Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 3)

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Welcome to another dose of Bronze Age goodness!  We’re moving through March of 1971, and I’ve got a pair of issues and a foursome of stories for you today, my good readers.  I hope that y’all will enjoy my coverage of these 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 #398
  • Adventure Comics #404
  • Batman #230
  • Brave and Bold #94
  • Detective Comics #409
  • The Flash #204
  • Forever People #1
  • G.I. Combat #146
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82
  • Justice League of America #88
  • New Gods #1
  • Superboy #172
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136
  • Superman #235
  • World’s Finest #201

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


Detective Comics #409


Detective_Comics_409“Man in the Eternal Mask!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Night of the Sharp Horns!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got a decent if not particularly spectacular Batman tale in our headline slot.  It features a mystery that is more about the ‘why’ than the ‘who,’ which culminates in an appropriately dramatic confrontation.  The story begins with an unseen assailant attacking a portrait hanging in a museum and scrawling “Die Jinx, Die!” onto the canvas (shades of Ace Ventura!).  In the morning, the vandalism is discovered, and neither the curator nor the security guard can figure out why or how the artwork was attacked.  After all, it’s a portrait of a beloved philanthropist who no-one had cause to hate.

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Meanwhile, Batman pays a visit to the artist of the piece, Rene Leclerq, where he is due for his own portrait.  That’s a bit odd.  I can’t really see the Dark Knight just standing around in an artist’s studio when he could be prowling the streets.  ‘Well, there’ve been 10 muggings and 3 murders while I sat around here, but that is a darn good likeness!’  Robbins needs the Masked Manhunter to get involved in the plot, but I have to think there was a better way to accomplish that.  Either way, when Leclerq prepares to resume work on the hero’s portrait, he finds it has also been defaced with a similar message.

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Batman reasons that, though there are many people who might find him a jinx, the only connection between this incident and the first is the artist himself.  Though Leclerq can think of no-one who would hold a grudge against him, the Caped Crusader arranges a trap, hoping that a public unveiling of the repaired painting will flush the deranged art critic into the open.  Yet, when the painting is revealed, there isn’t a sign of a telling reaction from anyone in the crowd, though the pair do notice Tracy Calhoun, the “Adonis Athlete,” a football star that the artist had painted five years before.  The Law of Conservation of Detail should make you sit up and take notice of this.

That night, Batman lies in wait for the anti-art attacker, and when a dark figure lashes out at the portrait, he finds more than he bargained for, as it leaps to life and grapples his knife away from him.  The Dark Knight has posed as his own portrait, which is a tad Looney Toons-ish, but I’ll give it a pass.  After a struggle, the vandal lands a lucky blow and knocks the hero out for a while.  Sadly, this doesn’t quite count for our Head-Blow Headcount, as Bats takes it on the chin and not the back of the noggin.

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Nonetheless, when he staggers to his feet, he realizes that the fight actually pointed him to a suspect, as his opponent had a “chin like a rock,” and was obviously very athletic.  This makes him think of Tracy Calhoun, who was described in just such a fashion during his heyday.

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The mystery of why Calhoun would want to destroy Leclerq’s art remains, and when the Masked Manhunter goes to find the artist, he discovers that he’s been called to an unknown client’s house in the middle of the night.  Deducing what is afoot, the Caped Crusader speeds to Calhoun’s house while the young man confronts the artist and explains why he hates him.

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Apparently, on the last day of their sittings, Leclerq begged for a few minutes more after their time had run out, and Calhoun reluctantly agreed.  Then, late for a date, he sped away recklessly and suffered a terrible car wreck that left him horribly scarred.  When the artist protests that he’s as handsome as he ever was, the embittered athlete removes one of those ubiquitous life-like masks, which are apparently available in every corner store in comic universes, to reveal a terrible, shattered visage.

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Clearly insane after the loss of his good looks, which he let define him, Calhoun blames Leclerq for the accident caused by his own recklessness, and he’s decided that the man must suffer.  The former footballer first destroys his own portrait with a saber, then prepares to pinion the painter as well.  Just then, Batman arrives, and while Calhoun holds him at bay for a time, eventually he is once again hoisted by his own petard, as he strikes his portrait while preparing a blow, and the entire heavy painting collapses off the wall, crushing him.  He had accidentally cut the supports when he attacked the artwork, and the object of his hatred destroyed him.  Unfortunately, the final image is rather more comical than tragic, with the madman’s arms and legs poking out of the canvas like he’s a cartoon character.

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This is a solid enough story, and the ‘attractive person turned hideous and embittered’ is an old archetype that still works pretty well.  It was nicely subverted in the Freedom Force villain Shadow, but we’ve seen it played straight many times in comics.  Dr. Doom, anyone?  We certainly all know folks who are too concerned with their appearances, so it isn’t hard to imagine someone so obsessed that a loss of their beauty would send them over the edge.

I enjoy the irony of the final confrontation, as a man who has destroyed his own life by his choices insists on blaming someone else, only to have his continued self-destructive choices finally finish the job.  It’s not the most memorable story, but it does its work well enough, even if it is a bit too rushed to give us much of a real mystery.  I’ll give it an average 3 Minutemen.

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“Night of the Sharp Horns”


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The backup tale, however, once again proves better than the headline.  We pick back up with Batgril’s adventures in Spain as she searches for the mysterious figure who had killed the arrogant but aging El Granados’s bull the night before.  She had just discovered that another sword was missing from the estate, so she takes to the grounds in order to keep a watch.  Her lonely vigil is rewarded with the sight of a cloaked figure slipping into the pastures where he begins to perform multiple passes with the chosen bull, El Aguila.  Babs thinks that his athleticism and agility mark him as Paco, the young firebrand who had rescued the older bullfighter in the ring during his last performance. 

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Detective409-25Just as the stranger prepares to slay his bovine opponent, Batgirl intervenes, snaring his sword in her cape.  When the bull charges, she rescues the trespasser and realizes that her suspicions were correct.

Yet, the young man denies that he had killed the previous bull, and when he escapes (ungrateful punk), she finds her hands full dealing with the now unencumbered El Aguila.  Making like a Minoan, the daring dame leaps over the bull’s horns and runs to the estate’s arena for safety.

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Yet, that safety proves short-lived, as a dark figure appears riding a massive bull!  Charging her like some particularly awesome cavalryman, the bull-rider tries to skewer the young heroine with a sword.  Fortunately, Babs has some skill with a rope, and she lassos the bull, sending her assailant flying into the air.  After hog-tying the beast in a fashion that would make the Vigilante proud, she confronts her attacker, who is revealed to be Manolos, the aged servant of El Granados!

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What was he doing killing his master’s bovine opponents?  He tells the girl detective that he was still faithful, but his master was getting too old to continue his career, so he had set out to kill the bulls before they killed the bullfighter, knowing that former champion was too stubborn to retire.  El Granados himself arrives and confronts his old friend.  While angry at first, he realizes the truth of Manolos’ words, and he agrees not to fight again.  As they reconcile, Batgirl vanishes.

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It’s a nice ending, but it sort of leaves an important point unaddressed.  While everyone can probably forgive the killing of the bulls (except PETA), Manolos did also straight-up try to murder Batgirl.  He attacked her with a sword while mounted on a charging bull.  I don’t think he just wanted to scare her!  That bit of craziness aside, this is a good story, and the two-part tale gives us a surprising amount of character development and drama, while also delivering some nice action.  Batgirl herself comes off much better in this half, as she doesn’t get knocked out by a hat or anything equally embarrassing.  I’m impressed by how successful Robbins is at creating a character-driven mystery with such little space to work with.  The reconciliation between the bullfighter and his mentor is suitably touching, and Paco’s arrogant attempts at stealing his rival’s glory provides a solid, if somewhat unlikely, red herring.  I was impressed with Don Heck’s work on this feature, and I’m not always a big fan of his superhero art.  He turned out several really pretty pages and nice, dynamic action sequences here.  In general, this is a good backup story, doing a lot with a little.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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The Flash #204


The_Flash_Vol_1_204“The Great Secret Identity Expose!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Mind-Trap”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Murphy Anderson

Our Flash headliner for today is something of an oddball.  There’s really not that much too it, and if it weren’t for the fact that last month’s bonkers issue was penned by Robert Kanigher, who is also the schizophrenic scribe responsible for this screwball story, I’d think that it was an attempt to immediately bury the bizarre retcon of that tale.  As is, the yarn seems somewhat pointless.

This outing begins the morning after last issue’s decade-spanning daring-do, with Barry and his wife celebrating their safe return from the future and reminiscing about Iris’s uncovered origin.  I always enjoy these little domestic moments between the couple, and this one has the potential to be charming, though not much is made of it.  They are admiring the locket that had been sent into the past with her when their reverie is interrupted by a call that sets them on a new adventure.  The call summons Iris to cover a banquet honoring a business tycoon, and at the function, the reporter suddenly leaps up and declares that the guest of honor is, in fact, a fraud!

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Barry, thinking fast (‘natch), pulls her out of the ballroom, only to discover she has no idea she said anything.  Just then, the police arrive to confirm her declaration.  Apparently, the fellow is a fraud, having kidnapped the real business magnate and masqueraded as him.  Determined newshoud that she is, Iris charges off to get the story, leaving her husband stunned.

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He changes in to the Flash, just in case, and on their way back from the banquet, the couple sees a pair of disabled musicians playing for donations on the street-corner.  Suddenly, Iris declares that these two are really disguised fugitives.  Naturally, the hidden hoods don’t take too kindly to this, and the Flash has to take them out as they fill the air with bullets, for all the good it does them.  Once more, Iris has no idea what she’s done and refuses to believe either her husband or the shouted threats of the captured gangsters who promise that their organization, the Generic Gang, will get revenge for her actions.

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The next day we get the most interesting part of the issue, where the JLA have a cameo as they arrive en mass to testify in court about one of their cases.  What makes this interesting is that here we’ve got a story that implies the existence of something equivalent to the cape laws in the Watchmen, where superheroes can give testimony in costume, which is neat in a nerdy kind of way.  And after all, nerdy kinds of neat are really our bread and butter here at The Greylands.

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Iris is a very stubborn woman.  I sympathize, Barry!

Anyway, as Batman prepares to take the stand, Iris suddenly leaps up and reveals that he is really Bruce Wayne!  Fortunately, once more Barry is quick on the uptake and he chatters his teeth at super-speed in order to scramble the soundwaves of her dramatic courtroom confession.  I guess that makes sense in a comic-booky kind of way, but it’s a bit of a stretch.

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Batman, who of course can read lips, realizes what has just happened as the Flash scoops the renegade reporter up and zips her out of the courtroom.  In a telephone booth  Barry again confronts his wife with her actions, and she swears that she doesn’t even known the League’s identities.  Suddenly, Superman summons the Scarlet Speedster and declares that he’s needed for an emergency meeting of the League.  The Fastest Man Alive has to do some fast talking as he tries to explain what even he doesn’t understand.  The JLA is understandably concerned, and Flash tells his teammates that there is clearly something going on and vows that if he doesn’t get it sorted out in 24 hours, they’ll never see him or his wife again.

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Superman is being super-pushy.

When he goes to find Iris, the Flash discovers that she’s been kidnapped by members of the Generic Gang, which is gunning for her.  They hustle her into an armored truck, and somehow the man who can move at the speed of light can’t get to their victim before the doors close.  The Fastest Man Alive takes after the fleeing gangsters, taking their pursuit car out in a blink and conveniently overhearing that the door of the armored truck is rigged to blow if opened.

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Ahead, the drivers of the truck bail out, sending their vehicle careening into the drink.  The hoods hose down the dock with machine gun fire, but the Flash takes them out easily in an admittedly fun sequence.  He dives off of the dock and tears the armored doors open by projecting his vibrations forward like a cutting beam, which seems a bit out of his usual line, and then zips Iris away before the explosives can blow.

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I do enjoy how the entire sequence takes place while the truck is in the air, a nice display of Flash’s speed, if a bit awkwardly handled.

Determined that Iris can’t just be left around to blurt out secret identities willy-nilly, the Scarlet Speedster determines to go to the future with her where both she and his secrets will be safe.  His wife objects that he can’t give up his life (regardless of the fact that he’s also giving up her life), and he replies that she’s his wife, for better or worse, so where she goes, he goes, which is fairly sweet.  However, on the way, their progress is halted, and her locket begins to glow and emit energy waves.  Somehow Barry deduces from basically no evidence that the locket had absorbed some weird temporal energies, and it was the source of her sudden ESP, so they return to their own time and Iris agrees never to wear the necklace again.  Problem solved.

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This is a weird little tale.  It’s entertaining enough, but the resolution is pretty random, about as random as the gimmicky conflict that drives the plot itself.  The Generic Gang are little more than mobile obstacles to Barry, offering no real threat to the Fastest Man Alive.  This supervillain drought is really starting to get old.  One wonders just why writers were for so long unwilling to use Flash’s villains, who comprise one of the best rogue’s gallery in comics.  It makes absolutely no sense, though I suppose it’s indicative of a  larger trend.  Super villains are very scarce in general these days.

While the League’s cameo is neat, Kanigher doesn’t really do much with their interview with the speedster.  Almost any line spoken by one of the heroes could have been assigned to another one without making any difference.  Barry’s willingness to give up his life to stay with his wife is sweet, but it really feels like he gives up on solving the problem way too easily.  With all the resources that the League has to bring to bear on something like this, it seems worth at least one visit to the Satellite or something.  In the end, this is a forgettable and somewhat pointless little story, with a goofy, logic-leaping conclusion.  On the plus side, Irv Novick’s art is great on the Flash, if a little light on details in the action sequences.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  Man, Kanigher’s score are just all over the place!

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In a  fun bit of synchronicity, “The Ballad of Barry Allan” came on my radio station while I was writing this feature.  Very apropos!


“The Mind Trap”


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We get another Steve Skeates penned Kid Flash backup here, and I’m always happy to see part of the SAG team in action.  The story Skeates spins is very promising, but unfortunately it’s rather starved for space.  Its premise is an old but enduring one, featuring a mind-hopping villain, something of a telepathic virus, traveling from host to host.  It has shades of many a horror tale, though this version doesn’t manage to harness a harrowing horror tone. 

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It begins with Wally West and the rest of his class on a tour of an exhibit on ancient Egypt at the local museum, hearing a legend about a terrible tyrant, Pharaoh Rama-Skeet (Skeates having some fun at his own expense?), who swore that death wouldn’t stop his drive for power.  Just then, a car wreck outside attracts their attention, and the kids watch in wonder as a man pronounced dead suddenly stands up and hurries off in an imperious manner.  Wally switches into his ‘work’ clothes and takes after the apparently stunned man.  When he finds the fellow, the man touches him, and Kid Flash suddenly finds himself fighting a terrible mental battle, realizing that this is the spirit of Rama-Skeet trying to wrest control of his mind.

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Wally sinks into darkness and knows no more until he finally comes to himself several minutes later, having just touched someone else.  The young hero watches helplessly as the man undergoes the same mental trauma that he himself had faced, but he wonders why the spirit would leave a super speedster for a regular Joe.  He begins to suspect that the 15 minutes the ghost inhabited his mind might be all the still weakened Pharaoh can manage at once.  This is a bit of a jump, and if the story had more room to breathe, we might have seen this pattern repeated once or twice more to really establish it.  As is, Skeates is working at a feverish pace.

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In order to throw the power-mad phantom off his guard as he begins to rant and rave, Kid Flash kneels before him, but this is just a ploy, and the Fastest Boy Alive slams into super-speed, dragging the possessed man behind him.  He plans to keep the host helpless until the 15 minute limit is up in the hopes that the spirit will be destroyed by the host’s mind in that time.  Though the task is incredibly taxing on a body already exhausted by his mental struggle, the teen hero manages to keep up the pace until the Egyptian ghost runs out of time.  With a terrible cry, the specter departs, leaving his host confused but unharmed.  Exhausted but victorious, Kid Flash collapses to rest.

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This is a fine little story, but it could have been much, much better with some space to grow.  This kind of challenge, as Wally himself admits, is really out of his line, but his solution to the problem is really fairly brilliant.  Despite that, the very brief tale just didn’t have the time to develop the creepy atmosphere and mystery that these types of plots really thrive on, and the result is that the villain is both entirely forgettable (having almost no real dialog) and not terribly threatening.  That’s a shame, as this could have been much more.  I suppose we must judge a story on what it is and not what it could have been, so I will give this too-brief tale 3 Minutemen, as it is enjoyable if not impressive.

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P.S.: Interestingly, I am apparently not the only fan wondering where all the supervillains have gone.  This issue includes a letter demanding their return and marveling at their long absence.  Notably, this letter is written by future DC luminary, Bob Rozakis!  Rozakis, DC’s future Answer Man, got his start in these very letter columns, which would also be where he would do much of his work on the other side of the pen.  I love things like this, little traces of DC history buried in their letters.  How neat!


And on that note, I’ll wrap up today’s post.  I hope that y’all enjoyed my commentary and found something interesting and worth your time herein.  Though these weren’t the most amazing issues, they have their moments.  The real highlights of this month await in the books to come.  Our next post will introduce Forever People #1, the next Kirby Fourth World book, so don’t miss that!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: December 1970 (Part 3)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Today we’ve got Detective Comics and The Flash, two books, four stories.  There are some fascinating real-world connections to these comics, methinks.  Check them out below and see if they ring any bells for you!

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 #395
  • Adventure Comics #400
  • Aquaman #54
  • Batman #227
  • Detective Comics #406
  • The Flash #202
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #81
  • Justice League of America #84 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Justice League of America #85
  • The Phantom Stranger #10
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134
  • Teen Titans #30
  • World’s Finest #199

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


Detective Comics #406


detective_comics_406“Your Servant of Death — Dr. Darrk!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Explosive Circle!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

In our headline tale we have the next iteration of the growing saga of the League of Assassins!  From auspicious beginnings last issue, the promising setup receives further development in this story, and O’Neil teases an epic adventure that will unfold in these pages in months to come.  This particular part of that whole, like its introduction, doesn’t quite have the grandeur of that which would eventually develop, but it’s a fair adventure tale with the added attraction of successfully creating an “impression of depth.”

The story starts off with a bang, literally, as a bomb goes off as shipping magnate Count Orsoni christens the newest ship in his fleet.  The traditional wine bottle is rigged to blow, and the resulting explosion nearly kills the wealthy industrialist.  If we recall, last issue we discovered the League of Assassins was out to get shipping magnates.  Batman remembers this as well, so he travels to Europe in his secret identity.  Conveniently, Bruce Wayne is an old friend of the Count, so he arranges to visit his ailing pal at his estate, where he is being treated privately.  Apparently the Count survived, but he was paralyzed by the blast.

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detective406-04Upon arrival, Wayne is greeted by Mara Thursday, the Count’s cousin, who takes him to the manse.  It is there that he meets a fellow who will figure into the future of the League plot, Dr. Ebenezer Darrk!  With a name like that, he’s got to be a good guy, right?  Well, once again showing blatant disregard for his secret identity, Bruce changes into his ‘work clothes,’ and Batman prowls the night, keeping watch on the Count’s room in the belief that his would-be killers will try again.  As he settles in for his vigil, he hears Mara scream and rushes to her room.  She tells him some story about an attacker that is full of holes, clearly lying to distract him from the Count (I guess we’d call those “alternative facts” today.).  It’s actually a neat sequence, as O’Neil leaves the reader to ponder on how Batman saw through her lies, only explaining the matter later on.

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Can you figure it out?

Anyway, the Dark Knight isn’t fooled, and he races to protect the Count, only to be ambushed by another League Assassin!  This guy is a sling master, firing spiked bullets at the hero, and it takes a clever ruse for Batman to take him out.  The Caped Crusader de-cloaks, rigging his cape and cowl as a decoy to draw the slinger’s fire and allowing him to get the drop on the killer.  It’s a nice display of the character’s resourcefulness.

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One danger surmounted, our hero continues his quest, only to discover Orsoni is missing!  He tracks the nabbed nobleman to a secret passage into ancient catacombs below the estate and discovers his friend in the middle of a stone chamber.  When he approaches, a cloaked figure gets the drop on him, threatening to shoot the Count if Batman doesn’t follow orders.  I wonder who could possibly be under that cloak?  The Law of Conservation of Detail means there’s really only one possibility at this point.  Well, whoever he is, he happily explains to the Masked Manhunter that these Christian catacombs actually have an older origin, once having served as a Roman dungeon, and, somehow, the various torture device of those lousy Latins are still there and in working order.  The super mysterious figure forces Batman into a deathtrap, chaining him to a table and giving him a cord that holds a giant axe above his own head, making the hero his own executioner!

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Of course, the Dark Detective has figured out the same thing we have, and he calls his captor Dr. Darrk, who, in turn, reveals that he is actually the head of the League of Assassins.  Pulling the classic villain move of leaving the hero unattended (what is that, the third time already this month?), Darrk takes off, leaving Batman alone with only a paralyzed man to help him.  Yet, astonishingly, Orsoni claws his way to his hands and knees and crawls, not to the trapped crime fighter, but to a statue of his favorite saint, St. Diona (a fictional saint, for some reason).  With a desperate prayer, the injured man topples the statue, which lands in precisely the right position to protect the Caped Crusader from the blade and yet not crush him with its own stony weight.  It’s a good moment, and the hero is stunned, recognizing the possibility of a miracle in the unlikely series of events (even Batman is more open-minded than Dr. Thirteen!).

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His escape arranged, perhaps with divine intervention, the Dark Knight sets out after the dark-Darrk, snatching up a shield to protect him from the sling-armed slayer.  This proves fortunate, as his foe has recovered, but after a quick shield toss that would make Captain America proud, the Masked Manhunter continues on his way.  He finds a cloaked figure creeping out a window, only to discover that it is Mara, dressed in the Doctor’s robes.  Darrk has already made good his escape!  The Count’s captured cousin, Mara, agrees to spill her guts, and the story ends with Batman taking her and the assassin to the authorities and assuring the Orsoni that he’ll chase Darrk down.

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This is a good story, with some nice mystery and plenty of action.  I often enjoy it when an author invites their readers to solve a mystery themselves.  I’m usually pretty good at that type of exercise, but I have to admit, I didn’t entirely put together the pieces of Mara’s deception.  She claimed that an attacker came in through her window and struck her, but she didn’t see his face.  She was sitting in front of a mirror at the time with a lamp next to her, so she would certainly have seen the man, which Batman realized.  That’s a fun piece of detective work.  The second exotic assassin to do the bidding of the League was another fun element of the story, and I quite enjoyed the possibly miraculous saintly intervention, especially the hero’s cautiously credible reaction to it.  There’s both a nice nod to faith and a solid piece of characterization there.  The real weakness of the issue is the lack of mystery surrounding Darrk and the complete lack of development for him as well.  He’s just sort of generically evil, and he gets so little ‘screen time’ both as a cypher and as a villain that his reveal is pretty much without impact.  Fortunately, O’Neil sets this plot up to get further development, and we know that we’ll see this fellow again.  This is a good second outing for the League of Assassins, and I think I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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“The Explosive Circle!”


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Our Batgirl backup for today is an intriguing one because of its connections to social unrest and youth culture.  Interestingly, we’ve got youth involvement and student organization showing up in the Robin story this month at the same time this particular tale makes its appearance with a very different perspective on the phenomenon.  This version touches on questions that are back in the news today, whether peaceful protests are effective and whether or not violence can be justified as a form of protest.  The answers to these questions seem pretty clear to me, and writer Frank Robbins takes more or less the approach that you’d expect.

It all starts with a bomb, just as the headliner does, as a Gotham building explodes, leaving behind a charred clue, a burnt library book that Commissioner Gordon asks his librarian daughter to help him identify.  One would imagine that the police could probably manage that on their own, but sure.  She recognizes the text as “the current rage of the ‘tear down the establishment’ crowd,” a description that is delightful on its own merits, and for the contempt it displays for its subject.  Naturally, Babs decides to pursue this clue on her own, as Batgirl, having remembered the girl who checked this book out, thanks to her photographic memory.  I imagine that particular character trait was mentioned before this issue, but this is the first time I’ve taken notice of it.

Batgirl heads to the girl’s apartment, where the hippies are hanging about in bunches.  The girl, Shelley Simms, blithely informs the fire-tressed crime-fighter that she and her hippy group were planning on protesting her, if they could ever figure out where she lived.  The profound stupidity of that statement is just the beginning and is, of course, indicative of the general mindset of the hippy movement.  That statement really struck me, because, of course hippies would have picketed superheroes if they actually existed in the 60s.  In fact, I imagine superheroes would almost certainly be protested today as well.

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detective406-25Anyway, when Batgirl confronts the silly Miss Simms with the fact that her book was found at the site of the bombing, she suddenly freaks out and declares, in wonderfully silly 60s slang, “I don’t need your fuzz-fink help–lay off!”  Real smart cookie, this one.  Babs, on the other hand, is actually quite intelligent, so she stakes out the girl’s apartment and tails her when she leaves.  Well, she’s fairly intelligent, as she follows her on the street, rather than swinging across rooftops and the like, so she gets spotted.

Shelley leads her costumed companion to a fiery young man at a theater which is hosting a ridiculous, edgy play, complete with faux protesters and jack-booted thugs to put them down.  Apparently Shelley lent her book to this real winner of a guy.  The young fireplug, Mal, uses the distraction of the performance to have his boys quickly grab the girl detective.  Babs narrowly avoids a trip to the Head-Blow Headcount wall of shame, but she’s eventually brought down anyway.  When she awakens, Batgirl finds herself trapped in a mined basement, and Shelley, the brain-surgeon, is completely surprised that her radical terrorist boyfriend is a bomber and a killer, a revelation that one has to imagine had been presaged before now.

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Well, Gil Kane is back, and with him come the nostrils…so many nostrils.  The art in this backup is generally good, but he does pick some odd angles.  The story itself manages to be engaging and intriguing in its brief seven pages.  Of particular interest is the similarity of the plot to then current events in the form of the Weathermen’s bombing campaign.  The Weathermen were a radical domestic terrorist organization that had its roots in political movements originating on college campuses.  They were involved in bombings of public buildings and monuments from the late 60s through the late 70s.  In fact, they had been behind a bombing this very year, in October. Their brilliant, infallible plan was to blow things up until they magically created a communist utopia.  Incredibly, this didn’t work out too well.

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So, radicalized youth movements were in the news in 1970, and the experience of the stupid Miss Simms was likely one that many young people shared, as they watched political movements they were involved in splinter, change, and darken.  This particular comic story doesn’t capture all of that nuance, of course, but in these seven pages Robbins manages to evoke the destructive side of the counter-cultural movement and set up an engaging plot.  My only real complaint is how incredibly annoying Shelley is.  I wish that Batgirl had just dangled her off of a building instead of bothering to tail her.  The girl’s venomous response to Babs’ attempt to help her and the increasing stupidity that followed rankled me.  I suppose I should have more patience with the character; after all, I was 18 once, and as stupid yet convinced of my own intelligence as ever a teenager was.  Nonetheless, I don’t have much patience for that kind of nonsense these days.  Shelley’s foolishness aside, I’ll give this story 3.5 Minutemen.

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The Flash #202


the_flash_vol_1_202“The Satan Circle”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Accusation”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got another Kanigher story, and one more clue to figure out what kind of writer he is.  This particular yarn won’t put the debate to rest, however, as it is neither exceptionally good nor exceptionally bad.  Notably, it features another story seemingly based on the Manson Family murders of a few years back.  Folks who have been following this feature for a while may remember that we encountered a Green Lantern/Green Arrow story earlier in 1970 that dealt with the same events in interesting ways.  This particular comic takes a decidedly less serious slant on events, but there are some creepy parallels that I imagine are not accidental.

Despite that, the headline tale begins sweetly enough, with a nice domestic scene between Barry and Iris Allen.  Iris is headed out of town to cove a spate of disappearances in Hollywood dance clubs that seem to be related to a movie about a “black magic cult.”  I was a bit surprised at the reference to evil Satanic cults hiding right under the surface of everyday America way back here in 1970.  It’s at least a decade too early for the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the 80s, when Americans would see Satan worshipers under every rock.  The 80s was a weird time, guys.  Anyway, the couple share a charming farewell, with Barry, of course, late for work, but still stopping long enough to pick a rose for Iris to wear in her hair.  As I’ve said before, I always enjoy these little scenes, and Kanigher does a good job of making use of this one, both for exposition and for setting up a Chekhov’s Gun for later in the issue.

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That evening, Barry receives a frantic phone call that freezes the blood in his veins, as he hears Iris desperately cry for help before the call is cut off.  In the blink of an eye, he’s speeding across the country as the Flash.  He arrives at the home of a Hollywood director, where Iris was to begin her investigation, only to find it ablaze, with a burning satanic effigy in the yard.  The Scarlet Speedster also finds a body in the pool, and he has a bad moment where he thinks it might be Iris.  Inside the mansion, he discovers half a dozen more victims, each wearing a devil mask, but with no sign of his wife among them.  A panicked search of the place finally presents a clue, when he finds her rose next to a phone upstairs, revealing that she has been kidnapped!

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The Crimson Comet sets out to search for a lead, visiting the suspiciously Satanic ‘discotheques’ where the missing kids had last been seen.  It’s quite odd to see the Flash dance with various club girls, as if he’s trying to blend in.  I think the bright red superhero costume and super speed might give you away there, Barry.

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In between some of his visits, the speedster is ambushed by a motorcycle gang who are definitely not the Hell’s Angels.  No, they’re the totally unrelated Hell’s Imps.  You might think that a biker gang would be a poor match for an honest-to-goodness superhero, but they have a strange gas in their exhaust that affects Barry, slowing him down.  He still manages to escape, arriving at ‘Pluto’s Palace,’ which looks just like the first place, only to meet a sultry cage dancer who promises to lead him to the Satan Circle!

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A rapid midnight race leads him to a seemingly deserted house occupied by robed cultists.  It is, of course, a trap, and his guide answers to the leader of the group, who claims to be an incarnation of Lucifer himself.  He looks a bit more like Vincent Price to me.  The cultists reveal that Iris is their prisoner and they plan to sacrifice her for a dark ritual.  Well, the Flash should be able to take a bunch of bathrobe wearing weirdos, right?  Wrong.  The gas he inhaled earlier had a delayed effect and begins to weaken him even further.  He tries to carry Iris away, only to collapse under he weight.

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Desperate, the Scarlet Speedster devises a very clever escape.  He drums his fingers on the old wooden floor at super speed, so fast that the motion is invisible, until the rotten boards collapse under the Allens, sending them tumbling into the (relatively) clean air of the basement.  Able to clear his head, the Flash is ready for round 2.

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Kanigher tries to create a bit more tension by trapping his hero between cultists armed with explosive bullets and the arriving motorcycle gang, but he doesn’t really have enough space left to pull it off.  Out of necessity, the Sultan of Speed wraps up the villains in a half page.  The story ends with a nice little exchange between the Allens back at home, where Iris points out that the Satan Circle was no match for the stronger circles, the wedding bands that binds the two of them together.  Aww.

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This is a solid story, but it lacks a certain something to make it really ‘good.’  The villainous Satan Circle receive practically no development at all.  We don’t even know if they actually had any mystic powers or not.  For all we know, they’re about as magical as your average modern day “witch.”  Nonetheless, the Circle racks up a pretty terrible body count, and I’m not entirely sure that is earned by the story.  Despite that weakness, the Flash’s search for Iris and his fear and uncertainty about her fate was handled pretty well, other than the incongruous moments with the frantic hero stopping to dance in various clubs.  Probably the most interesting element of the story is the cultural currency it carries.  While the Satan Circle as we meet them has little in common with the Manson Family, the scene of a Hollywood big-shot’s home turned into a charnel house, with graffiti and strange signs left behind, certainly evokes the Family’s murder of the Tate family.  Add to that the constant undercurrent of fear about ‘devil music’ and its influence on young people, and you’ve got a story that is clearly drawing from the zeitgeist.  Whatever its connections, the comic itself is entertaining, if not terribly impressive, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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P.S.: Legendary skinner, Freedom Reborn member, and all around awesome guy, Daglob, just clued me in to an event that almost has to have been a major influence on the creation of this story.  Apparently, in 1969, Anton LaVey began to popularize the ‘Satanism’ movement, starting with the publication of The Satanic Bible that very year.  What’s more, 1970 saw the premiere of a documentary on the phenomenon, and apparently Satanists and the occult suddenly flooded the zeitgeist, often becoming, to quote my friend, “likely suspects in movies and TV shows.”  Now, Satanism, especially LaVey’s signature brand, is nothing more than jumped up Epicureanism with a bunch of nonsensical occult bells and whistles.  Nonetheless, it certainly had the potential to seem terribly frightening to mainstream America at the time.

It descends from the Romantic Period’s misreading of Milton’s Satan from Paradise Lost and similar lionizing of the “Satanic Hero,” a character who rebels against social norms and cultural constraints, pursuing their own desires.  The poetWilliam Blake famously claimed that Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it” (“Marriage of Heaven and Hell”).  For a fairly clear refutation of that reading, check out C.S. Lewis’s A Preface to Paradise Lost.  It’s a short work and a wonderful read on its own merits, especially if you’re interested in literature and in epic in particular.

Anyway, I seem to have wandered somewhat astray from my point.  This revelation puts the Flash tale in a rather different light, doesn’t it?  Now we can see it reflecting a general anxiety about the encroachment of strange and seemingly sinister beliefs, as well as the clear and frightening evidence of social decay and upheaval represented by such madness as the Manson Murders.  That’s a fascinating new perspective!  Thanks Daglob!


“The Accusation”


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I was delighted to discover another Steve Skeates penned story in this month’s offerings, and this off-beat little backup didn’t disappoint.  It’s odd, but it’s an interesting read.  From the very beginning, this story establishes itself as a bit unusual, as in the opening pages, we join, not our protagonist, but a man named Carson, who dreams of a ghostly Kid Flash tormenting him for a hidden crime.  flash-v1-202p22The spectral speedster, in a nicely drawn sequence, accuses Carson of murdering a young man, but the dreamer insists upon his innocence.  When he awakes, he’s disturbed by the dream and can’t get it out of his head.  He remembers that a kid was killed by a hit and run driver the night before, but he’s certain that he stayed home last night…or is he?

Meanwhile, we check in with Wally West in school, where apparently he’s being taught by Clark Kent.  As a teacher, the brief little scene, where a daydreaming Wally is asked a question and frankly admits he wasn’t’ paying attention made me smile.  What unusual and refreshing honesty!  Having survived the soul-crushing weight of high school for another day (sheesh, as bad as it is for a normal kid, think what torment it must be if you have superpowers and routinely save the world!), Wally switches to his costume and spends the night tracking down a car-stripping gang.

Meanwhile, our mysterious Mr. Carson’s sleep is troubled, as he has another dream along the same theme, where the ghostly Kid Flash calls him a murderer and mentions stolen jewels!  Once more awakening in panic, he goes for a drive to try and calm his nerves, and the two halves of our plot rush towards a collision.

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Kid Flash, in the meantime, has managed to find his pigeons, and he smashes into them at super speed, carefully using only a light blow, for fear of killing them by striking them at full velocity, which is a nice touch.  We cut back and forth between our plots, with the dream-convicted Carson slowly remembering what he had repressed from the previous night.  He had acquired some stolen jewels, and driving home in a hurry, had run over an innocent kid rather than risk crashing and being caught with the goods, a cold-blooded act of murder!  He struggles against the returned memories as Wally struggles against the thieves, and he too almost joins the Headcount as he gets distracted and takes a head-blow.  Fortunately for him, he recovers and ties up the criminals for the police.

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Yet, as he’s walking home, a little shaky from the blow, Carson, driving erratically in his mounting dread, spots the boy and recognizes him as the spectral figure from his dreams.  The dream-tormented may-be-murderer panics and, frozen by the sight, smashes his car into a pole, dying in the impact.  Like Lancelot in Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott,” Kid Flash, unaware and with grim curiosity, discovers the person who died from sight of him.

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I’m glad to see Kid Flash return as a backup for the Flash.  I like the character, and I am excited to see more of his adventures.  This particular yarn is an interesting start to the feature.  Taken as a story bound by the more restrictive limitations of fiction as verisimilitude that we’re used to in the modern day, which tries to get as close to the real, rational world (outside of obvious difference, like the existence of superheroes) as possible, this tale wouldn’t work.  We’re left asking, ‘why does Carson see Kid Flash, if the boy knows nothing about his crime?’  Yet, a normal, logical plot is not what Skeates is going for here.  He leaves just enough mystery and mysticism in the story to make the strange coincidences functional, to make them serve as clues to something uncanny under the surface.  In this instance, the questions we’re left with are, in fact, part of the story’s purpose.  It’s short, but it gives us just enough, just barely enough, to work as a story, and a reader, in remarkably few pages, travels from sympathizing with the unknown Mr. Carson to marveling at the coldness and viciousness of his crime.  It would have been nice to learn more about him, but the story works, even so.  Dillin’s art is fantastically moody, and he really captures the anguish of Carson’s brief journey from ignorance to desperation.  I’ll give the backup 4 Minutemen, as it was intriguing and enjoyable.

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That will do it for this post, and I hope y’all enjoyed the read!  We’ve got a pretty solid pair of books here, with both youth culture and satanism in the mix!  The contrast between this month’s Robin and Batgirl’s stories really makes for a fascinating snapshot of the time, representing both the hope and the fear of the growing power of youth culture.  Once again, current events make their presence known in DC Comics, leaving their mark on this fantasy world.  I hope you’ll join me soon for another day’s journey, Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: October 1970 (Part 3)

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Happy New Year readers and friends; Happy New Year to one and all!  I hope this year proves a happier and more peaceful one for our world and for all of you.  What better way to celebrate the dawning of a new day than to look back at an older one and see what it has to teach us?  There are probably many better ways, but seeing as this is a blog about Bronze Age DC comics, this is what I’ve got to offer.  Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age, my journey through the Bronze Age of the DC Universe, book by book, month by month!  I hope you enjoy the Bat-stories I’ve got in store for you today from Detective Comics.

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

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

  • Action Comics #393
  • Adventure Comics #398
  • Aquaman #52
  • Detective Comics #404
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #80
  • Phantom Stranger #9
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #105
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133 (Jack Kirby’s debut!)
  • Superman #230
  • Teen Titans #29

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


Detective Comics #404


detective_comics_404“Ghost of the Killer Skies!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Midnight Doom-Boy”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

This is a fine issue, with two solid enough tales, though it isn’t anything to write home about.  Of course, that won’t stop me from writing to the Internet about it.  It isn’t particularly impressive, but Neal Adams’ art is always a big plus for any comic, especially a Bat-book.  The real highlight of the issue is the almost cameo of Enemy Ace, who is a pretty fascinating and unique character.  To start with, he’s on the side of the “bad guys” in his story, yet he’s the protagonist, which is exceedingly rare.  Add to this the fact that his stories were routinely surprisingly mature (in the real sense) and challenging, questioning the nature of war, honor, and patriotism, and you have quite an unusual character, especially considering that he was created in the Silver Age.  This story doesn’t quite manage to take advantage of the compelling history of the character or the challenging themes that predominated his books, but it makes it touches on them in an interesting way.

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The story begins with a WWI era biplane careening out of control into a mountainside in Spain to meet a fiery end.  It just so happens that the Dark Knight himself is observing this crash.  He arrives in time to pull the pilot from the wreckage, only to discover that the unfortunate aviator has been strangled…while in mid-air!  This is a mystery tailor-made for the Dark Detective.  He begins to investigate as his alter ego, and we learn why the hero happened to be on this particular mountain.  Bruce Wayne has invested in a film about Baron Von Hammer, the Enemy Ace, and the production has been in trouble, suffering all manner of mysterious misfortunes.  The playboy-turned movie mogul is on hand to monitor his investment.

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Back at the set, the director suggests that they should perhaps just give up, but the billionaire insists that the movie is important.  This is actually a really interesting little beat, as Wayne declares “I believe in ‘The Hammer of Hell’ and the things it can say to audiences about the nature–and folly–of war!”  Considering the character being adapted and the continuing war in Vietnam, this is actually a subtle and intriguing character moment.  We have seen relatively recently that Bruce Wayne is involved in movies and uses his influence to try and shape the nation’s cinema in a positive fashion, so this fits in rather well as a (likely unintentional but nevertheless pleasant) bit of continuity.  It’s brief, only one panel, but it is noteworthy nonetheless.  We might even imagine that there’s an implied critique of the current conflict to be found in that statement.  Whatever the case, this is the type of sign of the changing nature of comics for which we’ve been watching.

We are also introduced to Henrich Franz, the technical advisor of the film, who claims to be a descendant of the Baron.  The morose German flyer professes his admiration of Von Hammer but suggests that perhaps his ancestor is their antagonist; perhaps the production is…cursed!  Of course, Batman suits up and pursues more mundane leads, leads that pay off that night when he ambushes a team of local toughs who are sabotaging the film’s planes.  After incapacitating the treacherous trio, the Masked Manhunter interrogates one of his captives and discovers they were paid by a mysterious figure who always wore flying goggles and a scarf.

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In a nice touch, Batman simply lets them go, warning them that they had better turn themselves in to the nearest policeman or he’ll track them down.  Unlike Aquaman’s ill-conceived mercy in this month’s Aqua-adventure, this actually makes some sense.  Batman is a very scary guy, and Adams’ moody art and O’Neil’s straight-forwardly intimidating dialog helps to emphasize this characteristic.  I’m pretty sure that, were I in this fellow’s shoes, I wouldn’t risk making this grim avenger of the night angry with me.

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Apparently while in Spain Batman learned how to fly…

Next, the Caped Crusader confronts the head saboteur, who is revealed as none other than Gavin the cameraman!  The hero noticed the same thing I did while reading the story, that the cameraman reported on the manner of the pilot’s death before he really should have been able to tell.  However, now we receive another twist. Gavin admits to having taken money from a rival production to torpedo The Hammer of Hell, but he denies any involvement with the murder.

I’m a little disappointed that the cameraman’s observation was just a red herring, because it doesn’t really make sense that way.  It’s a bit of a cheat, and a good mystery story doesn’t cheat.  It’s a delicate balance to provide your reader with just enough information that they COULD s0lve the case, or at least feel like they could, yet also make it difficult enough that most will still be surprised by the reveal.  Anyway, that red herring gets the director killed, as he is gunned down while Batman interrogates Gavin.  In a fun beat, the cameraman makes a break for it, and the Dark Knight, intent on his pursuit of the murderer, simply cold-cocks the saboteur as he runs past.  I really enjoy a good, competent portrayal of Batman.  He doesn’t have to be perfect, but I like stories in which he’s presented as capable of handling average challenges without much effort.

Unfortunately, the real murderer, who by conservation of detail, you have probably deduced is Franz, gets the drop on him.  The flyer was incensed that the film was going to portray Von Hammer as merciful and compassionate, essentially, as the complicated figure he was, rather than a ‘noble’ killing machine.  It’s a slightly flimsy motivation, but it more or less makes ‘comic sense.’  Batman convinces Franz to give him a fighting chance, so they each mount up in one of the movie’s planes and take to the skies.  There’s a good touch of detail here as the Dark Knight notes that the is no expert on prop planes, which makes perfect sense.

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Despite that, the hero mysteriously performs excellently, almost as if he was being guided!  Still, Franz has a pistol and Batman is unarmed, so he is at a disadvantage.  The Caped Crusader’s plane gets disabled, and he tries a last, desperate gamble, diving from one craft to the other.  He’s locked in a desperate, losing struggle with Franz when the killer’s scarf gets caught in his prop, sending him on a last, long drop, another example of the villain hoisted by his own petard.  Perhaps I should start tracking this trope.  It seems to show up almost every month!

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This is a passable story, though the mystery doesn’t really have enough room to breathe.  In the same manner, the dogfight is given slightly short shrift, but the overall effect is interesting, and the story has a bit of personality despite its brevity.  There’s something fascinating about the idea of a complicated figure and his contentious portrayal on film.  We’ve all encountered that in real life, and it makes for a neat comics story, though I rather wish Batman’s involvement with the film and his interest in Von Hammer had been developed a bit more.  There is definitely a hint of anti-war feeling in this story, though it is (mostly) subtle and easily overlooked.  It marks one of the first times we’ve seen such a sentiment, other than the obvious, overt example of Hawk and Dove, and that is an interesting occurrence in light of our overarching goals for this feature.  I will give this story an average score of 3 Minutemen.  It’s ultimately just okay despite its neat features.

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“Midnight Doom-Boy”


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An interesting title and a fair little mystery characterize this backup.  It’s another Batgirl tale, squeezed into the back of Detective Comics, but it’s better than most of the others we’ve encountered so far.  It’s short, but Robbins keeps the plot simple enough that it doesn’t need much space to be relatively successful.  Interestingly, this story is also a very clear product of its times, centering on Billy Warlock, a clear analogue for Andy Warhol who produces similarly odd experimental films as his real life counterpart.

The ersatz artist is killed in the opening pages of our story, and intriguingly enough, his murder is caught on film.  He had set a camera up in a mailbox to covertly record the comings and goings of a seedy street in Gotham, and that very device provided a record of his demise.  More surprisingly, it seems to show Batgirl’s sometimes beau, Jason Bard is the killer!  Of course, Babs cannot believe that he would do such a thing, so, despite the mountain of evidence, she sets out to prove his innocence.  Robbins handles his exposition well, weaving it into scenes between Commissioner Gordon and his daughter wherein he outlines the evidence against the private eye.

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I like the clever device of setting off the film flashbacks in movie-reel style boxes.

Jason himself tells Babs that he was in the area in response to a lead on a different murder suspect, but he claims he was ambushed by a strange woman who drugged him two hours before the murder.  Batgirl returns home to her father’s private screening room (!) and pours over the video for any shred of evidence that she can use to clear the gumshoe.  She finds just the clue she’s looking for when she realizes that the figure in the film walked without a limp, despite using a cane, something that Jason with his combat injury could never do.  It’s a nice bit of deduction, and what follows, despite involving a bit of a leap, is just as good.

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The red-headed heroine goes to Warlock’s studio in search of the earlier reels of his film, hoping that they might contain a shot of the vixen who framed her beau.  Despite the fact that the film magically changes perspective, she discovers that one of the lead actresses in the pop artist’s films, Veda (interesting name, just Veda, like Cher) was the femme fatale behind it all.  Just then, the deadly dame herself appears and tries to knock Batgirl out the same way she did Jason.  Babs performs better than she has in some of the earlier tales and quickly uses judo to escape the attack, but a lucky throw of the knockout gas sends her into dreamland.  She awakens just in time to see the psycho starlet preparing to turn her into a living statue with a batch of plaster!

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To my great surprise, while refreshing my knowledge of Andy Warhol for this commentary, I discovered that this story is actually based on a real-life assassination attempt that very nearly killed Warhol himself.  Just as with the comic, the assassin was a woman who was associated with the artist’s work, though, in reality, the relationship was much more tangential and the women even more bat-guano insane, if that’s possible.  The assassin was a radical feminist writer named Valerie Solanas who actually advocated the elimination of men (which seems a rather short sighted policy to me, but what do I know?).

It’s a crazy story, crazier, in its way than the comic version.  Of course, for our purposes, the most notable thing about this discovery is the evidence it provides of even more influence of the real world on DC comics.  The assassination attempt took place in 1968, so it is another recent event that found its way into the pages of these comics, much like the Manson murders which were referenced in the pages of Green Lantern.  Unlike that tale, there is not much made of this bit of real-life inspiration.  Perhaps we’ll see the starlet’s madness explored further in the next issue, but at the moment, it seems that the real event has just been mined for plot and window dressing.  The story is solid, and Batgirl is intelligent and dedicated, earning it an average 3 Minutemen despite its brevity.  There is one big problem with the plot, though, and that is that the police would have been certain to go back and watch the earlier film if Jason claimed he had been ambushed before the murder.  That would be easily checked on.  The oversight makes the Gotham PD look rather incompetent.  Of course, maybe that’s the reason they need a Batman in the first place.

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Well, that’s it for these tales.  I hope you’ll join me soon for the next few comics in our journey through October 1970.  The next one promises to be quite interesting!  Until next time, keep the heroic spirit alive!

 

Into the Bronze Age: July 1970 (Part 2)

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Welcome to the second issue of Into the Bronze Age for July, 1970!  I’m looking forward to getting back into some Bronze Age-y goodness, as I’ve been busy with many other things, including a lot of pulp stories as I was working on my Pulp Adventures mod.  So, without further ado, let’s celebrate the beginning of the semester with some classic superheroics!

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

  • Action Comics #390
  • Batman #223 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Brave and the Bold #90
  • Challengers of the Unknown #74 (Final issue!)
  • Detective Comics #401
  • G.I. Combat #142
  • Green Lantern #78
  • Superman #227 (Reprints)
  • Superman #228

Detective Comics #401

Detective_Comics_401“Target For Tonight!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Midnight is the Dying Hour!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Our headlining feature here is a fairly mediocre Bat-tale, very much a by-the-numbers story.  It’s the standard ‘most dangerous game‘ trope where a disillusioned big-game hunter decides that the only way he can get a challenge is to hunt a man.  Of course, he decides to hunt the most dangerous of the most dangerous game, Batman!  I wonder how many times this story has been told in comics in general and with Batman specifically.  Surprisingly enough, this story is the only Batman example listed on TV Tropes.  I’m almost sure there are others, though, as almost every serial adventure character has a few of these encounters over the course of their career.  Despite its cliched nature, or perhaps evidenced by it, this trope can produce great stories.  This isn’t one of them.  It isn’t bad, per se, just not terribly interesting or exciting, and Batman really doesn’t come off as all that impressive.  There are many, many better examples out there.

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This tale opens with Batman in Commissioner Gordon’s office receiving a strange and threatening note which boldly declares that some nut named ‘The Stalker’ has made the Dark Knight his prey.  Apparently the note was delivered by a hunting falcon, right in Gordon’s window!  Just at that moment, a bullet zips in the window and ‘bullseyes’ the page, a potent warning of the hunter’s intent and skill.

The Masked Manhunter heads home to his apartment (I’ll never get used to that), where he relaxes by watching an interview with a famous big-game hunter named Carelton Yager (“jager” means hunter, in German, in case you didn’t catch that he was…you know…a hunter) who has just arrived in Gotham.  This sportsman, who is totally not our mad Stalker, has a hunting falcon and talks menacingly about how there is no thrill in the hunt anymore, thus he has come to town to hunt “the most dangerous game.”

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Just then, crossbow bolt flies in a smashes the TV.  It bears a note warning Bruce Wayne that this ‘Stalker’ knows his secret and the hunt is on.  How did this random hunter discover the secret identity of the master detective, Batman?  Well, don’t worry your pretty little head about that.  He just totally did.  Because…plot.  Well, not one to take such things lying down, the Caped Crusader sets out to do some stalking of his own, warning Gordon to keep the cops clear because “this is a matter of honor — and pride.”  Really?  I mean, it makes perfect sense that Batman would want everyone else to stay out of such a conflict for fear of any innocents getting hurt, but it does seems a bit out of character for him to be so pig-headed as to play this guy’s game just for pride.  This is another one of those little examples that we’re still not dealing with the fully developed ‘grim avenger’ Batman yet.

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Our hero is on the case less than five minutes and he commits his first blunder, stumbling into a trap in Yager’s rooms as he searched for clues.  He triggers a crossbow trap and a recording that taunts him and invites him to a showdown on an island off the coast.  Batman throws a tantrum and smashes the tape recorder with the most awkward looking, Rockettes-esq, high-kick ever, then heads straight into the obvious trap.

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At least the Dark Knight has the sense to approach the island covertly, underwater and then through a drainage pipe, but once arrived he once again immediately falls prey to one of the Stalker’s snares, this time a net that hauls him helplessly into the air.  For the third time, the hunter lets his quarry live to add spice to the chase.  That’s three separate times our hero should really be dead if the villain wasn’t just letting him win.  Real impressive, Bats.  I think this Stalker fellow might have a more challenging hunt with Robin.

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When the Caped Crusader gets free, he pursues his tormentor across the island, and eventually tackles him when he finally manages to see through one of the sportsman’s traps.  Yager is standing in the middle of the room, dressed as Alfred, but Batman realizes its a fake when he sees that the man’s shoes aren’t muddy, despite the fact that the entire island is a quagmire.  During the fight, the villain handily hoists himself on his own petard by falling into his own dead-drop and conveniently expires, taking his knowledge of our hero’s secret identity with him to his grave.

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It’s a moderately entertaining story, but not a terribly memorable one.  In fact, I read it about a month before I got the chance to write this entry, and it had COMPLETELY fallen out of my head by the time I sat down to write the summary.  It’s a trope that has lots of potential, as can easily be recognized by how often it gets used, but this one doesn’t make much of it.  The villain lacks any real personality and Batman just comes off as rather ineffectual and bad at his job.  He survives solely because of his foe’s arrogance, but not in the standard and enjoyable ironic treatment of such a trope that would indicate that Robins was even aware that this was the case.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen out of 5.

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“Midnight is the Dying Hour!”

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The backup feature is the continuation of our Batgirl story from the previous issue, and it is passable if not exactly good.  I’m afraid it definitely suffers from its brevity.  It does have a nice setup, with the story being handed off to Robin, who is following the same mystery from a different direction.  It’s a nice idea, even though there isn’t much room to develop it.

We begin with a quick one page recap of the previous issue, and then we pick up with Robin investigating the crime scene.  He discovers that the murdered man, Willard, with his hand pointing at a volume of poetry, specifically the first three letters of the title, “poetry.”  This strikes the Teen Wonder as strange, since the deceased thought poetry was “sissy stuff.”  A real winner, this guy.  Anyway, aggressive ignorance and atrocious taste aside, Robin, unable to make heads or tales of the case, decides to review the evidence and has a flash of inspiration.

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He heads to the construction site, looking for his suspect, and he interrupts the killer in the middle of his reenactment of “The Cask of Amontillado.”  The punk throws some of his cement in the young hero’s eyes and makes a run for it.  Dick frees Batgirl, who exclaims that she’s never had to thank anyone for saving her life before, and she doesn’t know how to do it.  This strikes me as rather strange, because I’m pretty sure she’s had her life saved dozens of times at this point.  Ahh well.

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They compare notes and discuss how they each solved the mystery as they pursue the killer.  It turns out to be the barely mentioned drama-major, Jack Markham, who murdered Willard, his ally in the campus debate, in order to discredit the opposing side.  According to Robin, the young weirdo was set to play Edgar Allen Poe in the school play, and he identified with the role so much that it broke his mind and turned him into a killer.  That’s…a bit of a stretch.  Poe may have been a gothic author and a fairly gloomy character.  He may have had his own demons (glug glug!), but I don’t recall him ever murdering anyone.  Not even a little bit.  Robin also solves this mystery because of the corpse’s finger pointing to “Poe” and deciding that it was a clue pointing to the actor playing the poet.  That’s a bit of a stretch as well, methinks.

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Detective401-31.JPGThe two titanic teens chase this kid into the theater and have a brief battle with him in the rafters.  He is, of course, no real threat to the heroes when they see him coming, which is fitting.  The tale ends with a rather ambiguous note, as Robin asks Batgirl if she will tell him how she got involved in all of this, and she replies “Maybe I will!  Maybe I will tell you a lot of things…”  It could be a nice, flirty moment…but it needed a bit of setup earlier in the adventure, so it just seems out of place here.

So, in the end, there is a mystery here that just didn’t have quite enough room to grow.  I like the idea of seeing both Robin and Batgirl chasing a killer from different directions.  Fortunately, though the Markham manages to momentarily elude the trained crimefighter chasing him, he doesn’t make a monkey out of the Teen Wonder, unlike some of the earlier Robin solo stories we’ve encountered.  At least this one doesn’t add another spot on the wall of shame with the Head-Blow Headcount for the high-flying hero.  I would have enjoyed the note of romance between our two young heroes…if it had been a bit more developed and certain.  In the end, I’ll give this ending backup 2.5 Minutemen as well.  It just didn’t quite have enough space to make its mark.

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G.I. Combat #142

GI_Combat_Vol_1_142“Checkpoint…Death!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Artist: Russ Heath

This Haunted Tank yarn is not one of the best.  It’s plot is just a bit…odd.  It’s like Kanigher had several set pieces he wanted to build a story around, but he didn’t really have a story in which to embed them.  As is, it’s a beautifully illustrate tale in the DC house style, and it has some nice action…and that’s about all that you can say about it, because it doesn’t make much sense.  As per usual, this issue doesn’t take much advantage of book’s conceit.  In fact, this one takes far less than the norm, with our titular haunting specter showing up for exactly two panels, where he doesn’t even offer his customary cryptic warnings.

As the story opens, the crew is commenting on Jeb’s strange habit of talking to “himself,” as they can’t see the ghost, but, as they often do, they decide that he’s a good enough tank commander, they don’t care if he’s a little crazy.  Meanwhile, Jeb asks J.E.B. if this mission will punch their tickets, and the ghost replies he can’t reveal their fates…then he promptly disappears completely from the issue.  This may as well have been a straight war comic with those two panels removed.  Just then, they spot explosions in the distance and head into action.  We get treated to a nice double-page spread of a big tank battle going on, with what look like Pershings going toe-to-toe with the Hun armor.  That would make this the late days of the war (1945), so that’s probably an art mistake.  Still, it’s a lovely spread.

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Jeb and crew are ordered to reinforce Checkpoint Able, and they, unwillingly, scoot out of the action.  Unfortunately, when they arrive, they find Able manned by no-one…but dead men!  The entirety of Able Company has been wiped out, and they are all dead at their posts…and here we meet the first moment of the tale that makes no freaking sense.  If they’re all dead, why aren’t the Nazis just strolling merrily through the lines?  Better yet, why haven’t they ALREADY done so?

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We get no answers, but we do get some nice, poignant moments as the Haunted crew deals with this grim sight.  That leads us to another nice passage, and this issue is nothing but a string of these, where, as they head out on recon and pass some wildflowers, Slim gets out and picks some for Able.  It’s a sweet, strange little scene, and it really adds some humanity to the story.

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Just then, a freak blizzard blows up, and the tank is ambushed by a German infantry unit, inexplicably kitted out for snow operations in all white uniforms, despite the fact that it is emphasized that this is a FREAK storm.  Once again, it makes no freaking sense, but the action sequence is really beautifully illustrated, and the silent (dare I say ‘ghostly’?) intensity of the Nazi troops in their assault is rather chilling (sorry!).

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The crew attempt to break out of the ambuscade, but their engine freezes up.  Here we encounter the third ludicrous story beat.  Instead of, you know, shooting the giant sitting steel duck with the panzerfaust that we see they still have, the German infantry just…wait.  They just sit and wait, allowing the tank crew to figure out what to do.  Their solution is actually quite clever and visually spectacular, though.  Jeb pulls some gas from the fuel tanks and, under cover of the storm, he carefully splashes it near the engine, then lights it ablaze.  Now, this would almost certainly suffocate the men inside the tank in real life, but it’s a great, adventure story-esq innovation.  It’s solid comic logic.  The fire warms the engine enough to get it started, and the Haunted Tank breaks away, arriving back at Checkpoint Able in time to meet the reinforcements.

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So, as you can see, this is a really uneven issue.  It has several nice set-piece moments, the usual lovely art for this book, and even some good, if brief, characterization.  Nonetheless, it is also completely ridiculous in three separate ways.  The end result is a bit baffling.  It’s a fun issue to read, but it is apt to leave one feeling rather confused.  I’m really torn on what to rate it, but I suppose I’ll also give this one a 2.5 Minutemen out of 5.  The goofy, senseless elements knock it down from a higher score, and the fun of the action combined with the beauty of the art save it from a worse one.

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Green Lantern/Green Arrow #78

Green_Lantern_Vol_2_78“My Kind of Loving, a Way of Death!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Ahh…back to this book.  It’s probably not great that we’re only three issues in and I’m already dreading each new story.  Well, on the plus side, this issue is not nearly as insufferable as the previous two.  It’s probably a worse story, as far as unity of action and the measure of the plot goes, but there’s less (though of course not no) pontificating.  The heavy hand paints a touch more lightly, but only a touch.  The setup for this issue is an interesting one, and relatively timely, especially in comic terms.  This issue centers on a charismatic cult leader brainwashing a bunch of disaffected kids and using them for his own nefarious purposes.  Sound familiar?  Well, the horrors of the Manson Family murders were less than a year old at this point, and Manson himself had just been arrested a few months earlier.  There was a great deal of fear and uneasiness throughout the culture following those events, and it is interesting to see that being worked through in comics this way.  Of course, O’Neil’s cult leader uses actual mind control to dominate his victims, and the whole horrid mess is flattened out and treated broadly, but the similarities are unmistakable.  I don’t know if this is the first time that this concept was used in a comic, but I am quite certain it was not the last either.  I can’t imagine it is the best.

Whatever it is, this particular treatment begins with the lovely Black Canary, having taken to the road to track down the way-luckier-than-he-deserves Green Arrow.  She is accosted in the Washington wilderness by a generic biker gang, doing generic, scuzzy biker gang things.  They try to steal her motorcycle and threaten her, but of course, the Canary is no shrinking violet (no offense to Shrinking Violet).  She handily wipes the floor with them before being knocked unconscious by a desperate biker who ramms her with his cycle.  They steal the bike and leaver her for dead, but she is rescued by a shadowy figure.

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It’s a beautiful montage. Take note, Gil Kane, this is how it is done.

Meanwhile, our hard-traveling heroes arrive in the nearby town and have a completely pointless encounter with a bitter young Native American man.  Now, there’s tons of bitter folks in this book, but, to be fair, if anyone’s got a right to be bitter about their treatment in this country…it’s probably the Native Americans.  Fair enough.  His role in the comic is still fairly pointless, serving only to provide a face to identify with the subject of the cult leader’s hatred.

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green lantern 078 015.jpgHis shop is attacked by the generic bikers, who do more generic biker things, like trash the place.  Our heroes immediately endanger their secret identities by just stepping outside to put on their costumes, despite the fact that they were the only strangers in town.  As you would expect, they utterly trounce these low-rent thugs, who pose no real threat to two Justice Leaguers.  And here is our return to the perennial problem (other than the heavy-handed, tone deaf characterization) with this series.  The protagonists are just a poor fit for the tale that O’Neil is telling.  Green Lantern and Green Arrow beating up on these punks just seems…unnecessary.  The heroes are in no peril to speak of, and there is no actual tension and nothing at stake with this little encounter.

Nonetheless, the traveling-twosome makes short work of them, and seems to do it with great relish.  There is actually a fairly good moment of characterization here…that is more or less completely glossed over.  Hal really enjoys this conflict, being a very straight-forward case of good and evil, a simple, unequivocal situation that has none of the complicated morality and deep significance of the last few adventures.  These are bad men doing bad things to an innocent, and a bit of a trouncing is richly deserved.  It would be a good moment if it were given a little more development, but it is left entirely to the reader to make the connection, as O’Neil spends no time on it.  He may not even be aware of it.  I do enjoy the sense of whimsy that the Emerald Gladiator brings to his ring-slinging this issue.  It’s a nice change from his dreary existential doubt from the past two issues, and it points to a more interesting and enjoyable character.  I doubt it will last.

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Well, the Emerald Archer notices that one of the bikers has Canary’s motorcycle, and they get the story out of the punk, GA losing his mind and nearly beating the guy to death in the process.  It’s a good moment, with Hal having to restrain Ollie who is beside himself with worry about Canary.  The heroes go to look for her and find the lost lady seemingly hale and healthy, but in the company of a mysterious “prophet” named Joshua.  He is running a commune of some sort, and he claims that Dinah is now one of his ‘children.’  She, though obviously conflicted, refuses to come with them.

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Adams does a fantastic job of making this Joshua fellow eerie and disturbing.  That man has crazy eyes.

In desperation, the Emerald Archer grabs his lady love and plants a passionate kiss on her lips.  It’s a nice moment, especially considering that, since she’s been around, he’s never gotten any real encouragement from her.  He’s clearly been head over heels for her, but she’s rebuffed him.  This is a pretty big and bold step.  It would be a lot stronger if this plot had been given room to breath, but even just jumping out of nowhere, the scene, where she pulls away and tells him to get lost has a little power, largely thanks to Neal Adams, most likely.

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Ollie is crushed and frustrated, and Hal’s fairly blunt declaration that “she just doesn’t dig” him (way to let your friend down easy, flyboy), doesn’t help any.  Arrow belts his partner in green, and then stalks off into the woods where he, at least, realizes he’s acting like a child.  It’s good to see O’Neil finally acknowledge some of Ollie’s silliness, though he’ll get back to using him as a mouthpiece shortly, don’t worry. Hal, for his part, comes off much better in this issue.  Instead of bowing up and getting in his friend’s face, the Emerald Gladiator merely shrugs it off, knowing that Ollie isn’t himself.

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Meanwhile, the creepy Joshua arms his clearly mind-controlled ‘Family’ and tells them that they are going to slaughter the nearby Indians to start off a race war and reclaim the country for the whites.  Urg.  O’Neil really wants to make his evilness unmistakable…though, to be fair, I suppose this is actually pretty close to Manson’s own motivations (though with opposite goals).  The Emerald Archer encounters the Family in the woods during target practice and decides that he better call for help because he can’t take them all without killing them…really?  Green Arrow, superhero and Justice League member, who has managed to fight crime for years without killing ANYONE can’t manage to take out a bunch of brainwashed kids with pistols and no training without killing them?  It’s fine for Ollie to have called for help.  Sure, I can buy that, but his statement is just patently ridiculous in the context of the story.  Heck, in the last issue, he stormed a freaking fortress and took on trained soldiers.  *sigh*

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Anyway, surprisingly, firing a flare in the middle of the darkened woods attracts attention, and the Family opens fire on him, winging the hero.  They charge after Green Lantern but…he’s a freaking Green Lantern.  Oddly, he ALSO worries about being able to stop them without killing them, despite the fact that he’s wearing an honest-to-goodness wishing ring.  What’s with all this concern about killing the bad guys all of a sudden?  Since when have these two ever DONE that?  Fortunately, he performs better than Ollie (he could hardly have done worse), and easily disarms and traps the kids.

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It’s almost as if random brainwashed kids with guns aren’t actually worthy antagonists for a man armed with the most powerful weapon in the universe….

UNfortunately, Joshua and the Canary escape and come across the injured Archer.  Despite the cult leader’s orders to shoot the helpless hero, Dinah can’t bring herself to do it and overcomes his control.  Hal holds back his aid, letting her break the brainwashing on her own so she’ll have no doubts in the future.  It’s a nice gesture…until you think about the fact that he’s gambling (as he admits) with the Archer’s life.

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Well, I know what you’re thinking.  All of this, and we haven’t had any pretentious preaching from Ollie all issue.  Maybe we dodged the bullet!  Don’t’ be silly; O’Neil wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to talk down to his audience and make Green Arrow come off like a self-important, holier-than-though windbag.  As the heroes are reunited, Ollie takes the opportunity to browbeat a still reeling and emotionally drained Black Canary, telling her that it’s her fault she was brainwashed because there is something bad in all of us that allows monsters like this to bring people to their side.  Classy Arrow.  Real classy.

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Nothing says “I love you” like accusations of secret racism.

This comic has some potential, like most of the others, but it simply has the wrong stars.  There is a good story to be told, and it will be told elsewhere, about the unsettling and sinister nature of a charismatic madman’s grip on impressionable minds.  Try this setup with someone like Batman, the Question, or another more investigative type, and you’d really have something.  Unfortunately, that interesting plot isn’t given enough room to grow, with the unnecessary secondary elements with the bikers and the random kid crowd it down to insignificance.  The central conflict with Canary and the emotions she’s been fighting is interesting, and, once again, given more space, it could have made for a moving turning-point for her romance with Ollie.  This too gets short shrift.  Still, it is really fascinating to see the comics dealing with contemporary history, struggling with the questions we all have about what makes monsters like Manson able to work their dark wills.  It is noteworthy for that, if not for the quality of the issue itself.  As always, Adams’ artwork is spectacular and really gives the book more gravitas and interest than it probably deserves.  In the end, I give this issue 2.5 Minutemen, making this week’s scores unanimous.

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Well, let’s see if we can’t finish up our trip into July 1970 soon and get on with our adventures Into the Bronze Age!  Please join me later this week for the final post in this month of comics.  Until then, remember to tell your significant other that they are really awful inside!

Into the Bronze Age: June 1970 (Part 2)

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Welcome, and thank you for joining me as we write another chapter in this history of the Bronze Age!

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

  • Action Comics #389
  • Aquaman #51
  • Batman #222
  • Detective Comics #400
  • The Flash #198
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #77
  • Justice League #81
  • Phantom Stranger #7
  • Showcase #91
  • Teen Titans #27
  • World’s Finest #194

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

Detective Comics #400

Detective_Comics_400.jpgExecutive Editor: Carmine Infantino
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“A Burial for Batgirl!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Ahh, Neal Adams back on Batman.  This is how it should be.  And in addition, we get a great, classic Bronze Age character introduced in this issue!  Prepare to meet the macabre, menacing Man-Bat!  The introduction of this grotesque mix of monster and man is something that really wouldn’t have flown in the Silver Age.  He’s a bit too much of a horror character, but his advent represents the loosening reins and the increasing creativity of the Bronze Age!  I really do like this character, having first met him on that greatest of Bat-worlds, Batman: TAS, in an excellent set of episodes.  His first appearance here isn’t quite so awe-inspiring as that desperate flight across Gotham from the inaugural episode of the show, but it’s still pretty good.

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This milestone issue (I bet Bob Kane and co. had no clue that their creation would go on to headline a book for anything close to 400+ issues!) starts with the quiet eerie looking scientist, Kurt Langstrom, working on an oversized display about bats in the Gotham Museum of Natural History.  Once the curator leaves, Langstrom begins his real work, experimenting with the genes of bats in an attempt to give himself super senses and the ability to “see” in the dark through sonar.  This whole setup is a bit odd.  Why exactly is this guy working at the Natural History Museum?  The TAS setup with him working at a zoo made a bit more sense to me, as did his motives.  In the show, he’s after a traditional mad scientist end, trying to ensure mankind’s survival through acquiring the characteristics of bats.  In comic logic, that’s about as common as a sunny day.

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This is a wonderfully creepy sequence where Adams economically communicates a lot about the unhealthy fixation of the doctor.

Either way, Langstrom is not the only one seeking an advantage in the dark.  Our scene shifts to an underground location elsewhere in the city where the ‘Blackout Gang’ are looking for a score!  They wear thermal goggles and practice silent tactics for their cappers, but Batman still manages to find them when one of them drops a tool and sets up a clatter.  Though Batman is used to fighting in the dark, the punks can see, whereas he has to rely on his training.  They scatter, and he only manages to recover the device, an “ultra-sonic cutting tool,” which can carve through concrete silently.

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The crooks are disheartened, as they figure that Batman will find a way to trace the signal from such gadgets, endangering their plans.  Their leader decides to turn this to their advantage by laying a trap.  Meanwhile, Dr. Langstrom’s experiments have borne unexpected fruit!  He suddenly finds his hearing and sight grown to painful sensitivity!

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If you’re a scientist and you wear a cape, chances are your future isn’t going to include a healthy social life…

He realizes that he’s succeeded, giving himself a natural sonar as well, which, interestingly enough, is exactly what Batman is working on.  The Dark Knight creates an artificial sonar system to guide him in the dark, preparing for his next encounter with the gang.

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Unfortunately, our resident mad scientist has discovered some rather…unpleasant side effects.  He is turning into a….Man-Bat!  Dun, dun DUN!  He panics and begins working on a way to reverse his condition, but he’s interrupted by the collision of our two plots.

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That’s a beautifully creepy reveal.

The Masked Manhunter tracks the gang to their new target, the Natural History Museum!  He confronts them with quite a surprise when he can suddenly “see” in the dark.  Yet, the Blackout Gang is unreasonably clever.  Their leader deduced that Batman might develop some type of sonar device, so he brought along a secret weapon…ping-pong balls.  That’s right, ping-pong balls.  They toss the balls into the air, and their chaotic bouncing and rebounding deafens the Dark Knight.  The gang dogpiles the detective while he’s “blinded.”

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Detective400-18.jpgJust as it seems that they will do what any number of supervillains have failed to do, an eerie screech is heard ripping through the night, and horrifying help arrives.  Man-Bat smashes into the gang, tossing them around like ragdolls and giving Batman a chance to catch his breath.  The two make short work of the hoods, and the Caped Crusader thanks his unlikely savior.  Yet, when he turns his penlight on the monstrous Man-Bat, he sees his terrifying visage, taking it for a mask.  Ashamed, Langstrom, still in possession of his faculties, smashes the light and disappears in the night!

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This is a beautifully drawn tale, of course.  I love a lot of the shots of the Man-Bat, and I really like the all-black design of the thieves.  They make for a nice contrast with the other characters.

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The story itself isn’t quite as strong.  It’s a fine adventure, but the ping-pong ball deus ex machina is a bit silly.  That’s a very specific guess on the part of the gang leader.  Langstrom’s motivations are also fairly weak.  He’s trying to grant himself an ability that Batman doesn’t have?  Really?  Well, seeing as Batman has no abilities, that shouldn’t be that hard!  Either way, it’s a slightly uneven story, notable mostly for the introduction of a really neat character rather than the plot itself.  Adam’s design for Man-Bat is just excellent, evoking the horror comics of yesteryear with a wonderfully creepy realism, insofar as a giant man/bat monster can be realistic.  I’ll give this 4 Minutemen, largely on the strength of the art and the concept.

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“A Burial for Batgirl!”

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We have another Batgirl backup this month, and it is an interesting enough beginning to a tale.  This chapter finds Barbara Gordon pulling up to the library of Hudson University, having just arrived in town to attend a Edgar Allan Poe festival, when she suddenly hears a cry for help!  She quickly darns her ‘working clothes’ and races to investigate.  Inside, what should she discover? Why it’s a dirty hippy in love beads running for the exit!  That’s quite suspicious, if I do say so myself.  He lunges out with a desperate punch, but Batgirl is not so easily stopped, so she flips him against the wall.  Gathering her thoughts, she takes note of a strange smell, something that could be ether.  Unfortunately, while she is trying to identify the tell-tale odor, the hippie regains his feet and blinds her with a nearby fire extinguisher.

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Once recovered, our heroine rushes outside, only to see her escaping hippy having encountered some other pursuers.  A number of college students are chasing him, and they even begin to kick the poor sucker once Batgirl lays him out.  Suddenly, a voice orders them to stop.  Dick Grayson steps out of the night and takes the heroine to task for not helping the hapless hippy, saying that he thought she had a reputation for sticking up for the underdog.

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We pick the story up back at the police station, where the top cop fill her in on the details of the case.  The hippy is Hank Osher, a student radical, one of the bully-boys chasing him was Jack Markham, an acting major, and the man whose cry for help Batgirl answered too late, was Amos Willard, the University’s business manager.  We even get a helpful visual aid to sort out the plot quickly and efficiently.  It isn’t the most dynamic story-telling move, but it’s a nice way to cover a lot of ground quickly, which is necessary in a tale this short.

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Apparently it all started with the proposed sale of a plot of woodlands that the school owned.  Willard was in favor of this, but Markham violently opposed it and threatened him.  Sensing that there is more to this than meets the eye, Batgirl interviews the imprisoned suspect, who claims he is being set up.  The masked girl begins to investigate, and we get a wonderfully sexist moment where she wonders if she is just being led astray by her “girlish heart responding to his big blue eyes.”  Great.

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Well, she decides to pursue the case one way or the other, and remembering the strange smell from the library, she thinks she knows where to look for more clues.  While investigating a building under construction, someone knocks her out with…that’s right, the classic head-blow!  That’s another one for this month!

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Babs awakens to find herself bound and gagged as a mysterious figure reenacts Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado.”  Yep, the mysterious figure is walling her up with bricks in a hidden alcove of the partially constructed building!  Dun, dun, DUN!

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That is certainly a nice, dramatic ending, no doubt about it.  This story, brief as it is, is interesting.  We don’t really get enough to establish the mystery properly, but there are the bones of a decent one, an enigmatic murder, a framed patsy, and a clever villain.  It has potential.  We’ll see what the next issue holds.  What is perhaps the most intriguing element of this story is the glimpse of social tensions in the hippy character, the student rabble-rouser, who is rebelling against the system…for reasons.  While his motivations are about as clear as an actual hippy’s, it’s telling that O’Neil is framing him as the victim here.  The whole thing feels a bit deeper than the desperate pandering towards youth culture that used to show up in Haney’s Teen Titans stories.  All-in-all, I’ll give this one a 3.5.

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Flash #198

Flash_v.1_198.jpgCover Artist: Gil Kane
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Call It… Magic!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Vince Colletta

Just look at that cover.  A hero praying is the central image, a sincere plea to the Almighty forms the design.  Can you imagine something like that showing up today?  The Big Two are way too worried about offending somebody to put so unambiguous a reference to religion in so prominent a spot, methinks.  I found it charming, though we’ll see inside that it isn’t quite as simple as it appears.

This strange tale begins with a group of teenagers, described throughout the issue as “teen-agers,” sneaking into a mist-shrouded cave, looking for our titular Scarlet Speedster.  When they find him, he is acting very strangely, holding a pigeon and speaking simplistically, almost…childishly.  In fact, he insist that his name is not “Flash,” it is Barry!  How bizarre!

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We eventually discover that the Sultan of Speed has lost his memory and reverted back to his eight year old self.  The kids seem to blame themselves, and they convince our hero to keep hiding in the cave when it becomes apparent that he can’t access his speed.  The ‘teen-agers’ decide that they have to protect the speedster until he recovers his senses, and we get a flashback that explains what happened.  It’s actually quite touching how they are willing to risk their own lives for confused champion.

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Barry, utterly exhausted from his last adventure (nice little nod to continuity), as running THROUGH SPACE will definitely take it out of you, slept late into the day.  Iris didn’t want to wake him, so she left a note telling him she’d be out of town for a few days on an assignment and reminded him that he had promised to visit the children in the Central City Orphanage.  I like the domestic check-in for the Flash, as well as the plot logic nod, recognizing that if Barry was missing for any length of time, Iris would have done something, had she been in town.

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Anyway, the Scarlet Speedster thrills the youth with his speed tricks, but a trio of ‘teen-agers’ are not so easily impressed.  Desperate to reach these kids, Barry reveals how painfully unhip he is.  He does offer to do all kinds of amazing things for them, like whisk them away to Paris or other distant lands, yet these jaded kids act like they get such offers every day.  Really kids?  A superhero offers to zip you to the City of Lights, and all you can do is yawn?  Man, kids these days!

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Well, they finally ask the Crimson Comet to take them to their old neighborhood, where he even builds them a brand new clubhouse in record time!  These kids don’t know how good they’ve got it!

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It is at this point that the plot takes its turn and we meet our antagonists.  Apparently a gang of thieves who had pulled off a big robbery had stashed their loot in that abandoned lot, and they jumped the hero when he accidentally uncovered it.  The Flash managed to get the kids to safety, but a ricochet grazed his head and scrambled his brains a bit, thus his current confusion.  It strikes me as a bit off that the Fastest Man Alive could be tagged by any bullet, even a ricochet, if it wasn’t the first round fired.  After he knew he was being shot at, he, fast as he is, should have been able to casually stroll to the other side of the city before they could so much as pull the trigger another time.  Yet, I suppose that’s a common problem with the portrayal of superspeed.  Such characters really tend to move at the speed of plot.

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Cut back to the present, where the vengeful villains have discovered our hero’s hideaway.  They toss in smoke grenades, and the befuddled Flash doesn’t know what to do, but while the kids prepare to protect him with their lives, Barry begins to do the one thing he can…pray!  He pleads with God to make him truly the Flash as the kids claim, and suddenly he whips into quicksilver motion!  He takes the thieves out in a blur of super-speed strikes, but the cave begins to collapse, and the Scarlet Speedster takes another crack on the head.  Just like that, he comes back to himself, remembering who he is in classic comic-book fashion.

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The adventure ends with the Fastest Man Alive bidding a fond farewell to his newfound young friends.  Exhausted all over again, he collapses into bed, where Iris discovers him when she returns home.

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This is a tale that I really didn’t care for when I read it the first time, but as with several of these Flash issues, I’ve got a lot more appreciation for it on this second reading.  It’s simple but charming, and I like the earnest, wholehearted plea to God.  That’s a nice moment, and it is left ambiguous whether his prayer is answered or whether he simply is able to will himself into super-speed.  That’s the right way to go, as anything else would be excessive.  This is definitely a study in contrast to modern comics, though, with a hero, even a brain-damaged one, making any type of openly religious statement.  In the end, there isn’t a whole lot to this issue, though I like several of its story beats.  Fortunately the child-like Flash doesn’t hang around long enough to be annoying, though that could easily have happened.  I like that the kids feel responsible for what happens and react so strongly in their efforts to protect Barry, though one wonders why they didn’t just tell the police, ‘hey, the Flash is hurt over at the cave!’  Ahh well, one way or the other, I’ll give this gentle-hearted tale 3.5 Minutemen.

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“Call It… Magic!”

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Hey, we get something different this month, a Zatanna backup!  I like this character in general, and though her concept is patently ridiculous, she still somehow works.  I think she works best in a setting like this, with a co-star, rather than holding down a story by herself.  Mystic types always need non-mystics to explain things to, after all.  I’ve read her original appearances from the Silver Age, where she guest-starred her way through the nascent DC Universe, and I’m wondering if this might be the start of a new set of such appearances.  Either way, I’m glad to see her, and although she and The Flash make for an odd pairing, this is an engaging little adventure.  It helps that Don Heck really does a wonderful job with the art chores for the backup, drawing a particularly fetching Zatanna.

This tale opens with one of Zatanna’s perennial magic shows, just as she is calling for a volunteer from the audience.  She picks out Barry Allen, who she of course knows is the Flash, just to tease her friend.  She promises to make him disappear with a kiss (look out Iris), yet when she she lays her lips on him, it is she who vanishes!  Where could she have gone?

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We jump across the barriers of time and space, watching as Zatanna is drawn through them as well, to discover that a sorcerer in a parallel dimension has summoned her to aid him in a desperate moment!  This wizard, named Namba, was attacked by by an old foe, a demon named Xarkon.  The nicely designed infernal foe takes control of Namba’s body, just as the Mistress of Magic arrives.

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She tries to use her magic to separate them, but the strain was too great.  It seems she cannot risk using her magic on the supernatural antagonist without hurting the magician she was summoned to help.  Meanwhile, Flash does not take her disappearance lightly.  He races home to his cosmic treadmill and homes in on the vibrations that he felt as the Mystic Maiden was sucked away from him.  I like the cosmic treadmill, as goofy of a concept as it is, as it just fits into the ‘world of wonder’ vibe that characterizes a good Flash story, just like a good Superman story.  Anyway, the Scarlet Speedster unfortunately arrives in hot water!

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The inhabitants of this strange world are now under the sway of Xarkon/Namba, and they attack the hero on sight.  The Fastest Man alive isn’t a pushover, though, and he quickly slips out of their grasp.  Then we get a nice little moment where he tries to communicate his peaceful intentions by creating a peace sign, which only scares his superstitious (probably justly so, seeing as they live in a world chock-full of magic) attackers.  The kicker is that Flash is a bit disappointed by this result, as “playing the Batman isn’t my role.”  That’s a cool little moment of characterization squeezed into the brief adventure.  The kind-natured, fair play minded Barry Allen doesn’t really enjoy scaring folks.  I like that.

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The story races (sorry!) to its conclusion as the Crimson Comet speeds in to challenge Xarkon, only to be waylaid by magic!  Fortunately, his presence provides the distraction, and inspiration, that Zatanna needs.  She breaks the spell on Namba…with a kiss!  It’s, honestly, a bit weird, and the justification weirder still.  Apparently Namba brought her to him because she was kissing Barry at the time, and a kiss is just what he needed…okay…some guys will go to any lengths to get a date!

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It’s a bit odd for a conclusion, and I can’t help but feel like it isn’t quite giving Zatanna the respect she deserves, especially as Namba “thanks” her with a kiss as well.  It seems vaguely sexist, but then again, it’s a comic book from 1970, so no big surprise there.  I like that we end with Barry helping the Mistress of Magic finish her trick with a little help from his own brand of super speed magic.

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In the end, this is a fun, though necessarily brief, backup.  I like seeing Zatanna, and even though Flash really doesn’t have any impact on the plot, I enjoyed his portion of the tale as well.  This was an unexpected surprise, and the art had a really nice quality to it that I can’t quite put my finger on.  I know that Zatanna is due to join the Justice League sometime soon, so it will be neat to see how that gets built up across the DCU.  It’s interesting how long it took her to become an established character.  She was introduced in 1964, and she had that set of stories, though I don’t think she showed up anywhere else for a while after that.  Here she is in 1970, but she won’t really “make it” until she joins the Justice League in 1973.  That’s a good nine years from her introduction to the point when she hit the big time, insofar as she ever has.  Well, I’ve wandered away from the story itself, which I will give an above average 3.5 Minutemen.

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Green Lantern/Green Arrow #77

Green_Lantern_Vol_2_77.jpgCover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Ohh man, I wasn’t looking forward to this one.  Here we continue Denny O’Neil’s death-march into social relevance.  After the last issue being even worse than I remembered, I was pretty unenthusiastic about this month, but it was better than the previous one in some ways, yet, it was worse in the logic of the actual plot.  We still have  moments of teeth-grindingly bad characterization from Hal and self-righteous speechifying from Ollie, but there is perhaps less of each.  The art is, of course, beautiful, and the central action set-piece is really striking, but as one should expect from this series, subtlety and nuance are endangered species, nowhere to be found.

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The issue opens with our hard-traveling heroes winding through the mountains of some Appalachian town with their sightseeing Guardian in the back of the truck.  For some reason, the juxtaposition of that image cracks me up.  The trio starts taking fire from a group of locals who think they are working for someone unfortunately named “Slapper” Soames.  The heroes leap into action and pretty quickly disable their attackers.  Here we have one of those rather odd moments that this series provides in spades, as the locals don’t recognize either of these world famous superheroes.  I know they’re from a backwater town, but come on!  We also discover that Green Lantern’s ring is somehow malfunctioning.  Uh-oh!

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So, what in the blue blazes is going on here, with folks from this small town shooting at random passers-by?  Well, the short version is that this is a ‘company town,’ a mining town pretty much owned by a man named Slapper, and he runs it like his own little kingdom.  Honestly, I might turn villainous too if my name was ‘Slapper.’  These miners are sick of being oppressed, and they decided to revolt after a local singer/songwriter who spoke out against conditions got arrested for no good reason.  So, armed revolt was the only option instead of, you know, going to the feds or…almost anything else?  Yep, seems so, because in O’Neil’s corner of the DC Universe each and every inhabitant has his melodrama knob turned up to 11.

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The Green Team begins to debate what to do about this situation after they hear the miners’ tale of woe, and here we get this issue’s obligatory terrible moment of characterization for Green Lantern.  The townsfolk tell our heroes that this Slapper fellow is acting like a tyrannical monster, and Hal is so incredibly rigid and immature in his thinking that he immediately takes the bad guy’s side, just because he’s in charge.  I get it, O’Neil, Hal respects authority; sometimes that’s bad.  Yes, I understand, but he also isn’t a child.  He can tell the difference between someone in a complex social situation like the fat-cat from the last issue and someone who is effectively running a concentration camp!  At the least he should be willing to investigate the situation since, you know, he is a superhero and all.  Instead, he’s apparently willing to ignore this entire mess, including the band of armed citizens hiding in the hills.

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In case this scene wasn’t annoying enough just on account of Green Lantern’s naivety, Green Arrow immediately responds by invoking Godwin’s Law, yet again.  That’s two, O’Neil.  Yep, Ollie’s response is, ‘hey, Hitler was in charge too!’  Interestingly enough, in case you missed the subtle moral dilemma here, the Archer’s ridiculous comparison actually proves prophetic.

The pair decides to aid the miners, who plan to assault the local robber-baron’s headquarters to free the singer (is this what happened to Jason Quest?), only to discover that this headquarters is less ‘small town jail’ and more ‘fugitive fortress from D-Day.’  That’s right, this small-town robber-baron is holed up in a blockhouse surrounded by concertina wire, watch towers, and a minefield!  Sure, why not.

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All of a sudden, Green Arrow, who has fought against all kinds of terrible odds as a honest-to-goodness superhero, completely chickens out, right after his impassioned speech about helping these yokels.  He says their attack is going to be suicide, and he refuses to participate…despite the fact that he and the man with the magic-freaking-wishing ring could easily take down the small-town tyrant without anyone losing their lives.  In fact, perhaps they could, you know, do this themselves, since this is pretty much right in their bailiwick as superheroes, rather than help an angry mob take on armed soldiers.  No, instead, our heroic archer sits back and watches as men armed with shotguns and pitchforks charge a machine gun.  It’s only after they start dropping like flies, you know, because they are charging a machine gun, that he decides to get off his green-clad backside and help.  He fires a smoke arrow to cover their advance, which would have been great before several men had been shot.  Sorry Ollie, but you just lost the moral high ground from which you’ve been pontificating.

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Better late than never…except for all those men who are dead…

Before the attack actually begins, we do a quick check in with our antagonist and watch the Emerald Crusader charge his ring.  His inner monologue is really quite painful to read, evincing the moral sophistication of a particularly dim and immature 12 year old.  He even goes so far as to say he would have backed our clearly villainous villain in earlier days, just because the guy is in a position of authority, legitimate or not.

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I sympathize; justice is hard to weigh, but here’s a hint: it’s a pretty safe bet that the guys murdering innocents aren’t on the side of the angels…

Green Lantern gets involved, and his ring makes swift work of the defenses, until it shorts out on him again, and then we get a moment that irritated me quite a bit, almost as much as the infinitely more asinine moments that surrounded it.  The Emerald Gladiator gives a big speech about how he’ll have to rely on his fists, and this is what he’s been missing, finding out what he’s really made of…as a man!

That’s all well and good, except that he’s done this in practically every. single. issue. of his series for the last several dozen issues.  I can’t count how many times the Lantern would make a big to-do about not using the most powerful weapon in the universe so he could punch someone with his fist and prove he’s “a man.”  I’m quite certain of this, because the trope quickly began to gall me as it buried what made the concept fun and interesting in the first place.  So, yeah Hal, you’ve gone a whole three days without punching someone in the face!  You clearly need to prove yourself.  If that’s the case, you’ve got some really deep emotional problems.  When did this turn into a grim, naval-gazing postmodern comic where all the “heroes” are mentally ill?  Although…that would explain Hal’s apparent lack of a moral compass…

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This page is like a movie star, beautiful, but stupid.

Ahh well, I understand what O’Neil was trying to do, tying that moment into the whole ill-executed crisis of conscience that will haunt the character throughout this series, but in context of the book that existed just a few months ago, it rings false.  The idea is developed further as Hal realizes that the reason his ring has been failing is that he’s lost confidence, concentration, and clarity of purpose.  I actually like that move; it’s just a shame that the story doesn’t earn it.  In addition, the Guardian tells him that his fellows have decided to reduce his power while he’s on “walkabout.”  Thanks guys.  At this point, Hal is struck by gas rockets, which leaves him wandering wounded and out of the fight.

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Because, despite his ability to juggle multiple super powered heroes in JLA, this is the best way that O’Neil can manage to provide any dramatic tension at the climax of this tale when he’s got this mismatched pair of characters. Even de-powered, Green Lantern really shouldn’t’ have any trouble with random mooks with guns, and if he was allowed to continue his attack for another moment, the issue would be over.  It feels a bit forced.

On the plus side, we get a nice, if slightly heavy-handed scene with the vacationing Guardian saving a little girl.  He begins to wonder if he has underestimated humanity as the child’s helplessness moves him.  There is something of value here, as the immortal being of pure intellect begins to interact with beings of emotion, to slowly be reminded of a truth that we imagine his race once knew, perhaps when the universe was young.  He begins to realize that there is more to weighing and judging matters of justice than logic can entirely supply.  It’s a promising vein of storytelling, and I’m curious to see how well it is mined.  If memory serves, I was not particularly impressed with the treatment this idea received on my first reading, but we shall see.

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In the meantime, Green Lantern’s absence leads to the surviving rebels getting captured, along with the Emerald Archer.  It’s revealed that, surprise surprise, the bad guy’s thugs are actually Nazi war criminals, somehow smuggled into this small-town to work as muscle for this random robber-baron.  Sure.  That’s important, just in case you hadn’t gotten yet that this bad guy is, in fact, really bad.  Anyway, it is also revealed that the head rabble-rouser was actually the villain’s plant.  Slapper wanted to force the miners into a confrontation so he could break their spirits and keep them enslaved.  That’s not a bad twist, but the guy didn’t really get enough characterization for it to matter.

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Lantern and Arrow eventually recover, and they make quick work of Slapper and his bully-boys.  Rather fittingly, despite his (belated) heroics, Ollie is entirely ineffectual and quite doomed until Hal shows up.  The story concludes with the Emerald Archer throwing a big bucket of cold water on whatever happiness this ending might have supplied, as our heroes continue their journey in search of America.  It looks like next issue will feature some more biker movie rejects.  Oh joy.

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Well, I suppose I let my feelings about this issue come through pretty clearly already, probably too clearly!  It frustrated me at several points, and the ham-handed characterization, as well as the irrational story beats, really got on my nerves.  I think that the bones of this tale could have actually been an excellent plot for someone like The Question, Batman, or the classic Vigilante (I think that would have made for a great story!).  Unfortunately, as with many of the adventures that will populate the coming pages of this book, this one is simply not well-suited for its protagonist pairing.  The lack of attention to recent continuity, when even the fairly Silver Age-ish Flash is doing a better job, is surprising as well.  Hal’s continued stupidity is probably the worst element of the tale, though I think the heroes’ inexplicable inaction before the miners’ assault is a pretty close second.  In addition, there is less here that is valuable, conceptually, than the first issue.  I think the days of the Pinkertons beating up striking miners were pretty far gone, even in 1970, though I suppose I could be wrong.  It doesn’t have quite the weight, despite the much higher stakes, as the previous issue.  All-in-all, I’ll give this annoying story 1.5 Minutemen.
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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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And we have ANOTHER addition to the wall of shame this month.  Neither Batgirl nor Robin are coming off all that well in their backups.

 

Well, that’s it for this week’s issues.  Thanks for joining me, and please visit again when we’ll have JLA and other other goodies to peruse!  Let me note that this coming week is the last week of the semester, so I’m likely to be insanely busy.  The following week I’ll be presenting at a conference out of state, so please don’t fret if it takes me a bit of time to get to the next installment.  I promise I won’t forget it.  Until then, keep the course, Into the Bronze Age!

 

Into the Bronze Age: May 1970 (Part 2)

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Howdy folks!  Welcome back to the Bronze Age.  Join me for the next stage of our trip!

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

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

Bonus!: Star Hawkins (for real this time)

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

Challengers of the Unknown #73

Challengers_of_the_Unknown_Vol_1_73.jpgCover Artist: Nick Cardy
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: George Tuska
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Now this is more like it.  While it’s got its weak points, this is a Challengers issue, hitting the notes that a good story of theirs should.  Interestingly, the editor includes a short missive in the letter column about the rotating cast of artists that the book has featured over the last few months, promising that they have finally settled on someone that they think is right for the Chals.  I have to say, George Tuska does a fine job with this story.  The art is good, but the layouts and general design is particularly impressive.  This is, of course, all the more bittersweet, since the book ends with the next issue.

This Challengers adventure begins with an out of control space capsule careening earthward and splashing down in the ocean.  It is immediately picked up by waiting support crews and landed on an aircraft carrier, which is depicted only in silhouette as dawn breaks over the horizon in a rather nice panel.

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The naval crew find the pilot dead, not killed by the force of reentry or anything of that sort, but strangled while trapped alone in a sealed craft 10,000 miles from earth!  Dun dun DUN!  Now that’s a pretty good problem for the Challengers, something bizarre and inexplicable.  Again, Tuska’s art conveys the message in an interesting way.  Just the image of that arm sticking out of the capsule and the startled faces of the officers tells you just about everything you need to know.

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We pick up with the Challengers who are camped out in Ace’s New York apartment, and we also pick back up with the old argument.  Red is an insufferable jerk to Corinna, again.  At this point, his boorishness is getting old, but the highlight of this scene is the return of the Prof!  He’s walking with a cane, but he is walking, and he’s back to his old self!  That’s a very pleasant surprise, as I rather imagined he’d been written out of the series permanently.

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Of course, this prompts Red to begin picking on Corinna, wanting to throw her off the team.  Also predictably, Rocky steps in to defend her, since the lady Challenger apparently can’t stand up for herself.  This leads the two to come to actual blows, where both show off their expertise, the strongman throwing Red around the place, and the acrobat flipping and rolling to stay in the fight.  It’s a nice sequence, even if this whole love/hate subplot is getting old.

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Ace arrives to break up the fight and inform the team about their mission.  Arriving at an air force base, the Chals meet a fellow named Major Cheever, an astronaut who will be their liaison during their visit.  Here is where things take a turn for the strange and we run into one of the only real problems with this issue.  Corinna suddenly receives “weird vibrations” and informs us that she is totally a medium, and she has absolutely been one all along.  This is definitely not a sign that O’Neil is making her character up as he goes along.  This is the problem with Corinna.  She’s really vaguely defined, and there is just no unifying concept behind her.

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Well, she runs off to find privacy to employ the ability that she’s absolutely always had, and she brilliantly decides that the base vacuum chamber is the best place.  I’m sure you can see what’s coming.  Of course, someone slams the door on her and turns on the mechanism, sucking the air out of the chamber.  I’m sorry Corinna, but it’s things like this that make it seem like Red, as much of a jerk as he is, might just have a point.  I’m not convinced you’re really Challengers material.

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She’s rescued by Rocky, who shatters the shatter-proof glass in desperation.  Corinna recovers, but the two guards who had been watching the facility have been shot!  Ace does some quick thinking and realizes that the guards have been staged to make it look like a murder/suicide, but apparently the killer is a moron, as the supposed suicide was shot in the back.  That’s not really all that much of a deduction there, Ace.  I guess you’re not exactly Sherlock Holmes, eh?

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Later, the Chals hold a seance to contact whatever is involved in this mystery, an idea that, unsurprisingly, Red opposes.  Ace overrules him, and they actually manage to make contact with…something, an otherworldly spirit, but just as it is about to spill the beans, someone throws a grenade in the window!

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The team scatters, but Rocky manages to smother the blast with a mattress, adding a nice line that it “takes more than a lousy hand grenade to do in a lunk like me.”  It’s a good moment.

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Challengers_73_15.jpgThe Chals head to the base and Ace, Red, and Corinna prepare to head up towards the Moon so they can challenge (sorry!) whatever is causing these problems.  They join Major Cheever, after Ace gives a nice little speech about how much still remains unknown about the cosmos to a dubious officer.

However, in space, the team is attacked by…Major Cheever!  Just then, a strange energy creature materializes in the capsule.  I really like the design for this being, amorphous and vaguely defined, fitting for an energy lifeform.  Having touched Corinna’s mind, the creature, named Machu, feels a connection towards her.  It resists Cheever’s orders, and it tells its story.  Apparently its race long ago came to the Moon looking for a new world to call their own.  This being was the guardian of his people, but because he failed in his duties, they were destroyed.  With his dying (what? breath? do energy beings breath?)…something, their leader cursed Machu, saying that he must stay in the cold emptiness of space until he destroyed two evil creatures as recompense for his failure.

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It seemed that the “wild black” drove Cheever insane, and his meeting with Machu convinced him that space was too dangerous to humanity.  He has become certain that the alien life that man will inevitably encounter, like this energy being, will corrupt humanity and eventually destroy them.  Thus, he has manipulated Machu’s grief to sabotage the space program.  It was this creature that strangled the astronaut, and now Cheever sics him on the Challengers.  Yet, Machu has learned from his contact with our heroes, and he realizes that his understanding of man has been flawed.  He attacks the Major instead, in a really nicely drawn sequence, which ends with the astronaut’s death.

 

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To atone for his mistakes, having killed an innocent man, Machu decides to end his own life to complete his mission.  Shocked, the Challengers begin their descent, coming back down to Earth and the end of their adventure.

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So, this is a good story, just the right kind of tale for the Challengers, where they encounter something new and unknown and solve their problems with more than just brute force.  It is really only weakened by two things.  The first, as already noted is the fact that O’Neil just can’t decide who he wants Corinna to be.  Yeah, the whole mystical element of the last issue does lay some groundwork for this sudden turn at being a medium, but it is just too much of a stretch.  If she hadn’t been shoe-horned into the team in the first place, she might have been able to develop more organically.  The second issue with the issue (sorry again!) is that our villain, Major Cheever, just shows up out of nowhere.  A bit more setup would have done wonders for the effect of the story.  As is, I like the mystery at the core here, I like most of the character work, and I really enjoyed the art.  The Challengers are probing the unknown, and that’s the way it should be.  The story just needs a little more room to breathe.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.minute3.5

Detective Comics #399

Detective_Comics_399.jpgCover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Panic By Moonglow”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Julius Schwartz

This is a solid, enjoyable Batman tale, though definitely still a product of this intermediate era, like the other story of this month.  It gives you a look at Batman’s brilliance as a detective, as well as his mastery of martial arts.  It’s nice to have this balanced portrayal, though Bob Brown’s art doesn’t quite manage to match the action.  It’s always obvious when you have someone who doesn’t really know how to fight drawing a fight scene.  For super powered demigods slugging each other, that isn’t necessarily that big of a deal, but when you’re supposed to be seeing a martial artist in action, the results can look comical and awkward.

Nonetheless, the issue is fun, and it follows a pretty exciting cover.  I like its layered effect, Gordon’s arm, Batman crouched and ready, and the murderous Master Kahn (“Khhhhhhhhaaaaaaannnnn!”) behind him.  The story opens with Batman and a local martial arts master putting on a demonstration of close combat techniques for the police.  Now, clearly this is a bit of a holdover from the “policeman’s friend” Batman, but it isn’t too jarring.

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The pair begin to spar, and the Masked Manhunter embarrasses the hot tempered Master Khan, and in response, the fighter pulls out a knuckle-duster and tries to put the hero down.  Batman flat out cold-cocks him, knocking the fellow unconscious.

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This prompts a fit of whining from a fellow named Arthur Reeves, who is the “mayor’s new public works coordinator,” and something of a red herring in this story.  He doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than to add some texture and lightness to the tale, but I suppose he is rather entertaining, being something of a bureaucratic antagonist for Batman.  Most notably, he gives us a funny scene where, after complaining that the Dark Knight shouldn’t be trusted because he wears a mask, and no-one who “pretends to serve the public has any reason to stay hidden.”  In response, Bats simply lifts off the fellow’s toupee.  It’s a legitimately funny moment., and if not entirely fitting for Batman, it doesn’t seem entirely out of character either.  Even the grim avenger of the night might happily puncture the inflated ego of such a stooge.  It’s also nice to see a sign that not everyone in power approves of the Dark Knight’s crusade.

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Batman gets back to his crime-fighting efforts, and a month later, he answers the Bat-signal to discover that Khan’s dojo has burned down, and he seems to have died in the blaze.  “Seems to,” being the operative phrase, and I’m sure we can all see what’s coming.  Later, Batman and Gordon are called to a seance (a lot of that going around this month!) with the claim that vital information will be revealed to them.  On the way, a gunman tries to ventilate them with a Thompson, but the Caped Crusader manages to take him out by playing possum.

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Heading for the seance once again, and now knowing that it is somehow involved in this setup, Batman and the Commissioner meet a former hood named “Big Dough” Joe, who claims to have reformed.  It ends up being another red-herring, but it helps this story to feel a bit more fleshed out, and there is a good touch of humanity in this fellow’s brief appearance.  He’s trying to turn his life around, even thanks Gordon for putting him away, and yet we can’t help but be suspicious of him.

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Well, during the seance, a “medium” named “the Great Dilbert” (really dude?  That’s going to be your stage name?) puts on a show that features the “spirit” of Khan swearing vengeance on Batman from beyond the grave.  Interestingly, his plan is not to kill the Masked Manhunter, but to embarrass him as the martial artist himself was, by killing Gordon!  In response, the pencil-necked geek, Reeves, insists (how does he have any say in all of this?) that the Commissioner be locked in a vault and carefully protected where no-one can get to him.  In a solid display of the Dark Knight’s skills, the hero sneaks in disguised as a cop (somehow with his entire costume hidden under the uniform, cowl and all!), and then deduces that the Gordon they are protecting is a fake!

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The imposter is revealed to be “Dilbert,” but just as he is preparing to confess, he dies mysteriously!  It seems his partner poisoned the mask he was wearing to ensure his silence.  His dying “words” are ‘D..do..j..jo…” which, of course makes everyone suspect our formerly felonious friend.  The Caped Crusader has other ideas though, realizing that what the fellow actually said was “dojo.”

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He arrives at the ruined martial arts studio and discovers (gasp!) a very much alive Khan.  We get a nice, dramatic reveal as Batman confronts his adversary and they begin a duel, torch vs. katana, and then hand to hand.  It is an admittedly short fight.  Batman just straight-up outclasses this clown, and he drops him in relatively short order.

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This issue is a good, solid Batman adventure, with a reasonable mystery, some action, and plenty of personality.  It’s a pleasant read, if a bit underdeveloped.  After all, it’s only 14 1/2 pages.  I think just another page of background or attention for Khan could have added a good deal to the whole thing, but nonetheless, it’s a fun story.  I really do love that panel of Batman silently de-toupee-ing the weasel Reeves.  I’ll give it four Minutemen!

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“Panic By Moonglow”

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Let’s see if Robin performs any better in this adventure than in the first part.  As we remember, he was knocked out with a head-blow (Holy Hannah!  How did I miss that!  I’m going to retroactively add it to the list!), and we join him this issue as he comes to, looking up into the face of Zukov, the Russian scientist who was lecturing at the university.  The quarantine is still in effect, so the good doctor offers his quarters for Robin’s recuperation, but the Teen Wonder has more on his mind than rest.

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He is suspicious of Zukov, and he eavesdrops on his host.  It’s a good thing too, because the husky huckster is in cahoots with communist spies!  He lets them out of a trap door, and orders them to take out the “sleeping” sidekick.  Robin is way ahead of them, though, and he takes off to prevent the rest of their plan from coming together.  Apparently, they poisoned the student from the last issue with the aid of the soap the Teen Wonder discovered, but that was just to set the stage for their next move.  Once the boy dies, the Russians will use this to bury NASA under a storm of bad publicity for releasing a cosmic plague on the planet!

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Robin takes off to retrieve the Moon rock as evidence, and an over-eager National Guard sentry takes a shot at him!  This is a really interesting bit of synchronicity, given the violent events at Kent State this month, especially considering that this issue would have been written well before that happened.  Clearly, there was tension in the air during this year.

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Well, despite the sentry’s shot, our hero manages to reach the building’s roof, and the Russian agents attempt to intercept him.  Here Robin gets a better showing than the last issue, taking out two of his opponents in appropriately acrobatic fashion as he dangles from a rope.

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Inside, he confronts Zukov, who has a tiny, hand-held laser, and it actually functions somewhat like an actual laser, rather than the variety most commonly found in comics.  Unfortunately, Robin has another unimpressive moment, as, startled by a shot, he crashes through the skylight and snags his cape on the edge, leaving him a sitting duck for the spy.  Obligingly, Zukov begins to monologue, graciously explaining his plan, and Robin uses the time to free himself, and, in an admittedly nicely drawn sequence, catch his rope and slide down into the darkened interior of the building.

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A brief game of cat and mouse follows, and Zukov kills causes his own demise by slicing through one of the supports of the lunar lander module on display there, causing the vehicle to collapse and crush him.  Fortunately, the good guys find the antidote and rescue the poisoned dweeb, and all’s well that ends well.

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All-in-all, this is a fair back-up story, and it is definitely an improvement over the first half.  We get to see Robin do some pretty cool stuff, using his brains and his training, and even his goof in this issue leads us to a good sequence that shows off his skills.  The Russian plot is actually fairly clever and subtle, by comic book standards, and the Cold War tensions, as well as the surprisingly apt presage of campus-bound violence makes this issue rather interesting in retrospect.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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The Flash #197

Flash_v.1_197.jpgCover Artist: Gil Kane
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta

“To the Nth Degree”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta

This is a fun all around issue of the Flash, especially considering how rough most of the issues I’ve read have been.  This set of tales takes advantage of the character, the supporting cast, and the powers.  Sadly, no ‘Lightning the Speedy Hound.’

We start with Barry Allen working in his police lab with his long-time partner (who we’ve never seen before, of course), who is working on cracking a case.  The pair have worked together so long that they’ve developed their own non-verbal shorthand.  With a series of gestures they hold an entire conversation, with Barry rubbing his nose to indicate approval.

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Just then a call comes in that “Ice” King is in the middle of another robbery.  This is not a new supervillain, but a criminal of unlikely and fairly preposterous cleverness.  Apparently, Central City has been hit by heavy snowfall, and this creative crook has been making his getaways on skis to avoid the police on treacherous roads.

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It’s silly, but it is quite fun, and Flash tries several inventive tactics to catch this chilly criminal.  Of course our hero could simply super speed punch this fellow into the next timezone, but it fits the character that he’s challenging himself to find creative, relatively non-violent solutions.  He finally chops the fellow’s skis into matchsticks with super speed, but the thief has a heart attack as he tumbles into the snow!  Or at least, that is how it seems.

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Conveniently, there is an ambulance on hand, and they load him up and rush off.  Shortly Flash realizes that this was another clever plan by the “Ice” man (one wonders how long this run-of-the-mill crook could have operated in Central City before Captain Cold decided to show him who the real ice king is…).  Yet, this revelation comes from Flash’s crime lab partner, Charlie Conwell, and without thinking, Flash responds with the same gesture used by Barry Allen!

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The Scarlet Speedster tries to cover the gesture by faking a sneeze, but a seed of doubt is planted!  Nonetheless, the thief made good his getaway.  We’re next treated to a charming little scene between Barry and Iris.  This little glimpse of their domestic life is just plain lovely.  This the texture and joy that’s lost because DC has apparently become terrified of marriage, not to mention the moral aspect of that loss.  Anyway, Mrs. Flash is filling in for the Picture News’s drama critic, and she encourages her heroic husband to take up amateur acting.  He agrees and auditions for a production of Hamlet being put on by the police department.  It’s a nice bonus that the minor supporting character Dexter Myles, former shakespearean actor, is directing the play.  Barry snags the part of Horatio, and already we’re seeing lots of Flash’s life outside of the mask, which makes for a fun expansion of his world and character.

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Unfortunately, the cast all comes down with the flu right before opening night, but the Fastest Man Alive believes that “the show must go on,” so he decides to play all of the parts himself at super speed!  We get another of Kane’s odd collage panels, but this one actually works quite well, perhaps because all of the different elements work together to tell a single story.  After finishing his performance, the Crimson Comet is suddenly struck by that virus that hit everyone else, just as “Ice” King and his cronies show up, dressed as policemen, to raid the box office.  They decide to snuff the Flash because he seems helpless, but our hero super accelerates his metabolism so that the illness runs its course in moments.  It makes sense, in a comic book-y kind of way, and he’s able to roll with his assailants’ punches long enough to get back on his feet.

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He takes out the gang in a nice panel, and then he heads home to the ministrations of his caring wife.   Yet, he’s interrupted in his recuperation by his old friend Charlie!  Knowing him to be suspicious, the Scarlet Speedster uses his speed to appear as the Flash and as a bed-ridden Barry.  This convinces the other scientist that he must have been wrong about the hero’s secret identity, and he leaves Barry to recover.

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This was a fun, light-hearted story, which fits the Barry Allen Flash quite well.  After all, he’s not driven to be a hero by loss like Batman (despite later retcons); he does it because it is the right thing to do and, to a degree, for the fun!  He, like Aquaman, is an adventurer, but unlike the Sea King, his world is, for all of its color and charm, relatively normal.  Thus, it is fitting that we see a community of characters growing up around the Flash.

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For all of their silliness, that is something that the Silver Age adventures of the Scarlet Speedster accomplished quite well.  Central City is an interesting setting, and Barry Allen is much more a part of it than other characters, like Bruce Wayne/Batman, are traditionally part of theirs.  Gotham may be central to who Batman is, but Bruce Wayne is a man apart, while Barry Allen is working with the police department, taking up hobbies, and living a domestic life.  It makes him a character that I’ve always really loved, even when his adventures were too silly for my tastes.  This one manages to maintain the charm without too many of the more Silver Age-y trappings.  So, I’ll give it a hearty 4 Minutemen out of 5.  What do you say, Mrs. Allen?

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“To the Nth Degree”

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You might think from the title that this story might have something to do with Nth Metal, but nothing of the sort.  Instead, this is another misadventure courtesy of Flash’s father in law, the absent minded Professor Ira West.  These are usually pretty goofy stories, and I’m not that fond of them in general.  This one, on the other hand, is actually quite fun.  It starts with the forgetful academic having perfected a new type of telescope, one which can “pierce hyper-space–see stars thousands of light-years away” because, sure, that’s how light works.  It’s a really goofy idea, not even workable with comic book science, and it’s one of two in this tale.  Still, I suppose they can be overlooked, as nonsensical as they are.

Prof. West mixes up his addresses, and sends this experimental telescope (really?) to Barry, sending the amateur telescope that was to be a gift for his son-in-law to the Astronomical Society by mistake.  How is this guy allowed to run his own life?  Anyway, Flash gets his gift, but when he looks through it he sees, not the Moon, but a distant world in the midst of a violent volcanic firestorm!  Barry is not one to let suffering go unanswered, and he feels like he must do something to help the inhabitants of this  strange planet.  Yet, he’s not Superman, so how is he to get there?  Well…he…flies…through space…on the light from the telescope.  Because, once again, that’s how light works.  This is that other silly idea, but the payoff is pretty cool.
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He finds a planet populated by flame beings, and it’s a cool (sorry!) design.  Their world is breaking up, preparing to explode because of an overheated core.  The Scarlet Speedster leaps into action and begins to smother the overwhelming fires.  He even cools the core down with super-speed air blasts.

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He makes his way back to the light beam by stepping on grains of sand!  He gets back to Earth, and our tale ends with the absent minded professor absentmindedly destroying the experimental telescope.  Sadly, he also lost the formula, so the technology is lost to the world.

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This is a fun story with Flash doing some pretty cool super speed tricks to save the alien world, even if the deus ex-machinas that get him there are utterly ridiculous.  Prof. West is a lot more tolerable this issue, even rather likable in his brief appearance.  Silly in parts, but enjoyable overall, I’ll give this issue 3 Minutemen.

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Well, that’s it for this batch of issues.  I hope you enjoyed this leg of the journey, and please join me next week for another chapter!

 

Happy Easter!

Also, it just so happens that this post falls on an important day, perhaps the most important day in history, so allow me to wish you a happy Easter!  Today the True Hero returned, the fellow who all true heroes emulate in that defining trait of heroism, selflessness.

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Into the Bronze Age: April 1970 (Part 1)

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Further up and further in!

This month in history:

  • Riots continue in the Ballymurphy estate in Belfast between Catholic residents and the British Army
  • Midnight Cowboy won the Academy Award for best picture
    • Ironically, John Wayne won best actor for an actual cowboy picture, True Grit
  • The Beatles officially broke up
  • Apollo 13 announces, in one of history’s most amazing examples of understatement, “Houston, we’ve got a problem”
  • Muammar Gaddafi started the “Green Revolution” in Libya
  • 50,000 US & South Vietnamese troops invade Cambodia

We’re still in pretty troubled waters here and will be for the foreseeable future, though I think the Beatles breaking up is an interesting yardstick for our progress out of the 60s and into the 70s.  Of course, the first few years of every decade tend to be more like the previous one than the one they actually inhabit.  We’re seeing that trend write small in the development of superhero comics this year.

This month’s #1 song evenly split between the Beatles’ “Let it Be” and the Jackson 5’s
“ABC.”  Double points for the rhyme!  Man, how far there is to go for little Michael Jackson.  Poor little weirdo.  Say what you will about him, but he could sing.

Well, that sets the stage, but what about the main feature?  Well, we’ve got a rather short month, having lost a few titles.  I’m particularly sad that Strange Adventures stop printing new Adam Strange stories, as they were really hitting a nice stride.

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

  • Action Comics #387
  • Aquaman #50
  • Detective Comics #398
  • Green Lantern #76 (First issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow)
  • Superman #225
  • Teen Titans #26

Bonus!: The Space Museum

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

Action Comics #387

Action_Comics_387.jpgCover Artist: Curt Swan
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos

“One Hero Too Many!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abel

Our journey into the distant future with the never more appropriately named Man of Tomorrow continues in this, the third installment of our story.  The cover, though nice and dramatic, represents only a fairly minor incident in this tale.  The story itself is that somewhat frustrating mixture of fascinating and frustrating.  We see some particularly good character work with Superman this issue, courtesy of Bates, but we also see one of the more ridiculous (and maybe just a tad sacrilegious?) super-feats I’ve encountered in my comic reading tenure.

This chapter of Superman’s enforced future exile begins with his discovering a number of astronauts floating in space in capsules of suspended animation.  The Man of Steel rescues them by flying them through a “rainbow sun,” because Carey Bates apparently doesn’t understand how light works, and, though clumsily expressed, we get a good moment that sets the tone for the rest of the episode, as Superman thinks to himself that “this would have thrilled me once, an eternity ago!  Now even the most spectacular feats don’t give me a charge!  I’m just tired of doing my thing!”  It seems a bit uncharacteristic for Clark to refer to saving lives as “doing his thing,” but the wistfulness, the ennui of a man forever banished from his home, and now aged and facing the prospect of an eternal, anchorless life, is what gives this issue its emotional weight.

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Once rescued, the astronauts naturally have some questions, being chronal refugees themselves, after a fashion, having been in suspended animation for 5,000 years.  Superman has no time for such light weights and, in a really lovely panel, with unusual detail and depth for Swan (‘m thinking Russos’ inking should get some credit here), the Man of Tomorrow blows them off and heads for space, not even bothering to flag down a passing spacecraft, just burning out a component with his heat-vision to force them to stop.  Now that’s an example of super-dickery if ever there was one, but I feel it is somewhat justified by the emotional turmoil that Superman is dealing with.

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We get a brief summary of the story so far, which ends with a nice panel of the Time Trapper secretly observing his hapless victim.  The Man of Might then pays a visit to the Earth of this distant future, and he finds a grim sight awaiting him.  The planet is completely dead.  We get a neat, subtle (for the period) note at this point, where Clark remarks that he should have guessed as much “after a million years of pollution, war, and untold abuses from man.”  Once again, we find the thread of environmentalism being weaved into these comics, which is even more surprising given the generally traditional tone of these Superman books.

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Well, Earth is dead and of no use to anyone, so the galactic cleanup crew arrives to dispose of it in the form of two massive, moon-sized robots.  Superman, being rather sentimental about his adopted world and not entirely in his right mind tries to drive them off, but finds the massive machines entirely unfazed by his efforts.  A frontal assault having proved useless, he heads inside their giant heads, crossing wires and generally mucking things up.  He turns them both into gigantic electromagnets of the same polarity, causing them to repel each other with great violence.  It’s a clever solution, and it is nice to see Superman not simply juggle these planetoid sized automatons…but then Bates blows it by having our hero juggle a planet instead.

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Or rather, bring one to life.  In a ridiculous series of pages, Superman carves the dead world in two by drilling through it again and again, splitting it in two…though how exactly that’s supposed to lead to a world reborn is a bit beyond me.  Next Superman uses his…*sigh* super lungs to collect fresh atmosphere, gathers new vegetation, and new animals, all from alien worlds.

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Finally, and this is really more than a little troublesome if you think about it for more than five seconds, the Man of Steel steals a freaking family of neanderthal-like creatures, cave and all, flies them through space, and deposits them, entirely alone, on a new and alien planet.  Just so that he can play God to a new Garden of Eden.  Of course, his version of a supreme being is definitely the watchmaker type, because he’s off again on his wanderings the next moment, leaving these poor, displaced primitive folks to almost certainly die on this new world without a tribe to help them survive.  Not to mention, it’s just a mother, father, and a son.  It’s not like this new race can go beyond the second generation.

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Good job, Superman.  I’m beginning to think that maybe Lex has been right about you all these years.  And speaking of the smartest man on Earth, we get a rather neat flashback to an aged Luthor visiting the Superman museum back in the past, where he reflects that he never believed his nemesis was dead, nor would he believe it without seeing a body.  He knows he is nearing the end of his days, but the inventor is unwilling to let his hatred die with him, so he creates a small spacecraft, empowered by his own final breath, to hunt Superman across the stars and through the centuries.  Its’ a really cool scene, and it totally works for Luthor.  I rather like the idea of Lex being unable to let go, knowing that HE did not kill Superman, no matter what might have happened to his foe.  It’s a great story beat.

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This weapon has been traveling the spaceways for the last million years, improving its technology and pursuing its neverending search.  I’m reminded of Amazo from JLU, where he just kept adapting until he because practically unstoppable.  Well, the device happens to come across the Metropolis Marvel in his meanderings and strikes him down.  Our hero is saved from the very brink of death by the robotic healer from the cover, and we get another nice character moment, as Superman derides the futuristic physician for saving his life, as he would have welcomed the release of death.  Now, once more, he finds himself in the same position, directionless, ageless, and deathless.  It’s a real curse of eternal life moment.

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Back in the land of the living, despite his wishes, Superman pursues Lex’s weapon and destroys it by luring it into a massive comet.  Then…well, then the story gets weird.  I know, I know, you’re thinking, ‘wasn’t it already weird, with that whole reviving a dead planet thing?’  That’s a reasonable question, but at least that made sense in a Silver-Agey way.  This ending, though?  Well, I’m thinking that maybe Bates wrote himself into a corner.  So, how does he wrap up this tale and bring Superman home?

He has him re-live his entire life.  That’s right.  Superman flies far enough into the future that he suddenly wakes up again as a baby, living through his ENTIRE LIFE a second time, unable to change anything or deviate in any way from what happened.  Think about the Hell that would be for a moment.  Every mistake you ever made, every stupid thing you ever said, every embarrassing moment you ever  experienced, you get a second chance at every single one of them, but you can’t change a single thing!  Wow, I’m going to go ahead and say, I think that may be worse than living forever.  Of course, it also makes no darn sense.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m fine with the whole ‘time is curved’ concept.  It’s the out I was expecting, but why would Superman just pop back into his original life as an observer?  It’s just a bizarre story choice.

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The story finally ends with him observing the empty platform that the malfunctioning time bubble had occupied and considering his adventure.  It’s really a weak, weird ending for a story that held a surprising amount of promise.  On the whole, this is another very uneven issue, containing some great moments and some off-putting ones, with some just plain odd ones sprinkled in for flavor.  The pathos of Luthor hounding his greatest enemy even beyond the end of his life is a great boost to the tale, and Superman’s despair over his fate is rather touching in a few moments.  The problems with the recreation of Earth and the tacked-on, madness-inducing resolution weigh the story down, as does the fact that the Time Trapper’s roll in all of this remains entirely undiscovered and unpunished.  That wouldn’t bother me if we had checked in with him one more time to let him “win,” having tortured his enemy, even if he hadn’t completely trapped him.  As it is, this just seems like Bates ran out of pages and interest.  Still, there are elements here of something grander.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen out of 5.

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“One Hero Too Many”

Our Legion backup tale for this month is, for once, not markedly better than the headliner, being a by-the-numbers mystery where all the Legionnaires are working against each other to try to sacrifice themselves so their fellows don’t have to.  I’m beginning o lose track of how many Legion stories like this I’ve read.  This particular iteration has the distinction of involving politics and taxes, which is a new angle for me.  Basically, the Legion is meeting to test a teleportation device when the head of the future Earth’s equivalent of the IRS shows up, saying the team needs to pay taxes on this new gadget!

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This is quite a surprise, as the Legion is a tax-free outfit, but this fellow informs them that such organizations are limited to 25 members, while they have 26.  The rest of the story consists of the Legionnaires fighting to fall on the sword of resignation.  They each claim to be more useless than the last, though I’ve got to say I think Bouncing Boy probably wins that particular argument…

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As you might be able to tell, this story bored me a bit.  There’s really not a whole lot to it, the central conflict being about an unknown person sabotaging all of the Legion’s efforts to pick a member to drop.  They try to draw lots, only to have them burst into inextinguishable flames.  Next, Brainy has his super computer calculate who has done the least super feats in the last year, only to have it select him!

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Supergirl insists on taking his place as the odd woman out, but she is stopped by the story’s strangest moment, as the Legion of Super Pets show up and insist that if she goes, they go.  Wow.  Is there a more Silver-Agey concept than the Legion of Super pets?  I honestly can’t think of one.  I can’t decide what’s sillier, a superpowered horse or a superpowered monkey…or maybe it’s the idea that a cat with superpowers would be a hero rather than a villain.  (Hey!  Don’t throw things at me; I’m a cat person, but you have to admit that the latter is WAY more likely..)

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The issue ends with Superboy getting caught red-handed in an act of sabotage, revealing he was behind all of the others.  He hands in his resignation and refuses to tell his future teammates WHY.  Interestingly enough, he doesn’t tell the reader either.  The Teen of Steel bids a rather steamy goodbye to Duo Damsel, and then he heads back to his home time, leaving the Legion wondering why he resigned.

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This is a rather generic story, with nothing that interesting going on.  None of the Legionnaires evince all that much personality either, other than Duo Damsel at the very end.  Any story that the Super Pets show up in is going to suffer in my eyes.  Given the promising notes in the headline story, this one feels like even more of a relic of the Silver Age.  I think it will also merit 2.5 Minutemen.

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Aquaman #50

Aquaman_Vol_1_50.jpgCover Artist: Nick Cardy
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“Deadman Rides Again!”
Writer: Neal Adams
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Editor: Dick Giordano

Now here we go!  While this issue isn’t perfect, it is definitely just flat-out beautiful!  We’ve got the ideal Aquaman artist and the definitive Bronze Age artist together in a single issue, Jim Aparo and Neal Adams, teaming up to tell an intertwined tale about Aquaman and Deadman.  Of course, I’m also simply always excited to cover an Aquaman story by the SAG team.  This issue was covered by that home to all Aqua-awesomeness, The Aquaman Shrine, and I’ll be drawing on some of Rob Kelly’s boundless expertise on this subject.

Let’s start with that dynamite cover!  I love that long-time Aqua-artist Nick Cardy, who always produced truly beautiful books during his tenure on the title is still around to create our covers here at this later date.  I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a Cardy cover that I didn’t like.  The man always seemed to bring something compelling and dynamic to his composition, and this particular offering is no exception.  We have this really intriguing image of Aquaman being attacked by this strange substance from an even stranger city, all against that stark white background.  It’s beautifully rendered and quite striking.  I’d certainly have plunked down my $0.15 (just 15 cents!  Even calculated for inflation, that’s barley a dollar today.  Why are we paying 4 bucks for a 15 page comic these days?) for this comic.  How could you not want to know what was going on inside?

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And speaking of that very topic, let’s dive (I’m sorry, I’m sorry!) right in!  This issue demonstrates, perhaps as well as any I’ve read, the power of Jim Aparo’s visual imagination.  Throughout it is designed in fascinating, psychedelic fashion, and the reader’s disorientation in strange and alien landscapes recreates that of our hero as he journeys into worlds unknown.  We start with a splash page that hints at what is to come, and then we are dumped straight into a bizarre world that defies explanation or description.  Instead of wasting my words, I’ll just add an image of the strange vista that greets the Sea King as he recovers his senses.

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He thinks back, trying to piece together how he ended up in this place, and we are treated to several panels of Aparo’s wonderfully fluid illustrations of the Undersea Aces in aquatic motion.  You really get a sense of their grace and power as they swim along.

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They quickly spy Ocean Master and Mera, still in parley as we left them in the last issue, and before Aquaman can finish his challenge to his villainous brother, Ocean Master interrupts, swearing that his intentions are honorable.  In fact, he is there to warn Monarch of the Oceans about “Them!”  Orm declares that, for the first time in years, his mind is clear, and he remembers that Aquaman is his brother; unfortunately, this realization came too late, and he made a deal with “Them” to kill his sibling turned enemy.  Before he can explain the threat, a strange craft arrives, disgorging even stranger looking creatures armed with sinister devices.  Aquaman moves to defend himself, but he’s too late!  In a really striking panel, the Sea King is consumed by an inky black ray that literally splashes the page with obscuring ink.

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We return to the “present,” where our Submarine hero is “swimming” through the air of the alien world in which he has awakened.  He comes upon a vast, amoebic lifeform with a single, cyclopean eye.  The creature pursues Arthur, and his strength and telepathy seem useless.  Suddenly, he finds that he is not alone in his fight, as a pretty young woman in odd garb opens fire on the beast.  Aquaman tries to contact her telepathically, but to no avail.  He takes the weapon from her and strikes the monster in its eye, only to have the girl shove him to cover as it explodes!

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After he regains his senses, Aquaman begins to hear a telepathica “echo,” a distant, garbled signal, which is actually a familiar name!  This begins a nice little game that Aparo plays throughout the issue, hiding references in the “noise” of this bizarre world.  Let me also take a moment here and point out how refreshing it is to have our hero go to a world where there would be no reason for the inhabitants to speak English, and to have that actually be followed up in the story.  It’s a minor point, but it’s nice to see Skeates is on top of that type of detail.

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As the Sea King pursues the “sound,” desperate to find a way home to Mera and his kingdom, he discovers that his lovely protector is following him, right to a wondrous and outlandish alien city that sees to stretch in all directions.  If this were a Lovecraft story, I’m pretty sure that the sight would tear Aquaman’s mind asunder, but our hero is made of stern stuff, and he takes the strangeness of this pace in stride.

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Again he finds the inhabitants of this world “deaf” to his telepathic pleas, so he continues to pursue the “sound” he heard before, which lead him to a large building, but it is guarded!  Aquaman, plans to rush the guard, awash in garbled telepathic signals that are actually a whole set of names, featuring the best and brightest at DC!  The SAG team is featured, as are many, many others.  See how many you can pick out!

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The guard responds by firing, seemingly blindly, and his gun discharges those very same bizarre green bubbles from the cover.  Aquaman laughs them off, until the coat him, sapping his strength and threatening to bring him down.  He shakes them off in a really lovely sequence, diving once more for the guard before he can fire another salvo, and lays a tremendous looking blow on him.

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Once Aquaman reaches the interior of the structure, he discovers that it is, in fact, a temple, the one place where the inhabitants of this mad city are willing to “converse” telepathically, since they believe that communication is sacred.

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Arthur learns that the people of this world have no conception of planets, stars, or anything beyond their own realm.  The girl tells the hero that their leader is the only one who might be able to aid him, and that is where the first half of our story ends!

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This is, as I said, not a perfect issue, but it is a darn good one.  It is very creative, with a mysterious delima, fascinating new setting, and subtle but consistent characterization for Aquaman.  This is an inventive tale, especially visually, and you can really see the SAG team starting to hit their stride.  They’re doing new and exciting things, and they are putting out stories that are definitely of the Bronze, rather than the Silver Age.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.

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“Deadman Rides Again!”

A particularly neat feature of this and the next two issues is that they include a set of backup Deadman stories drawn and plotted by none other than Neal Adams himself!  What is particularly cool about this arrangement is that editor Dick Giordano was not one to do things by half measures, so he wove the Deadman stories into the main Aquaman narrative.  The Aquaman Shrines’ Mr. Kelly writes that this decision was made in order to give Aparo a chance to get caught up on his deadlines, and I think it is fortunate for us that it did, as we get a really unique story.  It’s a rarity when a backup and a main feature overlap like this, and the pairing here is a particularly fun and unlikely.

This chapter of our tale opens in the mystical land of Nanda Parbat, where the restless Boston Brand prepares to resume his identity as Deadman in a quixotic attempt to fight evil and balance the cosmic scales.  He has a trippy, fascinatingly drawn conversation with the powerful…spirit…god…thing?  Rama Kushna.  This gives us one of my favorite panels in the book, a wonderful conflation of Deadman’s blank visage with the diving submarine of the Ocean Master.

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Aquaman50_26.jpgKushna informs Brand that he can begin his quest, but first he must address a danger that threatens the entire world, and she points him towards the aquatic villain without much more explanation.  Deadman pops in on Orm and plays fly on the wall long enough to observe him plant some sort of device and meet with a bizarre pair of aliens near a otherworldly craft.  I’m not crazy about the design of these aliens, as they are a bit too Silve Age-y for my tastes, but I’ll be darned if they don’t look quite striking in Adam’s stark pencils.

During this villainous tete-a-tete, Deadman learns that Orm has made a deal to have Aquaman killed, and he pursues Ocean Master to warn the Sea King.  In trying to take over Orm’s mind, Boston finds a small piece of it inaccessible, and in his efforts to break in, he inadvertently releases the blocked memories of the villain’s true family ties.  Thus, Orm recovers his memories and rushes off to warn his brother, bringing that portion of the plot back up to speed with the main tale.

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I know folks make fun of Orm’s stylized helmet, but I’ve always rather liked it.  The design is very unique, and when streamlined as it was in later years, it makes for a great look for the villain.

One crisis averted, Deadman heads back to the aliens’ base, but they seem to be aware of spirits like him.  Before they can act, he discovers their plan, which is to reduce the intelligence of the Earth’s population drastically in order to make them more tractable.  I’m not the first to say this, but the current political climate really makes me wonder if a similar plan succeeded in our world.  The aliens quickly realize what is going on when the intangible hero starts possessing them, and they have a defense on board for just such an occasion!  They release a bizarre looking creature that resembles a cross between a monkey and a cat, with huge, hypnotic eyes.  It tears Deadman free of his host, and casts him into…”Noplace!”  There our tale ends.

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This is an interesting story, though we don’t get a whole lot of plot.  Fortunately, it can ride the narrative coat-tails of the main feature, so it doesn’t suffer much in that department.  The art is, of course, superb, and we get several really captivating page and panel designs.  It is appropriately moody and psychedelic for a Deadman story, despite the slightly goofy alien designs.  I’ll give it a 4 out of 5, mostly for its role in the larger tale.

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Detective Comics #398

Detective_Comics_398.jpgExecutive Editor: Carmine Infantino
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Moon Struck”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Julius Schwartz

This issue of Detective comics is something of a rarity, being a better Bruce Wayne story than it is a Batman story.  It isn’t a bad Batman tale, but it just has a few character moments for Bruce out of the mask that I particularly enjoyed.  We start off with a lovely metaphoric Neal Adams cover, so lovely that I wonder if the Bob Brown artwork inside might have been a bit of a letdown to kids who paid their change without thumbing through it ahead of time.  Brown is a fine, solid artist, but his action is a bit stiff, and he’s certainly no match for Adams.

The story itself begins in an airplane winging its way west as a couple of stewardesses try approach Bruce Wayne’s seat, hungry for an autograph.  Bruce, traveling incognito in a pair of all-disguising sunglasses (taking disguise tips from Clark, are we?), thinks they’re after him, and there is a fun little subversion of that which gives him a slight touch of humility as they ask the lady beside him for her John Hancock.  It turns out she is the famous, or perhaps more accurately, INfamous author of a new smutty, tell-all scandal book about Hollywood’s best and brightest.  This prompts a rather surprising and interesting exchange between this woman, Maxine Melanie, and our Un-Caped Crusader.

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She offers to sign his copy, and Bruce responds rather stiffly, assuring the overconfident lady that he “wouldn’t be seen dead reading your book!”  She responds that he’s alone, as her work will soon be splashed all over the big screen thanks to the very studio our hero is on his way to visit.  Our scene shifts to said studio, and we get a continuation of that theme, which I find most intriguing.

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Wayne storms into the studio and demands that they kill this movie, declaring that no business of his will have anything to do with such trash.  The executives respond by asking him if he’s even read the book, a fair point, and one that Bruce concedes, offering to read the work in question.  The plot begins to pick up here, but honestly, this short scene is the portion of the issue that caught my attention.  I really enjoyed the fact that Bruce Wayne was concerned with, not only murder, mayhem, and such other obvious evils, but was also with morality on a smaller scale.  He intends that he and his businesses should be a force for good, moral good as well as practical good, in the world.

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That’s an excellent little touch.  That’s a hero, someone who isn’t just saving lives, but who is trying to live a morally exemplary life himself.  Not only that, but when he is challenged about the book, he immediately recognizes the point and agrees to read it.  That’s a reasonable, thoughtful response.  This is not the emotionally crippled sociopath that is the modern Batman.  I know this may seem prudish to a modern audience, but I really appreciate a character that is not simply a moral relativist.  How completely alien for heroes today who are, as often as not, devoid of all real virtue.  It’s sad that these days it’s not even possible to differentiate heroes from their villains by their being unwilling to kill.

Anyway, as for the plot itself, Bruce ends up having to go to a bookstore to get the book, as the studio’s advance copy is missing, and he finds the arrogant author there doing a signing.  Suddenly, she is murdered with a poisoned pen by a surprisingly spry granny who throws Wayne for a loop when he tries to stop her.  The murderer is clearly someone in disguise, and thus begins the real mystery.  We see some of the stiffness in Brown’s art in the action of this page.

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Well, this hated writer had a long list of enemies, but at the top of said list are the Hollywood luminaries skewered in her book, a husband and wife along with an aging leading man.  Batman finally makes his appearance and begins to investigate, discovering that the couple each try to take the fall for the other, the husband going so far as to attack the Dark Knight with a poker.  Yet our hero is unconvinced.

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On his way to interrogate the last fading star, he is attacked once again by the husband!  Or rather, it LOOKS like the husband, but it turns out to be our third suspect, who, as well as being a talented actor, is also a master of disguise!  This leads us to the other charming feature of this issue, which is the reveal that the star couple really do love one another, each having been willing to sacrifice their lives for their spouse.  That’s a good ending.

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So, thus ends a rather unusual Batman story, one that is not a particularly great BATMAN tale or a particularly excellent mystery, but which has some intriguing features that make it stand out as a character tale.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, just for being interesting.

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“Moon Struck”

Here we have another rather disappointing Robin story, which is a shame, because I’ve been looking forward to these backups. The setup is certainly interesting.  A Russian scientist is lecturing at Hudson University, and he has been presented with a moon rock by NASA.  Of course, young Dick Grayson is in the audience for the lecture, but so is an antsy young man named Herb who is so paranoid he is wearing what looks like a homemade space suit in fear of radiation.

When the students approach the hunk of lunar geography it gives off a bizarre flash of green light, leaving the fretful teen a verdant shade of weird himself!  This causes a lockdown of the school and fears of radiation and who knows what else.

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Robin hits the scene and starts to check into this strange occurrence.  He checks out the showers, where Herb was right before he started looking like a Martian, discovering some strangely scented soap.  Just as he is starting to put things together, the lights go out and he is jumped by a mysterious figure!

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Here’s where things get disappointing.  Robin has a brief fight with this guy, and then he is taken down by one punch.  Big hero.  The issue ends with him recovering consciousness and with me once again saddened by the poor performance of a secondary member of the Bat family.

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I really want to call this a head-blow, but unfortunately, it doesn’t quite make the grade.

I think that the really fun bit of this story, at least for me, is the Cold War and Space Race subtext to the issue.  One of the students remarks that he’s surprised that the Russian scientist is working with NASA since his people lost the race to the Moon, and it struck me, here in 1970, the Moon landings were a very recent memory.  We are not yet even an entire year on since mankind first walked on the Moon. Science fiction has only recently become science fact. This very month a real-life space opera was playing out above the nation’s collective heads in the form of Apollo 13’s struggle for survival. I’m not quite sure what to make of this realization yet, but I am quite sure it is significant. There is no doubt that it puts this whole era into somewhat sharper focus for me.

It is one of the strengths of man that we organize reality in our thoughts, but it can also be a weakness as we impose boundaries and borders, cutting off possibilities and preventing ourselves from seeing connections. Thus, to my mind, the Space Race was a phenomenon of the Sixties, something quite alien to the atmosphere of the 70s, yet here we are, in 1970 with these events very clearly part of the zeitgeist.  This is a good lesson for me as a reader not to be too rigid in my thinking.

In the final analysis, the mystery of the moon fragment is an intriguing one, but Dick being dropped like a sack of potatoes doesn’t really seem worthy of the character.  The subtext of Cold War tension adds a little something, but it’s still a sub-standard tale  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.

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That’s it for this month.  I hope you’ll join me again next week for the next league in our journey Into the Bronze Age!