- Action Comics #398
- Adventure Comics #404
- Batman #230
- Brave and Bold #94
- Detective Comics #409
- The Flash #204
- Forever People #1
- G.I. Combat #146
- Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82
- Justice League of America #88
- New Gods #1
- Superboy #172
- Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136
- Superman #235
- World’s Finest #201
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Justice League of America #88
“The Last Survivors of Earth!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
This is an interesting cover for an unusual issue. Notably, this comic has the distinction of being the only pre-crisis JLA book to feature Mera on the cover, and she does look good there with the rest of the League. It’s a shame she didn’t get into action with them more often. The cover itself is indicative of the era, showing the JLA having failed in some fashion, a common trope, but interestingly, there is some truth to this particular tableau. The issue inside is a fun one, if a bit odd, as the heroes really don’t have much impact on the outcome.
The tale begins with a strange golden spaceship, which has a pretty cool design, speeding towards Earth as a robotic voice addresses its passengers. The voice reminds its charges that they are the people of Mu, which, like Atlantis, is a legendary lost continent, and a very promising addition to the mythos of the DCU. The mechanical voice continues, recounting how the citizens of Mu had used their superior technology to flee what they thought was a dying world, but their return, thousands of years later, has revealed a flourishing orb.
The people of Mu, being kept alive by their machines, are now degenerated and decadent from their enforced isolation and inaction, and they can only respond with hatred to the modern inhabitants of Earth who they assume must be inferior to themselves. Dillin achieves a pretty creepy, horrific effect with his portrayal of the Muians, vast rows of stiff, motionless figures, all screaming mindlessly for blood. It’s like a much darker version of Wall-E, and as we’ll see, it serves a similar theme.
Meanwhile, blissfully unaware of the threat approaching from space, a trio of Justice Leaguers pursue a “busman’s holiday,” working at an archeological dig in the South Seas Islands. Carter and Shiera Hall have been joined by Hal Jordan of all people, and they are working to uncover clues to lost civilizations. I love these types of glimpses into the ‘off-duty’ lives of the Leaguers, especially when they are hanging out together. This is a really fun setup, and I would have enjoyed spending more time with these characters here, but Shiera quickly turns up a tablet inscribed with strange symbols that seem to point to the mysterious continent of Mu. Just then, lightning strikes her out of a clear sky! Green Lantern is able to blunt its force, but she’s still stunned, so the heroes suit up, with Hawkman taking his wife to a hospital while Hal contacts the League.
In a touch that I quite enjoyed, Aquaman was on his way to join the trio to lend his services in interpreting whatever they found. If you’re working on lost continents and civilizations, what better expert to call in than the king of just such a place? It’s a really cool detail, and it proves wise, as he fills Hal in on what the Atlanteans know about Mu: it was an advanced civilization in the pacific that disappeared mysteriously. The Sea King also brings news that strange disasters are occurring in the Gulf of Persia, the Mekong Delta, and the Coast of California, all of which point to Mu (though how they do so is quite unexplained). The Emerald Crusader divides the League’s forces to deal with the different disasters and heads out himself, only to be struck by lightning as well, just managing to save himself at the last moment!
In California, Batman, Green Arrow, and Black Canary arrive in the Batjet, but there is some tension in the air, as Batman remembers a kiss aboard the Satellite. When they land, Black Canary pulls the Dark Knight aside, much to Arrow’s chagrin. After telling Ollie that she’ll talk with whoever she care to, she tells Batman that she wants his advice on how to deal with the hot-headed archer, and she came to him because she thinks of him as a brother! Ouch! Bats is stuck in the one trap not even he can escape, the friend zone! Nonetheless, he takes it like a man, and when the Emerald Archer starts flipping out and demands to take off, the Masked Manhunter even lets them use his plane. (Real mature, Ollie. It’s not like lives are at stake or anything.) It’s a surprising but enjoyable little scene, with a bit of humor and just a touch of pathos, as Batman realizes that the attraction he feels is one-sided.
Back on the other side of the world, Superman and the Atom approach the Persian Gulf, where refugees are fleeing a violent set of earthquakes. The readers get a glimpse of the culprit, a golden medallion, an artifact of Mu, worn about the neck of a respected Iranian man, which serves as a transmitter for the destructive energies of the Mu spacecraft. The heroes labor in ignorance, however, with Superman doing his best to help the evacuation and save lives while the Atom heads to a lab to try and sort out what is going on. He stops a few looters and then gets to work, eventually determining the center of the disturbances, but not their cause.
As the heroes head towards the epicenter of the quakes, the medallion’s owner smashes it, unwittingly ending the disaster. Notably, the man, a devout Muslim, is portrayed as wise and selfless in a very positive and sympathetic treatment of Islam for a comic from 1971. We even get an editor’s note providing a touch of background for the religion, which is surprising.
At the same time, in Vietnam, the Flash has his hands full with an out of control monsoon. Floods are destroying the country, and the Fastest Man Alive is run ragged trying to save lives. While he labors, a young woman accustomed to tragedy prays to her household gods, another artifact of Mu.
In another surprising touch, we’re told her husband was killed by the Viet Cong and her son by American napalm, an unexpected glimpse of the ongoing tragedy unfolding in Vietnam, and one that is handled with an unusually light touch. Just as Green Arrow and Black Canary arrive and mark the center of the disturbance with a flare, the young woman smashes her idol in rage at its failure to protect her family, ending the storms.
Finally, in California, Batman is left alone to confront the arriving Muian ship, and his valiant but foolhardy barehanded attack against the technological marvel, ends in defeat. It’s a shame he didn’t have an advanced jet with all kinds of weapons on hand. Once again, Green Arrow’s temper gets everyone in trouble. The League just might be better off without him.
The people of Mu have their robotic caretaker snare a youth off of the street to interrogate, trying to discover how their attacks have been defeated. The young man tells gives them a fiery response about how they are really jealous of the freedom and life that regular humans have, and then escapes the ship. When it takes off, something suddenly goes wrong and it crashes into the sea, incidentally killing hundreds or thousands of Muians.
When his friends ask him what happened, the young man informs them that he threw a wrench into the craft’s engines, thus saving the day….and also committing a touch of genocide! The story ends with the Leaguers comparing notes and realizing that none of them ended the threats. Finally, Aquaman recommends that they write this case up as “unexplained.”
This is a fun issue, though the final resolution is really rather too sudden and random, and I’m not quite sure what we’re supposed to make of all of this. The final narration stresses the theme of the Muians’ plight, the dangers of overreliance on machines, but the message is a tad muddled in delivery. There’s something here about the triumph of human nature over machines, but it doesn’t quite get developed. This idea is apparently in the zeitgeist, as we’ve just seen an Aquaman issue on the dangers of over-mechanization.
Despite the slightly awkward ending, there are a lot of neat elements in this tale, interesting and thoughtful little touches, like having Aquaman be called in as an expert in lost civilizations, some decently graceful attempts at exposing readers to other cultures, and even a little romantic intrigue. The lost continent of Mu itself is a really fascinating concept, and it’s a shame it didn’t get a bit more development here, though that’s often the case for comics of this era. I’m curious if anyone else ever made anything of the seeds planted in this story. The threat the heroes face is one well suited to the League, and it’s an interesting change of pace that the team doesn’t actually save the day. Most everyone gets something to do, though Aquaman gets the short end of the stick, as usual. Dillin’s art is uneven in this one, alternately very strong and rather awkward, but for the most part he turns out a very pretty book. There are a few just strange looking panels, though, like Batman’s awkward run. In any event, this is an enjoyable read without the weirdness of the some of our previous issues. I’ll give this one a solid 3.5 Mintuemen.
New Gods #1
“Orion Fights for Earth!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby
Now here we go! Kirby’s New Gods book is, unsurprisingly, the core of his New Gods saga, and it is here where we really begin to learn what’s behind everything we’ve seen teased in the other books. The cover copy declares that this is “an epic for our times,” and that is a fitting description for the adventure that lies inside. After all, an epic is usually defined as a long narrative poem of high tone and style dealing with the deeds of a powerful hero, often across a backdrop of the fantastic, and, other than the lack of verse, Kirby’s book does match up to that definition fairly well. It is certainly a story that is larger than life, mythic in scope and proportions, and that is obvious even here at the very beginning. In his other Fourth World books, the King has been introducing interesting and exciting new concepts, innovating in smaller ways, but with this book, Kirby begins to do that which he had done in Marvel in the 60s, create something completely new.
The world he conjures is unlike anything seen before, at least in DC Comics. There are similarities to his Asgardian adventures and the cosmic aspects of his Fantastic Four, but there is a scope here, an imaginative intensity, that is unprecedented. These are truly new myths being created before our eyes, with just that type of archetypal power, and the end result, however flawed in the particulars as it can be on occasion, is still something incredible. I love these stories, and it is really a breathtaking experience to go back and read them in the context of what was going on at the time. Reading them cold in the 21st Century only allows you to experience them obliquely. You don’t realize how incredibly groundbreaking they were, because what they accomplished has in the decades since become commonplace as swarms of imitators have flooded comics with similar work. Yet, seeing Kirby’s Forth World burst onto the scene in this book in 1971 really puts into perspective just how revolutionary Kirby was, as he always was.
This first issue is no exception, and from the beginning, you can tell you’re in for something special. I have to say, though, that the cover is not particularly impressive. The figure of Orion is a striking one, but the weird coloring has never appealed to me. I’ve always preferred the recolored versions I’ve seen. Nonetheless, what’s within does not disappoint. The tale starts with the fall of the old gods. In an incredible Kirby splash page, he tells with remarkable narrative efficiency of the Twilight of the Gods, of Ragnarok. These old gods, who look rather suspiciously like Kirby’s Asgardians, battle one another in an apocalyptic scene, and with a single page, the King wipes away what he had once created in order to begin afresh. It’s beautifully fitting on many levels.
The conflict ends in the destruction of the world of the gods, which is torn in two, and the two new orbs are left floating in space. We aren’t told yet, but these will become New Genesis and Apokolips, the eternally opposed homeworlds of the New Gods. Kirby’s narration throughout this section is, quite honestly, probably some of the best prose he’s ever written. He really manages to capture the epic tenor he sets out for, and though sections of the book can get a bit clunky, the opening pages set an impressive tone.
Across the vastness of space comes the dramatic figure of Orion, possessor of the “Astro Force,” whatever that means, a warrior who we meet as he returns home to New Genesis, and we’re treated to some incredibly striking visuals of its beautiful floating city and Cyclopean architecture. He’s greeted by the lighthearted Lightray, a lightning quick young man who flies circles around the dour Orion and implores him to stay in the paradisaical city and “learn to laugh again.”
Their conversation reveals our first hints at Orion’s dual nature, and we get a sense that he is a troubled soul and more than meets the eye. The warrior has been summoned home to meet with his father, and the New Gods’ leader, Highfather. The very patriarchal looking Highfather leads his son to “the chamber of the Source,” where they see a white stone wall, their “link with the Source.” The idea of “the Source” provides a suitably vague and cosmic…well, source, for the powers of good, while still allowing for a surprising compatibility with the concept of the one God and thus folding in rather nicely with DC’s lightly drawn cosmology, even jiving peacefully with my own religious sensibilities.
As the pair stands before the wall, they are joined by Metron, an eternal scholar, a being of intellect, whose outlook has something in common with the cold logic of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. It seems there is no love lost between Orion and this newcomer, and their verbal sparring is only interrupted when Highfather communes with this mysterious Source, and a in very biblical image, a fiery finger writes upon the wall and “having writ, Moves on.” The message it leaves behind is “Orion to Apokolips–then to earth–then to WAR.” It’s a portentous declaration, but Highfather reminds Orion that, though the Source advises, they still have the freedom to choose, and it is this freedom that separates those of New Genesis from Apokolips. The young man’s choice leads him across the vast distances between worlds, to war! As he takes his leave, Metron offers a cryptic statement that reveals he knows that Orion’s true origins lie on Apokolips, and Highfather angrily swears him to secrecy. I quite like the celestial scholar’s line, “How wonderfully wise is the Source! Who is more ready to fight the father– than the son!” It illustrates the archetypal dimensions of the story Kirby is spinning.
To Apokolips Orion flies, and our first glimpse of the grim, gray world is quite stunning, with its ashen surface and massive fire pits. It looks every inch the archetypal Hell, and as he travels above it, Orion’s thoughts inform us that it is the opposite of New Genesis, a world dedicated to conquest and domination, to the extermination of freedom. His reconnaissance is interrupted by a trio of Apokaliptian shock troopers, the parademons, which starts a running battle as Orion faces various waves of enemies, including heavy cavalry mounted on giant, vicious dogs!
Most of the troops are visually interesting and imaginatively designed, and the action looks good in Kirby’s wonderfully dynamic style. In the various skirmishes, we begin to get a sense of Orion’s lust for battle and the dangers of his temper. Finally, the warrior makes his way to the palace, only to discover that Darkseid has already gone to Earth, but his visit does not go unremarked, as the titanic tyrant’s son, Kalibak the Cruel, is there to greet him. Their battle is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Metron, who has come to hurry Orion on his way.
The scholar warns the warrior of Darkseid’s plans, telling him that the Apokaliptian monarch even now works on a device that will allow him to search all of the minds on Earth for the mysterious and sinister ‘Anti-Life Equation.’ Before vanishing as mysteriously as he appeared, he also reveals that Darkseid began his search there on Apokolips with a quartet of kidnapped humans. The warrior frees the captives, and holding Kalibak off, opens a boom tube to Earth to help them escape.
Then to Earth they travel, leaving a raving Kalibak behind them, swearing revenge. Once there, Orion explains to the four he rescued that there is a conflict brewing of universal significance, something far beyond their understanding, and the book ends with him shouting a challenge to Darkseid, a challenge which Darkseid, from his hidden fastness, answers.
Then to War! Wow! Summarizing this book was a real challenge. Since so much of this is new and since there are so many big ideas flying around, it is tough to be brief when talking about this story. In fact, I left some interesting moments untouched, like the glimpse of New Genesis’s culture revealed in Highfather’s reverence for the innocence of youth, which itself is an effective shorthand for his world’s love of freedom and for the stakes for which this galactic game shall be played. In general, this is a great story, though it will eventually be overshadowed by what comes after. Kirby’s art is a little rough in some spots, and of course Colletta’s inking doesn’t do him many favors. None the less, the visual imagination at play is wonderful, with both New Genesis and Apokolips fitting perfectly into their archetypal roles. Kirby’s imagination is clearly unleashed in this book, and the fruits of his labors are wondrous. There are Promethean structures everywhere, and many panels stress the scale of the world we’ve entered, as Orion is shrunk to insignificance before a starfield or an ominous edifice.
I’ve mentioned how archetypal this story is, and that is an important part of its success, as the King is essentially creating a new myth, working in the broad, bright colors of legend, evoking the eternal struggle of the Norse Gods, the Olympian war against the Titans, or similar cosmic conflicts. This is a larger scale, a much larger scale, than anything we’ve seen in DC Comics, and clearly already more fully realized than any similar worldbuilding we’ve seen in the last year. The only parallels can be found in Kirby’s own work in Marvel, but with the Fourth World the King seeks to surpass even those heights . Think about how astonishing this book must have been when it hit the stands amongst the mundane everyday stories filling DC’s books. Even this month’s Justice League tale, which has some measure of imaginative reach, feels positively cramped and halfhearted by comparison. Despite that, he’s doing some pretty solid character work even from this first chapter, especially considering the era. There are mysteries surrounding Orion, and a lot of personality at play in everyone we meet. The impression of depth is downright palpable, and you just know that this conflict sprawls far beyond the pages of this book. What’s more, we can see the lasting impact of this story in the fact that so many of its elements, even just from this first entry, have gone on to become central elements of the DC Universe. It’s a great beginning, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series! I’ll give this first chapter 4.5 Minutemen, as it loses just a little for the clunkier moments.
“The World of the Super-Ape!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: George Tuska
Letterer: Joe Letterese
Oh boy, we’ve got gorillas on the cover! According to legend, DC’s indefatigable editor, Julie Schwartz, believed (and not without some reasonable circumstantial evidence) that a gorilla on the cover of a comic would boost sales. Supposedly, the effects were so marked in the Silver Age that all of his editors wanted gorillas for their covers, and he had to institute a policy of no more than one gorilla cover a month! Whatever the case may be, there sure are tons of gorilla covers from this era of comics! This particular offering is a fairly striking one, and there’s a nice mystery, which gets a fairly good buildup in the story itself. As for that very cover story, it has a really ludicrous premise, but the whole thing is handled surprisingly well. While the concept is very Silver Age, the writing feels a tad more mature.
The tale opens with a recapitulation of Superman’s origin, but this time, there are two rockets headed for Earth. One crashes in Smallville, and the other, strangely enough, in the heart of Africa, where its inhabitant is adopted by the apes. Then the scene shifts forward 15 years, where an ivory poacher vanishes after an encounter with a strange shadowy figure. The preserve officers call in Superboy when they are stumped by the lack of tracks. A second group of poachers, out to capture gorillas for a zoo, also go missing, once again accosted by a shadowy figure.
We’ve got a real treat in the back of this book this month! After too long in limbo, the Legion of Superheroes returns to the pages of DC Comics! This starts what will become a regular backup feature for quite some time. Eventually, the Legion will actually muscle Superboy out of his own book! This is good news to me, as I’ve really enjoyed the daring deeds of these futuristic do-gooders. Our story this month is a solid one, with a touch of family drama flavoring the adventure. It begins with a Legion rocket arriving at the “Interplanetary Bank,” where they discover that the “guardian beasts” have been disabled. I’m already 100% onboard, as a setting in which there is something called an “Interplanetary Bank” and which is guarded by giant monsters seems pretty promising to me! The Legion team, Lightning Lad, Timberwolf, and Light Lass discover that the perpetrator was none other than Lightning Lord, the brother of Lad and Lass!
We get a brief reprise of how the trio got their powers, and then, to my delight, we get a nice origin for the Legion itself! Young Lightning Lad, Garth Ranzz, travels to Earth looking for his brother, and on the ship, he meets the future Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl, as well as the “richest man in the universe,” R.J. Brande. When a gang of assassins try to kill Brande, the trio intervene, each using their powers to pitch in. Brande is thankful, but he is also inspired, so he offers to set the three youths up as superheroes, citing Superboy and Supergirl as examples of teenage heroes. They all agree, and the Legion is formed. I’d read summaries of this event, but it is really fun to actually see it played out.
With their flashback over, the team tracks Lightning Lord’s ship, confronting him on a barren and rocky world. When they confront him, Lightning Lad tries to talk his brother down, but when he refuses, both of the Legionnaire siblings hesitate, causing Timberwolf to spring into action. The high-voltage villain tries to zap him, but Lightning Lass throws herself in front of the beam to save the boy she loves. This enrages Timberwolf, but Lightning Lad insists that he face his brother alone.
They are evenly matched, and they throw electrical bolts back in forth to little effect. Yet, Lightning Lad backs his brother against a metallic cliffside and ricochets a blast into his back, knocking him out, but turning his hair white in the process. Their sinister sibling captured, the heroes find themselves hoping that he will reform, but something tells me that’s a tad unlikely.
This is an all-too-brief adventure, but it is a fun one. Bridwell manages to add just enough pathos to the confrontation to make it interesting, and the action is entertaining. I have to say, though, I think my favorite part is a look at the Legion’s founding. I suppose I share something of Bridwell’s love of continuity. That sense of history, of more stories than exist on the page, is key for the “impression of depth” that is such an important part of a well-realized setting. I’ll give this fun little Legion legend 3.5 Minutemen.