Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 5)

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

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Law of the 100”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s a wonderful villain image.

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

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

 


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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

 


Final Thoughts:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 3)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  In this post we’ve got old soldiers and new gods, plastic paradises and cosmic chaos.  It’s an interesting set of stories we have on tap today.  Join me as I work my way through them!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #402
  • Adventure Comics #408
  • Brave and the Bold #96
  • Detective Comics #413
  • Forever People #3
  • G.I. Combat #148
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #84
  • New Gods #3
  • Superboy #176
  • Superman #239 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #240
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139
  • World’s Finest #202

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


G.I. Combat #148


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“The Gold-Plated General”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor: Joe Kubert

“Blind Bomber”
Writer: Hank Chapman
Penciler: Mort Drucker
Inker: Mort Drucker

“Cry Wolf Mission”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath

“Soften ‘Em Up”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Irv Novick

“Battle Window”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert

This month’s Haunted Tank adventure is a fun one, featuring an unusual guest star, of sorts.  That figure standing astride the tank’s turret on the cover, six-guns gripped grimly in his hands, is probably a familiar one to history buffs.  The cover image itself is a pretty good one, though a bit crowded by copy.  It’s a nice, dramatic image, and beautifully rendered by Joe Kubert in his stark style.

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The crazily courageous general isn’t introduced right away inside.  Instead, we begin with our favorite Confederate ghost, who actually does something useful!  He spies Jeb and crew sleeping as danger approaches, and the general causes a chill wind to awaken them.  The tankers rush to the Stuart, only to have a German tank light up the night with explosive shells.  They’re almost wiped out, and burning debris falls onto the tank.  Crawling low, they manage to reach their vehicle, and they proceed to play possum in a burning coffin, waiting for the Panzer to get close enough to kill.  It’s a pretty great sequence.

 

They hold their nerves long enough and manage to scrag the enemy, but the next day, covered in soot and grime, they meet their new CEO, General Norton.  The tall, resplendent figure, with a gold helmet and gold-plated six-guns, is not impressed, and after calling the unit together, he tells them that they are facing professionals who fight, act, and look like soldiers.  Yet, he claims that the tankers look like amateurs, and he insists on spit and polish, saying they’ll fight better if they look better.  They’ll have more confidence and pride.  Jeb isn’t too sure, but his ghostly namesake agrees.  Of course, this General Norton is an ersatz version of George S. Patton, perhaps the most hard-charging American general in World War II.  He’s a fictionalized version of the great leader, but he has the twin six-guns and the hard-nosed demeanor.

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The affectionate note of the parody/tribute becomes clear as, just then, a flight of dive-bombers attack, sending all of the tankers scrambling for cover.  That is, they all seek cover except the general, who stands tall, firing his pistols defiantly.  Afterwards, still holding his smoking guns, he declares, “From now on we fight on our feet!  We don’t take it!  We dish it out!”  It’s a great moment.  The next day, shaved and cleaned up, the force moves out on a German position, taking heavy fire.  Suddenly, the barrage lightens up, and Jeb sees that General Norton has moved into the lead, drawing the fire of the defenders and leading from the front.

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His tank smashes through a building to flank the German anti-tank guns, and his men follow him in, routing the Nazi troops, another great sequence.  The position secured, one of the crew pipes up to ask if they can drop the spit and polish act now that the General himself is covered in the grime of battle.  Norton’s response is great: “No Corporal!  You see…I’m the general!”

 

This is a good, solid war yarn, with more of a sense of whimsy and fun than most of these.  The inclusion of a Patton parallel is a fun touch, and the character is fittingly larger than life, as was the man himself.  It’s also nice to see the ghostly general Stuart actually do something useful, though his contribution is very brief and very limited.  I’m still hoping we’ll see some stories that will take better advantage of the device he represents.  We are only a few issues away from a big change in the title, so we’ll see! Russ Heath continues to turn out really fantastic work on this book.  The sequence with the crew waiting it out in the burning tank is really fantastic.  If we can’t have Joe Kubert, then Russ Heath is definitely the next best thing.  I suppose this good all-around war yarn deserves 4 Minutemen.

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P.S.: Notably, with this issue, Joe Kubert started adding the famous “Make War no More” slogan on his war titles.  It’s possible it predates their appearance here, but this is the first time it showed up in this particular book.  This was Kubert’s and Kanigher’s effort to tell war stories without glorifying war, and it’s an interesting gesture.  The slogan is appended to every story within.  Obviously this change reflects the growing anti-war sentiments of the DC creators, which in turn reflects that of the nation itself., and we’re approaching the end of the Vietnam War, which was brought about in large part due to the loss of public support.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this move.  After all, you could see it as a bit disingenuous to keep telling the same stories but just slap a slogan on them and claim that squares things.  Many of the war tales DC published do, in fact, deal with the horrors of war rather than attempt to glorify it.  Yet, there are those that are a bit more ‘ra-ra,’ especially with the number of reprints in these books.  I suppose that the slogan was the team’s way of making the best of a difficult situation.  Their job was to tell war stories, but they themselves had become increasingly anti-war.  Either way, this new event rather nicely illustrates the cultural pressures coming to bear on the medium.

 


Green.Lantern/Green Arrow #84


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“Peril In Plastic”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Bernie Wrightson
Colourist: Cory Adams
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got another issue of O’Neil’s Green Lantern, to which I was certainly not looking forward.  Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by it!  It’s a very strange issue in a lot of ways, and yet, it manages to be much more enjoyable than most of his run.  The cover is not particularly great, however.  The use of the real image in the background rather clashes with Adams’ colorful art.  The plight of our heroes does look pretty dire, but the effect is not entirely successful.  Interestingly enough, the photograph is actually of DC legend Carmine Infantino.  I’m not quite sure what that says.

The story in question begins where the last issue left off, where Hal carried a still crippled Carol Ferris into the (non) sunset, having revealed his identity to her.  The two spend the following weeks reconnecting and rekindling their love.  Adams gives us a half page that has a really neat design to tell the tale of their romance.  Yet, when Carol decides to go visit another specialist in the hopes an experimental procedure will restore her legs, she tells Hal that she must do this alone….for plot reasons.

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At loose ends and a bachelor again, Hal saunters on over to Ollie’s new apartment, which is a far cry from his former rich digs.  As the two friends chat about love and music in a charming scene, they hear a radio broadcast about explosions at a dam protecting Piper’s Dell that threaten to flood the town.  Suddenly, Hal realizes that this was Carol’s destination, and he zooms off to stem the tide!

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Hard to envision Hal as a fan of Dixieland…

At first, the Emerald Gladiator tries to use his ring simply to smother individual explosions, but he realizes that he’s only playing damage control, so he creates a magnet and sucks the bombs directly out of the structure.  Finally, he patches the crumbling edifice with mud, creating an emergency fix.

 

Exhausted by the effort, the Emerald Knight is none too pleased when the town’s mayor approaches him and insists on honoring the hero.  Showing Hal the town, the Mayor, Wilbur Palm, presents cookie-cutter houses and a pollution-spewing factory.  When I read this, my first thought was, ‘oh no, not another environmental sermon!’  But O’Neil actually has a more subtle and humorous game to play here, to his credit.

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The Mayor tells his guest that the factory makes strange little pins called Kalutas, which, every few minutes, tickle their wearers and puff out a whiff of perfume.  Hal’s face as he’s given one of these things is priceless.  Suddenly, the entire town shakes and an odd sound fills the air, but the Mayor simply says it’s the machinery in the factory.

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In a funny sequence, Palm drags Hal up onto a plastic stage, which breaks as soon as the Lantern puts his foot on it, and presents him with a plastic key to the city, which also breaks immediately, all while the ceremony is taped, lacking a live audience.  Finally sick of this strange place, the Green Gladiator tries to take off, only to find that he can’t focus.  Suddenly an army of suits, the Mayor’s ‘Executive Board,’ descend on the shaken hero, beating him mercilessly.  Just before he passes out, Hal summons the last of his will power and sends his ring to Green Arrow.

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Unfortunately, just as the most powerful weapon in the universe arrives, so does Black Canary, and who is going to notice a world-shattering wishing-ring when she’s in the room?  Sadly for Hal, Dinah has gotten her head back together, and she’s come back to town to visit Ollie.  The two head out for dinner, the ring still lying undiscovered in the apartment.  It’s a fun piece of irony.

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Meanwhile, the Lantern awakens to meet an old foe.  It seems that he’s fallen into the hands of…Black Hand?!?  That’s right, O’Neil gives us an honest-to-goodness supervillain for only the second time in his run, and it’s an interesting choice.  Apparently, Hand was masquerading as the mayor, all part of a plan by his corporate masters, who sprang him from prison to run their program.  Essentially, Piper’s Dell is a test case, an experiment.  It’s the company town taken to it’s logical extreme, with the populace not merely beholden to their corporate overlords but literally controlled by them.

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The townspeople are rendered pliable and suggestible by the constant irritations and distractions of the Kalutas, the poisons in the air, and the mind-numbing sounds of the factory.  The villain demonstrates by showing his captive footage of a townswoman being convinced that the hero had tried to destroy the dam rather than save it.  This was, of course, all part of the plan, and Carol was lured to town in order to trap the Lantern himself.  The lovers are reunited, only to be turned loose into a town that has been programed to hate them.

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While one couple fights for their lives, another fights each other.  Dinah and Ollie are having a spat because the bow-slinger fought with a drunk who was hitting on the Canary.  After the lovely Ms. Lance takes her leave, the Arrow finally discovers the ring and quickly sets out to rescue its owner, stopping on the way to charge it.  Now, I’m not 100% positive, but am I wrong, or couldn’t Ollie just slip the ring on and use it?  Either way, we get another funny scene as the newly poverty stricken hero uses his last $20 to rent a dinghy, unable to afford a speedboat, and begins to row.

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Hal and Carol have their own problems, however, as they are being pelted with plastic bricks (!) and chased by crazed townsfolk.  Pinned against the edge of the dam, the Lantern prepares for his last stand when, suddenly, a familiar voice tells him to freeze.  Green Arrow has arrived in the nick of time, and he makes an incredible shot, threading the needle to send the power ring back to its owners, his arrow passing through Hal’s fingers!

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The newly empowered Emerald Crusader makes short work of the mob and smashes into Black Hand’s headquarters.  Despite the villain’s resistance, the Lantern easily disposes of him by melting the plastic roof and entombing his foe in artificial materials.  The tale ends with the gathered friends walking through town and wondering what could possess people to trade their freedom and independence for the type of life that those in Piper’s Dell embraced, only for Ollie to wryly gesture to the Christmas shoppers eagerly snapping up plastic Christmas trees at a nearby store.

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This is a surprisingly good issue.  It’s off-beat, unusual, and more than a little silly, but it is clever and rather whimsical as well, which makes up for a lot.  The lighter tone rather lowers the stakes for the comic, meaning it doesn’t have to work as hard to earn its keep and achieve its aims.  Importantly, the characters are all a lot more likeable than they have been throughout the run so far, with both Hal and Ollie coming off as heroic, intelligent, and capable, which has certainly not always been the case.  The character moments really make this story shine.  The romantic interlude with Hal and Carol is touching and sweet, while the interactions between Ollie and Dinah are pretty darn funny.

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It was also nice to see an actual supervillain show up, and I have always had a bit of a soft spot for Black Hand, despite the fact that he was (in the classic setting) a bit of a goofball.  Sadly, he doesn’t give that great of a showing here, easily defeated as he is and lacking his signature weapon, much like Sinestro in his previous story.  That’s a shame, and it feels like a waste, especially because, despite appearances, Hand is actually a really good choice for this scheme.  He was a grifter and a shill, a smarmy punk with intelligence and zero empathy.  He’s a great choice to head this corporate brainwashing program.  The scheme itself, despite being a bit silly, is at least of respectable dimensions.  The unnamed corporate overlords plan to effectively conquer the world with this technique.  That’s a threat that is worthy of Green Lantern, at least in theory.

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O’Neil’s message here is an interesting one, and it is delivered with a fair amount of wit and charm.  Essentially, this is a critique of the growing disposable, artificial nature of American lives, filled as they are with so much plastic stuff.  It’s interesting to see this concept show up here because it is a common sentiment for old timers today, and I know I’ve heard my father lament “cheap Chinese junk” more than a few times.  In addition, there’s the related theme of people allowing themselves to be distracted by all of these things to the point that they blithely trade away their freedoms and their identities.  This is similar to one of O’Neil’s earlier stories, interestingly enough, in a Superman backup.  Of course, Adams’ art is fantastic throughout, and he does a particularly good job with the satirical elements of the story, portraying Hal’s befuddlement in the town.  His quiet character moments really shine.  I suppose I’ll give this unusual issue 4 Minutemen, despite its silliness.  The character moments lift it up to a higher level, and the fact that is is more satiric than preachy renders its foibles engaging rather than off-putting.

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Green.Lantern/Green Arrow #84


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“Death is the Black Racer!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

More glorious Fourth World madness awaits us in this next issue!  It is a pretty interesting one, introducing another of the zillion and one concepts that Kirby packed into his new mythos, but unfortunately it is one that never quite worked, the Black Racer.  This character seems to be an obvious attempt by Kirby to recapture the magic that conjured the Silver Surfer into existence, but in circumstances that he could control, and who could blame him?  The concept of the Silver Surfer is a pretty silly one, but somehow, it works, probably because of the beautiful simplicity of Kirby’s design.  The Black Racer is not quite so fortunate.  His design is fairly awful, with the garish red, blue, and yellow, the incongruous armor, the skies, and the ski-poles.  Personally, I think it’s the poles that put it over the top, but you could really take your pick, as none of those elements work all that well.

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The cover, for its part, is better than many of those we’ve seen from this set of books.  The photo-background isn’t as distracting as most of the others, and the color of the sky makes it less flat and boring.  The central figure of the racer, however goofy his look, is nicely rendered, and there is some drama to the composition.  Unfortunately, the ski-riding figure doesn’t have the dramatic visual impact of, say, Orion or Mr. Miracle.

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The story itself begins in grand fashion, with a high-stakes race through the cosmos, as Lightray flees from a mysterious figure on skis, the Black Racer.  The young New God tries everything he can think of to shake his implacable pursuer, but nothing works.  He filters his light powers through a giant, crystalline meteor to generate a beam of incredible heat, but his antagonist easily dodges it, matching the youth’s every move.

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ng03-10Meanwhile, on Earth Orion and his rescued human friends make plans to combat Darkseid’s terrestrial forces.  The various mortals each get a little characterization, and Kirby does a good job of developing them in a small space, but they remain largely unused.  As the Dog of War steps aside to put on some native clothes, he ponders his handsome visage, and we learn that Mother Box has reshaped his features to help him blend in on New Genesis and that his actual face is far more brutal and ugly than the one he shows to the world.  Orion, like his readers, wonders what this means about his origins.  It’s an intriguing scene.  His disguises, both guise and garments, in place, he rejoins his friends.

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Lightray, for his part, continues his desperate race, igniting a nascent star in his wake, but his pursuer still hangs grimly to his trail.  Finally, exhausted and distracted, the fiery youth smashes into a meteor and is trapped…until the mysterious Metron suddenly arrives, just in the nick of time, teleporting the Black Racer far away…to Earth!

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On that benighted globe, the Racer is quick to pick up new quarry, and he flies to the ghetto of Metropolis where he finds two gangsters involved in a shoot-out.  After one of the low-lives, Sugar-Man, kills his opponent, he notices that there was a witness to his crime.  An ex soldier, Sgt. Willie Walker, wounded in action in Vietnam and now paralyzed and speechless, lies helplessly in his bed while the thug prepares to kill him, just for good measure.  Suddenly, a gauntleted hand reaches out and blocks the gun, which explodes in Sugar-Man’s face.

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What follows is really striking, as the Racer steps casually through the wall, noting that he’s heard the wounded man’s silent pleas.  The strange figure offers Walker freedom and power, if he’ll just take his hand.  Unbelievably, the paralytic suddenly stands and speaks, and he finds his mysterious visitor’s armor empty on the floor.  When he dons it, he becomes the Black Racer and soars into the sky in search of new quarry.

 

Across town, Lincoln and Orion smash their way into an Intergang hideout, where the gangsters are preparing to plant a bomb for their Apokoliptian masters.  Sugar-Man is one of their hired killers, and the wounded criminal is dispatched with the device while his fellows try to hold off the heroes with their alien weaponry.  Yet, while Orion may be temporarily stymied, nothing stops the Black Racer, who follows the fleeing felon, triggering the bomb and sent it towards space (though a page later we’re told this was Orion with his Mother Box, which is a bit confusing; perhaps we’re meant to understand that the Racer just carries out what is already happening?).  Sugar-Man meets a rather noisy end in low orbit as the bomb goes off.

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The tale ends with Orion and his ally calling the police to take care of their captured gangsters while the Black Racer returns to Willie Walker’s room, becoming the paralyzed soldier once more just before his caretakers, his sister and her husband, come back.  They lament that they left the helpless man alone while a killer was on the loose, not knowing that he himself has become an embodiment of death.

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This is really a fascinating issue, despite the fact that it doesn’t entirely work, and some of its faults are pretty glaring.  Nonetheless, there is something special here.  The idea of introducing a cosmic personification of Death is certainly a fitting one for this setting, and in his way, the Racer fits well into the story Kirby is telling.  After all, the old pantheons always had their death gods, Anubis, Hades, Hela, and the rest.  It makes sense for the New Gods to be the same.  Still, in execution, the Black Racer is flawed as well as promising.  On the one hand, Kirby is adding some diversity to his new mythology, which, inspired by the Norse pantheon as it is, can certainly use it.  On the other hand, just like with Vykin, we’ve got yet another black character with ‘black’ in their name, as if we’d miss the subtle distinction otherwise.  We’re really past the point where creators should know better.  It is noteworthy that Kirby begins to introduce ghetto-based black characters at this point, right as the ‘blaxploitation‘ genre is taking off.’  Remember, it was this very month that saw the release of Shaft, which defined the genre.  Clearly, not only were racial issues in the zeitgeist, but so were stories of minority protagonists in their own settings.

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Silly sobriquets aside, Kirby is doing more than just introducing another celestial champion here, and it is the Racer’s other half that really resonates in this story.  The plight of Willie Walker brings a truly engaging human element to this cosmic drama.  His story is heartbreaking, yet like Daredevil before him, his disability is revealed not to be a bar to his freedom, but in this case the price is a strange and perilous one.  The setup is rich for development and story possibilities, though, if I recall correctly, that potential goes unrealized in the short life of this book.  Time will tell on that score.

On the art front, Kirby’s not at his best in this issue.  His work is often rough and uneven, and some of the big moments are a actually rather unattractive.  This is also true of his designs.  While the gangster character have some of that classic Kirby panache, the Racer is just a mess.  It is fun to see Orion playing Phillip Marlowe, complete with fedora and dark suit, though.  This is just a flawed treatment of a flawed concept, but both the issue and character it introduces have a certain amount of charm despite their failings.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, as despite rough art and a poor design, there is something worthwhile in the Black Racer and his debut issue.

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Interestingly, according to the Kirby Museum’s great article on New Gods #3, apparently DC was eager for characters that could be spun out of the King’s Fourth World should it prove a hit, so part of the insane productivity and fertility of these books is probably in response to pressure from the powers that be, as well as Kirby’s own desire to populate his own comic book universe.  He certainly had enough different concepts introduced in these books to furnish an entire comic line, from the Black Racer to Lonar the Wanderer (who we’ll meet eventually).  That certainly sheds a new light on some of the unusual narrative choices Kirby made in his Fourth World titles.

Well, whatever the case, we have run out of post!  Three more issues down, and entertaining reads all!  I hope that y’all enjoyed my commentary and will join me again soon for the next batch of books.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive, and try to stay ahead of the Black Racer!

 

Into the Bronze Age: July 1971 (Part 2)

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Welcome Internet travelers and dear readers, to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got three books to cover in this post, and they are a rather diverse bunch.  We go from Zaney Haney to the Fourth World, and from spy thriller to cosmic quest in an earthbound setting.  Let’s see what lies in store for us!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #402
  • Adventure Comics #408
  • Brave and the Bold #96
  • Detective Comics #413
  • Forever People #3
  • G.I. Combat #148
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #84
  • New Gods #3
  • Superboy #176
  • Superman #239 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #240
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139
  • World’s Finest #202

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


Brave and the Bold #96


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“The Striped Pants War!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Nick Cardy
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

Alright, what the heck is up with this title?  Is this a reference to something?  If so, I don’t get it.  All I can think of is Homestar Runner and “his ridiculous stripe-ed pants.”  Either way, there seem to be no striped pants actually in this comic.  Leave it to Bob Haney to confuse his audience from word one!  Head-scratching headlines aside, this is actually a pretty good issue.  There are a few things that ‘ol Zaney Haney always did very well, and one of those is the tale of the aging hero, the world-weary veteran whose best days are behind him.  It’s a story that he told many times, and always with verve.  This particular comic is no exception, though it doesn’t have the most impressive of covers.  It has a solid, if unexceptional, composition that sets up the central conflict of the comic, Sgt. Rock’s questionable loyalties.

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brave and the bold 096 004The story within opens on a dark night in a South American city as a van crashes into a car, the attacking vehicle’s occupants then jumping the stunned passengers.  The car’s driver fights back, only to get shot for his trouble, and his passenger is carted away.  Back in the U.S., Bruce Wayne is called to Washington D.C. where he is ushered into a secret meeting with the Secretary of State and the P.O.T.O.U.S. himself (that used to be an honor).  Nick Cardy does the usual dance, not showing the president’s face, which I enjoy.  It turns out the victim from our first scene was Ambassador Adams, who is a friend of Bruce’s, and who was on an important assignment in South America.

brave and the bold 096 005He was kidnapped by the “Companeros de La Muerte,” the Companions of Death, and they are holding him for ransom.  The President asks Wayne to fill in as a temporary ambassador to complete a delicate treaty, and he introduces Batman, who will travel along as protection.  How can this be?  Well, it’s Alfred covering for his master in a padded costume, of course, and before long the pair are headed south!  This is an interesting setup, and it works surprisingly well considering the stories in the Bat-books relatively recently where Bruce got involved in politics.  It’s unusually consistent for Haney…though I’m inclined to wonder if that’s just a coincidence!

When Bruce arrives at the U.S. embassy, he encounters another old friend, Sgt. Rock, who is head of security.  It was he who was driving the ambassador when he was kidnapped, and the embassy staffer left in charge, Carlyle, makes some snide remarks about his failure.  When left alone, the two old comrades catch up, but Rock is surprisingly bitter and angry about the service, raging that they won’t let him reenlist.  He strips off his shirt and shows the scars he earned in service to his country, but he laments that that country doesn’t want his service anymore.

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brave and the bold 096 013Bruce is struck by the old soldier’s rancor, but he gets on with his job, investigating the scene of the kidnapping as Batman.  In search of witnesses, he enters a bull fighting arena and gets a description of the van from a plucky young bullfighter who, in Haney’s trademark flare for minor characters, is full of personality.  Strangely, the Dark Knight notices Rock tailing him, just as he is attacked by an assassin!  One of the Companeros tries to kill him with a bullfighter’s prop, but the hero’s reflexes prove superior, and the would-be-killer is hoisted by his own petard.

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On his way back to the embassy, the Caped Crusader is attacked by another pair of killers, but he fights them off with difficulty, turning their weapons against them in a great sequence drawn by Cardy and moodily colored.  When he returns, the Masked Manhunter discovers a warning note from the terrorists that declares they will kill their prisoner at noon if he is not ransomed.  That’s not the only discovery, however, as Alfred finds a listening device in Wayne’s room, a device whose source is found to be Rock’s quarters!  Things look bad for the old soldier, especially when he is placed under arrest only to knock out a sentry and slip away.

Nonetheless, Batman continues his investigation, finding the killers’ van and trailing it right back to the embassy itself!  They are hiding the ambassador in a secret basement, and this seems to confirm Rock’s complicity.  The Dark Knight jumps the gathered thugs, getting the ambassador to cover but getting dog-piled by his foes in recompense.  Suddenly, Sgt. Rock comes charging into the room, firing a Thompson, coming to the Caped Crusader’s rescue!  He had escaped just to have a chance to clear his name, which he now does in spades!

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It was all a frame, of course, and the heroes manage to hold off the terrorists, but the desperadoes trigger an old trap from the building’s colonial days, turning heroes’ cover into a cruel cage.  At the top-sergeant’s insistence, Batman reluctantly escapes with the ambassador, only to be confronted by the real traitor, Carlyle.  Fortunately, while Bruce Wayne may hate guns, his faithful butler isn’t so squeamish, and Alfred flat-out shoots the rat!

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Meanwhile, Rock is making his last stand, but in desperation he attaches a grenade to the swinging spikes above him, and when they move back towards his enemies, they explode!  Batman finds his old friend still alive in the rubble!  Later on, they bid a friendly farewell, as Bruce Wayne takes his leave and Rock tells his pal that the army took him back for another hitch.

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This is a really solid story.  It’s fun, exciting, and it has a pretty decent central conflict with the question of Rock’s loyalty.  Of course, we all know that the top kick is as loyal and dependable as…well…as a rock, but Haney does a good job of making his defection seem plausible.  He is making surprising use of continuity here, however, it is largely his own.  I suppose that’s to be expected from the ruler of the ridiculous.  In his stories Batman somehow fought in World War II and is still active in the modern day.  What the rest of the DC Universe needed multiple Earths to accommodate, Haney just shoves into one story and calls it good.  That’s the Zaney one for you!

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Despite that bit of silliness, he does a great job with Rock’s frustration at his treatment, and even his explanation ‘hey, I may grumble, but I’m still loyal,’ rings true.  While the old soldier doesn’t get as much characterization as Wildcat tended to, we still get a good sense of who the veteran is and what struggles he faces.  Cardy’s artwork is lovely throughout, fitting this spy thriller tale quite well.  I’ll give this fun adventure an enjoyable 4 Minutemen.

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Detective Comics #413


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“Freakout at Phantom Hollow!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inkers: Dick Giordano and Steve Englehart
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Squeeze-Play!”
Writer: Frank Robbins
Penciler: Don Heck
Inker: Don Heck
Letterer: Ben Oda

Another issue of Detective Comics this month, but the Batman tale within isn’t the amazing and groundbreaking tale of last month’s Batman.  Still Robbins turns in his usual brand of solid mystery yarn.  It’s got a serviceable but not fantastic cover.  The witch’s twisted visage is suitably creepy, but the rest of the image just isn’t all that interesting.  It also isn’t quite indicative of what is going on in the tale, even symbolically.  It’s rather an odd choice in that regard.

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The story itself begins with Batman returning from a case out of town, only to be flagged down by the constable of a small village, Phantom Hollow, who is also a former Gotham cop.  The lawman begs the Dark Knight to come investigate a mystery in his town.  We then cut to the quaint hamlet itself, which is clearly modeled on Salem, complete with its own witch trial.  Supposedly the town is haunted by “Ol’ Nell,” who cursed the bell of the old church, declaring that it would never sound again until it tolled Phantom Hollow’s death-knell.

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Yet, the place’s troubles are start with something rather more mundane, as a trio of local kids ambush a pair of long-haired hippie-types, giving them a compulsory haircut…and, let’s face it…if that’s the worst thing that happens to these two goofy looking losers, they are probably lucky!  It seems like they’re supposed to be around 12-14, and they just look utterly ridiculous.  I imagine that the kids at my school would have probably been crueler in my day!

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The two hippies, Shecky and Jamie, are recovering their wits when suddenly the massive form of the town simpleton, ‘Big Lanny,’ looms into view.  The boys take off and decide to get even with the town by playing some pranks.  It starts with the church bell suddenly ringing ominously for the first time in a few hundred years, but it takes a turn for worse when their attempt to set off cherry bombs near the town jail somehow blows a wall in!

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Batman arrives to investigate the matter and hears some conflicting claims by the local folks, some claiming it was the two weirdo kids, others claiming it was Nell’s ghost.  The local teacher sticks up for the young punks.  The Dark Knight has plenty of suspects, but few clews, so he searches the bell tower, finding that the bell is rusted solid, but a strong pair of hands tip him over the rail and send him plummeting to his death!

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DETECTIVE COMICS 413 010Fortunately, the Masked Manhunter is always prepared, and he tied a bat-rope to his foot when he climbed to the dizzy height of the steeple, which is a nice, reasonable precaution for the hero to have taken.  Outside, he finds the teacher, who was attacked by someone moving fast.  She still insists on the innocence of her students, but when the Caped Crusader finds a speaker that provided the eerie bell-toll and traces its cord to a nearby cave, it is indeed the two would be counterculture rebels that he uncovers.

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DETECTIVE COMICS 413 015While he is confronting the kids, the bell rings again, but their tape recorder is shut off!  Racing back to the church, Batman finds that the bell has been broken free of its rust, a feat that he himself had failed to accomplish.  Suddenly, another explosion rocks the town.  Interrogating his two captives, who remain defiant, the Dark Knight realizes that someone has been using them as patsies, and by pretending to leave them in the care of the teacher in the cave, he lures out the real culprit…Big Lanny?!

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That’s right, the huge handyman was actually a direct descendant of Ol’ Nell, and he faked his stupidity in order take revenge upon the town.  Unfortunately, the massive man, once revealed, remains a frightful foe.  He toss the Caped Crusader about like a rag doll, and only the desperate attack by the two hippie kids saves the hero, toppling the giant and allowing the Masked Manhunter to punch him out.  The tale ends with the teacher pointing out that the two exceedingly poorly dressed boys are modern day victims of the same type of ignorance and superstition (ignorance yes, but how does she get superstition?) as Ol’ Nell was in her day.

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This is a decent mystery yarn, and it is interesting to see Frank Robbins dealing with youth culture and the growing strains on American life, with the nonconformists of this little town playing both sympathetic victims and antagonistic troublemakers.  There isn’t a lot made of the setup, but it is notable that the teacher continues to defend the two kids and that they prove instrumental in capturing the villain.  There’s definitely a message of tolerance delivered through their plot.  Brown’s art is as solid and attractive as usual, and he gives us a few particularly nice images, like Batman observing the explosion from the bell tower.  His Batman isn’t quite as lovely as Neal Adams’, but he always looks good, powerful and dynamic.  I don’t think Bob Brown gets a lot of credit, but he was a very reliably good artist, especially on these Bat-books.  As for this issue, it’s an enjoyable if unexceptional read, so I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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“Squeeze-Play!”


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The wig saga continues!  For some reason!  The Batgirl backup from the last issue is concluded here, despite the fact that it really seemed to be just about finished already.  This one starts right where the previous tale left off, with Batgirl locked in awkward combat with the malicious wig-makers, who have managed to get one of their skull-cracking hairdos onto her head.  Vazly hits the switch, and the fighting female seems to writhe in agony, only to reveal that it is just an act.  She had already deactivated the heinous headgear.

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She manages to capture Vazly, but his assistant gets away.  In an admittedly cool sequence, Babs uses her photographic memory to deduce that something is missing from the scene, working out that it is a wig-stand.  She recalls the code that had been on the missing item and works out that it is an address for a would-be victim.  Rushing to the scene of the next crime, Batgirl interrupts Wanda as she attempts to put the squeeze on another rich divorcee.

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Jumping the weird wig-maker as she attempts to make her getaway, the heroine engages in another desperate fight, with the wig again being used as a weapon, this time as a really clumsy garrote.  Fortunately, Batgirl uses her head (as a bludgeon) and captures the remaining villain.  The story ends with her receiving her birthday gift, a wig, from her father.  Both Gordon and his friend Bruce Wayne think she looks better as a redhead, which she does, so Babs decides to stick with the hair God gave her.

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This isn’t a bad story, but it isn’t a particularly good one, either.  Batgirl’s peril feels a bit weak at times, and, as I said, this second half doesn’t feel entirely necessary.  If Robbins hadn’t wrapped so much up in the first half, there would have been more to this story.  As is, it feels largely perfunctory, though Babs’ feat of deduction is pretty cool, taking advantage of a character trait that isn’t always acknowledged, her eidetic memory.  Don Heck’s art is serviceable, but it isn’t very pretty.  He’s just not my favorite superhero artist.  His figures tend to be stiff in action, and the whole thing lacks the smoothness of Bob Brown’s work on the headline tale.  This is a mediocre offering, but there isn’t really anything in particular to fault it for, so I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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Forever People #3


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“Life vs. Anti-Life!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

The King’s Fourth World wonders continue to unfurl, and it is certain a fascinating journey!  Here with issue 3 of the the Forever People, the concept still hasn’t entirely gelled, yet Kirby is nonetheless constantly adding memorably to his mythos.  This particular issue is a very uneven affair, but it is also really striking.  We begin with another very lackluster cover.  Other than the Mr. Miracle books, the Fourth World titles just don’t really benefit from good covers.  I wonder if that contributed to their eventual failure.  Either way, with this one we get a rather unbalanced image, against another dim and ugly photo-collage background.  This one is so fuzzy that it’s little more than light and shadow.  The image of the Justifier’s helmet in the background isn’t really all that intimidating, and while the cosmic kids are well drawn, the effect is just not very captivating.  It isn’t helped by that glut of cover copy either declaring but never explaining Kirby’s wild concepts.

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Inside, however, it’s another matter.  From the first page the King gives us a clue as to what he’s about, starting with a quote from Adolph Hitler (!) about how his followers not only dressed alike but even began to mimic one another in facial expressions.  Below is a sea of faces, faces that are eerily similar in their blank, dead-eyed expression, despite the riot of variety among them (though, notably, they are all white).  This is a ‘revelation’, something of an evil version of a revival, headed by Darkseid’s newest flunky, Glorious Godfrey.

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With a fittingly glorious double page splash, Kirby introduces the evil evangelist, who is hawking a heinous set of wares called ‘Anti-Life!’  The trappings and the language are all twisted versions of what you’d see at an old time tent revival, but rather than calling people to a knowledge of their sins and a God who will forgive them and save them from it, Godfrey promises freedom from such self-knowledge, freedom from doubt and uncertainty, the freedom of surrendering your will to Darkseid!  There’s something really fascinating and powerful in all of this.

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Godfrey converts his crowd into ‘Justifiers,’ whose adherence to the external reality of Darkseid’s will allows them to ‘justify’ any actions, enabling these miserable souls to indulge in violence, hatred, and more, all while feeling a sense of belonging in the foul fold.  One of these helmeted hooligans arrives at the abandoned apartment acting as home for the Forever People and threatens their young friend, Donnie in order to find the quintet.  Fortunately for the kid, the team has just walked in, hidden by Mother Box.  Beautiful Dreamer casts an illusion to confuse their antagonist, while Vykin rescues Donnie.  Then, all six youths beat a hasty retreat because the fanatical follower of Darkseid is a walking bomb!  He detonates himself, but the Forever People are able to get out of range.

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Realizing that Godfrey is on Earth by recognizing his handiwork, the team leaves a protective barrier around Donnie’s home and takes their leave, bidding the kid adieu.  This is a bit surprising after the efforts Kirby went to in establishing the kid and the neighborhood as part of what seemed an ongoing setting in the last issue.  Nonetheless, the Forever People load up in the Super Cycle and use Mother Box to home in on the Glorious one.

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Meanwhile, in a scene that is an honestly haunting sci-fi version of Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht (The Night of the Broken Glass), the Justifiers spread out through the city in flying transports, smash open doors, haul away ‘undesirables,’ burn libraries, and break windows.  The parallels to real history are pretty unmistakable, and Kirby’s depiction of these events is really striking and efficient, only taking two pages to do its work.  Monitoring his minions’ malicious work, Godfrey is primping, preparing for his next show.  He gets a report about the approach of the Forever People and prepares a warm welcome.

The kids, for their part, see the guards around the tent and decide to summon the Infinity Man.  He then bends and breaks the laws of physics as he wades through the solid earth to avoid the gods and warps the paths of bullets when he confronts Godfrey.  He also abuses the rules of good writing, over-explaining everything he’s doing in odd, stilted prose.  No rules can stand against the Infinity Man!  Not even the laws of composition!  The enigmatic hero destroys the mind-controlling organ Godfrey is using to control his converts, but he is stopped in his tracks by being brought face to face with…Darkseid!  Once again, Kirby’s depiction of the villain hasn’t quite solidified yet, and he varies quite a bit from panel to panel.

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Still, what the evil one lacks in visual continuity he makes up for in power, as he uses his eye-beams to split the Infinity Man back into the Forever people, who are easily captured by Desaad.  The unconscious kids are herded into a transport and sent off to a new facility of the cruel scientist’s design.  After their departure, Godfrey and Desaad spar, each seeking to cement his position with Darkseid, and we learn a little bit more about the Anti-Life equation, though it doesn’t make matters much clearer.  Apparently Godfrey believes it doesn’t exist, and that Anti-Life can only be created through his type of direct mental manipulation.  Apparently the Equation would allow its possessor to control the wills of all beings in the universe with a word, essentially destroying free will, the great gift.

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This is a fascinating issue, but it isn’t necessarily a good one.  It is a dramatically uneven book.  When it is bad, it is really bad, but when it is good, it is really good.  It’s strange, because it’s not even always good or bad in the same ways.  Sometimes Kirby’s dialog is extremely overwritten and awkward, and other times its almost poetic.  Darkseid’s declaration at the end that “when you cry out in your dreams-it is Darkseid that you see!” is darn good dialog, but almost everything the Infinity Man and the Forever People say is awkward and unnecessary.  It’s clear that Kirby learned his comic scripting from the school of Stan.  Stan Lee’s style of unnecessary expository dialog is very much in evidence here, but often times without the charm for characterization and cleverness that marked even Lee’s more egregious examples.

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The Forever People themselves are once again largley useless in this issue.  Pretty much the only thing they do is to run away from the first assassin, but they contribute basically nothing to the plot.  If my vague memories of my first read-through are correct, we might see them get more of a chance to shine in the next issue, but we shall see.  Despite these flaws, what Kirby is doing with Godfrey and the Justifies is really intriguing.  The fact that the villains are evil insofar as they surrender their will and judgement for belonging and comfort is very striking, especially in light of the Jewish author and the not-too-distant cultural memories of the Holocaust.  The parallels to the Nazi’s horrific campaign, as I said, are inescapable, but this story still resonates today.

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It is, sadly, not an isolated incident that sees men surrender their moral judgement and their will to unworthy causes.  It is frighteningly common.  It is a difficult and wearying thing to think, to judge, and to strive for a consistently just moral life and philosophy, and people are always anxious to escape the burden of responsibility that we bear by being human.  It is happening in our world today, as people blindly support causes and leaders that blatantly contradict their own stated values, having given up their moral judgement to that of the party, so the only decision they have to make is whether ‘they’ are ‘with us or against us.’  In this way, Kirby’s story works wonderfully well on an archetypal level, for whatever flaws it has as an adventure tale.  In the end, this flawed but provocative comic is still a really interesting read, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, despite its uneven quality.

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P.S.: This issue sees the first appearance of the letter column, and the response is quite positive.  Notably, sci-fi luminary and the subject of a JLA story I recently covered, Harlan Ellison wrote a glowing missive for the Master.

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And with the Forever People, we round out our comics for this post.  Thank you for joining me for this stop on our journey Into the Bronze Age!  I hope that you enjoyed my commentary and will join me again soon for the next stage of my investigations.  Please come back soon, and until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: June 1971 (Part 4)

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

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

 


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Superboy #175


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Superman #238


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“A Name is Born”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Into the Bronze Age: June 1971 (Part 3)

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Hello readers, and welcome to another step forward in our journey Into the Bronze Age!  We have a trio of comics here that are pretty widely varied in quality but all of them are quite interesting in one way or another.   In particular, we’ve got a really thought-provoking (at least for me) issue of Justice League in store for us!  I’m afraid I’ve got plenty to say about this one, and things get rather heavy, so consider yourselves warned!  To round things out, we’ve got some more Fourth World goodness and some Phantom Strange…well, strangeness!

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

 


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

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

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


Justice League of America #90


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“Plague of the Pale People”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Carmine Infantino

This comic is one of the clearer signs I’ve encountered of the intermediary stage we’re in at this moment of our journey, here in 1971.  It’s a very mixed bag.  It features attempts at world-building, more mature characterization, social relevance, and emotional impact, which are all commendable goals and will come to define the better works of the Bronze Age.  However, each of those attempts is, at best, flawed, and Mike Friedrich makes a number of poor choices in order to accomplish his aims.  The result is a very uneven book with a lot of potential that manages to fall frustratingly short on most every front.  That really begins with the cover.  It’s a reasonably solid image, though the composition feels rather unbalanced.  It conveys its message, but there’s not a whole lot more I can say about it.

The story within begins, oddly, with a line from one of T.S. Eliot’s most famous poems, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”  (More about this at the end of my commentary.)  Here we meet a conveniently named girl with the moniker ‘Shally,’ who, we’re told, “sells seashells by the seashore,” or did, because now she lies dying.  In a cool bit of world building, we see that she was attached to the “Atlantean Cultural Exchange,” whose existence makes perfect sense, though it gets exactly zero development.  The girl herself is discovered by a young couple on the beach, soon joined by Batman himself, who notes that she seems to have been poisoned.  He tries to contact Aquaman, but getting no response, he summons the rest of the JLA.

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We flashback one month in the interim, as Clark Kent covers the disposal of a deadly chemical weapon by the military, who plan to scuttle the ship bearing the gas at sea, where it can’t harm anyone.  Of course, this is the DC Universe, where every square inch of land, sea, and space is crawling with strange, undiscovered cultures, and the deadly substance happens to rain destruction upon the undersea city of Sareme, home of the Pale People, a somewhat simple submarine race that Atlantis had recently raised to a high technological level (originally appearing WAY back in Flash #109, another bit of world building).  They worship an ancient “wonder plant,” the “Proof Rock” (get it?) which can detect dishonesty and perfidy, but the miraculous growth is smashed by the falling canisters, and in one fell swoop, the foundation for their culture is destroyed as well.

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A charismatic leader, Prince Nebeur, arises among the Pale People and declares that he will be their new god and will lead them to conquest and glory.  Then, without any preamble and completely off-panel…they defeat Atlantis.  Just like that.  The Saremites harness the chemical weapons that were dumped on their heads and turn them against their former benefactors.  Apparently after a single skirmish, Aquaman, King of Atlantis, surrenders, saying that his people have no defense against the gas…though we will see in a few pages why this claim is ridiculous on the face of it.

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Well…that was easy.  And these sheep conquered Atlantis?

There are a few major problems with this scene and what it represents for our story.  First, in it Friedrich breaks one of the cardinal rules of writing, telling rather than showing, as the defining moment comes and goes without us seeing even a glimpse of it.  Second, and much more significantly, Aquaman simply…gives up.  Without a fight, without a desperate counterstrike, without so much as throwing a single punch.  He just gives up.  He doesn’t take the field like the warrior king he is.  He surrenders, and in so doing, he submits all of Atlantis to the reign of a tyrant and an alien people.

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Bad writing aside, check out Aquaman in that middle panel.  Time to lay off the crab cakes, Arthur!

This scene and much of what flows from it are wildly problematic because of the philosophy that drives it.  It is forged from a foolish, unworkable personal pacifism that was common in the Vietnam era, the type that can only exist in a free country that gives its citizens the leisure and convenience of such scruples (this is not all pacifism, of course, just impractical, irrationally demanding strains).  It becomes unworkable the moment there is a true struggle for survival in the offing, and it absolutely cannot function at the national level.  Even neutral nations like Switzerland will defend themselves at need, and in our fallen and fractious world, all nations sometimes face outside forces that want what they have.

The doctrine of Just War is an old and respected one (I ascribe to a fairly Augustinian version myself), but the spirit that leads us to seek out such philosophies is borne from the knowledge that some things are worth fighting, and indeed, dying for.  There is a long history of such thought, but I think John Stuart Mill may have said it best back in the era of the great struggles for liberty:

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is worse. […] The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertion of better men than himself.  As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.”

And make no mistake, that is precisely what is at stake for the Atlanteans: freedom.  Yet, Aquaman, of all men, considers this too small of a stake for which to fight.  Now, the text tells us that the Atlanteans don’t stand a chance, so unconditional surrender is the only option, but that is simply not supported in the book.  Here is where Friedrich’s literary sin of ‘telling’ really hurts his tale, as the reader can’t help but say, “Really?  All of Atlantis and Aquaman can’t do ANYTHING against these random guys who we’ve never heard of before?”  It’s a drastically unsatisfying explanation, and it makes the Sea King look more than useless.

Back to our story, the power hungry Nebeur, unsurprisingly, isn’t satisfied with Atlantis, so he plans to conquer the surface world as well, with the help of the gas that the surfacemen themselves created.  That’s really all they’ve got going for them.  Nonetheless, the usurper king shames Aquaman and pushes him around as he takes control of Atlantis, but fortunately the apparently pathetic hero has allies that are more useful than he is in this story.  Batman tells his fellow heroes of his suspicions about the missing gas and the absent Marine Marvel, and they split into teams to investigate.  The Dark Knight goes in search of the missing Flash, while Hawkman and Superman go hunting for the chemical weapons and Green Lantern and the Atom try to contact Aquaman.

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I like Hawkman’s pressure suit; the white looks good with his costume.

In a nice bit of detail, the Winged Wonder dons a pressure suit so he can travel into the deep, but the searching duo are attacked by the Pale People near their city.  Superman saves a stunned Hawkman and returns to smash the Saremites’ weapons, with a little help from his airborne ally.  Having solved part of the mystery, the pair head to Atlantis to meet up with their teammates.

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Things are tense in the undersea city, with the Atlanteans feeling justifiably a trifle antsy about the whole ‘unconditional surrender’ thing.  Green Lantern and Atom are attacked as they approach by the occupiers, but Hal’s power ring proves up to the challenge and silences the Atlantean artillery.  When the heroes are attacked by gas shells (underwater, let’s remember), the Emerald Gladiator manages to bottle up the toxin while the Atom disables the launcher and captures the guard.

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Just then the other pair arrive, and the Saremites, in desperation, turn the water pumps of Atlantis into a weapon, which is actually a really clever idea and a great extrapolation of the extant material.  They expel all of the water from the domed city in a massive, crushing torrent, and the heroes are blown and battered by the flood, even Superman.  Now, that’s a tad problematic, as anything that could take out the Man of Steel would probably kill the others, but I’ll give Friedrich a pass because balancing these power levels has got to be tough.

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This is a cool sequence, and it includes a pretty clever idea, but it also reveals a huge problem for the whole ‘Atlantis is helpless against the gas’ angle.  The whole city is under a water-tight dome!  All the Atlanteans had to do was sit tight, and the Saremite’s weapons would have been completely useless.  In a story where Friedrich is clearly thinking through a lot of his choices, this is a pretty glaring oversight.  Nonetheless, the action doesn’t end there, as the Emerald Crusader uses his ring to shield the Man of Tomorrow, and the Kryptonian smashes his way into the Atlantean control center and knocks out the invaders manning it.  With the pressure released, the heroes storm the city and take out the Saremite troops in a decent, if not spectacular, splash page.

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The tyrant, Nebeur, tries to flee when he sees his troops defeated, but Aquaman finally does something useful and decks the would-be conqueror.  Finally, the crisis is over, and the heroes begin to celebrate, but the Sea King berates them, noting that a death toll of 43 makes this anything but a bloodless victory, and blames the surfacemen for instigating the tragedy in the first place by being irresponsible with their weapons.

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What the heck is going on with Aquaman’s face in panel #2?  The Sea King just can’t catch a break in this book!

This is an interesting scene, as it tries to deal with the realistic costs of conflict, which are always too high.  War is always a tragedy, even when it is a just necessity.  While Aquaman is rather unfair to his teammates, the real trouble is that the moment is somewhat undercut by the weaknesses of the story.  The tone is rather heavy handed as well, which is no surprise considering who our author is, but that is nothing compared to the overblown narration that follows.

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The League return the Saremites, including their dead, to their city, and the desperate, directionless people gasp in wonder as the ‘Proof Rock’ comes back to life when the heroes approach it.  They beg the Leaguers to rule them as their gods, but Hawkman steps forward and responds with an honestly intriguing speech.  He declares that they have placed their faith in external sources, which have failed them, so they must turn within in their search for meaning, a very existentialist sermon (“existence precedes essence”).  The comic ends with a distorted recreation of the Christian rite of the Eucharist, as the Thanagarian hero takes pieces of the ‘Proof Rock’ and administers them to the Pale People, saying “Take and eat of it, for this is the food of life.”  Afterwards, back aboard the Satellite, the assembled League are discussing the case when suddenly Batman appears bearing a gravely wounded Flash!  That’s quite a note to go out on!

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St. Hawkman of the wings

The Hawkman sermon is…well, a slightly sacrilegious ending, but that doesn’t bother me too much since the symbolism is clear and clever (internalizing a once external source of meaning).  It’s a really striking, provocative conclusion, and I am impressed that Friedrich is able to deliver it after the uneven story that precedes it.  Essentially, Hawkman attempts to give the Saremites a new belief structure to replace that which they lost, which is a pretty huge move on his part.  I suppose that the JLA doesn’t subscribe to the Prime Directive!  Honestly, the gesture is quite fitting coming from the Winged Wonder, given the type of advanced, science-based culture that the Thanagarians evince, but I find myself a little troubled by it, purely on philosophical/theological grounds.

While I have a deep affection for existentialism, and I think it is a useful response to the weak, unexamined Epicureanism of the modern world, it is an ultimately flawed philosophy unless joined with Christianity, as in Kierkegaard ‘s work.  When you remove external sources of objective morality, you’re eventually left with nothing more than enlightened self-interest as an ethics that can be rationally defended.  That is a pretty poor ethical standard, and the moral relativism of the modern world reflects the reality of such a stance (even when it masquerades under the guise of adhering to an objective morality).

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In terms of Friedrich’s references to Eliot’s “Prufrock,” I can’t decide if they are asinine or brilliant.  You see, the poem, like much of Eliot’s work, is about the disillusionment, frustration, and indecision of modern life.  The piece is one of the great standards of Modernism, capturing the ennui of the early 20th Century.  Given the condition of American culture in 1971, with many people frustrated about the state of things but unable to decide how to get involved or how to create change, it is possible that this is a very insightful framing device…except for the fact that the story doesn’t really capitalize on it, and the supplied line seems to be chosen because of its aquatic theme rather than any interpretative power.  The use of the “Proof Rock” in the alien city also confuses the issue.

It’s clearly a reference to ‘ol Prufrock, but its significance in the story seems to have little to do with poem, except insofar as the Pale People are lost and directionless with its destruction, as is ‘Prufrock’ himself.  One way or another, this is certainly not the clear and effective literary allusion we saw in the Avengers story from a while back.  It feels more like Friedrich showing off, but perhaps I’m being unfair.  The unmoored, directionless narrator of Eliot’s poem certainly shares his uncertainty with the Saremites.  Nonetheless, a much more effective allusion accompanies Hawkman’s sermon, as Friedrich includes a passage from William Carlos William’s “Spring and All.”  The line and the poem at large deal with the perennial regrowth of nature, the power of spring to transform even the ugliest and harshest landscapes, symbolizing the power of life to recover from even the worst shocks.  It’s a very fitting reference that adds to the scene.  I’m not much for William’s poetry, but this works.

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Justice_League_of_America_#090-22So, what do we make of this very unusual story?  It is an ambitious comic, and Friedrich is really striving to create something significant and provocative.  He falls short of most of his aims, but we have to give him credit for his aspirations.  Yet, in order to get the message he wants across, he wrenches characters and concepts out of shape, turning Aquaman into an appeaser and a z-list alien race into a major threat without proper development.  In the Vietnam era, where American forces were literally burning down and defoliating entire jungles in an attempt to pin down the Viet Cong, responsible use of weapons and accountability for them was a pretty pressing issue.  (It just so happens that it remains so in a world of robotic drones bringing comfortably distant death from the skies.)  Clearly, there is an attempt here to encourage the audience to grapple with this issue, and that is valuable.  Despite its glaring problems of structure, characterization, and logic, Friedrich delivers a very memorable and (relatively) thoughtful comic here.  Dick Dillin’s art is serviceable as usual.  He renders the Pale People pretty well, but there are some awkward panels scattered about.  There are a few places where the art doesn’t quite serve the story, but on the whole, he does a good job.  In the end, I suppose this issue deserves 3.5 Minutemen, as its flawed efforts raise it slightly above the average, though I’m inclined to be merciless because of what Friedrich does to my favorite hero, Aquaman.

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Mister Miracle #2


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“X-Pit!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: Jack Kirby

After the heaviness of the previous comic, with its ambiguous literary allusions and downer elements, this next issue of Mr. Miracle’s rip-roaring adventures are a breath of fresh air.  I’ve been looking forward to reading more of the super escape artist’s escapades, and the King did not disappoint with this one.  I’ll save y’all the suspense: it’s a great comic, as are the bulk of this run.  Yet, this has what is probably one of the weaker Mr. Miracle covers.  Kirby has created a composition that hearkens back to his days at Marvel.  Just look at all that cover copy!  The central image, our hero facing the flying blades is great, and the peril is palpable, but there’s a lot of wasted space and cluttered text.  Still, it is properly exciting, and the story inside lives up to its promise.

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It begins the way this series often does, with Scott Free and his assistant Oberon working on a new escape for their show.  At the moment, the pair are constructing an android, which the escape artist refers to as a “Follower,” that can mimic his movements.  Interestingly, this entire scene is framed with the most Kirby panel dividers that have ever existed.  Some unseen foe watches the proceedings and reports to a superior with sinister intent.  The trick in the offing involves explosives, and Scott is using his duplicate to help him test it, but then their uninvited guest, a strange looking robot named Overlord, strikes, with devastating results.

Fortunately, the android takes the brunt of the blast, and Oberon comes to his friend’s rescue, fighting the resultant blaze.  I’ve given Vinnie Colletta a lot of flak for his rushed and lazy inks on Kirby’s books, but I’ll give him due credit for this sequences, as he does a masterful job capturing the light and shadow of the flame and smoke.  Amidst that obscuring smoke, Oberon discovers Scott, unharmed, thanks to the intervention of his Mother Box.  The mysterious Mr. Miracle tells his friend that the box was hurt while protecting him, and he must help it heal by pouring “my love–my belief” into it.  Okay?  The machine remains an enigma.

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What a fantastic page!  It’s great that Kirby gives Oberon a chance to shine, endearing this odd little guy to his readers.

mr miracle 02-08 x-pitMeanwhile, our scene changes to focus on a strange old woman surrounded by amazing machines and armored troops. When the soldiers question her about the mysterious machine, Overlord, she throws back her cloak to reveal battle armor and beats them viciously, declaring that the robot is precious to her.  She adds that she wants to kill Scott Free and orders her troops to bring him to her.  This is our first introduction to Granny Goodness, and it is fantastic.  It’s really striking and funny to see this old woman just wail on all these vicious looking warriors, and Kirby draws her as a grotesque, frightening in her ugly rage.

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mr miracle 02-11 x-pitScott, for his part, is testing another act, recreating the cover image as he is strapped to a board facing a trio of razor-sharp spears, narrowly avoiding their strike.  After his escape, Oberon begins to question him about his origins again, and I quite like his line: “Level with me, boy!  You’re not from anyplace I ever heard of–are you–?”  Their conversation gives us a nice touch of characterization for both of them, though it reveals little more about Scott, other than that he his on the run and arrived via ‘Boom Tube.’  Of course, folks reading the rest of Kirby’s books would recognize that term.  After their talk, Granny’s soldiers arrive and, mistaking the android for Mr. Miracle, capture it and Oberon.  Scott sees this and, recognizing the attackers, he takes off after them with flying devices called ‘Aero Disks.’  I’ve always loved this element of the character.  When I’m walking a long way, I’ll occasionally daydream about having a pair of these myself!

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mr miracle 02-13 x-pitBack at Granny’s base, her troops return with their catch, and you can imagine how well she takes it when she realizes they have been suckered.  Just then, Mr. Miracle arrives in grand fashion and snags his assistant.  Yet, their escape is short-lived, as Granny triggers a device, and the pair drop into something called….the X-Pit!  The Pit involves a clear, glass-like cage bearing a number of buttons, which Mr. Miracle calls “a torment-circuit.”  Sounds lovely!  Kirby gives us a bit of awkward, fuzzy dialog here, but the heart of the trap is a series of tortures corresponding to each button, including flames, electricity, and choking mud.  It’s a great sequence, and Kirby draws the heck out of it.  The trap itself is pretty clever, as, each press of a button brings relief from one peril, only to replace it with another.  That’s an insidious type of torture, giving you control over your own fate.

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As Scott and Oberon face their desperate struggle for survival, Granny celebrates by having ‘Overlord’ brought out of her vault.  We discover that the strange device is actually some type of “fabber,” or nano-fabricator, that can create nearly anything out of thin air.  Think of the replicators from Star Trek.  Of course, Kirby doesn’t describe it in those terms, as the idea was much less common and established in science fiction back in 1971.  It does highlight the incredibly advanced technology of the New Gods.  I mention all of this, because the King often likes to make such imaginative concepts central elements of his stories, even when they don’t have a major impact on the plot, and such is the case here.

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Another fantastic page, capturing what is great about Mr. Miracle.

Granny’s enjoyment of Overlord is rudely interrupted as Mr. Miracle makes another dramatic entrance, destroying the device.  He explains that he kept trying different settings for the torment-circuit until he found a radiation attack, which he was able to channel into Mother Box to restore her power, and then he use her to send an energy spike into Overlord, who was hooked into everything in the X-Pit, frying him.  Essentially thumbing his nose at the vicious old woman, the super-escape-artist takes off, admitting to Oberon that it was difficult for him to stand up to her…but we don’t yet entirely understand why!

This issue is just a blast.  It establishes the pattern that most of the Mr. Miracle comics will follow, where we begin with our hero practicing an outlandish escape, have him be challenged by some of Darkseid’s minions and put into some type of fiendish trap, only to live up to his name and thwart their plans by escaping.  It could get repetitive, but Kirby is endlessly creative and manages to throw so many strange and wondrous ideas at his readers that the formula doesn’t get boring, if memory serves.  This particular story is just a lot of fun, with all kinds of outrageous threats facing our hero, some nice character work, and a really bizarre and memorable villain.

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Granny Goodness really is a great addition to Kirby’s growing Fourth World.  She’s a reversal of the archetypal motherly/grandmotherly figure, with her deceptive saccharine sweetness and her vicious cruelty.  She fits perfectly into Darkseid’s world, and the fact that she is the model of how Apokolips interacts with the innocence and helplessness of childhood speaks volumes.  The King’s art is, of course, great throughout, full of energy and bursting with imagination.  Other than some clunky dialog and the fact that what exactly is going on with Overlord is left quite fuzzy, the issue has no real flaws, so I’m going to give it a boisterous and exciting 4.5 Minutemen.

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P.S.: We have another text piece in this comic, this one about Mr. Miracle himself and Kirby’s prophetic imagination.  It’s an interesting read!

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The Phantom Stranger #13


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“A Child of Death!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Jim Aparo
Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The Devil’s Timepiece”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Tony DeZuniga
Inker: Tony DeZuniga
Editor: Joe Orlando

Brace yourselves, guys.  This promising mystery tale takes a really bizarre left turn, with Kanigher pulling a crazy third act reveal.  It actually starts out a really strong, promising Twilight Zone-esq tale, but that doesn’t last.  Nonetheless, we’ve got a great cover for this one, creepy, mysterious, and intriguing.  You’ve just got to pick this issue up and see what’s going on with this weird little kid!

The story inside starts well enough, with a scene straight off of the cover, wherein a scientist working in a remote facility is burning the midnight oil when he is startled by his grandson’s sudden arrival.  The child points his toy pistol at the old man, says “Bang! Bang!” and suddenly the gramps crumples to the floor, dead!  The narration is a bit heavy-handed, but the scene is pretty chilling, especially given the demonic cast Aparo brings to the boy’s cherubic features.

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the phantom stranger (1969) 13 - 03The next morning, the boy’s mother finds her stricken father dead, seemingly from heart failure, and we observe the fallout from his loss.  He was the head of Project Thunderhead, some sort of nuclear weapons undertaking, and the team must choose a new director.  There’s a bit of politicking, as an aged German scientist named Heinrich makes a play for the position buts get shot down, starting a plot thread that goes absolutely nowhere.  At the slain scientist’s funeral, the Phantom Stranger appears, ruminating that there is a terrible secret in the grave.  How mysterious!

A week later, the incident repeats itself, as the new head of the project, Dr. Kurasawa, meets the same fate when he visits the young boy, Freddy.  Once more, Freddy points his toy gun and shouts “Bang! Bang!”, and once more, a man dies!  The kid then continues to just carry on with his playing, violently, and his unconcern is really quite unnerving.

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Meanwhile, Dr. Heinrich, who seems to be losing his mind, ranting about how he should be the director and clutching a pistol, has a dramatic confrontation with the Phantom Stranger that results in a fight.  The struggle brings the rest of the crew running, and they think Heinrich is hallucinating because, of course, the Stranger is nowhere to be seen when they arrive.  The aged German is sedated, and we get a strange scene where a female scientist named Dr. Clair has an encounter with Freddy but seems immune to his “shots.”

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Three nights later, the boy creeps out of his bed once more, this time targeting his own father, the latest head of the project, but the Phantom Stranger intervenes, throwing his cloak over the child and pretending to be a newly arrived scientist.  For some reason, the father doesn’t freak out because this strange man has his son wrapped up in his cloak…and also, wears a cloak.  We learn that Freddy is adopted and unusually intelligent, and the Spectral Sleuth gives the scientist a clue about the strange deaths, noting that a set of computer banks shorted out when the other scientists were killed and that Freddy was in the room for each death.

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Suddenly, the boy runs off into the night, and his father chases after him.  Out in the stormy desert, Freddy turns on his adoptive father, and invisible energy flashes from his eyes.  Only the Phantom Stranger’s intervening again saves the man’s life.  And, this is where things just get weird.  “Freddy” begins to explain his origins, claiming that his people were an Adamic race, living in an Edeninc world, free from strife or suffering, living in peace with all.

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When the Ice Age came, they were driven underground, and after millennia in a subterranean world, their physiology changed, causing them to cease maturing around 4 years old.  The creepy child is actually an adult, a mutant of this society, who developed the ability to kill with a glance.  When subterranean nuclear tests began, this underground race was imperiled, and they dispatched their mutated members to infiltrate the various nuclear nations and sabotage their efforts in order to protect themselves.  The story is absurd, but Aparo’s art is so lovely I almost want to see him draw a full comic about this craziness.  Why didn’t anyone ever put him to work adapting some Edgar Rice Burroughs stories?

the phantom stranger (1969) 13 - 22But let’s think about this plot for a moment.  So…this guy somehow made his way to the surface, somehow ended up in an orphanage where the scientist and his wife just happened to come looking for a child, and somehow just happened to be adopted.  It’s…a bit of stretch, even without getting into the gonzo antediluvian child-culture that Kanigher pulled out of left field.  Regardless of how silly or strange the setup is, the story doesn’t end there.  After his explanation, “Freddy” flees from the recovered Stranger, who meets Dr. Clair in his pursuit, only to have her revealed as Tala!  She gives her usual ‘join me and we shall rule the galaxy together’ spiel, but he brushes her off.  The Stranger chases his quarry back to the caverns from which he emerged, but the kid…err…guy, runs straight into a nuclear test!  Despite the scientist’s protestations that “we don’t mean to kill,” our mysterious hero responds with a weird, heavy-handed ‘ye who are without sin, cast the first stone,’ bit about pollution and such that doesn’t entirely makes sense in context.

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This is a weird one, and not in the usual and positive style of macabre mystery that suits the Phantom Stranger.  There’s just too much going on here.  The bizarre, fun-sized subterranean race is just an odd concept that doesn’t really work, at least without more space to breath, aside from how incongruous the whole thing is with the story actually being told.  The slowly unfolding mystery of the kid’s powers is really fairly exciting.  It’s just a shame it doesn’t have a better payoff.  The whole story just feels messy, with the random, dropped plot thread of the jealous German and Tala’s equally random appearance.  I’m also becoming fairly certain that the DC writers had never actually met a human child.  The little boy in this story speaks in the same type of bizarre third person pidgin as ‘Superbaby’ from his ridiculous adventure in Action Comics #399, except that this is even worse, because this kid is supposed to be four years old!  I don’t think any child has ever actually spoken this way, but by four, I would hope that a kid would be a bit more clear-spoken than this!

Of course, the adventure isn’t all bad, and it is notable for the fact that it contains a fairly decent, if oddly delivered, critique of nuclear proliferation.  I was really surprised to see this type of social issue show up here, especially in 1971.  I thought it would probably take a bit longer for the nuclear issue to really reach the zeitgeist the way it had when I was a boy.  The whole M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) concept was everywhere in the 80s, so it’s interesting to see it showing up this early, at least in some fashion.  The message here is as messy as the yarn that carries it, but it does manage to make its central premise clear.  ‘If we have enough bombs to destroy the world, why do we need more?’  Of course, it makes that point in a random aside with a minor character, so take that for what it’s worth.  This is certainly an unusual subject for a comic, so that’s worth noting.  Unfortunately, on its own merits, there isn’t much to recommend this confused jumble of a story, even with Aparo’s always-lovely art.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.

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“The Devil’s Time-Piece”


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Dr. Thirteen continues to hold down the backup slot here, and he gets another solo adventure.  I prefer these, on the whole, as using him too often in the Phantom Stranger’s stories just tends to make him annoying and repetitive.  On his own, he gets a chance to actually win a few rounds instead of constantly losing to and being embarrassed by his otherworldly opposite number.  Kanigher’s short adventures often prove better than his longer efforts in headline-tale, but this one isn’t as clear cut a winner as some.  It begins with Dr. Thirteen attending a secret occult auction, apparently just to mock all of the superstitious fools gathered to bid.  One of his friends, Bentley, buys an antique clock with a Satanic theme, and the auctioneer offers some cryptic warnings about the object.  Oddly, he also says that the clock needs to be wound every hour.  What kind of a clock needs winding every hour?  That would be maddening!

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Nonetheless, upon winding the clock for the first time at home, Thirteen’s friend sees a devilish figure leap out of the artifact and proceeds to plunge its trident into his chest!  Later, the good Doctor arrives to find his friend dead.  He investigates the scene, and in a nice piece of detective work, he reconstructs the setup, reasoning that Bentley wound the clock before he died.  Doing so himself, Terry gets quite a surprise, as the same Satanic figure leaps out of the object and attacks him!

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Disoriented, Dr. Thirteen realizes that the clock released some sort of gas, but he still manages to defend himself.  Finally, his attacker falls upon his own weapon, dying, and the Doctor puts the pieces together.  He realizes that this man was the auctioneer and that his father was sentenced to death on the strength of Bentley’s testimony, so he was out for revenge.  The murderer hid in the clock (which seems rather small for that) and rigged it to release a gas when wound.  Wearing nose filters, he sprang out and killed his victim…and then, apparently got back in the clock, rather than making his escape…for some reason.

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It’s a bit of a stretch, this whole setup.  Watching Dr. Thirteen solve the mystery is entertaining, and his fight with the demon-dressed villain is pretty good, but the murderer’s plot is a bit out there.  Apparently he posses as an auctioneer when his victim just happens to go to this random occult auction, or he actually is an auctioneer and takes advantage of the very unlikely coincidence of this fellow coming to his secret auction.  Either way, it’s a rather elaborate plan.  Of course, to a certain extent, you can excuse that because this is a comic story, but Kanigher doesn’t quite manage the great backup pacing he often pulls off.  This one is just too rushed, with the fight and the explanation literally happening simultaneously.  It must be easy to solve crimes when the criminals scream their confessions at you as soon as they see you.  “I DID IT WITH THE CANDLESTICK IN THE LIBRARY!  ARREST MEEEEE!”  I suppose this is a moderately entertaining read, despite its problems, and the gas-induced devil hallucinations are rather cool, so I’ll give it 3 Minutemen.

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With Dr. Thirteen’s capture of the crimson cloaked killer, we reach the end of this post.  I found this trio of comics a particularly fascinating read, and I hope that y’all enjoy my commentary!  We’ve got rather a lot of awkward social consciousness on display here, though it isn’t as well done as that we saw earlier this month.  I’m curious if the rest of the month will hold any more.  Thank you for joining me, and please come back soon for another stop along our journey Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

 

Into the Bronze Age: May 1971 (Part 5)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  With the world apparently either burning or drowning, this seems like a perfect time to read stories about super beings and heroes.  In desperate times, some light-hearted adventure is often just what the doctor ordered!  We certainly have some interesting titles in this batch.  We’ve got one of the weirder Justice League issues I’ve ever read, but we also have some more epic Kirby goodness to cleanse the palate, as well as more of O’Neil’s interesting Superman run.

Hi-ho Bronze Age!  Away!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #400
  • Adventure Comics #406
  • Batman #231
  • Brave and Bold #95
  • Detective Comics #411
  • The Flash #206
  • Forever People #2
  • G.I. Combat #147
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #83
  • Justice League of America #89
  • New Gods #2
  • Superman #237
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #110
  • World’s Finest #202

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


Justice League of America #89


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“The Most Dangerous Dreams of All!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Okay guys.  Brace yourselves.  This is a weird one.  In fact, that doesn’t do it justice.  It’s just plain bizarre and…well…I’m afraid it is also just plain bad.  I love the JLA, and I can appreciate an experimental story, but what we have here is a failed experiment.  We start with an unusual cover, nicely drawn by Neal Adams, but rather uninspiring.  It claims the reader will have a chance to inhabit the role of Batman or Superman…what about Aquaman?  Anyway, inside, we begin with a JLA meeting, with Aquaman acting as chairman, which is mildly fun.  Sadly, this is the last semi-useful thing he will do in this issue.  The gathered Leaguers break up and head back out among the populace, dressed in some really swinging 70s fashions.

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Bruce Wayne thinks he’s cool with his ascot, but check out Aquaman’s duds!  That takes confidence!

Oddly, we suddenly cut to Mike Friedrich, a character in his own comic, who tells us that sometimes stories exert their own pressure and insist on being told.  O-okay?  We cut to LA, where Black Canary is apparently just walking around the street in costume for no particular reason, when she runs into the cleverly named ‘Harlequin Ellis.’  Those of you with a taste for science fiction and some background in its luminaries may well recognize both name and figure.

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That’s right, this guy is an homage to Harlan Ellison, famed fiery sci-fi writer for TV, movies, and print.  The comic character also happens to be a TV writer with a fiery personality, and he sets his sights on the Blonde Bombshell.  Another strange note here is that the narration is second person, inviting the reader to identify with Dinah, though that doesn’t last.

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They meet and there is an instant connection, as in, love at first sight, which is hokey enough on its own, but an established trope.  Add to that ‘ol ‘Touchy-Feely’ Friedrich’s narration, and the scene is rather cringe-inducing in saccharine tone.  The pair grab a cup of coffee and stare longingly into each other’s eyes until Green Arrow shows up and reacts about as well as you’d expect when he finds Ellis making time with his girl.  The writer laughs the situation off, but he offers a chance for Dinah to meet him if she wants to “dump this crude bozo.”  Here the narration switches to the standard omniscient third person.

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He’s really lucky the Ace Archer doesn’t turn him into a pin cushion…

Afterwards, we follow ‘Harlequin,’ back to his…home?  Office?  It’s unclear, but his secretary and some other guy are there, presumably people actually connected to the real Ellison, but they add pretty much nothing to the story.  The writer is deaf to their pleas, sitting at his typewriter, dreaming up stories concerning the JLA.

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Suddenly, Green Arrow and Black Canary find themselves transported to Mexico, where they find a curio store with a strange artifact.  When they touch it, they fade to black, and we cut to Superman, or, maybe Ellis imagining Superman?  Either way, at this point the narrative perspective shifts again, and suddenly we’re supposed to identify with Ellis, who is apparently creating real events with his imagination, fueled by his broken heart…somehow.  It is…confusing to say the least, and this artifact is never explained.

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Superman, guided by Ellis, spies Canary, who is no longer in Mexico, I guess, and swoops down to carry her away, speaking romantically, which confuses the heroine.  Then the Man of Steel spots the JLA, trapped in a cave by a cyclops, and he says he’s somehow responsible, presumably because Ellis has imagined all of this.  What’s worse, Aquaman is dying!  Super-Ellis charges the Cyclops, and, in a sequence with really heavy narration that drowns out the art, he overcomes the monster, only to arrive too late.  Aquaman is dead!

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Except, not really, of course.  The Metropolis Marvel suddenly turns into Harlequin, and the League vanishes, leaving the Emerald Archer and the Dynamic Dame back at the restaurant where they started.  Black Canary once again displays her ‘woman’s intuition’ powers and gets a sense of what’s happening, with a weird visualization of the ‘pit’ of despair that threatens to swallow Ellis, who is heartbroken over the rejection by the girl who he just met.

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Heading to club where he offered to meet Black Canary, his mind drifts again, and suddenly he is Batman, observing Green Arrow facing a ‘Minotaur,’ which is clearly a centaur, while the lovely Mrs. Lance looks on.  The unfortunate archer’s arrows are ineffective, and when Black Canary moves to intervene, Bat-Ellis jumps in to save her, using his cape to blind and defeat the beast.  Once again, he is revealed to be the writer, and the scene fades, but the Emerald Archer is still hurt.

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Summoning help, Dinah leaves Ollie to go meet Ellis, and we get another weird visualization of despair as she explains that her heart belongs to someone else…and apparently doesn’t bother to follow up on how this guy has incredibly potent reality warping powers.  She just lets him walk away, and the comic ends with another appearance by Friedrich, who builds on his earlier statement, talking about how he identifies with all of his characters.  It is a weird and not terribly clear or satisfying ending.

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Yikes!  This dialog!

So, this is one weird issue.  It’s got a strange, dream-like structure that is confusing and disjointed.  It’s trying so desperately for pathos and emotional weight, and it is just failing spectacularly in that regard.  This is clearly a personal project for Friedrich, a fan letter to Harlan Ellison, which is fine, but it just doesn’t work for the rest of us.  It is badly conceived, badly executed, and badly written.

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Friedrich tries several interesting tactics here, but none of them really work.  His structure, meant to evoke a certain stream-of-consciousness storytelling, leaves the readers unable to follow the plot (I’m still trying to figure out the magic artifact thing).  The narration is another failed idea.  Second person narration is traditionally used to place the reader in the story after a fashion, but he breaks whatever success that move could have had by switching characters multiple times.  While I’m sure it would have been neat to see the wink at Harlan Ellison during this era, whose name was showing up all over the place in the 60s and 70s, including on some story credits at Marvel around this time, the story is just a mess.  I’ll give it a sad 1.5 Minutemen.

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New Gods #2


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“O’Deadly Darkseid”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

Fortunately, we have another issue of Jack Kirby’s epic New Gods saga to make it up to us!  It has another photo-collage cover, though you can hardly tell, as the image is dominated by Orion’s tortured form.  That part of the composition is pretty great, but I think the three floating heads would have been better as just one figure, whether of Darkseid or his minions.  Either way, it’s something of a mixed bag.  When you open the book, however, the splash page more than makes up for it.  It’s a great image of the opposed worlds of Apokolips and New Genesis with a nicely written bit of narration that catches new readers up on the mythic origins of our tale.  I particularly like the description of Apokolips, with “its stark and functional temples–in which creatures of fury worship a creed of destruction!”  Not half bad!

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The story really begins with Highfather, who is communing once more with the Source, which tells him that it is time for more inhabitants of New Genesis to follow Orion to war.  The young Lightray begs to make the journey, but he is refused, while on Earth, the man in question makes a disturbing discovery, as he finds Darkseid waiting for him at the home of one of his new human allies.  The great villain sits impassively in a chair, and when Orion hesitates in his instinctive attack, the master of Apokolips taunts him with secret knowledge.  Then, from behind the door springs one of his minions, who attacks the Dog of War with a “shock-prod.”  Orion pushes through the pain and grapples his foe, eventually knocking him through the wall and sending him plummeting into the air, only for both Darkseid and his dance partner to disappear.

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The scene seems slightly…beneath Darkseid.  It isn’t quite grand enough, fitting more with a gangster film than a cosmic epic, with the single heavy hiding behind the door.  I think Kirby is still finding the right tone for the character, as I suspected might be the case.  After the fight, Orion’s five rescued companions introduce themselves, giving him an instant supporting cast.

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Now, as I remember, these five contribute almost nothing to this book, but we’ll see if my memory has been unkind to them.  They certainly don’t’ evince an excess of personality in this issue.  I assume the King wanted to provide a human perspective on the grand cosmic tale he’s telling, but I think a single human sidekick could have filled that function more easily than five of them.

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At any rate, the next scene follows the escaping Darkseid, who goes back to his hidden base and quickly displays his displeasure with his flunky’s failure.  There he finds Desaad, who is working on a device to trigger abject panic in its targets in the hopes of triggering the brainwaves for which they are searching.  After a successful test on the hapless workers nearby, Darkseid orders the device into action.

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That’s some glorious Kirby-tech!

Meanwhile, Orion uses his Mother Box to fill his newfound friends in on the conflict into which they’ve stumbled, and we get previews of some of the Apokoliptian threats that face the Earth, including Mantis and the Deep Six.  The fact that Kirby never had Aquaman encounter those aquatic aliens is a massively missed opportunity.  This section serves as a bit of a catchup, bringing readers up to speed on the current state of affairs across the 4th World books, including a glance at the Wild Area from Jimmy Olsen.

Show and Tell time is interrupted by the unleashing of the fear ray, which sends the city into a panic.  Orion dons his Astro Harness and rides to the rescue, and once again, I can’t help but feel like we’re probably missing some detail in some of these panels, thanks to Coletta.  Either way, our ferocious hero arrives at the source of the ray, a giant billboard, but it has defenses of its own.  He is blown out of the sky, but not before he blows it away in turn.  Orion manages to stop his careening fall with a blast of his ‘Astro-Force,’ saving himself and returning to his friends.  Darkseid, for his part, is disappointed at the lack of results, and in his dialog with Desaad we get yet more hints about Orion’s origins.

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This is a pretty good issue, though it is largely setup and catchup.  Still, it manages to provide us with a solid adventure tale and several moments of plot and character development.  In terms of the art, it is absolutely beautiful for the most part, and if Kirby’s work got a bit too cramped and rushed in this month’s Forever People, that is absolutely not the case in this book, where he gives us not one, not two, not three, but FIVE lovely full-page splashes, not counting a gorgeous double-page image of New Genesis.

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All of this eye candy robs us of some plot and action, leaving this issue feeling a bit thin, but it admirably serves its purpose of setting the stage for the adventures to follow.  There are still a few spots where Kirby’s pencils are a bit off, notably with Orion looking a bit funky in a few panels, but his dialog is, thankfully, missing that occasional clunkiness we’ve noticed in these books.  Taken on its own, this story is flawed but fun.  I’ll give this issue 3.5 Minutemen, with the art making up for the paucity of plot.

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Superman #237


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“Enemy of Earth”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Our final book for this post is another issue of Denny O’Neil’s Superman run.  So far, these comics have proven to be pretty solid, if a bit strange at times.  Let’s see how this one stacks up!  First off, we’ve got a really striking and unusual cover.  Adams has certainly rendered the bizarre mutations of the crowd well…but I’m not sure that the effect isn’t more comical than dramatic.  Either way, the cover certainly piques a reader’s interest.  The tale inside is a pretty solid adventure story, and there’s a certain amount of personality and wit that raise it above the average.  It begins in standard Superman fashion, with the Man of Steel racing to save a crashing plane.  Yet, the aircraft in question is an experimental device that has been up into space, and when the Kryptonian sets it down and rescues the pilot, he finds him hideously mutated!

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superman 237 0005After taking the unfortunate flyer to a hospital, where the doctors are completely stumped, the Man of Tomorrow reasons that the illness could be the result of an alien disease.  To ensure that he isn’t contaminated, Superman just takes a quick jaunt to the radiation belt to take a bath in deadly rays, as only Superman can.  This is a fun little scene, though there is a rare failure in Swan’s art as he can’t quite pull off an interesting illustration of the phenomena.  I would rather have liked to see what Kirby would have done with that!

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Returned to Earth, our hero changes into Clark, after which he is ambushed by Morgan Edge, who tries to give him a tongue lashing for not getting the story on the experimental ship, only to have Mr. Mild Mannered very politely but firmly let him know that the reporter was on the way to deliver that very scoop on the air.  It’s a brief but nice scene, giving Clark a chance to show some personality, which is too rare in these older stories.

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Yet, during the broadcast, the Kryptonian begins to feel weak, only to discover that the Sand creature that has been following him is nearby.  Turning back into the Metropolis Marvel, Superman confronts his dusty double, but his efforts to communicate are met with silence while an attempted touch is met with a burst of energy so powerful it knocks him through the roof!  Even worse, when the Action Ace regains his feet, he finds the Daily Planet staff have been affected by the same strange alien disease as the pilot!  It seems clear that the radiation bath was insufficient and Superman has infected them.  This leads us to a nice dilemma.

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Superman realizes that he’s responsible for this and that he’s a danger to everyone he’s around, but just then he hears a mayday from Lois, who is on assignment in South America.  Her plane is going down in an area being overrun by a horde of army ants that are consuming everything in their path.  O’Neil displays a bit of personality and cleverness in Superman’s exasperated reaction as he observes “that girl just can’t lead a normal life!”  It’s another small but enjoyable moment.

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After alerting the hospital, the Man of Tomorrow takes off for South America, still trailed by the Sand-man (no, not that one!).  Meanwhile, Lois’s plane has crashed, apparently because her moronic pilot forgot to put fuel in it!  This is a weird little detail.  What’s the point of it?  There’s no real payoff, and it just seems too stupid to be believable.  Nonetheless, that’s the explanation we’re given, and things get worse when bandits arrive!

Superman arrives to help, but when he lands amidst the marching army ants, two of them that touch him immediately grow to massive size and attack him.  After disposing of them, the hero discovers that one of them grew even further after he hit it, and he wonders why.  Disposing of the ants by throwing them into space, the Man of Steel faces a terrible choice.

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He’s seen first hand how dangerous his mere presence can be, infected as he is with the strange disease.  He wonders if he should head out into space, never to return, thus leaving Lois to her fate, or intervening and risking who knows what effects on Lois and perhaps even the microbes in the air itself.  Now, this is, even in context, a bit extreme given the existence of sources of help like the Green Lantern Corps., but we’ll give it a pass for the dramatic weight it achieves.

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Meanwhile, an ill-conceived bit of heroism leads to the pilot being knocked out and the bandits abandoning them both.  Lois tries to lug this albatross around her neck to safety, but he’s too heavy and the ants are too swift.  This leads to another really good moment, as the reporter contemplates just leaving the idiot, especially because this is his fault in the first place, but she decides she has to do the right thing, no matter the cost.  That’s a great character moment for her, and it reveals the type of woman Lois should be.

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Elsewhere, the doctors have cracked the case and cured the disease.  They send out broadcasts to let Superman know, but in some good dramatic irony, he is sitting in space, unable to hear.  Just then, the sand creature arrives, now somewhat colored after their contact.  Realizing that the energy explosion after their encounter was the reason one of his hands didn’t infect one of the ants, the Man of Steel takes a desperate chance, embracing the creature and triggering a tremendous blast that sends him hurtling earthward like a meteorite.

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superman 237 0029 - CopyHe lands with a tremendous impact near Lois, and though he is weakened, he is stills strong enough to carry her and her burden to safety, handily capturing the bandits in the process.  Just when it seems like everything is going to be alright, the sandy stranger arrives, finally able to talk after their latest contact, and the dusty doppelganger tells Superman that he is the Kryptonian’s exact equal, and he fears that they cannot both survive!  Dun dun DUN!!  That’s a pretty solid cliffhanger.

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This is a pretty good story, even if it isn’t outright fantastic.  We get a pretty great problem for our hero to solve, and it’s one for which all of his great strength is useless, and there are several small but entertaining moments that demonstrate a surprising amount of personality and even provide some character development.  One of the strengths of O’Neil’s run is his tendency to provide Superman with interesting moral dilemmas, where his abilities are secondary to the problem at hand.  It’s a good way to provide drama to a character as powerful as he is.  I’ll give this one 4 Minutemen.

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And that wraps us up for this post.  It’s certainly an interesting trio of books, and the JLA issue especially is something of a time-capsule, both for fashion and for culture.  Thank you for joining me in my journey through these classic comics!  I hope y’all will join me again soon for the last issues of the month.  In the meantime, stay dry and safe out there in the real world!  Here in the Grey household, our prayers are with those affected by the hurricanes, fires, and floods.  Until next time, keep the heroic spirit alive, and as part of that, try to find some way to help those that need it!

 

Into the Bronze Age: May 1971 (Part 4)

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Welcome back Internet travelers!  In belated honor of Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday last week, I’ve got a new post featuring some comic goodness, courtesy of the King!  As you might imagine, there are also plenty of features celebrating this event out there in the vast Internet ocean.  Check out a nice set of tributes on Kirby-Visions, a lovely biography of the King on The Kirby Effect, an affectionate tribute from the Fire and Water Podcast (Gallery), and a great cover gallery of the Master’s 70s work on Diversions of the Groovy Kind!  If you happen to be in New York, be sure to swing by the Kirby Museum for a celebration of the man, the myth, the legend, and his life and works.

So, let’s see what these books have in store for us!

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


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #400
  • Adventure Comics #406
  • Batman #231
  • Brave and Bold #95
  • Detective Comics #411
  • The Flash #206
  • Forever People #2
  • G.I. Combat #147
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #83
  • Justice League of America #89
  • New Gods #2
  • Superman #237
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #110
  • World’s Finest #202

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


Forever People #2


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“Super War!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Pencilers: Jack Kirby and Al Plastino
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Jack Kirby

We start this post off with the second issue of The Forever People, which has a rather uninspiring cover.  We’ve got a nice, dynamic Kirby figure on the front, as Mantis leaps out at us, but I really rather dislike photo-collages on covers.  They just look drab and ugly.  The black and white image, fuzzy from 70s printing limitations, just seems a mess, contrasting unpleasantly with the clean-lined characters.  The story inside, however, is more successful, giving us a more thorough introduction to our young heroes, and with no Superman to steal the spotlight this time.  The tale begins with the kids having apparently arrived right in the middle of a major intersection in a city, and their arrival provides quite a stir and quite a traffic jam.  The gang are all amused at the quaint ways of the humans and their slang, and after some hijinks where the youths are mistaken for hippies, they hop on the Super Cycle and ‘phase out,’ arriving in a nearly abandoned section of town.

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Meanwhile, we meet the villain of our piece, and not in the most impressive fashion.  Apokaliptian soldiers drag the Mighty Mantis from a cocoon and throw him before Darkseid.  For his part, Darkseid has suddenly snapped into focus, much more the character that would come to shake the very foundations of the DC Universe than the one we met last issue.  From his craggy features to his imperious manner and grand plans, this is our villain fully realized, which is nice to see.  I rather imagined it might take more time for Kirby to find his feet with him, and there may still be some adjusting.

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Yet, Darkseid is ever in charge, and he berates his cringing subject for his attempt to usurp power for himself.  It seems Mantis wanted to conquer Earth for himself, and, surprisingly, Darkseid agrees, just reminding his minion that he still answers to the master of Apokolips, who plays a more subtle game.  Mantis returns to his ‘power pod’ to continue gathering his strength.

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Meet one of the greatest villains in the history of comics.

Amidst the derelict buildings of their destination, the Forever People encounter a crippled young boy on crutches named Donnie, who is really excited to meet super beings like them.  His uncle, Willie, the watchman of the area, is somewhat less thrilled, however.  He threatens the group with a gun until Beautiful Dreamer uses her illusion powers to make him see them as clean-cut, normal kids.  There’s actually sort of an interesting note of social commentary as she says, “You used to know lots of kids like us!  Remember?  We never passed without saying ‘hello’!”  I imagine that there’s a note of wistfulness, a sad acknowledgement of the growing generation gap, and a wish for its healing, in that little statement.  One can easily see Kirby himself having known such kids and missing the world they inhabited, yet also still acknowledging that young folks weren’t bad just because they didn’t fit that mold.

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I don’t think naming yourself ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ is going to help your case, girl.

At any rate, as Willie invites the youths to stay with him, night falls over the city (we haven’t been told which city), and Mantis emerges from his pod in a very vampire-esque sequence.  His powers at their zenith, he blasts his way out of the tunnels that have sheltered him and begins an attack on the city.

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Our young heroes are busy scouring the abandoned apartments for furniture to furnish their new pads, and young Donnie is introduced to Serafin’s ‘Cosmic Cartridges,’ which lead to a pretty cool psychedelic scene when the boy touches one.  It’s a nice moment of Kirby Cosmic, and it is really a dose of something new at DC, with lots of potential imaginative power.  Their tete-a-tete is interrupted when they see a news broadcast of Mantis’s rampage, and the Forever People quickly rush to summon the Infinity Man!

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The mysterious champion from beyond the realm of the natural laws confronts Mantis, who is fighting with the city’s police, lobbing charged objects at them like a more garishly garbed Gambit.

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Infinity Man belts the perilously powered villain, but Mantis responds by encasing his foe in a block of ice “which can hold giant worlds in the grip of icy death!”  Meanwhile, Darkseid and Desaad observe the situation, with the sinister scientist measuring the rising fear within the city in the hopes that it will stimulate the mind of the one who possesses the Anti-Life Equation!

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Mantis continues to run amuck, creating flowing streams of magma and reveling in destruction, but the Infinity Man doesn’t play by the normal rules of physics.  He uses his strange powers to molecularly disassemble his icy tomb in a scene with a cool concept but rather poor execution, for which I’m fairly certain we can at least partially blame the inks.

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Freed, the hero attacks the Apokalyptian would-be conqueror once more, striking him with a beam that destabilizes Mantis’s powers, causing him to vent his stored energies uncontrollably.  The defeated felon flees into hiding once more, and the Infinity Man summons the Forever People back to Earth and disappears into the ether.  The comic ends with Darkseid dispassionately regarding Mantis’s failure and making his inscrutable plans.

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This is a pretty solid second issue.  We get to learn a bit more about all of our young heroes, and once more I’m struck with how good a job the King is doing with their characterization in relatively small space.  There is a lot of personality on display in their pages, from the boisterous good humor of Big Bear to Serafan’s wide-eyed fascination with human culture.  Yet, we still don’t see the kids do much of anything.  even the Planeteers tended to be more useful than these five.  They summon the Infinity Man right away, and he provides a fairly impressive showing.  The fight with Mantis is pretty exciting, and Kirby makes it fairly creative and entertaining.

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fp02-26Sadly, one of the real weaknesses of the issue is the art, which I really didn’t expect.  I’m fairly certain we’re seeing the consequences of having Vinnie Colleta inking all of Kirby’s books.  There is a lot of heavy inking, lost detail, and empty backgrounds.  There are some muddy, ugly panels as well.  Of course, the King’s pencils are not at their best here either, and the really striking moments often share space with some slightly awkward panels, like Mantis’s strange flight pattern during the fight.  When the art is good, it’s great, but when it’s bad, the contrast is quite telling.  Still, there are some wonderful moments throughout.

Notably, Kirby’s attempt at creating unique speech patterns for his New Gods is on full display here, and it is partially successful.  The kids strike a mostly enjoyable balance, providing an ‘outsider’ perspective on human culture with almost-hip dialog that isn’t quite recognizable, but Infinity Man and Mantis are a little odder, overly-written and a bit off-putting at times.  The final result is a fun, enjoyable issue that continues to unfold the mysteries of the cosmic epic Kirby is weaving, and it’s certainly worth a read.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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G.I. Combat #147


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“Rebel Tank”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Russ Heath
Inker: Russ Heath
Editor: Joe Kubert

“Sniper’s Roost”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Mort Drucker
Inker: Mort Drucker
Editor: Robert Kanigher

“Tin Pot Listening Post!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Jerry Grandenetti
Inker: Jerry Grandenetti

“Broomstick Pilot”
Writer: Ed Herron
Penciler: John Severin
Inker: John Severin

“Battle Window”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

“Target for an Ammo Boy”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Joe Kubert
Inker: Joe Kubert

You sure got a lot of story for your quarter in these old books.  Just look at all of those war yarns packed into this comic!  Anyway, they all lie under a decently dramatic cover, the classic perilous situation cliffhanger, and the Haunted Tank tale it represents is a fair one, though it has some elements that sit somewhat uneasily with me in light of recent events in the U.S.  It starts with Jeb and his crew being left behind by their C.O., who gets knocked out defending a bridge.  The Haunted Tank rides to the rescue in a wonderfully dramatic sequence full of action and explosions, two important ingredients in awesomeness.  Jeb brings his tank in through cover, and they manage to knock out the remaining enemy armor, destroying the bridge in the process.

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Mortally wounded, their C.O. dies in Jeb’s arms, and once again, the art proves the power of the comic format, as Heath packs a lot of emotion into a single panel.  Afterwards, the ghostly General Stuart visits his namesake to provide yet more enigmatic advice.  He tells his charge that the tank will soon be fighting on his side, which is strange, seeing as the Civil War (which J.E.B. points out the Confederates called ‘The War Between the States’) ended a hundred years before.  He warns that some Southerners are still fighting it.

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When the crew returns to base, they encounter their new commanding officer, who is named Major Bragg, a rather ill-tempered Southerner who gives my folks a bad name.  The Major wears a Confederate forage cap, and he is very upset to learn that Jeb shares the name of the famous rebel general.  Essentially, this whole story is a reprise of #141, with Jeb being given grief for his name, but under combat conditions instead of training.  Bragg, who is still bitter about the whole Appomattox thing, relegates Jeb and his men to courier duty, refusing to let them fight unless the lieutenant backs down about his name.  Things get tense, and Jeb’s crew find themselves slugging it out with hecklers to defend their honor.

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One day, a supply run for the armored column (and using a light tank to carry ammo seems a bit…odd) leads the Stuart to a mountaintop fortress which has knocked out the rest of their tanks.  Even the Major was stopped cold in his assault, but, despite his orders to pull back and not engage, Jeb takes his tank into the teeth of the enemy position.  He uses his lighter vehicle to flank the fortress, and they manage to destroy the edifice.

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Finally, they have earned Major Bragg’s respect, and he admits that Jeb is worthy of the name, saying “You’re a rebel at heart [..] a Johnny Reb in a Damn-Yankee uniform!”  That made me chuckle.  There’s an old joke where I come from about people growing up and realizing that ‘Damn-Yankee’ happens to be two words, just some light-hearted regionalism.

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So, this is a fine little story, with some really nice looking action, especially in the first part, but it is a bit repetitive in its theme. Bragg isn’t really that much of a character, having only one real note, so he isn’t all that interesting.  Incidentally, I wonder if his name is a reference to the famously prickly and unlikeable Confederate general Braxton Bragg, whose name is significantly more awesome than he was.  Either way, the comic Bragg, like his possible namesake, is not exactly an electrifying presence.  On the positive side, I do enjoy the camaraderie of the tank crew that we see, with them standing up for each other, even against their fellows.  I suppose, all things considered, I’ll give this one a solid 3 Minutemen.

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Green Lantern/Green Arrow #83


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“And A Child Shall Destroy Them!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Time for another dose of naval-gazing ‘adventure’ with the Green Team.  Yay?  I’ll admit, I’m really not enjoying this series.  I’m rather dreading that some of the darkest days are still before us.  I’m afraid this particular issue is not a high point, though it does reintroduce a character who is very important to the Lantern’s mythos, which is worth something.  The book has a standard ‘looming shadow’ cover, and as is often the case, this one is something of a cheat.  It’s not a particularly exciting image, and it’s got cover dialog, of which I’m rarely a fan.  I’d say the biggest weakness is the presence of the rather unintimidating looking character, Grandy.  While his being there fits the story, it takes away from the menace of the scene.

The tale inside begins with a scene from a month ago, where that same fellow from the cover is walking with a young girl when he bumps into a dark haired woman.  The man asks the girl to punish the woman for not apologizing, and the child’s eyes glow.  Suddenly the woman drops to the ground in agony.  Creepy!

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In the ‘present,’ our hard traveling heroes have showed up at the ‘Meadowhill School,’ escorting Dinah Lance to her new job as a P.E. teacher at the girl’s school.  One wonders what kinds of credentials she could have produced for such a job in her secret identity.  Also, what happened to the flower shop?  O’Neil gives us some attempts at character development, with the lovely Mrs. Lance talking about how she’s felt useless and lost and hopes to do something productive by working with children.  What?  Saving the world with the JLA isn’t fulfilling enough?  I think you might have issues, lady!

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It fits in vaguely with the uncertain direction O’Neil has taken the character down in this book, but it’s still obvious that this is we’re moving at the speed of plot.  As they approach the school, O’Neil takes a page from Stan Lee, and he has Dinah employ that very special superpower that all females have in such stories, woman’s intuition.  She gets a sense of dread, and suddenly they are attacked by a mad flock of birds.

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The Green Team shifts into fighting togs, and the Emerald Archer uses a sonic arrow to scatter the foul fowl.  Just then, a tree branch falls right on top of Ollie, but he is saved at the last minute by Hal’s quick action.  Then, once again illustrating the ridiculous missmatch in power between the two, as the Emerald Crusader gathers the birds up and sends them ten miles away with a thought.  Yep, good thing you and your bow were here, Green Arrow.

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Then, continuing to display the brilliant and exacting attention to detail that we’ve been observing in this run, the heroes just stroll up to the school in full costume, with Dinah still in civies.  That won’t endanger the ‘ol secret identities at all.  ‘Hey, I wonder if that woman hanging out with Green Lantern and Green Arrow might have something in common with that superheroine who also hangs out with them?  Nah!’  In a mildly clever touch, they hang a lantern on the inspiration for this story, with the characters referencing Alfred Hitchcock and The Birds.

At the school, they meet the owner and headmaster, Jason Belmore, who, long-time readers of the series may remember was the fiance of Carol Ferris, the excuse for putting her on a bus in the book.  Of course, it makes no real sense for him to be running a girl’s school, but add that to the list of plot conveniences in this tale.  Belmore immediately insists the heroes leave, without expressing the slightest curiosity about why Dinah is palling around with Justice Leaguers.  Strangely, after this is done, the nervous headmaster turns to the cook and seeks his approval.  The cook, the same fellow from the opening scene, sics the same little girl on our heroes.

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Meanwhile, the Lantern spots a figure by their car, only to discover that it is Carol Ferris, though she is bound to a wheelchair.  She asks to be taken away with them, and the trio drive off, with Hal’s former flame asking for help for her current fiance, who is living in fear (awkward!).  Yet, as they drive, the car begins to come apart, and it careens off of a cliff, with only the Emerald Gladiator’s ring saving them.  It’s a nice looking sequence, especially when the Lantern summons a power-ringed Pegasus to carry the trio.  It’s a wonderful image, beautifully rendered by Adams.  Sadly, it’s the only magnificent moment in the book.

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When they land in an abandoned barn to seek shelter from a sudden rainstorm, Carol wonders about the Lantern’s new limitations, and he begins to talk about his loss of confidence.  Taken on its own terms, its’ a touching scene, and Adams does a heck of a job rendering the care and weariness on Hal’s face as he talks.  In the context of the series, it is undercut by the problems with the earlier stories that brought him to this point.  Continuity is a double-edged sword, after all.

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Back at the school, Dinah dismisses her class a bit early, which angers Grandy, who threatens her in really creepy fashion.  The canny Canary realizes something is up, so she slips into costume, once again again flagrantly endangering her identity.  ‘I wonder if the tall statuesque blonde has anything in common with the tall, statuesque brunette who is the only other woman here?’

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green lantern 083 015Prowling the halls, she is discovered by Belmore and Grandy, who attack her, but she easily handles them until the little girl, Sybil, uses her powers to cripple the Canary.  Then, unsurprisingly, Grandy removes her wig and discovers her identity.  Wow.  Who could have ever seen that coming?  Notably, O’Neil includes a moment where the Blonde Bombshell reflects that she’s enjoying the violence and notes that she needs to be careful about that, which is interesting, but it’s still presented in the nonsensical context of Dinah ‘hating violence.’

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The cruel cook orders the frightened children to haul her to the basement, where he explains that he found Sybil wandering in the woods, and now she enforces his will.  He plans to murder Dinah by proxy, so he stirs up a wasps nest and locks her in.  She claims the door is too sturdy to break down, but she apparently conveniently forgets about the fact that she has a super powerful ‘Canary Cry.’  Add it to the list.  Unable to think of anything better, the heroine hunkers down and hopes to survive.

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The Green Team returns to the school, but when they encounter Grandy, he sics Sibyl on them again, crippling them both with pain.  Ollie hears Dinah’s scream from below and struggles to his knees, fighting against the agony and loosing a flash-bang-like arrow that disables the creepy kid.  They race to the basement and rescue Dinah, though she is hurt.  The Emerald Archer wants to tear the cook apart, but the Lantern insists that, because he was responsible for crippling Carol, the fight was his.

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It sort of is at that, Ollie…

When Grandy is confronted, he demands that Sibyl punish Green Lantern, only for her to speak for the first time and refuse.  She is tired of hurting people, but the vicious fellow slaps her and tells her to “obey.”  With tears in her eyes, she agrees, only to bring the roof down on them.  And Hal apparently just watches.

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Seriously, the whole building collapses, and they get everyone else out, but Green Lantern seems to just let that little girl die.  Ollie asks his friend if he could have saved her, and his response, “I’ll live with that question the rest of my life” isn’t much of an answer at all.  It’s a weird, unhappy moment.  Yet, the story ends on a different note.  Hal approaches Carol and tells her that he was foolish and prideful, insisting that she love him on his own terms.

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He removes his mask (in public, let’s not forget, with lots of other people standing around), and reveals his identity, telling her he’s realized what really matters.  She apparently completely forgets about poor Jason Belmore and declares her love for the Lantern, who scoops her up in his arms and heads off into the rain.  Once again, it would be a sweet scene on its own terms, and the team really pack some emotional punch into it, but the context hurts it.  The last image of the book is of a little girl standing over the Lantern’s mask.  Dun dun DUN!

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Interestingly, I have zero memory of Carol being crippled from when I read through these books the first time.  I wonder how long that is going to last.  Well, as you can probably tell, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with this issue.  To be honest, it really isn’t a bad story as such, and it certainly achieves what it sets out to do.  It strikes a very effectively creepy tone, evoking Hitchcock movies and The Twilight Zone.  I’m almost certain that there is a particular story being referenced in this setup, with the creepy kid with powers, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.  Nonetheless, the authorial gymnastics that O’Neil has to go through in order to place his characters in this situation are more suited to Scooby Doo than Green Lantern.  Once again, he’s forcing the characters into the plot rather than letting the plot adapt to the characters.

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The tale also has a really grim ending, with the unhappy little girl apparently killing both herself and her tormentor.  Compare this with another of our recent stories featuring an unhappy child with powers and its happy ending, and you’ll see quite a contrast.  The art, as always, is beautiful, and Adams really gets a few chances to shine with some dramatic moments, but he still gets few opportunities to really take advantage of the fact that he’s drawing Green Lantern, other than the winged horse.  Interestingly, Adams apparently had some fun with his faces in this issue, as, according to Dick Giordano, he based the faces of Sibyl and Grandy on then current President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew, who he disliked.  Weird, you’d think, given the power dynamics, it would be the other way around.  For my part, I rather think that Grandy looks much more like horror legend Vincent Price, who certainly fits the tone of the tale.  Art origins aside, this is a rather uneven story.  Taken all together, with the significant flaws and the significant successes, I’d give this tale of horror 2.5 Minutemen, though I really am inclined to give it less thanks to the plot induced stupidity of the heroes.

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P.S.: On a broader note, I think I have finally put my finger on precisely what I dislike about this series.  It is the element of dreariness that characterizes it.  Green Lantern stories have the limitless wonders of the universe as their playground, and yet this run has its eyes firmly on the muddy earth, almost never looking to the heavens.  I understand O’Neil’s reasons for that, as I discussed with the first issue, but even with such earthbound tales, there is room for a glance at the stars now and then.  Yet, that is not all.  No, there is just no sense of joy, of revelry, of real adventure to be found in this book!  This issue displays these qualities perhaps the most clearly of any we’ve seen.

Their stories are small, but not just with the necessary intimacy of character drama.  They are small with a pettiness, a smallness of soul, and not just of setting.  What O’Neil is trying to do is admirable, and there are times when the comic shakes off its shackles and stretches to the stars, and I don’t just mean the issues set off planet.  There are moments when there is hope and joy and wonder to balance the dreary slog of his preaching or torturing of his characters, but they are, unfortunately, in the minority.  If there is one thing that comics are about, it’s hope, though that is true of Art in general, the Art that gropes its way towards the divine.  Despite the very heavy-handed invocations of hope from time to time, it seems largely absent from this series.  There is just too much misery, too much ugliness, and not nearly enough wonder.


 

Well, that does it for these comics.  We didn’t exactly have an inspiring set of books in this batch, but they certainly weren’t boring!  I hope y’all enjoyed my coverage and commentary on these comics, and I also hope you’ll join me again soon for more Bronze Age goodness!  We’ve got a JLA issue in the next batch, which is usually something I look forward too, but this is certainly an unusual one!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!