Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 5)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpg

Hello folks, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  I’m back on my routine, at least for a little while, so I’ll hopefully finish this month up soon.  I’m very excited about today’s post, as we’ve got New Gods #1, the start of what is undoubtedly the most significant of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World books.  There’s also a delightful little surprise in this month’s Superboy, which added to my enjoyment of these comics.  In general, we’ve got a good set of books to discuss, so let’s get to it!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #398
  • Adventure Comics #404
  • Batman #230
  • Brave and Bold #94
  • Detective Comics #409
  • The Flash #204
  • Forever People #1
  • G.I. Combat #146
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82
  • Justice League of America #88
  • New Gods #1
  • Superboy #172
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136
  • Superman #235
  • World’s Finest #201

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


Justice League of America #88


JLA_v.1_88“The Last Survivors of Earth!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

This is an interesting cover for an unusual issue.  Notably, this comic has the distinction of being the only pre-crisis JLA book to feature Mera on the cover, and she does look good there with the rest of the League.  It’s a shame she didn’t get into action with them more often.  The cover itself is indicative of the era, showing the JLA having failed in some fashion, a common trope, but interestingly, there is some truth to this particular tableau.  The issue inside is a fun one, if a bit odd, as the heroes really don’t have much impact on the outcome.

The tale begins with a strange golden spaceship, which has a pretty cool design, speeding towards Earth as a robotic voice addresses its passengers.  The voice reminds its charges that they are the people of Mu, which, like Atlantis, is a legendary lost continent, and a very promising addition to the mythos of the DCU.  The mechanical voice continues, recounting how the citizens of Mu had used their superior technology to flee what they thought was a dying world, but their return, thousands of years later, has revealed a flourishing orb.

JusticeLeague88-02

The people of Mu, being kept alive by their machines, are now degenerated and decadent from their enforced isolation and inaction, and they can only respond with hatred to the modern inhabitants of Earth who they assume must be inferior to themselves.  Dillin achieves a pretty creepy, horrific effect with his portrayal of the Muians, vast rows of stiff, motionless figures, all screaming mindlessly for blood.  It’s like a much darker version of Wall-E, and as we’ll see, it serves a similar theme.

JusticeLeague88-03

Meanwhile, blissfully unaware of the threat approaching from space, a trio of Justice Leaguers pursue a “busman’s holiday,” working at an archeological dig in the South Seas Islands.  Carter and Shiera Hall have been joined by Hal Jordan of all people, and they are working to uncover clues to lost civilizations.  I love these types of glimpses into the ‘off-duty’ lives of the Leaguers, especially when they are hanging out together.  This is a really fun setup, and I would have enjoyed spending more time with these characters here, but Shiera quickly turns up a tablet inscribed with strange symbols that seem to point to the mysterious continent of Mu.  Just then, lightning strikes her out of a clear sky!  Green Lantern is able to blunt its force, but she’s still stunned, so the heroes suit up, with Hawkman taking his wife to a hospital while Hal contacts the League.

JusticeLeague88-04

In a touch that I quite enjoyed, Aquaman was on his way to join the trio to lend his services in interpreting whatever they found.  If you’re working on lost continents and civilizations, what better expert to call in than the king of just such a place?  It’s a really cool detail, and it proves wise, as he fills Hal in on what the Atlanteans know about Mu: it was an advanced civilization in the pacific that disappeared mysteriously.  The Sea King also brings news that strange disasters are occurring in the Gulf of Persia, the Mekong Delta, and the Coast of California, all of which point to Mu (though how they do so is quite unexplained).  The Emerald Crusader divides the League’s forces to deal with the different disasters and heads out himself, only to be struck by lightning as well, just managing to save himself at the last moment!

JusticeLeague88-05

In California, Batman, Green Arrow, and Black Canary arrive in the Batjet, but there is some tension in the air, as Batman remembers a kiss aboard the Satellite.  When they land, Black Canary pulls the Dark Knight aside, much to Arrow’s chagrin.  After telling Ollie that she’ll talk with whoever she care to, she tells Batman that she wants his advice on how to deal with the hot-headed archer, and she came to him because she thinks of him as a brother!  Ouch!  Bats is stuck in the one trap not even he can escape, the friend zone!  Nonetheless, he takes it like a man, and when the Emerald Archer starts flipping out and demands to take off, the Masked Manhunter even lets them use his plane.  (Real mature, Ollie.  It’s not like lives are at stake or anything.)  It’s a surprising but enjoyable little scene, with a bit of humor and just a touch of pathos, as Batman realizes that the attraction he feels is one-sided.

JusticeLeague88-10

Back on the other side of the world, Superman and the Atom approach the Persian Gulf, where refugees are fleeing a violent set of earthquakes.  The readers get a glimpse of the culprit, a golden medallion, an artifact of Mu, worn about the neck of a respected Iranian man, which serves as a transmitter for the destructive energies of the Mu spacecraft.  The heroes labor in ignorance, however, with Superman doing his best to help the evacuation and save lives while the Atom heads to a lab to try and sort out what is going on.  He stops a few looters and then gets to work, eventually determining the center of the disturbances, but not their cause.

JusticeLeague88-13
As the heroes head towards the epicenter of the quakes, the medallion’s owner smashes it, unwittingly ending the disaster.  Notably, the man, a devout Muslim, is portrayed as wise and selfless in a very positive and sympathetic treatment of Islam for a comic from 1971.  We even get an editor’s note providing a touch of background for the religion, which is surprising.

JusticeLeague88-15

At the same time, in Vietnam, the Flash has his hands full with an out of control monsoon.  Floods are destroying the country, and the Fastest Man Alive is run ragged trying to save lives.  While he labors, a young woman accustomed to tragedy prays to her household gods, another artifact of Mu.

JusticeLeague88-19

In another surprising touch, we’re told her husband was killed by the Viet Cong and her son by American napalm, an unexpected glimpse of the ongoing tragedy unfolding in Vietnam, and one that is handled with an unusually light touch.  Just as Green Arrow and Black Canary arrive and mark the center of the disturbance with a flare, the young woman smashes her idol in rage at its failure to protect her family, ending the storms.

JusticeLeague88-21

JusticeLeague88-23Finally, in California, Batman is left alone to confront the arriving Muian ship, and his valiant but foolhardy barehanded attack against the technological marvel, ends in defeat.  It’s a shame he didn’t have an advanced jet with all kinds of weapons on hand.  Once again, Green Arrow’s temper gets everyone in trouble.  The League just might be better off without him.

The people of Mu have their robotic caretaker snare a youth off of the street to interrogate, trying to discover how their attacks have been defeated.  The young man tells gives them a fiery response about how they are really jealous of the freedom and life that regular humans have, and then escapes the ship.  When it takes off, something suddenly goes wrong and it crashes into the sea, incidentally killing hundreds or thousands of Muians.

JusticeLeague88-25

When his friends ask him what happened, the young man informs them that he threw a wrench into the craft’s engines, thus saving the day….and also committing a touch of genocide!  The story ends with the Leaguers comparing notes and realizing that none of them ended the threats.  Finally, Aquaman recommends that they write this case up as “unexplained.”

JusticeLeague88-26

Yay!  They’re all dead!

This is a fun issue, though the final resolution is really rather too sudden and random, and I’m not quite sure what we’re supposed to make of all of this.  The final narration stresses the theme of the Muians’ plight, the dangers of overreliance on machines, but the message is a tad muddled in delivery.  There’s something here about the triumph of human nature over machines, but it doesn’t quite get developed.  This idea is apparently in the zeitgeist, as we’ve just seen an Aquaman issue on the dangers of over-mechanization.

JusticeLeague88-29

JusticeLeague88-10 - CopyDespite the slightly awkward ending, there are a lot of neat elements in this tale, interesting and thoughtful little touches, like having Aquaman be called in as an expert in lost civilizations, some decently graceful attempts at exposing readers to other cultures, and even a little romantic intrigue.  The lost continent of Mu itself is a really fascinating concept, and it’s a shame it didn’t get a bit more development here, though that’s often the case for comics of this era.  I’m curious if anyone else ever made anything of the seeds planted in this story.  The threat the heroes face is one well suited to the League, and it’s an interesting change of pace that the team doesn’t actually save the day.  Most everyone gets something to do, though Aquaman gets the short end of the stick, as usual.  Dillin’s art is uneven in this one, alternately very strong and rather awkward, but for the most part he turns out a very pretty book.  There are a few just strange looking panels, though, like Batman’s awkward run.  In any event, this is an enjoyable read without the weirdness of the some of our previous issues.  I’ll give this one a solid 3.5 Mintuemen.

minute3.5


New Gods #1


New_Gods_v.1_1Orion Fights for Earth!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

Now here we go!  Kirby’s New Gods book is, unsurprisingly, the core of his New Gods saga, and it is here where we really begin to learn what’s behind everything we’ve seen teased in the other books.  The cover copy declares that this is “an epic for our times,” and that is a fitting description for the adventure that lies inside.  After all, an epic is usually defined as a long narrative poem of high tone and style dealing with the deeds of a powerful hero, often across a backdrop of the fantastic, and, other than the lack of verse, Kirby’s book does match up to that definition fairly well.  It is certainly a story that is larger than life, mythic in scope and proportions, and that is obvious even here at the very beginning.  In his other Fourth World books, the King has been introducing interesting and exciting new concepts, innovating in smaller ways, but with this book, Kirby begins to do that which he had done in Marvel in the 60s, create something completely new.

The world he conjures is unlike anything seen before, at least in DC Comics.  There are similarities to his Asgardian adventures and the cosmic aspects of his Fantastic Four, but there is a scope here, an imaginative intensity, that is unprecedented.  These are truly new myths being created before our eyes, with just that type of archetypal power, and the end result, however flawed in the particulars as it can be on occasion, is still something incredible.  I love these stories, and it is really a breathtaking experience to go back and read them in the context of what was going on at the time.  Reading them cold in the 21st Century only allows you to experience them obliquely.  You don’t realize how incredibly groundbreaking they were, because what they accomplished has in the decades since become commonplace as swarms of imitators have flooded comics with similar work.  Yet, seeing Kirby’s Forth World burst onto the scene in this book in 1971 really puts into perspective just how revolutionary Kirby was, as he always was.

This first issue is no exception, and from the beginning, you can tell you’re in for something special.  I have to say, though, that the cover is not particularly impressive.  The figure of Orion is a striking one, but the weird coloring has never appealed to me.  I’ve always preferred the recolored versions I’ve seen.  Nonetheless, what’s within does not disappoint.  The tale starts with the fall of the old gods.  In an incredible Kirby splash page, he tells with remarkable narrative efficiency of the Twilight of the Gods, of Ragnarok.  These old gods, who look rather suspiciously like Kirby’s Asgardians, battle one another in an apocalyptic scene, and with a single page, the King wipes away what he had once created in order to begin afresh.  It’s beautifully fitting on many levels.

ng01-03

The conflict ends in the destruction of the world of the gods, which is torn in two, and the two new orbs are left floating in space.  We aren’t told yet, but these will become New Genesis and Apokolips, the eternally opposed homeworlds of the New Gods.  Kirby’s narration throughout this section is, quite honestly, probably some of the best prose he’s ever written.  He really manages to capture the epic tenor he sets out for, and though sections of the book can get a bit clunky, the opening pages set an impressive tone.

ng01-06

Across the vastness of space comes the dramatic figure of Orion, possessor of the “Astro Force,” whatever that means, a warrior who we meet as he returns home to New Genesis, and we’re treated to some incredibly striking visuals of its beautiful floating city and Cyclopean architecture.  He’s greeted by the lighthearted Lightray, a lightning quick young man who flies circles around the dour Orion and implores him to stay in the paradisaical city and “learn to laugh again.”

ng01-07

Their conversation reveals our first hints at Orion’s dual nature, and we get a sense that he is a troubled soul and more than meets the eye.  The warrior has been summoned home to meet with his father, and the New Gods’ leader, Highfather.  The very patriarchal looking Highfather leads his son to “the chamber of the Source,” where they see a white stone wall, their “link with the Source.”  The idea of “the Source” provides a suitably vague and cosmic…well, source, for the powers of good, while still allowing for a surprising compatibility with the concept of the one God and thus folding in rather nicely with DC’s lightly drawn cosmology, even jiving peacefully with my own religious sensibilities.

ng01-08

ng01-10

As the pair stands before the wall, they are joined by Metron, an eternal scholar, a being of intellect, whose outlook has something in common with the cold logic of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.  It seems there is no love lost between Orion and this newcomer, and their verbal sparring is only interrupted when Highfather communes with this mysterious Source, and a in very biblical image, a fiery finger writes upon the wall and “having writ, Moves on.”  The message it leaves behind is “Orion to Apokolips–then to earth–then to WAR.”  It’s a portentous declaration, but Highfather reminds Orion that, though the Source advises, they still have the freedom to choose, and it is this freedom that separates those of New Genesis from Apokolips.  The young man’s choice leads him across the vast distances between worlds, to war!  As he takes his leave, Metron offers a cryptic statement that reveals he knows that Orion’s true origins lie on Apokolips, and Highfather angrily swears him to secrecy.  I quite like the celestial scholar’s line, “How wonderfully wise is the Source!  Who is more ready to fight the father– than the son!”  It illustrates the archetypal dimensions of the story Kirby is spinning.

ng01-13

ng01-14

To Apokolips Orion flies, and our first glimpse of the grim, gray world is quite stunning, with its ashen surface and massive fire pits.  It looks every inch the archetypal Hell, and as he travels above it, Orion’s thoughts inform us that it is the opposite of New Genesis, a world dedicated to conquest and domination, to the extermination of freedom.  His reconnaissance is interrupted by a trio of Apokaliptian shock troopers, the parademons, which starts a running battle as Orion faces various waves of enemies, including heavy cavalry mounted on giant, vicious dogs!

ng01-15

Most of the troops are visually interesting and imaginatively designed, and the action looks good in Kirby’s wonderfully dynamic style.  In the various skirmishes, we begin to get a sense of Orion’s lust for battle and the dangers of his temper.  Finally, the warrior makes his way to the palace, only to discover that Darkseid has already gone to Earth, but his visit does not go unremarked, as the titanic tyrant’s son, Kalibak the Cruel, is there to greet him.  Their battle is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Metron, who has come to hurry Orion on his way.

ng01-19

ng01-29The scholar warns the warrior of Darkseid’s plans, telling him that the Apokaliptian monarch even now works on a device that will allow him to search all of the minds on Earth for the mysterious and sinister ‘Anti-Life Equation.’  Before vanishing as mysteriously as he appeared, he also reveals that Darkseid began his search there on Apokolips with a quartet of kidnapped humans.  The warrior frees the captives, and holding Kalibak off, opens a boom tube to Earth to help them escape.

ng01-24

Then to Earth they travel, leaving a raving Kalibak behind them, swearing revenge.  Once there, Orion explains to the four he rescued that there is a conflict brewing of universal significance, something far beyond their understanding, and the book ends with him shouting a challenge to Darkseid, a challenge which Darkseid, from his hidden fastness, answers.

ng01-31

ng01-20Then to War!  Wow!  Summarizing this book was a real challenge.  Since so much of this is new and since there are so many big ideas flying around, it is tough to be brief when talking about this story.  In fact, I left some interesting moments untouched, like the glimpse of New Genesis’s culture revealed in Highfather’s reverence for the innocence of youth, which itself is an effective shorthand for his world’s love of freedom and for the stakes for which this galactic game shall be played.  In general, this is a great story, though it will eventually be overshadowed by what comes after.  Kirby’s art is a little rough in some spots, and of course Colletta’s inking doesn’t do him many favors.  None the less, the visual imagination at play is wonderful, with both New Genesis and Apokolips fitting perfectly into their archetypal roles.  Kirby’s imagination is clearly unleashed in this book, and the fruits of his labors are wondrous.  There are Promethean structures everywhere, and many panels stress the scale of the world we’ve entered, as Orion is shrunk to insignificance before a starfield or an ominous edifice.

ng01-21

ng01-16I’ve mentioned how archetypal this story is, and that is an important part of its success, as the King is essentially creating a new myth, working in the broad, bright colors of legend, evoking the eternal struggle of the Norse Gods, the Olympian war against the Titans, or similar cosmic conflicts.  This is a larger scale, a much larger scale, than anything we’ve seen in DC Comics, and clearly already more fully realized than any similar worldbuilding we’ve seen in the last year.  The only parallels can be found in Kirby’s own work in Marvel, but with the Fourth World the King seeks to surpass even those heights .  Think about how astonishing this book must have been when it hit the stands amongst the mundane everyday stories filling DC’s books.  Even this month’s Justice League tale, which has some measure of imaginative reach, feels positively cramped and halfhearted by comparison.  Despite that, he’s doing some pretty solid character work even from this first chapter, especially considering the era.  There are mysteries surrounding Orion, and a lot of personality at play in everyone we meet.  The impression of depth is downright palpable, and you just know that this conflict sprawls far beyond the pages of this book.  What’s more, we can see the lasting impact of this story in the fact that so many of its elements, even just from this first entry, have gone on to become central elements of the DC Universe.  It’s a great beginning, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series!  I’ll give this first chapter 4.5 Minutemen, as it loses just a little for the clunkier moments.

minute4.5


Superboy #172


Superboy_Vol_1_172“The World of the Super-Ape!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Brotherly Hate!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: George Tuska
Letterer: Joe Letterese

Oh boy, we’ve got gorillas on the cover!  According to legend, DC’s indefatigable editor, Julie Schwartz, believed (and not without some reasonable circumstantial evidence) that a gorilla on the cover of a comic would boost sales.  Supposedly, the effects were so marked in the Silver Age that all of his editors wanted gorillas for their covers, and he had to institute a policy of no more than one gorilla cover a month!  Whatever the case may be, there sure are tons of gorilla covers from this era of comics!  This particular offering is a fairly striking one, and there’s a nice mystery, which gets a fairly good buildup in the story itself.  As for that very cover story, it has a really ludicrous premise, but the whole thing is handled surprisingly well.  While the concept is very Silver Age, the writing feels a tad more mature.

superboy 172 0003
superboy 172 0004

The tale opens with a recapitulation of Superman’s origin, but this time, there are two rockets headed for Earth.  One crashes in Smallville, and the other, strangely enough, in the heart of Africa, where its inhabitant is adopted by the apes.  Then the scene shifts forward 15 years, where an ivory poacher vanishes after an encounter with a strange shadowy figure.  The preserve officers call in Superboy when they are stumped by the lack of tracks.  A second group of poachers, out to capture gorillas for a zoo, also go missing, once again accosted by a shadowy figure.

superboy 172 0005superboy 172 0006
There’s a nice effect to these mysterious attacks, and Robbins continues to delay the final reveal of the antagonist, granting the first half of this comic a cool, old-school monster movie feel.  Tension mounts from scene to scene as the mystery deepens.  The payoff isn’t quite as good as I had hoped, however.  Eventually, Superboy decides that there must be connection between the apes the poachers were hunting and the mysterious disappearances, so he dresses as a gorilla in order to have the primates lead him back to their tribe….which is pretty silly, but okay.  The apes oblige, and in their cave, the Boy of Steel sees strange statues, idols, and even a magnificent throne, all carved in the likeness of a massive gorilla, and carved by intelligent beings.  Brown does a good job rendering these scenes and granting them a mysterious atmosphere.
superboy 172 0008superboy 172 0010
Inside the cave, Superboy discovers the captured poachers making a break for it, one of them having secreted a gun when they were taken, and he reveals himself in order to help their escape.  The gorillas pose no threat to him until, all of a sudden, a SUPER ape appears, one speaking Kryptonese!  That’s right, he is confronted by a flying, invulnerable gorilla, complete with cape and tights, no less!  They fight but find themselves too evenly matched, even clashing with heat vision in a nice panel.
superboy 172 0015superboy 172 0016
The Boy of Steel decides to try to solve riddle of this obvious fugitive from his homeworld, so he heads back in time and observes a second renegade scientist, the anthropologist an-kal, sending a cybernetically enhanced ape to safety and cursing the Science Council for not approving of his work.  Oookay.  This guy is even crazier than ol’ Jor-El!  What is it with Kryptonian scientists?
superboy 172 0017

“They can be a great people […] They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son…err…simian.”

Back in the modern day, Superboy rounds up the escaping poachers and brings them right back to the super-ape, Yango, telling his simian simulacrum that they don’t need to fight.  The youth realizes that the gorilla has dedicated himself to protecting the animal world as he has the human world, and so he is delivering the criminals to his justice and trusting, for some reason, that the gorillas won’t just murder them.  They part as friends, Superboy to continue his work in man’s world, Yango, in that of the animals.
superboy 172 0021
What a goofy concept, and what a goofy visual!  Yango, a gorilla in a full costume, looks pretty silly.  Despite that, this is a fun issue, and the super-fight is pretty entertaining.  It’s also interesting to see Robbins take on the issue of poaching, however obliquely, way back in 1971.  We see in this another attempt on DC’s part for social relevance, and, interestingly, the message doesn’t overwhelm the adventure, unlike some Green Lantern yarns I could name.  In fact, it rather fades into the background amidst the energetic rush of the story.  The first half of the comic is really the best, as the mystery of what is taking the poachers unfolds, but the reveal of Yango himself is, I have to admit, not what I expected.  I’m curious if this oddball character ever appeared again, but I don’t think he did.  If any of you readers know differently, please let me know!  Despite the silliness of the super-simian, I have to say, I enjoyed this read.  The whole tale has something of an Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan feel to it, and that’s a good thing.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as the yarn is entertaining despite its goofiness.
minute3

“Brotherly Hate!”


superboy 172 0022

We’ve got a real treat in the back of this book this month!  After too long in limbo, the Legion of Superheroes returns to the pages of DC Comics!  This starts what will become a regular backup feature for quite some time.  Eventually, the Legion will actually muscle Superboy out of his own book!  This is good news to me, as I’ve really enjoyed the daring deeds of these futuristic do-gooders.  Our story this month is a solid one, with a touch of family drama flavoring the adventure.  It begins with a Legion rocket arriving at the “Interplanetary Bank,” where they discover that the “guardian beasts” have been disabled.  I’m already 100% onboard, as a setting in which there is something called an “Interplanetary Bank” and which is guarded by giant monsters seems pretty promising to me!  The Legion team, Lightning Lad, Timberwolf, and Light Lass discover that the perpetrator was none other than Lightning Lord, the brother of Lad and Lass!

superboy 172 0023

We get a brief reprise of how the trio got their powers, and then, to my delight, we get a nice origin for the Legion itself!  Young Lightning Lad, Garth Ranzz, travels to Earth looking for his brother, and on the ship, he meets the future Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl, as well as the “richest man in the universe,” R.J. Brande.  When a gang of assassins try to kill Brande, the trio intervene, each using their powers to pitch in.  Brande is thankful, but he is also inspired, so he offers to set the three youths up as superheroes, citing Superboy and Supergirl as examples of teenage heroes.  They all agree, and the Legion is formed.  I’d read summaries of this event, but it is really fun to actually see it played out.

superboy 172 0027

With their flashback over, the team tracks Lightning Lord’s ship, confronting him on a barren and rocky world.  When they confront him, Lightning Lad tries to talk his brother down, but when he refuses, both of the Legionnaire siblings hesitate, causing Timberwolf to spring into action.  The high-voltage villain tries to zap him, but Lightning Lass throws herself in front of the beam to save the boy she loves.  This enrages Timberwolf, but Lightning Lad insists that he face his brother alone.

superboy 172 0029

They are evenly matched, and they throw electrical bolts back in forth to little effect.  Yet, Lightning Lad backs his brother against a metallic cliffside and ricochets a blast into his back, knocking him out, but turning his hair white in the process.  Their sinister sibling captured, the heroes find themselves hoping that he will reform, but something tells me that’s a tad unlikely.

superboy 172 0030

This is an all-too-brief adventure, but it is a fun one.  Bridwell manages to add just enough pathos to the confrontation to make it interesting, and the action is entertaining.  I have to say, though, I think my favorite part is a look at the Legion’s founding.  I suppose I share something of Bridwell’s love of continuity.  That sense of history, of more stories than exist on the page, is key for the “impression of depth” that is such an important part of a well-realized setting.  I’ll give this fun little Legion legend 3.5 Minutemen.

minute3.5


What a set of stories!  We finally get the debut of New Gods, and we get the return of the Legion to boot!  I’ll call that a win.  This finishes off our penultimate batch of books, bringing us to the end of the month, a hearty dose (an overdose?) of Superman!  Please join me again soon for my commentary on those comics as I trudge further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 6)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’re still working on February, but we’re almost done.  We’ve got a solid set of books to talk about today, and we get a new entry on the Head-Blow Headcount!  Adventure awaits!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87 (AND Avengers #85-6)
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Superman #234


Superman_v.1_234“How to Tame a Wild Volcano!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“Prison in the Sky”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Curt Swan

We’ve got a nicely dramatic cover for this issue, and the headline story within is definitely a step in the right direction for O’Neil’s Superman revamp.  The plot is a standard setup for the Man of Steel, a natural disaster threatening innocents, but there are added complications, physical, and, more interestingly, moral.

superman 234 0003

The story begins with everyone’s favorite evil CEO (before Lex Luthor went legit), Morgan Edge, who is calling Clark Kent into his office.  He gives the mild mannered man a new assignment, to cover the events on the island of Boki as they unfold.  Apparently, the Boki volcano is about to erupt for the first time in 100 years, and, in another display of impersonal, corporate evil, the island’s owner is refusing to let his workers evacuate.  Edge orders Clark not to intervene, only to report, displaying a telling level of vicious callousness.  Fortunately, while Clark Kent may be forbidden from intervening, Superman is under no such restrictions!

superman 234 0004

superman 234 0006He streaks off to the south Pacific, where he sees armed ships firing on natives in canoes.  Helpfully gathering up the fired shells, the Man of Steel lands on the lead ship’s deck, and there’s a funny bit as the sailors continue firing with small arms and Superman contemptuously points out how stupid that is when their deck guns couldn’t hurt him.  He’s confronted by Boysie Harker, the island’s owner, who refuses to believe that the volcano will really blow and is willing to kill his employees (more like slaves) if they leave.  Harker declares that the law is on his side, and he forbids the hero from setting foot on his island.

superman 234 0005

Now, this is where the Silver Age Superman would have a big existential crisis because heaven forbid he break the law to save a life.  Fortunately, in what is probably the strongest part of the issue, the Metropolis Marvel flat-out acknowledges that he’ll break the law if he has to, “because there’s a moral law that’s above some man-made laws.”  That’s just the kind of increased moral sophistication I’ve been wanting to see from these stories.  Of course, it’s ironic that this comes from Denny O’Neil, whose Green Lantern was completely unwilling and unable to see the difference between law and morality, but perhaps this is growth for both character and writer.

superman 234 0013

Either way, Superman sets out to save the island without technically breaking the law, figuring there’s no reason to court trouble if he doesn’t have to.  After setting up his camera and using a remote transmitter to do his narration while in action, he begins drilling a channel under the sea to relieve the pressure of the volcano and prevent the eruption.  Yet, far away, another familiar figure is stirring!  The sinister sandy shape from the previous issue stalks across the desert and then shakily takes to the skies, heading for Superman.

superman 234 0008

When it passes overhead, the Man of Steel suddenly loses his powers and grows ill.  He’s forced to abandon his drilling and wonders what in the world could have caused his weakness now that kryptonite is gone.  As the situation grows more dire and time grows shorter, the Man of Tomorrow is distracted by a crashing plane.  After he manages to save the aircraft, he learns from the officials onboard that the U.N. is preparing to move in and arrest Harker and free the natives.  Yet, they’re still an hour out, while the volcano is due to erupt in twenty minutes!  Superman learns that the plane was damaged by a storm, and this gives him an idea that just might work!

superman 234 0015

He flies to the storm-clouds, and by flying at super speeds, he creates a powerful wind that blows them right over the volcano’s cone.  The contact of hot and cold air triggers torrential rains, and the raging fires below are cooled enough to delay the eruption.  Yet, as Superman washes off in the downpour, the sandy figure appears above him once more, and he plunges from the skies, crashing right into the deck gun of Harker’s ship.

superman 234 0016superman 234 0017

In a hilarious and beautiful sequence, Harker and his men attack the Man of Steel with their bare hands, busting many a knuckle between them, as the hero simply ignores them, lost in thought about what caused his sudden fall.  It’s wonderfully funny and illustrative of his power and his personality.  I’m reminded a bit of the scene from Deadpool where the Merc with a Mouth breaks all of his limbs attacking Colossus (warning, SUPER not family friendly).

superman 234 0018

With Harker arrested and the people evacuated, Clark Kent is free to cover the deferred eruption, but he can’t help but wonder, what was it that sapped his strength?  Meanwhile, inside the volcano, a sandy figure waits, its features slowly taking on greater distinction.

superman 234 0019

This is a great, straight-forward Superman adventure.  It’s a simple enough plot, but the addition of the legal angle and the moral depth it reveals is enough to make it something special.  The continuing thread of the sand Superman is intriguing, and I’m definitely interested in where that is going.  We’re definitely seeing evidence of a change in values in these comics as we have yet another villain who is a corrupt industrialist.  We’re clearly seeing a lot of distrust for the wealthy and the powerful and the focus on social justice that comes with that.  I’m impressed that O’Neil manages to gives Superman some challenges without robbing him of his powers or resulting to too many plot devices.  One of the hero’s greatest limitations has always been his own code of conduct, and that’s always a source for good story conflict.  The humor and humanity Clark displays is also quite good.  In short, this is a fine Superman story and an encouraging sign of O’Neil’s progress.  I’m looking forward to seeing what else he comes up with.  I’ll give this tale 4.5 Minutemen.

minute4.5


“Prison in the Sky”


superman 234 0022

The ‘Fabulous World of Krypton’ backup strip continues to be a fun glimpse into history, and it’s penned by the perfect fellow in the person of E. Nelson Bridwell, DC’s own champion of continuity.  This particular tale gives us a look at Kryptonian culture and the nature of their elections.  Curiously, we learn that the ruling body of Krypton, the ‘Science Council,’ has its members elected by the population based on the strength of their scientific achievements.  That’s a novel idea, and I’m sure it’s been formally argued, but I can’t for the life of me remember by who.  I’ll let you make your own wry comparisons between scientist-run Krypton and the current situation in the U.S.

superman 234 0023

The relative merits of the system aside, we observe the proceedings along with Jor-El and Lara as two different scientist demonstrate their inventions.  Ken-Dal created a warp fuel, while Tron-Et (no, not THAT Tron) shows off a ‘Dissolver-Beam’ that can break up storms.  To vote, the citizens of the world use a ‘vote projector’ to flash a green or blue shape on the sky.  That seems a tad inefficient to me, but nonetheless, Tron-Et wins the election.  As his first act, he proposes that, because of growing overpopulation in Krypton’s prisons (not very utopian, is it?), they should disintegrate condemned criminals.  The rest of the Council strongly objects, calling a death penalty barbarous (perhaps a touch of social commentary?), and demand that they open the floor for alternate solutions.

superman 234 0024

Jor-El, always ready with a half-baked idea, comes to the rescue with a plan to put prisoners in suspended animation and then put them into orbit, where they can be brainwashed into good citizens, thus stealing a page from Doc Savage‘s playbook.  Interestingly, even he calls it brainwashing, which indicates that he’s at least partially aware of the huge ethical concerns raised by such an idea.  Shades of A Clockwork Orange!  His idea is approved, and he builds a prototype.  A prisoner volunteers for the first test, and he’s launched into space for 73 days.  During its orbit, Krypton loses track of it for a time, but rediscover the ship before it lands.

superman 234 0026

When the rocket touches down, instead of being reformed, the prisoner bursts out of the hatch, seemingly possessing superpowers!  After clobbering Jor-El, the convict takes to robbing banks.  Just as he’s making his escape, Jor-El confronts him again, and this time, the scientist gets the upper hand.  After he recaptures the prisoner, the scientist reveals that the fellow was faking his powers with the aid of an anti-gravity belt (which, if you recall, was created by Jor-El himself just last issue, making him the perfect person to solve its mystery.

superman 234 0029

The would-be thief spills the beans after he is captured, revealing that he’s actually the test subject’s twin brother, and he’s working for the head of Krypton’s biggest ‘crime combine.’  Surprisingly, his leader is none-other than Tron-Et himself.  He finagled his way onto the Science Council in order to silence captured criminals who knew too much.  To ensure his plan was adopted, he tried to sabotage Jor-El’s idea, disintegrating the original capsule and creating a duplicate complete with a false prisoner.  Ironically, Tron-Et then becomes the first test subject for Jor’s design.

superman 234 0030

This story could probably do with some more space, as it’s really crammed a bit too full of ideas to be entirely successful.  Nonetheless, it’s a fun tale, and all of those ideas are intriguing and lively.  It’s always great to see Jor-El play ‘action scientist,’ which is more entertaining than the ‘Jor-El the barbarian’ we saw in Man of Steel.  Krypton is developing into a more fully realized setting, and while certain elements of Bridwell’s plot, like the sky-light voting, are a bit on the silly side, there isn’t anything here that is flat-out ridiculous, unlike many earlier stories about the planet.  It’s notable that we even manage to get a touch of continuity, with this yarn following naturally from the previous one.  In the end, it’s just enjoyable to see Bridwell explore the world of Krypton, and his imagination is certainly up to the task.  I’ll give this backup 3.5 Minutemen.

minute3.5


Teen Titans #31


Teen_Titans_v.1_31“To Order is to Destroy”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Dick Giordano

“From One to Twenty”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Joe Letterese
Editor: Dick Giordano

This so-so Nick Cardy cover (a rarity) promises another campus-centric comic, though the headline tale within is an odd example of the type.  Of course, I love Steve Skeates, but I don’t think this yarn is really his best work. It does feature his usual imaginative touch and dramatic sense, but the handling is a bit clumsy.

This teen tale opens on the campus of Elford College, where a mustachioed man waits to see the school psychologist.  He looks like he’s in his 30s, but we’re supposed to think he is a student.  Interestingly, he looks a bit like Tony Stark, and, of course, George Tuska was perhaps most famous for his run on Iron Man.  As he sits in the waiting room, casually reading a magazine, he overhears the doctor talking with a student in his office.  The kid complains about being distracted by the chaos in the world and having trouble studying because of it (I feel ya’, kid!).

teentitans31-02

In that middle panel observe the lined, world-weary face of an 18-year-old.

The shrink offers the boy some therapy and helps him come to grips with the instability of contemporary politics…ohh, wait, no.  He gives the kid a brain operation and implants a device in his head to “help him concentrate” by controlling his thoughts!  I wonder if that’s covered under student insurance.  Hearing this insane treatment plan, our middle-aged teenager reacts completely realistically, freaking the heck out and getting the heck away from that office.

teentitans31-03

Oddly, we get the traditional first page title-splash on page three.  Why?  I have no idea.  I’m wondering if the pages for this issue somehow got out of order.  Anyway, a week later, young Wally West pays a visit to the campus as he’s starting to tour colleges.  That’s a fun bit of character developing verisimilitude.  I wonder how many years it will be before Wally actually goes to college.  At the school, he spots our mustachioed muchacho from the opening being attacked by a gang of students!  Immediately forgetting all about the whole ‘not using powers or costumes’ nonsense, Wally leaps into action as Kid Flash, noting that he doesn’t know what’s going on, but he can’t stand a one-sided fight.  I rather like that, and it’s a nice character beat.

teentitans31-06

Rescuing the man-boy from the melee, the Fastest Boy Alive follows his directions to a shack in the hills where the fellow, Johnny Adler, has been hiding out.  Adler tells his tale, which leaves several things unexplained.  Apparently, after he realized what a quack the school shrink was and fled his appointment, he became a marked man.  It seems that all of the students on campus have been turned into school zombies, and they follow the administration’s orders, even attacking on command.  Yet, who Adler is and how he ended up at the shack remains a bit fuzzy.  He claims that he can’t get away because the only way out is through campus…but that’s a bit hard to believe.  You can’t just walk around?  Maybe it’s a failure of the art that I can’t conceptualize this.

teentitans31-07

Anyway, the young hero speeds away to gather his teammates and investigate Elford.  When they arrive on campus, we we discover the most interesting element of the comic as we are introduced to the nefarious Dr. Pauling himself, along with the university president, who watch the Titans suspiciously.  It seems that Pauling began his operations because of growing tensions at the college and the rising tide of student unrest throughout the country.  The powers that be wanted a way to pacify the student body, and they naturally turned to the most wildly unethical and supervillain-ish way imaginable.  To top things off, the not-so-good doctor doesn’t even have a medical license!

teentitans31-10

The junior JLA, curiously enough, are dressed in their non-costumes from the pointless Mr. Jupiter, but they immediately switch into their costumes to go meet with Johnny.  At the shack, they discover signs of a struggle and a very absent Mr. Adler, so they change back and return to campus in search of him.  Once they arrive, the psycho psychologist sics the school on them, and the Titans find themselves fighting for their lives.  What’s worse, they can’t use their powers without revealing who they are.  It’s almost like giving up your costumed identity is a huge mistake for a superhero.  Who knew?

teentitans31-13

Surprisingly, Lilith actually makes herself useful and reveals she’s been taking judo.  As the team is attacked, young-old Johnny Adler, newly zombiefied, begins to struggle against his programing and stumbles towards the president’s office.  During the fight, we also get an awkward exchange between Mal and Roy that doesn’t amount to anything.  I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be light-hearted ribbing or something more serious, but it comes across as a bit mean-spirited.  See what you think.

teentitans31-15

Once Johnny makes it to the office, he forces Pauling to call off the attack, and with his last ounce of strength, he rips out the mic cord, saving the Titans just before they would have been overrun.  The team dashes off to find Pauling, clearly completely nuts, ranting and raving about how the campus will be consumed in riots without his stewardship.  The story ends with an attempt at a melancholy and thoughtful reflection that doesn’t quite strike home.  The heroes point out that the human spirit triumphed over programming and compulsion in Johnny, but that just indicates that the other students might have done the same too, yet didn’t.  They wonder if the majority of people are really that weak and easily led.  Have you read your history kids?  Yes.  The answer is yes.

teentitans31-17

This slightly weird story has its strong points, but I think Skeates might be wrestling with his page limit on this first one.  There are some really interesting ideas at play here, but they don’t quite come together enough to be effective.  You have a really neat reflection of the anxiety about student involvement that we’ve watched spread through the culture and through the comics.  It’s fascinating that the motives for the villains are effectively just pacification, the maintenance of the status quo.  They want their students to go about their studies and get their degrees in peace, which is a perfectly reasonable goal, though it is obviously taken to a horrific extreme.  By implication, this tale has some rather interesting things to say about that very status quo and the ‘establishment’ that maintains it.  Yet, these fascinating ideas don’t get enough space to breathe.

teentitans31-18

That first panel gives us a delightfully deranged face.  Yikes!

The same is true with Johnny Adler’s sudden ability to resist the brainwashing (something of a theme with today’s books).  We just don’t know enough about the kid for his triumph to have much of an impact.  If we had been introduced to him as a free-thinker, an independent spirit, it might have been more effective.  The character was a good chance for Skeates to make some kind of statement about HOW to avoid becoming one of the easily led masses, but he passed up the opportunity.  In the same way, there’s a slight effort to develop the Titans themselves, but it doesn’t really amount to anything.  This would have been a good chance to break with the Mr. Jupiter setup, which is clearly not working, but we aren’t so lucky.  Of course, the central conflict, the random brain operations, also needs a bit more to sell it.  How exactly did this school psychologist convince presumably every student on campus to let him cut into their brains?  You can’t throw something like that out in one page and then call it good.

In terms of the art, we’ve got a change this month.  George Tuska is a fine artist with a reputation for interesting and memorable faces, speed, reliability, and versatility, but he’s no substitute for Nick Cardy in my book.  This issue looks good, but I miss Cardy’s unique style and can’t help wondering what might have been.  I suppose I’ll give this tale 3 Minutemen.  It’s strengths and weaknesses sort of even out to an average score.

minute3


“From One to Twenty”


teentitans31-22

Hawk’s caveman-like contempt for poetry is picture perfect for him.

Like last issue, we’ve got two stories in this month’s book, but sadly the backup this time isn’t Aqualad and Aquagirl.  Instead, we’re treated to a fun solo adventure by Hawk and Dove.  It’s nice to see these two new characters getting a bit of a chance to develop some, as there isn’t a whole lot of space in the main Titans book to flesh them out with everyone else competing for panels.  This tale begins with Hank Hall who is on the hunt for some crime to fight, and he’s decided to stalk the streets with a pair of binoculars…for some reason.  That’s not at all unusual and apt to draw attention or anything.  He spies a strange transaction at a newsstand, wherein a customer gives the proprietor $1 and gets $20 in return!  Strange!  Thinking that this must be some type of shakedown, the young man trails the customer, changing into Hawk in the process.

teentitans31-23

Ironically, the suspect is himself mugged a few minutes later, and Hawk decides to intervene, better to bash multiple crooks instead of just one!  He plans to take out the muggers and then let the suspect go on his way so he can keep tailing the guy, but he the warlike one lets himself get distracted during the donnybrook and, joy of joys, he gets taken out by a head-blow!  That’s right, Hawk makes his official first appearance amongst the august company on the Wall of Shame.

teentitans31-26

When he comes to, his brother Don has found him, having been out on his own type of patrol, focusing on protecting victims rather than punishing criminals.  They bicker a bit, but pretty quickly they decide to stake out the newsstand again and see if anything else happens.  Once there, they observe the same customer return and get another $20 for $1, and Don works out what’s going on as they leap into action.  When the peaceful pacifist tries to talk the pair into surrendering, one of them pulls a gun, and the other slugs him.  Fortunately for Dove, Hawk is there to bust some heads.

teentitans31-29

I don’t much care for the way Tuska draws their transformations.

After the fight, Don explains to his brother that this was part of a counterfeit ring, where passers could trade one dollar of real money for twenty funny bills.  As they search for change to call the police, they hope that the men they captured will help lead to bigger fish in the syndicate.

teentitans31-30

This is an entertaining little tale.  It’s nice to see the brothers in action on their own, and it’s also nice to see them do more than just argue with one another.  Hank comes off better in this issue, if a tad dim, and while Don doesn’t come off as a coward, gamely dodging gunfire without a complaint, he does seem a bit ineffectual as he can’t even stop an unarmed hood without his brother’s help.  It is funny to see him try and talk the thug into surrendering, only to catch an elbow to the face, but it would have been nice to see him pull his weight a bit more.  In the end, this is a good story that provides these two with a chance to shine.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

minute3.5


And that fills out this post.  We had a fun set of books in this batch, and I’m always pleased to add another entry to Headcount.  I hope you enjoyed my commentary, and please join me soon for the final book in this month of 1971, along with my final thoughts.  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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

arrowheadglheadAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpg2f52ff2370b3a87769869427faeac69d

Hawk joins many of his fellows and two fellow Titans on the Wall of Shame!  I wonder if his partner will join him sometime soon.Clearly, the ol’ head-blow trope is alive and well in ’71.

Into the Bronze Age: January 1971 (Part 4)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpg
Mondays stink, but they can be better with some Bronze Age comics!  We’ve got some landmark issues on tap today, folks.  Not only do we have a new offering from Jack Kirby, which introduces several enduring elements of the DC Universe, but we also have the opening moves in Denny O’Neil’s attempt to update Superman for the Bronze Age.  Check out my take on these books below!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #396
  • Adventure Comics #401
  • Batman #228 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Brave and Bold #93
  • Detective Comics #407
  • G.I. Combat #145
  • Superboy #171
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #107
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135
  • Superman #232 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #233

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


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135


jimmy_olsen_135“Evil Factory!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

This one is a bit odd, folks, so odd I really had a hard time figuring out what to say about it.  The plot itself is actually fairly straightforward, at least as far as superhero comics go, but the implications thereof are something else entirely.  In this issue Kirby continues laying the groundwork for his Fourth World saga, introducing and explaining new concepts which will echo through the pages of DC Comics for decades to come.  They don’t quite reach their potential on their first outing though, as the King, for all of his creative brilliance, sometimes lets his imagination run away with him.  He was unparalleled at creating new ideas, new characters and situations, but he wasn’t always the best at seeing what complications those new creations entailed.  That was probably one of the great strengths of the ‘Stan and Jack’ team.  Two heads are, after all, better than one.

jo135-03

Our issue opens with a shot of a horde of tiny, toy-sized replicas of our protagonists, Superman, Jimmy Olsen, and the Newsboy Legion, all swarming up the arm of a strangely garbed scientist like a colony of colorful ants.  It’s a really striking image, though it doesn’t actually have anything to do with the story inside, much like the lovely Neal Adams cover for this issue.  After playing with the fun-sized Legionaries, two masked miscreants, named Simyan and Mokkari (who is pretty cool looking) discuss their plans to destroy a mysteriously and rather ambiguously named “Project.”  Apparently they are using advanced science to clone human beings and modifying their DNA to achieve certain monstrous effects.  They are even growing a specially designed giant to kill Superman himself!

jo135-05

This all seems pretty tame in 2017, very standard sci-fi stuff, but in 1971, this was much more cutting edge.  While the idea of cloning had been fodder for science fiction authors for decades, really coming to prominence in the 50s, a lot of the definitive books were still to be written in 71.  This is one of the advantages of my little project.  I’m able to see stories like this much more clearly in their context, rather than reading them purely from the perspective of the 21st Century.

Meanwhile, back at the ‘Mountain of Judgement,’ Superman and the Legion bid farewell to their Hairy hosts and receive dire warnings about troubles at…the Project!  How vague!  They take to the Zoomway again and soon arrive at the secret base called with that incredibly descriptive moniker, where they are greeted with great suspicion and many armed guards.

jo135-11

Once past security, the Legionnaires make a very surprising discovery.  Among the base personal are…their fathers, the original Newsboy Legion!  There’s a charming panel where the boys greet their dads, and it’s cool that Kirby got to bring his original characters back in some fashion.  The King does a great job in creating adult versions of his lovable urchins, and they all have wonderfully distinct faces.

jo135-13

jo135-14

Even Flippa-Dippa’s father thinks he’s an embarrassment!

While the kids reconnect with their fathers and get caught up on events, Superman takes Jimmy aside to explain the situation to the young man.  The Man of Steel tells his young friend that “the genetic code has been broken,” and the Project is dedicated to genetic research.  Specifically, it’s all about cloning.  In an effort to break things to the reporter gently, the Man of Tomorrow kindly presents him with a sight sure to trigger an existential crisis, introducing Jimmy to a clone of himself!  Apparently, the government, for some reason, decided to use the Daily Planet as a pool from which to collect the samples for their work, so they secretly collected DNA from the employees during routine medical examinations.  Notably, they did this without bothering to inform the staff.  Why clone Jimmy Olsen of all people?  Well, Kirby never bothers to explain that.

jo135-15

How would you react to finding out you had been cloned without your knowledge or consent, that there were dozens, maybe hundreds of clones of you running around and serving a shady government organization?  Shock?  Horror?  Anger?  Well, not Jimmy.  He evinces mild surprise.  This is my biggest problem with this issue in particular and this arc in general.  The idea of the organization that would come to be known as Project Cadmus is a great one, just full of storytelling potential.  It’s use on JLU led to some of the best episodes of that series.  In fact, for my money they’re some of the best superhero stories around.  It was also used to good effect in Young Justice.  Part of what made those stories so great was their willingness to explore the themes inherent in such an undertaking, themes about the morality of cloning, the humanity and independence of artificial lifeforms, and the rights that a man-made being would merit.

Now, the first time I read these books, I spent several issues in a row waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the colossal ethical problems with cloning to be addressed, at least in some fashion.  I thought for sure the shady, top secret government program that was cloning people without their consent, screwing with the DNA of their subjects, and creating human beings to serve their will, i.e., doing tons of super villain-esq stuff, would be revealed to have some type of nefarious agenda.  But that never happened.  The natural questions that cloning, especially cloning in secret and under conditions like these, raises, in fiction and in real life, are never so much as hinted at.  It’s a colossal oversight, and something that really weakens the story Kirby is telling.  There’s nothing even slightly troublesome in his DNA Project, no questions of morality, just bright and shining potential.

jo135-18If you’re familiar with the sci-fi tradition involving cloning, it’s obvious that this is not just a question of a concept that lacked the sophistication of later day treatments back in 1971.  No, the themes that are inherent within the idea were present in the fiction as early as the 60s, maybe even the 50s, so this is just a matter of Jack Kirby moving too fast for his own good, which happened from time to time.  He spun out new creations so quickly that he barely had time to think them through before he was on to the next thing.  That had to be especially true now, as he was dreaming up an entire new universe of characters and concepts.  But, it doesn’t make this story any less flawed.

Back to our tale, as Jimmy presumably struggles with his existential angst at discovering that he’s been copied a zillion times, our two evil scientists contact their mysterious master, the malevolent Darkseid!  We get a bit more of a look at him, and he is quite the imposing figure, even from this early date.  Just then, their Superman slayer breaks free and starts trashing the joint, and in desperation, they teleport him directly into the rival Project, there to serve his destructive purpose.

jo135-22

When the monster arrives, he lays into Superman, and having received a coating of kryptonite, the creature is quite effective.  The Man of Steel takes a beating, and the crazed clone continues its rampage.  In response, the grownup-Legionnaires decide to release a special project, a clone of their old friend and mentor, the Guardian!  Ethical qualms about cloning your dead buddy?  Nah!  The caged subject’s repeated cries of “Let me out!” combined with his shadowed portrayal give him a sinister sense that is quickly dispelled when the new Guardian leaps into action to save the base.

jo135-24

Big, green-skinned guy with anger issues?  Does he, by chance, seem Incredibly familiar, or is it just me?

jo135-27It’s great that Kirby gets a chance to revisit so many of his old creations, and you can feel his pride as he reintroduces them back into the DC Universe.  The Guardian would go on to have a very respectable second career at DC, surviving as a concept long after Kirby’s time there ended.  Of course, the other concepts the King introduced in this story also went on to significant roles in the DC Universe, as I mentioned above.  It’s a shame that some of their later significance wasn’t present here in their introduction.  The story is really fine, in so far as it goes, and Kirby is in fine form for the art, filling both competing genetics projects with wondrous gadgetry.

jo135-29

The introduction of the cloned Guardian is exciting, and it’s fun to meet the original Legion.  Notably, we also learn what each of them went on to do, and this mostly explains their presence at the DNA Project, mostly but not entirely.  Apparently Scrapper Sr. is a social worker.  I can see how a teacher, a geneticist, and a doctor are going to be important in a cloning facility, but I’m not quite sure what vital role a social worker fills.  Anyway, I’ll give this imaginative but flawed story 3 Minutemen.  It’s readable, but it’s really missing something.

minute3

jo135-30

P.S.: As with the last episode, Kirby also included a text piece expanding on the ideas presented in the magazine.  It’s even crazier than last month’s, by a significant margin.  I hardly know where to begin with this thing.  The bonkers, almost stream-of-consciousness style of the essay is matched by the bizarre content.  It’s a pseudo-defense of the idea behind the Hairies, an idea that is still way too vague by the end of the piece’s attempts to explain it.  I’m guess Jack himself wasn’t entirely sure what they were.  It may also be a defense of the hippy movement’s incredibly short-sighted and impractical ideals.  I really can’t do this thing justice, so I’m just going to let y’all read it.  All I’ve got to say is that this piece provides the same lack of comprehensive thought as the issue itself.

jo135-19


Superman #233


superman_v-1_233“Superman Breaks Loose”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Letterer: Ben Oda

“Jor-El’s Golden Folly”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Murphy Anderson
Inker: Murphy Anderson

With this wonderfully iconic cover we we reach the landmark “Kryptonite Nevermore” storyline at last.  Amidst the universe wide wave of renovations, the head honchos at DC decided that their flagship character, the Man of Steel himself, needed to join the growing ranks of the revamped heroes that were populating their books.  So, who better to rework the father of superheroes than the man who had already done the same thing with so many other characters, Denny O’Neil?  I’ve read a bit about this set of comics, and I’m very curious to read them.  The choices that he made in reworking Superman are fascinating.  There’s a tendency to wonder why he didn’t make certain choices that seem obvious these days, though I suspect that owes a great deal to hindsight.  After all, what hero had more continuity, more inertia, and more baggage than the Man of Tomorrow?  Think about what a daunting task it must have been to approach the job of updating Superman.  There’s also a question of exactly how much freedom the author had.  After all, as DC was forcing the re-drawing of the character in Jack Kirby’s books, it isn’t terribly likely that they would give Denny O’Neil carte blanche in his approach.

The first change O’Neil makes is an interesting one, and I suppose it addresses perhaps the biggest problem the character faced at this point.  At the very beginning of the comic, an experiment with a new ‘kryptonite-engine,’ which promises to produce cheap energy for the entire world, goes wrong.  Superman attempts to smother the resultant explosion with a lead shield, despite the fact that it could literally kill him.  Yet, his efforts fail, and he’s caught in the blast.  By all rights, he should be dead, yet he wakes up with no ill-effects!  Strangely, the explosion seems to have turned the kryptonite samples the team was using into common iron ore.

superman-233-0005

superman-233-0006Meanwhile, back at the offices of the Daily Planet, we learn that effect wasn’t just local.  Apparently the device’s malfunction destroyed all of the kryptonite on Earth!  And just like that, with the stroke of a pen, Denny O’Neil does away with the biggest crutch that Superman scribes have ever had.  Somewhere hack writers were crying out in despair.  We also meet the Planet’s new owner, the creepy Morgan Edge, head of Galaxy Broadcasting which has bought the paper.  In a scene silly enough to be right out of Batman V. Superman, Edge casually and randomly assigns the newspaper reporter Clark Kent to be his new on-air newsman.  He sends the mild mannered fellow out to cover the launch of a new ‘mail rocket,’ the kind of concept that was always showing up in comics but didn’t survive past the 50s in the real world.  Interestingly, Morgan Edge voices a completely reasonable concern, wondering if the complete and total removal of the only thing that could stop Superman is actually all that great of an event.  That’s a theme that’s much more common today, but it’s good to see it here.

superman-233-0007

Obviously, this provides a new complication for the Man of Steel, as he’s now got to find a way to do his hero-ing while live on camera in front of millions of viewers!  This is one of the changes that seems somewhat ill-conceived.  While it adds some more chances for complications and challenges to the character, it seems like an unnecessary hurdle for the character’s status quo.

Anyway, the Metropolis Marvel faces his first test almost immediately, as he spots a man with a radio spying on the launch and has to deal with him during a commercial break!  Superman encounters some random thug, part of the Generic Gang, no doubt, whose group plans to hijack the rocket and sell it overseas.  He thinks he’s ready ready for the last Son of Krypton, as he’s managed to acquire a sample of the most abundant element on Earth, kryptonite!  Of course, if this neanderthal could read, he’d know that his space-rock isn’t going to do him much good.  To educate the fellow, the Man of Tomorrow happily takes the rock from him and eats it!  It’s a great scene, a very clear and forceful message about the completeness of the anti-kryptonite change.

superman-233-0011

Having dealt with the man on the ground, Big Blue takes to the wild blue in search of the other part of the Generic Gang, who have arrived in fighter jets!  Superman’s heat vision suddenly weakens, and he’s forced to down the two jets by more direct methods.  He challenges himself to find different ways to stop the two threats, and in one entertaining bit, he uses his x-ray vision to spot the pilots of one of the jets and then knocks them out by punching directly through the hull.  I like the idea that Superman tries to shake things up just to have fun with his adventures.  That seems like a nice bit of characterization.

superman-233-0016

On his way home, the Man of Steel suddenly finds himself weakened for a moment as he passes over the spot of the kryptonite explosion, and we get a closeup of the impression he left in the sand when he crashed.  Dun-dun-DUN!  In the epilogue, we see a strange sight, as a sinister creature of sand in the shape of Superman arises out of that impression and stalks off towards civilization.  There’s something in O’Neils narration of this scene that reminds me a bit of the end of Yeats’ “Second Coming.”  There is certainly something portentous about the scene, and it is fittingly intriguing, setting up the saga to come.

superman-233-0019

This is a solid story and a good beginning for something new.  Superman’s life and setting are being shaken up, and the removal of kryptonite is certainly a good first step towards forcing a more grounded and creative approach to the character.  This comic is perhaps most notable for what it doesn’t do.  Most of the Man of Tomorrow’s trappings remain unchanged, and now, despite the unexplained dimming of some of his powers, he certainly seems more powerful than ever.

There isn’t a whole lot else here, and the threats the hero faces in this issue are fairly run-of-the-mill.  That works well enough because O’Neil is showing us the impact of the opening scene on the character’s life, but they don’t have a great amount of interest in-and-of themselves.  Still, it’s a good, readable story with some interesting action and an intriguing ending.  I know a bit about this arc, but I still find myself looking forward to seeing how O’Neil builds on the seeds he’s planted here.  Of course, Swan’s art is beautiful, and he really shines, both in the action and the detailed face work he does in several scenes.  His Bronze Age art is some of the very best there is.  As for this issue, I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

minute4

“The Second Coming”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Of course, this poem also feels horribly apt for out world today, but that’s neither here nor there.

“Jor-El’s Golden Folly”


superman-233-0022

This was a great little backup tale.  I thoroughly enjoyed the read, which I did not expect.  It’s a fun examination of life of Krypton-that-was without some of the more ridiculous elements that generally accompany such yarns.  It follows the early career of the great scientist himself, Jor-El, before he had acquired the fame that followed him later in life.  It’s a neat glimpse into the life and character of both of Superman’s parents, and the story actually has some surprising elements for a comic from this period, especially in its treatment of Lara Lor-Van.

The story begins with Jor-El’s assignment to his first project at the Kryptonopolis Space-Complex, where he meets Professor Ken-Dal and General Dru-Zod(!), who will be his bosses.  Jor will be working on the space program, which is in dire trouble, as its budget has been slashed just as it was nearing completion.  Notably, the facility also houses the training facility for future space-pilots, and in a remarkably forward-thinking move, Bridwell makes them all women.  Jor-El even wonders why women make better astronauts than men.  That’s a pretty surprising development from a period where we’ve still seen plenty of sexism alive and well, and it’s a cool insight into Kryptonian culture.

superman-233-0023

Well, Jor-El gets right to work, and he decides that if they can’t afford to build powerful rockets, they must find another way to get their ships off of the ground.  So, he develops the principles of anti-gravity in a fun little sequence, where he straps a device to a dog and levitates it.  One wonders if this confused looking pooch is Krypto!  Either way, his project gets approval, but because of budget cuts, the scientist is forced to build his ship out of the most common element on the planet, gold.  That’s a fun little detail.

superman-233-0024

Everyone mocks Jor-El’s ship, calling it his “golden folly,” in a situation somewhat analogous to Howard Hughe’sSpruce Goose.”  Just like Hughes himself, however, the Kryptonian scientist is vindicated when his ship successfully takes off.  However, Lara, who displays an admirable adventurous streak, wanted to be in the cockpit for the maiden voyage, so she stowed aboard.  Her flight is successful until the ship hit space, and then the controls go dead!  Between Jor-El’s remote tinkering and Lara’s piloting skill, they managed to put the ship down on a moon.

superman-233-0027

There’s a slim chance that Lara could have survived, so when the next rocket heads for that moon several days later, Jor-El uses his antigravity belt to stow away aboard and not add any weight, which is actually quite clever.  On the harsh, barren moon, the young scientist searches desperately for the brave pilot who captured his heart, and at long last, he manages to find her.  There reunion is charming, and it tells the tale of how the pair got together.

superman-233-0030

This is just a fun story, and I thoroughly enjoyed the glimpses of Krypton’s former glories that it provided.  Jor-El and Lara are both interesting characters under Bridwell’s pen, and I was particularly impressed with his treatment of Lara.  Together, these two make worthy parents for the Man of Steel.  Once again, I’m impressed by the ability of the this era’s creators to tell complete stories in such limited space.  These seven pages give us an adventure, several character moments for both protagonists, and a bit of world building.  That’s impressive!  I’ll give this enjoyable slice of Kryptonian life 4 Minutemen.

minute4


Final Thoughts:


This was a pretty good month, over all, and it brought me several delightfully unexpected gems.  The stand outs for me were the books I was most prepared to dislike, Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane and Superboy.  Neither of these comics was exactly amazing, but I was very pleasantly surprised both by how much fun they were and by the lack of the sort of gimmicky silliness that I expected in those titles.  Here’s hoping that they continue to be of such solid quality.  In particular, Robert Kanigher continues to impress me.  Even his less stellar offerings, like this month’s Haunted Tank are generally respectable efforts these days.  I’m curious to see if his improvement will last.

We also saw the return of several themes that have become definitive of the early Bronze Age, like environmentalism and youth culture in this month’s Superboy and Batgirl stories.  I was impressed with how both of those books handled these themes and the more mature moral sense that they displayed.  At the same time, we had some disappointments this month, notably Jack Kirby’s unexamined and unproblematized treatment of cloning in Jimmy Olsen.  Still, all things considered, this was a fine beginning to our new year.  I can’t wait to see what else 1971 has in store for us!  As always, thanks for reading, and, until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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

arrowheadglheadAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpg

No new changes on the Headcount, so poor Aquaman still has the last two slots.  I’m sure we’ll see more additions soon.  I only hope they aren’t more from the Sea King!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1970 (Part 1)

DC-Style-Guide-1

Well, last month was a bit of a letdown, but this month promises to be a bit more interesting, with more Aquaman and more of the fun Manhunter debut!  Join me as we forge a little further Into the Bronze Age!

This month in history:

  • 2nd San Diego Comic Con was held (of note probably only in this context)
  • Rubber bullets used for the first time during the Troubles in Ireland
  • France performs nuclear tests
  • 1st computer chess tournament held
  • Peruvian Airlines jet carrying 45 US exchange students explodes
  • Jim Morrison is tried in Miami on “lewd & lascivious behavior”
  • Venera 7 probe launched for Venus
  • Unrest continues at home and abroad, with bombs and riots in the US and Ireland

Well, both the Troubles in Ireland and the Space Race continue, and although it was a quieter month in the US, things were obviously still not peaceful.  I imagine it will be some time before we stop seeing these events in our monthly roundup.

This month’s chart topper was “(They Long to Be) Close to You” by the Carpenters, a sweet, sappy song that is something of a contrast to the rage in the air all over the world.  Even in a burning world, love endures, I suppose.

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

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

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

Action Comics #391

action_comics_391“The Punishment of Superman’s Son”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“The Ordeal of Element Lad!”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Win Mortimer
Inker: Jack Abel

Okay, I was astonished to find that the headline tale was NOT written by Bob Haney.  It features the Super Sons, after all, and it is full of all kinds of Haney quality Zaniness!  Of course,  that means this is an odd one, Haney or no Haney.  It is pretty hilarious in spots and just ohh so very goofy throughout.  The Super Sons stories are always pretty out there, and this one is no exception.  Interestingly enough, Wikipedia is all kinds of wrong about these oddball characters, maintaining that the first appearance of the Super Sons was in a Haney-penned story from 1973.  Apparently this 1970 feature wasn’t the first appearance either, though, as that was in 1965.  There you go kids; that’s why your teachers tell you not to trust Wikipedia!  Anyway, let’s jump right into the madness, shall we?

action391-03.jpg

Essentially, this is Goofus and Gallant, the super hero edition, with the oddly doppleganger-ish children of the World’s Finest duo standing in for the titular pair.  We join Superman and his son, the incredibly creatively named Superman Jr. (Really?  Not, you know, Superboy?) as they discontentedly watch Batman and HIS equally creatively named son, Batman Jr.  The young Dark Knight is getting the Metropolis Medal of Valor in recompense for his deeds of daring do in the great city.  The Man of Steel and his son look on unhappily, with Super-Dad really bucking for ‘Father of the Year’ as he berates his son for not being as good as Batman’s boy.  Later, they head home to the “secluded, adjoining homes of Superman and Batman in the country between Metropolis and Gotham.”  And, just for the record, it was at that moment that I began to suspect that this issue was written by a 10 year old.  Seriously, there are a lot of concepts here that seem like something my little nephew would come up with, the fevered dreams of playground storytelling.  I realize that these comics were pitched to younger readers, but there’s a bit of a difference between what a kid would think is cool and what a kid would come up with if left to his own devices.

action391-04.jpg

Anyway, at the door the super pair are met by “Mom,” who is conveniently wearing a wig and has her face in shadow.  This is actually a funny and clever little element of these Super Sons stories.  They always had the mothers’ faces in shadow and they tried to keep their identities fuzzy.  It’s hilarious that they’d go to that much trouble for these stories they’ve already labeled as ‘imaginary,’ and which don’t have many other concessions to logic or consistency.

Well, here we see a few more moments of the type of domestic farce that I love so very much, with the Super-Family sitting down to eat in full costume.  Fortunately, it’s not the focus of the issue.  It’s just a bizarre little side feature, as if Ross Andru just forgot that these characters have civilian identities after the first page.  Either way, Superman continues to play ‘disappointed Dad’ and is fairly ugly to his son as he takes off to retrieve a special singing alien plant.

action391-05.jpg

We get an admittedly cool sequence as The Man of Tomorrow recovers the plant from a creature of flame, intending to bring the vociferous vegetable home to display on Earth.  The idea of a singing plant is not a new one, and it’s a cool enough sci-fi concept.  Yet, this story goofies it up by having the sounds the bush creates be genre and instrument specific.  This alien life-form plays “rock, marimba, strings, piano, cello, [and] steel band.”  Sure.  Just think about that one for a moment.

action391-06.jpg

The Boy of Steel demonstrates his Goofus bona fides by burning the vocal vegetable to a crisp by flying too fast when he’s sent to deliver it.  This earns the poor schmuck a real tongue lashing from his father, combined with a healthy dose of parental guilt.  You really do feel for this poor kid (apparently only 14), as his various screw-ups throughout the issue are all accidents, and he’s really trying to do his best.  He reminds me a bit of Jerry Gergich from Parks and Rec.  To top things off, Batman and son just casually drop by to brag about how awesome they are.  I swear, the whole thing reads like parody.  If this were written today I’d think it was really clever satire!

action391-08.jpg

Super goofs are the worst!  Also, smug Batman better watch out or he might find himself thrown into the sun…

The Super Sons hang out, with the Boy Detective trying to cheer up his super pal, including offering to let him ride his “Bat Bike.”  Ha!  Well, all of his efforts are to no avail, and then the two of them each attempt to stop a group of robbers with a nifty subterranean tank that looks more than a little like the Transport Modules from the old Ninja Turtles ‘toon (maybe the crooks work for Krang!).  The Boy of Steel blows it again, being fooled by fake Kryptonite, while Batman Jr. cleverly outwits the thieves…at least, if you don’t think about it too hard.  He finds the tunneling tank in a lake, hiding out from the authorities, so he plugs up its air snorkel, which is currently UNDERWATER, with a handkerchief.  This, somehow, causes the gang to surface, despite the fact that the snorkel was already blocked by being, you know, UNDERWATER!  It’s just a ridiculous little oversight that adds to the silliness of this issue.  Did you guys even bother to READ this thing before you sent it to press?

action391-13.jpg

Afterwards, we get another dose of domestic farce as all of the heroes sit down to a family dinner, still in costume, to celebrate Superman Jr.’s birthday.  Yay.  For his gift, the elder Superman decides to take his son to the Fortress of Solitude for the first time in an attempt to heal the rift between them…the rift that he has totally caused for being a jerk to his well-meaning son.

action391-15.jpg

Unfortunately, Goofus, I mean Superman Jr., screws everything up when he’s left alone in the Fortress.  He accidentally trashes the place, which seems to be the final straw.  The issue ends with the Dad of Steel locking his son in a booth and dropping in a piece of gold kryptonite to permanently take away his powers.  There’s actually something of value there, as the Super Father faces the fact that his son is more or less a danger to everyone on Earth because he’s such a huge clutz, but he’s also only 14…and who wasn’t a screwup at that age?  In other words, it immediately sinks into bathos or “narm.”  I’m sure we’ll see some type of turnaround next issue, but that’s where this merry-go-round of craziness ends.

action391-19.jpg

So, what do we make of this non-Haney batch of zaniness?  Well, I’m not really sure.  It’s just so goofy and silly that I certainly can’t enjoy it the way I do your average adventure story, but it is also undeniably vivacious and full of energy in a way that last Superman story simply was lacking.  It is clear that Kanigher isn’t thinking too deeply…or at all…about this tale, but it is fun and you really can’t help but feel sorry for the Super-Loser.  It does seem like the basic concept suffers from a lack of creativity, with the Super Sons just being carbon copies of their fathers, but there are neat moments interwoven with the ludicrous ones, though the latter outnumber the former.  This is a very Silver-Agey tale, though somehow less obnoxious than some of the others we’ve waded through.  I suppose it is just so wacky that it comes back around again and is fun.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  It’s final effect is silly, but entertainingly so.

minute2.5

“The Ordeal of Element Lad!”

action391-21.jpg

In the backup position this month we have the continuation of the excellent Legion story from the previous issue, and just as in that comic, this story absolutely steals the show.  It suffers from its brevity to a degree, yet it still manages to deliver a great espionage adventure.  Bridwell really came through with this two-parter, giving us a fascinating setup, solid if limited character work, exciting twists and turns, and a level of sophistication that really stands in marked contrast to the childish fare that seems to populate the pages of the Superman books.

You can see Bridwell struggling with his limited space to a degree, but the way he’s structured the two separate episodes helps to mitigate these restrictions.  For example, our perspective shifts a bit with this issue, and characters who didn’t get too much focus in the previous story get to carry most of the action in this one.  Unfortunately, Timber Wolf and Karate Kid still get rather short shrift, falling between the cracks a bit, but I suppose that type of thing is bound to happen in a team book with a big cast, especially when page real-estate is at such a premium.  The real stars of the issue are Element Lad and Saturn Girl, and we join the latter at the beginning of the story right where we left her, deep in the belly of the beast, having infiltrated the science labs of the tyrannical President Peralla.  The previous issue’s mild cliffhanger ending is continued as the scientist’s assistant declares that she knows the young Legionnaire.  Fortunately, she doesn’t know her as a Legionnaire!  It seems that this girl, Marli Zhorg (gotta’ love these Legion names) was a schoolmate of Saturn Girl’s but hasn’t kept up with her fellow Saturnian’s exploits since the old days.  Thus, she thinks that Imra is just another scientist looking for a job, happily assuming that her college buddy has no more qualms about working for a dictator than she does.

action391-22.jpg

Yet, though her cover is intact, the psychic heroine faces another obstacle.  She can’t telepathically smuggle the secrets of the ‘Humanoid’ super soldiers out to her teammates in the presence of another mind-reader.  Thinking quickly, she sends a seemingly innocent message ‘in the clear’ to Brainiac 5 that nevertheless appraises him of the situation.  It’s a nice display of her resourcefulness.  Meanwhile, the rest of the team is meeting with Masrin, the rebel leader, under the guise of being fellow operatives from the Dark Circle.  As they try to figure out how to fight the seemingly unstoppable Humanoids, Brainy discovers a trace of their substance on Karate Kid’s hand and rushes to conduct an analysis.

Just then, the loyalist forces attack, and a desperate battle ensues, a battle that will be hopeless unless the young Coluan can solve the mystery.  In a fun and fitting little sequence, Brainy solves the puzzle in the time it takes Element Lad to complain about his tardiness.  It’s a nice little character moment, demonstrating Brainiac 5’s competence, coolness, and also indicating the touch of arrogance that comes from knowing you’re the smartest being in the room.

action391-26.jpg

With the secret in his possession, Element Lad begins a herculean labor, single-handedly dispatching the Humanoids by converting their bodies into various elements, all while making the rebels believe it is their new weapons carrying the day in order to maintain their cover.  The sequence is nicely illustrated by Mortimer, and the Legionnaire displays a creative use of his powers as he destroys the creatures.

action391-27.jpg

The effort leaves him so drained that Timberwolf has to carry him when the rebels advance, but even so, he keeps up his attack.  Soon they are storming the capitol itself, and Saturn Girl sends them inside information, handily dispatching her former friend when she realizes what the young heroine is up to.  Brainy uses his force field belt to penetrate the city’s defenses and smash their controls, allowing the rebels to sweep in and providing him with a nice action sequence in the bargain.

action391-29.jpg

Masrin is more concerned with securing the treasury than with the capture of Peralla, and he pulls a Scrooge McDuck (minus the charm and whimsy) as he examines the wealth of the planet.  Here we see the culmination of the solid character work that Bridwell manages to weave into this fast moving story, as the rebel leader’s vices are displayed in several subtle ways amidst the action.  We see it when he shouts cornball lines during the battle that make the heroes roll their eyes, as well as in his casual disregard for his men in the previous story.  His vices prove his undoing, in classic fashion, as his greed provides the opening the Legionnaire’s need to take care of him.  The team convinces Masrin to hold back most of the treasure and only offer a small portion to his troops.  When he does so, Element Lad uses the last of his energy to transmute the gold and jewels into simple lead and stone.  The rebels turn on their disgraced leader, and a better man takes his place.

action391-31.jpg

The team, their mission successfully completed, is extracted, and the tale ends with Element Lad waking up in the infirmary after his heroic efforts, being congratulated by the others.  His valiant, unyielding perseverance throughout the issue was really quite impressive, and it’s pleasant to see the fellow get his due, especially because he’s a character that I don’t know well.  I like seeing new (to me) characters come out strong, and I always enjoy seeing underdogs (and Element Lad rather seems like one to me) make good.  He really does carry the issue, though, and his endurance in the face of his increasing exhaustion is a great heroic note for the character, even if it’s all we have time to learn about him.

action391-32.jpg

So, there you have it, an excellent Legion adventure, full of fun, intrigue, and energy,  with personality and character packed into every rare spare moment.  I didn’t even mention the romance subplot where the rebel officer’s girlfriend was revealed to be in love with someone else.  That type of extraneous element could easily just feel tacked on and unnecessary, but it is indicative of Bridwell’s apparent desire to see that nothing is left hanging.  Instead of being a distraction, it is handled with a light enough touch to add just a little extra flavor to the tale, occupying no more than a single panel and fitting in organically.  Once again, we see the power of visual storytelling, as a single word balloon and a meaningful glance tell us everything we need to know about the way things stand.

action391-24.jpg

The story isn’t perfect.  It’s just too short to be entirely successful.  The setup for the yarn remains impressive, though it doesn’t get as much exploration as we might like.  The final resolution, disposing of both Perala and Masrin, as well as the general threats to the world, as quickly as it does is a tad unsatisfying.  Nonetheless, the dramatic irony of Masrin’s greed-triggered fall helps to ameliorate this feeling.  On the whole, if the only complaint you can level against a story is that you wish there were more of it, you’re doing pretty well.  I’ll give it a solid 4 Minutemen, like it’s previous iteration.  I am really enjoying these Legion tales, and I’m looking forward to the next one!  They really help make these Action Comics days more enjoyable.

minute4

Aquaman #52

aquaman_vol_1_52“The Traders’ Trap”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

“Never Underestimate a Deadman”
Writer: Neal Adams
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Editor: Dick Giordano

Well, back to Aquaman’s aquatic adventures, and happy I am for the return!  I really love this run, as I’ve remarked before, and though this isn’t the best one of the bunch, it’s still pretty darn good.  This issue is graced with another beautiful Nick Cardy cover, one that embraces the visual daring and creativity of the art within.  Once again, the SAG team deliver an innovative story that is breaking away from the standard formulas, along with really lovely and unusual art.  Imaginations continue to run wild, and the flurry of creative concepts keeps flying as the team further fleshes out this strange world.  What’s more, this story provides a really surprising and rather challenging moral dilemma for its protagonist.  In short, this book continues to encapsulate the best things about the Bronze Age.

Aquaman52_03.jpg

Another beautiful, trippy Aparo splash page

Before we rejoin our hero and his silent girl friday, the SAG team tosses out another concept to populate this bizarre world, a new and interestingly designed race of aliens, quite ugly but also fairly unique.  They have an advanced ship that looks a bit like a fugitive from Star Trek, and they are apparently on the hunt for slaves!  They approach the blue colony sphere…thing…from the last issue and spot the Sea King and his companion fighting off a horde of the natives.  The giant-headed aliens are impressed with the scrappy pair’s prowess, so they decide to capture them.

Aquaman52_04.jpg

Trapped in a force field, the Marine Marvel and the girl are brought aboard the alien ship and imprisoned in glass tubes with the rest of the day’s ‘catch.’  Aquaman deduces that the strange beings are telepathic and have highly developed brains, what with their huge melon-heads and all.  It seems telepathy is a common feature in the life forms of this bizarre land, a nice little bit of internal consistency that doesn’t get remarked upon but which makes the setting feel more fleshed-out and believable.

Aquaman52_09.jpg

Then we get a moment that I really enjoyed, one of those ‘Aquaman-is-awesome’ scenes that this series does so well.  While the glass prisons are enough to hold most life forms, the Sea King is not so easily cowed.  Held in his cell by powerful mental force, Arthur proves once again how much raw willpower he can muster as, inch by agonizing inch, he forces his arm to move until he shatters the cylinder and escapes.  Then he proceeds to wipe the floor with the big-brained bozos, casually remarking that though they may be smart, they aren’t too much in a fight.  It’s a really great sequence, and demonstrates how well the SAG team handle the character.

Aquaman52_10.jpg

I LOVE this panel with Aquaman cleaning three of the aliens’ clocks at once!

The Marine Marvel smashes a door control to cut off reinforcements and makes his way to the bridge, still desperate to follow the telepathic ‘pull’ that had drawn him to that blue colony in the first place in the hopes that it would lead him to Mera.  Some experimentation allows him to discern the workings of the controls, and the inclusion of that scene helps to illustrate the attention being given to the telling of these tales.  It makes sense that an alien ship could not be instantly piloted by a stranger, so seeing Aquaman actually pressing the wrong buttons as he’s trying to figure it out is a nice nod to logical consistency and their efforts to create a believable universe.  As Aristotle said, impossibilities (like men breathing under water and traveling to other worlds) can be accepted, as long as the are believably possible impossibilities.

Aquaman52_11.jpg

Well, once he arrives back at the colony, we encounter the most interesting moment in the story.  Our hero realizes that the girl is still trapped, and he faces the choice of what to do with her.  He knows he is going to be charging into battle against overwhelming odds as he pursues his quest, and he also knows that the colonists are likely to kill the girl on sight because she was the one who fired on them.  Yet, if he leaves her behind, she is liable to become a slave…or worse!  It’s a compelling and puzzling moral dilemma with no easy answer, and Aquaman himself doesn’t instantly know what to do.  He wants to do what is best for the girl, yet what that might be isn’t easy to discern.  His decision is made quickly, but at least we are shown that he sweats over it.  He chooses to leave the girl behind as he continues to search for a way home.

Aquaman52_12.jpg

Now, I’m far from convinced that this was the right choice, and it is actually rather troubling to me that Aquaman abandons her.  While I rather think that Skeates intends it to be thus, it seems that, at the least, Arthur should have woken her up and asked her what SHE wanted.  Of course, given her beliefs, she might not have ‘spoken’ with him, even if he had done so.  It is truly a difficult situation, as he could not take her home, her life wouldn’t be worth a plug nickel in the new colony, and our hero knows nothing else about this weird world.  As he remarks, at least she is safe, for the moment.  Nonetheless, it is vexing, and the fact that this simple four-color adventure book had me puzzling over a moral conundrum is a testament to its quality and to its uniqueness in the current crop of comics.

Aquaman52_13.jpgWell, to turn back to our tale, the Sea King attempts to fight his way into the colony, but he is felled by a…*gasp* head blow!  Yep, poor Arthur gets a second spot on the Head-Blow Headcount wall.  I’m afraid it won’t be his last, either.  I will say this for the noggin knock, though, at least these alien inhabitants of this land might actually have the strength to knock our hero out with one shot, unlike the average humans who tend to do so.  Either way, his captors decide to carry him to the “Extermination Chamber”!  Dun dun, DUNNN!

What a great place for a scene shift.  We check in briefly with Mera and Vulko, who are monitoring Black Manta as he circles Atlantis.  Suddenly, the Manta-ship disgorges two divers, but what are they up to?  Well, we won’t find out this issue, as our scene shifts again, picking back up with our hero on his way to his dreadfully named destination.  He makes swift work of his three guards in a nice, dynamic sequence, and he realizes that he’s reached the source of the strange ‘pull’…but there is nothing there!

Aquaman52_16.jpg

Just then, Mera snaps and cries out that she needs her husband (calling him “Aquaman” instead of Arthur, which always bothers me as it seems quite unnatural), and in response, the startled Sea King suddenly finds himself growing…and growing…finally appearing in front of a very surprised Sea Queen!  What is going on?  Well, we’ll actually get our answers in the Deadman backup!

Aquaman52_17.jpg

It’s a surprising and intriguing ending, though I really dislike Mera’s panicked outcry.  The modern portrayal of Mera has its problems (for one, she’s now trained as a warrior and assassin and quite blood-thirsty…just like every other character Geoff Johns reimagines), but at least she’s a fiery, independent woman.  I like my Mera with more spirit, more moxy.  She should be no-one’s damsel in distress, especially with all the power she is packing.  Still, like I said with the last issue, I do enjoy the idea that both husband and wife are desperate to be reunited.  It’s sweet.  This outburst pushes things too far, though.

Aquaman52_18.jpg

The more interesting element is, of course, the controversial (to me, at least), choice that our hero makes this issue.  It is handled briefly, and the action moves right along, yet it is a really compelling moment that tells us about the character.  What do y’all think of his choice, readers?  What should Aquaman have done with the girl?  Feel free to weigh in through the comments.

Once again, the story suffers a bit from brevity, but it still manages to present us with a complete adventure, while also keeping us on the hook by raising as many questions as it answers.  Throughout Aquaman comes off as pretty awesome, powerful, capable, indomitable (other than that one head-blow…), and driven, yet still concerned about the girl who has fallen in with him, despite his own considerable problems.  I think the issue itself may not be quite as strong as the last one in all respects, but the episode with the choice provides enough interest and depth to push it up to the next level in my estimations.  Thus, I award it a very respectable 4.5 Minutemen.

minute4.5

“Never Underestimate a Deadman”

Aquaman52_19.jpg

This Deadman backup provides a fun and interesting, if a bit uneven, conclusion to our main adventure, and it is followed by an Aquaman epilogue that I will cover in this section.  Neal Adams is in fine form, so the art is beautiful, but unfortunately, he is also handling the writing chores, and his prose tends to be a tad purple.  He also makes some rather odd choices with his captions, as when the boxes constantly urge the hero to hurry.  Still, it’s a fun yarn.

It opens with Deadman and the strange, dimension hopping Tatsinda arriving back on Earth after a stomach churning journey.  The Deceased Detective commits something of a faux pas by telling his now cat-shaped companion that he liked her better in the other world.  They encounter the Ocean Master moping about his betrayal of the man who he has come to realize is actually his brother, Aquaman.  In a really nice bit of characterization, there is an element of pride even in Orm’s remorse, a certain epic grandeur that reminds one of Milton’s Satan in a funny costume.  It is not just that he betrayed his brother, it is also that he failed to save him, and the failure itself, a failure to enact his will, is, perhaps, what galls him most.  It’s actually a wonderful character beat, and I think it captures something about Orm that is true about most great villains.  The central sin, the original sin, and the one that leads to worldly greatness both good and bad, is pride.  It must be the defining characteristic of any would-be world-conquering villain.  Magneto or Lex Luthor would be nothing, despite their individual causes, if they were not backed up by towering pride and will to back it.

Aquaman52_21.jpg

I’ll add, at the risk of sidetracking this commentary even further, that Ocean Master’s costume, though here it looks about as good as it ever does, is just a lost cause.  The light purple, almost pink cloak and pants, the whole color scheme…it just doesn’t have the dignity the character needs.  The later redesign that adopted a more serious color scheme looks world’s better.  The modern version is, like almost every single New 52 costume, overdesigned, but it has some good elements.  I like the scales that echo and reflect Aquaman’s armor, but the whole thing just doesn’t quite come together.  I think one more pass would get it right.  Unlike many folks, I actually quite like the helmet.  I think it is distinctive and interesting.  The new version refines it nicely, but I think it has always been a good trademark for the character, making the design pop.

Well, anyway, Deadman grows tired of listening to Orm’s monologuing as the fate of the world hangs in the balance, so telling Tatsinda to hang tight, he grabs the reins of the villain’s body, and uses him to infiltrate the aliens’ ship.  I bet you had forgotten all about these guys, huh?  Well, helpfully, we get a quick recap, and the invaders obliging explain their plan to “Orm,” since he is, after all, their ally.  They are going to flood the world with radiation from all of their emitters, and this will reduce the inhabitants’ intelligence, making them nice, tractable slaves.

Aquaman52_24.jpg

The ghostly hero decides to smash their devices, and by jumping from opponent to opponent, he makes some progress, but the aliens shut their brains down to thwart him (That has to be a VERY specific skill.  How often would it come in handy?  I mean, other than going to see a DC movie?).  Unable to use the aliens, Deadman begins to flit across the globe, controlling various animals to smash the devices, but he realizes that to get the central device he needs help, namely, Aquaman!  We discover what has happened to the Aquatic Ace.  Apparently the invaders don’t believe in taking life (an interesting touch), so to fulfill their bargain with Orm, they just shrunk the hero down, and he is now trapped in a microscopic realm on Mera’s ring.  Intense concentration can reverse the effects (sure, why not), so Deadman snags Vulko in order to prompt Mera into such an effort, and this triggers the Sea King’s return.

Aquaman52_26.jpg

Yet, is it all for naught?  The Dead Detective realizes that the time limit has expired!  Fortunately, it seems that his efforts were enough, even without destroying the central device…or were they?  Tatsinda tartly informs the smug spirit that it was, in fact, she, who saved the day.  She swam out to the ship and sabotaged the device so that it backfired, stupefying the aliens and forcing their withdrawal.  This is an unexpected and fun twist.  I enjoy Tatsinda’s self-satisfied recounting of her deed, and she also coolly informs our hero that no lady, no matter what her form, cares to be ignored.  It’s a fun little ending, even if it is a bit of an anti-climax.

Aquaman52_28.jpg

To add to the fun of this issue, the team also provides us with an accounting of the creation of these interlocked tales, which is, in and of itself, an enjoyable and interesting read.  I’ll reproduce it below so y’all can enjoy it as well.  Essentially, it was a collaborative idea that all the creators contributed towards, the story evolving as it was told.

aquaman52_29

Anyway, the story itself was a good read, and Deadman’s frantic efforts made for good adventure fare.  In the end, these aliens just didn’t seem like that great of a threat, and that rather lowered the impact of the story.  I think that this is the weakest of the Deadman chapters, and the weakest chapter overall, especially considering the weight and enjoyability of the Aquaman section from this issue.  Still, those are pretty high marks to hit, and the tale deserves an above average 3.5 Minutemen.

minute3.5

The epilogue reunites our two submarine superheroes, and the couple discusses the strangeness of the recent ordeal while also bringing the returned king up to date on Black Manta’s odd behavior.  Mera notes that she is, in a sense, the goddess of this bizarre microscopic world and speculates about other such places.  We know from the Atom that they abound, making the DCU Universe even more packed with life and wonder than is apparent.  It’s a neat concept, and it rather reminds me of the medieval idea that God would waste no space in creation, thus, every element and every area must have its life, its wonder, and its purpose.  It’s a lovely vision of the universe, and, though it raises endless questions, is great for a world of wonders such as this.  The issue ends with Aquaman calling out Manta and promising further adventures to come!

Aquaman52_31.jpg

 

Well, I am going to stop this post here, letting these two issues stand alone.  I’ve decided to start treating multi-feature books as multiple entries since their writing takes just as long as do multiple individual issues. That will also hopefully help me keep up a more rapid and consistent pace.  I’m trying to use this blog to discipline myself in writing, in part as training for my dissertation writing which is coming up soon, so hopefully this will aid that objective.  I’m also going to try to rein in my issue commentaries a bit, as they’ve grown more than I had intended, so you may look for more restrained summaries in the future.  As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments, and I hope you will join me next week as we tread further on our journey Into the Bronze Age!

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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

Poor, poor Aquaman.  He becomes the second hero to make a return appearance on the wall of shame.  At least this time, it might make some sense.  I have to say, I expected we’d see even more entries, but I suppose we aren’t even a year in yet, are we?  Clearly, this trope is alive and well in the Bronze Age.