Into the Bronze Age: December 1971 (Part 1)

Happy New Year! I imagine we’re all very happy to greet 2021. I know that I’ve never been quite so happy to say goodbye to year, at least! And what better way to start the new year than with Bronze Age comics? Well folks, welcome back to a new edition of Into the Bronze Age! I’m excited to get into the December cover-dated books of 1971. Glancing at the cover gallery, it looks like we’ve got some fun stories in store of us! In fact, we’ve got a pretty darn good set of comics in this batch. There are some fun surprises and some real winners in this set. So, without further ado, let’s get started with what was going on in the world in December of 1971!

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


This month in history:

  • The Cambodian Civil War intensifies, with conflicts between government forces and Khmer Rouge rebels.
  • Soviet space probe Mars 3 is first to soft land on Mars
  • Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujeira, Sharjah, and Umm ak Qiwain form United Arab Emirates and declare independence from the UK
  • President Nixon commutes Jimmy Hoffa’s jail term
  • The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 begins after Pakistani strikes in Northern India, which connected to the Bangladesh Liberation War
  • West German Chancellor Willy Brandt receives the Nobel Peace Prize
  • Multiple bombings and clashes in Ireland that claim several lives, including several IRA members being caught in the blasts of their own bombs
  • The Pakistani Army executes over 1,000 people in a genocidal ethnic and ideological purge of East Pakistan
  • India and Bangladesh win their wars, and Bangladesh achieves independence
  • Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) formed by Jesse Jackson
  • USA and Russia continue nuclear tests
  • Important films released this month included the horrifying A Clockwork Orange, which says something about the zeitgeist of the age, though I hesitate to say precisely what

The Troubles in Ireland escalate a great deal this month, with bombing after bombing and violence abounding. What a terrifying time that must have been for those who lived through it, never knowing if a simple visit to a pub might end in injury or death. On a more positive note, Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan this month, thanks in part to the support of India. In the US, things seem to have been fairly quiet as the nation approached Christmas. I wonder what that was like!

This month’s top song is the funky “Family Affair” by Sly and the Family Stone, which is apparently beloved but didn’t really grab me.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #407
  • Adventure Comics #413
  • Batman #237
  • Detective Comics #418
  • The Flash #211
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87
  • Justice League of America #95
  • Mr. Miracle #5
  • Phantom Strange #16
  • Superboy #180
  • Superman #246 (#245 was all reprints)
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #117
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144
  • Teen Titans #36
  • World’s Finest #208

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


Action Comics #407


Executive Editor: Carmine Infantino
Cover Artists: Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson

Superman: “The Fiend in the Fortress of Solitude”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Atom: “The Challenge of the Expanding World (II)”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler and Inker: Alex Toth
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Superman: “The Planet of Prey!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We begin the month with a rather typical Superman yarn, replete with secret identity drama and over the top super-feats, though Bates manages to make it a readable enough tale out of these conventional ingredients. The cover is pretty much faithful to what we find inside, though the device of having Supes spying the characters outside the fortress and the attendant rock wall makes it a bit muddy. It’s a solid if unremarkable cover, which is fitting for the story within.

The adventure begins with a small plane in peril, as its pilot struggles to bring it in for an emergency landing in the frozen north. In fact, as it noses in for a crash landing, we discover that the misplaced plane has actually touched down at the foot of the Fortress of Solitude! Fortunately for the pilot, Superman happens to be at home and rushes the fellow to an Alaskan hospital (one imagines Iceland would be closer to the North Pole). However, it turns out that this seemingly innocent airman is actually a notorious criminal the Metropolis Marvel once put away. The hero remembers his face, but too late, as the scofflaw had already stolen a plane and escaped.

Unbeknownst to Superman, the flying fugitive, Michael “King” Andrews has gotten away with the knowledge of the location of the Fortress of Solitude, and he proceeds to plot to rob the place as his revenge, recruiting his son, Mike Jr., who is living at a reform school. In a relatively effective bit of characterization, we discover that the boy is actually starting to turn his life around, enjoying the trust he’s earned at the school, but he feels like he can’t let his father down. Of course, the kid’s possible redemption doesn’t seem to have sunk in all that well, as he happily kidnaps Clark Kent at gunpoint for his father. I guess his qualms aren’t all that serious after all. Kent, playing possum to protect his secret identity and thus establishing the pattern for this story, is brought to an abandoned airfield, where they meet the third member of this criminal conspiracy, a mysterious electronics expert that Mr. Mild-Mannered realizes is wearing a disguise!

The quartet fly to the Fortress of Solitude, with “King” putting all the others to sleep, even his own son, remarking that a criminal can’t trust anyone. Once there, the electronics expert, Slesar, disables Superman’s security, and they break in (somehow without the gigantic key). Apparently the man-sized keyhole passes entirely through the door, which rather seems to defeat the purpose! Once inside, they lock Clark up and leave the boy to guard him, but a series of emergencies popping up around the globe force the undercover hero to create various distractions, allowing him to slip out and save the world, flying all the way around the globe, putting out fires and saving submarines (poaching in Aquaman’s domain there!), all in a matter of seconds, which is just plain ridiculous.

The power level of the Silver Age Superman certainly seems to be back to its full extent, and it is just plot-breaking. If the Man of Steel can zoom around the entire Earth and carry out various incredibly complex tasks, all in under ten seconds, than he certainly could have just zoomed away and captured the intruders without giving away his identity. This kind of thing rather bothers me. I’m fine with Superman using his super speed to zoom across a room and back faster than the eye can see, but when he does that on a planetary scale, it’s just too much!

Anyway, overblown power levels aside, the adventure comes to a head when “King” tells his son, worried about an apparently trapped Clark Kent, that he was just going to kill the reporter anyway, as ruthlessness is also required of a successful crook, a sentiment that “Slesar” shares, unfortunately for his partners in perfidy. The electronics expert reveals himself to be…Lex Luthor! It isn’t all that much of a surprise, but the revelation is still fun, and Luthor is truly nasty here, as he’s planted a bomb in the Fortress and plans on killing both the Andrews pair in cold blood to keep them from warning the Man of Tomorrow! “King” isn’t one to take such things meekly, however, and the two shoot it out, with Luthor”s lethal laser laying his foe low. That gives us another on-panel murder! The Comics Code Authority folks must have been asleep at the switch.

Just then, Superman returns and captures his nemesis (with a tap!), disposes of the bomb, and comforts the young Mike, who now sees the error of his ways and wants to avoid his father’s fate. Interestingly, the tale ends with the Action Ace asking Luthor if he truly hated him enough to sacrifice his own life to kill him, and Luthor’s sullen reply, “You know the answer to that, Superman” shows a surprisingly vicious portrayal of the character, which is striking.

Well, this was a solid, if unremarkable, story. The plot was pretty simple, with the secret identity antics, though fun to see thanks to Curt Swan’s lovely pencils, not terribly interesting to read. Yet, the different unique elements help it to stay entertaining. The understated arc of the young hoodlum, Mike Jr., and his discovery of his rotten father’s true character leading to his transformation is actually quite effective. Bates does a lot with those characters with very little “screen time”. Luthor’s plot and his cold ruthlessness are also an interesting addition, really marking him as an effective and threatening villain. It helps that he straight-up kills “King”, which is still a rarity in this era. Swan’s art is good throughout, and Superman’s side trips are quite striking. The ultimate result is a fine read that I enjoyed better than I expected. I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, as it is a little above average thanks to the subplots.


The Planet of Prey


This month’s backup is a lot more creative than our headline tale, resulting in a clever and interesting little sci-fi superhero adventure. It begins with the Action Ace returning home from a mission in space when he encounters a strange planetoid that veers into his path. When he approaches it, he finds himself besieged by the telepathic ‘squawking’ of a flock of alien avians. They swarm about the Man of Steel, but he easily and relatively gently dispatches them. Heading down to the surface, he discovers that the seemingly barren world has suddenly transformed into a miniature copy of Krypton, complete with micro-sized versions of his birth parents, Jor-El and Lara! They beckon him down, but Kal-El realizes they obviously can’t be his parents and heads back into orbit, feeling strangely drained from the effort.

And this brings me to the small but crucial detail that really made me appreciate this yarn. Bates throws something strange and intriguing at his hero, but he still has Superman behave like a rational, intelligent person rather than a gullible idiot. In the typical version of this type of plot, characters who have seen illusions masquerading as loved ones hundreds of times seem to instantly and foolishly believe the evidence of their eyes and ignore the impossibility of the situation, doing intensely stupid things as a result. I really enjoyed that Bates didn’t go the way I expected when I saw fun-sized Jor-El. Instead, our Kryptonian traveler is confused and suspicious, which is the rational response to such a sight, and I appreciate that type of logical consistency.

What gorgeous work Swan did on the faces of Kal’s parents! He really packed a lot of personality into these two.

Anyway, once back in space, the Metropolis Marvel looks down to see that the world has now turned into a scale version of the Earth, complete with a tiny crumbling Metropolis and bite-sized Jimmy and Lois trapped within. Even then Superman doesn’t just rush in like a moron, but perplexed, he lands nearby, and then the trap springs! The illusion vanishes and the very soil seems to reach out to swallow him as the gravitic pull of the world suddenly increases a thousandfold!

In another clever moment, the Man of Steel tries to emulate the Fastest Man Alive, trying out his friend The Flash’s vibrating trick to escape. It isn’t enough, but just then he begins to hear telepathic messages of hope, and the alien birds from the beginning of the story arrive and break him free. They explain that he is now vibrating at their wavelength, enabling them to communicate with him. They tried to warn him off earlier, but he thought it was an attack. Apparently they live in a symbiotic relationship with this strange, predatory planetoid, which uses psychic illusions to lure in unwary spacefarers in order to consume them. Superman wonders why they would deprive themselves of sustenance, but surprisingly, they inform him that it was a purely mercenary action, as they have learned that the world becomes unhealthy for them when it consumes sentient life!

What a fun, creative, and unusual story! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I love that Bates told a story that maintained psychological realism and logical consistency, creating actual. reasonable motivations for his protagonist instead of having things just happen ‘because of plot.’ Even better, the central concept, although not completely unique, is interesting, and he really does keep you guessing as the adventure unfolds. I also love that last touch, that the alien creatures saved our hero, not because of altruistic motivations, but simply out of self-preservation! It’s a simple story, but it’s quite well crafted with a lot of small but significant creative touches. The art, of course, is lovely, and Swan gets to stretch his creative muscles with the alien creatures, doing a good job of rendering the different scales of his hero and the illusions. I’ll give this brief but high quality little outing 4.5 Minutemen!


Adventure Comics #413


Supergirl: “The Walking Bombs!”
Writer: John Albano
Penciler: Art Saaf
Inker: Bob Oksner
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editors: Joe Orlando and Mark Hanerfeld
Cover Artist: Bob Oksner

Hawkman: “Earth’s Impossible Day!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler/Inker: Joe Kubert
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Zatanna: “Zatanna the Magician!”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler/Inker: Gray Morrow
Editor: Joe Orlando

Robotman: “The Robot Ghost!”
Penciler/Inker: Frank Bolle
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

Our Adventure Comics headline tale this month is an odd collection of elements that don’t quite fit together. It has some really charming touches, though, and Albano manages to give this Supergirl adventure some unique personality for the Maid of Might. All of this lies underneath a striking but strange cover. Our central image is pretty arresting, but it also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We’ve got a four-armed robotic walking bomb dressed up in a suit, apparently robbing a bank. If you were to take way the extra appendages, this would work reasonably well, capturing a moment of shocking discovery. However, if you think about the image for a minute, it make so no real sense. If you’re trying to pass off your android as a person, why in the world would you give him an extra set of arms? Other than that detail, which continues to bother me in the story itself, it is a nice-looking cover, which communicates the peril reasonably effectively.

The story begins with Linda Danvers rushing through town on some vital errand…specifically, she’s trying to get to a sale at a department store! In a fun detail, she thinks to herself that she can’t use her super speed to beat the rush because it wouldn’t be fair to the other shoppers. We join the disguised Girl of Steel as she tries on some different outfits, and the fashion themes of this book continue as Art Saaf indulges his inner fashion designer. Unfortunately, our young heroine indulges in a bit too much bargain hunting and has to head to the bank, only to discover that the place is being robbed! What’s more, the thief is a four-armed robot of all things! The Girl of Tomorrow ducks into a convenient alley and begins to change, only to discover that she’s got an audience in the form of a resident bum, who is quite happy to extend her hospitality. She is in too much of a hurry to find a handy telephone booth like her cousin, so she shoves the voyeur’s hat down over his eyes and completes her transformation into Supergirl. This whole exchange cracked me up. This is a hilarious and fun little scene that adds a sense of whimsy to the tale.

Once inside the bank, the Maid of Might is confronted with the towering android, who announces that if she interferes with his heist, he will blow the surrounding city blocks to smithereens! Just then, a young boy attacks the bank-robbing bot for stealing his mother’s deposit, and when the machine is about to strike the kid, it suddenly hesitates, and instead returns the money. How odd! Having no real choice, Supergirl lets the android escape in a flying sphere. She trails the fleeing felon to a secret underground lab, smashing in to find a turtleneck-wearing mad scientist who traps her in an electrical cage. The mastermind warns the Girl of Steel that if she breaks out, it will set off bombs in San Fransisco! As an aside, I hate it when writers mix real American cities with the usual DC geography. It blurs the lines of the setting, in my mind.

At any rate, our villain starts to monologue, and it is at this point that the major discordant note of the story enters the equation. The machine-making mad scientist tells his superheroic guest his tale of woe. His name is Robert Meekly, and he was a banker whose son suffered an accident that left him blind. The boy’s only hope was an operation that would cost $25,000, an astronomical amount for his hapless father. Meekly tries everything to raise the money, but his last hope, the president of his bank, refuses his loan, despite the fact that he’s served faithfully for 15 years. So, the desperate father does what he has to do and steals the money, going to prison as a result, but not before he gets his son the operation. To make things worse, while he was imprisoned, his wife took his son and disappeared.

Okay, now just hold on a minute…apparently our mad scientist learned robot building and bomb making…while working in a bank? Really? I know that super-science is easily accessible in the DC Universe, but come on! This is just ridiculous! Well, balmy bona-fides aside, the unfortunately named Meekly has come to deserve a less harmless name, as he now plans to get his revenge by robbing and blowing up banks across the country. He leaves our hobbled heroine to carry out his sinister scheme, and she prepares to escape, only to discover that her on-again-off-again powers are conveniently off again. Despite this limitation, the resourceful Supergirl manages to short out the electrical cage with a hair pin, which is another fun touch.

She interrupts Meekly’s machinations, only for him to try to strangle the powerless powerhouse! Even without powers, Linda is no pushover, and she breaks free. Then her powers return just as conveniently, and she smashes through the robotic roughnecks, but not before the mad Meekly manages to release some of his death machines, targeting two banks. The Maid of Might tells the irate inventor that his son is actually the teller at one of those banks! Meekly suddenly realizes his terrible mistake and agrees to help Supergirl stop the walking bombs. They split up, and he does indeed manage to capture his robotic bomber, but it blows up before he can dismantle it. While searching the wreckage, the authorities find the medal that Meekly was constantly playing with, and they realize that it was a little league award for his son.

Well, on that cheerful note, our tale ends, and we find ourselves with a discordant mixture of elements that just don’t really add up to a coherent whole. We’ve got a charming, off-beat opening, a tragic origin for our villain that doesn’t match his eventual M.O. at all, and then that downbeat ending. The banker-turned-supervillain mad scientist just doesn’t make any sense, but the basic plot is pretty straight-forward and works reasonably well. I find the little details of Supergirl’s shopping spree and changing challenges quite charming, and Albano seems to have a solid handle on her characterization. It seems that some of the themes that we’ve seen in this run of the series are continuing, with an ongoing emphasis on fashion and a uniquely feminine touch to some of the plots. That’s interesting, and I still find myself wondering just how much of the book’s contemporary audience was female and how well this focus worked. Despite those positive elements, I am already getting tired of the disappearing superpowers gimmick. I’d like to see more made of this or it wrapped up already. On the art front, Saaf’s pencils are quite pretty throughout, and he injects a ton of personality into his characters. I suppose this more or less all evens out, and I’ll give the whole kit and caboodle an average 3 Minutemen.


Zatanna the Magician


The highlight of the book and, quite possibly, the month, is this brief backup tale with Zatanna. It’s great fun, and boy is it gorgeous with Gray Morrow doing the art chores! It begins with our heroine’s retired father, Zatarra, researching “the realm of the supernatural” when he is ambushed by some spectral spooks who creep out of the woodwork in his study. Meanwhile, the Maid of Magic herself is in the basement talking to her manager, Jeff, trying to convince him that she should use legerdemain instead of her actual magical powers in her stage show. In a fun little sequence, Zatanna explains that, while real magic is very easy for her, almost like cheating, illusion takes skill and practice.

The pair head upstairs to get some coffee, only to be ambushed by her mind-controlled father, who banishes them into another dimension! The Mistress of Mysticism finds her powers outclassed and unable to transport them back, so they go in search of a natural “dimensional juncture” or meeting place between dimensions. She whips up a flying carpet, and away they go. Unfortunately, they suddenly find themselves under fire by a gang of barbarians. They land, and Zatanna whips up a sword and shield for Jeff, who objects that he doesn’t know how to use them. In a great sequence, the pair manage to hold their own for a few minutes but eventually get overwhelmed. Our tale ends with both dimensional exiles unconscious and in the hands of the barbarians, who remark that “the Master” will be pleased with them.

This is a great little story, just full of interest and color. It gives us an intriguing, all-too brief glimpse of the daily life of the magical pair and sets up an equally intriguing adventure, with Zatanna swept away into strange environs by her bewitched father. There’s some good action, some creative designs, and some nice character touches, with some good banter between The Maid of Magic and her manager, all packed into only 7 pages. Also, I’m tickled that the manager apparently gets his wardrobe from the same place as the ever-fashionable Geoff from Supergirl’s supporting cast, as he is dressed in the height of groovy 70s fashion. Of course, bringing all of this to life in inimitable style is Gray Morrow, who’s work is just plain lovely, while also being dynamic and full of energy. There’s never a panel where the characters are simply still and static; someone is always moving or interacting, with hair waving about or clothing in motion. It’s pretty impressive. The whole makes for a great story, and the only real problem with it is that there should be more of it, which is a great problem to have! I’ll give this delightful little adventure 4.5 Minutemen. I feel like Zatanna is a character with a lot of potential, but I’ve never really read a solo story with her, so I am quite looking forward to seeing more of her adventures!


Batman #237


Executive Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Gaspar Saladino

“Night of the Reaper!”
Writers: Dennis O’Neil, Bernie Wrightson, Harlan Ellison
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Screaming House”
Writer: Bill Finger
Pencilers: Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson
Inker: Bob Kane
Letterer: Jerry Robinson
Editor: Vincent Sullivan

Our Batman issue this month is, as usual, a cut above the average stories we’re seeing. It’s a pretty cool tale, with a fun setting and a surprising subject, though it has a bit of a tone problem, bouncing between spooky and funny, light hearted and heavy. We’ve got a pretty good cover, which is not much of a surprise from Neal Adams. It features a nice, menacing figure threatening Robin, creating good tension and interest, though the red background is a bit overpowering, I think.

The comic itself begins with a really striking splash page, featuring Batman pinned to a tree with a stake! How could this be? Well, it will be a little while before we get an answer, as we jump to a delightful two-page spread featuring Robin and three of his friends (who never get named, oddly enough), visiting the comic-famous Rutland Halloween Parade, which provided an opportunity for backdoor crossovers between DC and Marvel Comics in the Bronze Age. This real world phenomenon was a superhero themed event in Rutland, Vermont, which local writer and comic fan Tom Fagan, promoted in both DC and Marvel comics, featuring many attendees dressed as their favorite comic heroes, including comic book professionals. In the 70s, beginning with Avengers #83, both DC and Marvel creative teams began to use the event as a setting for unofficial crossovers between their characters. This Batman yarn is the second such and the first from DC.

Robin and his friends, who are apparently subtle cameos by comic creators (left to right, I think) Bernie Wrightson, Gerry Conway, and Alan Weiss, which is a really fun detail that I didn’t know until I started researching these “crossovers”. One of these friends, Alan, if my identification is correct, is a bit wacked-out because he’s been up for three days cramming for exams (and maybe taking stimulants more powerful than coffee!), and he’s obsessed with the floats. Also in attendance are costumed revelers dressed as such mixed Marvel and DC stars as Captain America, Hawkman, Havok, a bespectacled Aquaman, and a portly Man of Steel, among others. Unfortunately the festivities are interrupted by a fight, as three men jump a parade-goer dressed as….Robin! Dick and his buddies (minus the distracted Alan) charge over to even the odds, a concept that I always appreciate in fiction. Mr. Terrific would be proud!

Though the good Samaritans’ hearts are in the right place, they’re a bit outclassed, and soon Dick’s buddies get bashed, and he’s left to handle the situation by himself. He’s also got to do it without giving away his secret identity by fighting too well. He gets two of the toughs, but then Alan stumbles into him, giving the third an opening. Suddenly the Teen Wonder finds himself kissing pavement as the punks escape (I’m going to say that this doesn’t count as a Headblow for the Headcount, as Dick maintains consciousness). The roughed-up Robin replacement reveals that he doesn’t know what caused the attack, leading the real Robin to conclude that someone may have actually meant to target him, as the gunsels seemed like professionals. Slipping away, he dons his costume and starts to investigate, soon stumbling upon the transfixed Caped Crusader from our opening scene.

Tremblingly, the horrified hero approaches the tree, only to discover that the hanging form is not his pierced partner but a pegged party-goer in a Batman costume. As the Teen Titan tries to gather his wits, he’s attacked by the grim reaper, or at least a reasonable facsimile! Robin dodges a blow but trips on a rock and plunges over the cliff-side, striking his head on the rocks below (Man, Dick is really not coming off too well in this story, is he?). Fortunately, Batman arrives in the nick of time and pulls his imperiled partner from the drink before he drowns. The Dark Knight takes his sore sidekick to Tom Fagan’s house, where there is a Halloween party in full swing.

There Dick is treated by an aged German physicians, Dr. Gruener, who helps the Masked Manunter explain what he’s doing in Rutland. Apparently the doctor is a survivor of a concentration camp, a camp run by an escaped Nazi war criminal nicknamed “The Butcher.” They suspect that he’s hiding nearby, as the doctor having learned his former tormentor was in town. They hope that, since the Nazi was obsessed with masquerade parties, the superhero shindig of Rutland might lure him into the open. However, to complicate matters, Schloss, “The Butcher”, stole some gold from his fellow Nazis when he fled the sinking ship that was the Reich, and his former friends have found him as well and have dispatched a hit-squad to handle him.

That’s Tom Fagan in the top panel, who apparently always stayed in character during the parade

Leaving Robin to recover, Batman heads out into the party to search for his quarry, and here we get some more fun cameos. Not only do we see a rather homemade Thor costume, but we also see Spider-Man, or rather, “Webslinger Lad.” In addition to the mighty Marvelites, Denny O’Neil himself is chatting with Thor, while Len Wein, looking like Cain from House of Mystery, provides snide commentary nearby. This is another great little meta touch. However, if you notice it, it does detract a bit from the search for a Nazi war criminal. On that subject, the Dark Knight heads outside, and finds the reaper’s latest victim with the help of the still dazed and confused Alan. While continuing his search, the Caped Crusader notices a light in the tower of Fagan’s house, a light being used as a signal. The Masked Manhunter ambushes a few of the Nazis hunting his target in a sequence that is a bit cooler in premise than in practice, as Adams’ art doesn’t quite capture the action like you’d expect, but he makes up for it in the following pages. Batman hauls one of the assassins out a window and dangles him off a roof to interrogate him. The fellow confesses that they planted a bomb in the traitor’s car, which explodes, killing “The Butcher”, despite Batman’s best efforts. It’s a really rather spectacular sequence.

The Dark Knight is angry and frustrated, and when Robin tries to comfort him, he lashes out, telling his partner that the case isn’t over, as the Nazis don’t account for all of the killings. But he knows who does. The Gotham Guardian sets out on a grim business, tracking down the Reaper, who he finally confronts, calling him by name….Dr. Gruener! The Holocaust survivor acknowledges the truth of Batman’s declaration, explaining that he simply couldn’t let “The Butcher” get away without getting his revenge, revenge for his entire family who died in the camps. He reported his discovery of the Nazi to the authorities, but then he thought better of it and tried to kill anyone who he thought might get in the way of his exacting his own revenge, like the Dynamic Duo. The Masked Manhunter struggles with his sympathy for the Doctor and his quest, but he ultimately rejects the sentiment, proclaiming that no man has a right to play judge and jury by himself (which is a nice character moment and a key component of who Batman is).

The pair struggle, but their fight comes to an unexpected and tragic conclusion when Alan wanders back into the scene, still dazed and confused. He bumps into Gruener as the older man is running across a dam, prompting the desperate doctor to prepare to kill him, only to see the Star of David the young man is wearing and finally realize that he was himself becoming a monster like the one who destroyed his family. Staggering blindly backwards, the doctor falls to this doom on the ground below as Batman looks helplessly on. It’s a really well-executed moment, and Adams’ art is superb.

This is a good story, though it is a bit uneven in tone, with moments of comedy, clever cameos, horror, and tragedy all fighting for space and balance. You can certainly have comedic beats in a story that tackles serious themes (the Marvel movies have turned that into an art form), but it feels incongruous here, especially because the transitions between those moments are a little too sharp and because O’Neil is dealing with just about the heaviest of heaviest themes, the Holocaust. Once again, he deserves some credit for tackling a pretty dark and serious topic for this era of comics, and he does some good work with it, making the camp survivor, Dr. Gruener sympathetic and tragic in fairly little space. Apparently it was Harlan Ellison’s idea to write a story on that subject, which is why he gets the credit at the beginning of the issue.

On the lighter side, all of the cameos and the Rutland setting itself are really fun. I can only imagine what a thrill it was as a young fan to see Thor sharing the page with Batman, even if only as a joke. It would be several years before there would be any official crossovers between DC and Marvel, so this would have been an exciting and almost unprecedented experience. Of course, Adams’ art is quite good, moody and dynamic, really delivering on the tension and action in many scenes, but there are also a few places where his figures or poses end up looking a tad odd, which is unusual for him. All-in-all, this is a good and entertaining read, even if it doesn’t quite come together. I’ll give it a solid 4 Minutemen.


That will do it for this set of stories, and a fine set it was! I hope that y’all enjoyed my coverage as much as I enjoyed writing it! Please join me again soon for the next batch of books as we continue our voyage Into the Bronze Age!


Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 5)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpg
Greetings dear readers!  Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got a very unusual and memorable pair of books to cover in this batch, for better or worse.  We have the JLA guest starring in Lois Lane (sort of) and the beginning of the infamous Don Rickles appearance in Jimmy Olsen.  The Superman family books are rather bonkers this month, it seems.  Join me and see what you can make of the madness that follows!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111


Lois_Lane_111

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Law of the 100”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s a wonderful villain image.

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

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

 


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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

 


Final Thoughts:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Into the Bronze Age: June 1971 (Part 4)

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Thanks for joining me for another stop on our journey Into the Bronze Age!  It’s all Superman, all the time in this post, so I hope you like the Man of Steel!  Yet, these are three very different comics, so there is probably something for everyone to be found here, even with the same character featured in all three.  That is a feature of the Bronze Age, the variety of styles and stories available at the same time.  It’s a wide and varied selection of comics that DC published in the 1970s, and about to grow wider in the coming years.  So, let’s see what awaits us in these comics, shall we?

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

 


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #401
  • Adventure Comics #407
  • Batman #232
  • Detective Comics #412
  • The Flash #207
  • Justice League of America #90
  • Mr. Miracle #2
  • The Phantom Stranger #13
  • Superboy #174 (reprints)
  • Superboy #175
  • Superman #238
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138
  • Teen Titans #33
  • World’s Finest #203

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


Superboy #175


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“Doomsday for a Super-Phantom!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

I am growing to dread seeing Leo Dorfman’s name in the credits.  His stories tend to be on the goofier, more poorly thought out side.  This particular offering is a weird hybrid.  There are elements of it that are quite goofy and others that show a surprising amount of thought.  It has a decent cover, with the shriveled husk of Superboy a pretty striking image.  The villain isn’t that imposing, however, just standing there, though he isn’t that impressive inside either.  The story itself concerns a modern day warlock named oh-so-originally ‘Faustus,’ and his ‘coven,’ his extended family who are supposedly descended from “the race of witches and warlocks.”  Now, putting aside for a moment that the idea of a “race” of witches makes no sense, this actually sounds a bit like the origin of Zatanna Zatara and her “Homo Magi” ancestry.  Interestingly enough, this little tale actually predates that development of Zatanna’s mythos.

Anyway, these modern day magic users are mostly a sad lot, not having much mystical mojo after centuries of inbreeding with regular humans.  Still, Faustus has gathered the family in the hopes of restoring their preternatural power by stealing it from the greatest source remaining in the modern world….Superboy!  Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘Superboy’s powers aren’t supernatural!’  And you’re right.  To my surprise, that little detail is actually addressed in this comic.

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While most of his family’s powers have withered, Faustus plans to supplement their abilities with technology, as he declares that he has become “the world’s greatest expert in cybernetics,” which, while possibly fitting into a technical definition of the term, really doesn’t quite seem to be a great fit.  Nonetheless, he uses his machines and the most promising of his relatives, an orphan named Asmo, to reach out and steal Superboy’s soul in a decent looking two-page spread.  When the spirit arrives in their lab, he explains that his powers are not magical (see), but scientific, the result of his Kryptonian biology.  He also points out that everyone knows this, making Faustus quite the moron.

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Meanwhile, Superboy’s body sort of continues functioning on autopilot, botching the repair job he was doing on a shattered bridge and flying home, his memory gone, but his instincts remaining…which doesn’t quite fit with what we see.  In the warlock’s lab, the ‘Super Phantom’ seems useless, so most of his family abandons him, but Faustus plans to use Asmo to make use of their catch.  By luring the Boy of Steel’s body to them with a fake distress call, they supercharge the ghost with its powers and leave the discarded form trussed up like a scarecrow.

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Faustus tries to take control of his ‘Super Phantom,’ but Asmo was the source of the power, so he is his master, and when the boy orders the spirit to bring them home, they discover that his powers have manifested as psychokinesis, the one ability that a phantom could use…which actually makes some sense, insofar as a portrayal of magic can.  When they arrive at Faustus’s mansion, the warlock tries to get the boy to use Superboy’s spirit for big, showy crimes and evil deeds, but the kid just uses him for childish desires, like sporting equipment from his heroes and an entire Olympic skating rink.  There’s a sad little scene where Superghost, left on his own for a while, recovers his body and brings it home, only to scare his parents half to death because they can’t see the spirit and just see their son, seemingly dead.  Nice job Clark!

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Back at the mansion, Faustus grows impatient with the boy’s lack of vision, especially when Asmo decides that he has no right to us Superboy for his own benefit when so many people depend on him.  The magician strikes the boy, but realizing that the kid could have Superspirit squish him, the warlock changes his tune and promises to reunite soul and body.  Yet, he betrays Asmo and plans to transfer the power to himself when suddenly his computers seem to suddenly goes all Skynet on him and gains sentience.  The mad machine tosses its former master about until he agrees to obey it, and after some frantic rewiring, the whole house begins to shake.

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Suddenly, Superboy’s body crashes through the wall and spirit and flesh fuse back into a whole.  Not to be beaten, Faustus rushes to press his lab’s self-destruct switch, only to be electrocuted because of the rewiring he had done.  To end the adventure, Superboy explains that he used the telepathy that being a spirit granted him (sure) to read the warlock’s mind, learn how to work the computers and devices, then make them seem to turn on their master and convince him to create a machine that would undo his bodiless condition.

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It’s all really pat and convenient, and it seems more than a little bit of  a stretch.  I know Superboy is supposed to be super smart, but this just seems to take things a tad far, as the kid does all of this presumably incredibly advanced science and magic on the fly, all after reading the antagonist’s mind, despite showing no ability to do that before that point.  The rest of the story is surprisingly fun for a Dorfman tale.  As a matter of fact, the basic concepts, descendants of magic users in the modern world and the fusion of mysticism and technology are pretty promising.  They’ll be parlayed into better stories later on in this decade.  Still, despite its goofy elements and rushed, silly ending, this is a fun enough read.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen, knocked off of the average by that ending.

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P.S.: This comic also includes a weird little two page feature explaining why Ma and Pa Kent look younger these days.  I’m really curious what the real-world explanation is, because the in-universe retcon is that an alien TV executive was secretly filming Superboy for a show, and when his bosses wanted younger actors for the Kents, he sent them a youth serum, and the Boy of Steel faked a mass incident with other old folks to hide the fact that his parents specifically were effected.  So apparently in the DC Universe there are gonna’ be about half a dozen folks from Smallville that are going to have drastically increased lifespans!  What a weird little attempt to address a continuity problem!


Superman #238


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“Menace at 1000 Degrees!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Carmine Infantino

“A Name Is Born”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Gray Morrow
Inker: Gray Morrow

This is not the story I expected.  That’s not to say that it isn’t a good story.  In fact, it is, but this cover led me to expect something rather different.  Despite that, it’s a really great image.  I’ve been looking at this comic coming up in my reading order and I’ve been pretty excited about it.  The two figures, beautifully rendered, perfectly convey a crisis of perspective, with Superman’s mirror image lacking the empathy that makes the Man of Steel a hero and thus unwilling to help his counterpart.  The cover copy is hardly needed, the image is so effective.  The trouble is, while this moment is actually in the comic, it is pretty much entirely ancillary to the actual plot.

That plot, instead, centers around the still weakened Man of Tomorrow’s efforts to save the world despite his lessened powers, which is a promising setup.  Oddly, we don’t pick up where our last issue left off, with Superman confronting his dusty doppelganger.  Instead, our hero has gone back to his normal life in Metropolis, and we join him as he springs into action when he hears reports of modern day pirates attacking a ship.  (Hey!  Quit horning in on Aquaman’s act!)

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Still feeling the effects of his contact with his opposite number, the Metropolis Marvel is unable to fly, so he leaps over tall buildings in a single bound on the way to the sea.  Once he arrives at the site of the attack, he just drops straight through one of the pirate ships, which is pretty funny and clever.  The Man of Steel then stops a torpedo from the other craft, though it actually stuns him in his weakened condition.  Fortunately, the Coast Guard arrives and mops up.

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superman 238 0006Unfortunately, they soon realize that this pirate attack was actually a ruse to draw the Coast Guard ship away from its station, guarding “Project Magma.”  Essentially, this is an effort to tap the magma below the Earth’s crust in an effort to provide unlimited power, as the world has begun to realize that oil, coal, and the rest won’t last forever.  The trouble is, the undertaking is incredibly dangerous, because of course it is.  Once again, DC scientists just can’t help but create things that imperil the world, can they?  Well, Superman leaps to the floating test site, only to be met with a “magma house” which is…pretty much exactly what you’d expect.  In a nice sequence, the Action Ace is covered in molten rock, knocked out of the sky, and then trapped as the stone cools upon contact with the water.

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Straining mightily, the Kryptonain manages to break free, but he realizes that the platform is too well defended for him to take by himself without the terrorists having a chance to cause incredible destruction, so he decides to call in the Justice Leag…err…no.  In fact, Superman declares that “there’s just one creature in the universe I can call on,” and that’s his alluvial alternate, the Sand Superman.  Really?  With the entire League at your disposal, he’s the only one who can help?  It’s not like you’re friends with the World’s Greatest Detective, who could develop a foolproof plan for storming the facility, or the Fastest Man Alive, who could disarm all of the terrorists before they even knew they were threatened, or the King of the Seven Seas, who could summon an army of sea creatures to swamp them and wash the place clean.  It’s a tad silly.  If O’Neil had just given us a single line of dialog saying, ‘It’s too bad the JLA are on another case’ or something, there wouldn’t be a problem, but this is an example of the narrative moving at the speed of plot.

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Anyway, it’s at this point that our cover image gets its payoff, as Superman goes to meet his dusty double in the hopes of persuading him to help, but the Sand Superman won’t budge, pointing out that mankind means nothing to him because he isn’t human.  There is a really intriguing element to this encounter, as the doppelganger has the original’s powers and knowledge, but he lacks the human upbringing and experiences that make Superman himself a humble man rather than a superior god.  This doesn’t get developed, which is something of a shame, but neither does it get resolved, so I imagine we’ll see this thread get paid off in a later issue.

In the meantime, the terrorists, lead by a freelance spy named Quig, issue their demands.  It seems that they’re a desperate lot how have run out of places to hide, so they have nothing to lose, and they threaten to unleash a bomb under the Earth’s crust unless their demands are met.  They want a hydrogen bomb, $50 million in gold, and 50 hostages to ensure everyone plays nice.  Interestingly, Lois volunteers to be one of the hostages so that she can be on hand to get the story, which is really brave…probably stupidly brave, but it mostly works.  This brings us to another little flaw in the story, as the powers that be simply roll over and give the terrorists literally everything they want, which is pretty insane in context.  There’s no stalling, no negotiation, just, ‘here’s your 50 hostages, gold, and nuke!  Have a nice day!’

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As Quig gloats over his success, he notices Lois and calls her over.  The daring girl reporter puts him at his ease, then snatches his gun and tries to force the terrorist to give up.  Unfortunately, he’s got nerves of steel, and she backs down before he does, which I wasn’t crazy about.  It’s really a no-win situation for Lois, because if she kills him, she’s going to get gunned down by his men, but she mostly gives up because she doesn’t have the will to shoot him, which seems out of character.  It’s not that Lois would want to take a life, but I think she’s a tough enough lady that, if she had to, she would do so and then feel bad about it afterward.

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After she surrenders the gun, Quin plans to shoot her as an example, but then one of the hostages moves with blinding speed, grabs the girl reporter and takes her to safety.  As he runs, he sheds his disguise to reveal the colorful costume of…Superman!  In a funny bit of detail, he once again is rather annoyed at Lois getting herself into such a situation, telling her “Stay put, Lois!  For once–just…keep out of trouble!”  The Man of Steel then takes out Quig’s men and disables the Magma cannon, but he isn’t quick enough to stop the head terrorist himself from releasing his bomb down the shaft.

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The Man of Tomorrow dives after the explosive, falling a great distance (though the art doesn’t really show that), catching the deadly device, and throwing it back out of the chute.  When he emerges, Superman easily captures Quig, but he finds himself at something of a loss about how to answer Lois’s questions about why he waited so long for his rescue.  What can he tell her without revealing his diminished powers?

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This is a good, solid Superman story, with a lot going for it.  The danger he faces is appropriately cataclysmic, and the magma-hose is a good, believable way to allow the regular human terrorists to pose a bit of a threat to the Kryptonian powerhouse.  The device of his weakened powers is also a good one, forcing the hero to take a different approach than he is used to and ramping up the stakes in the story.  This is not the planet-juggling Superman of the Silver Age, and the tale is more dramatic because the odds are a bit longer for him.  Throughout, Curt Swan’s art is even better than usual.  His depiction of the Sandy Superman, which I didn’t think entirely worked last issue, is really lovely in this one, as the creature’s dusty form drifts away in the arctic winds.  My only real disappointment, other than minor quibbles about Lois’s portrayal, is that I had hoped for a bit more out of the Sand Superman plot, but that isn’t really a fault with this story.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen for a good, enjoyable Superman adventure that continues to develop O’Neil’s intriguing plot threads.

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“A Name is Born”


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Our backup feature is another edition of ‘The Fabulous World of Krypton,’ and this is really a great short story!  It tells the tale of how Krypton was named.  It begins with two Kryptonian school teachers talking about their classes, with the younger complaining that she can’t get her “level-one students” (presumably like first graders) to sit still for five minutes.  I’m sure any parents or teachers among my readers are shocked by this.

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Her older colleague offers her a story that he claims will keep the class enraptured, and we flash back to the early life of the planet Krypton.  The world is surrounded by a cocoon of strange matter and has no human life upon its surface.  An alien spacecraft makes a landing, but it is observed by a castaway, a different alien whose ship crash-landed on barren planet.

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The two strangers approach one another, both hoping for a peaceful meeting but prepared for hostilities.  The marooned spacer, a xenobiologist, presents the newcomer with a small flower, but unfortunately, it reacts with the strange atmosphere and erupts.  The startled pilot reacts violently, thinking this was an attack.  He draws his weapon and fires, but his ersatz foe, though not a warrior, has a defensive shield that absorbs ray-blasts, allowing the energy to be channeled off safely.

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The fight becomes hand to hand and desperate, but as the newcomer tackles the castaway, his would-be victim spots a deadly peril approaching, as part of the matter surrounding the world rained down upon them.  The biologist, realizing that escape was impossible, chooses to throw the warrior to safety, becoming mired in a clinging, suffocating slime.  There’s a wonderful moment as each of these strangers wonders about the other’s motive, but the newcomer chooses to trust that this gesture was a selfless one, and shoots his former foe, charging the shield and allowing the power to be diverted into the clinging matter.

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Finally, the two stand facing each other in peace, and when they remove their helmets, they discover that they are both humanoid, and that the biologist, is actually a woman!  It’s a great reveal.  They introduce themselves, Kryp, the newcomer, and Tonn, the castaway, and discover that the warrior’s ship has been damaged too, so they are stuck on this planet for a while.  And that is how Krypton got its name, and its first inhabitants.

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This is a really great little story, with some fun action, some nice sci-fi flavor, and a surprisingly effective message about giving folks the benefit of the doubt.  It’s a very effective science fiction morality play, something the genre excels at.  Gray Morrow’s art is just great, with a really unusual style full of details both thoughtful and decorative, like the collapsible stock on Kryp’s weapon, or the stylized creature on his helmet.  I’ve heard of Morrow, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen his artwork before.  I’ll be on the lookout from now on, though!  This whole story feels like it might have made an appearance in the classic sci-fi collections of the Silver Age, like the Space Museum.  In fact, this reminds me quite a bit of one of those stories, though I can’t quite place it.  Either way, I really enjoyed this Space Age Adam and Eve tale, and I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138


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“The Big Boom!!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell

We round out this trio of books with another piece of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, and this is a really good one.  Sadly, it’s under another ugly photo-collage cover.  It’s similar to the cover-copy-happy composition of Mr. Miracle #2, but this one doesn’t benefit from a gripping central image.  Nevertheless, the comic inside makes up for it.  It picks up right where the last issue left off.  The DNA Project staff are scrambling to respond the Monster Factory’s attack in the form of the four-armed terror they unleashed.  The creature is currently tearing its way towards the Project’s nuclear reactor, while Superman and the Newsboy Legion are trapped in a strange egg-like prison.  The Project troops, along with the original Newsboy Legion and the Guardian clone, mount up and head towards the reactor in a surprisingly effective photo-collage double-page spread.

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We also get a lovely full-page splash, one of many in this issue, of the whole gang charging to the rescue, as well as one of the imprisoned protagonists.  Inside the egg, Superman discovers that the alien substance absorbs his strongest blows, but while the monster tunnels ever closer to its goal, the Man of Tomorrow tries to ‘hatch’ the egg by trying to recreate the energy the DNAlien used to create the egg in the first place by generating electricity by…rubbing his hands together at super speed.  It’s a fairly dubious use of the Kryptonian’s powers, but nevertheless, he frees himself and flies after his foe.

We then cut to an odd little scene at the Daily Planet, where Perry White has called in a girl named Terry Dean, supposedly a friend of Jimmy’s, in his search for his young reporter.  She tells the editor about Olsen leaving on a job for Morgan Edge, and this makes White worried.  The scene feels a bit unnecessary, and as far as I can tell, we’ve never seen Terry Dean before, so her introduction is a bit odd as well.

Meanwhile, events continue to accelerate as the Project troops near the site of the action, the Monster Factory flunkies prepare reinforcements for their perfidious progeny, and the malevolent Morgan Edge is warned to escape Metropolis before the inevitable cataclysm.  The soulless CEO casually walks out of the building with a smile, leaving his staff to a quick and certain death.  It’s an effective demonstration of his cold and calculating character.

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Back at the reactor, Superman narrowly manages to intercept the monster, but it is able to damage the machinery despite his efforts.  Suddenly, more monsters pour from a portal, but the Project troops arrive just in time back up the Man of Steel.  Unfortunately, the damaged reactor begins to meltdown, and with the control rods smashed in the fight, there is no way to stop it.

Superman rips the entire structure up and carries the massive device, spewing radiation, and leads the marauding monsters after him, knowing they are drawn towards the power.  He dumps the raging reactor down a vast pit, a test tunnel bored deep into the Earth in preparation for tapping the core for power, a popular topic this month.  The pursuing creatures tumble in after it, like so many multi-armed lemmings, and there is a tremendous explosion that, despite plot of the previous Superman story, doesn’t actually destroy the planet.  That’s lucky!

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The tale ends with Superman and the Guardian returning to Jimmy and the Legion, only to receive a cold shoulder because the kids were kept out of the desperate fight.  Guardian finds their reaction a tad ungrateful, considering that the Action Ace did just save all of their lives, but the kids are having none of it.

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This comic is just a blast, with a rapid-paced, pulse-pounding adventure with great stakes and some fantastic Kirby art.  The King does a good job pacing his plot for the most part to achieve this frenetic rush, but the strange side-trip to the Planet does throw it off just a bit.  In the same way, while the writing on this issue is strong in general, it does have a few minor weaknesses.  Superman seems just a tad off, which has been the case for most of Kirby’s treatments of the character.  In the same vein, the Man of Steel’s random electrical generation, while reasonable in the art, is a tad silly in the explanation.  Unfortunately, the Legion are once again kept out of the plot, so they don’t get a chance to do anything useful or interesting. Still, we get an instructive character moment with Morgan Edge and some great action as Superman and the Project troops take on the monster horde.

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While disposing of the reactor in an underground tunnel strains credulity a bit, seeing as it would probably cause massive earthquakes at the least, it makes comicbook-sense.  Once again, the King seems to be reveling in the freedom to create his own stories without constraints from anyone else, and the proliferation of full-page splashes in this issue, like in New Gods #2, reveals an exuberance and energy that is really exciting, even if it does make the issue a bit breezy.  As you can tell by the glut of images in this commentary, the art was so good I had a hard time making my choices for display!  In the end, this is just a really enjoyable read, like a classic issue of the Fantastic Four, so I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.

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And this set of Superman stories brings us up to the final stretch of June 1971.  We’ve only got two comics left to cover!  I hope that you’ve enjoyed this batch, and it did contain a number of really entertaining stories.  I was particularly pleased to read the ‘World of Krypton’ feature, as I’d heard of that odd bit of history, but the actual event was much more engaging than I anticipated from an element of the mythos that I expected to be silly and Silver Age-ish.  We also see a continued growing interest in the occult and the supernatural with the villainous warlock in this month’s Superboy, a trend I expect to see become more pronounced in the years to come.  Before too long we’ll see what the future holds, and I hope you’ll join me for that adventure as we continue our journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!