Hello Internet travelers, and welcome to a new edition of Into the Bronze Age! Today we begin our next month of books, initiating our exploration of July 1971! We just got back from a trip ourselves, to the Southwest, where we saw some of the wonders of New Mexico. We had a great time, and now we’re back and I’m ready to read some comics! Today we’ve got a pair of Super characters headlining some not-so-super books. But before we get started, let’s see what was happening way back in July 1971!
That list is one bad mother….I’m just talking about Shaft!
Well, this was certainly an eventful month, and sadly there are more than a few tragedies making up our list. The Troubles in Ireland continue to worsen, but there are some positive events as well. There’s a move towards equality with Washington banning sex discrimination, and the pressures created by having untold numbers of young people shipped off to fight in a war despite having no say in the process helped to move the voting age from 21 to 18. Interestingly, this was also the month that saw Nixon’s historic visit to communist China.
Carol King’s “It’s too Late” continued to dominate the charts for most of the month, but the last two weeks were split between two very different songs. One was the classic James Taylor tune, “You’ve Got a Friend,” which is a gentle, happy little song. The other one? Not quite so happy, but very telling. It was Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “Cherokee Nation,” a song about the plight of American Indians living on a reservation, the loss of identity and other challenges that they faced. That’s a rather clear illustration of how much that topic was in the zeitgeist around this time, isn’t it? It’s also a fitting introduction to our first story.
(You can see everything published this month HERE)
Action Comics #402
Adventure Comics #408
Brave and the Bold #96
Detective Comics #413
Forever People #3
G.I. Combat #148
Green Lantern/Green Arrow #84
New Gods #3
Superman #239 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139
World’s Finest #202
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Action Comics #402
“This Hostage Must Die!” Writer: Leo Dorfman Penciler: Curt Swan Inker: Murphy Anderson Editor: Murray Boltinoff Cover Artist: Neal Adams
“Feud of the Titans!” Writer: Leo Dorfman Penciler: Curt Swan Inker: Murphy Anderson Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Speaking of Native American issues, this month delivers the second half of Dorfman’s promising story on that topic. It’s got a great cover, with Superman in an unusual peril, continuing the theme from last issue. It’s a great image, and Adams, of course, does a fine job with the various figures, as well as the fire sort of exploding out of the pyre. Unfortunately, the solid setup from the previous story is rather squandered in this conclusion.
From the very beginning, this one is off to a rough start, as we see modern Native Americans living in ancient cliff-dwellings rather than in any kind of realistic setting. Red Hawk gathers the tribe from their archaic digs and threatens to burn his helpless Kryptonian captive at the stake if his demands for the return of Montezuma’s Castle aren’t met. To add further embarrassment, these modern people use smoke signals to communicate their demands, because that’s practical. Fortunately, it just so happens that one of the workers at the test site happens to have learned to read smoke signals in the Boy Scouts, otherwise the tribe would have just been talking to themselves.
The Navarros send Superman’s cape as proof of their claims, and despite initial skepticism, this convinces Haldane, though it doesn’t have quite the impact that Red Hawk hoped for. It turns out that the missile test site was just an elaborate ruse and that Haldane has actually been building a tunneling device instead of a rocket…because that makes sense. None of the folks working for him can tell the difference between a missile and a huge drill? I’m no engineer, but I’m pretty sure even I could have figured that one out. Anyway, the nefarious businessman is actually after a legendary treasure that is supposed to be hidden within the plateau.
Meanwhile, the authorities are searching for Superman, but they are thwarted when Red Hawk uses a mirage projector to hide their valley. (You know, if he really wants to provide for his people, he could probably just sell that sucker and make a fortune!) A little later, the Man of Steel discovers that some trace of his vision powers remain, and he selflessly uses his X-ray vision to diagnose dislocated shoulder of an injured tribesman, impressing Moon Flower, who does as he asks, piling up brush at his feet.
The Man of Tomorrow then uses his remaining heat vision to ignite the wood, proclaiming that he will show the Indians that “Superman knows how to die!” Yet, when the smoke rises up around him, he escapes! It seems that the Action Ace figured out Red Hawk’s trick, discerning that…*sigh* the red stone was “a jeweled lens which siphoned the rays of a distant red sun” and sapped the Kryptonian’s powers. It’s almost clever, but it crashes over into stupid instead. The idea that an astrophysicist would know about stars and solar radiation, including the fact that Superman loses his powers under a red sun (Clark really needs to get better at keeping secrets), is a good one. Yet, Dorfman takes it a step towards the ridiculous with the distant red star bit. Why not just say the jewel converts the yellow sun’s rays into those of a red sun? Done and done. It’s a minor point, but it is indicative of a larger trend.
Either way, the escaped Superman flies to the plateau, using his X-ray vision to track Haldane to the treasure chamber deep within. The fiendish faker tells the hero that he discovered a record of this horde in an abandoned Mexican monastery and planned the whole rocket base thing to secure the treasure. Despite the villain’s offer of wealth, the Man of Steel hauls him in and turns the whole fortune over to the Navarros. The newly rich tribe uses the gold to buy their lands back, and as a final parting gift, the Man of Tomorrow converts the treasure chamber into a museum so that they can remember their yesterdays.
This isn’t a bad story, but it has some really silly elements. What’s worse, the subtlety of Dorfman’s treatment of his Native American characters in the last issue is largely missing from this one. He falls much more into the common tropes, with modern Indians living pretty much exactly like their ancient ancestors and perpetuating some of those stereotypes. I’m also not entirely sure how I feel about the revelation of Haldane’s supervillain-esq plot. It rather undercuts the social justice angle of the original story, and Superman’s wrapping everything up so neatly in turn does something of a disservice to the continuing struggles facing America’s native peoples.
The comic doesn’t achieve the same level of impact that Kanigher’s first racial story did, in part because the more fantastical elements sort of steal the show from the emotional heart of the tale. I obviously don’t mind larger than life components in an adventure tale, and I’m no slave to realism. Nonetheless, there’s a matter of tonal consistency in play here. Despite that, the story itself is enjoyable, and Superman’s escape from the tribe is actually very clever. His selfless dedication to helping the downtrodden despite their turning on him is a good character note, though I would have preferred to see that explored a bit more. Of course, Swan’s art continues to maintain its usual lovely quality, and he does a particularly nice job on the splash page and the treasure trove. All in all, I suppose I’ll give this flawed yarn 2.5 Minutemen. It had a good setup and plenty of potential, but Dorfman just…well, dorfed it up.
“The Feud of the Titans”
We’ve got a great title and a story that doesn’t quite live up to it in this month’s backup. It features Superman vs. Supergirl, but not in any grand, intergalactic grudge match. Instead, it’s a series of rather petty, childish squabbles, as they turn against each other with the Fortress of Solitude as their battleground. The Man of Steel arrives at his home away from home, only to find it full of noxious fumes. He assumes that the Girl of Steel is the culprit, as she has suddenly started acting like a sullen teenager, holed up in her half of the fortress and even making her own private entrance.
When Superman tries to confront her, he finds her half is closed off by a force field…that she somehow knows how to make? Either way, to get back at her, Super-jerk decides to start smashing her mementos left in the Hall of Trophies. Yet, just as he’s about to crush a living creature, a twin-headed bird from the planet “Duplor”(of course), he comes to his senses and thinks back to how this all began.
Tasked bythe U.N. to destroy a ton of outlawed weapons (an interesting idea that would be repeated many times in the future; I’m curious if this is its first appearance), the super-pair begin to drop the dangerous devices into an ‘atomic cauldron’ below the Fortress. Suddenly, each of them spots a weapon the other is harboring and immediately begins to think that their former friend is plotting against them.
His anger renewed by the recollection, the Man of Tomorrow grabs up his cousin’s trophies and rushes them to the cauldron, but the Maid of Might sees this and tries to cut him off, only to fall into the bubbling vat of destruction herself.
Once more brought back to his senses by her peril, the Action Ace pulls her to safety, and finally putting things together, he flies them out of the Fortress where their heads begin to clear. It seems that among the weapons they were disposing of, there was a mind control gas used by a dictator to inspire hatred in his armies.
When it hit the cauldron, the bomb exploded, and, supercharged by the Kryptonian elements in the vat, it was able to affect the heroes, turning them against one another, providing the real source of the fumes filling the Fortress.
This is a simple little tale, but it is enjoyable enough. It’s sort of funny to see Superman petulantly breaking Supergirl’s toys, and the way he figures out the problem, by observing the two headed bird, which usually lives in harmony between its two halves, fighting itself, is not a bad device to resolve the conflict. There’s not too much to it, but the thought of Superman and Supergirl disposing of dangerous weapons is certainly an interesting one that we’ll see again. I’ll give this brief backup 3 Minutemen.
Adventure Comics #408
“The Face at the Window” Writer: Mike Sekowsky Penciler: Mike Sekowsky Inker: Henry Scarpelli Editor: Mike Sekowsky
“Invasion of the Mer-Men” Writer: Mike Sekowsky Penciler: Mike Sekowsky Inker: Dick Giordano
Well, I hate to say it, but I am really looking forward to Sekowsky’s run on Adventure ending in a few issues. I keep wistfully looking at those issues and thinking, ‘soon, soon, but not yet.’ His tenure on this book has been full of interesting ideas, but it has been equally full of increasingly terrible art and generally poor execution. This one is no exception. Even the cover is pretty rough, whit perspective all over the place. Apparently the wall is sloping outward. I can only assume it will collapse momentarily. The ghost story element of the composition is interesting, but it sort of spoils the mystery of the tale inside.
On that note, the tale itself begins with the fabulously fashionable Geoff mustering his news team to go get some footage of some of the city’s most famous old homes for a documentary. What exactly is this station’s business model, I wonder. Anyway, Linda runs home to change, and Nasty hires some goons to snatch her wig and take a picture, continuing her entirely pointless efforts to provide proof of Supergirl’s identity instead of just murdering her and everyone close to her on general principle.
The thugs make their move aboard a crowded trolley care, which is a nice example of Sekowsky making use of his setting, which we really haven’t seen much of before. Fortunately, Linda is able to rebuff their attempt and claims they were trying to steal her purse. Once she returns, the gang head to the Stanley Mansion, which is inhabited by a crazy old hermit. Sekowsky does a serviceable job with the introduction of the place, making it look looming and imposing.
Once they arrive, the film crew is ambushed by the hermit, Stanley, who threatens them at gunpoint until they leave, saying he doesn’t want any ‘snoopers’ around. While they load up, Linda snaps a picture of a strange face in an upper window, but when they develop the pictures, there is nothing there! This would be eerie and mysterious if the cover hadn’t already spoiled the twist.
Linda switches to Supergirl to investigate, but she is tailed by Nasty. Inside the old house, the Maid of Might encounters a spooky little girl who begs for her help. The child claims that Stanley has hidden her parents and she needs help to find them. While they search, the old hermit discovers Nasty and empties his shotgun at her. Fortunately (unfortunately?) he misses, but he captures her. Meanwhile, the other pair search the basement, and Supergirl just happens to forget that she has X-ray vision until they’ve looked all over. Then, conveniently, she remembers, having dropped the Idiot Ball, and discovers something hidden in a wall.
Melting through with her heat vision, she is attacked by Stanley, who uselessly bangs away at her until she ties him up with his own shotgun. Then, returning to the wall, the Girl of Steel finds the skeletons of a man and a woman hidden in a secret alcove, and strangely, the little girl’s doll is now with them as well. Stanley admits that they were his relatives, and after their little girl died of influenza, he murdered them and hid their bodies, claiming that they went to Europe to escape the memory of their lose and died at sea. The old man bitterly laments that he stole their fortune, but he was so paranoid about his dolorous deed being discovered that he never spent or enjoyed it. The yarn ends with Supergirl switching back to Linda and covering the whole story with her crew, noticing the little girl in a portrait over the fireplace and seeing the family properly buried.
This is a decent story, if not a particularly good fit for Supergirl. There isn’t much of a reason for her to investigate in the first place, and when she does, she really would have been able to solve the mystery in about five minutes if she hadn’t conveniently forgotten that she had powers. The Nasty plot continues to grate on me. The whole thing feels super Saturday morning cartoony, and Sekwosky’s writing has gotten rather Scooby Doo lately. His art, unfortunately, just continues to be inexcusably terrible. While there have been some really nice moments, even amid his uglier panels, in previous issues, there are fewer in this tale. I suppose I’ll give this unlovely, mediocre yarn 2.5 Minutemen. It isn’t terrible, but it certainly isn’t good.
“Invasion of the Mer-Men”
The backup feature is at least more exciting if nothing else. It begins with Linda and Johnny out at the beach (I thought she had a crush on 40-year-old Geoff?), enjoying a day off, when they are suddenly attacked by strange alien figures wearing water helmets. They have a decent, sort of 50s or 60s-ish sci-fi design, but apparently they come from a world where gravity is different, as they both stand about 25% off of normal. Just look at the position of those two guys. Are they both falling over? Are the Mer-Men tipsy? How rude to show up to an invasion sloshed!
Anyway, Sekowsky’s glaring art mistakes aside, in the story Johnny plays hero, just attacking these two guys without bothering to ask questions. Better hope they didn’t come in peace, only for him to start an interplanetary war! Linda hops in their dune buggy and races away, trying to get into cover so she can get into character. When she manages to return, her date is gone, but a series of tracks show he was dragged into the ocean. Knowing that time is of the essence, she begins an underwater search, but it bears no fruit.
Certain that her friend has drowned, the Maid of Might summons help, and along with the police, the film crew dive in search of the missing man, only to come up empty as well. Saddened, but certain that this is not over, Supergirl heads to Kandor to get some technological help to backstop her uncertain superpowers. They give her some nose filters that will let her breath underwater, as well as in space, somehow.
Meanwhile, back on Earth an emergency meeting of leading scientists and the military is being held to discuss a new crisis facing the world. Apparently the oceans are being stolen, and millions of gallons have already disappeared. As they discuss what could be behind this mysterious malady, the meeting is suddenly crashed by our alien antagonists from earlier, who declare that they are stealing Earth’s water to save their own planet, having logically concluded that, since they are more developed and more generally awesome than humanity, they deserve to survive more than we do. A bit harsh, that. Dun dun DUN!
This is a reasonably enjoyable little backup, and there is actually a somewhat thoughtful moment, as Supergirl reflects that, if she hadn’t been trying to protect her secret, she might have saved Johnny. Considering this is the second story in short order where that has been the case, it is worth attention, but I doubt anything will come of it. Sekowsky doesn’t really seem interested in following up on his promising ideas. Nonetheless, the disappearance of Johnny and the desperation of his friends is handled fairly well. The art remains execrable, but he does gives us some nice faces in this section. I’ll give the backup 2.5 Minutemen, with some taken off for the art errors.
Well my dear readers, that is the beginning of July 1971. The books were not amazing, but much more awaits us, including some more Fourth World goodness and some other exciting looking comics. I hope you enjoyed the read and will join me again soon for the next step in our journey! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!