Into the Bronze Age: October 1971 (Part 1)

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I’m back at last!  Welcome readers and friends, to a long deferred new edition of Into the Bronze Age!  My world wandering has come to an end for a while, but it seems like Lady Grey and I only started to recover when we found ourselves swamped by the beginning of the semester!  Our adventures were excellent but exhausting, and for a while after we got back, we did as little as possible.  Now we’re running to catch up!  The semester has proven much busier than we anticipated, and I find myself getting smashed by my dissertation work, so updates will be intermittent for a while.  I will be happy to return to my Bronze Age ruminations and to my modding projects, though, and I was glad to find time to finish this post, which sat half-way completed for a month!  Here’s hoping that the early days of Fall will have some wonder left in them for all of us.

This month we’ve got several super, but not exactly superb, tales, featuring Superman and Supergirl, as well as some deeds of Detective derring-do.  Let’s check them out!

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:

  • Walt Disney World opens in Florida (the only Disney of my youth)
  • Tennis star Billie Jean King becomes 1st female athlete to win $100,000
  • Social Democratic and Labour Party continues its boycott of the Northern Ireland Parliament
  • Northern Ireland PM and British PM meet and agree to send an additional 1,500 troops to Ireland
  • John Lennon releases “Imagine”
  • US and USSR perform various nuclear tests
  • Jesus Christ Superstar premieres
  • 2 killed in racial violence in Memphis
  • Pittsburgh Pirates beat Baltimore Orioles, 4 games to 3 in 68th World Series
  • Last issue of Look magazine is published
  • A group of Northern Ireland MPs begin a 48 hour hunger strike against the policy of Internment
  • West German Chancellor Willy Brandt is awarded Nobel Peace Prize
  • Nobel prize for literature awarded to Pablo Neruda
  • Troubles continue in Ireland, with several IRA members killed in various confrontations with police and troops
  • IRA explodes a bomb in Post Office Tower, London
  • U.N. agrees to admit the People’s Republic of China
  • Films of note: The French Connection, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and The Last Picture Show

We’ve got another month with the Troubles continuing in Ireland and racial unrest continuing in the States (Get used to seeing those words; they aren’t going away any time soon).  Yet, there are also a number of interesting cultural events that take place this month.  I’m rather surprised that the Florida Disney World opened this late.  I rather thought it had opened shortly after the original location.  We also get the release of several memorable films, including a childhood favorite of mine, Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

To me, the most interesting of these events is the debut of Jesus Christ Superstar because it says rather a lot about the spiritual state of the country, with its humanized, un-deified Christ and its focus on a sympathetic Judas.  It’s a good show, one that I’ve enjoyed, but it is certainly a product of its time and, in terms of its dubious theology, very much a product of the modern world.  It is human nature to want to confine the cosmic and limit the illimitable.  As soon as you grant the deity of Christ and the significance of his appearance, he goes from a ‘wise philosopher’ who talked about how people should be nice to each other to a God whose existence makes certain demands upon us.  This is is a significant part of the reason that we’re always trying to rewrite the historical Christ, trying to redefine him as something that will demand less of us, no matter how little sense such revisions might make.

On a more grounded note, this month’s chart topper by a clear margin is Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” which is a great song with a lovely, bittersweet tone to it.  It’s interesting, and in context of the history and culture of its day, the song feels even more fitting.

 


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #405
  • Adventure Comics #411
  • Detective Comics #416
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86
  • Mr. Miracle #4
  • Phantom Strange #15
  • Superboy #178
  • Superman #243
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #115
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142
  • Teen Titans #35

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


Action Comics #405


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“Bodyguard or Assassin?”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

“The Red Dust Bandit!”
Writer: Don Cameron
Penciler/Inker: Howard Sherman
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“The Haunted Island”
Writer: Jack Miller
Penciler/Inker: Ramona Fradon
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“The Most Dangerous Bug in the World?”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We’ve got a weird one to start us off for this month, just an odd duck from start to finish.  It has a solid enough cover, with some type of mysterious threat presumably lingering just beyond the image and Superman in an iconic pose, but it isn’t really all that dynamic.  The story inside is similarly uninspiring.  It begins with the Man of Steel answering an urgent summons from the President.  Notably, we aren’t treated to the conventional shadowed figure of a non-specific president.  No, this time we see the Commander in Chief clearly, and he and his security chief, General Trevis, scan the Metropolis Marvel before he is admitted to the Oval Office, citing fears of assassination.  Apparently, a mysterious malefactor left a message on the President’s desk, declaring that an enigmatic assassin named Marsepun would kill the head honcho at 9:00.  Note the name.

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Well, to protect the President from this would-be killer, Superman, upon advice from Trevis, takes him to the automated base, Tonacom, hidden in a mountain in a secret location and supposedly impenetrable.  Once inside, the Action Ace is given an overview of all of the defenses guarding the only way in, but suddenly communications with Trevis fritz out and the sensors detect an intruder barreling straight through the base’s protections.  To make matters worse, the evidence indicates that it is somehow Superman himself who is fighting his way inside to kill the President.  The Man of Tomorrow realizes that it is his voice on the assassin’s message and that the name, Marseupun, is just an anagram for his.  Hands up if you saw that one coming.  In the face of all this, the Kryptonian begins to lose his grip.

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The many moods of Superman

Now, this could have been an intriguing, suspenseful sequence…if Bates hadn’t immediately revealed that Trevis is behind it all.  He’s working for a secret organization that doesn’t want the President to sign a peace deal that will lead to nuclear disarmament, and he’s set Tonacom up as one big trap, combined with a hidden thought-scrambler designed to turn the Man of Steel psychotic.  In an attempt to calm the increasingly agitated hero, the President narrates some of his “spectacular acts of courage in the past,” leading to a weird couple of pages with flashbacks to non-existent stories.

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Despite all of the Chief Executive’s efforts, as the intruder gets closer, Superman gets more enraged.  Suddenly, the vault door of the base explodes inward and the Action Ace is confronted…with his reflection.  Yep, that’s it.  This confirms that he’s been the assassin all along, and he turns against his charge, who shoots him with a “gamma gun.”

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Unfortunately, the politician’s beam reflects off of his invulnerable target and strikes him instead.  Trevis has been watching and recording all of this, planning on using the video to chase Superman from the Earth, but suddenly, the Man of Steel explodes, revealing that he is in fact as well as in name, a man of steel, a Superman robot.

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Destroying all of the evidence, Trevis flees, but when he reports to his masters, they tell him he has failed and execute him through the phone (neat trick, I wonder if it works on telemarketers…).  Just as he dies, he sees the President, still alive, but it is actually Superman in disguise.  While searching for the authors of all of this misfortune, the Metropolis Marvel thinks to himself that the President was suspicious of Trevis for weeks, and that the two of them had planned this sting to catch him.

action 405-19Superman controlled his robot with a remote, a remote with some very specific buttons and used….*sigh*….”Super Ventriloquism” to speak for it.  Sadly, his efforts to track down the spy ring behind the assassination attempt meet with failure, as he follows their signal to a phone booth on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean….only to have the device explode after a mocking message.  That’s a lot of preparation for not a lot of payoff, but I suppose the shadowy organization knows its business.  The story ends with the notice that it was an imaginary tale and that the danger still exists…which seem like rather contradictory ideas.

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This comic could have had an interesting, suspense-story vibe, as Superman wrestled with whether or not he was losing his mind, but Bates decided to discard the suspense, and with it, most of the interest of the story, by revealing, not only the villain, but the entire plan as well.  Superman’s twist feels like a bit of a cheat, and it makes his narration of his previous deeds rather ridiculously boastful in retrospect.  The end result here is just awkward.  Bates couldn’t quite decide what he wanted this story to be, and so it is a loose collection of ideas that don’t resolve into anything worthwhile, despite some interesting potential.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.

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“The Most Dangerous Bug in the World”


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The backup is forgettable but solid enough.  It begins with a boy bumping into Clark Kent on the street and planting a tiny ‘bug’ on him that would have been science fiction in 1971 but is pretty commonplace today.  This device fits unnoticed in the newsman’s pocket and yet can transmit several blocks away.  Is this some nefarious scheme by Lex Luthor to learn Superman’s secret identity?  Nope, it’s just dumb luck.  The kid is the grandson of an inventor who wants to show off his new bug to some investors.  He sent the boy out to plant it on some poor schmuck, which seems wildly unethical to me.  The men, unconcerned with the inventor’s casual invasion of privacy, then proceed to listen in on the private life of this random stranger.

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However, because the stranger is the Man of Steel, what they hear is unusual.  First, they hear him typing at super speed, and then, after he gets a distress call from a small space ship from an antimatter universe, they hear him flying at super speed.  They can’t make sense of these sounds at first, and the Action Ace’s rush to the aid of the antimatter astronauts brings them confusion.  The aliens tell him that if they make contact with the Earth, both it and they will explode in a cataclysm as matter meets antimatter.  Now, I’m no physicist, but wouldn’t they already be in contact with molecules of air…which is matter…so wouldn’t they already have annihilated the planet?

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Comic book science aside, the Man of Tomorrow leaps into action, ensuring that there will actually be a tomorrow after all.  He burrows a path through a mountain and then pulls them ship up into space in his slipstream.  Guiding the craft back to the rift through which they had accidentally passed, he sends them home, only then realizing that there is a transmitter sending out a signal from his pocket.  Meanwhile, the scientist has, with a rather astonishing leap in logic, figured out that he’s listening in to Superman, and the kid, feeling bad for having accidentally exposed the hero’s secret (this is why you don’t spy on people!), confesses to Clark.  Of course, Mr. Mild-Mannered covers, and that night he shows a film of Superman, featuring the same sounds, and informs his audience that he previewed it in his office, allaying the eavesdropper’s suspicions.

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This is not a bad little story, though a bit silly in the convenience of its logical leaps.  I rather wish Bates had played the mysterious sounds for a few more laughs, as that could have been a fun source of humor, with the scientist trying to convince his investors that the device really was working properly.  Still, it’s a fine if forgettable tale.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  The art in both of these stories is good, in the usual ‘Swanderson’ style, with some really rather nice bits in both strips.

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This comic had classic Vigilante and Aquaman stories as backup strips, and they were a lot of fun.  The Vigilante yarn was very much Lone Ranger-style Western rather than straight superhero, but it was nonetheless a neat surprise, as was the super charming Ramona Fradon Aquaman tale.  I’ll have to do a feature on those classic Aquaman stories one of these days.


Adventure Comics #411


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“The Alien Among Us”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Bob Oksner
Inkers: Bob Oksner and Steve Englehart
Editor: Joe Orlando

“The Wedding That Wrecked the Legion”
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciler: John Forte
Inker: Sheldon Moldoff
Letterers: Vivian Berg and Milt Snapinn
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“Warrior Shepherd”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Carmine Infantino
Editor: Joe Orlando

Our Supergirl story this month is an interesting one, with a bit of a 50/60s morality play sci-fi feel, something of a cross between The Day the Earth Stood Still and “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”.  It’s a little surprising that this comic is from 1971 rather than 1961, at least until you notice the fashions.  On an unrelated note, this is the second month in a row where we’ve had a cover with a kid blindly wandering into danger as Supergirl rushes to help, which is rather random.  Someone at DC had child endangerment on the mind.  The cover image itself is okay, though the alien is more odd than menacing, really.

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The tale begins with the news crew getting a report of an alien entering Earth’s atmosphere in some type of transparent capsule, and Linda slips off to go investigate the matter, with Nasty all set to follow, only to get trapped into staying late and typing up order forms, thankfully putting a temporary end to her inane quest to discover the secret she already knows about Supergirl’s identity.  For her part, the Maid of Might zooms up to discover a strange looking space traveler on his way to the surface, but the gasses that form his clear cocoon begin to react violently with the atmosphere, and while she is putting out fires, the creature slips away.  Let’s leave aside for the moment how the creature can slip away from someone with super vision and super speed…

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The stranded space traveler has crash-landed on Earth, and he decides to investigate a native city before he tries to contact the inhabitants for help.  He meets with entirely predictable paranoia, fear, and cruelty, being attacked by three apparently myopic young misanthropes, who don’t seem to pay much attention to the fact that he’s seven feet tall and green.  The antagonized alien easily disables the punks without hurting them, only to then be accosted with about the same level of restraint by the gendarmes.  The cops pretty much immediately attack him, giving the creature only the briefest of warnings before they shoot to kill.  Remember, at this point, as far as anyone knows, he hasn’t done anything aggressive.

 

Fortunately, the bullets bounce off the alien’s armored skin, and the enraged being tries to toss the cops, car and all, away, only to be stopped by Supergirl who catches his metallic fastball.  When she tries to capture the creature, he vanishes, leading her to be summoned to a meeting of a bunch of soulless bureaucrats in suits, who chew her out and tell her not to interfere anymore as they set out to kill the innocent extraterrestrial.  The Girl of Steel objects, but not on any humanitarian grounds, instead arguing that capturing this sentient being could be scientifically advantageous….which is way too cold -blooded for the character.  We do get a brief note mentioning that Supergirl had helped cure the bird-people from her previous adventure, which is nice to know but is obviously an afterthought.  Apparently someone noticed that she totally abandoned those folks last issue.

 

The next day, the city is panicked, and citizens are attacking anyone who is different, thinking they may be the alien in disguise.  The Maid of Might has to intervene again and again to rescue different innocents from angry mobs.  The source of all this fear, meanwhile, is hiding out in a basement, scared and lonely himself, when he is discovered by a young boy.  The child befriends the being, feeding him, and in return, the traveler heals the young boy’s arm, which had been useless since birth.

 

Unfortunately, the boy’s father discovers the alien and reports him, leading the bureaucrats and the police to ambush the hapless creature.  After promising he won’t be harmed if he surrenders, they immediately open fire, while Supergirl stands by and watches, ineffectually objecting but not doing anything to intercede as they murder the innocent alien.  That’s really the most unforgivable part of this issue to me, that Linda, who absolutely has the power to prevent this tragedy, doesn’t act, all because some jerk in a suit tells her not to.  After the space traveler is struck down, we get the standard sci-fi ending, as the boy rushes to him, pleading innocence in the ambush, only for his newfound friend to forgive him before he dies.

It’s a surprisingly grim ending, and unnecessarily so, especially since Supergirl could and should have interceded to prevent it.  This is particularly surprising considering the growing independence of thought and increased moral maturity that we’ve been seeing in these books.  We’ve seen Superman and Supergirl both buck corrupt authority….but not this time.  Nonetheless, this isn’t a bad issue, though it doesn’t have enough space to do everything it is trying to do.  It definitely feels like a classic sci-fi morality play, but in order to create that atmosphere, Albano mishandles his protagonist and rushes to reach his “the real monster is man” ending.  It’s still a relatively decent tale with some emotional weight behind it, and the too-brief scenes with the boy and the alien are actually rather charming.  Bob Oskner’s art is functional throughout, though his alien is suitably strange, yet sympathetic, and he does a great job portraying the creature’s very human fear and despair.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen, with it losing some points because of Supergirl’s portrayal.

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Detective Comics #416


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“Man-Bat Madness!”
Writer/Artist: Frank Robbins
Colorist/Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Deadly Go-Between!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler/Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Rex-Circus Detective!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Alex Toth
Inker: Sy Barry
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Case of the Gold Dust Death”
Penciler: Ramona Fradon
Inker: Ramona Fradon
Letterer: Ira Schnapp
Editor: Jack Schiff

Detective Comics this month brings us another tale of that Bronze Age staple, the macabre Man-Bat!  We have an intriguing yarn in this issue, as Frank Robbins is handling both the art chores and the writing, and the result is unique and striking.  Neal Adams does a great job with the colors, and the pair create a really nicely moody and eerie adventure that is a bit ahead of its time in style.  The whole effect reminds me of books from the 80s and 90s, especially the limited-color palette Dark Horse Star Wars books like Dark Emipre.

The story itself begins at a quiet, subdued wedding ceremony where Kirk Langstrom and his fiancee, Francine, finally managed to tie the knot without anyone bat-ing out.  Batman himself watches over the ill-starred couple, and after the ceremony, he gives them a gift, a case full of his Man-Bat antidote.  The gift comes with a warning, as he doesn’t know how long the original dose will last.  The pair of newlyweds swear never to go down that monstrous road again and prepare to build a life together, though they realize they can never have children for fear of what they might become.

 

After their honeymoon, Langstrom destroys his formulas and vows never to experiment again, but when someone uses a prototype sonic device elsewhere in the museum, a change comes over the scientist,  Working in a frenzy, he prepares a new batch of his mutagen.  Fortunately, the device is shut off before he takes the devilish draught, and Kirk locks the new formula away, rushing off to meet his wife at the opera, complete with stylish and totally not portentous cape.  This whole sequence is just wonderfully rendered, capturing the oppressive madness of the scene, with Langstrom’s face distorted by beakers and cast in somber lines by dim lights.

At the opera, all is well until the violinist starts to play, and the high-pitched sound once again affects the scientist, who begins to revert to Man-Bat!  Francine tries to give him the antidote, but, hilariously, the prima donna’s solo aria shatters the ampule.  Completely transformed, the Man-Bat once more takes flight, pursued by Batman, who was also attending the show.  After a brief fight, the monster flees to the subway, railing against the moon that he fears controls him and declaring his own independence from outside forces.

Man-Bat invades a subway train, causing a panic and an emergency stop, which in turn causes an electrical fire, trapping the passengers.  In a nice moment, Batman appeals to his alter-ego’s remaining humanity, and the pair rescue the hapless travelers and together lead them out of the blackened tunnel.  Yet, once the deed is accomplished, Man-Bat once again escapes from the Dark Knight, arriving at his lab, where Francine awaits him.  However, this time the monster has no compassion for his mate, and he knocks her aside and drinks his new formula, intending to remain Man-Bat forever.  Fortunately, Batman beat him to punch, switching the vial with a new antidote.  The experimental serum cures Langstrom, perhaps forever (what are the chances of that, huh?), but it is still untested, so only time will tell.  The couple may even be able to have children. I’m sure that couldn’t possibly go horribly wrong.

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This is a fine little adventure, but it is too brief to be really successful.  We get some nice moments, and the sequence in Langstrom’s lab is great, but the whole thing resolves a little too quickly and too easily.  In general, this story just needs more development, especially the element with the sonic triggers for Langstrom’s transformations.  There’s an interesting angle there, but it’s left entirely unexamined.  I like Batman’s appeal to Man-Bat’s “ember of humanity”, and it’s nice to be reminded that the creature does have a heroic streak.  Throughout, Robbins’ artwork is just striking, and his work on Man-Bat’s face is really quite exceptional.  The furry, monstrous, yet wonderfully emotional visage is very effective.

His figures get a little cartoonish at times, which really doesn’t fit the tone or themes of the story, but overall, I quite liked his work here.  He gives several scenes a wonderful dramatic weight and definitely evinces a good sense of storytelling, even if his style is a little off at times.  It’s unusual but enjoyable.  So, all-in-all, this is a solid and interesting tale.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, with the unusual art raising it above average.  On a different note, this Man-Bat appearance struck a chord in my memory, and I found myself reminded of Spider-Man’s foe, the Lizard.  There are a lot of similarities between these characters and their settings, down to a long-suffering wife and the tragic regularity of their backsliding.  I wonder how intentional the parallels were, as the Lizard had premiered a decade before at Marvel.

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“The Deadly Go Between”


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Our Batgirl backup for this week is a solid story, which begins with the funeral of one of Gotham’s Finest, a close friend of Commissioner Gordon, killed in the line of duty.  Gordon swears to catch the fiend responsible and works himself ragged in search for the mysterious murderer.  When the Commissioner gets an enigmatic call in the middle of the night, Babs listens in, worried about her father, but she gets quite a shock.  The voice on the line claims to be Batgirl, and the real girl detective hears her lure Gordon into some sort of trap, claiming to have found his friend’s killer!

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Heading out to catch her impersonator and protect her father, Batgirl discovers her doppelganger, only to be captured by a pair of thugs acting as backstops for the duplicitous Dare-Doll.  Meanwhile, the bogus Batgirl leads Gordon to a meeting of radical political group, claiming that their leader killed the Commissioner’s friend, just because he hates cops.  The scene is accompanied by some very goofy slang, as the fellow is described as an “ice-the-pigs radical”.

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In the interim, our real red-haired heroine’s situation hasn’t improved any, as her two captors prepare to toss her off the roof.  She manages to turn the tables on them and escape, rushing to trace her father, while he and her criminal counterpart await the departure of the fall-guy, Zed Kurtz, who the false Batgirl is certain will kill Gordon when confronted.

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This is a fine first part of an adventure, and I’m certainly curious to see how it will all play out.  The one real weakness is the ease with which Babs is captured.  She’s sneaking up on her double, and the dialog tells us she’s alert and scanning for trouble…and then her captors just materialize next to her.  That section could have been handled better, but that’s a fairly minor quibble.  It’s nice to see Gordon get something a spotlight, and a duplicitous version of our dynamite dame protagonist is an interesting angle.  Heck’s art is really a bit better this issue, with no real weak points, and he brings a lot of detail and richness into his setting and backgrounds.  I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen.

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Alright my friends, that wraps up this edition of our little Bronze Age ballyhoo.  I hope that some of my dear readers are still out there and check in every once in a while.  I’m sorry for the long delay and hope that we’ll be able to meet more often going forward.  This was a solid batch of books with which to reconvene, but the next set looks to be much more memorable, including another Mr. Miracle, but also the conclusion to the Green Lantern/Green Arrow drug story!  Check back soon for more Bronze Age goodness and a little comic craziness.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 2)

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I am vengeance, I am the night, I am Bronze Age awesomeness!  Welcome, Internet travelers, to another edition of Into the Bronze Age, where we’ve got a set of Bat-comics on the docket.  We’ve got the whole Bat-Family in attendance, as well as some friends of the cowl, so let’s we what they’re up to!

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 #404
  • Adventure Comics #410
  • Batman #235
  • Brave and the Bold #97
  • Detective Comics #415
  • The Flash #209
  • Forever People #4
  • G.I. Combat #149
  • Justice League of America #92
  • New Gods #4
  • Superboy #177
  • Superman #242
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #113
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141
  • World’s Finest #205

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


Batman #234


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“Swamp Sinister”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

“The Outcast Society”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano

“Castle With Wall-to-Wall Danger!”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino

This month, our headline tale is another episode in the growing saga Ra’s Al Ghul, but this time it doesn’t have Neal Adams’ peerless pencils to help it.  According to our credits, he was involved in the cover, but it looks much more like Dick Giordano to me.  Either way, it’s a solid composition, capturing a nicely dramatic scene, though something of a cheat.  The story within is not quite as good as the earlier entries in the set, but the last one makes an especially hard act to follow.  It begins, dramatically enough, with a body delivered to Bruce Wayne’s penthouse apartment!  As the great detective begins trying to piece together where his deceased guest might have come from, the mysterious Ra’s Al Ghul arrives and helpfully explains.

It seems that the head of the League of Shadows himself sent the body, by way of a calling card.  The horribly disfigured corpse was once one of his men, a researcher named Pollard, who, together with another named Striss, was working on a chemical compound for him, a compound that “renders molybdenum as weak as tinfoil.”  Yet, instead of delivering the formula once it was prepared, they planned to steal it.  Interrupting the theft, Al Ghul was struck down, and the thieves escaped.

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Talia discovered her father and set out after the traitors, while their doctors managed to revive the Demon’s Head.  Notably, for the first time we begin to get a sense of Al Ghul’s immortality angle, as he mentions having been revived often before, but there is no sign yet of the Lazarus Pits.  As for the corpse, it seems that the chemical the thieves stole has an unexpected side effect.  If left exposed to the air, it becomes a deadly plague.  The horrible disfigurement of Pollard is the result.  Having been exposed during his attack on Al Ghul, Pollard died shortly thereafter, but Striss escaped, ignorant of the danger of what he carried.  Now Al Ghul must locate the fugitive before his daughter, who is ignorant of these facts, does, and he needs the World’s Greatest Detective to do so in time.

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The Dark Knight agrees, as if he has any choice, and takes off.  He theorizes that Striss will want to test his chemical, and he goes to the closest supply of molybdenum, which is held by an eccentric billionaire.  At the fellow’s mansion, Batman discovers an attack already underway.  The gate has been gassed, and masked men stalk the grounds.  Taking out the marauders in a nicely drawn sequence, the Caped Crusader makes his way into the mansion itself, where he finds a frightened French housekeeper who tells him that the invaders took the master of the house to “the small stream.”

The hero is momentarily stumped, knowing there are innumerable smalls streams around, but then he realizes that, in French, the word for “small stream” is “bayou,” and he makes an important connection.  He realizes that Striss has taken his billionaire captive to the eccentric fellow’s private fallout shelter, which is located in the Louisiana bayou.

Tracking them with the help of Ra’s, Batman bails out of a plane over the swamp and begins his search, finally interrupting an confrontation between the villainous doctor and Talia.  During the ensuing struggle, the chemical vial is shattered, and Striss falls into the lethal liquid.  The others escape, and Al Ghul’s doctors manage to treat them for the plague.  The tale ends with Batman noting that the grateful kiss he receives from Talia would be much more enjoyable if he hadn’t just witnessed her cold willingness to kill.

This is a fair enough little adventure, and we get a few interesting moments with Al Ghul, including the hints about his unnatural resiliency.  Yet, there isn’t a lot to it, and the final result feels a little lackluster, especially in comparison to the rather breathtaking chapter that preceded it.  Al Ghul isn’t quite as mysterious or fascinating  a figure, and although Batman and Talia share an intriguing moment at the end, she doesn’t really have much to do either.  In the end, the tale feels a bit cramped, and Novick’s art, though solid as usual, isn’t quite as striking as Adams’, especially when it comes to R’as himself.    I’ll give this story 3.5 Minutemen.  It’s fine, but it isn’t exceptional.

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“The Outcast Society”


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Our Robin backup continues the hippie commune-centered adventure of the previous issue.  Robin is fairly appalled at the poor conditions in which the commune inhabitants live, with rickety shacks for shelter, no power, and carrying their water from the nearby stream.  The leader of the dirty hippies, Jonathan, tells the young hero that they don’t want his “plastic world.”  There’s an interesting connection there to a recent Green Lantern issue about the growing artificialness of the world.  Despite the protestations of the hippie head-man, Robin insists that he must arrest Pat Whalon, as the bullet that his girlfriend wears around her neck, the same that was dug out of his leg, matches the gun of her policeman father, who was shot down in the previous issue.

The ‘Outcast Society’ refuses to let the Teen Wonder take the punk, saying they have to vote about whether or not to allow this.  Funny, but I don’t think the cops would see it that way.  Robin agrees to be patient and gets the grand tour.  He sees the hippies building, working, and farming, and the portrayal of the place is full of starry-eyed optimism.  Dick takes part and pitches in, while Pat makes a nuisance of himself, bragging about his radical exploits and generally being a real jerk.  Finally, the Community votes to let the Teen Detective arrest the rabble-rouser, but Pat sets a nearby field ablaze and escapes!

This a decent little tale, though not terribly compelling.  Novick and Giordano do a really good job with the art, though, bringing energy and personality to the various characters inhabiting this world that helps to make this story where not much happens still feel somewhat worthwhile.  Robin in particular looks great, with his cape always whipping about dramatically.  It’s rather funny to see the sympathetic treatment of hippie communes here from a modern perspective.  Old ‘Touchy-Feely’ Friedrich is in full swing.  Notably, most communes didn’t fare too well or last too long.  Unsurprisingly, taking a bunch of ignorant kids who don’t know how to do anything and don’t have any kind of solid moral code and sticking them in a field to make their own way didn’t generally turn out all that well.  I’ll give this particular Outcast tale an average 3 Minutemen.  It isn’t bad, but it isn’t particularly great, either.

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The Brave and the Bold #97


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“The Smile of Choclotan!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Nick Cardy
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“Who Has Been Lying in My Grave?”
Writer: Arnold Drake
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: George Roussos
Editor: Jack Miller

Our bi-monthly dose of Zaney Haney comes with another helping of Wildcat this month, which is always welcome.  As I’ve said before, the character that Haney really had the best handle on was ‘ol Ted Grant.  Yet, this issue doesn’t really take advantage of that familiarity.  Our heroes are partnered up on the cover, but that isn’t quite the case in the comic itself.  The cover has nice Nick Cardy art, and it makes for a striking image, though it is a fairly massive cheat, in terms of the story it represents.  There’s not even that much of a defense of the image as symbolic.

That story begins in fine fashion, with Bruce Wayne, vacationing in Acapulco, watching a young man preparing for a demanding cliff-dive.  Suddenly, the bold billionaire sees a rifleman, preparing to kill the kid.  When the native makes his dive, so does Bruce, as Batman!  Using his cape as a parachute (which we haven’t seen too often at this point, I think, but will eventually become a staple of the character), the Dark Knight manages to ruin the would-be killer’s shot.

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Later on, Bruce, back in-mufti, follows the assassin’s target, a young native named Luis.  He spots a poster of his old friend, Wild Cat, apparently boxing in the local arena under the name El Tigre.  Strange!  Just then, the hapless kid is jumped by a trio of knife-wielding thugs.  Batman intervenes once more, but by the time he dispatches the desperadoes, Luis has vanished.

That night, Bruce attends the fight, only to see the former champ get drugged and knocked out.  When the hoods try to get to him under cover of the ensuing riot, the Masked Manhunter takes a hand once more.  Rescuing Ted and his assistant, who turns out to be Luis, the Dark Detective takes them to their shack, where he learns their story.  It seems that Ted had once fought Luis’s father, and after the Mexican boxer refused to take advantage when Ted got resin in his eyes during a match, the pair became great friends.

brave and the bold 097 011Years later, when Luis’s father began to search for a lost cultural treasure of Mexico, an idol of the ‘smiling god,’ Choclotan (which is, of course, fictional), the old champ came to help.  Yet, when the pair were searching the mountains for the lost treasure, Luis’s father was killed and Ted’s head was creased by a bullet, leaving him amnesiac.  Apparently there is a sinister band of smugglers after the treasure as well, headed by a shadowy figure known as El Grande.  They are the ones behind the attacks on the duo.

brave and the bold 097 014Luis found his costume and has been helping him make a living by fighting as ‘El Tigre,’ while the youth cliff-dived for tourists.  Yep, sounds like a great plan.  Have the man with brain damage fight in boxing matches!  Anyway, poor judgement aside, Batman agrees to help, and they set out to search for Choclotan.  They encounter an old friend of Luis’s family on the way, a rancher named El Sordo, who owns a massive stead in they area they are traveling.  Apparently he was Luis’s father’s manager, and he offers to guide the group in their search.

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On the way, Ted suddenly snaps out of his fugue for a moment, telling the group they need to climb a nearby cliff.  When the agile Luis does so, he sees massive jaguar prints carved in the valley, leading the way to the treasure, and tells Batman that jaguars were the sacred animal of Choclotan.  As they push on, the group realizes they’re being followed, and that night, while El Sordo is on watch, the Dark Knight makes his own patrol, only to be attacked by machete-armed muchachos.  Suddenly, Wildcat appears and lends a hand, and the pair manage to fight off the fiends and discover an apparently wounded El Sordo.

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Yet, when they finally reach the end of the trail, a flooded volcano crater, and Luis dives in to locate the treasure, his reemergence reveals treachery!  El Sordo is, in fact, El Grande, and he has captured the heroes.  Insisting that Ted is merely faking his memory loss, Grande/Sordo has his beastly henchman, called ‘The Ox,’ attempt to beat the truth out of the boxer.  Despite the champ’s best efforts, he takes a beating and finally tells their captors that he remembers.

The treasure, he claims, is in a nearby cave, and his confession is taken as a terrible betrayal by young Luis.  Yet, when the smugglers enter the cave, Wildcat suddenly stops Luis from following, and moments later, a massive jet of water shoots out of the cavern, washing the would-be thieves away!  The treasure chamber was booby-trapped, and Ted’s memory had come back, allowing him to recall this and trick their enemies.  Finally, the trio discover the grinning god, and Choclotan can return to his people.

This is a fun yarn, and it is honestly rather tame for a Zaney Haney offering.  The plot is relatively unified by his standards, and while the exotic Mexican setting provides plenty of flavor, there aren’t any particularly insane flourishes to speak of.  Sadly, Wildcat isn’t really present for much of this story, instead he’s present in name only, as his amnesiac self lacks any real personality.

There are some nice elements to the adventure, like the surprisingly subtle hint about El Sordo, when we learn that this wealthy rancher was formerly just a fight manager, which should make an attentive reader suspicious.  Of course, such a reader would also notice that Wildcat effectively killed several men in the finale, a fact that is barely acknowledged.  Yes, it’s mostly an example of a ‘hoisted by your own petard‘ trope, but Ted’s role is a bit more direct than those usually are, as he willfully sends them into a situation he knows will probably kill them.  That’s problematic, but such concerns never slowed Zaney Haney down one bit.

On the art front, I can’t say I’m fond of the combination of Bob Brown and Nick Cardy.  Brown seems to be trying to ape Cardy, or Cardy is overwhelming Brown, but the final result is less somewhat than the sum of its parts, seeming like a poor compromise between their two styles.  I suppose I’ll give this fine, Indiana Jones-style adventure 3.5 Minutemen.  It’s an entertaining read.

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Detective Comics #415


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“Challenge of the Consumer Crusader”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

“Death Shares the Spotlight!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler/Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: Ben Oda

“The Forbidden Trick”
Writer: William Woolfolk
Penciler: Leonard Starr
Inker: Leonard Starr
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

“The Case of the Finders Keepers”
Penciler/Inker: John Prentice

Our issue of Detective Comics this month is notable, not so much for its story, which is fair enough, but for the real-life people it is based on, which provide another of those intriguing glimpses into the zeitgeist of the era that I love.  We’ve got a solid enough cover, a dramatic image of the hanging Batman, though it is, unsurprisingly, something of a cheat.  The tale within begins with the Dark Knight following, of all things, a garbage truck!  He’s trailing two trashmen when they jump a man in a suit and prepare to throw him into the compactor in the back of their truck.  The Caped Crusader intervenes, and with the help of the would-be victim, he manages to chase the thugs off.

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After the action, the Masked Manhunter discovers that their target was none-other than Tom Carson, famed “consumer crusader” and “leader of ‘Carson’s Consumer Commandos.'”  That’s right, there’s a Ralph Nader in the DC Universe!  This fascinates me.  Ralph Nader is a champion of consumer rights and has been a huge factor in holding government and industry accountable for their deeds in the U.S. in the last half century.  He also created “Nader’s Raiders” and “Public Citizen,” a pair of watchdog groups that advocated for public interests.  Nader was in the headlines in the early 70s, and it is fun to see him and his work referenced in such a way in comics.  What an unusual topic for a superhero story!

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Detective415-07Anyway, this pseudo-Nader, Tom Carson, tells Batman that he has a lot of enemies because of all of the big companies he’s ticked off by exposing their malfeasance.  Yet, the most recent case is Magna Industries, who were preparing to introduce a “microwave anti-pollution device.”  Carson’s group was testing their product, and he notes that a poor result could be disastrous for the company.  The Caped Crusader drops Carson off with Barbara Gordon for safekeeping, which is a fun little detail, and then he heads to check out Ben Ames, president of the company in question.  He notes that, as Bruce Wayne, he knows Ames personally, and can’t believe he’s behind the hit.

Detective415-09At the Ames estate, the Dark Knight sees a light on and reasons that the corporate bigwig might be waiting for a certain call.  Disguising his voice, Batman fakes the call from the Carson’s car, which he borrowed, and proves Ames’ guilt.  In order to figure out his motive, the hero tries a more theatrical approach.  He uses some of Carson’s spare clothes and some phosphorescent paint to stage a ghostly visitation.  Suddenly, Ames is confronted by the “ghost” of the man he tried to have killed!  During the confrontation, Ames declares that Carson drove him to it because he tried to blackmail his company, threatening to release a damning report, despite the fact that the device was perfectly safe.

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One mystery solved, the Masked Manhunter sets out to find who is in back of the blackmail scheme.  Heading to Carson’s headquarters, he interrupts his assistant, Joan Wilde, in the middle of a call to Ames.  Unfortunately, she has confederates.  In a neat sequence, they attack Batman, using the various testing devices in the consumer products laboratory.  After a desperate and colorful battle, the Dark Knight manages to turn the tables on his antagonists, who get caught in their own trap as the machines turn on them.

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You’ve heard of jungle Batman and snow Batman, but how about disco Batman!  Staying alive, staying alive!

Pursuing the femme fatale behind the caper, the hero leaps into a convenient car to give chase to her, only to realize it is hooked to a crane for crash testing.  Before he can react, the Dark Detective finds himself hurled high into the air, only moments from a cataclysmic collision with the ground.

When the car comes crashing down, Miss Wilde is certain she has disposed of her foe, only for Batman to emerge, a little worse for the wear but uninjured, from the smoke.  He tells her that he threw himself into teh air to avoid contact with the car, and that, plus the airbags, allowed him to survive.  I’m not sure that would actually work, but it makes comic sense, so I’ll give it a pass.  The issue ends with Carson discovering the corruption in his organization and being cleared of any involvement.

This is a solid little mystery, and the fight in the testing laboratory is pretty fun and creative.  It’s a really clever setting for a superhero fight, filled with lots of bizarre gadgets and silly contraptions that make for good superheroic fodder, all of which could realistically exist in such a place.  It’s also really quite interesting to see the consumer rights revolution make its way into comics, albeit obliquely.  Who knew the DC Universe had their own Ralph Nader?  You keep up the good work, Tom Carson!  So, I’ll give this tale 3.5 Minutemen.

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“Death Shares the Spotlight”


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Detective415-21Our Batgirl backup picks up where the last left off, with Babs dashing off to ‘call the police,’ an excuse she uses to go into action.  She contacts the agent who had been in charge of auctioning off the props from the Mesa movie studio, one of which was used in that night’s assassination attempt.  The girl detective learns that a hundred of the prop guns are still in Gotham, being used in a wild west show featuring a former Mesa movie star.  At the same time, Jason makes his own connection and sets off as well.

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Counting on the powder-burns on would-be killer’s hand to identify him, Babs is disappointed when all the show’s players begin using prop guns.  That doesn’t stop the star of the show, Chuck Walla, from letting his guilt and self-consciousness drive him to flee the spotlight in an attempt to destroy the evidence, his gloves, before anyone notices.

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When Batgirl confronts him, the actor catches her at gunpoint.  He admits that he tried to kill Tiz, who was once his girl, before joining up with her new husband.  Just then, Jason jumps in, having followed his own trail to the assassin.  The Daredevil Dame pitches in, taking out Walla but making her beau think it was his blow that did it, which is rather cute.

This is a brief and rapid-paced tale, feeling even shorter than normal, but it is reasonably complete.  I did feel a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a bit more to it, and Walla’s panicked display of guilt was a bit much.  Unfortunately, this also features some of Don Heck’s worst work we’ve seen so far.  It’s very rough and awkward in several scenes.  I’ll give this lackluster offering an average 3 Minutemen.  It’s not bad, but it isn’t particularly good either.

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And that does it for this iteration of Into the Bronze Age!  Bat-books galore!  I hope y’all enjoyed the post and that y’all will join me again soon for another dose of classic comics.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 3)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got a really famous comic on the docket for this post, or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that it is infamous.  I’m speaking, of course, about the drug issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow.  I can’t say I’ve been looking forward to reading this one again, but it should certainly prove an interesting subject for study and reflection. First, a little background.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 is, without a doubt, the most famous issue of this famous run, and justifiably so.  Whatever it’s quality, this issue arrived like a thunderclap, and it became massively influential.  Interestingly, the origins of this tale lie, not in the offices of DC, but in the Marvel Bullpen.  You see, in 1970, the drug epidemic was a major concern, and the Nixon administration asked Stan Lee to publish an anti-drug story.  The Marvel editor chose to do so in The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 in 1971, leading to the first comic since the advent of the Comics Code Authority to depict drug use, which was not allowed, even in a negative light, under the Code.  This caused a minor furor, and the folks at the Code refused to sign off on the issues, so Lee published them anyway, removing the Code seals.  This was an important moment in comics and especially in the growth of maturity in the medium.  When Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams came to tackle their own treatment of the drug problem (because where one of the Big Two goes, the other inevitably follows), the powers that be at the Code reevaluated the matter and approved the issues.  The rest, as they say, is history and led to the gradual loosening of Code restrictions.  Thus, this issue had an impact on the superhero genre at large, as well as its immediate cultural influence.

Of course, we can’t let that comic completely overshadow our other classic books, which include a solid issue of the Flash and another of JLA/JSA crossover, which is always a blast.  So, we’ve got plenty to cover in this post!

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 #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.


The Flash #208


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“A Kind of Miracle in Central City”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Malice in Wonderland”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Flash’s Sensational Risk”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got a rather off-beat Flash tale this month,  though it has some similarities to the themes of an earlier issue in this run.  This comic has an equally unusual cover, with its scene of piety and the seemingly providential arrival of the Flash.  It’s not the most arresting of images, but it is unique enough to catch your attention if you actually take a moment to figure out the story it tells.  It’s not a particularly great piece, but it is certainly fitting for the tale within.  That particular yarn begins with a group of teens bearing an offering of stolen goods to an abandoned church, only to be greeted by an unlikely trio of gunmen.

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They’re dressed like refugees from the 19th Century, with one a Yankee soldier, one a Confederate cavalryman, and the leader an Indian brave.  I’ve always got a soft-spot for gangs in themed costumes, but I’m not really sure how this gimmick fits these small-time hoods.  At least it’s better than another appearance of the Generic Gang, I suppose.  Either way, as they gather their ill-gotten gains, a troop of nuns march into the crumbling edifice and confront them.  One of the sisters pleads with her actual brother, the leader of the teens, to stop the thieves, but he rejects her.  Fittingly when dealing with such unrepentant rogues, the sisters bow and begin to pray to St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes (the concept of which appeals to my Romantic sensibilities).

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While the nuns can’t convince the thieves to change their ways, they at least drive them out of their hideout, but while meeting on the top of a building, the larcenous louses decide that someone must have tipped the sisters off to their location.  Who could be a better suspect than the brother of one of those sisters?  So, the thugs toss young Vic right off of the roof when he asks for his payment!  Meanwhile, the Flash is on his way back from Istanbul and makes a small but significant mistake.  He forgets that it is Saturday and heads to the office, only then realizing his error and heading home, which brings him by that building at the exact moment Vic makes his precipitous exit.  The Sultan of Speed whips up an updraft to break the kid’s fall, but inexplicably (and unnecessarily), “electromagnetic interference” somehow messes up his efforts…which consist of wind…somehow.  Nonetheless, the Scarlet Speedster saves the boy,  but the youth won’t tell him anything.

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This leads to a fun scene where Barry ponders how to help the kid, realizing that saving the world is important, but so is saving one misguided teenager.  As he thinks, he paces, unconsciously zipping from one end of the world to another, and we get a glimpse of how tumultuous the world was in 1971, with protests from Japan to Paris.  Having made his decision, the Flash zooms back home, only to find Vic having come to his senses and gone to his sister for help.

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Clearly these scenes represent some issues which don’t make our history recaps but were in the zeitgeist at the time.

The Fastest Man Alive overhears him confess and add that the kids want to give back the stolen goods, but they can’t find the gang’s new hiding place.  So the Monarch of Motion takes a hand.  He conducts a super speed grid search of the city, locates the loot, and then races past Vic and his girl, pulling them along in his slipstream right to the cave where the spoils lie.

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Unfortunately, they aren’t the only visitors.  Their anachronistic antagonists make an appearance as well, but the invisibly vibrating Flash jumps in again, swatting their bullets out of the air and lending an super-speed hand to Vic’s desperate fight against his foes.  I enjoy the touch of characterization this provides Barry, as he doesn’t need the glory from this deed, preferring to give the kid something to make him proud.  Later, the teens are granted leniency by a judge, and the nuns host a social at their renovated church.  Vic, for his part, is convinced that the strange events that led to this happy ending were a miracle.  Flash notes that it was the miracle of super speed, but we see a caption that quotes Dylan Thomas, saying that, to those who believe, “the moment of a miracle is like unending lightning.”

 

I like the light touch of religious themes in this story, with the whole tale having the appearance of a fairly straightforward superhero adventure, with the Flash as the usual arbiter of justice and redemption.  Yet, there is the admirably subtle twist of our hero’s wrong turn at the beginning of the story that brings him into contact with the lost soul in need of rescue, a wrong turn that is easily explained as just a random occurrence but which takes on greater meaning in the context of a story filled with prayer and faith.

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The yarn is nothing special, but Kanigher does a good job with suggesting the possibility of divine intervention.  The final quote makes that subtle connection stronger, but it is rather deeply and unintentionally ironic.  You see, that line comes from Dylan Thomas’s “On the Marriage of a Virgin,” which describes a sexual experience of a virgin, probably that of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in contrast with her experience with the Holy Spirit.  That makes its use here an…odd choice.  The line, taken out of context, works pretty well, but its context certainly provides a weird perspective on the story!  Nonetheless, it’s an entertaining read, and Dick Giordano does a solid job on the art, really acing the secret super-speed confrontation with the villains at the end.  The thieving kids’ arc is probably the biggest weakness of this issue, as it feels like it is missing something.  With all of the costumed criminals constantly talking about “The big man,” the tale feels rather unfinished when it ends without some type of reveal or resolution involving this big time baddie that supposedly is running things.  I found myself wondering if I had missed a few pages when I got to the end. Nonetheless, I’ll give the whole thing an above average 3.5 Minutemen based on the strength of its themes.

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“Malice in Wonderland”


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Despite how much I enjoyed the religious themes of the cover story, I have to say that my favorite part of this book was this delightful Elongated Man backup.  Like many of Ralph Dibny’s adventures I’ve been able to read, this one is just plain fun.  It begins in rather unusual fashion, with our unhurried hero stopping off at a small town named Dodgson, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in a rather unique way
Apparently the festival is, oddly enough, Alice in Wonderland themed because the town’s founder was a descendant of Lewis Carroll, and a costumed ‘Alice’ gives the visiting detective a free copy of the children’s classic, which he decides to read in the pack.  As he relaxes in that idyllic setting, reliving his childhood and admiring the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, which provide the official aesthetic for the town’s celebration, he is startled to see a running rabbit, late for a very important date!
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Of course, no self-respecting detective could pass up such an odd occurrence, so Ralph hurries off after the harried hare.  Before he can catch up, the White Rabbit hops into a cab and speeds away.  Using his stretching powers, the Elongated Man is able to pursue the rogue rodent through the town for a while before losing him, but after an informative conversation with a helpful ‘Mad Hatter,’ the Ductile Detective follows a hint and heads to the library, where a first edition of Alice is on display.
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Flash208-22Sure enough, the hunch pays off, and the hare is there.  When the bold bunny sees the superhero arrive, he calls out to another costumed character, who tosses down a smoke bomb.  Together the two steal the valuable tome while Ralph and the townsfolk take an impromptu nap.  Upon awakening, the Ductile Detective deduces where the thieves will be hiding, from a scrap of paper he snatched from the rabbit.  The notes reads “Mushroom Float,” and the hero realizes that the crooks plan to make their escape in plain sight, by hiding out among the costumed cast of the town’s anniversary parade!
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Meanwhile, those same thieves are slowly winding through town aboard, you guessed it, a float of the hookah-smoking caterpillar atop his mushroom.  As they congratulate themselves on their cleverness, an arm suddenly stretches out of the caterpillar’s hookah and snatches their loot.  The criminals draw weapons, but the wildly stretching sleuth proves too hard to hit.
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There’s some really fun (and funny) action in this scene, as when the villains try to smother our hero by shoving his head into the smoke from the hookah, only to have him stretch his nose free of the cloud, all while stretching a foot around the float to give his opponents the boot!  With the criminals corralled, Ralph explains what originally tipped him off about the rogue rabbit.  The town’s celebration was based on Tenniel’s illustrations, but the ignorant thief had based his costume on the Disney movie, making him look out of place.  This set the detective’s ‘mystery loving nose’ to twitching.  There’s a lesson in there for you, kids: Don’t just see the movie; read the book!
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This is just a charming little adventure.  It’s a lot of fun, and Ralph is entertaining throughout, both in dialog and in his wacky stretching.  Dick Giordano’s art is great in this tale, really doing a wonderful job with the whimsical world that best suits Ralph and his exploits.  All of the colorful costumed characters look great, though they also don’t really look like people wearing costumes.  Still, Giordano does a really good job with the final fight, providing entertaining and creative uses of his hero’s powers, which is always important for a stretching character.  There’s not much to this story, but Len Wein manages to make it feel complete in just eight pages, which is always a challenge.  I’ll give this whimsical little visit to Wonderland a thoroughly entertaining 4 Minutemen.
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Green Lantern / Green Arrow #85


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“Snowbirds Don’t Fly”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Colourist: Cory Adams
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Here we are at last.  I’ve been talking about this comic since we began the GL/GA series.  Of course, I’ve been dreading rereading this issue.  I  rather cordially disliked it upon my first read, finding it massively heavy-handed and generally goofy and melodramatic.  Imagine my surprise when, upon begrudgingly rereading the comic (the things I do for you, my beloved readers!), I found the story much better than I remembered.  It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s far from the worst issue of this run, and it is undeniably important and groundbreaking.  So, without further ado, let’s examine this landmark issue.

First, I’d be remiss not to talk about this justly famous cover.  It’s not exactly subtle (what in this run is?), but it is immediately arresting.  Can you imagine browsing through the newsstand, seeing the collection of fine and conventional covers of this month’s books arrayed in front of you, only to have this piece jump out.  It had to be an incredible shock to audiences back in 1971.  I’d say that this is one of the few cases where cover dialog or copy is absolutely necessary.  I think a little context, at least in 1971, was probably called for.  The central image, of Speedy strung out, shaking, hunched and ashamed, is really a powerful one, though Ollie’s reaction might be a bit exaggerated to the point of being comical.  The overall effect is certainly gripping, nonetheless.

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The legendary story this cover represents had to be even more shocking to fans.  It begins with the conventional scene of a mugging, but unusually, these muggers are uncertain and possessed of a strange desperation.  Unfortunately for them, they pick Oliver Queen as their pigeon, which goes about as well as you might imagine.  Apparently, Dinah has broken things off with Ollie (maybe that fight last issue was more serious than it seemed?), and he’s got a bit of aggression to work out.  Things take a turn for the serious, however, when one of the muggers pulls out a crossbow of all things!  Oddly, the guy who uses a bow and arrow as a superhero mocks the weapon and doesn’t take it seriously, which makes the quarrel that embeds itself in his chest all the more surprising!

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In a modern day reimagining of the beginning of the Good Samaritan parable, the badly wounded hero crawls through the streets in search of aid…and is promptly ignored by a well-dressed couple, a cop (!), a taxi, and even the nurse at the emergency room…at least until he keels over.  It’s an effective little commentary on the dehumanizing affect of urban life.  After all, we’re only six years after the murder of Kitty Genovese.  Once he’s patched up, Ollie checks out the quarrel and notices that it is rather familiar and, on a hunch, he calls up Hal Jordan for some backup.  When the Green Lantern arrives, Ollie suits up and admits to his friend that the quarrel has him worried because he hasn’t seen Speedy in a month, and it could have come from his wayward ward.

 

green lantern 085 011The heroes begin their investigation in the basement of Ollie’s own building, where he’d seen the kids who jumped him before.  Downstairs they find one of the punks begging a charming fellow named Browden for a fix.  It seems that Browden is a pusher!  He turns away the junkie with a savage kick, and the partners decide to ask the jerk some questions.  The guy proves suicidally brave, taking on two Justice Leaguers with a fire axe, but surprisingly this doesn’t prove to be the best idea.  After capturing both the drug dealer and his client, the heroes plan to interrogate their prisoners.

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Next, we get a scene that I found cringe-inducingly bad when I read it the first time.  I found it much more palatable this time, but there’s still plenty here that is on the silly side.  We join our other two would-be muggers in an apartment in China Town, and they are suffering from withdrawal.  To take their minds off their pain, they admire a wall of ancient weapons, the source of the nearly deadly crossbow.  One of the boys is an Asian American, and he mentions that the weapons are his fathers, who collects them as an outlet against the injustice that he has to deal with day in and day out as a minority.  This leads to their discussions about why they are using drugs, and the dialog is a bit goofy, but there is something worthwhile here as well, though I didn’t appreciate it on my first reading.

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What…what is that kid doing in the last panel?  Interpretive dance?

The scene is ham-handed, and in it O’Neil commits a cardinal sin of writing, having his characters simply declare how they feel, rather than delivering that information organically.  Despite the clunky and, at times, ridiculous dialog where these characters just helpfully hold forth about their motivations and feelings, O’Neil links their drug use to the racial issues of the time.  While his connections are wildly overly simplistic, effectively equating to “I use drugs because people are racist,” there’s no denying that there was and is a disproportionate percentage of addiction in minority communities in the U.S..  This is tied into a host of other social ills, but it’s noteworthy that O’Neil makes the connection and gives us a sympathetic portrayal, not only of addicts, but of minorities as well, identifying the social pressures that play a role in their problems.

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green lantern 085 016Their group-therapy session is interrupted by the arrival of the Green Team, who fly in and capture the fleeing kids, only to be surprised to see that one of them is…Speedy?!  Ollie instantly assumes that his ward is there undercover, and when one of the junkies helpfully offers to take the heroes to their suppliers, Arrow tells his young friend to stay behind while they wrap things up.  On the way, the heroes talk with the kids, and in a notable inversion, it is the Emerald Archer who is the inflexible, judgemental one, while Hal takes a more thoughtful, moderate approach.  It seems that Ollie has no patience for the kind of weakness that leads to drug use.

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Another Headcount entry!

When they reach their destination, a private airport, the Emerald Gladiator quickly disarms the smugglers operating there, but then he falls prey to that perennial superhero foe…the headblow!  One of the junkies unsurprisingly turns on the heroes and clocks the Lantern with a wrench!  His green-clad partner does his best, but the wounded Archer is quickly beaten down, and instead of killing the helpless heroes, the smugglers decide to dope them up and leave them for the cops.  The addicts get a fix for their efforts, and as the cops arrive, it seem that the Green Team is doomed for disgrace and jail!  Just then,  Speedy arrives and manages to rouse Hal, who unsteadily tries to use his ring to escape.

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His efforts result in a monstrously distorted construct produced by his drug-addled imagination, but the Emerald Crusader wasn’t chosen to wield the most powerful weapon in the universe for nothing.  Hal summons all of his willpower and manages to focus enough to get them away.  It’s actually a really good sequence, and I love that Hal is portrayed as having enough iron willpower to overcome even the drugs in his system this way, however unrealistic it might be.

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Back at Green Arrow’s apartment, the heroes recover and discuss what would lead someone to put that kind of poison into their body.  Roy quietly offers a suspiciously specific example about a young boy ignored by a father figure and turning to drugs for comfort, but his mentor simply shrugs it off.  After Hal leaves, Ollie walks back into his rooms, only to discover Speedy in the process of shooting up!

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green lantern 085 029The reveal is, of course, not that surprising after the cover, but the twist of an honest-to-goodness superhero, not just a supporting character, becoming a drug-addict, must have been earth-shattering to fans in ’71, especially at DC.  We’re still not very far removed from the era where DC heroes were spotless, flawless paragons of all virtues, and this is a huge departure from the line’s conventions.  You simply didn’t see things like this in comics, especially DC Comics.  This makes the issue itself an important milestone, in many ways representing the high-water mark of social relevance for the era.

The portrayal of DC heroes as fallible was amped up by an order of magnitude with this story, for better or worse, and not just with Speedy’s succumbing to heroin.  No, the moral culpability of Oliver Queen shouldn’t be overlooked.  This is actually one of my biggest problems with this comic.  O’Neil does here what often happens with such “nothing will ever be the same” twists: he tells a massively disruptive story, revealing a huge change in the characters, but with no plans to follow it up or manage the fallout from it.  Thus, these two issues will go on to haunt poor Speedy for the rest of his comics career.  Hardly a story will be written about him that won’t be affected in some fashion by this choice, and while Ollie isn’t as marred by these comics as his poor ward, the character is marked by his cavalier irresponsibility towards the kid that was effectively his son, which helped lead to this moment.  These factors make this tale a pretty grave disservice to these characters.  As bad as the incredibly self-righteous, Godwin’s Law invoking Green Arrow of the earlier run might have been, this twist, which turns him into an incredibly selfish, irresponsible jerk is significantly worse.

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Translation: ‘I should not be allowed to care for a kid.’

Despite this, the story itself is significantly better than I remember, and there is a good tale to be found here, with the examination of drug use and the damage it causes, as well as the desperation of those caught in the claws of addiction.  Unfortunately, the dialog of the junkies is more than a little silly at times, and the characterization problems, with both Ollie’s selfishness and Speedy’s rather weak reasons for his drug use seriously impacting the overall effect.  Apparently Roy was abandoned by his father figure…while he was in college.  At that point, you’d think he’d be able to handle it.  A lot of kids go off to college and don’t see their parents for months at a time.  I certainly did.  So, his motivations seem a bit insufficient, and this portrayal also contrasts rather noticeably with the happy, well-adjusted kid concurrently appearing in Teen Titans.  A little more groundwork would have gone a long way to making this tale more successful.

Despite these weaknesses, seeing this comic in the context, both of its preceding run and of the rest of the DC line at the time, is really revelatory.  In that light, it becomes apparent that is the culmination of much of O’Neil’s work on this book.  In it, the major themes of O’Neil’s social relevance campaign come together in a surprisingly sophisticated (for its time and medium) combination that illustrates a compassionate understanding of the drug problem that is often still lacking today.  It is clumsy in places, clever in places, poorly thought-out, yet innovative and daring.  The issue is helped greatly by Neal Adams’ beautiful, realistic art.  It elevates the material and adds a touch of humanity to the characters whose suffering and struggles might otherwise not have nearly as much weight.  This flawed comic is definitely worth a read if you want to understand both its era and Bronze Age comics at large.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, certainly a higher score than I expected to award, but it is definitely hurt by O’Neil’s abuse of his characters.

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Justice League of America #91


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“Earth – The Monster-Maker!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The Day the World Melted”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella

“The Hour Hourman Died!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Sid Greene

To round out our comics for this post, we’ve got a JLA issue that delivers another JLA/JSA crossover, which always provide for fun reading.  It starts with a really great cover.  That’s quite a dramatic tableau, the grim-faced Dark Knight carrying in the ravaged body of his comrade and the shocked looks of the other Leaguers, all beautifully drawn by Neal Adams.  It would certainly be tough to pass this issue up and forgo the chance to find out what happened!  I’d say that we could certainly do without the cover copy, but that’s a small complaint.  Of course, I always love the team line-ups that these classic issues provide.  Overall, it’s an all-around good cover.  Sadly, the comic inside doesn’t quite live up to the tantalizing promise of the piece.

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While the dialog is, of course, a cheat, the image itself is truth in advertising, as the tale begins with Batman’s arrival as depicted.  Superman, Hawkman, Green Lantern, and the Atom are holding a meeting on the Satellite, and they note that Aquaman is absent without leave, causing them to wonder if he’s still angry about the events of the previous issue.  Just then, the Caped Crusader arrives, carrying the Crimson Comet, not so speedy at the moment.  Apparently the Masked Manhunter recovered the mauled hero from near Gotham.

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I quite like this title image; it evokes the feel of those classic 50s sci-fi tales.

Before that mystery can be solved, we see a strange scene, in which some rather adorable aliens, traveling between dimensions in a spaceship, lose one of their passengers and his 80s-TV-show-cute pet.  The poor kid, the brother of the pilot, slips through the dimensional barrier, and he and his space-dog end up in separate worlds.  The other aliens frantically fret that, once separated, the boy and dog can only survive for 37.5 hours!  Apparently, this strange species has developed a symbiotic relationship with their pets, one in which the creatures are so dependent upon one another that each will die without the other.  On Earths 1 and 2, the castaway creatures are mutated by the dimensional energies they experienced, growing gigantic and becoming maddened.

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jla091-05On Earth 2, the Justice Society gathers, including their Superman, Hawkman, Flash, and Atom, as well as their Robin.  They get a distress signal from their Green Lantern, and when they arrive, they find him battered and bruised from a bout with the alien boy.  Apparently the yellow youth sensed that the Emerald Gladiator’s ring had the power to bridge dimensions, so he attacked the hero and stole the ring.  The team sends their fallen friend back to base while they set out in search of the kid.  Oddly, on the way, Hawkman talks down to Robin, telling him he “may as well fill in for Batman,” prompting the ADULT Wonder to remind the Winged One that he is a full-fledged member of the Society.  Robin thinks about the ‘generation gap,’ which seems a bit odd, given that he’s supposed to be, like in his 30s in these stories.

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jla091-07Forced friction aside, back on Earth 1, their Flash recovers long enough to give them a super-speed clue, which Superman decodes.  It’s a reference to “New Carthage,” where Robin attends Hudson U.  Just then, Aquaman sends in an alarm of his own, so the team splits, with Batman and the newly arrived Green Arrow heading to help the Sea King, while the rest of the team go to track down the mysterious threat.  At their destination they find their own Robin, who was already investigating the monster.  As they continue their search, the Earth-1 Hawkman gives the Teen Wonder his own dose of condescension.  Man, Friedrich has poor Hawkman playing the jerk…on two worlds!

Before the heroes find the problem pup, Green Lantern detects a signal emanating from Earth-2, leading to the two teams joining forces.  The Atom suggests the distribution of forces: (Earth-1: Both Supermen, both Atoms, and Flash 2 / Earth-2: Both Hawkmen, Green Lantern 1, both Robins), saying that it will be “more scientifically sound,” which Superman questions…but despite this the choice is never explained.  Weird.  On Earth-2, the baffled alien boy lashes out at his surroundings, but when the heroes arrive, he tries to communicate… but it doesn’t go too well.

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They can’t understand each other, and the young Robin loses patience and attacks!  See kid, this is why Hawkman talks down to you!  He takes a beating until his elder counterpart and the others rescue him.  The Emerald Crusader packs the two Robins off to safety at the Batcave so the Teen Wonder can get help, but he himself gets pummeled by the kid…rather unnecessarily, really.  He basically just lands and lets the alien belt him.  The youth is after the Lantern’s ring, but Hal manages to turn it invisible.  This prompts his frustrated foe to turn the Green Guardian into a human missile, taking out both Hawkmen in the process.  It’s not the best fight scene, really, as the heroes seem more than a little incompetent, and the kid really doesn’t seem like that much of a threat.

 

That problem is magnified even more for his adorable animal companion, which is rampaging through Earth-1.  Seriously, the thing looks like it should have shown up on The Snorks, Teddy Ruxpin, or some other brightly colored and whimsical kids’ cartoon.  Obviously this is intentional to a degree, with the creative team wanting to emphasize the juxtaposition of the innocence of these creatures with the threat they pose, but I think they went a tad overboard here, especially when the cute critter somehow knocks down two Supermen with a single swipe!  The heroes’ efforts seem futile, but finally, while Atom 1 distracts the dimension-lost dog, one of the Supermen digs a pit around it at super speed, trapping the creature.

 

Realizing that there might be a connection between their invader and that of Earth-2, Flash 2 and Superman 1 head there to investigate.  Meanwhile, the alien boy stumbles into Slaughter Swamp, where he encounters…Solomon Grundy!  The two bond in an unlikely friendship that is actually a little sweet, and when the heroes track the lost lad down, Grundy tries to protect him  This leads to a fairly nice brawl, which ends with Grundy triumphant, preparing to smash the alter-Earth version of his nemesis, Green Lantern, using Superman himself as a club!

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This is a fun and rather unusual issue.  I didn’t remember this one at all, but I have to say, the central conflict, the dangerous innocent facing his own imminent doom, is a creative and interesting concept.  It’s also always fun to see the League and Society team up, even if they aren’t exactly at their best in this story.  Notably, Friedrich’s attempts at characterization with his Robin/Hawkman pairings are interesting, even though they aren’t entirely successful.  Still, I have to give him credit for trying to inject some personality and personal drama into the book.  It’s intriguing to see him attempt to bring the generation gap conflicts into the superhero world in such a fashion.  We’ve seen it addressed in Robin’s backups and in Teen Titans, but we haven’t seen this tension explored between actual adult and teen heroes very much.

 

The introduction of Grundy is a nice way to add a bit more of a threat to the story, but he still seems a bit overmatched by the gathered heroes, so much so that Friedrich has to cheat a bit to neutralize Hal, having the Lantern sort of take a dive against the kid.  Dillin’s art is, unfortunately, evincing the usual stiffness and awkward patches that I’ve come to expect from his JLA work, but there are also the usual highlights.  (In this case, the fight with Grundy)  Despite its weaknesses, this is still a fun and admirably creative adventure tale.  I’ll give it a solid 3.5 Minutemen.  It loses a bit because of the plot induced stupidity of its protagonists.

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P.S.: Entertainingly, this issue includes a note from Mike Friedrich himself about writing the story wherein he laments the tortuous challenge of juggling the massive cast of a JLA/JSA crossover.  I sympathize!  That has to be quite the job.  I know I’ve found it tough in my own work with these characters in the DCUG.

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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

arrowheadglheadAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpg2f52ff2370b3a87769869427faeac69darrowheadAquamanhead.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgMister_Miracle_Scott_Free_00014aa6e3fed1467a75dcac3f9654a2c723glhead

We get a second appearance by Green Lantern on the Wall this month, and I have to say, I’m more than a little surprised that we haven’t seen a lot more of him.  Hal has something of a reputation, you see.


Well folks, that will do it for this post, but quite a post it is, featuring a landmark comic.  There’s plenty here to consider, and I hope that you’ve found the reading as entertaining and interesting as I did in the writing.  Please join me again soon for another leg of our journey Into the Bronze Age!  While our next set of books won’t be quite so groundbreaking, they promise to be fascinating in their own right, including the always-exciting Mr. Miracle and the penultimate issue of Denny O’Neil’s unusual but provocative run on Superman.  Until next time, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!  See you then!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  I know I’ve been quite remiss in delivering you some more Bronze Age goodness, but I’m getting back in the swing of things, so I hope you can look forward to some more frequent posts.  Thank you all for your patience and your continued support!

As for this post, we’ve got a double dose of the Dark Knight on tap, including a Bronze Age first, the return of one of the great Batman villains!

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 #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.


Batman #234


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“Half an Evil”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Vengeance for a Cop!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Trail of the Talking Mask”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino

We’ve got an important milestone here, as this issue features the return of a classic Batman villain, the first of many due in the coming years.  As you can probably tell from the cover, our mystery guest is that bifurcated badman, that champion of chance, Two-Face!  I knew that he had been long absent from the Bat books, but when I looked him up, I was astonished to discover that he last appeared way back in 1956, in Detective Comics #228.

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It’s hard to believe that a character now considered to be one of the major Batman villains could be absent from these books for over a decade and a half, but so it is.  Notably, DC seems to realize the significance of this story, as the cover copy touts the return of the villain.  The cover itself is okay, but it isn’t really all that impressive.  We’ve got a nice depiction of Batman’s plight, and Two-Face’s laughing visage is fairly striking, but the whole tableau is more confusing than evocative.  What exactly is going on here?  Has Two-Face turned uglier than average pirate?  We are left to ponder the question.

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The book opens with a lovely, moody splash page presaging the showdown that will eventually take place in the swamp at the end of the story, but the action actually begins during the “Gotham City Merchants’ Parade,” which bears a striking resemblance to the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  This particular festival is interrupted by a strange theft, as two clowns break character to hijack a giant hotdog balloon, which floats up to be received by a waiting helicopter.  Note the label on the float.

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This crime, unusual as it is, attracts the attention of Batman, and we get a funny scene in Commissioner Gordon’s office, as resident anti-Batman loudmouth, Councilman Arthur Reeves, is busy boasting about how he’s going to put the vigilante in his place, only to flee in terror when the Dark Knight, having silently arrived behind him, says “boo.”  It’s a great little humor beat that provides some levity while not detracting from Batman’s brooding presence or serious attitude, striking a balance that isn’t easy to achieve.  The annoying Reeves having been removed, Batman and the Commissioner compare notes, but their conference is interrupted by an alarm at the Nautical Museum.

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Batman234-09Arriving there ahead of the police, the Masked Manhunter sees a car take off, but realizes that it is a diversion.  Continuing his search inside, he encounters the two criminal clowns from the first robbery, and he captures one, though the other escapes with the loot, a diary of an old sea captain named Bye.  Interrogating his captive, the Caped Crusader receives a shock.  The mastermind behind these thefts is always flipping a coin and keeps his face in shadow.  Sadly, the cover rather spoiled the reveal, but I imagine the next scene still had to be exciting for long-time Batman fans, as Two-Face is slowly revealed, first with a focus on his scarred coin, and then his equally scarred visage.  It’s a nice, dramatic scene, and it ends with the evil side of the coin winning out, setting the stage for more mischief.

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Having sussed out the identity of his foe, Batman reminisces over Two-Faces history, and I was surprised to discover that the Pre-Crisis villain actually had his face repaired and was healed at one point in time, only to have another disaster scar him once more and drive him back into madness.  Poor Harv can’t catch a break!  Back in the present, the world’s greatest detective begins to put the pieces together, realizing that Captain Bye’s former ship is still preserved in a marina nearby.  When he arrives to investigate, the Batmobile is met by a pair of gunsels, but Batman isn’t in it!  Using an automatic pilot to control the car, the Dark Knight gets the drop on the gunmen and takes them out, only to arrive on the dock just as the schooner explodes and sinks!  The Masked Manhunter realizes that he’s missed something and tries to examine his assumptions.

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In another funny scene, a drunk is floating elsewhere in the river on an inner tube, only to be slowly hoisted out of the drink by a mast emerging from the water.  The schooner slowly floats to the surface, and Batman is there to see it.  When the ship is fully afloat, he climbs aboard to await the arrival of his foe, but even the great detective is stunned to see the drunk hanging obliviously from the mast, and he’s distracted enough for Two-Face, who had stowed away with a SCUBA rig, to sneak up and knock him out.  It seems that the mastermind stole the parade balloon to help him raise the ship after he sank it, having chosen that particular balloon because it belonged to the Janus (two-faced god) hot dog company, labelled “Doubly Delicious,” thus making it doubly appealing for Two-Face!

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The scarred scalawag discovered that Captain Bye had hidden a treasure of gold doubloons on his ship, and he had sunk it in order for the tide to deposit it in a secluded cove, then he raised it with the balloon so he could recover the hidden fortune in secret.  Lashing Batman to the mast, Two-Face plans to sink the ship once more, but the Dark Knight points out that this will kill the tramp on the mast.  A flip of his coin forces the villain to save the drunk, and this gives the Caped Crusader time to free himself, and with a single blow, he knocks his foe out, bringing the adventure to an end.

This is a fun story, with a lot of entertaining moments and a nice mix between humor and drama.  It isn’t necessarily the most impressive return for Two-Face, though it’s nice that his convoluted plan almost works, only to be thwarted by his own fixation on his coin, in the custom of all the classic Two-Face tales.  This feels like a Two-Face story in that way.  It’s a tradition that Batman’s foes tend to defeat themselves thanks to their own particular shades of madness, and this story is right in line with that history as well.  Yet, I was a bit disappointed that the Dark Knight defeated Two-Face so easily.  It seems like Harvey should have been more of a physical threat, ‘strength of a madman’ and all that, as the old stories had it.  On the art front, Dick Giordano’s heavy inks bring a certain darker atmosphere to this tale, and for once the difference is striking enough that even I can notice it.  This works well for Batman, though it brings a rougher look to Adams’ pencils.  The artwork is excellent and very effective throughout, with Adams doing a particularly nice job on the reveal of Two-Face’s scarred visage.  So, taken all together, this is a solid if not spectacular return for a great villain.  It lacks just enough in Two-Face’s portrayal and the development of the mystery to keep it from being great to match.  The coin dictates that I give Two-Face’s reappearance 4 Minutemen, a pretty good score, and I’m not one to argue with the coin.

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“Vengeance for  a Cop”


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The Robin backup features an odd but thoughtful little yarn.  It begins, oddly, with a police officer named Robert Beeker apparently breaking the fourth wall.  He seems to be talking directly to the reader, as he talks about how his beat, on the edge of Hudson U’s campus, places him between angry and frustrated portions of society, the townsfolk who think he’s too soft on the “long-haired anarchist law-breakers,” and the kids, who think he’s just “a head-busting establishment pig.”  It’s an interesting monologue, and it highlights the divide afflicting the culture and his own difficult, delicate role as a peace officer.  Yet, as he talks, a shadowy figure shoots him down, though he gets off a shot in return.  This seems to be in response to his speech, so what exactly is going on is a bit uncertain.

Either way, who shoot Officer Beeker is a mystery that attracts Robin’s attention, as he thinks to himself that “too many cops are getting the short end of the stick these days,” which is an interesting perspective given the enduring national anger following events like the Kent State Shootings in 1970.  The Teen Detective investigates, but finding nothing, he visits the wounded officer.  Beeker, recovering well, asks the young hero to bring his daughter home.  The silly girl has bought into the counter-culture promises of the day and run off to a commune, hating her father for defending a corrupt society.

 

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Charming girl…

 

When the Teen Wonder heads to the commune, he finds the girl, Nanci, headstrong and passionately convinced of her own righteousness, as is often the case for the young and foolish.  She condemns her father and shows Robin a police bullet she wears, taken from the leg of one of the ‘family.’  Just then, Terri Bergstrom arrives with a note from Batman that warns his ward that the shooter may actually be at the commune as well.  When asked how she found him, Terri is vague once more, continuing to imply that she knows more than she’s letting on.  I suppose the he should really be used to this by now from his time around that master of vague nonsense, Lilith.  Nonetheless, it’s then that Dick meets Pat Whalon, Nanci’s boyfriend, who has a wounded leg and who admits to having been at Hudson U.  Curious.

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Aiming to investigate the commune, Robin approaches a bridge, only to be confronted with a towering hippie who speaks in a strange, archaic fashion, and who declares that the Titan must best him with a staff to gain entrance.  Shades of Little John!  Dick loses the fight, but he loses with humility, and this is apparently the real test, but it doesn’t explain the weird put on Shakespearean act (nor how the young superhero gets his head handed to him by this hippie Merry Man).  Nonetheless, in addition to a dunking, the fight also provided Robin with a clue to the culprit, and he points out the perfidious one.  Yet, the hippies declare they won’t let him take the gunman back to town.  The identity of the villain is kept a mystery for the moment, but I’m guessing it is pretty clear.

Batman234-28This is a story with some really worthwhile elements and some really strange touches as well.  The odd opening and the random anachronistic dialog that doesn’t get explained are rather off-putting, but the central mystery and, more importantly, the attempts to address current social concerns, are really decent.  Friedrich does a solid job setting up the mystery in a small space, but there just aren’t many characters to work with.  It might have been better to go to the commune immediately and filled in the backstory briefly.  Nonetheless, his attempts to address the anti-police sentiments abroad at the time are worthwhile and surprisingly effective, humanizing Beeker, briefly but well, with his lament about being stuck in the middle, and touching obliquely on the dangers of returning violence for violence and hatred for hatred.  It’s all rushed, but it’s fascinating to see these themes being addressed, especially in the Robin feature, which seems aimed specifically at the college crowd.  So, I’ll give this ambitious but uneven tale 3 Minutemen.  It’s worthwhile, but clumsy.

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Detective Comics #414


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“Legend of the Key Hook Light House”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Invitation to Murder!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler/Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: John Costanza

“The Australian Code Mystery”
Writer: David Vern Reed
Penciler: Alex Toth
Inker: Sy Barry
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editors: Mort Weisinger and George Kashdan

“Private Eye of Venus”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler/Inker: Carmine Infantino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got a lot of backup material in this issue, with two very different mystery stories rounding out the Bat-tales, which is always neat to see.  We’ve got a military-style spy story, complete with code breakers and double dealing, as well as a classic 50s-style sci-fi yarn.  Yet, our cover story is definitely the highlight.  It’s a surprisingly touching story where the action and adventure take a distant backseat to the human drama of one unexpectedly sympathetic and well drawn supporting character.  As for the cover itself, it is just okay.  It’s got that soft, ghostly effect that we’ve seen often lately, and it actually rather inverts the events of the actual story.  Still, it is nicely menacing and dynamic.

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It begins with an unusual tale of love and betrayal set forty years in the past.  A lighthouse keeper lets himself be distracted from his duties by his young love, and a ship wrecks in a stormy sea (Tom Curry would be disgusted!).  Unable to live with what he’d done, the keeper killed both his lover and himself, leaving the tower…haunted!

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Detective414-04In the ‘present,’ Batman is poised in the rafters of a Florida bar, spying on a meeting of arms smugglers.  Notably, the narration focuses on the humidity and heat of the night (and if you’ve ever been to the Gulf Coast, that will be no surprise to you), and I can’t help but think, ‘man, Bats must be DYING under that cape and cowl!’  Anyway, the Dark Knight’s comfort aside,once the guns are revealed, the Caped Crusader descends on the hoods, taking out the muscle in a nice fight scene.

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Detective414-06Yet, among this motley band of mercenaries are a mismatched pair, a tall, Amazonian blonde named Lucy and a little fellow named Arnie, who has brought the guns down from Gotham.  When the Masked Manhunter confronts the Lilliputian driver, Lucy attacks the hero.  This leads to a fun little exchange where Batman tells this fiery femme that “I don’t want to hit a member of the fair sex–but if the need arises…”  That feels very fitting.  In order to save the diminutive driver, Lucy offers to make the Dark Detective a deal.  She offers to bring the Caped Crusader to the head of the gang, if only he’ll let Arnie go.

Detective414-07Batman agrees, and as he and Lucy board a boat and head for the abandoned lighthouse for which the guns were originally destined, we learn why this brassy belle was willing to make this trade.  Beautifully illustrated by Novick, who perfectly captures Lucy’s care-worn face, we learn a bit of her backstory.  With a lovely, rough-hewn charm, she describes how she was once an up-and-coming singer in Jersey, and Arnie was her manager who wanted to marry her.  She wanted nothing to do with the little fellow, and instead lived a fast, flashy, and ultimately hard life, losing her beauty and her voice chasing the wrong type of men and the wrong types of thrills.  Only then did she realize her love for the sweet-natured Arnie, but then he wouldn’t have her.  It’s sweet, and sadly beautiful, and it’s delivered in just one great panel and a few word balloons.  It’s a real feat of storytelling to create something touching in so brief a space, and another example of the power of this medium for narrative economy.

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Once on the island, Batman lays in wait for the buyers, a thoroughly vicious South American general named Ruizo.  Lucy leads his men into a trap in the lighthouse, and the Dark Knight takes them out swiftly, taking advantage of the darkness.  But Lucy is left outside with Ruizo, who shoots her in revenge!  This old dame is tougher than she looks, though, and thinking that the General will go after Arnie, she drags herself across the beach and into the surf in order to wrap a cable around the getaway boat’s propeller.

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Detective414-15The Caped Crusader takes advantage of the situation to confront Ruizo, but the rough seas knock him off his feet, and he strikes head!  The General draws his sword and prepares for the deathblow, only to be surrounded by a corona of blinding light and an unearthly voice speaking of redemption.  Desperate to escape the ghostly blaze, the would-be dictator leaps into the sea and swims towards another phantom glow that he thinks is the lighthouse, only to sink into the depths.  Batman rescues Lucy, and they have a nice moment.  Then, he climbs into the lighthouse and, realizing that it has been deserted for years, he realizes there must be a spiritual explanation for the strange occurrences and he says…’thanks,’ as the restless spirit finds redemption.

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Detective414-17 - CopyThis is an odd little tale, with the haunted lighthouse not quite fitting in smoothly, but it really becomes worthwhile with the brief but touching story of Lucy, her wasted life, and her heroic struggle to save the only man who had treated her with love.  She’s wonderfully sympathetic, and I wish O’Neil had cut out the ghost angle and just spent more time with her.  Novick’s art is serviceable throughout, occasionally rising to be excellent, but one of the only flaws of this story is that he struggles to consistently portray the age and wear on Lucy’s face.  She’s as gorgeous as Black Canary most of the time, with only a few panels really capturing the older, more world-weary face she’s supposed to have.  It makes it a little hard to take her tale of faded glory seriously.  This is, of course, a common problem in superhero art, as artists tend to only be skilled at drawing heroic types.  Despite its weaknesses and the ill-fitting element of the haunted lighthouse, this story is nonetheless memorable because of the charming portrayal of this single random minor character.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen in honor of “Loosy’s” hard-knock life.

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“Invitation to Murder!”


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This month’s Batgirl backup features a night at the theater, as Jason Bard, the poor man’s Dick Grayson, takes Babs to see a new show, only to arrive to find the place seemingly deserted!  The only other showgoers are a couple in one of the private balconies.  Nonetheless, the show goes on, only to be suddenly interrupted when Jason notices a rifle pointing at the other guests from nearby their nosebleed seats.  He tries to intervene, only to receive a buttstroke for his troubles.

Babs strains credulity for her secret identity, switching into Batgirl and tackling the gunman.  She stops his next shot, but the fellow tosses her over the edge of the balcony.  Fortunately, she manages to grab onto the rail, and she sees her dear detective try to tackle the gunman again, only to get his head handed to him…again.  Switching back to Babs in the interim (are we sure she doesn’t have super speed powers?), she picks up her battered beau, who in turn picks up the sniper’s weapon.  It’s a lever-action rifle, a prop from “Mesa Productions,” which recently went bankrupt.

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Wondering who their rogue rifleman was shooting at, the couple goes to investigate, only to find that the targets were Hollywood royalty, “Tiz and Robbie Marlow,” clear analogs for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who were THE Hollywood couple of the mid-century, which is a fun little detail.  Incidentally, America’s celebrity obsessed paparazzi culture really took off with those two, which is a sad memorial to their relationship.  While you’re pondering that anecdote, our heroes are pondering who would want to take a shot at these beloved figures.  It seems that one of the bullets at least managed to find its mark, and Richard, err…Robbie, got hit in the arm.

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After “Tiz” sobbingly wonders why anyone would do such a thing, especially on their anniversary, Jason begins to put some of the pieces together.  He deduces that the Hollywood couple had booked the entire theater for their anniversary, and the ticketseller had misheard the sleuth and given him tickets for the seventh instead of the second, tickets which he didn’t bother checking…and apparently neither did the ticket taker, who they just rushed past.  Odd.  Yet, even odder, the Marlows didn’t buy out the house, the tickets were a gift from “an anonymous admirer.”  Clearly a setup.  It seems only their manager, Joe Ryan, knew of their plans, but Jason’s playmate didn’t seem to be him.  The tale ends with Babs stepping out, ostensibly to call the police, but really to pursue a hunch of her own!

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This is a fun little story, and it has the makings of a good two-parter, but there’s not quite enough here to make for a substantive mystery.  We don’t even meet a single suspect.  Nonetheless, Robbins gives us a colorful and interesting setup, and the playful reference to the real-life stars is fun.  There’s also a nice dynamic between Jason and Babs, with Batgirl’s paramour being a detective in his own right, which gives their adventures a rather different flavor than those of most heroes in their secret identities.  It’s also beginning to get a bit comical that Jason can’t seem to win a fight to save his life.  Unfortunately, Don Heck’s art continues to be a poor fit for this feature, still producing a number of awkward, stiff figures and rough compositions.  Yet, there are also some really nice panels, and some of his facework is quite good.  The overall effect is serviceable, if not exactly good.  So, I suppose I’ll give this crazy curtain call an above average 3.5 Minutemen, as it has just enough of interest to raise it above the crowd.

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This was an enjoyable pair of Bat-books, with the long deferred return of the bifurcated badman, Two-Face.  I’m hoping that this heralds a return of supervillains to the book in general, though I know we’re still a little while away from the Joker’s triumphant and legendary return.  We also get an intriguing glimpse of 70s popculture, with the appearance of an ersatz Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, who I imagine were easily still in the headlines here in the early 70s, even if their heyday had passed with the 60s.  In fact, each of our stories in this bunch have something to recommend them, from the socially relevant Robin tale to the surprisingly touching Detective yarn.  I’d call this a memorable pair of comics.

 

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome Internet travelers and dear readers, to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got three books to cover in this post, and they are a rather diverse bunch.  We go from Zaney Haney to the Fourth World, and from spy thriller to cosmic quest in an earthbound setting.  Let’s see what lies in store for us!

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 #402
  • Adventure Comics #408
  • Brave and the Bold #96
  • Detective Comics #413
  • Forever People #3
  • G.I. Combat #148
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #84
  • New Gods #3
  • Superboy #176
  • Superman #239 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #240
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139
  • World’s Finest #202

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


Brave and the Bold #96


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“The Striped Pants War!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Alright, what the heck is up with this title?  Is this a reference to something?  If so, I don’t get it.  All I can think of is Homestar Runner and “his ridiculous stripe-ed pants.”  Either way, there seem to be no striped pants actually in this comic.  Leave it to Bob Haney to confuse his audience from word one!  Head-scratching headlines aside, this is actually a pretty good issue.  There are a few things that ‘ol Zaney Haney always did very well, and one of those is the tale of the aging hero, the world-weary veteran whose best days are behind him.  It’s a story that he told many times, and always with verve.  This particular comic is no exception, though it doesn’t have the most impressive of covers.  It has a solid, if unexceptional, composition that sets up the central conflict of the comic, Sgt. Rock’s questionable loyalties.

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brave and the bold 096 004The story within opens on a dark night in a South American city as a van crashes into a car, the attacking vehicle’s occupants then jumping the stunned passengers.  The car’s driver fights back, only to get shot for his trouble, and his passenger is carted away.  Back in the U.S., Bruce Wayne is called to Washington D.C. where he is ushered into a secret meeting with the Secretary of State and the P.O.T.O.U.S. himself (that used to be an honor).  Nick Cardy does the usual dance, not showing the president’s face, which I enjoy.  It turns out the victim from our first scene was Ambassador Adams, who is a friend of Bruce’s, and who was on an important assignment in South America.

brave and the bold 096 005He was kidnapped by the “Companeros de La Muerte,” the Companions of Death, and they are holding him for ransom.  The President asks Wayne to fill in as a temporary ambassador to complete a delicate treaty, and he introduces Batman, who will travel along as protection.  How can this be?  Well, it’s Alfred covering for his master in a padded costume, of course, and before long the pair are headed south!  This is an interesting setup, and it works surprisingly well considering the stories in the Bat-books relatively recently where Bruce got involved in politics.  It’s unusually consistent for Haney…though I’m inclined to wonder if that’s just a coincidence!

When Bruce arrives at the U.S. embassy, he encounters another old friend, Sgt. Rock, who is head of security.  It was he who was driving the ambassador when he was kidnapped, and the embassy staffer left in charge, Carlyle, makes some snide remarks about his failure.  When left alone, the two old comrades catch up, but Rock is surprisingly bitter and angry about the service, raging that they won’t let him reenlist.  He strips off his shirt and shows the scars he earned in service to his country, but he laments that that country doesn’t want his service anymore.

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brave and the bold 096 013Bruce is struck by the old soldier’s rancor, but he gets on with his job, investigating the scene of the kidnapping as Batman.  In search of witnesses, he enters a bull fighting arena and gets a description of the van from a plucky young bullfighter who, in Haney’s trademark flare for minor characters, is full of personality.  Strangely, the Dark Knight notices Rock tailing him, just as he is attacked by an assassin!  One of the Companeros tries to kill him with a bullfighter’s prop, but the hero’s reflexes prove superior, and the would-be-killer is hoisted by his own petard.

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On his way back to the embassy, the Caped Crusader is attacked by another pair of killers, but he fights them off with difficulty, turning their weapons against them in a great sequence drawn by Cardy and moodily colored.  When he returns, the Masked Manhunter discovers a warning note from the terrorists that declares they will kill their prisoner at noon if he is not ransomed.  That’s not the only discovery, however, as Alfred finds a listening device in Wayne’s room, a device whose source is found to be Rock’s quarters!  Things look bad for the old soldier, especially when he is placed under arrest only to knock out a sentry and slip away.

Nonetheless, Batman continues his investigation, finding the killers’ van and trailing it right back to the embassy itself!  They are hiding the ambassador in a secret basement, and this seems to confirm Rock’s complicity.  The Dark Knight jumps the gathered thugs, getting the ambassador to cover but getting dog-piled by his foes in recompense.  Suddenly, Sgt. Rock comes charging into the room, firing a Thompson, coming to the Caped Crusader’s rescue!  He had escaped just to have a chance to clear his name, which he now does in spades!

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It was all a frame, of course, and the heroes manage to hold off the terrorists, but the desperadoes trigger an old trap from the building’s colonial days, turning heroes’ cover into a cruel cage.  At the top-sergeant’s insistence, Batman reluctantly escapes with the ambassador, only to be confronted by the real traitor, Carlyle.  Fortunately, while Bruce Wayne may hate guns, his faithful butler isn’t so squeamish, and Alfred flat-out shoots the rat!

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Meanwhile, Rock is making his last stand, but in desperation he attaches a grenade to the swinging spikes above him, and when they move back towards his enemies, they explode!  Batman finds his old friend still alive in the rubble!  Later on, they bid a friendly farewell, as Bruce Wayne takes his leave and Rock tells his pal that the army took him back for another hitch.

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This is a really solid story.  It’s fun, exciting, and it has a pretty decent central conflict with the question of Rock’s loyalty.  Of course, we all know that the top kick is as loyal and dependable as…well…as a rock, but Haney does a good job of making his defection seem plausible.  He is making surprising use of continuity here, however, it is largely his own.  I suppose that’s to be expected from the ruler of the ridiculous.  In his stories Batman somehow fought in World War II and is still active in the modern day.  What the rest of the DC Universe needed multiple Earths to accommodate, Haney just shoves into one story and calls it good.  That’s the Zaney one for you!

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Despite that bit of silliness, he does a great job with Rock’s frustration at his treatment, and even his explanation ‘hey, I may grumble, but I’m still loyal,’ rings true.  While the old soldier doesn’t get as much characterization as Wildcat tended to, we still get a good sense of who the veteran is and what struggles he faces.  Cardy’s artwork is lovely throughout, fitting this spy thriller tale quite well.  I’ll give this fun adventure an enjoyable 4 Minutemen.

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Detective Comics #413


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“Freakout at Phantom Hollow!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inkers: Dick Giordano and Steve Englehart
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Squeeze-Play!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: Ben Oda

Another issue of Detective Comics this month, but the Batman tale within isn’t the amazing and groundbreaking tale of last month’s Batman.  Still Robbins turns in his usual brand of solid mystery yarn.  It’s got a serviceable but not fantastic cover.  The witch’s twisted visage is suitably creepy, but the rest of the image just isn’t all that interesting.  It also isn’t quite indicative of what is going on in the tale, even symbolically.  It’s rather an odd choice in that regard.

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The story itself begins with Batman returning from a case out of town, only to be flagged down by the constable of a small village, Phantom Hollow, who is also a former Gotham cop.  The lawman begs the Dark Knight to come investigate a mystery in his town.  We then cut to the quaint hamlet itself, which is clearly modeled on Salem, complete with its own witch trial.  Supposedly the town is haunted by “Ol’ Nell,” who cursed the bell of the old church, declaring that it would never sound again until it tolled Phantom Hollow’s death-knell.

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Yet, the place’s troubles are start with something rather more mundane, as a trio of local kids ambush a pair of long-haired hippie-types, giving them a compulsory haircut…and, let’s face it…if that’s the worst thing that happens to these two goofy looking losers, they are probably lucky!  It seems like they’re supposed to be around 12-14, and they just look utterly ridiculous.  I imagine that the kids at my school would have probably been crueler in my day!

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The two hippies, Shecky and Jamie, are recovering their wits when suddenly the massive form of the town simpleton, ‘Big Lanny,’ looms into view.  The boys take off and decide to get even with the town by playing some pranks.  It starts with the church bell suddenly ringing ominously for the first time in a few hundred years, but it takes a turn for worse when their attempt to set off cherry bombs near the town jail somehow blows a wall in!

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Batman arrives to investigate the matter and hears some conflicting claims by the local folks, some claiming it was the two weirdo kids, others claiming it was Nell’s ghost.  The local teacher sticks up for the young punks.  The Dark Knight has plenty of suspects, but few clews, so he searches the bell tower, finding that the bell is rusted solid, but a strong pair of hands tip him over the rail and send him plummeting to his death!

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DETECTIVE COMICS 413 010Fortunately, the Masked Manhunter is always prepared, and he tied a bat-rope to his foot when he climbed to the dizzy height of the steeple, which is a nice, reasonable precaution for the hero to have taken.  Outside, he finds the teacher, who was attacked by someone moving fast.  She still insists on the innocence of her students, but when the Caped Crusader finds a speaker that provided the eerie bell-toll and traces its cord to a nearby cave, it is indeed the two would be counterculture rebels that he uncovers.

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DETECTIVE COMICS 413 015While he is confronting the kids, the bell rings again, but their tape recorder is shut off!  Racing back to the church, Batman finds that the bell has been broken free of its rust, a feat that he himself had failed to accomplish.  Suddenly, another explosion rocks the town.  Interrogating his two captives, who remain defiant, the Dark Knight realizes that someone has been using them as patsies, and by pretending to leave them in the care of the teacher in the cave, he lures out the real culprit…Big Lanny?!

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That’s right, the huge handyman was actually a direct descendant of Ol’ Nell, and he faked his stupidity in order take revenge upon the town.  Unfortunately, the massive man, once revealed, remains a frightful foe.  He toss the Caped Crusader about like a rag doll, and only the desperate attack by the two hippie kids saves the hero, toppling the giant and allowing the Masked Manhunter to punch him out.  The tale ends with the teacher pointing out that the two exceedingly poorly dressed boys are modern day victims of the same type of ignorance and superstition (ignorance yes, but how does she get superstition?) as Ol’ Nell was in her day.

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This is a decent mystery yarn, and it is interesting to see Frank Robbins dealing with youth culture and the growing strains on American life, with the nonconformists of this little town playing both sympathetic victims and antagonistic troublemakers.  There isn’t a lot made of the setup, but it is notable that the teacher continues to defend the two kids and that they prove instrumental in capturing the villain.  There’s definitely a message of tolerance delivered through their plot.  Brown’s art is as solid and attractive as usual, and he gives us a few particularly nice images, like Batman observing the explosion from the bell tower.  His Batman isn’t quite as lovely as Neal Adams’, but he always looks good, powerful and dynamic.  I don’t think Bob Brown gets a lot of credit, but he was a very reliably good artist, especially on these Bat-books.  As for this issue, it’s an enjoyable if unexceptional read, so I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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“Squeeze-Play!”


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The wig saga continues!  For some reason!  The Batgirl backup from the last issue is concluded here, despite the fact that it really seemed to be just about finished already.  This one starts right where the previous tale left off, with Batgirl locked in awkward combat with the malicious wig-makers, who have managed to get one of their skull-cracking hairdos onto her head.  Vazly hits the switch, and the fighting female seems to writhe in agony, only to reveal that it is just an act.  She had already deactivated the heinous headgear.

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She manages to capture Vazly, but his assistant gets away.  In an admittedly cool sequence, Babs uses her photographic memory to deduce that something is missing from the scene, working out that it is a wig-stand.  She recalls the code that had been on the missing item and works out that it is an address for a would-be victim.  Rushing to the scene of the next crime, Batgirl interrupts Wanda as she attempts to put the squeeze on another rich divorcee.

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Jumping the weird wig-maker as she attempts to make her getaway, the heroine engages in another desperate fight, with the wig again being used as a weapon, this time as a really clumsy garrote.  Fortunately, Batgirl uses her head (as a bludgeon) and captures the remaining villain.  The story ends with her receiving her birthday gift, a wig, from her father.  Both Gordon and his friend Bruce Wayne think she looks better as a redhead, which she does, so Babs decides to stick with the hair God gave her.

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This isn’t a bad story, but it isn’t a particularly good one, either.  Batgirl’s peril feels a bit weak at times, and, as I said, this second half doesn’t feel entirely necessary.  If Robbins hadn’t wrapped so much up in the first half, there would have been more to this story.  As is, it feels largely perfunctory, though Babs’ feat of deduction is pretty cool, taking advantage of a character trait that isn’t always acknowledged, her eidetic memory.  Don Heck’s art is serviceable, but it isn’t very pretty.  He’s just not my favorite superhero artist.  His figures tend to be stiff in action, and the whole thing lacks the smoothness of Bob Brown’s work on the headline tale.  This is a mediocre offering, but there isn’t really anything in particular to fault it for, so I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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Forever People #3


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“Life vs. Anti-Life!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

The King’s Fourth World wonders continue to unfurl, and it is certain a fascinating journey!  Here with issue 3 of the the Forever People, the concept still hasn’t entirely gelled, yet Kirby is nonetheless constantly adding memorably to his mythos.  This particular issue is a very uneven affair, but it is also really striking.  We begin with another very lackluster cover.  Other than the Mr. Miracle books, the Fourth World titles just don’t really benefit from good covers.  I wonder if that contributed to their eventual failure.  Either way, with this one we get a rather unbalanced image, against another dim and ugly photo-collage background.  This one is so fuzzy that it’s little more than light and shadow.  The image of the Justifier’s helmet in the background isn’t really all that intimidating, and while the cosmic kids are well drawn, the effect is just not very captivating.  It isn’t helped by that glut of cover copy either declaring but never explaining Kirby’s wild concepts.

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Inside, however, it’s another matter.  From the first page the King gives us a clue as to what he’s about, starting with a quote from Adolph Hitler (!) about how his followers not only dressed alike but even began to mimic one another in facial expressions.  Below is a sea of faces, faces that are eerily similar in their blank, dead-eyed expression, despite the riot of variety among them (though, notably, they are all white).  This is a ‘revelation’, something of an evil version of a revival, headed by Darkseid’s newest flunky, Glorious Godfrey.

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With a fittingly glorious double page splash, Kirby introduces the evil evangelist, who is hawking a heinous set of wares called ‘Anti-Life!’  The trappings and the language are all twisted versions of what you’d see at an old time tent revival, but rather than calling people to a knowledge of their sins and a God who will forgive them and save them from it, Godfrey promises freedom from such self-knowledge, freedom from doubt and uncertainty, the freedom of surrendering your will to Darkseid!  There’s something really fascinating and powerful in all of this.

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Godfrey converts his crowd into ‘Justifiers,’ whose adherence to the external reality of Darkseid’s will allows them to ‘justify’ any actions, enabling these miserable souls to indulge in violence, hatred, and more, all while feeling a sense of belonging in the foul fold.  One of these helmeted hooligans arrives at the abandoned apartment acting as home for the Forever People and threatens their young friend, Donnie in order to find the quintet.  Fortunately for the kid, the team has just walked in, hidden by Mother Box.  Beautiful Dreamer casts an illusion to confuse their antagonist, while Vykin rescues Donnie.  Then, all six youths beat a hasty retreat because the fanatical follower of Darkseid is a walking bomb!  He detonates himself, but the Forever People are able to get out of range.

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Realizing that Godfrey is on Earth by recognizing his handiwork, the team leaves a protective barrier around Donnie’s home and takes their leave, bidding the kid adieu.  This is a bit surprising after the efforts Kirby went to in establishing the kid and the neighborhood as part of what seemed an ongoing setting in the last issue.  Nonetheless, the Forever People load up in the Super Cycle and use Mother Box to home in on the Glorious one.

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Meanwhile, in a scene that is an honestly haunting sci-fi version of Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht (The Night of the Broken Glass), the Justifiers spread out through the city in flying transports, smash open doors, haul away ‘undesirables,’ burn libraries, and break windows.  The parallels to real history are pretty unmistakable, and Kirby’s depiction of these events is really striking and efficient, only taking two pages to do its work.  Monitoring his minions’ malicious work, Godfrey is primping, preparing for his next show.  He gets a report about the approach of the Forever People and prepares a warm welcome.

The kids, for their part, see the guards around the tent and decide to summon the Infinity Man.  He then bends and breaks the laws of physics as he wades through the solid earth to avoid the gods and warps the paths of bullets when he confronts Godfrey.  He also abuses the rules of good writing, over-explaining everything he’s doing in odd, stilted prose.  No rules can stand against the Infinity Man!  Not even the laws of composition!  The enigmatic hero destroys the mind-controlling organ Godfrey is using to control his converts, but he is stopped in his tracks by being brought face to face with…Darkseid!  Once again, Kirby’s depiction of the villain hasn’t quite solidified yet, and he varies quite a bit from panel to panel.

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Still, what the evil one lacks in visual continuity he makes up for in power, as he uses his eye-beams to split the Infinity Man back into the Forever people, who are easily captured by Desaad.  The unconscious kids are herded into a transport and sent off to a new facility of the cruel scientist’s design.  After their departure, Godfrey and Desaad spar, each seeking to cement his position with Darkseid, and we learn a little bit more about the Anti-Life equation, though it doesn’t make matters much clearer.  Apparently Godfrey believes it doesn’t exist, and that Anti-Life can only be created through his type of direct mental manipulation.  Apparently the Equation would allow its possessor to control the wills of all beings in the universe with a word, essentially destroying free will, the great gift.

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This is a fascinating issue, but it isn’t necessarily a good one.  It is a dramatically uneven book.  When it is bad, it is really bad, but when it is good, it is really good.  It’s strange, because it’s not even always good or bad in the same ways.  Sometimes Kirby’s dialog is extremely overwritten and awkward, and other times its almost poetic.  Darkseid’s declaration at the end that “when you cry out in your dreams-it is Darkseid that you see!” is darn good dialog, but almost everything the Infinity Man and the Forever People say is awkward and unnecessary.  It’s clear that Kirby learned his comic scripting from the school of Stan.  Stan Lee’s style of unnecessary expository dialog is very much in evidence here, but often times without the charm for characterization and cleverness that marked even Lee’s more egregious examples.

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The Forever People themselves are once again largley useless in this issue.  Pretty much the only thing they do is to run away from the first assassin, but they contribute basically nothing to the plot.  If my vague memories of my first read-through are correct, we might see them get more of a chance to shine in the next issue, but we shall see.  Despite these flaws, what Kirby is doing with Godfrey and the Justifies is really intriguing.  The fact that the villains are evil insofar as they surrender their will and judgement for belonging and comfort is very striking, especially in light of the Jewish author and the not-too-distant cultural memories of the Holocaust.  The parallels to the Nazi’s horrific campaign, as I said, are inescapable, but this story still resonates today.

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It is, sadly, not an isolated incident that sees men surrender their moral judgement and their will to unworthy causes.  It is frighteningly common.  It is a difficult and wearying thing to think, to judge, and to strive for a consistently just moral life and philosophy, and people are always anxious to escape the burden of responsibility that we bear by being human.  It is happening in our world today, as people blindly support causes and leaders that blatantly contradict their own stated values, having given up their moral judgement to that of the party, so the only decision they have to make is whether ‘they’ are ‘with us or against us.’  In this way, Kirby’s story works wonderfully well on an archetypal level, for whatever flaws it has as an adventure tale.  In the end, this flawed but provocative comic is still a really interesting read, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, despite its uneven quality.

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P.S.: This issue sees the first appearance of the letter column, and the response is quite positive.  Notably, sci-fi luminary and the subject of a JLA story I recently covered, Harlan Ellison wrote a glowing missive for the Master.

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And with the Forever People, we round out our comics for this post.  Thank you for joining me for this stop on our journey Into the Bronze Age!  I hope that you enjoyed my commentary and will join me again soon for the next stage of my investigations.  Please come back soon, and until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: June 1971 (Part 2)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Hello comic fans and lovers of literature, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’re continuing our march through June of 1971, and it is already proving to be an intriguing month.  This pair of comics isn’t quite as fascinating as the last few, but we do have an enjoyable batch of books to explore.  So, further up and further in!

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 #401
  • Adventure Comics #407
  • Batman #232
  • Detective Comics #412
  • The Flash #207
  • Justice League of America #90
  • Mr. Miracle #2
  • The Phantom Stranger #13
  • Superboy #174 (reprints)
  • Superboy #175
  • Superman #238
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138
  • Teen Titans #33
  • World’s Finest #203

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


Detective Comics #412


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“Legacy of Hate”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The Head-Splitters!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Under this pretty excellent cover, beautifully drawn by Neal Adams, we have a very conventional yarn.  The cover composition is exciting, with our hero facing mortal peril in a nicely rendered and atmospheric image that has the added benefit of actually occurring in the comic.  The headline tale is, despite its medieval trappings, a rather hackneyed plot, and though I can’t put my finger on it, I think I have read another Batman story that was extremely similar.

It’s another murder mystery in a castle, and on that front, this story hearkens back to the first Dr. Darrk story, only six issues ago.  Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable enough read.  It begins with an old mystery device, as Bruce Wayne receives notice that a distant relative, Lord Elwood Wayne, is dying at the ancestral Wayne estate in England, though I’m fairly certain that we’ve never really had any mention of such family ties in Batman’s backstory.  Nonetheless, it’s the standard setup, an ailing relation, the gathering of the distant family from the four corners of the world, related, but unknown to one another, and a spooky locale for setting.  Bruce heads to England to answer the summons and meets Wilhemina Wayne, an orphan from South Africa, Rev. Emelyn Wayne “a missionary among the unenlightened Asian ‘heathen,'” and Jeremy Wayne, an Australian ranch hand.

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To add to the atmosphere, they are picked up in a hearse (the weather being too bad for horse and carriage) and driven to an imposing old castle on a stormy night, there greeted by an equally imposing butler, Asquith, a descendant of the servant of the original inhabitant of the ancient pile.  During the journey, the grim driver tells the gathered Waynes that the place is haunted by the murdered first lord of the estate, Lord Harold.  Once arrived, they meet the aged Lord Wayne and his friend and physician, but the meeting is necessarily brief.

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Detective412-06They are informed that the estate will be split between them, and any accidents will divide it among the survivors.  A perfect setup for intrigue, of course.  That night, Bruce is having a drink with ‘Mina,’ because of course he is, when suddenly she sees a figure in medieval armor on the battlements!  The millionaire comforts the girl and pretends he saw nothing, but he gets into costume, once again endangering his secret identity beyond all bounds (I wonder if the guy from Gotham has anything to do with the hero from the same city showing up here in the middle of nowhere..), and begins an investigation.

The Dark Knight hears a scream as he prowls about and arrives in Mina’s room, only to find himself confronting the armored figure of a strange intruder!  After a skirmish in which that very armor proves very handy against hand-attacks, his opponent escapes.  The Caped Crusade continues his search, wondering which of the gathered family and friends could be masquerading as a phantom.  He hears sounds of a struggle coming from the Aussie’s room and kicks the door in to discover the man, lightly wounded, but alive, having fended off another attack, and the hero sets off again in pursuit.

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Detective412-13After stopping to stage his bed to make it seem like Bruce Wayne is sleeping….while everyone else in the castle is running around like crazy, because that will be foolproof, the Caped Crusader hears another cry from Mina.  Her door was locked, but someone was trying to force it.  Pursuing the culprit into the marsh outside, the Dark Knight suddenly finds himself in desperate straits, stuck in the muck and being charged by a spurious spectral knight with a lance.  The strike seems to go home, and the warrior rides on, crying out that his vengeance can now begin.

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Yet, Batman lives!  He snatched up a tree branch and used it as a shield, though the impact almost knocked him out.  He rushes to the castle armory, thinking that he knows the supposed spirit’s identity.  There he confronts “Lord Harold,” and after a quick battle, the armored figure is unmasked as…Asquith?!  The spooky butler speaks in a strange voice, claiming to be Harold and saying that he was wreaking just vengeance.

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The batty-butler leads the Masked Manhunter to a hidden chamber where the real Harold’s brother had imprisoned him to usurp his title, and then, bizarrely, the sepulchral voice declares that Asquith has failed him, and the servant simply dies…yet the voice briefly continues, promising to continue its quest for revenge!  The story ends with Batman making notes about the case, pointing out that Lord Wayne had died that same night and pondering if this were a case of haunting or madness.

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This is a solid enough murder mystery, but it has too many characters and too little space to be entirely successful.  Batman figures out the culprit on very thin evidence, noting that none of the relatives would have vengeance as a motive, despite the fact that, rationally, neither would Asquith.  The art is nicely atmospheric, and there are several fittingly Gothic moments, especially the showdown in the swamp.  Bob Brown does a good job throughout, rendering some nicely dramatic images and doing some good work on the various supporting characters, giving them personality, despite their lack of development.  Perhaps most notably, he really works to create a well-realized setting, putting a lot of detail into panel backgrounds and giving the old castle a real sense of presence.  In general, there’s more show than there is stay to this story, but it is still an enjoyable enough read.  It is very familiar, but the confirmation of an actual haunting makes it a bit more original than most of this type, though I wish they had left the ending just a tad more ambiguous.  I’ll give this one an average 3 Minutemen.

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“The Head-Splitters”


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Our Batgirl backup certainly can’t be accused of being unoriginal this month!  It has one of the more unique murder weapons I’ve encountered in comics.  The tale begins with a woman awakening screaming, and the next morning the papers carry the headline that a wealthy socialite divorcee was mysteriously killed, her “head cracked like an egg!”  The same morning, breakfast at Commissioner Gordon’s house sees he and his daughter sharing a meal.  The head cop is baffled by the crime, but he reveals that the victim had a thing for wigs, which, according to Babs, is no clue at all because “What now-gal doesn’t dig wigs!”  Yikes, that slang!  Anyway, this gives Jim a clue, but for his daughter’s birthday, not the crime.  He offers to let her pick out a wig, for which he’ll foot the bill.

That day, Babs visits “Vazly,” the most fashionable wig-maker in town, where she and another divorced socialite happen to come in for fittings at the same time.  Ironically, they both pick out the same style, which causes the fiendish fashion-monger some concern.  It seems that he and his assistant are using their wigs to blackmail wealthy young women, fitting the headgear with an ingenious mechanism that can cause it to constrict with devastating power.  If they mix up the wigs and should accidentally target the police commissioner’s daughter, that could spell trouble, but they are careful to arrange them.

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Unfortunately, “Fate steps in,” and a cleaning woman tries on a few of the wigs and mixes up the two in question, and the dangerous one goes to our red-haired heroine.  Following the instructions that came with it, she sleeps in the wig, only to awaken in agony at the touch of a control by Vazly’s assistant.  Babs calls the wig-maker, and he tells her he will happily take it off, if only she’ll cough up $100,000.  In a pain-induced panic, the young librarian scrapes up the meager funds she can and heads to his shop, but when she arrives, the would-be blackmailers discover their mistake.

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They play the whole event off, easily removing the wig and telling the confused Miss Gordon that she must have dreamt the whole thing, yet they plan to kill her once she is safely away from their headquarters.  The fire-tressed female doesn’t play their game, however, having seen a cracked dummy head in the trash and put the pieces together.  She arrives in costume to confront them moments later and lets them know the jig is up.  She clocks Vazly, but his assistant plops a wig on her head and triggers the constriction.  Dun dun DUN!

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This is certainly a new angle, though it rather defies belief.  I have to think that a mechanism that would make a wig constrict with bone-crushing force might just be detectable…but then again, it works in a comic book-y kind of way, so I’m willing to give it a pass.  After all, this is the kind of ridiculous, over-the-top plot that makes comics great.  Vazly looks suitably sinister, and the mix-up with our heroine is a quick way to get her into the mix.  This story does suffer a bit from its lack of space, being only seven pages.  Still, it’s an entertaining read, one that once again matches Batgirl up against a fashion-felon, which might be a bit much, with two tales in a row.  I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen.

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The Flash #207


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“The Evil Sound of Music!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Phantom of the Cafeteria”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Dick Giordano

Well, what do you know?  Kanigher leaves The Flash, and we finally get an issue that is really  enjoyable.  It even features a supervillain, after a fashion, and ahead of schedule!  We actually get a foe worthy of the Flash earlier than I expected, just judging by the covers that awaited us, which makes this issue a pleasant surprise.  Speaking of covers, this one does the story within no favors.  It’s got a nicely creepy looking monster, but it suffers from the Flash’s weird pose and the fact that, even with the cover copy, the scene isn’t exactly clear.  It’s just not a very effective image, not doing the tale it represents justice.

And that tale is actually a fun read.  It begins with the World’s Fastest Man in a hurry, leaving monitor duty on the JLA Satellite to race home and pick his wife up for a rock concert.  Yet, as the Allens prepare, we visit with a sinister looking figure in a darkened room, pouring over ancient books.  This is Sargon the Sorcerer, former Golden Age mystic hero turned current villain…sort of.  It’s a bit complicated.  Apparently he appeared back in issue #186 in his not-so-triumphant return to the DCU, wherein he clashed with the Flash.  It seems that he is out to regain his lost mystic gem, the Ruby of Life, which is the source of most of his powers.  He also wants revenge on the Speedster, who thwarted his last efforts.

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Novick really draws the heck out of Sargon throughout the issue.

Back in the Allen household, we get a cute scene between Barry and Iris, as Mrs. Allen notes that her husband, usually a slowpoke out of costume, can’t stand still when music is playing.  He teases her because, for once, she has made them late with her ruminations.  Apparently the couple are bound for a rock concert, headlined by the oh-so-cleverly named “Washington Starship.”  I wonder who that might reference…!  The lead singers just happen to be named Paul and Grace.  Anyway, Barry and Iris arrive just in time, thanks to a dose of super speed, and it is a super psychedelic show, accompanied by Friedrich’s narration, which is almost touching and insightful but manages to be just a little too pompous and overblown to be successful.

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I wonder if the couples are supposed to be anyone famous….

During the concert, Sargon strikes, using his magic to turn the music into a psychic attack, which panics the crowd and paralyzes the band.  While the unflappable Iris stays behind to cover the unfolding story, the Scarlet Speedster springs into action, using his powers to pull the crazed crowd out of the venue and prevent anyone from being trampled.  Given the then recent history of tragedies at concerts, this scene has a little extra significance, with the hero preventing events from going bad in the ways they had before, a type of cathartic, escapist fiction that is very much part of the purpose of comics.

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Yet, after the concert-goers have escaped, Sargon steps in again, seizing control of the Speedster and sending him to retrieve the Ruby of Life from a special vault in the Flash Museum.  The sinister Sorcerer looks positively evil as he places the jewel upon his brow and revels in his returned power.  While he is distracted, his spell over Flash ends, and the hero and the guitarist, Paul, both find themselves watching helplessly as the malicious music-spawned monsters menace their lady loves.  Each of them strains mightily and overcomes the siren song, but only Flash has the speed to save his girl.

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But they are not the only ones observing this tragedy-in-the-making, and Sargon looks on in horror as his spell spins out of control.  We discover that Grace is actually his niece, and while Flash saves Iris, the magician intercedes to rescue the songstress.  The Sorcerer tries to apologize to the young woman, but she will hear none of it, and he departs in despair.  The tale ends by checking in with each of our characters a little later, with Iris taking care of a slightly ruffled Barry, Paul happily reporting that Grace and their unborn baby have a clean bill of health, and Sargon himself contemplating how he has come to such a state, willing to use his own niece in his quest for power.

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This is a surprisingly good story.  I have grown to rather dread these Flash comics, but this one is a fun and interesting read.  Mike Friedrich doesn’t get as sappy and melodramatic as he sometimes can, though the comic is rather overwritten in his customary style, with the narration during the concert being particularly purple.  Speaking of his writing, this entire issue is a love letter to the music of the era, with the obvious reference to Jefferson Starship setting the tone, but Friedrich gives us a lot more than that.  He also sprinkles song titles throughout the entire issue.  I counted nine different songs, but it’s possible I missed some.  They are:

  • “White Rabbit”
  • “Homeward Bound”
  • “The Sound of Silence”
  • “Come Together”
  • “Penny Lane”
  • “Let It Be”
  • “My Sweet Lord”
  • “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”
  • “Down This Lonesome Road”

We’ve got some Jefferson Airplane, of course, as well as plenty of Beatles and even some Simon and Garfunkel.  What an interesting collection!  This is a fun little set of Easter eggs, but they come at a cost, as Friedrich can’t quite slip all of them in naturally.  Thus, his desire to include these references sometimes results in some rather awkward and tortured sounding dialog.  Still, I found the whole thing charming, and it is an unusually direct glimpse of the impact of the culture on the comics of the day.

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In terms of the plot itself, it was nice to see the Flash actually face a foe that was something of a threat to him, and I found myself fairly fascinated by Sargon.  I’m really curious to know what his story is and what he’s after.  I quite liked that we got only hints about him and that he escaped, not unmarked by his experience, but uncaptured by our hero.  His brief moments of characterization are intriguing, and I look forward to seeing what comes of them.  I also enjoyed the little character moments between Barry and Iris, with her evincing a more classic taste in music and the like.  I wouldn’t really expect ‘ol square Barry to be into the rock scene in 71, but it leads us to a fun tale, so I can buy it.

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Irv Novick does a great job with Sargon and some of the more bizarre, otherworldly elements of the art here, especially the music monsters, but there are a few moments where his work doesn’t quite capture the drama of a scene, like in the climax of the story where the sequence of the two struggling paramours and Sargon’s intervention could probably have used a bit more space to breath.  Still, on the whole, he turns in a nice looking comic with some real personality and emotion to it.  I suppose I’ll give this enjoyable little rock ‘n romp 3.5 Minutemen.

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“The Phantom of the Cafeteria”


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It looks like we’re going to have Kid Flash and Elongated Man trade off for the backup slot in The Flash, which is fine by me.  This month, we get an interesting little Kid Flash tale that has some familiar elements.  It begins with our fleet young friend, Wally West, pondering the dilemma of hiding his super speed in the cafeteria line at school, where he finds himself last, which is worth a chuckle.  Suddenly, food starts disappearing right off of kids’ plates, and there’s not a sign of the culprit!  Someone starts screaming about ghosts, which, in the DCU, is not all that far-fetched, but Wally keeps his head.  He calms down the students, even getting commended by the principal later on, but he continues to wonder about what happened.  When a pretty young lady asks him about their date that night at the “peace rally,” he’s so distracted that he temporarily forgets about it.

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Fortunately, he’s quick with an excuse as well as with his feet, and that night he’s at the rally when more food starts to go missing.  Wondering if the thief might be someone else with super speed, the Fastest Boy Alive gets into costume and races about in search, spotting another speedster and giving chase!  Despite being knocked aside by the blurred figure, Kid Flash isn’t to be discouraged and eventually finds a trail of food wrappers and other trash which lead him to a small, amphibious looking alien, passed out before a cliff-face.

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Thinking quickly, Wally determines that this creature is some type of unknown lifeform with an incredibly fast metabolism that moves at super speed.  It is emaciated and must have been starving, stealing food to survive.  Noticing a recent rock-slide, Kid Flash drills through into a cave system, and just then, the creature comes to and speeds into the cavern.  Theorizing that the being was a youth from a strange subterranean race that came out to explore, only to get trapped by the rock-slide, Wally seals the entrance and cleans up after the unusual but harmless visitor.

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This seven page tale lacks the great pacing and jam-packed content of one of Kanigher’s Robin backups, but it tells a complete if somewhat underdeveloped story.  The setup is a tad familiar as well.  I know The Flash had encountered various super-speedster aliens from time to time in such mysteries, but this version does have the charm of involving Kid Flash and his youthful setting, starting in the school and the like.  We’ve also got a nod towards realism, with the subterranean stranger’s appearance helping to explain its powers.  I’m wondering if Skeates is thinking about trying to do some world-building in these backups the way Kanigher has managed in his Robin tales.  It will be interesting to see if the red-headed Dana makes a return later on.

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It’s also notable that our young hero is seen going to a peace rally in this book, positioning him fairly clearly with the youth anti-war movement.  While his fellow Titan, the Teen Wonder, has been around the outskirts of such events, he’s maintained a certain neutrality.  While such politics were certainly not the focus of this story, it’s fascinating that the rally is featured here incidentally but deliberately.  Anyway, I suppose I’ll give this entertaining mini-mystery 3 Minutemen, as it doesn’t have quite enough substance to warrant more.

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And with the super-speed sortie of Kid Flash behind us, we will write finis to this post.  We had a solid set of books here, nothing groundbreaking or of enduring fame, like last post’s introduction of R’as Al Ghul, but we do have some interesting evidence of growing cultural influence and some efforts at building continuity and creating ongoing plotlines in The Flash.  I hope that you enjoyed my commentaries and that you’ll join me again soon for another step on our journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: June 1971 (Part 1)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Welcome, readers, to the Greylands and to the beginning of another month’s journey Into the Bronze Age!  We recently finished May, 1971, and with this post we start our voyage into June of that year.  We’re off to a really interesting start, with some intriguing Superman stories and the first appearance of a classic Batman villain which I have been eagerly awaiting since O’Neil began to plant the first seeds of his arrival several issues ago.  That’s right, this month is witness to the coming of the Demon’s Head, R’as Al Ghul!  That makes this a red-letter post.  Let’s see if the character lives up to his reputation in this first appearance!

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:

  • The Ed Sullivan Show aired its final episode, ending an era of entertainment
  • Soyuz 11 takes 3 cosmonauts to Salyut 1 space station, but crew found dead on return
  • Willie Mays hits 22nd and last extra inning home run
  • North Vietnam demands U.S. end aid to the South
  • US ends ban on China trade
  • The New York Times begin publishing excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, classified documents on the long history of the U.S. in Vietnam
  • An Orange Order march causes a riot in Londonderry in North Ireland
  • Various groups boycott the opening of the North Ireland Parliament
  • International Court of Justice asks South Africa to pull out of Namibia
  • Supreme Court overturns draft evasion conviction for Muhammad Ali
  • Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Keith Richards sentenced on drug charges
  • Notable films: Le Mans and McCabe and Mrs. Miller

The ending of the Ed Sullivan Show seems to me to mark the ending of a certain element of innocence in American entertainment.  Can you imagine a TV host today that had so little screen presence?  Well, aside from Jimmy Fallon, but clearly that talentless personality black hole made a deal with the devil.  It’s the only way to explain his career.  At any rate, that event shares this month with a new tragedy in the Space Race, as several cosmonauts die during a mission.  Of course, tragedies are in no short supply on Earth itself, and Ireland continues to bleed, while tensions continue to rise.  It’s a shame that the turmoil on the planet was mirrored, in a fashion, in space.  On a lighter note, the ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll’ reputation of the genre is further cemented by the antics of the Stones.  I imagine this isn’t the last time such a thing would happen.  It’s an interesting month, all told.

The top song this month and into the next is Carole King’s “It’s Too Late,” which I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever heard.  That’s unusual.  It’s rather melancholy song about the end of a relationship, which seems somehow fitting for this month.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #401
  • Adventure Comics #407
  • Batman #232
  • Detective Comics #412
  • The Flash #207
  • Justice League of America #90
  • Mr. Miracle #2
  • The Phantom Stranger #13
  • Superboy #174 (reprints)
  • Superboy #175
  • Superman #238
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138
  • Teen Titans #33
  • World’s Finest #203

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


Action Comics #401


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“Invaders Go Home”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Boy Who Begged to Die!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

It seems last month’s Lois Lane issue was not a fluke, but rather presaged something in the zeitgeist.  We start off this month with another comic story depicting the plight of Native Americans, and penned by Leo Dorfman of all people.  I have to say, I wasn’t expecting this.  The comic has a provocative cover, showing the Man of Steel defeated and helpless before a band of tribesmen. Interestingly enough, this image is not a cheat, but of course, it doesn’t tell the whole tale.

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The story begins with Clark Kent using his ‘mobile news room’ to cover the anniversary of of statehood for an unnamed region in the southwest where a train is carrying tourists to a celebration.  Suddenly Indians appear, armed with bows and arrows, braves on motorbikes!  Mr. Mild Mannered thinks its part of the show until they start firing arrows at the cars and he sees a fire on a bridge ahead.

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Shifting into Superman, he carries the locomotive to safety, only to discover that the flames were just a harmless slogan, part of some type of public stunt on behalf of the local tribespeople.  The motorized raiders take off, but the Man of Steel is able to trail them easily enough, smashing into the cliff in which they’re hiding and confronting them.  Yet, he finds that their leader is a man named Don Hawks, now going by Red Hawk, who was a leading astrophysicist.  The young man has come home to help his people, and he takes the Man of Tomorrow on a tour of their plight today, showing him the pitiful state of their tribe.  The fiery leader explains that all of the surrounding region used to be theirs, but the white settlers had stolen it all from them.

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In a scene evocative of Kanigher’s great racial story, we then visit an improvised Indian classroom where the children, and Superman, are given an education on proud heritage of the people to counteract the negative stereotypes to which they’ve been exposed.  Interestingly, the beautiful teacher, Moon Flower (sounds more hippie than Hopi), teaches her students about the technological achievements of native populations like agriculture and the Mayan calendar, but she also mentions their own mythical superman, Montezuma.  Now, I figured this was just Dorfman talking out of his hat, making up ‘Indian superstitions,’ but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there is a legend surrounding Montezuma II.  He apparently became the focus for many southerly tribes’ legends about the ‘King in the Mountain’ archetype.  Most cultures have such a legend, regarding a famous king who will return at an appointed hour to save or to avenge, like King Arthur for Britain or Frederick I in Germany.  Apparently Dorfman actually did a bit of research for this story.  Color me impressed.

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Anyway, after his education and tour, the Man of Steel is, naturally, much more sympathetic to the native people’s troubles.  Finally, Red Hawk takes the hero to “Montezuma’s Castle,” a massive plateau that is sacred to his people but has been taken over as a rocket testing site for a major company (oh-so-cleverly bearing the acronym G.R.A.B.).  The Metropolis Marvel wants to help, but despite his efforts to mediate, the president of the company, Frank Haldane, refuses to budge, insisting that their weather studies have shown that this is the perfect location for their projects.

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Just then, Red Hawk’s uncle, Old Snake, the medicine man of the tribe, appears and promises to drive the white men away with magic, using mystic sand paintings.  The impatient young man will have none of his uncle’s superstitions, however, and when Superman flies away laughing, he is deeply shamed by what seems like contempt for his people’s ignorance.  Yet, it seems Old Snake is as clever as subtle as his namesake, and his painting of lightning brings a massive storm.  Only the Man of Steel’s timely arrival saves the base.  The hero repairs the damage, earning the ire of Red Hawk, who resents this apparent betrayal, though Moon Flower is more sympathetic, seeing that his is only doing his duty.

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Next, Old Snake apparently summons a tornado, but once again the Man of Tomorrow intervenes to prevent damage.  It is then that we learn that he and the medicine man have been in cahoots, with the Kryptonian actually creating the disasters in order to drive the rocket company away.  Of course, he also feels obligated to fix what he breaks, but he’s hoping that they will wear the stubborn Haldane down.  Their last gambit, creating an earthquake, might have been successful, but Old Snake is, after all, quite an old snake, and he dies of a heart attack during the excitement.  The GRAB folks are relieved, but Red Hawk unexpected declares that he has learned his uncle’s secrets and will carry on his work.  He invites Superman to come to their camp that night in order to show him.

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When the Action Ace arrives, he is confronted by another sand painting in the form of his shield and a strange red jewel.  Red Hawk declares that he has used his magic to sap the hero’s powers and his men jump the astonished Kryptonian who suddenly finds himself unable to resist.  They truss him up, and the story ends with the native leader declaring that they will trade Superman for their land!

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There is a lot going on in this comic.  On the one hand, Dorfman is engaging in the traditional, ‘all Indians are the same’ trope in some ways, as with the train attack, evoking as it does the classic cowboys and Indians stories that were about Plains tribes.  Still, since some of those elements were meant to be part of a publicity stunt, it isn’t as bad as it might be.  On the other hand, Dorfman is using a pastiche tribe, the Navarros, as opposed to a real people group, and thus he avoids misrepresenting a real tribe.  He also includes traits that are indicative of southwestern tribes, like the sandpainting.  But he blends those with mythology that has more to do with Mexican and Central American peoples, with the Montezuma legends.  It’s a bit of a mess, but it is clear that his heart is in the right place, and the result is certainly less sloppy than Kanigher’s recent effort.

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I like Superman’s wry self-assurance here.

Dorfman gives us a positive overview of native peoples, stressing their development and the fact that they weren’t just ‘savages.’  He also sympathetically portrays their modern plight and their extremely legitimate grievances with the folks who stole their land.  Notably, Superman is unable to simply resolve the conflict.  His powers, which he willingly uses to aid the righteous underdog here, at the expense of the rich and powerful, are still not sufficient to solve the problem.  This, as fantastical as his efforts are, results in a more mature, effective story.

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Quite a striking image, the native leader standing triumphantly over the symbol of the white status quo.

It’s a solid tale on its own merits, featuring common and enjoyable Superman plot devices, but given the social agenda that it promotes and the attempt, however uneven, at accuracy and respect, it is more than the sum of its parts.  Swan’s art is great, as usual, but he really does a great job with some of the unusual parts of the tale, like the poverty and despair evident in the Navarro village, and, to his great credit, he generally depicts the tribesmen wearing at least some modern clothing, which immediately sets this comic apart from the last Indian yarn.  All told, I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, as it is a moderately provocative, at least slightly challenging story, especially for 1971.  I’m quite surprised it came from ‘dopey Dorfman,’ who usually tells pretty silly stories.

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“The Boy Who Begged to Die”


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The backup tale for this issue is also quite provocative.  It presents our hero with an intriguing ethical quandary, which is the type of story device that I always enjoy.  It begins with the crash of a small meteorite in the center of a small town called Masonville.  Superman, flying over, happens to see the commotion and comes to investigate.  He waves the crowd back and does the natural thing for him, examining the hunk of space junk with his x-ray vision, but this turns out to be a fatal mistake!  The radiation from his vision (which contradicts at least one explanation for how those powers work, I’m sure) triggers a reaction in the rock, turning it into a drastically unstable bomb.  He can’t move without triggering a massive explosion, so he orders an evacuation of the town.

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The people flee, trusting in the Man of Steel, and soon they are outside a mile perimeter, and not a moment too soon, because the hero realizes that the reaction is increasing, and thus the yield of the explosion will increase as well.  Just then, a young man with a broken leg limps slowly up the Metropolis Marvel, wondering where everyone is.  After a quick explanation, the boy, who was in the basement of the orphanage and was forgotten in the hurried evacuation, realizes that, hobbled as he is, he could never escape from the blast in time.  What’s more, every moment Superman delays in detonating the meteorite–turned-bomb, the larger the radius will be and the more danger to the townsfolk.

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action-401-26-04 - CopyDisplaying incredible courage, the young man insists that Superman do what he must, choose the greater good over his single life, and detonate the bomb.  The Action Ace is paralyzed by indecision.  He can’t bring himself to willingly kill this boy, yet he knows that if he doesn’t, thousands more could die.  This is a great moral puzzle for the Man of Steel, but his motivations are a bit off.  Instead of focusing just on the boy’s life, he thinks about his vow to stop hero-ing if he takes a life and the consequences of that, which is a little immature reasoning.

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Nonetheless, the situation is one of great tension, and the youth decides to take matters into his own hands, taking responsibility for his death upon himself as he tries to set the rock off by hitting it.  Yet, his efforts are too little (which does rather make me think that Superman could perhaps have flown it away, but that’s neither here nor there).  Finally, in an effort to force the Kryptonian’s hand, the young man takes his cape to create a noose.  Just then, Superman drops the meteorite, creating a powerful explosion that just barely misses destroying the huddled townsfolk.

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After the debris clears, we discover that, as he always does, Superman found a third way.  Inspired by seeing the boy carrying his invulnerable cape, the Man of Tomorrow used his super breath to blow the cape around the youth, then detonated the bomb, trusting in the Kryptonian fabric to protect the young man.  It works, and the boy survives, though he is badly injured.  Superman rushes him to the hospital, and we get a happy ending.

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This is a pretty great story for only seven pages.  It puts Superman in a genuinely challenging situation, one which his powers cannot outright solve, which is always a good source of dramatic tension for the incredibly powerful character.  I really enjoyed the fact that the Man of Steel was unwilling to sacrifice even one life, even to save thousands.  That’s the core of the character right there.  There are only really three flaws.

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The kid is a bit too willing, even anxious to die.  I can certainly see a virtuous and courageous young man coming to that decision, but it should have brought with it at least a little turmoil.  This youth seemed positively chipper about annihilation.  In the same vein, Superman’s anguished reaction misses the emotional core of the moment, focusing on his future career rather than the guilt of taking a life.  Finally, the protective powers of the cape are really a bit ridiculous if they can survive the explosion we’re shown here.  No matter how invulnerable the cape is, the kid inside would be jelly!  Of course, Bates only had seven pages to work with, and he fit a lot in.  So, we’ve got a tale with impressive aspirations and a great concept, though it is a bit immature in execution.  It’s still a good read, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Adventure Comics #407


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“Suspicion Confirmed”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Henry Scarpelli
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

While this month’s Superman stories present us with engaging and challenging moral dilemmas, this week’s Supergirl tale attempts to follow suit…with rather less success.  This issue of Adventure is quite a convoluted journey.  Unfortunately, it’s continuing the rather pointless plotline from the last issue, with ‘Nasty’ Luthor still trying to find concrete proof of Supergirl’s secret identity, as if she is a cop instead of a supervillain.  Last I checked, due process just doesn’t mean that much to megalomaniacs bent on world domination.  The issue does have a fairly nice cover, the standard dramatic confrontation angle, with a hidden (though obvious) figure challenging our heroine with knowledge of her secret.  Though Linda’s figure is a tad awkward, it’s otherwise a nice looking cover, with the unusual angle of looking out from the closet.

The tale inside begins where the last left off, with Linda Danvers in the hospital following her undercover heroics in the burning building.  With her super powers returning and her wounds healing, the girl knows she must escape before she is examined, and the arrival of a critically injured police officer provides her with the opportunity she needs.  Notably, the officer is black, which is a little detail that you wouldn’t have seen that long ago.  There’s also a funny little scene where Linda, clad only in a stolen sheet, hails a cab, and the unflappable cabbie doesn’t even bat an eye.

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Back at the office, Linda is greeted as a hero, but Nasty’s suspicions continue.  Yet, celebrations are short-lived, as there is a new story in the offing.  A man named Renard has come to them with a mystery he wants their help to solve.  He’s recently bought a reputedly haunted theater, and it has been plagued by strange occurrences, so he wants the news crew to bring their cameras down and find the culprit…which really seems less like a new crew’s job than a private detective’s job…or you know, the Ghostbusters!  “Who you gonna’ call?”  Random reporters, apparently.

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Sekowsky does give the fellow an interesting face…though he doesn’t have Geoff’s dynamite fashion sense.

Johnny, Nasty, and Linda head to the theater that night and set up different camera posts to cover the place with high-tech film gear in the hopes of snaring the would-be specter.  As the night rolls on, the silence of the place is split by a scream, as Nasty observes Johnny being carted off by a grisly-looking phantom.  Of course, the villainess is just waiting for such an opportunity to catch Supergirl in the act.  Just like her cousin, the Maid of Might is facing a terrible choice, intervene and reveal her secret or do nothing and leave her friend to an unknown fate.  So, she does what any hero worth their salt would do and finds a third way…ohh, wait…no she doesn’t.  She just sits there and watches her friend get abducted, possibly sacrificing his life to protect her secret.

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This is a huge problem.  The character rationalizes her choice, thinking about how much she would lose if she were exposed, and slightly more appropriately, how it would endanger her family, but she’s still utterly failing in her responsibilities as a hero.  These are realistic concerns, but there’s no emotional weight behind her struggle.  If she had good reason to believe that Johnny wouldn’t be harmed, that would be one thing, but she has no such guarantee, and her inaction could easily end in tragedy.  In fact, when the police arrive and search the place, they find nothing.  And then…she still doesn’t intervene.  Instead, she goes to Kandor for a fashion show.  Picking up her new, indestructible costumes, the Girl of Steel leaves her friend to his fate while she plays dress-up.  It’s not her finest moment.

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While there she sees the Professor, who is at work on creating an antidote for his anti-superpowers pill.  As she returns, she has the utterly silly thought that her new costume, which looks almost exactly like her OLD costume, will somehow give her an edge when she confronts her foes because it will confuse them.  Because apparently they aren’t capable of extrapolating minor changes.  She must think that getting a haircut really messes people up.

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My friend may be getting turned into clothing by a grisly monster as we speak, but yay! Fashion!

Back on Earth, her boss, Geoff, is fed up with the police’s lack of progress, so he decides to head a team going back to the theater…with more cameras.  Because that worked so well last time.  They do precisely the same thing, and, astonishingly, it works about as well the second time around.  This time, it is Nasty who is snatched, so Supergirl actually gets into action, but she misses the phantom.  In a particularly stupid detail, the police, seeing footage of the event, decide that the girl dressed almost exactly like Supergirl, who has a giant ‘S’ on her chest, must be a stranger in league with the monster.

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Geoff, feeling somehow responsible for sending two people to an unknown fate, takes a gun and goes down to the theater, which, had he done earlier, probably would have solved the problem.  Yet, Linda calls the police on him, defying his orders, and intervenes as Supergirl, another course of action that could have resolved this whole situation much earlier.

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Our heroine, ladies and gentlemen…

Using her conveniently working X-Ray vision, she locates a hidden passage and follows it down, just in time for her powers to very conveniently conk out again.  In the tunnels under the theater, she finds the two captured reporters as prisoners of a surprisingly well-spoken phantom, who reveals his boss…Starfire!

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The femme fatale seems not to have died in her plunge from the castle window after all…on which I’m definitely going to have to call shenanigans.  We didn’t see a body in that sequence, which I attributed to the era, but we did see what seemed to be a lifeless hand sticking out of the water in the last panel, which seemed pretty darn clear.  According to the villainess, she just swam under water and hid until the authorities left.  Pretty shoddy job on the part of the police.  ‘No body?  Ehh, she’s probably dead.  Let’s go get dinner!’

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The page in question

Covering the captives with a pistol, the spurious specter has Supergirl between a rock and a hard place, and the villains capture her, dropping her into a tank of acid.  Fortunately, the Maid of Might is still wearing her invulnerable uniform, so she flips her cape over her head, feigns agony, and endures the immersion until her bonds burn through.  Then she leaps out, breaking Starfire’s hand (!) to stop her drawing a gun, and capturing the villains with a flying tackle.  The story ends with Supergirl taking her prisoners to the police station and unmasking the phantom as Mr. Renard.  Finally, we see the gang joking about going to a show, while Nasty still plots to pin Supergirl down.

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It’s all very Scooby Doo, isn’t it?  That last scene especially is just a bit ridiculous and cartoonish.  The story is entertaining enough, though the book continues to suffer from Sekowsy’s dramatically uneven artwork.  There are some genuinely nice layouts, interesting angles, and nice panels…and then there are the usual bunch of downright ugly pages.  The bigger problems are Supergirl’s complete failure as a hero and the fact that the center of the book just feels like so much running around, with three different trips to the theater and the unnecessary side-trip to Kandor.  Starfire’s return and convoluted plot seem beneath her as well.  This is quite a ridiculous setup.

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“And we would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling Kyrptonains!”

She has her henchman pretend to haunt his theater in the hopes of attracting Supergirl’s attention?  I can’t help but think there must have been a simpler way to accomplish that.  The slippery master-villain also suffered a very ignominious defeat.  She plagued the Girl of Steel for multiple issues at a time previously, proving a suitable nemesis for our heroine.  And here, she gets taken down with fairly little fan-fare, just dumped in the local police station, and then forgotten about.  It’s a waste of a character that had a certain amount of villainous credibility built up.  In the end, I’ll give this silly story 2 Minutemen, though I’m inclined to give it less because of Supergirl’s unheroic performance.  It is particularly egregious in light of the much better told Superman story dealing with the same kind of dilemma that it shares space with this month.

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Batman #232


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“Daughter of the Demon”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

It’s finally here!  The debut of R’as Al Ghul, one of the greatest Batman villains created after the Golden Age, and arguably the most significant to the character in recent years, following his revitalization in Batman Begins.  I have been eagerly awaiting this issue, remembering it fondly from my previous read-through of the Bat-books, and, perhaps most significantly, from the wonderful adaptation from that best of Bat-worlds, Batman: The Animated Series.  The episode “The Demon’s Quest,” is an extremely faithful translation of this story, so much so that I was really struck by that when I first read the comic, having started my Bat-experience with the cartoon.  The episode in question is an excellent one, but that is no surprise considering the source.  Timm and Co. had an affinity for elevating their material, capturing the potential in every story and character and presenting them in all of their archetypal and dramatic power (though the recent release of Batman and Harley Quinn indicates that this is sadly no longer the case).  Yet, their task was an easy one in this case.

I loved R’as Al Ghul already from his appearances in B:TAS, and I was excited when I encountered him in this book and in his subsequent appearances.  I have been particularly looking forward to returning to his first appearance here, both to see if it lived up to my memory and to experience it in its original context among the DCU.  I’m very pleased to say that I was definitely not disappointed.

I supposed I’d better begin with the iconic cover, which is dramatic and nicely symbolic.  There are a few problems with it, but the biggest is the fact that it gives away the twist of the entire issue!  The thrust of the book’s mystery is the identity and agenda of the enigmatic Al Ghul…only that mystery is solved, in part, before you ever open it, as the villain is clearly orchestrating whatever is happening to Robin.  The other issue is the slightly distracting cover copy and the odd coloring of the ghostly Al Ghul.  I like his spectral image, but I think there is a little something missing from the execution.

Nonetheless, the tale within does not disappoint.  It begins with the Teen Wonder stealthily returning to his room one night at Hudson University, only to be ambushed within by a pair of gunman who shoot him down!  Now, having seen the cartoon episode first, I didn’t really appreciate how big a moment this, or that which comes later, really was.  I was just watching the familiar patterns of a well-known plot, but in context, I now realize that this is a really shocking event, with shadowy figures awaiting, not Robin, but Dick Grayson, in his home!  From the first page, the stakes are set as being extremely high, and we are given to understand that this is definitely not your normal adventure.

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A short time later, Bruce Wayne receives a most distressing envelope bearing a picture of his unconscious ward and a simple note, “Dear Batman, we have Robin!  Save him if you can!”  Once again, I read right past this the first time, but here is a note, sent to Bruce, but addressed to Batman.  The message is clear, and it is only made clearer by what will happen later.  First, Bruce swings into action, heading to Wayne Manor in order to use his mothballed crime lab to examine the note.  Now, this raises a bit of a question, as why would he not have the same type of facilities in his Penthouse headquarters, but it seems clear that O’Neil is taking a bit of a mini-tour of the Batman mythos in this book.

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The truly shocking moment comes when, upon reaching the Batcave, the Dark Knight is surprised to find that he has visitors!  An intense looking man in a cloak with a looming servant/bodyguard greet him, calling him by his real name!  This is R’as Al Ghul, who explains that he discovered the Dark Detective’s identity by deduction, reasoning he would need to be wealthy and meet certain criteria.  Bruce unmasks and accepts all of this with a truly surprising lack of reaction.  It seems quite out of character, and the mysterious man’s explanations seem far too simplistic, but these issues, while not given entirely adequate explanation by O’Neil in this issue, can be reconciled by what we learn by its end.

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Batman232-05The Caped Crusader does demand to know what the intruders want, though, and Al Ghul reveals that his daughter has been taken as well, and he wants Batman’s help in rescuing her.  The hero recognizes Talia, the girl he recently rescued from Dr. Darrk and, realizing that they have a common cause, the great detective gets to work.  A microscopic examination of the note reveals residue of an herb used by a far eastern cult of killers who have their headquarters in Calcutta, so the trio take off for the orient!  As they leave, Ubu, Al Ghul’s servant, makes a big deal of allowing his master to go first, and the Dark Knight quietly takes the man’s measure.

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On the flight, we see a Batman that has been developing in the last few years but has not, I think, been seen in such clarity before this point.  He sits in stoic, brooding silence, replying to his companion’s questions about his composure that he must control his emotions because he has a job to do.  The character’s portrayal throughout this issue is of the driven, collected, self-possessed Dark Knight Detective that came to define the best version of the concept, and this scene is a striking departure from the grinning, joking Batman that we’ve seen even recently in the rest of the DCU (Bob Haney doesn’t count, of course).  During the trip, we peer into the Masked Manhunter’s reverie and see him remembering his origin, that terrible night when a boy’s innocence died along with his parents and something hard and pure was born in its place.  We get a capsule version of the familiar origin story, complete with his adoption of Dick, with a focus on the self-sacrifice and dedication that his destiny demanded, further establishing this issue as a new beginning.

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In Calcutta, an old beggar is accosted by some street toughs, only to reveal himself as Batman, terrifying the low-lifes and forcing information out of them about the “Brotherhood of the Demon.”  Finding his way to their supposed headquarters, the Dark Knight enters first, only to be pounced upon by a leopard!  In a great sequence, the hero uses his strength and agility to grapple with the great cat and break its neck.  The danger passed, the detective notes that the animal was a trained guard, though the only thing in the room is a desk with a map of the Himalayan Mountains.  He claims there is a faint scratch tracing a route, and R’as offers to finance a mountain expedition.

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Later, on Mount Nanda Devi, the trio continue their search, following a clear trail, and Neal Adams includes what I have to think is Deadman’s face in the mountainside.  I wonder if this is near Nanda Parbat!  To continue their search, the travelers must scale the mountain, and Batman leads the way, though R’as takes a moment to admire the beauty of their surroundings, admitting to a love of desolate places that is positively Romantic, a nice character moment.  Suddenly, a shot rings out, and the mystery man seems to be hit.  Batman launches a desperate swing from the cliff-face to elude the gunman, and when the attacker follows, the hero springs from the snow in which he had secreted himself to take the assassin out.

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Interestingly, the Caped Crusader’s knows something we don’t, and he approaches the hidden camp of his enemies brazenly, walking boldly through their armed sentries and telling them that he knows they won’t fire.  As he strides into an inner chamber, he sees Robin and, ignoring the guards, secretly slips his partner a knife.  Just then, a masked figure enters, but the Dark Knight has had enough and declares that he knows the whole score.  From the very beginning, he knew that the entire quest was all a show, recognizing that R’as Al Ghul’s convenient appearance was all-too transparent, and his suspicions were confirmed when Ubu, always solicitous of his master’s honor, let the hero walk ahead of him when danger awaited.  Batman also fooled them with the map, lying about the scratch, but they took him to this mountain nonetheless.

Batman232-21Having vamped long enough, the Masked Manhunter asks the Teen Wonder if he’s ready, and they clean house, taking out the gathered assassins in a nice sequence that only suffers from having no backgrounds.  Then, the Dark Knight snatches the mask from the robbed figure to reveal Ubu, who decides to try his luck.  But Batman isn’t impressed by the man’s size or strength, and he flattens the hulking bodyguard in another great sequence.  Finally, R’as and Talia Al Ghul are revealed, and the Dark Detective confronts them, demanding an explanation for the dangerous game that the enigmatic man has been playing.  Al Ghul responds simply that his daughter loves the hero and, being inclined to retire, he wanted to see if Batman were worthy of being his successor and….son in law!

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What an ending!  The look of complete surprise on Batman’s face in the final panel had to be mirrored in that of many a fan as they read this book.  Of course, I knew it was coming, but trying to put myself in their shoes, I really felt the impact of this twist.  Readers must have been on the edge of their seats waiting for the next issue!  Reading this book in context really emphasizes how important and innovative it was.  This issue is the culmination, or at least a culmination, of all of the reworking and renovating that O’Neil had been doing in his Batman stories, and this is, in many ways, a new beginning, a line drawn in the four-colored sand, declaring that ‘what comes next is to be something new, yet classic,’ something that returns to the core of the character and positions him in a world worthy of him.

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This is the Batman I love.  This is the Batman that was translated so wonderfully into the Animated Series.  This is the Batman that realizes the character’s potential and takes advantage of the archetypal power of the concept.  He is dark, driven, intimidating, hyper-capable but believable, marked by the sadness of his origin, yet capable of enjoying his adventures, especially when joined by his adoptive son.  He is serious, but not joyless, and that’s an important distinction, often lost these days.  It isn’t perfect, not yet.  O’Neil is still a little clumsy with some of his dialog, but it is close, the character is close.

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I am also very impressed with R’as Al Ghul in this first appearance.  He is mostly just busy being mysterious, but there is a dignity and a certain Romantic air about him that is appealing.  Already you can see the Byronic anti-heroic quality that will define the character (though he will usually lack the self-critical element of that archetype).  Throughout there are hints that there is more to this enigmatic figure than meets the eye, like the ability of the older man to keep up with the powerful Caped Crusader during his quest and his calm self-assurance in every situation.

This issue is beloved for a reason.  It is a great declaration of a new (and old) vision for the Dark Knight, and it presents an exciting, world-trotting adventure that both honors and challenges many of the important elements of the Batman mythos, reuniting the Dynamic Duo in the end and introducing an intriguing new villain with a very unusual agenda.  Adams art is beautiful throughout, of course, but he too is coming into his own here.  His Batman is powerful yet agile, dynamic yet mysterious, full of untapped depths yet in complete control.  The art is alternately moody, intense, exotic, and exciting.  O’Neil, for his part, turns in some of his best writing here, focusing on character and story and really creating something special.  I’ll happily give this landmark issue 4.5 Minutemen.  It isn’t perfect, but it is darn close.

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P.S.: The letter’s page of this issue included a short note about the Futurians, the villainous secret society of several issues back, about which I had wondered.  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!


And that’s it for this post, though I don’t know what else y’all could ask for!  We’ve got a great selection of stories in this batch, even with the Supergirl clunker.  This is definitely an exciting time in comics, and change is in the air!  DC is growing, and there are exciting things on the horizon.  On that note, I hope you’ll join me again soon for the next installment of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!