Into the Bronze Age: May 1971 (Part 3)

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Hello and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  While I know nothing can live up to the incredible extravaganza that was the Ten-Eyed Man’s return, I think we’ve got an interesting pair of books on tap today, including a fascinating first appearance.  So, check out more of what May 1971 has in store for us!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #400
  • Adventure Comics #406
  • Batman #231
  • Brave and Bold #95
  • Detective Comics #411
  • The Flash #206
  • Forever People #2
  • G.I. Combat #147
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #83
  • Justice League of America #89
  • New Gods #2
  • Superman #237
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #110
  • World’s Finest #202

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


Detective Comics #411


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“Into the Den of the Death-Dealers!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Cut… and run!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Dick Giordano

This month we’ve got an uneven cover.  It’s a bit oddly designed, with some wonky perspective, and the sword of the fellow in purple is misshapen.  The concept is cool, however, and seeing Batman facing ninjas is always exciting.  Inside is an important issue in the the Dark Knight’s history, introducing a significant character and advancing the League of Assassins plot that continues to develop across these books.  Yet, as is so often the case, the significance of this story isn’t immediately apparent.  It will take a little time for the groundwork laid here to bear fruit.

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Our story starts with a nicely dramatic splash page, courtesy of Bob Brown.  We see Batman perched atop the “Statue of Freedom,” which is totally not the Statue of Liberty, with Gotham spread out in the distance.  I enjoyed this little touch of ersatz world building, though the Statue of Liberty is a bit too iconic for this to work.  Their world is not our world, and I prefer it that way.  Within the edifice, the Masked Manhunter has planned to meet an informant with information about the League of Assassins, but those same killers find the fellow first!  The Caped Crusader fights off their followup attack, and we see some more of the ‘martial arts master’ Batman that would become the standard in following years, though the art doesn’t quite sell it.

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DETECTIVE COMICS 411 008Before he dies, the informant manages to give the hero a lead.  With his last breath, he whispers that the nefarious Dr. Darrk will be on the Soom Express (totally not the Orient Express), and soon we watch as Dr. Darrk and a beautiful young woman board the train, followed by a mysterious old lady.  As the train slows for a hill, Darrk and his companion leap off, and once more they are followed by the old woman, who throws off a disguise to reveal the Batman…who somehow hid his pointy-eared cowl under a mask and wig.  It’s still a rather cool moment, despite its silliness. DETECTIVE COMICS 411 007 Yet, Darrk was waiting for him, and his assassins overwhelm the Dark Knight, beating him unconscious with bo-staffs.

When the Masked Manhunter awakens, he discovers that he is the un-masked Manhunter!  The girl, who introduces herself as Talia, daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul (that’s right!), has taken off his mask to treat his injuries.  She declares that Darrk had fallen out with her father, and he had taken her prisoner as part of their feud.  Their conversation is cut short when Darrk leads them to what he intends to be their doom!

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Talia is tied to a stake in the middle of an arena, while Batman is left free, free to face an enraged bull!  The Crusader uses his cape to confuse and distract the animal before leading it into Darrk’s minions.  Then, in an exciting display of resourcefulness and power, he rips Talia’s poll out of the ground and uses it to pole-vault into Darrk, where the villain watched from a balcony.  With the bad Doctor in tow, the Dark Knight heads to meet the train, only to be blinded by a hidden weapon of Darrk’s.  As the assassin master prepares to finish off his foe, Talia shoots him, and the villain falls into the path of the train, meeting a grisly end.  The story ends with Batman comforting the traumatized girl, who was forced to take a life.

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This is a good, solid adventure story, continuing to develop the threat of the League of Assassins.  It seems like a fairly straightforward resolution to that arc, with a suitably dramatic and treacherous ending for the demonic Dr. Darrk, but there is, of course, much more going on here.  O’Neil layers in some pretty good plot hooks for new stories, introducing Talia, casually mentioning her father, and the significance of these things is easy to miss.

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Yet, the seeds of something great are already here.  While the girl claims she cannot recognize Bruce Wayne’s face, she has seen it, which will open up possibilities in the future, and the way she speaks of her father makes it clear that he is a powerful and dangerous man.  There isn’t much chemistry between our hero and this new lady in his life yet, but then again this is only their first meeting, a meeting under adverse conditions.

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I imagine that O’Neil realized that he had something promising with the League of Assassins, but at the same time understood that Darrk, was not nearly an interesting enough head honcho for such an outfit.  With this tale, he disposes of one functional if uninspiring villain and makes the way for a much, much better one.  Next month, we’re going to meet on of the greatest Bat-villains of all time, and one who defines the Bronze Age of Batman!  This story, however, is not quite so impressive as I remember that one being.  It’s an exciting adventure tale, and Brown’s art is strong if not spectacular.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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P.S.: I realized after the fact that this story was actually loosely adapated into the Batman: The Animated Series episode, “Off Balance.”  Thus, Timm and Co. actually adpated both parts of the introduction of R’as Al Ghul!


“Cut…and Run!”


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Our backup this month is the continuation of last issue’s Batgirl yarn, and it’s a fun one.  The Dynamic Dame was captured by the mod mobsters, the felonious fashionistas who were backing a clothier invested in the skir-craze.  It was…an odd but entertaining plot.  We join the gangster, ‘Serpy,’ as he straps Batgirl into an automated cloth cutter, and abiding by villain union rules, he leaves her to her fate.  Things look grim for the girl detective, but she uses her head, or more specifically, her mouth!  She rotates the pattern plate to stay ahead of the cutting blade, and when it reaches the end, it shuts off.  This is a nicely clever escape, showing her resourcefulness.

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DETECTIVE COMICS 411 027Suddenly, Milt, one of the designers and fashion spies shows up, but he has had a change of heart, not being up for murder, and lets her go.  The Masked Maiden tries to warn the gangster’s target, stylista Mamie Acheson, but the girl doesn’t believe her, so the heroine rushes to catch a plane in hopes of beating the assassins to the punch.  On the Rivera, Serpy and his right-hand thug toss a helpless Ms. Acheson overboard, only to have the fashionplate rescued by Batgirl!

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Then, the Masked Maiden tackles both killers and puts them on ice.  Don Heck does a pretty nice job with most of the action, but there are some rough spots too.  After her rescue, Mamie is feeling the weight of her decision, and after a comment from Batgirl about her beautiful legs (really Babs?), she comes up with a way out of the conundrum.  She shows up on stage in a Batgirl inspired pants-suit, and surely fashion designers the world over started jumping out of windows.

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It’s a cute ending to an off-beat story.  I enjoyed the repentance of the felonious fashion designer, as it makes sense he would balk at murder, whatever lengths he might be willing to go to for his business.  Batgirl’s dynamic rescue is good, but her escape from the deathtrap is my favorite part of the issue.  It’s nice to see her recover from the bumbling bombshell she was last issue.  The setup is still a bit odd, but the result is an enjoyable little story, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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The Flash #206


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“24 Hours of Immortality”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Showdown in Elongated Town”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano

I’m not entirely sure why, but I really dislike this cover.  For one, the frozen, blank-eyed expression on the girl’s face says less ‘absence of fear’ and more ‘presence of lobotomy.’  It just doesn’t really work for me.  Other than the girl’s plunge, there’s nothing else to it, and the image just doesn’t quite capture her fall, nor the significance thereof.  The same is true of the story within, another product of the unequaled master of the uneven, Bob Kanigher.

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It begins with aerial daredevil Susan Logan and her son flying to the ‘Sky Devils Circus,’ while at the same time Neurosurgeon William Kandel and his wife are racing towards an operation on a famous scientist.  Suddenly, Logan loses control over her plane, and she just happens to crash right into the doctor’s car.  The son and wife are killed in the crack-up, but as the two heart-broken humans are left lamenting their lost loved ones, two strange, glowing figures appear out of the ether.  They claim to be “aliens countless light-years advanced over” Earth, which doesn’t entirely make sense, and in their weird robes, they look more like bug-eyed spirits than advanced aliens.  Nonetheless, they are apparently studying Earth, so in the interest of gathering data, they restore the two lost loved ones back to life in exchange for their relatives surrendering their lives in 24 hours.  Until that time, the aliens declare that each of their future victims will be immortal.

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Each pair rushes off to finish their business and spend their remaining time together, and each runs into trouble on the way.  The doctor is caught in the crossfire between the Generic Gang and the Flash during a car chase, only to find that the rounds passed right through him.  The surgeon begs the Monarch of Motion to help him get to his appointment, and then the hero chips in as his assistant to make the multi-hour procedure go faster and give the man more time to spend with his wife.

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Afterwards, the pilot, Susan Logan, finds the location of the aerial circus aflame.  The Flash is able to put the blaze out, but she still manages to get into trouble and nearly crash for a second time.  I’ve got to say, at this point, I’m not sure this woman should be flying.  We also get a really weird and random diatribe about forestry and forest fires, as the Flash has a page-long harangue against people whose carelessness starts fires, including a pointed visual reference to dead animals.  I sympathize, having grown up in the ‘Smokey the Bear’ era, but this is just absolutely shoe-horned into this issue.

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Get it?  GET IT?!

Thanks to the Fastest Man Alive, Logan is still able to perform in the show, but she is on the verge of being beaten by the favorite, so she puts her immortality to the test, diving all the way to the ground instead of opening her chute.  This seems like something of a cheat to me, but she’s doing it to provide for her soon to be orphaned son, so I guess we’re supposed to say it’s okay.

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Finally, the two on borrowed time are taken back to their fateful appointment by the Flash, as he has decided not to let them give up their lives without a fight.  He pleads with the two aliens in some rather painfully badly sentimental dialog, the usual ‘we have emotions and minds!’ routine.  In response, the robed ones pretty much say, ‘eh, we’ll kill you too.’  They try a few different weapons, with the Flash escaping from each one, and then they literally disintegrate him.  And that’s the end of the Flash.  This is the book’s last issue! Next month we’ll put the Adventures of Kid Flash in this slot…

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Ohh wait, no.  Instead, Barry pulls a Doctor Manhattan, and literally reconstructs his body, molecule by molecule, with limbs, mind, that have already been disintegrated.  Yet, while the insanely powerful, godlike Dr. Manhattan took months to do so, Flash does it in seconds.  Because that’s a thing that he can do.  Because that makes a lick of sense with this powers.  At this point, the aliens essentially just give up with the murder and mouth some meaningless platitudes about how mankind is clearly more noble than they thought, possessing higher characteristics like selfless love.  Except, they already saw that when A) the first two willingly offered their lives for their loved ones and again, B) when the Flash did the same for two strangers before they tried to melt him.  It’s really stupid in context.  Clearly Kanigher is hitting the conventional notes without bothering to tell a story that gets there naturally.

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‘Farewell and a good life!  Sorry about trying to murder you!’

So the end result here is a weird attempt at moralizing in multiple ways that bungles its payoff.  The aliens are really random and don’t solidify as a concept, and the two different pairs of marked people mean that you don’t spend enough time with either one to really get invested in their story.  Susan Logan just seems downright incompetent, and the doctor and his wife are given no real time to display any personality.  Barry gets literally one panel of introspection with Iris as he tries to decide what to do, and the reintegration resolution is so ridiculous, that I had to read it twice to make sure I got it.  I’ll give this half-hearted tale a weak 2Minutemen.  It’s been done before, and done much better.  Even the poorly developed Phantom Stranger tale with the needlessly Egyptian aliens (or needlessly alien Egyptians, depending on your point of view) was more dramatically successful.

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“Showdown in Elongated Town!”


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Yet again, the backup feature saves the day!  This time, we get a really exciting event stuffed into the back pages of the Flash, the return of the Stretchable Sleuth, the Ductile Detective, the Rubberized Roustabout, the Elongated Man!  Now, I’ve got a solid affection for this hard-luck hero, though I’ve read few of his stories.  He’s just such a likeable character, and I love the ‘Nick and Nora’ vibe that he and his wife embody.  It’s a charming concept, and it really sets him apart from the competition.  I suppose this once again reveals my love of the underdogs.

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This particular tale reintroduces the Elongated Man to the DC Universe and the pages of Flash in strange but memorable fashion.  He the Stretchable Sleuth suddenly finds himself in a bizarre, fun-house version of a western town, hauling a wagon like a packhorse.  Suddenly, his mystery-scenting noes starts twitching, and Ralph knows that something odd is afoot.  A distorted gunfighter appears, and bizarrely, he fires a solar-powered six-shooter at the hero.  With everything strangely distorted, the Ductile Detective has a hard time operating, and his efforts to capture his antagonist only net him a dummy!

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Just then, he is beset by a stampede and a massive rattlesnake.  Fleeing upwards, Ralph discovers a loudspeaker, revealing that these threats aren’t real.  He makes his way inside one of the buildings, dodging more solar blasts, and, in a panel that I find a bit creepy, he pops a pair of contact lenses out of his eyes!  Elongated Man has deduced that he’s been setup, and someone planned to cripple him by distorting his vision.  Snatching up an old lever-action rifle, Ralph stalks into the street to confront the only man who could accomplish all of this, and he calls him out…the Mirror Master!

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As the villain fires his mirror gun, the Stretchable Sleuth crams himself into the gun barrel, then springs out, surprising his foe and capturing him!  It’s a nice resolution, an unexpected attack that makes a certain amount of sense as a way to take out the much more powerful opponent.  The tale ends with the Elongated Man figuring out the mystery of his predicament and putting the pieces together.  The Mirror Master hypnotized him and drew him to this ghost town in order to train himself for a clash with the Flash.  To handicap the hero, the Reflective Rogue used special contacts to distort his vision.  Apparently, ‘ol Mirror Master was a big western fan, and the trappings of the story were his way of living out a classic showdown fantasy.

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This is a fun story and a decent reintroduction of the Elongated Man.  He captures a much more powerful villain, taking advantage of the fact that he was underestimated, which is pretty well in character.  I like the way he puts things together, and it is all relatively believable in context for the Ductile Detective.  It’s cool to see Dick Giordano handling the art chores as well, and he does a fine job, capturing the distorted, bizarre landscape fairly well, and also doing a good job with Ralph’s stretching powers.  I’ll give this enjoyable little backup tale 3.5 Minutemen.  There’s nothing really wrong with it other than the slightly awkward device of the contacts.  It seems like the master of mirrors could probably have come up with a simpler, more easily controlled way of doing the same thing.

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That finishes up our books for this post, and all-in-all, a nice pair of comics they were!  We’ve got some exciting events in the offing her, with the famous next stages of the League of Assassins story arc just on the horizon and the return of the Elongated Man to the pages of Flash offering some relief from the mediocrity of the main tales in that book.  I am really looking forward to a change in pace for the Flash magazine.  These are routinely among the weakest comics I read in each batch.  These weird random stories have outstayed their welcome.  I would really like to see a return to classic super-heroics.  We’re still three issues away from the return of supervillains to an actual Flash story, and even then it is looks like it will be only a temporary revival.  Whatever awaits us in the Fastest Man Alive’s adventures, we have two exciting new comics awaiting us next time.  So, please join me again soon for another league in our Journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: May 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Today I bring you a special treat.  This post features the return of Batman’s greatest villain.  His most magnificent foe.  A felon more felonious than all of the many and storied members of the Dark Knight’s rogue’s gallery.  He is more colossal than Calendar Man, more outrageous than the Outsider, more catastrophic than Condiment King, more dangerous than Dr. Double X, more cataclysmic than Crazy Quilt, more sensational than Signalman, and even more crazily kinetic than Killer Moth or Kite Man!  I am, of course, speaking of the raw star power that is….the Ten-Eyed Man!

That’s right, my favorite utterly ridiculous Mort of a villain returns in this month’s issue of Batman, and his presence overshadows everything else in these books in its epic import.

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 #400
  • Adventure Comics #406
  • Batman #231
  • Brave and Bold #95
  • Detective Comics #411
  • The Flash #206
  • Forever People #2
  • G.I. Combat #147
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #83
  • Justice League of America #89
  • New Gods #2
  • Superman #237
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #110
  • World’s Finest #202

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


Batman #231


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“Blind Rage of the Ten-Eyed Man!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Gaspar Saladino

“Wiped Out!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza

Brace yourself for the awful majesty of that emperor of the oculus, that vizier of the visual, that sultan of sight, the Ten-Eyed Man!  Be still your beating hearts, my frantic fellow Batman fans, and enjoy the literary masterpiece presented here for your edification.

Batman_231_05We’ve got a cool concept in this cover, as it tries to play with perspective, but the weird representations of the finger-eyes (feyes?) with little pictures of Batman don’t quite work, and the whole thing has to contend with the silliness of the basic concept, putting it at an immediate disadvantage.  The result is a cover that ultimately suits the content within, a mixture of bad ideas executed relatively well.  And the story inside is certainly something else, though not as over the top and silly as you might expect for a tale featuring such a ridiculous villain.  Instead, Robbins plays it pretty much straight, adding realism and internal consistency, such as the Ten-Eyed Man, Reardon, having to wear gloves to sleep since he can’t close the ‘eyes’ on his fingers.  That attention to detail doesn’t make up for the fact that he has eyes on his fingers, however.  The seriousness of the yarn really makes it all the more hilarious, with the splash page positively screaming that Batman and the Ten-Eyed Man are “The deadliest enemies that fate ever brought together!”  Forget that Joker guy!  He’s old news!  The new nemesis of the Masked Manhunter is the Prince of Perception (you thought I had run out of them, didn’t you!).

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Trying so desperately to be cool and failing so tremendously…

The plot begins after the events of Reardon’s previous appearance, with the blinded former soldier obsessed with revenge on the man he blames for his condition, Batman!  In order to accomplish that goal, he sets out on a rather convoluted plan to lure the Dark Detective to the Vietnam jungle so that the fight can be on Ten-Eye’s ‘home’ ground   The Oligarch of Optics begins his operation by getting a job as an air marshal (another sign of this being the Golden Age of Skyjacking), using his ‘feyes’ to spot a threat and pass the test.  On his first flight, Reardon pulls his gun and hijacks the plane himself!  Ohh the irony!  He routes the aircraft to Vietnam and issues a challenge to Batman, demanding that the Dark Knight meet him in the jungle.

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When the Caped Crusader lands, Reardon toys with him before leading his foe into the bush, which the hero quickly discovers is full of booby traps.  Batman barely avoids some punji stakes, but he manages to trail Ten-Eye through the trees (though one thinks swinging from vines would probably blind that buffon).  Unfortunately, his foe is one step ahead of him and has prepared a trap involving a blinding flash grenade.  When it goes off, the Dark Knight seems to be stunned, but when Reardon drops his guard, Batman drops him!  The hero revealed that he was watching the villain’s hands, and when the ten-digited-doofus hid his ‘feyes,’ the hero protected his own eyes, allowing him to capture his “deadliest foe.”

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You just have to wonder why in the world Frank Robbins looked at all of the great stories he had written, at the characters he had created, including the honestly great concept of the macabre Man-Bat, and decided that this guy, this ridiculous, goofy, and utterly worthless Z-lister was the one that deserved a return engagement.  Robbins clearly isn’t a bad writer, and he also is heavily involved in the growing maturity and style of the Batman books, but for some reason, he told not one, but two different stories about a guy with eyes in his fingers.  The fact that they were so clearly meant to be taken seriously separates these comics from even the zanier efforts of Bob Haney and the like.

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Aside for the silliness of the antagonist, this story is just a bit lackluster on its own merits.  I suppose that so much time is spent on catchup and setup that the actual confrontation in the jungle, which could have been pretty exciting (with a different villain), is given short shrift.  Essentially Batman dodges one trap and then just utterly owns the loser who drew him halfway around the world.  It’s certainly a fitting ending given how worthless the villain is, but it isn’t supposed to be that way in context.  So, I’ll give this strange story  1.5 Minutemen.  It’s not boring, and it’s not just downright annoying like others, but it certainly is goofy.  Novick draws the heck out of the tale, but he can’t rescue it.  Apparently this will sadly be the last appearance of the Emperor of Eyes (last one, I promise!) until 1975, but I’m astonished that he’s going to be coming back that soon!

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“Wiped Out”


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Batman_231_23The Robin backup strip continues to entertain me, in contrast to this month’s headline tale.  Mike Friedrich also continues to demonstrate his skill at cramming a lot of plot and even some character development into seven pages at a time, which is pretty impressive.  We pick up with Robin after the apparent death of campus radical Hank Osher in the previous issue.  I have to say, I’m surprised that Hank really seems to be dead and that the bombing plot actually was resolved with the explosion that claimed his life.  I really expected there to be more to that, and I’m slightly disappointed.  The way it stands, that arc ended a bit too abruptly.  We’re left with the dangling thread of the orange shoed yahoos who jumped Robin, giving him the once-over.  The story begins with Dick ruminating on his failure to save Hank and feeling rather down about the job he’s been doing as Robin.  Suddenly, a knock at the door heralds the arrival of a pretty young girl named Terri Bergstrom, who apparently just ‘sensed’ that she and Dick had been matched by a computer dating service.

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Batman_231_28This girl could give Lilith lessons in being cryptic, as she seems to have a 6th sense about everything, but seeing as this is the first real inkling of anything unusual with her, I’ll give it time to develop before I make a judgement about how this works.  The two set out for a date, swinging by her place to check movie listings, only to find her room has been ransacked.  They check back at Dick’s room and find the same, with his valuables stolen.  The young hero begs off the date and sets out to catch the thieves, reasoning that if anyone were spying on the computer dating service (common theme in these years, it seems), they could have known he and Terri were out of their rooms on a date.  So, he heads to another member of the service who he knows is out on a date and finds a thief making his get away.

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The Teen Wonder puts an end to that escape and threatens a lead out of the punk kid.  He discovers that the “Bronco” frat, the orange shoed punks from the previous story, are behind the thefts, so he goes to confront them at the gym.  Feeling like he’s got something to make up for after the beating they gave him (and he really does), Robin throws it into high gear and utterly annihilates the three thugs he finds there with some nice acrobatic attacks.  It’s a reasonably good payoff for the uncharacteristic trouncing the hero took previously, and Novick makes it look great.  The tale ends with Terri and Dick making up their date, as he explains how Robin captured the thieves and had Batman take down their Gotham-based fence.

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Check out dapper young Dick’s fabulous pink ascot.

This is a good little story, building on what came before to maximize narrative space.  It’s cool to see Robin get his revenge on the Bronco buffoons who flattened him the first time, and we discover that their attack actually tied way back to the political scandal several issues ago.  We also get a sense that Terri has more going on than at first appears, and have a love interest officially introduced in their date, about which I find myself ambivalent.  As I’ve said before, I’ve always got a soft spot for the Robin/Batgirl romance.  Nonetheless, I continue to find myself enjoying these college adventures of the Teen Wonder significantly more than I expected to.  I’m still a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a bit more to the bombing plot, but I’m looking forward to what comes next for my favorite sidekick!  I’ll give this one 3.5 Minutemen.  It moves away from the heavier themes of the previous stories but still delivers a solid, small-scale adventure, and the ease with which Robin handles these teenage toughs seems fitting for Batman’s partner.

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Brave and the Bold #95


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“C.O.D. Corpse on Delivery”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Zany Haney returns, and he’s as zany as ever!  We’ve got a mystery guest star this month, and a gimmicky cover to capitalize on that.  It’s an okay image, pretty much solely designed to take advantage of the unknown guest, which the tale inside lives up to remarkably well, with the resolution to the mystery being a fairly dramatic reveal.  This issue is a heck of a fun and entertaining ride, but it is definitely not a Batman story.  The whole thing has the feel of a film noir flick dressed up in superhero garb, with schemes, betrayals, and classic adventure beats filling it.  The characters involved are pretty much superfluous.  The whole thing would work much better with Humphrey Bogart than Bruce Wayne.

brave and the bold 095 003The crazy tale opens with Batman waltzing into the lobby of the “Big Double R,” the skyscraper headquarters of the richest women in the world, ruthless industrialist Ruby Ryder.  The Dark Knight passes through security, emphasizing just how far this portrayal is from the still developing hero of the other Bat-books who broods in the shadows.  After being approved (like he doesn’t have weapons in his utility belt?  I’m thinking that guard should be fired), Bats strolls into Ryder’s office, where she tries to buy his services with a five million dollar donation to the charity of his choice.  That’s already a bit odd, especially for the super-rich Bruce Wayne, but his dialog is even more out of place, as he tells her “That’s a lot of bubble-gum wrappers!”  The lovely lady begs the hero to seek out her fiance, who has gone missing in South America, and despite the fact that the Caped Crusader tells her, “hunting criminals is my bag-not missing bridegrooms,” he agrees when she begs him on her knees.

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Living up to his name, the Masked Manhunter heads down to South America, where he finds a low-life pilot who supposedly flew the missing man, Kyle Morgan, out into the bush.  The pilot refuses to talk, so Batman gives him some ‘gentle’ encouragement.  The fight scene is beautifully rendered by Cardy, of course, and we get a nice action beat.

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The furious flyer, Jake Angel, relents and gives the hero a lift to the remote village to which he supposedly delivered Morgan.  After dropping his passenger off amidst a crowd of headhunters, the perfidious pilot takes off again, abandoning him.  Batman whips out a smoke bomb and disappears, scattering pictures of his quarry among the natives, and this overawes them enough that they point him to a hut in their village.  Inside, he sees a shrunken head!

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Yet, it turns out to be a fake, and after a dangerous journey back, Batman squeezes the truth out of Angel, finally being led to a deliriously feverish Kyle Morgan.  This is just page eight!  Despite the pilot’s efforts to stop him, the Dark Knight takes his plane and his charge and flies back, though when the missing man awakens, he attacks his rescuer.  Batman spins the plane, and we get a clever upside down panel, with dialog to match, and he disables Morgan.

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brave and the bold 095 016brave and the bold 095 015Unfortunately, the reunion of the lost lovers isn’t quite what the Caped Crusader imagined.  Ruby Ryder pulls out a pistol and shoots Morgan in cold blood, framing Batman for the murder…which seems like more than a little bit of a stretch.  He’s found with the body, the gun, and the check, but he’s also inside her building.  Either way, the Dark Knight escapes by diving through a high-rise window!  Later, and quite ridiculously, Batman, dressed in a hat and trenchcoat, OVER his costume, waylays the fiery femme fatale’s lawyer at Morgan’s funeral to try to get some information.  It’s a really silly image.  Not so silly, however, is the fact that, unseen, the casket opens and something emerges!  Dun dun DUNNN!

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Batman sets out to track Ruby Ryder down, as she’s gone into hiding outside the country, but as he pursues his investigation, people try to kill him, but he is saved by a mysterious figure that he never quite sees.  Ohh, and the bad guys totally discover his secret identity because he’s sloppy and gets observed going and coming from Bruce Wayne’s window, but they are too stupid to put the pieces together and assume he’s just using the millionaire’s identity.  Finally, the Dark Detective finds a mysterious note left in his locked room that point him towards Marrakech (spelled Marakeech).

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Crossing the desert towards Ryder’s hideout, Batman is once again rescued by his mysterious ally, who rises out of the sand in strange, undulating shapes and, apparently, kills the hero’s traitorous guide.  Keep that in mind when we get to the reveal.  The Dark Knight finally captures the vicious vixen, taking out her guard and avoiding a trap, and brings her back for trial.  After she is sentenced to death, we jump to the date of her execution.  Fortunately for her, the Masked Manhunter has finally put the pieces together, and he rushes into the chamber and unmasks her would-be executioner as her still very much alive former fiance…Plastic Man?!?!

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Yep, that’s right, the goofy, humorous, devil-may-care Ductile Detective, Plastic Man, was Kyle Morgan.  Apparently he got tired of living as a “freak,” and decided he wanted to settle down and get married, so he took on a desirable identity and appearance, and fell in love with Ruby Ryder.  However, when he discovered how cruel and vicious she was, he faked his death to leave her.  Of course, when she shot him, it didn’t do a whole lot of good, and he wanted her to face her death and see how it felt, though he swears he wouldn’t have flipped the switch.  Given the fact that he’s apparently killed at least one person already, that seems a tad dubious!  After this revelation, the dangerous dame goes free, and Plastic Man is left trying to decide what to do with his life.

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This is such a wild story, and, as usual with Haney, it is utterly packed to the gills with plot.  It moves at a rapid pace, and yet there is even a little time for characterization with Ruby Ryder and (mis)characterization with Batman and Plastic Man.  Yet, Batman is really and unquestionably miscast here.  He’s just way too casual and chatty, and even the ‘Policeman’s Friend’ Batman of the Silver Age wasn’t usually quite so trendy in his speech as is the slang-slinging version that Haney pens.  The story doesn’t really fit the character either, and the role could have honestly been more fittingly filled by a hardboiled character like Slam Bradley, Jason Bard, or Johnny Double.

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The Plastic Man reveal is actually quite well done, and if you don’t happen to know it’s coming, there is a good chance that it will surprise you.  Of course, Haney applies his usual filter to the character, and ‘down on his luck has-been’ was his favorite angle to take with a B&B co-star.  Despite the incongruous character elements, this is actually a pretty solid story, and a very enjoyable adventure yarn that is remarkably efficient in its storytelling.  Haney could really tell a tale when he was of a mind, even if he could rarely be bothered to make it fit in with anything else.  Ruby Ryder herself is a really impressively drawn character.  She is just bursting with personality, as are so many of Haney’s supporting characters, but she is something special.  Brought to beautiful life by Nick Cardy, not only is she a femme fatale, she is also a powerful and capable business tycoon.  This is a very independent woman, one who is cold and calculating, yet with the viciousness of a woman scorned.  This character is pretty significant, standing out from the crowd in 1971 by treating a woman as quite the equal in a man’s world.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, and though I really enjoyed it, I can’t quite justify giving it 4 because of its mischaracterizations.

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And thus we bid adieu to a new character who is really quite interesting in Ruby Ryder and a recent character who is only worthwhile for his complete goofiness!  Our next set of books sees the introduction of another femme fatale, one who would go on to play a fairly major role in the DC mythos in years to come.  Tune in soon for another addition of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: May 1971 (Part 1)

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Welcome to another installment of Into the Bronze Age!  We begin our journey through May of 1971, marching ever further into the last great age of comics!  Our books for this post aren’t the best we’ve ever had, but I can honestly say they aren’t the worst, either.  I’m looking at you, super baby.  Join me as we see what was going on many years ago!

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:

  • Amtrack railroad begins operation
  • National Public Radio begins programming
  • Nixon administration arrests 13,000 anti-war protesters in 3 days
  • Race riots in Brownsville section of Brooklyn
  • Friends of Earth return 1500 non-returnable bottles to Schweppes
  • Multiple killings and bombings continue to occur in Ireland
  • USSR launches Mars 2, 1st spacecraft to crash land on Mars
  • USSR Mars 3 launched, 1st spacecraft to soft land on Mars
  • US Mariner 9 1st satellite to orbit Mars launched
  • 36 hospitalized during Grateful Dead concert; drunk LSD apple juice

Well, it wasn’t quite as crazy as some of the previous months have been, but there was certainly plenty going on.  I’m slightly surprised that NPR only started this late in the Century.  I had sort of imagined them being around much longer.  We can see the tensions continuing to escalate both in the U.S. and abroad, with arrests of protesters here and the Troubles continuing to grow in Ireland, taking a toll on both sides.  We also see the space race proceeding apace, with both superpowers rushing to examine the Red Planet.  It’s clearly a strange, worrisome, but also fascinating time.  I wonder how the contemporary comics reflect it.

It seems that Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” remained at the top of the charts through May, but at the tail end of the month, the Rolling Stones snuck into #1 with “Brown Sugar,” a fun, carefree song plenty at odds with the turbulent headlines of the time.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #400
  • Adventure Comics #406
  • Batman #231
  • Brave and Bold #95
  • Detective Comics #411
  • The Flash #206
  • Forever People #2
  • G.I. Combat #147
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #83
  • Justice League of America #89
  • New Gods #2
  • Superman #237
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #110
  • World’s Finest #202

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


Action Comics #400


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“My Son… Is He Man or Beast?”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

“Duel of Doom!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

It’s the landmark 400th issue of Action Comics…unfortunately, there’s not really anything particularly noteworthy to mark the occasion.  But hey, look at that, another monkey on a cover!  That’s right, this month Superman gets the ape allotment at DC, and it is certainly an unusual image.  In fact, it represents a very unusual story as well.  The cover probably primes you to expect another Saga of the Super Sons, but no, Dorfman has even weirder plans.  And when you’ve got weirder plans than Bob Haney, watch out!

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So our strange story begins with Superman attending the funeral of yet another old friend who we’ve never heard of, in this case, a scientist named Jan Nagy.  The Man of Steel attempts to comfort the late scientist’s son, who Swan draws to look like he’s an adult but is presumably still a teenager.  Unfortunately for the hero’s efforts, the kid reacts with hatred, saying he wants nothing to do with the Metropolis Marvel.  Oddly, the scientist’s will appoints Superman as the boy’s guardian, which is just really strange in multiple ways, if you think about it.  The bereaved boy, Gregor, storms off, saying he wishes he could kill the Kryptonian, and his family lawyer comments that he’d have to be some kind of “super gorilla” to do that.  What an unimaginably odd thing to say.  It can’t possibly be foreshadowing.

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Well, Supes chases after the angry young man but sees him phase right through a door!  Inside, the Action Ace spots Gregor transforming into…you guessed it, a gorilla.  Superman confronts the irate ape, only to have the creature tell him that the hero himself is to blame for the transformation.  Gregor turns back to normal and reminds the Man of Tomorrow of a yesterday not that long ago when he saved the boy’s father from an experiment gone wrong.  The scientist had created a new element, metamorphon, in an atomic furnace, but it threatened to explode and mutate everyone nearby (and here’s another threat to civilization thanks to a DC scientist).  The hero disposed of the furnace in a swimming pool to drown the reaction, but the nearby Gregor was affected by the fumes, despite his efforts.

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The boy soon found himself transforming uncontrollably at his slightest whim, becoming intangible or taking on the shapes of animals.  Instead of being thrilled to have developed some honest-to-goodness superpowers, donning a costume and taking to the streets to fight crime, which seems to be the dominate way of dealing with such trauma in the DCU, the boy just becomes bitter and blames his new guardian.  He even spurns the woman he loves because he feels like a freak.  Superman encourages the youth to learn to control his powers and use them for good, and the boy agrees, but demands that the Man of Steel teach him, still full of venom.

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Helping the Man of Tomorrow open locked and booby-trapped doors and scaring poachers, Gregor begins to control his powers, but he also uses them to spy on Superman, discovering his secret identity.  In an attempt to reach the little punk, Clark takes him to the Fortress of Solitude, where the boy carelessly damages a satellite by pushing random buttons, causing the Action Ace to run off to try and save it.

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Meanwhile, a distress call comes in about a sub trapped in the Sea of Japan, and Gregor, finally displaying some character, realizes that he’s been acting like a jerk and sets out to help them by taking Superman’s place.  He recreates the Kryptonian’s powers temporarily, but his own abilities don’t last long enough to finish the job.  He is injured by the pressure before the real Man of Steel arrives to save him, and the two have a supposedly touching farewell reconciling as Gregor dies, his metamorphic form turning to dust at the end.

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As I said, this is a weird one.  There’s a slightly clever reference in the boy’s name.  A character who metamophosizes and is named Gregor.  Hmm!  We get the standard device of a close friend we’ve never heard of, and Superman suddenly finds himself a parent to a surly and sullen teenager, with super powers to boot, as if regular teenagers aren’t hard enough to manage!  The story, at only 14 pages, is way too rushed for any real emotional attachment to Gregor, especially as he comes off more like a jerk than a victim.  His powers don’t really seem like that much of a burden.  If he wants to complain about metamorphic powers, he should probably compare notes with Metamorpho first.  I can’t help feeling like Rex got the worse deal, there!  The story feels fairly Silver Age-ish, with the melodrama cranked up to 11 without any real justification in the story itself.  It’s an okay tale for what it is, but it is certainly nothing special for the 400th issue.  It feels like a bit of a let-down in that context.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen because it just fails to achieve the pathos for which it’s clearly aiming.

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“Duel of Doom”


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As often seems to be the case with these books, the backup tale is significantly more fun than the headliner.  It offers an enjoyable jaunt into the miniaturized world of Kandor, where two young students idolize Superman and Supergirl.  They argue about which hero is the best, like all good comic fans.  Arvor, an electronics student thinks the Man of Steel is the best, while the archeology student, Yllura, supports the Maid of Might.  There’s a charming ‘battle of the sexes’ element to their interactions, which results in their deciding to compete with one another in their final exams, where each student has to achieve something impressive.

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Gota’ say, I think I agree with Arvor here.  Is there really that much future for an archeologist in a bottle city?

Yllura heads to the outskirts of the city to explore ruins located in some caverns and discovers a hidden temple.  Meanwhile, Arvor tests an experimental visor of his own design that simulates Superman’s X-ray vision.  His belt jets short out during his flight and send him plunging into a lake, accidentally finding his way into an underground river.

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While he wanders through the cavern after his embarrassment, the lady scholar triggers an ancient defense mechanism, producing a grotesque floating head.  Her frightened scream leads the electrical whiz to her, and he smashes the source of the projection with a rock.

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Unfortunately, this shorts out the power in the tomb, plunging the pair into darkness.  Yllura realizes that Arvor’s visor could lead them out, and with his invention lighting the way, they escape from the caverns.  The couple realizes that, no matter who is the best, they are still better as a team.  The plucky pair both ace their exam and are awarded a joint trophy by Superman and Supergirl who arrive to officiate their graduation.

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This is a simple but fun little science fiction story.  The two Kandorians have a charming dynamic, with some good back and forth in the small amount of ‘screen time’ they have.  I like the proxy battle of the sexes they play out, which is a neat reflection of the growing concern over gender equality at the time.  I enjoy how both of the kids make mistakes but both also have moments of triumph.  It’s a very brief little story, but it’s an enjoyable one with a decent amount of personality.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Adventure Comics #406


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“Suspicion”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel
Editor: Mike Sekowsky
Cover Artists: Mike Sekowsky and Dick Giordano

This is an issue that is a bit hard to pin down.  One moment it is hilarious and surprisingly witty, the next it is so goofy and poorly thought-out it almost seems surreal.  The overall effect leaves me wondering if maybe I’m missing some clever parodic elements, but I’m fairly certain it’s just Sekowsky being inconsistent and employing lazy writing shortcuts.  The crux of the issue is the discovery of Supergirl’s most closely guarded secret by her nemesis, but the manner in which this happens is dramatically unworthy of the event.  Sekowsky also seems to have forgotten what happened in the previous issue, as this comic opens with a recap of the recently concluded ongoing Starfire saga, but whereas the last issue ended with the Maid of Might capturing the villainous professor and assured that a cure for her stop-and-go superpowers would be forthcoming, her powers are still unreliable in this one with no explanation.

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The story proper opens with Linda Danvers preparing to go to her college graduation, at which she has, for some reason, agreed to speak as her own alter-ego, Supergirl.  That couldn’t possibly go wrong.  Oddly, the graduation is disrupted by a crowd of pushy protesters, and the demonstration quickly turns into a riot when the football team takes on the demonstrators.  Supergirl just up and leaves, heading back to her room to change, and here is where Nasthalia “Nasty” Luthor enters the picture and enacts her brilliant master plan to discover the superheroine’s secret identity.  What, you may ask, is this staggering work of genius that manages to outwit the wily Kryptonian?

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adventure406-04 - CopyWell, Nasty follows her and watches whose room she enters.  That’s it.  That’s the discovery.  It’s so blazingly stupid that I had to read the sequence twice to be sure I hadn’t missed something.  This is an example of plot induced stupidity if ever there was one, as the being with about a zillion different super senses doesn’t notice that she’s being followed and walks through her front door instead of using the roof entrance that we’ve seen her use before.  Wow.

Back out among the mob as plain old Linda Danvers, our protagonist meets up with her adoptive parents amid the protest, which has descended from carrying standard slogans to parody signs that make fun of the mindlessness of such crowds, which is pretty funny.  Linda and her parents are weirdly unaffected by all of the chaos surrounding them, and Linda herself seems entirely unruffled that her graduation, a rather major milestone, has been completely ruined by these protesting morons.  The page has several little jokes, making it one of the funniest pieces of the book.

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Note the irony of the image and caption in the last panel.

Having graduated, despite the lack of a ceremony, the young Kryptonian says goodbye to her family (about whom I know absolutely nothing for this version) and heads to Metropolis in search of a job.  However, she finds that no-one is hiring, though there is a surprisingly mature reference (for the time) to sexual harrasment as one guy tries to use the prospect of a job to get her to go out with him.  I was surprised to see that kind of thing get a mention in a comic like this.

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Check out the fourth panel.  That image looks familiar, but I can’t quite place it.

Finally endangers Superman’s secret identity as well, calling him while he’s at work in the guise of Clark, with Nasty secretly stalking her.  Cousin Clark comes through, arranging a job for her in San Francisco.  Hooray for nepotism!  I’m actually slightly bothered by the use of Frisco rather than, say, Coast City.  I dislike it when DC mixes real cities in with their imaginary geography.  It ruins the effect of the alternate world with its own internal consistency.  That’s the reason I’ve never cared for things like Firestorm being based in New York instead of his own fictional town or sharing space with another hero.

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At any rate, Linda flies cross-country to take the job at a TV station, K-SFTV, where she meets two groovy guys dressed in the height of early 70s fashion, drawn by Sekowsky to look like they’re in their 30s, which makes their immediate flirtation with the disguised Supergirl even more inappropriate than it would be normally.  Linda also discovers that her old college cohort, Nasty, has taken a job at the station as well.  These two girls are made camerawomen, with apparently no training or experience, and for some reason, they travel in a trio, since apparently one camera isn’t enough.

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Multiple camera angels don’t do a whole lot of good when they are all right next to each other…

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After covering a bunch of stories where Nasty has stuck to Linda like glue, making it impossible for her to do any hero-ing, they respond to reports of a fire, where they find people trapped inside a building.  Supergirl slips away in the crowd, changes into her costume, and flies into the building to rescue a woman and her child.  Then, instead of, ohh, I don’t know, using those same powers to fly OUT of the building with the pair, she slowly walks through the inferno, risking their lives.  Almost at the exit, the rescued woman comes to and tells her savior that there is another victim trapped within, a baby she had been watching.

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Finally employing her x-ray vision (why exactly didn’t she do that before?), the Maid of Might rescues the baby, while Nasty notices her absence and tries to get footage of her, only to be foiled when the heroine switches back to Linda to emerge with the infant before collapsing, her powers having faded and left her vulnerable.  She awakens in an ambulance, wondering how she’ll escape before the doctors notice that her wounds have miraculously healed.

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This story is so silly in places, yet the moments with the protesters are genuinely funny and clever.  It’s really a surprisingly inconsistency.  Whatsmore, Sekowsky is doing really interesting and unusual things with his character.  In the scope of one issue, he dramatically transformed the status quo for Supergirl.  He not only has her graduate college but get a job and start a new life in a new city.  That is a pretty huge change for an era that is still largely about stability.  The renovation of characters is clearly having an impact, even in unexpected quarters.  Of course, Supergirl herself remains pretty flat and unchanged, despite the shift in her setting.

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The whole bit with Nasty discovering the Girl of Steel’s secret identity was just so stupid I hardly have words to describe it, and her inaction throughout the story is inexplicable.  She’s got excellent reasons to believe that Linda Danvers is Supergirl, so why in the world doesn’t she act on that information.  Instead, she’s following her around waiting for proof.  Nasty, baby, proof is for the cops.  You’re a Luthor.  You don’t need proof to do something violent and unpleasant.

In the end, this is just a clunky story with lazy writing and everything serving the plot.  That’s a shame, because there are elements of it that are really promising and interesting, as well as quite funny.  It doesn’t help that the issue continues to feature Sekowsky’s wildly inconsistent art.  It’s quite good in some panels and just plain hideous in others.  This one doesn’t have as many standout mistakes as some previous outings, but it just might be uglier overall than most of the previous run.  I’ll give the issue as a whole 2 Minutemen, rating that high because it made me chuckle despite its foolishness.

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Well, that will do it for the opening act of May 1971.  It isn’t exactly an impressive first showing, but I am sure that the rest of the month will give us some better books, though, perhaps I shouldn’t get my hopes up for the next batch.  Or perhaps I should.  After all, the next issue of Batman features the return of the the most dramatic, the most dynamic, the most dynamite villain ever to grace the pages of one of the Dark Knight’s books.  Who could this wondrous one be?  Well, you’ll just have to wait and see.  Please join me again soon for a story staring an incredibly charismatic character as we travel further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 6)

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Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap long-boxes in a single bound, it’s Into the Bronze Age!  I’ve certainly got an interesting pair of books in this post as we finish out the end of the April, 1971.  All of these stories are unusual in one way or another, so it shouldn’t be a boring batch, if nothing else.

I want to thank all of my readers for your patience as I’ve been moving slowly on this feature lately.  I’m rushing to finish a great deal of my professional work here at the end of the summer, which sadly leaves me little time for this pleasant diversion.  Anyway, thanks for sticking with me, and I promise to keep limping along steadily, if not rapidly.  Well, without further ado, let’s see what awaits us at the end of the month!

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 #399
  • Adventure Comics #405
  • Aquaman #56 / (Sub-Mariner #72)
  • Detective Comics #410
  • The Flash #205 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Mr Miracle #1
  • The Phantom Stranger #12
  • Superboy #173
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #109
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137
  • Superman #236
  • Teen Titans #32

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


Superman #236


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“Planet of the Angels”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Doomsayer!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano

Say what you will about Denny O’Neil, he was unquestionably an innovator, always trying something different, though it didn’t always succeed.  Today’s cover story is just such an experiment.  It’s interesting and unusual, but not entirely effective.  The cover is certainly striking, picturing the Man of Steel facing off against demons at the very gates of Hell, a very unlikely image for a Superman comic.  O’Neil has been trying to shake up the status quo, to bring new life and energy to the rather staid hero, and he’s been succeeding so far.  This comic isn’t quite as successful as some of his previous efforts, though.

It begins with a fun little scene where the World’s Finest team of Superman and Batman bust some safe-crackers.  O’Neil and Swan manage to make them both seem useful, despite the fact that the invulnerable, super-fast sun god could easily have handled these two ordinary crooks before Batman so much as put on his cowl.  Swan really does a great job with this team.  The effect is enjoyable, despite their incongruity.  Superman offers to buy his partner a cup of coffee, and I’m deeply disappointed that we don’t get to see a HISHE style scene with the two heroes sipping java in a cafe.

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Missed opportunities aside, after the Dark Knight begs off because he’s bushed, the Man of Tomorrow heads to his Fortress of Solitude where he tries out a ‘brainwave project’ that he’s been working on, a device that will compare his brainwaves to those of a normal human.  Envying humans and their need for sleep and dreams, he tries out the gadget and suddenly finds himself on a strange world!  What’s going on?

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He’s on a fiery plane where he is suddenly attacked by a gang of demons straight out of pop-cultural portrayals, right down to the goat-feet and pitchforks.  Their polearms glance off him harmlessly, and the Kryptonian easily repulses their attack.

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Just then, he is greeted by a trio of angelic looking figures who introduce themselves as Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael, Christian archangels who tell the Man of Steel that he’s in the afterlife.  They stand amid beautiful green hills, and below them burns a sulfurous pit.  They display the popular misunderstanding of theology that Hell is for “those who follow not the paths of virtue,” and tell Superman that he has died and must prove himself worthy of Heaven by slaying the demons below.  Something about this seems off to him, but the Action Ace heads into the flames nonetheless.

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In the pit he discovers a massive gate and is haunted by twisted images of his friends appearing in the flames.  Realizing that something is off, Superman decides to use his head, and he tunnels underneath the gate, easily disarming the ‘demonic’ guards on the other side, where he tries to get some straight answers out of one of their number.

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The ‘fiend’ tells the Metropolis Marvel that what he sees is an illusion caused by the ‘angel’s’ hypnotic powers.  With concentration, the Man of Steel sees, not a demon, but a uniformed alien, who tells the hero that he and his fellows are law officers who were chasing criminals, those same ‘angels,’ who lured them to this planet and trapped them.  The criminals telepathically summoned Superman to destroy their enemies for them.

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Confronting the false heavenly host, the Man of Steel sees through their illusions, including phantoms of his friends being threatened, and charges through their weapon blasts to knock two of them out.  The third escapes, however, carrying a powerful bomb (through deep space!), with which to destroy the Earth!  The Man of Tomorrow catches up just in the nick of time and stops the antagonistic archangel, returning him and his fellows to the lawmen (err…law-aliens?), and repairing their ship.  The tale ends with Superman back in the Fortress of Solitude, where he reflects that he had a living dream, even though he didn’t sleep.

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This is a weird issue.  I like how Superman picks up on the incongruous elements of the ‘angel’s’ stories and setting, and I like his willingness to question figures of even the ultimate authority.  It shows a greater maturity for his character than we’ve seen in the past, and these are obviously elements that O’Neil has been trying to develop.  Yet, precisely what is happening in the story is rather unclear.  Does Superman’s device cause him to dream?  Is this a real and random encounter that has nothing to do with the device?  It’s really ambiguous, and unintentionally so, I think.

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Neither possibility lines up perfectly with the story as told, and there doesn’t seem to be any overriding point to either possibility either.  Add to that the fact that Superman just absolutely breezes through all of his challenges in this story, despite the fact that O’Neil has been trying to present him as less all-powerful and the presence of alien weapons that could reasonably have presented a threat to him, and you’ve got an uneven tale that feels a bit sloppy.  I’m also a little disappointed that the ersatz angel’s appearances weren’t illusions, as it seems incongruous for aliens to be flying through space in robes and without any protective gear.  I understand what O’Neil was going for with his little ‘evil can be beautiful’ touch at the end, but it still doesn’t quite work.  In the end, I’ll give this off-beat issue 2 Minutemen, with the dip below average primarily because of its unnecessary ambiguity.  It’s strange but ultimately forgettable.

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“The Doomsayer!”


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While the first story was something new, this backup is something old.  This is another ‘Fabulous World of Krypton’ backup feature, though, honestly it feels like a bit of a gyp.  The frame-tale guest stars Green Arrow and Black Canary, so take a wild guess what the theme is.  If you guessed ‘yet another preachy environmental yarn,’ you win the cigar!  This story just doesn’t fit the tone of Kryptonian tales, and it’s a good example of what happens when you shoe-horn in a message, prioritizing that over story.  It all begins with Superman, Green Arrow, and Black Canary having a picnic, which is a fun idea, but a rather odd set of characters.  Predictably, Ollie starts bellyaching about a nearby factory that’s spewing out pollution.  At this point, why does anyone even hang out with this annoying archer?  Well, this reminds Kal-El of a story from the glory days of Krypton, the story of a city called Surrus.  In this city there grew special flowers, the Surrus blossoms, that sang a beautiful, calming song that had an almost soporific effect on the populace.  Shades of the “Lotus Eaters!”

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This city was also home to a scientist named Mo-De, who discovered the fate of Krypton twenty whole years ahead of Jor-El!  After he made his discovery, he rushed out into the city streets and started playing Jeremiah, telling the citizens that there was still time to act.  The people didn’t want anything to do with him, just wanting to be left alone to listen to their flowers.  In desperation, Mo-De rushed into the fields and cut down the blossoms, but the enraged citizens, finally shaken out of their lethargy, beat him mercilessly and locked him in a greenhouse with more of the singing sprouts.

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Eventually, the sounds break his will, and he emerges another zombie-fied lotus eater, err…flower listener.  He passed the remaining years in peace, but died with the rest of Krypton.  After Supes finishes his story, Canary is horrified, and she rushes off to have a word with the factory’s owner, having been shaken out of her lethargy.  “Message for you, sir!”  It’s a shame it was so subtle.  I almost missed it.

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This isn’t a bad story, really.  It just doesn’t really belong here, and the entire thing feels forced, from the odd picnic with these characters that don’t really seem to have much in common (all in costume, no less), to the rather Twilight Zone-esq plot, which just really doesn’t seem to fit the utopian, highly organized Krypton that we’ve seen before.  O’Neil does a good job of economical storytelling, packing his preachy message into seven short pages pretty efficiently.  The message itself, though feeling a bit repetitive because of its environmental theme, is actually a slightly unusual one and not half bad.  Focusing, not on the pollution itself, but on the populace’s apathy, their greater interest in their entertainments, their distractions, than on their future, is a good angle.  The execution of the plot itself isn’t half bad, with the crowd’s reactions and the scientist’s fate all fairly creepy and menacing.  The fact that O’Neil did use Krypton allowed him a certain amount of shorthand with the fate of the planet, which helps his efficiency in storytelling.  There is also significance in the continued push towards social relevance, even in such an unlikely place as the Krypton backups.  Taken all together, this little yarn is worth 3 Minutemen, with the incongruous elements limiting it to an average score.

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P.S.: There’s also a somewhat clever joke in the name of the town, as “SUSsurrus” is a word meaning a soft murmuring or whispering, something of an indistinct, gentle noise.


Teen Titans #32


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“A Mystical Realm – A World Gone Mad”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Joe Letterese
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Steve Skeates’ tenure on the Titans book continues this month, and we get a rather weird story under a fairly awesome cover.  The peril of the two Titans in the image is pretty dramatic, and the dragon is quite impressive looking.  The whole composition has a dream-like (or perhaps, nightmare-like) quality that smacks of the twisted fairy tale we find within. The story it represents begins with a scene that takes in media res too far, with Kid Flash and Mal traveling through time and referencing events that the reader hasn’t seen.  It seriously made me go back and check the last issue to see if I had forgotten something.  It’s a clever scene given the use of time travel, as it begins ‘in the present,’ but it’s probably too clever for its own good.

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They think they are back in 1971, but instead of finding familiar surroundings, they discover medieval-looking peasants and, of all things, a dragon!  Kid Flash’s speed manages to get them to safety, and only then do we get the flashback we’ve been needing.  It seems that Mr. Jupiter, the vague and largely pointless patron of the Titans team, is apparently a scientist as well as a millionaire.

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One day he was experimenting with a time-travel device, just casually running incredibly dangerous and unstable tests in his building with a bunch of teenagers around.  Something went catastrophically wrong (shocking, I know), and Mal was flung back in time.  Cardy’s rendering of the page is really cool, but the scene is rather dumb.  It’s pretty clear that we’re moving at the speed of plot, here.  Also, here is yet another experiment that could conceivably destroy the world as we know it.  I’m thinking that the safest course of action in the DCU would be to ban science in general.

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Mal finds himself back in the Stone Age, facing a tribe of cavemen who begin to worship him because they saw him appear out of thin air.  Apparently the young man listened to the Ghostbuster’s good advice, as he plays along.  Meanwhile, back in the present, Jupiter feels bad for about half a second for how his irresponsibility and complete lack of safety standards hurled an innocent kid through time.  The other Titans encourage him for some reason, and Kid Flash makes plans to take a jaunt through time to try and find his friend.

Back in the past, Mal finds trouble by stealing a caveman’s cavegirl and finds himself in a club duel.  Cardy renders the fight beautifully, and Skeates doesn’t spoil it with dialog.  Mal holds his own, but a misstep leaves him hanging onto a cliff, just as Kid Flash arrives.  As the caveman prepares for a death-blow, the Fastest Boy alive knocks the club out of his hand, but he manages to bean himself in the process and earns a spot on the Head-Blow Headcount, as well as sending the neanderthal plummeting to his death.  With the hero knocked out, there’s no way to save the savage, which doesn’t seem to bother the boys much.  They take manslaughter awfully casually.

In the altered present, Kid Flash realizes that they’ve unintentionally changed history with the death of that caveman.  The young speedster knows they must go back and save the neanderthal, but he needs a cosmic treadmill to do it and doesn’t know where to find one in this medieval world.  The peasants from earlier mentioned sorcerers, so they set out to try to find someone with the power or knowledge to help them.  Discovering a castle, the pair are greeted by illusory monsters in the moat, but they manage to get past them by pole-vaulting onto the battlements, despite a mysterious hooded figure’s interference.

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It’s a nice sequence, but it gives us one of the stranger dialog exchanges I’ve seen in a while.  Mal says to Wally, “Love your white soul, brother Titan!” and his partner responds “Love your black one, Mal–and if I’ve got any soul–you taught me how!”  It’s a pretty goofy exchange by today’s standards.  I understand what Skeates was aiming for, and it makes more sense in the context of the racial tensions of the day.  In addition, there’s some decent character development in this passage and the story as a whole, as Kid Flash was the most antagonistic to Mal in their earlier encounters.  This emphasis on racial unity, however silly the setting and clumsy the effort, is an interesting and thoughtful move on Skeates’ part.  Nonetheless, I can’t help laughing when I read it.

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When the pair reach the castle’s walls, they discover that the wizard is none other than Mr. Jupiter, who here is known as Jupiterius, and he has a quartet of super-powered knights who are ersatz counterparts to the Justice League, including Batman, Superman, the Flash, and Green Arrow, which is a fun little touch for this alternate reality.  The boys ask the sorcerer for help, but he and his champions insist they pass a test to prove their worth first.

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Their first challenge is a test of bowmanship.  Weirdly, they are confronted with Lilith and Speedy, who look like their modern counterparts with no good explanation.  It’s supposed to be some type of trick, but I don’t really see the point of it.  Nonetheless, things seem pretty hopeless.  How can Kid Flash compete with Speedy in his element?  Well, despite the boy bowman making a perfect shot at a keyhole, Kid Flash manages to pull a Robin Hood and split his arrow.  Even more, his shaft manages to slice through the other and unlock the door.  The tale ends with the time-tossed Titans facing whatever mysterious menace awaits on the other side!

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This is certainly an entertaining and unusual story, but it feels very uneven.  What Skeates is trying here is creative and promising, (I always like an imaginative alternate reality) but his execution is just rather off.  It’s fun to see the medieval Justice League, a concept that will be revisited a few times over the years, but they don’t really do anything, and the addition of Mr. Jupiter feels a bit shoe-horned.  Sure, he’s important to the Titans, but his presence with the League implies a more important role in the DCU than really seems warranted.  Of course, I may just be letting my dislike for the pointless character color my reading.  As for the death of the caveman, I think I would be much more bothered by that if it wasn’t pretty clear that the heroes will reverse it.  Nonetheless, I would have liked to see Wally deal with that at least a little bit, rather than immediately shrugging it off.  Honestly, after reading this story, I had to double check to make sure it wasn’t ‘ol Zany Haney.  I was certain that this was one of his half-baked yarns, as the wild world the characters visit just feels more random than thought–out.  Needless to say, the art is gorgeous, and Cardy does a great job with all of the medieval and fantasy elements.  His soft, sketchy work really sells the illusions and mystery of the book.  In the end, it’s a fun if flawed and strange story, so I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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We’ve got a bunch of new additions to the Wall of Shame this month.  Poor Aquaman makes yet another return, but he is in good company as Batgirl, Mr. Miracle, and Kid Flash all join him.  This puts Batgirl back ahead of Robin, sadly for her.  The Headcount certainly drives home just how much of a trope this is, with so many of our stars showing up on it.  I wonder if we’ll ever see the Last Son of Krypton gracing this feature.


Final Thoughts:


And that finishes up April 1971!  This is a month of endings and beginnings, a month of specters and spooks, and a month of innovation as well as repetition.  The books of this month reflect the paradoxical nature of this era in DC Comics, with the extremely conventional sharing space with the experimental.  At the same time Leo Dorfman is turning out standard Silver Age fare, Denny O’Neil is working to revamp Superman, all while Jack Kirby is busy pushing the boundaries of the medium.  Notably, while O’Neil fails to challenge the Man of Steel, Kirby finds great success with both physical and dramatic obstacles worthy of Last Son of Krypton.

Comics also seem to be edging further into the long forbidden realms of horror and the supernatural, with two different tales this month featuring hauntings and wandering spirits.  This is to be expected in the Phantom Stranger, though his story once again proves mature and impressive, but the theme is surprising in the Rose and Thorn backup.  I am also surprised by my continuing enjoyment of the Lois Lane book as a whole.  It remains an interesting and off-beat change of pace in my monthly readings.

This month saw the end of Aquaman and the birth of Mr. Miracle, the death of something special and the advent of something unique.  One group of creators was denied the chance to finish what they started, while the King is finally given the chance to give form to the gathered inspirations of his unsatisfying final years at Marvel.

Social relevance continues to be a force, with even the last Aquaman title dealing with themes of pollution and human environmental impact in an oblique fashion.  Denny O’Neil, of course, continues to hit environmental themes, but even his prime Superman story this month has a touch of social commentary in its subtle encouragement about questioning appearances.

We’ve also got superheroes accidentally killing people left and right this month, with both Supergirl and Kid Flash unintentionally taking a life.  We’re still in an immature enough era that these deaths are mostly unremarked and their moral dimensions almost completely ignored.  Hopefully we’ll see a more intentional approach to the moral responsibility of these characters grow up in the succeeding months and years.

In terms of form, we’re seeing more and more continued stories, with Supergirl wrapping up a several month long arc that actually did affect the character during its progression.  Rose and Thorn continues its episodic format, and Jimmy Olsen and the Titans books are doing the same.  This is providing the opportunity for more expansive plots and greater development.  I wonder if we’ll see that become the dominant form for most of DC’s titles.

Well, it was certainly an eventful month in comics, and there is still plenty more to come!  I hope y’all enjoyed this month’s books and commentary, and I also hope you’ll return soon as we begin another month of reading.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 4)

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Welcome Internet travelers, to my examination of the highs, the lows, the greats, the not so greats, and everything in between of DC Comics in the Bronze Age!  Today we’ve got a widely diverse pair of books with a quartet of quirky stories to quicken your pulses!  Check them out below!

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 #399
  • Adventure Comics #405
  • Aquaman #56 / (Sub-Mariner #72)
  • Detective Comics #410
  • The Flash #205 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Mr Miracle #1
  • The Phantom Stranger #12
  • Superboy #173
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #109
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137
  • Superman #236
  • Teen Titans #32

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


The Phantom Stranger #12


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“Marry Me – Marry Death!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“A Time to Die”
Writer: Jack Oleck
Penciler: Tony DeZuniga
Inker: Tony DeZuniga
Editor: Joe Orlando

We’ve got another beautiful, dramatic, and striking cover courtesy of Neal Adams this month.  It’s a nice, spooky image, and it’s well suited to the headline tale within.  Indeed, this month our Phantom Stranger story is rather different than what we’ve encountered of late.  Instead of focusing on the mystical heroics of the Stranger himself, this comic flips the script, and we see the story from quite a different perspective.

In many ways, this is a classic horror story, and it begins shortly after the wedding of Jason Phillips to his new bride, Wanda.  He brings the blushing beauty to his mansion, where he suddenly spots a mysterious figure, the Phantom Stranger, but the next moment there is no-one there.  Strange indeed!  Recovering, he introduces his new wife and their guests to his old wife, or rather, her coffin!

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Well, this seems perfectly normal and healthy…

He explains to the shocked well-wishers that he met and romanced the older and very wealthy Irina when he was a ski instructor.  He discovered that she took nitro pills for a weak heart, and despite the fact that she felt she was too old and weak for him, he insisted on marrying her.  A few years later, she passed away, but not before making him swear to keep her with him, always.

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There’s a very strange bit where she collected ancient Egyptian artifacts and learned about their embalming practices, insisting that they be used on her, but that doesn’t really feature in the story (something of an unfired Chekhov’s Gun…or at least an un-awakened Kanigher’s Mummy.)  Irina also left a clause in her will that all of her money would go to charity unless Jason kept her body with him always, which is pretty darn weird.  Throughout the tale, Jason paints himself as the perfect grieving husband, but there is something strange about the whole story.  This ominous note is strengthened when Jason once again sees the Stranger and begins to scream at him, only to have the figure vanish once more.

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That night, the re-married millionaire awakens in the night to hear a creaking sound and investigates to see the cloaked shape of the Stranger standing by the the coffin as it is slowly opening.  A voice tells him that he knows why they are here, but yet again, things are not as they seem, and when Wanda comes to investigate her husband’s shouts, the coffin is still locked.

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Suddenly, Jason sees Irina outside in a flash of lightning, along with the Supernatural Sleuth, who repeats his message.  The maddened millionaire strikes him, sending the cloaked form flying off of the balcony, but once again, Wanda sees nothing.  The next day as they are boating on a lake, the Stranger emerges from the waters.  Still, Wanda sees nothing.  She pleads with her husband to get rid of the coffin, but he refuses, citing his vow, yet even during their intimate moment of conversation, he sees Irina.

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Finally, pushed to the breaking point, he confronts the Phantom Stranger over his first wife’s coffin and attacks him with an axe, but the mysterious one forces him to think back over what really happened to his wife.  We learn that Phillips tried to kill her, putting her in situations where her heart would give out, and when it finally did, he destroyed her pills and callously sat by and watched her die.

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Jason thinks that the Stranger is just a blackmailer and attacks, but as his wild swings carry him outside, he runs towards a pair of advancing lights, only to be struck by a car and killed.  Fittingly, the car had come to get his wife’s coffin, though strangely, the name on the work order is Irina, not Wanda.

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This is a great little horror yarn, and though that isn’t really my favorite genre, Kanigher turned out a very entertaining tale here, continuing his inconsistency.  It’s either feast of famine with this guy!  He handled the building tension and mounting clues quite well.  There are just a few incongruous elements, like the Egyptian bit and the detail at the end with the conflated names.  I’m not really sure what the purpose of that was.  Still, the total effect is quite strong.  Needless to say, Aparo does a masterful job with this book.  His work is wonderfully moody and atmospheric.  Every panel is draped in shadow or lit with the bright light of romance, and all of the characters are beautifully rendered.  As much as I love his Aquaman work, let’s face it, he was even more perfect for the Phantom Stranger than for the Sea King.  All together, I’ll give this chilling chronicle 4.5 Minutemen.

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“A Time to Die”


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We have a solo Dr. Thirteen backup this month, and it’s a rather nice change of pace.  I like the interplay between the good Doctor and the Phantom Stranger, but a little goes a long way.  It is good to give each of them room to grow.  This particular outing is a respectable Dr. Thirteen mystery set in England, on the misty moors.  The Doc and his wife arrive just in time to see a man drop dead at the stroke of midnight.  ‘Ol Terry is his usual charming self, talking down to his wife and immediately making friends with the natives.  When the townspeople start talking about “the ghost of the Black Friar,” the Dr. responds by saying “You men are acting like frightened fools.”  Astonishingly, this does not endear him to them, and they tell this rude American to butt out in no uncertain terms as they carry the body to the town doctor.

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Incidentally, that is who summoned Dr. Thirteen in the first place.  When they visit this fellow, Dr. Hall, he tells them that he’s a man of science, yet he has spent much time investigating the ruins of the old abbey and believes that there is something evil there.  He tells them the tale of one of the abbey’s former inhabitants who turned to the black arts until he was convicted of witchcraft and burned in the 16th century.  Before he died, he swore a curse on the town.  Dr. Hall reveals that, since he is an old man, he’ll shortly be replaced by a new young doctor, but before he retired, he wanted to see that the town was protected.

That night, Dr. Thirteen investigates, only to see the figure of the Black Friar but be unable to catch him when he vanished.  Summoning the townspeople, they scoff, telling him that another man just died on the other side of town and the Friar couldn’t be in two places at once…if he weren’t a ghost!  With Dr. Hall’s help, the Ghost Breaker manages to convince the townspeople to help his investigation, but the next night, when they approach the abbey, a disembodied voice declares that, unless they run the strangers out of town, the ghost will take a terrible vengeance no them.  The townsfolk tell Thirteen to hit the road, Jack, and don’t come back no more!

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Yet, Dr. Thirteen is nothing if not persistent, so he sneaks back into town after sending his wife to safety, and searches a house and the abbey ruins.  Soon, he confronts the townspeople just at midnight and entreats them to follow him.  Heading to the graveyard where he first encountered the Friar, they once more hear the voice, but the Ghost Breaker leaps forward and searches a tombstone for a hidden switch, revealing a secret passage and a robbed figure!  The figure is unmasked to reveal….Doctor Hall!?

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That’s right, apparently Hall was just a tad bitter about being forced into retirement, so he used his scientific knowledge to construct a sonic weapon (fancy!), which he hooked up to the bell tower.  Every night at midnight it would send out a sonic pulse, and if anyone was close enough and susceptible enough, it would kill them.  Thirteen was suspicious of the old fellow, and when he searched his house, he found enough evidence to let him trap the doctor the the help of a micro transmitter that he used to track the fake fiend to his hiding place.  That wraps things up rather neatly, if making it a tad Scooby Doo.

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This is a decent little backup strip for Dr. Thirteen, if not one of his best.  Hall’s scheme is a bit too outlandish and the resolution is rushed, packed into one page, but that’s to be expected when you’ve only got seven to work with in the first place.  Both of the creators are new to me, but they turned in a perfectly serviceable story.  We’ll see if they show up in future DC Comics.  Either way, this yarn earns 3 Minutemen, a solid if unremarkable story.

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This issue also had a really excellent missive in the letter column, a thoughtful and insightful take on what makes Dr. Thirteen tick which is worth a read.

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Superboy #173


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“The Super-Clark of Smallville!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Dick Giordano

“Trust Me or Kill Me!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: George Tuska

Well, would you look at that!  It’s the totally original ‘hero acting out of character’ cover type!  The cover is probably enough to make you want to know what’s going on, and it’s decently illustrated, but it’s not all that interesting, really.  One does wonder what exactly Clark is doing in that dorky outfit, though.  Unsurprisingly with Leo Dorfman calling the tune, our headline tale is rather Silver Age-ish and goofy, as you’d expect from this cover.

The gimmicky tale begins in Professor Lang’s lab, where the good doctor has what he claims is a jar of ambrosia, the food of the gods, from ancient Greece.  He also happens to claim that ambrosia was what gave the gods their powers, which makes me wonder if this guy got his degree out of a Cracker Jack’s box, as any school kid with an interest in mythology would know better.  They got their powers by being, you know, gods.  In some versions of the myths, ambrosia did have a role in their immortality, but that’s really not the same thing at all.  Yes, it’s a comic book, but it’s a comic book in a setting where the Greek gods actually do exist, so details like this matter a bit.

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Well, one way or the other, Dr. Cracker Jack decides to test some of the powered residue within the jar, but when he tries to, it explodes!  I hope they haven’t given this guy tenure!  The explosion wrecks the lab, but, of course, Clark is uninjured.  He rushes to help Professor Lang, but Lana spots him hefting a bookshelf off the quack.  At first she thinks this confirms her suspicions about him being Superboy, but seeing that he is holding the test tube and has traces of ambrosia on his face, she assumes that he ate the ambrosia, and thus gained the powers of the gods!  With no real choice, supposedly, the Boy of Steel fakes the discovery of new powers, like Hermes’ flight, as if he were a novice.

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In a purely rational and not at all wacky and bizarre response to this discovery, Lana’s first instinct is that Clark must show off to all of the bullies at school by going out for the track team.  She even makes a costume for him, for some reason.  This bit really makes no sense at all, in context.  I guess because he’s ‘super’ he needs a costume?  But he isn’t becoming a hero, just going out for sports.  Oookay, Lana.  Whatever you say.

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You’ll be the coolest kid in school…and you’ll wear a dorky costume while you do it!  It’s foolproof!

Well, “Super-Clark” (sigh) goes to the track field and shows off his strength and agility.  There is actually a great opportunity for some characterization here, for Clark to revel in the ability to use his powers in public and to enjoy Lana’s attentions.  Yet, Dorfman almost completely ignores that angle to focus on gimmicky situations for Clark’s ‘new’ powers.  My favorite is definitely when Clark rescues a bathysphere that got in trouble….in Smallville…Kansas.  Sure!  Doesn’t your small farming town have bathyspheres on every street corner?

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superboy 173 0008Needless to say, Pa Kent is rather shocked when an excited crowd shows up yelling about how his son has superpowers, but the new Smallville Spectacle explains things, pointing out that he’s happy he can help his father with his store.  Apparently at this point, Pa Kent isn’t a farmer, instead owning a general store, which seems far less fitting, iconic, or archetypal for the character.  After another series of super feats, Clark starts to get tired of the constant requests for aid and begins to realize the benefits of a secret identity.

Later on, a young, super-bald Lex Luthor comes back to town to get his revenge on the people who spurned him.  He is thrilled when he sees the townspeople tearing down their Superboy statue, but he becomes less excited when he sees them replace it with a statue of (sigh) Super Clark.  Man, Smallville residents are more fickle than Atlanteans!  Lex is more constant, at least in his hatred, and using a new invention, a “power nullifer” which does just what the name implies, he shoots Superboy out of the sky once the young hero is back in costume.

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The Boy of Steel crashes in a swamp and finds his powers gone.  He rushes to the nearby ruined lab of Professor Lang, hoping to find some ambrosia on the off chance it will really give him powers.  He finds the a note that was in the jar with the ambrosia and, conveniently, can read ancient Greek, which, you know, anybody can just pick up.  He eats the note, hoping it absorbed some of the food of the gods and finds himself actually possessing the powers of the gods.

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Using the Zeus’s shape-shifting power and thunderbolts, the ‘Phantom Vision” of Hades, and flight of Hermes, he manages to defeat Luthor’s various gadgets and drive off his former-friend-turned-foe.  The story ends with the godly powers fading and Superboy’s own powers returning.  When he tells Lana that his career as ‘Super Clark’ is over, she doesn’t exactly take the news gracefully.

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superboy 173 0022Well, this story wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t exactly fantastic either.  Dorfman wastes the chance to do some actual character work with Clark, botches his mythology, and throws in plenty of goofiness as well.  The yarn is entertaining enough, and the section where Superboy gains the godly powers is an interesting change of pace.  Yet, that is over in two pages, so we don’t really get a lot of opportunity to see the difference between those and his usual abilities.  This story has some potential to be neat, but it ends up being fairly forgettable.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen, with the inexplicable ‘Super Clark’ costume costing it some points.

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“Trust Me or Kill Me!”


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Our Legion backup this month is once again the highlight of the book.  It’s a fairly conventional identity mystery, the likes of which the Legion writers seem to love, but there are some neat details to it.  The tale begins with the stalwart Cosmic Boy left alone in the Legion headquarters, as the rest of the team has gone off to get vaccinated against a new virus sweeping the planet, a vaccine he himself had received years ago.  That’s a reasonably decent excuse to get the rest of the team out of the way for this story, and in light of the recent vaccination madness here in the U.S., I can’t help but smile.

Well, Cosmic Boy’s sojourn is interrupted when, all of a sudden, his double in a mirror smashes through the glass and attacks him!  Each claims to be the original, and they find themselves evenly matched in combat, knowing each other’s moves.  We also learn that Cosmic Boy knows a martial art named Ku-Jui, which he learned on his homeworld, a fun little detail and bit of world-building.  They decide to call in help in order to figure out which of them is real, and they settle on Superboy, who they summon from the past.  The Boy of Steel speeds through the Time Barrier (such a wonderfully comic book-ish concept), and joins the duplicated duo in the future.

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Tuska really knocks the face-work on this story out of the park.

Once he arrives, he is confronted by a massive image of the Legion’s most deadly foe, Mordru!  The evil wizard informs the young Action Ace that this is all part of one of his schemes.  Mordru has created a duplicate of Cosmic Boy, and if the hero cannot discover him, the double will secretly destroy the Legionnaires one by one.  I know very little about this character, but I have to say, I like this little glimpse of him. George  Tuska does a great job of making Mordru’s image seem intimidating and ominous, while also giving him some good old fashioned villainous glee.  His plan is really quite devious.  It has the longshot possibility of destroying the Legion, but even if it fails, it promises to subject the team to terrible emotional strain as they face the possibility of destroying one of their friends in order to save themselves

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Superboy tries to solve the mystery by quizzing the two Cosmic Boys, but each of them is able to answer his questions about their history.  Realizing that the Legionnaires are on their way back , the Boy of Steel tries one last, desperate gambit.  He flies off and returns with two massive iron boulders, hurtling them at both claimants to the Cosmic Boy title, saying that the real master of magnetism will be able to stop his rock.

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Yet, when one of them fails to halt the hurtling stone, Superboy rushes to his rescue.  The stunned youth wonders why, since he failed, but Clark explains that the rocks were actually plastic, and he counted on the fake Legionnaire using magic to simulate Cosmic Boys powers, rather than duplicating the powers themselves.  Thus, they mystery is solved, and the story ends with Mordru swearing that the traditional vow of ‘this isn’t over’ and Superboy headed back to his own time.

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This little tale has a clever resolution in Superboy’s plan.  It’s a good way to solve the mystery, and it does make a certain amount of sense.  There isn’t a whole lot to it beyond that, but we get some nice background on Cosmic Boy, and he gets a standard ‘you have to kill us both, Spock’ moment, though it is immediately countered by Superboy.  Mordru’s very brief appearance is fun, and I look forward to seeing a full story with him as the villain.  George Tuska’s art is bright and cheerful, and he really succeeds in making the protagonists look youthful, something not all comic artists can really pull off.  His clean, expressive art is a nice fit for these characters.  I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing him stay on this feature.  I’ll give this little backup 3.5 Minutemen, as it makes for a fun read and has no real flaws other than its brevity.

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And once again, we find ourselves at the end of a post.  These stories present a widely varied whole, and they certainly illustrate how diverse an era we’re working with.  In just this pair of books, we go from the creepy horror story of a haunted killer to the goofy antics of a gimmick driven Superboy farce.  As silly as the latter story was, it’s an interesting and positive thing that both types of comic are being published by DC, a variety of tone and theme not seen after this era until very recently.

The Phantom Stranger tale is particularly notable for the overt use of horror elements and for the cold-blooded murder that actually happens on panel.  It represents a darker type of story, one that had mostly passed out of mainstream comics with the dawning of the Silver Age and the rise of the Comics Code.  The return of such storytelling marks the continuing shift across the genre to more mature and varied comics.  Well, I hope that y’all enjoyed this read, and that y’all will join me again soon for the next stop on our journey, Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 3)

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Welcome back to Into the Bronze Age!  After the rather sad event commemorated by my last post chronicling the lamentable cancellation of Aquaman, we’ve got a much more cheerful feature today!  We’ve got a memorable Batman tale, an unusual Batgirl backup, and the premiere of the superhero escape artist, Mr. Miracle!  The result is an enjoyable pair of books.  Check them out below!

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 #399
  • Adventure Comics #405
  • Aquaman #56 / (Sub-Mariner #72)
  • Detective Comics #410
  • The Flash #205 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Mr Miracle #1
  • The Phantom Stranger #12
  • Superboy #173
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #109
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137
  • Superman #236
  • Teen Titans #32

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


Detective Comics #410


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“A Vow From the Grave!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Battle of the Three M’s”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Here’s a bit of trivia for you readers: this issue would later go on to form the basis for the Batman: TAS episode, “Sideshow.”  Strangely, while that episode has always left a bad taste in my mouth, I find this book rather inoffensive.  Both stories revolve around an escaped criminal meeting up with a band of former carnival sideshow performers, but the cartoon replaces the comic’s generic thug with the appropriately freakish Killer Croc.  In the show, I always found Croc’s betrayal of this lonely group of misfits quite heartrending, and I also found myself too repulsed by those same misfits.  I’m afraid I have a fairly low tolerance for the grotesque, and things like this creep me right out (Lady Grey, on the other hand, loves this kind of material).  Both of those elements are much less central in this issue, though, notably, that marks the difference between moderate and exceptional stories.  Despite my personal distaste for the Timmverse version, it is, objectively, a very good story.

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The original version at hand lies inside of a suitably dramatic if not terribly lovely cover.  The image effectively portrays the peril of the situation, but within the tale opens with an even more arresting splash page.  It’s a beautiful, moody image of the Dark Knight’s dogged pursuit of his quarry across a rope bridge and through a stormy night.  His prey, escaped killer Kano Wiggins, reaches solid ground first and cuts down the bridge, leaving the Dark Knight to make a desperate leap to safety.  Despite his opponent holding the high ground, the Grim Avenger still manages to get the upper hand until a massive fist slams into him out of nowhere!

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A titanic figure looms out of the rain, and despite the Caped Crusader’s attempts to reason with him, the giant seems intent on attacking.  In a really nice sequence, Batman uses his agility to reach his opponent’s shoulders and put him in a sleeper hold.  When the fellow finally collapses, a strange, mismatched trio arrives and explanations are made.  It seems that this quartet are former sideshow stars whose show folded, leaving them stranded there in the middle of nowhere.  They include a strongman, if not a bright one, man named Goliath, a very thin fellow named Charley Bones, a fat woman named Maud, and a deformed little boy with seal-like appendages, named ‘Flippy.’

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Detective410-10The Dark Knight goes to track Wiggins, but his search eventually brings him back to the sideshow gang in the abandoned town where they have set up camp.  When he arrives, he discovers that poor Charlie Bones has been murdered, hung from the bell-cord in the empty town hall.  Interviewing the other carnies, Batman finds that no-one seems to have seen anything, but Flippy, who is mute, draws a design in the dust, two circles linked by a line.  Note the almost parallel images of Batman below.  That’s some excellent visual storytelling.  You’ll see why soon.

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Before the Masked Manhunter can investigate further, he hears a car starting up and rushes off to capture Wiggins, which he does by punching the convict through the window of the van he tried to steal.  Clearly, we’re moving away from campy Batman at full speed!

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Returning to the sideshow stars, the Darknight Detective has solved the murder, but he announces to Maud that Kano didn’t do it.  Just then, Goliath tries to kill the hero by hurling a chunk of wood from the rafters of the building, and the Caped Crusader sets off to rescue the last member of the trio, poor Flippy, who tried to warn him that the culprit was the strongman with his drawing of a barbell.  As he confronts the giant, Batman explains that he knew Wiggins wasn’t the killer because the rope was cut too high up, and only Goliath could have reached it.  Now we can appreciate the cleverness of Adams’ illustrations on that page above.

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The strongman declares that he loved Maud and killed Charlie so that she would turn to him, and when the hero approaches, the killer threatens to throw Flippy from the bell tower unless the Dark Knight throws himself off!  The Dark Avenger subtly loops his rope over a beam on the outside of the tower and then seems to comply, swearing that he will get Goliath, even from the grave.

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Despite not really wanting to kill the boy, the strongman still drops him so he can’t reveal the murderer’s guilt, but Batman snatches the kid from midair in a great looking page.  Finally, he confronts the hulking giant, who almost kills him before Maud intervenes.  The story ends with the Caped Crusader noting that “courage–and love–come in strange shapes,” which is not a bad moral for this little yarn.

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This is a solid, if brief, little murder mystery with a memorable cast of characters.  O’Neil provides some interesting twists and turns that make it stand out from the standard fare.  Obviously he created a story that sticks with you, as its return years later in the classic Batman cartoon demonstrates.  Neal Adams, for his part is in fine form this issue.  His action is dramatic and full of explosive excitement, but even more impressively, he captures the perfect Gothic tone for the setting and characters he’s dealing with.  Everything is dark and dreary, and a nearly palpable feeling of dread hangs over the little drama of this story as tragedy strikes these lonely souls.  That atmosphere is only broken with the rising dawn at the comic’s end, with all the figures in silhouette, which adds a touch of hope to the tale as well.  The Batman of this book is well on his way to becoming the grim avenger of the night, the driven crimefighter who still has a deep love for humanity.  It’s a good little Batman comic, and I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.  O’Neil and Adams are well on their way to their legendary run on this character.

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“Battle of the Three M’s”


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The Batgirl backup this month is a fun, if a tad sexist, adventure involving the nefarious doings surrounding the fashion industry!  You can almost hear the conversation that spawned this tale: ‘Batgirl is a girl, so her readers are probably girls.  What do girls like?  Fashion!’  I’ve written before about the linking of female superheroes with fashion themes, as with the focus on costumes and the like in Supergirl’s stories, and, in general, I imagine it was an creative way to inject something uniquely feminine into these comics, something quite absent in the male dominated books.  However, there is, of course, a rather silly assumption that all girls are interested in fashion inherent in this treatment, but as long as the comics are still fun, I suppose no harm is done.

This particular instance of this phenomenon centers around the age-old dilemma, mini, midi, or maxi?  I am, of course, talking about skirt-lengths, as if my fashion forward readers didn’t know!  Seriously, I suppose this whole thing started in the 60s with the advent of the mini-skirt, and I rather wonder if it is still a going concern these days.  This subject is a bit out of my areas of expertise!  You only seem to see stories concerning the phenomenon from this era and earlier.  In this version, a major fashion icon breaks her leg skiing and so is out of circulation for a time.  Meanwhile, industry big-wigs go mad trying to figure out which length of skirt she’ll wear when she is healed, and a particularly unsavory group of designers in Gotham decide to do more than wait.

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Detective410-25As Barbara Gordon heads to work in the library, a newsman asks her what her opinion on the mystery is, and she reveals that she’s playing it safe by wearing a pants-suit, which is a mildly clever bit.  Things start happening once she’s inside, however, as one of the designers tries to bribe her to get access to another patron’s research books.  She refuses, but out of curiosity, she looks herself, to see that the patron in question is Jules Thayer, the fashion icon’s personal couturier, or designer.  Deciding that the crooked costumers might not give up so easily, Babs dons her on fashionable threads and heads to Thayer’s home to check on matters.  Now, this is a pretty thin excuse to get her involved, all things considered.  There’s no real reason to think that these clothiers would go as far as they do, at least not from that one interaction, but Robbins only has a few pages to work with, so it’s understandable.

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Arriving at the apartment, the girl detective discovers the same fashion flunky snapping pictures, but when she confronts him, he smacks her with the camera, sending her reeling off the roof.  She manages to catcher herself at the last minute, providing a bit of a common element with our headline tale.  When she recovers, Babs trails the skulking spy, and when he meets up with his partner and examines the photos, they realize that Thayer has decided on maxi-skirts, leaving them dead in the water.

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It’s nice of DC to give Howard Stark a chance at a second career after Marvel killed him off.

However, their investor, a gangster named Serpy (interesting name) arrives and is not willing to lose his investment.  He decides to kill the problematic fashionista, but at that point, Batgirl intervenes.  She makes a good showing until, oh no!  She joins Aquaman in this month’s additions to the Head-Blow Headcount, getting conked on the bean by the gangster.  The issue ends with Batgirl about to have a blouse carved out of her lovely hide!

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That’s a very stylish cliffhanger!

This is a fun if somewhat off-beat little backup.  It’s a bit hard to take the bespectacled  fashion designer seriously as a villain, so it’s nice that we get the addition of the gangster to the rogue’s gallery.  Still, it makes one wonder what kind of a hardened criminal lends money to lady’s clothing designers.  I suppose anybody can get desperate and go to the mob for a loan.  Either way, it’s an unusual and entertaining setup, though poor Batgirl doesn’t turn in her best performance, getting taken out twice in just a few pages!  Don Heck, however, puts together a nice looking feature, with each of the characters having a lot of personality.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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Mr. Miracle #1


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“Murder Missile Trap!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Colourist: Jack Kirby
Editor: Jack Kirby

The last of the new Fourth World books premiered this month, introducing one of my favorite DC characters, the inimitably marvelous Mr. Miracle!  He’s a hero I only encountered when I got back into comics in college, never really having known him as a kid, but his concept and especially his design really grabbed me.  When I read through his first two volumes, I really fell in love with the character and the hopeful view of the power of the human spirit that he represents.

Interestingly, the inspiration for the spectacular Scott Free actually came from one of Kirby’s former colleagues at Marvel, the master illustrator of the classic Nick Fury strip, Jim Steranko.  Earlier in his life, Steranko had been a magician and escape artist, and Kirby based Mr. Miracle on this fascinating Renaissance man.

Whatever its origins, this first issue of Mr. Miracle’s adventures certainly comes on like Gangbusters, with a great cover only partially marred by distracting dialog.  The original Mr. Miracle run is blessed by a profusion of excellent covers, each one featuring a pulse-pounding peril from which the  peerless super-escape-artist must liberate himself.  This first cover is downright iconic, and it sets the tenor for the series that follows.  The issue within opens with a Mr. Miracle, though, not our Mr. Miracle, preparing for a death-defying deed with the help of his little person assistant, Oberon, whose name always makes me smile.  Oberon is the name of the king of the faeries in medieval literature, you see.

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Anyway, a young man watches as these two prepare an act, Oberon chaining his boss up and locking him in a shed.  When the little assistant sets the shack on fire (!), the observer rushes forward and tries to intervene, despite the dwarf’s objections.  Suddenly, the costumed figure bursts out of the flames, and the amazed onlooker is introduced to Thaddeus Brown, known as Mr. Miracle, the escape artist!  The young man’s name is Scott Free, which, to my delight, is pointed out as a funny coincidence within the book itself, with Brown laughing merrily. We learn that Scott is a foundling who was given that name in the orphanage, but he remains mysterious.

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Just then, a carful of hoods arrives, apparently working for Intergang!  They threaten Brown, and when Scott objects, they turn their attentions to him.  Not the type to take such things lightly, the young stranger jumps the armed antagonists, making short work of the whole gang and demonstrating an admirable spirit of fair play.  Mr. Terrific would have liked this kid!

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With the gangsters defeated, we get a partial explanation, as we learn that there is some type of trouble between the aged Mr. Miracle and an Intergang division chief aptly named Steel Hand, probably because he has a powerful steel hand.  Sometimes criminals aren’t too creative.  In a good example of comic book science, this metal appendage has somehow been strengthened by “radiation treatments,” which the garrulous gangster demonstrates by shattering a “great bar of solid titanium.”  Sure.  I’m willing to give this a pass because it works in the kind of world that DC has established.  It’s a more fantastic place, after all, and radiation is magic.  Anyway, the alloy-armed criminal is not happy that his gunsels failed, so he decides to take care of the escape artist himself!

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Meet the Mole Man…err…I mean Steel Hand!

Meanwhile, Scott Free has been invited to stay with that very marked man, who tells his guest a bit about his history.  It seems that he’s alone now, with his wife and son dead, but he is planning to come out of retirement by performing a big escape.  Scott is very interested in Brown’s methods, and Oberon convinces the showman to give the young man a test.  After being locked up in an impressive set of chains, the stranger shatters them, seemingly without a twitch.  He claims that he just used a gadget to do it, and he’s rather cagey about where it, and he, came from.

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mr miracle 01-13 murder missle trapThe next day, Thaddeus dons his costume again to try another escape, but after Oberon sets a great boulder in motion, Steel Hand has a sniper shoot the old man, which happens on panel, something of a rarity.  Scott leaps into action and somehow manages to deflect the massive missile with an energy bolt from his hand, revealing Kirby-tech winding up his arm.  He removes what sharp-eyed readers of The Forever People will recognize as a ‘Mother Box,’ and uses it to comfort the mortally wounded Mr. Miracle, who passes away peacefully moments later.  Honestly, it’s a fairly moving scene.  Kirby has successfully made us care about this old man, at least a bit, and his death has an impact despite his brief screen time.

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With his friend dead, Oberon fills Scott in on the rest of the setup.  It seemed that Brown and Steel Hand had met in the hospital years before, and they passed the time in talking, eventually making a bet that the gangster could design a trap that not even Mr. Miracle could escape.  Desperate to fund his return, Brown had approached the now successful crime boss, who, for his part, was unwilling to risk losing the bet.  We then check in with that extremely poor sport, who is testing his metal mitt against an expensive android designed by one of his flunkies for just that purpose, which is one of the most Jack Kirby sentences ever written.

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mr miracle 01-18 murder missle trapAfter Steel Hand smashes the bot, Mr. Miracle suddenly leaps through the window and challenges the villain to complete his bargain.  Unfortunately, the gangster’s goons arrive, and Mr. Miracle falls prey to an old enemy of the superhero set, the classic headblow!  That’s right, in his first appearance, poor Mr. Miracle joins the Headblow Head-Count.  When he awakens, Steel Hand’s minions have chained him to a rocket at a secret Intergang missile site (!), where the gangster has prepared his escape-proof trap.

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We see the hero begin to work his escape, but then the rocket blasts off and explodes!  Yet, when Steel Hand returns to his office, he finds Mr. Miracle, alive and well, sitting at his desk.  Infuriated, the alloy-armed goon attacks, smashing through desk, chair, and more.  Mr. Miracle evades his attacks and calmly explains his incredible escape, using the very gimmicks he used on the rocket to disable his opponent, including sonic projectors, jets, and more!  Just as he wraps up the rat, Oberon arrives with the police, who happily haul him away.

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This is a great first issue, a delightful debut for a dramatic and intriguing new character, and Mr. Miracle really is just that.  He’s a unique concept, something never before really seen in comics, the superhero escape artist.  Once again, we can see just how groundbreaking and original Jack Kirby is, introducing an entirely new wrinkle into the superhero setting, something that was already, in 1971, pretty rare.  The issue itself could actually serve as a good example of proper comic writing.  It’s a self-contained issue, with a complete plot found within its covers, a real rarity these days.  Yet, it also contains all the setup and threads necessary to provide the grounding for ongoing adventures.  Notably, with this more realistic (as far as Kirby goes) gangster type of story, the odd note to the King’s dialog is absent, and his writing is fairly strong throughout.

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Kirby manages to introduce several characters and even get us invested in poor Thaddeus Brown before his tragic death, no mean feat in a single issue, as the late, unlamented Crusader demonstrated.   Taken just as a story, this comic is quite good, with some mystery, plenty of action and peril, and a lot of personality.  The only real weakness is the lack of explanation for HOW Scott is able to step into the gloriously colorful shoes of his mentor so easily.  That’s part of the mystery Kirby is setting up, but it still could have used just a bit more establishment to make the changeover smoother.  Still, this is a great beginning for Mr. Miracle’s adventures.  While it lacks the visual wonder of some of the King’s other Fourth World comics, it still looks pretty good.  In fact, the whole comic feels a bit more grounded than the other Fourth World books so far, and it contains some of Kirby’s better writing.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, a strong start.

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And that does it for this post.  I hope you enjoyed my commentary as much as I enjoyed providing it!  Thank you for reading, and please come back soon for more comic goodness as we trek further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal Alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Two more heroes join Aquaman this month, and the Headcount continues to grow!  This is shaping up to be a busy month!  Now Batgirl is ahead of the rest of the Bat Family.  I bet Dick would never let her live that down.  We also have the first Jack Kirby creation to grace the Wall of Shame, making this a red-letter day!


 

Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 2-Special Edition!)

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This is a bittersweet post, and that touch of melancholy is part of what has made me slow to put figurative pen to equally figurative paper for this set of books.  On the one hand, we are starting a new month, full of the promise of adventure, but on the other, this month also holds the final issue of Aquaman’s solo series, the last solo Aquaman book that would be seen for six years until its brief revival, after which Aquaman would be absent from solo books until the beginning of the very divisive Pozner/Hamilton mini-series in the mid 80s, which, for whatever positive qualities it may have, is still guilty of starting the ‘let’s fix Aquaman’ approach to the character that endured for decades.  It’s a crying shame, especially given the very high quality of this book and the incredible inventiveness of its creative team, SAG.  Nonetheless, life, and comics, go on.

As I’ve mentioned before, the cancellation of this book was made all the more shocking and lamentable because it had much less to do with sales than with internal politics.  It seems that then editor-in-chief Carmine Infantino didn’t much care for Dick Giordano’s style, so, when Giordano desired to leave editing and start inking full time, the head honcho took that as an opportunity to rid himself of the man.  Now, Giordano was very fond of what he had created with Skeates and Aparo, so he offered to continue editing Aquaman freelance, but rather than agree to that or even replace him, Infantino just cancelled the book, despite the fact that it had maintained solid sales!  The Aquaman Shrine has a great interview with Steve Skeates that reveals a bit of the behind the scenes drama.

However unjust the cancellation, it was presented as a fait accompli, and it was a shock to all involved and a major blow for the character.  In fact, I would argue that it is this incident which crippled the character for years to come.  It attached a stigma that his book couldn’t sell, despite the fact that sales had very little to do with the book’s fate.  What’s worse, it robbed the hero of the chance for development and growth during a very important time in comics history, as I’ve mentioned before.  While Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and many others were being revamped and redefined in extremely influential ways, Aquaman is left by the wayside, with only the SAG team’s incomplete efforts to support him.  This is a situation that the character is only very recently starting to overcome, some forty years later.

Yet, not all is doom and gloom.  As promised, I have a special treat for y’all today.  You see, when the book was unceremoniously cancelled, Steve Skeates was left with a half-finished story.  Yet, he was not one to be daunted by such a small matter as a cancellation, and he would eventually finish that story, but do so on the other side of the aisle.  That’s right, in a 1974 issue of Marvel’s Submariner, Steve Skeates would pick up the dropped thread of this Aquaman adventure and finish the tale for Marvel’s own sea king.  I’ll be covering that comic today, in addition to our usual fare.  So, let’s see what this month has in store for us!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #399
  • Adventure Comics #405
  • Aquaman #56 / (Sub-Mariner #72)
  • Detective Comics #410
  • The Flash #205 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Mr Miracle #1
  • The Phantom Stranger #12
  • Superboy #173
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #109
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137
  • Superman #236
  • Teen Titans #32

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


Aquaman #56


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“The Creature That Devoured Detroit!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“The Cave of Death!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Jim Aparo

Here we have one of the all-time great Aquaman covers.  It’s exciting, titanic in scope and promise, and other than the rather muddy colors, is pretty much a perfect composition.  It’s got an old-school monster flick feel, right down to the title, like a 50s sci-fi film…but unfortunately it also bears little in common with the story inside.  Just imagine what could have been, a massive struggle between the King of the Sea and a colossal monster from the watery depths!  Instead, we get an offbeat, if unquestionably interesting, tale.  I imagine I might have been a more than a tad disappointed if that cover had persuaded me to pick the book up off the newsstand, only to find no massive monstrosity within.

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Man, Aparo could pack personality into a page!

Instead, the final issue of Aquaman begins in rather simple fashion.  A husband and wife bicker over the minutia that can grow into its own sort of monster in a marriage, but the debate is postponed by the tuning in of a television to the “Warren Savin Show” (interestingly, that’s actually a pen-name that Skeates has used from time to time).  The show promises to feature, of all people, the King of the Seven Seas as their special guest, but it is interrupted by a special report about a massive algae growth on Lake Erie threatening to consume the city of Detroit.

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This bumper bloom seems to be caused by a mysterious satellite which is reflecting light onto the city and its surroundings at night, keeping the area in a perpetual daylight that has sparked this overgrowth.  When the cameras cut back to the show, the Sea Sleuth is missing!  The Aquatic Ace has rushed out of the studio to see what he can do about this threat, answering the call to action.

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Too bad this is symbolic…

Aquaman56_06Arriving in Detroit, Aquaman finds the green gunk everywhere and decides to look up an old friend of his, a former police scientist named Don Powers, to try to get a handle on the situation.  Meanwhile, we cut to a strange figure in a garish costume, and we’re informed that this bargain-basement Batman is ‘The Crusader,’ a superhero who is ignoring the growing plight of the city to chase a car theft ring.  We get a nice action sequence as the Crusader jumps the gang he’s been tracking and barely manages to subdue them.

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After we see the orange and black clad figure finishes his fight, we switch over to follow Aquaman as he goes to consult his old friend, now a successful businessman and scientist, and the Sea King finds him at his corporate lab, where the fellow is completely unconcerned with the growing green tide swallowing the city, instead bragging about the reduction in crime thanks to the perpetual daylight and revealing that the mysterious satellite is, in fact, his.

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During their debate, Powers brings up the Crusader, and Arthur reveals that the League had refused him membership because he was considered unstable and too violent (He’d fit right in today, no doubt!), which is a fun little detail.  When the Marine Marvel tries to take matters into his own hands, Powers and his flunkies jump him, and sadly, you guessed it, Aquaman earns another slot on the Head-Blow Headcount!  Skeates really loved this device a bit too much.

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Not again

With the real hero disabled, we watch as Powers slips into his private office and dons the costume of…the Crusader!  In internal monologue, he reveals that he had an ulterior motive for launching the satellite.  His low-light vision is fading, and he’s willing to let the whole city suffer just so he can continue playing costumed crimefighter.  He justifies his selfishness by arguing that the case he’s working on is too big to abandon, and once he solves it he plans to destroy the satellite.  Powers also thinks that this case will be his ticket into the big time, that it will help him prove himself.  Now, just for some perspective, let’s remember that the case he’s trying to crack is no doomsday plot, no terrorist’s master plan, no city shaking scheme, just a car-theft ring.  Priorities man, priorities!

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While the Crusader continues his…well…crusade, Aquaman awakens on a park bench, having been dumped there by Powers’ goons, and before he can get back to the lab, he sees a young girl threatened by the growing green goo and rushes into the morass to save her.  He does so without a second thought, putting her life ahead of his own, though the peril of the situation doesn’t entirely come through as well as I imagine Skeates intended.

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A bit of a disappointing confrontation, really, and the dramatic title doesn’t help.

On his way back, he discovers a crowd surrounding a still figure on the pavement.  The Crusader lies dead, not felled by an enemy’s bullet or having met his death in the line of duty.  He just tripped over a wire and fell to his fate on the street below, his eyes finally having failed him.  He is the very soul of anti-climax.  When his mask is removed, the Sea King recognizes his friend and things begin to become clear to him.  Rushing back to Powers’ building, the Marine Marvel smashes his way inside, taking no chances, and locks himself inside the control room until he can find the proper switch.  The issue ends with the button pressed, the satellite destroyed, and the menace ended.

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The title here, on the other hand, is pitch-perfect.

So, not exactly what one would expect from that cover, is it?  This is a strange issue, but certainly an inventive and intriguing one.  Skeates is doing what he has done all along, trying new things and experimenting with the medium.  The story at the heart of this comic, the contrasting of two different concepts of heroism in the person of two very different heroes, is actually a great one.  It’s still quite pertinent today.  It’s the examination of the perennial conflict, between selflessness and selfishness.  Aquaman’s selfless conduct throughout, abandoning the TV show to help Detroit, putting his life in danger to save the little girl, and even risking who knows what kinds of consequences to destroy the satellite, stands in relatively effective contrast to the purely selfish motives of the Crusader.  That myopic manhunter, for his part, ignores all other concerns in search for his own fulfillment and fame, endangering the entire city, a city that he supposedly protects, in order to continue his callous crusade.  The concept is a fascinating one, yet Skeates’ treatment thereof isn’t entirely successful.

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Remember these images.

The story is far too rushed.  We meet the Crusader and see his futile death in just a few pages.  He’s not given the time to really develop the comparison appropriately, and compressing the setup and payoff into one book renders Aquaman’s contributions fairly slight.  Part of the trouble is that the threat to the city doesn’t ever quite seem tremendous enough to justify everyone’s concern.  We see the sludge surge up and endanger one little girl playing too close to the water, but that’s about it.  Skeates commits one of the prime storytelling sins.  He tells us about the threat rather than showing it convincingly.  Now, part of the reason for that simply has to be lack of storytelling space.  Nonetheless, this tale is certainly noteworthy for its innovation, and the central concept is worthwhile, despite its flaws.  This was a remarkable plot for its time.  Characters getting killed off was rare enough, but having a “hero” die, especially in the story in which he was introduced, was almost unheard of.

Of course, it almost goes without saying that the book is beautiful, with Aparo creating yet another cast of distinctive, interesting faces, lovely action, and rich settings.  Perhaps the greatest calamity in the cancellation of the book is the fact that Aparo stops working on the character that he captured better than anyone else.  Unfortunately, there is no shortage of four-color woe to be found in this comic’s cancellation, so that loss has plenty of competition.  Nonetheless, this is a fun and entertaining read.  It may be an offbeat ending to the series, but at least it’s an intriguing one.  All things considered, I’ll give this final Aquaman story 3.5 Minutemen.

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This issue also contains a super brief backup with Aquagirl, where she rescues a little boy foolishly playing too close to an ominously named threat called ‘The Cave of Death.’  Something of a theme this month, apparently.  It’s only two pages, so really too brief to rate as a story by itself, but it’s always nice to see Aquagirl in action.    It seems clear that Skeates was setting something else up, and this is just one more way in which the sudden cancellation of the book is a shame.

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The Savage Sub-Mariner #72


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“From the Void It Came…”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dan Adkins
Inker: Vince Colletta
Colourist: Linda Lessmann
Letterer: Artie Simek
Editor: Roy Thomas

 You can see what else Marvel put out this month HERE.

For our special feature, we once again pass across the aisle to Marvel comics, but this time it isn’t ersatz counterparts we see but an actual story-line continued.  It’s a shame that the rest of the SAG team wasn’t able to join Skeates for this revival of his Aquaman work, but he’s creating with a new team.  The results are surprisingly fitting for a Marvel comic considering the origins of this yarn over at DC.

While DC’s Sea King is my favorite comic character, I’ve also always had a soft spot for Marvel’s ocean monarch, Namor, the Sub-Mariner.  He’s not one of my favorite Marvel characters, but I’ve always liked him, and when I read through the classic Fantastic Four stories where Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought him back, I really started to appreciate comics first anti-hero.  Incidentally, Kirby’s work on the history of Namor’s Atlantis is one of the coolest things ever.  While Namor’s temper can wear thin after a while, I’ve always appreciated the unfailing regalness of his character.  He’s one of the few times where comics have captured the ideal of royalty.  I’m just now starting to read his Silver Age solo series, and I’m only up to the 40s at the time of this posting, but I’m quite enjoying those adventures.  For this outing, I’m skipping ahead a few years, so I’m reading this tale without much context.

It begins with the Sub-Mariner himself swimming through the terribly polluted waters offshore of a major city and commenting, in usual fashion, on how terrible us surface dwellers are.  Notably, at this point Marvel’s Sea King is wearing his more substantial costume that replaced his green trunks.  It’s certainly a more dignified look, and it’s grown on me, though, being something of a purist, I tend to be biased in favor of original looks.  Sartorial concerns aside, the Sub-Mariner takes to the sky, still meditating on the evils of the surface world.

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Our narrative lens shifts, and we move into space two years previously where a strange green blob, some bizarre alien lifeform, drifts through the cosmos and lands upon a certain satellite, just before a (blue) gloved hand destroys its temporary lodging.  Take a look at that image.  Does it look familiar?  That’s right, Skeates intentionally evokes the last panels from Aquaman #56 in order to tie these two stories together in a subtle crossover.

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The creature rides the wreckage down and splashes into the ocean nearby where Namor will come ashore.  The being observes the sealife that passes by and decides to emulate those ocean dwellers by creating a body out of the slime on the seabed and the wreckage from the satellite.  The process takes the intervening years, and we get a really nice series of panels as the alien heads to the surface to explore.

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Meanwhile, the Sub-Mariner has encountered trouble in the form of a strange pair of humans.  There’s something just a bit odd about these guys, and you might not be able to put your finger on it.  I wasn’t, at first.  Don’t worry, we’ll come back to that.  These two toughs decide, with suicidal bravado, to pick a fight with Namor because he’s different.  It’s a case of prejudice, and bizarrely, the attack is accompanied by a quote from Hitler which talks about the effectiveness of visuals in delivering messages.  Oookay.

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This looks like a cover for a Double Dragon game.

The Prince of the Blood, who, let’s’ remember, has traded punches with the Hulk, belts his  normal human antagonist and somehow doesn’t turn his head into a fine red mist, instead sending him flying into the drink.  The thug’s friend jumps Namor in reprisal, voicing a rather strange response to the attack, “You’ve probably ruined him for life!”  How odd.  As the two tussle, the curious alien being reaches the dock, and they smash into him, leading all three to tumble into the water.  Interestingly, the narration notes that Namor has become somewhat unstable because of his constant battles, so that he meets the strange, monstrous newcomer with open hostility, just assuming that it’s a foe, and thereby leaving his original human antagonist to his watery fate.

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While the fellow’s companion drags him to the surface, the Sub-Mariner and the star-spawned creature trade blows.  Namor pours all of his rage, all of his frustration, into this fight, attacking blindly, but the creature literally blinds the Atlantean in response.  Even that doesn’t stop the Sub-Mariner, who grapples with his slimy foe.

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Finally, having had enough of this whole ‘body’ business, the being launches itself skyward once more, though, having meant no harm, as it passes into space it uses its powers to restore life to the drowned man and even, surprisingly enough, restore Namor’s sight.  Skeates plays with superhero conventions here to some pretty good effect, raising some questions about the violent ways such characters tend to respond to the unknown.

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For his part, before his eyes are healed, the Prince of the Blood realizes that his metaphorical blindness may have trapped him in literal blindness.  His anger and rage kept him from trying to communicate with the creature and may have doomed him to perpetual blackness.  It’s an interesting and relatively effective message about understanding and tolerance of the “Other.”  And with that, Namor heads for sepulchral Atlantis (previously destroyed, it seems) while the two humans head home as well, with one of them saying, seemingly apropos of nothing, that he just got a new professional wrestling magazine.  With these scenes, our story ends.

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So, what was the discordant note that the two wharf rats kept striking?  Well, these two toughs, Skeates later confirmed, were meant to be a gay couple.  Hence the rather flamboyant dress of the first thug, who was, by the way, named Bruce, a moniker with some associations with the gay community at the time, as I understand.  Now, you may wonder what in the world their sexuality has to do with anything in this oddball story, but it really does add a little depth to Skeates’ treatment of the theme of intolerance and metaphoric blindness.  You’ve got these two characters acting as bigots who have themselves suffered from intolerance, abuse, and bigotry, which is ironic.  While it could just be seen as anti-gay, it could also be read as an indication of the depth to which distrust of the “Other” is built into human nature, how deeply the disease goes.  Even those of us with reason to sympathize with societal outcasts can find it easier to lash out than attempt to act with understanding.

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Nonetheless, that was certainly an unusual wrinkle for comics in 1974, when you could not present any openly gay characters.  Once again, Skeates is experimenting with the genre.  The story itself is solid enough.  It’s more effective in its delivery of its message than in telling a particularly compelling and enjoyable adventure yarn, though.  Yet, I do enjoy the focus on Namor’s reaction to the mysterious creature.  It makes rather perfect sense given the Sub-Mariner’s characterization over the course of his series and the endless series of conflicts and reverses he’s faced.  There’s a very human element in his blind rage.  Still, the story feels a bit disjointed, with the conflict with the two morons on the dock coming out of absolutely nowhere.  I know people are plenty stupid, but who says to themselves, ‘I think I want to pick a fight with that guy that can punch through steel!’  In the end, I suppose I’ll give this story a 3.5 as well.  It’s an interesting one, if not stellar.

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P.S.: Oddly, this story, picking up from the final issue of Aquaman, falls on the final issue of the Sub-Mariner, who has outlived his distinguished counterpart by three years at this point but falls prey to a similar fate, and, ironically, with the same hand at the helm!  Steve Skeates had to wonder if he was jinxed when it came to aquatic characters!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Poor Aquaman adds yet another appearance on the Wall of Shame.  This really illustrates just how much Skeates relied on the head-blow plot device.  Whenever he needed to remove the Sea King from the story for a few pages, it seems a sock on the noggin was the first club out of the bag.  The results are self-evident, with Aquaman more than tripling the next most common resident on the wall in total head-blows.  At least one benefit from the lamentable cancellation of his book is he won’t be adding many more entries in this feature any time soon!


Final Thoughts:

These two comics make for an intriguing pair, a unique case (at the time) with a story translating across both companies and years (Of course, the Marvel character Mantis will see a similar transition later in the decade).  Even more unusually, the stories are very reflective of their universes, DC and Marvel, with each comic fitting surprisingly well into the style of their respective companies.  The DC story is full of bigger ideas, while the Marvel tale is much more melodramatic and emotionally focused.  The contrast illustrates Skeates’ skill as a writer, as one of the great tests of an author’s mettle is the ability to write well in different styles.

I’m really curious what shape the second story would have taken if it had graced the pages of Aquaman as intended.  One wonders if the muck creature from the cover of #56 might actually have put in an appearance after all, perhaps on a much grander scale than Namor’s unwitting sparring partner.  If we assume that the alien creature and its curious attempt to explore our little globe was always the core of the concept, then perhaps it would make sense for all of that algae coating Detroit to be incorporated into the being’s new body.  We might have gotten a version of that massive monstrosity after all.  Sadly, we’ll never know what might have been.

That is, truly, the greatest misfortune to be found in the sudden and unlooked-for cancellation of the Aquaman book, the loss of what might have been.  The SAG team had been paving the way for a whole era of stories, layering in hooks for coming arcs and continuing plot threads, setting up some really intriguing story possibilities, and creating a fascinating setting for the Sea King.  There are too many lost opportunities and abandoned elements in this run to count, like the rabble-rousing politician and his bid for power, the rocky relationship between Tula and Garth, the myriad underwater civilizations we’ve encountered in the preceding pages of the book, the microscopic world in Mera’s ring, Ocean Master’s recovered memories, and so much more that could have been.  I’ll always wonder what plans the SAG team had, what heights the book might have reached in the years to come.  How might the undersea setting have grown?  How might the Aqua-Family have evolved?  The possibilities really dazzle the imagination, don’t they?  Instead, we get this rather off=beat finale.  The book ends, not with a whimper, but neither does it close with a roar worthy of what has come before.  Instead, it slips away without fanfare or acknowledgement, without the slightest hint that this is the final issue.

It’s one of the great comic calamities, and so it is with a heavy heart, that I bid adieu to one of the best Aquaman runs and one of my favorite creative teams.  And it is also time that I say goodbye to this post.  I hope you’ll join me again soon as I resume our regularly scheduled Bronze Age browsing.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!