Into the Bronze Age: June 1970 (Part 2)

DC-Style-Guide-1

 

Welcome, and thank you for joining me as we write another chapter in this history of the Bronze Age!

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

  • Action Comics #389
  • Aquaman #51
  • Batman #222
  • Detective Comics #400
  • The Flash #198
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #77
  • Justice League #81
  • Phantom Stranger #7
  • Showcase #91
  • Teen Titans #27
  • World’s Finest #194

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

Detective Comics #400

Detective_Comics_400.jpgExecutive Editor: Carmine Infantino
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“A Burial for Batgirl!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Ahh, Neal Adams back on Batman.  This is how it should be.  And in addition, we get a great, classic Bronze Age character introduced in this issue!  Prepare to meet the macabre, menacing Man-Bat!  The introduction of this grotesque mix of monster and man is something that really wouldn’t have flown in the Silver Age.  He’s a bit too much of a horror character, but his advent represents the loosening reins and the increasing creativity of the Bronze Age!  I really do like this character, having first met him on that greatest of Bat-worlds, Batman: TAS, in an excellent set of episodes.  His first appearance here isn’t quite so awe-inspiring as that desperate flight across Gotham from the inaugural episode of the show, but it’s still pretty good.

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This milestone issue (I bet Bob Kane and co. had no clue that their creation would go on to headline a book for anything close to 400+ issues!) starts with the quiet eerie looking scientist, Kurt Langstrom, working on an oversized display about bats in the Gotham Museum of Natural History.  Once the curator leaves, Langstrom begins his real work, experimenting with the genes of bats in an attempt to give himself super senses and the ability to “see” in the dark through sonar.  This whole setup is a bit odd.  Why exactly is this guy working at the Natural History Museum?  The TAS setup with him working at a zoo made a bit more sense to me, as did his motives.  In the show, he’s after a traditional mad scientist end, trying to ensure mankind’s survival through acquiring the characteristics of bats.  In comic logic, that’s about as common as a sunny day.

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This is a wonderfully creepy sequence where Adams economically communicates a lot about the unhealthy fixation of the doctor.

Either way, Langstrom is not the only one seeking an advantage in the dark.  Our scene shifts to an underground location elsewhere in the city where the ‘Blackout Gang’ are looking for a score!  They wear thermal goggles and practice silent tactics for their cappers, but Batman still manages to find them when one of them drops a tool and sets up a clatter.  Though Batman is used to fighting in the dark, the punks can see, whereas he has to rely on his training.  They scatter, and he only manages to recover the device, an “ultra-sonic cutting tool,” which can carve through concrete silently.

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The crooks are disheartened, as they figure that Batman will find a way to trace the signal from such gadgets, endangering their plans.  Their leader decides to turn this to their advantage by laying a trap.  Meanwhile, Dr. Langstrom’s experiments have borne unexpected fruit!  He suddenly finds his hearing and sight grown to painful sensitivity!

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If you’re a scientist and you wear a cape, chances are your future isn’t going to include a healthy social life…

He realizes that he’s succeeded, giving himself a natural sonar as well, which, interestingly enough, is exactly what Batman is working on.  The Dark Knight creates an artificial sonar system to guide him in the dark, preparing for his next encounter with the gang.

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Unfortunately, our resident mad scientist has discovered some rather…unpleasant side effects.  He is turning into a….Man-Bat!  Dun, dun DUN!  He panics and begins working on a way to reverse his condition, but he’s interrupted by the collision of our two plots.

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That’s a beautifully creepy reveal.

The Masked Manhunter tracks the gang to their new target, the Natural History Museum!  He confronts them with quite a surprise when he can suddenly “see” in the dark.  Yet, the Blackout Gang is unreasonably clever.  Their leader deduced that Batman might develop some type of sonar device, so he brought along a secret weapon…ping-pong balls.  That’s right, ping-pong balls.  They toss the balls into the air, and their chaotic bouncing and rebounding deafens the Dark Knight.  The gang dogpiles the detective while he’s “blinded.”

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Detective400-18.jpgJust as it seems that they will do what any number of supervillains have failed to do, an eerie screech is heard ripping through the night, and horrifying help arrives.  Man-Bat smashes into the gang, tossing them around like ragdolls and giving Batman a chance to catch his breath.  The two make short work of the hoods, and the Caped Crusader thanks his unlikely savior.  Yet, when he turns his penlight on the monstrous Man-Bat, he sees his terrifying visage, taking it for a mask.  Ashamed, Langstrom, still in possession of his faculties, smashes the light and disappears in the night!

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This is a beautifully drawn tale, of course.  I love a lot of the shots of the Man-Bat, and I really like the all-black design of the thieves.  They make for a nice contrast with the other characters.

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The story itself isn’t quite as strong.  It’s a fine adventure, but the ping-pong ball deus ex machina is a bit silly.  That’s a very specific guess on the part of the gang leader.  Langstrom’s motivations are also fairly weak.  He’s trying to grant himself an ability that Batman doesn’t have?  Really?  Well, seeing as Batman has no abilities, that shouldn’t be that hard!  Either way, it’s a slightly uneven story, notable mostly for the introduction of a really neat character rather than the plot itself.  Adam’s design for Man-Bat is just excellent, evoking the horror comics of yesteryear with a wonderfully creepy realism, insofar as a giant man/bat monster can be realistic.  I’ll give this 4 Minutemen, largely on the strength of the art and the concept.

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“A Burial for Batgirl!”

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We have another Batgirl backup this month, and it is an interesting enough beginning to a tale.  This chapter finds Barbara Gordon pulling up to the library of Hudson University, having just arrived in town to attend a Edgar Allan Poe festival, when she suddenly hears a cry for help!  She quickly darns her ‘working clothes’ and races to investigate.  Inside, what should she discover? Why it’s a dirty hippy in love beads running for the exit!  That’s quite suspicious, if I do say so myself.  He lunges out with a desperate punch, but Batgirl is not so easily stopped, so she flips him against the wall.  Gathering her thoughts, she takes note of a strange smell, something that could be ether.  Unfortunately, while she is trying to identify the tell-tale odor, the hippie regains his feet and blinds her with a nearby fire extinguisher.

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Once recovered, our heroine rushes outside, only to see her escaping hippy having encountered some other pursuers.  A number of college students are chasing him, and they even begin to kick the poor sucker once Batgirl lays him out.  Suddenly, a voice orders them to stop.  Dick Grayson steps out of the night and takes the heroine to task for not helping the hapless hippy, saying that he thought she had a reputation for sticking up for the underdog.

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We pick the story up back at the police station, where the top cop fill her in on the details of the case.  The hippy is Hank Osher, a student radical, one of the bully-boys chasing him was Jack Markham, an acting major, and the man whose cry for help Batgirl answered too late, was Amos Willard, the University’s business manager.  We even get a helpful visual aid to sort out the plot quickly and efficiently.  It isn’t the most dynamic story-telling move, but it’s a nice way to cover a lot of ground quickly, which is necessary in a tale this short.

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Apparently it all started with the proposed sale of a plot of woodlands that the school owned.  Willard was in favor of this, but Markham violently opposed it and threatened him.  Sensing that there is more to this than meets the eye, Batgirl interviews the imprisoned suspect, who claims he is being set up.  The masked girl begins to investigate, and we get a wonderfully sexist moment where she wonders if she is just being led astray by her “girlish heart responding to his big blue eyes.”  Great.

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Well, she decides to pursue the case one way or the other, and remembering the strange smell from the library, she thinks she knows where to look for more clues.  While investigating a building under construction, someone knocks her out with…that’s right, the classic head-blow!  That’s another one for this month!

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Babs awakens to find herself bound and gagged as a mysterious figure reenacts Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado.”  Yep, the mysterious figure is walling her up with bricks in a hidden alcove of the partially constructed building!  Dun, dun, DUN!

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That is certainly a nice, dramatic ending, no doubt about it.  This story, brief as it is, is interesting.  We don’t really get enough to establish the mystery properly, but there are the bones of a decent one, an enigmatic murder, a framed patsy, and a clever villain.  It has potential.  We’ll see what the next issue holds.  What is perhaps the most intriguing element of this story is the glimpse of social tensions in the hippy character, the student rabble-rouser, who is rebelling against the system…for reasons.  While his motivations are about as clear as an actual hippy’s, it’s telling that O’Neil is framing him as the victim here.  The whole thing feels a bit deeper than the desperate pandering towards youth culture that used to show up in Haney’s Teen Titans stories.  All-in-all, I’ll give this one a 3.5.

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Flash #198

Flash_v.1_198.jpgCover Artist: Gil Kane
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Call It… Magic!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Vince Colletta

Just look at that cover.  A hero praying is the central image, a sincere plea to the Almighty forms the design.  Can you imagine something like that showing up today?  The Big Two are way too worried about offending somebody to put so unambiguous a reference to religion in so prominent a spot, methinks.  I found it charming, though we’ll see inside that it isn’t quite as simple as it appears.

This strange tale begins with a group of teenagers, described throughout the issue as “teen-agers,” sneaking into a mist-shrouded cave, looking for our titular Scarlet Speedster.  When they find him, he is acting very strangely, holding a pigeon and speaking simplistically, almost…childishly.  In fact, he insist that his name is not “Flash,” it is Barry!  How bizarre!

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We eventually discover that the Sultan of Speed has lost his memory and reverted back to his eight year old self.  The kids seem to blame themselves, and they convince our hero to keep hiding in the cave when it becomes apparent that he can’t access his speed.  The ‘teen-agers’ decide that they have to protect the speedster until he recovers his senses, and we get a flashback that explains what happened.  It’s actually quite touching how they are willing to risk their own lives for confused champion.

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Barry, utterly exhausted from his last adventure (nice little nod to continuity), as running THROUGH SPACE will definitely take it out of you, slept late into the day.  Iris didn’t want to wake him, so she left a note telling him she’d be out of town for a few days on an assignment and reminded him that he had promised to visit the children in the Central City Orphanage.  I like the domestic check-in for the Flash, as well as the plot logic nod, recognizing that if Barry was missing for any length of time, Iris would have done something, had she been in town.

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Anyway, the Scarlet Speedster thrills the youth with his speed tricks, but a trio of ‘teen-agers’ are not so easily impressed.  Desperate to reach these kids, Barry reveals how painfully unhip he is.  He does offer to do all kinds of amazing things for them, like whisk them away to Paris or other distant lands, yet these jaded kids act like they get such offers every day.  Really kids?  A superhero offers to zip you to the City of Lights, and all you can do is yawn?  Man, kids these days!

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Well, they finally ask the Crimson Comet to take them to their old neighborhood, where he even builds them a brand new clubhouse in record time!  These kids don’t know how good they’ve got it!

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It is at this point that the plot takes its turn and we meet our antagonists.  Apparently a gang of thieves who had pulled off a big robbery had stashed their loot in that abandoned lot, and they jumped the hero when he accidentally uncovered it.  The Flash managed to get the kids to safety, but a ricochet grazed his head and scrambled his brains a bit, thus his current confusion.  It strikes me as a bit off that the Fastest Man Alive could be tagged by any bullet, even a ricochet, if it wasn’t the first round fired.  After he knew he was being shot at, he, fast as he is, should have been able to casually stroll to the other side of the city before they could so much as pull the trigger another time.  Yet, I suppose that’s a common problem with the portrayal of superspeed.  Such characters really tend to move at the speed of plot.

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Cut back to the present, where the vengeful villains have discovered our hero’s hideaway.  They toss in smoke grenades, and the befuddled Flash doesn’t know what to do, but while the kids prepare to protect him with their lives, Barry begins to do the one thing he can…pray!  He pleads with God to make him truly the Flash as the kids claim, and suddenly he whips into quicksilver motion!  He takes the thieves out in a blur of super-speed strikes, but the cave begins to collapse, and the Scarlet Speedster takes another crack on the head.  Just like that, he comes back to himself, remembering who he is in classic comic-book fashion.

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The adventure ends with the Fastest Man Alive bidding a fond farewell to his newfound young friends.  Exhausted all over again, he collapses into bed, where Iris discovers him when she returns home.

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This is a tale that I really didn’t care for when I read it the first time, but as with several of these Flash issues, I’ve got a lot more appreciation for it on this second reading.  It’s simple but charming, and I like the earnest, wholehearted plea to God.  That’s a nice moment, and it is left ambiguous whether his prayer is answered or whether he simply is able to will himself into super-speed.  That’s the right way to go, as anything else would be excessive.  This is definitely a study in contrast to modern comics, though, with a hero, even a brain-damaged one, making any type of openly religious statement.  In the end, there isn’t a whole lot to this issue, though I like several of its story beats.  Fortunately the child-like Flash doesn’t hang around long enough to be annoying, though that could easily have happened.  I like that the kids feel responsible for what happens and react so strongly in their efforts to protect Barry, though one wonders why they didn’t just tell the police, ‘hey, the Flash is hurt over at the cave!’  Ahh well, one way or the other, I’ll give this gentle-hearted tale 3.5 Minutemen.

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“Call It… Magic!”

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Hey, we get something different this month, a Zatanna backup!  I like this character in general, and though her concept is patently ridiculous, she still somehow works.  I think she works best in a setting like this, with a co-star, rather than holding down a story by herself.  Mystic types always need non-mystics to explain things to, after all.  I’ve read her original appearances from the Silver Age, where she guest-starred her way through the nascent DC Universe, and I’m wondering if this might be the start of a new set of such appearances.  Either way, I’m glad to see her, and although she and The Flash make for an odd pairing, this is an engaging little adventure.  It helps that Don Heck really does a wonderful job with the art chores for the backup, drawing a particularly fetching Zatanna.

This tale opens with one of Zatanna’s perennial magic shows, just as she is calling for a volunteer from the audience.  She picks out Barry Allen, who she of course knows is the Flash, just to tease her friend.  She promises to make him disappear with a kiss (look out Iris), yet when she she lays her lips on him, it is she who vanishes!  Where could she have gone?

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We jump across the barriers of time and space, watching as Zatanna is drawn through them as well, to discover that a sorcerer in a parallel dimension has summoned her to aid him in a desperate moment!  This wizard, named Namba, was attacked by by an old foe, a demon named Xarkon.  The nicely designed infernal foe takes control of Namba’s body, just as the Mistress of Magic arrives.

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She tries to use her magic to separate them, but the strain was too great.  It seems she cannot risk using her magic on the supernatural antagonist without hurting the magician she was summoned to help.  Meanwhile, Flash does not take her disappearance lightly.  He races home to his cosmic treadmill and homes in on the vibrations that he felt as the Mystic Maiden was sucked away from him.  I like the cosmic treadmill, as goofy of a concept as it is, as it just fits into the ‘world of wonder’ vibe that characterizes a good Flash story, just like a good Superman story.  Anyway, the Scarlet Speedster unfortunately arrives in hot water!

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The inhabitants of this strange world are now under the sway of Xarkon/Namba, and they attack the hero on sight.  The Fastest Man alive isn’t a pushover, though, and he quickly slips out of their grasp.  Then we get a nice little moment where he tries to communicate his peaceful intentions by creating a peace sign, which only scares his superstitious (probably justly so, seeing as they live in a world chock-full of magic) attackers.  The kicker is that Flash is a bit disappointed by this result, as “playing the Batman isn’t my role.”  That’s a cool little moment of characterization squeezed into the brief adventure.  The kind-natured, fair play minded Barry Allen doesn’t really enjoy scaring folks.  I like that.

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The story races (sorry!) to its conclusion as the Crimson Comet speeds in to challenge Xarkon, only to be waylaid by magic!  Fortunately, his presence provides the distraction, and inspiration, that Zatanna needs.  She breaks the spell on Namba…with a kiss!  It’s, honestly, a bit weird, and the justification weirder still.  Apparently Namba brought her to him because she was kissing Barry at the time, and a kiss is just what he needed…okay…some guys will go to any lengths to get a date!

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It’s a bit odd for a conclusion, and I can’t help but feel like it isn’t quite giving Zatanna the respect she deserves, especially as Namba “thanks” her with a kiss as well.  It seems vaguely sexist, but then again, it’s a comic book from 1970, so no big surprise there.  I like that we end with Barry helping the Mistress of Magic finish her trick with a little help from his own brand of super speed magic.

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In the end, this is a fun, though necessarily brief, backup.  I like seeing Zatanna, and even though Flash really doesn’t have any impact on the plot, I enjoyed his portion of the tale as well.  This was an unexpected surprise, and the art had a really nice quality to it that I can’t quite put my finger on.  I know that Zatanna is due to join the Justice League sometime soon, so it will be neat to see how that gets built up across the DCU.  It’s interesting how long it took her to become an established character.  She was introduced in 1964, and she had that set of stories, though I don’t think she showed up anywhere else for a while after that.  Here she is in 1970, but she won’t really “make it” until she joins the Justice League in 1973.  That’s a good nine years from her introduction to the point when she hit the big time, insofar as she ever has.  Well, I’ve wandered away from the story itself, which I will give an above average 3.5 Minutemen.

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Green Lantern/Green Arrow #77

Green_Lantern_Vol_2_77.jpgCover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Ohh man, I wasn’t looking forward to this one.  Here we continue Denny O’Neil’s death-march into social relevance.  After the last issue being even worse than I remembered, I was pretty unenthusiastic about this month, but it was better than the previous one in some ways, yet, it was worse in the logic of the actual plot.  We still have  moments of teeth-grindingly bad characterization from Hal and self-righteous speechifying from Ollie, but there is perhaps less of each.  The art is, of course, beautiful, and the central action set-piece is really striking, but as one should expect from this series, subtlety and nuance are endangered species, nowhere to be found.

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The issue opens with our hard-traveling heroes winding through the mountains of some Appalachian town with their sightseeing Guardian in the back of the truck.  For some reason, the juxtaposition of that image cracks me up.  The trio starts taking fire from a group of locals who think they are working for someone unfortunately named “Slapper” Soames.  The heroes leap into action and pretty quickly disable their attackers.  Here we have one of those rather odd moments that this series provides in spades, as the locals don’t recognize either of these world famous superheroes.  I know they’re from a backwater town, but come on!  We also discover that Green Lantern’s ring is somehow malfunctioning.  Uh-oh!

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So, what in the blue blazes is going on here, with folks from this small town shooting at random passers-by?  Well, the short version is that this is a ‘company town,’ a mining town pretty much owned by a man named Slapper, and he runs it like his own little kingdom.  Honestly, I might turn villainous too if my name was ‘Slapper.’  These miners are sick of being oppressed, and they decided to revolt after a local singer/songwriter who spoke out against conditions got arrested for no good reason.  So, armed revolt was the only option instead of, you know, going to the feds or…almost anything else?  Yep, seems so, because in O’Neil’s corner of the DC Universe each and every inhabitant has his melodrama knob turned up to 11.

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The Green Team begins to debate what to do about this situation after they hear the miners’ tale of woe, and here we get this issue’s obligatory terrible moment of characterization for Green Lantern.  The townsfolk tell our heroes that this Slapper fellow is acting like a tyrannical monster, and Hal is so incredibly rigid and immature in his thinking that he immediately takes the bad guy’s side, just because he’s in charge.  I get it, O’Neil, Hal respects authority; sometimes that’s bad.  Yes, I understand, but he also isn’t a child.  He can tell the difference between someone in a complex social situation like the fat-cat from the last issue and someone who is effectively running a concentration camp!  At the least he should be willing to investigate the situation since, you know, he is a superhero and all.  Instead, he’s apparently willing to ignore this entire mess, including the band of armed citizens hiding in the hills.

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In case this scene wasn’t annoying enough just on account of Green Lantern’s naivety, Green Arrow immediately responds by invoking Godwin’s Law, yet again.  That’s two, O’Neil.  Yep, Ollie’s response is, ‘hey, Hitler was in charge too!’  Interestingly enough, in case you missed the subtle moral dilemma here, the Archer’s ridiculous comparison actually proves prophetic.

The pair decides to aid the miners, who plan to assault the local robber-baron’s headquarters to free the singer (is this what happened to Jason Quest?), only to discover that this headquarters is less ‘small town jail’ and more ‘fugitive fortress from D-Day.’  That’s right, this small-town robber-baron is holed up in a blockhouse surrounded by concertina wire, watch towers, and a minefield!  Sure, why not.

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All of a sudden, Green Arrow, who has fought against all kinds of terrible odds as a honest-to-goodness superhero, completely chickens out, right after his impassioned speech about helping these yokels.  He says their attack is going to be suicide, and he refuses to participate…despite the fact that he and the man with the magic-freaking-wishing ring could easily take down the small-town tyrant without anyone losing their lives.  In fact, perhaps they could, you know, do this themselves, since this is pretty much right in their bailiwick as superheroes, rather than help an angry mob take on armed soldiers.  No, instead, our heroic archer sits back and watches as men armed with shotguns and pitchforks charge a machine gun.  It’s only after they start dropping like flies, you know, because they are charging a machine gun, that he decides to get off his green-clad backside and help.  He fires a smoke arrow to cover their advance, which would have been great before several men had been shot.  Sorry Ollie, but you just lost the moral high ground from which you’ve been pontificating.

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Better late than never…except for all those men who are dead…

Before the attack actually begins, we do a quick check in with our antagonist and watch the Emerald Crusader charge his ring.  His inner monologue is really quite painful to read, evincing the moral sophistication of a particularly dim and immature 12 year old.  He even goes so far as to say he would have backed our clearly villainous villain in earlier days, just because the guy is in a position of authority, legitimate or not.

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I sympathize; justice is hard to weigh, but here’s a hint: it’s a pretty safe bet that the guys murdering innocents aren’t on the side of the angels…

Green Lantern gets involved, and his ring makes swift work of the defenses, until it shorts out on him again, and then we get a moment that irritated me quite a bit, almost as much as the infinitely more asinine moments that surrounded it.  The Emerald Gladiator gives a big speech about how he’ll have to rely on his fists, and this is what he’s been missing, finding out what he’s really made of…as a man!

That’s all well and good, except that he’s done this in practically every. single. issue. of his series for the last several dozen issues.  I can’t count how many times the Lantern would make a big to-do about not using the most powerful weapon in the universe so he could punch someone with his fist and prove he’s “a man.”  I’m quite certain of this, because the trope quickly began to gall me as it buried what made the concept fun and interesting in the first place.  So, yeah Hal, you’ve gone a whole three days without punching someone in the face!  You clearly need to prove yourself.  If that’s the case, you’ve got some really deep emotional problems.  When did this turn into a grim, naval-gazing postmodern comic where all the “heroes” are mentally ill?  Although…that would explain Hal’s apparent lack of a moral compass…

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This page is like a movie star, beautiful, but stupid.

Ahh well, I understand what O’Neil was trying to do, tying that moment into the whole ill-executed crisis of conscience that will haunt the character throughout this series, but in context of the book that existed just a few months ago, it rings false.  The idea is developed further as Hal realizes that the reason his ring has been failing is that he’s lost confidence, concentration, and clarity of purpose.  I actually like that move; it’s just a shame that the story doesn’t earn it.  In addition, the Guardian tells him that his fellows have decided to reduce his power while he’s on “walkabout.”  Thanks guys.  At this point, Hal is struck by gas rockets, which leaves him wandering wounded and out of the fight.

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Because, despite his ability to juggle multiple super powered heroes in JLA, this is the best way that O’Neil can manage to provide any dramatic tension at the climax of this tale when he’s got this mismatched pair of characters. Even de-powered, Green Lantern really shouldn’t’ have any trouble with random mooks with guns, and if he was allowed to continue his attack for another moment, the issue would be over.  It feels a bit forced.

On the plus side, we get a nice, if slightly heavy-handed scene with the vacationing Guardian saving a little girl.  He begins to wonder if he has underestimated humanity as the child’s helplessness moves him.  There is something of value here, as the immortal being of pure intellect begins to interact with beings of emotion, to slowly be reminded of a truth that we imagine his race once knew, perhaps when the universe was young.  He begins to realize that there is more to weighing and judging matters of justice than logic can entirely supply.  It’s a promising vein of storytelling, and I’m curious to see how well it is mined.  If memory serves, I was not particularly impressed with the treatment this idea received on my first reading, but we shall see.

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In the meantime, Green Lantern’s absence leads to the surviving rebels getting captured, along with the Emerald Archer.  It’s revealed that, surprise surprise, the bad guy’s thugs are actually Nazi war criminals, somehow smuggled into this small-town to work as muscle for this random robber-baron.  Sure.  That’s important, just in case you hadn’t gotten yet that this bad guy is, in fact, really bad.  Anyway, it is also revealed that the head rabble-rouser was actually the villain’s plant.  Slapper wanted to force the miners into a confrontation so he could break their spirits and keep them enslaved.  That’s not a bad twist, but the guy didn’t really get enough characterization for it to matter.

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Lantern and Arrow eventually recover, and they make quick work of Slapper and his bully-boys.  Rather fittingly, despite his (belated) heroics, Ollie is entirely ineffectual and quite doomed until Hal shows up.  The story concludes with the Emerald Archer throwing a big bucket of cold water on whatever happiness this ending might have supplied, as our heroes continue their journey in search of America.  It looks like next issue will feature some more biker movie rejects.  Oh joy.

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Well, I suppose I let my feelings about this issue come through pretty clearly already, probably too clearly!  It frustrated me at several points, and the ham-handed characterization, as well as the irrational story beats, really got on my nerves.  I think that the bones of this tale could have actually been an excellent plot for someone like The Question, Batman, or the classic Vigilante (I think that would have made for a great story!).  Unfortunately, as with many of the adventures that will populate the coming pages of this book, this one is simply not well-suited for its protagonist pairing.  The lack of attention to recent continuity, when even the fairly Silver Age-ish Flash is doing a better job, is surprising as well.  Hal’s continued stupidity is probably the worst element of the tale, though I think the heroes’ inexplicable inaction before the miners’ assault is a pretty close second.  In addition, there is less here that is valuable, conceptually, than the first issue.  I think the days of the Pinkertons beating up striking miners were pretty far gone, even in 1970, though I suppose I could be wrong.  It doesn’t have quite the weight, despite the much higher stakes, as the previous issue.  All-in-all, I’ll give this annoying story 1.5 Minutemen.
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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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And we have ANOTHER addition to the wall of shame this month.  Neither Batgirl nor Robin are coming off all that well in their backups.

 

Well, that’s it for this week’s issues.  Thanks for joining me, and please visit again when we’ll have JLA and other other goodies to peruse!  Let me note that this coming week is the last week of the semester, so I’m likely to be insanely busy.  The following week I’ll be presenting at a conference out of state, so please don’t fret if it takes me a bit of time to get to the next installment.  I promise I won’t forget it.  Until then, keep the course, Into the Bronze Age!

 

Into the Bronze Age: May 1970 (Part 3)

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Yikes!  This is a busy time in the semester for me, but I hope that y’all will find this issue worth the wait.  Time for another step in our Bronze Age journey!

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

  • Action Comics #388
  • Batman #221
  • Brave and the Bold #89
  • Challengers of the Unknown #73
  • Detective Comics #399
  • Flash #196 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Flash #197
  • G.I. Combat #141
  • Justice League of America #80
  • Showcase #90
  • Superman #226
  • World’s Finest #193

Bonus!: Star Hawkins (for real this time)

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

G.I. Combat #141

GI_Combat_Vol_1_141.jpgCover Artist: Joe Kubert
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Artist: Russ Heath

This is a heck of a comic, and it is an excellent specimen of all the best qualities of the Bronze Age.  It deals with important, socially relevant themes, and it has increased dramatic weight, while still remaining a story of adventure and heroism.  The war comics have always been more serious, but this issue is particularly impressive.  It’s not really a story that takes advantage of the Haunted Tank concept, but despite that, it manages to be effective, even powerful.  At its core, this is a tale about the heroism and humanity of fighting men, regardless of the color of their skin, a worthy subject, and one that had to be of particular power at this moment in history.  Take note, Dennis O’Neil, this is how you deliver a message with subtlety and class.

The tale opens with Jeb and the Haunted Tank loading up behind the lines in an ammo depot.  The soldiers doing the loading are black, and from the first moment we see some of the tension in the air with these fighting men who are not allowed to fight.  The art in this issue is particularly solid, conveying a great deal of the emotional weight of the story in panels like the one below with the aggravation and frustration evident in the sweating, tired soldier’s face.

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The Stuart tank joins Sgt. Rock (!) and the Combat Happy Joes of Easy Company in a desperate holding action that explodes in vicious, nearly hand-to-hand fighting.  Jeb and company use up all of their ammo knocking out panzers, and though he is willing to stay on the line with nothing more than their sidearms, Rock convinces him to head back to the depot ot fill up.  You know, it’s hilarious that these stories consistently feature a Stuart tank, a light tank with a 37 mm cannon, knocking out German panzers.  Even the main battle tank of the U.S., the Sherman, had trouble with Nazi armor in Europe, but here comes Jeb, riding around swatting Tigers like they’re flies.  It’s ridiculously unlikely, but then again, I suppose you can just hand-wave it and attribute their success to the fact that their tank is haunted.  Ohh well.  At least we get a glorious two-page spread out of it.

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gicombat141-07.jpgAnyway, Jeb gets a visit from…well, J.E.B., with another cryptic, totally unhelpful warning.  General, if you couldn’t be more specific than this, it’s a wonder you were able to be a successful commander.  They discover smoke coming from the depot, and they find it utterly destroyed, the black troops who had been consigned to quartermaster duty have been slaughtered to the last man by enemy tanks.  Or so it seems.  Like Lazarus rising from the grave, or perhaps more accurately like Farinata from his tomb in the Inferno, the private who we meet at the beginning of this tale emerges from the ashes.

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Again, our unnamed artist does masterful work with expression, and we can really feel the smothered pain and rage in this nameless soldier’s face as he tells his story.  The tale told, he helps the crew rearm, but Jeb is worried about leaving him behind, knowing that bringing him along could be even more dangerous.  Yet, this fellow is ready to get in the fight, one way or another, so he hitches a ride.  The crew don’t think too highly of his zeal, and they expect he’ll head for the hills when the going gets tough.

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The red eyes really add to the infernal echoes

Just then the tank is strafed by a Nazi fighter, and Jeb is hit.  They can’t elevate the main gun enough to hit the bird, leaving the nameless private to engage the craft with the top machinegun in a really impressive display of will and courage.

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However, despite their immediate success, Jeb is wounded and there is still a Nazi army knocking on Easy Company’s front door.  The tank commander needs someone to man that machinegun and act as his eyes, and despite the doubts of his men, Jeb chooses our private.  They arrive back at the front to see panzers breathing down Easy’s collective neck, with the G.I.s climbing all over them, desperately trying to stall their advance.

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The Haunted tank charges into action, our nameless soldier manning the gun until he is wounded by fire from the enemy.  Doubled over in pain, he sees that the tank is catching fire, and rather than save himself, he beats the fire out with his bare hands!  Now THAT is courage!  Jeb holds the dying man, lamenting his decision to bring the fellow along, but with his last breath, the heroic private says “I’d rather live–or die–like a…man.”  And what a man he was.  It’s a beautifully drawn sequence, powerful and dynamic.

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His comrades honor him, and though they didn’t even know his name, they are certain that, whatever else he was, he was a man.

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Wow.  This is an excellent story, and this nameless private instantly earns our sympathy and interest, thanks in large part to the excellent artwork that conveys, with wonderful subtlety , the frustrations of a man who has joined the army to fight for his country but who has been relegated to menial tasks because of the color of his skin.  Of course, within that narrative there is a larger story about race and racism at large, especially because of its ending.  If this man is, in fact, man enough to give his life for his comrades, why would he not be treated as a man, as a human being, on all counts?  This nameless private completely steals the show, and the resistance he gets from the tank crew, as well as his quiet insistence on doing his job, really add to the attractiveness of his character.

I have to say, as a Southerner, I really enjoy how it is Jeb, a fellow Southerner and the descendant of a freaking Confederate general, who gives this man a chance, who trusts him and treats him like a human being.  That’s just awesome.  So, this is a story that is definitely out of the ordinary, carrying much more dramatic weight than the average comic, and its message is wonderfully delivered, still resonating powerfully today.  It really demonstrates the unique storytelling potential of comics, with art and text working together brilliantly.  This is an excellent example of a Bronze Age tale.  I give it 5 Minutemen.  I’ve got absolutely nothing bad to say about it.  And hey, look at that.  This is my first perfect score!

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Justice League of America #80

JLA_v.1_80.jpgCover Artist: Murphy Anderson
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella

Apparently Highfather showed up on Earth a whole year before Jack Kirby created him.  Look at that guy!  He looks just like the New Gods character!  Well, coincidental resemblances aside, this is another strong JLA issue, as well as being another that I didn’t particularly remember.  Yet, despite having slipped right out of my head, I definitely enjoyed reading it again.

This issue opens with the Flash making quite the long distance phone call, all the way from the JLA Satellite down to his wife, Iris, in Central City.  The Scarlet Speedster is apologizing for having to be stuck on monitor duty when the deep space monitor starts going off.  He discovers Hawkgirl, floating unprotected and unconscious in space!  Yikes!  Well, racing as only he can, Barry plays one-man response team, summoning the League and getting the Thanagarian lady into their headquarters.  Fortunately, her hardened system has allowed her to survive, but she’s still in rough shape.

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The responding Leaguers wonder about what has happened, and a very worried Atom reveals that the Hawks had taken Jean Loring to Thanagar in search of psychiatric help unavailable on Earth.  I like the art on this page, as it really conveys Ray’s trepidation and concern for both his girl and his friend.

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In an unexpected and neat little touch of continuity, we see a reference to the Atom and Hawkman book’s final issue, in which Jean was driven mad by a subatomic alien race.  Interestingly, because that was the last issue of the series, that plot had never been resolved, despite having been written several months before.  There isn’t all that much made of the connection, but it’s good to see that dropped ball picked up here, however briefly.  On another note, it’s a crying shame that the joint Atom and Hawkman book was cancelled, as it was really a lot of fun.  In general, the Silver Age Hawkman book was pretty great, one of my all-time favorite DC Silver Age books, usually managing to be stronger and less silly than a lot of their fare.  I would have killed to see that book manage to evolve during the Bronze Age!  On the other hand, this story with Jean would have absolutely terrible and unconscionable repercussions in the distant future.  The less said about that, the better, as some things just don’t belong in superhero comics.  There’s a reason I’m traveling through the Bronze Age.

Anyway, back in our current tale, we discover that Hawkgirl is alive, but mentally ’empty,’ showing almost no brain activity.  The League leaps into action, dividing into teams as per their SOP, and again O’Neil demonstrates his ability to handle the wide range and variety of characters on this team, as he gives all of them important roles to play, to his credit, showcasing a different subset of characters this issue than he did in the last two.  Unfortunately, Dick Dillin’s art isn’t quite as strong as it was previously, but it’s still more than serviceable.

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The first team of the Atom and Flash respond to an alarm from the Grand Canyon, where a boy scout troop is mindlessly marching, rather lemming-like, towards the edge.  The Scarlet Speedster uses his peerless velocity to erect an earthen barricade to keep the kids corralled.  The Might Might laments that he feels useless, being little more than a observer.  Interestingly, Barry doesn’t display much sympathy for that self-pity.  Upon interrogating the scoutmaster, the pair discover that the trouble was caused by a strange looking fellow riding on a ‘broomstick!’  How bizarre!

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Meanwhile in Midway City, Batman and Green Arrow attempt to play detective by tracing the Hawk’s movements in their home town.  As they begin their investigations, they spot…well, nothing less than a spaceman on a rocket-powered broomstick!  The Emerald Archer fires off a snare-arrow, and the heroes bring the joy-rider down to earth.  We’ll leave aside the ridiculousness of the image of two non-powered people pulling a freaking rocket out of the sky with their bare hands!

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Once the fellow is grounded, Batman tries to tackle him, only to be zapped by a wand-like device.  Green Arrow doesn’t fare much better, as the mysterious visitor turns one of his own knockout gas arrows back on him!  As he flees, their enigmatic enemy complains that the heroes damaged something he calls his ‘Ghenna Box.’  Interestingly, the name evokes Gehenna, the traditional name for a Jewish conception of Hell.

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At the same time, Superman has flown through space, backtracking the route that the Hawks would have taken on their way back from Thanagar, when he discovers their ship being pulled into a neutron star!  With a mighty effort, the Man of Steel manages to save the craft from the overwhelming gravitational pull of the super-dense star, and we’re treated to a little bit of scientific education on the subject.  Yay!  Exhausted by his effort, Superman is taken by surprise when someone strikes him down with a familiar looking ray!  Who could render the Man of Tomorrow helpless and leave him floating in space?

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Back on the Satellite, Black Canary has been left to play nurse…because, of course she has.  She’s a woman, and that makes her naturally better at tending to the wounded…or something.  I’d be more bothered by it if this sexist assignment didn’t provide her with an opportunity for a strong showing against our villain.  Well, she is practicing with her powers, frustrated by her inability to control them, when our hard-luck heroes Batman and Green Arrow return.  They have a clue, a patch ripped from the mysterious assailant’s suit, and their computer reveals that it comes from…Thanagar!  Dun, dun, DUN!  It turns out that their scanners are set to ignore Thanagarian ships, so that they aren’t constantly going off because of Hawkman’s craft, and a quick adjustment reveals the rogue Thanagarian’s ship hanging out in orbit.

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Yet, before the heroes can act, the masked man blasts his way into the Satellite and disables the heroes by sucking their very souls into his Ghenna Box, leaving them helpless vegetables!  Yikes!  Meanwhile, again, Green Lantern has been summoned to Oa, where the Guardians send him to recover Superman.  It seems Tomar-Re didn’t realize who the Man of Steel was and took him out with his power ring, thinking he was attacking the ship.  Yep, you read that right.  Superman was taken out in a single panel by a Green Lantern ring.  I guess that settles the ‘who would win in a fight’ question.  Tomare-Re claims he just had his ring create kryptonite waves, having recognize him as a kryptonian.  Really?  You didn’t recognize Superman, the LAST SON OF KRYPTON, but you DID recognize that he was a kryptonian?  Sure Tomar.  I think you were just looking to show off.

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It’s really a bit silly that Superman can be taken out at the drop of a hat, even by a power ring, but it’s a fairly minor deus-ex-machina in what is otherwise a fairly solid story, so I suppose I can let it go.  Interestingly, though we have the continuity touch from the Atom’s story, we don’t get any sense of what is happening in Green Lantern’s book.  There’s no tension between the Emerald Gladiator and the Guardians, no comment about Green Arrow having had to cut short their road trip, nothing.  Of course, that is made all the curiouser by the fact that O’Neil wrote both of these stories!  Considering how much I dislike the ‘hard-traveling heroes’ bit, I’m pretty okay with that.

Justice League of America v1 080-16.jpgInside the ship, the Lanterns discover Hawkman and Jean Loring in comas just like Hawkgirl’s.  Hal accesses the ship’s log and discovers that they were attacked by a Thanagarian renegade that they stopped to assist when he sent out an S.O.S.  Apparently the fellow is some sort of doomsday cultist and thinks he is preserving their souls against the coming apocalypse.  This is actually a really interesting idea.  It’s a concept that Babylon 5 would toy with in a few episodes; what happens when someone who has access to incredible technology believes that the world (or universe) is doomed?  It’s a nice twist on the old idea of the apocalyptic cult.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t really go anywhere.  It’s an intriguing motivation for our villain, but he’s given zero development outside of that one panel, and the idea is completely dropped after this issue.  It would be really interesting if this had been followed up by the League investigating a related movement on Thangar or the like, or perhaps even a copycat movement on Earth.  There’s tons of potential here, but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as if it was ever realized.

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Either way, when our villain left, Hawkgirl drifted out of the airlock as well, and the ship was pulled off course.  Having discovered this, the Emerald Crusader awakens Superman with his ring, and they head off towards Thanagar, thinking the deranged doom-sayer would make his way back home.  Yet, we know that they’re headed in the wrong direction, their quarry having made his way to Earth!  In the Satellite, the mad Thanagarian is toying with the artificial gravity, believing he has vanquished his foes, but Black Canary is somehow still conscious!  Apparently her sonic powers protected her…somehow.  Come on O’Neil.  All you needed was one lousy line of dialog saying something about the box working through ‘sonics’ or ‘vibrations’ or anything of that sort, and at least this would be comic book-plausible.  Silly or not, Dinah is awake and kicking, and she tackles her foe.  Yet her timing is quite poor, as she knocks him into the transporter tube just as the Flash and the Atom are returning!

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Now we get a really nice fight where the Atom gets his time to shine.  He blitzes the spaceman, using the lack of gravity and his tiny size to zip all around.  Eventually he takes the cultist out, but the Ghenna box also goes out, out the airlock!  The Satellite is depressurizing again, and while Canary saves their unwelcome guest, it is up to the Tiny Titan to recover the alien device…and the souls of the Leagures which it contains!

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Without a moment’s hesitation, he leaps out into the cold emptiness of space, trusting in the quickly dissipating atmosphere from their headquarters and his own speed to get the job done before he dies…horribly.  He very cleverly recovers the box and gets back to safety using his size and weight changing powers.  It’s actually a really excellent example of both his heroism and his intelligence, a good moment for the character.

Finally, the team manages to restore the disabled heroes and the other victims, and Superman destroys the Ghenna Box, believing it to be too dangerous to leave lying around.  The last panel gives us a funny moment as The Atom and Green Arrow spot another doom-sayer on Earth predicting the end of the world.  See, missed opportunity!

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Also, since when did Hugo Strange become a doomsday cultist?

This was a fun issue, with an interesting problem that wasn’t something the team could fight their way out of, nor something that was too small for the scope of the book.  There was a mystery to be solved, something for just about everyone to do, and we even got a little bit of universe building and continuity attention.  It was genuinely exciting, and the villain’s motivation was unique.  I also loved the Atom saving the day.  I’m a sucker for an underdog story (which you might have gathered from Aquaman being my favorite character).  Yet, it did have its flaws, the underdeveloped villain and the too-convenient moments with Superman and Canary.  These are minor complaints, though, so I’ll give the tale 4 Minutemen, a good story, but not a great one.

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Showcase #90

Showcase_Vol_1_90.jpgCover Artist: Mike Sekowsky
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel

We’ve reached the final chapter of Jason’s Quest, and it is certainly…something.  It’s an exciting enough story, but Sekowsky’s desire to leave this naturally finite story open-ended in order to allow room for an ongoing series begins to wear thin as the tale drags on.  It is certainly an interesting, unusual adventure, and Sekowsky’s art is pretty strong throughout.  I imagine he was sorry to see this project fail to launch, as he clearly put a lot into it.

We pick up once again with Sydney Greenstreet…err, I mean Mr. Gutman…err…I mean Tuborg, our hefty heavy once more berating his hired help.  Soon, gunmen are fanning out across Paris looking for our youthful hero.  He, meanwhile, is blissfully unaware, and he gets a job at a local nightclub playing guitar.  In another of the awfully convenient coincidences of this series, his long-lost sister just happens to show up there and recognize him from their meeting on the ferry.

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Here begins a comedy of errors involving a jealous boyfriend and a passel of assassins, which keep interrupting Jason’s attempts to enlighten this girl, who thinks they are complete strangers, about their familial relationship.  The errant youth has to practically drag her along as they flee for their lives, as he claims there is no time to explain.  This is part of the frustration of this issue.  Every time Jason begins to tell his story, something interrupts them.  Really?  “I’m your brother.”  That’s three words, Jason.  I’m pretty sure you could find SOME time for that in the midst of all this running around.

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They run from the gunmen, GG, the sister, probably wishing she had never met this kid, and they are saved by…hippies!  I think I’d prefer the gunmen.  They run into a weird, artsy Paris slum and are saved by a hairy artist type who thinks they are being pursued by the police.  He brings them back to his studio, which is apparently serving as a staging zone for an upcoming protest against the imprisonment of someone named Pierre Dondon, who, as far as I can tell, is fictional.  They’re planning their own Bastille Day.  As usual, these folks just spontaneously decide to help Jason and his companion.

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The pair decide to join the protest so that they can escape the notice of the assassins, but the killers keep pace with them.  Desperate, Jason beans the chief of police with his sign, hoping to get arrested and thus into protection.  Yet, even in the paddy wagon, he can’t find time to explain the situation to his sister who must really be thinking this guy who has effectively kidnapped her is nuts!

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The hippies free them by trapping the police van, but apparently Tuborg’s agents have really upped their game.  Really, they are crazy competent all of a sudden, and nothing the protagonists try shakes their pursuers for more than a moment.  Another motorcycle chase ensues, and when the siblings stop at a cafe to hide in plain sight, they just so happen to run into the jealous boyfriend again, right as Jason was beginning to tell his tale.  Like I said, this is getting sort of annoying.

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Well, Jason our hog riding hero manages to lose the gunmen by riding into a building.  He knows it is only temporary, though, and he decides he has to protect his newly discovered sister.  He happens to be in a manikin warehouse, and he dresses one in her clothes and heads off to draw their pursuers away.  We end with the two parted once more, and, despite Jason having set a place for a rendezvous, his sister is, obviously, quite determined to never see him again.

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Sorry Mike, but I don’t think it’s gonna’ happen…

In the end, this is an okay story with lots of action.  It’s effectively one long chase, and it does have some clever moments.  Still, it becomes monotonous, and the Showcase run ends with nothing actually resolved.  Not only did Jason not even tell his sister their secret, but he didn’t recover the macguffin, I mean, the evidence either.  So…essentially, we’re right back where we started.  It’s not a very satisfying ending, nor is it a terribly great concept.  Sorry Sekowsky, but I think there’s a reason this one didn’t get picked up.  In the end, I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen.  It’s not bad, per se, but it is very forgettable and a little frustrating.

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On the plus side, this issue also gave us a brief, three page preview for next month’s feature, Manhunter 2070!  This was a cool little snapshot introduction to the character, who is a futuristic bounty hunter with a heart.  The story is very brief, so I’ll just offer a quick summation and no rating.  Basically, it’s a space-as-wild-West-esq setting, and we see a prospector (SPACE-prospector!) gunned down during a card game.

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His grand daughter sees this, and can’t get anyone to take action until Starker, our titular manhunter, steps in.  It’s a nice little sequence, as he says he’ll help her if she pays his fee, and when he finds out that she has only small change, announces that this is precisely what he charges.  He then takes the murderer out without missing a beat.  Color me interested!

 

Well, that’s it for this batch of stories.  It was a pretty good set, and I certainly enjoyed reading them.  We’re almost done with this month, so join me, later this week if I can manage it, for the last installment of May 1970!

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Into the Bronze Age: April 1970 (Part 2)

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Howdy readers!  I apologize for the long delay in posts, but the last two weeks have proven to be crazy busy.  I had hoped to get this post up by this weekend, but there was a pile of student papers that disagreed with me rather stringently.  Nonetheless, we are back on track now, and I hope to get back into the swing of things.

Time for another stride Into the Bronze Age!

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

  • Action Comics #387
  • Aquaman #50
  • Detective Comics #398
  • Green Lantern #76 (First issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow)
  • Superman #225
  • Teen Titans #26

Bonus!: The Space Museum (Rolled over into the next post)

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

Green Lantern #76

Green_Lantern_Vol_2_76.jpgExecutive Editor: Carmine Infantino
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Colourist: Cory Adams
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Well, here we are at last.  This story, more than any other single issue, defines the thematic beginning of the Bronze Age proper.  With this issue, Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams begin their famous run on this book, uniting DC’s two vermilion clad heroes to “discover America.”  This was a huge sea-change in comics.  We’ve already been observing the creeping turn towards social relevance and more serious stories, but that has been a fairly minor undercurrent in our readings.  It is the O’Neil/Adams tenure on Green Lantern/Green Arrow that brings those minor eddies into the mainstream in full force.

I’m afraid I’m probably not going to add too much that is really new to the discussion of these books, so be warned.  Their importance really shouldn’t be undersold, as this was the series that taught the industry that comics were a medium capable of tackling important social issues like poverty, racism, and drug use.  Of course, we’ll see the infamous issue where Green Arrow’s former sidekick gets addicted to heroin before too long in this title.  There is no doubt that this is an influential run, but my goodness, I really, really dislike it.  I understand its cultural importance and its status as a milestone for comics, but the problem is that these stories are all message and no subtlety, or perhaps more importantly, no joy.

O’Neil, as we’ve already observed, has a tendency to be a bit preachy, but in this book, that tendency is given full reign.  The result is an unbearably sanctimonious and mirthless series.  Reading about poverty, racism, and drugs sounds like a ton of furn, right?  Well, that’s part of the problem.  The joy and excitement of superhero tales gets left behind in the race to brow-beat the audience with this month’s message.  Now, this is not to say that comics shouldn’t deal with such issues, and I’m sure that there are a lot of folks running around today who had their eyes opened to some of our world’s problems by reading about them in Green Lantern.  Still, I think such tactics, much like the trends in modern comics, tend to miss the purpose of a world with superheroes.  Such a setting should really show us something to aspire to, something to hope for.  It can and should be a better world, though not a perfect world.

Of course, the main characters in this book suffer a similar fate to the stories themselves, quickly becoming entirely unlikeable.  Green Lantern loses all common sense so that he can repeatedly be taught lessons, while Green Arrow becomes O’Neil’s mouthpiece, and thus, intolerably self-righteous, with a certainty of his own sainthood magnified beyond all reason by the fact that the stories constantly bear him out as right.  The end result is a fascinating study of the time, but also a real chore to read these days.

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All of a sudden, Green Lantern’s world takes a turn for the ugly, and it happens so quickly, it must have given long-time readers whiplash!  This issue famously opens with the Emerald Gladiator flying above Star City, when he sees a businessman being attacked by some street punks.  He swoops down to the rescue, sending the young aggressor flying off to the police station and helping the older citizen to his feet.  Having completed his good deed, Hal turns to accept the accolades that he knows will be forthcoming from the crowd, only to receive a shower of cans, bottles, and verbal abuse.

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It’s a funny, surprising scene, and it certainly accomplishes its purpose, which is to knock readers off of their preconceptions.  It’s also a neat and unusual move, and it addresses a big problem with the standard practice of superheroes.  How much of the nuance of a situation can you absorb when you’re jumping down from rooftops and skulking in alleyways?  It isn’t easy to tell exactly what’s going on in every situation, and things like this would, in reality, probably happen quite a bit.  On the other hand, I don’t read books about invulnerable sun gods that can fly or men who fight crime by shrinking because I’m obsessed with realism.

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Well, the Emerald Crusader turns to lash out at the crowd (!), but he is stopped by Green Arrow, who has observed all of this.  Already, Hal is coming off quite badly.  Ollie gives Hal a quick tour of the particular slum he’s blundered into and explains that the fellow he saved is actually the local slumlord.

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That’s right, Arrow invoked Godwin’s Law way before the Internet

This is where we get one of the most famous, and infamous, moments from this book.  As the two heroes are taking in the squalor of their surroundings, an old black man approaches and asks Hal a question.  “I heard about how you work for the blue skins…”

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Well, this leaves our hero utterly stunned.  He can think of nothing to say in response to this shattering critique of his career as a hero.  This is, of course, where most of us reading this book throw our hands up and say “COME ON!”  The obvious answer to this is, ‘Oh, you want to know what I did for the black skins?  How about the time I saved the entire planet, your skin included, from the Qwardians, or how about when I kept Sinestro from enslaving all of humanity?  Or how about any of the other hundred times that I have rescued every last man, woman, or child of every last race that is or ever will be on this spinning rock?’

Green Lantern is, quite literally, above such complaints.  His job isn’t just to catch bank robbers or to stop muggers, he patrols the freaking cosmos.  Ohh, I’m sorry that life is unfair, but let me ask YOU a question.  Is it better to live in a slum and be ALIVE, or is it better to be space dust because I was chasing around after a slum lord instead of stopping the latest plot by a world-destroying menace?

Gah.  It galls me every time I read this story.  Of course, the guy does have a point, and just about any other hero who ISN’T saving the entire freaking planet every day should probably be pretty convicted by this.  But Green Lantern doesn’t fit the bill.  I realize that this is part of what O’Neil is doing.  He wants this contrast of powers and perspectives, and he especially wants to play with the concept of the Guardians of the Universe.  It would have been a bit more palatable if Hal had kicked, at least a little, at this, because he has every right to turn this back on his interlocutor.

But no, he hangs his head as if he’s the worst man in the world, and he begins his guilt-ridden journey with Green Arrow.  The issue follows the Lantern as he attempts to make up for his mistake by persuading the slum lord to have a change of heart and spare the poor folks who he is about to force out on the streets, but, being a slum lord, the fat-cat has no heart.  Thus, the Emerald Crusader’s words fall on deaf ears, and for the second time this issue, we see our supposed hero display a deplorable lack of self-control.  I thought the whole ring thing was all about willpower, but oh well, O’Neil has a sermon he wants to preach…err…a story he wants to tell.

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The Lantern prepares to lay this slimeball out, only to be stopped mid swing by non other than the Guardians of the Universe!  They tell him that the slumlord has committed no crime and order their ring-bearer to Oa, in no uncertain terms!  They refuse to listen to Hal when he arrives, and then they assign him a seemingly menial cosmic task, diverting meteors and then just hanging about in space.  Of course, this nicely illustrates why that earlier scene is so silly, as Green Lantern diverts massive chunks of space debris with a thought.

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Meanwhile, the Emerald Archer tries a different tactic with our resident scumbag.  He takes a page out of fellow vermilion hero, Green Hornet’s, playbook, and Ollie pretends to shake down the slumlord, who promises, in turn, to meet with him later with a payoff.

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Here we get a particularly nice sequence that displays Arrow’s skill, as well as Adams’ excellence, as two of the slumlord’s errand boys try to take out the hero, only to incriminate their boss by falling for a dummy in a darkened room while being far too talkative.  Unfortunately, the tape recorder Ollie hid next to the dummy, the target at which, we remember, he wanted the thugs to shoot, surprisingly got shot.  That part isn’t exactly the Archer’s finest moment.

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Meanwhile, Hal gets feed up with sitting around in space and heads back, teaming up with Ollie to trick the slimeball into incriminating himself by impersonating one of his gunsels with the help of his power ring.  This time the ruse works, and despite some last minute hysterics involving a grenade (!), the slumlord is arrested.

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It seems as if things will end happily ever after until The giant floating head of a Guardian crashes the party and starts chewing Hal out for abandoning his space-floating duties.  This prompts a ridiculously impassioned speech from Green Arrow, drawn with incredibly impassioned panels by Adams.  It really does look fantastic, but the melodrama of the moment just really drives home how goofy the exchange is.  Ollie demands that the practically omniscient alien come down off of his emerald tower and learn what it is really like on Earth.  The emotions of the scene are so visually exaggerated that the Archer looks like a Shakespearean actor in the midst of trodding the boards during the climax of “Macbeth” or “Othello.”

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“Come off your perch!  Touch…taste…laugh!  And cry!  Learn where we’re at…and why!”  Ouch Ollie, just ouch.

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Astonishingly, the Guardians don’t just vaporize this goateed goofball; instead, they take him seriously and send one of their number to join the two earthmen in a roadtrip across America, “searching for a special kind of truth…searching for themselves…”

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Yikes.  Now, in general, I’m all in favor of earnestness in comics and in general, and I don’t like folks who react to all such honesty with a sneering, ironic disregard, but I have to say, there’s plenty to mock here, and justifiably so.  The silliness of these stories was apparent even to readers in the 70s, and it is perhaps even more so now.  I can imagine this story being appealing to an angry, angsty young man, as I was at 16, someone who is learning about how complicated the world is, and yet whose perceptions are still very simplistic.  I’m afraid I’m at least a decade too late in life for this story.

Nonetheless, it is an important issue, and it does help catapult comics truly into the Bronze Age.  Adams’ art is beautiful, and there is definite value in comics wrestling with cultural problems.  Green Arrow as the champion of the downtrodden is one of those great concepts that remain, sticking with the character forever more, even after the rough edges that attract criticism have been worn away.  We’ve seen his brash, self-righteous personality developing just in the few months we’ve been following him under O’Neil’s pen.  Even though this incarnation is too extreme to be truly likable, there is something good in that concept.  In the end, this is a story more valuable for its cultural weight than its literary value or even its enjoyability.  It is a flawed but fascinating beginning, and I give it 2.5 Minutemen, having taken points away for the glaring, galling ludicrousness of that exchange in the tenement building, as well as for Ollie playing the ‘Nazi’ card in his argument with Hal.

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Superman #225

Superman_v.1_225.jpgCover Artist: Curt Swan
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos

Well, this is quite the weird story, and, honestly, I’m rather astonished that it got published.  It’s strangely, inconsistently, and thoughtlessly dark.  I can only assume that someone at the Comics Code Authority was asleep at the switch…or rock stupid.  You’d never guess from the fairly conventional beginning that this issue of Superman would end with a straight-up suicide, but it does.  You read that right, this Superman tale ends with a thinking, feeling being intentionally taking its own life, but I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself.  Follow along, and see if you’re as amazed as I was.

In fairly typical fashion, the issue opens with a set of aliens plotting against Superman for no particular reason.  Interestingly enough, their plot entails creating a clone by scanning the Man of Steel as he passes by their world on his way home from a space mission.  In a funny little sequence that really marks the bipolar nature of this story, the clone figures out he doesn’t have any powers by attempting to fly and landing square on his head, knocking himself out.  The Super-copy believes himself to be Superman, and the aliens encourage this, telling him that the real Superman is an impostor that has stolen his powers, planning to use them for evil.  They assure their creation that he must destroy the “false” hero in order to reclaim his rightful powers and place, and they give him devices to aid him in this quest.

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On the plus side, the aliens kind of remind me of This Island Earth

 

Now, let’s get something straight.  This is not a robot, not an unliving or mindless contraption.  This is a living being they have created, with a mind and will of its own, and even though it is easily talked into attempting murder, it is not simple.  Keep that in mind.

After being sent to Earth, the clone encounters several situations during which it is affected by its environment as Superman never could be.  Because of an alien device implanted in its head, it transfers these effects, sniffling, sneezing, and other human reactions to Clark, causing him to feel everything the clone does.  This plays a role in the small secret identity farce subplot that seems to be a contractual obligation of every Superman book.

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The real action of the story picks up when the imposter attempts to assassinate his rival with a kryptonite pitchfork at a costume parade, but because of the intervention of random partygoers, who apparently are quite willing to bodily drag a stranger around, just because they like his costume, the Metropolis Marvel escapes.  Thank heavens that Meteropolites are apparently the definition of ugly Americans…

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Having lost his weapons, the clone heads to the Fortress of Solitude to retrieve new devices powerful enough to do the deed.  His counterpart, experiencing the intense cold of the arctic vicariously, makes an incredible leap in logic and deduces that it must, of course, be coming from his double, who he doesn’t really know about, and from the Fortress, which he has no real reason to think endangered.

Plot contrivances aside, The Man of Tomorrow manages to capture his double, and attempts to break his conditioning and figure out his story.

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However, nothing works, so Superman turns him over to authorities, sends him home, or puts him in the Phantom Zone, right?  Nope, none of those relatively reasonable solutions are even considered.  Instead, our “hero” decides the the only viable solution, because his double transmits all sensations back to the original, is to keep him locked in a small cage, too tiny for him even to lie down in, for all of eternity.  ‘Cruel and unusual’ is for chumps!  That doesn’t apply to superpowered sun gods from space!

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To make matters even worse, Superman seriously considers straight-up murdering the imposter in order to solve the problem, and the only reason he doesn’t is that he has “conditioned [himself] against killing for too many years.  It’s a good thing The Man of Steel’s moral code is so famously flexible, otherwise that might strike me as a bit off.

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That’s right, Superman seriously considers flat-out murdering his double.

After what must be weeks of imprisonment, judging from the impostor’s super-beard, he realizes that his rival is, in fact, the real Superman, a shattering revelation.  The clone has a moment of clarity, and he figures out who and what he is, and he refuses to let the aliens use him to endanger the true Man of Steel.  So, how does he get out of this predicament?  How does Dorfman tidy up the Superman mythos and dispose of this duplicate?  Well, he has him commit suicide, of course, with a pistol-looking device, no less!  The double gets a Superman robot to give him a metal-melting ray, which is no threat to the cage or the bot, but the clone turns it upon himself, destroying the device implanted in his brain and killing himself.  He even wrote a suicide note for Superman!

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How did this get published?!

That is freaking dark, and it is an incredibly incongruous end to this goofy story.  Superman’s tears at the end are poor recompense for the clone that gave its life to protect his.

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Ugh.  I truly don’t care for this story.  This was way too heavy of an ending to be treated so cavalierly, and it threw the tone of the entire issue wildly off.  Unfortunately, this isn’t even the type of ham-handed attempt at depth that we just saw from Green Lantern.  No, this is just a tone-deaf train-wreck of a tale that seems completely oblivious about what it is doing.  I’ll give it a clumsy 1 Minuteman.

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Teen Titans #26

Teen_Titans_Vol_1_26.jpgCover Artist: Nick Cardy
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza

Our vague and confusing adventure continues!  We have this lovely Nick Cardy cover with Titans abandoning their costumes and running towards a bold new direction!  Except, no-one really seems to know just what that direction is.  One thing is certain; it is just plain strange.  Inside, we pick up where we left off, with the robotic ‘man Friday,’ Angel, leads the Titans into danger.  To make his point, the robot obligingly gets its armed blown off by a laser.  This catapults the Titans into a series of death traps that they navigate without using their powers…for reasons.

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When they manage to escape, they find mysterious Mr. Jupiter waiting for them, drink in hand, like he’s watching whatever happens to be the rich guy equivalent of a ball game.  There’s something off about this guy, seeing as he casually watches teenagers fight for their lives.  Having survived the obstacle course, which Jupiter unconvincingly claims was never really deadly, he orders the Titans to go into the inner-city neighborhood “Hell’s Corner,” not to be confused with Hell’s Kitchen, get jobs and blend in.  Their funds for this effort?  A single penny and another super helpful and super vague prophecy by Lilith.  Yes, thank you, that is just great.  You are a super valuable part of this team.

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In Hell’s Corner, the Titans, in mufti, encounter a little girl selling lemonade, as well as rejects from every 60s biker movie ever.  The head biker punk, complete with scarf, goggles, and jodhpurs, wreck the kid’s stand, just to sufficiently illustrate how bad he and his friends are.

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Not quite kicking the dog, but close enough

The Titans restrain themselves from delivering a richly deserved beating to the resident loud-mouth and his cronies, remembering the terrible tragedy caused by their last violent efforts, when the esteemed Nobel Prize winner died in a crossfire last issue.  A young man with no such hang-ups, piles into the punk.  He turns out to be the youthful Mal Duncan, the girl’s big brother, and he’s decided to put the overdressed bully, “Storm,” in his place.

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As the gang prepare to “flatten” the fiery Mal, the Titans finally take action, whipping the biker-types in short order.  The young man is not terribly grateful for the help, and he tells the Titans that they are in the wrong neighborhood.

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Nevertheless, the teenage heroes are determined to fulfill their mission…for more reasons, so they find various jobs around the area.  In a corny but funny montage, we see Hawk getting work as a boxing instructor at the neighborhood boys club while Don becomes the next Bob Ross, encouraging his students to “paint what you feel,” whether that be orange skinned people or happy trees.  It’s a simple but effective distillation of the personalities, though, I admit, peaceful ubernerd that I am, even I sort of want to dump Don’s metaphorical books, just for being such a touchy-feely wuss.

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The club puts on monthly boxing matches to help kids work off steam in a controlled environment, something that I imagine schools these days might benefit from, but I digress.  Mal and the fashionable punk Storm square off, but the bully proves to be a sore loser after the young champion manages to knock him out.  The local gang decide to work Mal over after the fight, but the Titans intercede, putting the biker-flick rejects down for the second time.

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Mal goes out with the team, and while dancing, they decide to recruit him.  That’s right, they decide to have this slightly above average kid who is a moderately competent boxer without any powers, training, or special skills, join their superhero team.  Once again, this is absolutely necessary…for reasons.  They put Mal through the totally-not-really-death-traps-I-promise, and he survives, rather amazingly, though by the skin of his teeth.  ‘Are you guys sure I don’t need any training or anything before I start dodging laser beams and blazing floors?’  ‘Nah, you’ll be fine.  You’re can box!’

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Feeling understandably a bit outclassed and undeserving of a spot on a FREAKING SUPERHERO TEAM, Average Boy faces sleepless nights and self doubt, so he decides he must prove himself.  How will he do so?  Will he fight a villain, stop a crime, or maybe just overcome a training challenge?  No, don’t be silly, those obstacles are far too insignificant for mighty Average Boy!

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No, instead, Mal decides to hitch a ride on a space rocket not designed to actually have a human pilot, because apparently it is super vital that NASA get human reactions from this space flight, and it isn’t like they have any trained astronauts whose job that is or anything.  The team is stunned to discover that Average Boy has done something so colossally stupid and so utterly necessary…for reasons once again, but Mal is happy.  He declares, in what would actually be a sort of cool moment if the story warranted it in even the tiniest fraction, “I’m in my own groove at last!  Doing MY thing!  And I’m a first!  A cat from Hell’s Corner reaching for a star!”  While the 60s slang is painful as always, the thought of a black astronaut, especially one from an impoverished background, breaking down barriers is actually really cool.

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And that’s the problem with this issue, and this arc, in general.  There are some cool elements here, most notably Mal and the racial undercurrent he represents.  I like the character, especially as I’ve gotten to know him in other mediums, like Young Justice.  I think he’s got great potential, but this story makes no freaking sense.  There is not one thing about this plot that works logically.  Everything is happening because the plot requires it to do so.  I can’t stand that kind of silliness.  I’ll be quite happy when Aqualad shows up in a few issues to knock some sense into the Titans…at least, I hope that is what is going to happen, judging from the cover.  So, I give this irrational issue 1 Minutemen.

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Final Thoughts:

Sheesh, this was an extremely dichotomous month.  We had three fairly enjoyable stories in the first half and three mediocre to detestable stories in the second.  I admit, part of the reason this post took so long to put together, aside from my being insanely busy, was that it was such a poor lot of stories that I had a hard time working up the energy to discuss them.  Still, we stand at an important moment, with the Bronze Age taking a big step forward with the start of the Green Lantern / Green Arrow run.  As much as that book gets on my nerves, I do believe it is going to lead us to bigger and better things…eventually.  One thing is certain, this month, short on books as it was through the vagaries of publication schedules, was certainly long on innovation!  We have the brilliant SAG team doing fascinating things in Aquaman with both story and art, we have Adams’ setting the comic world on fire with his beautiful, realistic pencils, and we had several plot elements that, however lacking they may be in logic or enjoyability, are certainly creative.  I suppose I can endure three bad books for three entertaining ones.  That still beats the proportions on student papers!

Well, that does it for this month!  I hope the next month has some better stories in store for us!  In an attempt to go ahead and get this post up, I’m going to cut out the bonus feature for this month and add it on to the coverage of the next.

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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I somehow missed two new head-blows, but I’ve added them in.  Welcome Robin and the Phantom Stranger to the wall of shame!

 

 

 

Into the Bronze Age: March 1970 (Part 3)

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And back to the Bronze Age, March 1970!

  • Action Comics #386
  • Batman #220
  • Brave and the Bold #88
  • Challengers of the Unknown #72
  • Detective Comics #397
  • Flash #195
  • G.I. Combat #140 (no Haunted Tank story, won’t be covered)
  • Green Lantern #75
  • Justice League of America #79
  • Phantom Stranger #5
  • Showcase #89
  • World’s Finest #192

Bonus!: Star Hawkins

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

Green Lantern #75

Green_Lantern_Vol_2_75.jpgCover Artist: Gil Kane
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Joe Giella

Well, here we are.  This is the last issue of Green Lantern before Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil would begin their landmark run, combining the title with Green Arrow.  It’s a shame the classic Lantern tales don’t end on a better note, as this story isn’t particularly impressive.  Interestingly enough, there’s not even the slightest hint of the change coming the next issue.  This is mostly a Silver Age GL story, too odd to be called by-the-numbers, yet with no trace of the pathos (overblown and silly though it may seem now) to be found in the book’s new direction.  One can only imagine the shock that longtime readers must have felt, buying this book one month, and that first O’Neil issue two months later.

As for this issue, despite the fairly awesome cover, rather nicely designed by Gil Kane, it does not prove all that interesting in the final analysis.  I really like that image, GL struggling to keep the two worlds apart.  It’s a good visual metaphor, though not one that fits this story all that well.  The tale has a lot of really promising elements, but the central plot is weird and Silver Age-y, including a number of strange story choices and nonsensical plot elements.  It begins with Hal, the traveling toy salesman (that secret identity still galls me to no end), as he discovers that his rival, the lovely Olivia Reynolds, has suddenly taken ill.  After being denied entrance to her room, because of course he was, not being family or having any particular connection to her, Hal decides to barge in as Green Lantern!

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The attending physician fills the Emerald Gladiator in on Olivia’s condition, which is critical.  She isn’t responding to any treatments, and Hal tries to use his ring to heal her.  This actually raises a rather interesting and troubling ethical question for this character concept.  If GL’s ring can heal sicknesses and treat untreatable illnesses, shouldn’t he be spending all of his time power-ring zapping cancer out of sick kids or the like?  I mean, utilitarianism has its problems, but there does seem to be a ‘greater good’ question in play here.  I suppose that’s the trouble with wish fulfillment powers, right?  With infinite power comes infinite moral responsibility.  That’s a subject that Astro City dealt with in a wonderful manner with the Samaritan.

Philosophizing aside, GL’s ring discovers that the young woman is being affected by a strange form of energy.  The Emerald Crusader is about to head out to follow this energy beam when the first particularly strange story choice shows up.  The Doctor, Eli Bently, insists on accompanying the hero.  He claims that his medical knowledge will obviously be necessary to save Miss Reynolds.  After all, clearly they have an entire semester that covers strange energy emanations in medical school…though, in the DC Universe, maybe that would be a good idea after all.  You’d think after shoe-horning in this random doctor, Broome might make him integral to the plot in some way.  Well, if that is the case, you’re clearly expecting far too much logical consistency out of this story.  This is not Chekhov’s Doctor.

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The unlikely pair follow the energy and discover that it is coming from the portal to the anti-matter Universe of Qward!  Here’s our first promising note.  Qward is a really neat concept, and one that is definitive of the GL mythos and the wider DCU at large.  While it is given great development in the modern day, it still had legs even back in its early incarnations.

So, does GL leave the doctor back on Earth?  Don’t be silly, clearly Doc Bently is VITAL to the success of their mission!  Hal hauls him into the incredibly perilous Qwardian Universe where there is an entire world set on killing them.  They’re attacked by Weaponers right away, who have developed a teleportation technology allowing them to zap ahead and hit the Lantern in force very rapidly.  The Emerald Gladiator overcomes a few bands of them, but then is hit with a powerful new weapon that almost kills him.

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Suddenly, he is saved by a strange Qwardian!  The man teleports the stunned Lantern to safety, then dashes away without much explanation.  Shortly, he is cut down by the Weaponers, and Hal reacts to the death of his savior with about the same amount of effort and intensity that your or I might bring to bear when we misplace our keys.  Our fearless hero casually theorizes that his mysterious benefactor “must have secretly been a member of a resistance group here” and “in rescuing me he was only doing his job…and paid with his life.”  This really bothered me.  Green Lantern, armed with the most powerful weapon in the universe, just sits idly by and watches the man who saved his life be killed right in front of him.  Good job Hal.

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Well, the Emerald Crusader realizes that the Qwardians are tracking his ring, so they need to find a way to move about without using the ring or attracting attention.  At this point Hal apparently displays a little known power, the ability to get “mental impressions” of music.  Really GL?  You got a “mental impression”?  Some people just call that, you know, hearing, but sure.

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The pair discover a few troubadours and decide to steal their clothes.  Hal notes that their presence makes sense because Qward is “a kind of futuristic feudal society,” which sounds fine…except that it totally doesn’t.  I actually rather like the look of these fellows (who, though they’ve done nothing wrong, still apparently deserve to get beaten and robbed according to Hal!), but they really don’t fit Qward.  This is the anti-matter universe, right?  So, evil is good and good evil, everything is backwards and topsey-turvey.  That’s the basic concept.  That doesn’t really seem like a society that would welcome strolling minstrels singing about love and what-have-you.  In fact, I rather would imagine that the music of a place like that would resemble that of House Harkonnen from Dune, all hideous sounds and screeching metal.  Or, you know, modern pop music.

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Nonetheless, our muggers, I mean heroes, hike towards the source of the energy (remember that?), and encounter an old couple who give them lodging and food in exchange for a song.  This once again seems like a violation of the premise.  One wouldn’t think the whole Law of Hospitality thing would hold true in Qward, but add it to the list.  GL sings a weird little ditty that “just came to him.”  I have no clue what this is, but I suspect it must be some kind of reference.  If you recognize it, let me know because I’m curious!

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Well, the duo finally reaches the capital city of Qward, the creatively named Qwardeen.  Funny how alien world always have capitals that are basically extensions of their names.  It’s not like there’s an Earthopolis here.  Anyway, at this point we get another one of those neat concepts that are lost in the hustle and confusion of this story.  Hal and the doc discover the Weaponers gathered around a strange golden monolith, which, according to ancient legend, holds some kind of great power.  There’s a short history of the Weaponer’s attempts to open it, all of which have come to naught, but apparently they are harnessing a new powersource to crack it.  The concept of this gift from their ancestors, this cultural mystery, is a neat one, and I like the glimpse of Weaponer culture it provides.

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Yet, the powersource that they are harnessing?  Here’s where we get our second weird feature of this story.  It is the “overmind” of Olivia Reynolds.  Now, the comic implies that this is something the reader might have encountered before in this book, but I really don’t remember anything about it.  I suppose the story that featured it could just have been that forgettable, but I don’t know.  Either way, apparently the young lady’s mind is a unique specimen, super powerful, even, apparently, sustaining an entire alien world(?) it seems.  Don’t ask me.

So, the Weaponers crack the monolith, and the Green Gladiator leaps into action.  Oh, and the doctor plays his vital role to the plot by…standing next to Olivia.  Great work doc!  Couldn’t have done it without you!  The interesting thing here is that the monolith is empty, except for a recording.  It tells the Weaponers that the technology and drive they achieved trying to open it is, in fact, the gift the ancestors bequeathed them.  The disembodied voice declares to the disappointed Qwardians that “your greatest scientific discoveries down through the ages have all stemmed from your efforts to open the obelisk!”  That’s a moderately neat idea, one that could have supported a story on its own, I think, if it were given some more room to breath.

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Well, the Emerald Crusader leads the way back to Earth, but they are intercepted by more teleporting Qwardians!  Hal decides to hold them off so the other two can get to the portal, and we get another of those ugly collage images that Kane loves so much.

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Sorry Mr. Kane, but a lot of implied action is still not as good as some actual action.

GL defeats the Weaponers and escapes, leaving a recovering Olivia in the care of the good and obsessively dedicated doctor.

So, like I said, this is a story with some neat ideas within it, but the whole is weakened by the weird, inexplicable, or illogical plot elements.  The “overmind” thing was a particularly strange addition.  That’s a heck of a concept to throw out in an editor’s note.  In the end, I like pieces of this, but the final result is just rather weak.  Even though I don’t care for the coming O’Neil run as much as some folks, I think it will be a nice change of pace from this series of substandard stories.  I give it 2.5 Minutemen.

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Justice League #79

JLA_v.1_79.jpgCover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella

Despite starting with a rather hokey cover, this is a pretty strong issue.  The cover, though beautifully drawn, is rather on the nose.  Pollution is bad, get it?!  The very silly looking villain with the nozzle hands (not a terribly functional design, methinks), isn’t helping anything either.  Fortunately, what lies within is much better than that cover.  We pick up right where we left off, our earthbound heroes in peril and Green Arrow being led away from the city manager’s office by security after his shouting match with that purblind civil servant.  This gives us a nice little moment where the guards let him go, noting that they respect him and would prefer to be hauling the city manager, Crass, out instead of the hero.

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The Emerald Archer heads to the sinister factory that started all of this mess and discovers evidence of the Leaguer’s battle there.  This gives us another nice detail, where Ollie needs to get through the electric fence around the facility, but doesn’t happen to have an arrow that’s perfect for the job, so he improvises with a flare arrow.  It’s a nice little nod to realism, and a pleasant contrast to the Silver Age quiver full of plot devices that was Green Arrow.  Now, it should come as no surprise to anyone that has read these stories or knows of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow title shortly to begin, but O’Neil is obviously a big fan of Oliver Queen.  He tends to give Ollie a great deal of ‘screen time,’ and the character tends to loom large in O’Neil’s JLA stories.  The downside of this is that it takes focus away from other characters that, quite honestly, I like better, though I am fond of Arrow as well.  The upside is that it allows O’Neil the freedom to develop the character in interesting ways.

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We see some evidence of the author’s affection for the Battling Bowman as Ollie swoops in to save the captured Leaguers in what is, quite admittedly, a really clever rescue and a nice series of panels.  This in turn leads into another very clever move on GA’s part (this books is full of them!), wherein he revives his unconscious teammates by jury-rigging the fuel source of one of his incendiary arrows, which includes pure oxygen, to give the heroes a dose of fresh air.  They awaken and leap into action, each member of the team getting a chance to take out a baddie.  I really like the resourcefulness that Arrow displays in this story, and it certainly provides both good character moments and a gripping narrative.

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jla079-07.jpgWell, our heroes pursue their former captors, but they escape into what seems to be just another part of the factory but is revealed to be a disguised spaceship!  Meanwhile, the outerspace duo of Lantern and Superman are still investigating the dead planet “Monsan.”  Get it?  I have to say, it passed right by me in the last issue.  The name is Monsan, as in “Monsanto,” AKA, the folks with the reputation of being the most evil corporation on the face of the Earth.  Now, I know the GMO debate is overblown and that GMO foods are safe to eat and all that, but Monsanto has a nice long history of being involved in such scandals, some of them quite serious and still in recent memory.  Interestingly enough, their PR problems obviously stretch way back to the 70s at least (though I believe they actually go much further back than that!).  It’s a clever little reference, and one that I completely missed the first time reading these.

On “Monsan,” our heroes discover a survivor on the ruined world, and he fills them in with a dose of exposition.  Apparently theirs was a heavily developed race, and they “gloried in [their] industrial might!”  Their factories poisoned their world, but they didn’t care, even when their scientists began to warn them of their impending destruction.  When people began to die in droves, their leader, Chokh (get it?), transformed his people with radiation baths in order to allow them to live on a poisoned planet.  Unfortunately the process also warped their minds, and now they seek to colonize other planets by converting them into wastelands, uninhabitable by any other race.  His warning delivered, the survivor passes away.

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As they leave, Green Lantern plans to destroy the dead world (good heavens, Silver Age characters were powerful!), only to be stopped by Superman.  The Man of Steel insists that they leave it there in space, as a warning!  Dun, dun, DUN!

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We cut back to Earth where the team has contacted Hawkman on their satellite headquarters in an attempt to intercept the fleeing building-ship.  The Winged Wonder springs into action and pursues the Monsanians in his own Thanagarian space cruiser, but the building explodes, revealing a sleek, powerful vessel!  The shrapnel from the explosion damages Hawkman’s ship, and he he as to abandon it moments before the enemy reduces his craft to free floating atoms!  This leaves Hawkman stranded, unconscious in space!  There’s a lot of exclamation points in this paragraph!  I’ve always liked the Space Cop Hawkman being hardened against vacuum, but only for a short time.  It’s a trait that lends itself to some good dramatic tension.

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Well, the Monsanians figure that their long-game is blown, so they decide to poison the Earth directly, and they start “seeding” it with capsules that will release deadly toxins.  Their leader, Chokh, grants the earthlings one hour to make their peace before he hits the button and dooms the planet.   Fortunately, the heroes are regrouping.  We’ve reached the final act, and it’s time for our protagonists to stop reacting and start acting.  Superman and the Lantern find Hawkman floating out there in the black, and they bring him into the Satellite, meeting the rest of our courageous cast.  They realize they can’t locate and disable all the bombs, so they decide to tackle the problem at its source.

Our heroes split up again, and this time it is the Superman/Lantern team’s turn to shine.  They attack the Monsanian ship, tearing right through the hull and destroying the control mechanisms.  It’s a sequence that is almost really good, but there are some weird elements to art that make it look a bit odd.  Check out Lantern’s creepily intense expression as he blasts some aliens.

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That’s the face of a madman.

O’Neil again demonstrates his ability to juggle a large cast effectively, as the alien leader flees his ship and blasts his way into the Satellite to menace the other Leaguers.  Or rather, the idea is a good one, but the execution is a bit weak.  We’ve got one alien with a ray gun and no real powers versus a quintet of heroes.  To make a fight of it, O’Neil has to take some of the team out of the fight, and he uses some rather silly contrivances to do so.  Vigilante gets hit by a ricochet (interesting for a laser beam to ricochet…).  The graceful, hyper coordinated, and superbly trained Black Canary…trips.  Threatening the blond bombshell, Chokh orders the others to throw themselves out of the airlock.

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Atom uses the confusion of the moment to shrink down and surprise the alien with an excellent looking tiny-sized uppercut, and the villain is defeated in short order.  We end the story with a two panel conversation between Ollie and Dinah.  Ollie, still not one to play it cool, declares his love for the lady, but she is still reeling with the loss of her husband.  Nice timing, jerk.  The final thought is a somewhat ironic and bittersweet one, as Dinah says she’s glad they’ve saved the Earth, while GA, looking at a factory belching smoke into the atmosphere, wonders whether they really have.

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A quick note, I hate the ridiculously complicated origin of Black Canary.  We haven’t gotten there yet, but I think they’d have done a lot better to simply introduce an Earth 1 Canary and avoid the whole issue.

So, thus ends this JLA two-parter, and it was, all around, a good, solid story.  It has its weak moments, and the aliens really don’t pose all that much of a threat.  Still, you get some really nice character moments, you get Vigilante reintroduced to the DCU (Yay!), and you get an entertaining story.  This is a fitting end for the adventure we began last issue, and I have to say, though I braced myself for some really preachy environmental messages (a-la the Archie TMNT book!), O’Neil actually kept the message somewhat subtle.  It’s a bit on the nose a few times, but nothing so bad as the cover.  That final image is a nice, effective way to keep the readers thinking about the issue without beating them over the head.

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This is definitely a sign of the more socially conscious bent of Bronze Age stories, featuring characters dealing (in a small way) with loss, and of course with the environmental issues.  There’s a lot of personality packed into a small number of pages.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen out of 5.

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Phantom Stranger #5

Phantom_Stranger_Vol_2_6.jpgCover Artist:Neal Adams
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Vince Colletta

This issue of The Phantom Stranger has a lovely Neal Adams cover, but unfortunately, the art inside is just downright ugly.  Mike Sekowsky, long time artist for the Justice League book, is certainly capable of producing perfectly acceptable art, even some strong work on occasion, but for whatever reason, this isn’t one of those occasions.  I’m sure being inked by the notorious Vince Colletta, who was famous for being quick and not much else, didn’t help matters.  Of course, Colletta’s reputation for taking shortcuts and generally riding roughshod over pencilers is a result of his often being called upon to meet impending deadlines.  It’s an unfortunate reputation to have garnered.

This story is, like the Jason Quest feature in Showcase, another effort where Sekowsky is handling both art and writing chores, and it is another case where I can’t say I’m thrilled with the results.  It opens with those four annoying teens from the previous issues speaking in abominable 60s slang.  Wait, is Bob Haney writing this?  The quartet are walking through a small town in the evening when they hear a crash and screams coming from a house on the corner.  Two old women come running out of the building as all sorts of small objects go flying about the place.

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The youths investigate, only to discover the tumult stopped.  Or rather, it is stopped until the old women reenter the home, and then it begins all over again.  The kids call Dr. Thirteen, despite the fact that he has never actually accomplished anything for them, and he rushes right over.  In the interim, the Phantom Stranger shows up and takes charge, telling the kids that the house is haunted, not by a poltergeist as they assumed, but by something worse!  Dun, dun, DUN!

Dr. Thirteen shows up, and it’s the usual song and dance about the Stranger being a charlatan and so forth, and Thirteen insists on telling a story to prove that there is always an explanation for such things.  We are seeing the format of the threefold tale continuing, though it’s a trope that is wearing a bit thing by this point, I think.

The good Doctor tells the story of a family tormented by what seemed to be a similar spirit, things flying about the house, strange events, unexplained noises, etc.

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They call Thirteen in to investigate, and he catches a small fellow slipping around the house, causing the ruckus.  The young man is, rather meanly, known as Creepy Conway.  They keep referring to him as “dim witted” as well.  Real nice.  So, this kid had a crush on the family’s daughter, but when she rejected him, the family’s incredibly creepy son recruited him to be his agent in terrorizing his folks.  We’ve got a nascent super villain here, maybe something worse!  He reminds me a bit of that kid with the exposed brain from The Tick, Charles, AKA, Brainchild

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What a rotten brat!

So, that ends Thirteen’s tale, which brings us to the Stranger’s point in the rotation.  He responds with his own yarn about an occurrence with a real ghost, and I’d say this is the strongest part of the issue.  We get a solid ghost story, where a young couple is driving back from a party and take an ill-fated shortcut through the woods.  The young man awakens and is terrified, screaming about “the family curse!”  Before he can persuade the young lady to turn around, they are both greeted by a an old black powder pistol, and its owner is…a headless horseman!  The spectre threatens the young man, David Drew-Gorham, asking if he has found the spirit’s lost head.  David pleads for mercy, claiming that he has searched in vain and cursing his cruel ancestor who wronged the ghost many years ago.

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Then we get a flashback, telling the tale of how this horseman became headless.  He was a young man in love with a woman above his station, the daugher of the local baron, and when the nobleman discovered their love, he had the young man arrested.  Because of planted evidence, our future spook is tried for robbery and condemned to death by the executioner’s axe.  Yet, that was not punishment enough for the bloody baron, and he hid the young man’s head, burying it separately from his body.  This has caused his spirit to wander restlessly, unable to move on and greet his love in the afterlife missing something so important as his head.

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His story finished, the ghost prepares to kill the latest descendent of the baron, but the Phantom Stranger appears out of nowhere and turns the weapon aside.  He orders the specter to follow him, and the enigmatic hero leads him to his own grave.  The horseman objects that there is nothing of use to be found there, but the Stranger orders him to fire his weapon at the strange bust in the likeness of his head that the baron had placed on the tombstone.  The ghostly musket cracks, and the bust breaks open, revealing the horseman’s mummified head!  This was the baron’s final dastardly joke.  His lost crown restored, the ghost goes to his final rest.  It’s not a bad little ghost story, and it is actually much prettier than the rest of the book.  I don’t know why exactly, but there is definitely more detail and attention given to these pages.

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The end of that tale brings us to the end of our original, where the Stranger makes the proclamation that this too is the work of an evil spirit, and he even calls her by name!  Enter Tala once more.  She is accompanied by a really cool looking monster, which just gets called “Thing.”  She reveals that she is merely there at the behest of one of the elderly sisters.  Apparently, she doesn’t enjoy how her sibling eats all of the pistachio icecream, so she did what any normal, sane person would in such a circumstance.  She summoned a foul hell-beast to torment her.

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I’m not kidding.  That’s the crux of the plot.  The old lady is angry at her sister, so she summons a spirit, and Tala just happens to tag along.  It’s pretty silly.  Well, the Stranger gets the book the spinster used to do her summoning, and, despite being attacked by the amorphous Thing, he manages to throw the tome into the fire, ending the threat.  It isn’t much of a resolution, certainly a lot less interesting than last issue’s dramatic stand-off between our mysterious hero and the bewitching witch.  It’s also a little strange to see the Stranger get throttled.  I guess he’s solid enough at times, hmm?

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Well, our hero vanishes, leaving Thirteen raving about exposing him for the fraud he is.  Our final scene is of the old troublemaker, who is thinking about all of the different copies of that spellbook she has cached around the house.

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This was a fairly weak offering from Sekowsky, with only the headless horseman story being a particularly interesting one.  Even the well designed and visually appealing “Thing” gets almost no “screen time,” being dispatched almost as soon as he appears.  That’s a shame.  The framing narrative is really rather weird, and not in the way you’d hope for in a Phantom Stranger tale.  Those four kids are really starting to get on my nerves, and I’m hoping they won’t be long for this book.

One fun thing about this issue was the letter column, which reveals that at least someone else out there felt the same way I do about these kids’ tortuous slang.  “Ugh!…the kids names and their dialog were strictly pre-Giordano ‘Teen Titans.'”  That would be the work of ‘ol Zaney Haney and his “teenspeak” our perceptive writer is referring to, and that is just what this dialog reminds me of.

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So, all-in-all, I give this rather ugly episode 2.5 Minutemen.

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Well, that’s it for this week.  Join me next week for the end of this month’s books, a special bonus, and my final thoughts for the month!

 

Into the Bronze Age: February 1970 (Part 1)

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So, we’ve gotten through January, and now it is time to tackle February 1970!  Let’s see what this month has in store for us.

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

  • Action Comics #385
  • Aquaman #49
  • Batman #218 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Batman #219
  • Detective Comics #396
  • Flash #194
  • Justice League of America #78
  • Phantom Stranger #5
  • Showcase #88
  • Strange Adventures #222
  • Superman #223
  • Superman #224
  • Teen Titans #25
  • World’s Finest 191

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others in the next.

Action Comics #385

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Cover Artists: Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos
Editor: Mort Weisinger

Ohh, time travel in the Silver Age…

For some reason, every hero had to time travel, just as they all had to do everything in tandem.  Everyone made at least one movie (how amazing must superhero movies have been in the DCU?), everybody got a sidekick, everybody got a weakness, everyone adopted a pet, and so on and so on.  Another of those tropes that was endlessly repeated in the Silver Age was time travel.  I generally find the Silver Age synchronicity and the stock plots rather charming, but the time travel stories leave me cold.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against time travel stories per se, but there is a weird trend in Silver Age DC stories where most of the main characters not only occasionally time traveled, but also took regular trips to a particular era in order to adventure in that time, as if there wasn’t enough bizarre craziness to be found in a current-day universe that was packed with aliens, super-science, magic, and lost civilizations!

Green Lantern, Flash, and Superman all did this.  Green Lantern even had a future girl friend on the side, but Flash topped that with a wife who turned out to actually be from the future in one of the most bizarre and confusing retcons of Silver/Bronze Age history.  (We’ll get there.)  Superman, of course, had the Legion, and while I have come to like them, I don’t much care for Superman’s involvement.  He tends to overshadow the other characters, especially Ultra Boy and Mon-El with their similar power-sets.  Having Superman, at least the Silver Age Superman, in a team book is always a dicey prospect, as he’s just so powerful that he tends to make other great characters superfluous.  Good writers could deal with that challenge quite well, but that wasn’t always the case.

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Nonetheless, this particular adventure is not one of Superman’s Legion jaunts.  Instead, it’s a time-travel tale to a ‘new’ future, one involving the year 101,970!  Now that’s the far future!  This issue opens with Superman meeting with the President, who remains in shadow in classic comic form, preventing the real world from crashing in too much.  I’ve always liked the practice of keeping real-world parallels at arms length.  The DC or Marvel Universes should be LIKE our world, but not too close, for my money.  That’s one of the reasons I love the concept of the DCU’s fictional cities.

The President tells Superman that the army is mucking about with something called the “Vortex Experiment,” and that he needs the Man of Steel not to go messing with time travel for the next 24 hours or it might upset the experiment.  Personally, I’d be more than a little concerned about the government, especially the military, doing anything that interacts with the space-time continuum, but I suppose that’s just me.

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Supes promises that he’ll stick in the present, which is probably a bigger sacrifice than it sounds like to a sane person, and heads back to the Fortress of Solitude.  There, much to his surprise, he encounters a gigantic robotic hand writing on the golden door of the Fortress.  I can’t say for certain, but I’d be willing to bet that at least a good chunk of this book exists just to provide an excuse to create that image.  Shades of Daniel!  Yet, the finger writing on the wall is not that of God, nor is the message nearly so portentous.  Instead, “the moving finger writes” that his help is needed in the distant future.  One might stop to question how in the blue blazes people in the year 101,970 could POSSIBLY know about Superman, much less be able to contact him directly, but then one is really overthinking this very Silver-Agey plot.

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The Man of Tomorrow (a particularly fitting sobriquet in this tale) remembers his promise and uses a defective Legion Time-Bubble rather than time travel himself, so that he doesn’t upset the Army’s experiment that is almost certainly not going to unleash untold horrors upon the universe or destroy the space-time continuum….where was I?  Right, the story’s deus ex machina, which is fittingly enough an actual machina, takes Superman 100,000 years in the future, but there’s a problem!  Because of the defective Time-Bubble, Superman also AGES 100,000 years!  Yet, because of his super-ness, the Man of Steel doesn’t look a day over 65.  That takes ‘aging well’ to a new extreme!

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After all that set-up, I’m afraid the actual story is fairly mundane.  Why have the denizens of this dizzily distant future brought Superman all the way to their remote era?  Is it to fight some universe destroying menace (perhaps one released by the U.S. military in 1970)?  Is it to save them from some vast cosmic catastrophe?  Is it to battle some merciless alien race that is steam-rolling across the stars?  No.  They reached 100,000 years into the past to summon Superman in order to…catch a bank robber.

Yep, you read that right.  Apparently the space-future equivalent of Fort Knox is losing money, and these future folk can’t figure it out.  They lock the Last Son of Krypton in the vault, where he discovers that an energy creature has been hiding in the very defenses of the vault itself and munching on money every night when the room is sealed.  The conflict is actually a pretty nice one.  Superman can’t hurt the creature, as it is has no real physical form, but it can hurt him, so he just outruns it all night until the vault opens again.  Since he can’t defeat the crackling critter by throwing punches, the Action Ace uses his brain and comes up with a plan.  He noticed that the monster ate only warm colored space-money, so he used a paint gun to trick the creature into eating blue money, thus destroying it.

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I love how in the Silver Age, writers seem to regard color as an integral part of the make-up of matter, like mass or elemental composition.  If something was “blue” or “yellow,” it meant that it had inalienable qualities, rather than just absorbing and reflecting certain wavelengths of light.  They did this ALL THE TIME in Green Lantern, where he would find objects that were yellow in nature, despite having been painted another color or the like, and thus completely immune to his ring.  Think about that for a moment.  His ring wouldn’t work on an object that was, say, red, because it was actually secretly yellow the whole time!  It’s so utterly crazy, but it was a pervasive idea, I’ve noticed.

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Anyway, Superman saves the space-future, but finds that he cannot return home!  Unbeknownst to him, the old Legion foe, the Time-Trapper has sealed-off The Man of Steel’s home time.  Unable to escape, the Man of Tomorrow heads to the future Earth to see what’s what, where he encounters some difficulties because there is apparently a criminal gang who have stolen his act!

Long story short (too late by far!), Superman is gassed by some future heroes, passes out, and awakens to discover that his few weaknesses have all disappeared, and he is now truly invulnerable.  Yet, rather than be elated at this news, all Supes can think about is how everyone he’s ever known and loved is dead in the distant past.  Yep, that will put a damper on a party really quick.

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This scene really drives me bonkers, as it demonstrates another of those fundamental misunderstandings that have stuck with Superman over the years.  Somehow he has been made invulnerable to magic, as if this were just an extension of his normal invulnerability, but he doesn’t really have a WEAKNESS to magic.  Superman’s invulnerability is physical.  He’s really, really tough, but non-physical attacks, like mental and magical attacks, can harm him because they have nothing to do with that physical toughness.  He only seems “vulnerable” to magic in comparison, but he’s not more vulnerable to magic than I am to, say, a sword in the gut, which is to say, normally vulnerable.

Wow.  I’ve spent way more time on this little story than it really merited.  Anyway, I liked the actual conflict of the tale, and the involvement of the Time Trapper has promise, but the silliness of the time travel elements, the magic vulnerability nonsense, and the over-all Silver Age-ness of the story knocks it down a peg for me.  It’s not a bad story, but it’s also not a good story.  I give it 2.5 Minutemen out of 5.

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“The Fallen Starboy”

ac_385_20.jpgThat brings us to the backup feature of this comic, as well as the real star tale of this book, The Legion of Super-Heroes.  This story is really a nice inversion of the previous month’s offering.  In that by the numbers yarn, Dream Girl had a vision of a Legionnaire’s death, and the heroes struggled to prevent it.  This month’s back-up also involves the heroes trying to fight against fate, but this time it is the villains who have the visions!  Star Boy heads to his home planet with Saturn Girl and Colossal Boy to investigate a series of robberies by a gang that always seems to be one step ahead of the authorities.

The Legionnaires decide to escort the next shipment of valuable goods, hoping to ambush the thieves with the help of Saturn Girl’s telepathy, but they are ambushed in turn!  It seems the raiders were prepared for Saturn Girl with anti-telepathy helmets (I wonder if they stole those from Magneto…)!  It’s almost as if they knew she was going to be there!

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The Legionnaires put their heads together to try to figure out what happened, and Star Boy conveniently figures out that the raiders must be from Dream Girl’s home planet and be able to dream the future.  It’s a bit of a jump, but I suppose we can give it to them since they do know someone with those exact powers and it does fit as a rather neat explanation of the facts.

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Incidentally, it seems to me that such a race of people would be down-right unstoppable.  Though, it now occurs to me that just last issue the Legionnaires were facing the inevitability of Dream Girl’s visions, completely unable to change the future she had seen, yet these crooks seem to be able to see the future and make adjustments!  Whoops, that doesn’t quite line up, does it?

But to get back to our tale, we next check in with the villainous raiders and we discover that all of their robbing and pillaging was just bait to lure Star Boy home so that their leader, Yark Althu, could kill him in revenge for his brother!  We get a flashback to a deadly encounter wherein Althu’s brother murdered Star Boy’s friend and disabled his powers.  In desperation, the young Legionnaire grabbed a fallen gun and killed the fellow.  Wow.  They showed a Legionnaire use deadly force ON panel.  As far as I can tell, this isn’t from a previous issue, meaning that the writer, who I’m assuming is Bates, just tosses out the added twist that Star Boy is a killer in a three panel flashback in a BACKUP.  That’s quite a heavy revelation, and it is given absolutely no attention whatsoever!

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Well, the story ends with Star Boy being teleported into a trap by Althu, where the Master of Mass (patent pending) displays some really clever uses of his powers, despite the fact that the raiders have disabled the artificial gravity on their ship in order to render him helpless.  Star Boy keeps the gang off balance until the cavalry arrives, and the Legion win the day!

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All in all, this was a fun, solid Legion story.  It had a nice dilemma, clever solutions, and fit a lot in its few allotted pages.  The one real problem is the use of deadly force by Star Boy without so much as an eye-bat by ANYONE in the story.  I kept expecting it to be revealed that he hadn’t actually killed the guy, but nope, apparently Star Boy is perfectly willing to bust a space-cap in a villain whenever it seems necessary.  That sets a rather grim precedent for a 1970s comic book.  All-in-all, I give it 3 Minutemen out of 5.

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Aquaman #49

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Cover Artists: Nick Cardy
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Dick Giordano

As most folks who know me know, my favorite comic character is Aquaman.  It wasn’t always thus.  When I was a kid, my unalloyed favorite was Batman, but I did always have a soft spot for the King of the Seven Seas. Part of that is due to the fact that he has always had a really neat and unique look.  What other hero is orange and green?  Another part of it is that he inhabits such an amazing and interesting world, though writers and artists haven’t always taken advantage of that fact.  You see, I’m a coastal boy, growing up in the islands and bayous of the Gulf Coast, sailing about in my little skiff since I was a kid, and living every minute I could on or in the water.  Folks used to say I was part fish, so naturally I was drawn to the guy who could talk to our “finny friends.”

I’ve always been fascinated by the sea, but I’ve also had her treat me badly enough often enough to have a very healthy fear of both the water and what is in it.  I’ve lived through half a dozen hurricanes, after all.  Thus, I’ve always loved the idea of this hero, this adventurer, that not only wasn’t afraid of the sea, but ruled it, completely and utterly.  Everything that lives and breaths underwater answers to him, and he is totally, completely at home under the waves, even more so than we are on land.  That is pretty darn cool.  If you can’t see the appeal of being able to breath and live underwater, then you’ve let the world beat too much of the wonder out of you.  Every kid who has ever sat on the bottom of a pool, holding their breath, and wishing they stay under forever knows that it is a universal dream, ancient and powerful.  Aquaman is the realization of that archetypal wish.

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Yet, that is only part of my love for the character.  Another significant reason is that I’ve always had a thing for underdogs.  Give me the character that is (unjustly) maligned.  Give me the hard-luck hero.  Give me the guy that just can’t catch a break.  I always see their potential, even when there isn’t all that much evidence around to engender faith in their underlying worthiness.  Aquaman is perhaps the best example of this tendency, though some of my other DC favorites like Hawkman and the Atom also fit the bill.

Aquaman has really had a hard time of it, though.  His book has been cancelled again and again, he’s become a cultural punch-line thanks to Super Friends, and his greatest enemy has become, not Ocean Master, not Black Manta, not even the Human Flying Fish, but DC Comics themselves.

You see, DC has, since the early 70s, apparently had it in for the Aquatic Ace.  Now, I’m not suggesting some actual mustache-twirling, monocle-wearing conspiracy, so you can put away the tinfoil hats, but it just seems like the company consistently makes the wrong choices about this character, often inexplicably.  They cancel his book when he’s selling well, they replace successful teams, they allow other media to mistreat and under-utilize the property, and weirdest of all, they publicly bad-mouth their own product.  It’s like they collectively have a spot of madness where Aquaman is concerned.  Of course, much of the blame for this attitude can be laid squarely at the feet of Super Friends.  For every Rob Kelly, of Aquamanshrine fame, out there, who grew to love the Marine Marvel in that show, there are a thousand more that learned to regard him as a joke or as useless.  Of course, he’s anything but, as any self-respecting DC fan can tell you.

HERE is a relatively brief Aquaman primer written by yours truly to educate those in the dark about this great character.

This particular comic is from right about the middle of what was, up until recently, arguably the best Aquaman run of all time.  It is lamentably short, and its cancellation is perhaps the best example of DC’s inexplicable strikes against their own character.  I’m talking, of course, of the legendary SAG run.  The SAG run is the set of issues by the team of Steve Skeates (writer par excellence), Jim Aparo (artist extraordinaire), and Dick Giordano (editor and guiding light).  They were a fantastic team, and under them Aquaman’s title, which had been slipping for years, started an impressive comeback.  They finally treated the Sea King with the respect he deserved, explored the wonders of his underwater realm, and took his villains and supporting cast in interesting and intriguing directions.  It wasn’t without its flaws, but these comics were Aquaman at the best he had ever been, for my money, and the best he would be for decades to come.  He was a heroic, likable character, an adventurer who did what was right regardless of the cost, traits very soon to be lost for some thirty years.  These stories are classic, Bronze Age comics at their finest.

Check out some of Aparo’s lovely splash pages from this run at Diversions of the Groovy Kind.

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This issue is not the best of the bunch, but even so, it’s a solid, fun read, bursting with potential like so many of the issues of this run.  It takes place shortly after the most famous story-line from the SAG run, “The Search for Mera,” wherein Aquaman tore through every kingdom under the sea in a hunt for his kidnapped wife.  It also saw unrest and revolution in Atlantis, defused only by the bravery of Aquagirl (a character that I sorely miss being part of the Aquaman mythos).  By the beginning of this story, however, things have begun to return to normal, and Aquaman and Aqualad are traveling in the frigid waters of Alaska to answer an emergency summons from an “old friend.”  It’s funny how our heroes have so many old friends that make one appearance and are never heard from again.  I guess superheroes are bad at keeping in touch…

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Well, the tale actually opens with a silent, moody sequence of a black-clad diver destroying a building, leading in to a beautiful title page.  Jim Aparo is one of my favorite artists of all time, and with the exception of the two astonishingly talented teams that have worked on Aquaman recently, Aparo’s work is hands-down the best version of Aquaman for my money.  Ivan Reis and Paul Pelletier have done amazing work in the new Aquaman series, creating some of the finest comic book art of all time, but nonetheless, Jim Aparo is a giant in his own right.  His work his this wonderful, flowing, liquid feel to it, and he is always doing something interesting with layout, position, and design.  I’m no artist, but even I can appreciate the sheer beauty of Aparo’s work.

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Back to the story!  Our heroes are ambushed by frenzied fish that won’t answer to Aquaman49_07.jpgAquaman’s telepathic commands, and they are soon fighting for their lives.  A strange figure in a diving suit shows up to help them, and it turns out to be Phil Darson, a somewhat enigmatic scientist and explorer who the Aquatic Ace had encountered some issues back.  It seems that the mysterious malady plaguing the fish is the reason Aquaman has been summoned to these cold climes.  The heroes meet up with Arthur’s “old friend,” Professor Davidson, and Aparo gives this briefly appearing, one-shot character a really distinct face.  One look at this guy and you get a sense of his personality.  He’s serious, grizzled, and worried, and we know this before he ever opens his mouth.  That’s the power of a good artist right there.

Anyway, Davidson fills the Aqua-team in about what has been going on.  Apparently factories in the area are poisoning the environment, and the fish with it, and a mysterious vigilante known as the Saboteur has been bombing the different businesses in retaliation.  It has been a violent but bloodless attack until recently, when a night watchmen was killed in a blast.  The exposition is nicely inter-cut with scenes of Saboteur striking again, and Aquaman rushes off to investigate.  The Marine Marvel catches up to the destructive diver before he can get away, and the shadowy figure fires a miniature torpedo at him!  Aquaman survives a near-direct hit (remember that for later), but the Saboteur gets away.

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The mystery continues to unravel, with the introduction of a fat-cat industrialist type who is having none of this ‘save the environment’ nonsense!  Not at the expense of HIS bottom line, you don’t!  He lays a trap for the Saboteur, planning to kill him quietly so that he can prevent an investigation that would reveal his nefarious doings.

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Cut back to Atlantis, and we get a brief, tense little scene between Mera and Ocean Master, who has apparently come in peace, complete with underwater white flag!  We get to see Mera being a capable, intelligent ruler here, as well as hints of something waiting in the wings.  Orm claims he needs to speak to Aquaman…but why?

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Back in Alaska, Aquaman and Aqualad have a discussion about whether or not Davidson might be the Saboteur, and it is handled rather nicely.  Instead of having this turn into a melodramatic, angsty teen-age drama, Arthur listens calmly to Garth’s thoughts, then he does the unthinkable.  He puts stock in what his partner says and agrees that they can’t afford to take anything for granted.  It’s a simple little exchange, but it shows the strength of the father-son bond between the two.  Leaving Aqualad behind to watch Davidson, the Aquatic Ace heads out to investigate the remaining factory and encounters the Saboteur!  This gives us a lovely little underwater scene that shows off Aparo’s skill.

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Note Deadman’s face in the rock, a fun little teaser of what is to come in book’s future

Aquaman49_26 - Copy.jpgHe follows the criminal, but it seems he breaks in on the factory owners planned ambush, and nobody is happy to see him!  In another close call, Aquaman takes shrapnel from a grenade that explodes practically on top of him.  That is two explosions he has survived, making him one tough son of a gun, right?  Well, then we see one of the weaknesses of this series, as he is taken out by a clot to the head, in true DC hero fashion.  I swear, if I had a penny for every time a DC hero is disabled by a blow the back of the head, I’d be living in my own underwater city….

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Anyway, this series mostly does a good job of showing how powerful, how tough, and how impressive Aquaman was, but every once in a while, they treat him just like a regular guy.  Still, we’re treated to a really nice panel of Aquaman waking, literally BATHED in flames, and non-the-worse for the fiery wear.  So, I suppose it isn’t all bad.  He comes to in time to see the factory owner and the Saboteur locked in combat at the edge of a cliff, and before he can reach them, over they go!  Aquaman makes his way down to the fallen Saboteur, and to no-one’s surprise, he discovers that it is the no longer quite so enigmatic Phil Darson under the mask.  He explains that he loved the ocean and couldn’t stand to see it destroyed, so he took action when the law wouldn’t.  He apologizes for attacking Aquaman, and the Marine Marvels are left in the falling snow, pondering the justness of his actions.

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So, I’m sure we all saw the reveal coming.  Phil Darson is the Chekhov’s gun of this particular story, the only piece that doesn’t fit without being found in the Saboteur’s flippers, but nonetheless, it’s a good story.  I think it’s a shame that Darson was killed off, as he was an interesting character, always showing up when least expected.  I would have liked to know more about what he had going on.  The tale is an unusual one for Aquaman, more moody mystery than undersea adventure, and it makes for a nice change of pace.  It is a little inconsistent with its treatment of Aquaman, and it really doesn’t give him or Aqualad all that much to do.  Still, it’s a neat story, and the art is excellent, as always.  This is only an average offering from the SAG team, but that still puts it a cut above average for most comics!  I’d give it 4 Minutemen out of 5.

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Batman #219

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Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Dick Giordano

Backup
Writer:Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano

This issue of Batman has two solid stories in it.  The first involves Bruce Wayne trying to get federal money to support his then current VIP (Victims Inc. Programs) undertaking.  That whole plotline loomed large in these middle years, but it doesnt’ seem to have amounted to much in the Bat-mythos.  Instead, as with so many comic characters, the elements that have stuck are those that were there in the beginning, or almost so, at least.  The skyscraper lair has been replaced by Wayne Manor and the Bat-Cave, and in general, those original concepts seem to have staying power.

But back to the story at hand.  Bruce is seeing a senator at his office who introduces him to a secretly visiting old warhorse of “our party.”  It’s hard to imagine Batman engaging  in partisan politics, so this was a minor little note that struck me as a more than a little off key.  It’s rather strange to see the Dark Knight engaged in politics to begin with, but that’s not the only offbeat bit of this story.

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Batman219-04.JPGThe Senator convinces Bruce to fly back to D.C. with him to help with a crime bill that’s supposed to really make waves, and on the way, the flight is hi-jacked by his political enemies!  In a nice little touch, the pilot seems, not scared as you’d imagine, but nonplussed and wearily resigned, if anything.  “Not another Havana Hijacker,” he says grumpily.  Apparently this period, from ’68-’79 is the “Golden Age of Skyjacking,” so I suppose this scene speaks volumes about the ubiquity, the almost hum-drum regularity of such events here in the Bronze Age.

What follows is a somewhat amusing comedy of errors with Batman switching between his Bruce Wayne and Caped Crusader identities.  First, in one of those other slightly sour notes I mentioned, Bruce takes on the skyjackers single-handedly, in full view of the public, unmasked.  Way to protect your secret identity there, Bats.

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He gets thumped on the head for his troubles (Another one!  I’m going to start a running tally) and thrown into the back of the plane.  He wakes up, uses a “Mae West,” which I did not realize is an inflatable life raft (who says comic books aren’t educational?) to fill his vacated civilian clothes, and sets out to take on the bad guys as Batman!  Then he…promptly gets knocked out…AGAIN!  The skyjackers toss Bats back with Bruce (!), fortunately not bothering to check on their other prisoner.  This does offer Batman a chance for a witty little rejoinder, though, so that’s something.

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Finally, Bats fools the villains with a few quick changes and has the Senator fake a heart-attack, hoping that these criminals don’t want him dead.  While flying to a nearby medic, the Batsuit rigged to that previously mentioned “Mae West” (Chekhov’s raft, apparently), springs out of a compartment and scares the skyjackers silly.  The Senator (and the other passengers, but who cares about them?) is saved, and we’re left with Bruce pondering an invitation to get into politics full time.

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This is a solid Bat-story, not particularly remarkable, but certainly not bad.  Bruce is a little too quick to take the bad guys on single-handed without his costume, especially considering the excellent job Bob Haney did (how often does someone say that about logical consistency?) just last month with a similar situation.  Still, this was fun, with a neat resolution.  I’ll give it an average 3 Minutemen.

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“The Silent Night of the Batman”

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The backup tale in this issue is the one I particularly enjoyed, which seems to be becoming a trend in these multi-part books.  It’s a simple but sweet little Christmas story.  It’s almost entirely silent, except for a strain of different Christmas carols moving through the pages.  There isn’t really all that much to the plot, and in this case, that’s not really a problem.  Commissioner Gordon tricks Batman into coming down to the precinct so he can force the Caped Crusader to take a night off.  He convinces the Dark Knight to stay and sing Christmas carols (!) until there is an emergency.  Batman, sure that something will momentarily go horribly wrong, begrudgingly agrees.  There’s an odd but funny little beat where the cops ask him to lend his “deep vocal chords” to their songs.

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We then travel around Gotham, seeing several moments where tragedy COULD strike, but doesn’t because of the Christmas spirit, along with a healthy dose of the spirit of Batman as well!  It’s a touching set of silent stories where people choose a better path, at least in part because they were inspired by Batman.  It’s a really a lovely expression of how the presence of heroes can improve the world, outside of their immediate actions.  Having truly virtuous, truly heroic figures to look up to can make us all better.  In the end, Batman wakes, having fallen asleep on a quiet, uneventful night.  It’s a good ending.  It is strange, even incongruous to see Batman singing Christmas carols, but it is charming and enjoyable nonetheless.

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I give this one 4.5 Minutemen out of 5.

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Detective Comics #396

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Executive Editor: Carmine Infantino
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“The Orchid-Crusher”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Murphy Anderson, Gil Kane
Editor: Julius Schwartz

This is an odd little tale, full of 60s-ness, and more than a little reminiscent of a Zany Haney script, but it has its moments nonetheless.  The issue opens with Bruce Wayne in his office having an “eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the ‘youth revolution'” as he reads NOW! Magazine, which apparently has a plot convenient cover story.  This is where I had to double check the credits to be sure this wasn’t a Bob Haney yarn.  detective396-02.jpgThe whole plot turns on the idea that there is this young whiz kid named Rory Bell who is a stock genius, and makes all of his business decisions while riding a motorcycle and talking to his secretary/girlfriend via “radio-phone”!  To add to the oddness of this concept, apparently a gang of crooks who are feeling a bit out of date decide that the best way to turn things around is to kidnap this kid and have him make a fortune on the market for them.  We are on page 2.

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It’s amazing how many concepts a minute these creative teams threw out back in the day.

So, these enterprising gangsters kidnap the kid, who, in a scene chock full of migraine inducing 60s slang, convinces these geniuses he “can’t make market decisions ‘less I’ve got this throbbing heap under me…and the wind blowing my mind!”  I don’t know about you, but I think that’s the kind of thing I’d keep to myself.  Just saying.

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Well, it just so happens that this fellow’s girl Friday is Bruce’s stock broker as well, and the kid sends an S.O.S. by ordering a number of uncharacteristic sales and buys.  When the broker discusses this with Bruce (isn’t that insider trading?), he deduces the pattern and sets out as Batman in a decent display of detective work.

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He ambushes the gangsters when they stop at a gas station, and almost puts them down before one of them grabs the kid as a hostage.  Batman drops a smoke pellet, and in the highlight of story, he fakes the gang out by sending the Batmobile tearing away under remote control so he can get the drop on them.

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There’s not a whole lot to this one.  It’s a solid enough story, but not a particularly good one.  It’s enjoyable for what it is, and all of the characters are given just enough personality to make them more than just moving pieces of scenery.  Still, it is more than a bit forgettable.  I give it 3 Minutemen.

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“The Orchid Killer”

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This Batgirl backup is interesting, though you really feel that the Robbins was a bit constrained by the 9 page limit.  The story opens with our lovely red-headed crime fighter having a nightmare about a mysterious killer that’s been haunting Gotham lately.  He’s known as the titular “orchid killer” because he always leaves a crushed orchid at the scene of each crime.  At this point in her history, Babs is a librarian, a reasonable if unexciting secret identity for a superhero, I suppose.  Librarians have interesting jobs, but it doesn’t seem like quite the vocation that Barbara Gordon should have.

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Employment aside, she stumbles upon a clue to the crime in a copy of The Femme Mystique, a computer punch card (how quaint!).  It seems to be a computer dating service quiz (I didn’t even know they HAD computer dating services in 1960) belonging to the latest victim!  It appears the books previous possessor was studying up on how to manipulate women (creepy!), and a passage about orchids is underlined.  Babs does some detective work, tracking the library book back to a man named Darren Thompkins.  He’s apparently skipped out of his boarding house, so Batgirl pays a visit to the computer dating service and sets a trap using herself as bait!

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In order to do so, she has to remorsefully brush young Jason Bard off.  It’s a nice moment of background and characterization, especially in a story as tightly plotted as this one.  Jason is a long-time part of Batgirl’s supporting cast, as I understand it.  While I like the character, I don’t like him being Babs’ love interest.  I’m an old romantic, I suppose, but I’ve always loved the pairing of Robin and Batgirl.  It just made perfect sense, and they complement each other excellently.  I would have read the heck out of a backup strip that featured both of them.

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detective396-23.jpgBack to our mystery.  Barbara gets a nibble, and her date is a mousy little fellow who seems harmless…until he offers her an orchid and moves in for a kiss.  Babs rebuffs his advances rather…decisively, and he storms off.  She follows, not quite sure if this is just natural frustration or something more sinister, and she loses him, only to be grabbed, apparently by the orchid killer himself!

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detective396-26.jpgThis backup ticks right along, but it manages to tell a complete story, so far as it goes, in only 9 pages.  I’m not quite sure what I think of the opening dream sequence.  It does establish a good, creepy tone and a sense of threat about this killer, but I wonder if that page could have been put to more effective use.  Nonetheless, packing all of that story into 9 pages is pretty impressive, and Robins does it very efficiently.  You get some characterization, some supporting cast, some civilian identity, some superheroing, and some detective work.  Not bad.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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The Flash #194

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Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

I really do love the Flash as a character, especially the Barry Allen version.  Yet, reading these Flash comics has routinely been one of the hardest slogs of my grand DC experiment.  It’s strange, I expected to love these comics.  After all, Flash has some of the best villains in the DC Universe, and I am a fan of Barry Allen himself.  I love that he is just a really decent, upright man, all other concerns aside.  He’s the only DC hero other than Hawkman that was a crime-fighter BEFORE he had super powers.  He was a police scientist, already having dedicated his life to protecting people.  It’s a great concept, and the Flash as a character is one as well.  Nonetheless, I routinely found this book to be pretty rough going.  I think it may be the most Silver Age-y book in the DC offerings other than the Superman and Batman titles.  There have been some good stories along the way, and this period has given us a whole Rogue’s Gallery of great villains (and some NOT so great ones *cough*TheTop*cough), but there has also been tons of Silver Age weirdness and general silliness.

Nonetheless, by this point Barry has settled into a pretty enjoyable status quo.  He and Iris are married, and Iris has gone from being occasionally downright insufferable to a genuinely likeable character.  That’s good, because DC love interests in the Silver Age had a hard time of it, often being portrayed as either bat-guano insane or downright mean.  You really had to wonder why the heroes were interested in such ill-tempered or unstable ladies.  It seems to me that a lot of readers hold those portrayals against those characters, but I try to avoid letting bad writing ruin a character for me when they have good potential, and Iris, as an independent career woman in the 60s certainly fits the bill.

This issue is, unfortunately, a weird story from the middle of a run of weird stories.  Remember all of those great villains the Flash has?  Well, don’t expect to see any of them anytime soon.  Instead, we get a dozen issues of random oddness.  This story is an incongruous tale of magic and mysticism that would be a much better fit for the Phantom Stranger than the Scarlet Speedster.  The cover is an interesting one, and you’re really left wondering what the heck is going to happen within this book.  Sadly, the story doesn’t quite live up to that mysterious beginning.  At the start, we find a seemingly confused young lady wandering the darkened streets of Central City, where she encounters the Flash fighting one of those delightful themed gangs that seemed to be all over the place in the Silver Age.  This is one little element of the period that I wished we still saw a bit more of.  This “Owl Gang” have some relatively neat costumes and some distinctive headgear that lets them blind the Wizard of Whiz, but he recovers too quickly for them and rounds them up without much trouble.

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Seriously, there are a bunch of these little themed gangs scattered through the pages of various DC books.  They don’t amount to much, and I am pretty sure 99% of them never make a return appearance, but I like the idea that even the fairly mundane criminals in a world of super-powered beings get in on the fun of costumes and gimmicks.  It makes the setting that much more fun and lively!  I wish that writers had kept these gangs around a bit more, replace some of the generic thugs that populate their pages with recurring appearances by the likes of the Owl Gang, or the Panther Gang from the Atom, etc.  I think that would have been interesting.
flash v1 194 0007.jpgAnyway, this young lady gets a bad fright during the fight and passes out, so the Flash naturally takes her to a hospital where professionals can take care of her and…wait…what?  No, no, no, don’t be silly.  Instead, at Iris’s insistence, he brings her to his home where he can more conveniently endanger his secret identity.  The girl awakes and calls the Scarlet Speedster “Daniel,” giving him a SUPER creepy look in the process.

Barry is naturally weirded out by this, and over the next day things continue to get stranger.  The girl awakes and insists that The Flash, who is still running around his actual house in costume, mind you, is her fiance, Daniel.  Even stranger, Barry begins to see visions of himself as this fellow, circa 100 years ago.  Iris digs up some history and an old photo that marks this Daniel guy as the spitting image of Barry himself.  The Allens begin to suspect that the girl is possessed by a restless spirit (naturally), and feel that their surmise is correct when they discover she has…*gasp* two shadows!flash v1 194 0016.jpg

Flash jumps to the only rational solution.  He has to fake marry the girl.  That’s right.  That’s the first thing he comes up with.  So, they go through with the ceremony, and instead of putting the spirit to rest, it somehow allows her to drag the Fastest Man Alive into some kind of bizarre Limbo along with her!

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This is where the story takes an even stronger term to the weird and where its use as a Flash yarn comes into serious question.  Flash finds himself trapped, besieged by demons, or spirits, or something, but luckily still possessing his super speed.  He attempts to race out of the strange dimension, but finds himself beset by threat after threat, including giant monsters and harpies.  If you’re thinking that it sounds like this mysterious spirit bride seems to drop out of the story, you’d be correct.  She literally just floats away  immediately after they find their way to Limbo…or wherever, making this tale feel even more disjointed.  Eventually Flash RUNS out of the afterlife.  I don’t mean that he vibrates himself to escape the dimension or anything.  I mean that he literally just runs to the edge of…wherever…and falls back into normal life.  Oookay.

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I like all of the crazy dimension-hopping antics of the Flash.  I love the idea that simple SPEED is such a versatile power.  I’m fine with such things, but this weird little episode is a bit much and, as I said, it just feels out of place as a Flash adventure.

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What’s more, this strange ‘afterlife’ he finds himself in is just really vague and boring. aristi Ross Andru does an okay with the weird creatures that inhabit it, but I just can’t help but find myself thinking about how interesting and exciting this same concept would have been if handled by somebody with the imagination of Jack Kirby.  The dimension would have been bursting with potential and personality, and as a reader you’d be left begging to see more of it, as likely as not.  Instead, his place is entirely forgettable, and I’m fairly certain we never see it again.

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This isn’t a BAD story, but it is definitely not a good one.  The action is moderately interesting, but the whole thing just makes such little sense and the limbo-realm is just so uninspired that I think I’ll give this one 2.5 Minutemen.

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Justice League #78

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Cover Artist: Gil Kane
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella

Now here’s one I’m excited about!  This is, by pure happy coincidence, the official beginning of the Satellite Era Justice League!  I didn’t realize that this issue would fall within my purview, but I’m glad it did.  After all, what better way to celebrate the Bronze Age than by chronicling the adventures of its most definitive team?  The Satellite Era Justice League is the group that most clearly encapsulates this period.  That incarnation begins here at the dawn of the the age, and it comes to its sad end just as the Bronze Age itself draws to a close in ’84.  It just so happens that the JLA are my all-time favorite comic team.  A child of the 80s, as any regular reader knows, I grew up watching re-runs of the Super Friends and playing Justice League with my friends.  We all had footie pajamas of our favorite heroes, and we’d put on those silly little Velcro capes and dash about, fighting the Legion of Doom or playing with those awesome Super Powers action figures.

These guys WERE the heroes of my child-hood.  I think I may have been vaguely aware of Spider-Man, Captain America, or the Hulk, but Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, those were the heroes that filled my imaginative hours, long summer days, and halcyon Saturday mornings.  I didn’t read many of the comics at the time, but I absorbed enough about these characters through other media to leave an indelible mark on my imagination.  They became the lens through which I understood the concept of the superhero.  That’s why, even though Super Friends is cringe-worthy for me these days, even though a lot of the classic comics are pretty painfully Silver-Agey at times, I will always have a soft spot for the DC Universe, but especially its heart and soul, the Justice League.

They are the Knights of the Round Table of superheroes, each powerful, noble, and impressive in their own right, but banded together in common cause, to make the world a better place, to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves, and to protect the Earth from threats too big for any one hero.  They are, collectively, what Batman and Superman are individually, the purest expressions of the archetypal nature of the superhero.  The League is like the old pantheons, powerful titans and godly figures of might, each presiding over their own demesne of skill and elemental purview.  Though an odd assortment, it has always seemed to me that they make a more coherent team than the Avengers.  I suppose that says something about the relatively uniform aesthetic of the core DC heroes.

Unfortunately, their stories have often not lived up to the quality of the concept.  I have regularly wondered how the Justice League book survived after Marvel started competing directly with their Avengers.  On average, the Avengers stories in the Silver Age were just so vastly better, you really have to wonder why folks stuck with the JLA.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the book endured, but it boggles the mind to think about.  And of course, just like Aquaman, this lack stellar storytelling in the critical Silver Age has been a weakness for the team going forward.  Whereas the Avengers ended up with a lot of great villains and concepts produced by that most fertile era, the League has always struggled for villains and challenges that really can serve as interesting threats for them.  The period that saw Kang the Conqueror fight the Avengers also saw the League facing off against the likes of Brain Storm and Kanjar Ro, not exactly winners.  Of course, I’m comparing hits with misses, but I think you get my point.  There were some great villains introduced in this era, but this has always been one of the weak points of the League, something Bruce Timm and company struggled with when creating their amazing Justice League Animated Series.

While I think it may continue to be the case that the concept of the League is stronger than the stories they produce in the Bronze Age, at least here the tide begins to turn, and we get some really excellent stories.  In general, the quality of stories does improve, and even more significantly, the team takes on the shape, themes, and challenges that will define it for the rest of its history.

This story brings us about midway into Denny O’Neil’s justly famous JLA run.  O’Neil took over after Gardner Fox’s decade-long and legendary time on the book, and with him came big changes.  He introduced new members, wrote out old ones, and gave the League their definitive Satellite headquarters.  O’Neil updated the team and did a lot of good work in these issues.  The Satellite and the introduction of Black Canary are both great additions to the mythos, but he also did some things that I’ll always regret.  He wrote out the Martian Manhunter, who at this point has headed to another world to help his people colonize it.  The League without its soul, J’onn J’onzz is like a church without a choir.  You can do it, but something’s missing.  It’s a particular shame that, just as the DC staple of heroes begin to get some good characterization, to realize the potential that they have, the Manhunter from Mars is removed from the game.

Anyway, this is the tale, as you can probably guess from the cover, that gives us the Justice League satellite, an excellent addition to the mythos that really fits the League perfectly.  Our story begins with the Emerald Archer patrolling around Star City when he hears gunshots and rushes to the aid of an embattled security guard who is involved in a shootout with some thugs.

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Rather, GA INTENDED to help the guard, but the fellow seems to need no help at all!  In a display of sharpshooting and daring do, he disarms the thugs without breaking a sweat.  It’s an impressive deed, and it hints at the mysterious man’s identity!  Green Arrow attempts to shed some light on the situation with a flare arrow, but in a shocking turn, the flare sets the river alight!  This leads us to a rather nice title page.

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Ollie calls in the League in a rare moment of self-awareness and wisdom, realizing that this blazing inferno is too much for him to handle.  Superman and Green Lantern respond and quickly have the fire under control.  The Leaguers head off to their fancy new satellite headquarters, and GA gets quite a surprise when they toss him in a teleport tube and flip the switch.  We get our first view of the satellite, orbiting “about 22,3000 miles above the United States.”  We also get a small but nifty diagram of the layout.  I enjoy things like this.  I used to spend hours pouring over base layouts and the like, imagining all of the cool gear and secrets that would fill, say, the Turtle Lair.

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The real star of the issue

JLA078-10 The Coming of The Doomsters.jpgWe join that security guard, who seems to be more than meets the eye.  No, he’s not a transformer, but the way he ducks the hoodlums who come gunning for him implies that he’s got some skills.  Apparently he’s being hunted, and he feels his only hope is the Justice League!  He reads about the League making a charity appearance, and he figures that is his chance.  This page also gives us a pick-up line delivered by Green Arrow with a creepy and altogether too intense look on his face.  Way to play it cool, Ollie.  At the event, just as the new Leaguer, Black Canary, is being introduced, this unusual guard forces his way through the crowd, assassins hot on his heels.  The League leaps into action in a rather nice display of their collective skills and teamwork, and the guard reveals his identity and his story.

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It seems that lowly security guard Greg Sanders is actually the costumed western hero, Vigilante!  Or rather, he used to be.  He confesses that he ‘got weary, decided to retire,” which is an extremely unsatisfying answer to how the famous Prairie Troubadour ended up working as a low-rent security guard in Star City!  However, there is just enough wistfulness mixed with determination in those two panels to sell the idea that there is a great deal more to the story that we simply aren’t privy to.

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The tale Sanders tells about his troubles is that he was working at a factory and became suspicious of its activities, eventually doing some snooping and discovering that the place seems to exist ONLY to manufacture pollution, nothing else, thus explaining the flammable river.  He stole some documents which he shares with the League, and they do what they do best…split into teams and investigate!

JLA078-19 The Coming of The Doomsters - Copy.jpgThe more street-level characters head out to investigate the factory, while Superman and GL head out to investigate the location on a star map discovered in the papers.  Green Arrow, being Green Arrow, tells everybody else that he’s got his own plans.  He marches into city hall and gives the assistant city manager an earfull.  In an agressive verbal boxing match, the two yell at each other, with Ollie saying things that may have been a bit shocking in 1970 but seem utterly mundane now, basically that we should probably not poison ourselves or our environment for a buck.  He deploys his usual diplomatic subtlety, insulting the official and screaming in his face.  The manager is having none of it and has the masked hero arrested!

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Meanwhile, the Vigilante rides again, and apparently catches Black Canary’s eye (see Ollie, this is what happens when you over play your hand!) while Superman and GL discover a dead world that was once teeming with life!  Team-Earth is jumped by some more of the trench-coated thugs and make short work of them until a shadowy figure disables them with booby trapped weapons!

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The issue ends with our heroes suspended above a “vat of bubbling, noxious…death!”

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This issue also contains a little four page backup about a scientist who destroys all of his equipment after seeing a future destroyed by…SCIENCE!  It’s a fine story for what it is, originally published in Mystery in Space #6.

I read this JLA issue some years ago, but I didn’t really remember it very clearly.  I went into this read thinking that the issue was nothing special, but I have to say that I have been very pleasantly surprised.  It’s a good, solid Justice League adventure, with some good action beats, a mystery, and a few spots of characterization.  All of the Leaguers get a little something to do, though the story really centers around GA and Vigilante, and splitting the team the way O’Neill did makes sure the stronger Leaguers don’t overshadow the weaker.  It’s really great to see Vigilante get in on the action.  I rather like the character, and I especially loved the friendship between him and Shinning Knight that was explored in the Justice League animated series.  Speaking of that, I enjoy that they adapted the broad strokes of Green Arrow’s introduction to the satellite from this issue for his induction into the League in the show.  That’s a nice little detail.  While it’s great to see Vigilante get back into costume, I have to say, it’s a little distracting to see the smiling, Silver Age-ish Batman standing next to him, especially considering the sleek, dramatic, and classic Batman we’ve been getting in the Bat-books this month and last.  That’s neither here nor there, though.

So, all-in-all, this is an above average Justice League adventure, well balanced, well-paced, and interesting.  I give it 4 Minutemen out of 5.  We’ll have to wait and see if the other half of this story lives up to the beginning!

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P.S.: I just discovered that the river fire in this book must have been a reference to a contemporary event!  In June of 1969, the terribly polluted Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire and blazed away, doing $100,000 of damage.  The incident was immortalized on the cover of Time Magazine, drawing national attention and helping to spark the beginning of the environmentalist movement.  This story was in the headlines when Denny O’Neil would have been writing JLA #78, and there is little doubt that it must have been the inspiration for this particular comic.  That’s a fascinating sign of the rising social consciousness in comics, and it puts the environmental overtones of this story in a very different light.

Closing Thoughts:

Well, I think that, in order for these posts not to stew for months at a time, I’ll post them in chunks.  I tend to write an entry a day or so, but there are a lot of entries to each month, and I end up sitting on a lot of content for weeks that way.  I think I’ll break it into two, maybe even three or four, posts that can get content out more frequently.  After all, this is a LOT of material, so breaking it up is probably not a bad idea.  The last post of each month’s collection will contain my general reflections and notes.  If readers have any preferences for how they’d like me to cover each month, I’d be more than happy to listen.

And, as promised, I’m starting a new, running feature that will be updated with each post.  Introducing-

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Into the Bronze Age

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Hello readers and internet travelers!  As folks familiar with my work and site likely know, I’m hip-deep (neck-deep?) in a doctoral program, and I find myself with very little time these days for Freedom Force projects.  I have no intention of abandoning the greatest superhero game of all time, but I thought that I might use my site for something a little different until I have more FF content ready for it.  I recently started a little personal project in my rare free moments.  To take a break from medieval texts and teaching, I’ve been reading through a broad range of DC comics from the Silver and Bronze Ages.  As my DC Universe According to Grey mod amply demonstrates, I have a deep and abiding love of the DC Universe, especially as it existed during the Bronze Age, which, despite having plenty of flaws, is for my money, the best, purest, most heroic, and most joyful incarnation of those characters and settings.

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I’ve read through a lot of the Silver Age stories of most of DC’s major characters, and I’ve read through a few of the major books of the Bronze Age like JLA, but until now I’ve never read the bulk of DC’s books over this period.

As I’ve been reading these stories, I’ve been attempting to cast a wide net and get a sense for the development of the DC Universe as a whole and the evolution of the Bronze Age itself.  I’ve been noticing some pretty fascinating trends, and it occurred to me that other folks might find my little project interesting as well.  To that end, I’m going to start a new, semi-regular feature on the Greylands.  Every few weeks (maybe once a month or so), I’ll post a round-up of my thoughts concerning a wide selection of DC books from a particular month and year in the Bronze Age (for my purposes, roughly considered to be between 1970 and 1985).  I won’t be reading everything DC published every month, but I’ll be reading a lot of it.

If you think this sounds interesting, I invite you to join me in my quest for the elusive character of the Bronze Age.

First, a word about what I’ll be covering and what I WON’T be covering.  I’ll be reading most of the straight-up superhero books published by DC during this time, with a few notable exceptions.  I won’t be reading through Wonder Woman, as her solo adventures have never interested me much, though I am fond of her as part of the League.  Also on the cutting room floor are Superman’s supporting books like Jimmy Olsen (until Kirby takes over) and Lois Lane.  I’ll be reading the occasional alternative, non-superhero book as the mood grabs me.  I won’t be reading most of the western, war,  or romance books, but I’m going to try to get through everything that piques my interest and is part of the DC Universe proper.  If it showed up in Who’s Who, I’ll at least consider reading it (I’ve been inspired to do this partially by the Fire and Water Podcast’s Who’s Who feature).  I’m navigating by interest, so there will be things I’ll be skipping, but I’ll also be aiming for comprehensiveness.

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I’m also going to do a semi-regular extra feature, spotlighting something neat I’ve uncovered on my march through DC that lies outside the borders of my little project here, so every issue or so I’ll include a discussion about a series or character from before or after the period I’m covering.

To start this week, I’ll begin with January 1970:

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

  • Action Comics #384
  • Brave and the Bold #87
  • Challengers of the Unknown #71
  • Detective Comics #395
  • G.I. Combat #139
  • Green Lantern #74
  • Superman #222

For the sake of my sanity, I’m skipping Adventure Comics until Supergirl gets a bit less Silver-Age-y.  I’m also skipping Metal Men #41, as it is the last original issue of the series, which seems like a poor place to start.

Now, without further ado, let’s begin our maiden voyage into the Bronze Age!

Action Comics #384

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Cover Artists: Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: George Roussos
Editor: Mort Weisinger

I’m not a huge Superman fan.  I suppose I should confess that straight away.  Whenever he and Batman fought in the comics, I was always cheering for the Dark Knight.  I certainly identified more with the tortured, conflicted, and complicated Caped Crusader than I did with the bright, cheerful, and seemingly perfect Man of Steel when I was an angsty teenager with nothing to be terribly angsty about.  But, with luck, we all grow up.  I have a lot more appreciation for Superman these days, and even though he’ll never be the character I most enjoy reading about, I love his role in the DC Universe and the positive, heroic ideals he represents.  The core of his character, the concept that a man can choose to do right and live selflessly, even when it would be the easiest thing in the world to do otherwise, is a great message, one far too often forgotten in our relativistic, cynical world.  It’s as relevant today as it was in the Depression, if not more so.  Those hard times brought people together, whereas these hard times seem to drive us further and further apart.  These truths are precisely what Man of Steel and (as far as can be determined) the upcoming Batman V. Superman movie don’t seem to comprehend.

But that’s a rant for another day; we’re here to talk about comics!  So, as I said, I’m not the biggest Superman fan, and the stories I do like generally are Post Crisis (a rare exception for me).  I enjoyed the Man of Steel Byrne reboot, and I’ve read several Superman TPBs that I’ve really enjoyed.  I have an exceptionally low tolerance for Silver Age Superman stories, though.  In my opinion they tend to be the most Silver Age-y of all Silver Age comics.  They are goofy, childish, and bizarre in the extreme, with the rainbow kryptonite and the far too literal take on the concept of invulnerability generally making me want to dig my eyes out with salad forks.  I’m not much of a fan, is what I’m saying.

I have heard that Bronze Age Superman gets something of a soft reboot that leads to some good stories with the ‘Kryptonite No More’ storyline, but we aren’t there yet, and this particular tale is definitely full of Silver Age goodness.  It isn’t half bad as such things go, though it is a standard comic of the era where things happen at the speed of plot.

Two strange uniforms, glowing with eerie energy, show up at Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, begging to be put on by the Man of Tomorrow.  That would be pretty odd in most tales, but I have to imagine it’s just a Thursday in the context of the crazy stuff that the Silver Age Superman gets up to.  Anyway, it seems these two uniforms belong to two aliens, one a prisoner, the other a policeman, who died on-board a spaceship while locked in combat.  Their uniforms were doused with energy and preserved their minds…or something.  I think I’m already putting more thought into this concept than writer Carey Bates did.  To be brief, which is surprisingly difficult when giving a synopsis of a Silver Age story like this, which has tons packed into it, the evil prisoner’s uniform forces Superman to don it by…basically just asking in front of Perry White.  Perry, who apparently isn’t all that concerned with his employees’ wellbeing, orders Clark Kent to put on the strange, glowing alien costume.  Great Ceaser’s ghost!  I’m pretty sure that’s an OSHA violation!

action-384-07-06Predictably, the uniform controls Superman and tries to make him do evil, but the Man of Steel is more than a match for any mere suit of clothes, and outwits the outfit by seeming to go along with the evil plans, all while setting up the acts so they can be countered by his allies.  That really is a nice little piece of planning on Clark’s part, and it reminds the reader that Superman has brains as well as brawn.  Yet, all that (seeming) evil-doing lands Superman in Dutch with the authorities, and just when things look bad for him, he’s rescued by a flying Perry White in the other costume!  ‘Thanks Perry, but I’m still reporting you…’action-384-14-11

Supes eventually puts on the other uniform on top of the evil one and is able to free himself enough to fly into the sun, burning both into ashes.  We’re treated to the two…what are they, ghosts?  Mental impressions?  Really persistent and aggressive stains?  Well, whatever they are, the two uniforms burn away, and we come back to find Perry White in his skivvies.  Yikes!

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This was a fair Silver Age-ish story, nothing particularly memorable or interesting, but not nearly as weird or goofy as you might find in such settings.  I enjoyed it pretty well, and I’d give it an average score of 3 Minutemen.

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At this time, Action Comics is also running a Legion of Superheroes backup feature, and this was the standout for me.  It was an entirely conventional Legion story, with one Legionnaire being prophesied to die in the opening pages and what could kindly be called a ‘twist,’ but more accurately dubbed a ‘cheat,’ revealed to have survived at the very end.  Replace ‘prophesied to die’ with ‘accused of being a traitor,’ and it is just like a number of Legion stories I’ve read.  In general, I like the Legion, but it never grabbed me the way it has some folks.  Once again, this is a concept that has grown on me as I have gotten older, as I enjoy what it says about the grand sweep of the DC Universe, the hopeful optimism about science and human nature.  It’s an optimism I think completely unjustified, but it’s charming nonetheless!

action-384-20-02Despite this particular story being entirely by the numbers, it has a few nice little moments that made it stick in my mind.  The doomed Legionnaire in this particular tale is Mon-El, who Dream Girl, well, dreams about.  She sees his death, vaguely but certainly.  Unfortunately, it seems that Dream Girl’s visions always come true, and there is no way to prevent this tragedy.  We get a couple of nice pages of Mon-El coming to terms with his fate, including my favorite panel of the book.  In it, we see Mon contemplate one of his last sunrises.  action-384-22-04It’s a nice, quiet little moment that really adds to Mon’s characterization, illuminating his heroism, as he faces his death, but also a human side to him.  It’s small, but significant for a Silver Age-ish book like this.  After all, it isn’t all that often that a superhero at this time seriously considered his or her mortality, especially in DC, so it is nice to see how doing so makes Mon all the more aware of the little things in his life, all while bravely soldiering on and continuing to do his duty.

His home planet of Daxam offers to hide him away and guard him with their entire army (!), which is quite an offer, but Mon is not one to hide and refuses.  This leads us to the cheat that leaves both Dream Girl correct and Mon-El alive at the end of the issue.  Another Daxamite knocks Mon out and switches places with him, dying in his place, but not really, because his incompetence almost kills Mon anyway, and he gives his life to save his idol rather than by facing the danger they feared (an alien invasion defeated in a single panel).

It’s a good, quick story, even with the stock plot and deus ex machina.  There’s just enough heart and charm here to raise it above common quality.  I give it three Minutemen.

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Brave and the Bold #87

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Cover Artists: Mike Sekowsky, Dick Giordano
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Man, The Brave and the Bold…what a series.  This comic was almost exclusively written by Bob Haney, or as he is popularly known, Zany Haney!  Bob Haney seems to either be beloved or hated.  He wrote incredibly imaginative and, let’s face it, zany, stories that cheerfully ignored any and all previously established continuity and characterization.  It was entirely common to find characters acting in an entirely uncharacteristic fashion, meeting old friends never before or after mentioned, or suddenly finding themselves having relatives that have totally always been there, shut-up!  His stories represent the best and worst things about the Silver Age.  They are often silly and irrational, but they are also creative in the extreme, often tossing out concepts with the same speed and frequency as even the mighty team of Stan and Jack.  However, unlike Lee and Kirby, Haney’s great weakness, other than his seeming allergy to logical consistency and causality, is his lack of interest in recalling potentially successful concepts.  Everything is a one-shot in his books, for the most part.  Even good ideas almost never have a return engagement.  That’s a particular problem in Aquaman and part of the reason that the Silver Age, which produced the majority of the best villains, left that particular hero with a shallow rogue’s gallery, despite having lots of one-shot villains with potential.

I don’t have the unabashed love for Zany Haney that folks like Rob Kelly and the Irredeemable Shag of the Fire and Water Podcast evince, but I do often enjoy his stories now that I’ve acquired a bit more patience for Silver Age flavored tales, and ALL of his work is Silver Age-ish, even well into the Bronze Age.

This particular yarn is no exception, and it represents the strengths of Haney’s style.  It is packed to the gills with action, but it is actually positively restrained in terms of the number of concepts it throws at the reader.  The story opens with Diana Prince and her companion I Ching (of course) in Europe taking in the sights of a combination fashion show and auto race…because such things happen all the time, no doubt.

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This is the late 60s, Kung-Fu, white jumpsuit Wonder Woman, an incarnation of the character that I really don’t care for.  The idea of stripping away all of her powers and mythic trappings makes her much less interesting and turns her into a second string Black Canary.  I think I prefer the character with deep roots in myth and magic.  Nonetheless, I have to say that Haney does a good job with her, giving Diana Prince just enough fresh-faced naivete for someone who is adjusting to a new way of life, all while moving through the plot at break-neck speed.  Still, all things considered, Black Canary would have been a much better fit for this particular plot.

The story itself is about a race in which Bruce Wayne is competing against a sinister German fellow who goes by the name of ‘Widowmaker’!  How very ominous!

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Widowmaker, A.K.A. Willi Van Dornt doesn’t like the competition from Wayne, so he tries to sabotage his racer, which leads to a nice scene where Bruce Wayne discovers them and starts to crack some heads, only to be discovered by Wonder Woman.  This means Bruce has to take a dive, which he does, all while using his training and skill to avoid taking any real punishment.

It’s a nice little detail, that Batman is so good that he can fake a loss and stay in control.  Of course, if Wonder Woman is the warrior she should be, or even the martial artist she’s supposed to be here, she should be able to see through such a ruse.  Nonetheless, it makes for a fun few pages.  Bruce gets a bit banged up, and the real meat of the story begins as he pretends that he’s convinced Batman to race for him as a cover.  There’s some added backstory of this murderous racer being the son of a villain Batman had faced in the past, but that doesn’t amount to much.

brave and the bold 087 023Wonder Woman runs interference against Willi’s minions who try to ambush Batman’s car along the track, while Bruce pits his skill against Widowmaker’s dirty tricks.  It’s a really nice, exciting, quick-moving tale, shifting back and forth between the different perils the heroes face with much the same energy as an actual race.  The pacing is very good, and the series of challenges the heroes face is interesting.  I’m particularly fond of the ending, which involves Willi being hoisted on his own petard as his henchman springs one of his own traps on his boss.  Seconds later, Batman’s beaten, battered racer limps across the finish line.  It’s a little bit of poetic justice, and it is a good payoff for the tension of the race.

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One other little point, this comic also included a text piece about the previous heroes of the Brave and the Bold book, including the likes of the Golden Gladiator, Robin Hood, the Viking Prince, Cave Carson, and the Silent Knight.  It includes short blurbs about some of their biggest adventures and poses the question about who is the greatest hero.  For my money, it is definitely the Viking Prince, but it is neat to see these guys mentioned again, and it makes me a little sad that their features have all faded into obscurity by this point.

Well, I give this not-all-that-zany tale 4 Minutemen out of 5.  It really is a fun story, and pretty well told, even if there isn’t a whole lot to it.

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Challengers of the Unknown #71

Challengers_of_the_Unknown_Vol_1_71.jpgCover Artist: Nick Cardy
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Jack Sparling
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

This Challenger’s story  is the fourth in a set of connected tales, so I went back and read the previous entries in this arc before I got to it.  It seems clear that, here at the end of the run, the writer, Denny O’Neil seems to have been trying to shake things up.  The first story in this arc saw the brainy quarter of the Challengers get ‘possessed’ by an evil computer (don’t ask), and the second saw him seemingly mortally wounded.  They lost no time replacing poor Prof. with a random lady, in fact, the daughter of the evil genius who tried to kill him.  All of this coincides with a change in costume.  It seems clear that this series was on its last legs, which is a shame, because they were really onto something good with these changes.  In fact, this series would only last three more issues before the book was relegated to a reprint feature.

This story picks up where the last issue left off.  In the previous issue, the Challengers, fleeing from your average remote castle stronghold of your average madCountMcFacialHair.jpg scientist (in this instance with a super awesome old-timey mustache and chops, plus a sweet cape) stumble upon a plot by spore aliens (because of course) who want to conquer the earth.  They defeated the chief alien and his hillbilly cultists (nope, not kidding), and thisChallengers_70_18 issue opens with them stumbling into a small town, which the escaping spore alien has taken over (with the aid of a witch!).  The townspeople are forced to serve spore-y, and the Challengers, battered by their previous day’s adventures and on their last legs, are Challengers_70_17defeated and captured, only to be freed by Red’s little brother (and apparently a singing sensation?), Tino.  Apparently a bit has changed between the original issues I read and this point in the series.

Whew!  I didn’t intend for my recap to be that long!  O’Neil really packs a ton into this issue (and the previous ones as well), and you really feel the Challengers’ exhaustion and desperation during their final stand.  I do feel like poor Prof. got the short end of the stick here, but this issue ends with him making it to the hospital and getting medical help, soChallengers_71_03.jpgthe door was open to bring him back.  The new addition, Corinna seems fine, though she doesn’t have much personality.  She’s also disturbingly okay with the murder of her father.  ‘He’s evil, oh well’ seems to be about the extent of her mourning.  I’d keep an eye on her, Challengers.  Chances are, she’s a sociopath.

Yet, whatever she lacks in emotional depth, Corinna (what kind of a name is that?) makes up for by adding a nice little wrinkle to the Challengers’ dynamic.  She sets up an interesting conflict between Red and Rocky, with the acrobat constantly putting her down and generally being a jerk to her while Rocky moons like a love-struck schoolboy.  Interestingly enough, Corinna seems to only have eyes for Red, which says some rather disturbing things about her views on relationships.  Then again, her father was an abusive megalomaniac.  Sorry Rock, nice guys finish last and chicks dig jerks, apparently.

This shift in story tactics by O’Neil is an interesting one.  It adds some good characterization to the Challengers who, for most of their history, have been pretty one note.  It’s good to see these guys get some development, especially Rocky, who is more than just the generic strong man as he silently fumes over Red’s treatment of Corinna and laments his own lack of luck.  This was a wild but solid story, providing you don’t think too deeply about rapid change in plots.  There’s little denying it is fun, and the art is wonderfully atmospheric, beautifully creepy and well-suited for the tale.  The artist, Jack Sparling, does a great job of giving each of the Chals a unique face, which really adds to their individuality and characterization.

In general, this was a good example of a solid, exciting Bronze Age story.  It isn’t high art, but it’s the type of action-packed, not too ridiculous (for a comic) yarn that marks this era of evolving storytelling.  I’d give it 3 Minutemen out of 5.

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Detective Comics #395

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Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

For my money, I’d say Batman is probably the easiest comics hero to write, as he has a very strong setting, a great supporting cast, and the best villains in comics history.  He’s had, arguably, the most consistently high-quality runs of any mainstream character.  He and Superman are two of the purest, most archetypal, and most influential characters in comics history.  There’s a reason, or rather many, that Batman has had such enduring popularity, and one of the main ones is that Batman embodies the mythic elements that are inherent in the concept of the superhero. I suppose, then, that there is no suprise that Batman has always been one of my favorite characters, all the way back to the campy Adam West show and its cartoon counterpart.  As a kid, I loved those corny, goofy shows, and now my young nieces and nephews love them as well.  It’s clear that those shows and that tone (recaptured to a certain degree in the Batman: Brave and Bold show) are perfect for kids, however much they may gall adults.

batman-1When I got a bit older, I discovered the best of all Bat-worlds, Batman: The Animated Series, the greatest superhero show of all time.  That is, for my money, the best version of Batman, and Bruce Timm and co. made very intentional efforts to create a show that was the distillation of all that was best in Bat-history.  Many of the themes and concepts that were combined into TAS have their origins in the original incarnation of Batman in the Golden Age, but it is here, in the Bronze Age, where they make their return and the ‘real’ Batman that most of us think of actually comes into his own.

We’re not at the absolute beginning of this trend, but we’re not all that far off.  This period would see several definitive runs that reshaped Batman for the coming decades.  It is at this point that the campy Batman of the 60s fades and the shadowy Dark Knight Detective takes center stage thanks to the efforts of comics luminaries like Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams.

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detective comics 395 007That’s the team behind this tale, which is indicative of the good quality of the story and its spooky, mysterious tone.  This yarn begins with a nice, moody establishing shot of Batman brooding over two empty graves.  He’s in central Mexico, attending an extravagant party of a wealthy and mysterious couple who have a macabre fixation on death, even hosting this party in their own family graveyard.  The plot centers around the couple trying to covertly kill an agent of the Mexican government who is investigating them, all while Batman works to save him.

detective comics 395 015That’s where the tale takes a turn for the strange, as there is a final confrontation in a ruined building where Batman discovers a secret field of flowers, which are apparently madness inducing…and also endow people with immortality.  That’s a twist worthy of ‘ol Zany Haney.  Still, despite the rapid-fire delivery of the exposition and the strangeness of the concept, it sort of works.  The couple, supposedly over a hundred years old, wither and die in moments, falling fittingly into their own, empty graves.  Their passing leaves behind a number of unanswered questions, but given the horror flavor of the story, it isn’t as big of a problem as it might seem.  This tale evokes the mystical, mysterious feel of the old horror books, where certain questions are left unanswered as part of there overall effect.

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This is a good story, not the best of the Batman tales we’ll be encountering, but of the above-average quality that is, in fact, average for Batman books in the Bronze Age, especially in Detective Comics.  I give this one a solid 4 out 5 Minutemen.

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Detective Comics had a backup feature for most of its history, and at this point it is trading off between Robin and Batgirl.  I’m a big fan of the Bat-Family, so I’m excited about reading these backups.  This one is the second half of a Robin adventure, with a nice framing device of being relayed through letters Dick sends home from college.  I love Robin, specifically, the only real Robin (where I’m concerned), Dick Grayson.  He’s one of my favorite characters.  The concept that created him, that kids would identify with and want to be him totally worked on me as a kid.  I was aware I couldn’t be Batman, but maybe, just maybe, I could be Robin.  I love him as a solo act, as well as with Bats, but at this point, going off to college and being almost a grown man, it is certainly way past time to give the guy pants.  I don’t understand how this went on so long.  He’s been older than is appropriate for his green trunks for years and years at this point.  The particularly bizarre thing is that they’ve had multiple stories that have provided perfectly viable costumes for an adult Robin, none of which they’ve bothered to adapt.  Aqualad has the same problem, but at leas the wasn’t as high profile as poor Dick.  So, that ridiculously outdated costume always takes a little something away from these Robin stories.detective comics 395 027

detective comics 395 023This particular tale involves Robin attempting to break up a communist plot (!) involving creating student unrest with fake accounts of police brutality in order to shutdown Hudson University (!).  It’s a very 60s style story, and not a terribly interesting one.  You have to think that the vague, unspecified commies would have better things to do with their time and money.  Nonetheless, Dick manages to break the case open, despite taking a beating and being captured for the second time in two issues.  He does manage a fairly nice escape, taking out two guards, all while handcuffed.  Still, it isn’t his most impressive showing.  I like the idea of having stories with him away in college, but I don’t think all the stories necessarily have to be set ON campus or deal with university matters.  It just limits the character way too much.

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It isn’t a particularly impressive story, despite the cool escape, so I’ll give it 2 1/2 Minutemen.

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G.I. Combat #139

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Writer: Robert Kanigher
Artist: Russ Heath

I’m a big fan of the idea of the Haunted Tank, and by this point, Jeb and his boys have become the undisputed stars of this book.  Still, though I love the idea, what I’ve read from the Silver Age hasn’t electrified me.  I’m now skipping ahead about five years to this issue, and I definitely think things are improving.  The older stories were fine, but I just felt like they didn’t really take much advantage of the concept.  Lift out scenes with the General’s cryptic warnings, which had exactly zero impact on most of the plots, and your average Haunted Tank story could just as easily have appeared in any other WWII book.  There were exceptions, but that was my general impression.  What fun is that?  If you’ve got a Haunted Tank, you should really play that up or you’re burying the lead!

This story doesn’t break that pattern as much as I might like (J.E.B. appears a grand total of one time), but it’s just an enjoyable tale on its own merits.  The basic overview is that Jeb and crew are dropped into North Africa to stop a Nazi advance through a pass and attempt to rally the local Bedouins to the Allied cause.  On the way, the crew discover that their contact, Prince Akmed, has died, perhaps killed by “The Mufti,” a generically evil adviser sort who favors the Germans. g.i._combat_139_08.jpgIn a scene ripped from the pages of Around the World in 80 Days, the ever culturally sensitive comic delivers us a tribe of Bedouins who are preparing to burn Akmed’s wife, Princes Azeela, on his pyre in the archaic Indian practice of Sati.

Jeb, being the gallant Southerner that he is, is having none of this and, extinguishing the pyre, rescues the girl.  He agrees to marry the girl in order to protect her from her people, and she rides with him to battle.  In a particularly nicely illustrated sequence, the Tank goes up against heavier German armor, manages to plug the pass with the first Panther, and then fights a despearate holding action until rescued by Azeela’s people, who have been inspired by her bravery.

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Sadly, the Mufti kills her in revenge, and in a surprisingly touching series of panels, beautifully drawn and inked, Jeb returns his princess to her people…forever.

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The Princess doesn’t really get much to do other than die to unite her people (this story is not exactly a beacon of feminism), but Plot, er, I mean Princess Azeela, does serve as a nice little subtle moral quandary for Jeb.  g.i._combat_139_11He saves her from the pyre, but then what is a good man to do?  He agrees to marry her to save her from further retribution at the hands of her people, and we’re given a tender little scene with Jeb comforting Azeela whose husband, let’s remember JUST DIED.  The concern on his face, the tenderness of that embrace, is pretty effective at conveying a good deal more than the dialog.  Taken all together, that little panel aptly demonstrates the strength of comics as a medium of storytelling.  There’s a great efficiency of narrative in that one little combination of image and word.

This was a good story, though it still didn’t really take advantage of the whole Haunted Tank concept.  I’ll give it 3 and 1/2 Minutemen.

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Green Lantern #74

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Cover Artist: Gil Kane
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Green Lantern…ohh Greeen Lantern…this series has given me fits.  I’ve read the whole run to this point, and I am somewhat amazed the book survived this long.  I love Hal as a character, and I love the concept of the Green Lantern Corps.  In fact, I love pretty much everything about the original setup of the Silver Age Lantern: Hal’s test pilot civilian identity, his relationship with Carol (who was a powerful, capable, career-minded woman in an age where that was exceedingly rare in fiction), and the setting being split between Coast City and space.  He had a reasonably strong rogue’s gallery, and he was all set to have an excellent hero career.  And then one day the creative team just decided to toss all of that.  They upended Hal’s life, had Carol suddenly agree to marry someone else off panel, and then Hal became a wanderer, a set of circumstances that would stick with him for years to come.  This is not to say that the early Silver Age GL comics were particularly good.  They’re about average for Silver Age books, which makes them pretty hard to read these days, but at least the concept was a promising one, and this shift…?  Not so much.

It’s an inexplicable decision to me, as they clearly had no real goal in mind other than to shake up the book and ditch Carol.  The unforgivable result of this path is that it made Hal Jordan, one of the coolest DC heroes in his civilian identity, lame and boring.  He went from being a hot-shot, devil-may-care jet-jockey to, wonder of wonders, an insurance salesman.  How does that make any kind of sense?  Over the next twenty issues Hal continues to drift from job to job and place to place, and the instability makes the character seem flaky and more than a little worthless.  This also removes the ability of the book to provide Hal with any kind of supporting cast other than his fellow Corpsmen, who are more or less dropped from the book as well during this period.

Of course, after those twenty issues the comic turns into the famed Green Lantern/Green Arrow combined title, and Hal goes from being someone who can’t hold down a job to an actual, jobless bum.  This run is widely praised and quite famous, standing as a seminal moment in the development of comics and the Bronze Age in particular.  Despite acknowledging its cultural importance, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the ‘hard traveling heroes’ run, but I suppose I’ll talk about that when I get there in a few issues.

As for the issue in question, it is the second part of a two part story wherein Hal heads back to Coast City and meets up once more with Carol Ferris, mysteriously still unmarried.  Their first encounter in the previous issue is really rather nicely done, but I imagine that this return home gave a good many readers false hope.  Sadly, it was not to last.  When Green Lantern goes to talk with Carol, she inexplicably transforms into Star Sapphire, despite not having access to the troublesome gem.  She somehow transports Hal into deep space, also conveniently stripping him of his memories of being Green Lantern.  This issue picks up where that one left off, with a rather pretty trap for Hal to escape.greenlantern074-02

Stranded in space without any of the knowledge he needs to save himself, this is an interesting premise.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t really last very long and Hal is quite blase about the the whole thing.  ‘Ohh, I seem to be lost in the infinite void…ho-hum.’  It is a good chance for Hal’s natural fearlessness to shine, but it doesn’t quite come off that way, and the problem is a bit too easily solved.  This image also demonstrates a weird trait of the art in these issues, where Gil Kane stacks images upon one another to diverse and often not entirely successful, but always innovative, effect.

greenlantern074-26Once Hal gets back to Earth, he discovers the true cause of his current problems, Sinestro!  At this point, it has been a very long time since we have had any real supervillains in the book, especially any of Sinestro’s quality, so he’s a breath of fresh air.  For most of the last dozen issues or so, Hal has been suffering from boring stories featuring random, regular hoods.  Yep, they make a great challenge for the man with the most powerful weapon in the universe.  Sinestro, on the other hand, especially backed up by Star Sapphire, makes for an excellent antagonist, and this story has the renegade Lantern in particularly good form.  He’s ruthless, cunning, and completely self-assured.  He moves effortlessly from battling to manipulating Star Sapphire.  Together, they (a little too easily) take Hal out, and the Lantern is saved by Pieface (the most offensively named supporting character in comics history?).  It’s nice to see ‘ol Tom Kalmaku again too, and both of these characters make me miss Hal’s old status quo.  The story ends with Hal defeating Sinestro…or does it?  He looks so wonderfully smug in that last panel.
Don’t you just want to pop him right in that red face of his?  That is a villain worthy of Hal.  Of course, Sinestro has a backup plan, and with the customary warning that “there is always a next time”, he vanishes!  This leaves Hal to try and explain the whole ‘Star Sapphire’ thing to Carrol…and, well, she doesn’t take it too well, running out of his life for a second time.greenlantern074-28

So, in the end, Hal is left more or less where he was to begin with.  He’s got no supporting cast, no stability, and we’re about to enter another long stretch without any villains to speak of.  This is a fine story, so far as it goes.  Isolated from the drudgery that is the rest of this run, it is pretty good.  Sinestro is fun in it, and his little character moments make some progress in identifying him as someone who is more than just an evil Green Lantern who is evil because he likes being evil…evily.  It isn’t a lot of progress, but it is progress, and you get a sense of his arrogance and pride.  The art is fairly weak, and the power ring battle, which should have been really visually interesting and exciting, is inexcusably flat and boring.  Kane is a very Silver Age-y artist, skilled and consistent, but Green Lantern could really benefit from someone with a more creative and energetic style.  Imagine what Jack Kirby could have done with a GL book!  In the end, I give this story 3 and 1/2 Minutemen out of 5, if only because it is such an improvement over what came before.

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Superman #222

Superman_v.1_222.jpgWriters: Edmond Hamilton and various
Pencilers: Al Plastino and various

This seems to be a collection of Silver Age Superman tales, and as such, exactly what I don’t much want to read.  I just skimmed these reprints and didn’t find much to catch my interest, though several of these could make excellent examples of the internet sensation that is Super-Dickery. Stories involve an ersatz lost brother for Superman, some hypothetical children for him and Lois, and various other familial and social complications.  The only one that stuck out to me was a tale set in Kandor, part of a story featuring two sons of Superman, one super, the other, not so much.  It cracks me up to see Superman running around, doing familial stuff in his costume.  I think I won’t cover reprints in any kind of detail.

And there you have it, folks.  Wow!  That missive proved much more massive than I intended.  Future iterations should prove to be much smaller as they won’t need all the framing and general discussion that this one sported.

This has been, more or less, January 1970 in DC Comics.  It was a pretty solid month, all told, but I’m looking forward to getting further into the Bronze Age, where more of the 60s Silver Age-ish tendencies will be shaken off.  Join me again, approximately whenever I get around to it, for the next month of books (probably next month).

DCUG Fixed!

Alright folks, the previous DCUG version was buggy, and the uploaded files were so big that it was tough to get an uncorrupted download.  I’ve finally gotten around to fixing that, and you’ll find a clean upload with smaller files below.  I’ve fixed lots of issues with the Mystery in Space and Batman campaigns.  They should both be working 100% now.  However, the JSA campaign remains unfinished.  I’ll return to it eventually, but not right now.  I’ve also updated just a few skins and meshes that I had been meaning to.  We’ve got a new Fire and Ice thanks to Billdamn, and we’ve also got Tomato’s excellent Two Face mesh, along with Styles great Mr. Freeze skope!  So, get ready to experience the DC Universe as you’ve never experienced it before!

Download the DCUG!

Whoops!  I forgot a keyframe file, you can find the patch for this omission here.

And another patch for a few minor issues.

Or, if you’ve downloaded the previous version, you can get this patch.