Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 1)

Hello friends and Internet travelers, and welcome to the start of a new month of Bronze Age comics!  We begin September 1971 with these two books, and once again the Super Family leads off, though the stories themselves might not quite live up to that moniker.  Let’s find out as we journey further Into the Bronze Age!

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

This month in history:

  • The Irish Republican Army set off a number of bombs, causing damage and injuries across Ireland
  • Qatar regains complete independence from Britain
  • Watergate team breaks into Daniel Ellsberg’s doctor’s office
  • A baby girl and several soldier are killed in separate shooting incidents in Northern Ireland
  • Alaskan 727 crashes into Chilkoot Mountain, kills 109
  • British Prime Minister Edward Heath meets with Irish Prime Minister/Taoiseach Jack Lynch at Chequers in England to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland
  • William Craig and Ian Paisley speak at a rally in Belfast before a crowd of approximately 20,000 people and call for the establishment of a ‘third force’ to defend ‘Ulster’
  • 1,000 convicts riot & seize Attica, NY prison, leading to the deaths of 11 guards & 31 prisoners
  • John Lennon releases his “Imagine” album
  • Two North Ireland Loyalists are mortally injured when the bomb they were preparing exploded prematurely in Belfast
  • 6 Ku Klux Klansmen arrested in connection with bombing of 10 school buses
  • Momofuku Ando markets the first Cup Noodle, packaging it in a waterproof polystyrene container
  • US performs nuclear tests at Nevada Test Site
  • 90 Russian diplomats expelled from Britain for spying
  • MP David Bleakley resigns in protest over the introduction of Internment and the lack of any new political initiatives by the Northern Ireland government

It looks like this was a tempestuous month in 1971, with the Troubles in Ireland escalating and the death-toll rising.  We also see the opening moves of the Watergate scandal taking place, though these events wouldn’t come to light until later.  This month also saw the infamous riot at Attica prison, which proved bloody and traumatic.  This is an event that would loom large in the memory of the decade.  Notably, it seems that the domestic terrorist group, The Weathermen, got involved in the action, launching a retaliatory bombing during the conflict, because there’s nothing like blowing up innocent people to accomplish your goals!  We’ve also got more domestic troubles on the list, with continuing racial conflict in the form of the activities of the KKK.  It’s a bleak, grim time, and that’s for sure.  I imagine that the adventures of some colorful superheroes were a welcome escape for some.  I know how they felt.

On top of the charts this month was Donny Osmond’s “Go Away Little Girl,” the sweet innocence of which stands in pretty stark contrast to the events of the day.

Roll Call

(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #404
  • Adventure Comics #410
  • Batman #235
  • Brave and the Bold #97
  • Detective Comics #415
  • The Flash #209
  • Forever People #4
  • G.I. Combat #149
  • Justice League of America #92
  • New Gods #4
  • Superboy #177
  • Superman #242
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #113
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141
  • World’s Finest #205

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

Action Comics #404


“Kneel to Your Conqueror, Superman!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Specter of 3000-Moons Lake!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Coward and the Hero”
Writer: Jack Miller
Penciler: Ramona Fradon
Inker: Ramona Fradon
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“The Day They Killed Clark Kent”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We’ve got rather exceptionally yellow cover on this month’s Action issue, and Neal Adams makes the Roman-esq figure in the center look rather like Superman, which makes the scene a tad confusing.  Still, it’s a solid if unimpressive representation of the tale within, though the yellow isn’t terribly attractive.  As for the story in question, it’s a fairly forgettable one, starting with Clark Kent getting an assignment to do a story on a government think tank.  On the way to the coastal facility, an earthquake strikes, and Superman goes into action, shoring up the cavern underneath the building.  Yet, when he arrives at the lab, instead of finding the scientists panicked, he finds that they were expecting him to arrive and save the day precisely when he did.  This was all predicted by a genius named Caesar, who plugs into a massive computer and runs calculations, forming the basis for much of their research.


action-404-08-06 - CopyIt turns out that this fellow, Rufus Caesar, is a major fan of the Man of Steel, and he invites the hero back to his home to view some of his awards.  Once there, the Action Ace sees that the scientist has a big collection of Superman memorabilia.  Apparently, the fellow is not only a fan, he idolizes the hero.  Things take a turn for the creepy when Caesar has the Metropolis Marvel try on a piece of a salvaged Superman robot, only to reveal that it is a trap, which paralyzes the Kryptonian.


Plugging the helpless hero into a strange machine, Caesar begins to siphon away his powers one by one, declaring that he has admired Superman for so long that he now wants to be him.  Unlike the Man of Tomorrow, this sinister scientist will use such powers to make himself the ruler of the world.

Despite his butler’s misgivings, Caesar carries on with the procedures, testing his newfound abilities as he gets them.  Yet, using stolen vision powers, Caesar discovers a cable-car nearby that is in danger of falling.  After trying to fly through the wall before getting invulnerability, he decides to finish the job before going to the rescue.



Super Head-Trauma!

Donning a custom-made costume, he becomes “Super Caesar” (how creative), and plugs into his machine once more.  Yet, things don’t go as he planned, as Superman, who has been resisting the energy drain all this time, suddenly gives in, and the power flowing into Caesar’s body is far too much for his mortal frame to hold.  In a panic, the butler reverses the device, and the powers flow back into their rightful owner, who rushes off to save the cable-car.  When he returns, the Action Ace discovers that “Super Caesar” has become “Super Vegetable,” as the machine fried his brain!  In a rather macabre coda, this makes for a great story for Clark Kent, and Morgan Edge is pleased by the scoop.

So, this is a rather uninspiring rehash of the ‘someone steals Superman’s powers’ bit.  It’s fine and inoffensive, but it isn’t terribly compelling either.  There are some interesting elements here, like the fact that the fellow’s turn towards evil springs out of his obsessive hero-worship of the Man of Steel and the butler’s reticence, but Dorfman makes little of these highlights.  That’s a shame, because there is a good dramatic potential in a character who is as much a symbol as Superman dealing with the dangers of hero-worship.  We do get further evidence about the deplorable state of higher education in the DC Universe.  I know grad school tends to scar folks, but what must be going on at the universities in this setting where every third PhD decides they want to rule the world?  Maybe I’m being too hard on them.  After all, I know plenty of PhDs, and some of them are none too stable.  Perhaps the real difference is that in the DCU they actually have the technology to allow them to do it!  Either way, I suppose such ruminations have caused me to wander from the point.  I’ll give this story an average score of 3 Minutemen.


“The Day They Killed Clark Kent”


Our backup this month is another tale of the college Clark Kent, and this one is a fun and unusual offering.  The theme of this collegiate yarn?  Hazing, of all things!  It begins with Clark interrupting the rowdiest frat on campus hazing a kid he knows named Dave.  The poor schlub is tied to a chair having his face covered in shaving cream, and Clark decides to intervene while making it look like an accident, pretending to slip on the shaving cream and smacking each of the offending frat boys in the process.  It’s a funny little scene, though, I have to say, if this is the worst frat’s idea of hazing, Dave is getting off easy!  I’ve seen much worse in my time.

Dave is none too thankful for the rescue, and when the “brothers” approach him, wanting to prank the mild-mannered journalism student, he agrees.  Of course, privacy is nothing to Superboy, who eavesdrops on the conversation and is ready for their antics.  When the boys ask him to join the group and show up for some harmless initiation ceremonies, he is prepared.


The punks put their victim in a movable platform and tell him he’s on a pirate ship (rather imaginative for frat boys, really).  They throw sand in his face and hit him with a fan, but Clark uses the confusion of the prank to use a bit of super breath to wreck their frat house and make them think it was their own fan.  Next, they try to make him walk the plank into a tub of water, but the Teen of Steel drives it right through the floor!  Finally, they get Dave to use a cattle prod on the blindfolded boy!  Now that’s definitely hazing!

Clark fakes being electrocuted by a short-circuit and stops his heart, causing the prank-happy punks to panic and leave him there, possibly dead.  Planning to capture them as Superboy and let them sweat about having killed someone (!), the Campus Marvel observes Dave rally the other morons and bring them back to help their victim.  Clark pretends to come to, and the little episode comes to a happy conclusion as the frat boys clean up their acts and convert their party pad into a study area to help struggling students.  That’s quite a switch, but I’m wondering if these knuckleheads are really the ones you’d want tutoring you!


So, this fun little college adventure definitely has the feel of an adult trying to write about youthful antics, but it manages to be fun despite that, and it actually delivers a worthwhile if clunky moral about the problem of hazing.  Now, as someone who teaches undergraduates and has seen plenty in his day, I can tell you that this remains a problem, and a serious one, despite the fact American culture tends to think of it as harmless fun.  In fact, I imagine it has probably gotten worse, despite attempts by institutions to crack down on the practices, and let me tell you, the fairly innocuous pranks in this comic don’t hold a candle to the kind of insane and simply stupid stuff kids get up to these days.


In general, I’ve found Greek Life to be an overall detriment to campuses and students, and hazing is just one part of that.  To my mind, the negatives of these groups far outweigh the positives.  I can’t tell you how many struggling students have confessed to prioritizing asinine fraternity or sorority activities over their coursework or who get wrapped up in the poisonous drinking culture centered on these groups.  Anyway, I seem to have wandered afield from the fairly innocent story at hand here.  I’ll give this silly but entertaining little tale 3 Minutemen.


Adventure Comics #410


“The Nature of the Beast!”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Bob Oksner
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Joe Orlando

“The Revolt of the Girl Legionnaires”
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Penciler: John Forte
Inker: John Forte
Letterer: Milt Snapinn
Editor: Mort Weisinger

“The Ruler Without a Planet”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Bob Oksner
Inker: Vince Colletta

We’ve got a couple of rather odd Supergirl yarns this month, and in an unusual switch, the cover story is not our lead feature.  It is a solid enough design, a surprising image, well rendered, and it represents its tale well.  Yet, our first adventure, strangely enough, would have made for a much better and more exciting image, as it features some really cool looking monsters.  Why pass up creepy creatures for a kid?  Either way, the story in question, begins with Linda Danvers visiting Nasty Luthor at her new apartment.  The scheming femme fatale is trying to convince Linda to be her roommate so that she can spy on her and prove that she is Supergirl.  *sigh*  This again?  I was hoping this incredibly stupid plot thread would be dropped when Sekowsky left the book!  Unfortunately, that’s not the only stupid moment this issue.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of why Linda would even begin to consider rooming with her nemesis, something much more interesting interrupts the conversation, as the Maid of Might observes the man next door being attacked by a pair of really nicely designed bird-men!  Making her excuses about having a hair appointment, the mild-mannered maiden dashes off, only to return as Supergirl and burst in to tackle the monsters.  She makes short work of them, but her superpowers fade out again just as she pursues them out the window.

adventurecomics410p08She notes that she’s not wearing her power devices, which were designed for just such a situation!  There’s no explanation, no editorial note, just a big dose of idiot-ball powered stupidity to create some drama as she desperately clings to the avian antagonists, only to fall helplessly before snagging a ledge at the last minute.  It’s a fine adventure sequence, but it’s catalyst is just moronic.  Anyway, back in the apartment, Nasty responds to the commotion and finds the victim of the attack, Mike Merrick, who is in full 70s sleaze mode from the first moment he wakes up.  Thinking Nasty has somehow chased away his attackers and seemingly completely unperturbed by being assaulted by six foot tall talking canaries, Mike asks Nasty out to dinner.  When Linda shows up, feeling a bit jealous about her nemesis getting the credit, he asks her too.  That can’t end badly.


Mike takes the two ladies out dancing, but he ignores Nasty all night and just dances with Linda, which is sort of a jerk move in general but especially if he thinks the former saved his life!  On the way home, they are kidnapped by another pair of bird-men, who call Mike “the evil-one.”  They carry them far out to sea and deposit them on an island inhabited by more of their kind.  There the squawking chief of the tribe tells the story.  Apparently these monsters are no natural occurrence but poor natives, mutated by the cruel experiments of a scientist, who was helped by…Mike Merrick!  The chirping-chief also claims Merrick stole a sacred jewel from their idol and killed the scientist to keep it for himself.  Linda is horrified that her handsome date could be so cold-blooded.


Mike refuses to return the gem, claiming innocence, but the atavistic avians are having none of it.  They strap Linda to a cross and tow her to the central volcano, threatening to throw her in unless her paramour cracks.  Finally, Mike gives in, and he tells them where to find the jewel.  Yet, the mutant natives lock the couple up nonetheless.  While imprisoned, the disguised Maid of Might confronts her date about the accusations against him, and he continues to claim innocence, saying he didn’t know about the experiments and that the professor’s death was an accident.  Suddenly, the treasure thief tosses a lit match into the hay in their cell, creating a blaze and luring a guard in where he can grab him.  Selflessly, Mike holds off their creepy captors, allowing Linda to escape.


Fortunately for him, she changes to Supergirl and rescues him, only to run out of power and plunge into the ocean because she still isn’t wearing her devices.  Mike pulls her from the waves and reveals to her unconscious form that he knows her secret (which, realistically, he would almost have to after Supergirl’s arrival on this remote island, just as Linda disappeared), but that he lied about where he hid the treasure.  With a stolen kiss, he heads out on the lamb, knowing she’ll try to hunt him down.

The end…What?  You want to know what happened to the innocent natives who were turned into monsters after being subjected to inhuman experiments?  Well, too bad, there is star-crossed romance afoot!  Seriously, Joe Albano just completely drops that plot, ignoring the plight of the real victims of this story, which is a shame, because that is vastly more interesting than anything else happening in this book.  Despite that, and despite the stupidity of Supergirl just forgetting to wear her life-saving exo-frame and flight ring, this isn’t a bad read.  Mike Merrick is an interesting character in the little we see of him, a bad boy to whom Supergirl is obviously attracted in the way women are often attracted to jerks, but one who does have some scruples and who has a certain adventurous daring that is admirable.  Essentially, he’s Supergirl’s distaff (technically “spear”) version of Catwoman.  If we were introduced to him more as Indiana Jones and less as Casanova, this would be a stronger tale.


And that is really the problem with this yarn.  The focus is consistently on the wrong notes, or at least, the right notes are dropped while trying to cram too much story into 14 pages.  If this had been a book-length tale, I imagine it would have been a good deal stronger.  There are still some fun and interesting ideas here, not least the dynamic between Supergirl and Mike.  The love triangle with them and Nasty is sort of funny, but the real highlight of the book is the reversal Albano pulls off with the monsters being the victims of the tale, while still remaining antagonists.  Those bird-men are wonderfully designed and drawn too, with great detail and a wonderful sense of reality by Bob Oskner, whose work I don’t really know.  He does a solid job with the rest of the book, but I really love these anthropomorphic avians.  They have an animalistic quality in movement and mannerism that is impressive and rather unusual.  They remind me a bit of the “monkey-birds” from The Pirates of Dark Water.  With art that is better than its writing, I’ll give this story 3 Minutemen, as it intrigued me, even as it frustrated me.


“The Ruler Without a Planet”


Our backup is, sadly, not a new Legion story.  Our dose of Legion legends this month is just a reprint.  Instead, we get another somewhat half-baked Supergirl adventure.  It begins in dynamic enough fashion, with a massive monkey (really an ape, but who’s counting bananas?) who is reenacting King Kong in downtown.  He smashes through a  wall, and, when Supergirl arrives, gives her a belt for her troubles.  She manages to knock out the big ape, notably thinking about not wanting to hurt him but reasoning that, while she can disable him without permanent damage, the police would have to kill him.  That is a small but pleasant piece of characterization.


Suddenly a fire breaks out, and just as she goes to use her superbreath, the Maid of Might’s powers putter out.  Just then, a little girl steps in and uses her own dose of superbreath to extinguish the blaze.  The powerfully precocious little poppet tells Supergirl that she’s an alien with superpowers who accidentally took off in her step-father’s ship, landing on Earth shortly before the craft exploded.  The girl, Judy, demonstrates other powers when the Girl of Steel balks, and she requests to be the hero’s assistant, while revealing that she knows the Kryptonian’s secret identity.

Supergirl takes this all way too much in stride and happily inducts the flying five-year-old into superheroing.  I know there’s a tradition in comics of kid crime fighters, but this is just excessive!  Super powers or not, if a kid isn’t old enough to tie their shoe, they probably shouldn’t be capturing crooks!  The tone of this whole insane episode is just crazily casual, as the two go on to have various adventures.  Apparently Linda just sort of adopts Judy (one wonders how she explains having a flying, super recognizable child just show up living with her in her secret identity.


“I guess I’m your mother now?”

adventurecomics410p45 - CopyThings change one night when Judy is contacted telepathically by her step-father, who reveals that this was all actually just a set-up, and he sent her to Earth to eliminate heroes like Supergirl.  He tells the child that kindness is weakness and only strength matters, brow-beating the little girl into carrying out his plan.  Yet, when Judy goes to murder the sleeping Supergirl, she can’t do it.  In response, her step-father removes her powers and tries to zap her from space.  Fortunately, the Maid of Might intervenes and takes off after his craft, only to watch helplessly as the Air Force jets shoot him down!  So as not to upset the child soldier, Linda tells her that her step-father got away, and together they watch his ship’s fiery death, pretending it is a falling star.

Whoa, heavy ending for a cute, silly little story.  Once again, Albano just doesn’t really develop his plot and leaves a major detail hanging.  This one, however, is a point that really can’t be ignored.  As of the end of this tale, Supergirl still has a little girl living with her.  What in the world is she going to do with her?  The wiki seems to imply that Judy returns at some point in time, but having looked ahead, it seems that she completely drops out of the strip.  This whole episode feels like a Silver Age comic or a particularly poorly thought-out Zaney Haney offering.  There’s not enough space given to the story for it to have much an impact, and while Judy’s choosing kindness over ruthlessness is sort of sweet, it all happens so quickly that it doesn’t have much weight.  I suppose I’ll give this silly little story 2 Minutemen.  It just doesn’t quite work.


P.S.: This issue is notable for being the debut of Supergirl’s primary 70s costume, which, interestingly enough, was actually designed by a fan, which has been true of several of her costumes.  Fun!  The costume itself is incredibly 70s, almost as 70s as her 80s costume is 80s (one word: headband).  It’s not a bad look, really, being simple and recognizable, though it isn’t my favorite of her looks.  It’s also a bit too much of its time, and I generally prefer more timeless, iconic costumes.  I think such designs better capture the archetypal power of superheroes.


And with those issues finished, so is this post.  There are some interesting seeds planted with this month’s Supergirl tales, and I’ll be curious to see if anything comes of them.  I’m also curious if there was any particular instance of hazing in the zeitgeist at the time that might have lead to the college Clark story.  Whatever the case, I hope that y’all enjoyed my commentaries and that y’all will join me again soon for the next step in our journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 4)


“Ping! Ping! Ping!”  Mother Box says, “Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!”  Clearly New Genesis technology is so advanced as to have developed excellent taste.  As proof, I’ve got a smattering of classic comics for you, including the next chapter in Jack Kirby’s epic Fourth World Saga!  It’s an honestly intriguing trio of books on the docket in this bunch, so let’s jump right in!

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

Roll Call

(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #403
  • Adventure Comics #409
  • Batman #233 (Reprints)
  • Batman #234
  • Detective Comics #414
  • The Flash #208
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 (the infamous drug issue)
  • Justice League of America #91
  • Mr. Miracle #3
  • The Phantom Stranger #14
  • Superman #241
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112
  • Teen Titans #34
  • World’s Finest #204

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

Mr. Miracle #3


“The Paranoid Pill!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta

We start off on a great foot, with this Kirby classic where the King is starting to hit his stride with his unusual superhero.  Ironically, this is probably one of his Mr. Miracle run’s weakest covers, while also being one of his more memorable stories.  The crowd in the image looks suitably maddened, but the perspective is a bit wonky, and the coloring job lets it down, with the mixture of single color and full color characters being a bit distracting.  And why in the world is our hero completely white?  The composition feels unbalanced and crowded by the title, though it effectively captures the feel of the issue.

And the issue is definitely a good one, though it suffers from some of the Kirby-as-writer excesses we’ve been noting.  Having learned at the Stan Lee School of Exposition, where the only thing better than text is yet more text, the King overwrites throughout, starting with the first scene.  A number of silver androids, called “animates,” swarm through a Boom Tube into an empty room, where they set up an office, and the caption declares that “Sometimes, there are things that take place in empty rooms that defy belief, and so go unnoticed!”  Think about that for a moment, as written.  I don’t think that something taking place in an empty room is escaping notice because it “defies belief.”  It might just be because the room is…you know…empty.

mr miracle 03-01 the paranoid pill

Nonetheless, we discover that these silver creatures are artificial constructs, all animated by a single mind, a creature that was once a man but has now become a being of pure energy.  This being is Dr. Bedlam, who slowly takes possession of one of his animates, molding it into the shape he wore in life.  Despite the overwritten dialog, this is a pretty cool scene, and there is a nice air of menace to the whole tableau.  What’s more, while this type of sci-fi concept is pretty common in the genre today, popping up in modern shows like Babylon 5 and the like, it strikes me that it must have been much more groundbreaking in 1971.  I can only think of one example in comics that predates it (though there may be more), and that is NoMan from the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and I can’t think of any well-known sci-fi novels before this point that explored the idea of beings of pure energy inhabiting temporary bodies.  The use of actual brain transplants and such parallels are much more common and date back to the beginning of the century, as early as the John Carter novels (1927).  Yet, this seems pretty original.  Once again, Kirby is just casually tossing out fascinating and innovative ideas that could easily support much larger works.

mr miracle 03-02 the paranoid pill

The unique Dr. Bedlam, after taking possession of his body, dismisses the rest of his animates and, with super overly dramatic dialog, picks up the phone and calls Scott Free!  I quite like Bedlam’s design, in keeping with many of the other Apokoliptians we’ve seen so far, but bearing his own sinister identity.  His call finds Mr. Miracle in his usual position, strapped into an elaborate trap and preparing an escape.  It’s a great splash page of wonderful Kirby art.  Scott and Oberon have a fun back and forth as the escape artist asks his assistant to get the phone, completely unconcerned about the nearness of a rather messy death.  Poor Oberon.  This job can’t be good for his blood pressure.  Casually escaping the trap with a full second to spare, the hero answers the phone and receives a challenge, which he accepts.


After the call, Scott tries to explain what Bedlam is, offering that he is pure mental energy, making him very dangerous, but adding that Mother Box is fortunately able to guard against such psionic assaults.  What follows is a fairly cool sequence that doesn’t get enough explanation.  Mr. Miracle conducts a seance of sorts with Oberon in which he contacts Dr. Bedlam and experiences a mental attack, and using Mother Box, weathers the storm.  It’s a creepy and suitably imaginative scene, but the purpose and motivations behind it are really unclear.  Does Scott do this to head off an attack he expects, or is this just a way to show Oberon Bedlam’s power?  Kirby’s slightly muddy writing doesn’t clarify.  Yet, the scene does have the effect of establishing the power and threat of the bad Doctor, which is something.


After scaring poor Oberon half to death, Mr. Miracle takes to the sky and heads to a high-rise where he is to meet the Apokoliptian.  There, Bedlam offers the escape artist a choice, either surrender to his citizen’s arrest, or escape from a trap of his devising.  It’s never made clear why Scott would show up in the first place, but he is the kind of guy that likes to face danger head-on, so I can at least partially hand-wave that.

mr miracle 03-12 the paranoid pill

Anyway, the Dr. tells the slippery superhero that all he has to do is descend through the 50 stories of the building and walk out through the front door, but to make things interesting, he shows his foe the substance of his trap, a concoction he calls the Paranoid Pill, which he drops into the building’s ventilation system.  Soon the drug does its work, turning the everyday inhabitants of the office building into madmen, and the tower is full of “an army of unreasoning, unpredictable, unstoppable enemies!”  Mr. Miracle lashes out, but Dr. Bedlam simply abandons his animate, which is a nice touch, a villain that cannot really be fought.


mr miracle 03-13 the paranoid pill

A great page, absolutely full of menace.


Kirby provides a wonderful illustration of the Paranoia Pill taking hold, with people panicking and running wild throughout the building, and it isn’t long before a gang of maddened men burst into the office that traps our hero.  Sensibly, Scott tries the window, only to find it charged with “cosmi-current,” leaving him only one way out.  He flies along the ceiling in a great sequence, dodging the ad-hoc attacks of the panicked populace flooding the halls.  He narrowly escapes into the elevator, only to be attacked by a gun-totting citizen and forced to flee a host of ricocheting rounds on the 45th floor.


Unfortunately he leaps right into the arms of another crazed crowd, who, in their delusional state, mistake him for a demon.  The carry him along and lock him into a trunk, which they bind closed with rope and chains before deciding to dispose of this “demon” by chucking him down the central shaft of the building.  The comic ends on wonderful cliffhanger, with the trapped Mr. Miracle plummeting 45 floors to his doom!


This is a great issue, featuring a really unique and fitting challenge for the character.  The tower-turned-death-trap is a big enough threat to fill the comic (and then some), and the trope of innocents turned into threats is always a good twist to throw at a hero.  Kirby does a great job with the art throughout this issue, but his work on the crowds is just fantastic.  They’re individual and varied, as are their reactions to the gas itself.  Mr. Miracle’s desperate race through the high-rise makes for good action, and it’s nice to see him use his wits to escape rather than just plot devices and “Applied Phlebotinum.”   Bedlam makes for a good villain, and his gimmick is suitably creepy and outlandish.  Once again, I find myself in awe of Kirby’s creativity and the casual way in which he pours out innovative concepts.  Other than the overwritten sections and the lack of clear explanations, this is a good, solid adventure tale.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.


Superman #241


“The Shape of Fear!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Superman’s Neighbors”
Writer: Bill Finger
Penciler: Wayne Boring
Inker: Stan Kaye

“Superman’s Day of Truth!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Klein

Here we are at the penultimate issue of Denny O’Neil’s innovative but rather weird run on Superman.  This comic is no exception to that description either, featuring a strange mix of elements.  Beginning with the cover itself, which is, of course, beautifully illustrated by Neal Adams, the issue is full of rather odd choices.  I like the image of the monster dragging our defeated hero and his doppelganger away, but the design for the monster itself is a bit curious, with its tail coming out of the center of its back rather than out of its tailbone as you might expect.  Also note the sign referencing New York.  Randomly, this story seems to be set in New York rather than Metropolis, down to including several New York landmarks.  Strange settings aside, it’s a solid enough cover, if not exceptional.  You can’t help but wonder what could defeat two Supermen.

The story itself begins where last issue left off, with the former Man of Steel, now just the Man of Flesh, having defeated the Intergang assassins.  I-Ching offers to complete the ceremony to restore the hero’s powers, but Superman refuses!  In a surprising and rather moving twist, Clark has a crisis of doubt.  He’s tasted what it’s like to be a mortal man (ignoring for the nonce that he’s experienced that TONS of times over the course of his career), and he sees now a chance to be free of the loneliness and crushing responsibility of being Superman.  It’s a great moment, but O’Neil doesn’t give it enough space to breathe.  No sooner does it begin than it is already ending.  I-Ching emphasizes that “one does not choose responsibility!  It is often thrust upon one!” and “To refuse it is to commit the worst act of cowardice.”  Despairing, the Kryptonian relents, and tells the old mystic to work his magic.

superman 241 p_004

I-Ching draws Superman’s spirit out of his body and sends it soaring off to find his dusty duplicate.  When the hero’s soul-form encounters his double, it drains the creature of its stolen powers, leaving it weakened and helpless.  When his spirit returns to his body, the Man of Steel finds himself full powered once more and rushes off to test himself.  He smashes a meteoroid, races around the Earth, and then spots a purse snatcher upon whom he can test his powers.  Faster than a speeding bullet, or a running thief, for that matter, the Action Ace builds a complete jail cell around the startled man in the middle of the street.  The people of Metropolis aren’t too pleased, and thus begins a display of classic Super-dickery.


superman 241 p_015The hero has suddenly become overbearing, brash, and more than a little selfish, and he begins to handle even the most minor of crimes with outlandish responses, like when he picks up a speeding car and deposits it on top of the Empire State Building (like I said, we’re suddenly in New York).  He also meets I-Ching up there at the blind man’s request.  The mystic points out this strange behavior and tells Superman that he thinks the Man of Tomorrow suffered brain damage when he was mortal, which enrages the hero.  Unable to convince the Metropolis Marvel that something is wrong, I-Ching turns again to magic, all the while talking about how it is a really bad idea because he doesn’t really know what he’s doing.  I knew they should have contacted Dr. Fate!

superman 241 p_014

The martial arts master conjures a spell to track the Sand Superman, and when he and Diana Prince find the weakened creature, they learn its origins.  Apparently it’s a being from the “Realm of Quarrm,” which I-Ching helpfully describes as “a state of alternate possibilities!  A place where neither men nor things exist…only unformed, shapeless begins!”  Sure, why not?

superman 241 p_016

The explosion that destroyed the world’s kryptonite ripped a hole between dimensions between Earth and Quarrm, and the energy that leaked out mingled with that of Superman as he lay stunned in the sand, eventually giving form to the formless.  Each time the two got close to each other, the Sandman gathered more and more power from his opposite number.  In a desperate bid, I-Ching plans to use this creature to drain Superman once more, but unbeknownst to them, a new tear has opened, and more energy begins to leak into this world.

superman 241 p_023

Sneaking into Morgan Edge’s apartment (for some reason), Diana calls Superman to lure him into their trap.  When he arrives, his dusty duplicate drains some of his powers, but the headstrong hero manages to escape.  Meanwhile, a shadowy figure watches from a soundproofed room.  Mysterious!  Down on the street, fate takes a hand as nearby in Chinatown a parade is underway and the energy from Quarrm seeps into a statue of an “Oriental War Demon,” which suddenly comes to life and runs amuck.  The Man of Steel stops his flight in order to investigate, showing that he is still somewhat himself, only to be drained once more and fall from the sky, to collapse helplessly at the mercy of the Quarrm-demon.

superman 241 p_022

There’s a lot going on in this issue, and you have to give O’Neil credit for creativity.  He’s certainly telling new stories.  Whether or not they’re also good stories…well, that’s a different question.  In this case, there are definitely strengths that recommend this yarn, like the moment of mature emotion that grips Superman when he is faced with the prospect of a normal life.  It’s just a shame that this dilemma isn’t given more (or any) development because it has a lot of potential.  Also, despite how time-worn the Super-dickery trope is, at least it is given a fairly reasonable explanation here, as the Man of Steel took a blow to the head while he was vulnerable.  How do you force a demigod to get help if he doesn’t want it?  There are some weaknesses here too, though, including a general sense of disconnectedness between the different elements of the plot.  I-Ching’s vaguely defined abilities and general inscrutableness don’t help matters, really.  The sudden return of Superman’s powers once again illustrate how over-powered he is in the Silver Age.  I find myself hoping that, once this arc is finished, O’Neil will leave him at least a little weaker.

superman 241 p_029

Curt Swan’s art is largely great, as usual, but I’m noticing that in the current iteration of Superman, he tends to draw the character’s legs as too short and stumpy at times.  His work on the demon is alternately nicely rendered or a bit cartoonish.  The creature’s design in general and the sudden injection of Chinese elements into the tale seems a bit incongruous, despite the involvement of I-Ching, because these events seem to have nothing to do with him.  Thus, the fact that the Quarrm energy just happens to inhabit a Chinese demon statue ends up feeling rather random.  So, in the end, this is a solid continuation of the story, even if it doesn’t quite come together successfully.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.


The Phantom Stranger #14


“The Man with No Heart!”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Colourist: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Spectre of the Stalking Swamp!”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Tony DeZuniga
Inker: Tony DeZuniga

What a cover!  That is a wonderful composition, with the incredibly menacing swamp monster rising from the water, his shape only partially defined and gloriously creepy in its uncertainty and inhumanity.  Apparently muck monsters are just in the zeitgeist over at DC at this time!  It’s a great scene, very fitting for a monster story with the blissfully unaware couple in the foreground, though I’m not entirely certain what I think of the Phantom Stranger’s outline hanging out there in the background.  This is especially true because, unusually, this cover does not relate to our headline tale.  Instead, this is an image from the Dr. Thirteen backup.

Nonetheless, I think any kid with an interest in horror or the supernatural would be hard pressed to resist the lure of that image.  Inside, despite the disappointment of not finding the Phantom Stranger locked in combat with shambling swamp monster, we still find a gripping and arresting story.  It begins on a stormy night in New York (Again with New York!  What happened to Metropolis or Gotham?), where the Phantom Stranger pays a visit to a somewhat Lex Luthor-looking fellow named Broderick Rune.  Interestingly, Rune doesn’t react the way most do when they see the Stranger, instead seeming positively pleased to see him, and as the mysterious wanderer steps into the man’s penthouse apartment, we see why.  Suddenly, the Spectral Sleuth is caught in a glowing pentagram, and “sorcerous fumes” knock him out!

the phantom stranger (1969) 14 - 02 & 03

A Hindu servant named Rashid arrives and we discover that this is all part of a plan, just as the wealthy rune topples over from what is described as “the final attack.”  Both the Stranger and his captor are rushed to a private hospital, where a hesitant doctor performs a bizarre transplant, stealing the Ghostly Gumshoe’s immortal heart and giving it to the ruthless Mr. Rune.  The procedure is a success, but while under, Rune dreams that he is confronted by the Stranger, who demands the return of what is his.  There’s a nice little back and forth about the importance of a soul above all else that is reminescent of Christ’s question, For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” 


When Rune awakens, he is panicked, but things continue to get more bizarre!  Two thugs trying to dispose of the Spectral Sleuth’s body, only to discover their bag is empty when they try to dump it.  Just then, the Stranger appears behind them, and shock of the confrontation shatters their minds!  Meanwhile, Rune recovers, but he is plagued by visions of his mysterious adversary.  Finally, he decides to try and escape his guilt by heading to a castle in Europe.


the phantom stranger (1969) 14 - 15This gambit seems to have worked for a time, but on another stormy night, Rune once again sees the Stranger stalking out of the darkness.  In desperation, his servant, Rashid, who had originally trapped the mysterious hero, tries to conjure another spell to banish his spirit.  Unfortunately, his power is not up to the task, and in the midst of his incantations, the Stranger appears!  Despite the loyal Hindu’s desperate efforts, when Rune flees out into the storm, the Spectral Sleuth follows, and the stolen heart stops beating!  Finally, Rune’s allies find him, dead, and lacking a heart!

the phantom stranger (1969) 14 - 18 - Copy

This is a really good Phantom Stranger story, taking full advantage of the mysterious nature of the character and supernatural trappings of the setting.  You can ask questions about how the Stranger’s heart was able to be taken in the first place, but given the way things worked out, I’m rather inclined to think that this undertaking was always intended to end like this.  The story tackles rather similar themes of guilt and conscience as the Edgar Allen Poe classic, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” with its protagonist who is slowly driven to desperation by the knowledge of his crime.

the phantom stranger (1969) 14 - 18

Like Poe’s own brand of Gothic horror, this tale is wonderfully atmospheric, with menacing oozing from every panel, and the oppressive threat of outer night seeming to press against every scene.  Aparo’s art is fantastic, bringing Rune’s selfish self-confidence to life, as well as his growing terror.  The looming menace of the Stranger is wonderfully rendered as well, and our mysterious hero has rarely scarier.  It’s short, but tightly plotted and effective.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen, an excellent supernatural thriller.


“The Spectre of the Stalking Swamp”

the phantom stranger (1969) 14 - 20

Our Dr. Thirteen backup sadly doesn’t live up to our wonderful cover either.  It presents a rather unusual tale for the Good Doctor, though it is also a pretty entertaining one.  It starts in the swamp, right enough, with a young couple out for a walk.  The youthful Romeo’s efforts are interrupted by a strange sight, a green monster arising out of the swamp! The creature scoops up the frightened girl and carries her off into the murk.  The next day, the local sheriff, Rufus Taylor, explains the mystery to Dr. Thirteen.

the phantom stranger (1969) 14 - 21

The boy who witnessed the abduction is now comatose from shock, but he and the girl are not the only victims of this monster.  Apparently people have been disappearing for weeks.  According to local legend, a hundred years ago a settler got separated from his family and wandered off into the swamp, where the essence of the bog infused his body, turning him into the specter that haunts the silent spaces.  Thirteen, of course, is having none of this, and he insists on going out into the wild to investigate.

the phantom stranger (1969) 14 - 22

That night, the monster attacks his boat, and the Ghost Breaker disappears, apparently broken himself!  Despite his strict orders, his wife follows him, persuading the sheriff to help her, and they find the doctor’s boat.  Maria manages to convince Rufus to continue the search, even though he insists it’s hopeless, and they stumble upon a strange sight deep in the swamp, a gleaming domed city. Finding their way inside, the pair discover the populace moving like zombies, blank-eyed and listless.

the phantom stranger (1969) 14 - 24.jpg

Upon a throne in the city’s center, the encounter the swamp monster, actually a man called Professor Zachary Nail, who is wearing a suit designed for “protection against the filth outside–the polution that infects your dying world!”  Nail has created his own Eden in the swamp and kidnapped the locals to populate it.  When the sheriff bravely tries to capture the madman, the Professor shots him with a bizarre ray, which converts the lawman into a plant!  Shades of Batman: TAS!

the phantom stranger (1969) 14 - 25

Nail takes the terrified Mrs. Thirteen for a tour of his city, explaining that the place is powered by a nuclear reactor (!), and that he has hypnotically controlled the populace so that they are utterly subject to his will.  He then leads her to her husband, who is also under his power.  The Professor orders Dr. Thirteen to take his wife to the “Submission Room” (which doesn’t sound too pleasant), but the strong-willed Ghost Breaker resists his control.  In an overly written sequence, Thirteen throws off the brainwashing and attacks Nail.

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Just then, the foliage of the swamp starts growing exponentially and begins to smash the dome.  The Professor runs off in an attempt to save his Eden, but the Thirteens have better sense and begin to evacuate the place.  They get the placid populace out just in time, as the vegetation of the wilds reclaim the city, destroying it utterly.  Know-it-all Dr. Thirteen theorizes that the waste from nuclear reactor must have caused the plants to grow super fast, but Maria thinks maybe Mother Nature was exacting her revenge “for the crimes he committed in her name!”

the phantom stranger (1969) 14 - 28

This is a solid and entertaining story, if quite rushed.  It is not, however, really a Dr. Thirteen-style story.  This character is best suited by relatively conventional mysteries with exceptional or sensational trappings, and this type of science fiction yarn is a little out of his wheelhouse.  He doesn’t even really solve the mystery here.  The villain just captures him and conveniently explains his plans.  The actual plot is an interesting one, and the eco-terrorist villain archetype is one that will emerge more often in the future, most notably when R’as Al Ghul is given his chance to shine in future issues.  Clearly the concept of radical action on environmental issues was in the zeitgeist, which is interesting.  I rather thought the spread of such characters was a more recent development.

the phantom stranger (1969) 14 - 29

Poor Sheriff Rufus, despite looking the part, surprisingly didn’t conform to the usual trope of the small-town Southern sheriff.  These characters in fiction tend to fat, incompetent, and corrupt.  Rufus, on the other hand, was brave and apparently honest and dedicated, even losing his life trying to perform his duties.  I’m so used to the tropes that I was surprised by this.  We can give credit to DeZuniga and Wein for subverting expectations there.  Wein, for his part, is a bit overly purple in his prose, especially in his narration, throughout, but the writing isn’t bad.  On the art front, Tony DeZuniga does a solid job, and some of his character work is really quite good.  We don’t really get a good sense of the city, though, which might have more to do with the lack of space than anything else.  His design for the swamp monster is effective considering what we eventually learn of it, but it certainly isn’t as cool as Adams’ cover version, sadly.  On the whole, I feel like his style is a good fit for these types of horror/suspense comics.  So, all-in-all, I suppose I’ll give this rather cramped and odd tale 3 Minutemen.  It’s enjoyable but forgettable.


P.S.: Notably, I think that this concept of a futuristic city hidden in the swamp will be recycled in the first Swamp Thing run, though I can’t remember which issue.  That run, of course, was begun by Len Wein, for a bit of synchronicity.


Eco-terrorists, Chinese demons, and energy beings, oh my!  A fun set of books, these, and I had a good time going through them.  There is certainly plenty creativity in this batch, whatever their quality.  I hope that y’all enjoyed reading my commentaries and that y’all will join me again soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Next post, we close out August 1971!  Be there, or Mother Box will be disappointed!  Until next time, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!


Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 1)


Hello dear readers!  As we near Thanksgiving here in the U.S., we should take some time to think about all of the blessings that we enjoy, to focus on being thankful for what we have.  That can be something of a challenge these days, with so much seeming to go wrong in the world, but that makes it all the more important.  I for one, am very thankful for bombastic Bronze Age adventures!  There is a lot of imaginative joy in these old books, and in addition to the many blessings for which I am thankful, I am also glad to have the opportunity to share some classic comics with you Internet travelers!  Welcome to the beginning of August 1971!

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

This month in history:

  • George Harrison’s concert for Bangladesh takes place in NYC
  • Paul McCartney founds Wings
  • US launches 1st satellite into lunar orbit from manned spacecraft
  • 3rd San Diego Comic-Con International opens
  • Apollo 15 returns to Earth
  • A Catholic man is shot a British soldier in Belfast and a British soldier is killed by the IRA
  • France performs nuclear test at Mururoa atoll
  • Operation Demetrius (or Internment) is introduced in Northern Ireland allowing suspected terrorists to be indefinitely detained without trial; the security forces arrested 342 people suspected of supporting paramilitaries
  • Irish political parties announce civil disobedience in response to internments
  • During the internment round-up operation in west Belfast, the Parachute Regiment kill 11 unarmed civilians in what became known as the Ballymurphy massacre
  • Bahrain proclaims independence after 110 years of British rule
  • President Nixon announces a 90 day price freeze
  • FBI begins covert investigation of journalist Daniel Schorr
  • Bolivian military coup under col Hugo Banzer, pres Torres driven out
  • J. Edgar Hoover and John Mitchell announce the arrest of 20 of the “Camden 28”
  • Irish leaders present cases of British brutality to the U.N., leading to an investigation
  • The US dollar is allowed to float against the Japanese yen for the first time

Another very eventful month, and unfortunately most of those events are fairly tragic ones.  The Troubles in Ireland continue apace, and we are getting closer to some of the worst times of the conflict there.  We’re also getting closer to Nixon’s downfall with Watergate, though the events that lead up to that momentous occurrence were largely unknown at the time.  Looking back at history does help to put the problems of the present into perspective, at least.

The song at the top of the charts this month was “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” by the Bee Gees, which I’d never heard before.  It surprised the heck out of me, because it sounded nothing like the Bee Gees I knew.  What an interesting discovery!  I guess they probably had a ways to go before they became the band I know.

Roll Call

(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #403
  • Adventure Comics #409
  • Batman #233 (Reprints)
  • Batman #234
  • Detective Comics #414
  • The Flash #208
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 (the infamous drug issue)
  • Justice League of America #91
  • Mr. Miracle #3
  • The Phantom Stranger #14
  • Superman #241
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138
  • Teen Titans #34
  • World’s Finest #204

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

Action Comics #403


“Attack of the Micro-Murderer”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Man With the X-Ray Mind”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Impossible Legend”
Writer: Dick Wood
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Bob Brown

“When Krypto Was Superboy’s Master”
Writer: George Kashdan
Penciler: George Papp
Inker: George Papp
Editor: Mort Weisinger

 We’ve got a reasonably dramatic cover for this issue, though the image can’t convey its message alone, which always seems like a bit of a failure of visual storytelling to me.  The story it represents is an unusual one, goofy, but with a certain sweet earnestness that I enjoyed.  It begins with, of all things, cave men, an executioners, a firing squad, and a hanging, each one representing the ignoble ends, far separated in time, of the same being.  How can this be?  Well, we discover the answer to that in the modern day, when in a fair double-page spread, an airborne thief crashes his helicopter into a radio tower while being pursued by Superman.  The dying villain gasps out that he is a Zontt, who will be endlessly reincarnated, and promises he’ll be back in the future to get his revenge.


Checking his computer at the Fortress of Solitude, the Man of Steel discovers that the criminal’s last threat was no idle boast, and that there really are such things as Zontts (though how he would have records of that fact is conveniently glossed over).  Apparently they’re spirits that occupy a new host each time their current one dies, but they only have 24 hours to find their next victim.  Continuing the convenient exposition, the Kryptonian’s computer also just happens to tell him that the only element the creatures can’t penetrate is sulfur.  I’m sure that won’t be relevant later.


Speaking of later, the next morning, Clark is sitting at his desk when it suddenly explodes, uncovering his costume and revealing a small cylinder which plays a prerecorded message…from the future!  It’s from the Zontt, who tells him that he’s in the future and will kill many innocents unless the Man of Tomorrow lives up to his name and joins him in the year 3486.  Not one to let an obvious trap stop him, the Metropolis Marvel speeds off to that date, only to uncover a woman of the future who had died moments ago, clearly the Zontt’s previous host.  Suddenly, the hero is gripped with pain, and he realizes that the creature is trying to get its revenge.  Thankfully, the Zontt can’t help boasting retroactively, so a video plays that explains the situation, revealing that the woman was a microbiologist and the spirit used her to create a super microbe to infect the Man of Steel, a microbe that is now its new host, making it even more powerful.


Growing sicker by the moment, Superman returns to the present and tries to seek help from Kryptonian science in Kandor, only to realize that the bug won’t shrink when he does, a discovery that nearly kills him.  Trying another desperate plan, the Metropolis Marvel takes to television, pleading to the people of his own city to help him beat the bug.  He asks them to donate a huge amount of blood so that he can flush his system and, hopefully, flush out the microbe.  Now, this almost makes sense, if you don’t think about it too hard.  When you do, it becomes pretty silly.


What follows is really the heart of the story, as Metropolis turns out in record numbers to help their hero, with even the weak and the elderly insisting on doing their part to help.  Lois herself gives until the doctors won’t let her give anymore.  Finally, the Man of Steel is hooked up to a massive transfusion device and has all of that blood pumped through him, but it fails to flush out the intelligent microbe!  Growing weaker by the moment, Superman takes his leave and begins to put his affairs in order.  Notably, there is a continuity gaffe here, as Bates places Supergirl as still at college, rather than having graduated.


In another nice little moment, the U.S. creates a tribute to the defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, with an S-Shield created from the lights of different towns that night.  The art doesn’t really succeed in capturing the scene, but it’s still a nice idea.  Finally, Superman heads out into space to a tomb he’s chosen on an asteroid.  Thus, as Superman is dying and the spirit emerges from the microbe to find another host, it instead finds itself marooned in space, millions of miles away from any other life form.


In a bit of irony, the Zontt is then surprised by a per-recorded message of its own, this one from Superman.  The recording declares that the being will die unless it returns to the Kryptonian’s body and saves his life.  With no choice, the Zontt rushes back to the stricken form, only for it to be revealed that, while it watched the video, the Man of Steel’s body was replaced by a duplicate with a synthetic heart coated with sulfur, which acts as a trap for the spirit.  His super-powered immune system having wiped out the now much less dangerous microbe, the Action Ace takes his prisoner and returns home.


Quite a weird story, isn’t it?  On one hand, this yarn certainly fits the standard formula of Superman facing a seemingly inescapable fate, only to outwit it with an outlandish plan, which has certainly been done often enough before.  On the other hand, an intelligent illness is actually an interesting angle and a unique threat for Superman.  The outwitting of the villainous virus is clever, if rather ridiculous and convenient, but the real highlight of the story is the demonstration of Metropolis’s love of its hero.  I’ll give this odd little tale 3 Minutemen.  The creative concept helps to make up for the clumsy execution, but it is still a pretty silly story.


“The Man with the X-Ray Mind”


This backup introduces the beginning, as far as I know, of a promising new feature, “A Secret Chapter in the Life of Clark Kent.”  I’ve mentioned before how Clark doesn’t have much characterization in the comics of this era, and I’m looking forward to seeing Superman in general develop into a more rounded character.  Clark Kent is obviously an important part of that.  Unfortunately, this tale is not particularly groundbreaking on that front.  It begins with Superman, still in college at the time, returning to his school after a space mission.  Here we see a rare sight, a weakness in Swan’s art, as he renders the college age Clark in pretty much the exact same way as his adult self.

Once back in his secret identity, Clark encounters Mr. Lundgren, the janitor, and observes a strange sight.  When a psychology professor, Dr. Borwin, comes down into the basement looking for exam papers he accidentally threw away (yikes!  That’s a pretty massive mistake!), the janitor is able to predict exactly where they will be by staring into his pail of water.  Astonished, the professor insists on studying Lundgren’s abilities.  The simple janitor agrees, explaining that he has the ability to skry, or “read secretes and mysteries from reflections in a reflective surface,” like his mother before him.


In a scene straight out of Ghostbusters, Prof. Borwin conducts the standard ESP tests, using a set of pictorial cards, and amazingly, the other man matches all of the images, even going on to predict upcoming cards.  After the test, the kindly janitor reveals that he’s always known who Clark really was and warns him of an imminent disaster, a train crash, which the Man of Tomorrow is able to prevent just in time.


action-403-24-04Unfortunately, the greedy professor wants to use the psychic’s abilities for his own benefit, so Borwin convinces Mr. Lundgren to predict the correct combination for a physics department vault that contains a radioactive formula.  Yet, when the avaricious academic tries to steal it, he drops the vial, causing a terrible explosion.  Superman arrives in time to shield Lundgren, but the poor guy is still wounded, becoming brain damaged!  The kindly man is reduced to doing odd jobs at the school, essentially a charity case because he can’t concentrate or remember anything well enough to do any steady job.

action-403-30-07 - Copy - Copy

And that is a rather terribly sad ending for this poor, good-hearted fellow who didn’t do anyone any harm.  He just tried to do the right thing, and he gets brain damaged for his efforts.  It’s a surprisingly bitter ending with no real justification or reason.  The story itself is fine, nothing exceptional, though it does add more evidence to the claim that the institutions of higher learning in the DC Universe really need to do a better job of vetting the people to whom they hand out advanced degrees.  It seems like every other guy with a doctorate is trying to take over the world or, at least, rob banks!  Anyway, I’ll give this tale 2.5 Minutemen, knocking off a little for the weirdly melancholy ending that seems out of sync with the light-hearted tone of the story.  It doesn’t have enough space to really take advantage of such a conclusion, which is unsurprising for a Dorfman penned tale.


Adventure Comics #409


“Invasion of the Mer-Men (Part II)”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Mike Sekowsky and Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

“Fight With Fire Drake”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Art Saaf
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza

“The Condemned Legionnaires”
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inkers: George Klein and Sheldon Moldoff
Letterer: Milt Snapinn

This issue marks the end of Mike Sekowsky’s run on Supergirl, and, unfortunately, I really can’t say I’m sad to see him go, despite the great credentials he brought to the book.  Oddly, we’ve got two different Supergirl tales here, and the Legion backup is just a reprint, which is a shame.  I wonder if the powers that be were trying to ease into the new creative team by splitting the book between the old and new guards.  Either way, we get a nice cover out of the deal.  It’s by Dick Giordano, who does a lovely job on both Supergirl and the monstrous invaders.  It’s a solid, horror-style image, with the creatures coming over the edge and looking nicely menacing.


The cover feature is our second story, but unfortunately our first one isn’t quite as pretty as it is.  Sekowsky’s rather Silver Age-ish aquatic aliens from the last issue are still planning on stealing Earth’s water, and despite the best efforts of Earth’s military, it seems that there is nothing that can stop them.  In the meantime, the Girl of Steel is still looking for her missing friend, Johnny, and lamenting that her efforts to protect her identity may have doomed him, which is a nice touch continuing on from the previous issue.  During her submarine search, Supergirl discovers a series of massive spheres hidden under the sea that are actually interstellar tankers.  When the military discovers them in turn, their attacks are stopped by a forcefield, but just when all hope seems lost, the Maid of Might discovers that Johnny is still alive, and he fills her in on the aliens’ plan.


A nicely dramatic panel

adventurecomics409p14Attacked by the invaders, Supergirl allows herself to be captured so she can get into their ship.  In a good example of attention to detail, the aliens are surprised to find a being that can survive both above and below the waves, which makes sense if they’ve studied humans.  In a cute little scene, Supergirl escapes with Johnny, but in order to keep him alive and yet surface slowly enough to protect him from the bends, she kisses him in order to share oxygen…only for him to get fresh once the danger is passed!  It’s a funny sequence, and it illustrates that Johnny apparently has more chutzpah than brains.  Trying to get some sugar from a superbeing that is all that stands between you and a watery grave is certainly bold, but it probably isn’t all that bright!

With the water-logged lothario safely stashed, Supergirl heads for space, where she discovers the aliens’ ships and smashes their tanks, releasing the water back onto the Earth.  What follows is really rather surprising and a nice touch that raises the quality of the story a bit.  The alien commander, realizing that he’s beaten, gives up.  His enterprise was both enormous and desperate, and with his ships disabled, there is no longer time for a second attempt.  By the time they could repair the damage and recollect the necessary water, their planet would be dry and dead.  It’s a melancholy moment.  Notably, these aliens were actually sincere about feeling superior to humanity.


They weren’t actually out to do the Earth harm, they just considered their own world more important.  So when the heroine’s actions doom their planet, their commander just resignedly follows Supergirl to Earth and bids farewell to a worthy foe before heading back to die with the rest of his species.  Yet, the story doesn’t end with this weighty moment, but with Johnny home safe and sound, pining away for Supergirl.


So, this yarn came to an unexpected conclusion.  The aliens’ nobility in defeat is quite nice, though it really comes out of nowhere.  They seem just like generic sci-fi villains, the likes of which populated practically every other issue of DC in the Silver Age, right up until the last two pages.  If Sekowsky had spent more time on these guys, he might have really had something with the bittersweetness of their defeat.  As it is, it feels like an abrupt tonal shift that isn’t necessarily earned, nor fitting.  The rest of the comic is a good adventure tale, and Supergirl’s introspection about her priorities when she thinks Johnny is dead is actually an interesting character moment.

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adventurecomics409p14 - CopyIn the end, this issue is indicative of Sekowsky’s run on this book.  It has some real potential, with honestly interesting and thoughtful takes on the lead character that, unfortunately, receive no real development or followup, as well as the occasional mature and impressive story moment that is out of step with the rest of the comic.  There is an intermittent spark of excellence to these stories that is never really capitalized on or integrated into the issues at large.  Sadly, Sekowsky’s art also continues to be wildly inconsistent, with some really cool, creative panels here and there and some occassional good facework, all right alongside some absolutely ugly pages and general roughness and sloppiness in everything else.  I’ll give this issue 3 Minutemen, as it is a decent read, despite the rough art, but its weaknesses are very noticeable.  This is an inauspicious ending to Sekowsky’s run on the book, especially considering the greatness of his career before this point.


“Fight with Fire Drake”


The difference between Sekowsky’s story and the one that follows it is just night and day.  Art Saaf, who I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before, turns in a nice, clean looking comic, and the contrast really illustrates just how bad Sekowsky’s art has gotten.  The tale itself is just as good, featuring another aquatic adventure that begins with a party aboard the yacht of Linda Danvers’ boss, the owner of KGF-TV.  Despite having been chasing around with Johnny last issue, it seems that the Maid of Might has remembered her crush on Geoff, who still looks like he’s in his 30s or 40s, which remains creepy.  Fortunately for her, a handsome party-crasher approaches, and his attentions makes Geoff quite jealous.

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The newcomer claims to be a freelance writer named Freddy Nero, but shortly after he leaves, the party receives much more dangerous crashers, as a group of divers in rather nice looking monster costumes that can shoot flames (!) appear to rob the guests.  While their leader, Fire Drake, threatens the boss, Linda slips away and dons a new costume, which has a fun little notice about which fan designed it.  The costume is a bit much and I’m pretty sure it defies the laws of physics.  It’s not bad looking, though, but it does look like something a fan designed.  Weirdly, Supergirl notes that she can’t wear her exoskeleton with these threads, which seems like a really unnecessary sacrifice for the sake of fashion.  She confronts the divers and manages to drive them off the ship, but her plot devices, err…I mean her powers, conk out on her during the submarine pursuit, and she has to give it up.


That night, she’s visited by her mother, which surprised the heck out of me.  I had always been familiar with her origin as an orphan of the Kryptonian city of Argo, but apparently in the Silver Age they eventually revealed that her parents were still alive.  Who knew?  I can sort of see why DC eventually wanted to clean up all of these excess Kryptonians, because they’re apparently just all over the place!  Well, anyway, her mother brings her back to Kandor, where she lives, in order to provider her with miniaturized versions of her equipment so she can wear whatever outlandish costume she fancies.  Convenient!



The next morning, the yacht is again attacked by the costumed divers, but Supergirl is on hand once more, and she saves Geoff, who is braver than he is bright, much like Johnny.  When Firedrake tries to escape into the water again, he suddenly starts to drown, and after capturing him, the Maid of Might reveals that she severed his air hoses with her heat vision, which is clever.  When he is unmasked, the submarine thief is revealed to be Fred Nero, who had crashed the party in order to case the place.


This is a fun little story, other than the silly element of Supergirl wearing a costume that can’t accommodate her very much necessary exoskeleton, just for for the sake of fashion.  It’s interesting that Bridwell pretty much immediately sets about refining the setup that Sekowsky created.  Of course, I’m always happy to see some costumed crooks, and the design of the divers’ outfits is pretty cool.  They look nice and intimidating, but they are occasionally drawn without gloves, which rather undercuts the menace of their look.  Nonetheless, this is a fine start to a new direction for the book.  Unfortunately, Bridwell won’t be continuing on the title, which is a shame as I tend to like his work, but I’m still excited to see what will come next.  I do hope that the new team on this book will find a way to challenge the character that reeks a bit less of deus ex machina, but this particular story is fun despite that weakness.  There are some decent character moments, and Saaf’s Supergirl looks great in action.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.


Like Supergirl, my adventures here are done for the moment.  This was an interesting pair of books, if not terribly captivating.  This final issue of Adventure seems to mark Mike Sekowsky’s departure from DC for many a year.  It’s a shame that he left DC on such a sour note after so many years of great work.  It’s hard to believe that the clumsy, ugly art in Adventure was by the same hand that had turned in the riotously creative and generally high-quality work on Manhunter 2070 in Showcase or his classic work on JLA.  Well, we will bid him a fond adieu and not hold these last years against him.  If you enjoyed my commentaries, please join me again soon for another step in our Journey into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 4)

Hello Internet travelers, come on in and enjoy some classic comic goodness!  Today we’ve got a double dose of Superman titles with some good stories and some better backups.  Let’s see what the the Last Son of Krypton is up to as Man and Boy!

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

Roll Call

(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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

Superboy #176


“The Secret of Superboy’s Sister”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Invisible Invader!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: George Tuska

We’ve got what looks like a super gimmicky story for our Superboy comic today, but it isn’t as bad as it seems.  The cover is just okay, one of those ‘what in the world is happening’ pieces, and the sight of a little girl on a flying carpet made of junk is pretty unusual, admittedly.  The design definitely feels a bit archaic at this point, though, right down to the softer coloring in this particular image and the Silver Age-ish setup of the composition.

Fortunately, the story inside isn’t quite as gimmicky as the cover might lead you to believe.  it begins during a powerful thunderstorm, with the Kents awaiting a visit from an old friend and her daughter.  Notably, the ages of these guests don’t actually make sense with the recently established actual ages of the Kents, which sort of illustrates how unnecessary and unhelpful that retcon was.  Nonetheless, the tempest is bad enough that Clark goes out as Superboy to keep an eye on things, arriving just in time to see the visitors, the Warrens, skidding over a cliff in their car!  The Boy of Steel manages to save the daughter when she is thrown from the vehicle, but he can’t stop the car before it crashes.  The mother is badly injured, and he rushes her to the hospital.

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Mrs. Warren asks the Kents to care for her daughter, Kathy, until Mr. Warren can arrive from South America.  Clark is concerned about having this little girl around the house, worried about the pressure this puts on his secret identity, but he makes the best of it, zooming around the world and collecting toys for his short-term sibling.  It’s a sweet response and his parents are proud of this display of character.

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superboy176 0006Later on, the Smallville superstar detects something approaching the Earth from space and zooms into orbit to find a strange, octopus like machine which attacks him.  Easily shrugging off its weapons, he deactivates the device and experiments with it, trying to solve its mysteries over the next few days.  He finds that its heart is an intelligence-gathering machine, essentially a massive electronic brain that absorbed an incredible amount of knowledge about Earth from the machine’s instruments.

Unfortunately, while the Boy of Steel is distracted, the device activates and leaves his lab.  When Kathy touches it, the globe explodes.  She is unharmed, but it is quickly revealed that she has become super intelligent, as she turns the Kent’s black and white TV into a color set and starts correcting her teaches in school.  Her young mind is stuffed with a planet’s worth of knowledge.  She should hang out with the Hawks!

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The young genius even picks the lock on Superboy’s lab and drops hints that she knows who Clark is.  That afternoon, Kathy accompanies Clark to a scrap yard, and when he is distracted by a an emergency at a nearby missile test (why is the army testing weapons in Kansas?!?), the grade-school Einstein takes the opportunity to whip up a makeshift flying carpet out of spare parts.  The Boy of Steel barely manages to save her from a collision with a set of powerlines, and she helpfully reveals that she knows his secret identity!

superboy176 0015Just then, a set of inter-dimensional aliens, the Truhls, arrive to complicate matters.  Apparently Superboy had tangled with them before, even leading a slave revolt on their homeworld.  Apparently, the octopoid device was theirs, and they intend to drain the knowledge it gathered out of Kathy to aid them in conquering the world.  They hit the Boy of Steel with a cool looking weapon and threaten the girl, but she was ready for them!  Having learned of their nefarious motives when she absorbed the machine’s memory, the pint-sized prodigy turned her doll into a weapon!  She zaps the invaders, but her device explodes from the strain, knocking her out as well.

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When Clark recovers, he returns the would-be world-breakers to their own dimension and discovers that the weapon erased all of the super-knowledge from Kathy’s mind.  I rather like to think that she did this on purpose, having been smart enough to realize that she would never be happy with such vast intelligence and preferring just to be a regular kid.  There is, of course, nothing to establish that in the story itself.  The tale ends with her father coming to claim her and the Kents bidding the little girl a fond farewell.

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This is a decent if not terribly outstanding little yarn.  It throws some unusual curves into Superboy’s life without making too much of them, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously, like some similar stories we’ve seen.  It is guilty of the old device of over-emphasizing Superman’s invulnerability, where nothing even phases him, with even hi-tech weapons that would be a good source of peril for him simply shrugged off.  At least the aliens’ final attack does some good, adding a little tension.  Speaking of the Truhl, this story really makes it seem like they hail from an earlier issue, but I can’t find any mention of them.  That’s a shame, because the two panels we get about Superboy’s previous adventure with them sounds way more interesting than this comic!  In terms of the art, I’ve noticed that Bob Brown seems to take on a slightly more cartoony style for this book, which works well for the lighter tone of Superboy.  Perhaps that has something to do with Anderson’s inks.  Either way, his work is quite good throughout, and I’m enjoying his tenure on the title.  As for this issue, I’ll give this readable if forgettable tale 3 Minutemen.


“Invisible Invader”

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I was excited to see that we’ve got anther Legion backup in this issue.  I’m always happy to see those fine future fellows return.  Their stories tend to be a lot of fun, and this one is no exception.  It begins with Chemical King (who apparently has to be a rebel and not conform to the kid, boy/girl, or lad/lass formula that works for the rest of the Legion) attending the unveiling of the first commercial time-travel service, which is a fun idea.  The Legionnaire is on hand to act as security, but he gets shown up when a masked figure suddenly appears out of nowhere, steals the fares, and then vanishes into the thin air.

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When Chemical King reports to his comrades, the assembled Legionnaires try to sort out how the thief accomplished this feat.  It is the Invisible Boy that comes up with the answer when he deduces that the culprit must have discovered the same invisibility serum that the young hero did.  We get a brief flashback to Lyle’s efforts to work out the formula, along with some really great, thoughtful touches of realism, like the youthful inventor realizing that, if his eyes are transparent, light won’t be able to register on them, rendering him blind.  That’s a great bit of detail, and it makes the hand-waving of the explanation a few panels later easier to swallow.

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The crux of this issue is that the team has to find some way to counter the Invisible Kid’s powers, despite the fact that, once they do, others will be able to do the same thing as well.  Lyle selflessly stresses that there is more at stake than his career, and they get to work.  Unfortunately, nothing they try is effective, but after countless tries, the Invisible Kid suddenly has a revelation and figures it out.  With a solution in hand, the team plans to ambush their unseen assailant during a likely heist, and he obligingly shows up.  The Invisible Invader materializes to steal a jeweled cup from a hovercar race.

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However, when he tires to vanish again, he stays visible, leading the team right to his accomplice and allowing the real Invisible Kid to take him out.  What Lyle realized was, since he had complete knowledge of the serum, he could tell Chemical King what chemical reactions it caused, allowing the chemistry master to simply cancel those in their target.  Thus, the Legion captures the villain, and using a tactic only available to themselves.

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This is a fun little story, brief as it is.  In only seven pages we get a good setup for a crime and a great resolution to the challenge by our heroes.  We even get a tiny bit of worldbuilding and characterization, and all of the assembled Legionnaires get a little bit to do.  These Legion backups are really some of the most consistently enjoyable yarns I read.  They always seem to be fun, and much of their material is new to me, seeing as I’m generally not too familiar with the Legion.  I’ve been enjoying George Tuska’s art on this feature too, though it isn’t as strong on this outing as it has been.  I’ll give this one 3.5 Minutemen, once again, a strong score for a seven page story.


Superman #240


“To Save a Superman”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Dick Giordano
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The Man Who Cheated Time”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Michael W. Kaluta

This issue of Superman continues to develop the ongoing plots that Denny O’Neil has been cultivating, and it takes the seminal superhero in some interesting directions.  It’s rather more intriguing than it is successful, but O’Neil’s innovation deserves credit as he actually does shake up Superman’s status quo.  The cover this month isn’t particularly great.  We’re effectively just told that Superman failed without any real visual representation of the event.  It’s not the most electrifying of compositions, though it certainly delivers some melodrama.  The image is well crafted, of course, which is only what I expect from Neal Adams.

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The actual story begins with Superman arriving at the site of a blazing inferno as the fire department tries to put out a burning building.  Discovering that there is still a family trapped within, the Man of Steel flies to the rescue, but he is strangely hesitant.  We learn that his powers are still greatly diminished after his previous adventure, and he’s worried that he won’t be strong enough to pull off a rescue.  Despite his reduced power, the Metropolis Marvel still manages to rescue the family, but once he gets them out, the building’s owner approaches and demands to know if the hero is going to try to save it in turn.

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I love the sweetness of this sequence, as the worried Superman takes time to comfort the kids.

superman 240 0005Once again displaying unusual trepidation, the Action Ace takes to the sky, but his lessened powers prove unequal to the challenge.  In a really nicely rendered sequence, the building collapses, despite his efforts.  When the shaken hero steps abashedly out of the rubble, a photographer snaps a picture, and we get the headline from the cover.  Meanwhile, the Generic Gang has decided to narrow their focus to Superman (shoot for the stars, boys).  Calling themselves the “Anti-Superman Gang,” they meet to discuss whether or not the Man of Might has really become the Man of Milquetoast, finally deciding to risk a test to try to take him out.

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For his part, the Metropolis Marvel finds his town turning against him, meeting mockery in the streets and becoming embittered by the lack of respect for his years of sacrifice and service, which is a pretty natural reaction.  Suddenly, he sees smoke rising nearby and realizes someone is robbing a bank.  For a moment he debates whether he should leave Metropolis to its own devices, which is a nice touch, but the better one is that he shakes off his self pity and does the right thing.  His reasoning here doesn’t quite hit the right tone, though, as he thinks to himself “I’ve got to be what I am,” making his heroics a function of habit rather than a product of principle, which rather misses the mark.

At the scene of the crime, the Man of Steel finds a freaking artillery piece in the street (nobody noticed this thing being driven through town?), and the gang fires on him as he approaches slowly, thanks to his diminished powers, and they actually shoot him out of the sky.  Unable to get close, Superman decides to hit them from range, and in another great sequence, he rips the bank vault off of its massive hinges and hurls it at the artillery piece!  At least the hoods got into the spirit of crime in the DCU, dressing up in matching outfits, though they aren’t terribly interesting.  It doesn’t quite make them a themed gang, but it’s something.

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Back at the Daily Planet, Clark gets a visit from, of all people, Wonder Woman’s mentor and walking cliche, I-Ching, the blind Asian martial arts master and mystic.  Apparently the old man has learned of Superman’s plight, somehow, and, somehow, knows his secret identity…for plot reasons.  He claims he can help, so Clark doesn’t just vaporize him with heat vision and instead agrees to meet him later that night for an attempt to restore his powers.  Yet, a young punk in the office secretly observes this meeting and, being in the employ of the gang and set to spy on Superman’s friends, calls in a report, which eventually leads the criminals to I-Ching’s apartment, just as he begins working on the Man of Steel.

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The martial artist attempts to us his mystic powers to draw the Metropolis Marvel’s spirit out in order to cure it, leaving him temporarily powerless, but in the middle of the ritual, three gunsels barge in and knock him out.  Isn’t he supposed to be sort of awesome, despite being blind, what with the martial arts mastery and all?  Like Zatoichi?  Either way, he goes down like a punk, and the emboldened thugs beat on the immobile Man of Steel, only to find out that he’s more the man of Flesh now, as they manage to bruise him!

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Coming to his senses, Superman leaps up and attacks the trio.  His invulnerable costume stops a bullet, though he is still badly hurt by the impact (which is a nice touch of logic).  In a desperate fight, the suddenly completely mortal Action Ace manages to take out all three gangsters, and the book ends with him standing proudly, having proven himself despite the loss of his powers.

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This is only really a decent story taken all together, but it has elements that are really rather exceptional.  The first sequence, with Superman striving to do what he can, despite his lessened powers is pretty striking, and seeing the Man of Steel fail is definitely surprising in this era.  As is often the case, O’Neil’s treatment of the emotional dimension of the story is just slightly off key, close, but falling a little short of what it should be.  He hits the right note in the the final scene, however, with Superman fighting without his powers.  The desperation of that moment is captured fairly well.

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It’s interesting that O’Neil uses I-Ching for this role.  I suppose it makes sense, seeing as he created the character, but it definitely feels like it comes out of left field.  It would have made much more sense for Superman to contact Dr. Fate or Zatanna.  I’m not even sure these two had ever met before this issue.  I know almost nothing about this character, and he doesn’t really interest me.  I can’t say his showing in this issue is terribly impressive.  His role here, presumably to provide a way to restore our hero’s powers, points to the interesting fact that O’Neil has done something pretty unusual, having kept the Man of Steel at a reduced level for several issues now as his plot unfolded.  In previous stories, when Superman lost his powers, he almost always had them back at the end of the issue.  This arc highlights the changes O’Neil was bringing to the character.  This tale is another solid step forward in that arc, and I’m curious to see what O’Neil will make of the seeds he’s planted here.  I’ll give it a good 4 Minutemen.  The incongruous and unheralded presence of I-Ching and the uninteresting antagonists are the only real problems here.


“The Man Who Cheated Time”

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The backup this month is another “Fabulous World of Krypton” tale, and it’s a good one.  It begins with a janitor (a SPACE janitor!) checking out the hidden devices in a secret depot of forbidden weapons hidden beneath a cool looking jungle.  The man marvels at a time machine and wonders how it got there, which leads us a flashback where we meet a brilliant scientist, Mal-Va, and his nefarious assistant (scientific assistants seem to be a bad bunch in the DCU), Zol-Mar.  Mal-Va is building a time machine that is set to be demonstrated the next day, but his assistant plans to steal the device and use it to set himself up in the past and live like a king.

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Interestingly, as he leaves, Zol-Mar observes protestors tearing down a statue of ‘Krypton’s most famous military leader,” Dar-Nx, and wishing that the authoritarian leader was still around to keep people in line.  This is a subtle piece of social commentary, and it has surprising resonance today, given the conversation in the U.S. about statues and cultural history.

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Anyway, to put his plan into action, the ambitious assistant meets with one of his master’s colleagues and, distracting the old man by planting an explosive in his lab, he steals an invention that creates hard light illusions.  Next, disguised as Mal-Va, the thief ‘borrows’ a ‘weather-regulator’ from another scientist before paying a visit to his last target.  However, when Zol-Mar meets the last scientist, the fellow pulls a gun on him, knowing that the masquerading miscreant can’t be be Mal-Va because he was just talking to him.  Desperately, the abominable assistant strikes out, grabbing the gun, and vaporizing his opponent.  Stealing a final device from his victim, Zol-Mar is ready.

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The next day, he takes his place in the time machine, having disabled the recall controls, planning to set up in the past and become Dar-Nx’s right hand man with the technology he has stolen.  Yet, as he travels, he realizes that if he just materializes out of thin air, the natives of that time might kill him out of fear, so he uses his image device to make himself look like Dar-Nx himself, reasoning that no-one would oppose him.  Unfortunately, this creates an energy pulse, reversing his course through time, and sending him into the future.  With the return circuit disabled, his master can’t bring him back, and Zol-Mar materializes fifty years in the future, only to find that Krypton is no longer there!  He meets his fate alone in the cold vacuum of space.

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That’s a great ending to a fairly tight little crime story with science fiction trappings.  It’s a great example of the classic ‘villain hoisted by his own petard‘ trope, and it works quite well, with a fitting end for the selfish would-be tyrant.  This wouldn’t feel out of place in one of the more horror/Twilight Zone-esq titles.  At the same time, the tone and setting fit Krypton quite well.  In terms of the art, I’m not that impressed with Kaluta’s work on this backup.  While it is nicely detailed and really imaginative in some ways, especially in terms of devices and technology, it is a bit rough and unattractive in terms of figures and faces.  He does have a nice gift for realizing spaces, though.  Seeing as this was some of his earlier work, I imagine he improved over time.  I’ve seen some of his later work, and it is much nicer.  Either way, his art here is still perfectly serviceable, and the final effect of the story is quite memorable.  I’ll give it a full 4 Minutemen, though I wonder about Bates wasting a page on the unnecessary framing device.


P.S.: Notably, this tale introduces an artist named Mike W. Kaluta to the DCU.  You might recognize his name from a long and distinguished career, though little of it was in superhero comics, or, if you’re like me, you might recognize it from this month’s Green Lantern issue!  That’s right, the name of the little pins, the strange sound in the backgrounds?  Kaluta.  Presumably, this was in honor of the new talent arriving at the company.  B. Smith kindly pointed this connection out in the comments of that post.  I don’t know what the connection was between Adams and Kaluta, but what a neat little discovery!

This month’s Superman illustrates how far DC Comics have come in one year in terms of continuing storylines.  When we started this little journey, continuing plots were the exception, rare enough to elicit comment and debate in Aquaman, but they are becoming much more prevalent, with ongoing arcs in several titles, including some of the company’s flagship comics.

That brings us to the end of this post, but not the end of the fun for this month.  Come back soon for some more Bronze Age goodness, but in the meantime, be sure to check back on Tuesday for a special Halloween edition of Into the Bronze Age!  If you noticed something missing from the roll call of titles, you might be able to figure out what is waiting for you in a few days.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 1)

Into the Bronze Age: June 1971 (Part 4)


Thanks for joining me for another stop on our journey Into the Bronze Age!  It’s all Superman, all the time in this post, so I hope you like the Man of Steel!  Yet, these are three very different comics, so there is probably something for everyone to be found here, even with the same character featured in all three.  That is a feature of the Bronze Age, the variety of styles and stories available at the same time.  It’s a wide and varied selection of comics that DC published in the 1970s, and about to grow wider in the coming years.  So, let’s see what awaits us in these comics, shall we?

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


Roll Call

(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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

Superboy #175


“Doomsday for a Super-Phantom!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

I am growing to dread seeing Leo Dorfman’s name in the credits.  His stories tend to be on the goofier, more poorly thought out side.  This particular offering is a weird hybrid.  There are elements of it that are quite goofy and others that show a surprising amount of thought.  It has a decent cover, with the shriveled husk of Superboy a pretty striking image.  The villain isn’t that imposing, however, just standing there, though he isn’t that impressive inside either.  The story itself concerns a modern day warlock named oh-so-originally ‘Faustus,’ and his ‘coven,’ his extended family who are supposedly descended from “the race of witches and warlocks.”  Now, putting aside for a moment that the idea of a “race” of witches makes no sense, this actually sounds a bit like the origin of Zatanna Zatara and her “Homo Magi” ancestry.  Interestingly enough, this little tale actually predates that development of Zatanna’s mythos.

Anyway, these modern day magic users are mostly a sad lot, not having much mystical mojo after centuries of inbreeding with regular humans.  Still, Faustus has gathered the family in the hopes of restoring their preternatural power by stealing it from the greatest source remaining in the modern world….Superboy!  Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘Superboy’s powers aren’t supernatural!’  And you’re right.  To my surprise, that little detail is actually addressed in this comic.

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While most of his family’s powers have withered, Faustus plans to supplement their abilities with technology, as he declares that he has become “the world’s greatest expert in cybernetics,” which, while possibly fitting into a technical definition of the term, really doesn’t quite seem to be a great fit.  Nonetheless, he uses his machines and the most promising of his relatives, an orphan named Asmo, to reach out and steal Superboy’s soul in a decent looking two-page spread.  When the spirit arrives in their lab, he explains that his powers are not magical (see), but scientific, the result of his Kryptonian biology.  He also points out that everyone knows this, making Faustus quite the moron.

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Meanwhile, Superboy’s body sort of continues functioning on autopilot, botching the repair job he was doing on a shattered bridge and flying home, his memory gone, but his instincts remaining…which doesn’t quite fit with what we see.  In the warlock’s lab, the ‘Super Phantom’ seems useless, so most of his family abandons him, but Faustus plans to use Asmo to make use of their catch.  By luring the Boy of Steel’s body to them with a fake distress call, they supercharge the ghost with its powers and leave the discarded form trussed up like a scarecrow.

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Faustus tries to take control of his ‘Super Phantom,’ but Asmo was the source of the power, so he is his master, and when the boy orders the spirit to bring them home, they discover that his powers have manifested as psychokinesis, the one ability that a phantom could use…which actually makes some sense, insofar as a portrayal of magic can.  When they arrive at Faustus’s mansion, the warlock tries to get the boy to use Superboy’s spirit for big, showy crimes and evil deeds, but the kid just uses him for childish desires, like sporting equipment from his heroes and an entire Olympic skating rink.  There’s a sad little scene where Superghost, left on his own for a while, recovers his body and brings it home, only to scare his parents half to death because they can’t see the spirit and just see their son, seemingly dead.  Nice job Clark!

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Back at the mansion, Faustus grows impatient with the boy’s lack of vision, especially when Asmo decides that he has no right to us Superboy for his own benefit when so many people depend on him.  The magician strikes the boy, but realizing that the kid could have Superspirit squish him, the warlock changes his tune and promises to reunite soul and body.  Yet, he betrays Asmo and plans to transfer the power to himself when suddenly his computers seem to suddenly goes all Skynet on him and gains sentience.  The mad machine tosses its former master about until he agrees to obey it, and after some frantic rewiring, the whole house begins to shake.

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Suddenly, Superboy’s body crashes through the wall and spirit and flesh fuse back into a whole.  Not to be beaten, Faustus rushes to press his lab’s self-destruct switch, only to be electrocuted because of the rewiring he had done.  To end the adventure, Superboy explains that he used the telepathy that being a spirit granted him (sure) to read the warlock’s mind, learn how to work the computers and devices, then make them seem to turn on their master and convince him to create a machine that would undo his bodiless condition.

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It’s all really pat and convenient, and it seems more than a little bit of  a stretch.  I know Superboy is supposed to be super smart, but this just seems to take things a tad far, as the kid does all of this presumably incredibly advanced science and magic on the fly, all after reading the antagonist’s mind, despite showing no ability to do that before that point.  The rest of the story is surprisingly fun for a Dorfman tale.  As a matter of fact, the basic concepts, descendants of magic users in the modern world and the fusion of mysticism and technology are pretty promising.  They’ll be parlayed into better stories later on in this decade.  Still, despite its goofy elements and rushed, silly ending, this is a fun enough read.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen, knocked off of the average by that ending.


P.S.: This comic also includes a weird little two page feature explaining why Ma and Pa Kent look younger these days.  I’m really curious what the real-world explanation is, because the in-universe retcon is that an alien TV executive was secretly filming Superboy for a show, and when his bosses wanted younger actors for the Kents, he sent them a youth serum, and the Boy of Steel faked a mass incident with other old folks to hide the fact that his parents specifically were effected.  So apparently in the DC Universe there are gonna’ be about half a dozen folks from Smallville that are going to have drastically increased lifespans!  What a weird little attempt to address a continuity problem!

Superman #238


“Menace at 1000 Degrees!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Carmine Infantino

“A Name Is Born”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Gray Morrow
Inker: Gray Morrow

This is not the story I expected.  That’s not to say that it isn’t a good story.  In fact, it is, but this cover led me to expect something rather different.  Despite that, it’s a really great image.  I’ve been looking at this comic coming up in my reading order and I’ve been pretty excited about it.  The two figures, beautifully rendered, perfectly convey a crisis of perspective, with Superman’s mirror image lacking the empathy that makes the Man of Steel a hero and thus unwilling to help his counterpart.  The cover copy is hardly needed, the image is so effective.  The trouble is, while this moment is actually in the comic, it is pretty much entirely ancillary to the actual plot.

That plot, instead, centers around the still weakened Man of Tomorrow’s efforts to save the world despite his lessened powers, which is a promising setup.  Oddly, we don’t pick up where our last issue left off, with Superman confronting his dusty doppelganger.  Instead, our hero has gone back to his normal life in Metropolis, and we join him as he springs into action when he hears reports of modern day pirates attacking a ship.  (Hey!  Quit horning in on Aquaman’s act!)

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Still feeling the effects of his contact with his opposite number, the Metropolis Marvel is unable to fly, so he leaps over tall buildings in a single bound on the way to the sea.  Once he arrives at the site of the attack, he just drops straight through one of the pirate ships, which is pretty funny and clever.  The Man of Steel then stops a torpedo from the other craft, though it actually stuns him in his weakened condition.  Fortunately, the Coast Guard arrives and mops up.

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superman 238 0006Unfortunately, they soon realize that this pirate attack was actually a ruse to draw the Coast Guard ship away from its station, guarding “Project Magma.”  Essentially, this is an effort to tap the magma below the Earth’s crust in an effort to provide unlimited power, as the world has begun to realize that oil, coal, and the rest won’t last forever.  The trouble is, the undertaking is incredibly dangerous, because of course it is.  Once again, DC scientists just can’t help but create things that imperil the world, can they?  Well, Superman leaps to the floating test site, only to be met with a “magma house” which is…pretty much exactly what you’d expect.  In a nice sequence, the Action Ace is covered in molten rock, knocked out of the sky, and then trapped as the stone cools upon contact with the water.

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Straining mightily, the Kryptonain manages to break free, but he realizes that the platform is too well defended for him to take by himself without the terrorists having a chance to cause incredible destruction, so he decides to call in the Justice Leag…err…no.  In fact, Superman declares that “there’s just one creature in the universe I can call on,” and that’s his alluvial alternate, the Sand Superman.  Really?  With the entire League at your disposal, he’s the only one who can help?  It’s not like you’re friends with the World’s Greatest Detective, who could develop a foolproof plan for storming the facility, or the Fastest Man Alive, who could disarm all of the terrorists before they even knew they were threatened, or the King of the Seven Seas, who could summon an army of sea creatures to swamp them and wash the place clean.  It’s a tad silly.  If O’Neil had just given us a single line of dialog saying, ‘It’s too bad the JLA are on another case’ or something, there wouldn’t be a problem, but this is an example of the narrative moving at the speed of plot.

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Anyway, it’s at this point that our cover image gets its payoff, as Superman goes to meet his dusty double in the hopes of persuading him to help, but the Sand Superman won’t budge, pointing out that mankind means nothing to him because he isn’t human.  There is a really intriguing element to this encounter, as the doppelganger has the original’s powers and knowledge, but he lacks the human upbringing and experiences that make Superman himself a humble man rather than a superior god.  This doesn’t get developed, which is something of a shame, but neither does it get resolved, so I imagine we’ll see this thread get paid off in a later issue.

In the meantime, the terrorists, lead by a freelance spy named Quig, issue their demands.  It seems that they’re a desperate lot how have run out of places to hide, so they have nothing to lose, and they threaten to unleash a bomb under the Earth’s crust unless their demands are met.  They want a hydrogen bomb, $50 million in gold, and 50 hostages to ensure everyone plays nice.  Interestingly, Lois volunteers to be one of the hostages so that she can be on hand to get the story, which is really brave…probably stupidly brave, but it mostly works.  This brings us to another little flaw in the story, as the powers that be simply roll over and give the terrorists literally everything they want, which is pretty insane in context.  There’s no stalling, no negotiation, just, ‘here’s your 50 hostages, gold, and nuke!  Have a nice day!’

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As Quig gloats over his success, he notices Lois and calls her over.  The daring girl reporter puts him at his ease, then snatches his gun and tries to force the terrorist to give up.  Unfortunately, he’s got nerves of steel, and she backs down before he does, which I wasn’t crazy about.  It’s really a no-win situation for Lois, because if she kills him, she’s going to get gunned down by his men, but she mostly gives up because she doesn’t have the will to shoot him, which seems out of character.  It’s not that Lois would want to take a life, but I think she’s a tough enough lady that, if she had to, she would do so and then feel bad about it afterward.

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After she surrenders the gun, Quin plans to shoot her as an example, but then one of the hostages moves with blinding speed, grabs the girl reporter and takes her to safety.  As he runs, he sheds his disguise to reveal the colorful costume of…Superman!  In a funny bit of detail, he once again is rather annoyed at Lois getting herself into such a situation, telling her “Stay put, Lois!  For once–just…keep out of trouble!”  The Man of Steel then takes out Quig’s men and disables the Magma cannon, but he isn’t quick enough to stop the head terrorist himself from releasing his bomb down the shaft.

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The Man of Tomorrow dives after the explosive, falling a great distance (though the art doesn’t really show that), catching the deadly device, and throwing it back out of the chute.  When he emerges, Superman easily captures Quig, but he finds himself at something of a loss about how to answer Lois’s questions about why he waited so long for his rescue.  What can he tell her without revealing his diminished powers?

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This is a good, solid Superman story, with a lot going for it.  The danger he faces is appropriately cataclysmic, and the magma-hose is a good, believable way to allow the regular human terrorists to pose a bit of a threat to the Kryptonian powerhouse.  The device of his weakened powers is also a good one, forcing the hero to take a different approach than he is used to and ramping up the stakes in the story.  This is not the planet-juggling Superman of the Silver Age, and the tale is more dramatic because the odds are a bit longer for him.  Throughout, Curt Swan’s art is even better than usual.  His depiction of the Sandy Superman, which I didn’t think entirely worked last issue, is really lovely in this one, as the creature’s dusty form drifts away in the arctic winds.  My only real disappointment, other than minor quibbles about Lois’s portrayal, is that I had hoped for a bit more out of the Sand Superman plot, but that isn’t really a fault with this story.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen for a good, enjoyable Superman adventure that continues to develop O’Neil’s intriguing plot threads.


“A Name is Born”

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Our backup feature is another edition of ‘The Fabulous World of Krypton,’ and this is really a great short story!  It tells the tale of how Krypton was named.  It begins with two Kryptonian school teachers talking about their classes, with the younger complaining that she can’t get her “level-one students” (presumably like first graders) to sit still for five minutes.  I’m sure any parents or teachers among my readers are shocked by this.

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Her older colleague offers her a story that he claims will keep the class enraptured, and we flash back to the early life of the planet Krypton.  The world is surrounded by a cocoon of strange matter and has no human life upon its surface.  An alien spacecraft makes a landing, but it is observed by a castaway, a different alien whose ship crash-landed on barren planet.

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The two strangers approach one another, both hoping for a peaceful meeting but prepared for hostilities.  The marooned spacer, a xenobiologist, presents the newcomer with a small flower, but unfortunately, it reacts with the strange atmosphere and erupts.  The startled pilot reacts violently, thinking this was an attack.  He draws his weapon and fires, but his ersatz foe, though not a warrior, has a defensive shield that absorbs ray-blasts, allowing the energy to be channeled off safely.

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The fight becomes hand to hand and desperate, but as the newcomer tackles the castaway, his would-be victim spots a deadly peril approaching, as part of the matter surrounding the world rained down upon them.  The biologist, realizing that escape was impossible, chooses to throw the warrior to safety, becoming mired in a clinging, suffocating slime.  There’s a wonderful moment as each of these strangers wonders about the other’s motive, but the newcomer chooses to trust that this gesture was a selfless one, and shoots his former foe, charging the shield and allowing the power to be diverted into the clinging matter.

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Finally, the two stand facing each other in peace, and when they remove their helmets, they discover that they are both humanoid, and that the biologist, is actually a woman!  It’s a great reveal.  They introduce themselves, Kryp, the newcomer, and Tonn, the castaway, and discover that the warrior’s ship has been damaged too, so they are stuck on this planet for a while.  And that is how Krypton got its name, and its first inhabitants.

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This is a really great little story, with some fun action, some nice sci-fi flavor, and a surprisingly effective message about giving folks the benefit of the doubt.  It’s a very effective science fiction morality play, something the genre excels at.  Gray Morrow’s art is just great, with a really unusual style full of details both thoughtful and decorative, like the collapsible stock on Kryp’s weapon, or the stylized creature on his helmet.  I’ve heard of Morrow, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen his artwork before.  I’ll be on the lookout from now on, though!  This whole story feels like it might have made an appearance in the classic sci-fi collections of the Silver Age, like the Space Museum.  In fact, this reminds me quite a bit of one of those stories, though I can’t quite place it.  Either way, I really enjoyed this Space Age Adam and Eve tale, and I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138


“The Big Boom!!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell

We round out this trio of books with another piece of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, and this is a really good one.  Sadly, it’s under another ugly photo-collage cover.  It’s similar to the cover-copy-happy composition of Mr. Miracle #2, but this one doesn’t benefit from a gripping central image.  Nevertheless, the comic inside makes up for it.  It picks up right where the last issue left off.  The DNA Project staff are scrambling to respond the Monster Factory’s attack in the form of the four-armed terror they unleashed.  The creature is currently tearing its way towards the Project’s nuclear reactor, while Superman and the Newsboy Legion are trapped in a strange egg-like prison.  The Project troops, along with the original Newsboy Legion and the Guardian clone, mount up and head towards the reactor in a surprisingly effective photo-collage double-page spread.


We also get a lovely full-page splash, one of many in this issue, of the whole gang charging to the rescue, as well as one of the imprisoned protagonists.  Inside the egg, Superman discovers that the alien substance absorbs his strongest blows, but while the monster tunnels ever closer to its goal, the Man of Tomorrow tries to ‘hatch’ the egg by trying to recreate the energy the DNAlien used to create the egg in the first place by generating electricity by…rubbing his hands together at super speed.  It’s a fairly dubious use of the Kryptonian’s powers, but nevertheless, he frees himself and flies after his foe.

We then cut to an odd little scene at the Daily Planet, where Perry White has called in a girl named Terry Dean, supposedly a friend of Jimmy’s, in his search for his young reporter.  She tells the editor about Olsen leaving on a job for Morgan Edge, and this makes White worried.  The scene feels a bit unnecessary, and as far as I can tell, we’ve never seen Terry Dean before, so her introduction is a bit odd as well.

Meanwhile, events continue to accelerate as the Project troops near the site of the action, the Monster Factory flunkies prepare reinforcements for their perfidious progeny, and the malevolent Morgan Edge is warned to escape Metropolis before the inevitable cataclysm.  The soulless CEO casually walks out of the building with a smile, leaving his staff to a quick and certain death.  It’s an effective demonstration of his cold and calculating character.


Back at the reactor, Superman narrowly manages to intercept the monster, but it is able to damage the machinery despite his efforts.  Suddenly, more monsters pour from a portal, but the Project troops arrive just in time back up the Man of Steel.  Unfortunately, the damaged reactor begins to meltdown, and with the control rods smashed in the fight, there is no way to stop it.

Superman rips the entire structure up and carries the massive device, spewing radiation, and leads the marauding monsters after him, knowing they are drawn towards the power.  He dumps the raging reactor down a vast pit, a test tunnel bored deep into the Earth in preparation for tapping the core for power, a popular topic this month.  The pursuing creatures tumble in after it, like so many multi-armed lemmings, and there is a tremendous explosion that, despite plot of the previous Superman story, doesn’t actually destroy the planet.  That’s lucky!


The tale ends with Superman and the Guardian returning to Jimmy and the Legion, only to receive a cold shoulder because the kids were kept out of the desperate fight.  Guardian finds their reaction a tad ungrateful, considering that the Action Ace did just save all of their lives, but the kids are having none of it.


This comic is just a blast, with a rapid-paced, pulse-pounding adventure with great stakes and some fantastic Kirby art.  The King does a good job pacing his plot for the most part to achieve this frenetic rush, but the strange side-trip to the Planet does throw it off just a bit.  In the same way, while the writing on this issue is strong in general, it does have a few minor weaknesses.  Superman seems just a tad off, which has been the case for most of Kirby’s treatments of the character.  In the same vein, the Man of Steel’s random electrical generation, while reasonable in the art, is a tad silly in the explanation.  Unfortunately, the Legion are once again kept out of the plot, so they don’t get a chance to do anything useful or interesting. Still, we get an instructive character moment with Morgan Edge and some great action as Superman and the Project troops take on the monster horde.


While disposing of the reactor in an underground tunnel strains credulity a bit, seeing as it would probably cause massive earthquakes at the least, it makes comicbook-sense.  Once again, the King seems to be reveling in the freedom to create his own stories without constraints from anyone else, and the proliferation of full-page splashes in this issue, like in New Gods #2, reveals an exuberance and energy that is really exciting, even if it does make the issue a bit breezy.  As you can tell by the glut of images in this commentary, the art was so good I had a hard time making my choices for display!  In the end, this is just a really enjoyable read, like a classic issue of the Fantastic Four, so I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.



And this set of Superman stories brings us up to the final stretch of June 1971.  We’ve only got two comics left to cover!  I hope that you’ve enjoyed this batch, and it did contain a number of really entertaining stories.  I was particularly pleased to read the ‘World of Krypton’ feature, as I’d heard of that odd bit of history, but the actual event was much more engaging than I anticipated from an element of the mythos that I expected to be silly and Silver Age-ish.  We also see a continued growing interest in the occult and the supernatural with the villainous warlock in this month’s Superboy, a trend I expect to see become more pronounced in the years to come.  Before too long we’ll see what the future holds, and I hope you’ll join me for that adventure as we continue our journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: June 1971 (Part 1)


Welcome, readers, to the Greylands and to the beginning of another month’s journey Into the Bronze Age!  We recently finished May, 1971, and with this post we start our voyage into June of that year.  We’re off to a really interesting start, with some intriguing Superman stories and the first appearance of a classic Batman villain which I have been eagerly awaiting since O’Neil began to plant the first seeds of his arrival several issues ago.  That’s right, this month is witness to the coming of the Demon’s Head, R’as Al Ghul!  That makes this a red-letter post.  Let’s see if the character lives up to his reputation in this first appearance!

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

This month in history:

  • The Ed Sullivan Show aired its final episode, ending an era of entertainment
  • Soyuz 11 takes 3 cosmonauts to Salyut 1 space station, but crew found dead on return
  • Willie Mays hits 22nd and last extra inning home run
  • North Vietnam demands U.S. end aid to the South
  • US ends ban on China trade
  • The New York Times begin publishing excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, classified documents on the long history of the U.S. in Vietnam
  • An Orange Order march causes a riot in Londonderry in North Ireland
  • Various groups boycott the opening of the North Ireland Parliament
  • International Court of Justice asks South Africa to pull out of Namibia
  • Supreme Court overturns draft evasion conviction for Muhammad Ali
  • Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Keith Richards sentenced on drug charges
  • Notable films: Le Mans and McCabe and Mrs. Miller

The ending of the Ed Sullivan Show seems to me to mark the ending of a certain element of innocence in American entertainment.  Can you imagine a TV host today that had so little screen presence?  Well, aside from Jimmy Fallon, but clearly that talentless personality black hole made a deal with the devil.  It’s the only way to explain his career.  At any rate, that event shares this month with a new tragedy in the Space Race, as several cosmonauts die during a mission.  Of course, tragedies are in no short supply on Earth itself, and Ireland continues to bleed, while tensions continue to rise.  It’s a shame that the turmoil on the planet was mirrored, in a fashion, in space.  On a lighter note, the ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll’ reputation of the genre is further cemented by the antics of the Stones.  I imagine this isn’t the last time such a thing would happen.  It’s an interesting month, all told.

The top song this month and into the next is Carole King’s “It’s Too Late,” which I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever heard.  That’s unusual.  It’s rather melancholy song about the end of a relationship, which seems somehow fitting for this month.

Roll Call

(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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

Action Comics #401


“Invaders Go Home”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“The Boy Who Begged to Die!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

It seems last month’s Lois Lane issue was not a fluke, but rather presaged something in the zeitgeist.  We start off this month with another comic story depicting the plight of Native Americans, and penned by Leo Dorfman of all people.  I have to say, I wasn’t expecting this.  The comic has a provocative cover, showing the Man of Steel defeated and helpless before a band of tribesmen. Interestingly enough, this image is not a cheat, but of course, it doesn’t tell the whole tale.


The story begins with Clark Kent using his ‘mobile news room’ to cover the anniversary of of statehood for an unnamed region in the southwest where a train is carrying tourists to a celebration.  Suddenly Indians appear, armed with bows and arrows, braves on motorbikes!  Mr. Mild Mannered thinks its part of the show until they start firing arrows at the cars and he sees a fire on a bridge ahead.


Shifting into Superman, he carries the locomotive to safety, only to discover that the flames were just a harmless slogan, part of some type of public stunt on behalf of the local tribespeople.  The motorized raiders take off, but the Man of Steel is able to trail them easily enough, smashing into the cliff in which they’re hiding and confronting them.  Yet, he finds that their leader is a man named Don Hawks, now going by Red Hawk, who was a leading astrophysicist.  The young man has come home to help his people, and he takes the Man of Tomorrow on a tour of their plight today, showing him the pitiful state of their tribe.  The fiery leader explains that all of the surrounding region used to be theirs, but the white settlers had stolen it all from them.


In a scene evocative of Kanigher’s great racial story, we then visit an improvised Indian classroom where the children, and Superman, are given an education on proud heritage of the people to counteract the negative stereotypes to which they’ve been exposed.  Interestingly, the beautiful teacher, Moon Flower (sounds more hippie than Hopi), teaches her students about the technological achievements of native populations like agriculture and the Mayan calendar, but she also mentions their own mythical superman, Montezuma.  Now, I figured this was just Dorfman talking out of his hat, making up ‘Indian superstitions,’ but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there is a legend surrounding Montezuma II.  He apparently became the focus for many southerly tribes’ legends about the ‘King in the Mountain’ archetype.  Most cultures have such a legend, regarding a famous king who will return at an appointed hour to save or to avenge, like King Arthur for Britain or Frederick I in Germany.  Apparently Dorfman actually did a bit of research for this story.  Color me impressed.


Anyway, after his education and tour, the Man of Steel is, naturally, much more sympathetic to the native people’s troubles.  Finally, Red Hawk takes the hero to “Montezuma’s Castle,” a massive plateau that is sacred to his people but has been taken over as a rocket testing site for a major company (oh-so-cleverly bearing the acronym G.R.A.B.).  The Metropolis Marvel wants to help, but despite his efforts to mediate, the president of the company, Frank Haldane, refuses to budge, insisting that their weather studies have shown that this is the perfect location for their projects.


Just then, Red Hawk’s uncle, Old Snake, the medicine man of the tribe, appears and promises to drive the white men away with magic, using mystic sand paintings.  The impatient young man will have none of his uncle’s superstitions, however, and when Superman flies away laughing, he is deeply shamed by what seems like contempt for his people’s ignorance.  Yet, it seems Old Snake is as clever as subtle as his namesake, and his painting of lightning brings a massive storm.  Only the Man of Steel’s timely arrival saves the base.  The hero repairs the damage, earning the ire of Red Hawk, who resents this apparent betrayal, though Moon Flower is more sympathetic, seeing that his is only doing his duty.


Next, Old Snake apparently summons a tornado, but once again the Man of Tomorrow intervenes to prevent damage.  It is then that we learn that he and the medicine man have been in cahoots, with the Kryptonian actually creating the disasters in order to drive the rocket company away.  Of course, he also feels obligated to fix what he breaks, but he’s hoping that they will wear the stubborn Haldane down.  Their last gambit, creating an earthquake, might have been successful, but Old Snake is, after all, quite an old snake, and he dies of a heart attack during the excitement.  The GRAB folks are relieved, but Red Hawk unexpected declares that he has learned his uncle’s secrets and will carry on his work.  He invites Superman to come to their camp that night in order to show him.


When the Action Ace arrives, he is confronted by another sand painting in the form of his shield and a strange red jewel.  Red Hawk declares that he has used his magic to sap the hero’s powers and his men jump the astonished Kryptonian who suddenly finds himself unable to resist.  They truss him up, and the story ends with the native leader declaring that they will trade Superman for their land!


There is a lot going on in this comic.  On the one hand, Dorfman is engaging in the traditional, ‘all Indians are the same’ trope in some ways, as with the train attack, evoking as it does the classic cowboys and Indians stories that were about Plains tribes.  Still, since some of those elements were meant to be part of a publicity stunt, it isn’t as bad as it might be.  On the other hand, Dorfman is using a pastiche tribe, the Navarros, as opposed to a real people group, and thus he avoids misrepresenting a real tribe.  He also includes traits that are indicative of southwestern tribes, like the sandpainting.  But he blends those with mythology that has more to do with Mexican and Central American peoples, with the Montezuma legends.  It’s a bit of a mess, but it is clear that his heart is in the right place, and the result is certainly less sloppy than Kanigher’s recent effort.


I like Superman’s wry self-assurance here.

Dorfman gives us a positive overview of native peoples, stressing their development and the fact that they weren’t just ‘savages.’  He also sympathetically portrays their modern plight and their extremely legitimate grievances with the folks who stole their land.  Notably, Superman is unable to simply resolve the conflict.  His powers, which he willingly uses to aid the righteous underdog here, at the expense of the rich and powerful, are still not sufficient to solve the problem.  This, as fantastical as his efforts are, results in a more mature, effective story.


Quite a striking image, the native leader standing triumphantly over the symbol of the white status quo.

It’s a solid tale on its own merits, featuring common and enjoyable Superman plot devices, but given the social agenda that it promotes and the attempt, however uneven, at accuracy and respect, it is more than the sum of its parts.  Swan’s art is great, as usual, but he really does a great job with some of the unusual parts of the tale, like the poverty and despair evident in the Navarro village, and, to his great credit, he generally depicts the tribesmen wearing at least some modern clothing, which immediately sets this comic apart from the last Indian yarn.  All told, I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, as it is a moderately provocative, at least slightly challenging story, especially for 1971.  I’m quite surprised it came from ‘dopey Dorfman,’ who usually tells pretty silly stories.


“The Boy Who Begged to Die”


The backup tale for this issue is also quite provocative.  It presents our hero with an intriguing ethical quandary, which is the type of story device that I always enjoy.  It begins with the crash of a small meteorite in the center of a small town called Masonville.  Superman, flying over, happens to see the commotion and comes to investigate.  He waves the crowd back and does the natural thing for him, examining the hunk of space junk with his x-ray vision, but this turns out to be a fatal mistake!  The radiation from his vision (which contradicts at least one explanation for how those powers work, I’m sure) triggers a reaction in the rock, turning it into a drastically unstable bomb.  He can’t move without triggering a massive explosion, so he orders an evacuation of the town.


The people flee, trusting in the Man of Steel, and soon they are outside a mile perimeter, and not a moment too soon, because the hero realizes that the reaction is increasing, and thus the yield of the explosion will increase as well.  Just then, a young man with a broken leg limps slowly up the Metropolis Marvel, wondering where everyone is.  After a quick explanation, the boy, who was in the basement of the orphanage and was forgotten in the hurried evacuation, realizes that, hobbled as he is, he could never escape from the blast in time.  What’s more, every moment Superman delays in detonating the meteorite–turned-bomb, the larger the radius will be and the more danger to the townsfolk.


action-401-26-04 - CopyDisplaying incredible courage, the young man insists that Superman do what he must, choose the greater good over his single life, and detonate the bomb.  The Action Ace is paralyzed by indecision.  He can’t bring himself to willingly kill this boy, yet he knows that if he doesn’t, thousands more could die.  This is a great moral puzzle for the Man of Steel, but his motivations are a bit off.  Instead of focusing just on the boy’s life, he thinks about his vow to stop hero-ing if he takes a life and the consequences of that, which is a little immature reasoning.


Nonetheless, the situation is one of great tension, and the youth decides to take matters into his own hands, taking responsibility for his death upon himself as he tries to set the rock off by hitting it.  Yet, his efforts are too little (which does rather make me think that Superman could perhaps have flown it away, but that’s neither here nor there).  Finally, in an effort to force the Kryptonian’s hand, the young man takes his cape to create a noose.  Just then, Superman drops the meteorite, creating a powerful explosion that just barely misses destroying the huddled townsfolk.


After the debris clears, we discover that, as he always does, Superman found a third way.  Inspired by seeing the boy carrying his invulnerable cape, the Man of Tomorrow used his super breath to blow the cape around the youth, then detonated the bomb, trusting in the Kryptonian fabric to protect the young man.  It works, and the boy survives, though he is badly injured.  Superman rushes him to the hospital, and we get a happy ending.


This is a pretty great story for only seven pages.  It puts Superman in a genuinely challenging situation, one which his powers cannot outright solve, which is always a good source of dramatic tension for the incredibly powerful character.  I really enjoyed the fact that the Man of Steel was unwilling to sacrifice even one life, even to save thousands.  That’s the core of the character right there.  There are only really three flaws.


The kid is a bit too willing, even anxious to die.  I can certainly see a virtuous and courageous young man coming to that decision, but it should have brought with it at least a little turmoil.  This youth seemed positively chipper about annihilation.  In the same vein, Superman’s anguished reaction misses the emotional core of the moment, focusing on his future career rather than the guilt of taking a life.  Finally, the protective powers of the cape are really a bit ridiculous if they can survive the explosion we’re shown here.  No matter how invulnerable the cape is, the kid inside would be jelly!  Of course, Bates only had seven pages to work with, and he fit a lot in.  So, we’ve got a tale with impressive aspirations and a great concept, though it is a bit immature in execution.  It’s still a good read, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.


Adventure Comics #407


“Suspicion Confirmed”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Henry Scarpelli
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

While this month’s Superman stories present us with engaging and challenging moral dilemmas, this week’s Supergirl tale attempts to follow suit…with rather less success.  This issue of Adventure is quite a convoluted journey.  Unfortunately, it’s continuing the rather pointless plotline from the last issue, with ‘Nasty’ Luthor still trying to find concrete proof of Supergirl’s secret identity, as if she is a cop instead of a supervillain.  Last I checked, due process just doesn’t mean that much to megalomaniacs bent on world domination.  The issue does have a fairly nice cover, the standard dramatic confrontation angle, with a hidden (though obvious) figure challenging our heroine with knowledge of her secret.  Though Linda’s figure is a tad awkward, it’s otherwise a nice looking cover, with the unusual angle of looking out from the closet.

The tale inside begins where the last left off, with Linda Danvers in the hospital following her undercover heroics in the burning building.  With her super powers returning and her wounds healing, the girl knows she must escape before she is examined, and the arrival of a critically injured police officer provides her with the opportunity she needs.  Notably, the officer is black, which is a little detail that you wouldn’t have seen that long ago.  There’s also a funny little scene where Linda, clad only in a stolen sheet, hails a cab, and the unflappable cabbie doesn’t even bat an eye.

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Back at the office, Linda is greeted as a hero, but Nasty’s suspicions continue.  Yet, celebrations are short-lived, as there is a new story in the offing.  A man named Renard has come to them with a mystery he wants their help to solve.  He’s recently bought a reputedly haunted theater, and it has been plagued by strange occurrences, so he wants the news crew to bring their cameras down and find the culprit…which really seems less like a new crew’s job than a private detective’s job…or you know, the Ghostbusters!  “Who you gonna’ call?”  Random reporters, apparently.

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Sekowsky does give the fellow an interesting face…though he doesn’t have Geoff’s dynamite fashion sense.

Johnny, Nasty, and Linda head to the theater that night and set up different camera posts to cover the place with high-tech film gear in the hopes of snaring the would-be specter.  As the night rolls on, the silence of the place is split by a scream, as Nasty observes Johnny being carted off by a grisly-looking phantom.  Of course, the villainess is just waiting for such an opportunity to catch Supergirl in the act.  Just like her cousin, the Maid of Might is facing a terrible choice, intervene and reveal her secret or do nothing and leave her friend to an unknown fate.  So, she does what any hero worth their salt would do and finds a third way…ohh, wait…no she doesn’t.  She just sits there and watches her friend get abducted, possibly sacrificing his life to protect her secret.

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This is a huge problem.  The character rationalizes her choice, thinking about how much she would lose if she were exposed, and slightly more appropriately, how it would endanger her family, but she’s still utterly failing in her responsibilities as a hero.  These are realistic concerns, but there’s no emotional weight behind her struggle.  If she had good reason to believe that Johnny wouldn’t be harmed, that would be one thing, but she has no such guarantee, and her inaction could easily end in tragedy.  In fact, when the police arrive and search the place, they find nothing.  And then…she still doesn’t intervene.  Instead, she goes to Kandor for a fashion show.  Picking up her new, indestructible costumes, the Girl of Steel leaves her friend to his fate while she plays dress-up.  It’s not her finest moment.

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While there she sees the Professor, who is at work on creating an antidote for his anti-superpowers pill.  As she returns, she has the utterly silly thought that her new costume, which looks almost exactly like her OLD costume, will somehow give her an edge when she confronts her foes because it will confuse them.  Because apparently they aren’t capable of extrapolating minor changes.  She must think that getting a haircut really messes people up.

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My friend may be getting turned into clothing by a grisly monster as we speak, but yay! Fashion!

Back on Earth, her boss, Geoff, is fed up with the police’s lack of progress, so he decides to head a team going back to the theater…with more cameras.  Because that worked so well last time.  They do precisely the same thing, and, astonishingly, it works about as well the second time around.  This time, it is Nasty who is snatched, so Supergirl actually gets into action, but she misses the phantom.  In a particularly stupid detail, the police, seeing footage of the event, decide that the girl dressed almost exactly like Supergirl, who has a giant ‘S’ on her chest, must be a stranger in league with the monster.

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Geoff, feeling somehow responsible for sending two people to an unknown fate, takes a gun and goes down to the theater, which, had he done earlier, probably would have solved the problem.  Yet, Linda calls the police on him, defying his orders, and intervenes as Supergirl, another course of action that could have resolved this whole situation much earlier.

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Our heroine, ladies and gentlemen…

Using her conveniently working X-Ray vision, she locates a hidden passage and follows it down, just in time for her powers to very conveniently conk out again.  In the tunnels under the theater, she finds the two captured reporters as prisoners of a surprisingly well-spoken phantom, who reveals his boss…Starfire!

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The femme fatale seems not to have died in her plunge from the castle window after all…on which I’m definitely going to have to call shenanigans.  We didn’t see a body in that sequence, which I attributed to the era, but we did see what seemed to be a lifeless hand sticking out of the water in the last panel, which seemed pretty darn clear.  According to the villainess, she just swam under water and hid until the authorities left.  Pretty shoddy job on the part of the police.  ‘No body?  Ehh, she’s probably dead.  Let’s go get dinner!’

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The page in question

Covering the captives with a pistol, the spurious specter has Supergirl between a rock and a hard place, and the villains capture her, dropping her into a tank of acid.  Fortunately, the Maid of Might is still wearing her invulnerable uniform, so she flips her cape over her head, feigns agony, and endures the immersion until her bonds burn through.  Then she leaps out, breaking Starfire’s hand (!) to stop her drawing a gun, and capturing the villains with a flying tackle.  The story ends with Supergirl taking her prisoners to the police station and unmasking the phantom as Mr. Renard.  Finally, we see the gang joking about going to a show, while Nasty still plots to pin Supergirl down.

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It’s all very Scooby Doo, isn’t it?  That last scene especially is just a bit ridiculous and cartoonish.  The story is entertaining enough, though the book continues to suffer from Sekowsy’s dramatically uneven artwork.  There are some genuinely nice layouts, interesting angles, and nice panels…and then there are the usual bunch of downright ugly pages.  The bigger problems are Supergirl’s complete failure as a hero and the fact that the center of the book just feels like so much running around, with three different trips to the theater and the unnecessary side-trip to Kandor.  Starfire’s return and convoluted plot seem beneath her as well.  This is quite a ridiculous setup.

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“And we would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling Kyrptonains!”

She has her henchman pretend to haunt his theater in the hopes of attracting Supergirl’s attention?  I can’t help but think there must have been a simpler way to accomplish that.  The slippery master-villain also suffered a very ignominious defeat.  She plagued the Girl of Steel for multiple issues at a time previously, proving a suitable nemesis for our heroine.  And here, she gets taken down with fairly little fan-fare, just dumped in the local police station, and then forgotten about.  It’s a waste of a character that had a certain amount of villainous credibility built up.  In the end, I’ll give this silly story 2 Minutemen, though I’m inclined to give it less because of Supergirl’s unheroic performance.  It is particularly egregious in light of the much better told Superman story dealing with the same kind of dilemma that it shares space with this month.


Batman #232


“Daughter of the Demon”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

It’s finally here!  The debut of R’as Al Ghul, one of the greatest Batman villains created after the Golden Age, and arguably the most significant to the character in recent years, following his revitalization in Batman Begins.  I have been eagerly awaiting this issue, remembering it fondly from my previous read-through of the Bat-books, and, perhaps most significantly, from the wonderful adaptation from that best of Bat-worlds, Batman: The Animated Series.  The episode “The Demon’s Quest,” is an extremely faithful translation of this story, so much so that I was really struck by that when I first read the comic, having started my Bat-experience with the cartoon.  The episode in question is an excellent one, but that is no surprise considering the source.  Timm and Co. had an affinity for elevating their material, capturing the potential in every story and character and presenting them in all of their archetypal and dramatic power (though the recent release of Batman and Harley Quinn indicates that this is sadly no longer the case).  Yet, their task was an easy one in this case.

I loved R’as Al Ghul already from his appearances in B:TAS, and I was excited when I encountered him in this book and in his subsequent appearances.  I have been particularly looking forward to returning to his first appearance here, both to see if it lived up to my memory and to experience it in its original context among the DCU.  I’m very pleased to say that I was definitely not disappointed.

I supposed I’d better begin with the iconic cover, which is dramatic and nicely symbolic.  There are a few problems with it, but the biggest is the fact that it gives away the twist of the entire issue!  The thrust of the book’s mystery is the identity and agenda of the enigmatic Al Ghul…only that mystery is solved, in part, before you ever open it, as the villain is clearly orchestrating whatever is happening to Robin.  The other issue is the slightly distracting cover copy and the odd coloring of the ghostly Al Ghul.  I like his spectral image, but I think there is a little something missing from the execution.

Nonetheless, the tale within does not disappoint.  It begins with the Teen Wonder stealthily returning to his room one night at Hudson University, only to be ambushed within by a pair of gunman who shoot him down!  Now, having seen the cartoon episode first, I didn’t really appreciate how big a moment this, or that which comes later, really was.  I was just watching the familiar patterns of a well-known plot, but in context, I now realize that this is a really shocking event, with shadowy figures awaiting, not Robin, but Dick Grayson, in his home!  From the first page, the stakes are set as being extremely high, and we are given to understand that this is definitely not your normal adventure.


A short time later, Bruce Wayne receives a most distressing envelope bearing a picture of his unconscious ward and a simple note, “Dear Batman, we have Robin!  Save him if you can!”  Once again, I read right past this the first time, but here is a note, sent to Bruce, but addressed to Batman.  The message is clear, and it is only made clearer by what will happen later.  First, Bruce swings into action, heading to Wayne Manor in order to use his mothballed crime lab to examine the note.  Now, this raises a bit of a question, as why would he not have the same type of facilities in his Penthouse headquarters, but it seems clear that O’Neil is taking a bit of a mini-tour of the Batman mythos in this book.


The truly shocking moment comes when, upon reaching the Batcave, the Dark Knight is surprised to find that he has visitors!  An intense looking man in a cloak with a looming servant/bodyguard greet him, calling him by his real name!  This is R’as Al Ghul, who explains that he discovered the Dark Detective’s identity by deduction, reasoning he would need to be wealthy and meet certain criteria.  Bruce unmasks and accepts all of this with a truly surprising lack of reaction.  It seems quite out of character, and the mysterious man’s explanations seem far too simplistic, but these issues, while not given entirely adequate explanation by O’Neil in this issue, can be reconciled by what we learn by its end.


Batman232-05The Caped Crusader does demand to know what the intruders want, though, and Al Ghul reveals that his daughter has been taken as well, and he wants Batman’s help in rescuing her.  The hero recognizes Talia, the girl he recently rescued from Dr. Darrk and, realizing that they have a common cause, the great detective gets to work.  A microscopic examination of the note reveals residue of an herb used by a far eastern cult of killers who have their headquarters in Calcutta, so the trio take off for the orient!  As they leave, Ubu, Al Ghul’s servant, makes a big deal of allowing his master to go first, and the Dark Knight quietly takes the man’s measure.


On the flight, we see a Batman that has been developing in the last few years but has not, I think, been seen in such clarity before this point.  He sits in stoic, brooding silence, replying to his companion’s questions about his composure that he must control his emotions because he has a job to do.  The character’s portrayal throughout this issue is of the driven, collected, self-possessed Dark Knight Detective that came to define the best version of the concept, and this scene is a striking departure from the grinning, joking Batman that we’ve seen even recently in the rest of the DCU (Bob Haney doesn’t count, of course).  During the trip, we peer into the Masked Manhunter’s reverie and see him remembering his origin, that terrible night when a boy’s innocence died along with his parents and something hard and pure was born in its place.  We get a capsule version of the familiar origin story, complete with his adoption of Dick, with a focus on the self-sacrifice and dedication that his destiny demanded, further establishing this issue as a new beginning.


In Calcutta, an old beggar is accosted by some street toughs, only to reveal himself as Batman, terrifying the low-lifes and forcing information out of them about the “Brotherhood of the Demon.”  Finding his way to their supposed headquarters, the Dark Knight enters first, only to be pounced upon by a leopard!  In a great sequence, the hero uses his strength and agility to grapple with the great cat and break its neck.  The danger passed, the detective notes that the animal was a trained guard, though the only thing in the room is a desk with a map of the Himalayan Mountains.  He claims there is a faint scratch tracing a route, and R’as offers to finance a mountain expedition.


Later, on Mount Nanda Devi, the trio continue their search, following a clear trail, and Neal Adams includes what I have to think is Deadman’s face in the mountainside.  I wonder if this is near Nanda Parbat!  To continue their search, the travelers must scale the mountain, and Batman leads the way, though R’as takes a moment to admire the beauty of their surroundings, admitting to a love of desolate places that is positively Romantic, a nice character moment.  Suddenly, a shot rings out, and the mystery man seems to be hit.  Batman launches a desperate swing from the cliff-face to elude the gunman, and when the attacker follows, the hero springs from the snow in which he had secreted himself to take the assassin out.


Interestingly, the Caped Crusader’s knows something we don’t, and he approaches the hidden camp of his enemies brazenly, walking boldly through their armed sentries and telling them that he knows they won’t fire.  As he strides into an inner chamber, he sees Robin and, ignoring the guards, secretly slips his partner a knife.  Just then, a masked figure enters, but the Dark Knight has had enough and declares that he knows the whole score.  From the very beginning, he knew that the entire quest was all a show, recognizing that R’as Al Ghul’s convenient appearance was all-too transparent, and his suspicions were confirmed when Ubu, always solicitous of his master’s honor, let the hero walk ahead of him when danger awaited.  Batman also fooled them with the map, lying about the scratch, but they took him to this mountain nonetheless.

Batman232-21Having vamped long enough, the Masked Manhunter asks the Teen Wonder if he’s ready, and they clean house, taking out the gathered assassins in a nice sequence that only suffers from having no backgrounds.  Then, the Dark Knight snatches the mask from the robbed figure to reveal Ubu, who decides to try his luck.  But Batman isn’t impressed by the man’s size or strength, and he flattens the hulking bodyguard in another great sequence.  Finally, R’as and Talia Al Ghul are revealed, and the Dark Detective confronts them, demanding an explanation for the dangerous game that the enigmatic man has been playing.  Al Ghul responds simply that his daughter loves the hero and, being inclined to retire, he wanted to see if Batman were worthy of being his successor and….son in law!


What an ending!  The look of complete surprise on Batman’s face in the final panel had to be mirrored in that of many a fan as they read this book.  Of course, I knew it was coming, but trying to put myself in their shoes, I really felt the impact of this twist.  Readers must have been on the edge of their seats waiting for the next issue!  Reading this book in context really emphasizes how important and innovative it was.  This issue is the culmination, or at least a culmination, of all of the reworking and renovating that O’Neil had been doing in his Batman stories, and this is, in many ways, a new beginning, a line drawn in the four-colored sand, declaring that ‘what comes next is to be something new, yet classic,’ something that returns to the core of the character and positions him in a world worthy of him.


This is the Batman I love.  This is the Batman that was translated so wonderfully into the Animated Series.  This is the Batman that realizes the character’s potential and takes advantage of the archetypal power of the concept.  He is dark, driven, intimidating, hyper-capable but believable, marked by the sadness of his origin, yet capable of enjoying his adventures, especially when joined by his adoptive son.  He is serious, but not joyless, and that’s an important distinction, often lost these days.  It isn’t perfect, not yet.  O’Neil is still a little clumsy with some of his dialog, but it is close, the character is close.


I am also very impressed with R’as Al Ghul in this first appearance.  He is mostly just busy being mysterious, but there is a dignity and a certain Romantic air about him that is appealing.  Already you can see the Byronic anti-heroic quality that will define the character (though he will usually lack the self-critical element of that archetype).  Throughout there are hints that there is more to this enigmatic figure than meets the eye, like the ability of the older man to keep up with the powerful Caped Crusader during his quest and his calm self-assurance in every situation.

This issue is beloved for a reason.  It is a great declaration of a new (and old) vision for the Dark Knight, and it presents an exciting, world-trotting adventure that both honors and challenges many of the important elements of the Batman mythos, reuniting the Dynamic Duo in the end and introducing an intriguing new villain with a very unusual agenda.  Adams art is beautiful throughout, of course, but he too is coming into his own here.  His Batman is powerful yet agile, dynamic yet mysterious, full of untapped depths yet in complete control.  The art is alternately moody, intense, exotic, and exciting.  O’Neil, for his part, turns in some of his best writing here, focusing on character and story and really creating something special.  I’ll happily give this landmark issue 4.5 Minutemen.  It isn’t perfect, but it is darn close.


P.S.: The letter’s page of this issue included a short note about the Futurians, the villainous secret society of several issues back, about which I had wondered.  It turns out that the name was a reference to a group of science fiction fans from the 30s, many of whom would go on to be major influences in the genre.  How neat!

And that’s it for this post, though I don’t know what else y’all could ask for!  We’ve got a great selection of stories in this batch, even with the Supergirl clunker.  This is definitely an exciting time in comics, and change is in the air!  DC is growing, and there are exciting things on the horizon.  On that note, I hope you’ll join me again soon for the next installment of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!