Hello my dear readers, and welcome to the last edition of Into the Bronze Age for October 1970. We’ve made it through another month and are well on our way to 1971! It’s been a particularly interesting month, and at the end of the post I’ll provide some reflections on the overarching themes that we’ve been observing in this set of books. Well, let’s get started!
Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)
- Action Comics #393
- Adventure Comics #398
- Aquaman #52
- Detective Comics #404
- Green Lantern/Green Arrow #80
- Phantom Stranger #9
- Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #105
- Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133 (Jack Kirby’s debut!)
- Superman #230
- Teen Titans #29
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
“Killer Kent Versus Super Luthor”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Dan Adkins
Ohh boy, this is a goofy one, folks. This issue, with its incredibly gimmicky premise and its simplistic execution could be the poster child for the current state of Superman comics in 1970. While change is abroad at DC, with social relevance breaking in on superheroes and growing depth and complexity to be found in most books, their flagship character remains completely unaffected, starring in stories that could easily have come from 1960 rather than 1970. This is definitely one such tale. Yet, despite its silliness, this issue actually has some pretty fascinating concepts behind its foolish facade. The basic idea is an old one, what would happen if the hero and villain exchanged lives. In this case, it is Lex Luthor who comes from Krypton and Clark Kent who is born on earth. Bates actually adds some really interesting wrinkles to this setup, though they don’t amount to much.
To begin with, young Lex-El’s childhood is rather different than Kal’s. His mother dies in a completely predictable accident with one of Jor-El’s inventions when an ion storm overloaded the device, which, for some reason, wasn’t designed to deal with common weather events. What is this, like the third time, just in this year of comics, that one of Jor-El’s inventions has gone horribly wrong? Seriously, why would this guy be let within a mile of a lab? Everything he builds tries to kill somebody! Anyway, this leaves Lex without a mother, but it leaves his father embittered and bat-guano insane to boot. Instead of blaming himself for forgetting the fact that Krypton occasionally has storms, Jor blames the real villain. Krypton itself. That’s right, the planet killed his wife, and the planet must pay! It’s utterly nuts, even for a crazy man.
And Jor-El is not just your garden variety madman. No, he’s a madman with access to incredibly destructive super science! He creates a weapon called the ‘Lethal Liquid’ that destroys Krypton from the inside out, but not before he and his bald-as-an-egg boy (also the fault of one of his inventions, by the way) hop a rocket for Earth.
Meanwhile, on Earth the parents of Clark Kent are also quite different from the kindly farmers we remember. Ma and Pa Kent have more in common with Bonnie and Clyde than with the rural American ideal. When we meet them, they’re engaged in a running gunfight with the police, a chase that is only ended by the sudden arrival of the kryptonian rocket. It drives them off the road, killing them. However, they had already given their son to an underworld scientist named Dr. Markem so that he could implant, and I kid you not, “evil genes” in the kid. Apparently, these parents of the year were really concerned that their son should grow up to be a criminal himself…for some reason. So, they hired this quack to take their “evil genes” and implant them in their sons brains…despite the fact that A) that’s incredibly stupid and B) he’s already their son and should therefore already have their genes.
Well, unspeakably goofy and unnecessary plot devices aside, the Dr. drops his now orphaned charge off at the Smallville Orphanage while Jor-El discovers that, for some reason, he doesn’t have powers on Earth, though his son does. The mad scientist gives baldy a super suit and sets up a medical practice, using his advanced science to become very successful. The years pass, and Clark, adopted by the Langs, grows up to be young Lex’s best friend. Lex becomes Superboy, and when Clark saves his life from an assassin, they become friends in that identity as well.
Yet, the peace of these idyllic times is soon shattered by madness…and also plot. The insane Jor-El decides once again to blame an inanimate object for a misfortune and concludes that he must destroy Smallville in revenge for the attack upon his on. He invents a new doomsday device (ohh, is it Tuesday already?), and he unleashes it on the town. At the same time, Superboy and Clark had gone flying when the adopted boy went into a trance as his evil implant began to do its work.
Superboy rushes Clark to his father’s office, then notices the device destroying the town. He manages to stop it, but his friend awakens, now ‘evil,’ and attacks the nutball scientist, killing him in the struggle. Yet, our story doesn’t end there! Next, for some reason, we leap ten years into the future, where Lex Luthor is a reporter for the Daily Planet and Clark Kent is in a comma after a failed robbery. Because this wasn’t complicated enough, Lois Lane is also moonlighting as a nurse and has fallen in love with the comatose crook.
But we’re STILL not done. The aged Dr. Markem shows up at the hospital and uses an invention to teleport the patient to his hideout, where he revives the criminal in hopes that he’ll pay him the money his parents owed when they died. Just then, the evil scientist, not to be confused with the mad scientist, dies of a heart attack, leaving Kent alone in his hideout with a plethora of super-scientific inventions and a sudden desire to kill Superman.
Phew! Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. The setup with an aggrieved Jor-El and a motherless Lex could have been really fascinating, but the execution is just so silly that there isn’t much here. The evil gene device is so goofy that it undermines another fun concept, which is the idea of a human Clark Kent with reason to hate the superhuman kryptonian. The issue manages to be readable and entertaining, but too silly to amount to anything. It’s a shame, because there were neat ideas here. I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.
P.S.: The one standout feature of the issue is an item printed in the letter column which makes the same observations about the Superman books that I’ve been noting. Keane Bonyun asks why, with so much of DC evolving, the Man of Steel is stuck in the past, a flat and uninteresting character in comparison with many of his fellows. The editor notes that a big change is coming for Superman himself, and in the meantime, he points out new directions in Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, which is rather neat. Clearly even at the time people both within and without the company were aware that the times were changing and the genre was evolving..
Teen Titans #29
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
This book, on the other hand, is a fun read. Unfortunately, it reveals that the pointless Mr. Jupiter experiment is not yet over, but at least it gets the Titans back in action and back in costume. Despite a few weak moments, it’s an interesting issue. Perhaps the most compelling feature of the story is that it engages with the concept of Hawk and Dove in both frustrating and enjoyable ways. Skeates manages to make Dove both aggravating and likeable at different points, but the most important thing is that he delivers an action-packed and enjoyable adventure.
We pick up where the previous issue left off, with Aqualad having been defeated by Ocean Master and his cronies and tied to a tree to die of dehydration. The silly one hour limit is mentioned again, unfortunately. I wonder when they got rid of that. Anyway, just as he’s about to run out of time, the young Aquatic Ace sees that the cavalry has arrived, in the form of the Teen Titans! That’s right, they finally got off their duffs and decided to do something useful. Aqualad fills his friends in on the story so far and tells them that he managed to put a tracer on one of Ocean Master’s men.
Meanwhile, Hawk and Dove have slipped away from the team in order to pursue the investigation on their own. Hawk actually has a pretty good plan, and they head to Sharon’s (the girl who was attacked last issue) apartment and wait, hoping that the villains are still watching the place. Sure enough, a band of thugs show up, and Hawk plans to disable them and let one escape so that they can trail him back to Orm. In the donnybrook that follows, Dove is pretty much useless, but even worse, he turns tail and runs, rationalizing that they can’t take these three, seemingly average guys and he needs to get help. Of course, if Dove had been even moderately useful in the fight, that probably wouldn’t have been the case. This brings me to a problem I had, not so much with the issue, but with the character.
Hawk and Dove are a cool concept, and one that is definitely timely for the era of their creation. However, making proper use of them is rather tough. It just makes no sense for a sincere pacifist to be a superhero. It’s an inherently violent job, after all. Justice League Unlimited handled the portrayal quite well, presenting a Dove who was very capable in a fight, despite the fact that he didn’t resort to direct violence. The Dove who is a master of aikido, the martial art that turns an attack back upon an attacker, is a much more reasonable and useful character, after all. Aikido is used to protect the practitioner, but it also emphasizes protecting your opponent from injury, which fits as a pacifistic way to take an active part in a fight. Lifeline from G.I. JOE employed it for just such a purpose in the 80s comic. Of course, we’re dealing with the very beginning of the character’s career, and it makes sense that neither he nor his writers would have worked out all the kinks just yet. The result is still frustrating, making Dove seem like a coward rather than a man of principle.
Well, back to the story, Dove finds the other Titans and brings them on the run as their attackers cart Hawk off. They make short work of the minions in a nice Cardy action scene, only to have Hawk dragged beneath the waves by Ocean Master! Dove tries to intervene, only to be captured as well. The pair awaken in an underwater base, tied to a pole. The peaceful partner has managed to piece together the plot, and it seems to be related to one of our previous Aquaman stories. Remember the aliens who were in cahoots with Orm? They’re back, and now they’ve brought in some intergalactic muscle! The handsome gents from the last issue of Titans were a super strong warrior race that the original invaders recruited. The strange transformation that Sharon witnessed was a process that they use to walk among humans.
After they compare notes, our heroes manage to escape from their foolproof prison by…standing up. Even the heroes seem to be surprised by how easy it is. Apparently Ocean Master is really not cut out for this world domination bit, as he tied the two brothers to a pole that had no top. It’s a little taller than the teens, but they stretch a tad and manage to free themselves. It’s…a bit silly that the mighty supervillain would make such an oversight, and it makes him seem incompetent. It’s a fairly minor issue, though, and the escape requires cooperation from the brothers, which helps to add to the story and gives them a solid character moment. Once free, they fight their way through the base until they run into Ocean Master himself, displaying good teamwork despite their differences.
With Ocean Master they find one of the disguised aliens, and Hawk can’t take him alone, so Dove abandons his principles in the face of global Armageddon, and comes out swinging. They’re holding their own when alien reinforcements arrive and things start to seem hopeless. Just then, the Titans charge in, having used the tracker to find the base, and they clean up their extraterrestrial enemies with aplomb. It’s another lovely Nick Cardy sequence.
After the action, the heroes deal with the big question, the future of the Titans. As I mentioned in the intro, we sadly don’t see the end of the Jupiter episode, but at least Aqualad is smart enough to realize how completely inane the whole thing is. The rest of the Titans say they still feel like their vow has merit, and I suppose a vow is a vow, no matter how foolish. Of course, they’ve already broken it by taking part in this adventure. Nevertheless, they say that they’ll only help out in extreme cases like this and that they’ll leave regular crime fighting to the police. Hopefully this is Skeate’s first step to moving them into a new direction. We’ll have to wait and see.
This is another good issue, as if that were really in doubt with Steve Skeates holding the pen. Cardy’s art is as lovely as always, though I really don’t care that much for his Ocean Master. He’s well drawn, but he just seems softer, less imposing than Aparo’s or Adams’. Anyway, this issue is fun, exciting, and even manages to ask some interesting questions about principles and pacifism, even if it does so a bit awkwardly at times. Despite the frustrating moments with Dove, I’ll give Skeates credit for trying to do something new and challenging. The whole adventure is enjoyable, and it’s great to see the Titans back in action. I especially enjoy that Aqualad gets to play the leader and the level-headed one. It’s a role he’s good at, and it’s a shame we don’t see it more often. Unfortunately, it looks like Aqualad will be leaving the book after next issue, and that is a crying shame. The team won’t be the same without him. Anyway, I’ll give this issue 4 Minutemen, though I’m tempted to go a bit higher.
This was a solid if hardly electrifying collection of issues. While most of the books were fairly average in quality, we had a handful of stronger offerings. In particular, it’s worth noting that we actually got an entirely tolerable, even enjoyable, issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow. Even if the comics weren’t stellar, this month provided us with several unique and interesting moments, from the arrival of Jack Kirby at DC to the first, halting steps towards bringing more mature themes to the Man of Steel in Action Comics. At the same time, issues like this latest Superman remind us of just how far there is to go, and the contrast between this month’s two Superman books is really telling. Even more interesting to me is the fact that, in the context of the whole catalog of DC comics, what Jack Kirby is starting to do in his Fourth World books is all the more exciting and innovative. I’m sure it will be a fascinating experience to read those books in context. Well, that’s it for October 1970. I hope you’ll join me soon as we begin our sojourn in November!
The Head-Blow Headcount:
It’s been an uneventful month, in terms of the wall of shame, though I’m sure we’ll see new additions soon to rack up the headcount!