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.

 

Into the Bronze Age: August 1970 (Part 6)

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Welcome to the last post on August 1970!  It’s not as bad as the Superman tale we met last time, but this isn’t quite the soaring success we encountered elsewhere this month.  I hope you enjoy this next step, Into the Bronze Age!

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

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

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

World’s Finest #195

worlds_finest_comics_195“Dig Now, Die Later!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
Editors: Mort Weisinger and E. Nelson Bridwell

This is definitely Zaney Haney, and not his most successful issue, though neither is it his least.  Compared to some of them, this one is even a little tame.  Haney lets this story get away from him a bit, so it isn’t quite as good as the previous iteration.  One highlight is the inclusion of the sidekick team.  I always enjoy seeing Jimmy Olsen and Robin join the World’s Finest.  I find them a fun addition, though they really don’t do much here.  Nonetheless, this issue has some good moments.  Unfortunately, Superman entirely overshadows everyone else in the, as he is wont to do.

When I started reading the Silver Age Superman and World’s Finest books, I was particularly surprised to discover how big a role Olsen often played in these adventures.  It seems that in order to provide Superman a sidekick akin to Batman’s, Jimmy was dragooned into service, despite not really being an equivalent figure.  It’s a weird little trend, and sometimes it really doesn’t fit.  Still, he is a resource kid and a good character, so it also led to some enjoyable yarns.  This one sadly doesn’t offer us anything special along those lines, though.

We pick up where we left off, with Superman unmasked by the brain-damaged Batman, who thinks he is the Mafia’s ‘Big Uncle’ Lukaz.  Trapped by the kryptonite wreath, the Man of Steel is rapidly weakening, and knowing that escape is impossible, he tries a desperate gambit.  He employs ‘Super-Ventriloquism’ to ape the sound of Krypto, hovering outside the fortieth floor window, causing a panic among the hoods.  Now, Super-Ventriloquism is a pretty goofy power, but I have to admit, this is a clever use for it.  It’s actually a good way for the hero to buy himself some time.

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It’s also funny to see a bunch of tough guys running away from a dog…

worldsfinest195-09.jpgWith his captors temporarily routed, the Metropolis Marvel puts everything he has left into an inhalation of super breath, which sucks the lead-lined suitcase closed, cutting off the deadly radiation.  When the mafiosos return, Superman seems to just be starting to recover, so they prepare to finish him off, but he fakes a memory loss like Batman’s, pretending he thinks he really is a hood.  Pseudo-Lukaz decides to make him into a weapon for the mob, and then we get one of the sour notes that trouble this story as the disguised Batman announces that he’ll continue to dress as Batman “to confuse the law!”  Ooookay.  Sure.  That’s a thing.  This has absolutely no follow-up and doesn’t affect anything.  It’s just an extra bit of weirdness that Haney decided to include.

Well, the Bat-Godfather, hereafter, the Batfather, takes his new ‘soldier’ to his special gallery, where he has wax figures of all of the mafia’s enemies.  He shows Superman the figures of Robin and Jimmy Olsen and tells him that they are the next targets.  They summon both boys to a junkyard where the Batfather plans to ambush them.  However, when the two youths are captured and on the point of being executed, Robin delivers an impassioned speech to his mentor, declaring that he loves Batman like a father.  The impact of the Teen Wonder’s words snap the Dark Knight out of his mafia persona.  It’s not a bad moment, though not given much room to breathe.

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Just then, Lukaz shows up, having escaped the Fortress of Solitude through yet ANOTHER head injury, this time that of a robot jailer, whose head-blow jarred its circuits into recognizing him as its master.  The Godfather and his two measly henchmen apparently frighten the entire team into inaction.  There is a good idea here, as the bad guys, using regular old guns, threaten Superman, not with death, but with the deaths of his allies.  The Man of Steel continues playing his part, knocking Batman out with a super-slap and burning Robin and Jimmy Olsen to ash with his heat vision!  He hands over their “hearts” to Lukaz in a special case and carries his erstwhile partner off to ‘dispose’ of him.

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I’m sure that’s fine for a man with a concussion…

On the way, the Dark Knight revives and punches Supes in a really odd looking panel, but the Man of Tomorrow calms him by explaining his plan.  He planted a tracker in the case, and they are headed to find Lukaz’s stash of evidence.  Along the way, we get another sour note, as Batman is stymied by a door marked “For accredited criminologists only.”  Can you imagine the Caped Crusader being stopped by a ‘no trespassing’ sign?  Well, they find the stash, but they are jumped by the Godfather and his two thugs.  Really?  Again?  If you’re going to fight freaking Superman and Batman, you should really bring more than two guys!

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Anyway, Robin and Jimmy arrive and take them out, with Superman revealing that, before he roasted them, he switched them out with their wax doubles from the head gangster’s own collection at super speed.  It’s a solid resolution, though, if the Man of Steel had time to do that, one thinks he could probably have just disarmed the thugs as well.  I suppose he needed the ruse to find the evidence cache, so we can ‘no prize’ that.

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This was a fun story, creative, with some clever moments from Superman and a good character moment with Robin and Batman.  Unfortunately, that was about the only good moment the Dark Knight had in this tale, with Superman carrying almost all of the action, even solving the mystery, making the World’s Greatest Detective pretty much entirely superfluous.  The end results is still enjoyable, but not terribly exceptional.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen on the strength of the cleverer moments.

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This comic also had a Congo Bill backup.  It was a reprint, so I won’t be covering it, but it was a fun little story about a jungle con-artist, which basically employed the old ‘beguiler beguiled’ trope.

 

Final Thoughts:

Well readers, I ALMOST made it to September before our own September ended.  So close!  C’est la vie.  Nevertheless, we have successfully made it through August, and an interesting month it was!  We saw some of the very best and very worst stories we’ve yet covered.  August unfortunately saw the goofy Silver Agey-y Super Sons and, horror of horrors, the insipid foolishness of both tales from the Superman issue (which I was really probably too hard on), but it also gave us more great books than we’ve yet seen in one place.  The Legion backup, Aquaman, Detective ComicsTeen Titans, The Phantom Stranger, and Showcase all featured excellent stories, earning 4.5 Minutemen.  That’s not half bad!  We’re seeing innovation continuing to grow, with the Aquaman book and the creative Phantom Stranger tales, and we’re seeing a further growth of more mature (in the true sense, not in a ‘sex and violence’ one) themes and horror motifs in the Batman books.  All-in-all, I would call it a good month.  It seems we are settling in to something of a routine, with most books following a predictable pattern of quality and style.  Please join me next time to see what September holds!

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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We’ve had a busy month in the head-blow department, with our favorite Aquatic Aces both making an appearance.  Our Aqua-guys just can’t catch a break!  I’m mollified by the fact that, even though Aqualad has been added to the Wall, at least Robin is on there twice.  Take that Boy Wonder!

Into the Bronze Age: July 1970 (Part 3)

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Welcome, readers, to the final installment of my Into the Bronze Age feature for July 1970.  Because of the vagaries of release dates, we only have a single comic to cover today, but it will be followed by my observations on the month as a whole.

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

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

Superman #228

superman_v-1_228“The Mystery Bombers!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos

“Execution Planet!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos

This issue contains two mediocre Superman tales that very much prove the rule about the enduring Silver Age-ness of the Man of Steel’s comics.  They are  by no means the worst examples of these tendencies (there’s no domestic farces or giant-headed-super-freak-children to be found in these pages, thankfully), but they do evince some of the excesses of Silver Age stories, while at the same time suffering from the paradoxical lack of imagination that sometimes afflicted such books.

The first story is the strongest, though that’s not saying much, featuring an actually clever solution to its central problem, even if it is presented in the context of a ludicrous setup.  The plot centers around Superman being sent upon multiple ‘scavenger hunts,’ seeking for clues to the locations of bombs hidden around the city.  Clark Kent receives a call at the Planet from an anonymous bomber who declares that he has hidden an explosive somewhere in the city and demands that our favorite mild-mannered reporter pass the tip on to his ‘friend’ Superman, along with the promise that he can discover the bomb’s location by studying “every archive and exhibit in Science City.”

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Apparently this ‘Science City’ is a science-themed amusement park of sorts crossed with a museum and a laboratory.  Sure.  Anyway, moving at super speed and with his ‘super brain’ (good grief), the Man of Tomorrow is able to go through all of the exhibits until he makes an extremely unlikely connection between one particular exhibit on constellations and a comment the bomber made about horses.  So, he does the logical thing and flies to Metropolis Museum and one particular exhibit that happens to feature a chariot.  Wait, that wasn’t what you thought of when you heard ‘horses’?  Yeah…this isn’t exactly a Philip Marlowe mystery.  We’re dealing with problems that are solved with the expediency of plot.

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Well, this pattern is repeated twice more, with the Metropolis Marvel absorbing vast amounts of information in each case, and doing so in only seconds.  Now, I have no problem with Superman being able to read at super speed.  Sure, that makes sense.  I have no problem with his mind being able to work super fast as well.  Still, the idea that he could absorb and understand the entire contents of the Library of Congress in instants and find the one, completely improbable and unconnected clue in all of that…it’s just lazy writing, not an astonishing feat.

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Anyway, each time he discovers a bomb, it explodes moments later.  So, for the last device, the Man of Steel substitutes a string of firecrackers, which he ignites himself.  Why such a strange ruse?  Well, this is the clever part of the story.  Superman realized that the unlikely timing of the explosions meant he was being watched and that the bombs were being detonated for his benefit.  It was never about the bombs, which meant it must have been about the bizarre labors he was put through.  Thus, he reasoned that the knowledge he was absorbing was the real goal of these bombers.

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The bombers are, of course, aliens, complete with a ridiculous and unnecessarily convoluted plot to steal all of Earth’s knowledge, because this is a Superman comic book.  I’m not even going to go into their plan, as it makes little enough sense reading it in the story to begin with.  They trap the Man of Tomorrow in an empty house in order to drain the knowledge out of him, but through *sigh* super will-power, the hero scrambles all of it, making it useless.  They leave, and the story ends with Superman explaining to Jimmy how he figured everything out.

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Aside from the believable and reasonable inference about the bombs, the story doesn’t’ have much to recommend it.  Superman running around reading everything in the different locations is mildly neat to see, but the plot is just forgettable and goofy.  The aliens were after all the information on Earth (they would have done better to steal Hawkman’s Absorbascon!), so they had Superman read everything in an overgrown science fair, the Library of Congress, and the…Monies of the World collection…really?  Way to shoot for the stars there, guys.  I’m sure that pretty much covers the total of human knowledge.  I give this weak tale 2 Minutemen.  The one clever moment is not enough to make it really enjoyable.

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“Execution Planet”

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The backup tale isn’t as ludicrous on its face as the previous story, but it does suffer from the obsession of Silver Age books to pit their heroes against generic, boring criminals.  The result, though not as goofy in some ways, is just less interesting overall.  In this story Superman inexplicably loses his powers own by one.  There’s some story mileage there, and we’ve seen it done to better effect elsewhere.  Not so much here.  There are a few interesting moments as the Man of Steel tries to figure out what’s going on, but there’s also a decent amount of silliness as he more or less shrugs and says, ‘ohh well, maybe it will get better.’  Apparently the invulnerable alien sun-god has the same attitude towards losing all of his earth-shattering power as I do to having a sore muscle.  It seems like you should probably be a bit more concerned about this, Superman, what with the fate of the world so often hanging on your shoulders and all.

Anyway, The story begins with the Metropolis Marvel waking up and experiencing the joy of a splitting headache.  He is on vacation with Jimmy and Lois (way to be a third wheel, Jimbo.), and his headache concerns the hero, as he shouldn’t be susceptible to anything of the sort.  So, what does he do?  Well, first he wanders around in the woods of their resort using his powers without his costume, wildly endangering his secret identity for no particularly good reason.  Everything seems to work other than his invulnerability, so he heads to the Fortress of Solitude to do some tests.

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He manages to blow up his computer, once again, for no good reason, and gets no answer for his trouble.  He chalks it off to random happenstance and decides to just go on with his day when he suddenly discovers he can’t fly.  He has to be taken back to Metropolis by one of his robots before he freezes to death in the arctic cold.

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In town he hears about a robbery by the “Jet-Set gang,” which sounded quite promising when I first read it.  I thought, ‘yay, another gang-with-a-gimmick!’  As I’ve mentioned before, I have quite a fondness for the idea that the common criminals in the DC Universe get into the fun of donning costumes and embracing various gimmicks, like the Owl Gang from Flash a while back.  This sounded like a perfect opportunity for something of the sort.  Unfortunately, it’s nothing that fun or creative.  It’s a gang of crooks with a rocket-powered truck, but they’re just generic, run-of-the-mill criminals.  Dorfman doesn’t even bother to name them.  Well, Superman has to catch a cab (!) to get to the scene of the crime, which gives us a moderately funny little scene, but once he’s there he has to figure out how to stop these careening crooks.  He rips up the guard rail from the road creating a giant corral, but doing so exhausts him to the point where he can’t even fight back once the bad guys dismount.

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They knock him out and take him to a movie set owned by a crooked movie producer.  (Also known as a movie producer.  Bad-a-bing!)  Ahem…sorry.  Anyway, the criminal world decides to auction off the Man of Steel’s costume and accouterments, but they plan to send the hero himself to ‘the Execution Planet,’ which, for some reason, regular, generic Earth gangsters happen to know about…and care about…and think a better option than…you know, taking their revenge themselves.  It’s…a weird choice, and the whole thing just smacks of wasted opportunity.  To crown the failure of imagination that is this little tale, the attendant criminals are entirely the same generic breed.  Where is Lex Luthor?  Where is the Toyman?  Where is Brainiac?  Where is Parasite?  Where is Metallo?  Heck, I’d settle for the Prankster!  What a waste.

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Is he..naked in there?

superman 228 0031.jpgThe issue ends with the Generic Gang trying on Superman’s costume and paying to step on his cape.  Here we learn that the Man of Steel’s costume is completely bulletproof…which rather begs the question of why the hero was worried when threatened with guns earlier in the story.  Anyway, I’m losing interest in this little yarn as I type.  The idea of the captured hero being auctioned off, the ‘Auction of Evil,’ has been done many times.  I seem to remember a few different versions from Batman, and there is a solid turn on the trope from the fun Justice League Adventures comic from a few years back.  This iteration just doesn’t do anything much with the premise, providing a disappointing outing.  I give this one 1.5 Minutemen, the story having lost points for missed opportunities and general lack of creativity.

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Final Thoughts:

Well readers, this brings us to the end of July 1970, and a fairly unimpressive month it was, with only a few yarns that rated better than mediocre.  The only real bright point was the Legion backup, and even safe bets like the Haunted Tank had an off day, it seems.  We saw not one but two classic comic tropes given a less than stellar treatment.  We did, however, see a fascinating glimpse into the zeitgeist with the echoes of the Manson Murders found in the GA/GL book.  Yet, the same month that gave us something so very timely (if also as ham-handed as usual) also gave us Superman stories that seemed positively like throwbacks.

We can really see the cost of Superman’s out of control power level in these issues, and, I would wager, in this entire trend.  Writers have no real idea what to do with him.  They can’t actually challenge him, so they invent some new way to handicap him every issue.  Either he turns huge, or he loses his powers, or he goes nuts, or something even stranger happens to him.  They don’t have any real stories to tell with the character.  I imagine that this is part of the reason that he has been so resistant to change.  Who had any good ideas before “Kryptonite No More”?  With the book controlled by the same folks and using the same formulas that they had been for the past twenty years, there isn’t a lot of room for innovation.  Nonetheless, Superman’s lack of evolution is becoming more and more noticeable as more progressive stories are popping up all over the place in the other books.

Sadly, this month we are forced to bid farewell to one of the books that was headed in a very positive direction, Challengers.  I know that this won’t be the last time we see a promising book or idea abandoned.  In fact, we face the all-too-quick demise of Jack Kirby’s incredibly innovative and creative Fourth World just around the corner, following rapidly on the heels of its very birth.  I suppose we must brace ourselves for such lamentable events as we travel further Into the Bronze Age!  Fortunately, we will also see some amazing new stories and concepts born.  In fact, though I do know it will be short-lived, I can’t help but get excited because I’m already starting to see ads for The King’s dramatic arrival in the DC Universe!  Let’s see what the next month holds!

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One wonders what readers in 1970 thought of this enigmatic advertisement.  Boom Tube?  What in the world could that be?  It must have been exciting!

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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The Headcount remains unchanged!  Will next month be as quiet?