Into the Bronze Age: October 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  The world seems quite intent on falling to pieces around us, but let’s take a little time to look back at a simpler era and a better class of comic.  The big news in this edition is the finale of the (in)famous GL/GA drug story, but we’ve got a couple of other interesting books to keep that one company.

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 #405
  • Adventure Comics #411
  • Detective Comics #416
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86
  • Mr. Miracle #4
  • Phantom Strange #15
  • Superboy #178
  • Superman #243
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #115
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142
  • Teen Titans #35

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


Green Lantern/Green Arrow #86


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“They Say It’ll Kill Me… But They Won’t Say When”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

That’s right, at long last (longer because of my travels and distractions!) we come to the end of the GA/GL drug two-parter.  It’s a famous issue, and we examined why with the first one.  As we saw, these issues certainly deserve their iconic status, whatever flaws they may have, and I was surprised by how much better the first issue was than I remembered.  I was in for a similar shock with this story, which is a much more even-keeled offering than its predecessor.  We don’t have as many heavy-handed and goofy moments here as we did in the last one.  Even the cover has a touch more dignity…which is not to say it isn’t a bit over the top as well.  In fact, it is wonderfully, ridiculously melodramatic, especially with its bold tag-line.  I love Green Lantern’s ‘curse the heavens’ pose as well.  Still, it is effective, striking, and memorable, especially with the faces of the various drug victims making up the background.

Unfortunately, the touching image of Green Arrow carrying the fallen form of his ward isn’t quite what greets us inside, where things start off with a bang…or more accurately, a backhand.  Ollie follows up Roy’s dramatic confession from last issue with a smack to the face and a heavy dose of vitriol.  It’s a really stunning moment, and O’Neil hits us with it right out of the gate.  To see a hero, in his right mind, treat a faltering friend like this in 1971 was practically unprecedented.  It serve’s O’Neil’s purpose, immediately casting the Emerald Archer’s merciless dismissal of his surrogate son’s suffering in the worst light.  Unfortunately, he overplays his hand once more, and the result is a further stain on Ollie’s already fairly blackened character, though it is consistent with the strong views he evinced in the last issue.  It’s just an ugly moment, not helped by the fact that Roy isn’t at his most sympathetic after his weak story last issue.

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Speedy mocks his mentor for his violent response, hitting him with a major guilt trip, and Arrow throws the kid out.  Then we get a moment which ALMOST addresses some of the flaws of the previous story, as the Battling Bowman ponders the situation and points out that, even though he hadn’t paid his ward much attention lately, the kid shouldn’t have needed much at his age, being in college and all.  Then O’Neil once again turns Ollie’s jerk dial to 11, as, from that, he concludes that he is completely “innocent of blame,” which is a self-righteousness and self-deception that is breathtaking, even for O’Neil’s Green Arrow.  Still, in all of this melodrama, there is some realism.

After concluding that he’s father of the year after all, the Emerald Archer sets out to take revenge on the pushers who he blames instead, heading to the airfield where he previously traced their supply to pick the investigation back up.  Meanwhile the two junkies who betrayed our heroes last issue come to Ollie’s place looking for Speedy and, not finding him, decide to shoot up their reward.  The drugs are pure, and one of them overdoses in what is, admittedly, a pretty good scene, though Adams perhaps overdoes the revelation a bit.

Later, we find Hal Jordan still running through previous events, unable to shake the feeling that there is something wrong with Speedy, and when he heads to GA’s to check on the kid, he finds the junkie and begins his own investigation.  Ollie, for his part, turns the table on a guard at the airport who gets the drop on him and is sent into a trap for his troubles.  It’s a nice scene, emphasizing both his anger and his skill, that he’s still dangerous, even with a busted wing.

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In the meantime, the Emerald Gladiator finds Speedy passed out in an alley and discovers the truth.  They have an almost decent conversation, though O’Neil overdoes the youth’s rhetoric a bit.  The generation gap stuff he spouts is a little problematic given the fact that most of the members of the previous generation Roy knows are freaking paragons of virtue.  Nonetheless, Hal’s measured response and kindness is a very pleasant departure from his stupidity and naivete from early in the run.  The ring-slinger takes the kid to Dinah’s house for sanctuary.

On the docks, where the Battling Bowman has followed the guard’s tip into trouble, he finds the thugs he tangled with at the airport last issue.  We get a nice fight scene, with Arrow still holding his own, but it ends with him getting knocked out.  When he comes to, we meet the man behind the drug operation, a wealthy socialite named Saloman, whose massive yacht, stuffed full of important people, is just leaving.  He tells his men to dump the antagonistic archer into the drink as soon as he’s away.

green lantern 086 018Adams gives us a fantastic image of Ollie’s plight, as he’s tossed overboard tied to an anchor, but the hero manages to grab an acetylene arrow and cut through the chains, making a desperate and dramatic escape.  Just then, the Lantern arrives and disposes of the thugs with some green gorillas.  As they pursue the head honcho, Speedy is busy going through withdrawals, aided by Black Canary’s quiet compassion in another good sequence, improved by a lack of dialog.

In the Caribbean, Saloman Hooper visits his pharmaceutical lab, where he picks up a suitcase worth of dope (which doesn’t seem like enough to justify the scope of his operation), only to be caught in the act by the Green Team.  While Ollie takes out the mogul’s minion with a one-armed arrow shot (shades of Dark Knight Returns!), Hal tosses his friend his ring in order to deal with Hooper with his own two hands.  This is actually a pretty believable, satisfying moment, unlike the book’s tendency to have the Lantern just decide that he needs to use his fists to feel like a man.  He’s angry, and he takes it out on this privileged punk, but he has enough self control to do it ‘unofficially,’ so to speak, like a cop putting aside his badge to do something that needs doing but which falls outside of the law.  Notably, Arrow calls him on this afterward.

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The issue ends with the funeral of the junkie who overdosed, where Hal and Ollie are joined by Dinah and a recovered Roy.  Unfortunately, the newly clean Titan is in no mood to mend fences, and he lashes out at his former guardian, giving a speech about how people like him, who lack compassion, are contributing to the crisis that so many young people face.  As Speedy walks away from the closest thing to family that he has, Green Arrow finds himself proud that the boy has become a man.

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That final scene isn’t as heavy-handed as I remember, though the melodrama still sets my teeth on edge a bit.  What’s worse, it leaves the situation between our hero and his surrogate son unresolved and embittered.  That’s a shame, and this story’s consequences will be deep and long-felt.  On the whole though, this is actually quite a good issue, sensitive and perceptive, but also an engaging and exciting adventure, with some real, if sometimes discordant, character development to go with it.  Once again, the message of compassion and understanding towards drug addicts is powerful, and the theme of empathy, learning to see things from someone else’s perspective, is effective and an interesting continuation of O’Neil’s better efforts in this run.  I think the story itself would have been a bit more effective if we had met our villain a bit earlier, as he’s mostly just a convenient and morally acceptable punching bag, an outlet for outrage and despair.  Still, O’Neil manages to make the guy loathsome in very little space.  Roy’s sudden and complete recovery is more than a little silly, in regards to the reality of addiction, but I suppose allowances can be made for the medium.

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Adams’ art continues to be beautiful and compelling, really capturing the emotion and the power of the moments he portrays.  And yet, even with that focus on drama, he manages to give us some fun and funny moments, like with Ollie’s expression during his impromptu dive.  Once again, we see Adams’ power with a more intimate, personal story.  I just love his portrayal of Ollie.  Characters of that scale are really what he excels at, which is part of why his Batman run is so legendary.  All in all, this is a very good story, only slightly damaged by O’Neil’s excesses and his lack of forethought.  It is an important comic, culturally, and its themes and subject were incredibly groundbreaking in its time.  Heck, we’re still fighting some of these battles, and a story that reminds us of the humanity of those who are suffering is still relevant, perhaps moreso these days than in recent years.  I’ll give this milestone issue 4.5 Minutemen out of 5.  It isn’t perfect, but it really is a good one.

P.S.: To mark just how important his comic book was, it carries a copy of a letter from the Mayor of New York, commending the creative team for their work and pointing out the seriousness of the drug crisis.

 


Mister Miracle #4


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“The Closing Jaws of Death!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Jack Kirby

“The Romance of Rip Carter”
Writers: Jack Kirby and Joe Simon
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon

“Jean Lafitte: ‘Pirate or Patriot?'”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Jack Kirby

We’ve got another marvel-packed issue of Mister Miracle here, and, as always, I was excited to read it, especially after the pulse-pounding excitement of last issue’s Paranoid-packed pandemonium.  Sadly, this one doesn’t quite live up to the thrill of the first half, though it does introduce us to a wonderful character and an important part of Scott Free’s supporting cast.  It’s got another great cover, like most of this series, though one wonders how our escape-artist hero gets from being locked in a trunk to tortured in a medieval dungeon.  The answer is, of course, Kirby madness.  Nonetheless, we get another death-defying scene in this cover, memorable and exciting, beautifully rendered by the King.

Inside, we don’t start with the miraculous one plummeting to his death, still locked in that suitcase, but back at his home, where a fretting Oberon finds himself with an uninvited guest.  A fierce and outlandishly armored warrior woman appears behind him, jarring the loyal fellow from his reverie rather violently.  She declares herself a friend of Scott Free and demands to know where he is, mentioning they both come from Apokolips.  When Oberon mentions Doctor Bedlam, the newly introduced Barda suddenly teleports after her friend, fearing for his life.

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Now we pick up where we left off, and Scott’s situation looks hopeless, but Barda appears in a flash of light and catches his suitcase in a feat of strength, casually ripping it apart, ropes and all, only to reveal that it is…empty!  Wonderfully, we don’t see how the eminent escape artist pulled off this trick just yet; instead, we see him perched on a balcony several floors up, where he is quickly swarmed by more crazed civilians.  They think he is a vampire and attempt to stake him, but Mr. Miracle is too slick for them, and eludes his pursuers in several fun pages, even sliding down the banister of the staircase like Errol Flynn.

mrmiracle-12Suddenly, he’s attacked by refugees from a Robin Hood picture, as a bunch of guys in medieval costumes capture the hero.  They drag him into a dungeon, which turns out to be a set in the Galaxy Broadcasting TV studio, conveniently located on this level.  Inside is a director, even nuttier than most, who directs his men to kill the interloper so that his death-throes can make for good television!  Despite his struggles, Scott is forced into an iron maiden, and all seems lost as the lid slams shut.  The whole scene is fun but utterly crazy.  It reads like a Fantastic Four issue from the era where Stan and Jack weren’t talking to each other and Stan was thrown into narrative gymnastics in an attempt to explain the bizarre and unrelated images Jack created as his imagination ran away with him.  However, this time, there’s nobody to blame for the sudden shift and strange explanation other than Kirby himself.  I guess he just wanted to draw an iron maiden, so he shoe-horned the setting in, logic be darned!

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Back in our original office-building setting, Barda is getting attacked herself.  She casually rips a stone column out of the lobby and tosses it onto a half dozen men, almost certainly crushing them all to death.  Despite Mr. Miracle’s insistence that she stay out of this so that his deal with Bedlam could be honored, she is worried, so she pursues her friend, smashing her way through the overly-excited extras in the process in a really nice panel.  Yet, when she pries open the torture device, it is empty, and Scott casually strolls up and greets her.  Once again, we don’t find out how he accomplished this yet, establishing a running joke in the issue.

The two press on, confronting the disembodied energy-form of their antagonist in another nice sequence.  Bedlam promises to unleash the entire fury of the building’s trapped inhabitants upon the pair, but the next thing we see is them teleport back home, greeting a worried Oberon and catching up.  The dialog in this section is pretty rough and stilted, especially when Scott awkwardly declares: “Maximum is the word for you, Barda!  I could never think of you without deep and genuine fondness.”  I know that line just makes the ladies swoon!  From the start, Barda and Oberon are sparring verbally which, despite the dull dialog, is still fun.  We learn that Barda helped her friend escape, but she didn’t go with him, and now she’s an officer in Darkseid’s Female Furies, as everyone helpfully spouts exposition.

In a fun little scene, Scott takes the domestic roll, preparing dinner for Barda, which is really striking in a comic from 1971.  That’s honestly somewhat groundbreaking.  I doubt you’d ever see Superman making dinner for Lois Lane!  It also establishes the unusual dynamic between these two characters.  As he works, the heroic homemaker reluctantly explains to his assistant how he escaped from the various traps he faced.  We’re introduced to the ‘multi-cube’, Scott’s multi-purpose escape tool, which will become a common feature of his stories, if I remember correctly.  Mr. Miracle used it to cut his way out of the trunk as it twisted in mid-air, which works pretty well as an explanation.

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Unfortunately, the other stories aren’t nearly as good.  He used a fast-acting acid on the back of the iron maiden and literally just stepped through it, which apparently no-body noticed.  Even more problematic, he literally presses the ‘off’ button on all of the panicked people in the tower, putting them to sleep with his multi-cube and just waltzing out the front door.  Okay……why not just do that in the first place?  That’s a pretty massively unsatisfying conclusion, which is a shame, because this is otherwise a really fun issue.  The yarn ends with Barda showing up for dinner, having changed out of her armor into something a tad more revealing, leaving Oberon picking his jaw up off the floor.

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This is a solid adventure, despite its glaring deus ex machina, though it is primarily worthwhile for introducing Big Barda, who will eventually become Scott’s partner and wife, creating one of the great comic relationships and partnerships.  Mr. Miracle without Barda is like Nick without Nora, and she is, even from this first appearance, a unique and interesting character, further credit to Kirby’s boundless creativity.  In addition, I absolutely love Scott’s laughing, devil-may-care attitude throughout the story, the extra element of flair and style to his antics, which really capture his personality and are part of why I love the character.  I also quite like the running gag of not explaining his escapes right away, however flawed the execution is here.  Hopefully Kirby will make better use of it in the future.

Art-wise, we’re seeing some rough panels again with this issue, and I think Colletta’s impact is still being felt.  On the plus side, it seems we get a new inker next issue!  Despite some weaknesses, especially with inking and coloring, there are some wonderful panels and some fun, dynamic sequences throughout.  Ultimately, I’m quite torn on the score.  This issue’s flaws are significant, especially the dialog and weak conclusion, but it is also a lot of fun.  I suppose I’ll be generous and go with 3.5 Minutemen, as the comic is carried along by the interest of Barda and the fun of Scott.

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The Phantom Stranger #15


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“The Iron Messiah”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler/Inker: Jim Aparo
Colourist/Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“I Battled for the Doom Stone”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: Alex Toth
Inker: Alex Toth

“Satan’s Sextet”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Tony DeZuniga
Inker: Tony DeZuniga

“I Scout Earth’s Strangest Secrets”
Writer: Jack Miller
Penciler: Mort Meskin
Inker: Mort Meskin

What a wildly, wonderfully ridiculous cover image.  It’s gloriously strange and unusual and so very, very much something that could only happen in comics.  We’ve got an African witch doctor raising a zombie…but not just any zombie, a ROBO-zombie, complete with stainless-steel robo-zombie Afro, all while the shadow of the Phantom Stranger looms in the background.  It’s a thing of mad beauty, and I love it.  It’s beautifully illustrated by Adams, and it absolutely grabs your attention.  Could you honestly say you could see that image on the newsstand and NOT want to figure out what in the blue blazes is happening inside?  If so, I can only assume you’re an imagination-less wreck of a human being.

The story within doesn’t quite live up to the glory of the robo-zombie cover, but then, how could it?  It is an interesting and unusual one, though, and it begins, not with necromantic robotics (more’s the pity), but with a young African scientist named John Kweli, who is returning to his native country after having been educated in the West.  Suddenly, the train on which he’s traveling derails in a fiery crash, and the brilliant man would have died, if not for a Stranger pulling him from the wreckage.  Kewli awakens in the home of an old friend, Ororo (no, not that one).  She has treated his injuries, but she also bears bad news, his father, the tribal chief, has died.

John is prepared to come home and take over his responsibilities as chief, but he’s met with resentment for having gone away to be educated and built a life overseas.  His people feel like he abandoned them, including the lovely Ororo.  He also finds things greatly changed, with signs of unrest and oppression everywhere, barbed-wire and troops abound.  Ngumi, the village shaman also rejects John, promising that Chuma, the Warrior God, will free his people without the young man’s help.

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Ororo tells her friend about what has happened in his absence, that though their country has been liberated, they are now enslaved to the interests of big foreign business.  Driving away, John and Ororo encounter a lion and wreck their jeep.  The young scientist bravely prepares to sacrifice his life to lure the beast away, only to have the Phantom Stranger leap out of nowhere to tackle the feline fiend in magical fashion.

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The next day, Kewli goes to visit Amos Trent, the oil company’s man on the ground, but Trent isn’t interested in his pleas or his threats, so the young scientist decides to take matters into his own hands, so of course he builds a robot.  Some time later, a group of soldiers who are abusing the villagers are scattered, not by John, but by “Chuma”, the Iron Messiah, the android John has used his scientific skill to build in order to rally his people.  Over the next weeks, Chuma trains the villagers in the ways of war, and Ngumi, the shaman is revealed as an agent of the oil company.

Unfortunately, even iron will can be bent by such a burden, and Chuma begins to develop human feelings…and human frailties.  He declares his love for Ororo, and when she rejects him, saying she loves his creator instead, the Iron Messiah rejects his role as savior and leaves the people to the fate.  It is here that the Phantom Stranger intervenes once again, convincing the automaton that the only way to prove he is a being with a soul is to choose to help his people, to be better than jealousy and spite.  Back at the village, the government troops have attacked, and John has rallied the people, but they are losing without the power of Chuma to inspire and aid them.

Chuma charges into the battle, turning the tide, but his help comes at a terrible cost, as he shoots his creator in the back in a fit of jealousy, only to be witnessed and called out by Ororo.  The people reject their Iron Messiah and destroy him, thanks again to the Phantom Stranger, who leaves, pondering the enigma that is life and giving a speech about not “tampering in God’s domain.

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It’s…a little abrupt, really, and rather grim.  These 14 pages pack a whole lot in, and Len Wein has a very interesting story to tell…I’m just not entirely sure he’s finished telling it.  We get a robot who develops human feelings, including hatred who turns on his creator, a full on Frankenstein, but it is also sharing space with a story about the exploitation of Africa.  There’s just too much in too little space.  Chuma literally goes from his creation to his renunciation of his purpose in three pages, and John, who has until then been our protagonist, almost drops out of the story at that point.  The Stranger’s attempt at a moral just feels extremely tacked on, though it certainly has potential.  In the end, what exactly was the point of the Stranger’s intervention?  Was it to free the natives from both the outsiders and from their superstitions?  Whatever it is, it needs more development.  The whole thing is cramped, but it is also intriguing in a number of ways.

It is really noteworthy that we have a story set in ‘darkest Africa’ where the natives are not portrayed as ignorant savages, despite their belief and hope in Chuma.  Even more, the natives are not rescued by a white outsider.  Instead, the hero is a black man, and a black scientist at that, who succeeds, not through brute force, but through intelligence and cleverness.  That’s still very much a rarity in any media in 1971, much more so in comics.  We also have another example of the depredations of faceless corporations, as the oil company is pretty unambiguously evil here.  That is a sign of things to come, I’d wager.

The whole tale is beautifully illustrated by Aparo, who is handling all of the art chores.  He gives us some really striking panels and pages, and the art has a nice sense of drama, especially with Chuma.  I’ll give this rushed, slightly muddled story 3 Minutemen, as its strengths and weaknesses somewhat even out.

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“Satan’s Sextet”


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If you thought robo-messiahs were strange, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Our Dr. Thirteen backup this month is in the style that I think works best, with the good Doctor doing his ghost-breaking on his own, without tangling with the Stranger.  Nonetheless, this particular outing isn’t exactly a home run.  It begins promisingly and strangely enough, with a group of seemingly sinister musicians leading a line of dancers into the sea, where they presumably drown, only for the band to emerge later, still playing.  Later that night, Dr. Thirteen happens to be driving along the beach when he sees a ragged, raving figure stumble out of the surf.

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The man claims to be the wealthy Willard Wentworth, who has a home on the beach.  He hired “Satan’s Sextet” for a house party because he was lonely, but they hypnotized all of the guests and led them to a watery grave.  Wentworth isn’t sure how he escaped, but he stumbled out of the water sometime later, shaken and terrified.  Thirteen agrees to investigate, but when they return to the beach house, they find it packed with people, a party in full swing.  The owner claims not to know any of them and accuses the band of murder.  Dr. Thirteen insists they stay and continue their investigation (Maybe he just wants to party!), and the pair are given love-beads.

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Suddenly, the band’s music becomes hypnotic, and they once more lead the party goers into the waves.  Thirteen is forced to follow, but his mind is working all the while, and he deduces that the beads are responsible, and he removes his and Wentworth’s necklaces.  Returning to the house, he overhears the convenient exposition by the bandleader, whose motives are…well, as prosaic as his methods are insane.

Apparently, he’s the millionaire’s disowned son, who got plastic surgery and planned this whole thing to kill his father so he could get his inheritance.  The beads had hallucinogens in them which were activated by the vibrations of the band’s music.  Ooookaaaay.  That’s pretty out there, even for comics.  Entertainingly, Thirteen overcomes the band with a massive mounted fish, and the police arrive to tidy things up.  Dr. Thirteen rides off into the sunrise, but not before laying some major guilt on Wentworth, pointing out that he must have really screwed up to raise a murderer!  Ouch!

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This is a fun concept that sadly doesn’t really deliver a good story.  The image of the Pied-Piper-esq murder is really neat and creepy, but the explanation and the motivations don’t live up to the cleverness of the gimmick.  I think this might have worked better as a Phantom Stranger story, with an actual supernatural explanation.  Nonetheless, it’s a decent enough read.  The sequence where Dr. Thirteen reasons his way to the solution to the mystery is quite solid, and it has a nice sense of suspense and stakes as he slowly drowns.  Tony DeZuninga’s art isn’t particularly impressive, but it does the job, though the inking is a bit overdone in some sections.  He tries to create a somewhat psychedelic feel to the band’s sections, and that is partially successful.  I’ll give the whole thing 2.5 Minutemen.

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And with those maudlin mysteries, this episode of Into the Bronze Age comes to a close!  It was a really interesting trio of books, flaws and all.  Thank you for joining me on this journey, and please come back soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 4)

 

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Solomon Grundy was born on a Monday, and Into the Bronze Age was born, fittingly enough, on a Saturday.  Not quite as catchy though, is it?  Nonetheless, here we are on a Thursday with a brand new set of Bronze Age comics to cover.  Welcome readers, to a new edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got the finale of our JLA/JSA crossover, another episode from Kirby’s Fourth World, and some Superboy shenanigans to peruse in this set, so let’s get to them!

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 #404
  • Adventure Comics #410
  • Batman #235
  • Brave and the Bold #97
  • Detective Comics #415
  • The Flash #209
  • Forever People #4
  • G.I. Combat #149
  • Justice League of America #92
  • New Gods #4
  • Superboy #177
  • Superman #242
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #113
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141
  • World’s Finest #205

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


Justice League of America #92


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“Solomon Grundy – The One and Only”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The One-Man Justice League!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella

“Space-Enemy Number One!”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Carmine Infantino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

This month brings us the second half of this year’s JLA/JSA crossover, which promises another entertaining tale.  Adams’ cover, though dramatic, is a bit lackluster, with Grundy being a bit oddly proportioned (which actually fits the art within, sadly), and the image being a bit plain, other than the forms of the fallen heroes.  Nonetheless, it proves accurate, as the comic opens with the League and Society forces on Earth-2 defeated and at Grundy’s none-too-abundant mercy!

Grundy is at his most monstrous and, unfortunately, so is Dillin’s art.  While the swamp creature’s size was inconsistent last issue, it gets rather ridiculous this month, with the monster changing size from panel to panel like his name is Hank Pym.  Grundy’s size switching aside, things look dire for our heroes until Superman comes to and slaps his foe’s ears back, freeing himself and distracting the zombie while the others escape.  Through brief check-ins with the aliens, we learn that the young extraterrestrial boy, A-Rym is beginning to fade, but his plight remains unknown to the Leaguers and Society members.  To make matters worse, none of those heroes efforts prove effective against Grundy.

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Meanwhile, in the Batcave, the two Robins are recovering, and the Earth-2 elder gives his young counterpart an alternate costume of his, and we’re introduced to the Neal Adams design for new Earth-1 Robin threads.  As a fun Easter Egg, Adams himself gets referenced by the Adult Wonder in the story.  The costume itself isn’t perfect, but it’s a vast improvement over the by now wildly inappropriate getup of the Pantsless Wonder.  It’s got a lot of potential, and upon later revisions, it will turn into a really wonderful costume.  For my money, the version that showed up in Batman: The Brave and the Bold is just about perfect and one of the all-time best Robin looks.  Interestingly, this costume is presented to the audience as a possible change for Dick in the main DCU, and the editor invites fans to write in if they want to see it.  Sadly, the response must have been underwhelming, and we got another decade of Robin’s bare legs.  That’s a crying shame.

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Anyway, after a brief check-in with Barry Allen on the Satellite, where his wife comes to care for him, which is sweet, we’re back to the gathered champions as they regroup.  Hal whips up a temporary power ring for his counterpart, and the pair of them peel off to tackle Grundy while the Hawks head out to capture the kid.  The Robins arrive and give the Winged Wonders a hand, recovering Alan Scott’s ring in the process, but it is the youngest member of the team that finally ends the struggle.  Teenage-Grayson connects to the scared young alien.  Realizing that the yellow-skinned being is no monster, he comforts the poor kid.  This scene also features a rather cool moment where the Teen Wonder uses his new costume’s ‘wings’ to glide in for a punch.  How did this not become his costume?

Meanwhile the two Emerald Crusaders clash with the zombie menace as he tears through the countryside, but individually their diluted rings are too weak.  Finally, combining their willpower, they knock Grundy out.  When the original Lantern recovers his ring, the green team seals the behemoth in his swamp.  The tale ends with teams on the two Earths managing to put the pieces together and reunite the pair of alien menaces, converting them to just a boy and his dog and saving both of their lives.  With their energy signals finally strong enough to detect, the boy’s brother is able to recover him, and the League and the Society have a friendly farewell.

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JusticeLeagueofAmerica_092_10This is a fun adventure, though it shrinks the scope of the story a bit from the previous issue.  It’s always enjoyable to watch these two sets of heroes go into action together, and everyone in the Earth-2 group gets something to do.  The action scenes are nicely balanced that way.  Yet, Friedrich doesn’t bring too much color or depth to their interactions, with the exception of the incongruous generational conflict from the previous issue.  He does bring that weird forced drama between the Hawks and the Robins to a conclusion, with everyone shaking hands and parting friends.  That element continues to feel rather pointless, and even the characters themselves seem to have little time for it.  Unfortunately, this yarn once again displays the rather sappy tendencies of “Touchy-Feely” Friedrich, but his excesses aren’t too noticeable in this outing.

This issue does have some real weaknesses, though, with the resolutions feeling far too simple and convenient.  You have the combined might of the Society and League beating on Grundy for most of two issues, and then the two Lanterns just zap him unconscious in two panels, which seems more than a little anti-climactic.  The wrap-up to the kid’s plot is also a bit quick, but if you’re living in the DC universe, I suppose you’d get used to drawing connections between strange events.  After all, they almost always end up being linked!  Sadly, one of this story’s biggest weaknesses is the art.  Dillin’s not at the top of his game, so the action is often stiff and unattractive, but he is juggling a pile of characters.  All-in-all, this is a fun if flawed conclusion to the first adventure.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.  The interesting premise of the first chapter doesn’t quite live up to its potential here.

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P.S.: One of the cooler facets of this issue is the teaser that it carries for the next, which shows Batman, Green Arrow, and my favorite, Aquaman, lined up in the crosshairs of an assassin!  Exciting!
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New Gods #4


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“O’Ryan Gang and the Deep Six”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

“The Secret of the Buzzard’s Revenge!”
Writers: Joe Simon
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Jack Kirby
Editor: Whitney Elsworth

We’ve got another issue of the most epic of Fourth World titles this month, and it’s got another rather lackluster cover.  All of the action is crowded into the bottom half of the page by the cover copy, and the unbalanced image full of squashed, disproportionate figures, is not the King’s best work.  Sadly, that’s true of what lies within as well.

We start with something very promising, something perfect for the cosmic drama of Kirby’s Fourth World, as Metron takes a young New Genesis student on a space-and-time spanning trip in his Mobius Chair, visiting a primeval world, ruled by massive, monstrous beasts and equally monstrous men.  Kirby gives us a stunning double-paged splash as the enigmatic scholar of the New Gods philosophizes about the stages of human development, making an interesting observation that humankind is much more willing and capable of higher spiritual development once “their bellies are full.”  Once the pair return home, they are greeted by Highfather, who solemnly informs them that one of their number has fallen…on Earth!

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On that beleaguered world, Orion has discovered that fallen comrade, the aquatic Seagrin, whose body is being pulled out of the waters that were ever his home.  The warrior is moved by the death of his friend, and he calls on the latter’s Mother Box to return him to the Source, which she does in a fiery explosion full of Kirby crackle.  This is a striking scene, demonstrating both the King’s dedication to the elevated tone of his tale, with this death establishing the stakes and the seriousness of the conflict, while also showing his prodigious creativity, as he invents an interesting looking character just to kill him off without even a single panel of life.

As the holocaust abates, the Black Racer is seen tearing through the flames, having claimed the life of a god!  We get a very brief check-in with his supporting cast as the Racer returns to the paralyzed form of Willie Walker, and then we see that the drama of the moment has been observed by Darkseid, but none of this amounts to much.

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For however much he may be a poor fit for this story, I have to say, I rather like Victor Lanza’s unabashed meekness.

Meanwhile, Orion returns to his collection of human allies, who helpfully recap their names and motivations, which is necessary because there’s very little memorable about them.  The New Genesis warrior explains that Darkseid has imported a device to hide the Apokaliptian presence on Earth, which is shielding his minions.  Orion explains that the warlord has probably entrusted it to his human servants in Intergang, so he plans to use his own ‘gang’ of humans to find and destroy the machine.  Using Mother Box, the Dog of War tracks down an Intergang member, and he and Dave Lincoln shake the fellow down to discover the device’s location.

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Even when creating very conventional story beats, Kirby still introduces creative twists, like Lincoln and his pipe.

ng04-21At a remote spot on the edge of the city, lovely Claudia Shane decoys the guards by faking a stalled car, only to gas them with the help of New Genesis technology (Note the wonderfully distinctive yet visual consistency with which Kirby depicts even something as simple as a switch).  With the way clear, the rest of the gang moves in, and the timid businessman Victor Lanza confronts the local Intergang headman, “Country Boy,” pretending to be the consigliere of the “O’Ryan Mob.”  He bluffs the apparently not-too-bright boss into showing off the incredible hi-tech device that Darkseid entrusted to him, allowing Orion to destroy it.  Man, Darkseid is so going to kill that guy.

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ng04-25With the jammer destroyed, Mother Box is able to pinpoint one of Seagrin’s killers, the leader of the devious Deep Six, Darkseid’s aquatic shock troopers.  Setting out to challenge this fiend, known as Slig, the Dog of War heads into the sea, but his foe is ready for him.  Apparently the Six have the power to mutate sealife into vicious and useful forms, and Slig uses this ability to capture Orion in grasping tendrils of seaweed.  The warrior is able to escape by triggering the Astro-Force, but it is a desperate and dangerous maneuver that leaves him stunned.  And it is there that our tale ends!

This is a slightly disappointing issue, really.  It has a wonderfully imaginative cosmic opening, and the scene where Orion finds his fallen friend is somewhat touching and dramatic.  Yet, those promising beginnings feel a bit squandered in the story that follows.  The action as Orion’s crew chases down the Intergang stooges is entertaining enough, but it feels uneven and a bit anticlimactic after the more bombastic events of the previous issues.  His helpers remain rather underdeveloped and continue to feel mostly unnecessary.  The teenage kid literally contributes nothing to this issue.   It doesn’t help that the main antagonist, “Country Boy,” sadly lacks the interest and personality of the other Intergang representatives we’ve seen, like “Ugly” Manneim and Steel Hand.

Yet, unfortunately, the biggest weakness of this issue may be the art, or perhaps it is the inking.  Colletta over-inks several of these pages, drowning out detail and hurting the artwork.  Kirby’s pencils themselves are not at their best either, most notably with Orion.  There are some wonderfully cosmic, imaginative panels and pages, but their execution is often either a bit off or they are drowned in ink.  Nonetheless, there are still wonderful Kirby-esq moments, like the destruction of the Apokoliptian device and the opening sequence.  Despite those weaknesses, though, this is still a fun issue.  While it feels a bit more like it is marking time than really advancing the plot, the ride is enjoyable, and there are some interesting stops along the way.  I’ll give this uneven issue 3.5 Minutemen.  It’s still a bit above average.  It’s entertaining, but I imagine it’s one of the weaker issues of this title.  Speaking of future stories, I’m looking forward to Orion’s showdown with the Deep Six, which I remember being a really cool issue, one that took more advantage of the setting and scope of Kirby’s Fourth World.

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P.S.: Once again, this issue includes a backup of a classic Kirby tale from the Golden Age, this tiemas well as a few pinups of Fourth World characters.


Superboy #177


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“Our Traitor Super-Son!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

“Plague from the Past!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson

Ohh joy, another entry in the grand tradition of Super-Dickery.  This one certainly ticks the usual boxes, too, with an unnecessarily convoluted plot by our hero that has him acting like a complete jerk to those that love him most.  I’ve got to say, this is one trope of the Silver Age that I really don’t miss, as the payoffs were rarely clever enough to justify the logical acrobatics the writers required from their characters or their plots.  superboy v1 177 - 01The cover for this issue sets the stage well enough, even if its not a particularly compelling image (and the lines of its ‘ceiling’ don’t quite make sense).  For once, the promise of the cover is delivered within, though the tale begins in more traditional fashion.  Young Clark’s ‘Earthday’ celebration with his parents is interrupted by reports that the “Mothball Fleet” has suddenly up and set sail, seemingly on its own.  Has Skynet finally achieved sentience?

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superboy v1 177 - 02Not quite.  After a nice two-page spread in which Superboy is attacked by strange weapons mounted on the old ships, only to disable them with his freeze-breath, the Boy of Steel is confronted by a video message from the author of these strange events.  The prosaically named “Cerebron” (I wonder what his gimmick could be) declares that he was controlling the fleet and begins to make some threats before we cut away to the young hero towing the frozen fleet away.  Yet, the storytelling breaks down a bit here, and the fact that the conversation continued between panels isn’t really obvious, which actually caused me some confusion when I read this yarn.

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superboy v1 177 - 04Back in Smallville, Pa Kent is busy loading up produce for his general store (I always forget that he had this store in this era of the comics), when Superboy suddenly swoops in with the police hot on his heels.  The Boy of Might declares that Kent is selling tainted food, and the police haul him away.  Tests prove that the youth’s accusation is accurate, and the Kents are locked up.  I’ll give Dorfman partial credit.  While Ma Kent does the usual “how could he treat us like this!” bit, Pa is more level-headed and points out that there must be a good reason.  After all, they know their son wouldn’t hurt them intentionally.  Now, if only the payoff will justify his faith…

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Meanwhile, the Smallville Superstar quickly removes all traces of his heroic identity from the Kent household.  He’s not a moment too soon, as shortly after he leaves, Cerebron and a henchman arrive and investigate the premises.  Apparently, the cerebral supervillain can track the young hero through a special pair of glasses that detect a radiation trail he is leaving behind.  Finding Superboy’s trail but no trace of his connection to the house, Cerebron slinks away.

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While this is happening, Clark is staying with Lana’s family since his parents are in jail, and Lana is none too impressed with Superboy’s having put them there.  Slipping away, Clark gets into costume and moves his various hi-tech gadgets into a temporary base in a nearby asteroid, only to have it immediately discovered by Cerebron.  Instead of fighting his foe, Superboy detonates the base while he slips away with his stuff, apparently afraid it might be damaged in a fight.  That’s a pretty weak excuse to pad the story out for a few more pages, but Dorfman hurries past it.

superboy v1 177 - 09Over the next few days, the hero and villain play cat and mouse, with Cerebron finding his foe each time Superboy establishes a new base.  Apparently, every time the Boy of Steel tries to attack Cerebron, his ship vanishes…and somehow the kid with a zillion types of vision can’t find it.  Of course, all this time, Ma and Pa Kent are rotting in jail.  Finally, our young hero decides to set a trap for his persistent enemy, and he establishes a base in an wrecking yard, which he seals when Cerebron’s invisible ship enters.  Once again, why X-Ray vision can’t detect the ship is anyone’s guess.  Despite not being able to see the sinister Cerebron, Clark comes up with a clever solution.  He just uses his heat vision to turn the inside of the base into an oven and forces the villain to surrender or be cooked.

superboy v1 177 - 11 - CopyFinally, Superboy captures the clever criminal, unmasking him as Lex Luthor in the process.  We are also treated to an explanation of the story, with Lex reminding us that he hates Superboy because he made him bald.  What an utterly ludicrous motivation for a great villain!  The whole bald angle is a great extra element to the character, illustrating as it does Lex’s pride and vanity, but it should really be ancillary.  It’s just so hilariously absurd that it’s treated as the entire motivation in some of these stories.  Nonetheless, baldy’s plan wasn’t bad this time.  The fleet was a diversion, and its guns really just coated Superboy in radiation that his nemesis could track.  During the unclear intermission where Cerebron threatened the hero, we see that he claims to have figured out the Boy of Steel’s secret identity and promises to kill the Kents if he interferes again.  Thus, Clark faked their arrest in order to protect them…which is fine, but why in the world would he not tell them?  Apparently, the police knew all about it, so it seems that he can trust the police to keep the secret, but not his own parents.  That’s just sloppy writing, which is to be expected from Dorfman.

This is a decent enough story despite the goofiness of that device, if more than a little silly and convenient in some places.  I would say that Superboy’s cruel mind games against his parents justify as abuse, though.  The different scenes as the Boy of Steel travels from base to base are fun, if poorly justified, and his eventual method of capturing the crooks is pretty clever.  I’ll give this slightly below average tale 2.5 Minutemen, largely on the weakness of the poorly used Super Dickery.

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“Plague from the Past”


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The backup, on the other hand, is a solid and enjoyable little yarn, brief and rushed, but effective nonetheless.  It begins with Superboy smashing into an Egyptian tomb in which his friends Professor Lang and Lana have become trapped during a dig.  Once they’re freed, the Boy of Steel helps them examine the various artifacts of the site, including an hourglass dedicated to Anubis, God of the Dead, which can supposedly reverse time.  The youthful hero impetuously tries the device, but nothing happens. Interestingly (abd honestly rather surprisingly for 1971), the characters note that all of these cultural treasures must be turned over to the Egyptians.  Still, the thankful government is so pleased with Lang’s discovery that they reward him with a small sampling of his finds, including the hourglass.

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Arriving home in Smallville to a grand parade, that very artifact falls off the float, only to be caught by Superboy.  Later on, the Boy of Steel volunteers to open the sarcophagus in case there are any more booby traps, but when he does, a strange sparkling gas seeps out and immediately strikes his friends down while leaving him unaffected.  Blowing the gas out the window, he rushes them to the hospital, but the deadly plague spreads rapidly thanks to his unthinking reaction!  Shortly the whole town is stricken with the strange disease, even the hero’s own parents.  There’s a nice little moment where Superboy has a realization about what his invulnerability means in light of a world full of very vulnerable humans.

In desperation, the Smallville Superstar employs the hourglass of Anubis once more, noting that, despite the fact that he doesn’t worship the Egyptian deity, he has certainly come to believe in his power.  The artifact works, and the young Kryptonian is hurled backwards in time to the parade earlier that day.  The hourglass falls once more, and stunned by his temporal journey, he fails to catch it.  Nonetheless, Superboy is elated, and he carefully releases the death cloud from the sarcophagus into space this time, protecting his town.

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This simple adventure is fun and has a nice, if abbreviated, emotional beat for our young hero.  It is more a gesture towards deeper storytelling than anything significant in and of itself, but it is still a nice touch.  One of Superman’s greatest challenges is how to care for the fragile beings that surround him, even in settings like the Justice League.  I also like the twist with the magic hourglass, that it required belief, and the plague certainly provided impetus for that.  I’ll give this entertaining tale a solid 3 Minutemen.

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And that will do it for this batch of books!  We had three very different titles.  The next post will feature a pair of Super-books, including the finale of Denny O’Neil’s year-long Superman saga.  Come back soon and see how he wraps his storylines up.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 3)

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Hail and well-met Internet travelers, welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We have three very different comics to cover in this batch, each intriguing and unusual in their own way.  I was surprised by each of these books, and I image they might have something unexpected in store for you, my dear readers, as well.  Shall we find out?

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 #404
  • Adventure Comics #410
  • Batman #235
  • Brave and the Bold #97
  • Detective Comics #415
  • The Flash #209
  • Forever People #4
  • G.I. Combat #149
  • Justice League of America #92
  • New Gods #4
  • Superboy #177
  • Superman #242
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #113
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141
  • World’s Finest #205

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


The Flash #209


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“Beyond the Speed Of Life!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

“Coincidence Can Kill!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Dick Giordano

“Elongated Man’s Undersea Trap”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Well folks, here it is at last, the return of the supervillains!  I have been eagerly awaiting this issue of The Flash, and I am sick to death of his unequal contests with the Generic Gang!  I’ve been watching this cover, with its promise of actual, honest-to-goodness supervillains, coming closer in my list, and hope for it has helped me endure the doldrums that preceded it.  It is a pretty nice image too, even outside of my desperate desires for some dynamite foes.  The cover copy is a bit much, but the central composition is nicely dramatic.  I’m pleased to say, I was not disappointed by my read either, despite the fact that the two cover-cons don’t play as much of a role as you might imagine.

The tale begins in media res, with the Scarlet Speedster already defeated!  What’s this?  Captain Boomerang and the Trickster arrive to admire their handiwork after triggering a cunning trap, all set to finish their fast foe for good.  Except, they find him already…dead!?  In a lovely and wonderfully wacky moment, the two villains stand in silence, honoring their expired enemy.

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I love how sad Boomer looks.

Then we flash back to that morning, when Barry Allen was leaving home, late for work as usual (I love that perennial bit of characterization).  Just as he’s kissing Iris goodbye, the Crimson Comet gets a mental image of Captain Boomerang and the Trickster hiding out on the edge of town, and, despite knowing it is likely to be a trap, rushes off to check it out.  Meanwhile, in their hidden hideout, the dangerous duo get their own mental message, which shows them Flash’s rapid approach.  They suddenly discover a glowing rope and, thanks to psychic guidance, are able to time their attack perfectly, tripping the speedster up and sending him skidding across the desert sands.

Yet, his tumbling fall is more than meets the eye, as the Fastest Man Alive finds himself being paced by a speed-blurred shape, which begins communicating with him as it drags him through a dimensional barrier into a bizarre and alien world.  The new dimension, which his speedy escort describes as “beyond the speed of life,” is really nicely rendered by Novick, looking fairly unique and unusual.  His guide, who calls himself ‘The Sentinel,’ explains to the speedster that this is the dimension beyond the speed of all living things, and that normal physical laws don’t apply there.  Racing along together, the Sentinel tells his kidnapped companion that he has brought him to this strange realm for a purpose.

Back on Earth, the two villains begin to bicker as the Trickster wants to unmask the fallen hero, while Boomer says they should have respect for the dead, which is another fun little moment.  Just then, their mysterious benefactor arrives, and we discover the real villain of the piece, Gorilla Grodd!  This is pretty unsurprising considering that there were mental powers in play, but it’s always good to see Grodd.  The super-simian is full of contempt for these ‘lesser beings,’ and explains that he used them as pawns in case the plan failed, which they don’t take too well.  Yet, they prove no match for the mighty gorilla, who subdues them with ease.

flash209-13In the speed dimension, the Sentinel tells Flash that the strange place is being attacked by a being he calls the Devourer, which is trying to tear its way into the hero’s universe.  The being takes a number of random forms, shifting rapidly, including a giant rat, ram, blowtorch, and T-Rex.  All of the Scarlet Speedster’s attacks are ineffective, but he finally reasons that, since the normal physical laws don’t apply in this bizarre place, he should try something completely random that would be ineffective in his home dimension.

 

Thus, he runs through a host of random movements at super speed before discovering that bouncing up and down hurts the monster.  Ooookay?  The Devourer takes the form of Iris as it is destroyed, which makes it hard for Barry to keep up his ‘attack,’ but he finally annihilates it and asks the Sentinel to bring him home.

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Yet, back on Earth, the Fastest Man Alive makes a startling discovery.  He has just become the fastest ghost not alive!  The Sentinel had to pull him out of his body for the trip.  Desperate to live again, the hero begs the other being to put him back, despite his protestations that it may be impossible.  While Grodd prepares to force his two former pawns to kill each other (!), the Sentinel races past Flash’s lifeless form.  Suddenly, the Scarlet Speedster lives again, and by rapidly vibrating his body, which is held by the super-gorilla, he sinks the mad monkey into the earth, before scrambling his mighty mind with some super-speed blows.  The other two villains are so stunned that they surrender, and the day is saved!

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This is a fun story, with some delightful little bits of characterization, like with Boomerang’s insistence on respecting the dead and Grodd’s superior attitude.  It’s great to see some supervillains again, even if we don’t really get to see them in action.  Their mere presence makes the Flash’s world seem more interesting and colorful.  It’s a shame this tale didn’t get more room to breathe, as I’d have loved to see an extended fight between the three villains.  I think that could have been a lot of fun.  As is, the villain plot feels a bit short-changed by the dimension-hoping dangers.

The Devourer, for its part, is also a tad disappointing because the Flash’s method of defeating it is just silly.  If the dimension doesn’t obey the normal laws of physics, I can think of several more interesting ways in which that could have been used.  Ultimately, that’s a good concept, but the payoff speaks of a lack of imagination.  On the art front, Novick and Giordano make a really nice team, and they do a great work with both halves of this yarn.  I particularly like Novick’s portrayal of Captain Boomerang, so scrawny and distinctive looking.  So, all-in-all, this was an entertain read, and I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, largely on the strength of the Rogues that make an appearance.

Grodd is finally act a bit like the sinisterly superior super-simian that he would one day become, which is nice to see.  He’s one of my favorite Flash villains, being such a wonderfully, whimsically crazy concept.  As with most things, I feel like the Timmverse Justice League show captured him best, with his poised, cultured, and dignified portrayal being far better than the brutish and one-note version of the New 52.

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“Coincidence Can Kill”


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We’ve got another Kid Flash backup this month, penned by one of my favorite writers, Steve Skeates, which is a pleasant surprise.  The tale itself feels super brief, but it is fairly original.  It begins with our young hero, who is dressed in the finest of 70s threads.  Just look at that fashion disaster!  Well, when the groovy youth happens upon a bank robbery when coming home from school (isn’t he supposed to be in college by this point?), he is thrilled for the chance to get into action.  flash209-21In a fun bit of detail, he notes that when he started out he expected to be stumbling over heists all the time, but unlike in “comic mags,” such things have proven rare.  Yet, when he goes to eject his costume from his ring, a strange gas emerges instead, knocking him out!

Shortly thereafter, the young hero awakens, only to see the thieves being picked up by the law.  This leaves Wally without criminals to catch, but he still has a mystery to solve.  What happened to his ring!  He reasons that the accessory must have been switched, and he remembers that he and his lab partner, “Genius” George, had washed their hands at the same time, each taking off their rings.

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Rushing to George’s house, Kid Flash discovers that the boy was picked up shortly before, supposedly heading to a meeting at school.  Realizing that there is no meeting that night, Kid Flash heads out in pursuit of the car.  He manages to trail it to a rough part of the town.  Meanwhile, “Genius” George has gotten himself in way over his head, volunteering to join a criminal gang and use his science skills to make gadgets and weapons for them, all as a blind to get him into their presence so he can capture them.  This was the purpose of the gas-filled gadget, but unfortunately he’s wearing the wrong ring!

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When he presses the catch on the jewelry piece, out pops the Kid Flash costume.  Fortunately, Kid Flash himself is on the scene, and he takes out the thugs in no time flat.  With the gang K.O.ed, the Teen Titan and George compare notes, and lucky for the Fastest Boy Alive, George reasons that his ring must have leaked and, when the hero saw him in trouble, he threw out the costume to distract the criminals.  The story ends with Wally thinking that, hopefully, this experience will teach George to stay away from “dangerous stuff like gas…and criminals!”

This is a breezy but fun little tale.  The idea of a high school science buff taking it upon himself to capture a criminal gang is crazy…but then again, so are high school kids!  I never tried anything quite that wild, but in a world full superheroes and daring do, I suppose it is a little less farfetched that a starry-eyed youth might try to emulate his idols.  The whole story is built on coincidence, but it moves along with such energy, that you can just about forgive it.  I’ll give this brief backup a solid 3 Minutemen.  Oddly, Kid Flash himself is miscolored throughout the strip, being depicted with yellow legs.

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The Forever People #4


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“The Kingdom of the Damned!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

“The Amazing Dreams of Gentleman Jack”
Writer: Joe Simon
Pencilers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Inkers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Letterer: Howard Ferguson
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

Welcome to more 4th World Madness!  Our new issue of Forever People is really a striking one.  It’s got a fair cover, with the heroes overcome, but the strange depiction of Desaad’s minions, with their weird, glowing colors, is an odd choice.  The desperation that the image portrays is fitting, however, as the tale within is one of hopelessness and despair for our young protagonists.  We begin with a panicked sea of humanity, surging against the glass wall of a bizarre prison and crying for help, only for the next image, a lovely two-page spread, to show us that their pitiful pleas have been converted into joyous laughter, which fills the air of a colorful, Disney World-esq amusement park.  Of course, it’s an amusement park as designed by Jack Kirby (shades of Sci-fi Land!), so you might expect it to be even more amazing than the Magic Kingdom, and just a bit creepier too.  Actually, the design is positively pedestrian for the King, but it does still feature flying cars and other sci-fi staples.

One of those airborne autos arrives, bearing a very special passenger.  Darkseid disembarks within the bowels of this park, Happyland, which serves as a wonderfully ironic front for Desaad’s cruel experiments.  The dark god has arrived at his underling’s request to observe the fates of the Forever People, who have been brought here following their capture by that hypnotic huckster, Glorious Godfrey.

We check in with the young quintet as they test their prison walls.  They discover that Mother Box has been stolen from them, though Vykin detects it nearby.  When their guards arrive, poor Serifan tries to resist them with one of his ‘cosmic cartridges,’ only to be felled, followed shortly by the rest of the team.  Meanwhile, Desaad is busy with Mother Box herself (itself?), as he tries to destroy the incredible device.  As the marvelous machine is tortured, it suddenly vanishes in a flash of light, and despite the fact that Desaad takes credit for driving it to commit suicide, Darkseid reminds his malicious minion that they don’t really know what happens to the devices  in such circumstances.

In a rather funny scene, Darkseid walks to his ship out in the open, passing through the park-goers and scaring small children.  His grotesque features are split by a grin as he chases off one pair, when a child realizes he is real but her grandfather insists he’s just a man in a costume.  It’s a weird little episode, and while it is fun, it feels a little incongruous with the gravitas of the character.

forever people 004 16Then Kirby’s inimitable imagination is on strange and unsettling display as he takes us on a tour of the torments Desaad has devised for our young heroes.  First, Mark Moonrider is locked in another glass prison, this one rendering him as an animated skeleton to the people passing below.  Big Bear, for his part, is in a shooting gallery where the park-goers see him as a robotic bear, and their each shot creates a cacophony of sonic chaos within his cell.  Beautiful Dreamer has a more sedate torture in store for her, as the uber-creepy master masochist paralyzes her and inserts her into a glass coffin, where the illusion works in the opposite way of the others, rendering the harmless civilians who regard her as hideous monsters waiting to devour the helpless damsel.

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Finally, Seirfan and Vykin have a dual doom.  Vykin is trapped on the rollercoaster track, with his head thrust between the ties, while Serifan is strapped to a pedal which, when pushed, will lower his friend out of the path of the oncoming coasters.  He must be ever alert, or his helpless friend will meet a grisly fate.  Things certainly seem grim for the five from New Genesis, but the last page reveals that all is not lost, as the missing Mother Box rematerializes somewhere else, where a massive Asian figure picks it up and senses its plea for help.

I remember not being all that impressed by this issue on my first reading, but I really found it intriguing this time.  The torments Kirby devises for his five protagonists are really creative and unique.  They display the King’s limitless imagination, but more importantly, they all turn upon issues of perception and illusion, both of the possibility of escape and in more general (and more interesting) terms.  The victims are all constantly fed false impressions, and with them, false hope, which is a crushing blow for the soul, but these illusions also afflict the innocent inhabitants of the park.  On my first reading, I didn’t appreciate the cleverness or intricacy of what Kirby is doing here, playing with themes of perception, as well as, building on the themes of the last issue, like the willingness of the crowd to accept comforting lies rather than face the reality of the world or their own responsibilities for it.  While the scene with Darkseid and the park-goers may feel a tad out of character, it helps to cement the thematic thrust of the issue and the result is a surprisingly thoughtful tale.  I’m really quite impressed.

This issue doesn’t suffer from the unevenness of the previous offering, and though it still has some awkward dialog, notably from the Forever People themselves, that problem isn’t as noticeable either.  There isn’t a lot that really happens here, but it is interesting that Kirby indulges in an entire issue where the villains are ascendant.  There’s no triumphant escape, no heroic defiance, nothing but defeat and despair.  That’s very unusual, and it is effective at establishing the vicious evil of Desaad and the power of the Apokoliptian forces.  The art is also impressive, possessing Kirby’s usual excellence, but he really outdoes himself on Desaad’s cruel, leering visage in several spots, as well as his boisterous portrayal of Happyland.  I’ll give this surprisingly sophisticated comic 4 Minutemen.  It’s worth reflecting on what illusions might be distorting our own view of the world.

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P.S.: Notably, this issue came during the infamous price increase of the early 70s, when DC books went from .15¢ to .25¢, many of them adding reprints to make it up to the readers.  Kirby’s book, for its part, added pin-ups of the Forever People which are fairly nice, as well as a Golden Age Sandman story penned by none other than Simon and Kirby, which is pretty cool.


G.I. Combat #149


G.I._Combat_149

“Leave the Fighting to Us”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor: Joe Kubert

“Last Man – Last Shot”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert
Editor: Robert Kanigher

Our issue of G.I. Combat this month is a very unusual one, featuring a subject not often tackled in Silver or Bronze Age comics, even war comics.  The cover gives no real hint of the type of tale waiting within, though it is a fair ‘imminent peril’ image.  The composition feels a bit unbalanced, though, perhaps because the tank is shoved out of center stage by the promotional box about Sgt. Rock.  And, of course, it features the notorious yellow skies of classic comic covers.

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The yarn with in starts with a bang, as Jeb and his crew discover a pair of G.I.s racing across a bridge in a jeep and falling prey to a Nazi fighter.  The Haunted Tank leaps into action, racing against the death-dealing German warbird, and they finally manage to knock it out of the sky in a pretty nice sequence.  Once they crash through the plane’s flaming wreckage (!), they discover that saved the jeep’s driver, but he is busy performing last rites for his passenger, and doing so in the Jewish fashion.  This type of portrayal of other cultures and faiths was still pretty rare at the time, so this is a notable moment.

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The driver, Sgt. Saul Levy, is a new tank commander for their unit, and he as saying the Kaddish, the Hebrew prayer for the dead over his fallen friend.  Once they all reach the camp, Levy doesn’t really fit in, and he’s picked on by some of the other men.  Fortunately, there are those who stick up for him.

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When they go out on a mission the next day, they encounter a striking sight, and one rarely seen before in comics: a concentration camp victim, a living scarecrow and temporary survivor of Hitler’s “Final Solution.”  That’s right, this comic actually portrays, in a Comic Code kind of way, the Holocaust, which is impressive and praiseworthy.  Unfortunately, the escaped prisoner has used all of his strength, and after he tells the tankers about a concentration camp nearby, he breaths his last.

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When they approach the camp, the two tanks are targeted by a pair of turrets, and Sgt. Levy makes a mad dash across the field to spike both guns.  It’s a dramatic sequence, and the heroic deed earns the young commander the respect of his crew.  They push their assault and destroy the guard towers protecting the camp, liberating the prisoners.  The pitiful figures, starved and barely able to walk, shuffle out to meet the tankers, and among them Sgt. Levy finds his own uncle, David.

Just then, another Nazi fighter drops out of thy sky, guns blazing.  Levy saves his uncle and knocks out the plane, but not before he is mortally wounded.  The book ends with the old man tearfully pronouncing the Kaddish over his body, honoring him in the tradition of his faith.  Meanwhile, Jeb prays for his fallen comrade in his own way.

This is a brief and bittersweet little tale, but it is remarkable for exposing, however slightly, the horrors of the Holocaust and focusing specifically on its impact on and importance for the Jewish community.  It’s really interesting and fitting that our perspective character for this story, the one who saves the day and liberates the camp, is himself Jewish.  For him, the camps are not some alien concept, a horror softened by distance and because it is happening to strangers.  In fact, he finds a family member among the victims within the compound, making the tragedy personal as well as profound.  Kanigher is employing a surprisingly light touch with Levy and with the subject matter in general, and the result is a striking and readable story.  It both introduces readers briefly to the nature of the Holocaust and engages with antisemitism, demonstrating the dangers of such ignorance and the heroism of the people it targets.  The only real flaw is that the Haunted Tank is pretty much a background figure in its own story, but that is acceptable every once in a while.  Russ Heath’s art is pitch-perfect, as usual, capturing both the ‘blood and thunder’ action as well as the quiet, emotional moments, like the heart-rending image of the concentration victim’s death.  I’ll give the story overall 4.5 Minutemen.

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And with that unusual tale, we wrap up this batch of books.  These are a surprisingly worthwhile set of comics, each more than meets the eye in different ways.  I hope you enjoyed my commentary and that you will join me again soon, for another stop in our journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 4)

DC-Style-Guide-1

“Ping! Ping! Ping!”  Mother Box says, “Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!”  Clearly New Genesis technology is so advanced as to have developed excellent taste.  As proof, I’ve got a smattering of classic comics for you, including the next chapter in Jack Kirby’s epic Fourth World Saga!  It’s an honestly intriguing trio of books on the docket in this bunch, so let’s jump right in!

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 #403
  • Adventure Comics #409
  • Batman #233 (Reprints)
  • Batman #234
  • Detective Comics #414
  • The Flash #208
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 (the infamous drug issue)
  • Justice League of America #91
  • Mr. Miracle #3
  • The Phantom Stranger #14
  • Superman #241
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112
  • Teen Titans #34
  • World’s Finest #204

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


Mr. Miracle #3


Mister_Miracle_Vol_1_3

“The Paranoid Pill!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta

We start off on a great foot, with this Kirby classic where the King is starting to hit his stride with his unusual superhero.  Ironically, this is probably one of his Mr. Miracle run’s weakest covers, while also being one of his more memorable stories.  The crowd in the image looks suitably maddened, but the perspective is a bit wonky, and the coloring job lets it down, with the mixture of single color and full color characters being a bit distracting.  And why in the world is our hero completely white?  The composition feels unbalanced and crowded by the title, though it effectively captures the feel of the issue.

And the issue is definitely a good one, though it suffers from some of the Kirby-as-writer excesses we’ve been noting.  Having learned at the Stan Lee School of Exposition, where the only thing better than text is yet more text, the King overwrites throughout, starting with the first scene.  A number of silver androids, called “animates,” swarm through a Boom Tube into an empty room, where they set up an office, and the caption declares that “Sometimes, there are things that take place in empty rooms that defy belief, and so go unnoticed!”  Think about that for a moment, as written.  I don’t think that something taking place in an empty room is escaping notice because it “defies belief.”  It might just be because the room is…you know…empty.

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Nonetheless, we discover that these silver creatures are artificial constructs, all animated by a single mind, a creature that was once a man but has now become a being of pure energy.  This being is Dr. Bedlam, who slowly takes possession of one of his animates, molding it into the shape he wore in life.  Despite the overwritten dialog, this is a pretty cool scene, and there is a nice air of menace to the whole tableau.  What’s more, while this type of sci-fi concept is pretty common in the genre today, popping up in modern shows like Babylon 5 and the like, it strikes me that it must have been much more groundbreaking in 1971.  I can only think of one example in comics that predates it (though there may be more), and that is NoMan from the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and I can’t think of any well-known sci-fi novels before this point that explored the idea of beings of pure energy inhabiting temporary bodies.  The use of actual brain transplants and such parallels are much more common and date back to the beginning of the century, as early as the John Carter novels (1927).  Yet, this seems pretty original.  Once again, Kirby is just casually tossing out fascinating and innovative ideas that could easily support much larger works.

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The unique Dr. Bedlam, after taking possession of his body, dismisses the rest of his animates and, with super overly dramatic dialog, picks up the phone and calls Scott Free!  I quite like Bedlam’s design, in keeping with many of the other Apokoliptians we’ve seen so far, but bearing his own sinister identity.  His call finds Mr. Miracle in his usual position, strapped into an elaborate trap and preparing an escape.  It’s a great splash page of wonderful Kirby art.  Scott and Oberon have a fun back and forth as the escape artist asks his assistant to get the phone, completely unconcerned about the nearness of a rather messy death.  Poor Oberon.  This job can’t be good for his blood pressure.  Casually escaping the trap with a full second to spare, the hero answers the phone and receives a challenge, which he accepts.

 

After the call, Scott tries to explain what Bedlam is, offering that he is pure mental energy, making him very dangerous, but adding that Mother Box is fortunately able to guard against such psionic assaults.  What follows is a fairly cool sequence that doesn’t get enough explanation.  Mr. Miracle conducts a seance of sorts with Oberon in which he contacts Dr. Bedlam and experiences a mental attack, and using Mother Box, weathers the storm.  It’s a creepy and suitably imaginative scene, but the purpose and motivations behind it are really unclear.  Does Scott do this to head off an attack he expects, or is this just a way to show Oberon Bedlam’s power?  Kirby’s slightly muddy writing doesn’t clarify.  Yet, the scene does have the effect of establishing the power and threat of the bad Doctor, which is something.

 

After scaring poor Oberon half to death, Mr. Miracle takes to the sky and heads to a high-rise where he is to meet the Apokoliptian.  There, Bedlam offers the escape artist a choice, either surrender to his citizen’s arrest, or escape from a trap of his devising.  It’s never made clear why Scott would show up in the first place, but he is the kind of guy that likes to face danger head-on, so I can at least partially hand-wave that.

mr miracle 03-12 the paranoid pill

Anyway, the Dr. tells the slippery superhero that all he has to do is descend through the 50 stories of the building and walk out through the front door, but to make things interesting, he shows his foe the substance of his trap, a concoction he calls the Paranoid Pill, which he drops into the building’s ventilation system.  Soon the drug does its work, turning the everyday inhabitants of the office building into madmen, and the tower is full of “an army of unreasoning, unpredictable, unstoppable enemies!”  Mr. Miracle lashes out, but Dr. Bedlam simply abandons his animate, which is a nice touch, a villain that cannot really be fought.

 

mr miracle 03-13 the paranoid pill

A great page, absolutely full of menace.

 

Kirby provides a wonderful illustration of the Paranoia Pill taking hold, with people panicking and running wild throughout the building, and it isn’t long before a gang of maddened men burst into the office that traps our hero.  Sensibly, Scott tries the window, only to find it charged with “cosmi-current,” leaving him only one way out.  He flies along the ceiling in a great sequence, dodging the ad-hoc attacks of the panicked populace flooding the halls.  He narrowly escapes into the elevator, only to be attacked by a gun-totting citizen and forced to flee a host of ricocheting rounds on the 45th floor.

 

Unfortunately he leaps right into the arms of another crazed crowd, who, in their delusional state, mistake him for a demon.  The carry him along and lock him into a trunk, which they bind closed with rope and chains before deciding to dispose of this “demon” by chucking him down the central shaft of the building.  The comic ends on wonderful cliffhanger, with the trapped Mr. Miracle plummeting 45 floors to his doom!

 

This is a great issue, featuring a really unique and fitting challenge for the character.  The tower-turned-death-trap is a big enough threat to fill the comic (and then some), and the trope of innocents turned into threats is always a good twist to throw at a hero.  Kirby does a great job with the art throughout this issue, but his work on the crowds is just fantastic.  They’re individual and varied, as are their reactions to the gas itself.  Mr. Miracle’s desperate race through the high-rise makes for good action, and it’s nice to see him use his wits to escape rather than just plot devices and “Applied Phlebotinum.”   Bedlam makes for a good villain, and his gimmick is suitably creepy and outlandish.  Once again, I find myself in awe of Kirby’s creativity and the casual way in which he pours out innovative concepts.  Other than the overwritten sections and the lack of clear explanations, this is a good, solid adventure tale.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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Superman #241


Superman_v.1_241

“The Shape of Fear!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Superman’s Neighbors”
Writer: Bill Finger
Penciler: Wayne Boring
Inker: Stan Kaye

“Superman’s Day of Truth!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Klein

Here we are at the penultimate issue of Denny O’Neil’s innovative but rather weird run on Superman.  This comic is no exception to that description either, featuring a strange mix of elements.  Beginning with the cover itself, which is, of course, beautifully illustrated by Neal Adams, the issue is full of rather odd choices.  I like the image of the monster dragging our defeated hero and his doppelganger away, but the design for the monster itself is a bit curious, with its tail coming out of the center of its back rather than out of its tailbone as you might expect.  Also note the sign referencing New York.  Randomly, this story seems to be set in New York rather than Metropolis, down to including several New York landmarks.  Strange settings aside, it’s a solid enough cover, if not exceptional.  You can’t help but wonder what could defeat two Supermen.

The story itself begins where last issue left off, with the former Man of Steel, now just the Man of Flesh, having defeated the Intergang assassins.  I-Ching offers to complete the ceremony to restore the hero’s powers, but Superman refuses!  In a surprising and rather moving twist, Clark has a crisis of doubt.  He’s tasted what it’s like to be a mortal man (ignoring for the nonce that he’s experienced that TONS of times over the course of his career), and he sees now a chance to be free of the loneliness and crushing responsibility of being Superman.  It’s a great moment, but O’Neil doesn’t give it enough space to breathe.  No sooner does it begin than it is already ending.  I-Ching emphasizes that “one does not choose responsibility!  It is often thrust upon one!” and “To refuse it is to commit the worst act of cowardice.”  Despairing, the Kryptonian relents, and tells the old mystic to work his magic.

superman 241 p_004

I-Ching draws Superman’s spirit out of his body and sends it soaring off to find his dusty duplicate.  When the hero’s soul-form encounters his double, it drains the creature of its stolen powers, leaving it weakened and helpless.  When his spirit returns to his body, the Man of Steel finds himself full powered once more and rushes off to test himself.  He smashes a meteoroid, races around the Earth, and then spots a purse snatcher upon whom he can test his powers.  Faster than a speeding bullet, or a running thief, for that matter, the Action Ace builds a complete jail cell around the startled man in the middle of the street.  The people of Metropolis aren’t too pleased, and thus begins a display of classic Super-dickery.

 

superman 241 p_015The hero has suddenly become overbearing, brash, and more than a little selfish, and he begins to handle even the most minor of crimes with outlandish responses, like when he picks up a speeding car and deposits it on top of the Empire State Building (like I said, we’re suddenly in New York).  He also meets I-Ching up there at the blind man’s request.  The mystic points out this strange behavior and tells Superman that he thinks the Man of Tomorrow suffered brain damage when he was mortal, which enrages the hero.  Unable to convince the Metropolis Marvel that something is wrong, I-Ching turns again to magic, all the while talking about how it is a really bad idea because he doesn’t really know what he’s doing.  I knew they should have contacted Dr. Fate!

superman 241 p_014

The martial arts master conjures a spell to track the Sand Superman, and when he and Diana Prince find the weakened creature, they learn its origins.  Apparently it’s a being from the “Realm of Quarrm,” which I-Ching helpfully describes as “a state of alternate possibilities!  A place where neither men nor things exist…only unformed, shapeless begins!”  Sure, why not?

superman 241 p_016

The explosion that destroyed the world’s kryptonite ripped a hole between dimensions between Earth and Quarrm, and the energy that leaked out mingled with that of Superman as he lay stunned in the sand, eventually giving form to the formless.  Each time the two got close to each other, the Sandman gathered more and more power from his opposite number.  In a desperate bid, I-Ching plans to use this creature to drain Superman once more, but unbeknownst to them, a new tear has opened, and more energy begins to leak into this world.

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Sneaking into Morgan Edge’s apartment (for some reason), Diana calls Superman to lure him into their trap.  When he arrives, his dusty duplicate drains some of his powers, but the headstrong hero manages to escape.  Meanwhile, a shadowy figure watches from a soundproofed room.  Mysterious!  Down on the street, fate takes a hand as nearby in Chinatown a parade is underway and the energy from Quarrm seeps into a statue of an “Oriental War Demon,” which suddenly comes to life and runs amuck.  The Man of Steel stops his flight in order to investigate, showing that he is still somewhat himself, only to be drained once more and fall from the sky, to collapse helplessly at the mercy of the Quarrm-demon.

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There’s a lot going on in this issue, and you have to give O’Neil credit for creativity.  He’s certainly telling new stories.  Whether or not they’re also good stories…well, that’s a different question.  In this case, there are definitely strengths that recommend this yarn, like the moment of mature emotion that grips Superman when he is faced with the prospect of a normal life.  It’s just a shame that this dilemma isn’t given more (or any) development because it has a lot of potential.  Also, despite how time-worn the Super-dickery trope is, at least it is given a fairly reasonable explanation here, as the Man of Steel took a blow to the head while he was vulnerable.  How do you force a demigod to get help if he doesn’t want it?  There are some weaknesses here too, though, including a general sense of disconnectedness between the different elements of the plot.  I-Ching’s vaguely defined abilities and general inscrutableness don’t help matters, really.  The sudden return of Superman’s powers once again illustrate how over-powered he is in the Silver Age.  I find myself hoping that, once this arc is finished, O’Neil will leave him at least a little weaker.

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Curt Swan’s art is largely great, as usual, but I’m noticing that in the current iteration of Superman, he tends to draw the character’s legs as too short and stumpy at times.  His work on the demon is alternately nicely rendered or a bit cartoonish.  The creature’s design in general and the sudden injection of Chinese elements into the tale seems a bit incongruous, despite the involvement of I-Ching, because these events seem to have nothing to do with him.  Thus, the fact that the Quarrm energy just happens to inhabit a Chinese demon statue ends up feeling rather random.  So, in the end, this is a solid continuation of the story, even if it doesn’t quite come together successfully.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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The Phantom Stranger #14


Phantom_Stranger_Vol_2_14

“The Man with No Heart!”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Colourist: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Spectre of the Stalking Swamp!”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Tony DeZuniga
Inker: Tony DeZuniga

What a cover!  That is a wonderful composition, with the incredibly menacing swamp monster rising from the water, his shape only partially defined and gloriously creepy in its uncertainty and inhumanity.  Apparently muck monsters are just in the zeitgeist over at DC at this time!  It’s a great scene, very fitting for a monster story with the blissfully unaware couple in the foreground, though I’m not entirely certain what I think of the Phantom Stranger’s outline hanging out there in the background.  This is especially true because, unusually, this cover does not relate to our headline tale.  Instead, this is an image from the Dr. Thirteen backup.

Nonetheless, I think any kid with an interest in horror or the supernatural would be hard pressed to resist the lure of that image.  Inside, despite the disappointment of not finding the Phantom Stranger locked in combat with shambling swamp monster, we still find a gripping and arresting story.  It begins on a stormy night in New York (Again with New York!  What happened to Metropolis or Gotham?), where the Phantom Stranger pays a visit to a somewhat Lex Luthor-looking fellow named Broderick Rune.  Interestingly, Rune doesn’t react the way most do when they see the Stranger, instead seeming positively pleased to see him, and as the mysterious wanderer steps into the man’s penthouse apartment, we see why.  Suddenly, the Spectral Sleuth is caught in a glowing pentagram, and “sorcerous fumes” knock him out!

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A Hindu servant named Rashid arrives and we discover that this is all part of a plan, just as the wealthy rune topples over from what is described as “the final attack.”  Both the Stranger and his captor are rushed to a private hospital, where a hesitant doctor performs a bizarre transplant, stealing the Ghostly Gumshoe’s immortal heart and giving it to the ruthless Mr. Rune.  The procedure is a success, but while under, Rune dreams that he is confronted by the Stranger, who demands the return of what is his.  There’s a nice little back and forth about the importance of a soul above all else that is reminescent of Christ’s question, For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” 

 

When Rune awakens, he is panicked, but things continue to get more bizarre!  Two thugs trying to dispose of the Spectral Sleuth’s body, only to discover their bag is empty when they try to dump it.  Just then, the Stranger appears behind them, and shock of the confrontation shatters their minds!  Meanwhile, Rune recovers, but he is plagued by visions of his mysterious adversary.  Finally, he decides to try and escape his guilt by heading to a castle in Europe.

 

the phantom stranger (1969) 14 - 15This gambit seems to have worked for a time, but on another stormy night, Rune once again sees the Stranger stalking out of the darkness.  In desperation, his servant, Rashid, who had originally trapped the mysterious hero, tries to conjure another spell to banish his spirit.  Unfortunately, his power is not up to the task, and in the midst of his incantations, the Stranger appears!  Despite the loyal Hindu’s desperate efforts, when Rune flees out into the storm, the Spectral Sleuth follows, and the stolen heart stops beating!  Finally, Rune’s allies find him, dead, and lacking a heart!

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This is a really good Phantom Stranger story, taking full advantage of the mysterious nature of the character and supernatural trappings of the setting.  You can ask questions about how the Stranger’s heart was able to be taken in the first place, but given the way things worked out, I’m rather inclined to think that this undertaking was always intended to end like this.  The story tackles rather similar themes of guilt and conscience as the Edgar Allen Poe classic, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” with its protagonist who is slowly driven to desperation by the knowledge of his crime.

the phantom stranger (1969) 14 - 18

Like Poe’s own brand of Gothic horror, this tale is wonderfully atmospheric, with menacing oozing from every panel, and the oppressive threat of outer night seeming to press against every scene.  Aparo’s art is fantastic, bringing Rune’s selfish self-confidence to life, as well as his growing terror.  The looming menace of the Stranger is wonderfully rendered as well, and our mysterious hero has rarely scarier.  It’s short, but tightly plotted and effective.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen, an excellent supernatural thriller.

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“The Spectre of the Stalking Swamp”


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Our Dr. Thirteen backup sadly doesn’t live up to our wonderful cover either.  It presents a rather unusual tale for the Good Doctor, though it is also a pretty entertaining one.  It starts in the swamp, right enough, with a young couple out for a walk.  The youthful Romeo’s efforts are interrupted by a strange sight, a green monster arising out of the swamp! The creature scoops up the frightened girl and carries her off into the murk.  The next day, the local sheriff, Rufus Taylor, explains the mystery to Dr. Thirteen.

the phantom stranger (1969) 14 - 21

The boy who witnessed the abduction is now comatose from shock, but he and the girl are not the only victims of this monster.  Apparently people have been disappearing for weeks.  According to local legend, a hundred years ago a settler got separated from his family and wandered off into the swamp, where the essence of the bog infused his body, turning him into the specter that haunts the silent spaces.  Thirteen, of course, is having none of this, and he insists on going out into the wild to investigate.

the phantom stranger (1969) 14 - 22

That night, the monster attacks his boat, and the Ghost Breaker disappears, apparently broken himself!  Despite his strict orders, his wife follows him, persuading the sheriff to help her, and they find the doctor’s boat.  Maria manages to convince Rufus to continue the search, even though he insists it’s hopeless, and they stumble upon a strange sight deep in the swamp, a gleaming domed city. Finding their way inside, the pair discover the populace moving like zombies, blank-eyed and listless.

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Upon a throne in the city’s center, the encounter the swamp monster, actually a man called Professor Zachary Nail, who is wearing a suit designed for “protection against the filth outside–the polution that infects your dying world!”  Nail has created his own Eden in the swamp and kidnapped the locals to populate it.  When the sheriff bravely tries to capture the madman, the Professor shots him with a bizarre ray, which converts the lawman into a plant!  Shades of Batman: TAS!

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Nail takes the terrified Mrs. Thirteen for a tour of his city, explaining that the place is powered by a nuclear reactor (!), and that he has hypnotically controlled the populace so that they are utterly subject to his will.  He then leads her to her husband, who is also under his power.  The Professor orders Dr. Thirteen to take his wife to the “Submission Room” (which doesn’t sound too pleasant), but the strong-willed Ghost Breaker resists his control.  In an overly written sequence, Thirteen throws off the brainwashing and attacks Nail.

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Just then, the foliage of the swamp starts growing exponentially and begins to smash the dome.  The Professor runs off in an attempt to save his Eden, but the Thirteens have better sense and begin to evacuate the place.  They get the placid populace out just in time, as the vegetation of the wilds reclaim the city, destroying it utterly.  Know-it-all Dr. Thirteen theorizes that the waste from nuclear reactor must have caused the plants to grow super fast, but Maria thinks maybe Mother Nature was exacting her revenge “for the crimes he committed in her name!”

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This is a solid and entertaining story, if quite rushed.  It is not, however, really a Dr. Thirteen-style story.  This character is best suited by relatively conventional mysteries with exceptional or sensational trappings, and this type of science fiction yarn is a little out of his wheelhouse.  He doesn’t even really solve the mystery here.  The villain just captures him and conveniently explains his plans.  The actual plot is an interesting one, and the eco-terrorist villain archetype is one that will emerge more often in the future, most notably when R’as Al Ghul is given his chance to shine in future issues.  Clearly the concept of radical action on environmental issues was in the zeitgeist, which is interesting.  I rather thought the spread of such characters was a more recent development.

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Poor Sheriff Rufus, despite looking the part, surprisingly didn’t conform to the usual trope of the small-town Southern sheriff.  These characters in fiction tend to fat, incompetent, and corrupt.  Rufus, on the other hand, was brave and apparently honest and dedicated, even losing his life trying to perform his duties.  I’m so used to the tropes that I was surprised by this.  We can give credit to DeZuniga and Wein for subverting expectations there.  Wein, for his part, is a bit overly purple in his prose, especially in his narration, throughout, but the writing isn’t bad.  On the art front, Tony DeZuniga does a solid job, and some of his character work is really quite good.  We don’t really get a good sense of the city, though, which might have more to do with the lack of space than anything else.  His design for the swamp monster is effective considering what we eventually learn of it, but it certainly isn’t as cool as Adams’ cover version, sadly.  On the whole, I feel like his style is a good fit for these types of horror/suspense comics.  So, all-in-all, I suppose I’ll give this rather cramped and odd tale 3 Minutemen.  It’s enjoyable but forgettable.

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P.S.: Notably, I think that this concept of a futuristic city hidden in the swamp will be recycled in the first Swamp Thing run, though I can’t remember which issue.  That run, of course, was begun by Len Wein, for a bit of synchronicity.

 


Eco-terrorists, Chinese demons, and energy beings, oh my!  A fun set of books, these, and I had a good time going through them.  There is certainly plenty creativity in this batch, whatever their quality.  I hope that y’all enjoyed reading my commentaries and that y’all will join me again soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Next post, we close out August 1971!  Be there, or Mother Box will be disappointed!  Until next time, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 5)

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Greetings dear readers!  Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got a very unusual and memorable pair of books to cover in this batch, for better or worse.  We have the JLA guest starring in Lois Lane (sort of) and the beginning of the infamous Don Rickles appearance in Jimmy Olsen.  The Superman family books are rather bonkers this month, it seems.  Join me and see what you can make of the madness that follows!

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 #402
  • Adventure Comics #408
  • Brave and the Bold #96
  • Detective Comics #413
  • Forever People #3
  • G.I. Combat #148
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #84
  • New Gods #3
  • Superboy #176
  • Superman #239 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #240
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139

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


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111


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“The Dark Side of the Justice League!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: Ray Holloway
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover Artists: Dick Giordano and Gaspar Saldino

“Law of the 100!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Gray Morrow
Inker: Gray Morrow
Letterer: Ray Holloway

This comic is just a delightful mess, from the cover onward.  I admit, I’ve been excitedly eyeing this image in my reading list.  It is just such a fun design, with (almost) the entire League in action and the unusual sight of Lois playing Gulliver to superheroic Lilliputians.  It’s the type of concept we’ve seen before, but not that often.  Unsurprisingly, Dick Giordano creates a lovely, energetic piece, and the cover gets bonus points for being an accurate representation of the tale within.  It’s an effective image, and I know I’d have been curious to know what was going on in this book!

What a tale that is!  Fascinatingly, Kanigher uses this issue to tie his work on the supporting Superman titles into the emergent Fourth World mythos that Kirby is currently creating, weaving in elements from the King’s Jimmy Olsen run.  It’s interesting to see creators embracing the New Gods this quickly.  It all starts innocently enough, with Lois arriving at the beach for a relaxing day off, only to be secretly observed by…the JLA!?  Well, not exactly.  As she dozes on the sand, tiny doppelgängers of the League rush out and, using their unique powers, bind her down and put a strange liquid on her lips.  As she begins to stir, they rush into hiding, leaving her none-the-wiser.  The sequence is great fun and really nicely done.

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The next day, Lois is out covering a story when she notices a passing armored truck and somehow realizes that it is stuffed with gangsters.  She calls out a warning to Superman, allowing him to bag the crooks, and the Man of Steel finds himself wondering if his lady love has developed some type of 6th sense that might protect her from danger.  If so, he muses, he would be able to marry her, but he brushes the thought aside and flies off.  In a charming little touch, the women Lois had been interviewing encourage her not to give up hope.

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Later on, the girl reporter is on location at Metropolis park, covering the arrival of a mysterious statue.  Once again, she has a flash of insight and realizes that the art is fake, really a set of dangerous robotic weapons, and she is able to warn the Metropolis Marvel once more.  Smashing the rampaging robots, Superman thinks that Lois must have developed a new ability, so he gives in and kisses her.  As soon as their lips meet, he goes insane, beginning his own destructive rampage!

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Lois rushes to her car and uses a carphone (!) to contact, of all people, the head of the D.N.A. Project!  That’s right, she appeals for help to the secret government DNA research base in the Wild Area, introduced in Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen.  Apparently Superman brought her there to give a genetic sample…for some reason.  The sober scientist quickly forms a plan and tells the rattled reporter to go to the Daily Planet and await instructions.

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Well, that’s not the reaction you want after a kiss!

Unfortunately, later that night, after dozing at her desk, the journalist awakens to a strange sight: the littlest Leaguers, who kindly explain their plot.  Apparently, they were created from stolen DNA by the Project’s evil opposite number, the Monster Factory, and are under orders from their Apokoliptian masters.  They were to plant a special poison on Lois’s lips and, by faking her new ability, convince Superman to kiss her, thus dooming himself.

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When the ravishing reporter tries to flee, they attack and mock her, but a package left by the Project opens in the struggle, revealing an octet of tiny Loises, each inexplicably armed with a device to counter the abilities of the heinous pint-sized heroes.  One has a chip of gold Kryptonite to rob the Miniature Man of Might of his powers (where in the world would they have gotten that?), while another has a yellow glove to get past the little Lantern’s ring.  Some of them are a bit less direct, like a laser pistol that cuts the straps of Hawkman’s wings as opposed to…you know…just shooting him.

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It’s an exceedingly silly scene, but it is capped when the fun-sized Flash kicks up a cloud of dust while trying to escape, causing Lois to sneeze him into defeat.  With the miniature minions beaten, the reporter finds another gift from the Project, an antidote lipstick, which she dons before running out to kiss Superman a second time, restoring his mind.  The tale ends with the two strolling away, the Man of Steel not remembering a thing.

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This is an insane issue, but it is also a lot of fun.  There’s some really neat elements, as Kanigher tries to bring the mythos Kirby is creating out into the wider DCU.  Of course, being Kanigher, he does it in a fairly goofy way.  On the other hand, it does actually mesh surprisingly well with what we saw in Kirby’s own book.  The tiny clones, the stolen DNA, the mysterious machinations of the malevolent Monster Factory: it all works, after a fashion.  Yet, the writing is more than a little sloppy, with a lot of the details coming completely out of left field and the whole thing lacking internal consistency.  Why in the world does the Project have tiny-anti JLA weapons on hand.  How do they know they’re facing an evil army of mini-mes in the first place?  Whose idea was the ridiculously elaborate plan to get Superman to kiss Lois?  If they can clone tiny Leaguers, why not just make full sized ones to take out the originals?  Kanigher doesn’t bother to answer any of those questions.

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Look at the individuality and personality on the faces of these background characters.

Once again, Roth’s art is simply lovely, and while he had previously seemed to struggle a bit with the superheroic elements of these comics, despite his success with the romantic and dramatic moments, he turns in a really nice looking Justice League, even if they are tiny.  Particularly impressive, as usual, is his face-work, like in the image above.  The art definitely helps this tale, even as goofy as the story is.  Taken all together, this is a very entertaining, if bonkers, story, but it goes to show that nobody can really stack up to Kirby except Kirby.  He actually made something mostly coherent out of the madness of the Project.  Kanigher?  Not so much.  Despite his efforts, this feels more like a new gimmick and less like a facet of a new mythology.  I’ll give this entertaining fit of silliness 2.5 Minutemen.  It’s fun, but it’s flawed.

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“Law of the 100”


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The real highlight of this issue is its Rose and Thorn backup, which is just plain excellent for the limited space it has to work with.  It features the art of Gray Morrow, which is a big departure from Ross Andru’s and a real treat.  The story itself really shows off its star.  It starts with a classic cheat image, as we see the tenacious Thorn shot down by a new figure.  Of course, this is revealed to simply be a test of the 100’s newest killer using a mannequin (although, that mannequin seems to be moving a whole lot for an inanimate object.  The fresh-faced fink in question is apparently Leo Lester, the son of one of the organization’s best gunmen.  They tell the boy that his father was betrayed to the cops but that he’s destined to take his place, and then they send him after the Thorn with his father’s gun.

On the street, the kid attempts to ambush the Nymph of Night, but she’s too good.  She manages to toss a smoke thorn (Batman’s going to sue!), and she easily takes him out.  The sequence is just beautiful, with Morrow delivering a wonderfully realistic sense of movement and presence to his figures.  Look at the motion in the Thorn’s body on this page.  Well, artwork aside, the vigilante is stunned to discover that her attacker is a youth, and she tries to reason with him.  This is actually one of the weaknesses of Morrow’s art, as the gunman doesn’t actually look that young.

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Unfortunately, just then another 100 hit squad opens up on the both of them, the kid having failed his job.  Strangely, the gunsles are hidden on a mobile merry-go-round.  It’s essentially a tiny carousel mounted on a truck.  Crazy!  I guess they really had these things, but I’d never seen one.  It’s an interesting and rather whimsical choice for a ruthless gang of murderers.  Criminals in the DCU have class!  Of course, no matter how charming their costuming, they are still trying to shoot the Vixen of Vengeance, and she doesn’t take that too kindly, so she tosses an explosive thorn, blowing the car/carousel away.

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Somehow this doesn’t kill the thugs, but it does attract the cops.  Not wanting to hand her young assassin over because she hopes she can reach him, the Thorn hauls him to a secluded spot on the waterfront.  As part of this scene, we get a really interesting moment where the Baleful Beauty’s two personalities are in conflict, with her Rose persona wanting to help the boy and the Thorn identity being much less sympathetic.  It’s a neat touch.

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After her internal debate, the Nymph of Night tries to persuade the captive kid that the 100 know no loyalty, but he refuses to believe her until he’s ambushed by another team of hitters from the gang.  Once again, the Thorn acts to save the punk’s life, tossing out a set of flash grenade-thorns and taking out the gunmen in a nice panel, this time aided by Leo.  As they run from gangster reinforcements, the boy promises to tell his savior why he really agreed to hunt her.

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This little backup is really quite good.  It’s a breezy but effective story, with a healthy dose of action.  The Thorn comes off really well throughout, seeming competent and dangerous and generally living up to her hype.  It’s great to see her using her gadgets, taking out her foes like Batman.  It makes for some exciting reading.  Meanwhile, the heart of the plot with the kid turned killer is fairly interesting.  I’m curious what else is going on with him.

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Yet, a big part of what makes this particular backup so great is Gray Morrow’s exceptional art.  He’s got got a very unusual style for DC at this time, and the realistic detail that he puts into things like the Thorn’s hair as she fights and runs, or the shift in fabric is really cool.  In general, this tale just looks lovely.  There’s not a whole lot here, but nonetheless, it is a really enjoyable read.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, about the highest score a backup can get.  Kanigher is continuing to do really solid work in these backups, however bonkers his feature scripts may be.

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139


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“The Guardian Fights Again!!!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack KirbyE. and Nelson Bridwell

When you think of cosmic adventure and mind-bending epics, what’s the first name that comes to mind?  Why, Don Rickles, of course!  What, it isn’t?  Well, join the club.  This issue and the next might just be the wackiest point in the Fourth World saga…and also perhaps the lowest, or at least the most nonsensical.  For some inexplicable reason, the King essentially takes a break from his myth-making, his larger than life story about the clash between superhuman forces of good and evil, to do a two issue arc featuring Don Rickles and his equally inexplicable doppelgänger.  Even the cover is a mess.  If you thought some of the previous covers were crowded with copy, you hadn’t seen anything yet!  Yikes!  There are more words in that image than in the entirety of any two modern comics.  The art itself is okay but it’s barely got any room to work with.

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Inside, it gets even stranger.  It begins with the Guardian being tested by Tommy’s father at the Project, run through a thorough examination before being allowed to go into action.  Though the tests show nothing wrong with the cloned hero, the doctor is still a bit hesitant to give him a clean bill of health because this copy of Jim Harper shares a mysterious abnormality in his brain with the rest of the clones produced at the Project.  Once again, I find something rather sinister in this scene that I doubt Kirby intended, but there is definitely something a little unsettling about the setup.  It seems to beg for development, but I don’t think it was ever really touched on again.  Despite this, the Guardian is given a chance to head back to Metropolis with Superman, and the Legion is super excited about teaming up with their fathers’ idol.

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jimmyolsen139-11Unfortunately, only Superman, Jimmy, and the Guardian make the trip in the Whiz Wagon, while the kids remain behind, quarantined and due to be tested because Gabby picked up a cold.  Isn’t that sort of closing the barn door after the cows have gotten out, especially if you let the others go?  Nonetheless, the scene is pretty funny, as Gabby’s fellows pelt him with newspapers for landing them in stir.  Note Flippa Dippa who, for reasons known only to himself and Kirby’s fevered imagination, is wearing his wetsuit under his hospital gown.  Their salvation comes in a strange but entertaining form, as Scrappy finds one of the tiny mini-Scrapper paratroopers has hitched a ride in his hair and agrees to help them break out.

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The Whiz Wagon wings its way back to Metropolis, and when they get back, Superman zooms off to resume his secret identity so that Clark can be ready to receive these visitors.  He and Jimmy realize that Morgan Edge is behind a lot of their troubles and plan to have it out with their new boss.  Yet, the evil Edge has more gimmicky problems at the moment, as, and stay with me here, he is trying to work out a contract with Don Rickles, but he somehow has to deal with ‘Goody’ Rickles, who is on his research staff and is inexplicably the entertainer’s spitting image.  Despite having the same last name, there’s no indication that these two are related either.

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For some reason, Goody barges in at that moment, unaccountably dressed in a cape and tights.  Apparently, some of the guys in his office told him to wear it in order to shoot a TV pilot.  I…I don’t even know where to begin.  His dialog is just nonsensical.  Sometimes almost funny, but mostly indistinct and unclear.  The malicious mogul instantly hates the wacko, and for once I can’t blame him, and sends him out on a fake assignment that is actually a trap.

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jimmyolsen139-20Shortly thereafter, Clark and Jimmy arrive, demanding to see Edge, but they get sent out on the same assignment, arriving at the park in short order.  There they find a strange craft, and when Clark investigates, Goody moronically starts pressing buttons, suddenly causing the device to vanish!  The remaining protagonists are then attacked by Intergang thugs, and the Guardian goes into action while Goody says things that are ostensibly supposed to be funny.  The cloned champion gives a good showing, tearing through his assailants, and even Jimmy gives a good account of himself.  Kirby has him keep his foes busy through athleticism and cleverness rather than simply outbrawling them, which is fitting.  Goody does a comedy routine as he accidentally thwarts the bad guys.  Unfortunately, all their efforts are for naught, as one of Intergang’s bigwigs, the aptly named “Ugly” Mannheim, grabs Jimmy and holds him hostage until the others surrender.

Meanwhile, Clark is stuck in the strange craft, which has shifted into another dimension, nicely rendered by Kirby, who had a gift for alien vistas.  Back in Morgan Edge’s office, he orders Mannheim to dispose of his captives.  Instead, he feeds them.  Goody makes with more ‘humor,’ but the scene is salvaged by a pretty dramatic turn.  Ugly casually lights the entire table aflame with but a touch of his cigar, and then announces that the food was laced with a powerful accelerant, which is now in his captives’ systems.  He releases them, warning the three that in 24 hours they’ll all go up like Roman candles.

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That’s a wonderful villain image.

jimmyolsen139-28Goody’s indignation, not at the murder attempt, but at being dropped off out of his way is genuinely funny, but it’s one of the few moments in this comic that can actually be described that way.  He’s more grating and bizarre than humorous, with some of his dialog reminding you of a joke in the way that a badly hummed tune can remind you of a song.  There are elements in common, but the effect is rather different.  The story itself has a lot of good qualities.  However silly the setup, the Newsboy Legion making their escape is pretty fun, as is their banter.  Ugly Mannheim is instantly memorable, and the sequence with his unusual methods of dealing with his prisoners is actually quite good.  It’s nice to see the Guardian in action again as well, but all of this is overshadowed for some reason by the utterly incongruous presence of Goody, who makes no real sense and just doesn’t fit in this story.  Kirby’s art is quite good in this issue, unlike the last New Gods, and he turns in a lot of lovely and energetic moments, as well as some great character work with the Legion.  In the end, it’s rather hard to rate this issue, as it is just so very strange and feels more like two separate stories mashed together than a coherent whole.  I suppose I’ll give this mad mess 2.5 Minutemen, as the good elements are strong enough to partially offset the perplexing presence of ‘Goody’ Rickles.  It’s still a fun read, and interesting in context, but boy is it strange.

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P.S.: So, how did this flight of insanity come into being?  Check out the article here for some nice background, but here’s the short version.  Apparently Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman, Kirby’s assistants, were huge fans of then popular insult-comedian Don Rickles, and they thought it would be fun to have him appear in a comic for a few panels and insult Superman.  They wrote up some dialog and showed it to Jack, who loved the idea.  He, in turn, took it to Carmine Infantino, who never met a gimmick he didn’t like.  The editor got permission from Rickles and decided that this needed to be promoted and made into a two-issue feature.  Then, out of the unfathomable, beautiful madness of Kirby’s mind came what followed.  Apparently, Rickles himself was none-too-pleased with the final result, and I can’t say I really blame him.

 


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Color me surprised, but this is the second month in a row without a single new head-blow to add to the tally.  I’m thinking August has got to break the streak.

 


Final Thoughts:


July was an unusual month, filled with books that were not necessarily good, but were certainly memorable and, at least in some ways, important.  There were some genuinely enjoyable yarns along the way as well, of course, but this month gave us several significant comics that, though they were flawed as stories, were important to the DCU or interesting reflections of concerns in the zeitgeist of their time.  Even some of the sillier stories like this issue of Lois Lane are worth noting because of how they are evidence of the growth of the setting or the genre.  In Lois’s case, her bizarre adventure introduces the King’s Fourth World to the DC Universe at large, for however awkward that meeting might be.

Kirby’s Fourth World itself continues to develop in intriguing ways.  This month we get to see Darkseid emerge a bit more into the foreground, and we see a little of his personality and the nature of his rule in the machinations of his servants in this Forever People.  We also see the notable creation of another black character, still very much a rare occurrence at this point, though it is a moment of dubious honor, considering that he is the Black Racer.  On the plus side, his creation does point to an awareness of DC’s lack of diversity and some of the early, if halting, steps to try and make the DC Universe a bit more reflective of the nation that spawned it.

Most strikingly for me, this month gives us the story of Glorious Godfrey and a fascinating tale about the dangers of surrendering your will and moral judgement to the strong man and the demagogue.  This lesson was well learned in the mid-20th Century with the rise of fascism and World War II, but the allure of having someone do your thinking for you is a strong and pervasive one.  Human beings don’t like to think, as Socrates knew to his sorrow, and they always look for ways to escape that onerous onus.  I see this constantly in my students, but unfortunately, this trend is very much in evidence in the modern world, far beyond the classroom.  The ever increasing tribalism of our politics in the U.S. is the clearest example of this tendency I can imagine.

Notably, the viciously divided culture of 1971 seems to have produced similar anxieties about such mindless adherence to those that promise easy answers, as last month’s JLA issue demonstrated.  The connection between these books point to more than just Jack Kirby’s memories of the War years as being the source for this story.  In the era of George Wallace and numerous other strong men on all sides of the political spectrum, I suppose this should be no surprise.

Fascinatingly, this month’s Green Lantern deals, in a way, with a similar theme, though it is not really the focus of the story.  O’Neil finally turned in an issue that I really enjoyed, however goofy it might be.  It helps that the book takes the tack of satire rather than direct (and, let’s face it, shrill and self-righteous) critique.  Most notably, with this issue the author moves away from racism, pollution, and the other crippling social issues of the time, and focuses instead on the growing disposable, artificial nature of modern life, with its pillorying of the plastic peril of the Black Hand.  This is another topic that certainly resonates in the modern day, though in a less dire fashion.

Also in the zeitgeist of the day, the plight of Native Americans remains in our comics for this month with the conclusion to Dorfman’s Superman tale in Action Comics #402.  This is another prime example of a bit of a disconnect between the significance and quality of some of this month’s books, as the story itself is more than a little messy and goofy, lacking the dignity and seriousness of the first chapter.  Nonetheless, Dorfman’s heart is in the right place, and his work points to a growing concern in the culture at large, a desire to see native peoples given justice and a fair break, something we certainly still haven’t mastered.

This comic illustrates one of the difficulties in tackling social issues in the superhero genre.  As Superman easily wraps up all of the problems in a few pages, captures the villain, and provides a safe, stable, and successful future for the downtrodden tribesmen, we can’t help but feel that the reality of the struggle of such peoples is given rather short shrift.  This was one of my complaints with the previous attempt at such a story by Robert Kanigher.  It is a difficult and tenuous thing to treat a real tragedy in a setting where sun gods can juggle planets, stop bullets, and reverse time.  How do you honor the suffering of such a situation with a character than can resolve any problem with the snap of his fingers?  It can be done, as Kanigher’s racial story proves, but it is a difficult proposition.

DC’s flagship character was not just involved in attempts at social relevance this month.  Denny O’Neil’s continuing efforts to revitalize Superman are also on display, giving us attempts to humanize the archetypally superhuman Man of Steel.  While the resultant story is uneven, it’s an interesting continuation of the author’s efforts over the last several months, as his weakened hero has had to struggle with newfound limitations and doubts.  While the changes seem fairly mild to a modern audience, saturated with ‘bold new directions’ to the point where every radical shift just blends into the background, I have to imagine that O’Neil’s efforts were pretty groundbreaking for the venerable and traditionally very stable Superman.  Judging from the letters pages in these issues, that seems to be borne out.  Contemporary readers were reacting, and quite strongly, to the stories O’Neil is slinging.

Finally, as one of my radical readers pointed out, the appearance this month of a General Patton analogue in G.I. Combat is very likely a result of the relatively recent release of the film, Patton, the previous year.  Glancing over the plot summary of the movie, I’m certain he was right, as there are some really striking similarities between it and the story in question.  So here we have another quite clear example of the culture influencing the comics directly.

All of these stories make for a memorable if uneven month.  There are some great yarns to be found here, though a surprising number of those I enjoyed most were the backups.  There was still plenty here worth reading, one way or another.  I hope that y’all enjoyed this stage of our journey and will join me again soon for the next chapter of our voyage Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive, and exercise your God-given mind and moral sense!

 

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome Internet travelers and dear readers, to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got three books to cover in this post, and they are a rather diverse bunch.  We go from Zaney Haney to the Fourth World, and from spy thriller to cosmic quest in an earthbound setting.  Let’s see what lies in store for us!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #402
  • Adventure Comics #408
  • Brave and the Bold #96
  • Detective Comics #413
  • Forever People #3
  • G.I. Combat #148
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #84
  • New Gods #3
  • Superboy #176
  • Superman #239 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #240
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139
  • World’s Finest #202

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


Brave and the Bold #96


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“The Striped Pants War!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Alright, what the heck is up with this title?  Is this a reference to something?  If so, I don’t get it.  All I can think of is Homestar Runner and “his ridiculous stripe-ed pants.”  Either way, there seem to be no striped pants actually in this comic.  Leave it to Bob Haney to confuse his audience from word one!  Head-scratching headlines aside, this is actually a pretty good issue.  There are a few things that ‘ol Zaney Haney always did very well, and one of those is the tale of the aging hero, the world-weary veteran whose best days are behind him.  It’s a story that he told many times, and always with verve.  This particular comic is no exception, though it doesn’t have the most impressive of covers.  It has a solid, if unexceptional, composition that sets up the central conflict of the comic, Sgt. Rock’s questionable loyalties.

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brave and the bold 096 004The story within opens on a dark night in a South American city as a van crashes into a car, the attacking vehicle’s occupants then jumping the stunned passengers.  The car’s driver fights back, only to get shot for his trouble, and his passenger is carted away.  Back in the U.S., Bruce Wayne is called to Washington D.C. where he is ushered into a secret meeting with the Secretary of State and the P.O.T.O.U.S. himself (that used to be an honor).  Nick Cardy does the usual dance, not showing the president’s face, which I enjoy.  It turns out the victim from our first scene was Ambassador Adams, who is a friend of Bruce’s, and who was on an important assignment in South America.

brave and the bold 096 005He was kidnapped by the “Companeros de La Muerte,” the Companions of Death, and they are holding him for ransom.  The President asks Wayne to fill in as a temporary ambassador to complete a delicate treaty, and he introduces Batman, who will travel along as protection.  How can this be?  Well, it’s Alfred covering for his master in a padded costume, of course, and before long the pair are headed south!  This is an interesting setup, and it works surprisingly well considering the stories in the Bat-books relatively recently where Bruce got involved in politics.  It’s unusually consistent for Haney…though I’m inclined to wonder if that’s just a coincidence!

When Bruce arrives at the U.S. embassy, he encounters another old friend, Sgt. Rock, who is head of security.  It was he who was driving the ambassador when he was kidnapped, and the embassy staffer left in charge, Carlyle, makes some snide remarks about his failure.  When left alone, the two old comrades catch up, but Rock is surprisingly bitter and angry about the service, raging that they won’t let him reenlist.  He strips off his shirt and shows the scars he earned in service to his country, but he laments that that country doesn’t want his service anymore.

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brave and the bold 096 013Bruce is struck by the old soldier’s rancor, but he gets on with his job, investigating the scene of the kidnapping as Batman.  In search of witnesses, he enters a bull fighting arena and gets a description of the van from a plucky young bullfighter who, in Haney’s trademark flare for minor characters, is full of personality.  Strangely, the Dark Knight notices Rock tailing him, just as he is attacked by an assassin!  One of the Companeros tries to kill him with a bullfighter’s prop, but the hero’s reflexes prove superior, and the would-be-killer is hoisted by his own petard.

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On his way back to the embassy, the Caped Crusader is attacked by another pair of killers, but he fights them off with difficulty, turning their weapons against them in a great sequence drawn by Cardy and moodily colored.  When he returns, the Masked Manhunter discovers a warning note from the terrorists that declares they will kill their prisoner at noon if he is not ransomed.  That’s not the only discovery, however, as Alfred finds a listening device in Wayne’s room, a device whose source is found to be Rock’s quarters!  Things look bad for the old soldier, especially when he is placed under arrest only to knock out a sentry and slip away.

Nonetheless, Batman continues his investigation, finding the killers’ van and trailing it right back to the embassy itself!  They are hiding the ambassador in a secret basement, and this seems to confirm Rock’s complicity.  The Dark Knight jumps the gathered thugs, getting the ambassador to cover but getting dog-piled by his foes in recompense.  Suddenly, Sgt. Rock comes charging into the room, firing a Thompson, coming to the Caped Crusader’s rescue!  He had escaped just to have a chance to clear his name, which he now does in spades!

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It was all a frame, of course, and the heroes manage to hold off the terrorists, but the desperadoes trigger an old trap from the building’s colonial days, turning heroes’ cover into a cruel cage.  At the top-sergeant’s insistence, Batman reluctantly escapes with the ambassador, only to be confronted by the real traitor, Carlyle.  Fortunately, while Bruce Wayne may hate guns, his faithful butler isn’t so squeamish, and Alfred flat-out shoots the rat!

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Meanwhile, Rock is making his last stand, but in desperation he attaches a grenade to the swinging spikes above him, and when they move back towards his enemies, they explode!  Batman finds his old friend still alive in the rubble!  Later on, they bid a friendly farewell, as Bruce Wayne takes his leave and Rock tells his pal that the army took him back for another hitch.

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This is a really solid story.  It’s fun, exciting, and it has a pretty decent central conflict with the question of Rock’s loyalty.  Of course, we all know that the top kick is as loyal and dependable as…well…as a rock, but Haney does a good job of making his defection seem plausible.  He is making surprising use of continuity here, however, it is largely his own.  I suppose that’s to be expected from the ruler of the ridiculous.  In his stories Batman somehow fought in World War II and is still active in the modern day.  What the rest of the DC Universe needed multiple Earths to accommodate, Haney just shoves into one story and calls it good.  That’s the Zaney one for you!

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Despite that bit of silliness, he does a great job with Rock’s frustration at his treatment, and even his explanation ‘hey, I may grumble, but I’m still loyal,’ rings true.  While the old soldier doesn’t get as much characterization as Wildcat tended to, we still get a good sense of who the veteran is and what struggles he faces.  Cardy’s artwork is lovely throughout, fitting this spy thriller tale quite well.  I’ll give this fun adventure an enjoyable 4 Minutemen.

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Detective Comics #413


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“Freakout at Phantom Hollow!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inkers: Dick Giordano and Steve Englehart
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Squeeze-Play!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: Ben Oda

Another issue of Detective Comics this month, but the Batman tale within isn’t the amazing and groundbreaking tale of last month’s Batman.  Still Robbins turns in his usual brand of solid mystery yarn.  It’s got a serviceable but not fantastic cover.  The witch’s twisted visage is suitably creepy, but the rest of the image just isn’t all that interesting.  It also isn’t quite indicative of what is going on in the tale, even symbolically.  It’s rather an odd choice in that regard.

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The story itself begins with Batman returning from a case out of town, only to be flagged down by the constable of a small village, Phantom Hollow, who is also a former Gotham cop.  The lawman begs the Dark Knight to come investigate a mystery in his town.  We then cut to the quaint hamlet itself, which is clearly modeled on Salem, complete with its own witch trial.  Supposedly the town is haunted by “Ol’ Nell,” who cursed the bell of the old church, declaring that it would never sound again until it tolled Phantom Hollow’s death-knell.

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Yet, the place’s troubles are start with something rather more mundane, as a trio of local kids ambush a pair of long-haired hippie-types, giving them a compulsory haircut…and, let’s face it…if that’s the worst thing that happens to these two goofy looking losers, they are probably lucky!  It seems like they’re supposed to be around 12-14, and they just look utterly ridiculous.  I imagine that the kids at my school would have probably been crueler in my day!

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The two hippies, Shecky and Jamie, are recovering their wits when suddenly the massive form of the town simpleton, ‘Big Lanny,’ looms into view.  The boys take off and decide to get even with the town by playing some pranks.  It starts with the church bell suddenly ringing ominously for the first time in a few hundred years, but it takes a turn for worse when their attempt to set off cherry bombs near the town jail somehow blows a wall in!

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Batman arrives to investigate the matter and hears some conflicting claims by the local folks, some claiming it was the two weirdo kids, others claiming it was Nell’s ghost.  The local teacher sticks up for the young punks.  The Dark Knight has plenty of suspects, but few clews, so he searches the bell tower, finding that the bell is rusted solid, but a strong pair of hands tip him over the rail and send him plummeting to his death!

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DETECTIVE COMICS 413 010Fortunately, the Masked Manhunter is always prepared, and he tied a bat-rope to his foot when he climbed to the dizzy height of the steeple, which is a nice, reasonable precaution for the hero to have taken.  Outside, he finds the teacher, who was attacked by someone moving fast.  She still insists on the innocence of her students, but when the Caped Crusader finds a speaker that provided the eerie bell-toll and traces its cord to a nearby cave, it is indeed the two would be counterculture rebels that he uncovers.

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DETECTIVE COMICS 413 015While he is confronting the kids, the bell rings again, but their tape recorder is shut off!  Racing back to the church, Batman finds that the bell has been broken free of its rust, a feat that he himself had failed to accomplish.  Suddenly, another explosion rocks the town.  Interrogating his two captives, who remain defiant, the Dark Knight realizes that someone has been using them as patsies, and by pretending to leave them in the care of the teacher in the cave, he lures out the real culprit…Big Lanny?!

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That’s right, the huge handyman was actually a direct descendant of Ol’ Nell, and he faked his stupidity in order take revenge upon the town.  Unfortunately, the massive man, once revealed, remains a frightful foe.  He toss the Caped Crusader about like a rag doll, and only the desperate attack by the two hippie kids saves the hero, toppling the giant and allowing the Masked Manhunter to punch him out.  The tale ends with the teacher pointing out that the two exceedingly poorly dressed boys are modern day victims of the same type of ignorance and superstition (ignorance yes, but how does she get superstition?) as Ol’ Nell was in her day.

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This is a decent mystery yarn, and it is interesting to see Frank Robbins dealing with youth culture and the growing strains on American life, with the nonconformists of this little town playing both sympathetic victims and antagonistic troublemakers.  There isn’t a lot made of the setup, but it is notable that the teacher continues to defend the two kids and that they prove instrumental in capturing the villain.  There’s definitely a message of tolerance delivered through their plot.  Brown’s art is as solid and attractive as usual, and he gives us a few particularly nice images, like Batman observing the explosion from the bell tower.  His Batman isn’t quite as lovely as Neal Adams’, but he always looks good, powerful and dynamic.  I don’t think Bob Brown gets a lot of credit, but he was a very reliably good artist, especially on these Bat-books.  As for this issue, it’s an enjoyable if unexceptional read, so I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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“Squeeze-Play!”


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The wig saga continues!  For some reason!  The Batgirl backup from the last issue is concluded here, despite the fact that it really seemed to be just about finished already.  This one starts right where the previous tale left off, with Batgirl locked in awkward combat with the malicious wig-makers, who have managed to get one of their skull-cracking hairdos onto her head.  Vazly hits the switch, and the fighting female seems to writhe in agony, only to reveal that it is just an act.  She had already deactivated the heinous headgear.

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She manages to capture Vazly, but his assistant gets away.  In an admittedly cool sequence, Babs uses her photographic memory to deduce that something is missing from the scene, working out that it is a wig-stand.  She recalls the code that had been on the missing item and works out that it is an address for a would-be victim.  Rushing to the scene of the next crime, Batgirl interrupts Wanda as she attempts to put the squeeze on another rich divorcee.

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Jumping the weird wig-maker as she attempts to make her getaway, the heroine engages in another desperate fight, with the wig again being used as a weapon, this time as a really clumsy garrote.  Fortunately, Batgirl uses her head (as a bludgeon) and captures the remaining villain.  The story ends with her receiving her birthday gift, a wig, from her father.  Both Gordon and his friend Bruce Wayne think she looks better as a redhead, which she does, so Babs decides to stick with the hair God gave her.

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This isn’t a bad story, but it isn’t a particularly good one, either.  Batgirl’s peril feels a bit weak at times, and, as I said, this second half doesn’t feel entirely necessary.  If Robbins hadn’t wrapped so much up in the first half, there would have been more to this story.  As is, it feels largely perfunctory, though Babs’ feat of deduction is pretty cool, taking advantage of a character trait that isn’t always acknowledged, her eidetic memory.  Don Heck’s art is serviceable, but it isn’t very pretty.  He’s just not my favorite superhero artist.  His figures tend to be stiff in action, and the whole thing lacks the smoothness of Bob Brown’s work on the headline tale.  This is a mediocre offering, but there isn’t really anything in particular to fault it for, so I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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Forever People #3


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“Life vs. Anti-Life!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

The King’s Fourth World wonders continue to unfurl, and it is certain a fascinating journey!  Here with issue 3 of the the Forever People, the concept still hasn’t entirely gelled, yet Kirby is nonetheless constantly adding memorably to his mythos.  This particular issue is a very uneven affair, but it is also really striking.  We begin with another very lackluster cover.  Other than the Mr. Miracle books, the Fourth World titles just don’t really benefit from good covers.  I wonder if that contributed to their eventual failure.  Either way, with this one we get a rather unbalanced image, against another dim and ugly photo-collage background.  This one is so fuzzy that it’s little more than light and shadow.  The image of the Justifier’s helmet in the background isn’t really all that intimidating, and while the cosmic kids are well drawn, the effect is just not very captivating.  It isn’t helped by that glut of cover copy either declaring but never explaining Kirby’s wild concepts.

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Inside, however, it’s another matter.  From the first page the King gives us a clue as to what he’s about, starting with a quote from Adolph Hitler (!) about how his followers not only dressed alike but even began to mimic one another in facial expressions.  Below is a sea of faces, faces that are eerily similar in their blank, dead-eyed expression, despite the riot of variety among them (though, notably, they are all white).  This is a ‘revelation’, something of an evil version of a revival, headed by Darkseid’s newest flunky, Glorious Godfrey.

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With a fittingly glorious double page splash, Kirby introduces the evil evangelist, who is hawking a heinous set of wares called ‘Anti-Life!’  The trappings and the language are all twisted versions of what you’d see at an old time tent revival, but rather than calling people to a knowledge of their sins and a God who will forgive them and save them from it, Godfrey promises freedom from such self-knowledge, freedom from doubt and uncertainty, the freedom of surrendering your will to Darkseid!  There’s something really fascinating and powerful in all of this.

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Godfrey converts his crowd into ‘Justifiers,’ whose adherence to the external reality of Darkseid’s will allows them to ‘justify’ any actions, enabling these miserable souls to indulge in violence, hatred, and more, all while feeling a sense of belonging in the foul fold.  One of these helmeted hooligans arrives at the abandoned apartment acting as home for the Forever People and threatens their young friend, Donnie in order to find the quintet.  Fortunately for the kid, the team has just walked in, hidden by Mother Box.  Beautiful Dreamer casts an illusion to confuse their antagonist, while Vykin rescues Donnie.  Then, all six youths beat a hasty retreat because the fanatical follower of Darkseid is a walking bomb!  He detonates himself, but the Forever People are able to get out of range.

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Realizing that Godfrey is on Earth by recognizing his handiwork, the team leaves a protective barrier around Donnie’s home and takes their leave, bidding the kid adieu.  This is a bit surprising after the efforts Kirby went to in establishing the kid and the neighborhood as part of what seemed an ongoing setting in the last issue.  Nonetheless, the Forever People load up in the Super Cycle and use Mother Box to home in on the Glorious one.

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Meanwhile, in a scene that is an honestly haunting sci-fi version of Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht (The Night of the Broken Glass), the Justifiers spread out through the city in flying transports, smash open doors, haul away ‘undesirables,’ burn libraries, and break windows.  The parallels to real history are pretty unmistakable, and Kirby’s depiction of these events is really striking and efficient, only taking two pages to do its work.  Monitoring his minions’ malicious work, Godfrey is primping, preparing for his next show.  He gets a report about the approach of the Forever People and prepares a warm welcome.

The kids, for their part, see the guards around the tent and decide to summon the Infinity Man.  He then bends and breaks the laws of physics as he wades through the solid earth to avoid the gods and warps the paths of bullets when he confronts Godfrey.  He also abuses the rules of good writing, over-explaining everything he’s doing in odd, stilted prose.  No rules can stand against the Infinity Man!  Not even the laws of composition!  The enigmatic hero destroys the mind-controlling organ Godfrey is using to control his converts, but he is stopped in his tracks by being brought face to face with…Darkseid!  Once again, Kirby’s depiction of the villain hasn’t quite solidified yet, and he varies quite a bit from panel to panel.

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Still, what the evil one lacks in visual continuity he makes up for in power, as he uses his eye-beams to split the Infinity Man back into the Forever people, who are easily captured by Desaad.  The unconscious kids are herded into a transport and sent off to a new facility of the cruel scientist’s design.  After their departure, Godfrey and Desaad spar, each seeking to cement his position with Darkseid, and we learn a little bit more about the Anti-Life equation, though it doesn’t make matters much clearer.  Apparently Godfrey believes it doesn’t exist, and that Anti-Life can only be created through his type of direct mental manipulation.  Apparently the Equation would allow its possessor to control the wills of all beings in the universe with a word, essentially destroying free will, the great gift.

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This is a fascinating issue, but it isn’t necessarily a good one.  It is a dramatically uneven book.  When it is bad, it is really bad, but when it is good, it is really good.  It’s strange, because it’s not even always good or bad in the same ways.  Sometimes Kirby’s dialog is extremely overwritten and awkward, and other times its almost poetic.  Darkseid’s declaration at the end that “when you cry out in your dreams-it is Darkseid that you see!” is darn good dialog, but almost everything the Infinity Man and the Forever People say is awkward and unnecessary.  It’s clear that Kirby learned his comic scripting from the school of Stan.  Stan Lee’s style of unnecessary expository dialog is very much in evidence here, but often times without the charm for characterization and cleverness that marked even Lee’s more egregious examples.

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The Forever People themselves are once again largley useless in this issue.  Pretty much the only thing they do is to run away from the first assassin, but they contribute basically nothing to the plot.  If my vague memories of my first read-through are correct, we might see them get more of a chance to shine in the next issue, but we shall see.  Despite these flaws, what Kirby is doing with Godfrey and the Justifies is really intriguing.  The fact that the villains are evil insofar as they surrender their will and judgement for belonging and comfort is very striking, especially in light of the Jewish author and the not-too-distant cultural memories of the Holocaust.  The parallels to the Nazi’s horrific campaign, as I said, are inescapable, but this story still resonates today.

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It is, sadly, not an isolated incident that sees men surrender their moral judgement and their will to unworthy causes.  It is frighteningly common.  It is a difficult and wearying thing to think, to judge, and to strive for a consistently just moral life and philosophy, and people are always anxious to escape the burden of responsibility that we bear by being human.  It is happening in our world today, as people blindly support causes and leaders that blatantly contradict their own stated values, having given up their moral judgement to that of the party, so the only decision they have to make is whether ‘they’ are ‘with us or against us.’  In this way, Kirby’s story works wonderfully well on an archetypal level, for whatever flaws it has as an adventure tale.  In the end, this flawed but provocative comic is still a really interesting read, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, despite its uneven quality.

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P.S.: This issue sees the first appearance of the letter column, and the response is quite positive.  Notably, sci-fi luminary and the subject of a JLA story I recently covered, Harlan Ellison wrote a glowing missive for the Master.

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And with the Forever People, we round out our comics for this post.  Thank you for joining me for this stop on our journey Into the Bronze Age!  I hope that you enjoyed my commentary and will join me again soon for the next stage of my investigations.  Please come back soon, and until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: April 1971 (Part 3)

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

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Detective Comics #410


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Battle of the Three M’s”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s a very stylish cliffhanger!

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

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Mr. Miracle #1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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