Into the Bronze Age: July 1970 (Part 2)

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Welcome to the second issue of Into the Bronze Age for July, 1970!  I’m looking forward to getting back into some Bronze Age-y goodness, as I’ve been busy with many other things, including a lot of pulp stories as I was working on my Pulp Adventures mod.  So, without further ado, let’s celebrate the beginning of the semester with some classic superheroics!

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

  • Action Comics #390
  • Batman #223 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Brave and the Bold #90
  • Challengers of the Unknown #74 (Final issue!)
  • Detective Comics #401
  • G.I. Combat #142
  • Green Lantern #78
  • Superman #227 (Reprints)
  • Superman #228

Detective Comics #401

Detective_Comics_401“Target For Tonight!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Midnight is the Dying Hour!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Gil Kane
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Our headlining feature here is a fairly mediocre Bat-tale, very much a by-the-numbers story.  It’s the standard ‘most dangerous game‘ trope where a disillusioned big-game hunter decides that the only way he can get a challenge is to hunt a man.  Of course, he decides to hunt the most dangerous of the most dangerous game, Batman!  I wonder how many times this story has been told in comics in general and with Batman specifically.  Surprisingly enough, this story is the only Batman example listed on TV Tropes.  I’m almost sure there are others, though, as almost every serial adventure character has a few of these encounters over the course of their career.  Despite its cliched nature, or perhaps evidenced by it, this trope can produce great stories.  This isn’t one of them.  It isn’t bad, per se, just not terribly interesting or exciting, and Batman really doesn’t come off as all that impressive.  There are many, many better examples out there.

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This tale opens with Batman in Commissioner Gordon’s office receiving a strange and threatening note which boldly declares that some nut named ‘The Stalker’ has made the Dark Knight his prey.  Apparently the note was delivered by a hunting falcon, right in Gordon’s window!  Just at that moment, a bullet zips in the window and ‘bullseyes’ the page, a potent warning of the hunter’s intent and skill.

The Masked Manhunter heads home to his apartment (I’ll never get used to that), where he relaxes by watching an interview with a famous big-game hunter named Carelton Yager (“jager” means hunter, in German, in case you didn’t catch that he was…you know…a hunter) who has just arrived in Gotham.  This sportsman, who is totally not our mad Stalker, has a hunting falcon and talks menacingly about how there is no thrill in the hunt anymore, thus he has come to town to hunt “the most dangerous game.”

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Just then, crossbow bolt flies in a smashes the TV.  It bears a note warning Bruce Wayne that this ‘Stalker’ knows his secret and the hunt is on.  How did this random hunter discover the secret identity of the master detective, Batman?  Well, don’t worry your pretty little head about that.  He just totally did.  Because…plot.  Well, not one to take such things lying down, the Caped Crusader sets out to do some stalking of his own, warning Gordon to keep the cops clear because “this is a matter of honor — and pride.”  Really?  I mean, it makes perfect sense that Batman would want everyone else to stay out of such a conflict for fear of any innocents getting hurt, but it does seems a bit out of character for him to be so pig-headed as to play this guy’s game just for pride.  This is another one of those little examples that we’re still not dealing with the fully developed ‘grim avenger’ Batman yet.

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Our hero is on the case less than five minutes and he commits his first blunder, stumbling into a trap in Yager’s rooms as he searched for clues.  He triggers a crossbow trap and a recording that taunts him and invites him to a showdown on an island off the coast.  Batman throws a tantrum and smashes the tape recorder with the most awkward looking, Rockettes-esq, high-kick ever, then heads straight into the obvious trap.

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At least the Dark Knight has the sense to approach the island covertly, underwater and then through a drainage pipe, but once arrived he once again immediately falls prey to one of the Stalker’s snares, this time a net that hauls him helplessly into the air.  For the third time, the hunter lets his quarry live to add spice to the chase.  That’s three separate times our hero should really be dead if the villain wasn’t just letting him win.  Real impressive, Bats.  I think this Stalker fellow might have a more challenging hunt with Robin.

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When the Caped Crusader gets free, he pursues his tormentor across the island, and eventually tackles him when he finally manages to see through one of the sportsman’s traps.  Yager is standing in the middle of the room, dressed as Alfred, but Batman realizes its a fake when he sees that the man’s shoes aren’t muddy, despite the fact that the entire island is a quagmire.  During the fight, the villain handily hoists himself on his own petard by falling into his own dead-drop and conveniently expires, taking his knowledge of our hero’s secret identity with him to his grave.

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It’s a moderately entertaining story, but not a terribly memorable one.  In fact, I read it about a month before I got the chance to write this entry, and it had COMPLETELY fallen out of my head by the time I sat down to write the summary.  It’s a trope that has lots of potential, as can easily be recognized by how often it gets used, but this one doesn’t make much of it.  The villain lacks any real personality and Batman just comes off as rather ineffectual and bad at his job.  He survives solely because of his foe’s arrogance, but not in the standard and enjoyable ironic treatment of such a trope that would indicate that Robins was even aware that this was the case.  I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen out of 5.

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“Midnight is the Dying Hour!”

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The backup feature is the continuation of our Batgirl story from the previous issue, and it is passable if not exactly good.  I’m afraid it definitely suffers from its brevity.  It does have a nice setup, with the story being handed off to Robin, who is following the same mystery from a different direction.  It’s a nice idea, even though there isn’t much room to develop it.

We begin with a quick one page recap of the previous issue, and then we pick up with Robin investigating the crime scene.  He discovers that the murdered man, Willard, with his hand pointing at a volume of poetry, specifically the first three letters of the title, “poetry.”  This strikes the Teen Wonder as strange, since the deceased thought poetry was “sissy stuff.”  A real winner, this guy.  Anyway, aggressive ignorance and atrocious taste aside, Robin, unable to make heads or tales of the case, decides to review the evidence and has a flash of inspiration.

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He heads to the construction site, looking for his suspect, and he interrupts the killer in the middle of his reenactment of “The Cask of Amontillado.”  The punk throws some of his cement in the young hero’s eyes and makes a run for it.  Dick frees Batgirl, who exclaims that she’s never had to thank anyone for saving her life before, and she doesn’t know how to do it.  This strikes me as rather strange, because I’m pretty sure she’s had her life saved dozens of times at this point.  Ahh well.

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They compare notes and discuss how they each solved the mystery as they pursue the killer.  It turns out to be the barely mentioned drama-major, Jack Markham, who murdered Willard, his ally in the campus debate, in order to discredit the opposing side.  According to Robin, the young weirdo was set to play Edgar Allen Poe in the school play, and he identified with the role so much that it broke his mind and turned him into a killer.  That’s…a bit of a stretch.  Poe may have been a gothic author and a fairly gloomy character.  He may have had his own demons (glug glug!), but I don’t recall him ever murdering anyone.  Not even a little bit.  Robin also solves this mystery because of the corpse’s finger pointing to “Poe” and deciding that it was a clue pointing to the actor playing the poet.  That’s a bit of a stretch as well, methinks.

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Detective401-31.JPGThe two titanic teens chase this kid into the theater and have a brief battle with him in the rafters.  He is, of course, no real threat to the heroes when they see him coming, which is fitting.  The tale ends with a rather ambiguous note, as Robin asks Batgirl if she will tell him how she got involved in all of this, and she replies “Maybe I will!  Maybe I will tell you a lot of things…”  It could be a nice, flirty moment…but it needed a bit of setup earlier in the adventure, so it just seems out of place here.

So, in the end, there is a mystery here that just didn’t have quite enough room to grow.  I like the idea of seeing both Robin and Batgirl chasing a killer from different directions.  Fortunately, though the Markham manages to momentarily elude the trained crimefighter chasing him, he doesn’t make a monkey out of the Teen Wonder, unlike some of the earlier Robin solo stories we’ve encountered.  At least this one doesn’t add another spot on the wall of shame with the Head-Blow Headcount for the high-flying hero.  I would have enjoyed the note of romance between our two young heroes…if it had been a bit more developed and certain.  In the end, I’ll give this ending backup 2.5 Minutemen as well.  It just didn’t quite have enough space to make its mark.

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G.I. Combat #142

GI_Combat_Vol_1_142“Checkpoint…Death!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Artist: Russ Heath

This Haunted Tank yarn is not one of the best.  It’s plot is just a bit…odd.  It’s like Kanigher had several set pieces he wanted to build a story around, but he didn’t really have a story in which to embed them.  As is, it’s a beautifully illustrate tale in the DC house style, and it has some nice action…and that’s about all that you can say about it, because it doesn’t make much sense.  As per usual, this issue doesn’t take much advantage of book’s conceit.  In fact, this one takes far less than the norm, with our titular haunting specter showing up for exactly two panels, where he doesn’t even offer his customary cryptic warnings.

As the story opens, the crew is commenting on Jeb’s strange habit of talking to “himself,” as they can’t see the ghost, but, as they often do, they decide that he’s a good enough tank commander, they don’t care if he’s a little crazy.  Meanwhile, Jeb asks J.E.B. if this mission will punch their tickets, and the ghost replies he can’t reveal their fates…then he promptly disappears completely from the issue.  This may as well have been a straight war comic with those two panels removed.  Just then, they spot explosions in the distance and head into action.  We get treated to a nice double-page spread of a big tank battle going on, with what look like Pershings going toe-to-toe with the Hun armor.  That would make this the late days of the war (1945), so that’s probably an art mistake.  Still, it’s a lovely spread.

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Jeb and crew are ordered to reinforce Checkpoint Able, and they, unwillingly, scoot out of the action.  Unfortunately, when they arrive, they find Able manned by no-one…but dead men!  The entirety of Able Company has been wiped out, and they are all dead at their posts…and here we meet the first moment of the tale that makes no freaking sense.  If they’re all dead, why aren’t the Nazis just strolling merrily through the lines?  Better yet, why haven’t they ALREADY done so?

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We get no answers, but we do get some nice, poignant moments as the Haunted crew deals with this grim sight.  That leads us to another nice passage, and this issue is nothing but a string of these, where, as they head out on recon and pass some wildflowers, Slim gets out and picks some for Able.  It’s a sweet, strange little scene, and it really adds some humanity to the story.

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Just then, a freak blizzard blows up, and the tank is ambushed by a German infantry unit, inexplicably kitted out for snow operations in all white uniforms, despite the fact that it is emphasized that this is a FREAK storm.  Once again, it makes no freaking sense, but the action sequence is really beautifully illustrated, and the silent (dare I say ‘ghostly’?) intensity of the Nazi troops in their assault is rather chilling (sorry!).

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The crew attempt to break out of the ambuscade, but their engine freezes up.  Here we encounter the third ludicrous story beat.  Instead of, you know, shooting the giant sitting steel duck with the panzerfaust that we see they still have, the German infantry just…wait.  They just sit and wait, allowing the tank crew to figure out what to do.  Their solution is actually quite clever and visually spectacular, though.  Jeb pulls some gas from the fuel tanks and, under cover of the storm, he carefully splashes it near the engine, then lights it ablaze.  Now, this would almost certainly suffocate the men inside the tank in real life, but it’s a great, adventure story-esq innovation.  It’s solid comic logic.  The fire warms the engine enough to get it started, and the Haunted Tank breaks away, arriving back at Checkpoint Able in time to meet the reinforcements.

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So, as you can see, this is a really uneven issue.  It has several nice set-piece moments, the usual lovely art for this book, and even some good, if brief, characterization.  Nonetheless, it is also completely ridiculous in three separate ways.  The end result is a bit baffling.  It’s a fun issue to read, but it is apt to leave one feeling rather confused.  I’m really torn on what to rate it, but I suppose I’ll also give this one a 2.5 Minutemen out of 5.  The goofy, senseless elements knock it down from a higher score, and the fun of the action combined with the beauty of the art save it from a worse one.

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Green Lantern/Green Arrow #78

Green_Lantern_Vol_2_78“My Kind of Loving, a Way of Death!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Ahh…back to this book.  It’s probably not great that we’re only three issues in and I’m already dreading each new story.  Well, on the plus side, this issue is not nearly as insufferable as the previous two.  It’s probably a worse story, as far as unity of action and the measure of the plot goes, but there’s less (though of course not no) pontificating.  The heavy hand paints a touch more lightly, but only a touch.  The setup for this issue is an interesting one, and relatively timely, especially in comic terms.  This issue centers on a charismatic cult leader brainwashing a bunch of disaffected kids and using them for his own nefarious purposes.  Sound familiar?  Well, the horrors of the Manson Family murders were less than a year old at this point, and Manson himself had just been arrested a few months earlier.  There was a great deal of fear and uneasiness throughout the culture following those events, and it is interesting to see that being worked through in comics this way.  Of course, O’Neil’s cult leader uses actual mind control to dominate his victims, and the whole horrid mess is flattened out and treated broadly, but the similarities are unmistakable.  I don’t know if this is the first time that this concept was used in a comic, but I am quite certain it was not the last either.  I can’t imagine it is the best.

Whatever it is, this particular treatment begins with the lovely Black Canary, having taken to the road to track down the way-luckier-than-he-deserves Green Arrow.  She is accosted in the Washington wilderness by a generic biker gang, doing generic, scuzzy biker gang things.  They try to steal her motorcycle and threaten her, but of course, the Canary is no shrinking violet (no offense to Shrinking Violet).  She handily wipes the floor with them before being knocked unconscious by a desperate biker who ramms her with his cycle.  They steal the bike and leaver her for dead, but she is rescued by a shadowy figure.

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It’s a beautiful montage. Take note, Gil Kane, this is how it is done.

Meanwhile, our hard-traveling heroes arrive in the nearby town and have a completely pointless encounter with a bitter young Native American man.  Now, there’s tons of bitter folks in this book, but, to be fair, if anyone’s got a right to be bitter about their treatment in this country…it’s probably the Native Americans.  Fair enough.  His role in the comic is still fairly pointless, serving only to provide a face to identify with the subject of the cult leader’s hatred.

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green lantern 078 015.jpgHis shop is attacked by the generic bikers, who do more generic biker things, like trash the place.  Our heroes immediately endanger their secret identities by just stepping outside to put on their costumes, despite the fact that they were the only strangers in town.  As you would expect, they utterly trounce these low-rent thugs, who pose no real threat to two Justice Leaguers.  And here is our return to the perennial problem (other than the heavy-handed, tone deaf characterization) with this series.  The protagonists are just a poor fit for the tale that O’Neil is telling.  Green Lantern and Green Arrow beating up on these punks just seems…unnecessary.  The heroes are in no peril to speak of, and there is no actual tension and nothing at stake with this little encounter.

Nonetheless, the traveling-twosome makes short work of them, and seems to do it with great relish.  There is actually a fairly good moment of characterization here…that is more or less completely glossed over.  Hal really enjoys this conflict, being a very straight-forward case of good and evil, a simple, unequivocal situation that has none of the complicated morality and deep significance of the last few adventures.  These are bad men doing bad things to an innocent, and a bit of a trouncing is richly deserved.  It would be a good moment if it were given a little more development, but it is left entirely to the reader to make the connection, as O’Neil spends no time on it.  He may not even be aware of it.  I do enjoy the sense of whimsy that the Emerald Gladiator brings to his ring-slinging this issue.  It’s a nice change from his dreary existential doubt from the past two issues, and it points to a more interesting and enjoyable character.  I doubt it will last.

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Well, the Emerald Archer notices that one of the bikers has Canary’s motorcycle, and they get the story out of the punk, GA losing his mind and nearly beating the guy to death in the process.  It’s a good moment, with Hal having to restrain Ollie who is beside himself with worry about Canary.  The heroes go to look for her and find the lost lady seemingly hale and healthy, but in the company of a mysterious “prophet” named Joshua.  He is running a commune of some sort, and he claims that Dinah is now one of his ‘children.’  She, though obviously conflicted, refuses to come with them.

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Adams does a fantastic job of making this Joshua fellow eerie and disturbing.  That man has crazy eyes.

In desperation, the Emerald Archer grabs his lady love and plants a passionate kiss on her lips.  It’s a nice moment, especially considering that, since she’s been around, he’s never gotten any real encouragement from her.  He’s clearly been head over heels for her, but she’s rebuffed him.  This is a pretty big and bold step.  It would be a lot stronger if this plot had been given room to breath, but even just jumping out of nowhere, the scene, where she pulls away and tells him to get lost has a little power, largely thanks to Neal Adams, most likely.

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Ollie is crushed and frustrated, and Hal’s fairly blunt declaration that “she just doesn’t dig” him (way to let your friend down easy, flyboy), doesn’t help any.  Arrow belts his partner in green, and then stalks off into the woods where he, at least, realizes he’s acting like a child.  It’s good to see O’Neil finally acknowledge some of Ollie’s silliness, though he’ll get back to using him as a mouthpiece shortly, don’t worry. Hal, for his part, comes off much better in this issue.  Instead of bowing up and getting in his friend’s face, the Emerald Gladiator merely shrugs it off, knowing that Ollie isn’t himself.

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Meanwhile, the creepy Joshua arms his clearly mind-controlled ‘Family’ and tells them that they are going to slaughter the nearby Indians to start off a race war and reclaim the country for the whites.  Urg.  O’Neil really wants to make his evilness unmistakable…though, to be fair, I suppose this is actually pretty close to Manson’s own motivations (though with opposite goals).  The Emerald Archer encounters the Family in the woods during target practice and decides that he better call for help because he can’t take them all without killing them…really?  Green Arrow, superhero and Justice League member, who has managed to fight crime for years without killing ANYONE can’t manage to take out a bunch of brainwashed kids with pistols and no training without killing them?  It’s fine for Ollie to have called for help.  Sure, I can buy that, but his statement is just patently ridiculous in the context of the story.  Heck, in the last issue, he stormed a freaking fortress and took on trained soldiers.  *sigh*

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Anyway, surprisingly, firing a flare in the middle of the darkened woods attracts attention, and the Family opens fire on him, winging the hero.  They charge after Green Lantern but…he’s a freaking Green Lantern.  Oddly, he ALSO worries about being able to stop them without killing them, despite the fact that he’s wearing an honest-to-goodness wishing ring.  What’s with all this concern about killing the bad guys all of a sudden?  Since when have these two ever DONE that?  Fortunately, he performs better than Ollie (he could hardly have done worse), and easily disarms and traps the kids.

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It’s almost as if random brainwashed kids with guns aren’t actually worthy antagonists for a man armed with the most powerful weapon in the universe….

UNfortunately, Joshua and the Canary escape and come across the injured Archer.  Despite the cult leader’s orders to shoot the helpless hero, Dinah can’t bring herself to do it and overcomes his control.  Hal holds back his aid, letting her break the brainwashing on her own so she’ll have no doubts in the future.  It’s a nice gesture…until you think about the fact that he’s gambling (as he admits) with the Archer’s life.

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Well, I know what you’re thinking.  All of this, and we haven’t had any pretentious preaching from Ollie all issue.  Maybe we dodged the bullet!  Don’t’ be silly; O’Neil wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to talk down to his audience and make Green Arrow come off like a self-important, holier-than-though windbag.  As the heroes are reunited, Ollie takes the opportunity to browbeat a still reeling and emotionally drained Black Canary, telling her that it’s her fault she was brainwashed because there is something bad in all of us that allows monsters like this to bring people to their side.  Classy Arrow.  Real classy.

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Nothing says “I love you” like accusations of secret racism.

This comic has some potential, like most of the others, but it simply has the wrong stars.  There is a good story to be told, and it will be told elsewhere, about the unsettling and sinister nature of a charismatic madman’s grip on impressionable minds.  Try this setup with someone like Batman, the Question, or another more investigative type, and you’d really have something.  Unfortunately, that interesting plot isn’t given enough room to grow, with the unnecessary secondary elements with the bikers and the random kid crowd it down to insignificance.  The central conflict with Canary and the emotions she’s been fighting is interesting, and, once again, given more space, it could have made for a moving turning-point for her romance with Ollie.  This too gets short shrift.  Still, it is really fascinating to see the comics dealing with contemporary history, struggling with the questions we all have about what makes monsters like Manson able to work their dark wills.  It is noteworthy for that, if not for the quality of the issue itself.  As always, Adams’ artwork is spectacular and really gives the book more gravitas and interest than it probably deserves.  In the end, I give this issue 2.5 Minutemen, making this week’s scores unanimous.

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Well, let’s see if we can’t finish up our trip into July 1970 soon and get on with our adventures Into the Bronze Age!  Please join me later this week for the final post in this month of comics.  Until then, remember to tell your significant other that they are really awful inside!

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

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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).