Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
The Flash #208
“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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Malice in Wonderland”
Green Lantern / Green Arrow #85
“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.
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!
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
Their 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.
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.
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.
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!
The 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.
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.
Justice League of America #91
“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.
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.
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.
On 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.
Forced 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.
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!
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.
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.
The Head-Blow Headcount:
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!