Hail and well-met Internet travelers, welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age! We have three very different comics to cover in this batch, each intriguing and unusual in their own way. I was surprised by each of these books, and I image they might have something unexpected in store for you, my dear readers, as well. Shall we find out?
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
The Flash #209
“Beyond the Speed Of Life!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano
“Coincidence Can Kill!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Dick Giordano
“Elongated Man’s Undersea Trap”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Well folks, here it is at last, the return of the supervillains! I have been eagerly awaiting this issue of The Flash, and I am sick to death of his unequal contests with the Generic Gang! I’ve been watching this cover, with its promise of actual, honest-to-goodness supervillains, coming closer in my list, and hope for it has helped me endure the doldrums that preceded it. It is a pretty nice image too, even outside of my desperate desires for some dynamite foes. The cover copy is a bit much, but the central composition is nicely dramatic. I’m pleased to say, I was not disappointed by my read either, despite the fact that the two cover-cons don’t play as much of a role as you might imagine.
The tale begins in media res, with the Scarlet Speedster already defeated! What’s this? Captain Boomerang and the Trickster arrive to admire their handiwork after triggering a cunning trap, all set to finish their fast foe for good. Except, they find him already…dead!? In a lovely and wonderfully wacky moment, the two villains stand in silence, honoring their expired enemy.
Then we flash back to that morning, when Barry Allen was leaving home, late for work as usual (I love that perennial bit of characterization). Just as he’s kissing Iris goodbye, the Crimson Comet gets a mental image of Captain Boomerang and the Trickster hiding out on the edge of town, and, despite knowing it is likely to be a trap, rushes off to check it out. Meanwhile, in their hidden hideout, the dangerous duo get their own mental message, which shows them Flash’s rapid approach. They suddenly discover a glowing rope and, thanks to psychic guidance, are able to time their attack perfectly, tripping the speedster up and sending him skidding across the desert sands.
Yet, his tumbling fall is more than meets the eye, as the Fastest Man Alive finds himself being paced by a speed-blurred shape, which begins communicating with him as it drags him through a dimensional barrier into a bizarre and alien world. The new dimension, which his speedy escort describes as “beyond the speed of life,” is really nicely rendered by Novick, looking fairly unique and unusual. His guide, who calls himself ‘The Sentinel,’ explains to the speedster that this is the dimension beyond the speed of all living things, and that normal physical laws don’t apply there. Racing along together, the Sentinel tells his kidnapped companion that he has brought him to this strange realm for a purpose.
Back on Earth, the two villains begin to bicker as the Trickster wants to unmask the fallen hero, while Boomer says they should have respect for the dead, which is another fun little moment. Just then, their mysterious benefactor arrives, and we discover the real villain of the piece, Gorilla Grodd! This is pretty unsurprising considering that there were mental powers in play, but it’s always good to see Grodd. The super-simian is full of contempt for these ‘lesser beings,’ and explains that he used them as pawns in case the plan failed, which they don’t take too well. Yet, they prove no match for the mighty gorilla, who subdues them with ease.
In the speed dimension, the Sentinel tells Flash that the strange place is being attacked by a being he calls the Devourer, which is trying to tear its way into the hero’s universe. The being takes a number of random forms, shifting rapidly, including a giant rat, ram, blowtorch, and T-Rex. All of the Scarlet Speedster’s attacks are ineffective, but he finally reasons that, since the normal physical laws don’t apply in this bizarre place, he should try something completely random that would be ineffective in his home dimension.
Thus, he runs through a host of random movements at super speed before discovering that bouncing up and down hurts the monster. Ooookay? The Devourer takes the form of Iris as it is destroyed, which makes it hard for Barry to keep up his ‘attack,’ but he finally annihilates it and asks the Sentinel to bring him home.
Yet, back on Earth, the Fastest Man Alive makes a startling discovery. He has just become the fastest ghost not alive! The Sentinel had to pull him out of his body for the trip. Desperate to live again, the hero begs the other being to put him back, despite his protestations that it may be impossible. While Grodd prepares to force his two former pawns to kill each other (!), the Sentinel races past Flash’s lifeless form. Suddenly, the Scarlet Speedster lives again, and by rapidly vibrating his body, which is held by the super-gorilla, he sinks the mad monkey into the earth, before scrambling his mighty mind with some super-speed blows. The other two villains are so stunned that they surrender, and the day is saved!
This is a fun story, with some delightful little bits of characterization, like with Boomerang’s insistence on respecting the dead and Grodd’s superior attitude. It’s great to see some supervillains again, even if we don’t really get to see them in action. Their mere presence makes the Flash’s world seem more interesting and colorful. It’s a shame this tale didn’t get more room to breathe, as I’d have loved to see an extended fight between the three villains. I think that could have been a lot of fun. As is, the villain plot feels a bit short-changed by the dimension-hoping dangers.
The Devourer, for its part, is also a tad disappointing because the Flash’s method of defeating it is just silly. If the dimension doesn’t obey the normal laws of physics, I can think of several more interesting ways in which that could have been used. Ultimately, that’s a good concept, but the payoff speaks of a lack of imagination. On the art front, Novick and Giordano make a really nice team, and they do a great work with both halves of this yarn. I particularly like Novick’s portrayal of Captain Boomerang, so scrawny and distinctive looking. So, all-in-all, this was an entertain read, and I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, largely on the strength of the Rogues that make an appearance.
Grodd is finally act a bit like the sinisterly superior super-simian that he would one day become, which is nice to see. He’s one of my favorite Flash villains, being such a wonderfully, whimsically crazy concept. As with most things, I feel like the Timmverse Justice League show captured him best, with his poised, cultured, and dignified portrayal being far better than the brutish and one-note version of the New 52.
“Coincidence Can Kill”
We’ve got another Kid Flash backup this month, penned by one of my favorite writers, Steve Skeates, which is a pleasant surprise. The tale itself feels super brief, but it is fairly original. It begins with our young hero, who is dressed in the finest of 70s threads. Just look at that fashion disaster! Well, when the groovy youth happens upon a bank robbery when coming home from school (isn’t he supposed to be in college by this point?), he is thrilled for the chance to get into action. In a fun bit of detail, he notes that when he started out he expected to be stumbling over heists all the time, but unlike in “comic mags,” such things have proven rare. Yet, when he goes to eject his costume from his ring, a strange gas emerges instead, knocking him out!
Shortly thereafter, the young hero awakens, only to see the thieves being picked up by the law. This leaves Wally without criminals to catch, but he still has a mystery to solve. What happened to his ring! He reasons that the accessory must have been switched, and he remembers that he and his lab partner, “Genius” George, had washed their hands at the same time, each taking off their rings.
Rushing to George’s house, Kid Flash discovers that the boy was picked up shortly before, supposedly heading to a meeting at school. Realizing that there is no meeting that night, Kid Flash heads out in pursuit of the car. He manages to trail it to a rough part of the town. Meanwhile, “Genius” George has gotten himself in way over his head, volunteering to join a criminal gang and use his science skills to make gadgets and weapons for them, all as a blind to get him into their presence so he can capture them. This was the purpose of the gas-filled gadget, but unfortunately he’s wearing the wrong ring!
When he presses the catch on the jewelry piece, out pops the Kid Flash costume. Fortunately, Kid Flash himself is on the scene, and he takes out the thugs in no time flat. With the gang K.O.ed, the Teen Titan and George compare notes, and lucky for the Fastest Boy Alive, George reasons that his ring must have leaked and, when the hero saw him in trouble, he threw out the costume to distract the criminals. The story ends with Wally thinking that, hopefully, this experience will teach George to stay away from “dangerous stuff like gas…and criminals!”
This is a breezy but fun little tale. The idea of a high school science buff taking it upon himself to capture a criminal gang is crazy…but then again, so are high school kids! I never tried anything quite that wild, but in a world full superheroes and daring do, I suppose it is a little less farfetched that a starry-eyed youth might try to emulate his idols. The whole story is built on coincidence, but it moves along with such energy, that you can just about forgive it. I’ll give this brief backup a solid 3 Minutemen. Oddly, Kid Flash himself is miscolored throughout the strip, being depicted with yellow legs.
The Forever People #4
“The Kingdom of the Damned!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby
“The Amazing Dreams of Gentleman Jack”
Writer: Joe Simon
Pencilers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Inkers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Letterer: Howard Ferguson
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth
Welcome to more 4th World Madness! Our new issue of Forever People is really a striking one. It’s got a fair cover, with the heroes overcome, but the strange depiction of Desaad’s minions, with their weird, glowing colors, is an odd choice. The desperation that the image portrays is fitting, however, as the tale within is one of hopelessness and despair for our young protagonists. We begin with a panicked sea of humanity, surging against the glass wall of a bizarre prison and crying for help, only for the next image, a lovely two-page spread, to show us that their pitiful pleas have been converted into joyous laughter, which fills the air of a colorful, Disney World-esq amusement park. Of course, it’s an amusement park as designed by Jack Kirby (shades of Sci-fi Land!), so you might expect it to be even more amazing than the Magic Kingdom, and just a bit creepier too. Actually, the design is positively pedestrian for the King, but it does still feature flying cars and other sci-fi staples.
One of those airborne autos arrives, bearing a very special passenger. Darkseid disembarks within the bowels of this park, Happyland, which serves as a wonderfully ironic front for Desaad’s cruel experiments. The dark god has arrived at his underling’s request to observe the fates of the Forever People, who have been brought here following their capture by that hypnotic huckster, Glorious Godfrey.
We check in with the young quintet as they test their prison walls. They discover that Mother Box has been stolen from them, though Vykin detects it nearby. When their guards arrive, poor Serifan tries to resist them with one of his ‘cosmic cartridges,’ only to be felled, followed shortly by the rest of the team. Meanwhile, Desaad is busy with Mother Box herself (itself?), as he tries to destroy the incredible device. As the marvelous machine is tortured, it suddenly vanishes in a flash of light, and despite the fact that Desaad takes credit for driving it to commit suicide, Darkseid reminds his malicious minion that they don’t really know what happens to the devices in such circumstances.
In a rather funny scene, Darkseid walks to his ship out in the open, passing through the park-goers and scaring small children. His grotesque features are split by a grin as he chases off one pair, when a child realizes he is real but her grandfather insists he’s just a man in a costume. It’s a weird little episode, and while it is fun, it feels a little incongruous with the gravitas of the character.
Then Kirby’s inimitable imagination is on strange and unsettling display as he takes us on a tour of the torments Desaad has devised for our young heroes. First, Mark Moonrider is locked in another glass prison, this one rendering him as an animated skeleton to the people passing below. Big Bear, for his part, is in a shooting gallery where the park-goers see him as a robotic bear, and their each shot creates a cacophony of sonic chaos within his cell. Beautiful Dreamer has a more sedate torture in store for her, as the uber-creepy master masochist paralyzes her and inserts her into a glass coffin, where the illusion works in the opposite way of the others, rendering the harmless civilians who regard her as hideous monsters waiting to devour the helpless damsel.
Finally, Seirfan and Vykin have a dual doom. Vykin is trapped on the rollercoaster track, with his head thrust between the ties, while Serifan is strapped to a pedal which, when pushed, will lower his friend out of the path of the oncoming coasters. He must be ever alert, or his helpless friend will meet a grisly fate. Things certainly seem grim for the five from New Genesis, but the last page reveals that all is not lost, as the missing Mother Box rematerializes somewhere else, where a massive Asian figure picks it up and senses its plea for help.
I remember not being all that impressed by this issue on my first reading, but I really found it intriguing this time. The torments Kirby devises for his five protagonists are really creative and unique. They display the King’s limitless imagination, but more importantly, they all turn upon issues of perception and illusion, both of the possibility of escape and in more general (and more interesting) terms. The victims are all constantly fed false impressions, and with them, false hope, which is a crushing blow for the soul, but these illusions also afflict the innocent inhabitants of the park. On my first reading, I didn’t appreciate the cleverness or intricacy of what Kirby is doing here, playing with themes of perception, as well as, building on the themes of the last issue, like the willingness of the crowd to accept comforting lies rather than face the reality of the world or their own responsibilities for it. While the scene with Darkseid and the park-goers may feel a tad out of character, it helps to cement the thematic thrust of the issue and the result is a surprisingly thoughtful tale. I’m really quite impressed.
This issue doesn’t suffer from the unevenness of the previous offering, and though it still has some awkward dialog, notably from the Forever People themselves, that problem isn’t as noticeable either. There isn’t a lot that really happens here, but it is interesting that Kirby indulges in an entire issue where the villains are ascendant. There’s no triumphant escape, no heroic defiance, nothing but defeat and despair. That’s very unusual, and it is effective at establishing the vicious evil of Desaad and the power of the Apokoliptian forces. The art is also impressive, possessing Kirby’s usual excellence, but he really outdoes himself on Desaad’s cruel, leering visage in several spots, as well as his boisterous portrayal of Happyland. I’ll give this surprisingly sophisticated comic 4 Minutemen. It’s worth reflecting on what illusions might be distorting our own view of the world.
P.S.: Notably, this issue came during the infamous price increase of the early 70s, when DC books went from .15¢ to .25¢, many of them adding reprints to make it up to the readers. Kirby’s book, for its part, added pin-ups of the Forever People which are fairly nice, as well as a Golden Age Sandman story penned by none other than Simon and Kirby, which is pretty cool.
G.I. Combat #149
“Leave the Fighting to Us”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor: Joe Kubert
“Last Man – Last Shot”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert
Editor: Robert Kanigher
Our issue of G.I. Combat this month is a very unusual one, featuring a subject not often tackled in Silver or Bronze Age comics, even war comics. The cover gives no real hint of the type of tale waiting within, though it is a fair ‘imminent peril’ image. The composition feels a bit unbalanced, though, perhaps because the tank is shoved out of center stage by the promotional box about Sgt. Rock. And, of course, it features the notorious yellow skies of classic comic covers.
The yarn with in starts with a bang, as Jeb and his crew discover a pair of G.I.s racing across a bridge in a jeep and falling prey to a Nazi fighter. The Haunted Tank leaps into action, racing against the death-dealing German warbird, and they finally manage to knock it out of the sky in a pretty nice sequence. Once they crash through the plane’s flaming wreckage (!), they discover that saved the jeep’s driver, but he is busy performing last rites for his passenger, and doing so in the Jewish fashion. This type of portrayal of other cultures and faiths was still pretty rare at the time, so this is a notable moment.
The driver, Sgt. Saul Levy, is a new tank commander for their unit, and he as saying the Kaddish, the Hebrew prayer for the dead over his fallen friend. Once they all reach the camp, Levy doesn’t really fit in, and he’s picked on by some of the other men. Fortunately, there are those who stick up for him.
When they go out on a mission the next day, they encounter a striking sight, and one rarely seen before in comics: a concentration camp victim, a living scarecrow and temporary survivor of Hitler’s “Final Solution.” That’s right, this comic actually portrays, in a Comic Code kind of way, the Holocaust, which is impressive and praiseworthy. Unfortunately, the escaped prisoner has used all of his strength, and after he tells the tankers about a concentration camp nearby, he breaths his last.
When they approach the camp, the two tanks are targeted by a pair of turrets, and Sgt. Levy makes a mad dash across the field to spike both guns. It’s a dramatic sequence, and the heroic deed earns the young commander the respect of his crew. They push their assault and destroy the guard towers protecting the camp, liberating the prisoners. The pitiful figures, starved and barely able to walk, shuffle out to meet the tankers, and among them Sgt. Levy finds his own uncle, David.
Just then, another Nazi fighter drops out of thy sky, guns blazing. Levy saves his uncle and knocks out the plane, but not before he is mortally wounded. The book ends with the old man tearfully pronouncing the Kaddish over his body, honoring him in the tradition of his faith. Meanwhile, Jeb prays for his fallen comrade in his own way.
This is a brief and bittersweet little tale, but it is remarkable for exposing, however slightly, the horrors of the Holocaust and focusing specifically on its impact on and importance for the Jewish community. It’s really interesting and fitting that our perspective character for this story, the one who saves the day and liberates the camp, is himself Jewish. For him, the camps are not some alien concept, a horror softened by distance and because it is happening to strangers. In fact, he finds a family member among the victims within the compound, making the tragedy personal as well as profound. Kanigher is employing a surprisingly light touch with Levy and with the subject matter in general, and the result is a striking and readable story. It both introduces readers briefly to the nature of the Holocaust and engages with antisemitism, demonstrating the dangers of such ignorance and the heroism of the people it targets. The only real flaw is that the Haunted Tank is pretty much a background figure in its own story, but that is acceptable every once in a while. Russ Heath’s art is pitch-perfect, as usual, capturing both the ‘blood and thunder’ action as well as the quiet, emotional moments, like the heart-rending image of the concentration victim’s death. I’ll give the story overall 4.5 Minutemen.
And with that unusual tale, we wrap up this batch of books. These are a surprisingly worthwhile set of comics, each more than meets the eye in different ways. I hope you enjoyed my commentary and that you will join me again soon, for another stop in our journey Into the Bronze Age! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!