Into the Bronze Age: November 1971 (Part 1)

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

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


This month in history:

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

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

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

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

-Shut your mouth!

-I’m talking about Shaft!

Can you dig it?


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Action Comics #406


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“The Ghost that Haunted Clark Kent”


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

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

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

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

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

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


Adventure Comics #412


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 1)

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Hello dear readers!  As we near Thanksgiving here in the U.S., we should take some time to think about all of the blessings that we enjoy, to focus on being thankful for what we have.  That can be something of a challenge these days, with so much seeming to go wrong in the world, but that makes it all the more important.  I for one, am very thankful for bombastic Bronze Age adventures!  There is a lot of imaginative joy in these old books, and in addition to the many blessings for which I am thankful, I am also glad to have the opportunity to share some classic comics with you Internet travelers!  Welcome to the beginning of August 1971!

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


This month in history:

  • George Harrison’s concert for Bangladesh takes place in NYC
  • Paul McCartney founds Wings
  • US launches 1st satellite into lunar orbit from manned spacecraft
  • 3rd San Diego Comic-Con International opens
  • Apollo 15 returns to Earth
  • A Catholic man is shot a British soldier in Belfast and a British soldier is killed by the IRA
  • France performs nuclear test at Mururoa atoll
  • Operation Demetrius (or Internment) is introduced in Northern Ireland allowing suspected terrorists to be indefinitely detained without trial; the security forces arrested 342 people suspected of supporting paramilitaries
  • Irish political parties announce civil disobedience in response to internments
  • During the internment round-up operation in west Belfast, the Parachute Regiment kill 11 unarmed civilians in what became known as the Ballymurphy massacre
  • Bahrain proclaims independence after 110 years of British rule
  • President Nixon announces a 90 day price freeze
  • FBI begins covert investigation of journalist Daniel Schorr
  • Bolivian military coup under col Hugo Banzer, pres Torres driven out
  • J. Edgar Hoover and John Mitchell announce the arrest of 20 of the “Camden 28”
  • Irish leaders present cases of British brutality to the U.N., leading to an investigation
  • The US dollar is allowed to float against the Japanese yen for the first time

Another very eventful month, and unfortunately most of those events are fairly tragic ones.  The Troubles in Ireland continue apace, and we are getting closer to some of the worst times of the conflict there.  We’re also getting closer to Nixon’s downfall with Watergate, though the events that lead up to that momentous occurrence were largely unknown at the time.  Looking back at history does help to put the problems of the present into perspective, at least.

The song at the top of the charts this month was “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” by the Bee Gees, which I’d never heard before.  It surprised the heck out of me, because it sounded nothing like the Bee Gees I knew.  What an interesting discovery!  I guess they probably had a ways to go before they became the band I know.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #403
  • Adventure Comics #409
  • Batman #233 (Reprints)
  • Batman #234
  • Detective Comics #414
  • The Flash #208
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 (the infamous drug issue)
  • Justice League of America #91
  • Mr. Miracle #3
  • The Phantom Stranger #14
  • Superman #241
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138
  • Teen Titans #34
  • World’s Finest #204

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


Action Comics #403


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“Attack of the Micro-Murderer”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Man With the X-Ray Mind”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Impossible Legend”
Writer: Dick Wood
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Bob Brown

“When Krypto Was Superboy’s Master”
Writer: George Kashdan
Penciler: George Papp
Inker: George Papp
Editor: Mort Weisinger

 We’ve got a reasonably dramatic cover for this issue, though the image can’t convey its message alone, which always seems like a bit of a failure of visual storytelling to me.  The story it represents is an unusual one, goofy, but with a certain sweet earnestness that I enjoyed.  It begins with, of all things, cave men, an executioners, a firing squad, and a hanging, each one representing the ignoble ends, far separated in time, of the same being.  How can this be?  Well, we discover the answer to that in the modern day, when in a fair double-page spread, an airborne thief crashes his helicopter into a radio tower while being pursued by Superman.  The dying villain gasps out that he is a Zontt, who will be endlessly reincarnated, and promises he’ll be back in the future to get his revenge.

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Checking his computer at the Fortress of Solitude, the Man of Steel discovers that the criminal’s last threat was no idle boast, and that there really are such things as Zontts (though how he would have records of that fact is conveniently glossed over).  Apparently they’re spirits that occupy a new host each time their current one dies, but they only have 24 hours to find their next victim.  Continuing the convenient exposition, the Kryptonian’s computer also just happens to tell him that the only element the creatures can’t penetrate is sulfur.  I’m sure that won’t be relevant later.

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Speaking of later, the next morning, Clark is sitting at his desk when it suddenly explodes, uncovering his costume and revealing a small cylinder which plays a prerecorded message…from the future!  It’s from the Zontt, who tells him that he’s in the future and will kill many innocents unless the Man of Tomorrow lives up to his name and joins him in the year 3486.  Not one to let an obvious trap stop him, the Metropolis Marvel speeds off to that date, only to uncover a woman of the future who had died moments ago, clearly the Zontt’s previous host.  Suddenly, the hero is gripped with pain, and he realizes that the creature is trying to get its revenge.  Thankfully, the Zontt can’t help boasting retroactively, so a video plays that explains the situation, revealing that the woman was a microbiologist and the spirit used her to create a super microbe to infect the Man of Steel, a microbe that is now its new host, making it even more powerful.

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Growing sicker by the moment, Superman returns to the present and tries to seek help from Kryptonian science in Kandor, only to realize that the bug won’t shrink when he does, a discovery that nearly kills him.  Trying another desperate plan, the Metropolis Marvel takes to television, pleading to the people of his own city to help him beat the bug.  He asks them to donate a huge amount of blood so that he can flush his system and, hopefully, flush out the microbe.  Now, this almost makes sense, if you don’t think about it too hard.  When you do, it becomes pretty silly.

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What follows is really the heart of the story, as Metropolis turns out in record numbers to help their hero, with even the weak and the elderly insisting on doing their part to help.  Lois herself gives until the doctors won’t let her give anymore.  Finally, the Man of Steel is hooked up to a massive transfusion device and has all of that blood pumped through him, but it fails to flush out the intelligent microbe!  Growing weaker by the moment, Superman takes his leave and begins to put his affairs in order.  Notably, there is a continuity gaffe here, as Bates places Supergirl as still at college, rather than having graduated.

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In another nice little moment, the U.S. creates a tribute to the defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, with an S-Shield created from the lights of different towns that night.  The art doesn’t really succeed in capturing the scene, but it’s still a nice idea.  Finally, Superman heads out into space to a tomb he’s chosen on an asteroid.  Thus, as Superman is dying and the spirit emerges from the microbe to find another host, it instead finds itself marooned in space, millions of miles away from any other life form.

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In a bit of irony, the Zontt is then surprised by a per-recorded message of its own, this one from Superman.  The recording declares that the being will die unless it returns to the Kryptonian’s body and saves his life.  With no choice, the Zontt rushes back to the stricken form, only for it to be revealed that, while it watched the video, the Man of Steel’s body was replaced by a duplicate with a synthetic heart coated with sulfur, which acts as a trap for the spirit.  His super-powered immune system having wiped out the now much less dangerous microbe, the Action Ace takes his prisoner and returns home.

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Quite a weird story, isn’t it?  On one hand, this yarn certainly fits the standard formula of Superman facing a seemingly inescapable fate, only to outwit it with an outlandish plan, which has certainly been done often enough before.  On the other hand, an intelligent illness is actually an interesting angle and a unique threat for Superman.  The outwitting of the villainous virus is clever, if rather ridiculous and convenient, but the real highlight of the story is the demonstration of Metropolis’s love of its hero.  I’ll give this odd little tale 3 Minutemen.  The creative concept helps to make up for the clumsy execution, but it is still a pretty silly story.

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“The Man with the X-Ray Mind”


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This backup introduces the beginning, as far as I know, of a promising new feature, “A Secret Chapter in the Life of Clark Kent.”  I’ve mentioned before how Clark doesn’t have much characterization in the comics of this era, and I’m looking forward to seeing Superman in general develop into a more rounded character.  Clark Kent is obviously an important part of that.  Unfortunately, this tale is not particularly groundbreaking on that front.  It begins with Superman, still in college at the time, returning to his school after a space mission.  Here we see a rare sight, a weakness in Swan’s art, as he renders the college age Clark in pretty much the exact same way as his adult self.

Once back in his secret identity, Clark encounters Mr. Lundgren, the janitor, and observes a strange sight.  When a psychology professor, Dr. Borwin, comes down into the basement looking for exam papers he accidentally threw away (yikes!  That’s a pretty massive mistake!), the janitor is able to predict exactly where they will be by staring into his pail of water.  Astonished, the professor insists on studying Lundgren’s abilities.  The simple janitor agrees, explaining that he has the ability to skry, or “read secretes and mysteries from reflections in a reflective surface,” like his mother before him.

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In a scene straight out of Ghostbusters, Prof. Borwin conducts the standard ESP tests, using a set of pictorial cards, and amazingly, the other man matches all of the images, even going on to predict upcoming cards.  After the test, the kindly janitor reveals that he’s always known who Clark really was and warns him of an imminent disaster, a train crash, which the Man of Tomorrow is able to prevent just in time.

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action-403-24-04Unfortunately, the greedy professor wants to use the psychic’s abilities for his own benefit, so Borwin convinces Mr. Lundgren to predict the correct combination for a physics department vault that contains a radioactive formula.  Yet, when the avaricious academic tries to steal it, he drops the vial, causing a terrible explosion.  Superman arrives in time to shield Lundgren, but the poor guy is still wounded, becoming brain damaged!  The kindly man is reduced to doing odd jobs at the school, essentially a charity case because he can’t concentrate or remember anything well enough to do any steady job.

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And that is a rather terribly sad ending for this poor, good-hearted fellow who didn’t do anyone any harm.  He just tried to do the right thing, and he gets brain damaged for his efforts.  It’s a surprisingly bitter ending with no real justification or reason.  The story itself is fine, nothing exceptional, though it does add more evidence to the claim that the institutions of higher learning in the DC Universe really need to do a better job of vetting the people to whom they hand out advanced degrees.  It seems like every other guy with a doctorate is trying to take over the world or, at least, rob banks!  Anyway, I’ll give this tale 2.5 Minutemen, knocking off a little for the weirdly melancholy ending that seems out of sync with the light-hearted tone of the story.  It doesn’t have enough space to really take advantage of such a conclusion, which is unsurprising for a Dorfman penned tale.

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Adventure Comics #409


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“Invasion of the Mer-Men (Part II)”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Mike Sekowsky and Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

“Fight With Fire Drake”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Art Saaf
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza

“The Condemned Legionnaires”
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inkers: George Klein and Sheldon Moldoff
Letterer: Milt Snapinn

This issue marks the end of Mike Sekowsky’s run on Supergirl, and, unfortunately, I really can’t say I’m sad to see him go, despite the great credentials he brought to the book.  Oddly, we’ve got two different Supergirl tales here, and the Legion backup is just a reprint, which is a shame.  I wonder if the powers that be were trying to ease into the new creative team by splitting the book between the old and new guards.  Either way, we get a nice cover out of the deal.  It’s by Dick Giordano, who does a lovely job on both Supergirl and the monstrous invaders.  It’s a solid, horror-style image, with the creatures coming over the edge and looking nicely menacing.

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The cover feature is our second story, but unfortunately our first one isn’t quite as pretty as it is.  Sekowsky’s rather Silver Age-ish aquatic aliens from the last issue are still planning on stealing Earth’s water, and despite the best efforts of Earth’s military, it seems that there is nothing that can stop them.  In the meantime, the Girl of Steel is still looking for her missing friend, Johnny, and lamenting that her efforts to protect her identity may have doomed him, which is a nice touch continuing on from the previous issue.  During her submarine search, Supergirl discovers a series of massive spheres hidden under the sea that are actually interstellar tankers.  When the military discovers them in turn, their attacks are stopped by a forcefield, but just when all hope seems lost, the Maid of Might discovers that Johnny is still alive, and he fills her in on the aliens’ plan.

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A nicely dramatic panel

adventurecomics409p14Attacked by the invaders, Supergirl allows herself to be captured so she can get into their ship.  In a good example of attention to detail, the aliens are surprised to find a being that can survive both above and below the waves, which makes sense if they’ve studied humans.  In a cute little scene, Supergirl escapes with Johnny, but in order to keep him alive and yet surface slowly enough to protect him from the bends, she kisses him in order to share oxygen…only for him to get fresh once the danger is passed!  It’s a funny sequence, and it illustrates that Johnny apparently has more chutzpah than brains.  Trying to get some sugar from a superbeing that is all that stands between you and a watery grave is certainly bold, but it probably isn’t all that bright!

With the water-logged lothario safely stashed, Supergirl heads for space, where she discovers the aliens’ ships and smashes their tanks, releasing the water back onto the Earth.  What follows is really rather surprising and a nice touch that raises the quality of the story a bit.  The alien commander, realizing that he’s beaten, gives up.  His enterprise was both enormous and desperate, and with his ships disabled, there is no longer time for a second attempt.  By the time they could repair the damage and recollect the necessary water, their planet would be dry and dead.  It’s a melancholy moment.  Notably, these aliens were actually sincere about feeling superior to humanity.

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They weren’t actually out to do the Earth harm, they just considered their own world more important.  So when the heroine’s actions doom their planet, their commander just resignedly follows Supergirl to Earth and bids farewell to a worthy foe before heading back to die with the rest of his species.  Yet, the story doesn’t end with this weighty moment, but with Johnny home safe and sound, pining away for Supergirl.

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So, this yarn came to an unexpected conclusion.  The aliens’ nobility in defeat is quite nice, though it really comes out of nowhere.  They seem just like generic sci-fi villains, the likes of which populated practically every other issue of DC in the Silver Age, right up until the last two pages.  If Sekowsky had spent more time on these guys, he might have really had something with the bittersweetness of their defeat.  As it is, it feels like an abrupt tonal shift that isn’t necessarily earned, nor fitting.  The rest of the comic is a good adventure tale, and Supergirl’s introspection about her priorities when she thinks Johnny is dead is actually an interesting character moment.

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adventurecomics409p14 - CopyIn the end, this issue is indicative of Sekowsky’s run on this book.  It has some real potential, with honestly interesting and thoughtful takes on the lead character that, unfortunately, receive no real development or followup, as well as the occasional mature and impressive story moment that is out of step with the rest of the comic.  There is an intermittent spark of excellence to these stories that is never really capitalized on or integrated into the issues at large.  Sadly, Sekowsky’s art also continues to be wildly inconsistent, with some really cool, creative panels here and there and some occassional good facework, all right alongside some absolutely ugly pages and general roughness and sloppiness in everything else.  I’ll give this issue 3 Minutemen, as it is a decent read, despite the rough art, but its weaknesses are very noticeable.  This is an inauspicious ending to Sekowsky’s run on the book, especially considering the greatness of his career before this point.

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“Fight with Fire Drake”


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The difference between Sekowsky’s story and the one that follows it is just night and day.  Art Saaf, who I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before, turns in a nice, clean looking comic, and the contrast really illustrates just how bad Sekowsky’s art has gotten.  The tale itself is just as good, featuring another aquatic adventure that begins with a party aboard the yacht of Linda Danvers’ boss, the owner of KGF-TV.  Despite having been chasing around with Johnny last issue, it seems that the Maid of Might has remembered her crush on Geoff, who still looks like he’s in his 30s or 40s, which remains creepy.  Fortunately for her, a handsome party-crasher approaches, and his attentions makes Geoff quite jealous.

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The newcomer claims to be a freelance writer named Freddy Nero, but shortly after he leaves, the party receives much more dangerous crashers, as a group of divers in rather nice looking monster costumes that can shoot flames (!) appear to rob the guests.  While their leader, Fire Drake, threatens the boss, Linda slips away and dons a new costume, which has a fun little notice about which fan designed it.  The costume is a bit much and I’m pretty sure it defies the laws of physics.  It’s not bad looking, though, but it does look like something a fan designed.  Weirdly, Supergirl notes that she can’t wear her exoskeleton with these threads, which seems like a really unnecessary sacrifice for the sake of fashion.  She confronts the divers and manages to drive them off the ship, but her plot devices, err…I mean her powers, conk out on her during the submarine pursuit, and she has to give it up.

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That night, she’s visited by her mother, which surprised the heck out of me.  I had always been familiar with her origin as an orphan of the Kryptonian city of Argo, but apparently in the Silver Age they eventually revealed that her parents were still alive.  Who knew?  I can sort of see why DC eventually wanted to clean up all of these excess Kryptonians, because they’re apparently just all over the place!  Well, anyway, her mother brings her back to Kandor, where she lives, in order to provider her with miniaturized versions of her equipment so she can wear whatever outlandish costume she fancies.  Convenient!

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The next morning, the yacht is again attacked by the costumed divers, but Supergirl is on hand once more, and she saves Geoff, who is braver than he is bright, much like Johnny.  When Firedrake tries to escape into the water again, he suddenly starts to drown, and after capturing him, the Maid of Might reveals that she severed his air hoses with her heat vision, which is clever.  When he is unmasked, the submarine thief is revealed to be Fred Nero, who had crashed the party in order to case the place.

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This is a fun little story, other than the silly element of Supergirl wearing a costume that can’t accommodate her very much necessary exoskeleton, just for for the sake of fashion.  It’s interesting that Bridwell pretty much immediately sets about refining the setup that Sekowsky created.  Of course, I’m always happy to see some costumed crooks, and the design of the divers’ outfits is pretty cool.  They look nice and intimidating, but they are occasionally drawn without gloves, which rather undercuts the menace of their look.  Nonetheless, this is a fine start to a new direction for the book.  Unfortunately, Bridwell won’t be continuing on the title, which is a shame as I tend to like his work, but I’m still excited to see what will come next.  I do hope that the new team on this book will find a way to challenge the character that reeks a bit less of deus ex machina, but this particular story is fun despite that weakness.  There are some decent character moments, and Saaf’s Supergirl looks great in action.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Like Supergirl, my adventures here are done for the moment.  This was an interesting pair of books, if not terribly captivating.  This final issue of Adventure seems to mark Mike Sekowsky’s departure from DC for many a year.  It’s a shame that he left DC on such a sour note after so many years of great work.  It’s hard to believe that the clumsy, ugly art in Adventure was by the same hand that had turned in the riotously creative and generally high-quality work on Manhunter 2070 in Showcase or his classic work on JLA.  Well, we will bid him a fond adieu and not hold these last years against him.  If you enjoyed my commentaries, please join me again soon for another step in our Journey into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!