Happy belated Halloween dear readers, almost in time for Thanksgiving! I hope you all had a grand and spooky time! We’ve got at least one tale in this batch that has a horror flavor that befits the season now behind us, and it’s in Lois Lane, of all books! Honestly, all of our issues for this month have a suitably Halloween-ish flavor, with monsters, mayhem, and more. They make for an interesting, if not electrifying set of stories. Let’s check them out!
- Action Comics #405
- Adventure Comics #411
- Detective Comics #416
- Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86
- Mr. Miracle #4
- Phantom Strange #15
- Superboy #178
- Superman #243
- Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #115
- Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142
- Teen Titans #35
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #115
“My Death … By Lois Lane”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano
“The Computer Crooks”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano
We have an unusual cover for an unusual story this month, and once again, Dick Giordano turns in a lovely version of title character. It’s a dramatic piece, with Lois’s apparent death, and Superman’s sudden entrance adds a bit of dynamism it would otherwise be lacking. I can’t help but feel that the typewriter represents some wasted space, though. Nonetheless, the tale within manages to deliver on the suspense promised by the cover. It begins, strangely enough, with our titular heroine visiting Willie Walker, to help his sister care for him. That’s right, Jack Kirby’s Black Racer makes an appearance in Lois Lane of all books! Kanigher seems to be pretty interested in picking up on the threads that the King is weaving in his own titles, which adds a really neat and unexpected flavor of world-building to these stories. Would that there was such attention in the other Superman books. Interestingly, I think the Racer’s pretty terrible design actually looks a bit better when drawn by Roth, a little leaner and more graceful, which suits the character. It still isn’t good per se, but it might be less hideous.
Anyway, once Lois leaves, the paralyzed Willie becomes his perilously powered alter-ego, and sets out to bring death to denizens of Metropolis. Later that night, Lois is entertaining her new boss, Morgan Edge, having invited him over because “he always seems so alone,” which seems uncharacteristically sweet for Lois and is also pleasantly ironic given Edge’s nefarious nature. After the evil executive leaves, the ravishing reporter opens a newly arrived package and discovers a typewriter, supposedly a gift from a secret admirer. However, she finds herself compelled to write on it, and she produces a prediction of death for a famous biochemist. She rushes to the bridge where her premonition placed his perishing, only to arrive just in time to see him die, the first victim of the Black Racer!
Returning home, she tries to dismiss the strange event, only to once again be compelled to foresee another fatality, this time a famous singer. Calling the woman despite the late hour, the jinxed journalist has no luck, and when she tries to intercede directly, she once again arrives too late. Lois finds the singer’s apartment full of gas and the woman herself quite dead, the Racer’s second victim.
Once more returning to her apartment, the creeped-out columnist faces the demonic device in fear, and she begins to type out a final oracle, her own obituary, set for the distant dawn in that very apartment. Her first thoughts are of Superman, but he’s on a mission to the arctic. Finally, the witty writer decides she’ll just avoid her apartment until the appointed hour has passed, and she heads into an all-night movie theater (do they have those in big cities?). Unfortunately, a fire breaks out in the cinema, and Lois is ironically trampled while trying to prevent a panic. The Man of Steel had just gotten back home and puts out the blaze, but in the melee he missed his lady love.
Meanwhile, a ‘kind’ couple, claiming to be Lois’s neighbors, have brought her home and drugged her. They are secretly Inter-gang agents reporting to Morgan Edge, and the mysterious typewriter is revealed to be an Apokaliptian artifact! Shortly after they leave, Superman comes to check on his Pulitzer-winning paramour, only to find her almost unconscious. Lois is able to warn him about the terrible typewriter. Reading her notes, the Man of Steel finds himself forced to type his own death-notice. Yet, just as he’s about to finish the note, he wrenches himself away from the macabre machine!
He realizes that Lois’s notes used every letter…except J, and he was just about to be forced to write “Jewel Theater,” the location of the fire, which would trigger the trap. The Man of Tomorrow puts the pieces together and throws the device into space, narrowly avoiding a powerful explosion, one that might have even killed a Kryptonian! The story ends with Superman comforting a sleeping Lois, relieved at their escape but ruminating on the fact that his enemies killed two innocent people as part of their ploy and promising to bring the killers to justice. I quite like that Superman, and thus the story, take these deaths seriously. With the main characters safe, it would be easy for Kanigher to forget about the others, but it’s a nice note of character consistency that Superman doesn’t.
This is a solid and effective little mystery. Kanigher manages to create a little tension and suspense, with Lois’s perilous predictions and her increasing confusion and fear when facing the uncertainty of her situation. Unfortunately, the Black Racer is a bit of a red herring, as he doesn’t actually contribute anything to the story in the end. The final resolution, with the typewriter gimmicked to kill Superman is the least effective element of the tale, but it’s not bad. An exploding typewriter just feels a bit pedestrian for the New Gods. Nonetheless, the result is a pretty decent read. Werner Roth’s art continues to be quite good, and he gets a chance to create a wider range of panels, including some action, while mostly avoiding the superheroic elements that aren’t his forte. Still, his Superman continues to evince the occasional awkwardness. I’ll give this solid story 3.5 Minutemen.
“The Computer Crooks”
This month’s Rose and Thorn backup is another solid entry in this surprisingly good feature. This one is mostly setup, a definite ‘part one,’ but Kanigher has the sense to give the story he wants to tell room to breathe. It begins with the 100’s leader, Vince Adams, directing a group of his men dressed as hippies to hit the streets and start getting kids hooked on drugs. The Thorn gets wind of this, and she is none too pleased. In another of Giordano’s nice multi-moment / collage panels the Nymph of Night cleans house at a drive-in movie theater showing a Superman documentary, just in case you forgot whose town this is.
Note the guy in the top right. Who knew that the Thorn once decked Donald Trump? Even the dialog is fitting!
As she’s finishing the job, Danny Stone arrives, and the two share a moment, only for the Vixen of Vengeance to pull away and drop a ‘smoke thorn.’ The dialog in the scene is downright painful, but the idea, of the vigilante being too driven by her mission to allow herself to get close to anyone, is a good one.
And now we’ve got Robert Kennedy! This book is a veritable who’s who.
The next day, the Thorn’s unwitting alter-ego, Rose is at work with Adams when he is called in to a meeting of the gang. In another example of Kanigher’s attention to continuity and his blending of Fourth World ideas into his own books, the 100 have stolen an advanced computer from Intergang. The device is described as being similar to a Motherbox, but it’s design is too 50s sci-fi and not nearly Kirby enough to fit the bill. Nonetheless, Adams has the machine tasked with creating a trap for the Thorn in the organization’s collective side, and after being pleased with the result, kills the scientist who got the thing working.
That evening, Detective Stone is ambushed by some disguised 100 thugs, only to be rescued, again, by the Baleful Beauty. Meanwhile, we get a glimpse at the first stages of the 100’s plan, as no less a peerless personage than Poison Ivy is brought in to orchestrate the operation! But sadly that waits for next month!
Exciting! This is the first Poison Ivy appearance, as near as I can tell, since 1966! She won’t return to a Batman title for another six years, but she’ll show up in JLA pretty soon. I’m looking forward to seeing this classic Batman villain in action, as she’s a favorite of mine. She’s even more of a favorite of Lady Grey, who always insists on referring to her as a ‘hero’, but then again, the good lady tends to identify more with the villains than with the heroes!
As for the story itself, it is unexceptional but effective. This issue did its job, setting up the second half, though it could probably have been a bit more tightly plotted given how little space it had to work with. Still, Kanigher turns in another entertaining outing for the Thorn, giving us some action, teasing us with a glimpse of the larger plot, and even giving us a awkward but interesting piece of characterization. Dick Giordano’s art is really good throughout. I’ve been enjoying seeing his work in this book, as I’ve only ever known him as an editor. So, I’ll give this solid first chapter 3.5 Minutemen.
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142
“The Man from Transilvane!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell
“Last Mile Alley”
Writers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon
Letterer: Howard Ferguson
Editors: Whitney Ellsworth
Okay, we’ve got a strange one here. I vaguely remember this arc from my original read-through, and not fondly, I’m afraid. Judging from this first story, I don’t think it seems too promising. One thing’s for sure…it’s weird. Once again, it seems like the King’s imagination is running away with him. As the cover announces, it’s vampires and werewolves, Kirby style, which means that, if nothing else, it certainly won’t be boring. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be good. The cover itself is a decent composition, with the vampire figure fairly menacing and filling the space well, but I’ve got to say, seeing Superman and a Dracula knock-off sharing space is just a bit off-putting. It looks almost like a poor photoshop job, which isn’t helped by the fact that DC is still redrawing Kirby’s Superman. Jimmy getting mauled by the wolfman in the corner is more entertaining, though!
The story itself is not Kirby’s finest work. It begins with two refugees from the Late-Late Show, a vampire and a werewolf (sounds like the setup for a bad joke!), who are stalking around the outskirts of Metropolis. The art is alternately strikingly creepy and awkward as the vampire uses extremely vaguely defined eye beams to make bite marks on a sleeping woman’s neck from miles away. Sure, why not?
That woman happens to be Laura Conway, assistant to Morgan Edge, and the next morning sees her stonewalling Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen as they try to see her boss and confront him about his shady doings. Things take a turn from the strange when she suddenly goes full vampiress, complete with fangs, pale skin, and missing reflection. She passes out, and before the newsmen can figure out what to do, a bat flies into the office, transforming into our friend the vampire, who helpfully announces that he is “Count Dragorin of Transilvane!” Of course he is.
The guys take this all rather remarkably well in stride, even considering their unusually high threshold for the unusual. Still, the vampire zaps them with those same vague eyebeams, referring to them as “The Power.” Clark recovers quickly enough to hear Dragorin ask the girl for the location of a man named Dabney Donovan, but before the disguised Man of Steel can manhandle the macabre un-man, he vanishes! The girl recovers once he’s gone, and Mr. Mild-Mannered and Jimmy leave to chase down their clue.
They arrive at a defunct NASA research facility used to create synthetic alien environments for testing, the former home of ‘mad scientist’ Dabney Donovan. However, they are greeted by a wolfman, a very Kirby wolfman, with a cool look and some very snazzy duds. Fido tries to maul Clark, but Jimmy courageously and selflessly attacks the creature, leading it away from his fallen friend. That gives the reporter the chance to change into Superman.
The Man of Tomorrow saves his beleaguered pal, making short work of the woflman, but he in turn is once more stunned by Dragorin’s eyebeams, allowing the villains to escape. The reporters rally and search the facility, discovering a clue pointing to a cemetery and a “destruct date”, 1971 (incidentally dating this story, which tends to be rare in comics).
Meanwhile, the pugnacious youngsters of the Newsboy Legion have escaped from the Project and sailed down an underground river. Flippa Dippa (sigh) is useful for precisely second time in the series, as he opens an underwater door and allows the group access to an elevator. They arrive in an old bunker, now serving as the hideout of a gangster. More importantly, they overhear his phone conversation, which reveals that he is the man who killed the original Guardian, Jim Harper! The kids are entertaining in their short appearance, but sadly this is all we see of them this issue.
Back in our ‘A’ plot, Superman and Jimmy arrive at the cemetery and investigate a tomb, with the Action Ace offering a theory that Dragorin and his furry friend don’t actually disappear but instead shrink rapidly. Inside the tomb they find a miniature alien world, Transilvane, which I guess confirms the hypothesis.. Oookay. Not sure what is going on? Well, you’re not alone. You see….he’s a vampire…but from…not space…but..mini-space? I don’t know.
So, like I said, this is a weird one, and it is a bit hard to assess. There are some really fun elements to it here and there. I love Jimmy’s desperate but heroic attempt to save Clark, and Kirby’s artwork captures the savagery of the wolfman attack. I actually really like the King’s take on Jimmy in this series in general. The kid is a young adventurer, hardened to danger by his association with Superman, quick on his feet, loyal, and a thoroughly likeable guy. Yet, he’s still a kid and still trying to prove himself. I wish that both Jimmy and the Legion were given more space to shine in recent issues . Unfortunately, Kirby’s portrayal of Jimmy’s super-pal isn’t as successful, at least in this issue. Perhaps this one’s biggest weakness is its dialog, which is just plain bad: awkward, stilted, unnatural, and sometimes just weird. Despite that, Kirby turns the occasional nicely fitting phrase, which only highlights how rough the rest of it is.
The actual plot of this issue is pretty bonkers. I think I see what Kirby is trying to do, but the whole thing just feels pretty far out there. We’ve got space-vampires, space-werewolves, and a tiny planet. This feels like a rejected Fantastic Four script. In general, the sudden invasion of the monster mash cast just feels like a disorienting tonal shift, and the mixture of horror and sci-fi elements, which can certainly be done well, here just feels poorly conceived. The fairly coherent (if outlandish) and focused approach to the first several issues of Jimmy Olsen, with the connecting elements of the D.N.A. Project and the mystery of the Wild Area, has been lost, and the book is starting to feel like it is floundering, lacking a clear direction. Kirby’s art is mostly good, though a little bare-bones in some places. He brings his trade-mark energy and drama to even the silliest scenes. I’ll give this random tale of movie monsters and super-sleuthing 2.5 Minutemen. It’s not terrible, but it just doesn’t work well.
P.S.: This issue include a two-page spread on the “Haries” and their gadgets, which is interesting and adds to the world Kirby is creating. It’s odd, though, as the Wild Area seems to have been abandoned and is already fading in the rear-view mirror as this series races off in a random direction. Clearly, the King was still thinking about that seemingly abandoned setting, which makes me wonder what might have been.
Teen Titans #35
“Intruders of the Forbidden Crypt”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Nick Cardy
“A Titan is Born”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
“The Doom Hunters”
Writer: Jack Miller
Penciler: Ramona Fradon
Inker: Ramona Fradon
Editor: Jack Schiff
“Have Arrow — Will Travel!”
Writer: Robert Bernstein
Penciler/Inker: Lee Elias
Editor: Mort Weisinger
Well, you thought the combination of vampires and simulated alien worlds was odd? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Zaney Haney has got a new one, a tale of possible reincarnation, star-crossed lovers, and Shakespeare…and oh yeah, the Teen Titans are there for some reason. It’s a story only the rajah of randomness could tell. Nick Cardy gives us another really nice cover for it, this one suitably suspenseful and creepy for our use so close to Halloween. Cardy creates a nicely mysterious and tense scene, and it’s beautifully drawn as always.
The story inside begins with Lilith being vague, cryptic, and once more displaying the power of plot…so, pretty much business as usual for her. I thought we had gotten past all of her esoterism, but apparently not. In this instance, the team is randomly in Verona, Italy, and they are visiting the supposed house of Juliet, of “Romeo and…” fame, when she passes out after feeling like she is the young heroine reborn. Wally mocks her, but the superfluous Mr. Jupiter, who is still hanging around the book for some reason, tells him to lay off.
Then the industrialist shows the team why he’s come to Italy (though not why a group of superheroes are just be-bopping around Europe with him), a new lab complex he plans to build there. Suddenly, an angry local business magnate, Donato Loggia, bursts into the office, ranting about stopping the project. The Italian insists that his family runs Verona and that he won’t have an outsider upstaging him, even trying to get Jupiter to challenge him to a duel.
After the intruder leaves, the team heads to a costume ball, just straight-up wearing their costumes, wildly endangering their secret identities. ‘Hey, I wonder if the group of kids traveling with the well known philanthropist could be the same as the superheroes who went to the party with him…’ Nonetheless, at the party, Loggia shows up with his son and nephew, and Lilith immediately falls for the son, reenacting “Romeo and Juliet,” as the kid is the son of her “father’s” enemy. Kid Flash doesn’t take this too well and starts playing the part of Tibalt, starting a brawl with the Loggia family, with the rest of the male Titans joining in until the police show up.
If you’ve read the play, you can probably guess what’s coming next. Both parties are warned to keep the peace by the local law (not quite a prince, but beggars can’t be choosers). Things continue in this silly direction, with Lilith now convinced that she and the young Loggia, literally named Romeo, are the reincarnations of Shakespeare’s tragic lovers, and Wally flying off the handle at the whole situation. That night, Lilith and Romeo 2.0 run off, while Kid Flash gets jumped by a couple of random Loggia thugs, who manage to stab the Fastest freaking Boy Alive, because plot. Now Flasher is playing the part of Mercutio, down to even uttering some of the poor guy’s dialog….despite the fact that Mercutio was Romeo’s friend, not Juliet’s, but logical consistency isn’t really Haney’s strength at the best of times.
“Oh no! I’ve been stabbed! If only I had super-humanly fast reflexes that let me dodge knives…and bullets….”
Meanwhile, Interpol has approached Jupiter, wanting his help getting evidence on Loggia, who they suspect of being dirty. Jupiter wants to use Lilith’s relationship to spy on his rival, but Dick won’t hear of it. It’s at this point that they figure out the girl in question is missing. She’s run off with Romeo and discovered the ancient tomb of the Capulets, Juliet’s family, where they find two empty coffins. Yet, when the Titans arrive to search for them, they find three empty coffins and are stalked by a shadowy figure. Dun dun DUN!
Oookay. This isn’t a bad story, really, but it is such a poor fit for the Titans that it is hard to assess it on its own merits. I’m also so sick of this goofy direction for the team that Mr. Jupiter and their pointless meanderings just annoy me at this point. This plot could work decently well for a romance comic, but the superheroic cast of this book just feels dreadfully out of place and underused. We don’t even have anything approaching a credible threat. Instead, a couple of random guys, not even with enough gravitas to join the Generic Gang, give a bunch of superpowered heroes a run for their money. Essentially, this tale just emphasizes things that were already problematic about this book. I’ll give this particularly ill-fated instance of Haney’s zaniness 2.5 star-crossed Minutemen. A plague on both their houses! I’m being generous because I feel my own bias quite strongly here.
P.S.: Maybe the reason Speedy has such a poor showing in the brawl with the locals is that he’s still recovering from his addiction over in Green Lantern….
“A Titan is Born”
Our backup continues the tradition of focusing on a single Titan, which is a nice way to develop the team a bit. Unfortunately, the Titan they focus on is the pointless Mal Duncan. I can’t wait for him to become the new Guardian and therefore justify his presence on the team! Fittingly enough, when we join Mal, he is ruminating on the very fact of his own pointlessness. Apparently the other Titans left the poor kid behind on monitor duty at Jupiter’s lab when they went to Italy, which hardly seems fair. As the lonely youth roams the halls of the facility, he marvels at the processing power of Jupiter’s computer, which has a name that could only have come from Hepcat Haney, “Think Freak.” In his wanderings, he encounters a stranger in the lab, who claims he is a scientist there at the invitation of Mr. Jupiter and produces a letter to prove it.
Mal is a little suspicious, but he accepts the fellows explanation at first. After a while, he begins to notice things that don’t add up, like changed records on an experiment, the fellow’s coat not being wet, despite there being a rainstorm that night, and the guy’s odd reaction to the mention of the word “limbo”. Feeding all of his data into, *sigh*, Think Freak, Mal discovers that the supposed scientist is actually the Gargoyle!
So this guy is apparently an old foe of the Titans, having faced them a few times in their series. He took on this current identity in issues 14, which I know I read, but I can’t remember this loser to save my life! At the end of that story, this mystically powered mort was trapped in Limbo, but Mr. Jupiter’s experiment inadvertently freed him. (Can scientists in the DCU do anything without endangering their world?) Now the Gargoyle wants revenge, but since he can’t get at the Titans who actually defeated him, he’ll settle for Mal.
Hey, a new head-blow for the Headcount!
The two have a running fight, with the young hero clearly outclassed, and the villain comes out on top. In desperation, Mal tells Think Freak to fix the problem with the experiment that allowed the Gargoyle to reenter the real world, which severs the criminal’s connection and sends him back to Limbo. The somewhat tenderized Titan decides that he’s worthy of staying on the team after all, which seems like something of a stretch to me, and welcomes the sun as it comes out after a stormy night.
This is a decent little story, but there isn’t too much to it, nor does it have an inspiring villain. The Gargoyle has a semi-cool look, though it doesn’t make sense that he’s just a dude in a costume, but the real problem with him is that he just doesn’t have much personality or a coherent concept. All I could tell you from this issue would be that he wears a gargoyle costume, was trapped in Limbo, and hates the Titans. Who is he? What does he do? No clue. Mal’s soul searching is fitting, seeing as he really doesn’t belong on the team, but rather than use this opportunity to actually give him a raison d’etre, Haney leaves the character where he found him. In general, this is a pretty forgettable story. If you’re going to bring back a forgotten character, you might need more space to make it worthwhile, especially one as bland as this guy. I’ll give this backup 2.5 Minutemen. It isn’t bad, but it feels a bit lacking. George Tuska’s art is quite good in both of these comics, and he does a good job on the Gargoyle, though once again, you really don’t see him as a man in a costume, and his work in the main story is nicely atmospheric. His slightly exaggerated, cartoony style is not a bad fit for this era of Titans.
P.S.: While the new stories in this issue weren’t all that great, this issue might still have been worth your money way back when, as it included two really fun and charming classic tales, featuring Aquaman and Aqualad and Green Arrow and Speedy. The former features the peerless pencils of the ever awesome Ramona Fradon. Having so often just read these stories in reprints and collections, it is really fascinating to see what else was actually included between the covers of these books.
The Head-Blow Headcount:
In all of our books this month, we only came up with one headblow for the headcount, but it brings a new face to the feature. That’s right, the esteemed Mal Duncan, pointless member of the Teen Titans joins this august company. Maybe he does have what it takes to be a superhero after all. He may not have super powers or a costume, but he can take a blow to the back of the head like a champ! I wonder who will be next!
This month has been drawn out because of my busy schedule, but we have finished it at last. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a particularly memorable month in most respects, and we’ve got an unusually high number of turkeys in this batch of books, including our oddball Action Comics tale and several others. The exception, of course, is the famous finale of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow drug story.
The conclusion to Denny O’Neil’s latest attempt at social relevance was surprisingly good, rising above its beginnings and its hokier elements to actually achieve a little power at times, all while still maintaining some classic comic fun, which is perhaps even more impressive. This tale clearly illustrates the continuing attempt at relevance and more mature storytelling, and it is once again not alone on the stands. Our Supergirl yarn in Adventure Comics features a classic morality tale about prejudice and fear of the Other, while Batgirl’s Batman backup includes mentions of radical political groups and the tension between Americans and their government.
Interestingly, in the Batgirl story, these elements are almost purely set dressing, not really being the focus of the narrative. This indicates how thoroughly these ideas have made it into the zeitgeist of the DC Universe. The Phantom Stranger’s story also has a focus on realistic issues, zombie robots not withstanding, as it both provides a positive portrayal of native Africans and exposes the evils of the exploitation of the continent by foreign corporations. That’s a surprisingly sophisticated topic for a comic in 1971, where the traditional ‘darkest Africa’ stereotypes are often still in play.
Other highlights and points of interest this month included a return of the Macabre Man-Bat, with the unusual but engaging art of Frank Robbins, which I quite enjoyed. I also really enjoyed Mr. Miracle’s latest adventure and the introduction of Big Barda, though the story had its flaws. I’m excited to see the role she’ll play in the series going forward!
There seem to be a number of series that are floundering at the moment, including Supergirl, Jimmy Olsen, Teen Titans, and the Superman books. These are all proving uneven and inconsistent. I hope we’ll see more definite directions for them in the coming months.
Well, there’s not too much to say about this month of comics, but I hope y’all enjoyed the journey! I am looking forward to our next month of Bronze Age exploration, and I hope you’ll join me soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age, where we’ll start the new month. Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!