Into the Bronze Age: November 1971 (Part 4)

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

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


G.I. Combat #150


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Justice League of America #94


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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Gods #5


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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“Introducing Fastbak”


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

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


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

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: November 1971 (Part 3)

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

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


The Flash #210


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

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

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

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

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

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“Thus always to robot overlords!”

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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“A Tasteless Trick”


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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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The Forever People #5


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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“The Young Gods of Supertown: Lonar”


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

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

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

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

Into the Bronze Age: November 1971 (Part 2)

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

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Batman #236


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Rain Fire”


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

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

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

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

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Brave and the Bold #98


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Batman: Dark Knight and….kidnapper?

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

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

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Detective Comics #417


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“A Bullet for Gordon”


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

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

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

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

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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

 


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

 

Into the Bronze Age: November 1971 (Part 1)

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

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


This month in history:

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

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

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

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

-Shut your mouth!

-I’m talking about Shaft!

Can you dig it?


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Action Comics #406


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“The Ghost that Haunted Clark Kent”


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

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

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

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

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

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


Adventure Comics #412


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: October 1971 (Part 4)

 

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Happy belated Halloween dear readers, almost in time for Thanksgiving!  I hope you all had a grand and spooky time!  We’ve got at least one tale in this batch that has a horror flavor that befits the season now behind us, and it’s in Lois Lane, of all books!  Honestly, all of our issues for this month have a suitably Halloween-ish flavor, with monsters, mayhem, and more.  They make for an interesting, if not electrifying set of stories.  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.


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.


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #115


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“My Death … By Lois Lane”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

“The Computer Crooks”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano

We have an unusual cover for an unusual story this month, and once again, Dick Giordano turns in a lovely version of title character.  It’s a dramatic piece, with Lois’s apparent death, and Superman’s sudden entrance adds a bit of dynamism it would otherwise be lacking.  I can’t help but feel that the typewriter represents some wasted space, though.  Nonetheless, the tale within manages to deliver on the suspense promised by the cover.  It begins, strangely enough, with our titular heroine visiting Willie Walker, to help his sister care for him.  That’s right, Jack Kirby’s Black Racer makes an appearance in Lois Lane of all books!  Kanigher seems to be pretty interested in picking up on the threads that the King is weaving in his own titles, which adds a really neat and unexpected flavor of world-building to these stories.  Would that there was such attention in the other Superman books.  Interestingly, I think the Racer’s pretty terrible design actually looks a bit better when drawn by Roth, a little leaner and more graceful, which suits the character.  It still isn’t good per se, but it might be less hideous.

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Anyway, once Lois leaves, the paralyzed Willie becomes his perilously powered alter-ego, and sets out to bring death to denizens of Metropolis.  Later that night, Lois is entertaining her new boss, Morgan Edge, having invited him over because “he always seems so alone,” which seems uncharacteristically sweet for Lois and is also pleasantly ironic given Edge’s nefarious nature.  After the evil executive leaves, the ravishing reporter opens a newly arrived package and discovers a typewriter, supposedly a gift from a secret admirer.  However, she finds herself compelled to write on it, and she produces a prediction of death for a famous biochemist.  She rushes to the bridge where her premonition placed his perishing, only to arrive just in time to see him die, the first victim of the Black Racer!

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Returning home, she tries to dismiss the strange event, only to once again be compelled to foresee another fatality, this time a famous singer.  Calling the woman despite the late hour, the jinxed journalist has no luck, and when she tries to intercede directly, she once again arrives too late.  Lois finds the singer’s apartment full of gas and the woman herself quite dead, the Racer’s second victim.

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Once more returning to her apartment, the creeped-out columnist faces the demonic device in fear, and she begins to type out a final oracle, her own obituary, set for the distant dawn in that very apartment.  Her first thoughts are of Superman, but he’s on a mission to the arctic.  Finally, the witty writer decides she’ll just avoid her apartment until the appointed hour has passed, and she heads into an all-night movie theater (do they have those in big cities?).  Unfortunately, a fire breaks out in the cinema, and Lois is ironically trampled while trying to prevent a panic.  The Man of Steel had just gotten back home and puts out the blaze, but in the melee he missed his lady love.

 

Meanwhile, a ‘kind’ couple, claiming to be Lois’s neighbors, have brought her home and drugged her.  They are secretly Inter-gang agents reporting to Morgan Edge, and the mysterious typewriter is revealed to be an Apokaliptian artifact!  Shortly after they leave, Superman comes to check on his Pulitzer-winning paramour, only to find her almost unconscious.  Lois is able to warn him about the terrible typewriter.  Reading her notes, the Man of Steel finds himself forced to type his own death-notice.  Yet, just as he’s about to finish the note, he wrenches himself away from the macabre machine!

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He realizes that Lois’s notes used every letter…except J, and he was just about to be forced to write “Jewel Theater,” the location of the fire, which would trigger the trap.  The Man of Tomorrow puts the pieces together and throws the device into space, narrowly avoiding a powerful explosion, one that might have even killed a Kryptonian!  The story ends with Superman comforting a sleeping Lois, relieved at their escape but ruminating on the fact that his enemies killed two innocent people as part of their ploy and promising to bring the killers to justice.  I quite like that Superman, and thus the story, take these deaths seriously.  With the main characters safe, it would be easy for Kanigher to forget about the others, but it’s a nice note of character consistency that Superman doesn’t.

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This is a solid and effective little mystery.  Kanigher manages to create a little tension and suspense, with Lois’s perilous predictions and her increasing confusion and fear when facing the uncertainty of her situation.  Unfortunately, the Black Racer is a bit of a red herring, as he doesn’t actually contribute anything to the story in the end.  The final resolution, with the typewriter gimmicked to kill Superman is the least effective element of the tale, but it’s not bad.  An exploding typewriter just feels a bit pedestrian for the New Gods.  Nonetheless, the result is a pretty decent read.  Werner Roth’s art continues to be quite good, and he gets a chance to create a wider range of panels, including some action, while mostly avoiding the superheroic elements that aren’t his forte.  Still, his Superman continues to evince the occasional awkwardness.  I’ll give this solid story 3.5 Minutemen.

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“The Computer Crooks”


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This month’s Rose and Thorn backup is another solid entry in this surprisingly good feature.  This one is mostly setup, a definite ‘part one,’ but Kanigher has the sense to give the story he wants to tell room to breathe.  It begins with the 100’s leader, Vince Adams, directing a group of his men dressed as hippies to hit the streets and start getting kids hooked on drugs.  The Thorn gets wind of this, and she is none too pleased.  In another of Giordano’s nice multi-moment / collage panels the Nymph of Night cleans house at a drive-in movie theater showing a Superman documentary, just in case you forgot whose town this is.

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Note the guy in the top right.  Who knew that the Thorn once decked Donald Trump?  Even the dialog is fitting!

 

As she’s finishing the job, Danny Stone arrives, and the two share a moment, only for the Vixen of Vengeance to pull away and drop a ‘smoke thorn.’  The dialog in the scene is downright painful, but the idea, of the vigilante being too driven by her mission to allow herself to get close to anyone, is a good one.

 

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And now we’ve got Robert Kennedy!  This book is a veritable who’s who.

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The next day, the Thorn’s unwitting alter-ego, Rose is at work with Adams when he is called in to a meeting of the gang.  In another example of Kanigher’s attention to continuity and his blending of Fourth World ideas into his own books, the 100 have stolen an advanced computer from Intergang.  The device is described as being similar to a Motherbox, but it’s design is too 50s sci-fi and not nearly Kirby enough to fit the bill.  Nonetheless, Adams has the machine tasked with creating a trap for the Thorn in the organization’s collective side, and after being pleased with the result, kills the scientist who got the thing working.

That evening, Detective Stone is ambushed by some disguised 100 thugs, only to be rescued, again, by the Baleful Beauty.  Meanwhile, we get a glimpse at the first stages of the 100’s plan, as no less a peerless personage than Poison Ivy is brought in to orchestrate the operation!  But sadly that waits for next month!

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Exciting!  This is the first Poison Ivy appearance, as near as I can tell, since 1966!  She won’t return to a Batman title for another six years, but she’ll show up in JLA pretty soon.  I’m looking forward to seeing this classic Batman villain in action, as she’s a favorite of mine.  She’s even more of a favorite of Lady Grey, who always insists on referring to her as a ‘hero’, but then again, the good lady tends to identify more with the villains than with the heroes!

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As for the story itself, it is unexceptional but effective.  This issue did its job, setting up the second half, though it could probably have been a bit more tightly plotted given how little space it had to work with.  Still, Kanigher turns in another entertaining outing for the Thorn, giving us some action, teasing us with a glimpse of the larger plot, and even giving us a awkward but interesting piece of characterization.  Dick Giordano’s art is really good throughout.  I’ve been enjoying seeing his work in this book, as I’ve only ever known him as an editor.  So, I’ll give this solid first chapter 3.5 Minutemen.

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142


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“The Man from Transilvane!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell

“Last Mile Alley”
Writers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon
Letterer: Howard Ferguson
Editors: Whitney Ellsworth

Okay, we’ve got a strange one here.  I vaguely remember this arc from my original read-through, and not fondly, I’m afraid.  Judging from this first story, I don’t think it seems too promising.  One thing’s for sure…it’s weird.  Once again, it seems like the King’s imagination is running away with him.  As the cover announces, it’s vampires and werewolves, Kirby style, which means that, if nothing else, it certainly won’t be boring.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be good.  The cover itself is a decent composition, with the vampire figure fairly menacing and filling the space well, but I’ve got to say, seeing Superman and a Dracula knock-off sharing space is just a bit off-putting.  It looks almost like a poor photoshop job, which isn’t helped by the fact that DC is still redrawing Kirby’s Superman.  Jimmy getting mauled by the wolfman in the corner is more entertaining, though!

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The story itself is not Kirby’s finest work.  It begins with two refugees from the Late-Late Show, a vampire and a werewolf (sounds like the setup for a bad joke!), who are stalking around the outskirts of Metropolis.  The art is alternately strikingly creepy and awkward as the vampire uses extremely vaguely defined eye beams to make bite marks on a sleeping woman’s neck from miles away.  Sure, why not?

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jimmyolsen142-04That woman happens to be Laura Conway, assistant to Morgan Edge, and the next morning sees her stonewalling Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen as they try to see her boss and confront him about his shady doings.  Things take a turn from the strange when she suddenly goes full vampiress, complete with fangs, pale skin, and missing reflection.  She passes out, and before the newsmen can figure out what to do, a bat flies into the office, transforming into our friend the vampire, who helpfully announces that he is “Count Dragorin of Transilvane!”  Of course he is.

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The guys take this all rather remarkably well in stride, even considering their unusually high threshold for the unusual.  Still, the vampire zaps them with those same vague eyebeams, referring to them as “The Power.”  Clark recovers quickly enough to hear Dragorin ask the girl for the location of a man named Dabney Donovan, but before the disguised Man of Steel can manhandle the macabre un-man, he vanishes!  The girl recovers once he’s gone, and Mr. Mild-Mannered and Jimmy leave to chase down their clue.

 

They arrive at a defunct NASA research facility used to create synthetic alien environments for testing, the former home of ‘mad scientist’ Dabney Donovan.  However, they are greeted by a wolfman, a very Kirby wolfman, with a cool look and some very snazzy duds.  Fido tries to maul Clark, but Jimmy courageously and selflessly attacks the creature, leading it away from his fallen friend.  That gives the reporter the chance to change into Superman.

 

jimmyolsen142-17The Man of Tomorrow saves his beleaguered pal, making short work of the woflman, but he in turn is once more stunned by Dragorin’s eyebeams, allowing the villains to escape.  The reporters rally and search the facility, discovering a clue pointing to a cemetery and a “destruct date”, 1971 (incidentally dating this story, which tends to be rare in comics).

Meanwhile, the pugnacious youngsters of the Newsboy Legion have escaped from the Project and sailed down an underground river.  Flippa Dippa (sigh) is useful for  precisely second time in the series, as he opens an underwater door and allows the group access to an elevator.  They arrive in an old bunker, now serving as the hideout of a gangster.  More importantly, they overhear his phone conversation, which reveals that he is the man who killed the original Guardian, Jim Harper!  The kids are entertaining in their short appearance, but sadly this is all we see of them this issue.

 

Back in our ‘A’ plot, Superman and Jimmy arrive at the cemetery and investigate a tomb, with the Action Ace offering a theory that Dragorin and his furry friend don’t actually disappear but instead shrink rapidly.  Inside the tomb they find a miniature alien world, Transilvane, which I guess confirms the hypothesis..  Oookay.  Not sure what is going on?  Well, you’re not alone.  You see….he’s a vampire…but from…not space…but..mini-space?  I don’t know.

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So, like I said, this is a weird one, and it is a bit hard to assess.  There are some really fun elements to it here and there.  I love Jimmy’s desperate but heroic attempt to save Clark, and Kirby’s artwork captures the savagery of the wolfman attack.  I actually really like the King’s take on Jimmy in this series in general.  The kid is a young adventurer, hardened to danger by his association with Superman, quick on his feet, loyal, and a thoroughly likeable guy.  Yet, he’s still a kid and still trying to prove himself.  I wish that both Jimmy and the Legion were given more space to shine in recent issues .  Unfortunately, Kirby’s portrayal of Jimmy’s super-pal isn’t as successful, at least in this issue.  Perhaps this one’s biggest weakness is its dialog, which is just plain bad: awkward, stilted, unnatural, and sometimes just weird.  Despite that, Kirby turns the occasional nicely fitting phrase, which only highlights how rough the rest of it is.

The actual plot of this issue is pretty bonkers.  I think I see what Kirby is trying to do, but the whole thing just feels pretty far out there.  We’ve got space-vampires, space-werewolves, and a tiny planet.  This feels like a rejected Fantastic Four script.  In general, the sudden invasion of the monster mash cast just feels like a disorienting tonal shift, and the mixture of horror and sci-fi elements, which can certainly be done well, here just feels poorly conceived.  The fairly coherent (if outlandish) and focused approach to the first several issues of Jimmy Olsen, with the connecting elements of the D.N.A. Project and the mystery of the Wild Area, has been lost, and the book is starting to feel like it is floundering, lacking a clear direction.  Kirby’s art is mostly good, though a little bare-bones in some places.  He brings his trade-mark energy and drama to even the silliest scenes.  I’ll give this random tale of movie monsters and super-sleuthing 2.5 Minutemen.  It’s not terrible, but it just doesn’t work well.

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P.S.: This issue include a two-page spread on the “Haries” and their gadgets, which is interesting and adds to the world Kirby is creating.  It’s odd, though, as the Wild Area seems to have been abandoned and is already fading in the rear-view mirror as this series races off in a random direction.  Clearly, the King was still thinking about that seemingly abandoned setting, which makes me wonder what might have been.

 


Teen Titans #35


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“Intruders of the Forbidden Crypt”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Nick Cardy

“A Titan is Born”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza

“The Doom Hunters”
Writer: Jack Miller
Penciler: Ramona Fradon
Inker: Ramona Fradon
Editor: Jack Schiff

“Have Arrow — Will Travel!”
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Penciler/Inker: Lee Elias
Editor: Mort Weisinger

Well, you thought the combination of vampires and simulated alien worlds was odd?  You ain’t seen nothing yet.  Zaney Haney has got a new one, a tale of possible reincarnation, star-crossed lovers, and Shakespeare…and oh yeah, the Teen Titans are there for some reason.  It’s a story only the rajah of randomness could tell.  Nick Cardy gives us another really nice cover for it, this one suitably suspenseful and creepy for our use so close to Halloween.  Cardy creates a nicely mysterious and tense scene, and it’s beautifully drawn as always.

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teentitans35-03The story inside begins with Lilith being vague, cryptic, and once more displaying the power of plot…so, pretty much business as usual for her.  I thought we had gotten past all of her esoterism, but apparently not.  In this instance, the team is randomly in Verona, Italy, and they are visiting the supposed house of Juliet, of “Romeo and…” fame, when she passes out after feeling like she is the young heroine reborn.  Wally mocks her, but the superfluous Mr. Jupiter, who is still hanging around the book for some reason, tells him to lay off.

Then the industrialist shows the team why he’s come to Italy (though not why a group of superheroes are just be-bopping around Europe with him), a new lab complex he plans to build there.  Suddenly, an angry local business magnate, Donato Loggia, bursts into the office, ranting about stopping the project.  The Italian insists that his family runs Verona and that he won’t have an outsider upstaging him, even trying to get Jupiter to challenge him to a duel.

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teentitans35-09After the intruder leaves, the team heads to a costume ball, just straight-up wearing their costumes, wildly endangering their secret identities.  ‘Hey, I wonder if the group of kids traveling with the well known philanthropist could be the same as the superheroes who went to the party with him…’  Nonetheless, at the party, Loggia shows up with his son and nephew, and Lilith immediately falls for the son, reenacting “Romeo and Juliet,” as the kid is the son of her “father’s” enemy.  Kid Flash doesn’t take this too well and starts playing the part of Tibalt, starting a brawl with the Loggia family, with the rest of the male Titans joining in until the police show up.

 

If you’ve read the play, you can probably guess what’s coming next.  Both parties are warned to keep the peace by the local law (not quite a prince, but beggars can’t be choosers).  Things continue in this silly direction, with Lilith now convinced that she and the young Loggia, literally named Romeo, are the reincarnations of Shakespeare’s tragic lovers, and Wally flying off the handle at the whole situation.  That night, Lilith and Romeo 2.0 run off, while Kid Flash gets jumped by a couple of random Loggia thugs, who manage to stab the Fastest freaking Boy Alive, because plot.  Now Flasher is playing the part of Mercutio, down to even uttering some of the poor guy’s dialog….despite the fact that Mercutio was Romeo’s friend, not Juliet’s, but logical consistency isn’t really Haney’s strength at the best of times.

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“Oh no!  I’ve been stabbed!  If only I had super-humanly fast reflexes that let me dodge knives…and bullets….”

Meanwhile, Interpol has approached Jupiter, wanting his help getting evidence on Loggia, who they suspect of being dirty.  Jupiter wants to use Lilith’s relationship to spy on his rival, but Dick won’t hear of it.  It’s at this point that they figure out the girl in question is missing.  She’s run off with Romeo and discovered the ancient tomb of the Capulets, Juliet’s family, where they find two empty coffins.  Yet, when the Titans arrive to search for them, they find three empty coffins and are stalked by a shadowy figure.  Dun dun DUN!

 

Oookay.  This isn’t a bad story, really, but it is such a poor fit for the Titans that it is hard to assess it on its own merits.  I’m also so sick of this goofy direction for the team that Mr. Jupiter and their pointless meanderings just annoy me at this point.  This plot could work decently well for a romance comic, but the superheroic cast of this book just feels dreadfully out of place and underused.  We don’t even have anything approaching a credible threat.  Instead, a couple of random guys, not even with enough gravitas to join the Generic Gang, give a bunch of superpowered heroes a run for their money.  Essentially, this tale just emphasizes things that were already problematic about this book.  I’ll give this particularly ill-fated instance of Haney’s zaniness 2.5 star-crossed Minutemen.  A plague on both their houses!  I’m being generous because I feel my own bias quite strongly here.

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P.S.: Maybe the reason Speedy has such a poor showing in the brawl with the locals is that he’s still recovering from his addiction over in Green Lantern….


“A Titan is Born”


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Our backup continues the tradition of focusing on a single Titan, which is a nice way to develop the team a bit.  Unfortunately, the Titan they focus on is the pointless Mal Duncan.  I can’t wait for him to become the new Guardian and therefore justify his presence on the team!  Fittingly enough, when we join Mal, he is ruminating on the very fact of his own pointlessness.  Apparently the other Titans left the poor kid behind on monitor duty at Jupiter’s lab when they went to Italy, which hardly seems fair.  As the lonely youth roams the halls of the facility, he marvels at the processing power of Jupiter’s computer, which has a name that could only have come from Hepcat Haney, “Think Freak.”  In his wanderings, he encounters a stranger in the lab, who claims he is a scientist there at the invitation of Mr. Jupiter and produces a letter to prove it.

Mal is a little suspicious, but he accepts the fellows explanation at first.  After a while, he begins to notice things that don’t add up, like changed records on an experiment, the fellow’s coat not being wet, despite there being a rainstorm that night, and the guy’s odd reaction to the mention of the word “limbo”.  Feeding all of his data into, *sigh*, Think Freak, Mal discovers that the supposed scientist is actually the Gargoyle!

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So this guy is apparently an old foe of the Titans, having faced them a few times in their series.  He took on this current identity in issues 14, which I know I read, but I can’t remember this loser to save my life!  At the end of that story, this mystically powered mort was trapped in Limbo, but Mr. Jupiter’s experiment inadvertently freed him.  (Can scientists in the DCU do anything without endangering their world?)  Now the Gargoyle wants revenge, but since he can’t get at the Titans who actually defeated him, he’ll settle for Mal.

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Hey, a new head-blow for the Headcount!

The two have a running fight, with the young hero clearly outclassed, and the villain comes out on top.  In desperation, Mal tells Think Freak to fix the problem with the experiment that allowed the Gargoyle to reenter the real world, which severs the criminal’s connection and sends him back to Limbo.  The somewhat tenderized Titan decides that he’s worthy of staying on the team after all, which seems like something of a stretch to me, and welcomes the sun as it comes out after a stormy night.

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This is a decent little story, but there isn’t too much to it, nor does it have an inspiring villain.  The Gargoyle has a semi-cool look, though it doesn’t make sense that he’s just a dude in a costume, but the real problem with him is that he just doesn’t have much personality or a coherent concept.  All I could tell you from this issue would be that he wears a gargoyle costume, was trapped in Limbo, and hates the Titans.  Who is he?  What does he do?  No clue.  Mal’s soul searching is fitting, seeing as he really doesn’t belong on the team, but rather than use this opportunity to actually give him a raison d’etre, Haney leaves the character where he found him.  In general, this is a pretty forgettable story.  If you’re going to bring back a forgotten character, you might need more space to make it worthwhile, especially one as bland as this guy.  I’ll give this backup 2.5 Minutemen.  It isn’t bad, but it feels a bit lacking.  George Tuska’s art is quite good in both of these comics, and he does a good job on the Gargoyle, though once again, you really don’t see him as a man in a costume, and his work in the main story is nicely atmospheric.  His slightly exaggerated, cartoony style is not a bad fit for this era of Titans.

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P.S.: While the new stories in this issue weren’t all that great, this issue might still have been worth your money way back when, as it included two really fun and charming classic tales, featuring Aquaman and Aqualad and Green Arrow and Speedy.  The former features the peerless pencils of the ever awesome Ramona Fradon.  Having so often just read these stories in reprints and collections, it is really fascinating to see what else was actually included between the covers of these books.


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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arrowheadglheadAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpg2f52ff2370b3a87769869427faeac69darrowheadAquamanhead.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgMister_Miracle_Scott_Free_00014aa6e3fed1467a75dcac3f9654a2c723glheadLilith_Clay_(New_Earth)_002malduncan

In all of our books this month, we only came up with one headblow for the headcount, but it brings a new face to the feature.  That’s right, the esteemed Mal Duncan, pointless member of the Teen Titans joins this august company.  Maybe he does have what it takes to be a superhero after all.  He may not have super powers or a costume, but he can take a blow to the back of the head like a champ!  I wonder who will be next!


Final Thoughts:


This month has been drawn out because of my busy schedule, but we have finished it at last.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a particularly memorable month in most respects, and we’ve got an unusually high number of turkeys in this batch of books, including our oddball Action Comics tale and several others.  The exception, of course, is the famous finale of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow drug story.

The conclusion to Denny O’Neil’s latest attempt at social relevance was surprisingly good, rising above its beginnings and its hokier elements to actually achieve a little power at times, all while still maintaining some classic comic fun, which is perhaps even more impressive.  This tale clearly illustrates the continuing attempt at relevance and more mature storytelling, and it is once again not alone on the stands.  Our Supergirl yarn in Adventure Comics features a classic morality tale about prejudice and fear of the Other, while Batgirl’s Batman backup includes mentions of radical political groups and the tension between Americans and their government.

Interestingly, in the Batgirl story, these elements are almost purely set dressing, not really being the focus of the narrative.  This indicates how thoroughly these ideas have made it into the zeitgeist of the DC Universe.  The Phantom Stranger’s story also has a focus on realistic issues, zombie robots not withstanding, as it both provides a positive portrayal of native Africans and exposes the evils of the exploitation of the continent by foreign corporations.  That’s a surprisingly sophisticated topic for a comic in 1971, where the traditional ‘darkest Africa’ stereotypes are often still in play.

Other highlights and points of interest this month included a return of the Macabre Man-Bat, with the unusual but engaging art of Frank Robbins, which I quite enjoyed.  I also really enjoyed Mr. Miracle’s latest adventure and the introduction of Big Barda, though the story had its flaws.  I’m excited to see the role she’ll play in the series going forward!

There seem to be a number of series that are floundering at the moment, including Supergirl, Jimmy Olsen, Teen Titans, and the Superman books.  These are all proving uneven and inconsistent.  I hope we’ll see more definite directions for them in the coming months.

Well, there’s not too much to say about this month of comics, but I hope y’all enjoyed the journey!  I am looking forward to our next month of Bronze Age exploration, and I hope you’ll join me soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age, where we’ll start the new month.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: October 1971 (Part 3)

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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


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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“Superbaby’s First Friend”


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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.

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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.

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Superman #243


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“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.

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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.

minute3


“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!

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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.

minute2.5

 


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!