Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112
“A Tree Grows in Metropolis!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano
“Rock and Rose”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano
This is a bit of a weird one, folks. It has a solid enough cover, even if it is pretty gimmicky. Interestingly and unusually enough, the cover proves to be a pretty honest representation of what’s inside. We join the story with Superman scouting a dying planet, abandoned by an advanced race when they outgrew the world. The vegetation seems to dying now that the inhabitants are gone. Bizarrely, the Man of Steel has a vision of Lois wrapped in foliage, only to discover that it is actually a strange alien tree that has somehow survived. Deciding to save the plant, he brings it home…and then plants it in Metropolis Park. Planting an alien lifeform in the middle of a densely populated city? What could possibly go wrong?
Oddly, the men of the city are fascinated with this extraterrestrial arboreal artifact, but the women are repulsed. Reporting on the story, Lois finds herself uncomfortable around it, and her unease proves well-founded when, after their date that night, Superman detours to the park, where he stands entranced in front of the plant. Suddenly, the tree “speaks” telepathically, introducing itself as Rzalin and declaring its love for the Man of Tomorrow. Inexplicably, the Kryptonian hero becomes enslaved to its will and begins to carry out its commands, creating a moat of lava around the being to protect it (which would cool relatively quickly, but oh well). When Lois objects, Superman actually knocks her out with a nerve pinch!
The Metropolis Marvel begins to bring the tree materials from around the galaxy, carrying out some type of plan. The graceful girl reporter tries to intervene, poll vaulting (!) over the moat and confronting the alien. It is then that Rzalin reveals its plan, whereby it will convert its Kryptonian captive into another tree by an elixir made from the materials he is collecting, and together they will release spores that will convert all of humanity into more of their kind. Yet, the enterprising Lois came prepared, and she tries first to poison, then to burn, the tree. Unfortunately, Superman stops her and takes her home again.
Not to be daunted, the resourceful reporter thinks that she can destroy Rzalin with white kryptonite, which is deadly to all plants (which I didn’t know). Fortunately, there is a sample at the Superman Museum, but before she can put her plan into action, she’s attacked by her own houseplant! Apparently the heinous herb can control earthly plants. Lois launches into a deadly race to the museum, but she is attacked by trees, flowers, and even gigantic pollen!
Eventually, Rzalin brings her to the Park to watch its triumph, as Superman drinks the elixir and changes into another perfidious plant. Just as Lois gives into despair, we suddenly see her and Superman looking at the tree, apparently perfectly fine. The alien being dies, and the pair posit that it must have fed on mental energy, but the minds of earthlings weren’t strong enough to support it. Lois supposes that, since their minds were feeding it, they must have been in its fantasy…which doesn’t really follow. The end…I guess?
That’s right, it was all just a dream. For some reason. This is an odd choice for a twist, as the story that came before wasn’t really about the tree, which is supposed to be the dreamer (and thus perspective character) in this scenario. It’s incongruous and rather unsatisfying. There are some positive elements to this story, though. I enjoyed watching Lois play hero and take an active role in the plot. She is determined, capable, and resourceful, and it suits her nicely.
I’d rather have seen this played straight, with her able to rescue the Man of Steel. Roth’s art is good as usual, but he seems to struggle with some of the more fantastic elements once again. He really does a fantastic job on Lois’s expressions, however. As is, the yarn feels…unnecessary. So, this is a forgettable and awkward little tale that I’ll give 2 Minutemen.
“Rock and Rose”
Our Rose and Thorn backup this month, in contrast, is another solid adventure. We begin right where the last one left off, with Rose and her would-be executioner fleeing from the 100 gunmen sent to finish the job. The youthful assassin-in-training, Leo, confesses to the Thorn that his masters had kidnapped his mother and were holding her in their casino barge as insurance…which seems to rather sharply contradict his portrayal last issue. Leo seemed to need no extra motivation to go after the heroine in that story.
The pair face a running fight against the 100 goons, who all conveniently take the time to mouth partial threats before getting decked. You’d think they’d learn to shoot first and brag later. Finally the fleeing duo dive into the water and dodge gunfire beneath the waves. When they emerge, a police boat happens by, responding to the gunfire, and it turns out that Detective Stone is aboard. Thorn saves a drowning Leo and gives him to the police, but when the Detective touches her hand, there is a moment of almost-recognition for both of them. This prompts the Vixen of Vengeance to swim away on her own. Fascinatingly, we discover that, not only is Rose ignorant of the Thorn’s activities, the vigilante doesn’t quite understand her other half either.
The next day, Rose turns down a date with her boss, Mr. Adams, who is secretly the head of the 100, to go to a concert in the park (watch out for the alien tree!) with Detective Stone. With this useful piece of information, Adams orders a hit on Stone, but when the gunsels come to call, the Nymph of Night suddenly surges to the surface and takes control, easily disarming the two thugs. Rose shakily exclaims that she thought she had forgotten all of the karate and judo her father had taught her, and before the killers can recover, they are swarmed by dirty hippies (what a horribly humiliating defeat).
Slipping away in the chaos, Rose turns into the Thorn once more and heads to the barge where the 100 are holding Leo’s mother. Once aboard, the Wild Wraith is captured and, with Leo and his mother held at gunpoint, forced to surrender her utility bel…err, “Thorn Belt.” Suddenly, all of the flash bangs and bombs in the belt go off, stunning her foes, and the Baleful Beauty bashes into them, taking out the killers and rescuing their prisoners. Apparently, much like Batman (who she is totally not ripping off), the Thorn’s belt can’t be removed without setting off all of the ordinance, unless you press a hidden button. Clever! As the tale ends, she tells Leo to thank her by going straight.
This is another really, solidly good adventure in Kanigher’s run on this feature. Once again he packs a ton into just a few pages, giving us a fun dose of action, but also advancing the overall plot and squeezing in a bit of characterization. I find it very interesting that the Thorn was able to manifest during a moment of stress in the daytime (which is actually a more accurate portrayal of split personality, to my understanding). The vigilante’s moment of contact with Stone was also intriguing, and I’m curious what (if anything) will come of it.
The only real flaw is the sudden addition of Leo’s mother to the plot, which Kanigher absolutely didn’t setup properly in the previous tale, which makes that element feel like it comes out of left field. On the art front, while I miss Gray Morrow’s really neat and unique style from the previous issue, Dick Giordano does a wonderful job here. He draws an absolutely lovely Thorn, with a lot of nice detail, especially on her flowing hair, which whips around in combat and is always dramatically framing her face. His action sequences look lovely, and though there are some rough spots, the whole is of a high quality. I’ll give this brief but exciting backup 3.5 Minutemen.
Teen Titans #34
“The Demon of Dog Island”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Nick Cardy
So far, we have seen, to put it gently, a pretty uneven run on Teen Titans, with a lot of half-baked ideas and no clear direction. That doesn’t necessarily end here, but this issue did manage to surprise the heck out of me and rise above the material that came before. I expected another gimmicky, poorly thought-out and poorly executed adventure from the (admittedly fun) cover, but there is a lot more here than you might expect. This cover, with the dramatic image of Wonder Girl menacing her friends and with the foreboding house looming in the background, is beautifully rendered by Nick Cardy, and it sets a suitably creepy stage.
Inside, the eerie mood is not wasted, as we join the action with a cloaked figure fleeing from a pack of savage dogs on a barren island. She is then attacked by a hulking fellow named Jed Jukes. During the struggle, we see that the figure is none other than Donna Troy, Wonder Girl, who easily throws the threatening thug aside. Jukes is raving about witches and how the house she enters is cursed. The house in question is a massive old mansion of sinister aspect, but it is inhabited by a kindly old woman in a wheelchair. We discover that Donna is staying with this lady, Miss Wickersham, taking care of her. How she knows her is never explained.
After reading a ghost story of sorts to her elderly charge, Wonder Girl finds herself feeling odd and heads to bed, but the action of the night is not finished yet, as a little later the rest of the Titans make their way to the house. Lilith has had a vision of their teammate in trouble, and teen heroes have come to the rescue. Suddenly, the psychic sees a cloaked figure, but when the others look, there is nothing there. Then, Speedy is unexpectedly clotheslined from the car, and the group is beset by the Jukes brothers, who once again are carrying on about witches and warlocks. The team makes short work of them in a rather nice panel, with even Lilith pulling her weight. Recovering the Boy Bowman, the Titans make their way to the mansion, where they find Donna, seemingly safe and sound. Yet, despite her protestations that she went straight to bed, Lilith observes mud on her friend’s boots.
The next morning, the Titans are all charmed by Miss Wickersham and spend the day enjoying the beach, though Dick and Lilith both remain suspicious. Their suspicions prove well-founded after night falls. The muddled mystic sees Donna sneak out of her room, and when she goes to follow her friend, someone clocks her from behind! (Adding a new face to the Head-Blow Headcount!) The team awakes to a cry and finds Miss Wickersham’s poor cat strangled! I was really surprised to see this in a comic of this era….and just in general. Hurting animals is always a very dicey thing in storytelling.
The innocent kitty’s death proves there is something untoward going on, which is further confirmed by the scene playing out on the beach, where the sleepwalking Donna has wandered. The Jukes have surrounded her, and Jed prepares to set his vicious dogs on the defenseless girl, only for his dog whistle to suddenly sprout branches. The killer canines turn on their masters then, and only the timely arrival of the Titans saves the ruffians. Meanwhile, Lilith, looking for Wonder Girl, stumbles upon a strange scene on a cliffside. She sees a man in 17th Century garb conversing with a cloaked figure. The man declares that he has returned for his companion, but she declares that she is stronger and always was, causing him to dissipates in a ghostly mist.
Back in the mansion, Lilith finds her friend still sleeping, but she also discovers something more sinister, the small noose used to strangle the cat! This final piece enables the psychic to put the puzzle together. She declares that Donna has been…possessed! The mystic explains that such possessions are passed from one victim to another through secret rites, and the new vessel, as they are being made ready, will commit a ritual murder, which explains poor puss’s fate.
The Titans set out to solve the mystery, checking in on the wounded Jed Jukes, who they brought home after the dog attack, only to find him hanging upside down in the cellar! Lilith, going off on her own again (you’d think she’d have learned by now), checks in on Miss Wickersham (and, let’s face it, in a story involving witches, the old lady with the cat is a prime suspect), only to be garroted by the awakened ancient after making an important discovery!
Her teammates are attacked by a possessed Wonder Girl, who uses mystical powers to torment them. Just as all seems hopeless, the mysterious figure from the cliff returns, grappling with the old woman and saving Lilith. He declares that, this time, he is the stronger, because her time is running out. He tells his aged antagonist that he won’t give up, because he loved her once, and he is waiting for her innocence to return, before fading away once more. Intriguing! At the same time, Robin manages to shatter a window, and the weak dawn light temporarily breaks the spell and brings Donna back to herself.
The day breaks, and Miss Wickersham lies near death, but Lilith has solved the mystery. She is able to read the crone’s mind and sees that she is really over 300 years old and was once a girl named Magda Drachwyck, who loved a man named Gregori in a small European country. Unfortunately, there were dark powers abroad in that era, and just before her wedding day, she was possessed by a cult of “Demonids” (really?), murdering her beloved as the evil took hold of her. Eventually she was forced to flee to this island, and the spell-wrapped house has kept her alive for centuries. By day, she was a sweet old lady, by night, a vicious witch. Gregori, for his part, has haunted his former love ever since, waiting for the day that she will die, when the evil will be purged from her soul and they will be reunited.
With the facts of the case revealed, the heroes hope they can solve it, but it seems that, once a possession begins, it cannot be broken unless a token taken from the victim is recovered. If the original host dies, it will be too late! Desperately, the kids split up and search the house, but their efforts are for naught. Finally, Robin discovers one of the stars from Wonder Girl’s uniform in Miss Wickersham’s locket, and Speedy fires it into the sea, breaking the spell. As the sunsets (and apparently, witches always die at sunset, as everyone knows), the old lady dies, but her freed spirit is greeted by her love, Gregori, and the two are reunited in eternity.
What an unusual story, but what a good one! Here we see one of those rare instances where Zaney Haney’s overactive imagination is reigned in enough to focus on a single plot and develop a story fully. It’s comics like this where we see how good a writer Haney could actually be, with his gift for unique characters and unusual situations married to a competently plotted script. In fact, this is one of the better mysteries we’ve encountered so far, and certainly one of the better supernatural adventures, with a very effective eerie feel, and an enigma that is properly setup before its reveal. The tale still moves a little too fast at times, and some of the specifics of Haney’s witch-lore are a bit goofy or fuzzy (Demonids?), as are some elements of the setting (how exactly does Wonder Girl know this random old woman?) but he successfully creates an engaging plot out of the broad strokes, even delivering some surprisingly compelling moments along the way.
The ghostly Gregori’s hopeless, dogged persistence in the face of his former love’s loathsome actions is touching, and their final reunion is quite moving because of that, especially considering how little time we spend with them. In fact, that final scene has a good deal of power for a comic like this. Lilith is probably the most useful and likeable here of any story we’ve seen so far, actually justifying her place on the team and not being unnecessarily cryptic. In terms of the art, Tuska does a solid job throughout, although he really (presumably with Cardy’s help on the inks) blows me away in a few key scenes, delivering wonderful emotional and character work on faces, like Gregori’s on the cliffside and Miss Wickersham’s as she garrotes Lilith. This is simply a surprisingly good read, and as such, I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.
World’s Finest #204
We’ve got yet another odd one to cap off this post’s comics. This issue is a strange mixture of thoughtful, creative elements with a plot that doesn’t really take advantage of them. It has a relatively interesting cover, with the beautifully rendered central figures, courtesy of Neal Adams, plainly setting up the problem of the piece. It’s unusual and it’s also honest enough, and, notably, it was probably a very proactive visual in 1971. I can’t imagine there were many comics showing guns being pointed at protesting kids around that time. This is a statement on the times that must have been more shocking in that era than it is today. The tale within does turn on just this issue, after a fashion, and it begins at just such a protest, with Superman flying over a college campus, observing the tense standoff between students and guards. At the moment, the sides seem to be behaving themselves, so the Action Ace heads to the office, where Perry White hands him an assignment, a human interest piece wherein the reporter will get a date through a computer dating service. Strangely, after Clark has his marching orders, the editor wonders why he did this, noting that he hates computers. Odd!
At the same time, in nearby Greenwich Village (what is it with O’Neil and forcing Superman into New York?), the former Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, gets a similar assignment from her mentor, I-Ching. In a curious foreshadowing of the modern day, Clark and Diana find that the computers have matched them together. In a rather nice scene, they chat about how they do make a certain amount of sense together, but their talk is interrupted by a trio of toughs. These unwitting thus try to mug them, only to get their clocks cleaned by Diana. It’s fun seeing Clark sit back and let his date do the heavy lifting.
Smarting from their defeat, the punks decide that they must have revenge, and one of them draws a gun. Unaware they’re being chased, the couple stop by a radio studio, which is supposed to be the first part of their date (which seems like a weird choice), but when they open the elevator doors, they find, not the office they expected, but a bleak, blasted landscape! Suddenly, the not so wondrous woman is unable to breathe, and the Man of Steel realizes that there is very little oxygen in the atmosphere. At super speed, he finds a pocket of air underground and carries his date to safety. Building her a shelter, the Kryptonain, who doesn’t need air, sets out to see what is going on here.
Finding a bizarre, golden tower, the only sign of life on this desolate world, he charges in, smashing past defenses, only to find himself face to circuit with a robot, built into the structure itself. The machine explains that this is the future of the Earth, 2171, one hundred years in his future. Apparently, an event in Superman’s time lead to the destruction he has observed in this future. Notably, the android explains that this is just a possible future, and one which might be prevented if the catalyst event is altered. Realizing this, the mechanical man developed time travel capacity (how convenient!), allowing it to bring forward agents that could affect such change. To that end, it was the machine that manipulated events in the past to bring the two heroes together, which just seems unnecessarily complicated. It then shows Superman a clip of the defining moment, a college protest which turns into a riot, during which someone will be killed, someone who, otherwise, would prevent this future.
Just then, on the robot’s monitors, the Man of Steel observes that pack of punks from earlier, who have stumbled through the same time-slip as the heroes and who are now rushing towards Diana’s shelter. Inside, they menace the martial-arts mistress, until the Metropolis Marvel arrives and defeats them with ludicrous ease. One can only assume that criminals in the DC Universe are just amazingly stupid after these idiots attack the invulnerable, super strong demigod with their bare hands. After the thugs are disabled, Superman and Diana share a moment that threatens to turn romantic. Just before it does, Clark breaks away. It’s an interesting little scene, and I rather wonder if it ever gets followed up during this era.
After rescuing the former Wonder Woman, the Man of Tomorrow heads back to the robot’s citadel, only to find it running out of energy. Gathering the other three unwilling time travelers, Superman desperately races to get back through the time rift before it closes, just barely making it. Grabbing Diana, he races off once again to reach the site of the destined riot, and the two split up to try and calm things down. Their efforts are for naught, though, as one of the hot-headed students throws a Molotov cocktail, blowing up a car, and the guards open fire. In the aftermath, Diana finds a kid safe and sound who matches the description of the future-bot, only for Superman to discover a dead guard who also could be the one. Desperately, the heroine asks her partner which one is their target, only for him to respond hopelessly that they’ll never know until it’s too late!
That’s quite an ending! It’s a bold move from a writer known for bold moves, with the situation left unresolved and a reasonably subtle delivery (for O’Neil) of his message. There are some fascinating ideas at play here, as well as a really interesting reaction to contemporary events, but the plot really needed another pass to tighten the story up. It’s unnecessarily convoluted, and we spend way too much time with the random thugs who want to shoot Wonder Woman. They add nothing to the plot or to the development of the story’s themes. I think this would have worked much better if the heroes had been summoned to the future more directly (if the machine can manipulate people’s minds to arrange a date, it could have done the same thing to just get those two to show up in the same place) and then spent more time on campus for the final crisis.
As is, the resolution is really rushed, and the dramatic, weighty declarations of doom delivered by the future-bot are undercut by the random arrival of the three thieves. On the positive side, it’s really fascinating to see the more sophisticated treatment of time travel that this comic employs, with the concept of possible futures and alternate time-lines. That’s a relatively later development of the genre, and one not often found in lighter fare. I’m sure O’Neil wasn’t the first to use this device, but I don’t think it was particularly wide-spread by ’71, making his use of it here innovative and impressive. O’Neil also does a good job writing both Wonder Woman and Superman, which makes sense given his experience with both, and their interaction is really interesting. Dick Dillin’s art is a bit uneven at times, but once again, his work here proves superior to that on JLA, with some really dynamic and also some really subtle work in action scenes and character moments. He produces a few panels that are downright magnificent.
Perhaps most notably, this issue seems to be a clear commentary on the then recent shootings at Kent State, which loom large in the American zeitgeist of that era. It’s interesting to see such a major event echoing into comics this way, and O’Neil’s take on it is really quite impressive in the little space he devotes to it. He presents the perspective of both sides in the conflict, with the kids frustrated at their lack of reception by the powers that be and the guards on edge because of abuse they’ve taken from the kids. Yet, he also illustrates the overly aggressive attitude by some of the guards. The final thrust of the piece, focusing on the lost potential of young lives ended, even if doing so in the most dramatic way possible, is really rather thought-provoking.. I suppose in the final analysis, I’ll give this off-beat issue 3.5 Minutemen. It’s flawed, but it is really fascinating.
The Head-Blow Headcount:
After a quiet period, we got not one but two new additions to the Headcount this month. In this post, we have a brand new addition to our prestigious club, with Lilith of the Teen Titans making an appearance. That means that we have most of the Titans team on the wall. We’re only missing Speedy and Mal! I wonder if they’ll join the gang before the end of the era.
With these three issues, we wrap up August 1971, which proved to be an important and memorable time in the Bronze Age, featuring a number of stories that would go on to have major implications for the DC Universe. First we saw the reappearance of Two-Face after decades in obscurity, and even though his story wasn’t quite the triumphant return that will greet the Joker in a few years, it was a still a fun adventure and marked an important re-connection of Batman to his history and rogue’s gallery. Despite the issue’s weaknesses, it still displayed a sophistication of art and characterization that marks the continuing growth and evolution of the Bat-books, which in many ways seem to be ahead of the rest of the DC Universe.
Even more noteworthy, this month saw the debut of the landmark drug story arc of Green Lantern/Green Arrow. That comic, which was much better than I expected it to be, was an absolute bolt from the blue when it appeared. It’s hard to recapture it’s significance over 40 years later, but despite it’s awkwardness and the clumsiness of some of O’Neil’s writing, we can still admire his attempt to grapple with something so very troubling and perilous in his world. The popularity of the issue, despite its obvious flaws, is indicative of just how much it resonated with audiences at the time.
Of course, one of the major problems with that story are revealed in the fairly innocuous second appearance of Speedy this month, in Teen Titans, wherein he is his usual happy-go-lucky self, with no trace of a drug habit or the trauma that was supposed to have caused it. Denny O’Neil’s loose attention to continuity leads to some significant dissonance between the portrayals. Worse than that will be the ongoing portrayal, where Speedy, I imagine, will likely continue unaffected (not least because he’s under the pen of one of the least continuity sensitive writers working at the time, Bob Haney). This undermines oen of the great strengths of shared-universe storytelling.
In the wider DC Universe, it seems that signs of unrest are everywhere, even showing up in the background of The Flash. Once again, the pressures on campus and the continuing generational conflict is center stage in some of our stories. These themes take two very different forms that remain similar in some notable ways. While the Robin backup focuses on drop-out culture and the rebellion against authority and the World’s Finest issue focused on the unknowable cost that follows the loss of a young life, they both also put narrative effort into presenting a balanced portrayal of both sides of their pictured conflicts. The DC writers seem to be making efforts to create a reasoned approach to these themes, even while courting younger readers, which makes sense given the more conservative nature of the company. Still, it is an admirable effort at creating understanding, even if only in small ways.
This month also saw Mike Sekowsky depart Adventure Comics and DC Comics in general. While I’m not sorry to see him go from Supergirl, it is a shame that we never got to see Sekowsky really develop his own series, with both of his self-authored ideas falling flat. It’s especially lamentable that his excellent Manhunter 2070 concept didn’t take off. It’s a little bittersweet to see one of the defining architects of the DC Universe ride into the sunset.
Whatever else it was, this was certainly a memorable month of comics, and it gave us some unexpected gems, like this issue of Teen Titans. I hope that y’all have enjoyed this leg of the journey as much as I have! Please join me soon for the beginning of our next month. Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!