Into the Bronze Age: December 1971 (Part 5)

Hello fellow Internet wanderers, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age, finishing up our coverage of December 1971. I’m afraid that there is a cloud hanging over our celebration of the joy of classic comics today, as a tragedy has struck the FF community. We recently learned of the death of Cyber Burn, content creator extraordinaire, my constant aide and ally, my dear friend, and all-around great human being. He was an amazing guy, and we are all grieving his loss. I’m going to write more about him and his importance to our community and literally everything I ever created for FF in a future post. At the moment, I don’t have the capacity to do him justice, though I am far from certain that I ever will be up to that particular herculean task.

In the meantime, let’s celebrate one of the things that always brought him joy, one of the things that, for him, as for many of us, served as a refuge from the ugliness and tawdriness of the world around us, the realm of the fantastic, the brighter, more hopeful terrain, of superhero comics. Let’s see what our last books of the month 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 #407
  • Adventure Comics #413
  • Batman #237
  • Detective Comics #418
  • The Flash #211
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87
  • Justice League of America #95
  • Mr. Miracle #5
  • Phantom Strange #16
  • Superboy #180
  • Superman #246 (#245 was all reprints)
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #117
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144
  • Teen Titans #36
  • World’s Finest #208

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


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144


“A Big Thing in a Deep Scottish Lake!”
Writer/Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell


DNA Project: “The Torn Photograph”
Writer/Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer John Costanza
Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell


Newsboy Legion: “Kings for a Day!”
Writers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon
Letterer: Howard Ferguson
Editors: Whitney Ellsworth

The first book in this batch is that misfit, redheaded step-child of the Fourth World titles, Jimmy Olsen, but unlike the bizarre, confusing mixture of ideas from the previous pair of issues, this month the King gives us something much more focused and fun. As you might guess from the cover, this comic sees the Newsboy Legion and our titular cub reporter coming face to snout with an ersatz Loch Ness Monster. In such an aquatic adventure there’s even a chance that Flippa Dippa might actually be useful….but I wouldn’t count on it. The cover image itself is a pretty good one, with a nicely dynamic and exciting central drama unfolding upon it, as the Legion hang on for dear life or leap to safety during their impromptu shipwreck. The whole thing has the King’s trademark energy and excitement. Superman doesn’t quite fit in with the picture, both because of Murphy Anderson’s overwriting of Kirby’s work and because he’s not really part of the dominant scene. That is actually rather accurate, as he plays no role in Jimmy’s plot, but it looks a bit odd to have him disproportionately soaring past as his young friends face pseudo-Nessie’s watery wrath, ‘Sorry kids, I’ve got super-business back in Metropolis, good luck with the monster!’

Not exactly the most creative of titles…

Kirby’s cover is a pretty fair promise of what awaits us within, and our tale begins with a Kirby-tech speedboat racing across the surface of “Loch Trevor,” which is totally not Loch Ness, thankyouverymuch. The pilot of the craft is searching for a supposed sea monster that stalks the waters of the Loch, and he finds it, or rather, it finds him, in rather dramatic fashion, destroying his ship and setting the stage for our adventure. Back in Metropolis, everyone’s favorite corporate shark, Morgan Edge, is raking Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboy Legion over the coals for failing to come back with a story. Of course, they have a heck of a story about “The Project,” but they’ve been sworn to secrecy. The King also seems to have forgotten that he last left Jimmy Olsen watching musicals projected onto the clouds of a miniature Universal Monster-themed world, so one would imagine he’s got quite the story to tell himself! Nonetheless, the heinous head of Galaxy Broadcasting casually dismisses the Legion’s claim that their Whiz Wagon was destroyed by a bomb and sends them out to chase down the scoop on the sea monster of Loch Trevor. Man, the gang are awfully forgiving about all of Edge’s attempts to kill them. You think they’d be a tad more insistent about that whole thing. Yet, once they’re out of his office, he opens the secret screen in his desk that we saw in this month’s Lois Lane, but this time he’s not looking at himself. Instead, he orders a hit on the Newsboy Legion!

Meanwhile, all crime everywhere has apparently been stopped, because Superman and the Guardian are spending their time dropping by a “discotheque,” not for charity, not as a benefit, not working a case, but just to “help their attendance.” Oookay? I’m glad they’ve got their priorities straight. Inside, they meet the young woman who is running the place, a girl named Terry Dean, who we saw briefly in #138. It seems she first appeared in a rather interesting sounding issue, #127, wherein Jimmy Olsen goes undercover to expose a slumlord. It’s neat and a little surprising that Kirby is making use of this minor supporting character introduced before his run, though I wouldn’t have minded some editorial reminders here. At any rate, Dean introduces them to a super Kirby-ified band, the San Diego Five String Mob, who are secretly serving Apokolips. They are wonderfully cool looking, in that inimical Kirby style of gonzo gadgets and weird wardrobes. As the malevolent musicians maintain their cover, playing strange music, Dubbilex, the D.N.Alien suddenly appears, bringing with him a warning!

The King cuts away before we see what comes of that, though, and we travel to the skies over Scotland, where Jimmy and the Legion are literally dumped out of a fancy jet in the Whiz Wagon. Scrapper is determined he’s going to fit in, and has dressed the part, complete with kilt and Tam o’ Shanter, but unfortunately, his voice gives him away every time he opens his mouth, which becomes a running gag. On the ground, the gang nearly run over their contact, Felix MacFinney, as they try to stop their careening car, but they manage to do no permanent harm. This whole scene is fun and Kirby actually gives us some fairly charming humor, though we’re also besieged with comically exaggerated Scottish accents at every turn.

Back in the “discotheque,” Dubbilex reveals to the Man of Steel that there is a tunnel under the club that leads right back to the Project, but it is a tunnel the good guys didn’t make! Well, the bad band certainly can recognize a cue, so they prepare to strike…giving us a weird and interesting little sequence. They each play a note, summoning their “Sixth String,” Barri-boy, who is just another guy with a crazy instrument, but he literally brings the house down when he plays! That seems a little inefficient, but it’s still a fun sequence.

Back in Scotland, our neophyte newshawks meet MacFinney’s lovely daughter and engage in some banter while the plan for the monster-hunt the next day. MacFinney also shows them a device he created to attract the marine menace. Nothing suspicious here, nope! The next morning finds them out on the Loch, monitoring Flippa Dippa as he swims in its murky depths. Suddenly, he’s ambushed below the waves by a fellow frogman, and the others prepare to go to his aid, only to find themselves looking down the barrel of MacFinney’s gun! It seems that the Scotsman is actually an Intergang assassin! Fortunately, while Jimmy distracts the gunsel, the little Scrapper Trooper that the full-sized Scrapper brought along slips away and activates the monster lure. The situation is resolved in dramatic fashion, as the creature swamps the boat and seizes MacFinney, leaving the others soaked but safe. When they reach the shore, they find Flippa Dippa there ahead of them, having overcome his assailant, MacFinney’s “daughter,” another Intergang assassin. One wonders, how inept must she be at her job to have been taken out by Flippa Dippa? Confused but very curious, the gang determine to stay in Scotland and solve this monstrous mystery!

This is a fairly fun story, as silly as it is in parts, and the main plot, with Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion investigating the mystery and generally carrying on with their own banter and shenanigans, seems like a good fit for the characters. It’s a premise that serves them well, and I’d be happy to see the book settle onto a course like this. Heaven knows the last few issues have shown it is desperately in need of some direction. In terms of the writing, Kirby’s dialog, rather stilted and awkward in some of his other books, is generally in much better shape in this issue, provided you don’t mind his atrocious Scottish accents. He seems to have a good grasp of the voices of the Newsboys, which isn’t too surprising, seeing as they are his creations, after all. In fact, the interplay between Scrapper and the Scotsman, as well as the banter between the rest of the boys, is often genuinely funny and enjoyable. And then there’s everything Flippa Dippa says…the book’s resident embarrassment has fairly cringe-inducing lines throughout, like: “This ghetto guppie says ‘yeah!'” and “My SCUBA cells are vibratin’, Jimmy.” It is rather funny in an almost meta sense how desperately enthusiastic he is when he discovers that their adventure will involve a body of water, like he realizes how completely pointless he is as a character. Overall, Flippa Dippa aside, this is an enjoyable adventure. The King’s unmatched creativity is once again on display, but all of these different elements fit together much better than the bizarre horror-planet of the previous issues. Superman and the Guardian just sort of casually dropping by the club is pretty goofy, but the Kirby-tech band is so cool that I’m willing to give it a pass. Of course, the King’s art is great throughout, despite Colletta’s inking. I’ll give this promising start to a new adventure 4 Minutemen, with its sillier elements holding it back from a higher score.

P.S.: I’ve been really enjoying the Newsboy Legion stories that have been reprinted as backups in these books. They’re simple but fun.


Teen Titans #36


“The Tomb be Their Destiny”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff


Aqualad: “The Girl of the Shadows”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler/Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo


“Superboy Meets Robin the Boy Wonder”
Writer: Bill Finger
Penciler: Al Plastino
Inker: Al Plastino
Editor: Jack Schiff


“The Teenager from Nowhere”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler/Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Mort Weisinger

Well, if this month’s Jimmy Olsen issue was an improvement over the previous one, we can’t really say the same for this month’s Teen Titans, which is rather disappointing. The book continues to limp along without a clear direction and without any real reason for the Titans to actually be involved in its plots. To start with, we’ve got an okay cover, with a hint of mystery to it, though the perspective and layout is a bit wonky. I’m not really sure how those stairs exist in relation to the angle of the floor at the front. While the scene is non-Euclidean, it is also atmospheric, but the context is a bit too vague for it to be entirely successful. Our heroes seem to be hunting this figure rather than trying to rescue him, but he’s turning to dust, which his dialog tells us is….bad, as if they’re out to help him? It’s just not terribly successful.

Unfortunately, the story itself isn’t much better. It picks up where we left off in our last issue, in the purported crypt of the “real” Romeo and Juliet, where Robin, Speedy, Wonder Girl, and the superfluous Mr. Jupiter examine the scene and debate whether Lilith is really the incarnation of Romeo’s star-crossed lady love. They spot a shadowy figure and give chase, only to be temporarily trapped by a cave-in. While they are delayed, the shadowy figure sneaks off with the unconscious forms of Romeo and Lilith (doesn’t have quite the same ring as the original, does it?).

The misshapen figure turns out to be a hunchbacked madman named “Calibano,” who is supposed to resemble Romeo’s cousin of the same name, though I wouldn’t have gotten that from the art alone. As the young lovers revive, this Calibano tells them that Romeo and Juliet were actually part of a love triangle, with him as the third angle. Lilith uses her power of vagueness to learn that it was actually him who killed the original moon-struck Montague, causing Juliet to take her own life. Then, he apparently got trapped in their tomb and put into suspended animation…by…plot? Seriously, that’s not explained at all.

Now Calibano’s convinced that the new couple are the originals reawakened, as he was, and he challenges Romeo 2.0 to a duel, and the brave young man fights a desperate battle while Lilith makes the valuable contribution of…shouting…and…looking worried. It’s just a very impressive showing for a superheroine. As the ancient feud reunites, the rest of the Titans follow the trail of their lost teammate, only to come across the other Calibano leading a water-borne funeral procession. We’re reminded that the police were interested in the Loggia family, and this funereal flotilla out on a foggy night seems suspicious.

Suddenly, Mr. Juptier, who let’s remember has displayed no particular skills or abilities or received any special training up to this point, decides that he’s an action hero, and he and Robin investigate the suspect ships. The pair discover that the casket is a cover for smuggling industrial diamonds (which really doesn’t seem all that worthwhile, really), and overcome a bunch of frogmen in an extended scene where neither of them is apparently troubled by the need to, you know, breath for what one can only assume is a good 15-20 minutes. The marine marvel millionaire hauls himself out of the water to confront Calibano, and is nearly killed, only to have his life saved by the sudden arrival of Don Loggia, who is actually honest, though still a jerk, and who was suspicious of his nephew.

While Robin was being upstaged by a random dude with no qualifications for hero work, the other two Titans arrive just in time to save Romeo…by straight-up murdering the original Calibano! That’s right, Speedy shoots the guy with a sharp arrow as opposed to any of the zillion trick arrows he carries. He shoots him right in the chest, and though the poor fellow is able to stagger back to the crypt, he definitely dies. (Man, the books this month have had an unusually high body count for the era!) The story ends with the characters wondering if Lilith and Romeo are actually the reincarnations of their much more interesting and famous predecessors, and we are told that they are totally in love. Yep, definitely deeply and really in love, a love that is absolutely going to last beyond this issue and will certainly carry significance for years to come. Or not. Yeah, it will probably not surprise y’all to learn that our dear friend, Zany Haney, the anti-continuity cop, completely drops that particular plot thread, and this Romeo guy is never heard from again. It’s just as well, because the whole ‘reincarnated Romeo and Juliet’ angle doesn’t seem super sustainable over the long-haul.

So, what are we to make of this story? Well, much like the previous issue, it’s not an entirely bad tale, by itself, but it isn’t particularly suitable for the Teen Titans, and there is absolutely no reason for these characters to be here. The actual Titans contribute almost nothing to the story, short of Speedy murdering a poor, deformed, and mentally ill fellow. That’s the part of the story that galls me most, as Haney gives Speedy exactly one panel to feel a little bad about missing the sword and shooting the guy straight in the chest, and that is it, as if this wasn’t entirely avoidable if the character was acting in any normal fashion. And, of course, because it’s a Zany Haney plot, this killing will never be mentioned or thought-of again, and that’s terrible on multiple levels.

Let’s also not forget Haney just casually adding a character and a whole subplot to what is arguably the most famous play of all time. It’s not quite as bonkers as it seems, though, as it is very likely that “Calibano” and his plotline were drawn from “Caliban,” a character in another of Shakespeare’s plays, The Tempest. In that story of magic and mysticism, Caliban was the misshapen and monstrous servant of the wizard Prospero and was also the unlucky angle of a love triangle. Nonetheless, even if Calibano has respectable origins in another of the Bard’s tales, his presence in this story is weird and a bit disconcerting, especially because the last issue ended with the young couple discovering the apparently mummified remains of Calibano, who was also wearing different clothes. Continuity errors aside, this whole thing is just a bit of a mess. Everything happens at the speed of plot, and the two plotlines end up feeling entirely alien to each other, despite the attempts to connect them with the multiple Calibanos. You could pretty much drop the entire Loggia family plot thread from this issue and lose nothing except for Mr. Jupiter’s inexplicable display of commando skills.

As you might be able to tell, I have just about lost all patience with this whole premise. This whole ‘superhero summer camp’ thing we’ve got going on, with the Titans involved in this vague project with Jupiter, just has nothing to recommend it to me. Lilith also continues to be vague and pointless, only now she is joined in her uselessness by Wonder Girl, who does nothing all issue. I find myself wishing we could see the Titans be, you know, superheroes. On the plus side, the team of Tuska and Cardy continues to be great, really turning out some lovely work with lots of darkly atmospheric scenes that add some drama and mystery to this silly plot. Their work is really deserving of a better story. So, what is the final score? Well, I would probably have given this one 2.5 Minutemen like its first half if it weren’t for Haney having Speedy kill the antagonist with zero justification, logic, or examination. That plus ‘secret agent-Jupiter’ sours the story for me, so I’ll give it 1 Minuteman. Haney is really batting 1000 this month.


“The Girl of the Shadows”


Interestingly, this issue has another little Aqualad backup, which is cool, but it is a super brief one, only running 3 pages. Apparently, this little mini-adventure, by the wonderful SAG team, was actually slated to appear in the cancelled Aquaman #57, and it was put into inventory when that book never materialized. Unfortunately, that also meant that this intriguing little tale and the mysteries that it introduces are never resolved! What a crying shame! Being only 3 pages, there’s really not enough here to judge, so I’ll just share all three pages and offer a brief overview.

It begins with the young Aquatic Ace emerging onto darkened docks, searching for a girl that had intrigued him when he saw her earlier at a concert (don’t tell Tula!). Just as he finds her and she gives him a cryptic greeting, she is confronted by a big man in strange armor who tries to capture the mysterious maiden. The Sea Prince cleans his clock, then asks the girl for an explanation. All she says is that they must “get past the wall — before it’s too late!”, and then she disappears, leaving our young hero to wonder what this strange encounter was all about. So, we are left with a mystery that will likely never be solved, and that’s a shame, because Skeates set the stage for an interesting story, and I would have quite enjoyed it if he had been given a chance to finish it in these pages.


“The Teen-Ager from Nowhere”


That…is a very…generous description of the infamous mythical figure, Lilith.

This month’s Titans issue actually held two original backups, and the second is a solo Lilith story, which is actually a good deal better than you’d probably expect from what we’ve seen of her in the main book. This little tale is something of an origin story, and in just 7 pages Haney gives us more information about Lilith and more reason to care about her than in all of the issues she’s been in up to this point combined. It is still, of course, pretty vague, but that vagueness is at least a bit more understandable here, and the story also seems to promise some answers might be forthcoming.

It begins when a 12 year old Lilith sees a group of men leaving her small Kentucky town to search for the body of a young boy presumed drowned in the river. Suddenly she runs after them and yells that he’s not in the river, leading them into the hills and finally to an old well. They find and rescue the boy, but then they begin to wonder how she knew he was there. The young girl can’t explain her knowledge, and the crowd grows more suspicious until her father finally arrives and takes her home. Back in the safety of her own house, her parents are supportive, but the pre-teen psychic senses that she is actually adopted, and she runs out of the house in search of her origins.

In fact, she runs all the way to the orphanage that once sheltered her, where somehow the matron recognizes and remembers her, despite the fact that she was only one year old when she was adopted. Neat trick! Lilith learns that her powers were apparently shared by her real mother, who brought her to the orphanage after some mysterious trouble relating to her father. The kindly matron warns the strange girl not to dredge up the tragedies of the past, but the youth swears that she will discover who she is, though she is glad when her adoptive parents come to fetch her home.

This is a surprisingly good story for focusing on Lilith, and it shows that she could be a decent character if she was given any development or personality other than “mysteriousness.” The girl’s lack of understanding of her powers or past is much more believable and excusable, as she is just beginning her journey. A 12-year-old not being able to explain a first flash of psychic insight is much more understandable and palatable than, say, a college-age girl doing the same after having lived with such abilities for years. Nick Cardy’s art is just plain gorgeous, as always, and he brings so much humanity and emotion to his characters that you can’t help but sympathize with the lost young girl or her concerned parents. Haney’s writing is positively restrained and thoughtful here, and the final result is a really solid and intriguing backup that actually makes me, of all things, look forward to more stories about Lilith! I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, as it isn’t quite strong enough to reach a higher score, .


World’s Finest #208


Cover Artists: Neal Adams and Gaspar Saladino

“Peril of the Planet-Smashers!”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Julius Schwartz and E. Nelson Bridwell


“The Inside Story of Robotman!”
Writer: Joseph Samachson
Penciler/Inker: Jimmy Thompson
Editor: Jack Schiff


Ghost Patrol: “The ‘Spectacular’ Crimes”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Editor: Sheldon Mayer

Oh man, what an awesome cover! How could you pass by the newsstand and not plunk down your quarter to see what kind of story could have such an epic image over its pages? Many of us have probably heard the old saying that the Silver Age Superman could “juggle planets,” but that expression, which captures the casual omnipotence of the character and thus one of the flaws with his portrayal in the era, doesn’t really apply here. Instead, we get a wonderful portrayal of a truly epic feat that feels properly epic. You can see the strain and effort on Superman’s face, like a moment out of the wonderful old Fleischer Superman cartoons, where the Man of Steel would constantly be pushed to his limits to defeat his foes and rescue his friends. It feels heroic and exciting in the extreme, and it is beautifully and powerfully rendered by Neal Adams. In fact, it’s such a cool cover, that I’ve been anxiously anticipating its approach in my lineup, quietly excited to read the story it represents. So, does the tale within live up to that dynamite image? Perhaps a better question is, could anything?

Sadly, although Wein and Dillin give us a good super-story inside, it isn’t quite the amazing epic that our cover promises us. It begins with Dr. Fate helping the police to recover a stolen “thermal-ray,” which is apparently insanely dangerous for a hand weapon, but the technological marvel and its erstwhile criminal owners are a poor match for the master of magic, who simply causes the device’s trigger to disappear! That’s a wonderfully clever and straightforward solution to the threat. However, his heroics are soon interrupted by an emergency call from…the hospital?? Apparently this Dr. Fate is a literal medical doctor, which was completely news to me. I always knew him as an archaeologist, but apparently, his earliest appearances had him sharing his fellow Justice Society member, Dr. Mid-Nite’s profession. Who knew? Surprisingly, what awaits the good doctor at the hospital is not your average case but an ailing alien! The strange-looking being telepathically communicates the mental message that “Earth is doomed!” The medical magician is left stunned, realizing that he must save this creature’s life, or its secret will die with it, and so may the Earth itself!

Meanwhile, our other heroic headliner is hanging out on a satellite above Earth 1, contemplating his magical misadventure from the previous issue. We find Superman lamenting the fact that he has two whole weaknesses in his otherwise invulnerable form. Boo-freaking-hoo, the poor sun-god is only mostly invulnerable! Just then, the morose Man of Steel hits upon the idea of seeking succor from one of his mystical allies and heads out to consult the Mistress of Magic, Zatanna. On the way, he casually disposes of a radioactive dust cloud by sucking it into his lungs and then blowing it into the sun. Yep, clearly he’s not powerful enough! Unfortunately, Zatanna tells the Action Ace that she can’t help him, because her father told her that “to know how our powers work would cause them to stop working!” Now, I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that just means that Zatarra didn’t feel like answering a young Zatanna’s questions…I do enjoy Zatanna just casually doing crazy magic as she talks to Supes, almost like she’s rubbing it in.

Having exhausted his options on Earth 1, Kal conceives of an alternative, and he goes to visit his other spell-slinging friend, Dr. Fate, on Earth 2. The Man of Tomorrow arrives just in time to help his fellow hero with his unusual patient, and mage teleports them to his tower and fills his guest in on the plot. Apparently this alien was just hanging out in the sky over a city and was struck by a plane (imagine being the pilot and trying to report that!). I suppose you’ve got to be prepared for things like this when you live in the DC Universe. The Arcane Avenger supernaturally scans his patient’s mind and discovers images of two landmarks, a Mayan temple and Stone Henge, and the heroes split up to investigate the mysterious threat facing the world.

Dr. Fate travels to the Mayan temple, only to discover another alien just “sitting” in the sky, meditating, and ignoring him. When the occult hero presses his case, the strange being casually causes the surrounding flora to grow and attack, and the wizardly warrior has to employ his magical might to escape from the plant-based peril, literally blowing up some one of the hungrier heinous herbs from the inside! It’s a nice little sequence, and Dillin renders it well. However, just when Fate is ready to grab his alien attacker, the being simply vanishes!

On the other side of the world, Superman doesn’t have much better luck in England, where the same pattern repeats itself, though with a giant formed from the ground itself in place of the sinister shrubbery that attacked his ally. The sand is too soft for the Man of Might’s blows to have much of an impact, so he tries a different tack, turning the entire colossus into glass with his heat vision, and shattering it with a powerful blow, another really cool sequence, with an honestly clever resolution. Yet, just as with Fate, the mysterious meditator vanishes when approached. What could these baffling beings be up to? Well, as the heroes prepare to regroup, they each encounter strangely sudden natural disasters, with Dr. Fate stopping a rampaging tidal wave and Superman saving a city from an unexpected volcanic eruption.

Comparing notes, the dauntless duo discover that the continents of Earth 2 are being drawn together, and the planet is heading towards an apocalyptic ending! Risking another probe of their injured alien, they discover that he was a member of the Buudak, the “high lamas” of an ancient race, who are seeking an interplanetary Nirvana, one that can only be found through the release of energies resulting from the destruction of the Earth! The heroes confront the alien trio as they prepare their final psychic attack, but both might and magic prove futile. In desperation, the dauntless dyad decide to combine their abilities, and Dr. Fate channels his preternatural power into the Metropolis Marvel, giving him mystical might to match his star-born strength.

The supercharged Superman is able to shrug off the alien’s attacks, smashing their psychic shield, and the terrible trio vanish as their own powers consume them. However, despite their defeat, the world is not yet saved, and the continents continue to converge! The master of magic reclaims his power and forges occult chains, and Superman hauls the rogue land masses back into place! The adventure ends with the world restored and with the Man of Might having decided that his vulnerability is for the best after all because…and see if you can follow this, he was only able to save the day because Fate’s magic could effect him…though one wonders just how often such a situation is going to arise. To be fair, the Kryptonian’s actual last thought makes more sense, as he notes that “a little humility is good even for a Superman.” That is almost certainly true, and in fact, I might say “especially good”.

Muddled moral aside, this was a pretty fun issue. Dr. Fate and Superman make for an unusual team, and it is interesting to see them in action together. They are in many ways opposites in terms of their powersets, with one being a physical juggernaut, while the other is a magical powerhouse. It’s a pairing that we don’t see too often, and I enjoyed the casual yet logical reason behind their team-up. Superman just happens to show up looking for answers, and he drops into an adventure already in progress. Good enough, and it makes the world of DC feel a bit more interconnected. The incredibly powerful alien lamas made for solid antagonists, though I would have liked to know a bit more about them. Their objective, spiritual enlightenment at all costs, is also an unusual one, adding an interesting twist on the standard ‘destroy the world’ plot, but their casual dismissal of the lives they’re about to destroy does raise some questions about their ethos! Our heroes’ efforts make for an entertaining and exciting tale, especially in the first half. Unfortunately, the final confrontation and climax aren’t as successful. Dillin makes the first challenges the team faces visually interesting and fun, especially Superman’s fight with the sand giant, but the last attack isn’t nearly as engaging, though it is serviceable enough. The real problem with this story, and it is a minor one, is that Dillin’s portrayal of that wonderfully dramatic moment from the cover just simply pales in comparison. It’s fairly uninspiring rather than the show-stopping scene it really should be. Still, if the worst you can say about a comic is that it has one moment that isn’t as impressive as its cover, then you’re not doing too badly! In the end, this is a really enjoyable adventure, if not quite as epic and memorable as the cover promised. I’ll give it a strong 4 Minutemen.


Final thoughts


Well, with these three books, we have reached the end of December 1971, and an interesting end it is! This month saw quite a collection of comics, with few high highs but several quite low lows. Nonetheless, we had an unusual number of moderately high scoring books this month, with a lot of them earning 4 Minutemen, even if few scored higher. Overall, it was a fairly enjoyable month of comics, with several pleasant surprises along the way, including Action Comics, Adventure‘s new Zatanna backup, The Creeper’s guest spot, Superman‘s plankton-fueled panic, and more. There were a few real clunkers, though, with the master of madcap plots, Zaney Haney, turning in two terrible tales that even his insane energy can’t save. We’re seeing some books dragging, like Teen Titans, while others, like Jimmy Olsen have hopefully begun to recover, though Kirby’s 4th World work is so wild and uneven, there’s no promise of that. One thing is certain, both Zaney Haney and the King will have something unique and creative for us next month, whether it sinks or swims.

In terms of themes, this has been a fascinating month, with many a book aiming at a significance that its story can’t quite match. Nonetheless, there are some really interesting attempts to tackle heavier ideas in this batch of books, and the social relevance revolution is on full display. We’ve got obvious examples, like Green Lantern / Green Arrow, which attempted to address racism in O’Neil’s usual rather ham-handed fashion, but which did succeed in achieving some real importance by introducing John Stewart, a new black hero who would go on to become an excellent and worthwhile addition to the DC Universe. If his portrayal in this first appearance was rather one-note, his very existence was still rather remarkable. The Green Arrow backup also aimed at relevance, and with a fair amount of success too. That unusual ground that tale trod had to feel particularly revolutionary in 1971, with Ollie questioning how much good a superhero could actually do in light of the social problems plaguing the country. O’Neil’s attempts at verisimilitude and relevance are effective, if rather depressing.

Though the issues that percolate in the background of the story are vague and unexplored, the sense of unrest and tension fits with what we’ve been seeing in many of the other other books that have tried to take on such themes. In fact, we find that this idea has plenty of company this month. Interestingly, we see just that same vague sense of tension, especially among the youth, reflected in Justice League, where we meet an ersatz Jimi Hendrix. Of course, the most fascinating element in that story was its look at the plight of Vietnam veterans, though sadly it was given little more than a glimpse. This issue does recognize the power that music was playing in the counter-cultural movement, a concept which we also see show up in much more fantastic and strange fashion in Superman’s visit to the “discotheque.” Unfortunately, Jimi Hendrix never quite managed managed to rock hard enough to bring down a literal roof.

Nonetheless, we can see how much DC comics have changed in just a year, with so many different teams on so many different titles attempting to engage the tumultuous culture of their day to a degree that was much more rare when we started our journey. One of the most unexpected of these attempts was our backup Kid Flash tale, which featured another wealthy businessman as an antagonist, which is becoming a much more common trope, but which also focused, not on environmentalism as has already become common, but instead on nutrition. That really surprised me, showing up in 1971, as I think of that as a much more modern concern. Heck, I grew up in the 80s, where preservatives and all manner of additives in our super-processed food was just the norm! It’s the carcinogens that make it tasty!

Social relevance wasn’t the only connection to the real world that we saw in our books this month. We also got to see the first appearance of the Rutland Halloween Parade in DC Comics, which was quite entertaining, though that issue did have some problems with tone, combining the light-hearted fun with the heavy drama of holocaust survivors and escaped Nazi war criminals…real laugh-a-minute stuff! Despite its rather schizophrenic tone, it did manage to be an interesting and memorable issue. After all, it’s not every day you see Batman sharing the page with Thor and Spider-Man!

All-in-all, there were a lot of really entertaining reads this month, and we saw a lot of great art in the pages of our various books, even when the stories themselves weren’t quite as good. Pleasantly, even when the main tales tank, I find myself really enjoying several of our backups, like The World of Krypton, Rose and Thorn, and especially the new Zatanna feature. I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes out of that one. Despite its unevenness, I’m still excited about reading the rest of the 4th World as it develops. Though there are several runs that I find myself wishing would end, there is still plenty to be excited about. I wonder what next month will bring us!

Well, there’s only one way to find out! I hope that y’all will join me again soon(ish) for another edition of Into the Bronze Age! I’ll be posting a tribute to our fallen friend, Cyber Burn first, and I hope that y’all will join me for that as well and honor his memory. Until next time, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: December 1971 (Part 3)

Welcome back to our voyage into the Bronze Age! Once again life has intervened and rather spectacularly ruined my plans for a quicker turn around on this little feature. Things have been difficult here in the Greylands, though I suppose that they are indeed difficult in most places these days. For those of you that pray, I’d appreciate your prayers. We are physically and materially okay, but we are feeling rather worn-down by life at the moment, and there may be more difficult challenges on our horizon. Here’s hoping that 2021 may yet bring us all brighter days.

However, when life gets you down, there are few better escapes than the wonderful world of superhero comics, especially this particularly exuberant variety from the Bronze Age, so let us see what strange marvels the next bit of this month holds 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 #407
  • Adventure Comics #413
  • Batman #237
  • Detective Comics #418
  • The Flash #211
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87
  • Justice League of America #95
  • Mr. Miracle #5
  • Phantom Strange #16
  • Superboy #180
  • Superman #246 (#245 was all reprints)
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #117
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #144
  • Teen Titans #36
  • World’s Finest #208

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


Justice League of America #95


Cover Artists: Neal Adams

“The Private War of Johnny Dune!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella

Editor: Julius Schwartz

“How He Began”: Dr. Mid-Nite
Writer: Charles Reizenstein
Artist: Stan Aschmeier

“The Origin of…Doctor Fate”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Artist: Howard Sherman

We’ve got a very interesting story to kick off this set of comics, a tale that wholeheartedly steers into the relevance push of the early Bronze Age, combining a number of different contemporary issues in its plot. The result is a story that is rather fascinating as a representative of its era, even if the plot itself leaves something to be desired. The tale has a solid, if unexceptional cover. Adams’ rendering of our titular antagonist, Johnny Dune, is colorful and interesting, even if he is just wearing “normal” clothes. Well….normal is a relative term in the 70s. Let’s just say that he’s not wearing a costume. The piece captures the basic idea of the conflict, with Johnny having hypnotized the League. I do enjoy the miniature figure of the Tiny Titan trotting along at his feet. It’s not the most exciting of covers, but it does its job and sets the stage reasonably well.

And the show that plays upon that stage begins, not with our titular antagonist Johnny himself, but with Batman and Aquaman preparing to teleport up to the JLA Satellite, only to be scooped up by Superman, who dramatically declares that he is trying to prevent their deaths! In a two-page spread that gives us a nice cross-section of the Satellite, he transports the heroes to their headquarters, and we discover that Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman disappeared in some type of teleporter disaster. Fortunately, the world’s greatest detective is on the case!

Meanwhile, we are introduced to the young man from the cover, Johnny Dune, a Vietnam veteran returning home to a country that doesn’t want him. We learn that he fought in several battles of that terrible war, eventually getting wounded and facing certain death at the hands of advancing North Vietnamese troops. In a moment of agony and anger, he cried out for them to stop, and strangely enough, they did. Thus Johnny Dune discovered that he was a mutant with the power to control people with his voice. Despite his newfound power, the young man finds nothing but closed doors and rather unnecessarily discouraging “No Help Wanted!” signs when he returns home. Really, I don’t think it’s necessary to advertise that you don’t have any jobs available. It’s usually the other way around. It’s also interesting that the comic uses the word “mutant”, as you don’t tend to see that term show up as often at DC, given its association with Marvel. Of course, at this point, the original X-Men title had been cancelled, and we were still years away from the beginning of Chris Claremont’s legendary run.

That’s…really not all that impressive…

Next, we jump forward in time and join Green Arrow and the Atom as they perform an exhibition for a youth event. And it turns out that they are the opening act for…Johnny Dune, who has become a successful musician. That’s a sharp turn! We jump back and see that the rising star had approached one of the city’s political bosses, wanting to run for mayor (man, there must be something in the air; everyone’s getting into politics in the DCU!). Johnny is dedicated to addressing the somewhat vague social problems plaguing the city, including poverty, drugs, and violence. He warns that the kids are restless and angry but promises that he can calm things down, thanks to his star power. The rocker offers to play free concerts to help cool the situation off, only to be betrayed by the wheelers and dealers afterward.

In revenge, Johnny uses his power to hypnotize his current crowd into following him, as he leads them, Pied Piper style, out of the city. When the Emerald Archer and the Six-Inch Super-Sleuth try to stop him, the would-be musical messiah sics his audience on them. The heroes hold their own for a while, but get taken out by one random big dude, the first of many unimpressive showings by our heroes in this issue. You know, Ollie getting his lumps from an average guy is one thing, but the Atom getting casually taken out by a backhand is something else. I suppose that’s often how his stories go, though. No-one can touch the shrinking superhero…until the plot requires it.

I do quite enjoy Ollie’s misplaced confidence here.

Well, our pummeled protagonists manage to get off a distress call, just as Batman has solved the mystery of their teammates’ disappearances.. The Dark Knight theorizes that the trio intercepted a Zeta-Beam and got zapped to Rann, a theory proven a moment later, as Green Lantern manages to contact the team with a distress call of his own. The team splits up, with Superman headed to space to succor the heroes on Rann, while Batman and Black Canary take the Batjet to aid their other allies. In a cool moment, Aquaman is the one who takes charge and makes the plan. Its coolness is counteracted, however, by the fact that he decides to stay on the Satellite and coordinate things….for no particular reason. This is the last time he shows up in the story. So, why was he included in the first place?

The Gotham Guardian and the Bird Lady parachute into the fray, immediately beset by Dune’s disciples. Fortunately for them, they are so focused on their fighting, that they resist his voice, but then he sics his captive heroes on them, and the new comers just…let their teammates pummel them. We get a line about how they can’t bring themselves to fight, but this isn’t a life and death matter yet, so that just seems like another cop-out. With all the Leagures lassoed, our generic Jimi Hendrix heads down the highway, his brainwashed followers behind him.

Yet, along the way, Dune begins to lose control, and some of the kids start wrecking fences. When the musician can’t stop them, he sends Green Arrow to deal with the troublemakers. At first the Ace Archer can’t resist his commands, but in a moment when his captor is distracted by the chaos, the hero seizes his chance. Stopping up his ears, Odysseus-style, the Battling Bowman use a “suction cup arrow” to shut the singer’s trap, then clobbers him. This breaks the spell, and the kids run wild. So the heroes….bravely beat up a bunch of teenagers…? Yep, and even more oddly, Friedrich’s overblown narration plays it as a moment of great heroism.

But none of this is what Johnny Dune wanted, so seeing the destruction his former disciples are dishing-out, he frees himself and commands the crowd to turn their anger on him, instead. They beat him to within an inch of his life, somehow exorcising their rage in the process, and then just wandering off. Friedrich gives us a fake-out then, with Dune supposedly dying, only to be revealed to have survived on the next page. Ohh, the suspense? Apparently the battering he suffered somehow removed his powers, and the League and the law just kind of let him wander off to pursue his political career, despite having kidnapped hundreds of people with his hypnotic voice. Man, the authorities in Generictown sure are forgiving!

So, this is quite a comic. “Touch-feely Friedrich” is writing in his usual style, so the melodrama is cranked up, especially in his narration. Despite that, the tale is full of fascinating elements, as Friedrich stretches and strains for as much relevance as he can cram into the pages. In fact, it’s over-full, positively stuffed with different concepts, all fighting for space. We start with a returning Vietnam veteran, something rare enough in comics of this era, but even more so, Friedrich includes a nod to the difficulties such soldiers faced when coming home, the lack of opportunity and cultural hostility that greeted them. Larry Hama and other (better) writers would later deal with these themes more successfully in the 80s, when the events weren’t quite so present and time, perhaps, allowed for greater clarity and perspective.

Nonetheless, this is a really interesting moment, something that we have not seen very often in this era. In general, it seems DC books were largely ignoring the war and its consequences at this point. Yet, it isn’t just the plight of the veterans that fills the pages of this issue, as we also have other social problems providing background for the ill-defined unrest of the youth, the rage and disaffection which were still reverberating through the culture. Interestingly, there’s no mention of the anti-war movement, which would have been a natural fit for Johnny’s origins and a focus for the otherwise directionless anger of the kids in this story. Friedrich introduces the issue of returning veterans, and then he immediately moves on from it.

That is indicative of one of the major problems with this issue, as it’s a rather jumbled and discordant mix of different elements. As the plot develops, none of the interesting components of Johnny’s backstory actually have any impact on the direction of the story, other than his power and the fact that he was a musician. His military background, his inability to find a job (which is, itself, immediately undercut by the fact that we jump to him as a famous rock star), or his involvement in a neighborhood gang. None of these facets of his origin seem to actually color who he becomes or the choices he makes in the end. We’re given an intriguing hint that he was twisted by his experience in Vietnam, having become inured to violence, but though he displays a willingness to hurt the Leaguers, we don’t really see that come into play, not even in his moment of crisis and self-sacrifice. That’s disappointing because there is a ton of potential in this story’s setup. Speaking of his grand gesture, that also feels a little underwhelming, as it just feels unnecessary. Why does he have to turn their rage against himself? Why does that free them? Because plot? To make matters worse, our heroes are wholly unimpressive throughout. After all, they really don’t do much, other than occasionally beat up some kids, and or get their heads handed to them by random civilians.

Interestingly, the popular and influential, though troubled Johnny Dune, seems to be based on Jimi Hendrix to some degree, especially in the flashy style of clothes he wears throughout the adventure. Friedrich mentions Hendrix by name in his narration, and the real-life star himself had died recently, in 1970. Interestingly, Hendrix himself had been in the army, though he was discharged before seeing active service.

On the art front, this issue is solid, but not exceptional. There are definitely some of those stiff and awkward poses that characterize Dillin’s work on the book, he also does some great storytelling, bringing a lot of personality to Johnny, and giving us some nice moments throughout. All-in-all, this comic is more interesting in premise than in practice. It’s a fairly underwhelming story that can’t quite seem to decide what it’s doing. It’s still an engaging read, and it is fun to see an obvious Jimi Hendrix proxy captivating the DC Universe. I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen, as it more or less breaks even.

P.S.: Another fascinating feature of this issue is that its letter column contains correspondence from not one, but two future comics professionals! That’s right, we’ve got letters from both Mark Gruenwald and future DC Answer Man, Bob Rozakis, which is pretty cool! As you’ll see, they had rather different opinions about the work DC in general, and Friedrich in particular, were doing. I suppose that’s why Gruenwald ended up working for Marvel! However, I have to say, I think the young curmudgeon has some pretty good points in his letter, especially about the disappointing lack of supervillains in these pages. I’m curious if his math is right. It sounds pretty accurate, and we certainly have seen more than our share of alien menaces in this book since we’ve started this project, haven’t we?


Mr. Miracle #5


“Murder Machine!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Mike Royer
Editor: Jack Kirby

“Young Scott Free”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Mike Royer

Boy Commandos: “The Invasion of America”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler/Inker: Joe Simon

Well, if our Justice League story this month is a bit of a disappointment, the wonderful madness of Kirby’s Fourth World can make it up to us. In this issue, the King treats us to another delightful outing for the world’s only super-escape artist. It has a pretty good cover, continuing the pattern of our hapless hero being held helpless while being threatened by wonderfully exaggerated perils. The dangerous device isn’t as creative and outre as some of the previous entries, but I love the ridiculous variety of menaces it includes. There’s a missile labelled A-Bomb, as if you would need anything other than that, as well as a knife, an axe, and a flamethrower, which is helpfully labelled for our convenience. It’s entertainingly silly and excessive. As an added bonus, this cover is a pretty honest depiction of the devilish threat that awaits our hero within.

Our adventure begins with Big Barda, in her rather skimpy attire from the end of the last issue, performing her daily exercises to the delight of a group of workmen who have come to deliver a cannon for Scott Free’s act. In a fun and honestly funny scene, she puts all of the admiring apes to shame as she casually rips the massive cannon free from its lashings and tots it away on her shoulder. Kirby’s narration in this section, and really throughout the issue, is a bit weird and on the nose: “See Big Barda! See how she exercises! Big Barda is tough! Big Barda is incredibly strong! Big Barda comes from Apokolips!” Has he suddenly turned into Dr. Seuss? Despite that, the dialog for this opening scene is entertaining and natural….unfortunately, that doesn’t really last.

Yet, while Barda is making the menfolk feel inferior, we are introduced to Vermin Vundabar, the pint-sized Pinochet, who we learn has modeled his appearance and attitude after the rigorous military discipline and efficiency of the Prussian army of the 19th century. He’s been sent to Earth by Granny Goodness to kill Scott, and with the help of one of his henchmen, he’s testing a death trap. In a nicely effective scene, the trap backfires, injuring his minion, all while Vundabar coldly looks on. Then, he casually executes the fellow for having failed him! It’s a very effective introduction to the character, and Kirby puts a ton of personality into the little dictator in every panel.

Meanwhile, Scott and Oberon are trying out their newest act, which involves Mr. Miracle being strapped to a cannon as it fires! Man, ‘ol Scott doesn’t do things by half measures, doe she? But as they are occupied with their preparations, Barda is ambushed by some of Vundabar’s troops, and though she gives a good account of herself, she’s captured. Fortunately, Mr. Miracle is able to escape his bonds before he gets bisected by a cannonball, and he sets out to rescue the captured Female Fury.

Arriving at Vundabar’s headquarters, the heroic Houdini is greeted by a video of his antagonist before being trapped in a “titanium coffer” and locked into place on a conveyor belt of death! The coffer is then subjected to a host of horrible attacks, including battering, blasting, zapping, and finally…melting! Then, in a great moment, as Vundabar and his lackeys laugh and gloat about having caught and killed the world’s greatest escape artist, who should show up behind them but Mr. Miracle himself!

It’s a fun reveal, and he shares with them (and us) how he escaped by using his boot jets to cut through the floor and burrowed underground, which is a fairly satisfying explanation. Kirby specifically tells us that Vundabar’s cameras were focused on the front of the trap, so they didn’t pick up the hole in the conveyor belt. In another entertaining touch, while the gathered goons question him, Scott uses those same boot lasers to literally cut the floor out from under them. I’m not quite sure how that worked without them noticing, but it is a fun moment, so I’ll just roll with it. Our tale ends with Scott scooping up the weakened Barda and the pair flying off into the sunset.

This is an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable issue. Kirby’s plotting is fun and action-packed, though his dialog and especially his narration is just plain odd in places. This is particularly noticeable in some of the unnecessarily vague and unclear descriptions of Apokolips. Despite that, there are moments of genuine humor and charm, and Kirby really seems to have a good sense of his characters. Vundabar is introduced well and given plenty of unique color and a strong personality. I love the way he doesn’t even bat an eye as his henchman literally explodes behind him. Of course, the premise is pretty wacky, but it works in the wild world of comics. Why would a New God from Apokolips model himself after Prussians from Earth? Because Earth is the center of the universe, apparently! I suppose since Darkseid is convinced that humans have the Anti-life Equation, it would make sense for his forces to turn their attention to our little orb.

Anyway, the central threat of the issue is visually interesting and exciting, and Scott’s escape is relatively satisfying. Kirby’s art is great and energetic throughout, but he also does an excellent job of capturing the emotion and personality of his characters, like Scott’s fear for Oberon while the hero himself is strapped to the cannon. I think we’re seeing the benefits of having a better inker. At any rate, I’ll give this enjoyable outing 4 Minutemen. As much fun as it is, it’s good, not great, with enough little flaws to keep it from a higher score.

P.S.: This issue had an odd little moment that confused and intrigued me, and I can’t quite decide how I feel about it. When Scott confronts Vundabar at the end, the villain accuses the hero of ‘cheating’ and using a technological trick to escape his trap. Mr. Miracle replies that “even in the ‘crunch’ I play it fair — and you know it!” So, this implies that Scott has access to technology and powers that he refuses to use out of some sense of fair play…when the forces of a personification of pure evil are trying to kill him… I find this simultaneously utterly stupid and tremendously entertaining. I love the idea of a hero who is having a good time with his adventures, perhaps who even pushes himself to excel by giving himself challenges within his adventure, like the cosmic race between Flash and Superman from World’s Finest. However, while I could absolutely see Mr. Miracle having such an attitude, I don’t know that it really makes sense for it to be applied to his conflict with Darkseid’s minions. After all, they represent a hellish reality for him, not merely a threat to life and limb. Either way, I’m intrigued by this element and curious if Kirby will develop it further.


The Phantom Stranger #16


“Image in Wax”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler/Inker: Jim Aparo
Letterer: Jim Aparo
Editor: Joe Orlando

Cover Artist: Neal Adams

Mark Merlin: “Threat of the Horrible Hex”
Writer: Arnold Drake
Penciler/Inker: Mort Meskin

Doctor 13: “And the Corpse Cried, ‘Murder!'”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler/Inker: Tony DeZuniga

In this month’s Phantom Stranger yarn we find an interesting if overstuffed tale of mystery and magic. All of that lies beneath a cover which is a very mixed bag. The background of wax figures is really excellent and striking, with the Phantom Stranger unobtrusively included in their number, his signature shadow stretching menacingly above. Yet, the central image of the old man in the wheelchair is rendered a little comical by the girl’s apparent terror, despite the monstrous hands reaching from ‘off-screen.’ It’s only half successful, I’d say, as the crippled figure of the old codger doesn’t really fit in with the heavy atmosphere of the rest of the piece.

Within, the oppressive feel of the cover is replicated in a dark and misty night, as a pair of punks tries to break into, of all things, a wax museum. Unfortunately for them, they are interrupted in the act by an apparently frail and helpless old man, and one scream later, they have been transformed into wax statues! This sequence was actually a bit confusing. Before we see the reveal of their fate, the old man, Tallow, dispatches two other shadowy figures to “find the girl!” On my first read, I naturally assumed that those were the former felons.

The next day finds a crowd attending the grand opening of the museum, which has a focus on the occult. Viewing the “Hall of Wizards” with the rest of the patrons is a certain Stranger who senses evil in the old house. Intrigued? Well, if so, too bad, because it’s going to be a quite a while before we follow up on that! Instead, that night, two men attack a woman on a deserted street, only to be interrupted by the Phantom Stranger, whose dialog has suddenly been turned up to 11 on the dramatic scale. I can’t quite decide if lines like “the powers of truth are a beacon in the darkness, far stronger than the shadows they dispel!” are cool or corny. Either way, after saving the girl, our mystery man discovers that she has lost her memory. After she is brought to a place of refuge and left with a promise of protection, she dreams strange and vivid dreams!

Falling through a very Aparo dream-scape reminiscent of some of the last of his Aquaman issues, she finds herself in a fantastic and ancient setting, where she is greeted as “Queen Dalia.” As she watches, the chief priest of this outlandish place declares that the stars declare that they, the wizards of their people, must go into hiding or be destroyed. Their only hope is a spell called “The Deathless Sleep” which will render them “as statues–waxen soulless parodies of life.” Do you see the connection? Well, hang on; it gets stranger! The chief priest, Tallow (!), declares that he will watch over their sleeping fellows, keeping himself alive by absorbing life forces from those that slumber. Yet, Dalia refuses to join him, not wanting to give up her life, and then she is suddenly rescued by the Phantom Stranger, who pulls her through the psychedelic dream space and back to the land of the waking in a cool sequence.

Think you’ve got a handle on the story? Well, hold on to your hat, because despite the fact that we’ve already got a haunted wax museum, an amnesiac girl, and a mysterious ancient civilization, Wein isn’t done tossing in elements just yet! After the nightmare, the Spectral Sleuth and his lovely charge go for a walk to clear her head, only to encounter an ardent and anxious young man named Ernie Drapper, who claims to be her fiance. He goes from distressed to dangerous at the drop of a hat, attacking the Phantom Stranger when the mysterious man tries to explain the situation. While they struggle, they are struck by a burst of dark energy, and when they recover, they discover the girl has been taken! A very tolerant and forgiving Stranger shrugs off Drapper’s attempt to murder him and takes the unstable fellow in search of his forgetful fiance.

Their search takes them to the wax museum, of course, where they are captured by wax figures come to life and brought before Tallow, who is indeed the long-lived chief priest from Dalia’s dream. We discover that she had escaped from her people, having stolen life force from another (!), and they have been seeking to recapture her. At this explanation, Drapper once more displays his disturbingly short temper and penchant for violence, breaking free and trying to burn the whole place down while they’re all still inside it. They rescue Dalia from the flames, but her respite proves short lived, as she melts away like wax once outside, confessing that she was one of these mysterious wizards in hiding, but that she did truly love him. The Phantom Stranger offers the grieving Drapper the rather unhelpful thought that he still has his memories, and then wanders off into the night, leaving the unstable young man weeping over his love’s smoldering remains.

Ooookay…..so, did you follow all that? If you’ve got questions, you’re not alone! I am left a bit befuddled. She tells us that her amnesia was self-induced, but she also says that she lied to Ernie…so….how much was the lie? Did she actually not know what she was, or was she only lying at the end when she said Tallow’s tale wasn’t true? I’m guessing it’s the latter, but this is all a bit confusing. This story is, like many of Wein’s during this run, just plain overstuffed with ideas. There is just too much going on here, and while it isn’t as incongruous and messy as some of Kanigher’s efforts on the book, it does definitely feel hurried and incomplete. We’ve got a lost society hidden in plain sight, which is an interesting idea, but we learn almost nothing about them, their culture, their origins, their objectives, or their motivations, other than preserving their people. We have the girl with amnesia and the mystery of her identity, but although we learn that she was part of this group, we learn almost nothing else about her. What was she doing living as a human? How long had she been on the run? She stole life force to make her escape; did she kill someone to do that? There’s a ton that could be done with these ideas, but Wein just rushes right through them, not taking any time to explore or develop any of these interesting elements. This should have been at least two issues, I’d say, with one perhaps unraveling the enigma of the girl’s identity, ending with the discovery that there was more to the mystery than meets the eye and leading in to the whole ‘secret wizard colony’ thing. Even in comics, that needs a bit more air to breathe.

The art, of course, is fantastic and atmospheric. Aparo creates moody, menacing mystery, mind-bending visions, and even great quiet moments with gusto and aplomb. He also includes some fun Easter eggs in the wax museum. Among the famed figures gathered in that macabre manse, sharp-eyed readers might spot the creepy Cain of House of Mystery fame, as well as Sargon the Sorcerer and, perhaps, the Time Trapper (though his costume is so nondescript, it could just be a generic robbed figure). I wonder if the fellow in colonial garb is someone too, but if so, I can’t place him. His Stranger looks particularly great, always in motion and wreathed in shadow, a striking, dynamic figure in any scene. It’s always interesting to me when this clearly supernatural entity suddenly seems human, like when the stunned Stranger is sprawled on the sidewalk, his hat knocked off his head. It further muddies the waters with just who or what he is. At any rate, the lovely art helps to elevate the rather flawed story, and the end result is a fun, though somewhat confusing and overfull tale that leaves you wishing Wein had picked just one element on which to focus. Still, though the individual components of the story are underdeveloped, Wein does give us a complete tale with a full emotional arc, however rushed. I’ll give it an average 3 Minutemen.


“And the Corpse Cried ‘Murder'”


Our backup is once again a tale of Dr. Thirteen, the Ghost-Breaker (which is, to be fair, an awesome nom de guerre). It begins with a couple on a mountain road witnessing the fiery crash of a car in an apparent suicide. Yet, later on, the good doctor receives an unexpected an unusual visitor in his study, a ghostly apparition who claims to be the spirit of a murdered man named Paul Williams. The interloper, who proves to be actually incorporeal, begs Dr. Thirteen to find his killer, and the intrigued investigator agrees, though he plans to expose the poltergeist as a plot!

He pays a visit to the “ghost’s” widow, who suggests that a disgruntled former employee of her husband, Ross Curran, might have hated him enough to kill him. Heading to the suspect’s house, the skeptical sleuth arrives in time to see the electrical technician apparently commit suicide after admitting that he killed his former boss. Yet, when the doctor examines the body, he finds that it is as cold as ice, as if it had been dead for hours. He also finds a thin film of dust over everything in the room, theorizing that there is a similar residue in his office. Suspecting that he’s being set up as a sucker, the Ghost-Breaker sets out to live up to his nickname.

Calling Mrs. Williams, he implies that he’s uncovered new evidence, and a while later, the supposedly spectral Paul Williams shows up, very much corporeal, and armed to boot! He admits that he and his wife faked his death, sending a derelict to a fiery fate in his place, and framing Curran for his murder, with the electrical wizard’s unwitting aid. Just as the murderer prepares to add another death to his doll, Dr. Thirteen triggers an illusion of his own, the same holographic technology that had created William’s ghostly “manifestation” and Curran’s “suicide”, images projected onto reflective particles floating in the air. William’s fires ineffectively, and the Ghost-Breaker wades in, only to lose the initiative a moment later. Just as Williams is about to kill the doubting detective, his would-be widow stumbles in, having caught one of the stray bullets he fired, leaving Dr. Thirteen to close the case in a more peaceful, if somber, fashion.

This is a really solid Dr. Thirteen tale. It’s got a good central mystery, wrapped in the appearance of a false enigma. It’s a clever twist on a familiar plot, with a private detective brought in to play unwitting patsy for a nefarious plot, providing an unimpeachable witness for a false reality. The pay-off requires science fiction technology, but for a story taking place in the DC Universe, that is pretty believable. Of course there would be realistic holograms floating around in that world. Thirteen himself is clever and resourceful, not really being taken in by the plot. In only 8 pages, Wein manages to deliver a complete and satisfying mystery, complete with a nice emotional beat at the end. DeZuniga’s art is pretty solid throughout, achieving some really nice effects with some of the holographic sequences. I’ll give this fine backup 3.5 Minutemen. It’s a good and intriguing read, and unlike the title tale, in this one, Wein makes excellent use of his limited space.


And that will do it for this delayed dose of Bronze Age brilliance! We’ve got a solid set of stories, all of them making for at least decent reads, and with a very diverse set of styles. I hope that y’all found them as interesting as I did, and that you’ll join me again (hopefully soon!) for another ed

Into the Bronze Age: November 1971 (Part 6)

Hello and welcome back my friends and readers! I hope and trust that y’all have all had a very merry Christmas and are enjoying the post celebration cheer. In any case, we have, after a two year hiatus (!), finally arrived at the end of November 1971! I’m very pleased to have gotten back to this little project, as it has always been something that I have loved. I have already been enjoying diving back into these classic comics, and even the duds have proven entertaining. Here at the end of this month we have two more tales to tell, and they are a mixed bag. I can safely say, however, that you won’t be bored reading these comics, even if one of them makes no freaking sense. So, without further ado (I feel like y’all have waited long enough as it is!), let’s continue our journey Into the Bronze Age!

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 #406
  • Adventure Comics #412
  • Batman #236
  • Brave and the Bold #98
  • Detective Comics #417
  • The Flash #210
  • Forever People #5
  • G.I. Combat #150
  • Justice League of America #94
  • New Gods #5
  • Superboy #179
  • Superman #244
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #116
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #143
  • World’s Finest #207

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


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #143


“Jimmy Olsen: Genocide Spray!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Vince Colletta and Murphy Anderson
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell

“DNA Project: The Alien Thing!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Jack Kirby and E. Nelson Bridwell

“Newsboy Legion: The Rookie Takes the Rap!”
Writers: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Letterer: Howard Ferguson
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

Okay….where to begin? So, the last issue, which we covered way back when, was crazy enough. Yet, this one really takes the cake for gonzo madness. After I finished reading, I sat staring at my comic for a few minutes, just pondering, ‘how in the world am I going to summarize this?’ Do we get an explanation for why vampires and werewolves are hanging around former NASA facilities? Sort of? We do get explanations, but they don’t make a whole lot of sense! But before we get into the madness inside, let’s take a look at this cove. We get an interesting image of ghostly figures rising from the “mini-planet” our heroes discovered at the end of the last issue. It works pretty well, and it looks fairly dynamic and spooky. The story it represents is not quite so fortunate!

We do get a really lovely two-page splash revealing the mysterious planet, Transilvane, complete with comparatively giant ‘horns’ (Can a planet be evil?) and a brace of hovering movie cameras(!). With no warning, we’ve gone from investigating a scientific laboratory to the set of a Universal monster movie, as The Man of Tomorrow finds a secret passage that opens into a chamber where the pals discovers a pair of coffins, presumably belonging to the apparently vampiric ‘Count Dragorin’ and his hairy henchman. Inside, they do find their supposedly undead antagonist, but they also find hi-tech gadgetry, and this seems to confirm Superman’s theory that these beings are actually from the mini-world, tiny creatures that use machines to grow large enough to interact on a human scale, like reverse Atoms. Just then, more of the classic movie monsters arrive, and we get a regular Monster Mash, as the Action Ace and the cub reporter fight this macabre menace, only to be struck down by a “micro-bomb” triggered by the cunning Count.

Kirby cuts us away at that point, shifting the focus to the Newsboy Legion, who we last left in an underground bunker, having discovered the gangster who killed the original Guardian, Jim Harper. The kids listen in as the unwary gunman spills his guts on the phone with his Intergang contact. Having heard enough, they jump him, planning to bring him to justice, but the torpedo turns the tables on your youthful heroes, literally, in a panel that looks more like a bomb went off than a desk was kicked over. However, his escape proves short-lived, as Intergang triggers hidden explosives in the hideout, tying up the loose end he represented and leaving the kids empty-handed. Dispirited, they eventually make their way back to the surface at last.

“ZONNKO!” You’ve got to love comic sound effects!

Meanwhile, what about the assembled cast of our extraterrestrial Adams Family and their feud with the Man of Steel? Well, they tie the Kryptonian to a torture device and attempt to force him to reveal the location of the elusive Dabney Donovan, but when Superman casually breaks free and tells his ‘captors’ that he doesn’t know where to find the missing scientist, they start talking about some kind of prophecy about a “Demon Dog,” which will destroy their world when it flies, an evil event that is at hand! While the horror movie rejects lament their fate, the Metropolis Marvel leaps into action, tearing open the stone floor and finding another high tech facility below the planet cradling catacombs, finally discovering the very Demon Dog itself, just as it takes flight!

The strange winged hound, it turns out, is a mechanical delivery system for a poison spray which was designed to eliminate life on the artificial planetoid….for….reasons? Whatever lunatic logic was behind its creation, Superman smashes the poisonous pooch and saves the day for Transilvane and its movie-monster denizens. At this point, Jimmy finally recovers from the explosion that knocked them out, and he joins his heroic pal to observe a fleet of flying coffins shrinking back into the mini-world, their mission accomplished, I suppose? At this point, Superman explains the situation….or at least, it’s as close to an explanation as we get. As we had already discovered, Dabney Donovan apparently somehow created this miniature world, along with an entire race of sentient life, and for some reason, he played classic horror films on the clouds as that life evolved, so they copied what they saw, becoming a race of B-picture players.

It’s basically the plot of the famous ‘gangster planet’ episode of Star Trek, “A Piece of the Action”, except even wackier and not nearly as charming. On top of all of that, apparently Donovan, completely unconcerned with the fact that he had created life had planned on cleaning the slate, for more ‘reasons’, presumably, and had cruelly declared this fact to the inhabitants of Transilvane, once more through cloud-movies. Superman and Jimmy decide to try to undo the weird, warping effects of Donovan’s choice of sky-entertainment (skyertainment?) by playing a different genre. Of all things, they choose a musical, Oklahoma!, and pull up chairs to watch the sky-screening. One can only wonder what kind of society would evolve from that choice…

So…that was certainly an interesting ride. It’s certainly not boring, but this tale is just so out there and disjointed, with so many different concepts pulling in so many different directions, that it just leaves you scratching your head and asking “why”? Why did Donovan hide his planetoid below a graveyard? Is he just a nutjob obsessed with horror movies? Why did he just abandon the experiment? Why bother killing the planet’s inhabitants if he abandoned it? What is the point of any of this? Well, we never learn any of the answers to those questions, and we never even meet Donovan. It’s a rather unsatisfying conclusion to an already weird adventure.

I do sort of enjoy the ending, with Superman and Jimmy sitting down to try to provide the Transilvaneites with something more wholesome to copy, though I rather question their choice. Kirby’s artwork is fun and dynamic, as usual, though I noticed several scenes that seemed stripped-down and unfinished, and I would wager that the infamous Vince Colletta is to blame for that. The Newsboys’ subplot was interesting, but it wrapped up rather quickly and dramatically, and I find myself wondering about its point as well. All-in-all, this issue just confirms the sense I had with the last one that this book is in need of a focus and a direction. Here’s hoping the next one will bring something more coherent from the mind of the King! I’ll give this one a disappointing and disjointed 2 Minutemen.


World’s Finest #207


Executive Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artists: Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson

“A Matter of Light and Death!”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell

“Galloping Gold”
Writer: M.W. Wellman
Penciler/Inker: Edwin J. Smalle, Jr.
Editor: Whitney Ellsworth

“The Cosmic Idiots!”
Writer: Sid Gerson
Penciler: Gene Colan
Inker: Joe Giella

While this month brought us an issue of Jimmy Olsen with a cool cover but a weird, unsatisfying story, it also brings us this rather pleasant surprise of a comic, which is the exact opposite. Take a look at that cover. Despite the jeopardy of our heroes, it just about couldn’t be more boring. Oh no, Superman and Batman, the greatest super hero pair in the world, the eponymous “World’s Finest,” are being menaced by….a couple of guys? It doesn’t exactly fire the imagination. They have slightly more personality than the usual foot soldiers of the Generic Gang, but not by all that much, and the cover is largely blank, other than these four figures. And yet, the tale inside, which I fully expected to be a slog, held my attention and even kept me guessing, though the title sort of gives away the secret villain of the piece.

Our tale begins with a clandestine meeting, where three random guys, whose names I can’t be bothered to remember, are being contracted for a hit by a shadowy figure. The splash page reveals that the target is….Superman! That’s right, these random gunsels are being hired to whack the freaking Man of Steel. Even more surprising, the mysterious malefactor behind these mercenary machinations is none other than….Clark Kent himself! Well, as you might imagine, the hoods, not being complete morons, balk at being asked to kill the invulnerable alien sun god, but the not so mild-mannered reporter convinces them that he can provide them with magical means to complete the hit, and vanishes as proof (using super speed, of course).

This may seem quite silly; after all, what threat can three random guys pose to the Metropolis Marvel, but Len Wein actually does have a reason for this setup. In any case, as Clark flies away, we follow him to the arctic, where he uncovers a strange device that he calls the “Satan Staff,” which supposedly can kill his alter-ego. I rather expected that this was an artifact from an earlier story, so I was confused by the lack of an editor box, but once again, I was to discover that there was a reason for that. After stashing the device in a Metropolis park, Clark “wakes up” and realizes that had suffered from a blackout, apparently the third such episode! Afraid of what he’s doing with his lost time and unsure of how to solve the mystery enshrouding him, the Action Ace turns to the world’s greatest detective, the Batman!

Our scene shifts, and we join Batman taking out a gang. and doing a bit of bantering that would be rather out of place for the character these days but which is fun enough in context. Superman arrives just in time to help him clean up the captured crooks, and then shares his trouble with his friend. In response, the Dark Detective sets out to shadow the Metropolis Marvel in a series of disguises (which is a fun touch and gives us a nice montage), but discovers nothing through his trailing.

At the end of the day, Clark returns to his apartment to meet his ally, only to once again fall under strange influence and swat the Caped Crusader aside! Not to be deterred, the Dark Knight of course prepared for such an eventuality and preemptively planted a tracker on his pal. He trails the mind-controlled Man of Steel to another meeting with the assassin trio, where the reporter delivers the “Satan Staff”, and attacks after Clark leaves, smashing through a skylight in a wonderfully dramatic panel. After defeating two of the thugs in a skirmish, Batman is blitzed by the last one, who uses the magic device to trap the Masked Manhunter in a net summoned from thin air. The trio decide that, since they are businessmen, they won’t simply kill the Gotham Guardian for free; instead, they’ll auction off his death after they’ve taken care of his partner.

The Random Gang attempts to ambush Superman at the Metropolis Planetarium, where he’s setting up an exhibit on Krypton, which is a fun little touch, but his super hearing tips the hero off to their heinous plans. After a fun little fight, they manage to take him out by using the magic wand to bring a Kryptonian exhibit to life, which seemingly kills the Man of Might! The assassins trap his body in amber and return to finish Batman off, wondering when their contact will arrive with their fee.

It is then that our true antagonist makes his appearance, and it is none other than Dr. Light! This is the latest outing in his attempts to destroy the members of the Justice League by attacking them one at a time. He eventually reveals that he was the prime mover in this enterprise; having tapped into Superman’s brainwaves in a previous attack, he used that experience to hypnotically program his foe to arrange his own destruction with the Satan Staff, a weapon of his own devising. Dr. Light later explains that he developed the Staff after studying the magic of Zatanna, seeking to use such magic, Superman’s one remaining weakness, against his Kryptonian opponent. But why this elaborate charade? Well, it’s actually a rather funny reason. The Luminary Lunatic realized that, although he possesses the power to destroy the Justice League, he blows it every time he tires to defeat them, thus, he decided to work through intermediaries and to turn hes enemy’s own strength against him. That is both hilarious and reasonably clever.

At any rate, Dr. Light’s sudden arrival doesn’t have the effect on his contracted killers that he had hoped, as they want to keep the Satan Staff because of its power, so he straight up disintegrates them! That’s a great moment, and also stunningly brutal for a comic of this age. Yet, just as the bad Doctor is about to reclaim his weapon, a gloved hand beats him to the punch: the Dark Knight has freed himself! The two maneuver around, trying to get in position for a shot, but when the Caped Crusader fires the Staff, it passes harmlessly through the Lord of Luminescence, who then snatches the device and teleports away!

Is all lost? Not quite, as Superman suddenly bursts free from the amber, and Batman reveals that he foresaw Light’s avoidance of his attack, so he had maneuvered him in front of the Man of Steel’s yellow tomb so that the beam would strike it instead, breaking the spell and reviving his fallen friend. The Action Ace is steaming mad, so he leaves his partner in peril behind to settle the score with Light by his lonesome. The Kryptonian hero discovers his foe in a floating solid light fortress hidden in the Aurora Borealis, which is a really cool concept that Dillin’s art doesn’t quite capture.

Despite Superman getting the drop on him, Dr. Light is not without resources, and he hits the Man of Tomorrow with a red sunlight beam, weakening him, only for the hero to turn the tables on him by smashing through the floor and striking from an unexpected direction. It’s a great little action piece, and a satisfying conclusion to the conflict. Finally, the issue ends with Superman and Batman taking in one of Zatanna’s shows, where Batman laments the bruises he suffered through the contortions necessary to escape his bonds.

What a fun, enjoyable issue! I really had a good time reading it, especially considering that I thought I was in for a chore because of that clunker of a cover. The whole thing hangs together surprisingly well, with all of its different elements making sense once the mysteries are revealed. I really enjoy the interaction between Batman and Superman, and this tale accomplishes a feat that remains rare today, properly balancing the two character with their vastly different power levels. Both the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight get a chance to shine and be useful. And speaking of the Masked Manhunter, his portrayal here is fun, though a little too light in context of where the character is going in his own books. Still, I enjoyed this Batman, who doesn’t take himself entirely seriously, though he’s still mysterious and calculating.

On the villain front, it’s worth noting that, although Wein tries to give the trio of assassins a little personality, they are ultimately forgettable cats-paws, so much so that I really can’t remember any of their names as I write this, having read the issue just last night! On the other hand, Dr. Light is a great antagonist for this tale, and his portrayal is interesting and entertaining. Despite awful things done with the character in later days, I’ve always liked this classic version of Dr. Light. He’s got cool powers and a cool look. He’s generally a great ‘generic’ villain to throw at your heroes for a straightforward superhero adventure, as his motivations are pretty prosaic and simple. Dillin’s art was quite good as well, energetic, dynamic, and full of life, and we got a lot of lovely, creative panels throughout. Yet, there were a few missteps in there as well, like Zatanna’s horribly distorted legs in the panel to the left (she looks like she’s being viewed through a fun-house mirror!). All told, this is exactly the kind of superhero yarn I enjoy, creative, fun, action-packed, some mystery and surprises, and a touch of continuity and world-building to top it all off. I’ll give this entertaining issue a strong 4 Minutemen.


Final Thoughts:


Well dear readers, with these two books we at long last wrap up our trek through November 1971! I hope that y’all have found these tales worth the wait, though I don’t think even the best of them quite justifies the delay, ha! Nonetheless, I am pleased that we at least end on a positive note. Years between my posts has, I’m sure, tried your patience, and I appreciate all of those of you who have rejoined me now that I’ve emerged from the wild realms of a PhD program, busy semesters, and the general chaos of 2020!

It’s been an interesting month of comics, featuring more of the themes we’ve come to expect, with a little bit of environmental consciousness in one of our Superman stories, some more witches and occult outings, and the usual dash of counter-culture chaos. Interestingly, we are seeing both positive and negative portrayals of the counter-culture trends, with Robin’s ‘illuminating’ contact with a commune on one hand and Batgirl’s conflict with some truly heinous hippies on the other. We’ve had some unexpected gems, like Supergirl’s super-fun alien adventure, as well as some disappointing duds, like Jimmy Olsen’s visit to the planet of the Late-Late Show. We’ve also had more than our fair share of the wacky and the weird, with robo-Lincolns battling robo-Booths, and superfluous melting androids. It’s certainly been an interesting month, and I hope that y’all enjoyed joining me on our little trek.

I know that my wrap-up section here is shorter than normal, but there’s so much distance between me and the bulk of these stories now, since I read most of them ages ago, that I don’t have as much to say as usual. Nonetheless, I hope things will get back to normal in the months to come. I’ve also had to cut the “Headblow Headcount” for the moment, as I can’t figure out who to format it in the new WordPress editor. I’ll keep experimenting with it, and hopefully I’ll have that figured out by the next time a hero takes a crack to the cranium. So, until we begin our next month’s coverage, I hope that y’all will enjoy the final days of 2020, at least as much as possible. Here’s hoping that the next year will bring better fortunes and brighter skies for all of us! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive, and join me again soon for another edition of Into the Bronze Age!

Into the Bronze Age: September 1971 (Part 6)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpg
Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  With this post we’ll finish of September of 1971.  Our last two books are really quite a pair!  We have an unusual issue of World’s Finest, but the real highlight (lowlight?) here is the raw star power of the greatest new superstar in the DC constellation….I’m speaking, of course, of Don Rickles.  That’s right, this month we get more of the inexplicable madness of Kirby’s use of the insult comic as a guest star in Jimmy Olsen.  Yay?  Well, see what sense you can make of what lies within!

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 #404
  • Adventure Comics #410
  • Batman #235
  • Brave and the Bold #97
  • Detective Comics #415
  • The Flash #209
  • Forever People #4
  • G.I. Combat #149
  • Justice League of America #92
  • New Gods #4
  • Superboy #177
  • Superman #242
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #113
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141
  • World’s Finest #205

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


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141


Jimmy_Olsen_141

“Will the Real Don Rickles Panic?”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta

“The Guardian”
Writer: Joe Simon
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Simon

Ohh man, for a moment there as I was looking from Lois Lane to my next book, a moment of blissful forgetfulness, I was excited for more of Jack Kirby’s wild and wonderful Jimmy Olsen adventures…and then I remembered that this one was the second half of the Don Rickles fiasco.  If you thought the last issue was strange, just wait; you ain’t seen nothing yet!  We start with an almost decent cover, in that classic, ‘heroes introducing a new character’ fashion that JLA and other books did from time to time.  Unfortunately, this one has Don Rickles on it, which is bad enough, but even worse, it is a black and white picture of the guy.  I’m never a fan of mixing real photos, especially black and white ones, with comic art in such a way.  It is just incredibly incongruent.  It looks like someone cut the center out of the cover and pasted Rickles’ mug into the hole.

jimmyolsen141-01

jimmyolsen141-04Despite the ugly cover, the first images that greet a reader inside are really quite impressive.  Kirby is experimenting with his photo-collages again, trying to create an otherworldly effect for Clark Kent’s journey into the strange alternate dimension in the booby-trapped capsule from the last issue.  The result is pretty striking and successfully cosmic.  After floating helplessly for a time, the mild mannered one is visited by Lightray, who eventually rescues him.  Yet, Clark doesn’t escape before he gets a brief glimpse of New Genesis and Apokolips in their great cosmic dance.  This brief interaction is really cool and, sadly, way more interesting than what takes the bulk of the comic’s focus.

jimmyolsen141-08While the reporter roves around in the Fourth World, his three friends, Jimmy Olsen, the Guardian, and…urg…”Goody” Rickles, find themselves deposited on the side of the road by Intergang, poisoned and facing a fiery fate.  The cloned hero sends the other two to seek help at the nearest hospital….ohh, wait, no.  That might make sense.  He sends them to the Daily Planet instead.  The Guardian himself sets off after the villain’s rolling headquarters to capture an antidote, and Kirby treats us to a few panels of his revived Golden Age hero leaping rooftop to rooftop in classic fashion.

jimmyolsen141-06

 

Meanwhile, the actual focus of the plot nears, as Morgan Edge prepares for the arrival of the real Don Rickles in his office.  When the comedian shows up, he’s mobbed by the staff in an admittedly funny scene, where they all beg to be insulted.  Unfortunately, I’d say that’s the last unambiguously funny bit in the book.  After the corporate shark chases off his underlings, he leads the star into his office, where his dialog becomes part comedic and part chaotic nonsense.

jimmyolsen141-09

While those two talk business (I guess?), Jimmy and Rickles’ inexplicable doppelganger are taking the subway, where Goody’s agitation causes the chemical in his system to react and start him smoking.  There’s some funny bits to this, but I can’t help but wish we were visiting one of the more interesting plotlines instead.  Fortunately, we quickly return to the Guardian, who smashes his way into “Ugly” Mannheim’s mobile base.  He lays into the gangster’s gunmen, but we cut away from his fight for….*sigh*….more Rickles.  Double the Rickles, in fact, as Goody arrives at the Planet, where he and the original engage in some “funny” hijinks about how they are identical.

As Goody and Jimmy approach critical mass, glowing and emitting flames, Morgan Edge calls for the bomb squad while silently cursing Mannheim.  Disaster is averted (although, other than Jimmy’s death, would it really have been that much of a loss?) by the timely arrival of the Guardian, who crashes through a window with the antidote in wonderfully dramatic fashion.  How did the cloned champion overcome all Mannheim and his criminal cohorts?  Well, we don’t get to see that.  Nope.  It’s way more important that we watch Don Rickles chew scenery.  As the comedian hams it up, Clark Kent returns via a boom tube and the bomb squad arrives and carries the frantic comedy star away.

jimmyolsen141-21

Sheesh.  There is a lot of really interesting material in this comic; the trouble is that Kirby ignores all of that to give us Don Rickles and Goody making faces at each other.  Clark’s cosmic journey is quite visually interesting, and there is a lot of potential to his visit to the dimension of the New Gods, especially given his fascination with a world full of super-beings in the Forever People title, but no sooner does one of them arrive than we cut away.  The same is true of the Guardian’s big return to action, where he swings through the city and single-handedly defeats the villain….almost all off panel.  This issue is just a lesson in missed opportunities, as the King has absolutely packed this book with fun concepts and characters, from the Newsboy Legion to the returned Golden Age hero, and yet he wastes his narrative space on Don Rickles of all people.  That being said, this issue isn’t as bad as I may have made it sound.  It’s still a relatively entertaining read, though one that will have you groaning in a few places or simply scratching your head.

jimmyolsen141-27

Kirby’s art, so beautifully powerful and dynamic in the last issue, is much more inconsistent in this one as well.  Don Rickles himself is all over the place, and the bombastic scope of the action is more restrained, which is really a shame.  There are a couple of wow moments, like Clark’s trip and the Guardian’s timely arrival, but those are sadly exceptions.  So, what do we make of this mad little issue?  I think I’ll give it 2 Minutemen.  It has some interesting moments, but they are quickly bypassed for lesser material.  The humor is better in this one, but while the plot is more coherent and less nonsensical than the previous issue, the overall effect is weaker.  This outing just lacks the whimsical fun of its predecessor.  Or perhaps I’m just already sick of Don Rickles

minute2

P.S.: Notably, the letters column for this issue includes a missive from a thoughtful reader who points out many of the same criticism I had about the completely unaddressed moral issues inherent in the concept of the D.N.A. Project.  Even fans in 1971 could see the disturbing implications of such technologies and wanted more substance from their treatment.

jimmyolsen141-28-lp

P.P.S.: This issue also features another text piece, this one on the return of the Newsboy Legion.  It’s hilarious to see Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman struggle to make Flippa Dippa sound cool.  As a bonus, the comic includes the first adventure of the Newsboy Legion and the Guardian from 1942, and it is a surprisingly fun and solid story that holds up well today.  Jack Kirby and Joe Simon made a good team.  I wish the new Guardian would get a bit of his progenitor’s personality, but then again, given that he was grown in a test-tube, I suppose it makes sense for him to be a bit bland.

 


World’s Finest #205


World's_Finest_Comics_205

“The Computer That Captured a Town!”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“Secret of the Last Earth-Man!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“The Duel of the Flying Knights!”
Writer: Joseph Samachson
Penciler: Frank Frazetta
Inker: Frank Frazetta

We’ve got a very unusual team-up tale in this month’s World’s Finest.  It’s really just a Superman story, with the Teen Titans serving as victims in need of rescue, but it features an interesting premise.  That premises is presaged by the book’s exciting cover, one I imagine I would have been plenty tempted to pick up.  I’m always a sucker for a giant monster, but Adams’ dragon, however fearsome in aspect, is a bit strangely proportioned and weird looking.  I think the perspective is just a bit wonky on it.  I do like how the Titans on the sidebar are all reacting to the scene in the center, though.  That’s a clever use of the character preview.

World's Finest 205-02

Inside, we travel to the small town of Fairfield where we join three of those young heroes, Kid Flash, Speedy (apparently taking time out from his drug-addled drama in Green Lantern), and Mal Duncan.  The trio are on patrol when they see a man robbing, not a bank, not a jewelry store, nor any of the normal criminal fare, but a grocery store.  Despite the fact that the poor fellow is clearly desperate, stealing to feed his starving family, they beat him savagely and show now compassion.  Even more strangely, after the fight, Kid Flash and Speedy talk down to Mal, and say he better get back to his “side of town” and be with his “own kind,” and Mal meekly accepts such statements, speaking in exaggerated, minstrel show-style.

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World's Finest 205-06This is not the only sign that something is not right.  A scene change find Wonder Girl and Lilith acting like stereotypical 50s TV girls, sitting around, pining over boys and exercising no agency in their lives.  Yet, when Clark Kent shows up on TV to read the news, Lilith’s subconscious reaches out to him, and Mr. Mild Mannered has a vision of an old man discovering a strange machine in a cave and transmits the message “THE TEEN TITANS ARE TRAPPED IN FAIRFIELD!”  Startled, Clark actually says that on the air, which leads to confusion from the girls and anger from everyone’s favorite corporate shark, Morgan Edge.

After placating his boss, Clark changes into Superman and heads out to investigate, locating his young allies just as Kid Flash is once again talking down to Mal and using super racist rhetoric.  Yet, when the Man of Steel asks about their being trapped, the Fastest Boy Alive laughs the question off.  The Kryptonian gets the same response from Lilith, but as he wanders around town, he begins to notice the name “Richard Handley” plastered over everything and, combined with the images from his vision, he develops a theory and heads into the hills to test it out.

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Locating a cave, and having a flashback to what we just saw seven pages ago (for some reason), the Metropolis Marvel suddenly finds his way barred by a massive monster, a huge fire-breathing dragon!  While Dillin’s dragon looks pretty great in most of his panels, his first appearance has his proportions a little screwy, like the cover image.  Nonetheless, this starts a battle between the beast and our modern day St. George, only Superman can’t hurt the creature.  He reasons that it was created by whatever machine is affecting the town, and thus, it isn’t actually real and possesses no nervous system that he can injure or vital points he can attack.

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As their battle rages, the machine’s own violent energy seeps out into the town, causing the bullies to turn on the meek.  Back at the cave, the Action Ace attempts to slip past the monster, but he’s caught and hurled out of the cave.  Yet, his second attempt, moving at super speed, is successful, and after a nice looking fight sequence, he manages to reach and smash the mysterious machine at the heart of the town’s problems.  Just then, the dragon vanishes and the world returns to normal, with the girls giving the chauvinistic Kid Flash what-for (although, methinks if the super strong Wonder Girl slapped him, he might just be in a coma) and Mal shoving Speedy’s racism down his throat.  Fortunately, the boys come out of it, and they all make peace with one another.

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Then Superman kindly provides some answers, explaining that a man named Richard Handley had discovered the strange device in the cave, which he surmises was of alien origin, some time ago, and when he touched it, the machine absorbed his thoughts and then projected them across the town, controlling the minds of its inhabitants.  Notably, the Man of Steel opines that Handley was a “complicated man,” but when he describes the fellow, he doesn’t really seem all that complicated, instead, just a simple racist, chauvinistic, and provincial jerk.  The only non-negative quality Supes ascribes to the guy is that he loved his town, which is really only a neutral characteristic.

This was almost a really interesting coda to the story.  It seems like Skeates is aiming to soften the portrait of Handley in this scene, but the sketch he draws doesn’t accomplish that end.  If Handley had some redeeming qualities, it could have been a really nice illustration of the fact that people are not merely the sum of their beliefs and that someone can possess flawed principles and still be redeemable, which would be a moral that would still have a lot of resonance today, perhaps even moreso than in 1971.  As is, the guy just seems to be the worst.  Now, the theme is still somewhat served because we see the Titans, who are ostensibly good people, acting in biased and immoral fashion in this story, but the impact would have been stronger if the final impression of Handley had been more nuanced.

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Either way, this is an interesting and unusual little morality play of a story, and it has an engaging mystery in the conduct of the Titans and a fun core of action with Superman’s visually engaging fight with the dragon.  As usual, I’m thrilled to see Aquaman scribe extraordinaire, Steve Skeates, pen another yarn.  In classic Skeates fashion, the plot for this one has some unique qualities that separate it from the usual ‘heroes acting out of character’ and ‘mind controlled town’ tropes.  The alien device here isn’t co-opting the heroes or the town for any nefarious purpose, and they aren’t being overtly evil or trying to conquer the world.  They’re just being influence by biased and prejudicial values, a serious problem, but a much more subtle one than those usually found in such tales, which is interesting.  Skeates manages to deliver a simple but thoughtful story, showing his readers the ugliness of racism and sexism, and doing it in a creative way, by having admired characters enact it, while at the same time not getting stuck in his message.  As is often the case in this title, Dick Dillin’s art is great for the most part, except for just a few awkward panels.  Superman’s fight with the dragon is particularly nice.  It really seems like outside of the massive chore that JLA had to be, Dillin does routinely excellent work.  I’ll give this interesting and different tale 4 Minutemen.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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No new faces join the Wall this month, though Lois gets honorable mention for her own head-blow hiccup.  I wonder who our next guest will be!


Final Thoughts:


Quite a month!  We encountered books of every type, the serious, the silly, and the truly out there.  The stories varied wildly in quality, but even some of the rough ones were noteworthy, and we had several really good comics in this batch too.  One of my favorite events this month was the return of supervillains to the Flash for a strange but entertaining tale.  He’s got such a great rogue’s gallery, and it is exciting to see them back in action again.  One of my ever-astute readers pointed out that there may be something of a theme of de-supering the superheroes at DC in this era, and I wonder if the reticence in the use of supervillains that I’ve noted might be part of such a trend.  If so, it is an intensely foolish one.

On that topic, this month also saw the slightly anti-climactic end of O’Neil’s rather uneven run on Superman wherein he partially de-powered the Man of Steel and did away with some of his familiar trappings.  His stories tended to be rather more odd than impactful, but they clearly caused a stir in their day.  For whatever flaws they had, O’Neil did manage to inject some humanity and some drama into the character that were a welcome additions.  I’ll be interested to see how long his changes endure.

Another of O’Neil’s efforts is worth mentioning here, as we got a new glimpse of R’as Al Ghul and Talia, though the story wasn’t nearly as effective as previous outings.  I wonder how long it will take before these characters achieve the iconic status that marks them as important additions to the Batman mythos.

In terms of the comics reflecting their times, we have some really fascinating examples this month.  We saw Ralph Nader and his Nader’s Raiders given the DC Universe treatment, with fictionalized counterparts fighting the good fight for consumer protection in the superhero world.  One wonders how consumer standards would be different in a world where an alien monster might come rampaging through the city or mystical energy could sweep through your building on any given Tuesday, bringing appliances to life.  Well, whatever new safeguards might be necessary, it’s interesting to see the events at the end of the last decade with Ralph Nader’s consumer protection crusading being reflected in a Batman comic of all things.  I’d say this reflects, in a small and subtle way, a changing attitude towards businesses and authority.

History also enters into our comics in a very unexpected way, as the Holocaust is referenced in G.I. Combat.  It’s a great story, particularly notable for its Jewish protagonist and its subtle but honest reminder of the terrors of hatred and the horrible capacity of humanity for evil.  This was another Kanigher story, and he continues to turn out the occasional grand slam, producing some of the goofiest comics I’ve read, but also some of the unequivocally most successfully serious and thought-provoking issues.  This month, he turned out two.  Kanigher’s work on Lois Lane and the story about urban poverty and its racial dimensions is quite good as well, despite its heavy-handed sentimentality and simplicity.  It’s notable that both of these, and our World’s Finest issue all deal with racial bias and attempt to encourage readers to see people of different races as individual human beings.

It’s really interesting to see superhero comics tackling such a topic, which was still a very a live issue in 1971.  It was only this very year that the final efforts to desegregate schools in the South were begun and the Supreme Court put the nail in the coffin of the Jim Crow era (though far from the end of the Civil Rights struggle).  That makes the racial overtones of the Lois Lane story’s conflict really fascinating and timely.  The DC Universe is still a very monochrome place at this point, but here we have a positive character of color in the person of Dave Stevens, acting heroically and making a difference in his community.  We’ve come a long way from just a few years before where the inclusion of a single black face in a crowd in Green Lantern resulted in special attention and letters of appreciation for such an unusual inclusion.  In the other direction, we’re only a few months away from DC getting its first black hero as well!

On another note, we also got Robin’s hippy commune sojourn this month, another reflection of the wider world, as the Counter-Culture movement still hadn’t quite run out of gas.  Interestingly, Friedrich attempt to paint the hippies and their commune positively, presumably for the same kinds of reasons as Kanigher and his work on the inner city, perhaps hoping to show his readers the normalcy and humanity of people that many would regard as outsiders and Others.  It’s a mediocre story and more than a little odd, but its appearance is worth noticing.

Of course, this month also saw the finale to this year’s JLA/JSA crossover, which was a fine if uninspiring pair of issues.  While Friedrich’s work on the book hasn’t been bad, for the most part, I am looking forward to getting to the end of his run.  Sadly, I’ve got a while to wait.  His efforts at adding drama and conflict to the League have been rather odd and poorly handled so far, but he is trying to add more of an emotional core to their stories.

Finally, Kirby’s Fourth World sees a very uneven set of books this month, with a creepy and compelling Forever People issue which was much better than I remembered on one hand….and the madness of ‘Goody’ Rickles on the other, with the solid but unremarkable New Gods somewhere in between.  In the Forever People book, Kirby’s surprisingly sophisticated reflection on the power of self-delusion and the illusions that we treasure is really striking in light of the previous issue’s focus on the lies we tell ourselves to justify our actions.  I’m not entirely convinced it was a conscious development of themes, but Kirby was an instinctive storyteller, and I think it is entirely possible that he wove those threads together subconsciously, even as he leapt from idea to idea.

The Don Rickles disaster, on the other hand, was, despite some genuinely fun moments, mostly just a waste of the powerful imagination and creativity that had been, for better or worse, pouring out of the Jimmy Olsen title.  All of the interesting material is shoved into the background to make room for the “funny” bits.  It’s a shame given that this confused mess shows up right on the heels of the bizarre but promising story arc with the Wild Area and the D.N.A. project.  The end result is that at this point I can see some of the signs that led to the death of the line.  What would you have thought as a kid buying the Fourth World books, only to hit two issues like those?  Yikes!

Taken all together, this was an eventful and interesting month of comics, with a pretty high proportion of socially relevant stories, especially compared to where this little journey began.  I hope that y’all enjoyed this stop on our voyage and will join me soon for the beginning of the next month of classic comics as I travel further Into the Bronze Age!  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 5)

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Hello Internet travelers, and welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  Strange sights await you in this post, my dear readers, like Lois Lane being jealous of a tree, a Titan becoming a teenage witch, or time-traveling 70s thugs!  It’s an unusual batch of books we have on the docket.  So, let’s check out some classic comics!

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 #403
  • Adventure Comics #409
  • Batman #233 (Reprints)
  • Batman #234
  • Detective Comics #414
  • The Flash #208
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 (the infamous drug issue)
  • Justice League of America #91
  • Mr. Miracle #3
  • The Phantom Stranger #14
  • Superman #241
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112
  • Teen Titans #34
  • World’s Finest #204

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


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112


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“A Tree Grows in Metropolis!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Dick Giordano

“Rock and Rose”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano

This is a bit of a weird one, folks.  It has a solid enough cover, even if it is pretty gimmicky.  Interestingly and unusually enough, the cover proves to be a pretty honest representation of what’s inside.  We join the story with Superman scouting a dying planet, abandoned by an advanced race when they outgrew the world.  The vegetation seems to dying now that the inhabitants are gone.  Bizarrely, the Man of Steel has a vision of Lois wrapped in foliage, only to discover that it is actually a strange alien tree that has somehow survived.  Deciding to save the plant, he brings it home…and then plants it in Metropolis Park.  Planting an alien lifeform in the middle of a densely populated city?  What could possibly go wrong?

Oddly, the men of the city are fascinated with this extraterrestrial arboreal artifact, but the women are repulsed.  Reporting on the story, Lois finds herself uncomfortable around it, and her unease proves well-founded when, after their date that night, Superman detours to the park, where he stands entranced in front of the plant.  Suddenly, the tree “speaks” telepathically, introducing itself as Rzalin and declaring its love for the Man of Tomorrow.  Inexplicably, the Kryptonian hero becomes enslaved to its will and begins to carry out its commands, creating a moat of lava around the being to protect it (which would cool relatively quickly, but oh well).  When Lois objects, Superman actually knocks her out with a nerve pinch!

The Metropolis Marvel begins to bring the tree materials from around the galaxy, carrying out some type of plan.  The graceful girl reporter tries to intervene, poll vaulting (!) over the moat and confronting the alien.  It is then that Rzalin reveals its plan, whereby it will convert its Kryptonian captive into another tree by an elixir made from the materials he is collecting, and together they will release spores that will convert all of humanity into more of their kind.  Yet, the enterprising Lois came prepared, and she tries first to poison, then to burn, the tree.  Unfortunately, Superman stops her and takes her home again.

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Not to be daunted, the resourceful reporter thinks that she can destroy Rzalin with white kryptonite, which is deadly to all plants (which I didn’t know).  Fortunately, there is a sample at the Superman Museum, but before she can put her plan into action, she’s attacked by her own houseplant!  Apparently the heinous herb can control earthly plants.  Lois launches into a deadly race to the museum, but she is attacked by trees, flowers, and even gigantic pollen!

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Eventually, Rzalin brings her to the Park to watch its triumph, as Superman drinks the elixir and changes into another perfidious plant.  Just as Lois gives into despair, we suddenly see her and Superman looking at the tree, apparently perfectly fine.  The alien being dies, and the pair posit that it must have fed on mental energy, but the minds of earthlings weren’t strong enough to support it.  Lois supposes that, since their minds were feeding it, they must have been in its fantasy…which doesn’t really follow.  The end…I guess?

That’s right, it was all just a dream.  For some reason.  This is an odd choice for a twist, as the story that came before wasn’t really about the tree, which is supposed to be the dreamer (and thus perspective character) in this scenario.  It’s incongruous and rather unsatisfying.  There are some positive elements to this story, though.  I enjoyed watching Lois play hero and take an active role in the plot.  She is determined, capable, and resourceful, and it suits her nicely.

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I’d rather have seen this played straight, with her able to rescue the Man of Steel.  Roth’s art is good as usual, but he seems to struggle with some of the more fantastic elements once again.  He really does a fantastic job on Lois’s expressions, however.  As is, the yarn feels…unnecessary.  So, this is a forgettable and awkward little tale that I’ll give 2 Minutemen.

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“Rock and Rose”


Our Rose and Thorn backup this month, in contrast, is another solid adventure.  We begin right where the last one left off, with Rose and her would-be executioner fleeing from the 100 gunmen sent to finish the job.  The youthful assassin-in-training, Leo, confesses to the Thorn that his masters had kidnapped his mother and were holding her in their casino barge as insurance…which seems to rather sharply contradict his portrayal last issue.  Leo seemed to need no extra motivation to go after the heroine in that story.

The pair face a running fight against the 100 goons, who all conveniently take the time to mouth partial threats before getting decked.  You’d think they’d learn to shoot first and brag later.  Finally the fleeing duo dive into the water and dodge gunfire beneath the waves.  When they emerge, a police boat happens by, responding to the gunfire, and it turns out that Detective Stone is aboard.  Thorn saves a drowning Leo and gives him to the police, but when the Detective touches her hand, there is a moment of almost-recognition for both of them.  This prompts the Vixen of Vengeance to swim away on her own.  Fascinatingly, we discover that, not only is Rose ignorant of the Thorn’s activities, the vigilante doesn’t quite understand her other half either.

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The next day, Rose turns down a date with her boss, Mr. Adams, who is secretly the head of the 100, to go to a concert in the park (watch out for the alien tree!) with Detective Stone.  With this useful piece of information, Adams orders a hit on Stone, but when the gunsels come to call, the Nymph of Night suddenly surges to the surface and takes control, easily disarming the two thugs.  Rose shakily exclaims that she thought she had forgotten all of the karate and judo her father had taught her, and before the killers can recover, they are swarmed by dirty hippies (what a horribly humiliating defeat).

Slipping away in the chaos, Rose turns into the Thorn once more and heads to the barge where the 100 are holding Leo’s mother.  Once aboard, the Wild Wraith is captured and, with Leo and his mother held at gunpoint, forced to surrender her utility bel…err, “Thorn Belt.”  Suddenly, all of the flash bangs and bombs in the belt go off, stunning her foes, and the Baleful Beauty bashes into them, taking out the killers and rescuing their prisoners.  Apparently, much like Batman (who she is totally not ripping off), the Thorn’s belt can’t be removed without setting off all of the ordinance, unless you press a hidden button.  Clever!  As the tale ends, she tells Leo to thank her by going straight.

This is another really, solidly good adventure in Kanigher’s run on this feature.  Once again he packs a ton into just a few pages, giving us a fun dose of action, but also advancing the overall plot and squeezing in a bit of characterization.  I find it very interesting that the Thorn was able to manifest during a moment of stress in the daytime (which is actually a more accurate portrayal of split personality, to my understanding).  The vigilante’s moment of contact with Stone was also intriguing, and I’m curious what (if anything) will come of it.

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The only real flaw is the sudden addition of Leo’s mother to the plot, which Kanigher absolutely didn’t setup properly in the previous tale, which makes that element feel like it comes out of left field.  On the art front, while I miss Gray Morrow’s really neat and unique style from the previous issue, Dick Giordano does a wonderful job here.  He draws an absolutely lovely Thorn, with a lot of nice detail, especially on her flowing hair, which whips around in combat and is always dramatically framing her face.  His action sequences look lovely, and though there are some rough spots, the whole is of a high quality.  I’ll give this brief but exciting backup 3.5 Minutemen.

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Teen Titans #34


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“The Demon of Dog Island”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Nick Cardy

So far, we have seen, to put it gently, a pretty uneven run on Teen Titans, with a lot of half-baked ideas and no clear direction.  That doesn’t necessarily end here, but this issue did manage to surprise the heck out of me and rise above the material that came before.  I expected another gimmicky, poorly thought-out and poorly executed adventure from the (admittedly fun) cover, but there is a lot more here than you might expect.  This cover, with the dramatic image of Wonder Girl menacing her friends and with the foreboding house looming in the background, is beautifully rendered by Nick Cardy, and it sets a suitably creepy stage.

Inside, the eerie mood is not wasted, as we join the action with a cloaked figure fleeing from a pack of savage dogs on a barren island.  She is then attacked by a hulking fellow named Jed Jukes.  During the struggle, we see that the figure is none other than Donna Troy, Wonder Girl, who easily throws the threatening thug aside.  Jukes is raving about witches and how the house she enters is cursed.  The house in question is a massive old mansion of sinister aspect, but it is inhabited by a kindly old woman in a wheelchair.  We discover that Donna is staying with this lady, Miss Wickersham, taking care of her.  How she knows her is never explained.

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After reading a ghost story of sorts to her elderly charge, Wonder Girl finds herself feeling odd and heads to bed, but the action of the night is not finished yet, as a little later the rest  of the Titans make their way to the house.  Lilith has had a vision of their teammate in trouble, and teen heroes have come to the rescue.  Suddenly, the psychic sees a cloaked figure, but when the others look, there is nothing there.  Then, Speedy is unexpectedly clotheslined from the car, and the group is beset by the Jukes brothers, who once again are carrying on about witches and warlocks.  The team makes short work of them in a rather nice panel, with even Lilith pulling her weight.  Recovering the Boy Bowman, the Titans make their way to the mansion, where they find Donna, seemingly safe and sound.  Yet, despite her protestations that she went straight to bed, Lilith observes mud on her friend’s boots.

The next morning, the Titans are all charmed by Miss Wickersham and spend the day enjoying the beach, though Dick and Lilith both remain suspicious.  Their suspicions prove well-founded after night falls.  The muddled mystic sees Donna sneak out of her room, and when she goes to follow her friend, someone clocks her from behind!  (Adding a new face to the Head-Blow Headcount!)  The team awakes to a cry and finds Miss Wickersham’s poor cat strangled!  I was really surprised to see this in a comic of this era….and just in general.  Hurting animals is always a very dicey thing in storytelling.

The innocent kitty’s death proves there is something untoward going on, which is further confirmed by the scene playing out on the beach, where the sleepwalking Donna has wandered.  The Jukes have surrounded her, and Jed prepares to set his vicious dogs on the defenseless girl, only for his dog whistle to suddenly sprout branches.  The killer canines turn on their masters then, and only the timely arrival of the Titans saves the ruffians.  Meanwhile, Lilith, looking for Wonder Girl, stumbles upon a strange scene on a cliffside.  She sees a man in 17th Century garb conversing with a cloaked figure.  The man declares that he has returned for his companion, but she declares that she is stronger and always was, causing him to dissipates in a ghostly mist.

Back in the mansion, Lilith finds her friend still sleeping, but she also discovers something more sinister, the small noose used to strangle the cat!  This final piece enables the psychic to put the puzzle together.  She declares that Donna has been…possessed!  The mystic explains that such possessions are passed from one victim to another through secret rites, and the new vessel, as they are being made ready, will commit a ritual murder, which explains poor puss’s fate.

The Titans set out to solve the mystery, checking in on the wounded Jed Jukes, who they brought home after the dog attack, only to find him hanging upside down in the cellar!  Lilith, going off on her own again (you’d think she’d have learned by now), checks in on Miss Wickersham (and, let’s face it, in a story involving witches, the old lady with the cat is a prime suspect), only to be garroted by the awakened ancient after making an important discovery!

 

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Look at the magnificently malefic aspect Tuska gave the old woman.

 

Her teammates are attacked by a possessed Wonder Girl, who uses mystical powers to torment them.  Just as all seems hopeless, the mysterious figure from the cliff returns, grappling with the old woman and saving Lilith.  He declares that, this time, he is the stronger, because her time is running out.  He tells his aged antagonist that he won’t give up, because he loved her once, and he is waiting for her innocence to return, before fading away once more.  Intriguing!  At the same time, Robin manages to shatter a window, and the weak dawn light temporarily breaks the spell and brings Donna back to herself.

The day breaks, and Miss Wickersham lies near death, but Lilith has solved the mystery.  She is able to read the crone’s mind and sees that she is really over 300 years old and was once a girl named Magda Drachwyck, who loved a man named Gregori in a small European country.  Unfortunately, there were dark powers abroad in that era, and just before her wedding day, she was possessed by a cult of “Demonids” (really?), murdering her beloved as the evil took hold of her.  Eventually she was forced to flee to this island, and the spell-wrapped house has kept her alive for centuries.  By day, she was a sweet old lady, by night, a vicious witch.  Gregori, for his part, has haunted his former love ever since, waiting for the day that she will die, when the evil will be purged from her soul and they will be reunited.

With the facts of the case revealed, the heroes hope they can solve it, but it seems that, once a possession begins, it cannot be broken unless a token taken from the victim is recovered.  If the original host dies, it will be too late!  Desperately, the kids split up and search the house, but their efforts are for naught.  Finally, Robin discovers one of the stars from Wonder Girl’s uniform in Miss Wickersham’s locket, and Speedy fires it into the sea, breaking the spell.  As the sunsets (and apparently, witches always die at sunset, as everyone knows), the old lady dies, but her freed spirit is greeted by her love, Gregori, and the two are reunited in eternity.

What an unusual story, but what a good one!  Here we see one of those rare instances where Zaney Haney’s overactive imagination is reigned in enough to focus on a single plot and develop a story fully.  It’s comics like this where we see how good a writer Haney could actually be, with his gift for unique characters and unusual situations married to a competently plotted script.  In fact, this is one of the better mysteries we’ve encountered so far, and certainly one of the better supernatural adventures, with a very effective eerie feel, and an enigma that is properly setup before its reveal.  The tale still moves a little too fast at times, and some of the specifics of Haney’s witch-lore are a bit goofy or fuzzy (Demonids?), as are some elements of the setting (how exactly does Wonder Girl know this random old woman?) but he successfully creates an engaging plot out of the broad strokes, even delivering some surprisingly compelling moments along the way.

The ghostly Gregori’s hopeless, dogged persistence in the face of his former love’s loathsome actions is touching, and their final reunion is quite moving because of that, especially considering how little time we spend with them.  In fact, that final scene has a good deal of power for a comic like this.  Lilith is probably the most useful and likeable here of any story we’ve seen so far, actually justifying her place on the team and not being unnecessarily cryptic.  In terms of the art, Tuska does a solid job throughout, although he really (presumably with Cardy’s help on the inks) blows me away in a few key scenes, delivering wonderful emotional and character work on faces, like Gregori’s on the cliffside and Miss Wickersham’s as she garrotes Lilith.  This is simply a surprisingly good read, and as such, I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.


World’s Finest #204


“Journey to the End of Hope!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

We’ve got yet another odd one to cap off this post’s comics.  This issue is a strange mixture of thoughtful, creative elements with a plot that doesn’t really take advantage of them.  It has a relatively interesting cover, with the beautifully rendered central figures, courtesy of Neal Adams, plainly setting up the problem of the piece.  It’s unusual and it’s also honest enough, and, notably, it was probably a very proactive visual in 1971.  I can’t imagine there were many comics showing guns being pointed at protesting kids around that time.  This is a statement on the times that must have been more shocking in that era than it is today.  The tale within does turn on just this issue, after a fashion, and it begins at just such a protest, with Superman flying over a college campus, observing the tense standoff between students and guards.  At the moment, the sides seem to be behaving themselves, so the Action Ace heads to the office, where Perry White hands him an assignment, a human interest piece wherein the reporter will get a date through a computer dating service.  Strangely, after Clark has his marching orders, the editor wonders why he did this, noting that he hates computers.  Odd!

At the same time, in nearby Greenwich Village (what is it with O’Neil and forcing Superman into New York?), the former Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, gets a similar assignment from her mentor, I-Ching.  In a curious foreshadowing of the modern day, Clark and Diana find that the computers have matched them together.  In a rather nice scene, they chat about how they do make a certain amount of sense together, but their talk is interrupted by a trio of toughs.  These unwitting thus try to mug them, only to get their clocks cleaned by Diana.  It’s fun seeing Clark sit back and let his date do the heavy lifting.

World's Finest 204-06Smarting from their defeat, the punks decide that they must have revenge, and one of them draws a gun.  Unaware they’re being chased, the couple stop by a radio studio, which is supposed to be the first part of their date (which seems like a weird choice), but when they open the elevator doors, they find, not the office they expected, but a bleak, blasted landscape!  Suddenly, the not so wondrous woman is unable to breathe, and the Man of Steel realizes that there is very little oxygen in the atmosphere.  At super speed, he finds a pocket of air underground and carries his date to safety.  Building her a shelter, the Kryptonain, who doesn’t need air, sets out to see what is going on here.

World's Finest 204-11Finding a bizarre, golden tower, the only sign of life on this desolate world, he charges in, smashing past defenses, only to find himself face to circuit with a robot, built into the structure itself.  The machine explains that this is the future of the Earth, 2171, one hundred years in his future.  Apparently, an event in Superman’s time lead to the destruction he has observed in this future.  Notably, the android explains that this is just a possible future, and one which might be prevented if the catalyst event is altered.  Realizing this, the mechanical man developed time travel capacity (how convenient!), allowing it to bring forward agents that could affect such change.  To that end, it was the machine that manipulated events in the past to bring the two heroes together, which just seems unnecessarily complicated.  It then shows Superman a clip of the defining moment, a college protest which turns into a riot, during which someone will be killed, someone who, otherwise, would prevent this future.

Just then, on the robot’s monitors, the Man of Steel observes that pack of punks from earlier, who have stumbled through the same time-slip as the heroes and who are now rushing towards Diana’s shelter.  Inside, they menace the martial-arts mistress, until the Metropolis Marvel arrives and defeats them with ludicrous ease.  One can only assume that criminals in the DC Universe are just amazingly stupid after these idiots attack the invulnerable, super strong demigod with their bare hands.  After the thugs are disabled, Superman and Diana share a moment that threatens to turn romantic.  Just before it does, Clark breaks away.  It’s an interesting little scene, and I rather wonder if it ever gets followed up during this era.

World's Finest 204-22 - CopyAfter rescuing the former Wonder Woman, the Man of Tomorrow heads back to the robot’s citadel, only to find it running out of energy.  Gathering the other three unwilling time travelers, Superman desperately races to get back through the time rift before it closes, just barely making it.  Grabbing Diana, he races off once again to reach the site of the destined riot, and the two split up to try and calm things down.  Their efforts are for naught, though, as one of the hot-headed students throws a Molotov cocktail, blowing up a car, and the guards open fire.  In the aftermath, Diana finds a kid safe and sound who matches the description of the future-bot, only for Superman to discover a dead guard who also could be the one.  Desperately, the heroine asks her partner which one is their target, only for him to respond hopelessly that they’ll never know until it’s too late!

That’s quite an ending!  It’s a bold move from a writer known for bold moves, with the situation left unresolved and a reasonably subtle delivery (for O’Neil) of his message.  There are some fascinating ideas at play here, as well as a really interesting reaction to contemporary events, but the plot really needed another pass to tighten the story up.  It’s unnecessarily convoluted, and we spend way too much time with the random thugs who want to shoot Wonder Woman.  They add nothing to the plot or to the development of the story’s themes.  I think this would have worked much better if the heroes had been summoned to the future more directly (if the machine can manipulate people’s minds to arrange a date, it could have done the same thing to just get those two to show up in the same place) and then spent more time on campus for the final crisis.

As is, the resolution is really rushed, and the dramatic, weighty declarations of doom delivered by the future-bot are undercut by the random arrival of the three thieves.  On the positive side, it’s really fascinating to see the more sophisticated treatment of time travel that this comic employs, with the concept of possible futures and alternate time-lines.  That’s a relatively later development of the genre, and one not often found in lighter fare.  I’m sure O’Neil wasn’t the first to use this device, but I don’t think it was particularly wide-spread by ’71, making his use of it here innovative and impressive.  O’Neil also does a good job writing both Wonder Woman and Superman, which makes sense given his experience with both, and their interaction is really interesting.  Dick Dillin’s art is a bit uneven at times, but once again, his work here proves superior to that on JLA, with some really dynamic and also some really subtle work in action scenes and character moments.  He produces a few panels that are downright magnificent.

Perhaps most notably, this issue seems to be a clear commentary on the then recent shootings at Kent State, which loom large in the American zeitgeist of that era.  It’s interesting to see such a major event echoing into comics this way, and O’Neil’s take on it is really quite impressive in the little space he devotes to it.  He presents the perspective of both sides in the conflict, with the kids frustrated at their lack of reception by the powers that be and the guards on edge because of abuse they’ve taken from the kids.  Yet, he also illustrates the overly aggressive attitude by some of the guards.  The final thrust of the piece, focusing on the lost potential of young lives ended, even if doing so in the most dramatic way possible, is really rather thought-provoking..  I suppose in the final analysis, I’ll give this off-beat issue 3.5 Minutemen.  It’s flawed, but it is really fascinating.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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arrowheadglheadAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgAquamanhead.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpg2f52ff2370b3a87769869427faeac69darrowheadAquamanhead.jpgbatman-family-6-cover.jpgMister_Miracle_Scott_Free_00014aa6e3fed1467a75dcac3f9654a2c723glheadLilith_Clay_(New_Earth)_002

After a quiet period, we got not one but two new additions to the Headcount this month.  In this post, we have a brand new addition to our prestigious club, with Lilith of the Teen Titans making an appearance.  That means that we have most of the Titans team on the wall.  We’re only missing Speedy and Mal!  I wonder if they’ll join the gang before the end of the era.


Final Thoughts:


With these three issues, we wrap up August 1971, which proved to be an important and memorable time in the Bronze Age, featuring a number of stories that would go on to have major implications for the DC Universe.  First we saw the reappearance of Two-Face after decades in obscurity, and even though his story wasn’t quite the triumphant return that will greet the Joker in a few years, it was a still a fun adventure and marked an important re-connection of Batman to his history and rogue’s gallery.  Despite the issue’s weaknesses, it still displayed a sophistication of art and characterization that marks the continuing growth and evolution of the Bat-books, which in many ways seem to be ahead of the rest of the DC Universe.

Even more noteworthy, this month saw the debut of the landmark drug story arc of Green Lantern/Green Arrow.  That comic, which was much better than I expected it to be, was an absolute bolt from the blue when it appeared.  It’s hard to recapture it’s significance over 40 years later, but despite it’s awkwardness and the clumsiness of some of O’Neil’s writing, we can still admire his attempt to grapple with something so very troubling and perilous in his world.  The popularity of the issue, despite its obvious flaws, is indicative of just how much it resonated with audiences at the time.

Of course, one of the major problems with that story are revealed in the fairly innocuous second appearance of Speedy this month, in Teen Titans, wherein he is his usual happy-go-lucky self, with no trace of a drug habit or the trauma that was supposed to have caused it.  Denny O’Neil’s loose attention to continuity leads to some significant dissonance between the portrayals.  Worse than that will be the ongoing portrayal, where Speedy, I imagine, will likely continue unaffected (not least because he’s under the pen of one of the least continuity sensitive writers working at the time, Bob Haney).  This undermines oen of the great strengths of shared-universe storytelling.

In the wider DC Universe, it seems that signs of unrest are everywhere, even showing up in the background of The Flash.  Once again, the pressures on campus and the continuing generational conflict is center stage in some of our stories.  These themes take two very different forms that remain similar in some notable ways.  While the Robin backup focuses on drop-out culture and the rebellion against authority and the World’s Finest issue focused on the unknowable cost that follows the loss of a young life, they both also put narrative effort into presenting a balanced portrayal of both sides of their pictured conflicts.  The DC writers seem to be making efforts to create a reasoned approach to these themes, even while courting younger readers, which makes sense given the more conservative nature of the company.  Still, it is an admirable effort at creating understanding, even if only in small ways.

This month also saw Mike Sekowsky depart Adventure Comics and DC Comics in general.  While I’m not sorry to see him go from Supergirl, it is a shame that we never got to see Sekowsky really develop his own series, with both of his self-authored ideas falling flat.  It’s especially lamentable that his excellent Manhunter 2070 concept didn’t take off.  It’s a little bittersweet to see one of the defining architects of the DC Universe ride into the sunset.

Whatever else it was, this was certainly a memorable month of comics, and it gave us some unexpected gems, like this issue of Teen Titans.  I hope that y’all have enjoyed this leg of the journey as much as I have!  Please join me soon for the beginning of our next month.  Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: August 1971 (Part 3)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’ve got a really famous comic on the docket for this post, or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that it is infamous.  I’m speaking, of course, about the drug issue of Green Lantern/Green Arrow.  I can’t say I’ve been looking forward to reading this one again, but it should certainly prove an interesting subject for study and reflection. First, a little background.

Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 is, without a doubt, the most famous issue of this famous run, and justifiably so.  Whatever it’s quality, this issue arrived like a thunderclap, and it became massively influential.  Interestingly, the origins of this tale lie, not in the offices of DC, but in the Marvel Bullpen.  You see, in 1970, the drug epidemic was a major concern, and the Nixon administration asked Stan Lee to publish an anti-drug story.  The Marvel editor chose to do so in The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 in 1971, leading to the first comic since the advent of the Comics Code Authority to depict drug use, which was not allowed, even in a negative light, under the Code.  This caused a minor furor, and the folks at the Code refused to sign off on the issues, so Lee published them anyway, removing the Code seals.  This was an important moment in comics and especially in the growth of maturity in the medium.  When Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams came to tackle their own treatment of the drug problem (because where one of the Big Two goes, the other inevitably follows), the powers that be at the Code reevaluated the matter and approved the issues.  The rest, as they say, is history and led to the gradual loosening of Code restrictions.  Thus, this issue had an impact on the superhero genre at large, as well as its immediate cultural influence.

Of course, we can’t let that comic completely overshadow our other classic books, which include a solid issue of the Flash and another of JLA/JSA crossover, which is always a blast.  So, we’ve got plenty to cover in this post!

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 #403
  • Adventure Comics #409
  • Batman #233 (Reprints)
  • Batman #234
  • Detective Comics #414
  • The Flash #208
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #85 (the infamous drug issue)
  • Justice League of America #91
  • Mr. Miracle #3
  • The Phantom Stranger #14
  • Superman #241
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #112
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138
  • Teen Titans #34
  • World’s Finest #204

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


The Flash #208


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“A Kind of Miracle in Central City”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Irv Novick
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Malice in Wonderland”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Dick Giordano
Inker: Dick Giordano
Editor: Julius Schwartz

“Flash’s Sensational Risk”
Writer: John Broome
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: Julius Schwartz

We’ve got a rather off-beat Flash tale this month,  though it has some similarities to the themes of an earlier issue in this run.  This comic has an equally unusual cover, with its scene of piety and the seemingly providential arrival of the Flash.  It’s not the most arresting of images, but it is unique enough to catch your attention if you actually take a moment to figure out the story it tells.  It’s not a particularly great piece, but it is certainly fitting for the tale within.  That particular yarn begins with a group of teens bearing an offering of stolen goods to an abandoned church, only to be greeted by an unlikely trio of gunmen.

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They’re dressed like refugees from the 19th Century, with one a Yankee soldier, one a Confederate cavalryman, and the leader an Indian brave.  I’ve always got a soft-spot for gangs in themed costumes, but I’m not really sure how this gimmick fits these small-time hoods.  At least it’s better than another appearance of the Generic Gang, I suppose.  Either way, as they gather their ill-gotten gains, a troop of nuns march into the crumbling edifice and confront them.  One of the sisters pleads with her actual brother, the leader of the teens, to stop the thieves, but he rejects her.  Fittingly when dealing with such unrepentant rogues, the sisters bow and begin to pray to St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes (the concept of which appeals to my Romantic sensibilities).

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While the nuns can’t convince the thieves to change their ways, they at least drive them out of their hideout, but while meeting on the top of a building, the larcenous louses decide that someone must have tipped the sisters off to their location.  Who could be a better suspect than the brother of one of those sisters?  So, the thugs toss young Vic right off of the roof when he asks for his payment!  Meanwhile, the Flash is on his way back from Istanbul and makes a small but significant mistake.  He forgets that it is Saturday and heads to the office, only then realizing his error and heading home, which brings him by that building at the exact moment Vic makes his precipitous exit.  The Sultan of Speed whips up an updraft to break the kid’s fall, but inexplicably (and unnecessarily), “electromagnetic interference” somehow messes up his efforts…which consist of wind…somehow.  Nonetheless, the Scarlet Speedster saves the boy,  but the youth won’t tell him anything.

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This leads to a fun scene where Barry ponders how to help the kid, realizing that saving the world is important, but so is saving one misguided teenager.  As he thinks, he paces, unconsciously zipping from one end of the world to another, and we get a glimpse of how tumultuous the world was in 1971, with protests from Japan to Paris.  Having made his decision, the Flash zooms back home, only to find Vic having come to his senses and gone to his sister for help.

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Clearly these scenes represent some issues which don’t make our history recaps but were in the zeitgeist at the time.

The Fastest Man Alive overhears him confess and add that the kids want to give back the stolen goods, but they can’t find the gang’s new hiding place.  So the Monarch of Motion takes a hand.  He conducts a super speed grid search of the city, locates the loot, and then races past Vic and his girl, pulling them along in his slipstream right to the cave where the spoils lie.

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Unfortunately, they aren’t the only visitors.  Their anachronistic antagonists make an appearance as well, but the invisibly vibrating Flash jumps in again, swatting their bullets out of the air and lending an super-speed hand to Vic’s desperate fight against his foes.  I enjoy the touch of characterization this provides Barry, as he doesn’t need the glory from this deed, preferring to give the kid something to make him proud.  Later, the teens are granted leniency by a judge, and the nuns host a social at their renovated church.  Vic, for his part, is convinced that the strange events that led to this happy ending were a miracle.  Flash notes that it was the miracle of super speed, but we see a caption that quotes Dylan Thomas, saying that, to those who believe, “the moment of a miracle is like unending lightning.”

 

I like the light touch of religious themes in this story, with the whole tale having the appearance of a fairly straightforward superhero adventure, with the Flash as the usual arbiter of justice and redemption.  Yet, there is the admirably subtle twist of our hero’s wrong turn at the beginning of the story that brings him into contact with the lost soul in need of rescue, a wrong turn that is easily explained as just a random occurrence but which takes on greater meaning in the context of a story filled with prayer and faith.

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The yarn is nothing special, but Kanigher does a good job with suggesting the possibility of divine intervention.  The final quote makes that subtle connection stronger, but it is rather deeply and unintentionally ironic.  You see, that line comes from Dylan Thomas’s “On the Marriage of a Virgin,” which describes a sexual experience of a virgin, probably that of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in contrast with her experience with the Holy Spirit.  That makes its use here an…odd choice.  The line, taken out of context, works pretty well, but its context certainly provides a weird perspective on the story!  Nonetheless, it’s an entertaining read, and Dick Giordano does a solid job on the art, really acing the secret super-speed confrontation with the villains at the end.  The thieving kids’ arc is probably the biggest weakness of this issue, as it feels like it is missing something.  With all of the costumed criminals constantly talking about “The big man,” the tale feels rather unfinished when it ends without some type of reveal or resolution involving this big time baddie that supposedly is running things.  I found myself wondering if I had missed a few pages when I got to the end. Nonetheless, I’ll give the whole thing an above average 3.5 Minutemen based on the strength of its themes.

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“Malice in Wonderland”


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Despite how much I enjoyed the religious themes of the cover story, I have to say that my favorite part of this book was this delightful Elongated Man backup.  Like many of Ralph Dibny’s adventures I’ve been able to read, this one is just plain fun.  It begins in rather unusual fashion, with our unhurried hero stopping off at a small town named Dodgson, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in a rather unique way
Apparently the festival is, oddly enough, Alice in Wonderland themed because the town’s founder was a descendant of Lewis Carroll, and a costumed ‘Alice’ gives the visiting detective a free copy of the children’s classic, which he decides to read in the pack.  As he relaxes in that idyllic setting, reliving his childhood and admiring the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, which provide the official aesthetic for the town’s celebration, he is startled to see a running rabbit, late for a very important date!
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Of course, no self-respecting detective could pass up such an odd occurrence, so Ralph hurries off after the harried hare.  Before he can catch up, the White Rabbit hops into a cab and speeds away.  Using his stretching powers, the Elongated Man is able to pursue the rogue rodent through the town for a while before losing him, but after an informative conversation with a helpful ‘Mad Hatter,’ the Ductile Detective follows a hint and heads to the library, where a first edition of Alice is on display.
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Flash208-22Sure enough, the hunch pays off, and the hare is there.  When the bold bunny sees the superhero arrive, he calls out to another costumed character, who tosses down a smoke bomb.  Together the two steal the valuable tome while Ralph and the townsfolk take an impromptu nap.  Upon awakening, the Ductile Detective deduces where the thieves will be hiding, from a scrap of paper he snatched from the rabbit.  The notes reads “Mushroom Float,” and the hero realizes that the crooks plan to make their escape in plain sight, by hiding out among the costumed cast of the town’s anniversary parade!
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Meanwhile, those same thieves are slowly winding through town aboard, you guessed it, a float of the hookah-smoking caterpillar atop his mushroom.  As they congratulate themselves on their cleverness, an arm suddenly stretches out of the caterpillar’s hookah and snatches their loot.  The criminals draw weapons, but the wildly stretching sleuth proves too hard to hit.
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There’s some really fun (and funny) action in this scene, as when the villains try to smother our hero by shoving his head into the smoke from the hookah, only to have him stretch his nose free of the cloud, all while stretching a foot around the float to give his opponents the boot!  With the criminals corralled, Ralph explains what originally tipped him off about the rogue rabbit.  The town’s celebration was based on Tenniel’s illustrations, but the ignorant thief had based his costume on the Disney movie, making him look out of place.  This set the detective’s ‘mystery loving nose’ to twitching.  There’s a lesson in there for you, kids: Don’t just see the movie; read the book!
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This is just a charming little adventure.  It’s a lot of fun, and Ralph is entertaining throughout, both in dialog and in his wacky stretching.  Dick Giordano’s art is great in this tale, really doing a wonderful job with the whimsical world that best suits Ralph and his exploits.  All of the colorful costumed characters look great, though they also don’t really look like people wearing costumes.  Still, Giordano does a really good job with the final fight, providing entertaining and creative uses of his hero’s powers, which is always important for a stretching character.  There’s not much to this story, but Len Wein manages to make it feel complete in just eight pages, which is always a challenge.  I’ll give this whimsical little visit to Wonderland a thoroughly entertaining 4 Minutemen.
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Green Lantern / Green Arrow #85


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“Snowbirds Don’t Fly”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Neal Adams
Colourist: Cory Adams
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Julius Schwartz

Here we are at last.  I’ve been talking about this comic since we began the GL/GA series.  Of course, I’ve been dreading rereading this issue.  I  rather cordially disliked it upon my first read, finding it massively heavy-handed and generally goofy and melodramatic.  Imagine my surprise when, upon begrudgingly rereading the comic (the things I do for you, my beloved readers!), I found the story much better than I remembered.  It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s far from the worst issue of this run, and it is undeniably important and groundbreaking.  So, without further ado, let’s examine this landmark issue.

First, I’d be remiss not to talk about this justly famous cover.  It’s not exactly subtle (what in this run is?), but it is immediately arresting.  Can you imagine browsing through the newsstand, seeing the collection of fine and conventional covers of this month’s books arrayed in front of you, only to have this piece jump out.  It had to be an incredible shock to audiences back in 1971.  I’d say that this is one of the few cases where cover dialog or copy is absolutely necessary.  I think a little context, at least in 1971, was probably called for.  The central image, of Speedy strung out, shaking, hunched and ashamed, is really a powerful one, though Ollie’s reaction might be a bit exaggerated to the point of being comical.  The overall effect is certainly gripping, nonetheless.

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The legendary story this cover represents had to be even more shocking to fans.  It begins with the conventional scene of a mugging, but unusually, these muggers are uncertain and possessed of a strange desperation.  Unfortunately for them, they pick Oliver Queen as their pigeon, which goes about as well as you might imagine.  Apparently, Dinah has broken things off with Ollie (maybe that fight last issue was more serious than it seemed?), and he’s got a bit of aggression to work out.  Things take a turn for the serious, however, when one of the muggers pulls out a crossbow of all things!  Oddly, the guy who uses a bow and arrow as a superhero mocks the weapon and doesn’t take it seriously, which makes the quarrel that embeds itself in his chest all the more surprising!

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In a modern day reimagining of the beginning of the Good Samaritan parable, the badly wounded hero crawls through the streets in search of aid…and is promptly ignored by a well-dressed couple, a cop (!), a taxi, and even the nurse at the emergency room…at least until he keels over.  It’s an effective little commentary on the dehumanizing affect of urban life.  After all, we’re only six years after the murder of Kitty Genovese.  Once he’s patched up, Ollie checks out the quarrel and notices that it is rather familiar and, on a hunch, he calls up Hal Jordan for some backup.  When the Green Lantern arrives, Ollie suits up and admits to his friend that the quarrel has him worried because he hasn’t seen Speedy in a month, and it could have come from his wayward ward.

 

green lantern 085 011The heroes begin their investigation in the basement of Ollie’s own building, where he’d seen the kids who jumped him before.  Downstairs they find one of the punks begging a charming fellow named Browden for a fix.  It seems that Browden is a pusher!  He turns away the junkie with a savage kick, and the partners decide to ask the jerk some questions.  The guy proves suicidally brave, taking on two Justice Leaguers with a fire axe, but surprisingly this doesn’t prove to be the best idea.  After capturing both the drug dealer and his client, the heroes plan to interrogate their prisoners.

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Next, we get a scene that I found cringe-inducingly bad when I read it the first time.  I found it much more palatable this time, but there’s still plenty here that is on the silly side.  We join our other two would-be muggers in an apartment in China Town, and they are suffering from withdrawal.  To take their minds off their pain, they admire a wall of ancient weapons, the source of the nearly deadly crossbow.  One of the boys is an Asian American, and he mentions that the weapons are his fathers, who collects them as an outlet against the injustice that he has to deal with day in and day out as a minority.  This leads to their discussions about why they are using drugs, and the dialog is a bit goofy, but there is something worthwhile here as well, though I didn’t appreciate it on my first reading.

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What…what is that kid doing in the last panel?  Interpretive dance?

The scene is ham-handed, and in it O’Neil commits a cardinal sin of writing, having his characters simply declare how they feel, rather than delivering that information organically.  Despite the clunky and, at times, ridiculous dialog where these characters just helpfully hold forth about their motivations and feelings, O’Neil links their drug use to the racial issues of the time.  While his connections are wildly overly simplistic, effectively equating to “I use drugs because people are racist,” there’s no denying that there was and is a disproportionate percentage of addiction in minority communities in the U.S..  This is tied into a host of other social ills, but it’s noteworthy that O’Neil makes the connection and gives us a sympathetic portrayal, not only of addicts, but of minorities as well, identifying the social pressures that play a role in their problems.

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green lantern 085 016Their group-therapy session is interrupted by the arrival of the Green Team, who fly in and capture the fleeing kids, only to be surprised to see that one of them is…Speedy?!  Ollie instantly assumes that his ward is there undercover, and when one of the junkies helpfully offers to take the heroes to their suppliers, Arrow tells his young friend to stay behind while they wrap things up.  On the way, the heroes talk with the kids, and in a notable inversion, it is the Emerald Archer who is the inflexible, judgemental one, while Hal takes a more thoughtful, moderate approach.  It seems that Ollie has no patience for the kind of weakness that leads to drug use.

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Another Headcount entry!

When they reach their destination, a private airport, the Emerald Gladiator quickly disarms the smugglers operating there, but then he falls prey to that perennial superhero foe…the headblow!  One of the junkies unsurprisingly turns on the heroes and clocks the Lantern with a wrench!  His green-clad partner does his best, but the wounded Archer is quickly beaten down, and instead of killing the helpless heroes, the smugglers decide to dope them up and leave them for the cops.  The addicts get a fix for their efforts, and as the cops arrive, it seem that the Green Team is doomed for disgrace and jail!  Just then,  Speedy arrives and manages to rouse Hal, who unsteadily tries to use his ring to escape.

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His efforts result in a monstrously distorted construct produced by his drug-addled imagination, but the Emerald Crusader wasn’t chosen to wield the most powerful weapon in the universe for nothing.  Hal summons all of his willpower and manages to focus enough to get them away.  It’s actually a really good sequence, and I love that Hal is portrayed as having enough iron willpower to overcome even the drugs in his system this way, however unrealistic it might be.

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Back at Green Arrow’s apartment, the heroes recover and discuss what would lead someone to put that kind of poison into their body.  Roy quietly offers a suspiciously specific example about a young boy ignored by a father figure and turning to drugs for comfort, but his mentor simply shrugs it off.  After Hal leaves, Ollie walks back into his rooms, only to discover Speedy in the process of shooting up!

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green lantern 085 029The reveal is, of course, not that surprising after the cover, but the twist of an honest-to-goodness superhero, not just a supporting character, becoming a drug-addict, must have been earth-shattering to fans in ’71, especially at DC.  We’re still not very far removed from the era where DC heroes were spotless, flawless paragons of all virtues, and this is a huge departure from the line’s conventions.  You simply didn’t see things like this in comics, especially DC Comics.  This makes the issue itself an important milestone, in many ways representing the high-water mark of social relevance for the era.

The portrayal of DC heroes as fallible was amped up by an order of magnitude with this story, for better or worse, and not just with Speedy’s succumbing to heroin.  No, the moral culpability of Oliver Queen shouldn’t be overlooked.  This is actually one of my biggest problems with this comic.  O’Neil does here what often happens with such “nothing will ever be the same” twists: he tells a massively disruptive story, revealing a huge change in the characters, but with no plans to follow it up or manage the fallout from it.  Thus, these two issues will go on to haunt poor Speedy for the rest of his comics career.  Hardly a story will be written about him that won’t be affected in some fashion by this choice, and while Ollie isn’t as marred by these comics as his poor ward, the character is marked by his cavalier irresponsibility towards the kid that was effectively his son, which helped lead to this moment.  These factors make this tale a pretty grave disservice to these characters.  As bad as the incredibly self-righteous, Godwin’s Law invoking Green Arrow of the earlier run might have been, this twist, which turns him into an incredibly selfish, irresponsible jerk is significantly worse.

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Translation: ‘I should not be allowed to care for a kid.’

Despite this, the story itself is significantly better than I remember, and there is a good tale to be found here, with the examination of drug use and the damage it causes, as well as the desperation of those caught in the claws of addiction.  Unfortunately, the dialog of the junkies is more than a little silly at times, and the characterization problems, with both Ollie’s selfishness and Speedy’s rather weak reasons for his drug use seriously impacting the overall effect.  Apparently Roy was abandoned by his father figure…while he was in college.  At that point, you’d think he’d be able to handle it.  A lot of kids go off to college and don’t see their parents for months at a time.  I certainly did.  So, his motivations seem a bit insufficient, and this portrayal also contrasts rather noticeably with the happy, well-adjusted kid concurrently appearing in Teen Titans.  A little more groundwork would have gone a long way to making this tale more successful.

Despite these weaknesses, seeing this comic in the context, both of its preceding run and of the rest of the DC line at the time, is really revelatory.  In that light, it becomes apparent that is the culmination of much of O’Neil’s work on this book.  In it, the major themes of O’Neil’s social relevance campaign come together in a surprisingly sophisticated (for its time and medium) combination that illustrates a compassionate understanding of the drug problem that is often still lacking today.  It is clumsy in places, clever in places, poorly thought-out, yet innovative and daring.  The issue is helped greatly by Neal Adams’ beautiful, realistic art.  It elevates the material and adds a touch of humanity to the characters whose suffering and struggles might otherwise not have nearly as much weight.  This flawed comic is definitely worth a read if you want to understand both its era and Bronze Age comics at large.  I’ll give it 4 Minutemen, certainly a higher score than I expected to award, but it is definitely hurt by O’Neil’s abuse of his characters.

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Justice League of America #91


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“Earth – The Monster-Maker!”
Writer: Mike Friedrich
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

“The Day the World Melted”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Joe Giella

“The Hour Hourman Died!”
Writer: Gardner Fox
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Sid Greene

To round out our comics for this post, we’ve got a JLA issue that delivers another JLA/JSA crossover, which always provide for fun reading.  It starts with a really great cover.  That’s quite a dramatic tableau, the grim-faced Dark Knight carrying in the ravaged body of his comrade and the shocked looks of the other Leaguers, all beautifully drawn by Neal Adams.  It would certainly be tough to pass this issue up and forgo the chance to find out what happened!  I’d say that we could certainly do without the cover copy, but that’s a small complaint.  Of course, I always love the team line-ups that these classic issues provide.  Overall, it’s an all-around good cover.  Sadly, the comic inside doesn’t quite live up to the tantalizing promise of the piece.

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While the dialog is, of course, a cheat, the image itself is truth in advertising, as the tale begins with Batman’s arrival as depicted.  Superman, Hawkman, Green Lantern, and the Atom are holding a meeting on the Satellite, and they note that Aquaman is absent without leave, causing them to wonder if he’s still angry about the events of the previous issue.  Just then, the Caped Crusader arrives, carrying the Crimson Comet, not so speedy at the moment.  Apparently the Masked Manhunter recovered the mauled hero from near Gotham.

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I quite like this title image; it evokes the feel of those classic 50s sci-fi tales.

Before that mystery can be solved, we see a strange scene, in which some rather adorable aliens, traveling between dimensions in a spaceship, lose one of their passengers and his 80s-TV-show-cute pet.  The poor kid, the brother of the pilot, slips through the dimensional barrier, and he and his space-dog end up in separate worlds.  The other aliens frantically fret that, once separated, the boy and dog can only survive for 37.5 hours!  Apparently, this strange species has developed a symbiotic relationship with their pets, one in which the creatures are so dependent upon one another that each will die without the other.  On Earths 1 and 2, the castaway creatures are mutated by the dimensional energies they experienced, growing gigantic and becoming maddened.

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jla091-05On Earth 2, the Justice Society gathers, including their Superman, Hawkman, Flash, and Atom, as well as their Robin.  They get a distress signal from their Green Lantern, and when they arrive, they find him battered and bruised from a bout with the alien boy.  Apparently the yellow youth sensed that the Emerald Gladiator’s ring had the power to bridge dimensions, so he attacked the hero and stole the ring.  The team sends their fallen friend back to base while they set out in search of the kid.  Oddly, on the way, Hawkman talks down to Robin, telling him he “may as well fill in for Batman,” prompting the ADULT Wonder to remind the Winged One that he is a full-fledged member of the Society.  Robin thinks about the ‘generation gap,’ which seems a bit odd, given that he’s supposed to be, like in his 30s in these stories.

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jla091-07Forced friction aside, back on Earth 1, their Flash recovers long enough to give them a super-speed clue, which Superman decodes.  It’s a reference to “New Carthage,” where Robin attends Hudson U.  Just then, Aquaman sends in an alarm of his own, so the team splits, with Batman and the newly arrived Green Arrow heading to help the Sea King, while the rest of the team go to track down the mysterious threat.  At their destination they find their own Robin, who was already investigating the monster.  As they continue their search, the Earth-1 Hawkman gives the Teen Wonder his own dose of condescension.  Man, Friedrich has poor Hawkman playing the jerk…on two worlds!

Before the heroes find the problem pup, Green Lantern detects a signal emanating from Earth-2, leading to the two teams joining forces.  The Atom suggests the distribution of forces: (Earth-1: Both Supermen, both Atoms, and Flash 2 / Earth-2: Both Hawkmen, Green Lantern 1, both Robins), saying that it will be “more scientifically sound,” which Superman questions…but despite this the choice is never explained.  Weird.  On Earth-2, the baffled alien boy lashes out at his surroundings, but when the heroes arrive, he tries to communicate… but it doesn’t go too well.

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They can’t understand each other, and the young Robin loses patience and attacks!  See kid, this is why Hawkman talks down to you!  He takes a beating until his elder counterpart and the others rescue him.  The Emerald Crusader packs the two Robins off to safety at the Batcave so the Teen Wonder can get help, but he himself gets pummeled by the kid…rather unnecessarily, really.  He basically just lands and lets the alien belt him.  The youth is after the Lantern’s ring, but Hal manages to turn it invisible.  This prompts his frustrated foe to turn the Green Guardian into a human missile, taking out both Hawkmen in the process.  It’s not the best fight scene, really, as the heroes seem more than a little incompetent, and the kid really doesn’t seem like that much of a threat.

 

That problem is magnified even more for his adorable animal companion, which is rampaging through Earth-1.  Seriously, the thing looks like it should have shown up on The Snorks, Teddy Ruxpin, or some other brightly colored and whimsical kids’ cartoon.  Obviously this is intentional to a degree, with the creative team wanting to emphasize the juxtaposition of the innocence of these creatures with the threat they pose, but I think they went a tad overboard here, especially when the cute critter somehow knocks down two Supermen with a single swipe!  The heroes’ efforts seem futile, but finally, while Atom 1 distracts the dimension-lost dog, one of the Supermen digs a pit around it at super speed, trapping the creature.

 

Realizing that there might be a connection between their invader and that of Earth-2, Flash 2 and Superman 1 head there to investigate.  Meanwhile, the alien boy stumbles into Slaughter Swamp, where he encounters…Solomon Grundy!  The two bond in an unlikely friendship that is actually a little sweet, and when the heroes track the lost lad down, Grundy tries to protect him  This leads to a fairly nice brawl, which ends with Grundy triumphant, preparing to smash the alter-Earth version of his nemesis, Green Lantern, using Superman himself as a club!

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This is a fun and rather unusual issue.  I didn’t remember this one at all, but I have to say, the central conflict, the dangerous innocent facing his own imminent doom, is a creative and interesting concept.  It’s also always fun to see the League and Society team up, even if they aren’t exactly at their best in this story.  Notably, Friedrich’s attempts at characterization with his Robin/Hawkman pairings are interesting, even though they aren’t entirely successful.  Still, I have to give him credit for trying to inject some personality and personal drama into the book.  It’s intriguing to see him attempt to bring the generation gap conflicts into the superhero world in such a fashion.  We’ve seen it addressed in Robin’s backups and in Teen Titans, but we haven’t seen this tension explored between actual adult and teen heroes very much.

 

The introduction of Grundy is a nice way to add a bit more of a threat to the story, but he still seems a bit overmatched by the gathered heroes, so much so that Friedrich has to cheat a bit to neutralize Hal, having the Lantern sort of take a dive against the kid.  Dillin’s art is, unfortunately, evincing the usual stiffness and awkward patches that I’ve come to expect from his JLA work, but there are also the usual highlights.  (In this case, the fight with Grundy)  Despite its weaknesses, this is still a fun and admirably creative adventure tale.  I’ll give it a solid 3.5 Minutemen.  It loses a bit because of the plot induced stupidity of its protagonists.

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P.S.: Entertainingly, this issue includes a note from Mike Friedrich himself about writing the story wherein he laments the tortuous challenge of juggling the massive cast of a JLA/JSA crossover.  I sympathize!  That has to be quite the job.  I know I’ve found it tough in my own work with these characters in the DCUG.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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We get a second appearance by Green Lantern on the Wall this month, and I have to say, I’m more than a little surprised that we haven’t seen a lot more of him.  Hal has something of a reputation, you see.


Well folks, that will do it for this post, but quite a post it is, featuring a landmark comic.  There’s plenty here to consider, and I hope that you’ve found the reading as entertaining and interesting as I did in the writing.  Please join me again soon for another leg of our journey Into the Bronze Age!  While our next set of books won’t be quite so groundbreaking, they promise to be fascinating in their own right, including the always-exciting Mr. Miracle and the penultimate issue of Denny O’Neil’s unusual but provocative run on Superman.  Until next time, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!  See you then!

Into the Bronze Age: June 1971 (Part 5)

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Welcome back for another edition of Into the Bronze Age, dear readers and Internet travelers!  Come right in and prepare for our final pair of pulse-pounding adventures!  They’re a mixed bag, as Zaney Haney takes Teen Titans back from our favorite Aquaman author, Steve Skeates, but never fear, stylin’ Steve is also back in this batch, and penning an old favorite, the Sea King himself, in an issue of World’s Finest!  I’ve been eagerly anticipating that particular book, seeing it in my reading list.  Time to find out how both of these comics stack up!

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.


Teen Titans #33


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“Less Than Human?”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

First up is a new Teen Titans adventure, and it’s a weird one, which is to be expected from Zaney Haney.  The stranger thing is that it follows in the similarly weird footsteps of Steve Skeates from last month.  The comic has a Nick Cardy cover, but it isn’t as fantastic as his usual work.  The image is a solid ‘scary discovery’ type of composition, but Cardy can’t seem to make up his mind on whether the menacing figure is a zombie or a skeleton (look at those arm bones!), so it just looks a bit confused.  Otherwise, it is pretty solid.  Inside, this comic picks up directly from the last issue, in the poorly conceived and developed fantasy world that was created by the Butterfly Effect of Mal and Kid Flash’s journey into the past.

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The young heroes face a test in the form of an archery competition, a-la Robin Hood, and somehow Kid Flash duplicates the forester’s famous shot.  I expected this to be revealed to be a super speed trick, especially when the arrow begins to drill into the lock on its own, but it’s never actually explained.  So, we could just assume that Wally is somehow an expert archer.  It’s a bit clumsy, but Haney has no time for explanations or logic!  Instead, a hulking skeleton, the animated remains of the caveman they killed, comes charging out of the door, and the Titans are terrified, so terrified, that Mal actually breaks and runs.

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However, he doesn’t run too far, as he grabs the ‘Duke of Galaxy’s’ helmet and dons it before charging back towards the apparition.  And a specter it proves to be, vanishing into thin air.  ‘Jupiterius’ explains to the youths that ‘Cerebella’ (get it?), Lilith’s alternate future counterpart, used her mental powers to fill Mal with fear.  Since they successfully passed their trial, he will show them how to travel back in time ‘to put right what once went wrong!‘ 

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The wizard takes them to “The Well of Time,” where they take a piece of its crystallized water and find themselves back in the Stone Age, facing their anachronistic antagonist.  This time Flash knocks the club away without sending the caveman crashing over the cliff, but the marauding Cro-Magnon (who looks much more like a neanderthal) manages to grab him…somehow.  The crystals that hold them in the past fade during the fight, and the young friends find themselves back home…but they have picked up a chronological  hitchhiker!

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The caveman, grappling with Kid Flash at the moment of their return, went with them, and suddenly the entire team find themselves in a desperate struggle with the powerful savage.  When they manage to incapacitate him, Mr. Jupiter oh-so-helpfully proclaims that he is not going to send their visitor back home because it turns out time travel is a tad dangerous.  Gee, ya’ think?  It’s a shame you didn’t figure that out before you lost two teenagers in time!

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So, instead Jupiter instructs the team to tame the caveman, turn him into a modern man…which is problematic in multiple ways.  Most importantly, this scene points to a major plot hole.  Killing this caveman really messed up the timeline and caused a whole alternate future, right?  But removing him from his era entirely doesn’t have any impact on the present?  That’s just ridiculously sloppy writing, even for the Zaney one.

Nonetheless, in the present the caveman, who they dub “Gnarrk,” after his only vocalization, must stay.  The Titans bring Robin in to help them with their new pupil, and after devising a curriculum, they start with the first and most important step…appearance!  The first thing the team does is sedate their savage student and give him a shave and a hair cut, which doesn’t please the fellow too much when he awakens.  He grabs Lilith through the bars, but fortunately she is able to communicate telepathically with him, and they make friends.

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The most amazing part of this comic isn’t the time travel or the magic but the fact that Lilith does something useful!

After a poor start with subliminal education while he sleeps, the Titans take the caveman out on the town pretty much immediately, which seems wildly irresponsible and unnecessary.  Predictably, it goes poorly, and Gnarrk attacks a car, thinking it is some type of monstrous animal.  Then he gets spooked by a train, and the team has to split up and search for their charge.  When they recover the kooky Cro-Magnon, they discover that he has observed a local city councilman involved in a payoff, and they realize that Gnarrk has just become a damning witness against a major crime figure…but a witness who can’t testify!

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This is actually a rather original and entertaining situation, all other concerns aside.  You can say this for Haney, he certainly was creative!  Well, the Titans immediately redouble their efforts.  After two weeks of intensive training, they take their time-tossed guest to the D.A., for some reason in a major hurry, despite the fact that there seems to be no real external pressure.  Nonetheless, Lilith, having grown close to Gnarrk, tries to shield him from the frantic efforts of the others, but when she takes him out for a walk, the pair are attacked by gangsters and narrowly avoid a bomb.  Fearing for her new friend, the enigmatic lady slips away with him, planning to hide Gnarrk until after the hearing so he won’t be in danger.

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Of course, this works about as well as you might imagine, and for some strange reason, the young caveman proves to be slightly less safe hiding out in a van in the woods than surrounded by superheroes.  Gnarrk tries to confess his feelings for Lilith, who is apparently quite the ridiculous hippie, given her psychedelic surroundings, but she shoots him down.

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TeenTitans_v1_033-20-1-19 - CopyThis is followed quickly by being shot down herself in a more literal fashion as bullets riddle the van and the vaguely-powered vixen is hit.  The Caveman goes crazy and tears into the attackers.  The rest of the Titans arrive just in time to talk him down from killing his captives, but the Cro-Magnon chooses to do the right thing, sparing the would-be killer.  The next day, Gnarrk appears in court and haltingly gives his testimony, bringing down the crime boss, and the comic ends with Lilith and her newfound friend walking off together, arm-in-arm.

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Once again, Haney packs enough into a single issue of a comic to fill three normal books.  He seems to pretty immediately lose interest in the time travel tale, instead settling on the weird and reasonably original angle of a caveman in the modern world.   That story is fairly entertaining, and the character’s growing fondness for Lilith is actually rather touching.  The scene where he tries to tell her how he feels, only to have her shut him down makes you feel for the guy.  For her part, Lilith continues to be super vague and undeveloped, which annoys me, and her plot-fortunate powers seem rather convenient.  That’s not terribly surprising with the Zaney one doing the writing, as character personalities and powers change at his whim.

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This is a common problem with his work, but it is magnified here because even the questionable unity provided by Haney is lacking in this Titans book, with the authorial duties shifting every other issue.  The inconsistency and uncertainty of direction is really clear with this issue, which clashes with the story started by Steve Skeates, whose plotlines are almost immediately abandoned.  George Tuska’s art is lovely as always, and he does some really great work with Gnarrk’s face, which is particularly important considering how little dialog the character has.  I think Nick Cardy inking Tuska also adds a bit of continuity to the visual side of the book, which is nice.  The most intriguing part of this issue was the introduction of Gnarrk, who, despite being the focus of the story, receives relatively little development.  Apparently he goes on to play a role in the Titans mythos in the future, but tellingly, none of the references I could find about him make any mention of this story.  I’m curious to see what will become of him.  (I wonder if he went on to become a lawyer).  In the end, this is a comic with a lot of imagination that has some flaws but is still a fun read, so I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen, with its creativity raising it above the average.

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World’s Finest #203


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“Who’s Minding the Earth?”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: Dick Dillin
Inker: Joe Giella
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

I have been really looking forward to this one, especially after Aquaman’s own book met its unfortunate demise.  I have been excited to see my favorite character team up with the Man of Steel, and written by submarine scribe supreme, Steve Skeates, no less!  Fortunately, this issue doesn’t disappoint, though it doesn’t have the most gripping of covers.  It’s not bad, but it is rather excessively yellow, and the scene is rather more suggestive than exciting.  Nonetheless, the monstrous creatures walking away from our heroes hold a bit of menace and the figures are well drawn, which is no surprise from Neal Adams.  Nonetheless, the story inside delivers something pretty enjoyable.

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It starts with everyone’s favorite Sea King discovering a strange phenomenon, an underwater rainbow, and when he investigates, he hears a strange, high-pitched buzzing which leads him to a ruined research station on a seemingly abandoned island.  In the wreckage, the Marine Marvel discovers a torn journal page with a cryptic message about ‘raising him’ and a warning that ‘they plan to drown the world.’  That doesn’t sound good!

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As he continues to search the island, Aquaman encounters a quartet of strange looking creatures, seemingly humanoid dolphins, and he can’t help but laugh at their awkward, waddling walk.  Real sensitive Arthur!  The creatures take this none-too-kindly, and the Sea Sleuth suddenly is hit with a mental attack and passes out!  I’m not crazy about this scene as Aquaman, of all people, should probably be both a bit more accepting of and a bit more used to strange aquatic beings, but I suppose we’re meant to take it as harmless mirth.

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Dillin really knocks it out of the park on Aquaman in this issue.

Meanwhile, a very snappily dressed Clark Kent encounters a frantic stranger on the streets of Metropolis who is desperately searching for Superman.  Before the reporter can calm him down and enjoy the irony, the disguised figure mentions something about ‘the change’ coming over him and somehow renders everyone nearby blind, even affecting the Man of Steel’s superior eyesight!  It seems to the Action Ace’s blurry vision as if the figure splits in two and then races off, but after his vision clears, he manages to pick up their trail on the coast.

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Clark, rockin’ the paisley ascot.  I wonder why Lois won’t go out with him?

 

The Man of Tomorrow follows these odd aquatic beings across the sea and discovers Aquaman’s still form, managing to return him to the water just as the Atlantean’s hour was running out.  Quickly catching each other up, they return to the isle and encounter the creature that had been seeking Superman in the first place.  This alien-looking being fills the two heroes in on the situation.  Apparently he was born a mutant, but a mutant dolphin, which is sort of a fun twist.

He was a humanoid being, and his marine mother abandoned him.  Fortunately, a team of scientists working on the island rescued and reared the young mutant, who grew rapidly and proved to be brilliant, quickly learning English.  He also developed strange sonic (or perhaps psionic) abilities, which he often used to summon displays of light, creating submarine rainbows for his own amusement.

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Still, he was lonely, as well as clumsy and awkward on the land, which earned him the laughter of his adoptive family, embittering the young creature.  He longed for a companion, someone like him, and suddenly one day, in response to his desire, he split in two, reproducing asexually.  His new brother possessed all of his knowledge, but none of his compassion.  There’s something of a similarity here to the Sand Superman of O’Neil’s.

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The strange sibling inherited only the original’s anger, and the process proved continual, with more twins born every few days.  Soon they drove the scientists away and began plotting to destroy the human race which had mocked them.  The original dolphin-being warns the heroes that his freakish family plans to drown the Earth by using their sonic powers to melt the ice caps!

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Together, the trio take off for the North pole, where the dolphin-men have gathered.  However, the malevolent mutants sense the heroes approaching and launch a sonic attack that affects Superman’s brain (and we get an educational little map of the human brain to illustrate the point, which is a nice touch).  Suddenly the Man of Steel streaks into the sky, charging a massive creature seemingly composed of sonic energy, yet he can never seem to make contact with it.  Strange!

Under the waves, the Marine Marvel presses the attack, and while he and his flippered friend hold their own, the weight of numbers soon threatens to swamp them, so the Sea King calls in an army of fish to cover his retreat.  As the mutants search for him, they fail to notice a seemingly harmless whale as it gets close, but suddenly Aquaman bursts from the creature’s mouth and slams into his aquatic antagonists!  It’s a great sequence, and Dillin does a really nice job with it, other than one slightly awkward pose.

As the Marine Marvel tears through his foes, he manages to disrupt their attack on Superman, who suddenly realizes that the monster was an illusion and dives back into the undersea brawl.  The two heroes make short work of the creatures.  Once they have been captured, Superman gives them a fiery speech, lambasting the mutants for their violent response to human ridicule, arguing that they should have worked to earn respect instead.

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Oddly, this prompts Aquaman thinks to himself that his friend “has that unbearable establishment ‘twang’ in his voice!”  That’s…a weird choice for the King of Atlantis, and it really just doesn’t fit the character, a grating sour note, way more suited to the current, obnoxious characterization of Green Arrow, made all the more surprising because it was written by Skeates, who has previously shown such a great grasp of the character.  Maybe Aquaman has been spending too much time with Ollie!

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Despite that, there is a certain interesting element to this scene, as there is some buried social commentary in an authority figure telling an abused minority that they just needed to prove themselves to the powers that be.  Given the racial issues of the day, I wonder if this was a subtle jibe or just a coincidence.  Whatever the case, after his speech, the Metropolis Marvel gathers the mutants up and flies them to an unpeopled inhabitable planet where they can create their own world, free from humanity and no threat to anyone.  On Earth, Aquaman ponders the case, and the married mariner thinks that it makes a certain amount of sense that this species that developed without love was also one that lacked an opposite sex.  Arthur, you romantic, you!

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This is a great little adventure story, and for the first time in far too long, it’s one in which Aquaman actually gets to be useful.  Yet, he isn’t just useful, he positively steals the show, which isn’t easy to do when sharing space with Superman!  The Sea King puts on a great showing in this comic, which I expected from a story by Skeates.  The threat that the heroes face is an interesting one, and the tale of the original dolphin-creature (who Skeates really should have given a name) is rather touching in its own way.  His loneliness, being the only one of his kind, is fairly poignant, and I quite like the little scene of him hanging out underwater, ‘singing colors’ to himself.

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The one real problem with the issue is that the motivation for the mutants’ hatred of mankind is a bit weak.  I’d have liked to see a bit more development to that part of the tale, but Skeates is moving pretty quickly in the space he has to work with and packs a lot in here, including a great action sequence.  It’s a shame the original dolphin-man got exiled to another world with the others, as he seemed like a decent sort and an interesting character.  If there were still an Aquaman title, he’d have made a fun addition to the supporting cast.

In terms of the art, Dillin is in particularly rare form on this book.  His work is great, and he creates some really striking panels, like the gathering of dolphin-men, Aquaman’s fish army, and the drowning city.  The creatures themselves have a pretty good design, strange enough to be a little creepy but anthropomorphic enough to be sympathetic as well.  This is just a lovely, imaginative, and well-realized issue.  I thoroughly enjoyed this comic, and it was great to see Aquaman back in action (in a good light).  While the story could have been expanded, it was great fun as is.  I’ll give it 4.5 Minutemen.

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The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Another month without any new visitors to the Wall of Shame.  I wonder if anyone will succumb to the siren song of the headblow in the comics to come!

 


Final Thoughts:


June has proven to be quite a month!  There were a lot of really enjoyable comics in the line-up this time, including some very pleasant surprises, like Flash tangling with an honest-to-goodness super-powered opponent, and in a good issue, to boot!  We also had a lot of stories that illustrated the transitional nature of this era, comics with more ambition than accomplishment that nevertheless illustrated the growing maturity of the medium.  This month’s JLA certainly fits that description!

In general, the trends we’ve been observing continue this month, with a definite presence of socially conscious stories and a push towards darker themes.  Even in light-hearted series, like Superboy, we find a story about witches and warlocks.  It’s a silly tale, but it still evinces a growing interest in the supernatural in comics.  Considering we’re only a year away from the premiere of Kirby’s Demon series and soon to see the return of the Specter, I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising.  These are only the first steps of the mystical revival of the Bronze Age, and there’s much more to come!

Interestingly, among the socially conscious comics on the stands this month, we find another dealing with the plight of the Native Americans.  Considering that last month also featured such a tale, this is decent evidence that the topic was in the zeitgeist.  Fortunately, one of my awesome readers mentioned that this was certainly the case, and pointed to the publication of books like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and the release of films like Little Big Man in 1970, both of which dealt with the subject and helped to begin transforming the public’s perception of Native Americans and the history of the West.  I’ll be interested to see if this trend continues and if we find more stories from DC on the topic in the months and years to come.

Of course, Kirby’s Fourth World continues to develop in his various books, and we got two slam-bang issues to enjoy this month.  The King keeps tossing out concepts and telling exciting stories, and even his action-heavy issues have unique elements like this month’s Mr. Miracle and the proto-fabber it contained.  There’s not a ton of development of the larger mythos in these two books, though we do see the debut of Granny Goodness and get some more hints of just where Scott Free comes from.  It’s really impressive that Kirby as able to keep so many titles moving forward and rolling out his nascent mythology across these different books.  They really all do work together very well, creating a greater whole.  Reading them in collection, I didn’t really appreciate what a complex dance he was doing.

Of course, Kirby’s titles are not the only books that are growing and evolving.  Denny O’Neil is continuing his renovation of Superman, spinning a thoroughly enjoyable yarn this month, but more importantly and more memorably, he also delivered one of the greatest Batman villains of all time in a comic that was an instant classic.  The deservedly beloved Batman #232 gives us R’as Al Ghul and brings the Dark Knight solidly into the Bronze Age with a mystery and adventure tale that highlights everything that makes the character who he is, from his detective skills, to his courage, to his brilliance and physical ability.  This is the Batman I love, and it’s great to see him in action.

So, all in all, it was a really solid month, with a few clunkers but plenty of fun, readable comics.  What’s more, it demonstrates the growing character of the age in some really interesting ways.  I hope that y’all enjoyed this portion of our trip, because we now bid adieu to June 1971!  Please join me again soon as we begin our trek into the next month and see what awaits us there!  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.

minute3.5


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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