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: January 1971 (Part 2)

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Hello folks, and welcome to the next iteration of my investigation of Bronze Age DC comics!  It’s another beautiful day here at Grey Manor, the birds are singing, the sky is cloudlessly blue, and there are comics to be read!  We’ve got a double-dose of Batman today, with a side of something sinister, as well as the sensational Batgirl.  Please join me for a trip through these two books!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


The Brave and the Bold #93


brave_and_the_bold_93“Red Water Crimson Death”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Colourist: Jack Adler
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Within this comic there is a solid and pleasantly subtle ghost story and mystery, but it’s framed by a device that seems more like Bob Haney than Denny O’Neil.  In fact, I had to double check the credits as I was reading.  This issue really drives home the fact that, although we’re getting closer and closer to the iconic portrayal of Batman that will come to define the character for decades to come, we are not quite there yet.  Even O’Neil, who will largely create the Dark Knight that I know and love, has not quite got the character sorted out at this point, and thus this story begins with a really off-beat moment that colored the rest of the book for me.

Curiously, the “guest star” for this issue of B&B is ‘The House of Mystery.’  Bit of a stretch there, DC.  I’m going to have to call shenanigans.  It is to this very house that a desperate criminal runs, pursued by none other than the Batman!  Inside, the House of Mystery host, Cain, plays narrator, a role he’ll continue by tagging along throughout our adventure.  Just as the Masked Manhunter is about to get his man, he trips, falling at the thug’s feet.  The would-be killer pulls the trigger of his pistol, but it jams, and the Caped Crusader lays him out.

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When Commissioner Gordon arrives, he insists that the Dark Knight has run himself ragged in recent weeks, and he argues that even the great Batman can’t keep going nonstop.  Gordon insists, quite pointedly, that the hero take a vacation, even giving him tickets for a cruise to Ireland and insisting he be on it.  The Masked Manhunter finally agrees and sets out on vacation…and the scene is just plain weird to me.  Can you imagine the modern version of Batman taking a vacation?

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Now, far be it for me to speak well of the modern, sociopathic version of the character, but this does seem a bit much.  Just up and taking a cruise and planning to be gone from Gotham for a month doesn’t really seem to fit the character of a man who is driven to pursue justice because of the murder of his parents.  brave_and_bold_v1_093_08It just seems a bit off.  Part of the trouble is the fact that it is Gordon playing the role of caregiver, which doesn’t suit him well either.  If this exchange had happened between Bruce and Alfred, I’d have been much more okay with it.  That could have actually been charming.  In this case, not so much.  What’s more, apparently the Commissioner hands Batman a ticket for a cruise ship, but Bruce Wayne shows up and climbs on board.  Real good work there, Brucie.  Say goodbye to that secret identity!

Anyway, on the cruise itself, the vacationing hero meets a boy named Sean, who is swept overboard during a storm one night.  Bruce dives in to rescue the child, who seems to call out to a face in the storm.  The pair are pulled back onboard, and Bruce discovers his costume in his luggage, despite the fact he told Alfred not to pack it.  Here we have another uncharacteristic moment, as he tosses it overboard, which just doesn’t jive with his motivations.

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More convinced than ever that he needs a rest, Bruce decides to get off the liner at a peaceful, isolated island that also happens to be the home of the boy he rescued.  They go ashore together, and the youth’s family welcomes their visitor very warmly.  Bruce learns that Sean’s parents died mysteriously years ago during an inexplicable red tide that doesn’t fit the usual patterns of the phenomenon.  That night, the billionaire awakens to the touch of a spectral hand, only to discover that he’s somehow dressed in his costume!  What’s more, he sees young Sean walking out of the house, apparently in a trance.  Fearing he’s losing his mind but unwilling to let the boy get hurt, Batman heads out into the night, only to be ambushed by the villagers!

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He quickly disarms them in a solid sequence, and after telling them he’s no threat in the most awkward way possible, (“I dress as I do for…personal reasons!”) they explain that the castle of King Hugh, a king from centuries ago, has become a source of terror for them, and they fear that spirits and worse may be abroad, originating from that ancient pile.  Strangely enough, that is where Sean was headed, and despite bizarre apparitions, the Dark Knight will not be deterred.  He smashes a giant screen which was the source of the visions and rushes into the castle, narrowly avoid the dropping portcullis.  Interestingly, he has a moment of doubt as he’s pursuing the boy, trying to talk himself out of getting involved, which once again seems off for the character.

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That’s some tortuous logic there, Cain.

The Caped Crusader begins to search the medieval fortress, receiving enigmatic, ghostly hints as he goes about it, which eventually lead him to a pair of thugs who helpfully provide exposition.  Apparently, their boss has bought the castle and is trying to drive the islanders out of the village so that he can control the fishing rights in the area.  It’s a bit Scooby-Doo, but they escalate things as well.  They are planning to poison the boy and leave his body for the natives to find in order to seal the deal.  Batman takes the pair out but receives a cut on his arm in the process.

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brave_and_bold_v1_093_24Finally, the Dark knight confronts the big boss himself, though as he saves the boy and takes out the hired help, some poison gets into his wound, and Aloysius Cabot, the somewhat unintimidatingly named villain, plays it cool, waiting for the venom to do its work.  Because this is O’Neil writing, the guy isn’t just a murderer and a crook, he’s also planning to pollute the environment.  The fiend!  Batman’s diatribe about these nefarious doings is super dramatic.  I wonder if he’s been hanging out with Green Arrow too much.  As the hero grows weaker, Adams tries an intriguing experiment, rendering the panels of the villain, representing Batman’s view, in a strange, unfinished fashion to portray the effects of the toxin.  I like, but it took me a moment to suss out.

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Cabot, toying with his victim, tells him that there are two beakers on the desk, one containing an antidote and the other water and offers to let the Masked Manhunter choose.  Losing his battle with the poison, Bats notices the portrait of King Hugh hanging behind the evil industrialist seems to be pointing, not to the beakers, but to a test tube.  Taking a desperate gamble, he drinks the liquid in the tube, and Cabot is incensed that he somehow figured out the trap, as both beakers contained more poisons.  He plans to shoot the still recovering hero, but that same heavy portrait just happens to fall off of the wall, killing him.  Batman is very confused by the events of the night, so many inexplicable, and when Sean awakens on the way home and asks what happened, all he can answer in reply is “I don’t think I’ll ever know!”

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This is a pretty good ghost story, told with a surprisingly subtle touch, other than the apparition in Batman’s room.  It makes for an interesting plot, and I enjoy that much of what happened and why is left unexplained.  The reader can piece some of it together from context, but O’Neil never spells it out.  The third act in the castle is suitably atmospheric and spooky, and of course, Adams’ art is lovely.  Cain’s wry, macabre narration throughout is a fun addition to the story, and I enjoyed his presence more than I expected.

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The only real problem with the story is that incongruous triggering event and the discordant moments of mischaractetrization.  Now, you can argue that they fit in perfectly with the version of Batman that Bob Haney has been writing in this book, but that’s not much of a defense in my opinion, as Haney is just in a world of his own.  At any rate, it isn’t enough to make this a bad story, just enough to keep it from being a particularly great one.  I’ll give this off-beat tale 3.5 Minutemen, as it is a fun read despite its missteps.

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Detective Comics #407


detective_comics_407“Marriage: Impossible”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“One of Our Landmarks Is Missing!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

The return of the macabre Man-Bat finally arrives!  It’s been a while since we last saw Man-Bat, way back in issue #402, which, interestingly enough, ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, as Batman prepared an antidote for his monstrous double that could cure him or turn him into a vegetable.  That cliffhanger has been left…well…hanging all this time.  The human-chiroptera hybrid makes his triumphant return in this issue, which really amps up the insanity of his concept in interesting and surprisingly effective ways.  This is a weird one, yet somehow it works.

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We don’t pick up where we left off.  Instead, the story opens with Batman reading the paper on what we can only assume is an exceedingly slow news day, as the headline proclaims “Bat Exhibit Opens at Museum of Natural History Today!”  It’s bad enough that the bat exhibit at the local museum is your front page story, but is it really worthy of the exclamation point, newspaper?  Anyway, the story catches his attention because the noted bat-expert Kirk Langstrom, a.k.a. Man-Bat, will be hosting the event, which will be followed by…his wedding!  Horrified by this news, the Dark Knight races to the church, desperate to stop this union.  Why?  Is Batman secretly in love with Francie Lee, Langstrom’s fiancee?  No, it’s because he fears she’s being duped.  The Masked Manhunter rushes into the cathedral and, in a great splash page, unmasks Langstrom, revealing the monstrous features of the Man-Bat beneath one of those incredibly life-like masks that are just everywhere in fiction.

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Man-Bat curses his human counterpart’s continued interference, and he takes off for the dark recesses of the Cathedral ceiling, a very fitting setting for this little drama.  The Caped Crusader then turns to the stunned Francie and declares that he couldn’t let her go through with the marriage, but she protests that she loves Kirk no matter what,and  still wants to marry him!  What is going on?!

Fortunately, just as we’re beginning to feel like we’ve missed an issue, Robbins provides us with a flashback.  Just as Batman was about to administer the antidote back in the Batcave, where we left things in #402, the mutated man recovered and escaped, hiding in the dark recesses of the cavern.  The hero brought Francie to the cave in order to try and reach Langstrom’s remaining humanity, but he was too late, as Man-Bat had already fled.

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The Dark Knight gave her a number at which to contact him if her former fiancee returned to her, and that very night, he did.  Yet, when Francie suggested contacting the hero,  her macabre man grew enraged, refusing to give up his powers and questioning her love for him.  He ripped up the number and persuaded her to do things his way.

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With her help, Langstrom disguised himself and completed his work, but that wasn’t the only goal he had in mind.  With another dramatic unmasking, Francie herself reveals that she and Kirk are now two of a kind!  That’s right, she has been changed as well, and with that, she flies up to join her freakish fiancee.

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Realizing that these two are definitely not in their right minds and more than a little concerned about having super-powered mutant bats just hanging around Gotham City (I mean, the place has enough problems already!), the Dark Knight sets out to cure them against their will.  Racing to the bell-tower, the Masked Manhunter is confronted by the flying freaks, and a desperate struggle ensues.  As the hero is being mauled by Man-Bat, he just manages to inject his opponent with the antidote.

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When Woman-Bat presses her attack, he manages to jab her too, and both of them transform back into their human forms.  Batman leaves them together, trying to pick up the pieces of their lives and recover from their horrific experiences.  The story ends on an interesting note, as Bats observes that the love which held them together had been corrupted as much as their bodies, transforming into “an evil obsession.”

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This is a crazy story, yet the Bat-Jekyll and Hyde angle, mixed with twisted love story actually makes for a fairly compelling read.  It moves a bit too quickly, and I would have liked to see how Langstrom managed to mutate Francie.  That would have really helped to establish just how far gone the Man-Bat was into his monstrous nature.   I think giving a page or two to that process would have strengthened the story, but the plot still works.  I find Francie’s devotion touching and more than a little creepy, and Batman’s willingness to put his life on the line to save their humanity is suitably heroic.

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The whole thing has the high-drama feel of one of those old, classic Universal horror films.  Adams’ art, as always, is great, but it is really effective here, evoking an appropriately Gothic and atmospheric feel to the story.  The horror elements come through well, with the grotesque visages of the Man/Woman-Bats and their uncanny revelations.  It’s a good story, even if it doesn’t quite have time to reach its full potential.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.  I’m definitely enjoying these Man-Bat appearances.

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“One of Our Landmarks Is Missing!”


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Our Batgirl backup for today picks up right where we left off last issue.  The hippy terrorist, Mal, as well as the hapless and stupid Shelley Simms, have trapped the Daring Dame in a mined basement.  The resolution to this story is pretty good, definitely a bit stronger than the first inning.  In particular, Babs’ escape from the sepulchral basement is quite impressive, as is her cool-headed planning leading up to it.

She realizes that Mal activated the bombs with the room’s light switch, and she refuses to panic, keeping a clear head and fixing her eyes on the spot where the switch was after the lights go out.  She memorizes its location even though she can’t see, and then she takes off her cape and tries to trip it, hoping that the fabric won’t be heavy enough to trigger the mines.  She comes close, but the cape is so light that it can’t flip the switch!

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Thinking quickly, the Girl Detective takes off her boot and uses it as a weight, which provides enough heft to successfully lift the switch.  It’s a nice sequence, and it emphasizes her intelligence and resourcefulness.  I do have to wonder why she didn’t use a batarang or the like from her utility belt, but that’s neither here nor there.

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Meanwhile, Edward G. Robinson apparently decides to make a cameo in this comic, as a fat-cat building owner in league with the maleficent Mal.  Apparently the heinous hippy has made a deal with this guy, Slavin, to destroy a Gotham landmark that is on the historic building registry so that the developer can build apartments there and turn a tidy profit.

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In exchange, Slavin pays Mal $10,000.  The domestic terrorist argues that he’s just using the bourgeois badnick to fund their activities and ‘the cause.’  Shelley objects, and when Batgirl arrives to break up the bomb bash, the girl actually intercedes to save the heroine.  She gets shot in a fairly striking panel for her troubles!

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In return, Batgirl utterly devastates Mal with a flying blow and a really lovely panel, dispatching the rest of the gang with ease.  Edward G….errr, I mean Slavin runs right into the arms of the arriving police, and despite his attempts to talk his way out of things, the Girl Detective is able to give the cops the whole story.  Fortunately, stupid Shelley survives, and the tale ends on an interesting note, as she doesn’t change her politics, in spite of her ordeal, but does gains a new respect for Batgirl.

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This is a fun story, the highlight being Batgirl’s very resourceful and steel-nerved escape, as well as her take-down of Mal.  The punk was quite hate-able, and it was satisfying seeing him get decked.  I’m intrigued by the story’s ending, which pulls back from condemning youth involvement and walks a finer line than I expected.  We’ve got Shelley perhaps a little less stupid and a little more realistic continuing to pursue her ideals, but in a more constructive way.

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Also, it struck me that Shelley indicated that she and Batgirl were from different generations, which seemed odd to me.  I know Batgirl is out of college, supposedly, since she’s already a librarian, but I would have though that she was JUST out of college, only a few years older than Dick Grayson, which would probably make her part of the same generation.  Anyway, it’s a good little adventure, and I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, which is about as high as a seven page story is apt to climb.

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And there you have it.  Thanks for joining me today, and I hope you’ll come back soon to see what the next batch of books bears for us.  My next post will include my first foray into Superboy, so…here’s hoping it’s not going to be as bad as I expect!  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 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: May 1970 (Part 1)

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Time to head back to the Bronze Age!

This month in history:

  • The National Guard, responding to rioting, kills 4 at Kent State in Ohio, prompting the creation of the song, “Ohio”
  • Construction workers break up an anti-war rally in NYC’s Wall Street
  • 100,000 demonstrate against Vietnam War
  • 100,000 march in NY supporting US policies in Vietnam
  • Race riots in Augusta Georgia, multiple deaths
  • Peter Green quits Fleetwood Mac to join a cult
  • Multiple nuclear tests by East and West

Man, things are heating up this month, and it is clear that both Cold War and racial tensions are rising.  The occurrence of the infamous Kent State killings is particularly noteworthy for American history, though I am struck by the fact that there were marches both for and against American involvement in Vietnam.  I think our national consciousness tends to downplay the fact that there was actually a lot of support for the war throughout the conflict, despite the fact that we think of it ending almost purely because of the force of popular opinion.  Eventually the weight of public opinion did shift, but I don’t think it was ever as monolithic a force as we tend to imagine.

In what strikes me as a strangely fitting bit of synchronicity, the top song for this month is The Guess Who’s “American Woman.”  Make of that what you will.

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

  • Action Comics #388
  • Batman #221
  • Brave and the Bold #89
  • Challengers of the Unknown #73
  • Detective Comics #399
  • Flash #196 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Flash #197
  • G.I. Combat #141
  • Justice League of America #80
  • Showcase #90
  • Superman #226
  • World’s Finest #193

Bonus!: Star Hawkins (for real this time)

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

Action Comics #388

Action_Comics_388.jpgCover Artist: Curt Swan
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos

Well, as you might guess from that cover, this is a wacky one, but as it pretends to be nothing but just that, it’s actually more than a little fun.  The whole issue is like one of those activity books for kids full of different types of puzzles.  It’s basically one long ‘spot what’s wrong in this picture’ game, and there is plenty to spot.  It’s a rather charming, goofy, and purely Silver Age-ish bit of fluff, but it is fun nonetheless.  In fact, this book is so completely and utterly bananas, that I’m going to have a devil of a time summarizing it.  Have fun spotting all the errors in the pages I include; it will take some doing to note them all!

The story opens with a weird, wacky splash page that sets the tone for what’s to follow, featuring a mixed up mish-mash of the Justice League greeting a bewildered Superman.  Each Leaguer has something out of place, many bearing the wrong symbols or even the wrong faces under their masks!  Notably, Aquaman has the face of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Newman.  This is fitting enough, as this entire issue reads just like a tale from that venerable humor magazine.  As much oddness as there is on this page, Swan was apparently afraid to mess with the Amazing Amazon; the only thing wrong with her is that she is wearing her old costume.

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The plot, what there is of it, centers around the Earth suddenly being replaced by an odd-ball world that bears more than a passing resemblance to Bizarro World.  We find a version of Mr. Mxyzptlk that seems like a neanderthal version of a leprechaun.  This odd edition of the 5th dimensional felon meets up with a surprisingly eloquent and erudite Bizarro, and they begin to make plans.

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Meanwhile…gosh, this is even harder than I thought.  Just…just try to keep up with the madness, okay?  Meanwhile, Superman is all set to marry a particularly scatterbrained and easy going Lois Lane, prompting check-ins with lots of characters acting out of, well, character, including Lois’s old flame, Sgt. Rock, who receives a Dear-John letter from the girl reporter.  Wow, the postal service on this alternate Earth is great, delivering to the past, specifically World War II!  He…apparently has Wonder Woman’s robot plane, so he heads to Metropolis to take out his rival.  Back in town, our usual Superman somehow arrives in this topsy-turvy world, and he doesn’t know what to make of all this craziness.

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Next, it looks like trouble is stirring as Lex Luthor, with a glorious head of hair, and Brainiac in Mxyzptlk’s threads stop by.  But what’s this?  They’re only there to deliver their wedding present, a bizarre monster to serve as a pet.  While trying to sort out what is happening, Superman finds himself attacked…with syrup?  How about brussel sprouts?  How strange!

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Bizarro and Mxyzptlk show up to add their presents to the wackiness, but things take an even stranger turn when Sgt. Rock launches his final assault with, very specifically, five-day-old garbage, his syrup and vegetables having failed.

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Finding none of these “weapons” successful, Rock gives up and leaves Lois to the better man.  It turns out that this world’s Superman is actually vulnerable to all of these random substances.

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Finally, a scientist shows up and explains, as if any explanation could possibly really work here, that his experiment has accidentally switched Earth with an alternate dimension’s version of the planet while Superman was off-world.  They do some comic book science to switch it back, but the important thing is that on the alternate Earth, the wacky wedding takes place without a hitch…I guess.

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Well, this is certainly an entertaining little descent into madness, though there isn’t really anything to it other than Bates deciding to have some fun turning Superman’s world on its ear.  It manages to work by being entirely honest about what it’s after, and it has some genuinely funny moments. I have to say, I love the image of Sgt. Rock, hardened veteran soldier, pelting Superman with garbage.  Excuse me, five-day-old garbage.  It’s really a bit hard to rate a humorous issue like this, but I suppose I’ll give it a fun but silly 3.5 Minutemen out of 5.

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It seems that the Legion tale this month is, “Sun Boy’s Lost Power,” is a reprint, so I won’t be covering it.  Interestingly enough, the editor claims that this type of tale has been heavily requested by fans.  I wonder if there is any truth to that or if they are merely covering the lack of a new story.  It really could be either.  After all, this is the age before comic book stores, so it’s not like it was easy to find back issues.

Batman #221

Batman_221.jpgCover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano

“Hot Time in Gotham Town Tonight!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano

This is a solid Batman story of the common type that seems to be emerging from this middle era between the wackiness of the Silver Age and the pathos of the Bronze Age.  It has an excellent cover, which, now that I think about it, actually looks a lot like a scene out of the Arkham series.  Though this cover is only very loosely related to the story within, it is certainly a nice image, one that might have convinced me to pick it up in those long lost days.

The basic story is a fairly simple one, though with that touch of the fantastic that seems to characterize this intermediate era.  It seems that normally docile animals all over the German countryside are suddenly turning vicious.  One fisherman was devoured by…trout!  A farmer was also attacked by a pair of formerly passive oxen that suddenly turned murderous!  The source of these disturbances seems to be some sort of pollutant that has seeped downstream from a chemical firm on the Rhine.  In a rather convenient turn of events, it seems Bruce Wayne is in the country visiting a possible business partner, (a lot of that going around these days) Baron Willi Von Ritter, and it just so happens, that the local authorities suspect that his factory is the culprit.

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Bruce agrees to check him out during his visit, and arriving at Biochem-Fabrik, LTD, he discovers it to be located in a massive, imposing medieval fortress that was expanded and updated by the Nazis in World War II.  It seems the good Baron was actually dragooned into working for the Third Reich, but he was cleared of any wrongdoing during the Nuremberg trials.  This, of course, leads us, as well as our hero, to wonder if perhaps the powers that be were a little too quick to give Ritter a clean bill of moral health.  While there, Bruce meets the Baron, his pretty young wife, and Otto, his assistant.

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We learn a bit about the Baron at this point, and I have to say, I rather like this fellow.  We really only get part of a page to develop his character, but Robbins and Novick do a lot with that little space, and you get a nice sense of who he is with that economy of image and word that only comics can manage.  Von Ritter leads his guest through his castle, past hunting trophies and, most interestingly, a padded jacket, goggles, and sabers which Wayne recognizes as a “Heidelberg dueling outfit.”  This is apparently a real thing, and I am more than a little happy that this comic led me to learn about this practice.  Apparently, students in Europe have a practice of joining dueling societies, and ever since the 18th Century, they’ve been engaging in duels of honor where the objective is to mark your opponent’s face while bearing any and all wounds you yourself receive with discipline and courage.  This was seen as a measure of character and training for manly virtue….and I have to admit, I’m more than a little sorry that my own academic exploits haven’t been accompanied by a few duels.  I mean, I’ve enjoyed being a fencer, but this is something of an altogether different sort!

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Well, the effect of this little moment and the Baron’s pride at his own dueling scar, which he refers to as his “badge of manhood,” is to tell us that he is a disciplined, serious man with deep sympathies towards old traditions.  Of course, we’re meant to see this as indicative of Nazi leanings, but it is just possible that they point to an older, more honorable heritage.  The whole effect reminds me of Babylon 5‘s Londo Mollari, who was part of a similar dueling society that shows up in a great episode.  It’s a minor detail, purely atmospheric, but I found the real practice behind it, as well as what it tells us about the good Baron, to be quite fascinating.  Extra points for Robbins for the historical tidbit, which he explains only with context, leaving readers to search out the reference on their own.

Anyway, you’re probably wondering what all of that has to do with this story, and the answer is ‘pretty much nothing.’  Sorry, it just caught my interest, and it lead me on a merry chase for the history behind the concept.  Who says comics aren’t educational?  The tale really takes off when our favorite billionaire-playboy-with-a-secret retires for the night and the Batman begins to prowl through this ancient edifice!  Good job keeping your identity safe there, Bruce.  I’m sure no-one will connect the American hero with the lone American staying at the castle.  Well, silly risks aside, he finds a hidden lab packed with animals, and within, a shocking sight: a lamb savagely attacking a cowering lion!  The two animals fight in a pit as a hooded figure with a whip watches with too-intense interest from above.

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Batman realizes he has discovered the root of the strange occurrences, but this mysterious character will not go down without a fight.  He employs his whip in a manner worthy of Indiana Jones, or perhaps Zorro, managing to entangle the Masked Manhunter long enough to fit him for a very ironic fate.  The fiend unleashes a horde of common bats that have all been injected with his “killer” serum, which brings out the, well, you guessed it, killer instinct in any creature it is administered to.  This is all part of a plan to create a new master race for another shot at that whole ‘thousand year Reich’ thing, which didn’t work out so well last time.

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The bats attack the Bat, and though he shields himself with his cape, he knows that it is only a matter of time until they tear him apart in a death of a thousand cuts.  Yet, the Dark Knight is cool headed, even in the worst of extremities, and, while reflecting on the bats’ ability to hunt by using their natural sonar, he spots the means of his salvation, a seemingly useless bit of tinfoil!  This is a fun, ironic scene and all that, but I have to think, no matter how aggressive, bats just wouldn’t be all that dangerous to a man.  But then again, we’re dealing with a world of super science and all sorts of craziness, so I suppose I can let it slide.

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Meanwhile, our masked villain has escaped, and we follow him to a rendezvous with the young Baroness, Ilga, where he is revealed to be none other than Otto, the Baron’s assistant.  The two make plans for a new Nazi resurgence, preparing to make the aged butler their first human test subject, when a battered but still very much alive Batman interrupts their efforts.

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Not one to give up lightly, Ilga injects Otto with the serum, turning him into a killing machine, but also removing all his inhibitions.  Unsurprisingly, he turns on her, and strikes a killing blow…with…a backhand?  That is one heck of a slap!  It’s a bit silly that she dies from what looks like a vicious but still pretty light blow.  Sure, if the guy had enough super strength to juggle cars, that would make sense, but that isn’t really what this drug does.  It’s a minor quibble, but I did notice the disconnect, as I was surprised when Ilga died from that attack.  It pulled me out of the story for a moment.

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As usual, Novick’s art is solid and serviceable, but I think the greatest strength may be his face work.  I love the expression of surprise on Otto’s face when his partner sticks the knife…err…needle in his back.  The Dark Knight tries to stop Otto, but most of his blows seem to have little effect.  He tries some judo instead, and in the type of ironic ending that comics just love, he flips the rampaging chemist directly into the pit with the still ravening lamb.  Yep, Otto is apparently killed by a lamb…despite the fact that he is ALSO pumped full of this serum, so he should probably be able to take even a particularly aggressive sheep.  That’s two, Robbins.  It is funny, but it does rather take away from the dramatic tension of these last pages.  Death by lamb!  Shades of How I Met Your Mother.

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The issue ends with Batman explaining his clever escape to the dying Ilga, because he’s got to have someone to show off to.  He remembered the Allies using tinfoil to confuse German radar, and he threw the bats off with the same trick.  “I know now–we never could have–beaten you!” the dying girl declares, to which Batman answers, “For the same reasons the ‘beasts’ have never beaten us–our strength is in our humanity for our fellow men!”  That’s a nice sentiment to end on for this issue, but there’s just one problem: it doesn’t actually fit the story at all.  Batman’s victory had nothing to do with compassion, just cleverness.  I suppose Robbins felt one moral was as good as another.

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In the end, this is, as I said, a solid tale, and I find myself inordinately fond of this fairly generic German baron.  I really wish we had gotten a check in with him at the end of the story.  I’d have liked to see his reaction to the betrayal of his wife and assistant.  I think not doing that is a bit of a missed opportunity, but perhaps I’m still just tickled by the idea of college students dueling with sabers.  Either way, this story, flaws and all, gets a fun 3.5 Minutemen.  I like the mystery and the misdirection, and I think Batman’s solution to dealing with the bats was particularly clever.

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“Hot Time in Gotham Town Tonight”

The backup this month sadly features neither Batgirl nor Robin, but it’s a fairly decent story, more about Gotham than about Batman himself.  It centers around a pair of firefighters who are running around town because of false alarms being turned in by a pair of punk kids.  The kids learn a lesson when a child is almost killed in a building fire, the fire engine having been delayed by their “joke.”

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Luckily, Batman is there in a nice splash.  I think there is a subtle message of racial unity in this tale, as the events take place in a black neighborhood, and the fire-fighting pair are black and white.  The duo has a little tension about how to handle the kids, but they manage to work it out.  More importantly, their combined efforts help to put out the blaze.  We’re also given a nice moment as a family welcomes their rescued child, after Batman gave the boy mouth-to-mouth to bring him around.

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This is where things take a turn for the weird, adding a wrinkle that this short story simply couldn’t support, as the fire inspector leads the firemen to the source of the blaze, one of their apartments!  Inside, the fireman’s kid brother, Joey, just returned from a tour in Vietnam, tells them that the whole thing was caused by the strange green statue he brought back with him, a statue that was reputed to have mystic powers!

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They scoff, of course, but just then the relic begins to shoot out strange rays.  Okay, sure, evil, fire starting Buddha, why not?  But that’s not the crazy part.  Out of nowhere, Batman shows up, struggling mightily against the rays and finally managing to shuck the statue out the window, where it smashes on the pavement below.  How did Batman know about this?  Where did this evil artifact come from?  Don’t ask such nosy questions, we’ve only got 8 pages!

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It’s not a bad story, but it certainly does leave some questions unanswered.  Now, we can no-prize this, say that the statue was part of some case Bats was working, and we’re just tuning in at the end, having joined the story in media res.  Such an explanation would work, but it would have been nice for the tale to provide one line of dialog to make the connection.  The final tag line also seems a bit off, declaring, “For the natural violence of life there is always the fireman!  For the supernatural violence of life there is always…the Batman!”  Well…that’s all well and good, but the supernatural really isn’t Batman’s bailiwick.  That’s much more in the vein of someone like the Phantom Stranger.  Speaking of that particular mysterious devil, he’ll show up in our next book!  Meanwhile, I’ll give this slightly puzzling yarn 2.5 Minutemen.

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Brave and Bold #89

Brave_and_the_bold_89.jpgExecutive Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Well, this is definitely a Bob Haney issue.  My goodness is it a Bob Haney issue!  He’s in full Haney-verse mode here, inventing new elements of the Batman mythos out of whole cloth, creating nonsensical plots, and making Batman talk like one of his slang-slinging Teen Titans.  The Phantom Stranger is our guest-star of the month, and it is interesting that the Stranger is still in the middle of his evolution in his own title.  The character still hasn’t been entirely nailed down, which is fortunate, because Haney would likely have blithely ignored anything that had been established.  As it is, the Stranger is a bit off in this issue.

The tale begins with an unusual and not terribly attractive splash page.  We’re still a ways away from the wonderful run of Jim Aparo on the Brave and Bold art chores.  Apparently, a weirdo Amish-ish cult…err…sect is strolling into Gotham, complete with covered wagons and livestock.  They are led by a neck-bearded mystic with a shepherd’s crook who goes by the name of Josiah Heller.  Apparently, these are the “Hellerites,” who have come back to reclaim what was theirs in the early days of the city.  The police aren’t happy with this bizarre parade, but apparently the Hellerites aren’t breaking any laws.  It’s funny that Batman has to remind the freaking police commissioner about what the law says.

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We get a flashback to what happened to the Hellerites in the 19th Century, a history that has totally always been part of Gotham’s past.  Apparently, because the Hellerites looked and acted differently, people didn’t like them.  They were treated as outsiders, and when a child was found mysteriously dead, the Hellerites were blamed.  A riot ensued, and their settlement, at the center of modern day Gotham downtown, burned to the ground, their leader, the original Josiah Heller, with it.

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The modern day Hellerites have come back to demand reparations for their land that was stolen by the Gothamites’ ancestors.  The cult camps out in Gotham park, where apparently there is no law to prevent it because “no one ever tried it before.”  I find that hard to believe, that no bum had ever tried to camp out in the park rent free.  Anyway, the new Heller begins to preach fire and brimstone, threatening Gotham with various mystical judgements if they its citizens don’t grant his demands.

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I think it’s funny that the hippie looking folks are sympathetic.

Gotham is split, and because we’re still in 60s mode (I imagine that Haney will be perpetually in 60s mode always and forever), this causes riots and protests.  The City Council is also split, as the land the Hellerites have demanded is the most expensive real estate in Gotham City.  Surprisingly, Bruce Wayne argues in favor of these demands, citing it as their responsibility to make up for their ancestors’ sins.  This struck me as really weird, but then again, the whole setup is so bizarre that it’s hardly worth picking on this particular nit.

The story takes off when The Phantom Stranger shows up and has a enigmatic tete-a-tete with the demanding Mr. Heller.  The Stranger tells the neck-bearded one that he’s tampering with dangerous forces, and then vanishes when Heller tries to “smite” him, knocking himself unconscious.  Batman has overheard all of this and searches the unconscious cult leader, discovering some clues that indicate this fellow is not what he appears to, including cigarettes, even though the Hellerites don’t smoke.

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After this encounter, strange things start happening around Gotham, as spectral Hellerites begin to wander the streets, demanding land that they once owned.  No one can tell the difference between the ghosts and the flesh and blood types because they apparently still dress the same a century later, 1700s chic!  Things get wackier from here, as the Stranger shows up again to warn Batman about the danger to the city.  Batman, despite the fact that he was just dealing with the supernatural in his own magazine, is completely unwilling to accept that such things are possible.  How very Haney.  It’s at this point that professional wet blanket (as Rob Kelly calls him), Dr. Thirteen shows up.

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He does his usual bit, calling the Stranger a charlatan, but then Haney gives us something that is, admittedly, as awesome as it is crazy.  We get to see the good doctor karate chopping the Phantom Stranger, dropping him like a ton of bricks!  Ha, I can’t imagine the Stranger being taken out like that in his own book, but I have to say, it’s fairly entertaining, and a nice panel to boot.  Thirteen even uses a drug to ensure that the mysterious man with the disco medallion stays unconscious for a good long while.

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This isn’t quite a head-blow, but I’m going to count it!

Yet, a close encounter with a ghostly Josiah Heller makes a believer out of the Dark Knight, and a check in with the police department computer (what, the Batcomputer is on the fritz?) helps our hero to begin piecing together the plan, such as it is, of the specters.  It seems that the Hellergeist is after the town’s first born sons, including, apparently, Dick Grayson, who is magically transformed into a warlock by the curse of the Hellerites because, of course he is.  He zaps his partner, pins Alred to a wall, and then levitates the modern day Heller, spouting something about how only this new Heller can end this waking of the spirits.

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Realizing that he’s out of his depth, the Masked Manhunter goes to pull the Stranger out of police lockup.  Despite Thirteen’s drugs (a bit creepy that he just has those on him, isn’t it?), our enigmatic hero awakens in time to aid the Dark Knight in a showdown against the ghostly Heller.  The Stranger’s ill-defined powers seem to be overtaxed with fairly minor deeds, leaving Batman to pick up the slack, taking out his ward-turned-warlock.  He also determines that the modern Heller is actually an imposter, which is what caused all these problems in the first place.  He is actually a fugitive named Karl Loftus who lost his memory and, thanks to a resemblance to the original Heller, was taken for a long lost descendant.  Apparently the Hellerites are rather easily led.  The convenient arrival of a sheriff helps to snap the fellow out of his delusion, in turn banishing the restless spirits…somehow.

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The story ends with Thirteen still skeptical, despite the fact that he’s seen things in this issue that are pretty darn hard to account for.  Ohh, and the Stranger vanishes once again.  I wonder if Batman appreciated how annoying that is when someone does it to you.  Their leader gone, the Hellerites trek out of Gotham, their departure as pointless as their arrival.

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This is a fairly average Haney story, I suppose, wacky and weird, though not so stupid as to be particularly troublesome.  As you can tell, I didn’t put too much effort into understanding this plot, though I’m not sure if it would have helped if I had.  The characterization is typically off, but the scene of Thirteen karate chopping the Stranger is worth something.  As usual, the story is jam-packed, but the final effect is not one of Haney’s strongest.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.

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Well, that’s it for this week’s selections.  I hope you’ll join me next week for another league further in our journey Into the Bronze Age!

Into the Bronze Age

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Hello readers and internet travelers!  As folks familiar with my work and site likely know, I’m hip-deep (neck-deep?) in a doctoral program, and I find myself with very little time these days for Freedom Force projects.  I have no intention of abandoning the greatest superhero game of all time, but I thought that I might use my site for something a little different until I have more FF content ready for it.  I recently started a little personal project in my rare free moments.  To take a break from medieval texts and teaching, I’ve been reading through a broad range of DC comics from the Silver and Bronze Ages.  As my DC Universe According to Grey mod amply demonstrates, I have a deep and abiding love of the DC Universe, especially as it existed during the Bronze Age, which, despite having plenty of flaws, is for my money, the best, purest, most heroic, and most joyful incarnation of those characters and settings.

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I’ve read through a lot of the Silver Age stories of most of DC’s major characters, and I’ve read through a few of the major books of the Bronze Age like JLA, but until now I’ve never read the bulk of DC’s books over this period.

As I’ve been reading these stories, I’ve been attempting to cast a wide net and get a sense for the development of the DC Universe as a whole and the evolution of the Bronze Age itself.  I’ve been noticing some pretty fascinating trends, and it occurred to me that other folks might find my little project interesting as well.  To that end, I’m going to start a new, semi-regular feature on the Greylands.  Every few weeks (maybe once a month or so), I’ll post a round-up of my thoughts concerning a wide selection of DC books from a particular month and year in the Bronze Age (for my purposes, roughly considered to be between 1970 and 1985).  I won’t be reading everything DC published every month, but I’ll be reading a lot of it.

If you think this sounds interesting, I invite you to join me in my quest for the elusive character of the Bronze Age.

First, a word about what I’ll be covering and what I WON’T be covering.  I’ll be reading most of the straight-up superhero books published by DC during this time, with a few notable exceptions.  I won’t be reading through Wonder Woman, as her solo adventures have never interested me much, though I am fond of her as part of the League.  Also on the cutting room floor are Superman’s supporting books like Jimmy Olsen (until Kirby takes over) and Lois Lane.  I’ll be reading the occasional alternative, non-superhero book as the mood grabs me.  I won’t be reading most of the western, war,  or romance books, but I’m going to try to get through everything that piques my interest and is part of the DC Universe proper.  If it showed up in Who’s Who, I’ll at least consider reading it (I’ve been inspired to do this partially by the Fire and Water Podcast’s Who’s Who feature).  I’m navigating by interest, so there will be things I’ll be skipping, but I’ll also be aiming for comprehensiveness.

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I’m also going to do a semi-regular extra feature, spotlighting something neat I’ve uncovered on my march through DC that lies outside the borders of my little project here, so every issue or so I’ll include a discussion about a series or character from before or after the period I’m covering.

To start this week, I’ll begin with January 1970:

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

  • Action Comics #384
  • Brave and the Bold #87
  • Challengers of the Unknown #71
  • Detective Comics #395
  • G.I. Combat #139
  • Green Lantern #74
  • Superman #222

For the sake of my sanity, I’m skipping Adventure Comics until Supergirl gets a bit less Silver-Age-y.  I’m also skipping Metal Men #41, as it is the last original issue of the series, which seems like a poor place to start.

Now, without further ado, let’s begin our maiden voyage into the Bronze Age!

Action Comics #384

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Cover Artists: Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos
Editor: Mort Weisinger

I’m not a huge Superman fan.  I suppose I should confess that straight away.  Whenever he and Batman fought in the comics, I was always cheering for the Dark Knight.  I certainly identified more with the tortured, conflicted, and complicated Caped Crusader than I did with the bright, cheerful, and seemingly perfect Man of Steel when I was an angsty teenager with nothing to be terribly angsty about.  But, with luck, we all grow up.  I have a lot more appreciation for Superman these days, and even though he’ll never be the character I most enjoy reading about, I love his role in the DC Universe and the positive, heroic ideals he represents.  The core of his character, the concept that a man can choose to do right and live selflessly, even when it would be the easiest thing in the world to do otherwise, is a great message, one far too often forgotten in our relativistic, cynical world.  It’s as relevant today as it was in the Depression, if not more so.  Those hard times brought people together, whereas these hard times seem to drive us further and further apart.  These truths are precisely what Man of Steel and (as far as can be determined) the upcoming Batman V. Superman movie don’t seem to comprehend.

But that’s a rant for another day; we’re here to talk about comics!  So, as I said, I’m not the biggest Superman fan, and the stories I do like generally are Post Crisis (a rare exception for me).  I enjoyed the Man of Steel Byrne reboot, and I’ve read several Superman TPBs that I’ve really enjoyed.  I have an exceptionally low tolerance for Silver Age Superman stories, though.  In my opinion they tend to be the most Silver Age-y of all Silver Age comics.  They are goofy, childish, and bizarre in the extreme, with the rainbow kryptonite and the far too literal take on the concept of invulnerability generally making me want to dig my eyes out with salad forks.  I’m not much of a fan, is what I’m saying.

I have heard that Bronze Age Superman gets something of a soft reboot that leads to some good stories with the ‘Kryptonite No More’ storyline, but we aren’t there yet, and this particular tale is definitely full of Silver Age goodness.  It isn’t half bad as such things go, though it is a standard comic of the era where things happen at the speed of plot.

Two strange uniforms, glowing with eerie energy, show up at Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, begging to be put on by the Man of Tomorrow.  That would be pretty odd in most tales, but I have to imagine it’s just a Thursday in the context of the crazy stuff that the Silver Age Superman gets up to.  Anyway, it seems these two uniforms belong to two aliens, one a prisoner, the other a policeman, who died on-board a spaceship while locked in combat.  Their uniforms were doused with energy and preserved their minds…or something.  I think I’m already putting more thought into this concept than writer Carey Bates did.  To be brief, which is surprisingly difficult when giving a synopsis of a Silver Age story like this, which has tons packed into it, the evil prisoner’s uniform forces Superman to don it by…basically just asking in front of Perry White.  Perry, who apparently isn’t all that concerned with his employees’ wellbeing, orders Clark Kent to put on the strange, glowing alien costume.  Great Ceaser’s ghost!  I’m pretty sure that’s an OSHA violation!

action-384-07-06Predictably, the uniform controls Superman and tries to make him do evil, but the Man of Steel is more than a match for any mere suit of clothes, and outwits the outfit by seeming to go along with the evil plans, all while setting up the acts so they can be countered by his allies.  That really is a nice little piece of planning on Clark’s part, and it reminds the reader that Superman has brains as well as brawn.  Yet, all that (seeming) evil-doing lands Superman in Dutch with the authorities, and just when things look bad for him, he’s rescued by a flying Perry White in the other costume!  ‘Thanks Perry, but I’m still reporting you…’action-384-14-11

Supes eventually puts on the other uniform on top of the evil one and is able to free himself enough to fly into the sun, burning both into ashes.  We’re treated to the two…what are they, ghosts?  Mental impressions?  Really persistent and aggressive stains?  Well, whatever they are, the two uniforms burn away, and we come back to find Perry White in his skivvies.  Yikes!

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This was a fair Silver Age-ish story, nothing particularly memorable or interesting, but not nearly as weird or goofy as you might find in such settings.  I enjoyed it pretty well, and I’d give it an average score of 3 Minutemen.

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At this time, Action Comics is also running a Legion of Superheroes backup feature, and this was the standout for me.  It was an entirely conventional Legion story, with one Legionnaire being prophesied to die in the opening pages and what could kindly be called a ‘twist,’ but more accurately dubbed a ‘cheat,’ revealed to have survived at the very end.  Replace ‘prophesied to die’ with ‘accused of being a traitor,’ and it is just like a number of Legion stories I’ve read.  In general, I like the Legion, but it never grabbed me the way it has some folks.  Once again, this is a concept that has grown on me as I have gotten older, as I enjoy what it says about the grand sweep of the DC Universe, the hopeful optimism about science and human nature.  It’s an optimism I think completely unjustified, but it’s charming nonetheless!

action-384-20-02Despite this particular story being entirely by the numbers, it has a few nice little moments that made it stick in my mind.  The doomed Legionnaire in this particular tale is Mon-El, who Dream Girl, well, dreams about.  She sees his death, vaguely but certainly.  Unfortunately, it seems that Dream Girl’s visions always come true, and there is no way to prevent this tragedy.  We get a couple of nice pages of Mon-El coming to terms with his fate, including my favorite panel of the book.  In it, we see Mon contemplate one of his last sunrises.  action-384-22-04It’s a nice, quiet little moment that really adds to Mon’s characterization, illuminating his heroism, as he faces his death, but also a human side to him.  It’s small, but significant for a Silver Age-ish book like this.  After all, it isn’t all that often that a superhero at this time seriously considered his or her mortality, especially in DC, so it is nice to see how doing so makes Mon all the more aware of the little things in his life, all while bravely soldiering on and continuing to do his duty.

His home planet of Daxam offers to hide him away and guard him with their entire army (!), which is quite an offer, but Mon is not one to hide and refuses.  This leads us to the cheat that leaves both Dream Girl correct and Mon-El alive at the end of the issue.  Another Daxamite knocks Mon out and switches places with him, dying in his place, but not really, because his incompetence almost kills Mon anyway, and he gives his life to save his idol rather than by facing the danger they feared (an alien invasion defeated in a single panel).

It’s a good, quick story, even with the stock plot and deus ex machina.  There’s just enough heart and charm here to raise it above common quality.  I give it three Minutemen.

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Brave and the Bold #87

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Cover Artists: Mike Sekowsky, Dick Giordano
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Man, The Brave and the Bold…what a series.  This comic was almost exclusively written by Bob Haney, or as he is popularly known, Zany Haney!  Bob Haney seems to either be beloved or hated.  He wrote incredibly imaginative and, let’s face it, zany, stories that cheerfully ignored any and all previously established continuity and characterization.  It was entirely common to find characters acting in an entirely uncharacteristic fashion, meeting old friends never before or after mentioned, or suddenly finding themselves having relatives that have totally always been there, shut-up!  His stories represent the best and worst things about the Silver Age.  They are often silly and irrational, but they are also creative in the extreme, often tossing out concepts with the same speed and frequency as even the mighty team of Stan and Jack.  However, unlike Lee and Kirby, Haney’s great weakness, other than his seeming allergy to logical consistency and causality, is his lack of interest in recalling potentially successful concepts.  Everything is a one-shot in his books, for the most part.  Even good ideas almost never have a return engagement.  That’s a particular problem in Aquaman and part of the reason that the Silver Age, which produced the majority of the best villains, left that particular hero with a shallow rogue’s gallery, despite having lots of one-shot villains with potential.

I don’t have the unabashed love for Zany Haney that folks like Rob Kelly and the Irredeemable Shag of the Fire and Water Podcast evince, but I do often enjoy his stories now that I’ve acquired a bit more patience for Silver Age flavored tales, and ALL of his work is Silver Age-ish, even well into the Bronze Age.

This particular yarn is no exception, and it represents the strengths of Haney’s style.  It is packed to the gills with action, but it is actually positively restrained in terms of the number of concepts it throws at the reader.  The story opens with Diana Prince and her companion I Ching (of course) in Europe taking in the sights of a combination fashion show and auto race…because such things happen all the time, no doubt.

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This is the late 60s, Kung-Fu, white jumpsuit Wonder Woman, an incarnation of the character that I really don’t care for.  The idea of stripping away all of her powers and mythic trappings makes her much less interesting and turns her into a second string Black Canary.  I think I prefer the character with deep roots in myth and magic.  Nonetheless, I have to say that Haney does a good job with her, giving Diana Prince just enough fresh-faced naivete for someone who is adjusting to a new way of life, all while moving through the plot at break-neck speed.  Still, all things considered, Black Canary would have been a much better fit for this particular plot.

The story itself is about a race in which Bruce Wayne is competing against a sinister German fellow who goes by the name of ‘Widowmaker’!  How very ominous!

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Widowmaker, A.K.A. Willi Van Dornt doesn’t like the competition from Wayne, so he tries to sabotage his racer, which leads to a nice scene where Bruce Wayne discovers them and starts to crack some heads, only to be discovered by Wonder Woman.  This means Bruce has to take a dive, which he does, all while using his training and skill to avoid taking any real punishment.

It’s a nice little detail, that Batman is so good that he can fake a loss and stay in control.  Of course, if Wonder Woman is the warrior she should be, or even the martial artist she’s supposed to be here, she should be able to see through such a ruse.  Nonetheless, it makes for a fun few pages.  Bruce gets a bit banged up, and the real meat of the story begins as he pretends that he’s convinced Batman to race for him as a cover.  There’s some added backstory of this murderous racer being the son of a villain Batman had faced in the past, but that doesn’t amount to much.

brave and the bold 087 023Wonder Woman runs interference against Willi’s minions who try to ambush Batman’s car along the track, while Bruce pits his skill against Widowmaker’s dirty tricks.  It’s a really nice, exciting, quick-moving tale, shifting back and forth between the different perils the heroes face with much the same energy as an actual race.  The pacing is very good, and the series of challenges the heroes face is interesting.  I’m particularly fond of the ending, which involves Willi being hoisted on his own petard as his henchman springs one of his own traps on his boss.  Seconds later, Batman’s beaten, battered racer limps across the finish line.  It’s a little bit of poetic justice, and it is a good payoff for the tension of the race.

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One other little point, this comic also included a text piece about the previous heroes of the Brave and the Bold book, including the likes of the Golden Gladiator, Robin Hood, the Viking Prince, Cave Carson, and the Silent Knight.  It includes short blurbs about some of their biggest adventures and poses the question about who is the greatest hero.  For my money, it is definitely the Viking Prince, but it is neat to see these guys mentioned again, and it makes me a little sad that their features have all faded into obscurity by this point.

Well, I give this not-all-that-zany tale 4 Minutemen out of 5.  It really is a fun story, and pretty well told, even if there isn’t a whole lot to it.

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Challengers of the Unknown #71

Challengers_of_the_Unknown_Vol_1_71.jpgCover Artist: Nick Cardy
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Jack Sparling
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

This Challenger’s story  is the fourth in a set of connected tales, so I went back and read the previous entries in this arc before I got to it.  It seems clear that, here at the end of the run, the writer, Denny O’Neil seems to have been trying to shake things up.  The first story in this arc saw the brainy quarter of the Challengers get ‘possessed’ by an evil computer (don’t ask), and the second saw him seemingly mortally wounded.  They lost no time replacing poor Prof. with a random lady, in fact, the daughter of the evil genius who tried to kill him.  All of this coincides with a change in costume.  It seems clear that this series was on its last legs, which is a shame, because they were really onto something good with these changes.  In fact, this series would only last three more issues before the book was relegated to a reprint feature.

This story picks up where the last issue left off.  In the previous issue, the Challengers, fleeing from your average remote castle stronghold of your average madCountMcFacialHair.jpg scientist (in this instance with a super awesome old-timey mustache and chops, plus a sweet cape) stumble upon a plot by spore aliens (because of course) who want to conquer the earth.  They defeated the chief alien and his hillbilly cultists (nope, not kidding), and thisChallengers_70_18 issue opens with them stumbling into a small town, which the escaping spore alien has taken over (with the aid of a witch!).  The townspeople are forced to serve spore-y, and the Challengers, battered by their previous day’s adventures and on their last legs, are Challengers_70_17defeated and captured, only to be freed by Red’s little brother (and apparently a singing sensation?), Tino.  Apparently a bit has changed between the original issues I read and this point in the series.

Whew!  I didn’t intend for my recap to be that long!  O’Neil really packs a ton into this issue (and the previous ones as well), and you really feel the Challengers’ exhaustion and desperation during their final stand.  I do feel like poor Prof. got the short end of the stick here, but this issue ends with him making it to the hospital and getting medical help, soChallengers_71_03.jpgthe door was open to bring him back.  The new addition, Corinna seems fine, though she doesn’t have much personality.  She’s also disturbingly okay with the murder of her father.  ‘He’s evil, oh well’ seems to be about the extent of her mourning.  I’d keep an eye on her, Challengers.  Chances are, she’s a sociopath.

Yet, whatever she lacks in emotional depth, Corinna (what kind of a name is that?) makes up for by adding a nice little wrinkle to the Challengers’ dynamic.  She sets up an interesting conflict between Red and Rocky, with the acrobat constantly putting her down and generally being a jerk to her while Rocky moons like a love-struck schoolboy.  Interestingly enough, Corinna seems to only have eyes for Red, which says some rather disturbing things about her views on relationships.  Then again, her father was an abusive megalomaniac.  Sorry Rock, nice guys finish last and chicks dig jerks, apparently.

This shift in story tactics by O’Neil is an interesting one.  It adds some good characterization to the Challengers who, for most of their history, have been pretty one note.  It’s good to see these guys get some development, especially Rocky, who is more than just the generic strong man as he silently fumes over Red’s treatment of Corinna and laments his own lack of luck.  This was a wild but solid story, providing you don’t think too deeply about rapid change in plots.  There’s little denying it is fun, and the art is wonderfully atmospheric, beautifully creepy and well-suited for the tale.  The artist, Jack Sparling, does a great job of giving each of the Chals a unique face, which really adds to their individuality and characterization.

In general, this was a good example of a solid, exciting Bronze Age story.  It isn’t high art, but it’s the type of action-packed, not too ridiculous (for a comic) yarn that marks this era of evolving storytelling.  I’d give it 3 Minutemen out of 5.

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Detective Comics #395

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Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

For my money, I’d say Batman is probably the easiest comics hero to write, as he has a very strong setting, a great supporting cast, and the best villains in comics history.  He’s had, arguably, the most consistently high-quality runs of any mainstream character.  He and Superman are two of the purest, most archetypal, and most influential characters in comics history.  There’s a reason, or rather many, that Batman has had such enduring popularity, and one of the main ones is that Batman embodies the mythic elements that are inherent in the concept of the superhero. I suppose, then, that there is no suprise that Batman has always been one of my favorite characters, all the way back to the campy Adam West show and its cartoon counterpart.  As a kid, I loved those corny, goofy shows, and now my young nieces and nephews love them as well.  It’s clear that those shows and that tone (recaptured to a certain degree in the Batman: Brave and Bold show) are perfect for kids, however much they may gall adults.

batman-1When I got a bit older, I discovered the best of all Bat-worlds, Batman: The Animated Series, the greatest superhero show of all time.  That is, for my money, the best version of Batman, and Bruce Timm and co. made very intentional efforts to create a show that was the distillation of all that was best in Bat-history.  Many of the themes and concepts that were combined into TAS have their origins in the original incarnation of Batman in the Golden Age, but it is here, in the Bronze Age, where they make their return and the ‘real’ Batman that most of us think of actually comes into his own.

We’re not at the absolute beginning of this trend, but we’re not all that far off.  This period would see several definitive runs that reshaped Batman for the coming decades.  It is at this point that the campy Batman of the 60s fades and the shadowy Dark Knight Detective takes center stage thanks to the efforts of comics luminaries like Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams.

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detective comics 395 007That’s the team behind this tale, which is indicative of the good quality of the story and its spooky, mysterious tone.  This yarn begins with a nice, moody establishing shot of Batman brooding over two empty graves.  He’s in central Mexico, attending an extravagant party of a wealthy and mysterious couple who have a macabre fixation on death, even hosting this party in their own family graveyard.  The plot centers around the couple trying to covertly kill an agent of the Mexican government who is investigating them, all while Batman works to save him.

detective comics 395 015That’s where the tale takes a turn for the strange, as there is a final confrontation in a ruined building where Batman discovers a secret field of flowers, which are apparently madness inducing…and also endow people with immortality.  That’s a twist worthy of ‘ol Zany Haney.  Still, despite the rapid-fire delivery of the exposition and the strangeness of the concept, it sort of works.  The couple, supposedly over a hundred years old, wither and die in moments, falling fittingly into their own, empty graves.  Their passing leaves behind a number of unanswered questions, but given the horror flavor of the story, it isn’t as big of a problem as it might seem.  This tale evokes the mystical, mysterious feel of the old horror books, where certain questions are left unanswered as part of there overall effect.

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This is a good story, not the best of the Batman tales we’ll be encountering, but of the above-average quality that is, in fact, average for Batman books in the Bronze Age, especially in Detective Comics.  I give this one a solid 4 out 5 Minutemen.

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Detective Comics had a backup feature for most of its history, and at this point it is trading off between Robin and Batgirl.  I’m a big fan of the Bat-Family, so I’m excited about reading these backups.  This one is the second half of a Robin adventure, with a nice framing device of being relayed through letters Dick sends home from college.  I love Robin, specifically, the only real Robin (where I’m concerned), Dick Grayson.  He’s one of my favorite characters.  The concept that created him, that kids would identify with and want to be him totally worked on me as a kid.  I was aware I couldn’t be Batman, but maybe, just maybe, I could be Robin.  I love him as a solo act, as well as with Bats, but at this point, going off to college and being almost a grown man, it is certainly way past time to give the guy pants.  I don’t understand how this went on so long.  He’s been older than is appropriate for his green trunks for years and years at this point.  The particularly bizarre thing is that they’ve had multiple stories that have provided perfectly viable costumes for an adult Robin, none of which they’ve bothered to adapt.  Aqualad has the same problem, but at leas the wasn’t as high profile as poor Dick.  So, that ridiculously outdated costume always takes a little something away from these Robin stories.detective comics 395 027

detective comics 395 023This particular tale involves Robin attempting to break up a communist plot (!) involving creating student unrest with fake accounts of police brutality in order to shutdown Hudson University (!).  It’s a very 60s style story, and not a terribly interesting one.  You have to think that the vague, unspecified commies would have better things to do with their time and money.  Nonetheless, Dick manages to break the case open, despite taking a beating and being captured for the second time in two issues.  He does manage a fairly nice escape, taking out two guards, all while handcuffed.  Still, it isn’t his most impressive showing.  I like the idea of having stories with him away in college, but I don’t think all the stories necessarily have to be set ON campus or deal with university matters.  It just limits the character way too much.

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It isn’t a particularly impressive story, despite the cool escape, so I’ll give it 2 1/2 Minutemen.

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G.I. Combat #139

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Writer: Robert Kanigher
Artist: Russ Heath

I’m a big fan of the idea of the Haunted Tank, and by this point, Jeb and his boys have become the undisputed stars of this book.  Still, though I love the idea, what I’ve read from the Silver Age hasn’t electrified me.  I’m now skipping ahead about five years to this issue, and I definitely think things are improving.  The older stories were fine, but I just felt like they didn’t really take much advantage of the concept.  Lift out scenes with the General’s cryptic warnings, which had exactly zero impact on most of the plots, and your average Haunted Tank story could just as easily have appeared in any other WWII book.  There were exceptions, but that was my general impression.  What fun is that?  If you’ve got a Haunted Tank, you should really play that up or you’re burying the lead!

This story doesn’t break that pattern as much as I might like (J.E.B. appears a grand total of one time), but it’s just an enjoyable tale on its own merits.  The basic overview is that Jeb and crew are dropped into North Africa to stop a Nazi advance through a pass and attempt to rally the local Bedouins to the Allied cause.  On the way, the crew discover that their contact, Prince Akmed, has died, perhaps killed by “The Mufti,” a generically evil adviser sort who favors the Germans. g.i._combat_139_08.jpgIn a scene ripped from the pages of Around the World in 80 Days, the ever culturally sensitive comic delivers us a tribe of Bedouins who are preparing to burn Akmed’s wife, Princes Azeela, on his pyre in the archaic Indian practice of Sati.

Jeb, being the gallant Southerner that he is, is having none of this and, extinguishing the pyre, rescues the girl.  He agrees to marry the girl in order to protect her from her people, and she rides with him to battle.  In a particularly nicely illustrated sequence, the Tank goes up against heavier German armor, manages to plug the pass with the first Panther, and then fights a despearate holding action until rescued by Azeela’s people, who have been inspired by her bravery.

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Sadly, the Mufti kills her in revenge, and in a surprisingly touching series of panels, beautifully drawn and inked, Jeb returns his princess to her people…forever.

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The Princess doesn’t really get much to do other than die to unite her people (this story is not exactly a beacon of feminism), but Plot, er, I mean Princess Azeela, does serve as a nice little subtle moral quandary for Jeb.  g.i._combat_139_11He saves her from the pyre, but then what is a good man to do?  He agrees to marry her to save her from further retribution at the hands of her people, and we’re given a tender little scene with Jeb comforting Azeela whose husband, let’s remember JUST DIED.  The concern on his face, the tenderness of that embrace, is pretty effective at conveying a good deal more than the dialog.  Taken all together, that little panel aptly demonstrates the strength of comics as a medium of storytelling.  There’s a great efficiency of narrative in that one little combination of image and word.

This was a good story, though it still didn’t really take advantage of the whole Haunted Tank concept.  I’ll give it 3 and 1/2 Minutemen.

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Green Lantern #74

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Cover Artist: Gil Kane
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Green Lantern…ohh Greeen Lantern…this series has given me fits.  I’ve read the whole run to this point, and I am somewhat amazed the book survived this long.  I love Hal as a character, and I love the concept of the Green Lantern Corps.  In fact, I love pretty much everything about the original setup of the Silver Age Lantern: Hal’s test pilot civilian identity, his relationship with Carol (who was a powerful, capable, career-minded woman in an age where that was exceedingly rare in fiction), and the setting being split between Coast City and space.  He had a reasonably strong rogue’s gallery, and he was all set to have an excellent hero career.  And then one day the creative team just decided to toss all of that.  They upended Hal’s life, had Carol suddenly agree to marry someone else off panel, and then Hal became a wanderer, a set of circumstances that would stick with him for years to come.  This is not to say that the early Silver Age GL comics were particularly good.  They’re about average for Silver Age books, which makes them pretty hard to read these days, but at least the concept was a promising one, and this shift…?  Not so much.

It’s an inexplicable decision to me, as they clearly had no real goal in mind other than to shake up the book and ditch Carol.  The unforgivable result of this path is that it made Hal Jordan, one of the coolest DC heroes in his civilian identity, lame and boring.  He went from being a hot-shot, devil-may-care jet-jockey to, wonder of wonders, an insurance salesman.  How does that make any kind of sense?  Over the next twenty issues Hal continues to drift from job to job and place to place, and the instability makes the character seem flaky and more than a little worthless.  This also removes the ability of the book to provide Hal with any kind of supporting cast other than his fellow Corpsmen, who are more or less dropped from the book as well during this period.

Of course, after those twenty issues the comic turns into the famed Green Lantern/Green Arrow combined title, and Hal goes from being someone who can’t hold down a job to an actual, jobless bum.  This run is widely praised and quite famous, standing as a seminal moment in the development of comics and the Bronze Age in particular.  Despite acknowledging its cultural importance, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the ‘hard traveling heroes’ run, but I suppose I’ll talk about that when I get there in a few issues.

As for the issue in question, it is the second part of a two part story wherein Hal heads back to Coast City and meets up once more with Carol Ferris, mysteriously still unmarried.  Their first encounter in the previous issue is really rather nicely done, but I imagine that this return home gave a good many readers false hope.  Sadly, it was not to last.  When Green Lantern goes to talk with Carol, she inexplicably transforms into Star Sapphire, despite not having access to the troublesome gem.  She somehow transports Hal into deep space, also conveniently stripping him of his memories of being Green Lantern.  This issue picks up where that one left off, with a rather pretty trap for Hal to escape.greenlantern074-02

Stranded in space without any of the knowledge he needs to save himself, this is an interesting premise.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t really last very long and Hal is quite blase about the the whole thing.  ‘Ohh, I seem to be lost in the infinite void…ho-hum.’  It is a good chance for Hal’s natural fearlessness to shine, but it doesn’t quite come off that way, and the problem is a bit too easily solved.  This image also demonstrates a weird trait of the art in these issues, where Gil Kane stacks images upon one another to diverse and often not entirely successful, but always innovative, effect.

greenlantern074-26Once Hal gets back to Earth, he discovers the true cause of his current problems, Sinestro!  At this point, it has been a very long time since we have had any real supervillains in the book, especially any of Sinestro’s quality, so he’s a breath of fresh air.  For most of the last dozen issues or so, Hal has been suffering from boring stories featuring random, regular hoods.  Yep, they make a great challenge for the man with the most powerful weapon in the universe.  Sinestro, on the other hand, especially backed up by Star Sapphire, makes for an excellent antagonist, and this story has the renegade Lantern in particularly good form.  He’s ruthless, cunning, and completely self-assured.  He moves effortlessly from battling to manipulating Star Sapphire.  Together, they (a little too easily) take Hal out, and the Lantern is saved by Pieface (the most offensively named supporting character in comics history?).  It’s nice to see ‘ol Tom Kalmaku again too, and both of these characters make me miss Hal’s old status quo.  The story ends with Hal defeating Sinestro…or does it?  He looks so wonderfully smug in that last panel.
Don’t you just want to pop him right in that red face of his?  That is a villain worthy of Hal.  Of course, Sinestro has a backup plan, and with the customary warning that “there is always a next time”, he vanishes!  This leaves Hal to try and explain the whole ‘Star Sapphire’ thing to Carrol…and, well, she doesn’t take it too well, running out of his life for a second time.greenlantern074-28

So, in the end, Hal is left more or less where he was to begin with.  He’s got no supporting cast, no stability, and we’re about to enter another long stretch without any villains to speak of.  This is a fine story, so far as it goes.  Isolated from the drudgery that is the rest of this run, it is pretty good.  Sinestro is fun in it, and his little character moments make some progress in identifying him as someone who is more than just an evil Green Lantern who is evil because he likes being evil…evily.  It isn’t a lot of progress, but it is progress, and you get a sense of his arrogance and pride.  The art is fairly weak, and the power ring battle, which should have been really visually interesting and exciting, is inexcusably flat and boring.  Kane is a very Silver Age-y artist, skilled and consistent, but Green Lantern could really benefit from someone with a more creative and energetic style.  Imagine what Jack Kirby could have done with a GL book!  In the end, I give this story 3 and 1/2 Minutemen out of 5, if only because it is such an improvement over what came before.

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Superman #222

Superman_v.1_222.jpgWriters: Edmond Hamilton and various
Pencilers: Al Plastino and various

This seems to be a collection of Silver Age Superman tales, and as such, exactly what I don’t much want to read.  I just skimmed these reprints and didn’t find much to catch my interest, though several of these could make excellent examples of the internet sensation that is Super-Dickery. Stories involve an ersatz lost brother for Superman, some hypothetical children for him and Lois, and various other familial and social complications.  The only one that stuck out to me was a tale set in Kandor, part of a story featuring two sons of Superman, one super, the other, not so much.  It cracks me up to see Superman running around, doing familial stuff in his costume.  I think I won’t cover reprints in any kind of detail.

And there you have it, folks.  Wow!  That missive proved much more massive than I intended.  Future iterations should prove to be much smaller as they won’t need all the framing and general discussion that this one sported.

This has been, more or less, January 1970 in DC Comics.  It was a pretty solid month, all told, but I’m looking forward to getting further into the Bronze Age, where more of the 60s Silver Age-ish tendencies will be shaken off.  Join me again, approximately whenever I get around to it, for the next month of books (probably next month).