Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 2)

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

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Brave and the Bold #96


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Detective Comics #413


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Squeeze-Play!”


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

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

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

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

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Forever People #3


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Into the Bronze Age: June 1971 (Part 5)

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Welcome back for another edition of Into the Bronze Age, dear readers and Internet travelers!  Come right in and prepare for our final pair of pulse-pounding adventures!  They’re a mixed bag, as Zaney Haney takes Teen Titans back from our favorite Aquaman author, Steve Skeates, but never fear, stylin’ Steve is also back in this batch, and penning an old favorite, the Sea King himself, in an issue of World’s Finest!  I’ve been eagerly anticipating that particular book, seeing it in my reading list.  Time to find out how both of these comics stack up!

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

 


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Teen Titans #33


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“Less Than Human?”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

First up is a new Teen Titans adventure, and it’s a weird one, which is to be expected from Zaney Haney.  The stranger thing is that it follows in the similarly weird footsteps of Steve Skeates from last month.  The comic has a Nick Cardy cover, but it isn’t as fantastic as his usual work.  The image is a solid ‘scary discovery’ type of composition, but Cardy can’t seem to make up his mind on whether the menacing figure is a zombie or a skeleton (look at those arm bones!), so it just looks a bit confused.  Otherwise, it is pretty solid.  Inside, this comic picks up directly from the last issue, in the poorly conceived and developed fantasy world that was created by the Butterfly Effect of Mal and Kid Flash’s journey into the past.

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The young heroes face a test in the form of an archery competition, a-la Robin Hood, and somehow Kid Flash duplicates the forester’s famous shot.  I expected this to be revealed to be a super speed trick, especially when the arrow begins to drill into the lock on its own, but it’s never actually explained.  So, we could just assume that Wally is somehow an expert archer.  It’s a bit clumsy, but Haney has no time for explanations or logic!  Instead, a hulking skeleton, the animated remains of the caveman they killed, comes charging out of the door, and the Titans are terrified, so terrified, that Mal actually breaks and runs.

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However, he doesn’t run too far, as he grabs the ‘Duke of Galaxy’s’ helmet and dons it before charging back towards the apparition.  And a specter it proves to be, vanishing into thin air.  ‘Jupiterius’ explains to the youths that ‘Cerebella’ (get it?), Lilith’s alternate future counterpart, used her mental powers to fill Mal with fear.  Since they successfully passed their trial, he will show them how to travel back in time ‘to put right what once went wrong!‘ 

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The wizard takes them to “The Well of Time,” where they take a piece of its crystallized water and find themselves back in the Stone Age, facing their anachronistic antagonist.  This time Flash knocks the club away without sending the caveman crashing over the cliff, but the marauding Cro-Magnon (who looks much more like a neanderthal) manages to grab him…somehow.  The crystals that hold them in the past fade during the fight, and the young friends find themselves back home…but they have picked up a chronological  hitchhiker!

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The caveman, grappling with Kid Flash at the moment of their return, went with them, and suddenly the entire team find themselves in a desperate struggle with the powerful savage.  When they manage to incapacitate him, Mr. Jupiter oh-so-helpfully proclaims that he is not going to send their visitor back home because it turns out time travel is a tad dangerous.  Gee, ya’ think?  It’s a shame you didn’t figure that out before you lost two teenagers in time!

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So, instead Jupiter instructs the team to tame the caveman, turn him into a modern man…which is problematic in multiple ways.  Most importantly, this scene points to a major plot hole.  Killing this caveman really messed up the timeline and caused a whole alternate future, right?  But removing him from his era entirely doesn’t have any impact on the present?  That’s just ridiculously sloppy writing, even for the Zaney one.

Nonetheless, in the present the caveman, who they dub “Gnarrk,” after his only vocalization, must stay.  The Titans bring Robin in to help them with their new pupil, and after devising a curriculum, they start with the first and most important step…appearance!  The first thing the team does is sedate their savage student and give him a shave and a hair cut, which doesn’t please the fellow too much when he awakens.  He grabs Lilith through the bars, but fortunately she is able to communicate telepathically with him, and they make friends.

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The most amazing part of this comic isn’t the time travel or the magic but the fact that Lilith does something useful!

After a poor start with subliminal education while he sleeps, the Titans take the caveman out on the town pretty much immediately, which seems wildly irresponsible and unnecessary.  Predictably, it goes poorly, and Gnarrk attacks a car, thinking it is some type of monstrous animal.  Then he gets spooked by a train, and the team has to split up and search for their charge.  When they recover the kooky Cro-Magnon, they discover that he has observed a local city councilman involved in a payoff, and they realize that Gnarrk has just become a damning witness against a major crime figure…but a witness who can’t testify!

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This is actually a rather original and entertaining situation, all other concerns aside.  You can say this for Haney, he certainly was creative!  Well, the Titans immediately redouble their efforts.  After two weeks of intensive training, they take their time-tossed guest to the D.A., for some reason in a major hurry, despite the fact that there seems to be no real external pressure.  Nonetheless, Lilith, having grown close to Gnarrk, tries to shield him from the frantic efforts of the others, but when she takes him out for a walk, the pair are attacked by gangsters and narrowly avoid a bomb.  Fearing for her new friend, the enigmatic lady slips away with him, planning to hide Gnarrk until after the hearing so he won’t be in danger.

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Of course, this works about as well as you might imagine, and for some strange reason, the young caveman proves to be slightly less safe hiding out in a van in the woods than surrounded by superheroes.  Gnarrk tries to confess his feelings for Lilith, who is apparently quite the ridiculous hippie, given her psychedelic surroundings, but she shoots him down.

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TeenTitans_v1_033-20-1-19 - CopyThis is followed quickly by being shot down herself in a more literal fashion as bullets riddle the van and the vaguely-powered vixen is hit.  The Caveman goes crazy and tears into the attackers.  The rest of the Titans arrive just in time to talk him down from killing his captives, but the Cro-Magnon chooses to do the right thing, sparing the would-be killer.  The next day, Gnarrk appears in court and haltingly gives his testimony, bringing down the crime boss, and the comic ends with Lilith and her newfound friend walking off together, arm-in-arm.

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Once again, Haney packs enough into a single issue of a comic to fill three normal books.  He seems to pretty immediately lose interest in the time travel tale, instead settling on the weird and reasonably original angle of a caveman in the modern world.   That story is fairly entertaining, and the character’s growing fondness for Lilith is actually rather touching.  The scene where he tries to tell her how he feels, only to have her shut him down makes you feel for the guy.  For her part, Lilith continues to be super vague and undeveloped, which annoys me, and her plot-fortunate powers seem rather convenient.  That’s not terribly surprising with the Zaney one doing the writing, as character personalities and powers change at his whim.

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This is a common problem with his work, but it is magnified here because even the questionable unity provided by Haney is lacking in this Titans book, with the authorial duties shifting every other issue.  The inconsistency and uncertainty of direction is really clear with this issue, which clashes with the story started by Steve Skeates, whose plotlines are almost immediately abandoned.  George Tuska’s art is lovely as always, and he does some really great work with Gnarrk’s face, which is particularly important considering how little dialog the character has.  I think Nick Cardy inking Tuska also adds a bit of continuity to the visual side of the book, which is nice.  The most intriguing part of this issue was the introduction of Gnarrk, who, despite being the focus of the story, receives relatively little development.  Apparently he goes on to play a role in the Titans mythos in the future, but tellingly, none of the references I could find about him make any mention of this story.  I’m curious to see what will become of him.  (I wonder if he went on to become a lawyer).  In the end, this is a comic with a lot of imagination that has some flaws but is still a fun read, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, with its creativity raising it above the average.

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World’s Finest #203


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“Who’s Minding the Earth?”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

I have been really looking forward to this one, especially after Aquaman’s own book met its unfortunate demise.  I have been excited to see my favorite character team up with the Man of Steel, and written by submarine scribe supreme, Steve Skeates, no less!  Fortunately, this issue doesn’t disappoint, though it doesn’t have the most gripping of covers.  It’s not bad, but it is rather excessively yellow, and the scene is rather more suggestive than exciting.  Nonetheless, the monstrous creatures walking away from our heroes hold a bit of menace and the figures are well drawn, which is no surprise from Neal Adams.  Nonetheless, the story inside delivers something pretty enjoyable.

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It starts with everyone’s favorite Sea King discovering a strange phenomenon, an underwater rainbow, and when he investigates, he hears a strange, high-pitched buzzing which leads him to a ruined research station on a seemingly abandoned island.  In the wreckage, the Marine Marvel discovers a torn journal page with a cryptic message about ‘raising him’ and a warning that ‘they plan to drown the world.’  That doesn’t sound good!

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As he continues to search the island, Aquaman encounters a quartet of strange looking creatures, seemingly humanoid dolphins, and he can’t help but laugh at their awkward, waddling walk.  Real sensitive Arthur!  The creatures take this none-too-kindly, and the Sea Sleuth suddenly is hit with a mental attack and passes out!  I’m not crazy about this scene as Aquaman, of all people, should probably be both a bit more accepting of and a bit more used to strange aquatic beings, but I suppose we’re meant to take it as harmless mirth.

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Dillin really knocks it out of the park on Aquaman in this issue.

Meanwhile, a very snappily dressed Clark Kent encounters a frantic stranger on the streets of Metropolis who is desperately searching for Superman.  Before the reporter can calm him down and enjoy the irony, the disguised figure mentions something about ‘the change’ coming over him and somehow renders everyone nearby blind, even affecting the Man of Steel’s superior eyesight!  It seems to the Action Ace’s blurry vision as if the figure splits in two and then races off, but after his vision clears, he manages to pick up their trail on the coast.

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Clark, rockin’ the paisley ascot.  I wonder why Lois won’t go out with him?

 

The Man of Tomorrow follows these odd aquatic beings across the sea and discovers Aquaman’s still form, managing to return him to the water just as the Atlantean’s hour was running out.  Quickly catching each other up, they return to the isle and encounter the creature that had been seeking Superman in the first place.  This alien-looking being fills the two heroes in on the situation.  Apparently he was born a mutant, but a mutant dolphin, which is sort of a fun twist.

He was a humanoid being, and his marine mother abandoned him.  Fortunately, a team of scientists working on the island rescued and reared the young mutant, who grew rapidly and proved to be brilliant, quickly learning English.  He also developed strange sonic (or perhaps psionic) abilities, which he often used to summon displays of light, creating submarine rainbows for his own amusement.

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Still, he was lonely, as well as clumsy and awkward on the land, which earned him the laughter of his adoptive family, embittering the young creature.  He longed for a companion, someone like him, and suddenly one day, in response to his desire, he split in two, reproducing asexually.  His new brother possessed all of his knowledge, but none of his compassion.  There’s something of a similarity here to the Sand Superman of O’Neil’s.

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The strange sibling inherited only the original’s anger, and the process proved continual, with more twins born every few days.  Soon they drove the scientists away and began plotting to destroy the human race which had mocked them.  The original dolphin-being warns the heroes that his freakish family plans to drown the Earth by using their sonic powers to melt the ice caps!

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Together, the trio take off for the North pole, where the dolphin-men have gathered.  However, the malevolent mutants sense the heroes approaching and launch a sonic attack that affects Superman’s brain (and we get an educational little map of the human brain to illustrate the point, which is a nice touch).  Suddenly the Man of Steel streaks into the sky, charging a massive creature seemingly composed of sonic energy, yet he can never seem to make contact with it.  Strange!

Under the waves, the Marine Marvel presses the attack, and while he and his flippered friend hold their own, the weight of numbers soon threatens to swamp them, so the Sea King calls in an army of fish to cover his retreat.  As the mutants search for him, they fail to notice a seemingly harmless whale as it gets close, but suddenly Aquaman bursts from the creature’s mouth and slams into his aquatic antagonists!  It’s a great sequence, and Dillin does a really nice job with it, other than one slightly awkward pose.

As the Marine Marvel tears through his foes, he manages to disrupt their attack on Superman, who suddenly realizes that the monster was an illusion and dives back into the undersea brawl.  The two heroes make short work of the creatures.  Once they have been captured, Superman gives them a fiery speech, lambasting the mutants for their violent response to human ridicule, arguing that they should have worked to earn respect instead.

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Oddly, this prompts Aquaman thinks to himself that his friend “has that unbearable establishment ‘twang’ in his voice!”  That’s…a weird choice for the King of Atlantis, and it really just doesn’t fit the character, a grating sour note, way more suited to the current, obnoxious characterization of Green Arrow, made all the more surprising because it was written by Skeates, who has previously shown such a great grasp of the character.  Maybe Aquaman has been spending too much time with Ollie!

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Despite that, there is a certain interesting element to this scene, as there is some buried social commentary in an authority figure telling an abused minority that they just needed to prove themselves to the powers that be.  Given the racial issues of the day, I wonder if this was a subtle jibe or just a coincidence.  Whatever the case, after his speech, the Metropolis Marvel gathers the mutants up and flies them to an unpeopled inhabitable planet where they can create their own world, free from humanity and no threat to anyone.  On Earth, Aquaman ponders the case, and the married mariner thinks that it makes a certain amount of sense that this species that developed without love was also one that lacked an opposite sex.  Arthur, you romantic, you!

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This is a great little adventure story, and for the first time in far too long, it’s one in which Aquaman actually gets to be useful.  Yet, he isn’t just useful, he positively steals the show, which isn’t easy to do when sharing space with Superman!  The Sea King puts on a great showing in this comic, which I expected from a story by Skeates.  The threat that the heroes face is an interesting one, and the tale of the original dolphin-creature (who Skeates really should have given a name) is rather touching in its own way.  His loneliness, being the only one of his kind, is fairly poignant, and I quite like the little scene of him hanging out underwater, ‘singing colors’ to himself.

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The one real problem with the issue is that the motivation for the mutants’ hatred of mankind is a bit weak.  I’d have liked to see a bit more development to that part of the tale, but Skeates is moving pretty quickly in the space he has to work with and packs a lot in here, including a great action sequence.  It’s a shame the original dolphin-man got exiled to another world with the others, as he seemed like a decent sort and an interesting character.  If there were still an Aquaman title, he’d have made a fun addition to the supporting cast.

In terms of the art, Dillin is in particularly rare form on this book.  His work is great, and he creates some really striking panels, like the gathering of dolphin-men, Aquaman’s fish army, and the drowning city.  The creatures themselves have a pretty good design, strange enough to be a little creepy but anthropomorphic enough to be sympathetic as well.  This is just a lovely, imaginative, and well-realized issue.  I thoroughly enjoyed this comic, and it was great to see Aquaman back in action (in a good light).  While the story could have been expanded, it was great fun as is.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Another month without any new visitors to the Wall of Shame.  I wonder if anyone will succumb to the siren song of the headblow in the comics to come!

 


Final Thoughts:


June has proven to be quite a month!  There were a lot of really enjoyable comics in the line-up this time, including some very pleasant surprises, like Flash tangling with an honest-to-goodness super-powered opponent, and in a good issue, to boot!  We also had a lot of stories that illustrated the transitional nature of this era, comics with more ambition than accomplishment that nevertheless illustrated the growing maturity of the medium.  This month’s JLA certainly fits that description!

In general, the trends we’ve been observing continue this month, with a definite presence of socially conscious stories and a push towards darker themes.  Even in light-hearted series, like Superboy, we find a story about witches and warlocks.  It’s a silly tale, but it still evinces a growing interest in the supernatural in comics.  Considering we’re only a year away from the premiere of Kirby’s Demon series and soon to see the return of the Specter, I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising.  These are only the first steps of the mystical revival of the Bronze Age, and there’s much more to come!

Interestingly, among the socially conscious comics on the stands this month, we find another dealing with the plight of the Native Americans.  Considering that last month also featured such a tale, this is decent evidence that the topic was in the zeitgeist.  Fortunately, one of my awesome readers mentioned that this was certainly the case, and pointed to the publication of books like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and the release of films like Little Big Man in 1970, both of which dealt with the subject and helped to begin transforming the public’s perception of Native Americans and the history of the West.  I’ll be interested to see if this trend continues and if we find more stories from DC on the topic in the months and years to come.

Of course, Kirby’s Fourth World continues to develop in his various books, and we got two slam-bang issues to enjoy this month.  The King keeps tossing out concepts and telling exciting stories, and even his action-heavy issues have unique elements like this month’s Mr. Miracle and the proto-fabber it contained.  There’s not a ton of development of the larger mythos in these two books, though we do see the debut of Granny Goodness and get some more hints of just where Scott Free comes from.  It’s really impressive that Kirby as able to keep so many titles moving forward and rolling out his nascent mythology across these different books.  They really all do work together very well, creating a greater whole.  Reading them in collection, I didn’t really appreciate what a complex dance he was doing.

Of course, Kirby’s titles are not the only books that are growing and evolving.  Denny O’Neil is continuing his renovation of Superman, spinning a thoroughly enjoyable yarn this month, but more importantly and more memorably, he also delivered one of the greatest Batman villains of all time in a comic that was an instant classic.  The deservedly beloved Batman #232 gives us R’as Al Ghul and brings the Dark Knight solidly into the Bronze Age with a mystery and adventure tale that highlights everything that makes the character who he is, from his detective skills, to his courage, to his brilliance and physical ability.  This is the Batman I love, and it’s great to see him in action.

So, all in all, it was a really solid month, with a few clunkers but plenty of fun, readable comics.  What’s more, it demonstrates the growing character of the age in some really interesting ways.  I hope that y’all enjoyed this portion of our trip, because we now bid adieu to June 1971!  Please join me again soon as we begin our trek into the next month and see what awaits us there!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: May 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Today I bring you a special treat.  This post features the return of Batman’s greatest villain.  His most magnificent foe.  A felon more felonious than all of the many and storied members of the Dark Knight’s rogue’s gallery.  He is more colossal than Calendar Man, more outrageous than the Outsider, more catastrophic than Condiment King, more dangerous than Dr. Double X, more cataclysmic than Crazy Quilt, more sensational than Signalman, and even more crazily kinetic than Killer Moth or Kite Man!  I am, of course, speaking of the raw star power that is….the Ten-Eyed Man!

That’s right, my favorite utterly ridiculous Mort of a villain returns in this month’s issue of Batman, and his presence overshadows everything else in these books in its epic import.

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 #400
  • Adventure Comics #406
  • Batman #231
  • Brave and Bold #95
  • Detective Comics #411
  • The Flash #206
  • Forever People #2
  • G.I. Combat #147
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #83
  • Justice League of America #89
  • New Gods #2
  • Superman #237
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #110
  • World’s Finest #202

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


Batman #231


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“Blind Rage of the Ten-Eyed Man!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Gaspar Saladino

“Wiped Out!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza

Brace yourself for the awful majesty of that emperor of the oculus, that vizier of the visual, that sultan of sight, the Ten-Eyed Man!  Be still your beating hearts, my frantic fellow Batman fans, and enjoy the literary masterpiece presented here for your edification.

Batman_231_05We’ve got a cool concept in this cover, as it tries to play with perspective, but the weird representations of the finger-eyes (feyes?) with little pictures of Batman don’t quite work, and the whole thing has to contend with the silliness of the basic concept, putting it at an immediate disadvantage.  The result is a cover that ultimately suits the content within, a mixture of bad ideas executed relatively well.  And the story inside is certainly something else, though not as over the top and silly as you might expect for a tale featuring such a ridiculous villain.  Instead, Robbins plays it pretty much straight, adding realism and internal consistency, such as the Ten-Eyed Man, Reardon, having to wear gloves to sleep since he can’t close the ‘eyes’ on his fingers.  That attention to detail doesn’t make up for the fact that he has eyes on his fingers, however.  The seriousness of the yarn really makes it all the more hilarious, with the splash page positively screaming that Batman and the Ten-Eyed Man are “The deadliest enemies that fate ever brought together!”  Forget that Joker guy!  He’s old news!  The new nemesis of the Masked Manhunter is the Prince of Perception (you thought I had run out of them, didn’t you!).

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Trying so desperately to be cool and failing so tremendously…

The plot begins after the events of Reardon’s previous appearance, with the blinded former soldier obsessed with revenge on the man he blames for his condition, Batman!  In order to accomplish that goal, he sets out on a rather convoluted plan to lure the Dark Detective to the Vietnam jungle so that the fight can be on Ten-Eye’s ‘home’ ground   The Oligarch of Optics begins his operation by getting a job as an air marshal (another sign of this being the Golden Age of Skyjacking), using his ‘feyes’ to spot a threat and pass the test.  On his first flight, Reardon pulls his gun and hijacks the plane himself!  Ohh the irony!  He routes the aircraft to Vietnam and issues a challenge to Batman, demanding that the Dark Knight meet him in the jungle.

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When the Caped Crusader lands, Reardon toys with him before leading his foe into the bush, which the hero quickly discovers is full of booby traps.  Batman barely avoids some punji stakes, but he manages to trail Ten-Eye through the trees (though one thinks swinging from vines would probably blind that buffon).  Unfortunately, his foe is one step ahead of him and has prepared a trap involving a blinding flash grenade.  When it goes off, the Dark Knight seems to be stunned, but when Reardon drops his guard, Batman drops him!  The hero revealed that he was watching the villain’s hands, and when the ten-digited-doofus hid his ‘feyes,’ the hero protected his own eyes, allowing him to capture his “deadliest foe.”

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You just have to wonder why in the world Frank Robbins looked at all of the great stories he had written, at the characters he had created, including the honestly great concept of the macabre Man-Bat, and decided that this guy, this ridiculous, goofy, and utterly worthless Z-lister was the one that deserved a return engagement.  Robbins clearly isn’t a bad writer, and he also is heavily involved in the growing maturity and style of the Batman books, but for some reason, he told not one, but two different stories about a guy with eyes in his fingers.  The fact that they were so clearly meant to be taken seriously separates these comics from even the zanier efforts of Bob Haney and the like.

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Aside for the silliness of the antagonist, this story is just a bit lackluster on its own merits.  I suppose that so much time is spent on catchup and setup that the actual confrontation in the jungle, which could have been pretty exciting (with a different villain), is given short shrift.  Essentially Batman dodges one trap and then just utterly owns the loser who drew him halfway around the world.  It’s certainly a fitting ending given how worthless the villain is, but it isn’t supposed to be that way in context.  So, I’ll give this strange story  1.5 Minutemen.  It’s not boring, and it’s not just downright annoying like others, but it certainly is goofy.  Novick draws the heck out of the tale, but he can’t rescue it.  Apparently this will sadly be the last appearance of the Emperor of Eyes (last one, I promise!) until 1975, but I’m astonished that he’s going to be coming back that soon!

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“Wiped Out”


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Batman_231_23The Robin backup strip continues to entertain me, in contrast to this month’s headline tale.  Mike Friedrich also continues to demonstrate his skill at cramming a lot of plot and even some character development into seven pages at a time, which is pretty impressive.  We pick up with Robin after the apparent death of campus radical Hank Osher in the previous issue.  I have to say, I’m surprised that Hank really seems to be dead and that the bombing plot actually was resolved with the explosion that claimed his life.  I really expected there to be more to that, and I’m slightly disappointed.  The way it stands, that arc ended a bit too abruptly.  We’re left with the dangling thread of the orange shoed yahoos who jumped Robin, giving him the once-over.  The story begins with Dick ruminating on his failure to save Hank and feeling rather down about the job he’s been doing as Robin.  Suddenly, a knock at the door heralds the arrival of a pretty young girl named Terri Bergstrom, who apparently just ‘sensed’ that she and Dick had been matched by a computer dating service.

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Batman_231_28This girl could give Lilith lessons in being cryptic, as she seems to have a 6th sense about everything, but seeing as this is the first real inkling of anything unusual with her, I’ll give it time to develop before I make a judgement about how this works.  The two set out for a date, swinging by her place to check movie listings, only to find her room has been ransacked.  They check back at Dick’s room and find the same, with his valuables stolen.  The young hero begs off the date and sets out to catch the thieves, reasoning that if anyone were spying on the computer dating service (common theme in these years, it seems), they could have known he and Terri were out of their rooms on a date.  So, he heads to another member of the service who he knows is out on a date and finds a thief making his get away.

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The Teen Wonder puts an end to that escape and threatens a lead out of the punk kid.  He discovers that the “Bronco” frat, the orange shoed punks from the previous story, are behind the thefts, so he goes to confront them at the gym.  Feeling like he’s got something to make up for after the beating they gave him (and he really does), Robin throws it into high gear and utterly annihilates the three thugs he finds there with some nice acrobatic attacks.  It’s a reasonably good payoff for the uncharacteristic trouncing the hero took previously, and Novick makes it look great.  The tale ends with Terri and Dick making up their date, as he explains how Robin captured the thieves and had Batman take down their Gotham-based fence.

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Check out dapper young Dick’s fabulous pink ascot.

This is a good little story, building on what came before to maximize narrative space.  It’s cool to see Robin get his revenge on the Bronco buffoons who flattened him the first time, and we discover that their attack actually tied way back to the political scandal several issues ago.  We also get a sense that Terri has more going on than at first appears, and have a love interest officially introduced in their date, about which I find myself ambivalent.  As I’ve said before, I’ve always got a soft spot for the Robin/Batgirl romance.  Nonetheless, I continue to find myself enjoying these college adventures of the Teen Wonder significantly more than I expected to.  I’m still a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a bit more to the bombing plot, but I’m looking forward to what comes next for my favorite sidekick!  I’ll give this one 3.5 Minutemen.  It moves away from the heavier themes of the previous stories but still delivers a solid, small-scale adventure, and the ease with which Robin handles these teenage toughs seems fitting for Batman’s partner.

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Brave and the Bold #95


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“C.O.D. Corpse on Delivery”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Zany Haney returns, and he’s as zany as ever!  We’ve got a mystery guest star this month, and a gimmicky cover to capitalize on that.  It’s an okay image, pretty much solely designed to take advantage of the unknown guest, which the tale inside lives up to remarkably well, with the resolution to the mystery being a fairly dramatic reveal.  This issue is a heck of a fun and entertaining ride, but it is definitely not a Batman story.  The whole thing has the feel of a film noir flick dressed up in superhero garb, with schemes, betrayals, and classic adventure beats filling it.  The characters involved are pretty much superfluous.  The whole thing would work much better with Humphrey Bogart than Bruce Wayne.

brave and the bold 095 003The crazy tale opens with Batman waltzing into the lobby of the “Big Double R,” the skyscraper headquarters of the richest women in the world, ruthless industrialist Ruby Ryder.  The Dark Knight passes through security, emphasizing just how far this portrayal is from the still developing hero of the other Bat-books who broods in the shadows.  After being approved (like he doesn’t have weapons in his utility belt?  I’m thinking that guard should be fired), Bats strolls into Ryder’s office, where she tries to buy his services with a five million dollar donation to the charity of his choice.  That’s already a bit odd, especially for the super-rich Bruce Wayne, but his dialog is even more out of place, as he tells her “That’s a lot of bubble-gum wrappers!”  The lovely lady begs the hero to seek out her fiance, who has gone missing in South America, and despite the fact that the Caped Crusader tells her, “hunting criminals is my bag-not missing bridegrooms,” he agrees when she begs him on her knees.

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Living up to his name, the Masked Manhunter heads down to South America, where he finds a low-life pilot who supposedly flew the missing man, Kyle Morgan, out into the bush.  The pilot refuses to talk, so Batman gives him some ‘gentle’ encouragement.  The fight scene is beautifully rendered by Cardy, of course, and we get a nice action beat.

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The furious flyer, Jake Angel, relents and gives the hero a lift to the remote village to which he supposedly delivered Morgan.  After dropping his passenger off amidst a crowd of headhunters, the perfidious pilot takes off again, abandoning him.  Batman whips out a smoke bomb and disappears, scattering pictures of his quarry among the natives, and this overawes them enough that they point him to a hut in their village.  Inside, he sees a shrunken head!

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Yet, it turns out to be a fake, and after a dangerous journey back, Batman squeezes the truth out of Angel, finally being led to a deliriously feverish Kyle Morgan.  This is just page eight!  Despite the pilot’s efforts to stop him, the Dark Knight takes his plane and his charge and flies back, though when the missing man awakens, he attacks his rescuer.  Batman spins the plane, and we get a clever upside down panel, with dialog to match, and he disables Morgan.

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brave and the bold 095 016brave and the bold 095 015Unfortunately, the reunion of the lost lovers isn’t quite what the Caped Crusader imagined.  Ruby Ryder pulls out a pistol and shoots Morgan in cold blood, framing Batman for the murder…which seems like more than a little bit of a stretch.  He’s found with the body, the gun, and the check, but he’s also inside her building.  Either way, the Dark Knight escapes by diving through a high-rise window!  Later, and quite ridiculously, Batman, dressed in a hat and trenchcoat, OVER his costume, waylays the fiery femme fatale’s lawyer at Morgan’s funeral to try to get some information.  It’s a really silly image.  Not so silly, however, is the fact that, unseen, the casket opens and something emerges!  Dun dun DUNNN!

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Batman sets out to track Ruby Ryder down, as she’s gone into hiding outside the country, but as he pursues his investigation, people try to kill him, but he is saved by a mysterious figure that he never quite sees.  Ohh, and the bad guys totally discover his secret identity because he’s sloppy and gets observed going and coming from Bruce Wayne’s window, but they are too stupid to put the pieces together and assume he’s just using the millionaire’s identity.  Finally, the Dark Detective finds a mysterious note left in his locked room that point him towards Marrakech (spelled Marakeech).

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Crossing the desert towards Ryder’s hideout, Batman is once again rescued by his mysterious ally, who rises out of the sand in strange, undulating shapes and, apparently, kills the hero’s traitorous guide.  Keep that in mind when we get to the reveal.  The Dark Knight finally captures the vicious vixen, taking out her guard and avoiding a trap, and brings her back for trial.  After she is sentenced to death, we jump to the date of her execution.  Fortunately for her, the Masked Manhunter has finally put the pieces together, and he rushes into the chamber and unmasks her would-be executioner as her still very much alive former fiance…Plastic Man?!?!

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Yep, that’s right, the goofy, humorous, devil-may-care Ductile Detective, Plastic Man, was Kyle Morgan.  Apparently he got tired of living as a “freak,” and decided he wanted to settle down and get married, so he took on a desirable identity and appearance, and fell in love with Ruby Ryder.  However, when he discovered how cruel and vicious she was, he faked his death to leave her.  Of course, when she shot him, it didn’t do a whole lot of good, and he wanted her to face her death and see how it felt, though he swears he wouldn’t have flipped the switch.  Given the fact that he’s apparently killed at least one person already, that seems a tad dubious!  After this revelation, the dangerous dame goes free, and Plastic Man is left trying to decide what to do with his life.

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This is such a wild story, and, as usual with Haney, it is utterly packed to the gills with plot.  It moves at a rapid pace, and yet there is even a little time for characterization with Ruby Ryder and (mis)characterization with Batman and Plastic Man.  Yet, Batman is really and unquestionably miscast here.  He’s just way too casual and chatty, and even the ‘Policeman’s Friend’ Batman of the Silver Age wasn’t usually quite so trendy in his speech as is the slang-slinging version that Haney pens.  The story doesn’t really fit the character either, and the role could have honestly been more fittingly filled by a hardboiled character like Slam Bradley, Jason Bard, or Johnny Double.

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The Plastic Man reveal is actually quite well done, and if you don’t happen to know it’s coming, there is a good chance that it will surprise you.  Of course, Haney applies his usual filter to the character, and ‘down on his luck has-been’ was his favorite angle to take with a B&B co-star.  Despite the incongruous character elements, this is actually a pretty solid story, and a very enjoyable adventure yarn that is remarkably efficient in its storytelling.  Haney could really tell a tale when he was of a mind, even if he could rarely be bothered to make it fit in with anything else.  Ruby Ryder herself is a really impressively drawn character.  She is just bursting with personality, as are so many of Haney’s supporting characters, but she is something special.  Brought to beautiful life by Nick Cardy, not only is she a femme fatale, she is also a powerful and capable business tycoon.  This is a very independent woman, one who is cold and calculating, yet with the viciousness of a woman scorned.  This character is pretty significant, standing out from the crowd in 1971 by treating a woman as quite the equal in a man’s world.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, and though I really enjoyed it, I can’t quite justify giving it 4 because of its mischaracterizations.

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And thus we bid adieu to a new character who is really quite interesting in Ruby Ryder and a recent character who is only worthwhile for his complete goofiness!  Our next set of books sees the introduction of another femme fatale, one who would go on to play a fairly major role in the DC mythos in years to come.  Tune in soon for another addition of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Today we’ve got the all teen version, apparently, as we have not one, not two, but three separate stories about young people losing their freaking minds and blowing stuff up!  If that’s not enough to pique your interest, I don’t know what would, so check out today’s tales!

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.


Batman #230


Batman_230“Take-Over of Paradise!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Danger Comes A-Looking!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

This cover looks very Black Panther-ish, but the story inside features a different type of gang.  The headline tale continues to engage themes of youth involvement and demonstration, though Robbins’ handling of these ideas is a bit strange.  It begins with Batman intervening in a gang fight between two groups of young punks.  When he shows up, both of them turn against him, which doesn’t work out too well for their leaders.  I rather enjoy how little patience the Dark Knight has for their nonsense throughout this issue.  He gives them a speech about how, if they really care about their ‘turf,’ they should try to make it better, not tear it apart, and he reforges the kids into a singular community action group called ‘the Brave Barons.’  They channel their anger into productive avenues, cleaning up their neighborhoods and trying to make a difference.

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It seems like Batman has helped them find their way until a year later when Alfred draws his master’s attention to a news story featuring the Barons themselves.  They have taken over a new luxury apartment building in order to demand the city build affordable housing for its poor inhabitants.  They surrounded the building with a chain of explosives and are holding the structure hostage until their demands are met.

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Batman230-06The Masked Manhunter is furious at them and declares that they’ve made their beds, so they can lie in them.  He refuses to take a hand.  Now, I’m of two minds about this.  On the one hand, Batman is a hard fellow, so he might just let people too stupid to learn from their mistakes learn how much they can cost.  On the other hand, with Gotham in danger, he’s not one to sit on the sidelines, regardless of his personal feelings.  I guess you could say that he didn’t consider these kids any real threat, but it still strikes me as a bit off.

Yet, as the siege wears on, the Barons two leaders, Shades and Rap demand to talk to the Bat himself, hoping he can negotiate for them.  Tensions begin to show between these two as they wait, however.  While the Dark Knight reluctantly agrees to deal with the gang, Rap and Shades begin to fight.  Shades wants to demolish the building to make a statement, but Rap isn’t willing to go that far.  They struggle, and we cut away before we see what happens.

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Meanwhile, the Caped Crusader arrives and meets two more of the gang, Mouse and Kitten, who let him through.  Mouse leads the hero to the headquarters where the leaders had holed-up, but when they arrive, they find Rap dead!  The young man fills Batman in, then bolts as they begin searching the building.  Shades uses a megaphone to tell the Barons to clear out, and the Dark Knight zeroes in on his location, finding him in a closet with the detonator.  They fight a desperate battle, but Batman is able to put the kid down and disable the device.

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Strangely enough, when Shades tells Batman to take him in because he’s guilty of killing Rap, the Masked Manhunter is preoccupied, waiting for someone else to arrive.  He tells Shades that he didn’t actually kill Rap.  When the Baron’s leader blacked out, the real murderer finished Rap off!  Just then, the killer, anxious about the distinct lack of explosions in the building, comes to investigate, and the hero and the gang member capture the shadowy figure.  Only then do they realize that it is actually Kitten!

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Apparently this cat has some wicked claws, and she murdered Rap and framed shades so that she could take over and “show them what a femme leader could do”!  Yikes, that’s taking women’s lib rather far.  Batman suspected the truth when Mouse recognized the body even though he could only see its legs.  Yet, the hero didn’t suspect that it was Mouses’s girlfriend, rather than he himself, who had done the deed.  The story ends with Shades declaring that, even if things turned out badly, at least they got their ‘message’ across and that they’re willing to pay the price, which is a strange note to end on.  It almost seems to justify the Barons’ terrorist tactics.

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This is a story with potential but not enough space to actually accomplish its aims.  There are too many characters in too cramped of a plot to be effective.  We barely meet the two leaders before they are at each other’s throats, and we don’t really meet Kitten at all until she’s revealed as the killer.  The social themes at play here don’t have enough room to breathe either, though they add an interesting dimension to the story.  With the talk of “their people” and the cover design, I rather wonder if these kids were supposed to be black in the original concept.  That would likely have made this comic a bit too controversial at the time, though.

The central mystery of the murder is reasonably engaging, and I enjoyed both Batman’s deduction and his miscalculation about the killer’s identity.  It simultaneously showed his skill and his humanity.  That section worked well, however weak the motivations involved were.  Novick’s art was quite strong in this whole comic, but particularly in this first chpater where it is heavily atmospheric and nicely dramatic.  In general, the tale is just a bit too rushed and a bit too underdeveloped.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as it’s a fairly mediocre story, but not an unpleasant read.

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“Danger Comes A-Looking”


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The robin backup that follows, however, is actually quite good, doing more with less.  It helps that Friedrich builds on what came before in surprising detail.  He’s really crafting an interesting ongoing saga for the Teen Wonder.  Not only does this story pick up threads from previous Robin backups, it also ties right in with last month’s World’s Finest, making the bombing and unrest on campus part of the young hero’s setting, which is a neat touch.  Once Superman drops him off, Dick decides to start investigating that bombing.

Before he can even get started Robin is jumped by three college toughs.  They bite off a bit more than they can chew, however, and the young Action Ace gives a good account of himself.  Well…almost.  He sends two of the three flying, and then one of them gets in a lucky gut punch.  Apparently this one punch leaves Robin too stunned to follow the trio as they run off.  Now, if you’ve ever taken a real punch to the gut, you know that it can take a lot out of you, especially if you’re not ready for it.  Yet, Dick was in the middle of a fight and he’s a trained fighter, so I’m not quite sure how things would shake out this way.  This scene bugged me, as it really only happens because of plot and it once more makes the character seem incompetent for the sake of a story.

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Whatever the case, poor Dick takes a licking, unable to spot anything of his assailants but their orange tennis-shoes.  The next day he has to wander around campus bruised and battered, which means he has some explaining to do.  He runs into Phil Real, our photographer friend from a few issues back, and a new girl named Terri Bergstrom, who catches our young hero’s eye.  They’re apparently part of a computer club that is working on a computer dating service, which must have been in the zeitgeist around this time.  After all, we got a mention of it in a Batgirl arc in the last year.  I touch on this short scene as I suspect it will prove important in a future issue, though it doesn’t figure into this story.

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Where our plot does pick back up is when Dick observes a notice in the school paper from Marty and Davy, his friends from the last World’s Finest adventure.  They ask Robin to meet them, and when he does, they tell him that they think they’ve figured out who the bomber is, but before they can explain their suspicions, the Teen Detectives spots orange shoes like those of his attackers and discovers that they are part of the initiation ritual of members of the Kappa Zeta fraternity (never trust a frat boy!), known as the Broncos.  The Titan pursues the boys and discovers them attacking a protest by the radical ‘Students for Democratic Action’ organization.

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Emulating his mentor in the main title, Robin flings himself into the middle of the melee, and he finds the two sides turning against him.  The Teen Wonder makes short work out of the first two attackers, which lets him calm the situation down.  Interestingly, the young hot-head, Hank Osher, who we met a while back, is heading up the protest, and he storms off, bad-mouthing the young hero.  Suddenly, his car explodes, seemingly confirming the theory that Marty and Davy had that the angry radical was the bomber.

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This issue ends rather differently than the Batman tale, as Robin notes that Frank caused his own demise as “playing with violence is like playing with fire!  Sometimes you get burned–permanently!”  The Teen Wonder is hard on himself for not having seen Hank’s role in the crime, but he’s also rather introspective about how he keeps finding himself in the middle, with both sides against him in these conflicts.  (I feel ya’, kid!)  I imagine it had to be tough to be a level-headed person during this era (though, I suppose a rational person is always on the outs with our world), someone aware enough to see the problems with the culture but reasonable enough to know that change has to be incremental to be sustainable and successful.

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This brief story is really fairly good.  You’ve got a lot of moving parts, and Friedrich is successfully fleshing out Robin’s supporting cast over the course of these backups.  He’s doing a good job of cramming a ton into these stories, and the payoff is exponential, as each new story builds on what came before.  Curiously, his writing is much less melodramatic and touchy-feely here.  The protagonist is faced with interesting challenges, and his stories being set in one of the most volatile and controversial areas of American culture during this period provides lots of plot and character possibilities.  This particular setup is intriguing, though I’m hoping there’s more to the mystery than meets the eye.  At the least, the issue of the orange shoes remains to be resolved, but I imagine there will be more going on with Hank Osher as well.  Taken in isolation, this little story is way too brief and incomplete to be successful, but in context, it makes for a solid step along the way for this arc.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, as it loses a bit for making Robin take a dive in the opening pages.

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Brave and the Bold #94


Brave_and_the_bold_94“Rebels in the Streets”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Ohh Bob Haney.  Crazy, zaney Bob Haney.  This story is definitely a product of the Zaney one, and its contrast with this month’s issue of Batman is really telling of Haney’s disregard for continuity or characterization.  He is definitely in a world all his own.  This tale also deals with youth involvement, protest, and radicalism, but in Haney’s own inimitable style, upping the ante to a ludicrous degree.

The crazy is evident right from the start, as Commissioner Gordon and the army have the Gotham ghetto cordoned off because they’ve received a threat that the youth of the area have acquired an atomic bomb.  Yep, you read that right.  While the Brave Barons just got some regular old explosives, these enterprising youngsters went out and bought themselves some radioactive materials and built their very own weapon of mass destruction!  They want to negotiate, and The Bomb is their bargaining chip.  Batman is heading into the slums to meet with the kids of STOPP (Society to Outlaw Parent Power, a Bob Haney name if ever there were one).

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On the way in, a punk with a switchblade jumps him, but the Dark Knight easily disarms the kid, and offers to go with him peacefully.  It’s a nice little moment.  The revolutionaries blindfold the Masked Manhunter and bring him to their leaders, Mark, Chino, and Linda, who fill him in on the situation.  From the beginning, the tensions between this trio are evident, and the atmosphere is thick with animosity for anything and everything.

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This looks like the setting for The Dark Knight Returns.  Where are the Mutants?

They’ve got that late 60s ‘rebelling against the whole world’ vibe in spades.  The trio tell the hero that ‘The Genius Dropout’ built their a-bomb, which is a pretty impressive feat for someone who didn’t finish high school.  They give Bats a copy of the plans as evidence and send him back to the powers that be.  Once convinced, the city has the Caped Crusader contact Mark once more to get their demands.

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Apparently Andy Warhol is leading the resistance.

In the meantime, Batman is desperate to keep the peace, even begging for the President not to send in the National Guard and to give him time to resolve things peacefully.  Yet, Commissioner Gordon is not so patient, and he’s starts rounding up protestors and cracking down on the city.  It’s almost like being held for ransom by an atomic weapon is serious or something!  Friction develops between the old friends, and the Dark Knight keeps defending the kids, who, once they start playing with atomic weapons, seem to me to have graduated from youths to terrorists rather definitively.  Caught between the two groups, the hero calls in backup, young backup, and the Teen Titans come to help.

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Robin and Lilith show up ‘in mufti’ (civilian garb), while Kid Flash and Wonder Girl come in costume.  The first pair infiltrates STOPP to try and find the bomb while the others act as backup.  The kids are well organized and paranoid, but fortunately the Titans have laid their plans well, so they are accepted, provisionally.  As the two costumed kids search the town, Dick and Lilith join Chino to deliver their demands, which they do, with a bomb for some reason.  As Batman is trying to calm the powers that be, there’s an explosion outside city hall, and when the smoke clears, STOPP’s demands are on the door, like a set of theses.  On the way back, the undercover pair get spotted by the cops, so they knock Chino out and have their backup rescue them.

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Clearly these are cool-headed and rational people we can negotiate with.

The kid’s demands are actually pretty reasonable for the most part, though there are some glaring exceptions.  They want slumlords prosecuted, pushers arrested, and their garbage picked up.  Basically, they want the laws enforced, but they also want ghetto schools closed and all of their agitating fellows released.  Most outrageous of all, they want several public figures, including Gordon and Batman himself, locked up as a sign of good faith.  Keep in mind, all of this is being enforced by threat of atomic annihilation.  I can’t emphasize that enough.  While people very reasonably insist on rational actions, like evacuating the city, Batman insists that they kowtow to the terrorists’…er…I mean kids’ demands.

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Meanwhile, the search goes on with no luck, until the Dark Detective reasons that he might be able to find this Dropout Genius if he checks school records.  He tracks the underage Unabomber down, but discovers that he’s been arrested at the protests and has lost his memory.  Sure!  Why not!  With no time left because of Batman’s insistence on not evacuating, the city caves and agrees to all demands.  Yet, even that doesn’t stop the madness.  It’s almost like folks crazy enough to threaten to blow themselves sky-high shouldn’t be trusted to make rational choices!

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Haha!  They were planning to murder millions of innocent people!  Those scamps!

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Linda, one of the three leaders, refuses to surrender the bomb, swearing that the powers that be will never keep their word.  Yikes, and we thought Kitten was a crazy chick!  She only planed to blow up a single building.  This girl makes her look like an amateur as she plans to murder a town!  Linda steals the weapon and hides it somewhere else, so the Titans track her down.  Lilith uses her powers to invade the girl’s mind, but for some reason, she doesn’t just find the bomb’s location.  Instead, there’s a whole song and dance about what made the young harpy what she is as the psychic explores her past.  Apparently, Linda’s mother left her with relatives when she was young, and she had major abandonment issues.  She ran away when her mother was going to return seven years later, so the Titans figure that the mother is the key to the girl’s psyche…or something.

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DRAMA!

The revolutionaries agree to help the team find the woman, and we eventually get a big, emotional reunion, as the hurt daughter lashes out at her mother before finally making up in tears.  Ohh, and she also gives up the bomb.  Sheesh.  Maybe I’m being a little unreasonable, but I sorta’ don’t think that someone who is willing to nuke an entire city for no reason really deserves a happy ending.  Either way, the story ends with Gordon and Batman strolling off into the sunrise talking about making a better world.

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Those murderous sociopaths were going to kill us all, even after we gave them what they wanted.  What rapscallions!

Man, summarizing Zaney Haney ain’t easy! This story is just plain nuts.  It’s an entertaining read, (when is Haney NOT entertaining?) but the central premise is just so insane that I can’t get past it.  In addition, the reactions of both Batman and Gordon really drive me nuts, as they are completely out of sync with what is happening in the story.  After discovering that STOPP had hidden a freaking atomic bomb in a statue of the Dark Knight, the Commissioner treats it like a delightful prank by a precocious child.  He actually laughs about their antics.  The tone is wildly out of measure with the situation.  ‘Those darn kids and their atomic weapons!  Haha!  What rascals!’  That’s just a completely bonkers response to attempted mass-murder.

In  addition, look at the difference between Batman’s portrayal in this story and in his own title.  In his own book, the Caped Crusader is completely unwilling to negotiate with the gang when they cross the line from activism to terrorism, which seems rather fitting for his character.  In this one, he goes to incredible extremes to make sure that everybody complies with the little terrorists.  He’s completely sympathetic with their goals and even excuses their methods.  That’s about as big a difference as you’re going to see.  Now, I’m not a huge fan of Haney’s personal demesnes of character portrayals, but I generally don’t find it to be the worst thing ever.  Yet, even if your version of a character is different, it should still make some kind of sense!  Haney’s treatment of the themes that are clearly very powerfully present in the zeitgeist of youth involvement and the nature of social activism is about as out of touch and ridiculous as his stories usually are, and its weaknesses really show when read concurrently with what other authors were doing with the same ideas at the time.

I know this is a comic, and comics use broad strokes and larger than life characters and situations.  Nonetheless, this setup is just too ludicrous and too all over the place to work.  As usual, Haney throws in everything including the kitchen sink, with a homemade atom bomb, a trained youth terrorist army that can’t decide if they’re protesting or blowing things up, emotionally damaged women, Batman at odds with the authorities, and undercover teen heroes, and that doesn’t even cover everything!

On the plus side, we get some more of Nick Cardy’s lovely, soft pencils, but unfortunately, it’s a Batman story.  Though I love his work, I’m not crazy about his rendition of the Dark Knight.  Fortunately, we get some wonderfully atmospheric work on Gotham City and on the revolutionaries and the Titans.  Nobody draws the Titans like Cardy!  Yet, his art can’t save this tale.  I can’t get past the bat-guano premise and the fact that Haney wants us to empathize with terrorists who threaten to nuke their own city, so I’m going to give this one 2 Minutemen.  It’s still readable, but rather maddening.

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Clearly the state of America’s youth was on the zeitgeist, at least over at DC, at this time.  Just in today’s two books we see three different examinations (admittedly of varying quality and thoughtfulness) of the situation.  It’s fascinating to see such different perspectives on the issues of the day manifested so clearly in our comics.  Let’s see what interesting material our next books hold.  Please join me soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age, and until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: November 1970 (Part 2)

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Welcome back readers, for an extra special edition of Into the Bronze Age!  This is not just any post.  This is a post of incredible significance.  We honor today an event that will be sung throughout the ages, a debut that causes all of the other moments of note we’ve encountered to pale in comparison.  I am speaking, of course, of the creation of the greatest Batman, nay, the greatest comic villain of all time, the one, the only, Ten-Eyed Man!

That’s right, prepare yourselves for the unbridled glory that is, without a doubt, one of the dumbest character concepts ever conceived.  What more could you possibly ask for?

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.


Batman #226


batman_226The Man with Ten Eyes!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Case of the Gigantic Gamble!”
Penciler: Will Ely
Inker: Will Ely
Letterer: Pat Gordon
(Reprint)

I’ve been looking forward to this one, in the same sense you look forward to a movie you know is going to be so bad it’s good.  Ohh man, this comic is something else.  It introduces one of the dumbest, most useless villains in comic book history with what very well might be the worst “power” of all time in the character of the Ten-Eyed Man, a guy with ‘eyes’ in his fingers.  That’s his whole gimmick, that he’s got eyes on his fingertips.  Why is that an advantage rather than a crippling liability?  Well, you’d have to ask Frank Robbins.  He certainly spends plenty of time trying to convince us that this is actually the greatest thing ever, but what makes this issue so very marvelous is that it takes itself completely seriously.  In the goofiest, most bat-guano insane Bob Haney stories, you never feel like Haney is unaware of the fact that the story he’s telling is bonkers.  In the same way, in most of those silly Superman tales that feel more Silver than Bronze Age-y, you can tell that the authors are, to a certain degree, in on the joke,  Not in this comic.  Frank Robbins, who is usually a good, dependable scribe, goes above and beyond to ratchet up the drama and, in some senses, realism, of this piece, to unintentionally hilarious effect.  So, let’s examine the shinning star of ludicrousness that is this issue.

We start with a gang of criminals preparing to rob a fur warehouse, with only a lone guard to stop them.  Unfortunately for them, he’s a special forces veteran who survived the jungles of Vietnam, and he’s more than capable of handling them.  He trashes the thugs, but one of them manages to bean him with a brick, knocking him out and making his vision go fuzzy.  They set a bomb to blow open the vault (do fur warehouses have vaults?), only to have the Dark Knight arrive and spoil their plans.  Fortunately for them, the groggy guard, mistaking the hero for his assailants, attacks him as he tries to cut the fuse.

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The pair struggle, with Batman trying to reach the bomb and the guard unwittingly preventing him, until the explosives go off, blinding the watchman and injuring the Masked Manhunter.  Now here we meet one of the silly notes of the story, but by no means the silliest, as the crooks grab the watchman, whose name is Philip Reardon, and cart him off to a doctor, for some reason.  The gang leader is determined that the blinded man can be turned into an asset, but there’s absolutely no reason that he should think the fellow would be willing to help him, even if he wasn’t crippled.  This doesn’t prevent the gangster from spending a pile of money on doctors in an attempt to cure the fellow’s blindness, though, which is an awfully big investment for very flimsy reasons.  But really, focusing on something as mundane as a gap in plot logic is really doing this ridiculous story a disservice.

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Meanwhile, Batman’s vision has been damaged as well, and it is only with the help of his trusty aide, Alfred, that he’s able to get home.  Eventually he and Reardon end up in the office of the same eye specialist.  For some reason, the Dark Knight is obsessed with continuing his work, even while injured, despite the fact that there is no compelling reason for him to take the risk.  There’s no overriding case, no impending danger, no dangling mystery left unsolved.  Nonetheless, he rigs up a set of camera lenses and makes Alfred give him directions over the radio.  Many may remember this type of story being told to much better effect in the Batman: TAS episode “Blind as a Bat,” which did feature an immediate danger that could not wait.

Well, unfortunately for Reardon, the specialist apparently got his qualifications from a crackerjack box, as his idea to restore the man’s lost sight is nothing short of ridiculous.  He performs a delicate operation to connect the veteran’s optic nerves to the nerves in his fingers.  Because that’s how nerves work.  And because fingers can detect light.  And because this would be at all useful.  Yet, Robbins is determined to show us how this is the most amazing ability ever conceived.

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Reardon, newly “powered,” blames Batman for his blinding, which is completely irrational, considering it was the thieves who planted the bomb, but I’m actually going to let that pass.  People do react irrationally to tragedy and loss, and, strangely enough, this might actually be the most believable part of this story!  Reardon indulges his hatred by ambushing the Dark Knight when the hero returns to the clinic, knocking him out and almost burning his eyes out with a surgical laser!  Alfred manages to rouse his master in the nick of time over their radio channel, and then begins a very odd fight scene.  Batman thinks his opponent is blind, so it takes some time for him to puzzle out what is going on, probably because it’s so colossally stupid that he can’t bring himself to believe it.  To make matters worse, his video lenses were knocked out in the first attack, so his vision is on the fritz.  During the fight, we see the complete infeasibility of the Ten-Eyed Man’s “power,” as he accidentally catches himself with one of his hands, thus causing agonizing pain in his ‘eyes.’  That’s…that’s quite a weakness there.  It makes the one-hour water limit of Aquaman seem positively dignified and helpful.

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The Gotham Guardian finally manages to defeat his ‘ohh so challenging’ opponent by ‘blinding’ him by wrapping his cowl around the embittered man’s hand…eyes…whatever, allowing the hero to get in a knockout blow.  Yet, when he brings the doctor in to take charge of the clearly unhinged patient, he is gone, and Batman makes a chilling proclamation, declaring that the Ten-Eyed Man has been “unleashed on innocent Gotham–the most dangerous man alive!”  Wait, did I say chilling?  I mean wildly, hilariously exaggerated.  Really?  “The most dangerous man alive”?  That wouldn’t be, say, the Joker?  Or, hey, what about all of those super-villains with world-ending powers that are running around out there?  Nope, it’s the guy with eyes in his fingertips.  That’s the guy who we should really be worried about.

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This is just such an absolutely ridiculous comic that it is difficult to even know where to begin.  You have to wonder how Robbins ever convinced himself that this was a character worth writing about, much less how he sold Julie Schwartz on him.  After all, the guy’s not a bad writer, but I guess everyone has an off day now and then.  This is just a particularly egregious one.  What really ratchets up the quality of this tremendous failure to such lofty and delightful heights of terribleness is the extent to which Robbins goes to establish the believably and realism of key moments.  He focuses on logical consistency, after the initial shark jumps, stressing things like the desperation and awkwardness of Batman’s blind-fighting, the limitations of someone with eyes on their freaking fingertips, and more.  It’s a Silver Age-type idea told with Bronze Age attention to detail, and the result is just wonderfully bad.  I have to give this comic 1 Minuteman for quality, but I’d give it a 5 for Mystery Science Theater-type entertainment.

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Brave and Bold #92


brave_and_the_bold_92Night Wears a Scarlet Shroud!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Here are are with another jaunt into the Haney-verse!  This issue is actually quite tame by Haney standards, and this month the Zany One turns in an interesting, exciting issue that almost makes complete sense.  It features a new creation, the Bat-Squad, that I’m fairly certain never saw the light of day again (as always, let me know if I’ve missed something!).  This eclectic collection of random Brits actually make up a nice supporting cast for this one issue, but I can’t imagine another story that would have an easy time making use of them.  Their presence in this tale is just a result of happenstance, and there would be no reason for them to join forces again.

We meet this trio of characters on the set of a movie being filmed in London.  They are Margo Cantrell, script girl and stand-in for the lead actress, Major Dabney, a retired Scotland Yard inspector who is working as a technical advisor, and Mick Murdock, a British version of Rick Jones.  He’s a guitar-playing troubadour type.  They’re all working on a film called The Scarlet Strangler, which is based on a real set of unsolved murders by a mysterious madman that took place many years ago in the very neighborhood in which they’re filming.  I was entertained by the fact that Bruce Wayne is showing up here to oversee yet another movie that he’s invested in, tying this story in with three others that have had similar setups.  I have to imagine that this is just coincidence, because I just can’t conceive of Bob Haney having intentionally taken note of such a small issue of continuity.

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Anyway, Bruce Wayne, movie producer, happens to be on hand to see the starlet play her first scene with the ‘Strangler,’ but something goes wrong, as the mysterious figure plucks her up and carries her off rather than following the script.  They quickly realize something is amiss, and the film’s director, Basil Coventry, faints in shock.  Bruce slips away and changes into Batman, who actually bothers to offer a plausible explanation for his presence in London.  Are we sure this was Bob Haney?

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brave-and-the-bold-092-014The Dark Knight organizes the trio to help him search for the missing actress, they begin prowling the foggy streets, where the hero has a strange encounter.  He’s passed by a horse-drawn carriage and a cabby who speaks in a manner some half-century out of date.  Before he can consider the odd occurrence, he sights the Strangler and ambushes him, only to be tossed about like a rag doll by his ‘maniacal strength!’  Fortunately, the Major arrives before the fiend can finish him off.  In the struggle, Batman tore off part of his opponent’s coat, and the former inspector discovers small beetles on the fragment, claiming that they are a species that fills the cellars of London and that each family has unique markings, allowing you to tell which cellar they hailed from.  This seemed strange and specific enough to be true, so I was surprised to find that no such species exists.  That’s a neat little detail, and it adds a touch of something special to the story!

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The Major sets out to search for the madman’s hideout by ogling beetles, and the Masked Manhunter decides to risk a more immediate gambit.  He asks Margo to pose as the kidnapped actress in the hopes that the Strangler will think she’s escaped and come after her.  Meanwhile, he and Mick will remain close by.  The fiend takes the bait, and a desperate struggle ensues.  They have him on the ropes, but he is rescued by a shadowy figure.  There’s another player in the game!

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At that point, the Major checks in and tells the team that he’s found the fiend’s hideout, and when they search it, they find the missing actress, though she claims she’s actually the character she was playing.  This causes some of the party to panic, thinking they’ve somehow traveled back in time.  Just then, they sight the Stranger approaching, but he is confronted by the shadowy figure who had aided him, who is revealed to be Basil Coventry!  The Strangler turns on his erstwhile ally, and the Major is forced to shoot him to save the director’s life.

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The strain is too much for the filmmaker, however, and he turns on Batman, claiming that he, himself, is the Strangler.  They struggle, falling through the rotted floor and into a cellar, where they dislodge an ancient Nazi bomb, leftover from the Blitz, trapping the Dark Knight!  Man, Bob Haney does not do things by half measures!  The bomb, originally a dud, is activated by its fall.

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The Major, who had actually been on a bomb disposal squad during the war, attempts to disarm it with Mick’s aid.  This gives us a nice, tense scene, accompanied by a constant ‘tick tick,’ as they race against time to disable the weapon.  In the final minutes, they find a crucial component rusted in place, and Batman orders them all out of the area.  It’s a great moment, and his final thoughts as he is left in the empty cellar with no companion but the constant ticking of the bomb, are quite effective.  He thinks, “Death’s been a close companion often before!  Now I’m ready to welcome it for the last time!”

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Watching from a safe distance, the ‘Bat-Squad’ see the bomb explode and mourn the selfless hero’s death…albeit, a tad prematurely!  He emerges from the fog and tells them that he had in the last, desperate moments, heard the Thames on the other side of the earth wall and had dug his way to the river.  The in-rushing water had lifted the bomb, and he was able to swim to safety.  It’s a good, last minute escape, and it actually works pretty well.

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And the story STILL isn’t over, as we’ve still got the Stranger matter to wrap up!  I don’t know that anyone could pack as much into a comic as Bob Haney, and yet this story really doesn’t feel rushed, which is impressive.  I’ve been trying to rein in my summaries, but this one refused to be cut down.  A Bob Haney story just defies brevity.  brave-and-the-bold-092-031Well, the mystery of the Strangler is cleared up in a bit of exposition by Basil Coventry, now returned to his senses.  He tells the reunited quartet that his grandfather had been the original Strangler, and his father had been driven mad by the knowledge, eventually coming to believe that he, himself, was the murderer.  The elder Coventry had been confined to an asylum, and the director had set out to make the film as a way of excising the family demons.  His father had learned of this and escaped, attacking the production and posing as the Strangler.  The knowledge had, in turn, temporarily driven Basil himself mad when he saw his father killed.

It’s a lot of exposition, but it actually fits together reasonably well, and it makes for an interesting story.  I rather would have liked to see this set up a tad earlier, so the effect could build over the story, but it is still quite an enjoyable plot.  The issue ends with the questions of the strange, anachronistic moments unexplained, and we’re left to wonder if there was some sort of time travel at work.

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This is a really fun, exciting, and interesting story that is just stuffed with atmosphere and admirably creates some nice tension.  Haney turns in an unusual and intriguing mystery story that is just packed to the gills with personality and content.  The three members of the ‘Squad’ all get some characterization and contribute to the plot, and what’s more, they make a fairly charming set of characters.  Haney manages to get you to care about them, at least a bit, in a short amount of time.  Of course, this misty, fogbound setting is just perfect for Nick Cardy’s moody artwork, and he turns in a stellar job, though I am not crazy about his Batman.  Like his Ocean Master, he’s a little too soft for my tastes.  Nonetheless, he gives each of the supporting characters tons of personality and detail, and the strange crimson-gloved killer is nicely menacing.  This is just a solid, enjoyable piece of comics storytelling.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, as there’s really not much wrong with it, other than the bottom-heavy exposition.  It’s a remarkably coherent and sensible story for a Haney-offering, and yet it has his trademark exuberance and color.  The combination is really quite good.

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That will wrap up this post.  We had two wildly different stories which displayed the two extremes of quality.  Amazingly, the goofiest story was not the one penned by Bob Haney.  That says something!  Anyway, I hope that y’all enjoyed the read and will join me again soon for our next stop on our journey Into the Bronze Age!  In the meantime, keep the heroic spirit alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1970 (Part 6)

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Just in time for Christmas, welcome to the last edition of Into the Bronze Age for September 1970!  I rather wish that I had some type of Christmas special planned, but I hope a regular old IBA post will be a welcome gift nonetheless.  We have an interesting pair of stories, and we are looking at a definite change coming next month.  So, let’s see what is in store for the end of September (in December).

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

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

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

Showcase #93

showcase_vol_1_93“Never Trust a Red-Haired Greenie”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Editors: Mort Weisinger and E. Nelson Bridwell

I’ve been looking forward to this last issue of the Manhunter feature, but I’ve also been dreading its arrival.  Why, you may ask?  Well, it’s been so much fun that I just hate to see it end!  It’s a crying shame that Starker did not get picked up for an ongoing series, but this issue hit me with more than just disappointment over the loss of a promising character and concept.  It struck me with the cruelest surprise I’ve encountered in any of these comics, perhaps the cruelest I’ve ever met in comics at large.  This issue, the last major mention of Manhunter 2070 ever in mainstream DC continuity, ends on a cliffhanger!  What a kick in the teeth!  And what a cliffhanger it is!  I’ll share the painful moment with you, and you can see what I mean.

Other than the ending, this is another exciting and engaging sci-fi yarn, continuing to flesh out a really interesting universe full of fascinating peoples and places.  The loss of the setting is as significant as the loss of the character himself.  Speaking of Starker, the Manhunter, we find him on his way home to his base orbiting Jupiter, where Arky, his robotic man Friday, has a new job for him.  Apparently we’ve got some white-collar space crime, which makes for a nice change of pace.  A mining company executive took off with two million ‘credits,’ and has vanished.  Starker takes off after him, heading to the planet Zodan, which Arky warns him is home to a very strange culture.  Remember the crime-city on Krypton-that-was?  Those folks would feel right at home on Zodan, where theft is the planetary pastime.  It’s a goofy concept, just like that World’s Finest story, but unlike its predecessor, it’s actually pulled off rather well.

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From the moment he arrives, our stoic bounty hunter friend is besieged by one thief after another in a series of funny little bits.  However, Starker is not a man to be trifled with, so all of the Zodanian “Greenies” quickly come to regret having tried to get one over on him.  In this issue, the unevenness of Sekowsky’s art is still evident, though not too badly.  Yet, in the splash page below, it looks like Starker is performing a dance number rather than fighting.  One-two-three, and kick!

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The futuristic Manhunter gets by more or less just by being a terrifying individual, making it very clear to those he encounters that stealing from him would be the last mistake they’d be likely to make, and his grim, confident carriage is quite well handled.  He’s definitely an entertaining character to see in action.

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There’s several nice, moody panels like the above to illustrate his search

We follow as his chase leads across the spaceport, and he eventually discovers that his quarry has headed to another world in the system, but when he heads for that planet, he is unaware that he has two space-suited stowaways clinging to his ship.  They follow him stealthily for the rest of the issue, a constant, menacing presence behind him.

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On the planet Zoldar, Starker finds his prey drinking away his sorrows in an extraterrestrial version of an Old West saloon.  Apparently the embezzler met with craftier thieves than himself and was duped out of all his ill-gotten gains in a rigged card game.  This is not what I expected, and it’s a nice twist.  From the first time we meet this thief, Wallen, he’s actually rather pitiful and sympathetic.  As the bounty hunter gets the story out of the poor loser, three other toughs try to horn in on the bounty, but our hero makes quick work of them.

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He leads Wallen in pursuit of the card sharks that fleeced him, and the two head off in a cross-desert chase on a pair of alien mounts.  These creatures, called glyphs, are just one of the many examples of the world-building that Sekowsy is doing in this issue.  We have unique names for technologies, places, and creatures.  His setting is really beginning to feel fleshed-out, to acquire that “impression of depth” we’ve discussed before.  Unfortunately, they are ambushed by their quarry, and Starker and Wallen are pinned down by unseen shooters in the alien wasteland.  In a really nice sequence, the Manhunter orders Wallen to draw their fire, telling him, “they might miss–I won’t–dead or alive–you’ll still be worth 25,000 to me.”  It’s a great moment, really fitting the tough-as-nails hunter and showing how unique he is among the characters that populate the DC line at this point.

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showcase-093-18Wallen survives his sprint, and Starker is able to pick off one of their attackers, though he is bushwhacked by the other.  Interestingly, his prisoner actually warns him, saving his life.  He survives the hit and kills his attacker in turn.  Then, Starker gathers Wallen up, noting that he owes him and wishes he could let him go in recompense for his warning, but saying he can’t.  That’s another nice character touch, and I rather like the inflexibility of his approach to his work.

The pair encounter another strange scene as they continue their journey.  They discover a red-headed ‘Greenie’ woman lying in the desert, apparently hurt.  When Starker dismounts and picks her up to bear her to safety, another lady appears to hold him at gunpoint.  This was all a trap, and these two femme fatales were the stowaways from Zodan.  They devised this ambush to ensure that the hunter’s hands would be busy when they struck, intending to steal his prisoner and the loot.  Yet, Starker is not one to take things lying down, so he drops his lovely burden and goes for his gun, only to get blasted again and again by the deadly dames.

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They leave him for dead, and he is too weak even to fire off a parting shot.  After they depart, he is also discovered by a pack of neanderthal-like creatures, and the last image of the book is one of the man-beasts raising a club to threaten the helpless hunter.  Infuriatingly, the editor’s box tells us that we can only find out what happens if Manhunter is picked up.  What a gambit that was.  Sekowsky was really stacking the deck, for all the good it did him.  It’s a crying shame, because he really created a gripping cliffhanger.  Starker is in deep, deep trouble, and I, for one, would really have loved to see what happened.  He’d been shot several times, marooned in the desert, and was now facing a savage tribe’s wrath.  That is quite a note to go out on.

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This was another great issue, and it is definitely a loss for the DC Universe that this series was never picked up.  I think this may be the best work Sekowsky ever did, and he clearly really enjoyed this creation.  I love the feel of this story, in particular.  The universe Starker inhabits is actually rather Star Wars-ish, nearly seven years early.  There’s a lived-in feel to the place that is a departure from the dominant sci-fi settings of the day.  There is a great deal of originality and personality in Starker and his setting, and I can only imagine what it might have grown into if given the chance.  I suppose the day of the cosmic 70s stories had not yet arrived and this concept was just ahead of its time.  Again, Sekowsky gives us a solid mixture of action, intrigue, and mystery, with a healthy dose of character moments for his taciturn protagonist.  I’ll give this issue a 4.5 Minutemen, though I’m tempted to deduct some points because of the dirty cliffhanger trick, and I will bid a very fond farewell to Starker and his world.  It was here only briefly, but I shall miss it nonetheless.

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World’s Finest #196

worlds_finest_comics_196“Kryptonite Express”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Russos

This is a surprisingly decent issue.  We’re definitely back in the zaney reaches of the Haneyverse, but as goofy and gimmicky as the concept is, Haney actually manages to turn in a fun tale that works without too many bizarre or irrational moments.  I suppose this is one of the last kryptonite-as-gimmick stories we’re likely to see, given the rapid approach of “Kryptonite No More.”  And this one uses the heck out of that gimmick.

The comic opens with a sudden meteor shower blanketing the U.S., falling all across the country.  It just so happens that these are not your ordinary, every day meteorites.  They are, in fact, a huge supply of kryptonite.  Now, let’s get the silliness of this setup out of the way right from the start.  It is, of course hilariously silly how much of the exploded planet of Krypton ended up on Earth.  All of it must have flown directly at our system.  The basic idea is that Krypton exploded and chunks of its radioactive matter showered Earth around the same time baby Kal-El got here, right?  Then how in the blue blazes would this big cloud of space debris happen to get here some thirty odd years later?  That’s not the way space and gravity work!

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The silly plot device aside, the country suddenly finds itself in a fix.  There’s now tons of kryptonite (literally) scattered all across the continent, just waiting to be picked up by some black-hearted rogue, just itching for a chance to kill Superman.  It’s like Lex Luthor’s dream come true.  It’s literally raining kryptonite.  The President makes a special televised plea to all Americans, urging them to gather up the mineral and deliver it to a special train that would travel through the nation to collect it.  Batman and Robin will play conductor and Superman will serve as a guard and scout.  They’ll also have a passel of security forces from every agency in the alphabet soup.  Ohh, and Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen (described as a “reporter” instead of photographer, interestingly enough), and Clark Kent will be along in a special press car.  And here we’ve reached maximum gimmick.

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Of course, here we reach our second problem with the concept.  If there was a meteor shower of such proportions, the black market would already have to be absolutely flooded with enough kryptonite to kill a Super-elephant.  It’s just lying on the ground for the taking.  Are you telling me every criminal and psychopath from Lex Luthor to the lowest street hustler wouldn’t have hit the countryside for a kryptonite scavenger hunt?  But, because this is a Bob Haney story, the blazingly obvious is just plain unreasonable.

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worlds-finest-comics-196-007Despite the abundant availability of organic, free range kryptonite, a criminal mastermind and train enthusiast (no, really, that’s how he’s described) plots to steal the special train and its green glowing cargo.  Seriously, this guy is Sheldon Cooper after the inevitable mental break.  Anyway, Dr. Cooper, er, I mean K.C. Jones, sends his thugs to grab the train.  We get an actual set of costumed (after a fashion) crooks, which is always a plus in my book, especially considering how often we’ve seen the members of the Generic Gang lately.

Our well-dressed henchmen storm the train after a smoke bomb goes off in the fire (because, apparently, this is a coal-powered train, for some reason).  Batman and Robin battle their way back from the the engine towards the kryptonite but get caught at gunpoint.  Batman pulls a fairly clever stunt, tossing a batarang back towards the throttle while shielded by Robin’s cape.  The train slams to a stop, sending the assailants flying.

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Meanwhile, the attackers have uncoupled the press car, leaving Clark Kent in a very embarrassing position.  He fakes a panic attack, locking himself in the bathroom, only to emerge as Superman and rejoin the cars.  The begins a series of secret identity farces that are par for the course.  One wonders how Clark ever manages to show his face in public after these types of things.  The first attack repelled, they soon face a second.  They pass through a tunnel inhabited by bats, only to find that the Batman’s namesakes are part of a second trap!  The winged mammals carry tiny gas canisters, and soon the entire train is snoozing, other than Superman himself.  The Man of Steel stays out of range of the kryptonite and pushes the train back with a telephone pole until his partners can reawaken and regain control, a clever way around the problem.

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The heroes seem to be doing pretty well, with two up and two down, but K.C. is not to be defeated so easily.  He must have his special train…and the kryptonite.  Hey, I’m okay with his quirk.  A quirky villain is an interesting villain, though, in this case, the quirk is pretty much all this guy has going for him.  Anyway, he lays a trap for the Express, faking a special celebration of the lining of the Transcontinental Railroad and offering the Man of Tomorrow a golden spike that is actually disguised kryptonite.  The villain captures the train, and Superman just manages to escape after he is left to die (of course).

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When the Man of Steel recovers, he finds the train racing back down the tracks, out of control.  Batman is chained to the front car, which is also full of kryptonite.  Still weakened, the Man from Krypton is too weak to stop the train from the back, and the whole kit and kaboodle crashes into a river!  In a nice display of resourcefulness, the Dark Knight grasps a sharp piece of kryptonite between his feet and uses it to cut his bonds before he drowns.

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Meanwhile, Robin seems to bungle an escape attempt, breaking Jimmy’s signal watch in the process, but everything is not as it appears.  K.C. seals the press members in a cavern with a landslide, and the World’s Finest pair only manage to spot their would-be tomb because Batman makes a sharp-eyed observation.  Robin and the others freed, the heroes head out to stop the train.  Aboard the Express, Batman battles his way to the engine, only to be ambushed by…Robin!  Fortunately, the Dark Knight expected this double cross, having surmised that this Teen Wonder is an impostor, and he takes him out, though he is still captured by the rest of the henchmen.  Superman, for his part, can’t get close because of the kryptonite, but he comes up with a crazier (day I say “zanier”?) solution.

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He flies ahead to where a bridge crosses over the Rio Grande into Mexico, and relocates it a mile further inland in the U.S.  When our villainous train enthusiast crosses this bridge, he stops to taunt the hero, thinking he is safe in Mexico, which seems utterly stupid on too many levels to count.  I know Superman likes to obey the law and everything, but come on!  Fortunately, the Man of Tomorrow has outsmarted him, though he notes that the plan wouldn’t have worked anyway, as he has authority to make arrests in all U.N. member nations, which is a nice little detail and makes sense.  To finish things up, Superman throws the kryptonite car into space, which should really make K.C. question his life choices, and the tale comes to an end with some more secret identity farce, as Lois wonders what ever happened to Clark.

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I was entirely prepared to find this another silly, annoyingly Silver Age-ish tale, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was so much fun.  The kooky elements don’t get in the way of the fun.  It’s actually a solid adventure story with several clever moments.  Each of the stars (other than poor Robin) is given something interesting to do, and they both display their better qualities, showing what they bring to the team.  There is a lot of quick thinking on display, and most of the solutions, other than the bridge stunt, are actually fairly reasonable.  The villain is entertaining enough, if a tad silly, and at least he had some costumed henchmen, who were worth at least half a Minuteman by themselves!  This was a fun story, and it was enjoyable enough to make up for the goofy and gimmicky premise.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, an average comic.

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Final Thoughts:

We’ve had an interesting month in this set of books.  We’ve seen the highs and the lows, and once again they were penned by the same hand, which is an odd situation.  On the whole, it’s been a fairly solid month, with several of our usually lackluster titles turning out enjoyable issues.  Once again, the portrayal of Batman across the DCU illustrates the liminal nature of these stories.  We’re trekking through a world in transition here, and the Dark Knight is the clearest symbol.  While the teams on the Batman books are delivering a grim avenger of the night, a detective who uses his wits more than sci-fi gadgets, Bob Haney continues to bring us the ‘Policeman’s Friend’ version of the character.  Of course, one imagines that Haney would portray him, and anyone else he fancied, in whatever way he liked, regardless of what the rest of the world was doing.  Yet, Haney isn’t alone.

We’re seeing more and more books following the pattern of Batman and Green Lantern and taking on a more mature tone and set of themes, with mixed success, and Superman continues to be the poster child for the conservative (both politically and generally) tendencies of the genre, as he continues to engage in very Silver Age-ish adventures that are beginning to feel more and more dated.  Interestingly, Denny O’Neil seems to be at the center of a great deal of the change that DC is experiencing.  Whatever missteps he may be guilty of in Green Lantern and other books, he certainly deserves a great deal of respect for the innovation he did, and there are probably more hits than misses to his credit.

Here we are, almost to the end of our first year of the Bronze Age, and the growth during these months is actually rather notable.  There is still much to come, however, and we’ll be seeing some changes in the next month, both to DC comics and to this blog feature.  Of course, something we’ve been eagerly awaiting is finally going to arrive, as next month will see the first forays of the King into DC comics of the Bronze Age, as Jack Kirby begins his tenure on Jimmy Olsen.  That’s pretty exciting, and though those stories are very uneven, I can’t wait to cover them!  I’m also adding a few other titles to my already massive reading list.  I’m going to begin covering the Supergirl stories in Adventure comics in the hopes that the Silver Age-y hijinks are on the way out, and I’ll also be adding, of all things, Superman’s Girlfriend: Lois Lane.  That book, which I never thought I’d be reading, apparently adds a new feature next month, a backup of Rose and Thorn, which intrigues me.  Unfortunately, it’s written by Robert Kanigher.  So…we’ll see how that goes, but since she’s definitely a superhero, I feel like that means I should cover her in this feature.

So, please join me soon for the next issue of Into the Bronze Age, where we will start on October’s comic offerings.  Until then…

 

Merry Christmas to all!

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May God bless your celebrations and may the new year bring us all a better, more joyful world.

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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The Headcount remains the same at the end of the month, just having added a few new faces.  Our list has certainly grown, though not quite as much as I suspected.  Enjoy the wall of shame, my friends!

 

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.