- 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.
Forever People #1
“In Search of a Dream!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Pencilers: Jack Kirby and Al Plastino
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby
With the thunder of a boom tube and the roaring of the Super-Cycle, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World arrives in earnest! It is in these three new books, Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle, completely his own creations, that the King’s long-awaited vision, his long cultivated ideas, really come into their own. Jimmy Olsen has been teasing something vast and wondrous beyond the horizons of the known reaches of the DC Universe, but The Forever People dives in more directly, while the other books will go further still.
And it all begins with the very Kirby set of characters on this cover, the Forever People, a group of free-spirited teenagers and part of the vast tapestry of stories and characters Kirby wove around the concept of the New Gods. Curiously. these particular characters haven’t amounted to much over the years. They’re probably the element of the Fourth World that has found the least traction in the wider DC Universe. While the saga of Darkseid and Orion has provided the backdrop for many an epic adventure and the daring Mr. Miracle has found his place with the Justice League, these kids never quite found their niche. I remember that being at least somewhat the case from the very beginning, so I’m curious to see how these issues will hold up to my memories.
The cover itself is more interesting than compelling. It sets up a bit of a mystery, and it’s a mystery that the story within does develop to a degree, but I think its strongest feature are the incredibly Kirby-ish characters front and center. They’re a wonderfully colorful and lively looking group, and they fit the very distinctive aesthetic that the King was developing for the New Gods, sort of a shiny, sci-fi take on his classic Asgardian designs. Their individual designs aren’t all successful. Mark Moonrider in particular has a bit too much going on, what with the superfluous loincloth worn over his pants. Nonetheless, they’re certainly striking.
Their first tale begins with the introduction of that constant feature of Fourth World stories, the boom tube, a glowing trans-dimensional portal accompanied by an otherworldly sound, and, in this case, by rhyming verse, which is an interesting and unusual way to start a comic. From the portal emerge the Forever People, a colorful quartet riding an amazing vehicle, the Super-Cycle, in a two-page spread that I have to imagine was more impressive before Vinnie Colletta got his hands on it. I’ve searched for a picture of the original pencils, but no luck. Still, it’s a nice first look at our young heroes as they come careening onto the Earth. As we will discover in a few pages, these are the Forever People, Mark Moonrider, Big Bear, their hippy-looking pilot, Vykin, and Serifan, whose costume I’ve always rather liked.
They’re headed for a collision with a teenage couple in a conventional car, but they phase through the automobile, saving themselves, but seemingly dooming the other kids. Just as their car flies over a cliff, those startled youths are rescued by Vykin the Black, (or Vykin, the inappropriately named), and his Mother Box. We then get the first of our evocative but incredibly vague and contradictory Jack Kirby descriptions of his crazy Fourth World concepts, as the Forever People argue over exactly what a Mother Box is.
While Mark Moonrider tells the rescued couple that it’s like a computer, Vykin strenuously objects that Mother Box lives and talks to them. At this point, I can only assume the human kids have become convinced they’ve meet a group of madmen. The young New Gods tell their newfound friends that they’ve arrived on Earth from a place called ‘Supertown’ to rescue someone called ‘Beautiful Dreamer,’ a vital mission, but they pleasantly agree to let the kids take some pictures for their friend, Jimmy Olsen.
As the couple departs, Serifan falls into a trance, and his friends note that he’s made contact with Beautiful Dreamer, but they are being watched by malevolent eyes! A group of hi-tech thugs has spied the team’s arrival, and we discover that they are members of Intergang who report to none other than Darkseid! Our still mysterious menace tells his flunkies to follow but not to engage and warns them that the kids are more than they appear.
Meanwhile, at the Daily Planet, Clark Kent is just finishing up an interview with the heavyweight champ, who confesses to the reporter that he feels like his accomplishments are insignificant when a being like Superman is around who can do pretty much anything. He and Lex Luthor should form a support group! The dialog is a bit over the top and goofy, but the sentiment is actually an interesting one, and the theme of the Man of Steel’s presence having unintended sociological consequences has, of course, become much more common these days. Once again, Jack Kirby was ahead of his time.
The encounter leaves the Last Son of Krypton introspective and lonely, feeling like he doesn’t really fit in on Earth, something that is becoming a recurring theme in the last few months. His reverie is interrupted by the arrival of Jimmy Olsen, who has brought his friends’ bizarre pictures to show off. With his telescopic vision, Clark spots an alien city at the center of the picture of the boom tube. There’s a rather hokey bit as Superman gets hung-up on the idea that there is a place called ‘Supertown,’ but the upshot is he decides to investigate these strange travelers.
On his way to intercept the Forever People, the Man of Steel is spotted by Intergang, traveling the same route in a helicopter, and, on orders from Darkseid, they turn their fancy new weapons on the Kryptonian. Their ray guns hurt him, but he is Superman after all. In a nice looking sequence, the Metropolis Marvel rips up a tree and hurls it through the helicopter. Seeing this, the Forever People assume that the new arrival must be another volunteer from Supertown, but before he can explain, they declare that Mother Box has located Beautiful Dreamer nearby. The kids can’t fix her location, but Superman’s x-ray vision spots an underground entrance.
Unfortunately, the hatch is booby-trapped, and it releases a “toxi-cloud,” which the Man of Tomorrow blows away by whipping up a whirlwind. Just as he finishes his spin, he’s snatched out of the air by a brutish pair of purple paws! A group of Darkseid’s minions called ‘Gravi-Guards’ attack, and one of them pins the hero to the ground by transmitting “gravity waves from heavy mass galaxies,” which almost actually makes sense.
Realizing that they’re outclassed, the Forever People all put their hands to Mother Box and call out “Tarru!” They switch places with a strange new champion named ‘The Infinity Man,’ who seems to have reality warping powers, declaring that he comes from the place “where all of natural law shifts and bends and changes,” allowing him to reverse the effects of the Gravi-Guards powers and send them flying. With a casually tremendous blow, Infinity Man sends Superman’s antagonist crashing cross-country.
Declaring to the recovering hero that he’s an ally of the Forever People, the Infinity Man offers the vague and sinister pronouncement that Darkseid has kidnapped Beautiful Dreamer in his search for something ominously called “The Anti-Life Equation!” Dun-dun-DUN! With a name like that, it seems unlikely that this is a good thing. The strange alien champion calls out a challenge to Darkseid, demanding that he show himself, and just then the man-god himself appears, looking very 80s cartoon villain-ish in his cape. Declaring that the girl is of no use to him as her mind refuses to give him what he seeks, the Apokoliptian ruler raises her from underground but promises that sooner or later he will find what he’s looking for, and then he will us it to “snuff out all life on Earth–with a word!”
At that, the villain vanishes, and the two heroes discover that the girl is rigged to a bomb. Trusting in being faster than a speeding explosion, Superman scoops up Infinity Man and Beautiful Dreamer, and he kicks it into high gear to escape the blast. When they land, the Man of Steel’s questions are interrupted by the return of the Forever People as the Infinity Man disappears, leaving them in his place. When they ask how they can thank him for his help, Superman replies that he wants to see Supertown. The kids argue that the Kryptonian’s powers are needed there on Earth in light of the threat posed by Darkseid, but he insists that he has to investigate this place. They open a boom tube for him, but consumed by guilt, he turns back at the last moment. Superman hopes he’ll have the chance to visit Supertown someday, but realizes he can’t go yet….which is a bit silly. His obsession with the place, just because it’s called ‘Supertown,’ is goofy, as he has no other real reason to think there is anything there for him. What’s more, presumably he could have jumped through the portal, checked things out, and come back right away. There’s no immediate danger, so the guilt-trip was a bit much.
Aside from the slightly silly ending, how does this issue stack up? Well, it’s good fun from beginning to end, packed full of new concepts and the products of Kirby’s ever-expansive imagination. The Forever People themselves had a lot more personality right from the beginning than I remembered. They bicker and argue in friendly fashion, and their characters have some shape already. However, they don’t really do too much for this to be their book. Other than using the Mother Box to save the runaway car, all they do is switch into Infinity Man, who is certainly cool in action but far too vague in that very Kirby fashion to be fully grasped yet. It’s also worth noting that Vykin’s sobriquet is pretty tone-deaf, though of course this is only 1971. Still, we’re getting to the point where folks are realizing that naming a Black character ‘black,’ is maybe a bit much. Nonetheless, there’s something to be said for Kirby with his inclusion of a black character with this team in an era where almost every hero was still white.
There’s plenty here to catch a reader’s interest and make them want to find out what is going on, but sharing space with Superman means that the Forever People get a bit short-shrift in their own first issue. Darkseid’s appearance is also a bit strange and surprising. This is our first real meeting with him, and the fact that he gives in, even though he double-crosses the heroes, doesn’t seem quite in character with the supreme villain he will grow into. It’s not the most impressive first showing for great and powerful Darkseid.
It’s really interesting to see the Forever People’s gestalt setup with the Infinity Man. It’s very Captain Planet, (“With our powers combined!”) and one can’t help but wonder if they didn’t inspire that later-day character in some fashion. Fortunately, the Forever People don’t have that annoying ‘Heart’ kid that was shoehorned into being the ‘real’ hero every freaking episode. *Ahem* Where was I? Ohh, right! The art is good throughout, of course, but it isn’t quite as spectacular as what will eventually populate these pages. Of course, the Superman issue remains, as I discussed previously, and the resulting changes to Kirby’s art leave the Man of Steel looking a bit awkward from time to time. The story itself is a good read, with some exciting action and several hooks for further development. The silly elements and the vagueness of some of the concepts hold it back from being great, but it’s still a solid comic. I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.
P.S.: We’ve got another text piece in this issue, but this time it isn’t by Kirby himself. It’s actually a reflection by Marv Wolfman on a meeting with the King just before the younger creator had broken into comics. It’s a charming read and a neat peak behind the curtain.
G.I. Combat #146
“Move the World”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler/Inker: Russ Heath
Editors: Joe Kubert and Robert Kanigher
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler/Inker: Joe Kubert
“A Flower for the Front”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
“The Secret Battle Eye”
Writer: Hank Chapman
Penciler/Inker: Joe Kubert
“The Bug That Won an Island”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
“Battle Tags for Easy Co.”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler/Inker: Joe Kubert
We’ve got a standard type of cover for Haunted Tank stories, promising a deadly surprise for the crew. It’s decent enough, but not the best of its type that we’ve seen. The same could be said of what’s inside. This was a solid if unspectacular Haunted Tank tale. Most notably, the titular haunting spirit’s customary cryptic advice is actually almost useful, which is a nice change of pace. As usual for this book, I’ll only cover that feature and not the various backups.
This story opens with a bang as the Haunted Tank and two other armored units are traveling through a dark desert night, only to have it suddenly lit up by explosions as they are cut to pieces by Nazi anti-armor half-tracks. Jeb manages to get the Tank down into a ravine where they have cover, but the vehicles gets stuck. Just then, their own gray ghost appears and tells Jeb “if you put your back into it […] you can move the world!” While this sounds like his usual enigmatic nonsense, there is actually practical advice in his proclamation.
The tank commander hustles the crew outside, and with all of them straining mightily, they manage to free the Stuart. Just as the Nazi infantry is approaching the ravine to finish them off, the Haunted Tank bursts out, guns blazing, and cuts a path through them. Moving at top speed, they manage to avoid the fire of the halftracks. They manage to knock one of them out, but that leaves three to chase them, any one of which has a gun big enough to punch through the hide of the light tank. Jeb and co. lose their company in the desert night and head towards Fort Solitary, which they are ordered to hold at all costs.
On the way, they encounter a lone G.I. holed up in a ruined house and trading fire with a German unit. Just as the tank pulls up, he manages to finish off his opponents by kindly returning one of their grenades to them. The young man introduces himself as Ulysses, named for the “Greek G.I. who was kicked around for seven years…after his war ended,” which is an interesting way of looking at the epic, rather fitting for a fellow in a warzone. Just like his namesake, this young man is the only survivor of his own crew, a patrol from Fort Solitary.
Ulysses boards the metal ship, and they arrive to find Fort Solitary has been wiped out by the Luftwaffe. Jeb knows that the Nazi halftracks are on his trail, so the troops dig in and prepare for the inevitable attack. They pile up rubble around the Tank’s turret to provide cover.
When the Germans attack, their commander thinks Jeb has made a tactical blunder by digging in, but as his other two vehicles move to flank the entrenched position, the body of the Haunted Tank suddenly roars out from behind a hill and shreds one of them, while two of the crew pop out of the smoke on the other flank, hitting their halftrack with Molotov cocktails, sending it up in flames.
Meanwhile, just as the German officer begins to think that he’s attacking a decoy, the turret fires and smashes his vehicle. It turns out that Stuarts are made so that the turret can be detached, and by putting their backs into it, the crew were able to take all three of their enemies.
This is a fairly good story, and the tactics at the end are actually quite clever and a nice solution to the difficult odds the Tank faces. Interestingly, this is probably one of the more realistic Haunted Tank stories, in some ways, as they aren’t running around knocking out Tigers left and right. Instead, they’re up against a set of halftracks with anti-tank guns, which really aren’t good in a stand-up fight. A Stuart might actually be able to win in such an engagement, which is sort of neat to see, even if they go about it in very unorthodox fashion. The inclusion of Ulysses seems a bit unnecessary, as he doesn’t really contribute anything to the plot, so he feels a bit like a dropped thread. Still, the end result is reasonably entertaining. I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.
Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82
“How Do You Fight a Nightmare?”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inkers: Dick Giordano and Bernie Wrightson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Ohh Green Lantern / Green Arrow, what am I going to do with you? There’s a roughness to many of these stories, a feeling of potential present but unrealized, and that is certainly the case for this month’s issue of the book. We’ve got a lot of creative concepts tossed out in these pages, but they are both wildly underdeveloped and in direct contrast to established canon to boot! I’ve heard that O’Neil started to get into mythological threats in his Superman stories, and this issue perhaps heralds the beginning of his interest in that vein of storytelling.
This mythological mash-up of a tale begins with Green Arrow showing up, in full costume no less, at Black Canary’s front door. So much for that secret identity, Dinah! The stupidity of such a move is completely unremarked in the comic, and it is treated as perfectly natural that Ollie would stroll up to Canary’s home in costume. The resultant scene is actually a little charming, as the Emerald Archer announces that, despite the fact that they had agreed to keep their distances until the beautiful bird ‘got her head together,’ he just happened to find himself in the neighborhood with a box of roses. We’re actually getting a bit of character development as their relationship progresses, albeit slowly, in the background of these stories.
However, when Dinah opens the box, she finds, not roses, but monsters! A pair of winged creatures, half women, half birds, burst from the box and attack the heroic couple. They look like the harpies of Greek mythology, but whatever they are, they seem to mean our heroes no good. In what will become a running theme in the issue, Green Arrow attempts to protect Canary, and she resents his interference, pointing out that she’s a big girl and quite capable of looking out for herself. Yet, Ollie’s solution of a tear gas arrow indoors proves to be a rather poor decision, and moments later he hauls the still protesting Canary outside. Dinah let’s her would-be suitor know just what she thinks of his strategy, and then they realize that their avian antagonists have vanished!
Realizing that mythical monsters are a bit out of their line, the heroes decide to reach out to one of their allies who is more experienced in such matters, so naturally, they call…Green Lantern?!? That’s right! After all, who knows more about magic and myth than the science fiction space cop? Surely you wouldn’t turn to Wonder Woman, Aquaman, or even Hawkman, all of whom have a decent amount of experience with myth and mysticism. Nope, Green Lantern, all the way. It’s at this point that we start to realize this story is moving at the speed of plot.
Well, one telegram later, and the Green Gladiator is on his way, only to encounter the harpies himself! He chases them through the sky to a discotheque where he is faced with a strange red-skinned femme fatale who calls herself “The Witch Queen.” She declares her intention to destroy him, and then with a burst of yellow energy, she pulls the hero into the jewel atop her wand. Then, the imprisoned Hal sees the woman’s shadowy ally, who he recognizes with a dramatic “YOU!”
In the meantime, Arrow and Canary get antsy with the Lantern’s long absence, and they decide to investigate on their own. The Emerald Archer finds a strange jewel in the flower box, and he decides to investigate the florist from which he purchased the roses…which really seems like it would have been a good place to start in the beginning, what with the monsters jumping out of the rose box and all. The dynamic dame drives them on her motorcycle, but when they reach the shop, a massive hand smashes Green Arrow’s face through a window, leaving Canary to face the new threat alone.
She finds herself facing three massive women in Greco-Roman style armor, and they speak about destroying the man but not hurting their ‘sister.’ Think you know who these large ladies are? Think again. O’Neil has stranger plans! No shrinking violet, Canary refuses to let these giant girls make a ghost out of Green Arrow, and when one of them moves to ‘chastise’ their wayward ‘sister,’ Dinah takes her out in a nice action sequence. The leader of the women pleads with Canary to join them in their cause, the punishment of mankind, and she tells the fighting female their story.
They are, in fact, Amazons, but not so fast! They aren’t the Amazons you know…the Amazons that are already part of the DC Universe. Instead, they are somehow a different set of Amazons, and O’Neil shows no awareness that DC already has that particular mythic group covered. The tale they tell is that they were champions and defenders of mankind, along with the harpies and their powerful high priestess, but when their leader spurned the advances of a mighty sorcerer, he banished them all to a different dimension, from which they can only escape for short periods at a time with the help of jewels like that which Arrow discovered. Speaking of the Emerald Archer, he finds the entire story dubious and refuses to believe in Amazons and the like, despite the fact that he was on a team with an Amazon for years! There’s a Bob Haney-like disregard for continuity and context at play in this story!
The Amazons promise to prove their claims by bringing the heroes to the Witch Queen, and in the interim, we check in with that very femme fatale, who is going over plans with a familiar figure. Sinestro, the renegade Green Lantern, is her mysterious partner, and he is also apparently her brother, though I’m pretty sure this random sibling never appeared again. The rogue ring-slinger had somehow discovered the dimension of Amazons “by chance” and used his sister to manipulate them, planning to have them help him trap and destroy his nemesis. Being unable to locate Green Lantern, Sinestro decided that his friends were easy to find, so he planned to use them as bait. They were easy to find? Well, I suppose I would take more issue with that if Green Arrow wasn’t waltzing around Dinah’s suburban house in full costume. I suppose he wouldn’t have been too hard to find at that! To complete the trap, Sinestro gave his sister his power ring so she could pretend to have magic powers to throw Hal off-guard. It’s…an odd plan, overly complicated and very random, not exactly Sinestro’s finest work.
Just as he’s finished his helpful exposition, Sinestro’s evil family reunion is interrupted by Green Arrow’s dramatic entrance. As the villain rushes to retrieve his ring, the Emerald Archer draws his bow and lets fly an arrow, pinning the power ring to the wall in a really nice sequence. Claiming he doesn’t need the ring to take on an Earthling, Sinestro charges the Battling Bowman, only to be met with an uppercut and laid low.
When his sister tries her luck, Black Canary pitches in, and we get a really great moment. Ollie thanks the blonde bombshell for saving his life twice that night, and her reply is wonderful, “I’d do it for anyone…astray cat, a politician–just anyone at all!” O’Neil is getting a better handle on these characters, and their banter has become quite charming. There’s a great, rather unusual (for 1971) quality to their relationship that is rather special.
With Sinestro captured, Green Arrow tries to get him to return Hal, but the villain claims the Lantern is trapped in the dimensional prison, which only one man can inhabit at a time. The Amazon leader, realizing they had been duped by a man, offers to lead Canary inside to rescue their friend, and despite Ollie’s protests, in she goes. The dimension is a surreal, utterly alien place, and within Hal fears that the very strangeness of his surroundings might drive him mad. He is scooped up by the harpies and is too stunned to use his ring. The Emerald Crusader is brought to face the high priestess, who is revealed to be Medusa, and her snakeish-hair snares the hero. She looks suitably frightening in Adams’ pencils, though the strange dimension she inhabits doesn’t quite get enough attention to be effective. Just before Green Lantern is crushed by her serpentine hair from hell, Black Canary arrives, and she and the Amazon manage to persuade Medusa to release him, arguing that unjustly slaying a man would stain their honor forever. With the Amazon’s aid, Hal is able to return them to the real world, where they are reunited with a still skeptical Green Arrow who has certainly never traveled to other dimensions or seen other craziness as part of the Justice League and thus has every right to scoff.
This is a weird issue. It’s a fun read, but the treatment of all of its different elements just feels very half-hearted. There’s an imaginative energy here that is interesting, but it’s put to poor use. Basically any one of the concepts that O’Neil tosses out in this tale could provide the fodder for a solid plot, but with all of them falling all over one another and competing for narrative space, the result is a mess of half-baked ideas. We’ve got open contradictions to pretty basic DC continuity in the presence of these ersatz Amazons, who themselves have a really poorly defined ethos. They hate all men because ONE guy betrayed them? That seems a bit much. At least the regular DC Amazons have a pretty legitimate beef with mankind, what with all the murder and mayhem to which they’ve been subject. The idea of creatures of myth having been locked away is an intriguing one, and it has been given much more thorough development in other instances. In this case, the whole setup is just far too vague to really work. All of these elements could really have benefited from stretching the story out over two issues.
We also have a very uninspiring return of a classic villain, the only actual supervillain we’ve seen in all of O’Neil’s issues so far. It’s something of a disappointing showing for Hal’s greatest enemy, with his rather ridiculous plan and Ollie dropping him with one punch. What exactly was the point of having the harpies attack Arrow and Canary? Just to make them call in the Lantern? That seems like a lot of trouble to go to for a fairly simple goal. All of that being said, this issue does have some strengths. Obviously, Adams’ art is beautiful and dynamic, as usual, but he is really firing on all cylinders with this issue. I think the more fantastical elements of this tale really brought out his best. O’Neil, for his part, is doing a much better job with characterization at this point. Ollie is quite charming rather than being insufferable, Hal is hardly doing any naval-gazing at all, and Dinah is growing into the no-nonsense firebrand that she’s meant to be. These qualities help rescue the issue from being a complete failure, and I’ll give the confused muddle of half-baked but fun ideas 2 Minutemen.
That will do it for this batch of books. I hope you enjoyed the read! Please join me again soon (I promise!) for the next set of books in March 1971, as we travel further Into the Bronze Age! Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!
The Head-Blow Headcount:
I can’t believe this, but I actually missed Green Arrow’s second appearance on the Headcount this month! That sock to the skull definitely counts, and he joins the august company once more, giving us our only addition so far this month!
(You can see everything published this month HERE)
- Action Comics #396
- Adventure Comics #401
- Batman #228 (reprints, won’t be covered)
- Brave and Bold #93
- Detective Comics #407
- G.I. Combat #145
- Superboy #171
- Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #107
- Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135
- Superman #232 (reprints, won’t be covered)
- Superman #233
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
G.I. Combat #145
“Sand, Sun and Death”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor: Joe Kubert
“A Hatful of War”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Mort Drucker
Inker: Mort Drucker
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth
“The Iron Punch”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: Arthur F. Peddy
Inker: Arthur F. Peddy
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert
“Mile Long Step”
Writer: John Reed
Penciler: Jerry Grandenetti
Inker: Jerry Grandenetti
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert
“Missing: 320 Men”
Writer: Sam Glanzman
Penciler: Sam Glanzman
Inker: Sam Glanzman
The Haunted Tank crew rides again, and it seems we’re back in North Africa. Once more, the ghostly guardian of the tank is singularly unhelpful, appearing in precisely one panel. I’m beginning to grow frustrated with this book, despite the fact that most of its stories are fairly entertaining. As I’ve said before, it just feels like a waste of a great concept when the ghost has no impact on the plot.
In this particular comic, J.E.B. tells Jeb that “there is more than one ghost in this battlefield,” which proves as pointlessly prophetic as usual. Just as the tank commander begins to ask for something actually useful, the desert sands around them begin to erupt with tank fire, and the Stuart finds itself in the crosshairs of not one, not two, not three, but FIVE panthers! It’s a wonderfully dynamic double-page spread, but it also seems ridiculously improbable that a light tank could last for five seconds in such a situation, much less actually get away. The crew conducts a running fight as they flee, but eventually run out of ammo and escape into a dust storm.
The German commander pursues but loses them in the swirling sand. Once the dust settles, the Tank is confronted with a strange sight, a battle damaged but intact B-25, just sitting in the middle of the desert. Out of ammo and low on fuel and, more than anything else, just plain curious, the crew investigates. They find the bomber’s co-pilot and gunners all dead, but the pilot is missing. Suddenly, that very pilot appears, looking quite the worse for wear. He holds them at gunpoint, and it quickly becomes apparent that he’s been driven mad by his experiences.
The pilot, a lieutenant, was on a bombing mission with his crew, their very first combat mission, and they ran into an absolute forest of flak and fighter power. Everyone onboard was killed but the pilot, and he turned back, limping the plane down into the desert. He can’t face the reality that all of his men are dead. Just then, the German armor shows up, and the Lieutenant agrees to help the tank crew hold them off, swearing he won’t fail his men a second time. Arch, Slim, and Rick man the turret positions on the bomber, and Jeb himself, with the Lieutenants help, cooks up a surprise for the tanks.
Now, here we get to an even more ridiculous moment, as the crew manages to take out two German tanks…with machine guns! A B-25 is armed with a mixture of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns which MIGHT be able to mess up a lightly armored vehicle but would be about as useful against an actual battle tank as a spitball. What’s more, the German armor apparently has a hard time hitting the gigantic, stationary plane. It’s a cool scene, but it makes no sense!
Well, improbable firepower aside, Jeb and the pilot sneak behind the tanks and hit them with Molotov cocktails, which is actually much more believable, especially because the loony Lieutenant gets gunned down while doing so. The battle won, the pilot asks to be put back in the cockpit, and he passes away, determined to see his crew back home at last.
This is an okay story, so far as it goes, though it’s got several really unbelievable bits, and I’m not even talking about the Confederate ghost! It’s one thing to show your light tank, crewed by a heroic quartet and guided by a ghostly guardian, able to take out heavier opponents. That is, technically speaking, possible, though it is wildly unlikely. If you hit it just right, it’s within the realm of possibility that a Stuart’s main gun could knock out even a tiger tank if the stars were aligned properly. On the other hand, a machine gun isn’t going to do more than scratch the paint of a medium or heavy tank. At most, you might get lucky and put some rounds through the view ports. This kind of thing bothers me, especially in a setting like this that aims, to a certain degree, at verisimilitude.
The pilot’s pitiful break from reality caused by his horrific first mission and the deaths of his crew is moderately affecting, and his delusional death manages to strike that melancholy note that so many of these stories strive for. It’s also interesting that his decision to turn back is treated with sympathy and made justifiable in context. That said, I don’t think he gets quite enough space to be entirely effective. Of course, Russ Heath’s art is as beautiful and striking as usual. He’s really a fantastic fit for this book. In the end, this story is just so-so. I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.
“Dark Strangler of the Seas!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
This was a surprisingly enjoyable issue. I had braced for some hokey silliness, though I had some hope because AquaBOY had a cameo, which seemed like fun. I was surprised to find this comic very much a fitting offering for 1971. Teaming Superboy and Aquaboy is a great idea, and I’m rather surprised that it took this long for DC to come up with it. After all, what other DC hero could easily have been active at the same time as Superboy? Batman was out traveling the world and getting his education, and everyone else was still living their regular lives for the most part. Aquaman, however, was wandering the seas as a young man, and he could definitely have shared some adventures with the Boy of Steel.
The plot of this yarn centers around something that surprised me, namely, oceanic oil spills. I didn’t expect to see this issue getting attention way back in 1971. I thought that the focus on oil pollution was a bit more recent, centering around some of the big spills of the 80s and 90s. Looking at a list of oil spills, though, I see that there were a few major ones around this time, so the issue would definitely have been in the zeitgeist. The story itself begins in striking fashion, with a pair of fishermen struggling to pull in a strange catch, and when Superboy happens by and gives them a hand, a dark, humanoid shape is pulled up out of the surf.
The Boy of Steel realizes that this is a human being covered in crude oil, and he rushes him to an industrial detergent factory, where, with the help of the workmen, he manages to clean the oil off and reveal…Aquaboy! Holding his head above the tank to prevent the strange youth from drowning, Superboy unwittingly nearly dooms the young Marine Marvel. In desperation, the Prince of the Sea slips out of his hands and catches his ‘breath’ underwater, taking the opportunity to explain to his super-powered savior what happened.
In a surprisingly touching scene, Aquaboy relates how he encountered a dolphin covered in oil and drowning because of it. Despite his best efforts to clean the oil off, the creature died before his eyes, and the Marine Monarch set out to seek revenge for the needless death. He found an oil tanker, leaking a constant stream of crude, and they ignored his orders to heave-to. Not to be deterred, he launched a one-man boarding action and started cracking heads, but he sliped in some oil and….oh no! That’s right, it’s Head-Blow Headcount time, as he took a belaying pin to the back of the head and got knocked out. The crew threw him overboard and then attempted to drown him in oil. Fortunately, his finny friends towed him to shore, hoping humans could help their prince.
Superboy is aghast at this callous disregard for life, and he agrees to help the young Sea Sleuth seek justice. They fly to the offices of the tanker’s owners, Trans-East Oil Company, and they let them know that they’d better fix their fleet of tankers or face the consequences. In a further sign of the shift in values going on in comics and in the culture, the company’s owners are classic industrialist villains, much more concerned with their bottom lines than any cost to the environment. Shades of Captain Planet!
Not to be denied, the youthful heroes decide to take matters into their own hands. Aquaboy begins locating leaking tankers, and Superboy begins rounding them up, taking them to the middle of the desert, dumping out their oily cargo, and then dropping them into dry-dock to be fixed at their owner’s expense. It’s a rather delightfully chaotic scheme, ignoring laws in pursuit of what is right.
Unfortunately, the Oil Company execs are not about to take this threat to their bank accounts lying down, so they plan a trap. After the next tanker roundup, they track Aquaboy and lure him in to an ambush with a look-a-like for his girlfriend, Marita, who looks just like Mera. I half suspect that Frank Robbins didn’t know what Mera’s name was or when she showed up. Either way, it seems that Arthur definitely has a type! The crew of a tanker filled with nitroglycerin(!) hang “Marita” from their rigging, and in a pretty cool sequence, Aquaboy jumps from one leaping dolphin to another dolphin to board the ship in great, swashbuckling fashion. Yet, as he’s about to free the fire-tressed femme fatale, she frees herself and he is trapped in a net instead!
When Superboy arrives, the corrupt captain orders him to swear to leave the company alone, or they’ll drop Aquaboy into the nitro and blow him to kingdom come (no, not that one). The young Marine Marvel is adamant that his partner can’t give in, no matter what happens to him, but the Boy of Steel has plans of his own. He races away, seeming to give in, only to turn back and grab the Prince of the Sea, shielding him in his cape, and hurling the pair through the ship’s hull at super speed, so fast that they pierce the nitro before it can react. They’re deep underwater by the time the ship blows, and all that is left is to do is haul the would-be blackmailers back to their employers to let them know who’s really boss.
This is a fun adventure with an environmental focus that is just tailor-made for its guest-star. Aquaman is a character who is perfect for tackling environmental themes such as pollution and man’s impact on this planet. It’s fascinating to see that connection made this early on. It’s also really fun to see the young heroes acting as champions of justice, rather than upholders of law. It looks like there is some effort to create a more mature sense of morality in these characters, getting beyond the law=good paradigm that dominated portrayals in the Silver Age. It’s also rather fitting for this to happen with a couple of fiery teen heroes who might naturally be a bit more rebellious and impetuous.
Here we’ve got our two protagonists breaking laws, violating international borders, and generally carrying on a personal crusade without the slightest shred of justification other than their sense of right and wrong. Superboy, for his part, is much closer in line with the early portrayals of the character during the Golden Age, where he was a champion of the oppressed against the rich and powerful, an interpretation that I understand has made a comeback in recent years.
I would have liked to see more of the two teens’ personalities, as there isn’t much to differentiate them as Super and Aqua BOYs rather than their full-grown counterparts, but that’s a minor complaint. I’m also not crazy about the rather unequal partnership between our two heroes. Aquaboy doesn’t get a whole lot to do, and he’s rather overshadowed by his super-partner. That’s a constant problem for Superman, though. Despite those minor criticisms, this is an enjoyable, entertaining read with some really intriguing trappings. I’ll give this story a good score of 4 Minutemen.
P.S.: Interestingly, this issue also came with a one-page brief on Superboy’s chronological setting, an acknowledgement of the sliding time-scale of DC Comics, which I found curious. The editor notes that, because Superman hasn’t aged, his youth has to keep moving forward, so they’ve updated the setting fro his adventures as Superboy. Notably, they did so inside a story, where the Boy of Tomorrow time-traveled, returning to a different year than he left, which is a clever, if problematic way to handle the issue. I bet this is one of the first times something like this has been addressed directly.
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #107
“The Snow-Woman Wept!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
“My Executioner Loves Me”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
Our Lois Lane story today isn’t quite as gobsmackingly profound and compelling as our last one, (how could it be?) but it’s a fun, charming, and imaginative read. I continue to think I may have misjudged Robert Kanigher. He wrote a lot of clunkers that I suffered through, but I’m starting to suspect that he’s coming into his own now. I suppose time will tell. At any rate, let’s check out this story, and y’all can judge for yourselves.
We begin at the office of the Daily Planet, where our old friends Clark Kent and Lois Lane are getting their assignments from Perry White, assignments that aren’t sitting too well with the girl reporter. While Clark has been tasked with ferreting out the secret behind a Nobel Prize winner’s new research, Lois has been given a story on Superman being made the king of Raleigh College’s ‘Winter Carnival.’ Fun fact: apparently Lois graduated from Raleigh College. Well, alma mater or not, Lois isn’t having any of this, and she yells discrimination at Perry.
The exchange is a bit surprising and rather entertaining. Perry’s unperturbed response, “don’t wave the women’s lib flag at me,” cracked me up. There’s a touch of social concern in that scene, downplayed because the lady journalist’s main motivation is her professional pride. She’s driven by the desire to get the biggest and best story, a classic example of the intrepid reporter archetype, and a nice return to her roots as a character. It’s interesting to see Lois display some of the fire and independence that I’ve always loved about the character, traits she carries throughout the issue but which have been absent in other portrayals.
When she and Clark arrive at Raleigh, she meets a snow sculptor, a college romeo who tries to put the moves on her (bold kid!), but Lois lets the boy down easy, posing for a sculpture for him and telling him that he’ll meet a nice girl his own age before too long. Meanwhile, Clark manages to get an interview with Professor Bridnell and his assistant, Dr. Tort. We learn that the assistant is actually a defector from behind the Iron Curtain, and then the good professor explains his research.
Apparently he’s invented a serum that can turn an air-breathing creature into a water-breathing one, and he explains how his invention will allow humanity to colonize the seas and escape the damage done to the surface world, giving a new lease on life to society’s cast-offs. Wow, I bet Aquaman would have something to say about that! In a surprising concession both to the stability of the setting and to realism, the Professor notes that there are years of testing ahead of the usability of his invention, which I enjoyed.
Bridnell shows Clark a pistol-like device that can administer his serum and explains that he’s built an antidote into it as well, just in case. However, when the reporter leaves, Dr. Tort suddenly attacks his employer, revealing himself to be a communist spy! He meets with a team sent to retrieve him and the professor’s research, and he explains the potential of truly aquatic soldiers who could stealthily disable America’s nuclear subs, destroying our retaliatory ability and enabling a successful Soviet first strike!
Just then, Lois happens to come snooping, hoping to scoop Clark. She overhears Tort’s plans, and he uses the invention on her. Unfortunately, the untested device has an unexpected effect, turning her into a statue of snow! They hide her with the other snow sculptures on the quad, thinking that the sun will dispose of the evidence for them, but when Superman arrives for the carnival, he notices her ‘melting’ in a strange way that almost looks like…tears! He touches the liquid and realizes it is salty, deducing that something bizarre had happened to Lois. That would be a bigger leap if Lois didn’t end up in crazy situations on a daily basis.
Seeking to get help for her, the Metropolis Marvel rushes the frozen female to Prof. Bridnell’s lab, only to interrupt Tort and the commies (sound like a 50s rock band!) preparing to sneak out in costumes among the carnival crowd. They hit him with the same device, and the Man of Steel turns into the Man of Snow! Apparently, he’s suffering from a mysterious occasional weakness which began in the “Kryptonite Nevermore” story we’ll encounter in the next post. Frozen solid, the hero can’t do much to help his situation. In a desperate maneuver, he uses his heat vision on the lab’s lead door, hoping that it will reflect enough heat to set his molecules back in motion. This succeeds, but Lois is still trapped in an icy prison. The Man of Tomorrow captures the commie crooks and uses the Prof.’s invention to restore his lady love in another gamble, as he’s uncertain if it will work. Fortunately, the device cures her, and Lois and Superman play king and queen of the Winter Carnival.
I have to say, I’m enjoying these Lois Lane issues much more than I expected. I’m liking the portrayal of Lois herself, and the more sedate pace of these yarns allows an opportunity for character development and the chance to meet some interesting secondary characters. This one is just a mostly straightforward adventure, but the story comes with a good deal of personality and charm, with the addition of little touches like Lois’s frustration at her assignment and the festivities of the Winter Carnival, not to mention the Cold War paranoia of the nefarious Soviet operatives and their apocalyptic dreams. Speaking of which, it’s interesting to see the Cold War tensions raise their heads, as we really haven’t seen much of that in recent comics.
Werner Roth returns to the art chores on this story, and I am impressed once more. His work is just lovely and detailed, full of individual personality and distinctive faces. He does a great job on the people, but he also turns out fine work on the very different scenes featuring the destruction of the commie plans. In terms of the plot, the techno-babble is just a tad stretched between the initial concept and the snow-statue effects of the ray, but I’m willing to give it a pass because it mostly works in the usual comic book sense. I don’t see why a ray designed to make someone a water-breather would turn them into snow, but I suppose unexpected side-effects are a thing. I liked the range of imaginative ideas in this book, from underwater colonies to Soviet schemes. There’s a healthy dose of wonder in it. So, all in all, I’ll give this enjoyable little tale 4 Minutemen.
“My Executioner Loves Me”
The saga of Rose and Thorn continues, and it also continues to fascinate me, perhaps a tad more than the stories themselves entirely merit. The concept is just so innovative that it transcends the material to a certain extent. Yet, despite the fact that these stories are crammed into eight page backups, they have the advantage of a rolling continuity, one tale leading directly into the next. We’re definitely not seeing an established status quo, rather a constantly evolving, even if in short hops, narrative. That’s pretty unusual for this period.
This particular offering opens in media res, with the Thorn being chased by a trio of the 100’s gunmen, and it seems that she has a few more tricks up her nonexistent sleeves! She has developed a Batman-esq utility belt, which she calls her ‘Thorn Arsenal Belt,’ containing various small ‘thorns’ that carry different gimmicks. One might ask where she would get such things, especially since she couldn’t do any of her vigilante shopping in her other pesonality, but it is fun enough that I’m willing to let that slide for the moment. In this instance, she throws some concussion grenades at her pursuers’ car, putting it out of commission. She then handles the thugs themselves with her fits after tossing a smoke grenade for cover. I have to say, I’m not a huge fan of Ross Andru’s art on this feature, but this action scene looks great.
The Thorn has developed another new gimmick, as she is marking the 100’s killers off, one by one, leaving numbered calling cards with her victims when she leaves them for the police. It’s a cool and different idea that helps to highlight how the Thorn differs from other heroes. She’s not out for abstracts like justice; she’s out for revenge, plain and simple, a visceral, primitive motivation, one that drives her peculiar madness.
The next day, we once again check in with the secret head of the 100, Vince Adams, who also happens to be Rose’s boss. The docile half of this particular dynamic duo accidentally walks in on a meeting between Adams and the latest killer to be assigned to the Thorn’s contract, and then Kanigher briefly checks in on the other subplots, Rose’s ironic burgeoning romance with Adams, the golden coffin, and her complicated relationship with her father’s partner, Danny.
Then, night falls, and we’re back to the Thorn! She heads out on patrol, only to be ambushed on the docks by the new assassin, a gentlemanly gunman whose scruples allow her to get the drop on him, dumping him overboard. He strikes his head and begins to drown, and Thorn has a nice moment of indecision where she debates whether or not to let him die. What finally makes up her mind is the thought that her father wouldn’t want her to become a murderer, which seems very fitting.
The Baleful Beauty dives in and saves the guy, which blows him away. The girl realizes that she saw him meeting with Adams, and she wonders what he was doing at the funeral parlor. As for the waterlogged gunman, he is moved by her risking her life for him right after he tried to kill her, and the fellow, Beau, falls for her. He asks the Thorn to run away with him, promising he’ll protect her. Just then, more assassins attack, and now Beau’s neck is on the block as well for failing in his mission. The pair rush to his car, and they engage in a running fight, finally eluding their pursuers with the help of some ‘thorn-nails’ that shred their antagonists’ tires.
Beau is making plans all the while, and promises to smuggle the pair of them out of the country. They share a kiss, and then the Vengeful Vixen leaps out of the car, leaving her hitman turned hunk to realize that she’s dumped him in front of the police station! She tells him that he’ll be safe from the 100 in jail, and that “I forgot myself for the moment! But I’m the Thorn! And you’re number 22!” Man, that is cold! It also happens to be extremely awesome. I love that touch, and really, that whole little episode, condensed though it is. Finally, the Thorn heads back home and changes back to Rose. Yet, her hand was grazed by a bullet in the fight, and Rose wakes up wondering how she scratched her hand. That’s an intriguing development, and I am looking forward to see what Kanigher does with these seeds he’s planting!
These eight pages are just packed with story and with action. Kanigher is stuffing plot and development in hand-over-fist, and its’ a bit strained at times, but it works surprisingly well on the whole. The story is just so darn enjoyable, and the beats are so interesting, that you can’t help but forgive it for its limitations. I found this little tale very readable, and I’m intrigued by the setup Kanigher has established. I’m definitely in to see where this goes. This series is just good, clean adventure fiction, but with a really fascinating twist. I’ll give this chapter of the Rose and Thorn saga a solid 4 Minutemen, and if it had more room to breathe, I’d have to think it would climb even higher.
The Head-Blow Headcount:
Sadly, Aquaman adds ANOTHER appearance on the wall of shame, making two in a row! The Sea King is not off to a great start in 1971. Of course, things are going to get worse for him soon, when his book gets cancelled, but I suppose there’s no sense borrowing trouble. I wonder who the next star of the Headcount will be!
That does it for these books. I hope you’ll join me again soon for the last two books of January 1971. Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share you thoughts and insights in a comment! Until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!
- Action Comics #394
- Adventure Comics #399
- Batman #226 (the debut of the awe-inspiring Ten-Eyed Man!)
- Brave and Bold #92
- Detective Comics #405
- The Flash #201
- G.I. Combat #144
- Justice League of America #84
- Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106
- Superman #231
- World’s Finest #197 (reprints, won’t be covered)
- World’s Finest #198
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
G.I. Combat #144
“Every Man a Fort”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Cover Artist: Joe Kubert
This is an unusual and fun issue of the Haunted Tank. Unfortunately, the ghost of the titular haunting still doesn’t really contribute anything, but the book sticks out because the story it tells actually touches on the origin of the heroic tank crew who star in these tales. This issue gives us the first meeting of the tank crew in tank training, and a memorable meeting it is. We also get the first meeting of Jeb and J.E.B., which is much less interesting and something of a let-down. For the third book in a row, Robert Kanigher turns in a perfectly serviceable story without any glaring flaws. Maybe we were just in a lull for him. I suppose time will tell which set of stories was the fluke, the terrible or the tolerable.
This particular tale begins in media res, with the Haunted Tank taking on a German panther, smashing the other steel beast, but being rocked by their fire in return. Jeb is blown out of the hatch and has his bell rung but good. He begins murmuring about the crew’s first meeting, which leads us to a flashback and reveals something I didn’t know. Jeb is a Yankee! This also comes as a surprise to the other three members of the crew, Slim, Rick, and Arch, who are all Southerners. They don’t display good Southern manners, however, instead telling Jeb that, since he’s a Northerner, he’s not fit to bear the name of the famous Confederate general. What follows is an episode out of the Three Musketeers, as Jeb, with quiet courage, puts up a list, saying that anyone who wants to try to make him change his name is welcome to sign it. Shortly, he’s got three different appointments for fights, which Russ Heath illustrates wonderfully. Shades of d’Artagnan!
First Slim cleans his clock, but as soon as he has recovered, Jeb seeks out the next name on the list, introducing himself as Jeb Stuart. So, next up, Rick rearranges his face. Still undeterred, Jeb approaches Arch, and after a brutal fight, the three tankers accept him, telling their former foe that he’s earned the right to that name, in spades! It’s a great sequence, and it establishes Jeb’s character in an endearing, hard-won fashion. I do wish we had gotten a bit more development of the other three crew members, as they remain little more than names.
Later that night, Jeb is visited by his namesake, who tells him that he has the heart of a “Johnny Reb,” and that the ghost will be proud to be his guardian. It’s a bit lackluster, to be honest. I like that he recognizes the tank commander’s fighting spirit, but I would have preferred that their first meeting be a tad more dramatic.
Nonetheless, the flashback rolls on, and we join the Haunted Tank on its first mission, to reinforce a fort overlooking vital supply routes in North Africa. We get a really nice scene where the crew stops to pray, only to be ambushed by a half-track. I quite enjoy little moments of faith like that. They manage to dispatch that threat, only to arrive at the fort too late. It has already been bombed to smithereens by the Luftwaffe. That brings us back to the present, and the crew carries on with Jeb still delirious.
They spot a train carrying supplies for Rommel, and they realize it is up to their tank to stop it. Yet, try as they might in a vicious running firefight, once again, nicely drawn by Heath, they can’t smash through its armor. Now, that seems a bit silly, but they actually did have armored trains, so it’s not quite as goofy as it seems, especially given the small gun on a Stuart. Anyway, Jeb comes to just in time, ordering Slim to ram the engine, a desperate gamble that pays off, sending the train and all of its ammo and fuel over a cliff and saving the day. As usual, the General appears once the action is over to offer unhelpful commentary rather than supernatural aid.
This is a solid story, and I really enjoy the camp episode about Jeb’s name. His quiet, obstinate perseverance is great. The whole thing looks good, as do most of these Haunted Tank tales, and the adventure with the train is a neat change of pace. Interestingly, this origin actually contradicts an earlier one from issue #114. Leave it to Kanigher to botch some continuity. That earlier story tells the tale of how General Stuart himself came to be attached the the tank, and it is an interesting one. I rather wish that supernatural side of the concept had been explored a bit more, but I imagine they had to walk lightly about such things in the Silver Age. Perhaps we’ll see more done with it in future issues. At any rate, I’ll give this fun and interesting issue 4 Minutemen, though it loses a bit for the continuity kerfuffle.
Justice League of America #84
“The Devil In Paradise!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz
“Great Ant Circus!” (reprint)
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Murphy Anderson
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editors: Whitney Ellsworth and Julius Schwartz
This is an odd one. Denny O’Neil’s groundbreaking run on the book is over, and we get one issue with a fill-in writer before the beginning of Mike Friedrich’s run. It seems like Kanigher (yes, he strikes again) was going for a ‘Very Special Episode’ type of story with this comic, but the result is so uneven and random, with the melodrama turned up to 11, that the resulting read doesn’t ever really come together. Unlike the last few mostly tolerable Kanigher offerings, this one is full of poorly thought-out events, abandoned plot points, and overall sloppy writing. It isn’t the worst story of his we’ve covered, and it actually still manages to be somewhat enjoyable. Nonetheless, it is weird.
Almost immediately after it begins, we get a flashback. The JLA are receiving a special Nobel Prize, which is actually a cool idea and something that makes perfect sense for a group of people who regularly save the entire world. This particular instance is actually rather small-potatoes, as the team receives the reward for saving a kidnapped scientist before he could be “sold behind the Iron Curtain.” In a fun touch of continuity, the organization they’re tangling with is The 100, the same group that has begun to make its presence known in some of the Superman books also penned by Kanigher.
The 100 have a veritable army guarding the scientist, and we get a fun sequence where all the gathered members of the League get to chip in during the rescue, though the creators apply cartoon logic to Superman’s powers, as he melts an entire tank, somehow without deep-frying the guys inside. They’re literally sitting in molten steel and only seem mildly perturbed in a ‘How dare you melt my tank’ kind of way. You can’t see him, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Yosemite Sam was actually piloting that tank.
While the others keep the gang busy, Hawkman affects the professor’s rescue with an assist from the Flash, and that brings us back to the ceremony. After the League’s time in the limelight, another recipient takes the stage, Dr. Viktor Willard, whose ‘Pax Serum’ has turned “the hawks of savage, primitive tribes of the Matto Grosso country into doves!” Now, if that sentence didn’t disturb you, A) you haven’t read enough science fiction or B) you didn’t think about it enough. This guy invented some kind of drug that made human beings docile. That’s a dystopian dictatorship’s dream! What’s more, he presumably gave it to an unwilling population, forcibly restraining their hostile tendencies. That’s wildly ethically problematic! Yet, the League and the Nobel crowd seem to think it’s the greatest thing in the world. Yay! Let’s just drug people to make them act the way we want! Shades of Equilibrium!
Anyway, that’s not even the weirdest thing to come out of this scene. All of a sudden, with no explanation, Black Canary becomes telepathic, reading the thoughts of Willard’s fiance, Phyllis Temple. Oddly, she calls her new ability “SP.” ESP stands for extra-sensory perception, but I’m guessing ‘ol Kanigher just got confused. To add to the inexplicable oddities, Superman’s x-ray vision suddenly goes haywire, and he sees half of Willard’s face as a skull. That is never mentioned again, by the way. It’s just a random little bit of madness. On the way home from the event, Superman and Flash have a race, but it proves too destructive, so they call it off.
Next, we get an incredibly, achingly melodramatic scene between Batman and Black Canary. They cross paths in the Watchtower, changing shifts for monitor duty, and they share a kiss, instantly regretted by both, as the heroine is still mourning the loss of her husband. It’s not that bad of a scene, but the captions are just too much! I wonder what Ollie would think of this. My wife would hate this scene, as she will hear of no other love interest for Batman but Catwoman. I’m not quite as militant about it, but that pairing does have a place in this old softie’s heart.
Anyway, the plot, such as it is, picks up two days later as the League responds to a distress call from the remote hinterlands of Australia where a native village has been destroyed by another tribe, which has seemingly gone mad. Suddenly the team is attacked by Aborigines with weird weapons and mirrored shields. The heroes have a brief fight, but then their opponents just vanish and we get some gobbledygook about the natives’ belief in the supernatural and the heroes’ belief in science. What does this have to do with our main plot? Your guess is as good as mine, since it is never explained. Were these folks experimented upon by Dr. Willard? Are they just random natives practicing black magic? Who knows? The League don’t bother to find out, just leaving with the whole matter uninvestigated. Way to go, team!
On the way home, the Flash discovers the recent Laureate’s fiance floating on an overturned boat, delirious. He rushes her to the hospital in Central City (which I suppose is really no further away for him than a coastal hospital). While comforting her, his wife, Iris, arrives, steaming mad and ranting about how he missed her receiving a reward. She declares “The JLA’s no place for a married man! Let your superhero bachelors carry on!” This is another completely random, completely out of character moment. Shades of Bob Haney! Iris has always been very supportive of Barry’s superhero career, so this comes out of nowhere and, I’m fairly certain, goes nowhere as well.
The League brings in the suddenly-telepathic Black Canary, and the bird-lady sings about what she sees in Miss Temple’s mind. Apparently, her fiance went from Nobel Peace Prize recipient to flat-out Bond villain, complete with secret volcano lair, all in the blink of an eye! The mad scientist flew her to his private island base and explained his randomly evil plan to her. He declares that, for no particularly good reason, instead of curing aggression in the world, he’s going to ramp it up to cause a holocaust, leaving the pair of them safe in their underground bunker. He also introduces her to his incredibly vaguely defined servant, “Nether Man,” described as “Neither man, robot, nor android.” Sure. Why not. Nether Man is smitten with the lovely Miss Temple, but when she escapes, he is sent to hunt her down nonetheless, sinking her speedboat in the process.
Having gotten the scoop, the League leaps into action, encountering a series of booby-traps and obstacles on the island, which give several different members a chance to shine. It’s a nice sequence, as Superman detonates mines, the Atom picks a lock, and Hawkman dodges lasers. Then, while they are fighting really uninspiringly designed robots, Flash has a line that irks the literary scholar in me, as he refers to ‘machines turning against men’ as “Orwell’s nightmare world of 1984.” What? 1984 has nothing to do with machines turning against men! Sheesh, Kanigher, read a book!
While the League are occupied, Phyllis runs to confront her fiend of a fiance as he is preparing to launch his doomsday device. He orders Nether Man to kill the meddlesome woman, only to have his creation turn on him, destroying itself in the process. The final page of the issue attempts to deliver some kind of moralizing message, but it makes no sense with the story that’s just concluded, as Phyllis philosophizes that both Nether Man and Dr. Willard are “victims of the same hate that ravages the world! Unwitting murderers! But…who can cast the first stone at them?” Wait, what? What story were you reading, lady? Those two were victims of the hate that your psycho boy-friend whipped up trying to annihilate humanity! I’d call him a pretty ‘witting’ murderer, and, while I’m no saint, I feel fairly comfortable in my moral fitness to throw the first stone at attempted genocide.
Clearly, we’re meant to find this ending super profound and meaningful, but the story just doesn’t earn anything of the sort. The Frankenstein-esq turn with Nether Man is good, and surprisingly well handled in a very short span of time, but his master gets pretty much zero motivation for his genocidal tendencies. The issue is chock full of material and has plenty of action, but it really feels like three or four separate, disjointed stories rather than one unified plot. The Aristotelian Unities don’t really apply to comic stories, but some type of unity of action is important in any conventional yarn. This issue certainly fails at that, and while there are some fun team moments and even some interesting ideas introduced, like the attraction between Batman and Black Canary, the strange, discordant notes of unexplained events, incongruous dialog and action, and general lack of development and, you guessed it, logical consistency, leave it something of a mess. It’s not a bad read, but if you think about it for more than two seconds, you’ll find your head hurting. I’ll give this off-beat issue 2 Minutemen. It certainly seems like those last few solid Kanigher issues might have been the fluke after all, but just wait until you see what’s next!
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106
“I Am Curious (Black)!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: Milton Snappin
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell
“Rose and Thorn: ‘Where Do You Plant a Thorn?'”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell
Wow. Just….just wow. This is an amazing comic. I know that is hard to believe. Just look at that title and that cover, not to mention the name in the credits! Nonetheless, this is a heck of a comic book. I expected this issue to be a terrible, ham-handed, melodramatic mess. How could it be anything but, right? Well, I was blown away by what was under that goofy cover. Robert Kanigher, of all people, managed to tell a simple, subtle, touching, and authentic story about race, bigotry, and inequality that gently delivers a a message of human unity without beating the reader over the head with it. This comic actually achieves the profundity that Denny O’Neil is trying so desperately to grasp in each new issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow.
This unusual story starts off with Lois Lane, clearly entirely pleased with herself, as Lois often is, having just received an assignment to get “the inside story of Metropolis’ Little Africa,” an all Black neighborhood in the poorest part of the city. In a somewhat creepy little panel, Clark thinks, for no particular reason, that he’s going to ‘keep an eye on her’ as Superman. I’m sure that won’t be significant later. The glamorous girl reporter gets a ride from her favorite taxi driver and heads to the slums. Yet, when she arrives, she gets the cold shoulder from all of the area’s inhabitants. They just refuse to talk to her, politely ignoring all of her efforts to break through.
There’s a particularly striking scene where she passes a street meeting and a fiery young man points her out, noting that, though she is young and pretty, they must not forget that:
“she’s whitey! She’ll let us shine her shoes and sweep her floors! And baby-sit for her kids! But she doesn’t want to let our kids into her lily-white schools! It’s okay with her if we leave these rat-infested slums! If we don’t move next to her! That’s why she’s our enemy!”
It’s a really surprisingly honest moment, dealing fairly straight-forwardly with issues of school desegregation and white flight. The young man’s earnest anger is shocking, as is the subject matter appearing in a superhero comic, much more in Lois Lane. Kanigher shows admirable restraint in moments like this throughout the book, letting the scenes speak for themselves, and they speak eloquently. Lois herself is struck by this speech. She ponders how, though the young man’s words aren’t true for her, they are true for many of her race.
Having determined that she won’t get any story out of this neighborhood while she’s looked at as an outsider, Lois conceives of a bold plan. She convinces Superman to use a kryptonian device to temporarily turn her into a Black woman so she can see what the world looks like through such people’s eyes. What follows is a short but telling collections of scenes where Lois, suddenly not the “right” color any longer, discovers how different life is for the other half. Her favorite taxi driver blows right past her on a rainy street, refusing to pick her up. On the bus, she’s the subject of suspicious looks, or at least feels that way. That’s one of the most remarkable things about this story. Kanigher captures, not only the obvious signs of racial inequality, but the general sense of ‘otherness’ that minorities have to deal with. That’s impressive.
Arriving in the slums, Lois heads in to one of the tenement buildings to talk to some of the inhabitants, only to find a fire starting in a trash pile. The place is incredibly run-down, and one of the renters informs the disguised reporter that the slumlord who owns the place refuses to do any maintenance. That renter invites Lois into her home and what follows is something akin to the Widow’sMite. This woman, who has almost nothing, who has to chase rats out of her baby’s room, offers Lois coffee, shares her hospitality, and then asks this complete stranger if she needs any help. It’s a touching little scene, and it helps to ground the humanity of the folks trapped in this area.
Lois is moved, and she heads out to see what else there is to see. In an alley, she spots an ‘improvised pre-kindergarten,’ where a man is teaching a group of children that ‘Black is beautiful.” This may strike you as odd, especially if you aren’t familiar with American racial history, but it is actually a really interesting and subtle addition to the story. You see, the famous Doll Test in the 40s indicated that segregation and racial inequality had a psychological effect on minority children. They literally preferred white skin to theirs, tending to have subconsciously absorbed the narrative or racial inferiority. It’s a pretty heartbreaking idea that kids might be uncomfortable and unhappy in the skin they’re born in, but that was (and may still be) the world that we had created. Once again, Kanigher displays surprising sensitivity and insight.
Well, the crisis of the story arrives when Lois meets the fiery street speaker she had encountered earlier, but the young man, named Dave Stevens, of course, doesn’t recognize her. He does recognize a gang of kids creeping into an alley to meet a pusher, however, and charges after them in order to protect his neighborhood. The thugs meeting the kids don’t take kindly to the interruption and shoot the brave fellow. Superman arrives just then and captures the criminals, then rushing the wounded man to the hospital. It’s at this point that we get one of my favorite panels in the book. Stevens needs o-negative blood for a transfusion, but the hospital is out. Lois, with a wonderfully rendered expression of realization, simply states “I–I’m o-negative! Just like him!” There’s no heavy-handed captions, no undue focus. The moment stands on its own, and it is a great moment. Lois realizes that she, a White woman, shares the same blood that is coursing through the veins of this Black man. That she is the same, inside, as he is. It’s really lovely.
The transfusion is conducted, and it is a success! While the young man recovers, Lois has an interesting conversation with the Man of Steel, asking him, point blank, if he would marry her if she was couldn’t change back. His response is really fascinating, as he doesn’t ever really answer her. He points out that he is the ultimate outsider, being an alien, but she retorts that his skin is “the right color.” It’s intriguing to see other writers toying with the idea of Superman as a representative of the established order, a symbol of conservatism and resistance to change. The man himself seems better than that, but there is a touch of that old fear, that superheroes are inherently fascistic or oppressive, defending the existing social order as they do. I’ve always found that argument foolish, as heroes can and do inspire folks to be compassionate and courageous, but the possibility is certainly there. Just last month we saw Jack Kirby putting Superman in a similar role by placing him at odds with Jimmy, as a representation of youth culture. We’re certainly getting into pretty interesting stuff on this front, no doubt about it.
The issue ends with Lois, having transformed back into her usual coloring, greeting the revived young man. Once again, Kanigher makes an excellent choice of restraint. The final pages is wordless, with nothing but the dawning realization and acceptance on Dave Stevens’ face to tell the story. He recognizes the same truth that the reporter herself did, that inside, they are the same, whatever outward differences may appear. It’s a good, hopeful ending. It’s touching without being saccharine, and I really don’t think it could have stood any dialog or captions and still kept that balance.
I think what may be most astonishing to me about this book is the fact that I’ve never heard of it. I’ve read a decent amount about comics and their seminal moments. I’ve read about Denny O’Neil’s Green Lantern run, the drug abuse issue, and more. I’ve heard about a lot of the important stories, and yet…this issue has never had a mention so far as I can tell. It has never garnered any notice, but it is a bold and sensitive (for a 14 page comic story) treatment of some very timely issues. I can only imagine that no-one was paying any attention to Lois Lane. I know I certainly didn’t expect to find an honestly poignant story in these pages! Yet here it is, a forgotten gem. This type of book is one of the reasons I started this project. I am thrilled to have discovered it, not least because its message of seeing through the other fellow’s eyes is especially fitting these days, at least in my country. That’s one of the great strengths of literature. It builds our capacity for empathy and helps us to look at the world from different perspectives. That’s one of the ways that literature makes us better as human beings, and this little story in an insignificant comic magazine has just such power.
The whole issue is beautifully illustrated by Werner Roth, who I’ve never heard of before. I’ll be looking for his name from now on, though! He really captures the emotions of the various characters and gives each extra an interesting and unique face. Lois herself is given a lot of personality by both Kanigher and Roth, and I think her portrayal is one of my favorite parts of the issue. She is represented as intelligent, capable, and level-headed, which is great given how often the Silver Age Lois was just a complete mess, a mad, manipulative, emotionally disturbed harpy. This story gives us a more worthwhile Lois, and I quite enjoyed it. Overall, I can’t think of any way this comic could be improved, so, this 14 page Lois Lane story written by Bob Kanigher of all people is the first Bronze Age book to earn 5 Minutemen out of 5! Clearly, I’m going to have to reassess Kanigher as a writer.
“Rose and Thorn: ‘Where Do You Plant a Thorn?'”
This is another interesting and engaging Rose and Thorn story, probably stronger than the first offering because it doesn’t have as big of a job to do since the origin has already been told. It can focus on smaller tale and give it more development. The concept continues to intrigue me, and I’m pleasantly surprised once again by Kanigher’s writing in this backup.
This particular yarn opens with the eponymous Thorn gazing at the window of a funeral home at a solid gold coffin on display there. Apparently the 100 like grand gestures, as they’ve commissioned this flashy final resting place just for her. As she considers the coffin, a pair of the 100’s gunmen come after her, but she makes short and vicious work of them. In fact, it may only be the arrival of her father’s former partner, Danny Stone, that saves the life of one of the thugs. That’s a little touch that I enjoy, as Thorn isn’t exactly a rational and restrained heroine. It makes sense that a vengeance driven split personality might have some problems with excessive violence. I’m curious to see if that will be developed.
Anyway, the story continues the following day, when Rose is once again in control, and she is palling around town with her new boss, Vince Adams, owner of the funeral home and secretly a leader of the 100. We get some good intrigue as Rose is left to browse the flowers in a florist shop owned by another 100 member as he and Adams meet to discuss the murder of her alter ego. The florist is charged with killing Detective Stone, and when the officer just happens to waltz into his store seeking roses for Rose, he sees his chance. One poisoned bouquet later, and the trap is set. Fortunately for Rose and Danny, the girl’s dog chews on one of the flowers, dying in their stead! I was really surprised by this. Usually you never kill a pet in a comic like this, even if you kill human beings. It is pretty dark, as an animal is completely innocent, and it’s the kind of thing that forever marks a villain. Folks can forgive a likeable rogue for a little murder, but never animal cruelty. Such are the vagaries of audience ethics!
Well, Stone realizes that something is up, and instead of descending on that florist shop with a SWAT team, he just strolls in casually to ask the guy how his flowers ended up poisoned. What’s more, he also blindly accepts the ridiculous story the guy tells him about having bought the flowers from some strange trucker and walks right into the trap the store owner sets up. Detective Stone is apparently exceptionally bad at his job. It’s a good thing he’s working in Metropolis. Without Superman around, he’d probably already be dead.
He gets lucky once more, however, as once he is sapped, Thorn comes to his rescue, making a dynamic entrance and leaving the two gunsels stuck to a giant cactus! They look like they’ve been crucified, so it is a rather striking image. Stone recovers and captures the two thugs, probably getting credit for a collar he doesn’t deserve.
This is a solid little tale, told in just 8 pages. It’s a good example of economical storytelling, and Kanigher fits in action and character development admirably. The small cast helps that task, of course. Ross Andru’s art is actually one of the biggest weaknesses of this story. While it is usually serviceable, even rather good with some of the face-work, it is also occasionally stiff, awkward, and just downright ugly in some spots, especially the opening page with Thorn. There’s a few places where the art fails the story as well. Still, all-told, this is a good story in a remarkable issue. Color me intrigued by Ross/Thorn’s saga. I’ll give this one 4 Minutemen, though I’m inclined to take off some points for Stone’s ridiculous gullibility.
Well, what a fascinating selection of issues we’ve covered in this post! I just can’t figure Robert Kanigher out. He can turn out the goofiest, laziest, scholckiest work you’ve ever seen in one book and yet turn out one of the best short comics I’ve ever read in another, all in the same month! Whatever Kanigher’s story may be, we’re certainly getting into intriguing trends here at the end of 1970, and we have only one more post to go before we round out November. So, until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!
Hello readers and internet travelers! As folks familiar with my work and site likely know, I’m hip-deep (neck-deep?) in a doctoral program, and I find myself with very little time these days for Freedom Force projects. I have no intention of abandoning the greatest superhero game of all time, but I thought that I might use my site for something a little different until I have more FF content ready for it. I recently started a little personal project in my rare free moments. To take a break from medieval texts and teaching, I’ve been reading through a broad range of DC comics from the Silver and Bronze Ages. As my DC Universe According to Grey mod amply demonstrates, I have a deep and abiding love of the DC Universe, especially as it existed during the Bronze Age, which, despite having plenty of flaws, is for my money, the best, purest, most heroic, and most joyful incarnation of those characters and settings.
I’ve read through a lot of the Silver Age stories of most of DC’s major characters, and I’ve read through a few of the major books of the Bronze Age like JLA, but until now I’ve never read the bulk of DC’s books over this period.
As I’ve been reading these stories, I’ve been attempting to cast a wide net and get a sense for the development of the DC Universe as a whole and the evolution of the Bronze Age itself. I’ve been noticing some pretty fascinating trends, and it occurred to me that other folks might find my little project interesting as well. To that end, I’m going to start a new, semi-regular feature on the Greylands. Every few weeks (maybe once a month or so), I’ll post a round-up of my thoughts concerning a wide selection of DC books from a particular month and year in the Bronze Age (for my purposes, roughly considered to be between 1970 and 1985). I won’t be reading everything DC published every month, but I’ll be reading a lot of it.
If you think this sounds interesting, I invite you to join me in my quest for the elusive character of the Bronze Age.
First, a word about what I’ll be covering and what I WON’T be covering. I’ll be reading most of the straight-up superhero books published by DC during this time, with a few notable exceptions. I won’t be reading through Wonder Woman, as her solo adventures have never interested me much, though I am fond of her as part of the League. Also on the cutting room floor are Superman’s supporting books like Jimmy Olsen (until Kirby takes over) and Lois Lane. I’ll be reading the occasional alternative, non-superhero book as the mood grabs me. I won’t be reading most of the western, war, or romance books, but I’m going to try to get through everything that piques my interest and is part of the DC Universe proper. If it showed up in Who’s Who, I’ll at least consider reading it (I’ve been inspired to do this partially by the Fire and Water Podcast’s Who’s Who feature). I’m navigating by interest, so there will be things I’ll be skipping, but I’ll also be aiming for comprehensiveness.
I’m also going to do a semi-regular extra feature, spotlighting something neat I’ve uncovered on my march through DC that lies outside the borders of my little project here, so every issue or so I’ll include a discussion about a series or character from before or after the period I’m covering.
To start this week, I’ll begin with January 1970:
Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)
- Action Comics #384
- Brave and the Bold #87
- Challengers of the Unknown #71
- Detective Comics #395
- G.I. Combat #139
- Green Lantern #74
- Superman #222
For the sake of my sanity, I’m skipping Adventure Comics until Supergirl gets a bit less Silver-Age-y. I’m also skipping Metal Men #41, as it is the last original issue of the series, which seems like a poor place to start.
Now, without further ado, let’s begin our maiden voyage into the Bronze Age!
Action Comics #384
Cover Artists: Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos
Editor: Mort Weisinger
I’m not a huge Superman fan. I suppose I should confess that straight away. Whenever he and Batman fought in the comics, I was always cheering for the Dark Knight. I certainly identified more with the tortured, conflicted, and complicated Caped Crusader than I did with the bright, cheerful, and seemingly perfect Man of Steel when I was an angsty teenager with nothing to be terribly angsty about. But, with luck, we all grow up. I have a lot more appreciation for Superman these days, and even though he’ll never be the character I most enjoy reading about, I love his role in the DC Universe and the positive, heroic ideals he represents. The core of his character, the concept that a man can choose to do right and live selflessly, even when it would be the easiest thing in the world to do otherwise, is a great message, one far too often forgotten in our relativistic, cynical world. It’s as relevant today as it was in the Depression, if not more so. Those hard times brought people together, whereas these hard times seem to drive us further and further apart. These truths are precisely what Man of Steel and (as far as can be determined) the upcoming Batman V. Superman movie don’t seem to comprehend.
But that’s a rant for another day; we’re here to talk about comics! So, as I said, I’m not the biggest Superman fan, and the stories I do like generally are Post Crisis (a rare exception for me). I enjoyed the Man of Steel Byrne reboot, and I’ve read several Superman TPBs that I’ve really enjoyed. I have an exceptionally low tolerance for Silver Age Superman stories, though. In my opinion they tend to be the most Silver Age-y of all Silver Age comics. They are goofy, childish, and bizarre in the extreme, with the rainbow kryptonite and the far too literal take on the concept of invulnerability generally making me want to dig my eyes out with salad forks. I’m not much of a fan, is what I’m saying.
I have heard that Bronze Age Superman gets something of a soft reboot that leads to some good stories with the ‘Kryptonite No More’ storyline, but we aren’t there yet, and this particular tale is definitely full of Silver Age goodness. It isn’t half bad as such things go, though it is a standard comic of the era where things happen at the speed of plot.
Two strange uniforms, glowing with eerie energy, show up at Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, begging to be put on by the Man of Tomorrow. That would be pretty odd in most tales, but I have to imagine it’s just a Thursday in the context of the crazy stuff that the Silver Age Superman gets up to. Anyway, it seems these two uniforms belong to two aliens, one a prisoner, the other a policeman, who died on-board a spaceship while locked in combat. Their uniforms were doused with energy and preserved their minds…or something. I think I’m already putting more thought into this concept than writer Carey Bates did. To be brief, which is surprisingly difficult when giving a synopsis of a Silver Age story like this, which has tons packed into it, the evil prisoner’s uniform forces Superman to don it by…basically just asking in front of Perry White. Perry, who apparently isn’t all that concerned with his employees’ wellbeing, orders Clark Kent to put on the strange, glowing alien costume. Great Ceaser’s ghost! I’m pretty sure that’s an OSHA violation!
Predictably, the uniform controls Superman and tries to make him do evil, but the Man of Steel is more than a match for any mere suit of clothes, and outwits the outfit by seeming to go along with the evil plans, all while setting up the acts so they can be countered by his allies. That really is a nice little piece of planning on Clark’s part, and it reminds the reader that Superman has brains as well as brawn. Yet, all that (seeming) evil-doing lands Superman in Dutch with the authorities, and just when things look bad for him, he’s rescued by a flying Perry White in the other costume! ‘Thanks Perry, but I’m still reporting you…’
Supes eventually puts on the other uniform on top of the evil one and is able to free himself enough to fly into the sun, burning both into ashes. We’re treated to the two…what are they, ghosts? Mental impressions? Really persistent and aggressive stains? Well, whatever they are, the two uniforms burn away, and we come back to find Perry White in his skivvies. Yikes!
This was a fair Silver Age-ish story, nothing particularly memorable or interesting, but not nearly as weird or goofy as you might find in such settings. I enjoyed it pretty well, and I’d give it an average score of 3 Minutemen.
At this time, Action Comics is also running a Legion of Superheroes backup feature, and this was the standout for me. It was an entirely conventional Legion story, with one Legionnaire being prophesied to die in the opening pages and what could kindly be called a ‘twist,’ but more accurately dubbed a ‘cheat,’ revealed to have survived at the very end. Replace ‘prophesied to die’ with ‘accused of being a traitor,’ and it is just like a number of Legion stories I’ve read. In general, I like the Legion, but it never grabbed me the way it has some folks. Once again, this is a concept that has grown on me as I have gotten older, as I enjoy what it says about the grand sweep of the DC Universe, the hopeful optimism about science and human nature. It’s an optimism I think completely unjustified, but it’s charming nonetheless!
Despite this particular story being entirely by the numbers, it has a few nice little moments that made it stick in my mind. The doomed Legionnaire in this particular tale is Mon-El, who Dream Girl, well, dreams about. She sees his death, vaguely but certainly. Unfortunately, it seems that Dream Girl’s visions always come true, and there is no way to prevent this tragedy. We get a couple of nice pages of Mon-El coming to terms with his fate, including my favorite panel of the book. In it, we see Mon contemplate one of his last sunrises. It’s a nice, quiet little moment that really adds to Mon’s characterization, illuminating his heroism, as he faces his death, but also a human side to him. It’s small, but significant for a Silver Age-ish book like this. After all, it isn’t all that often that a superhero at this time seriously considered his or her mortality, especially in DC, so it is nice to see how doing so makes Mon all the more aware of the little things in his life, all while bravely soldiering on and continuing to do his duty.
His home planet of Daxam offers to hide him away and guard him with their entire army (!), which is quite an offer, but Mon is not one to hide and refuses. This leads us to the cheat that leaves both Dream Girl correct and Mon-El alive at the end of the issue. Another Daxamite knocks Mon out and switches places with him, dying in his place, but not really, because his incompetence almost kills Mon anyway, and he gives his life to save his idol rather than by facing the danger they feared (an alien invasion defeated in a single panel).
It’s a good, quick story, even with the stock plot and deus ex machina. There’s just enough heart and charm here to raise it above common quality. I give it three Minutemen.
Brave and the Bold #87
Cover Artists: Mike Sekowsky, Dick Giordano
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Man, The Brave and the Bold…what a series. This comic was almost exclusively written by Bob Haney, or as he is popularly known, Zany Haney! Bob Haney seems to either be beloved or hated. He wrote incredibly imaginative and, let’s face it, zany, stories that cheerfully ignored any and all previously established continuity and characterization. It was entirely common to find characters acting in an entirely uncharacteristic fashion, meeting old friends never before or after mentioned, or suddenly finding themselves having relatives that have totally always been there, shut-up! His stories represent the best and worst things about the Silver Age. They are often silly and irrational, but they are also creative in the extreme, often tossing out concepts with the same speed and frequency as even the mighty team of Stan and Jack. However, unlike Lee and Kirby, Haney’s great weakness, other than his seeming allergy to logical consistency and causality, is his lack of interest in recalling potentially successful concepts. Everything is a one-shot in his books, for the most part. Even good ideas almost never have a return engagement. That’s a particular problem in Aquaman and part of the reason that the Silver Age, which produced the majority of the best villains, left that particular hero with a shallow rogue’s gallery, despite having lots of one-shot villains with potential.
I don’t have the unabashed love for Zany Haney that folks like Rob Kelly and the Irredeemable Shag of the Fire and Water Podcast evince, but I do often enjoy his stories now that I’ve acquired a bit more patience for Silver Age flavored tales, and ALL of his work is Silver Age-ish, even well into the Bronze Age.
This particular yarn is no exception, and it represents the strengths of Haney’s style. It is packed to the gills with action, but it is actually positively restrained in terms of the number of concepts it throws at the reader. The story opens with Diana Prince and her companion I Ching (of course) in Europe taking in the sights of a combination fashion show and auto race…because such things happen all the time, no doubt.
This is the late 60s, Kung-Fu, white jumpsuit Wonder Woman, an incarnation of the character that I really don’t care for. The idea of stripping away all of her powers and mythic trappings makes her much less interesting and turns her into a second string Black Canary. I think I prefer the character with deep roots in myth and magic. Nonetheless, I have to say that Haney does a good job with her, giving Diana Prince just enough fresh-faced naivete for someone who is adjusting to a new way of life, all while moving through the plot at break-neck speed. Still, all things considered, Black Canary would have been a much better fit for this particular plot.
The story itself is about a race in which Bruce Wayne is competing against a sinister German fellow who goes by the name of ‘Widowmaker’! How very ominous!
Widowmaker, A.K.A. Willi Van Dornt doesn’t like the competition from Wayne, so he tries to sabotage his racer, which leads to a nice scene where Bruce Wayne discovers them and starts to crack some heads, only to be discovered by Wonder Woman. This means Bruce has to take a dive, which he does, all while using his training and skill to avoid taking any real punishment.
It’s a nice little detail, that Batman is so good that he can fake a loss and stay in control. Of course, if Wonder Woman is the warrior she should be, or even the martial artist she’s supposed to be here, she should be able to see through such a ruse. Nonetheless, it makes for a fun few pages. Bruce gets a bit banged up, and the real meat of the story begins as he pretends that he’s convinced Batman to race for him as a cover. There’s some added backstory of this murderous racer being the son of a villain Batman had faced in the past, but that doesn’t amount to much.
Wonder Woman runs interference against Willi’s minions who try to ambush Batman’s car along the track, while Bruce pits his skill against Widowmaker’s dirty tricks. It’s a really nice, exciting, quick-moving tale, shifting back and forth between the different perils the heroes face with much the same energy as an actual race. The pacing is very good, and the series of challenges the heroes face is interesting. I’m particularly fond of the ending, which involves Willi being hoisted on his own petard as his henchman springs one of his own traps on his boss. Seconds later, Batman’s beaten, battered racer limps across the finish line. It’s a little bit of poetic justice, and it is a good payoff for the tension of the race.
One other little point, this comic also included a text piece about the previous heroes of the Brave and the Bold book, including the likes of the Golden Gladiator, Robin Hood, the Viking Prince, Cave Carson, and the Silent Knight. It includes short blurbs about some of their biggest adventures and poses the question about who is the greatest hero. For my money, it is definitely the Viking Prince, but it is neat to see these guys mentioned again, and it makes me a little sad that their features have all faded into obscurity by this point.
Well, I give this not-all-that-zany tale 4 Minutemen out of 5. It really is a fun story, and pretty well told, even if there isn’t a whole lot to it.
Challengers of the Unknown #71
Cover Artist: Nick Cardy
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Jack Sparling
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
This Challenger’s story is the fourth in a set of connected tales, so I went back and read the previous entries in this arc before I got to it. It seems clear that, here at the end of the run, the writer, Denny O’Neil seems to have been trying to shake things up. The first story in this arc saw the brainy quarter of the Challengers get ‘possessed’ by an evil computer (don’t ask), and the second saw him seemingly mortally wounded. They lost no time replacing poor Prof. with a random lady, in fact, the daughter of the evil genius who tried to kill him. All of this coincides with a change in costume. It seems clear that this series was on its last legs, which is a shame, because they were really onto something good with these changes. In fact, this series would only last three more issues before the book was relegated to a reprint feature.
This story picks up where the last issue left off. In the previous issue, the Challengers, fleeing from your average remote castle stronghold of your average mad scientist (in this instance with a super awesome old-timey mustache and chops, plus a sweet cape) stumble upon a plot by spore aliens (because of course) who want to conquer the earth. They defeated the chief alien and his hillbilly cultists (nope, not kidding), and this issue opens with them stumbling into a small town, which the escaping spore alien has taken over (with the aid of a witch!). The townspeople are forced to serve spore-y, and the Challengers, battered by their previous day’s adventures and on their last legs, are defeated and captured, only to be freed by Red’s little brother (and apparently a singing sensation?), Tino. Apparently a bit has changed between the original issues I read and this point in the series.
Whew! I didn’t intend for my recap to be that long! O’Neil really packs a ton into this issue (and the previous ones as well), and you really feel the Challengers’ exhaustion and desperation during their final stand. I do feel like poor Prof. got the short end of the stick here, but this issue ends with him making it to the hospital and getting medical help, sothe door was open to bring him back. The new addition, Corinna seems fine, though she doesn’t have much personality. She’s also disturbingly okay with the murder of her father. ‘He’s evil, oh well’ seems to be about the extent of her mourning. I’d keep an eye on her, Challengers. Chances are, she’s a sociopath.
Yet, whatever she lacks in emotional depth, Corinna (what kind of a name is that?) makes up for by adding a nice little wrinkle to the Challengers’ dynamic. She sets up an interesting conflict between Red and Rocky, with the acrobat constantly putting her down and generally being a jerk to her while Rocky moons like a love-struck schoolboy. Interestingly enough, Corinna seems to only have eyes for Red, which says some rather disturbing things about her views on relationships. Then again, her father was an abusive megalomaniac. Sorry Rock, nice guys finish last and chicks dig jerks, apparently.
This shift in story tactics by O’Neil is an interesting one. It adds some good characterization to the Challengers who, for most of their history, have been pretty one note. It’s good to see these guys get some development, especially Rocky, who is more than just the generic strong man as he silently fumes over Red’s treatment of Corinna and laments his own lack of luck. This was a wild but solid story, providing you don’t think too deeply about rapid change in plots. There’s little denying it is fun, and the art is wonderfully atmospheric, beautifully creepy and well-suited for the tale. The artist, Jack Sparling, does a great job of giving each of the Chals a unique face, which really adds to their individuality and characterization.
In general, this was a good example of a solid, exciting Bronze Age story. It isn’t high art, but it’s the type of action-packed, not too ridiculous (for a comic) yarn that marks this era of evolving storytelling. I’d give it 3 Minutemen out of 5.
Detective Comics #395
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz
For my money, I’d say Batman is probably the easiest comics hero to write, as he has a very strong setting, a great supporting cast, and the best villains in comics history. He’s had, arguably, the most consistently high-quality runs of any mainstream character. He and Superman are two of the purest, most archetypal, and most influential characters in comics history. There’s a reason, or rather many, that Batman has had such enduring popularity, and one of the main ones is that Batman embodies the mythic elements that are inherent in the concept of the superhero. I suppose, then, that there is no suprise that Batman has always been one of my favorite characters, all the way back to the campy Adam West show and its cartoon counterpart. As a kid, I loved those corny, goofy shows, and now my young nieces and nephews love them as well. It’s clear that those shows and that tone (recaptured to a certain degree in the Batman: Brave and Bold show) are perfect for kids, however much they may gall adults.
When I got a bit older, I discovered the best of all Bat-worlds, Batman: The Animated Series, the greatest superhero show of all time. That is, for my money, the best version of Batman, and Bruce Timm and co. made very intentional efforts to create a show that was the distillation of all that was best in Bat-history. Many of the themes and concepts that were combined into TAS have their origins in the original incarnation of Batman in the Golden Age, but it is here, in the Bronze Age, where they make their return and the ‘real’ Batman that most of us think of actually comes into his own.
We’re not at the absolute beginning of this trend, but we’re not all that far off. This period would see several definitive runs that reshaped Batman for the coming decades. It is at this point that the campy Batman of the 60s fades and the shadowy Dark Knight Detective takes center stage thanks to the efforts of comics luminaries like Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams.
That’s the team behind this tale, which is indicative of the good quality of the story and its spooky, mysterious tone. This yarn begins with a nice, moody establishing shot of Batman brooding over two empty graves. He’s in central Mexico, attending an extravagant party of a wealthy and mysterious couple who have a macabre fixation on death, even hosting this party in their own family graveyard. The plot centers around the couple trying to covertly kill an agent of the Mexican government who is investigating them, all while Batman works to save him.
That’s where the tale takes a turn for the strange, as there is a final confrontation in a ruined building where Batman discovers a secret field of flowers, which are apparently madness inducing…and also endow people with immortality. That’s a twist worthy of ‘ol Zany Haney. Still, despite the rapid-fire delivery of the exposition and the strangeness of the concept, it sort of works. The couple, supposedly over a hundred years old, wither and die in moments, falling fittingly into their own, empty graves. Their passing leaves behind a number of unanswered questions, but given the horror flavor of the story, it isn’t as big of a problem as it might seem. This tale evokes the mystical, mysterious feel of the old horror books, where certain questions are left unanswered as part of there overall effect.
This is a good story, not the best of the Batman tales we’ll be encountering, but of the above-average quality that is, in fact, average for Batman books in the Bronze Age, especially in Detective Comics. I give this one a solid 4 out 5 Minutemen.
Detective Comics had a backup feature for most of its history, and at this point it is trading off between Robin and Batgirl. I’m a big fan of the Bat-Family, so I’m excited about reading these backups. This one is the second half of a Robin adventure, with a nice framing device of being relayed through letters Dick sends home from college. I love Robin, specifically, the only real Robin (where I’m concerned), Dick Grayson. He’s one of my favorite characters. The concept that created him, that kids would identify with and want to be him totally worked on me as a kid. I was aware I couldn’t be Batman, but maybe, just maybe, I could be Robin. I love him as a solo act, as well as with Bats, but at this point, going off to college and being almost a grown man, it is certainly way past time to give the guy pants. I don’t understand how this went on so long. He’s been older than is appropriate for his green trunks for years and years at this point. The particularly bizarre thing is that they’ve had multiple stories that have provided perfectly viable costumes for an adult Robin, none of which they’ve bothered to adapt. Aqualad has the same problem, but at leas the wasn’t as high profile as poor Dick. So, that ridiculously outdated costume always takes a little something away from these Robin stories.
This particular tale involves Robin attempting to break up a communist plot (!) involving creating student unrest with fake accounts of police brutality in order to shutdown Hudson University (!). It’s a very 60s style story, and not a terribly interesting one. You have to think that the vague, unspecified commies would have better things to do with their time and money. Nonetheless, Dick manages to break the case open, despite taking a beating and being captured for the second time in two issues. He does manage a fairly nice escape, taking out two guards, all while handcuffed. Still, it isn’t his most impressive showing. I like the idea of having stories with him away in college, but I don’t think all the stories necessarily have to be set ON campus or deal with university matters. It just limits the character way too much.
It isn’t a particularly impressive story, despite the cool escape, so I’ll give it 2 1/2 Minutemen.
G.I. Combat #139
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Artist: Russ Heath
I’m a big fan of the idea of the Haunted Tank, and by this point, Jeb and his boys have become the undisputed stars of this book. Still, though I love the idea, what I’ve read from the Silver Age hasn’t electrified me. I’m now skipping ahead about five years to this issue, and I definitely think things are improving. The older stories were fine, but I just felt like they didn’t really take much advantage of the concept. Lift out scenes with the General’s cryptic warnings, which had exactly zero impact on most of the plots, and your average Haunted Tank story could just as easily have appeared in any other WWII book. There were exceptions, but that was my general impression. What fun is that? If you’ve got a Haunted Tank, you should really play that up or you’re burying the lead!
This story doesn’t break that pattern as much as I might like (J.E.B. appears a grand total of one time), but it’s just an enjoyable tale on its own merits. The basic overview is that Jeb and crew are dropped into North Africa to stop a Nazi advance through a pass and attempt to rally the local Bedouins to the Allied cause. On the way, the crew discover that their contact, Prince Akmed, has died, perhaps killed by “The Mufti,” a generically evil adviser sort who favors the Germans. In a scene ripped from the pages of Around the World in 80 Days, the ever culturally sensitive comic delivers us a tribe of Bedouins who are preparing to burn Akmed’s wife, Princes Azeela, on his pyre in the archaic Indian practice of Sati.
Jeb, being the gallant Southerner that he is, is having none of this and, extinguishing the pyre, rescues the girl. He agrees to marry the girl in order to protect her from her people, and she rides with him to battle. In a particularly nicely illustrated sequence, the Tank goes up against heavier German armor, manages to plug the pass with the first Panther, and then fights a despearate holding action until rescued by Azeela’s people, who have been inspired by her bravery.
Sadly, the Mufti kills her in revenge, and in a surprisingly touching series of panels, beautifully drawn and inked, Jeb returns his princess to her people…forever.
The Princess doesn’t really get much to do other than die to unite her people (this story is not exactly a beacon of feminism), but Plot, er, I mean Princess Azeela, does serve as a nice little subtle moral quandary for Jeb. He saves her from the pyre, but then what is a good man to do? He agrees to marry her to save her from further retribution at the hands of her people, and we’re given a tender little scene with Jeb comforting Azeela whose husband, let’s remember JUST DIED. The concern on his face, the tenderness of that embrace, is pretty effective at conveying a good deal more than the dialog. Taken all together, that little panel aptly demonstrates the strength of comics as a medium of storytelling. There’s a great efficiency of narrative in that one little combination of image and word.
This was a good story, though it still didn’t really take advantage of the whole Haunted Tank concept. I’ll give it 3 and 1/2 Minutemen.
Green Lantern #74
Cover Artist: Gil Kane
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Green Lantern…ohh Greeen Lantern…this series has given me fits. I’ve read the whole run to this point, and I am somewhat amazed the book survived this long. I love Hal as a character, and I love the concept of the Green Lantern Corps. In fact, I love pretty much everything about the original setup of the Silver Age Lantern: Hal’s test pilot civilian identity, his relationship with Carol (who was a powerful, capable, career-minded woman in an age where that was exceedingly rare in fiction), and the setting being split between Coast City and space. He had a reasonably strong rogue’s gallery, and he was all set to have an excellent hero career. And then one day the creative team just decided to toss all of that. They upended Hal’s life, had Carol suddenly agree to marry someone else off panel, and then Hal became a wanderer, a set of circumstances that would stick with him for years to come. This is not to say that the early Silver Age GL comics were particularly good. They’re about average for Silver Age books, which makes them pretty hard to read these days, but at least the concept was a promising one, and this shift…? Not so much.
It’s an inexplicable decision to me, as they clearly had no real goal in mind other than to shake up the book and ditch Carol. The unforgivable result of this path is that it made Hal Jordan, one of the coolest DC heroes in his civilian identity, lame and boring. He went from being a hot-shot, devil-may-care jet-jockey to, wonder of wonders, an insurance salesman. How does that make any kind of sense? Over the next twenty issues Hal continues to drift from job to job and place to place, and the instability makes the character seem flaky and more than a little worthless. This also removes the ability of the book to provide Hal with any kind of supporting cast other than his fellow Corpsmen, who are more or less dropped from the book as well during this period.
Of course, after those twenty issues the comic turns into the famed Green Lantern/Green Arrow combined title, and Hal goes from being someone who can’t hold down a job to an actual, jobless bum. This run is widely praised and quite famous, standing as a seminal moment in the development of comics and the Bronze Age in particular. Despite acknowledging its cultural importance, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the ‘hard traveling heroes’ run, but I suppose I’ll talk about that when I get there in a few issues.
As for the issue in question, it is the second part of a two part story wherein Hal heads back to Coast City and meets up once more with Carol Ferris, mysteriously still unmarried. Their first encounter in the previous issue is really rather nicely done, but I imagine that this return home gave a good many readers false hope. Sadly, it was not to last. When Green Lantern goes to talk with Carol, she inexplicably transforms into Star Sapphire, despite not having access to the troublesome gem. She somehow transports Hal into deep space, also conveniently stripping him of his memories of being Green Lantern. This issue picks up where that one left off, with a rather pretty trap for Hal to escape.
Stranded in space without any of the knowledge he needs to save himself, this is an interesting premise. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really last very long and Hal is quite blase about the the whole thing. ‘Ohh, I seem to be lost in the infinite void…ho-hum.’ It is a good chance for Hal’s natural fearlessness to shine, but it doesn’t quite come off that way, and the problem is a bit too easily solved. This image also demonstrates a weird trait of the art in these issues, where Gil Kane stacks images upon one another to diverse and often not entirely successful, but always innovative, effect.
Once Hal gets back to Earth, he discovers the true cause of his current problems, Sinestro! At this point, it has been a very long time since we have had any real supervillains in the book, especially any of Sinestro’s quality, so he’s a breath of fresh air. For most of the last dozen issues or so, Hal has been suffering from boring stories featuring random, regular hoods. Yep, they make a great challenge for the man with the most powerful weapon in the universe. Sinestro, on the other hand, especially backed up by Star Sapphire, makes for an excellent antagonist, and this story has the renegade Lantern in particularly good form. He’s ruthless, cunning, and completely self-assured. He moves effortlessly from battling to manipulating Star Sapphire. Together, they (a little too easily) take Hal out, and the Lantern is saved by Pieface (the most offensively named supporting character in comics history?). It’s nice to see ‘ol Tom Kalmaku again too, and both of these characters make me miss Hal’s old status quo. The story ends with Hal defeating Sinestro…or does it? He looks so wonderfully smug in that last panel.
Don’t you just want to pop him right in that red face of his? That is a villain worthy of Hal. Of course, Sinestro has a backup plan, and with the customary warning that “there is always a next time”, he vanishes! This leaves Hal to try and explain the whole ‘Star Sapphire’ thing to Carrol…and, well, she doesn’t take it too well, running out of his life for a second time.
So, in the end, Hal is left more or less where he was to begin with. He’s got no supporting cast, no stability, and we’re about to enter another long stretch without any villains to speak of. This is a fine story, so far as it goes. Isolated from the drudgery that is the rest of this run, it is pretty good. Sinestro is fun in it, and his little character moments make some progress in identifying him as someone who is more than just an evil Green Lantern who is evil because he likes being evil…evily. It isn’t a lot of progress, but it is progress, and you get a sense of his arrogance and pride. The art is fairly weak, and the power ring battle, which should have been really visually interesting and exciting, is inexcusably flat and boring. Kane is a very Silver Age-y artist, skilled and consistent, but Green Lantern could really benefit from someone with a more creative and energetic style. Imagine what Jack Kirby could have done with a GL book! In the end, I give this story 3 and 1/2 Minutemen out of 5, if only because it is such an improvement over what came before.
Writers: Edmond Hamilton and various
Pencilers: Al Plastino and various
This seems to be a collection of Silver Age Superman tales, and as such, exactly what I don’t much want to read. I just skimmed these reprints and didn’t find much to catch my interest, though several of these could make excellent examples of the internet sensation that is Super-Dickery. Stories involve an ersatz lost brother for Superman, some hypothetical children for him and Lois, and various other familial and social complications. The only one that stuck out to me was a tale set in Kandor, part of a story featuring two sons of Superman, one super, the other, not so much. It cracks me up to see Superman running around, doing familial stuff in his costume. I think I won’t cover reprints in any kind of detail.
And there you have it, folks. Wow! That missive proved much more massive than I intended. Future iterations should prove to be much smaller as they won’t need all the framing and general discussion that this one sported.
This has been, more or less, January 1970 in DC Comics. It was a pretty solid month, all told, but I’m looking forward to getting further into the Bronze Age, where more of the 60s Silver Age-ish tendencies will be shaken off. Join me again, approximately whenever I get around to it, for the next month of books (probably next month).