Into the Bronze Age: December 1970 (Part 4)

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Welcome readers, to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  It’s a beautiful day here at Grey Manor, a perfect day for discussing some Bronze Age books, wouldn’t you say?  Today we’ve got a trio of books as diverse in quality as they are in content.  Care to check them out?  Then join me, as we travel 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 #395
  • Adventure Comics #400
  • Aquaman #54
  • Batman #227
  • Detective Comics #406
  • The Flash #202
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #81
  • Justice League of America #84 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Justice League of America #85
  • The Phantom Stranger #10
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134
  • Teen Titans #30
  • World’s Finest #199

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


Green Lantern/Green Arrow #81


green_lantern_vol_2_81“Death Be My Destiny!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Well, we’ve got another issue of O’Neil’s desperately socially conscious comic, and this one also takes the action off-world, though the effect is perhaps slightly more potent than that of the last issue, given the more relatable problem the cast faces.  Unlike the previous issue, with its mad judge and distinctly sci-fi setting, which was not instantly recognizable as tackling current social problems, this comic deals with the question of overpopulation, which was in the zeitgeist in 1970.  Interestingly, I thought for sure that this book had been born out of a trip to the movies by O’Neil.  I was sure that he must have been prompted to write this story by seeing Soylent Green.  Imagine my surprise when I realized that science fiction classic wouldn’t be released until 1973!  However, that famous film was actually based on a 1966 novel, entitled Make Room! Make Room!  It seems likely to me that O’Neil had either read that book or encountered its influence on the culture.

At any rate, the story itself is an odd one.  Despite the last issue having ended with the Hard Traveling Heroes having headed back to Earth, we pick up with the second trial of the rogue Guardian, this time by his fellows on Oa.  The Green Team, plus Black Canary, are there to serve as witnesses for the accused, but they argue like folks in a modern political debate, insisting entirely on their own point of view and making no effort to accommodate that of their audience in their argument.  Surprisingly, the Guardians aren’t swayed, but the real surprise is that we don’t get any pontificating from Ollie during the trial.  Despite the efforts of the heroes, judgement is passed: the rogue Guardian is stripped of his powers and immortality, and he is sentenced to live out the rest of his days on Maltus, the original home of his race.

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The obvious reference to Uncle Sam is…odd.

green-lantern-081-005The heroes ask to accompany him to his place of exile, and Hal takes the opportunity to announce that he’s not sure he wants to serve the Guardians anymore.  It is actually a pretty decent moment in the context of the arc he’s been traveling over the course of the series, as he displays a semi-mature sense of morality, evincing the ability to think beyond ‘authority=good.’  Having spoken their piece, the quartet depart in a truly beautiful full-page spread.  It really captures the majesty of the characters and setting, a quality of which this run takes too little advantage.  Whatever you can say about the writing on these books, the art remains flat-out gorgeous and innovative.  I just wish Adams were given more opportunities like this one.

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Unfortunately, when they arrive on Maltus, they find it disastrously overpopulated, absolutely teeming with life, and the Guardian notes that it was fine when they last checked on it, an eon ago.  This series really makes it seem like the Guardians are super bad at their jobs.  When the heroes land, they are immediately attacked by desperate citizens and forced to take to the skies again.

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In order to discover what happened, Green Lantern simply plucks an entire vault of archives out of a building, and the others investigate.  In the records they find a strange story.  Apparently the planet traveled through a bizarre cloud of cosmic dust which made the population sterile.  In order to save the race, a scientist named Mother Juna took samples from the Maltusans in order to create clones, even endowing them with false memories so that they were indistinguishable from natural born citizens.

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However, she didn’t stop when the population was restored.  Even worse, the effects of the dust cloud eventually wore off, and the resulting population explosion strained the planet to the breaking point.  Having solved the mystery, the cosmic quartet set out to see the effects of this situation for themselves, and Adams provides us with a striking two-page spread that captures the desperation of the Maltusan plight.

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Determined to do what they can to help matters, the heroes travel to Mother Juna’s citadel which just happens to be, in classic Green Lantern plot-device-style, entirely yellow.  The Emerald Crusader prepares to dig under the dome, and his vermilion partner sets out to distract the crowd in order to buy him time.  With Black Canary acting as his assistant, he puts on a dazzling display of arrow acrobatics.  In a funny and fitting little touch, O’Neil describes Ollie’s qualifications for the job as “unerring aim” and “a natural sense of theater.”  That works.  Green Arrow is definitely a bit of a ham.

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With the tunnel finished, the heroes rush inside, only to be greeted by a giant golden guardian.  It sure is fortunate for Mother Juna that she happens to like the color yellow!  For some reason, Hal decides to try and duke it out with this behemoth rather than, I don’t know, let the guy with the explosive arrows handle it.  Even more ridiculous is the fact that Ollie follows suit, temporarily forgetting that he’s got a bow.  He offers some silly explanation about trying to ‘play fair with them,’ which is something that hasn’t bothered him during the rest of his superhero career and so seems a bit strange showing up now.  Black Canary cleans up after the boys, however, saving the day with a judo throw.

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The crew are confronted by Mother Juna herself, along with a duo of golden guardians.  The quartet flees into her facility and the Green Team suddenly remember their abilities and take the two gargantuan guys out, while the bird lady sings a swan-song for Mother dearest.  Before they can do anything else, the maddened crowds from outside bust in and begin to wreck the joint.

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Hal helps the heroes get Mother Juna outside, where she confesses that she kept up her clone creation because she remained sterile from the cosmic dust and she “was always taught that a woman was nothing if she wasn’t a mother”.  There’s some women’s lib commentary there, but it’s shoe-horned into the end of this issue, so it doesn’t really work very well.  Black Canary is super moved by this, despite the fact that this nutjob may have doomed her world.

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Finally, the Guardian chooses to spend his remaining days on Maltus, trying to do some good and hoping that his finite time will spur him to greater efforts.  The heroes bid him farewell and head back to Earth, where Dinah has some appropriately vague moral about love to append to the adventure.

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Society was unjust to you?  Man, that stinks…but maybe you shouldn’t try to destroy the entire planet? Maybe?

This issue is an interesting one, but it isn’t completely successful.  The problem with this story is that the overpopulation of Maltus is entirely the fault of one madwoman, not the fault of its people.  The folks of that world did nothing wrong.  The depredations of overpopulation are not a result of their greed, their shortsightedness, or their ambition.  It’s the result of a race-saving measure gone horribly wrong.  Thus, once again, the parallels that can easily be drawn to our own little orb are not as clear as they might be.

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Of course, plot wise, the central focus of the problem in one character allows the heroes the chance to solve it, which they obviously couldn’t have done if it were an organically overpopulated world.  It, like the last issue, is an example of theme sacrificed for plot, which is an understandable trade-off, and one that works to the advantage of the story itself, which is a reasonably enjoyable adventure.  On the positive side, O’Neil seems to be getting into a better rhythm with his characterization.  No-one is insufferable or even really annoying in this issue.  In fact, Ollie is down-right charming, what with his arrow tricks and his wry sense of humor.  I wonder if that’s actually a sign of improvement or just a fluke.  I don’t’ remember this run well enough to say for sure.  Anyway, I’ll give this particular outing 3.5 Minutemen, seeing as it is a bit uneven.

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Justice League of America #86


jla_v-1_86“Earth’s Final Hour!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Story Consultant: Dennis O’Neil

I was pretty excited about the beginning of Mike Friedrich’s run on JLA, having heard good things about it, but after having read the first issue…that is no longer the case.  His is a strange story; in many ways, it feels like one of those gonzo 60s JLA tales that didn’t bother with trivial matters like logical consistency or verisimilitude, complete with a rather lame villain.  On the plus side, we get the return of Aquaman to the team he helped found for the first time in ten issues.  That’s cause for celebration, seeing as Denny O’Neil seemed to have forgotten that the Sea King was actually part of the team.

In fact, this disjointed adventure actually begins with Aquaman, as the Marine Marvel receives word in Atlantis that strange machines are stripping the plankton from the oceans.  Obviously, plankton is the foundation of the food-chain in the sea, and Arthur realizes that without it, Atlantis will starve and eventually Earth will die.  Of course, plankton is also a huge part of the oxygen supply of our world, which doesn’t get a mention in this story.  That’s actually the bigger threat, as losing plankton would mean we’d lose at least half of our oxygen production.  At any rate, the Aquatic Ace heads out to put a stop to these shenanigans, and he performs rather poorly, being taken out by some rocks in a less than impressive two-page spread.  He does manage to press his JLA signal device, though.

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justice-league-of-america-v1-086-04We then meet the culprit and get a one-page bio on him.  That’s right, it’s gay Tony Stark.  Tony decided to moonlight at DC, and developed a fabulous fashion sense while he was at it.  This is our villain.  This guy.  He’s…somewhat less than intimidating.  Obviously, not everyone can be Darkseid, but this guy isn’t even Brainstorm.  Apparently he’s a rogue tycoon who stole a memory altering device and used it to steal his way to power and wealth.  Then, the story takes a hard left turn, as he’s visited by very Silver Age-looking aliens who come from a world organized by magical principles as opposed to the scientific principles of Earth.  Also, for some reason, that magic creates pollution, and they’ve killed off all of their plankton.  Wait, what?  It’s…odd.  It really doesn’t quite fit together, both the magic and the pollution angles.  Pick one outlandish concept at a time, Friedrich!  Well, being an immoral little slimeball, our businessman, Theo Zappa, called, “The Zapper,” in a nickname almost as lame as he is, steals the visiting magic alien’s wand, because, of course he does.  ‘The Zapper’ decides to use his newfound power to steal all of Earth’s plankton and take over both Earth and the alien world.

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justice-league-of-america-v1-086-09Opposing his ridiculous plan is the JLA.  They find Aquaman and take stock, realizing that the theft of the plankton (which, by the way, is an event of absolutely ludicrously staggering scale, as the oceans are, surprisingly, quite big, after all) will cause a global catastrophe, and the Sea King actually takes charge, dividing the League’s assets up and giving them assignments.  That’s a fun moment, and about the only bright spot Aquaman gets in this issue.  The team divides up in classic fashion, with pairs of Leaguers pursuing different goals.

In one of the features of this issue that I actually quite enjoyed, each pair of heroes gets a little title at the head of their adventures, featuring both of their names.  Superman and Aquaman head under the sea to try and track down the plankton stealing machines which, somehow, are already done.  Yep, they’ve stripped ALL THE OCEANS ON EARTH of all of their plankton.  They encounter some enraged whales, which Superman knocks out ‘for their own good,’ and then the Sea King is trapped by a maddened wall of fish, in danger of being crushed until the Man of Steel creates a whirlpool to free him.  It’s a cool page, but once again, Aquaman comes off looking bad.  Zappa is working against the pair, and he magically enlarges some jellyfish to attack them.  The Man of Tomorrow can’t take his opponent because it’s magic, despite the fact that, as we’ve discussed previously, that’s not how his “weakness” to magic works.  This is my old bugbear for logical consistency rearing its head.  At least Aquaman gets to do something, as he easily shreds his jellyfish and frees the Metropolis Marvel.  Yet, when they reach the control center for the machines, they find ‘The Zapper’ already gone.

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Hawkman and The Flash, meanwhile, have taken to space on a really flimsy excuse.  Aquaman overheard the term “Cee” when he was first attacked, and Hawkman wondered if it might refer to the “Sea of Space.”  Sure.  Anyway, they happen to encounter Zappa’s spaceship, because of course he has one, and set out in pursuit in Hawkman’s Thanagarian ship.  Zappa does…something, it’s really not clear, which slows them down, and when they board his ship, the villain teleports himself and his plankton cargo to his alien destination.

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Oddly, suddenly folks have forgotten how to create caption boxes…

justice-league-of-america-v1-086-18Our final pair, the Atom and Batman have the most luck, as they encounter the alien traveler that Zappa had bamboozled to begin with, and he fills them in on the plot.  Ray uses his scientific training to figure out the teleportation device in Zappa’s office, and they travel to the alien world, where Batman does his part.  The Caped Crusader tracks Zappa down in his palace, where he is living like a king.

Interestingly, Friedrich is clearly trying to bring in some of the ‘grim avenger of the night’ vibe that has been growing in the Bat-books, as he has Zappa panic at the sight of the Dark Knight and includes several atmospheric captions.  The Atom chips in again by decking the lavender louse and saving his partner, but the people of this planet, Kalyarna, are none too happy about their actions.

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Fearing what will happen without their stolen plankton, the aliens threaten to storm the palace, and we get a really neat idea with mediocre execution.  The rest of the League arrives and confers about what they should do.  Superman, knowing he’s vulnerable to the magic weapons of the aliens, bravely goes out to face the crowd, but not to fight, to talk.  He realizes that they’re desperate, and he goes to reason with them.  He gives them a speech about how nobody else can solve your problems for you, echoing the very similar speech he gave in Action Comics #393.  It’s not as tone-deaf as that one, but it is a bit surprising.  If Superman had stuck to this bootstraps philosophy, Lex Luthor might have been more okay with him.  Anyway, the League promise to stabilize Kalyarna, but the Man of Steel tells its people that they must rethink how and why they pollute their planet.  Of course, this ends with a ‘and so must we’ moment.

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Like I said, this is an odd one, and it’s the second JLA story about pollution within a year, which might be a bit much.  This comic especially suffers in comparison to the fun, relatively reasonable O’Neil issue that it reminds us of.  Notably, O’Neil gets a “story consultant” credit on this issue, which might help to account for the return of this topic.  The completely unimpressive villain, the ridiculous threat, and the vague and largely uninteresting challenges the League faced make this a pretty weak issue.  It doesn’t help that the stiffness in Dillin’s pencils is back, unlike the other books we’ve seen him on this month.  Yet, the unusual focus, not just on pollution, but the necessity of balance in nature, is at least a little interesting.  After all, what could seem less important than plankton?  But it is, in fact, vitally important, and important on a global scale.  That lesson doesn’t quite justify this yarn, though.  Despite a few bright spots, this JLA issue just isn’t that good.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.

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The Phantom Stranger #10


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Cover Artist: Neal Adams
“Death… Call Not My Name”
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando

“The Bewitched Clock”
Penciler: Ruben Moreira
Inker: Ruben Moreira

“Charlie’s Crocodile”
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciler and Inker: Jim Aparo

This issue features the first mainstream comics work of Gerry Conway on an ongoing title, so we’re seeing comic book history in the making, here.  What’s particularly impressive about that is the fact that Mr. Conway was only 16 when he started writing for DC, and it was shortly after that when he broke into Marvel and got a full-time gig.  I can’t imagine holding down a full-time creative job when I was 16, much less turning out quality writing, comic or otherwise, that early.  I flatter myself to think I’m not a bad writer when I turn my hand to it these days, but at 16, despite delusions to the contrary, that was certainly not the case.  This issue is a very impressive first effort.

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The main tale is framed by a warning from the Phantom Stranger about evil hiding in the shadows, and it is in a shadowy club that the sinister stalker of this story makes his first appearance.  A trio of young women are out for a night on the t0wn, and one of them complains about never meeting any interesting men.  That’s a complaint that she won’t have time to regret as a dapper but vaguely disquieting gentlemen approaches her and asks for a dance.  He seems to have a hypnotic effect on the girl, Lottie, and when she returns to her friends she is stunned, able only to stutter out that the man’s name was ‘Tannarak’ before she collapses, suddenly stone dead!

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the-phantom-stranger-1969-10-04Her friends are horrified, as you might imagine, but who should come to the rescue?  Dr. Thirteen!  What?  You were expecting someone helpful?  Actually, Thirteen’s portrayal in this issue is a bit more varied and interesting than we’ve seen previously.  Of course, when the Phantom Stranger arrives a few minutes later, the good doctor does immediately accuse him of murder, but I suppose old habits die hard.  Thirteen quickly realizes that, whatever he may think of the Stranger, he knows the man is no murderer.  The first part of this story even has the two men set aside their differences as they work on the case.  It’s actually a fun dynamic.

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Thirteen has been in town investigating a similar spate of murders, murders without a clue and deaths without a sign of violence.  The Stranger realizes there is more here than meets the eye (no, she wasn’t killed by a Decepticon).  There’s a nice moment, as Dr. Thirteen blames himself, thinking he could have stopped this death if he had been smarter or faster, and the Stranger actually comforts him, establishing a slightly more cooperative dynamic for this issue.  I would totally read an odd-couple/buddy cop feature with these two teamed up, as long as you could figure out some way for Thirteen to be useful.

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Anyway, the other two young women flee the murder scene, which seems like a poor choice no matter how you slice it, and emerge into a mysterious, foggy night.  They encounter the same mysterious figure from the club, and their screams alerts our two heroes.  The supernatural sleuths charge out into the night, only to discover one of the girls hysterical and the other missing.  The Stranger, in a nicely ambiguous scene, calms the girl, either through his powers or through pure force of will.  She tells her story, and, of course, Dr. Closed-Minded immediately disregards the Stranger’s offered warning of the supernatural.  In response, the phantom detective (no, not that one) pulls his patented disappearing trick.

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We switch to follow the perspective of our villain, the mysterious Mr. Tannarak, as he brings the hypnotized Michelle to his home.  Along the way, he rants madly, calling her Dianna, his love.  It slowly emerges that this lost love he conflates her with died nearly a hundred years ago!  The aged ancient obligingly recounts his origin for his guest, and we discover that he and the original Dianna were once children, stealing on the streets of Cairo long years ago, and after being caught and confronted with the specter of death in the form of a dead body, the young Tannarak became obsessed with escaping that great enemy of mankind.

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He searched for years, studied for years, and eventually mastered the arts of alchemy, by which he made himself immortal.  Essentially, he pulled a Voldemort, placing his soul in a golden phylactery, a statue of himself (shades of the Picture of Dorian Gray!).  As with all such dark rituals, however, this immortality comes at a high cost.  The alchemist is now without a soul, and he survives by stealing those of others, as he did the unfortunate young lady at the club this very night.  Yet, he has a different fate in store for Michelle.  Because she reminds him of his lost Dianna, he will make her immortal too, whether she wants that soulless unlife or not.

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Fortunately, just as he prepares his alchemical concoction for the dire deed, the Phantom Stranger arrives to save the girl.  What follows is a really nice fight between the two.  It begins as Tannarak tosses ‘the Elixir of Death’ at the mysterious hero, seemingly burning him terribly, but the Stranger tosses off his smouldering cloak and clocks the alchemist with a powerful blow.

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Not out of gimmicks yet, the immortal employs ‘the Blood Stone,’ apparently a bit akin to the Philosopher’s Stone, in an attempt to turn the Stranger into stone, but he proves too fast.  His attacks having failed, Tannarak attempts to bargain with the spectral sleuth, offering him wealth and immortality, trying to distract his foe as he grabbed another alchemical concoction.  Once again, the Stranger is too quick for him, and a last blow sends the immortal crashing into his statue, which collapses on top of him, exploding into rubble and finally putting an end to his evil.

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Having been tracking down the murderer, Dr. Thirteen and the other girl arrive just in time to try and explain away all of the magic and mysticism that has transpired that night.  Thirteen actually offers some reasonable explanations for some of it, but when the Stranger takes off his jacket to show that the sleeve has been turned to gold, ‘ol Terry is at a bit of a loss.

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This is a great story.  The whole thing works; it hangs together and makes sense, maintaining logical consistency throughout.  The fact that a 16 year old kid could tell such a story puts a new perspective on those that can’t.  Its only real flaw is the fact that the captions are overwritten.  Some of them are appropriately dark and tension-building, but many of them are positively purple in their attempt at pulchritudinous prose .  Strangely, it is only really the captions that are overwritten.  For the most part, the dialog is strong and fitting, and the character work is quite good.  In terms of the villain of the piece, his origin could have used a bit more attention, but it works reasonably well.  Tannarak is delightfully mad and viciously evil, a combination perfectly captured by Jim Aparo.  It is hardly worth mentioning at this point, but this is a gorgeous book, and picking the art for this post was really quite tough.

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The big battle was particularly dynamic and exciting, something that has been lacking in some of our Phantom Stranger stories.  The whole story, however, is beautifully rendered, heavy with atmosphere, lit with candles, suffused with fog and smoke, and covered throughout in a lowering sense of foreboding, well conjured by both word and image.  This issue also grants us the rare sight of the Stranger divesting himself of both cloak and jacket, which leads to a strange sight.  He looks a bit less mysterious and enigmatic standing about in a white turtleneck.  It’s a fun sight that contrasts with his obvious supernatural air.  I’ll give this strong story 4.5 Minutemen, a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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This issue also includes a reprint of an old tale, as well as a fun, four page backup, which is really too brief to bother with giving a full write-up, but it is a good example of expeditious writing.  In just four pages we meet a horribly hen-pecked husband who is treated terribly by his wife.  He answers a newspaper ad to ‘get rid of all nuisances,’ meeting a “Mr. Scratch,” which is an old name for the Devil, and making  deal.  Ignoring a warning from the Phantom Stranger, he’s given an inflatable crocodile to put in his pool, which is guaranteed to do the trick.  When his wife goes for a swim, he suddenly finds himself free, but he pays a price when his friends find the same gag and put it in his pool after a party.  He suffers the same fate.  It’s a classic short horror tale, beautifully illustrated by Jim Aparo.


That will do it for today, and an interesting day it was.  The Phantom Stranger continues to be one of the strongest books I’m encountering, but my beloved Justice League has taken a disappointing turn.  Let’s hope that JLA will improve under Friedrich’s tenure.  Green Lantern?  Well…it continues to be fascinating, whatever else one can say about it.  I certainly never have a hard time finding something to say about that book.  We’ve only got one more post to go before we break through into 1971, and I’m excited to see a new year’s worth of books!  Well, until next time ladies and gents, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: November 1970 (Part 4)

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Greetings internet travelers, and welcome to a particularly fascinating edition of Into the Bronze Age!  I’ve got something special for y’all today, something that surprised the dickens out of me!  I’ve got a story that was much less enjoyable than I expected and a story that was vastly more enjoyable as well.  I’m sure y’all will be as surprised as I was.  So, let’s get right into this post’s features!

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 #394
  • Adventure Comics #399
  • Batman #226 (the debut of the awe-inspiring Ten-Eyed Man!)
  • Brave and Bold #92
  • Detective Comics #405
  • The Flash #201
  • G.I. Combat #144
  • Justice League of America #84
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106
  • Superman #231
  • World’s Finest #197 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • World’s Finest #198

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


G.I. Combat #144


g-i-_combat_vol_1_144“Every Man a Fort”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Cover Artist: Joe Kubert

This is an unusual and fun issue of the Haunted Tank.  Unfortunately, the ghost of the titular haunting still doesn’t really contribute anything, but the book sticks out because the story it tells actually touches on the origin of the heroic tank crew who star in these tales.  This issue gives us the first meeting of the tank crew in tank training, and a memorable meeting it is.  We also get the first meeting of Jeb and J.E.B., which is much less interesting and something of a let-down.  For the third book in a row, Robert Kanigher turns in a perfectly serviceable story without any glaring flaws.  Maybe we were just in a lull for him.  I suppose time will tell which set of stories was the fluke, the terrible or the tolerable.

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This particular tale begins in media res, with the Haunted Tank taking on a German panther, smashing the other steel beast, but being rocked by their fire in return.  Jeb is blown out of the hatch and has his bell rung but good.  He begins murmuring about the crew’s first meeting, which leads us to a flashback and reveals something I didn’t know.  Jeb is a Yankee!  This also comes as a surprise to the other three members of the crew, Slim, Rick, and Arch, who are all Southerners.  They don’t display good Southern manners, however, instead telling Jeb that, since he’s a Northerner, he’s not fit to bear the name of the famous Confederate general.  What follows is an episode out of the Three Musketeers, as Jeb, with quiet courage, puts up a list, saying that anyone who wants to try to make him change his name is welcome to sign it.  Shortly, he’s got three different appointments for fights, which Russ Heath illustrates wonderfully.  Shades of d’Artagnan!

First Slim cleans his clock, but as soon as he has recovered, Jeb seeks out the next name on the list, introducing himself as Jeb Stuart.  So, next up, Rick rearranges his face.  Still undeterred, Jeb approaches Arch, and after a brutal fight, the three tankers accept him, telling their former foe that he’s earned the right to that name, in spades!  It’s a great sequence, and it establishes Jeb’s character in an endearing, hard-won fashion.  I do wish we had gotten a bit more development of the other three crew members, as they remain little more than names.

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gi-combat-144-09Later that night, Jeb is visited by his namesake, who tells him that he has the heart of a “Johnny Reb,” and that the ghost will be proud to be his guardian.  It’s a bit lackluster, to be honest.  I like that he recognizes the tank commander’s fighting spirit, but I would have preferred that their first meeting be a tad more dramatic.

Nonetheless, the flashback rolls on, and we join the Haunted Tank on its first mission, to reinforce a fort overlooking vital supply routes in North Africa.  We get a really nice scene where the crew stops to pray, only to be ambushed by a half-track.  I quite enjoy little moments of faith like that.  They manage to dispatch that threat, only to arrive at the fort too late.  It has already been bombed to smithereens by the Luftwaffe.  That brings us back to the present, and the crew carries on with Jeb still delirious.

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They spot a train carrying supplies for Rommel, and they realize it is up to their tank to stop it.  Yet, try as they might in a vicious running firefight, once again, nicely drawn by Heath, they can’t smash through its armor.  Now, that seems a bit silly, but they actually did have armored trains, so it’s not quite as goofy as it seems, especially given the small gun on a Stuart.  Anyway, Jeb comes to just in time, ordering Slim to ram the engine, a desperate gamble that pays off, sending the train and all of its ammo and fuel over a cliff and saving the day.  As usual, the General appears once the action is over to offer unhelpful commentary rather than supernatural aid.

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This is a solid story, and I really enjoy the camp episode about Jeb’s name.  His quiet, obstinate perseverance is great.  The whole thing looks good, as do most of these Haunted Tank tales, and the adventure with the train is a neat change of pace.  Interestingly, this origin actually contradicts an earlier one from issue #114.  Leave it to Kanigher to botch some continuity.  That earlier story tells the tale of how General Stuart himself came to be attached the the tank, and it is an interesting one.  I rather wish that supernatural side of the concept had been explored a bit more, but I imagine they had to walk lightly about such things in the Silver Age.  Perhaps we’ll see more done with it in future issues.  At any rate, I’ll give this fun and interesting issue 4 Minutemen, though it loses a bit for the continuity kerfuffle.

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Justice League of America #84


jla_v-1_84“The Devil In Paradise!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Great Ant Circus!” (reprint)
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Murphy Anderson
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editors: Whitney Ellsworth and Julius Schwartz

This is an odd one.  Denny O’Neil’s groundbreaking run on the book is over, and we get one issue with a fill-in writer before the beginning of Mike Friedrich’s run.  It seems like Kanigher (yes, he strikes again) was going for a ‘Very Special Episode’ type of story with this comic, but the result is so uneven and random, with the melodrama turned up to 11, that the resulting read doesn’t ever really come together.  Unlike the last few mostly tolerable Kanigher offerings, this one is full of poorly thought-out events, abandoned plot points, and overall sloppy writing.  It isn’t the worst story of his we’ve covered, and it actually still manages to be somewhat enjoyable.  Nonetheless, it is weird.

Almost immediately after it begins, we get a flashback.  The JLA are receiving a special Nobel Prize, which is actually a cool idea and something that makes perfect sense for a group of people who regularly save the entire world.  This particular instance is actually rather small-potatoes, as the team receives the reward for saving a kidnapped scientist before he could be “sold behind the Iron Curtain.”  In a fun touch of continuity, the organization they’re tangling with is The 100, the same group that has begun to make its presence known in some of the Superman books also penned by Kanigher.

The 100 have a veritable army guarding the scientist, and we get a fun sequence where all the gathered members of the League get to chip in during the rescue, though the creators apply cartoon logic to Superman’s powers, as he melts an entire tank, somehow without deep-frying the guys inside.  They’re literally sitting in molten steel and only seem mildly perturbed in a ‘How dare you melt my tank’ kind of way.  You can’t see him, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Yosemite Sam was actually piloting that tank.

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Yep, it sure is a good thing that the melting temperature of flesh is so much higher than steel!

While the others keep the gang busy, Hawkman affects the professor’s rescue with an assist from the Flash, and that brings us back to the ceremony.  After the League’s time in the limelight, another recipient takes the stage, Dr. Viktor Willard, whose ‘Pax Serum’ has turned “the hawks of savage, primitive tribes of the Matto Grosso country into doves!”  Now, if that sentence didn’t disturb you, A) you haven’t read enough science fiction or B) you didn’t think about it enough.  This guy invented some kind of drug that made human beings docile.  That’s a dystopian dictatorship’s dream!  What’s more, he presumably gave it to an unwilling population, forcibly restraining their hostile tendencies.  That’s wildly ethically problematic!  Yet, the League and the Nobel crowd seem to think it’s the greatest thing in the world.  Yay!  Let’s just drug people to make them act the way we want!  Shades of Equilibrium!

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Anyway, that’s not even the weirdest thing to come out of this scene.  All of a sudden, with no explanation, Black Canary becomes telepathic, reading the thoughts of Willard’s fiance, Phyllis Temple.  Oddly, she calls her new ability “SP.”  ESP stands for extra-sensory perception, but I’m guessing ‘ol Kanigher just got confused.  To add to the inexplicable oddities, Superman’s x-ray vision suddenly goes haywire, and he sees half of Willard’s face as a skull.  That is never mentioned again, by the way.  It’s just a random little bit of madness.  On the way home from the event, Superman and Flash have a race, but it proves too destructive, so they call it off.

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Next, we get an incredibly, achingly melodramatic scene between Batman and Black Canary.  They cross paths in the Watchtower, changing shifts for monitor duty, and they share a kiss, instantly regretted by both, as the heroine is still mourning the loss of her husband.  It’s not that bad of a scene, but the captions are just too much!  I wonder what Ollie would think of this.  My wife would hate this scene, as she will hear of no other love interest for Batman but Catwoman.  I’m not quite as militant about it, but that pairing does have a place in this old softie’s heart.

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Anyway, the plot, such as it is, picks up two days later as the League responds to a distress call from the remote hinterlands of Australia where a native village has been destroyed by another tribe, which has seemingly gone mad.  Suddenly the team is attacked by Aborigines with weird weapons and mirrored shields.  The heroes have a brief fight, but then their opponents just vanish and we get some gobbledygook about the natives’ belief in the supernatural and the heroes’ belief in science.  What does this have to do with our main plot?  Your guess is as good as mine, since it is never explained.  Were these folks experimented upon by Dr. Willard?  Are they just random natives practicing black magic?  Who knows?  The League don’t bother to find out, just leaving with the whole matter uninvestigated.  Way to go, team!

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Cool panel, though.

On the way home, the Flash discovers the recent Laureate’s fiance floating on an overturned boat, delirious.  He rushes her to the hospital in Central City (which I suppose is really no further away for him than a coastal hospital).  While comforting her, his wife, Iris, arrives, steaming mad and ranting about how he missed her receiving a reward.  She declares “The JLA’s no place for a married man!  Let your superhero bachelors carry on!”  This is another completely random, completely out of character moment.  Shades of Bob Haney!  Iris has always been very supportive of Barry’s superhero career, so this comes out of nowhere and, I’m fairly certain, goes nowhere as well.

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The League brings in the suddenly-telepathic Black Canary, and the bird-lady sings about what she sees in Miss Temple’s mind.  Apparently, her fiance went from Nobel Peace Prize recipient to flat-out Bond villain, complete with secret volcano lair, all in the blink of an eye!  The mad scientist flew her to his private island base and explained his randomly evil plan to her.  He declares that, for no particularly good reason, instead of curing aggression in the world, he’s going to ramp it up to cause a holocaust, leaving the pair of them safe in their underground bunker.  He also introduces her to his incredibly vaguely defined servant, “Nether Man,” described as “Neither man, robot, nor android.”  Sure.  Why not.  Nether Man is smitten with the lovely Miss Temple, but when she escapes, he is sent to hunt her down nonetheless, sinking her speedboat in the process.

Having gotten the scoop, the League leaps into action, encountering a series of booby-traps and obstacles on the island, which give several different members a chance to shine.  It’s a nice sequence, as Superman detonates mines, the Atom picks a lock, and Hawkman dodges lasers.  Then, while they are fighting really uninspiringly designed robots, Flash has a line that irks the literary scholar in me, as he refers to ‘machines turning against men’ as “Orwell’s nightmare world of 1984.”  What?  1984 has nothing to do with machines turning against men!  Sheesh, Kanigher, read a book!

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While the League are occupied, Phyllis runs to confront her fiend of a fiance as he is preparing to launch his doomsday device.  He orders Nether Man to kill the meddlesome woman, only to have his creation turn on him, destroying itself in the process.  The final page of the issue attempts to deliver some kind of moralizing message, but it makes no sense with the story that’s just concluded, as Phyllis philosophizes that both Nether Man and Dr. Willard are “victims of the same hate that ravages the world!  Unwitting murderers!  But…who can cast the first stone at them?”  Wait, what?  What story were you reading, lady?  Those two were victims of the hate that your psycho boy-friend whipped up trying to annihilate humanity!  I’d call him a pretty ‘witting’ murderer, and, while I’m no saint, I feel fairly comfortable in my moral fitness to throw the first stone at attempted genocide.

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Clearly, we’re meant to find this ending super profound and meaningful, but the story just doesn’t earn anything of the sort.  The Frankenstein-esq turn with Nether Man is good, and surprisingly well handled in a very short span of time, but his master gets pretty much zero motivation for his genocidal tendencies.  The issue is chock full of material and has plenty of action, but it really feels like three or four separate, disjointed stories rather than one unified plot.  The Aristotelian Unities don’t really apply to comic stories, but some type of unity of action is important in any conventional yarn.  This issue certainly fails at that, and while there are some fun team moments and even some interesting ideas introduced, like the attraction between Batman and Black Canary, the strange, discordant notes of unexplained events, incongruous dialog and action, and general lack of development and, you guessed it, logical consistency, leave it something of a mess.  It’s not a bad read, but if you think about it for more than two seconds, you’ll find your head hurting.  I’ll give this off-beat issue 2 Minutemen.  It certainly seems like those last few solid Kanigher issues might have been the fluke after all, but just wait until you see what’s next!

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Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106


lois_lane_106“I Am Curious (Black)!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: Milton Snappin
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell

“Rose and Thorn: ‘Where Do You Plant a Thorn?'”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell

Wow.  Just….just wow.  This is an amazing comic.  I know that is hard to believe.  Just look at that title and that cover, not to mention the name in the credits!  Nonetheless, this is a heck of a comic book.  I expected this issue to be a terrible, ham-handed, melodramatic mess.  How could it be anything but, right?  Well, I was blown away by what was under that goofy cover.  Robert Kanigher, of all people, managed to tell a simple, subtle, touching, and authentic story about race, bigotry, and inequality that gently delivers a a message of human unity without beating the reader over the head with it.  This comic actually achieves the profundity that Denny O’Neil is trying so desperately to grasp in each new issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow.

This unusual story starts off with Lois Lane, clearly entirely pleased with herself, as Lois often is, having just received an assignment to get “the inside story of Metropolis’ Little Africa,” an all Black neighborhood in the poorest part of the city.  In a somewhat creepy little panel, Clark thinks, for no particular reason, that he’s going to ‘keep an eye on her’ as Superman.  I’m sure that won’t be significant later.  The glamorous girl reporter gets a ride from her favorite taxi driver and heads to the slums.  Yet, when she arrives, she gets the cold shoulder from all of the area’s inhabitants.  They just refuse to talk to her, politely ignoring all of her efforts to break through.

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There’s a particularly striking scene where she passes a street meeting and a fiery young man points her out, noting that, though she is young and pretty, they must not forget that:

“she’s whitey!  She’ll let us shine her shoes and sweep her floors!  And baby-sit for her kids!  But she doesn’t want to let our kids into her lily-white schools!  It’s okay with her if we leave these rat-infested slums!  If we don’t move next to her!  That’s why she’s our enemy!”

It’s a really surprisingly honest moment, dealing fairly straight-forwardly with issues of school desegregation and white flight.  The young man’s earnest anger is shocking, as is the subject matter appearing in a superhero comic, much more in Lois Lane.  Kanigher shows admirable restraint in moments like this throughout the book, letting the scenes speak for themselves, and they speak eloquently.  Lois herself is struck by this speech.  She ponders how, though the young man’s words aren’t true for her, they are true for many of her race.

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Having determined that she won’t get any story out of this neighborhood while she’s looked at as an outsider, Lois conceives of a bold plan.  She convinces Superman to use a kryptonian device to temporarily turn her into a Black woman so she can see what the world looks like through such people’s eyes.  What follows is a short but telling collections of scenes where Lois, suddenly not the “right” color any longer, discovers how different life is for the other half.  Her favorite taxi driver blows right past her on a rainy street, refusing to pick her up.  On the bus, she’s the subject of suspicious looks, or at least feels that way.  That’s one of the most remarkable things about this story.  Kanigher captures, not only the obvious signs of racial inequality, but the general sense of ‘otherness’ that minorities have to deal with.  That’s impressive.

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Arriving in the slums, Lois heads in to one of the tenement buildings to talk to some of the inhabitants, only to find a fire starting in a trash pile.  The place is incredibly run-down, and one of the renters informs the disguised reporter that the slumlord who owns the place refuses to do any maintenance.  That renter invites Lois into her home and what follows is something akin to the Widow’sMite.  This woman, who has almost nothing, who has to chase rats out of her baby’s room, offers Lois coffee, shares her hospitality, and then asks this complete stranger if she needs any help.  It’s a touching little scene, and it helps to ground the humanity of the folks trapped in this area.

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Lois is moved, and she heads out to see what else there is to see.  In an alley, she spots an ‘improvised pre-kindergarten,’ where a man is teaching a group of children that ‘Black is beautiful.”  This may strike you as odd, especially if you aren’t familiar with American racial history, but it is actually a really interesting and subtle addition to the story.  You see, the famous Doll Test in the 40s indicated that segregation and racial inequality had a psychological effect on minority children.  They literally preferred white skin to theirs, tending to have subconsciously absorbed the narrative or racial inferiority.  It’s a pretty heartbreaking idea that kids might be uncomfortable and unhappy in the skin they’re born in, but that was (and may still be) the world that we had created.  Once again, Kanigher displays surprising sensitivity and insight.

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lois-lane-106-p_015Well, the crisis of the story arrives when Lois meets the fiery street speaker she had encountered earlier, but the young man, named Dave Stevens, of course, doesn’t recognize her.  He does recognize a gang of kids creeping into an alley to meet a pusher, however, and charges after them in order to protect his neighborhood.  The thugs meeting the kids don’t take kindly to the interruption and shoot the brave fellow.  Superman arrives just then and captures the criminals, then rushing the wounded man to the hospital.  It’s at this point that we get one of my favorite panels in the book.  Stevens needs o-negative blood for a transfusion, but the hospital is out.  Lois, with a wonderfully rendered expression of realization, simply states “I–I’m o-negative!  Just like him!”  There’s no heavy-handed captions, no undue focus.  The moment stands on its own, and it is a great moment.  Lois realizes that she, a White woman, shares the same blood that is coursing through the veins of this Black man.  That she is the same, inside, as he is.  It’s really lovely.

The transfusion is conducted, and it is a success!  While the young man recovers, Lois has an interesting conversation with the Man of Steel, asking him, point blank, if he would marry her if she was couldn’t change back.  His response is really fascinating, as he doesn’t ever really answer her.  He points out that he is the ultimate outsider, being an alien, but she retorts that his skin is “the right color.”  It’s intriguing to see other writers toying with the idea of Superman as a representative of the established order, a symbol of conservatism and resistance to change.  The man himself seems better than that, but there is a touch of that old fear, that superheroes are inherently fascistic or oppressive, defending the existing social order as they do.  I’ve always found that argument foolish, as heroes can and do inspire folks to be compassionate and courageous, but the possibility is certainly there.  Just last month we saw Jack Kirby putting Superman in a similar role by placing him at odds with Jimmy, as a representation of youth culture.  We’re certainly getting into pretty interesting stuff on this front, no doubt about it.

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The issue ends with Lois, having transformed back into her usual coloring, greeting the revived young man.  Once again, Kanigher makes an excellent choice of restraint.  The final pages is wordless, with nothing but the dawning realization and acceptance on Dave Stevens’ face to tell the story.  He recognizes the same truth that the reporter herself did, that inside, they are the same, whatever outward differences may appear.  It’s a good, hopeful ending.  It’s touching without being saccharine, and I really don’t think it could have stood any dialog or captions and still kept that balance.

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I think what may be most astonishing to me about this book is the fact that I’ve never heard of it.  I’ve read a decent amount about comics and their seminal moments.  I’ve read about Denny O’Neil’s Green Lantern run, the drug abuse issue, and more.  I’ve heard about a lot of the important stories, and yet…this issue has never had a mention so far as I can tell.  It has never garnered any notice, but it is a bold and sensitive (for a 14 page comic story) treatment of some very timely issues.  I can only imagine that no-one was paying any attention to Lois Lane.  I know I certainly didn’t expect to find an honestly poignant story in these pages!  Yet here it is, a forgotten gem.  This type of book is one of the reasons I started this project.  I am thrilled to have discovered it, not least because its message of seeing through the other fellow’s eyes is especially fitting these days, at least in my country.  That’s one of the great strengths of literature.  It builds our capacity for empathy and helps us to look at the world from different perspectives.  That’s one of the ways that literature makes us better as human beings, and this little story in an insignificant comic magazine has just such power.

The whole issue is beautifully illustrated by Werner Roth, who I’ve never heard of before.  I’ll be looking for his name from now on, though!  He really captures the emotions of the various characters and gives each extra an interesting and unique face.  Lois herself is given a lot of personality by both Kanigher and Roth, and I think her portrayal is one of my favorite parts of the issue.  She is represented as intelligent, capable, and level-headed, which is great given how often the Silver Age Lois was just a complete mess, a mad, manipulative, emotionally disturbed harpy.  This story gives us a more worthwhile Lois, and I quite enjoyed it.  Overall, I can’t think of any way this comic could be improved, so, this 14 page Lois Lane story written by Bob Kanigher of all people is the first Bronze Age book to earn 5 Minutemen out of 5!  Clearly, I’m going to have to reassess Kanigher as a writer.

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“Rose and Thorn: ‘Where Do You Plant a Thorn?'”


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Apparently Thorn is actually a man in drag…yeesh!

This is another interesting and engaging Rose and Thorn story, probably stronger than the first offering because it doesn’t have as big of a job to do since the origin has already been told.  It can focus on smaller tale and give it more development.  The concept continues to intrigue me, and I’m pleasantly surprised once again by Kanigher’s writing in this backup.

This particular yarn opens with the eponymous Thorn gazing at the window of a funeral home at a solid gold coffin on display there.  Apparently the 100 like grand gestures, as they’ve commissioned this flashy final resting place just for her.  As she considers the coffin, a pair of the 100’s gunmen come after her, but she makes short and vicious work of them.  In fact, it may only be the arrival of her father’s former partner, Danny Stone, that saves the life of one of the thugs.  That’s a little touch that I enjoy, as Thorn isn’t exactly a rational and restrained heroine.  It makes sense that a vengeance driven split personality might have some problems with excessive violence.  I’m curious to see if that will be developed.

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Anyway, the story continues the following day, when Rose is once again in control, and she is palling around town with her new boss, Vince Adams, owner of the funeral home and secretly a leader of the 100.  We get some good intrigue as Rose is left to browse the flowers in a florist shop owned by another 100 member as he and Adams meet to discuss the murder of her alter ego.  The florist is charged with killing Detective Stone, and when the officer just happens to waltz into his store seeking roses for Rose, he sees his chance.  One poisoned bouquet later, and the trap is set.  Fortunately for Rose and Danny, the girl’s dog chews on one of the flowers, dying in their stead!  I was really surprised by this.  Usually you never kill a pet in a comic like this, even if you kill human beings.  It is pretty dark, as an animal is completely innocent, and it’s the kind of thing that forever marks a villain.  Folks can forgive a likeable rogue for a little murder, but never animal cruelty.  Such are the vagaries of audience ethics!

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Well, Stone realizes that something is up, and instead of descending on that florist shop with a SWAT team, he just strolls in casually to ask the guy how his flowers ended up poisoned.  What’s more, he also blindly accepts the ridiculous story the guy tells him about having bought the flowers from some strange trucker and walks right into the trap the store owner sets up.  Detective Stone is apparently exceptionally bad at his job.  It’s a good thing he’s working in Metropolis.  Without Superman around, he’d probably already be dead.

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What is going on in that last panel?  Is the gun animate?

He gets lucky once more, however, as once he is sapped, Thorn comes to his rescue, making a dynamic entrance and leaving the two gunsels stuck to a giant cactus!  They look like they’ve been crucified, so it is a rather striking image.  Stone recovers and captures the two thugs, probably getting credit for a collar he doesn’t deserve.

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This is a solid little tale, told in just 8 pages.  It’s a good example of economical storytelling, and Kanigher fits in action and character development admirably.  The small cast helps that task, of course.  Ross Andru’s art is actually one of the biggest weaknesses of this story.  While it is usually serviceable, even rather good with some of the face-work, it is also occasionally stiff, awkward, and just downright ugly in some spots, especially the opening page with Thorn.  There’s a few places where the art fails the story as well.  Still, all-told, this is a good story in a remarkable issue.  Color me intrigued by Ross/Thorn’s saga.  I’ll give this one 4 Minutemen, though I’m inclined to take off some points for Stone’s ridiculous gullibility.

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Well, what a fascinating selection of issues we’ve covered in this post!  I just can’t figure Robert Kanigher out.  He can turn out the goofiest, laziest, scholckiest work you’ve ever seen in one book and yet turn out one of the best short comics I’ve ever read in another, all in the same month!  Whatever Kanigher’s story may be, we’re certainly getting into intriguing trends here at the end of 1970, and we have only one more post to go before we round out November.  So, until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: November 1970 (Part 1)

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Hello fellow comic lovers, and welcome to a new edition of Into the Bronze Age!  In this batch of posts we’ll be covering November 1970.  Tomorrow, America is swearing in a new president, and I don’t know about you, but personally I think I’d rather spend my time with heroes and visit a brighter, happier world than ours!  Today we’ve got a triple serving of supers, with two Superman stories and one with the current star of Adventure Comics, Supergirl.  Let’s see what history had in store for November 1970.  With any luck, it will put our current troubles in context.

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:

  • Genie, a 13 year old feral child was found in Los Angeles, California, having been locked in her bedroom for most of her life (warning, depressing stuff)
  • Trial of Seattle 8 anti-war protesters begins
  • Luna 17, with unmanned self-propelled Lunokhod 1, is launched and lands on the Moon
  • Two men are shot dead by the Irish Republican Army
  • Scientists perform 1st artificial synthesis of a live cell
  • Lt Gen Hafez al-Assad becomes PM of Syria following military coup
  • In Japan, author Yukio Mishima and two compatriots commit ritualistic suicide after an unsuccessful coup attempt
  • George Harrison releases 3 album set “All Things Must Pass”
  • Pope Paul VI wounded in chest during a visit to Philippines by a dagger-wielding Bolivian painter disguised as a priest

Wow, this was a pretty fascinating month!  It features the rescue of Genie, who many of y’all may have learned about in psychology and sociology classes, the trial of the Seattle 8, and even the stabbing of a Pope!  What a crazy time.  The events related to the Seattle 8, members of the ‘Seattle Liberation Front,’ a radical anti-war movement, are particularly noteworthy for our purposes.  They display the unrest, social upheaval, and political turmoil that we’ve been watching creep into these comics.  1970 is considered the beginning of the end for much of the counter-cultural movement, an ending signaled by the tragedy of Altamont, which came at the tail end of 1969, but clearly these things have not run their course quite yet.  We see that the Space Race continues, with a craft landing on the Moon itself.  Once again, I’m struck by the contrast between humanity’s best qualities, embodied by this generation’s attempt to reach for the stars, and their worst, embodied in…almost everything else on this list.  Well, enough of that.  Let’s get to the comics!

The chart topper this month was “I think I Love You,” by the Partridge Family, a song whose odd tune seems somehow fitting for the time.

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

  • Action Comics #394
  • Adventure Comics #399
  • Batman #226 (the debut of the awe-inspiring Ten-Eyed Man!)
  • Brave and Bold #92
  • Detective Comics #405
  • The Flash #201
  • G.I. Combat #144
  • Justice League of America #84
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106
  • Superman #231
  • World’s Finest #197 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • World’s Finest #198

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


Action Comics #394


action_comics_394“Midas of Metropolis!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“Requiem for a Hot Rod!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

Urg!  This is yet another of the gimmicky, ‘hero is acting like a jerk for a good reason’ stories that the Silver Age loved so much.  This trend is, of course, the origin of the Super Dickery trope, and this comic is a prime example of the form.  Just look at that cover!  Ohh, those pitiful poor people!  I imagine the strategy must have worked.  Kids must have thought to themselves, ‘well, he can’t REALLY be doing’ whatever monstrously jerkish act was on the cover, and they’d just have to pick up the book to find out.  The practice leaves me pretty cold, and this one is no exception.

This particular story just feels rather pointless.  It’s all an incredibly, ridiculously, hilariously elaborate plot to catch a master counterfeiter.  It begins with Clark Kent interviewing Cyrus Brand, the richest business magnate in the country, who apparently has an unhealthy relationship with the gigantic globe in his office.  During the interview, a pair of dim criminals attempts to rob his vault, apparently forgetting that they’re in Metropolis, and a quick change later, Superman smashes through the wall, probably doing more damage than the criminals would have.  His efforts are for naught, though, as a sophisticated security system traps the crooks.  This prompts Brand to taunt the Man of Steel, saying that his money is better than any superpower.  I’m thinking I’d still like to be able to fly or be bulletproof, but sure.

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Beautiful two-page spread but…should we…should we leave him alone with that globe?

action-394-11-08-copyShortly thereafter, Superman begins acting like Super-Capitalist, charging for all of his super-feats.  He rescues a sinking ship, a crashing plane, and a derailed train, all belonging to Brand, and he charges for each deed, quickly amassing a fortune and even building his own bank to hold it!  The altruistic Man of Tomorrow has turned into a libertarian champion of his own self-interest, and, of course, he is condemned by Lois and his friends.  Who is John Gault?  Apparently, Superman is.  He begins a business war with Brand, rapidly squeezing him out of many industries.  Finally, he sells an oil field to the tycoon, throwing in a golden trophy he created to commemorate the sale.  When Brand returns to his secret counterfeiting ring, hidden in a lead mine of course, the trophy takes off through the ceiling, revealing its location.

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Superman bursts in and captures the crooks, revealing that he had noticed the almost perfect forgeries when he had examined Brand’s vault with X-Ray vision, but he had to go through this ridiculous ruse in order to reveal the guy’s funny money source.  He had to gather up all the bogus bucks in secret to avoid a panic, and the job done, he torched it all, giving his remaining holdings to charity.

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action-394-18-14The whole thing is goofy, but the execution is not terrible.  It’s a silly, Silver Age-y plot (I’m going to use that phrase so often, people are going to think I hate the Silver Age, which isn’t the case!) that just feels unnecessary.  This is an extreme length to go to in order to catch a counterfeiter.  It seems like Superman could have simply spied on the guy with telescopic vision, and sooner or later he’d have led him to his source.  Dorfman does make an effort to explain the necessity of the Man of Steel’s business bluff, citing the possible panic caused by a flood of funny money, and I appreciate the effort to cover that angle, even if it is still a bit much.  In the end, this is a by the numbers tale, with some fun images of Superman doing some slightly unusual things, like drilling for oil or building his own bank, but it’s pretty forgettable.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutement.  It’s silly but not offensive.

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I’m not sure why, but something about the ‘Superman National Bank’ strikes me as terribly dystopian…


“Requiem for a Hot Rod”


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This is a story that, strangely enough, gains from the predominant absence of Superman.  It’s very rare in these old stories that poor, pitiful Clark gets a chance to shine.  Usually, he’s just brought in for a quick joke at his expense, and the charm of his secret identity, the quiet strength of the character, is rarely explored.  We get a glimpse of something better in this short little backup.

It begins with Clark and Lois riding in an antique car (better motorheads than I can probably identify it) as part of a parade of classic vehicles, when suddenly they are driven off the road by a rampaging drag racer in a modified hearse!  Shades of Twisted Metal!  Well, Clark is thrown clear of the car and switches to Superman to save the run-off roadsters before switching back.  They continue on their way and stumble upon a drag strip and their automotive antagonist.  The suped-up hearse is in the midst of a game of chicken, and the driver, “Coffin” Crowley, wins, but the disguised Man of Steel notices a pattern.  He calls the racer out, and the crowd force him into his roadster and into a new game of chicken with the supposedly fearless ‘Coffin’ fellow.

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Clark holds steady, and the dragster turns away, crashing into bales of hay on the sidelines.  After the race, the reporter reveals that Crowley’s undefeated record was the product of cheating, as he had a device in his car that would momentarily blind opposing drivers, causing them to turn away in a predictable pattern.  Crowley is humiliated, and the racers learn a lesson about the stupidity of the game of chicken.  The best part is the mild mannered one gets to succeed on his own, having used sunglasses to block his opponent’s secret weapon.  Kent is given a hero’s welcome after the race and enjoys a rare moment of triumph.  Of course, the story ends with poor Clark getting a ticket for holding up traffic as he heads home in his antique auto.

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This is a fun little story, and it’s great to see Clark Kent take an inning rather than just be the butt of a joke to protect his secret identity.  I haven’t encountered many stories like this in this year of reading, but I’m pleased to see that they are still around.  I’m hoping that Clark’s part of the Superman mythos will see some development after the “Kryptonite Nevermore” storyline.  In any case, this is a simple but original (in my experience) tale, and the resolution is clever.  I’ll give this enjoyable little backup a solid 3.5 Minutemen, brief as it is.

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Adventure Comics #399


adventure_comics_vol_1_399“Johnny Dee…Hero/Bum”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

“Television Told the Tale!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Bernard Sachs

The Black Canary backup is a never printed story that was written back in the Golden Age, so I won’t be covering it.  It isn’t current continuity and it doesn’t really fit into the scope of this project.  Instead, I’ll just focus on the headline tale.

I have to say that this cover didn’t exactly instill me with confidence, but I am pleased to say that the story inside, though odd, is actually a fun adventure with some surprising moments of personality.  That cover made me wary, as I really don’t care anything for football, but the game is not really the focus, serving instead as the background for the tale.  The plot is at once conventional and unusual  It’s a standard idea, an athlete is threatened into throwing important games so that the ne’re-do-well villains of the piece can clean up on unlikely bets.  The unusual angle is all of this is happening around college football, which just seems incongruous.

The story opens with an awkward attempt at an in media res beginning that doesn’t quite work, as we’re thrown into the middle of a conversation between Supergirl and star athlete Johnny Dee.  The boy is refusing to play in a game, and, for some reason, Supergirl has decided to talk to him about it.  Why the Maid of Might is involved in the career of a college athlete Sekowsky doesn’t bother to explain.  We’re then told, in a fairly nice collage page, the story of Dee’s rise to stardom.

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adventure399p05Not willing to let sleeping dogs lie, Supergirl decides to investigate the football star’s sudden case of stagefright.  She vibrates through the wall of his girlfriend uninvited after spying on the young lady’s private tears.  I think Clark might need to teach his cousin what ‘invasion of privacy’ means!  After being scared to death by the sudden materialization of a super-powered alien in her room, the girl, Roxie, says that her beau has sworn her to secrecy.  So, Supergirl respects her decision and heads home…err…wait, no, that’s not quite it; she kidnaps the young lady and flies her to Dee’s room to confront him.

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This finally elicits the story of his woes, which seem rather out of proportion to the usual lot of a college athlete.  Apparently, Johnny and Roxie were recently ambushed by hooded figures who beat them both and told the star in no uncertain terms that if he didn’t follow their instructions to throw certain games, they’d kill his girl.  The ambush scene is really pretty effective, dark, moody, and the pain of these two poor, innocent kids is rather touching.

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Well, as a result, Johnny feels like he has no choice, and he refuses to go to the police…for some reason.  He also refuses Supergirl’s help…for some reason.  Sekowsky is having to play logical leap-frog to tell the story he wants, it seems.  Nonetheless, the Girl of Steel is not so easily deterred, as we’ve already seen.  She spies on the boy until he gets a call from the villains, who tell him that he’d better sit out the next game.  To ensure his cooperation, they’ll have three (!) snipers there to kill Roxie if he doesn’t comply.  That also feels a tad excessive to keep a college football player in line, but apparently this gambling syndicate is super serious, despite being involved in college athletics.

Supergirl determines to aid the athlete one way or the other, so she watches the next day as the game begins, and in there fun sequences, she captures three hidden or disguised gunmen (one dressed as an old lady!), freeing Johnny Dee from their threat and allowing him to turn the tide of the game.  Yet, this syndicate has more guts than gray-matter, and they decide that they want yet MORE trouble with the flying, indestructible sun goddess, so they kidnap Roxie.

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The Maid of Might, being a bit more enthusiastic than wise, traps them on a bridge by bending the steel supports into a cage.  Yay for the destruction of millions of dollars of public property!  It’s also a pretty cool sequence, but while reading it, I kept thinking, ‘geez, there has to be a less destructive way to do this!’  It’s possible I’m getting too old for comics!  Anyway, the girl rescued, the heroine drops her back off at the stadium just in time for the winning field goal, kicked by none other than Johnny Dee!  Their reunion is sweet, but I enjoyed the coda even more, as Supergirl suddenly remembers her caged crooks and rushes back to capture them, only to be met by an unsympathetic policeman and given a pile of citations!  Ha!  That’s a surprising and unusual touch, and I quite enjoyed it.

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This is a fun story with more personality and charm than I expected.  The silliness of some ruthless criminal syndicate being super invested in college athletics, let alone having enough resources to dedicate multiple killers to keeping one particular athlete in check, is a bit much.  Still, Sekowsky keeps everything moving and injects enough tension and entertainment into the story to make up for it.  I found it particularly interesting that the two supporting characters in this comic were both Black.

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That’s still unusual for this time, and I was even more surprised when their race didn’t feature into the story at all.  Good for Sekowsky, giving his comic some diversity and treating the move naturally.  I’d call that a positive.  Nevertheless, there’s a subtext to a pair of African Americans being harassed by hooded whites that should make us all at least a little uncomfortable.  I can’t imagine that the imagery was unintentional, and hopefully the injustice of the moment, outside of the context of race, stuck in the minds of readers at the time and made it easier to recognize it in other contexts as well.

On the art front, this book is like most of the Sekowsky pieces we’ve seen lately, varying greatly in quality from page to page.  There’s tons of personality in the art, as well as some very striking panels, but there is also plenty of wonky anatomy and awkward composition.  Sekowsky art is never boring, at least.  Well, I’ll give this unusual little yarn 3.5 Minutemen, held back from 4 by the silly elements, but earning extra for its charm and uniqueness.

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That’s it for these books, and fun reads they were.  Assuming we all survive inauguration day, I hope you’ll join me soon for the next edition of Into the Bronze Age!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1970 (Part 5)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  With all of the madness that is loose in our world these days, I imagine we can all use more joy and adventure.  I know I quite enjoy my visits to the Bronze Age.  It helps to take the mind off of the utter insanity of our own times.  We’ve got a book I dreaded and I book I eagerly awaited on the docket for this post.  Let’s jump right in, shall we?

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

  • Action Comics #392
  • Batman #225
  • Brave and the Bold #91
  • Detective Comics #403
  • The Flash #200
  • G.I. Combat #143
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #79
  • Justice League #83
  • Showcase #93
  • World’s Finest #196

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

Green Lantern/Green Arrow #79

green_lantern_vol_2_79“Ulysses Star is Still Alive!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dan Adkins
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Well, we can’t avoid it any longer, I suppose.  It’s time for another return to the parade of self-righteousness and poor decision-making that is the Green Lantern/Green Arrow book.  Fortunately, this issue isn’t as bad as the some of the previous outings.  It’s central concern is a very legitimate one, and it even manages to feel timely for us today, given the contents of our headlines in recent months.  However, this wouldn’t be a Green Lantern/Green Arrow adventure without some infuriatingly obnoxious bloviating from Ollie and some irrational inflexibility from Hal, as well as a generally pervading, pointlessly aggressive stupidity and hotheadedness from both of these supposedly heroic men.  Still, these qualities are a bit less on display here than they have been.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

We join our hard traveling heroes camped on a quiet and peaceful night out in the wilderness, not far from where they had their last adventures with the pseud0-Manson Family.  I probably haven’t said quite enough in praise of Adams’ art on this book, given my general frustration with O’Neil’s plots and characterization, but he really does do fantastic work.  He packs his panels with personality and visual interest.  In the simple scene around the camp fire, each character is doing something that tells you a bit about them.  Hal is reading, Ollie is whittling, and the Guardian is floating in apparent meditation.  That’s a nice touch.  The quiet of this idyllic scene is shattered when these two veteran heroes detect some slight sign that something is amiss, and they leap into action to investigate.  That’s a good another nice touch.  It makes sense that these two have been at their dangerous work long enough that they’d have combat-honed senses.  It makes them seem competent and professional.  The adventure that follows doesn’t quite match that setup, though.

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The Green Guardians discover an unlikely pair of white men preparing to gun down a helpless Native American man.  They quickly disarm the would-be killers, with very different methods and wildly varying levels of effort.  Check out the page below.  Look at the skill and concentration evident in Green Arrow’s precision shot.  Look at the almost bored expression on Hal’s face as he plugs up the other gunman’s weapon.  It’s almost as if a man armed with the most powerful weapon in the universe outclasses an average hood with a handgun to the point of absolute absurdity.  Once again, we see how incongruous of a pair Hal and Ollie make, and not just because of their diametrically opposed viewpoints.

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Well, the gunmen having been disarmed, the heroes investigate, and they discover that the two antagonists are Theodore Pudd, who runs the lumberman’s union, and Pierre O’Rourke, who claims to own the lumber rights to the area.  This pair quite cheerfully display a truly appalling level of racism and general awfulness, calling the Indians “animals” and “filthy savages.”  O’Neil wants to make sure we don’t miss the subtle touches of his intricate characterization.  Be sure to read closely, or it might elude you.  The issue at the core of this encounter is that the local Indian tribe, who, if you remember, were the target of the crazed hippies of the previous story, have an old claim to the timber of this area, but the records have conveniently disappeared.  As a result, O’Rourke is trying to take it over and cut the tribe off from their only means of support.  Because Pudd and company are such racist slime, they won’t even let the tribesmen join the union and work as lumberjacks.

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These are bad guys.  Get it?  BAAAD GUUUUYS!!!

There was one other copy of this land deal, originally negotiated by the tribe’s famous chief, Ulysses star.  The copy was given to his son, Abe, who went off to the city years ago and hasn’t been heard from since.  The lack of a clear and unambiguous legal solution causes the usual conflict between our two headliners.  Hal immediately gives up, and Ollie immediately starts tongue-lashing him, demanding that they stay and fight, legally or illegally.  They part ways, and, to his credit, the Lantern actually reconsiders his defeatist attitude and decides to try and find a way to help, legally.  That’s good.  After all, one of the fundamental traits of a hero is the ability to find a Third Way.  The Emerald Knight spends some time philosophizing with the guardian, and then he heads off to try his gambit.

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The guardian actually makes a rather interesting point.  He observes that our culture’s national heroes are warriors.  The very mythology of our world is one driven and defined by violence, so it makes sense that violence would be in our nature.  He sees a power of spirit here that is worthy, even if its effects are often tragic.  There’s some truth to that.  The same qualities that allow us to overcome adversity are often those that can be turned to destructive ends.  I’m reminded of the classic Star Trek episode, “The Enemy Within,” where Kirk’s good and evil sides are split into two beings, and the ‘good’ captain discovers that he can’t lead effectively without his ‘evil’ counterpart.  This is a topic that has been on my mind lately, humanity’s dual nature.  We are a creation of both light and shadow.  We are noble and vile, both comic and tragic.  It’s what makes us so very paradoxical.  Here, the Guardian plays, with some success, the archetypal role of the outside observer.  This is one of the oldest uses of science fiction, and one of the most effective and valuable.

Back to our tale, Hal searches for the son of Ulysses Star, knowing his task is likely hopeless.  He reminds us that he was an insurance investigator (I think we’d all rather forget that), and he has the skills for such detective work.  Yet, all he can find is the fellow’s last known address.  Maybe that’s because he was only in that job for a few months because he was having a midlife crisis at the ripe old age of 30.  Either way, when he arrives at the run-down tenement, he discovers a raging fire, with one resident still trapped inside.  The Emerald Crusader makes forges very tortuous path inside, using his ring in an extremely limited fashion and nearly getting knocked out by a falling beam (a narrowly subverted head-blow!).

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He manages to get out by the skin of his teeth and rescue the civilian, despite the fact that his bell was rung so well he couldn’t concentrate to use his ring.  This is another instance of O’Neil handicapping the hero without clear reason.  Even with his power limited, it really seems like the Lantern could have simply wrapped himself in a bubble and flown into the building.  That makes the entire desperate scene seem like the result of Hal’s stupidity rather than any necessary peril.

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As you probably expect, the rescued man is none other than Abe Star, but unfortunately the old man tells the Emerald Gladiator that the deed was burned up in the apartment.  The hero is stymied once again, but he is actually beginning to act a bit like the man of iron will he’s supposed to be.  The Lantern refuses to give up, so he heads to Washington, going straight to the highest authority to get aid for the tribe.

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Meanwhile, Green Arrow meets Black Canary at the Indian reservation, where they take stock of the dispirited condition of its inhabitants.  The lovely lady notes that the tribe’s biggest problem is that they’re just beaten down by history and oppression.  They’ve “been under the white man’s heel for so long they’ve lost faith in themselves.”  Corny dialog aside, as I understand it, there is a real issue here, and one certainly worth focusing on, though it is honestly not given all that much attention here.  This is an adventure story, though.  Because the Emerald Archer has all the subtlety of a bulldozer, his solution is pretty ostentatious.  He dresses up like an Indian chief and covers himself with glow-in-the-dark paint, playing the role of the spirit of Ulysses Star in order to inspire the tribe.

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He makes a few appearances, threatening the lumbermen and putting on a ghostly routine, as well as making an impassioned speech (Ollie has to have at least one per issue, you know) to the Indians.  Despite the fact that they doubt his ghostly bona-fides (which is itself a small but important point, as the tribespeople are less superstitious and gullible than the white men, a reversal of an old, old trope), they agree to fight for their land.  It is, of course, unclear what this will accomplish.  Matters come to a head the next morning, as the men of the tribe block the path to the timberlands, and the situation descends into a melee.  Oddly, Black Canary philosophizes about how she despises violence.  Really?  Since when?  You’re a superhero.  Your job constantly involves violence.  It’s something you literally engage in daily.  I somehow doubt that you become a street-fighting superhero because you abhor violence.  But it’s so much more touchy-feely-appropriate if she does.  That’s just one more lovely little example of O’Neil’s tone-deaf mischaracterizations.

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Do you reckon he gets tired, lugging that soap-box around?

Anyway, Black Canary and Green Arrow help the Indians defend their land, and things devolve into a sprawling brawl until the fight is stopped rather definitively by Green Lantern.  Notably, his mere arrival is enough to completely end hostilities.  He just places a big green wall between the sides and that is that.  This is perhaps the most glaring example of his complete mismatch with this setting found in this issue.  After all, O’Neil had to send him offstage in order to create any actual dramatic tension in this confrontation.  If the Emerald Crusader had been there, the fight would have been over before it started.  Essentially, with his setup for this book, O’Neil has painted himself into the same type of corner which the Silver Age faced with Superman, where his power is so vast you have to find ways to handicap him to prevent his resolving the conflict of the plot in the first two pages.  The difference is, such a situation is unnecessary with the Lantern, only existing because of the story O’Neil insists on telling.

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Of course, this entire escapade is entirely unnecessary.  After all, the Native Americans have freaking superheroes on their side.  Green Arrow and Black Canary, who regularly fight threats a bit more serious than some unpleasant loggers armed with sticks, threats like legitimately super-powered beings, could easily have trounced these jerks themselves, for whatever good that was going to do.  This would probably have been a better option.  After all, we’ve already seen that the loggers are willing to kill the Indians in cold blood, and they have access to guns.  I’m not really clear on what Arrow’s plan was supposed to accomplish, other than putting some spirit back into the tribe, which wouldn’t matter too much if they were all dead.  The matter is made even worse by the fact that this is the second time Ollie has convinced a group of untrained and unqualified civilians to fight a superior force.  At least this time he joined them from the beginning, rather than wait until dozens of them were gunned down so that his entrance could be more dramatic.  That precious moral superiority of his is on awfully shaky ground.

The immediate danger having been neutralized, Hal announces that he’s brought a U.S. congressman there from Washington to personally investigate this matter, which is actually a pretty good solution, considering the situation and the lack of documentation.  So, naturally Ollie congratulates his friend on his quick thinking and they put their efforts into helping the tribe and organizing peaceful protests…err…no, no, that isn’t what happens.  That’s entirely too sensible and mature.  Instead, the two “friends” decide to have a fist fight in the middle of the stream…for reasons. Green Arrow, still dressed as a yellow ghost, rages against his partner’s solution, and their immediate response is to pummel each other.  It’s completely pointless, so much so that even the characters themselves seem to admit that this brouhaha is unnecessary.

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O’Neil gets pretty darn purple in his prose as he narrates the fight, which, of course, is beautifully illustrated by Adams, but the highlight of this pointless punch-fest is how it ends.  That’s right, this issue gives us, not one, but two, count ’em, two, new entries for the Head-Blow Headcount!  Logs being floated down river clock both of our “heroes” in the back of the head, and in classic comic book fashion, they go down like a pair of proverbial sacks of potatoes.

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After they’re fished from the river, they go back to the village, where the tribes-folk themselves are split about the plan.  Some of them have no faith in the government (I wonder why?), and some of them are determined to make a go of it.  In the end, this is really the only option; Green Arrow’s way would have, at best, resulted in all of the tribesmen getting arrested, or perhaps even killed.  Apparently he never heard of peaceful protest or civil disobedience.  Fortunately, the investigation of the fire at the tenement building revealed (despite Lantern’s ignoring its too-convenient occurrence) that the two trouble-making timbermen were involved in that arson attempt, so they get carted off to jail.  The issue ends with our heroes once more gathered around a campfire, admitting that their foolish fight accomplished precisely zilch, and the story closes with a quote from The Armies of the Night, a counter-cultural “nonfiction novel” by Norman Mailer published just two years earlier.

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You can definitely see some of the influences at work on O’Neil in his choice of this book.  To call it merely anti-war would be an oversimplification, but it dealt with the current cultural issues in the States, centered around opposition to the war in Vietnam.  That’s an interesting choice, and I wonder how much of O’Neil’s audience would have read the book, as well as how many would have picked it up after seeing the editor’s note.  The evidence of counter-cultural influence in O’Neil’s choice of end-tag is noteworthy given the goals of this project, as we can see quite clearly a line of influence, and a relatively recent one, having an impact on the comic world.  It will be interesting to see how that impact spreads in the DCU.

This issue has me a bit torn.  On the one hand, the mischaracterization isn’t quite as bad as some of the previous examples we’ve seen, and the story itself is readable enough.  On the other, the problems are all those we’ve seen before, and their continued presence makes them more grating and more frustrating with each new book.  I’m glad that Hal comes off a bit better here, eventually, but Ollie is still an irrational, self-righteous jerk who, despite his endless lecturing, is something of a hypocrite.  The completely pointless fistfight, as well as the uselessness of Arrow’s grand gesture take away from the impact of the story.

What gives me pause, though, is that the central issue, the abuse and neglect of America’s native peoples, is an extremely important one, and, unfortunately, timely today, just as it was in 1970.  Ironically, one of the most glaring problems with this issue is that, despite its achingly desperate attempt to be socially conscious, all of the characters in this book, including the Native Americans and supposedly enlightened heroes, talk like actors in a 50s Western.  There’s ‘redskins’ this and ‘pale-faces’ that everywhere you look.  It’s really rather silly and smacks of the same kind of condescending cliches as Tonto‘s famously broken English.  Nonetheless, the plight of the local tribe manages to be moving, perhaps in spite of O’Neil’s treatment.

It is, of course, granted more pathos by the current events of our day, like the protests at Standing Rock.  It’s a shame that, after all of these years, we still can’t seem to do right by the native peoples in this country.  I won’t get into the entire issue here, as this is hardly the venue for such matters, but I will say that, right or wrong, good, bad, or ugly, when it is the Federal Government versus native peoples, I sort of feel like we should probably give the native peoples the benefit of the doubt at this point.  It only seems fair, given our history.  Anyway, that made this issue a bit more interesting to me than it might have been otherwise, but in the end, it’s still a story with very flawed writing and characterization that features a situation not really suited for its characters.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  It has enough strong points to keep it above a truly bad rating.

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Justice League of America #83

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“Where Valor Fails… Will Magic Triumph?”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella

This was yet another great issue of Justice League, which rather wiped the bad taste out of my mouth.  O’Neil’s run on the book continues to be consistently good, with fairly compelling stories, solid characterization, and interesting situations.  Yet, this particular issue shares a fault with most of his other outings, a somewhat weak and underdeveloped villain.  We are picking up with the second part of last issue’s plot, which saw Earth-1 and Earth-1 poised to be destroyed by Supreme Leader Snoke…er…I mean Creator², in his bid to design a new planet with the energy of their annihilation.  It’s a wonderfully off-beat idea, and a threat worthy of uniting the JLA and the JSA.  Interestingly, this story predates the similar setup in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by almost a decade.  I wonder if there’s any influence there.

Unfortunately, Creator² himself, and especially his minions, are just a tad boring.  They’re just blue-skinned aliens in robes.  There’s nothing distinctive or captivating about them.  Still, this run continues to be of high quality overall, and I have a feeling that I will eventually number it among some of my favorite Justice League runs of all time.  These stories are still products of their time, however.  Even as O’Neil is innovating and shaking things up with the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes, the book can still feel a bit hokey at times.  For the most part, though, we’re seeing the League in arguably the best form of the book’s history to this point.  Admittedly, that’s not really saying that much, given the goofy, Silver Age-y fare that tended to make up the League’s Adventures.

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We begin preciously where we ended, with Canary’s erroneous, but logical, conclusion that she is the cause for the growing convergence of the two Earths.  Throughout the book, her hopeless heroism, determined as she is to sacrifice herself for the greater good, is one of the strongest features of the tale.  It really works well.  She is not some robotic, heartless automaton, blithely giving up her life without a tear or a twinge like we might expect from a Silver Age story.  She is fully aware of what this gesture will cost her, and her quiet determination in the face of that knowledge is really rather moving.

Meanwhile, our bathrobe wearing villain is almost ready for the grand finale that will serve to launch his new planet with a bang, but he’s concerned about the JSA, seeing as they’ve already proven tough to handle.  He dispatches a set of his weird net devices to disable the team as a preemptive attack.  The Society itself is gathered to study their fallen members when the nets arrive, and once again the weapons prove formidable, capturing four members in several pages of nicely dynamic action.  As before, each net is capable of neutralizing the powers of its victim, so Staman finds his energy bolts reflected against him, Wonder Woman finds her bracelets bound, and Hourman finds himself accelerated through his hour of power in mere seconds.  It’s a good sequence.  The only problem is that the nets are fairly lackluster antagonists, being just devices, and not terribly visually interesting ones at that.

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Back in Earth-1, we listen in to a desperate conversation, as Canary insists that she must die, and Ollie, his usual cool and rational self, responds about as you’d imagine.  He won’t hear of anything happening to Dinah, but Green Lantern has a great third way, exercising that heroic creativity that is so much a part of the concept of American superheroes.  He posits that they don’t have to kill the Canary; they just have to move her to another dimension far enough away that the effect will cease.  He heads out to search for such a place, to Arrow’s enthusiastic support.

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Unfortunately, just as the Emerald Crusader discovers Red Tornado and the dimensional rift, his jade counterpart on Earth-2 is captured, freezing him in place in the depths of space.  At almost the same moment, we catch a quick glimpse of Hawkman, out on crowd control, when another strange cross-over occurs and the inhabitants of the two worlds briefly see one another face to face.  He saves an old woman, nearly run over in the resulting chaos, but before he can do more, his counterpart is captured as well and he is rendered helpless.

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Aboard the Satellite, the remaining heroes fear that Lantern’s absence must mean his failure, and Canary delivers a surprisingly haunting and touching meditation on her death, suggesting that she’ll board the transporter and simply scatter her atoms across space, becoming one with the stars.  It’s an impressive scene, made even better by Ollie’s frantic (and rather selfish when you think about it) attempts to talk her out of it.  The rational, scientific mind of Ray Palmer takes a more pragmatic view, and he suggests that they wait until the last minute before they make any choices.  The scene is really effective, and it’s as fine a piece of character work as you’re likely to see, even today.  If O’Neil can do this, one wonders why his characterization is so clumsy and heavy-handed in Green Lantern/Green Arrow.

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Dillin really captures Canary’s sorrowful determination.

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Meanwhile, on Earth-2, all of the Society members have fallen except for Dr. Fate and Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt.  Their magic seems to be more effective than the powers of their friends, but they are still fighting a losing battle until the mystic master teleports them to a graveyard, in search of more magical might.  Once there, he summons none other than the Spectre!  I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen this ghostly gent in this book since issue #47, and we’re quickly given to understand that his status quo has changed quite a bit.  Rather than discover him with his human host, Jim Corrigan, Fate finds him in a grave, and the spirit speaks of his sins and his imprisonment in the tomb.  It’s an interesting tease, and I’m quite curious what the situation is because I have no memory of any of this.  The editor assures us that this story will be told, so I am looking forward to that.

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Fortunately, the spectral hero has a plan.  His mystic senses have detected the machinations of Creator² and his cronies, and he sends his allies after the villain himself while he uses his very ecotplasmic being to serve as a bulwark between the colliding worlds.  The image of this effort is a pretty striking one, emphasizing both the character’s power and the skope of the problem.  His desperate ploy buys Dr. Fate and the Thunderbolt the time they need for their assault.

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There’s a nice sequence where the aliens detect their approach to their ship and open fire, only for Fate to teleport inside, causing Creator² to assume they’d been vaporized.  the effort exhausts the master of the mystic arts, leaving the Thunderbolt to take out the blue-faced minions, but he can’t handle Creator².  With one last, titanic exertion, Dr. Fate rips the ship itself apart in a pretty cool panel.  The process is halted, and though the release of energy causes some minor tremors, the worlds go back to their rightful places and the day is saved.  Yet, the victory comes at a cost.  The Spectre is literally torn apart by the dimensional shift.  That image, which is half tragic, half comic, isn’t nearly so successful.

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Of course, what is completely glossed over in the story is that Dr. Fate just totally killed dozens of beings.  He even admits that the aliens probably couldn’t live through that blast.  I realize they were preparing to commit dual planetary genocide, and while that’s about the worst crime imaginable, it’s still a bit crazy that Fate casually took several lives without so much as batting an eye.  That is definitely a big departure from the Silver Age, but not in a good way.  It wouldn’t have bothered me if O’Neil had dealt with that act, even a little bit, but no, it’s completely glossed over as we race to the conclusion of the issue.  It’s downplayed so much that I hardly noticed it on my first look, and death shouldn’t’ be treated that lightly in a superhero book, especially when a hero is the cause.  I would be more troubled if it were a traditional superhero who had done it, but a mystical character like Fate is always something of a liminal figure.  It makes sense that his work and his experience would lead to a somewhat different code than the heroes grounded in more mundane realities.

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On a more positive note, on Earth-1 (or more accurately, above it), the Atom detects the dimensional shift, and the heroes celebrate their narrow escape.  It’s a good ending, and Ollie’s joy at Canary’s reprieve is really quite charming.  He’s already entirely head-over-heels for her, and it definitely comes through.  Finally, the Lantern returns and fills them in on the score, leaving them to wonder if they’ll ever see the Spectre again.

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This is a good all-around issue.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, even if it was, once again, much more of a JSA story than a JLA one.  I’m pretty content either way, especially since the Society don’t have a book of their own yet.  (I’m looking forward to that one when it arrives, by the way.)  This issue managed to pack a lot of action in, as well as some really excellent character moments.  Dillin’s art was back up to snuff this month as well, so the book looked quite good.  That odd stiffness of last issue is gone, replaced with some truly attractive pages and an overall improvement in quality.  I enjoyed the handling of the magical heroes and their triumph.  It makes perfect sense that this super-scientific culture would be great at handling all types of threats, except those which defy science, like magic.  It’s also pleasant to see Dr. Fate take center stage, as I haven’t gotten to read that many stories that focus on him.

Once again, O’Neil manages to spread the spotlight out pretty well, with nearly everyone getting at least one interesting moment, either in action or in dramatic scenes.  The balance between the two types of focus is actually very well handled.  The pacing is also quite good, as is the economy of storytelling.  He told a complete tale in two issues that had time to breathe and still provided plenty of excitement with appropriately world-shattering stakes.  O’Neil continues to turn out good, solid adventure stories in this book, and I’m enjoying the ride.  They haven’t been stellar, but they have been consistently good, and that’s rare enough in an ongoing series to deserve praise.  Unfortunately, apparently this is the last issue of his tenure on the title.  I’ll miss his unique and creative concepts, though I hope we’ll get some more fully realized villains in coming issues.  If I recall correctly, there are some really excellent stories awaiting us.

It’s interesting to me that two of the books I look forward to most and the book I most dread are all penned by the same man.  It’s striking how very different these comics are from one another.  It seems that, perhaps, when forced into more traditional adventure fare, O’Neil really shines.  He wouldn’t be the first author who, when let completely off the leash, produced lower quality work because he was too concerned with his own agenda.  I’m reminded of the difference between Garth Ennis’s Dan Dare and…well, pretty much everything else he’s ever done.  Sometimes limitations can bring out the best in us.  This is actually a weakness in the concept of complete artistic freedom, an idea we tend to ascribe almost religious weight to in our culture.  I rather think that what’s necessary is a balance of structure and freedom, and that balance is difficult to achieve.

Ideally, the limitations for an artistic work should be internal, the moral and spiritual compass of the creator, but people being what they are, I’m far from convinced that channeling creativity into positive courses is always a bad thing, if done well.  That’s something that the tropes of the heroic ideal of the American superhero actually provides rather well.  Anyway, back to this particular story, I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen out of 5.  The weak villain and the completely unacknowledged killing by Dr. Fate cut it down from a perfect score.  I would have enjoyed seeing Bruce Timm and company take a crack at this story.  I think they could have really made something of it.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Another entry for the wall of shame, and this time, it’s a two-fer!  How exciting!  This month, both Green Arrow and Green Lantern join the ranks of the head-blow heroes.  Their moment of infamy is made all the more ludicrous by the fact that it was caused entirely by their own stupidity, resulting during their completely pointless fistfight.  It’s a particularly delightful addition to this august company.

Well, that’s it for this week.  We’ve had the best and the worst in this post, and we’re almost through September.  I’m looking forward to the next batch of commentaries, which will include the final chapter of Manhunter!  Please join me next time as we check out another set of stories and travel further Into the Bronze Age!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1970 (Part 3)

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Well, let’s try and squeeze a few more of these features in bef0re Christmas, shall we?  Join me today for some Zaney Haney madness, and some more Bat-adventures!

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

  • Action Comics #392
  • Batman #225
  • Brave and the Bold #91
  • Detective Comics #403
  • G.I. Combat #143
  • Green Lantern #79
  • Justice League #83
  • Showcase #93
  • The Flash #200
  • World’s Finest #196

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

Brave and the Bold #91

brave_and_the_bold_91“A Cold Corpse For the Collector”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We return once more to the land of the wacky, the private demesne of ‘ol Zaney Haney, Earth-H.  Haney’s work has been very hit or miss for me, some of his stories being outlandish but exciting fun, while others were just too goofy and too far out there for me.  This one, though, is definitely a hit.  It fits the Haney formula of casually introducing a world-shattering change to a character while giving absolutely zero thought to how the given revelation will be handled going forward, but unlike some of the offerings we’ve encountered, this one makes a fair amount of sense, and the characterizations aren’t really all that far off from what one might expect from the characters involved.  The final result is actually an interesting tale that, while lacking any real impact on the universe, easily could have been an important milestone for the Justice League’s newest dynamite dame, Black Canary.

She, of course, is our guest star for this issue, and it is her backstory, not yet twisted and retconned beyond all recognition, that provides the dramatic weight for the yarn.  The core of the story is a standard villain identity mystery, with an enigmatic mob figure secretly pulling the strings in Gotham’s shadows.  The book opens with a mob exchange gone wrong, resulting in one dead bagman and one stolen score.  This event causes consternation to the gathered crimebosses of Gotham, who are meeting in a darkened, smoke-filled room, with a rather surprising guest.  It seems Batman shares a seat at their table!  It is shortly revealed that this masked manhunter is a fake, a plant hired by the shadowy mastermind known as ‘The Collector’ (because he always ‘collects,’ ‘natch), to sit in on their meetings and give them Batman’s perspective on their dealings so they can anticipate him.  Riiiiiigggght.  Foolproof, I’m sure!  A cape and cowl do not a detective’s mind make, methinks.  This is an odd gimmick, made all the odder by the fact that Haney did the exact same thing in World’s Finest just last month, with a crime boss (who actually was Batman, strangely enough) dressed as the Bat.  I guess he thought it worth repeating.

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At any rate, the Collector promises to solve the problem of the rival gang without a war, and in the interim, the real-and-for-true Dark Knight is busy helping Commissioner Gordon identify the bagman who took the long last dive.  They are joined by private eye Larry Lance, a name you more astute DC fans might just recognize, except, this is not THAT Larry Lance.  That’s right, we’re on Earth-1, and surprisingly, Haney actually bothers to make that clear.  It’s rare for the Zaney One to actually specify where and when a story was taking place, or give continuity anything but mostly benign neglect.  Well, this universe’s Larry is also investigating the Collector, and though Gordon has no time for him, the Caped Crusader is willing to work with the shamus.  It is very strange to see Batman playing good cop to Gordon’s bad cop.  That’s just unnatural.

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Back in Lance’s office, he encounters a lovely lady, a lady going by the name ‘Myra Kallen,’ but who we likely recognize as Dinah Lance.  That’s right, this is Earth-2’s Black Canary.  She apparently has found the Earth-1 counterpart of her dear, departed husband, and despite the hugely problematic and complicated philosophical and psychological implications of the relationship, has determined to win Larry-1’s heart to replace the Larry she lost.  From the beginning, it’s clear she’s not thinking too clearly about this whole situation, but that actually makes pretty perfect sense.  How could she be objective about such a thing?  How could anyone?

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Later that night, a disguised Collector ‘collects’ from the rival gang, killing their leader at an illegal casino while posing as a dealer.  Batman has anticipated this move, and he’s hard on the killer’s heels, only to catch the gumshoe, Lance, instead.  I imagine we’re all likely genre-savy enough to see where this is going, but unfortunately for the love-struck lady in the leather jacket, the plot continues to barrel towards its inevitable conclusion.

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The P.I. hands the hero a line about how he was chasing the guy and was clocked on the head right before the Dark Knight grabbed him.  They find a discarded disguise that seems to confirm his story, but, and I enjoyed this, the master detective remains suspicious.  I like that Batman isn’t entirely taken in by the subterfuge here.  When the pair meets up with ‘Myrna,’ the Masked Manhunter recognizes the Canary, and when they are alone, he warns her away from Lance.  She rejects his advice, insisting that she has to run her own life, but she sticks around just long enough to save him from an assassination attempt.

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That takes ‘yellow journalism’ to a whole new level…

The next day Batman and Gordon are apparently just hanging out, drinking coffee, which makes for an image I find quite humorous and a little charming.  They get a tip from the suspicious shamus that the Collector will be holding a meeting at the Gotham Museum, but when the Dark Knight arrives, all he finds is an ambush.  Just as he’s about to grab the gunman, the hitman gets hit from behind, by Lance!

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This looks like a setup for the greatest version of the Odd Couple ever.

Once again, his story seems plausible, but the Caped Crusader isn’t entirely sold on it.  Unfortunately, he cannot convince Black Canary to share his doubts.  She accuses her Justice League colleague of being jealous, and interestingly enough, he admits to himself that he does have some feelings for her.  I thought that was a nice little touch, and let’s face it, basically everybody in the League except for the married guys made a play for Canary at one time or another.  Who could blame them?

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The Pretty Bird’s problems don’t end there, though, as Larry-1 arrives just then and overhears enough to figure out who she really is.  He proclaims his love for her, and Haney does a good job of making him seem fairly earnest, if just a touch greedy.  It’s a surprisingly subtle handling of a scene that couldn’t have borne anything more than a light touch.  It’s pretty solid characterization.  The sweet-talking shamus convinces the fighting female to help him catch the Collector…or at least, that’s what he says.

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The next night, Lance contacts the Dark Detective with another tip.  He claims the Collector will be at a deserted racetrack, but when he arrives, the hero is sideswiped by a sonic scream.  Black Canary is using her powers against her former friend!  You guessed it; time for the big reveal.  Larry-1 shows his true colors, preparing to murder Batman and announcing that he was the Collector all the time (gasp!).  Canary puts herself in harm’s way to save her teammate, but she’s too stunned to take Lance down.  Fortunately, the Caped Crusader is still fast with a batarang, and he disarms the crime boss.  The two heroes chase after him when he flees on horesback, and we get a nice, dramatic chase sequence, with Canary showing off her motorcycle riding skills, vaulting over and smashing through obstacles.

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Batman tackles Lance, and the two fall, still struggling, into a pond.  In classic ‘hoisted on your own petard’ fashion, the villainous gumshoe impales himself on his own knife (or at least, that’s what Batman says when Canary shows up.  Sure Bats. Sure.).  The story ends with Canary’s lament about the loss of her old life and the challenges of building a new one on Earth-1.  Fortunately, she will have friends like Batman.

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This is actually a very solid story.  It’s definitely Haney, but it’s enjoyable Haney.  He hit on a really great concept here.  If there was a Larry Lance on Earth-2, chances are there would be one on Earth-1, but what if he wasn’t what his counterpart had been?  It’s a good idea for a story, and while it could probably have benefited from a bit more development, it was a fun and interesting read.  Canary doesn’t come off great, but her equivocation about Larry is actually quite believable.  Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to get back someone we’ve lost, even if it wasn’t exactly the same?

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We’re still seeing the kinder, gentler Batman that Haney prefers in these books, and the character here really bears fairly little relation tothe grim avenger we encountered in the other Bat titles lately.  Canary is also a little less the capable heroine we have seen elsewhere.  Nonetheless, this is, in the end, a good story, made extremely creepy by the retcon that’s coming to her backstory in a few years (we’ll get there, eventually).  Good thing it could easily lift right out of her history because it’s a Haney tale.  I’ll give it an above average 3.5 Minutemen.  I love Cardy’s art, but I don’t think he’s quite right for Batman.  His style is a bit too soft for the Dark Knight.

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This comic also had a rather neat little gem hidden in the letters page, a story of the real-life heroics of artist Nick Cardy.  Apparently he piloted a tank in World War II, where he met the editor, Murray Boltinoff.  In a fun little touch, Boltinoff relays a short adventure from the Big One.  Check it out below:

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Detective Comics #403

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“You Die By Mourning”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Pencilers: Carmine Infantino, Bob Brown
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Break-Out!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Time for yet more Batman!  The Caped Crusader being overexposed is definitely not a new phenomenon.  It’s a good thing he’s a great character, otherwise this might get old.  It’s also fortunate that his stories tend to be above average, though that isn’t really the case for this issue.  Both of this month’s Detective yarns suffer from brevity and a resultant lack of development, and as we’ve seen from the Legion backups, that doesn’t have to be the case, even for these short comics.  The headline tale, with the wonderfully melodramatic title, “You Die by Mourning,” is a bit odd.  It’s nicely atmospheric, but the individual elements don’t really come together in a satisfying whole.  I’d bet this is another story conceived of for the purpose of a particular image or moment.

Our drama dawns with the arrival of a veiled woman dressed in mourning clothes in Bruce Wayne’s V.I.P. (Victim’s Inc. Program) offices.  Calling herself, Mrs. Randall, she meets with the man himself, and frantically claims she’s there in relation to the death of her husband, a death which has yet to occur!  A gun falls out of her purse when she reaches for a handkerchief, and she flees the office, leaving a mystery in her wake…a mystery that piques the curiosity of Wayne’s alter ego, the Batman!

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That night, the Masked Manhunter heads to the Randall home, where he sees Mrs. Angela Randall and her husband, the unlikely named ‘Laird’ Randall (is he Scottish nobility?) getting ready for a costume ball at a haunted house.  The hero suspects that Angela is plotting her husband’s demise, but he can’t figure out what brought her to V.I.P.  He stows away aboard the eerie horse-drawn coach that arrives to transport them, and along the way they are attacked by a car full of gunmen.  The coachman, apparently in on the job, leaps clear, but the Dark Knight saves the Randalls with a smoke bomb and some quick action.  The gunmen’s car wrecks in the smoke, and we get a nice scene where Batman quickly and efficiently disposes of them.

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I love the moody effect of that last panel.

He sends the Randalls on ahead with the coachman, which turns out to be something of a mistake.  The muffled figure pulls a gun when they arrive at the “party” house, empty save for the three of them.  We then get a couple of pages of exposition that pass for the resolution, as Robbins packs all of the story he neglected earlier into his last few pages.  The coachman reveals that he is a mobster named Van Paxton, who runs a paving company that Randall was bidding against.  Just as he prepares to kill the couple, a dead ringer (pun only partially intended) for Mrs. Randall leaps in the way.  In a twist that comes mostly out of nowhere, it is Angela’s estranged twin sister, who also happens to be Paxton’s wife.  She married the no-goodnik, and she was so ashamed of what he was that she cut all ties with her sister.  When she learned that Paxton was going to kill her sister’s husband, she visited V.I.P. in the hopes of raising a red flag about the whole thing and…somehow…saving him.  Oookay.  That’s a lot of convoluted plot to cram into just two pages.

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Just then, Batman arrives and tackles the killer.  Brown isn’t always my favorite artist, but his work is usually just plain solid.  His action looks good, and he often does some pretty good layouts.  This story is no exception, and the confrontation between the Dark Knight and Paxton, though not jaw-dropping, is good, clean four-color art.  We get yet another story where the villain is hoisted by his own petard, as the mobster falls through a floorboard and…strangles?  It isn’t super clear, but he is totally dead.  That’s the important part.  The poor twin sister is mortally wounded as well, and the story ends with her prediction to Bruce Wayne having come true in a way she never anticipated.

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This is an entertaining enough tale, but it isn’t of the quality we’ve been seeing from the Bat-books lately.  The ending is rushed, and the setup is far too brief to be effective.  All of that exposition shoved into the last pages means that we don’t actually get invested in any of the characters.  It doesn’t help that our hero’s climactic struggle is against a single average guy.  The stakes aren’t really impressive enough to make the fight exciting, though Brown’s art helps matters.  The overly complicated plot with the unlikely twists just sort of leave a reader cold.  It seems that Robbins really had a bit too much story for his venue, and the result is not good, though it isn’t actively bad like some we’ve read.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, since it is enjoyable, if unimpressive.

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“Break Out!”

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The Robin backup faces similar problems to the headliner, and once again, the Teen Wonder doesn’t come off too well in his own feature.  This is becoming a sad tradition.  This story, weighing in at only 8 all-too brief pages, just doesn’t have the space it needs to accomplish its purpose well, even building on the previous issue as it does.  If we remember, in the last Robin tale, the younger half of the Dynamic Duo broke up a fight among juvenile delinquents from a detention farm, only to pick the wrong pigeon and belt the innocent party.  After those events, our teenage hero has set out to visit that farm in order to get a better idea of what conditions are like on the ground there.

We find him lost and having run out of gas in his groovy Volkswagen van, stuck in the pouring rain.  Not the most auspicious of beginnings.  He’s passed on the road by two kids in a truck, but he eventually gets some help from an older couple, and we get the hilariously 60s line from our protagonist that this “goes to show our ‘over-30s’ can’t be completely written off.”  At least he’s not too angsty to realize that, which puts him ahead of some teen heroes, so I’ll take it.

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When he finally arrives at the farm, he finds it covered with police, so he switches to his battle togs and breaks out his brand new Robin cycle.  Now, don’t get excited.  While you might be expecting all kinds of cool new gadgets and maybe an exciting car chase to accompany this debut, all we get is a line of dialog about the super swanky license plate changer that this bike features.  That’s a bit of a wasted opportunity, it seems to me, especially with the focus on Robin building his own identity and career as a solo act.

The cops tell him that two of the kids from the farm have escaped in an old truck, and they show him the strange message that was left scratched into the floor of their barracks.  It reads ‘Forced to go–guns buried-help me.”  It turns out the missing kids are the same two from the previous donnybrook, and, determined not to make the same mistake again, our Teen Wonder jumps to the opposite conclusion, and decides the the bigger of the two boys, Ed, must have kidnapped the smaller one, Frank.

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Recalling the truck that passed him on the road and performing a nice bit of deduction, he tracks the kids to an abandoned barn and finds them both loading shotguns.  Robin jumps the smaller kid, and belts him, ignoring his pleas of innocence, only to narrowly avoid a blast from the other boy’s gun.  The junior detective takes out the gunman, and then gets the story from a rather bitter Frank.

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Man, whatever Gil Kane’s strengths are, he cannot draw a gun to save his life!

The kid relates how ‘Big Ed’ was working for a mobster who wanted him to recruit a ‘teen-age’ gang for him.  The would-be teen-boss had even stashed some guns and supplies out by the farm.  Frank had pretended to go along with Ed in order to bust him in hopes of earning some time off his sentence.  It was he who left the note on the floor.  There’s a bit of a message crammed into the last little bit about playing by the rules, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because no-one wants to spend their life looking over their shoulder.  That’s a fairly cynical view, really.  I suppose this kid will go far in this dirty world of ours.

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So, as you can see, this story just isn’t all that much to write home about.  It’s a teen problem, which they seem to enjoy putting Robin up against, but the stakes just aren’t too high and the plot and characters aren’t developed enough to make it work.  If we had gotten to know the two kids just a bit in the previous story, this could have worked much better.  As is, the very first time we start getting to know them, we’re already in the denouement with exposition flowing fast.  This just felt a bit boring and bland, in addition to being underdeveloped, and that’s never a good thing for an adventure tale.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  There’s a bit of evidence of the generation gap here, but nothing particularly noteworthy.

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These two issues were a mixed bag, but none of them were particularly impressive.  They were enjoyable enough, though.  I think the most interesting part of both books was the letter column feature about Nick Cardy’s war service.  Who knew?  That was a neat surprise, and it also says something about the difference in the generations that populate the ranks of DC at the time.  I was struck with the thought that Cardy was part of the old guard, the professional writers and artists who, along with the rest of their generation, shared an almost universal experience of war service.  They had experienced privations, hardships, and much more, and most of them were also children of the Depression in one form or another.  The upcoming generation hadn’t had those experiences, but they had grown up on the comics the previous generation had created, and now they were beginning to take a hand in the field.  I’m curious what differences will be revealed about the two generations through the work that they produced.  We are, here in the 70s, going to see the change over taking place.  It should be interesting to observe.

 

Into the Bronze Age: August 1970 (Part 4)

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Well, we’re moving right along through August!  I’m hoping to get at least caught up to the proper month before September ends…and I’m behind again.  We’ll see if I can manage, but so far, so good.  In this post we have two interesting stories, and I’ve been rather looking forward to this one.  Be warned, I’m going to indulge my professional interest a bit with some philosophical and literary reflections about the second issue!

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

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

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

Justice League #82

jla_v-1_82“Peril of the Paired Planets”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

I enjoyed this story much more than I expected to.  At first blush, I rather thought it was going to be on the goofy side, and it does have its moments.  Nonetheless, the final effect is fairly enjoyable.  O’Neil’s run, though not completely stellar, continues to be strong overall.  In this issue, as with the Jestmaster, we once again get a promising concept that doesn’t have quite the right execution.  The villains of the piece are a race of aliens lead by a fellow named Creator² who build planets for a living, destroying existing ones to create the energy for the construction.  Anyone else reminded of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?  That’s right, the bad guy is Slartibartfast.  The stakes, complete planetary annihilation of not one, but TWO Earths, are certainly worthy of the Justice League, and the idea of an alien race that creates new planets by destroying old ones is the kind of thing that could totally work in the DC Universe.  Unfortunately, the aliens are rather goofy looking, and the concept just doesn’t entirely come together.  Another pass might do wonders.

As is, our tale begins with a very strange occurrence as Superman plummets from the sky, seemingly immobile and unconscious.  The League brings him to the Satellite, but they can find no explanation for his sudden illness.  Then, Batman suddenly falls victim to a similar phantom ailment and passes out.  The Leaguers (Flash, Atom, and Hawkman) call their missing members (Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Black Canary, sadly, no mention of Aquaman…), hoping against hope that one of them will be able to solve this mystery.  I’m going to have to go ahead and call shenanigans on O’Neil for this.  If you’ve got your favorite characters out on walkabout in GA/GL, then you can’t just pull them in for every JLA issue.  It sort of wrecks the whole, ‘on hiatus’ thing.  Why not give some other characters more of a chance to shine if you’re so dedicated to the oddball story you’re telling with them?

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Anyway, we then discover what is going on through a flashback that takes us to Earth 2!  That’s right, we’re seeing a JLA/JSA crossover starting in this issue, and that is pretty exciting.  I love the concept of these events, even if the execution wasn’t always fantastic (a common trait with the JLA, unfortunately).  While I prefer my JSA as the Earth-1, WWII predecessors of the League, there is something undeniably fun about having the two sets of heroes being able to hang out from time to time.  I even told a time travel story in my second JLA campaign in the DCUG, just so I could bring all of these heroes together, with the rosters cleaned up for continuity purposes, of course.  There’s no need to have multiples of the same character running around.  I always hated it when we got two Supermen or two Batmen, after all, as that just felt like a gyp.  I already get to read about those guys!

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I seem to have dragged myself off track.  Ahem.  Anyway…again…in the space between the two universes, Supreme Leader Snoke, err, I mean the Creator², captures poor, lonely, unloved Red Tornado, who is flying around empty, airless, as in no-freaking-wind, space…somehow.  This is one of the minor slips that hurt this issue.  It isn’t a huge deal, but come on.  Tornado’s whole thing is that he moves air around.  How the heck is he flying or doing much of anything where there is no air to move?

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The much bigger misstep is Reddy’s dialog and general characterization in this section.
The android is moping around space feeling sorry for himself, lamenting that he doesn’t fit in, even with the JSA.  When he sees the aliens’ ship approaching, the Tornado says, “Oh boy, this is my chance!  I’ll single-handedly stop the aliens…then everybody’ll have to like me!”  Ouch.  That feels like something that would show up in one of my worst comp. papers.  While it becomes a fixture that Reddy is a melancholy machine, this is just ham-handed and hokey.  Unfortunately, this type of one-dimensional, excessively melodramatic characterization is going to become indicative of the maudlin mechanical man.  He’s as emo as Kylo Ren!  This is part of the reason that poor Reddy has never achieved the popularity and gravitas of his Marvel counterpart, the Vision, despite having all of the same potential.  It’s a real shame, because he really is a great character.  I suppose that, given my love of underdogs, it is to be expected that I rather like this second-rate Leaguer who, at least for most of his history, never quite found his niche.  We’ll be seeing more from him in the future, of course, as he’ll soon be joining the team.

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Justice League of America v1 082-07.jpgReddy, of course, fails miserably in his efforts, because for some reason JLA writers decided to make him the team’s whipping boy.  Did Super Schlub grow up to be Red Tornado, or what?  The afflicted android is captured, and belonging to both Earths, he is able to be used as the focal point for the evil machinations of the planet-wreckers.  Power flows through the captive hero, and the two worlds begin to close in on one another, the barriers between them weakening.  Meanwhile, the aliens launch a preemptive strike on the JSA to prevent their interference.

Creator² arms his assistants with special nets that can counter the heroes’ abilities and dispatches them to capture the champions of Earth 2.  Now, I rather expected this to be goofy and cheesy after the awkwardness of the opening sequence, but the action is actually well-staged and believable in context.  Superman is easily captured because he doesn’t bother to dodge.  Why should he?  That’s a good touch, and it makes sense.  In the same way, it is actually Dr. Mid-Nite that causes the acolytes some trouble, as he’s more wary.  It’s also worth noting that the heroes, not knowing if these aliens are hostile or friendly, don’t just come out swinging.  That’s a good spot of characterization for the team.  Unfortunately, their beneficence leads to their defeat.

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It is these events that explain the strange ailments of the Earth-1 heroes.  As the JSA members were incapacitated, the weakened barriers allowed the effects to bleed over into the their closest counterparts among the Leaguers.  I’ll buy that.  It makes sense, in a comic kind of way.  I do have one bone to pick, though, and that’s the fact that Batman is identified as the closest counterpart to Mid-Nite, but we see the Earth-2 Batman just a few pages later!  Shenanigans I say!  Well, fuzzy logic aside, the Flash arrives on the scene, and he actually manages to do some good against the invaders, evading their nets with some clever maneuvering and decking one of them, but he is distracted by the sudden appearance of his Earth-1 counterpart!  The momentary interruption is all it takes for his foes to capture him as well.  This, of course, also causes Barry to be stricken as well.

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Suddenly, ghostly images of doppelgangers begin appearing around both worlds as the barriers break down even more.  The two teams meet up on their separate Earths and try and make plans, Starman playing the hothead among the JSA.  Fittingly, it is the Atom, a physicist, who figures out what is going on.  By crunching the numbers, he susses out that the two Earth’s are being pulled together and theorizes that the cause is some being with a connection to both planets.  Black Canary tearfully concludes that she must be culprit and insists that she must…die!  It’s not a bad moment, and it makes pretty perfect sense from their point of view.  It’s a good, tense note to end on, with the two worlds preparing to collide and no-one yet knowing what is behind it.

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I suppose it’s…good…that O’Neil is at least being consistent with his insufferable characterization of Green Arrow?  ‘No Ollie, there’s no emergency, I just thought it would be fun to interrupt your road trip’

This is a good issue, a fun enough adventure, though it is really a bit more of a JSA story than a Justice League one.  I’m entirely okay with that, as I love both groups.  As I said, the threat is certainly big enough to serve as a fitting challenge for these two massively powerful teams, though the aliens are really too goofy and boring looking to be entirely successful as antagonists.  The callous disregard their master, this Creator fellow, has for the life on these two worlds is a good trait for a cosmic villain, but I wouldn’t have minded learning a bit more about him.

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The fairly abominable writing of Red Tornado is a bit of a black mark on the issue, but it’s still a relatively minor part of the tale.  Unfortunately, Dick Dillin’s art isn’t quite up to snuff in this story.  He has some nice panels, but there’s also a lot of awkward, stiff figures (like the Superman sequence in the beginning) and art that just seems a bit ‘off.’  So, in the end, this is an enjoyable but flawed book.  It’s great fun to see the JSA and the JLA working on two sides of the same problem, but the weak points in the story and the weaker art keep the comic from being as good as it might.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Interestingly, the letter pages are filled with praises for JLA #78 and 79, the pollution focused issues.  Clearly, the idea of tackling heavier topics was really popular with fans.  In fact, one epistler writes in to say that major newspapers were reporting on these comics.  Notably, the writer also opined that his own city had a major problem with pollution.  Apparently, not-yet-disgraced President Nixon had just given a State of the Union address that named pollution as one of the major problems facing the nation.  Neat!  Those stories were obviously much more timely than I realized.

Phantom Stranger #8

phantom_stranger_vol_2_8“Journey to the Tomb of the Ice Giants!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Colourist: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Man, I’ve been looking forward to this one.  Just look at that cover!  I’ve seen that sucker waiting for me in my reading list, and I just couldn’t wait to see if the story inside is as awesome as that cover.  Don’t worry, you won’t have to suffer in suspense like I did.  This issue does, in fact, lives up to the awesomeness of the cover.  This is definitely my favorite Phantom Stranger issue so far, and it is here that I believe the series really finds its feet.  Even the editor seems to realize that they have hit on something special with this issue and this team.  He begins the letter column with a note that O’Neil and Aparo “have taken the Phantom Stranger to new heights” and remarks that he is particularly proud of the issue.  This unusual bit of editorial praise is, in my estimation, pretty spot on.  This tale really dives into the mystical and even mythical elements inherent in the character’s conceit, and it makes the DC Universe a more fantastic and interesting place in the process.  In my estimation, that’s one of the best contributions a book can make.  On the art front, Aparo seems to be on the book full time now, and I couldn’t be happier.  He’s at the height of his powers, so the comic is beautiful, dynamic, and full of interesting and individual looking characters.  Aparo creates no generic faces and no disposable characters.  Every figure he draws is unique and striking.  I’m afraid I’ve got rather a lot to say about this one, as it quite captured my imagination, resonating with many ideas that have been on my mind lately.

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This mysterious and mythic adventure begins in the arctic, with an ice breaker named the S.S. Night Wind suddenly finding itself faced with a vision from nightmare and legend, a massive giant of ice and snow!  It’s cold hands close about the ship, and suddenly the vessel is entirely trapped in ice.  We’re treated to a lovely two-page spread that shows us the scale of the little drama, and the Stranger briefly appears to the crew of the trapped ship to warn them of their danger.

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Our scene shifts to Alaska, where the ship’s financier, Mr. Muttson rages over the trouble with the Night Wind.  He steps into a steam room to try and warm up, but he suddenly freezes solid!  The local law is baffled, as you might imagine, and they call in everyone’s favorite wet blanket, Dr. Thirteen, who was conveniently near-by.  I’m willing to hand-wave his deus ex machina appearance because we are dealing with a story in a high dramatic tone and fate (or her Master!) may very well be playing a hand.

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The Stranger once again puts in an appearance to investigate the mystery himself, and we get yet another confrontation between the two characters.  Despite how many times we’ve seen its like, this scene is actually quite good.  There’s a certain intensity to the good Doctor’s reaction, a certain frustration and anger that rings true and rises above just rote repetition.  Thirteen is his usual charming self in this issue, and yet there is something more interesting and sympathetic about him that I can’t quite entirely put my finger on.  In this exchange, we even get a funny little note that made me chuckle.  The mysterious Stranger greets his opposite number as “Terry,” and this immediately gets under the skeptic’s skin, so much so that you have to think he intended it to do so.  Either way, Thirteen responds that “if he calls me Terry again, I’ll bust him–so help me-.”  It’s a good character moment, adding a bit more personality to the occult investigator than just stiff-necked skepticism.  After all, he’s got to be getting sick of having the Stranger show him up.

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The Phantom disappears, of course, and, also, of course, the Doc dismisses any possibility of the supernatural in that, or in this strange frozen death.  The case reminds him of another, as they all seem to, and he begins to relate the story, telling his listeners about the time a wealthy recluse was found frozen to death in the hothouse in which he kept his prize orchids.  While both the policeman investigating the death and the victim’s nephew suggest some type of mystical explanation, Thirteen is adamant that nothing of the sort is possible.  He finds a canister of freon, and, realizing that the orchids themselves are also frozen, he deduces that the recluse was flash-frozen by someone pumping the chemical in through the sprinkler system in the hothouse.  The skeptical sleuth accuses the nephew, and then he proves he is more than just a mind, as he disarms and captures the killer in a nice sequence.

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Dr. Thirteen, surprising badass

the phantom stranger (1969) 08 - 13 - Copy.jpgThat’s actually one of the best interpolated episodes we’ve seen so far, with a good mystery, a solid action beat, and Dr. Thirteen actually portrayed to good effect.  He’s much more likable here than we’ve seen previously.  Back in the main tale, the local chemist (given a ton of personality in his portrayal by Aparo, despite the fact he appears in a grand total of one panel), discovers that the ice entombing Muttson could only have come from the arctic.  Thirteen and his wife, sensing a link, prepare a helicopter to fly out and investigate the icebreaker.  Before they depart, the Stranger appears with a dire warning, and the Doc actually take a swing at him!

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In the vast, empty wastes of the frozen north, the Thirteens find the trapped ship and begin to search for some clues.  Suddenly, they spot a flash of reflected light, and they descend to discover a huge sword, fit for…a giant!  Just then, the occult investigator is smacked by a giant hand, and both he and his wife are seized by a towering figure that embodies the desolate icy wastes in which he moves.  The creature ominously declares that the humans have violated the sleep of his people, a sleep that began at the dawn of time!

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Fortunately for ‘Terry,’ the Stranger appears once more, and he demands the giant release the two humans.  I love his description of himself.  He announces that he “serve[s] a cause — a master — as ancient as” the giants themselves.  I quite like that, evocative yet mysterious, fitting easily any of the myriad identities we might assign the character (my favorite is still the Wandering Jew serving God).  That’s a difficult line to walk, but O’Neil manages it well here.

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The giants’ design isn’t quite right, what with the green trunks…

Well, as if the situation weren’t tense and chaotic enough, Tala chooses this moment to arrive.  She is her usual delightful self, and I really love her portrayal in this issue.  She is becoming a more fully realized character, while still remaining disconcertingly mysterious.  She makes her usual play for the Stranger, trying to persuade him to join her and abandon the mere mortals to their fate, but this time it is less about an archetypal contest between light and dark and more about the character herself.  O’Neil is really firing on all cylinders in this exchange.  Tala kisses her rival, and he pushes her away, proclaiming “death lies in your kiss!”  Her response is excellent, “Indeed, but such a death as can pale life.”  That’s almost poetic, and it fits the higher tone of the piece, what with its ancient civilizations and apocalyptic possibilities.

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Right after that we hit a rather weird note, as the Stranger stands forth to oppose the giant, employing his vast and enigmatic powers…no, wait, he punches the titan in the face.  Okay…it is extremely cool looking, and I have no problem with the supernatural sleuth getting his hands dirty once in awhile.  Still, we’ve seen him employ some pretty impressive powers in the previous issues, so it is rather jarring for him to suddenly act like all he’s got in his bag is a good right hook.  If O’Neil wanted to limit him, all he needed was a line of dialog, something like ‘I can’t use my abilities because it would awaken the magic of the giants,’ or SOMETHING.  Instead, the hero is smacked down, quite literally, and seems helpless against the jotunn-like creatures.

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You have to admit, though, it’s a heck of a page.

They announce their plans to emerge from their self-imposed exile and reclaim the Earth, but the Stranger, in a wonderful two-page spread, warns them that this globe is not what it used to be.  Humans have sort of wrecked the joint, as we are wont to do.  Here we see some more of O’Neil’s use of realistic and weighty themes, dealing with the social unrest and the pollution that we’ve seen influencing the books we’ve covered.  It’s a nice sequence, not too heavy-handed or preachy because of its context and the solid prose that he marshals for the effort.

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The giants are swayed, but their laws still demand a sacrifice before they can return to their centuries-long slumber.  Tala helpfully suggests they take Maria Thirteen, and in a flash of light, she seems to render her helpless.  Unopposed, the frozen fiends return to their glacial home, and here we reach the second odd moment in the book.  The story takes a fairly dark turn all of a sudden, as the Stranger silently watches the titans’ exodus, not lifting a finger to prevent their killing an innocent woman.  Then, he carries ‘Terry’ back to his helicopter and once again employs mundane methods in his fight, eschewing his powers.  He seals the entrance to the giants’ cavern with dynamite, leaving Maria to her fate.

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The Stranger coldly rationalizes his choice, reasoning that her sacrifice was necessary because any contact between giants and men would inevitably destroy both because of the wrack and ruin that a conflict between magic and technology would unleash.  This is another fascinating concept that just gets tossed out in this issue, one of many that create a wonderful atmosphere of history and mythology lying behind the plot itself.  Yet, the hero’s choice cannot help but seem both unnecessary (without further framing) and callous to us.

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Fortunately, after the cave is sealed, who should make her way back to the helicopter but Maria!  Tala returns and explains matters, telling her opponent that she, indulging in her chaotic nature, could not resist playing a trick on the giants, and thus took the girl’s place when she caused that blinding flash.  It’s a good and rather surprising moment, yet it fits the character well.  I like Tala as not just a being of pure evil, but an avatar of chaos, more like Loki than Satan, the Trickster figure brought to life.  I think that’s got potential, and it certainly has mythical echoes.

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The story ends with the Thirteens reunited and ‘Terry’ being ridiculously condescending to his wife.  To her credit, she doesn’t seem to be taking his nonsense entirely meekly.  Here again we have the good Doctor blatantly disregarding a reliable eyewitness to the supernatural because “we both know such things simply do not occur!”  Great job being scientific and impartial, Terry.  This ending really struck me, as I realized that Dr. Thirteen is willfully blind to the higher realities he continually comes in contact with.  He has now encountered several mysteries that he’s been entirely unable to solve, yet he persists in his stiff-necked adherence to his world-view.  This was particularly interesting to me because I just read C.S. Lewis’s Miracles, his philosophical case for the possibility of the miraculous.  One of his arguments touches on the fact that this is how most of us approach any such questions.  We know miracles cannot exist, therefore, every other explanation, no matter how ridiculous, must be more probable.  This cannot help but bias us in our investigation of such matters, as we have a priori decided that one explanation is impossible.  In this dogmatic dedication to disbelief, Dr. Thirteen reminds me very strongly of the dwarves from The Last Battle.  I can imagine Thirteen sitting there in the dark with them, seeing a dirty barn while surrounded by the eternal, refusing to acknowledge the reality that was staring him in the face.  It makes him something of a tragic figure as well as a comic one and probably has something to do with my growing appreciation for the character.

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This was a great story, and the complaints I have are minor.  The most significant of them is that I wish the concepts tossed out left and right in this book were given more development in the wider lore.  Apparently we do see the giants return in a later issue, so that is exciting!  It was of particular interest to me because I’ve just been studying the medieval tradition of giants, which the titanic creatures of this tale evokes.  I actually just wrote a paper on the giant/Jute debate in Beowulf¹.  I love the archetypal weight the figure of the giant carries, the ageless antipathy between man and monster.  In the medieval tradition, the giants were identified with an antediluvian (pre-Flood) culture, advanced and wicked, possessing great knowledge and power, but corrupting men with that power and forbidden learning.  They were identified with pride (which, if we recall, was the first and greatest sin) and greed.

These jotunn-esq beings with their ancient civilization remind me a bit of those stories.  Their implied history and the Stranger’s cryptic statements indicating the existence of a whole hidden lore helps to give this particular story its strongest feature, that most wonderful quality of literature, which Tolkien called “the impression of depth” (Monsters and Critics 27).  This is the effect that gives works like The Lord of the Rings such a vastness and feeling of reality.  It is the quality that leads a reader to believe that the story does not just exist in these limited pages but expands infinitely on every side of the book itself, with a rich past and undiscovered countries just beyond every hill.  This quality is, of course, limited in this instance, and the the comic has its weaknesses, the loose threads in the tapestry O’Neil is weaving.  Nonetheless, the final effect is exactly that sense of wonder and imaginative adventure that brings me to comics in the first place.  This is the type of story that I love to read, and I give this issue a very strong 4.5 Minutemen.

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Well my good readers, that is it for this post.  This is shaping up to be one heck of a month!   We’ve had some great, high-scoring and fascinating issues, and there are more promising stories on the horizon.  It definitely looks like we’re facing a much better crop of books this month.  I hope you’ll join me soon for the next few issues, which will include the next iteration of Manhunter 2070!

¹If you’re interested in literary studies, philology, or textual criticism, you might find this worth reading.  If these things don’t interest you, you can safely skip this section.  Several of the incidents in Beowulf feature the word eoten, which means “giant,” even being related (most likely) to the Old Norse word, “jotunn,” which describes the monstrous figures of scandinavian myth.  Yet, in several spots editors emend it to mean “Jute,” an ancient people that were often in conflict with the Danes.  Essentially, the argument is that a later scribe, having never seen “Eotan,” the word for Jutes, just substituted “eoten,” or “giant.” Coincidentally, this approach to the poem seems to me to be motivated by much the same resistance to the fantastic that drives the close-mindedness of people like Dr. Thirteen.  Scholars have desired a historical document from Beowulf, though that was never what it was intended to be.  They hope to find mythologized records of actual conflicts, real history behind all the fantasy ‘fluff,’ but you can no more do away with the giants than you can with the dragon. They both lie, not at the periphery, but at the core of the poem.  The debate continues (it’s giants), and though there are reasonable arguments for finding Jutes (really, it’s giants), they tend to create as many problems for interpretation (seriously, it’s giants) as they solve.  Meanwhile, rendering these mysterious figures as giants creates greater dramatic unity, (trust me, giants) emphasizing many of the primary themes of the main plot, especially the corrupting effects of power and wealth, both associated in medieval tradition with the figure of the giant (it’s totally giants).

Into the Bronze Age: July 1970 (Part 2)

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Welcome to the second issue of Into the Bronze Age for July, 1970!  I’m looking forward to getting back into some Bronze Age-y goodness, as I’ve been busy with many other things, including a lot of pulp stories as I was working on my Pulp Adventures mod.  So, without further ado, let’s celebrate the beginning of the semester with some classic superheroics!

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

  • Action Comics #390
  • Batman #223 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Brave and the Bold #90
  • Challengers of the Unknown #74 (Final issue!)
  • Detective Comics #401
  • G.I. Combat #142
  • Green Lantern #78
  • Superman #227 (Reprints)
  • Superman #228

Detective Comics #401

Detective_Comics_401“Target For Tonight!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Midnight is the Dying Hour!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Our headlining feature here is a fairly mediocre Bat-tale, very much a by-the-numbers story.  It’s the standard ‘most dangerous game‘ trope where a disillusioned big-game hunter decides that the only way he can get a challenge is to hunt a man.  Of course, he decides to hunt the most dangerous of the most dangerous game, Batman!  I wonder how many times this story has been told in comics in general and with Batman specifically.  Surprisingly enough, this story is the only Batman example listed on TV Tropes.  I’m almost sure there are others, though, as almost every serial adventure character has a few of these encounters over the course of their career.  Despite its cliched nature, or perhaps evidenced by it, this trope can produce great stories.  This isn’t one of them.  It isn’t bad, per se, just not terribly interesting or exciting, and Batman really doesn’t come off as all that impressive.  There are many, many better examples out there.

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This tale opens with Batman in Commissioner Gordon’s office receiving a strange and threatening note which boldly declares that some nut named ‘The Stalker’ has made the Dark Knight his prey.  Apparently the note was delivered by a hunting falcon, right in Gordon’s window!  Just at that moment, a bullet zips in the window and ‘bullseyes’ the page, a potent warning of the hunter’s intent and skill.

The Masked Manhunter heads home to his apartment (I’ll never get used to that), where he relaxes by watching an interview with a famous big-game hunter named Carelton Yager (“jager” means hunter, in German, in case you didn’t catch that he was…you know…a hunter) who has just arrived in Gotham.  This sportsman, who is totally not our mad Stalker, has a hunting falcon and talks menacingly about how there is no thrill in the hunt anymore, thus he has come to town to hunt “the most dangerous game.”

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Just then, crossbow bolt flies in a smashes the TV.  It bears a note warning Bruce Wayne that this ‘Stalker’ knows his secret and the hunt is on.  How did this random hunter discover the secret identity of the master detective, Batman?  Well, don’t worry your pretty little head about that.  He just totally did.  Because…plot.  Well, not one to take such things lying down, the Caped Crusader sets out to do some stalking of his own, warning Gordon to keep the cops clear because “this is a matter of honor — and pride.”  Really?  I mean, it makes perfect sense that Batman would want everyone else to stay out of such a conflict for fear of any innocents getting hurt, but it does seems a bit out of character for him to be so pig-headed as to play this guy’s game just for pride.  This is another one of those little examples that we’re still not dealing with the fully developed ‘grim avenger’ Batman yet.

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Our hero is on the case less than five minutes and he commits his first blunder, stumbling into a trap in Yager’s rooms as he searched for clues.  He triggers a crossbow trap and a recording that taunts him and invites him to a showdown on an island off the coast.  Batman throws a tantrum and smashes the tape recorder with the most awkward looking, Rockettes-esq, high-kick ever, then heads straight into the obvious trap.

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At least the Dark Knight has the sense to approach the island covertly, underwater and then through a drainage pipe, but once arrived he once again immediately falls prey to one of the Stalker’s snares, this time a net that hauls him helplessly into the air.  For the third time, the hunter lets his quarry live to add spice to the chase.  That’s three separate times our hero should really be dead if the villain wasn’t just letting him win.  Real impressive, Bats.  I think this Stalker fellow might have a more challenging hunt with Robin.

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When the Caped Crusader gets free, he pursues his tormentor across the island, and eventually tackles him when he finally manages to see through one of the sportsman’s traps.  Yager is standing in the middle of the room, dressed as Alfred, but Batman realizes its a fake when he sees that the man’s shoes aren’t muddy, despite the fact that the entire island is a quagmire.  During the fight, the villain handily hoists himself on his own petard by falling into his own dead-drop and conveniently expires, taking his knowledge of our hero’s secret identity with him to his grave.

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It’s a moderately entertaining story, but not a terribly memorable one.  In fact, I read it about a month before I got the chance to write this entry, and it had COMPLETELY fallen out of my head by the time I sat down to write the summary.  It’s a trope that has lots of potential, as can easily be recognized by how often it gets used, but this one doesn’t make much of it.  The villain lacks any real personality and Batman just comes off as rather ineffectual and bad at his job.  He survives solely because of his foe’s arrogance, but not in the standard and enjoyable ironic treatment of such a trope that would indicate that Robins was even aware that this was the case.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen out of 5.

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“Midnight is the Dying Hour!”

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The backup feature is the continuation of our Batgirl story from the previous issue, and it is passable if not exactly good.  I’m afraid it definitely suffers from its brevity.  It does have a nice setup, with the story being handed off to Robin, who is following the same mystery from a different direction.  It’s a nice idea, even though there isn’t much room to develop it.

We begin with a quick one page recap of the previous issue, and then we pick up with Robin investigating the crime scene.  He discovers that the murdered man, Willard, with his hand pointing at a volume of poetry, specifically the first three letters of the title, “poetry.”  This strikes the Teen Wonder as strange, since the deceased thought poetry was “sissy stuff.”  A real winner, this guy.  Anyway, aggressive ignorance and atrocious taste aside, Robin, unable to make heads or tales of the case, decides to review the evidence and has a flash of inspiration.

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He heads to the construction site, looking for his suspect, and he interrupts the killer in the middle of his reenactment of “The Cask of Amontillado.”  The punk throws some of his cement in the young hero’s eyes and makes a run for it.  Dick frees Batgirl, who exclaims that she’s never had to thank anyone for saving her life before, and she doesn’t know how to do it.  This strikes me as rather strange, because I’m pretty sure she’s had her life saved dozens of times at this point.  Ahh well.

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They compare notes and discuss how they each solved the mystery as they pursue the killer.  It turns out to be the barely mentioned drama-major, Jack Markham, who murdered Willard, his ally in the campus debate, in order to discredit the opposing side.  According to Robin, the young weirdo was set to play Edgar Allen Poe in the school play, and he identified with the role so much that it broke his mind and turned him into a killer.  That’s…a bit of a stretch.  Poe may have been a gothic author and a fairly gloomy character.  He may have had his own demons (glug glug!), but I don’t recall him ever murdering anyone.  Not even a little bit.  Robin also solves this mystery because of the corpse’s finger pointing to “Poe” and deciding that it was a clue pointing to the actor playing the poet.  That’s a bit of a stretch as well, methinks.

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Detective401-31.JPGThe two titanic teens chase this kid into the theater and have a brief battle with him in the rafters.  He is, of course, no real threat to the heroes when they see him coming, which is fitting.  The tale ends with a rather ambiguous note, as Robin asks Batgirl if she will tell him how she got involved in all of this, and she replies “Maybe I will!  Maybe I will tell you a lot of things…”  It could be a nice, flirty moment…but it needed a bit of setup earlier in the adventure, so it just seems out of place here.

So, in the end, there is a mystery here that just didn’t have quite enough room to grow.  I like the idea of seeing both Robin and Batgirl chasing a killer from different directions.  Fortunately, though the Markham manages to momentarily elude the trained crimefighter chasing him, he doesn’t make a monkey out of the Teen Wonder, unlike some of the earlier Robin solo stories we’ve encountered.  At least this one doesn’t add another spot on the wall of shame with the Head-Blow Headcount for the high-flying hero.  I would have enjoyed the note of romance between our two young heroes…if it had been a bit more developed and certain.  In the end, I’ll give this ending backup 2.5 Minutemen as well.  It just didn’t quite have enough space to make its mark.

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G.I. Combat #142

GI_Combat_Vol_1_142“Checkpoint…Death!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Artist: Russ Heath

This Haunted Tank yarn is not one of the best.  It’s plot is just a bit…odd.  It’s like Kanigher had several set pieces he wanted to build a story around, but he didn’t really have a story in which to embed them.  As is, it’s a beautifully illustrate tale in the DC house style, and it has some nice action…and that’s about all that you can say about it, because it doesn’t make much sense.  As per usual, this issue doesn’t take much advantage of book’s conceit.  In fact, this one takes far less than the norm, with our titular haunting specter showing up for exactly two panels, where he doesn’t even offer his customary cryptic warnings.

As the story opens, the crew is commenting on Jeb’s strange habit of talking to “himself,” as they can’t see the ghost, but, as they often do, they decide that he’s a good enough tank commander, they don’t care if he’s a little crazy.  Meanwhile, Jeb asks J.E.B. if this mission will punch their tickets, and the ghost replies he can’t reveal their fates…then he promptly disappears completely from the issue.  This may as well have been a straight war comic with those two panels removed.  Just then, they spot explosions in the distance and head into action.  We get treated to a nice double-page spread of a big tank battle going on, with what look like Pershings going toe-to-toe with the Hun armor.  That would make this the late days of the war (1945), so that’s probably an art mistake.  Still, it’s a lovely spread.

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Jeb and crew are ordered to reinforce Checkpoint Able, and they, unwillingly, scoot out of the action.  Unfortunately, when they arrive, they find Able manned by no-one…but dead men!  The entirety of Able Company has been wiped out, and they are all dead at their posts…and here we meet the first moment of the tale that makes no freaking sense.  If they’re all dead, why aren’t the Nazis just strolling merrily through the lines?  Better yet, why haven’t they ALREADY done so?

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We get no answers, but we do get some nice, poignant moments as the Haunted crew deals with this grim sight.  That leads us to another nice passage, and this issue is nothing but a string of these, where, as they head out on recon and pass some wildflowers, Slim gets out and picks some for Able.  It’s a sweet, strange little scene, and it really adds some humanity to the story.

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Just then, a freak blizzard blows up, and the tank is ambushed by a German infantry unit, inexplicably kitted out for snow operations in all white uniforms, despite the fact that it is emphasized that this is a FREAK storm.  Once again, it makes no freaking sense, but the action sequence is really beautifully illustrated, and the silent (dare I say ‘ghostly’?) intensity of the Nazi troops in their assault is rather chilling (sorry!).

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The crew attempt to break out of the ambuscade, but their engine freezes up.  Here we encounter the third ludicrous story beat.  Instead of, you know, shooting the giant sitting steel duck with the panzerfaust that we see they still have, the German infantry just…wait.  They just sit and wait, allowing the tank crew to figure out what to do.  Their solution is actually quite clever and visually spectacular, though.  Jeb pulls some gas from the fuel tanks and, under cover of the storm, he carefully splashes it near the engine, then lights it ablaze.  Now, this would almost certainly suffocate the men inside the tank in real life, but it’s a great, adventure story-esq innovation.  It’s solid comic logic.  The fire warms the engine enough to get it started, and the Haunted Tank breaks away, arriving back at Checkpoint Able in time to meet the reinforcements.

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So, as you can see, this is a really uneven issue.  It has several nice set-piece moments, the usual lovely art for this book, and even some good, if brief, characterization.  Nonetheless, it is also completely ridiculous in three separate ways.  The end result is a bit baffling.  It’s a fun issue to read, but it is apt to leave one feeling rather confused.  I’m really torn on what to rate it, but I suppose I’ll also give this one a 2.5 Minutemen out of 5.  The goofy, senseless elements knock it down from a higher score, and the fun of the action combined with the beauty of the art save it from a worse one.

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Green Lantern/Green Arrow #78

Green_Lantern_Vol_2_78“My Kind of Loving, a Way of Death!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Ahh…back to this book.  It’s probably not great that we’re only three issues in and I’m already dreading each new story.  Well, on the plus side, this issue is not nearly as insufferable as the previous two.  It’s probably a worse story, as far as unity of action and the measure of the plot goes, but there’s less (though of course not no) pontificating.  The heavy hand paints a touch more lightly, but only a touch.  The setup for this issue is an interesting one, and relatively timely, especially in comic terms.  This issue centers on a charismatic cult leader brainwashing a bunch of disaffected kids and using them for his own nefarious purposes.  Sound familiar?  Well, the horrors of the Manson Family murders were less than a year old at this point, and Manson himself had just been arrested a few months earlier.  There was a great deal of fear and uneasiness throughout the culture following those events, and it is interesting to see that being worked through in comics this way.  Of course, O’Neil’s cult leader uses actual mind control to dominate his victims, and the whole horrid mess is flattened out and treated broadly, but the similarities are unmistakable.  I don’t know if this is the first time that this concept was used in a comic, but I am quite certain it was not the last either.  I can’t imagine it is the best.

Whatever it is, this particular treatment begins with the lovely Black Canary, having taken to the road to track down the way-luckier-than-he-deserves Green Arrow.  She is accosted in the Washington wilderness by a generic biker gang, doing generic, scuzzy biker gang things.  They try to steal her motorcycle and threaten her, but of course, the Canary is no shrinking violet (no offense to Shrinking Violet).  She handily wipes the floor with them before being knocked unconscious by a desperate biker who ramms her with his cycle.  They steal the bike and leaver her for dead, but she is rescued by a shadowy figure.

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It’s a beautiful montage. Take note, Gil Kane, this is how it is done.

Meanwhile, our hard-traveling heroes arrive in the nearby town and have a completely pointless encounter with a bitter young Native American man.  Now, there’s tons of bitter folks in this book, but, to be fair, if anyone’s got a right to be bitter about their treatment in this country…it’s probably the Native Americans.  Fair enough.  His role in the comic is still fairly pointless, serving only to provide a face to identify with the subject of the cult leader’s hatred.

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green lantern 078 015.jpgHis shop is attacked by the generic bikers, who do more generic biker things, like trash the place.  Our heroes immediately endanger their secret identities by just stepping outside to put on their costumes, despite the fact that they were the only strangers in town.  As you would expect, they utterly trounce these low-rent thugs, who pose no real threat to two Justice Leaguers.  And here is our return to the perennial problem (other than the heavy-handed, tone deaf characterization) with this series.  The protagonists are just a poor fit for the tale that O’Neil is telling.  Green Lantern and Green Arrow beating up on these punks just seems…unnecessary.  The heroes are in no peril to speak of, and there is no actual tension and nothing at stake with this little encounter.

Nonetheless, the traveling-twosome makes short work of them, and seems to do it with great relish.  There is actually a fairly good moment of characterization here…that is more or less completely glossed over.  Hal really enjoys this conflict, being a very straight-forward case of good and evil, a simple, unequivocal situation that has none of the complicated morality and deep significance of the last few adventures.  These are bad men doing bad things to an innocent, and a bit of a trouncing is richly deserved.  It would be a good moment if it were given a little more development, but it is left entirely to the reader to make the connection, as O’Neil spends no time on it.  He may not even be aware of it.  I do enjoy the sense of whimsy that the Emerald Gladiator brings to his ring-slinging this issue.  It’s a nice change from his dreary existential doubt from the past two issues, and it points to a more interesting and enjoyable character.  I doubt it will last.

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Well, the Emerald Archer notices that one of the bikers has Canary’s motorcycle, and they get the story out of the punk, GA losing his mind and nearly beating the guy to death in the process.  It’s a good moment, with Hal having to restrain Ollie who is beside himself with worry about Canary.  The heroes go to look for her and find the lost lady seemingly hale and healthy, but in the company of a mysterious “prophet” named Joshua.  He is running a commune of some sort, and he claims that Dinah is now one of his ‘children.’  She, though obviously conflicted, refuses to come with them.

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Adams does a fantastic job of making this Joshua fellow eerie and disturbing.  That man has crazy eyes.

In desperation, the Emerald Archer grabs his lady love and plants a passionate kiss on her lips.  It’s a nice moment, especially considering that, since she’s been around, he’s never gotten any real encouragement from her.  He’s clearly been head over heels for her, but she’s rebuffed him.  This is a pretty big and bold step.  It would be a lot stronger if this plot had been given room to breath, but even just jumping out of nowhere, the scene, where she pulls away and tells him to get lost has a little power, largely thanks to Neal Adams, most likely.

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Ollie is crushed and frustrated, and Hal’s fairly blunt declaration that “she just doesn’t dig” him (way to let your friend down easy, flyboy), doesn’t help any.  Arrow belts his partner in green, and then stalks off into the woods where he, at least, realizes he’s acting like a child.  It’s good to see O’Neil finally acknowledge some of Ollie’s silliness, though he’ll get back to using him as a mouthpiece shortly, don’t worry. Hal, for his part, comes off much better in this issue.  Instead of bowing up and getting in his friend’s face, the Emerald Gladiator merely shrugs it off, knowing that Ollie isn’t himself.

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Meanwhile, the creepy Joshua arms his clearly mind-controlled ‘Family’ and tells them that they are going to slaughter the nearby Indians to start off a race war and reclaim the country for the whites.  Urg.  O’Neil really wants to make his evilness unmistakable…though, to be fair, I suppose this is actually pretty close to Manson’s own motivations (though with opposite goals).  The Emerald Archer encounters the Family in the woods during target practice and decides that he better call for help because he can’t take them all without killing them…really?  Green Arrow, superhero and Justice League member, who has managed to fight crime for years without killing ANYONE can’t manage to take out a bunch of brainwashed kids with pistols and no training without killing them?  It’s fine for Ollie to have called for help.  Sure, I can buy that, but his statement is just patently ridiculous in the context of the story.  Heck, in the last issue, he stormed a freaking fortress and took on trained soldiers.  *sigh*

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Anyway, surprisingly, firing a flare in the middle of the darkened woods attracts attention, and the Family opens fire on him, winging the hero.  They charge after Green Lantern but…he’s a freaking Green Lantern.  Oddly, he ALSO worries about being able to stop them without killing them, despite the fact that he’s wearing an honest-to-goodness wishing ring.  What’s with all this concern about killing the bad guys all of a sudden?  Since when have these two ever DONE that?  Fortunately, he performs better than Ollie (he could hardly have done worse), and easily disarms and traps the kids.

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It’s almost as if random brainwashed kids with guns aren’t actually worthy antagonists for a man armed with the most powerful weapon in the universe….

UNfortunately, Joshua and the Canary escape and come across the injured Archer.  Despite the cult leader’s orders to shoot the helpless hero, Dinah can’t bring herself to do it and overcomes his control.  Hal holds back his aid, letting her break the brainwashing on her own so she’ll have no doubts in the future.  It’s a nice gesture…until you think about the fact that he’s gambling (as he admits) with the Archer’s life.

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Well, I know what you’re thinking.  All of this, and we haven’t had any pretentious preaching from Ollie all issue.  Maybe we dodged the bullet!  Don’t’ be silly; O’Neil wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to talk down to his audience and make Green Arrow come off like a self-important, holier-than-though windbag.  As the heroes are reunited, Ollie takes the opportunity to browbeat a still reeling and emotionally drained Black Canary, telling her that it’s her fault she was brainwashed because there is something bad in all of us that allows monsters like this to bring people to their side.  Classy Arrow.  Real classy.

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Nothing says “I love you” like accusations of secret racism.

This comic has some potential, like most of the others, but it simply has the wrong stars.  There is a good story to be told, and it will be told elsewhere, about the unsettling and sinister nature of a charismatic madman’s grip on impressionable minds.  Try this setup with someone like Batman, the Question, or another more investigative type, and you’d really have something.  Unfortunately, that interesting plot isn’t given enough room to grow, with the unnecessary secondary elements with the bikers and the random kid crowd it down to insignificance.  The central conflict with Canary and the emotions she’s been fighting is interesting, and, once again, given more space, it could have made for a moving turning-point for her romance with Ollie.  This too gets short shrift.  Still, it is really fascinating to see the comics dealing with contemporary history, struggling with the questions we all have about what makes monsters like Manson able to work their dark wills.  It is noteworthy for that, if not for the quality of the issue itself.  As always, Adams’ artwork is spectacular and really gives the book more gravitas and interest than it probably deserves.  In the end, I give this issue 2.5 Minutemen, making this week’s scores unanimous.

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Well, let’s see if we can’t finish up our trip into July 1970 soon and get on with our adventures Into the Bronze Age!  Please join me later this week for the final post in this month of comics.  Until then, remember to tell your significant other that they are really awful inside!