Into the Bronze Age: May 1970 (Part 3)

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

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

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

Bonus!: Star Hawkins (for real this time)

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

G.I. Combat #141

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The red eyes really add to the infernal echoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Justice League of America #80

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Showcase #90

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Into the Bronze Age: March 1970 (Part 4)

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And back to the Bronze Age, March 1970!

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

Bonus!: Star Hawkins

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

Showcase #89

Showcase_Vol_1_89.jpgCover Artist: Mike Sekowsky
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel

 Jason’s somewhat vague quest continues!  This month, we open with a one page summary of the previous issue and then pick right up where we left off.  Jason is riding down the road towards Paris, while far away his corpulent adversary is yelling long distance at a couple of hired killers, ordering them to kill the boy and his missing sister.  The interesting note here is that the two French thugs (how very not intimidating) are answering Tuborg, the hefty horror’s call on a car phone, circa 1970!  I’m always astonished by such things.  I wonder how they worked before the invention of cell phones and the like.  I assume it has to be some type of radio hook-up, but I don’t know.

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Anachronistic technology aside, Jason finds a young blonde woman next to a sporty foreign car, and stops, thinking it is his sister.  When he greets her, she answers in a thick southern accent, supposedly Louisianian, but much more like Texan.  She further surprises him by planting a big kiss on him!

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The girl seems to already be picking out their wedding china when the killers arrive.  Despite the fact that they are only about fifty feet away and using a telescopic scope, these geniuses still manage to miss the young pair by a good several feet.

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Jason and the young lady, Billie Jo, take cover, and once again surprising our hero, the girl pulls out a revolver and continues indulging in Texan stereotypes, though she’s from “Lo’isiana.”  She quite blithely starts blazing away, and then the pair make their escape on Jason’s bike.  Except for the weird angle of Billie’s arm, this gives us a pretty dynamic and attractive splash page, which shows what Sekowsky can do when he wants to.

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A chase ensues, and the youthful daredevil manages to stay ahead of the assassins by going cross country until he runs out of gas!  They flee into the woods and are pursued by the French toughs, armed with a submachine gun and a rifle!  The girl displays positively suicidal levels of bravery, insisting on stopping to take on the two heavily armed killers with her single revolver, but fortunately for her, Jason has more sense.

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They arrive at a Chalet looming out of the trees and get in through a window.  Hiding in the darkened building, Billie once again falls to romantic thoughts, but they are interrupted by a gun barrel!

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They discover an older woman, the owner of the house who is not too happy about these trespassers in her home, until she realizes that Billie Jo is a southerner.  Fortunately for our young lovers, this lady just happens to also be from “Lo’isiana,” despite the fact that she is living in a Chateau in the middle of the French countryside!  What a coincidence!  As I say, it is fortunate for Jason and Billie Jo, as this tough old lady also displays foolish levels of bravery and confidence, casually engaging in a gun battle with the two killers outside to defend these two kids she’s just met.

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dc showcase 089-22.jpgAs the bullets fly, the heroes flee at their savior’s urging, refueling the bike and taking off, the assassins in hot pursuit in a stolen car.  The chase continues with the our protagonists joining a cross-country bike race (where’s Lance Armstrong?), which helps them stay ahead of the hunters, but it all comes to a head when they reach a bridge that is under construction.  Jason manages to stop his bike in time, but the heavier car of his pursuers is not so agile, and they take a brief but dramatic trip down a cliff.

Our story ends with Jason telling Billie Jo his story.  Just think about that for a moment.  This entire time, all she’s known about him is that he is American and was being hunted by killers, but nevertheless she is willing to go through all of this for him.  This kid must have some kind of charisma!  The two part, and our young wanderer continues his eponymous quest.  Our last image is another of those really cool, movie-poster like teasers for the next issue.  I’ll say this for Sekowsky, he can create some nice, cinematic images, even if the quality of his art in this book is rather uneven.  It is, however, superior to that Phantom Stranger story from this month.

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All-in-all, this is a solid adventure yarn, quick moving and exciting, though the double coincidence of meeting Billie Jo, who looks like his sister, and then their expatriate protector is a bit much, especially as she and the young lady prove to be distantly related on top of it all.  Also, the complete, unthinking willingness of these utter strangers to risk life and limb in a fight that they A) know nothing about, and B) have no stake in, is rather wild.  It makes for an entertaining story, but it certainly strains credulity.

That’s not to mention the inexplicable competence and coolness of these two ladies.  Now, I’m all for southerners being depicted as hyper-capable and tough.  After all, we’re a hardy breed, and rural folks will generally be more inured to the hardships of life than others, though those generally don’t involve gun battles in this country.  This book seems to read like a movie in a lot of ways, and that element of cinematic style is, I imagine, intentional.  This type of tale is surely not unknown in the 70s, the hero on the run, meeting interesting and colorful characters along the way.  It’s a good formula.

Jason still doesn’t have much personality, though.  In fact, he utterly pales in comparison to the two ladies in this story.  In the final analysis, I suppose I’d give this story 3 Minutemen out of 5.  It’s a pretty average adventure.  Like the previous issue, it’s a nice change of pace, but nothing earth-shattering.

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World’s Finest #192

World's_Finest_Comics_192.jpgCover Artist: Curt Swan
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

 I really do hate the kryptonite deus ex machina of these Silver Age flavored Superman stories.  Bring on “Kryptonite No More!”  This particular team-up is another Bob Haney outing, and while it is not nearly as zaney as some of his offerings, it is certainly lacking in logical consistency and has some sillier elements.  I’m guessing Haney had just watched Stalag 17 or the like, as this story has the definite feel of that WWII/Cold War thriller genre.  It features out heroes getting captured behind the Iron Curtain in some vaguely German-type country by a generic villainous army/secret police officer.  As an aside, I’m really amazed there isn’t a TV Trope entry for this type of character.  It’s really a plot much more suited to the likes of G.I. Joe than Superman and Batman.

The interesting thing about it is how this story provides a little snapshot into the Cold War tensions of the day, but even in 1970, I have to think this book would have felt like a bit of a throwback.  After all, there’s a big difference between 50s flavor red scare and 80s flavor.  I imagine the 70s would likely have its own distinct subgenre.

This Haney tale begins with Superman flying over a generic “Central European dictatorship, named Lubania, where an equally generically evil officer, in this case, named Colonel Koslov, is observing the Man of Steel via radar.  The Colonel has his lackey trigger an “accident” with one of their trains, endangering the lives of many of his people, all in order to lure Superman into their nation.  The Man of Tomorrow obliges, though he notes that he doesn’t have permission to enter Lubanian lands.  Superman saves the train, but he is hit by a device of Dr. Zirkan, a generic scientist type and unwilling pawn of Koslov.

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This machine emits “synthetic kryptonite radiations, which are converted into radio waves….because that makes sense.  But far be it for me to criticize comic book science.  No, the thing that bothers me about this whole setup is the fact that this mini-Mussolini just happens to have a device capable of projecting long-distance kryptonite waves.  Who is this loser to have such a thing?  Not only that, but apparently it just robs Superman of his powers, not crippling or harming him otherwise.  What?  Isn’t kryptonite, you know, toxic to the Man of Steel?  Details such as this matter not one whit to Zaney Haney.

Well, nonetheless, the effects of this device prove rather troublesome for Superman, as he happens to be soaring over the countryside when it hits, sending him plummeting to his death!  This panel demonstrates rather nicely the solid job Andru does on the art chores for this issue.  He turns in a lovely house style-type issue.

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Or rather, it would have if the Man of Might were any second rate hero, but he is as resourceful as he is powerful, and he manages to steer for a water tower, using his cape as a parachute.  It’s a nice moment, and it is within comic book logic for him to survive this way, despite the fact that he’d just be wet in addition to pulped in real life.  I’ll give Haney that one.

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Koslov steps up the villainous cliches by bringing out his hunting falcon as he begins the search for the downed superhero.  Meanwhile, on the ground, Superman discovers that these plans have been well laid, and the countryside is plastered with posters offering a reward for his capture.  Realizing that he can’t stroll out of the country in his ‘working clothes,’ the Man of Tomorrow wisely decides to change into his civilian garb, even tearing and muddying it to make him seem like a vagrant.  That’s smart, and nicely indicative of Clark’s ability to use his brain as well as his brawn, which makes his next move so baffling and frustrating.  He lands in a deserted spot in the countryside, changing in a ruined house.  He realizes he can’t just carry his super suit around, so he does the sensible thing and buries it….wait, no he doesn’t, he has a much goofier idea.  To ensure it isn’t discovered, he buys some balloons from some children, ties them to his costume, and sends it aloft.

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Clearly, that’s much safer than burying it in the middle of nowhere.  The costume will be much harder to find hanging nicely visible in the air.  It should come as no surprise that Koslov sends his falcon to retrieve the costume, which acts as a giant “SUPERMAN WAS HERE” sign.  He then puts some dogs on the hero’s trail, and they hound him (I’m sorry!) through the countryside.  Superman makes another clever, though bat-guano insane, move here, as he swings along high tension power lines to throw the dogs off his trail.  He’s no longer invulnerable, so one slip and he’s a fricasseed Metropolis Marvel.

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Superman escapes to the city, making his way to the American embassy, only to discover that the “ambassador” is a fake.  He apparently realized this even before entering the building because the flag outside only had 48 stars.  One wonders why bothered to walk into the obvious trap.  We clearly aren’t meant to ask such questions of this story.

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Clark steals a radio from the embassy, and he once again displays his resourcefulness by making a mini-receiver out of the larger machine that he can conceal as he moves about the city.  Using this device, he hears a “radio liberation” broadcast from Batman!  The Dark Knight informs his crime-fighting partner that he’ll be parachuting into the country that night in order to help him escape!  Unfortunately, the voice is a fake, and Koslov peppers the countryside with bogus Batmen to trap Superman.  Our hero happens upon one of them, and he fakes cowardice in order to get the drop on this duplicitous double.  He steals the fallen fake’s costume and is able to move about undetected.

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Eventually he encounters another phony hero, and the two come to blows, but it turns out the phony is actually the genuine article, who Superman knocks out just as he discovers this fact.  This I didn’t care for.  Sure, Superman could turn Batman to ash with a look, but without his powers, the Caped Crusader should really be able to clean his clock without too much trouble.  Now, Bats gets his bell rung because he’s stunned by the realization that he’s fighting his friend, but still, the whole contest shouldn’t have been that even.  I realize I’m well inside the borders of pedantic nerd-dom here, but it bothers me nonetheless.  Y’all know by now that a lack of logical consistency is my main pet peeve in these stories.  On the plus side, this sequence is nicely dynamic and well drawn.

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Anyway, their fight attracts our generic Colonel, and he and a handful of soldiers manage to capture Superman and Batman, the world’s finest heroes.  These are just regular losers with guns, not a super power between them.  Superman is without his powers, sure, but you’re telling me Batman couldn’t manage to drop a smoke pellet, throw a batarang, or otherwise arrange a daring escape?  This niggling problem is magnified by the next twist of the story.

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Rather than gun them down, our heroes are carted off and interned in a prison camp that is right out of The Great Escape.  Here’s the bit that bothers me.  They let Batman keep his costume, not even bothering to take his utility belt.  ‘Do we want to know who Batman really is?’  ‘Nah, he’s our prisoner, why would we do that?’  That’s just asinine, as is the idea that a utility-belted Batman would spend more than about five minutes in this generic prison camp.  This is why the folks behind the Lone Ranger insisted that he never get captured long enough to be unmasked because, obviously, that’s the first thing you do when you capture a masked man.

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This story employs an interesting concept, even some really enjoyable episodes, but the ridiculous elements, the maddening plot contrivances, and the usual Haney excesses really ruin it.  I like seeing Superman having to rely on his wits, and the idea of him powerless behind enemy lines has some legs.  He and Batman teaming up to evade secret police could give us a good yarn.  Instead, we get this schizophrenic little story.  I’ll give it 2 Minutemen, though the frustrating bits are almost enough for me to knock it even further down.

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Bonus Feature: Star Hawkins

Star_Hawkins_001.jpgWriter: John Broome
Artists: Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs

(Gil Kane for the Who’s Who Entry)

This is another of those rotating features from Strange Adventures, like the Atomic Knights, and like that other great concept, this particular character also tended to produce above average sci-fi yarns.  Star Hawkins himself was a neat character idea, a private detective in in the distant future.  You see plenty of spacemen characters, explorers, space cops, and the like, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered another future private eye in comics.  It’s a really neat way to explore a future setting, not from the top, with spaceships racing between the stars, but from the bottom, with a gumshoe walking through the rough streets of that far day.  He premiered in Strange Adventures #114, and like the Knights, he was a rotating feature that appeared in every third issue following, though this character lasted longer than the ill-fated warriors of the wastelands.

Star is not exactly the traditional “Hard Boiled Detective,” not a Phillip Marlowe or a Sam Spade.  Instead, he’s a bit more of the smooth type, more like the charming and cheerful Richard Diamond.  The Detective is clever, tough, but he’s not overly cynical or world-weary.  In fact, he’s a bit of a romantic.  He is, however, in keeping with the archetype, perpetually down on his luck and short of scratch.  Hawkins is perpetually running short of funds and in need of a case.

Yet, Star doesn’t tackle his cases by himself.  No, he has a very unique and entertaining girl friday named Ilda!  Interestingly enough, she’s a robot secretary who is usually key to Hawkins resolving his cases, often in unusual and surprising ways.  This is, at its heart, a comedy feature, but it actually pulls off genuine entertainment, which is something of a rarity in the Silver Age.

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Your average story has Star so low on funds he might even have to pawn poor Ilda (which raises some interesting questions about robots and free will, but that’s neither here nor there), and then finding a case that can pay the bill, often catching clever crooks, usually with Hilda’s aid.  For a secretary, she came complete with all kinds of features.  She’s super strong, super tough, ray-proof, and has all sorts of neat features, like the ability to communicate telepathically with her boss.

Together, they fought a range of interesting future crimes, and the whole range of stories were often funny, entertaining, creative, and just plain fun.  Both Star and Ilda are likable characters, and their dynamic is a charming one, the classic gumshoe and secretary, with the twist of Ilda’s indispensable aid.  All-told, these are fun, light stories, and they are decidedly above the quality of the average Silver Age sci-fi yarn.  Check them out and discover a neat hidden gem from that era!

 

Final Thoughts:

So, here we are at the end of our third month.  This was an interesting set of stories, and once again we had some highs and lows, often from the same folks.  This month gave us an excellent Bob Haney story and one that really rubbed me wrong.  We had artists turning in good work in one book and rather ugly work in another.  It was an uneven month, and still very much in that middle ground.  I feel like Matthew Arnold’s pilgrim from his “Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse,” looking down at the ruins of a former time and feeling the pressure of a new age about to begin, yet not finding himself fully present in either reality.

“Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
The other powerless to be born,
With nowhere yet to rest my head,
Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.
Their faith, my tears, the world deride—
I come to shed them at their side.”

Fortunately, unlike Arnold’s traveler, we are not quite so morose about the scene before us.  We are, however, very much in an intermediate stage of comics.  The major events of the Bronze Age wait just over the horizon, and there is still much influence of the Silver Age on these stories.  In fact, I’d say a good quarter of them, notably the Haney and Superman books, are just about indistinguishable from your average issues from the mid 1960s.  Yet, the Batman books are beginning to change already, unsteadily, but with increasing speed and consistency, they are leading the way to something new.  Of course, next month sees the advent of that groundbreaking run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow by O’Neil and Adams.  We have an increasing social conscious evident in Justice League, an evident desire to mix things up in Phantom Stranger and Showcase, and there is more on the horizon.  I find myself once again anxious to dive into next month’s stories!

In particular, I find myself very eagerly (and rather impatiently) awaiting the arrival of The King at DC Comics in 1971.  Jack Kirby will very soon, in just over a year of publication, begin his amazing and all-too-brief tenure of storytelling in the DC Universe.  1971 will give us the short, yet incredibly productive and foundational runs of all of the 4th World titles.  I’ve read all of those before some years ago, and they are very much a work in progress.  Much like Lee and Kirby’s amazing run on the Fantastic Four, every issue throws out an unprecedented amount of concepts, and some of them are brilliant and endure, some of them are clunkers.  The overall effect, though, is fairly mind-blowing.  Plus, who can resist Jack Kirby’s spell-binding art!

I’m also looking forward to the many new, though short-lived books that are going to pop-up in the 70s proper.  In particular, I’m excited about reading through the insane sounding Beowulf book from 1975.  I’m a medievalist, and Beowulf is one of the texts I study, so it will be a lot of fun to see this rather unique take on the epic.  Plus, I love Beowulf himself as a character (he’s my second favorite epic hero, after Aeneas).

All of this is to say, there is some really exciting work on the horizon, and I hope you’ll all join me as we continue our trek…Into the Bronze Age!

 

The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Surprisingly, we don’t have any more head-blows to add to the counter.  We came close with several characters, including Vigilante and Batman, but they didn’t quite conform to the stereotype.