- George Harrison’s concert for Bangladesh takes place in NYC
- Paul McCartney founds Wings
- US launches 1st satellite into lunar orbit from manned spacecraft
- 3rd San Diego Comic-Con International opens
- Apollo 15 returns to Earth
- A Catholic man is shot a British soldier in Belfast and a British soldier is killed by the IRA
- France performs nuclear test at Mururoa atoll
- Operation Demetrius (or Internment) is introduced in Northern Ireland allowing suspected terrorists to be indefinitely detained without trial; the security forces arrested 342 people suspected of supporting paramilitaries
- Irish political parties announce civil disobedience in response to internments
- During the internment round-up operation in west Belfast, the Parachute Regiment kill 11 unarmed civilians in what became known as the Ballymurphy massacre
- Bahrain proclaims independence after 110 years of British rule
- President Nixon announces a 90 day price freeze
- FBI begins covert investigation of journalist Daniel Schorr
- Bolivian military coup under col Hugo Banzer, pres Torres driven out
- J. Edgar Hoover and John Mitchell announce the arrest of 20 of the “Camden 28”
- Irish leaders present cases of British brutality to the U.N., leading to an investigation
- The US dollar is allowed to float against the Japanese yen for the first time
Another very eventful month, and unfortunately most of those events are fairly tragic ones. The Troubles in Ireland continue apace, and we are getting closer to some of the worst times of the conflict there. We’re also getting closer to Nixon’s downfall with Watergate, though the events that lead up to that momentous occurrence were largely unknown at the time. Looking back at history does help to put the problems of the present into perspective, at least.
The song at the top of the charts this month was “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” by the Bee Gees, which I’d never heard before. It surprised the heck out of me, because it sounded nothing like the Bee Gees I knew. What an interesting discovery! I guess they probably had a ways to go before they became the band I know.
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Action Comics #403
“Attack of the Micro-Murderer”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
“The Man With the X-Ray Mind”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
“The Impossible Legend”
Writer: Dick Wood
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Bob Brown
“When Krypto Was Superboy’s Master”
Writer: George Kashdan
Penciler: George Papp
Inker: George Papp
Editor: Mort Weisinger
We’ve got a reasonably dramatic cover for this issue, though the image can’t convey its message alone, which always seems like a bit of a failure of visual storytelling to me. The story it represents is an unusual one, goofy, but with a certain sweet earnestness that I enjoyed. It begins with, of all things, cave men, an executioners, a firing squad, and a hanging, each one representing the ignoble ends, far separated in time, of the same being. How can this be? Well, we discover the answer to that in the modern day, when in a fair double-page spread, an airborne thief crashes his helicopter into a radio tower while being pursued by Superman. The dying villain gasps out that he is a Zontt, who will be endlessly reincarnated, and promises he’ll be back in the future to get his revenge.
Checking his computer at the Fortress of Solitude, the Man of Steel discovers that the criminal’s last threat was no idle boast, and that there really are such things as Zontts (though how he would have records of that fact is conveniently glossed over). Apparently they’re spirits that occupy a new host each time their current one dies, but they only have 24 hours to find their next victim. Continuing the convenient exposition, the Kryptonian’s computer also just happens to tell him that the only element the creatures can’t penetrate is sulfur. I’m sure that won’t be relevant later.
Speaking of later, the next morning, Clark is sitting at his desk when it suddenly explodes, uncovering his costume and revealing a small cylinder which plays a prerecorded message…from the future! It’s from the Zontt, who tells him that he’s in the future and will kill many innocents unless the Man of Tomorrow lives up to his name and joins him in the year 3486. Not one to let an obvious trap stop him, the Metropolis Marvel speeds off to that date, only to uncover a woman of the future who had died moments ago, clearly the Zontt’s previous host. Suddenly, the hero is gripped with pain, and he realizes that the creature is trying to get its revenge. Thankfully, the Zontt can’t help boasting retroactively, so a video plays that explains the situation, revealing that the woman was a microbiologist and the spirit used her to create a super microbe to infect the Man of Steel, a microbe that is now its new host, making it even more powerful.
Growing sicker by the moment, Superman returns to the present and tries to seek help from Kryptonian science in Kandor, only to realize that the bug won’t shrink when he does, a discovery that nearly kills him. Trying another desperate plan, the Metropolis Marvel takes to television, pleading to the people of his own city to help him beat the bug. He asks them to donate a huge amount of blood so that he can flush his system and, hopefully, flush out the microbe. Now, this almost makes sense, if you don’t think about it too hard. When you do, it becomes pretty silly.
What follows is really the heart of the story, as Metropolis turns out in record numbers to help their hero, with even the weak and the elderly insisting on doing their part to help. Lois herself gives until the doctors won’t let her give anymore. Finally, the Man of Steel is hooked up to a massive transfusion device and has all of that blood pumped through him, but it fails to flush out the intelligent microbe! Growing weaker by the moment, Superman takes his leave and begins to put his affairs in order. Notably, there is a continuity gaffe here, as Bates places Supergirl as still at college, rather than having graduated.
In another nice little moment, the U.S. creates a tribute to the defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, with an S-Shield created from the lights of different towns that night. The art doesn’t really succeed in capturing the scene, but it’s still a nice idea. Finally, Superman heads out into space to a tomb he’s chosen on an asteroid. Thus, as Superman is dying and the spirit emerges from the microbe to find another host, it instead finds itself marooned in space, millions of miles away from any other life form.
In a bit of irony, the Zontt is then surprised by a per-recorded message of its own, this one from Superman. The recording declares that the being will die unless it returns to the Kryptonian’s body and saves his life. With no choice, the Zontt rushes back to the stricken form, only for it to be revealed that, while it watched the video, the Man of Steel’s body was replaced by a duplicate with a synthetic heart coated with sulfur, which acts as a trap for the spirit. His super-powered immune system having wiped out the now much less dangerous microbe, the Action Ace takes his prisoner and returns home.
Quite a weird story, isn’t it? On one hand, this yarn certainly fits the standard formula of Superman facing a seemingly inescapable fate, only to outwit it with an outlandish plan, which has certainly been done often enough before. On the other hand, an intelligent illness is actually an interesting angle and a unique threat for Superman. The outwitting of the villainous virus is clever, if rather ridiculous and convenient, but the real highlight of the story is the demonstration of Metropolis’s love of its hero. I’ll give this odd little tale 3 Minutemen. The creative concept helps to make up for the clumsy execution, but it is still a pretty silly story.
“The Man with the X-Ray Mind”
This backup introduces the beginning, as far as I know, of a promising new feature, “A Secret Chapter in the Life of Clark Kent.” I’ve mentioned before how Clark doesn’t have much characterization in the comics of this era, and I’m looking forward to seeing Superman in general develop into a more rounded character. Clark Kent is obviously an important part of that. Unfortunately, this tale is not particularly groundbreaking on that front. It begins with Superman, still in college at the time, returning to his school after a space mission. Here we see a rare sight, a weakness in Swan’s art, as he renders the college age Clark in pretty much the exact same way as his adult self.
Once back in his secret identity, Clark encounters Mr. Lundgren, the janitor, and observes a strange sight. When a psychology professor, Dr. Borwin, comes down into the basement looking for exam papers he accidentally threw away (yikes! That’s a pretty massive mistake!), the janitor is able to predict exactly where they will be by staring into his pail of water. Astonished, the professor insists on studying Lundgren’s abilities. The simple janitor agrees, explaining that he has the ability to skry, or “read secretes and mysteries from reflections in a reflective surface,” like his mother before him.
In a scene straight out of Ghostbusters, Prof. Borwin conducts the standard ESP tests, using a set of pictorial cards, and amazingly, the other man matches all of the images, even going on to predict upcoming cards. After the test, the kindly janitor reveals that he’s always known who Clark really was and warns him of an imminent disaster, a train crash, which the Man of Tomorrow is able to prevent just in time.
Unfortunately, the greedy professor wants to use the psychic’s abilities for his own benefit, so Borwin convinces Mr. Lundgren to predict the correct combination for a physics department vault that contains a radioactive formula. Yet, when the avaricious academic tries to steal it, he drops the vial, causing a terrible explosion. Superman arrives in time to shield Lundgren, but the poor guy is still wounded, becoming brain damaged! The kindly man is reduced to doing odd jobs at the school, essentially a charity case because he can’t concentrate or remember anything well enough to do any steady job.
And that is a rather terribly sad ending for this poor, good-hearted fellow who didn’t do anyone any harm. He just tried to do the right thing, and he gets brain damaged for his efforts. It’s a surprisingly bitter ending with no real justification or reason. The story itself is fine, nothing exceptional, though it does add more evidence to the claim that the institutions of higher learning in the DC Universe really need to do a better job of vetting the people to whom they hand out advanced degrees. It seems like every other guy with a doctorate is trying to take over the world or, at least, rob banks! Anyway, I’ll give this tale 2.5 Minutemen, knocking off a little for the weirdly melancholy ending that seems out of sync with the light-hearted tone of the story. It doesn’t have enough space to really take advantage of such a conclusion, which is unsurprising for a Dorfman penned tale.
Adventure Comics #409
“Invasion of the Mer-Men (Part II)”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Mike Sekowsky and Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano
“Fight With Fire Drake”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Art Saaf
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
“The Condemned Legionnaires”
Writer: Edmond Hamilton
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inkers: George Klein and Sheldon Moldoff
Letterer: Milt Snapinn
This issue marks the end of Mike Sekowsky’s run on Supergirl, and, unfortunately, I really can’t say I’m sad to see him go, despite the great credentials he brought to the book. Oddly, we’ve got two different Supergirl tales here, and the Legion backup is just a reprint, which is a shame. I wonder if the powers that be were trying to ease into the new creative team by splitting the book between the old and new guards. Either way, we get a nice cover out of the deal. It’s by Dick Giordano, who does a lovely job on both Supergirl and the monstrous invaders. It’s a solid, horror-style image, with the creatures coming over the edge and looking nicely menacing.
The cover feature is our second story, but unfortunately our first one isn’t quite as pretty as it is. Sekowsky’s rather Silver Age-ish aquatic aliens from the last issue are still planning on stealing Earth’s water, and despite the best efforts of Earth’s military, it seems that there is nothing that can stop them. In the meantime, the Girl of Steel is still looking for her missing friend, Johnny, and lamenting that her efforts to protect her identity may have doomed him, which is a nice touch continuing on from the previous issue. During her submarine search, Supergirl discovers a series of massive spheres hidden under the sea that are actually interstellar tankers. When the military discovers them in turn, their attacks are stopped by a forcefield, but just when all hope seems lost, the Maid of Might discovers that Johnny is still alive, and he fills her in on the aliens’ plan.
Attacked by the invaders, Supergirl allows herself to be captured so she can get into their ship. In a good example of attention to detail, the aliens are surprised to find a being that can survive both above and below the waves, which makes sense if they’ve studied humans. In a cute little scene, Supergirl escapes with Johnny, but in order to keep him alive and yet surface slowly enough to protect him from the bends, she kisses him in order to share oxygen…only for him to get fresh once the danger is passed! It’s a funny sequence, and it illustrates that Johnny apparently has more chutzpah than brains. Trying to get some sugar from a superbeing that is all that stands between you and a watery grave is certainly bold, but it probably isn’t all that bright!
With the water-logged lothario safely stashed, Supergirl heads for space, where she discovers the aliens’ ships and smashes their tanks, releasing the water back onto the Earth. What follows is really rather surprising and a nice touch that raises the quality of the story a bit. The alien commander, realizing that he’s beaten, gives up. His enterprise was both enormous and desperate, and with his ships disabled, there is no longer time for a second attempt. By the time they could repair the damage and recollect the necessary water, their planet would be dry and dead. It’s a melancholy moment. Notably, these aliens were actually sincere about feeling superior to humanity.
They weren’t actually out to do the Earth harm, they just considered their own world more important. So when the heroine’s actions doom their planet, their commander just resignedly follows Supergirl to Earth and bids farewell to a worthy foe before heading back to die with the rest of his species. Yet, the story doesn’t end with this weighty moment, but with Johnny home safe and sound, pining away for Supergirl.
So, this yarn came to an unexpected conclusion. The aliens’ nobility in defeat is quite nice, though it really comes out of nowhere. They seem just like generic sci-fi villains, the likes of which populated practically every other issue of DC in the Silver Age, right up until the last two pages. If Sekowsky had spent more time on these guys, he might have really had something with the bittersweetness of their defeat. As it is, it feels like an abrupt tonal shift that isn’t necessarily earned, nor fitting. The rest of the comic is a good adventure tale, and Supergirl’s introspection about her priorities when she thinks Johnny is dead is actually an interesting character moment.
In the end, this issue is indicative of Sekowsky’s run on this book. It has some real potential, with honestly interesting and thoughtful takes on the lead character that, unfortunately, receive no real development or followup, as well as the occasional mature and impressive story moment that is out of step with the rest of the comic. There is an intermittent spark of excellence to these stories that is never really capitalized on or integrated into the issues at large. Sadly, Sekowsky’s art also continues to be wildly inconsistent, with some really cool, creative panels here and there and some occassional good facework, all right alongside some absolutely ugly pages and general roughness and sloppiness in everything else. I’ll give this issue 3 Minutemen, as it is a decent read, despite the rough art, but its weaknesses are very noticeable. This is an inauspicious ending to Sekowsky’s run on the book, especially considering the greatness of his career before this point.
“Fight with Fire Drake”
The difference between Sekowsky’s story and the one that follows it is just night and day. Art Saaf, who I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before, turns in a nice, clean looking comic, and the contrast really illustrates just how bad Sekowsky’s art has gotten. The tale itself is just as good, featuring another aquatic adventure that begins with a party aboard the yacht of Linda Danvers’ boss, the owner of KGF-TV. Despite having been chasing around with Johnny last issue, it seems that the Maid of Might has remembered her crush on Geoff, who still looks like he’s in his 30s or 40s, which remains creepy. Fortunately for her, a handsome party-crasher approaches, and his attentions makes Geoff quite jealous.
The newcomer claims to be a freelance writer named Freddy Nero, but shortly after he leaves, the party receives much more dangerous crashers, as a group of divers in rather nice looking monster costumes that can shoot flames (!) appear to rob the guests. While their leader, Fire Drake, threatens the boss, Linda slips away and dons a new costume, which has a fun little notice about which fan designed it. The costume is a bit much and I’m pretty sure it defies the laws of physics. It’s not bad looking, though, but it does look like something a fan designed. Weirdly, Supergirl notes that she can’t wear her exoskeleton with these threads, which seems like a really unnecessary sacrifice for the sake of fashion. She confronts the divers and manages to drive them off the ship, but her plot devices, err…I mean her powers, conk out on her during the submarine pursuit, and she has to give it up.
That night, she’s visited by her mother, which surprised the heck out of me. I had always been familiar with her origin as an orphan of the Kryptonian city of Argo, but apparently in the Silver Age they eventually revealed that her parents were still alive. Who knew? I can sort of see why DC eventually wanted to clean up all of these excess Kryptonians, because they’re apparently just all over the place! Well, anyway, her mother brings her back to Kandor, where she lives, in order to provider her with miniaturized versions of her equipment so she can wear whatever outlandish costume she fancies. Convenient!
The next morning, the yacht is again attacked by the costumed divers, but Supergirl is on hand once more, and she saves Geoff, who is braver than he is bright, much like Johnny. When Firedrake tries to escape into the water again, he suddenly starts to drown, and after capturing him, the Maid of Might reveals that she severed his air hoses with her heat vision, which is clever. When he is unmasked, the submarine thief is revealed to be Fred Nero, who had crashed the party in order to case the place.
This is a fun little story, other than the silly element of Supergirl wearing a costume that can’t accommodate her very much necessary exoskeleton, just for for the sake of fashion. It’s interesting that Bridwell pretty much immediately sets about refining the setup that Sekowsky created. Of course, I’m always happy to see some costumed crooks, and the design of the divers’ outfits is pretty cool. They look nice and intimidating, but they are occasionally drawn without gloves, which rather undercuts the menace of their look. Nonetheless, this is a fine start to a new direction for the book. Unfortunately, Bridwell won’t be continuing on the title, which is a shame as I tend to like his work, but I’m still excited to see what will come next. I do hope that the new team on this book will find a way to challenge the character that reeks a bit less of deus ex machina, but this particular story is fun despite that weakness. There are some decent character moments, and Saaf’s Supergirl looks great in action. I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.
Like Supergirl, my adventures here are done for the moment. This was an interesting pair of books, if not terribly captivating. This final issue of Adventure seems to mark Mike Sekowsky’s departure from DC for many a year. It’s a shame that he left DC on such a sour note after so many years of great work. It’s hard to believe that the clumsy, ugly art in Adventure was by the same hand that had turned in the riotously creative and generally high-quality work on Manhunter 2070 in Showcase or his classic work on JLA. Well, we will bid him a fond adieu and not hold these last years against him. If you enjoyed my commentaries, please join me again soon for another step in our Journey into the Bronze Age! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!