- Action Comics #399
- Adventure Comics #405
- Aquaman #56 / (Sub-Mariner #72)
- Detective Comics #410
- The Flash #205 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
- Mr Miracle #1
- The Phantom Stranger #12
- Superboy #173
- Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #109
- Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137
- Superman #236
- Teen Titans #32
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Detective Comics #410
“A Vow From the Grave!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
“Battle of the Three M’s”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Here’s a bit of trivia for you readers: this issue would later go on to form the basis for the Batman: TAS episode, “Sideshow.” Strangely, while that episode has always left a bad taste in my mouth, I find this book rather inoffensive. Both stories revolve around an escaped criminal meeting up with a band of former carnival sideshow performers, but the cartoon replaces the comic’s generic thug with the appropriately freakish Killer Croc. In the show, I always found Croc’s betrayal of this lonely group of misfits quite heartrending, and I also found myself too repulsed by those same misfits. I’m afraid I have a fairly low tolerance for the grotesque, and things like this creep me right out (Lady Grey, on the other hand, loves this kind of material). Both of those elements are much less central in this issue, though, notably, that marks the difference between moderate and exceptional stories. Despite my personal distaste for the Timmverse version, it is, objectively, a very good story.
The original version at hand lies inside of a suitably dramatic if not terribly lovely cover. The image effectively portrays the peril of the situation, but within the tale opens with an even more arresting splash page. It’s a beautiful, moody image of the Dark Knight’s dogged pursuit of his quarry across a rope bridge and through a stormy night. His prey, escaped killer Kano Wiggins, reaches solid ground first and cuts down the bridge, leaving the Dark Knight to make a desperate leap to safety. Despite his opponent holding the high ground, the Grim Avenger still manages to get the upper hand until a massive fist slams into him out of nowhere!
A titanic figure looms out of the rain, and despite the Caped Crusader’s attempts to reason with him, the giant seems intent on attacking. In a really nice sequence, Batman uses his agility to reach his opponent’s shoulders and put him in a sleeper hold. When the fellow finally collapses, a strange, mismatched trio arrives and explanations are made. It seems that this quartet are former sideshow stars whose show folded, leaving them stranded there in the middle of nowhere. They include a strongman, if not a bright one, man named Goliath, a very thin fellow named Charley Bones, a fat woman named Maud, and a deformed little boy with seal-like appendages, named ‘Flippy.’
The Dark Knight goes to track Wiggins, but his search eventually brings him back to the sideshow gang in the abandoned town where they have set up camp. When he arrives, he discovers that poor Charlie Bones has been murdered, hung from the bell-cord in the empty town hall. Interviewing the other carnies, Batman finds that no-one seems to have seen anything, but Flippy, who is mute, draws a design in the dust, two circles linked by a line. Note the almost parallel images of Batman below. That’s some excellent visual storytelling. You’ll see why soon.
Before the Masked Manhunter can investigate further, he hears a car starting up and rushes off to capture Wiggins, which he does by punching the convict through the window of the van he tried to steal. Clearly, we’re moving away from campy Batman at full speed!
Returning to the sideshow stars, the Darknight Detective has solved the murder, but he announces to Maud that Kano didn’t do it. Just then, Goliath tries to kill the hero by hurling a chunk of wood from the rafters of the building, and the Caped Crusader sets off to rescue the last member of the trio, poor Flippy, who tried to warn him that the culprit was the strongman with his drawing of a barbell. As he confronts the giant, Batman explains that he knew Wiggins wasn’t the killer because the rope was cut too high up, and only Goliath could have reached it. Now we can appreciate the cleverness of Adams’ illustrations on that page above.
The strongman declares that he loved Maud and killed Charlie so that she would turn to him, and when the hero approaches, the killer threatens to throw Flippy from the bell tower unless the Dark Knight throws himself off! The Dark Avenger subtly loops his rope over a beam on the outside of the tower and then seems to comply, swearing that he will get Goliath, even from the grave.
Despite not really wanting to kill the boy, the strongman still drops him so he can’t reveal the murderer’s guilt, but Batman snatches the kid from midair in a great looking page. Finally, he confronts the hulking giant, who almost kills him before Maud intervenes. The story ends with the Caped Crusader noting that “courage–and love–come in strange shapes,” which is not a bad moral for this little yarn.
This is a solid, if brief, little murder mystery with a memorable cast of characters. O’Neil provides some interesting twists and turns that make it stand out from the standard fare. Obviously he created a story that sticks with you, as its return years later in the classic Batman cartoon demonstrates. Neal Adams, for his part is in fine form this issue. His action is dramatic and full of explosive excitement, but even more impressively, he captures the perfect Gothic tone for the setting and characters he’s dealing with. Everything is dark and dreary, and a nearly palpable feeling of dread hangs over the little drama of this story as tragedy strikes these lonely souls. That atmosphere is only broken with the rising dawn at the comic’s end, with all the figures in silhouette, which adds a touch of hope to the tale as well. The Batman of this book is well on his way to becoming the grim avenger of the night, the driven crimefighter who still has a deep love for humanity. It’s a good little Batman comic, and I’ll give it 4 Minutemen. O’Neil and Adams are well on their way to their legendary run on this character.
“Battle of the Three M’s”
The Batgirl backup this month is a fun, if a tad sexist, adventure involving the nefarious doings surrounding the fashion industry! You can almost hear the conversation that spawned this tale: ‘Batgirl is a girl, so her readers are probably girls. What do girls like? Fashion!’ I’ve written before about the linking of female superheroes with fashion themes, as with the focus on costumes and the like in Supergirl’s stories, and, in general, I imagine it was an creative way to inject something uniquely feminine into these comics, something quite absent in the male dominated books. However, there is, of course, a rather silly assumption that all girls are interested in fashion inherent in this treatment, but as long as the comics are still fun, I suppose no harm is done.
This particular instance of this phenomenon centers around the age-old dilemma, mini, midi, or maxi? I am, of course, talking about skirt-lengths, as if my fashion forward readers didn’t know! Seriously, I suppose this whole thing started in the 60s with the advent of the mini-skirt, and I rather wonder if it is still a going concern these days. This subject is a bit out of my areas of expertise! You only seem to see stories concerning the phenomenon from this era and earlier. In this version, a major fashion icon breaks her leg skiing and so is out of circulation for a time. Meanwhile, industry big-wigs go mad trying to figure out which length of skirt she’ll wear when she is healed, and a particularly unsavory group of designers in Gotham decide to do more than wait.
As Barbara Gordon heads to work in the library, a newsman asks her what her opinion on the mystery is, and she reveals that she’s playing it safe by wearing a pants-suit, which is a mildly clever bit. Things start happening once she’s inside, however, as one of the designers tries to bribe her to get access to another patron’s research books. She refuses, but out of curiosity, she looks herself, to see that the patron in question is Jules Thayer, the fashion icon’s personal couturier, or designer. Deciding that the crooked costumers might not give up so easily, Babs dons her on fashionable threads and heads to Thayer’s home to check on matters. Now, this is a pretty thin excuse to get her involved, all things considered. There’s no real reason to think that these clothiers would go as far as they do, at least not from that one interaction, but Robbins only has a few pages to work with, so it’s understandable.
Arriving at the apartment, the girl detective discovers the same fashion flunky snapping pictures, but when she confronts him, he smacks her with the camera, sending her reeling off the roof. She manages to catcher herself at the last minute, providing a bit of a common element with our headline tale. When she recovers, Babs trails the skulking spy, and when he meets up with his partner and examines the photos, they realize that Thayer has decided on maxi-skirts, leaving them dead in the water.
However, their investor, a gangster named Serpy (interesting name) arrives and is not willing to lose his investment. He decides to kill the problematic fashionista, but at that point, Batgirl intervenes. She makes a good showing until, oh no! She joins Aquaman in this month’s additions to the Head-Blow Headcount, getting conked on the bean by the gangster. The issue ends with Batgirl about to have a blouse carved out of her lovely hide!
This is a fun if somewhat off-beat little backup. It’s a bit hard to take the bespectacled fashion designer seriously as a villain, so it’s nice that we get the addition of the gangster to the rogue’s gallery. Still, it makes one wonder what kind of a hardened criminal lends money to lady’s clothing designers. I suppose anybody can get desperate and go to the mob for a loan. Either way, it’s an unusual and entertaining setup, though poor Batgirl doesn’t turn in her best performance, getting taken out twice in just a few pages! Don Heck, however, puts together a nice looking feature, with each of the characters having a lot of personality. I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.
Mr. Miracle #1
“Murder Missile Trap!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Colourist: Jack Kirby
Editor: Jack Kirby
The last of the new Fourth World books premiered this month, introducing one of my favorite DC characters, the inimitably marvelous Mr. Miracle! He’s a hero I only encountered when I got back into comics in college, never really having known him as a kid, but his concept and especially his design really grabbed me. When I read through his first two volumes, I really fell in love with the character and the hopeful view of the power of the human spirit that he represents.
Interestingly, the inspiration for the spectacular Scott Free actually came from one of Kirby’s former colleagues at Marvel, the master illustrator of the classic Nick Fury strip, Jim Steranko. Earlier in his life, Steranko had been a magician and escape artist, and Kirby based Mr. Miracle on this fascinating Renaissance man.
Whatever its origins, this first issue of Mr. Miracle’s adventures certainly comes on like Gangbusters, with a great cover only partially marred by distracting dialog. The original Mr. Miracle run is blessed by a profusion of excellent covers, each one featuring a pulse-pounding peril from which the peerless super-escape-artist must liberate himself. This first cover is downright iconic, and it sets the tenor for the series that follows. The issue within opens with a Mr. Miracle, though, not our Mr. Miracle, preparing for a death-defying deed with the help of his little person assistant, Oberon, whose name always makes me smile. Oberon is the name of the king of the faeries in medieval literature, you see.
Anyway, a young man watches as these two prepare an act, Oberon chaining his boss up and locking him in a shed. When the little assistant sets the shack on fire (!), the observer rushes forward and tries to intervene, despite the dwarf’s objections. Suddenly, the costumed figure bursts out of the flames, and the amazed onlooker is introduced to Thaddeus Brown, known as Mr. Miracle, the escape artist! The young man’s name is Scott Free, which, to my delight, is pointed out as a funny coincidence within the book itself, with Brown laughing merrily. We learn that Scott is a foundling who was given that name in the orphanage, but he remains mysterious.
Just then, a carful of hoods arrives, apparently working for Intergang! They threaten Brown, and when Scott objects, they turn their attentions to him. Not the type to take such things lightly, the young stranger jumps the armed antagonists, making short work of the whole gang and demonstrating an admirable spirit of fair play. Mr. Terrific would have liked this kid!
With the gangsters defeated, we get a partial explanation, as we learn that there is some type of trouble between the aged Mr. Miracle and an Intergang division chief aptly named Steel Hand, probably because he has a powerful steel hand. Sometimes criminals aren’t too creative. In a good example of comic book science, this metal appendage has somehow been strengthened by “radiation treatments,” which the garrulous gangster demonstrates by shattering a “great bar of solid titanium.” Sure. I’m willing to give this a pass because it works in the kind of world that DC has established. It’s a more fantastic place, after all, and radiation is magic. Anyway, the alloy-armed criminal is not happy that his gunsels failed, so he decides to take care of the escape artist himself!
Meanwhile, Scott Free has been invited to stay with that very marked man, who tells his guest a bit about his history. It seems that he’s alone now, with his wife and son dead, but he is planning to come out of retirement by performing a big escape. Scott is very interested in Brown’s methods, and Oberon convinces the showman to give the young man a test. After being locked up in an impressive set of chains, the stranger shatters them, seemingly without a twitch. He claims that he just used a gadget to do it, and he’s rather cagey about where it, and he, came from.
The next day, Thaddeus dons his costume again to try another escape, but after Oberon sets a great boulder in motion, Steel Hand has a sniper shoot the old man, which happens on panel, something of a rarity. Scott leaps into action and somehow manages to deflect the massive missile with an energy bolt from his hand, revealing Kirby-tech winding up his arm. He removes what sharp-eyed readers of The Forever People will recognize as a ‘Mother Box,’ and uses it to comfort the mortally wounded Mr. Miracle, who passes away peacefully moments later. Honestly, it’s a fairly moving scene. Kirby has successfully made us care about this old man, at least a bit, and his death has an impact despite his brief screen time.
With his friend dead, Oberon fills Scott in on the rest of the setup. It seemed that Brown and Steel Hand had met in the hospital years before, and they passed the time in talking, eventually making a bet that the gangster could design a trap that not even Mr. Miracle could escape. Desperate to fund his return, Brown had approached the now successful crime boss, who, for his part, was unwilling to risk losing the bet. We then check in with that extremely poor sport, who is testing his metal mitt against an expensive android designed by one of his flunkies for just that purpose, which is one of the most Jack Kirby sentences ever written.
After Steel Hand smashes the bot, Mr. Miracle suddenly leaps through the window and challenges the villain to complete his bargain. Unfortunately, the gangster’s goons arrive, and Mr. Miracle falls prey to an old enemy of the superhero set, the classic headblow! That’s right, in his first appearance, poor Mr. Miracle joins the Headblow Head-Count. When he awakens, Steel Hand’s minions have chained him to a rocket at a secret Intergang missile site (!), where the gangster has prepared his escape-proof trap.
We see the hero begin to work his escape, but then the rocket blasts off and explodes! Yet, when Steel Hand returns to his office, he finds Mr. Miracle, alive and well, sitting at his desk. Infuriated, the alloy-armed goon attacks, smashing through desk, chair, and more. Mr. Miracle evades his attacks and calmly explains his incredible escape, using the very gimmicks he used on the rocket to disable his opponent, including sonic projectors, jets, and more! Just as he wraps up the rat, Oberon arrives with the police, who happily haul him away.
This is a great first issue, a delightful debut for a dramatic and intriguing new character, and Mr. Miracle really is just that. He’s a unique concept, something never before really seen in comics, the superhero escape artist. Once again, we can see just how groundbreaking and original Jack Kirby is, introducing an entirely new wrinkle into the superhero setting, something that was already, in 1971, pretty rare. The issue itself could actually serve as a good example of proper comic writing. It’s a self-contained issue, with a complete plot found within its covers, a real rarity these days. Yet, it also contains all the setup and threads necessary to provide the grounding for ongoing adventures. Notably, with this more realistic (as far as Kirby goes) gangster type of story, the odd note to the King’s dialog is absent, and his writing is fairly strong throughout.
Kirby manages to introduce several characters and even get us invested in poor Thaddeus Brown before his tragic death, no mean feat in a single issue, as the late, unlamented Crusader demonstrated. Taken just as a story, this comic is quite good, with some mystery, plenty of action and peril, and a lot of personality. The only real weakness is the lack of explanation for HOW Scott is able to step into the gloriously colorful shoes of his mentor so easily. That’s part of the mystery Kirby is setting up, but it still could have used just a bit more establishment to make the changeover smoother. Still, this is a great beginning for Mr. Miracle’s adventures. While it lacks the visual wonder of some of the King’s other Fourth World comics, it still looks pretty good. In fact, the whole comic feels a bit more grounded than the other Fourth World books so far, and it contains some of Kirby’s better writing. I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, a strong start.
And that does it for this post. I hope you enjoyed my commentary as much as I enjoyed providing it! Thank you for reading, and please come back soon for more comic goodness as we trek further Into the Bronze Age! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal Alive!
The Head-Blow Headcount:
Two more heroes join Aquaman this month, and the Headcount continues to grow! This is shaping up to be a busy month! Now Batgirl is ahead of the rest of the Bat Family. I bet Dick would never let her live that down. We also have the first Jack Kirby creation to grace the Wall of Shame, making this a red-letter day!