Into the Bronze Age: February 1971 (Part 6)

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Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age!  We’re still working on February, but we’re almost done.  We’ve got a solid set of books to talk about today, and we get a new entry on the Head-Blow Headcount!  Adventure awaits!

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 #397
  • Adventure Comics #402
  • Aquaman #55
  • Batman #229
  • Detective Comics #408
  • The Flash #203
  • Justice League of America #87 (AND Avengers #85-6)
  • The Phantom Stranger #11
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #108
  • Superman #234
  • Teen Titans #31
  • World’s Finest #200

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


Superman #234


Superman_v.1_234“How to Tame a Wild Volcano!”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson

“Prison in the Sky”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Curt Swan

We’ve got a nicely dramatic cover for this issue, and the headline story within is definitely a step in the right direction for O’Neil’s Superman revamp.  The plot is a standard setup for the Man of Steel, a natural disaster threatening innocents, but there are added complications, physical, and, more interestingly, moral.

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The story begins with everyone’s favorite evil CEO (before Lex Luthor went legit), Morgan Edge, who is calling Clark Kent into his office.  He gives the mild mannered man a new assignment, to cover the events on the island of Boki as they unfold.  Apparently, the Boki volcano is about to erupt for the first time in 100 years, and, in another display of impersonal, corporate evil, the island’s owner is refusing to let his workers evacuate.  Edge orders Clark not to intervene, only to report, displaying a telling level of vicious callousness.  Fortunately, while Clark Kent may be forbidden from intervening, Superman is under no such restrictions!

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superman 234 0006He streaks off to the south Pacific, where he sees armed ships firing on natives in canoes.  Helpfully gathering up the fired shells, the Man of Steel lands on the lead ship’s deck, and there’s a funny bit as the sailors continue firing with small arms and Superman contemptuously points out how stupid that is when their deck guns couldn’t hurt him.  He’s confronted by Boysie Harker, the island’s owner, who refuses to believe that the volcano will really blow and is willing to kill his employees (more like slaves) if they leave.  Harker declares that the law is on his side, and he forbids the hero from setting foot on his island.

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Now, this is where the Silver Age Superman would have a big existential crisis because heaven forbid he break the law to save a life.  Fortunately, in what is probably the strongest part of the issue, the Metropolis Marvel flat-out acknowledges that he’ll break the law if he has to, “because there’s a moral law that’s above some man-made laws.”  That’s just the kind of increased moral sophistication I’ve been wanting to see from these stories.  Of course, it’s ironic that this comes from Denny O’Neil, whose Green Lantern was completely unwilling and unable to see the difference between law and morality, but perhaps this is growth for both character and writer.

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Either way, Superman sets out to save the island without technically breaking the law, figuring there’s no reason to court trouble if he doesn’t have to.  After setting up his camera and using a remote transmitter to do his narration while in action, he begins drilling a channel under the sea to relieve the pressure of the volcano and prevent the eruption.  Yet, far away, another familiar figure is stirring!  The sinister sandy shape from the previous issue stalks across the desert and then shakily takes to the skies, heading for Superman.

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When it passes overhead, the Man of Steel suddenly loses his powers and grows ill.  He’s forced to abandon his drilling and wonders what in the world could have caused his weakness now that kryptonite is gone.  As the situation grows more dire and time grows shorter, the Man of Tomorrow is distracted by a crashing plane.  After he manages to save the aircraft, he learns from the officials onboard that the U.N. is preparing to move in and arrest Harker and free the natives.  Yet, they’re still an hour out, while the volcano is due to erupt in twenty minutes!  Superman learns that the plane was damaged by a storm, and this gives him an idea that just might work!

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He flies to the storm-clouds, and by flying at super speeds, he creates a powerful wind that blows them right over the volcano’s cone.  The contact of hot and cold air triggers torrential rains, and the raging fires below are cooled enough to delay the eruption.  Yet, as Superman washes off in the downpour, the sandy figure appears above him once more, and he plunges from the skies, crashing right into the deck gun of Harker’s ship.

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In a hilarious and beautiful sequence, Harker and his men attack the Man of Steel with their bare hands, busting many a knuckle between them, as the hero simply ignores them, lost in thought about what caused his sudden fall.  It’s wonderfully funny and illustrative of his power and his personality.  I’m reminded a bit of the scene from Deadpool where the Merc with a Mouth breaks all of his limbs attacking Colossus (warning, SUPER not family friendly).

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With Harker arrested and the people evacuated, Clark Kent is free to cover the deferred eruption, but he can’t help but wonder, what was it that sapped his strength?  Meanwhile, inside the volcano, a sandy figure waits, its features slowly taking on greater distinction.

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This is a great, straight-forward Superman adventure.  It’s a simple enough plot, but the addition of the legal angle and the moral depth it reveals is enough to make it something special.  The continuing thread of the sand Superman is intriguing, and I’m definitely interested in where that is going.  We’re definitely seeing evidence of a change in values in these comics as we have yet another villain who is a corrupt industrialist.  We’re clearly seeing a lot of distrust for the wealthy and the powerful and the focus on social justice that comes with that.  I’m impressed that O’Neil manages to gives Superman some challenges without robbing him of his powers or resulting to too many plot devices.  One of the hero’s greatest limitations has always been his own code of conduct, and that’s always a source for good story conflict.  The humor and humanity Clark displays is also quite good.  In short, this is a fine Superman story and an encouraging sign of O’Neil’s progress.  I’m looking forward to seeing what else he comes up with.  I’ll give this tale 4.5 Minutemen.

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“Prison in the Sky”


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The ‘Fabulous World of Krypton’ backup strip continues to be a fun glimpse into history, and it’s penned by the perfect fellow in the person of E. Nelson Bridwell, DC’s own champion of continuity.  This particular tale gives us a look at Kryptonian culture and the nature of their elections.  Curiously, we learn that the ruling body of Krypton, the ‘Science Council,’ has its members elected by the population based on the strength of their scientific achievements.  That’s a novel idea, and I’m sure it’s been formally argued, but I can’t for the life of me remember by who.  I’ll let you make your own wry comparisons between scientist-run Krypton and the current situation in the U.S.

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The relative merits of the system aside, we observe the proceedings along with Jor-El and Lara as two different scientist demonstrate their inventions.  Ken-Dal created a warp fuel, while Tron-Et (no, not THAT Tron) shows off a ‘Dissolver-Beam’ that can break up storms.  To vote, the citizens of the world use a ‘vote projector’ to flash a green or blue shape on the sky.  That seems a tad inefficient to me, but nonetheless, Tron-Et wins the election.  As his first act, he proposes that, because of growing overpopulation in Krypton’s prisons (not very utopian, is it?), they should disintegrate condemned criminals.  The rest of the Council strongly objects, calling a death penalty barbarous (perhaps a touch of social commentary?), and demand that they open the floor for alternate solutions.

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Jor-El, always ready with a half-baked idea, comes to the rescue with a plan to put prisoners in suspended animation and then put them into orbit, where they can be brainwashed into good citizens, thus stealing a page from Doc Savage‘s playbook.  Interestingly, even he calls it brainwashing, which indicates that he’s at least partially aware of the huge ethical concerns raised by such an idea.  Shades of A Clockwork Orange!  His idea is approved, and he builds a prototype.  A prisoner volunteers for the first test, and he’s launched into space for 73 days.  During its orbit, Krypton loses track of it for a time, but rediscover the ship before it lands.

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When the rocket touches down, instead of being reformed, the prisoner bursts out of the hatch, seemingly possessing superpowers!  After clobbering Jor-El, the convict takes to robbing banks.  Just as he’s making his escape, Jor-El confronts him again, and this time, the scientist gets the upper hand.  After he recaptures the prisoner, the scientist reveals that the fellow was faking his powers with the aid of an anti-gravity belt (which, if you recall, was created by Jor-El himself just last issue, making him the perfect person to solve its mystery.

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The would-be thief spills the beans after he is captured, revealing that he’s actually the test subject’s twin brother, and he’s working for the head of Krypton’s biggest ‘crime combine.’  Surprisingly, his leader is none-other than Tron-Et himself.  He finagled his way onto the Science Council in order to silence captured criminals who knew too much.  To ensure his plan was adopted, he tried to sabotage Jor-El’s idea, disintegrating the original capsule and creating a duplicate complete with a false prisoner.  Ironically, Tron-Et then becomes the first test subject for Jor’s design.

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This story could probably do with some more space, as it’s really crammed a bit too full of ideas to be entirely successful.  Nonetheless, it’s a fun tale, and all of those ideas are intriguing and lively.  It’s always great to see Jor-El play ‘action scientist,’ which is more entertaining than the ‘Jor-El the barbarian’ we saw in Man of Steel.  Krypton is developing into a more fully realized setting, and while certain elements of Bridwell’s plot, like the sky-light voting, are a bit on the silly side, there isn’t anything here that is flat-out ridiculous, unlike many earlier stories about the planet.  It’s notable that we even manage to get a touch of continuity, with this yarn following naturally from the previous one.  In the end, it’s just enjoyable to see Bridwell explore the world of Krypton, and his imagination is certainly up to the task.  I’ll give this backup 3.5 Minutemen.

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Teen Titans #31


Teen_Titans_v.1_31“To Order is to Destroy”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Dick Giordano

“From One to Twenty”
Writer: Steve Skeates
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: Nick Cardy
Letterer: Joe Letterese
Editor: Dick Giordano

This so-so Nick Cardy cover (a rarity) promises another campus-centric comic, though the headline tale within is an odd example of the type.  Of course, I love Steve Skeates, but I don’t think this yarn is really his best work. It does feature his usual imaginative touch and dramatic sense, but the handling is a bit clumsy.

This teen tale opens on the campus of Elford College, where a mustachioed man waits to see the school psychologist.  He looks like he’s in his 30s, but we’re supposed to think he is a student.  Interestingly, he looks a bit like Tony Stark, and, of course, George Tuska was perhaps most famous for his run on Iron Man.  As he sits in the waiting room, casually reading a magazine, he overhears the doctor talking with a student in his office.  The kid complains about being distracted by the chaos in the world and having trouble studying because of it (I feel ya’, kid!).

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In that middle panel observe the lined, world-weary face of an 18-year-old.

The shrink offers the boy some therapy and helps him come to grips with the instability of contemporary politics…ohh, wait, no.  He gives the kid a brain operation and implants a device in his head to “help him concentrate” by controlling his thoughts!  I wonder if that’s covered under student insurance.  Hearing this insane treatment plan, our middle-aged teenager reacts completely realistically, freaking the heck out and getting the heck away from that office.

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Oddly, we get the traditional first page title-splash on page three.  Why?  I have no idea.  I’m wondering if the pages for this issue somehow got out of order.  Anyway, a week later, young Wally West pays a visit to the campus as he’s starting to tour colleges.  That’s a fun bit of character developing verisimilitude.  I wonder how many years it will be before Wally actually goes to college.  At the school, he spots our mustachioed muchacho from the opening being attacked by a gang of students!  Immediately forgetting all about the whole ‘not using powers or costumes’ nonsense, Wally leaps into action as Kid Flash, noting that he doesn’t know what’s going on, but he can’t stand a one-sided fight.  I rather like that, and it’s a nice character beat.

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Rescuing the man-boy from the melee, the Fastest Boy Alive follows his directions to a shack in the hills where the fellow, Johnny Adler, has been hiding out.  Adler tells his tale, which leaves several things unexplained.  Apparently, after he realized what a quack the school shrink was and fled his appointment, he became a marked man.  It seems that all of the students on campus have been turned into school zombies, and they follow the administration’s orders, even attacking on command.  Yet, who Adler is and how he ended up at the shack remains a bit fuzzy.  He claims that he can’t get away because the only way out is through campus…but that’s a bit hard to believe.  You can’t just walk around?  Maybe it’s a failure of the art that I can’t conceptualize this.

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Anyway, the young hero speeds away to gather his teammates and investigate Elford.  When they arrive on campus, we we discover the most interesting element of the comic as we are introduced to the nefarious Dr. Pauling himself, along with the university president, who watch the Titans suspiciously.  It seems that Pauling began his operations because of growing tensions at the college and the rising tide of student unrest throughout the country.  The powers that be wanted a way to pacify the student body, and they naturally turned to the most wildly unethical and supervillain-ish way imaginable.  To top things off, the not-so-good doctor doesn’t even have a medical license!

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The junior JLA, curiously enough, are dressed in their non-costumes from the pointless Mr. Jupiter, but they immediately switch into their costumes to go meet with Johnny.  At the shack, they discover signs of a struggle and a very absent Mr. Adler, so they change back and return to campus in search of him.  Once they arrive, the psycho psychologist sics the school on them, and the Titans find themselves fighting for their lives.  What’s worse, they can’t use their powers without revealing who they are.  It’s almost like giving up your costumed identity is a huge mistake for a superhero.  Who knew?

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Surprisingly, Lilith actually makes herself useful and reveals she’s been taking judo.  As the team is attacked, young-old Johnny Adler, newly zombiefied, begins to struggle against his programing and stumbles towards the president’s office.  During the fight, we also get an awkward exchange between Mal and Roy that doesn’t amount to anything.  I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be light-hearted ribbing or something more serious, but it comes across as a bit mean-spirited.  See what you think.

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Once Johnny makes it to the office, he forces Pauling to call off the attack, and with his last ounce of strength, he rips out the mic cord, saving the Titans just before they would have been overrun.  The team dashes off to find Pauling, clearly completely nuts, ranting and raving about how the campus will be consumed in riots without his stewardship.  The story ends with an attempt at a melancholy and thoughtful reflection that doesn’t quite strike home.  The heroes point out that the human spirit triumphed over programming and compulsion in Johnny, but that just indicates that the other students might have done the same too, yet didn’t.  They wonder if the majority of people are really that weak and easily led.  Have you read your history kids?  Yes.  The answer is yes.

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This slightly weird story has its strong points, but I think Skeates might be wrestling with his page limit on this first one.  There are some really interesting ideas at play here, but they don’t quite come together enough to be effective.  You have a really neat reflection of the anxiety about student involvement that we’ve watched spread through the culture and through the comics.  It’s fascinating that the motives for the villains are effectively just pacification, the maintenance of the status quo.  They want their students to go about their studies and get their degrees in peace, which is a perfectly reasonable goal, though it is obviously taken to a horrific extreme.  By implication, this tale has some rather interesting things to say about that very status quo and the ‘establishment’ that maintains it.  Yet, these fascinating ideas don’t get enough space to breathe.

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That first panel gives us a delightfully deranged face.  Yikes!

The same is true with Johnny Adler’s sudden ability to resist the brainwashing (something of a theme with today’s books).  We just don’t know enough about the kid for his triumph to have much of an impact.  If we had been introduced to him as a free-thinker, an independent spirit, it might have been more effective.  The character was a good chance for Skeates to make some kind of statement about HOW to avoid becoming one of the easily led masses, but he passed up the opportunity.  In the same way, there’s a slight effort to develop the Titans themselves, but it doesn’t really amount to anything.  This would have been a good chance to break with the Mr. Jupiter setup, which is clearly not working, but we aren’t so lucky.  Of course, the central conflict, the random brain operations, also needs a bit more to sell it.  How exactly did this school psychologist convince presumably every student on campus to let him cut into their brains?  You can’t throw something like that out in one page and then call it good.

In terms of the art, we’ve got a change this month.  George Tuska is a fine artist with a reputation for interesting and memorable faces, speed, reliability, and versatility, but he’s no substitute for Nick Cardy in my book.  This issue looks good, but I miss Cardy’s unique style and can’t help wondering what might have been.  I suppose I’ll give this tale 3 Minutemen.  It’s strengths and weaknesses sort of even out to an average score.

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“From One to Twenty”


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Hawk’s caveman-like contempt for poetry is picture perfect for him.

Like last issue, we’ve got two stories in this month’s book, but sadly the backup this time isn’t Aqualad and Aquagirl.  Instead, we’re treated to a fun solo adventure by Hawk and Dove.  It’s nice to see these two new characters getting a bit of a chance to develop some, as there isn’t a whole lot of space in the main Titans book to flesh them out with everyone else competing for panels.  This tale begins with Hank Hall who is on the hunt for some crime to fight, and he’s decided to stalk the streets with a pair of binoculars…for some reason.  That’s not at all unusual and apt to draw attention or anything.  He spies a strange transaction at a newsstand, wherein a customer gives the proprietor $1 and gets $20 in return!  Strange!  Thinking that this must be some type of shakedown, the young man trails the customer, changing into Hawk in the process.

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Ironically, the suspect is himself mugged a few minutes later, and Hawk decides to intervene, better to bash multiple crooks instead of just one!  He plans to take out the muggers and then let the suspect go on his way so he can keep tailing the guy, but he the warlike one lets himself get distracted during the donnybrook and, joy of joys, he gets taken out by a head-blow!  That’s right, Hawk makes his official first appearance amongst the august company on the Wall of Shame.

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When he comes to, his brother Don has found him, having been out on his own type of patrol, focusing on protecting victims rather than punishing criminals.  They bicker a bit, but pretty quickly they decide to stake out the newsstand again and see if anything else happens.  Once there, they observe the same customer return and get another $20 for $1, and Don works out what’s going on as they leap into action.  When the peaceful pacifist tries to talk the pair into surrendering, one of them pulls a gun, and the other slugs him.  Fortunately for Dove, Hawk is there to bust some heads.

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I don’t much care for the way Tuska draws their transformations.

After the fight, Don explains to his brother that this was part of a counterfeit ring, where passers could trade one dollar of real money for twenty funny bills.  As they search for change to call the police, they hope that the men they captured will help lead to bigger fish in the syndicate.

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This is an entertaining little tale.  It’s nice to see the brothers in action on their own, and it’s also nice to see them do more than just argue with one another.  Hank comes off better in this issue, if a tad dim, and while Don doesn’t come off as a coward, gamely dodging gunfire without a complaint, he does seem a bit ineffectual as he can’t even stop an unarmed hood without his brother’s help.  It is funny to see him try and talk the thug into surrendering, only to catch an elbow to the face, but it would have been nice to see him pull his weight a bit more.  In the end, this is a good story that provides these two with a chance to shine.  I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen.

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And that fills out this post.  We had a fun set of books in this batch, and I’m always pleased to add another entry to Headcount.  I hope you enjoyed my commentary, and please join me soon for the final book in this month of 1971, along with my final thoughts.  Until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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Hawk joins many of his fellows and two fellow Titans on the Wall of Shame!  I wonder if his partner will join him sometime soon.Clearly, the ol’ head-blow trope is alive and well in ’71.

Into the Bronze Age: January 1971 (Part 4)

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Mondays stink, but they can be better with some Bronze Age comics!  We’ve got some landmark issues on tap today, folks.  Not only do we have a new offering from Jack Kirby, which introduces several enduring elements of the DC Universe, but we also have the opening moves in Denny O’Neil’s attempt to update Superman for the Bronze Age.  Check out my take on these books below!

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 #396
  • Adventure Comics #401
  • Batman #228 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Brave and Bold #93
  • Detective Comics #407
  • G.I. Combat #145
  • Superboy #171
  • Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #107
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135
  • Superman #232 (reprints, won’t be covered)
  • Superman #233

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


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135


jimmy_olsen_135“Evil Factory!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Vince Colletta
Cover Artist: Neal Adams

This one is a bit odd, folks, so odd I really had a hard time figuring out what to say about it.  The plot itself is actually fairly straightforward, at least as far as superhero comics go, but the implications thereof are something else entirely.  In this issue Kirby continues laying the groundwork for his Fourth World saga, introducing and explaining new concepts which will echo through the pages of DC Comics for decades to come.  They don’t quite reach their potential on their first outing though, as the King, for all of his creative brilliance, sometimes lets his imagination run away with him.  He was unparalleled at creating new ideas, new characters and situations, but he wasn’t always the best at seeing what complications those new creations entailed.  That was probably one of the great strengths of the ‘Stan and Jack’ team.  Two heads are, after all, better than one.

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Our issue opens with a shot of a horde of tiny, toy-sized replicas of our protagonists, Superman, Jimmy Olsen, and the Newsboy Legion, all swarming up the arm of a strangely garbed scientist like a colony of colorful ants.  It’s a really striking image, though it doesn’t actually have anything to do with the story inside, much like the lovely Neal Adams cover for this issue.  After playing with the fun-sized Legionaries, two masked miscreants, named Simyan and Mokkari (who is pretty cool looking) discuss their plans to destroy a mysteriously and rather ambiguously named “Project.”  Apparently they are using advanced science to clone human beings and modifying their DNA to achieve certain monstrous effects.  They are even growing a specially designed giant to kill Superman himself!

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This all seems pretty tame in 2017, very standard sci-fi stuff, but in 1971, this was much more cutting edge.  While the idea of cloning had been fodder for science fiction authors for decades, really coming to prominence in the 50s, a lot of the definitive books were still to be written in 71.  This is one of the advantages of my little project.  I’m able to see stories like this much more clearly in their context, rather than reading them purely from the perspective of the 21st Century.

Meanwhile, back at the ‘Mountain of Judgement,’ Superman and the Legion bid farewell to their Hairy hosts and receive dire warnings about troubles at…the Project!  How vague!  They take to the Zoomway again and soon arrive at the secret base called with that incredibly descriptive moniker, where they are greeted with great suspicion and many armed guards.

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Once past security, the Legionnaires make a very surprising discovery.  Among the base personal are…their fathers, the original Newsboy Legion!  There’s a charming panel where the boys greet their dads, and it’s cool that Kirby got to bring his original characters back in some fashion.  The King does a great job in creating adult versions of his lovable urchins, and they all have wonderfully distinct faces.

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Even Flippa-Dippa’s father thinks he’s an embarrassment!

While the kids reconnect with their fathers and get caught up on events, Superman takes Jimmy aside to explain the situation to the young man.  The Man of Steel tells his young friend that “the genetic code has been broken,” and the Project is dedicated to genetic research.  Specifically, it’s all about cloning.  In an effort to break things to the reporter gently, the Man of Tomorrow kindly presents him with a sight sure to trigger an existential crisis, introducing Jimmy to a clone of himself!  Apparently, the government, for some reason, decided to use the Daily Planet as a pool from which to collect the samples for their work, so they secretly collected DNA from the employees during routine medical examinations.  Notably, they did this without bothering to inform the staff.  Why clone Jimmy Olsen of all people?  Well, Kirby never bothers to explain that.

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How would you react to finding out you had been cloned without your knowledge or consent, that there were dozens, maybe hundreds of clones of you running around and serving a shady government organization?  Shock?  Horror?  Anger?  Well, not Jimmy.  He evinces mild surprise.  This is my biggest problem with this issue in particular and this arc in general.  The idea of the organization that would come to be known as Project Cadmus is a great one, just full of storytelling potential.  It’s use on JLU led to some of the best episodes of that series.  In fact, for my money they’re some of the best superhero stories around.  It was also used to good effect in Young Justice.  Part of what made those stories so great was their willingness to explore the themes inherent in such an undertaking, themes about the morality of cloning, the humanity and independence of artificial lifeforms, and the rights that a man-made being would merit.

Now, the first time I read these books, I spent several issues in a row waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the colossal ethical problems with cloning to be addressed, at least in some fashion.  I thought for sure the shady, top secret government program that was cloning people without their consent, screwing with the DNA of their subjects, and creating human beings to serve their will, i.e., doing tons of super villain-esq stuff, would be revealed to have some type of nefarious agenda.  But that never happened.  The natural questions that cloning, especially cloning in secret and under conditions like these, raises, in fiction and in real life, are never so much as hinted at.  It’s a colossal oversight, and something that really weakens the story Kirby is telling.  There’s nothing even slightly troublesome in his DNA Project, no questions of morality, just bright and shining potential.

jo135-18If you’re familiar with the sci-fi tradition involving cloning, it’s obvious that this is not just a question of a concept that lacked the sophistication of later day treatments back in 1971.  No, the themes that are inherent within the idea were present in the fiction as early as the 60s, maybe even the 50s, so this is just a matter of Jack Kirby moving too fast for his own good, which happened from time to time.  He spun out new creations so quickly that he barely had time to think them through before he was on to the next thing.  That had to be especially true now, as he was dreaming up an entire new universe of characters and concepts.  But, it doesn’t make this story any less flawed.

Back to our tale, as Jimmy presumably struggles with his existential angst at discovering that he’s been copied a zillion times, our two evil scientists contact their mysterious master, the malevolent Darkseid!  We get a bit more of a look at him, and he is quite the imposing figure, even from this early date.  Just then, their Superman slayer breaks free and starts trashing the joint, and in desperation, they teleport him directly into the rival Project, there to serve his destructive purpose.

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When the monster arrives, he lays into Superman, and having received a coating of kryptonite, the creature is quite effective.  The Man of Steel takes a beating, and the crazed clone continues its rampage.  In response, the grownup-Legionnaires decide to release a special project, a clone of their old friend and mentor, the Guardian!  Ethical qualms about cloning your dead buddy?  Nah!  The caged subject’s repeated cries of “Let me out!” combined with his shadowed portrayal give him a sinister sense that is quickly dispelled when the new Guardian leaps into action to save the base.

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Big, green-skinned guy with anger issues?  Does he, by chance, seem Incredibly familiar, or is it just me?

jo135-27It’s great that Kirby gets a chance to revisit so many of his old creations, and you can feel his pride as he reintroduces them back into the DC Universe.  The Guardian would go on to have a very respectable second career at DC, surviving as a concept long after Kirby’s time there ended.  Of course, the other concepts the King introduced in this story also went on to significant roles in the DC Universe, as I mentioned above.  It’s a shame that some of their later significance wasn’t present here in their introduction.  The story is really fine, in so far as it goes, and Kirby is in fine form for the art, filling both competing genetics projects with wondrous gadgetry.

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The introduction of the cloned Guardian is exciting, and it’s fun to meet the original Legion.  Notably, we also learn what each of them went on to do, and this mostly explains their presence at the DNA Project, mostly but not entirely.  Apparently Scrapper Sr. is a social worker.  I can see how a teacher, a geneticist, and a doctor are going to be important in a cloning facility, but I’m not quite sure what vital role a social worker fills.  Anyway, I’ll give this imaginative but flawed story 3 Minutemen.  It’s readable, but it’s really missing something.

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P.S.: As with the last episode, Kirby also included a text piece expanding on the ideas presented in the magazine.  It’s even crazier than last month’s, by a significant margin.  I hardly know where to begin with this thing.  The bonkers, almost stream-of-consciousness style of the essay is matched by the bizarre content.  It’s a pseudo-defense of the idea behind the Hairies, an idea that is still way too vague by the end of the piece’s attempts to explain it.  I’m guess Jack himself wasn’t entirely sure what they were.  It may also be a defense of the hippy movement’s incredibly short-sighted and impractical ideals.  I really can’t do this thing justice, so I’m just going to let y’all read it.  All I’ve got to say is that this piece provides the same lack of comprehensive thought as the issue itself.

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Superman #233


superman_v-1_233“Superman Breaks Loose”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Letterer: Ben Oda

“Jor-El’s Golden Folly”
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: Murphy Anderson
Inker: Murphy Anderson

With this wonderfully iconic cover we we reach the landmark “Kryptonite Nevermore” storyline at last.  Amidst the universe wide wave of renovations, the head honchos at DC decided that their flagship character, the Man of Steel himself, needed to join the growing ranks of the revamped heroes that were populating their books.  So, who better to rework the father of superheroes than the man who had already done the same thing with so many other characters, Denny O’Neil?  I’ve read a bit about this set of comics, and I’m very curious to read them.  The choices that he made in reworking Superman are fascinating.  There’s a tendency to wonder why he didn’t make certain choices that seem obvious these days, though I suspect that owes a great deal to hindsight.  After all, what hero had more continuity, more inertia, and more baggage than the Man of Tomorrow?  Think about what a daunting task it must have been to approach the job of updating Superman.  There’s also a question of exactly how much freedom the author had.  After all, as DC was forcing the re-drawing of the character in Jack Kirby’s books, it isn’t terribly likely that they would give Denny O’Neil carte blanche in his approach.

The first change O’Neil makes is an interesting one, and I suppose it addresses perhaps the biggest problem the character faced at this point.  At the very beginning of the comic, an experiment with a new ‘kryptonite-engine,’ which promises to produce cheap energy for the entire world, goes wrong.  Superman attempts to smother the resultant explosion with a lead shield, despite the fact that it could literally kill him.  Yet, his efforts fail, and he’s caught in the blast.  By all rights, he should be dead, yet he wakes up with no ill-effects!  Strangely, the explosion seems to have turned the kryptonite samples the team was using into common iron ore.

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superman-233-0006Meanwhile, back at the offices of the Daily Planet, we learn that effect wasn’t just local.  Apparently the device’s malfunction destroyed all of the kryptonite on Earth!  And just like that, with the stroke of a pen, Denny O’Neil does away with the biggest crutch that Superman scribes have ever had.  Somewhere hack writers were crying out in despair.  We also meet the Planet’s new owner, the creepy Morgan Edge, head of Galaxy Broadcasting which has bought the paper.  In a scene silly enough to be right out of Batman V. Superman, Edge casually and randomly assigns the newspaper reporter Clark Kent to be his new on-air newsman.  He sends the mild mannered fellow out to cover the launch of a new ‘mail rocket,’ the kind of concept that was always showing up in comics but didn’t survive past the 50s in the real world.  Interestingly, Morgan Edge voices a completely reasonable concern, wondering if the complete and total removal of the only thing that could stop Superman is actually all that great of an event.  That’s a theme that’s much more common today, but it’s good to see it here.

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Obviously, this provides a new complication for the Man of Steel, as he’s now got to find a way to do his hero-ing while live on camera in front of millions of viewers!  This is one of the changes that seems somewhat ill-conceived.  While it adds some more chances for complications and challenges to the character, it seems like an unnecessary hurdle for the character’s status quo.

Anyway, the Metropolis Marvel faces his first test almost immediately, as he spots a man with a radio spying on the launch and has to deal with him during a commercial break!  Superman encounters some random thug, part of the Generic Gang, no doubt, whose group plans to hijack the rocket and sell it overseas.  He thinks he’s ready ready for the last Son of Krypton, as he’s managed to acquire a sample of the most abundant element on Earth, kryptonite!  Of course, if this neanderthal could read, he’d know that his space-rock isn’t going to do him much good.  To educate the fellow, the Man of Tomorrow happily takes the rock from him and eats it!  It’s a great scene, a very clear and forceful message about the completeness of the anti-kryptonite change.

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Having dealt with the man on the ground, Big Blue takes to the wild blue in search of the other part of the Generic Gang, who have arrived in fighter jets!  Superman’s heat vision suddenly weakens, and he’s forced to down the two jets by more direct methods.  He challenges himself to find different ways to stop the two threats, and in one entertaining bit, he uses his x-ray vision to spot the pilots of one of the jets and then knocks them out by punching directly through the hull.  I like the idea that Superman tries to shake things up just to have fun with his adventures.  That seems like a nice bit of characterization.

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On his way home, the Man of Steel suddenly finds himself weakened for a moment as he passes over the spot of the kryptonite explosion, and we get a closeup of the impression he left in the sand when he crashed.  Dun-dun-DUN!  In the epilogue, we see a strange sight, as a sinister creature of sand in the shape of Superman arises out of that impression and stalks off towards civilization.  There’s something in O’Neils narration of this scene that reminds me a bit of the end of Yeats’ “Second Coming.”  There is certainly something portentous about the scene, and it is fittingly intriguing, setting up the saga to come.

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This is a solid story and a good beginning for something new.  Superman’s life and setting are being shaken up, and the removal of kryptonite is certainly a good first step towards forcing a more grounded and creative approach to the character.  This comic is perhaps most notable for what it doesn’t do.  Most of the Man of Tomorrow’s trappings remain unchanged, and now, despite the unexplained dimming of some of his powers, he certainly seems more powerful than ever.

There isn’t a whole lot else here, and the threats the hero faces in this issue are fairly run-of-the-mill.  That works well enough because O’Neil is showing us the impact of the opening scene on the character’s life, but they don’t have a great amount of interest in-and-of themselves.  Still, it’s a good, readable story with some interesting action and an intriguing ending.  I know a bit about this arc, but I still find myself looking forward to seeing how O’Neil builds on the seeds he’s planted here.  Of course, Swan’s art is beautiful, and he really shines, both in the action and the detailed face work he does in several scenes.  His Bronze Age art is some of the very best there is.  As for this issue, I’ll give it 4 Minutemen.

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“The Second Coming”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Of course, this poem also feels horribly apt for out world today, but that’s neither here nor there.

“Jor-El’s Golden Folly”


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This was a great little backup tale.  I thoroughly enjoyed the read, which I did not expect.  It’s a fun examination of life of Krypton-that-was without some of the more ridiculous elements that generally accompany such yarns.  It follows the early career of the great scientist himself, Jor-El, before he had acquired the fame that followed him later in life.  It’s a neat glimpse into the life and character of both of Superman’s parents, and the story actually has some surprising elements for a comic from this period, especially in its treatment of Lara Lor-Van.

The story begins with Jor-El’s assignment to his first project at the Kryptonopolis Space-Complex, where he meets Professor Ken-Dal and General Dru-Zod(!), who will be his bosses.  Jor will be working on the space program, which is in dire trouble, as its budget has been slashed just as it was nearing completion.  Notably, the facility also houses the training facility for future space-pilots, and in a remarkably forward-thinking move, Bridwell makes them all women.  Jor-El even wonders why women make better astronauts than men.  That’s a pretty surprising development from a period where we’ve still seen plenty of sexism alive and well, and it’s a cool insight into Kryptonian culture.

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Well, Jor-El gets right to work, and he decides that if they can’t afford to build powerful rockets, they must find another way to get their ships off of the ground.  So, he develops the principles of anti-gravity in a fun little sequence, where he straps a device to a dog and levitates it.  One wonders if this confused looking pooch is Krypto!  Either way, his project gets approval, but because of budget cuts, the scientist is forced to build his ship out of the most common element on the planet, gold.  That’s a fun little detail.

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Everyone mocks Jor-El’s ship, calling it his “golden folly,” in a situation somewhat analogous to Howard Hughe’sSpruce Goose.”  Just like Hughes himself, however, the Kryptonian scientist is vindicated when his ship successfully takes off.  However, Lara, who displays an admirable adventurous streak, wanted to be in the cockpit for the maiden voyage, so she stowed aboard.  Her flight is successful until the ship hit space, and then the controls go dead!  Between Jor-El’s remote tinkering and Lara’s piloting skill, they managed to put the ship down on a moon.

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There’s a slim chance that Lara could have survived, so when the next rocket heads for that moon several days later, Jor-El uses his antigravity belt to stow away aboard and not add any weight, which is actually quite clever.  On the harsh, barren moon, the young scientist searches desperately for the brave pilot who captured his heart, and at long last, he manages to find her.  There reunion is charming, and it tells the tale of how the pair got together.

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This is just a fun story, and I thoroughly enjoyed the glimpses of Krypton’s former glories that it provided.  Jor-El and Lara are both interesting characters under Bridwell’s pen, and I was particularly impressed with his treatment of Lara.  Together, these two make worthy parents for the Man of Steel.  Once again, I’m impressed by the ability of the this era’s creators to tell complete stories in such limited space.  These seven pages give us an adventure, several character moments for both protagonists, and a bit of world building.  That’s impressive!  I’ll give this enjoyable slice of Kryptonian life 4 Minutemen.

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Final Thoughts:


This was a pretty good month, over all, and it brought me several delightfully unexpected gems.  The stand outs for me were the books I was most prepared to dislike, Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane and Superboy.  Neither of these comics was exactly amazing, but I was very pleasantly surprised both by how much fun they were and by the lack of the sort of gimmicky silliness that I expected in those titles.  Here’s hoping that they continue to be of such solid quality.  In particular, Robert Kanigher continues to impress me.  Even his less stellar offerings, like this month’s Haunted Tank are generally respectable efforts these days.  I’m curious to see if his improvement will last.

We also saw the return of several themes that have become definitive of the early Bronze Age, like environmentalism and youth culture in this month’s Superboy and Batgirl stories.  I was impressed with how both of those books handled these themes and the more mature moral sense that they displayed.  At the same time, we had some disappointments this month, notably Jack Kirby’s unexamined and unproblematized treatment of cloning in Jimmy Olsen.  Still, all things considered, this was a fine beginning to our new year.  I can’t wait to see what else 1971 has in store for us!  As always, thanks for reading, and, until next time, keep the heroic ideal alive!


The Head-Blow Headcount:

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No new changes on the Headcount, so poor Aquaman still has the last two slots.  I’m sure we’ll see more additions soon.  I only hope they aren’t more from the Sea King!