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


Mister_Miracle_1

“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.

mr miracle 01-01 murder missle trap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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


 

Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 6)

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Hello Internet travelers, you’ve just encountered the final post in this portion of my coverage of DC Bronze Age comics!  Here at the end of this month of mags, we’ve got all Superman, all the time!  They’re a pretty fun set of comics, and they certainly have some interesting qualities, both positive and negative.  They make a pretty fitting set of titles to consider as a cap to this set of features.  Enjoy!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Superman #235


Superman_v.1_235“Sinister Scream of the Devil’s Harp!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Denny O’Neil’s tenure on Superman continues, and, quite frankly, I continue to be impressed.  I’m very pleasantly surprised that, under this goofy looking cover with what looks like a hairy brown version of Satan slugging it out with the Man of Steel, there is a good, solid Superman story.  The cover is actually dynamic and interesting enough, though like roughly half of the Metropolis Marvel’s comics from this era, it depicts him being bested by someone inexplicably more “super” than he is.  Somewhat hackneyed concept aside, the real problem is the goofy-looking opponent he faces.  The character, who turns out to be attempting to evoke the goat-footed Greek god Pan rather than the cloven hoofed Devil of medieval imagination and popular culture (one inspired the other, after all), just doesn’t quite fit with the tight-wearing superhero.  Nonetheless, the comic really is a good read.

We join Mr. Mild Mannered himself, Clark Kent, on a rare date with Lois Lane, as the two of them prepare to attend a special concert of a new piano virtuoso, the improbably named Ferlin Nyxly.  There’s some fun bantering between the two, and we actually see Lois displaying some of the pluck and personality we’ve been seeing in her own book, but which seems to have been missing in Superman’s own books since the 50s.

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Fitting, as I don’t see Lois as the classical music type…

Poor Clark, for his part, is still playing second fiddle to his alter ego, but as the pair take their seats, he spots helicopter-borne assassins preparing to bomb the crowd in order to kill a visiting dignitary!  That’s pretty cold blooded!  The Man of Steel does his quick-change routine, stops the bomb with his body, and then yanks the copter down, all the while being hosed down with machinegun fire.  His casual handling of the situation is entertaining, as with last issue, and the complete helplessness of these would-be killers against him makes for a nice contrast with what comes later in our tale.  As he leaves, Supes gives Lois a wave, a simple gesture that will have unintended consequences.

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Yeah, just keep trying.  Maybe you’ll get lucky!

Meanwhile, his antics have attracted the attention of the crowd, and no-one is taking any notice of Nyxly’s playing, causing the musician to berate himself and think back on the strange start to his music career.  It seems that not long ago he was the curator at the Music Museum, where he was cataloging new acquisitions.  He noticed a strange, devilish harp and he played it, an eerie tune resulting, as he lamented that he had never amounted to anything.  Nyxly had always wished to be a musician, and after playing the harp and considering his wish, he suddenly found himself able to play beautifully!

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That night at the concert, the excited susurrus of the crowd is suddenly silenced by the surprising outcry of an old man in the audience, who chastises the concertgoers for their rudeness.  Clark and Lois notice that the man is a former pianist whose skill mysteriously disappeared a few months ago.  What a coincidence!

The next day, Clark narrowly manages to avoid having to read a blistering editorial against himself!  Mr. Corporate Evil himself, Morgan Edge, orders Kent to deliver the message after misinterpreting a picture of the hero waving to Lois and accusing him of grandstanding.  Fortunately, the reporter is saved by the bell, or more accurately, a breaking story, when reports come in of an unidentified flying object over the Atlantic.

The Man of Steel takes the opportunity to get into costume and investigate the matter.  Flying over the watery wastes, he encounters the sand creature created a few issues back, and try as he might to catch up to it, he can’t close in on the strange being.  Meanwhile, the bitter musician broods over his perceived slights, and he strums upon his harp and wishes that he could fly as the Kryptonian does.  Suddenly, Superman plummets out of the sky, no longer able to soar!  The rest of his powers remain, but back in Metropolis, Ferlin Nyxly finds himself floating.  Racing along the waves like the Flash, the Metropolis Marvel finds himself being paced by the sand creature, but he’s unable to communicate with it.

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superman 235 0017Now we hit the one real weakness of the issue.  For some reason, Nyxly feels the need to dress up in a Pan costume from his museum and take to the streets to steal the wealth he’s always coveted.  O-okay?  The story of this weak fellow’s corruption through power is actually pretty good, but the random choice of Pan as his costumed (sort of) identity is a really odd one, especially considering the fact that the Greek deity is associated with Pan pipes (which he’s credited with inventing) rather than harps!  Logic aside, the flying soon-to-be felon zooms around the city before snatching some money bags from an armored car, only to be shot by one of the guards in a rather funny panel.  As he falls to the Earth, Nyxly wishes for invulnerability, and when he hits, he smashes a hole in the pavement but emerges unscathed, flying away and happily ignoring the guards’ bullets.

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Back at the paper as Clark, our hero has coffee spilled on him and is stunned when it actually scalds him.  Before he can investigate this strange occurrence, he’s summoned to observe a broadcast of a challenge by none other than Nyxly, now calling himself “Pan.”  The nascent villain calls Superman a coward and a braggart and dares the hero to meet him for a duel, which thrills Morgan Edge, of course.  Despite his mysteriously flagging powers, Superman refuses to back down from a challenge, and speeds to face ‘Pan.’

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Counting on his remaining abilities, the hero attacks, but Nyxly plays his harp and steals first his speed and then his strength, leaving the former Man of Steel to bruise his knuckles on the villain’s chin.  Suddenly, as Pan toys with his helpless victim, the sand creature races into the stadium and, at Superman’s urging, smashes the harp, breaking the spell.  Having helped his double and despite the Man of Tomorrow’s attempts to communicate, the sand creature leaves as mysteriously as it arrived, leaving Clark to wonder just how they are connected and what this motivates this strange being.

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So, Pan is a weird choice for a supervillain’s nom de guerre, (Freedom Force did it better!) but despite that incongruous element, this is actually a really solid story.  You’ve got some nice action, some good characterization for everyone involved, including the villain, who is given a surprising amount of depth for a one-shot character, and an intriguing resolution.  The ongoing mystery of the Sand-Superman is really a fascinating one, and I’m quite enjoying O’Neil’s treatment of that plot thread.  O’Neil is making the most of the ongoing storytelling in this book, and it is a promising move in general, highlighting the growing complexity of the writing in this era.

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‘Pan,’ despite his silly aesthetic, provides an interesting departure from the usual two dimensional villains we’ve been encountering, as he’s driven to evil much more by his desire for self-realization than by greed or a thirst for power.  I also quite enjoyed the focus on Superman’s ‘never say die’ attitude, despite how hopeless his situation was, but man, would he have been embarrassed if he survived all the brilliant madmen, alien warlords, and rampaging monsters, only to be taken out by this loser!  This was a fun, interesting comic, and I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, taking away some points for Pan’s goofy appearance.

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136


Jimmy_Olsen_136“The Saga of the DNAliens”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Time for some more Fourth World madness!  While all of Kirby’s New Gods books are creative in the extreme, I think there’s little doubt that his Jimmy Olsen series houses his craziest, most ‘out there’ ideas.  All this title’s zany concepts like the Wild Area, the Project, and everything that goes with them, are really unique and unusual, whether they soar or sink.  This issue contains some of both types in the exploration of the mysterious government ‘Project,’ and the attempts of the rival Monster Factory to destroy it.  We get a nice looking Neal Adams cover image, though that yellow background is rather ugly.  Unfortunately, the Hulk…err…I mean the green Jimmy clone, is a bit goofy looking.

This issue we join events already in progress as the Jolly Green Jimmy engages in a massive battle with the newly emerged Guardian clone, while Superman has already been knocked out by his Kryptonite covered fists.  Kirby captures this titanic struggle in a glorious double-page spread.  For a time, Guardian holds his own, relying on his superior agility to counter the monster’s strength, but eventually it lands a devastating blow, stunning the hero.  Jimmy tries to revive Superman, and the creature is momentarily distracted when it notices that the youth shares its face.

 

jimmy olsen 136-06 the saga of the dnaliensSuperman cleverly frees the young reporter from…well…himself, by collapsing the floor beneath them with subtle pressure from his foot, snatching his pal from the crashing creature.  The conflict seems about to renew when suddenly a cloud of smoke explodes from the Incredible Olsen’s own head, and he collapses.  The Legion and their allies are all befuddled by this sudden turn until the Man of Steel reveals a tiny antagonist hidden in the monster’s hair, a miniature paratrooper armed with gas grenades.  Moments later, an entire company of teeny troopers float down around them and assemble a Lilliputian device that covers the creature in liquid nitrogen, freezing him.  To top off the weirdness of this twist, these minuscule military men are all clones of Scrapper!

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jimmy olsen 136-11 the saga of the dnaliensSo, the Project created tiny paratroopers from Scrapper’s DNA?  Were they trying to put the Atom out of a job?  It’s so insane that I hardly know what to say about it, yet, in a certain sense, the idea works.  It’s another of these utterly crazy concepts that Kirby tosses out left and right in this series.  Such crumb-sized commandos would actually be pretty useful, and their role in defeating the monster is certainly an interesting twist in the story.  Still, the choice of Scrapper, as with all of the Newsboy-derived clones, is baffling, though he himself seems thrilled by it, missing out on the existential angst of being cloned without his consent, just like Jimmy did last issue.

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With their unintentional attack having failed, the two Monster Factory scientists find themselves on Darkseid’s bad side, and you really don’t want to be there.  In classic Kirby fashion, the two Apokoliptian’s study a massive, room-sized model of their target, just so the King can provide some visuals of the place, and they ponder their next move.  They decide to use a new and unknown creation and travel down into a special chamber to witness the creatures hatching.

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jimmy olsen 136-21 the saga of the dnaliensMeanwhile, back in the Project, the Legion is thrilled to meet the Guardian and ply him with questions, only to have their fathers reveal that this is not the original hero, but a clone created to replace him.  Sadly, this doesn’t really get explored, but as Superman takes Jimmy on his promised tour of the facility, the young man at least voices some concerns over the dangers of playing God.  I’m glad Kirby at least nodded at the moral and practical issues involved with these concepts, but the story still remains entirely too matter of fact about such things.

During the tour, the pair see the wonders of the Project, including where the young clones are raised (lots of issues there that don’t get explored), and the ‘step-ups,’ advanced clones like the Hairies with incredible intelligence.  Kirby also includes a fairly neat photo-collage, which has a bunch of ‘science-y’ stuff on it.  I think this works better for me than most of such images because what you’re looking at is not supposed to be the same type of 3D object as that portrayed by the regular art.

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Yet, the highlight of their trip is when the Man of Tomorrow introduces his young protege to a rather different kind of tomorrow man, a home-grown alien, the product of radical tweaking of human DNA.  The strange looking fellow named ‘Dubbilex’ bears Jimmy’s slack-jawed amazement with dignity and undeserved good humor.  There’s a certain undercurrent of sadness in this being who had no say in his creation and who now serves as a conversation piece for every big-wig visitor to the place.  The tale ends with the hatching of the mysterious monsters of Simian and Mokkari, four armed creatures that bode ill for our heroes.

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‘Hey, do I come to your job and stare at your horrible fashion sense?’

This is a fun story, despite (or perhaps because) of the Kirby’s trademark imaginative insanity. The fight with the Jade-jawed Jimmy clone was dynamic, and its ending was certainly entertaining.  The strange facility itself proves the real star of the issue, and Jimmy’s tour is a fascinating look at the place.  The King is moving quickly, but he’s working to establish an interesting and exciting setting in the Project and its evil opposite.  There’s no question that the concepts he’s introducing are both fascinating and groundbreaking for comics.  It’s just a shame that he’s not making more out of what he’s creating.

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It’s likely that some of the nonchalant attitude surrounding the genetic tinkering and flat-out Frankensteining of the Project results from Kirby’s own hopeful scientific optimism about the power and destiny of the human race.  He seems never to entirely have lost the cheerful outlook and faith in science of 50s science fiction, despite the real world’s failure to deliver on the promise of the shiny utopian visions of earlier fiction.  He sees these things as intrinsically positive, and we’re still a year away from Watergate, so America hasn’t entirely lost faith in the government yet either.  What to modern readers seems incredibly sinister may have been, to a certain extent, quite straight forward to contemporary audiences.  So, despite its shortcomings, this is still an entertaining and intriguing issue, and I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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P.S.: Notably, the letter column for this issue includes a missive from a sharp eyed fan who spotted the touch-ups of Kirby’s art in the previous issues, as well as DC’s rather weak explanation that Kirby was just not used to the characters, so his versions didn’t look right.  The column is otherwise filled with almost universal praise for the King’s new efforts on the book, including letters from several readers who had followed Joltin’ Jack from Marvel, which is pretty neat.


World’s Finest #201


World's_Finest_Comics_201A Prize of Peril!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Our final book this month is something of a mixed bag.  There’s an enjoyable superhero story here, but there are also some rather odd moments as O’Neil makes some strange choices.  Nevertheless, we’re presented with a nicely dynamic cover by Neal Adams (how did he find time to actually draw any books with all the covers he was doing ?).  All of the figures look good, and the framing, with them literally battling over Earth, is rather nice.  Yet, Dr. fate looks a bit odd, just sort of standing in space.  The cover promises some more star-spanning adventure, like some of our previous issues in this series, and we definitely get a fairly non-terrestrial tale, which plays into the strengths of both the protagonists.

It begins with a meteor shower heading towards Earth and being noticed by both Superman and Green Lantern independently.  Each hero sets out to divert the menace, but they end up unwittingly cancelling out each other’s efforts, exacerbating the situation, and the Man of Steel has to race to save a airliner from a rogue meteoroid.  This incident is actually a neat idea, as it is entirely possible that the two heroes most concerned with space might foul one another’s lines as they responded to the same emergency.

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Afterwards, the two heroes investigate why their efforts failed and, finding one another, an argument breaks out.  This is one of the weaknesses of the issue, as their fight is a bit silly.  They immediately blame each other, taking rather mean-spirited shots ant one another.  Superman even tells Lantern that his attitude for the last several months has been lousy.  It all feels just a bit too petty, and while we’ve seen this kind of thing from Hal lately, it seems out of character for Clark.

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Suddenly, the glowing visage of a Guardian appears and berates the two heroes, telling them that this exchange is beneath them, which is actually quite true.  He proposes a contest to help them sort out their differences, saying that the winner will have dominion over atmospheric perils and demands that they meet back in space in 24 hours.

The next day, the contentious champions rendezvous to find that Dr. Fate has seemingly been summoned to create their contest.  They wonder at his being there rather than home on Earth-2, but he waves away their question and shows them a purple dragon, an enchanted object from his universe, that will be the goal of their competition.  Next he conjures two vast, parallel race courses and tells each hero that they must face their gravest fears in order to reach the finish line.

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The race starts, with Green Lantern pondering what awaits him, as he is, after all, fearless.  That’s why his ring chose him.  Along his way, the Emerald Gladiator is suddenly seized by sticky yellow strands.  His ring is helpless against the golden bonds, and he soon finds himself faced with an immense yellow spider.  He is also consumed with fear, despite the fact that he had never really been afraid of bugs before.

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He realizes that, though his ring can’t free him, his own strength can, and he manages to snap his bonds and escape from the trap.  Now, this whole scene works reasonably well.  Obviously, Hal is not really afraid of spiders, but he is afraid of becoming too dependent on his ring and it failing him in his need.  The sequence is effective and exciting, and at least a little insightful on O’Neil’s part.

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wfc20117Superman’s encounter with his greatest fear is not quite so successful.  Suddenly the Man of Steel finds himself confronted by the towering figure of his birth father, Jor-El, and the Kryptonian scientist tells his Earth-raised son that he is terribly disappointed in him because he’s wasted his gifts and not become a man of science.  Okay, that’s rather odd.  Superman’s greatest fear should really have involved either his abusing his powers or his not being able to save someone despite his powers.  Those are really the things that worry the Man of Tomorrow.  But he hangs his head and is ashamed of all the world-saving he’s done, because a father he never really knew yells at him.  Yet, what really makes the whole situation go from strange to creepy is when Jor-El starts spanking his super-son, and the Metropolis Marvel begs him to continue, saying he deserves it.  Yikes!  I feel like we’ve stumbled into something that maybe O’Neil should have kept private!

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I’ve…got nothing.

Well, the Action Ace finally wakes up to what’s going on and, by exerting his willpower, dispels the illusion and continues on his way.  The two heroes arrive at the same time, and, in order to keep the speedier Superman from reaching his goal first, Green Lantern tries a risky gambit.  He notices that the creature has a strange aura about it and reasons that it may be more than an inanimate object, so he uses his ring to cancel out its effect, bringing the beast to life and causing the Man of Steel to fall back.  Yet, when he himself tries to cage the creature, the Emerald Crusader finds his ring helpless, as the monster rips through his constructs.

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The dragon repulses both heroes and tears out into space, racing straight towards the Justice League Satellite.  Finding their individual efforts inadequate, the two Leaguers join forces, with Green Lantern using his ring to shield Superman from the creature’s magic, while the Kryptonian champion belts the beast, tearing it asunder.  They celebrate their combined victory, but Superman realizes that they’ve been duped, so they rush off to confront “Dr. Fate.”

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Sneaking up on him in a power-ringed comet, which is actually a fairly clever tactic, the heroes leap upon their ersatz ally, revealing him to be Felix Faust, the Justice League’s old foe.  Faust’s thoughts explain that he needed the Lantern’s ring to activate his spell and the whole thing was an elaborate ruse to destroy the League.  With their enemy captured, Superman and Green Lantern realize that their rivalry bred nothing but ill-fortune, and we get something of a sappy O’Neil moment as Hal wishes the people of Earth would realize the same thing.

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This is, taken as a whole, a pretty decent superhero adventure.  You’ve got some nice action, an interesting setup, and an honest-to-goodness supervillain behind it all.  You’ve also got some attempts at characterization with the two protagonists, though the end result isn’t the best fit.  There are some definite weaknesses in this issue, though.  For one, Faust’s plan is just a touch too complicated to really make sense.  He needs the Lantern’s power ring to activate his spell, which is reasonable enough as such things go, but this is the best way the wizard can come up with to accomplish that goal?  Why not just present the Lantern with the big, scary looking dragon and let nature take its course?  Why bring Superman into this in the first place?  O’Neil just needed a little more thought and another line of exposition to solve that problem.  Something along the lines of ‘I needed Superman’s strength to breach the dimensional pocket that had trapped this creature’ or the like would do the trick.

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Rather more significant is the *ahem* odd episode delving into the Man of Steel’s daddy issues.  The embarrassing panel aside, the scene still just doesn’t really fit with the character, though O’Neil tries to justify it by saying that this fixation is a result of Kal-El being an orphan.  There’s just one problem with that.  He’s not really an orphan.  He was adopted as a baby and raised by the Kents.  He’s got a father who is proud of him, and while there’s still some room for angst and ennui in that setup, it just doesn’t track for this to be the defining issue in his life.  Despite these weaknesses, this is a fun adventure and an enjoyable read.  I particularly liked the resolution, with the heroes combining their powers to defeat the threat, as well as the reveal that Felix Faust had been behind it all.  It’s just nice to see an actual villain show up in one of these books.  Dillin’s artwork is serviceable, though he really does some good work on the larger, more cosmic moments of action.  I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen, though I’m a little tempted to dock it a bit more for the spanking.

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Final Thoughts:


What a month!  All-in-all, it was a fairly positive set of titles and there were several quite enjoyable reads scattered throughout.  Obviously, the most notable feature of this set of books was the appearance of two new Jack Kirby created comics, bringing our total of Kirby books up to three.  The debut of these two books marks the true beginning of his Fourth World saga, and these are also the first books in his career that he’s had near total control over.  What a huge shift that was, the realization of a dream the King had long been chasing.  It was also a pretty unheard of event in the comic industry at large, as it was rare for a single creator to be given that much control over their work.  For the first time in his career, the King was free to really let his imagination run wild, and the end results are certainly fascinating.  While The Forever People is a limited success, the first issue of New Gods is extremely striking.  There’s no doubt that Jarrin’ Jack is blazing new trails.  It really is a unique experience to read these books in context, and I’m fascinated to see how these titles will develop together against the backdrop of the wider DC Universe.

This month also highlights just how uneven Denny O’Neil was as a writer.  He created a very solid, completely realized Superman adventure on the one hand and yet turned in the muddled mess of this month’s Green Lantern book on the other.  That doesn’t even take into account the…odd choices made in our World’s Finest tale.  I’m becoming convinced that one of the defining traits of his work during this period is a tendency towards great ideas and poor execution.  There’s no doubt that he was extremely imaginative and that he could occasionally do a great job with characterization.  Yet, at this stage, his work is more often marked by aspiration than accomplishment.  I have a feeling that will change in time.  After all, he is still innovating and testing what the genre can do at the moment.

In terms of major themes this month, we see that youth culture continues to be a significant concern.  Both this month’s Batman and Brave and the Bold titles feature stories concerned with both teen involvement and its dangers.  Notably, each has a story that details disenfranchised groups turning to violence to achieve their ends, with very different receptions from the protagonists in the two books.  These were not this month’s only attempts at relevance, however, with even Superboy getting into the act for the second month in a row.  Of course, the message in that book was lost in the shuffle, but it is still a sign of the times and features an unexpected theme, one we haven’t really seen before, in its treatment of poaching.

Well, I believe that wraps up March 1971.  I hope that y’all enjoyed the journey, and what’s more, I hope you’ll join me again soon as I start looking into April!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Believe it or not, I actually almost closed this month out without acknowledging Green Arrow’s second appearance on the wall.  This month’s turn on his shared title saw the Emerald Archer get his goateed face shoved through a plate-glass window.  The booming blow landed on the back of his head and knocked him right out, earning him another coveted spot on the Headcount!  He’s our only new addition this month, making it a pretty quiet period, but I’m sure there’s more head-blows on the horizon!

Into the Bronze Age: December 1970 (Part 5)

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Hello Internet travelers, and thank you for joining me for today’s stop on our journey Into the Bronze Age!  This is the very last post covering the banner year of 1970.  We are standing at the threshold for the 70s proper, and soon we’ll be exploring a whole new year of comics.  We’ve got a promising trio of titles to examine in this post.  So, hop in your Whiz Wagon and join me as I investigate these classic comics!

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

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

  • Action Comics #395
  • Adventure Comics #400
  • Aquaman #54
  • Batman #227
  • Detective Comics #406
  • The Flash #202
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #81
  • Justice League of America #84 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Justice League of America #85
  • The Phantom Stranger #10
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134
  • Teen Titans #30
  • World’s Finest #199

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


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134


jimmy_olsen_134“The Mountain of Judgment!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta

We return to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World today in our second issue of Jimmy Olsen.  With this book we get a bit better of an idea about the setting Kirby is developing, but there are still far more questions than there are answers.  Kirby is setting up a great deal here, and my memory doesn’t quite serve to show me which threads will get paid off.  I have a vague notion that several of the ideas he sets up here won’t quite get the development they need.  Nonetheless, this issue is full of wild ideas and colossal concepts, including some classic Kirby artistic experimentation.

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It opens in grand fashion, with a full-page splash of a mass exodus from the tree-house like ‘Habitat’ we saw at the end of the previous issue.  It’s a parade of crazy, Kirby-esq vehicles, led by the wondrous Whiz Wagon.  Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboy Legion are leading the Outsiders out in search of the mysterious and oh-so-awesomely named ‘Mountain of Judgement.’  The Newsboys get into some antics as they try to film the crowd that turns up to see them off, and Flippa-dippa is already stretching for an excuse to make himself useful…which is not a great sign.  Yet, the festivities are interrupted by the newly recovered Man of Steel who tries to talk the crew out of pursuing their mission, intimating that he knows something they don’t.  Jimmy and the Legion insist they have a job to do, but their discussion is cut short by the antagonistic bikers, who mount another attack on the Metropolis Marvel.

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One of them tries to run Superman down with a rocket cycle, because apparently he’s a moron and doesn’t get the whole ‘more powerful than a locomotive’ thing, and that goes about as well as you’d expect.  The Man of Tomorrow catches it and plays rocket wrangler in a really cool panel.  Yet, the next attack is more effective.  One of these dropouts with their ridiculously advanced weaponry, targets the hero with a bazooka shell of kryptonite gas, and another finishes him off with a “green K paralysis gun.”  Of course, this is another example of that ‘everything is kryptonite’ problem with this era of Superman stories.  Fortunately, next month we get “Kryptonite Nevermore,” and I am really looking forward to that.

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Anyway, Superman is defeated and possibly poisoned, you know, what with the deadly element he was exposed to and all, and his best friend, Jimmy Olsen, casually and callously notes that now they can get on with their job.  This is the one point of the book that really bothered me.  Last issue, the attack on Superman was sudden and unexpected, and Jimmy had just taken control of the gang.  This issue, on the other hand, the attack goes on for some time, the young reporter is clearly more in control, and yet he does nothing to stop it.  What’s more, he greets his friend being knocked unconscious with all the concern that you or I might muster for seeing a stranger stub their toe.  That’s a beat that doesn’t ring true.  It seems like, at the least, they could have, you know, listened to what Superman had to say.

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After that kerfuffle, the convoy heads out, careening towards the foreboding Zoomway and beginning a race with death as they encounter obstacle after obstacle in their search for the mysterious Mountain.  First, Jimmy sends the Whiz Wagon straight through a camouflaged entrance to the roadway at top speed, ‘trusting in his instincts,’ which seems an unnecessary gamble, but what do I know?  Next, they must build up speed on a rock-strewn course in order to leap a chasm, a jump that some of the bikers don’t make.

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Then they wade into “the water course,” where Flippa-dippa actually contributes, by planting a charge on a blocked exit, though his incompetence nearly gets himself killed as the charge goes off too early.  Of course, the incredible Kirby-bikes of the Outsiders are equipped for submarine operation as well, because Jack Kirby’s reality is way more interesting than ours.

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Next, the crew encounters a reality-warping tunnel that messes with their senses, and they have to pilot by instruments as they lose all sense of direction.   This is portrayed by two bizarre pages of Kirby’s patented black and white photo-collages.  They’re fairly psychedelic and surreal, but it rather irks me that his model car doesn’t actually look that much like the Whiz Wagon.  I think he’d have been better off to incorporate some pencils, as he did in similar instances with the Fantastic Four.  I know that this was the King experimenting with the medium, pushing its boundaries and pioneering new techniques, but I never really cared for the effect that this type of gambit created.  According to the letters’ pages of the old Marvel books, though, it seems to have received at least some positive reaction from fans.  I wonder what DC readers would have thought of this in 1970.  If they hadn’t been reading Marvel books, it’s possible they wouldn’t have seen anything like this before.

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jo134-19At any rate, Superman has awakened during all this adventure, and he sets out after our young travelers, zooming past the dangers they overcame.  Along the way, he passes the bikers who were left behind in the madcap dash towards their goal, and, in a bit of a cheat, he notes that they are all unharmed.  I can’t help but wonder if that was a Comic’s Code sop, because you’ve got to think that the guys that failed that jump and plowed into the chasm wall probably didn’t do too well.  Nonetheless, the Man of Steel suddenly encounters a bizarre, Brobdingnagian behemoth, a boogeyman from the nightmares of a regular car, a gigantic converted missile carrier with a frightening facade that is screaming down the Zoomway.  This is the Mountain of Judgement.  Who should be caught in its path but the plucky Legion.  Pulling off a last minute save, the Metropolis Marvel carries the Whiz Wagon into the Mountain, which is Kirby-tech from top to bottom.  Instantly, the enigmatic Hairies who we heard about last issue spring forth and start examining the Wagon with delicate instruments.

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Only Kirby could design this gloriously mad vehicle.

Superman begins to explain but is interrupted by the discovery of a tiny but incredibly powerful bomb hidden in the car-mounted camera.  The Hairies lessen its power, and the Man of Steel smothers its blast, leaving the Legion boys entirely gobsmacked.  At this point, Jimmy finally begins to show some appreciation for the guy who is constantly saving his life.  It seems that Morgan Edge had an ulterior motive for sending this expendable little gang of kids on this assignment.  They were a Trojan Horse designed to destroy the Hairies.

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But, just who are these strange people, and what are they doing in this bizarre corner of the world?  Most of our questions remain unanswered, but their new hosts take the hero and his crew on a tour and show them the incredible insides of the Mountain, which serves as a giant rolling home for their enclave.  Essentially, theirs is a “mobile scientific society,” whatever that is, and Superman somehow knew about them.  The issue ends with the Legion wondering what game Morgan Edge is playing, and we get a glimpse of the man himself contacting a mysterious master, a strange character by the name of…Darkseid!

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This is another jam-packed issue, full of Kirby’s signature wild, rollicking action, an imaginative overload.  Unfortunately, our inker is the notorious Vince Colletta, so I imagine that we’re losing some of the nuances of the art.  Nonetheless, the book is full of fantastic visuals and wonderfully over-designed gadgets.  I don’t think he’s quite got the hang of Superman himself yet, as the Man of Steel occasionally looks a bit wonky, but the rest of the art in this issue is as gorgeous and creative as you’d expect.  The King delivers a plot that centers around a frantic race, which makes for a fun read, and the mysteries he’s introducing left and right are intriguing.

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Obviously, DC fans will recognize where a lot of this is going, but it is great fun to see the seeds planted.  The weakness, other than the odd moment with Jimmy’s indifference to Superman’s plight, is Kirby’s dialog.  It’s got a strange quality to it that I just can’t put my finger on.  Just check out some of the examples I posted above.  It has something in common with Beat poetry, an odd rhythm and cadence, combined with some silly 60s slang.  I’m definitely not the first to observe this, and while it isn’t a huge problem with this issue, this is something that marks the Fourth World books and can make them feel a bit dated, even for their contemporary milieu.  Still, on the whole, this is a fun issue, full of the manic energy that always characterizes Kirby’s plotting.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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Interestingly, despite several ads for more forthcoming Fourth World books due out this very month, we won’t see them premiere until a few months into the next year.  I wonder what happened there?

P.S.: Several of my friends over at Freedom Reborn have been kind enough to remind me of something that I really should have remembered.  Apparently, despite hiring Jack Kirby to draw Superman and Jimmy Olsen, DC’s top brass were concerned that he would somehow damage the characters by drawing them like Jack Kirby rather than like the house style.  They actually had artists like Al Plastino and Murphy Anderson retouch and sometimes completely redraw both of those characters, leading to the weirdness I noticed in the Superman figures above.  Here’s a great article by Kirby champion and expert, Mark Evanier.  It’s really a crying shame, and the few samples of existing Kirby Superman art really make me long for what might have been.  I had actually learned this years ago when I read through the 4th World omnibuses, but I apparently had forgotten.  Thanks guys!

P.P.S.: This issue also came with an odd, off-beat text piece by the King himself where he praises the possible development of real-life Whiz Wagons and ponders the world that might come.  It’s an interesting read, though Kirby’s strange prose style is a bit hard to get a hang of.  It seems that prediction like these were everywhere decades ago, and yet I still don’t have my flying car, my personal submersible, or my jetpack.  Clearly, we’ve failed to make the future as awesome as it should have been.  After all, we’re living in the 21st Century, and aside from the Star-Trek like device I carry around in my pocket, it doesn’t seem all that different from the 20th.  Buck Rogers would be heartbroken!

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Teen Titans #31


Teen_Titans_Vol_1_30.jpgGreed… Kills!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Dick Giordano

“Some Call It Noise”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Nick Cardy
Editor: Dick Giordano

Apparently we’re seeing a change in format with this issue.  Instead of a single story, we’re going to get two short yarns each month for a while.  I’m more than a little disappointed by that, as I’ve been looking forward to this issue because the cover indicated it would be Aqualad-centric, even featuring the fantastic but rarely used Aquagirl.  Imagine my dismay when I realized the promising cover only represented a brief backup tale (8 1/2 pages) rather than a full comic.  Promisingly, both of the stories herein are penned by Steve Skeates, but they didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

The first tale, which is actually not the cover story, sadly returns our titanic teens to the pointless Mr. Jupiter plot.  We find them engaged on a mission for the mysterious millionaire, costume-less and also rather clueless.  Lilith has had another vague vision, and she has brought them to a pawnshop she foresaw being robbed.  The team debates the value of following her “hunches,” and Kid Flash is particularly dubious.  Yet, the would-be thieves do show up, and while the boys tackle them, quickly dispatching two of them, the young speedster lets his pigeon get away.

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For some reason, he doesn’t use his super speed in pursuing the guy, and then he just stands idly by while the fellow stumbles into traffic and gets run down.  Now, it’s supposed to be sudden, but how sudden does it have to be for a kid with super speed not to be able to intervene?  That bothered me, and it smacked more of Kid Flash just choosing not to act than anything else, which is a failure on Skeates’ part.

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A scene follows with the police in the hospital that tells us that the injured man is Kevin Murphy (no, not Tom Servo’s alter ego), a notorious thief, thought to have died ten years ago.  What does all of this have to do with a job for Mr. Jupiter?  Well, wait and see.  The kids follow up on their “mission,” visiting a wealthy businessman, named Mr. Tout, from whom they are tasked with getting a donation for a charity to help first time youth offenders reform.  Mr. Scrooge, er…I mean Tout doesn’t react take too fondly to this idea, and he screams about how criminals can’t be reformed and how he won’t subsidize lazy bums who won’t get jobs.  Cardy really does some great personality work with this fellow, giving him a distinct and evocative look.

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Their plea having failed, Mal notes that Tout looked directly at him during his tirade and speculates that there were probably racial overtones in it.  The quintet try to decide what to do now, and Lilith surprises them all by insisting that they go visit the injured Mr. Murphy.  teentitans30-08It’s handy to have the powers of plot.  Meanwhile, Tout discovers the concussed crook’s whereabouts and, strangely, begins to panic.  He decides that he must take care of this situation, immediately!

When they arrive at the hospital, the former Titans discover gunmen attempting to take out the police guards and kill Murphy.  Fortunately for the lone cop still standing, the girls intervene, promptly incapacitating the two assassins in a nice Cardy action sequence that, like some of our previous issues, demonstrates the different fighting styles of the participants.  Interestingly, Lilith is actually useful in the fight, which I didn’t expect.

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The gunsels grounded, the kids get an explanation from Murphy, who is dying from his injuries (that’s entirely on you, Wally).  Apparently, he and Tout were partners years ago, and after a big score, the ‘self-made man’ went straight and built himself a business empire.  Yet, he was afraid that his former partner would one day be caught and turn on him, so he tried to have him killed.  Murphy faked his own death in order to escape, and when his identity was in the papers after his capture, Tout decided it was time to finish the job.  Strangely, the issue ends, not with the capture of Tout, but with the youths just wandering down the street, talking over the enigmatic events of the case.  Tout’s fate is implied, but not shown.

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This is a fine story, with an interesting twist, but the trouble is that it isn’t really a Teen Titans story, just like some of the earlier issues I’ve covered.  Replace little-miss plot device with a clue that connects Murphy to Tout, and you could lift the Titans entirely out of this plot without anyone noticing.  None of the team use their abilities, none of their secret identities come into play, and the characterization, while solid, isn’t particularly distinctive or necessary to the narrative.  There’s nothing at all that makes this a Teen Titans tale.  The kids aren’t even in costume.  Cardy’s art is as beautiful as usual, but it also suffers from the lack of costumes.  His Kid Flash and Speedy are pretty hard to tell apart without any of their action garb to aid us.  Cardy still turns out a lovely story here, but I miss his seeing his Titans in action.

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Part of the problem here is just the situation that Skeates inherited, but I’m disappointed that he didn’t just go ahead and disentangle the team from this narrative albatross around their necks.  There are some elements of social commentary here, with the bootstraps-businessman’s success not actually a product of his own hard work, the racial tension, and the counterexamples for criminal reform and the like.  It subtly pushes for a more liberal approach to several social issues, but there isn’t much made of those ideas.  I suppose I’ll give this story 3 Minutemen.  It’s about average.

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Oddly, this comic also includes a two-page, mostly text short story about Kid Flash encountering a bank robber with a portable whirlwind, who is definitely not Whirlwind.  I wonder if this was an experiment or just a space filler.


“Some Call it Noise”


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The story I was so eagerly anticipating proved more than a little disappointing in context, mostly from its brevity, which left Skeates just too little space to follow any of the fun and interesting ideas he introduced.  Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable little adventure, and it is great fun to see Aqualad and Aquagirl in a story together, something we haven’t seen for quite some time, and never in a Teen Titans book, methinks.

This little yarn begins in an operating room where a desperate case is met by a daring doctor.  The patient has some type of head trauma that will prove fatal, unless, perhaps an experimental treatment the doctor has been developing is employed.  Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite aquatic adolescents hurry out of the waves on their way to a concert.  This is a fun idea, but unfortunately, Skeates just doesn’t have the time to do much with it.

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It does give us a charming image, though.

Just as the two young heroes reach the concert, the experimental surgery reaches its own crescendo, and the patient seems to be recovering well.  Yet, there is a terrible side effect of the new drug, and the recovering man goes mad!  His body chemistry thrown into turmoil, he develops superhuman strength, and he smashes his way out of the hospital.  Outside, he pulls a Grendel, catching wind of the merry music in the park and, enraged by the noise like that lonely fen-stalker, he sets off to put a stop to the revelry in most violent fashion.

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The maddened patient charges past the Aqua-teens, clocking poor Tula on the head and leaving her stunned.  Aqualad sets out in pursuit, realizing that this guy needs to be stopped before he kills someone.  Just as the crazed music critic prepares to smash the band, the Aquatic Ace attacks, laying into the fellow in a nice action sequence.  However, here we get one of my only real critiques of the issue.

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Aqualad thinks to himself that he’s able to throw a strong punch underwater, so he’s even more capable on the surface without the water resistance to fight.  Now, you might be thinking, ‘but that’s right!’ and you’d be correct.  My issue is that this really rather sells his abilities short, as he isn’t just able to throw “a strong punch;” he’s downright super strong!  I think Skeates, as much as I love him, forgets the super strength of his Atlanteans too often.  Still, it’s a minor complaint, and the kid still handles the enraged patient with aplomb.

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Yet, his encounter with his angry antagonist proved a dangerous distraction.  Aquagirl, injured more seriously than he realized, has wandered off in a daze, trying to head to the sea, but stumbling further inland in confusion.  In growing fear, as their one-hour deadline looms closer and closer, Garth sets out on a desperate search.  Following a few clues, he finds her leaning against a lamppost in town, and then we get one of the stronger beats of the story.  Aqualad notes that their hour was up five minutes ago, yet they don’t just drop dead.  Instead, they grow weaker, yet the young man pushes himself to a heroic effort, carrying the lovely lady all the way back to the beach.  He even passes out on his feet, but keeps stumbling forward blindly, collapsing mere inches from the sea.

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Fortunately, the tide comes in, reviving the exhausted Atlanteans.  It’s a great sequence, and it shows that Aqualad has some of his surrogate father’s force of will.  It also establishes that the one hour limit is not a hard and fast rule, but a general guideline that threatens, not immediate death, but growing weakness.  That’s a significant step in the right direction.  In the final half page, the two teens head out to sea, and I really love the spin Aqualad puts on their adventure.  He argues that, even though they missed part of the concert, it was worthwhile because he “saved a man from doing something he would have hated himself for for the rest of his life.”  That’s true, and an unusual angle on the events of the day.  It implies a thoughtful, empathetic quality for the young hero, which I enjoy.

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This is a fun little adventure, but it is definitely just that, a little adventure.  I really enjoy seeing Aqualad and Aquagirl get to share a story together, but it is so brief that Tula’s role is almost nonexistent.  She takes no part in the real action, and she’s even out of her head for half of the tale.  That’s a shame because she’s a great character who doesn’t get much focus in the first place.  Despite the fact that I wanted more from this backup yarn, it is effective and efficient, delivering a complete story in just a few pages.  I’ll give it a fun but limited 3.5 Minutemen.

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World’s Finest #199


worlds_finest_comics_199Race to Save Time”
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Colourist: Tatjana Wood
Editor: Julius SchwartzE. Nelson Bridwell

This is the second half of our two-parter featuring the race around the galaxy between Superman and the Flash, and it is great fun.  The crazy cosmic adventure of the last issue continues here, though the scale gets reduced a bit for the finale.  Also, Jimmy faces more chronological conundrums.  Interestingly, the first issue promised, in no uncertain terms, that we would get an answer to the age-old question about who would win in a race, the Flash or Superman.  “There must be a winner!” declared the cover copy, and there is…sort of.  O’Neil still cheats a bit.  I wonder if that question was ever entirely settled in the Bronze Age.  Who wins, you ask?  Well, there’s only one way to find out!

Our story picks up right where it left off, with poor, time-displaced Jimmy facing a flight of airborne arrows.  The situation looks pretty hopeless, until the hapless teen fades through time once more, but this is only a temporary temporal reprieve, as he lands right in the middle of a witch trial by the masked menace of the Spanish Inquisition!  I bet you didn’t expect that!  Of course, the young man’s sudden appearance is taken as proof positive that he is in league with dark powers, so he is sentenced to die. Poor Jimmy, out of the frying pan, into the inquisitional fire.

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Meanwhile, our two heroes are continuing their race, and we get a brief recap of events , thanks to some exposition from the masters of the art, the Guardians.  Our nameless Centurion is still hanging out, but sadly we don’t get any more of his inner monologue.  That’s a missed opportunity Mr. O’Neil!  Anyway, the radical racers are ambushed by another batch of the Anachronids, and unfortunately they chose their sector of space well as they are near an orange star, so Superman is weakened.  The charging champions put up a good fight, but eventually they go down, captured by the super-fast robots!

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Back in 15th Century Spain, Jimmy is not one to wait idly by for his fate.  He uses his wristwatch, a marvel in that era, to distract his guard and then takes him out, fleeing the prison.  He escapes into the night, trying to figure out how to get home.  In search of shelter, he stumbles into a barracks, accidentally stirring up a hornet’s nest of trouble!  Fleeing the roused soldiery, the young reporter climbs up a balcony, only to run smack into the grand inquisitor himself, Torquemada, now unmasked.  Poor Jimmy!  His luck is worse than mine!

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As time continues to fluctuate, we also get a brief check-in with some other DC characters, including Batman and Wonder Woman, as their environments shift and anachronisms creep into the modern day.  In deep space, Superman and the Flash awaken to meet their captors and the architects of the universe’s current peril, the Phantom Zone Villains!  They kindly introduce themselves to the Scarlet Speedster as: Kru-El (definitely a case of nominative determinism), Jax-Ur, the notorious General Zod (whose Silver Age look is only so-so), and Professor Va-Kox.  This criminal quartet have had their robotic minions bring the heroes back to the strange, extra-dimensional planet they visited last issue.  Apparently, the villains have managed to escape from the Phantom Zone to this dimension, but they can go no further.  They created the Anachronids to turn the universe on its head, as they’ve determined that upsetting the time-stream will weaken the dimensional barriers enough for them to escape.  That’s workable enough technobabble for the setting.  The Flash cries out that this plan will kill billions of beings, and, in true villainous style, the Phantom Zone refugees respond with callous disregard.  All that matters is their freedom, and once free, they’ll pick up the pieces and rule like kings!

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Well, for something like the fourth or fifth time this month, the villains complete their contractual obligation to leave the heroes alone in order for them to escape, as the Phantom Zone Four propose to leave the pair alive in order to see their triumph.  Man, the DC villains really need to read the Evil Overlord List.  Even so, the strange star of this world is red at the moment, so the Metropolis Marvel isn’t strong enough to burst their bonds, and, his medallion captured, the Flash doesn’t have the energy to vibrate free.  But wait, the medallion was made by the Guardians, so the heroes realize it may function similarly to a power ring.  They concentrate their willpower on the device, and Superman uses it to free himself, but before he can help his comrade, Zod returns, destroying the medallion!  He has them both dead to rights, and he tells them the villains decided they were too dangerous to let live.  That’s the right idea, Zod; if only you had acted on it earlier.

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The Flash, still bound, manages to knock the kryptonian’s gun away, and Superman jumps his father’s old foe.  The Man of Steel, now more like the Man of Soft, Bruisable Flesh, takes a beating, but he eventually manages to knock the former dictator out, twisting his ankle badly in the fight.  It’s a fun scene, as Superman has to work much harder than he’s used to because he doesn’t have his powers, yet he still triumphs through force of will.  I rather prefer the Bruce Timm approach to the character, though, which stipulates that everything Superman does requires great effort, but that’s really a matter of taste.

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Unfortunately, the Flash also catches a ricochet blast from the gun, rendering his legs temporarily paralyzed.  This leaves both heroes unable to walk, but, as the Flash declares in grand heroic fashion, they can still crawl!  They set out, dragging themselves desperately towards the Phantom Zone criminals’ headquarters, where they hope to find the controls for the Anachronids.  Never one to let the weight of the universe resting on his shoulders get him down, the Scarlet Speedster declares to his not-so-super partner that they “began this thing as a race-remember?  Well, we’re still racing–and I’m still determine to beat you!”  That is just a great sequence, and it just wonderfully captures the indomitable heroic spirit of these two characters, Flash in particular, with his cheerful, hopeful personality.

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Next, O’Neil briefly checks back in with Jimmy as he awaits the headman’s axe, just to add a little more tension to the situation.  Back in the future, the two exhausted, injured heroes, arrive at the headquarters and encounter Jax-Ur and the Professor playing six dimensional chess (!).  The Flash throws a rock to distract them, and then, using a last burst of speed, the pair rush the villains and knock them out.  With just thirty seconds left until the the universe is shattered, the heroes drag themselves up the steps of the control center, and the Flash pulls the shut-off lever with only moments to spare.

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Exhausted, he declares somewhat sheepishly, “Hey!  Guess what?  I won!”  That’s right, the Flash won the race…after a fashion.  This sets everything to rights, as the Anachronids decelerate and disintegrate, not being able to survive at sub-light speeds.  Jimmy is yanked back through time just in the nick, as the axe descends.  Just then, Kru-El dashes into the control center with a gun, but the sun has just turned once more, giving the Man of Steel back his powers.  He decks Kru-El and destroys their machinery.  Then he takes Flash home, noting that he’ll get the Guardians to help him seal this dimensional breach.

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Well, this is a great two-parter.  This second half doesn’t have the rapid pace and non-stop action of the first, but it is still a lot of fun.  I love the heroes grit, reduced to crawling, and yet refusing to give in.  They persevere and succeed pretty much entirely on moxie alone.  It’s a lovely character moment for the two of them.  The story does have a few little weaknesses, some break in logical consistency, like Superman taking out Kru-El easily, despite the fact that the villain now has super powers too.  The wrap-up is really a bit too brief, and it seems that O’Neil may have run out of room.  Still, the story is so much fun, and the adventure, both for the heroes and for time-tossed Jimmy, is so satisfying, that I’m not too bothered by such things.  Once again, Dillin’s artwork is really strong, standing in particular contrast to the stiff and lackluster work from this month’s JLA.  By the way, Bronze Age Jimmy is growing on me as a character.  He’s proving resourceful, courageous, and capable.

Speaking of Jimmy, his encounter with the Inquisition gives O’Neil a chance to bring in a little social consciousness, as the youthful reporter notes that the fanaticism and cruelty of Torquemada didn’t die out in the Middle Ages (in fact, it was generally way more common in the Renaissance), but continues to live on in the modern day.  We certainly still see plenty of that kind of viciousness and irrationality in our own time.  It is a fine little note, but it would have been more effective if he could have connected it to the main plot more directly.  I think there’s an angle to be worked there with the Phantom Zone villains, but c’est la vie.  In the end, this is just an all around enjoyable comic yarn.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen, with the the Flash’s unflappable good cheer helping overcome its weaknesses.  I just had a blast reading both of these stories.

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Final Thoughts:


And that, my dear readers, is the end of the first year of our journey Into the Bronze Age!  It’s taken a tad more than a year of real-time, but hopefully the next will move a little more quickly!  Either way, I am very excited to have completed an entire year of this project, having read most of the superhero books published by DC Comics for 1970.  It’s been a fascinating journey, and we have watched the Bronze Age grow before our very eyes.  We’ve seen Silver Age tropes grow a little more rare, but more importantly, we’ve seen a revolution taking place in the pages before us, as the cardboard characters of the Silver Age began to grow, developing unique personalities (some of those more pleasant than others…I’m looking at you, Ollie).  We’ve seen Denny O’Neil absolutely everywhere, jumping from book to book to book, constantly innovating, often failing, at least in part, but arguably succeeding more often than not.  I’m really blown away by how large a role he’s played in these early days of experimentation and evolution.  Clearly, the Bronze Age at DC owes a great deal to that man, and even if his writing is sometimes heavy handed and pedantic, the fellow did some amazing work.  It’s easy to credit later works for being more sophisticated than their predecessors, but it is important to remember that the former wouldn’t exist without the pioneers who came before.

Over the last year of comics, social consciousness themes have grown from occasional influences trumpeted, often solely, in the books being penned by Denny O’Neil, to showing up just about everywhere, even in the most conservative of DC’s offerings, like the Superman titles.  The most immediate and marked change, is of course, in Batman, who has evolved quickly and more consistently than most.  He’s already begun to resemble the ‘grim avenger of the night’ version of the character that is the pure expression of the concept, at least for my money.  Books like Aquaman are serving as sources of innovation, both in art and story, and a spirit of change seems to be in the air.  Interestingly, even the fans notice it, and many of the letters of the latter part of the year have talked about the ‘character revolution’ or something similar, going on at DC, calling for the same process to be applied to characters not yet affected.

I would say by December 1970, the Bronze Age was well and truly on the way.  The change between the first and last month is really quite marked, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds!  First, what about this month itself?

We’ve had a lot of solid stories and a few strong stand outs.  This month’s comics have featured two different takes on the growing political involvement of America’s youth.  We’ve also seen multiple instances of real-life events influencing and inspiring this month’s comics, from the student march in Cleveland being reflected in Robin’s tale to the cultural anxiety around the rise of Satanism being reflected in the Flash’s macabre plot.  In general, I think there has been a slight uptick in stories with supernatural elements, with Flash, Kid Flash, Batman, and, of course, the Phantom Stranger all facing occult menaces this month.

All-in-all, I’d call that a pretty fitting end to a good year of comics, and I hope that you’ll join me soon as we race back through time on our Cosmic Treadmills to peer into 1971!  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Only Aquaman joins our distinguished company on the wall of shame this week, though we had several very close calls, more than we’ve had before, I believe.  There you go, folks, an entire year of head-blows.  It seems Aquaman’s reputation of getting knocked out as regularly as Philip Marlowe is probably deserved.  Hopefully things will improve for my favorite hero in the next year.

Into the Bronze Age: October 1970 (Part 5)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Today we’re covering the first appearance of the unique heroine, Rose and Thorn, which is pretty cool, but much more excitingly, we’re also going to encounter the triumphant return of Jack “the King” Kirby to DC Comics in his inaugural issue of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen!  We’ve finally reached the event that DC had been plugging for months.  I’m definitely looking forward to covering the unfolding saga of the Fourth World in all of its bizarre, insanely creative glory.  I’ve included some general reflections on Kirby and his career, so this post is a bit longer than normal.  Let’s see what these books have in store for us!

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

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

  • Action Comics #393
  • Adventure Comics #398
  • Aquaman #52
  • Detective Comics #404
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #80
  • Phantom Stranger #9
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #105
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133 (Jack Kirby’s debut!)
  • Superman #230
  • Teen Titans #29

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


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #105


lois_lane_105Death House Honeymoon!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“Night of the Thorn”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

I was quite uncertain as to how this book was going to go, but I have to say that I was pretty pleasantly surprised.  First off, it was a Robert Kanigher script, which hasn’t worked out too well so far in my experience.  Second, it was Lois Lane, which I didn’t really expect to be reading to begin with.  Yet, the inclusion of Rose and Thorn intrigued me enough to pick it up, and I’m glad I did.  The story inside is actually fairly enjoyable, though there is one glaring problem caused by Kanigher apparently forgetting Superman’s powers.  I suppose there are a lot of them to keep track of!  Still, I think this new character is promising.

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Our first glimpse of the mysterious botanical beauty is in the form of flyers dropped all over Metropolis, informing the members of the ruthless criminal organization known as the ‘100’ that she is out to destroy them  These flyers contain a picture of the beautiful Thorn, as well as the challenge, which seems somewhat short-sighted.  Clark Kent and Lois Lane discover these circulars and are split on how to treat this character.  Lois wants to chase down the story, while Mr. Mild Mannered is afraid that if they do, they’ll make this woman a target for the 100, though it rather seems like that particular cat is already well out of its bag.  We also get a bit of somewhat unusual misogyny from Perry White, as Clark convinces him the story is too dangerous for a woman.  Instead, the editor tells Lois that a convicted murderer named Johnny Adonis, awaiting his fate on death row, has asked to see her in his final hours.

Once she arrives (Superman having saved her from a car wreck on the way, just to stay in practice), the girl reporter discovers that the convict has a very unusual request.  He wants her to marry him for the short time he has before his date with the chair.  Adonis points out that she can have the marriage annulled as soon as he is gone, and then he declares that she owes him a debt.  We discover that he had saved her life years ago when she fell through the ice of a frozen lake while on vacation.  Feeling that she owes the killer her life, Lois agrees.  Of course, there’s a small dose of obligatory drama with Superman because of her choice, but nonetheless, the deathhouse is soon the scene of a grim and joyless wedding.  Yet, the wedding is just a smokescreen, and as soon as the Man of Steel has left in disgust, the prisoners stage an escape, using the new bride as a hostage!

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Meanwhile, the Metropolis Marvel encounters the enigmatic vigilante known as the Thorn for the first time.  He finds her taking it to a trio of 100 thugs and intervenes just in time to save her from a bullet.  Before he can talk with her, though, she vanishes into the night.  That’s right.  She slips away and hides in the shadows….hides from the man with X-Ray vision.  In the shadows.  Are shadows made of lead in the DCU?  This is the only real problem with the story.  Apparently Kanigher forgets how Superman’s powers work.

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“Shadows!  My kryptonite…err…wait a minute…”

Next we cut back to the escaping prisoners, who, clear of pursuit, decide to dispose of their hostage.  They push their car into the river with Lois inside, and her pleas for help seem to fall on deaf ears, her new “husband” coldly ignoring her plight.  Yet, just then Thorn arrives, pulling the reporter out of the river and attracting the bullets of the surprised convicts.  That’s just too much for Mr. Adonis, though, and he turns on his fellows, struck with a sudden attack of conscience.  He gets a few of them, but they get him as well.  Fortunately, Superman arrives just in time to stop the rest of the gang, though too late to save Lois’s new groom, who dies in her arms.  Her work done, Thorn sneaks off into the fog, and we get the dumbest line in the book, as captions tell us “vainly Superman stares through the curtaining vapors.”  Really?  It’s a shame Superman doesn’t have any powers that let him do things like see through fog or shadows.

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It’s really silly, but despite that goofy little oversight, this first chapter is pretty entertaining.  We don’t see much of Thorn (or Rose for that matter) in this first tale, but what we see is enough to pique our interest, as she is a relentless, capable crusader, pursuing this 100 organization.  It’s not a bad introduction, and the next story will fill us in on who she is.  This headline plot seems like it’s going to be pretty goofy, with the gimmicky “Lois is marrying a prisoner” thing, but it actually works out pretty well.  Lois does have an obligation to the guy, and though his request is absurd, Kanigher manages to make the case for it at least well enough for the world of comics.  In context, it’s less absurd than Superman losing Thorn in the fog.  We don’t get to know Adonis well enough for his death to have much of an impact, but his little arc is moderately interesting.  All in all, it’s a solid story, worth an average 3 Minutemen.

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“Night of the Thorn”


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This is the real meat of the issue, the backup tale that gives us the origin of the fascinating character Rose and Thorn.  How can Rose AND Thorn be one character?  Well, that’s the gimmick, and it’s a good one.  Her origin even makes ‘comic book sense,’ which is enough for me in this context.  It’s a standard superhero origin, but with a great twist.

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We first meet Rose Forrest at the grave of her father, police detective Phil Forrest.  She obligingly fills us in on what happened to her dearly departed dad, who was on the police force of Metropolis and who was investigating the activities of the vicious new criminal organization, the 100.  He and his partner, Danny, make enough trouble for the gang that the hoods put a price on their heads.  Eventually, they manage to take Forrest out in a fiery running gunfight which left him at the bottom of a river.  For some reason, Danny seems to think it would be a good idea to bring his partner’s daughter to see daddy get fished out of the river, but the sight is too much for her, and she suffers a breakdown.

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While in the hospital, the doctors observe her sleepwalking, and they helpfully tell us that “her ego personality as Rose is incapable of violence[,] but her id, her unconscious self, is different!”  Now, that’s mostly nonsense, but the result is that, once she is released, she begins to live a double life.  Every night she wakens, no longer Rose, but with a new personality in control of her body.  This Thorn persona crosses through a convenient secret passage in her brownstone home to an abandoned and even more convenient costume shop in a neighboring building.  There she dons a wig and dresses in a strange disguise, then takes to the street to exact her revenge on the killers who took her father from her.  On this particular night, she interrupts the gang’s ambush of Danny, disabling the attackers, and then running off before the stunned policeman can ask her any questions.

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She ends the night by chasing another set of killers into a bowling alley and bowling a very unlikely strike, pitting bowling balls against bullets and somehow not becoming a bullet-ridden corpse.  It’s a bit silly, but it’s entertaining enough.  The night spent, she returns home and transforms once more into the passive and peaceful Rose, who remembers only a strange, disjointed dream.

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This is a fun story, but it’s real strength lies in the power of the concept rather than the particular execution.  It’s a great idea, and I am very much looking forward to see where it goes from here.  I was particularly surprised by the fact that the portrayal of the main character’s psychosis, though handled with traditional comic book exaggeration and sensationalism, is actually more or less accurate.  You see, Lady Grey has a doctorate in psychology, and while this particular type of thing is not her area of expertise, when I ran it past her, she told me that dissociative identity disorder (the official name for what is colloquially known as multiple personality disorder) can work more or less like this.  I was quite astounded that the science in the story wasn’t complete nonsense.  That is, of course, ignoring the sleepwalking component, as the two are unrelated.  So, good on Kanigher!  This backup is too brief to do much more than set up the concept, but it succeeds at that well enough, though the last encounter in the bowling alley is a bit of an odd fit, not quite meshing with the rest of the tale.  I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen as well, and we’ll have to see what else Rose and Thorn have in store for us.

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133


jimmy_olsen_133“Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Pal, Brings Back the Newsboy Legion!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Pencilers: Jack Kirby and Al Plastino
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: E. Nelson Bridwell and Murray Boltinoff

Okay gang, strap in for the beautiful, gloriously insane madness that is Jack Kirby’s Fourth World.  The most mad, and strangely, at times, also the most glorious, is his Jimmy Olsen!  So we’re in for a wild ride.

I love Jack Kirby.  He’s hands-down my favorite comics creator and, arguably, the most important figure in the history of superhero comics.  I’ve read most of his genre-defining work at Marvel produced with Stan Lee, and it is a fascinating experience to read through those amazing early Marvel books from the dawn of the Silver Age, watching step by step as that unparalleled team built the Marvel Universe line by line, panel by panel, but even more so because at the same time they were transforming superhero comics forever.  The work is often silly and Silver Age-ish, undeveloped and simplistic, and always overwritten.  Stan Lee never meet an unnecessary caption that he didn’t like, and calling his prose purple is like calling the sun a candle!  Nonetheless, there has never been an era like that one.  If you’re interested in the legendary King of Comics, let me recommend this fascinating documentary about his life and work.

Stan and Jack were the ultimate creative partnership, generating countless concepts, a seemingly bottomless well of imagination and innovation.  Not all of their ideas were hits, and there was probably a dud or two for every success in those early days.  Yet, they created entire worlds of possibilities, and their successors have had long and illustrious careers merely mapping the landscapes first explored by comic’s most dynamic duo.

Unfortunately, (or fortunately, for DC Comics) that golden age didn’t last.  Marvel in general and Stan Lee specifically didn’t treat ‘the King’ properly for a peasant, much less for comics’ royalty.  There’s a good deal of ‘he said,’ ‘she said’ about the events surrounding Kirby’s departure from Marvel Comics, and I won’t get into the ugly details of the matter.  While what I’ve read has made me more sympathetic to Kirby than Lee, the real details of those days are probably lost to history, and there’s no sense fighting ancient battles all over again.

Suffice to say, the man who had at least half credit for building the Marvel Universe found that familiar space no longer home and set out for new horizons.  He came to DC Comics, and the company was only too thrilled to have such a comics luminary working for them.  Kirby did not come empty handed either.  He brought with him an entire new universe full of characters, concepts, and wonder without end.  The King was given the opportunity to explore this new world, though the folks in charge never quite understood the idea, which made them continuously nervous and eventually contributed to the early demise of the various Fourth World books.  They were definitely different, and the books teemed with life and creativity, just as the early Marvel books had.  This was an era of imagination much like that earlier age, with Kirby pitching out idea after idea, filling each book with eye-popping, astounding sights.  Just like his earlier work, they weren’t all hits, but they expanded the DC Universe tremendously.

As part of his new contract, Kirby was tasked with salvaging DC’s lowest selling book, Jimmy Olsen, the price he must pay for the chance to bring his new ideas to life.  There’s an apocryphal story that Jack told DC, ‘give me your lowest-selling book and I’ll turn it into your highest-selling book.’  True or not, DC didn’t have much to lose, because, much like the other Superman books, as we’ve seen, Jimmy Olsen was stuck in a Silver Age-ish rut.  Its stories were formulaic and silly, and readers were tiring of the routine.  Kirby brought something entirely new to the series, breathing new life into a book on its last legs, and that is where we begin today.  Prepare yourselves.  The journey is a wild and wonderful one.

One of the most noteworthy features of this first issue is the return of a previous Jack Kirby creation, the Newsboy Legion, to the pages of DC Comics.  It’s quite fitting that Kirby’s return should also coincide with his reviving of an old concept from the 40s, one that was near and dear to his heart.  These plucky kids were one of the many ‘kid gang’ groups that crowded into comics during the Golden Age, and Kirby drew on his own experience in a neighborhood gang to create them.  Originally, they were a group of orphans who sold newspapers to survive and got into all kinds of adventures.

This new set are the descendants of the original, which is a fun angle, and they are working for Galaxy Broadcasting, the new parent company of the Daily Planet, as child reporters…because that makes sense and is totally legal.  They include a fun set of walking archetypes: Gabby, the loquacious one, Big Words, the brainy one, Tommy, the normal one, and Scrapper Jr., the tough one.  Unfortunately, the King has added in a new member, likely in an effort to add some diversity to the cast, named, and I kid you not, “Flipper Dipper,” who goes everywhere dressed in a S.C.U.B.A. diving outfit, complete with mask and fins.  It’s…an odd choice.  He’s a ridiculous character who can only contribute to a story through the force of plot.  All the other kids have a fairly normal, conventional gimmick.  What does this poor schmuck get?  Diving.

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Inexplicably, the kids have built an incredibly hi-tech vehicle called the ‘Whiz Wagon,’ capable of flying, underwater travel, and a host of other incredible feats.  Morgan Edge, the mysteriously sinister new president of Galaxy funded the construction of the vehicle, which was designed by resident genius, Big Words.  This is just number one of the crazy, imaginative concepts that Kirby is going to squeeze into this issue.  Take a look at this thing.  It looks like a suped-up version of the ‘o-matic’ 60s Fantasticar.  It is certainly neat looking.  After all, no-one could design a gadget like Jack Kirby!

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The Legion, led by Jimmy Olsen, are going to use this fancy contraption to travel to a mysterious place called the ‘Wild Area,’ an ill-defined spot of unspecified dangers, there to plumb its secrets.  It’s supposed to be wildly unsafe, so, naturally, they’re sending kids to cover it.  This doesn’t sit too well with Clark Kent, who confronts the slimy Morgan Edge about his choice, but his efforts to protect the youths are rebuffed.  Edge insists that the inhabitants of the Wild Area, the “Hairies,” don’t trust anyone over twenty-five, meaning that the crew has to be young.  As you’ve probably already guessed, this story is going to be about the generation gap, in insane Kirby fashion.

Leaving the office, the disguised Man of Steel is run down by a car, which, of course leaves him unscathed.  It seems that Morgan Edge has been annoyed by his questions, and the car was full of Intergang’s hired killers.  Still following me?  We’re only a few pages in!  With Kent pretending to be home recovering from his “accident,” the Whiz Wagon sets out on an incredible journey by sea, sky, and road, heading to the ill-defined Wild Area, where they encounter a group of hi-tech bikers called ‘The Outsiders’ that only Jack Kirby could have imagined.

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They ride crazy, over-designed bikes, wear outlandish gear more fitting for space travel than cycle riding, and employ sci-fi weapons.  Jimmy and his youthful pals take fire in the Wagon, and so they immediately do the sensible thing and attack these heavily-armed Star Wars rejects barehanded.  Their insane courage is rewarded rather than earning them messy deaths, and when Jimmy knocks out the gang’s leader, they immediately put him in charge.

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Following the ancient rule, in his own book, Jimmy’s sort of awesome.

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Meanwhile, Superman sets out to find the Legion, sure they are in over their heads.  He employs a power I’m pretty sure he’s never evinced before or since, as he uses his heat vision to detect the afterimage of the heat created by the Wagon’s passage.  Oookay.  I hope that if I’ve got any readers who are Superman experts, they’ll correct me if I’m wrong about that, but it seems like a weird addition.  Arriving in the Wild Area, the Metropolis Marvel discovers the home of the ‘Outsiders,’ only to be attacked by the gang, now lead by his old friend!  Before the two can straighten things out, one of the bikers shoots the Man of Tomorrow with a weird ray, conveniently packed with kryptonite…that this random guy just had..in case Superman ever showed up.  It’s a very Silver Age-ish moment, silly in the extreme and an example of that kryptonite-as-plot-device trend I hate.

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Well, the Man of Steel recovers and meets the Legion in the wondrous, Kirby-esq city known as ‘the Habitat.’  It’s a glorious full page splash, and it makes absolutely no sense.  Superman points out that a ‘dropout society’ like the Outsiders could never have built anything like it, but the origins of this bizarre arboreal urban sprawl will remain a mystery for the moment.  With things calmed down, the hero meets with his young friend, who apologizes for the zapping and fills him in on the Legion’s assignment, ‘The Mountain of Judgement.’  You’ve just got to love the portentous names that Kirby assigns everything.  One of the bikers tells them what little that they know about it, which isn’t much.  Apparently it’s some type of gargantuan mobile structure at the end of some type of dangerous path called ‘the Zoomway.’  Just then, a tremendous sound shakes the entire city, heralding the presence of the Mountain of Judgement!

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I want to live in Jack Kirby’s world.

Okay, catch your breath, gang!  This utterly mad issue was just the start, and what a start it was!  Kirby is simultaneously introducing a new supporting cast for Jimmy, establishing a bizarre and exciting new setting, and planting the seeds for the Fourth World.  This issue, as irrational and silly as it is in many regards, is just absolutely chock full of imagination and wonder.  That’s perhaps Kirby’s greatest strength, the conjuration of wonder, and it will be a common accomplishment in the Fourth World books, even at their weakest. He manages it here, with the strange societies of the Wild Area, the mysterious, alien structures of the Habitat, and the pure ‘Kribyness’ of the visuals.  I’ve left a lot out of my summary, because there is no way to capture all of this colorful craziness.

I was not very fond of these early Jimmy Olsen issues when I first read them some years ago.  All of the sillier elements grated too much on me, but I’ve developed more appreciation for such wild stories in the interim.  As bizarre as this issue is, it is also undeniably fun and imaginative.  It’s even zanier and even more creative than an outing with Zany Haney.  It has plenty of weaknesses, with the stupid kryptonite convenience at the top of the list.  It’s also worth noting that, while Jack Kirby was an artist of unparalleled skill and creativity, with his talents matched only by the bottomless productivity of his ever-working imagination, his skills as a dialog writer are not quite as legendary.  The 60s slang that fills the book, while not as horrible as some of the earlier Teen Titans issues, can be pretty cringe-inducing.

The whole generation gap angle of the story also feels a bit dated, even in 1970.  The angst of generational conflict, which will be felt more next issue, bores me.  I suppose that’s because I was an angsty teenager once and am now keenly aware of just how stupid I was. Of course, as we’ve often noted, Superman is certainly a fitting symbol for the established order, having remained almost entirely unchanged for years, so I suppose there is something more clever here than I had really given Kirby credit for.  In the context of the social relevance trends, the revamping of characters, and the greater social engagement sweeping through DC Comics, this theme is actually quite fitting.  Who is more a symbol of the previous generation than Superman?  Of course, Jimmy is not really the first character I’d pick for a rebellious avatar of teen identity.  Still, I’ll have to see how the other issues strike me.  Perhaps they’ll read better on the second pass.

The dropout societies of the Wild Area, and even the name that Edge gives them, the ‘Hairies,’ obviously references the hippies of the 60s, but they are much more exciting.  Hippies with ray guns and Kirby-tech might even be moderately tolerable.  Nonetheless, the final result is intriguing.  You couldn’t read this issue and not want to know just what in the blue blazes was going on.  And that is nothing to laugh at.  There’s an undeniable charm and frenetic energy to this story, so despite its goofy elements, I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.  We’ll see better Kirby stories before long, but even with its weaknesses, this is a fascinating beginning!

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Well my friends, that’s it for this milestone edition of Into the Bronze Age!  The King is here, long live the King!  Please join me again soon for our last two issues of the month, which promise to be interesting at the very least.  I hope that y’all are enjoying our trek as much as I am.  Until next time, keep the heroic spirit alive!