Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 1)

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Hello dear readers!  As we near Thanksgiving here in the U.S., we should take some time to think about all of the blessings that we enjoy, to focus on being thankful for what we have.  That can be something of a challenge these days, with so much seeming to go wrong in the world, but that makes it all the more important.  I for one, am very thankful for bombastic Bronze Age adventures!  There is a lot of imaginative joy in these old books, and in addition to the many blessings for which I am thankful, I am also glad to have the opportunity to share some classic comics with you Internet travelers!  Welcome to the beginning of August 1971!

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:

  • George Harrison’s concert for Bangladesh takes place in NYC
  • Paul McCartney founds Wings
  • US launches 1st satellite into lunar orbit from manned spacecraft
  • 3rd San Diego Comic-Con International opens
  • Apollo 15 returns to Earth
  • A Catholic man is shot a British soldier in Belfast and a British soldier is killed by the IRA
  • France performs nuclear test at Mururoa atoll
  • Operation Demetrius (or Internment) is introduced in Northern Ireland allowing suspected terrorists to be indefinitely detained without trial; the security forces arrested 342 people suspected of supporting paramilitaries
  • Irish political parties announce civil disobedience in response to internments
  • During the internment round-up operation in west Belfast, the Parachute Regiment kill 11 unarmed civilians in what became known as the Ballymurphy massacre
  • Bahrain proclaims independence after 110 years of British rule
  • President Nixon announces a 90 day price freeze
  • FBI begins covert investigation of journalist Daniel Schorr
  • Bolivian military coup under col Hugo Banzer, pres Torres driven out
  • J. Edgar Hoover and John Mitchell announce the arrest of 20 of the “Camden 28”
  • Irish leaders present cases of British brutality to the U.N., leading to an investigation
  • The US dollar is allowed to float against the Japanese yen for the first time

Another very eventful month, and unfortunately most of those events are fairly tragic ones.  The Troubles in Ireland continue apace, and we are getting closer to some of the worst times of the conflict there.  We’re also getting closer to Nixon’s downfall with Watergate, though the events that lead up to that momentous occurrence were largely unknown at the time.  Looking back at history does help to put the problems of the present into perspective, at least.

The song at the top of the charts this month was “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” by the Bee Gees, which I’d never heard before.  It surprised the heck out of me, because it sounded nothing like the Bee Gees I knew.  What an interesting discovery!  I guess they probably had a ways to go before they became the band I know.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #403
  • Adventure Comics #409
  • Batman #233 (Reprints)
  • Batman #234
  • Detective Comics #414
  • The Flash #208
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 (the infamous drug issue)
  • Justice League of America #91
  • Mr. Miracle #3
  • The Phantom Stranger #14
  • Superman #241
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138
  • Teen Titans #34
  • World’s Finest #204

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


Action Comics #403


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“Attack of the Micro-Murderer”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Man With the X-Ray Mind”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Impossible Legend”
Writer: Dick Wood
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Bob Brown

“When Krypto Was Superboy’s Master”
Writer: George Kashdan
Penciler: George Papp
Inker: George Papp
Editor: Mort Weisinger

 We’ve got a reasonably dramatic cover for this issue, though the image can’t convey its message alone, which always seems like a bit of a failure of visual storytelling to me.  The story it represents is an unusual one, goofy, but with a certain sweet earnestness that I enjoyed.  It begins with, of all things, cave men, an executioners, a firing squad, and a hanging, each one representing the ignoble ends, far separated in time, of the same being.  How can this be?  Well, we discover the answer to that in the modern day, when in a fair double-page spread, an airborne thief crashes his helicopter into a radio tower while being pursued by Superman.  The dying villain gasps out that he is a Zontt, who will be endlessly reincarnated, and promises he’ll be back in the future to get his revenge.

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Checking his computer at the Fortress of Solitude, the Man of Steel discovers that the criminal’s last threat was no idle boast, and that there really are such things as Zontts (though how he would have records of that fact is conveniently glossed over).  Apparently they’re spirits that occupy a new host each time their current one dies, but they only have 24 hours to find their next victim.  Continuing the convenient exposition, the Kryptonian’s computer also just happens to tell him that the only element the creatures can’t penetrate is sulfur.  I’m sure that won’t be relevant later.

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Speaking of later, the next morning, Clark is sitting at his desk when it suddenly explodes, uncovering his costume and revealing a small cylinder which plays a prerecorded message…from the future!  It’s from the Zontt, who tells him that he’s in the future and will kill many innocents unless the Man of Tomorrow lives up to his name and joins him in the year 3486.  Not one to let an obvious trap stop him, the Metropolis Marvel speeds off to that date, only to uncover a woman of the future who had died moments ago, clearly the Zontt’s previous host.  Suddenly, the hero is gripped with pain, and he realizes that the creature is trying to get its revenge.  Thankfully, the Zontt can’t help boasting retroactively, so a video plays that explains the situation, revealing that the woman was a microbiologist and the spirit used her to create a super microbe to infect the Man of Steel, a microbe that is now its new host, making it even more powerful.

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Growing sicker by the moment, Superman returns to the present and tries to seek help from Kryptonian science in Kandor, only to realize that the bug won’t shrink when he does, a discovery that nearly kills him.  Trying another desperate plan, the Metropolis Marvel takes to television, pleading to the people of his own city to help him beat the bug.  He asks them to donate a huge amount of blood so that he can flush his system and, hopefully, flush out the microbe.  Now, this almost makes sense, if you don’t think about it too hard.  When you do, it becomes pretty silly.

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What follows is really the heart of the story, as Metropolis turns out in record numbers to help their hero, with even the weak and the elderly insisting on doing their part to help.  Lois herself gives until the doctors won’t let her give anymore.  Finally, the Man of Steel is hooked up to a massive transfusion device and has all of that blood pumped through him, but it fails to flush out the intelligent microbe!  Growing weaker by the moment, Superman takes his leave and begins to put his affairs in order.  Notably, there is a continuity gaffe here, as Bates places Supergirl as still at college, rather than having graduated.

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In another nice little moment, the U.S. creates a tribute to the defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, with an S-Shield created from the lights of different towns that night.  The art doesn’t really succeed in capturing the scene, but it’s still a nice idea.  Finally, Superman heads out into space to a tomb he’s chosen on an asteroid.  Thus, as Superman is dying and the spirit emerges from the microbe to find another host, it instead finds itself marooned in space, millions of miles away from any other life form.

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In a bit of irony, the Zontt is then surprised by a per-recorded message of its own, this one from Superman.  The recording declares that the being will die unless it returns to the Kryptonian’s body and saves his life.  With no choice, the Zontt rushes back to the stricken form, only for it to be revealed that, while it watched the video, the Man of Steel’s body was replaced by a duplicate with a synthetic heart coated with sulfur, which acts as a trap for the spirit.  His super-powered immune system having wiped out the now much less dangerous microbe, the Action Ace takes his prisoner and returns home.

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Quite a weird story, isn’t it?  On one hand, this yarn certainly fits the standard formula of Superman facing a seemingly inescapable fate, only to outwit it with an outlandish plan, which has certainly been done often enough before.  On the other hand, an intelligent illness is actually an interesting angle and a unique threat for Superman.  The outwitting of the villainous virus is clever, if rather ridiculous and convenient, but the real highlight of the story is the demonstration of Metropolis’s love of its hero.  I’ll give this odd little tale 3 Minutemen.  The creative concept helps to make up for the clumsy execution, but it is still a pretty silly story.

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“The Man with the X-Ray Mind”


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This backup introduces the beginning, as far as I know, of a promising new feature, “A Secret Chapter in the Life of Clark Kent.”  I’ve mentioned before how Clark doesn’t have much characterization in the comics of this era, and I’m looking forward to seeing Superman in general develop into a more rounded character.  Clark Kent is obviously an important part of that.  Unfortunately, this tale is not particularly groundbreaking on that front.  It begins with Superman, still in college at the time, returning to his school after a space mission.  Here we see a rare sight, a weakness in Swan’s art, as he renders the college age Clark in pretty much the exact same way as his adult self.

Once back in his secret identity, Clark encounters Mr. Lundgren, the janitor, and observes a strange sight.  When a psychology professor, Dr. Borwin, comes down into the basement looking for exam papers he accidentally threw away (yikes!  That’s a pretty massive mistake!), the janitor is able to predict exactly where they will be by staring into his pail of water.  Astonished, the professor insists on studying Lundgren’s abilities.  The simple janitor agrees, explaining that he has the ability to skry, or “read secretes and mysteries from reflections in a reflective surface,” like his mother before him.

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In a scene straight out of Ghostbusters, Prof. Borwin conducts the standard ESP tests, using a set of pictorial cards, and amazingly, the other man matches all of the images, even going on to predict upcoming cards.  After the test, the kindly janitor reveals that he’s always known who Clark really was and warns him of an imminent disaster, a train crash, which the Man of Tomorrow is able to prevent just in time.

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action-403-24-04Unfortunately, the greedy professor wants to use the psychic’s abilities for his own benefit, so Borwin convinces Mr. Lundgren to predict the correct combination for a physics department vault that contains a radioactive formula.  Yet, when the avaricious academic tries to steal it, he drops the vial, causing a terrible explosion.  Superman arrives in time to shield Lundgren, but the poor guy is still wounded, becoming brain damaged!  The kindly man is reduced to doing odd jobs at the school, essentially a charity case because he can’t concentrate or remember anything well enough to do any steady job.

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And that is a rather terribly sad ending for this poor, good-hearted fellow who didn’t do anyone any harm.  He just tried to do the right thing, and he gets brain damaged for his efforts.  It’s a surprisingly bitter ending with no real justification or reason.  The story itself is fine, nothing exceptional, though it does add more evidence to the claim that the institutions of higher learning in the DC Universe really need to do a better job of vetting the people to whom they hand out advanced degrees.  It seems like every other guy with a doctorate is trying to take over the world or, at least, rob banks!  Anyway, I’ll give this tale 2.5 Minutemen, knocking off a little for the weirdly melancholy ending that seems out of sync with the light-hearted tone of the story.  It doesn’t have enough space to really take advantage of such a conclusion, which is unsurprising for a Dorfman penned tale.

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Adventure Comics #409


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“Invasion of the Mer-Men (Part II)”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Mike Sekowsky and Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

“Fight With Fire Drake”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Art Saaf
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza

“The Condemned Legionnaires”
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inkers: George Klein and Sheldon Moldoff
Letterer: Milt Snapinn

This issue marks the end of Mike Sekowsky’s run on Supergirl, and, unfortunately, I really can’t say I’m sad to see him go, despite the great credentials he brought to the book.  Oddly, we’ve got two different Supergirl tales here, and the Legion backup is just a reprint, which is a shame.  I wonder if the powers that be were trying to ease into the new creative team by splitting the book between the old and new guards.  Either way, we get a nice cover out of the deal.  It’s by Dick Giordano, who does a lovely job on both Supergirl and the monstrous invaders.  It’s a solid, horror-style image, with the creatures coming over the edge and looking nicely menacing.

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The cover feature is our second story, but unfortunately our first one isn’t quite as pretty as it is.  Sekowsky’s rather Silver Age-ish aquatic aliens from the last issue are still planning on stealing Earth’s water, and despite the best efforts of Earth’s military, it seems that there is nothing that can stop them.  In the meantime, the Girl of Steel is still looking for her missing friend, Johnny, and lamenting that her efforts to protect her identity may have doomed him, which is a nice touch continuing on from the previous issue.  During her submarine search, Supergirl discovers a series of massive spheres hidden under the sea that are actually interstellar tankers.  When the military discovers them in turn, their attacks are stopped by a forcefield, but just when all hope seems lost, the Maid of Might discovers that Johnny is still alive, and he fills her in on the aliens’ plan.

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A nicely dramatic panel

adventurecomics409p14Attacked by the invaders, Supergirl allows herself to be captured so she can get into their ship.  In a good example of attention to detail, the aliens are surprised to find a being that can survive both above and below the waves, which makes sense if they’ve studied humans.  In a cute little scene, Supergirl escapes with Johnny, but in order to keep him alive and yet surface slowly enough to protect him from the bends, she kisses him in order to share oxygen…only for him to get fresh once the danger is passed!  It’s a funny sequence, and it illustrates that Johnny apparently has more chutzpah than brains.  Trying to get some sugar from a superbeing that is all that stands between you and a watery grave is certainly bold, but it probably isn’t all that bright!

With the water-logged lothario safely stashed, Supergirl heads for space, where she discovers the aliens’ ships and smashes their tanks, releasing the water back onto the Earth.  What follows is really rather surprising and a nice touch that raises the quality of the story a bit.  The alien commander, realizing that he’s beaten, gives up.  His enterprise was both enormous and desperate, and with his ships disabled, there is no longer time for a second attempt.  By the time they could repair the damage and recollect the necessary water, their planet would be dry and dead.  It’s a melancholy moment.  Notably, these aliens were actually sincere about feeling superior to humanity.

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They weren’t actually out to do the Earth harm, they just considered their own world more important.  So when the heroine’s actions doom their planet, their commander just resignedly follows Supergirl to Earth and bids farewell to a worthy foe before heading back to die with the rest of his species.  Yet, the story doesn’t end with this weighty moment, but with Johnny home safe and sound, pining away for Supergirl.

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So, this yarn came to an unexpected conclusion.  The aliens’ nobility in defeat is quite nice, though it really comes out of nowhere.  They seem just like generic sci-fi villains, the likes of which populated practically every other issue of DC in the Silver Age, right up until the last two pages.  If Sekowsky had spent more time on these guys, he might have really had something with the bittersweetness of their defeat.  As it is, it feels like an abrupt tonal shift that isn’t necessarily earned, nor fitting.  The rest of the comic is a good adventure tale, and Supergirl’s introspection about her priorities when she thinks Johnny is dead is actually an interesting character moment.

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adventurecomics409p14 - CopyIn the end, this issue is indicative of Sekowsky’s run on this book.  It has some real potential, with honestly interesting and thoughtful takes on the lead character that, unfortunately, receive no real development or followup, as well as the occasional mature and impressive story moment that is out of step with the rest of the comic.  There is an intermittent spark of excellence to these stories that is never really capitalized on or integrated into the issues at large.  Sadly, Sekowsky’s art also continues to be wildly inconsistent, with some really cool, creative panels here and there and some occassional good facework, all right alongside some absolutely ugly pages and general roughness and sloppiness in everything else.  I’ll give this issue 3 Minutemen, as it is a decent read, despite the rough art, but its weaknesses are very noticeable.  This is an inauspicious ending to Sekowsky’s run on the book, especially considering the greatness of his career before this point.

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“Fight with Fire Drake”


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The difference between Sekowsky’s story and the one that follows it is just night and day.  Art Saaf, who I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before, turns in a nice, clean looking comic, and the contrast really illustrates just how bad Sekowsky’s art has gotten.  The tale itself is just as good, featuring another aquatic adventure that begins with a party aboard the yacht of Linda Danvers’ boss, the owner of KGF-TV.  Despite having been chasing around with Johnny last issue, it seems that the Maid of Might has remembered her crush on Geoff, who still looks like he’s in his 30s or 40s, which remains creepy.  Fortunately for her, a handsome party-crasher approaches, and his attentions makes Geoff quite jealous.

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The newcomer claims to be a freelance writer named Freddy Nero, but shortly after he leaves, the party receives much more dangerous crashers, as a group of divers in rather nice looking monster costumes that can shoot flames (!) appear to rob the guests.  While their leader, Fire Drake, threatens the boss, Linda slips away and dons a new costume, which has a fun little notice about which fan designed it.  The costume is a bit much and I’m pretty sure it defies the laws of physics.  It’s not bad looking, though, but it does look like something a fan designed.  Weirdly, Supergirl notes that she can’t wear her exoskeleton with these threads, which seems like a really unnecessary sacrifice for the sake of fashion.  She confronts the divers and manages to drive them off the ship, but her plot devices, err…I mean her powers, conk out on her during the submarine pursuit, and she has to give it up.

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That night, she’s visited by her mother, which surprised the heck out of me.  I had always been familiar with her origin as an orphan of the Kryptonian city of Argo, but apparently in the Silver Age they eventually revealed that her parents were still alive.  Who knew?  I can sort of see why DC eventually wanted to clean up all of these excess Kryptonians, because they’re apparently just all over the place!  Well, anyway, her mother brings her back to Kandor, where she lives, in order to provider her with miniaturized versions of her equipment so she can wear whatever outlandish costume she fancies.  Convenient!

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The next morning, the yacht is again attacked by the costumed divers, but Supergirl is on hand once more, and she saves Geoff, who is braver than he is bright, much like Johnny.  When Firedrake tries to escape into the water again, he suddenly starts to drown, and after capturing him, the Maid of Might reveals that she severed his air hoses with her heat vision, which is clever.  When he is unmasked, the submarine thief is revealed to be Fred Nero, who had crashed the party in order to case the place.

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This is a fun little story, other than the silly element of Supergirl wearing a costume that can’t accommodate her very much necessary exoskeleton, just for for the sake of fashion.  It’s interesting that Bridwell pretty much immediately sets about refining the setup that Sekowsky created.  Of course, I’m always happy to see some costumed crooks, and the design of the divers’ outfits is pretty cool.  They look nice and intimidating, but they are occasionally drawn without gloves, which rather undercuts the menace of their look.  Nonetheless, this is a fine start to a new direction for the book.  Unfortunately, Bridwell won’t be continuing on the title, which is a shame as I tend to like his work, but I’m still excited to see what will come next.  I do hope that the new team on this book will find a way to challenge the character that reeks a bit less of deus ex machina, but this particular story is fun despite that weakness.  There are some decent character moments, and Saaf’s Supergirl looks great in action.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Like Supergirl, my adventures here are done for the moment.  This was an interesting pair of books, if not terribly captivating.  This final issue of Adventure seems to mark Mike Sekowsky’s departure from DC for many a year.  It’s a shame that he left DC on such a sour note after so many years of great work.  It’s hard to believe that the clumsy, ugly art in Adventure was by the same hand that had turned in the riotously creative and generally high-quality work on Manhunter 2070 in Showcase or his classic work on JLA.  Well, we will bid him a fond adieu and not hold these last years against him.  If you enjoyed my commentaries, please join me again soon for another step in our Journey into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Special Edition)

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Happy Halloween dear readers and assorted Internet travelers!  As promised, I have a treat for you, hopefully avoiding any tricks you might be tempted to play on me!  I’ve got a special post prepared in honor of the spooky spectacle of Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, the night before All Hallow’s (All Saints) Day, when Christian tradition calls for believers to remember and honor the departed saints (believers).  On the evening before that day, the traditions that led to modern Halloween called on believers to remember those poor souls in Hell and Purgatory.  You can see how some of the holiday’s modern trappings are a natural outgrowth from such practices.

And make no mistake, this was a Christian festival in its beginnings.  As a medievalist, this is one of the things that bugs me, one of my pet peeves, especially when folks get up in arms about the evils of Halloween’s ‘pagan past.’  We might as well get angry that we named the days of the week after Germanic gods!  The claims of a pagan origin for Halloween are true in the same sense as those for a pagan origin of Christmas, insofar as medieval Christians co-opted some of the symbols or dates of pagan celebrations, noting similar themes and ideas.  Ancient and medieval Christians recognized the synchronicity between such practices and their own celebrations, seeing in the pagan festivals the attempts of humanity to reach toward the divine, blindly and falteringly, but chasing after truth nonetheless.

Archetypally speaking, the symbolism, the mythic weight of these celebrations, was striving to deliver similar messages to their own.  Thus, rather than seeing the pagan tradition simply as evil and demonic, many of the Church Fathers saw it as a flawed precursor to Christian Truth.  This was, of course, never a monolithic and settled proposition, but it was general practice.  This was a natural position for medieval theology, which was built on the concept of types and antitypes.  They simply viewed much of mythology as the prototype that prefigured the eventual Christian revelation, a view shared by Christian archetypalists like G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis.

In honor of these traditions, today I bring you a story that fits both the ancient and modern themes of Halloween.  We are fortunate that the first appearance of Swamp Thing happens to fall in this month, and he is a character uniquely fitted to the celebration.  He is both dead and alive, a soul trapped in his own type of Purgatory, while at the same time fitting the modern taste for monsters.  He is a tragic figure, both horrific and heroic.

The origin of this tale is itself an interesting story.  There have been several muck-men in comics, but the first was the Golden Age character, The Heap.  As my friend Daglob likes to say, he was the original ‘muck encrusted mockery of a man.’  The original mobile pile of muck was WWI pilot Baron Eric Von Emmelman, who crashed into a Polish swamp, but was kept alive by the nature goddess Ceres, though the character was reinvented a few times over the years.  Those of you with a fairly deep knowledge of comics can probably already see the similarities to the characters that would follow this fellow.

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Next up, just barely edging out DC’s own resident vegetable based hero, was Marvel’s Man-Thing, who was created by Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, and Gray Morrow.  This monstrous anti-hero was once a bio-chemist named Ted Sallis who, while working on an experimental serum, was attacked in the swamp by AIM agents.  Injecting himself with his unfinished formula, he crashes his car during his escape, and in the fetid waters of the Everglades, he transforms into the macabre Man-Thing!

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Sound familiar?  Apparently nearly everyone involved with his creation realized that the Man-Thing sounded an awful lot like the Heap, but no-one really wanted to mention it, which makes what happens next even funnier.  You see, Marvel had only published one story of the Man-Thing’s strange adventures when DC came out with their own swamp monster, so he was still brand new and not well established.  Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson created a Swamp-Thing in House of Secrets #92, but he isn’t quite the Swamp-Thing of later fame.  Interestingly, Wein was Gerry Conway’s roommate at the time, and the Marvel writer, thinking that the origins of their respective muck men were too similar, tried to convince the DC staffer to change his, but Wein refused.  Decide for yourself how similar they are as we travel into the House of Secrets in our search for some Bronze Age Halloween thrills and chills!

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 #402
  • Adventure Comics #408
  • Brave and the Bold #96
  • Detective Comics #413
  • Forever People #3
  • G.I. Combat #148
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #84
  • New Gods #3
  • Superboy #176
  • Superman #239 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #240
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139
  • World’s Finest #202
  • House of Secrets #92 (Special!)

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


House of Secrets #92


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“Snipe Hunt”
Penciler: Bernie Wrightson
Inker: Bernie Wrightson

Editor: Joe Orlando

“Swamp Thing”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Bernie Wrightson
Inker: Bernie Wrightson
Letterer: Ben Oda

“After I Die!”
Writers: Jack Kirby and Mark Evanier
Penciler: Bill Draut
Inker: Bill Draut

“It’s Better to Give”             “Trick or Treat”
Writer: Virgil North            Penciler: Dick Dillin
Penciler: Alan Weiss           Inker: Dick Dillin
Inker: Tony DeZuniga    

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Our spine-tingling Swamp Thing tale begins with our titular muck monster making his slow, shambling way out of his marshy home and towards an old mansion, which looms out of the fog.  We follow the freakish form’s thoughts as he travels, but the perspective shifts several times throughout the tale.  Inside the house, we meet Linda Ridge and her husband Damian (with a name like that, he’s definitely not the bad guy!), who are recently married, but we learn that he is not her first husband.  In fact, the love of her life, for whom she still pines, was Alex Olsen.  Apparently Alex was a scientist (check) who died in an explosion in his lab (mostly check).

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There’s clear tension between Damian and Linda, with her thinking of her lost love and him pressing her for affection and wondering what is going on behind her eyes.  Outside in the cold rain lurks a miserable monster, watching the tableau within.  Then our perspective shifts again, and we learn from Damian’s ruminations that he had always loved Linda and arranged Alex’s “accident.”  In a nice piece of visual storytelling, we literally see an earlier panel from a different perspective, which puts a different light on the moment, revealing the false friend’s fatal fury.

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After the blast, Damian hauled his burned but still living partner into the swamp, burying him there, where, presumably, the chemicals from the lab mutated him, though this is never explicitly stated here.  The reminiscing finished, Linda retires to her room, but her heinous husband is afraid that she is beginning to suspect him, so he plans to murder her.  As he approaches his would-be victim, the vengeful vegetative monster lurking without sees and bursts in.  The Swamp Thing kills his former friend, but unable to speak, he cannot communicate to his lost love, who is horrified, as one might imagine, by the sight.  Sadly, he turns away and walks forlornly back into the swamp.

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This is a good, though short, horror story, well told by Wrightson and Wein.  The shifting narration is a little awkward, but it does provide some nice opportunities to develop the characters in a small space.  It’s interesting to me how much is not said in this first story.  The nature of the monster is left entirely up to the audience’s imagination, with his identity strongly implied but his origin never explained.  This adds to the air of mystery and heavy Gothic atmosphere that surrounds it.  I’ll give this one 4 Minutemen, with the wonderfully tragic ending helping to raise the score.

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Of course, Alex Olsen is not the Swamp Thing that fans will come to know and love.  His appearance is still over a year away.  Nonetheless, this brief little tale obviously made quite a splash, with its swamp-creature star proving popular enough to encourage the powers that be at DC to task his creators with reworking their concept into a more heroic character to star in his own strip.  Thus, this Swamp Thing proves a true prototype for the ‘real’ one, and if we consider that later creation, we can see the similarities already.  There was not far to go.  Ironically, the revamping of the concept would bring him even closer to Marvel’s own muck-man.  In the new character’s origin, he was Alec Holland, also a biochemist, also working on a secret formula, and also killed by evil forces intent on stealing his work.
house of secrets 092 011We can already see the basic design of Swamp Thing in evidence here, most notably, the distinctive sloping, jowly structure of his nose and cheeks.  Mute here like his predecessors, the character would gain the ability to speak in his second incarnation, though speech would remain difficult for a long while.  Significantly, already present and something that sets him apart from the previous swamp monster characters is Swamp Thing’s internal eloquence.  He may be unable to articulate his thoughts to those that fear and hunt him, but this just amplifies his tragedy, as the reader, let in on his internal monologue, knows the intelligent, sensitive soul within the shambling bulk.

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This is an important distinction, and it separates the character from the standard misunderstood monsters like the Heap, Man-Thing, or the Hulk (some versions), with their almost animalistic intelligence.  The fact that this characteristic is present from the very beginning helps to establish the originality and uniqueness of the concept, despite the obvious similarities he has to the other muck-men.  It is arguably this quality which makes the character the enduring favorite that he becomes, elevating him into something more highly tragic, one of the ultimate romantic outsiders, the great soul isolated from the rest of humanity.  I think this helps to explain his enduring popularity.

Of course, Alan Moore would later revamp the creature once more for what is considered the definitive run on the character, changing him from Alec Holland to an avatar of nature itself and expanding his adventures in amazing ways.  I’ve never read this run (if only there were world enough and time), it having fallen in the gaps of my comic reading, but I’ll get to it one of these days.

For my part, I first discovered Swamp Thing in the same way as I imagine many from my generation did, through the early 90s cartoon. and later the live action films (the first of which I remember being quite good).  I loved that show, with its rocking opening, a take off of “Wild Thing,” and its standard 80s/90s cartoon format, with plenty of merchandisable allies, villains, and vehicles.  I fell for Hasbro’s pitch hook, line, and sinker, but there was something about the show and the character that I really responded to.  There is a roughness, a horror flavor, to the designs and the strange, creepy swamp setting, even with everything toned down to PG standards.

To this day, that show is still the first thing I think about when I think of Swamp Thing.  It actually made reading through his original run of comics a little challenging at times, because they were so different from the show.  Obviously, the comics have a lot more going for them, but it was still an adjustment.  More importantly, the show, the movie, even a few video games go to show you how far Swamp Thing penetrated the zeitgeist.  After all, this strange muck-man got a movie long before most of the rest of DC’s top characters!  Discounting the serials, he even beat Batman to the big screen by several years!

And that wraps up our overview of Swamp Things secret origin!  Thank you for joining me tonight.  I hope you enjoyed our journey through the House of Secrets.  Have a happy Halloween and stay safe.  Until next time, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 4)

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Hello Internet travelers, come on in and enjoy some classic comic goodness!  Today we’ve got a double dose of Superman titles with some good stories and some better backups.  Let’s see what the the Last Son of Krypton is up to as Man and Boy!

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 #402
  • Adventure Comics #408
  • Brave and the Bold #96
  • Detective Comics #413
  • Forever People #3
  • G.I. Combat #148
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #84
  • New Gods #3
  • Superboy #176
  • Superman #239 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #240
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139
  • World’s Finest #202

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


Superboy #176


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“The Secret of Superboy’s Sister”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Invisible Invader!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: George Tuska

We’ve got what looks like a super gimmicky story for our Superboy comic today, but it isn’t as bad as it seems.  The cover is just okay, one of those ‘what in the world is happening’ pieces, and the sight of a little girl on a flying carpet made of junk is pretty unusual, admittedly.  The design definitely feels a bit archaic at this point, though, right down to the softer coloring in this particular image and the Silver Age-ish setup of the composition.

Fortunately, the story inside isn’t quite as gimmicky as the cover might lead you to believe.  it begins during a powerful thunderstorm, with the Kents awaiting a visit from an old friend and her daughter.  Notably, the ages of these guests don’t actually make sense with the recently established actual ages of the Kents, which sort of illustrates how unnecessary and unhelpful that retcon was.  Nonetheless, the tempest is bad enough that Clark goes out as Superboy to keep an eye on things, arriving just in time to see the visitors, the Warrens, skidding over a cliff in their car!  The Boy of Steel manages to save the daughter when she is thrown from the vehicle, but he can’t stop the car before it crashes.  The mother is badly injured, and he rushes her to the hospital.

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Mrs. Warren asks the Kents to care for her daughter, Kathy, until Mr. Warren can arrive from South America.  Clark is concerned about having this little girl around the house, worried about the pressure this puts on his secret identity, but he makes the best of it, zooming around the world and collecting toys for his short-term sibling.  It’s a sweet response and his parents are proud of this display of character.

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superboy176 0006Later on, the Smallville superstar detects something approaching the Earth from space and zooms into orbit to find a strange, octopus like machine which attacks him.  Easily shrugging off its weapons, he deactivates the device and experiments with it, trying to solve its mysteries over the next few days.  He finds that its heart is an intelligence-gathering machine, essentially a massive electronic brain that absorbed an incredible amount of knowledge about Earth from the machine’s instruments.

Unfortunately, while the Boy of Steel is distracted, the device activates and leaves his lab.  When Kathy touches it, the globe explodes.  She is unharmed, but it is quickly revealed that she has become super intelligent, as she turns the Kent’s black and white TV into a color set and starts correcting her teaches in school.  Her young mind is stuffed with a planet’s worth of knowledge.  She should hang out with the Hawks!

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The young genius even picks the lock on Superboy’s lab and drops hints that she knows who Clark is.  That afternoon, Kathy accompanies Clark to a scrap yard, and when he is distracted by a an emergency at a nearby missile test (why is the army testing weapons in Kansas?!?), the grade-school Einstein takes the opportunity to whip up a makeshift flying carpet out of spare parts.  The Boy of Steel barely manages to save her from a collision with a set of powerlines, and she helpfully reveals that she knows his secret identity!

superboy176 0015Just then, a set of inter-dimensional aliens, the Truhls, arrive to complicate matters.  Apparently Superboy had tangled with them before, even leading a slave revolt on their homeworld.  Apparently, the octopoid device was theirs, and they intend to drain the knowledge it gathered out of Kathy to aid them in conquering the world.  They hit the Boy of Steel with a cool looking weapon and threaten the girl, but she was ready for them!  Having learned of their nefarious motives when she absorbed the machine’s memory, the pint-sized prodigy turned her doll into a weapon!  She zaps the invaders, but her device explodes from the strain, knocking her out as well.

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When Clark recovers, he returns the would-be world-breakers to their own dimension and discovers that the weapon erased all of the super-knowledge from Kathy’s mind.  I rather like to think that she did this on purpose, having been smart enough to realize that she would never be happy with such vast intelligence and preferring just to be a regular kid.  There is, of course, nothing to establish that in the story itself.  The tale ends with her father coming to claim her and the Kents bidding the little girl a fond farewell.

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This is a decent if not terribly outstanding little yarn.  It throws some unusual curves into Superboy’s life without making too much of them, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously, like some similar stories we’ve seen.  It is guilty of the old device of over-emphasizing Superman’s invulnerability, where nothing even phases him, with even hi-tech weapons that would be a good source of peril for him simply shrugged off.  At least the aliens’ final attack does some good, adding a little tension.  Speaking of the Truhl, this story really makes it seem like they hail from an earlier issue, but I can’t find any mention of them.  That’s a shame, because the two panels we get about Superboy’s previous adventure with them sounds way more interesting than this comic!  In terms of the art, I’ve noticed that Bob Brown seems to take on a slightly more cartoony style for this book, which works well for the lighter tone of Superboy.  Perhaps that has something to do with Anderson’s inks.  Either way, his work is quite good throughout, and I’m enjoying his tenure on the title.  As for this issue, I’ll give this readable if forgettable tale 3 Minutemen.

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“Invisible Invader”


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I was excited to see that we’ve got anther Legion backup in this issue.  I’m always happy to see those fine future fellows return.  Their stories tend to be a lot of fun, and this one is no exception.  It begins with Chemical King (who apparently has to be a rebel and not conform to the kid, boy/girl, or lad/lass formula that works for the rest of the Legion) attending the unveiling of the first commercial time-travel service, which is a fun idea.  The Legionnaire is on hand to act as security, but he gets shown up when a masked figure suddenly appears out of nowhere, steals the fares, and then vanishes into the thin air.

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When Chemical King reports to his comrades, the assembled Legionnaires try to sort out how the thief accomplished this feat.  It is the Invisible Boy that comes up with the answer when he deduces that the culprit must have discovered the same invisibility serum that the young hero did.  We get a brief flashback to Lyle’s efforts to work out the formula, along with some really great, thoughtful touches of realism, like the youthful inventor realizing that, if his eyes are transparent, light won’t be able to register on them, rendering him blind.  That’s a great bit of detail, and it makes the hand-waving of the explanation a few panels later easier to swallow.

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The crux of this issue is that the team has to find some way to counter the Invisible Kid’s powers, despite the fact that, once they do, others will be able to do the same thing as well.  Lyle selflessly stresses that there is more at stake than his career, and they get to work.  Unfortunately, nothing they try is effective, but after countless tries, the Invisible Kid suddenly has a revelation and figures it out.  With a solution in hand, the team plans to ambush their unseen assailant during a likely heist, and he obligingly shows up.  The Invisible Invader materializes to steal a jeweled cup from a hovercar race.

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However, when he tires to vanish again, he stays visible, leading the team right to his accomplice and allowing the real Invisible Kid to take him out.  What Lyle realized was, since he had complete knowledge of the serum, he could tell Chemical King what chemical reactions it caused, allowing the chemistry master to simply cancel those in their target.  Thus, the Legion captures the villain, and using a tactic only available to themselves.

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This is a fun little story, brief as it is.  In only seven pages we get a good setup for a crime and a great resolution to the challenge by our heroes.  We even get a tiny bit of worldbuilding and characterization, and all of the assembled Legionnaires get a little bit to do.  These Legion backups are really some of the most consistently enjoyable yarns I read.  They always seem to be fun, and much of their material is new to me, seeing as I’m generally not too familiar with the Legion.  I’ve been enjoying George Tuska’s art on this feature too, though it isn’t as strong on this outing as it has been.  I’ll give this one 3.5 Minutemen, once again, a strong score for a seven page story.

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Superman #240


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“To Save a Superman”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Dick Giordano
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The Man Who Cheated Time”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Michael W. Kaluta

This issue of Superman continues to develop the ongoing plots that Denny O’Neil has been cultivating, and it takes the seminal superhero in some interesting directions.  It’s rather more intriguing than it is successful, but O’Neil’s innovation deserves credit as he actually does shake up Superman’s status quo.  The cover this month isn’t particularly great.  We’re effectively just told that Superman failed without any real visual representation of the event.  It’s not the most electrifying of compositions, though it certainly delivers some melodrama.  The image is well crafted, of course, which is only what I expect from Neal Adams.

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The actual story begins with Superman arriving at the site of a blazing inferno as the fire department tries to put out a burning building.  Discovering that there is still a family trapped within, the Man of Steel flies to the rescue, but he is strangely hesitant.  We learn that his powers are still greatly diminished after his previous adventure, and he’s worried that he won’t be strong enough to pull off a rescue.  Despite his reduced power, the Metropolis Marvel still manages to rescue the family, but once he gets them out, the building’s owner approaches and demands to know if the hero is going to try to save it in turn.

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I love the sweetness of this sequence, as the worried Superman takes time to comfort the kids.

superman 240 0005Once again displaying unusual trepidation, the Action Ace takes to the sky, but his lessened powers prove unequal to the challenge.  In a really nicely rendered sequence, the building collapses, despite his efforts.  When the shaken hero steps abashedly out of the rubble, a photographer snaps a picture, and we get the headline from the cover.  Meanwhile, the Generic Gang has decided to narrow their focus to Superman (shoot for the stars, boys).  Calling themselves the “Anti-Superman Gang,” they meet to discuss whether or not the Man of Might has really become the Man of Milquetoast, finally deciding to risk a test to try to take him out.

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For his part, the Metropolis Marvel finds his town turning against him, meeting mockery in the streets and becoming embittered by the lack of respect for his years of sacrifice and service, which is a pretty natural reaction.  Suddenly, he sees smoke rising nearby and realizes someone is robbing a bank.  For a moment he debates whether he should leave Metropolis to its own devices, which is a nice touch, but the better one is that he shakes off his self pity and does the right thing.  His reasoning here doesn’t quite hit the right tone, though, as he thinks to himself “I’ve got to be what I am,” making his heroics a function of habit rather than a product of principle, which rather misses the mark.

At the scene of the crime, the Man of Steel finds a freaking artillery piece in the street (nobody noticed this thing being driven through town?), and the gang fires on him as he approaches slowly, thanks to his diminished powers, and they actually shoot him out of the sky.  Unable to get close, Superman decides to hit them from range, and in another great sequence, he rips the bank vault off of its massive hinges and hurls it at the artillery piece!  At least the hoods got into the spirit of crime in the DCU, dressing up in matching outfits, though they aren’t terribly interesting.  It doesn’t quite make them a themed gang, but it’s something.

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Back at the Daily Planet, Clark gets a visit from, of all people, Wonder Woman’s mentor and walking cliche, I-Ching, the blind Asian martial arts master and mystic.  Apparently the old man has learned of Superman’s plight, somehow, and, somehow, knows his secret identity…for plot reasons.  He claims he can help, so Clark doesn’t just vaporize him with heat vision and instead agrees to meet him later that night for an attempt to restore his powers.  Yet, a young punk in the office secretly observes this meeting and, being in the employ of the gang and set to spy on Superman’s friends, calls in a report, which eventually leads the criminals to I-Ching’s apartment, just as he begins working on the Man of Steel.

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The martial artist attempts to us his mystic powers to draw the Metropolis Marvel’s spirit out in order to cure it, leaving him temporarily powerless, but in the middle of the ritual, three gunsels barge in and knock him out.  Isn’t he supposed to be sort of awesome, despite being blind, what with the martial arts mastery and all?  Like Zatoichi?  Either way, he goes down like a punk, and the emboldened thugs beat on the immobile Man of Steel, only to find out that he’s more the man of Flesh now, as they manage to bruise him!

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Coming to his senses, Superman leaps up and attacks the trio.  His invulnerable costume stops a bullet, though he is still badly hurt by the impact (which is a nice touch of logic).  In a desperate fight, the suddenly completely mortal Action Ace manages to take out all three gangsters, and the book ends with him standing proudly, having proven himself despite the loss of his powers.

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This is only really a decent story taken all together, but it has elements that are really rather exceptional.  The first sequence, with Superman striving to do what he can, despite his lessened powers is pretty striking, and seeing the Man of Steel fail is definitely surprising in this era.  As is often the case, O’Neil’s treatment of the emotional dimension of the story is just slightly off key, close, but falling a little short of what it should be.  He hits the right note in the the final scene, however, with Superman fighting without his powers.  The desperation of that moment is captured fairly well.

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It’s interesting that O’Neil uses I-Ching for this role.  I suppose it makes sense, seeing as he created the character, but it definitely feels like it comes out of left field.  It would have made much more sense for Superman to contact Dr. Fate or Zatanna.  I’m not even sure these two had ever met before this issue.  I know almost nothing about this character, and he doesn’t really interest me.  I can’t say his showing in this issue is terribly impressive.  His role here, presumably to provide a way to restore our hero’s powers, points to the interesting fact that O’Neil has done something pretty unusual, having kept the Man of Steel at a reduced level for several issues now as his plot unfolded.  In previous stories, when Superman lost his powers, he almost always had them back at the end of the issue.  This arc highlights the changes O’Neil was bringing to the character.  This tale is another solid step forward in that arc, and I’m curious to see what O’Neil will make of the seeds he’s planted here.  I’ll give it a good 4 Minutemen.  The incongruous and unheralded presence of I-Ching and the uninteresting antagonists are the only real problems here.

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“The Man Who Cheated Time”


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The backup this month is another “Fabulous World of Krypton” tale, and it’s a good one.  It begins with a janitor (a SPACE janitor!) checking out the hidden devices in a secret depot of forbidden weapons hidden beneath a cool looking jungle.  The man marvels at a time machine and wonders how it got there, which leads us a flashback where we meet a brilliant scientist, Mal-Va, and his nefarious assistant (scientific assistants seem to be a bad bunch in the DCU), Zol-Mar.  Mal-Va is building a time machine that is set to be demonstrated the next day, but his assistant plans to steal the device and use it to set himself up in the past and live like a king.

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Interestingly, as he leaves, Zol-Mar observes protestors tearing down a statue of ‘Krypton’s most famous military leader,” Dar-Nx, and wishing that the authoritarian leader was still around to keep people in line.  This is a subtle piece of social commentary, and it has surprising resonance today, given the conversation in the U.S. about statues and cultural history.

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Anyway, to put his plan into action, the ambitious assistant meets with one of his master’s colleagues and, distracting the old man by planting an explosive in his lab, he steals an invention that creates hard light illusions.  Next, disguised as Mal-Va, the thief ‘borrows’ a ‘weather-regulator’ from another scientist before paying a visit to his last target.  However, when Zol-Mar meets the last scientist, the fellow pulls a gun on him, knowing that the masquerading miscreant can’t be be Mal-Va because he was just talking to him.  Desperately, the abominable assistant strikes out, grabbing the gun, and vaporizing his opponent.  Stealing a final device from his victim, Zol-Mar is ready.

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The next day, he takes his place in the time machine, having disabled the recall controls, planning to set up in the past and become Dar-Nx’s right hand man with the technology he has stolen.  Yet, as he travels, he realizes that if he just materializes out of thin air, the natives of that time might kill him out of fear, so he uses his image device to make himself look like Dar-Nx himself, reasoning that no-one would oppose him.  Unfortunately, this creates an energy pulse, reversing his course through time, and sending him into the future.  With the return circuit disabled, his master can’t bring him back, and Zol-Mar materializes fifty years in the future, only to find that Krypton is no longer there!  He meets his fate alone in the cold vacuum of space.

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That’s a great ending to a fairly tight little crime story with science fiction trappings.  It’s a great example of the classic ‘villain hoisted by his own petard‘ trope, and it works quite well, with a fitting end for the selfish would-be tyrant.  This wouldn’t feel out of place in one of the more horror/Twilight Zone-esq titles.  At the same time, the tone and setting fit Krypton quite well.  In terms of the art, I’m not that impressed with Kaluta’s work on this backup.  While it is nicely detailed and really imaginative in some ways, especially in terms of devices and technology, it is a bit rough and unattractive in terms of figures and faces.  He does have a nice gift for realizing spaces, though.  Seeing as this was some of his earlier work, I imagine he improved over time.  I’ve seen some of his later work, and it is much nicer.  Either way, his art here is still perfectly serviceable, and the final effect of the story is quite memorable.  I’ll give it a full 4 Minutemen, though I wonder about Bates wasting a page on the unnecessary framing device.

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P.S.: Notably, this tale introduces an artist named Mike W. Kaluta to the DCU.  You might recognize his name from a long and distinguished career, though little of it was in superhero comics, or, if you’re like me, you might recognize it from this month’s Green Lantern issue!  That’s right, the name of the little pins, the strange sound in the backgrounds?  Kaluta.  Presumably, this was in honor of the new talent arriving at the company.  B. Smith kindly pointed this connection out in the comments of that post.  I don’t know what the connection was between Adams and Kaluta, but what a neat little discovery!


This month’s Superman illustrates how far DC Comics have come in one year in terms of continuing storylines.  When we started this little journey, continuing plots were the exception, rare enough to elicit comment and debate in Aquaman, but they are becoming much more prevalent, with ongoing arcs in several titles, including some of the company’s flagship comics.

That brings us to the end of this post, but not the end of the fun for this month.  Come back soon for some more Bronze Age goodness, but in the meantime, be sure to check back on Tuesday for a special Halloween edition of Into the Bronze Age!  If you noticed something missing from the roll call of titles, you might be able to figure out what is waiting for you in a few days.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 3)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  In this post we’ve got old soldiers and new gods, plastic paradises and cosmic chaos.  It’s an interesting set of stories we have on tap today.  Join me as I work my way through them!

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 #402
  • Adventure Comics #408
  • Brave and the Bold #96
  • Detective Comics #413
  • Forever People #3
  • G.I. Combat #148
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #84
  • New Gods #3
  • Superboy #176
  • Superman #239 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #240
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139
  • World’s Finest #202

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


G.I. Combat #148


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“The Gold-Plated General”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor: Joe Kubert

“Blind Bomber”
Writer: Hank Chapman
Penciler: Mort Drucker
Inker: Mort Drucker

“Cry Wolf Mission”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath

“Soften ‘Em Up”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Irv Novick

“Battle Window”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert

This month’s Haunted Tank adventure is a fun one, featuring an unusual guest star, of sorts.  That figure standing astride the tank’s turret on the cover, six-guns gripped grimly in his hands, is probably a familiar one to history buffs.  The cover image itself is a pretty good one, though a bit crowded by copy.  It’s a nice, dramatic image, and beautifully rendered by Joe Kubert in his stark style.

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The crazily courageous general isn’t introduced right away inside.  Instead, we begin with our favorite Confederate ghost, who actually does something useful!  He spies Jeb and crew sleeping as danger approaches, and the general causes a chill wind to awaken them.  The tankers rush to the Stuart, only to have a German tank light up the night with explosive shells.  They’re almost wiped out, and burning debris falls onto the tank.  Crawling low, they manage to reach their vehicle, and they proceed to play possum in a burning coffin, waiting for the Panzer to get close enough to kill.  It’s a pretty great sequence.

 

They hold their nerves long enough and manage to scrag the enemy, but the next day, covered in soot and grime, they meet their new CEO, General Norton.  The tall, resplendent figure, with a gold helmet and gold-plated six-guns, is not impressed, and after calling the unit together, he tells them that they are facing professionals who fight, act, and look like soldiers.  Yet, he claims that the tankers look like amateurs, and he insists on spit and polish, saying they’ll fight better if they look better.  They’ll have more confidence and pride.  Jeb isn’t too sure, but his ghostly namesake agrees.  Of course, this General Norton is an ersatz version of George S. Patton, perhaps the most hard-charging American general in World War II.  He’s a fictionalized version of the great leader, but he has the twin six-guns and the hard-nosed demeanor.

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The affectionate note of the parody/tribute becomes clear as, just then, a flight of dive-bombers attack, sending all of the tankers scrambling for cover.  That is, they all seek cover except the general, who stands tall, firing his pistols defiantly.  Afterwards, still holding his smoking guns, he declares, “From now on we fight on our feet!  We don’t take it!  We dish it out!”  It’s a great moment.  The next day, shaved and cleaned up, the force moves out on a German position, taking heavy fire.  Suddenly, the barrage lightens up, and Jeb sees that General Norton has moved into the lead, drawing the fire of the defenders and leading from the front.

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His tank smashes through a building to flank the German anti-tank guns, and his men follow him in, routing the Nazi troops, another great sequence.  The position secured, one of the crew pipes up to ask if they can drop the spit and polish act now that the General himself is covered in the grime of battle.  Norton’s response is great: “No Corporal!  You see…I’m the general!”

 

This is a good, solid war yarn, with more of a sense of whimsy and fun than most of these.  The inclusion of a Patton parallel is a fun touch, and the character is fittingly larger than life, as was the man himself.  It’s also nice to see the ghostly general Stuart actually do something useful, though his contribution is very brief and very limited.  I’m still hoping we’ll see some stories that will take better advantage of the device he represents.  We are only a few issues away from a big change in the title, so we’ll see! Russ Heath continues to turn out really fantastic work on this book.  The sequence with the crew waiting it out in the burning tank is really fantastic.  If we can’t have Joe Kubert, then Russ Heath is definitely the next best thing.  I suppose this good all-around war yarn deserves 4 Minutemen.

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P.S.: Notably, with this issue, Joe Kubert started adding the famous “Make War no More” slogan on his war titles.  It’s possible it predates their appearance here, but this is the first time it showed up in this particular book.  This was Kubert’s and Kanigher’s effort to tell war stories without glorifying war, and it’s an interesting gesture.  The slogan is appended to every story within.  Obviously this change reflects the growing anti-war sentiments of the DC creators, which in turn reflects that of the nation itself., and we’re approaching the end of the Vietnam War, which was brought about in large part due to the loss of public support.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this move.  After all, you could see it as a bit disingenuous to keep telling the same stories but just slap a slogan on them and claim that squares things.  Many of the war tales DC published do, in fact, deal with the horrors of war rather than attempt to glorify it.  Yet, there are those that are a bit more ‘ra-ra,’ especially with the number of reprints in these books.  I suppose that the slogan was the team’s way of making the best of a difficult situation.  Their job was to tell war stories, but they themselves had become increasingly anti-war.  Either way, this new event rather nicely illustrates the cultural pressures coming to bear on the medium.

 


Green.Lantern/Green Arrow #84


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“Peril In Plastic”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Bernie Wrightson
Colourist: Cory Adams
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got another issue of O’Neil’s Green Lantern, to which I was certainly not looking forward.  Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by it!  It’s a very strange issue in a lot of ways, and yet, it manages to be much more enjoyable than most of his run.  The cover is not particularly great, however.  The use of the real image in the background rather clashes with Adams’ colorful art.  The plight of our heroes does look pretty dire, but the effect is not entirely successful.  Interestingly enough, the photograph is actually of DC legend Carmine Infantino.  I’m not quite sure what that says.

The story in question begins where the last issue left off, where Hal carried a still crippled Carol Ferris into the (non) sunset, having revealed his identity to her.  The two spend the following weeks reconnecting and rekindling their love.  Adams gives us a half page that has a really neat design to tell the tale of their romance.  Yet, when Carol decides to go visit another specialist in the hopes an experimental procedure will restore her legs, she tells Hal that she must do this alone….for plot reasons.

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At loose ends and a bachelor again, Hal saunters on over to Ollie’s new apartment, which is a far cry from his former rich digs.  As the two friends chat about love and music in a charming scene, they hear a radio broadcast about explosions at a dam protecting Piper’s Dell that threaten to flood the town.  Suddenly, Hal realizes that this was Carol’s destination, and he zooms off to stem the tide!

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Hard to envision Hal as a fan of Dixieland…

At first, the Emerald Gladiator tries to use his ring simply to smother individual explosions, but he realizes that he’s only playing damage control, so he creates a magnet and sucks the bombs directly out of the structure.  Finally, he patches the crumbling edifice with mud, creating an emergency fix.

 

Exhausted by the effort, the Emerald Knight is none too pleased when the town’s mayor approaches him and insists on honoring the hero.  Showing Hal the town, the Mayor, Wilbur Palm, presents cookie-cutter houses and a pollution-spewing factory.  When I read this, my first thought was, ‘oh no, not another environmental sermon!’  But O’Neil actually has a more subtle and humorous game to play here, to his credit.

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The Mayor tells his guest that the factory makes strange little pins called Kalutas, which, every few minutes, tickle their wearers and puff out a whiff of perfume.  Hal’s face as he’s given one of these things is priceless.  Suddenly, the entire town shakes and an odd sound fills the air, but the Mayor simply says it’s the machinery in the factory.

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In a funny sequence, Palm drags Hal up onto a plastic stage, which breaks as soon as the Lantern puts his foot on it, and presents him with a plastic key to the city, which also breaks immediately, all while the ceremony is taped, lacking a live audience.  Finally sick of this strange place, the Green Gladiator tries to take off, only to find that he can’t focus.  Suddenly an army of suits, the Mayor’s ‘Executive Board,’ descend on the shaken hero, beating him mercilessly.  Just before he passes out, Hal summons the last of his will power and sends his ring to Green Arrow.

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Unfortunately, just as the most powerful weapon in the universe arrives, so does Black Canary, and who is going to notice a world-shattering wishing-ring when she’s in the room?  Sadly for Hal, Dinah has gotten her head back together, and she’s come back to town to visit Ollie.  The two head out for dinner, the ring still lying undiscovered in the apartment.  It’s a fun piece of irony.

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Meanwhile, the Lantern awakens to meet an old foe.  It seems that he’s fallen into the hands of…Black Hand?!?  That’s right, O’Neil gives us an honest-to-goodness supervillain for only the second time in his run, and it’s an interesting choice.  Apparently, Hand was masquerading as the mayor, all part of a plan by his corporate masters, who sprang him from prison to run their program.  Essentially, Piper’s Dell is a test case, an experiment.  It’s the company town taken to it’s logical extreme, with the populace not merely beholden to their corporate overlords but literally controlled by them.

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The townspeople are rendered pliable and suggestible by the constant irritations and distractions of the Kalutas, the poisons in the air, and the mind-numbing sounds of the factory.  The villain demonstrates by showing his captive footage of a townswoman being convinced that the hero had tried to destroy the dam rather than save it.  This was, of course, all part of the plan, and Carol was lured to town in order to trap the Lantern himself.  The lovers are reunited, only to be turned loose into a town that has been programed to hate them.

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While one couple fights for their lives, another fights each other.  Dinah and Ollie are having a spat because the bow-slinger fought with a drunk who was hitting on the Canary.  After the lovely Ms. Lance takes her leave, the Arrow finally discovers the ring and quickly sets out to rescue its owner, stopping on the way to charge it.  Now, I’m not 100% positive, but am I wrong, or couldn’t Ollie just slip the ring on and use it?  Either way, we get another funny scene as the newly poverty stricken hero uses his last $20 to rent a dinghy, unable to afford a speedboat, and begins to row.

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Hal and Carol have their own problems, however, as they are being pelted with plastic bricks (!) and chased by crazed townsfolk.  Pinned against the edge of the dam, the Lantern prepares for his last stand when, suddenly, a familiar voice tells him to freeze.  Green Arrow has arrived in the nick of time, and he makes an incredible shot, threading the needle to send the power ring back to its owners, his arrow passing through Hal’s fingers!

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The newly empowered Emerald Crusader makes short work of the mob and smashes into Black Hand’s headquarters.  Despite the villain’s resistance, the Lantern easily disposes of him by melting the plastic roof and entombing his foe in artificial materials.  The tale ends with the gathered friends walking through town and wondering what could possess people to trade their freedom and independence for the type of life that those in Piper’s Dell embraced, only for Ollie to wryly gesture to the Christmas shoppers eagerly snapping up plastic Christmas trees at a nearby store.

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This is a surprisingly good issue.  It’s off-beat, unusual, and more than a little silly, but it is clever and rather whimsical as well, which makes up for a lot.  The lighter tone rather lowers the stakes for the comic, meaning it doesn’t have to work as hard to earn its keep and achieve its aims.  Importantly, the characters are all a lot more likeable than they have been throughout the run so far, with both Hal and Ollie coming off as heroic, intelligent, and capable, which has certainly not always been the case.  The character moments really make this story shine.  The romantic interlude with Hal and Carol is touching and sweet, while the interactions between Ollie and Dinah are pretty darn funny.

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It was also nice to see an actual supervillain show up, and I have always had a bit of a soft spot for Black Hand, despite the fact that he was (in the classic setting) a bit of a goofball.  Sadly, he doesn’t give that great of a showing here, easily defeated as he is and lacking his signature weapon, much like Sinestro in his previous story.  That’s a shame, and it feels like a waste, especially because, despite appearances, Hand is actually a really good choice for this scheme.  He was a grifter and a shill, a smarmy punk with intelligence and zero empathy.  He’s a great choice to head this corporate brainwashing program.  The scheme itself, despite being a bit silly, is at least of respectable dimensions.  The unnamed corporate overlords plan to effectively conquer the world with this technique.  That’s a threat that is worthy of Green Lantern, at least in theory.

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O’Neil’s message here is an interesting one, and it is delivered with a fair amount of wit and charm.  Essentially, this is a critique of the growing disposable, artificial nature of American lives, filled as they are with so much plastic stuff.  It’s interesting to see this concept show up here because it is a common sentiment for old timers today, and I know I’ve heard my father lament “cheap Chinese junk” more than a few times.  In addition, there’s the related theme of people allowing themselves to be distracted by all of these things to the point that they blithely trade away their freedoms and their identities.  This is similar to one of O’Neil’s earlier stories, interestingly enough, in a Superman backup.  Of course, Adams’ art is fantastic throughout, and he does a particularly good job with the satirical elements of the story, portraying Hal’s befuddlement in the town.  His quiet character moments really shine.  I suppose I’ll give this unusual issue 4 Minutemen, despite its silliness.  The character moments lift it up to a higher level, and the fact that is is more satiric than preachy renders its foibles engaging rather than off-putting.

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Green.Lantern/Green Arrow #84


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“Death is the Black Racer!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

More glorious Fourth World madness awaits us in this next issue!  It is a pretty interesting one, introducing another of the zillion and one concepts that Kirby packed into his new mythos, but unfortunately it is one that never quite worked, the Black Racer.  This character seems to be an obvious attempt by Kirby to recapture the magic that conjured the Silver Surfer into existence, but in circumstances that he could control, and who could blame him?  The concept of the Silver Surfer is a pretty silly one, but somehow, it works, probably because of the beautiful simplicity of Kirby’s design.  The Black Racer is not quite so fortunate.  His design is fairly awful, with the garish red, blue, and yellow, the incongruous armor, the skies, and the ski-poles.  Personally, I think it’s the poles that put it over the top, but you could really take your pick, as none of those elements work all that well.

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The cover, for its part, is better than many of those we’ve seen from this set of books.  The photo-background isn’t as distracting as most of the others, and the color of the sky makes it less flat and boring.  The central figure of the racer, however goofy his look, is nicely rendered, and there is some drama to the composition.  Unfortunately, the ski-riding figure doesn’t have the dramatic visual impact of, say, Orion or Mr. Miracle.

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The story itself begins in grand fashion, with a high-stakes race through the cosmos, as Lightray flees from a mysterious figure on skis, the Black Racer.  The young New God tries everything he can think of to shake his implacable pursuer, but nothing works.  He filters his light powers through a giant, crystalline meteor to generate a beam of incredible heat, but his antagonist easily dodges it, matching the youth’s every move.

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ng03-10Meanwhile, on Earth Orion and his rescued human friends make plans to combat Darkseid’s terrestrial forces.  The various mortals each get a little characterization, and Kirby does a good job of developing them in a small space, but they remain largely unused.  As the Dog of War steps aside to put on some native clothes, he ponders his handsome visage, and we learn that Mother Box has reshaped his features to help him blend in on New Genesis and that his actual face is far more brutal and ugly than the one he shows to the world.  Orion, like his readers, wonders what this means about his origins.  It’s an intriguing scene.  His disguises, both guise and garments, in place, he rejoins his friends.

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Lightray, for his part, continues his desperate race, igniting a nascent star in his wake, but his pursuer still hangs grimly to his trail.  Finally, exhausted and distracted, the fiery youth smashes into a meteor and is trapped…until the mysterious Metron suddenly arrives, just in the nick of time, teleporting the Black Racer far away…to Earth!

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On that benighted globe, the Racer is quick to pick up new quarry, and he flies to the ghetto of Metropolis where he finds two gangsters involved in a shoot-out.  After one of the low-lives, Sugar-Man, kills his opponent, he notices that there was a witness to his crime.  An ex soldier, Sgt. Willie Walker, wounded in action in Vietnam and now paralyzed and speechless, lies helplessly in his bed while the thug prepares to kill him, just for good measure.  Suddenly, a gauntleted hand reaches out and blocks the gun, which explodes in Sugar-Man’s face.

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What follows is really striking, as the Racer steps casually through the wall, noting that he’s heard the wounded man’s silent pleas.  The strange figure offers Walker freedom and power, if he’ll just take his hand.  Unbelievably, the paralytic suddenly stands and speaks, and he finds his mysterious visitor’s armor empty on the floor.  When he dons it, he becomes the Black Racer and soars into the sky in search of new quarry.

 

Across town, Lincoln and Orion smash their way into an Intergang hideout, where the gangsters are preparing to plant a bomb for their Apokoliptian masters.  Sugar-Man is one of their hired killers, and the wounded criminal is dispatched with the device while his fellows try to hold off the heroes with their alien weaponry.  Yet, while Orion may be temporarily stymied, nothing stops the Black Racer, who follows the fleeing felon, triggering the bomb and sent it towards space (though a page later we’re told this was Orion with his Mother Box, which is a bit confusing; perhaps we’re meant to understand that the Racer just carries out what is already happening?).  Sugar-Man meets a rather noisy end in low orbit as the bomb goes off.

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The tale ends with Orion and his ally calling the police to take care of their captured gangsters while the Black Racer returns to Willie Walker’s room, becoming the paralyzed soldier once more just before his caretakers, his sister and her husband, come back.  They lament that they left the helpless man alone while a killer was on the loose, not knowing that he himself has become an embodiment of death.

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This is really a fascinating issue, despite the fact that it doesn’t entirely work, and some of its faults are pretty glaring.  Nonetheless, there is something special here.  The idea of introducing a cosmic personification of Death is certainly a fitting one for this setting, and in his way, the Racer fits well into the story Kirby is telling.  After all, the old pantheons always had their death gods, Anubis, Hades, Hela, and the rest.  It makes sense for the New Gods to be the same.  Still, in execution, the Black Racer is flawed as well as promising.  On the one hand, Kirby is adding some diversity to his new mythology, which, inspired by the Norse pantheon as it is, can certainly use it.  On the other hand, just like with Vykin, we’ve got yet another black character with ‘black’ in their name, as if we’d miss the subtle distinction otherwise.  We’re really past the point where creators should know better.  It is noteworthy that Kirby begins to introduce ghetto-based black characters at this point, right as the ‘blaxploitation‘ genre is taking off.’  Remember, it was this very month that saw the release of Shaft, which defined the genre.  Clearly, not only were racial issues in the zeitgeist, but so were stories of minority protagonists in their own settings.

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Silly sobriquets aside, Kirby is doing more than just introducing another celestial champion here, and it is the Racer’s other half that really resonates in this story.  The plight of Willie Walker brings a truly engaging human element to this cosmic drama.  His story is heartbreaking, yet like Daredevil before him, his disability is revealed not to be a bar to his freedom, but in this case the price is a strange and perilous one.  The setup is rich for development and story possibilities, though, if I recall correctly, that potential goes unrealized in the short life of this book.  Time will tell on that score.

On the art front, Kirby’s not at his best in this issue.  His work is often rough and uneven, and some of the big moments are a actually rather unattractive.  This is also true of his designs.  While the gangster character have some of that classic Kirby panache, the Racer is just a mess.  It is fun to see Orion playing Phillip Marlowe, complete with fedora and dark suit, though.  This is just a flawed treatment of a flawed concept, but both the issue and character it introduces have a certain amount of charm despite their failings.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, as despite rough art and a poor design, there is something worthwhile in the Black Racer and his debut issue.

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Interestingly, according to the Kirby Museum’s great article on New Gods #3, apparently DC was eager for characters that could be spun out of the King’s Fourth World should it prove a hit, so part of the insane productivity and fertility of these books is probably in response to pressure from the powers that be, as well as Kirby’s own desire to populate his own comic book universe.  He certainly had enough different concepts introduced in these books to furnish an entire comic line, from the Black Racer to Lonar the Wanderer (who we’ll meet eventually).  That certainly sheds a new light on some of the unusual narrative choices Kirby made in his Fourth World titles.

Well, whatever the case, we have run out of post!  Three more issues down, and entertaining reads all!  I hope that y’all enjoyed my commentary and will join me again soon for the next batch of books.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive, and try to stay ahead of the Black Racer!

 

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome Internet travelers and dear readers, to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got three books to cover in this post, and they are a rather diverse bunch.  We go from Zaney Haney to the Fourth World, and from spy thriller to cosmic quest in an earthbound setting.  Let’s see what lies in store for us!

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 #402
  • Adventure Comics #408
  • Brave and the Bold #96
  • Detective Comics #413
  • Forever People #3
  • G.I. Combat #148
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #84
  • New Gods #3
  • Superboy #176
  • Superman #239 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #240
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139
  • World’s Finest #202

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


Brave and the Bold #96


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“The Striped Pants War!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Alright, what the heck is up with this title?  Is this a reference to something?  If so, I don’t get it.  All I can think of is Homestar Runner and “his ridiculous stripe-ed pants.”  Either way, there seem to be no striped pants actually in this comic.  Leave it to Bob Haney to confuse his audience from word one!  Head-scratching headlines aside, this is actually a pretty good issue.  There are a few things that ‘ol Zaney Haney always did very well, and one of those is the tale of the aging hero, the world-weary veteran whose best days are behind him.  It’s a story that he told many times, and always with verve.  This particular comic is no exception, though it doesn’t have the most impressive of covers.  It has a solid, if unexceptional, composition that sets up the central conflict of the comic, Sgt. Rock’s questionable loyalties.

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brave and the bold 096 004The story within opens on a dark night in a South American city as a van crashes into a car, the attacking vehicle’s occupants then jumping the stunned passengers.  The car’s driver fights back, only to get shot for his trouble, and his passenger is carted away.  Back in the U.S., Bruce Wayne is called to Washington D.C. where he is ushered into a secret meeting with the Secretary of State and the P.O.T.O.U.S. himself (that used to be an honor).  Nick Cardy does the usual dance, not showing the president’s face, which I enjoy.  It turns out the victim from our first scene was Ambassador Adams, who is a friend of Bruce’s, and who was on an important assignment in South America.

brave and the bold 096 005He was kidnapped by the “Companeros de La Muerte,” the Companions of Death, and they are holding him for ransom.  The President asks Wayne to fill in as a temporary ambassador to complete a delicate treaty, and he introduces Batman, who will travel along as protection.  How can this be?  Well, it’s Alfred covering for his master in a padded costume, of course, and before long the pair are headed south!  This is an interesting setup, and it works surprisingly well considering the stories in the Bat-books relatively recently where Bruce got involved in politics.  It’s unusually consistent for Haney…though I’m inclined to wonder if that’s just a coincidence!

When Bruce arrives at the U.S. embassy, he encounters another old friend, Sgt. Rock, who is head of security.  It was he who was driving the ambassador when he was kidnapped, and the embassy staffer left in charge, Carlyle, makes some snide remarks about his failure.  When left alone, the two old comrades catch up, but Rock is surprisingly bitter and angry about the service, raging that they won’t let him reenlist.  He strips off his shirt and shows the scars he earned in service to his country, but he laments that that country doesn’t want his service anymore.

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brave and the bold 096 013Bruce is struck by the old soldier’s rancor, but he gets on with his job, investigating the scene of the kidnapping as Batman.  In search of witnesses, he enters a bull fighting arena and gets a description of the van from a plucky young bullfighter who, in Haney’s trademark flare for minor characters, is full of personality.  Strangely, the Dark Knight notices Rock tailing him, just as he is attacked by an assassin!  One of the Companeros tries to kill him with a bullfighter’s prop, but the hero’s reflexes prove superior, and the would-be-killer is hoisted by his own petard.

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On his way back to the embassy, the Caped Crusader is attacked by another pair of killers, but he fights them off with difficulty, turning their weapons against them in a great sequence drawn by Cardy and moodily colored.  When he returns, the Masked Manhunter discovers a warning note from the terrorists that declares they will kill their prisoner at noon if he is not ransomed.  That’s not the only discovery, however, as Alfred finds a listening device in Wayne’s room, a device whose source is found to be Rock’s quarters!  Things look bad for the old soldier, especially when he is placed under arrest only to knock out a sentry and slip away.

Nonetheless, Batman continues his investigation, finding the killers’ van and trailing it right back to the embassy itself!  They are hiding the ambassador in a secret basement, and this seems to confirm Rock’s complicity.  The Dark Knight jumps the gathered thugs, getting the ambassador to cover but getting dog-piled by his foes in recompense.  Suddenly, Sgt. Rock comes charging into the room, firing a Thompson, coming to the Caped Crusader’s rescue!  He had escaped just to have a chance to clear his name, which he now does in spades!

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It was all a frame, of course, and the heroes manage to hold off the terrorists, but the desperadoes trigger an old trap from the building’s colonial days, turning heroes’ cover into a cruel cage.  At the top-sergeant’s insistence, Batman reluctantly escapes with the ambassador, only to be confronted by the real traitor, Carlyle.  Fortunately, while Bruce Wayne may hate guns, his faithful butler isn’t so squeamish, and Alfred flat-out shoots the rat!

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Meanwhile, Rock is making his last stand, but in desperation he attaches a grenade to the swinging spikes above him, and when they move back towards his enemies, they explode!  Batman finds his old friend still alive in the rubble!  Later on, they bid a friendly farewell, as Bruce Wayne takes his leave and Rock tells his pal that the army took him back for another hitch.

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This is a really solid story.  It’s fun, exciting, and it has a pretty decent central conflict with the question of Rock’s loyalty.  Of course, we all know that the top kick is as loyal and dependable as…well…as a rock, but Haney does a good job of making his defection seem plausible.  He is making surprising use of continuity here, however, it is largely his own.  I suppose that’s to be expected from the ruler of the ridiculous.  In his stories Batman somehow fought in World War II and is still active in the modern day.  What the rest of the DC Universe needed multiple Earths to accommodate, Haney just shoves into one story and calls it good.  That’s the Zaney one for you!

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Despite that bit of silliness, he does a great job with Rock’s frustration at his treatment, and even his explanation ‘hey, I may grumble, but I’m still loyal,’ rings true.  While the old soldier doesn’t get as much characterization as Wildcat tended to, we still get a good sense of who the veteran is and what struggles he faces.  Cardy’s artwork is lovely throughout, fitting this spy thriller tale quite well.  I’ll give this fun adventure an enjoyable 4 Minutemen.

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Detective Comics #413


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“Freakout at Phantom Hollow!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inkers: Dick Giordano and Steve Englehart
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Squeeze-Play!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: Ben Oda

Another issue of Detective Comics this month, but the Batman tale within isn’t the amazing and groundbreaking tale of last month’s Batman.  Still Robbins turns in his usual brand of solid mystery yarn.  It’s got a serviceable but not fantastic cover.  The witch’s twisted visage is suitably creepy, but the rest of the image just isn’t all that interesting.  It also isn’t quite indicative of what is going on in the tale, even symbolically.  It’s rather an odd choice in that regard.

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The story itself begins with Batman returning from a case out of town, only to be flagged down by the constable of a small village, Phantom Hollow, who is also a former Gotham cop.  The lawman begs the Dark Knight to come investigate a mystery in his town.  We then cut to the quaint hamlet itself, which is clearly modeled on Salem, complete with its own witch trial.  Supposedly the town is haunted by “Ol’ Nell,” who cursed the bell of the old church, declaring that it would never sound again until it tolled Phantom Hollow’s death-knell.

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Yet, the place’s troubles are start with something rather more mundane, as a trio of local kids ambush a pair of long-haired hippie-types, giving them a compulsory haircut…and, let’s face it…if that’s the worst thing that happens to these two goofy looking losers, they are probably lucky!  It seems like they’re supposed to be around 12-14, and they just look utterly ridiculous.  I imagine that the kids at my school would have probably been crueler in my day!

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The two hippies, Shecky and Jamie, are recovering their wits when suddenly the massive form of the town simpleton, ‘Big Lanny,’ looms into view.  The boys take off and decide to get even with the town by playing some pranks.  It starts with the church bell suddenly ringing ominously for the first time in a few hundred years, but it takes a turn for worse when their attempt to set off cherry bombs near the town jail somehow blows a wall in!

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Batman arrives to investigate the matter and hears some conflicting claims by the local folks, some claiming it was the two weirdo kids, others claiming it was Nell’s ghost.  The local teacher sticks up for the young punks.  The Dark Knight has plenty of suspects, but few clews, so he searches the bell tower, finding that the bell is rusted solid, but a strong pair of hands tip him over the rail and send him plummeting to his death!

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DETECTIVE COMICS 413 010Fortunately, the Masked Manhunter is always prepared, and he tied a bat-rope to his foot when he climbed to the dizzy height of the steeple, which is a nice, reasonable precaution for the hero to have taken.  Outside, he finds the teacher, who was attacked by someone moving fast.  She still insists on the innocence of her students, but when the Caped Crusader finds a speaker that provided the eerie bell-toll and traces its cord to a nearby cave, it is indeed the two would be counterculture rebels that he uncovers.

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DETECTIVE COMICS 413 015While he is confronting the kids, the bell rings again, but their tape recorder is shut off!  Racing back to the church, Batman finds that the bell has been broken free of its rust, a feat that he himself had failed to accomplish.  Suddenly, another explosion rocks the town.  Interrogating his two captives, who remain defiant, the Dark Knight realizes that someone has been using them as patsies, and by pretending to leave them in the care of the teacher in the cave, he lures out the real culprit…Big Lanny?!

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That’s right, the huge handyman was actually a direct descendant of Ol’ Nell, and he faked his stupidity in order take revenge upon the town.  Unfortunately, the massive man, once revealed, remains a frightful foe.  He toss the Caped Crusader about like a rag doll, and only the desperate attack by the two hippie kids saves the hero, toppling the giant and allowing the Masked Manhunter to punch him out.  The tale ends with the teacher pointing out that the two exceedingly poorly dressed boys are modern day victims of the same type of ignorance and superstition (ignorance yes, but how does she get superstition?) as Ol’ Nell was in her day.

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This is a decent mystery yarn, and it is interesting to see Frank Robbins dealing with youth culture and the growing strains on American life, with the nonconformists of this little town playing both sympathetic victims and antagonistic troublemakers.  There isn’t a lot made of the setup, but it is notable that the teacher continues to defend the two kids and that they prove instrumental in capturing the villain.  There’s definitely a message of tolerance delivered through their plot.  Brown’s art is as solid and attractive as usual, and he gives us a few particularly nice images, like Batman observing the explosion from the bell tower.  His Batman isn’t quite as lovely as Neal Adams’, but he always looks good, powerful and dynamic.  I don’t think Bob Brown gets a lot of credit, but he was a very reliably good artist, especially on these Bat-books.  As for this issue, it’s an enjoyable if unexceptional read, so I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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“Squeeze-Play!”


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The wig saga continues!  For some reason!  The Batgirl backup from the last issue is concluded here, despite the fact that it really seemed to be just about finished already.  This one starts right where the previous tale left off, with Batgirl locked in awkward combat with the malicious wig-makers, who have managed to get one of their skull-cracking hairdos onto her head.  Vazly hits the switch, and the fighting female seems to writhe in agony, only to reveal that it is just an act.  She had already deactivated the heinous headgear.

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She manages to capture Vazly, but his assistant gets away.  In an admittedly cool sequence, Babs uses her photographic memory to deduce that something is missing from the scene, working out that it is a wig-stand.  She recalls the code that had been on the missing item and works out that it is an address for a would-be victim.  Rushing to the scene of the next crime, Batgirl interrupts Wanda as she attempts to put the squeeze on another rich divorcee.

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Jumping the weird wig-maker as she attempts to make her getaway, the heroine engages in another desperate fight, with the wig again being used as a weapon, this time as a really clumsy garrote.  Fortunately, Batgirl uses her head (as a bludgeon) and captures the remaining villain.  The story ends with her receiving her birthday gift, a wig, from her father.  Both Gordon and his friend Bruce Wayne think she looks better as a redhead, which she does, so Babs decides to stick with the hair God gave her.

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This isn’t a bad story, but it isn’t a particularly good one, either.  Batgirl’s peril feels a bit weak at times, and, as I said, this second half doesn’t feel entirely necessary.  If Robbins hadn’t wrapped so much up in the first half, there would have been more to this story.  As is, it feels largely perfunctory, though Babs’ feat of deduction is pretty cool, taking advantage of a character trait that isn’t always acknowledged, her eidetic memory.  Don Heck’s art is serviceable, but it isn’t very pretty.  He’s just not my favorite superhero artist.  His figures tend to be stiff in action, and the whole thing lacks the smoothness of Bob Brown’s work on the headline tale.  This is a mediocre offering, but there isn’t really anything in particular to fault it for, so I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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Forever People #3


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“Life vs. Anti-Life!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

The King’s Fourth World wonders continue to unfurl, and it is certain a fascinating journey!  Here with issue 3 of the the Forever People, the concept still hasn’t entirely gelled, yet Kirby is nonetheless constantly adding memorably to his mythos.  This particular issue is a very uneven affair, but it is also really striking.  We begin with another very lackluster cover.  Other than the Mr. Miracle books, the Fourth World titles just don’t really benefit from good covers.  I wonder if that contributed to their eventual failure.  Either way, with this one we get a rather unbalanced image, against another dim and ugly photo-collage background.  This one is so fuzzy that it’s little more than light and shadow.  The image of the Justifier’s helmet in the background isn’t really all that intimidating, and while the cosmic kids are well drawn, the effect is just not very captivating.  It isn’t helped by that glut of cover copy either declaring but never explaining Kirby’s wild concepts.

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Inside, however, it’s another matter.  From the first page the King gives us a clue as to what he’s about, starting with a quote from Adolph Hitler (!) about how his followers not only dressed alike but even began to mimic one another in facial expressions.  Below is a sea of faces, faces that are eerily similar in their blank, dead-eyed expression, despite the riot of variety among them (though, notably, they are all white).  This is a ‘revelation’, something of an evil version of a revival, headed by Darkseid’s newest flunky, Glorious Godfrey.

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With a fittingly glorious double page splash, Kirby introduces the evil evangelist, who is hawking a heinous set of wares called ‘Anti-Life!’  The trappings and the language are all twisted versions of what you’d see at an old time tent revival, but rather than calling people to a knowledge of their sins and a God who will forgive them and save them from it, Godfrey promises freedom from such self-knowledge, freedom from doubt and uncertainty, the freedom of surrendering your will to Darkseid!  There’s something really fascinating and powerful in all of this.

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Godfrey converts his crowd into ‘Justifiers,’ whose adherence to the external reality of Darkseid’s will allows them to ‘justify’ any actions, enabling these miserable souls to indulge in violence, hatred, and more, all while feeling a sense of belonging in the foul fold.  One of these helmeted hooligans arrives at the abandoned apartment acting as home for the Forever People and threatens their young friend, Donnie in order to find the quintet.  Fortunately for the kid, the team has just walked in, hidden by Mother Box.  Beautiful Dreamer casts an illusion to confuse their antagonist, while Vykin rescues Donnie.  Then, all six youths beat a hasty retreat because the fanatical follower of Darkseid is a walking bomb!  He detonates himself, but the Forever People are able to get out of range.

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Realizing that Godfrey is on Earth by recognizing his handiwork, the team leaves a protective barrier around Donnie’s home and takes their leave, bidding the kid adieu.  This is a bit surprising after the efforts Kirby went to in establishing the kid and the neighborhood as part of what seemed an ongoing setting in the last issue.  Nonetheless, the Forever People load up in the Super Cycle and use Mother Box to home in on the Glorious one.

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Meanwhile, in a scene that is an honestly haunting sci-fi version of Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht (The Night of the Broken Glass), the Justifiers spread out through the city in flying transports, smash open doors, haul away ‘undesirables,’ burn libraries, and break windows.  The parallels to real history are pretty unmistakable, and Kirby’s depiction of these events is really striking and efficient, only taking two pages to do its work.  Monitoring his minions’ malicious work, Godfrey is primping, preparing for his next show.  He gets a report about the approach of the Forever People and prepares a warm welcome.

The kids, for their part, see the guards around the tent and decide to summon the Infinity Man.  He then bends and breaks the laws of physics as he wades through the solid earth to avoid the gods and warps the paths of bullets when he confronts Godfrey.  He also abuses the rules of good writing, over-explaining everything he’s doing in odd, stilted prose.  No rules can stand against the Infinity Man!  Not even the laws of composition!  The enigmatic hero destroys the mind-controlling organ Godfrey is using to control his converts, but he is stopped in his tracks by being brought face to face with…Darkseid!  Once again, Kirby’s depiction of the villain hasn’t quite solidified yet, and he varies quite a bit from panel to panel.

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Still, what the evil one lacks in visual continuity he makes up for in power, as he uses his eye-beams to split the Infinity Man back into the Forever people, who are easily captured by Desaad.  The unconscious kids are herded into a transport and sent off to a new facility of the cruel scientist’s design.  After their departure, Godfrey and Desaad spar, each seeking to cement his position with Darkseid, and we learn a little bit more about the Anti-Life equation, though it doesn’t make matters much clearer.  Apparently Godfrey believes it doesn’t exist, and that Anti-Life can only be created through his type of direct mental manipulation.  Apparently the Equation would allow its possessor to control the wills of all beings in the universe with a word, essentially destroying free will, the great gift.

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This is a fascinating issue, but it isn’t necessarily a good one.  It is a dramatically uneven book.  When it is bad, it is really bad, but when it is good, it is really good.  It’s strange, because it’s not even always good or bad in the same ways.  Sometimes Kirby’s dialog is extremely overwritten and awkward, and other times its almost poetic.  Darkseid’s declaration at the end that “when you cry out in your dreams-it is Darkseid that you see!” is darn good dialog, but almost everything the Infinity Man and the Forever People say is awkward and unnecessary.  It’s clear that Kirby learned his comic scripting from the school of Stan.  Stan Lee’s style of unnecessary expository dialog is very much in evidence here, but often times without the charm for characterization and cleverness that marked even Lee’s more egregious examples.

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The Forever People themselves are once again largley useless in this issue.  Pretty much the only thing they do is to run away from the first assassin, but they contribute basically nothing to the plot.  If my vague memories of my first read-through are correct, we might see them get more of a chance to shine in the next issue, but we shall see.  Despite these flaws, what Kirby is doing with Godfrey and the Justifies is really intriguing.  The fact that the villains are evil insofar as they surrender their will and judgement for belonging and comfort is very striking, especially in light of the Jewish author and the not-too-distant cultural memories of the Holocaust.  The parallels to the Nazi’s horrific campaign, as I said, are inescapable, but this story still resonates today.

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It is, sadly, not an isolated incident that sees men surrender their moral judgement and their will to unworthy causes.  It is frighteningly common.  It is a difficult and wearying thing to think, to judge, and to strive for a consistently just moral life and philosophy, and people are always anxious to escape the burden of responsibility that we bear by being human.  It is happening in our world today, as people blindly support causes and leaders that blatantly contradict their own stated values, having given up their moral judgement to that of the party, so the only decision they have to make is whether ‘they’ are ‘with us or against us.’  In this way, Kirby’s story works wonderfully well on an archetypal level, for whatever flaws it has as an adventure tale.  In the end, this flawed but provocative comic is still a really interesting read, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, despite its uneven quality.

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P.S.: This issue sees the first appearance of the letter column, and the response is quite positive.  Notably, sci-fi luminary and the subject of a JLA story I recently covered, Harlan Ellison wrote a glowing missive for the Master.

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And with the Forever People, we round out our comics for this post.  Thank you for joining me for this stop on our journey Into the Bronze Age!  I hope that you enjoyed my commentary and will join me again soon for the next stage of my investigations.  Please come back soon, and until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 1)

Into the Bronze Age: June 1971 (Part 5)

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Welcome back for another edition of Into the Bronze Age, dear readers and Internet travelers!  Come right in and prepare for our final pair of pulse-pounding adventures!  They’re a mixed bag, as Zaney Haney takes Teen Titans back from our favorite Aquaman author, Steve Skeates, but never fear, stylin’ Steve is also back in this batch, and penning an old favorite, the Sea King himself, in an issue of World’s Finest!  I’ve been eagerly anticipating that particular book, seeing it in my reading list.  Time to find out how both of these comics stack up!

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 #401
  • Adventure Comics #407
  • Batman #232
  • Detective Comics #412
  • The Flash #207
  • Justice League of America #90
  • Mr. Miracle #2
  • The Phantom Stranger #13
  • Superboy #174 (reprints)
  • Superboy #175
  • Superman #238
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138
  • Teen Titans #33
  • World’s Finest #203

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


Teen Titans #33


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“Less Than Human?”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

First up is a new Teen Titans adventure, and it’s a weird one, which is to be expected from Zaney Haney.  The stranger thing is that it follows in the similarly weird footsteps of Steve Skeates from last month.  The comic has a Nick Cardy cover, but it isn’t as fantastic as his usual work.  The image is a solid ‘scary discovery’ type of composition, but Cardy can’t seem to make up his mind on whether the menacing figure is a zombie or a skeleton (look at those arm bones!), so it just looks a bit confused.  Otherwise, it is pretty solid.  Inside, this comic picks up directly from the last issue, in the poorly conceived and developed fantasy world that was created by the Butterfly Effect of Mal and Kid Flash’s journey into the past.

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The young heroes face a test in the form of an archery competition, a-la Robin Hood, and somehow Kid Flash duplicates the forester’s famous shot.  I expected this to be revealed to be a super speed trick, especially when the arrow begins to drill into the lock on its own, but it’s never actually explained.  So, we could just assume that Wally is somehow an expert archer.  It’s a bit clumsy, but Haney has no time for explanations or logic!  Instead, a hulking skeleton, the animated remains of the caveman they killed, comes charging out of the door, and the Titans are terrified, so terrified, that Mal actually breaks and runs.

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However, he doesn’t run too far, as he grabs the ‘Duke of Galaxy’s’ helmet and dons it before charging back towards the apparition.  And a specter it proves to be, vanishing into thin air.  ‘Jupiterius’ explains to the youths that ‘Cerebella’ (get it?), Lilith’s alternate future counterpart, used her mental powers to fill Mal with fear.  Since they successfully passed their trial, he will show them how to travel back in time ‘to put right what once went wrong!‘ 

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The wizard takes them to “The Well of Time,” where they take a piece of its crystallized water and find themselves back in the Stone Age, facing their anachronistic antagonist.  This time Flash knocks the club away without sending the caveman crashing over the cliff, but the marauding Cro-Magnon (who looks much more like a neanderthal) manages to grab him…somehow.  The crystals that hold them in the past fade during the fight, and the young friends find themselves back home…but they have picked up a chronological  hitchhiker!

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The caveman, grappling with Kid Flash at the moment of their return, went with them, and suddenly the entire team find themselves in a desperate struggle with the powerful savage.  When they manage to incapacitate him, Mr. Jupiter oh-so-helpfully proclaims that he is not going to send their visitor back home because it turns out time travel is a tad dangerous.  Gee, ya’ think?  It’s a shame you didn’t figure that out before you lost two teenagers in time!

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So, instead Jupiter instructs the team to tame the caveman, turn him into a modern man…which is problematic in multiple ways.  Most importantly, this scene points to a major plot hole.  Killing this caveman really messed up the timeline and caused a whole alternate future, right?  But removing him from his era entirely doesn’t have any impact on the present?  That’s just ridiculously sloppy writing, even for the Zaney one.

Nonetheless, in the present the caveman, who they dub “Gnarrk,” after his only vocalization, must stay.  The Titans bring Robin in to help them with their new pupil, and after devising a curriculum, they start with the first and most important step…appearance!  The first thing the team does is sedate their savage student and give him a shave and a hair cut, which doesn’t please the fellow too much when he awakens.  He grabs Lilith through the bars, but fortunately she is able to communicate telepathically with him, and they make friends.

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The most amazing part of this comic isn’t the time travel or the magic but the fact that Lilith does something useful!

After a poor start with subliminal education while he sleeps, the Titans take the caveman out on the town pretty much immediately, which seems wildly irresponsible and unnecessary.  Predictably, it goes poorly, and Gnarrk attacks a car, thinking it is some type of monstrous animal.  Then he gets spooked by a train, and the team has to split up and search for their charge.  When they recover the kooky Cro-Magnon, they discover that he has observed a local city councilman involved in a payoff, and they realize that Gnarrk has just become a damning witness against a major crime figure…but a witness who can’t testify!

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This is actually a rather original and entertaining situation, all other concerns aside.  You can say this for Haney, he certainly was creative!  Well, the Titans immediately redouble their efforts.  After two weeks of intensive training, they take their time-tossed guest to the D.A., for some reason in a major hurry, despite the fact that there seems to be no real external pressure.  Nonetheless, Lilith, having grown close to Gnarrk, tries to shield him from the frantic efforts of the others, but when she takes him out for a walk, the pair are attacked by gangsters and narrowly avoid a bomb.  Fearing for her new friend, the enigmatic lady slips away with him, planning to hide Gnarrk until after the hearing so he won’t be in danger.

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Of course, this works about as well as you might imagine, and for some strange reason, the young caveman proves to be slightly less safe hiding out in a van in the woods than surrounded by superheroes.  Gnarrk tries to confess his feelings for Lilith, who is apparently quite the ridiculous hippie, given her psychedelic surroundings, but she shoots him down.

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TeenTitans_v1_033-20-1-19 - CopyThis is followed quickly by being shot down herself in a more literal fashion as bullets riddle the van and the vaguely-powered vixen is hit.  The Caveman goes crazy and tears into the attackers.  The rest of the Titans arrive just in time to talk him down from killing his captives, but the Cro-Magnon chooses to do the right thing, sparing the would-be killer.  The next day, Gnarrk appears in court and haltingly gives his testimony, bringing down the crime boss, and the comic ends with Lilith and her newfound friend walking off together, arm-in-arm.

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Once again, Haney packs enough into a single issue of a comic to fill three normal books.  He seems to pretty immediately lose interest in the time travel tale, instead settling on the weird and reasonably original angle of a caveman in the modern world.   That story is fairly entertaining, and the character’s growing fondness for Lilith is actually rather touching.  The scene where he tries to tell her how he feels, only to have her shut him down makes you feel for the guy.  For her part, Lilith continues to be super vague and undeveloped, which annoys me, and her plot-fortunate powers seem rather convenient.  That’s not terribly surprising with the Zaney one doing the writing, as character personalities and powers change at his whim.

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This is a common problem with his work, but it is magnified here because even the questionable unity provided by Haney is lacking in this Titans book, with the authorial duties shifting every other issue.  The inconsistency and uncertainty of direction is really clear with this issue, which clashes with the story started by Steve Skeates, whose plotlines are almost immediately abandoned.  George Tuska’s art is lovely as always, and he does some really great work with Gnarrk’s face, which is particularly important considering how little dialog the character has.  I think Nick Cardy inking Tuska also adds a bit of continuity to the visual side of the book, which is nice.  The most intriguing part of this issue was the introduction of Gnarrk, who, despite being the focus of the story, receives relatively little development.  Apparently he goes on to play a role in the Titans mythos in the future, but tellingly, none of the references I could find about him make any mention of this story.  I’m curious to see what will become of him.  (I wonder if he went on to become a lawyer).  In the end, this is a comic with a lot of imagination that has some flaws but is still a fun read, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, with its creativity raising it above the average.

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World’s Finest #203


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“Who’s Minding the Earth?”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

I have been really looking forward to this one, especially after Aquaman’s own book met its unfortunate demise.  I have been excited to see my favorite character team up with the Man of Steel, and written by submarine scribe supreme, Steve Skeates, no less!  Fortunately, this issue doesn’t disappoint, though it doesn’t have the most gripping of covers.  It’s not bad, but it is rather excessively yellow, and the scene is rather more suggestive than exciting.  Nonetheless, the monstrous creatures walking away from our heroes hold a bit of menace and the figures are well drawn, which is no surprise from Neal Adams.  Nonetheless, the story inside delivers something pretty enjoyable.

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It starts with everyone’s favorite Sea King discovering a strange phenomenon, an underwater rainbow, and when he investigates, he hears a strange, high-pitched buzzing which leads him to a ruined research station on a seemingly abandoned island.  In the wreckage, the Marine Marvel discovers a torn journal page with a cryptic message about ‘raising him’ and a warning that ‘they plan to drown the world.’  That doesn’t sound good!

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As he continues to search the island, Aquaman encounters a quartet of strange looking creatures, seemingly humanoid dolphins, and he can’t help but laugh at their awkward, waddling walk.  Real sensitive Arthur!  The creatures take this none-too-kindly, and the Sea Sleuth suddenly is hit with a mental attack and passes out!  I’m not crazy about this scene as Aquaman, of all people, should probably be both a bit more accepting of and a bit more used to strange aquatic beings, but I suppose we’re meant to take it as harmless mirth.

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Dillin really knocks it out of the park on Aquaman in this issue.

Meanwhile, a very snappily dressed Clark Kent encounters a frantic stranger on the streets of Metropolis who is desperately searching for Superman.  Before the reporter can calm him down and enjoy the irony, the disguised figure mentions something about ‘the change’ coming over him and somehow renders everyone nearby blind, even affecting the Man of Steel’s superior eyesight!  It seems to the Action Ace’s blurry vision as if the figure splits in two and then races off, but after his vision clears, he manages to pick up their trail on the coast.

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Clark, rockin’ the paisley ascot.  I wonder why Lois won’t go out with him?

 

The Man of Tomorrow follows these odd aquatic beings across the sea and discovers Aquaman’s still form, managing to return him to the water just as the Atlantean’s hour was running out.  Quickly catching each other up, they return to the isle and encounter the creature that had been seeking Superman in the first place.  This alien-looking being fills the two heroes in on the situation.  Apparently he was born a mutant, but a mutant dolphin, which is sort of a fun twist.

He was a humanoid being, and his marine mother abandoned him.  Fortunately, a team of scientists working on the island rescued and reared the young mutant, who grew rapidly and proved to be brilliant, quickly learning English.  He also developed strange sonic (or perhaps psionic) abilities, which he often used to summon displays of light, creating submarine rainbows for his own amusement.

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Still, he was lonely, as well as clumsy and awkward on the land, which earned him the laughter of his adoptive family, embittering the young creature.  He longed for a companion, someone like him, and suddenly one day, in response to his desire, he split in two, reproducing asexually.  His new brother possessed all of his knowledge, but none of his compassion.  There’s something of a similarity here to the Sand Superman of O’Neil’s.

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The strange sibling inherited only the original’s anger, and the process proved continual, with more twins born every few days.  Soon they drove the scientists away and began plotting to destroy the human race which had mocked them.  The original dolphin-being warns the heroes that his freakish family plans to drown the Earth by using their sonic powers to melt the ice caps!

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Together, the trio take off for the North pole, where the dolphin-men have gathered.  However, the malevolent mutants sense the heroes approaching and launch a sonic attack that affects Superman’s brain (and we get an educational little map of the human brain to illustrate the point, which is a nice touch).  Suddenly the Man of Steel streaks into the sky, charging a massive creature seemingly composed of sonic energy, yet he can never seem to make contact with it.  Strange!

Under the waves, the Marine Marvel presses the attack, and while he and his flippered friend hold their own, the weight of numbers soon threatens to swamp them, so the Sea King calls in an army of fish to cover his retreat.  As the mutants search for him, they fail to notice a seemingly harmless whale as it gets close, but suddenly Aquaman bursts from the creature’s mouth and slams into his aquatic antagonists!  It’s a great sequence, and Dillin does a really nice job with it, other than one slightly awkward pose.

As the Marine Marvel tears through his foes, he manages to disrupt their attack on Superman, who suddenly realizes that the monster was an illusion and dives back into the undersea brawl.  The two heroes make short work of the creatures.  Once they have been captured, Superman gives them a fiery speech, lambasting the mutants for their violent response to human ridicule, arguing that they should have worked to earn respect instead.

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Oddly, this prompts Aquaman thinks to himself that his friend “has that unbearable establishment ‘twang’ in his voice!”  That’s…a weird choice for the King of Atlantis, and it really just doesn’t fit the character, a grating sour note, way more suited to the current, obnoxious characterization of Green Arrow, made all the more surprising because it was written by Skeates, who has previously shown such a great grasp of the character.  Maybe Aquaman has been spending too much time with Ollie!

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Despite that, there is a certain interesting element to this scene, as there is some buried social commentary in an authority figure telling an abused minority that they just needed to prove themselves to the powers that be.  Given the racial issues of the day, I wonder if this was a subtle jibe or just a coincidence.  Whatever the case, after his speech, the Metropolis Marvel gathers the mutants up and flies them to an unpeopled inhabitable planet where they can create their own world, free from humanity and no threat to anyone.  On Earth, Aquaman ponders the case, and the married mariner thinks that it makes a certain amount of sense that this species that developed without love was also one that lacked an opposite sex.  Arthur, you romantic, you!

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This is a great little adventure story, and for the first time in far too long, it’s one in which Aquaman actually gets to be useful.  Yet, he isn’t just useful, he positively steals the show, which isn’t easy to do when sharing space with Superman!  The Sea King puts on a great showing in this comic, which I expected from a story by Skeates.  The threat that the heroes face is an interesting one, and the tale of the original dolphin-creature (who Skeates really should have given a name) is rather touching in its own way.  His loneliness, being the only one of his kind, is fairly poignant, and I quite like the little scene of him hanging out underwater, ‘singing colors’ to himself.

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The one real problem with the issue is that the motivation for the mutants’ hatred of mankind is a bit weak.  I’d have liked to see a bit more development to that part of the tale, but Skeates is moving pretty quickly in the space he has to work with and packs a lot in here, including a great action sequence.  It’s a shame the original dolphin-man got exiled to another world with the others, as he seemed like a decent sort and an interesting character.  If there were still an Aquaman title, he’d have made a fun addition to the supporting cast.

In terms of the art, Dillin is in particularly rare form on this book.  His work is great, and he creates some really striking panels, like the gathering of dolphin-men, Aquaman’s fish army, and the drowning city.  The creatures themselves have a pretty good design, strange enough to be a little creepy but anthropomorphic enough to be sympathetic as well.  This is just a lovely, imaginative, and well-realized issue.  I thoroughly enjoyed this comic, and it was great to see Aquaman back in action (in a good light).  While the story could have been expanded, it was great fun as is.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Another month without any new visitors to the Wall of Shame.  I wonder if anyone will succumb to the siren song of the headblow in the comics to come!

 


Final Thoughts:


June has proven to be quite a month!  There were a lot of really enjoyable comics in the line-up this time, including some very pleasant surprises, like Flash tangling with an honest-to-goodness super-powered opponent, and in a good issue, to boot!  We also had a lot of stories that illustrated the transitional nature of this era, comics with more ambition than accomplishment that nevertheless illustrated the growing maturity of the medium.  This month’s JLA certainly fits that description!

In general, the trends we’ve been observing continue this month, with a definite presence of socially conscious stories and a push towards darker themes.  Even in light-hearted series, like Superboy, we find a story about witches and warlocks.  It’s a silly tale, but it still evinces a growing interest in the supernatural in comics.  Considering we’re only a year away from the premiere of Kirby’s Demon series and soon to see the return of the Specter, I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising.  These are only the first steps of the mystical revival of the Bronze Age, and there’s much more to come!

Interestingly, among the socially conscious comics on the stands this month, we find another dealing with the plight of the Native Americans.  Considering that last month also featured such a tale, this is decent evidence that the topic was in the zeitgeist.  Fortunately, one of my awesome readers mentioned that this was certainly the case, and pointed to the publication of books like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and the release of films like Little Big Man in 1970, both of which dealt with the subject and helped to begin transforming the public’s perception of Native Americans and the history of the West.  I’ll be interested to see if this trend continues and if we find more stories from DC on the topic in the months and years to come.

Of course, Kirby’s Fourth World continues to develop in his various books, and we got two slam-bang issues to enjoy this month.  The King keeps tossing out concepts and telling exciting stories, and even his action-heavy issues have unique elements like this month’s Mr. Miracle and the proto-fabber it contained.  There’s not a ton of development of the larger mythos in these two books, though we do see the debut of Granny Goodness and get some more hints of just where Scott Free comes from.  It’s really impressive that Kirby as able to keep so many titles moving forward and rolling out his nascent mythology across these different books.  They really all do work together very well, creating a greater whole.  Reading them in collection, I didn’t really appreciate what a complex dance he was doing.

Of course, Kirby’s titles are not the only books that are growing and evolving.  Denny O’Neil is continuing his renovation of Superman, spinning a thoroughly enjoyable yarn this month, but more importantly and more memorably, he also delivered one of the greatest Batman villains of all time in a comic that was an instant classic.  The deservedly beloved Batman #232 gives us R’as Al Ghul and brings the Dark Knight solidly into the Bronze Age with a mystery and adventure tale that highlights everything that makes the character who he is, from his detective skills, to his courage, to his brilliance and physical ability.  This is the Batman I love, and it’s great to see him in action.

So, all in all, it was a really solid month, with a few clunkers but plenty of fun, readable comics.  What’s more, it demonstrates the growing character of the age in some really interesting ways.  I hope that y’all enjoyed this portion of our trip, because we now bid adieu to June 1971!  Please join me again soon as we begin our trek into the next month and see what awaits us there!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!