Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 4)

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Welcome Internet travelers, to my examination of the highs, the lows, the greats, the not so greats, and everything in between of DC Comics in the Bronze Age!  Today we’ve got a widely diverse pair of books with a quartet of quirky stories to quicken your pulses!  Check them out below!

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 #399
  • Adventure Comics #405
  • Aquaman #56 / (Sub-Mariner #72)
  • Detective Comics #410
  • The Flash #205 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Mr Miracle #1
  • The Phantom Stranger #12
  • Superboy #173
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #109
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137
  • Superman #236
  • Teen Titans #32
  • World’s Finest #200

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


The Phantom Stranger #12


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“Marry Me – Marry Death!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“A Time to Die”
Writer: Jack Oleck
Penciler: Tony DeZuniga
Inker: Tony DeZuniga
Editor: Joe Orlando

We’ve got another beautiful, dramatic, and striking cover courtesy of Neal Adams this month.  It’s a nice, spooky image, and it’s well suited to the headline tale within.  Indeed, this month our Phantom Stranger story is rather different than what we’ve encountered of late.  Instead of focusing on the mystical heroics of the Stranger himself, this comic flips the script, and we see the story from quite a different perspective.

In many ways, this is a classic horror story, and it begins shortly after the wedding of Jason Phillips to his new bride, Wanda.  He brings the blushing beauty to his mansion, where he suddenly spots a mysterious figure, the Phantom Stranger, but the next moment there is no-one there.  Strange indeed!  Recovering, he introduces his new wife and their guests to his old wife, or rather, her coffin!

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Well, this seems perfectly normal and healthy…

He explains to the shocked well-wishers that he met and romanced the older and very wealthy Irina when he was a ski instructor.  He discovered that she took nitro pills for a weak heart, and despite the fact that she felt she was too old and weak for him, he insisted on marrying her.  A few years later, she passed away, but not before making him swear to keep her with him, always.

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There’s a very strange bit where she collected ancient Egyptian artifacts and learned about their embalming practices, insisting that they be used on her, but that doesn’t really feature in the story (something of an unfired Chekhov’s Gun…or at least an un-awakened Kanigher’s Mummy.)  Irina also left a clause in her will that all of her money would go to charity unless Jason kept her body with him always, which is pretty darn weird.  Throughout the tale, Jason paints himself as the perfect grieving husband, but there is something strange about the whole story.  This ominous note is strengthened when Jason once again sees the Stranger and begins to scream at him, only to have the figure vanish once more.

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That night, the re-married millionaire awakens in the night to hear a creaking sound and investigates to see the cloaked shape of the Stranger standing by the the coffin as it is slowly opening.  A voice tells him that he knows why they are here, but yet again, things are not as they seem, and when Wanda comes to investigate her husband’s shouts, the coffin is still locked.

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Suddenly, Jason sees Irina outside in a flash of lightning, along with the Supernatural Sleuth, who repeats his message.  The maddened millionaire strikes him, sending the cloaked form flying off of the balcony, but once again, Wanda sees nothing.  The next day as they are boating on a lake, the Stranger emerges from the waters.  Still, Wanda sees nothing.  She pleads with her husband to get rid of the coffin, but he refuses, citing his vow, yet even during their intimate moment of conversation, he sees Irina.

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Finally, pushed to the breaking point, he confronts the Phantom Stranger over his first wife’s coffin and attacks him with an axe, but the mysterious one forces him to think back over what really happened to his wife.  We learn that Phillips tried to kill her, putting her in situations where her heart would give out, and when it finally did, he destroyed her pills and callously sat by and watched her die.

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Jason thinks that the Stranger is just a blackmailer and attacks, but as his wild swings carry him outside, he runs towards a pair of advancing lights, only to be struck by a car and killed.  Fittingly, the car had come to get his wife’s coffin, though strangely, the name on the work order is Irina, not Wanda.

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This is a great little horror yarn, and though that isn’t really my favorite genre, Kanigher turned out a very entertaining tale here, continuing his inconsistency.  It’s either feast of famine with this guy!  He handled the building tension and mounting clues quite well.  There are just a few incongruous elements, like the Egyptian bit and the detail at the end with the conflated names.  I’m not really sure what the purpose of that was.  Still, the total effect is quite strong.  Needless to say, Aparo does a masterful job with this book.  His work is wonderfully moody and atmospheric.  Every panel is draped in shadow or lit with the bright light of romance, and all of the characters are beautifully rendered.  As much as I love his Aquaman work, let’s face it, he was even more perfect for the Phantom Stranger than for the Sea King.  All together, I’ll give this chilling chronicle 4.5 Minutemen.

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“A Time to Die”


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We have a solo Dr. Thirteen backup this month, and it’s a rather nice change of pace.  I like the interplay between the good Doctor and the Phantom Stranger, but a little goes a long way.  It is good to give each of them room to grow.  This particular outing is a respectable Dr. Thirteen mystery set in England, on the misty moors.  The Doc and his wife arrive just in time to see a man drop dead at the stroke of midnight.  ‘Ol Terry is his usual charming self, talking down to his wife and immediately making friends with the natives.  When the townspeople start talking about “the ghost of the Black Friar,” the Dr. responds by saying “You men are acting like frightened fools.”  Astonishingly, this does not endear him to them, and they tell this rude American to butt out in no uncertain terms as they carry the body to the town doctor.

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Incidentally, that is who summoned Dr. Thirteen in the first place.  When they visit this fellow, Dr. Hall, he tells them that he’s a man of science, yet he has spent much time investigating the ruins of the old abbey and believes that there is something evil there.  He tells them the tale of one of the abbey’s former inhabitants who turned to the black arts until he was convicted of witchcraft and burned in the 16th century.  Before he died, he swore a curse on the town.  Dr. Hall reveals that, since he is an old man, he’ll shortly be replaced by a new young doctor, but before he retired, he wanted to see that the town was protected.

That night, Dr. Thirteen investigates, only to see the figure of the Black Friar but be unable to catch him when he vanished.  Summoning the townspeople, they scoff, telling him that another man just died on the other side of town and the Friar couldn’t be in two places at once…if he weren’t a ghost!  With Dr. Hall’s help, the Ghost Breaker manages to convince the townspeople to help his investigation, but the next night, when they approach the abbey, a disembodied voice declares that, unless they run the strangers out of town, the ghost will take a terrible vengeance no them.  The townsfolk tell Thirteen to hit the road, Jack, and don’t come back no more!

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Yet, Dr. Thirteen is nothing if not persistent, so he sneaks back into town after sending his wife to safety, and searches a house and the abbey ruins.  Soon, he confronts the townspeople just at midnight and entreats them to follow him.  Heading to the graveyard where he first encountered the Friar, they once more hear the voice, but the Ghost Breaker leaps forward and searches a tombstone for a hidden switch, revealing a secret passage and a robbed figure!  The figure is unmasked to reveal….Doctor Hall!?

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That’s right, apparently Hall was just a tad bitter about being forced into retirement, so he used his scientific knowledge to construct a sonic weapon (fancy!), which he hooked up to the bell tower.  Every night at midnight it would send out a sonic pulse, and if anyone was close enough and susceptible enough, it would kill them.  Thirteen was suspicious of the old fellow, and when he searched his house, he found enough evidence to let him trap the doctor the the help of a micro transmitter that he used to track the fake fiend to his hiding place.  That wraps things up rather neatly, if making it a tad Scooby Doo.

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This is a decent little backup strip for Dr. Thirteen, if not one of his best.  Hall’s scheme is a bit too outlandish and the resolution is rushed, packed into one page, but that’s to be expected when you’ve only got seven to work with in the first place.  Both of the creators are new to me, but they turned in a perfectly serviceable story.  We’ll see if they show up in future DC Comics.  Either way, this yarn earns 3 Minutemen, a solid if unremarkable story.

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This issue also had a really excellent missive in the letter column, a thoughtful and insightful take on what makes Dr. Thirteen tick which is worth a read.

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Superboy #173


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“The Super-Clark of Smallville!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Dick Giordano

“Trust Me or Kill Me!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: George Tuska

Well, would you look at that!  It’s the totally original ‘hero acting out of character’ cover type!  The cover is probably enough to make you want to know what’s going on, and it’s decently illustrated, but it’s not all that interesting, really.  One does wonder what exactly Clark is doing in that dorky outfit, though.  Unsurprisingly with Leo Dorfman calling the tune, our headline tale is rather Silver Age-ish and goofy, as you’d expect from this cover.

The gimmicky tale begins in Professor Lang’s lab, where the good doctor has what he claims is a jar of ambrosia, the food of the gods, from ancient Greece.  He also happens to claim that ambrosia was what gave the gods their powers, which makes me wonder if this guy got his degree out of a Cracker Jack’s box, as any school kid with an interest in mythology would know better.  They got their powers by being, you know, gods.  In some versions of the myths, ambrosia did have a role in their immortality, but that’s really not the same thing at all.  Yes, it’s a comic book, but it’s a comic book in a setting where the Greek gods actually do exist, so details like this matter a bit.

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Well, one way or the other, Dr. Cracker Jack decides to test some of the powered residue within the jar, but when he tries to, it explodes!  I hope they haven’t given this guy tenure!  The explosion wrecks the lab, but, of course, Clark is uninjured.  He rushes to help Professor Lang, but Lana spots him hefting a bookshelf off the quack.  At first she thinks this confirms her suspicions about him being Superboy, but seeing that he is holding the test tube and has traces of ambrosia on his face, she assumes that he ate the ambrosia, and thus gained the powers of the gods!  With no real choice, supposedly, the Boy of Steel fakes the discovery of new powers, like Hermes’ flight, as if he were a novice.

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In a purely rational and not at all wacky and bizarre response to this discovery, Lana’s first instinct is that Clark must show off to all of the bullies at school by going out for the track team.  She even makes a costume for him, for some reason.  This bit really makes no sense at all, in context.  I guess because he’s ‘super’ he needs a costume?  But he isn’t becoming a hero, just going out for sports.  Oookay, Lana.  Whatever you say.

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You’ll be the coolest kid in school…and you’ll wear a dorky costume while you do it!  It’s foolproof!

Well, “Super-Clark” (sigh) goes to the track field and shows off his strength and agility.  There is actually a great opportunity for some characterization here, for Clark to revel in the ability to use his powers in public and to enjoy Lana’s attentions.  Yet, Dorfman almost completely ignores that angle to focus on gimmicky situations for Clark’s ‘new’ powers.  My favorite is definitely when Clark rescues a bathysphere that got in trouble….in Smallville…Kansas.  Sure!  Doesn’t your small farming town have bathyspheres on every street corner?

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superboy 173 0008Needless to say, Pa Kent is rather shocked when an excited crowd shows up yelling about how his son has superpowers, but the new Smallville Spectacle explains things, pointing out that he’s happy he can help his father with his store.  Apparently at this point, Pa Kent isn’t a farmer, instead owning a general store, which seems far less fitting, iconic, or archetypal for the character.  After another series of super feats, Clark starts to get tired of the constant requests for aid and begins to realize the benefits of a secret identity.

Later on, a young, super-bald Lex Luthor comes back to town to get his revenge on the people who spurned him.  He is thrilled when he sees the townspeople tearing down their Superboy statue, but he becomes less excited when he sees them replace it with a statue of (sigh) Super Clark.  Man, Smallville residents are more fickle than Atlanteans!  Lex is more constant, at least in his hatred, and using a new invention, a “power nullifer” which does just what the name implies, he shoots Superboy out of the sky once the young hero is back in costume.

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The Boy of Steel crashes in a swamp and finds his powers gone.  He rushes to the nearby ruined lab of Professor Lang, hoping to find some ambrosia on the off chance it will really give him powers.  He finds the a note that was in the jar with the ambrosia and, conveniently, can read ancient Greek, which, you know, anybody can just pick up.  He eats the note, hoping it absorbed some of the food of the gods and finds himself actually possessing the powers of the gods.

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Using the Zeus’s shape-shifting power and thunderbolts, the ‘Phantom Vision” of Hades, and flight of Hermes, he manages to defeat Luthor’s various gadgets and drive off his former-friend-turned-foe.  The story ends with the godly powers fading and Superboy’s own powers returning.  When he tells Lana that his career as ‘Super Clark’ is over, she doesn’t exactly take the news gracefully.

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superboy 173 0022Well, this story wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t exactly fantastic either.  Dorfman wastes the chance to do some actual character work with Clark, botches his mythology, and throws in plenty of goofiness as well.  The yarn is entertaining enough, and the section where Superboy gains the godly powers is an interesting change of pace.  Yet, that is really over in two pages, so we don’t really get a lot of opportunity to see the difference between those and his usual abilities.  This story has some potential to be neat, but it ends up being fairly forgettable.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen, with the inexplicable ‘Super Clark’ costume costing it some points.

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“Trust Me or Kill Me!”


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Our Legion backup this month is once again the highlight of the book.  It’s a fairly conventional identity mystery, the likes of which the Legion writers seem to love, but there are some neat details to it.  The tale begins with the stalwart Cosmic Boy left alone in the Legion headquarters, as the rest of the team has gone off to get vaccinated against a new virus sweeping the planet, a vaccine he himself had received years ago.  That’s a reasonably decent excuse to get the rest of the team out of the way for this story, and in light of the recent vaccination madness here in the U.S., I can’t help but smile.

Well, Cosmic Boy’s sojourn is interrupted when, all of a sudden, his double in a mirror smashes through the glass and attacks him!  Each claims to be the original, and they find themselves evenly matched in combat, knowing each other’s moves.  We also learn that Cosmic Boy knows a martial art named Ku-Jui, which he learned on his homeworld, a fun little detail and bit of world-building.  They decide to call in help in order to figure out which of them is real, and they settle on Superboy, who they summon from the past.  The Boy of Steel speeds through the Time Barrier (such a wonderfully comic book-ish concept), and joins the duplicated duo in the future.

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Tuska really knocks the face-work on this story out of the park.

Once he arrives, he is confronted by a massive image of the Legion’s most deadly foe, Mordru!  The evil wizard informs the young Action Ace that this is all part of one of his schemes.  Mordru has created a duplicate of Cosmic Boy, and if the hero cannot discover him, the double will secretly destroy the Legionnaires one by one.  I know very little about this character, but I have to say, I like this little glimpse of him. George  Tuska does a great job of making Mordru’s image seem intimidating and ominous, while also giving him some good old fashioned villainous glee.  His plan is really quite devious.  It has the longshot possibility of destroying the Legion, but even if it fails, it promises to subject the team to terrible emotional strain as they face the possibility of destroying one of their friends in order to save themselves

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Superboy tries to solve the mystery by quizzing the two Cosmic Boys, but each of them is able to answer his questions about their history.  Realizing that the Legionnaires are on their way back , the Boy of Steel tries one last, desperate gambit.  He flies off and returns with two massive iron boulders, hurtling them at both claimants to the Cosmic Boy title, saying that the real master of magnetism will be able to stop his rock.

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Yet, when one of them fails to halt the hurtling stone, Superboy rushes to his rescue.  The stunned youth wonders why, since he failed, but Clark explains that the rocks were actually plastic, and he counted on the fake Legionnaire using magic to simulate Cosmic Boys powers, rather than duplicating the powers themselves.  Thus, they mystery is solved, and the story ends with Mordru swearing that the traditional vow of ‘this isn’t over’ and Superboy headed back to his own time.

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This little tale has a clever resolution in Superboy’s plan.  It’s a good way to solve the mystery, and it does make a certain amount of sense.  There isn’t a whole lot to it beyond that, but we get some nice background on Cosmic Boy, and he gets a standard ‘you have to kill us both, Spock’ moment, though it is immediately countered by Superboy.  Mordru’s very brief appearance is fun, and I look forward to seeing a full story with him as the villain.  George Tuska’s art is bright and cheerful, and he really succeeds in making the protagonists look youthful, something not all comic artists can really pull off.  His clean, expressive art is a nice fit for these characters.  I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing him stay on this feature.  I’ll give this little backup 3.5 Minutemen, as it makes for a fun read and has no real flaws other than its brevity.

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And once again, we find ourselves at the end of a post.  These stories present a widely varied whole, and they certainly illustrate how diverse an era we’re working with.  In just this pair of books, we go from the creepy horror story of a haunted killer to the goofy antics of a gimmick driven Superboy farce.  As silly as the latter story was, it’s an interesting and positive thing that both types of comic are being published by DC, a variety of tone and theme not seen after this era until very recently.

The Phantom Stranger tale is particularly notable for the overt use of horror elements and for the cold-blooded murder that actually happens on panel.  It represents a darker type of story, one that had mostly passed out of mainstream comics with the dawning of the Silver Age and the rise of the Comics Code.  The return of such storytelling marks the continuing shift across the genre to more mature and varied comics.  Well, I hope that y’all enjoyed this read, and that y’all will join me again soon for the next stop on our journey, Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 5)

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Hello folks, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  I’m back on my routine, at least for a little while, so I’ll hopefully finish this month up soon.  I’m very excited about today’s post, as we’ve got New Gods #1, the start of what is undoubtedly the most significant of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World books.  There’s also a delightful little surprise in this month’s Superboy, which added to my enjoyment of these comics.  In general, we’ve got a good set of books to discuss, so let’s get to it!

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 #398
  • Adventure Comics #404
  • Batman #230
  • Brave and Bold #94
  • Detective Comics #409
  • The Flash #204
  • Forever People #1
  • G.I. Combat #146
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82
  • Justice League of America #88
  • New Gods #1
  • Superboy #172
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136
  • Superman #235
  • World’s Finest #201

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


Justice League of America #88


JLA_v.1_88“The Last Survivors of Earth!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

This is an interesting cover for an unusual issue.  Notably, this comic has the distinction of being the only pre-crisis JLA book to feature Mera on the cover, and she does look good there with the rest of the League.  It’s a shame she didn’t get into action with them more often.  The cover itself is indicative of the era, showing the JLA having failed in some fashion, a common trope, but interestingly, there is some truth to this particular tableau.  The issue inside is a fun one, if a bit odd, as the heroes really don’t have much impact on the outcome.

The tale begins with a strange golden spaceship, which has a pretty cool design, speeding towards Earth as a robotic voice addresses its passengers.  The voice reminds its charges that they are the people of Mu, which, like Atlantis, is a legendary lost continent, and a very promising addition to the mythos of the DCU.  The mechanical voice continues, recounting how the citizens of Mu had used their superior technology to flee what they thought was a dying world, but their return, thousands of years later, has revealed a flourishing orb.

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The people of Mu, being kept alive by their machines, are now degenerated and decadent from their enforced isolation and inaction, and they can only respond with hatred to the modern inhabitants of Earth who they assume must be inferior to themselves.  Dillin achieves a pretty creepy, horrific effect with his portrayal of the Muians, vast rows of stiff, motionless figures, all screaming mindlessly for blood.  It’s like a much darker version of Wall-E, and as we’ll see, it serves a similar theme.

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Meanwhile, blissfully unaware of the threat approaching from space, a trio of Justice Leaguers pursue a “busman’s holiday,” working at an archeological dig in the South Seas Islands.  Carter and Shiera Hall have been joined by Hal Jordan of all people, and they are working to uncover clues to lost civilizations.  I love these types of glimpses into the ‘off-duty’ lives of the Leaguers, especially when they are hanging out together.  This is a really fun setup, and I would have enjoyed spending more time with these characters here, but Shiera quickly turns up a tablet inscribed with strange symbols that seem to point to the mysterious continent of Mu.  Just then, lightning strikes her out of a clear sky!  Green Lantern is able to blunt its force, but she’s still stunned, so the heroes suit up, with Hawkman taking his wife to a hospital while Hal contacts the League.

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In a touch that I quite enjoyed, Aquaman was on his way to join the trio to lend his services in interpreting whatever they found.  If you’re working on lost continents and civilizations, what better expert to call in than the king of just such a place?  It’s a really cool detail, and it proves wise, as he fills Hal in on what the Atlanteans know about Mu: it was an advanced civilization in the pacific that disappeared mysteriously.  The Sea King also brings news that strange disasters are occurring in the Gulf of Persia, the Mekong Delta, and the Coast of California, all of which point to Mu (though how they do so is quite unexplained).  The Emerald Crusader divides the League’s forces to deal with the different disasters and heads out himself, only to be struck by lightning as well, just managing to save himself at the last moment!

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In California, Batman, Green Arrow, and Black Canary arrive in the Batjet, but there is some tension in the air, as Batman remembers a kiss aboard the Satellite.  When they land, Black Canary pulls the Dark Knight aside, much to Arrow’s chagrin.  After telling Ollie that she’ll talk with whoever she care to, she tells Batman that she wants his advice on how to deal with the hot-headed archer, and she came to him because she thinks of him as a brother!  Ouch!  Bats is stuck in the one trap not even he can escape, the friend zone!  Nonetheless, he takes it like a man, and when the Emerald Archer starts flipping out and demands to take off, the Masked Manhunter even lets them use his plane.  (Real mature, Ollie.  It’s not like lives are at stake or anything.)  It’s a surprising but enjoyable little scene, with a bit of humor and just a touch of pathos, as Batman realizes that the attraction he feels is one-sided.

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Back on the other side of the world, Superman and the Atom approach the Persian Gulf, where refugees are fleeing a violent set of earthquakes.  The readers get a glimpse of the culprit, a golden medallion, an artifact of Mu, worn about the neck of a respected Iranian man, which serves as a transmitter for the destructive energies of the Mu spacecraft.  The heroes labor in ignorance, however, with Superman doing his best to help the evacuation and save lives while the Atom heads to a lab to try and sort out what is going on.  He stops a few looters and then gets to work, eventually determining the center of the disturbances, but not their cause.

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As the heroes head towards the epicenter of the quakes, the medallion’s owner smashes it, unwittingly ending the disaster.  Notably, the man, a devout Muslim, is portrayed as wise and selfless in a very positive and sympathetic treatment of Islam for a comic from 1971.  We even get an editor’s note providing a touch of background for the religion, which is surprising.

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At the same time, in Vietnam, the Flash has his hands full with an out of control monsoon.  Floods are destroying the country, and the Fastest Man Alive is run ragged trying to save lives.  While he labors, a young woman accustomed to tragedy prays to her household gods, another artifact of Mu.

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In another surprising touch, we’re told her husband was killed by the Viet Cong and her son by American napalm, an unexpected glimpse of the ongoing tragedy unfolding in Vietnam, and one that is handled with an unusually light touch.  Just as Green Arrow and Black Canary arrive and mark the center of the disturbance with a flare, the young woman smashes her idol in rage at its failure to protect her family, ending the storms.

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JusticeLeague88-23Finally, in California, Batman is left alone to confront the arriving Muian ship, and his valiant but foolhardy barehanded attack against the technological marvel, ends in defeat.  It’s a shame he didn’t have an advanced jet with all kinds of weapons on hand.  Once again, Green Arrow’s temper gets everyone in trouble.  The League just might be better off without him.

The people of Mu have their robotic caretaker snare a youth off of the street to interrogate, trying to discover how their attacks have been defeated.  The young man tells gives them a fiery response about how they are really jealous of the freedom and life that regular humans have, and then escapes the ship.  When it takes off, something suddenly goes wrong and it crashes into the sea, incidentally killing hundreds or thousands of Muians.

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When his friends ask him what happened, the young man informs them that he threw a wrench into the craft’s engines, thus saving the day….and also committing a touch of genocide!  The story ends with the Leaguers comparing notes and realizing that none of them ended the threats.  Finally, Aquaman recommends that they write this case up as “unexplained.”

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Yay!  They’re all dead!

This is a fun issue, though the final resolution is really rather too sudden and random, and I’m not quite sure what we’re supposed to make of all of this.  The final narration stresses the theme of the Muians’ plight, the dangers of overreliance on machines, but the message is a tad muddled in delivery.  There’s something here about the triumph of human nature over machines, but it doesn’t quite get developed.  This idea is apparently in the zeitgeist, as we’ve just seen an Aquaman issue on the dangers of over-mechanization.

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JusticeLeague88-10 - CopyDespite the slightly awkward ending, there are a lot of neat elements in this tale, interesting and thoughtful little touches, like having Aquaman be called in as an expert in lost civilizations, some decently graceful attempts at exposing readers to other cultures, and even a little romantic intrigue.  The lost continent of Mu itself is a really fascinating concept, and it’s a shame it didn’t get a bit more development here, though that’s often the case for comics of this era.  I’m curious if anyone else ever made anything of the seeds planted in this story.  The threat the heroes face is one well suited to the League, and it’s an interesting change of pace that the team doesn’t actually save the day.  Most everyone gets something to do, though Aquaman gets the short end of the stick, as usual.  Dillin’s art is uneven in this one, alternately very strong and rather awkward, but for the most part he turns out a very pretty book.  There are a few just strange looking panels, though, like Batman’s awkward run.  In any event, this is an enjoyable read without the weirdness of the some of our previous issues.  I’ll give this one a solid 3.5 Mintuemen.

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New Gods #1


New_Gods_v.1_1Orion Fights for Earth!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

Now here we go!  Kirby’s New Gods book is, unsurprisingly, the core of his New Gods saga, and it is here where we really begin to learn what’s behind everything we’ve seen teased in the other books.  The cover copy declares that this is “an epic for our times,” and that is a fitting description for the adventure that lies inside.  After all, an epic is usually defined as a long narrative poem of high tone and style dealing with the deeds of a powerful hero, often across a backdrop of the fantastic, and, other than the lack of verse, Kirby’s book does match up to that definition fairly well.  It is certainly a story that is larger than life, mythic in scope and proportions, and that is obvious even here at the very beginning.  In his other Fourth World books, the King has been introducing interesting and exciting new concepts, innovating in smaller ways, but with this book, Kirby begins to do that which he had done in Marvel in the 60s, create something completely new.

The world he conjures is unlike anything seen before, at least in DC Comics.  There are similarities to his Asgardian adventures and the cosmic aspects of his Fantastic Four, but there is a scope here, an imaginative intensity, that is unprecedented.  These are truly new myths being created before our eyes, with just that type of archetypal power, and the end result, however flawed in the particulars as it can be on occasion, is still something incredible.  I love these stories, and it is really a breathtaking experience to go back and read them in the context of what was going on at the time.  Reading them cold in the 21st Century only allows you to experience them obliquely.  You don’t realize how incredibly groundbreaking they were, because what they accomplished has in the decades since become commonplace as swarms of imitators have flooded comics with similar work.  Yet, seeing Kirby’s Forth World burst onto the scene in this book in 1971 really puts into perspective just how revolutionary Kirby was, as he always was.

This first issue is no exception, and from the beginning, you can tell you’re in for something special.  I have to say, though, that the cover is not particularly impressive.  The figure of Orion is a striking one, but the weird coloring has never appealed to me.  I’ve always preferred the recolored versions I’ve seen.  Nonetheless, what’s within does not disappoint.  The tale starts with the fall of the old gods.  In an incredible Kirby splash page, he tells with remarkable narrative efficiency of the Twilight of the Gods, of Ragnarok.  These old gods, who look rather suspiciously like Kirby’s Asgardians, battle one another in an apocalyptic scene, and with a single page, the King wipes away what he had once created in order to begin afresh.  It’s beautifully fitting on many levels.

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The conflict ends in the destruction of the world of the gods, which is torn in two, and the two new orbs are left floating in space.  We aren’t told yet, but these will become New Genesis and Apokolips, the eternally opposed homeworlds of the New Gods.  Kirby’s narration throughout this section is, quite honestly, probably some of the best prose he’s ever written.  He really manages to capture the epic tenor he sets out for, and though sections of the book can get a bit clunky, the opening pages set an impressive tone.

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Across the vastness of space comes the dramatic figure of Orion, possessor of the “Astro Force,” whatever that means, a warrior who we meet as he returns home to New Genesis, and we’re treated to some incredibly striking visuals of its beautiful floating city and Cyclopean architecture.  He’s greeted by the lighthearted Lightray, a lightning quick young man who flies circles around the dour Orion and implores him to stay in the paradisaical city and “learn to laugh again.”

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Their conversation reveals our first hints at Orion’s dual nature, and we get a sense that he is a troubled soul and more than meets the eye.  The warrior has been summoned home to meet with his father, and the New Gods’ leader, Highfather.  The very patriarchal looking Highfather leads his son to “the chamber of the Source,” where they see a white stone wall, their “link with the Source.”  The idea of “the Source” provides a suitably vague and cosmic…well, source, for the powers of good, while still allowing for a surprising compatibility with the concept of the one God and thus folding in rather nicely with DC’s lightly drawn cosmology, even jiving peacefully with my own religious sensibilities.

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As the pair stands before the wall, they are joined by Metron, an eternal scholar, a being of intellect, whose outlook has something in common with the cold logic of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.  It seems there is no love lost between Orion and this newcomer, and their verbal sparring is only interrupted when Highfather communes with this mysterious Source, and a in very biblical image, a fiery finger writes upon the wall and “having writ, Moves on.”  The message it leaves behind is “Orion to Apokolips–then to earth–then to WAR.”  It’s a portentous declaration, but Highfather reminds Orion that, though the Source advises, they still have the freedom to choose, and it is this freedom that separates those of New Genesis from Apokolips.  The young man’s choice leads him across the vast distances between worlds, to war!  As he takes his leave, Metron offers a cryptic statement that reveals he knows that Orion’s true origins lie on Apokolips, and Highfather angrily swears him to secrecy.  I quite like the celestial scholar’s line, “How wonderfully wise is the Source!  Who is more ready to fight the father– than the son!”  It illustrates the archetypal dimensions of the story Kirby is spinning.

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To Apokolips Orion flies, and our first glimpse of the grim, gray world is quite stunning, with its ashen surface and massive fire pits.  It looks every inch the archetypal Hell, and as he travels above it, Orion’s thoughts inform us that it is the opposite of New Genesis, a world dedicated to conquest and domination, to the extermination of freedom.  His reconnaissance is interrupted by a trio of Apokaliptian shock troopers, the parademons, which starts a running battle as Orion faces various waves of enemies, including heavy cavalry mounted on giant, vicious dogs!

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Most of the troops are visually interesting and imaginatively designed, and the action looks good in Kirby’s wonderfully dynamic style.  In the various skirmishes, we begin to get a sense of Orion’s lust for battle and the dangers of his temper.  Finally, the warrior makes his way to the palace, only to discover that Darkseid has already gone to Earth, but his visit does not go unremarked, as the titanic tyrant’s son, Kalibak the Cruel, is there to greet him.  Their battle is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Metron, who has come to hurry Orion on his way.

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ng01-29The scholar warns the warrior of Darkseid’s plans, telling him that the Apokaliptian monarch even now works on a device that will allow him to search all of the minds on Earth for the mysterious and sinister ‘Anti-Life Equation.’  Before vanishing as mysteriously as he appeared, he also reveals that Darkseid began his search there on Apokolips with a quartet of kidnapped humans.  The warrior frees the captives, and holding Kalibak off, opens a boom tube to Earth to help them escape.

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Then to Earth they travel, leaving a raving Kalibak behind them, swearing revenge.  Once there, Orion explains to the four he rescued that there is a conflict brewing of universal significance, something far beyond their understanding, and the book ends with him shouting a challenge to Darkseid, a challenge which Darkseid, from his hidden fastness, answers.

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ng01-20Then to War!  Wow!  Summarizing this book was a real challenge.  Since so much of this is new and since there are so many big ideas flying around, it is tough to be brief when talking about this story.  In fact, I left some interesting moments untouched, like the glimpse of New Genesis’s culture revealed in Highfather’s reverence for the innocence of youth, which itself is an effective shorthand for his world’s love of freedom and for the stakes for which this galactic game shall be played.  In general, this is a great story, though it will eventually be overshadowed by what comes after.  Kirby’s art is a little rough in some spots, and of course Colletta’s inking doesn’t do him many favors.  None the less, the visual imagination at play is wonderful, with both New Genesis and Apokolips fitting perfectly into their archetypal roles.  Kirby’s imagination is clearly unleashed in this book, and the fruits of his labors are wondrous.  There are Promethean structures everywhere, and many panels stress the scale of the world we’ve entered, as Orion is shrunk to insignificance before a starfield or an ominous edifice.

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ng01-16I’ve mentioned how archetypal this story is, and that is an important part of its success, as the King is essentially creating a new myth, working in the broad, bright colors of legend, evoking the eternal struggle of the Norse Gods, the Olympian war against the Titans, or similar cosmic conflicts.  This is a larger scale, a much larger scale, than anything we’ve seen in DC Comics, and clearly already more fully realized than any similar worldbuilding we’ve seen in the last year.  The only parallels can be found in Kirby’s own work in Marvel, but with the Fourth World the King seeks to surpass even those heights .  Think about how astonishing this book must have been when it hit the stands amongst the mundane everyday stories filling DC’s books.  Even this month’s Justice League tale, which has some measure of imaginative reach, feels positively cramped and halfhearted by comparison.  Despite that, he’s doing some pretty solid character work even from this first chapter, especially considering the era.  There are mysteries surrounding Orion, and a lot of personality at play in everyone we meet.  The impression of depth is downright palpable, and you just know that this conflict sprawls far beyond the pages of this book.  What’s more, we can see the lasting impact of this story in the fact that so many of its elements, even just from this first entry, have gone on to become central elements of the DC Universe.  It’s a great beginning, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series!  I’ll give this first chapter 4.5 Minutemen, as it loses just a little for the clunkier moments.

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Superboy #172


Superboy_Vol_1_172“The World of the Super-Ape!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Brotherly Hate!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: George Tuska
Letterer: Joe Letterese

Oh boy, we’ve got gorillas on the cover!  According to legend, DC’s indefatigable editor, Julie Schwartz, believed (and not without some reasonable circumstantial evidence) that a gorilla on the cover of a comic would boost sales.  Supposedly, the effects were so marked in the Silver Age that all of his editors wanted gorillas for their covers, and he had to institute a policy of no more than one gorilla cover a month!  Whatever the case may be, there sure are tons of gorilla covers from this era of comics!  This particular offering is a fairly striking one, and there’s a nice mystery, which gets a fairly good buildup in the story itself.  As for that very cover story, it has a really ludicrous premise, but the whole thing is handled surprisingly well.  While the concept is very Silver Age, the writing feels a tad more mature.

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The tale opens with a recapitulation of Superman’s origin, but this time, there are two rockets headed for Earth.  One crashes in Smallville, and the other, strangely enough, in the heart of Africa, where its inhabitant is adopted by the apes.  Then the scene shifts forward 15 years, where an ivory poacher vanishes after an encounter with a strange shadowy figure.  The preserve officers call in Superboy when they are stumped by the lack of tracks.  A second group of poachers, out to capture gorillas for a zoo, also go missing, once again accosted by a shadowy figure.

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There’s a nice effect to these mysterious attacks, and Robbins continues to delay the final reveal of the antagonist, granting the first half of this comic a cool, old-school monster movie feel.  Tension mounts from scene to scene as the mystery deepens.  The payoff isn’t quite as good as I had hoped, however.  Eventually, Superboy decides that there must be connection between the apes the poachers were hunting and the mysterious disappearances, so he dresses as a gorilla in order to have the primates lead him back to their tribe….which is pretty silly, but okay.  The apes oblige, and in their cave, the Boy of Steel sees strange statues, idols, and even a magnificent throne, all carved in the likeness of a massive gorilla, and carved by intelligent beings.  Brown does a good job rendering these scenes and granting them a mysterious atmosphere.
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Inside the cave, Superboy discovers the captured poachers making a break for it, one of them having secreted a gun when they were taken, and he reveals himself in order to help their escape.  The gorillas pose no threat to him until, all of a sudden, a SUPER ape appears, one speaking Kryptonese!  That’s right, he is confronted by a flying, invulnerable gorilla, complete with cape and tights, no less!  They fight but find themselves too evenly matched, even clashing with heat vision in a nice panel.
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The Boy of Steel decides to try to solve riddle of this obvious fugitive from his homeworld, so he heads back in time and observes a second renegade scientist, the anthropologist an-kal, sending a cybernetically enhanced ape to safety and cursing the Science Council for not approving of his work.  Oookay.  This guy is even crazier than ol’ Jor-El!  What is it with Kryptonian scientists?
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“They can be a great people […] They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son…err…simian.”

Back in the modern day, Superboy rounds up the escaping poachers and brings them right back to the super-ape, Yango, telling his simian simulacrum that they don’t need to fight.  The youth realizes that the gorilla has dedicated himself to protecting the animal world as he has the human world, and so he is delivering the criminals to his justice and trusting, for some reason, that the gorillas won’t just murder them.  They part as friends, Superboy to continue his work in man’s world, Yango, in that of the animals.
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What a goofy concept, and what a goofy visual!  Yango, a gorilla in a full costume, looks pretty silly.  Despite that, this is a fun issue, and the super-fight is pretty entertaining.  It’s also interesting to see Robbins take on the issue of poaching, however obliquely, way back in 1971.  We see in this another attempt on DC’s part for social relevance, and, interestingly, the message doesn’t overwhelm the adventure, unlike some Green Lantern yarns I could name.  In fact, it rather fades into the background amidst the energetic rush of the story.  The first half of the comic is really the best, as the mystery of what is taking the poachers unfolds, but the reveal of Yango himself is, I have to admit, not what I expected.  I’m curious if this oddball character ever appeared again, but I don’t think he did.  If any of you readers know differently, please let me know!  Despite the silliness of the super-simian, I have to say, I enjoyed this read.  The whole tale has something of an Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan feel to it, and that’s a good thing.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as the yarn is entertaining despite its goofiness.
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“Brotherly Hate!”


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We’ve got a real treat in the back of this book this month!  After too long in limbo, the Legion of Superheroes returns to the pages of DC Comics!  This starts what will become a regular backup feature for quite some time.  Eventually, the Legion will actually muscle Superboy out of his own book!  This is good news to me, as I’ve really enjoyed the daring deeds of these futuristic do-gooders.  Our story this month is a solid one, with a touch of family drama flavoring the adventure.  It begins with a Legion rocket arriving at the “Interplanetary Bank,” where they discover that the “guardian beasts” have been disabled.  I’m already 100% onboard, as a setting in which there is something called an “Interplanetary Bank” and which is guarded by giant monsters seems pretty promising to me!  The Legion team, Lightning Lad, Timberwolf, and Light Lass discover that the perpetrator was none other than Lightning Lord, the brother of Lad and Lass!

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We get a brief reprise of how the trio got their powers, and then, to my delight, we get a nice origin for the Legion itself!  Young Lightning Lad, Garth Ranzz, travels to Earth looking for his brother, and on the ship, he meets the future Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl, as well as the “richest man in the universe,” R.J. Brande.  When a gang of assassins try to kill Brande, the trio intervene, each using their powers to pitch in.  Brande is thankful, but he is also inspired, so he offers to set the three youths up as superheroes, citing Superboy and Supergirl as examples of teenage heroes.  They all agree, and the Legion is formed.  I’d read summaries of this event, but it is really fun to actually see it played out.

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With their flashback over, the team tracks Lightning Lord’s ship, confronting him on a barren and rocky world.  When they confront him, Lightning Lad tries to talk his brother down, but when he refuses, both of the Legionnaire siblings hesitate, causing Timberwolf to spring into action.  The high-voltage villain tries to zap him, but Lightning Lass throws herself in front of the beam to save the boy she loves.  This enrages Timberwolf, but Lightning Lad insists that he face his brother alone.

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They are evenly matched, and they throw electrical bolts back in forth to little effect.  Yet, Lightning Lad backs his brother against a metallic cliffside and ricochets a blast into his back, knocking him out, but turning his hair white in the process.  Their sinister sibling captured, the heroes find themselves hoping that he will reform, but something tells me that’s a tad unlikely.

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This is an all-too-brief adventure, but it is a fun one.  Bridwell manages to add just enough pathos to the confrontation to make it interesting, and the action is entertaining.  I have to say, though, I think my favorite part is a look at the Legion’s founding.  I suppose I share something of Bridwell’s love of continuity.  That sense of history, of more stories than exist on the page, is key for the “impression of depth” that is such an important part of a well-realized setting.  I’ll give this fun little Legion legend 3.5 Minutemen.

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What a set of stories!  We finally get the debut of New Gods, and we get the return of the Legion to boot!  I’ll call that a win.  This finishes off our penultimate batch of books, bringing us to the end of the month, a hearty dose (an overdose?) of Superman!  Please join me again soon for my commentary on those comics as I trudge further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 3)

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Welcome to another dose of Bronze Age goodness!  We’re moving through March of 1971, and I’ve got a pair of issues and a foursome of stories for you today, my good readers.  I hope that y’all will enjoy my coverage of these comics!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #398
  • Adventure Comics #404
  • Batman #230
  • Brave and Bold #94
  • Detective Comics #409
  • The Flash #204
  • Forever People #1
  • G.I. Combat #146
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82
  • Justice League of America #88
  • New Gods #1
  • Superboy #172
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136
  • Superman #235
  • World’s Finest #201

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


Detective Comics #409


Detective_Comics_409“Man in the Eternal Mask!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Night of the Sharp Horns!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got a decent if not particularly spectacular Batman tale in our headline slot.  It features a mystery that is more about the ‘why’ than the ‘who,’ which culminates in an appropriately dramatic confrontation.  The story begins with an unseen assailant attacking a portrait hanging in a museum and scrawling “Die Jinx, Die!” onto the canvas (shades of Ace Ventura!).  In the morning, the vandalism is discovered, and neither the curator nor the security guard can figure out why or how the artwork was attacked.  After all, it’s a portrait of a beloved philanthropist who no-one had cause to hate.

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Meanwhile, Batman pays a visit to the artist of the piece, Rene Leclerq, where he is due for his own portrait.  That’s a bit odd.  I can’t really see the Dark Knight just standing around in an artist’s studio when he could be prowling the streets.  ‘Well, there’ve been 10 muggings and 3 murders while I sat around here, but that is a darn good likeness!’  Robbins needs the Masked Manhunter to get involved in the plot, but I have to think there was a better way to accomplish that.  Either way, when Leclerq prepares to resume work on the hero’s portrait, he finds it has also been defaced with a similar message.

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Batman reasons that, though there are many people who might find him a jinx, the only connection between this incident and the first is the artist himself.  Though Leclerq can think of no-one who would hold a grudge against him, the Caped Crusader arranges a trap, hoping that a public unveiling of the repaired painting will flush the deranged art critic into the open.  Yet, when the painting is revealed, there isn’t a sign of a telling reaction from anyone in the crowd, though the pair do notice Tracy Calhoun, the “Adonis Athlete,” a football star that the artist had painted five years before.  The Law of Conservation of Detail should make you sit up and take notice of this.

That night, Batman lies in wait for the anti-art attacker, and when a dark figure lashes out at the portrait, he finds more than he bargained for, as it leaps to life and grapples his knife away from him.  The Dark Knight has posed as his own portrait, which is a tad Looney Toons-ish, but I’ll give it a pass.  After a struggle, the vandal lands a lucky blow and knocks the hero out for a while.  Sadly, this doesn’t quite count for our Head-Blow Headcount, as Bats takes it on the chin and not the back of the noggin.

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Nonetheless, when he staggers to his feet, he realizes that the fight actually pointed him to a suspect, as his opponent had a “chin like a rock,” and was obviously very athletic.  This makes him think of Tracy Calhoun, who was described in just such a fashion during his heyday.

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The mystery of why Calhoun would want to destroy Leclerq’s art remains, and when the Masked Manhunter goes to find the artist, he discovers that he’s been called to an unknown client’s house in the middle of the night.  Deducing what is afoot, the Caped Crusader speeds to Calhoun’s house while the young man confronts the artist and explains why he hates him.

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Apparently, on the last day of their sittings, Leclerq begged for a few minutes more after their time had run out, and Calhoun reluctantly agreed.  Then, late for a date, he sped away recklessly and suffered a terrible car wreck that left him horribly scarred.  When the artist protests that he’s as handsome as he ever was, the embittered athlete removes one of those ubiquitous life-like masks, which are apparently available in every corner store in comic universes, to reveal a terrible, shattered visage.

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Clearly insane after the loss of his good looks, which he let define him, Calhoun blames Leclerq for the accident caused by his own recklessness, and he’s decided that the man must suffer.  The former footballer first destroys his own portrait with a saber, then prepares to pinion the painter as well.  Just then, Batman arrives, and while Calhoun holds him at bay for a time, eventually he is once again hoisted by his own petard, as he strikes his portrait while preparing a blow, and the entire heavy painting collapses off the wall, crushing him.  He had accidentally cut the supports when he attacked the artwork, and the object of his hatred destroyed him.  Unfortunately, the final image is rather more comical than tragic, with the madman’s arms and legs poking out of the canvas like he’s a cartoon character.

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This is a solid enough story, and the ‘attractive person turned hideous and embittered’ is an old archetype that still works pretty well.  It was nicely subverted in the Freedom Force villain Shadow, but we’ve seen it played straight many times in comics.  Dr. Doom, anyone?  We certainly all know folks who are too concerned with their appearances, so it isn’t hard to imagine someone so obsessed that a loss of their beauty would send them over the edge.

I enjoy the irony of the final confrontation, as a man who has destroyed his own life by his choices insists on blaming someone else, only to have his continued self-destructive choices finally finish the job.  It’s not the most memorable story, but it does its work well enough, even if it is a bit too rushed to give us much of a real mystery.  I’ll give it an average 3 Minutemen.

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“Night of the Sharp Horns”


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The backup tale, however, once again proves better than the headline.  We pick back up with Batgril’s adventures in Spain as she searches for the mysterious figure who had killed the arrogant but aging El Granados’s bull the night before.  She had just discovered that another sword was missing from the estate, so she takes to the grounds in order to keep a watch.  Her lonely vigil is rewarded with the sight of a cloaked figure slipping into the pastures where he begins to perform multiple passes with the chosen bull, El Aguila.  Babs thinks that his athleticism and agility mark him as Paco, the young firebrand who had rescued the older bullfighter in the ring during his last performance. 

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Detective409-25Just as the stranger prepares to slay his bovine opponent, Batgirl intervenes, snaring his sword in her cape.  When the bull charges, she rescues the trespasser and realizes that her suspicions were correct.

Yet, the young man denies that he had killed the previous bull, and when he escapes (ungrateful punk), she finds her hands full dealing with the now unencumbered El Aguila.  Making like a Minoan, the daring dame leaps over the bull’s horns and runs to the estate’s arena for safety.

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Yet, that safety proves short-lived, as a dark figure appears riding a massive bull!  Charging her like some particularly awesome cavalryman, the bull-rider tries to skewer the young heroine with a sword.  Fortunately, Babs has some skill with a rope, and she lassos the bull, sending her assailant flying into the air.  After hog-tying the beast in a fashion that would make the Vigilante proud, she confronts her attacker, who is revealed to be Manolos, the aged servant of El Granados!

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What was he doing killing his master’s bovine opponents?  He tells the girl detective that he was still faithful, but his master was getting too old to continue his career, so he had set out to kill the bulls before they killed the bullfighter, knowing that former champion was too stubborn to retire.  El Granados himself arrives and confronts his old friend.  While angry at first, he realizes the truth of Manolos’ words, and he agrees not to fight again.  As they reconcile, Batgirl vanishes.

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It’s a nice ending, but it sort of leaves an important point unaddressed.  While everyone can probably forgive the killing of the bulls (except PETA), Manolos did also straight-up try to murder Batgirl.  He attacked her with a sword while mounted on a charging bull.  I don’t think he just wanted to scare her!  That bit of craziness aside, this is a good story, and the two-part tale gives us a surprising amount of character development and drama, while also delivering some nice action.  Batgirl herself comes off much better in this half, as she doesn’t get knocked out by a hat or anything equally embarrassing.  I’m impressed by how successful Robbins is at creating a character-driven mystery with such little space to work with.  The reconciliation between the bullfighter and his mentor is suitably touching, and Paco’s arrogant attempts at stealing his rival’s glory provides a solid, if somewhat unlikely, red herring.  I was impressed with Don Heck’s work on this feature, and I’m not always a big fan of his superhero art.  He turned out several really pretty pages and nice, dynamic action sequences here.  In general, this is a good backup story, doing a lot with a little.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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The Flash #204


The_Flash_Vol_1_204“The Great Secret Identity Expose!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Mind-Trap”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Murphy Anderson

Our Flash headliner for today is something of an oddball.  There’s really not that much too it, and if it weren’t for the fact that last month’s bonkers issue was penned by Robert Kanigher, who is also the schizophrenic scribe responsible for this screwball story, I’d think that it was an attempt to immediately bury the bizarre retcon of that tale.  As is, the yarn seems somewhat pointless.

This outing begins the morning after last issue’s decade-spanning daring-do, with Barry and his wife celebrating their safe return from the future and reminiscing about Iris’s uncovered origin.  I always enjoy these little domestic moments between the couple, and this one has the potential to be charming, though not much is made of it.  They are admiring the locket that had been sent into the past with her when their reverie is interrupted by a call that sets them on a new adventure.  The call summons Iris to cover a banquet honoring a business tycoon, and at the function, the reporter suddenly leaps up and declares that the guest of honor is, in fact, a fraud!

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Barry, thinking fast (‘natch), pulls her out of the ballroom, only to discover she has no idea she said anything.  Just then, the police arrive to confirm her declaration.  Apparently, the fellow is a fraud, having kidnapped the real business magnate and masqueraded as him.  Determined newshoud that she is, Iris charges off to get the story, leaving her husband stunned.

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He changes in to the Flash, just in case, and on their way back from the banquet, the couple sees a pair of disabled musicians playing for donations on the street-corner.  Suddenly, Iris declares that these two are really disguised fugitives.  Naturally, the hidden hoods don’t take too kindly to this, and the Flash has to take them out as they fill the air with bullets, for all the good it does them.  Once more, Iris has no idea what she’s done and refuses to believe either her husband or the shouted threats of the captured gangsters who promise that their organization, the Generic Gang, will get revenge for her actions.

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The next day we get the most interesting part of the issue, where the JLA have a cameo as they arrive en mass to testify in court about one of their cases.  What makes this interesting is that here we’ve got a story that implies the existence of something equivalent to the cape laws in the Watchmen, where superheroes can give testimony in costume, which is neat in a nerdy kind of way.  And after all, nerdy kinds of neat are really our bread and butter here at The Greylands.

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Iris is a very stubborn woman.  I sympathize, Barry!

Anyway, as Batman prepares to take the stand, Iris suddenly leaps up and reveals that he is really Bruce Wayne!  Fortunately, once more Barry is quick on the uptake and he chatters his teeth at super-speed in order to scramble the soundwaves of her dramatic courtroom confession.  I guess that makes sense in a comic-booky kind of way, but it’s a bit of a stretch.

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Batman, who of course can read lips, realizes what has just happened as the Flash scoops the renegade reporter up and zips her out of the courtroom.  In a telephone booth  Barry again confronts his wife with her actions, and she swears that she doesn’t even known the League’s identities.  Suddenly, Superman summons the Scarlet Speedster and declares that he’s needed for an emergency meeting of the League.  The Fastest Man Alive has to do some fast talking as he tries to explain what even he doesn’t understand.  The JLA is understandably concerned, and Flash tells his teammates that there is clearly something going on and vows that if he doesn’t get it sorted out in 24 hours, they’ll never see him or his wife again.

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Superman is being super-pushy.

When he goes to find Iris, the Flash discovers that she’s been kidnapped by members of the Generic Gang, which is gunning for her.  They hustle her into an armored truck, and somehow the man who can move at the speed of light can’t get to their victim before the doors close.  The Fastest Man Alive takes after the fleeing gangsters, taking their pursuit car out in a blink and conveniently overhearing that the door of the armored truck is rigged to blow if opened.

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Ahead, the drivers of the truck bail out, sending their vehicle careening into the drink.  The hoods hose down the dock with machine gun fire, but the Flash takes them out easily in an admittedly fun sequence.  He dives off of the dock and tears the armored doors open by projecting his vibrations forward like a cutting beam, which seems a bit out of his usual line, and then zips Iris away before the explosives can blow.

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I do enjoy how the entire sequence takes place while the truck is in the air, a nice display of Flash’s speed, if a bit awkwardly handled.

Determined that Iris can’t just be left around to blurt out secret identities willy-nilly, the Scarlet Speedster determines to go to the future with her where both she and his secrets will be safe.  His wife objects that he can’t give up his life (regardless of the fact that he’s also giving up her life), and he replies that she’s his wife, for better or worse, so where she goes, he goes, which is fairly sweet.  However, on the way, their progress is halted, and her locket begins to glow and emit energy waves.  Somehow Barry deduces from basically no evidence that the locket had absorbed some weird temporal energies, and it was the source of her sudden ESP, so they return to their own time and Iris agrees never to wear the necklace again.  Problem solved.

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This is a weird little tale.  It’s entertaining enough, but the resolution is pretty random, about as random as the gimmicky conflict that drives the plot itself.  The Generic Gang are little more than mobile obstacles to Barry, offering no real threat to the Fastest Man Alive.  This supervillain drought is really starting to get old.  One wonders just why writers were for so long unwilling to use Flash’s villains, who comprise one of the best rogue’s gallery in comics.  It makes absolutely no sense, though I suppose it’s indicative of a  larger trend.  Super villains are very scarce in general these days.

While the League’s cameo is neat, Kanigher doesn’t really do much with their interview with the speedster.  Almost any line spoken by one of the heroes could have been assigned to another one without making any difference.  Barry’s willingness to give up his life to stay with his wife is sweet, but it really feels like he gives up on solving the problem way too easily.  With all the resources that the League has to bring to bear on something like this, it seems worth at least one visit to the Satellite or something.  In the end, this is a forgettable and somewhat pointless little story, with a goofy, logic-leaping conclusion.  On the plus side, Irv Novick’s art is great on the Flash, if a little light on details in the action sequences.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  Man, Kanigher’s score are just all over the place!

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In a  fun bit of synchronicity, “The Ballad of Barry Allan” came on my radio station while I was writing this feature.  Very apropos!


“The Mind Trap”


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We get another Steve Skeates penned Kid Flash backup here, and I’m always happy to see part of the SAG team in action.  The story Skeates spins is very promising, but unfortunately it’s rather starved for space.  Its premise is an old but enduring one, featuring a mind-hopping villain, something of a telepathic virus, traveling from host to host.  It has shades of many a horror tale, though this version doesn’t manage to harness a harrowing horror tone. 

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It begins with Wally West and the rest of his class on a tour of an exhibit on ancient Egypt at the local museum, hearing a legend about a terrible tyrant, Pharaoh Rama-Skeet (Skeates having some fun at his own expense?), who swore that death wouldn’t stop his drive for power.  Just then, a car wreck outside attracts their attention, and the kids watch in wonder as a man pronounced dead suddenly stands up and hurries off in an imperious manner.  Wally switches into his ‘work’ clothes and takes after the apparently stunned man.  When he finds the fellow, the man touches him, and Kid Flash suddenly finds himself fighting a terrible mental battle, realizing that this is the spirit of Rama-Skeet trying to wrest control of his mind.

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Wally sinks into darkness and knows no more until he finally comes to himself several minutes later, having just touched someone else.  The young hero watches helplessly as the man undergoes the same mental trauma that he himself had faced, but he wonders why the spirit would leave a super speedster for a regular Joe.  He begins to suspect that the 15 minutes the ghost inhabited his mind might be all the still weakened Pharaoh can manage at once.  This is a bit of a jump, and if the story had more room to breathe, we might have seen this pattern repeated once or twice more to really establish it.  As is, Skeates is working at a feverish pace.

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In order to throw the power-mad phantom off his guard as he begins to rant and rave, Kid Flash kneels before him, but this is just a ploy, and the Fastest Boy Alive slams into super-speed, dragging the possessed man behind him.  He plans to keep the host helpless until the 15 minute limit is up in the hopes that the spirit will be destroyed by the host’s mind in that time.  Though the task is incredibly taxing on a body already exhausted by his mental struggle, the teen hero manages to keep up the pace until the Egyptian ghost runs out of time.  With a terrible cry, the specter departs, leaving his host confused but unharmed.  Exhausted but victorious, Kid Flash collapses to rest.

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This is a fine little story, but it could have been much, much better with some space to grow.  This kind of challenge, as Wally himself admits, is really out of his line, but his solution to the problem is really fairly brilliant.  Despite that, the very brief tale just didn’t have the time to develop the creepy atmosphere and mystery that these types of plots really thrive on, and the result is that the villain is both entirely forgettable (having almost no real dialog) and not terribly threatening.  That’s a shame, as this could have been much more.  I suppose we must judge a story on what it is and not what it could have been, so I will give this too-brief tale 3 Minutemen, as it is enjoyable if not impressive.

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P.S.: Interestingly, I am apparently not the only fan wondering where all the supervillains have gone.  This issue includes a letter demanding their return and marveling at their long absence.  Notably, this letter is written by future DC luminary, Bob Rozakis!  Rozakis, DC’s future Answer Man, got his start in these very letter columns, which would also be where he would do much of his work on the other side of the pen.  I love things like this, little traces of DC history buried in their letters.  How neat!


And on that note, I’ll wrap up today’s post.  I hope that y’all enjoyed my commentary and found something interesting and worth your time herein.  Though these weren’t the most amazing issues, they have their moments.  The real highlights of this month await in the books to come.  Our next post will introduce Forever People #1, the next Kirby Fourth World book, so don’t miss that!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: January 1971 (Part 3)

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Hello my dear readers, and welcome to my penultimate post about January 1971!  Today, we’ve got my first coverage of a Superboy issue, as well as some Superman’s Girlfriend, so we’ve got tons of super-action.  We’ve also got G.I. Combat, for a more serious story, and the trio are a good set of books.  Please join me as I work my way through them.

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 #396
  • Adventure Comics #401
  • Batman #228 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Brave and Bold #93
  • Detective Comics #407
  • G.I. Combat #145
  • Superboy #171
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #107
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135
  • Superman #232 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #233

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


G.I. Combat #145


gi_combat_145“Sand, Sun and Death”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor: Joe Kubert

“A Hatful of War”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Mort Drucker
Inker: Mort Drucker
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

“The Iron Punch”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: Arthur F. Peddy
Inker: Arthur F. Peddy

gicombat145-03“Hot Corner”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert

“Mile Long Step”
Writer: John Reed
Penciler: Jerry Grandenetti
Inker: Jerry Grandenetti

“Glory Drive”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert

“Missing: 320 Men”
Writer: Sam Glanzman
Penciler: Sam Glanzman
Inker: Sam Glanzman

The Haunted Tank crew rides again, and it seems we’re back in North Africa.  Once more, the ghostly guardian of the tank is singularly unhelpful, appearing in precisely one panel.  I’m beginning to grow frustrated with this book, despite the fact that most of its stories are fairly entertaining.  As I’ve said before, it just feels like a waste of a great concept when the ghost has no impact on the plot.

In this particular comic, J.E.B. tells Jeb that “there is more than one ghost in this battlefield,” which proves as pointlessly prophetic as usual.  Just as the tank commander begins to ask for something actually useful, the desert sands around them begin to erupt with tank fire, and the Stuart finds itself in the crosshairs of not one, not two, not three, but FIVE panthers!  It’s a wonderfully dynamic double-page spread, but it also seems ridiculously improbable that a light tank could last for five seconds in such a situation, much less actually get away.  The crew conducts a running fight as they flee, but eventually run out of ammo and escape into a dust storm.

The German commander pursues but loses them in the swirling sand.  Once the dust settles, the Tank is confronted with a strange sight, a battle damaged but intact B-25, just sitting in the middle of the desert.  Out of ammo and low on fuel and, more than anything else, just plain curious, the crew investigates.  They find the bomber’s co-pilot and gunners all dead, but the pilot is missing.  Suddenly, that very pilot appears, looking quite the worse for wear.  He holds them at gunpoint, and it quickly becomes apparent that he’s been driven mad by his experiences.

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The pilot, a lieutenant, was on a bombing mission with his crew, their very first combat mission, and they ran into an absolute forest of flak and fighter power.  Everyone onboard was killed but the pilot, and he turned back, limping the plane down into the desert.  He can’t face the reality that all of his men are dead.  Just then, the German armor shows up, and the Lieutenant agrees to help the tank crew hold them off, swearing he won’t fail his men a second time.  Arch, Slim, and Rick man the turret positions on the bomber, and Jeb himself, with the Lieutenants help, cooks up a surprise for the tanks.

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Now, here we get to an even more ridiculous moment, as the crew manages to take out two German tanks…with machine guns!  A B-25 is armed with a mixture of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns which MIGHT be able to mess up a lightly armored vehicle but would be about as useful against an actual battle tank as a spitball.  What’s more, the German armor apparently has a hard time hitting the gigantic, stationary plane.  It’s a cool scene, but it makes no sense!

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Well, improbable firepower aside, Jeb and the pilot sneak behind the tanks and hit them with Molotov cocktails, which is actually much more believable, especially because the loony Lieutenant gets gunned down while doing so.  The battle won, the pilot asks to be put back in the cockpit, and he passes away, determined to see his crew back home at last.

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This is an okay story, so far as it goes, though it’s got several really unbelievable bits, and I’m not even talking about the Confederate ghost!  It’s one thing to show your light tank, crewed by a heroic quartet and guided by a ghostly guardian, able to take out heavier opponents.  That is, technically speaking, possible, though it is wildly unlikely.  If you hit it just right, it’s within the realm of possibility that a Stuart’s main gun could knock out even a tiger tank if the stars were aligned properly.  On the other hand, a machine gun isn’t going to do more than scratch the paint of a medium or heavy tank.  At most, you might get lucky and put some rounds through the view ports. This kind of thing bothers me, especially in a setting like this that aims, to a certain degree, at verisimilitude.

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The pilot’s pitiful break from reality caused by his horrific first mission and the deaths of his crew is moderately affecting, and his delusional death manages to strike that melancholy note that so many of these stories strive for.  It’s also interesting that his decision to turn back is treated with sympathy and made justifiable in context.  That said, I don’t think he gets quite enough space to be entirely effective.  Of course, Russ Heath’s art is as beautiful and striking as usual.  He’s really a fantastic fit for this book.  In the end, this story is just so-so.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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Superboy #171


superboy_vol_1_171“Dark Strangler of the Seas!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson

This was a surprisingly enjoyable issue.  I had braced for some hokey silliness, though I had some hope because AquaBOY had a cameo, which seemed like fun.  I was surprised to find this comic very much a fitting offering for 1971.  Teaming Superboy and Aquaboy is a great idea, and I’m rather surprised that it took this long for DC to come up with it.  After all, what other DC hero could easily have been active at the same time as Superboy?  Batman was out traveling the world and getting his education, and everyone else was still living their regular lives for the most part.  Aquaman, however, was wandering the seas as a young man, and he could definitely have shared some adventures with the Boy of Steel.

The plot of this yarn centers around something that surprised me, namely, oceanic oil spills.  I didn’t expect to see this issue getting attention way back in 1971.  I thought that the focus on oil pollution was a bit more recent, centering around some of the big spills of the 80s and 90s.  Looking at a list of oil spills, though, I see that there were a few major ones around this time, so the issue would definitely have been in the zeitgeist.  The story itself begins in striking fashion, with a pair of fishermen struggling to pull in a strange catch, and when Superboy happens by and gives them a hand, a dark, humanoid shape is pulled up out of the surf.

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The Boy of Steel realizes that this is a human being covered in crude oil, and he rushes him to an industrial detergent factory, where, with the help of the workmen, he manages to clean the oil off and reveal…Aquaboy!  Holding his head above the tank to prevent the strange youth from drowning, Superboy unwittingly nearly dooms the young Marine Marvel.  In desperation, the Prince of the Sea slips out of his hands and catches his ‘breath’ underwater, taking the opportunity to explain to his super-powered savior what happened.

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In a surprisingly touching scene, Aquaboy relates how he encountered a dolphin covered in oil and drowning because of it.  Despite his best efforts to clean the oil off, the creature died before his eyes, and the Marine Monarch set out to seek revenge for the needless death.  He found an oil tanker, leaking a constant stream of crude, and they ignored his orders to heave-to.  Not to be deterred, he launched a one-man boarding action and started cracking heads, but he sliped in some oil and….oh no!  That’s right, it’s Head-Blow Headcount time, as he took a belaying pin to the back of the head and got knocked out.  The crew threw him overboard and then attempted to drown him in oil.  Fortunately, his finny friends towed him to shore, hoping humans could help their prince.

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superboy-171-0011Superboy is aghast at this callous disregard for life, and he agrees to help the young Sea Sleuth seek justice.  They fly to the offices of the tanker’s owners, Trans-East Oil Company, and they let them know that they’d better fix their fleet of tankers or face the consequences.  In a further sign of the shift in values going on in comics and in the culture, the company’s owners are classic industrialist villains, much more concerned with their bottom lines than any cost to the environment.  Shades of Captain Planet!

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Not to be denied, the youthful heroes decide to take matters into their own hands.  Aquaboy begins locating leaking tankers, and Superboy begins rounding them up, taking them to the middle of the desert, dumping out their oily cargo, and then dropping them into dry-dock to be fixed at their owner’s expense.  It’s a rather delightfully chaotic scheme, ignoring laws in pursuit of what is right.

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Unfortunately, the Oil Company execs are not about to take this threat to their bank accounts lying down, so they plan a trap.  After the next tanker roundup, they track Aquaboy and lure him in to an ambush with a look-a-like for his girlfriend, Marita, who looks just like Mera.  I half suspect that Frank Robbins didn’t know what Mera’s name was or when she showed up.  Either way, it seems that Arthur definitely has a type!  The crew of a tanker filled with nitroglycerin(!) hang “Marita” from their rigging, and in a pretty cool sequence, Aquaboy jumps from one leaping dolphin to another dolphin to board the ship in great, swashbuckling fashion.  Yet, as he’s about to free the fire-tressed femme fatale, she frees herself and he is trapped in a net instead!

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I hear some classic, Errol Flynn-esq swashbuckling music in my head when I see this scene…

When Superboy arrives, the corrupt captain orders him to swear to leave the company alone, or they’ll drop Aquaboy into the nitro and blow him to kingdom come (no, not that one).  The young Marine Marvel is adamant that his partner can’t give in, no matter what happens to him, but the Boy of Steel has plans of his own.  He races away, seeming to give in, only to turn back and grab the Prince of the Sea, shielding him in his cape, and hurling the pair through the ship’s hull at super speed, so fast that they pierce the nitro before it can react.  They’re deep underwater by the time the ship blows, and all that is left is to do is haul the would-be blackmailers back to their employers to let them know who’s really boss.

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This is a fun adventure with an environmental focus that is just tailor-made for its guest-star.  Aquaman is a character who is perfect for tackling environmental themes such as pollution and man’s impact on this planet.  It’s fascinating to see that connection made this early on.  It’s also really fun to see the young heroes acting as champions of justice, rather than upholders of law.  It looks like there is some effort to create a more mature sense of morality in these characters, getting beyond the law=good paradigm that dominated portrayals in the Silver Age.  It’s also rather fitting for this to happen with a couple of fiery teen heroes who might naturally be a bit more rebellious and impetuous.

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Here we’ve got our two protagonists breaking laws, violating international borders, and generally carrying on a personal crusade without the slightest shred of justification other than their sense of right and wrong.  Superboy, for his part, is much closer in line with the early portrayals of the character during the Golden Age, where he was a champion of the oppressed against the rich and powerful, an interpretation that I understand has made a comeback in recent years.

I would have liked to see more of the two teens’ personalities, as there isn’t much to differentiate them as Super and Aqua BOYs rather than their full-grown counterparts, but that’s a minor complaint.  I’m also not crazy about the rather unequal partnership between our two heroes.  Aquaboy doesn’t get a whole lot to do, and he’s rather overshadowed by his super-partner.  That’s a constant problem for Superman, though.  Despite those minor criticisms, this is an enjoyable, entertaining read with some really intriguing trappings.  I’ll give this story a good score of 4 Minutemen.

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P.S.: Interestingly, this issue also came with a one-page brief on Superboy’s chronological setting, an acknowledgement of the sliding time-scale of DC Comics, which I found curious.  The editor notes that, because Superman hasn’t aged, his youth has to keep moving forward, so they’ve updated the setting fro his adventures as Superboy.  Notably, they did so inside a story, where the Boy of Tomorrow time-traveled, returning to a different year than he left, which is a clever, if problematic way to handle the issue.  I bet this is one of the first times something like this has been addressed directly.


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #107


lois_lane_107“The Snow-Woman Wept!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta

“My Executioner Loves Me”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

Our Lois Lane story today isn’t quite as gobsmackingly profound and compelling as our last one, (how could it be?) but it’s a fun, charming, and imaginative read.  I continue to think I may have misjudged Robert Kanigher.  He wrote a lot of clunkers that I suffered through, but I’m starting to suspect that he’s coming into his own now.  I suppose time will tell.  At any rate, let’s check out this story, and y’all can judge for yourselves.

We begin at the office of the Daily Planet, where our old friends Clark Kent and Lois Lane are getting their assignments from Perry White, assignments that aren’t sitting too well with the girl reporter.  While Clark has been tasked with ferreting out the secret behind a Nobel Prize winner’s new research, Lois has been given a story on Superman being made the king of Raleigh College’s ‘Winter Carnival.’  Fun fact: apparently Lois graduated from Raleigh College.  Well, alma mater or not, Lois isn’t having any of this, and she yells discrimination at Perry.

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The exchange is a bit surprising and rather entertaining.  Perry’s unperturbed response, “don’t wave the women’s lib flag at me,” cracked me up.  There’s a touch of social concern in that scene, downplayed because the lady journalist’s main motivation is her professional pride.  She’s driven by the desire to get the biggest and best story, a classic example of the intrepid reporter archetype, and a nice return to her roots as a character.  It’s interesting to see Lois display some of the fire and independence that I’ve always loved about the character, traits she carries throughout the issue but which have been absent in other portrayals.

When she and Clark arrive at Raleigh, she meets a snow sculptor, a college romeo who tries to put the moves on her (bold kid!), but Lois lets the boy down easy, posing for a sculpture for him and telling him that he’ll meet a nice girl his own age before too long.  Meanwhile, Clark manages to get an interview with Professor Bridnell and his assistant, Dr. Tort.  We learn that the assistant is actually a defector from behind the Iron Curtain, and then the good professor explains his research.

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Apparently he’s invented a serum that can turn an air-breathing creature into a water-breathing one, and he explains how his invention will allow humanity to colonize the seas and escape the damage done to the surface world, giving a new lease on life to society’s cast-offs.  Wow, I bet Aquaman would have something to say about that!  In a surprising concession both to the stability of the setting and to realism, the Professor notes that there are years of testing ahead of the usability of his invention, which I enjoyed.

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Pictures: An Atlantean nightmare

Bridnell shows Clark a pistol-like device that can administer his serum and explains that he’s built an antidote into it as well, just in case.  However, when the reporter leaves, Dr. Tort suddenly attacks his employer, revealing himself to be a communist spy!  He meets with a team sent to retrieve him and the professor’s research, and he explains the potential of truly aquatic soldiers who could stealthily disable America’s nuclear subs, destroying our retaliatory ability and enabling a successful Soviet first strike!

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Just then, Lois happens to come snooping, hoping to scoop Clark.  She overhears Tort’s plans, and he uses the invention on her.  Unfortunately, the untested device has an unexpected effect, turning her into a statue of snow!  They hide her with the other snow sculptures on the quad, thinking that the sun will dispose of the evidence for them, but when Superman arrives for the carnival, he notices her ‘melting’ in a strange way that almost looks like…tears!  He touches the liquid and realizes it is salty, deducing that something bizarre had happened to Lois.  That would be a bigger leap if Lois didn’t end up in crazy situations on a daily basis.

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Seeking to get help for her, the Metropolis Marvel rushes the frozen female to Prof. Bridnell’s lab, only to interrupt Tort and the commies (sound like a 50s rock band!) preparing to sneak out in costumes among the carnival crowd.  They hit him with the same device, and the Man of Steel turns into the Man of Snow!  Apparently, he’s suffering from a mysterious occasional weakness which began in the “Kryptonite Nevermore” story we’ll encounter in the next post.  Frozen solid, the hero can’t do much to help his situation.  In a desperate maneuver, he uses his heat vision on the lab’s lead door, hoping that it will reflect enough heat to set his molecules back in motion.  This succeeds, but Lois is still trapped in an icy prison.  The Man of Tomorrow captures the commie crooks and uses the Prof.’s invention to restore his lady love in another gamble, as he’s uncertain if it will work.  Fortunately, the device cures her, and Lois and Superman play king and queen of the Winter Carnival.

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I have to say, I’m enjoying these Lois Lane issues much more than I expected.  I’m liking the portrayal of Lois herself, and the more sedate pace of these yarns allows an opportunity for character development and the chance to meet some interesting secondary characters.  This one is just a mostly straightforward adventure, but the story comes with a good deal of personality and charm, with the addition of little touches like Lois’s frustration at her assignment and the festivities of the Winter Carnival, not to mention the Cold War paranoia of the nefarious Soviet operatives and their apocalyptic dreams.  Speaking of which, it’s interesting to see the Cold War tensions raise their heads, as we really haven’t seen much of that in recent comics.

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Werner Roth returns to the art chores on this story, and I am impressed once more.  His work is just lovely and detailed, full of individual personality and distinctive faces.  He does a great job on the people, but he also turns out fine work on the very different scenes featuring the destruction of the commie plans.  In terms of the plot, the techno-babble is just a tad stretched between the initial concept and the snow-statue effects of the ray, but I’m willing to give it a pass because it mostly works in the usual comic book sense.  I don’t see why a ray designed to make someone a water-breather would turn them into snow, but I suppose unexpected side-effects are a thing.  I liked the range of imaginative ideas in this book, from underwater colonies to Soviet schemes.  There’s a healthy dose of wonder in it.  So, all in all, I’ll give this enjoyable little tale 4 Minutemen.

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“My Executioner Loves Me”


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The saga of Rose and Thorn continues, and it also continues to fascinate me, perhaps a tad more than the stories themselves entirely merit.  The concept is just so innovative that it transcends the material to a certain extent.  Yet, despite the fact that these stories are crammed into eight page backups, they have the advantage of a rolling continuity, one tale leading directly into the next.  We’re definitely not seeing an established status quo, rather a constantly evolving, even if in short hops, narrative.  That’s pretty unusual for this period.

This particular offering opens in media res, with the Thorn being chased by a trio of the 100’s gunmen, and it seems that she has a few more tricks up her nonexistent sleeves!  She has developed a Batman-esq utility belt, which she calls her ‘Thorn Arsenal Belt,’ containing various small ‘thorns’ that carry different gimmicks.  One might ask where she would get such things, especially since she couldn’t do any of her vigilante shopping in her other pesonality, but it is fun enough that I’m willing to let that slide for the moment.  In this instance, she throws some concussion grenades at her pursuers’ car, putting it out of commission.  She then handles the thugs themselves with her fits after tossing a smoke grenade for cover.  I have to say, I’m not a huge fan of Ross Andru’s art on this feature, but this action scene looks great.

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The Thorn has developed another new gimmick, as she is marking the 100’s killers off, one by one, leaving numbered calling cards with her victims when she leaves them for the police.  It’s a cool and different idea that helps to highlight how the Thorn differs from other heroes.  She’s not out for abstracts like justice; she’s out for revenge, plain and simple, a visceral, primitive motivation, one that drives her peculiar madness.

The next day, we once again check in with the secret head of the 100, Vince Adams, who also happens to be Rose’s boss.  The docile half of this particular dynamic duo accidentally walks in on a meeting between Adams and the latest killer to be assigned to the Thorn’s contract, and then Kanigher briefly checks in on the other subplots, Rose’s ironic burgeoning romance with Adams, the golden coffin, and her complicated relationship with her father’s partner, Danny.

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Then, night falls, and we’re back to the Thorn!  She heads out on patrol, only to be ambushed on the docks by the new assassin, a gentlemanly gunman whose scruples allow her to get the drop on him, dumping him overboard.  He strikes his head and begins to drown, and Thorn has a nice moment of indecision where she debates whether or not to let him die.  What finally makes up her mind is the thought that her father wouldn’t want her to become a murderer, which seems very fitting.

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The Baleful Beauty dives in and saves the guy, which blows him away.  The girl realizes that she saw him meeting with Adams, and she wonders what he was doing at the funeral parlor.  As for the waterlogged gunman, he is moved by her risking her life for him right after he tried to kill her, and the fellow, Beau, falls for her.  He asks the Thorn to run away with him, promising he’ll protect her.  Just then, more assassins attack, and now Beau’s neck is on the block as well for failing in his mission.  The pair rush to his car, and they engage in a running fight, finally eluding their pursuers with the help of some ‘thorn-nails’ that shred their antagonists’ tires.

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Beau is making plans all the while, and promises to smuggle the pair of them out of the country.  They share a kiss, and then the Vengeful Vixen leaps out of the car, leaving her hitman turned hunk to realize that she’s dumped him in front of the police station!  She tells him that he’ll be safe from the 100 in jail, and that “I forgot myself for the moment!  But I’m the Thorn!  And you’re number 22!”  Man, that is cold!  It also happens to be extremely awesome.  I love that touch, and really, that whole little episode, condensed though it is.  Finally, the Thorn heads back home and changes back to Rose.  Yet, her hand was grazed by a bullet in the fight, and Rose wakes up wondering how she scratched her hand.  That’s an intriguing development, and I am looking forward to see what Kanigher does with these seeds he’s planting!

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These eight pages are just packed with story and with action.  Kanigher is stuffing plot and development in hand-over-fist, and its’ a bit strained at times, but it works surprisingly well on the whole.  The story is just so darn enjoyable, and the beats are so interesting, that you can’t help but forgive it for its limitations.  I found this little tale very readable, and I’m intrigued by the setup Kanigher has established.  I’m definitely in to see where this goes.  This series is just good, clean adventure fiction, but with a really fascinating twist.  I’ll give this chapter of the Rose and Thorn saga a solid 4 Minutemen, and if it had more room to breathe, I’d have to think it would climb even higher.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Sadly, Aquaman adds ANOTHER appearance on the wall of shame, making two in a row!  The Sea King is not off to a great start in 1971.  Of course, things are going to get worse for him soon, when his book gets cancelled, but I suppose there’s no sense borrowing trouble.  I wonder who the next star of the Headcount will be!


That does it for these books.  I hope you’ll join me again soon for the last two books of January 1971.  Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share you thoughts and insights in a comment!  Until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: December 1970 (Part 3)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Today we’ve got Detective Comics and The Flash, two books, four stories.  There are some fascinating real-world connections to these comics, methinks.  Check them out below and see if they ring any bells for you!

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.


Detective Comics #406


detective_comics_406“Your Servant of Death — Dr. Darrk!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Explosive Circle!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

In our headline tale we have the next iteration of the growing saga of the League of Assassins!  From auspicious beginnings last issue, the promising setup receives further development in this story, and O’Neil teases an epic adventure that will unfold in these pages in months to come.  This particular part of that whole, like its introduction, doesn’t quite have the grandeur of that which would eventually develop, but it’s a fair adventure tale with the added attraction of successfully creating an “impression of depth.”

The story starts off with a bang, literally, as a bomb goes off as shipping magnate Count Orsoni christens the newest ship in his fleet.  The traditional wine bottle is rigged to blow, and the resulting explosion nearly kills the wealthy industrialist.  If we recall, last issue we discovered the League of Assassins was out to get shipping magnates.  Batman remembers this as well, so he travels to Europe in his secret identity.  Conveniently, Bruce Wayne is an old friend of the Count, so he arranges to visit his ailing pal at his estate, where he is being treated privately.  Apparently the Count survived, but he was paralyzed by the blast.

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detective406-04Upon arrival, Wayne is greeted by Mara Thursday, the Count’s cousin, who takes him to the manse.  It is there that he meets a fellow who will figure into the future of the League plot, Dr. Ebenezer Darrk!  With a name like that, he’s got to be a good guy, right?  Well, once again showing blatant disregard for his secret identity, Bruce changes into his ‘work clothes,’ and Batman prowls the night, keeping watch on the Count’s room in the belief that his would-be killers will try again.  As he settles in for his vigil, he hears Mara scream and rushes to her room.  She tells him some story about an attacker that is full of holes, clearly lying to distract him from the Count (I guess we’d call those “alternative facts” today.).  It’s actually a neat sequence, as O’Neil leaves the reader to ponder on how Batman saw through her lies, only explaining the matter later on.

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Can you figure it out?

Anyway, the Dark Knight isn’t fooled, and he races to protect the Count, only to be ambushed by another League Assassin!  This guy is a sling master, firing spiked bullets at the hero, and it takes a clever ruse for Batman to take him out.  The Caped Crusader de-cloaks, rigging his cape and cowl as a decoy to draw the slinger’s fire and allowing him to get the drop on the killer.  It’s a nice display of the character’s resourcefulness.

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One danger surmounted, our hero continues his quest, only to discover Orsoni is missing!  He tracks the nabbed nobleman to a secret passage into ancient catacombs below the estate and discovers his friend in the middle of a stone chamber.  When he approaches, a cloaked figure gets the drop on him, threatening to shoot the Count if Batman doesn’t follow orders.  I wonder who could possibly be under that cloak?  The Law of Conservation of Detail means there’s really only one possibility at this point.  Well, whoever he is, he happily explains to the Masked Manhunter that these Christian catacombs actually have an older origin, once having served as a Roman dungeon, and, somehow, the various torture device of those lousy Latins are still there and in working order.  The super mysterious figure forces Batman into a deathtrap, chaining him to a table and giving him a cord that holds a giant axe above his own head, making the hero his own executioner!

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Of course, the Dark Detective has figured out the same thing we have, and he calls his captor Dr. Darrk, who, in turn, reveals that he is actually the head of the League of Assassins.  Pulling the classic villain move of leaving the hero unattended (what is that, the third time already this month?), Darrk takes off, leaving Batman alone with only a paralyzed man to help him.  Yet, astonishingly, Orsoni claws his way to his hands and knees and crawls, not to the trapped crime fighter, but to a statue of his favorite saint, St. Diona (a fictional saint, for some reason).  With a desperate prayer, the injured man topples the statue, which lands in precisely the right position to protect the Caped Crusader from the blade and yet not crush him with its own stony weight.  It’s a good moment, and the hero is stunned, recognizing the possibility of a miracle in the unlikely series of events (even Batman is more open-minded than Dr. Thirteen!).

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His escape arranged, perhaps with divine intervention, the Dark Knight sets out after the dark-Darrk, snatching up a shield to protect him from the sling-armed slayer.  This proves fortunate, as his foe has recovered, but after a quick shield toss that would make Captain America proud, the Masked Manhunter continues on his way.  He finds a cloaked figure creeping out a window, only to discover that it is Mara, dressed in the Doctor’s robes.  Darrk has already made good his escape!  The Count’s captured cousin, Mara, agrees to spill her guts, and the story ends with Batman taking her and the assassin to the authorities and assuring the Orsoni that he’ll chase Darrk down.

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This is a good story, with some nice mystery and plenty of action.  I often enjoy it when an author invites their readers to solve a mystery themselves.  I’m usually pretty good at that type of exercise, but I have to admit, I didn’t entirely put together the pieces of Mara’s deception.  She claimed that an attacker came in through her window and struck her, but she didn’t see his face.  She was sitting in front of a mirror at the time with a lamp next to her, so she would certainly have seen the man, which Batman realized.  That’s a fun piece of detective work.  The second exotic assassin to do the bidding of the League was another fun element of the story, and I quite enjoyed the possibly miraculous saintly intervention, especially the hero’s cautiously credible reaction to it.  There’s both a nice nod to faith and a solid piece of characterization there.  The real weakness of the issue is the lack of mystery surrounding Darrk and the complete lack of development for him as well.  He’s just sort of generically evil, and he gets so little ‘screen time’ both as a cypher and as a villain that his reveal is pretty much without impact.  Fortunately, O’Neil sets this plot up to get further development, and we know that we’ll see this fellow again.  This is a good second outing for the League of Assassins, and I think I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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“The Explosive Circle!”


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Our Batgirl backup for today is an intriguing one because of its connections to social unrest and youth culture.  Interestingly, we’ve got youth involvement and student organization showing up in the Robin story this month at the same time this particular tale makes its appearance with a very different perspective on the phenomenon.  This version touches on questions that are back in the news today, whether peaceful protests are effective and whether or not violence can be justified as a form of protest.  The answers to these questions seem pretty clear to me, and writer Frank Robbins takes more or less the approach that you’d expect.

It all starts with a bomb, just as the headliner does, as a Gotham building explodes, leaving behind a charred clue, a burnt library book that Commissioner Gordon asks his librarian daughter to help him identify.  One would imagine that the police could probably manage that on their own, but sure.  She recognizes the text as “the current rage of the ‘tear down the establishment’ crowd,” a description that is delightful on its own merits, and for the contempt it displays for its subject.  Naturally, Babs decides to pursue this clue on her own, as Batgirl, having remembered the girl who checked this book out, thanks to her photographic memory.  I imagine that particular character trait was mentioned before this issue, but this is the first time I’ve taken notice of it.

Batgirl heads to the girl’s apartment, where the hippies are hanging about in bunches.  The girl, Shelley Simms, blithely informs the fire-tressed crime-fighter that she and her hippy group were planning on protesting her, if they could ever figure out where she lived.  The profound stupidity of that statement is just the beginning and is, of course, indicative of the general mindset of the hippy movement.  That statement really struck me, because, of course hippies would have picketed superheroes if they actually existed in the 60s.  In fact, I imagine superheroes would almost certainly be protested today as well.

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detective406-25Anyway, when Batgirl confronts the silly Miss Simms with the fact that her book was found at the site of the bombing, she suddenly freaks out and declares, in wonderfully silly 60s slang, “I don’t need your fuzz-fink help–lay off!”  Real smart cookie, this one.  Babs, on the other hand, is actually quite intelligent, so she stakes out the girl’s apartment and tails her when she leaves.  Well, she’s fairly intelligent, as she follows her on the street, rather than swinging across rooftops and the like, so she gets spotted.

Shelley leads her costumed companion to a fiery young man at a theater which is hosting a ridiculous, edgy play, complete with faux protesters and jack-booted thugs to put them down.  Apparently Shelley lent her book to this real winner of a guy.  The young fireplug, Mal, uses the distraction of the performance to have his boys quickly grab the girl detective.  Babs narrowly avoids a trip to the Head-Blow Headcount wall of shame, but she’s eventually brought down anyway.  When she awakens, Batgirl finds herself trapped in a mined basement, and Shelley, the brain-surgeon, is completely surprised that her radical terrorist boyfriend is a bomber and a killer, a revelation that one has to imagine had been presaged before now.

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Well, Gil Kane is back, and with him come the nostrils…so many nostrils.  The art in this backup is generally good, but he does pick some odd angles.  The story itself manages to be engaging and intriguing in its brief seven pages.  Of particular interest is the similarity of the plot to then current events in the form of the Weathermen’s bombing campaign.  The Weathermen were a radical domestic terrorist organization that had its roots in political movements originating on college campuses.  They were involved in bombings of public buildings and monuments from the late 60s through the late 70s.  In fact, they had been behind a bombing this very year, in October. Their brilliant, infallible plan was to blow things up until they magically created a communist utopia.  Incredibly, this didn’t work out too well.

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So, radicalized youth movements were in the news in 1970, and the experience of the stupid Miss Simms was likely one that many young people shared, as they watched political movements they were involved in splinter, change, and darken.  This particular comic story doesn’t capture all of that nuance, of course, but in these seven pages Robbins manages to evoke the destructive side of the counter-cultural movement and set up an engaging plot.  My only real complaint is how incredibly annoying Shelley is.  I wish that Batgirl had just dangled her off of a building instead of bothering to tail her.  The girl’s venomous response to Babs’ attempt to help her and the increasing stupidity that followed rankled me.  I suppose I should have more patience with the character; after all, I was 18 once, and as stupid yet convinced of my own intelligence as ever a teenager was.  Nonetheless, I don’t have much patience for that kind of nonsense these days.  Shelley’s foolishness aside, I’ll give this story 3.5 Minutemen.

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The Flash #202


the_flash_vol_1_202“The Satan Circle”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Accusation”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got another Kanigher story, and one more clue to figure out what kind of writer he is.  This particular yarn won’t put the debate to rest, however, as it is neither exceptionally good nor exceptionally bad.  Notably, it features another story seemingly based on the Manson Family murders of a few years back.  Folks who have been following this feature for a while may remember that we encountered a Green Lantern/Green Arrow story earlier in 1970 that dealt with the same events in interesting ways.  This particular comic takes a decidedly less serious slant on events, but there are some creepy parallels that I imagine are not accidental.

Despite that, the headline tale begins sweetly enough, with a nice domestic scene between Barry and Iris Allen.  Iris is headed out of town to cove a spate of disappearances in Hollywood dance clubs that seem to be related to a movie about a “black magic cult.”  I was a bit surprised at the reference to evil Satanic cults hiding right under the surface of everyday America way back here in 1970.  It’s at least a decade too early for the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the 80s, when Americans would see Satan worshipers under every rock.  The 80s was a weird time, guys.  Anyway, the couple share a charming farewell, with Barry, of course, late for work, but still stopping long enough to pick a rose for Iris to wear in her hair.  As I’ve said before, I always enjoy these little scenes, and Kanigher does a good job of making use of this one, both for exposition and for setting up a Chekhov’s Gun for later in the issue.

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That evening, Barry receives a frantic phone call that freezes the blood in his veins, as he hears Iris desperately cry for help before the call is cut off.  In the blink of an eye, he’s speeding across the country as the Flash.  He arrives at the home of a Hollywood director, where Iris was to begin her investigation, only to find it ablaze, with a burning satanic effigy in the yard.  The Scarlet Speedster also finds a body in the pool, and he has a bad moment where he thinks it might be Iris.  Inside the mansion, he discovers half a dozen more victims, each wearing a devil mask, but with no sign of his wife among them.  A panicked search of the place finally presents a clue, when he finds her rose next to a phone upstairs, revealing that she has been kidnapped!

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The Crimson Comet sets out to search for a lead, visiting the suspiciously Satanic ‘discotheques’ where the missing kids had last been seen.  It’s quite odd to see the Flash dance with various club girls, as if he’s trying to blend in.  I think the bright red superhero costume and super speed might give you away there, Barry.

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In between some of his visits, the speedster is ambushed by a motorcycle gang who are definitely not the Hell’s Angels.  No, they’re the totally unrelated Hell’s Imps.  You might think that a biker gang would be a poor match for an honest-to-goodness superhero, but they have a strange gas in their exhaust that affects Barry, slowing him down.  He still manages to escape, arriving at ‘Pluto’s Palace,’ which looks just like the first place, only to meet a sultry cage dancer who promises to lead him to the Satan Circle!

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A rapid midnight race leads him to a seemingly deserted house occupied by robed cultists.  It is, of course, a trap, and his guide answers to the leader of the group, who claims to be an incarnation of Lucifer himself.  He looks a bit more like Vincent Price to me.  The cultists reveal that Iris is their prisoner and they plan to sacrifice her for a dark ritual.  Well, the Flash should be able to take a bunch of bathrobe wearing weirdos, right?  Wrong.  The gas he inhaled earlier had a delayed effect and begins to weaken him even further.  He tries to carry Iris away, only to collapse under he weight.

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Desperate, the Scarlet Speedster devises a very clever escape.  He drums his fingers on the old wooden floor at super speed, so fast that the motion is invisible, until the rotten boards collapse under the Allens, sending them tumbling into the (relatively) clean air of the basement.  Able to clear his head, the Flash is ready for round 2.

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Kanigher tries to create a bit more tension by trapping his hero between cultists armed with explosive bullets and the arriving motorcycle gang, but he doesn’t really have enough space left to pull it off.  Out of necessity, the Sultan of Speed wraps up the villains in a half page.  The story ends with a nice little exchange between the Allens back at home, where Iris points out that the Satan Circle was no match for the stronger circles, the wedding bands that binds the two of them together.  Aww.

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This is a solid story, but it lacks a certain something to make it really ‘good.’  The villainous Satan Circle receive practically no development at all.  We don’t even know if they actually had any mystic powers or not.  For all we know, they’re about as magical as your average modern day “witch.”  Nonetheless, the Circle racks up a pretty terrible body count, and I’m not entirely sure that is earned by the story.  Despite that weakness, the Flash’s search for Iris and his fear and uncertainty about her fate was handled pretty well, other than the incongruous moments with the frantic hero stopping to dance in various clubs.  Probably the most interesting element of the story is the cultural currency it carries.  While the Satan Circle as we meet them has little in common with the Manson Family, the scene of a Hollywood big-shot’s home turned into a charnel house, with graffiti and strange signs left behind, certainly evokes the Family’s murder of the Tate family.  Add to that the constant undercurrent of fear about ‘devil music’ and its influence on young people, and you’ve got a story that is clearly drawing from the zeitgeist.  Whatever its connections, the comic itself is entertaining, if not terribly impressive, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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P.S.: Legendary skinner, Freedom Reborn member, and all around awesome guy, Daglob, just clued me in to an event that almost has to have been a major influence on the creation of this story.  Apparently, in 1969, Anton LaVey began to popularize the ‘Satanism’ movement, starting with the publication of The Satanic Bible that very year.  What’s more, 1970 saw the premiere of a documentary on the phenomenon, and apparently Satanists and the occult suddenly flooded the zeitgeist, often becoming, to quote my friend, “likely suspects in movies and TV shows.”  Now, Satanism, especially LaVey’s signature brand, is nothing more than jumped up Epicureanism with a bunch of nonsensical occult bells and whistles.  Nonetheless, it certainly had the potential to seem terribly frightening to mainstream America at the time.

It descends from the Romantic Period’s misreading of Milton’s Satan from Paradise Lost and similar lionizing of the “Satanic Hero,” a character who rebels against social norms and cultural constraints, pursuing their own desires.  The poetWilliam Blake famously claimed that Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it” (“Marriage of Heaven and Hell”).  For a fairly clear refutation of that reading, check out C.S. Lewis’s A Preface to Paradise Lost.  It’s a short work and a wonderful read on its own merits, especially if you’re interested in literature and in epic in particular.

Anyway, I seem to have wandered somewhat astray from my point.  This revelation puts the Flash tale in a rather different light, doesn’t it?  Now we can see it reflecting a general anxiety about the encroachment of strange and seemingly sinister beliefs, as well as the clear and frightening evidence of social decay and upheaval represented by such madness as the Manson Murders.  That’s a fascinating new perspective!  Thanks Daglob!


“The Accusation”


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I was delighted to discover another Steve Skeates penned story in this month’s offerings, and this off-beat little backup didn’t disappoint.  It’s odd, but it’s an interesting read.  From the very beginning, this story establishes itself as a bit unusual, as in the opening pages, we join, not our protagonist, but a man named Carson, who dreams of a ghostly Kid Flash tormenting him for a hidden crime.  flash-v1-202p22The spectral speedster, in a nicely drawn sequence, accuses Carson of murdering a young man, but the dreamer insists upon his innocence.  When he awakes, he’s disturbed by the dream and can’t get it out of his head.  He remembers that a kid was killed by a hit and run driver the night before, but he’s certain that he stayed home last night…or is he?

Meanwhile, we check in with Wally West in school, where apparently he’s being taught by Clark Kent.  As a teacher, the brief little scene, where a daydreaming Wally is asked a question and frankly admits he wasn’t’ paying attention made me smile.  What unusual and refreshing honesty!  Having survived the soul-crushing weight of high school for another day (sheesh, as bad as it is for a normal kid, think what torment it must be if you have superpowers and routinely save the world!), Wally switches to his costume and spends the night tracking down a car-stripping gang.

Meanwhile, our mysterious Mr. Carson’s sleep is troubled, as he has another dream along the same theme, where the ghostly Kid Flash calls him a murderer and mentions stolen jewels!  Once more awakening in panic, he goes for a drive to try and calm his nerves, and the two halves of our plot rush towards a collision.

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Kid Flash, in the meantime, has managed to find his pigeons, and he smashes into them at super speed, carefully using only a light blow, for fear of killing them by striking them at full velocity, which is a nice touch.  We cut back and forth between our plots, with the dream-convicted Carson slowly remembering what he had repressed from the previous night.  He had acquired some stolen jewels, and driving home in a hurry, had run over an innocent kid rather than risk crashing and being caught with the goods, a cold-blooded act of murder!  He struggles against the returned memories as Wally struggles against the thieves, and he too almost joins the Headcount as he gets distracted and takes a head-blow.  Fortunately for him, he recovers and ties up the criminals for the police.

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Yet, as he’s walking home, a little shaky from the blow, Carson, driving erratically in his mounting dread, spots the boy and recognizes him as the spectral figure from his dreams.  The dream-tormented may-be-murderer panics and, frozen by the sight, smashes his car into a pole, dying in the impact.  Like Lancelot in Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott,” Kid Flash, unaware and with grim curiosity, discovers the person who died from sight of him.

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I’m glad to see Kid Flash return as a backup for the Flash.  I like the character, and I am excited to see more of his adventures.  This particular yarn is an interesting start to the feature.  Taken as a story bound by the more restrictive limitations of fiction as verisimilitude that we’re used to in the modern day, which tries to get as close to the real, rational world (outside of obvious difference, like the existence of superheroes) as possible, this tale wouldn’t work.  We’re left asking, ‘why does Carson see Kid Flash, if the boy knows nothing about his crime?’  Yet, a normal, logical plot is not what Skeates is going for here.  He leaves just enough mystery and mysticism in the story to make the strange coincidences functional, to make them serve as clues to something uncanny under the surface.  In this instance, the questions we’re left with are, in fact, part of the story’s purpose.  It’s short, but it gives us just enough, just barely enough, to work as a story, and a reader, in remarkably few pages, travels from sympathizing with the unknown Mr. Carson to marveling at the coldness and viciousness of his crime.  It would have been nice to learn more about him, but the story works, even so.  Dillin’s art is fantastically moody, and he really captures the anguish of Carson’s brief journey from ignorance to desperation.  I’ll give the backup 4 Minutemen, as it was intriguing and enjoyable.

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That will do it for this post, and I hope y’all enjoyed the read!  We’ve got a pretty solid pair of books here, with both youth culture and satanism in the mix!  The contrast between this month’s Robin and Batgirl’s stories really makes for a fascinating snapshot of the time, representing both the hope and the fear of the growing power of youth culture.  Once again, current events make their presence known in DC Comics, leaving their mark on this fantasy world.  I hope you’ll join me soon for another day’s journey, Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: November 1970 (Part 3)

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Hello my fair readers, and welcome to the next installment of my DC Bronze Age review feature.  Today we encounter another debut, but a much more profitable one than that of the last post.  Just as the Ten-Eyed Man is introduced in one Batman book, Denny O’Neil unleashes the League of Assassins in another.  One of these concepts would go on to great success and lasting fame.  I’ll let you figure out which one.  (Hint: It isn’t the guy with eyes on his finger-tips!)  Join me as we delve further into November, 1970!

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.


Detective Comics #405


detective_comics_405“The First of the Assassins!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Living Statue”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Ben Oda

“The Sleuth in the Iron Mask!”
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Bob Brown
Letterer: Artie Simek
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

Now we’re getting into some of the significant milestones of Denny O’Neil’s work on Batman.  We’re not quite into the really legendary runs just yet, but we’re getting closer.  Nonetheless, this issue features the first appearance of O’Neil’s League of Assassins, the deadly, shadowy organization that would feature prominently in many of his stories and prove to be of lasting significance to the Batman mythos.  Of course, this organization would reach its zenith of fame when its members served as the primary antagonists in the Christian Bale Batman films.  The League’s lasting potential isn’t necessarily completely obvious from this first story, but they do make an impression, and their returns will give us some of the best Bronze Age Batman stories.

detective405-04This particular issue isn’t quite as good as some of those that follow, but it’s a good, solid adventure tale, pitting the Dark Knight against a challenge that seems a bit more worthy of him than some of those *cough*Ten-EyedMan*cough* he’s faced recently.  I like the grim sense of adventure that the hero displays throughout the story.  O’Neil is channeling a bit of Sherlock Holmes, who relished a challenging problem.  This portrayal of the Caped Crusader seems to have a similar taste for danger and daring-do, which I enjoy. I like a grim avenger of the night quite a bit, but it’s also nice to have a character who has some sense of adventure as well.

Batman answers the summons of the Batsignal, and finds his old friend waiting for him.  Commissioner Gordon tells him that fifteen leading shipping magnates have been murdered, and the sixteenth, apparently marked for death, is in Gotham.  The man, K.C. Agonistes, is living on his heavily fortified yacht under tight security, but Batman agrees to look into the matter just in case.

detective405-07The hero arrives on the ship in disguise, only to be instantly spotted as a phony.  Agonistes’ security seems to be everything it is cracked up to be, but he is delighted to see the Masked Manhunter nonetheless and invites him onboard for the duration of their cruise.  When they get out to sea, Batman, vigilantly keeping watch from the bow, spots a pod of dolphins behaving strangely, and then we get a rather odd moment, as he grabs a rifle from a cewman and starts blazing away at the sea-mammals.  It’s weird to see Batman using a rifle, but I guess he isn’t firing at people.  Why was he shooting at dolphins, you may ask?  Does he just resent their smug, holier-than-thou clicking?  No, he recognized that they were living bombs.  These were trained dolphins were laden with plastic explosives, and despite the Dark Knight’s best efforts, they make destructive contact with the ship.

Batman manages to leap to safety, and he finds three other survivors in a lifeboat, Agonistes, his fiancee, and a sailor.  They land on a nearby island, only to quickly discover that it is covered in booby-traps.  The Masked Manhunter displays his skill and tradecraft as he protects the little group from multiple dangers.  After dodging a thrown knife, he surmises from the unique blade that their antagonist is a silek master.  This is actually a real martial art practiced in Southeast Asia, which is a neat bit of detail and realism.  Not content to stay on the beach and be a target, the Caped Crusader takes to the jungle to turn the hunter into the hunted.

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It’s at this point that the might hero makes some rather foolish mistakes.  He is tricked by a decoy planted near a fire, despite being suspicious of it, and then, thinking that Agonistes and company were in danger because he had been lured away, he rushed into a snare.  It does seem like maybe throwing a batarang at the mysteriously careless assassin sitting in front of his fire would have been a safer way to handle that, but ahh well.  While hanging upside down, he is confronted by the small, unassuming assassin, who introduces himself as Tejja.  The killer heads off to fulfill his contract, promising to come back and finish the hero afterwards.

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With a supreme effort, the Dark Knight manages to free himself, and he arrives in camp just in time to confront the assassin, who, oddly enough wields a blade with both hand and foot.  Once again, that’s a real thing, but how strange!  It’s a great detail to make the whole conflict more exotic and exciting.  The two masters square off, and Batman is wounded in the first exchange and has to employ a trick in order to turn the tide.  He falls through the campfire, his cape catching fire, and he uses it as a distraction in order to get his licks in.  He manages to put the assassin down, but he realizes that this was the work of more than just one killer, that there is an entire organization out there, efficient, secretive, and quite deadly.

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This is a good story, and the shadowy League of Assassins certainly comes off as dangerous and capable, though we get only a taste of their menacing presence.  Batman is well portrayed as well, given some solid characterization and a chance to display a range of abilities and skills.  It’s nice to see the character developing into the hyper-capable, yet still reasonably grounded, crime-fighter that I know and love.  The only real weakness of this issue is Bob Brown’s art.  It’s serviceable, but his action just doesn’t really capture the fluidity and dynamism of a good martial arts duel.  It has its moments, but there is some awkwardness to the figures that takes away from the excitement and drama of key moments.  This is an exciting first step into something greater, but it is still only a first step.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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“The Living Statue”


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BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING!

The finale of last month’s Batgirl story is pretty good, an action packed sprint that stands in contrast to the more sedate detective story of the previous issue.  We pick up where we left off, with the captured heroine slowly being entombed in plaster.  Her captor, the spurned actress Veda, accidentally triggers an image of the giant, Jor-El-like head of the murdered artist, Billy Warlock, who looms ominously over the proceedings.  The maddened murderess acts with wild abandon, destroying the film evidence of the murder and starting a blazing conflagration.  Gil Kane’s art is in rare form, and he really captures the scene in striking fashion, the blazing flames, the deranged dame’s dancing, and Batgirl’s helpless fear.  It’s really quite good.

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detective405-21Just then, when all hope seems lost, ‘Infra Red,’ the other leading actress in Warlock’s films, arrives.  She had suspected Veda, and she attacked the wild woman, accidentally freeing Batgirl in the process.  Babs disables Veda and drags both women out of the flames to safety, though it seems the evidence has been reduced to ashes.

Fortunately for poor Jason, it seems that creepy voyeur Billy Warlock had one more card to play.  He had another camera hidden in the eye of his giant image, and it captured Veda’s crazed confession.  That evidence, plus, you know, the whole attempted murder thing, Veda is arrested and Jason is freed.

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It’s a very brief but exciting story, and it nicely completes the tale begun last month.  It’s interesting that the fictional version of Andy Warhol maintains the real artist’s strange voyeuristic tendencies.  I wonder how much Robbins knew about the man in 1970 and how much of this portrayal was intentional and how much just lucky coincidence.  Either way, art imitates life in fascinating ways!  There’s really not much to this backup, which is understandable, as it is only seven pages, with one of those taken up with a re-cap.  Nonetheless, it is fun, and I am very impressed with Kane’s work on it.  I quite enjoy the mad abandon he manages to capture in Veda’s rampage.  You really get a sense of character through her destructive dance.  The one criticism I can really level at this story is that Batgirl really doesn’t get much to do.  She is only saved by someone else’s intervention, which doesn’t leave her in the best light.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, though it is too short to really rate higher.

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Flash #201


the_flash_vol_1_201“Million Dollar Dream”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Finale for a Fiddler”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Murphy Anderson
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Another Kanigher story, but this one is better than I expected, like the last one.  While it crosses into bathos a few times with its overly earnest, overly melodramatic tone in the beginning, it actually manages to pull of an effective ending.  This issue also contains a new Golden Age Flash story which is goofy but rather charming.  That tale actually gives us an honest to goodness supervillain, unlike the main Flash title, which remains steadfastly supervillain-free.  Sadly, we’re in the middle of a huge supervillain drought, one that is due to last for a long while yet.

Anyway, on with the issue at hand!  It begins in an unusual way, with the Flash desperately urging a young man in a wheelchair to get up and walk, like some garishly clad physical therapist.  The kid, named Pablo, gets up but collapses shortly thereafter, and we discover that he is physically healthy but has a mental block that makes him believe his legs don’t work.  We also learn that he blames the Scarlet Speedster for this predicament and that the hero blames himself as well.  Before we learn just what is going on, the hero, who is just casually strolling through the streets with Iris (secret identity, what secret identity?) is ambushed by the Generic Gang!  Now, you have to admire both the courage and the unbelievable stupidity of these guys.  They’re just a trio of regular gangsters, and they try to run the Flash down with a car, then try to shoot him.  The Flash Who can dodge bullets.  That displays a suicidal level of overconfidence.

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Their attack isn’t immediately disastrous because the Fastest Man Alive is apparently lost in thought, so much so that he just stands there while people shoot at him and Iris screams for him to snap out of it, which is at least a bit too much.  On the plus side, Iris takes it to one of the thugs with her purse, which is pretty entertaining.  A shrinking violet she’s not, this Iris.  When the hero snaps out of it, he quickly trounces the troublesome trio, ending the fight.

He and his lady love continue their walk after this rather pointless interruption, and they pay a visit to ‘Spanish Village,’ the Latino quarter of the city and home to Pablo.  He’s a local hero, a basketball star that the whole community was pulling for, so Barry reflects on how he dashed, not just the kid’s hopes, but the hopes of all of his people as well.  It’s then that we find out what actually happened.

The Flash visited Pablo when Iris told him she was going to write a story on the kid being called ‘the Spanish Flash.’  Being the friendly neighborhood hero that he is, Barry wants to do something for the kid, so he promises to zoom him over to Puerto Rico to visit his grandparents.  Yet, on the way, they spot a ship afire at sea.  The Scarlet Speedster leaves Pablo in what should be a safe spot and rushes to fight the flames, only to have the kid struck by falling debris while he’s busy.  The hero rescues him, but the boy suffers from shock and develops a troublesome mental black about his legs.

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So, yeah, it actually is pretty much the Flash’s fault.  His endangering the kid would seem like a more reasonable choice if Kanigher didn’t have the speedster casually mention that, if he had thought about it, he could have zipped to Puerto Rico, dropped the boy off, and been back at the ship in no-time.  Sheesh, the Silver Age Flash is ridiculous.  Anyway, mired in guilt, the hero continues to do his job, taking on a set of criminals in a helicopter and getting his hair parted by a bullet for his troubles.  And therein lies a problem with the character’s portrayal.  He can run across the world before you can blink, but he can still be hit by a bullet.  Ahh well, plot will out.

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The bullet temporarily paralyzes the Flash, and he finds himself in the same doctor’s office as young Pablo.  Talk about awkward encounters.  Just then,there’s an explosion in the chem lab, because of course there is.  A blaze begins, and the Fastest Man Alive can’t quite live up to his name.  He encourages the kid to get out on his own, but with supreme effort, the boy picks the hero up and, together, they get to safety.  It’s actually a pretty good scene and a solid ending to the issue.

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The ending rescues the story, as it is weak in some of its other points, but it goes out well.  The Flash’s selfless insistence that Pablo leave him behind is effective, and the boy’s uncertain heroism, panicked prayer, and sudden escape make for a nice combination.  The end result is a solid issue, despite the idiotic bravery of the local branch of the Generic Gang.  Once again, we’ve got a really interesting concept of which Kanigher doesn’t really take advantage, just like last issue.  In this instance, we have the idea of what happens when a hero’s mistake costs an innocent something dear, which will be explored to better effect in the future.  Still, this isn’t really a bad treatment of the concept, despite the heavy-handed portrayal of Barry’s grief.

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One notable feature of the issue is the diversity of the cast.  We’ve been seeing an increase in racial diversity in our books recently, and here is another example.  Both Pablo and his neighborhood inject some different personality into the Flash’s world, which is a neat addition.  We’re definitely seeing something different from the homogeneous DC Universe of the 60s, even if only slightly.  That’s nice to see.  I’ll give this issue, flaws and all, 3.5 Minutemen.

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“Finale for a Fiddler”


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This back up is actually a new story of Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, which is a great treat.  I was pleased to see that Jay was starring in this tale, as I’ve read very few of his stories, though I like the character.  Unfortunately, this particular offering was written by Robert Kanigher, so its quality is in doubt.  Dubious authorship aside, this is a fun, if silly, little adventure.

It begins with our favorite veteran Flash taking on the Turtle and his goons.  Remember when I asked for supervillains?  I had hoped for something better than the Turtle.  This guy’s gimmick?  He’s slow.  That’s it.  He’s slow moving, slow talking, and somehow that makes him good at fighting a super-speedster rather than, you know, making him worse than literally anyone else.  Look out Ten-Eye, you’ve got competition at the bottom of the heap!

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The goofiness of the concept aside, the scene where Jay takes this loser out is actually fairly entertaining, though the hero reveals that perhaps senility is setting in, as he tries to block bullets with a trashcan lid!  He comments that “they don’t make things as good as they used to,” though I’m pretty sure that tin tops never stopped bullets.  The complication of the fight is that the hero is starting to feel his age, and he’s running out of steam rounding up the crooks.  When he finally finishes them off, he’s done in, and we get a charming little scene of Jay and Joan, with his wife taking care of her exhausted husband.

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However, the hero can’t rest on his laurels for long, as he’s promised his lovely lady that he would take her to a concert.  On the way to this outdoor rock festival, we encounter the Fiddler, casually driving down the road in a car mad in the shape of a giant fiddle!  It’s delightfully silly.  I actually like things like this as, in the setting of the DCU, they more or less work.  This is a wonderfully whimsical world where the fantastic is the commonplace.  This is a world where men can fly and where the ability to shrink is enough to make you a superhero.  In this setting, criminals regularly dress up in bright costumes, and heroes are just as fashionable.  Why wouldn’t these types of folks have ridiculously customized modes of transportation?

Well, as you can probably guess, the Fiddler, who, despite being a bit goofy, is a more legitimate villain the the opening act, has planned to rob the concert that the Garricks are attending.  As he’s getting into position, Jay himself is also looking for some prime real-estate, and he changes into the Flash to bag a spot close to the stage for Joan.  Apparently Kanigher thinks that secret identities are overrated, as both of his heroes just parade around with their partners in public.  Nobody could ever crack that code!  Anyway, this is apparently a hilariously 60s concert, complete with love beads and hippies galore.  The panel where the couple are greeted by the concert-goers is just odd, but entertaining.

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When the Fiddler begins his act, things get psychedelic in a way the concert-goers weren’t anticipating, and even the Flash has a hard time of it.  The waves of sound send him reeling, and then the villain reveals that he’s too  dumb to succeed, as he stops playing in order to gloat, with his foe on the ropes.  Of course, the fastest man on Earth 2 takes advantage of the pause to capture the crook, ending the show.

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This is a silly little story, but it’s fun, with lots of color and even some characterization.  Kanigher gives each moment of the book something interesting to fill it out, whether it’s the hero’s creeping awareness of age or the ‘groovy’ tone of the concert crowd, there’s a ton of personality packed into a few pages.  I enjoy the subplot, if it could be called that, about Jay’s increasing age.  I’m getting to the point in my life where I am starting to identify more with the aging veterans than with the brash young pups, and it’s neat to see even a hero wrestle with the march of time.  There’s plenty here that is goofy, but the overall effect is so much fun, and the setting seems to fit some goofiness, so I really don’t mind too much.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.  It’s fun but brief.

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That will do it for this set of comics.  It was overall a fun batch of books, with a very interesting first and a few nice surprises.  Next up, we’ve got more JLA, which I’m looking forward to!  We’ve also got an issue of Lois Lane that, judging by the cover, is going to be nuts.  Don’t miss the next edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Before I bid you adieu, however, I’ve got a question for you, my good readers.  What do y’all think of the current format of this feature?  I’m aiming to do 2-3 comics each post.  Does that seem like a good fit to y’all?  I figure that is a bit more bite-sized than the massive posts I had started out doing, but I’m happy to adjust my practice if the is a consensus about what style y’all would like best.  Please let me know in the comments if you have a preference.  Well, until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!

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.