DCUG Developer’s Diary #7

Howdy folks, and welcome to another DCUG Developer’s Diary. I’m writing at a sad time, as today the Freedom Force community is mourning the loss of one of the very best of us, my good friend Daglob, who recently lost his long battle with cancer. I hope to be able to write him a fitting tribute sometime soon, but I’m not really up to it at the moment. Yet, he would want the show to go on, and I think he’d appreciate being celebrated with the creation of more FF content, as our community was very important to him. In any case, please know that this project, and all of my projects from now on, will be dedicated to our fallen friends, Cyber Burn and Daglob, Mike and Bill, two good, generous men who I was privileged to know and call friends. I know that’s a heavy note on which to start talking about a video game, but I hope you’ll forgive me being a bit personal and sentimental and will also join me in praying for their families and friends who are missing them today.

In terms of the mod, I’ve got some some cool things to share with y’all today, so let’s chat about some of our absent friends’ favorite subjects: heroes, daring deeds, and Freedom Force, the game that delivers the best of both.

It has been a productive few weeks, though not as productive as I’d have liked. I’ve finished the next two Aquaman missions, both of which gave me more than a little trouble. In fact, the second one gave me such fits and frustrated me so much that I took a few days off and played Crusader Kings II, so I could be frustrated by a different game! Still, I managed to solve the problems…eventually! I’ll tell y’all all about the process, as well as finally talking a bit about my Green Lantern re-work and possible campaign.

Part 1: Rigging for Trouble

This stage of the project began, as did my troubles, with me returning to my old nemesis…the oil rig map! If you’ve been following this feature, you may remember me talking about this blasted map a few posts ago. I had gotten a hold of an object that would serve as my oil platform, thanks to Daglob (who was always willing to help out), but I couldn’t figure out how to make the object work as terrain in the game. I added a set of these objects directly to the map .nif, and they showed up just fine….but characters would fall right through them to the “floor” of the map! I tried approximately a zillion different fixes, and I finally settled on adding super-sized versions of the pier object from the first game to the map, and hiding them right below the surface of the “rig.” This actually worked, though it created some slight pathing issues. So, problem solved, right?

Well, not so fast! When I started actually trying to decorate the map for the mission that I’d had planned for ages and ages, I made an unpleasant discovery: while the pier sections kept my characters from falling through the oil rig, they made the map an absolute pain to work on! You see, in the map editor, you select an object whenever you click on it, even if you can’t see it. So, every time I tried to move a prop or worse, arrange a marker, I’d have to be excruciatingly careful, lest I accidentally yank my ‘subfloor’ pieces out of position, and then I’d have to try to line them back up and sink them back below the surface of the rig, which is a difficult process to do accurately. To make matters worse, somewhere along the line, this “subfloor” system stopped working! I have no idea why this happened, but it might have had something to do with there being other objects on top of it and the combination “confusing” the game’s engine.

Finally, I got fed up and decided to try to find another solution. Once again, I tried a zillion different ideas before finally landing on something that is so obvious, I can’t believe it took me this long to come up with it! The map already has pieces that the game recognizes as “floors,” right? So, why not just copy those onto the rig’s surface? It’s a nice, simple, square shape, and the “floor” pieces of the map are squares as well, so that should work. And since we’re not trying to keep the space under the rig playable in this mission, the two-story problem isn’t really an issue. So, I started copying the actual pieces of the flat map terrain and pasting them into the scene root. Then I maneuvered them up onto the surface of the rig, and once I had the whole thing covered, I dropped them just below the top, rendering the rig itself as navigable terrain as far as the game was concerned! The concept was sound, and it worked like a charm…mostly.

As I was working on this, I re-discovered a quirk of Nifskope that I had previously encountered but forgotten. When you look at the interface, you can see multiple entries for a given mesh piece, usually a top level name and a sub category called “Editable Mesh.” You can manipulate the piece using both entries, but if you don’t use the “Editable Mesh” bit, the results can be weird. When using the top level, I’ve had edits work fine, but I’ve also had them not show up at all or display strangely. In this case, I forgot to use the “Editable Mesh” entry for my edits, and I built the whole map…only for the pieces to show up all out of position because of this eccentricity. So, when I went back and started over again, manipulating the pieces from the proper entry, everything worked fine, and voila, I had a workable map that wouldn’t drive me crazy in the editing!

Now I just had to decorate it, which is not my favorite part of the process because I’m just not that visually creative. And I’m still not 100% happy with the results. However, the community once again chipped in to help me out, and while I was struggling against a lack of proper art assets for what I wanted, RandomDays found me a nice oil derrick object and a helipad, which he imported for me. I think they add a lot to the random conglomeration of game objects I had been using as my decor. After the decoration was finished, I had a map, and all I needed was a script!

Drilling for Danger

The scripting of this mission had a few bumps, but it wasn’t too bad. I wasn’t trying anything too terribly fancy, as the story was fairly simple and straight-forward. This mission saw our finally finished oil rig besieged by fire trolls (with gorgeous new skins by AA and Deanjo2000), and our heroes having to fight them off while also looking for an explanation for their attack. I decided to go for simple and reliable in my mission design, just using basic encounter types, like Save Civilian and Examine, but I mixed this up a bit by simply having some of the encounters overlap. The heroes will be fighting a set of villains and saving civilians in one location, but there is also a clue for them to examine there, spawned by a different encounter. This allowed me to play around with the order of progression, so that defeating the enemies might trigger more bad guys spawning, but the story wouldn’t actually progress until you had found certain clues. My biggest obstacle turned out to be just space and blocking on the map. Even though I made the rig pretty big, taking up most of the space of the map itself, there still just wasn’t that much room to spread things out, but after working with the layout a bit, I think I managed to end up with a mission that didn’t feel too cramped or overwhelming (though I suppose that’s for the testers to say, when we get there!).

A minor obstacle I encountered was trouble with some of my props. I’m having the Aquatic Aces, who are weak to fire, fight a bunch of monsters who are all about fire, and since I’m not a sadist, I wanted to help my players out with this rather difficult situation. So, I added the ability for the players to turn on a “fire suppression system”, which consisted of cold-ray firing turrets that spawned around the map to help you out. That is all built on a simple encounter system that I’ve been using for years, but I ran into an unexpected problem: namely, the nice, tech-looking control panel object from the Freedom Fortress that I wanted to be the controls for the system didn’t spawn in the mission.

Instead, the medlab bed did, which looked quite odd! I had encountered another of those strange eccentricities of Freedom Force, where a single object template sometimes stands in for a whole host of objects. I assume this was done to simplify matters in game design, lumping a bunch of objects together that were different visually, but identical in terms of gameplay. The same is true of many of the building objects. They will have a single template entry, and then in their directory, a number of different meshes. This allows you to use whichever you want in map design, as you can pick the one you want when you go to its entry in the visual editor itself, but it also means that you can’t specify which one you want through scripting or in the editor menus. Fortunately, this is a simple issue to fix, as you can just copy the template entry and point it to the specific one you want. And with that issue solved, I had a completed mission that brought Aquaman back to the surface for a bit of derring-do and an encounter with some old foes from his very first issue! I’ve had the idea for this mission ever since I saw the JLU episode “Ultimatum,” where a similar scene plays out in the opening act. I always thought that would make a great set-piece for an Aquaman campaign, and although it hasn’t turned out exactly as I’d like, I’m reasonably happy with it.

Part 2: The Big Easy, DC Universe Edition

I had always planned for mission #6 to take place in New Venice, one of those classic DC Universe ersatz-urban centers, like Gotham or Metropolis, a fictional town that had shown up in Aquaman adventures over the years. In the comics, at least the early ones, this was a normal American coastal town that had been flooded, turning it into a New World version of the Italian tourist mecca (a change accepted by its populace with an ease and equanimity only possible in fiction). I had originally toyed with actually creating a whole new map, replacing the street texture of a city map with water and things like that.

However, I realized that, while that would probably look reasonably good, and I could even add boats and swimming civilians to complete the illusion, it would, ultimately, be just that, an illusion. While I could make such a map look okay, it wouldn’t really work properly in terms of gameplay. There was no way for me to have the streets be playable space in depth, as canals should be, and there was also no way for me to properly switch Aquaman from swimming to walking as he moved between different parts of the environment. It would have been a really cool setting if I could have made it work, but it just wasn’t meant to be. So, instead, I decided to use an existing map that had a coastal theme, the Liberty Bay map, which had a big sea-wall and dock.

But there was one problem. When I went to write the mission, I remembered that I had already used that map for Coast City in my JLA campaign! Oh no! So, back to the drawing board again. I started thinking about what type of city a “New Venice” might be. If Metropolis was like New York, what would kind of real-world city would make sense as a setting for Aquaman? I finally settled on using a location from my old stomping grounds, the Gulf Coast, and I decided to model New Venice on New Orleans. The name even works! What if the early settlers in Louisiana were Italian and not French?

Well, now I had a concept, but what I didn’t have was a map. So, looking to save myself time and effort, as I always am in mapping, I looked through Alex’s indispensable FF Atlas to try to find an existing map to use as a base. I settled on one of the Berlin maps, which had a nice multi-level elevation, which is admittedly, very unlike the pancake-flat Gulf Coast, but which gave me the idea to create a partially-flooded map, which I thought would look pretty cool. That gave me a base, and the European-style architecture could work okay for a New Orleans pastiche, if not perfectly, but the dark, grim map didn’t really capture the bright and colorful setting of the Big Easy, so I set to work on tweaking it.

First, I edited the actual terrain nif, changing the dark Berlin grass for the brighter, tropical-style grass from the Cuban maps, and making a few other changes. Then I removed all of the German signage and added some more Southern-style street decor. But that still didn’t do the trick. So, I sought out some help to create some New Orleans-inspired textures for the Berlin buildings. I didn’t want to try to gather up all the textures for the map in a custom directory, so I created new building objects and pointed them to copies of the buildings that I skoped to use new textures. Super Powered Yank came to my rescue again by creating those textures, but he also went above and beyond, volunteering to make some DC-centric signage to replace all of the German propaganda, and he came up with a whole set of general and character-specific signs and billboards that added a ton of atmosphere to this map and to the mod as a whole!

The new, colorful buildings and signs helped a lot, but I was looking through the game assets, trying to find something that I could use to supplement the Berlin buildings, something closer to the classic French-inspired architecture of New Orleans, and I came across some of the houses from the Cuban maps, which had these nice little balconies with iron railings. They were very distressed and looked super beat up, but with Tomato’s help, I got a more respectable looking version, used the “Hue and Saturation” tool in GIMP to create a few different colorful versions, and I finally had the makings of an interesting looking city that could work as my New Venice!

Uncooperative Urban Renewal

For my finishing touches, I added a big water object to the lowest level of the map, adding it directly to the terrain nif so that the cursor wouldn’t react to it in-game, and then I decorated and set the map up for use. Then I just had to write the mission and get it working. I had a pretty straightforward plan. I wanted my big monster, Chemo, to move through the city destroying buildings. That should be simple, right? Wrong. This mission drove me nuts! I thought I had it all figured out from the beginning when I realized that the brilliant creator of EZScript, M25, was even more brilliant than I had realized; he had designed the object-centered encounters to work with more than just one object. So, I just used a “Guard Object” encounter and specified a range of buildings that I set to spawn throughout the city. I made sure they were positioned where I wanted by actually placing them on the map, then converting the buildings to markers and naming them for the encounter, “no_object1, no_obect2,” etc. I thought I was good to go, but when I tested the mission, Chemo smashed the first set of buildings which were all next to where he started, but then he just stood around, drained of all motivation and direction. It turns out that he was too far away from his second objective, and a LOT of experimentation with different setups just couldn’t solve that problem.

So, I had what I thought was a clever idea. I’ll just break the encounter into sections. I’ll spawn placeholder buildings with a CS at the beginning of the mission, and then as each encounter ends, I’ll fade the camera, destroy the next building, and teleport Chemo. Then, as the next encounter starts, it will spawn the building into the right space, and its Alert CS will unfade the camera. That should have worked fine, right? Well, I thought so too, but boy I was wrong! It turns out that the “destroy” command just doesn’t work on buildings, no matter what you do. I’m guessing it’s because buildings are designed to collapse in stages, the only objects like that in the game. So, was I out of luck? Was I going to have to radically redesign the mission I’d already written, settle for something much smaller-scale? I wasn’t sure, and this is when I walked away for a few days.

But, a couple of days later, I had an idea that just might work. I thought, if it’s the fact that these are building objects that is giving me fits, why not simply copy them and make them into Generic object types for my placeholders? I tried it, and everything worked like a charm! Finally, Chemo could smash his way through the city to his heart’s content, moving the action nicely through the map and ensuring that he doesn’t just get stuck in one spot. I have to admit, I’m fairly pleased with myself for figuring this out. Poor Lady Grey had to listen to me talk through the plan as I was working it out, and I imagine she’s even happier than I am that I’m done with this mission!

Part 3: Let’s Ride!

So, in addition to my two new missions, I also had some base scenes to create, and while there wasn’t nearly as much backstory, world-building, and exposition to get through in this section, I wanted to do a little something to keep developing our Aquatic Aces and their environs. I just used one of CK’s excellent underwater maps for my setting, but I was able to do something a little special with it too. There’s a visual I’ve wanted in my Aquaman campaign for years, one associated with the classic version of the character, and I was pretty sure I was never going to be able to do it. Yet, thanks to RandomDays and Tomato, this little dream is coming true, which is just plain neat. Now, keep in mind, these images are still an alpha version, still needing skoping and only having placeholder skins.

You see, for decades, a common visual for Aquaman and the Aqua-Family was them riding through the seas on giant seahorses. It’s a charming and fun presentation of the character and his fantastical setting. The old 60s Aquaman cartoon, which is very much a product of its time, but which I love despite its silliness and poor animation, helped to cement this in the zeitgeist as a visual commonplace for the Sea King. Obviously, this presents all kinds of problems for FF, but RandomDays managed to import a really nice, fanatasy-themed seahorse mount, and Tomato is at work creating some great skins for the specific sea-steeds of the members of the Aqua-Family. This is a minor detail, something that won’t add to gameplay, as I don’t have access to proper animations to make these versions playable, but it’s a wonderful and atmospheric addition to the Aquaman campaign.

Part 4: In Brightest Day

One of my big goals for DCUG 2.0 is to expand the roster and add in a lot of characters that I didn’t get to before, but just as important is an updating and reworking of my existing cast. I was working on the latter when I started reworking my existing Green Lanterns to make them more unique and interesting, and that spilled over into me adding in a ton of new Lanterns, including a lot of the classic alien Lanterns, each customized and having unique builds in several key ways! While the Lanterns all had similar power sets, because they are all using the same equipment, I figured the way they used that equipment would be different, both in terms of tactics and in terms of imagery. So, while every Lantern had some basic powers, they also had at least one unique power, and even their similar powers often had unique visuals, as they would use different images for their constructs. This led me to dive down the rabbit hole of FX, and Cyber Burn came to my rescue several times throughout this process, my good right arm, as always.

One of the touches that I was most pleased with was giving each and every Lantern a distinct weapon they could summon with their ring, drawn from a weapon pack that Cyber had imported and ‘Lantern-ized’ for me. Hal, who strikes me as a baseball fan, summons a baseball bat, while Guy, who is more rough and tumble, gets a spiked club. Kilowog gets his trademark hammer, and so-on. It adds a bit more personality to characters that would otherwise be pretty similar in game.

I also gave every Lantern the ability to summon custom constructs as minions. Hal summons jets, John Stewart summons Marines, and Kyle Rayner summons giant robots, while my alien GLs each get their own thematic summons as well! This took me scouring the archives for suitable meshes and having Cyber, Daglob, and others whip me up some green versions of their skins, and I even made a few myself as I began to haltingly explore some of the tools in GIMP. Interestingly, the lessons I learned while working on this part of the project months and months ago would eventually help me in my mapping work for the Aquaman campaign.

Alright folks, that does it for today’s post. I hope that y’all found this intersting and useful. We’re heading out of town for a week and change on our usual summer trip to see family, but I’ll be back home and back to work on the DCUG soon. In my next post I’ll talk a bit more about how the Green Lantern campaign got started, as well as about the troubles that may spell its end! I’m also going to try to finish the final map and mission of the JLA/JSA crossover, so stay tuned!

DCUG Developer’s Diary #6

Howdy folks, and welcome to another DCUG Developer’s Diary! I promised more news before too long, and I am pleased to deliver. It has been an incredibly productive few weeks. I have gotten so much done, conducted so many experiments and tried so many different approaches to modding problems, that I’ll be hard pressed to remember and record a tithe of it, but I’ll try to hit the highlights for y’all! I’ve been hard at work on my Aquaman campaign, and most of the progress I’ve made has been on that part of the project. I’ve finished the next two missions, which were very work intensive and demanding, both in terms of modding and in terms of writing.

I’ve really been digging into FF modding, trying all sorts of things in order to bring this story about my favorite character to life in as high a quality as I can manage. I’ve done a lot of innovating, and I’ve tried to bring a high level of detail to everything about the campaign, from maps to characters, to effects, to plots. I’m quite happy with how it is all turning out, but I am also perpetually frustrated that I can’t quite bring what’s in my imagination to the screen as perfectly as I’d like. I’ll tell y’all a little about all of the different parts of the process I’ve gone through to bring this adventure to life.

Creating an Undersea World:

In my last DD, I walked y’all through some of the steps I went through to try to create an interesting and attractive underwater map for my second mission, and although I was pretty happy with the results of my labors, I wasn’t completely content. Considering how much of Aquaman’s story is going to be set beneath the waves, I had a good reason to keep trying to improve things. I had a number of different ideas about how I could enhance the look of my underwater maps, and I’ve been hard at work trying to figure out how to implement them. Tweaking map textures looks okay and is important, but I had bigger dreams.

I had always thought that it would be great to be able to put a ‘water’ filter over the ‘camera’ of FF. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do that, or at least none I could discover…but I couldn’t shake the idea. As I often do when I am trying to get inspiration for a mod, I spent some time going back and playing through FF1 and 2, and this reminded me of something that might provide me another way to accomplish a similar result and set me to digging into FF’s game files and documentation to figure out how to bring a bit more atmosphere to my undersea settings. This lead me on a journey that had me experimenting with Python scripting in new ways that were both exciting and more than a little scary, because I was very much out of my depth! But, that’s how you learn when you’re modding. In fact, constantly stretching to accomplish something that seems out of reach is the only reason I’m a modder in the first place!

The (mostly) finished product with several new features

Dream Wave Effect

As you may remember if you’re a veteran of FF2, the second game began with a rather unusual mission, which was actually a nightmare of one of the Freedom Force members. At the end of the mission, the player’s vision of the map was distorted by this blurry, wavy, dream-vision effect that covered the map. It occurred to me that, if I could figure out how to create this, and if it could be customized, such an effect might actually be a pretty perfect device for giving a submarine map an underwater “feel.” So, I opened up the script for the first mission and started digging. Now, I’ve been teaching myself about real Python scripting, but I am still beyond a neophyte, so I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking for or what to make of it when I found it. Fortunately, Irrational helpfully labelled their scripts, and it was all clear enough for me to find the pertinent sections, even if I didn’t yet know how to interpret. them.

So, I started reading through the FFscripting document, hoping to find explanations of this code. The documentation did have a section on the Dream Wave effect, though it was a little hard for me to understand. Eventually, I copied the code that, to my best guess, was what I needed and just started experimenting with it. Unfortunately, my first efforts either simply didn’t work or even crashed the game! Finally, I hit on this combination. Here’s the code you can use to create an EZScripted mission that uses the Dream Wave.

Misminimod_storyfile = 'mission'

import m25minimod
from m25minimod import *

def OnPreRendererCreate():
	ff.RENDER_WARP = 1

#---------------------------------------------------------------------
#
# Important Callbacks
#
#---------------------------------------------------------------------	

def OnPostInit():
	m25minimod.OnPostInit(campaign=1)
	ff.RENDER_WARP = 1
	Mission_StartDreamWave(5,-1,0)
	Mission_FadeDreamSinParams(1, .01, .25, 1)

The first lines on each side are just the usual setup for EZScript missions. At first I was just using the two obvious lines, Mission_StartDreamWave and Mission_FadeDreamSinParams, but the effect wasn’t actually beginning. That’s when I noticed that the FF2 mission script actually had those PreRenderer and ff.RENDER commands, so I added those too, and I found myself with a nice, trippy warp effect! Then it was just a matter of tweaking it. The documentation explained that the first two commands I started with are what actually controls how the Wave appears.

The Start command has three points of customization (how long it fades in, how long it lasts, and how long it fades out). You’ll notice that the duration control is set to -1, meaning it will run forever, and thus I’ve got a 0 in the last slot, because it doesn’t need to fade away. You could tweak these settings to create short-lived effects and do other kinds of clever moves with it.

The Fade command sets the degree and strength of the effect, and it’s also got various customizations: (Frequency, or how often waves of the warping effect are created / Amplitude, or how big the waves are / Speed, or how quickly they move across the screen / and Fade Time, or how quickly they fade away) The default values in the mission were “(1, .03, .35, 1)”, so you can see that I didn’t change them drastically. I tried a few various permutations, but I eventually settled on the lowest amplitude and a slower speed. I think the final product looks pretty good, and you can check out a video of the effect in action on a mission here below. It looks pretty good in action, but it can be a little disconcerting, even on the lowest setting, so I’ll include a set of non-warped mission files for the campaign for those who are prone to motion-sickness or the like.

Sunlight Settings

So, the maps certainly looked a bit more striking and ‘watery’ with the Dream Wave effect turned on, but they were still missing something. Several folks on FR had suggested that if I could change the light color on the map to make it more sea-toned, that could help, so I had planned to mess with the lighting settings of the maps. However, before I could do that, I had to discover what actually controlled these settings! At first I thought this might be controlled through the map files, like the layout or extents texts, but after examining some of them, I realized that wasn’t the case. There were almost certainly nice, clear tutorials that covered this kind of thing once upon a time, but if they existed they’ve been lost to the ages, so I had to poke around in the forum archives for mentions of the subject. I eventually found some of our great former mappers discussing these settings, which it turns out were located in the python files of a map. Thus, I was once again delving into unfamiliar depths! With that post as a guide, I was able to find this section of the python document:

Mission_GetSunlight()

rotation: Sun rotation angle from north in degrees: +ve is east
tilt: Sun tilt from horizontal in degrees: +ve is down
brightness: Intensity of sunlight (0=none to 1=full)
ambient: Intensity of ambient light (0=none to 1=full)
Color: 3-tuple, red, green, blue values (all are 0 to 1)

Then I dug around in missions and custom maps and found those that seemed to have nice, bright, clear light, and used that as a starting point. I then played with the color values, changing out what colors were strongest, until I found a nice, ocean-y color palette which was, as you might imagine, heavily blue and green. Here’s the code I ended up using (just right below the code for the Wave effect).

	Mission_SetSunlight(-40,30,1,1.0,(0.4,0.8,1))
	Mission_SetShadows(-40,30,(0.2,0.3,0.3))
	Mission_SetProjShadowBackground((1,1,1))
	Mission_SetProjShadowColor((.8,.7,.7,1))

You’ll notice there are some other commands there too, each with their own settings. I just copied those from another mission, but you could add further customizaiton with those settings for shadows. However, we’re concenred with the sunlight settings. I’ve got brightness and ambient light both turned all the way up, and I’ve got the blue light at max and the green pretty close. The combination creates a nice, watery feel for the maps and everything on them, including my characters and props.

Creating a Sky Sphere

You may notice in my screenshots and videos that there’s another feature these maps have that help create their atmosphere, and that is a background that replaces the blank black void that is the default for FF maps. Here, as with most everything I’ve done, I’m just standing on the shoulders of FR community giants. What you see in these images is called a “sky sphere”, which is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a big spherical object that sits around your map and provides a lovely backdrop for your adventures. The way that our mapping masters had used these in the past was to make them character templates, but that can create problems in modding, both because of this creating ‘phantom characters’ that mess up the complex “branding” function of the FFX Control Center, and because campaign missions don’t seem to like such characters being on a map. Thus, I tried making these into regular generic objects, and that seems to have worked just fine. I tried adding them directly to the map nif, but when I did, the top of the sphere was registered as the ‘ground’ and all the characters were shunted to the outside!

So, how do you use a sky sphere? Well, it’s actually super easy. They’re included with the map pack, so you can find the actual object and their textures in that wonderful resource. You’ll find the spheres in the pack’s art/library/characters directory. Once you get them, you can copy the settings they have in the map pack, but just change their template type to “generic.” Now, because they’ll be objects and not characters, their textures need to be in with the rest of your map’s textures. Once you’ve done that, you can place them on your maps by placing a marker, then changing it to be the sphere. Once you’ve done that, you’re good to go! The spheres come with several really nice textures, but you can also just name your own textures in the same pattern and use them on your maps for a variety of different effects! Check out my ‘water sphere’ on my Atlantis map!

Atlantean Chic – Decorating My Aquatic World:

Speaking of Atlantis, my story called for a visit to the fabled lost city by the Aquatic Ace, and thanks to folks vastly more talented than me, I had great starting places for both the Atlantean Palace and the city itself. However, as always seems the case, I wanted a bit more. So, as I worked on the various maps, I started cobbling together new props to decorate them. I did this by the usual method of just using replacement textures in a map’s folder, but I also literally built props using Nifskope, which is a huge blessing for modders. Nifskope allows you to combine and manipulate meshes, so I was able to take parts or whole meshes, both character and object, and use them to create various new props. This is exceedingly easy to do these days. For example, I created a throne as a centerpiece for my Atlantean throne room by combining the chair object from the FF1 Robot Factory maps, the TNT crates from the warehouse maps, a dolphin RandomDays had imported for me, and a little shell from Tomato’s Aquagirl skope. The result looked like a lot more than the sum of its parts.

Adding a refl and a glow texture to the mesh pieces, as well as tweaking the color settings of the meshes themselves, allowed me to make the whole thing look shiny and impressive. I did the same type of thing to create some nice underwater foliage for my city map. I started with a thin tree object, the ger_tree_poplar, but I wanted to make it look like a piece of a kelp forest, so I copied over ger_weed, and then placed several copies of it all up and down the tree, rotating and enlarging them here and there so that the whole thing had a nice, ragged, wavy appearance. I created a number of items like these, and I rounded out my decorations by adding textures I found online to existing meshes to create artistic accents, making bronze statues, golden images, and paintings. The paintings used art from the Atlantis Chronicles, which a seemed fitting place to find images of Atlantean history.

Populating Atlantis:

While I’ve been hard at work designing maps and writing missions, other incredibly talented members of our community have been contributing some wonderful stuff to other facets of my project. Tomato has continued to help me out with a number of contributions, big and small. RandomDays has imported a ton of incredibly useful objects for me and has in general pitched in innumerable ways, and Deanjo2000 has been churning out some incredibly gorgeous skins and skopes! In fact, between RD and Dean, we’ve got an amazing vessel for Aquaman’s nemesis, Black Manta. Dean has contributed a lot of great DC characters to the mod since my last update, and he was kind enough to create the Aquaman supporting cast member Murk, from the modern books, who Jeff Parker did such excellent work with. This gave me a really useful character to play with in my development of my Aqua-adventure, and it’s also just fun beating the snot out of this thinly-veiled pastiche of the hook-handed Aqua-jerk of the 90s! In general, I’ve seen a fantastic amount of support from the community lately, which has been really encouraging and energizing. Look for even more great art assets coming soon!

Telling the Story:

Of course, all of the work described above has been in service of a story that I’ve been dying to tell for years and years. My Aquaman campaign is one that I mapped out in broad strokes back when I was first working on the DCUG, over a decade ago. The story has evolved and changed a good deal since then, and I have been more than a little influenced by the fantastic work done by Jeff Parker and Dan Abnet in the New 52 Aquaman series. Still, I’m quite excited to finally get the chance to tell it, especially because it is such an ambitious project, and one that I have often despaired of ever having the chance to do justice. With the support of the FF community, diminished but still full of talented, I have been able to make a good start on it. As I’ve made maps and props and a thousand and one little tweaks and enhancements, I’ve also been hard at work on the campaign.

I’ve finished missions #3 and #4, which included some of the most challenging writing of the entire narrative. I had to introduce Atlantis, supporting characters, and an absolute mountain of plot, all in a very small amount of narrative space, as I only had a few missions and base scenes in which to do it. I could probably have spread this over more missions, but considering how much time and effort it takes to successfully write, script, and create a mission, I’ve tried to be conservative with my campaign design, which is not a strength of mine, as my project catalog can attest! So, I’ve slaved over the writing of these missions and base scenes, and while I’m not 100% happy with it (I never am), I am content. The missions themselves I think are a neat mix of ideas, and I hope they’ll prove fun to play. The players will be hit with a lot of information and a lot of my original Aquaman mythos in these missions, but I’ve tried to make them exciting and entertaining, as well as (hopefully) full of intriguing glimpses of story and mystery. As an extra treat, each mission has a custom cover created by Unkoman for their loading screens. Some are snappy tweaks of classic Aquaman covers, and some are much more elaborate creations, but they are all awesome, and Unko has put a lot of time and effort into them, crafting these custom loading screens that really make the campaign feel polished and complete.

#3 “Torn Between Two Worlds”

I won’t give away too much of my plot in these features. Instead, I’ll tease a bit about the missions and talk about how I made them. This first one up presented some design problems, in multiple ways. First, I had to skope custom keys for various characters that I already had in the DCUG, but for whom I didn’t have underwater versions. Then I had to create new powers and builds for each of them. When writing the mission itself, I knew I wanted a showdown with some of Black Manta’s minions, but I wasn’t really sure what to do to make it interesting and provide some variety. I came up with a couple of different encounter types so that the mission wasn’t simply a straight fight, and I designed it so that Aquaman was accompanied by some Atlantean allies. My scripting challenges arose from two sources. First, I needed to get the allies into the mission immediately so that the opening cutscene could include them and set up what was going on. Second, I needed my villain to get defeated but still get away, and I wanted to make sure that he didn’t show up until the player had cleared out all of his henchmen.

To solve my first challenge, I made my starting encounter an Alliance encounter, which allows you to create long-term allies for the mission, and I simply had its starting cutscene be my intro CS. However, as is often the case, solving one problem created another one, and this one was quite the mystery to me for a while. I would play through the entire mission, and everything would work, only for all of the starting encounters to respawn as I was playing through the last encounter. It was maddening! Not only did it look super messy and confusing, the mission wouldn’t end because the event chain had restarted! I finally, just yesterday, figured out what the issue was, after seeing no clear reason why this would happen and trying dozens of different things to fix it. The problem all came down to the fact that I was using my Alliance encounter to start my mission, and it was also being used to launch those opening encounters. It’s super obvious in hindsight! You see, the CS would play, and the encounter would ‘end’, spawning the next ones…but it wasn’t ACTUALLY over until all of the allies died. Most of the would get taken out in the mission, but your main ally, Murk, was made of sterner stuff, and he’d usually stick around until the end, where he was knocked out by another encounter….which would then start the whole thing over again! Simply using a different encounter to spawn the others solved the problem very nicely.

The second problem proved much more easily solved, though it also gave me some trouble. EZScript has an option for Custom Encounters that allows you to set one up where a villain will stop fighting at certain health thresholds. This is meant to simulate a common mission element from the FF campaigns, and it would be a very useful mission component. The trouble is, it’s never worked quite right, and I have trouble with it every time I try to use it. I decided to give it another look, and sure enough, it gave me fits. Either Manta wouldn’t stop and would get knocked out, or he’d stop and just get stuck, so the rest of the mission didn’t play. Finally I gave up and just used a simple Interrogation, which worked like a charm. However, this left me with the difficulty of getting my villain away. I’ve gotten around this in the past by having the screen fade and just having dialog advance the plot and narrate what’s happening. Obviously, that’s not the most elegant of solutions, and I wanted a bit more out of this, especially because I didn’t plan on this actually being the end of the mission. The trouble is that, once in an interrogation state, a character is locked into their stun animation and can’t move. So, I decided to cheat a bit. I used some camera work and fades to extricate Manta, then gave him an animation command to bring him out of the stun state. He still couldn’t move, but he LOOKED normal, and that made the CS work reasonably well. In the, the mission proved to be more challenging to create than I anticipated, especially since it was originally conceived as just a fight, but the final product should prove interesting, I hope!

#4 “Caverns of Death”

Bizarrely, mission #4, although much more ambitious in terms of scripting, as I was trying something I’d never done before, proved much easier. In fact, the most complicated and fanciest bits worked right out of the gate, while the simple stuff, as is often the case, tripped me up. This one involved the newly recruited Aqualad joining Aquaman as they fought their way through a cave full of monsters, and made some interesting discoveries about the history of Atlantis along the way, as well as some hints of the overarching plot! I decided to get clever, because once again I was struggling to find a way to provide some variety to how my story idea made it into mission form. The monsters our Aquatic Aces faced were a fairly straight-forward threat, but I came up with the idea of having the heroes encounter eggs that could hatch at random intervals, spawning more of the monsters. If the heroes can destroy the eggs early, they won’t have to worry about reinforcements, but if they don’t, they might get overwhelmed! I did this by creating two sets of encounters. The first was just a custom Destroy Object encounter with a Countdown condition to provide a ticking clock. The second, which is only triggered if the object isn’t destroyed before the clock runs out, spawns a monster in a Hunt encounter. I added some FX to make it look a little smoother, and it all worked pretty well. Here’s the EZScript encounters in question:

Encounter: Brood1
Type: Custom
Actions: countdown, heroes destroy objects
Objects: trench_egg named bob
Time: 215
Marker: shell1
Next: If Timer Still Going: None
Next: If Timer Expired: Birth1

End Cutscene:
bob is destroyed

#--------------------------------------------------

Encounter: Birth1
Type: Hunt
Villains: trenchs
Marker: scrack1
Next: None

Alert Cutscene:
Play effect effect_ffx_transmute at scrack1

Interestingly, I’ve recently discovered that the brilliant M25, who created EZScript, was even more brilliant than I had given him credit for, and he included the ability to name objects (like ‘bob’ up there) as well as characters so that you manipulate them directly through your scripts.

Alright folks, well that should give y’all a nice peak behind the curtain at what I’ve been up to. Now that I’m past these challenging missions and maps, I’m hoping I can move a bit more quickly in the coming weeks, but we’ll see. I know that I promised some information about my GLC campaign in this diary, but I think it’s already long (probably overlong!) enough, so I’ll get to that next time. I hope that this has been interesting and useful. Please feel free to ask questions or post comments, especially if you’re interested in getting into modding yourself or are just looking to get involved in the fantastic FF community!

DCUG Developer’s Diary #5

Howdy folks, and welcome to the first developer’s diary after my long hiatus.  I am getting back to work on the mod, shaking off the rust, and working out the kinks.  I have been super busy the last few weeks, hitting my modding to-do list hard and getting a ton done!  With the semester done and things calming down a little bit here at Grey Manor, I have finally been able to catch my breath and get back to my great modding love, the DCUG!  I have really had a blast working on it, and I have learned a lot recently.  I’ll share the highlights with y’all, as well as a little sneak peek at my Aquaman campaign, which is my current focus. Fair warning, I’m going to talk a fair bit about mapping in the beginning of this post, and I’m going to try to create my long-deferred tutorial video on the subject in a few weeks. If that subject doesn’t interest you, skip on down to screenshots of the new campaigns! And make sure to stay tuned for another developer’s diary entry next week which will provide another peek at the Green Lantern Corps. campaign which I have also been working on!

Map Design Part 1: Creating the Elusive Second Story

To get started with my return, I foolishly tackled something that I knew was going to be difficult and frustrating, and guess what? It was both of those things!  When I had to put the mod on hold, I had started to develop custom maps for my Aquaman campaign.  I faced a number of hurdles, detailed in my last couple of entries, and there was one in particular I had not solved yet and which returned to haunt me when I came back to the mod.  You see, thanks to Daglob who modified the crane object from FF 1, I had a nice big oil rig to serve as a setting for the Sea King’s adventures.  Unfortunately, while it looked great, characters would fall right through it in the game, meaning it wasn’t much use as, you know, a map. 

The main issue is likely that FF just doesn’t do multiple floors, really, and whatever is tagged as the ‘ground,’ is going to be used that way by the game engine.  Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about the actual mechanics of the terrain meshes (nifs) and how they are set up to change what the game perceives as ground, and there really isn’t anyone left in the community who could tell me either.   So, what to do?  Well, the answer is obvious.  Cheat!

I tried a thousand different approaches to fix this, mostly centered around trying to create a ‘false floor’ through the use of other objects.  I settled on the pier object from FF 1, which gave me a nice, flat object to work with.  I tried blowing it up and adding it directly to the nif.  Characters still fell through.  I tried adding it in the editor.  Still fell through.  I tried a dozen different sizes and permutations, and no luck.  I tried just adding the original, small object, and just covering the rig’s surface with them.  That worked!  However…it also screwed up the character’s pathing. 

Finally, I realized that, when blowing the object up, I had used the scene root and tried to do the whole thing at once.  You see, objects in FF2 have to have two pieces to be interactable.  There is the object mesh itself, and then there is a bounding box, which tells the game where the mesh starts and ends, spatially.  Although Nifskope was telling me it had expanded the bounding box as well, it hadn’t.  So, when I did both pieces, both the object and the bounding box, individually, it worked perfectly!  Now, I’ve got an oil rig, and all I need to do is add the set dressing!

Map Design Part 2: Textures, UV Maps, and Madness, Oh My!

Of course, my luck being what it is, that was far from the end of my mapping woes. The next hurdle arose when I started remastering the first two missions of my Aquaman campaign, which were all that I had previously finished. I’ve been reworking my whole planned plot for the campaign, and I’m really happy and excited about how it’s coming together, but the changes required me to rework those first two missions. And that meant I needed a new map for mission 2, as the map I had planned on using, one of the incomparable CmdrKeonig’s crackerjack creations, but it was too small to fit in everything I needed. CK’s map was, at its core, a re-texturing or re-skinning of an existing terrain. The way most custom maps work is that, in addition to positioning objects in new and interesting ways, they provide a sub-directory in which an existing map’s terrain mesh can look for the textures it needs. But the mappers replace the vanilla textures with new ones that have the same name. Most of the custom FF maps that accomplish such amazing transformations use this fairly simple device to do it, though skilled mappers like CK also put in a lot of work ‘dressing up’ the map with re-textured and repurposed objects too.

So, what does all of that have to do with my own map troubles? Fortunately, CK’s map was based on one of the FF2’s Cuban missions, which all share the same texture set, and there was another of those missions which had the space and layout I needed. So, I just open the map up in FFEdit and point it’s texture directory to CK’s _textures_underwater folder, and it’s smooth-sailing, right? Well, nope; no such luck! The new map featured an airforce base with a big runway, and for some reason, when I gave the map the underwater textures, they displayed differently on the runway area than they did on the rest of the map! This distortion was pretty noticeable, and it really bothered me, so I tried to find a way to fix it. Whew! What a black hole this particular problem was!

Now, I know fairly little about textures (skins), and I know even less about meshes, so I had no idea what was going on here. I guessed that there was something about the terrain.nif, the actual 3d model of the map terrain itself, that was making those spots display the texture differently. So, I had to change it. I started by finding the level_layout.txt file for the map, which tells the game which terrain.nif to use. I copied and renamed it, pointed the map to this new file in the editor. Then I tracked down the terrain.nif, copied and renamed it, and pointed the layout file itself to its folder. The first entry in the layout is always the map’s mesh.

So, now I had a version of the mesh that I could play with and not mess anything up, and play I did. Or more accurately, I beat my head against this particular wall for days! I opened the map in Nifskope and clicked on the various pieces of the terrain, pouring over their entries and trying to figure out what settings controlled how they displayed textures. I compared their entries line by line, looking for whatever was different, and I tried a thousand different things, none of which had ANY positive effect! Finally, the community came to my rescue, and told me that how a texture is displayed is apparently all about something called a UV map. Who knew?!

I suppose that to be a good modder, it really does help to know about all of the different parts of game design. Anyway, I found a tutorial that explained how to edit the UV maps, which it turns out is a rather painstaking process in Nifskope. And that runway area was BIG! But, after a lot of rather maddening work, I finally had the map looking the way I wanted! Then it was just a matter of decorating it! So, I copied CK’s excellent design for his map, scattered a bunch of shrubs and weeds retextured to look like coral and seaweed all over the place, as well as some boulders and such for visual and gameplay interest. Then, because this mission is supposed to be one of the stages on the young Aquaman’s search for Atlantis, I asked superstar skinner Dean2000 to create some extra textures for me so I could add in the traces of a ruined city, using the map’s original textures and layout as a guide. I’m super happy with the finished product!

Map Design Part 3: Getting Clever

With the main map done, I set out to create a base scene to help me advance the plot and set up the mission that was going to take place on it. Now, my Aquaman plot is fairly ambitious. I’ve got a lot of story and a lot of development that I’m trying to cram in, and I struggled figuring out how to get through everything I needed in the base scene, while keeping the cutscenes it featured reasonably interesting to watch. I don’t just want to hit my players with a whole bunch of text with no visual interest! The story called for me to explore the origins of Black Manta and Aquaman, drawing on some of Geoff Johns’ better ideas from his N52 run. I had an excellent FF1 custom map featuring a lighthouse by the sea, but I wanted to portray some of what happened IN the water, and the map just has a flat, ‘painted’ surface for the water. How could I portray a story featuring both land AND sea in one map without looking silly? If I were Dr. Mike of The Strangers mod fame, I could just shift between maps INSIDE the base scene, but I don’t have a clue how he did that, and I probably couldn’t replicate it even if I did! So, once again, I decided to cheat.

I wrote the base scene CSes to focus the camera on a few different spots on the map, all out of sight of each other. Then I added a nice animated “water” object (one of our mappers, I forget who, created this years ago) above the surface of the “water” on the map in two of those spots. In the first spot I added a ship object “floating” in the top water layer, and my swimming Aquaman below it. In the other, I placed two ship objects, partially hidden in ‘floor’ of the map, to make it look like the ship had been sunk. Then, with a little camera work, the whole scene plays out relatively nicely, and the players only see what I want them to see. I’m inordinately pleased with how well it worked out.

Aquaman Campaign Update and Preview

While I was struggling with my various mapping mountains, I also tackled a ton of other, smaller jobs. I spent a lot of time tweaking the art assets for the Aquaman-related characters, especially the Aqua-Family, and that included new skins an skopes for Arthur’s sidekicks, Aqualad and Aquagirl. The tremendously talented Tomato very graciously agreed to make the Prince and Princess of the Sea for me, and they turned out fantastically! I also spent a lot of time skoping the keys of the various aqua-characters and updating their Herofiles to make them more interesting and unique in the game. I did a ton of work on the swimming keys, in particular, creating specially modified versions drawing on a wide range of different animation sets that gave me vastly more options in how I built the various characters. I discovered that the swimming keys were compatible with male_basic keys, and a hovering animation from another MB set would often look quite good as a swimming animation. That really expanded my options!

But the really excited work for me was remastering and reimagining my first two missions, laying in story hooks and plot threads that I can play with throughout the campaign. It’s great to finally be getting started on my Aquaman adventure in earnest, as this was one of the first ideas I conceived when I began working on my DCUG mythology. So, I rewrote the first mission, adding in some new elements to set up things to come, and I completely scrapped and recreated my second mission, starting with that whole new map. The first mission involved Arthur Curry beginning a quest to find Atlantis, and by finding it, to discover what happened to his mother, Atlanna, who was stolen away when he was a boy. During his search, he finds a mysterious island that is home to a research station, which has been besieged by the Marine Marauder!

My second mission saw the rookie Aquaman clash with the forces of Black Manta for the first time, as both men searched for Atlantis! This mission actually takes place underwater, so I have a separate mesh and key-set, essentially for my hero and all of his foes, an entirely separate set of characters, essentially. Everyone gets flight to simulate their ability to move in 3 dimensions, and eventually Aquaman will have the ability to summon his finny friends to aid him! As the mission progresses, Arthur makes a terrible discovery about his future nemesis, and he finds that the sea floor is covered with clues about Altantis! Finally, our hero frees an actual Atlantean warrior from Mantas men, but his welcome from his erstwhile people is not quite what he hoped it would be! Here’s a few glimpses of the mission, and you can see the base scene in action too!

Well, that should give y’all a sense of what I’ve been up to lately, though there are a thousand and one little jobs I’ve been doing as well. I hope that this has proven interesting and informative. Please feel free to ask questions and give feedback! There are some exciting developments on the horizons for the DCUG and for the Aquaman campaign in particular. I hope to have more to share with y’all soon! In the meantime, here’s a little peek at the Green Lantern Corps. campaign mission I finished a while back. Expect to see more about that, as well as about OrWolvie’s Green Arrow campaign, in my next developer’s diary! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 2)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Welcome to part 2 of February 1971!  We’ve got a good pair of books in this post, and I found plenty to talk about.  I’m afraid I grow a tad long-winded on this one, folks, so be warned!  Let’s see what awaits us as we travel Into the Bronze Age!

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 #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Aquaman #55


Aquaman_Vol_1_55“Return of the Alien!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“Computer Trap!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

Man, I am LOVING these Nick Cardy Aquaman covers.  They’re always exciting, dynamic, intriguing, and just beautifully rendered.  This is a particularly striking example.  The story within is definitely worthy of such a great cover, and it returns to a plot thread readers must have thought abandoned back in issue #52.  This tale takes us back to the strange microscopic world that exists within Mera’s ring and to the brave girl who helped Aquaman during his sojourn there.  I was really struck by the moral conundrum with which Skeates faced his character in that earlier story, as the Sea King had to choose between leaving his alien girl Friday in the clutches of slavers or risk her death at the hands of a hostile colony.  While I understood Aquaman’s choice to abandon her, it definitely seemed like an unresolved issue when he came back to the normal world.  In this story, the Marine Marvel finally sets out to right that wrong.  It’s great that Skeates brought this thread back from three issues ago, despite there not having been a single mention of it since.  That level of continuity was still rather rare in this era, and it’s the smallest example of such in this issue.

The story itself begins with Dr. Vulko, playing his role as Atlantis’s resident mad scientist, as he prepares a machine to transport the Sea King back to the microscopic madhouse.  Apparently, in a fun little touch of universe awareness, Aquaman got advice from the Atom about how to build this shrinking device.  Operating the machine, Vulko reminds Mera that she must concentrate, as she’s vital to the procedure.  As we discovered in that earlier story, the Queen can actually exert some form of telepathic control over the realm in her ring.  There’s actually room for a really interesting set of stories exploring that connection and the origins of this place, and I have to think that Skeates saw that possibility.  Unfortunately, he never got the chance to investigate those mysteries.

Aquaman55_04

Vulko throws the switch, and Aquaman shrinks back to the surreal, Dali-esq sub-reality.  He begins to explore, but he encounters another one of those horrible cyclopean blob creatures that attacked him on his first visit.  Realizing that there’s nothing to be gained by fighting the monster, the Sea Sleuth evades it and continues his quest.  There’s a nice bit of characterization in that encounter, as Arthur evinces sound judgement but also shows some awareness of his public role as king, noting his subjects might not understand his actions.  As it turns out, that’s a thought that proves somewhat prophetic given the other events in this story.

Aquaman55_06

With the telepathic guidance of his wife, Aquaman succeeds in locating the colony of the big-headed slavers of the previous story, and he just charges right in swinging.  It’s a pretty dynamic sequence, as the Sea King just smashes into their defenses.  Meanwhile, back in Atlantis, Mera can sense that her love is in combat, and Vulko stresses that she must not think about wanting him to return to her or she’ll bring him back prematurely.  At the same time, Aqualad is observing a fiery speech in an Atlantean park, where a local nutjob has managed to acquire quite a following.  The rabble-rouser, named Noxden, is stirring up resentment against the King by claiming that the destiny of Altanteans is to be air-breathers, and this is a destiny of which Aquaman robbed them!

Aquaman55_07

I would NOT want to be in that guy’s way!

All the way back in issue #35, the Atlanteans were converted into air-breathers, and their king restored them (in issue #43), because it’s pretty stupid to live on the bottom of the sea if you can’t breathe underwater.  Yet, despite the utter absurdity of the fellow’s claims, people are beginning to listen.  There was a time when that would have seemed more far-fetched than it does today, I suppose.

Yet, if there’s one thing that history teaches us, it’s that a looney who shouts loud enough and provides a convenient scapegoat for people’s problems will always be able to attract a following.  Aqualad is disgusted by the raving rhetoric, seething at the idea that Atlanteans would be so ungrateful to the king who had done so much for them, and he heads out to tell Aquaman.  Just at that moment, the Marine Marvel is getting overwhelmed by his alien antagonists and…oh no.  Not again…that’s right, the third head-blow in a row!  Arthur gets conked on the noggin and he’s down for the count!

Aquaman55_10

Before we learn what happens with the Sea King, though, we have another stop.  Subplots galore!  In this case, we’re touching base with Mupo, the fiery young man who led the rebellion against Aquaman’s regent-turned-tyrant way back in issue #47.  This book is just full of continuity!  Mupo has been swayed by Noxden’s speech, and he begins to spout some racist rhetoric, which Aquagirl calls him on.  The Marine Mistress shows her class by storming out on the moron.

Aquaman55_11

Meanwhile, Mera uses her connection with the ring-world to revive her husband, which si a nice touch and a way to give her more of a role.  Aquaman awakens as he’s being taken prisoner by the aliens and carefully times his escape, plowing through the guards that thought he was helpless.  As he’s swimming through the city, searching for a place to hide and make plans, who should he encounter but the object of his quest herself!  The girl signals him and hides the hero while they talk.  The Marine Marvel realizes that she’s communicating with him telepathically, despite the fact that this was against her beliefs when they last met.

Aquaman55_13

Aquaman55_14She explains that her captors have opened her mind and taught her to think for herself, strangely enough.  Yet, even more surprising, when he tells the young lady that he’s there to rescue her, she refuses, saying she’s happy in her role!  While she may be a captive, she is, in many ways, more free than she was in her oppressive home.  It’s an interesting wrinkle and an unexpected twist.  Yet, it is also a bit unsatisfying.  Our hero has gone through all of this to save her, and she doesn’t want to be saved!

Stunned, Aquaman leaves, realizing that he’s got twenty hours on the clock before he’s due to be recalled and hoping he can find somewhere to hide and wait for his rendezvous.  At the same time in Atlantis, our plot threads are converging, as Aquagirl encounters Aqualad, just as she’s thinking over things with Mupo.  When the young Aquatic Ace brushes her off in his hurry to see the King, she thinks that the more he ignores her, “the more attractive Mupo looks!”  Uh-oh Garth, better watch out!  You’ve got competition!

Aquaman55_16

Nobody draws action like Jim Aparo.

Back in the microscopic world, Aquaman encounters another group of the aliens, and as he’s tearing his way through them, he suddenly begins to grow, way ahead of schedule!  When he arrives back home, Mera apologizes, realizing that her anxiety must have inadvertently led to her recalling him, but her husband stops her, saying that she came through at the perfect time.   Just then Aqualad arrives and tells his tale, but Aquaman silences him as well, reminding his young charge that he respects free speech and isn’t about to start censoring folks he disagrees with, which is a nice character beat.  The story ends with a very striking image of Noxden, gesturing in a manner that is grimly familiar.

Aquaman55_17

This is a very good tale, and it is absolutely packed full to the gills (if you’ll forgive the expression) with plot.  In fact, it’s so stuffed with story that I had trouble summarizing it!  Skeates is layering in storylines that could stick with the book for a long time to come, doing some worldbuilding, and in general giving Aquaman a more fully realized setting to inhabit.  Of course, that makes the title’s impending cancellation all the more heartbreaking.  None of these plotlines will get resolved in the next and, as it happens final issue, leaving so much undone, so much potential wasted.  I suppose I’ll talk about that in more detail when I cover the final issue, but on this read-through, I’m really struck by how much this loss hurt the character.  At the very beginning of the Bronze Age, where the DC Universe is evolving and growing, and when he had a fantastic opportunity to do the same, the powers that be cut the legs out from under Aquaman.  That’s just a crying shame, and it explains a lot of the problems the character has had since then.

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Anyway, in terms of the story itself, it is a really enjoyable read.  The quick cuts between the different plots keep it moving at break-neck pace.  While the resolution of the plot of Aquaman’s girl Friday is a bit of a letdown, the adventure that reunites the pair is pretty exciting.  It does seem like the Sea King could have offered her a third option, or at least tried to do so.  He could have sent the Atom in to bring her up to Atlantis, where she could have had her mental and physical freedom.  Maybe that idea would have materialized in time, if Skeates had been given the opportunity.  We’ll never know now, I suppose.

I enjoy the mini-plots with Aquaman’s supporting cast.  At this time, the Marine Marvel is the only character that has his entire extended super family gathered around him, giving him unique story possibilities that other characters with similar supporting characters don’t have access to at the moment.  It’s great to see Skeates take advantage of that.  I also love seeing more of Tula in general.  The character she developed into under Skeates’ pen, capable, level-headed, independent, and still with a great sense of adventure, is one that I really love.  The plot of the trouble-making politician that the young Aquatic Aces are mixed up in is certainly not a new one for Aquaman, but this time it comes with a new twist.  Interestingly, part of Noxden’s platform is a call for free and democratic elections, which is actually quite sensible and seems only natural to an American audience.  After all, one of the central values of our culture is reverence for democracy.  There is a lot of potential for some fascinating stories in the interplay between tradition and progress in Atlantis.  Sadly, we won’t really get to see Skeates develop that potential.

In the end, though this isn’t a perfect story, it is a lot of fun and just full of intriguing beginnings.  The SAG team has done a lot of experimentation, but I rather feel like, with this issue, they were settling into what would have been a very promising routine.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.

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“Computer Trap”


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We’ve got a very pleasant surprise this month in the form of an extra Aquaman yarn as a backup in this issue.  This is a great little 7 1/2 page story that hits on some unexpected themes.  The backup begins with Skeates doing a bit more aquatic world building, as the Sea King, returning from a mission on the surface, swims through a submarine ghost town.  It’s a forlorn abandoned city that rather gives our hero the creeps, and while he’s pondering what happened to its inhabitants and how long it has lain empty, he suddenly detects a telepathic signal.  Strange!

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When he goes to investigate, he discovers an advanced computer, a self-aware machine that attacks his mind!  The AI attempts to enslave his will, but Aquaman is no mental weakling, and his incredible willpower and mental strength hold off the telepathic attack.  In the interim, we get treated to a flashback to this device’s origins, and it’s a pretty interesting story, the archetypal ‘machines turn on their masters‘ setup. An advanced aquatic society built this powerful computer to help run their civilization, but, in a classic twist, the machine found the humans far too unstable and imperfect, so it simply took over.

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In this case, the device actually dominates the minds of the citizens and turns them into efficient little worker-bees, creating more and more machines and more and more advancements, all in the name of ‘progress.’  That was the great ideal, progress for its own sake, and progress defined as technological growth, while all else in this culture decayed.  In a really neat take on the concept, the machine can only control the minds of the adult society members because their brains are fixed and rigid, leaving the youth to grow disaffected and eventually to abandon the colony in search of a place that valued more in life than the endless pursuit of ‘progress.’  In a cool example of truth in fiction, the minds of young people actually are more flexible and less fully developed, so this is surprisingly believable on that score.  Of course, there are also obvious social parallels as well.

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Eventually, the machine’s slaves grew old and died, leaving no-one to serve it.  The computer plans to use Aquaman to attract a new population to pursue ‘progress,’ but the King of the Seven Seas is nobody’s pawn.  He stops fighting the device long enough to summon help, and though the computer invades his mind, the timely arrival of an electric eel breaks its control!  To put an end to the menace of this mad machine, Aquaman summons a horde of his finny friends, and they collapse the cave it inhabits.  Yet, Skeates leaves a note of mystery in the ending of this tale, as the machine may yet survive!

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This is a quite a good story for as brief as it is.  It helps that it fits into the end of the previous yarn, building off of its momentum, allowing this one to feel a bit more expansive than it really is.  Skeates also deals with some really fascinating themes here, including the dangers of the rapid pace of technological advancement, one of the perennial subjects of science fiction.  As long as man has built machines, there has always been a fear that they might somehow cost him his humanity.  As it turns out, it’s a fear well founded.  We’ve begun to see that our hypertechnological society comes at a cost, with kids losing the ability to interact socially because of their addiction to social media and the like, not to mention the impact of information and sensation overload in the Internet Age.  These are just the newest manifestations of an ancient phenomenon.  Very little that we create comes without a cost, and it seems that those costs are growing more dear.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the story for me was Skeates’ implicit criticism of the concept of progress as its own goal.  C.S. Lewis described the origins of this tendency brilliantly in his essay “De Descriptione Temporum,” where he wrote of the modern idea of a progressive, which is to say ‘evolutionary,’ view of history:

“that what has imposed this climate of opinion so firmly on the human mind is a new archetypal image.  It is the image of old machines being superseded by new and better ones.  For in the world of machines new most often really is better and the primitive really is the clumsy.”

And he critiqued this view in his Mere Christianity, arguing that:

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

There can be no progress without a concept of a destination, without an ideal and a goal, and you’re either moving closer to that end or you’re moving further away, so movement by itself is not necessarily progress.  It’s a useful lesson to remember, and, in its own small way, this little backup tale teaches it.  The departure of the colony’s youth makes the point rather well, as they are searching for the things that give a culture its soul, the things that make life worth living, like the sublime pleasures of art and literature.  Of course, Skeates’ story is so brief that it can do little more than gesture at its themes, but they are interesting enough on their own merits that they still add some flavor to the final product.  I’ll give this great little backup 4.5 Minutemen, as it gets extra credit for at least having the potential to be thought-provoking.

Of course, it hardly needs to be said at this point, but Aparo’s art in this issue is as beautiful as usual.  His depictions of the action scenes are particularly impressive, but I just plain love his illustration of the ring-world.  He gives that place such a wonderfully insane feeling that it really adds something to Aquaman’s adventures there.  His Tula is a tad off this issue (she’s probably the only Aqua-character for whom I really prefer Nick Cardy’s rendition), but Aparo, as usual, also injects a lot of personality into the supporting characters.  That last shot of the rabble-rousing politician is a bit chilling and instantly conveys the fellow’s nature and personality.


Batman #229


“Asylum of the Futurians!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Temperature Boiling… and Rising!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Not the most amazing cover we’ve had here, though I suppose it does do its job of making the reader curious about what’s going on.  And what is going on is rather weird.  This isn’t the type of terrible, lazy story we’ve encountered from Kanigher in the past, but neither is it the stronger type of tale he’s been telling lately in our reading.

The yarn itself opens with a young woman running along a country road where she encounters the Batman, who has come searching for her and her husband.  Her name is Laura, and how the Dark Knight knows her isn’t explained.  When she asks about his fortuitous arrival in the middle of nowhere and the middle of the night, he just says he’ll tell her later.  Odd.  She proceeds to tell the Caped Crusader that her husband disappeared in the middle of the night, and when she found him, the scene she witnessed was almost enough to drive her mad!

Refusing to describe the source of her trepidation for fear he won’t believe her, Laura leads Batman to an eerie, gloomy old house in the woods.  Therein, they observe a scene out of an asylum, as musicians play on invisible instruments, waiters serve phantom food, and diners dressed in futuristic garb eat off empty plates.  They observe Larua’s husband, Stephen, a “famed photographer of psychic phenomena” looking on in befuddlement before he finally breaks out in anger, demanding to know the meaning of all of this.  In response, the creepy lady in charge yells out that they thought he was “the Seventh Futurian,” but since they were mistake, they must kill him!  His work made them think that he’d be able to “hear” their music, and “taste” their food, things only a Futurian can do.

Batman takes that as his cue, rushing in and overcoming the gathered gang and their futuristic weaponry.  It’s a nicely drawn sequence for the most part, and it ends with only the girl left standing.  She declares that the Futurians are “the wave of the future,” born psychic and destined to rule the world.  They have cells all over the planet, waiting for the arrival of the Seventh who will lead them.  She reasons that only one person could overcome five of her fellows, and thus the Dark Knight himself must be the Seventh for which they’ve been waiting.  They hand the Masked Manhunter a crown, and he decides to play along in order to take care of them peacefully.  But it’s a trap!  The crown tightens on his head, knocking him out, and the Futurians decide to put him to the test.

Taking a book out of Renaissance witch trials, they lock him in a coffin and toss it in the lake, thinking that only the special Seventh could escape from a watery grave.  Inside his sinking prison, the Dark Knight uses the now loosened crown to pick the coffin’s lock and swims for the surface.  For some reason, the Futurians seem sure that this guy they’ve just tried to kill, TWICE, who has dedicated his life to fighting crime, is going to help them take over the world.

Instead, for some strange reason Batman seems more inclined to punch them in their faces.  He takes them out, using the estate’s statuary, and captures their lovely leader.  Then, as he takes the rescued couple home, we discover that when Stephen was captured, he “screamed silently for help,” and somehow, that call reached the Caped Crusader.  The question of psychic powers is left ambiguous, but not in a particularly productive way.  It’s so vague and these characters so forgettable (I had to go back and look up their names), that it doesn’t have much impact.

This is a mediocre story.  It’s okay, and Novick renders the action nicely.  Yet, the Futurians are too big of a concept to be tossed out in 15 pages while also vying for space with two other supporting characters, one of whom is entirely superfluous to the plot.  Kanigher could have just had Batman show up at the house and saved two pages for better use.  The gang/cult themselves are just shy of being interesting.  With some more development, they could have made the jump, but as is, they just seem like generic would-be world-conquerors.

In general, the concept of this story just doesn’t quite manage to come together, and that concept, interestingly enough in light of the Aquaman backup tale above, seems to be tied into Futurism, an early 20th Century cultural movement originating in Italy that, coincidentally enough, advocated complete neglect of the past and an ethic of unbridled progress.  Even when I first read the “Futurist Manifesto” in college, I thought its principles were utterly foolish.  To once more quote Lewis, he argued that “[t]o study the past does indeed liberate us from the present, from the idols of our own market-place.  But I think it liberates us from the past too.  I think no class of men are less enslaved to the past than historians” (12).  Far from enslaving us, a knowledge of the past frees us from the blindness that makes contemporary mores into commandments and fashion into fact, and it also puts bygone days in their proper context, removing the rosy tinge that nostalgia tends to apply to all such visions.

But what has this story to do with Futurism?  It’s only tangentially related, but I can’t help but think that it is this movement which Kanigher had in mind when he penned this tale.  The antagonists of the piece read like a more militaristic version of the Futurists, which is impressive considering just how militaristic the originals were.  There are some definite parallels, and the sad thing is that these guys could actually furnish some really interesting villains if they were given any chance to develop a personality other than ‘strangeness.’  The story just feels a bit unfinished, though it is entertaining enough.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

P.S.: Well, it just might be that I was wrong!  The letter’s page of issue #232 included a short note about the Futurians.  It turns out that the name was a reference to a group of science fiction fans from the 30s, many of whom would go on to be major influences in the genre.  How neat!  Yet, perhaps the political leanings of the group might indeed provide some overlap with the Futuristis.  I’m curious, but I can’t say.


“Temperature Boiling… and Rising!”


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It’s nice to get a bird’s eye view of Hudson University.

The second half of this Robin tale is pretty good, even better than its predecessor.  It picks up with the student volunteers for Prof. Buck Stuart’s senate campaign as they try to make sense out of the shocking newspaper headline from last issue and the picture showing their golden boy giving a payoff.  In an interesting scene, a hippy-looking kid blows his top and tells Dick Grayson that he’s through playing by the rules before storming out.  What makes the scene fascinating is the boy’s mention of the Kent State Massacre.  Bringing that real event into the story instantly makes it feel more serious and grounded, and it really puts the kid’s anger and impatience into perspective.  This election, and those like it in which young people were getting involved, mattered.  They mattered because they were a chance to show the youth of this country that the system worked…or risk driving them into the streets in anger and despair.  It’s a small moment, but it struck me nonetheless.

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The story continues, with the candidate himself arriving and telling the boys that the claims are phony.  With the help of Phil Real, the campaign photographer, Dick does some good detective work by realizing that the damning picture is doctored and sets out to prove it as Robin.  The Teen Wonder heads to the local paper where the editor tells him in no uncertain terms that their publisher is backing the incumbent and won’t allow a retraction without hard evidence, so Dick goes in search of just that when the fellow reveals that their source’s name was…Phil Real!

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When Robin arrives at his friend’s room, he finds Phil’s roommate, who is one of the kids behind the fire at the campaign office from last issue.  The firebug and his friend jump the young hero, and for the second issue in a row, Robin barely escapes a slot on the Head-Blow Headcount, as he gets his bell rung pretty good.

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Still, he keeps his feet and easily dispatches the two college-toughs. In the room he finds the evidence he needs of the photo tampering, enough to force the paper to print a retraction, which helps to swing the election in Stuart’s favor!  At the end of the tale, Dick Grayson leaves the victory party, saying there’s still much more work to be done, an ending that I rather liked.  There’s something in it that indicates our young hero is growing up.

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This is a good ending to this story, and it manages to pack a really impressive amount into these seven pages.  There’s enough of a misdirect to make the mystery feel somewhat satisfying, with the evidence of both this and last issue seeming to point to the photographer.  Robin gets to display some detective skills and gets in a touch of action as well, in general, being portrayed as the intelligent, capable, and resourceful young man he is, which hasn’t always been the case with these Robin tales.

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It’s nice to see the Teen Wonder come off well.  He is one of my favorite characters, after all.  This iteration doesn’t have as much focus on youth involvement in politics as the previous one, but together they make an interesting whole, commenting on the situation.  It’s fascinating to see the social unrest of the period work its  way so clearly into comics, and this tale is a particularly obvious example of the tendency.  I’ll give it a good score of 4 Minutemen.

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And that will do it for the second part of February 1971.  I hope y’all enjoyed the read and will join me again soon for the next edition of Into the Bronze Age, where we’ll have a little something from the Dark Knight and the Fastest Man Alive.  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Oh no!  Three in a row!  Poor Aquaman.  He just can’t catch a break, and the biggest blow of all is yet to fall.  Once again, Robin narrowly avoids inclusion on the Wall of Shame, and no-one else has really come close.  We’ll have to see if this month holds any more additions to the august company.

Into the Bronze Age: December 1970 (Part 5)

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Hello Internet travelers, and thank you for joining me for today’s stop on our journey Into the Bronze Age!  This is the very last post covering the banner year of 1970.  We are standing at the threshold for the 70s proper, and soon we’ll be exploring a whole new year of comics.  We’ve got a promising trio of titles to examine in this post.  So, hop in your Whiz Wagon and join me as I investigate these classic comics!

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 #395
  • Adventure Comics #400
  • Aquaman #54
  • Batman #227
  • Detective Comics #406
  • The Flash #202
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #81
  • Justice League of America #84 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Justice League of America #85
  • The Phantom Stranger #10
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134
  • Teen Titans #30
  • World’s Finest #199

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


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134


jimmy_olsen_134“The Mountain of Judgment!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta

We return to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World today in our second issue of Jimmy Olsen.  With this book we get a bit better of an idea about the setting Kirby is developing, but there are still far more questions than there are answers.  Kirby is setting up a great deal here, and my memory doesn’t quite serve to show me which threads will get paid off.  I have a vague notion that several of the ideas he sets up here won’t quite get the development they need.  Nonetheless, this issue is full of wild ideas and colossal concepts, including some classic Kirby artistic experimentation.

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It opens in grand fashion, with a full-page splash of a mass exodus from the tree-house like ‘Habitat’ we saw at the end of the previous issue.  It’s a parade of crazy, Kirby-esq vehicles, led by the wondrous Whiz Wagon.  Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboy Legion are leading the Outsiders out in search of the mysterious and oh-so-awesomely named ‘Mountain of Judgement.’  The Newsboys get into some antics as they try to film the crowd that turns up to see them off, and Flippa-dippa is already stretching for an excuse to make himself useful…which is not a great sign.  Yet, the festivities are interrupted by the newly recovered Man of Steel who tries to talk the crew out of pursuing their mission, intimating that he knows something they don’t.  Jimmy and the Legion insist they have a job to do, but their discussion is cut short by the antagonistic bikers, who mount another attack on the Metropolis Marvel.

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One of them tries to run Superman down with a rocket cycle, because apparently he’s a moron and doesn’t get the whole ‘more powerful than a locomotive’ thing, and that goes about as well as you’d expect.  The Man of Tomorrow catches it and plays rocket wrangler in a really cool panel.  Yet, the next attack is more effective.  One of these dropouts with their ridiculously advanced weaponry, targets the hero with a bazooka shell of kryptonite gas, and another finishes him off with a “green K paralysis gun.”  Of course, this is another example of that ‘everything is kryptonite’ problem with this era of Superman stories.  Fortunately, next month we get “Kryptonite Nevermore,” and I am really looking forward to that.

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Anyway, Superman is defeated and possibly poisoned, you know, what with the deadly element he was exposed to and all, and his best friend, Jimmy Olsen, casually and callously notes that now they can get on with their job.  This is the one point of the book that really bothered me.  Last issue, the attack on Superman was sudden and unexpected, and Jimmy had just taken control of the gang.  This issue, on the other hand, the attack goes on for some time, the young reporter is clearly more in control, and yet he does nothing to stop it.  What’s more, he greets his friend being knocked unconscious with all the concern that you or I might muster for seeing a stranger stub their toe.  That’s a beat that doesn’t ring true.  It seems like, at the least, they could have, you know, listened to what Superman had to say.

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After that kerfuffle, the convoy heads out, careening towards the foreboding Zoomway and beginning a race with death as they encounter obstacle after obstacle in their search for the mysterious Mountain.  First, Jimmy sends the Whiz Wagon straight through a camouflaged entrance to the roadway at top speed, ‘trusting in his instincts,’ which seems an unnecessary gamble, but what do I know?  Next, they must build up speed on a rock-strewn course in order to leap a chasm, a jump that some of the bikers don’t make.

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Then they wade into “the water course,” where Flippa-dippa actually contributes, by planting a charge on a blocked exit, though his incompetence nearly gets himself killed as the charge goes off too early.  Of course, the incredible Kirby-bikes of the Outsiders are equipped for submarine operation as well, because Jack Kirby’s reality is way more interesting than ours.

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Next, the crew encounters a reality-warping tunnel that messes with their senses, and they have to pilot by instruments as they lose all sense of direction.   This is portrayed by two bizarre pages of Kirby’s patented black and white photo-collages.  They’re fairly psychedelic and surreal, but it rather irks me that his model car doesn’t actually look that much like the Whiz Wagon.  I think he’d have been better off to incorporate some pencils, as he did in similar instances with the Fantastic Four.  I know that this was the King experimenting with the medium, pushing its boundaries and pioneering new techniques, but I never really cared for the effect that this type of gambit created.  According to the letters’ pages of the old Marvel books, though, it seems to have received at least some positive reaction from fans.  I wonder what DC readers would have thought of this in 1970.  If they hadn’t been reading Marvel books, it’s possible they wouldn’t have seen anything like this before.

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jo134-19At any rate, Superman has awakened during all this adventure, and he sets out after our young travelers, zooming past the dangers they overcame.  Along the way, he passes the bikers who were left behind in the madcap dash towards their goal, and, in a bit of a cheat, he notes that they are all unharmed.  I can’t help but wonder if that was a Comic’s Code sop, because you’ve got to think that the guys that failed that jump and plowed into the chasm wall probably didn’t do too well.  Nonetheless, the Man of Steel suddenly encounters a bizarre, Brobdingnagian behemoth, a boogeyman from the nightmares of a regular car, a gigantic converted missile carrier with a frightening facade that is screaming down the Zoomway.  This is the Mountain of Judgement.  Who should be caught in its path but the plucky Legion.  Pulling off a last minute save, the Metropolis Marvel carries the Whiz Wagon into the Mountain, which is Kirby-tech from top to bottom.  Instantly, the enigmatic Hairies who we heard about last issue spring forth and start examining the Wagon with delicate instruments.

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Only Kirby could design this gloriously mad vehicle.

Superman begins to explain but is interrupted by the discovery of a tiny but incredibly powerful bomb hidden in the car-mounted camera.  The Hairies lessen its power, and the Man of Steel smothers its blast, leaving the Legion boys entirely gobsmacked.  At this point, Jimmy finally begins to show some appreciation for the guy who is constantly saving his life.  It seems that Morgan Edge had an ulterior motive for sending this expendable little gang of kids on this assignment.  They were a Trojan Horse designed to destroy the Hairies.

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But, just who are these strange people, and what are they doing in this bizarre corner of the world?  Most of our questions remain unanswered, but their new hosts take the hero and his crew on a tour and show them the incredible insides of the Mountain, which serves as a giant rolling home for their enclave.  Essentially, theirs is a “mobile scientific society,” whatever that is, and Superman somehow knew about them.  The issue ends with the Legion wondering what game Morgan Edge is playing, and we get a glimpse of the man himself contacting a mysterious master, a strange character by the name of…Darkseid!

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This is another jam-packed issue, full of Kirby’s signature wild, rollicking action, an imaginative overload.  Unfortunately, our inker is the notorious Vince Colletta, so I imagine that we’re losing some of the nuances of the art.  Nonetheless, the book is full of fantastic visuals and wonderfully over-designed gadgets.  I don’t think he’s quite got the hang of Superman himself yet, as the Man of Steel occasionally looks a bit wonky, but the rest of the art in this issue is as gorgeous and creative as you’d expect.  The King delivers a plot that centers around a frantic race, which makes for a fun read, and the mysteries he’s introducing left and right are intriguing.

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Obviously, DC fans will recognize where a lot of this is going, but it is great fun to see the seeds planted.  The weakness, other than the odd moment with Jimmy’s indifference to Superman’s plight, is Kirby’s dialog.  It’s got a strange quality to it that I just can’t put my finger on.  Just check out some of the examples I posted above.  It has something in common with Beat poetry, an odd rhythm and cadence, combined with some silly 60s slang.  I’m definitely not the first to observe this, and while it isn’t a huge problem with this issue, this is something that marks the Fourth World books and can make them feel a bit dated, even for their contemporary milieu.  Still, on the whole, this is a fun issue, full of the manic energy that always characterizes Kirby’s plotting.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Interestingly, despite several ads for more forthcoming Fourth World books due out this very month, we won’t see them premiere until a few months into the next year.  I wonder what happened there?

P.S.: Several of my friends over at Freedom Reborn have been kind enough to remind me of something that I really should have remembered.  Apparently, despite hiring Jack Kirby to draw Superman and Jimmy Olsen, DC’s top brass were concerned that he would somehow damage the characters by drawing them like Jack Kirby rather than like the house style.  They actually had artists like Al Plastino and Murphy Anderson retouch and sometimes completely redraw both of those characters, leading to the weirdness I noticed in the Superman figures above.  Here’s a great article by Kirby champion and expert, Mark Evanier.  It’s really a crying shame, and the few samples of existing Kirby Superman art really make me long for what might have been.  I had actually learned this years ago when I read through the 4th World omnibuses, but I apparently had forgotten.  Thanks guys!

P.P.S.: This issue also came with an odd, off-beat text piece by the King himself where he praises the possible development of real-life Whiz Wagons and ponders the world that might come.  It’s an interesting read, though Kirby’s strange prose style is a bit hard to get a hang of.  It seems that prediction like these were everywhere decades ago, and yet I still don’t have my flying car, my personal submersible, or my jetpack.  Clearly, we’ve failed to make the future as awesome as it should have been.  After all, we’re living in the 21st Century, and aside from the Star-Trek like device I carry around in my pocket, it doesn’t seem all that different from the 20th.  Buck Rogers would be heartbroken!

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Teen Titans #31


Teen_Titans_Vol_1_30.jpgGreed… Kills!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Dick Giordano

“Some Call It Noise”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Nick Cardy
Editor: Dick Giordano

Apparently we’re seeing a change in format with this issue.  Instead of a single story, we’re going to get two short yarns each month for a while.  I’m more than a little disappointed by that, as I’ve been looking forward to this issue because the cover indicated it would be Aqualad-centric, even featuring the fantastic but rarely used Aquagirl.  Imagine my dismay when I realized the promising cover only represented a brief backup tale (8 1/2 pages) rather than a full comic.  Promisingly, both of the stories herein are penned by Steve Skeates, but they didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

The first tale, which is actually not the cover story, sadly returns our titanic teens to the pointless Mr. Jupiter plot.  We find them engaged on a mission for the mysterious millionaire, costume-less and also rather clueless.  Lilith has had another vague vision, and she has brought them to a pawnshop she foresaw being robbed.  The team debates the value of following her “hunches,” and Kid Flash is particularly dubious.  Yet, the would-be thieves do show up, and while the boys tackle them, quickly dispatching two of them, the young speedster lets his pigeon get away.

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For some reason, he doesn’t use his super speed in pursuing the guy, and then he just stands idly by while the fellow stumbles into traffic and gets run down.  Now, it’s supposed to be sudden, but how sudden does it have to be for a kid with super speed not to be able to intervene?  That bothered me, and it smacked more of Kid Flash just choosing not to act than anything else, which is a failure on Skeates’ part.

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A scene follows with the police in the hospital that tells us that the injured man is Kevin Murphy (no, not Tom Servo’s alter ego), a notorious thief, thought to have died ten years ago.  What does all of this have to do with a job for Mr. Jupiter?  Well, wait and see.  The kids follow up on their “mission,” visiting a wealthy businessman, named Mr. Tout, from whom they are tasked with getting a donation for a charity to help first time youth offenders reform.  Mr. Scrooge, er…I mean Tout doesn’t react take too fondly to this idea, and he screams about how criminals can’t be reformed and how he won’t subsidize lazy bums who won’t get jobs.  Cardy really does some great personality work with this fellow, giving him a distinct and evocative look.

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Their plea having failed, Mal notes that Tout looked directly at him during his tirade and speculates that there were probably racial overtones in it.  The quintet try to decide what to do now, and Lilith surprises them all by insisting that they go visit the injured Mr. Murphy.  teentitans30-08It’s handy to have the powers of plot.  Meanwhile, Tout discovers the concussed crook’s whereabouts and, strangely, begins to panic.  He decides that he must take care of this situation, immediately!

When they arrive at the hospital, the former Titans discover gunmen attempting to take out the police guards and kill Murphy.  Fortunately for the lone cop still standing, the girls intervene, promptly incapacitating the two assassins in a nice Cardy action sequence that, like some of our previous issues, demonstrates the different fighting styles of the participants.  Interestingly, Lilith is actually useful in the fight, which I didn’t expect.

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The gunsels grounded, the kids get an explanation from Murphy, who is dying from his injuries (that’s entirely on you, Wally).  Apparently, he and Tout were partners years ago, and after a big score, the ‘self-made man’ went straight and built himself a business empire.  Yet, he was afraid that his former partner would one day be caught and turn on him, so he tried to have him killed.  Murphy faked his own death in order to escape, and when his identity was in the papers after his capture, Tout decided it was time to finish the job.  Strangely, the issue ends, not with the capture of Tout, but with the youths just wandering down the street, talking over the enigmatic events of the case.  Tout’s fate is implied, but not shown.

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This is a fine story, with an interesting twist, but the trouble is that it isn’t really a Teen Titans story, just like some of the earlier issues I’ve covered.  Replace little-miss plot device with a clue that connects Murphy to Tout, and you could lift the Titans entirely out of this plot without anyone noticing.  None of the team use their abilities, none of their secret identities come into play, and the characterization, while solid, isn’t particularly distinctive or necessary to the narrative.  There’s nothing at all that makes this a Teen Titans tale.  The kids aren’t even in costume.  Cardy’s art is as beautiful as usual, but it also suffers from the lack of costumes.  His Kid Flash and Speedy are pretty hard to tell apart without any of their action garb to aid us.  Cardy still turns out a lovely story here, but I miss seeing his Titans in action.

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Part of the problem here is just the situation that Skeates inherited, but I’m disappointed that he didn’t just go ahead and disentangle the team from this narrative albatross around their necks.  There are some elements of social commentary here, with the bootstraps-businessman’s success not actually a product of his own hard work, the racial tension, and the counterexamples for criminal reform and the like.  It subtly pushes for a more liberal approach to several social issues, but there isn’t much made of those ideas.  I suppose I’ll give this story 3 Minutemen.  It’s about average.

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Oddly, this comic also includes a two-page, mostly text short story about Kid Flash encountering a bank robber with a portable whirlwind, who is definitely not Whirlwind.  I wonder if this was an experiment or just a space filler.


“Some Call it Noise”


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The story I was so eagerly anticipating proved more than a little disappointing in context, mostly from its brevity, which left Skeates just too little space to follow any of the fun and interesting ideas he introduced.  Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable little adventure, and it is great fun to see Aqualad and Aquagirl in a story together, something we haven’t seen for quite some time, and never in a Teen Titans book, methinks.

This little yarn begins in an operating room where a desperate case is met by a daring doctor.  The patient has some type of head trauma that will prove fatal, unless, perhaps an experimental treatment the doctor has been developing is employed.  Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite aquatic adolescents hurry out of the waves on their way to a concert.  This is a fun idea, but unfortunately, Skeates just doesn’t have the time to do much with it.

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It does give us a charming image, though.

Just as the two young heroes reach the concert, the experimental surgery reaches its own crescendo, and the patient seems to be recovering well.  Yet, there is a terrible side effect of the new drug, and the recovering man goes mad!  His body chemistry thrown into turmoil, he develops superhuman strength, and he smashes his way out of the hospital.  Outside, he pulls a Grendel, catching wind of the merry music in the park and, enraged by the noise like that lonely fen-stalker, he sets off to put a stop to the revelry in most violent fashion.

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The maddened patient charges past the Aqua-teens, clocking poor Tula on the head and leaving her stunned.  Aqualad sets out in pursuit, realizing that this guy needs to be stopped before he kills someone.  Just as the crazed music critic prepares to smash the band, the Aquatic Ace attacks, laying into the fellow in a nice action sequence.  However, here we get one of my only real critiques of the issue.

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Aqualad thinks to himself that he’s able to throw a strong punch underwater, so he’s even more capable on the surface without the water resistance to fight.  Now, you might be thinking, ‘but that’s right!’ and you’d be correct.  My issue is that this really rather sells his abilities short, as he isn’t just able to throw “a strong punch;” he’s downright super strong!  I think Skeates, as much as I love him, forgets the super strength of his Atlanteans too often.  Still, it’s a minor complaint, and the kid still handles the enraged patient with aplomb.

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Yet, his encounter with his angry antagonist proved a dangerous distraction.  Aquagirl, injured more seriously than he realized, has wandered off in a daze, trying to head to the sea, but stumbling further inland in confusion.  In growing fear, as their one-hour deadline looms closer and closer, Garth sets out on a desperate search.  Following a few clues, he finds her leaning against a lamppost in town, and then we get one of the stronger beats of the story.  Aqualad notes that their hour was up five minutes ago, yet they don’t just drop dead.  Instead, they grow weaker, yet the young man pushes himself to a heroic effort, carrying the lovely lady all the way back to the beach.  He even passes out on his feet, but keeps stumbling forward blindly, collapsing mere inches from the sea.

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Fortunately, the tide comes in, reviving the exhausted Atlanteans.  It’s a great sequence, and it shows that Aqualad has some of his surrogate father’s force of will.  It also establishes that the one hour limit is not a hard and fast rule, but a general guideline that threatens, not immediate death, but growing weakness.  That’s a significant step in the right direction.  In the final half page, the two teens head out to sea, and I really love the spin Aqualad puts on their adventure.  He argues that, even though they missed part of the concert, it was worthwhile because he “saved a man from doing something he would have hated himself for for the rest of his life.”  That’s true, and an unusual angle on the events of the day.  It implies a thoughtful, empathetic quality for the young hero, which I enjoy.

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This is a fun little adventure, but it is definitely just that, a little adventure.  I really enjoy seeing Aqualad and Aquagirl get to share a story together, but it is so brief that Tula’s role is almost nonexistent.  She takes no part in the real action, and she’s even out of her head for half of the tale.  That’s a shame because she’s a great character who doesn’t get much focus in the first place.  Despite the fact that I wanted more from this backup yarn, it is effective and efficient, delivering a complete story in just a few pages.  I’ll give it a fun but limited 3.5 Minutemen.

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World’s Finest #199


worlds_finest_comics_199Race to Save Time”
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Colourist: Tatjana Wood
Editor: Julius SchwartzE. Nelson Bridwell

This is the second half of our two-parter featuring the race around the galaxy between Superman and the Flash, and it is great fun.  The crazy cosmic adventure of the last issue continues here, though the scale gets reduced a bit for the finale.  Also, Jimmy faces more chronological conundrums.  Interestingly, the first issue promised, in no uncertain terms, that we would get an answer to the age-old question about who would win in a race, the Flash or Superman.  “There must be a winner!” declared the cover copy, and there is…sort of.  O’Neil still cheats a bit.  I wonder if that question was ever entirely settled in the Bronze Age.  Who wins, you ask?  Well, there’s only one way to find out!

Our story picks up right where it left off, with poor, time-displaced Jimmy facing a flight of airborne arrows.  The situation looks pretty hopeless, until the hapless teen fades through time once more, but this is only a temporary temporal reprieve, as he lands right in the middle of a witch trial by the masked menace of the Spanish Inquisition!  I bet you didn’t expect that!  Of course, the young man’s sudden appearance is taken as proof positive that he is in league with dark powers, so he is sentenced to die. Poor Jimmy, out of the frying pan, into the inquisitional fire.

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Meanwhile, our two heroes are continuing their race, and we get a brief recap of events , thanks to some exposition from the masters of the art, the Guardians.  Our nameless Centurion is still hanging out, but sadly we don’t get any more of his inner monologue.  That’s a missed opportunity Mr. O’Neil!  Anyway, the radical racers are ambushed by another batch of the Anachronids, and unfortunately they chose their sector of space well as they are near an orange star, so Superman is weakened.  The charging champions put up a good fight, but eventually they go down, captured by the super-fast robots!

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Back in 15th Century Spain, Jimmy is not one to wait idly by for his fate.  He uses his wristwatch, a marvel in that era, to distract his guard and then takes him out, fleeing the prison.  He escapes into the night, trying to figure out how to get home.  In search of shelter, he stumbles into a barracks, accidentally stirring up a hornet’s nest of trouble!  Fleeing the roused soldiery, the young reporter climbs up a balcony, only to run smack into the grand inquisitor himself, Torquemada, now unmasked.  Poor Jimmy!  His luck is worse than mine!

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As time continues to fluctuate, we also get a brief check-in with some other DC characters, including Batman and Wonder Woman, as their environments shift and anachronisms creep into the modern day.  In deep space, Superman and the Flash awaken to meet their captors and the architects of the universe’s current peril, the Phantom Zone Villains!  They kindly introduce themselves to the Scarlet Speedster as: Kru-El (definitely a case of nominative determinism), Jax-Ur, the notorious General Zod (whose Silver Age look is only so-so), and Professor Va-Kox.  This criminal quartet have had their robotic minions bring the heroes back to the strange, extra-dimensional planet they visited last issue.  Apparently, the villains have managed to escape from the Phantom Zone to this dimension, but they can go no further.  They created the Anachronids to turn the universe on its head, as they’ve determined that upsetting the time-stream will weaken the dimensional barriers enough for them to escape.  That’s workable enough technobabble for the setting.  The Flash cries out that this plan will kill billions of beings, and, in true villainous style, the Phantom Zone refugees respond with callous disregard.  All that matters is their freedom, and once free, they’ll pick up the pieces and rule like kings!

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Well, for something like the fourth or fifth time this month, the villains complete their contractual obligation to leave the heroes alone in order for them to escape, as the Phantom Zone Four propose to leave the pair alive in order to see their triumph.  Man, the DC villains really need to read the Evil Overlord List.  Even so, the strange star of this world is red at the moment, so the Metropolis Marvel isn’t strong enough to burst their bonds, and, his medallion captured, the Flash doesn’t have the energy to vibrate free.  But wait, the medallion was made by the Guardians, so the heroes realize it may function similarly to a power ring.  They concentrate their willpower on the device, and Superman uses it to free himself, but before he can help his comrade, Zod returns, destroying the medallion!  He has them both dead to rights, and he tells them the villains decided they were too dangerous to let live.  That’s the right idea, Zod; if only you had acted on it earlier.

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The Flash, still bound, manages to knock the kryptonian’s gun away, and Superman jumps his father’s old foe.  The Man of Steel, now more like the Man of Soft, Bruisable Flesh, takes a beating, but he eventually manages to knock the former dictator out, twisting his ankle badly in the fight.  It’s a fun scene, as Superman has to work much harder than he’s used to because he doesn’t have his powers, yet he still triumphs through force of will.  I rather prefer the Bruce Timm approach to the character, though, which stipulates that everything Superman does requires great effort, but that’s really a matter of taste.

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Unfortunately, the Flash also catches a ricochet blast from the gun, rendering his legs temporarily paralyzed.  This leaves both heroes unable to walk, but, as the Flash declares in grand heroic fashion, they can still crawl!  They set out, dragging themselves desperately towards the Phantom Zone criminals’ headquarters, where they hope to find the controls for the Anachronids.  Never one to let the weight of the universe resting on his shoulders get him down, the Scarlet Speedster declares to his not-so-super partner that they “began this thing as a race-remember?  Well, we’re still racing–and I’m still determine to beat you!”  That is just a great sequence, and it just wonderfully captures the indomitable heroic spirit of these two characters, Flash in particular, with his cheerful, hopeful personality.

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Next, O’Neil briefly checks back in with Jimmy as he awaits the headman’s axe, just to add a little more tension to the situation.  Back in the future, the two exhausted, injured heroes, arrive at the headquarters and encounter Jax-Ur and the Professor playing six dimensional chess (!).  The Flash throws a rock to distract them, and then, using a last burst of speed, the pair rush the villains and knock them out.  With just thirty seconds left until the the universe is shattered, the heroes drag themselves up the steps of the control center, and the Flash pulls the shut-off lever with only moments to spare.

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Exhausted, he declares somewhat sheepishly, “Hey!  Guess what?  I won!”  That’s right, the Flash won the race…after a fashion.  This sets everything to rights, as the Anachronids decelerate and disintegrate, not being able to survive at sub-light speeds.  Jimmy is yanked back through time just in the nick, as the axe descends.  Just then, Kru-El dashes into the control center with a gun, but the sun has just turned once more, giving the Man of Steel back his powers.  He decks Kru-El and destroys their machinery.  Then he takes Flash home, noting that he’ll get the Guardians to help him seal this dimensional breach.

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Well, this is a great two-parter.  This second half doesn’t have the rapid pace and non-stop action of the first, but it is still a lot of fun.  I love the heroes’ grit, reduced to crawling, and yet refusing to give in.  They persevere and succeed pretty much entirely on moxie alone.  It’s a lovely character moment for the two of them.  The story does have a few little weaknesses, some breaks in logical consistency, like Superman taking out Kru-El easily, despite the fact that the villain now has super powers too.  The wrap-up is really a bit too brief, and it seems that O’Neil may have run out of room.  Still, the story is so much fun, and the adventure, both for the heroes and for time-tossed Jimmy, is so satisfying, that I’m not too bothered by such things.  Once again, Dillin’s artwork is really strong, standing in particular contrast to the stiff and lackluster work from this month’s JLA.  By the way, Bronze Age Jimmy is growing on me as a character.  He’s proving resourceful, courageous, and capable.

Speaking of Jimmy, his encounter with the Inquisition gives O’Neil a chance to bring in a little social consciousness, as the youthful reporter notes that the fanaticism and cruelty of Torquemada didn’t die out in the Middle Ages (in fact, it was generally way more common in the Renaissance), but continues to live on in the modern day.  We certainly still see plenty of that kind of viciousness and irrationality in our own time.  It is a fine little note, but it would have been more effective if he could have connected it to the main plot more directly.  I think there’s an angle to be worked there with the Phantom Zone villains, but c’est la vie.  In the end, this is just an all around enjoyable comic yarn.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen, with the the Flash’s unflappable good cheer helping overcome its weaknesses.  I just had a blast reading both of these stories.

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Final Thoughts:


And that, my dear readers, is the end of the first year of our journey Into the Bronze Age!  It’s taken a tad more than a year of real-time, but hopefully the next will move a little more quickly!  Either way, I am very excited to have completed an entire year of this project, having read most of the superhero books published by DC Comics for 1970.  It’s been a fascinating journey, and we have watched the Bronze Age grow before our very eyes.  We’ve seen Silver Age tropes grow a little more rare, but more importantly, we’ve seen a revolution taking place in the pages before us, as the cardboard characters of the Silver Age began to grow, developing unique personalities (some of those more pleasant than others…I’m looking at you, Ollie).  We’ve seen Denny O’Neil absolutely everywhere, jumping from book to book to book, constantly innovating, often failing, at least in part, but arguably succeeding more often than not.  I’m really blown away by how large a role he’s played in these early days of experimentation and evolution.  Clearly, the Bronze Age at DC owes a great deal to that man, and even if his writing is sometimes heavy handed and pedantic, the fellow did some amazing work.  It’s easy to credit later works for being more sophisticated than their predecessors, but it is important to remember that the former wouldn’t exist without the pioneers who came before.

Over the last year of comics, social consciousness themes have grown from occasional influences trumpeted, often solely, in the books being penned by Denny O’Neil, to showing up just about everywhere, even in the most conservative of DC’s offerings, like the Superman titles.  The most immediate and marked change, is of course, in Batman, who has evolved quickly and more consistently than most.  He’s already begun to resemble the ‘grim avenger of the night’ version of the character that is the pure expression of the concept, at least for my money.  Books like Aquaman are serving as sources of innovation, both in art and story, and a spirit of change seems to be in the air.  Interestingly, even the fans notice it, and many of the letters of the latter part of the year have talked about the ‘character revolution’ or something similar, going on at DC, calling for the same process to be applied to characters not yet affected.

I would say by December 1970, the Bronze Age was well and truly on the way.  The change between the first and last month is really quite marked, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds!  First, what about this month itself?

We’ve had a lot of solid stories and a few strong stand outs.  This month’s comics have featured two different takes on the growing political involvement of America’s youth.  We’ve also seen multiple instances of real-life events influencing and inspiring this month’s comics, from the student march in Cleveland being reflected in Robin’s tale to the cultural anxiety around the rise of Satanism being reflected in the Flash’s macabre plot.  In general, I think there has been a slight uptick in stories with supernatural elements, with Flash, Kid Flash, Batman, and, of course, the Phantom Stranger all facing occult menaces this month.

All-in-all, I’d call that a pretty fitting end to a good year of comics, and I hope that you’ll join me soon as we race back through time on our Cosmic Treadmills to peer into 1971!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Only Aquaman joins our distinguished company on the wall of shame this week, though we had several very close calls, more than we’ve had before, I believe.  There you go, folks, an entire year of head-blows.  It seems Aquaman’s reputation of getting knocked out as regularly as Philip Marlowe is probably deserved.  Hopefully things will improve for my favorite hero in the next year.

Into the Bronze Age: October 1970 (Part 6)

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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!

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 #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.


Superman #230


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“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.

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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.

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I am become Jor-El, destroyer of worlds…

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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


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“Captives!”
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Final Thoughts:


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:

Aquamanhead.jpgBatmanhead.jpgshowcase-88-fnvf-jasons-quest0robin2 - Copy.jpgPhantom_Stranger_05.jpgrobin2 - Copy.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgAquamanhead.jpg3072564469_1_3_hCmU7jwq.jpg

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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!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1970 (Part 2)

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Time for the second iteration of August 1970!  Join me as we examine the next few books on our list.  This time we have some Batman and some Teen Titans, as we actually have some internal continuity this month that I’m following.

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #391
  • Aquaman #52
  • Batman #224
  • Teen Titans #28
  • Detective Comics #402
  • The Flash #199
  • Justice League #82
  • Phantom Stranger #8
  • Showcase #92
  • Superman #229
  • World’s Finest #195

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

Batman #224

Batman_224.jpg“Carnival of the Cursed”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artist: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

This tale is a bit unusual in two ways.  First, it takes the Gotham Knight out of his usual haunts and sends him down towards my old stomping grounds on the Gulf Coast, specifically, New Orleans at the ever-popular setting of Mardi Gras.  Second, it depicts Batman as a big jazz fan, which struck me as a little odd.  It’s hard to imagine the Dark Knight as a music lover.  Nonetheless, it is actually his musical taste that provides the impetus for this little yarn which begins with the murder of a famous jazz trumpet player called “Blind Buddy” Holden.  His killers were searching for something, something they did not find.  The news reaches our hero reading the paper in costume, which also strikes me as trifle weird, and in a short, silent sequence that isn’t too shabby we see that it does not leave him unmoved.

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We travel down to New Orleans, a mysterious and lively city, one that is well suited to provide a distinctive and exciting locale for a comic story.  By this point, I imagine I’ve read quite a few Batman comics set in the Big Easy.  A rainy evening sports an “old-fashioned jazz funeral” for Holden, but the procession is interrupted by a gang of masked men.  Unfortunately for them, Batman is actually disguised among the mourners, and he lays into them, only to be felled by the acrobatic arrival of a freakish looking fellow that resembles Quasimodo’s tougher brother.  He calls himself Moloch and he proves to be a very tough physical opponent for the Caped Crusader, possessing a freakish strength and speed.

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Nonetheless, the Dark Knight manages to route him with the help of the crowd, but Moloch gets away with unbelievable leaps and bounds across the rooftops.  I suppose at this time, Batman doesn’t have the cool, powered grappling gun he later adds to his arsenal.  I wonder when that first made an appearance.  Anyway, this sequence is a neat one, with lots of local flavor.  Novick’s art is a little too lacking in background detail to really take advantage of the setting, but there are a few touches that show this is not just a generic city.  We’ll get one big set piece which takes full advantage of the setting at the climax of the tale, though.

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The funeral procession finishes its grim, though very stylishly handled task, and Holden’s horn is buried with him.  Batman224-09.JPGAfterwards, the Dark Detective overhears an argument between the musician’s friend and a wheelchair-bound man named Macob, whose aide the crime-fighter recognizes as a known hood.  Apparently the heavily muffled Macob wants to buy the dead horn man’s possessions, but his friends refuse, no matter the price.  Batman decides that there is something fishy about this fellow, so he plans to try and spook him.  Here’s another odd little moment.  Our hero, in full costume, goes into a bookstore and makes a purchase.  Sadly, we don’t get to see the clerk’s reaction to having the Caped Crusader walk into his shop.  One wonders if he has a utility belt compartment for his wallet.  Well, the book is sent to Macob, and when he opens it, out flies a bat, a warning from the Batman!

His aide is shaken, but Macob remains resolute.  He must have what he’s after, and he formulates a plan!  Later that night, Batman discovers that Holden’s friend has been kidnapped and is being held at an old riverboat moored at the dock.  Interestingly enough, these days there are several restored river boats that make regular cruises from NO, complete with live jazz music aboard some of them.  I wonder if any of those were operating back in ’70.  Back to our fictional Big Easy, our hero uses the cover of a Mardi Gras parade, which somehow just materializes on the empty docks (I’m guessing these guys have never actually been to Mardi Gras) to slip aboard unnoticed.

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Once on the ship, he takes out the goons, but the Dark Knight is brought up short by Macob himself, threatening the hostage with a gun.  Distracted, Batman is knocked out and awakens to find himself tied to the ship’s giant paddlewheel.  In classic death-trap fashion, the villain has set the ship in motion, which will slowly, revolution after revolution, drown the masked hero.  Convinced that escape is impossible, Macob indulges in the cliche to the hilt and leaves his victim to his fate.

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To his credit, it almost works.  The Caped Crusader has it pretty bad, and he’s completely unable to break the ropes or stop the spinning of the wheel.  Of course, Macob left the hero his utility belt, so it really should have been a simple matter.  Nevertheless, by catching a steel cable in his teeth and tossing it around the rotating wheel, Batman manages to break the mechanism and escape in suitably dramatic fashion.  The sequence is pretty solid and provides for an exciting episode.  There’s a nice little bit at the end as the hero, indomitable and undeterred, dives into the river to pursue his quarry.  However, he’s spotted by a seaman on a Coast Guard cutter, and the young man asks to be excused from duty because he’s seeing giant bats!

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The climax comes as Batman confronts Macob, who reveals himself to be the twisted Moloch, while the villain is digging up the musician’s grave in order to recover his horn.  It seems that the horn’s previous owner had discovered an oil deposit and scratched a crude map on the instrument, passing it on right before his death, though Holden never knew what he possessed.  Moloch is, as the name implies, after wealth, so he wants the map, but the Dark Knight is determined not to let him have it.  The greedy ghoul actually beats the Batman, only to be chased away by nearing police sirens.  Their battle then spills out of the graveyard (in which graves are IN the ground rather than on top of it, a mistake for the setting, which is below sea level), and into the street, choked with Mardi Gras revelers.

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The Caped Crusader finally gets a good shot in, knocking the self-styled god of wealth into the lap of the true master of wealth, Satan, a statue dominating a float.  It’s a rather striking image, and a nice ending to the fight.  There’s a bit of subtlety in the scene, as O’Neil lets the art speak for itself, not feeling the need (surprisingly) to beat us over the head with the symbolism and the message.  The issue ends on a bittersweet note as the crime-fighter discovers the horn, broken and trampled by the celebrating Mardi Gras crowds.

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This is a solid tale.  It isn’t fantastic, but it has some style and some good moments.  The villain gets a little development, mostly in his last big speech about how he’s dedicated himself to acquiring wealth, but there isn’t really much to him.  The whole jazz element of the story is fun, and I’m guessing that Denny O’Neil was a bit of a fan.  In the same vein, the New Orleans setting for the tale was enjoyable and distinctive, even if it wasn’t executed perfectly.  It added a certain flair to the story that helped to bring it up above the rank and file of such tales.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Teen Titans #28

teen_titans_vol_1_28“Blindspot”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Dick Giordano

We’re going to do something a bit different today and change up the review order because the events of this Titans issue actually precede those of the Robin backup in Detective Comics.

As for this issue itself, all I can say is, ‘hooray!’  First off, check out those credits: we’ve got half the SAG team lending their considerable talents to this book, and who do we have instead of Jim Aparo?  Why, Nick Cardy, of course!  He continues to lend his considerable talents to the comic, but unlike previous issues, this one not only LOOKS good, it also IS good.  You can’t ask for much better than that, and this issue is just plain beautiful, even for Cardy, with some really neat layouts and pages.  This by itself is cause for celebration, as you just know we’re in for something great, but even more so, this month’s offering serves as the first step in reversing the bizarre and pointless direction of the last few issues.  Plus, just look at that awesome cover.  I love the Batman Family, but there is that (hopefully small) part of me that likes to see them taken down a peg, the part of all of us that grins when the strong man stumbles.  It’s mixed here with my enjoyment of seeing Aqualad make good, despite the disregard with which he’s been treated by this book and the general lack of respect the character tends to receive in the world at large.  Skeates clearly got the Prince of the Seas, though, and he handles him to good effect here.

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Our tale begins with a beautiful, moody, and visually creative sequence in which a girl walking through the park observes something she shouldn’t have and is pursued by armed hoods who attempt to silence her.  She escapes, but she loses her purse, and the gunmen lose no time in tracking her to her home.  Fortunately for the young lady, who is revealed to be Sharon Tracy, Donna (Wonder Girl) Troy’s roommate, a mysterious but remarkable visitor happens to drop by at that moment.  The figure, clad in classic trenchcoat and fedora combo has groped his way to her apartment from the docks, and when the would-be killers burst in to finish their job, the visitor is revealed to be the young Aquatic Ace, Aqualad, long absent from these pages!  I love seeing the sea-going heroes walking around on dry land in the classic hat and trenchcoat disguise.  It just looks cool.  Never let anyone say that the Aquatic Aces don’t have style in spades!  Plus, what other opportunities do these heroes, who have no secret identities, have to do the whole ‘rip off their disguise and leap into action’ bit.  It makes for some dynamic images and it’s just plain fun.

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Well, doing just that, the young Marine Marvel handily disarms and whips the two thugs without batting an eye, the first of several great action sequences he receives.  He really seems capable and cool-headed, young, but nonetheless skilled.  You are probably going to get sick of hearing me praise the art by the time you finish this commentary, but I’m afraid I can’t help myself.  Cardy just produces page after lovely page, draped in shadow and exuding style and drama.  It’s simply gorgeous, and I probably enjoyed the art of this book more than I have any of the others for several months.

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The malefactors put to route (rather forcefully, as Aqualad knocks them through a window!), the teen hero checks on the young lady.  He finds her stunned and frightened, but unharmed.  He comforts her, but it seems that the terror of the evening’s adventures have caused the lovely Miss Tracy to block out what, exactly, she saw that started all of this.  The teen Marine Marvel had come to the building looking for Wonder Girl, as he hasn’t been able to contact any of the Titans for weeks (because of their pointless undertaking with Mr. Jupiter), but he, being the gallant type, is unable to ignore a damsel in distress, so he takes her to Titan HQ where she can safely hide out while he tries to get a hold of the team.

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Cardy certainly draws lovely, soulful-eyed ladies

The only Titan whose location Garth knows for sure is Dick Grayson, so he heads upriver to the Teen Wonder’s college campus, but as the young Atlantean is trying to figure out how he can find Dick’s dorm, he encounters the man himself, right in the middle of an energetic donnybrook with several thugs.  Aqualad dives right in, taking out two of the antagonists in his first rush, and then the two friends dispatch their opponents, who turn out to be members of a car-jacking ring that Robin was tracking, in a lovely sequence that really lets both of them shine.

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The Titans have a pleasant conversation as they bust heads, which also helps to illustrate just how routine this whole bit is for them, a nice touch.  I love this scene, and Cardy illustrates the action with great energy and style.  I especially enjoy the last blows, as Robin and Aqualad play ping-pong with a thief’s face, leading to the Atlantean teen dispatching the fellow with just a flick of his fingers.  Cardy even manages to give each character a unique fighting style, with Aqualad clearly more of a bruiser and Robin delivering precise karate chops.  It’s great fun.

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Robin warns the visiting hero that the other Titans are in something of a weird place, and he advises his friend not to expect any help from them.  Garth is sure that, once they hear his story, they’ll be willing to pitch in.  However, when he joins his teammates and tells his tale, they are unyielding, insisting that they’ve taken a vow never to use their powers again.  Now here we find one of the only weaknesses of this issue, as Aqualad goes from cheerful to raging in nothing flat.  I know he’s a bit of a hot head, but this is really rather much.  He does have what I consider a perfectly reasonable reaction to the nonsensical excuses of the other Titans, though, as he calls them cowards, along with a few dozen synonyms!  As you’d imagine, Hawk doesn’t take that too kindly, and when Robin gets between the two, Aqualad belts the Teen Wonder right in the face!

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It’s a great image, but it doesn’t really make much sense.  After all, Robin is the one guy NOT acting like an idiot, but I suppose we’re supposed to understand that Garth is just too angry to think straight.  Or that someone really just wanted to see Aqualad deck Robin.  To Dick’s credit, he just takes the blow and still remains the cooler head.  The Titans tell their missing member their story, but he implores them to at least come listen to Sharon Tracy’s troubles.

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They agree, and we once again see the team back in costume!  Even more exciting and surprising, Lilith actually does something useful!  I know, I couldn’t believe it either!  Sharon still can’t remember what she saw, so Lilith uses her vaguely defined powers (now becoming a little less so), to tap into the memory, and we are rewarded with the most creative and striking page in the entire book, as Lilith travels through the girl’s mind to find the fateful event.  It’s a beautiful image, with Lilith’s face forming the center and her hair streaming out to form panel borders.  What a unique design.  My wife remarked that it looked like a Jimmy Hendrix poster, and it has a similarly psychedelic feel, yet it is nevertheless an effective piece of storytelling.

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We discover that Sharon came across three men in the park, three men apparently in the employ of…Ocean Master!  Now that’s a twist, and an interesting one.  What’s more, one of them shoots another with a strange ray that turns the unremarkable looking fellow into a bizarre, bug-eyed monster!  Lilith relays her findings, but the other Titans are still hung up on their foolish vow (shades of the Grail Quest…but without the pathos…or the interest…or the stakes…so…not that much like the Grail Quest, I suppose…).  Aqualad has had enough of their nonsense, so he heads off to tackle Ocean Master by himself!  You certainly can’t fault the kid’s courage.

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Handsome fellow, isn’t he?

Here we get a really neat sequence that almost subverts some of our expectations but is quite awesome nonetheless.  Aqualad goes to the scene of the crime to see if he can pick up some clues.  While there, he takes a classic head-blow, but don’t add him to the list too quickly!  Our young hero is tougher than he looks, and he comes up swinging (or kicking, as the case may be) when he realizes that he’s been jumped by Orm and his henchmen.  We even get a nice reminder that Atlanteans are hardier than surface folk, though Skeates apparently forgets this when convenient.

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I love this action montage, as the physically smaller Aqualad absolutely takes it to his larger opponents.  It’s a great image, and it really cranks up the scale of his accomplishment.  The Prince of the Seas does more than hold his own, laying into the whole gang and putting them all on the ropes before…darn it, a lucky blow from behind puts him out.  We were SO close.  Yep, Garth earns himself a spot on the wall of shame, as this definitely fits our Head-Blow Headcount.

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My favorite part has got to be the backhand in the middle

The tale ends with a nice villain moment as Orm, who we should remember just experienced an existential crisis when he discovered he had attempted to kill his brother, callously declares that Aqualad is no kin of his, and thus, he has no compunctions about murdering the youth.  He orders his men to tie their captive to a tree to let him die a slow death by dehydration.  It’s a solid moment of characterization and continuity.  It reminds us that, though Orm may have some lines he wouldn’t willingly cross, he is still a villain, much like that ambiguous speech of his in the Deadman backup.  Of course, we are assured, this is not The End!

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I just flat out loved this issue.  It is such a breath of fresh air after the maddeningly pointless and just plain stupid storylines of the previous comics in the series.  What’s more, it brings back one of my favorite characters, Aqualad, in great fashion.  The youthful Atlantean comes off very well in this issue, routinely handling entire groups of opponents, and even taking on one of his mentor’s greatest foes one-on-one, and winning (for a while)!  Though Skeates leans a bit too heavily on his hot-headed temper, you still couldn’t help but be impressed by the character’s skill and courage in this story.  We also finally have someone question what the heck the Titans are doing and call them out on being foolish and throwing away their gifts, which is very welcome.  The art is, as I’ve constantly remarked, just flat-out beautiful throughout.  Cardy brings a great, moody, dynamic feel to the story with his inking, and he draws some of the best looking action we’ve seen lately.  Even Lilith manages to be tolerable, even useful!  That’s saying something.  In the end, Aqualad’s moment of irrational anger is the only real flaw, but it’s enough to hold the issue from a perfect score.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen, which is still darn good!

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P.S.: I cheated a bit and looked ahead, and it seems that we get to enjoy Skeates’ story-spinning for several more months, which is just fine by me!  I’m quite looking forward to next issue, which is something I’ve never yet said about this Titans book.  Interestingly, the letters page indicates that the readers were also quite dissatisfied by this sudden and ridiculous turn of the Titans’ direction, and Giordano hastens to assure them that we’ll see the team back in better action soon.  I wonder if either A) the reader response was so overwhelmingly negative that the editor changed the direction, B) he himself realized that what Kanigher was doing was terrible, or C) some mixture of the two.  It does seem that we’re seeing a very sudden departure, and I’m curious as to what caused it.  If this was planned all along, it makes the whole Mr. Jupiter plot even more pointless.

 

Well dear readers, that is going to do it for this post.  I hope you enjoyed the read and will join me soon for the next edition as we travel further Into the Bronze Age!  Next time we will see the triumphant return of the Macabre Manbat, more Robin, plus the Fastest Man Alive!

The Head-Blow Headcount:

Aquamanhead.jpgBatmanhead.jpgshowcase-88-fnvf-jasons-quest0robin2 - Copy.jpgPhantom_Stranger_05.jpgrobin2 - Copy.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgAquamanhead.jpg3072564469_1_3_hCmU7jwq.jpg

Well, Aqualad joins the not-so-august membership on the Wall of Shame, adding his noggin to the Head-Blow Headcount.  He could still take some solace from the fact that his mentor was there before him…twice…as was Robin!

Into the Bronze Age: February 1970 (Part 1)

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So, we’ve gotten through January, and now it is time to tackle February 1970!  Let’s see what this month has in store for us.

Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #385
  • Aquaman #49
  • Batman #218 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Batman #219
  • Detective Comics #396
  • Flash #194
  • Justice League of America #78
  • Phantom Stranger #5
  • Showcase #88
  • Strange Adventures #222
  • Superman #223
  • Superman #224
  • Teen Titans #25
  • World’s Finest 191

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others in the next.

Action Comics #385

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Cover Artists: Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos
Editor: Mort Weisinger

Ohh, time travel in the Silver Age…

For some reason, every hero had to time travel, just as they all had to do everything in tandem.  Everyone made at least one movie (how amazing must superhero movies have been in the DCU?), everybody got a sidekick, everybody got a weakness, everyone adopted a pet, and so on and so on.  Another of those tropes that was endlessly repeated in the Silver Age was time travel.  I generally find the Silver Age synchronicity and the stock plots rather charming, but the time travel stories leave me cold.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against time travel stories per se, but there is a weird trend in Silver Age DC stories where most of the main characters not only occasionally time traveled, but also took regular trips to a particular era in order to adventure in that time, as if there wasn’t enough bizarre craziness to be found in a current-day universe that was packed with aliens, super-science, magic, and lost civilizations!

Green Lantern, Flash, and Superman all did this.  Green Lantern even had a future girl friend on the side, but Flash topped that with a wife who turned out to actually be from the future in one of the most bizarre and confusing retcons of Silver/Bronze Age history.  (We’ll get there.)  Superman, of course, had the Legion, and while I have come to like them, I don’t much care for Superman’s involvement.  He tends to overshadow the other characters, especially Ultra Boy and Mon-El with their similar power-sets.  Having Superman, at least the Silver Age Superman, in a team book is always a dicey prospect, as he’s just so powerful that he tends to make other great characters superfluous.  Good writers could deal with that challenge quite well, but that wasn’t always the case.

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Nonetheless, this particular adventure is not one of Superman’s Legion jaunts.  Instead, it’s a time-travel tale to a ‘new’ future, one involving the year 101,970!  Now that’s the far future!  This issue opens with Superman meeting with the President, who remains in shadow in classic comic form, preventing the real world from crashing in too much.  I’ve always liked the practice of keeping real-world parallels at arms length.  The DC or Marvel Universes should be LIKE our world, but not too close, for my money.  That’s one of the reasons I love the concept of the DCU’s fictional cities.

The President tells Superman that the army is mucking about with something called the “Vortex Experiment,” and that he needs the Man of Steel not to go messing with time travel for the next 24 hours or it might upset the experiment.  Personally, I’d be more than a little concerned about the government, especially the military, doing anything that interacts with the space-time continuum, but I suppose that’s just me.

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Supes promises that he’ll stick in the present, which is probably a bigger sacrifice than it sounds like to a sane person, and heads back to the Fortress of Solitude.  There, much to his surprise, he encounters a gigantic robotic hand writing on the golden door of the Fortress.  I can’t say for certain, but I’d be willing to bet that at least a good chunk of this book exists just to provide an excuse to create that image.  Shades of Daniel!  Yet, the finger writing on the wall is not that of God, nor is the message nearly so portentous.  Instead, “the moving finger writes” that his help is needed in the distant future.  One might stop to question how in the blue blazes people in the year 101,970 could POSSIBLY know about Superman, much less be able to contact him directly, but then one is really overthinking this very Silver-Agey plot.

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The Man of Tomorrow (a particularly fitting sobriquet in this tale) remembers his promise and uses a defective Legion Time-Bubble rather than time travel himself, so that he doesn’t upset the Army’s experiment that is almost certainly not going to unleash untold horrors upon the universe or destroy the space-time continuum….where was I?  Right, the story’s deus ex machina, which is fittingly enough an actual machina, takes Superman 100,000 years in the future, but there’s a problem!  Because of the defective Time-Bubble, Superman also AGES 100,000 years!  Yet, because of his super-ness, the Man of Steel doesn’t look a day over 65.  That takes ‘aging well’ to a new extreme!

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After all that set-up, I’m afraid the actual story is fairly mundane.  Why have the denizens of this dizzily distant future brought Superman all the way to their remote era?  Is it to fight some universe destroying menace (perhaps one released by the U.S. military in 1970)?  Is it to save them from some vast cosmic catastrophe?  Is it to battle some merciless alien race that is steam-rolling across the stars?  No.  They reached 100,000 years into the past to summon Superman in order to…catch a bank robber.

Yep, you read that right.  Apparently the space-future equivalent of Fort Knox is losing money, and these future folk can’t figure it out.  They lock the Last Son of Krypton in the vault, where he discovers that an energy creature has been hiding in the very defenses of the vault itself and munching on money every night when the room is sealed.  The conflict is actually a pretty nice one.  Superman can’t hurt the creature, as it is has no real physical form, but it can hurt him, so he just outruns it all night until the vault opens again.  Since he can’t defeat the crackling critter by throwing punches, the Action Ace uses his brain and comes up with a plan.  He noticed that the monster ate only warm colored space-money, so he used a paint gun to trick the creature into eating blue money, thus destroying it.

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I love how in the Silver Age, writers seem to regard color as an integral part of the make-up of matter, like mass or elemental composition.  If something was “blue” or “yellow,” it meant that it had inalienable qualities, rather than just absorbing and reflecting certain wavelengths of light.  They did this ALL THE TIME in Green Lantern, where he would find objects that were yellow in nature, despite having been painted another color or the like, and thus completely immune to his ring.  Think about that for a moment.  His ring wouldn’t work on an object that was, say, red, because it was actually secretly yellow the whole time!  It’s so utterly crazy, but it was a pervasive idea, I’ve noticed.

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Anyway, Superman saves the space-future, but finds that he cannot return home!  Unbeknownst to him, the old Legion foe, the Time-Trapper has sealed-off The Man of Steel’s home time.  Unable to escape, the Man of Tomorrow heads to the future Earth to see what’s what, where he encounters some difficulties because there is apparently a criminal gang who have stolen his act!

Long story short (too late by far!), Superman is gassed by some future heroes, passes out, and awakens to discover that his few weaknesses have all disappeared, and he is now truly invulnerable.  Yet, rather than be elated at this news, all Supes can think about is how everyone he’s ever known and loved is dead in the distant past.  Yep, that will put a damper on a party really quick.

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This scene really drives me bonkers, as it demonstrates another of those fundamental misunderstandings that have stuck with Superman over the years.  Somehow he has been made invulnerable to magic, as if this were just an extension of his normal invulnerability, but he doesn’t really have a WEAKNESS to magic.  Superman’s invulnerability is physical.  He’s really, really tough, but non-physical attacks, like mental and magical attacks, can harm him because they have nothing to do with that physical toughness.  He only seems “vulnerable” to magic in comparison, but he’s not more vulnerable to magic than I am to, say, a sword in the gut, which is to say, normally vulnerable.

Wow.  I’ve spent way more time on this little story than it really merited.  Anyway, I liked the actual conflict of the tale, and the involvement of the Time Trapper has promise, but the silliness of the time travel elements, the magic vulnerability nonsense, and the over-all Silver Age-ness of the story knocks it down a peg for me.  It’s not a bad story, but it’s also not a good story.  I give it 2.5 Minutemen out of 5.

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“The Fallen Starboy”

ac_385_20.jpgThat brings us to the backup feature of this comic, as well as the real star tale of this book, The Legion of Super-Heroes.  This story is really a nice inversion of the previous month’s offering.  In that by the numbers yarn, Dream Girl had a vision of a Legionnaire’s death, and the heroes struggled to prevent it.  This month’s back-up also involves the heroes trying to fight against fate, but this time it is the villains who have the visions!  Star Boy heads to his home planet with Saturn Girl and Colossal Boy to investigate a series of robberies by a gang that always seems to be one step ahead of the authorities.

The Legionnaires decide to escort the next shipment of valuable goods, hoping to ambush the thieves with the help of Saturn Girl’s telepathy, but they are ambushed in turn!  It seems the raiders were prepared for Saturn Girl with anti-telepathy helmets (I wonder if they stole those from Magneto…)!  It’s almost as if they knew she was going to be there!

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The Legionnaires put their heads together to try to figure out what happened, and Star Boy conveniently figures out that the raiders must be from Dream Girl’s home planet and be able to dream the future.  It’s a bit of a jump, but I suppose we can give it to them since they do know someone with those exact powers and it does fit as a rather neat explanation of the facts.

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Incidentally, it seems to me that such a race of people would be down-right unstoppable.  Though, it now occurs to me that just last issue the Legionnaires were facing the inevitability of Dream Girl’s visions, completely unable to change the future she had seen, yet these crooks seem to be able to see the future and make adjustments!  Whoops, that doesn’t quite line up, does it?

But to get back to our tale, we next check in with the villainous raiders and we discover that all of their robbing and pillaging was just bait to lure Star Boy home so that their leader, Yark Althu, could kill him in revenge for his brother!  We get a flashback to a deadly encounter wherein Althu’s brother murdered Star Boy’s friend and disabled his powers.  In desperation, the young Legionnaire grabbed a fallen gun and killed the fellow.  Wow.  They showed a Legionnaire use deadly force ON panel.  As far as I can tell, this isn’t from a previous issue, meaning that the writer, who I’m assuming is Bates, just tosses out the added twist that Star Boy is a killer in a three panel flashback in a BACKUP.  That’s quite a heavy revelation, and it is given absolutely no attention whatsoever!

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Well, the story ends with Star Boy being teleported into a trap by Althu, where the Master of Mass (patent pending) displays some really clever uses of his powers, despite the fact that the raiders have disabled the artificial gravity on their ship in order to render him helpless.  Star Boy keeps the gang off balance until the cavalry arrives, and the Legion win the day!

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All in all, this was a fun, solid Legion story.  It had a nice dilemma, clever solutions, and fit a lot in its few allotted pages.  The one real problem is the use of deadly force by Star Boy without so much as an eye-bat by ANYONE in the story.  I kept expecting it to be revealed that he hadn’t actually killed the guy, but nope, apparently Star Boy is perfectly willing to bust a space-cap in a villain whenever it seems necessary.  That sets a rather grim precedent for a 1970s comic book.  All-in-all, I give it 3 Minutemen out of 5.

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Aquaman #49

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Cover Artists: Nick Cardy
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

As most folks who know me know, my favorite comic character is Aquaman.  It wasn’t always thus.  When I was a kid, my unalloyed favorite was Batman, but I did always have a soft spot for the King of the Seven Seas. Part of that is due to the fact that he has always had a really neat and unique look.  What other hero is orange and green?  Another part of it is that he inhabits such an amazing and interesting world, though writers and artists haven’t always taken advantage of that fact.  You see, I’m a coastal boy, growing up in the islands and bayous of the Gulf Coast, sailing about in my little skiff since I was a kid, and living every minute I could on or in the water.  Folks used to say I was part fish, so naturally I was drawn to the guy who could talk to our “finny friends.”

I’ve always been fascinated by the sea, but I’ve also had her treat me badly enough often enough to have a very healthy fear of both the water and what is in it.  I’ve lived through half a dozen hurricanes, after all.  Thus, I’ve always loved the idea of this hero, this adventurer, that not only wasn’t afraid of the sea, but ruled it, completely and utterly.  Everything that lives and breaths underwater answers to him, and he is totally, completely at home under the waves, even more so than we are on land.  That is pretty darn cool.  If you can’t see the appeal of being able to breath and live underwater, then you’ve let the world beat too much of the wonder out of you.  Every kid who has ever sat on the bottom of a pool, holding their breath, and wishing they stay under forever knows that it is a universal dream, ancient and powerful.  Aquaman is the realization of that archetypal wish.

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Yet, that is only part of my love for the character.  Another significant reason is that I’ve always had a thing for underdogs.  Give me the character that is (unjustly) maligned.  Give me the hard-luck hero.  Give me the guy that just can’t catch a break.  I always see their potential, even when there isn’t all that much evidence around to engender faith in their underlying worthiness.  Aquaman is perhaps the best example of this tendency, though some of my other DC favorites like Hawkman and the Atom also fit the bill.

Aquaman has really had a hard time of it, though.  His book has been cancelled again and again, he’s become a cultural punch-line thanks to Super Friends, and his greatest enemy has become, not Ocean Master, not Black Manta, not even the Human Flying Fish, but DC Comics themselves.

You see, DC has, since the early 70s, apparently had it in for the Aquatic Ace.  Now, I’m not suggesting some actual mustache-twirling, monocle-wearing conspiracy, so you can put away the tinfoil hats, but it just seems like the company consistently makes the wrong choices about this character, often inexplicably.  They cancel his book when he’s selling well, they replace successful teams, they allow other media to mistreat and under-utilize the property, and weirdest of all, they publicly bad-mouth their own product.  It’s like they collectively have a spot of madness where Aquaman is concerned.  Of course, much of the blame for this attitude can be laid squarely at the feet of Super Friends.  For every Rob Kelly, of Aquamanshrine fame, out there, who grew to love the Marine Marvel in that show, there are a thousand more that learned to regard him as a joke or as useless.  Of course, he’s anything but, as any self-respecting DC fan can tell you.

HERE is a relatively brief Aquaman primer written by yours truly to educate those in the dark about this great character.

This particular comic is from right about the middle of what was, up until recently, arguably the best Aquaman run of all time.  It is lamentably short, and its cancellation is perhaps the best example of DC’s inexplicable strikes against their own character.  I’m talking, of course, of the legendary SAG run.  The SAG run is the set of issues by the team of Steve Skeates (writer par excellence), Jim Aparo (artist extraordinaire), and Dick Giordano (editor and guiding light).  They were a fantastic team, and under them Aquaman’s title, which had been slipping for years, started an impressive comeback.  They finally treated the Sea King with the respect he deserved, explored the wonders of his underwater realm, and took his villains and supporting cast in interesting and intriguing directions.  It wasn’t without its flaws, but these comics were Aquaman at the best he had ever been, for my money, and the best he would be for decades to come.  He was a heroic, likable character, an adventurer who did what was right regardless of the cost, traits very soon to be lost for some thirty years.  These stories are classic, Bronze Age comics at their finest.

Check out some of Aparo’s lovely splash pages from this run at Diversions of the Groovy Kind.

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This issue is not the best of the bunch, but even so, it’s a solid, fun read, bursting with potential like so many of the issues of this run.  It takes place shortly after the most famous story-line from the SAG run, “The Search for Mera,” wherein Aquaman tore through every kingdom under the sea in a hunt for his kidnapped wife.  It also saw unrest and revolution in Atlantis, defused only by the bravery of Aquagirl (a character that I sorely miss being part of the Aquaman mythos).  By the beginning of this story, however, things have begun to return to normal, and Aquaman and Aqualad are traveling in the frigid waters of Alaska to answer an emergency summons from an “old friend.”  It’s funny how our heroes have so many old friends that make one appearance and are never heard from again.  I guess superheroes are bad at keeping in touch…

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Well, the tale actually opens with a silent, moody sequence of a black-clad diver destroying a building, leading in to a beautiful title page.  Jim Aparo is one of my favorite artists of all time, and with the exception of the two astonishingly talented teams that have worked on Aquaman recently, Aparo’s work is hands-down the best version of Aquaman for my money.  Ivan Reis and Paul Pelletier have done amazing work in the new Aquaman series, creating some of the finest comic book art of all time, but nonetheless, Jim Aparo is a giant in his own right.  His work his this wonderful, flowing, liquid feel to it, and he is always doing something interesting with layout, position, and design.  I’m no artist, but even I can appreciate the sheer beauty of Aparo’s work.

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Back to the story!  Our heroes are ambushed by frenzied fish that won’t answer to Aquaman49_07.jpgAquaman’s telepathic commands, and they are soon fighting for their lives.  A strange figure in a diving suit shows up to help them, and it turns out to be Phil Darson, a somewhat enigmatic scientist and explorer who the Aquatic Ace had encountered some issues back.  It seems that the mysterious malady plaguing the fish is the reason Aquaman has been summoned to these cold climes.  The heroes meet up with Arthur’s “old friend,” Professor Davidson, and Aparo gives this briefly appearing, one-shot character a really distinct face.  One look at this guy and you get a sense of his personality.  He’s serious, grizzled, and worried, and we know this before he ever opens his mouth.  That’s the power of a good artist right there.

Anyway, Davidson fills the Aqua-team in about what has been going on.  Apparently factories in the area are poisoning the environment, and the fish with it, and a mysterious vigilante known as the Saboteur has been bombing the different businesses in retaliation.  It has been a violent but bloodless attack until recently, when a night watchmen was killed in a blast.  The exposition is nicely inter-cut with scenes of Saboteur striking again, and Aquaman rushes off to investigate.  The Marine Marvel catches up to the destructive diver before he can get away, and the shadowy figure fires a miniature torpedo at him!  Aquaman survives a near-direct hit (remember that for later), but the Saboteur gets away.

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The mystery continues to unravel, with the introduction of a fat-cat industrialist type who is having none of this ‘save the environment’ nonsense!  Not at the expense of HIS bottom line, you don’t!  He lays a trap for the Saboteur, planning to kill him quietly so that he can prevent an investigation that would reveal his nefarious doings.

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Cut back to Atlantis, and we get a brief, tense little scene between Mera and Ocean Master, who has apparently come in peace, complete with underwater white flag!  We get to see Mera being a capable, intelligent ruler here, as well as hints of something waiting in the wings.  Orm claims he needs to speak to Aquaman…but why?

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Back in Alaska, Aquaman and Aqualad have a discussion about whether or not Davidson might be the Saboteur, and it is handled rather nicely.  Instead of having this turn into a melodramatic, angsty teen-age drama, Arthur listens calmly to Garth’s thoughts, then he does the unthinkable.  He puts stock in what his partner says and agrees that they can’t afford to take anything for granted.  It’s a simple little exchange, but it shows the strength of the father-son bond between the two.  Leaving Aqualad behind to watch Davidson, the Aquatic Ace heads out to investigate the remaining factory and encounters the Saboteur!  This gives us a lovely little underwater scene that shows off Aparo’s skill.

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Note Deadman’s face in the rock, a fun little teaser of what is to come in book’s future

Aquaman49_26 - Copy.jpgHe follows the criminal, but it seems he breaks in on the factory owners planned ambush, and nobody is happy to see him!  In another close call, Aquaman takes shrapnel from a grenade that explodes practically on top of him.  That is two explosions he has survived, making him one tough son of a gun, right?  Well, then we see one of the weaknesses of this series, as he is taken out by a clot to the head, in true DC hero fashion.  I swear, if I had a penny for every time a DC hero is disabled by a blow the back of the head, I’d be living in my own underwater city….

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Anyway, this series mostly does a good job of showing how powerful, how tough, and how impressive Aquaman was, but every once in a while, they treat him just like a regular guy.  Still, we’re treated to a really nice panel of Aquaman waking, literally BATHED in flames, and non-the-worse for the fiery wear.  So, I suppose it isn’t all bad.  He comes to in time to see the factory owner and the Saboteur locked in combat at the edge of a cliff, and before he can reach them, over they go!  Aquaman makes his way down to the fallen Saboteur, and to no-one’s surprise, he discovers that it is the no longer quite so enigmatic Phil Darson under the mask.  He explains that he loved the ocean and couldn’t stand to see it destroyed, so he took action when the law wouldn’t.  He apologizes for attacking Aquaman, and the Marine Marvels are left in the falling snow, pondering the justness of his actions.

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So, I’m sure we all saw the reveal coming.  Phil Darson is the Chekhov’s gun of this particular story, the only piece that doesn’t fit without being found in the Saboteur’s flippers, but nonetheless, it’s a good story.  I think it’s a shame that Darson was killed off, as he was an interesting character, always showing up when least expected.  I would have liked to know more about what he had going on.  The tale is an unusual one for Aquaman, more moody mystery than undersea adventure, and it makes for a nice change of pace.  It is a little inconsistent with its treatment of Aquaman, and it really doesn’t give him or Aqualad all that much to do.  Still, it’s a neat story, and the art is excellent, as always.  This is only an average offering from the SAG team, but that still puts it a cut above average for most comics!  I’d give it 4 Minutemen out of 5.

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Batman #219

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Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano

Backup
Writer:Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano

This issue of Batman has two solid stories in it.  The first involves Bruce Wayne trying to get federal money to support his then current VIP (Victims Inc. Programs) undertaking.  That whole plotline loomed large in these middle years, but it doesnt’ seem to have amounted to much in the Bat-mythos.  Instead, as with so many comic characters, the elements that have stuck are those that were there in the beginning, or almost so, at least.  The skyscraper lair has been replaced by Wayne Manor and the Bat-Cave, and in general, those original concepts seem to have staying power.

But back to the story at hand.  Bruce is seeing a senator at his office who introduces him to a secretly visiting old warhorse of “our party.”  It’s hard to imagine Batman engaging  in partisan politics, so this was a minor little note that struck me as a more than a little off key.  It’s rather strange to see the Dark Knight engaged in politics to begin with, but that’s not the only offbeat bit of this story.

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Batman219-04.JPGThe Senator convinces Bruce to fly back to D.C. with him to help with a crime bill that’s supposed to really make waves, and on the way, the flight is hi-jacked by his political enemies!  In a nice little touch, the pilot seems, not scared as you’d imagine, but nonplussed and wearily resigned, if anything.  “Not another Havana Hijacker,” he says grumpily.  Apparently this period, from ’68-’79 is the “Golden Age of Skyjacking,” so I suppose this scene speaks volumes about the ubiquity, the almost hum-drum regularity of such events here in the Bronze Age.

What follows is a somewhat amusing comedy of errors with Batman switching between his Bruce Wayne and Caped Crusader identities.  First, in one of those other slightly sour notes I mentioned, Bruce takes on the skyjackers single-handedly, in full view of the public, unmasked.  Way to protect your secret identity there, Bats.

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He gets thumped on the head for his troubles (Another one!  I’m going to start a running tally) and thrown into the back of the plane.  He wakes up, uses a “Mae West,” which I did not realize is an inflatable life raft (who says comic books aren’t educational?) to fill his vacated civilian clothes, and sets out to take on the bad guys as Batman!  Then he…promptly gets knocked out…AGAIN!  The skyjackers toss Bats back with Bruce (!), fortunately not bothering to check on their other prisoner.  This does offer Batman a chance for a witty little rejoinder, though, so that’s something.

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Finally, Bats fools the villains with a few quick changes and has the Senator fake a heart-attack, hoping that these criminals don’t want him dead.  While flying to a nearby medic, the Batsuit rigged to that previously mentioned “Mae West” (Chekhov’s raft, apparently), springs out of a compartment and scares the skyjackers silly.  The Senator (and the other passengers, but who cares about them?) is saved, and we’re left with Bruce pondering an invitation to get into politics full time.

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This is a solid Bat-story, not particularly remarkable, but certainly not bad.  Bruce is a little too quick to take the bad guys on single-handed without his costume, especially considering the excellent job Bob Haney did (how often does someone say that about logical consistency?) just last month with a similar situation.  Still, this was fun, with a neat resolution.  I’ll give it an average 3 Minutemen.

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“The Silent Night of the Batman”

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The backup tale in this issue is the one I particularly enjoyed, which seems to be becoming a trend in these multi-part books.  It’s a simple but sweet little Christmas story.  It’s almost entirely silent, except for a strain of different Christmas carols moving through the pages.  There isn’t really all that much to the plot, and in this case, that’s not really a problem.  Commissioner Gordon tricks Batman into coming down to the precinct so he can force the Caped Crusader to take a night off.  He convinces the Dark Knight to stay and sing Christmas carols (!) until there is an emergency.  Batman, sure that something will momentarily go horribly wrong, begrudgingly agrees.  There’s an odd but funny little beat where the cops ask him to lend his “deep vocal chords” to their songs.

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We then travel around Gotham, seeing several moments where tragedy COULD strike, but doesn’t because of the Christmas spirit, along with a healthy dose of the spirit of Batman as well!  It’s a touching set of silent stories where people choose a better path, at least in part because they were inspired by Batman.  It’s a really a lovely expression of how the presence of heroes can improve the world, outside of their immediate actions.  Having truly virtuous, truly heroic figures to look up to can make us all better.  In the end, Batman wakes, having fallen asleep on a quiet, uneventful night.  It’s a good ending.  It is strange, even incongruous to see Batman singing Christmas carols, but it is charming and enjoyable nonetheless.

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I give this one 4.5 Minutemen out of 5.

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Detective Comics #396

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Executive Editor: Carmine Infantino
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Orchid-Crusher”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Murphy Anderson, Gil Kane
Editor: Julius Schwartz

This is an odd little tale, full of 60s-ness, and more than a little reminiscent of a Zany Haney script, but it has its moments nonetheless.  The issue opens with Bruce Wayne in his office having an “eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the ‘youth revolution'” as he reads NOW! Magazine, which apparently has a plot convenient cover story.  This is where I had to double check the credits to be sure this wasn’t a Bob Haney yarn.  detective396-02.jpgThe whole plot turns on the idea that there is this young whiz kid named Rory Bell who is a stock genius, and makes all of his business decisions while riding a motorcycle and talking to his secretary/girlfriend via “radio-phone”!  To add to the oddness of this concept, apparently a gang of crooks who are feeling a bit out of date decide that the best way to turn things around is to kidnap this kid and have him make a fortune on the market for them.  We are on page 2.

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It’s amazing how many concepts a minute these creative teams threw out back in the day.

So, these enterprising gangsters kidnap the kid, who, in a scene chock full of migraine inducing 60s slang, convinces these geniuses he “can’t make market decisions ‘less I’ve got this throbbing heap under me…and the wind blowing my mind!”  I don’t know about you, but I think that’s the kind of thing I’d keep to myself.  Just saying.

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Well, it just so happens that this fellow’s girl Friday is Bruce’s stock broker as well, and the kid sends an S.O.S. by ordering a number of uncharacteristic sales and buys.  When the broker discusses this with Bruce (isn’t that insider trading?), he deduces the pattern and sets out as Batman in a decent display of detective work.

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He ambushes the gangsters when they stop at a gas station, and almost puts them down before one of them grabs the kid as a hostage.  Batman drops a smoke pellet, and in the highlight of story, he fakes the gang out by sending the Batmobile tearing away under remote control so he can get the drop on them.

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There’s not a whole lot to this one.  It’s a solid enough story, but not a particularly good one.  It’s enjoyable for what it is, and all of the characters are given just enough personality to make them more than just moving pieces of scenery.  Still, it is more than a bit forgettable.  I give it 3 Minutemen.

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“The Orchid Killer”

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This Batgirl backup is interesting, though you really feel that the Robbins was a bit constrained by the 9 page limit.  The story opens with our lovely red-headed crime fighter having a nightmare about a mysterious killer that’s been haunting Gotham lately.  He’s known as the titular “orchid killer” because he always leaves a crushed orchid at the scene of each crime.  At this point in her history, Babs is a librarian, a reasonable if unexciting secret identity for a superhero, I suppose.  Librarians have interesting jobs, but it doesn’t seem like quite the vocation that Barbara Gordon should have.

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Employment aside, she stumbles upon a clue to the crime in a copy of The Femme Mystique, a computer punch card (how quaint!).  It seems to be a computer dating service quiz (I didn’t even know they HAD computer dating services in 1960) belonging to the latest victim!  It appears the books previous possessor was studying up on how to manipulate women (creepy!), and a passage about orchids is underlined.  Babs does some detective work, tracking the library book back to a man named Darren Thompkins.  He’s apparently skipped out of his boarding house, so Batgirl pays a visit to the computer dating service and sets a trap using herself as bait!

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In order to do so, she has to remorsefully brush young Jason Bard off.  It’s a nice moment of background and characterization, especially in a story as tightly plotted as this one.  Jason is a long-time part of Batgirl’s supporting cast, as I understand it.  While I like the character, I don’t like him being Babs’ love interest.  I’m an old romantic, I suppose, but I’ve always loved the pairing of Robin and Batgirl.  It just made perfect sense, and they complement each other excellently.  I would have read the heck out of a backup strip that featured both of them.

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detective396-23.jpgBack to our mystery.  Barbara gets a nibble, and her date is a mousy little fellow who seems harmless…until he offers her an orchid and moves in for a kiss.  Babs rebuffs his advances rather…decisively, and he storms off.  She follows, not quite sure if this is just natural frustration or something more sinister, and she loses him, only to be grabbed, apparently by the orchid killer himself!

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detective396-26.jpgThis backup ticks right along, but it manages to tell a complete story, so far as it goes, in only 9 pages.  I’m not quite sure what I think of the opening dream sequence.  It does establish a good, creepy tone and a sense of threat about this killer, but I wonder if that page could have been put to more effective use.  Nonetheless, packing all of that story into 9 pages is pretty impressive, and Robins does it very efficiently.  You get some characterization, some supporting cast, some civilian identity, some superheroing, and some detective work.  Not bad.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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The Flash #194

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Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

I really do love the Flash as a character, especially the Barry Allen version.  Yet, reading these Flash comics has routinely been one of the hardest slogs of my grand DC experiment.  It’s strange, I expected to love these comics.  After all, Flash has some of the best villains in the DC Universe, and I am a fan of Barry Allen himself.  I love that he is just a really decent, upright man, all other concerns aside.  He’s the only DC hero other than Hawkman that was a crime-fighter BEFORE he had super powers.  He was a police scientist, already having dedicated his life to protecting people.  It’s a great concept, and the Flash as a character is one as well.  Nonetheless, I routinely found this book to be pretty rough going.  I think it may be the most Silver Age-y book in the DC offerings other than the Superman and Batman titles.  There have been some good stories along the way, and this period has given us a whole Rogue’s Gallery of great villains (and some NOT so great ones *cough*TheTop*cough), but there has also been tons of Silver Age weirdness and general silliness.

Nonetheless, by this point Barry has settled into a pretty enjoyable status quo.  He and Iris are married, and Iris has gone from being occasionally downright insufferable to a genuinely likeable character.  That’s good, because DC love interests in the Silver Age had a hard time of it, often being portrayed as either bat-guano insane or downright mean.  You really had to wonder why the heroes were interested in such ill-tempered or unstable ladies.  It seems to me that a lot of readers hold those portrayals against those characters, but I try to avoid letting bad writing ruin a character for me when they have good potential, and Iris, as an independent career woman in the 60s certainly fits the bill.

This issue is, unfortunately, a weird story from the middle of a run of weird stories.  Remember all of those great villains the Flash has?  Well, don’t expect to see any of them anytime soon.  Instead, we get a dozen issues of random oddness.  This story is an incongruous tale of magic and mysticism that would be a much better fit for the Phantom Stranger than the Scarlet Speedster.  The cover is an interesting one, and you’re really left wondering what the heck is going to happen within this book.  Sadly, the story doesn’t quite live up to that mysterious beginning.  At the start, we find a seemingly confused young lady wandering the darkened streets of Central City, where she encounters the Flash fighting one of those delightful themed gangs that seemed to be all over the place in the Silver Age.  This is one little element of the period that I wished we still saw a bit more of.  This “Owl Gang” have some relatively neat costumes and some distinctive headgear that lets them blind the Wizard of Whiz, but he recovers too quickly for them and rounds them up without much trouble.

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Seriously, there are a bunch of these little themed gangs scattered through the pages of various DC books.  They don’t amount to much, and I am pretty sure 99% of them never make a return appearance, but I like the idea that even the fairly mundane criminals in a world of super-powered beings get in on the fun of costumes and gimmicks.  It makes the setting that much more fun and lively!  I wish that writers had kept these gangs around a bit more, replace some of the generic thugs that populate their pages with recurring appearances by the likes of the Owl Gang, or the Panther Gang from the Atom, etc.  I think that would have been interesting.
flash v1 194 0007.jpgAnyway, this young lady gets a bad fright during the fight and passes out, so the Flash naturally takes her to a hospital where professionals can take care of her and…wait…what?  No, no, no, don’t be silly.  Instead, at Iris’s insistence, he brings her to his home where he can more conveniently endanger his secret identity.  The girl awakes and calls the Scarlet Speedster “Daniel,” giving him a SUPER creepy look in the process.

Barry is naturally weirded out by this, and over the next day things continue to get stranger.  The girl awakes and insists that The Flash, who is still running around his actual house in costume, mind you, is her fiance, Daniel.  Even stranger, Barry begins to see visions of himself as this fellow, circa 100 years ago.  Iris digs up some history and an old photo that marks this Daniel guy as the spitting image of Barry himself.  The Allens begin to suspect that the girl is possessed by a restless spirit (naturally), and feel that their surmise is correct when they discover she has…*gasp* two shadows!flash v1 194 0016.jpg

Flash jumps to the only rational solution.  He has to fake marry the girl.  That’s right.  That’s the first thing he comes up with.  So, they go through with the ceremony, and instead of putting the spirit to rest, it somehow allows her to drag the Fastest Man Alive into some kind of bizarre Limbo along with her!

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This is where the story takes an even stronger term to the weird and where its use as a Flash yarn comes into serious question.  Flash finds himself trapped, besieged by demons, or spirits, or something, but luckily still possessing his super speed.  He attempts to race out of the strange dimension, but finds himself beset by threat after threat, including giant monsters and harpies.  If you’re thinking that it sounds like this mysterious spirit bride seems to drop out of the story, you’d be correct.  She literally just floats away  immediately after they find their way to Limbo…or wherever, making this tale feel even more disjointed.  Eventually Flash RUNS out of the afterlife.  I don’t mean that he vibrates himself to escape the dimension or anything.  I mean that he literally just runs to the edge of…wherever…and falls back into normal life.  Oookay.

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I like all of the crazy dimension-hopping antics of the Flash.  I love the idea that simple SPEED is such a versatile power.  I’m fine with such things, but this weird little episode is a bit much and, as I said, it just feels out of place as a Flash adventure.

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What’s more, this strange ‘afterlife’ he finds himself in is just really vague and boring. aristi Ross Andru does an okay with the weird creatures that inhabit it, but I just can’t help but find myself thinking about how interesting and exciting this same concept would have been if handled by somebody with the imagination of Jack Kirby.  The dimension would have been bursting with potential and personality, and as a reader you’d be left begging to see more of it, as likely as not.  Instead, his place is entirely forgettable, and I’m fairly certain we never see it again.

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This isn’t a BAD story, but it is definitely not a good one.  The action is moderately interesting, but the whole thing just makes such little sense and the limbo-realm is just so uninspired that I think I’ll give this one 2.5 Minutemen.

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Justice League #78

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Cover Artist: Gil Kane
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella

Now here’s one I’m excited about!  This is, by pure happy coincidence, the official beginning of the Satellite Era Justice League!  I didn’t realize that this issue would fall within my purview, but I’m glad it did.  After all, what better way to celebrate the Bronze Age than by chronicling the adventures of its most definitive team?  The Satellite Era Justice League is the group that most clearly encapsulates this period.  That incarnation begins here at the dawn of the the age, and it comes to its sad end just as the Bronze Age itself draws to a close in ’84.  It just so happens that the JLA are my all-time favorite comic team.  A child of the 80s, as any regular reader knows, I grew up watching re-runs of the Super Friends and playing Justice League with my friends.  We all had footie pajamas of our favorite heroes, and we’d put on those silly little Velcro capes and dash about, fighting the Legion of Doom or playing with those awesome Super Powers action figures.

These guys WERE the heroes of my child-hood.  I think I may have been vaguely aware of Spider-Man, Captain America, or the Hulk, but Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, those were the heroes that filled my imaginative hours, long summer days, and halcyon Saturday mornings.  I didn’t read many of the comics at the time, but I absorbed enough about these characters through other media to leave an indelible mark on my imagination.  They became the lens through which I understood the concept of the superhero.  That’s why, even though Super Friends is cringe-worthy for me these days, even though a lot of the classic comics are pretty painfully Silver-Agey at times, I will always have a soft spot for the DC Universe, but especially its heart and soul, the Justice League.

They are the Knights of the Round Table of superheroes, each powerful, noble, and impressive in their own right, but banded together in common cause, to make the world a better place, to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves, and to protect the Earth from threats too big for any one hero.  They are, collectively, what Batman and Superman are individually, the purest expressions of the archetypal nature of the superhero.  The League is like the old pantheons, powerful titans and godly figures of might, each presiding over their own demesne of skill and elemental purview.  Though an odd assortment, it has always seemed to me that they make a more coherent team than the Avengers.  I suppose that says something about the relatively uniform aesthetic of the core DC heroes.

Unfortunately, their stories have often not lived up to the quality of the concept.  I have regularly wondered how the Justice League book survived after Marvel started competing directly with their Avengers.  On average, the Avengers stories in the Silver Age were just so vastly better, you really have to wonder why folks stuck with the JLA.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the book endured, but it boggles the mind to think about.  And of course, just like Aquaman, this lack stellar storytelling in the critical Silver Age has been a weakness for the team going forward.  Whereas the Avengers ended up with a lot of great villains and concepts produced by that most fertile era, the League has always struggled for villains and challenges that really can serve as interesting threats for them.  The period that saw Kang the Conqueror fight the Avengers also saw the League facing off against the likes of Brain Storm and Kanjar Ro, not exactly winners.  Of course, I’m comparing hits with misses, but I think you get my point.  There were some great villains introduced in this era, but this has always been one of the weak points of the League, something Bruce Timm and company struggled with when creating their amazing Justice League Animated Series.

While I think it may continue to be the case that the concept of the League is stronger than the stories they produce in the Bronze Age, at least here the tide begins to turn, and we get some really excellent stories.  In general, the quality of stories does improve, and even more significantly, the team takes on the shape, themes, and challenges that will define it for the rest of its history.

This story brings us about midway into Denny O’Neil’s justly famous JLA run.  O’Neil took over after Gardner Fox’s decade-long and legendary time on the book, and with him came big changes.  He introduced new members, wrote out old ones, and gave the League their definitive Satellite headquarters.  O’Neil updated the team and did a lot of good work in these issues.  The Satellite and the introduction of Black Canary are both great additions to the mythos, but he also did some things that I’ll always regret.  He wrote out the Martian Manhunter, who at this point has headed to another world to help his people colonize it.  The League without its soul, J’onn J’onzz is like a church without a choir.  You can do it, but something’s missing.  It’s a particular shame that, just as the DC staple of heroes begin to get some good characterization, to realize the potential that they have, the Manhunter from Mars is removed from the game.

Anyway, this is the tale, as you can probably guess from the cover, that gives us the Justice League satellite, an excellent addition to the mythos that really fits the League perfectly.  Our story begins with the Emerald Archer patrolling around Star City when he hears gunshots and rushes to the aid of an embattled security guard who is involved in a shootout with some thugs.

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Rather, GA INTENDED to help the guard, but the fellow seems to need no help at all!  In a display of sharpshooting and daring do, he disarms the thugs without breaking a sweat.  It’s an impressive deed, and it hints at the mysterious man’s identity!  Green Arrow attempts to shed some light on the situation with a flare arrow, but in a shocking turn, the flare sets the river alight!  This leads us to a rather nice title page.

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Ollie calls in the League in a rare moment of self-awareness and wisdom, realizing that this blazing inferno is too much for him to handle.  Superman and Green Lantern respond and quickly have the fire under control.  The Leaguers head off to their fancy new satellite headquarters, and GA gets quite a surprise when they toss him in a teleport tube and flip the switch.  We get our first view of the satellite, orbiting “about 22,3000 miles above the United States.”  We also get a small but nifty diagram of the layout.  I enjoy things like this.  I used to spend hours pouring over base layouts and the like, imagining all of the cool gear and secrets that would fill, say, the Turtle Lair.

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The real star of the issue

JLA078-10 The Coming of The Doomsters.jpgWe join that security guard, who seems to be more than meets the eye.  No, he’s not a transformer, but the way he ducks the hoodlums who come gunning for him implies that he’s got some skills.  Apparently he’s being hunted, and he feels his only hope is the Justice League!  He reads about the League making a charity appearance, and he figures that is his chance.  This page also gives us a pick-up line delivered by Green Arrow with a creepy and altogether too intense look on his face.  Way to play it cool, Ollie.  At the event, just as the new Leaguer, Black Canary, is being introduced, this unusual guard forces his way through the crowd, assassins hot on his heels.  The League leaps into action in a rather nice display of their collective skills and teamwork, and the guard reveals his identity and his story.

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It seems that lowly security guard Greg Sanders is actually the costumed western hero, Vigilante!  Or rather, he used to be.  He confesses that he ‘got weary, decided to retire,” which is an extremely unsatisfying answer to how the famous Prairie Troubadour ended up working as a low-rent security guard in Star City!  However, there is just enough wistfulness mixed with determination in those two panels to sell the idea that there is a great deal more to the story that we simply aren’t privy to.

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The tale Sanders tells about his troubles is that he was working at a factory and became suspicious of its activities, eventually doing some snooping and discovering that the place seems to exist ONLY to manufacture pollution, nothing else, thus explaining the flammable river.  He stole some documents which he shares with the League, and they do what they do best…split into teams and investigate!

JLA078-19 The Coming of The Doomsters - Copy.jpgThe more street-level characters head out to investigate the factory, while Superman and GL head out to investigate the location on a star map discovered in the papers.  Green Arrow, being Green Arrow, tells everybody else that he’s got his own plans.  He marches into city hall and gives the assistant city manager an earfull.  In an agressive verbal boxing match, the two yell at each other, with Ollie saying things that may have been a bit shocking in 1970 but seem utterly mundane now, basically that we should probably not poison ourselves or our environment for a buck.  He deploys his usual diplomatic subtlety, insulting the official and screaming in his face.  The manager is having none of it and has the masked hero arrested!

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Meanwhile, the Vigilante rides again, and apparently catches Black Canary’s eye (see Ollie, this is what happens when you over play your hand!) while Superman and GL discover a dead world that was once teeming with life!  Team-Earth is jumped by some more of the trench-coated thugs and make short work of them until a shadowy figure disables them with booby trapped weapons!

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The issue ends with our heroes suspended above a “vat of bubbling, noxious…death!”

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This issue also contains a little four page backup about a scientist who destroys all of his equipment after seeing a future destroyed by…SCIENCE!  It’s a fine story for what it is, originally published in Mystery in Space #6.

I read this JLA issue some years ago, but I didn’t really remember it very clearly.  I went into this read thinking that the issue was nothing special, but I have to say that I have been very pleasantly surprised.  It’s a good, solid Justice League adventure, with some good action beats, a mystery, and a few spots of characterization.  All of the Leaguers get a little something to do, though the story really centers around GA and Vigilante, and splitting the team the way O’Neill did makes sure the stronger Leaguers don’t overshadow the weaker.  It’s really great to see Vigilante get in on the action.  I rather like the character, and I especially loved the friendship between him and Shinning Knight that was explored in the Justice League animated series.  Speaking of that, I enjoy that they adapted the broad strokes of Green Arrow’s introduction to the satellite from this issue for his induction into the League in the show.  That’s a nice little detail.  While it’s great to see Vigilante get back into costume, I have to say, it’s a little distracting to see the smiling, Silver Age-ish Batman standing next to him, especially considering the sleek, dramatic, and classic Batman we’ve been getting in the Bat-books this month and last.  That’s neither here nor there, though.

So, all-in-all, this is an above average Justice League adventure, well balanced, well-paced, and interesting.  I give it 4 Minutemen out of 5.  We’ll have to wait and see if the other half of this story lives up to the beginning!

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P.S.: I just discovered that the river fire in this book must have been a reference to a contemporary event!  In June of 1969, the terribly polluted Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire and blazed away, doing $100,000 of damage.  The incident was immortalized on the cover of Time Magazine, drawing national attention and helping to spark the beginning of the environmentalist movement.  This story was in the headlines when Denny O’Neil would have been writing JLA #78, and there is little doubt that it must have been the inspiration for this particular comic.  That’s a fascinating sign of the rising social consciousness in comics, and it puts the environmental overtones of this story in a very different light.

Closing Thoughts:

Well, I think that, in order for these posts not to stew for months at a time, I’ll post them in chunks.  I tend to write an entry a day or so, but there are a lot of entries to each month, and I end up sitting on a lot of content for weeks that way.  I think I’ll break it into two, maybe even three or four, posts that can get content out more frequently.  After all, this is a LOT of material, so breaking it up is probably not a bad idea.  The last post of each month’s collection will contain my general reflections and notes.  If readers have any preferences for how they’d like me to cover each month, I’d be more than happy to listen.

And, as promised, I’m starting a new, running feature that will be updated with each post.  Introducing-

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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