute, then immediately replace the faithful old girl.  Of course, there’s only so much you can do in a 14 page story, but I found myself a bit surprised that Kanigher didn’t make more of the moment.  The actual adventures here could have been condensed, with more focus on the central conflict at the river and the loss of the Stuart, which I think would have been more effective.

 

As is, the story is really rather forgettable.  Of course, Russ Heath’s art remains excellent, perfect for the title.  He’s a master of both the dynamic battle scenes and even the quiet, character moments.  On a broader note, I continue to be disappointed by the lack of development of the premise.  General Stuart leaves the crew for most of the issue, but functionally, it doesn’t actually play out any differently than 90% of the stories we’ve read, as he plays no active part in most plots after his traditional enigmatic warning anyway.  Well, missed opportunities aside, I’ll give this solid armored adventure 3.5 Mintuemen.  At least Jeb and crew now have a tank that might stand a ghost of a chance against German armor in real life!

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Justice League of America #94


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“Where Strikes Demonfang?”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Pencilers: Neal Adams and Dick Dillin
Inkers: Neal Adams and Joe Giella
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Tarantula Strikes”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Bert Christman
Inker: Bert Christman
Editors: Vincent Sullivan and Julius Schwartz

“The Amazing Starman”
Writer: Jack Burnley
Penciler: Jack Burnley
Inkers: Jack Burnley and Ray Burnley
Colourist: Raymond Perry
Letterer: Betty Bentley
Editors: Whitney Ellsworth and Julius Schwartz

Alright!  Time for another issue of my favorite comic team’s book!  Despite the fact that this title has been so uneven since we’ve started, I still find myself excited about it each month, and this issue features my favorite character….sort of!  Sadly, we’ve got a pretty lackluster cover, really.  It’s got Deadman’s dramatic pronouncement, but the blank blue background and compressed, box-out cover-space don’t do it any favors, and all the pointless occult paraphernalia in the foreground can’t change that.  Of course, the actual art is lovely, as Neal Adams contributes the image, as well as several pages inside!  Yet, the biggest trouble with this cover is that it spoils a significant part of the story, which is a shame.

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As for that story, it is actually a pretty darn good one.  We begin with a wonderfully detailed splash page of the League of Assassins’ leader, the enigmatic Sensei, who is plotting revenge against an unknown JLA member for a previous slight.  We join the trio of characters who disappeared from the last arc, Batman, Green Arrow, and the Sea King himself, Aquaman, as they prowl about the waterfront, hunting for an assassin who hunts them in turn.  The Bold Bowman spots a flash from the killer’s scope, and the heroes leap into action, quickly corralling the gunman.  Yet, the assassin refuses to talk, and the Leaguers are left in the dark about who is the target of the “Demon’s Fang,” the League of Assassins.  That’s right, it’s League vs. League!

 

Back at the Demon Fang’s headquarters, the Sensei is not pleased that his man has missed his mark, and he summons one of his best, Merlyn, the archer.  We get an interesting note of continuity and world-building here, as the League of Assassins are part of Ra’s Al Ghul’s set-up and have been introduced in the Batman books, so it is exciting and surprising to see them here.  What’s more, the Demon’s Head, Al Ghul himself, gets name-dropped, as Merlyn mentions that their master has a special interest in their target.  Nonetheless, the ancient Sensei is adamant, and the archer is sent on the attack.

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Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite sleaze, Morgan Edge, makes another universe-building appearance, and sends Clark Kent out on assignment.  There are hints of Intergang’s involvement, and the under-cover Kryptonian brings along a little action figure-sized ace -in-the-hole, the Atom, as the assignment brings him near the last known location of the missing Leaguers.  Yet, before they can arrive, their news van is ambushed with arrows!  Superman attacks, only to be taken out of the fight by special gadgets prepared by the Demonfang techs, including a gravitational arrow which increases the pull of gravity on the Man of Steel exponentially.

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The Atom, after delivering a great pint-sized punch, is also put out of commission by a sonic arrow.  Now, if you had told me that Merlyn was taking on a significant subset of the League on his own, I would have said that was silly, but Friedrich actually manages to write his way around the problem of a vastly under-powered villain with some reasonable gadgets.  It’s nice to see Superman treated as something other than completely unstoppable, and without recourse to Kryptonite or something completely silly.  Is it convenient that Merlyn has trick arrows that can take out these heroes?  Yes, but I’ll buy it for the purposes of this story.

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Unfortunately, our other heroes don’t have much better luck than their fellows, as our original trio finds their captive assassin killed almost as soon as they turn him over to the police.  On the arrow that killed him is a note, which declares that “The price of failure in the League of Assassins is death!”  It is signed by the mysterious Merlyn, and it is here that we discover that Green Arrow knows our enigmatic assassin.  Merlyn was a master archer, and he was Ollie’s first great rival, who embarrassed him in a competition before disappearing, only to emerge now, as a master of a decidedly more deadly discipline.

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The titanic trio set out on Merlyn’s trail, but we have an odd little moment where Batman asks Aquaman if he has enough time, and the apparently confused Sea King responds, ‘sure…uh…why not?”  I saw what was coming, and I was a bit annoyed by it, and sure enough, as soon as they reach their destination, a creepy old house that is definitely not a trap, the Marine Marvel passes out.  He’s been out of water too long (that darn 1 hour limit can’t go away soon enough!), and I just couldn’t believe Friedrich had put the character in the book just to have him act this stupidly.  But, when the Caped Crusader finds a fountain inside and submerges the submarine superhero, things take a much more interesting turn, as the Dark Knight puts Aquaman in a headlock and demands to know….who he is!  Just then, the trap springs, and Green Arrow is locked in a vacuum tube!

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While the hunted heroes investigate the house, the agonized Atom manages to smash the sonic arrow and free himself, and he comes up with a novel way to free the Metropolis Marvel too.  He can’t budge the gravity device, but he wraps his belt around it and enlarges the machine until it becomes unstable and explodes! That’s actually a really clever solution, and fitting for the brilliant Ray Palmer.  The haggard heroes aren’t yet back at a hundred percent, however, and they must hitchhike towards their allies!

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I love the hilarious banality of Superman having to listen to some schmo blather on as he hitches a ride! “Really, I have more important things on my mind, man!”

Back in the villain-haunted house, the Masked Manhunter can’t break his Emerald ally out of his glass prison, but Superman, recovering enough to take flight and escape their blabbermouth chauffeur, is able to spot the predicament with his super vision and hurl the Atom hard enough to free Ollie.  It’s really a nice sequence.  Yet, at the same time, Batman has become stuck on the fence that separated him from his fallen friend, a perfect target for Merlyn, who has emerged at last to kill his true target…the Dark Knight, of course!  He lets fly, but the stunned Green Arrow recovers rapidly enough to string and fire an arrow just in time to deflect Merlyn’s killing shot!  His nemesis salutes such a fine shot, and his carefully calculated chance gone, the magician uses a jetpack built into his quiver to escape.  Merlyn himself is now a hunted man, as he reminds the heroes that “the price of failure in the League of Assassins is death!”

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It is then that the “mystery” of Aquaman’s identity is solved in another pair of Adams-penned pages, as the Sea King and the Dark Detective discuss the case.  It turns out that Deadman took over the Marine Marvel’s body because the being he serves, Rama Kushna, warned him of an attempt to kill a Justice Leaguer which would upset the balance of the world.  He didn’t know who the target was, and the Sea Sleuth was just the first hero to hand, effectively.  That’s why he ran himself out of gas (or water, as the case may be), and made various other mistakes.  All of this was in revenge for Batman interfering with the Sensei’s attack on Nanda Parbat back in Brave and the Bold #86, apparently, which I must have read but have forgotten.

Of course, this would be a lot more impressive if we didn’t know Deadman was possessing Aquaman from the cover (even if I did get swept up in the story enough to forget!).  Yet, the tale doesn’t end there.  It ends with a return to the JLA Satellite, where something is wrong with the teleporter, something that we won’t discover until next issue!  Meanwhile, the Sensei has learned his lesson, and the next time he strikes, he shall isolate and destroy his enemy!

Well, the non-reveal aside, I really enjoyed this issue, despite some trademark overwriting and generally deplorable dialog from Friedrich.  It’s a lot of fun, and it is really great to see the universe-building happening in other books filter into the flagship title like this.  How interesting must it have been to be reading the Bat-books and JLA, and to see these characters and concepts jump from one title to another?  Of course, this makes perfect sense, but it isn’t the kind of thing that you see that much in DC from earlier eras.  I imagine it will become more common as we get further into the Bronze Age.

In addition, the story is pretty solidly plotted, with events having a decent logic to them, with characters acting with clear motivations.  As I was reading, several story beats seemed off to me, only to be revealed to work perfectly in Friedrich’s plot, which was a pleasant surprise.  On another note, the removal of Kryptonite seems to already be paying story dividends, as it has forced Friedrich to come up with a clever way of taking the Man of Tomorrow out of the fight, rather than relying on the formerly ubiquitous mineral.  One of the only real downsides to this tale is that Aquaman doesn’t actually get anything to do, which seems like a real waste when he features so prominently in the comic, especially since he isn’t actually Aquaman.

The art is solid throughout, though evincing the standard weaknesses I’ve come to associate with Dillin’s JLA work, though the interpolated Adams pages are beautiful.  They are also a bit distracting, as the clash of styles is very noticeable.  Nonetheless, this is a fun, interesting issue, with some fascinating world building happening that still manages to include a solid adventure.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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New Gods #5


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“Spawn!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Mike Royer
Letterer: Mike Royer
Editor: Jack Kirby

“Introducing Fastbak”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta

We finally return to the centerpiece of Kirby’s Fourth World epic, and it is a definite improvement over the somewhat understated and disappointing last issue, as the operatic action that suits this book best is back in spades.  Our dramatic tale lies beneath a solid, if flawed cover.  It’s got a nice, dynamic image in the central brawling characters, though their poses are a bit odd.  Yet, their size rather downplays the significance of the massive monster symbolically squeezed into the corner.  The orange background doesn’t really help either, especially with Orion’s red costume.  Kirby just isn’t producing his best covers for this run, which is a real shame, as the stories really beg for ‘kapow’ images.

This particular issue begins with Metron, who is traveling through dimensions once more.  This time his wanderings take him to one of the most memorable and dramatic settings from Kirby’s Fourth World, the Promethean Galaxy, the last barrier of the Source, where float for all eternity the Promethean Giants who give the place its name.  Kirby gives us an amazing, dramatic two-page splash, depicting the size and scope of this strange sight as only the King could.  It’s a really striking image.  We discover that these giants were beings who tried to force their way to the source, and in return for their hubris, they are bound forever in suspended animation, just short of their goal.  I love this concept, wonderfully archetypal, reflecting all of the myths of giants and titans, who have traditionally been associated with the sin of pride and destroyed by the deities they opposed.  What a wonderfully Kirby-cosmic treatment of the theme.

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Star-sized super-beings aside, once his contemplation is finished, Metron returns to New Genesis, but our story is much more concerned with a humbler sphere, the Earth, where a detective named Terrible Turpin is interrogating Dave Lincoln after the events of the last issue.  Turpin has discovered the war between gods that is brewing in his city, and he’s determined to put a stop to it, before the place is leveled in the process.  When Lincoln returns to Orion’s human allies, we check in with them, but the Useless Crew continues to contribute little to the plot, other than some exposition and general fretting.

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Fortunately, we don’t waste too much time with them, and we soon rejoin Orion, who was captured by the Deep Six last issue.  He’s pinned by a giant clam, where he is taunted by Slig, who also demonstrates the Six’s sinister powers, the ability to mutate living beings with just a touch from his right hand, and to kill instantly with his left!  Fortunately for the Dog of War, he is able to free himself with a hidden device after his captor has finished his gloating, though he discovers that the clam is more than meets the eye.

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What follows is a cool sequence as Orion battles his way through various mutated menaces, who all have wonderfully cool Kirby designs (the man just constantly produced awesome creations, even for these little creatures which we’ll never see again!).  Finally, the hunted hero discovers a massive, battleship sized cradle, which once held some gargantuan beast created by the Six, but now lies ominously empty.

 

Back in the city, Turpin continues his investigation and the Useless Crew continue their fretting, but they are all interrupted by the coming of….Kalibak!  Darkseid’s scion arrives with a smash, prepared to spread fear and devastation on Earth!  However, Orion is busy elsewhere, so the Cruel one will have to keep for the moment.  Back in the undersea caverns, Slig finally finds his quarry amid a pile of smashed guards.  Unfortunately for him, the warrior has also found something, his Astro-Harness, and he blasts his foe in the face before proceeding to pummel him pitilessly.

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It’s another great sequence, and Kirby shows us the savage joy Orion takes in the terrible thrashing he administers, as well as showing us Slig’s beaten face.  The King actually manages to make this malicious monster a little pitiful in that moment.  Interestingly, Orion’s brutal visage is revealed by the violence of his attack, and he is forced to have Mother Box replace his fallen features, another hint about his origins.  Finally, the Dog of War disposes of his fallen foe by tossing him into a pit and sets out in search of the monster the Six have unleashed.  We get a glimpse of the beast in a nice splash page, but lacking anything to establish its scale, it’s not as effective as it might be.

 

So this is a great, action-packed issue, setting up a lot of what’s to come with Terrible Turpin and Kalibak’s chaotic arrival, as well as the monster unleashed on the seas.  There is a lot going on here, and Kirby handles it quite well.  While the time spent with Orion’s supporting cast feels wasted, every moment with the warrior’s quest is exciting and dramatic, and the glimpses of the wider mythology with Metron are fascinating.  The whole thing feels operatic and earth-shaking in the best ways, like a particularly good issue of the classic Fantastic Four, but elevated by the cosmic overtones and archetypal underpinnings of the Fourth World.

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It’s also fun to see Detective Dan Turpin introduced, as he will later be recast as a tribute to Kirby himself in Superman: TAS, where his bulldog attitude and heroic perseverance make him a fitting match for his creator.  On the art front, this issue looks quite good, and it is immediately noticeable that Colletta is gone from the book.  Mike Royer’s inks aren’t perfect, but they seem to pick up more detail and generally drown out Kirby’s pencils less.  At least so it seems to my inexpert eye.  As I said, I love the creativity of the Deep Six’s monster minions.  Why no-one has brought the Six back as recurring Aquaman villains, complete with a Kirby-esq monstrous menagerie of mutants is quite beyond me.  Missed opportunities aside, I’ll give this exciting adventure 4.5 Minutemen.

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“Introducing Fastbak”


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We get another brief Young Gods backup strip in this issue, this one featuring Fastbak, a free-spirited New Genesis youth with a need for speed.  Once again, there are only four pages to the strip, so there isn’t really time for Kirby to do much with the character, but we see him lead the New Genesis equivalent of cops, the Monitors (no, not those Monitors) a merry chase as he flies around Supertown at reckless speed.

The aptly named Fastbak is joined by more restless young gods, and when he finally comes to ground, he is given a quick wardrobe change by his friends just in time to sing before Highfather.  It turns out that our rebellious friend has the voice of an angel when he’s not busy raising Cain. This was a fun little strip, full of exuberance, energy, and the boundless enthusiasm of youth.  With Fastbak and his fellows, Kirby immediately humanizes the New Gods by showing us a fitting parallel to our own youthful foolishness even in their hallowed halls, yet this youthfulness is presented in an inimitable Fourth World fashion.  Of course, the King also gives us more great designs both in characters and wild Kirby-tech.  I’ve decided I’m not going to rate these backups, as they are really too brief to be judged as full stories.


Well, I will close out this post with Fastbak’s flying feats and bid you all a fond farewell until next time!  I hope you enjoyed my coverage of these exciting adventures and that you will join me again soon, for another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: November 1971 (Part 3)

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Welcome back to the second Bronze Age blog post of the new year!  I hope that 2019 is treating all of you well, my dear readers.  So far it seems to be a bit kinder than 2018 for the Greys, but it’s far too early to tell.  As for the reason we’re here, this post has a Flash comic and another iteration of the growing Fourth World saga for our superheroic scrutiny.  We’re on the way to seeing what November, 1971 had for us, and in this pair of comics, there are some weird ideas.  Ready for some Bronze Age bonkers books?  Then let’s see what we’ve got, shall we?

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 #406
  • Adventure Comics #412
  • Batman #236
  • Brave and the Bold #98
  • Detective Comics #417
  • The Flash #210
  • Forever People #5
  • G.I. Combat #150
  • Justice League of America #94
  • New Gods #5
  • Superboy #179
  • Superman #244
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #116
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #143
  • World’s Finest #207

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


The Flash #210


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“An Earth Divided!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Cover Artist: Murphy Anderson

“A Tasteless Trick!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano

“The Invasion of the Cloud Creatures!”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Well, back to the unnecessarily complicated future adventures of the Flash….yay?  I think these future-jaunts are my least favorite part of the Silver/Bronze Age Flash setting, mostly because of the bonkers way it ties in with Iris.  On the plus side, check out the sneaky Adam Strange cameo on our cover!  As for that cover, it’s an odd choice to have our hero be watching the inciting incident on a TV (albeit a weird, robot TV, though at least it isn’t Mike!), and that choice pushes their shock-value concept into a tithe of the image real-estate, giving it proportionately less power.  It’s not a very exciting or interesting cover, and I can’t say that it made me excited to read the book, however wacky and unusual the premise.

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Speaking of, Bates loses no time in jumping into his crazy concept with both feet, and we join Abe Lincoln in his study, taking notes on a taperecorder.  Now, don’t let the presence of the tape throw you; this is actually supposed to be a futuristic scene!  As “Lincoln” waxes on with a combination of exposition and paraphrases of historical speeches, John Wilkes Booth shows up and reenacts history by shooting him with a ray gun, shouting “Sic semper tyrannis!” (Thus always to tyrants).  History buffs will note that those are the words said by the real Booth when he shot the real Lincoln.  Confused yet?

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“Thus always to robot overlords!”

Well, it’s all about to become as plain as it ever will be in a goofy story like this, as we join Barry and Iris as they prepare for a trip to the future to visit her real parents, because someone thought that whole retcon was a good idea.  There is a cute exchange, where Iris keeps her hurried hubby waiting in a small bit of revenge for all the times the Fastest Man Alive has been the slowest date on record.  When they arrive, her parents explain our ridiculous premise, that the future nation of Earth West created an android duplicate of Lincoln to guide them through the difficult period of tension with Earth East and try to reunite the planet.

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That’s an…interesting choice.  Yeah, he presided over the nation through the Civil War and successfully reunited the country…but he did that by force, and it was probably the greatest national tragedy in our history.  If you’re trying to prevent a war, maybe pick someone who didn’t ended up in exactly the type of situation you’re trying to avoid?  The shaky logic of that idea aside, in response to its implementation, the tyrant of Earth East created his own android, modeled on John Wilkes Booth, designed to kill the robot Lincoln….because that was the only rational solution, obviously.

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Booth-bot tries to escape Earth West by traveling through the “Wild Region,” which is a section of the planet blasted by nuclear war and afflicted by weird radiation that can have strange effects.  Flash, who of course sets out to pursue the android assassin, follows him into the wasteland and manages to avoid the…radioactivity…by running…fast?  It’s odd, but the Wild Region manifests its danger as grasping spectral claws…because comic book radiation is magic!  Unfortunately, once through, the Scarlet Speedster is captured by a high-tech chain trap that grows ever tighter and is so dense he cannot vibrate through it.

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When Booth-bot reports to the tyrant, Bekor, his master zaps him with his own gun, but unexpectedly, the Lincoln bot reforms, having outguessed his nemesis and used a device that effectively stored his atoms and reassembled them when the gun was fired again.  Explanations finished, mecha-Lincoln decides to deliver an old fashioned, 19th Century back-woods whuppin’, and jumps Bekor.  Now, however odd a choice Lincoln may have been to bring peace to a world-divided, he was, by all accounts, quite the bare-knuckle boxer and butt-kicker in his day.

 

 

Meanwhile, the Fastest Man Alive was in danger of becoming the fastest ghost in the graveyard, with all efforts to free himself failing.  Finally, he hit upon a winning idea, and began to spin, until the terrific centrifugal force of his whirling unwrapped the chain.  The free Flash arrives just in time to rescue the Abedroid and capture Bekor, bringing both back to Earth West.

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This is a weird tale, with the type of unlikely premise that could only come from comics…or perhaps Star Trek.  I guess Bates must have been a Lincoln buff, especially given how the android Abe is actually the hero of this story, with the Flash relegated to little more than a fancy taxi service in the end.  The whole thing is pretty silly, but it isn’t a bad read, despite that.  Honestly, the craziness just feels of a piece with the Flash’s already ridiculous future setting.  There’s a subplot about Iris setting up a news service for the future folks, but it never really goes anywhere, which is a shame, because that could have been fun.  In the end, I’ll give this goofy gaff of a story 2.5 Minutemen, though I suppose I should watch my backs for Booth-bots!

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“A Tasteless Trick”


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The real star of this comic is, once again, the Elongated Man backup, which is delightful.  It begins the way most Elongated Man stories I’ve read tend to, with his mystery-loving nose starting to twitch.  What starts it moving is an unusual occurrence in the form of a man buying a magazine from a stand, then biting a big chunk out of it.  Ralph smells a mystery and immediately strips out of his street clothes, loading poor Sue down with them, and setting out to trail the magazine masticator and his companions, by stretching to the rooftops!

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He follows them to a theater and, discovering that his target is a magician, concludes that it must just have been a trick.  Returning home, Ralph can’t get any rest, as his nose keeps on twitching.  When he reexamines the magazine, he realizes that it contains a story about a millionaire’s mansion, including a floor-plan.  Concluding, in a fairly gigantic leap of logic, that the magician was trying to tip him off about a robbery at that estate, the Ductile Detective ducks out the door and races for the Savin Mansion.  When he arrives, he discovers the prestidigitator being forced at gunpoint to find a hidden safe and overhears that the thieves are holding his daughter to ensure his cooperation.

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In a fun bit, the Stretchable Sleuth disarms the leader and takes out his gang, but the leader recovers his gun and threatens their other hostage, Mr. Savin.  In another clever bit, Ralph stretches his foot all the way around the room and kicks the gunman from behind.  Unfortunately, in the melee, the magician is knocked out, and we discover that the gang was going to kill his daughter if they didn’t return very shortly.

 

 

The Ductile Detective searches for clues, but then makes another giant leap of logic, and deduces that the gang-leader’s reference to “the Pad” was about a specific place rather than slang, since he didn’t use slang in the rest of his speech.  Racing to the nightclub, “The Pad,” Ralph arrives just in time to save the magician’s daughter.  After this dramatic rescue, the Magician explains his clue and Ralph explains his deduction, but neither really makes sense.

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Nonetheless, despite the pretty huge logical jumps where the story progresses at the speed of plot, this is a really fun little lark of a tale.  Ralph’s adventures are just a blast, and even in the small amount of ‘screen time’ that he and Sue get, there are some fun interactions.  The Elongated Man is just a great, entertaining character, and he is quickly becoming a favorite of mine and making these Flash comics more enjoyable by his presence.  Skeates and Giordano are producing some really good backups for him.  I hope they’ll be continuing on this strip for a good while.  Giordano’s art is especially good, with Ralph always stretching or moving in fun and creative ways, and constantly solving his problems with interesting applications of his powers, as well as his agile mind.  I’ll give this delightful little backup 3.5 Minutemen, because it is so much fun that you forget about the weak writing as you get swept up in the story.

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The Forever People #5


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“Sonny Sumo”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

“Crime Carnival!”
Writer: Joe Simon
Pencilers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Inkers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Letterer: Howard Ferguson
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

“The Young Gods of Supertown”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

We return to perhaps the least popular (it’s something of a contest with Jimmy Olsen) of the King’s Fourth World books, with another issue of Forever People.  Last issue proved surprisingly interesting, but this one doesn’t quite live up to that level.  We’ve got a solid, if unexceptional, cover, with the dramatic reveal of a new character, Sonny Sumo…who is something of a mixed bag, but more about him later.  The actual image features the whole team and a nicely threatening array of guns, but there really isn’t that much to say about it.  Sonny himself does not make for that interesting of a central figure, being just a guy with a headband and trunks.  His orange coloring is also a bit odd, making him seem more like an alien than an Asian, which is its own brand of problematic.

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Inside, we meet Sonny in earnest, amidst some of Kirby’s more purple prose, as the young man prepares to fight a gigantic robot….as an entertainment act!  I feel like there’s got to be easier ways to make a living.  There is a great two-page splash setting up the conflict, and it is pure Kirby.  The young fighter puts on an impressive showing against Saguta, the robot, but is badly burned during the brawl.  Interestingly, he focuses intently and heals his wounds, then turns the table on his artificial antagonist.

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Back in the locker room after the fight, we see that his healing was only temporary, and his wounds begin to overwhelm him, until Mother Box, which teleported to him last issue, forms a connection with him and heals him.  Suddenly, Sonny finds that he can understand the device, which requests his aid, and, as it is “a mission worthy of a samurai”, he agrees.

 

 

He finds himself transported to the carnival of carnage, Happyland, where Desaad is holding the Forever People, and one by one, the wrestling warrior frees the youths from their perilous prisons.  The feedback destroys the master torturer’s “Psycho-Fuge”, through which the monstrous malefactor feed upon his victims’ fears.

 

 

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This is a lovely sequence, nice twist on ‘Sleeping Beauty.’

In response, he sends his troops after the team.  When cornered, Sonny is able to connect with the Mother Box in order to overcome the guards’ minds and put them to sleep, a feat which impresses his newfound companions, who realize that he unknowingly possesses the dreaded Anti-Life Equation!  The adventure ends with Darkseid, still not looking like himself, having overheard the Forever People’s startling statement, and he gives the order to kill them all and capture Sonny Sumo!

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So, this isn’t a bad issue, really, but it does have its problems.  It’s got some fun elements, and Kirby gives us some nice, dramatic moments.  Once again, the Forever People don’t really have much to do, as Sonny takes center-stage.  You can’t help but wonder what the team is actually good for at this point.  Sonny himself is an interesting new character, and he certainly has a memorable introduction.

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He represents an admirable attempt by Kirby to bring a bit more diversity to his books and his new world, but that presents its own problems.  Sonny’s size and depiction make him seem less like a human with Asian ancestry and more like another strange Kirby-creature.  His exaggerated coloring at times doesn’t help that impression.  The fact that he’s running around in just trunks, like the Thing, while everyone else has elaborate costumes, makes him stick out further.  I just found him a little odd and off-putting, visually, because of the excesses of his portrayal.  Still, we’re a long way from the ‘yellow peril‘ portrayals of Japanese people in comics, so it’s a net win, I suppose.

The promising and intriguing set-up from last issue, which dealt with perception and reality, doesn’t really amount to much in this one, which is a shame.  I’m guessing that the King was moving so quickly, spinning out so many different concepts and ideas, that he either abandoned the themes he had been working on in favor of a new idea or just plain forgot about them.  In the end, this is a fine comic, but it doesn’t really take advantage of an interesting setup, nor do anything particularly fascinating.  The art is solid, with a few standout panels and pages and no real noticeable missteps.  I’ll give this tale 3 Minutemen, as it is a fairly average offering.  I will be curious to see what Kirby has in store for Sonny.

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“The Young Gods of Supertown: Lonar”


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We get the start of a new backup strip this issue, and it is an interesting one.  In my first read-through, I remember being very intrigued by these teasing glimpses of the wider world of the New Gods.  I was really struck by the untapped potential in these brief peeks into the unexplored corners of the Fourth World and the fascinating characters and concepts that remained hidden in them.  You can’t help asking what might have been, if Kirby had been able to continue?

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This particular tale focuses on Lonar, soon to be known as The Wanderer, who forsakes the safety and comfort of the floating Supertown and explores the wild places of New Genesis, sifting the ruins of the Old Gods’ cataclysmic final conflict.  In the remains of a shattered city, the explorer’s Mother Box detects something still alive, and with its help, he excavates a mound of solidified ash.  Inside, he discovers a lone survivor of the world that was, a mighty warhorse of the old gods.  As the ruins collapse around him, destabilized by his discovery, he leaps astride the horse, and together they escape.

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That’s it, four frantic, all-too-brief pages, and the hints of who knows what hidden wonders.  Once again, we see a fascinating instance of “the illusion of depth.”  I’ve always liked Lonar, and I truly wish Kirby had been able to explore his wanderings.  What might he have had in store for us in the strange, unexplored wilderness of New Genesis?  I’ll give this teasing glimpse of a wider world 3 Minutemen, as it is too brief to accomplish much more than to whet our imaginative appetites.

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And with that double dose of Kirby, I’ll close out this post.  I am enjoying my second visit to the Fourth World, but I am particularly looking forward to more New Gods, which was always the best of the books, to my mind, the real core of the series.  If I remember correctly, the next issue of that book features the criminally underused aquatic antagonists, the Deep Six, in what I recall being a great yarn.  As for the Flash, I am getting quite tired of this era of the book.  Looking ahead, I see a much more promising run, with some actual villains, not too far in our future.  Here’s hoping that will represent an improvement.  Until then, I hope you will continue to join me as we delve deeper Into the Bronze Age!  Keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: November 1971 (Part 2)

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Hello Internet travelers!  I hope you’ve all had a merry Christmas and are well on your way to making this a happy new year!  I can’t say I’m sorry to see the back of 2018!  The Greys had a pleasant but bery busy holiday season, and we are very glad to be home again.  We’re in the process of trying to get things put together for the coming semester, so we remain quite busy.  Yet, I’ve tried to carve out a little time for modding and a little for blogging.  I know it’s been a while since my last Into the Bronze Age post, but hopefully the new year will allow me more opportunities for this little project.  Now, since we’re headed into a new year, I can’t think of a better way to kick off it off than with classic comics, can you?  So, let’s get started!

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 #406
  • Adventure Comics #412
  • Batman #236
  • Brave and the Bold #98
  • Detective Comics #417
  • The Flash #210
  • Forever People #5
  • G.I. Combat #150
  • Justice League of America #94
  • New Gods #5
  • Superboy #179
  • Superman #244
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #116
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #143
  • World’s Finest #207

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


Batman #236


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“Wail of the Ghost-Bride!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Gaspar Saladino

“Rain Fire!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“While the City Sleeps!”
Writer: Bill Finger
Penciler: Dick Sprang
Inker: Charles Paris
Letterer: George Roussos
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

The first of our bat-books this month is the eponymous title, and it has a solid but unexceptional cover.  It’s nicely drawn, of course, but it just doesn’t grab me.  I’m not entirely sure why.  Perhaps because the threat’s distance from Batman renders it a little less potent, perhaps because the ghost bride herself doesn’t seem all that ghostly.  Either way, I wasn’t exactly excited to pick it up.

The story within is also just fine.  Despite the massively melodramatic copy on the splash page declaring “Can an unholy command from beyond the grave compel the Batman to break his solemn vow never to kill?”, the story within is not really all that dramatic or impactful and features no such moral quandry.  It begins with Bruce Wayne, ever the detective, winging cross-country on a jetliner and reading a book about unsolved mysteries.  He reads about a young heiress named Corrine Hellbane who disappeared in the Atlantic under mysterious circumstances while on her honeymoon.  Pondering her uncertain fate, the millionaire falls asleep, while another wakeful man reads a story in the paper about the demolition of the Hellbane family home and considers his connection to the house.  Foreshadowing!

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Suddenly, Bruce is shocked awake by a spectral voice, which demands “Avenge my death, Batman!”  For a moment, he thinks he sees a ghostly bride “out there, on the wing!”  Wayne’s Shatner moment aside, he writes it off to a dream or a distorted reflection, but he keeps having such visions, seeing the bride again and becoming so distracted that some random street punk nearly takes him out while on patrol as Batman that night.

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The next morning, he found himself invited to a charity fundraiser making a game of the demolition of the Hellbane estate.  When he arrives, the disguised hero finds the upper floor marked off limits, but during the destruction, he sees that someone has ignored the signs and gone up.  Investigating, the snooping millionaire is knocked out, but he is not so easily stopped.  When he wakes up, he changes into his costume and heads up the stairs as the Dark Knight.  On the second floor, he springs a trap and takes out two hoods that were laying for him, scaring them so much they go running to their boss.

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Batman236-14Bursting into a chamber they try to bar, Batman finds that the missing heiress’s former fiance, Axel March, tearing up a wall.  He and his two flunkies had posed as a news crew to get access to the house, and after the Caped Crusader clouts the clown, we discover what he was after.  It seems that Corrine Hellbane didn’t disappear at sea after all.  In fact, she never even left her house.  The Masked Manhunter discovers her deteriorated remains sealed in a wall.  Desperate, March attacks Batman once more, but he’s no match for the Masked Manhunter.  Their struggles bring their hostess, Agatha Tyler-Tilford, whose family owns the house, to investigate.  However, the Dark Detective realizes that March must have had help to accomplish his scheme, and Agatha was the one who posed as the phony female to fake her disappearance.  The story ends with the mystery solved, the guilty punished, and the house torn down.

This is an okay mystery with some hints of the supernatural, but Batman plays doubting Thomas all the way through, even declaring “anything can be explained rationally…if you find the key!”  While this fits a Batman in isolation, it doesn’t work for a character who’s part of the DCU, who regularly hangs out with magicians and encounters monsters and spirits on a regular basis.  Heck, this very month he’s teaming up with the Phantom Stranger in The Brave and the Bold, and we’ve seen supernatural stories in this very book.  Now, it makes sense that Bruce would seek a rational explanation first, but it seems a little silly for him to balk at belief completely.

Other than that little nitpick, the story is fine, though the mystery lacks any real punch, since we don’t actually meet the suspects until about the time they are revealed as the culprits.  The random interlude with the generic street tough doesn’t help with that.  Irv Novick’s art is quite good throughout, achieving some nice atmosphere and action.  He does a particularly nice job on the villains’ faces.  I’ll give this average tale 3 Minutemen.  Of course, in this issue we also we get the added benefit of another Head-blow Headcount appearance by the Dark Knight Detective!

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“Rain Fire”


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In our backup slot this month is the finale to the rather odd hippie commune centered Robin adventure, where the Teen Wonder is pursuing attempted cop-killer-turned-dropout, Pat Whalon, who has set a fire to throw the hero off his trail.  We pick up the tale as the conflagration comes to life and threatens to consume the countryside.  The Caped Crusader quickly organizes the outcasts into a bucket brigade in attempt to battle the blaze.

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Despite their best efforts, the inferno threatens to get out of control, so Robin rushes to the neighboring farms and towns, recruiting help.  Despite the fact that pretty much nobody likes the hippies (and who can blame them!), everyone rushes to their aid, as the fire is a threat to one and all.  With the townspeople’s help, the conflagration is contained long enough for emergency aid to arrive.  Before long, government helicopters are dropping fire suppression foam and extinguishing the inferno.

With the immediate threat handled, the Teen Wonder heads out after his quarry, trailing the escaping gunman on his motorcycle and finally bringing him to heel on a mountain road in a fairly nice sequence.  Whalon attacks, but he’s no match for Robin.  The story ends with the townsfolk reaching out in friendship to the hippies, whose commune was destroyed by the blaze, while Whalon’s former girlfriend, Nanci, finally returns to her family to visit her hospitalized father (daughter of the year she ain’t!).  Terri, the vague, maybe-psychic, who has been dropping in and out of the strip seems to have disappeared, leaving Robin to think that she, in all of her unclear motivations and indefinite mumbo-jumbo, reminds him of a certain ill-defined Teen Titan.

So, this is an okay story, and Irv Novick does a really nice job on the art, with the fire-fighting sequences being pretty dramatic and the various background characters evincing a lot of personality and individuality.  At the end, Nanci tells Robin that he’s shaken her hippie beliefs (though her ignorant self-righteousness and pig-headedness probably had a roll in that too), and he responds “No more than the commune shook mine!”  We see in this another example of Friedrich pounding home his point about communes, but he honestly doesn’t beat that particular drum too hard in this tale.  Instead, we get more of a focus on the idea that ‘we’re all in this together,’ with the ‘normal’ townsfolk and the hippies all finding common ground as they fight to save the land that is home to them all.  Honestly, that’s not a bad sentiment to end on, especially these days.  I’ll give this rushed finale 3 Minutemen.

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Brave and the Bold #98


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“Mansion of the Misbegotten!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler/Inker/Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Nick Cardy

“The Killer Shadow!”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Sy Barry
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“One Challenger Must Die”
Writer: Arnold Drake
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Bob Brown
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Alright, we have some vintage Zany Haney in this issue!  Get out your Earth-H score cards and see if you can get a Zany Bingo.  We’ve got: a long-time friend of Batman never mentioned before or after, an unprecedented family connection (sort of), gobs of uncharacteristic portrayals, and a crazy, utterly out-there twist.  I think that’s Bingo!  All of this lies under a cover that is just decent.  It is vaguely creepy, with the monstrous faces waiting in the wings, but it isn’t really all that interesting, however much Phantom Stranger is chewing the scenery with his reaction.

The story inside is pure Haney.  It begins with Batman going to visit his old (and certainly not made up just for this issue) friends, Roger and Clorinda Birnam, who live in a suitably dark and foreboding manor.  I’m sure nothing’s amiss here!  Roger, attended by a doctor named Malthus, lies dying, and he has called up his closest friend, the freaking Batman, to be there at the end.  The Dark Knight also sees his godson, Enoch.  Can’t you just imagine the Caped Crusader standing in a church in full costume during the kid’s christening?  After offering some comfort to the child, the Masked Manhunter bids Roger farewell, and promises to honor his dying wish, that he look after Clorinda and Enoch.  His honest, yet gentle exchange with the kid is surprisingly touching.

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We get a rather incongruous, but very Haney, shot of Bats attending his friend’s funeral in full daylight and in full costume, but a few weeks later, strange things begin to happen.  First, the Dark Knight sees Dr. Malthus around town, only for the fellow to deny the name, and then the Detective investigates a ritual murder disguised as a hit and run, only to discover that the victim was a mourner at Roger’s funeral.

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The investigation is interrupted by Clorinda, who has seen a strange specter in her house.  Batman rushes to her aid and encounters a glowing figure, but when he tries to tackle it, he is repulsed and it vanishes.  Despite all of this happening in plain view of the grieving widow, Bats pretends like she imagined it all, which has to be great for her mental health.  When the local constable arrives, the Dark Knight leaves Clorinda in his care and continues his investigation, only to encounter the glimmering ghost once more and be pointed back to the house.

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There he witnesses some strange, satanic spectacle, only to be knocked unconscious by a piece of pipe falling from the roof (that’s right, another Head-blow!) and awakens to find a simple house party going on inside.  One of the guests asks for his autograph, and after giving it (imagine the modern Batman signing autographs!), he retires to a bedroom to recover from the blow.  However, his rest is disturbed by the arrival of Enoch, who seems to cast a spell over the hero.  The Masked Manhunter suddenly finds himself unable to move and besieged by a demonic form.  Fortunately, the spectral figure from before appears and chases away the attacker, only to be revealed as….the Phantom Stranger!

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The mysterious man frees Batman from his paralysis and explains that he’s stumbled into the middle of a coven of witches, and that his friend was murdered so that Clorinda could inherit his fortune!  How’s that for a zany twist?  The Stranger has been investigating them, but in order to protect himself from their spells, he had to coat himself in a spectral shield, which is why the Caped Crusader didn’t recognize him.  As they leave the house to pursue the coven, which has fled, they hear a child crying from an upper room and assume it is just another trap.

When Batman tries to exhume his friend’s body to check for signs of foul play, the constable, who is part of the cult, attacks him, and once again the hero awakens after a SECOND Head-blow in a single issue (!), only to find himself in worse trouble than before.  He’s being held down on an altar as Enoch, secretly the little Hell-spawn leader of the coven, prepares to sacrifice him to their dark master.  The Dark Knight frees himself, but Satan himself suddenly appears and carries him off!

Or rather, it is the Phantom Stranger masquerading as Satan in order to rescue his ally.  The next night, the pair try to pull the cult’s fangs and get proof of their nefarious deeds by kidnapping Enoch and then….sort of just traumatizing the kid by exposing him to occult paraphernalia.  The child acts, well, pretty much like a child, and is freaked out.  After some more digging, they realize that Clorinda actually gave birth to twins, and they’ve got the innocent, normal son.

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Batman: Dark Knight and….kidnapper?

The heroes launch a last assault on the coven, but once more Batman is paralyzed by magic.  Yet, just as she and her demon-spawn prepare to escape, Clorinda sees her murdered husband in the dark at the head of the stairs, and panicking, falls over the rail, taking the little monster with her, to their deaths.  It turns out that, in the Moonlight, her conscience converted a portrait of Roger into his vengeful ghost, and doomed her and her demon seed.  The issue ends with Batman caring for his friend’s now orphaned real son…who is never mentioned again.  “I’ll look after him forever…provided forever is until the end of this sentence.”

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Whew!  What a yarn!  Trying to simplify Haney plots for summary is a real challenge.  Nonetheless, this is a fun story, however much it may be completely wrong for Batman in some of its details.  It is also, unsurprisingly for the Zany one, completely bonkers!  Batman has an old friend who he is SUPER close with, but the world’s greatest detective never happens to notice that the guy’s wife is a witch or that his godson is a demonically powered evil child prodigy.  Despite this, there is an engaging and creepy mystery, which does a good job of evoking a sense of creeping madness, of losing your grip on reality, that belongs to certain horror stories.  It’s goofy in sections, but Jim Aparo’s art, by turns beautiful, moody, or magnificent, really helps make it work.  Plus, it gives us two different head-blows, a first for my little indexing project!  I’ll give this crazy turn through Earth-H 3 Minutemen.  It’s interesting to see another magic/witchcraft focused tale.  Clearly, the fascination with the occult is growing, and it isn’t going away any time soon.

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Detective Comics #417


Detective_Comics_417“Batman For a Night!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“A Bullet For Gordon!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: John Costanza

“Alfred, Armchair Detective”
Penciler/Inker: Jerry Robinson
Letterer: Ira Schnapp
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

“The Mystery That Edgar Allan Poe Solved”
Penciler/Inker: John Prentice
Colourist: Steve Englehart
Editor: Jack Schiff

Our cover story here is, in its way, as crazy and out of character for Bats as any Zany Haney yarn, but it’s not bad for all that.  We start with a very melodramatic cover which is pretty misleading in its import.  It’s a fair piece, and the presence of two Batmen is liable to give one pause, but it didn’t exactly make me anxious to pick up the book.  The tale within starts, not with our resident Dark Knight protagonist, but with a part-time pugilist.  Namely, we join Jan Paxton, barely holding his own in a boxing ring with the heavyweight champ.  It turns out that this is an exhibition match held for Paxton’s benefit.  He’s a writer who does a ‘day in the life of’ type magazine column, trying out different professions and writing about what they are really like.

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After having survived his turn with the “sweet science,” the aching author tells his visitors, Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne that he has even crazier plans for his next column, taking on a day in the life of…the Batman!  Now, of course Bruce promptly ignores this and refuses to put some random schmuck, even an athletic one, into mortal dang….ohh, wait….no, he totally agrees to give the guy a tryout.  Bringing him blindfolded to the Batcave, the Caped Crusader gives the writer a crushing workout, though his guest gets in a few licks.  In the end, Bats is impressed enough to let Paxton try a night ‘under the hood’, which is just crazy.  Once again, imagine the modern Batman doing this.  Even for our Bronze Age Batman, this seems rather out of character for the darker, more serious turn the book has taken in the years we’ve been following it.

Nonetheless, the next night Paxton is driving around in the Batmobile in full costume.  He spots a tractor-trailer hijacking and hitches a ride on the truck to stop the thieves.  He takes out the trailing car by uncoupling the trailer from the cab, and as a grown-up who has to think about things like accidents and car repairs, I can’t help but think, “sheesh!  He probably just cost the truck company way more in damages than he’s going to save them by stopping the robbery!”  Despite that, this maneuver is actually something of a success, but when he tackles the thieves in the cab, he is decidedly less lucky.

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He disarms one, but has to turn his gun against another.  Only the real Batman’s timely intervention prevents a shooting.  Now, here we’ve got an actual fitting piece of characterization, as the Dark Knight is furious about Paxton’s use of a gun and his defamation of the Caped Crusader’s name.  That revulsion for guns is an element integral to the character that we haven’t really seen much so far.

Of course, as Robins scores on that swing, he whiffs on the next, as Batman still agrees to let Paxton have another crack at impersonating him.  Unfortunately, things get much more real for the writer when his sister is killed by a random shooting during a bank heist.  Suddenly, the agonized author discovers just what it is that drives the Batman to his single-minded quest for justice.  Once again, that is actually a rather nice beat.

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The Dark Detectives helps his understudy track down the murderous men thanks to a clue his dying sister gave them, a ring that one of her killers wore.  They identify the scum and trace him to a bowling alley, where Paxton sucker punches Batman in order to get a shot at his quarry.  Despite charging headlong into gunfire, the writers somehow manages not to end up penning his own epitaph, and manages to nail the killer.  The tale ends with him reflecting on how he now understands what gives the Masked Manhunter that special something that makes drives him to succeed at his strange calling.

So, we’ve got a fair little tale here, despite how silly it is that Batman would just let some random dude playact his part for a night, especially after the guy botches it the first time.  Nonetheless, there is a decent bit of character work about our hero here, hidden beneath that ridiculous plot device.  The sort of ‘corner of your eye’ focus on what is behind the Dark Knight’s crusade is pretty solid, and the mystery solving in the middle is pretty solid.  Throughout, Bob Brown’s art is strong, and he does a nice job giving Paxton some personality.  I’ll give this unusual Batman outing 3.5 Minutemen, with its good elements outweighing its silly ones.

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“A Bullet for Gordon”


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Our Batgirl backup this month finishes up the Commissioner Gordon story from last month, and it starts off with a bang!  When last we left our heroine, she was racing to save her father from the lethal trap set by her duplicitous double.  The fake Batgirl has positioned Gordon where the cop hating radicals will catch him in the open.  Fortunately, the real ‘Dominoed Dare-Doll’ arrives to destroy her plans.  She saves her father and takes out the thugs, but in the heat of the moment, she slips up and calls the Commissioner “Dad” imperiling her secret.  Fortunately, he doesn’t seem to notice, and the crimefighter captures her counterpart with a really awkward-looking tackle.

The imposter imprisoned, the Daredevil Dame keeps her doppleganger’s rendezvous, and meets the big man behind the whole operation, encountering the real cop-killer in the process.  Just as her cover is about to be blown, Babs’ father returns the favor and rescues her, arriving just in time to capture the crooks who were preparing to unmask her.  It turns out that he hitched a ride on the getaway truck and eavesdropped on the revealing meeting within using a contact microphone, proving he’s still pretty sharp.  As the Commissioner gives Batgirl a ride, Babs thinks that he must not have noticed her slipup, but that night, as he looks in on her, supposedly asleep, Gordon wonders when she’ll finally tell him the truth.

I love that touch, that police commissioner and great cop that he is, Gordon has already solved this mystery, but that he just chooses to play along until his daughter decides to confide in him.  It’s a great character beat, and it makes a certain amount of sense for the man who has placed so much faith in Batman.  It’s a great note on which to end this last chapter, and a good chapter it was.  The ultimate bad guys don’t get any real development, but they are overshadowed by the emotional arc of the tale, which focuses on Babs and her father, which works reasonably well.  In a bigger story, that would be less forgivable, but as is, this made for a fun, engaging, and exciting finale.

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It’s interesting that, in the end, the radicals are given a completely unsympathetic portrayal, being little better than bloodthirsty animals, despite the fact that they weren’t actually guilty of the original crime.  So, no sympathetic portrayal of the counterculture here.  Unfortunately Don Heck’s art continues to be rather rough, and while this tale has some nice panels, there are also a lot of muddy, awkward bits, like Batgirl’s bizarre tackle.  Despite that, I’ll give this one a solid 3 Minutemen.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Batman makes his not-so triumphant return to the Headcount for the first time in quite a while, but he does it in style, with not one, but two different cranial contusions in the same comic!  That’s impressive.  Apparently, the Dark Knight excels at everything, including getting knocked on the noggin!

 


Well, not a bad way to start off 2019, all things considered, hmm?  We had a pretty enjoyable batch of books, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else awaits us this month.  I hope you’ll join me again soon to find out and, until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!  Here’s hoping 2019 will be a better year for all of us.

 

DCUG Developer’s Journal #4

Howdy folks!  Time for another dev journal!  This one covers a range of topics but focuses on the addition of new characters to the mod’s massive roster.

First off, I am proud to announce that I’m no longer the only storyteller that will be featured in the DCUG!  Since the very, very beginning, one of my great hopes for this project was that it would serve as a springboard for others to tell their own stories in my version of the DCU.  I envisioned it as a massive sandbox that other DC fans could play in and help me flesh out.  Several folks started various projects to contribute, but they all eventually fell through for one reason or another, most because people just got busy with real life.  I actually still have a partially completed campaign called “Monkey Business” written up that a great guy named lmalonsof and I were working on back in the day, featuring a team-up of DC ape villains.   It promised to be a blast, and I should probably dig it out and try to finish it up one of these days.

Anyway, the new (and, really, only other) member of the DCUG team goes by Or Wolvie, a fellow FF modder who started a very promising project a few years ago but put it on hold after running into technical difficulties (I still hope he’ll finish it one of these days!).  I asked him if he’d like to tell some of his own stories in the mod, and to my delight, he agreed.  I gave him his pick of characters and teams, and he dreamed up some really fun adventures for Green Arrow and for the Teen Titans.  He’s well on his way to having his two new campaigns scripted up, and hopefully I’ll have some previews of them to share before too terribly long.  I for one am really looking forward to them!

Now, on to the update!

In preparation for the finale for the JLA/JSA crossover, I’ve been working on adding some new characters to the mod.  My plans for the mission involve a host of villains of the two teams, drawn from all points in time.  I find myself needing some more of the JSA’s villains, as they were relatively poorly represented previously.  This seems like a good opportunity to offer some reflections on my design philosophy and some info on how characters are built.

It starts with tracking down or requesting the art assets for a character.  At this point, almost any comic character you can imagine has been created, at least in some fashion, by our wonderful FF community.  So, I created my wishlist of JSA foes, posted on Freedom Reborn, and within an afternoon, the community pointed me to where I could find all of them.  Then it’s just a matter of dropping the meshes, skins, and keyframes into the FFvTTR Custom/Library/Art/Characters directory, where I can check them out with the CharacterTool.  When I have chosen the ones I want, I launch the current DCUG build and use the in-game character creator, which is wonderfully flexible and user friendly, to create a character file, or “Herofile”, which records and interprets their stats (like strength, speed, agility, etc.), powers, attributes (like if they can fly or climb walls), material type, and voice.  I often use existing HF packs as a starting point, but I always customize the characters with my own interpretation.

The DCUG was the first mod I ever created, and my character design philosophy has evolved a bit since I made all of its characters.  Now, this means I have to keep an eye on myself so that I don’t screw up the balancing by designing a character the way I did for my more recent mods like Marvel Adventures.  In general, my biggest priority for the early DCUG was comic accuracy and breadth, and I would just provide enough powers and abilities to capture the character, not paying as much attention to playability and fully realizing them as I could have.  I’m in the process of going back and polishing the existing characters to reflect a more comprehensive approach, and I’m building new ones with a more thorough eye as well.

I put more focus on making characters interesting to play and filling each one’s Herofile, giving them a full range of 10 powers whenever possible, as many attributes as made sense, and generally trying to use all available slots.  So, the first new characters I was developing were JSA foes, as I mentioned, and they posed a challenge because I really wasn’t all that familiar with them, having read few of their stories.  Fortunately, the Internet is full of information on ridiculous minutia, like the powers of 3rd stringers like The Fiddler.  My go-to sources are Ben Reily’s excellent Marvel RPG page, which, counter-intuitively, also has info on DC, and the great site Rapsheet, which has info on comic villains.

So, I built the Fiddler, giving him a range of powers to represent his magical violin (yes, that is a real thing in the DC Universe.  Aren’t comics grand?).  I also gave him some neat FFX (Freedom Force community expansion) attributes that allow him to use his music to affect the actual environment of a level.  He can do things like bring inanimate objects to life to fight for him.

I also built The Gambler, who is just a normal human with trick guns and knives.  He proved a challenge because of his limited powers.  While FF is perfect for depicting super-beings, it can get a little tough when you’re making normal humans with any variety or interest.  Fortunately, The Gambler has enough gimmicks to keep him interesting, and I came up with a fun HF.

I also started working on the old war comic classic, the Haunted Tank!  That’s right; after previewing the art for this formidable fighting machine in the last journal, its now actually playable, though I’ll probably keep tweaking it.

As I went, my list of new characters to add continued to grow on me, as it always does, and I cast my net wider. I designed and added a number of JSA villains, but I also ended up adding some Firestorm foes and some members of the Suicide Squad that I had previously missed, taking advantage of some really lovely new skins/skopes by FR member Laughing Paradox.

In this batch of characters I ended up adding:

  • Abra Kadabra
  • Baron Blitzkrieg
  • Captain Comet
  • The Enchantress
  • The Fiddler
  • The Gambler
  • The Icicle
  • Javelin
  • Killer Frost
  • The Mist
  • The Muse
  • Nemesis
  • Plastique
  • Shade the Changing Man
  • Slipknot

After I had finished my designing and testing, it was time to add the characters into the mod itself. There are a number of ways to do this. My favorite has always been a special Rumble Room (the game’s sandbox mode) gametype that adds included characters to the games .dats, or data files. However, in my current Windows 10 build, that gametype doesn’t work quite right, being super, ridiculously slow, so I went with my second favorite, which is Alex’s fantastic Herotool. It has a ‘send to dat’ feature that is very strong and at this point may well be better than using the in-game method.

Now, you might think that’s the end of the process, but it is really just the beginning. Now comes the hard work. First, I went through and wrote all the strings entries, which provide the ‘cleaned-up’ names of characters and powers, biographies, and mouse-over descriptions. This is a little detail I’ve always been very intentional about including in my mods, and it is rather painstaking work, going line-by line, thinking up (hopefully) clever descriptions and names for powers and taglinles. Honestly, it’s one of my least favorite parts of the process.

With that done, it’s time for customizations. FFX has given mod makers and players an incredible set of tools to customize their FF experience. It lets you do all kinds of things that the base game doesn’t. For example, The Enchantress can transform regular items in her environment in interesting ways, like transmutating a street light into a poisonous gas cloud, while Abra Kadabra can trap his enemies in a crystaline cage with its own hitpoints. Some of these FFX additions will work ‘out of the box’ but a lot of them require at least an extra step of customization or setup, especially some of the coolest ones. I’ve given several of these charaters FF1 style active defenses, meaning they’ve got forcefields that have a limited hitpoint pool and can actually be battered down, but that took a few extra steps and some editing of files.

Once all of that is done, then I go through and choose voicepacks appropriate for the characters, drawing on the massive library I’ve acquired over the years, which was hugely expanded by VPMAX, the community voice pack…pack. Those final touches done, it’s time to re-brand all of the new characters with the FFX Control Center, which helps the game identify and understand them, and then it is time to test them out!

Hopefully, everything works right!

In this case, things went relatively smoothly, and I was on to other matters.

As is always the case, I was working on several things at a time, just as I remembered something or as a thought grabbed me. In my various modding meanderings, I also happened to solve a mystery that was partially responsible for me abandoning my Aquaman campaign way back when! I had a lot of big plans for that storyline, and they involved trying things I had never tried before, like adding new objects and maps into the mod. I had a mission planned that would use a huge freighter as a battle scene, and I even managed to track down a mesh for a freighter that I could use. I tried everything I could think of to get that mesh to show up properly in the game, but I never got it to work. However, my recent exprience with the map issues for my JLA campaign showed me the answer. Instead of trying to add the boat as an object, I just added it directly to the map. That still took some doing, but I eventually figured it out, and I now have a way to tell stories I’ve been wanting to tell for years and years!

And that is all the news from the DCUG at the moment! The roster grows, and things proceed apace. Please check back again soon and see what else is in store. Look for some information about Or_Wolvie’s new campaigns soon!

Into the Bronze Age: November 1971 (Part 1)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’re starting a new month of comics, and we’ve got a double douse of super stories for our survey.  I’m experimenting with formatting a bit with this post, so I welcome any feedback about the changes.  I’m changing the sizing of my images so they will mostly auto-adjust for folks viewing the site on tablets or phones.  Are any of y’all accessing it that way?  If not, are the new sizes too much for those of you still viewing on PCs?

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.


This month in history:

  • US performs underground nuclear test at Amchitka Island Aleutians
  • Mariner 9, 1st to orbit another planet (Mars)
  • Intel advertises 4004-processor
  • The Compton inquiry is published, acknowledging that there was ill-treatment of internees, but rejected claims of systematic brutality or torture (Northern Ireland)
  • The US increase air activity to support the Cambodian government as fighting neared Phnom Penh
  • China performs nuclear test at Lop Nor, PRC
  • Battle of Garibpur: Indian troops aided by Mukti Bahini (Bengali guerrillas) defeat the Pakistan army
  • China People’s Republic seated in UN Security Council
  • American “Dan Cooper” hijacks plane, extorts $200,000 ransom before jumping out of plane over Washington State, never seen again
  • Soviet Mars 2 becomes 1st spacecraft to crash land on Mars
  • Republic of Ireland states that it will take the allegations of brutality against the security forces in Northern Ireland to the European Court of Human Rights
  • Multiple deaths in Ireland, intentional and accidental, as IRA and security forces clash in bombings, ambushes, and sniper attacks

The Troubles in Ireland heated up this month, with the IRA stepping up attacks and the death toll rising.  The racial troubles in the U.S. seem a little quieter this month, and we see an important moment in world history, as Communist China joined the center of U.N. power, the Security Council.  This decision would have major and far-reaching consequences.  One wonders if it solved more problems than it created.  We also see tensions rising elsewhere in the world, as the early stages of the Indo-Pakistani War are taking place on the two countries’ borders.

On a more positive note, the space race continues, and man-made satellites reached mars.  The U.S. remained in the lead, with the Soviets trailing behind and the crash landing of their probe.  It’s amazing to me how much was accomplished in just a few years.

At the top of the charts this month we have two songs tied, two very different songs.  The first is Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves,” which is a pretty fun and very 70s song.  The second tune is the legendary, wonderfully funky theme song of Shaft!  As you know, he’s one bad mother-

-Shut your mouth!

-I’m talking about Shaft!

Can you dig it?


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #406
  • Adventure Comics #412
  • Batman #236
  • Brave and the Bold #98
  • Detective Comics #417
  • The Flash #210
  • Forever People #5
  • G.I. Combat #150
  • Justice League of America #94
  • New Gods #5
  • Superboy #179
  • Superman #244
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #116
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #143
  • World’s Finest #207

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


Action Comics #406


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“Master of Miracles”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Challenge of the Expanding World”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Alex Toth
Inker: Alex Toth
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Ghost That Haunted Clark Kent”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Well, this is a new one.  We’ve got Clark Kent haunted by the headless ghost of Superman.  Only in comics, folks.  This is certainly a striking cover.  I mean, you can’t help but wonder what in the screaming blue blazes is going on inside, but it seems to declare a very particular type of tale awaits within, the traditional gonzo Superman yarn.  Notably, this issues is one of those rare few where the headline story is not the source of the cover, though I guess almost anything would pale in comparison, at least in the ‘what the heck’ sense, to a decapitated spectral Man of Steel.

The first story inside is actually quite solid, despite its lack of guillotined ghouls.  It begins with Clark being dispatched in his ‘rolling newsroom’ (I’m curiuos how long this thing is going to hang around) by Morgan Edge to get the scoop on a mysterious new guru known as “The Master” attracting the best and brightest minds in the country to a commune called “Sanctuary.”  Edge’s dismissive comments on communes made me laugh, as he declares “Bah! Most communes are run by dropouts from life”.  He may be a jerk, but he’s not wrong.  Well, Mr. Mild-Mannered heads out, only to find a bus of scientists on their way to meet the Master stuck trying to cross a river and in danger of being swept away by a flood.

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action-406-06-04Clark changes to Superman and rescues the imperiled pilgrims, but as he flies away with the bus, he sees the mysterious Master appear and freeze the onrushing wall of water.  The guru is cryptic and enigmatic in his speech, in classic mystical mumbo-jumbo fashion, and predicts a coming global catastrophe.  He brings the new arrivals into Sanctuary, an otherwise deserted valley, and puts them to work picking up litter.  Posing as one of the faithful, Clark decides to get a closer look.  He observes the Master gather all of the recovered glass bottles, melt them down in an instant, and form them into giant dome to serve as the shelter of Sanctuary.

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action-406-11-08When Clark tries to enter, the Master reveals that he knows the hero’s secret identity and, using “prophet power”, predicts an imminent emergency that will need Superman’s attention.  The Man of Steel rushes off to save a train full of dangerous chemicals threatened by a raging forest fire, using a tanker of carbon dioxide to smother the flames.  Yet, he laments that even this solution added to the planet’s pollution.

Determined to solve the mystery of the Master, the Metropolis Marvel heads to his Fortress of Solitude, to use its computers.  While there, he gets a message from the Bottle City of Kandor about their census computer having broken down…and he’s really sort of a jerk as he dismisses them.  action-406-12-09He uses a “blackout beam” on the bottled city to cut off communications.  That seems unnecessarily harsh!  Another “emergency” distracts the Man of Tomorrow from today’s problem, sending him rushing to Metropolis.  The problem?  Their new jets are too noisy and are breaking the windows in the city…which really doesn’t seem like a job for Superman.  Nonetheless, the Action Ace whips up a floating airport in the bay using a mothballed fleet for materials, but once again, he is left lamenting the environmental impact of humanity.

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Back in Sanctuary (you didn’t think they’d forgotten about it, did you?), the Master has melted down old cans and walks across the molten metal to display his powers, finally shaping the metal into a cone structure.  He then leads his followers into a ‘hall of learning’ made out of discarded plastics, and Superman begs to join him, saying he realizes that there is much for him to learn.  The Man of Steel even humbles himself by putting the Master’s sandals back on his feet.

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Inside the hall, the pilgrims feel the structure begin to vibrate as a video screen plays a tape of the Master claiming to be part of an alien race that had seeded humanity on Earth and has now sent him back to rescue part of the population from the coming destruction of their planet.  Superman, using X-Ray vision, realizes what is really happening, and rushes outside to confront the Master, who has combined his three structures into a rocket.  Examining the guru’s shoes, the Man of Tomorrow realizes that they are actually from Kandor.  In fact, the charlatan is also from Kandor, and he was preparing to kidnap his followers and head to another planet where he could be a superman.

Apparently, this fellow, Van-Tarr, followed Superman out of Kandor, enlarging right behind him, and then used his powers to fake the abilities of the Master.  Now, this surprised the heck out of me.  I thought that the whole point with Kandor was that Superman couldn’t enlarge them…but apparently he can and just doesn’t.  What in the world?!  If that’s the case, our hero is basically holding these people hostage!  Any of you readers know what the explanation of this is?

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Well, whether Superman is Kandor’s savor or jailer, the story ends with him saving the Master’s former followers and returning the would-be world-ruler to the bottle city and telling the story to Morgan Edge.

This is a pretty Silver Age-ish tale, in its way, with an enigmatic newcomer who has powers to rival Superman, but the mystery it develops is actually handled reasonably well.  The Master is intriguing, and I enjoyed the reversal of his supposed origin, which itself would have not been out of place in comics.  The environmental focus of the story was also interesting, with the charlatan taking advantage of people’s anxiety about pollution, which was reinforced by Superman’s own observations throughout the story.  Clearly, this topic is still very much in the zeitgeist.  Swan’s art is excellent as usual, and I particularly liked his depiction’s of the Master’s feats.  All-in-all, this is a fine, enjoyable tale.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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“The Ghost that Haunted Clark Kent”


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So, as goofy as the cover and central image of this story are, the backup itself is not as bad as I expected.  We certainly have some truth in advertising here, as the tale starts with almost the exact scene from the cover, with Clark Kent being brought to see a headless, spectral Superman stalking the walls of the Tower of London.  He’s in town to film a TV special, and the Beefeaters at the Tower naturally called him in to see this phenomenon.  Well, the curious Clark fakes a case of the creeks in order to switch into Superman and spy on the specter.  He discovers the figure passing through walls into a sealed chamber inside the fortress, where he becomes solid.  Drilling up through the foundations of the ancient pile, the Man of Tomorrow emerges in an ancient laboratory and faces a man in a Superman costume with a very strange, almost deathly visage.

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Instead of the fight we are all likely expecting, this phantasmagoric figure introduces himself quite politely.  It turns out he is Dr. Troy Magnus, once the royal physician back in 1665, during the last great Black Plague outbreak in England, and his story is a tragic one.  He was an alchemist, and he sought a potion to cure the plague.  He tested it on himself, and it seemed to work for a time.  Then, suddenly he was gripped with fever, but instead of dying, he turned into a phantom.  After a while he became corporeal again, but he now became a typhoid Mary, passing the plague on to all of those around him.  Horrified, he begged the guards to kill him, but his body became spectral whenever he was threatened.  Desperate, the devastated doctor volunteered to be sealed up inside a wall within the fortress, where the alchemical portion has kept him alive all this time.

Whew!  Well, what does all of this have to do with Magnus dressing up like a mummy Superman?  Nothing, actually.  He wanted to attract Superman’s attention, and being a specter, was able to suss out that Clark and he were the same.  Deciding that just a crazy ghost sighting wouldn’t be enough to attract the Action Ace’s attention, he did the only logical thing…pose as a headless, ghostly version of the hero.  That is…just so weird and unnecessary.  This story would work perfectly well without this contrivance.  This is the ridiculous world of this era of Superman, though.  He’s the center of the universe, and everything relates to him.  Clearly this is one of those cases where someone came up with a cover image and scrambled to find a story to justify it.

Paper-thin excuses for a Superman connection aside, the reason the alchemist has contacted the Man of Steel is that he hopes, with all his vast powers, the Kryptonian can finally end his long life.  That’s actually rather sad, and Swan does a great job of putting some anger and desperation in Magnus’s face as he pleads with the Man of Tomorrow to kill him.  Of course, the Metropolis Marvel refuses, but he agrees to seal up some gaps in the specters sepulcher.  Yet, when he uses his heat vision to do so, he accidentally strikes a mirrored alchemical machine, and as the deathless doctor tries to save his device, he is struck…and dies!  Considering that this comes moments after him having pleaded for death, you can’t help wondering if this was an elaborate form of suicide…which is really a little uncomfortable in a book like this.  As you might imagine, Clark is devastated by having accidentally taken a life, which is a huge thing that, I’m sure, will never be mentioned again.  The story ends with the sobered superhero resealing Magnus’s tomb so his plague doesn’t harm anyone, even in death.

So, what do we make of this weirdo tale?  Well, it really isn’t a bad story in concept, despite its ridiculously contrived central image.  The tale of poor Troy Magnus is a brief but effective one, and it is quite sad seeing this noble fellow, who only wanted to help people, cursed for his efforts.  Yet, it’s all outlandish enough that it really could use more space to work, and the ghost running around in the super-suit is just silly to the point of detracting from the gravity of the story.  Most importantly, however, Dorfman’s ending, having Superman be responsible for a death without any reflection or time to process what that means, is just terrible.  I’m reminded of a previous bi-polar story by Dorfman with a similarly unnecessarily dark ending.  There could easily have been an interesting yarn here, but once again, Dorfman rather dorfs it up.  I’ll give this odd little backup 2 Minutemen.

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P.S.: This issue includes a reprint of part 1 of a really neat Atom/Flash team-up that I am sure I must have read at some point of time but can’t remember for the life of me.  It’s got great Alex Toth art and an exciting, imaginative plot.


Adventure Comics #412


“The Battle for Survival”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Art Saaf
Inker: Bob Oksner
Editor: Joe Orlando

Animal Man: “I Was the Man With Animal Powers”
Writer: Dave Wood
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: George Roussos
Editor: Jack Schiff

Alright, now that’s a cover designed to catch your attention, isn’t it?    We’ve got cool looking aliens, gladiatorial combat, and Supergirl with a big-honking sword.  I would have passed right by most of the Adventure covers we’ve seen so far, but this one would certainly have given me pause!  About the only problem with it is that the blue giantess that our heroine has apparently defeated looks more curious than worried about the sword poised over her heart, Damocles-style.  Well, that and the somewhat awkward placement of her figure in relation to Supergirl.  Fortunately, this exciting cover is a good match for the tale within, and if you happened to pick this comic up because of it, you probably weren’t disappointed.  The story starts with the unnecessary Nasty witnessing a really crazy scene, as she spies Supergirl stealing a painting while a horde of bizarre bugs swarm over the street!  Rushing to a phonebooth, she calls the news team, thinking to *sigh* prove Linda is the Maid of Might.  However, it is Linda herself who answers!  For the first time, Nasty actually has a reason to doubt the almost certain knowledge she’s carried, but ignored, for so many issues.

Anyway, the team arrives and finds the bug bonanza under control by the police and get footage of the insect insanity and the art gallery crime scene.  Linda manages to convince Johnny to give her the rest of the day off (I’d like hours like that!) so she can set out after her imposter.  On a nearby roof, she finds the spurious Supergirl just waiting for her.  The duplicitous doppelganger greets the Maid of Might and tells the original that she must test her, throwing a handful of explosive capsules, any one of which “is usually enough to destroy an entire city” at the young heroine!

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The Girl of Tomorrow smothers the explosives in her hand, which apparently passes the test. (Sheesh!  That seems a bit extreme, especially given what we’ll see of the stranger’s motivations later on.)  The counterfeit Kryptonian confesses that she is from the planet Liquel II and masqueraded as Supergirl to get her attention.  She then blackmails the heroine into accompanying her home, threatening the innocent inhabitants of the city if she doesn’t.

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The Girl of Steel agrees, and the pair blast off, arriving just in time for the alluring alien, Glynix, to enter Supergirl into a gladatorial contest for the fate of her world.  It seems that Glynix and her mate Largyn are the rulers of their world, but they have been challenged by a vicious tyrant named Zogg.  The cosmic equivalent of the U.N. has ordered that all conflicts be settled by combat between champions instead of wars, and the desperate Glynix forced the Maid of Might into the fight as a last resort.  We get a really silly moment where the girl suddenly realizes that, hey, maybe that wasn’t fair, but the story rushes on.  Supergirl agrees to fight, not for the rulers, but for their people, and she squares off with the big blue gal from the cover.

adventure 412-10

Art Saaf draws a nice looking fight scene, as Supergirl battles big blue, but her first attack seems to pass right through the giant, earning her a thrashing for her trouble!  The titan tries to crush her, but the Girl of Steel is made of sterner stuff and manages to escape, though Glynix is so worries, she almost calls off the combat rather than see the heroine hurt.  In something of a leap of logic, Supergirl works out that the giantess must have hypnotized her, because clearly it is impossible that an alien could have the ability to phase out.  In a clever move, Linda uses her heat vision to blind her foe and uses that advantage to absolutely annihilate the girl gladiator.

adventure 412-14With the fight over, Glynix rushes out and gives her erstwhile champion a sword, leading Supergirl to discover that she must either finish her foe or the young ruler will pay the price instead.  As all good superheroes do, the Maid of Might finds a third way, and calls on the gathered populace to change this unjust custom.  They support her and free their leader, only to have Zogg turn their army against them.  It seemed that the cowardly Largyn never thought Supergirl could win, so he cut a deal with Zogg to keep some power.  Glynix refuses to give in, and Supergirl rescues her before Zogg can have her killed, returning to destroy the weapon’s of the tyrant’s troops in a fun scene.

Yet, the would-be world-beater is not finished yet, and he calls on a buried and outlawed superweapon to destroy the Girl of Steel.  The “shock ray” shoots Supergirl, knocking her out of the sky.  She survives, if only barely, but before Zogg can fire again, Largryn finally finds his backbone and intercedes.  The two draw knives and engage in a vicious struggle, rolling into a moat that suddenly appears, despite the fact that all of this has, until this page, been taking place inside the arena.  After a tense moment, the restored ruler emerges, having finished off his foe.  A recovered Supergirl takes her leave, and arrives home exhausted.

This is a crazy, plot-packed adventure, but it is a great kind of madness.  It is just stuffed with adventure, action, and fun.  You’ve got a whole epic story crammed into 21 pages, but it worked fairly well, with little mini-arcs for both of Liquel II’s leaders, even if Glynix’s hasn’t been thought out all the way.  The gladiator fight is great fun, and Zogg makes for a solid, scenery-chewing bad guy.  The whole thing works as a classic sci-fi super saga despite a bit of silliness here and there.  I thoroughly enjoyed its wild ride.  Art Saaf, who I don’t think I’ve encountered before, does a marvelous job with the art.  It’s bold, energetic, and really lovely, with lots of personality in the dramatis personae.  I’ll give this fun tale of a super-fracas 4 Minutemen.


And that will do it for the first post on this month’s books.  I think we’ve got a promising beginning.  I hope we’ll find the rest of our books as much fun as Supergirl!  Please join me again soon to see what Batman has in store for us this month.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

 

DCUG Developer’s Journal #3

Welcome back Freedom Fans!  Today’s journal covers some more testing, but it also has a teaser for something that is just starting to come together!

I have been working on testing the final expansion JLA mission (other than the JSA conclusion missions), #17.  This features the conclusion of the Injustice Gang storyline, with the League ambushing the Gang in their headquarters, much to their surprise!  I drew heavily on the excellent JL:TAS two-parter, “Injustice for All” for inspiration for this story.  Like the second episode of that arc, we begin with Batman captured and with the League rushing to his rescue.  However, Luthor has an ace up his sleeve, and the villains have backup in the form of the deadly dangerous Amazo!

I thought hard about putting Amazo into his own arc also based on JL, but I figured that I needed to concentrate my storytelling in this campaign in order to get the most bang for my buck because of how much time and effort it takes to create a single mission.  I can plot out endless stories, but there are only so many hours in the day to actually make them.  Thus, I have a less than optimal setup, but I think it makes for a nicely dramatic mission.

Anyway, because of my stacking the deck against my players, I decided to give them a way out in case they found Amazo too much to handle in addition to the other villains.  Using a setup I’ve used often before for turrets and other defenses, I gave Amazo a “kill switch” of sorts.  I created Amazo with a custom encounter, giving him a custom name so I can deal with him between encounters, but I also created a switch in that encounter, which, when flipped, triggers a CS that kills Amazo (bob).  To give the players a hint, I put in a time-delay CS to tip them off.  Check it out here:

#——————————————————————————-

Encounter: Meanbot1
Type: Custom
Actions: switches exist, villains fight heroes
Villains: amazo named bob
Secondary Objective: “Disable Luthor’s new weapon” for 2500 prestige
Switches: ff_science_equipment
Marker: warehouse2
Next: None

Start Cutscene:
Wait for 240 seconds
Hero says, “Look! If we can get to Luthor’s equipment, we might be able to disable the android!”
Red Arrow on warehouse2_object1

All Switches Turned Off Cutscene:
Camera on bob
Play effect effect_electricalburst at bob
bob says, “Nooo! I had only begun…to live…!”
bob is killed
Play music music_05_fort_ft

#——————————————————————————-

The mission itself was, once again, a bit of a mess at first, but fortunately, it was mostly an easy fix.  I had mixed my metaphors again in the main CS where the heroes confront the villains, using ‘real’ names (black_manta, cheetah, etc) instead of the substitution names I had given those characters so I could manipulate them between encounters (wet, cat, etc).  That kept the CS from playing.  You see, I had split the villains into two encounters, with Luthor in one and the rest of the Gang in another.  I did this because I had to get clever to work around Luthor’s Energy Shield interrogation bug, which I described in the first journal entry.  I had a devil of a time coming up with a workaround.

The simple thing would be to just use a Cutscene encounter with a new Lex after the defeat of the first, but this would mean you wouldn’t have to defeat the entire team to win.  I tried using that strategy, but starting the CS with a “Starts When” condition, triggered once the other encounters are finished, but those are always temperamental.  It didn’t work, so I tried a LOT of other things before settling on an unorthodox solution.

I made the final encounter a custom one, with conditions to turn off Lex’s AI and the “Allies Want to Chat” condition, meaning he’s interrogatable, without having to be defeated first.  This means that you won’t be able to talk to Lex until there are no enemies near by.  It’s not a perfect solution, but it gets us much closer.  Now, chances are, players will finish off everyone else before trying to talk to Lex.  Unfortunately, the Chat encounters have never really worked, but I got around this too.  I made the CS the End Cutscene for the encounter, so even though a Chat CS won’t work, as soon as the players click on Lex, the End CS plays, which has the same function.  And, viola, we’ve got a functional mission that even has some neat features.

With those intermediary missions finished, I’m on to the new JSA missions!

First, however, I haven’t just been working on testing.  No, I’ve been hard at work updating and tweaking other parts of the DCUG as well, and with the help of our riduclously talented and awesome community, I have a few new additions to show off.

There are a ton of really fantastic meshes, skins, and skopes out there for my favorite hero, Aquaman.  However, as you might imagine, I’m a tad picky about him, seeing as he is my favorite.  So, with the help of the community, and especially Detourne_me, I got an all-star team of mesh, skope, skin, and keys to create my ideal Aquaman for FF.  I also tweaked his powers and abilities, and he’s now more awesome than ever.  I even changed up his aquatic telepathy to use the ‘doot-doot-doot’ sound effect from the classic cartoon!



This awesome Aquaman deserved equally awesome villains, so asked Deanjo2000 to customize some new versions of Black Manta and Ocean Master.  The results are just plain stunning!  Dean really did an exceptional job on both, but his Orm is especially great because he was able to take my vague, unhelpful requests, and turn them into a really nice version of the New 52 look for the character that also incorporates some classic elements as well.



And finally, Detourne_me came through once more, providing me with something I expected to be quite tough, and doing it in record time as well!  Feast your eyes on a classic piece of DC war-comic history….the Haunted Tank!

These are only the beginning, too!  I’ve got several more skopes/skins from Dean and from others that I’m going to be using to update and expand the mod in the days to come.  I’ll post some teases for such updates in these journals from time to time!