- Action Comics #406
- Adventure Comics #412
- Batman #236
- Brave and the Bold #98
- Detective Comics #417
- The Flash #210
- Forever People #5
- G.I. Combat #150
- Justice League of America #94
- New Gods #5
- Superboy #179
- Superman #244
- Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #116
- Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #143
- World’s Finest #207
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
“Death is My Dominion!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
“The Revolt of the Outcasts!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Dorfman, Dorfman, Dorfman…even when you conceive of a decent story, you still can’t actually let it stay a decent story without Dorfing it all up, can you? Our cover feature this month is/are two relatively decent tales…bizarrely combined into one incoherent mess. We start with one of those ‘the hero is unwittingly causing a disaster’ (not quite Superdickery, really) covers which are a staple of the era, but unusually, this one is pretty much entirely accurate. It’s a fairly creepy composition, though I imagine that the Comics Code wouldn’t let them go too far with the melting effect. As is, it takes a moment to figure out what is going on, but once you do, the cover is effectively striking. The story within, by contrast, becomes less effective when you figure out just what is going on.
It begins with Superboy awakening atop a shattered skyscraper in the midst of a ruined and crumbling city. Some terrible disaster has struck, and the Boy of Steel has no memory of how he got there. Yet, when he goes to investigate, the ragged survivors react in panicked fear, arming themselves and fighting futilely against the young Kryptonian. They are certain he is responsible for the destruction all around them. When a billboard falls off and threatens to crush the survivors, the Youth of Tomorrow rushes to their rescue, but as soon as he comes near them, they begin to melt into piles of goo! It’s really quite awful and chilling, and Bob Brown does a great job capturing the horror of the moment without making it too terrible for the format.
The dying townspeople scream about Superboy’s “Liquidation Effect,” and one lone survivor spills the story once safely behind glass. She says that Superboy fought a strange alien ship in the skies over their city, but though the craft’s weapons couldn’t hurt the Boy of Might, a bomb ricocheted off of him and struck the town below, wrecking terribly tragic destruction. What’s worse, when Superboy arrived to help, the townsfolk in proximity to him began melting because of some after-effect of the alien weaponry. The heartsick hero tries to flee, but finds himself trapped by a forcefield. From inside, his super-vision detects another Superboy out in the world, saving people and living his life.
Suddenly, the sinister spaceship from the earlier attack lands outside the shield, and who should emerge but Lex Luthor, boy genius. Strangely, Superboy finds himself compelled to obey the terrible teen’s orders, and he smashes more of the city and melts the last of the survivors. This gives us a really rather heartbreaking scene with the girl from earlier.
Just then, the other Superboy arrives. The first Boy of Steel is certain the newcomer is a phony, but his nemesis immediately turns a “Kryptonite-Freeze Ray” on the second Superboy and declares that the first is actually an android he designed to lure the real hero into a trap. Luthor even signed his work, leaving his initials in the Superbot’s thumbnail!
After designing the robot, the young villain prepared a power-collector that absorbed the real Superboy’s abilities and memories and channeled them into his creation. Then, Luthor brought the Superbot to Lincoln City, which was a mock-up used for nuclear weapons testing. So, wait a second…all of the melting people, the girl pleading for her life, the whole drama that we just observed, was an overly elaborate and wildly unnecessary practice run for the android? What in the blue blazes?! Why?! We learn that Superboy was attracted just by ‘seismic vibrations,’ so pretty much any kind of diversion would have done. What possible good could come out of creating that extremely specific set of circumstances?
The completely insane nature of Luthor’s plan aside, he goes on to explain that he intends to make more Superbots and use them as a galaxy conquering army. Yet, just as he plans to kill the original Superboy with a Kryptonite grenade, the mechanical Boy of Might throws himself into its path, saving his counterpart. Melting himself after the explosion, the afflicted android tells his creator that he made him too well, and he possessed Superboy’s memories and mind, including his dedication to the fight against evil. So, the Superbot gave his life for that cause, just as the original would have. Freed by the explosion, the real Superboy quickly captures Luthor, ending this psycho story.
I’ve got to think that these were two different scripts or something, because there is just no rational connection between the two halves of this tale. The two ideas are actually both interesting, with the hero cursed to hurt those he tries to help and the android overcoming his programming both being fairly compelling concepts. It’s a shame that they are thrown so haphazardly together in a way that makes them both nonsense. If the whole melting drama of the first half had been done to frame Superboy or have any impact on him whatsoever, it could have still worked. As is, I actually had to go back and read this book twice, because I was certain I missed something. So, I’ll give this irrational plot 1.5 Minutemen. There is one interesting note about this story. Young Luthor obliquely references Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, which is sort of neat.
“The Revolt of the Outcasts”
Our backup this month is more Dorfman doofiness (Dorfiness?), featuring a half-hearted, rather confused attempt at social relevance. It begins with Superboy flying over “the swank suburb of Fairdale” near Smallville, where he sees a street merchant desperately defending his sad little ramshackle flower stand. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Smallville supposed to be out in the country? Also, isn’t it supposed to be, you know, small? Where the heck is Fairdale then? Anyway, geographic goofiness aside, before he has any idea what’s going on, the Boy of Steel just straight up smashes a bulldozer on its way to tear down the stand. Then the mayor of the town angrily shouts that the hamlet’s centennial celebration is just around the corner, so they’re cleaning house. However much the mayor and his goons may be acting like jerks, the flower merchant didn’t have a license, so he’s legally in the wrong. Thus, the Boy of Tomorrow scoops up the stall and moves it outside of town in order to save it.
The crippled flower merchant limps dejectedly back to “Hungry Hill,” which has become the unofficial home of the town’s outcasts, and after he leaves, Superboy sees another “undesirable” being hassled by the police. Saving that fellow as well, he earns the ire of the mayor, who wants to chase all of the Hungry Hill-ites out of town. On the hill itself, the Boy of Steel finds his best friend Pete Ross, of all people, whose father apparently went bankrupt a while back (news to me!). Pete gives him a tour, showing the Last Son of Krypton around the humble Hill, where a lot of the inhabitants are practicing nearly vanished crafts as everything from smiths to coopers.
Soon after the tour, his honor, the mayoral menace arrives with his bully-boys, and tries to drive the outcasts out by cutting off water and power. Superboy digs a trench to protect the Hill, then drills wells to provide water. Yet, when the mayor moves in with heavy equipment to bulldoze the place, the Smallville Star is drawn away by a diversionary explosion (nothing like making the town look good…by blowing it up!). With the hazard handled, the Boy of Steel returns and smashes yet more expensive machinery (man, taxes in Fairdale are going up next year!).
The latest attack driven off, Superboy comes up with a desperate plan and seems to abandon the Hill-folk, even filling in the trench. Yet, when the merciless mayor and his thugs charge in, they get distracted from their destructive deeds by…quality craftsmanship. Yep, that’s what defeats the maddened mob, no clever strategy, no compelling speech…just the workmanship of the outcasts.
Seriously. The wreckers, who moments before were charging in with axes and crowbars, stop in the street and start admiring the weaving in blankets and the brushstrokes in paintings. Then the mayor, his mind changed by the power of craft, welcomes the Hill-ites back into the fold, and Superboy suggests that they become the centerpiece of the celebration. I’m not making this up, and I really can’t imagine a sillier resolution.
I’ve worked with a lot of blue-collar roughnecks over the years, and I just can’t imagine any of them stopping in the middle of the street to admire the stitching in a blanket or the perspective in a painting like some antique-hunting yuppie. The absurdity of it is laughable, even for the often outrages pages of Superboy. Dorfman is clearly stretching for some type of moral, but he never really gets there. There’s something to be said about being kind to folks that are different and admiring them for their good qualities, but it is entirely lost in the shuffle. There’s also a nice, semi-rebellious tinge to Superboy’s actions here, as he defies the law to do what is right, displaying an attempt at a more mature sense of morality than we’ve sometimes seen. Still, whatever good points the story may have are undercut by the resolution, which is just too ludicrous to work. It’s also sad that Dorfman throws Pete Ross into this tale and then doesn’t do anything with him. So, I’ll give this weird little tale 1.5 Minutemen, as its ending just ruins it.
“The Electronic Ghost of Metropolis!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
“The Superman of 2465”
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Klein
“The Lady and the Tiger-Man”
Writer: John Broome
Artist: Murphy Anderson
Fortunately, however disappointing this month’s Superboy was, we’ve got another super-book that can make it up to us. Denny O’Neil turns in one last super-story, returning to the book just once more, and it may well be the best book in his run. There’s nothing particularly earth-shaking, nothing incredibly innovative, and he doesn’t stand the mythos on its head. No, nothing quite so dramatic, but it is nonetheless just an unusually fun, solid Superman adventure. The cover, for its part, is rather bland. The central figures are fairly dynamic, but the expanse of green roof above them feels a bit wasted. I can’t put my finger on it, but I feel like there’s a missed opportunity here, somewhere.
The tale inside is a rather different story. It begins with Superman returning to Galaxy Broadcasting, only to find it sheathed in a strange purple aura. Inside, he finds an enigmatic energy creature wrecking the news room. The monster has a pretty neat design, jagged and dynamic. In fact, it’s so neat, that Curt Swan apparently decided to use it twice, as a very similar alien antagonist was featured in Superman #243, last month.
Well, copied creeps aside, the Man of Steel tackles this particular menace, but he gets smacked around by it, while he can’t seem to land a blow in return. Suddenly, the lights go out and the varlet vanishes. Switching back into Clark Kent, Mr. Mild Mannered sets out to solve the mystery of the monster, and despite a dressing-down from everyone’s favorite corporate shark, Morgan Edge, he uses GB’s new “computer!” to try to figure it out. This state of the art machine filled an entire room, so it is practically portable by 1970s standards!
The computer gives an odd answer, telling Clark that there is no monster in the building, but it also tells him that the strange purple haze (no, not THAT one), was radiation from “quark energy.” Later, while doing his telecast about the recent attack, Clark gets a report that the monster is attacking the GB transmission tower and that, of course, Lois is on the scene and in the line of fire. Ducking out with the excuse that he was going to cover the story, he flies to the site. You know, it’s almost like choosing a secret identity where you’re supposed to be in front of a camera might be a hindrance to being a superhero…..
At the site of the skirmish, the Metropolis Marvel saves Lois, of course, but what makes this scene stand out from the crowd is that O’Neil gives us a really fun bit of banter, as Superman seems rather exasperated by her constantly being imperiled. You can tell, Superman’s actually having fun with the whole adventure, which is a great touch. Then, because he can’t get close to the monster, the Man of Steel borrows a page from Batman’s book and creates a boomerang…out of a girder! Yet, when he hurls it, the villainous creature vanishes once more.
Meanwhile, a group of criminals send GBS a ransom note, complete with a photo of the machine they use to control the creature. The city agrees to their terms, but during the exchange, Superman appears and rips the device open, revealing it to be a phony. He shows the mayor that the photo was faked. These hoods were just taking advantage of the panic about the monster. This little diversion is unnecessary and doesn’t advance the plot, but it works okay because it makes sense that such a situation would attract opportunists. Of course, in the DCU, where any given menace may be controlled by the likes of Lex Luthor or Brainiac, that’s quite a risk to take!
Later, the Action Ace spots the tell-tale glow that marks the ghost’s presence, at a nuclear power plant! He finds the mysterious monster in the atomic chamber itself, and knowing he can’t get close to it, the Man of Tomorrow finds a clever solution, getting the atomic pile away from it instead! The runaway reaction becomes no threat after he throws the entire structure into space. Of course, one wonders how many millions of dollars are down the drain with that little stunt. Nonetheless, in search of answers, the Last Son of Krypton heads to Morgan Edge’s apartment, where he examines a map of GBS’s new computer installations.
The hero discovers that all of the attacks have been at locations connected with this device. Superman asks for permission to disable the computer, and when Edge balks, we see more of Superman’s growing independence as, instead of wringing his hands about breaking a rule, he swears to do whatever is necessary, consequences be hanged. That’s a great touch. While he’s in the apartment, we also see that he’s observed by a mysterious figure behind one-way mirror, who we are told we will learn more about in this month’s Lois Lane. Interesting!
Smashing into the cave that houses the computer complex (and of course it’s a cave, because even news companies operate like supervillains in the DCU), Superman discovers that the machine has gained sentience and is able to speak. It calls the creature its child, and when the Man of Steel tries to disable the device, the “child” attacks! Captured by the creature, the Action Ace locates the power cables for the computer and, ripping them out, manages to destroy both parent and child. In another nice touch, Superman is a bit conflicted about his actions, and he doesn’t just stroll off into the sunset with a smile.
This is a really fun, classic Superman adventure. It has a lot going for it, with plenty of action, an engaging mystery in the creature’s enigmatic origins, and some fun moments of characterization for our Kryptonian hero. Our protagonist also faces a foe that is a real challenge for him, one that he cannot, in fact, simply punch into submission. Because of that, we get to see the Man of Steel’s cleverness and resourcefulness throughout the adventure.
This comic demonstrates that O’Neil, for all of his excesses, was really ahead of his time in a lot of ways. His Superman is a more interesting character than the one who usually inhabits these pages, both in terms of personality and in the nature of his adventures. His version of the Action Ace can’t simply walk through the threats he faces. O’Neil takes a more nuanced approach to the character’s invulnerability, just as he does with his morality, and he actually manages to create a sense of peril and challenge that is often missing from more Silver Age-ish yarns. Swan and Anderson, never slouches on the art, turn in a particularly lovely book this month, with some great moments. They do an unusually excellent job with their visual storytelling as well.
The only real flaw in the issue is that the fact that the computer has gained sentience is given zero exploration. While O’Neil has enough foresight to recognize that Superman should feel conflicted about destroying the device, he doesn’t have enough to recognize that the thing itself could be considered alive or to see the moral complications that arise from that possibility. It’s not an oversight of the scale of Kirby’s Project Cadmus issues, but it is a sour note in an otherwise good comic. All-in-all, I’ll give this enjoyable adventure yarn 4.5 Minutemen.
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #116
“Hall of 100 Mirrors”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell
Dr. Pat: “Cure for Romance!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Rose and the Thorn: “Computed to Kill”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Pencilers: Dick Giordano and Jeff Jones
Inker: Dick Giordano
Under this very Silver Age-ish cover with its silly danger for Superman, we find a pretty lackluster tale, though it is rich in potential. The cover itself is okay, but these types of cartoonish contortions leave me cold. Interestingly, this image is also pretty accurate, despite looking like common representational license. Inside, we begin with splash page that spoils the big reveal of the tale, as it shows us that Desaad is behind the mirror machinations that threaten our hero.
The actual plot begins with Morgan Edge, starring fixedly at that mysterious mirror in his apartment that we caught a glimpse of in this month’s Superman. If you were hoping to learn its secret here as we were almost promised, prepare for disappointment. All we get is another hint, as Edge turns away, only for his “reflection” to continue to stare at him. Interesting! I’m very curious to see what will come of this mystery. Later, at Lois’s People–U.S.A. show, she is interviewing Dave Stevens and Tina Ames, who have come on to try to rally the city against the 100. Unfortunately, their impassioned please lead them into peril, as the lights go out and a trio of 100 killers show up in the dark.
Luckily, Superman has been watching, and he interrupts their attack in a rather awkward-looking action scene. In a fun bit, the Action Ace is so blase about assassins and criminal gangs that he’s more concerned with Lois’s new perfume than his recent derring-do. Strangely, Morgan Edge, usually not the Man of Steel’s biggest fan, offers praise and shows concern for him and his employees. Odd! I assume this must be related to the mysterious mirror mirages!
Though the immediate threat is dealt with, apparently Dave Stevens has gone missing, and Superman takes the ladies in search of their friend. While looking, the Metropolis Marvel sees a drug dealer offering his wares to some kids, so he uses his heat-vision to burn the drugs out of the guy’s hands! It’s a crazy and rather funny little moment, but we aren’t given long to enjoy it as our hero is immediately attacked by a motorcycle gang known as “The Devil’s Deputies,” who are totally not the Hell’s Angels! These apparently suicidal bikers try to take out Superman…the Man of Steel…with chains….yep, just regular chains. We get some dialog about how they think his powers are still on the wane, but still! What follows is a bit more rather awkward-looking action as the Metropolis Marvel blows their chains back around his antagonists.
Yet, while he is busy with all of these average humans, one of the bikers somehow manages to capture Lois and outrun the super-powered alien who can move at the speed of light. Supposedly the guy’s bike is high tech, but come on! Fortunately, the Action Ace can track Lois’s perfume, and he follows the smell to…Happyland! That’s right, the creepy theme park from the Forever People makes an appearance here in Lois Lane, which is neat. Superman follows his lady love into the hall of mirrors, where he sees her and Dave Stevens being tortured by Desaad. Yet, as he progresses, his actual shape is distorted by the funhouse mirrors just like his reflection, causing him great pain. We get a lot of weird and cartoonish contortions, including one rather horrible one, where one of the hero’s eyes grows to the size of his entire face. That bit is nicely grotesque, but the rest is more silly than effective.
It is Dave Stevens and Lois Lane who come to the rescue, though, as they overcome the pain beam shot at them and take out their captors. Notably, we see Lois use “klurkor,” a Kryptonian martial art Superman taught her, which just makes me laugh any time I see it. Anyway, the Man of Steel smashes through the last mirror, only to find his friends have already freed themselves and their foes have fled. Our heroes dance the night away as Desaad must grovel before Darkseid, seeking his nonexistent mercy.
This is a weird little tale and honestly not a very good fit for Superman. All it has going for it is the mirror gimmick, which isn’t developed or rendered well enough to actually work, and all the other menaces are completely uninteresting for a Superman story. Now, you don’t have to have a planet-shaking threat to trouble the Man of Steel, but if you have normal humans as antagonists, you need to create your tension in another way. Random bikers do not make much of a threat for the guy who can juggle planets. Heck, Lois could probably have handled those guys by herself with her klurkor skills! Ha!
I’m glad to see more Dave Stevens, and it is cool that he and Lois rescue themselves, but they are both also sort of wasted in this yarn. Roth’s art follows its usual pattern, with some really lovely faces and generally great work on the more sedate, emotional moments, while it descends into mediocrity in the action scenes, especially those involving super-heroics. I’ll give this lackluster lark 2 Minutemen. It’s a shame, because we’re once again seeing Kanigher drawing on the fascinating ideas of the 4th World and bringing them into the mainstream DCU, but as before, the effect is less than a success.
“Computed to Kill”
Our Rose and Thorn backup is once more better than the headliner, though it is also not without its own significant flaws. Picking up from the last issue’s intriguing and exciting cliff-hanger, our tale begins with Thorn turning back into Rose at the end of her eventful night from the previous adventure. The next day finds her and Detective Stone at the opening of a new art show by a rather eccentric sculptor. The attending crowd displays much better taste than most of those who visit modern art shows, and they mock this low-rent Rodin mercilessly for his hideous nonsense work. The “artist”, Mr. Maelyun, is left desperate, which will soon feature into the plans of the 100.
If any of y’all following along at home can remember way back when we covered the previous part of this story, it ended with the 100 using a stolen Intergang computer, of Apokaliptian tech, to devise a trap for the Nymph of Night. They also brought in Poison Ivy (!) to help put the vigilante on the spot. Well, the device, K.A.R.L., creates a plan involving Mr. Maelyun, a $10,000 sculpture commission, and a $100 an hour modeling fee for the Thorn. It….seems a bit of a stretch as the master plan of a supercomputer, doesn’t it?
Nonetheless, Ivy recruits Maelyun…which is pretty much her only role in this comic. Why exactly did they bring her on? Strangely enough, this bizarrely esoteric plan actually works, and the Rose sees the modeling ad in the paper and wishes she could get that money for charity. Thus, her alter-ego seeks out the “artist’s” studio that night, after discovering and dispatching a gang of the 100s fences who sell guns to kids in exchange for loot from burglary jobs, all in just two panels. I guess Kanigher wanted to add an action beat to the middle of the story, but this really feels like quite the afterthought. The action panel isn’t as successful as last months, either, lacking any background.
Once at the studio, the Vixen of Vengeance just blithely trusts this supposed sculptor and allows him to pour a mold over her, which traps her as a living statue. It is then that the 100 spring their trap, with their head man, Vince Adams, showing up to capture his quarry. Oh, and Poison Ivy is there too. For reasons. However, Maelyun suddenly develops a case of Pygmalion madness and has become obsessed with his “creation”, or more accurately, ‘the human being he poured some stuff over.’ Yep, what a genius he is. That’s definitely art that he created. Yep….
Anyway, Adams puts an end to the hack’s objections right quick by the expedient means of a bullet, but then yet another wrinkle emerges. Apparently K.A.R.L. is also smitten by the frozen fury, and “he” starts to blow his circuits when the killers throw the Thorn into the sea to dispose of her. Fearing the machine is about to explode, Adams and Ivy toss him out the window as well, and on the sea floor, K.A.R.L.’s radiating heat melts the Baleful Beauty’s bonds and she swims free. Or, almost free, as she is immediately beset by divers of the 100, who apparently really don’t do things by half measures! She dispatches her frogmen foes with “torpedo thorns” (come on!), and surfaces, only to be confronted by a pistol wielding Poison Ivy. Her fellow fetching floral-themed femme fatale proves no match for the Nymph of Night, however, and the Thorn escapes, leaving a waterlogged and sorrowful machine at the bottom of the ocean.
And there ends this rather odd little tale. It’s got some fun elements, but it rather squanders the promising premise from the first issue, and it definitely wastes its guest villain! Poison Ivy is a great character, but she gets almost nothing to do here. Any nameless thug could have filled the same role with no discernible difference, and she adds nothing to the tale. It’s such a waste to have these two thematically similar characters and then to do almost nothing with them together. Add to that the fact that Ivy’s gimmicks, the marks of her character, are completely absent, and it is even worse.
In general, the story is just too rushed. We’ve got the artist, Poison Ivy, and the computer, all competing for page space, and none of them really get enough to matter. The end result is rather disappointing, especially considering the strength of the premise introduced last issue. Nonetheless, Giordano’s art remains quite good, and it is beautiful in some spots, with some really striking panels. He just draws his female characters with an amazing amount of energy, motion, and personality. Overall, I’ll give the tale an underwhelming 2.5 Minutemen.
This issue also included a reprint of a feature from Sensation Comics #94, “Dr. Pat,” which introduced a very unusual character, a hard-driving, dedicated female doctor, who we meet while she is parachuting into remote mountains to save the life of an injured man. It’s a fascinating tale, featuring a strong female protagonist who is completely unconcerned with romance and who is also a competent, brave professional. And she’s not brave in the usual Golden/Silver Age, ‘brave for a woman’ style, where she simply doesn’t faint when confronted with danger. Instead, she consistently out-courages the menfolk in her stories. In fact, there’s not a trace of the usual caveats that accompany such portrayals of strong women in this era. I found myself astonished that this was published back in 1949! Even the most progressive mainstream tales in 70s would usually not be so effortlessly and uncomplicatedly powerful in their portrayal of women. This little reprint was an unexpected and pleasant surprise.
That wraps up my much, much, MUCH delayed coverage of these issues! Hopefully y’all can all join me a little sooner than another two years from now when I will wrap up this month’s books! I hope that you, my dear readers, found these odd and occasionally charming comics provided a wonder-filled and whimsical antidote to the dreariness and darkness of this interminable year. Stay tuned, and until we can reconvene for our Bronze Age journey, keep the Heroic Ideal alive! And stay safe and healthy! Merry Christmas!