DCUG Developer’s Journal #1

Okay, let’s try this out.  There will be some spoilers for the campaign stories, so read at your own peril.

So, while traveling this summer, I had a really helpful email correspondence with Unkoman, who helped me plot several new campaigns and expansions for existing ones.  The centerpiece of my DCUG 2.0 update/expansion is a finished/polished JLA campaign that also provides a significant expansion in the form of half a dozen new missions featuring Green Arrow’s recruitment to the team, the first encounters with the Injustice Gang, and the first battles with the Key.  I created a really fun but, of course, overly ambitious outline.  I wrote it all up, added new materials to the mod, set up the maps, and got it all ready to test weeks ago.  Since then I’ve been very busy, and of course, only able to test and troubleshoot occasionally.  Of course, my attempts to get fancy have led to tons of bugs and lots of frustration.  I had a little time recently and got back to it.

I’ve been working on level 14 of the JLA campaign, where Green Arrow is jumping from pocket universe to pocket universe to rescue the JLA who have been scattered through the multiverse by the Key.  I’m using the ‘disk worlds’ maps from the finale of  :ff:, which makes for a really cool level.  Unfortunately, the maps have some issues.  More unfortunately, my scripts had issues!  I think every single encounter had bugs, and I eventually had to create workarounds for certain parts of it.

The mission was designed with GA encountering four heroes, Batman, Flash, Aquaman, and Superman, each imprisoned on their own diskworld, which was a threat specifically for them.  GA could teleport between them, recruiting each hero as he rescued them.  First I discovered that the individual encounters were not ending properly, meaning the mission never progressed past the first one.  This seems to be a result of using custom encounters that had an ally join your team.

I fixed that by just starting all the encounters at once.  Then, inexplicably, the Flash would somehow join your team twice, meaning there was no room for poor Aquaman….again.  I had to split that up into two encounters, one where you rescue Flash, one where that Flash is destroyed and a different one joins the team.  After I finally solved that I discovered that the diskworld he is on has pathing issues.

Here’s a truncated version of my scripting work-around.  You’ll notice that I name the two Flashes different so the game doesn’t get confused, and I wait to tidy up my extra Flash until we reach the second encounter, that way his being wiped out of existence, Anti-Monitor style, won’t screw up that first encounter.  By fading the camera between encounters, hopefully my players won’t even notice the substitution.:

#———————————-

Encounter: Chill1
Type: Rescue Frozen
Allies: flash named bob
Villains: shurale named harry
Minions: shurale, snow_man, snow_man, snow_man, snow_man
Marker: snow1
Primary Objective: “Free Flash from his frozen prison” for 1000 prestige
Next: If All allies freed: Chill2
Next: If No allies freed: Final2

End Cutscene:
Fade for 1 seconds
bob teleports to bottom1

#———————————-

Encounter: Chill2
Type: Custom
Actions: allies become controllable, allies fight villains, allies follow heroes, allies remain after encounter ends
Allies: flash named jim
Marker: snow2
Next: None

Alert Cutscene:
jim teleports to green_arrow
bob is killed
bob is destroyed
Unfade for 1 seconds

#————–

I’ve got an idea about that, but I haven’t tried it yet.  Finally, Aquaman’s wasn’t properly rescueable in his custom encounter, so I had to change it up too.  I’ve finally got this mission mostly sorted out…and now I face another one in mission 15, where you save the rest of the team.  I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever had a mission with so many problems per-capita!

Let this be a lesson to you, future modders: don’t get fancy!

The good news is I’m still making progress, and the campaign is coming together well.  I’m also really happy with a lot of how I’ve designed these missions and the base scenes.  I know SO much more about modding these days than I did when I made the DCUG in the first place, and it’s nice to be able to bring a little higher production value to the stories I’m telling.  I’m still often limited by EZScript and the available maps, but I’ve been able to find some fun ways to change things up.  I hope y’all will agree with me when you get a chance to play these missions!

I also just got a small pile of new and updated skins/skopes from Deanjo2000, and they look fantastic!

Finally, I posted an add for a map maker on ModDB.  Since it’s just an unpaid position working on a decade old game, chances are nothing will come of it, but it would be really fantastic if I could get some help with map creation.  That could open up so many possibilities and free up an incredible amount of time for me.  So, cross your fingers, gang!

Completed script:

Story: 14jla

#
# New JLA mission pitting the team agains the Key
#
Starting Encounters: Knight1, Chill1, Red1, Dry1, Dry2, Dry3
#———————————-

Encounter: Knight1
Type: Custom
Actions: allies become controllable, allies fight villains, allies follow heroes, allies remain after encounter ends
Villains: duplicate_male1, duplicate_fem1, duplicate_male1, duplicate_fem1, duplicate_male1, duplicate_fem1, duplicate_male1, duplicate_fem1
Minions: duplicate_male1, duplicate_fem1
Allies: batman
Marker: city1
Primary Objective: “Help Batman defeat the strange civilians” for 1000 prestige
Next: If Ally Survives: None
Next: If Ally Lost: Final2

Alert Cutscene:
Set Lighting to Night
Cinematic camera on green_arrow
Unfade for 2 seconds
Play music music_pandemonium
green_arrow says, “Well…this doesn’t look that bad. Looks a bit like home, actually…though it’s strangely quiet…”
Cinematic camera on batman
batman says, “Green Arrow? How in the world did you get here?”
green_arrow says, “Hiya Bats, I just caught a lift through…”
batman says, “Nevermind! There’s no time! Watch out! There’s something wrong with the people of this world!”
green_arrow says, “What do you mean…?”
Camera on Minion1
Minion1 says, “Hsssss…fresh meat! kill them! rend their flesh!”
batman says, “I think you get the picture. It’s the Key’s idea of a joke. I have dedicated my life to protecting the people of my city…so he sent me to a world where they’re out for my blood..though it seems any will do.”
green_arrow says, “But how…?”
batman says, “Later! Now, just concentrate on survival!”

Ally Lost Cutscene:
green_arrow says, “Nooo!”

End Cutscene:
batman is revived
Cinematic camera on green_arrow
green_arrow turns to batman
batman moves to green_arrow
batman says, “Best as I can tell, this world suffered some type of plague or contamination, and its inhabitants seem to be mad. we should keep our eyes open for more infected civilians.”
batman says, “so, how did you end up here?”
green_arrow says, “You’re welcome….”
batman says, “Yes. thank you.”
green_arrow says, “For saving your….?”
batman says, “don’t push it.”
green_arrow says, “Fine. I had just teleported to the Watchtower when the Key grabbed all of you. I followed him through his portal before it closed. I found myself in a crazy place, glowing, under a neon sky…”
green_arrow says, “there were a bunch of other portals. I crossed my fingers and jumped through, found myself here.”
batman says, “Hmm…disappointing. I hoped you’d have some way to get back.”
green_arrow moves to spot1
green_arrow says, “Yeah, I didn’t really think this through…unfortunatley, these things don’t come with instruction manuals.”
batman turns to spot1
batman plays animation ranged
batman says, “Wait! The portal…it’s open again!”
green_arrow says, “How? Did you do something?”
batman says, “No…I wonder…the Key talked about absorbing dimensional energies in his travels…it’s possible that you absorbed enough as you jumped between worlds to activate his gateways.”
green_arrow says, “Well, there’s only one way to find out. You coming?”
batman says, “It would be tempting fate to say ‘anywhere is better than here,’ but I suppose I’ll take my chances.”

#———————————-

Encounter: Chill1
Type: Rescue Frozen
Allies: flash named bob
Villains: shurale named harry
Minions: shurale, snow_man, snow_man, snow_man, snow_man
Marker: snow1
Primary Objective: “Free Flash from his frozen prison” for 1000 prestige
Next: If All allies freed: Chill2
Next: If No allies freed: Final2

Start Cutscene:
Fade for 1 seconds
Set Lighting to Day
Camera on snow1
Unfade for 1 seconds
batman says, “It looks like this world is frozen over. some second ice age, or perhaps nuclear winter.”
green_arrow says, “Brrr! You’re telling me. I wish I’d have packed my thermal costume…”
Camera on bob
green_arrow says, “Look! It’s the Flash, frozen like a TV dinner! and we thought we were cold…”
Camera on harry
batman says, “And it looks like he’s not alone. We’d better free him, but tread carefully.”
harry says, “Raarraggghhhh!”
green_arrow says, “A little late for that!”

End Cutscene:
Cinematic camera on bob
batman moves to bob
green_arrow moves to bob
bob says, “thththththannnnks….gggguys…this entire world…is so cold…even I couldn’t…keep my molecules moving.”
batman says, “we must have been protected by residual dimensional energy. hopefully there’s still enough left to get out of here.”
green_arrow says, “No kidding. I snow as much as the next guy, but this place over does it!”
bob says, “whhhwhhwhat’s going on?”
batman says, “Explanations can wait. We need to find the rest of the League. Let’s hope our next stop is warmer.”
Fade for 1 seconds
bob teleports to bottom1

#———————————-

Encounter: Chill2
Type: Custom
Actions: allies become controllable, allies fight villains, allies follow heroes, allies remain after encounter ends
Allies: flash named jim
Marker: snow2
Next: None

Alert Cutscene:
jim teleports to green_arrow
bob is killed
bob is destroyed
Unfade for 1 seconds

#———————————-

Encounter: Chill3
Type: Fight
Villains: shurale named harry
Minions: shurale, snow_man, snow_man, snow_man, snow_man
Marker: snow1
Next: None

#———————————-

Encounter: Dry1
Type: Custom
Actions: allies become controllable, allies fight villains, allies remain after encounter ends, allies can be freed, allies move when freed, allies in cages, allies do not move, allies thank heroes
Villains: fire_elemental, fire_elemental, fire_elemental, fire_elemental
Minions: fire_elemental1
Allies: aquaman_classic
Marker: desert1
Primary Objective: “Rescue Aquaman from the burning desert” for 1000 prestige
Next: If Ally Survives: None
Next: If Ally Lost: Final2

Start Cutscene:
Camera on desert1
green_arrow says, “Some kind of desert world…well, at least it’s warmer.”
batman says, “very warm. we’d better be careful. we could easily dehydrate here, and there’s no water in sight.”
jim says, “dry or not, I’ll take this over that frozen…”
Camera on aquaman_classic
jim says, “Hey, there’s Aquaman! It looks like there’s something wrong with him…”
green_arrow says, “hopefully it’s not whatever was wrong with those folks on the first world…”
batman says, “no, don’t you see? he’s an amphibian. this place is killing him! we’ve got to get him out of here, quick.”
Camera on Villain1
jim says, “Ohh yeah? I wonder what they’ll have to say about that…”
green_arrow says, “what the heck are they?”
jim says, “They look like some kind of…living flame…sort of the opposite of the things on the snow world.”
green_arrow says, “well, they don’t look any more friendly!”

Ally Thanks Hero Cutscene:
Camera on aquaman_classic
aquaman_classic says, “th…thank you all…I wouldn’t have…lasted much longer…”
jim says, “we’ll find you a nice ocean as soon as we can, aqua-buddy. can you make it?”
aquaman_classic says, “Yes…I’ll be alright, once we get out of this heat…”
green_arrow says, “Then it’s onward and upward!”
jim says, “do you realize what this place means, guys? these different versions of earth…this is the multiverse that physicists have theorized about for years!”
jim says, “scientists have posited that there are infinite variations to our universe, each in its own dimension, and each differing in key ways from our own. it looks liek they were right!”
batman says, “Yes, but unfortunately that multiverse is currently trying to kill us.”
green_arrow says, “Hey, you wonder if there are alternate versions of us out there anywhere?”

#———————————-

Encounter: Dry2
Type: Destroy Object
Villains: fire_elemental
Objects: ro_generator
Primary Objective: “Sabotage the automated factory” for 1000 prestige
Marker: desert2
Next: None

Start Cutscene:
batman says, “These fire beings seem to be coming from that portal…maybe we can destabalize if we hit it hard enough…”
Red Arrow on desert2

End Cutscene:
jim says, “That’s done it!”

#———————————-

Encounter: Dry3
Type: Hunt
Villains: fire_elemental
Marker: desert3
Starts When: Dry2 not at End
Next: Dry4

#———————————-

Encounter: Dry4
Type: Wait
Minimum Time: 30
Maximum Time: 35
Next: Dry5

#———————————-

Encounter: Dry5
Type: Hunt
Villains: fire_elemental
Marker: desert4
Starts When: Dry2 not at End
Next: Dry3

#———————————-

Encounter: Red1
Type: Rescue Caged
Villains: darkman_blue, darkman_blue, darkman_blue, darkman_purple, darkman_blue, darkman_blue, darkman_blue, darkman_purple, darkman_blue, darkman_blue, darkman_blue, darkman_purple
Minions: darkman_blue, darkman_blue, darkman_blue, darkman_purple
Allies: superman
Marker: ruin1
Primary Objective: “Save Superman from the ruined world” for 1000 prestige
Next: If Ally Survives: Final1
Next: If Ally Lost: Final2

Start Cutscene:
Fade for 1 seconds
Camera on ruin1
Set Lighting to red alert
Unfade for 1 seconds
green_arrow says, “Whoa, this place has seen better days. It looks worse than Gotham.”
green_arrow turns to batman
green_arrow says, “Err…sorry Bats.”
batman says, “It looks like this world has suffered some type of catastrophe…and look…the light.”
jim says, “Red…is that the natural sun color of this world, or is it linked to whatever happened here.”
batman says, “No way to tell…but if this place is under a red sun….I can guess who the Key imprisoned here.”
aquaman_classic says, “Superman…but where…”
Camera on superman
jim says, “there he is!”
green_arrow says, “Well, the good news is, this place looks dead. Hopefully we don’t have to worry about any unfriendly natives.”
Camera on Minion
Minion says, “Outsiders! Maybe they have food! Maybe they WILL be food! Get them!”
jim says, “Arrow! Don’t you know better? You NEVER tempt fate like that!”

Ally Thanks Hero Cutscene:
Camera on superman
superman says, “Thanks, guys…I’ve been robbed of my powers under this red sun. I’ve been staying just ahead of these poor creatures. they’ve been hunting me since I arrived.”
superman says, “It looks like there was a nuclear war here…and the survivors were changed…mutated…it’s not a pretty sight…but the worst part is…all I could think about was…I wasn’t there to stop it.”
superman says, “We’ve got to get home. I won’t let the same thing happen to our world.”
superman says, “Now, someone tell me, what in the name of Krypton happened to us?”
batman says, “I’ll explain, but first, we still have a few Leaguers to find.”

#——————————————————————————-

Encounter: Final1
Type: Cutscene
Next: Win

Start Cutscene:
Play Transition

#——————————————————————————-

Encounter: Final2
Type: Cutscene
Next: Lose

Start Cutscene:
Play Transition

#——————————————————————————-

 

Back in the DCUG!

Historyofthedcu

Greetings Freedom Fans and Internet travelers!  This is an announcement of a current project that is near and dear to my heart: The DCUG (The DC Universe According to Grey)

I’ve always wanted to return to my first and favorite mod and tell more stories, fix it up, and polish the whole thing up.  That’s what I’m currently slaving away on.  I’ve got a TON of work to do and almost certainly unrealistic plans for its development, but I am plugging away at it.  Time is a very rare commodity for me at the moment, as I’m finishing my PhD, dealing with a fair amount of general craziness, and searching for jobs, but I still manage to put a bit of work into this monster from time to time.  There’s not even a tentative release date yet, but I will say that I’ve already written and designed a major expansion for the JLA/JSA campaign, including a conclusion to the unfinished JSA crossover.  I’m in the midst of testing that at the moment, and after that…well, I’ve got a lot of ideas and made extensive notes while traveling this summer.

This post is an announcement and a notice.  The links for the current, unfinished build of the DCUG will come down sometime soon.  I don’t know how long it will take me to finish this update/expansion, but I hope it will be worth the wait and will be a much nicer package, inside and out.

I’m also going to post every once in a while to keep anyone interested apprised of my progress.  I’ll post ‘developer’s journals’ from time to time, talking about what I’m doing, offering general commentary on the project, and probably mostly just griping about bugs!  Feel free to ask questions and offer suggestions.  Interest from the community is one of the things that keeps me going!  Now, back to work!

Into the Bronze Age: October 1971 (Part 3)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got a pair of super-titles to examine today, and we’ve got more super titles for the next session too!  It’s crazy that Superman had twice as many titles as Batman at this time, not counting their shared title.  Imagine that happening today, as Batman has become the face of DC Comics and WB movies, for better or worse.  It’s especially funny considering the somewhat uneven quality of the super-books compared to Batman’s titles.  Well, let’s see what this batch holds for us, shall we?

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 #405
  • Adventure Comics #411
  • Detective Comics #416
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86
  • Mr. Miracle #4
  • Phantom Strange #15
  • Superboy #178
  • Superman #243
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #115
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142
  • Teen Titans #35

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


Superboy #178


Superboy_Vol_1_178

“Pawn of the Monster-Maker!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Superbaby’s First Friend!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson

Our issue of Superboy this month has an interesting cover, promising us a Superman-bat-esq tale, complete with torch-bearing mobs.  What we actually get is much stranger.  The cover composition is suitably horror-ish and well done by Neal Adams, though Superboy’s batwing/arm is legitimately creepy to me.  Inside, we are met, not with another ill-fated experiment by Kirk (Man-Bat) Langstrom, but with Superboy traveling through space.  He visits the world Glorr, where an advanced civilization was destroyed by their own pollution, which in turn, mutated all of the plant life on the planet.

superboy v1 178 - 01

Brown gives us some pretty cool alien lifeforms in the one panel of this we see.  When he arrives home, the Boy of Steel responds to an emergency at a movie studio where a giant mechanical monster has gone haywire.  We get a pretty cool two page spread of the Youth of Tomorrow battling the two-headed dragon, though the hero’s off the charts powers, of which we are reminded, rob the moment of any suspense or drama.

superboy v1 178 - 02 & 03

Strangely, during the fight, Superboy’s hands suddenly become reptilian.  The transformation is brief, and the restored Kryptonian puts out the fire, meeting the director who created the mechanical menace once that is done.  Jan Milo, monster movie-maker supreme tells the young champion that this massive mechanism was going to be the heart of his new picture, which was going to restore his fortunes.  He gives the Boy of Steel a tour of his studio, introducing him to some of his famous movie monsters, which once again have sort of neat designs.  Clark is rather rude and tells the director that his day is done and that monster movies have gone out of style, but the auteur is adamant.

superboy v1 178 - 04

Later on, Superboy responds to a number of emergencies, but each time he does, he transforms into a monster and causes destruction before coming back to himself.  He repairs the damage he causes, but people begin to fear him.  First he turns into something evoking Frankenstein’s Monster, then King Kong, the Wolfman, and an insectoid creature.  At first the Boy of Steel thinks this might have something to do with Glorr, but he eventually comes to suspect Milo might somehow be behind it, as the director and his cameraman show up at each of these disasters.

We discover that Milo is in fact the mastermind, and his assistant has invented an “ultra-morph ray” which, with a red-Kryptonite lens, projects an image over Superboy, somehow causing him to transform into that image….sure.  Why not?  The pair are out to gather material for Milo’s comeback monster epic, and their latest and last ploy is to turn Superboy into a Super-Bat.  Yet, before they can make their attempt, as Super-Bat attacks them!  How can this be?  Well, Superboy has fooled them with a projector of his own, having spied on them with X-Ray vision.  He teaches the two a lesson and hauls them off to the police.

This is a very silly and forgettable story, though it reminds me of the classic Silver Age trope of superheroes getting involved in the movies.  It seems like everyone got into that act back in the day, Batman, Superman, Aquaman, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and many more.  Those stories tend to be charming and fun, while this one, unfortunately, is just goofy instead.  The red herring of the mutated world was an interesting storytelling feint, but there isn’t much made of it, and the crazed director turned nascent supervillain is a silly concept, even for Superboy.  It’s not a terrible yarn, but it isn’t a particularly good one either.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  Seeing the Boy of Steel turn into various was fun, but that’s about all you can say for it.  Notably, we have here another instance of environmentalism appearing in comics, with the mention of the world destroyed by pollution, but as this turns out to be a red herring, that is little more than set dressing.

minute2.5


“Superbaby’s First Friend”


superboy v1 178 - 16

Ohh…another Superbaby story…yay?  Just to add to the usual level of crazy for these tales, this one features a completely unexplained witch-baby as well who befriends our little super-scamp.  Geoff Brown really pulled this one out of left field.  It begins with the Kents going camping, and little Clark is gleefully tearing through the forest…literally!  Sheesh, apparently even toddler Superman is occasionally prone to ‘Superdickery‘.  Ma and Pa get on to their rambunctious youngster and tell him to rein in the superpowers because someone might see him.  However, the Kryptonian kid isn’t the only super-powered child vacationing at this random national park.  There’s also a family of…*sigh*….witches, who have a young son around Clark’s age.  The two tots meet and are each thrilled to find someone else who can do the things they can do.  They take turns showing off and flying around.

superboy v1 178 - 17

Just then, a couple of robbers head through the park, and when they see the soaring super-kids, they panic and wreck their car….over a cliff!  The terrific tots save the pair and their car, but the men are so stunned that they just assume they were hallucinating.  After all, who would believe something so insane?  They continue with their operation, recovering the stolen loot they had hidden at the bottom of the park’s lake.  The kids decide that they should help to make up for scaring the men and raise the huge golden statue they stole from the bottom of the lake.  Now, this raises some questions about how in the world these two guys managed to steal, transport, and hide this thing in the first place, but Brown has sillier things to do than answer sensible questions like that!

The thieves yell at the super friends, who fly off in tears, but they quickly recover and return to playing, accidentally whipping up a giant wave of bubbles on the lake, leading the robbers to become lost and the Kents and the witch-family to take off, each thinking their child alone was responsible.  Neither set of parents believes their super-powered offspring when they tell them about their new friend, and when the authorities respond to the bubble-lanche, they discover the two thieves and their loot.

As far as Superbaby stories go, this one isn’t that bad.  The kids’ antics are mildly entertaining, and their completely unconscious thwarting of the thieves is somewhat funny.  Still, how utterly crazy is it that Brown introduces this random family of witches without any explanation or background.  I’m pretty sure the magical kid is never heard from again, which contributes to this being a pretty forgettable little yarn.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen, as despite the fact that it isn’t too bad, it loses a step because of the continued use of the incredibly asinine baby-talk all of these tales seem to feature.

Both of these stories feature Bob Brown’s artwork, and he does a very solid job throughout.  His designs for the background monsters in Superboy are creative and interesting.  In fact, I’d have rather seen a story featuring them!  He produces some really nice pages and panels, with Superboy’s fight against the two-headed dragon looking particularly god.  He also create charming, bright artwork for the Superbaby adventure, turning in an all-around solid-looking comic.

minute2


Superman #243


Superman_v.1_243

“The Starry-Eyed Siren of Space!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

“The Death-Trails of Krypton!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson

We’ve got quite the romantic cover for this month’s Superman, and you’d think for a moment that someone mixed up the art for Lois Lane and Superman.  Now, don’t tell Lois, but that ain’t her getting smooched by the Lips of Steel!  Fortunately, the tale inside is not as much ‘lonely hearts’ as the cover indicates.  The image itself is really quite good for what it is, a striking composition, though I have to wonder what the heck is going on with Superman’s cape!  There isn’t much to it, of course, and I wonder if Julie Schwartz was nervous about putting out a Superman book with nothing but a kiss on the cover, especially because it isn’t really representative of the tale within.  The actual story is a much more conventional Super-saga than we might expect from the lip-lock that greets us on the outside.

superman_243_03

A supernova, why that tickles!

It starts with the Man of Steel returning from a mission in space when a star unexpectedly explodes, buffeting our hero and sending him hurtling through the cosmos.  And here begins the pretty ridiculous and literally astronomical power levels depicted in this story.  I guess the de-powering of Denny O’Neil’s run really didn’t last long at all.  We are now one issue on, and already the star-juggling Superman is back.  Thus, a supernova is just a mild inconvenience to our hero.  After the star-shaking explosion, he finds himself in unfamiliar skies and then is drawn inexorably to and through an unknown planet.  As he burrows into the world’s interior, he discovers a Star Trek style advanced being, except this one is a brain in a pyramid (almost a brain in a jar) rather than an energy being.  The brain introduces himself as Kond and tells the Man of Tomorrow that he drew the Kryptonian to the cavern in order to get his help.

Apparently Kond is a super-evolved being who long ago left his physical form behind, along with his mate, Rija, but she got bored with being a brain in a jar (how could such a thing happen?!) and made herself a physical form in order to enjoy corporeal experiences again.  Kond is worried about her and wants the Metropolis Marvel to bring her back, and in exchange, the superbeing promises to give Superman the means to end war, hunger, disease, and poverty on Earth.  Disease and hunger, sure, but one wonders what even a superbeing could give someone that would put an end to activities caused BY human beings without abrogating free will.  Nonetheless, Kal agrees, pointing out that he would do with it even without being ‘paid,’ which is fitting.

On the surface, Superman quickly discovers Rija, but she is being menaced by a skeletal dinosaur!  Quickly rescuing the girl, the Man of Steel finds defeating the monster more difficult, as it reforms when he smashes it.  Finally, he flings it into space, and the grateful girl, wants to thank him and experience a little romance at the same time.  She modeled her physical form on that of the crew of a passing ship, and the Man of Tomorrow realizes she is a “Starry-Eyed Siren of Space,” because of course she has, and he can’t resist her charms, leading to our cover-kiss.  superman_243_12Unfortunately, Kond is observing this super-necking and becomes insanely jealous.  He creates a body for himself based on Superman’s and attacks the unwitting love-slave.  Using both his newfound Kryptonian might and his own mental powers, Kond almost destroys the hero and returns to Rija, only to discover the she has come to regret her moment of weakness.  Like almost any woman in a comic from the Silver Age, she just wanted to make her paramour jealous.

While she weeps and wishes for death (!), thinking that Kond has been so hurt he has taken off, the couple is attacked by an energy being (there it is!  I knew there had to be one in this story).  Kond jumps to defend his lady love, but every attack just splits the creature in two.  Finally, a recovered Superman intercedes, using his super-breath to suck the oxygen away from Rija…killing her!  Well, at least for a moment.  The Man of Steel has realized that Rija was actually creating these menaces with her subconscious, and as this one was created by her desire for death, allowing her to ‘die’ for a moment ended the threat.  Shades of Forbidden Planet!

Fortunately, Kond quickly revives Rija and the soulmates reunite.  The superbeings honor their agreement and give Superman four flasks that will somehow end war, hunger, poverty, sickness.  Once again, one wonders.  However, when the Man of Tomorrow tries to return home, he realizes that the supernova actually blew him into yesterday….or a few million yesterdays ago.  He jumps through the time barrier and back into the modern day, but unfortunately, the stresses of the journey destroy the flasks, leaving the world still very much in need of a Superman.

The slightly melancholy ending, with Superman realizing that this shortcut out of the “neverending battle” isn’t going to work after all, is a nice touch, but it isn’t really earned by the rest of the story.  Bates’ little moment of characterization feels more like an afterthought than anything else.  The rest of his story is relatively effective, a decent little sci-fi adventure, though it’s nothing special.  The whole thing has a very Star Trek-ish feel to it, from the advanced beings, the romancing of alien women, and the energy creatures.  Another blogger has pointed out that Kond and Rija bear a striking resemblance to The Providers, the alien overlords in the original Star Trek episode, “Gamesters of Triskelion”.  It seems likely that Cary Bates was watching some Star Trek reruns while penning this comic.  I’ll give the uninspiring but inoffensive result an average 3 Minutemen.  As usual, Swan and Anderson turn in a solid job on the art, though there are some particularly nice moments scattered throughout.

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“The Death-Trails of Krypton!”


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We get another “Fabulous World of Krypton tale in the backup slot this month, which is always a treat, and this one is no exception.  It’s a quick but imaginative little yarn about the first man on Krypton to fly…with dire consequences!  It starts with a father and son examining strange green trails in the Kryptonian sky.  The father explains to his boy that these are the trails of Trolius, and their origins are wrapped in mystery stretching back thousands of years.  Fortunately, we can solve that mystery, and the readers are drawn back in time to see a young Kryptonain inventor, Dol-Nd, who is preparing to test his powered artifical wings, which have a cool design thanks to Bob Brown.  The young man throws himself off of a cliff, which seems rather drastic for a first test, but fortunately, after a little adjustment, he gets the hang of his wings and soars through the air.  Not so fortunate, however, is the unexpected side effect of his flight.  The wings have left behind alarming green trails in the sky.

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Dol-Nd built his flying harness with the help of a previously undiscovered crystal he found shooting out of geothermal vents in the area, a crystal with massive energy potential, enabling it to power the engine of the wings.  The element, Trolium, which he named after the sky god, Trolius (a nice bit of world building) proves to be unstable, giving off deadly radiation when activated.  Thus, Dol-Nd concludes that he can never risk flying again.

Unfortunately, an escaped criminal has observed his test flight and is quick to attack the inventor and steal his flying harness, taking to the skies in a journey that might well doom the planet!  The quick-thinking young scholar lures the thief down into range with a bag of jewels, pretending to offer them in ransom for the wings, only to smash them into the ground, triggering an explosion of steam and Trolium, which batter the Kryptonian Icarus (though I suppose he got burned by going too low rather than too high) out of the sky.  Once again, Bob Brown turns in a really nice sequence here.  The story ends with poor Dol-Nd sending his wondrous wings flying towards space where they could do no more harm.

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This is another fun little glimpse into the science fantasy world of Krypton, and it is a limited but nicely imaginative one at that.  Bob Brown brings some nice energy and creativity to the art, while Murphy Anderson’s inks bring his pencils in line with Swan’s, creating some continuity between the two features.  Bates manages to cram his complete story in these six pages…just barely, though we’re left without any characterization and without a spare moment.  I’ll give this pleasant little story a solid 3 Minutemen.

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And like Dol-Nd’s wings, we have come to the end of this stage of our little journey.  These were a decent but unexceptional pair of books.  Fortunately, though we had to endure some Superbaby silliness, we also got to enjoy some World of Krypton wonders.  That’s the give and take that makes the project work and keeps me sane!  I have to admit, though, I’m rather disappointed that O’Neil’s partial depowering of Superman didn’t last a bit longer.  We may yet see other scribes return to the idea, but it is clearly business as usual this month.  Well, I hope that y’all enjoyed my commentary and that y’all will join me again soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: October 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  The world seems quite intent on falling to pieces around us, but let’s take a little time to look back at a simpler era and a better class of comic.  The big news in this edition is the finale of the (in)famous GL/GA drug story, but we’ve got a couple of other interesting books to keep that one company.

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 #405
  • Adventure Comics #411
  • Detective Comics #416
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86
  • Mr. Miracle #4
  • Phantom Strange #15
  • Superboy #178
  • Superman #243
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #115
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142
  • Teen Titans #35

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


Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86


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“They Say It’ll Kill Me… But They Won’t Say When”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

That’s right, at long last (longer because of my travels and distractions!) we come to the end of the GA/GL drug two-parter.  It’s a famous issue, and we examined why with the first one.  As we saw, these issues certainly deserve their iconic status, whatever flaws they may have, and I was surprised by how much better the first issue was than I remembered.  I was in for a similar shock with this story, which is a much more even-keeled offering than its predecessor.  We don’t have as many heavy-handed and goofy moments here as we did in the last one.  Even the cover has a touch more dignity…which is not to say it isn’t a bit over the top as well.  In fact, it is wonderfully, ridiculously melodramatic, especially with its bold tag-line.  I love Green Lantern’s ‘curse the heavens’ pose as well.  Still, it is effective, striking, and memorable, especially with the faces of the various drug victims making up the background.

Unfortunately, the touching image of Green Arrow carrying the fallen form of his ward isn’t quite what greets us inside, where things start off with a bang…or more accurately, a backhand.  Ollie follows up Roy’s dramatic confession from last issue with a smack to the face and a heavy dose of vitriol.  It’s a really stunning moment, and O’Neil hits us with it right out of the gate.  To see a hero, in his right mind, treat a faltering friend like this in 1971 was practically unprecedented.  It serve’s O’Neil’s purpose, immediately casting the Emerald Archer’s merciless dismissal of his surrogate son’s suffering in the worst light.  Unfortunately, he overplays his hand once more, and the result is a further stain on Ollie’s already fairly blackened character, though it is consistent with the strong views he evinced in the last issue.  It’s just an ugly moment, not helped by the fact that Roy isn’t at his most sympathetic after his weak story last issue.

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Speedy mocks his mentor for his violent response, hitting him with a major guilt trip, and Arrow throws the kid out.  Then we get a moment which ALMOST addresses some of the flaws of the previous story, as the Battling Bowman ponders the situation and points out that, even though he hadn’t paid his ward much attention lately, the kid shouldn’t have needed much at his age, being in college and all.  Then O’Neil once again turns Ollie’s jerk dial to 11, as, from that, he concludes that he is completely “innocent of blame,” which is a self-righteousness and self-deception that is breathtaking, even for O’Neil’s Green Arrow.  Still, in all of this melodrama, there is some realism.

After concluding that he’s father of the year after all, the Emerald Archer sets out to take revenge on the pushers who he blames instead, heading to the airfield where he previously traced their supply to pick the investigation back up.  Meanwhile the two junkies who betrayed our heroes last issue come to Ollie’s place looking for Speedy and, not finding him, decide to shoot up their reward.  The drugs are pure, and one of them overdoses in what is, admittedly, a pretty good scene, though Adams perhaps overdoes the revelation a bit.

Later, we find Hal Jordan still running through previous events, unable to shake the feeling that there is something wrong with Speedy, and when he heads to GA’s to check on the kid, he finds the junkie and begins his own investigation.  Ollie, for his part, turns the table on a guard at the airport who gets the drop on him and is sent into a trap for his troubles.  It’s a nice scene, emphasizing both his anger and his skill, that he’s still dangerous, even with a busted wing.

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In the meantime, the Emerald Gladiator finds Speedy passed out in an alley and discovers the truth.  They have an almost decent conversation, though O’Neil overdoes the youth’s rhetoric a bit.  The generation gap stuff he spouts is a little problematic given the fact that most of the members of the previous generation Roy knows are freaking paragons of virtue.  Nonetheless, Hal’s measured response and kindness is a very pleasant departure from his stupidity and naivete from early in the run.  The ring-slinger takes the kid to Dinah’s house for sanctuary.

On the docks, where the Battling Bowman has followed the guard’s tip into trouble, he finds the thugs he tangled with at the airport last issue.  We get a nice fight scene, with Arrow still holding his own, but it ends with him getting knocked out.  When he comes to, we meet the man behind the drug operation, a wealthy socialite named Saloman, whose massive yacht, stuffed full of important people, is just leaving.  He tells his men to dump the antagonistic archer into the drink as soon as he’s away.

green lantern 086 018Adams gives us a fantastic image of Ollie’s plight, as he’s tossed overboard tied to an anchor, but the hero manages to grab an acetylene arrow and cut through the chains, making a desperate and dramatic escape.  Just then, the Lantern arrives and disposes of the thugs with some green gorillas.  As they pursue the head honcho, Speedy is busy going through withdrawals, aided by Black Canary’s quiet compassion in another good sequence, improved by a lack of dialog.

In the Caribbean, Saloman Hooper visits his pharmaceutical lab, where he picks up a suitcase worth of dope (which doesn’t seem like enough to justify the scope of his operation), only to be caught in the act by the Green Team.  While Ollie takes out the mogul’s minion with a one-armed arrow shot (shades of Dark Knight Returns!), Hal tosses his friend his ring in order to deal with Hooper with his own two hands.  This is actually a pretty believable, satisfying moment, unlike the book’s tendency to have the Lantern just decide that he needs to use his fists to feel like a man.  He’s angry, and he takes it out on this privileged punk, but he has enough self control to do it ‘unofficially,’ so to speak, like a cop putting aside his badge to do something that needs doing but which falls outside of the law.  Notably, Arrow calls him on this afterward.

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The issue ends with the funeral of the junkie who overdosed, where Hal and Ollie are joined by Dinah and a recovered Roy.  Unfortunately, the newly clean Titan is in no mood to mend fences, and he lashes out at his former guardian, giving a speech about how people like him, who lack compassion, are contributing to the crisis that so many young people face.  As Speedy walks away from the closest thing to family that he has, Green Arrow finds himself proud that the boy has become a man.

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That final scene isn’t as heavy-handed as I remember, though the melodrama still sets my teeth on edge a bit.  What’s worse, it leaves the situation between our hero and his surrogate son unresolved and embittered.  That’s a shame, and this story’s consequences will be deep and long-felt.  On the whole though, this is actually quite a good issue, sensitive and perceptive, but also an engaging and exciting adventure, with some real, if sometimes discordant, character development to go with it.  Once again, the message of compassion and understanding towards drug addicts is powerful, and the theme of empathy, learning to see things from someone else’s perspective, is effective and an interesting continuation of O’Neil’s better efforts in this run.  I think the story itself would have been a bit more effective if we had met our villain a bit earlier, as he’s mostly just a convenient and morally acceptable punching bag, an outlet for outrage and despair.  Still, O’Neil manages to make the guy loathsome in very little space.  Roy’s sudden and complete recovery is more than a little silly, in regards to the reality of addiction, but I suppose allowances can be made for the medium.

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Adams’ art continues to be beautiful and compelling, really capturing the emotion and the power of the moments he portrays.  And yet, even with that focus on drama, he manages to give us some fun and funny moments, like with Ollie’s expression during his impromptu dive.  Once again, we see Adams’ power with a more intimate, personal story.  I just love his portrayal of Ollie.  Characters of that scale are really what he excels at, which is part of why his Batman run is so legendary.  All in all, this is a very good story, only slightly damaged by O’Neil’s excesses and his lack of forethought.  It is an important comic, culturally, and its themes and subject were incredibly groundbreaking in its time.  Heck, we’re still fighting some of these battles, and a story that reminds us of the humanity of those who are suffering is still relevant, perhaps moreso these days than in recent years.  I’ll give this milestone issue 4.5 Minutemen out of 5.  It isn’t perfect, but it really is a good one.

P.S.: To mark just how important his comic book was, it carries a copy of a letter from the Mayor of New York, commending the creative team for their work and pointing out the seriousness of the drug crisis.

 


Mister Miracle #4


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“The Closing Jaws of Death!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Jack Kirby

“The Romance of Rip Carter”
Writers: Jack Kirby and Joe Simon
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon

“Jean Lafitte: ‘Pirate or Patriot?'”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Jack Kirby

We’ve got another marvel-packed issue of Mister Miracle here, and, as always, I was excited to read it, especially after the pulse-pounding excitement of last issue’s Paranoid-packed pandemonium.  Sadly, this one doesn’t quite live up to the thrill of the first half, though it does introduce us to a wonderful character and an important part of Scott Free’s supporting cast.  It’s got another great cover, like most of this series, though one wonders how our escape-artist hero gets from being locked in a trunk to tortured in a medieval dungeon.  The answer is, of course, Kirby madness.  Nonetheless, we get another death-defying scene in this cover, memorable and exciting, beautifully rendered by the King.

Inside, we don’t start with the miraculous one plummeting to his death, still locked in that suitcase, but back at his home, where a fretting Oberon finds himself with an uninvited guest.  A fierce and outlandishly armored warrior woman appears behind him, jarring the loyal fellow from his reverie rather violently.  She declares herself a friend of Scott Free and demands to know where he is, mentioning they both come from Apokolips.  When Oberon mentions Doctor Bedlam, the newly introduced Barda suddenly teleports after her friend, fearing for his life.

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Now we pick up where we left off, and Scott’s situation looks hopeless, but Barda appears in a flash of light and catches his suitcase in a feat of strength, casually ripping it apart, ropes and all, only to reveal that it is…empty!  Wonderfully, we don’t see how the eminent escape artist pulled off this trick just yet; instead, we see him perched on a balcony several floors up, where he is quickly swarmed by more crazed civilians.  They think he is a vampire and attempt to stake him, but Mr. Miracle is too slick for them, and eludes his pursuers in several fun pages, even sliding down the banister of the staircase like Errol Flynn.

mrmiracle-12Suddenly, he’s attacked by refugees from a Robin Hood picture, as a bunch of guys in medieval costumes capture the hero.  They drag him into a dungeon, which turns out to be a set in the Galaxy Broadcasting TV studio, conveniently located on this level.  Inside is a director, even nuttier than most, who directs his men to kill the interloper so that his death-throes can make for good television!  Despite his struggles, Scott is forced into an iron maiden, and all seems lost as the lid slams shut.  The whole scene is fun but utterly crazy.  It reads like a Fantastic Four issue from the era where Stan and Jack weren’t talking to each other and Stan was thrown into narrative gymnastics in an attempt to explain the bizarre and unrelated images Jack created as his imagination ran away with him.  However, this time, there’s nobody to blame for the sudden shift and strange explanation other than Kirby himself.  I guess he just wanted to draw an iron maiden, so he shoe-horned the setting in, logic be darned!

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Back in our original office-building setting, Barda is getting attacked herself.  She casually rips a stone column out of the lobby and tosses it onto a half dozen men, almost certainly crushing them all to death.  Despite Mr. Miracle’s insistence that she stay out of this so that his deal with Bedlam could be honored, she is worried, so she pursues her friend, smashing her way through the overly-excited extras in the process in a really nice panel.  Yet, when she pries open the torture device, it is empty, and Scott casually strolls up and greets her.  Once again, we don’t find out how he accomplished this yet, establishing a running joke in the issue.

The two press on, confronting the disembodied energy-form of their antagonist in another nice sequence.  Bedlam promises to unleash the entire fury of the building’s trapped inhabitants upon the pair, but the next thing we see is them teleport back home, greeting a worried Oberon and catching up.  The dialog in this section is pretty rough and stilted, especially when Scott awkwardly declares: “Maximum is the word for you, Barda!  I could never think of you without deep and genuine fondness.”  I know that line just makes the ladies swoon!  From the start, Barda and Oberon are sparring verbally which, despite the dull dialog, is still fun.  We learn that Barda helped her friend escape, but she didn’t go with him, and now she’s an officer in Darkseid’s Female Furies, as everyone helpfully spouts exposition.

In a fun little scene, Scott takes the domestic roll, preparing dinner for Barda, which is really striking in a comic from 1971.  That’s honestly somewhat groundbreaking.  I doubt you’d ever see Superman making dinner for Lois Lane!  It also establishes the unusual dynamic between these two characters.  As he works, the heroic homemaker reluctantly explains to his assistant how he escaped from the various traps he faced.  We’re introduced to the ‘multi-cube’, Scott’s multi-purpose escape tool, which will become a common feature of his stories, if I remember correctly.  Mr. Miracle used it to cut his way out of the trunk as it twisted in mid-air, which works pretty well as an explanation.

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Unfortunately, the other stories aren’t nearly as good.  He used a fast-acting acid on the back of the iron maiden and literally just stepped through it, which apparently no-body noticed.  Even more problematic, he literally presses the ‘off’ button on all of the panicked people in the tower, putting them to sleep with his multi-cube and just waltzing out the front door.  Okay……why not just do that in the first place?  That’s a pretty massively unsatisfying conclusion, which is a shame, because this is otherwise a really fun issue.  The yarn ends with Barda showing up for dinner, having changed out of her armor into something a tad more revealing, leaving Oberon picking his jaw up off the floor.

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This is a solid adventure, despite its glaring deus ex machina, though it is primarily worthwhile for introducing Big Barda, who will eventually become Scott’s partner and wife, creating one of the great comic relationships and partnerships.  Mr. Miracle without Barda is like Nick without Nora, and she is, even from this first appearance, a unique and interesting character, further credit to Kirby’s boundless creativity.  In addition, I absolutely love Scott’s laughing, devil-may-care attitude throughout the story, the extra element of flair and style to his antics, which really capture his personality and are part of why I love the character.  I also quite like the running gag of not explaining his escapes right away, however flawed the execution is here.  Hopefully Kirby will make better use of it in the future.

Art-wise, we’re seeing some rough panels again with this issue, and I think Colletta’s impact is still being felt.  On the plus side, it seems we get a new inker next issue!  Despite some weaknesses, especially with inking and coloring, there are some wonderful panels and some fun, dynamic sequences throughout.  Ultimately, I’m quite torn on the score.  This issue’s flaws are significant, especially the dialog and weak conclusion, but it is also a lot of fun.  I suppose I’ll be generous and go with 3.5 Minutemen, as the comic is carried along by the interest of Barda and the fun of Scott.

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The Phantom Stranger #15


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“The Iron Messiah”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler/Inker: Jim Aparo
Colourist/Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“I Battled for the Doom Stone”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: Alex Toth
Inker: Alex Toth

“Satan’s Sextet”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Tony DeZuniga
Inker: Tony DeZuniga

“I Scout Earth’s Strangest Secrets”
Writer: Jack Miller
Penciler: Mort Meskin
Inker: Mort Meskin

What a wildly, wonderfully ridiculous cover image.  It’s gloriously strange and unusual and so very, very much something that could only happen in comics.  We’ve got an African witch doctor raising a zombie…but not just any zombie, a ROBO-zombie, complete with stainless-steel robo-zombie Afro, all while the shadow of the Phantom Stranger looms in the background.  It’s a thing of mad beauty, and I love it.  It’s beautifully illustrated by Adams, and it absolutely grabs your attention.  Could you honestly say you could see that image on the newsstand and NOT want to figure out what in the blue blazes is happening inside?  If so, I can only assume you’re an imagination-less wreck of a human being.

The story within doesn’t quite live up to the glory of the robo-zombie cover, but then, how could it?  It is an interesting and unusual one, though, and it begins, not with necromantic robotics (more’s the pity), but with a young African scientist named John Kweli, who is returning to his native country after having been educated in the West.  Suddenly, the train on which he’s traveling derails in a fiery crash, and the brilliant man would have died, if not for a Stranger pulling him from the wreckage.  Kewli awakens in the home of an old friend, Ororo (no, not that one).  She has treated his injuries, but she also bears bad news, his father, the tribal chief, has died.

John is prepared to come home and take over his responsibilities as chief, but he’s met with resentment for having gone away to be educated and built a life overseas.  His people feel like he abandoned them, including the lovely Ororo.  He also finds things greatly changed, with signs of unrest and oppression everywhere, barbed-wire and troops abound.  Ngumi, the village shaman also rejects John, promising that Chuma, the Warrior God, will free his people without the young man’s help.

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Ororo tells her friend about what has happened in his absence, that though their country has been liberated, they are now enslaved to the interests of big foreign business.  Driving away, John and Ororo encounter a lion and wreck their jeep.  The young scientist bravely prepares to sacrifice his life to lure the beast away, only to have the Phantom Stranger leap out of nowhere to tackle the feline fiend in magical fashion.

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The next day, Kewli goes to visit Amos Trent, the oil company’s man on the ground, but Trent isn’t interested in his pleas or his threats, so the young scientist decides to take matters into his own hands, so of course he builds a robot.  Some time later, a group of soldiers who are abusing the villagers are scattered, not by John, but by “Chuma”, the Iron Messiah, the android John has used his scientific skill to build in order to rally his people.  Over the next weeks, Chuma trains the villagers in the ways of war, and Ngumi, the shaman is revealed as an agent of the oil company.

Unfortunately, even iron will can be bent by such a burden, and Chuma begins to develop human feelings…and human frailties.  He declares his love for Ororo, and when she rejects him, saying she loves his creator instead, the Iron Messiah rejects his role as savior and leaves the people to the fate.  It is here that the Phantom Stranger intervenes once again, convincing the automaton that the only way to prove he is a being with a soul is to choose to help his people, to be better than jealousy and spite.  Back at the village, the government troops have attacked, and John has rallied the people, but they are losing without the power of Chuma to inspire and aid them.

Chuma charges into the battle, turning the tide, but his help comes at a terrible cost, as he shoots his creator in the back in a fit of jealousy, only to be witnessed and called out by Ororo.  The people reject their Iron Messiah and destroy him, thanks again to the Phantom Stranger, who leaves, pondering the enigma that is life and giving a speech about not “tampering in God’s domain.

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It’s…a little abrupt, really, and rather grim.  These 14 pages pack a whole lot in, and Len Wein has a very interesting story to tell…I’m just not entirely sure he’s finished telling it.  We get a robot who develops human feelings, including hatred who turns on his creator, a full on Frankenstein, but it is also sharing space with a story about the exploitation of Africa.  There’s just too much in too little space.  Chuma literally goes from his creation to his renunciation of his purpose in three pages, and John, who has until then been our protagonist, almost drops out of the story at that point.  The Stranger’s attempt at a moral just feels extremely tacked on, though it certainly has potential.  In the end, what exactly was the point of the Stranger’s intervention?  Was it to free the natives from both the outsiders and from their superstitions?  Whatever it is, it needs more development.  The whole thing is cramped, but it is also intriguing in a number of ways.

It is really noteworthy that we have a story set in ‘darkest Africa’ where the natives are not portrayed as ignorant savages, despite their belief and hope in Chuma.  Even more, the natives are not rescued by a white outsider.  Instead, the hero is a black man, and a black scientist at that, who succeeds, not through brute force, but through intelligence and cleverness.  That’s still very much a rarity in any media in 1971, much more so in comics.  We also have another example of the depredations of faceless corporations, as the oil company is pretty unambiguously evil here.  That is a sign of things to come, I’d wager.

The whole tale is beautifully illustrated by Aparo, who is handling all of the art chores.  He gives us some really striking panels and pages, and the art has a nice sense of drama, especially with Chuma.  I’ll give this rushed, slightly muddled story 3 Minutemen, as its strengths and weaknesses somewhat even out.

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“Satan’s Sextet”


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If you thought robo-messiahs were strange, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Our Dr. Thirteen backup this month is in the style that I think works best, with the good Doctor doing his ghost-breaking on his own, without tangling with the Stranger.  Nonetheless, this particular outing isn’t exactly a home run.  It begins promisingly and strangely enough, with a group of seemingly sinister musicians leading a line of dancers into the sea, where they presumably drown, only for the band to emerge later, still playing.  Later that night, Dr. Thirteen happens to be driving along the beach when he sees a ragged, raving figure stumble out of the surf.

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The man claims to be the wealthy Willard Wentworth, who has a home on the beach.  He hired “Satan’s Sextet” for a house party because he was lonely, but they hypnotized all of the guests and led them to a watery grave.  Wentworth isn’t sure how he escaped, but he stumbled out of the water sometime later, shaken and terrified.  Thirteen agrees to investigate, but when they return to the beach house, they find it packed with people, a party in full swing.  The owner claims not to know any of them and accuses the band of murder.  Dr. Thirteen insists they stay and continue their investigation (Maybe he just wants to party!), and the pair are given love-beads.

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Suddenly, the band’s music becomes hypnotic, and they once more lead the party goers into the waves.  Thirteen is forced to follow, but his mind is working all the while, and he deduces that the beads are responsible, and he removes his and Wentworth’s necklaces.  Returning to the house, he overhears the convenient exposition by the bandleader, whose motives are…well, as prosaic as his methods are insane.

Apparently, he’s the millionaire’s disowned son, who got plastic surgery and planned this whole thing to kill his father so he could get his inheritance.  The beads had hallucinogens in them which were activated by the vibrations of the band’s music.  Ooookaaaay.  That’s pretty out there, even for comics.  Entertainingly, Thirteen overcomes the band with a massive mounted fish, and the police arrive to tidy things up.  Dr. Thirteen rides off into the sunrise, but not before laying some major guilt on Wentworth, pointing out that he must have really screwed up to raise a murderer!  Ouch!

the phantom stranger (1969) 15 - 35

This is a fun concept that sadly doesn’t really deliver a good story.  The image of the Pied-Piper-esq murder is really neat and creepy, but the explanation and the motivations don’t live up to the cleverness of the gimmick.  I think this might have worked better as a Phantom Stranger story, with an actual supernatural explanation.  Nonetheless, it’s a decent enough read.  The sequence where Dr. Thirteen reasons his way to the solution to the mystery is quite solid, and it has a nice sense of suspense and stakes as he slowly drowns.  Tony DeZuninga’s art isn’t particularly impressive, but it does the job, though the inking is a bit overdone in some sections.  He tries to create a somewhat psychedelic feel to the band’s sections, and that is partially successful.  I’ll give the whole thing 2.5 Minutemen.

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And with those maudlin mysteries, this episode of Into the Bronze Age comes to a close!  It was a really interesting trio of books, flaws and all.  Thank you for joining me on this journey, and please come back soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: October 1971 (Part 1)

DC-Style-Guide-1

I’m back at last!  Welcome readers and friends, to a long deferred new edition of Into the Bronze Age!  My world wandering has come to an end for a while, but it seems like Lady Grey and I only started to recover when we found ourselves swamped by the beginning of the semester!  Our adventures were excellent but exhausting, and for a while after we got back, we did as little as possible.  Now we’re running to catch up!  The semester has proven much busier than we anticipated, and I find myself getting smashed by my dissertation work, so updates will be intermittent for a while.  I will be happy to return to my Bronze Age ruminations and to my modding projects, though, and I was glad to find time to finish this post, which sat half-way completed for a month!  Here’s hoping that the early days of Fall will have some wonder left in them for all of us.

This month we’ve got several super, but not exactly superb, tales, featuring Superman and Supergirl, as well as some deeds of Detective derring-do.  Let’s check them out!

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:

  • Walt Disney World opens in Florida (the only Disney of my youth)
  • Tennis star Billie Jean King becomes 1st female athlete to win $100,000
  • Social Democratic and Labour Party continues its boycott of the Northern Ireland Parliament
  • Northern Ireland PM and British PM meet and agree to send an additional 1,500 troops to Ireland
  • John Lennon releases “Imagine”
  • US and USSR perform various nuclear tests
  • Jesus Christ Superstar premieres
  • 2 killed in racial violence in Memphis
  • Pittsburgh Pirates beat Baltimore Orioles, 4 games to 3 in 68th World Series
  • Last issue of Look magazine is published
  • A group of Northern Ireland MPs begin a 48 hour hunger strike against the policy of Internment
  • West German Chancellor Willy Brandt is awarded Nobel Peace Prize
  • Nobel prize for literature awarded to Pablo Neruda
  • Troubles continue in Ireland, with several IRA members killed in various confrontations with police and troops
  • IRA explodes a bomb in Post Office Tower, London
  • U.N. agrees to admit the People’s Republic of China
  • Films of note: The French Connection, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and The Last Picture Show

We’ve got another month with the Troubles continuing in Ireland and racial unrest continuing in the States (Get used to seeing those words; they aren’t going away any time soon).  Yet, there are also a number of interesting cultural events that take place this month.  I’m rather surprised that the Florida Disney World opened this late.  I rather thought it had opened shortly after the original location.  We also get the release of several memorable films, including a childhood favorite of mine, Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

To me, the most interesting of these events is the debut of Jesus Christ Superstar because it says rather a lot about the spiritual state of the country, with its humanized, un-deified Christ and its focus on a sympathetic Judas.  It’s a good show, one that I’ve enjoyed, but it is certainly a product of its time and, in terms of its dubious theology, very much a product of the modern world.  It is human nature to want to confine the cosmic and limit the illimitable.  As soon as you grant the deity of Christ and the significance of his appearance, he goes from a ‘wise philosopher’ who talked about how people should be nice to each other to a God whose existence makes certain demands upon us.  This is is a significant part of the reason that we’re always trying to rewrite the historical Christ, trying to redefine him as something that will demand less of us, no matter how little sense such revisions might make.

On a more grounded note, this month’s chart topper by a clear margin is Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” which is a great song with a lovely, bittersweet tone to it.  It’s interesting, and in context of the history and culture of its day, the song feels even more fitting.

 


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #405
  • Adventure Comics #411
  • Detective Comics #416
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86
  • Mr. Miracle #4
  • Phantom Strange #15
  • Superboy #178
  • Superman #243
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #115
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142
  • Teen Titans #35

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


Action Comics #405


Action_Comics_405

“Bodyguard or Assassin?”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

“The Red Dust Bandit!”
Writer: Don Cameron
Penciler/Inker: Howard Sherman
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“The Haunted Island”
Writer: Jack Miller
Penciler/Inker: Ramona Fradon
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“The Most Dangerous Bug in the World?”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We’ve got a weird one to start us off for this month, just an odd duck from start to finish.  It has a solid enough cover, with some type of mysterious threat presumably lingering just beyond the image and Superman in an iconic pose, but it isn’t really all that dynamic.  The story inside is similarly uninspiring.  It begins with the Man of Steel answering an urgent summons from the President.  Notably, we aren’t treated to the conventional shadowed figure of a non-specific president.  No, this time we see the Commander in Chief clearly, and he and his security chief, General Trevis, scan the Metropolis Marvel before he is admitted to the Oval Office, citing fears of assassination.  Apparently, a mysterious malefactor left a message on the President’s desk, declaring that an enigmatic assassin named Marsepun would kill the head honcho at 9:00.  Note the name.

action 405-01

Well, to protect the President from this would-be killer, Superman, upon advice from Trevis, takes him to the automated base, Tonacom, hidden in a mountain in a secret location and supposedly impenetrable.  Once inside, the Action Ace is given an overview of all of the defenses guarding the only way in, but suddenly communications with Trevis fritz out and the sensors detect an intruder barreling straight through the base’s protections.  To make matters worse, the evidence indicates that it is somehow Superman himself who is fighting his way inside to kill the President.  The Man of Tomorrow realizes that it is his voice on the assassin’s message and that the name, Marseupun, is just an anagram for his.  Hands up if you saw that one coming.  In the face of all this, the Kryptonian begins to lose his grip.

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action 405-12

The many moods of Superman

Now, this could have been an intriguing, suspenseful sequence…if Bates hadn’t immediately revealed that Trevis is behind it all.  He’s working for a secret organization that doesn’t want the President to sign a peace deal that will lead to nuclear disarmament, and he’s set Tonacom up as one big trap, combined with a hidden thought-scrambler designed to turn the Man of Steel psychotic.  In an attempt to calm the increasingly agitated hero, the President narrates some of his “spectacular acts of courage in the past,” leading to a weird couple of pages with flashbacks to non-existent stories.

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Despite all of the Chief Executive’s efforts, as the intruder gets closer, Superman gets more enraged.  Suddenly, the vault door of the base explodes inward and the Action Ace is confronted…with his reflection.  Yep, that’s it.  This confirms that he’s been the assassin all along, and he turns against his charge, who shoots him with a “gamma gun.”

action 405-13

Unfortunately, the politician’s beam reflects off of his invulnerable target and strikes him instead.  Trevis has been watching and recording all of this, planning on using the video to chase Superman from the Earth, but suddenly, the Man of Steel explodes, revealing that he is in fact as well as in name, a man of steel, a Superman robot.

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Destroying all of the evidence, Trevis flees, but when he reports to his masters, they tell him he has failed and execute him through the phone (neat trick, I wonder if it works on telemarketers…).  Just as he dies, he sees the President, still alive, but it is actually Superman in disguise.  While searching for the authors of all of this misfortune, the Metropolis Marvel thinks to himself that the President was suspicious of Trevis for weeks, and that the two of them had planned this sting to catch him.

action 405-19Superman controlled his robot with a remote, a remote with some very specific buttons and used….*sigh*….”Super Ventriloquism” to speak for it.  Sadly, his efforts to track down the spy ring behind the assassination attempt meet with failure, as he follows their signal to a phone booth on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean….only to have the device explode after a mocking message.  That’s a lot of preparation for not a lot of payoff, but I suppose the shadowy organization knows its business.  The story ends with the notice that it was an imaginary tale and that the danger still exists…which seem like rather contradictory ideas.

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This comic could have had an interesting, suspense-story vibe, as Superman wrestled with whether or not he was losing his mind, but Bates decided to discard the suspense, and with it, most of the interest of the story, by revealing, not only the villain, but the entire plan as well.  Superman’s twist feels like a bit of a cheat, and it makes his narration of his previous deeds rather ridiculously boastful in retrospect.  The end result here is just awkward.  Bates couldn’t quite decide what he wanted this story to be, and so it is a loose collection of ideas that don’t resolve into anything worthwhile, despite some interesting potential.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.

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“The Most Dangerous Bug in the World”


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The backup is forgettable but solid enough.  It begins with a boy bumping into Clark Kent on the street and planting a tiny ‘bug’ on him that would have been science fiction in 1971 but is pretty commonplace today.  This device fits unnoticed in the newsman’s pocket and yet can transmit several blocks away.  Is this some nefarious scheme by Lex Luthor to learn Superman’s secret identity?  Nope, it’s just dumb luck.  The kid is the grandson of an inventor who wants to show off his new bug to some investors.  He sent the boy out to plant it on some poor schmuck, which seems wildly unethical to me.  The men, unconcerned with the inventor’s casual invasion of privacy, then proceed to listen in on the private life of this random stranger.

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However, because the stranger is the Man of Steel, what they hear is unusual.  First, they hear him typing at super speed, and then, after he gets a distress call from a small space ship from an antimatter universe, they hear him flying at super speed.  They can’t make sense of these sounds at first, and the Action Ace’s rush to the aid of the antimatter astronauts brings them confusion.  The aliens tell him that if they make contact with the Earth, both it and they will explode in a cataclysm as matter meets antimatter.  Now, I’m no physicist, but wouldn’t they already be in contact with molecules of air…which is matter…so wouldn’t they already have annihilated the planet?

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Comic book science aside, the Man of Tomorrow leaps into action, ensuring that there will actually be a tomorrow after all.  He burrows a path through a mountain and then pulls them ship up into space in his slipstream.  Guiding the craft back to the rift through which they had accidentally passed, he sends them home, only then realizing that there is a transmitter sending out a signal from his pocket.  Meanwhile, the scientist has, with a rather astonishing leap in logic, figured out that he’s listening in to Superman, and the kid, feeling bad for having accidentally exposed the hero’s secret (this is why you don’t spy on people!), confesses to Clark.  Of course, Mr. Mild-Mannered covers, and that night he shows a film of Superman, featuring the same sounds, and informs his audience that he previewed it in his office, allaying the eavesdropper’s suspicions.

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This is not a bad little story, though a bit silly in the convenience of its logical leaps.  I rather wish Bates had played the mysterious sounds for a few more laughs, as that could have been a fun source of humor, with the scientist trying to convince his investors that the device really was working properly.  Still, it’s a fine if forgettable tale.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  The art in both of these stories is good, in the usual ‘Swanderson’ style, with some really rather nice bits in both strips.

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This comic had classic Vigilante and Aquaman stories as backup strips, and they were a lot of fun.  The Vigilante yarn was very much Lone Ranger-style Western rather than straight superhero, but it was nonetheless a neat surprise, as was the super charming Ramona Fradon Aquaman tale.  I’ll have to do a feature on those classic Aquaman stories one of these days.


Adventure Comics #411


Adventure_Comics_411

“The Alien Among Us”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Bob Oksner
Inkers: Bob Oksner and Steve Englehart
Editor: Joe Orlando

“The Wedding That Wrecked the Legion”
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciler: John Forte
Inker: Sheldon Moldoff
Letterers: Vivian Berg and Milt Snapinn
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“Warrior Shepherd”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Carmine Infantino
Editor: Joe Orlando

Our Supergirl story this month is an interesting one, with a bit of a 50/60s morality play sci-fi feel, something of a cross between The Day the Earth Stood Still and “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”.  It’s a little surprising that this comic is from 1971 rather than 1961, at least until you notice the fashions.  On an unrelated note, this is the second month in a row where we’ve had a cover with a kid blindly wandering into danger as Supergirl rushes to help, which is rather random.  Someone at DC had child endangerment on the mind.  The cover image itself is okay, though the alien is more odd than menacing, really.

adventure 411-02

The tale begins with the news crew getting a report of an alien entering Earth’s atmosphere in some type of transparent capsule, and Linda slips off to go investigate the matter, with Nasty all set to follow, only to get trapped into staying late and typing up order forms, thankfully putting a temporary end to her inane quest to discover the secret she already knows about Supergirl’s identity.  For her part, the Maid of Might zooms up to discover a strange looking space traveler on his way to the surface, but the gasses that form his clear cocoon begin to react violently with the atmosphere, and while she is putting out fires, the creature slips away.  Let’s leave aside for the moment how the creature can slip away from someone with super vision and super speed…

adventure 411-03

The stranded space traveler has crash-landed on Earth, and he decides to investigate a native city before he tries to contact the inhabitants for help.  He meets with entirely predictable paranoia, fear, and cruelty, being attacked by three apparently myopic young misanthropes, who don’t seem to pay much attention to the fact that he’s seven feet tall and green.  The antagonized alien easily disables the punks without hurting them, only to then be accosted with about the same level of restraint by the gendarmes.  The cops pretty much immediately attack him, giving the creature only the briefest of warnings before they shoot to kill.  Remember, at this point, as far as anyone knows, he hasn’t done anything aggressive.

 

Fortunately, the bullets bounce off the alien’s armored skin, and the enraged being tries to toss the cops, car and all, away, only to be stopped by Supergirl who catches his metallic fastball.  When she tries to capture the creature, he vanishes, leading her to be summoned to a meeting of a bunch of soulless bureaucrats in suits, who chew her out and tell her not to interfere anymore as they set out to kill the innocent extraterrestrial.  The Girl of Steel objects, but not on any humanitarian grounds, instead arguing that capturing this sentient being could be scientifically advantageous….which is way too cold -blooded for the character.  We do get a brief note mentioning that Supergirl had helped cure the bird-people from her previous adventure, which is nice to know but is obviously an afterthought.  Apparently someone noticed that she totally abandoned those folks last issue.

 

The next day, the city is panicked, and citizens are attacking anyone who is different, thinking they may be the alien in disguise.  The Maid of Might has to intervene again and again to rescue different innocents from angry mobs.  The source of all this fear, meanwhile, is hiding out in a basement, scared and lonely himself, when he is discovered by a young boy.  The child befriends the being, feeding him, and in return, the traveler heals the young boy’s arm, which had been useless since birth.

 

Unfortunately, the boy’s father discovers the alien and reports him, leading the bureaucrats and the police to ambush the hapless creature.  After promising he won’t be harmed if he surrenders, they immediately open fire, while Supergirl stands by and watches, ineffectually objecting but not doing anything to intercede as they murder the innocent alien.  That’s really the most unforgivable part of this issue to me, that Linda, who absolutely has the power to prevent this tragedy, doesn’t act, all because some jerk in a suit tells her not to.  After the space traveler is struck down, we get the standard sci-fi ending, as the boy rushes to him, pleading innocence in the ambush, only for his newfound friend to forgive him before he dies.

It’s a surprisingly grim ending, and unnecessarily so, especially since Supergirl could and should have interceded to prevent it.  This is particularly surprising considering the growing independence of thought and increased moral maturity that we’ve been seeing in these books.  We’ve seen Superman and Supergirl both buck corrupt authority….but not this time.  Nonetheless, this isn’t a bad issue, though it doesn’t have enough space to do everything it is trying to do.  It definitely feels like a classic sci-fi morality play, but in order to create that atmosphere, Albano mishandles his protagonist and rushes to reach his “the real monster is man” ending.  It’s still a relatively decent tale with some emotional weight behind it, and the too-brief scenes with the boy and the alien are actually rather charming.  Bob Oskner’s art is functional throughout, though his alien is suitably strange, yet sympathetic, and he does a great job portraying the creature’s very human fear and despair.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen, with it losing some points because of Supergirl’s portrayal.

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Detective Comics #416


Detective_Comics_416

“Man-Bat Madness!”
Writer/Artist: Frank Robbins
Colorist/Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Deadly Go-Between!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler/Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Rex-Circus Detective!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Alex Toth
Inker: Sy Barry
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Case of the Gold Dust Death”
Penciler: Ramona Fradon
Inker: Ramona Fradon
Letterer: Ira Schnapp
Editor: Jack Schiff

Detective Comics this month brings us another tale of that Bronze Age staple, the macabre Man-Bat!  We have an intriguing yarn in this issue, as Frank Robbins is handling both the art chores and the writing, and the result is unique and striking.  Neal Adams does a great job with the colors, and the pair create a really nicely moody and eerie adventure that is a bit ahead of its time in style.  The whole effect reminds me of books from the 80s and 90s, especially the limited-color palette Dark Horse Star Wars books like Dark Emipre.

The story itself begins at a quiet, subdued wedding ceremony where Kirk Langstrom and his fiancee, Francine, finally managed to tie the knot without anyone bat-ing out.  Batman himself watches over the ill-starred couple, and after the ceremony, he gives them a gift, a case full of his Man-Bat antidote.  The gift comes with a warning, as he doesn’t know how long the original dose will last.  The pair of newlyweds swear never to go down that monstrous road again and prepare to build a life together, though they realize they can never have children for fear of what they might become.

 

After their honeymoon, Langstrom destroys his formulas and vows never to experiment again, but when someone uses a prototype sonic device elsewhere in the museum, a change comes over the scientist,  Working in a frenzy, he prepares a new batch of his mutagen.  Fortunately, the device is shut off before he takes the devilish draught, and Kirk locks the new formula away, rushing off to meet his wife at the opera, complete with stylish and totally not portentous cape.  This whole sequence is just wonderfully rendered, capturing the oppressive madness of the scene, with Langstrom’s face distorted by beakers and cast in somber lines by dim lights.

At the opera, all is well until the violinist starts to play, and the high-pitched sound once again affects the scientist, who begins to revert to Man-Bat!  Francine tries to give him the antidote, but, hilariously, the prima donna’s solo aria shatters the ampule.  Completely transformed, the Man-Bat once more takes flight, pursued by Batman, who was also attending the show.  After a brief fight, the monster flees to the subway, railing against the moon that he fears controls him and declaring his own independence from outside forces.

Man-Bat invades a subway train, causing a panic and an emergency stop, which in turn causes an electrical fire, trapping the passengers.  In a nice moment, Batman appeals to his alter-ego’s remaining humanity, and the pair rescue the hapless travelers and together lead them out of the blackened tunnel.  Yet, once the deed is accomplished, Man-Bat once again escapes from the Dark Knight, arriving at his lab, where Francine awaits him.  However, this time the monster has no compassion for his mate, and he knocks her aside and drinks his new formula, intending to remain Man-Bat forever.  Fortunately, Batman beat him to punch, switching the vial with a new antidote.  The experimental serum cures Langstrom, perhaps forever (what are the chances of that, huh?), but it is still untested, so only time will tell.  The couple may even be able to have children. I’m sure that couldn’t possibly go horribly wrong.

Detective Comics 416-16

This is a fine little adventure, but it is too brief to be really successful.  We get some nice moments, and the sequence in Langstrom’s lab is great, but the whole thing resolves a little too quickly and too easily.  In general, this story just needs more development, especially the element with the sonic triggers for Langstrom’s transformations.  There’s an interesting angle there, but it’s left entirely unexamined.  I like Batman’s appeal to Man-Bat’s “ember of humanity”, and it’s nice to be reminded that the creature does have a heroic streak.  Throughout, Robbins’ artwork is just striking, and his work on Man-Bat’s face is really quite exceptional.  The furry, monstrous, yet wonderfully emotional visage is very effective.

His figures get a little cartoonish at times, which really doesn’t fit the tone or themes of the story, but overall, I quite liked his work here.  He gives several scenes a wonderful dramatic weight and definitely evinces a good sense of storytelling, even if his style is a little off at times.  It’s unusual but enjoyable.  So, all-in-all, this is a solid and interesting tale.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, with the unusual art raising it above average.  On a different note, this Man-Bat appearance struck a chord in my memory, and I found myself reminded of Spider-Man’s foe, the Lizard.  There are a lot of similarities between these characters and their settings, down to a long-suffering wife and the tragic regularity of their backsliding.  I wonder how intentional the parallels were, as the Lizard had premiered a decade before at Marvel.

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“The Deadly Go Between”


Detective Comics 416-18

Our Batgirl backup for this week is a solid story, which begins with the funeral of one of Gotham’s Finest, a close friend of Commissioner Gordon, killed in the line of duty.  Gordon swears to catch the fiend responsible and works himself ragged in search for the mysterious murderer.  When the Commissioner gets an enigmatic call in the middle of the night, Babs listens in, worried about her father, but she gets quite a shock.  The voice on the line claims to be Batgirl, and the real girl detective hears her lure Gordon into some sort of trap, claiming to have found his friend’s killer!

Detective Comics 416-20

Detective Comics 416-20

Heading out to catch her impersonator and protect her father, Batgirl discovers her doppelganger, only to be captured by a pair of thugs acting as backstops for the duplicitous Dare-Doll.  Meanwhile, the bogus Batgirl leads Gordon to a meeting of radical political group, claiming that their leader killed the Commissioner’s friend, just because he hates cops.  The scene is accompanied by some very goofy slang, as the fellow is described as an “ice-the-pigs radical”.

Detective Comics 416-23

 

In the interim, our real red-haired heroine’s situation hasn’t improved any, as her two captors prepare to toss her off the roof.  She manages to turn the tables on them and escape, rushing to trace her father, while he and her criminal counterpart await the departure of the fall-guy, Zed Kurtz, who the false Batgirl is certain will kill Gordon when confronted.

Detective Comics 416-25

This is a fine first part of an adventure, and I’m certainly curious to see how it will all play out.  The one real weakness is the ease with which Babs is captured.  She’s sneaking up on her double, and the dialog tells us she’s alert and scanning for trouble…and then her captors just materialize next to her.  That section could have been handled better, but that’s a fairly minor quibble.  It’s nice to see Gordon get something a spotlight, and a duplicitous version of our dynamite dame protagonist is an interesting angle.  Heck’s art is really a bit better this issue, with no real weak points, and he brings a lot of detail and richness into his setting and backgrounds.  I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen.

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Alright my friends, that wraps up this edition of our little Bronze Age ballyhoo.  I hope that some of my dear readers are still out there and check in every once in a while.  I’m sorry for the long delay and hope that we’ll be able to meet more often going forward.  This was a solid batch of books with which to reconvene, but the next set looks to be much more memorable, including another Mr. Miracle, but also the conclusion to the Green Lantern/Green Arrow drug story!  Check back soon for more Bronze Age goodness and a little comic craziness.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 6)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  With this post we’ll finish of September of 1971.  Our last two books are really quite a pair!  We have an unusual issue of World’s Finest, but the real highlight (lowlight?) here is the raw star power of the greatest new superstar in the DC constellation….I’m speaking, of course, of Don Rickles.  That’s right, this month we get more of the inexplicable madness of Kirby’s use of the insult comic as a guest star in Jimmy Olsen.  Yay?  Well, see what sense you can make of what lies within!

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 #404
  • Adventure Comics #410
  • Batman #235
  • Brave and the Bold #97
  • Detective Comics #415
  • The Flash #209
  • Forever People #4
  • G.I. Combat #149
  • Justice League of America #92
  • New Gods #4
  • Superboy #177
  • Superman #242
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #113
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141
  • World’s Finest #205

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


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141


Jimmy_Olsen_141

“Will the Real Don Rickles Panic?”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta

“The Guardian”
Writer: Joe Simon
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon

Ohh man, for a moment there as I was looking from Lois Lane to my next book, a moment of blissful forgetfulness, I was excited for more of Jack Kirby’s wild and wonderful Jimmy Olsen adventures…and then I remembered that this one was the second half of the Don Rickles fiasco.  If you thought the last issue was strange, just wait; you ain’t seen nothing yet!  We start with an almost decent cover, in that classic, ‘heroes introducing a new character’ fashion that JLA and other books did from time to time.  Unfortunately, this one has Don Rickles on it, which is bad enough, but even worse, it is a black and white picture of the guy.  I’m never a fan of mixing real photos, especially black and white ones, with comic art in such a way.  It is just incredibly incongruent.  It looks like someone cut the center out of the cover and pasted Rickles’ mug into the hole.

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jimmyolsen141-04Despite the ugly cover, the first images that greet a reader inside are really quite impressive.  Kirby is experimenting with his photo-collages again, trying to create an otherworldly effect for Clark Kent’s journey into the strange alternate dimension in the booby-trapped capsule from the last issue.  The result is pretty striking and successfully cosmic.  After floating helplessly for a time, the mild mannered one is visited by Lightray, who eventually rescues him.  Yet, Clark doesn’t escape before he gets a brief glimpse of New Genesis and Apokolips in their great cosmic dance.  This brief interaction is really cool and, sadly, way more interesting than what takes the bulk of the comic’s focus.

jimmyolsen141-08While the reporter roves around in the Fourth World, his three friends, Jimmy Olsen, the Guardian, and…urg…”Goody” Rickles, find themselves deposited on the side of the road by Intergang, poisoned and facing a fiery fate.  The cloned hero sends the other two to seek help at the nearest hospital….ohh, wait, no.  That might make sense.  He sends them to the Daily Planet instead.  The Guardian himself sets off after the villain’s rolling headquarters to capture an antidote, and Kirby treats us to a few panels of his revived Golden Age hero leaping rooftop to rooftop in classic fashion.

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Meanwhile, the actual focus of the plot nears, as Morgan Edge prepares for the arrival of the real Don Rickles in his office.  When the comedian shows up, he’s mobbed by the staff in an admittedly funny scene, where they all beg to be insulted.  Unfortunately, I’d say that’s the last unambiguously funny bit in the book.  After the corporate shark chases off his underlings, he leads the star into his office, where his dialog becomes part comedic and part chaotic nonsense.

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While those two talk business (I guess?), Jimmy and Rickles’ inexplicable doppelganger are taking the subway, where Goody’s agitation causes the chemical in his system to react and start him smoking.  There’s some funny bits to this, but I can’t help but wish we were visiting one of the more interesting plotlines instead.  Fortunately, we quickly return to the Guardian, who smashes his way into “Ugly” Mannheim’s mobile base.  He lays into the gangster’s gunmen, but we cut away from his fight for….*sigh*….more Rickles.  Double the Rickles, in fact, as Goody arrives at the Planet, where he and the original engage in some “funny” hijinks about how they are identical.

As Goody and Jimmy approach critical mass, glowing and emitting flames, Morgan Edge calls for the bomb squad while silently cursing Mannheim.  Disaster is averted (although, other than Jimmy’s death, would it really have been that much of a loss?) by the timely arrival of the Guardian, who crashes through a window with the antidote in wonderfully dramatic fashion.  How did the cloned champion overcome all Mannheim and his criminal cohorts?  Well, we don’t get to see that.  Nope.  It’s way more important that we watch Don Rickles chew scenery.  As the comedian hams it up, Clark Kent returns via a boom tube and the bomb squad arrives and carries the frantic comedy star away.

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Sheesh.  There is a lot of really interesting material in this comic; the trouble is that Kirby ignores all of that to give us Don Rickles and Goody making faces at each other.  Clark’s cosmic journey is quite visually interesting, and there is a lot of potential to his visit to the dimension of the New Gods, especially given his fascination with a world full of super-beings in the Forever People title, but no sooner does one of them arrive than we cut away.  The same is true of the Guardian’s big return to action, where he swings through the city and single-handedly defeats the villain….almost all off panel.  This issue is just a lesson in missed opportunities, as the King has absolutely packed this book with fun concepts and characters, from the Newsboy Legion to the returned Golden Age hero, and yet he wastes his narrative space on Don Rickles of all people.  That being said, this issue isn’t as bad as I may have made it sound.  It’s still a relatively entertaining read, though one that will have you groaning in a few places or simply scratching your head.

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Kirby’s art, so beautifully powerful and dynamic in the last issue, is much more inconsistent in this one as well.  Don Rickles himself is all over the place, and the bombastic scope of the action is more restrained, which is really a shame.  There are a couple of wow moments, like Clark’s trip and the Guardian’s timely arrival, but those are sadly exceptions.  So, what do we make of this mad little issue?  I think I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.  It has some interesting moments, but they are quickly bypassed for lesser material.  The humor is better in this one, but while the plot is more coherent and less nonsensical than the previous issue, the overall effect is weaker.  This outing just lacks the whimsical fun of its predecessor.  Or perhaps I’m just already sick of Don Rickles

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P.S.: Notably, the letters column for this issue includes a missive from a thoughtful reader who points out many of the same criticism I had about the completely unaddressed moral issues inherent in the concept of the D.N.A. Project.  Even fans in 1971 could see the disturbing implications of such technologies and wanted more substance from their treatment.

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P.P.S.: This issue also features another text piece, this one on the return of the Newsboy Legion.  It’s hilarious to see Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman struggle to make Flippa Dippa sound cool.  As a bonus, the comic includes the first adventure of the Newsboy Legion and the Guardian from 1942, and it is a surprisingly fun and solid story that holds up well today.  Jack Kirby and Joe Simon made a good team.  I wish the new Guardian would get a bit of his progenitor’s personality, but then again, given that he was grown in a test-tube, I suppose it makes sense for him to be a bit bland.

 


World’s Finest #205


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“The Computer That Captured a Town!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Secret of the Last Earth-Man!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Duel of the Flying Knights!”
Writer: Joseph Samachson
Penciler: Frank Frazetta
Inker: Frank Frazetta

We’ve got a very unusual team-up tale in this month’s World’s Finest.  It’s really just a Superman story, with the Teen Titans serving as victims in need of rescue, but it features an interesting premise.  That premises is presaged by the book’s exciting cover, one I imagine I would have been plenty tempted to pick up.  I’m always a sucker for a giant monster, but Adams’ dragon, however fearsome in aspect, is a bit strangely proportioned and weird looking.  I think the perspective is just a bit wonky on it.  I do like how the Titans on the sidebar are all reacting to the scene in the center, though.  That’s a clever use of the character preview.

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Inside, we travel to the small town of Fairfield where we join three of those young heroes, Kid Flash, Speedy (apparently taking time out from his drug-addled drama in Green Lantern), and Mal Duncan.  The trio are on patrol when they see a man robbing, not a bank, not a jewelry store, nor any of the normal criminal fare, but a grocery store.  Despite the fact that the poor fellow is clearly desperate, stealing to feed his starving family, they beat him savagely and show now compassion.  Even more strangely, after the fight, Kid Flash and Speedy talk down to Mal, and say he better get back to his “side of town” and be with his “own kind,” and Mal meekly accepts such statements, speaking in exaggerated, minstrel show-style.

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World's Finest 205-06This is not the only sign that something is not right.  A scene change find Wonder Girl and Lilith acting like stereotypical 50s TV girls, sitting around, pining over boys and exercising no agency in their lives.  Yet, when Clark Kent shows up on TV to read the news, Lilith’s subconscious reaches out to him, and Mr. Mild Mannered has a vision of an old man discovering a strange machine in a cave and transmits the message “THE TEEN TITANS ARE TRAPPED IN FAIRFIELD!”  Startled, Clark actually says that on the air, which leads to confusion from the girls and anger from everyone’s favorite corporate shark, Morgan Edge.

After placating his boss, Clark changes into Superman and heads out to investigate, locating his young allies just as Kid Flash is once again talking down to Mal and using super racist rhetoric.  Yet, when the Man of Steel asks about their being trapped, the Fastest Boy Alive laughs the question off.  The Kryptonian gets the same response from Lilith, but as he wanders around town, he begins to notice the name “Richard Handley” plastered over everything and, combined with the images from his vision, he develops a theory and heads into the hills to test it out.

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Locating a cave, and having a flashback to what we just saw seven pages ago (for some reason), the Metropolis Marvel suddenly finds his way barred by a massive monster, a huge fire-breathing dragon!  While Dillin’s dragon looks pretty great in most of his panels, his first appearance has his proportions a little screwy, like the cover image.  Nonetheless, this starts a battle between the beast and our modern day St. George, only Superman can’t hurt the creature.  He reasons that it was created by whatever machine is affecting the town, and thus, it isn’t actually real and possesses no nervous system that he can injure or vital points he can attack.

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As their battle rages, the machine’s own violent energy seeps out into the town, causing the bullies to turn on the meek.  Back at the cave, the Action Ace attempts to slip past the monster, but he’s caught and hurled out of the cave.  Yet, his second attempt, moving at super speed, is successful, and after a nice looking fight sequence, he manages to reach and smash the mysterious machine at the heart of the town’s problems.  Just then, the dragon vanishes and the world returns to normal, with the girls giving the chauvinistic Kid Flash what-for (although, methinks if the super strong Wonder Girl slapped him, he might just be in a coma) and Mal shoving Speedy’s racism down his throat.  Fortunately, the boys come out of it, and they all make peace with one another.

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Then Superman kindly provides some answers, explaining that a man named Richard Handley had discovered the strange device in the cave, which he surmises was of alien origin, some time ago, and when he touched it, the machine absorbed his thoughts and then projected them across the town, controlling the minds of its inhabitants.  Notably, the Man of Steel opines that Handley was a “complicated man,” but when he describes the fellow, he doesn’t really seem all that complicated, instead, just a simple racist, chauvinistic, and provincial jerk.  The only non-negative quality Supes ascribes to the guy is that he loved his town, which is really only a neutral characteristic.

This was almost a really interesting coda to the story.  It seems like Skeates is aiming to soften the portrait of Handley in this scene, but the sketch he draws doesn’t accomplish that end.  If Handley had some redeeming qualities, it could have been a really nice illustration of the fact that people are not merely the sum of their beliefs and that someone can possess flawed principles and still be redeemable, which would be a moral that would still have a lot of resonance today, perhaps even moreso than in 1971.  As is, the guy just seems to be the worst.  Now, the theme is still somewhat served because we see the Titans, who are ostensibly good people, acting in biased and immoral fashion in this story, but the impact would have been stronger if the final impression of Handley had been more nuanced.

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Either way, this is an interesting and unusual little morality play of a story, and it has an engaging mystery in the conduct of the Titans and a fun core of action with Superman’s visually engaging fight with the dragon.  As usual, I’m thrilled to see Aquaman scribe extraordinaire, Steve Skeates, pen another yarn.  In classic Skeates fashion, the plot for this one has some unique qualities that separate it from the usual ‘heroes acting out of character’ and ‘mind controlled town’ tropes.  The alien device here isn’t co-opting the heroes or the town for any nefarious purpose, and they aren’t being overtly evil or trying to conquer the world.  They’re just being influence by biased and prejudicial values, a serious problem, but a much more subtle one than those usually found in such tales, which is interesting.  Skeates manages to deliver a simple but thoughtful story, showing his readers the ugliness of racism and sexism, and doing it in a creative way, by having admired characters enact it, while at the same time not getting stuck in his message.  As is often the case in this title, Dick Dillin’s art is great for the most part, except for just a few awkward panels.  Superman’s fight with the dragon is particularly nice.  It really seems like outside of the massive chore that JLA had to be, Dillin does routinely excellent work.  I’ll give this interesting and different tale 4 Minutemen.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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No new faces join the Wall this month, though Lois gets honorable mention for her own head-blow hiccup.  I wonder who our next guest will be!


Final Thoughts:


Quite a month!  We encountered books of every type, the serious, the silly, and the truly out there.  The stories varied wildly in quality, but even some of the rough ones were noteworthy, and we had several really good comics in this batch too.  One of my favorite events this month was the return of supervillains to the Flash for a strange but entertaining tale.  He’s got such a great rogue’s gallery, and it is exciting to see them back in action again.  One of my ever-astute readers pointed out that there may be something of a theme of de-supering the superheroes at DC in this era, and I wonder if the reticence in the use of supervillains that I’ve noted might be part of such a trend.  If so, it is an intensely foolish one.

On that topic, this month also saw the slightly anti-climactic end of O’Neil’s rather uneven run on Superman wherein he partially de-powered the Man of Steel and did away with some of his familiar trappings.  His stories tended to be rather more odd than impactful, but they clearly caused a stir in their day.  For whatever flaws they had, O’Neil did manage to inject some humanity and some drama into the character that were a welcome additions.  I’ll be interested to see how long his changes endure.

Another of O’Neil’s efforts is worth mentioning here, as we got a new glimpse of R’as Al Ghul and Talia, though the story wasn’t nearly as effective as previous outings.  I wonder how long it will take before these characters achieve the iconic status that marks them as important additions to the Batman mythos.

In terms of the comics reflecting their times, we have some really fascinating examples this month.  We saw Ralph Nader and his Nader’s Raiders given the DC Universe treatment, with fictionalized counterparts fighting the good fight for consumer protection in the superhero world.  One wonders how consumer standards would be different in a world where an alien monster might come rampaging through the city or mystical energy could sweep through your building on any given Tuesday, bringing appliances to life.  Well, whatever new safeguards might be necessary, it’s interesting to see the events at the end of the last decade with Ralph Nader’s consumer protection crusading being reflected in a Batman comic of all things.  I’d say this reflects, in a small and subtle way, a changing attitude towards businesses and authority.

History also enters into our comics in a very unexpected way, as the Holocaust is referenced in G.I. Combat.  It’s a great story, particularly notable for its Jewish protagonist and its subtle but honest reminder of the terrors of hatred and the horrible capacity of humanity for evil.  This was another Kanigher story, and he continues to turn out the occasional grand slam, producing some of the goofiest comics I’ve read, but also some of the unequivocally most successfully serious and thought-provoking issues.  This month, he turned out two.  Kanigher’s work on Lois Lane and the story about urban poverty and its racial dimensions is quite good as well, despite its heavy-handed sentimentality and simplicity.  It’s notable that both of these, and our World’s Finest issue all deal with racial bias and attempt to encourage readers to see people of different races as individual human beings.

It’s really interesting to see superhero comics tackling such a topic, which was still a very a live issue in 1971.  It was only this very year that the final efforts to desegregate schools in the South were begun and the Supreme Court put the nail in the coffin of the Jim Crow era (though far from the end of the Civil Rights struggle).  That makes the racial overtones of the Lois Lane story’s conflict really fascinating and timely.  The DC Universe is still a very monochrome place at this point, but here we have a positive character of color in the person of Dave Stevens, acting heroically and making a difference in his community.  We’ve come a long way from just a few years before where the inclusion of a single black face in a crowd in Green Lantern resulted in special attention and letters of appreciation for such an unusual inclusion.  In the other direction, we’re only a few months away from DC getting its first black hero as well!

On another note, we also got Robin’s hippy commune sojourn this month, another reflection of the wider world, as the Counter-Culture movement still hadn’t quite run out of gas.  Interestingly, Friedrich attempt to paint the hippies and their commune positively, presumably for the same kinds of reasons as Kanigher and his work on the inner city, perhaps hoping to show his readers the normalcy and humanity of people that many would regard as outsiders and Others.  It’s a mediocre story and more than a little odd, but its appearance is worth noticing.

Of course, this month also saw the finale to this year’s JLA/JSA crossover, which was a fine if uninspiring pair of issues.  While Friedrich’s work on the book hasn’t been bad, for the most part, I am looking forward to getting to the end of his run.  Sadly, I’ve got a while to wait.  His efforts at adding drama and conflict to the League have been rather odd and poorly handled so far, but he is trying to add more of an emotional core to their stories.

Finally, Kirby’s Fourth World sees a very uneven set of books this month, with a creepy and compelling Forever People issue which was much better than I remembered on one hand….and the madness of ‘Goody’ Rickles on the other, with the solid but unremarkable New Gods somewhere in between.  In the Forever People book, Kirby’s surprisingly sophisticated reflection on the power of self-delusion and the illusions that we treasure is really striking in light of the previous issue’s focus on the lies we tell ourselves to justify our actions.  I’m not entirely convinced it was a conscious development of themes, but Kirby was an instinctive storyteller, and I think it is entirely possible that he wove those threads together subconsciously, even as he leapt from idea to idea.

The Don Rickles disaster, on the other hand, was, despite some genuinely fun moments, mostly just a waste of the powerful imagination and creativity that had been, for better or worse, pouring out of the Jimmy Olsen title.  All of the interesting material is shoved into the background to make room for the “funny” bits.  It’s a shame given that this confused mess shows up right on the heels of the bizarre but promising story arc with the Wild Area and the D.N.A. project.  The end result is that at this point I can see some of the signs that led to the death of the line.  What would you have thought as a kid buying the Fourth World books, only to hit two issues like those?  Yikes!

Taken all together, this was an eventful and interesting month of comics, with a pretty high proportion of socially relevant stories, especially compared to where this little journey began.  I hope that y’all enjoyed this stop on our voyage and will join me soon for the beginning of the next month of classic comics as I travel further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 5)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Come on in and enjoy some 4-colored adventures in a brighter, better world than ours.  I don’t know about you, but I can certainly use such a pleasant diversion.  We’ve got a very interesting pair of books to cover in this post, including the end of Denny O’Neil’s unusual but intriguing tenure on Superman.  Let’s get started!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #404
  • Adventure Comics #410
  • Batman #235
  • Brave and the Bold #97
  • Detective Comics #415
  • The Flash #209
  • Forever People #4
  • G.I. Combat #149
  • Justice League of America #92
  • New Gods #4
  • Superboy #177
  • Superman #242
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #113
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141
  • World’s Finest #205

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


Superman #242


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“The Ultimate Battle!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The Girl Who Didn’t Believe in Superman!”
Writer: Bill Finger
Penciler: Wayne Boring
Inker: Stan Kaye

“The World’s Mightiest Weakling!”
Writer: Otto Binder
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Bernard Sachs

And here we are at last, the conclusion of Denny O’Neil’s attempt to update Superman.  This is the grand finale of the saga of the Sand Superman, and I have been looking forward to the read.  We start with a solid but not quite earth-shattering cover, which is a bit ironic given what it depicts.  It’s a dramatic piece, but the two fighting figures, carefully matched in their combat, look a bit awkward.  It looks more like they’re standing in mid-air than engaged in a frenetic flying fist-fight.  The blazing city below them is a nice touch, but the flat coloring renders it less powerful than it could have been.

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The story within is a similarly mixed bag.  It opens where the last issue left off, with the defeated Man of Steel grasped in the grip of the ghoulish “war demon,” which has been animated by another Quarrmite spirit.  The fight is taking place in a junkyard, and a pair of bums cheer the monster on, even going so far as to vent their frustrations on the formerly invulnerable hero. Seeing the Metropolis Marvel bleed, they realize that he is now a mere mortal and proceed to beat him savagely.  With Superman defeated, the two hobos, “Stewpot” and “Gemmi,” then take charge of the clueless creature, who is new to their world and has a childish innocence.  The vicious vagrants decide to use the demon to satisfy their own desires for chaos and destruction.

Conveniently, Jimmy Olsen happens to be at the junkyard on an assignment (one wonders what he did to tick Perry off), and the young reporter finds his fallen friend.  The injured hero is rushed to the hospital, where they discover his brain injury from last issue and begin a delicate operation while I-Ching, Diana Prince, and Jimmy Olsen waited with baited breath.

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Meanwhile, the demon, sporting his bum brain-trust on his shoulders, smashes through a museum and confronts the police.  Just then, the Sand Superman arrives, and he crashes into the monster with massive force!  After a quick battle, the creature proves too much for him, and the dusty duplicate flees, wondering what prompted him to intercede, despite his protestations that he cares nothing for humanity.  This is an intriguing moment, but it sadly doesn’t get much development.

The demon’s rampage continues, with him smashing through a police barricade, but as he becomes accustomed to his power and begins to enjoy the chaos he’s causing, he also grows tired of the bums who are bossing him around.  Finally, he decides to employ his lessons in destruction on his masters themselves, and he kills them, on panel!  Their deaths (in shadow, but visible nonetheless, which is quite unusual), are accompanied by a quote from Ecclesiastes, interestingly enough.  And with that, the villainous vagabonds leave the story, making their inclusion feel rather pointless.

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With his masters mashed, the monster heads after his original foe, smashing his way into Superman’s hospital and easily brushing aside Diana Prince’s puny efforts to oppose him.  This is not Wonder Woman’s best performance, as Jimmy puts up just about as much of a fight as she does.  When the creature reaches the Fallen Man of Steel, it finds him fully recovered, but the two are evenly matched, at least until the sudden and unexpected arrival of…the Sand Superman!  The Man of Grit smashes through the ceiling, and in a nice touch the Action Ace wonders for a moment whose side his double is on.  His question is answered a moment later, as his alluvial alternate crashes into the demon, and the pair of powerhouses push their foe towards the park, where the portal to Quarrm still rests.

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The spirit is sucked back into its formless realm, and the crisis seems to have passed…until the duplicitous dusty duplicate declares that he is determined to be Superman, and therefore the original must die!  The real Metropolis Marvel protests that they can coexist, but the Alluvial Ace declares that the hero is too proud of his own uniqueness to share his world with another, which is an interesting angle.  The two are squaring off for a final showdown, where their oppositely charged atoms will trigger an explosion that will destroy one of them when I-Ching suddenly shows up and offers to cancel their charges out and let them fight normally.

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After his mystic gesture is finished, the two super-foes begin a titanic combat that takes them through the very core of the Earth.  In a nice sequence, Superman lures his doppelganger into a trap and clocks him into orbit, but after he pursues his enemy into space, the pair look down to see the world consumed by a cataclysm triggered by their Earth-shattering brawl!  They gaze upon a world scoured of life, and Superman breaks down, only to be brought back to reality by I-Ching.

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The vision was just a mystical trick, to dissuade the two titans from beginning their cataclysmic combat.  The Sandy Superman is so moved that returns to Quarrm willingly, observing that there can only be one Man of Steel.  The mystic offers to transfer the double’s powers back to the original Superman, but he refuses, saying that he has power enough, and after seeing what it could do, he wants no more, which is an interesting character moment.

And on that somewhat bittersweet note, Denny O’Neil’s Sand Superman saga comes to a close.  As with the run as a whole, this final story is very uneven.  There is a lot here that is really excellent, but there are a number of incongruous elements as well, along with a general sense of missed opportunities.  Really, that’s the biggest problem with this issue and O’Neil’s tenure on the book at large.  The mythology of this story feels ad-hoc and unfinished, a random grab-bag of elements that don’t have a unifying theme and lack the power of, say, the world-building going on in Kirby’s Fourth World books.

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What’s here isn’t bad, but it just feels like it should be more than it is.  The war demon is the best example from this last arc, with its odd appearance and random nature.  His two hobo masters, who contribute almost nothing to the story during their brief tenure, are also signs of this trend.  They corrupt the simple spirit with their thirst for violence, though we had already seen the creature being plenty violent during the previous issue.  These two bums are given no development, no motivation for their evil attitudes, and thus their deaths have no power other than shock value.  This is even more of a shame because there’s plenty of potential for something worthwhile here, perhaps in the style of Frankenstein, with an innocent ruined by the evil of those around it.  Or, through these two bums, O’Neil could have explored how the morally weak react to the man of virtue, which is implicit in their hatred of the Metropolis Marvel but gets zero development.

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Then there’s the incongruous presence of the enigmatic and ill-defined I-Ching, who always felt out of place to me.  I can’t help feeling like the time spent with Diana Prince and I-Ching in these issues is wasted, and it’s time that could have been more profitably spent with Superman or his doppelganger.  As is, the Sandy Superman’s sudden sea-change is not entirely earned, though that is the element that has kept me hooked throughout this arc, the most intriguing piece of O’Neil’s plot.  That is probably the biggest disappointment.  The somewhat promising premise of Quarrm is also left unexplored and unexplained, fading out of the book with the finale of this story.

superman 242 p_017Still, there are some really excellent elements to this story.  The vision of a super-powered brawl destroying the Earth is really striking, and it reminds me of an Action Comics issue from a while back which evinced a similar realization of what such powers could do if not restrained.  This is an intriguing and thought-provoking premise, and one not seen that often in this era.  The fact that this dream then prompts Superman to willingly limit his power is a really fascinating twist.  I’m very curious if we’ll see that actually play out in the DCU at large or if it will be forgotten once O’Neil leaves.  I hope it will be the former!  The evidence of the Sand Superman’s internal conflict is also really interesting, though we don’t get to see much of it.  I’m not entirely sure what to make of O’Neil’s character work with the Man of Steel himself in this issue.  The idea that the hero so enjoys being The Last Son of Krypton that he’d be unwilling to share the limelight is an interesting one.  I don’t think that’s a good read of the character, but it could have led us to the Action Ace doing a little soul searching, which might have been promising if given a bit more space.  I think the fact that he doesn’t actually get the chance to reject that claim is a big weakness of the comic.

The classic “Swanderson” art is quite good throughout this issue.  Even though the war demon’s design is on the goofy side, they still make it look dynamic and frightening in action part of the time.  The depiction of the central super-fight is also nicely effective, as is their work on its cataclysmic consequences.  There are a number of great, dramatic moments beautifully depicted throughout the issue, especially the timely arrival of the Sand Superman.  The art is so good, in fact, that I wish the art team had been given a bit more powerful of a story to illustrate.  In the end, this is a flawed comic full of interesting ideas, an effective microcosm of the equally flawed but fascinating run that spawned it.  It’s an enjoyable read, but it really should be more than that, seeing as it serves as the end of a 10 issue plot.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as its strengths and weaknesses effectively break even, bringing Denny O’Neil’s landmark run on Superman to a less than earth-shattering conclusion.

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Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #114


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“The Foe of 100 Faces”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

The two feminine features of Lois Lane share a single story in this issue, and it is another surprisingly moving tale about race and equality.  Unfortunately, a solid comic is saddled with a pretty weak cover.  While Giordano’s Lois looks great, his Thorn is a bit misshapen, and the composition itself is not terribly captivating, full of yellow sky and not much else.  Notably, the ‘girl’ comic’s cover focuses on a non-existent love triangle instead of the much more interesting grist of the actual plot.

lois_lane_114_02The tale within starts in the office of Perry White, where he shows the lovely Lois Lane a copy of The Black Beacon, published in the city’s ‘Little Africa’ neighborhood, which was written by an anonymous columnist.  The pair admire the unknown author’s work, especially his stance against the nefarious 100, and Perry sends the girl reporter out to recruit the mystery man for the Planet (which really seems a bit outside of her job description: what kind of paper is Perry running?).  Interestingly, Morgan Edge shows up and backs White’s decision, thinking to himself that the 100 are competition to his own outfit, Intergang.  That’s a nice little bit of continuity, with Kanigher touching on what’s happening in other DC books.

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lois_lane_114_03Meanwhile, the Thorn’s alter-ego, Rose subconsciously eavesdrops on her boss, Vince Adams, as he meets with two 100 torpedoes and assigns them to get rid of the protestors blocking the construction of a new high-rise that the gang wants to use as a front.  While the innocent young Rose is unaware of these schemes, her vigilante identity takes note, perhaps implying a growth in the strength of that personality.

That evening, Lois approaches the small office of The Black Beacon, and inside she finds a familiar face.  That’s right, Dave Stevens, from the book’s excellent and groundbreaking first issue on race, is the anonymous author, and he’s obviously been changed by his encounter with the girl reporter.  While his assistant, Tina, is very cold and dismissive of Lois, Dave responds by saying that Lois is a “blood relation” of his, after a fashion, since her blood saved his life.  He tells the story of the journalist’s journey as a black woman, but Tina remains unconvinced.

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Yet, when Dave starts to bring Lois to the embattled Metropolis State building site to show her how he works, the 100 killers try to run them down, only to be stopped in dramatic fashion by the Thorn, who hits them like a whirlwind in a nice sequence.  Interestingly, Dave is a bit angry that a woman has fought his battle for him, but Lois points out that, just like minorities want to be treated equally, so do women, and he acknowledges her point with a smile.

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Once they reach the site of the protest, the young activist explains that the community is objecting to the building of the skyscraper because the city is pursuing it instead of addressing the needs of its people.  They demand affordable housing, schools, and infrastructure instead of another office building.  This fairly complex issue is massively simplified, but that’s to be expected in a comic like this, and the presentation is still effective.  Once again, a black woman objects to Lois’s presence, and once again, the reporter, herself changed by her previous experience, responds with patience and a plea for unity, which is well met.  It’s a bit cheesy, but it’s still heartwarming to see the characters bridging their gaps and the message is good.

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Yet, while the protestors are learning to look past surface differences, the idle construction workers are roused by 100 flunkies into attacking the marchers.  This is done with a surprisingly light touch.  The workers are a pretty diverse group themselves, including American Indians, and they don’t believe the rabble rouser’s speech at first, instead being willing to respond to the non-violence of the protest in kind.  It’s only after more 100 plants among the marchers start shooting and attacking the workers, backed by plants among the construction men as well, that a riot starts.  Kanigher avoids demonizing either group and, though not through realistic means, still manages to show how otherwise decent people can get swept up in violence and bigotry.

Lois gets knocked out (should I count supporting characters on the Headcount?), and Dave Stevens fights like a lion to protect her.  Tina tries to come to his aid, but they are both struck down as well.  Suddenly, the Thorn strikes, and she throws out explosive smoke bombs among the troublemakers.  The Baleful Beauty wades into them in another nice sequence, but she takes a hit as well, and it is only Superman’s timely arrival that saves the quartet.  The Man of Steel manages to use his super breath to disperses the crowd without hurting them.  The hero tries to talk with the Thorn, offering to sponsor her for League membership (!), but the Nymph of Night slips away, replying that she is a loner.

Lois begs the Metropolis Marvel to help the protesters, and he comes up with a solution.  He redesigns the building to use vertical space as well as horizontal and helps construct a new tower, which will serve both groups.  This makes everyone but the 100 happy.  Lois herself gets wistful, wishing she could have the type of relationship with Superman that Dave and Tina share.  Speaking of the two lovebirds, in the next few days, Lois visits them as they teach neighborhood children about black history, and the readers are treated to a cool double paged spread about the subject, and even I learned a bit (I had no idea that Dumas had African ancestry)!

Unfortunately, the peace does not last, and the 100 stages muggings and other disturbances at the new housing development to discredit the black citizens who moved in.  Lois goes to investigate, only to witness an explosion and see the fire department greeted by gunfire and thrown trash.  Dave helps her search for the culprits, but they vanish.  This scene has some fascinating racial overtones, with Perry White pointing out that the organization that has arisen to oppose the new housing development “America Awake,” is using the incidents as proof that “blacks create their own slums wherever they go,” an idea that I’ve unfortunately heard expressed much more recently than 1971.

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lois_lane_114_22That evening, as the black community celebrates their new home, someone throws a firebomb at a table full of children (would that this were more unrealistic), and Lois risks her life, scooping up the explosive and throwing it into the street, suffering severe burns in the process.  At the same time, she sees the Thorn sneaking around and follows her into the newly finished skyscraper.  There, the gallant girl reporter is captured as the Vixen of Vengeance attacks the 100 crew operating as the mysterious “America Awake.”  Dave Stevens comes charging to the rescue again, and with the aid of a smokescreen created by the Thorn’s thrown boot (seriously), she and the adventurous author clean up the crooks in yet another nice action sequence.  After the fight, while Lois’s burned hands are bandaged at a nearby hospital, Tina embraces the girl she had previously rejected, impressed by her willingness to sacrifice her own life for children of color.  Finally, the issue ends with Dave Stevens taking the job at the Planet so that his voice can reach a national audience.

This is another good, surprisingly sensitive and thoughtful story on race by Robert Kanigher.  He continues to amaze me with the varied quality of his work.  While this one is not as subtle and moving as his first try at the topic, that is, after all, a high mark to hit for a comic from the early 70s.  Nonetheless, there is a good story here about breaking through the walls that our perceptions of race build between us.  There is a focus on the plight of the urban poor that carries some weight and a good adventure story to boot, which is impressive because, as we’ve seen, writers can have a hard time balancing their plots and their messages. *cough*O’Neil*cough*

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Kanigher packs a ton into this issue, perhaps a bit too much, actually.  The story races from the initial protest to the attempts to discredit the black community to the capture of the barely introduced “America Awake” front.  I think we could have had a more compelling and intriguing story, plot-wise, if Kanigher had broken this into two issues and built a bit more tension and suspense with the second half of the plot.  The idea of the 100 playing on people’s biases by staging embarrassing incidents and what that says about our culture has some fascinating potential, and building up an actual mystery around what was happening could have been really rewarding.

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Nevertheless, what Kanigher does give us works pretty well, even if it does move at such a quick pace that the “America Awake” organization feels like an afterthought.  Of course, this comic provides a massively simplified take on the problems of the inner city, with the citizens being entirely innocent and the only negative influence coming from outside.  Obviously, that issue is a great deal more complicated, and attempts to address urban poverty have been fraught with many challenges.  Yet, Kanigher’s story, simplistic though it may be, serves a worthwhile purpose by challenging the popular perception of the urban poor, especially those in black communities, and does the same kind of narrative work as his stories about Native Americans, showing members of these groups as individuals, normal human beings with the same fears, problems, emotions, and desires as anyone else.

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This is, as I’ve mentioned before, a very worthy undertaking and part of the power of literature, which can build in us the capacity for compassion, the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes.  The racial tensions of the 1970s certainly made stories like this necessary, but the events of the last few years have shown how much such stories are still needed.  In this era of polarization and tribalism, we could all use a reminder that the fellow on the other side of the isle is human, even if we disagree with him.  This is even more important when that fellow happens not to look like us, as it is far too easy to demonize the Other.  When even people who want the same things are constantly dividing themselves into different camps, it’s nice to read a comic where a daring dame like Lois breaks through such barriers.  It’s also really great to see the friendship that exists between her and Dave, which I imagine was a little shocking in 1971.  I love that there is nothing romantic between them, that they’re just two friends and equals.  That’s a dynamic you don’t see that much in comics of this era.  Honestly, their interactions are some of my favorite parts of the issue.

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lois_lane_114_15 - Copy (2)On the art front, Werner Roth turns in some more beautiful work, filling his faces with personality and emotion but also managing to create some really dynamic fight scenes.  Yet, there are a few places where we end up with some awkward and ugly panels, where his figure work breaks down a bit, like the apparently drunk flying Superman to the left, here.  Still, on the whole, Roth continues to do a wonderful job on this book, really serving to capture the emotions of his cast.  I think that I’ll give this fun and thought-provoking comic a strong 4.5 Minutemen.  It’s a little rough in spots, with some heavy-handedness and its subject is radically simplified, but it is still an unusually good read and has a sweetness and earnestness that make such excesses a bit more forgivable than others we’ve seen.  I never expected to enjoy Lois Lane nearly this much!

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Well!  What a pair of issues!  This is a really significant set of stories, and they definitely illustrate how comics are evolving in this era.  We should have some fascinating trends to examine in the Final Thoughts for this month!  I hope you will join me again soon when we shall do just that!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!