Into the Bronze Age: December 1971 (Part 5)

Hello fellow Internet wanderers, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age, finishing up our coverage of December 1971. I’m afraid that there is a cloud hanging over our celebration of the joy of classic comics today, as a tragedy has struck the FF community. We recently learned of the death of Cyber Burn, content creator extraordinaire, my constant aide and ally, my dear friend, and all-around great human being. He was an amazing guy, and we are all grieving his loss. I’m going to write more about him and his importance to our community and literally everything I ever created for FF in a future post. At the moment, I don’t have the capacity to do him justice, though I am far from certain that I ever will be up to that particular herculean task.

In the meantime, let’s celebrate one of the things that always brought him joy, one of the things that, for him, as for many of us, served as a refuge from the ugliness and tawdriness of the world around us, the realm of the fantastic, the brighter, more hopeful terrain, of superhero comics. Let’s see what our last books of the month have 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 #407
  • Adventure Comics #413
  • Batman #237
  • Detective Comics #418
  • The Flash #211
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87
  • Justice League of America #95
  • Mr. Miracle #5
  • Phantom Strange #16
  • Superboy #180
  • Superman #246 (#245 was all reprints)
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #117
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144
  • Teen Titans #36
  • World’s Finest #208

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


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144


“A Big Thing in a Deep Scottish Lake!”
Writer/Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell


DNA Project: “The Torn Photograph”
Writer/Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer John Costanza
Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell


Newsboy Legion: “Kings for a Day!”
Writers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon
Letterer: Howard Ferguson
Editors: Whitney Ellsworth

The first book in this batch is that misfit, redheaded step-child of the Fourth World titles, Jimmy Olsen, but unlike the bizarre, confusing mixture of ideas from the previous pair of issues, this month the King gives us something much more focused and fun. As you might guess from the cover, this comic sees the Newsboy Legion and our titular cub reporter coming face to snout with an ersatz Loch Ness Monster. In such an aquatic adventure there’s even a chance that Flippa Dippa might actually be useful….but I wouldn’t count on it. The cover image itself is a pretty good one, with a nicely dynamic and exciting central drama unfolding upon it, as the Legion hang on for dear life or leap to safety during their impromptu shipwreck. The whole thing has the King’s trademark energy and excitement. Superman doesn’t quite fit in with the picture, both because of Murphy Anderson’s overwriting of Kirby’s work and because he’s not really part of the dominant scene. That is actually rather accurate, as he plays no role in Jimmy’s plot, but it looks a bit odd to have him disproportionately soaring past as his young friends face pseudo-Nessie’s watery wrath, ‘Sorry kids, I’ve got super-business back in Metropolis, good luck with the monster!’

Not exactly the most creative of titles…

Kirby’s cover is a pretty fair promise of what awaits us within, and our tale begins with a Kirby-tech speedboat racing across the surface of “Loch Trevor,” which is totally not Loch Ness, thankyouverymuch. The pilot of the craft is searching for a supposed sea monster that stalks the waters of the Loch, and he finds it, or rather, it finds him, in rather dramatic fashion, destroying his ship and setting the stage for our adventure. Back in Metropolis, everyone’s favorite corporate shark, Morgan Edge, is raking Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboy Legion over the coals for failing to come back with a story. Of course, they have a heck of a story about “The Project,” but they’ve been sworn to secrecy. The King also seems to have forgotten that he last left Jimmy Olsen watching musicals projected onto the clouds of a miniature Universal Monster-themed world, so one would imagine he’s got quite the story to tell himself! Nonetheless, the heinous head of Galaxy Broadcasting casually dismisses the Legion’s claim that their Whiz Wagon was destroyed by a bomb and sends them out to chase down the scoop on the sea monster of Loch Trevor. Man, the gang are awfully forgiving about all of Edge’s attempts to kill them. You think they’d be a tad more insistent about that whole thing. Yet, once they’re out of his office, he opens the secret screen in his desk that we saw in this month’s Lois Lane, but this time he’s not looking at himself. Instead, he orders a hit on the Newsboy Legion!

Meanwhile, all crime everywhere has apparently been stopped, because Superman and the Guardian are spending their time dropping by a “discotheque,” not for charity, not as a benefit, not working a case, but just to “help their attendance.” Oookay? I’m glad they’ve got their priorities straight. Inside, they meet the young woman who is running the place, a girl named Terry Dean, who we saw briefly in #138. It seems she first appeared in a rather interesting sounding issue, #127, wherein Jimmy Olsen goes undercover to expose a slumlord. It’s neat and a little surprising that Kirby is making use of this minor supporting character introduced before his run, though I wouldn’t have minded some editorial reminders here. At any rate, Dean introduces them to a super Kirby-ified band, the San Diego Five String Mob, who are secretly serving Apokolips. They are wonderfully cool looking, in that inimical Kirby style of gonzo gadgets and weird wardrobes. As the malevolent musicians maintain their cover, playing strange music, Dubbilex, the D.N.Alien suddenly appears, bringing with him a warning!

The King cuts away before we see what comes of that, though, and we travel to the skies over Scotland, where Jimmy and the Legion are literally dumped out of a fancy jet in the Whiz Wagon. Scrapper is determined he’s going to fit in, and has dressed the part, complete with kilt and Tam o’ Shanter, but unfortunately, his voice gives him away every time he opens his mouth, which becomes a running gag. On the ground, the gang nearly run over their contact, Felix MacFinney, as they try to stop their careening car, but they manage to do no permanent harm. This whole scene is fun and Kirby actually gives us some fairly charming humor, though we’re also besieged with comically exaggerated Scottish accents at every turn.

Back in the “discotheque,” Dubbilex reveals to the Man of Steel that there is a tunnel under the club that leads right back to the Project, but it is a tunnel the good guys didn’t make! Well, the bad band certainly can recognize a cue, so they prepare to strike…giving us a weird and interesting little sequence. They each play a note, summoning their “Sixth String,” Barri-boy, who is just another guy with a crazy instrument, but he literally brings the house down when he plays! That seems a little inefficient, but it’s still a fun sequence.

Back in Scotland, our neophyte newshawks meet MacFinney’s lovely daughter and engage in some banter while the plan for the monster-hunt the next day. MacFinney also shows them a device he created to attract the marine menace. Nothing suspicious here, nope! The next morning finds them out on the Loch, monitoring Flippa Dippa as he swims in its murky depths. Suddenly, he’s ambushed below the waves by a fellow frogman, and the others prepare to go to his aid, only to find themselves looking down the barrel of MacFinney’s gun! It seems that the Scotsman is actually an Intergang assassin! Fortunately, while Jimmy distracts the gunsel, the little Scrapper Trooper that the full-sized Scrapper brought along slips away and activates the monster lure. The situation is resolved in dramatic fashion, as the creature swamps the boat and seizes MacFinney, leaving the others soaked but safe. When they reach the shore, they find Flippa Dippa there ahead of them, having overcome his assailant, MacFinney’s “daughter,” another Intergang assassin. One wonders, how inept must she be at her job to have been taken out by Flippa Dippa? Confused but very curious, the gang determine to stay in Scotland and solve this monstrous mystery!

This is a fairly fun story, as silly as it is in parts, and the main plot, with Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion investigating the mystery and generally carrying on with their own banter and shenanigans, seems like a good fit for the characters. It’s a premise that serves them well, and I’d be happy to see the book settle onto a course like this. Heaven knows the last few issues have shown it is desperately in need of some direction. In terms of the writing, Kirby’s dialog, rather stilted and awkward in some of his other books, is generally in much better shape in this issue, provided you don’t mind his atrocious Scottish accents. He seems to have a good grasp of the voices of the Newsboys, which isn’t too surprising, seeing as they are his creations, after all. In fact, the interplay between Scrapper and the Scotsman, as well as the banter between the rest of the boys, is often genuinely funny and enjoyable. And then there’s everything Flippa Dippa says…the book’s resident embarrassment has fairly cringe-inducing lines throughout, like: “This ghetto guppie says ‘yeah!'” and “My SCUBA cells are vibratin’, Jimmy.” It is rather funny in an almost meta sense how desperately enthusiastic he is when he discovers that their adventure will involve a body of water, like he realizes how completely pointless he is as a character. Overall, Flippa Dippa aside, this is an enjoyable adventure. The King’s unmatched creativity is once again on display, but all of these different elements fit together much better than the bizarre horror-planet of the previous issues. Superman and the Guardian just sort of casually dropping by the club is pretty goofy, but the Kirby-tech band is so cool that I’m willing to give it a pass. Of course, the King’s art is great throughout, despite Colletta’s inking. I’ll give this promising start to a new adventure 4 Minutemen, with its sillier elements holding it back from a higher score.

P.S.: I’ve been really enjoying the Newsboy Legion stories that have been reprinted as backups in these books. They’re simple but fun.


Teen Titans #36


“The Tomb be Their Destiny”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff


Aqualad: “The Girl of the Shadows”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler/Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo


“Superboy Meets Robin the Boy Wonder”
Writer: Bill Finger
Penciler: Al Plastino
Inker: Al Plastino
Editor: Jack Schiff


“The Teenager from Nowhere”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler/Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Mort Weisinger

Well, if this month’s Jimmy Olsen issue was an improvement over the previous one, we can’t really say the same for this month’s Teen Titans, which is rather disappointing. The book continues to limp along without a clear direction and without any real reason for the Titans to actually be involved in its plots. To start with, we’ve got an okay cover, with a hint of mystery to it, though the perspective and layout is a bit wonky. I’m not really sure how those stairs exist in relation to the angle of the floor at the front. While the scene is non-Euclidean, it is also atmospheric, but the context is a bit too vague for it to be entirely successful. Our heroes seem to be hunting this figure rather than trying to rescue him, but he’s turning to dust, which his dialog tells us is….bad, as if they’re out to help him? It’s just not terribly successful.

Unfortunately, the story itself isn’t much better. It picks up where we left off in our last issue, in the purported crypt of the “real” Romeo and Juliet, where Robin, Speedy, Wonder Girl, and the superfluous Mr. Jupiter examine the scene and debate whether Lilith is really the incarnation of Romeo’s star-crossed lady love. They spot a shadowy figure and give chase, only to be temporarily trapped by a cave-in. While they are delayed, the shadowy figure sneaks off with the unconscious forms of Romeo and Lilith (doesn’t have quite the same ring as the original, does it?).

The misshapen figure turns out to be a hunchbacked madman named “Calibano,” who is supposed to resemble Romeo’s cousin of the same name, though I wouldn’t have gotten that from the art alone. As the young lovers revive, this Calibano tells them that Romeo and Juliet were actually part of a love triangle, with him as the third angle. Lilith uses her power of vagueness to learn that it was actually him who killed the original moon-struck Montague, causing Juliet to take her own life. Then, he apparently got trapped in their tomb and put into suspended animation…by…plot? Seriously, that’s not explained at all.

Now Calibano’s convinced that the new couple are the originals reawakened, as he was, and he challenges Romeo 2.0 to a duel, and the brave young man fights a desperate battle while Lilith makes the valuable contribution of…shouting…and…looking worried. It’s just a very impressive showing for a superheroine. As the ancient feud reunites, the rest of the Titans follow the trail of their lost teammate, only to come across the other Calibano leading a water-borne funeral procession. We’re reminded that the police were interested in the Loggia family, and this funereal flotilla out on a foggy night seems suspicious.

Suddenly, Mr. Juptier, who let’s remember has displayed no particular skills or abilities or received any special training up to this point, decides that he’s an action hero, and he and Robin investigate the suspect ships. The pair discover that the casket is a cover for smuggling industrial diamonds (which really doesn’t seem all that worthwhile, really), and overcome a bunch of frogmen in an extended scene where neither of them is apparently troubled by the need to, you know, breath for what one can only assume is a good 15-20 minutes. The marine marvel millionaire hauls himself out of the water to confront Calibano, and is nearly killed, only to have his life saved by the sudden arrival of Don Loggia, who is actually honest, though still a jerk, and who was suspicious of his nephew.

While Robin was being upstaged by a random dude with no qualifications for hero work, the other two Titans arrive just in time to save Romeo…by straight-up murdering the original Calibano! That’s right, Speedy shoots the guy with a sharp arrow as opposed to any of the zillion trick arrows he carries. He shoots him right in the chest, and though the poor fellow is able to stagger back to the crypt, he definitely dies. (Man, the books this month have had an unusually high body count for the era!) The story ends with the characters wondering if Lilith and Romeo are actually the reincarnations of their much more interesting and famous predecessors, and we are told that they are totally in love. Yep, definitely deeply and really in love, a love that is absolutely going to last beyond this issue and will certainly carry significance for years to come. Or not. Yeah, it will probably not surprise y’all to learn that our dear friend, Zany Haney, the anti-continuity cop, completely drops that particular plot thread, and this Romeo guy is never heard from again. It’s just as well, because the whole ‘reincarnated Romeo and Juliet’ angle doesn’t seem super sustainable over the long-haul.

So, what are we to make of this story? Well, much like the previous issue, it’s not an entirely bad tale, by itself, but it isn’t particularly suitable for the Teen Titans, and there is absolutely no reason for these characters to be here. The actual Titans contribute almost nothing to the story, short of Speedy murdering a poor, deformed, and mentally ill fellow. That’s the part of the story that galls me most, as Haney gives Speedy exactly one panel to feel a little bad about missing the sword and shooting the guy straight in the chest, and that is it, as if this wasn’t entirely avoidable if the character was acting in any normal fashion. And, of course, because it’s a Zany Haney plot, this killing will never be mentioned or thought-of again, and that’s terrible on multiple levels.

Let’s also not forget Haney just casually adding a character and a whole subplot to what is arguably the most famous play of all time. It’s not quite as bonkers as it seems, though, as it is very likely that “Calibano” and his plotline were drawn from “Caliban,” a character in another of Shakespeare’s plays, The Tempest. In that story of magic and mysticism, Caliban was the misshapen and monstrous servant of the wizard Prospero and was also the unlucky angle of a love triangle. Nonetheless, even if Calibano has respectable origins in another of the Bard’s tales, his presence in this story is weird and a bit disconcerting, especially because the last issue ended with the young couple discovering the apparently mummified remains of Calibano, who was also wearing different clothes. Continuity errors aside, this whole thing is just a bit of a mess. Everything happens at the speed of plot, and the two plotlines end up feeling entirely alien to each other, despite the attempts to connect them with the multiple Calibanos. You could pretty much drop the entire Loggia family plot thread from this issue and lose nothing except for Mr. Jupiter’s inexplicable display of commando skills.

As you might be able to tell, I have just about lost all patience with this whole premise. This whole ‘superhero summer camp’ thing we’ve got going on, with the Titans involved in this vague project with Jupiter, just has nothing to recommend it to me. Lilith also continues to be vague and pointless, only now she is joined in her uselessness by Wonder Girl, who does nothing all issue. I find myself wishing we could see the Titans be, you know, superheroes. On the plus side, the team of Tuska and Cardy continues to be great, really turning out some lovely work with lots of darkly atmospheric scenes that add some drama and mystery to this silly plot. Their work is really deserving of a better story. So, what is the final score? Well, I would probably have given this one 2.5 Minutemen like its first half if it weren’t for Haney having Speedy kill the antagonist with zero justification, logic, or examination. That plus ‘secret agent-Jupiter’ sours the story for me, so I’ll give it 1 Minuteman. Haney is really batting 1000 this month.


“The Girl of the Shadows”


Interestingly, this issue has another little Aqualad backup, which is cool, but it is a super brief one, only running 3 pages. Apparently, this little mini-adventure, by the wonderful SAG team, was actually slated to appear in the cancelled Aquaman #57, and it was put into inventory when that book never materialized. Unfortunately, that also meant that this intriguing little tale and the mysteries that it introduces are never resolved! What a crying shame! Being only 3 pages, there’s really not enough here to judge, so I’ll just share all three pages and offer a brief overview.

It begins with the young Aquatic Ace emerging onto darkened docks, searching for a girl that had intrigued him when he saw her earlier at a concert (don’t tell Tula!). Just as he finds her and she gives him a cryptic greeting, she is confronted by a big man in strange armor who tries to capture the mysterious maiden. The Sea Prince cleans his clock, then asks the girl for an explanation. All she says is that they must “get past the wall — before it’s too late!”, and then she disappears, leaving our young hero to wonder what this strange encounter was all about. So, we are left with a mystery that will likely never be solved, and that’s a shame, because Skeates set the stage for an interesting story, and I would have quite enjoyed it if he had been given a chance to finish it in these pages.


“The Teen-Ager from Nowhere”


That…is a very…generous description of the infamous mythical figure, Lilith.

This month’s Titans issue actually held two original backups, and the second is a solo Lilith story, which is actually a good deal better than you’d probably expect from what we’ve seen of her in the main book. This little tale is something of an origin story, and in just 7 pages Haney gives us more information about Lilith and more reason to care about her than in all of the issues she’s been in up to this point combined. It is still, of course, pretty vague, but that vagueness is at least a bit more understandable here, and the story also seems to promise some answers might be forthcoming.

It begins when a 12 year old Lilith sees a group of men leaving her small Kentucky town to search for the body of a young boy presumed drowned in the river. Suddenly she runs after them and yells that he’s not in the river, leading them into the hills and finally to an old well. They find and rescue the boy, but then they begin to wonder how she knew he was there. The young girl can’t explain her knowledge, and the crowd grows more suspicious until her father finally arrives and takes her home. Back in the safety of her own house, her parents are supportive, but the pre-teen psychic senses that she is actually adopted, and she runs out of the house in search of her origins.

In fact, she runs all the way to the orphanage that once sheltered her, where somehow the matron recognizes and remembers her, despite the fact that she was only one year old when she was adopted. Neat trick! Lilith learns that her powers were apparently shared by her real mother, who brought her to the orphanage after some mysterious trouble relating to her father. The kindly matron warns the strange girl not to dredge up the tragedies of the past, but the youth swears that she will discover who she is, though she is glad when her adoptive parents come to fetch her home.

This is a surprisingly good story for focusing on Lilith, and it shows that she could be a decent character if she was given any development or personality other than “mysteriousness.” The girl’s lack of understanding of her powers or past is much more believable and excusable, as she is just beginning her journey. A 12-year-old not being able to explain a first flash of psychic insight is much more understandable and palatable than, say, a college-age girl doing the same after having lived with such abilities for years. Nick Cardy’s art is just plain gorgeous, as always, and he brings so much humanity and emotion to his characters that you can’t help but sympathize with the lost young girl or her concerned parents. Haney’s writing is positively restrained and thoughtful here, and the final result is a really solid and intriguing backup that actually makes me, of all things, look forward to more stories about Lilith! I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, as it isn’t quite strong enough to reach a higher score, .


World’s Finest #208


Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Gaspar Saladino

“Peril of the Planet-Smashers!”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell


“The Inside Story of Robotman!”
Writer: Joseph Samachson
Penciler/Inker: Jimmy Thompson
Editor: Jack Schiff


Ghost Patrol: “The ‘Spectacular’ Crimes”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Editor: Sheldon Mayer

Oh man, what an awesome cover! How could you pass by the newsstand and not plunk down your quarter to see what kind of story could have such an epic image over its pages? Many of us have probably heard the old saying that the Silver Age Superman could “juggle planets,” but that expression, which captures the casual omnipotence of the character and thus one of the flaws with his portrayal in the era, doesn’t really apply here. Instead, we get a wonderful portrayal of a truly epic feat that feels properly epic. You can see the strain and effort on Superman’s face, like a moment out of the wonderful old Fleischer Superman cartoons, where the Man of Steel would constantly be pushed to his limits to defeat his foes and rescue his friends. It feels heroic and exciting in the extreme, and it is beautifully and powerfully rendered by Neal Adams. In fact, it’s such a cool cover, that I’ve been anxiously anticipating its approach in my lineup, quietly excited to read the story it represents. So, does the tale within live up to that dynamite image? Perhaps a better question is, could anything?

Sadly, although Wein and Dillin give us a good super-story inside, it isn’t quite the amazing epic that our cover promises us. It begins with Dr. Fate helping the police to recover a stolen “thermal-ray,” which is apparently insanely dangerous for a hand weapon, but the technological marvel and its erstwhile criminal owners are a poor match for the master of magic, who simply causes the device’s trigger to disappear! That’s a wonderfully clever and straightforward solution to the threat. However, his heroics are soon interrupted by an emergency call from…the hospital?? Apparently this Dr. Fate is a literal medical doctor, which was completely news to me. I always knew him as an archaeologist, but apparently, his earliest appearances had him sharing his fellow Justice Society member, Dr. Mid-Nite’s profession. Who knew? Surprisingly, what awaits the good doctor at the hospital is not your average case but an ailing alien! The strange-looking being telepathically communicates the mental message that “Earth is doomed!” The medical magician is left stunned, realizing that he must save this creature’s life, or its secret will die with it, and so may the Earth itself!

Meanwhile, our other heroic headliner is hanging out on a satellite above Earth 1, contemplating his magical misadventure from the previous issue. We find Superman lamenting the fact that he has two whole weaknesses in his otherwise invulnerable form. Boo-freaking-hoo, the poor sun-god is only mostly invulnerable! Just then, the morose Man of Steel hits upon the idea of seeking succor from one of his mystical allies and heads out to consult the Mistress of Magic, Zatanna. On the way, he casually disposes of a radioactive dust cloud by sucking it into his lungs and then blowing it into the sun. Yep, clearly he’s not powerful enough! Unfortunately, Zatanna tells the Action Ace that she can’t help him, because her father told her that “to know how our powers work would cause them to stop working!” Now, I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that just means that Zatarra didn’t feel like answering a young Zatanna’s questions…I do enjoy Zatanna just casually doing crazy magic as she talks to Supes, almost like she’s rubbing it in.

Having exhausted his options on Earth 1, Kal conceives of an alternative, and he goes to visit his other spell-slinging friend, Dr. Fate, on Earth 2. The Man of Tomorrow arrives just in time to help his fellow hero with his unusual patient, and mage teleports them to his tower and fills his guest in on the plot. Apparently this alien was just hanging out in the sky over a city and was struck by a plane (imagine being the pilot and trying to report that!). I suppose you’ve got to be prepared for things like this when you live in the DC Universe. The Arcane Avenger supernaturally scans his patient’s mind and discovers images of two landmarks, a Mayan temple and Stone Henge, and the heroes split up to investigate the mysterious threat facing the world.

Dr. Fate travels to the Mayan temple, only to discover another alien just “sitting” in the sky, meditating, and ignoring him. When the occult hero presses his case, the strange being casually causes the surrounding flora to grow and attack, and the wizardly warrior has to employ his magical might to escape from the plant-based peril, literally blowing up some one of the hungrier heinous herbs from the inside! It’s a nice little sequence, and Dillin renders it well. However, just when Fate is ready to grab his alien attacker, the being simply vanishes!

On the other side of the world, Superman doesn’t have much better luck in England, where the same pattern repeats itself, though with a giant formed from the ground itself in place of the sinister shrubbery that attacked his ally. The sand is too soft for the Man of Might’s blows to have much of an impact, so he tries a different tack, turning the entire colossus into glass with his heat vision, and shattering it with a powerful blow, another really cool sequence, with an honestly clever resolution. Yet, just as with Fate, the mysterious meditator vanishes when approached. What could these baffling beings be up to? Well, as the heroes prepare to regroup, they each encounter strangely sudden natural disasters, with Dr. Fate stopping a rampaging tidal wave and Superman saving a city from an unexpected volcanic eruption.

Comparing notes, the dauntless duo discover that the continents of Earth 2 are being drawn together, and the planet is heading towards an apocalyptic ending! Risking another probe of their injured alien, they discover that he was a member of the Buudak, the “high lamas” of an ancient race, who are seeking an interplanetary Nirvana, one that can only be found through the release of energies resulting from the destruction of the Earth! The heroes confront the alien trio as they prepare their final psychic attack, but both might and magic prove futile. In desperation, the dauntless dyad decide to combine their abilities, and Dr. Fate channels his preternatural power into the Metropolis Marvel, giving him mystical might to match his star-born strength.

The supercharged Superman is able to shrug off the alien’s attacks, smashing their psychic shield, and the terrible trio vanish as their own powers consume them. However, despite their defeat, the world is not yet saved, and the continents continue to converge! The master of magic reclaims his power and forges occult chains, and Superman hauls the rogue land masses back into place! The adventure ends with the world restored and with the Man of Might having decided that his vulnerability is for the best after all because…and see if you can follow this, he was only able to save the day because Fate’s magic could effect him…though one wonders just how often such a situation is going to arise. To be fair, the Kryptonian’s actual last thought makes more sense, as he notes that “a little humility is good even for a Superman.” That is almost certainly true, and in fact, I might say “especially good”.

Muddled moral aside, this was a pretty fun issue. Dr. Fate and Superman make for an unusual team, and it is interesting to see them in action together. They are in many ways opposites in terms of their powersets, with one being a physical juggernaut, while the other is a magical powerhouse. It’s a pairing that we don’t see too often, and I enjoyed the casual yet logical reason behind their team-up. Superman just happens to show up looking for answers, and he drops into an adventure already in progress. Good enough, and it makes the world of DC feel a bit more interconnected. The incredibly powerful alien lamas made for solid antagonists, though I would have liked to know a bit more about them. Their objective, spiritual enlightenment at all costs, is also an unusual one, adding an interesting twist on the standard ‘destroy the world’ plot, but their casual dismissal of the lives they’re about to destroy does raise some questions about their ethos! Our heroes’ efforts make for an entertaining and exciting tale, especially in the first half. Unfortunately, the final confrontation and climax aren’t as successful. Dillin makes the first challenges the team faces visually interesting and fun, especially Superman’s fight with the sand giant, but the last attack isn’t nearly as engaging, though it is serviceable enough. The real problem with this story, and it is a minor one, is that Dillin’s portrayal of that wonderfully dramatic moment from the cover just simply pales in comparison. It’s fairly uninspiring rather than the show-stopping scene it really should be. Still, if the worst you can say about a comic is that it has one moment that isn’t as impressive as its cover, then you’re not doing too badly! In the end, this is a really enjoyable adventure, if not quite as epic and memorable as the cover promised. I’ll give it a strong 4 Minutemen.


Final thoughts


Well, with these three books, we have reached the end of December 1971, and an interesting end it is! This month saw quite a collection of comics, with few high highs but several quite low lows. Nonetheless, we had an unusual number of moderately high scoring books this month, with a lot of them earning 4 Minutemen, even if few scored higher. Overall, it was a fairly enjoyable month of comics, with several pleasant surprises along the way, including Action Comics, Adventure‘s new Zatanna backup, The Creeper’s guest spot, Superman‘s plankton-fueled panic, and more. There were a few real clunkers, though, with the master of madcap plots, Zaney Haney, turning in two terrible tales that even his insane energy can’t save. We’re seeing some books dragging, like Teen Titans, while others, like Jimmy Olsen have hopefully begun to recover, though Kirby’s 4th World work is so wild and uneven, there’s no promise of that. One thing is certain, both Zaney Haney and the King will have something unique and creative for us next month, whether it sinks or swims.

In terms of themes, this has been a fascinating month, with many a book aiming at a significance that its story can’t quite match. Nonetheless, there are some really interesting attempts to tackle heavier ideas in this batch of books, and the social relevance revolution is on full display. We’ve got obvious examples, like Green Lantern / Green Arrow, which attempted to address racism in O’Neil’s usual rather ham-handed fashion, but which did succeed in achieving some real importance by introducing John Stewart, a new black hero who would go on to become an excellent and worthwhile addition to the DC Universe. If his portrayal in this first appearance was rather one-note, his very existence was still rather remarkable. The Green Arrow backup also aimed at relevance, and with a fair amount of success too. That unusual ground that tale trod had to feel particularly revolutionary in 1971, with Ollie questioning how much good a superhero could actually do in light of the social problems plaguing the country. O’Neil’s attempts at verisimilitude and relevance are effective, if rather depressing.

Though the issues that percolate in the background of the story are vague and unexplored, the sense of unrest and tension fits with what we’ve been seeing in many of the other other books that have tried to take on such themes. In fact, we find that this idea has plenty of company this month. Interestingly, we see just that same vague sense of tension, especially among the youth, reflected in Justice League, where we meet an ersatz Jimi Hendrix. Of course, the most fascinating element in that story was its look at the plight of Vietnam veterans, though sadly it was given little more than a glimpse. This issue does recognize the power that music was playing in the counter-cultural movement, a concept which we also see show up in much more fantastic and strange fashion in Superman’s visit to the “discotheque.” Unfortunately, Jimi Hendrix never quite managed managed to rock hard enough to bring down a literal roof.

Nonetheless, we can see how much DC comics have changed in just a year, with so many different teams on so many different titles attempting to engage the tumultuous culture of their day to a degree that was much more rare when we started our journey. One of the most unexpected of these attempts was our backup Kid Flash tale, which featured another wealthy businessman as an antagonist, which is becoming a much more common trope, but which also focused, not on environmentalism as has already become common, but instead on nutrition. That really surprised me, showing up in 1971, as I think of that as a much more modern concern. Heck, I grew up in the 80s, where preservatives and all manner of additives in our super-processed food was just the norm! It’s the carcinogens that make it tasty!

Social relevance wasn’t the only connection to the real world that we saw in our books this month. We also got to see the first appearance of the Rutland Halloween Parade in DC Comics, which was quite entertaining, though that issue did have some problems with tone, combining the light-hearted fun with the heavy drama of holocaust survivors and escaped Nazi war criminals…real laugh-a-minute stuff! Despite its rather schizophrenic tone, it did manage to be an interesting and memorable issue. After all, it’s not every day you see Batman sharing the page with Thor and Spider-Man!

All-in-all, there were a lot of really entertaining reads this month, and we saw a lot of great art in the pages of our various books, even when the stories themselves weren’t quite as good. Pleasantly, even when the main tales tank, I find myself really enjoying several of our backups, like The World of Krypton, Rose and Thorn, and especially the new Zatanna feature. I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes out of that one. Despite its unevenness, I’m still excited about reading the rest of the 4th World as it develops. Though there are several runs that I find myself wishing would end, there is still plenty to be excited about. I wonder what next month will bring us!

Well, there’s only one way to find out! I hope that y’all will join me again soon(ish) for another edition of Into the Bronze Age! I’ll be posting a tribute to our fallen friend, Cyber Burn first, and I hope that y’all will join me for that as well and honor his memory. Until next time, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1970 (Part 5)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  With all of the madness that is loose in our world these days, I imagine we can all use more joy and adventure.  I know I quite enjoy my visits to the Bronze Age.  It helps to take the mind off of the utter insanity of our own times.  We’ve got a book I dreaded and I book I eagerly awaited on the docket for this post.  Let’s jump right in, shall we?

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

  • Action Comics #392
  • Batman #225
  • Brave and the Bold #91
  • Detective Comics #403
  • The Flash #200
  • G.I. Combat #143
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #79
  • Justice League #83
  • Showcase #93
  • World’s Finest #196

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

Green Lantern/Green Arrow #79

green_lantern_vol_2_79“Ulysses Star is Still Alive!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dan Adkins
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Well, we can’t avoid it any longer, I suppose.  It’s time for another return to the parade of self-righteousness and poor decision-making that is the Green Lantern/Green Arrow book.  Fortunately, this issue isn’t as bad as the some of the previous outings.  It’s central concern is a very legitimate one, and it even manages to feel timely for us today, given the contents of our headlines in recent months.  However, this wouldn’t be a Green Lantern/Green Arrow adventure without some infuriatingly obnoxious bloviating from Ollie and some irrational inflexibility from Hal, as well as a generally pervading, pointlessly aggressive stupidity and hotheadedness from both of these supposedly heroic men.  Still, these qualities are a bit less on display here than they have been.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

We join our hard traveling heroes camped on a quiet and peaceful night out in the wilderness, not far from where they had their last adventures with the pseud0-Manson Family.  I probably haven’t said quite enough in praise of Adams’ art on this book, given my general frustration with O’Neil’s plots and characterization, but he really does do fantastic work.  He packs his panels with personality and visual interest.  In the simple scene around the camp fire, each character is doing something that tells you a bit about them.  Hal is reading, Ollie is whittling, and the Guardian is floating in apparent meditation.  That’s a nice touch.  The quiet of this idyllic scene is shattered when these two veteran heroes detect some slight sign that something is amiss, and they leap into action to investigate.  That’s a good another nice touch.  It makes sense that these two have been at their dangerous work long enough that they’d have combat-honed senses.  It makes them seem competent and professional.  The adventure that follows doesn’t quite match that setup, though.

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The Green Guardians discover an unlikely pair of white men preparing to gun down a helpless Native American man.  They quickly disarm the would-be killers, with very different methods and wildly varying levels of effort.  Check out the page below.  Look at the skill and concentration evident in Green Arrow’s precision shot.  Look at the almost bored expression on Hal’s face as he plugs up the other gunman’s weapon.  It’s almost as if a man armed with the most powerful weapon in the universe outclasses an average hood with a handgun to the point of absolute absurdity.  Once again, we see how incongruous of a pair Hal and Ollie make, and not just because of their diametrically opposed viewpoints.

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Well, the gunmen having been disarmed, the heroes investigate, and they discover that the two antagonists are Theodore Pudd, who runs the lumberman’s union, and Pierre O’Rourke, who claims to own the lumber rights to the area.  This pair quite cheerfully display a truly appalling level of racism and general awfulness, calling the Indians “animals” and “filthy savages.”  O’Neil wants to make sure we don’t miss the subtle touches of his intricate characterization.  Be sure to read closely, or it might elude you.  The issue at the core of this encounter is that the local Indian tribe, who, if you remember, were the target of the crazed hippies of the previous story, have an old claim to the timber of this area, but the records have conveniently disappeared.  As a result, O’Rourke is trying to take it over and cut the tribe off from their only means of support.  Because Pudd and company are such racist slime, they won’t even let the tribesmen join the union and work as lumberjacks.

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These are bad guys.  Get it?  BAAAD GUUUUYS!!!

There was one other copy of this land deal, originally negotiated by the tribe’s famous chief, Ulysses star.  The copy was given to his son, Abe, who went off to the city years ago and hasn’t been heard from since.  The lack of a clear and unambiguous legal solution causes the usual conflict between our two headliners.  Hal immediately gives up, and Ollie immediately starts tongue-lashing him, demanding that they stay and fight, legally or illegally.  They part ways, and, to his credit, the Lantern actually reconsiders his defeatist attitude and decides to try and find a way to help, legally.  That’s good.  After all, one of the fundamental traits of a hero is the ability to find a Third Way.  The Emerald Knight spends some time philosophizing with the guardian, and then he heads off to try his gambit.

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The guardian actually makes a rather interesting point.  He observes that our culture’s national heroes are warriors.  The very mythology of our world is one driven and defined by violence, so it makes sense that violence would be in our nature.  He sees a power of spirit here that is worthy, even if its effects are often tragic.  There’s some truth to that.  The same qualities that allow us to overcome adversity are often those that can be turned to destructive ends.  I’m reminded of the classic Star Trek episode, “The Enemy Within,” where Kirk’s good and evil sides are split into two beings, and the ‘good’ captain discovers that he can’t lead effectively without his ‘evil’ counterpart.  This is a topic that has been on my mind lately, humanity’s dual nature.  We are a creation of both light and shadow.  We are noble and vile, both comic and tragic.  It’s what makes us so very paradoxical.  Here, the Guardian plays, with some success, the archetypal role of the outside observer.  This is one of the oldest uses of science fiction, and one of the most effective and valuable.

Back to our tale, Hal searches for the son of Ulysses Star, knowing his task is likely hopeless.  He reminds us that he was an insurance investigator (I think we’d all rather forget that), and he has the skills for such detective work.  Yet, all he can find is the fellow’s last known address.  Maybe that’s because he was only in that job for a few months because he was having a midlife crisis at the ripe old age of 30.  Either way, when he arrives at the run-down tenement, he discovers a raging fire, with one resident still trapped inside.  The Emerald Crusader makes forges very tortuous path inside, using his ring in an extremely limited fashion and nearly getting knocked out by a falling beam (a narrowly subverted head-blow!).

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He manages to get out by the skin of his teeth and rescue the civilian, despite the fact that his bell was rung so well he couldn’t concentrate to use his ring.  This is another instance of O’Neil handicapping the hero without clear reason.  Even with his power limited, it really seems like the Lantern could have simply wrapped himself in a bubble and flown into the building.  That makes the entire desperate scene seem like the result of Hal’s stupidity rather than any necessary peril.

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As you probably expect, the rescued man is none other than Abe Star, but unfortunately the old man tells the Emerald Gladiator that the deed was burned up in the apartment.  The hero is stymied once again, but he is actually beginning to act a bit like the man of iron will he’s supposed to be.  The Lantern refuses to give up, so he heads to Washington, going straight to the highest authority to get aid for the tribe.

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Meanwhile, Green Arrow meets Black Canary at the Indian reservation, where they take stock of the dispirited condition of its inhabitants.  The lovely lady notes that the tribe’s biggest problem is that they’re just beaten down by history and oppression.  They’ve “been under the white man’s heel for so long they’ve lost faith in themselves.”  Corny dialog aside, as I understand it, there is a real issue here, and one certainly worth focusing on, though it is honestly not given all that much attention here.  This is an adventure story, though.  Because the Emerald Archer has all the subtlety of a bulldozer, his solution is pretty ostentatious.  He dresses up like an Indian chief and covers himself with glow-in-the-dark paint, playing the role of the spirit of Ulysses Star in order to inspire the tribe.

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He makes a few appearances, threatening the lumbermen and putting on a ghostly routine, as well as making an impassioned speech (Ollie has to have at least one per issue, you know) to the Indians.  Despite the fact that they doubt his ghostly bona-fides (which is itself a small but important point, as the tribespeople are less superstitious and gullible than the white men, a reversal of an old, old trope), they agree to fight for their land.  It is, of course, unclear what this will accomplish.  Matters come to a head the next morning, as the men of the tribe block the path to the timberlands, and the situation descends into a melee.  Oddly, Black Canary philosophizes about how she despises violence.  Really?  Since when?  You’re a superhero.  Your job constantly involves violence.  It’s something you literally engage in daily.  I somehow doubt that you become a street-fighting superhero because you abhor violence.  But it’s so much more touchy-feely-appropriate if she does.  That’s just one more lovely little example of O’Neil’s tone-deaf mischaracterizations.

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Do you reckon he gets tired, lugging that soap-box around?

Anyway, Black Canary and Green Arrow help the Indians defend their land, and things devolve into a sprawling brawl until the fight is stopped rather definitively by Green Lantern.  Notably, his mere arrival is enough to completely end hostilities.  He just places a big green wall between the sides and that is that.  This is perhaps the most glaring example of his complete mismatch with this setting found in this issue.  After all, O’Neil had to send him offstage in order to create any actual dramatic tension in this confrontation.  If the Emerald Crusader had been there, the fight would have been over before it started.  Essentially, with his setup for this book, O’Neil has painted himself into the same type of corner which the Silver Age faced with Superman, where his power is so vast you have to find ways to handicap him to prevent his resolving the conflict of the plot in the first two pages.  The difference is, such a situation is unnecessary with the Lantern, only existing because of the story O’Neil insists on telling.

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Of course, this entire escapade is entirely unnecessary.  After all, the Native Americans have freaking superheroes on their side.  Green Arrow and Black Canary, who regularly fight threats a bit more serious than some unpleasant loggers armed with sticks, threats like legitimately super-powered beings, could easily have trounced these jerks themselves, for whatever good that was going to do.  This would probably have been a better option.  After all, we’ve already seen that the loggers are willing to kill the Indians in cold blood, and they have access to guns.  I’m not really clear on what Arrow’s plan was supposed to accomplish, other than putting some spirit back into the tribe, which wouldn’t matter too much if they were all dead.  The matter is made even worse by the fact that this is the second time Ollie has convinced a group of untrained and unqualified civilians to fight a superior force.  At least this time he joined them from the beginning, rather than wait until dozens of them were gunned down so that his entrance could be more dramatic.  That precious moral superiority of his is on awfully shaky ground.

The immediate danger having been neutralized, Hal announces that he’s brought a U.S. congressman there from Washington to personally investigate this matter, which is actually a pretty good solution, considering the situation and the lack of documentation.  So, naturally Ollie congratulates his friend on his quick thinking and they put their efforts into helping the tribe and organizing peaceful protests…err…no, no, that isn’t what happens.  That’s entirely too sensible and mature.  Instead, the two “friends” decide to have a fist fight in the middle of the stream…for reasons. Green Arrow, still dressed as a yellow ghost, rages against his partner’s solution, and their immediate response is to pummel each other.  It’s completely pointless, so much so that even the characters themselves seem to admit that this brouhaha is unnecessary.

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O’Neil gets pretty darn purple in his prose as he narrates the fight, which, of course, is beautifully illustrated by Adams, but the highlight of this pointless punch-fest is how it ends.  That’s right, this issue gives us, not one, but two, count ’em, two, new entries for the Head-Blow Headcount!  Logs being floated down river clock both of our “heroes” in the back of the head, and in classic comic book fashion, they go down like a pair of proverbial sacks of potatoes.

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After they’re fished from the river, they go back to the village, where the tribes-folk themselves are split about the plan.  Some of them have no faith in the government (I wonder why?), and some of them are determined to make a go of it.  In the end, this is really the only option; Green Arrow’s way would have, at best, resulted in all of the tribesmen getting arrested, or perhaps even killed.  Apparently he never heard of peaceful protest or civil disobedience.  Fortunately, the investigation of the fire at the tenement building revealed (despite Lantern’s ignoring its too-convenient occurrence) that the two trouble-making timbermen were involved in that arson attempt, so they get carted off to jail.  The issue ends with our heroes once more gathered around a campfire, admitting that their foolish fight accomplished precisely zilch, and the story closes with a quote from The Armies of the Night, a counter-cultural “nonfiction novel” by Norman Mailer published just two years earlier.

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You can definitely see some of the influences at work on O’Neil in his choice of this book.  To call it merely anti-war would be an oversimplification, but it dealt with the current cultural issues in the States, centered around opposition to the war in Vietnam.  That’s an interesting choice, and I wonder how much of O’Neil’s audience would have read the book, as well as how many would have picked it up after seeing the editor’s note.  The evidence of counter-cultural influence in O’Neil’s choice of end-tag is noteworthy given the goals of this project, as we can see quite clearly a line of influence, and a relatively recent one, having an impact on the comic world.  It will be interesting to see how that impact spreads in the DCU.

This issue has me a bit torn.  On the one hand, the mischaracterization isn’t quite as bad as some of the previous examples we’ve seen, and the story itself is readable enough.  On the other, the problems are all those we’ve seen before, and their continued presence makes them more grating and more frustrating with each new book.  I’m glad that Hal comes off a bit better here, eventually, but Ollie is still an irrational, self-righteous jerk who, despite his endless lecturing, is something of a hypocrite.  The completely pointless fistfight, as well as the uselessness of Arrow’s grand gesture take away from the impact of the story.

What gives me pause, though, is that the central issue, the abuse and neglect of America’s native peoples, is an extremely important one, and, unfortunately, timely today, just as it was in 1970.  Ironically, one of the most glaring problems with this issue is that, despite its achingly desperate attempt to be socially conscious, all of the characters in this book, including the Native Americans and supposedly enlightened heroes, talk like actors in a 50s Western.  There’s ‘redskins’ this and ‘pale-faces’ that everywhere you look.  It’s really rather silly and smacks of the same kind of condescending cliches as Tonto‘s famously broken English.  Nonetheless, the plight of the local tribe manages to be moving, perhaps in spite of O’Neil’s treatment.

It is, of course, granted more pathos by the current events of our day, like the protests at Standing Rock.  It’s a shame that, after all of these years, we still can’t seem to do right by the native peoples in this country.  I won’t get into the entire issue here, as this is hardly the venue for such matters, but I will say that, right or wrong, good, bad, or ugly, when it is the Federal Government versus native peoples, I sort of feel like we should probably give the native peoples the benefit of the doubt at this point.  It only seems fair, given our history.  Anyway, that made this issue a bit more interesting to me than it might have been otherwise, but in the end, it’s still a story with very flawed writing and characterization that features a situation not really suited for its characters.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  It has enough strong points to keep it above a truly bad rating.

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Justice League of America #83

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“Where Valor Fails… Will Magic Triumph?”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella

This was yet another great issue of Justice League, which rather wiped the bad taste out of my mouth.  O’Neil’s run on the book continues to be consistently good, with fairly compelling stories, solid characterization, and interesting situations.  Yet, this particular issue shares a fault with most of his other outings, a somewhat weak and underdeveloped villain.  We are picking up with the second part of last issue’s plot, which saw Earth-1 and Earth-1 poised to be destroyed by Supreme Leader Snoke…er…I mean Creator², in his bid to design a new planet with the energy of their annihilation.  It’s a wonderfully off-beat idea, and a threat worthy of uniting the JLA and the JSA.  Interestingly, this story predates the similar setup in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by almost a decade.  I wonder if there’s any influence there.

Unfortunately, Creator² himself, and especially his minions, are just a tad boring.  They’re just blue-skinned aliens in robes.  There’s nothing distinctive or captivating about them.  Still, this run continues to be of high quality overall, and I have a feeling that I will eventually number it among some of my favorite Justice League runs of all time.  These stories are still products of their time, however.  Even as O’Neil is innovating and shaking things up with the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes, the book can still feel a bit hokey at times.  For the most part, though, we’re seeing the League in arguably the best form of the book’s history to this point.  Admittedly, that’s not really saying that much, given the goofy, Silver Age-y fare that tended to make up the League’s Adventures.

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We begin preciously where we ended, with Canary’s erroneous, but logical, conclusion that she is the cause for the growing convergence of the two Earths.  Throughout the book, her hopeless heroism, determined as she is to sacrifice herself for the greater good, is one of the strongest features of the tale.  It really works well.  She is not some robotic, heartless automaton, blithely giving up her life without a tear or a twinge like we might expect from a Silver Age story.  She is fully aware of what this gesture will cost her, and her quiet determination in the face of that knowledge is really rather moving.

Meanwhile, our bathrobe wearing villain is almost ready for the grand finale that will serve to launch his new planet with a bang, but he’s concerned about the JSA, seeing as they’ve already proven tough to handle.  He dispatches a set of his weird net devices to disable the team as a preemptive attack.  The Society itself is gathered to study their fallen members when the nets arrive, and once again the weapons prove formidable, capturing four members in several pages of nicely dynamic action.  As before, each net is capable of neutralizing the powers of its victim, so Staman finds his energy bolts reflected against him, Wonder Woman finds her bracelets bound, and Hourman finds himself accelerated through his hour of power in mere seconds.  It’s a good sequence.  The only problem is that the nets are fairly lackluster antagonists, being just devices, and not terribly visually interesting ones at that.

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Back in Earth-1, we listen in to a desperate conversation, as Canary insists that she must die, and Ollie, his usual cool and rational self, responds about as you’d imagine.  He won’t hear of anything happening to Dinah, but Green Lantern has a great third way, exercising that heroic creativity that is so much a part of the concept of American superheroes.  He posits that they don’t have to kill the Canary; they just have to move her to another dimension far enough away that the effect will cease.  He heads out to search for such a place, to Arrow’s enthusiastic support.

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Unfortunately, just as the Emerald Crusader discovers Red Tornado and the dimensional rift, his jade counterpart on Earth-2 is captured, freezing him in place in the depths of space.  At almost the same moment, we catch a quick glimpse of Hawkman, out on crowd control, when another strange cross-over occurs and the inhabitants of the two worlds briefly see one another face to face.  He saves an old woman, nearly run over in the resulting chaos, but before he can do more, his counterpart is captured as well and he is rendered helpless.

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Aboard the Satellite, the remaining heroes fear that Lantern’s absence must mean his failure, and Canary delivers a surprisingly haunting and touching meditation on her death, suggesting that she’ll board the transporter and simply scatter her atoms across space, becoming one with the stars.  It’s an impressive scene, made even better by Ollie’s frantic (and rather selfish when you think about it) attempts to talk her out of it.  The rational, scientific mind of Ray Palmer takes a more pragmatic view, and he suggests that they wait until the last minute before they make any choices.  The scene is really effective, and it’s as fine a piece of character work as you’re likely to see, even today.  If O’Neil can do this, one wonders why his characterization is so clumsy and heavy-handed in Green Lantern/Green Arrow.

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Dillin really captures Canary’s sorrowful determination.

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Meanwhile, on Earth-2, all of the Society members have fallen except for Dr. Fate and Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt.  Their magic seems to be more effective than the powers of their friends, but they are still fighting a losing battle until the mystic master teleports them to a graveyard, in search of more magical might.  Once there, he summons none other than the Spectre!  I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen this ghostly gent in this book since issue #47, and we’re quickly given to understand that his status quo has changed quite a bit.  Rather than discover him with his human host, Jim Corrigan, Fate finds him in a grave, and the spirit speaks of his sins and his imprisonment in the tomb.  It’s an interesting tease, and I’m quite curious what the situation is because I have no memory of any of this.  The editor assures us that this story will be told, so I am looking forward to that.

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Fortunately, the spectral hero has a plan.  His mystic senses have detected the machinations of Creator² and his cronies, and he sends his allies after the villain himself while he uses his very ecotplasmic being to serve as a bulwark between the colliding worlds.  The image of this effort is a pretty striking one, emphasizing both the character’s power and the skope of the problem.  His desperate ploy buys Dr. Fate and the Thunderbolt the time they need for their assault.

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There’s a nice sequence where the aliens detect their approach to their ship and open fire, only for Fate to teleport inside, causing Creator² to assume they’d been vaporized.  the effort exhausts the master of the mystic arts, leaving the Thunderbolt to take out the blue-faced minions, but he can’t handle Creator².  With one last, titanic exertion, Dr. Fate rips the ship itself apart in a pretty cool panel.  The process is halted, and though the release of energy causes some minor tremors, the worlds go back to their rightful places and the day is saved.  Yet, the victory comes at a cost.  The Spectre is literally torn apart by the dimensional shift.  That image, which is half tragic, half comic, isn’t nearly so successful.

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Of course, what is completely glossed over in the story is that Dr. Fate just totally killed dozens of beings.  He even admits that the aliens probably couldn’t live through that blast.  I realize they were preparing to commit dual planetary genocide, and while that’s about the worst crime imaginable, it’s still a bit crazy that Fate casually took several lives without so much as batting an eye.  That is definitely a big departure from the Silver Age, but not in a good way.  It wouldn’t have bothered me if O’Neil had dealt with that act, even a little bit, but no, it’s completely glossed over as we race to the conclusion of the issue.  It’s downplayed so much that I hardly noticed it on my first look, and death shouldn’t’ be treated that lightly in a superhero book, especially when a hero is the cause.  I would be more troubled if it were a traditional superhero who had done it, but a mystical character like Fate is always something of a liminal figure.  It makes sense that his work and his experience would lead to a somewhat different code than the heroes grounded in more mundane realities.

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On a more positive note, on Earth-1 (or more accurately, above it), the Atom detects the dimensional shift, and the heroes celebrate their narrow escape.  It’s a good ending, and Ollie’s joy at Canary’s reprieve is really quite charming.  He’s already entirely head-over-heels for her, and it definitely comes through.  Finally, the Lantern returns and fills them in on the score, leaving them to wonder if they’ll ever see the Spectre again.

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This is a good all-around issue.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, even if it was, once again, much more of a JSA story than a JLA one.  I’m pretty content either way, especially since the Society don’t have a book of their own yet.  (I’m looking forward to that one when it arrives, by the way.)  This issue managed to pack a lot of action in, as well as some really excellent character moments.  Dillin’s art was back up to snuff this month as well, so the book looked quite good.  That odd stiffness of last issue is gone, replaced with some truly attractive pages and an overall improvement in quality.  I enjoyed the handling of the magical heroes and their triumph.  It makes perfect sense that this super-scientific culture would be great at handling all types of threats, except those which defy science, like magic.  It’s also pleasant to see Dr. Fate take center stage, as I haven’t gotten to read that many stories that focus on him.

Once again, O’Neil manages to spread the spotlight out pretty well, with nearly everyone getting at least one interesting moment, either in action or in dramatic scenes.  The balance between the two types of focus is actually very well handled.  The pacing is also quite good, as is the economy of storytelling.  He told a complete tale in two issues that had time to breathe and still provided plenty of excitement with appropriately world-shattering stakes.  O’Neil continues to turn out good, solid adventure stories in this book, and I’m enjoying the ride.  They haven’t been stellar, but they have been consistently good, and that’s rare enough in an ongoing series to deserve praise.  Unfortunately, apparently this is the last issue of his tenure on the title.  I’ll miss his unique and creative concepts, though I hope we’ll get some more fully realized villains in coming issues.  If I recall correctly, there are some really excellent stories awaiting us.

It’s interesting to me that two of the books I look forward to most and the book I most dread are all penned by the same man.  It’s striking how very different these comics are from one another.  It seems that, perhaps, when forced into more traditional adventure fare, O’Neil really shines.  He wouldn’t be the first author who, when let completely off the leash, produced lower quality work because he was too concerned with his own agenda.  I’m reminded of the difference between Garth Ennis’s Dan Dare and…well, pretty much everything else he’s ever done.  Sometimes limitations can bring out the best in us.  This is actually a weakness in the concept of complete artistic freedom, an idea we tend to ascribe almost religious weight to in our culture.  I rather think that what’s necessary is a balance of structure and freedom, and that balance is difficult to achieve.

Ideally, the limitations for an artistic work should be internal, the moral and spiritual compass of the creator, but people being what they are, I’m far from convinced that channeling creativity into positive courses is always a bad thing, if done well.  That’s something that the tropes of the heroic ideal of the American superhero actually provides rather well.  Anyway, back to this particular story, I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen out of 5.  The weak villain and the completely unacknowledged killing by Dr. Fate cut it down from a perfect score.  I would have enjoyed seeing Bruce Timm and company take a crack at this story.  I think they could have really made something of it.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Another entry for the wall of shame, and this time, it’s a two-fer!  How exciting!  This month, both Green Arrow and Green Lantern join the ranks of the head-blow heroes.  Their moment of infamy is made all the more ludicrous by the fact that it was caused entirely by their own stupidity, resulting during their completely pointless fistfight.  It’s a particularly delightful addition to this august company.

Well, that’s it for this week.  We’ve had the best and the worst in this post, and we’re almost through September.  I’m looking forward to the next batch of commentaries, which will include the final chapter of Manhunter!  Please join me next time as we check out another set of stories and travel further Into the Bronze Age!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1970 (Part 4)

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Well, we’re moving right along through August!  I’m hoping to get at least caught up to the proper month before September ends…and I’m behind again.  We’ll see if I can manage, but so far, so good.  In this post we have two interesting stories, and I’ve been rather looking forward to this one.  Be warned, I’m going to indulge my professional interest a bit with some philosophical and literary reflections about the second issue!

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

  • Action Comics #391
  • Aquaman #52
  • Batman #224
  • Teen Titans #28
  • Detective Comics #402
  • The Flash #199
  • Justice League #82
  • Phantom Stranger #8
  • Showcase #92
  • Superman #229
  • World’s Finest #195

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

Justice League #82

jla_v-1_82“Peril of the Paired Planets”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

I enjoyed this story much more than I expected to.  At first blush, I rather thought it was going to be on the goofy side, and it does have its moments.  Nonetheless, the final effect is fairly enjoyable.  O’Neil’s run, though not completely stellar, continues to be strong overall.  In this issue, as with the Jestmaster, we once again get a promising concept that doesn’t have quite the right execution.  The villains of the piece are a race of aliens lead by a fellow named Creator² who build planets for a living, destroying existing ones to create the energy for the construction.  Anyone else reminded of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?  That’s right, the bad guy is Slartibartfast.  The stakes, complete planetary annihilation of not one, but TWO Earths, are certainly worthy of the Justice League, and the idea of an alien race that creates new planets by destroying old ones is the kind of thing that could totally work in the DC Universe.  Unfortunately, the aliens are rather goofy looking, and the concept just doesn’t entirely come together.  Another pass might do wonders.

As is, our tale begins with a very strange occurrence as Superman plummets from the sky, seemingly immobile and unconscious.  The League brings him to the Satellite, but they can find no explanation for his sudden illness.  Then, Batman suddenly falls victim to a similar phantom ailment and passes out.  The Leaguers (Flash, Atom, and Hawkman) call their missing members (Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Black Canary, sadly, no mention of Aquaman…), hoping against hope that one of them will be able to solve this mystery.  I’m going to have to go ahead and call shenanigans on O’Neil for this.  If you’ve got your favorite characters out on walkabout in GA/GL, then you can’t just pull them in for every JLA issue.  It sort of wrecks the whole, ‘on hiatus’ thing.  Why not give some other characters more of a chance to shine if you’re so dedicated to the oddball story you’re telling with them?

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Anyway, we then discover what is going on through a flashback that takes us to Earth 2!  That’s right, we’re seeing a JLA/JSA crossover starting in this issue, and that is pretty exciting.  I love the concept of these events, even if the execution wasn’t always fantastic (a common trait with the JLA, unfortunately).  While I prefer my JSA as the Earth-1, WWII predecessors of the League, there is something undeniably fun about having the two sets of heroes being able to hang out from time to time.  I even told a time travel story in my second JLA campaign in the DCUG, just so I could bring all of these heroes together, with the rosters cleaned up for continuity purposes, of course.  There’s no need to have multiples of the same character running around.  I always hated it when we got two Supermen or two Batmen, after all, as that just felt like a gyp.  I already get to read about those guys!

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I seem to have dragged myself off track.  Ahem.  Anyway…again…in the space between the two universes, Supreme Leader Snoke, err, I mean the Creator², captures poor, lonely, unloved Red Tornado, who is flying around empty, airless, as in no-freaking-wind, space…somehow.  This is one of the minor slips that hurt this issue.  It isn’t a huge deal, but come on.  Tornado’s whole thing is that he moves air around.  How the heck is he flying or doing much of anything where there is no air to move?

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The much bigger misstep is Reddy’s dialog and general characterization in this section.
The android is moping around space feeling sorry for himself, lamenting that he doesn’t fit in, even with the JSA.  When he sees the aliens’ ship approaching, the Tornado says, “Oh boy, this is my chance!  I’ll single-handedly stop the aliens…then everybody’ll have to like me!”  Ouch.  That feels like something that would show up in one of my worst comp. papers.  While it becomes a fixture that Reddy is a melancholy machine, this is just ham-handed and hokey.  Unfortunately, this type of one-dimensional, excessively melodramatic characterization is going to become indicative of the maudlin mechanical man.  He’s as emo as Kylo Ren!  This is part of the reason that poor Reddy has never achieved the popularity and gravitas of his Marvel counterpart, the Vision, despite having all of the same potential.  It’s a real shame, because he really is a great character.  I suppose that, given my love of underdogs, it is to be expected that I rather like this second-rate Leaguer who, at least for most of his history, never quite found his niche.  We’ll be seeing more from him in the future, of course, as he’ll soon be joining the team.

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Justice League of America v1 082-07.jpgReddy, of course, fails miserably in his efforts, because for some reason JLA writers decided to make him the team’s whipping boy.  Did Super Schlub grow up to be Red Tornado, or what?  The afflicted android is captured, and belonging to both Earths, he is able to be used as the focal point for the evil machinations of the planet-wreckers.  Power flows through the captive hero, and the two worlds begin to close in on one another, the barriers between them weakening.  Meanwhile, the aliens launch a preemptive strike on the JSA to prevent their interference.

Creator² arms his assistants with special nets that can counter the heroes’ abilities and dispatches them to capture the champions of Earth 2.  Now, I rather expected this to be goofy and cheesy after the awkwardness of the opening sequence, but the action is actually well-staged and believable in context.  Superman is easily captured because he doesn’t bother to dodge.  Why should he?  That’s a good touch, and it makes sense.  In the same way, it is actually Dr. Mid-Nite that causes the acolytes some trouble, as he’s more wary.  It’s also worth noting that the heroes, not knowing if these aliens are hostile or friendly, don’t just come out swinging.  That’s a good spot of characterization for the team.  Unfortunately, their beneficence leads to their defeat.

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It is these events that explain the strange ailments of the Earth-1 heroes.  As the JSA members were incapacitated, the weakened barriers allowed the effects to bleed over into the their closest counterparts among the Leaguers.  I’ll buy that.  It makes sense, in a comic kind of way.  I do have one bone to pick, though, and that’s the fact that Batman is identified as the closest counterpart to Mid-Nite, but we see the Earth-2 Batman just a few pages later!  Shenanigans I say!  Well, fuzzy logic aside, the Flash arrives on the scene, and he actually manages to do some good against the invaders, evading their nets with some clever maneuvering and decking one of them, but he is distracted by the sudden appearance of his Earth-1 counterpart!  The momentary interruption is all it takes for his foes to capture him as well.  This, of course, also causes Barry to be stricken as well.

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Suddenly, ghostly images of doppelgangers begin appearing around both worlds as the barriers break down even more.  The two teams meet up on their separate Earths and try and make plans, Starman playing the hothead among the JSA.  Fittingly, it is the Atom, a physicist, who figures out what is going on.  By crunching the numbers, he susses out that the two Earth’s are being pulled together and theorizes that the cause is some being with a connection to both planets.  Black Canary tearfully concludes that she must be culprit and insists that she must…die!  It’s not a bad moment, and it makes pretty perfect sense from their point of view.  It’s a good, tense note to end on, with the two worlds preparing to collide and no-one yet knowing what is behind it.

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I suppose it’s…good…that O’Neil is at least being consistent with his insufferable characterization of Green Arrow?  ‘No Ollie, there’s no emergency, I just thought it would be fun to interrupt your road trip’

This is a good issue, a fun enough adventure, though it is really a bit more of a JSA story than a Justice League one.  I’m entirely okay with that, as I love both groups.  As I said, the threat is certainly big enough to serve as a fitting challenge for these two massively powerful teams, though the aliens are really too goofy and boring looking to be entirely successful as antagonists.  The callous disregard their master, this Creator fellow, has for the life on these two worlds is a good trait for a cosmic villain, but I wouldn’t have minded learning a bit more about him.

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The fairly abominable writing of Red Tornado is a bit of a black mark on the issue, but it’s still a relatively minor part of the tale.  Unfortunately, Dick Dillin’s art isn’t quite up to snuff in this story.  He has some nice panels, but there’s also a lot of awkward, stiff figures (like the Superman sequence in the beginning) and art that just seems a bit ‘off.’  So, in the end, this is an enjoyable but flawed book.  It’s great fun to see the JSA and the JLA working on two sides of the same problem, but the weak points in the story and the weaker art keep the comic from being as good as it might.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Interestingly, the letter pages are filled with praises for JLA #78 and 79, the pollution focused issues.  Clearly, the idea of tackling heavier topics was really popular with fans.  In fact, one epistler writes in to say that major newspapers were reporting on these comics.  Notably, the writer also opined that his own city had a major problem with pollution.  Apparently, not-yet-disgraced President Nixon had just given a State of the Union address that named pollution as one of the major problems facing the nation.  Neat!  Those stories were obviously much more timely than I realized.

Phantom Stranger #8

phantom_stranger_vol_2_8“Journey to the Tomb of the Ice Giants!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Colourist: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Man, I’ve been looking forward to this one.  Just look at that cover!  I’ve seen that sucker waiting for me in my reading list, and I just couldn’t wait to see if the story inside is as awesome as that cover.  Don’t worry, you won’t have to suffer in suspense like I did.  This issue does, in fact, lives up to the awesomeness of the cover.  This is definitely my favorite Phantom Stranger issue so far, and it is here that I believe the series really finds its feet.  Even the editor seems to realize that they have hit on something special with this issue and this team.  He begins the letter column with a note that O’Neil and Aparo “have taken the Phantom Stranger to new heights” and remarks that he is particularly proud of the issue.  This unusual bit of editorial praise is, in my estimation, pretty spot on.  This tale really dives into the mystical and even mythical elements inherent in the character’s conceit, and it makes the DC Universe a more fantastic and interesting place in the process.  In my estimation, that’s one of the best contributions a book can make.  On the art front, Aparo seems to be on the book full time now, and I couldn’t be happier.  He’s at the height of his powers, so the comic is beautiful, dynamic, and full of interesting and individual looking characters.  Aparo creates no generic faces and no disposable characters.  Every figure he draws is unique and striking.  I’m afraid I’ve got rather a lot to say about this one, as it quite captured my imagination, resonating with many ideas that have been on my mind lately.

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This mysterious and mythic adventure begins in the arctic, with an ice breaker named the S.S. Night Wind suddenly finding itself faced with a vision from nightmare and legend, a massive giant of ice and snow!  It’s cold hands close about the ship, and suddenly the vessel is entirely trapped in ice.  We’re treated to a lovely two-page spread that shows us the scale of the little drama, and the Stranger briefly appears to the crew of the trapped ship to warn them of their danger.

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Our scene shifts to Alaska, where the ship’s financier, Mr. Muttson rages over the trouble with the Night Wind.  He steps into a steam room to try and warm up, but he suddenly freezes solid!  The local law is baffled, as you might imagine, and they call in everyone’s favorite wet blanket, Dr. Thirteen, who was conveniently near-by.  I’m willing to hand-wave his deus ex machina appearance because we are dealing with a story in a high dramatic tone and fate (or her Master!) may very well be playing a hand.

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The Stranger once again puts in an appearance to investigate the mystery himself, and we get yet another confrontation between the two characters.  Despite how many times we’ve seen its like, this scene is actually quite good.  There’s a certain intensity to the good Doctor’s reaction, a certain frustration and anger that rings true and rises above just rote repetition.  Thirteen is his usual charming self in this issue, and yet there is something more interesting and sympathetic about him that I can’t quite entirely put my finger on.  In this exchange, we even get a funny little note that made me chuckle.  The mysterious Stranger greets his opposite number as “Terry,” and this immediately gets under the skeptic’s skin, so much so that you have to think he intended it to do so.  Either way, Thirteen responds that “if he calls me Terry again, I’ll bust him–so help me-.”  It’s a good character moment, adding a bit more personality to the occult investigator than just stiff-necked skepticism.  After all, he’s got to be getting sick of having the Stranger show him up.

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The Phantom disappears, of course, and, also, of course, the Doc dismisses any possibility of the supernatural in that, or in this strange frozen death.  The case reminds him of another, as they all seem to, and he begins to relate the story, telling his listeners about the time a wealthy recluse was found frozen to death in the hothouse in which he kept his prize orchids.  While both the policeman investigating the death and the victim’s nephew suggest some type of mystical explanation, Thirteen is adamant that nothing of the sort is possible.  He finds a canister of freon, and, realizing that the orchids themselves are also frozen, he deduces that the recluse was flash-frozen by someone pumping the chemical in through the sprinkler system in the hothouse.  The skeptical sleuth accuses the nephew, and then he proves he is more than just a mind, as he disarms and captures the killer in a nice sequence.

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Dr. Thirteen, surprising badass

the phantom stranger (1969) 08 - 13 - Copy.jpgThat’s actually one of the best interpolated episodes we’ve seen so far, with a good mystery, a solid action beat, and Dr. Thirteen actually portrayed to good effect.  He’s much more likable here than we’ve seen previously.  Back in the main tale, the local chemist (given a ton of personality in his portrayal by Aparo, despite the fact he appears in a grand total of one panel), discovers that the ice entombing Muttson could only have come from the arctic.  Thirteen and his wife, sensing a link, prepare a helicopter to fly out and investigate the icebreaker.  Before they depart, the Stranger appears with a dire warning, and the Doc actually take a swing at him!

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In the vast, empty wastes of the frozen north, the Thirteens find the trapped ship and begin to search for some clues.  Suddenly, they spot a flash of reflected light, and they descend to discover a huge sword, fit for…a giant!  Just then, the occult investigator is smacked by a giant hand, and both he and his wife are seized by a towering figure that embodies the desolate icy wastes in which he moves.  The creature ominously declares that the humans have violated the sleep of his people, a sleep that began at the dawn of time!

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Fortunately for ‘Terry,’ the Stranger appears once more, and he demands the giant release the two humans.  I love his description of himself.  He announces that he “serve[s] a cause — a master — as ancient as” the giants themselves.  I quite like that, evocative yet mysterious, fitting easily any of the myriad identities we might assign the character (my favorite is still the Wandering Jew serving God).  That’s a difficult line to walk, but O’Neil manages it well here.

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The giants’ design isn’t quite right, what with the green trunks…

Well, as if the situation weren’t tense and chaotic enough, Tala chooses this moment to arrive.  She is her usual delightful self, and I really love her portrayal in this issue.  She is becoming a more fully realized character, while still remaining disconcertingly mysterious.  She makes her usual play for the Stranger, trying to persuade him to join her and abandon the mere mortals to their fate, but this time it is less about an archetypal contest between light and dark and more about the character herself.  O’Neil is really firing on all cylinders in this exchange.  Tala kisses her rival, and he pushes her away, proclaiming “death lies in your kiss!”  Her response is excellent, “Indeed, but such a death as can pale life.”  That’s almost poetic, and it fits the higher tone of the piece, what with its ancient civilizations and apocalyptic possibilities.

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Right after that we hit a rather weird note, as the Stranger stands forth to oppose the giant, employing his vast and enigmatic powers…no, wait, he punches the titan in the face.  Okay…it is extremely cool looking, and I have no problem with the supernatural sleuth getting his hands dirty once in awhile.  Still, we’ve seen him employ some pretty impressive powers in the previous issues, so it is rather jarring for him to suddenly act like all he’s got in his bag is a good right hook.  If O’Neil wanted to limit him, all he needed was a line of dialog, something like ‘I can’t use my abilities because it would awaken the magic of the giants,’ or SOMETHING.  Instead, the hero is smacked down, quite literally, and seems helpless against the jotunn-like creatures.

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You have to admit, though, it’s a heck of a page.

They announce their plans to emerge from their self-imposed exile and reclaim the Earth, but the Stranger, in a wonderful two-page spread, warns them that this globe is not what it used to be.  Humans have sort of wrecked the joint, as we are wont to do.  Here we see some more of O’Neil’s use of realistic and weighty themes, dealing with the social unrest and the pollution that we’ve seen influencing the books we’ve covered.  It’s a nice sequence, not too heavy-handed or preachy because of its context and the solid prose that he marshals for the effort.

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The giants are swayed, but their laws still demand a sacrifice before they can return to their centuries-long slumber.  Tala helpfully suggests they take Maria Thirteen, and in a flash of light, she seems to render her helpless.  Unopposed, the frozen fiends return to their glacial home, and here we reach the second odd moment in the book.  The story takes a fairly dark turn all of a sudden, as the Stranger silently watches the titans’ exodus, not lifting a finger to prevent their killing an innocent woman.  Then, he carries ‘Terry’ back to his helicopter and once again employs mundane methods in his fight, eschewing his powers.  He seals the entrance to the giants’ cavern with dynamite, leaving Maria to her fate.

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The Stranger coldly rationalizes his choice, reasoning that her sacrifice was necessary because any contact between giants and men would inevitably destroy both because of the wrack and ruin that a conflict between magic and technology would unleash.  This is another fascinating concept that just gets tossed out in this issue, one of many that create a wonderful atmosphere of history and mythology lying behind the plot itself.  Yet, the hero’s choice cannot help but seem both unnecessary (without further framing) and callous to us.

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Fortunately, after the cave is sealed, who should make her way back to the helicopter but Maria!  Tala returns and explains matters, telling her opponent that she, indulging in her chaotic nature, could not resist playing a trick on the giants, and thus took the girl’s place when she caused that blinding flash.  It’s a good and rather surprising moment, yet it fits the character well.  I like Tala as not just a being of pure evil, but an avatar of chaos, more like Loki than Satan, the Trickster figure brought to life.  I think that’s got potential, and it certainly has mythical echoes.

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The story ends with the Thirteens reunited and ‘Terry’ being ridiculously condescending to his wife.  To her credit, she doesn’t seem to be taking his nonsense entirely meekly.  Here again we have the good Doctor blatantly disregarding a reliable eyewitness to the supernatural because “we both know such things simply do not occur!”  Great job being scientific and impartial, Terry.  This ending really struck me, as I realized that Dr. Thirteen is willfully blind to the higher realities he continually comes in contact with.  He has now encountered several mysteries that he’s been entirely unable to solve, yet he persists in his stiff-necked adherence to his world-view.  This was particularly interesting to me because I just read C.S. Lewis’s Miracles, his philosophical case for the possibility of the miraculous.  One of his arguments touches on the fact that this is how most of us approach any such questions.  We know miracles cannot exist, therefore, every other explanation, no matter how ridiculous, must be more probable.  This cannot help but bias us in our investigation of such matters, as we have a priori decided that one explanation is impossible.  In this dogmatic dedication to disbelief, Dr. Thirteen reminds me very strongly of the dwarves from The Last Battle.  I can imagine Thirteen sitting there in the dark with them, seeing a dirty barn while surrounded by the eternal, refusing to acknowledge the reality that was staring him in the face.  It makes him something of a tragic figure as well as a comic one and probably has something to do with my growing appreciation for the character.

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This was a great story, and the complaints I have are minor.  The most significant of them is that I wish the concepts tossed out left and right in this book were given more development in the wider lore.  Apparently we do see the giants return in a later issue, so that is exciting!  It was of particular interest to me because I’ve just been studying the medieval tradition of giants, which the titanic creatures of this tale evokes.  I actually just wrote a paper on the giant/Jute debate in Beowulf¹.  I love the archetypal weight the figure of the giant carries, the ageless antipathy between man and monster.  In the medieval tradition, the giants were identified with an antediluvian (pre-Flood) culture, advanced and wicked, possessing great knowledge and power, but corrupting men with that power and forbidden learning.  They were identified with pride (which, if we recall, was the first and greatest sin) and greed.

These jotunn-esq beings with their ancient civilization remind me a bit of those stories.  Their implied history and the Stranger’s cryptic statements indicating the existence of a whole hidden lore helps to give this particular story its strongest feature, that most wonderful quality of literature, which Tolkien called “the impression of depth” (Monsters and Critics 27).  This is the effect that gives works like The Lord of the Rings such a vastness and feeling of reality.  It is the quality that leads a reader to believe that the story does not just exist in these limited pages but expands infinitely on every side of the book itself, with a rich past and undiscovered countries just beyond every hill.  This quality is, of course, limited in this instance, and the the comic has its weaknesses, the loose threads in the tapestry O’Neil is weaving.  Nonetheless, the final effect is exactly that sense of wonder and imaginative adventure that brings me to comics in the first place.  This is the type of story that I love to read, and I give this issue a very strong 4.5 Minutemen.

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Well my good readers, that is it for this post.  This is shaping up to be one heck of a month!   We’ve had some great, high-scoring and fascinating issues, and there are more promising stories on the horizon.  It definitely looks like we’re facing a much better crop of books this month.  I hope you’ll join me soon for the next few issues, which will include the next iteration of Manhunter 2070!

¹If you’re interested in literary studies, philology, or textual criticism, you might find this worth reading.  If these things don’t interest you, you can safely skip this section.  Several of the incidents in Beowulf feature the word eoten, which means “giant,” even being related (most likely) to the Old Norse word, “jotunn,” which describes the monstrous figures of scandinavian myth.  Yet, in several spots editors emend it to mean “Jute,” an ancient people that were often in conflict with the Danes.  Essentially, the argument is that a later scribe, having never seen “Eotan,” the word for Jutes, just substituted “eoten,” or “giant.” Coincidentally, this approach to the poem seems to me to be motivated by much the same resistance to the fantastic that drives the close-mindedness of people like Dr. Thirteen.  Scholars have desired a historical document from Beowulf, though that was never what it was intended to be.  They hope to find mythologized records of actual conflicts, real history behind all the fantasy ‘fluff,’ but you can no more do away with the giants than you can with the dragon. They both lie, not at the periphery, but at the core of the poem.  The debate continues (it’s giants), and though there are reasonable arguments for finding Jutes (really, it’s giants), they tend to create as many problems for interpretation (seriously, it’s giants) as they solve.  Meanwhile, rendering these mysterious figures as giants creates greater dramatic unity, (trust me, giants) emphasizing many of the primary themes of the main plot, especially the corrupting effects of power and wealth, both associated in medieval tradition with the figure of the giant (it’s totally giants).

DC Defenders

Historyofthedcu

Hello Freedom Forcers!  This is my first post in quite some time, but I assure you I have not been idle in the intervening months…and months…and months….*ahem*  Well, I haven’t been too idle.  I have been hard at work on more than a few projects, and I am just now finishing up my Pulp Adventures mod, featuring the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Green Hornet, plus many more!  Be on the lookout for the release of this love letter to the classic pulp heroes in the next few months.  Once I finish that project, I’ll be revisiting a few previous undertakings, including the DC Universe According to Grey!  What follows are some ruminations and some little bits of fun on the subject of my sprawling version of the DC Universe.

I have recently been reading through a number of DC books, including classic issues of Detective Comics, Adventures Comics, The Brave and the Bold, and others.  All of this four-color goodness has really set my mind on fire to get back to my DC Universe mod and start telling stories set in my all-time favorite comic setting.  To that end, I’ve been toying with the hundreds of story ideas and half-finished plots that are lying around my hard drive in various stages of completion, and after hearing something interesting on The Who’s Who Podcast, of Aquaman Shrine and Firestorm Fan fame (say that three times fast!), I decided to play around with an old concept that didn’t make it into the first release of the DCUG.

One of the hosts of the show, the Irredeemable Shag, mentioned his ideal superhero team, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was, in large part, note for note the same team that I had created for a campaign in the DCUG.  I’ve got a few missions written, but nothing was finished when I released the mod.  However, it is on my list of campaigns that I want to finish when I return to my sprawling pet project.  You see, years ago I watched the JLU episode “Wake the Dead.”  In it, the Timmverse presented a DC version of the classic Marvel team, the Defenders, who took on a mystical threat.  The team included my personal favorite hero, Aquaman, and I found the idea of a DC team that including the Sea King and dealt with mystical threats to be pretty intriguing.  Now, I know what a few of you mega-DC fans are saying, ‘that team already exists, and it’s called Shadowpact!’  Well, I have to admit that I know next to nothing about them as a team, and even less of them as individual characters.  I’m afraid they don’t interest me much in any event.

On the other hand, given Aquaman’s connection to Atlantis, it makes sense for him to be involved in sword and sorcery type tales occasionally.  So, I created my own version of the team featuring a number of second string character for whom I had a soft spot, and I penned a story arc for them that promises to be great fun.  The team featured:

As I started to think about these stories once again, I got an itch to throw part of the team into the Rumble Room and see how they played together.  I took some screenshots, and I’ll share them with y’all now:

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I began by choosing a subset of my nascent mystical team.  So many choices!  It’s getting hard to find anything among the huge roster of the DCUG these days!  I’m pitting my team against a semi-random assortment of villains on a fantasy-style map.

picture016Heroes assembled!

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Matchstick is undaunted in the face of evil!

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The heroes move out in search of some villains to vanquish.

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And the villains find them!  Yes, that’s obscure Hawkman villain I.Q.!  Will his technological marvels be enough to stop our stalwarts?

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He uses one of his hi-tech devices on Blue Devil…  picture028But it isn’t enough!  Ouch, that’s going to hurt!

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But I.Q. has distracted the heroes while the rest of the villains arrive, led by the powerful sorcerer Wotan!

picture033Zatanna finds herself surrounded!  Which spell to use, which spell to use…

picture037The Mistress of Magic drives them back with a burst of dinw…errr, wind!

picture035Aquaman uses his telepathy on Wotan, hoping to stun him and disable his defenses.

picture039Zatanna prepares to finish off the Trickster, but Wotan prepares another spell!

picture042The Shade enters the scene, stunning the Nuclear Man!

picture045Meanwhile, Aquaman squares off with his half-brother…

picture047And Firestorm is airborne again!  Perhaps a little creative transmutation might be in order…

picture052The Battle rages on!

picture053Aquaman corners The Shade!  Let’s see that nightstick save him now!

picture063And Firestorm provides the coup de grace!

The heroes won the day, though Zatanna fell to the villains.  I think I’ve got the beginning of a good team here, and I am looking forward to completing their campaign over the summer when I return to the DCU!  I hope that y’all enjoyed this little bit of silliness as much as I did!