Into the Bronze Age: December 1971 (Part 4)

Hello folks, and welcome back to Into the Bronze Age! It’s an all-Super edition of our little project, featuring three different Super-centric titles! They are a very mixed bag of books, capturing the uneven, transitional nature of this part of the Bronze Age, all within the Superman Family. We’ve got some Silver Age-y silliness, along with some early bronze Age attempts at relevance. It’s quite the collection. So, without further ado, let’s see what Superman was up to this month!

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.


Superboy #180


Cover Artist: Curt Swan
“Prince of the Wolf-Pack!”
Writer: Bob Haney
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson


“Clark Kent, Madcap Millionaire!”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson

Yikes, guys. So, the Superboy title has often been a slog in my project, a source of goofy and senseless stories, more farce than fun, but this is one of the sillier, dumber yarns we’ve yet encountered, at least if you’re not counting Superbaby stories! I’ve been watching this ridiculous cover getting closer in my book list, and I’ve almost been dreading it. The central image seems to promise a good deal of silliness, and I can’t say that my trepidation wasn’t justified. To be fair, the goofy cover image is entirely accurate about what lies within. Now, the idea of Superboy displaying animalistic qualities isn’t necessarily a bad one, and there’s no real reason that it couldn’t have produced an interesting and exciting visual. The trouble is that Swan doesn’t really go far enough to sell the idea. Superboy is running with a pack of wolves, but he just looks like Superboy hunched over in a stupid-looking pose rather than something really strange and mysterious. It is much more out of place than it is intimidating. Yet, as dumb as the cover image is, the story inside is worse. I suppose that should come as no surprise, as it’s penned by that master of literary madness, Bob Haney, and in this story, he just about out-Haney’s himself.

It begins with an alien probe crashing on the Moon and releasing a strange radiation. Meanwhile, Pa Kent hears a wolf howling in the night outside their farm and rushes outside to kill it, noting that wolves haven’t been seen in those parts in years. Unbeknownst to elder Kent, a malevolent looking man named Adrian Lykan (because the story is about wolves, see?) is watching him and plotting his destruction….for reasons! The same evening, Superboy is walking alone, spending a whole two seconds in introspection and wrestling with an angst that is instantly forgotten, when he is transformed by the mysterious alien probe. Except…not really. It takes away his super powers and replaces them with…wolf…powers, I guess? He doesn’t turn into a Super-were-boy or anything. He just hunches over and looks silly, like on the cover. He also apparently gains the power to telepathically communicate with the pack of wolves which is conveniently hanging out nearby. They accept him as their leader and run through town.

And here it gets even dumber. The Mayor and the other Smallville-ites immediately turn on Superboy because he’s running with the wolves and set out to kill him. Yep. They flat-out decide to murder their former hero with Kryptonite bullets (man everyone had some of that stuff back in the day), just because he’s acting strangely. Don’t bother to investigate or help the kid. Nope, just shoot him in the face. Well, while the terrible townsfolk gather the pitchforks and torches, Lykan sets his plan in motion. The evil man, who apparently likes being evil because he’s all evil and such, has decided to destroy the “most moral citizen” in Smallville, and that’s apparently Kent. Why does he want to do this? What does he hope to gain? Well, this is Zaney Haney, and he has no time for “logic” or “motivations”!

How does Lykan plan to destroy Kent? Is he going to use his magic powers to curse the upright man? Mind control him? Take his shape and frame him? No, don’t be silly. Instead, and try to follow me here, he poses as a contractor, gets Kent, as town treasurer, to hire him for a job, gets paid in cash by Kent who is in a hurry to help his son, fakes work papers for illegal Mexican laborers, brings them in to do the job, and then poses as someone else in an attempt to blackmail Kent about the whole business, setting him up as a patsy. Did you follow all that? If not, don’t worry; I’m sure you’re not alone, as it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And I haven’t even gotten to the mystical wolf-guardians yet. Hang on to your cape!

So, as Lykan’s plot is unfolding, the townsfolk hunt Superwolf and his pack and straight-up shoot the kid with a Kryptonite bullet. Fortunately, one of the Mexican workers saves him and takes out the bullet, and because he has lost his powers, the alien mineral doesn’t affect him. Lucky break, that. While he recovers, Pa Kent goes to get the unwittingly illegal immigrants and sets out to hide them away until he can sort things out. On the way, however, Lykan uses his magic to hijack the truck and drive it off a bridge, only for the workers to be rescued by the werewolf-wonder’s wolves. Who knew that one of a wolf’s abilities was super-swimming!

Meanwhile, Chief Parker arrests Kent because of the frame job against him, and the town brings in a wolf hunter who is actually Lykan in disguise…for reasons? He tracks and attacks Superboy, using magic AND a gun, which just seems like overkill, shooting the kid a second time! This is an unusually violent issue! The Lupine Marvel holds him off until his pack arrives and chases the warlock away. Just as Clark is about to die, the alien probe that conveniently gave him wolf powers even more conveniently shuts off, restoring his powers and saving his life. The pack slink off into the night, and we’re told that wolves, far from causing evil, apparently are secretly holy beings that show up to combat evil when it appears….somehow….for….reasons.

As Lady Grey said when I described this tangled mess of a tale, “Well, that certainly is a story…” That’s really about all you can say for it. It’s so silly, unnecessarily convoluted, and poorly developed that it almost defies description. It is a pretty perfect example of the negative side of Zaney Haney’s excesses. Yes, it is full of creative ideas and rapid-fire invention, but all of these new elements are lacking any sense of purpose or significance. We get a bizarre marriage of magic and science between the wolves, warlocks and rogue satellites, and it all moves at the speed of plot, with no effort to make any of it make sense. It’s just weird, silly, and unsatisfying. There’s nothing that justifies this story being a Superboy story, as even his powerset is swapped out for whatever the heck Haney wanted. You could plug almost any other character in here, and it would make as much (or as little) sense. The art is fine throughout, though Brown’s portrayal of Superwolf is just goofy looking. It would even have been more effective for him to have actually physically transformed. That also could have helped justify the townspeople’s insane reaction to his change. I’ll give this bizarre yarn a single sad Minuteman, as it really has nothing to recommend it, lacking even the exuberant fun of many of Haney’s crazy stories.

P.S.: Interestingly, the letters column includes a fascinating and mysterious missive (bottom of left column), in which the writer complains about Superboy’s excessive happiness and lack of angst and suggests the addition of a supporting character with some horrific type of hang-up, the details of which the editors refuse to print, citing the Comics Code. One can’t help but wonder what kind of tragic issue or scandalous story was suggested. Notably, the editor’s reply offers an argument that I generally find quite compelling, citing the need for escapism and joy in comics. Given the nature of this cover story, however, I find myself wishing that such efforts would nonetheless acquire a bit more quality and craftsmanship, in addition to their search for the strange and whimsical!


“Clark Kent: Madcap Millionaire”


Our backup tale is not as dumb as the headliner, but it is still rather silly and very Silver Age-y. This story revolves around an almost unknown relative of the Kents, a rich uncle (doesn’t everyone have one?), who I thought had been conjured ex nihilo in the style of Bob Haney. Yet, this random guy has actually shown up exactly one other time that I can discover, in Superboy #119. According to the DC Database, he will have one more appearance, in Superman Family #191, years later. At any rate, this Kendall is fabulously wealthy, but he has no children, and he is trying to bribe Clark to into letting him adopt the extraterrestrial orphan. After all, that is clearly the only logical solution to his situation. Heaven forbid he, I don’t know, adopt any other kid who needs a family.

Well, despite the fact that the Kents are sure that Clark won’t pay any attention to the wealth Kendall can give him, the young man suddenly becomes very enthusiastic and jumps into a fancy sports car….which he then proceeds to crash directly into a wall. Surviving the fiery explosion uninjured somehow doesn’t give away his secret identity, and the rather battered Boy of Steel turns on his parents and accepts his uncle’s offer. What is this? Superboy acting out of character? Yep, you guessed it, this story is a prime example of Superdickery, and as usual, an unjustified and silly one at that.

Clark gets up to various other antics, but it doesn’t take us long to discover his reasons for acting like a spoiled rich kid. While scuba diving in his uncle’s private lake, he rips open the old man’s raft, sending him careening to the shore, and then blows up the dam with his oxygen tank (which seems unlikely, even by comic logic). It turns out that the raft was full of poison gas, and if his uncle had fallen in when it deflated, he would have died. Uncle Kendall’s lawyer, Larry Frane, is the only other character we meet, and he tries to convince the old man not to adopt Clark. Gee, I wonder who the villain of the piece could be? Yep, the lawyer is essentially Checkov’s Mouthpiece.

It all comes to a head when Clark sees the lawyer plotting another deathtrap for Kendall, this one involving a strategically weakened railroad trestle. The Boy of Tomorrow swoops in and catches the larcenous lawyer in a trap of his own devising in a scene that looks for all the world like he is crushing the poor guy to death. Look at the terror on Frane’s face! After dealing with the death-threat, the Smallville Superhero confesses to his parents that he had discovered Frane’s fiendishness on that first day and had wrecked the car because it had a bomb in it. He pretended to be a spoiled brat to protect his uncle…because that was the only way. Sure. Let’s not forget that he kept up this charade when he spoke to his parents in private. So, essentially, our hero emotionally tortured his parents for no good reason. Yay?

Good heavens, first he’s emotionally torturing his parents, and now this! Someone stop this super-sociopath before he crushes that guy!

This is a fairly silly story, featuring a mostly unprecedented rich relative who is just a plot device, and a ‘barely there’ premise so thin you can just about see through it. This type of story is not my favorite at the best of times, but this particular example annoys me because it doesn’t make much effort to justify itself. Nobody has any personality or development, and our hero’s actions aren’t really justified. The art is quite good throughout, but it can’t save a sub-par story. I’ll give this one 2 Minutemen. It’s weak, but not as weird and wacky as our headliner.


Superman #246


Cover Artists: Curt SwanMurphy Anderson
“Danger–Monster At Work!”
Writer: Len Wein
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz


The Fabulous World of Krypton: “Marriage, Kryptonian Style!”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Rich Buckler
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Julius Schwartz


“There Is No Superman!”
Writer: Jerry Siegel
Inker: Stan Kaye
Editors: Whitney Ellsworth, Jack Schiff, Mort Weisinger, and Julius Schwartz

Well, if our Superboy issue was a disappointment, our flagship title might help make it up to us. Len Wein gives us an adventure that makes sense and has at least a little logical consistency, unlike our first two tales. Interestingly, although we have a classic example of a Superdickery cover here, the tale within is nothing of the sort. It’s a classic bait and switch, with our hero being a complete jerk on our cover in a fashion that has only the slenderest connection to his actual actions. The cover itself is solid enough, though not too much more than that. The blob-like monster’s destructive rampage is well-depicted, and Superman’s inexplicable disinterest could intrigue readers. The contrast makes for an odd and entertaining tableau.

Our actual headline tale begins in the middle of a thunderstorm, as our titular Superman dives deep down into the Marianas Trench in a rather nice sequence. He has come to collect samples of algae and plankton, and after a clam-related calamity, he resurfaces in time to lend aid to a ship swamped by the storm. In a fun little moment, a somewhat chagrined Superman berates himself for letting the clam catch him, thinking “Aquaman would never let himself get trapped by a giant clam!” I found that a charming touch, and it’s nice to see Clark being a bit more introspective and fallible in this small way.

Back on the surface, it turns out that the Man of Tomorrow was gathering the samples for the minds of tomorrow. That’s right, this is the first appearance of the organization that was fast to become a fixture of the DCU, S.T.A.R. Labs! That’s fun, and I’ve been wondering when it would show up. Interestingly, it isn’t given much fanfare or attention, just being used as a bit of set-dressing. I’m curious how long it will take before this perennial source of heroic support and mad-science threats will become ubiquitous in the pages of DC Comics.

Whatever lies in its future, at the moment S.T.A.R. has sent Superman to fetch samples from the depths of the ocean in the hopes that they will be the key to designing an organic pollution solution, an engineered algae that will assess corrupt matter and clean it automatically. Surely that could never go catastrophically wrong, right? Well, after dropping off the samples, the Metropolis Marvel returns home, and Wein gives us a lot of little character moments throughout these opening pages, providing more characterization and personality in 5 pages than we got in the entirety of our previous comic. As part of that, we get a charming moment where Clark drops in to check on his elderly, ailing neighbor. His doing so also opens the door to a rather odd subplot in the story, as he hears about a group of his neighbors who are arming themselves and forming a vigilante committee because the streets have become dangerous. Mr. Mild Mannered makes the case that they shouldn’t take the law into their own hands, which is deeply ironic considering what he does in his free time. If you’re wondering what this has to do with deep-sea algae, well, you’re not alone.

Speaking of Superman’s samples, back at the lab, a scientist makes a breakthrough in his experiments with it but accidentally drops several beakers into the sink, sending the mad-science mixture into the sewers! Later on, the Man of Steel goes for a patrol in the still-raging storm, and we get a very interesting panel in the style of Kirby’s experiments with combining photos and drawings, as our hero flies through a city-scape. I think this is more successful than most I’ve seen, as Swan and Anderson manage to merge the two images a bit more effectively than is usually the case. During his patrol, the Last Son of Krypton discovers a strange gelatinous monster rise from the sewer and threaten civilians, but when he pursues it, he discovers that it is actually cleaning the sewers as it goes! Thinking that this thing could do the city some good, he decides to just try to drive it through the sewers before disposing of it. It works like a charm, for a little while, and then the green growth suddenly explodes into the street and begins to devour all in its path, not just pollution!

Superman finds this creature to be a difficult foe, as he can’t seem to hurt it, despite his great strength, and it constantly oozes out of his grip. Finally, he strikes upon an idea and creates a whirlwind to suck the ooze into the ozonosphere, where he reasons the oxygen-rich environment will weaken it, as “no organism alive can survive in the poisons of its own waste products,” and since this creature gives off oxygen, oxygen should presumably be the one thing it can’t process. The Man of Steel’s skyward gambit pays off, and the creature is weakened enough for him to bind it in plastic and return it to S.T.A.R. Labs for study (I’m sure they’ll keep it safe and definitely not endanger the city with their further experiments…). Oddly, the story ends, not with our hero’s success, but with his return to his apartment, where the gun-toting yahoos we met earlier have managed to accidentally shoot an innocent bystander. Superman speeds his wounded neighbor to the hospital and says “I told you so” to a now chastened group of vigilantes who, for some reason, aren’t being arrested for shooting someone!

This is really a solid story, not exceptional or earth-shattering, but a good, entertaining yarn that presents our hero with an interesting challenge and manages to provide a bit of characterization and some fun moments along the way. Wein provides a logic for everything that happens, and it all feels like a good Superman adventure, with the hero faced with an opponent he can’t merely overpower. Wein comes up with a clever solution to this problem, and even better, the solution makes sense, in a comic-science kind of way. The little touches, like the episode with the clam, or a moment where the blob steals a smoker’s cigarette are fun and help to make this tale more than just a standard monster-mash. The only real flaw is the completely unconnected subplot about armed vigilantes. It receives almost no attention and has absolutely no impact on the main plot, making it feel out of place. The art, for its part, is quite good throughout, with Swan and Anderson doing a really nice job with the somewhat dim, rainy setting that is found throughout the story. It gives this tale an unusually moody, atmospheric feel for a Superman yarn. Overall, this is a fine, fun comic, and worth an above average 4 Minutemen. It’s a pleasant relief from the silly stories of our first book in this batch.


“Marriage, Kryptonian Style”


Once again, the World of Krypton backup proves to be an interesting and entertaining slice of sci-fi to complement our feature story. This issue’s offering is rather intriguing, considering how the interpretation of Krypton will change in coming years. It is all about a rather surprisingly dystopian concept for the pre-Crisis version of Krypton, a massive computer, Matricomp, that controls who can marry who. It isn’t quite as dark as such concepts usually are these days, as people are not normally paired together arbitrarily or without their consent. Instead, they form their own relationships and merely come to the computer to see if they are compatible for marriage. It is such a journey that young Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van undertake, but when they present themselves to the machine, it does not give them an immediate answer, which is unusual. Jor remains sanguine, but Lara is worried, and as it turns out, rightfully so!

The next day, she is approached by an attendant from the computer complex named Anr-Mu (and I can’t wrap my head around how to pronounce that!), who informs her that the device found her and Jor-El incompatible and their marriage has been forbidden. She refuses to give up and goes to question the computer, only for Matricomp to tell her that the only man on the planet with whom she is compatible is Anr. What a coincidence! Clearly nothing nefarious going on here! Lara doesn’t take kindly to being paired up with a stranger, but Anr tries to hypnotize her, only to be interrupted by the timely intervention of Jor-El. However, the fighting scientist’s attack is easily shrugged off, and Anr takes a pacified Lara away.

Fortunately, though Jor may lack his future-son’s super strength, he’s still a very smart guy, and he manages to solve the mystery behind these strange events. He confronts Matricomp with the revelation that the computer is actually the cause of his troubles. Apparently, the great machine, being wholly devoted to shepherding love, has become enamored with the idea of love itself. It created an android, Anr-Mu, and through him sought to experience love for itself. After handily explaining its plot, the corrupted computer tries to crispy-fry its challenger with an electrical burst. Yet once again the great scientist proves his brilliance, having worn rubber clothing that protects him from the zap. Thwarted, Matricomp commits synthetic suicide, blowing itself up, but Jor manages to escape and reunite with Lara, free to create their own destiny.

This is a good little backup tale, with an interesting premise that is a curious glimpse of a more dystopian version of Krypton, something similar to the sterile, dehumanized world that John Byrne would conjure in the next decade. Bates delivers a quick but complete adventure in these 8 pages, with an intriguing addition to the mythos. I have rather enjoyed these tales that feature a two-fisted version of Jor-El. It reminds me of the glimpses we get of the more heroic version of the character from Superman: TAS. I’ll give this solid backup a strong 4 Minutemen.


Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane


“S.O.S. – from Tomorrow!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Werner Roth
Inker: Vince Colletta
Editor: E. Nelson Bridwell


Lady Danger: “The Needle in the Haystack!”
Penciler: Carmine Infantino
Inker: Carmine Infantino


Rose and the Thorn: “The Ghost with Two Faces!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Rich Buckler
Inker: Dick Giordano

Love must be in the air…along with mind control. This month we learned about marriage, “Kryptonian Style,” and we also get an issue of Lois Lane where the relationship between Superman and our headlining heroine is a bit more developed and overt than we usually see. More importantly, it’s a story with an intriguing premise and setting that doesn’t quite live up to its potential, once again displaying Kanigher’s active imagination and somewhat uneven writing. However, if the tale itself isn’t everything it could be, the cover is pretty spectacular. Roth delivers a really striking image, inviting us into the disorientation of our stars as they stare at a world “turned upside-down!” It’s a nice piece, and Roth has added a lot of detail to the topsy-turvy terrain, as well as two of his traditional beautifully drawn figures. It’s a great piece and very effective. Unfortunately, it’s rather more exciting than the story it heralds.

The actual adventure begins with some unseen figure sending a message in a bottle, only for it to be struck by lightning and hurled through time! That’s an intriguing opening, but back in the ‘present,’ Morgan Edge is chewing out his two top reporters, Clark Kent and Lois Lane, because it is a slow news day, which I’m sure makes for just dynamite leadership. Interestingly, once they leave he opens a secret screen on his desk and gazes at…himself! The multiple Morgan mystery remains, but it won’t be solved this issue. Meanwhile, Lois hits the town trying to find a story, but everything is quite, other than the silent struggle of the drug epidemic and its cost, but as a cynical doctor says, that is hardly front page material at this point. With nothing newsworthy happening, Superman drops in to take Lois out on a date, and they share a romantic afternoon, which is a little strange to me, as I’m more used to a Superman who keeps Lois a bit more at arm’s length, but this is the same era that gave us that bonkers book with Superman having a family dinner with his wife and son while in full costume. Anyway, during the date, Lois finds our time-traveling letter in a bottle, and it is an S.O.S. from 2196…the future!

The pair decide to investigate this mysterious missive, and they travel to a future divided between two classes, the “Upmen” and the “Downmen”. Apparently the “Upmen” seized control of the world through “tle,” a powerful drug that keeps the lower class subservient and docile. Those who refuse to be drugged are hunted down like dogs, and it is in the middle of such a hunt that our heroes arrive. The Man of Steel easily protects a group of the down-trodden Downmen from their upper-class oppressors, but once the powers that be see his strength, they offer a truce and a tour of their world. The time-tossed twosome are treated to a feast, only to be drugged with tle. In a welcome if not entirely effective sop to logic, we’re told that this drug is alien in origin, and Superman theorizes that it must have originated on a planet with a red sun, explaining its ability to affect him. I can accept an alien drug affecting him, but the plant coming originally from a world with a red sun makes no real sense, of course. It’s not like the current crop has “red sun radiation” in it or anything.

Dubious story logic aside, our drugged protagonists then face a rather odd adventure. They are made pliant by tle and sent to hunt the Downmen hiding in the woods, with an objective set for a tower on the other side of the forest, but they just sort of wander through the undergrowth on a high for a while. Then the substance wears off, and they face terrible withdrawals, including bizarre hallucinations. Finally, they reach the tower, and Lois refuses to stay behind, which is brave and all, but a little silly considering that we’re talking about Superman. What exactly does she think she’s going to contribute to this little assault?

The tower defenders shoot them with gas which messes with their equilibrium, as we saw on the cover, but seeing as the Metropolis Marvel regularly flies around the world, this isn’t really all that effective. With a rather odd looking kick, the literal Man of Tomorrow smashes the tower and captures the Upmen, finally leading their downtrodden slaves in burning the tle fields before returning home.

So, I’m guessing this is Kanigher’s attempt at an anti-drug story, following in the footsteps of O’Neil’s recent groundbreaking Green Arrow/Green Lantern yarn. It’s less focused and less successful, though the depiction of withdrawal symptoms is interesting, and it is certainly unusual for Superman, of all characters, to be the one depicted as strung-out. The central anti-drug message is obscured by the trappings of the future setting, including the fact that the drug is mandatory rather than being a temptation. The plot is also a bit confusing and contradictory, with our heroes being drugged and sent to hunt the Downmen, only to just sort of wander about, with the tower made their objective, but also being forbidden….it’s odd and doesn’t quite make sense. What exactly is the Upmen’s plan here? It’s still an enjoyable story, with some nice action beats that work better than some of Roth’s earlier efforts. In general, his art is excellent throughout. As odd as it is to see the Man of freaking Steel paddling a canoe in the park, Roth really does great work with the romance elements of his stories. Yet, his portrayal of the withdrawal scene works okay too, though the melodrama is turned up to 11. In the end, this is an odd, uneven, and rather poorly thought-out offering on the drug question, though it isn’t a bad read. I’ll give it 2.5 Minutemen, as the adventure is serviceable, even if the themes don’t get developed properly.


The Ghost with Two Faces


As has often been the case, our Rose and Thorn backup blows the headliner away, delivering a good, solid adventure story with some neat touches. It begins with the clueless young Rose watching footage of her alter-ego, the Thorn, taking out some bank robbers in a really cool sequence that actually makes it look believable that this lovely lady could take out an entire group of lethal gunsels. That night, Rose dreams of a strange house, inside of which lies a mystery she must solve. When she leaves for vacation the next day, she actually discovers the house from her dreams and rents it, even though it is supposedly haunted. In a clever touch, the girl receives a Thorn costume in the mail and is confused by it, though readers realize it clearly must have been sent by her other personality, as her innocent side obviously wouldn’t have packed it for her vacation. I like that attention to detail.

By day Rose bathes on the lonely beach by her rented house, but by night, the Baleful Beauty takes over, and she stalks the sands, searching for a kidnapped newspaper publisher and his wife. Although a night-traveling naturalist manages to snap a photo of her, the Nymph of Night runs her quarry to ground, and in another really nice sequence, she takes out the kidnap gang and frees their prisoners. The next day, Rose is startled to discover that the “ghost” of the house has been captured on camera, and it is none other than the Vixen of Vengeance herself, the Thorn!

This is a fun, fast-paced tale, with a surprising amount of personality packed into its few pages. The story clearly doesn’t take long to summarize, and yet it was a good read. My only complaint is that the dream about the house is a bit ambiguous. Are we supposed to understand that the Thorn was already working on the case, and she wanted Rose to use the house as a base? It doesn’t actually play any role in the plot, other than putting her in the vicinity of the kidnappers. We also don’t really get time to develop any of the story’s elements very much, but Kanigher keeps the plot simple enough that it doesn’t need too much more space. Nonetheless, this action-packed adventure made for an enjoyable yarn. This month we’ve got Rich Buckler taking over the art chores, but Dick Giordano is still inking, and the pair of them make for a heck of a team. The art is gorgeous and atmospheric, really nicely suited to the character. The action looks particularly good, and Buckler’s layouts are really dynamic. I know Buckler mostly from his work on Fantastic Four, which is good, but I think the work he does here is even better. Interestingly, though he did both this and the Krypton story from this month, they look pretty different. I guess that’s the impact an inker can have, and I think Anderson is often rather heavy-handed, to create more continuity with Swan’s work. Whatever the case with the art anomalies, I’ll give this fun romp a solid 4 Minutemen.


Well, that does it for our Super-story-extravaganza! And a very mixed bag of Kryptonian hi jinks it was. We had some solid yarns and some intensely silly ones, featuring social issues from pollution to drugs. Nonetheless, I had a good time reading them, especially given the darkness of the day. I hope that my coverage of these comics has been a pleasant diversion for y’all, dear readers! I also hope that you’ll join me again soon (hopefully!), when we’ll finish up this month and continue our journey Into the Bronze Age! Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!

Into the Bronze Age: January 1971 (Part 4)

DC-Style-Guide-2.jpg
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!