Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 3)

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Welcome back to Into the Bronze Age!  After the rather sad event commemorated by my last post chronicling the lamentable cancellation of Aquaman, we’ve got a much more cheerful feature today!  We’ve got a memorable Batman tale, an unusual Batgirl backup, and the premiere of the superhero escape artist, Mr. Miracle!  The result is an enjoyable pair of books.  Check them out below!

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 #399
  • Adventure Comics #405
  • Aquaman #56 / (Sub-Mariner #72)
  • Detective Comics #410
  • The Flash #205 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Mr Miracle #1
  • The Phantom Stranger #12
  • Superboy #173
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #109
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137
  • Superman #236
  • Teen Titans #32
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Detective Comics #410


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“A Vow From the Grave!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Battle of the Three M’s”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Here’s a bit of trivia for you readers: this issue would later go on to form the basis for the Batman: TAS episode, “Sideshow.”  Strangely, while that episode has always left a bad taste in my mouth, I find this book rather inoffensive.  Both stories revolve around an escaped criminal meeting up with a band of former carnival sideshow performers, but the cartoon replaces the comic’s generic thug with the appropriately freakish Killer Croc.  In the show, I always found Croc’s betrayal of this lonely group of misfits quite heartrending, and I also found myself too repulsed by those same misfits.  I’m afraid I have a fairly low tolerance for the grotesque, and things like this creep me right out (Lady Grey, on the other hand, loves this kind of material).  Both of those elements are much less central in this issue, though, notably, that marks the difference between moderate and exceptional stories.  Despite my personal distaste for the Timmverse version, it is, objectively, a very good story.

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The original version at hand lies inside of a suitably dramatic if not terribly lovely cover.  The image effectively portrays the peril of the situation, but within the tale opens with an even more arresting splash page.  It’s a beautiful, moody image of the Dark Knight’s dogged pursuit of his quarry across a rope bridge and through a stormy night.  His prey, escaped killer Kano Wiggins, reaches solid ground first and cuts down the bridge, leaving the Dark Knight to make a desperate leap to safety.  Despite his opponent holding the high ground, the Grim Avenger still manages to get the upper hand until a massive fist slams into him out of nowhere!

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A titanic figure looms out of the rain, and despite the Caped Crusader’s attempts to reason with him, the giant seems intent on attacking.  In a really nice sequence, Batman uses his agility to reach his opponent’s shoulders and put him in a sleeper hold.  When the fellow finally collapses, a strange, mismatched trio arrives and explanations are made.  It seems that this quartet are former sideshow stars whose show folded, leaving them stranded there in the middle of nowhere.  They include a strongman, if not a bright one, man named Goliath, a very thin fellow named Charley Bones, a fat woman named Maud, and a deformed little boy with seal-like appendages, named ‘Flippy.’

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Detective410-10The Dark Knight goes to track Wiggins, but his search eventually brings him back to the sideshow gang in the abandoned town where they have set up camp.  When he arrives, he discovers that poor Charlie Bones has been murdered, hung from the bell-cord in the empty town hall.  Interviewing the other carnies, Batman finds that no-one seems to have seen anything, but Flippy, who is mute, draws a design in the dust, two circles linked by a line.  Note the almost parallel images of Batman below.  That’s some excellent visual storytelling.  You’ll see why soon.

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Before the Masked Manhunter can investigate further, he hears a car starting up and rushes off to capture Wiggins, which he does by punching the convict through the window of the van he tried to steal.  Clearly, we’re moving away from campy Batman at full speed!

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Returning to the sideshow stars, the Darknight Detective has solved the murder, but he announces to Maud that Kano didn’t do it.  Just then, Goliath tries to kill the hero by hurling a chunk of wood from the rafters of the building, and the Caped Crusader sets off to rescue the last member of the trio, poor Flippy, who tried to warn him that the culprit was the strongman with his drawing of a barbell.  As he confronts the giant, Batman explains that he knew Wiggins wasn’t the killer because the rope was cut too high up, and only Goliath could have reached it.  Now we can appreciate the cleverness of Adams’ illustrations on that page above.

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The strongman declares that he loved Maud and killed Charlie so that she would turn to him, and when the hero approaches, the killer threatens to throw Flippy from the bell tower unless the Dark Knight throws himself off!  The Dark Avenger subtly loops his rope over a beam on the outside of the tower and then seems to comply, swearing that he will get Goliath, even from the grave.

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Despite not really wanting to kill the boy, the strongman still drops him so he can’t reveal the murderer’s guilt, but Batman snatches the kid from midair in a great looking page.  Finally, he confronts the hulking giant, who almost kills him before Maud intervenes.  The story ends with the Caped Crusader noting that “courage–and love–come in strange shapes,” which is not a bad moral for this little yarn.

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This is a solid, if brief, little murder mystery with a memorable cast of characters.  O’Neil provides some interesting twists and turns that make it stand out from the standard fare.  Obviously he created a story that sticks with you, as its return years later in the classic Batman cartoon demonstrates.  Neal Adams, for his part is in fine form this issue.  His action is dramatic and full of explosive excitement, but even more impressively, he captures the perfect Gothic tone for the setting and characters he’s dealing with.  Everything is dark and dreary, and a nearly palpable feeling of dread hangs over the little drama of this story as tragedy strikes these lonely souls.  That atmosphere is only broken with the rising dawn at the comic’s end, with all the figures in silhouette, which adds a touch of hope to the tale as well.  The Batman of this book is well on his way to becoming the grim avenger of the night, the driven crimefighter who still has a deep love for humanity.  It’s a good little Batman comic, and I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.  O’Neil and Adams are well on their way to their legendary run on this character.

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“Battle of the Three M’s”


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The Batgirl backup this month is a fun, if a tad sexist, adventure involving the nefarious doings surrounding the fashion industry!  You can almost hear the conversation that spawned this tale: ‘Batgirl is a girl, so her readers are probably girls.  What do girls like?  Fashion!’  I’ve written before about the linking of female superheroes with fashion themes, as with the focus on costumes and the like in Supergirl’s stories, and, in general, I imagine it was an creative way to inject something uniquely feminine into these comics, something quite absent in the male dominated books.  However, there is, of course, a rather silly assumption that all girls are interested in fashion inherent in this treatment, but as long as the comics are still fun, I suppose no harm is done.

This particular instance of this phenomenon centers around the age-old dilemma, mini, midi, or maxi?  I am, of course, talking about skirt-lengths, as if my fashion forward readers didn’t know!  Seriously, I suppose this whole thing started in the 60s with the advent of the mini-skirt, and I rather wonder if it is still a going concern these days.  This subject is a bit out of my areas of expertise!  You only seem to see stories concerning the phenomenon from this era and earlier.  In this version, a major fashion icon breaks her leg skiing and so is out of circulation for a time.  Meanwhile, industry big-wigs go mad trying to figure out which length of skirt she’ll wear when she is healed, and a particularly unsavory group of designers in Gotham decide to do more than wait.

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Detective410-25As Barbara Gordon heads to work in the library, a newsman asks her what her opinion on the mystery is, and she reveals that she’s playing it safe by wearing a pants-suit, which is a mildly clever bit.  Things start happening once she’s inside, however, as one of the designers tries to bribe her to get access to another patron’s research books.  She refuses, but out of curiosity, she looks herself, to see that the patron in question is Jules Thayer, the fashion icon’s personal couturier, or designer.  Deciding that the crooked costumers might not give up so easily, Babs dons her on fashionable threads and heads to Thayer’s home to check on matters.  Now, this is a pretty thin excuse to get her involved, all things considered.  There’s no real reason to think that these clothiers would go as far as they do, at least not from that one interaction, but Robbins only has a few pages to work with, so it’s understandable.

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Arriving at the apartment, the girl detective discovers the same fashion flunky snapping pictures, but when she confronts him, he smacks her with the camera, sending her reeling off the roof.  She manages to catcher herself at the last minute, providing a bit of a common element with our headline tale.  When she recovers, Babs trails the skulking spy, and when he meets up with his partner and examines the photos, they realize that Thayer has decided on maxi-skirts, leaving them dead in the water.

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It’s nice of DC to give Howard Stark a chance at a second career after Marvel killed him off.

However, their investor, a gangster named Serpy (interesting name) arrives and is not willing to lose his investment.  He decides to kill the problematic fashionista, but at that point, Batgirl intervenes.  She makes a good showing until, oh no!  She joins Aquaman in this month’s additions to the Head-Blow Headcount, getting conked on the bean by the gangster.  The issue ends with Batgirl about to have a blouse carved out of her lovely hide!

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That’s a very stylish cliffhanger!

This is a fun if somewhat off-beat little backup.  It’s a bit hard to take the bespectacled  fashion designer seriously as a villain, so it’s nice that we get the addition of the gangster to the rogue’s gallery.  Still, it makes one wonder what kind of a hardened criminal lends money to lady’s clothing designers.  I suppose anybody can get desperate and go to the mob for a loan.  Either way, it’s an unusual and entertaining setup, though poor Batgirl doesn’t turn in her best performance, getting taken out twice in just a few pages!  Don Heck, however, puts together a nice looking feature, with each of the characters having a lot of personality.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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Mr. Miracle #1


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“Murder Missile Trap!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Colourist: Jack Kirby
Editor: Jack Kirby

The last of the new Fourth World books premiered this month, introducing one of my favorite DC characters, the inimitably marvelous Mr. Miracle!  He’s a hero I only encountered when I got back into comics in college, never really having known him as a kid, but his concept and especially his design really grabbed me.  When I read through his first two volumes, I really fell in love with the character and the hopeful view of the power of the human spirit that he represents.

Interestingly, the inspiration for the spectacular Scott Free actually came from one of Kirby’s former colleagues at Marvel, the master illustrator of the classic Nick Fury strip, Jim Steranko.  Earlier in his life, Steranko had been a magician and escape artist, and Kirby based Mr. Miracle on this fascinating Renaissance man.

Whatever its origins, this first issue of Mr. Miracle’s adventures certainly comes on like Gangbusters, with a great cover only partially marred by distracting dialog.  The original Mr. Miracle run is blessed by a profusion of excellent covers, each one featuring a pulse-pounding peril from which the  peerless super-escape-artist must liberate himself.  This first cover is downright iconic, and it sets the tenor for the series that follows.  The issue within opens with a Mr. Miracle, though, not our Mr. Miracle, preparing for a death-defying deed with the help of his little person assistant, Oberon, whose name always makes me smile.  Oberon is the name of the king of the faeries in medieval literature, you see.

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Anyway, a young man watches as these two prepare an act, Oberon chaining his boss up and locking him in a shed.  When the little assistant sets the shack on fire (!), the observer rushes forward and tries to intervene, despite the dwarf’s objections.  Suddenly, the costumed figure bursts out of the flames, and the amazed onlooker is introduced to Thaddeus Brown, known as Mr. Miracle, the escape artist!  The young man’s name is Scott Free, which, to my delight, is pointed out as a funny coincidence within the book itself, with Brown laughing merrily. We learn that Scott is a foundling who was given that name in the orphanage, but he remains mysterious.

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Just then, a carful of hoods arrives, apparently working for Intergang!  They threaten Brown, and when Scott objects, they turn their attentions to him.  Not the type to take such things lightly, the young stranger jumps the armed antagonists, making short work of the whole gang and demonstrating an admirable spirit of fair play.  Mr. Terrific would have liked this kid!

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With the gangsters defeated, we get a partial explanation, as we learn that there is some type of trouble between the aged Mr. Miracle and an Intergang division chief aptly named Steel Hand, probably because he has a powerful steel hand.  Sometimes criminals aren’t too creative.  In a good example of comic book science, this metal appendage has somehow been strengthened by “radiation treatments,” which the garrulous gangster demonstrates by shattering a “great bar of solid titanium.”  Sure.  I’m willing to give this a pass because it works in the kind of world that DC has established.  It’s a more fantastic place, after all, and radiation is magic.  Anyway, the alloy-armed criminal is not happy that his gunsels failed, so he decides to take care of the escape artist himself!

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Meet the Mole Man…err…I mean Steel Hand!

Meanwhile, Scott Free has been invited to stay with that very marked man, who tells his guest a bit about his history.  It seems that he’s alone now, with his wife and son dead, but he is planning to come out of retirement by performing a big escape.  Scott is very interested in Brown’s methods, and Oberon convinces the showman to give the young man a test.  After being locked up in an impressive set of chains, the stranger shatters them, seemingly without a twitch.  He claims that he just used a gadget to do it, and he’s rather cagey about where it, and he, came from.

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mr miracle 01-13 murder missle trapThe next day, Thaddeus dons his costume again to try another escape, but after Oberon sets a great boulder in motion, Steel Hand has a sniper shoot the old man, which happens on panel, something of a rarity.  Scott leaps into action and somehow manages to deflect the massive missile with an energy bolt from his hand, revealing Kirby-tech winding up his arm.  He removes what sharp-eyed readers of The Forever People will recognize as a ‘Mother Box,’ and uses it to comfort the mortally wounded Mr. Miracle, who passes away peacefully moments later.  Honestly, it’s a fairly moving scene.  Kirby has successfully made us care about this old man, at least a bit, and his death has an impact despite his brief screen time.

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With his friend dead, Oberon fills Scott in on the rest of the setup.  It seemed that Brown and Steel Hand had met in the hospital years before, and they passed the time in talking, eventually making a bet that the gangster could design a trap that not even Mr. Miracle could escape.  Desperate to fund his return, Brown had approached the now successful crime boss, who, for his part, was unwilling to risk losing the bet.  We then check in with that extremely poor sport, who is testing his metal mitt against an expensive android designed by one of his flunkies for just that purpose, which is one of the most Jack Kirby sentences ever written.

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mr miracle 01-18 murder missle trapAfter Steel Hand smashes the bot, Mr. Miracle suddenly leaps through the window and challenges the villain to complete his bargain.  Unfortunately, the gangster’s goons arrive, and Mr. Miracle falls prey to an old enemy of the superhero set, the classic headblow!  That’s right, in his first appearance, poor Mr. Miracle joins the Headblow Head-Count.  When he awakens, Steel Hand’s minions have chained him to a rocket at a secret Intergang missile site (!), where the gangster has prepared his escape-proof trap.

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We see the hero begin to work his escape, but then the rocket blasts off and explodes!  Yet, when Steel Hand returns to his office, he finds Mr. Miracle, alive and well, sitting at his desk.  Infuriated, the alloy-armed goon attacks, smashing through desk, chair, and more.  Mr. Miracle evades his attacks and calmly explains his incredible escape, using the very gimmicks he used on the rocket to disable his opponent, including sonic projectors, jets, and more!  Just as he wraps up the rat, Oberon arrives with the police, who happily haul him away.

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This is a great first issue, a delightful debut for a dramatic and intriguing new character, and Mr. Miracle really is just that.  He’s a unique concept, something never before really seen in comics, the superhero escape artist.  Once again, we can see just how groundbreaking and original Jack Kirby is, introducing an entirely new wrinkle into the superhero setting, something that was already, in 1971, pretty rare.  The issue itself could actually serve as a good example of proper comic writing.  It’s a self-contained issue, with a complete plot found within its covers, a real rarity these days.  Yet, it also contains all the setup and threads necessary to provide the grounding for ongoing adventures.  Notably, with this more realistic (as far as Kirby goes) gangster type of story, the odd note to the King’s dialog is absent, and his writing is fairly strong throughout.

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Kirby manages to introduce several characters and even get us invested in poor Thaddeus Brown before his tragic death, no mean feat in a single issue, as the late, unlamented Crusader demonstrated.   Taken just as a story, this comic is quite good, with some mystery, plenty of action and peril, and a lot of personality.  The only real weakness is the lack of explanation for HOW Scott is able to step into the gloriously colorful shoes of his mentor so easily.  That’s part of the mystery Kirby is setting up, but it still could have used just a bit more establishment to make the changeover smoother.  Still, this is a great beginning for Mr. Miracle’s adventures.  While it lacks the visual wonder of some of the King’s other Fourth World comics, it still looks pretty good.  In fact, the whole comic feels a bit more grounded than the other Fourth World books so far, and it contains some of Kirby’s better writing.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, a strong start.

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And that does it for this post.  I hope you enjoyed my commentary as much as I enjoyed providing it!  Thank you for reading, and please come back soon for more comic goodness as we trek further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal Alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Two more heroes join Aquaman this month, and the Headcount continues to grow!  This is shaping up to be a busy month!  Now Batgirl is ahead of the rest of the Bat Family.  I bet Dick would never let her live that down.  We also have the first Jack Kirby creation to grace the Wall of Shame, making this a red-letter day!


 

Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 2-Special Edition!)

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This is a bittersweet post, and that touch of melancholy is part of what has made me slow to put figurative pen to equally figurative paper for this set of books.  On the one hand, we are starting a new month, full of the promise of adventure, but on the other, this month also holds the final issue of Aquaman’s solo series, the last solo Aquaman book that would be seen for six years until its brief revival, after which Aquaman would be absent from solo books until the beginning of the very divisive Pozner/Hamilton mini-series in the mid 80s, which, for whatever positive qualities it may have, is still guilty of starting the ‘let’s fix Aquaman’ approach to the character that endured for decades.  It’s a crying shame, especially given the very high quality of this book and the incredible inventiveness of its creative team, SAG.  Nonetheless, life, and comics, go on.

As I’ve mentioned before, the cancellation of this book was made all the more shocking and lamentable because it had much less to do with sales than with internal politics.  It seems that then editor-in-chief Carmine Infantino didn’t much care for Dick Giordano’s style, so, when Giordano desired to leave editing and start inking full time, the head honcho took that as an opportunity to rid himself of the man.  Now, Giordano was very fond of what he had created with Skeates and Aparo, so he offered to continue editing Aquaman freelance, but rather than agree to that or even replace him, Infantino just cancelled the book, despite the fact that it had maintained solid sales!  The Aquaman Shrine has a great interview with Steve Skeates that reveals a bit of the behind the scenes drama.

However unjust the cancellation, it was presented as a fait accompli, and it was a shock to all involved and a major blow for the character.  In fact, I would argue that it is this incident which crippled the character for years to come.  It attached a stigma that his book couldn’t sell, despite the fact that sales had very little to do with the book’s fate.  What’s worse, it robbed the hero of the chance for development and growth during a very important time in comics history, as I’ve mentioned before.  While Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and many others were being revamped and redefined in extremely influential ways, Aquaman is left by the wayside, with only the SAG team’s incomplete efforts to support him.  This is a situation that the character is only very recently starting to overcome, some forty years later.

Yet, not all is doom and gloom.  As promised, I have a special treat for y’all today.  You see, when the book was unceremoniously cancelled, Steve Skeates was left with a half-finished story.  Yet, he was not one to be daunted by such a small matter as a cancellation, and he would eventually finish that story, but do so on the other side of the aisle.  That’s right, in a 1974 issue of Marvel’s Submariner, Steve Skeates would pick up the dropped thread of this Aquaman adventure and finish the tale for Marvel’s own sea king.  I’ll be covering that comic today, in addition to our usual fare.  So, let’s see what this month has in store for us!

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 #399
  • Adventure Comics #405
  • Aquaman #56 / (Sub-Mariner #72)
  • Detective Comics #410
  • The Flash #205 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Mr Miracle #1
  • The Phantom Stranger #12
  • Superboy #173
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #109
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137
  • Superman #236
  • Teen Titans #32
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Aquaman #56


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“The Creature That Devoured Detroit!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“The Cave of Death!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Jim Aparo

Here we have one of the all-time great Aquaman covers.  It’s exciting, titanic in scope and promise, and other than the rather muddy colors, is pretty much a perfect composition.  It’s got an old-school monster flick feel, right down to the title, like a 50s sci-fi film…but unfortunately it also bears little in common with the story inside.  Just imagine what could have been, a massive struggle between the King of the Sea and a colossal monster from the watery depths!  Instead, we get an offbeat, if unquestionably interesting, tale.  I imagine I might have been a more than a tad disappointed if that cover had persuaded me to pick the book up off the newsstand, only to find no massive monstrosity within.

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Man, Aparo could pack personality into a page!

Instead, the final issue of Aquaman begins in rather simple fashion.  A husband and wife bicker over the minutia that can grow into its own sort of monster in a marriage, but the debate is postponed by the tuning in of a television to the “Warren Savin Show” (interestingly, that’s actually a pen-name that Skeates has used from time to time).  The show promises to feature, of all people, the King of the Seven Seas as their special guest, but it is interrupted by a special report about a massive algae growth on Lake Erie threatening to consume the city of Detroit.

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This bumper bloom seems to be caused by a mysterious satellite which is reflecting light onto the city and its surroundings at night, keeping the area in a perpetual daylight that has sparked this overgrowth.  When the cameras cut back to the show, the Sea Sleuth is missing!  The Aquatic Ace has rushed out of the studio to see what he can do about this threat, answering the call to action.

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Too bad this is symbolic…

Aquaman56_06Arriving in Detroit, Aquaman finds the green gunk everywhere and decides to look up an old friend of his, a former police scientist named Don Powers, to try to get a handle on the situation.  Meanwhile, we cut to a strange figure in a garish costume, and we’re informed that this bargain-basement Batman is ‘The Crusader,’ a superhero who is ignoring the growing plight of the city to chase a car theft ring.  We get a nice action sequence as the Crusader jumps the gang he’s been tracking and barely manages to subdue them.

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After we see the orange and black clad figure finishes his fight, we switch over to follow Aquaman as he goes to consult his old friend, now a successful businessman and scientist, and the Sea King finds him at his corporate lab, where the fellow is completely unconcerned with the growing green tide swallowing the city, instead bragging about the reduction in crime thanks to the perpetual daylight and revealing that the mysterious satellite is, in fact, his.

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During their debate, Powers brings up the Crusader, and Arthur reveals that the League had refused him membership because he was considered unstable and too violent (He’d fit right in today, no doubt!), which is a fun little detail.  When the Marine Marvel tries to take matters into his own hands, Powers and his flunkies jump him, and sadly, you guessed it, Aquaman earns another slot on the Head-Blow Headcount!  Skeates really loved this device a bit too much.

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Not again

With the real hero disabled, we watch as Powers slips into his private office and dons the costume of…the Crusader!  In internal monologue, he reveals that he had an ulterior motive for launching the satellite.  His low-light vision is fading, and he’s willing to let the whole city suffer just so he can continue playing costumed crimefighter.  He justifies his selfishness by arguing that the case he’s working on is too big to abandon, and once he solves it he plans to destroy the satellite.  Powers also thinks that this case will be his ticket into the big time, that it will help him prove himself.  Now, just for some perspective, let’s remember that the case he’s trying to crack is no doomsday plot, no terrorist’s master plan, no city shaking scheme, just a car-theft ring.  Priorities man, priorities!

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While the Crusader continues his…well…crusade, Aquaman awakens on a park bench, having been dumped there by Powers’ goons, and before he can get back to the lab, he sees a young girl threatened by the growing green goo and rushes into the morass to save her.  He does so without a second thought, putting her life ahead of his own, though the peril of the situation doesn’t entirely come through as well as I imagine Skeates intended.

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A bit of a disappointing confrontation, really, and the dramatic title doesn’t help.

On his way back, he discovers a crowd surrounding a still figure on the pavement.  The Crusader lies dead, not felled by an enemy’s bullet or having met his death in the line of duty.  He just tripped over a wire and fell to his fate on the street below, his eyes finally having failed him.  He is the very soul of anti-climax.  When his mask is removed, the Sea King recognizes his friend and things begin to become clear to him.  Rushing back to Powers’ building, the Marine Marvel smashes his way inside, taking no chances, and locks himself inside the control room until he can find the proper switch.  The issue ends with the button pressed, the satellite destroyed, and the menace ended.

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The title here, on the other hand, is pitch-perfect.

So, not exactly what one would expect from that cover, is it?  This is a strange issue, but certainly an inventive and intriguing one.  Skeates is doing what he has done all along, trying new things and experimenting with the medium.  The story at the heart of this comic, the contrasting of two different concepts of heroism in the person of two very different heroes, is actually a great one.  It’s still quite pertinent today.  It’s the examination of the perennial conflict, between selflessness and selfishness.  Aquaman’s selfless conduct throughout, abandoning the TV show to help Detroit, putting his life in danger to save the little girl, and even risking who knows what kinds of consequences to destroy the satellite, stands in relatively effective contrast to the purely selfish motives of the Crusader.  That myopic manhunter, for his part, ignores all other concerns in search for his own fulfillment and fame, endangering the entire city, a city that he supposedly protects, in order to continue his callous crusade.  The concept is a fascinating one, yet Skeates’ treatment thereof isn’t entirely successful.

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Remember these images.

The story is far too rushed.  We meet the Crusader and see his futile death in just a few pages.  He’s not given the time to really develop the comparison appropriately, and compressing the setup and payoff into one book renders Aquaman’s contributions fairly slight.  Part of the trouble is that the threat to the city doesn’t ever quite seem tremendous enough to justify everyone’s concern.  We see the sludge surge up and endanger one little girl playing too close to the water, but that’s about it.  Skeates commits one of the prime storytelling sins.  He tells us about the threat rather than showing it convincingly.  Now, part of the reason for that simply has to be lack of storytelling space.  Nonetheless, this tale is certainly noteworthy for its innovation, and the central concept is worthwhile, despite its flaws.  This was a remarkable plot for its time.  Characters getting killed off was rare enough, but having a “hero” die, especially in the story in which he was introduced, was almost unheard of.

Of course, it almost goes without saying that the book is beautiful, with Aparo creating yet another cast of distinctive, interesting faces, lovely action, and rich settings.  Perhaps the greatest calamity in the cancellation of the book is the fact that Aparo stops working on the character that he captured better than anyone else.  Unfortunately, there is no shortage of four-color woe to be found in this comic’s cancellation, so that loss has plenty of competition.  Nonetheless, this is a fun and entertaining read.  It may be an offbeat ending to the series, but at least it’s an intriguing one.  All things considered, I’ll give this final Aquaman story 3.5 Minutemen.

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This issue also contains a super brief backup with Aquagirl, where she rescues a little boy foolishly playing too close to an ominously named threat called ‘The Cave of Death.’  Something of a theme this month, apparently.  It’s only two pages, so really too brief to rate as a story by itself, but it’s always nice to see Aquagirl in action.    It seems clear that Skeates was setting something else up, and this is just one more way in which the sudden cancellation of the book is a shame.

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The Savage Sub-Mariner #72


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“From the Void It Came…”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dan Adkins
Inker: Vince Colletta
Colourist: Linda Lessmann
Letterer: Artie Simek
Editor: Roy Thomas

 You can see what else Marvel put out this month HERE.

For our special feature, we once again pass across the aisle to Marvel comics, but this time it isn’t ersatz counterparts we see but an actual story-line continued.  It’s a shame that the rest of the SAG team wasn’t able to join Skeates for this revival of his Aquaman work, but he’s creating with a new team.  The results are surprisingly fitting for a Marvel comic considering the origins of this yarn over at DC.

While DC’s Sea King is my favorite comic character, I’ve also always had a soft spot for Marvel’s ocean monarch, Namor, the Sub-Mariner.  He’s not one of my favorite Marvel characters, but I’ve always liked him, and when I read through the classic Fantastic Four stories where Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought him back, I really started to appreciate comics first anti-hero.  Incidentally, Kirby’s work on the history of Namor’s Atlantis is one of the coolest things ever.  While Namor’s temper can wear thin after a while, I’ve always appreciated the unfailing regalness of his character.  He’s one of the few times where comics have captured the ideal of royalty.  I’m just now starting to read his Silver Age solo series, and I’m only up to the 40s at the time of this posting, but I’m quite enjoying those adventures.  For this outing, I’m skipping ahead a few years, so I’m reading this tale without much context.

It begins with the Sub-Mariner himself swimming through the terribly polluted waters offshore of a major city and commenting, in usual fashion, on how terrible us surface dwellers are.  Notably, at this point Marvel’s Sea King is wearing his more substantial costume that replaced his green trunks.  It’s certainly a more dignified look, and it’s grown on me, though, being something of a purist, I tend to be biased in favor of original looks.  Sartorial concerns aside, the Sub-Mariner takes to the sky, still meditating on the evils of the surface world.

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Our narrative lens shifts, and we move into space two years previously where a strange green blob, some bizarre alien lifeform, drifts through the cosmos and lands upon a certain satellite, just before a (blue) gloved hand destroys its temporary lodging.  Take a look at that image.  Does it look familiar?  That’s right, Skeates intentionally evokes the last panels from Aquaman #56 in order to tie these two stories together in a subtle crossover.

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The creature rides the wreckage down and splashes into the ocean nearby where Namor will come ashore.  The being observes the sealife that passes by and decides to emulate those ocean dwellers by creating a body out of the slime on the seabed and the wreckage from the satellite.  The process takes the intervening years, and we get a really nice series of panels as the alien heads to the surface to explore.

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Meanwhile, the Sub-Mariner has encountered trouble in the form of a strange pair of humans.  There’s something just a bit odd about these guys, and you might not be able to put your finger on it.  I wasn’t, at first.  Don’t worry, we’ll come back to that.  These two toughs decide, with suicidal bravado, to pick a fight with Namor because he’s different.  It’s a case of prejudice, and bizarrely, the attack is accompanied by a quote from Hitler which talks about the effectiveness of visuals in delivering messages.  Oookay.

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This looks like a cover for a Double Dragon game.

The Prince of the Blood, who, let’s’ remember, has traded punches with the Hulk, belts his  normal human antagonist and somehow doesn’t turn his head into a fine red mist, instead sending him flying into the drink.  The thug’s friend jumps Namor in reprisal, voicing a rather strange response to the attack, “You’ve probably ruined him for life!”  How odd.  As the two tussle, the curious alien being reaches the dock, and they smash into him, leading all three to tumble into the water.  Interestingly, the narration notes that Namor has become somewhat unstable because of his constant battles, so that he meets the strange, monstrous newcomer with open hostility, just assuming that it’s a foe, and thereby leaving his original human antagonist to his watery fate.

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While the fellow’s companion drags him to the surface, the Sub-Mariner and the star-spawned creature trade blows.  Namor pours all of his rage, all of his frustration, into this fight, attacking blindly, but the creature literally blinds the Atlantean in response.  Even that doesn’t stop the Sub-Mariner, who grapples with his slimy foe.

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Finally, having had enough of this whole ‘body’ business, the being launches itself skyward once more, though, having meant no harm, as it passes into space it uses its powers to restore life to the drowned man and even, surprisingly enough, restore Namor’s sight.  Skeates plays with superhero conventions here to some pretty good effect, raising some questions about the violent ways such characters tend to respond to the unknown.

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For his part, before his eyes are healed, the Prince of the Blood realizes that his metaphorical blindness may have trapped him in literal blindness.  His anger and rage kept him from trying to communicate with the creature and may have doomed him to perpetual blackness.  It’s an interesting and relatively effective message about understanding and tolerance of the “Other.”  And with that, Namor heads for sepulchral Atlantis (previously destroyed, it seems) while the two humans head home as well, with one of them saying, seemingly apropos of nothing, that he just got a new professional wrestling magazine.  With these scenes, our story ends.

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So, what was the discordant note that the two wharf rats kept striking?  Well, these two toughs, Skeates later confirmed, were meant to be a gay couple.  Hence the rather flamboyant dress of the first thug, who was, by the way, named Bruce, a moniker with some associations with the gay community at the time, as I understand.  Now, you may wonder what in the world their sexuality has to do with anything in this oddball story, but it really does add a little depth to Skeates’ treatment of the theme of intolerance and metaphoric blindness.  You’ve got these two characters acting as bigots who have themselves suffered from intolerance, abuse, and bigotry, which is ironic.  While it could just be seen as anti-gay, it could also be read as an indication of the depth to which distrust of the “Other” is built into human nature, how deeply the disease goes.  Even those of us with reason to sympathize with societal outcasts can find it easier to lash out than attempt to act with understanding.

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Nonetheless, that was certainly an unusual wrinkle for comics in 1974, when you could not present any openly gay characters.  Once again, Skeates is experimenting with the genre.  The story itself is solid enough.  It’s more effective in its delivery of its message than in telling a particularly compelling and enjoyable adventure yarn, though.  Yet, I do enjoy the focus on Namor’s reaction to the mysterious creature.  It makes rather perfect sense given the Sub-Mariner’s characterization over the course of his series and the endless series of conflicts and reverses he’s faced.  There’s a very human element in his blind rage.  Still, the story feels a bit disjointed, with the conflict with the two morons on the dock coming out of absolutely nowhere.  I know people are plenty stupid, but who says to themselves, ‘I think I want to pick a fight with that guy that can punch through steel!’  In the end, I suppose I’ll give this story a 3.5 as well.  It’s an interesting one, if not stellar.

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P.S.: Oddly, this story, picking up from the final issue of Aquaman, falls on the final issue of the Sub-Mariner, who has outlived his distinguished counterpart by three years at this point but falls prey to a similar fate, and, ironically, with the same hand at the helm!  Steve Skeates had to wonder if he was jinxed when it came to aquatic characters!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Poor Aquaman adds yet another appearance on the Wall of Shame.  This really illustrates just how much Skeates relied on the head-blow plot device.  Whenever he needed to remove the Sea King from the story for a few pages, it seems a sock on the noggin was the first club out of the bag.  The results are self-evident, with Aquaman more than tripling the next most common resident on the wall in total head-blows.  At least one benefit from the lamentable cancellation of his book is he won’t be adding many more entries in this feature any time soon!


Final Thoughts:

These two comics make for an intriguing pair, a unique case (at the time) with a story translating across both companies and years (Of course, the Marvel character Mantis will see a similar transition later in the decade).  Even more unusually, the stories are very reflective of their universes, DC and Marvel, with each comic fitting surprisingly well into the style of their respective companies.  The DC story is full of bigger ideas, while the Marvel tale is much more melodramatic and emotionally focused.  The contrast illustrates Skeates’ skill as a writer, as one of the great tests of an author’s mettle is the ability to write well in different styles.

I’m really curious what shape the second story would have taken if it had graced the pages of Aquaman as intended.  One wonders if the muck creature from the cover of #56 might actually have put in an appearance after all, perhaps on a much grander scale than Namor’s unwitting sparring partner.  If we assume that the alien creature and its curious attempt to explore our little globe was always the core of the concept, then perhaps it would make sense for all of that algae coating Detroit to be incorporated into the being’s new body.  We might have gotten a version of that massive monstrosity after all.  Sadly, we’ll never know what might have been.

That is, truly, the greatest misfortune to be found in the sudden and unlooked-for cancellation of the Aquaman book, the loss of what might have been.  The SAG team had been paving the way for a whole era of stories, layering in hooks for coming arcs and continuing plot threads, setting up some really intriguing story possibilities, and creating a fascinating setting for the Sea King.  There are too many lost opportunities and abandoned elements in this run to count, like the rabble-rousing politician and his bid for power, the rocky relationship between Tula and Garth, the myriad underwater civilizations we’ve encountered in the preceding pages of the book, the microscopic world in Mera’s ring, Ocean Master’s recovered memories, and so much more that could have been.  I’ll always wonder what plans the SAG team had, what heights the book might have reached in the years to come.  How might the undersea setting have grown?  How might the Aqua-Family have evolved?  The possibilities really dazzle the imagination, don’t they?  Instead, we get this rather off=beat finale.  The book ends, not with a whimper, but neither does it close with a roar worthy of what has come before.  Instead, it slips away without fanfare or acknowledgement, without the slightest hint that this is the final issue.

It’s one of the great comic calamities, and so it is with a heavy heart, that I bid adieu to one of the best Aquaman runs and one of my favorite creative teams.  And it is also time that I say goodbye to this post.  I hope you’ll join me again soon as I resume our regularly scheduled Bronze Age browsing.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 4)

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Hello my dear readers, and happy Memorial Day if you’re in the U.S.!  Today we honor those who have served so that we may enjoy our freedoms, those who have gone into danger so that the rest of us may be safe.  This post about make-believe heroes has nothing to do with those real heroes, but a similar ethos of selflessness defines both.  The former are a lot more important, but there are more eloquent voices than mine singing their praises today, so I’ll stick to my humble purpose.

I’m afraid I have been long absent from the Greylands, but never fear, I have returned!  There were numerous calls upon my time and attention at the end of the semester, and they brought me far afield.  There were papers to write in preparation for conferences, conferences themselves to attend, and of course the usual hustle and bustle of the semester’s close.  We also had a weekend of volunteer work with the churches in our town, doing needful work in the community.  To top matters off, we in the Grey household also had various personal challenges, but the clouds seem (hopefully) to be parting at last, and I think it may be time to return…to the Bronze Age!

Once more I find myself quite willing to seek solace from the dreariness and bleakness of the modern day in the four-color glories of yesteryear.  This particular post is all the more exciting as we’re finally getting into the other Fourth World books with today’s Forever People #1!  Please join me for a new dose of Bronze Age goodness, and hopefully this will mark a return to a more regular posting schedule.  Thank you all for your patience!

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.


Forever People #1


Forever_People_Vol_1_1“In Search of a Dream!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Pencilers: Jack Kirby and Al Plastino
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

With the thunder of a boom tube and the roaring of the Super-Cycle, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World arrives in earnest!  It is in these three new books, Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle, completely his own creations, that the King’s long-awaited vision, his long cultivated ideas, really come into their own.  Jimmy Olsen has been teasing something vast and wondrous beyond the horizons of the known reaches of the DC Universe, but The Forever People dives in more directly, while the other books will go further still.

And it all begins with the very Kirby set of characters on this cover, the Forever People, a group of free-spirited teenagers and part of the vast tapestry of stories and characters Kirby wove around the concept of the New Gods.  Curiously. these particular characters haven’t amounted to much over the years.  They’re probably the element of the Fourth World that has found the least traction in the wider DC Universe.  While the saga of Darkseid and Orion has provided the backdrop for many an epic adventure and the daring Mr. Miracle has found his place with the Justice League, these kids never quite found their niche.  I remember that being at least somewhat the case from the very beginning, so I’m curious to see how these issues will hold up to my memories.

The cover itself is more interesting than compelling.  It sets up a bit of a mystery, and it’s a mystery that the story within does develop to a degree, but I think its strongest feature are the incredibly Kirby-ish characters front and center.  They’re a wonderfully colorful and lively looking group, and they fit the very distinctive aesthetic that the King was developing for the New Gods, sort of a shiny, sci-fi take on his classic Asgardian designs.  Their individual designs aren’t all successful.  Mark Moonrider in particular has a bit too much going on, what with the superfluous loincloth worn over his pants.  Nonetheless, they’re certainly striking.

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Their first tale begins with the introduction of that constant feature of Fourth World stories, the boom tube, a glowing trans-dimensional portal accompanied by an otherworldly sound, and, in this case, by rhyming verse, which is an interesting and unusual way to start a comic.  From the portal emerge the Forever People, a colorful quartet riding an amazing vehicle, the Super-Cycle, in a two-page spread that I have to imagine was more impressive before Vinnie Colletta got his hands on it.  I’ve searched for a picture of the original pencils, but no luck.  Still, it’s a nice first look at our young heroes as they come careening onto the Earth.  As we will discover in a few pages, these are the Forever People, Mark Moonrider, Big Bear, their hippy-looking pilot, Vykin, and Serifan, whose costume I’ve always rather liked.

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They’re headed for a collision with a teenage couple in a conventional car, but they phase through the automobile, saving themselves, but seemingly dooming the other kids.  Just as their car flies over a cliff, those startled youths are rescued by Vykin the Black, (or Vykin, the inappropriately named), and his Mother Box.  We then get the first of our evocative but incredibly vague and contradictory Jack Kirby descriptions of his crazy Fourth World concepts, as the Forever People argue over exactly what a Mother Box is.

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While Mark Moonrider tells the rescued couple that it’s like a computer, Vykin strenuously objects that Mother Box lives and talks to them.  At this point, I can only assume the human kids have become convinced they’ve meet a group of madmen.  The young New Gods tell their newfound friends that they’ve arrived on Earth from a place called ‘Supertown’ to rescue someone called ‘Beautiful Dreamer,’ a vital mission, but they pleasantly agree to let the kids take some pictures for their friend, Jimmy Olsen.

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As the couple departs, Serifan falls into a trance, and his friends note that he’s made contact with Beautiful Dreamer, but they are being watched by malevolent eyes!  A group of hi-tech thugs has spied the team’s arrival, and we discover that they are members of Intergang who report to none other than Darkseid!  Our still mysterious menace tells his flunkies to follow but not to engage and warns them that the kids are more than they appear.

fp01-13Meanwhile, at the Daily Planet, Clark Kent is just finishing up an interview with the heavyweight champ, who confesses to the reporter that he feels like his accomplishments are insignificant when a being like Superman is around who can do pretty much anything.  He and Lex Luthor should form a support group!  The dialog is a bit over the top and goofy, but the sentiment is actually an interesting one, and the theme of the Man of Steel’s presence having unintended sociological consequences has, of course, become much more common these days.  Once again, Jack Kirby was ahead of his time.

The encounter leaves the Last Son of Krypton introspective and lonely, feeling like he doesn’t really fit in on Earth, something that is becoming a recurring theme in the last few months.  His reverie is interrupted by the arrival of Jimmy Olsen, who has brought his friends’ bizarre pictures to show off.  With his telescopic vision, Clark spots an alien city at the center of the picture of the boom tube.  There’s a rather hokey bit as Superman gets hung-up on the idea that there is a place called ‘Supertown,’ but the upshot is he decides to investigate these strange travelers.

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Man, that must be one heck of a camera to capture microscopic detail…

fp01-18On his way to intercept the Forever People, the Man of Steel is spotted by Intergang, traveling the same route in a helicopter, and, on orders from Darkseid, they turn their fancy new weapons on the Kryptonian.  Their ray guns hurt him, but he is Superman after all.  In a nice looking sequence, the Metropolis Marvel rips up a tree and hurls it through the helicopter.  Seeing this, the Forever People assume that the new arrival must be another volunteer from Supertown, but before he can explain, they declare that Mother Box has located Beautiful Dreamer nearby.  The kids can’t fix her location, but Superman’s x-ray vision spots an underground entrance.

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Unfortunately, the hatch is booby-trapped, and it releases a “toxi-cloud,” which the Man of Tomorrow blows away by whipping up a whirlwind.  Just as he finishes his spin, he’s snatched out of the air by a brutish pair of purple paws!  A group of Darkseid’s minions called ‘Gravi-Guards’ attack, and one of them pins the hero to the ground by transmitting “gravity waves from heavy mass galaxies,” which almost actually makes sense.

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Realizing that they’re outclassed, the Forever People all put their hands to Mother Box and call out “Tarru!”  They switch places with a strange new champion named ‘The Infinity Man,’ who seems to have reality warping powers, declaring that he comes from the place “where all of natural law shifts and bends and changes,” allowing him to reverse the effects of the Gravi-Guards powers and send them flying.  With a casually tremendous blow, Infinity Man sends Superman’s antagonist crashing cross-country.

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fp01-24Declaring to the recovering hero that he’s an ally of the Forever People, the Infinity Man offers the vague and sinister pronouncement that Darkseid has kidnapped Beautiful Dreamer in his search for something ominously called “The Anti-Life Equation!”  Dun-dun-DUN!  With a name like that, it seems unlikely that this is a good thing.  The strange alien champion calls out a challenge to Darkseid, demanding that he show himself, and just then the man-god himself appears, looking very 80s cartoon villain-ish in his cape.  Declaring that the girl is of no use to him as her mind refuses to give him what he seeks, the Apokoliptian ruler raises her from underground but promises that sooner or later he will find what he’s looking for, and then he will us it to “snuff out all life on Earth–with a word!”

fp01-26At that, the villain vanishes, and the two heroes discover that the girl is rigged to a bomb.  Trusting in being faster than a speeding explosion, Superman scoops up Infinity Man and Beautiful Dreamer, and he kicks it into high gear to escape the blast.  When they land, the Man of Steel’s questions are interrupted by the return of the Forever People as the Infinity Man disappears, leaving them in his place.  When they ask how they can thank him for his help, Superman replies that he wants to see Supertown.  The kids argue that the Kryptonian’s powers are needed there on Earth in light of the threat posed by Darkseid, but he insists that he has to investigate this place.  They open a boom tube for him, but consumed by guilt, he turns back at the last moment.  Superman hopes he’ll have the chance to visit Supertown someday, but realizes he can’t go yet….which is a bit silly.  His obsession with the place, just because it’s called ‘Supertown,’ is goofy, as he has no other real reason to think there is anything there for him.  What’s more, presumably he could have jumped through the portal, checked things out, and come back right away.  There’s no immediate danger, so the guilt-trip was a bit much.

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Aside from the slightly silly ending, how does this issue stack up?  Well, it’s good fun from beginning to end, packed full of new concepts and the products of Kirby’s ever-expansive imagination.  The Forever People themselves had a lot more personality right from the beginning than I remembered.  They bicker and argue in friendly fashion, and their characters have some shape already.  However, they don’t really do too much for this to be their book.  Other than using the Mother Box to save the runaway car, all they do is switch into Infinity Man, who is certainly cool in action but far too vague in that very Kirby fashion to be fully grasped yet.  It’s also worth noting that Vykin’s sobriquet is pretty tone-deaf, though of course this is only 1971.  Still, we’re getting to the point where folks are realizing that naming a Black character ‘black,’ is maybe a bit much.  Nonetheless, there’s something to be said for Kirby with his inclusion of a black character with this team in an era where almost every hero was still white.

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There’s plenty here to catch a reader’s interest and make them want to find out what is going on, but sharing space with Superman means that the Forever People get a bit short-shrift in their own first issue.  Darkseid’s appearance is also a bit strange and surprising.  This is our first real meeting with him, and the fact that he gives in, even though he double-crosses the heroes, doesn’t seem quite in character with the supreme villain he will grow into.  It’s not the most impressive first showing for great and powerful Darkseid.

It’s really interesting to see the Forever People’s gestalt setup with the Infinity Man.  It’s very Captain Planet, (“With our powers combined!”) and one can’t help but wonder if they didn’t inspire that later-day character in some fashion.  Fortunately, the Forever People don’t have that annoying ‘Heart’ kid that was shoehorned into being the ‘real’ hero every freaking episode.  *Ahem*  Where was I?  Ohh, right!  The art is good throughout, of course, but it isn’t quite as spectacular as what will eventually populate these pages.  Of course, the Superman issue remains, as I discussed previously, and the resulting changes to Kirby’s art leave the Man of Steel looking a bit awkward from time to time.  The story itself is a good read, with some exciting action and several hooks for further development.  The silly elements and the vagueness of some of the concepts hold it back from being great, but it’s still a solid comic.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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P.S.: We’ve got another text piece in this issue, but this time it isn’t by Kirby himself.  It’s actually a reflection by Marv Wolfman on a meeting with the King just before the younger creator had broken into comics.  It’s a charming read and a neat peak behind the curtain.

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G.I. Combat #146


G.I._Combat_146“Move the World”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler/Inker: Russ Heath
Editors: Joe Kubert and Robert Kanigher

“Hickory-Foot Soldier”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler/Inker: Joe Kubert

“A Flower for the Front”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“The Secret Battle Eye”
Writer: Hank Chapman
Penciler/Inker: Joe Kubert

“The Bug That Won an Island”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“Battle Tags for Easy Co.”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler/Inker: Joe Kubert

We’ve got a standard type of cover for Haunted Tank stories, promising a deadly surprise for the crew.  It’s decent enough, but not the best of its type that we’ve seen.  The same could be said of what’s inside.  This was a solid if unspectacular Haunted Tank tale.  Most notably, the titular haunting spirit’s customary cryptic advice is actually almost useful, which is a nice change of pace.  As usual for this book, I’ll only cover that feature and not the various backups.

This story opens with a bang as the Haunted Tank and two other armored units are traveling through a dark desert night, only to have it suddenly lit up by explosions as they are cut to pieces by Nazi anti-armor half-tracks.  Jeb manages to get the Tank down into a ravine where they have cover, but the vehicles gets stuck.  Just then, their own gray ghost appears and tells Jeb “if you put your back into it […] you can move the world!”  While this sounds like his usual enigmatic nonsense, there is actually practical advice in his proclamation.

 

The tank commander hustles the crew outside, and with all of them straining mightily, they manage to free the Stuart.  Just as the Nazi infantry is approaching the ravine to finish them off, the Haunted Tank bursts out, guns blazing, and cuts a path through them.  Moving at top speed, they manage to avoid the fire of the halftracks.  They manage to knock one of them out, but that leaves three to chase them, any one of which has a gun big enough to punch through the hide of the light tank.  Jeb and co. lose their company in the desert night and head towards Fort Solitary, which they are ordered to hold at all costs.

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On the way, they encounter a lone G.I. holed up in a ruined house and trading fire with a German unit.  Just as the tank pulls up, he manages to finish off his opponents by kindly returning one of their grenades to them.  The young man introduces himself as Ulysses, named for the “Greek G.I. who was kicked around for seven years…after his war ended,” which is an interesting way of looking at the epic, rather fitting for a fellow in a warzone.  Just like his namesake, this young man is the only survivor of his own crew, a patrol from Fort Solitary.

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Ulysses boards the metal ship, and they arrive to find Fort Solitary has been wiped out by the Luftwaffe.  Jeb knows that the Nazi halftracks are on his trail, so the troops dig in and prepare for the inevitable attack.  They pile up rubble around the Tank’s turret to provide cover.

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When the Germans attack, their commander thinks Jeb has made a tactical blunder by digging in, but as his other two vehicles move to flank the entrenched position, the body of the Haunted Tank suddenly roars out from behind a hill and shreds one of them, while two of the crew pop out of the smoke on the other flank, hitting their halftrack with Molotov cocktails, sending it up in flames.

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Meanwhile, just as the German officer begins to think that he’s attacking a decoy, the turret fires and smashes his vehicle.  It turns out that Stuarts are made so that the turret can be detached, and by putting their backs into it, the crew were able to take all three of their enemies.

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This is a fairly good story, and the tactics at the end are actually quite clever and a nice solution to the difficult odds the Tank faces.  Interestingly, this is probably one of the more realistic Haunted Tank stories, in some ways, as they aren’t running around knocking out Tigers left and right.  Instead, they’re up against a set of halftracks with anti-tank guns, which really aren’t good in a stand-up fight.  A Stuart might actually be able to win in such an engagement, which is sort of neat to see, even if they go about it in very unorthodox fashion.  The inclusion of Ulysses seems a bit unnecessary, as he doesn’t really contribute anything to the plot, so he feels a bit like a dropped thread.  Still, the end result is reasonably entertaining.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82


Green_Lantern_Vol_2_82“How Do You Fight a Nightmare?”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inkers: Dick Giordano and Bernie Wrightson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Ohh Green Lantern / Green Arrow, what am I going to do with you?  There’s a roughness to many of these stories, a feeling of potential present but unrealized, and that is certainly the case for this month’s issue of the book.  We’ve got a lot of creative concepts tossed out in these pages, but they are both wildly underdeveloped and in direct contrast to established canon to boot!  I’ve heard that O’Neil started to get into mythological threats in his Superman stories, and this issue perhaps heralds the beginning of his interest in that vein of storytelling.

This mythological mash-up of a tale begins with Green Arrow showing up, in full costume no less, at Black Canary’s front door.  So much for that secret identity, Dinah!  The stupidity of such a move is completely unremarked in the comic, and it is treated as perfectly natural that Ollie would stroll up to Canary’s home in costume.  The resultant scene is actually a little charming, as the Emerald Archer announces that, despite the fact that they had agreed to keep their distances until the beautiful bird ‘got her head together,’ he just happened to find himself in the neighborhood with a box of roses.  We’re actually getting a bit of character development as their relationship progresses, albeit slowly, in the background of these stories.

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However, when Dinah opens the box, she finds, not roses, but monsters!  A pair of winged creatures, half women, half birds, burst from the box and attack the heroic couple.  They look like the harpies of Greek mythology, but whatever they are, they seem to mean our heroes no good.  In what will become a running theme in the issue, Green Arrow attempts to protect Canary, and she resents his interference, pointing out that she’s a big girl and quite capable of looking out for herself.  Yet, Ollie’s solution of a tear gas arrow indoors proves to be a rather poor decision, and moments later he hauls the still protesting Canary outside.  Dinah let’s her would-be suitor know just what she thinks of his strategy, and then they realize that their avian antagonists have vanished!

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green lantern 082 006Realizing that mythical monsters are a bit out of their line, the heroes decide to reach out to one of their allies who is more experienced in such matters, so naturally, they call…Green Lantern?!?  That’s right!  After all, who knows more about magic and myth than the science fiction space cop?  Surely you wouldn’t turn to Wonder Woman,  Aquaman, or even Hawkman, all of whom have a decent amount of experience with myth and mysticism.  Nope, Green Lantern, all the way.  It’s at this point that we start to realize this story is moving at the speed of plot.

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green lantern 082 011Well, one telegram later, and the Green Gladiator is on his way, only to encounter the harpies himself!  He chases them through the sky to a discotheque where he is faced with a strange red-skinned femme fatale who calls herself “The Witch Queen.”  She declares her intention to destroy him, and then with a burst of yellow energy, she pulls the hero into the jewel atop her wand.  Then, the imprisoned Hal sees the woman’s shadowy ally, who he recognizes with a dramatic “YOU!”

In the meantime, Arrow and Canary get antsy with the Lantern’s long absence, and they decide to investigate on their own.  The Emerald Archer finds a strange jewel in the flower box, and he decides to investigate the florist from which he purchased the roses…which really seems like it would have been a good place to start in the beginning, what with the monsters jumping out of the rose box and all.  The dynamic dame drives them on her motorcycle, but when they reach the shop, a massive hand smashes Green Arrow’s face through a window, leaving Canary to face the new threat alone.

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She finds herself facing three massive women in Greco-Roman style armor, and they speak about destroying the man but not hurting their ‘sister.’  Think you know who these large ladies are?  Think again.  O’Neil has stranger plans!  No shrinking violet, Canary refuses to let these giant girls make a ghost out of Green Arrow, and when one of them moves to ‘chastise’ their wayward ‘sister,’ Dinah takes her out in a nice action sequence.  The leader of the women pleads with Canary to join them in their cause, the punishment of mankind, and she tells the fighting female their story.

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Fragile?  Delicate?  These are not words that I would use to describe Black Canary!

They are, in fact, Amazons, but not so fast!  They aren’t the Amazons you know…the Amazons that are already part of the DC Universe.  Instead, they are somehow a different set of Amazons, and O’Neil shows no awareness that DC already has that particular mythic group covered.  The tale they tell is that they were champions and defenders of mankind, along with the harpies and their powerful high priestess, but when their leader spurned the advances of a mighty sorcerer, he banished them all to a different dimension, from which they can only escape for short periods at a time with the help of jewels like that which Arrow discovered.  Speaking of the Emerald Archer, he finds the entire story dubious and refuses to believe in Amazons and the like, despite the fact that he was on a team with an Amazon for years!  There’s a Bob Haney-like disregard for continuity and context at play in this story!

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green lantern 082 017The Amazons promise to prove their claims by bringing the heroes to the Witch Queen, and in the interim, we check in with that very femme fatale, who is going over plans with a familiar figure.  Sinestro, the renegade Green Lantern, is her mysterious partner, and he is also apparently her brother, though I’m pretty sure this random sibling never appeared again.  The rogue ring-slinger had somehow discovered the dimension of Amazons “by chance” and used his sister to manipulate them, planning to have them help him trap and destroy his nemesis.  Being unable to locate Green Lantern, Sinestro decided that his friends were easy to find, so he planned to use them as bait.  They were easy to find?  Well, I suppose I would take more issue with that if Green Arrow wasn’t waltzing around Dinah’s suburban house in full costume.  I suppose he wouldn’t have been too hard to find at that!  To complete the trap, Sinestro gave his sister his power ring so she could pretend to have magic powers to throw Hal off-guard.  It’s…an odd plan, overly complicated and very random, not exactly Sinestro’s finest work.

Just as he’s finished his helpful exposition, Sinestro’s evil family reunion is interrupted by Green Arrow’s dramatic entrance.  As the villain rushes to retrieve his ring, the Emerald Archer draws his bow and lets fly an arrow, pinning the power ring to the wall in a really nice sequence.  Claiming he doesn’t need the ring to take on an Earthling, Sinestro charges the Battling Bowman, only to be met with an uppercut and laid low.

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When his sister tries her luck, Black Canary pitches in, and we get a really great moment.  Ollie thanks the blonde bombshell for saving his life twice that night, and her reply is wonderful, “I’d do it for anyone…astray cat, a politician–just anyone at all!”  O’Neil is getting a better handle on these characters, and their banter has become quite charming.  There’s a great, rather unusual (for 1971) quality to their relationship that is rather special.

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green lantern 082 027With Sinestro captured, Green Arrow tries to get him to return Hal, but the villain claims the Lantern is trapped in the dimensional prison, which only one man can inhabit at a time.  The Amazon leader, realizing they had been duped by a man, offers to lead Canary inside to rescue their friend, and despite Ollie’s protests, in she goes.  The dimension is a surreal, utterly alien place, and within Hal fears that the very strangeness of his surroundings might drive him mad.  He is scooped up by the harpies and is too stunned to use his ring.  The Emerald Crusader is brought to face the high priestess, who is revealed to be Medusa, and her snakeish-hair snares the hero.  She looks suitably frightening in Adams’ pencils, though the strange dimension she inhabits doesn’t quite get enough attention to be effective.  Just before Green Lantern is crushed by her serpentine hair from hell, Black Canary arrives, and she and the Amazon manage to persuade Medusa to release him, arguing that unjustly slaying a man would stain their honor forever.  With the Amazon’s aid, Hal is able to return them to the real world, where they are reunited with a still skeptical Green Arrow who has certainly never traveled to other dimensions or seen other craziness as part of the Justice League and thus has every right to scoff.

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This is a weird issue.  It’s a fun read, but the treatment of all of its different elements just feels very half-hearted.  There’s an imaginative energy here that is interesting, but it’s put to poor use.  Basically any one of the concepts that O’Neil tosses out in this tale could provide the fodder for a solid plot, but with all of them falling all over one another and competing for narrative space, the result is a mess of half-baked ideas.  We’ve got open contradictions to pretty basic DC continuity in the presence of these ersatz Amazons, who themselves have a really poorly defined ethos.  They hate all men because ONE guy betrayed them?  That seems a bit much.  At least the regular DC Amazons have a pretty legitimate beef with mankind, what with all the murder and mayhem to which they’ve been subject.  The idea of creatures of myth having been locked away is an intriguing one, and it has been given much more thorough development in other instances.  In this case, the whole setup is just far too vague to really work.  All of these elements could really have benefited from stretching the story out over two issues.

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We also have a very uninspiring return of a classic villain, the only actual supervillain we’ve seen in all of O’Neil’s issues so far.  It’s something of a disappointing showing for Hal’s greatest enemy, with his rather ridiculous plan and Ollie dropping him with one punch.  What exactly was the point of having the harpies attack Arrow and Canary?  Just to make them call in the Lantern?  That seems like a lot of trouble to go to for a fairly simple goal.  All of that being said, this issue does have some strengths.  Obviously, Adams’ art is beautiful and dynamic, as usual, but he is really firing on all cylinders with this issue.  I think the more fantastical elements of this tale really brought out his best.  O’Neil, for his part, is doing a much better job with characterization at this point.  Ollie is quite charming rather than being insufferable, Hal is hardly doing any naval-gazing at all, and Dinah is growing into the no-nonsense firebrand that she’s meant to be.  These qualities help rescue the issue from being a complete failure, and I’ll give the confused muddle of half-baked but fun ideas 2 Minutemen.

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That will do it for this batch of books.  I hope you enjoyed the read!  Please join me again soon (I promise!) for the next set of books in March 1971, as we travel further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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

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I can’t believe this, but I actually missed Green Arrow’s second appearance on the Headcount this month!  That sock to the skull definitely counts, and he joins the august company once more, giving us our only addition so far this month!

Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 3)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpg
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: March 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Today we’ve got the all teen version, apparently, as we have not one, not two, but three separate stories about young people losing their freaking minds and blowing stuff up!  If that’s not enough to pique your interest, I don’t know what would, so check out today’s tales!

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.


Batman #230


Batman_230“Take-Over of Paradise!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Danger Comes A-Looking!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

This cover looks very Black Panther-ish, but the story inside features a different type of gang.  The headline tale continues to engage themes of youth involvement and demonstration, though Robbins’ handling of these ideas is a bit strange.  It begins with Batman intervening in a gang fight between two groups of young punks.  When he shows up, both of them turn against him, which doesn’t work out too well for their leaders.  I rather enjoy how little patience the Dark Knight has for their nonsense throughout this issue.  He gives them a speech about how, if they really care about their ‘turf,’ they should try to make it better, not tear it apart, and he reforges the kids into a singular community action group called ‘the Brave Barons.’  They channel their anger into productive avenues, cleaning up their neighborhoods and trying to make a difference.

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It seems like Batman has helped them find their way until a year later when Alfred draws his master’s attention to a news story featuring the Barons themselves.  They have taken over a new luxury apartment building in order to demand the city build affordable housing for its poor inhabitants.  They surrounded the building with a chain of explosives and are holding the structure hostage until their demands are met.

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Batman230-06The Masked Manhunter is furious at them and declares that they’ve made their beds, so they can lie in them.  He refuses to take a hand.  Now, I’m of two minds about this.  On the one hand, Batman is a hard fellow, so he might just let people too stupid to learn from their mistakes learn how much they can cost.  On the other hand, with Gotham in danger, he’s not one to sit on the sidelines, regardless of his personal feelings.  I guess you could say that he didn’t consider these kids any real threat, but it still strikes me as a bit off.

Yet, as the siege wears on, the Barons two leaders, Shades and Rap demand to talk to the Bat himself, hoping he can negotiate for them.  Tensions begin to show between these two as they wait, however.  While the Dark Knight reluctantly agrees to deal with the gang, Rap and Shades begin to fight.  Shades wants to demolish the building to make a statement, but Rap isn’t willing to go that far.  They struggle, and we cut away before we see what happens.

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Meanwhile, the Caped Crusader arrives and meets two more of the gang, Mouse and Kitten, who let him through.  Mouse leads the hero to the headquarters where the leaders had holed-up, but when they arrive, they find Rap dead!  The young man fills Batman in, then bolts as they begin searching the building.  Shades uses a megaphone to tell the Barons to clear out, and the Dark Knight zeroes in on his location, finding him in a closet with the detonator.  They fight a desperate battle, but Batman is able to put the kid down and disable the device.

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Strangely enough, when Shades tells Batman to take him in because he’s guilty of killing Rap, the Masked Manhunter is preoccupied, waiting for someone else to arrive.  He tells Shades that he didn’t actually kill Rap.  When the Baron’s leader blacked out, the real murderer finished Rap off!  Just then, the killer, anxious about the distinct lack of explosions in the building, comes to investigate, and the hero and the gang member capture the shadowy figure.  Only then do they realize that it is actually Kitten!

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Apparently this cat has some wicked claws, and she murdered Rap and framed shades so that she could take over and “show them what a femme leader could do”!  Yikes, that’s taking women’s lib rather far.  Batman suspected the truth when Mouse recognized the body even though he could only see its legs.  Yet, the hero didn’t suspect that it was Mouses’s girlfriend, rather than he himself, who had done the deed.  The story ends with Shades declaring that, even if things turned out badly, at least they got their ‘message’ across and that they’re willing to pay the price, which is a strange note to end on.  It almost seems to justify the Barons’ terrorist tactics.

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This is a story with potential but not enough space to actually accomplish its aims.  There are too many characters in too cramped of a plot to be effective.  We barely meet the two leaders before they are at each other’s throats, and we don’t really meet Kitten at all until she’s revealed as the killer.  The social themes at play here don’t have enough room to breathe either, though they add an interesting dimension to the story.  With the talk of “their people” and the cover design, I rather wonder if these kids were supposed to be black in the original concept.  That would likely have made this comic a bit too controversial at the time, though.

The central mystery of the murder is reasonably engaging, and I enjoyed both Batman’s deduction and his miscalculation about the killer’s identity.  It simultaneously showed his skill and his humanity.  That section worked well, however weak the motivations involved were.  Novick’s art was quite strong in this whole comic, but particularly in this first chpater where it is heavily atmospheric and nicely dramatic.  In general, the tale is just a bit too rushed and a bit too underdeveloped.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as it’s a fairly mediocre story, but not an unpleasant read.

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“Danger Comes A-Looking”


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The robin backup that follows, however, is actually quite good, doing more with less.  It helps that Friedrich builds on what came before in surprising detail.  He’s really crafting an interesting ongoing saga for the Teen Wonder.  Not only does this story pick up threads from previous Robin backups, it also ties right in with last month’s World’s Finest, making the bombing and unrest on campus part of the young hero’s setting, which is a neat touch.  Once Superman drops him off, Dick decides to start investigating that bombing.

Before he can even get started Robin is jumped by three college toughs.  They bite off a bit more than they can chew, however, and the young Action Ace gives a good account of himself.  Well…almost.  He sends two of the three flying, and then one of them gets in a lucky gut punch.  Apparently this one punch leaves Robin too stunned to follow the trio as they run off.  Now, if you’ve ever taken a real punch to the gut, you know that it can take a lot out of you, especially if you’re not ready for it.  Yet, Dick was in the middle of a fight and he’s a trained fighter, so I’m not quite sure how things would shake out this way.  This scene bugged me, as it really only happens because of plot and it once more makes the character seem incompetent for the sake of a story.

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Whatever the case, poor Dick takes a licking, unable to spot anything of his assailants but their orange tennis-shoes.  The next day he has to wander around campus bruised and battered, which means he has some explaining to do.  He runs into Phil Real, our photographer friend from a few issues back, and a new girl named Terri Bergstrom, who catches our young hero’s eye.  They’re apparently part of a computer club that is working on a computer dating service, which must have been in the zeitgeist around this time.  After all, we got a mention of it in a Batgirl arc in the last year.  I touch on this short scene as I suspect it will prove important in a future issue, though it doesn’t figure into this story.

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Where our plot does pick back up is when Dick observes a notice in the school paper from Marty and Davy, his friends from the last World’s Finest adventure.  They ask Robin to meet them, and when he does, they tell him that they think they’ve figured out who the bomber is, but before they can explain their suspicions, the Teen Detectives spots orange shoes like those of his attackers and discovers that they are part of the initiation ritual of members of the Kappa Zeta fraternity (never trust a frat boy!), known as the Broncos.  The Titan pursues the boys and discovers them attacking a protest by the radical ‘Students for Democratic Action’ organization.

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Emulating his mentor in the main title, Robin flings himself into the middle of the melee, and he finds the two sides turning against him.  The Teen Wonder makes short work out of the first two attackers, which lets him calm the situation down.  Interestingly, the young hot-head, Hank Osher, who we met a while back, is heading up the protest, and he storms off, bad-mouthing the young hero.  Suddenly, his car explodes, seemingly confirming the theory that Marty and Davy had that the angry radical was the bomber.

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This issue ends rather differently than the Batman tale, as Robin notes that Frank caused his own demise as “playing with violence is like playing with fire!  Sometimes you get burned–permanently!”  The Teen Wonder is hard on himself for not having seen Hank’s role in the crime, but he’s also rather introspective about how he keeps finding himself in the middle, with both sides against him in these conflicts.  (I feel ya’, kid!)  I imagine it had to be tough to be a level-headed person during this era (though, I suppose a rational person is always on the outs with our world), someone aware enough to see the problems with the culture but reasonable enough to know that change has to be incremental to be sustainable and successful.

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This brief story is really fairly good.  You’ve got a lot of moving parts, and Friedrich is successfully fleshing out Robin’s supporting cast over the course of these backups.  He’s doing a good job of cramming a ton into these stories, and the payoff is exponential, as each new story builds on what came before.  Curiously, his writing is much less melodramatic and touchy-feely here.  The protagonist is faced with interesting challenges, and his stories being set in one of the most volatile and controversial areas of American culture during this period provides lots of plot and character possibilities.  This particular setup is intriguing, though I’m hoping there’s more to the mystery than meets the eye.  At the least, the issue of the orange shoes remains to be resolved, but I imagine there will be more going on with Hank Osher as well.  Taken in isolation, this little story is way too brief and incomplete to be successful, but in context, it makes for a solid step along the way for this arc.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, as it loses a bit for making Robin take a dive in the opening pages.

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Brave and the Bold #94


Brave_and_the_bold_94“Rebels in the Streets”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Ohh Bob Haney.  Crazy, zaney Bob Haney.  This story is definitely a product of the Zaney one, and its contrast with this month’s issue of Batman is really telling of Haney’s disregard for continuity or characterization.  He is definitely in a world all his own.  This tale also deals with youth involvement, protest, and radicalism, but in Haney’s own inimitable style, upping the ante to a ludicrous degree.

The crazy is evident right from the start, as Commissioner Gordon and the army have the Gotham ghetto cordoned off because they’ve received a threat that the youth of the area have acquired an atomic bomb.  Yep, you read that right.  While the Brave Barons just got some regular old explosives, these enterprising youngsters went out and bought themselves some radioactive materials and built their very own weapon of mass destruction!  They want to negotiate, and The Bomb is their bargaining chip.  Batman is heading into the slums to meet with the kids of STOPP (Society to Outlaw Parent Power, a Bob Haney name if ever there were one).

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On the way in, a punk with a switchblade jumps him, but the Dark Knight easily disarms the kid, and offers to go with him peacefully.  It’s a nice little moment.  The revolutionaries blindfold the Masked Manhunter and bring him to their leaders, Mark, Chino, and Linda, who fill him in on the situation.  From the beginning, the tensions between this trio are evident, and the atmosphere is thick with animosity for anything and everything.

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This looks like the setting for The Dark Knight Returns.  Where are the Mutants?

They’ve got that late 60s ‘rebelling against the whole world’ vibe in spades.  The trio tell the hero that ‘The Genius Dropout’ built their a-bomb, which is a pretty impressive feat for someone who didn’t finish high school.  They give Bats a copy of the plans as evidence and send him back to the powers that be.  Once convinced, the city has the Caped Crusader contact Mark once more to get their demands.

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Apparently Andy Warhol is leading the resistance.

In the meantime, Batman is desperate to keep the peace, even begging for the President not to send in the National Guard and to give him time to resolve things peacefully.  Yet, Commissioner Gordon is not so patient, and he’s starts rounding up protestors and cracking down on the city.  It’s almost like being held for ransom by an atomic weapon is serious or something!  Friction develops between the old friends, and the Dark Knight keeps defending the kids, who, once they start playing with atomic weapons, seem to me to have graduated from youths to terrorists rather definitively.  Caught between the two groups, the hero calls in backup, young backup, and the Teen Titans come to help.

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Robin and Lilith show up ‘in mufti’ (civilian garb), while Kid Flash and Wonder Girl come in costume.  The first pair infiltrates STOPP to try and find the bomb while the others act as backup.  The kids are well organized and paranoid, but fortunately the Titans have laid their plans well, so they are accepted, provisionally.  As the two costumed kids search the town, Dick and Lilith join Chino to deliver their demands, which they do, with a bomb for some reason.  As Batman is trying to calm the powers that be, there’s an explosion outside city hall, and when the smoke clears, STOPP’s demands are on the door, like a set of theses.  On the way back, the undercover pair get spotted by the cops, so they knock Chino out and have their backup rescue them.

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Clearly these are cool-headed and rational people we can negotiate with.

The kid’s demands are actually pretty reasonable for the most part, though there are some glaring exceptions.  They want slumlords prosecuted, pushers arrested, and their garbage picked up.  Basically, they want the laws enforced, but they also want ghetto schools closed and all of their agitating fellows released.  Most outrageous of all, they want several public figures, including Gordon and Batman himself, locked up as a sign of good faith.  Keep in mind, all of this is being enforced by threat of atomic annihilation.  I can’t emphasize that enough.  While people very reasonably insist on rational actions, like evacuating the city, Batman insists that they kowtow to the terrorists’…er…I mean kids’ demands.

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Meanwhile, the search goes on with no luck, until the Dark Detective reasons that he might be able to find this Dropout Genius if he checks school records.  He tracks the underage Unabomber down, but discovers that he’s been arrested at the protests and has lost his memory.  Sure!  Why not!  With no time left because of Batman’s insistence on not evacuating, the city caves and agrees to all demands.  Yet, even that doesn’t stop the madness.  It’s almost like folks crazy enough to threaten to blow themselves sky-high shouldn’t be trusted to make rational choices!

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Haha!  They were planning to murder millions of innocent people!  Those scamps!

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Linda, one of the three leaders, refuses to surrender the bomb, swearing that the powers that be will never keep their word.  Yikes, and we thought Kitten was a crazy chick!  She only planed to blow up a single building.  This girl makes her look like an amateur as she plans to murder a town!  Linda steals the weapon and hides it somewhere else, so the Titans track her down.  Lilith uses her powers to invade the girl’s mind, but for some reason, she doesn’t just find the bomb’s location.  Instead, there’s a whole song and dance about what made the young harpy what she is as the psychic explores her past.  Apparently, Linda’s mother left her with relatives when she was young, and she had major abandonment issues.  She ran away when her mother was going to return seven years later, so the Titans figure that the mother is the key to the girl’s psyche…or something.

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DRAMA!

The revolutionaries agree to help the team find the woman, and we eventually get a big, emotional reunion, as the hurt daughter lashes out at her mother before finally making up in tears.  Ohh, and she also gives up the bomb.  Sheesh.  Maybe I’m being a little unreasonable, but I sorta’ don’t think that someone who is willing to nuke an entire city for no reason really deserves a happy ending.  Either way, the story ends with Gordon and Batman strolling off into the sunrise talking about making a better world.

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Those murderous sociopaths were going to kill us all, even after we gave them what they wanted.  What rapscallions!

Man, summarizing Zaney Haney ain’t easy! This story is just plain nuts.  It’s an entertaining read, (when is Haney NOT entertaining?) but the central premise is just so insane that I can’t get past it.  In addition, the reactions of both Batman and Gordon really drive me nuts, as they are completely out of sync with what is happening in the story.  After discovering that STOPP had hidden a freaking atomic bomb in a statue of the Dark Knight, the Commissioner treats it like a delightful prank by a precocious child.  He actually laughs about their antics.  The tone is wildly out of measure with the situation.  ‘Those darn kids and their atomic weapons!  Haha!  What rascals!’  That’s just a completely bonkers response to attempted mass-murder.

In  addition, look at the difference between Batman’s portrayal in this story and in his own title.  In his own book, the Caped Crusader is completely unwilling to negotiate with the gang when they cross the line from activism to terrorism, which seems rather fitting for his character.  In this one, he goes to incredible extremes to make sure that everybody complies with the little terrorists.  He’s completely sympathetic with their goals and even excuses their methods.  That’s about as big a difference as you’re going to see.  Now, I’m not a huge fan of Haney’s personal demesnes of character portrayals, but I generally don’t find it to be the worst thing ever.  Yet, even if your version of a character is different, it should still make some kind of sense!  Haney’s treatment of the themes that are clearly very powerfully present in the zeitgeist of youth involvement and the nature of social activism is about as out of touch and ridiculous as his stories usually are, and its weaknesses really show when read concurrently with what other authors were doing with the same ideas at the time.

I know this is a comic, and comics use broad strokes and larger than life characters and situations.  Nonetheless, this setup is just too ludicrous and too all over the place to work.  As usual, Haney throws in everything including the kitchen sink, with a homemade atom bomb, a trained youth terrorist army that can’t decide if they’re protesting or blowing things up, emotionally damaged women, Batman at odds with the authorities, and undercover teen heroes, and that doesn’t even cover everything!

On the plus side, we get some more of Nick Cardy’s lovely, soft pencils, but unfortunately, it’s a Batman story.  Though I love his work, I’m not crazy about his rendition of the Dark Knight.  Fortunately, we get some wonderfully atmospheric work on Gotham City and on the revolutionaries and the Titans.  Nobody draws the Titans like Cardy!  Yet, his art can’t save this tale.  I can’t get past the bat-guano premise and the fact that Haney wants us to empathize with terrorists who threaten to nuke their own city, so I’m going to give this one 2 Minutemen.  It’s still readable, but rather maddening.

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Clearly the state of America’s youth was on the zeitgeist, at least over at DC, at this time.  Just in today’s two books we see three different examinations (admittedly of varying quality and thoughtfulness) of the situation.  It’s fascinating to see such different perspectives on the issues of the day manifested so clearly in our comics.  Let’s see what interesting material our next books hold.  Please join me soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age, and until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 3)

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Hello readers and Internet travelers!  This is another iteration of Into the Bronze Age, where I’ll be examining a few books cover dated from February 1971.  Lady Grey and I are bound for Iceland next week for a vacation, so I’m going to try to squeeze in a few more posts before we go, as I imagine I won’t have time while we’re traveling.  So, how about we check out some classic comics?

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Detective Comics #408


Detective_Comics_408“The House that Haunted Batman”
Writers: Len Wein and Marv Wolfman
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Phantom Bullfighter!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Now that is a heck of a cover!  How could you not pick this comic up?  It’s got a haunting image, a provocative mystery, and it just begs to be read.  Sadly, the story inside isn’t quiet as compelling, though it certainly looks lovely with Neal Adams handling the art chores.  It includes the return of a villain that I’ve never heard of before, which surprised me because I thought I knew even the more obscure Batman rogues pretty well.  This adds another little discovery to my Bronze Age journey.

This strange, surreal story begins with Batman, on the trail of his young ward, Dick Grayson, who had disappeared from college 24 hours before.  The Dark Knight has tracked Robin to a creepy old mansion that, strangely enough, wasn’t there the day before!  Inside, he prowls through darkened rooms until he spots the Teen Wonder, who collapses into his arms and then…dissolves into dust!  We get the exact scene from the cover, which is a bit of a rarity.  I tend to enjoy seeing that kind of payoff, but considering how detailed the cover image was, it actually feels like a bit of a cheat in this instance, as seeing the image in the comic doesn’t actually add anything, which it should.

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Anyway, horrified by this sight, Batman recoils, and then he races up the grand staircase to discover the source of a horrible cry that fills the house.  He encounters a room full of bats and a gramophone, but disconnecting it doesn’t stop the sounds.  Suddenly, a gunshot rings out, and the Masked Manhunter takes off after the shooter, only to discover that he’s a phantom figure of Dick Grayson!  The apparition’s shots drive the hero through a trap door and into a darkened room, a room inhabited by his friends in the Justice League, Robin, and Commissioner Gordon, who are all gathered around…his coffin!

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That is a legitimately creepy image.

The Caped Crusader’s friends take turns bashing him, cursing his memory, and suddenly the hero finds himself in a tiny room with the walls closing in.  Just before he’s crushed, the world resolves itself into a very different vision, a high-tech facility, with both Batman and Robin trapped in glass tubes, being bounced up and down.  It is then that the villain of the piece reveals himself to be, Dr. Tzin-Tzin, the Master of Illusion…who I’ve never heard of.  Apparently, he only has a half dozen or so appearances in the Bat books, though he first showed up some fifty issues ago.

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Ironically, the unbelievable, nighrmarish motivations for Dick’s departure expressed here will go on to become the primary characterization of his relationship to his surrogate father.  Yay for modern comics!

He kindly explains that the League of Assassins had hired him to dispose of Batman after the Dark Knight defeated their first operatives.  It’s great to see the League storyline surface again, but Tzin-Tzin isn’t terribly interesting, though he’s plenty dramatic in this tale.  He informs the Caped Crusader that the up and down movement in their tubes will trigger a bomb as soon as either he or Robin hits 100 repetitions.  At the moment, the Teen Wonder is way ahead, so the villain demands that Batman beg and plead with him to spare the young man.  Instead, without a second thought, the hero begins to accelerate his own movement, surpassing Robin and triggering the explosion!

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Instead of being destroyed, however, he stuck to the top of his tube and dropped his belt down to trigger the bomb, then escaped in the smoke.  Yet, Tzin-Tzin won’t allow him to get away that easily, and the Dark Knight is confronted by the villain’s ‘Deadly Dozen,’ which precipitates a really great looking fight where Batman really shows the physical expertise that marks the definitive interpretation of the character.  Once again, Batman plays Captain America, employing a shield to good effect.  Better watch out; Bruce, Cap may sue!

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Adam’s action looks great as the Maksed Manhunter massacres the minions, and just when the remaining members of the Dozen manage to grab the hero, causing Tzin-Tzin to reveal himself in order to deliver the death blow, Robin makes his move!  The Teen Wonder takes the villain out and allows Batman to finish off the last two killers.  The whole scene makes for a good sequence.

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Yet, when the Dynamic Duo escort their captive out to the Batmobile, he suddenly vanishes, revealing himself to still be in the house…which then explodes in spectacular fashion!  Thus, Tzin-Tzin escapes to trouble our heroes another day.

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This is a fine story, with some really nicely disconcerting action in the first, nightmarish portion of the tale.  That bizarre, dream-like sequence is perhaps the strongest element of the story.  While Batman’s escape from Tzin-Tzin’s trap is nicely handled, as is the fight, what is going on with the villain is just not quite established well enough.  He’s a master of illusions, okay, but the final trap doesn’t really jive with that.  I didn’t really get a great sense of what he’s about, other than being a Fu Manchu clone.  That said, the whole is still a fun read, and it’s nice to see Batman and Robin in action together, if only briefly.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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“The Phantom Bullfighter!”


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This was a pretty intriguing setup for a mystery featuring the Danger Dame in an exotic setting, which is something you don’t see too often.  We join the fire-tressed female in Spain, where she has traveled to collect a rare manuscript for her library.  She’s has joined the fellow donating the text, Don Alvarado, who is a rancher involved with the bullfighting tradition.  They are watching a legendary matador who is now in his twilight, El Granados, when he is suddenly knocked down by a bovine belligerent.  The man’s servant, an aged former bullfighter himself, tries to rescue him, but a young upstart leaps out of the stands and begins to distract the bull.  It is a service for which neither the prideful El Granados or the aged Manolo are grateful.

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Later the bullfighter joins Don Alvarado’s party as they head to the ranch in order to pick out some bulls for his next fights.  That night, someone steals El Granado’s sword, and Batgirl spots the shadowy figure creeping about the house, so she flagrantly endangers her secret identity and changes into Batgirl.  She pursues the thief, but he whips his ‘stiff-brimmed hat’ at her, knocking the fighting female out cold!  That’s right, Batgirl gets another slot on the Headcount courtesy of Oddjob!  It is pretty goofy that a hat, however stiff it’s brim, could knock someone out, but we’ll give it a partial pass as there is a precedent.

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Batgirl awakens an hour later and heads back to her room, defeated.  The next morning, they discover that El Granados’ first choice of bulls was killed with his sword!  The strange slaying sets up quite a mystery, as there are endless questions of motives.  Who would kill the animal and why?  The servant, Manolo, promises to guard the sword with his life, so that night Babs thinks there isn’t much chance of a repeat performance, that is, until she spots a sword missing from the wall of the old house.

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This short little tale manages to set up a pleasantly puzzling mystery, and while it is short on action, Robins uses his time wisely by introducing an interesting cast of characters and giving us lots of suspects to choose from.  I’ve got my suspensions about who and why, and I’ll let y’all know if I’m right when we hit the next issue.  Batgirl’s performance is pretty poor, which, as we’ve seen, is unfortunately often the pattern of these Bat-Family backups.  Despite that, this is a good little story, and it emphasizes the ‘detective’ in Detective Comics.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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The Flash #203


The_Flash_Vol_1_203“The Flash’s Wife Is A Two-Timer!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

KANNNNIGHER!  You made me believe in you!  You made me think that maybe there was more to you than the hack behind those earlier stories, but it was you!  All along, it was you!

What am I raving about, my curious readers?  Well, we’ve reached the notorious issue of the Flash where Iris’s bat-guano insane retcon occurs.  I knew this was coming, but I had forgotten that it was written by Robert Kanigher.  It’s odd enough that a retcon should show up at this early date in the first place, but what lies inside is even stranger, and one can’t help but wonder how it came about.

The story begins with the Flash taking a trip up to the JLA satellite headquarters where he meets an unusually sullen Superman.  When the Scarlet Speedster explains that he came up early because Iris was out of town and he was a bit lonely, Super-grump replies by saying that he’s an alien alone on Earth and questions what Flash would know about loneliness.  Sheesh!  Of course, Superman grew up on his adopted world from a very young age, so the existential angst seems a bit overblown in context.

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Oddly, the Flash answers that he knows more than the Man of Steel thinks, and proceeds to tell a tale about the strange discovery of his wife’s origins.  Apparently, a few days before, Barry had returned home to find the house deserted and a weird note from his wife.  It read, bizarrely enough, “Darling-can’t stop myself–irresistible force–pulling me–1000 years–future-help me…”  In response, the Fastest Man alive rushes to the basement and hops on his Cosmic Treadmill, racing through time  to the year 2970.

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Once there, he sees a hi-tech aqueduct and decides to get a drink, only to be attacked by jetpack wearing guards firing futuristic (but not 1000 years worth of futuristic) weapons.  Dodging their fusillade, the Flash phases through a mountain to escape.  He emerges in what is described as a “self-contained city,” and notes that it had been “atom-bombed,” which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, seeing as its mostly still there and not, you know, just a radioactive wasteland.  I know that folks had a lot of goofy ideas about what atomic war would be like, but for Heaven’s sake, the Atomic Knights tales were more accurate, and those stories were published over a decade before this one!

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Inside the city, the Crimson Comet discovers ragged survivors of a nuclear war…somehow, and finds that conditions are very grim.  As a siren sounds and the place empties, he also encounters Iris, who begs him to leave her and return home!  When he refuses, she tells him her story, which began that morning when she was cleaning up her father’s lab.  She discovered an amulet she had as a baby, and when she picked it up, it began speaking to her!  It’s the record of Jor-El…er…I mean Eric Russel, who was a scientist of Krypton..er…’Earth West’ in 2970.  Earth East had pretty much defeated his hemisphere-nation, and a nuclear attack was eminent, so he and his wife sent their baby Kal-El…err…that is, Iris, back in time to save her.  The Kents…err…I mean, the Wests, had been praying for a child, and she just materialized out of thin air (good thing she didn’t show up inside a wall or something!), so they adopted her.

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After confronting her father about hiding the truth from her, Iris went home, melodramatically wondering if Barry could still love her even though she’s from the future, which is one of the dumbest sentences I’ve ever read, and I teach freshmen composition….in the Trump era.  Anyway, Iris suddenly felt herself sucked through time and just managed to scrawl that note.  Back in the future, her real parents spot her amulet and realize their daughter has returned.  They tell her about the current state of the world, which is really rather unintentionally funny.  Apparently, all the big nations wiped each other out, so the world is now ruled by…Laos.  That’s right!  It’s a hilariously random choice, though I suppose Laos was much more on the American mind in 1970 than in 2017.

Shortly after being reunited, the family is forced to part again when their Earth-East ruler spots Iris through a spy satellite and claims her as his own, announcing that he’ll wipe out the entire city if she doesn’t come with him.  Of course, the Flash isn’t about to let some futuristic fascist carry off his wife without a fight, so he challenges this fellow, Sirik, to a duel when he arrives.  We get some moments between Barry and Iris which are supposed to be sweet, but the context is just so ludicrous that even this old softie didn’t get misty eyed.

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Ming the Merciless…err…I mean Sirik, tells the Scarlet Speedster that he has to get past his men in order to earn the right to face him.  Barry moves at normal speed until he’s out of sight, then proceeds to blitz baldy’s boys.  The action looks okay, but Novick misses the opportunity to make the setting of the city-tower interesting and unique, filling most of his panels with blank backgrounds.

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Finally reaching Sirik, the Flash finds the fiend holding Iris hostage.  Instead of just shooting his antagonist, the dictator tells him to stand behind a wall, for some reason, and then starts to fire.  The Scarlet Speedster slips through the wall and belts the villain.  However, he’s the world’s worst loser and triggers a nuclear holocaust to kill them all in response.  The Flash zips across the world, somehow knowing  where the missiles are launching from, and destroys them all, as well as their missile sites.  This puts both hemispheres on equal footing, and the hero lectures the gathered East and West folks, telling them that they have to learn to live together or risk completely destroying the world.  Finally, the happy couple returns home, promising to visit the future-in-laws from time to time.  The story ends with Super-buzzkill continuing to whine about being all alone (despite the fact that he has a mother, a father, and an adopted sister, not to mention a bunch of bullet-proof, presumably nearly immortal pets).

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Interestingly, the issue includes a note acknowledging that Kanigher just swiped Superman’s origin for Iris, so at least he’s honest about that.  Nonetheless, this is just a silly issue.  The story is just so colossally unnecessary, adding a completely useless complication to Iris’s origins that contributes nothing to her characterization or her relationship, and I’m pretty sure it’s one that rarely if ever produces anything worthwhile in future comics.  If you’re going to create intentional parallels to another story, especially one in your own universe, you really need to do it for a reason.  The ring structure in Beowulf, with mirrored encounters recurring throughout the poem, serves important narrative purposes.  To use a comics example, the origin for Earth-3’s Alexander Luthor Jr. intentionally mirrors that of Superman to interesting effect in Crisis on Infinite Earths, completing the inversion of hero/villain and stretching it all the way back to the beginning/ending in a very clever piece of writing.

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Thanks, Super-Sourpuss!

On its own terms, the tale is just weak, not focusing on the ‘possible future’ angle enough for the parable of East and West destroying one another to have much impact.  There is actually interesting work to be done there, and the fact that the story ends, not exactly with a defeat of the villainous East, though that’s there, but with a plea for peace, could be worthwhile.  Yet, it’s shoe-horned into one panel, and the real consequences of the war are glossed over throughout.  The character moments between Iris and Barry that were supposed to be sweet just come off as silly and saccharine as well.  It feels much more like a story from the 50s or early 60s than it does a comic from 1971, and the final resolution with the Flash just casually jaunting across the entire planet in a heartbeat to destroy the nukes just smacks of Silver Age excess.  The story isn’t terrible, just mediocre and goofy.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.

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And that does it for today!  We had a solid set of Bat-tales and a ridiculous Flash issue.  I really just can’t figure Kanigher out.  There are several lesser lights working at DC during this period, though there is plenty of amazing talent.  I find myself groaning a bit whenever I see Dorfman’s name in the credits, as he tends to produce pretty silly stories, but Kanigher is a bit different.  He writes goofy comics like this one, yet he can also turn out some solid, even great work.  It’s something of a mystery.  Anyway, I hope you’ll join me again soon for another step in my journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Batgirl finally helps Aquaman break his streak as the sole new addition to the Wall of Shame and gets her second spot on the Headcount.  I’m actually a little surprised that the Bat-family hasn’t featured on this list more often, as I remembered the ‘ol noggin’ knock being a common device in these stories.  At least Aquaman has some company at the end of the list now!

Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome to part 2 of February 1971!  We’ve got a good pair of books in this post, and I found plenty to talk about.  I’m afraid I grow a tad long-winded on this one, folks, so be warned!  Let’s see what awaits us as we travel Into the Bronze Age!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Aquaman #55


Aquaman_Vol_1_55“Return of the Alien!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“Computer Trap!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

Man, I am LOVING these Nick Cardy Aquaman covers.  They’re always exciting, dynamic, intriguing, and just beautifully rendered.  This is a particularly striking example.  The story within is definitely worthy of such a great cover, and it returns to a plot thread readers must have thought abandoned back in issue #52.  This tale takes us back to the strange microscopic world that exists within Mera’s ring and to the brave girl who helped Aquaman during his sojourn there.  I was really struck by the moral conundrum with which Skeates faced his character in that earlier story, as the Sea King had to choose between leaving his alien girl Friday in the clutches of slavers or risk her death at the hands of a hostile colony.  While I understood Aquaman’s choice to abandon her, it definitely seemed like an unresolved issue when he came back to the normal world.  In this story, the Marine Marvel finally sets out to right that wrong.  It’s great that Skeates brought this thread back from three issues ago, despite there not having been a single mention of it since.  That level of continuity was still rather rare in this era, and it’s the smallest example of such in this issue.

The story itself begins with Dr. Vulko, playing his role as Atlantis’s resident mad scientist, as he prepares a machine to transport the Sea King back to the microscopic madhouse.  Apparently, in a fun little touch of universe awareness, Aquaman got advice from the Atom about how to build this shrinking device.  Operating the machine, Vulko reminds Mera that she must concentrate, as she’s vital to the procedure.  As we discovered in that earlier story, the Queen can actually exert some form of telepathic control over the realm in her ring.  There’s actually room for a really interesting set of stories exploring that connection and the origins of this place, and I have to think that Skeates saw that possibility.  Unfortunately, he never got the chance to investigate those mysteries.

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Vulko throws the switch, and Aquaman shrinks back to the surreal, Dali-esq sub-reality.  He begins to explore, but he encounters another one of those horrible cyclopean blob creatures that attacked him on his first visit.  Realizing that there’s nothing to be gained by fighting the monster, the Sea Sleuth evades it and continues his quest.  There’s a nice bit of characterization in that encounter, as Arthur evinces sound judgement but also shows some awareness of his public role as king, noting his subjects might not understand his actions.  As it turns out, that’s a thought that proves somewhat prophetic given the other events in this story.

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With the telepathic guidance of his wife, Aquaman succeeds in locating the colony of the big-headed slavers of the previous story, and he just charges right in swinging.  It’s a pretty dynamic sequence, as the Sea King just smashes into their defenses.  Meanwhile, back in Atlantis, Mera can sense that her love is in combat, and Vulko stresses that she must not think about wanting him to return to her or she’ll bring him back prematurely.  At the same time, Aqualad is observing a fiery speech in an Atlantean park, where a local nutjob has managed to acquire quite a following.  The rabble-rouser, named Noxden, is stirring up resentment against the King by claiming that the destiny of Altanteans is to be air-breathers, and this is a destiny of which Aquaman robbed them!

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I would NOT want to be in that guy’s way!

All the way back in issue #35, the Atlanteans were converted into air-breathers, and their king restored them (in issue #43), because it’s pretty stupid to live on the bottom of the sea if you can’t breathe underwater.  Yet, despite the utter absurdity of the fellow’s claims, people are beginning to listen.  There was a time when that would have seemed more far-fetched than it does today, I suppose.

Yet, if there’s one thing that history teaches us, it’s that a looney who shouts loud enough and provides a convenient scapegoat for people’s problems will always be able to attract a following.  Aqualad is disgusted by the raving rhetoric, seething at the idea that Atlanteans would be so ungrateful to the king who had done so much for them, and he heads out to tell Aquaman.  Just at that moment, the Marine Marvel is getting overwhelmed by his alien antagonists and…oh no.  Not again…that’s right, the third head-blow in a row!  Arthur gets conked on the noggin and he’s down for the count!

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Before we learn what happens with the Sea King, though, we have another stop.  Subplots galore!  In this case, we’re touching base with Mupo, the fiery young man who led the rebellion against Aquaman’s regent-turned-tyrant way back in issue #47.  This book is just full of continuity!  Mupo has been swayed by Noxden’s speech, and he begins to spout some racist rhetoric, which Aquagirl calls him on.  The Marine Mistress shows her class by storming out on the moron.

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Meanwhile, Mera uses her connection with the ring-world to revive her husband, which si a nice touch and a way to give her more of a role.  Aquaman awakens as he’s being taken prisoner by the aliens and carefully times his escape, plowing through the guards that thought he was helpless.  As he’s swimming through the city, searching for a place to hide and make plans, who should he encounter but the object of his quest herself!  The girl signals him and hides the hero while they talk.  The Marine Marvel realizes that she’s communicating with him telepathically, despite the fact that this was against her beliefs when they last met.

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Aquaman55_14She explains that her captors have opened her mind and taught her to think for herself, strangely enough.  Yet, even more surprising, when he tells the young lady that he’s there to rescue her, she refuses, saying she’s happy in her role!  While she may be a captive, she is, in many ways, more free than she was in her oppressive home.  It’s an interesting wrinkle and an unexpected twist.  Yet, it is also a bit unsatisfying.  Our hero has gone through all of this to save her, and she doesn’t want to be saved!

Stunned, Aquaman leaves, realizing that he’s got twenty hours on the clock before he’s due to be recalled and hoping he can find somewhere to hide and wait for his rendezvous.  At the same time in Atlantis, our plot threads are converging, as Aquagirl encounters Aqualad, just as she’s thinking over things with Mupo.  When the young Aquatic Ace brushes her off in his hurry to see the King, she thinks that the more he ignores her, “the more attractive Mupo looks!”  Uh-oh Garth, better watch out!  You’ve got competition!

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Nobody draws action like Jim Aparo.

Back in the microscopic world, Aquaman encounters another group of the aliens, and as he’s tearing his way through them, he suddenly begins to grow, way ahead of schedule!  When he arrives back home, Mera apologizes, realizing that her anxiety must have inadvertently led to her recalling him, but her husband stops her, saying that she came through at the perfect time.   Just then Aqualad arrives and tells his tale, but Aquaman silences him as well, reminding his young charge that he respects free speech and isn’t about to start censoring folks he disagrees with, which is a nice character beat.  The story ends with a very striking image of Noxden, gesturing in a manner that is grimly familiar.

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This is a very good tale, and it is absolutely packed full to the gills (if you’ll forgive the expression) with plot.  In fact, it’s so stuffed with story that I had trouble summarizing it!  Skeates is layering in storylines that could stick with the book for a long time to come, doing some worldbuilding, and in general giving Aquaman a more fully realized setting to inhabit.  Of course, that makes the title’s impending cancellation all the more heartbreaking.  None of these plotlines will get resolved in the next and, as it happens final issue, leaving so much undone, so much potential wasted.  I suppose I’ll talk about that in more detail when I cover the final issue, but on this read-through, I’m really struck by how much this loss hurt the character.  At the very beginning of the Bronze Age, where the DC Universe is evolving and growing, and when he had a fantastic opportunity to do the same, the powers that be cut the legs out from under Aquaman.  That’s just a crying shame, and it explains a lot of the problems the character has had since then.

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Anyway, in terms of the story itself, it is a really enjoyable read.  The quick cuts between the different plots keep it moving at break-neck pace.  While the resolution of the plot of Aquaman’s girl Friday is a bit of a letdown, the adventure that reunites the pair is pretty exciting.  It does seem like the Sea King could have offered her a third option, or at least tried to do so.  He could have sent the Atom in to bring her up to Atlantis, where she could have had her mental and physical freedom.  Maybe that idea would have materialized in time, if Skeates had been given the opportunity.  We’ll never know now, I suppose.

I enjoy the mini-plots with Aquaman’s supporting cast.  At this time, the Marine Marvel is the only character that has his entire extended super family gathered around him, giving him unique story possibilities that other characters with similar supporting characters don’t have access to at the moment.  It’s great to see Skeates take advantage of that.  I also love seeing more of Tula in general.  The character she developed into under Skeates’ pen, capable, level-headed, independent, and still with a great sense of adventure, is one that I really love.  The plot of the trouble-making politician that the young Aquatic Aces are mixed up in is certainly not a new one for Aquaman, but this time it comes with a new twist.  Interestingly, part of Noxden’s platform is a call for free and democratic elections, which is actually quite sensible and seems only natural to an American audience.  After all, one of the central values of our culture is reverence for democracy.  There is a lot of potential for some fascinating stories in the interplay between tradition and progress in Atlantis.  Sadly, we won’t really get to see Skeates develop that potential.

In the end, though this isn’t a perfect story, it is a lot of fun and just full of intriguing beginnings.  The SAG team has done a lot of experimentation, but I rather feel like, with this issue, they were settling into what would have been a very promising routine.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.

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“Computer Trap”


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We’ve got a very pleasant surprise this month in the form of an extra Aquaman yarn as a backup in this issue.  This is a great little 7 1/2 page story that hits on some unexpected themes.  The backup begins with Skeates doing a bit more aquatic world building, as the Sea King, returning from a mission on the surface, swims through a submarine ghost town.  It’s a forlorn abandoned city that rather gives our hero the creeps, and while he’s pondering what happened to its inhabitants and how long it has lain empty, he suddenly detects a telepathic signal.  Strange!

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When he goes to investigate, he discovers an advanced computer, a self-aware machine that attacks his mind!  The AI attempts to enslave his will, but Aquaman is no mental weakling, and his incredible willpower and mental strength hold off the telepathic attack.  In the interim, we get treated to a flashback to this device’s origins, and it’s a pretty interesting story, the archetypal ‘machines turn on their masters‘ setup. An advanced aquatic society built this powerful computer to help run their civilization, but, in a classic twist, the machine found the humans far too unstable and imperfect, so it simply took over.

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In this case, the device actually dominates the minds of the citizens and turns them into efficient little worker-bees, creating more and more machines and more and more advancements, all in the name of ‘progress.’  That was the great ideal, progress for its own sake, and progress defined as technological growth, while all else in this culture decayed.  In a really neat take on the concept, the machine can only control the minds of the adult society members because their brains are fixed and rigid, leaving the youth to grow disaffected and eventually to abandon the colony in search of a place that valued more in life than the endless pursuit of ‘progress.’  In a cool example of truth in fiction, the minds of young people actually are more flexible and less fully developed, so this is surprisingly believable on that score.  Of course, there are also obvious social parallels as well.

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Eventually, the machine’s slaves grew old and died, leaving no-one to serve it.  The computer plans to use Aquaman to attract a new population to pursue ‘progress,’ but the King of the Seven Seas is nobody’s pawn.  He stops fighting the device long enough to summon help, and though the computer invades his mind, the timely arrival of an electric eel breaks its control!  To put an end to the menace of this mad machine, Aquaman summons a horde of his finny friends, and they collapse the cave it inhabits.  Yet, Skeates leaves a note of mystery in the ending of this tale, as the machine may yet survive!

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This is a quite a good story for as brief as it is.  It helps that it fits into the end of the previous yarn, building off of its momentum, allowing this one to feel a bit more expansive than it really is.  Skeates also deals with some really fascinating themes here, including the dangers of the rapid pace of technological advancement, one of the perennial subjects of science fiction.  As long as man has built machines, there has always been a fear that they might somehow cost him his humanity.  As it turns out, it’s a fear well founded.  We’ve begun to see that our hypertechnological society comes at a cost, with kids losing the ability to interact socially because of their addiction to social media and the like, not to mention the impact of information and sensation overload in the Internet Age.  These are just the newest manifestations of an ancient phenomenon.  Very little that we create comes without a cost, and it seems that those costs are growing more dear.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the story for me was Skeates’ implicit criticism of the concept of progress as its own goal.  C.S. Lewis described the origins of this tendency brilliantly in his essay “De Descriptione Temporum,” where he wrote of the modern idea of a progressive, which is to say ‘evolutionary,’ view of history:

“that what has imposed this climate of opinion so firmly on the human mind is a new archetypal image.  It is the image of old machines being superseded by new and better ones.  For in the world of machines new most often really is better and the primitive really is the clumsy.”

And he critiqued this view in his Mere Christianity, arguing that:

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

There can be no progress without a concept of a destination, without an ideal and a goal, and you’re either moving closer to that end or you’re moving further away, so movement by itself is not necessarily progress.  It’s a useful lesson to remember, and, in its own small way, this little backup tale teaches it.  The departure of the colony’s youth makes the point rather well, as they are searching for the things that give a culture its soul, the things that make life worth living, like the sublime pleasures of art and literature.  Of course, Skeates’ story is so brief that it can do little more than gesture at its themes, but they are interesting enough on their own merits that they still add some flavor to the final product.  I’ll give this great little backup 4.5 Minutemen, as it gets extra credit for at least having the potential to be thought-provoking.

Of course, it hardly needs to be said at this point, but Aparo’s art in this issue is as beautiful as usual.  His depictions of the action scenes are particularly impressive, but I just plain love his illustration of the ring-world.  He gives that place such a wonderfully insane feeling that it really adds something to Aquaman’s adventures there.  His Tula is a tad off this issue (she’s probably the only Aqua-character for whom I really prefer Nick Cardy’s rendition), but Aparo, as usual, also injects a lot of personality into the supporting characters.  That last shot of the rabble-rousing politician is a bit chilling and instantly conveys the fellow’s nature and personality.


Batman #229


“Asylum of the Futurians!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Temperature Boiling… and Rising!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Not the most amazing cover we’ve had here, though I suppose it does do its job of making the reader curious about what’s going on.  And what is going on is rather weird.  This isn’t the type of terrible, lazy story we’ve encountered from Kanigher in the past, but neither is it the stronger type of tale he’s been telling lately in our reading.

The yarn itself opens with a young woman running along a country road where she encounters the Batman, who has come searching for her and her husband.  Her name is Laura, and how the Dark Knight knows her isn’t explained.  When she asks about his fortuitous arrival in the middle of nowhere and the middle of the night, he just says he’ll tell her later.  Odd.  She proceeds to tell the Caped Crusader that her husband disappeared in the middle of the night, and when she found him, the scene she witnessed was almost enough to drive her mad!

Refusing to describe the source of her trepidation for fear he won’t believe her, Laura leads Batman to an eerie, gloomy old house in the woods.  Therein, they observe a scene out of an asylum, as musicians play on invisible instruments, waiters serve phantom food, and diners dressed in futuristic garb eat off empty plates.  They observe Larua’s husband, Stephen, a “famed photographer of psychic phenomena” looking on in befuddlement before he finally breaks out in anger, demanding to know the meaning of all of this.  In response, the creepy lady in charge yells out that they thought he was “the Seventh Futurian,” but since they were mistake, they must kill him!  His work made them think that he’d be able to “hear” their music, and “taste” their food, things only a Futurian can do.

Batman takes that as his cue, rushing in and overcoming the gathered gang and their futuristic weaponry.  It’s a nicely drawn sequence for the most part, and it ends with only the girl left standing.  She declares that the Futurians are “the wave of the future,” born psychic and destined to rule the world.  They have cells all over the planet, waiting for the arrival of the Seventh who will lead them.  She reasons that only one person could overcome five of her fellows, and thus the Dark Knight himself must be the Seventh for which they’ve been waiting.  They hand the Masked Manhunter a crown, and he decides to play along in order to take care of them peacefully.  But it’s a trap!  The crown tightens on his head, knocking him out, and the Futurians decide to put him to the test.

Taking a book out of Renaissance witch trials, they lock him in a coffin and toss it in the lake, thinking that only the special Seventh could escape from a watery grave.  Inside his sinking prison, the Dark Knight uses the now loosened crown to pick the coffin’s lock and swims for the surface.  For some reason, the Futurians seem sure that this guy they’ve just tried to kill, TWICE, who has dedicated his life to fighting crime, is going to help them take over the world.

Instead, for some strange reason Batman seems more inclined to punch them in their faces.  He takes them out, using the estate’s statuary, and captures their lovely leader.  Then, as he takes the rescued couple home, we discover that when Stephen was captured, he “screamed silently for help,” and somehow, that call reached the Caped Crusader.  The question of psychic powers is left ambiguous, but not in a particularly productive way.  It’s so vague and these characters so forgettable (I had to go back and look up their names), that it doesn’t have much impact.

This is a mediocre story.  It’s okay, and Novick renders the action nicely.  Yet, the Futurians are too big of a concept to be tossed out in 15 pages while also vying for space with two other supporting characters, one of whom is entirely superfluous to the plot.  Kanigher could have just had Batman show up at the house and saved two pages for better use.  The gang/cult themselves are just shy of being interesting.  With some more development, they could have made the jump, but as is, they just seem like generic would-be world-conquerors.

In general, the concept of this story just doesn’t quite manage to come together, and that concept, interestingly enough in light of the Aquaman backup tale above, seems to be tied into Futurism, an early 20th Century cultural movement originating in Italy that, coincidentally enough, advocated complete neglect of the past and an ethic of unbridled progress.  Even when I first read the “Futurist Manifesto” in college, I thought its principles were utterly foolish.  To once more quote Lewis, he argued that “[t]o study the past does indeed liberate us from the present, from the idols of our own market-place.  But I think it liberates us from the past too.  I think no class of men are less enslaved to the past than historians” (12).  Far from enslaving us, a knowledge of the past frees us from the blindness that makes contemporary mores into commandments and fashion into fact, and it also puts bygone days in their proper context, removing the rosy tinge that nostalgia tends to apply to all such visions.

But what has this story to do with Futurism?  It’s only tangentially related, but I can’t help but think that it is this movement which Kanigher had in mind when he penned this tale.  The antagonists of the piece read like a more militaristic version of the Futurists, which is impressive considering just how militaristic the originals were.  There are some definite parallels, and the sad thing is that these guys could actually furnish some really interesting villains if they were given any chance to develop a personality other than ‘strangeness.’  The story just feels a bit unfinished, though it is entertaining enough.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.


“Temperature Boiling… and Rising!”


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It’s nice to get a bird’s eye view of Hudson University.

The second half of this Robin tale is pretty good, even better than its predecessor.  It picks up with the student volunteers for Prof. Buck Stuart’s senate campaign as they try to make sense out of the shocking newspaper headline from last issue and the picture showing their golden boy giving a payoff.  In an interesting scene, a hippy-looking kid blows his top and tells Dick Grayson that he’s through playing by the rules before storming out.  What makes the scene fascinating is the boy’s mention of the Kent State Massacre.  Bringing that real event into the story instantly makes it feel more serious and grounded, and it really puts the kid’s anger and impatience into perspective.  This election, and those like it in which young people were getting involved, mattered.  They mattered because they were a chance to show the youth of this country that the system worked…or risk driving them into the streets in anger and despair.  It’s a small moment, but it struck me nonetheless.

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The story continues, with the candidate himself arriving and telling the boys that the claims are phony.  With the help of Phil Real, the campaign photographer, Dick does some good detective work by realizing that the damning picture is doctored and sets out to prove it as Robin.  The Teen Wonder heads to the local paper where the editor tells him in no uncertain terms that their publisher is backing the incumbent and won’t allow a retraction without hard evidence, so Dick goes in search of just that when the fellow reveals that their source’s name was…Phil Real!

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When Robin arrives at his friend’s room, he finds Phil’s roommate, who is one of the kids behind the fire at the campaign office from last issue.  The firebug and his friend jump the young hero, and for the second issue in a row, Robin barely escapes a slot on the Head-Blow Headcount, as he gets his bell rung pretty good.

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Still, he keeps his feet and easily dispatches the two college-toughs. In the room he finds the evidence he needs of the photo tampering, enough to force the paper to print a retraction, which helps to swing the election in Stuart’s favor!  At the end of the tale, Dick Grayson leaves the victory party, saying there’s still much more work to be done, an ending that I rather liked.  There’s something in it that indicates our young hero is growing up.

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This is a good ending to this story, and it manages to pack a really impressive amount into these seven pages.  There’s enough of a misdirect to make the mystery feel somewhat satisfying, with the evidence of both this and last issue seeming to point to the photographer.  Robin gets to display some detective skills and gets in a touch of action as well, in general, being portrayed as the intelligent, capable, and resourceful young man he is, which hasn’t always been the case with these Robin tales.

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It’s nice to see the Teen Wonder come off well.  He is one of my favorite characters, after all.  This iteration doesn’t have as much focus on youth involvement in politics as the previous one, but together they make an interesting whole, commenting on the situation.  It’s fascinating to see the social unrest of the period work its  way so clearly into comics, and this tale is a particularly obvious example of the tendency.  I’ll give it a good score of 4 Minutemen.

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And that will do it for the second part of February 1971.  I hope y’all enjoyed the read and will join me again soon for the next edition of Into the Bronze Age, where we’ll have a little something from the Dark Knight and the Fastest Man Alive.  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Oh no!  Three in a row!  Poor Aquaman.  He just can’t catch a break, and the biggest blow of all is yet to fall.  Once again, Robin narrowly avoids inclusion on the Wall of Shame, and no-one else has really come close.  We’ll have to see if this month holds any more additions to the august company.