Into the Bronze Age: October 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  The world seems quite intent on falling to pieces around us, but let’s take a little time to look back at a simpler era and a better class of comic.  The big news in this edition is the finale of the (in)famous GL/GA drug story, but we’ve got a couple of other interesting books to keep that one company.

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 #405
  • Adventure Comics #411
  • Detective Comics #416
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86
  • Mr. Miracle #4
  • Phantom Strange #15
  • Superboy #178
  • Superman #243
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #115
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142
  • Teen Titans #35

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


Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86


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“They Say It’ll Kill Me… But They Won’t Say When”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

That’s right, at long last (longer because of my travels and distractions!) we come to the end of the GA/GL drug two-parter.  It’s a famous issue, and we examined why with the first one.  As we saw, these issues certainly deserve their iconic status, whatever flaws they may have, and I was surprised by how much better the first issue was than I remembered.  I was in for a similar shock with this story, which is a much more even-keeled offering than its predecessor.  We don’t have as many heavy-handed and goofy moments here as we did in the last one.  Even the cover has a touch more dignity…which is not to say it isn’t a bit over the top as well.  In fact, it is wonderfully, ridiculously melodramatic, especially with its bold tag-line.  I love Green Lantern’s ‘curse the heavens’ pose as well.  Still, it is effective, striking, and memorable, especially with the faces of the various drug victims making up the background.

Unfortunately, the touching image of Green Arrow carrying the fallen form of his ward isn’t quite what greets us inside, where things start off with a bang…or more accurately, a backhand.  Ollie follows up Roy’s dramatic confession from last issue with a smack to the face and a heavy dose of vitriol.  It’s a really stunning moment, and O’Neil hits us with it right out of the gate.  To see a hero, in his right mind, treat a faltering friend like this in 1971 was practically unprecedented.  It serve’s O’Neil’s purpose, immediately casting the Emerald Archer’s merciless dismissal of his surrogate son’s suffering in the worst light.  Unfortunately, he overplays his hand once more, and the result is a further stain on Ollie’s already fairly blackened character, though it is consistent with the strong views he evinced in the last issue.  It’s just an ugly moment, not helped by the fact that Roy isn’t at his most sympathetic after his weak story last issue.

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Speedy mocks his mentor for his violent response, hitting him with a major guilt trip, and Arrow throws the kid out.  Then we get a moment which ALMOST addresses some of the flaws of the previous story, as the Battling Bowman ponders the situation and points out that, even though he hadn’t paid his ward much attention lately, the kid shouldn’t have needed much at his age, being in college and all.  Then O’Neil once again turns Ollie’s jerk dial to 11, as, from that, he concludes that he is completely “innocent of blame,” which is a self-righteousness and self-deception that is breathtaking, even for O’Neil’s Green Arrow.  Still, in all of this melodrama, there is some realism.

After concluding that he’s father of the year after all, the Emerald Archer sets out to take revenge on the pushers who he blames instead, heading to the airfield where he previously traced their supply to pick the investigation back up.  Meanwhile the two junkies who betrayed our heroes last issue come to Ollie’s place looking for Speedy and, not finding him, decide to shoot up their reward.  The drugs are pure, and one of them overdoses in what is, admittedly, a pretty good scene, though Adams perhaps overdoes the revelation a bit.

Later, we find Hal Jordan still running through previous events, unable to shake the feeling that there is something wrong with Speedy, and when he heads to GA’s to check on the kid, he finds the junkie and begins his own investigation.  Ollie, for his part, turns the table on a guard at the airport who gets the drop on him and is sent into a trap for his troubles.  It’s a nice scene, emphasizing both his anger and his skill, that he’s still dangerous, even with a busted wing.

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In the meantime, the Emerald Gladiator finds Speedy passed out in an alley and discovers the truth.  They have an almost decent conversation, though O’Neil overdoes the youth’s rhetoric a bit.  The generation gap stuff he spouts is a little problematic given the fact that most of the members of the previous generation Roy knows are freaking paragons of virtue.  Nonetheless, Hal’s measured response and kindness is a very pleasant departure from his stupidity and naivete from early in the run.  The ring-slinger takes the kid to Dinah’s house for sanctuary.

On the docks, where the Battling Bowman has followed the guard’s tip into trouble, he finds the thugs he tangled with at the airport last issue.  We get a nice fight scene, with Arrow still holding his own, but it ends with him getting knocked out.  When he comes to, we meet the man behind the drug operation, a wealthy socialite named Saloman, whose massive yacht, stuffed full of important people, is just leaving.  He tells his men to dump the antagonistic archer into the drink as soon as he’s away.

green lantern 086 018Adams gives us a fantastic image of Ollie’s plight, as he’s tossed overboard tied to an anchor, but the hero manages to grab an acetylene arrow and cut through the chains, making a desperate and dramatic escape.  Just then, the Lantern arrives and disposes of the thugs with some green gorillas.  As they pursue the head honcho, Speedy is busy going through withdrawals, aided by Black Canary’s quiet compassion in another good sequence, improved by a lack of dialog.

In the Caribbean, Saloman Hooper visits his pharmaceutical lab, where he picks up a suitcase worth of dope (which doesn’t seem like enough to justify the scope of his operation), only to be caught in the act by the Green Team.  While Ollie takes out the mogul’s minion with a one-armed arrow shot (shades of Dark Knight Returns!), Hal tosses his friend his ring in order to deal with Hooper with his own two hands.  This is actually a pretty believable, satisfying moment, unlike the book’s tendency to have the Lantern just decide that he needs to use his fists to feel like a man.  He’s angry, and he takes it out on this privileged punk, but he has enough self control to do it ‘unofficially,’ so to speak, like a cop putting aside his badge to do something that needs doing but which falls outside of the law.  Notably, Arrow calls him on this afterward.

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The issue ends with the funeral of the junkie who overdosed, where Hal and Ollie are joined by Dinah and a recovered Roy.  Unfortunately, the newly clean Titan is in no mood to mend fences, and he lashes out at his former guardian, giving a speech about how people like him, who lack compassion, are contributing to the crisis that so many young people face.  As Speedy walks away from the closest thing to family that he has, Green Arrow finds himself proud that the boy has become a man.

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That final scene isn’t as heavy-handed as I remember, though the melodrama still sets my teeth on edge a bit.  What’s worse, it leaves the situation between our hero and his surrogate son unresolved and embittered.  That’s a shame, and this story’s consequences will be deep and long-felt.  On the whole though, this is actually quite a good issue, sensitive and perceptive, but also an engaging and exciting adventure, with some real, if sometimes discordant, character development to go with it.  Once again, the message of compassion and understanding towards drug addicts is powerful, and the theme of empathy, learning to see things from someone else’s perspective, is effective and an interesting continuation of O’Neil’s better efforts in this run.  I think the story itself would have been a bit more effective if we had met our villain a bit earlier, as he’s mostly just a convenient and morally acceptable punching bag, an outlet for outrage and despair.  Still, O’Neil manages to make the guy loathsome in very little space.  Roy’s sudden and complete recovery is more than a little silly, in regards to the reality of addiction, but I suppose allowances can be made for the medium.

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Adams’ art continues to be beautiful and compelling, really capturing the emotion and the power of the moments he portrays.  And yet, even with that focus on drama, he manages to give us some fun and funny moments, like with Ollie’s expression during his impromptu dive.  Once again, we see Adams’ power with a more intimate, personal story.  I just love his portrayal of Ollie.  Characters of that scale are really what he excels at, which is part of why his Batman run is so legendary.  All in all, this is a very good story, only slightly damaged by O’Neil’s excesses and his lack of forethought.  It is an important comic, culturally, and its themes and subject were incredibly groundbreaking in its time.  Heck, we’re still fighting some of these battles, and a story that reminds us of the humanity of those who are suffering is still relevant, perhaps moreso these days than in recent years.  I’ll give this milestone issue 4.5 Minutemen out of 5.  It isn’t perfect, but it really is a good one.

P.S.: To mark just how important his comic book was, it carries a copy of a letter from the Mayor of New York, commending the creative team for their work and pointing out the seriousness of the drug crisis.

 


Mister Miracle #4


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“The Closing Jaws of Death!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Jack Kirby

“The Romance of Rip Carter”
Writers: Jack Kirby and Joe Simon
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon

“Jean Lafitte: ‘Pirate or Patriot?'”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Jack Kirby

We’ve got another marvel-packed issue of Mister Miracle here, and, as always, I was excited to read it, especially after the pulse-pounding excitement of last issue’s Paranoid-packed pandemonium.  Sadly, this one doesn’t quite live up to the thrill of the first half, though it does introduce us to a wonderful character and an important part of Scott Free’s supporting cast.  It’s got another great cover, like most of this series, though one wonders how our escape-artist hero gets from being locked in a trunk to tortured in a medieval dungeon.  The answer is, of course, Kirby madness.  Nonetheless, we get another death-defying scene in this cover, memorable and exciting, beautifully rendered by the King.

Inside, we don’t start with the miraculous one plummeting to his death, still locked in that suitcase, but back at his home, where a fretting Oberon finds himself with an uninvited guest.  A fierce and outlandishly armored warrior woman appears behind him, jarring the loyal fellow from his reverie rather violently.  She declares herself a friend of Scott Free and demands to know where he is, mentioning they both come from Apokolips.  When Oberon mentions Doctor Bedlam, the newly introduced Barda suddenly teleports after her friend, fearing for his life.

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Now we pick up where we left off, and Scott’s situation looks hopeless, but Barda appears in a flash of light and catches his suitcase in a feat of strength, casually ripping it apart, ropes and all, only to reveal that it is…empty!  Wonderfully, we don’t see how the eminent escape artist pulled off this trick just yet; instead, we see him perched on a balcony several floors up, where he is quickly swarmed by more crazed civilians.  They think he is a vampire and attempt to stake him, but Mr. Miracle is too slick for them, and eludes his pursuers in several fun pages, even sliding down the banister of the staircase like Errol Flynn.

mrmiracle-12Suddenly, he’s attacked by refugees from a Robin Hood picture, as a bunch of guys in medieval costumes capture the hero.  They drag him into a dungeon, which turns out to be a set in the Galaxy Broadcasting TV studio, conveniently located on this level.  Inside is a director, even nuttier than most, who directs his men to kill the interloper so that his death-throes can make for good television!  Despite his struggles, Scott is forced into an iron maiden, and all seems lost as the lid slams shut.  The whole scene is fun but utterly crazy.  It reads like a Fantastic Four issue from the era where Stan and Jack weren’t talking to each other and Stan was thrown into narrative gymnastics in an attempt to explain the bizarre and unrelated images Jack created as his imagination ran away with him.  However, this time, there’s nobody to blame for the sudden shift and strange explanation other than Kirby himself.  I guess he just wanted to draw an iron maiden, so he shoe-horned the setting in, logic be darned!

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Back in our original office-building setting, Barda is getting attacked herself.  She casually rips a stone column out of the lobby and tosses it onto a half dozen men, almost certainly crushing them all to death.  Despite Mr. Miracle’s insistence that she stay out of this so that his deal with Bedlam could be honored, she is worried, so she pursues her friend, smashing her way through the overly-excited extras in the process in a really nice panel.  Yet, when she pries open the torture device, it is empty, and Scott casually strolls up and greets her.  Once again, we don’t find out how he accomplished this yet, establishing a running joke in the issue.

The two press on, confronting the disembodied energy-form of their antagonist in another nice sequence.  Bedlam promises to unleash the entire fury of the building’s trapped inhabitants upon the pair, but the next thing we see is them teleport back home, greeting a worried Oberon and catching up.  The dialog in this section is pretty rough and stilted, especially when Scott awkwardly declares: “Maximum is the word for you, Barda!  I could never think of you without deep and genuine fondness.”  I know that line just makes the ladies swoon!  From the start, Barda and Oberon are sparring verbally which, despite the dull dialog, is still fun.  We learn that Barda helped her friend escape, but she didn’t go with him, and now she’s an officer in Darkseid’s Female Furies, as everyone helpfully spouts exposition.

In a fun little scene, Scott takes the domestic roll, preparing dinner for Barda, which is really striking in a comic from 1971.  That’s honestly somewhat groundbreaking.  I doubt you’d ever see Superman making dinner for Lois Lane!  It also establishes the unusual dynamic between these two characters.  As he works, the heroic homemaker reluctantly explains to his assistant how he escaped from the various traps he faced.  We’re introduced to the ‘multi-cube’, Scott’s multi-purpose escape tool, which will become a common feature of his stories, if I remember correctly.  Mr. Miracle used it to cut his way out of the trunk as it twisted in mid-air, which works pretty well as an explanation.

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Unfortunately, the other stories aren’t nearly as good.  He used a fast-acting acid on the back of the iron maiden and literally just stepped through it, which apparently no-body noticed.  Even more problematic, he literally presses the ‘off’ button on all of the panicked people in the tower, putting them to sleep with his multi-cube and just waltzing out the front door.  Okay……why not just do that in the first place?  That’s a pretty massively unsatisfying conclusion, which is a shame, because this is otherwise a really fun issue.  The yarn ends with Barda showing up for dinner, having changed out of her armor into something a tad more revealing, leaving Oberon picking his jaw up off the floor.

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This is a solid adventure, despite its glaring deus ex machina, though it is primarily worthwhile for introducing Big Barda, who will eventually become Scott’s partner and wife, creating one of the great comic relationships and partnerships.  Mr. Miracle without Barda is like Nick without Nora, and she is, even from this first appearance, a unique and interesting character, further credit to Kirby’s boundless creativity.  In addition, I absolutely love Scott’s laughing, devil-may-care attitude throughout the story, the extra element of flair and style to his antics, which really capture his personality and are part of why I love the character.  I also quite like the running gag of not explaining his escapes right away, however flawed the execution is here.  Hopefully Kirby will make better use of it in the future.

Art-wise, we’re seeing some rough panels again with this issue, and I think Colletta’s impact is still being felt.  On the plus side, it seems we get a new inker next issue!  Despite some weaknesses, especially with inking and coloring, there are some wonderful panels and some fun, dynamic sequences throughout.  Ultimately, I’m quite torn on the score.  This issue’s flaws are significant, especially the dialog and weak conclusion, but it is also a lot of fun.  I suppose I’ll be generous and go with 3.5 Minutemen, as the comic is carried along by the interest of Barda and the fun of Scott.

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The Phantom Stranger #15


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“The Iron Messiah”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler/Inker: Jim Aparo
Colourist/Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“I Battled for the Doom Stone”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: Alex Toth
Inker: Alex Toth

“Satan’s Sextet”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Tony DeZuniga
Inker: Tony DeZuniga

“I Scout Earth’s Strangest Secrets”
Writer: Jack Miller
Penciler: Mort Meskin
Inker: Mort Meskin

What a wildly, wonderfully ridiculous cover image.  It’s gloriously strange and unusual and so very, very much something that could only happen in comics.  We’ve got an African witch doctor raising a zombie…but not just any zombie, a ROBO-zombie, complete with stainless-steel robo-zombie Afro, all while the shadow of the Phantom Stranger looms in the background.  It’s a thing of mad beauty, and I love it.  It’s beautifully illustrated by Adams, and it absolutely grabs your attention.  Could you honestly say you could see that image on the newsstand and NOT want to figure out what in the blue blazes is happening inside?  If so, I can only assume you’re an imagination-less wreck of a human being.

The story within doesn’t quite live up to the glory of the robo-zombie cover, but then, how could it?  It is an interesting and unusual one, though, and it begins, not with necromantic robotics (more’s the pity), but with a young African scientist named John Kweli, who is returning to his native country after having been educated in the West.  Suddenly, the train on which he’s traveling derails in a fiery crash, and the brilliant man would have died, if not for a Stranger pulling him from the wreckage.  Kewli awakens in the home of an old friend, Ororo (no, not that one).  She has treated his injuries, but she also bears bad news, his father, the tribal chief, has died.

John is prepared to come home and take over his responsibilities as chief, but he’s met with resentment for having gone away to be educated and built a life overseas.  His people feel like he abandoned them, including the lovely Ororo.  He also finds things greatly changed, with signs of unrest and oppression everywhere, barbed-wire and troops abound.  Ngumi, the village shaman also rejects John, promising that Chuma, the Warrior God, will free his people without the young man’s help.

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Ororo tells her friend about what has happened in his absence, that though their country has been liberated, they are now enslaved to the interests of big foreign business.  Driving away, John and Ororo encounter a lion and wreck their jeep.  The young scientist bravely prepares to sacrifice his life to lure the beast away, only to have the Phantom Stranger leap out of nowhere to tackle the feline fiend in magical fashion.

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The next day, Kewli goes to visit Amos Trent, the oil company’s man on the ground, but Trent isn’t interested in his pleas or his threats, so the young scientist decides to take matters into his own hands, so of course he builds a robot.  Some time later, a group of soldiers who are abusing the villagers are scattered, not by John, but by “Chuma”, the Iron Messiah, the android John has used his scientific skill to build in order to rally his people.  Over the next weeks, Chuma trains the villagers in the ways of war, and Ngumi, the shaman is revealed as an agent of the oil company.

Unfortunately, even iron will can be bent by such a burden, and Chuma begins to develop human feelings…and human frailties.  He declares his love for Ororo, and when she rejects him, saying she loves his creator instead, the Iron Messiah rejects his role as savior and leaves the people to the fate.  It is here that the Phantom Stranger intervenes once again, convincing the automaton that the only way to prove he is a being with a soul is to choose to help his people, to be better than jealousy and spite.  Back at the village, the government troops have attacked, and John has rallied the people, but they are losing without the power of Chuma to inspire and aid them.

Chuma charges into the battle, turning the tide, but his help comes at a terrible cost, as he shoots his creator in the back in a fit of jealousy, only to be witnessed and called out by Ororo.  The people reject their Iron Messiah and destroy him, thanks again to the Phantom Stranger, who leaves, pondering the enigma that is life and giving a speech about not “tampering in God’s domain.

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It’s…a little abrupt, really, and rather grim.  These 14 pages pack a whole lot in, and Len Wein has a very interesting story to tell…I’m just not entirely sure he’s finished telling it.  We get a robot who develops human feelings, including hatred who turns on his creator, a full on Frankenstein, but it is also sharing space with a story about the exploitation of Africa.  There’s just too much in too little space.  Chuma literally goes from his creation to his renunciation of his purpose in three pages, and John, who has until then been our protagonist, almost drops out of the story at that point.  The Stranger’s attempt at a moral just feels extremely tacked on, though it certainly has potential.  In the end, what exactly was the point of the Stranger’s intervention?  Was it to free the natives from both the outsiders and from their superstitions?  Whatever it is, it needs more development.  The whole thing is cramped, but it is also intriguing in a number of ways.

It is really noteworthy that we have a story set in ‘darkest Africa’ where the natives are not portrayed as ignorant savages, despite their belief and hope in Chuma.  Even more, the natives are not rescued by a white outsider.  Instead, the hero is a black man, and a black scientist at that, who succeeds, not through brute force, but through intelligence and cleverness.  That’s still very much a rarity in any media in 1971, much more so in comics.  We also have another example of the depredations of faceless corporations, as the oil company is pretty unambiguously evil here.  That is a sign of things to come, I’d wager.

The whole tale is beautifully illustrated by Aparo, who is handling all of the art chores.  He gives us some really striking panels and pages, and the art has a nice sense of drama, especially with Chuma.  I’ll give this rushed, slightly muddled story 3 Minutemen, as its strengths and weaknesses somewhat even out.

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“Satan’s Sextet”


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If you thought robo-messiahs were strange, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Our Dr. Thirteen backup this month is in the style that I think works best, with the good Doctor doing his ghost-breaking on his own, without tangling with the Stranger.  Nonetheless, this particular outing isn’t exactly a home run.  It begins promisingly and strangely enough, with a group of seemingly sinister musicians leading a line of dancers into the sea, where they presumably drown, only for the band to emerge later, still playing.  Later that night, Dr. Thirteen happens to be driving along the beach when he sees a ragged, raving figure stumble out of the surf.

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The man claims to be the wealthy Willard Wentworth, who has a home on the beach.  He hired “Satan’s Sextet” for a house party because he was lonely, but they hypnotized all of the guests and led them to a watery grave.  Wentworth isn’t sure how he escaped, but he stumbled out of the water sometime later, shaken and terrified.  Thirteen agrees to investigate, but when they return to the beach house, they find it packed with people, a party in full swing.  The owner claims not to know any of them and accuses the band of murder.  Dr. Thirteen insists they stay and continue their investigation (Maybe he just wants to party!), and the pair are given love-beads.

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Suddenly, the band’s music becomes hypnotic, and they once more lead the party goers into the waves.  Thirteen is forced to follow, but his mind is working all the while, and he deduces that the beads are responsible, and he removes his and Wentworth’s necklaces.  Returning to the house, he overhears the convenient exposition by the bandleader, whose motives are…well, as prosaic as his methods are insane.

Apparently, he’s the millionaire’s disowned son, who got plastic surgery and planned this whole thing to kill his father so he could get his inheritance.  The beads had hallucinogens in them which were activated by the vibrations of the band’s music.  Ooookaaaay.  That’s pretty out there, even for comics.  Entertainingly, Thirteen overcomes the band with a massive mounted fish, and the police arrive to tidy things up.  Dr. Thirteen rides off into the sunrise, but not before laying some major guilt on Wentworth, pointing out that he must have really screwed up to raise a murderer!  Ouch!

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This is a fun concept that sadly doesn’t really deliver a good story.  The image of the Pied-Piper-esq murder is really neat and creepy, but the explanation and the motivations don’t live up to the cleverness of the gimmick.  I think this might have worked better as a Phantom Stranger story, with an actual supernatural explanation.  Nonetheless, it’s a decent enough read.  The sequence where Dr. Thirteen reasons his way to the solution to the mystery is quite solid, and it has a nice sense of suspense and stakes as he slowly drowns.  Tony DeZuninga’s art isn’t particularly impressive, but it does the job, though the inking is a bit overdone in some sections.  He tries to create a somewhat psychedelic feel to the band’s sections, and that is partially successful.  I’ll give the whole thing 2.5 Minutemen.

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And with those maudlin mysteries, this episode of Into the Bronze Age comes to a close!  It was a really interesting trio of books, flaws and all.  Thank you for joining me on this journey, and please come back soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 5)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Come on in and enjoy some 4-colored adventures in a brighter, better world than ours.  I don’t know about you, but I can certainly use such a pleasant diversion.  We’ve got a very interesting pair of books to cover in this post, including the end of Denny O’Neil’s unusual but intriguing tenure on Superman.  Let’s get started!

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 #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.


Superman #242


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“The Ultimate Battle!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The Girl Who Didn’t Believe in Superman!”
Writer: Bill Finger
Penciler: Wayne Boring
Inker: Stan Kaye

“The World’s Mightiest Weakling!”
Writer: Otto Binder
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Bernard Sachs

And here we are at last, the conclusion of Denny O’Neil’s attempt to update Superman.  This is the grand finale of the saga of the Sand Superman, and I have been looking forward to the read.  We start with a solid but not quite earth-shattering cover, which is a bit ironic given what it depicts.  It’s a dramatic piece, but the two fighting figures, carefully matched in their combat, look a bit awkward.  It looks more like they’re standing in mid-air than engaged in a frenetic flying fist-fight.  The blazing city below them is a nice touch, but the flat coloring renders it less powerful than it could have been.

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The story within is a similarly mixed bag.  It opens where the last issue left off, with the defeated Man of Steel grasped in the grip of the ghoulish “war demon,” which has been animated by another Quarrmite spirit.  The fight is taking place in a junkyard, and a pair of bums cheer the monster on, even going so far as to vent their frustrations on the formerly invulnerable hero. Seeing the Metropolis Marvel bleed, they realize that he is now a mere mortal and proceed to beat him savagely.  With Superman defeated, the two hobos, “Stewpot” and “Gemmi,” then take charge of the clueless creature, who is new to their world and has a childish innocence.  The vicious vagrants decide to use the demon to satisfy their own desires for chaos and destruction.

Conveniently, Jimmy Olsen happens to be at the junkyard on an assignment (one wonders what he did to tick Perry off), and the young reporter finds his fallen friend.  The injured hero is rushed to the hospital, where they discover his brain injury from last issue and begin a delicate operation while I-Ching, Diana Prince, and Jimmy Olsen waited with baited breath.

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Meanwhile, the demon, sporting his bum brain-trust on his shoulders, smashes through a museum and confronts the police.  Just then, the Sand Superman arrives, and he crashes into the monster with massive force!  After a quick battle, the creature proves too much for him, and the dusty duplicate flees, wondering what prompted him to intercede, despite his protestations that he cares nothing for humanity.  This is an intriguing moment, but it sadly doesn’t get much development.

The demon’s rampage continues, with him smashing through a police barricade, but as he becomes accustomed to his power and begins to enjoy the chaos he’s causing, he also grows tired of the bums who are bossing him around.  Finally, he decides to employ his lessons in destruction on his masters themselves, and he kills them, on panel!  Their deaths (in shadow, but visible nonetheless, which is quite unusual), are accompanied by a quote from Ecclesiastes, interestingly enough.  And with that, the villainous vagabonds leave the story, making their inclusion feel rather pointless.

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With his masters mashed, the monster heads after his original foe, smashing his way into Superman’s hospital and easily brushing aside Diana Prince’s puny efforts to oppose him.  This is not Wonder Woman’s best performance, as Jimmy puts up just about as much of a fight as she does.  When the creature reaches the Fallen Man of Steel, it finds him fully recovered, but the two are evenly matched, at least until the sudden and unexpected arrival of…the Sand Superman!  The Man of Grit smashes through the ceiling, and in a nice touch the Action Ace wonders for a moment whose side his double is on.  His question is answered a moment later, as his alluvial alternate crashes into the demon, and the pair of powerhouses push their foe towards the park, where the portal to Quarrm still rests.

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The spirit is sucked back into its formless realm, and the crisis seems to have passed…until the duplicitous dusty duplicate declares that he is determined to be Superman, and therefore the original must die!  The real Metropolis Marvel protests that they can coexist, but the Alluvial Ace declares that the hero is too proud of his own uniqueness to share his world with another, which is an interesting angle.  The two are squaring off for a final showdown, where their oppositely charged atoms will trigger an explosion that will destroy one of them when I-Ching suddenly shows up and offers to cancel their charges out and let them fight normally.

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After his mystic gesture is finished, the two super-foes begin a titanic combat that takes them through the very core of the Earth.  In a nice sequence, Superman lures his doppelganger into a trap and clocks him into orbit, but after he pursues his enemy into space, the pair look down to see the world consumed by a cataclysm triggered by their Earth-shattering brawl!  They gaze upon a world scoured of life, and Superman breaks down, only to be brought back to reality by I-Ching.

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The vision was just a mystical trick, to dissuade the two titans from beginning their cataclysmic combat.  The Sandy Superman is so moved that returns to Quarrm willingly, observing that there can only be one Man of Steel.  The mystic offers to transfer the double’s powers back to the original Superman, but he refuses, saying that he has power enough, and after seeing what it could do, he wants no more, which is an interesting character moment.

And on that somewhat bittersweet note, Denny O’Neil’s Sand Superman saga comes to a close.  As with the run as a whole, this final story is very uneven.  There is a lot here that is really excellent, but there are a number of incongruous elements as well, along with a general sense of missed opportunities.  Really, that’s the biggest problem with this issue and O’Neil’s tenure on the book at large.  The mythology of this story feels ad-hoc and unfinished, a random grab-bag of elements that don’t have a unifying theme and lack the power of, say, the world-building going on in Kirby’s Fourth World books.

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What’s here isn’t bad, but it just feels like it should be more than it is.  The war demon is the best example from this last arc, with its odd appearance and random nature.  His two hobo masters, who contribute almost nothing to the story during their brief tenure, are also signs of this trend.  They corrupt the simple spirit with their thirst for violence, though we had already seen the creature being plenty violent during the previous issue.  These two bums are given no development, no motivation for their evil attitudes, and thus their deaths have no power other than shock value.  This is even more of a shame because there’s plenty of potential for something worthwhile here, perhaps in the style of Frankenstein, with an innocent ruined by the evil of those around it.  Or, through these two bums, O’Neil could have explored how the morally weak react to the man of virtue, which is implicit in their hatred of the Metropolis Marvel but gets zero development.

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Then there’s the incongruous presence of the enigmatic and ill-defined I-Ching, who always felt out of place to me.  I can’t help feeling like the time spent with Diana Prince and I-Ching in these issues is wasted, and it’s time that could have been more profitably spent with Superman or his doppelganger.  As is, the Sandy Superman’s sudden sea-change is not entirely earned, though that is the element that has kept me hooked throughout this arc, the most intriguing piece of O’Neil’s plot.  That is probably the biggest disappointment.  The somewhat promising premise of Quarrm is also left unexplored and unexplained, fading out of the book with the finale of this story.

superman 242 p_017Still, there are some really excellent elements to this story.  The vision of a super-powered brawl destroying the Earth is really striking, and it reminds me of an Action Comics issue from a while back which evinced a similar realization of what such powers could do if not restrained.  This is an intriguing and thought-provoking premise, and one not seen that often in this era.  The fact that this dream then prompts Superman to willingly limit his power is a really fascinating twist.  I’m very curious if we’ll see that actually play out in the DCU at large or if it will be forgotten once O’Neil leaves.  I hope it will be the former!  The evidence of the Sand Superman’s internal conflict is also really interesting, though we don’t get to see much of it.  I’m not entirely sure what to make of O’Neil’s character work with the Man of Steel himself in this issue.  The idea that the hero so enjoys being The Last Son of Krypton that he’d be unwilling to share the limelight is an interesting one.  I don’t think that’s a good read of the character, but it could have led us to the Action Ace doing a little soul searching, which might have been promising if given a bit more space.  I think the fact that he doesn’t actually get the chance to reject that claim is a big weakness of the comic.

The classic “Swanderson” art is quite good throughout this issue.  Even though the war demon’s design is on the goofy side, they still make it look dynamic and frightening in action part of the time.  The depiction of the central super-fight is also nicely effective, as is their work on its cataclysmic consequences.  There are a number of great, dramatic moments beautifully depicted throughout the issue, especially the timely arrival of the Sand Superman.  The art is so good, in fact, that I wish the art team had been given a bit more powerful of a story to illustrate.  In the end, this is a flawed comic full of interesting ideas, an effective microcosm of the equally flawed but fascinating run that spawned it.  It’s an enjoyable read, but it really should be more than that, seeing as it serves as the end of a 10 issue plot.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as its strengths and weaknesses effectively break even, bringing Denny O’Neil’s landmark run on Superman to a less than earth-shattering conclusion.

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Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #114


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“The Foe of 100 Faces”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

The two feminine features of Lois Lane share a single story in this issue, and it is another surprisingly moving tale about race and equality.  Unfortunately, a solid comic is saddled with a pretty weak cover.  While Giordano’s Lois looks great, his Thorn is a bit misshapen, and the composition itself is not terribly captivating, full of yellow sky and not much else.  Notably, the ‘girl’ comic’s cover focuses on a non-existent love triangle instead of the much more interesting grist of the actual plot.

lois_lane_114_02The tale within starts in the office of Perry White, where he shows the lovely Lois Lane a copy of The Black Beacon, published in the city’s ‘Little Africa’ neighborhood, which was written by an anonymous columnist.  The pair admire the unknown author’s work, especially his stance against the nefarious 100, and Perry sends the girl reporter out to recruit the mystery man for the Planet (which really seems a bit outside of her job description: what kind of paper is Perry running?).  Interestingly, Morgan Edge shows up and backs White’s decision, thinking to himself that the 100 are competition to his own outfit, Intergang.  That’s a nice little bit of continuity, with Kanigher touching on what’s happening in other DC books.

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lois_lane_114_03Meanwhile, the Thorn’s alter-ego, Rose subconsciously eavesdrops on her boss, Vince Adams, as he meets with two 100 torpedoes and assigns them to get rid of the protestors blocking the construction of a new high-rise that the gang wants to use as a front.  While the innocent young Rose is unaware of these schemes, her vigilante identity takes note, perhaps implying a growth in the strength of that personality.

That evening, Lois approaches the small office of The Black Beacon, and inside she finds a familiar face.  That’s right, Dave Stevens, from the book’s excellent and groundbreaking first issue on race, is the anonymous author, and he’s obviously been changed by his encounter with the girl reporter.  While his assistant, Tina, is very cold and dismissive of Lois, Dave responds by saying that Lois is a “blood relation” of his, after a fashion, since her blood saved his life.  He tells the story of the journalist’s journey as a black woman, but Tina remains unconvinced.

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Yet, when Dave starts to bring Lois to the embattled Metropolis State building site to show her how he works, the 100 killers try to run them down, only to be stopped in dramatic fashion by the Thorn, who hits them like a whirlwind in a nice sequence.  Interestingly, Dave is a bit angry that a woman has fought his battle for him, but Lois points out that, just like minorities want to be treated equally, so do women, and he acknowledges her point with a smile.

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Once they reach the site of the protest, the young activist explains that the community is objecting to the building of the skyscraper because the city is pursuing it instead of addressing the needs of its people.  They demand affordable housing, schools, and infrastructure instead of another office building.  This fairly complex issue is massively simplified, but that’s to be expected in a comic like this, and the presentation is still effective.  Once again, a black woman objects to Lois’s presence, and once again, the reporter, herself changed by her previous experience, responds with patience and a plea for unity, which is well met.  It’s a bit cheesy, but it’s still heartwarming to see the characters bridging their gaps and the message is good.

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Yet, while the protestors are learning to look past surface differences, the idle construction workers are roused by 100 flunkies into attacking the marchers.  This is done with a surprisingly light touch.  The workers are a pretty diverse group themselves, including American Indians, and they don’t believe the rabble rouser’s speech at first, instead being willing to respond to the non-violence of the protest in kind.  It’s only after more 100 plants among the marchers start shooting and attacking the workers, backed by plants among the construction men as well, that a riot starts.  Kanigher avoids demonizing either group and, though not through realistic means, still manages to show how otherwise decent people can get swept up in violence and bigotry.

Lois gets knocked out (should I count supporting characters on the Headcount?), and Dave Stevens fights like a lion to protect her.  Tina tries to come to his aid, but they are both struck down as well.  Suddenly, the Thorn strikes, and she throws out explosive smoke bombs among the troublemakers.  The Baleful Beauty wades into them in another nice sequence, but she takes a hit as well, and it is only Superman’s timely arrival that saves the quartet.  The Man of Steel manages to use his super breath to disperses the crowd without hurting them.  The hero tries to talk with the Thorn, offering to sponsor her for League membership (!), but the Nymph of Night slips away, replying that she is a loner.

Lois begs the Metropolis Marvel to help the protesters, and he comes up with a solution.  He redesigns the building to use vertical space as well as horizontal and helps construct a new tower, which will serve both groups.  This makes everyone but the 100 happy.  Lois herself gets wistful, wishing she could have the type of relationship with Superman that Dave and Tina share.  Speaking of the two lovebirds, in the next few days, Lois visits them as they teach neighborhood children about black history, and the readers are treated to a cool double paged spread about the subject, and even I learned a bit (I had no idea that Dumas had African ancestry)!

Unfortunately, the peace does not last, and the 100 stages muggings and other disturbances at the new housing development to discredit the black citizens who moved in.  Lois goes to investigate, only to witness an explosion and see the fire department greeted by gunfire and thrown trash.  Dave helps her search for the culprits, but they vanish.  This scene has some fascinating racial overtones, with Perry White pointing out that the organization that has arisen to oppose the new housing development “America Awake,” is using the incidents as proof that “blacks create their own slums wherever they go,” an idea that I’ve unfortunately heard expressed much more recently than 1971.

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lois_lane_114_22That evening, as the black community celebrates their new home, someone throws a firebomb at a table full of children (would that this were more unrealistic), and Lois risks her life, scooping up the explosive and throwing it into the street, suffering severe burns in the process.  At the same time, she sees the Thorn sneaking around and follows her into the newly finished skyscraper.  There, the gallant girl reporter is captured as the Vixen of Vengeance attacks the 100 crew operating as the mysterious “America Awake.”  Dave Stevens comes charging to the rescue again, and with the aid of a smokescreen created by the Thorn’s thrown boot (seriously), she and the adventurous author clean up the crooks in yet another nice action sequence.  After the fight, while Lois’s burned hands are bandaged at a nearby hospital, Tina embraces the girl she had previously rejected, impressed by her willingness to sacrifice her own life for children of color.  Finally, the issue ends with Dave Stevens taking the job at the Planet so that his voice can reach a national audience.

This is another good, surprisingly sensitive and thoughtful story on race by Robert Kanigher.  He continues to amaze me with the varied quality of his work.  While this one is not as subtle and moving as his first try at the topic, that is, after all, a high mark to hit for a comic from the early 70s.  Nonetheless, there is a good story here about breaking through the walls that our perceptions of race build between us.  There is a focus on the plight of the urban poor that carries some weight and a good adventure story to boot, which is impressive because, as we’ve seen, writers can have a hard time balancing their plots and their messages. *cough*O’Neil*cough*

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Kanigher packs a ton into this issue, perhaps a bit too much, actually.  The story races from the initial protest to the attempts to discredit the black community to the capture of the barely introduced “America Awake” front.  I think we could have had a more compelling and intriguing story, plot-wise, if Kanigher had broken this into two issues and built a bit more tension and suspense with the second half of the plot.  The idea of the 100 playing on people’s biases by staging embarrassing incidents and what that says about our culture has some fascinating potential, and building up an actual mystery around what was happening could have been really rewarding.

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Nevertheless, what Kanigher does give us works pretty well, even if it does move at such a quick pace that the “America Awake” organization feels like an afterthought.  Of course, this comic provides a massively simplified take on the problems of the inner city, with the citizens being entirely innocent and the only negative influence coming from outside.  Obviously, that issue is a great deal more complicated, and attempts to address urban poverty have been fraught with many challenges.  Yet, Kanigher’s story, simplistic though it may be, serves a worthwhile purpose by challenging the popular perception of the urban poor, especially those in black communities, and does the same kind of narrative work as his stories about Native Americans, showing members of these groups as individuals, normal human beings with the same fears, problems, emotions, and desires as anyone else.

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This is, as I’ve mentioned before, a very worthy undertaking and part of the power of literature, which can build in us the capacity for compassion, the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes.  The racial tensions of the 1970s certainly made stories like this necessary, but the events of the last few years have shown how much such stories are still needed.  In this era of polarization and tribalism, we could all use a reminder that the fellow on the other side of the isle is human, even if we disagree with him.  This is even more important when that fellow happens not to look like us, as it is far too easy to demonize the Other.  When even people who want the same things are constantly dividing themselves into different camps, it’s nice to read a comic where a daring dame like Lois breaks through such barriers.  It’s also really great to see the friendship that exists between her and Dave, which I imagine was a little shocking in 1971.  I love that there is nothing romantic between them, that they’re just two friends and equals.  That’s a dynamic you don’t see that much in comics of this era.  Honestly, their interactions are some of my favorite parts of the issue.

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lois_lane_114_15 - Copy (2)On the art front, Werner Roth turns in some more beautiful work, filling his faces with personality and emotion but also managing to create some really dynamic fight scenes.  Yet, there are a few places where we end up with some awkward and ugly panels, where his figure work breaks down a bit, like the apparently drunk flying Superman to the left, here.  Still, on the whole, Roth continues to do a wonderful job on this book, really serving to capture the emotions of his cast.  I think that I’ll give this fun and thought-provoking comic a strong 4.5 Minutemen.  It’s a little rough in spots, with some heavy-handedness and its subject is radically simplified, but it is still an unusually good read and has a sweetness and earnestness that make such excesses a bit more forgivable than others we’ve seen.  I never expected to enjoy Lois Lane nearly this much!

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Well!  What a pair of issues!  This is a really significant set of stories, and they definitely illustrate how comics are evolving in this era.  We should have some fascinating trends to examine in the Final Thoughts for this month!  I hope you will join me again soon when we shall do just that!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 2)

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I am vengeance, I am the night, I am Bronze Age awesomeness!  Welcome, Internet travelers, to another edition of Into the Bronze Age, where we’ve got a set of Bat-comics on the docket.  We’ve got the whole Bat-Family in attendance, as well as some friends of the cowl, so let’s we what they’re up to!

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 #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.


Batman #234


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“Swamp Sinister”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

“The Outcast Society”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano

“Castle With Wall-to-Wall Danger!”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino

This month, our headline tale is another episode in the growing saga Ra’s Al Ghul, but this time it doesn’t have Neal Adams’ peerless pencils to help it.  According to our credits, he was involved in the cover, but it looks much more like Dick Giordano to me.  Either way, it’s a solid composition, capturing a nicely dramatic scene, though something of a cheat.  The story within is not quite as good as the earlier entries in the set, but the last one makes an especially hard act to follow.  It begins, dramatically enough, with a body delivered to Bruce Wayne’s penthouse apartment!  As the great detective begins trying to piece together where his deceased guest might have come from, the mysterious Ra’s Al Ghul arrives and helpfully explains.

It seems that the head of the League of Shadows himself sent the body, by way of a calling card.  The horribly disfigured corpse was once one of his men, a researcher named Pollard, who, together with another named Striss, was working on a chemical compound for him, a compound that “renders molybdenum as weak as tinfoil.”  Yet, instead of delivering the formula once it was prepared, they planned to steal it.  Interrupting the theft, Al Ghul was struck down, and the thieves escaped.

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Talia discovered her father and set out after the traitors, while their doctors managed to revive the Demon’s Head.  Notably, for the first time we begin to get a sense of Al Ghul’s immortality angle, as he mentions having been revived often before, but there is no sign yet of the Lazarus Pits.  As for the corpse, it seems that the chemical the thieves stole has an unexpected side effect.  If left exposed to the air, it becomes a deadly plague.  The horrible disfigurement of Pollard is the result.  Having been exposed during his attack on Al Ghul, Pollard died shortly thereafter, but Striss escaped, ignorant of the danger of what he carried.  Now Al Ghul must locate the fugitive before his daughter, who is ignorant of these facts, does, and he needs the World’s Greatest Detective to do so in time.

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The Dark Knight agrees, as if he has any choice, and takes off.  He theorizes that Striss will want to test his chemical, and he goes to the closest supply of molybdenum, which is held by an eccentric billionaire.  At the fellow’s mansion, Batman discovers an attack already underway.  The gate has been gassed, and masked men stalk the grounds.  Taking out the marauders in a nicely drawn sequence, the Caped Crusader makes his way into the mansion itself, where he finds a frightened French housekeeper who tells him that the invaders took the master of the house to “the small stream.”

The hero is momentarily stumped, knowing there are innumerable smalls streams around, but then he realizes that, in French, the word for “small stream” is “bayou,” and he makes an important connection.  He realizes that Striss has taken his billionaire captive to the eccentric fellow’s private fallout shelter, which is located in the Louisiana bayou.

Tracking them with the help of Ra’s, Batman bails out of a plane over the swamp and begins his search, finally interrupting an confrontation between the villainous doctor and Talia.  During the ensuing struggle, the chemical vial is shattered, and Striss falls into the lethal liquid.  The others escape, and Al Ghul’s doctors manage to treat them for the plague.  The tale ends with Batman noting that the grateful kiss he receives from Talia would be much more enjoyable if he hadn’t just witnessed her cold willingness to kill.

This is a fair enough little adventure, and we get a few interesting moments with Al Ghul, including the hints about his unnatural resiliency.  Yet, there isn’t a lot to it, and the final result feels a little lackluster, especially in comparison to the rather breathtaking chapter that preceded it.  Al Ghul isn’t quite as mysterious or fascinating  a figure, and although Batman and Talia share an intriguing moment at the end, she doesn’t really have much to do either.  In the end, the tale feels a bit cramped, and Novick’s art, though solid as usual, isn’t quite as striking as Adams’, especially when it comes to R’as himself.    I’ll give this story 3.5 Minutemen.  It’s fine, but it isn’t exceptional.

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“The Outcast Society”


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Our Robin backup continues the hippie commune-centered adventure of the previous issue.  Robin is fairly appalled at the poor conditions in which the commune inhabitants live, with rickety shacks for shelter, no power, and carrying their water from the nearby stream.  The leader of the dirty hippies, Jonathan, tells the young hero that they don’t want his “plastic world.”  There’s an interesting connection there to a recent Green Lantern issue about the growing artificialness of the world.  Despite the protestations of the hippie head-man, Robin insists that he must arrest Pat Whalon, as the bullet that his girlfriend wears around her neck, the same that was dug out of his leg, matches the gun of her policeman father, who was shot down in the previous issue.

The ‘Outcast Society’ refuses to let the Teen Wonder take the punk, saying they have to vote about whether or not to allow this.  Funny, but I don’t think the cops would see it that way.  Robin agrees to be patient and gets the grand tour.  He sees the hippies building, working, and farming, and the portrayal of the place is full of starry-eyed optimism.  Dick takes part and pitches in, while Pat makes a nuisance of himself, bragging about his radical exploits and generally being a real jerk.  Finally, the Community votes to let the Teen Detective arrest the rabble-rouser, but Pat sets a nearby field ablaze and escapes!

This a decent little tale, though not terribly compelling.  Novick and Giordano do a really good job with the art, though, bringing energy and personality to the various characters inhabiting this world that helps to make this story where not much happens still feel somewhat worthwhile.  Robin in particular looks great, with his cape always whipping about dramatically.  It’s rather funny to see the sympathetic treatment of hippie communes here from a modern perspective.  Old ‘Touchy-Feely’ Friedrich is in full swing.  Notably, most communes didn’t fare too well or last too long.  Unsurprisingly, taking a bunch of ignorant kids who don’t know how to do anything and don’t have any kind of solid moral code and sticking them in a field to make their own way didn’t generally turn out all that well.  I’ll give this particular Outcast tale an average 3 Minutemen.  It isn’t bad, but it isn’t particularly great, either.

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The Brave and the Bold #97


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“The Smile of Choclotan!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Nick Cardy
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“Who Has Been Lying in My Grave?”
Writer: Arnold Drake
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: George Roussos
Editor: Jack Miller

Our bi-monthly dose of Zaney Haney comes with another helping of Wildcat this month, which is always welcome.  As I’ve said before, the character that Haney really had the best handle on was ‘ol Ted Grant.  Yet, this issue doesn’t really take advantage of that familiarity.  Our heroes are partnered up on the cover, but that isn’t quite the case in the comic itself.  The cover has nice Nick Cardy art, and it makes for a striking image, though it is a fairly massive cheat, in terms of the story it represents.  There’s not even that much of a defense of the image as symbolic.

That story begins in fine fashion, with Bruce Wayne, vacationing in Acapulco, watching a young man preparing for a demanding cliff-dive.  Suddenly, the bold billionaire sees a rifleman, preparing to kill the kid.  When the native makes his dive, so does Bruce, as Batman!  Using his cape as a parachute (which we haven’t seen too often at this point, I think, but will eventually become a staple of the character), the Dark Knight manages to ruin the would-be killer’s shot.

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Later on, Bruce, back in-mufti, follows the assassin’s target, a young native named Luis.  He spots a poster of his old friend, Wild Cat, apparently boxing in the local arena under the name El Tigre.  Strange!  Just then, the hapless kid is jumped by a trio of knife-wielding thugs.  Batman intervenes once more, but by the time he dispatches the desperadoes, Luis has vanished.

That night, Bruce attends the fight, only to see the former champ get drugged and knocked out.  When the hoods try to get to him under cover of the ensuing riot, the Masked Manhunter takes a hand once more.  Rescuing Ted and his assistant, who turns out to be Luis, the Dark Detective takes them to their shack, where he learns their story.  It seems that Ted had once fought Luis’s father, and after the Mexican boxer refused to take advantage when Ted got resin in his eyes during a match, the pair became great friends.

brave and the bold 097 011Years later, when Luis’s father began to search for a lost cultural treasure of Mexico, an idol of the ‘smiling god,’ Choclotan (which is, of course, fictional), the old champ came to help.  Yet, when the pair were searching the mountains for the lost treasure, Luis’s father was killed and Ted’s head was creased by a bullet, leaving him amnesiac.  Apparently there is a sinister band of smugglers after the treasure as well, headed by a shadowy figure known as El Grande.  They are the ones behind the attacks on the duo.

brave and the bold 097 014Luis found his costume and has been helping him make a living by fighting as ‘El Tigre,’ while the youth cliff-dived for tourists.  Yep, sounds like a great plan.  Have the man with brain damage fight in boxing matches!  Anyway, poor judgement aside, Batman agrees to help, and they set out to search for Choclotan.  They encounter an old friend of Luis’s family on the way, a rancher named El Sordo, who owns a massive stead in they area they are traveling.  Apparently he was Luis’s father’s manager, and he offers to guide the group in their search.

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On the way, Ted suddenly snaps out of his fugue for a moment, telling the group they need to climb a nearby cliff.  When the agile Luis does so, he sees massive jaguar prints carved in the valley, leading the way to the treasure, and tells Batman that jaguars were the sacred animal of Choclotan.  As they push on, the group realizes they’re being followed, and that night, while El Sordo is on watch, the Dark Knight makes his own patrol, only to be attacked by machete-armed muchachos.  Suddenly, Wildcat appears and lends a hand, and the pair manage to fight off the fiends and discover an apparently wounded El Sordo.

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Yet, when they finally reach the end of the trail, a flooded volcano crater, and Luis dives in to locate the treasure, his reemergence reveals treachery!  El Sordo is, in fact, El Grande, and he has captured the heroes.  Insisting that Ted is merely faking his memory loss, Grande/Sordo has his beastly henchman, called ‘The Ox,’ attempt to beat the truth out of the boxer.  Despite the champ’s best efforts, he takes a beating and finally tells their captors that he remembers.

The treasure, he claims, is in a nearby cave, and his confession is taken as a terrible betrayal by young Luis.  Yet, when the smugglers enter the cave, Wildcat suddenly stops Luis from following, and moments later, a massive jet of water shoots out of the cavern, washing the would-be thieves away!  The treasure chamber was booby-trapped, and Ted’s memory had come back, allowing him to recall this and trick their enemies.  Finally, the trio discover the grinning god, and Choclotan can return to his people.

This is a fun yarn, and it is honestly rather tame for a Zaney Haney offering.  The plot is relatively unified by his standards, and while the exotic Mexican setting provides plenty of flavor, there aren’t any particularly insane flourishes to speak of.  Sadly, Wildcat isn’t really present for much of this story, instead he’s present in name only, as his amnesiac self lacks any real personality.

There are some nice elements to the adventure, like the surprisingly subtle hint about El Sordo, when we learn that this wealthy rancher was formerly just a fight manager, which should make an attentive reader suspicious.  Of course, such a reader would also notice that Wildcat effectively killed several men in the finale, a fact that is barely acknowledged.  Yes, it’s mostly an example of a ‘hoisted by your own petard‘ trope, but Ted’s role is a bit more direct than those usually are, as he willfully sends them into a situation he knows will probably kill them.  That’s problematic, but such concerns never slowed Zaney Haney down one bit.

On the art front, I can’t say I’m fond of the combination of Bob Brown and Nick Cardy.  Brown seems to be trying to ape Cardy, or Cardy is overwhelming Brown, but the final result is less somewhat than the sum of its parts, seeming like a poor compromise between their two styles.  I suppose I’ll give this fine, Indiana Jones-style adventure 3.5 Minutemen.  It’s an entertaining read.

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Detective Comics #415


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“Challenge of the Consumer Crusader”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

“Death Shares the Spotlight!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler/Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: Ben Oda

“The Forbidden Trick”
Writer: William Woolfolk
Penciler: Leonard Starr
Inker: Leonard Starr
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

“The Case of the Finders Keepers”
Penciler/Inker: John Prentice

Our issue of Detective Comics this month is notable, not so much for its story, which is fair enough, but for the real-life people it is based on, which provide another of those intriguing glimpses into the zeitgeist of the era that I love.  We’ve got a solid enough cover, a dramatic image of the hanging Batman, though it is, unsurprisingly, something of a cheat.  The tale within begins with the Dark Knight following, of all things, a garbage truck!  He’s trailing two trashmen when they jump a man in a suit and prepare to throw him into the compactor in the back of their truck.  The Caped Crusader intervenes, and with the help of the would-be victim, he manages to chase the thugs off.

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After the action, the Masked Manhunter discovers that their target was none-other than Tom Carson, famed “consumer crusader” and “leader of ‘Carson’s Consumer Commandos.'”  That’s right, there’s a Ralph Nader in the DC Universe!  This fascinates me.  Ralph Nader is a champion of consumer rights and has been a huge factor in holding government and industry accountable for their deeds in the U.S. in the last half century.  He also created “Nader’s Raiders” and “Public Citizen,” a pair of watchdog groups that advocated for public interests.  Nader was in the headlines in the early 70s, and it is fun to see him and his work referenced in such a way in comics.  What an unusual topic for a superhero story!

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Detective415-07Anyway, this pseudo-Nader, Tom Carson, tells Batman that he has a lot of enemies because of all of the big companies he’s ticked off by exposing their malfeasance.  Yet, the most recent case is Magna Industries, who were preparing to introduce a “microwave anti-pollution device.”  Carson’s group was testing their product, and he notes that a poor result could be disastrous for the company.  The Caped Crusader drops Carson off with Barbara Gordon for safekeeping, which is a fun little detail, and then he heads to check out Ben Ames, president of the company in question.  He notes that, as Bruce Wayne, he knows Ames personally, and can’t believe he’s behind the hit.

Detective415-09At the Ames estate, the Dark Knight sees a light on and reasons that the corporate bigwig might be waiting for a certain call.  Disguising his voice, Batman fakes the call from the Carson’s car, which he borrowed, and proves Ames’ guilt.  In order to figure out his motive, the hero tries a more theatrical approach.  He uses some of Carson’s spare clothes and some phosphorescent paint to stage a ghostly visitation.  Suddenly, Ames is confronted by the “ghost” of the man he tried to have killed!  During the confrontation, Ames declares that Carson drove him to it because he tried to blackmail his company, threatening to release a damning report, despite the fact that the device was perfectly safe.

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One mystery solved, the Masked Manhunter sets out to find who is in back of the blackmail scheme.  Heading to Carson’s headquarters, he interrupts his assistant, Joan Wilde, in the middle of a call to Ames.  Unfortunately, she has confederates.  In a neat sequence, they attack Batman, using the various testing devices in the consumer products laboratory.  After a desperate and colorful battle, the Dark Knight manages to turn the tables on his antagonists, who get caught in their own trap as the machines turn on them.

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You’ve heard of jungle Batman and snow Batman, but how about disco Batman!  Staying alive, staying alive!

Pursuing the femme fatale behind the caper, the hero leaps into a convenient car to give chase to her, only to realize it is hooked to a crane for crash testing.  Before he can react, the Dark Detective finds himself hurled high into the air, only moments from a cataclysmic collision with the ground.

When the car comes crashing down, Miss Wilde is certain she has disposed of her foe, only for Batman to emerge, a little worse for the wear but uninjured, from the smoke.  He tells her that he threw himself into teh air to avoid contact with the car, and that, plus the airbags, allowed him to survive.  I’m not sure that would actually work, but it makes comic sense, so I’ll give it a pass.  The issue ends with Carson discovering the corruption in his organization and being cleared of any involvement.

This is a solid little mystery, and the fight in the testing laboratory is pretty fun and creative.  It’s a really clever setting for a superhero fight, filled with lots of bizarre gadgets and silly contraptions that make for good superheroic fodder, all of which could realistically exist in such a place.  It’s also really quite interesting to see the consumer rights revolution make its way into comics, albeit obliquely.  Who knew the DC Universe had their own Ralph Nader?  You keep up the good work, Tom Carson!  So, I’ll give this tale 3.5 Minutemen.

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“Death Shares the Spotlight”


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Detective415-21Our Batgirl backup picks up where the last left off, with Babs dashing off to ‘call the police,’ an excuse she uses to go into action.  She contacts the agent who had been in charge of auctioning off the props from the Mesa movie studio, one of which was used in that night’s assassination attempt.  The girl detective learns that a hundred of the prop guns are still in Gotham, being used in a wild west show featuring a former Mesa movie star.  At the same time, Jason makes his own connection and sets off as well.

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Counting on the powder-burns on would-be killer’s hand to identify him, Babs is disappointed when all the show’s players begin using prop guns.  That doesn’t stop the star of the show, Chuck Walla, from letting his guilt and self-consciousness drive him to flee the spotlight in an attempt to destroy the evidence, his gloves, before anyone notices.

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When Batgirl confronts him, the actor catches her at gunpoint.  He admits that he tried to kill Tiz, who was once his girl, before joining up with her new husband.  Just then, Jason jumps in, having followed his own trail to the assassin.  The Daredevil Dame pitches in, taking out Walla but making her beau think it was his blow that did it, which is rather cute.

This is a brief and rapid-paced tale, feeling even shorter than normal, but it is reasonably complete.  I did feel a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a bit more to it, and Walla’s panicked display of guilt was a bit much.  Unfortunately, this also features some of Don Heck’s worst work we’ve seen so far.  It’s very rough and awkward in several scenes.  I’ll give this lackluster offering an average 3 Minutemen.  It’s not bad, but it isn’t particularly good either.

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And that does it for this iteration of Into the Bronze Age!  Bat-books galore!  I hope y’all enjoyed the post and that y’all will join me again soon for another dose of classic comics.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 5)

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Hello Internet travelers, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Strange sights await you in this post, my dear readers, like Lois Lane being jealous of a tree, a Titan becoming a teenage witch, or time-traveling 70s thugs!  It’s an unusual batch of books we have on the docket.  So, let’s check out some classic comics!

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.


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112


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“A Tree Grows in Metropolis!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

“Rock and Rose”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano

This is a bit of a weird one, folks.  It has a solid enough cover, even if it is pretty gimmicky.  Interestingly and unusually enough, the cover proves to be a pretty honest representation of what’s inside.  We join the story with Superman scouting a dying planet, abandoned by an advanced race when they outgrew the world.  The vegetation seems to dying now that the inhabitants are gone.  Bizarrely, the Man of Steel has a vision of Lois wrapped in foliage, only to discover that it is actually a strange alien tree that has somehow survived.  Deciding to save the plant, he brings it home…and then plants it in Metropolis Park.  Planting an alien lifeform in the middle of a densely populated city?  What could possibly go wrong?

Oddly, the men of the city are fascinated with this extraterrestrial arboreal artifact, but the women are repulsed.  Reporting on the story, Lois finds herself uncomfortable around it, and her unease proves well-founded when, after their date that night, Superman detours to the park, where he stands entranced in front of the plant.  Suddenly, the tree “speaks” telepathically, introducing itself as Rzalin and declaring its love for the Man of Tomorrow.  Inexplicably, the Kryptonian hero becomes enslaved to its will and begins to carry out its commands, creating a moat of lava around the being to protect it (which would cool relatively quickly, but oh well).  When Lois objects, Superman actually knocks her out with a nerve pinch!

The Metropolis Marvel begins to bring the tree materials from around the galaxy, carrying out some type of plan.  The graceful girl reporter tries to intervene, poll vaulting (!) over the moat and confronting the alien.  It is then that Rzalin reveals its plan, whereby it will convert its Kryptonian captive into another tree by an elixir made from the materials he is collecting, and together they will release spores that will convert all of humanity into more of their kind.  Yet, the enterprising Lois came prepared, and she tries first to poison, then to burn, the tree.  Unfortunately, Superman stops her and takes her home again.

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Not to be daunted, the resourceful reporter thinks that she can destroy Rzalin with white kryptonite, which is deadly to all plants (which I didn’t know).  Fortunately, there is a sample at the Superman Museum, but before she can put her plan into action, she’s attacked by her own houseplant!  Apparently the heinous herb can control earthly plants.  Lois launches into a deadly race to the museum, but she is attacked by trees, flowers, and even gigantic pollen!

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Eventually, Rzalin brings her to the Park to watch its triumph, as Superman drinks the elixir and changes into another perfidious plant.  Just as Lois gives into despair, we suddenly see her and Superman looking at the tree, apparently perfectly fine.  The alien being dies, and the pair posit that it must have fed on mental energy, but the minds of earthlings weren’t strong enough to support it.  Lois supposes that, since their minds were feeding it, they must have been in its fantasy…which doesn’t really follow.  The end…I guess?

That’s right, it was all just a dream.  For some reason.  This is an odd choice for a twist, as the story that came before wasn’t really about the tree, which is supposed to be the dreamer (and thus perspective character) in this scenario.  It’s incongruous and rather unsatisfying.  There are some positive elements to this story, though.  I enjoyed watching Lois play hero and take an active role in the plot.  She is determined, capable, and resourceful, and it suits her nicely.

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I’d rather have seen this played straight, with her able to rescue the Man of Steel.  Roth’s art is good as usual, but he seems to struggle with some of the more fantastic elements once again.  He really does a fantastic job on Lois’s expressions, however.  As is, the yarn feels…unnecessary.  So, this is a forgettable and awkward little tale that I’ll give 2 Minutemen.

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“Rock and Rose”


Our Rose and Thorn backup this month, in contrast, is another solid adventure.  We begin right where the last one left off, with Rose and her would-be executioner fleeing from the 100 gunmen sent to finish the job.  The youthful assassin-in-training, Leo, confesses to the Thorn that his masters had kidnapped his mother and were holding her in their casino barge as insurance…which seems to rather sharply contradict his portrayal last issue.  Leo seemed to need no extra motivation to go after the heroine in that story.

The pair face a running fight against the 100 goons, who all conveniently take the time to mouth partial threats before getting decked.  You’d think they’d learn to shoot first and brag later.  Finally the fleeing duo dive into the water and dodge gunfire beneath the waves.  When they emerge, a police boat happens by, responding to the gunfire, and it turns out that Detective Stone is aboard.  Thorn saves a drowning Leo and gives him to the police, but when the Detective touches her hand, there is a moment of almost-recognition for both of them.  This prompts the Vixen of Vengeance to swim away on her own.  Fascinatingly, we discover that, not only is Rose ignorant of the Thorn’s activities, the vigilante doesn’t quite understand her other half either.

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The next day, Rose turns down a date with her boss, Mr. Adams, who is secretly the head of the 100, to go to a concert in the park (watch out for the alien tree!) with Detective Stone.  With this useful piece of information, Adams orders a hit on Stone, but when the gunsels come to call, the Nymph of Night suddenly surges to the surface and takes control, easily disarming the two thugs.  Rose shakily exclaims that she thought she had forgotten all of the karate and judo her father had taught her, and before the killers can recover, they are swarmed by dirty hippies (what a horribly humiliating defeat).

Slipping away in the chaos, Rose turns into the Thorn once more and heads to the barge where the 100 are holding Leo’s mother.  Once aboard, the Wild Wraith is captured and, with Leo and his mother held at gunpoint, forced to surrender her utility bel…err, “Thorn Belt.”  Suddenly, all of the flash bangs and bombs in the belt go off, stunning her foes, and the Baleful Beauty bashes into them, taking out the killers and rescuing their prisoners.  Apparently, much like Batman (who she is totally not ripping off), the Thorn’s belt can’t be removed without setting off all of the ordinance, unless you press a hidden button.  Clever!  As the tale ends, she tells Leo to thank her by going straight.

This is another really, solidly good adventure in Kanigher’s run on this feature.  Once again he packs a ton into just a few pages, giving us a fun dose of action, but also advancing the overall plot and squeezing in a bit of characterization.  I find it very interesting that the Thorn was able to manifest during a moment of stress in the daytime (which is actually a more accurate portrayal of split personality, to my understanding).  The vigilante’s moment of contact with Stone was also intriguing, and I’m curious what (if anything) will come of it.

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The only real flaw is the sudden addition of Leo’s mother to the plot, which Kanigher absolutely didn’t setup properly in the previous tale, which makes that element feel like it comes out of left field.  On the art front, while I miss Gray Morrow’s really neat and unique style from the previous issue, Dick Giordano does a wonderful job here.  He draws an absolutely lovely Thorn, with a lot of nice detail, especially on her flowing hair, which whips around in combat and is always dramatically framing her face.  His action sequences look lovely, and though there are some rough spots, the whole is of a high quality.  I’ll give this brief but exciting backup 3.5 Minutemen.

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Teen Titans #34


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“The Demon of Dog Island”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Nick Cardy

So far, we have seen, to put it gently, a pretty uneven run on Teen Titans, with a lot of half-baked ideas and no clear direction.  That doesn’t necessarily end here, but this issue did manage to surprise the heck out of me and rise above the material that came before.  I expected another gimmicky, poorly thought-out and poorly executed adventure from the (admittedly fun) cover, but there is a lot more here than you might expect.  This cover, with the dramatic image of Wonder Girl menacing her friends and with the foreboding house looming in the background, is beautifully rendered by Nick Cardy, and it sets a suitably creepy stage.

Inside, the eerie mood is not wasted, as we join the action with a cloaked figure fleeing from a pack of savage dogs on a barren island.  She is then attacked by a hulking fellow named Jed Jukes.  During the struggle, we see that the figure is none other than Donna Troy, Wonder Girl, who easily throws the threatening thug aside.  Jukes is raving about witches and how the house she enters is cursed.  The house in question is a massive old mansion of sinister aspect, but it is inhabited by a kindly old woman in a wheelchair.  We discover that Donna is staying with this lady, Miss Wickersham, taking care of her.  How she knows her is never explained.

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After reading a ghost story of sorts to her elderly charge, Wonder Girl finds herself feeling odd and heads to bed, but the action of the night is not finished yet, as a little later the rest  of the Titans make their way to the house.  Lilith has had a vision of their teammate in trouble, and teen heroes have come to the rescue.  Suddenly, the psychic sees a cloaked figure, but when the others look, there is nothing there.  Then, Speedy is unexpectedly clotheslined from the car, and the group is beset by the Jukes brothers, who once again are carrying on about witches and warlocks.  The team makes short work of them in a rather nice panel, with even Lilith pulling her weight.  Recovering the Boy Bowman, the Titans make their way to the mansion, where they find Donna, seemingly safe and sound.  Yet, despite her protestations that she went straight to bed, Lilith observes mud on her friend’s boots.

The next morning, the Titans are all charmed by Miss Wickersham and spend the day enjoying the beach, though Dick and Lilith both remain suspicious.  Their suspicions prove well-founded after night falls.  The muddled mystic sees Donna sneak out of her room, and when she goes to follow her friend, someone clocks her from behind!  (Adding a new face to the Head-Blow Headcount!)  The team awakes to a cry and finds Miss Wickersham’s poor cat strangled!  I was really surprised to see this in a comic of this era….and just in general.  Hurting animals is always a very dicey thing in storytelling.

The innocent kitty’s death proves there is something untoward going on, which is further confirmed by the scene playing out on the beach, where the sleepwalking Donna has wandered.  The Jukes have surrounded her, and Jed prepares to set his vicious dogs on the defenseless girl, only for his dog whistle to suddenly sprout branches.  The killer canines turn on their masters then, and only the timely arrival of the Titans saves the ruffians.  Meanwhile, Lilith, looking for Wonder Girl, stumbles upon a strange scene on a cliffside.  She sees a man in 17th Century garb conversing with a cloaked figure.  The man declares that he has returned for his companion, but she declares that she is stronger and always was, causing him to dissipates in a ghostly mist.

Back in the mansion, Lilith finds her friend still sleeping, but she also discovers something more sinister, the small noose used to strangle the cat!  This final piece enables the psychic to put the puzzle together.  She declares that Donna has been…possessed!  The mystic explains that such possessions are passed from one victim to another through secret rites, and the new vessel, as they are being made ready, will commit a ritual murder, which explains poor puss’s fate.

The Titans set out to solve the mystery, checking in on the wounded Jed Jukes, who they brought home after the dog attack, only to find him hanging upside down in the cellar!  Lilith, going off on her own again (you’d think she’d have learned by now), checks in on Miss Wickersham (and, let’s face it, in a story involving witches, the old lady with the cat is a prime suspect), only to be garroted by the awakened ancient after making an important discovery!

 

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Look at the magnificently malefic aspect Tuska gave the old woman.

 

Her teammates are attacked by a possessed Wonder Girl, who uses mystical powers to torment them.  Just as all seems hopeless, the mysterious figure from the cliff returns, grappling with the old woman and saving Lilith.  He declares that, this time, he is the stronger, because her time is running out.  He tells his aged antagonist that he won’t give up, because he loved her once, and he is waiting for her innocence to return, before fading away once more.  Intriguing!  At the same time, Robin manages to shatter a window, and the weak dawn light temporarily breaks the spell and brings Donna back to herself.

The day breaks, and Miss Wickersham lies near death, but Lilith has solved the mystery.  She is able to read the crone’s mind and sees that she is really over 300 years old and was once a girl named Magda Drachwyck, who loved a man named Gregori in a small European country.  Unfortunately, there were dark powers abroad in that era, and just before her wedding day, she was possessed by a cult of “Demonids” (really?), murdering her beloved as the evil took hold of her.  Eventually she was forced to flee to this island, and the spell-wrapped house has kept her alive for centuries.  By day, she was a sweet old lady, by night, a vicious witch.  Gregori, for his part, has haunted his former love ever since, waiting for the day that she will die, when the evil will be purged from her soul and they will be reunited.

With the facts of the case revealed, the heroes hope they can solve it, but it seems that, once a possession begins, it cannot be broken unless a token taken from the victim is recovered.  If the original host dies, it will be too late!  Desperately, the kids split up and search the house, but their efforts are for naught.  Finally, Robin discovers one of the stars from Wonder Girl’s uniform in Miss Wickersham’s locket, and Speedy fires it into the sea, breaking the spell.  As the sunsets (and apparently, witches always die at sunset, as everyone knows), the old lady dies, but her freed spirit is greeted by her love, Gregori, and the two are reunited in eternity.

What an unusual story, but what a good one!  Here we see one of those rare instances where Zaney Haney’s overactive imagination is reigned in enough to focus on a single plot and develop a story fully.  It’s comics like this where we see how good a writer Haney could actually be, with his gift for unique characters and unusual situations married to a competently plotted script.  In fact, this is one of the better mysteries we’ve encountered so far, and certainly one of the better supernatural adventures, with a very effective eerie feel, and an enigma that is properly setup before its reveal.  The tale still moves a little too fast at times, and some of the specifics of Haney’s witch-lore are a bit goofy or fuzzy (Demonids?), as are some elements of the setting (how exactly does Wonder Girl know this random old woman?) but he successfully creates an engaging plot out of the broad strokes, even delivering some surprisingly compelling moments along the way.

The ghostly Gregori’s hopeless, dogged persistence in the face of his former love’s loathsome actions is touching, and their final reunion is quite moving because of that, especially considering how little time we spend with them.  In fact, that final scene has a good deal of power for a comic like this.  Lilith is probably the most useful and likeable here of any story we’ve seen so far, actually justifying her place on the team and not being unnecessarily cryptic.  In terms of the art, Tuska does a solid job throughout, although he really (presumably with Cardy’s help on the inks) blows me away in a few key scenes, delivering wonderful emotional and character work on faces, like Gregori’s on the cliffside and Miss Wickersham’s as she garrotes Lilith.  This is simply a surprisingly good read, and as such, I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.


World’s Finest #204


“Journey to the End of Hope!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

We’ve got yet another odd one to cap off this post’s comics.  This issue is a strange mixture of thoughtful, creative elements with a plot that doesn’t really take advantage of them.  It has a relatively interesting cover, with the beautifully rendered central figures, courtesy of Neal Adams, plainly setting up the problem of the piece.  It’s unusual and it’s also honest enough, and, notably, it was probably a very proactive visual in 1971.  I can’t imagine there were many comics showing guns being pointed at protesting kids around that time.  This is a statement on the times that must have been more shocking in that era than it is today.  The tale within does turn on just this issue, after a fashion, and it begins at just such a protest, with Superman flying over a college campus, observing the tense standoff between students and guards.  At the moment, the sides seem to be behaving themselves, so the Action Ace heads to the office, where Perry White hands him an assignment, a human interest piece wherein the reporter will get a date through a computer dating service.  Strangely, after Clark has his marching orders, the editor wonders why he did this, noting that he hates computers.  Odd!

At the same time, in nearby Greenwich Village (what is it with O’Neil and forcing Superman into New York?), the former Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, gets a similar assignment from her mentor, I-Ching.  In a curious foreshadowing of the modern day, Clark and Diana find that the computers have matched them together.  In a rather nice scene, they chat about how they do make a certain amount of sense together, but their talk is interrupted by a trio of toughs.  These unwitting thus try to mug them, only to get their clocks cleaned by Diana.  It’s fun seeing Clark sit back and let his date do the heavy lifting.

World's Finest 204-06Smarting from their defeat, the punks decide that they must have revenge, and one of them draws a gun.  Unaware they’re being chased, the couple stop by a radio studio, which is supposed to be the first part of their date (which seems like a weird choice), but when they open the elevator doors, they find, not the office they expected, but a bleak, blasted landscape!  Suddenly, the not so wondrous woman is unable to breathe, and the Man of Steel realizes that there is very little oxygen in the atmosphere.  At super speed, he finds a pocket of air underground and carries his date to safety.  Building her a shelter, the Kryptonain, who doesn’t need air, sets out to see what is going on here.

World's Finest 204-11Finding a bizarre, golden tower, the only sign of life on this desolate world, he charges in, smashing past defenses, only to find himself face to circuit with a robot, built into the structure itself.  The machine explains that this is the future of the Earth, 2171, one hundred years in his future.  Apparently, an event in Superman’s time lead to the destruction he has observed in this future.  Notably, the android explains that this is just a possible future, and one which might be prevented if the catalyst event is altered.  Realizing this, the mechanical man developed time travel capacity (how convenient!), allowing it to bring forward agents that could affect such change.  To that end, it was the machine that manipulated events in the past to bring the two heroes together, which just seems unnecessarily complicated.  It then shows Superman a clip of the defining moment, a college protest which turns into a riot, during which someone will be killed, someone who, otherwise, would prevent this future.

Just then, on the robot’s monitors, the Man of Steel observes that pack of punks from earlier, who have stumbled through the same time-slip as the heroes and who are now rushing towards Diana’s shelter.  Inside, they menace the martial-arts mistress, until the Metropolis Marvel arrives and defeats them with ludicrous ease.  One can only assume that criminals in the DC Universe are just amazingly stupid after these idiots attack the invulnerable, super strong demigod with their bare hands.  After the thugs are disabled, Superman and Diana share a moment that threatens to turn romantic.  Just before it does, Clark breaks away.  It’s an interesting little scene, and I rather wonder if it ever gets followed up during this era.

World's Finest 204-22 - CopyAfter rescuing the former Wonder Woman, the Man of Tomorrow heads back to the robot’s citadel, only to find it running out of energy.  Gathering the other three unwilling time travelers, Superman desperately races to get back through the time rift before it closes, just barely making it.  Grabbing Diana, he races off once again to reach the site of the destined riot, and the two split up to try and calm things down.  Their efforts are for naught, though, as one of the hot-headed students throws a Molotov cocktail, blowing up a car, and the guards open fire.  In the aftermath, Diana finds a kid safe and sound who matches the description of the future-bot, only for Superman to discover a dead guard who also could be the one.  Desperately, the heroine asks her partner which one is their target, only for him to respond hopelessly that they’ll never know until it’s too late!

That’s quite an ending!  It’s a bold move from a writer known for bold moves, with the situation left unresolved and a reasonably subtle delivery (for O’Neil) of his message.  There are some fascinating ideas at play here, as well as a really interesting reaction to contemporary events, but the plot really needed another pass to tighten the story up.  It’s unnecessarily convoluted, and we spend way too much time with the random thugs who want to shoot Wonder Woman.  They add nothing to the plot or to the development of the story’s themes.  I think this would have worked much better if the heroes had been summoned to the future more directly (if the machine can manipulate people’s minds to arrange a date, it could have done the same thing to just get those two to show up in the same place) and then spent more time on campus for the final crisis.

As is, the resolution is really rushed, and the dramatic, weighty declarations of doom delivered by the future-bot are undercut by the random arrival of the three thieves.  On the positive side, it’s really fascinating to see the more sophisticated treatment of time travel that this comic employs, with the concept of possible futures and alternate time-lines.  That’s a relatively later development of the genre, and one not often found in lighter fare.  I’m sure O’Neil wasn’t the first to use this device, but I don’t think it was particularly wide-spread by ’71, making his use of it here innovative and impressive.  O’Neil also does a good job writing both Wonder Woman and Superman, which makes sense given his experience with both, and their interaction is really interesting.  Dick Dillin’s art is a bit uneven at times, but once again, his work here proves superior to that on JLA, with some really dynamic and also some really subtle work in action scenes and character moments.  He produces a few panels that are downright magnificent.

Perhaps most notably, this issue seems to be a clear commentary on the then recent shootings at Kent State, which loom large in the American zeitgeist of that era.  It’s interesting to see such a major event echoing into comics this way, and O’Neil’s take on it is really quite impressive in the little space he devotes to it.  He presents the perspective of both sides in the conflict, with the kids frustrated at their lack of reception by the powers that be and the guards on edge because of abuse they’ve taken from the kids.  Yet, he also illustrates the overly aggressive attitude by some of the guards.  The final thrust of the piece, focusing on the lost potential of young lives ended, even if doing so in the most dramatic way possible, is really rather thought-provoking..  I suppose in the final analysis, I’ll give this off-beat issue 3.5 Minutemen.  It’s flawed, but it is really fascinating.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

Aquamanhead.jpgBatmanhead.jpgshowcase-88-fnvf-jasons-quest0robin2 - Copy.jpgPhantom_Stranger_05.jpgrobin2 - Copy.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgAquamanhead.jpg3072564469_1_3_hCmU7jwq.jpg

arrowheadglheadAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpg2f52ff2370b3a87769869427faeac69darrowheadAquamanhead.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgMister_Miracle_Scott_Free_00014aa6e3fed1467a75dcac3f9654a2c723glheadLilith_Clay_(New_Earth)_002

After a quiet period, we got not one but two new additions to the Headcount this month.  In this post, we have a brand new addition to our prestigious club, with Lilith of the Teen Titans making an appearance.  That means that we have most of the Titans team on the wall.  We’re only missing Speedy and Mal!  I wonder if they’ll join the gang before the end of the era.


Final Thoughts:


With these three issues, we wrap up August 1971, which proved to be an important and memorable time in the Bronze Age, featuring a number of stories that would go on to have major implications for the DC Universe.  First we saw the reappearance of Two-Face after decades in obscurity, and even though his story wasn’t quite the triumphant return that will greet the Joker in a few years, it was a still a fun adventure and marked an important re-connection of Batman to his history and rogue’s gallery.  Despite the issue’s weaknesses, it still displayed a sophistication of art and characterization that marks the continuing growth and evolution of the Bat-books, which in many ways seem to be ahead of the rest of the DC Universe.

Even more noteworthy, this month saw the debut of the landmark drug story arc of Green Lantern/Green Arrow.  That comic, which was much better than I expected it to be, was an absolute bolt from the blue when it appeared.  It’s hard to recapture it’s significance over 40 years later, but despite it’s awkwardness and the clumsiness of some of O’Neil’s writing, we can still admire his attempt to grapple with something so very troubling and perilous in his world.  The popularity of the issue, despite its obvious flaws, is indicative of just how much it resonated with audiences at the time.

Of course, one of the major problems with that story are revealed in the fairly innocuous second appearance of Speedy this month, in Teen Titans, wherein he is his usual happy-go-lucky self, with no trace of a drug habit or the trauma that was supposed to have caused it.  Denny O’Neil’s loose attention to continuity leads to some significant dissonance between the portrayals.  Worse than that will be the ongoing portrayal, where Speedy, I imagine, will likely continue unaffected (not least because he’s under the pen of one of the least continuity sensitive writers working at the time, Bob Haney).  This undermines oen of the great strengths of shared-universe storytelling.

In the wider DC Universe, it seems that signs of unrest are everywhere, even showing up in the background of The Flash.  Once again, the pressures on campus and the continuing generational conflict is center stage in some of our stories.  These themes take two very different forms that remain similar in some notable ways.  While the Robin backup focuses on drop-out culture and the rebellion against authority and the World’s Finest issue focused on the unknowable cost that follows the loss of a young life, they both also put narrative effort into presenting a balanced portrayal of both sides of their pictured conflicts.  The DC writers seem to be making efforts to create a reasoned approach to these themes, even while courting younger readers, which makes sense given the more conservative nature of the company.  Still, it is an admirable effort at creating understanding, even if only in small ways.

This month also saw Mike Sekowsky depart Adventure Comics and DC Comics in general.  While I’m not sorry to see him go from Supergirl, it is a shame that we never got to see Sekowsky really develop his own series, with both of his self-authored ideas falling flat.  It’s especially lamentable that his excellent Manhunter 2070 concept didn’t take off.  It’s a little bittersweet to see one of the defining architects of the DC Universe ride into the sunset.

Whatever else it was, this was certainly a memorable month of comics, and it gave us some unexpected gems, like this issue of Teen Titans.  I hope that y’all have enjoyed this leg of the journey as much as I have!  Please join me soon for the beginning of our next month.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 4)

DC-Style-Guide-1

“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


Mister_Miracle_Vol_1_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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Superman #241


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“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.

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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!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Phantom Stranger #14


Phantom_Stranger_Vol_2_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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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“The Spectre of the Stalking Swamp”


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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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 3)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got a really famous comic on the docket for this post, or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that it is infamous.  I’m speaking, of course, about the drug issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow.  I can’t say I’ve been looking forward to reading this one again, but it should certainly prove an interesting subject for study and reflection. First, a little background.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 is, without a doubt, the most famous issue of this famous run, and justifiably so.  Whatever it’s quality, this issue arrived like a thunderclap, and it became massively influential.  Interestingly, the origins of this tale lie, not in the offices of DC, but in the Marvel Bullpen.  You see, in 1970, the drug epidemic was a major concern, and the Nixon administration asked Stan Lee to publish an anti-drug story.  The Marvel editor chose to do so in The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 in 1971, leading to the first comic since the advent of the Comics Code Authority to depict drug use, which was not allowed, even in a negative light, under the Code.  This caused a minor furor, and the folks at the Code refused to sign off on the issues, so Lee published them anyway, removing the Code seals.  This was an important moment in comics and especially in the growth of maturity in the medium.  When Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams came to tackle their own treatment of the drug problem (because where one of the Big Two goes, the other inevitably follows), the powers that be at the Code reevaluated the matter and approved the issues.  The rest, as they say, is history and led to the gradual loosening of Code restrictions.  Thus, this issue had an impact on the superhero genre at large, as well as its immediate cultural influence.

Of course, we can’t let that comic completely overshadow our other classic books, which include a solid issue of the Flash and another of JLA/JSA crossover, which is always a blast.  So, we’ve got plenty to cover in this post!

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
  • 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.


The Flash #208


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“A Kind of Miracle in Central City”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Malice in Wonderland”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Flash’s Sensational Risk”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got a rather off-beat Flash tale this month,  though it has some similarities to the themes of an earlier issue in this run.  This comic has an equally unusual cover, with its scene of piety and the seemingly providential arrival of the Flash.  It’s not the most arresting of images, but it is unique enough to catch your attention if you actually take a moment to figure out the story it tells.  It’s not a particularly great piece, but it is certainly fitting for the tale within.  That particular yarn begins with a group of teens bearing an offering of stolen goods to an abandoned church, only to be greeted by an unlikely trio of gunmen.

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They’re dressed like refugees from the 19th Century, with one a Yankee soldier, one a Confederate cavalryman, and the leader an Indian brave.  I’ve always got a soft-spot for gangs in themed costumes, but I’m not really sure how this gimmick fits these small-time hoods.  At least it’s better than another appearance of the Generic Gang, I suppose.  Either way, as they gather their ill-gotten gains, a troop of nuns march into the crumbling edifice and confront them.  One of the sisters pleads with her actual brother, the leader of the teens, to stop the thieves, but he rejects her.  Fittingly when dealing with such unrepentant rogues, the sisters bow and begin to pray to St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes (the concept of which appeals to my Romantic sensibilities).

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While the nuns can’t convince the thieves to change their ways, they at least drive them out of their hideout, but while meeting on the top of a building, the larcenous louses decide that someone must have tipped the sisters off to their location.  Who could be a better suspect than the brother of one of those sisters?  So, the thugs toss young Vic right off of the roof when he asks for his payment!  Meanwhile, the Flash is on his way back from Istanbul and makes a small but significant mistake.  He forgets that it is Saturday and heads to the office, only then realizing his error and heading home, which brings him by that building at the exact moment Vic makes his precipitous exit.  The Sultan of Speed whips up an updraft to break the kid’s fall, but inexplicably (and unnecessarily), “electromagnetic interference” somehow messes up his efforts…which consist of wind…somehow.  Nonetheless, the Scarlet Speedster saves the boy,  but the youth won’t tell him anything.

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This leads to a fun scene where Barry ponders how to help the kid, realizing that saving the world is important, but so is saving one misguided teenager.  As he thinks, he paces, unconsciously zipping from one end of the world to another, and we get a glimpse of how tumultuous the world was in 1971, with protests from Japan to Paris.  Having made his decision, the Flash zooms back home, only to find Vic having come to his senses and gone to his sister for help.

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Clearly these scenes represent some issues which don’t make our history recaps but were in the zeitgeist at the time.

The Fastest Man Alive overhears him confess and add that the kids want to give back the stolen goods, but they can’t find the gang’s new hiding place.  So the Monarch of Motion takes a hand.  He conducts a super speed grid search of the city, locates the loot, and then races past Vic and his girl, pulling them along in his slipstream right to the cave where the spoils lie.

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Unfortunately, they aren’t the only visitors.  Their anachronistic antagonists make an appearance as well, but the invisibly vibrating Flash jumps in again, swatting their bullets out of the air and lending an super-speed hand to Vic’s desperate fight against his foes.  I enjoy the touch of characterization this provides Barry, as he doesn’t need the glory from this deed, preferring to give the kid something to make him proud.  Later, the teens are granted leniency by a judge, and the nuns host a social at their renovated church.  Vic, for his part, is convinced that the strange events that led to this happy ending were a miracle.  Flash notes that it was the miracle of super speed, but we see a caption that quotes Dylan Thomas, saying that, to those who believe, “the moment of a miracle is like unending lightning.”

 

I like the light touch of religious themes in this story, with the whole tale having the appearance of a fairly straightforward superhero adventure, with the Flash as the usual arbiter of justice and redemption.  Yet, there is the admirably subtle twist of our hero’s wrong turn at the beginning of the story that brings him into contact with the lost soul in need of rescue, a wrong turn that is easily explained as just a random occurrence but which takes on greater meaning in the context of a story filled with prayer and faith.

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The yarn is nothing special, but Kanigher does a good job with suggesting the possibility of divine intervention.  The final quote makes that subtle connection stronger, but it is rather deeply and unintentionally ironic.  You see, that line comes from Dylan Thomas’s “On the Marriage of a Virgin,” which describes a sexual experience of a virgin, probably that of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in contrast with her experience with the Holy Spirit.  That makes its use here an…odd choice.  The line, taken out of context, works pretty well, but its context certainly provides a weird perspective on the story!  Nonetheless, it’s an entertaining read, and Dick Giordano does a solid job on the art, really acing the secret super-speed confrontation with the villains at the end.  The thieving kids’ arc is probably the biggest weakness of this issue, as it feels like it is missing something.  With all of the costumed criminals constantly talking about “The big man,” the tale feels rather unfinished when it ends without some type of reveal or resolution involving this big time baddie that supposedly is running things.  I found myself wondering if I had missed a few pages when I got to the end. Nonetheless, I’ll give the whole thing an above average 3.5 Minutemen based on the strength of its themes.

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“Malice in Wonderland”


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Despite how much I enjoyed the religious themes of the cover story, I have to say that my favorite part of this book was this delightful Elongated Man backup.  Like many of Ralph Dibny’s adventures I’ve been able to read, this one is just plain fun.  It begins in rather unusual fashion, with our unhurried hero stopping off at a small town named Dodgson, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in a rather unique way
Apparently the festival is, oddly enough, Alice in Wonderland themed because the town’s founder was a descendant of Lewis Carroll, and a costumed ‘Alice’ gives the visiting detective a free copy of the children’s classic, which he decides to read in the pack.  As he relaxes in that idyllic setting, reliving his childhood and admiring the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, which provide the official aesthetic for the town’s celebration, he is startled to see a running rabbit, late for a very important date!
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Of course, no self-respecting detective could pass up such an odd occurrence, so Ralph hurries off after the harried hare.  Before he can catch up, the White Rabbit hops into a cab and speeds away.  Using his stretching powers, the Elongated Man is able to pursue the rogue rodent through the town for a while before losing him, but after an informative conversation with a helpful ‘Mad Hatter,’ the Ductile Detective follows a hint and heads to the library, where a first edition of Alice is on display.
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Flash208-22Sure enough, the hunch pays off, and the hare is there.  When the bold bunny sees the superhero arrive, he calls out to another costumed character, who tosses down a smoke bomb.  Together the two steal the valuable tome while Ralph and the townsfolk take an impromptu nap.  Upon awakening, the Ductile Detective deduces where the thieves will be hiding, from a scrap of paper he snatched from the rabbit.  The notes reads “Mushroom Float,” and the hero realizes that the crooks plan to make their escape in plain sight, by hiding out among the costumed cast of the town’s anniversary parade!
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Meanwhile, those same thieves are slowly winding through town aboard, you guessed it, a float of the hookah-smoking caterpillar atop his mushroom.  As they congratulate themselves on their cleverness, an arm suddenly stretches out of the caterpillar’s hookah and snatches their loot.  The criminals draw weapons, but the wildly stretching sleuth proves too hard to hit.
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There’s some really fun (and funny) action in this scene, as when the villains try to smother our hero by shoving his head into the smoke from the hookah, only to have him stretch his nose free of the cloud, all while stretching a foot around the float to give his opponents the boot!  With the criminals corralled, Ralph explains what originally tipped him off about the rogue rabbit.  The town’s celebration was based on Tenniel’s illustrations, but the ignorant thief had based his costume on the Disney movie, making him look out of place.  This set the detective’s ‘mystery loving nose’ to twitching.  There’s a lesson in there for you, kids: Don’t just see the movie; read the book!
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This is just a charming little adventure.  It’s a lot of fun, and Ralph is entertaining throughout, both in dialog and in his wacky stretching.  Dick Giordano’s art is great in this tale, really doing a wonderful job with the whimsical world that best suits Ralph and his exploits.  All of the colorful costumed characters look great, though they also don’t really look like people wearing costumes.  Still, Giordano does a really good job with the final fight, providing entertaining and creative uses of his hero’s powers, which is always important for a stretching character.  There’s not much to this story, but Len Wein manages to make it feel complete in just eight pages, which is always a challenge.  I’ll give this whimsical little visit to Wonderland a thoroughly entertaining 4 Minutemen.
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Green Lantern / Green Arrow #85


Green_Lantern_Vol_2_85

“Snowbirds Don’t Fly”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Colourist: Cory Adams
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Here we are at last.  I’ve been talking about this comic since we began the GL/GA series.  Of course, I’ve been dreading rereading this issue.  I  rather cordially disliked it upon my first read, finding it massively heavy-handed and generally goofy and melodramatic.  Imagine my surprise when, upon begrudgingly rereading the comic (the things I do for you, my beloved readers!), I found the story much better than I remembered.  It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s far from the worst issue of this run, and it is undeniably important and groundbreaking.  So, without further ado, let’s examine this landmark issue.

First, I’d be remiss not to talk about this justly famous cover.  It’s not exactly subtle (what in this run is?), but it is immediately arresting.  Can you imagine browsing through the newsstand, seeing the collection of fine and conventional covers of this month’s books arrayed in front of you, only to have this piece jump out.  It had to be an incredible shock to audiences back in 1971.  I’d say that this is one of the few cases where cover dialog or copy is absolutely necessary.  I think a little context, at least in 1971, was probably called for.  The central image, of Speedy strung out, shaking, hunched and ashamed, is really a powerful one, though Ollie’s reaction might be a bit exaggerated to the point of being comical.  The overall effect is certainly gripping, nonetheless.

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The legendary story this cover represents had to be even more shocking to fans.  It begins with the conventional scene of a mugging, but unusually, these muggers are uncertain and possessed of a strange desperation.  Unfortunately for them, they pick Oliver Queen as their pigeon, which goes about as well as you might imagine.  Apparently, Dinah has broken things off with Ollie (maybe that fight last issue was more serious than it seemed?), and he’s got a bit of aggression to work out.  Things take a turn for the serious, however, when one of the muggers pulls out a crossbow of all things!  Oddly, the guy who uses a bow and arrow as a superhero mocks the weapon and doesn’t take it seriously, which makes the quarrel that embeds itself in his chest all the more surprising!

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In a modern day reimagining of the beginning of the Good Samaritan parable, the badly wounded hero crawls through the streets in search of aid…and is promptly ignored by a well-dressed couple, a cop (!), a taxi, and even the nurse at the emergency room…at least until he keels over.  It’s an effective little commentary on the dehumanizing affect of urban life.  After all, we’re only six years after the murder of Kitty Genovese.  Once he’s patched up, Ollie checks out the quarrel and notices that it is rather familiar and, on a hunch, he calls up Hal Jordan for some backup.  When the Green Lantern arrives, Ollie suits up and admits to his friend that the quarrel has him worried because he hasn’t seen Speedy in a month, and it could have come from his wayward ward.

 

green lantern 085 011The heroes begin their investigation in the basement of Ollie’s own building, where he’d seen the kids who jumped him before.  Downstairs they find one of the punks begging a charming fellow named Browden for a fix.  It seems that Browden is a pusher!  He turns away the junkie with a savage kick, and the partners decide to ask the jerk some questions.  The guy proves suicidally brave, taking on two Justice Leaguers with a fire axe, but surprisingly this doesn’t prove to be the best idea.  After capturing both the drug dealer and his client, the heroes plan to interrogate their prisoners.

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Next, we get a scene that I found cringe-inducingly bad when I read it the first time.  I found it much more palatable this time, but there’s still plenty here that is on the silly side.  We join our other two would-be muggers in an apartment in China Town, and they are suffering from withdrawal.  To take their minds off their pain, they admire a wall of ancient weapons, the source of the nearly deadly crossbow.  One of the boys is an Asian American, and he mentions that the weapons are his fathers, who collects them as an outlet against the injustice that he has to deal with day in and day out as a minority.  This leads to their discussions about why they are using drugs, and the dialog is a bit goofy, but there is something worthwhile here as well, though I didn’t appreciate it on my first reading.

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What…what is that kid doing in the last panel?  Interpretive dance?

The scene is ham-handed, and in it O’Neil commits a cardinal sin of writing, having his characters simply declare how they feel, rather than delivering that information organically.  Despite the clunky and, at times, ridiculous dialog where these characters just helpfully hold forth about their motivations and feelings, O’Neil links their drug use to the racial issues of the time.  While his connections are wildly overly simplistic, effectively equating to “I use drugs because people are racist,” there’s no denying that there was and is a disproportionate percentage of addiction in minority communities in the U.S..  This is tied into a host of other social ills, but it’s noteworthy that O’Neil makes the connection and gives us a sympathetic portrayal, not only of addicts, but of minorities as well, identifying the social pressures that play a role in their problems.

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green lantern 085 016Their group-therapy session is interrupted by the arrival of the Green Team, who fly in and capture the fleeing kids, only to be surprised to see that one of them is…Speedy?!  Ollie instantly assumes that his ward is there undercover, and when one of the junkies helpfully offers to take the heroes to their suppliers, Arrow tells his young friend to stay behind while they wrap things up.  On the way, the heroes talk with the kids, and in a notable inversion, it is the Emerald Archer who is the inflexible, judgemental one, while Hal takes a more thoughtful, moderate approach.  It seems that Ollie has no patience for the kind of weakness that leads to drug use.

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Another Headcount entry!

When they reach their destination, a private airport, the Emerald Gladiator quickly disarms the smugglers operating there, but then he falls prey to that perennial superhero foe…the headblow!  One of the junkies unsurprisingly turns on the heroes and clocks the Lantern with a wrench!  His green-clad partner does his best, but the wounded Archer is quickly beaten down, and instead of killing the helpless heroes, the smugglers decide to dope them up and leave them for the cops.  The addicts get a fix for their efforts, and as the cops arrive, it seem that the Green Team is doomed for disgrace and jail!  Just then,  Speedy arrives and manages to rouse Hal, who unsteadily tries to use his ring to escape.

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His efforts result in a monstrously distorted construct produced by his drug-addled imagination, but the Emerald Crusader wasn’t chosen to wield the most powerful weapon in the universe for nothing.  Hal summons all of his willpower and manages to focus enough to get them away.  It’s actually a really good sequence, and I love that Hal is portrayed as having enough iron willpower to overcome even the drugs in his system this way, however unrealistic it might be.

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Back at Green Arrow’s apartment, the heroes recover and discuss what would lead someone to put that kind of poison into their body.  Roy quietly offers a suspiciously specific example about a young boy ignored by a father figure and turning to drugs for comfort, but his mentor simply shrugs it off.  After Hal leaves, Ollie walks back into his rooms, only to discover Speedy in the process of shooting up!

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green lantern 085 029The reveal is, of course, not that surprising after the cover, but the twist of an honest-to-goodness superhero, not just a supporting character, becoming a drug-addict, must have been earth-shattering to fans in ’71, especially at DC.  We’re still not very far removed from the era where DC heroes were spotless, flawless paragons of all virtues, and this is a huge departure from the line’s conventions.  You simply didn’t see things like this in comics, especially DC Comics.  This makes the issue itself an important milestone, in many ways representing the high-water mark of social relevance for the era.

The portrayal of DC heroes as fallible was amped up by an order of magnitude with this story, for better or worse, and not just with Speedy’s succumbing to heroin.  No, the moral culpability of Oliver Queen shouldn’t be overlooked.  This is actually one of my biggest problems with this comic.  O’Neil does here what often happens with such “nothing will ever be the same” twists: he tells a massively disruptive story, revealing a huge change in the characters, but with no plans to follow it up or manage the fallout from it.  Thus, these two issues will go on to haunt poor Speedy for the rest of his comics career.  Hardly a story will be written about him that won’t be affected in some fashion by this choice, and while Ollie isn’t as marred by these comics as his poor ward, the character is marked by his cavalier irresponsibility towards the kid that was effectively his son, which helped lead to this moment.  These factors make this tale a pretty grave disservice to these characters.  As bad as the incredibly self-righteous, Godwin’s Law invoking Green Arrow of the earlier run might have been, this twist, which turns him into an incredibly selfish, irresponsible jerk is significantly worse.

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Translation: ‘I should not be allowed to care for a kid.’

Despite this, the story itself is significantly better than I remember, and there is a good tale to be found here, with the examination of drug use and the damage it causes, as well as the desperation of those caught in the claws of addiction.  Unfortunately, the dialog of the junkies is more than a little silly at times, and the characterization problems, with both Ollie’s selfishness and Speedy’s rather weak reasons for his drug use seriously impacting the overall effect.  Apparently Roy was abandoned by his father figure…while he was in college.  At that point, you’d think he’d be able to handle it.  A lot of kids go off to college and don’t see their parents for months at a time.  I certainly did.  So, his motivations seem a bit insufficient, and this portrayal also contrasts rather noticeably with the happy, well-adjusted kid concurrently appearing in Teen Titans.  A little more groundwork would have gone a long way to making this tale more successful.

Despite these weaknesses, seeing this comic in the context, both of its preceding run and of the rest of the DC line at the time, is really revelatory.  In that light, it becomes apparent that is the culmination of much of O’Neil’s work on this book.  In it, the major themes of O’Neil’s social relevance campaign come together in a surprisingly sophisticated (for its time and medium) combination that illustrates a compassionate understanding of the drug problem that is often still lacking today.  It is clumsy in places, clever in places, poorly thought-out, yet innovative and daring.  The issue is helped greatly by Neal Adams’ beautiful, realistic art.  It elevates the material and adds a touch of humanity to the characters whose suffering and struggles might otherwise not have nearly as much weight.  This flawed comic is definitely worth a read if you want to understand both its era and Bronze Age comics at large.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, certainly a higher score than I expected to award, but it is definitely hurt by O’Neil’s abuse of his characters.

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Justice League of America #91


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“Earth – The Monster-Maker!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The Day the World Melted”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella

“The Hour Hourman Died!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Sid Greene

To round out our comics for this post, we’ve got a JLA issue that delivers another JLA/JSA crossover, which always provide for fun reading.  It starts with a really great cover.  That’s quite a dramatic tableau, the grim-faced Dark Knight carrying in the ravaged body of his comrade and the shocked looks of the other Leaguers, all beautifully drawn by Neal Adams.  It would certainly be tough to pass this issue up and forgo the chance to find out what happened!  I’d say that we could certainly do without the cover copy, but that’s a small complaint.  Of course, I always love the team line-ups that these classic issues provide.  Overall, it’s an all-around good cover.  Sadly, the comic inside doesn’t quite live up to the tantalizing promise of the piece.

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While the dialog is, of course, a cheat, the image itself is truth in advertising, as the tale begins with Batman’s arrival as depicted.  Superman, Hawkman, Green Lantern, and the Atom are holding a meeting on the Satellite, and they note that Aquaman is absent without leave, causing them to wonder if he’s still angry about the events of the previous issue.  Just then, the Caped Crusader arrives, carrying the Crimson Comet, not so speedy at the moment.  Apparently the Masked Manhunter recovered the mauled hero from near Gotham.

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I quite like this title image; it evokes the feel of those classic 50s sci-fi tales.

Before that mystery can be solved, we see a strange scene, in which some rather adorable aliens, traveling between dimensions in a spaceship, lose one of their passengers and his 80s-TV-show-cute pet.  The poor kid, the brother of the pilot, slips through the dimensional barrier, and he and his space-dog end up in separate worlds.  The other aliens frantically fret that, once separated, the boy and dog can only survive for 37.5 hours!  Apparently, this strange species has developed a symbiotic relationship with their pets, one in which the creatures are so dependent upon one another that each will die without the other.  On Earths 1 and 2, the castaway creatures are mutated by the dimensional energies they experienced, growing gigantic and becoming maddened.

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jla091-05On Earth 2, the Justice Society gathers, including their Superman, Hawkman, Flash, and Atom, as well as their Robin.  They get a distress signal from their Green Lantern, and when they arrive, they find him battered and bruised from a bout with the alien boy.  Apparently the yellow youth sensed that the Emerald Gladiator’s ring had the power to bridge dimensions, so he attacked the hero and stole the ring.  The team sends their fallen friend back to base while they set out in search of the kid.  Oddly, on the way, Hawkman talks down to Robin, telling him he “may as well fill in for Batman,” prompting the ADULT Wonder to remind the Winged One that he is a full-fledged member of the Society.  Robin thinks about the ‘generation gap,’ which seems a bit odd, given that he’s supposed to be, like in his 30s in these stories.

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jla091-07Forced friction aside, back on Earth 1, their Flash recovers long enough to give them a super-speed clue, which Superman decodes.  It’s a reference to “New Carthage,” where Robin attends Hudson U.  Just then, Aquaman sends in an alarm of his own, so the team splits, with Batman and the newly arrived Green Arrow heading to help the Sea King, while the rest of the team go to track down the mysterious threat.  At their destination they find their own Robin, who was already investigating the monster.  As they continue their search, the Earth-1 Hawkman gives the Teen Wonder his own dose of condescension.  Man, Friedrich has poor Hawkman playing the jerk…on two worlds!

Before the heroes find the problem pup, Green Lantern detects a signal emanating from Earth-2, leading to the two teams joining forces.  The Atom suggests the distribution of forces: (Earth-1: Both Supermen, both Atoms, and Flash 2 / Earth-2: Both Hawkmen, Green Lantern 1, both Robins), saying that it will be “more scientifically sound,” which Superman questions…but despite this the choice is never explained.  Weird.  On Earth-2, the baffled alien boy lashes out at his surroundings, but when the heroes arrive, he tries to communicate… but it doesn’t go too well.

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They can’t understand each other, and the young Robin loses patience and attacks!  See kid, this is why Hawkman talks down to you!  He takes a beating until his elder counterpart and the others rescue him.  The Emerald Crusader packs the two Robins off to safety at the Batcave so the Teen Wonder can get help, but he himself gets pummeled by the kid…rather unnecessarily, really.  He basically just lands and lets the alien belt him.  The youth is after the Lantern’s ring, but Hal manages to turn it invisible.  This prompts his frustrated foe to turn the Green Guardian into a human missile, taking out both Hawkmen in the process.  It’s not the best fight scene, really, as the heroes seem more than a little incompetent, and the kid really doesn’t seem like that much of a threat.

 

That problem is magnified even more for his adorable animal companion, which is rampaging through Earth-1.  Seriously, the thing looks like it should have shown up on The Snorks, Teddy Ruxpin, or some other brightly colored and whimsical kids’ cartoon.  Obviously this is intentional to a degree, with the creative team wanting to emphasize the juxtaposition of the innocence of these creatures with the threat they pose, but I think they went a tad overboard here, especially when the cute critter somehow knocks down two Supermen with a single swipe!  The heroes’ efforts seem futile, but finally, while Atom 1 distracts the dimension-lost dog, one of the Supermen digs a pit around it at super speed, trapping the creature.

 

Realizing that there might be a connection between their invader and that of Earth-2, Flash 2 and Superman 1 head there to investigate.  Meanwhile, the alien boy stumbles into Slaughter Swamp, where he encounters…Solomon Grundy!  The two bond in an unlikely friendship that is actually a little sweet, and when the heroes track the lost lad down, Grundy tries to protect him  This leads to a fairly nice brawl, which ends with Grundy triumphant, preparing to smash the alter-Earth version of his nemesis, Green Lantern, using Superman himself as a club!

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This is a fun and rather unusual issue.  I didn’t remember this one at all, but I have to say, the central conflict, the dangerous innocent facing his own imminent doom, is a creative and interesting concept.  It’s also always fun to see the League and Society team up, even if they aren’t exactly at their best in this story.  Notably, Friedrich’s attempts at characterization with his Robin/Hawkman pairings are interesting, even though they aren’t entirely successful.  Still, I have to give him credit for trying to inject some personality and personal drama into the book.  It’s intriguing to see him attempt to bring the generation gap conflicts into the superhero world in such a fashion.  We’ve seen it addressed in Robin’s backups and in Teen Titans, but we haven’t seen this tension explored between actual adult and teen heroes very much.

 

The introduction of Grundy is a nice way to add a bit more of a threat to the story, but he still seems a bit overmatched by the gathered heroes, so much so that Friedrich has to cheat a bit to neutralize Hal, having the Lantern sort of take a dive against the kid.  Dillin’s art is, unfortunately, evincing the usual stiffness and awkward patches that I’ve come to expect from his JLA work, but there are also the usual highlights.  (In this case, the fight with Grundy)  Despite its weaknesses, this is still a fun and admirably creative adventure tale.  I’ll give it a solid 3.5 Minutemen.  It loses a bit because of the plot induced stupidity of its protagonists.

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P.S.: Entertainingly, this issue includes a note from Mike Friedrich himself about writing the story wherein he laments the tortuous challenge of juggling the massive cast of a JLA/JSA crossover.  I sympathize!  That has to be quite the job.  I know I’ve found it tough in my own work with these characters in the DCUG.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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We get a second appearance by Green Lantern on the Wall this month, and I have to say, I’m more than a little surprised that we haven’t seen a lot more of him.  Hal has something of a reputation, you see.


Well folks, that will do it for this post, but quite a post it is, featuring a landmark comic.  There’s plenty here to consider, and I hope that you’ve found the reading as entertaining and interesting as I did in the writing.  Please join me again soon for another leg of our journey Into the Bronze Age!  While our next set of books won’t be quite so groundbreaking, they promise to be fascinating in their own right, including the always-exciting Mr. Miracle and the penultimate issue of Denny O’Neil’s unusual but provocative run on Superman.  Until next time, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!  See you then!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  I know I’ve been quite remiss in delivering you some more Bronze Age goodness, but I’m getting back in the swing of things, so I hope you can look forward to some more frequent posts.  Thank you all for your patience and your continued support!

As for this post, we’ve got a double dose of the Dark Knight on tap, including a Bronze Age first, the return of one of the great Batman villains!

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
  • 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.


Batman #234


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“Half an Evil”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Vengeance for a Cop!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Trail of the Talking Mask”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino

We’ve got an important milestone here, as this issue features the return of a classic Batman villain, the first of many due in the coming years.  As you can probably tell from the cover, our mystery guest is that bifurcated badman, that champion of chance, Two-Face!  I knew that he had been long absent from the Bat books, but when I looked him up, I was astonished to discover that he last appeared way back in 1956, in Detective Comics #228.

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It’s hard to believe that a character now considered to be one of the major Batman villains could be absent from these books for over a decade and a half, but so it is.  Notably, DC seems to realize the significance of this story, as the cover copy touts the return of the villain.  The cover itself is okay, but it isn’t really all that impressive.  We’ve got a nice depiction of Batman’s plight, and Two-Face’s laughing visage is fairly striking, but the whole tableau is more confusing than evocative.  What exactly is going on here?  Has Two-Face turned uglier than average pirate?  We are left to ponder the question.

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The book opens with a lovely, moody splash page presaging the showdown that will eventually take place in the swamp at the end of the story, but the action actually begins during the “Gotham City Merchants’ Parade,” which bears a striking resemblance to the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  This particular festival is interrupted by a strange theft, as two clowns break character to hijack a giant hotdog balloon, which floats up to be received by a waiting helicopter.  Note the label on the float.

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This crime, unusual as it is, attracts the attention of Batman, and we get a funny scene in Commissioner Gordon’s office, as resident anti-Batman loudmouth, Councilman Arthur Reeves, is busy boasting about how he’s going to put the vigilante in his place, only to flee in terror when the Dark Knight, having silently arrived behind him, says “boo.”  It’s a great little humor beat that provides some levity while not detracting from Batman’s brooding presence or serious attitude, striking a balance that isn’t easy to achieve.  The annoying Reeves having been removed, Batman and the Commissioner compare notes, but their conference is interrupted by an alarm at the Nautical Museum.

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Batman234-09Arriving there ahead of the police, the Masked Manhunter sees a car take off, but realizes that it is a diversion.  Continuing his search inside, he encounters the two criminal clowns from the first robbery, and he captures one, though the other escapes with the loot, a diary of an old sea captain named Bye.  Interrogating his captive, the Caped Crusader receives a shock.  The mastermind behind these thefts is always flipping a coin and keeps his face in shadow.  Sadly, the cover rather spoiled the reveal, but I imagine the next scene still had to be exciting for long-time Batman fans, as Two-Face is slowly revealed, first with a focus on his scarred coin, and then his equally scarred visage.  It’s a nice, dramatic scene, and it ends with the evil side of the coin winning out, setting the stage for more mischief.

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Having sussed out the identity of his foe, Batman reminisces over Two-Faces history, and I was surprised to discover that the Pre-Crisis villain actually had his face repaired and was healed at one point in time, only to have another disaster scar him once more and drive him back into madness.  Poor Harv can’t catch a break!  Back in the present, the world’s greatest detective begins to put the pieces together, realizing that Captain Bye’s former ship is still preserved in a marina nearby.  When he arrives to investigate, the Batmobile is met by a pair of gunsels, but Batman isn’t in it!  Using an automatic pilot to control the car, the Dark Knight gets the drop on the gunmen and takes them out, only to arrive on the dock just as the schooner explodes and sinks!  The Masked Manhunter realizes that he’s missed something and tries to examine his assumptions.

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In another funny scene, a drunk is floating elsewhere in the river on an inner tube, only to be slowly hoisted out of the drink by a mast emerging from the water.  The schooner slowly floats to the surface, and Batman is there to see it.  When the ship is fully afloat, he climbs aboard to await the arrival of his foe, but even the great detective is stunned to see the drunk hanging obliviously from the mast, and he’s distracted enough for Two-Face, who had stowed away with a SCUBA rig, to sneak up and knock him out.  It seems that the mastermind stole the parade balloon to help him raise the ship after he sank it, having chosen that particular balloon because it belonged to the Janus (two-faced god) hot dog company, labelled “Doubly Delicious,” thus making it doubly appealing for Two-Face!

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The scarred scalawag discovered that Captain Bye had hidden a treasure of gold doubloons on his ship, and he had sunk it in order for the tide to deposit it in a secluded cove, then he raised it with the balloon so he could recover the hidden fortune in secret.  Lashing Batman to the mast, Two-Face plans to sink the ship once more, but the Dark Knight points out that this will kill the tramp on the mast.  A flip of his coin forces the villain to save the drunk, and this gives the Caped Crusader time to free himself, and with a single blow, he knocks his foe out, bringing the adventure to an end.

This is a fun story, with a lot of entertaining moments and a nice mix between humor and drama.  It isn’t necessarily the most impressive return for Two-Face, though it’s nice that his convoluted plan almost works, only to be thwarted by his own fixation on his coin, in the custom of all the classic Two-Face tales.  This feels like a Two-Face story in that way.  It’s a tradition that Batman’s foes tend to defeat themselves thanks to their own particular shades of madness, and this story is right in line with that history as well.  Yet, I was a bit disappointed that the Dark Knight defeated Two-Face so easily.  It seems like Harvey should have been more of a physical threat, ‘strength of a madman’ and all that, as the old stories had it.  On the art front, Dick Giordano’s heavy inks bring a certain darker atmosphere to this tale, and for once the difference is striking enough that even I can notice it.  This works well for Batman, though it brings a rougher look to Adams’ pencils.  The artwork is excellent and very effective throughout, with Adams doing a particularly nice job on the reveal of Two-Face’s scarred visage.  So, taken all together, this is a solid if not spectacular return for a great villain.  It lacks just enough in Two-Face’s portrayal and the development of the mystery to keep it from being great to match.  The coin dictates that I give Two-Face’s reappearance 4 Minutemen, a pretty good score, and I’m not one to argue with the coin.

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“Vengeance for  a Cop”


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The Robin backup features an odd but thoughtful little yarn.  It begins, oddly, with a police officer named Robert Beeker apparently breaking the fourth wall.  He seems to be talking directly to the reader, as he talks about how his beat, on the edge of Hudson U’s campus, places him between angry and frustrated portions of society, the townsfolk who think he’s too soft on the “long-haired anarchist law-breakers,” and the kids, who think he’s just “a head-busting establishment pig.”  It’s an interesting monologue, and it highlights the divide afflicting the culture and his own difficult, delicate role as a peace officer.  Yet, as he talks, a shadowy figure shoots him down, though he gets off a shot in return.  This seems to be in response to his speech, so what exactly is going on is a bit uncertain.

Either way, who shoot Officer Beeker is a mystery that attracts Robin’s attention, as he thinks to himself that “too many cops are getting the short end of the stick these days,” which is an interesting perspective given the enduring national anger following events like the Kent State Shootings in 1970.  The Teen Detective investigates, but finding nothing, he visits the wounded officer.  Beeker, recovering well, asks the young hero to bring his daughter home.  The silly girl has bought into the counter-culture promises of the day and run off to a commune, hating her father for defending a corrupt society.

 

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Charming girl…

 

When the Teen Wonder heads to the commune, he finds the girl, Nanci, headstrong and passionately convinced of her own righteousness, as is often the case for the young and foolish.  She condemns her father and shows Robin a police bullet she wears, taken from the leg of one of the ‘family.’  Just then, Terri Bergstrom arrives with a note from Batman that warns his ward that the shooter may actually be at the commune as well.  When asked how she found him, Terri is vague once more, continuing to imply that she knows more than she’s letting on.  I suppose the he should really be used to this by now from his time around that master of vague nonsense, Lilith.  Nonetheless, it’s then that Dick meets Pat Whalon, Nanci’s boyfriend, who has a wounded leg and who admits to having been at Hudson U.  Curious.

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Aiming to investigate the commune, Robin approaches a bridge, only to be confronted with a towering hippie who speaks in a strange, archaic fashion, and who declares that the Titan must best him with a staff to gain entrance.  Shades of Little John!  Dick loses the fight, but he loses with humility, and this is apparently the real test, but it doesn’t explain the weird put on Shakespearean act (nor how the young superhero gets his head handed to him by this hippie Merry Man).  Nonetheless, in addition to a dunking, the fight also provided Robin with a clue to the culprit, and he points out the perfidious one.  Yet, the hippies declare they won’t let him take the gunman back to town.  The identity of the villain is kept a mystery for the moment, but I’m guessing it is pretty clear.

Batman234-28This is a story with some really worthwhile elements and some really strange touches as well.  The odd opening and the random anachronistic dialog that doesn’t get explained are rather off-putting, but the central mystery and, more importantly, the attempts to address current social concerns, are really decent.  Friedrich does a solid job setting up the mystery in a small space, but there just aren’t many characters to work with.  It might have been better to go to the commune immediately and filled in the backstory briefly.  Nonetheless, his attempts to address the anti-police sentiments abroad at the time are worthwhile and surprisingly effective, humanizing Beeker, briefly but well, with his lament about being stuck in the middle, and touching obliquely on the dangers of returning violence for violence and hatred for hatred.  It’s all rushed, but it’s fascinating to see these themes being addressed, especially in the Robin feature, which seems aimed specifically at the college crowd.  So, I’ll give this ambitious but uneven tale 3 Minutemen.  It’s worthwhile, but clumsy.

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Detective Comics #414


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“Legend of the Key Hook Light House”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Invitation to Murder!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler/Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: John Costanza

“The Australian Code Mystery”
Writer: David Vern Reed
Penciler: Alex Toth
Inker: Sy Barry
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editors: Mort Weisinger and George Kashdan

“Private Eye of Venus”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler/Inker: Carmine Infantino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got a lot of backup material in this issue, with two very different mystery stories rounding out the Bat-tales, which is always neat to see.  We’ve got a military-style spy story, complete with code breakers and double dealing, as well as a classic 50s-style sci-fi yarn.  Yet, our cover story is definitely the highlight.  It’s a surprisingly touching story where the action and adventure take a distant backseat to the human drama of one unexpectedly sympathetic and well drawn supporting character.  As for the cover itself, it is just okay.  It’s got that soft, ghostly effect that we’ve seen often lately, and it actually rather inverts the events of the actual story.  Still, it is nicely menacing and dynamic.

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It begins with an unusual tale of love and betrayal set forty years in the past.  A lighthouse keeper lets himself be distracted from his duties by his young love, and a ship wrecks in a stormy sea (Tom Curry would be disgusted!).  Unable to live with what he’d done, the keeper killed both his lover and himself, leaving the tower…haunted!

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Detective414-04In the ‘present,’ Batman is poised in the rafters of a Florida bar, spying on a meeting of arms smugglers.  Notably, the narration focuses on the humidity and heat of the night (and if you’ve ever been to the Gulf Coast, that will be no surprise to you), and I can’t help but think, ‘man, Bats must be DYING under that cape and cowl!’  Anyway, the Dark Knight’s comfort aside,once the guns are revealed, the Caped Crusader descends on the hoods, taking out the muscle in a nice fight scene.

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Detective414-06Yet, among this motley band of mercenaries are a mismatched pair, a tall, Amazonian blonde named Lucy and a little fellow named Arnie, who has brought the guns down from Gotham.  When the Masked Manhunter confronts the Lilliputian driver, Lucy attacks the hero.  This leads to a fun little exchange where Batman tells this fiery femme that “I don’t want to hit a member of the fair sex–but if the need arises…”  That feels very fitting.  In order to save the diminutive driver, Lucy offers to make the Dark Detective a deal.  She offers to bring the Caped Crusader to the head of the gang, if only he’ll let Arnie go.

Detective414-07Batman agrees, and as he and Lucy board a boat and head for the abandoned lighthouse for which the guns were originally destined, we learn why this brassy belle was willing to make this trade.  Beautifully illustrated by Novick, who perfectly captures Lucy’s care-worn face, we learn a bit of her backstory.  With a lovely, rough-hewn charm, she describes how she was once an up-and-coming singer in Jersey, and Arnie was her manager who wanted to marry her.  She wanted nothing to do with the little fellow, and instead lived a fast, flashy, and ultimately hard life, losing her beauty and her voice chasing the wrong type of men and the wrong types of thrills.  Only then did she realize her love for the sweet-natured Arnie, but then he wouldn’t have her.  It’s sweet, and sadly beautiful, and it’s delivered in just one great panel and a few word balloons.  It’s a real feat of storytelling to create something touching in so brief a space, and another example of the power of this medium for narrative economy.

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Once on the island, Batman lays in wait for the buyers, a thoroughly vicious South American general named Ruizo.  Lucy leads his men into a trap in the lighthouse, and the Dark Knight takes them out swiftly, taking advantage of the darkness.  But Lucy is left outside with Ruizo, who shoots her in revenge!  This old dame is tougher than she looks, though, and thinking that the General will go after Arnie, she drags herself across the beach and into the surf in order to wrap a cable around the getaway boat’s propeller.

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Detective414-15The Caped Crusader takes advantage of the situation to confront Ruizo, but the rough seas knock him off his feet, and he strikes head!  The General draws his sword and prepares for the deathblow, only to be surrounded by a corona of blinding light and an unearthly voice speaking of redemption.  Desperate to escape the ghostly blaze, the would-be dictator leaps into the sea and swims towards another phantom glow that he thinks is the lighthouse, only to sink into the depths.  Batman rescues Lucy, and they have a nice moment.  Then, he climbs into the lighthouse and, realizing that it has been deserted for years, he realizes there must be a spiritual explanation for the strange occurrences and he says…’thanks,’ as the restless spirit finds redemption.

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Detective414-17 - CopyThis is an odd little tale, with the haunted lighthouse not quite fitting in smoothly, but it really becomes worthwhile with the brief but touching story of Lucy, her wasted life, and her heroic struggle to save the only man who had treated her with love.  She’s wonderfully sympathetic, and I wish O’Neil had cut out the ghost angle and just spent more time with her.  Novick’s art is serviceable throughout, occasionally rising to be excellent, but one of the only flaws of this story is that he struggles to consistently portray the age and wear on Lucy’s face.  She’s as gorgeous as Black Canary most of the time, with only a few panels really capturing the older, more world-weary face she’s supposed to have.  It makes it a little hard to take her tale of faded glory seriously.  This is, of course, a common problem in superhero art, as artists tend to only be skilled at drawing heroic types.  Despite its weaknesses and the ill-fitting element of the haunted lighthouse, this story is nonetheless memorable because of the charming portrayal of this single random minor character.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen in honor of “Loosy’s” hard-knock life.

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“Invitation to Murder!”


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This month’s Batgirl backup features a night at the theater, as Jason Bard, the poor man’s Dick Grayson, takes Babs to see a new show, only to arrive to find the place seemingly deserted!  The only other showgoers are a couple in one of the private balconies.  Nonetheless, the show goes on, only to be suddenly interrupted when Jason notices a rifle pointing at the other guests from nearby their nosebleed seats.  He tries to intervene, only to receive a buttstroke for his troubles.

Babs strains credulity for her secret identity, switching into Batgirl and tackling the gunman.  She stops his next shot, but the fellow tosses her over the edge of the balcony.  Fortunately, she manages to grab onto the rail, and she sees her dear detective try to tackle the gunman again, only to get his head handed to him…again.  Switching back to Babs in the interim (are we sure she doesn’t have super speed powers?), she picks up her battered beau, who in turn picks up the sniper’s weapon.  It’s a lever-action rifle, a prop from “Mesa Productions,” which recently went bankrupt.

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Wondering who their rogue rifleman was shooting at, the couple goes to investigate, only to find that the targets were Hollywood royalty, “Tiz and Robbie Marlow,” clear analogs for Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who were THE Hollywood couple of the mid-century, which is a fun little detail.  Incidentally, America’s celebrity obsessed paparazzi culture really took off with those two, which is a sad memorial to their relationship.  While you’re pondering that anecdote, our heroes are pondering who would want to take a shot at these beloved figures.  It seems that one of the bullets at least managed to find its mark, and Richard, err…Robbie, got hit in the arm.

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After “Tiz” sobbingly wonders why anyone would do such a thing, especially on their anniversary, Jason begins to put some of the pieces together.  He deduces that the Hollywood couple had booked the entire theater for their anniversary, and the ticketseller had misheard the sleuth and given him tickets for the seventh instead of the second, tickets which he didn’t bother checking…and apparently neither did the ticket taker, who they just rushed past.  Odd.  Yet, even odder, the Marlows didn’t buy out the house, the tickets were a gift from “an anonymous admirer.”  Clearly a setup.  It seems only their manager, Joe Ryan, knew of their plans, but Jason’s playmate didn’t seem to be him.  The tale ends with Babs stepping out, ostensibly to call the police, but really to pursue a hunch of her own!

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This is a fun little story, and it has the makings of a good two-parter, but there’s not quite enough here to make for a substantive mystery.  We don’t even meet a single suspect.  Nonetheless, Robbins gives us a colorful and interesting setup, and the playful reference to the real-life stars is fun.  There’s also a nice dynamic between Jason and Babs, with Batgirl’s paramour being a detective in his own right, which gives their adventures a rather different flavor than those of most heroes in their secret identities.  It’s also beginning to get a bit comical that Jason can’t seem to win a fight to save his life.  Unfortunately, Don Heck’s art continues to be a poor fit for this feature, still producing a number of awkward, stiff figures and rough compositions.  Yet, there are also some really nice panels, and some of his facework is quite good.  The overall effect is serviceable, if not exactly good.  So, I suppose I’ll give this crazy curtain call an above average 3.5 Minutemen, as it has just enough of interest to raise it above the crowd.

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This was an enjoyable pair of Bat-books, with the long deferred return of the bifurcated badman, Two-Face.  I’m hoping that this heralds a return of supervillains to the book in general, though I know we’re still a little while away from the Joker’s triumphant and legendary return.  We also get an intriguing glimpse of 70s popculture, with the appearance of an ersatz Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, who I imagine were easily still in the headlines here in the early 70s, even if their heyday had passed with the 60s.  In fact, each of our stories in this bunch have something to recommend them, from the socially relevant Robin tale to the surprisingly touching Detective yarn.  I’d call this a memorable pair of comics.